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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 8 August 2020 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alyssia Gonzalez's Bookshelf Angela Poe Russell's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Bernie Siegel's Bookshelf BookLife Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Cassandra M's Bookshelf Charlie Newton's Bookshelf
Christina Francine's Bookshelf Clabe Polk's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Elan Kluger's Bookshelf Ella Shively's Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf John Kereiff's Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf
Marilee Merrell's Bookshelf Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Niles Reddick's Bookshelf
Pacific Book Review Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf Suzie Housley's Bookshelf
Tammy Ruggles' Bookshelf Teri Davis' Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Alyssia Gonzalez's Bookshelf

The Wasteland
Harper Jameson
Level 4 Press
Trade Paper ISBN: 9781646300426, $18.95
eBook ISBN: 9781646300433, $9.99
Hardcover ISBN: 9781646300426, $27.95

The Devastating Secret Life of T.S. Eliot

It's the roaring twenties and London's elite enjoys a Great Gatsby lifestyle. Poets like Robert Frost are the rock stars, attracting thousands of fans to each of their readings. Gay nightclubs titillate as a youth sub-culture thrives. But beneath the veneer, fascism's message of nationalism, traditional values, and violent intolerance is on the rise.

It's against this backdrop that the controversial novel about T.S. Eliot's secret struggle with his homosexuality is set. In this soaring narrative about the rise of the 20th century's most successful poet, Harper Jameson transports us into a world rich with poetry and littered with the collateral damage of a life scorched by intolerance and self-loathing. The Wasteland captures the beauty of Eliot's language, the singular eccentricity of his contemporaries (Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, etc.), and the richness of his personal story. A story that feels as relevant today as ever.

In this novel, T.S. Eliot is a humble bank teller. He stumbles upon an openly gay man, Jack, being beaten in an alleyway. Eliot saves him, and is introduced to the gay underground of London. As Eliot and Jack's relationship develops, so does the rise of Eliot's poetic career. He finds himself in the spotlight, and shying further and further away from his true self.

This is a truly heartbreaking and original story. It's unique writing style is carving its own literary path.

Those who enjoy queer historical fiction, or works such as Cabaret will love this novel.

Alyssia Gonzalez

Angela Poe Russell's Bookshelf

Someone to Watch Over
William Schreiber
Not a Pipe Publishing
9781948120531, $29.99, HC, 386pp
9781948120524, $14.99, PB, $4.99 Kindle

SEATTLE - "Someone to Watch Over" follows a woman determined to learn from her estranged father the fate of a child she was forced to give up years earlier. But turns out, she's too late because her father died. She ultimately decides to follow up on rumors of a guardian angel in the Appalachian mountains, who can connect deceased parents with the children they left behind. -- What If There Was No Money?

William Schrieber was inspired to write this story after losing his own dad.

"I'd always hoped that I could talk to him again because I didn't get to ask him certain questions. And when my family asked me to write his eulogy, I felt overwhelmed because I realized I really didn't know his life. And I wondered what would it be like to cross that great divide? And be able to talk to your parents again or have them talk to you and help you with something in your life," Schreiber explained.

KING 5 Evening Host/Reporter Angela Poe Russell took time to chat with the author over Zoom.

ANGELA: Do you feel like you discovered the answers you were looking for in writing this?

WILLIAM SCHREIBER: I think I did. It was therapy for me. And I came to a more comfortable place, realizing that who I am a this moment is because of the path I traveled.

ANGELA: One reason why I was struck by your book and your story is because you're a guy and you won this women's fiction writers award! So tell me about that.

WILLIAM SCHREIBER: When I switched over to the book writing world, they want to know the genre. And it's drama -- and so what I came to find out was the book world considers this women's fiction, which is kind of a broad and arbitrary term for stories that have strong emotional arcs and are emotionally driven.

ANGELA: What do you make of the reality that if a story has a strong emotional arc, it's put in a women's category?

WILLIAM SCHREIBER: I find it insulting quite frankly. I think human beings are emotional beings and to classify this story of family as women's fiction is kind of a mystery to me.

"Someone to Watch Over" is an emotional journey that transcends genre and gender; and Schreiber hopes for readers, it leads to a place of healing in their own lives.

"I hope it opens people up to a deeper consideration and understanding of our shared humanity - to allow for learning and growth, and to forgive and seek forgiveness - as a path to reconciliation. This is Lennie's emotional destination with herself and her loved ones," Schreiber said.

Editorial Note: William Schreiber earned the 2019 Rising Star Award from the Women's Fiction Writers Association for his novel Someone to Watch Over. He's also a produced screenwriter and adapted the book from his original screenplay, which has won or been nominated for many competition awards, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. It has earned numerous Best Screenplay awards at film festivals throughout the country.

A graduate of the University of Florida, he's a native of Augusta, Georgia, grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico and now lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife, Pam.

Angela Poe Russell
K5, Reporter & Reviewer
NBC Seattle Washington Affiliate

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Into the Abyss: A neuropsychiatrist's notes on troubled minds
Anthony David
9781786078544, A$29.99, paperback, 216 pages, April 2019
9781786077059 $24.95 US

Open a newspaper on any day of the week and there will be an article on mental health or more pertinently, ill-health. We read that the issue is affecting more and more people: the young, the old, women, men. Behaviour we used to take for granted now attracts a diagnosis...

This diagnosis, as Anthony David sees it, 'often tends to take a social or political perspective', and we blame drugs, sex, abuse, religion etc. rather than looking for a physical cause. As an eminent and experienced neuropsychiatrist, however, David believes that 'everything in our mental life comes down to, can be reduced to the working of the brain'.

David's professional orientation, he tells us, is to look to neuroscience 'for answers to some of the questions around human nature'. The seven cases which he discusses in this book range from sectionable mental disorders to seemingly inexplicable physical paralysis and David seeks to make it clear that chemical or electrical malfunctions of the brain can generally be found in these disorders and can be dealt with. Diagnosis, as his accounts demonstrate, is often extremely difficult and treatment may often be experimental, but it is clear that he approaches his patients with empathy, and although he is looking for brain malfunctions he does take their physical, emotional and social lives into account.

David writes interestingly and in detail (with the patients' permission) about the disorders which his seven patients suffer and the way these affect their lives. He tells of his own actions, the questions he asks, the responses of the patients to his investigations and treatments, and his difficulties in finding the causes of their disorders. He is honest, too, about his successes and failures.

The first patient he writes about is Jennifer, who suffers from schizophrenia and Parkinsonism. The former is caused by too much of the neurotransmitter dopamine reaching the brain, the latter by too little. Chemically reducing the amount of dopamine reaching the brain can actually cause Parkinsonism but Jennifer, it turns out, has both schizophrenia and non drug-induced Parkinsonism. David offers clear explanations of the role of neurotransmitters in the brain and although the scientific and Latin terms which he uses with ease may be daunting for non-scientific readers, he offers good, every-day analogies.

David's chapter headings indicate something about the nature of the particular disorder he is dealing with. Chapter 2, 'Strawberry Fields Forever', tells of a patient who suffered a brain injury which had affected his memory and was causing him to doubt the reality of the world around him: 'He described a pervasive sense of the world itself being changed'. He felt 'unreal', as if he were actually dead and hallucinating reality. David likens it to the feeling produced by psychedelic drugs, such as John Lenon wrote about in 'Strawberry Fields'.

In Chapter 3, David discusses depression, and describes a patient who is suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. And chapter 4, 'Just the Two of Us', deals with bi-polar disorder and David's interactions with a young black man who has been sectioned because of episodes of violent mania. This man is waiting to be released from a psychiatric ward. He is suspicious of all medical intervention but David makes a tentative connection with him through their shared love of music and an impromptu jam session.

Chapter 5: 'You Are What You Eat' is, according to David 'a nonsensical slogan'. He describes the 'control of appetite' as being 'managed by a complex but beautifully balanced neural-humeral programme', and he goes on to explain this and to discuss anorexia nervosa which was once 'something of a medical curiosity and part of the 'differential diagnosis' of tuberculosis'. Although his patient does not have this condition, she appears to have lost her appetite for no obvious reason. She eats almost nothing, is uncaring about her appearance and speaks very little: 'Nothing substantial went into her mouth and nothing much came out of it'. David's diagnosis of the cause is more psychological than neurological and his approach to treatment is tentative and persuasive.

The last chapters in this book, 'Silent Music' and 'We Are Family' 'are about how the brain and mind interact and, in a sense, vie for control'. These chapters are perhaps the most curious and the most disturbing. Both deal with forms of paralysis and, as David puts it:

That brings us to the most potent and controversial symbol of treatment in psychiatry, and one which emblematises that clash between the physical and the metaphysical: electroconvulsive therapy... as well as its gentler modern cousin, transcranial magnetic stimulation.

David is clear that no-one really knows how or why these work for some patients. However, as a last resort, he is willing to use them, and does so.

David's interactions with his patients bring this book to life. He is interested in his patients as individuals and wants to work with them to find the cause of the problem and the most effective treatment. At least one person comments on feeling like a guinea-pig, but is still willing to try the suggested treatments. In the end, looking at the functioning of the brain may be like looking into the abyss, but with this book David hopes to 'demystify psychiatry' and 'help us to change things for the better'.

The Louvre
James Gardner
Atlantic Monthly Press
9780802148773 $30.00

Before the Louvre was a museum, it was a palace, and before that a fortress, and before that a plot of earth, much like any other... I emphasize the 'placeness' of the Louvre in part because everything about it today seems designed to reject and cover up its infinitely humble, elemental origins.

James Gardner's account of the 'many lives' of the Louvre is a magisterial work, tracing the famous museum from its beginning as a small, ugly, medieval fortress just outside the walls of Paris to its present magnificent building at the heart of the city.

Gardner says from the start that his skills and training are those of 'a cultural critic rather than a researcher in recondite fields', so his story of the Louvre covers history, architecture, society and, especially, art. More than anything it deals with the people who created and lived in this great building - the kings and queens who inspired and constantly changed it; the Emperors Napoleon and Napoleon III who developed and rebuilt it; and the ordinary and not-so-ordinary people who lived and worked in and around it.

Gardner tells his story well. He writes of the 'hardness' and 'massiveness' of the Louvre today 'with its burnished railings and marble floors and gilded capitals that seems to repudiate human frailty'. But he writes, too, of the revolutions and destruction it has survived. Today's visitors may remember the beautiful sculptures in the Salle des Caryatides, but few will imagine the three bodies which were hung from the rafters there in 1591. And few will think of the dead King Henry VI, who lay there in a lead coffin beneath an effigy wearing a white satin pourpoint, or vest, a red velvet nightcap interwoven with cloth of gold... [and] the many visitors who streamed past were encouraged to feel he had not died, but that he merely slept... To add to this verisimilitude two meals were set before the king's effigy every day.

Gardner's tracing of the Louvre's history is thorough. So, too, are his detailed descriptions of the architecture and his accounts of the many changes to this building which have taken place over the centuries. This can be a little dry at times, but the whole book is enlivened by his stories of the people involved, and by the lyricism with which he describes certain rooms.

Writing about the sculptures created by Jean Goujon, whose nineteenth-century statue 'dressed in period attire' look[s] down on the modern Pyramide where tourists now queue to enter the museum, he describes the oldest part of the building where

Serene order reigns across the first two levels of Aisle Lescot, and its classical statues remain obediently in their niches, but at the attic level, where Goujon was given a freer hand, the figures writhe and gyrate more like frenzied dancers than those embodiments of peace and war, history and victory, and fame and the glory of the king that they are summoned to represent.

He describes the Salle des Caryatides as the ballroom it was in the 1500s, with its arched alcove in which the king would sit in state, the 'masterpiece' of a stairway (the Escalier Henri II) on the other side of the northern wall, and the caryatides which support a musician's galley:

oddly armless figures. Their beauty is severe and otherworldly, and their draperies cling to them like cellophane, collecting in frenzied knots about the pelvis.

And on the ceiling of Galerie d'Apollon, we can still see 'an airborne ballet'. There, four 'semi-naked', sculpted Atlas figures, 'flanked by lithe angels', support escutcheons carved with N' for Napoleon III, while a motionless figure, inspired by the sibyls of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, sits in the midst of this ecstatic dance and surveys the spectacle with an air of sullen disapproval.

As with other architectural features and art works that Gardner discusses, it is easy to find these images on the internet which, as he notes in his 'Preface', are 'in higher, crisper resolution than any printed book could achieve'. This comment of Gardner's is apposite. There are a number of fine coloured plates in this book, but the black-and-white images are very poor.

There is so much that is fascinating and informative in this book. I was surprised to learn, for example, that a church dedicated to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his English cathedral in 1170, once stood on the land at the heart of the Louvre where I.M. Pei's glass Pyramide now stands, and that this church probably predated the original fortress.

I was fascinated to read that Napoleon's empress, Josephine, chose the Mona Lisa to hang beside her bed in the Tuileries Palace, which had been built close to the Louvre in 1599 by Catherine de Medicis, the powerful widow of Henry II. And that Marie Antoinette, escaping from the Tuileries Palace during the 1789 Revolution, got disastrously lost in the ramshackle buildings between it and the Louvre. Then there is the story of Gabrielle d'Estrees, who, at the age of sixteen, became the official mistress (maitresse-en-titre) of the philandering Henry IV, 'the Vert Galant'. She bore him three children, 'whom he officially recognised', and her vexed relationship with his wife, Marguerite de Valois, eventually led to a divorce. (Wikipedia offers extra, delicious, detail about her life).

Over the centuries, a number of architects produced plans to unite the Tuileries Palace with the Louvre, but it was not until the mid 1800s that the eminent architect, Louis Visconti, solved the problem of how to do this harmoniously. Much new rebuilding then took place and on 14 August 1857, Napoleon III held a banquet for nearly five hundred construction workers in the Salle des Etats, which now houses the Mona Lisa. 'The following day, the reborn museum formally opened its doors to the dazzled world'. But on 23 May 1871, during the 'Bloody Week' of a revolution in which the Communists, Socialists and anarchists briefly assumed power, the Communards burned the Tuileries Palace to the ground.

Catherine de Medicis and Marie Antoinette are just two of the many great names associated with the Louvre. In 1516, King Fran ois I persuaded Leonardo da Vinci to come to France, and some of the paintings he brought with him, including the Mona Lisa, now hang in the Louvre. Louis XIV, the Sun King, collected art by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Poussin, Leonardo, and Rembrandt, all of which are in the museum's collection. Later kings, queens and emperors added to the collection. During the First Republic, treasures were plundered from all over Europe, Egypt and the Levant, and 'accumulated in the chambers of the Louvre'. And Vivant Denon, who was appointed by Napoleon to be the first director of the museum, was a compulsive collector who became known as 'the rapacious eagle' and whose personal collection included 'a few hairs from the moustache of Henry IV' and 'a drop of Napoleon's blood'.

Artists such as Chardin, Fragonard, Watteau and de la Tour lived and worked in apartments set aside in one part of the Louvre. Artists and poets gathered, too, in a 'bohemian' area of shabby buildings which were cleared away during Napoleon III's re-building work. The Louvre at various times became home to the Academie fran aise, Academie des Inscriptions et des Belles-Lettres, the Academie des Beaux-Arts, and the Academie des Sciences. And the Louvre was the first place to call itself a museum and to open its doors to the public; the first to hold public Salons displaying new works of art; and the first to instigate special exhibitions.

Gardner charts the survival of the Louvre through social and political upheavals, revolutions and wars. In the final chapters, he writes of the way the collections were protected during World War II, and he ends with an interesting account of the development and construction of the Pyramide.

As he wrote in his 'Preface', 'This is a tale worth telling, it is also incredibly complex', so this is a big book and it is probably best read a little at a time. But he tells the tale interestingly and well, and the book does what all good books of this kind should do: it makes me want to go back to the Louvre and see some of the things he writes about and that I never noticed before.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Bernie Siegel's Bookshelf

Live Inspired
Laura Staley
Sacred Stories Publishing
9781945026645, $14.99, PB, 256pp
9781945026652, $9.99 ebook,

"Live Inspired" by Laura Staley is a powerful and excellent guidebook for the experience of life. Her stories will coach you in a way that can provide you with a path where the life you are seeking will be made visible and achievable. Don't wait for a disaster to wake you up, read Laura's wisdom and let her be your coach and guide to your authentic new life."

Editorial Note: Bernie Siegel, MD, is the author of "Love, Medicine and Miracles", "Three Men, Six Lives", and "365 Prescriptions for the Soul".

Dr. Bernie Siegel


Hamilton's Choice
Jack Casey
Diamonds Big as Radishes LLC
9781734366631 (paperback), 356 pages
$16.99 paperback, $9.99 Kindle, $24.99 Audiobook

"Casey's gripping novel breathes new life into the later years of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Fans of the musical Hamilton will be familiar with the outline of Aaron Burr's rivalry with the young upstart, but Casey takes his time developing the details of Burr's political successes and failures, and Hamilton's part in the latter. He frames the novel around the pivotal 1801 death of Hamilton's son Philip - who died in a duel defending his father's honor - and Burr's failed gubernatorial campaign after Jefferson dropped him as the vice presidential candidate in 1804. Casey cleverly ties the two episodes together while exploring these two men's characters and their involvement in political matters that would help define the United States.

Lawyer and author Casey (The Trial of Bat Shea) paints an unflattering picture of Burr as a cur whose "cynicism, power lust and lechery" destroy his potential. This venality makes for riveting reading but can feel one-sided. Hamilton's character is more dimensional as he struggles with his decisions, influenced by burdens of regret and responsibility that he carries like a sack over his shoulder. Casey seamlessly integrates political intrigues with daily life and gives Hamilton's wife, Eliza, a considerable role, showing how much marriage and family meant to them both.

After Eliza extracts a promise that her husband will retire from public life, powerful men, including her politician father, try to tempt his return. Eliza fears for him and has increasingly gloomy portents about his renewed involvement. "Have you ever thought about my suffering?" she cries, both to her husband and, perhaps, to historians who have omitted women from their histories. Readers interested in Revolutionary War history and the politics of Jefferson's presidency will be enthralled by this portrayal of Hamilton and Burr's rivalry and the multitude of relationships surrounding and tugging at them."

Takeaway: Fans of American history will love this fictionalization of Alexander Hamilton's political and family life in the years leading to his death.

Great for fans of Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, Joanne Freeman's Affairs of Honor, Gore Vidal's Burr.

Publisher's Weekly

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Parks and Recreation System Planning
David L. Barth
Island Press
2000 M Street NW, Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036
9781610919333, $40.00, PB, 296pp,

Synopsis: Parks and recreation systems have evolved in remarkable ways over the past two decades. No longer just playgrounds and ballfields, parks and open spaces have become recognized as essential green infrastructure with the potential to contribute to community resiliency and sustainability.

To capitalize on this potential, the parks and recreation system planning process must evolve as well. In "Parks and Recreation System Planning: A New Approach for Creating Sustainable, Resilient Communities", David Barth provides a new, step-by-step approach to creating parks systems that generate greater economic, social, and environmental benefits.

Barth first advocates that parks and recreation systems should no longer be regarded as isolated facilities, but as elements of an integrated public realm. Each space should be designed to generate multiple community benefits. Next, he presents a new approach for parks and recreation planning that is integrated into community-wide issues.

Chapters outline each step (evaluating existing systems, implementing a carefully crafted plan, and more) necessary for creating a successful, adaptable system. Throughout "Parks and Recreation System Planning, Barth describes initiatives that are creating more resilient, sustainable, and engaging parks and recreation facilities, drawing from his experience consulting in more than 100 communities across the U.S.

"Parks and Recreation System Planning" meets the critical need to provide an up-to-date, comprehensive approach for planning parks and recreation systems across the country. This is essential reading for every parks and recreation professional, design professional, and public official who wants their community to thrive.

Critique: Expertly written, skillfully organized and deftly presented, "Parks and Recreation System Planning: A New Approach for Creating Sustainable, Resilient Communities" is an ideal textbook and instructional reference on the subject of developing and upgrading community parks and recreational resources. Enhanced for academia with thirty pages of Appendices, eight pages of Notes, and an eight page Index, "Parks and Recreation System Planning" is unconditionally recommended for all community, college, and university library Parks/Recreational Development collections and Urban/Land Use Planning supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for personal and professional reading lists that "Parks and Recreation System Planning" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $38.00).

Editorial Note: David Barth is the founding principal of Barth Associates, LLC, a firm that specializes in creating more livable, sustainable, and resilient communities through transformative public realm projects. Dr. Barth has developed parks and recreation system plans for over one hundred communities throughout the United States, and has led the design of hundreds of parks and trails projects.

Perilous Bounty
Tom Philpott
Bloomsbury Press
9781635573138, $28.00, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: Today American agriculture is in a state of "quiet emergency" ranging from dangerous droughts in California (which grows more than fifty percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat) to continuing catastrophic topsoil loss in the "breadbasket" heartland of the United States.

Whether or not we take heed, these urgent crises of industrial agriculture will define our future.

In "Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It", veteran journalist and former farmer Tom Philpott explores and exposes the small handful of seed and pesticide corporations, investment funds, and magnates who benefit from the trends that imperil us, with on-the-ground dispatches featuring the scientists documenting the damage and the farmers and activists who are valiantly and inventively pushing back.

Resource scarcity looms on the horizon, but rather than pointing us toward an inevitable doomsday, Philpott shows how the entire wayward ship of American agriculture could be routed away from its path to disaster. He profiles the farmers and communities in the nation's two key growing regions developing resilient, soil-building, water-smart farming practices, and readying for the climate shocks that are already upon us; and he explains how we can help move these methods from the margins to the mainstream.

Critique: Expertly casting an informative reveal on one of the currently obscured issues to our survival as a nation and as a people, "Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It" is as impressively informative as it is 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation. Adeptly presenting both the current agricultural crisis and ably presenting practical solutions for its remedy, "Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It" should have as wide a readership as possible and is unreservedly recommended for all community, college, and university library Sustainable Agriculture collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, governmental agriculture policy makers, agriculture corporate leaders, social/political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Tom Philpott has been the food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones since 2011. Previously, he covered food as a writer and editor for the environmental-news website Grist. Philpott's work on food politics has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Guardian, among other places. Currently residing in North Carolina and Austin, Texas, from 2004 to 2012, he farmed at Maverick Farms in Valle Crucis, NC.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Awakening to a New Reality: Conscious Conversations across the Horizon of Death
Janice Dolley
Sleepy Lion Publishing
9781916001206, $20.00, Paperback, 526 Pages
B08BKSG55T, $3.99, Kindle

Rich in theological thought, New Testament scripture, philosophical information, quotes from religious leaders, and those who have had near-death experiences, this book predicts a new era of humanity not based on material wealth. It will be built on trust in the spirit within and a commitment to benefit all people. She sees a transition to a planet-wide diverse society of universal beings that transcends the individual.

According to this book,

"At the deepest level we are one another; we are on whole self, but that's our evolutionary journey at present to fully realize it."

Iona Abbey in Scottland offers spiritual retreats. The veil between heaven and earth in that location is so thin access to higher awareness is easier. Church groups and individual seekers (such as Janice Dolley, the author) travel there. It has been a monastery for three centuries and mentioned many times in the text.

Janice Dolley visited Iona many times. Her friend Ursula, Lady Buton, established The Coach House near Inverness, for those who are seeking spiritual nourishment. Together they wrote the book before and after Ursula's death, according to Dolley. Keeping an open mind while reading will help to understand the points she makes.

A day where people assist each other instead of judging and blaming will raise our existence into higher consciousness. Indeed, current-day protests and climate change activists are calling us to live in ways that benefit the greater whole. People across the world are searching for deeper meaning and a less self-centered materialistic way of life. The author suggests meditation and meeting in small groups, among other ideas.

"Moving from an ego-centered or nationalistic, or racist or anthropocentric stance to an eco or planetary centeredness is one of the collective challenges that currently face us."

Each chapter has descriptions of places and people quoted, as well as diagrams of the authors' thinking. References are listed at the end of the book, which was 20 years in the making.

Carolyn Wilhelm

Cassandra M's Bookshelf

Reinstate Your Wings
Indi Havana
Balboa Press AU
1663 Liberty Drive, #5161, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781504318617, $TBA, PB, 214pp, 9781-504318624, $TBA Kindle

A story with so much passion and soul, you can feel the moments. Get ready to laugh and cry because this book is filled with heartfelt moments and a story that is truly lifting.

Cassandra M's Place

Charlie Newton's Bookshelf

No Hesitation
Kirk Russell
Strawberry Creek, LLC
9781734314601, $15.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 353pp

Vibrating between the quiet FBI calm of another era and an apocalyptic threat, "No Hesitation" asks one seminal question: Will artificial intelligence kill us all?

No Hesitation isn't airport fiction. Elon Musk has rated AI's unintended consequences as mankind's 'biggest existential threat.'

I've spent much of my life in conflict zones littered with mankind's unintended consequences. They're the main highway.

Kirk Russell paved this one with blind curves and no guardrails. Because there aren't any. His AI, if allowed to metastasize, is some seriously scary shit.

Charlie Newton, Reviewer
Author of "Privateers"

Christina Francine's Bookshelf

Madam in Silk (2nd book in The American Madams series)
Gini Grossenbacer
JGKS Press
9780578544755, $16.00, Paperback
B07VH5SXVN, $2.99, Kindle

Is making a living worth risking life and reputation? For Au Toy during the American Gold Rush, it was. There isn't another way. When her abusive husband dies from consumption on the journey by ship from China in 1849, Au is left with her freedom, but without a way to support herself.

The price women pay for independence and safety historically is high. Many women used the only resource they had - their body. For Au Toy, her choices were even more limited due to her bound feet. Not wanting to subject herself to prostitution, Au opened a "Lookee shop" instead. The San Francisco bay held unspeakable danger though, especially when Au was "fragile" and "dainty," twenty years-old, and "varmints" and "ruffians" filled the streets. Her loyal servant, Chen, is big and strong, yet the two need safer accommodations. Mining camps sprang up and more men than women roamed the area. Au had to be careful with who she allowed inside her shanty for a look, but not touch her naked body. When one of her observing customers is a policeman from New York assigned to protect the area, he unnerves her. Ever careful, she works to not encourage him or any of her clients. And yet, John Clark's gentle nature and soft voice give her pause. He tells her "You are so very lovely, Mrs. Toy. Your skin is like alabaster, your hair like spun silk." He agrees to pass by regularly on his round for her safety. John Clark warms Au and yet she's not sure exposing her heart is a good idea. She may never recover.

Grossenbacher's Madam in Silk is a suspenseful romance to be sure, but also a treat for those longing to travel through history. She captures the essence of people, time-period, setting, and historical events perfectly. Her dedicated research is obvious. She also captures the dangers and stigma women face in order to make a living no matter the time in history. Though an historical account, the situation unfortunately exists present day. Grossenbacher reminds readers of humankind's ability for cruelty and evil, but also for kindness and love. A heart-warming novel intricately plotted with historical data. A valuable exploration too of how women, especially foreign women, fit into the larger scheme of Gold-Rush history.

Christina Francine, Reviewer

Clabe Polk's Bookshelf

An American Weeia in Paris (Book 4 of the Weeia Marshals Series)
Elle Boca
Poyeen Press
9781932534221, $12.99, paperback, 308 pages
B085N7X3Z9, $5.99, Kindle

Weeia Marshal Danni Metreaux spends an incredible amount of time eating in Parisian restaurants and navigating Parisian traffic, which, I'm sure can be a serious problem just as it is in any other large city. Nevertheless, the Weeia Marshal Series is not a Parisian travel guide but a superhero action series, isn't it?

Much of the rest of her time she spends ducking Weeia politics. No wonder she remains "acting" Chief of Marshals in Paris. For all her faults, she was an acceptable main character in her role as "Weeia Marshal without a clue", but her cluelessness is getting old and her inability to stand up to internal politics may be realistic but does nothing to endear her to readers.

Previous Weeia books have had reasonably creditable storylines. There are real mysteries to solve and real victims at risk. American Weeia in Paris feels more like a pity-party than an action-adventure superhero book.

First, our super-hero is tasked with providing security for a visiting Weeia Elder and his family, none of which respect her role, her responsibilities, or her abilities. Second, a "task force" usurps her investigative authority of a terrorist incident. This task force is suspected of being an effort to disrespect her by the Elder but that is never definitively shown to be the case. She does not interact with the task force and they do no active investigation that helps drive the story so I found them a distraction. Her lackluster supervisor is a non-starter; a man; who talks to her on the phone only to harass her without providing advice or helpful direction. She is forced out of her office and into the streets more by her own inability to assert her authority with the task force than by their actions or inactions. Yet, there is a real problem to deal with and she knows it. She musters, with great difficulty, the wherewithal to complete the investigation but sheer luck and help from an utterly unexpected source is all that saves the day.

This book introduces a totally unexpected aspect of Weeia existence that both benefits and broadens the Weeia experience considerably. Readers will like it and understand that it opens the possibility of better stories from future Weeia Marshal books. For that reason, coupled with the quality of the writing, I feel An American Weeia in Paris rates 4-Stars.

This book was provided free by the author in hopes of receiving an honest review. The above review represents my honest opinion of the book

Clabe Polk, Reviewer

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The Bad Sister
Kevin O'Brien, author
Ann Marie Lee, narrator
Tantor Media, Inc.
6 Business Park Road, Old Saybrook, CT 06475
9781705227930, $44.99, CD,

Synopsis: The site of the old campus bungalow where two girls were brutally slain is now a flower patch covered with chrysanthemums. It's been fifty years since the Immaculate Conception Murders. Three more students and a teacher were killed in a sickening spree that many have forgotten. But there is one person who knows every twisted detail!

Hannah O'Rourke and her volatile half-sister, Eden, have little in common except a parent. Yet they've ended up at the same small college outside Chicago, sharing a bungalow with another girl. Hannah isn't thrilled -- nor can she shake the feeling that she's being watched. And her journalism professor, Ellie Goodwin, keeps delving into Hannah and Eden's newsworthy past.

When Hannah and Eden's arrival coincides with a spate of mysterious deaths, Ellie knows it's more than a fluke. A copycat is recreating those long-ago murders. Neither the police nor the school will accept the horrific truth. And the more Ellie discovers, the more she's convinced that she won't live to be believed!

Critique: This complete and unabridged audio book production of Kevin O'Brien's chillingly suspense thriller of a novel is expertly narrated by Ann Marie Lee. The result is a pure theatre of the mind experience that takes sixteen hours spread out over 13 CDs to complete. A superbly crafted and presented novel, "The Bad Sister" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library audio book collections.

Lake of Darkness
Scott Kenemore
Talos Press
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781945863509, $15.99, PB, 264pp,

Synopsis: During the First World War, on the South Side of Chicago, officer Joe "Flip" Flippity has begun an investigation into a serial decapitationist who is hunting young children. At a time when African American officers are rendered second-class by prejudicial policies, Flip is nonetheless called upon by the mayor of the city (who is the legendary Big Bill Thompson himself) and a host of powerful city fathers, to thwart this murderer who threatens to destroy the city's reputation as a safe haven for those making the Great Migration north.

While searching to catch his killer and to discover why the most powerful men in Chicago are truly concerned about the murders of poor black refugees, Flip's bloody trail takes him through the South Side's vice districts (where anything is available for a price), across its most dangerous criminal underbellies, and into a bracing and unexpected world of supernatural horror.

As Flip digs deeper in his quest to protect the city's most vulnerable, he stumbles upon more mysterious murders, confounding psychological puzzles, and terrifying hints of something "other" that may reach across from unknowable distances to guide the hand of a killer. It soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems, and that mysterious and powerful forces are conspiring to stand in Flip's way.

Critique: In the gripping pages of his dark noir fantasy novel "Lake of Darkness", author Scott Kenemore deftly combines the elements of a detective thriller, a cosmic horror, and historical fiction to confront the reader with Chicago's dark and lethal history, making it an especially recommended addition to community library horror and science fantasy fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Lake of Darkness" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Dead Man's Lane
Kate Ellis
Charnwood Large Print
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print (USA), Inc.
PO Box 1230, West Seneca, NY 14224-1230
9781444845051, $37.00, HC, Large Print, 426pp,

Synopsis: Strangefields Farm has been notorious for its sinister history ever since artist Jackson Temples lured young women there to model for disturbing works of art. Some of those girls never left the house alive.

Now, decades later, Strangefields is to be transformed into a holiday village, but the developer's hopes of its dark history being forgotten are dashed when a skull is found on the site. And when a local florist is found murdered in an echo of Temples' crimes, DI Wesley Peterson fears that a copycat killer is at large.

As Wesley's friend, archaeologist Dr Neil Watson, uncovers the secrets of Strangefields' grisly past, it appears that an ancient tale of the dead returning to torment the living might not be as fantastical as it seems!

Critique: A fully original, expertly crafted and thoroughly enjoyable read that will be particularly appreciated by any and all dedicated mystery buffs, this large print edition of "Dead Man's Lane" by novelist Kate Ellis is fully endorsed and recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections and personal reading lists.

The Shadows
Alex North
Celadon Books
9781250318039, $26.99, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: Most of us at one time or another knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree who was a kid with a dark imagination, a sinister smile -- and always on the outside of the group. Twenty-five years ago Crabtree committed a murder so shocking that it's attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet -- and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree (and his victim) were his friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and suffering from dementia, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It's not long before things start to go wrong. Paul learns that Detective Amanda Beck is investigating another copycat that has struck in the nearby town of Featherbank. His mother is distressed, insistent that there's something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn't just the murder -- it was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again.

Critique: A novel to read with the lights on! "The Shadows" is a deftly crafted and original novel by Alex North who is clearly a master of the horror/supernatural/suspense/thriller genres. While certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Shadows" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Macmillan Audio, 9781250754585, $39.99, CD).

Cut to the Bone
Ellison Cooper
Minotaur Books
c/o St. Martin's Publishing Group
9781250173898, $27.99, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: After grieving the death of her fiance and almost losing her job, Agent Sayer Altair is finally starting to rebuild her life. Her research into the minds of psychopaths is breaking new ground and her strange little family is thriving.

But Sayer's newfound happiness is threatened when she is called in to investigate a girl's body left inside a circle of animal figurines below a cryptic message written in blood. When they discover that the dead girl is one of twenty-four missing high school students, Sayer quickly realizes that nothing in this case is what it seems.

As the investigation draws her in to a tangled web of fake identities and false leads, the trail soon begins to point directly to her own life. Now, Sayer must confront her painful past to uncover her connection to the deranged killer if she hopes to save the missing teens and protect everything that she loves.

Critique: Another deftly crafted thriller by an author with an impressive mastery of narrative driven storytelling, "Cut To The Bone" by Ellison Cooper is a riveting read that is laced with reader engaging plot twists and turns. Highly recommended and certain to be a welcome addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs that "Cut To The Bone" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Macmillan Audio, 9781250751874, $44.99, CD).

Clint Travis

Elan Kluger's Bookshelf

The European Anarchy
G. Lowes Dickinson
9781374842168, $24.95

Written amid the greatest calamity history had seen up to that point, G. Lowes Dickinson looked out at the world and saw the worst things man had ever inflicted upon each other. He was not amused. Yet unlike the political nature of man tends to dictate, he did not try to blame any country. In contradistinction to what his country did (Great Britain) at the closing of the war, Dickinson was skeptical of methods that tried to draw out one country's desires as responsible for war.

The book ostensibly is not about what is to be done after the war, but rather how Dickinson thinks that war arrived. The title "The European Anarchy" makes manifest his view. It is not any country's fault that there is war but rather the anarchical (without hierarchy or central-authority) international system that leads to war. If that view sounds familiar, that is because it is the view of so-called "structural realists" who posit that war is the natural result of the anarchical system. Structural realists (Kenneth Waltz being the key example) don't suppose there is anything to be done to alleviate the problem of the anarchical system, and once the system is elucidated to the people, the only thing they can do is be wary about trusting other countries. What makes this book so particularly fascinating, is that Dickinson, besides the mere fact that he predated realists by 70 years, proposed a solution. He was one of the most fervent supporters of the League of Nation in direct contrast to such arch-realists as E.H. Carr.

While the book is fairly obscure, I can't help but acknowledge the many topical uses it currently has, so when you choose your next book, some lessons from Dickinson may be of use in our world.

Elan Kluger, Reviewer

Ella Shively's Bookshelf

No Word For Wilderness: Italy's Grizzlies and the Race to Save the Rarest Bears on Earth
Roger Thompson
Ashland Creek Press
9781618220561, $18.95

When most people think of Italy, images associated with human activity and achievement spring to mind: Michelangelo's iconic David; the Roman Colosseum; the raw, electrical artwork of Artemisia Gentileschi. Few people associate this country with wilderness. Fewer still imagine that it might be home to wild bears.

I was just as shocked as author Roger Thompson to learn that Italy hosts two populations of brown bears, one of them only an hour away from Rome. In the north, relocated Slovenian bears wander the rugged Italian Alps. In central Italy, the gentle bears of Abruzzo National Park coexist alongside the local human population, as they have since before recorded history. Thompson's 2018 book No Word For Wilderness casts a conservation spotlight on the unique challenges faced by each set of bears, focusing heavily on the threatened Abruzzo population.

While brown bears as a species are not endangered, the nearly-vegetarian Abruzzo bear, which many scientists believe to be a unique subspecies of brown bear, is on the brink of extinction. In 2014, only an estimated 50 Abruzzo bears remained. Thompson details the actions that have led to the bears' precarious population size, including poor land management decisions, lack of scientific research, shifts in the local culture, and - most shockingly - Mafia infringement on national parks. The book explores a variety of tactics for revitalizing the bear population, ranging from improved law enforcement to genetic cloning. Repeatedly, Thompson emphasizes the fact that science alone will not suffice.

Science "may be intellectually engaging, it may stir profound excitement in the mind and body, and it may even bring rushes of euphoria to practitioners who uncover mysteries or dare to test the boundaries of knowledge. But all of that is simply so much self-indulgent, even philosophical, chatter if it is divorced from the need to communicate with the world," Thompson writes.

What the Abruzzo bears need is attention. People need to know they exist. Communicators and scientists must come together to show the world how special these bears are if there's going to be any chance at saving them. No Word For Wilderness integrates art and science to bring the Abruzzo bears' story to a broad, attentive audience, generating the international pressure needed to bring the bears back from the brink.

Ella J. Shively, Reviewer

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Esther: Power, Fate, and Fragility in Exile
Dr. Erica Brown
Koren Publishers
9781592645398, $29.95

What is the book of Esther Really About?

Maggid books has just published an excellent comprehensive 493-page study of the biblical book Esther called "Esther: Power, Fate, and Fragility in Exile" by Dr. Erica Brown, an award-winning author of many books, lecturer, and Jewish teacher. Her book tells readers exactly what the Bible text is saying, not what people read into it, She does so in clear easy to read language. She writes that power, fate, and fragility "is represented in every chapter," and she shows how it is done. "Esther" is part of a series of Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, that uses an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates traditional rabbinic interpretations with scholarly literary techniques to explore the characters, themes, and text of the Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Brown mentions many sources for her interpretations, Jewish and non-Jewish. She tells us that an opinion in the Babylonian Talmud Megilla 7a states that the Book of Esther was composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many people are convinced that the events recorded in Esther actually happened. However, the philosopher Joseph ibn Kaspi "views the Esther story as an allegory that shows how human beings can overcome unfavorable" situations."

The book is praised by lots of people because of its happy ending. However, people like the Protestant leader Martin Luther and other Christian scholars were hostile to the book because of its "sour attitude toward gentiles, and its primal emotions of anger and revenge." The scholar B. W. Anderson wrote, "The story unveils the dark passions of the human heart: envy, hatred, fear, anger, vindictiveness, pride." He advised fellow Christians to stay away from Esther. The scholar C. A. Moore wrote in his Anchor Bible commentary on Esther that Maimonides (1138-1204) rated it favorably, after the Pentateuch, but, "That Esther was able to conceal her Jewishness, that is, her adherence to the Jewish religion, clearly indicates that she did not observe all of the Jewish dietary laws."

Many ancient Jews around 200 BCE were also dissatisfied with the book because it fails to mention that Esther observed Jewish law and that it was God who brought the salvation. Brown comments, that accordingly they added 107 verses that they wanted the book to have, verses that are in the apocrypha today. Two Aramaic translations of the book were composed that had similar additions. Many Jewish commentators read what was missing in the book's words. For example, Saadia Gaon (882-942) claims that there is information in the book that only God could have known.

The book is preoccupied with royalty. The "root mlk (king, rule) occurs over 250 times in the 167 verses of Esther." Similarly, the term mishteh (a wine festival) appears twenty times even though there is only twenty-four additional times in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Esther has the longest verse in the Hebrew Bible, 43 Hebrew words. The feasts in Esther come in couplets. There are constant reversal of fortunes to each of the book's major characters.

She discusses many other subjects. The long list of questions that I derived from Erica Brown's book and outlined below show why we need a good commentary to understand this biblical book, a book that some mistakenly think is a simple story.


Why was Ahasuerus's punishment of his wife Vashti justified? Who was Ahasuerus? Was he foolish, evil, or wise? How do we interpret his constant anger? Who was Vashti? Is Vashti the patron saint of equal rights? Should Esther have preferred death rather than marrying a pagan king? Is the Jewish Bible and Talmud commentator Rashi correct when he justified Esther's sleeping with the king as a wrongdoing for the sake of heaven, and because it is the greater collective good? Or is he incorrect because Esther could have had no idea that matters would turn out as they did? Why was Esther's initial reaction to Mordecai's request that she petition the king a refusal? Why do some Jewish commentators say that Esther and Mordecai were married when the text does not indicate this and the women chosen for the king had to be virgins? Why did Mordechai tell Esther not to reveal that she is Jewish? How did she hide it? Why was Haman angry at Mordechai?


Does it make sense that women were doused in perfume for a year before being brought to the king? How are women treated in this work? Why didn't Mordechai show Haman respect? The patriarch Jacob's sons even bowed to the viceroy of Egypt, not knowing he was their brother Joseph. Clothing is mentioned frequently in the book, such as in Mordechai's rise to prominence, why is it used? Should we see a connection to clothing in many other biblical events as in the story of Adam and Eve and the tale of Jacob giving his son Joseph a special garment and in the garments worn by priests? Why didn't Mordecai turn to God when he heard Jews will be killed and instead put on torn garments?

The Book

What is the significance of the minor characters in the book such as Haman's wife and Esther's servant? Why is the book named after Esther? Was Mordechai the bigger hero? Is one of the purposes of the book to show Jews how to live in exile? Why are some events in the book told briefly while other appear at length and others such as why Haman was elevated by the king not explained at all? Is Haman's decision to kill all Jews the only example of discrimination in the Bible? Why is the holiday called Purim which is not a Hebrew word, but Persian, and why is it in the plural form?

Judges: The Perils of Possession
Michael Hattin
Koren Publishers
9781592645237, $24.95

The judges in the biblical book Judges did not judge

People may think that they know about the biblical book Judges and that they understand what Michael Hattin's new book "Judges" contains. Hattin's Judges is 207-page book with 19 chapters which devotes one or more of the 19 chapters to the 21 chapters in the biblical book. "Judges," is part of a series of Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, that uses an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates traditional rabbinic interpretations with scholarly literary techniques to explore the characters, themes, and text of the Hebrew Bible.

The book

The book explains what the Bible text is saying, not what people read into it. He writes in clear easy to read language offers the opinions of Jewish and non-Jewish commentators, predominantly the former, and refers frequently to suggested explanations of events contained in the Talmuds and Midrashim as well as classical Bible commentators such as Rashi and Radak, and his own views. He is very sharp in identifying difficulties and obscurities in the text, and his suggested explanations are generally clever and enlightening. He tells us that a close study of the vocabulary, grammar, and literary structure of the biblical book are critical to the understanding of the events which may result in a misunderstanding of what occurred if this is not done. This is necessary because the Hebrew Bible uses an economy of words. For example, the Bible does not say how Deborah and Barak won their battle against six hundred chariots, but an examination of words suggests that there was a flood and the chariots were mired in mud.

Rabbi Michael Hattin is the author of another book in the series, on Joshua, which was generally given five stars by reviewers. He is the director of the Beit Midrash for the Pardes Center for Jewish educators in Israel and has served as scholar in residence in many cities in North America and Europe.

Prior history

He tells readers that although Joshua, who led the twelve tribes after the death of Moses, attempted to lead his people to conquer Canaan, he was only partially successful. The tribes were united during the lifetimes of Moses and Joshua, but after their death the tribes separated from each other, each looked after their own interests, generally did not join other tribes to assist them, and began to accept the idols of the Canaanites and intermarried with them contrary to the prohibition in the Torah. God punished them by allowing pagan tribes to defeat and control one or more tribes who then called out to God for assistance. God responded by sending charismatic leaders called Judges who rescued the embattled tribes. This situation continued in a downward spiral worsening each year until the end of the period of the judges when the tribes even ceased begging divine help.

The period of the judges

The period of the Judges describes the struggles of the disjointed twelve tribes of Israel to overcome their many enemies as well as the internal differences between the tribes. The book is filled with warfare that lasted centuries. We do not know why the leaders were called Judges. There is no indication in this biblical book that they ever judged the people they helped. We can only guess that perhaps along with aiding a tribe in time of peril, they also served as judges for the people, but, as stated previously, the Bible does not say they did so.

It is clear that none of the judges led or otherwise helped all twelve tribes. They were regional leaders, usually for a single tribe. We do not know if two or more judges functioned in more than one tribe at the same time, although this seems reasonable, therefore, because of this possible overlap, we have no idea how long the period of the Judges lasted. Hattin suggests that the period lasted for three or four hundred years (although other scholars suggest just over 200 years).

The judges

Hattin identifies thirteen judges for the twelve tribes. Not all the tribes had a Judge. Some had more than one at different times. All of them were men except for Deborah whom some later rabbis disparaged because she was a woman. Some of the judges have more than a single chapter devoted to their activities. The judge Shamgar has only a single verse. The four early Judges were God fearing, those during the middle period of the Judges were not so pious such as Gideon who was frequently doubtful and hesitant. The last judge Samson did not work with God until the day he died. When he was captured, blinded, weakened, he prayed to God for strength to kill 3.000 Philistines even though what he would do would kill him as well. Hattin shows how it was not only the fourth time that Samson revealed to Delilah that if his hair was cut he would lose his strength. He was so enamored with Delilah that he wanted to reveal his weakness all along. He hinted this fact in his responses to her during the first three times that he spoke to her. He is not remembered fondly in the biblical books.

The end

The biblical book ends with idol worship, the murder of innocent Canaanites, rape, civil war, and the near destruction of one of the twelve tribes. In the next biblical book, Samuel, the people realize they need a king to unite the tribes, control them, and lead them to fight the nations that are persecuting them. The Bible does not call Samuel a judge, but unlike the judges in the book Judges, he judged the people.

Was the Torah revealed from Heaven?

The doctrine of Torah Min Ha-Shamayim, "The Torah is from Heaven," is a fundamental teaching of Orthodox Judaism. Rabbis say it means that God dictated the Five Books of Moses to Moses. But even rabbis who strongly defend this doctrine do not know how God communicated the Torah to Moses or how much of it. For example, there are Orthodox rabbis who agree that Moses was the author of the book of Deuteronomy, or most of it, and God approved what he wrote. More significantly, Maimonides states that we have no idea how the Torah was revealed. A modern rabbi and scholar Louis Jacobs argues that he knows how it was revealed.


In his work called Chelek, Maimonides lists thirteen principles of Judaism. The eighth focuses on the revelation of the Torah. In the discussion of revelation of the Torah, Maimonides states that we have no idea how the Torah was revealed. He states:

The Torah "in our hands today is the Torah which was given through Moses and that it is all of divine origin. This means that it all reached him from God in a manner that we metaphorically call 'speech.' The exact quality of that communication is only known to Moses" (translation by Fred Rosner, Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin, emphasis added).

We have no idea what Maimonides meant by saying that we only "metaphorically" call it speech. Could he mean that Moses actually heard nothing, but was "inspired" to write what he wrote.

It should also be noted that the doctrine does not say "The Torah is from God." Also, the Torah itself does not claim that it was written or revealed from God. Additionally, the word "Heaven" seems to be a metaphor, as Maimonides says. Furthermore, Rashi (1040-1104) states that the Aramaic Translation of the five Books of Moses were "from Heaven," when he also explains that Onkelos wrote it. Therefore, he must mean that the translation is so significant that it is as if it was a gift from Heaven. It is possible that just as the phrase means as if for the translation, it means here that the Five Books of Moses are so significant that it is as if God dictated it.

The Controversial Jacob's Affair

Louis Jacobs (1920-2006), author of eighteen books, was on his way to being selected as Chief Rabbi of the British Empire but was stopped soon after he published his thoughtful book "We Have reason the Believe." His 1957 book examines traditional Judaism that is not fundamentalist. He accepts the views about God, life after death, and that the Torah came from heaven, but does so in what might be called a less radical, more rational, modern manner. The book soon became the cause of what was called in the 1960s the "Jacobs Affair."

Jacobs was the rabbi of the New London Synagogue for over thirty years and was a Visiting Professor of Religious Studies in Lancaster University. His appointment to an Orthodox Rabbinic position as the principal of Jews' College, which could have led to him becoming Britain's Chief Rabbi, was vetoed by the Chief Rabbi at that time. The ground for the veto was Jacobs' suggestion that the doctrine of "The Torah is from heaven" needs a more modern interpretation that fitted in with modern knowledge. In 1990, chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote that people who have a similar view as Louis Jacobs have severed their links to Judaism. Ostracized, he became the founder of Conservative Judaism in England.

Jacob's book

Jacobs insists that his view is not new. He has not removed God from his view of revelation, and he has not in any way diminished the requirement of all Jews to observe the halakha, Jewish laws and practices.

However, he accepts the scholarly view that "the Torah is seen as the outcome of the various sources and the editorial processes of coming (sic, probably, originally, combining) them. This would mean that the Torah was not "revealed'' at a single time, by a single person, and changes were made in it over time by people with different agendas. In other words, he accepts the views of the documentary hypothesis that the Torah is made up of material from J, E, P, and D, if not more. "(D)ivine revelation takes place through inspired human beings who, over a long period of time, cooperated with God in producing the glory that is called the Torah."

Jacobs does not define "inspired human beings." How are they inspired? Is the inspiration involved with the writing of the Torah the same as when an author writes a novel? Or is it somehow different? If different, in which way is it different? Also, even more significant, what does he mean by "cooperated with God"? How is God involved? Does the "inspiration" somehow involve God? If so how? Is it just a general cooperation or is God involved somehow in the writing of every word, even the different spelling of words?

Similarly, Jacob writes, "God's power is not lessened because He preferred to co-operate with His creatures in producing the Book of Books ... We hear the authentic voice of God speaking to us through the pages of the Bible ... and its message is in no way affected in that we can only hear that voice through the medium of human beings."

This statement does not help clarify the questions previously asked. Neither does Jacob's claim that revelation should be understood "to take place through the historical experiences of the Jewish people in the long quest for God."

A possible explanation of Jacob's view

Jacob states that "Revelation is the self-disclosure of God in his dealings with the world. Scripture is thus not itself revelation but a humanly mediated record of revelation." This seems to recognize that the only way that we can know God is through what God has done. This is what we might call revelation, the divine acts are the way God is revealed. This statement also seems to say that scripture is the work of humans who take this kind of divine revelation and using it to compose the Torah.

The problem with this is that it arguably does away with revelation entirely. The Torah, according to this view sems to be a human product based on what the authors saw around them, the laws of nature.


Rabbi Jacobs may have chosen the title "We have Reason to Believe" either because he felt that since his view of revelation included God there was "reason" to accept the Torah, or because he felt that he was offering a rational view of revelation. Either way, his view that God contributed to the writing of the Torah by giving humans intelligence that allowed them to see and understand history and the laws of nature, may not satisfy many Orthodox Jews.

God and the Pandemic

Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel, the author of ten books, has made a fascinating, enlightening, and much needed contribution to our understanding of the Corona Virus pandemic and Jewish and other views on the subject in his book "God and the Pandemic." He gives readers a thorough very readable analysis of the many pandemics, earthquakes, plagues, and other occurrences that killed many people. He addresses the ideas of many ancient and modern thinkers of many countries and many religions, including atheists, such as Epictetus, Rousseau, Voltaire, Darwin, Camus, Kant, Jung, Victor Frankl, Menachem Begin, Hillel, Biden, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, for the truth is the truth no matter what its source. He examines questions that people have pondered for millennia, such as: Does God become angry, strike out, and kill people? Do prayers help avoid death by pandemics? Does living a pious life do so? How should we practice our religion? He subtitles his book "A Jewish Reflection on the Coronavirus," but this is not his only approach. He examines the views of virtually all religions ancient and modern as well as science. The book is comprehensive, very informative, and eye-opening.

The problem

Two of the many people that Rabbi Dr. Samuel discusses are Maimonides (1138-1204) and Pascal (1623-1662). The two are pole opposites. Maimonides and many others contended that God is not involved in human affairs. Pascal, who experienced a mystical experience, on the other hand developed a wager that he suggested people take to assure the best afterlife experience. He suggested that people should believe in God otherwise we may be punished. Which view is correct?

People have suffered from many different pandemics resulting in millions losing their lives. So many that he can only mention some of them. Pandemics and natural catastrophes changed history. A pandemic brought the mighty Roman Empire to its knees, and it never recovered. Among others were the epidemic of 165-180 CE followed by 249-262, followed by 541-542, and the death of the Empire. In one plague as many as 5,000 Romans died daily. Should people ask God to forgive their sins?

What do most people think?

Many if not most people in the past were convinced that bad things happen to people because God is punishing people for their improper behavior. Many still believe this today. They rush to their houses of worship and pray to God to stop the punishment. In essence they plead, just as children do, "God, please stop it. I will be good. I promise." There was, for example, an earth quake in Lisbon, Portugal in 1775 and the famed well-meaning English Christian cleric John Wesley (1703-1791) attributed the destruction to Portugal's supporting the Spanish Inquisition expelling its entire Jewish population. Among Jews, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi asked Jews to stop kissing mezuzahs attached to their door posts because of the coronavirus; yet some Jews ignored his advice because they felt they need to appease God. It is no surprise that while Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up only 12 percent of the total Israeli population, they are nearly half of the coronavirus patients at four major hospitals.

Is God involved?

One of the many purposes of Rabbi Samuel's book is to show that pandemics are natural disasters and they need to be handled as taught by science. "Epidemics, plagues, and pandemics have been around since the dawn of civilization." We need to learn how to react to them. He shows how the San Francisco fire and the New Orleans Hurricane Katrina, among all too many disasters, were mishandled and transformed a grave situation into an epic calamity. This is the same claim made against China in regard to Covid 19. He tells us that the Jewish view is that God did not create a perfect world. God created a good world. "It is up to mortals to improve upon the flaws of creation." The German philosopher Gottfried W. Leibnitz (1646-1716) wrote, "God created this world to have the potential to be the best of all worlds."

But this is not the only thing that the rabbi stresses.

Pandemics can lead to anti-Semitism

There was a cholera outbreak in India in 1817, a second flareup occurred in 1831. It affected Europe from 1829 to 1837. One of the great rabbis during the time of the second outbreak Rabbi Akiba Eiger (1761-1837) established social-distance guidelines for his synagogue that prevented large numbers of worshipers from perishing. Why did other non-Jewish clergy and governments not adopt his view? Was it because he was Jewish? Similarly, Jews wash their hands in the morning and before eating and this saved many Jewish lives during the Black Plague of 1347-1351, when up to 200 million people died, but instead of copying the procedure, the masses of non-Jews used the fewer deaths of Jews as proof that they caused the Black Plague.

Dr. Martin Luther King summed up this message, "We can't pray for God to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves."

Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Police Chief 101: Practical Advice for the Law Enforcement Leader
Gerald W. Garner
Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
2600 South First Street, Springfield, IL 62704
9780398093365, $43.95, PB, 288pp,

Synopsis: Now in a newly updated and expanded second edition, "Police Chief 101: Practical Advice for the Law Enforcement Leader " by Gerald W. Garner (Chief of Police, Corinth Police Department, Corinth, Texas) will serve the new, veteran or aspiring police chief equally well.

A police chief with 50 years of law enforcement experience, Garner provides practical, commonsense advice for doing the multitude of jobs the chief faces with effectiveness and efficiency.

"Police Chief 101" also furnishes sound advice intended to help the chief retain his physical, emotional and ethical health while leading a professional law enforcement agency. This volume accomplishes all this at a time when too many people in law enforcement appear to have lost their moral compass, or their ability to be effective as leaders.

While written especially for the CEOs of small- to medium-sized law enforcement agencies, "Police Chief 101" will prove very useful to the leader of any law enforcement organization as well as those in the top ranks who aspire to head the agency one day.

Garner calls upon the experiences of many veteran law enforcement leaders in identifying common problems and offering practical solutions. This experience-based knowledge often comes from lessons learned the hard way by real people facing real tests and challenges. Garner's intent is that readers can benefit on the body of knowledge that constitutes professional law enforcement leadership that will help to make chiefs of police truly effective law enforcement leaders.

Critique: A welcome and much needed contribution to our on-going national dialogue concerning badly needed reforms in policing, police procedures, and police department administrations, "Police Chief 101: Practical Advice for the Law Enforcement Leader " must be considered essential reading for anyone holding the post of administering a law enforcement agency, members of civilian law enforcement review boards, governmental law enforcement policy makers, social and political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in contemporary law enforcement issues. "Police Chief 101: Practical Advice for the Law Enforcement Leader" is a strongly recommended and core addition to community, police academy, police department, college, and university library Contemporary Law Enforcement collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Intelligence in the National Security Enterprise: An Introduction
Roger Z. George
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
9781626167421, 149.95, HC, 344pp,

Synopsis: "Intelligence in the National Security Enterprise: An Introduction" by Rogert Z. George is an informative and basic textbook that introduces political science students to the critical role of the US intelligence community within the wider national security decision-making and political process.

"Intelligence in the National Security Enterprise" defines what intelligence is and what intelligence agencies do, but the emphasis is on showing how intelligence serves the policymaker. Roger Z. George draws on his thirty-year CIA career and more than a decade of teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate level to effectively and comprehensively reveal the real world of intelligence.

Intelligence support is examined from a variety of perspectives to include providing strategic intelligence, warning, daily tactical support to policy actions as well as covert action. The book includes useful features for students and instructors such as excerpts and links to primary-source documents, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary.

Critique: Expertly written, organized and presented, "Intelligence in the National Security Enterprise: An Introduction" is especially and unreservedly as a core addition to community, college, and university library Espionage, Political Intelligence, and National & International Security collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Intelligence in the National Security Enterprise: An Introduction" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781626167438, $49.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $39.46).

Editorial Note: Roger Z. George has taught intelligence and national security subjects at the US National War College, Occidental College, Pepperdine University, and Georgetown University. He had a thirty-year career as an analyst for the CIA, and he also served on the policy-planning staffs of the Department of State and Department of Defense.

Unbroken Spirit
Yosef Mendelevich
Gefen Publishing House
c/o Storch 255 Central Ave #B-206, Lawrence, NY 11559
9789652295637, $29.95, HC, 351pp,

Synopsis: At age twenty-two, Yosef Mendelevich participated in an attempt to hijack a plane to the West an act designed to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews. He was arrested before the plane ever left the ground and served twelve years in the Soviet gulag.

His memoir, "Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story Of Faith, Courage and Survival " is the story of one man's resistance against tyranny, his daily struggle to retain his Jewishness, and his humanity in a system built to extinguish both.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and inherently fascinating, "Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story Of Faith, Courage and Survival" is a memorial, testament, and example of faith and humanity against a system determined to eradicating both. Inspired and inspiring, "Unbroken Spirit" is especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Biography & Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Unbroken Spirit" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.84).

Editorial Note: Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1947, Yosef Mendelevich has lived in Israel since 1981, and has received his rabbinic ordination and a master's degree in Jewish history.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

In the Belly of the Dragon
Rei Ryu Philippe Coupey
Hohm Press
PO Box 4410, Chino Valley, AZ 86323
9781942493532, $32.95, PB, 504pp,

Synopsis: The Shinjinmei (written in the 6th century by the monk Sosan) is the first of Zen's four fundamental texts. Thus, it is central to all Zen lineages and schools, and an essential source of study for all Zen practitioners.

In "In the Belly of the Dragon: A Zen Monk's Commentary on the Shinjinmei by Master Sosan", Philippe Coupey (who is a contemporary practicing monk for over 45 years), reflects on each of the 73 verses of this famous text.

Despite its ancient roots, the Shinjinmei is still dynamic today, and Coupey's commentaries are fresh and relevant to life in the 21st century. His remarks are not based on scholarly studies, as for some well-known translators, but on the understanding transmitted through a lineage of practice, teaching and commenting on the Shinjinmei by great teachers and masters of the traditions, including Coupey's own teacher Taisen Deshimaru, who brought this practice to Europe in 1967.

Zen today is often coopted by the dominant marketing paradigm, with all types of products branded this way, and loses its potency when it devolves into yet another form of relaxation. Not so here. Thanks to Philippe Coupey's frank style of speaking and writing, like his teacher Deshimaru before him, Coupey reflects a raw, unreserved approach more in keeping with the ancient masters. His commentaries are also more exhaustive and detailed than others published so far. People who are tired of self-development "Zen" books might find real answers (and questions) here.

The underlying message of the Shinjinmei is to avoid clinging to the extremes -- left and right, good and bad, love and hate. The opening stanza reads: "Entering the Way is not difficult, But you must not love, or hate, or choose, or reject." This clinging leads to the separation of one thing from another and is therefore the origin of many of the big problems in society today.

The first half of this book (verses 1-31, originally published as volume one, with the same title, In the Belly of the Dragon) were the result of eight years of teaching lectures (kusen) during which Coupey made oral commentary on the text. The remainder of the book (verses 32-73) was created more recently as written essays.

The style of these presentations is less formal, and more intimately represents the dynamic spirit of the author's practice. The entire collected work vivifies the ancient Zen text for modern students of the Way and is a valuable resource for all those interested in Eastern thought and religion.

Critique: Impressively thoughtful and thought-provoking, "In the Belly of the Dragon: A Zen Monk's Commentary on the Shinjinmei by Master Sosan" is a unique, extraordinarily informative, exceptionally well organized and presented contribution to the growing library of Zen studies. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Zen Studies collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, Zen practitioners, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "In the Belly of the Dragon: A Zen Monk's Commentary on the Shinjinmei by Master Sosan" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $31.30).

Editorial Note: Rei Ryu Philippe Coupey, born and raised in New York City, is a Soto Zen teacher in the lineage of Kodo Sawaki. He met his Master, Deshimaru, in 1972 and followed him as a close disciple. Today, after 45+years of Zen practice, Coupey directs a large community of practitioners in Europe. The practice is shikantaza: simply sitting, without goal or profit-seeking mind. Coupey is the primary author of several books, and others done in collaboration with Deshimaru. He also publishes Zen-fiction writing under the pseudonym of MC Dalley. He is a member and officer of the International Zen Association (AZI).

Serbia: Faces & Places
Vladeta Rajic & Bill Dorich
GM Books
9781882383757, $9.72, PB, 272pp

Synopsis: "Serbia: Faces & Places" is an ideal addition to the arm chair traveler's reading list as they browse through commentary and illustrations showcasing Serbia's beauty and many Balkan secrets.

"Serbia: Faces & Places" is the perfect reply to the all too common media demonization and the numerous books inspired by malice of Serbia. Inspired by the love of a nation and her people, and with few words but over 500 fabulous photographs, authors Vladeta Rajic and Bill Dorich explored Serbia's natural wonders, the family farms, museums, the royal palace, the performing arts in Belgrade, historic places and statues as well as important churches and monasteries whose frescoes from the 12th and 13th centuries are considered World Treasures.

"Serbia: Faces & Places" also contains close-up and personal presentations of 50 Serbians in various walks of life, revealing the honor and integrity of many Serbs and perhaps explains how Serbia has managed to overcome centuries of difficulties brought on by both friend and foe.

Serbia's spirit of optimism, her work ethic, a 1,000 years of Orthodox Christianity and her tenacity for freedom is a reminder that Belgrade's citizens, in the 20th century alone, endured five separate, lethal, organized and sustained aerial bombing attacks at the hands of foreign aggressors and still remains a vital culture in the heart of Europe.

Critique: Impressively informative, beautifully illustrated, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Serbia: Faces & Places" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library collections. The next best thing to actually being there (especially in this time of a pandemic curtailing personal travels), it should be noted that "Serbia: Faces & Places" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

John Burroughs

John Kereiff's Bookshelf

To Live Or Maybe Not: Then There Is Now
Gary Revel
Jongleur Book Publishing
9781097923304, $14.59 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 338pp

In these times of social isolation and having to keep yourself occupied and entertained, nothing fills the gap like a good story. "To Live Or Maybe Not"is a memoir from Gary Revel; musician, ex-navy and Special intelligence operative during the Vietnam war, who has quite a story to tell. "What you'll read here is the simple truth, as best as I remember it" Gary states in the book's prologue. To steal a line from the grateful Dead, "what a long, strange trip it's been".

"To Live Or Maybe Not" is a coming of age story/ part adventurous road trip that starts with a bang (literally) in his mother's roadside juke joint in Florala, Alabama. It's bedtime and a young Gary, who's been playing cards with some of the patrons, goes to their home in the back of the place because he has school in the morning. A known regular, drunk and troublemaker comes in and... long story short, his mother accidentally shoots him. And that's just in the first 11 pages!

What follows in the next 200-odd pages is quite a life. As a youngster life was quite tumultuous for Revel and his brothers, being lugged around by his oft-divorced mother, starting with leaving his physically abusive alcoholic father one day while he was at work. Followed by several moves and splits throughout Florida, Gary says that childhood wasn't all bad. "Some of my memories of my early life are really very pleasant; learning to swim in The Gulf of Mexico as we enjoyed the beautiful white sandy beaches at Clearwater and Dunedin, Florida, going into the woods with my two older brothers and throwing rocks at snakes and gators to chase them out of a favorite swimming hole."

Of course, other memories were not so pleasant. There's a fascinating journey in these pages, from those early days, to Gary's work with navy intelligence, to diving into the music scene in Hollywood where, all the tales of debauchery and hedonism you and I have only heard about are apparently true. He eventually traveled back across the country to New York City, Memphis and Nashville, and tells several entertaining anecdotes from his music career and his pivot towards family life before he began his investigation into the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He uncovers evidence that, if true, proves James Earl Ray was NOT the assassin, and that MLK's and RFK's deaths were ordered by a Mafia crime boss.

"To Live Or Maybe Not"is designed as an entertaining and quick read. I got through it in just a couple or so days, but the questions and scenarios raised by the book linger long after. For everything that happens between the first and final pages, the book does feel a bit light. There's some real Tom Clancy level stuff going on here, particularly involving his work with the navy and U.S. government, where I thought more depth and detail was called for. Revel's investigation of MLK's assassination in association with the US Government's House Select Committee on Assassinations could've been a substantial volume unto itself.

Shortcomings aside, though, "To Live Or Maybe Not" titillates, entertains, and gives you much food for thought- can't ask for more than that.

John Kereiff

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Ranching Women of Colorado: 17 Legendary Ladies
Linda Wommack
Caxton Press
9780870046292, $17.95, PB, 346pp,

Synopsis: The American West has always been known for strong women, and the state of Colorado is no exception. From the earliest days of settlement, Colorado women had a love for the land and built their homesteads and ranches.

The Homestead Act of 1862 brought thousands west for free land, new beginnings, and a new way of life. For many, it was the dawn of a new dream, and no more so than for the female homesteader. At a time when most women's futures were tied to a husband's prosperity, it was a bold, courageous step for women to step out of the conventional norm.

In "Ranching Women of Colorado: 17 Legendary Ladies" author and Colorado historian Linda Wommack tells the stories of these remarkable women who found ways to survive and thrive in the male dominated ranching industry of the 19th century West.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, meticulous, and informative study of seventeen hardy Colorado pioneers, each of whom could well serve as inspirational icons for the women of today, "Ranching Women of Colorado: 17 Legendary Ladies" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library 19th Century Colorado History and Women's Biography collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Editorial Note: Linda Wommack is a Colorado historian and historical consultant who has written eleven books on Colorado history, including Murder in the Mile High City; Colorado's Landmark Hotels; From the Grave: Colorado's Pioneer Cemeteries; Our Ladies of the Tenderloin: Colorado's Legends in Lace; Colorado History for Kids; Colorado's Historic Mansions and Castles; Ann Bassett, Colorado's Cattle Queen; and Haunted History of Cripple Creek and Teller County. She has also contributed to two anthologies concerning Western Americana. Linda has been a contributing editor for True West Magazine since 1995. She has also been a staff writer for Wild West magazine, contributing a monthly article since 2004. She has written for The Tombstone Epitaph, the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper, since 1993.

Surfside Style: Relaxed Living By The Coast
Fifi O'Neill, author
Mark Lohman, photographer
CICO Books
c/o Ryland Peters & Small
519 Broadway, 5th floor, New York, NY 10012
9781782498803, $29.95, HC, 160pp,

Synopsis: Surfside Style is a celebration of the simple colors, natural textures, and sun-bleached beauty of living by the sea, "Surfside Style" by Fifi O'Neill features beautiful and specially commissioned photography by Mark Lohman that perfectly showcases twelve gorgeous homes across the United States (from California to Florida) that are inspired by the calm and rhythm of living in harmony with the water.

The perfectly presented interiors bear the influence of maritime colors and simple, natural textures, hand-hewn beams, bleached wood, weathered planks, woven blankets, and mother-of pearl tones. Fifi O'Neill shows how to combine originality, creative energy, whimsy, and the spirit of the surf to create serene, authentic, and enchanting interiors.

From beach cottages to surf shacks, romantic vacation hideaways to bohemian nods to the past, "Surfside Style" will provide decorative inspiration for all and all who love the ocean or dream of living by the sea.

Critique: An inspired and inspiring blend of commentary and illustration, this outstanding edition of "Surfside Style: Relaxed Living By The Coast" will prove to be an ideal and welcome addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library architectural, interior design, and crafted furniture collections.

Editorial Note: Fifi O'Neill is an editor, a writer, and a photo stylist. She has produced numerous features on home decorating, food, and gardening for American and European magazines, such as Coastal Living, Country Living (USA), Casa Romantica, Casa Antichi (Italy), and many more. Fifi's previous books are Global Bohemian, Romantic Prairie Style and Romantic Prairie Cookbook, all published by CICO Books. Her popular blog,, reaches upwards of two million followers. Fifi grew up in Paris, France, though she now lives in Florida.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Finding Home: Portraits and Memories of Immigrants
Becky Field, photographer
Peter E. Randall Publisher
5 Greenleaf Woods Drive, Suite 102, Portsmouth New Hampshire 03801
9781942155348, $35.00, HC, 96pp,

Synopsis: "Finding Home: Portraits and Memories of Immigrants" is a celebration of people from other countries who have resettled in New Hampshire, a state known for low cultural diversity.

Photographer Becky Field has been documenting cultural diversity in the state since 2012. Now, in addition to their portraits, she met with 40 immigrants to record and transcribe their memories of life in the home country and their journeys to find a new home in the Granite State.

Some came to escape violence; some came for love; some came for education. Some are teenagers with a lot of life ahead of them; some are elders with long memories of their journeys. The stories comprising "Finding Home" show the resilience and determination of people to find a safe home, good education for their children, work to support their families, and freedom to practice their faith. The photographic portraits show the beauty and vitality of cultural diversity that contributes to all our communities.

Critique: A pleasure to simply browse through one page at a time, "Finding Home: Portraits and Memories of Immigrants" is a unique and extraordinary contribution to our current and on-going national dialogue over immigration. Beautifully illustrated throughout with full color photography, "Finding Home" is a coffee-table style volume (10.1 x 0.6 x 11.4 inches) that will prove to be a welcome and appreciated addition to personal, community, college, and university library Contemporary American Photography collections and would well serve as a template for similar immigration oriented projects.

Editorial Note: Becky Field's photography has won awards and been recognized by arts organizations and immigrant communities. In 2014 her work was selected for a juried exhibit at the NH Institute of Art. She was a Visiting Fellow at Derryfield School, Manchester, NH. Her photographs have been added to the permanent art collections at the NH Institute of Art and the Mariposa Museum, Peterborough, NH. Becky studied at the NH Institute of Art, and at photography centers throughout the Northeast. In past work she was a wildlife ecologist and university professor. She has a doctoral degree in ecology and lives in Concord, NH.

Glenda Sue Paradee
Thanks For The Music
9780578652078, $19.95, HC,

Synopsis: The moral of this story is, it's okay to be different, you can be happy, and you are still loved! "TINKERBELL, the LONG-HAIRED CHIHUAHUA" is the story of author Glenda Sue Paradee's little dog Tinkerbell, who was her beautiful, loving canine companion that gave her unconditional love and comfort. "TINKERBELL, the LONG-HAIRED CHIHUAHUA" engaging describes and entertainingly illustrates some of the adventures and highlights of their life together.

Critique: A deftly presented and fitting memorial to a beloved canine companion, "TINKERBELL, the LONG-HAIRED CHIHUAHUA" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary Pets & Wildlife collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dog lovers everywhere that "TINKERBELL, the LONG-HAIRED CHIHUAHUA" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Socially Distanced: A Keepsake Journal
Robert Stern
Independently Published
9780980198898, $9.95, 32pp,

Synopsis: The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting every family and every child in America today. That's why Robert Stern has created a DIY journal in which children ages 12 and up can help themselves to cope with all of what that means.

Along with providing a cogent and thoroughly 'kid friendly' basic explanation of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as a personalized record of their experiences as the Coronavirus based epidemic impacts their families, their schools, and their communities, "Socially Distanced: A Keepsake Journal" created by Robert Stern is where children (and their parents) can record such issues and questions as to: What provisions did they stock up on during the COVID-19 quarantine? What changes have they made to their daily life? Whom are they most concerned for during this pandemic? And so much more!

"Socially Distanced: A Keepsake Journal", is accurately described by Stern as a unique journal of fun verse -- and one that is charmingly enhanced for children with numerous humorous illustrations by artist/illustrator Mark Hill.

One special and interesting background note is that it was when Stern found himself quarantined in his Henderson, Nevada, home with his fishing trip canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic that he decided to share his rhyming ways and produced a slender book that he and others could use to record their memories during this historic time.

Critique: An incredibly timely and unreservedly recommended publication that is impressively 'kid friendly' in organization and presentation, "Socially Distanced: A Keepsake Journal" will prove to be a welcome, entertaining, and constructively useful DIY journal entry style publication for use by anyone ages 12 and older who are having to deal with the restrictions, concerns, and impact of the present pandemic upon themselves, their family members, their friends, and their communities.

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Sins In Blue
Brian Kaufman
Black Rose Writing
9781944715595, $21.95, 138 pgs, May 21, 2020

While songwriters make music out of story, Brian Kaufman's latest novel, Sins in Blue, makes a story out of music.

Young promoter, Kennedy Barnes, has cassettes of little known blues artist Willie Johnson's songs to prove that Willie invented rock n' rock long before everyone thinks it started. Now, to secure better futures for both of them, Kennedy has to convince Willie, and a record label, to include Willie on the line up at a blues festival. Not only do Kennedy and Willie have work to do on this musical adventure, they have demons from their pasts to face.
Pairing extremes, like Kennedy and Willie, makes for a tension-filled plot. Kennedy, an 18 yr old from Pittsburgh, leaves home against his family's wishes in order to find his musical hero, Willie. Willie is retirement age but still works at a hotel despite aches and pains. His music career has not afforded him any savings. Their differences cause conflicts, from which much learning and solidarity also arise.

The story toggles between North and South, past and present. Willie grows up in Mississippi in the 1920s and 30s, ending up in Colorado, where he meets Kennedy in 1969. Situated at the epicenter of vast cultural shifts between then and now, here and there, the story has an epic quality.

Fact and fiction blend amicably - and surprisingly. Juke joints, restaurants and bars named are based on real places. Willie's struggles as a newcomer to the North in the 1930s rings true to historical accounts. But real-life blues legend, "Blind" Willie Johnson, is nothing like fictional Willie Johnson....

Lyrics from Willie's song, Sins in Blue, permeate the text with a pathos that spills out beyond the short novel's last page. The book's edgy themes and rhythms still vibrate through today's society. Its characters model an enduring and beautiful friendship for this era.

Fresh Water for Flowers
Valerie Perrin
Translated from French by Hildegarde Serle
Europa Editions
9781609455958, $25.00, July 2, 2020, 474 pps

A novel in which the narrator claims to have been "adopted" by a book provides its own assessment criteria. Does Fresh Water for Flowers adopt us, claim us, make a home for us between its pages? Absolutely.

Violette, the heroine and narrator, is an orphan who marries the first man she adores, Philippe Toussaint. Philippe and Violette have a daughter, Leonine. Later in life, Violette becomes a cemetery caretaker. She meets Julien Seul as he leaves his mother's ashes on the grave of her lover. Curious about this beautiful cemetery caretaker, Julien plays detective in Violette's life. Does he help Violette go of a lifetime of hurts, or is he just another cause for pain?
As Julien discovers, there's more to Violette than the drab uniform she wears. He sees something red peeking out beneath her beige coat... Violette considers her little house in the cemetery a confessional. Her job is to be discreet, a listener, and yet, as her mentor, the previous cemetery caretaker says, "if we had to do only what was part of our job, life would be sad." (31). As Violette takes stories of her cemetery "neighbors" up into her own, attending to the dead and the ones they leave behind turns out to be a lifegiving process. Perrin's treatment of scenes - a testament to her photography and screenwriting abilities - is a lifegiving luxury to the senses. Clothing, flowers, food, and cozy rooms are brought to life in vivid detail, in Violette's observant eye. The plot moves along like animated floral arrangements.

This first translated novel of French author/photographer/screenwriter, Perrin, is an epic and a cinematographic landmark, poised on the fine point between life and death. This novel turns both death and life on their heads. Violette, her mentor, Sasha, and friend, Julien, find ways to generate a garden from death's compost. But there are other characters who are just as good at making life a living hell. The novel is full of extremes and comic interludes in between. There are love affairs, happy marriages and relationships gone sour. There are love letters and diary entries, eulogies, court records and official statements, in short, a seed catalogue of literary gems between two covers. This novel envelopes us and makes us cry as well as smile. It's the best kind of mirror, that reflects back to us the beauty and breadth of being human.

Pont Neuf
Max Byrd
Permuted Press
9781682619216, $16.99, 240 pps, July 7, 2020

Pont Neuf, Max Byrd's latest historical fiction set during World War II, resides on a bridge between two worlds. Contextually, Pont Neuf, the bridge in Paris, is a meeting point for two soldiers and a woman they love, after the Battle of the Bulge. Figuratively, the bridge stands for a point between living and dead, involved and distant, war and peace, innocence and maturity.

The novel inhabits these transoms with a literary command worthy of its writerly characters. Annie March, the fictional main character, sends articles and pictures from the front to Vogue magazine. Her mentor is the factual third wife of Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, a New York Times contributor of her own fame. Martha introduces Annie to The Twins, Harvard roommates who attract like opposite poles of a magnet. Shaw, aka the Killer, is as fierce a fighter as he is a loyal friend - and Jefferson devotee. Adams studies math and maps. His forte is cracking code. One of these will win Annie's heart while Martha loses her love for Hemingway.

"When you looked through glasses' lenses, [Annie] thought, the world came clearer.... You only thought about the abstract technical challenge of taking a good picture" (15). Without losing the technical clarity of distance, the novel moves the action through graphic, up-close scenes on battlefields, in war torn cities, makeshift hospitals, spontaneous parties and dive bars. The pacing is frantic and unpredictable, as varied as from Shaw's impulsive thirst for justice to Adam's calculating mind. As the story travels through these chaotic paths, Annie develops a moral compass and becomes a better journalist.

The appearance of famous figures such as Eisenhower, Cronkite, William Walton and Patton gives the text a luminous quality. The present of the book is tethered to the past through frequent references to ancient history and literature. Although the atrocities of war and the trends of the era affect Annie's moral compass, timeless wisdom also guides her. With Shaw's ferocity, Adam's precision, and Annie's charm, Pont Neuf navigates a slice of time, a chasm between worlds, with a breadth of wit, pathos and humor.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Marilee Merrell's Bookshelf

Solving Sophronia (The Blue Orchid Society, #1)
Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications
9781524412357, $14.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 224pp

Jennifer Moore has done it again. This first book in the Blue Orchid Society series is not your typical Victorian's even better!

Lady Sophronia wants to be more than just her title or her family's place in society. She wants to be seen for who she truly is: an intelligent, capable, tenacious woman who's greatest aspiration is to be an investigative journalist. With an eccentric grandmother cheering her on, a group of like-minded friends supporting her, and and a brusque but endearing police detective by her side, she just may succeed.

If you are looking for a sweet historical romance with compelling characters, an engaging plot, and a satisfying ending, look no further! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eagerly waiting for the next book in this series.

Editorial Note: "Solving Sophia" by Jennifer Moore is also readily available as a complete and unabridged audio book (Covenant Communications Inc., 9781524412364, $27.99, CD).

Marilee Merrell

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

The Last Trial
Scott Turow
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette
1290 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10104
9781538748168, $29.00, hardcover, 449 pages

I became a Scott Turow fan back in 1987 with the publication of Presumed Innocent. I turned 34 that year, and I still harbored some lingering doubts about my profession (journalism) and some vague idea that I could still go to law school and become the lawyer my 16-year-old self had expected to be. It never happened. Perhaps that's why when I hadn't returned to Turow since reading Pleading Guilty in 1993. But now, I realize how bored I have become in courtroom dramas. Once upon a time, I probably considered the rapid back-and-forth of attorneys and witnesses, the pages-long, studied oratory of opening and closing statements, and the legal maneuvering at the bench fascinating. Today, no. Certainly that is my fault, not Turow's.

After all, in part, the book is exactly what it purports to be - the eleventh of the Kindle County series of courtroom dramas. No false advertising here. This is Alejandro "Sandy" Stern's last trial. With his weak and damaged heart, he shouldn't even be here. He should have left this trial to his lawyer daughter and his clever researcher and niece. But he can't let his old buddy Pafko, a brilliant medical and pharmaceutical executive, down when he asks Sandy to defend him against insider trading and murder charges associated with a drug his firm developed. There is a plot twist here - the whodunnit part - but to call this novel a "thriller" is misleading marketing. There are no thrills here.

If I had read only the first 150 pages and the last 150 pages, and skipped the middle 150 pages, I probably would give this a better review. But the middle third of the book, mostly set in the courtroom, didn't add much to the story, and I maintain the book would have been better without it - maybe it would have seemed more "thrilling." But, the attorneys' objections, the judge's orders to "approach the bench," and the questions and the answers at the witness stand put me to sleep. Literally. I couldn't stay awake. Finally, I skipped over the courtroom scenes and shot ahead to where there was again some action and discovery instead of verbal legal sparring. The melodramatic romances and betrayals of old white men and their wives in the last third of the novel wove an interesting funereal cloth for the end of attorney Sandy Stern's life and career.

I recommend this book only to those who want to be trial attorneys when they grow up, and those who already are. Otherwise, I'm not sure it's much fun.

Fair Warning
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown
c/o Hachette
1290 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10104
9780316539425, $29.00, hardcover, 396 pages

There's a murderer on the loose or there wouldn't be a Michael Connelly novel. This one is a serial killer whose very existence has gone undetected because what his victims have in common is a trait invisible to the naked eye - a genetic predisposition.

As readers of Connelly's 31 crime and detective novels know, he from the perspective of two popular, recurring characters: Jack McAvoy, a reporter no doubt inspired by Connelly's own days as a crime reporter in Florida and California; and Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch. Fair Warning marks a return to the McAvoy protagonist, which signals to a Connelly reader that the police are not likely to be the heroes of this tale.

McAvoy works at an unprofitable online news outlet by the same name as the novel that depends on charitable donations for its subsistence. The "newspaper" covers crime, and Jack writes about white-color crimes on the consumer-fraud beat. He is tossed into the case of a serial murderer, Shrike, only because the police consider him a "person of interest" - he spent a night with the latest of Shrike's victims a year before her death. The police trail and harass Jack, as expected, but in this case, it's somewhat mystifying as the victim likely slept with dozens of men in her last year. At times, the cops' maniacal pursuit of Jack is triggered by revenge; at times, it's an attempt to wrest information from him; and other times, they seem simply to want to keep him out of the way. Their cat-and-mouse dodging provides the usual comic relief. Also keeping the narrative light is his tenuous renewed romantic relationship with a former FBI agent.

As with reviews of all such crime novels, further plot explication ruins the story, so that's enough. The novel is fun, a quick read, and satisfying in its conclusion. I am not a regular reader of crime fiction, but when I do pick up a crime novel, I want it to be as fast-paced and reassuring as this: it's nice to know that even when Bosch isn't on the case, someone is going to figure out who the bad guy/gal is and bring him/her to justice.

An Elegant Woman
Martha McPhee
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781501179570, $27.00, hardcover, 404 pages

I generally wouldn't recommend a book unless I loved the whole thing. What do you say, though, when you really loved two-thirds of a book, and then couldn't finish it?

This is what I will say: Too bad the editor didn't cut the book from page 300 forward. The first two generations of this four-generation story are interesting. The last two, not.

In the beginning, there are two major characters in this novel: Glenna, the great-grandmother of the story, and Tommy, her daughter who ends up returning to the East. These two women are tough survivors, willing to make it up as they go, whether it's their history they're telling, their present, or their future. Glenna is fed up with her life and husband in Ohio and takes off, two young girls in tow, for Montana. She arrives in Billings, lives for a while in Miles City, Butte and Helena, and ends up with a daughter in California - all familiar territories for me, and evocatively portrayed by McPhee. She captures Glenna's idiosyncrasies and unsettled nature, even though the woman flashes in and out of the girls' lives, leaving little behind for them to subsist on. The daughter, Tommy, is left to care for her little sister, Katherine, and to do so, she begs, steals, cooks, cleans, traps coyotes, and puts out (literal) fires. Katherine gets a high school diploma; Tommy gets streetwise and tough.

What Tommy decides to do with her post-mother-surrogate life is the start of the end of this fascinating tale, and while it is compelling, I wanted more. More detail, more of her emotional state and more of her mental compensations for what she did. (No spoiler - I'm not going to tell you what it was.) Instead, we get a great deal of Katherine's uninteresting musings and whining, and eventually pass briefly through the third generation - including "mother" to the narrator - and then some random ramblings and travels by the fourth generation, including the narrator, none of whom is truly memorable. The narrator, we expected, would have great observations, if not discoveries. She pops in and out of the early part of the book, sprinkling in hints that one thing or another will become important in the long run, but in the end, none of it seems important or revealing. The last quarter of the novel rehashes the themes of what we remember and what we forget; what we tell and what parts of our stories we leave out. It's as if the author thought we "didn't get it."

I still think for those who like great writing about the Mountain West and Great Plains of the early 1900s, three-quarters of this book is a fine read. As always, it's up to every reader to decide how much more captures their attention.

The Golden Cage
Camilla Lackberg
Alfred A Knopf
c/o Penguin Random House
9780325657972, $26.95, Hardcover, 336 pages

Scandinavian noir is a huge literary genre, yet much of it doesn't appeal to me, as most of the titles involve blood and gore. Not my thing. In Camilla Lackberg's thrillers, however, the horror is domestic and insidious. It may not involve gruesome torture and murder, but it is just as chilling.

Faye (nee Matilda) is the heroine of The Golden Cage, and her husband Jack is the hero of his own mythology. He and his venture firm, Compare, are on the top of the Stockholm corporate world, and Jack believes he and his college buddy, Henrick, are the sole progenitors of their success. But the truth is a more complicated story that Jack buries, excusing his fabrication as easier for the media to understand and glorify. In fact, Faye, a brilliant college student when she meets Jack, came up with the business plan and the name for his company, and figured out how to make the business succeed before he insisted she drop out and stay home to raise their child, Julienne. Faye continues to do whatever she can to encourage Jack's success, including buying him a desk that once belonged to Ingmar Bergman, and nurturing Julienne's love for her father.

The first two-fifths of this novel are can't-put-down gripping. Jack obsessions are his business, child porn, and rough sex, and none of these seems to repel Faye. To satisfy his need to feel superior, she plays dumb when he quizzes her about current business affairs. He demands that she socialize with his business associates' wives - caricatures of Tom Wolfe's "x-rays." The women munch on single leaves of lettuce at lunch and spend the rest of the day in the gym and shops in order to remain thin, dumb, and attractive for their high-achieving spouses. The men, of course, are having sex with their secretaries, chief financial officers, and "anything that moves." For a long time, despite obvious clues otherwise, Faye believes her marriage is different and that Jack is faithful to her.

The question raised in the beginning of the novel isn't whether their marriage will end in a disaster for Faye or how - it's how much abuse she will take before it happens. And what she'll do then. As Matilda, she grew up in a small fishing village with an abusive father and a weakling of a brother, and if she had turned into a misandrist, she would have had good reason. It's even more excruciating, then, to see how low she degrades herself and how long she holds onto the fantasy that her submission to Jack will pay off in the long run with a revival of marital bliss and her return to a fulfilling professional life. Of course, that would require Jack to change his stripes, so ... The machinations of her revenge - revenge is both the plot of the second half of the book and what she names the company she creates to get it - are ultimately satisfying, if much less sweat-inducing. As if she weren't already angry enough, a surprise revelation in the end gives her an amped up drive to punish him. What Jack gets, Jack deserves.

If there is a criticism to be waged at this book, it's that Jack's perfect and loving persona in college changes so radically - apparently without cause - by the time the story takes off. Perhaps the message is how even undeserved success boosts the ego and narcissism of those born with a silver spoon in their mouth if they are not schooled in any morals or ethics - a theme of our times.

I highly recommend this book.

Block Seventeen
Kimiko Guthrie
Blackstone Publishing
31 Mistletoe Rd., Ashland, OR 57520
9781982678401, $26.99, hardcover, 276 pages

I like unreliable narrators - the ones who don't tell you the truth or are blinded to it themselves. They allow a reader an active participation in the story - figuring it out for themselves. I generally don't care for unbalanced - dare I say crazy? - narrators. And if the narrator is both, I'm usually outta there.

But in Block Seventeen, Kimiko Guthrie's new novel, I got hooked by Akiko "Jane" Thompson's desperate attempt to figure out what's real and what's not. She sees things and hears things that she suspects aren't really there. A baby's muffled cries permeate the walls of her home. Is there a baby next door or not? A mysterious person creates towers of household objects in her bedroom, trashes her apartment, and opens boxes in the attic. Her fiance installs cameras to find the culprit, but the only person in the pictures is Jane. Her mother appears and disappears - is she okay? Is she alive? Why does she only communicate through social media? What is Jane's imagination and sleepwalking trying to tell her?

What makes this work is that Jane knows she's disoriented and struggling with reality. She knows her senses are unreliable and that she's teetering on the edge of psychosis. In spite of the heavy subject matter, there is nothing ponderous about Guthrie's prose. In brilliant, engaging scenes that keep us along on what would otherwise be a stressful journey, Jane struggles to find meaning in what's going on in her head and in her surroundings. A bit of Buddhism is brought to bear on her search, giving the story a mystical and, at the same time, grounding effect. Together with Jane, we discover that a return to sanity for Jane and understanding for us will require recognition and an embrace of the multi-generational trauma inflicted by the Japanese-American internment of World War II, which we have all labored to deny.

I highly recommend this book. (A special bonus is the book jacket. The beautiful color illustration is striking enough in itself, but it's further enhanced with varnished images visible only with oblique light. An amazing work of art.)

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

The Road Not Taken
Max Boot
c/o W.W. Norton
9781631495625, $19.95, paperback

This book is not only a biography of a pivotal, yet interestingly unknown figure but a work of history with diplomatic, political, and military implications which force us to rethink our understanding of recent American history. With the endless wars continuing in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, this seemed like a good time to read a book which puts the Vietnamese war into a new perspective. A war which, according to the author, 2.7 million American troops had passed through, (500,000 troops by 1967), the conflict claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans and 3.6 million Vietnamese and when we left, it ended a thirty-year civil war between competing factions of Vietnamese over control of their country.

The pandemic offered the time and opportunity to take on a book of this size and scope (over 715 pages). Plus, several years ago I was able to actually visit Vietnam as the CEO of Hagar, which works with survivors of human trafficking, which stimulated my interest in learning more about the US legacy there. In the early 1970's I took "The Road Less Traveled" and joined the Peace Corps, thus avoiding direct participation in the conflict.

Another reason I wanted to read it now is that it tells the life of covert operative, Edward Lansdale, who was the fictional model for Graham Green's The Quiet American, one of my favorite authors. Interestingly, this book motivated two authors to create one of the characters in "The Ugly American" a copy of which John F. Kennedy sent to all members of Congress as it espoused many of the values of the Peace Corps. The book went through fifty-five printings in two years and directly resulted in the formation of the Peace Corps.

According to Greene, the two authors, Eugene Burdick and William Lederer actually misunderstood his story which depicted the American CIA agent, Alden Pyle, as being blinded to the realities and challenges in Vietnam due to his belief in "American Exceptionalism." And "The Ugly American" would promote better trained, technically proficient staff focused on assisting developing countries which ironically, were the same qualities that blinded Alden Pyle.
Ironically, in November 2019, the BBC News listed The Quiet American on its list of 100 most influential novels. The novel generated two films, the original 1958 Hollywood film and the 2001 more true version to the book which screened the day before September 11 attacks and had to shelved for a year as it was considered, "unpatriotic" which reflects the interesting and controversial role these two books played on how Americans perceived our involvement in Vietnam and eventually the rest of the world.

The author brings the tragic complexity of Lansdale and the Vietnamese War including his nuanced approach to our foreign policy, which might of impacted how it eventually ended, with amazing detail. Lansdale pioneered a "hearts and minds" diplomacy first in the Philippines and then in Vietnam although eventually Landsdale's vision would be overwhelmed by the U.S.'s formidable military bureaucracy, steered by elitist generals and blueblood diplomats and intellectuals like Maxwell Taylor, Walt Rostow, Robert McNamara, Henry Cabot Lodge and McGeorge Bundy.

Dozens of interviews and innumerable never before-seen documents recast what is a cautionary American story, tracing the gutsy rise to a crashing fall of the roguish "T.E. Lawrence of Asia" from the battle of Dien Bien Phu to the humiliating evacuation in 1975. Lansdale didn't speak any foreign languages but impacted events in both the Philippines and eventually would be tapped to assassinate Fidel Castro. According to the author, "more than four decades after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, (Lansdale was) one of the most fascinating and mysterious, yet misunderstood figures in post-1945 American foreign policy.

According to George Anderson of the Washington Times,

"Edward Lansdale is probably the greatest cold warrior that most Americans have never heard of. Max Boot has written a fascinating account of how this California college humorist, frat boy and advertising executive evolved into a counterinsurgency expert before the term was even coined.... Max Boot has become one of the master chroniclers of American counterinsurgency efforts, and his biography of Mr. Lansdale is a tribute to a guy who recognized the threat of insurgency in a post-World War II environment where most American leaders saw only brute force as a solution to any political-military problem.... This book should be read in Baghdad and Kabul, not only by Americans, but by local leaders."

The Author: Fifty-four photographs and three maps enhance the quality of the story. Max Boot is a military historian and foreign policy analyst who has been called "one of the world's leading authorities on armed conflict. He is the author of innumerable books such as, "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present Day." His most recent book is The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right. He is a Senior Fellow at the council on Foreign Relations, a columnist for the Washing Pose, and a global affairs analyst for CNN.

Table of Contents:
Ad Man (1908/1945) --
Colonel Landslide (1945/1954) --
Nation Builder (1954/1956) --
Washington Warrior (1957/1963) --
Bastard Child (1964/1968) --
The Beaten Man (1968/1987).

The Quiet American
Graham Greene
Modern Library
9780143039020, $17.00, paperback

I've been meaning to read this book for years as it's considered one of the best novels about the war in Indo China and even though it was written in 1955 it anticipated many of the flaws in American character and history which would result in what many now consider a catastrophic military debacle. Greene, regarded by many as one of the great writers of the 20th century is also one of my favorite global storytellers with "Journey Without Maps" leading my list. I'd worked in Sierra Leone where he started his journey through Liberia and then followed that with one of his most insightful books, Heart of the Matter which took place in Sierra Leone where he was an intelligence officer in Freetown.

According to Robert Stone's introduction, the title of his novel was a joke. The key character, an American, is anything but "quiet." Like all the Americans who appear in its deft, succinct story, Alden Pyle is a prattling fool and the author goes on to prove his unspoken punch line: the only quiet American is a dead American.

The novel was popular in England and achieved considerable recognition after being adapted into films in 1958 and again in 2002 featuring one of my favorite actors, Michael Caine who received a Best Actor nomination. However, after its publication in the United States in 1956, the novel was widely condemned as anti-American. It was criticized by The New Yorker for portraying Americans as murderers, largely based on one scene in which a bomb explodes in a crowd of people.

Pyle is the brash young idealist CIA agent sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas. According to Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Pyle, "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused." The "Quiet American" would become the most controversial novel of the author's career

As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But Fowler's motives for intervening are suspect, both to the police and himself, for Pyle has stolen Fowler's beautiful Vietnamese mistress Phuong.

I obtained the "Graham Greene Centennial Edition" with the introductory essay by Robert Stone who speculates on how true to life the plot was. "The bombing described in which plastique explosives were set off in downtown Saigon, apparently involved the Cao Dao sect but American historians deny the CIA was involved and even in the novel the motive is vague. Stone goes on to say, "but in the larger sense the Vietnamese who gave their lives to fulfill the ambitions and "tough-mindedness. Of American schemers, the McNamaras, the Bundys, the Rostows, and the Colbys are such that no man can number. I do not believe the word innocent, even in Greene's elusive definition, can be applied to them."

This Penguin classic version of the book, which has over 1,700 titles provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors. In the online version on Amazon which indicates "Look Inside", I found an article by Robert Futrell, "Origins of the American Commitment to Vietnam" as well as a "National Security Council Position Paper" on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam which provided even more on the historic context to Greene's story.

Author John le Carre sums up what makes this author so special, "Greene had wit and grace and character and story and a transcendent universal compassion that places him for all time in the ranks of world literary."

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir
Madeleine Albright
c/o HarperCollins
9780062802255, $29.99, 2020, 372 pgs

Public service has rapidly changed from being a noble and high-minded profession to the arena where names and accusations are spewed forth as often as the weather changes. The days of distinguished government servants are dwindling with each passing hour. Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir, the latest volume from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, (New York: HarperCollins, 2020, 372 pgs, USA $29.99, Can $36.99), arrives in the nick of time as a much needed employee handbook for those wanting to create change in government. Sec. Albright's honest, witty, and relevant narrative is a fresh look at how important government service can be. Hell and Other Destinations is a foundational piece of altering how important it should be for Americans, and for women especially, to be strong, knowledgeable, and ready to influence the next generation.

Hell and other Destinations is more than a typical memoir. Sec. Albright shares both personal and professional experiences and interactions with world leaders who see her as an equal and others who vilify her. The writing is easy to follow, exciting to read, and inspiring. The stories are a mix of how-to and how-not-to. The underlying idea of Hell and other Destinations is one of hard work, dedication, and devotion to service and support.

Sec. Albright is an inspiration to Americans from the big city and from the rural countryside. Hell and Other Destinations should be required reading for anyone wanting to change their world. It should be required reading for anyone wanting to give the next generation the tools needed to facilitate that change. It is well worth a weekend, and well worth contemplating. It should be on the shelf of every American as we consider the next decade.

Matthew W. McCarty

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Breaching the Summit
Kenneth O. Preston, et al.
Casemate Publishers
1940 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083
9781612008714, $34.95, HC, 288pp,

Synopsis: "Breaching the Summit: Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Military's Best" is comprised of the stories of six former senior enlisted advisors to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each tells in their own words how they got their start, how mentors encouraged them along the way, and how they eventually became the highest-ranking enlisted member in their respective service.

"Breaching the Summit" features the illustrative and informative personal stories of: Ken Preston, 13th Sergeant Major of the Army (retired); Mike Barrett, 17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (retired); Rick West, 12th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (retired); James Roy, 16th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (retired); Denise Jelinski-Hall, 3rd Senior Enlisted Advisor to the National Guard Bureau (retired); and Skip Bowen, 10th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (retired).

Critique: Showcasing invaluable life lessons within the context of military experiences, "Breaching the Summit: Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Military's Best" will prove to be of special and particular interest to junior military service members, senior enlisted leaders and officers, as well as political and corporate leaders in civilian life. While particularly recommended for community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Breaching the Summit: Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Military's Best" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

The Cadottes: A Fur Trade Family on Lake Superior
Robert Silber Nagel
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
816 State Street, Madison, WI 53575
9780870209406, $28.95, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: The Great Lakes fur trade spanned two centuries and thousands of miles, but the story of one particular family, the Cadottes, illuminates the history of trade and trapping while exploring under-researched stories of French-Ojibwe political, social, and economic relations.

Multiple generations of Cadottes were involved in the trade, usually working as interpreters and peacemakers, as the region passed from French to British to American control. Focusing on the years 1760 to 1840 (the heyday of the Great Lakes fur trade) author and journalist Robert Silbernagel delves into the lives of the Cadottes, with particular emphasis on the Ojibwe - French Canadian Michel Cadotte and his Ojibwe wife, Equaysayway, who were traders and regional leaders on Madeline Island for nearly forty years.

In "The Cadottes: A Fur Trade Family on Lake Superior", Silbernagel deepens our understanding of this era with stories of resilient, remarkable people.

Critique: An impressively informative and meticulous work of original research and scholarship, "The Cadottes: A Fur Trade Family on Lake Superior" takes an extraordinary and effective approach to history through its focus on one multi-generational family clan. Enhanced for academia and the non-specialist general reader with the Cadotte Family Tree, a Timeline, forty-five pages of Notes, and an eleven page Index, "The Cadottes: A Fur Trade Family on Lake Superior" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library American History collections and supplemental curriculum reading lists. It should be noted that "The Cadottes: A Fur Trade Family on Lake Superior" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Robert Silbernagel studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin and spent his newspaper career in Colorado. He writes a bimonthly column for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and has published on Aldo Leopold and Colorado history.

The Big Book of Mars
Marc Hartzman
Quirk Books
215 Church Street, Philadelphia PA 19106
9781683692096, $24.99, PB, 256pp,

Synopsis: The planet Mars has been a source of fascination and speculation ever since the Ancient Sumerians first observed its blood-red hue and named it for their god of war and plague. But it wasn't until 1877, when "canals" were observed on the surface of the Red Planet, suggesting the presence of water, that scientists, novelists, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs became obsessed with the question of whether there's life on Mars.

In his novel, The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells suggested that we wouldn't need to make contact with Martians -- they'd come for us. While, many years later, Nikola Tesla claimed that he did make contact!

Since then, Mars has fully invaded pop culture. It has its own day of the week (Tuesday, or martis in Latin), a candy bar, and an iconic Looney Tunes character. It has been the subject of novels and movies, from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles to Mars Attacks! to The Martian. And it has sparked a space-race feud between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who both hope to send a manned mission to Mars in the near future.

"The Big Book of Mars: From Ancient Egypt to The Martian, A Deep-Space Dive into Our Obsession with the Red Planet" is an impressively comprehensive and profusely illustrated compendium of all this and more!

Critique: Expertly written, organized and presented, "The Big Book of Mars" is an inherently fascinating and engaging read from first page to last. While an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Big Book of Mars" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Tantor Audio, 9781705257234, $12.99, CD).

Michael J. Carson

Niles Reddick's Bookshelf

Heaven and Other Zip Codes
Mathieu Cailler
Open Books
9781948598354, $19.95, Paperback, $9.99, eBook

Cailler's newest Heaven and Other Zip Codes is one of those novels that I simply couldn't put down. I devoured the whole book in one day, moving from one room to another, from one chair to the sofa, and back. I was enchanted with the characters and story and loved every bit of it. It's a finely conceived and carefully crafted novel, and I believe we'll see this story on the big screen.

A writer of poetry, prose, and even children's literature, Cailler is well-published in literary magazines and journals and has received much recognition including being a finalist for Glimmer Train, the New Rivers Press American Fiction Prize, and Raymond Carver Short Story Award. He is also a recent recipient of a Short Story American Prize for Short Fiction. All these recognitions are richly deserved. Heaven and Other Zip Codes is his first novel and sixth book.

Heaven and Other Zip Codes deals with marital relationships and their complexities (unfaithfulness, divorce, gender roles, etc.), but the narrative is about so much more. Protagonist Emerson Toffler seems an older and more soulful Holden Caulfield and befriends his pupil Theo, becoming even a father figure and friend for him. Toffler also has a relationship with a known retiree and artist, perhaps a mother figure for him, and as the wise old woman character, she opens doors for him. In a way, the novel is a guide about how to live.

Cailler's Heaven and Other Zip Codes is a winner, a must read, and poised for recognition. As I wrote in a blurb, there are lows "as deep as the Titanic's stemware... and ups Kilimanjaro-like", and readers will fall in love with this page-turning, brilliant novel. They will fall in love with the characters, rooting for them to be successful and hoping they'll find love and be happy, and readers will also drink in the sweeping scenes of Catalina Island and other areas of California. Cailler is destined for an award with this newest post-modern masterpiece.

To read more about Mathieu Cailler, please see his website or visit his publisher's site at

Niles Reddick, Reviewer

Pacific Book Review

Five Minutes, Mr. Byner: A Lifetime of Laughter
John Byner, author
Douglas Wellman, author
WriteLife Publishing
9781608082346, $15.95 PB
9781608082353, $6.99 eBook

Los Angeles, CA - - Veteran entertainer John Byner, a man of many voices and characters, from impersonating the slow, rolling gait and speech of John Wayne, to lending his voice to The Ant and the Aardvark cartoons has penned (with Douglas Wellman) his biography "Five Minutes, Mr. Byner: A Lifetime of Laughter" published by Boutique of Quality Books. His dead-on impersonations, as well as his unique talents as a character actor, have put him on the small screen in peoples' homes, the big screen in theaters, and no screen on Broadway.

". . . John has had a remarkable career spanning decades, from doing comedy in small clubs in Greenwich Village to The Ed Sullivan Show. . . Ed loved him. . . to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, to Steve Allen, who basically invented the talk show, to The Carol Burnett Show, to just about every major variety show or situation comedy there was on the air, to hosting his own variety show and introducing Bob Einstein as Super Dave Osborne, and on and on. . . . And he's still going strong, as funny and as kind as ever." - Nathan Lane

Growing up in a big family on Long Island, John discovered his uncanny ability to mimic voices as a child when he returned home from a Bing Crosby movie and repeated Bing's performance for his family in their living room. He discovered his talent made him the focus of everyone's attention, and allowed him to make friends wherever he went, from elementary school to the U.S. Navy. John started his career in nightclubs in New York, but soon found himself getting national acclaim on The Ed Sullivan Show. With that he was on his way. This memoir is the best and funniest moments of his life, career, and relationships with some of the biggest names in entertainment, both on and off the screen. "I thought of doing a memoir a year before I began writing it. My friend (co-author), Doug Wellman, suggested years before that if I wanted to write a book he would assist me," remarked Mr.Byner.

Editorial Note: John Byner's TV career break happened in New York City on Merv Griffin's "Talent Scouts Show" in 1964. After great exposure on both Gary Moore and Steve Allen's variety shows in 1966 and 1967, he clowned around on Ed Sullivan's showcase program over two dozen times and Johnny Carson's late-night haunt over three dozen times. He has lent his vocal library of voices to hundreds of cartoons and animated films. To find out more about John and his book, visit:

Douglas Wellman was born in Minneapolis but moved to Los Angeles where he became a television producer-director for 35 years, as well as the assistant dean of the film school at the University of Southern California. He currently lives in Southern Utah with his wife, Deborah, where he works as a chaplain at a local hospital when not busy writing books.

Pacific Book Review

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition
Andrew Bacevich, Editor
Library Of America
9781598536560 $29.95

American Conservatism In The Library Of America

The books published by the Library Of America offer an outstanding way to explore the breadth of American literary and cultural accomplishment, an important achievement in itself in troubled times. This recent volume, "American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition" fulfills the goals of the LOA and more in presenting a large anthology of conservative thought in the United States from the beginning of the 20th Century. Andrew Bacevich edited the volume and prepared the introduction. Bacevich, a highly respected scholar in his own right, served in the U.S. Army for twenty-three years and is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. Among his many books is "The Limits of Power" (2008), which became influential for its critique of the Iraq War. "The Limits of Power" makes use of the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian also included in this volume of writings on American conservatism.

This lengthy anthology makes for slow, dense reading. It shows the varied character of the intellectual part of American conservatism. The individual selections are sufficiently long to present a position as opposed to being mere snippets. Most of the selections show a great deal of breadth as opposed to focusing on a particular issue. Some of the essays are more specific, such as Joan Didion's "The Women's Movement", Andrew Sullivan's essay, "Here Comes the Groom: A (Conservative) Case for Gay Marriage", and Shelby Steele's "Affirmative Action: The Price of Preference."

Bacevich's Introduction stresses the difficulty of defining American conservatism. He sees conservatism as more of a mood and a critique of modernity than a particular ideology. His anthology collects "noteworthy examples of the American conservative critique prompted by the encroachments of modernity." Somewhat brusquely and probably too harshly,, Bacevich excludes President Trump, most Republican members of Congress, and the popular right-wing media from his understanding of conservatism. He sees the need to "reclaim" conservatism as an "intellectual tradition" in part from what he sees as its current political debasement. Bacevich also excludes "neo-conservatism" from the American conservative tradition for reasons which to me are unclear. At the outset, Bacevich critiques conservatism for the positions it generally adopted on several large 20th Century issues: it opposed Federal intervention in the economy during the Great Depression, it opposed United States entry into WW II until the attack on Pearl Harbor, and, somewhat later, it took positions adverse to desegregation in the South. Still, Bacevich rightly resists over-simplification. Mistakes are not the within the sole purview of any political tradition. Bacevich's volume has the goal of showing that conservative intellectuals have a great deal to contribute to American thought and that the liberal tradition tended to ignore its insights to its detriment.

Broadly, conservatism encourages understanding and respecting tradition and the lessons of the past. Bacevich sees conservatism, in general, as involving a commitment to individual liberty, a belief in limited government and the rule of law, veneration for America's cultural inheritance, a reluctance to tamper with traditional social arrangements, a cautious respect for the free market, and a strong wariness of utopianism. The anthology includes several essays by writers not generally regarded as conservative but whose work tends to support certain conservative themes, including, among others Christopher Lasch, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Walter Lippmann.

The anthology consists of five parts. The first, "First Principles: Three Responses", includes three
essays by leaders of American conservatism in the mid-twentieth century on the nature of conservatism, all of which stress its non-ideological character. Russell Kirk's opening essay develops six conservative principles but warns that "they are to be taken as a rough catalog of the general assumptions of conservatives and not as a tidy system of doctrines for governing a state." William F. Buckley Jr's essay discusses the varied forms of conservatism within the context of his founding and editing the "National Review". Buckley points to various strands in conservatism while suggesting that "the symbiosis may yet be a general consensus on the proper balance between freedom, order, and tradition." The concluding essay by Frank Meyer works to reconcile the traditionalist and the libertarian elements in conservative thought, elements which are often seen as at odds.

The second and longest part of this anthology is titled "The Fundamentals: Tradition, Religion, Morality, and the Individual". This part includes the earliest work in the book, Henry Adams chapter on "The Dynamo and the Virgin from "The Education of Henry Adams" (1900). There also is an eloquent selection from the philosopher George Santayana on "Materialism and Idealism in American Life." The authors in this part that I particularly enjoyed include Zora Neale Hurston ("How it Feels to be a Colored Me"), Irving Babbitt, a once-well known figure who deserves to be more read, Whittaker Chambers, the historian Harry Jaffa, with reflections on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Allan Bloom, and Christopher Lasch, in a chapter titled "The Soul of Man under Secularism."

The third part of the anthology, "Liberty and Power: The State and the Free Market consists of eight contributions on the nature of the state and on economics. Richard Weaver was an influential figure in the development of modern conservatism. He is represented by "The Great Stereopticon" from his 1948 book "Ideas have Consequences" which warns of the prevalence of shallow thinking in the daily media and of the dangers of ignoring history and philosophy. Other notable contributors to this part are Milton Friedman, Irving Kristol, and Patrick Deneen.

Regionalism and localism as a partial antidote to centralization are explored in the fourth part of the anthology, "The Ties that Bind: The Local and the Familiar". The sociologist Robert Nisbet's essay "The Loss of Community" discusses the importance of communitarianism to overcome the alienation and mechanization of much contemporary life. The three essays in this part by John Crowe Ransom, Eugene Genovese, and Wendell Berry, each explore the lessons that might be learned from agrarianism in the South.

The final part of this anthology, "The Exceptional Nation: America and the World" offers views on the nature of the United States and of its relationship to other nations. A variety of positions are offered most of which, with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt's "The Strenuous Life" counsel a degree of caution in the over-extension of the United States' overseas commitments. The contributors to this section include Henry Cabot Lodge, James Burnam, Robert Taft, Ronald Reagan, and Reinhold Niebuhr from his 1952 book, "The Irony of American History".

Many of the highly thoughtful essays in this volume may offer guidance to the United States in a difficult, divided time. The goal of the volume is less to convert readers to a form of conservatism and more to encourage reflection and the life of the mind in addressing critically important matters that sometimes tend to be slighted. As Bacevich states in his Introduction: "My firm conviction is this: to understand how the United States arrived at its present confused and divided straits -- and perhaps even to begin navigating back toward less troubled waters -- the American conservative tradition offers insights worth considering. I invite readers of this volume to consider that proposition." The Library of America and Bacevich deserve thanks for this volume and for their effort to revitalize consideration of conservative thought.

Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel
Jesmyn Ward
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781501126079 $17.00 pbk

Sing, Unburied, Sing

The United States has been blessed with many outstanding writers from the South, particularly writers from the State of Mississippi. Among the most recent of these writers is Jesmyn Ward (b. 1977), the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant together with National Book Awards in 2011 and 2017. I enjoyed Ward's 2011 National Book Award winner "Salvage the Bones" and I enjoyed this 2017 book, "Sing, Unburied, Sing" even more. "Sing, Buried Sing" is beautifully written, poetic, with many characters and multiple layers of meaning from the gritty and realistic to the metaphysical. Without minimizing the disappointments of life and the long effect of slavery and racial discrimination in Mississippi, the novel shows great understanding of people and a sense of hope. It celebrates song, time, and place.

Set in rural Mississippi on the Gulf and on a lengthy ride north to Mississippi's notorious Parchman Prison, the novel tells the story of a poor inter-racial family recounted in the first person by three alternating characters. The first narrator, Jojo, 13, is the son of Leonie, an African American woman and Michael, her long term boyfriend, white with racist parents. The second narrator is Leonie, 29. She and Michael have had two children, Jojo and Kayla, 3. Both Leonie and Michael are heavy drug users, and Michael has spent the three years before the novel begins at Parchman Prison for manufacturing and selling. Leonie loves but pays little attention to her children, with the burden of raising Kayla falling on Jojo. Leonie's parents are Pop, who did time at Parchman when young, and Mam, the "saltwater woman", dying of cancer and a healer who is able to communicate with the dead.

The third narrator is a ghost, Richie, who did time at Parchman with Pop and who begins haunting Jojo as he accompanies Leonie and her white friend, Misty, to Parchman to bring Michael home from prison. Ghosts and spirits and the dead play a large role in the novel. In addition to Richie, the ghost of Leonie's beloved older brother, Given, who had been murdered 15 years earlier, appears to play a prominent role in the book. Spirits and ghosts appear in this novel when their lives have been troubled and have come to bad and premature ends. They wander and haunt others in search of closure and peace.

The novel begins with a heavily gritty scene with Pop and Jojo slaughtering a goat to cook for Jojo's 13th birthday. Ward has a sharp eye for the details of rural Mississippi life. Much of the story involves the brutality of Parchman Prison, described in part through Michael's experiences but much more fully through the earlier experience of Pop. When he was committed to Parchman at 15 Pop, (whose name is River) befriended the 12-year old inmate Richie and tried to comfort him after a terrible whipping. Richie's ghost comes to Jojo because it wants to learn the fate that cost him his life and to be able to sing a song of peace and to rest. In addition to the terrors of Parchman, the history of racial relations in Mississippi plays a large role in part through Michael's father, big Joseph, an unrepentant and virulent racist. And the book has many graphic scenes of lynchings, burnings, and police with an itchy trigger finger. Drug use plays a large role in the book as well through Michael, Misty, Leonie, and several other characters. The religious, metaphysical aspects of the novel come to the forefront in Richie's story, and in Richie's poetic speech and in the story of the dying Mam, with her clairvoyance and with the haunting by Given.

In part, this novel is a coming of age story for Jojo and a road novel, with the lengthy treatment of the drive to Parchman and back, but it is much more. The book is rooted in place and character. Ward loves the places she describes and the people, with all their difficulties. She develops the brutal aspects of her story, in terms of the racism from Mississippi's past in a way that comes out from her characters and their lives. The " ghosts" from the racist past and present come through without destroying the people, and the search for hope and a better life. A spirit of love, forgiveness and mystical religion underlie this book more than a sense of condemnation.

Many parts of this story suggest the spiritual aspects of life, intertwined with some dreadfulness, particularly in the voice of Richie. The ghost observes, when he comes to haunt Jojo, of the difficulty of understanding the nature of time and evil particularly growing out of Richie's experience when alive at Parchman.

"I didn't understand time, either, when I was young. How could I know that after I died, Parchman would pull me from the sky? How could I imagine Parchman would pull me to it and refuse to let go? And how could I conceive that Parchman was past, present, and future all at once? That the history and sentiment that carved the place out of the wilderness would show me that time is a vast ocean, and that everything is happening at once?"

Then again, late in the novel Richie's ghost speaks of returning to his spiritual home at peace with himself at last and aware of the physical beauty and variety of the world and its people:

"There are yurts and adobe dwellings and teepees and longhouses and villas. Some of the homes are clustered together in small villages, graceful gatherings of round, steady huts with doomed roofs. And there are cities, cities that harbor plazas and canals and buildings bearing minarets and hip and gable roofs and crouching beasts and massive skyscrapers that look as if they should collapse, so weirdly they flower into the sky. Yet they do not."

Ward's story begins with roots in a particular place. expands to uncover the place's ghosts and tragic events, and expands still further and transcendentally to a vision of hope. Early in the novel, Pap passes on to Jojo a teaching from his own great-grandfather about the spirituality and unity of all life that Ward's entire novel works to expand: "there's spirit in everything. In the trees, in the moon, in the sun, in the animals, Said the sun is most important, gave it a name, Aba. But you need all of them, all of that spirit in everything to have balance. So the crops will grow, the animals breed and get fat for food." The book encourages careful reading and extensive reflection. "Sing, Unburied, Sing" is an extraordinary novel.

The Human Place in the Cosmos
Max Scheler, author
Karin Frings, translator
Northwestern University Press
9780810125292, $29.95

Outside The Cosmos

Titled "The Human Place in the Cosmos", Max Scheler's book finds that the human place is largely outside the Cosmos. Scheler (1874 -- 1928), was a German philosopher who studied with Dilthey and Simmel. His own pupils included Edith Stein, and he deeply influenced other thinkers including Merleau-Ponty and Pope John Paul II. Scheler was deeply influenced by Edmund Husserl's phenomenology even though he became a sharp critic of Husserl. Before Scheler's death, Martin Heidegger called him the most important force in the philosophy of his day.

"The Human Place in the Cosmos" was Scheler's final work and appeared just before his death in 1928. It is short, difficult, and dense -- more of a essay than a fully developed book. This edition was published in 2009 in the "Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy" series of Northwestern University. The translation is by the late Manfred Frings (1925 -- 2008), the editor of Scheler's collected works, with an introduction, notes, and glossary of Scheler's philosophical terminology by Professor Eugene Kelly, who has written extensively about Scheler. Kelly aptly describes Scheler's text as "an adventure in high philosophy".

This is a book for readers who think that philosophy is important in discussing the large questions of life. It is also a book which will appeal to readers with a modernist, post-religious outlook. In other words, Scheler seeks to find meaning and spirituality in life but not within traditional theism or religion. Some of the thinkers that receive attention in this book are the Buddha, Spinoza, and William James. A good background in thinking about philosophical questions and a willingness to study a text closely are helpful in approaching this book.

Scheler describes his book as a "philosophical anthropology" and says its aim is to address two questions: "what is the human being and what is his place in being?" Scheler finds three broad answers to the questions, each of which includes insights but are individually unsatisfactory: 1. The Jewish-Christian view of creationism; 2. the Greek view of reason and participation in logos; 3. the view of the natural sciences, evolutionary biology, and genetics. Scheler's develops his own answers to these questions which begin with inorganic matter and work up through plants and animals to determine what human beings share with other forms of things and how they differ. He then approaches his questions from the other direction, so to speak, to try to understand the role of human beings in what he terms the cosmos.

The crux of the book is in the development of what Scheler calls spirit. Spirit is what makes people human and which separates them from other living things. The development of spirit is what human beings ultimately share with the cosmos and with large reality. Scheler's understanding of "spirit" is difficult and should not be confused with "soul" or with "mind" in idealism or Cartesian dualism. For Scheler, spirit is not a thing or a substance. Animals show a greater or lesser degree of instinctual, associative or possibly reasoning ability to protect themselves and to find food and sex. Human beings show a much greater problem-solving ability. But only humans have an ability to step outside their surroundings, objectify them, and ask themselves what they mean. This ability to step back and reflect, Scheler calls Spirit, and it is a process and an ongoing subject rather than a thing. For all his criticism, this strikes me as a Husserelian approach.

Scheler develops a Spinozistic answer to the relationship between physical process and mental processes, finding that both are two sides of the same thing unified together by spirit. Spirit stands aside from pragmatic issues and searches for meaning through art, law, literature, music, philosophy. It enables people to say "no" to their impulses, upon occasion, in a way animals cannot do. Scheler's understanding of spirit differs from that of traditional religions and earlier philosophies. Most importantly, Scheler's spirit is a weak, difficult reed. It has now power of its own, unlike, say, a transcendental God, and only fully comes through rarely, at the upper reaches of human effort. "Short and rare is what is beautiful in its tenderness and vulnerability", Scheler writes (p.47).While animals are enclosed in their lives and in the environment, human beings live outside of it, in rare moments, through spirit, reflectiveness, and the objectification of their environment. Hence the human place "in the cosmos" is "outside the cosmos."

With its existence "outside the cosmos" spirit tries to find meaning in God or other forms of transcendence. But it is not to be found there for Scheler, but rather from within. Meaning and transcendence are developing concepts that come from below, rather than from above. Thus it is the role of human beings through the generations to develop their varying understandings of spirit. At the conclusion of the book, Scheler writes:

"One might tell me at this point, and, indeed, I was once told, that it is impossible to bear the idea of an unfinished and God-in-becoming. My answer is that metaphysics is not an insurance company for weak people in need of protection. Metaphysics requires and presupposes human beings with strong and courageous minds." (p. 66)

Readers with a strong interest in philosophical and religious questions will benefit from studying Scheler's book.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Bayou City Burning (Harry and Dizzy Lark Book 1)
D.B. Borton
Boomerang Books
9780999352724, $12.99, June 1, 2019

Bayou City Burning is the first in a series of father/daughter detective stories, the Harry and Dizzy Lark Books by D.B. Borton. It's set in Houston with an authentic sense of place complete with the stench of Texas oil refineries, arrow-straight stretches of highway, and crooked politics. As a child of the sixties, I appreciated the timeframe as well - complete with JFK's promise to put a man on the moon. D.B. Borton writes fictional themes based on actual events and people. The story is what I'd expect from old TV series during the 1960s.

Harry Lark is a bit of a ne'er do well P.I. He's divorced and paying for his son's braces, so he's thrilled when a ritzy out-of-towner arrives in his office with what appears to be an easy job. But the client later gets shot one night while searching Harry's office.

Harry's twelve-year-old daughter Dizzy (short for Desdemona) is a delight, spunky and too intelligent for her own good. She starts her own business, a lost-and-found, in the family garage along with her two best friends, Mel and B.D. A Nancy Drew fan, Dizzy wants to be a P.I. just like her dad. Her mother is a professor.

This is a fun, intriguing mystery with P.I. lingo like that used in Hawaii Five-0 and 77 Sunset Strip. the lingo. Dizzy used the same lingo to comic effect. The father and daughter have a unique, touching relationship. The book is worth reading for that alone.

Behind the Red Door
Megan Collins
Atria Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781982130398, $27.00, August 4, 2020

Megan Collins's debut novel, The Winter Sister, was filled with gorgeous prose and a story that was spellbinding, atmospheric, and deeply touching. Her sophomore novel, Behind The Red Door doesn't disappoint. Collins's writing is highly evocative as she details a distressingly abnormal family that somehow produces a daughter, Fern, who is strong and resilient, though flawed with an anxiety disorder that at times is paralyzing. She suffers from traumatic amnesia related to a kidnapping that occurred twenty years earlier, and she may hold the key to saving a kidnapping victim.

Behind The Red Door is a gripping, twisted thriller filled with insights into fear of ourselves, others, and horror movie staples: deep dark forests, isolated cabins, nightmares, and the inability to know who you can trust. The New England countryside itself becomes a disturbing character. The red herrings were subtly laid and entirely believable. You'll be unable to put this book down until you have devoured it - though it will follow you into your dreams when you finally lay down to try to sleep.

Esther Amini
Greenpoint Press
9780990619420, $20.00, April 21, 2020

Concealed is an amazing memoir. So often I find that memoirs are really authors' ego trips, and they never reveal any life-changing conclusions from their stories.

Of Persian Jewish descent, Esther grows up in Queens, New York during the 1960s. Her family immigrated from Mashad, Iran, where life even in the twentieth century, remained rather medieval. Her parents had to practice Judaism "underground" while maintaining the appearance of being Muslims. Eventually, they fled Iran for New York City. Their exit involved escaping via Afghanistan and India where they waited for clearance to move to the United States.

The book brought to mind stories in the news recently in which studies supported the idea that the effects of trauma can reverberate down the generations through epigenetics. These epigenetic changes modify the expression of our genes without changing our DNA code itself. In response to changes in the womb, genes are turned on or off by tiny chemical tags are added to or removed from our DNA, affording a method of adapting without a permanent shift in our genome. Certainly centuries of living underground while facing pogroms could affect Amino's family, causing the behaviors of her father and mother.

Her father is a silent man, rarely showing affection unless a child is ill. Then he becomes the doctor he wished he could have been. He expects his daughter to marry early to a man twenty years her elder, thus her education is a waste of time. He dislikes the looseness of American culture. Her mother is the polar opposite, always demanding, wanting preferential treatment because she was an orphan. While embracing all that is American (including designer clothing), she encourages Esther to find her own way. When she does, however, the mother demands her daughter's full attention.

Esther ultimately must work her way through this conflicting childhood and decide what to retain of her Persian culture and what to dismiss. She grapples with her identity, while remaining devoted to her family. The most amazing thing is that, through investigating the distant past, Esther is able to reconcile with her parents, a remarkable achievement. Through her own work in therapy, she is able to become an integrated person.

Natalie Bakopoulos
Tin House Books
c/o W.W. Norton (dist.)
9781947793750, $16.95, July 7, 2020

Scorpionfish is a lovely novel about the a woman finding herself. Mira, a Greek-American academic returns to Athens to clean out the apartment of her recently-dead parents. While there, her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her. She's on summer break from her university and is now "in between" multiple relationships, and grieving, all while relearning her place in her Greek family - and having her views of certain family members reshaped as various "scandals" are revealed. Mira shares a balcony, separated from her neighbor by a sheet of textured glass. She and "the Captain" spend hours revealing their souls, but not their bodies, to each other.

The prose was lovely, lyrical at times. The points of view are split between Mira and the Captain, with Mira claiming a bit more time and a bit more action. The Captain, too, is "in between" as his marriage is floundering.

Having spent time in Athens, including Kifisia, a suburb Bakopoulos often mentions, I found she perfectly captured the essence of Greek life. I remember the oil crisis of the 1970s in which my apartment building in Kifisa allowed heat only one hour in the morning and one in the evening, much as mentioned by Kakopoulos.

Scorpionfish looks at how people define themselves. Mira's parents left Greece for a better life. Her father fully Americanized while her mother remained lost in the States, even becoming an alcoholic to deal with her loss. Though her family returns to Greece on vacations, Mira is trapped between these extremes. It was interesting to compare Scorpionfish with another recent book about immigration: How Fires End by Marco Rafala in which Sicilian immigrants refashion their home in America.

The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
c/o HarperCollins
9780062060624, $16.99, August 28, 2012

The Song of Achilles retells the story of Achilles from the point of view of his lover, Patroclus. With all the verve of Mary Renault, Miller gives new life to the Iliad as well as developing a sweet, tender love story between the two men.

As a child, I read the Greek myths avidly, though they are told in a distant omniscient point of view and the characters aren't necessarily well-developed. In The Song of Achilles, Miller builds three dimensional characters, even when one of the protagonists, Achilles, is more god than human.

The prose is beautifully written and lyrical, the phrasing that of truly epic poetry translated to prose. All in all, The Song of Achilles is a moving and subtly erotic love story.

Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home
Leah Lax
She Writes Press
9781631529955, $16.95

Uncovered by Leah Lax is her memoir of leaving her Hasidic Jewish community and becoming herself. It might be read in conjunction with Concealed by Esther Amini, also a memoir of leaving a fundamental Jewish family and becoming an integrated person.

Lax, a Texan with Russian Jewish roots, has been raised in a dysfunctional family. Her mother is an artist and hoarder, with alcohol and pill addictions. Her father is depressed and has sexually abused his three daughters. Though nominally Jewish, her family is essentially non-practicing. Seeking stability in this environment, Lax joins a Hasidic community. There, she enters into an arranged marriage, but gives up her music and literary aspiration to do so. Seven children and much self-exploration later, she realizes she needs to leave the Hasidic life to write and to release the lesbian within her that she has buried for years. This book explores her reasons for both joining the community and for leaving it. Lax shapes her memoir carefully, providing clues along the way so the reader can understand what she gives up to join the Hasidic community and what appeals to her about it, and conversely, what she loses when she relinquishes that community after twenty-seven years and what she gains.

Of Persian Jewish descent, Esther grows up in Queens, New York during the 1960s. Her family immigrated from Mashad, Iran, where life even in the twentieth century, remained rather medieval. Her parents had to practice Judaism "underground" while maintaining the appearance of being Muslims. Eventually, they fled Iran for New York City. Their exit involved escaping via Afghanistan and India where they waited for clearance to move to the United States. Her father is a silent man. Her mother is the polar opposite, always demanding, wanting preferential treatment because she was an orphan. While embracing all that is American (including designer clothing), she encourages Esther to find her own way.

These books, both memoirs of Jewish women from difficult backgrounds, have similar themes - the need to leave a more structured, orthodox community to become one's true self. Even the names of the books convey that sense, but perhaps in mirror images: Concealed referring to the hiding of women behind the fundamentalism and Uncovered referring to the release from that structured environment. Concealed is a more boisterous book, partly due to the exuberance of Amino's mother; Concealed is more quiet and internalized. Both memoirs worth reading as Lax and Amini ultimately must work their ways through conflicting childhoods and arranged marriages to learn what to retain and what to dismiss. Each grapples with her identity, while remaining devoted to her family and becoming an integrated human.

Drema Drudge
Fleur-de-Lis Press
9780996012034, $18.00, March 17, 2020

Victorine is Drema Drudge's debut novel and a delight it is. She has captured the spirit of France from the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s through the Siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870-1871 and artist Manet's death in 1883. Victorine Meurent is one of Manet's - and other artists' - models. Born into an artisanal family (her father runs a printing press, and her mother is a milliner), Victorine dreams of becoming an artist. Neither she nor her parents can come up with enough money to pay for art school.

This book encompasses women's issues, class differences, the ideologies of art, and the male versus female gaze. Victorine pushes the limits of the time with her overt bisexuality and her bohemian lifestyle. She uses alcohol, especially absinthe, hashish freely.

She and Manet love each other in a platonic way. She feels she helps him and other artists because, as a model, she participates in the creation of their art works; she voices her opinion and criticizes without hesitation, whether the artists she works with like it or not. Of course, the male artists don't feel this is true. He paints her as Olympia, a euphemism for a prostitute, and captures her direct gaze. The painting creates a scandal. Manet flees Paris, leaving Victorine alone to deal with the aftermath.Over time, she accepts her body with its fuller figure, her inquiring mind, and achieves her goal to become an artist.

I got so involved in Victorine's struggles I stayed up until four a.m. reading all 362 pages.

When the Coin Is in the Air
John Young
Golden Antelope Press
9781936135707, $19.95, August 12, 2019

When the Coin Is in the Air is John Young's debut novel. It reads like a coming-of-age memoir. The protagonist, Jason Blake, is growing up caught between a mercurial father who is often violent and emotionally abusive, and an older brother who is very competitive yet consistently backs down from confrontations with their father. Jason tries to prove himself to both these male figures in his life. He attempts to excel in sports, but never quite reaches the apogee of his brother's success. Later, he attempts to establish his own sphere by going to college, traveling to Massachusetts to spend the summer with friends, and going to England. He accepts a job as a high school teacher, teaching English and drama, but finds the efforts soul-sucking.

I enjoyed this book but was left feeling that, at times, the story was overwhelmed by an unnecessary level of detail. I didn't need to know the names and description of every woman Jason had one or two dates with. At the same time, having lived for years in Europe, I was disappointed that months in England and Europe, which surely had to have been a life-changing experience for Jason, were condensed into a few pages. Young does a superb job ratcheting up the tension between Jason and his father. I'd have liked to have had more exploration of Jason's feelings when he states he considered his father a murderer. I fully expected a life-threatening clash between the two, but the tension deflates in an unexpected way that left me feeling a bit flat. But overall I enjoyed reading When the Coin Is in the Air.

Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow
Rashi Rohatgi
Galaxy Galloper Press, LLC
9781733233293, $16.00, March 8, 2020

Rashi Rohatgi's literary debut is Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow. It is set in 1905 which is the early Edwardian era of Great Britain and her colonies. Britain still occupies India, and that colors everything in Indian life. Years ago I read An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohatma Gandhi and have spent some time in that part of the world. I was able to place Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow in the setting of pre-partition India with its protests, riots, and political unrest. Overall, this is a fascinating look into Indian history from the point of view of a young girl. The reader sees snippets of every day life of an upperclass family including the food. I could almost taste the papadam and roti.

Leela, a sixteen year old girl, is reunited with her betrothed, Nash, who has been in Japan for the past several years studying engineering. His family, though, asks her to stop school where she is learning to be a teacher and that the couple live in a village rather than the more cosmopolitan city of Chadrapur. She's expected to regress from being an educated woman and become the typical wife and mother. Both Leela and Maya, her younger sister, are working to desegregate local schools. Things get complicated when Maya falls in love with a Muslim, a forbidden form of marriage which would ensure the family would be ostracized. Their father, though, is benevolent and cares deeply for his daughters, important as their mother died of the plague.

This is a novella about change. In the end, Leela commits an act that changes her future. She must embrace those changes and move forward, not back.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis
Elia Gourgouris & Konstantinos Apostolopoulous
The Happiness Center
9781734943818, $15.95, PB, 120pp,

Synopsis: In our interconnected world, we are all vulnerable and impacted (directly or indirectly) by global events. The collaborative work of Dr Elia Gourgouris and Konstantinos Apostolopoulos, "7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis" showcases a series of effective, practical insights that will help to minimize the negative impact of pandemics, natural disasters, financial meltdowns, or any other major disruptions on our lives.

Drawing from a wealth of personal and professional experiences, 7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis" showcases simple truths that have helped many of the authors clients to thrive in the face of adversity. Of special note in this fully practical and thoroughly 'reader friendly' instructional guide are "Points to Ponder", "Questions to Consider", and "Action Items" that can help readers apply the information directly to their lives. Whether the crisis is global or personal, "7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis" can help the reader navigate and rise above these challenges.

Critique: Expertly written, organized and presented, "7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis: A Practical Guide to Emotionally Dealing with Pandemics & Other Disasters" in these days of global pandemic, economic depression, and social unrest is essential and hope restoring reading for anyone seeking to cope, thrive and survive. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Echo of the Unconscious in Painting: A Case Study
Naum G. Itkin, MD & Susanne Schuenke, PhD
A.R.T.E. Press LLC
9781732220522, $150.00 HC, 412pp,

Synopsis: The collaborative work of Naum G. Itkin and Susanne Schuenke, "Echo of the Unconscious in Painting: A Case Study" offers a psychoanalytic research approach to the study of the origin of creativity. Revealed are significant emotional experience as the base for formation of personal iconography, unconscious symbolism; biological (sexual and aggressive drives), psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of human existence that have been transformed into the imagery; and the metaphorical meanings of forms, colors, and composition manifest latent content, deciphered during analysis.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a five page Bibliography and a two page Artworks Index, "Echo of the Unconscious in Painting: A Case Study" is an impressively informative, original, and thought-provoking study that is an unreservedly recommended addition to college, and university library Contemporary Psychology collections in general, and Cognitive Neuroscience & Neuropsychology supplemental studies reading lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, practitioners, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Echo of the Unconscious in Painting: A Case Study" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781732220508, $117.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Naum G. Itkin is a retired psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, and a researcher at Moscow State University, Faculty of Psychology. He is also co-author of the book, Hypnosis in Experimental Personality Research.

Susanne Schuenke is an internationally-renowned and award-winning German-American fine art painter whose art works are in public and private collections that includes: Reinhard Fuchs' Women in Art Masterpieces of Visual Art-The Great Female Artists from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era.

Beyond Hashtag Activism
Mae Elise Cannon
InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
9780830845897, $22.00, PB, 304pp,

Synopsis: The world as we know it today is not as God intended it to be. God's heart is to make things right, and for the world to be just. But complex problems warrant more sustained attention than quick posts on social media. How can we actually make a difference?

In "Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age" social activist and dedicated Christian Mae Elise Cannon takes us beyond the hashtags to serious engagement with real issues.

God calls the church to respond substantively to the needs of the poor, the realities of racial inequity, and the mistreatment of women and the marginalized. We can accomplish change through a range of strategic avenues -- spiritually, socially, legally, politically, and economically.

Addressing the domestic and international injustices of our day takes us on a journey of spiritual transformation that brings us closer to God and those around us. The underlying message of "Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age" is that we must channel our passion to care effectively for your neighbor and the world and that what Mae Elise Cannon has to share with we her fellow Christians will help us to understand and put into action what it means for the church to be a place of peace, justice, and hope.

Critique: A timely, well written, inspiring, and much needed guide for these especially troubled times of plutocracy, plague, and social unrest, "Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, church, seminary, college, and university library Human Rights & Social Issues Activism collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, clergy, and all Christians regardless of their denominational affiliations that "Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). She formerly served as the senior director of advocacy and outreach for World Vision US on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. She is also the author of Social Justice Handbook and Just Spirituality, as well as co-editor of Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice.

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Healthcare from the Trenches: An Insider Account of the Complex Barriers of U.S. Healthcare from the Providers and Patients' Perspective
Alejandro Badia, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Badia Hand to Shoulder
9780578680996, $19.97, 465 Pages

Genre: Health

Alejandro Badia, M.D., F.A.C.S. was born in Cuba and came to the United States with his parents in 1962. His passion for medicine is in his genes, and at a very early age, he realized it was the career for him. He studied physiology at Cornell and attained his medical degree at New York University, where he also trained in orthopedics. He is co-founder of the world-renowned Miami Anatomical Research Center (M.A.R.C) the world's largest surgical cadaveric training lab. He then went on to completed the Badia Hand to Shoulder Center, a fully integrated clinical facility for the upper limb also encompassing the Surgery Center at Doral, rehabilitation, and an MRI imaging facility, and then he inaugurated OrthoNOW(R), the first walk-in orthopedic care center in South Florida, which later became an officially licensed system. As well as incredible achievements in medical care he has studied, lectured, and taught in many countries, and has also written multiple scientific articles and book chapters in the field of small joint arthroscopy.

The author wrote this book because he passionately believes that the key participants in every healthcare transaction deserve a voice, and this is just what this book does. With such a vast experience, not only in his chosen field but also of others linked to it, the author provides his reader with in-depth information on every aspect of the healthcare system. In giving voice to so many medical professionals, and patients who share their stories on its pages, he hopes to educate others and hopefully encourage discussions to take place so that solutions can be found to restore the health system and go forward positively in the future.

As a layperson, I found the whole book fascinating. Like most people I look up to doctors and specialists with respect and admiration for the wonderful things, they achieve on a day to day basis. However, the author has done a wonderful job of allowing his reader to glimpse fly-on-the-wall like behind the scenes into the Doctor's Lounge, the offices, committees, and careers of health professionals and the challenges they face. Through it, I learned so much and realized that the general public, on the whole, has no concept of how long hours medical professionals work, and how much paperwork and collaboration with other professionals goes on behind the scenes.

He is not shy in saying what he feels is necessary whatever the topic. The influences politics have in healthcare, hidden agendas, the workings of the health insurance companies, all are examined frankly and he offers solutions backed with solid reasoning.

Nearing the completion of this book the COVID pandemic hit the world, and its effects on the United States healthcare system and its impact on the patients and workers are discussed, and of course, this is an ongoing problem. He also examines the roles of regenerative medicine, and the anti-aging industry and with these, as other branches of the industry, he stresses the importance of comprehensive research when looking for a healthcare professional, and indicates factors which should be a priority.

This book makes fascinating and extremely interesting reading. It contains volumes of information and solid reasoning backed up by facts and examples. Highly recommended!

Arcadia's Children 3: Pushley's Escape
Andrew R. Williams
Independently published
9798655135970, $7.37, 211 Pages

Genre: Children's Book

The author of this exciting science-fiction story, Andrew R. Williams' 'day job' is a Chartered surveyor, however, by night this mild-mannered English author can be seen with his wife Geraldine staring up at the sky, watching the stars, and plotting his exciting space adventures.

Pushley's Escape is the third book in the Arcadia's Children series and from the very first page, the reader is hooked. As in the previous two books, the main characters are Mick Tarmy, Claire Hyndman, and Nonie Tomio. We learn that Ed Pushley is an archaeologist whose mind has been taken over by a spettro Mick Tarmy nicknamed Irrelevant. However Irrelevant has died and their minds have fused giving Ed Pushley incredible psychic powers.

Pushley has been taken captive by Alton Mygael and desperately wants to escape, and with determination, he manages to free himself from the isolation helmet. However, once free a high priest appears and announces that the Great Ones want to speak to him. These are the same beings who had condemned Irrelevant to death in the past and understandably Irrelevant's soul is indignant. He gets Pushley to ask, why a slave now free would want to go back into bondage. The cleric's response is to explain that the Great Ones want to offer a genuine partnership, and he then goes on to remind him of a past event, and show him images. What will Pushley do, and what will his future hold? To tell you more would spoil the story...

This author's imagination is beyond belief, he weaves a clever story and takes his readers on an exciting adventure as they find themselves in another world. A world which comes alive for them through his amazing penmanship which paints vivid scenes, exciting scenarios, and wonderful settings.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of science-fiction. As a fan, I couldn't wait to read this story and I was not disappointed! This author has written a real page turner, with excitement galore, a storyline full of twists and turns and incredible characters. It is sci-fi heaven, beaming you into another world with mind control, aliens, transporters, and everything you could wish for! Oh, and if Steven Spielberg reads this, yes, it would make a wonderful movie!

Kelly and the Pirates (Kelly Winchester, Book 3)
Alex J. Alex
eXtasy Books Inc
9781487421106, $4.66, 208 Pages

Genre: Adventure

If you're looking for a hot sexy adventure which gives Clive Cussler a run for his money, well this is the book for you! Lieutenant Commander Kelly Winchester is an incredibly sexy vixen of a woman who makes Ian Fleming's cool suave James Bond look like a kitten. As she warns an adversary, "I'm your worst nightmare. I'm a homicidal maniac, and my government keeps me around just so I can take care of little problems like this. I'm meaner and tougher than any man you've ever known. You're just a bunch of lazy pansies compared to some of the characters I've run into." Trust me she's not exaggerating, this is one formidable woman!

This is the third book in the series, however, it easily stands alone. Kelly is beautiful and strong, and together with her adoring husband Jim they make a force to be reckoned with. In this thrilling adventure they are sent with another couple, Moretti and Kozlowski on a mission to Mogadishu in Somalia, their target the criminal Jalili, (which means Almighty in Swahili.) This shadowy character is a disgraced religious figure, with a reputation as a torturer, who leads a gang of thugs who hijack ships for ransom.

However, this time, the mission doesn't go as planned. Kelly and Jim find themselves held for ransom by Jalili, who is incensed at the loss of so many of his men, even if it was at the hands of the notorious Winchester woman. Criminal to some, a savior to others, Kelly's past deeds have made her a legend, and as news of her capture spreads and the jackals draw in for the kill. Each one hoping they will have her at their mercy. However, fate intervenes...

So, the adventure continues for Kelly and Jim, and what an adventure it is, as it isn't long before they discover their enemies are catching up with them and their safety is compromised. To return they must flee across the perilous Tibetan landscape. However separated from her husband, Kelly has only the companionship of a wise Buddhist monk to see her through, and she must summon all her strength and courage to overcome adversity and survive!

Reading this gripping story, I found myself compulsively turning the pages, desperate to know what happens yet, yet dreading getting to the end. If you love a fast-paced exciting adventure with danger at every turn, wonderfully vibrant characters, and sexy scenes, then this is the book for you!

African Migrants
Lang Fafa Dampa
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
9781515333838, $7.99, 110 Pages

Genre: Fiction

The author of this interesting and thought-provoking book, Lang Fafa Dampa was born in the Gambia in 1965. In Paris, he earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature, and a Ph.D. in English Studies (Society and Culture). Whilst there he also taught Legal English (Law and Politics - UK/USA) and Economic English, for two years. In November 2009 he returned to Africa and he worked as a Senior Research and Programme Officer at the African Union office (the African Academy of Languages) in Bamako, Mali, from November 2009 to July 2015, and as Acting Executive Secretary from August 2015 to December 2018, and from then to now as Executive Secretary of the same institution.

In this book Lang Fafa Dampa, through his incredibly descriptive writing, relives the experiences of the main character/protagonist fleeing Africa, in search of a brighter future in Europe. He travelled through Dakar to Bamako, and then Niamey, crossing the cruel Sahara Desert into Libya, where he spent six months. Then along with thousands of others, he had to cross the Mediterranean, as a 'boat migrant.' Here he recounts shocking stories of the cruelty he observed being dealt out by the traffickers who treated the migrants terribly, with no regard for their lives, and no humanity. The horrific images of this voyage were etched into the author's young mind, and will stay with him forever...

He managed to smuggle himself into France and lived in Metropolitan Paris, where he discovered a different world. Quickly he realised that both the African and white people lived in disdain of the 'boat people,' and he learned to stay very quiet about the fact that he had been one. However, this disdain caused him great pain, because he realised that they had no comprehension of the cruelty and suffering these people had to endure and had no concept of the desperate driving force which compels the youth of Africa to risk everything, (including their lives,) to better themselves in Europe.

In this new world, he found himself becoming a quiet observer of human nature, and through listening to conversations and witnessing events, he discovered a lot about the attitudes of the African immigrants he lived with, both to their wives, families, friends, their adopted countries and Africa. Countless times he found himself witness to the Alien combative Attitude Africans have, and asked himself, "Where is African civilisation? Where are Africans wisdom and bravery? Where is the great pre-colonial African civilisation that historians talk about?"

Well, the protagonist believes the answers lie in finding a way to establish the African people's self-respect and confidence in themselves. He reflects that Africans are destructively jealous, to their detriment, and a brighter future can be achieved by future generations regenerating Africa and changing the current combatant attitude. He suggests they look for examples to other countries who work together in competing to achieve goals, not by fighting but uniting cohesively.

The passion the author feels for Africa and his people shine through in this book. He gives his readers, through the eyes of the protagonist, unparalleled insights into Africa, its people, and the struggles they face. Highly recommended!

Why People Love God But Hate Church?
Marnell Wicks Love, PhD. Ed.D. MDiv.
Xulon Press
9781631296581, $19.49, 354 Pages

Genre: Religion

The author of this book, Minister Marnell Wicks Love, has drawn upon his vast experience of more than forty years in church administration, accounting, financial management, and ministry, along with thorough research to write this insightful book.

After recovering from a serious illness in 2007 he decided to launch Love-to-Help Accounting and Financial Management, providing help to struggling churches in Chicago and surrounding areas, non-profits, and helping small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at the present time Minister Love primarily dedicates his ministry to those who cannot attend church because of health reasons, such as those in hospices and safe shelters for women and children escaping abusive households, he is dedicating a portion of book sales to the latter.

His career of caring for the financial, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of people has given him a unique awareness of not only the modern-day role of the ministers in looking after their congregation, but also that of the churches. However, to ensure a complete picture when compiling this study he also carried out personal interviews, sent out questionnaires, and obtained written statements from church members and leaders.

The title of this enlightening book 'Why People Love God and Hate Church' was his unexpected finding. He discovered that although people were falling out of love with going to church, they still loved God, studied his words, and prayed, they just did not attend church to worship him.

So what can the church do to change this? Well, the many reasons for the change in attitudes towards the church and its ministry are revealed and explained. There are many reasons, just a few examples being the attitudes of the ministers and their congregation to their community and newcomers, racial demographics, and the increased political role the church has. Candidly, Minister Love looks at the problems and gives examples of his, or other's experiences with that problem, then he offers unprejudiced ideas for change. The problems he unveils and his propositions for change are thought-provoking and, indeed I suspect many of the readers who are members and leaders of the church and its congregations will have pause for thought, and may well re-examine their lives, attitudes, and behavior.

In conclusion: Bravely written, honest and frank, this extremely interesting book should be read by anyone, whether they go to church or not. Its insightful pages, and the author's sermons, which he has included, will encourage any Christian to reassess themselves and their lifestyle.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

Ten Terrific Monsters: A Hidden Item Book
Chris Mason
9781370269952, Sep. 17, 2016, Words: 840

Come join me on a journey of discovery . . .

Join Willie the Wolf and nine of his closest friends set out on a journey of discovery. They each find themselves out of work and waiting in the unemployment line. Standing so close, they develop a special friendship.

This book centers around finding and seeking a variety of objects. Each puzzle is challenging for both a child and an adult. The illustrations in this book showcase a talented artist. Each page offers bright, vivid pictures that call out to the reader. They feature a wide variety of locations that include visiting the Amazon river, seeking a spooky castle, each will provide the reader many hours of thrill-seeking fun and adventure.

Chris Mason is a man of many talents. I have been following this author for many years, and he always keeps producing fresh new books that challenge the reader's mind. This author truly cares about his readers and offers the best of his talents in each novel he publishes.

Suzie Housley

Tammy Ruggles' Bookshelf

Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary
Jody A. Forrester
Odyssey Books
9781922311054, $13.95 PB, $6.99 Kindle, 214pp

Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary by Jody A. Forrester is a raw, honest memoir about a woman's path to expressing her beliefs and living her own truth. She was just a teenager in the Sixties--a love child caught up in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam war era. A pacifist and activist, she wanted nothing more than to be heard, bring the war to an end, and live in a more peaceful society. The times were fraught with civil unrest, culture clashes, and political firestorms. From there she became a strong revolutionary, ready and willing to topple the ruling elite of the United States in the name of fairness and equality. She joined a Communist organization and became fully immersed in Mao Tse Tung's philosophy of class warfare. But how did this leap happen? And why? Can a peaceful hippie-type really transition to the opposite side of things--a side where she literally slept with two rifles under her bed?

Forrester has to delve back into her childhood to give you these answers, and she does with poetic poignancy and an honesty that will startle you. Like many adolescents, she was out to find herself, speak out, and make a change in the world. Her way. It's as if she took a journey from innocence to experience, where sometimes ideals, values, and beliefs can be tarnished by disillusionment. Her coming-of-age autobiography reveals that her internal upheaval mirrored the external upheaval around her. In light of today's civil unrest, I think it would be a good book for the YA audience as Forrester dives back into her past and puts her secrets, strife, and struggles on display in a way that is helpful and supportive. It's a lesson in finding out who you are and what you believe in, and having the courage to live it in the face of adversity. It's also about honesty and knowing when it's time to move on. Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary by Jody A. Forrester is a cutting-edge memoir that echoes today's troubled times.

Tammy Ruggles, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Teri Davis' Bookshelf

Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology
Chila Woychik
Stephanie E. Dickinson
Shanti Arts Publishing
97819516551237, $19.95, 2020, 212 pages

Many people write about the events in their daily life and the thoughts that make it memorable. Daily record keeping is unnecessary, but every few days is needed to view what we have enjoyed in our little snippets in the back of our minds.

Depending upon where you live, life is different. If you live in a large city, it is busy, crowded, noisy, and many residents thrive upon that lifestyle.

For some of us, we live in Iowa, one of those fly-over states. We thrive in the quiet life of the country, or a small town, or even a large city.

For the author, Chila Woychik, she adores her life on her farm with her husband in the beauty and joy of nature in Iowa.

January 21

"First snows, like first loves, leave one panting for breath."

January 31

"Iowa is nothing in winter, but endless roads slick with lonesome."

How can these two entries be written just ten days apart? The answer is Iowa. The first draws the reader inside the beauty, silence, and complete awe of the first snow. The second reflects the days of hard work, shoveling, and the constant slipping and falling on the ice.

The publisher, Stephanie E. Dickinson, also is an Iowa native. In her forward to Chila Woychik's chronology, she reveals her love of the people and the way of life in Iowa.

Many visitors to Iowa frequently have no clue what to expect when they arrive in our state. (Yes, a visiting professor from the east coast appeared before a class wearing a pistol around his waist and cowboy boots that were new and hurt his feet. My class, including myself, were not impressed. How can an educated man be so unaware of this part of his country?)

Those from large cities need to understand the peace and contentment found in hard, physical labor with the joy of nature in life bring to them.

Singing the Land is unique. This non-fiction gem explains how Iowa compares to other places. Including a variety of Alaska in the winter, India, when the floods arrive, humidity leaving people drenched with sweat, tornadoes, hail while maintaining your cattle, chickens, and any other creature requiring your care and attention.

Singing the Land is Chila Woychik's monthly journal of the family farm's events for one year. Yes, it is likely to change from year to year, depending on weather and challenges. She seems to capture the hearts of those who choose Iowa as their home. However, Chila has a gift of optimism and hope with every word she writes to create this beautiful book, complete with many of her pictures.

Between joys and sorrows, births and deaths, unpredictable weather, reflections upon life, time, religion, hard work, and a sense of accomplishment are all part of this book's gemstone.

Teri Davis

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Hidden Tools of Comedy
Steve Kaplan
Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd., #1111, Studio City, CA 91604
9781615931408, $28.95, PB, 280pp,

Synopsis: There are any number of books providing tips on how to "write funny", what separates Steve Kaplan's"The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny" is its paradigm shift in understanding the mechanics and art of comedy, and the proven, practical tools that help writers translate that understanding into successful, commercial scripts.

"The Hidden Tools of Comedy" deftly unlocks the unique secrets and techniques of writing comedy and make them readily available to even the most novice of comedy writers and performers. Of special note is Kaplan's deconstruction of sequences in popular comedic films and TV that work and that don't work, while explaining what tools were used -- or should have been used!

Critique: A complete course of detailed and knowledgeable instruction that is thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny" will prove to be an immediately welcome and enduringly valued addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Writing/Publishing collections in general, and comedic writing for standup, movies and television scripts. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: For more than a decade, Steve Kaplan has been the industry's most sought-after expert on comedy writing and production. In addition to having taught at UCLA, NYU, Yale, and other top universities, Kaplan created the HBO Workspace, the HBO New Writers Program, and was co-founder and Artistic Director of Manhattan's Punch Line Theatre. He has served as a consultant to such companies as DreamWorks, Disney, Aardman Animation, HBO, and has worked with producers and production companies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, London, Ireland, and Sweden.

The New Rules of Marksmanship Firearms Training Workbook
Chris Sajnog
Center Mass Group LLC
9781943787050, $47.00, Spiral Bound, 182pp,

Synopsis: "The New Rules of Marksmanship Firearms Training Workbook" by Chris Sajnog, is based on the US Navy SEALs elite sniper training curriculum.

"The New Rules of Marksmanship" opens with a manifesto on why learning to shoot has been so unnecessarily difficult and lays out a plan for readers to take training into their own hands. The first firearms training workbook of its kind, this training manual will completely change the way we learn to shoot.

Based on the latest in accelerated learning techniques and neuroscience, this workbook is comprised of DIY exercises to train our minds, along with questions at the end of each chapter to ensure that we have actually learned the lessons being taught.

Critique: A complete course of thoroughly 'user friendly' instructions that are impressively well organized and presented, "The New Rules of Marksmanship Firearms Training Workbook" is spiral bound allowing for being easily and accessibly laid out for use at a formal or informal gun range -- making it an ideal DIY curriculum instructional guide and manual for learning the safe and effective use of any form of hand held firearm.

Editorial Note: Retired Navy SEAL Chris Sajnog is a Master Training Specialist in the Navy and was hand-selected to write the US Navy SEAL Sniper Manual. He used this experience, plus four years of studying neuroscience and elite performance, to develop the New Rules of Marksmanship a fundamental shift in learning how to shoot. He is the author of How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL and Navy SEAL Shooting. He is also the owner of Center Mass Group, LLC a 100% Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business in San Diego, California. Sajnog now offers his unique training online.

A Trucker's Tale
Ed Miller
Apollo Publishers
9781948062381, $22.00, HC, 216pp,

Synopsis: Driving one highway after another at sunrise, winding through the mountainside, hearing the call to rise of the roosters, or simply exchanging "fishing stories" with the other guys at the truck stops. Like that one about the trucker who stopped along the highway and helped a little old lady who had a flat tire. By the time the trucker had told his tale a dozen times, the simple tire change story turned into one where an old lady was accompanied by her gorgeous, blond, and twenty-one-year-old granddaughter -- you know how that ends. Imagine the story traded from one driver to the next. Each time, a more outrageous yarn is spun.

They say that only truck drivers experience the true grandeur and landscape of America. In "A Trucker's Tale: Wit, Wisdom, and True Stories from 60 Years on the Road", Ed Miller gives an inside look at the allure of the work and the colorful characters who haul our goods on the open road. He shares what it was like to grow up in a trucking family, his experience as an equipment officer in Vietnam, and the trials and tribulations of life as a trucker. His tales are often funny, sometimes sad, cringeworthy, or unbelievable. Many are the results of what he calls, "just plain stupidity." Together they paint a compelling portrait of a vibrant but little-known industry, and reveal why he just kept on truckin'.

Critique: A fully absorbing and inherently fascinating read from cover to cover, "A Trucker's Tale: Wit, Wisdom, and True Stories from 60 Years on the Road" showcases author Ed Miller's genuine flair for reader engaging and narrative driven storytelling. While certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists of armchair travelers and truck driving enthusiasts that "A Trucker's Tale" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.49).

Willis M. Buhle

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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