Return to home
page Book Reviews, Book Lover Resources, Advice for Writers and Publishers
Home / Reviewer's Bookwatch

Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 22, Number 8 August 2022 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Bryant & Underwood's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Michael Carson's Bookshelf Miriam Calleja's Bookshelf R.K. Singh's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Suzie Housley's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf  

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

How Minds Change
David McRaney
One World
9781786075949, A$29.99 PB, 352 pages

The blurb on the back of this book states: 'Our most deeply held opinions and beliefs can change - here's how'.

It turns out that for some of the people whose stories David McRaney tells so empathetically, this should read 'here's why'. All of these people experienced situations which led them to question their own beliefs and those of the community to which they belonged before they changed their minds.

For most of people, however, especially those belonging to minority groups which experience discrimination, and, of course, politicians and advertisers, the question is how to make others change their minds.

McRaney explores both the why and the how of mind-changing. He begins by telling us about his meeting with Charlie Veitch, who was once a well-known and influential 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and who was viciously turned on by his online community of followers when he announced that he had changed his mind. He also meets two former members of the Westbro Baptist Church (described by Wikipedia as 'an American hyper-Calvinist hate group') who left the church, in spite of knowing that they would be disowned by their families and friends.

What McRaney wants to know is why these people changed their minds, and whether there were any common factors that had influenced their drastic life-changing decisions.

Part of the way he goes about this is to join a door-knocking session with David Fleischer, a member of the Californian LAB (Learn, Act, Build) group, which was set up over ten years ago to try and change peoples' attitude to same-sex marriage. The group had some well-publicised success in changing peoples' minds, so McRaney was keen to learn their long-practised techniques. Three things seemed essential: establish friendly rapport with the interviewee; get them to tell stories about their lives and how they came by their beliefs, and show that you understand their point-of-view; avoid facts-based argument, but tell them something about your own beliefs in an open, unthreatening way, then leave them to think it all over. The great skill, it seems, is to find the key to what formed and influenced their beliefs in the first place and to get them to recognize, and perhaps question, that influence. McRaney eventually lists and explains ten steps.

Politicians naturally became interested in these techniques. Political grandstanding, flyers and the presentation of 'facts' didn't seem to work on voters, but some research seemed to prove that the LAB method might. It became known as 'Deep Canvassing'. Using these techniques on 'conflicted Trump supporters' in the 2020 American elections appeared to have created a significant swing 'in favour of Joe Biden'. However, lying under a tree 'drenched in sweat, woozy and thirsty' after his summer-time door-knocking session with Fleischer, McRaney realises that deep canvassing is no easy option:

'This is why most politicians don't do this', [Fleischer] said. 'It takes a lot more effort than just shoving a flyer in someone's hands or leaving it on their doorstep'.

McRaney has an easy anecdotal, story-telling style, but his research into the science of mind has also been extensive. He interviews social scientists, political scientists, neuroscientists and psychologists, delves into published research and discusses deep questions about how our picture of the world is formed (it is all virtual! Bats see the world differently to us); how our minds develop; how we learn; what influences our behavior and our beliefs; and how our minds and perceptions can be tricked (the viral online discussion about The Dress, which some people see as gold and white and others as black and blue, is just one example: He almost ventures into philosophy:

How we settle on what is and is not true is a two-thousand-year-old conversation, one that has led people smarter than me to set aside the pursuit and go live in cabins where they could focus on needlepoint and perfecting their pancakes.

To avoid that, instead of getting deep into the philosophy of knowledge, we will focus mostly on psychology and neuroscience.

Some of that is not easy to absorb, but he leads us through it as gently as he can.

McRaney is clear from early in the book that we can't change another person's mind: they have to do it for themselves. He keeps until much later in the book the techniques he learned which will lead someone to do that; and he warns that anyone using these techniques should ask themselves why they are doing that - and should question their own beliefs.

So, what are the techniques he learned, and how might they be important to us in our world?

The strength and support each individual gets from belonging to a family or a group of like-minded believers is most important. Stepping away from your tribe without support of some kind is traumatic, so endorsing the beliefs of your tribe becomes essential. The interviewer can discuss both sides of an argument, present well-established facts and show that there is a choice, but in the face of facts which contradicts a person's beliefs it is always possible, especially on the internet, to find supporting evidence for their own view, or to find reasons to deny those facts (Fake news!). However, we are also rational beings and can be encourages to look at our own opinions, at how we came to have them, and at the reasons why we believe what we believe. So, we can change our minds.

For me, the most interesting chapter in the book is the 'Coda'. McRaney was invited "to interview Mark Sargent, a prominent flat-Earther, in front of a live audience'.

McRaney describes the way in which he used LAB techniques in this interview. He draws Sargent out, discusses his responses and reasoning with him, finds out how he first came to across the flat-Earth theory, and how he explored the arguments for believing it. He asks him to explain the theory: Sargent uses models to do this. He also asks him about his status among other flat-Earthers (his 'family'), which is very high, and an important part of his daily life.

Flat-Earth is a compelling conspiracy theory because it explains all other conspiracy theories. This is why we faked the moon landing. This is why we cover up aliens. This is why Kennedy was assassinated…. That's not to say there aren't schisms within the community….Some believe it's more like a snow-globe with a hyper-aadvanced projection of space…; Some have built intricate old-fashioned orreries with gears and mechanical arms to demonstrate how the disc flips through space, producing night and day. Some believe aliens made the disc; others, gods.

Sargent is rational and sensible, and his faith in a flat Earth seems unshakable, although he admits that he doesn't 'have all the answers. Not even close'.

Finally, McRaney suggests that 'if he agreed flat Earth is just one hypothesis among many: that it could be tested scientifically like any other hypothesis', then 'if he saw evidence that suggested to his satisfaction that the flat Earth model was incorrect, what would he do?

'Oh, I'd quit'. [Says Sargent immediately]. 'I'd quit in a second'.

Nearly an hour in at this point. I felt like that was a good place to stop, and we talked a bit about experiments flat-Earthers had planned, including an expedition to the supposed South Pole. Then I thanked him, and we moved backstage.

All that, left me wondering when I first learned that the Earth was round. What evidence did I have to prove that? What explanations did flat-Earthers have to disprove my views? Would I ever be ready to change my mind and drop out of the round-Earth family?

And if Mark Sargent had used the same interviewing techniques on David McRaney, would McRaney have changed his mind?

The Rat Catcher: A Love Story
Kim Kelly
9781761280146, A$24.99 PB, 181 pages

It was February 1900. Sydney was sweltering in the sort of summer heat that, as Patrick O'Reilly says, sent 'ale sizzling down your throat as if the amber liquid bore a life of its own'. The first case of Bubonic plague had just been reported, and plague-infected rats escaping from foreign ships docked at Sydney's wharves were being blamed for it.

Patrick, who is the narrator of The Rat Catcher, has just been laid off from his labouring job at the wharves, and is consoling himself with this amber liquid when he first hears about 'Old Scratch', a large rat with a colourful history as told by the pub landlord, Maloney:

Big bastard rat, and in he waltzes every night, helping himself to whatever he likes - bread, sugar, tea, beer. I've tried everything to catch him but he's smarter and trickier than any other rat I've ever known. He scoffs at any trap I've laid, finds the baits I've made him tasty, and last night he ate my cat.

Maloney goes on to tell of Old Scratch's adventurous life at sea, his capture, the attempt to drown him, and his inventive genius, which led to his miraculous survival and eventual arrival in Sydney. It is an Irish tale which just may be 'a True Story', as Kim Kelly tells us, quoting, 'more or less', an account in the Wagga Wagga Express, 6 Jan. 1900.

Maloney gives Patrick a temporary job helping to fill his basement with a load of rat-deterrent tin clipping. Then, following a tip-off from Father Ryan at the church where he attends Mass, Patrick finds a new job working as a rat-catcher for Sydney City Council's Department of Health. Patrick, himself, is a fine Irish story-teller, and his description of the interview process at the Department of Health, the lecture by 'Mr Creedy. The Bacteriology feller', and the anti-plague inoculation he and his fellow applicants were given, are colourful, opinionated and funny:

There was a near scramble for the line-up at the door of the medical office down the hall, where, inside, that bacteriologist feller was saying to each one of us as we entered, 'Drop your trousers', before shoving a syringe the size of a train carriage into each of our backsides,

Old Scratch eventually plays an important part in Patrick's life, but the real focus of his story, is not the rat-catching but his love for Rosy Hughes. From the moment he sets eyes on her at the Bondi Baths, he is smitten. So, as the sub-title of the book tells us, this is 'a love story'.

Rosy, Patrick accidentally discovers, lives close to his lodgings and knows his neighbour, Annie Kildare. After surreptitiously and unsuccessfully watching the street for a chance sighting of Rosy, and finding himself to be 'a ball of nervous wrigglings and jitterings', Patrick steels himself, grasps a can of peaches as an excuse, and calls on Annie, to see if she can tell him more.

I held out the can of peaches, whispering, 'Just wanted to know whatever you might know about Miss Hughes next door'.

'Oh are you just?' Annie let her amusement be heard in that, taking the can.

Rosie, she tells him, has an injured father to take care of and 'her late sister's little boy, Laurie". She also works as a barmaid. And, when Patrick enquires further, she 'is not religious either way'. Patrick, who is Catholic, holds English Protestants responsible for the poverty and discrimination he escaped from when he left Ireland for Australia.

Satisfied that Rosie is a good Irish girl, Patrick comes up with 'a grand plan'. He has seen that Rosie loves swimming, so he will invite her to go with him to Little Coogee Beach, where, unlike most Sydney beaches, mixed bathing is allowed.

Of course there are misunderstandings and events which interrupt Patrick's friendship with Rosie, but, as Patrick has told us at the beginning of his story, you must 'Never underestimate the ingenuity of an Irishman in love…. suffice to say that I, Patrick O'Reilly, surprised even myself with the lengths and breadths of my endeavours'.

As a rat-catcher, however, Patrick discovers that he is not 'the right stuff for this job': making poisons, setting traps, turfing hundreds of dead rats into the incinerator:

I'd never seen death like this before, noticed the pinkness of their noses or that their little pink paws looked like hands not so different from my own ….

To say I felt like Satan's second-in-command as I recorded 859 creatures into the ledger book of death that day would be a tremendous understatement.

Plague deaths continue to rise in Sydney, so Patrick perseveres, but he is horrified to see people, with all their belongings, being turned out of their homes so that the building can be drenched with carbolic water. He objects, but is told 'things are done this way to save lives'. He also finds the courage to confront his boss about the need for overtime rates for himself and his fellow workers, which brings him to the boss's notice and eventually leads to him being given the of job catching a rat which is devouring books in Sydney's Public Lending Library.

Unsurprisingly, the rat in question turns out to be Old Scratch, and Patrick does catch him. What happens next involves Patrick, Rosie, two small boys and a boat trip to Parramatta and, naturally, this being an Irish love story, there is a happy ending. Yet, light-hearted as it mostly is, Patrick's accounts of the Sydney Plague are based on fact. So, too, is his depiction of the life of a poor Irish immigrant in the 1900s, and the prejudice and bigotry they frequently experienced. But, as Patrick says, Australia was a place where you could make a better life if only you had faith in yourself.

Kim Kelly's Patrick has to learn to have such faith but he has a voice and personality which make him a very likeable character. Rosie, too, turns out to have hidden talents, surprising Patrick when he comes across her in the City chatting to friends with whom she has just attended a meeting of the Women Suffrage League. This too is part of Sydney's' history, and Patrick, unlike many other men at that time, is proud of her taking 'this bold step into the world' and just loves her more for it.

Kim Kelly, in her 'Author's Note', briefly outlines the historical facts about the bubonic plague which infected 1371 people and killed 535 in Sydney in the twelve major outbreaks that occurred between 1900 and 1925. The Rat Catcher is base on the information she has 'trawled' from 'old newspapers of the day', but, she says, she has 'tossed many of the details of early 1900 together in a fact-salad to suit O'Reilly's adventures'. Altogether (even including the rats and rat-catching which are part of the history), she has created a very enjoyable salad.

Big Snake Little Snake: An Enquiry Into Risk
DBC Pierre
97817881697776, A$29.99 HB, 161 pages

DBC Pierre was in Trinidad to make a short commercial film with a parrot. Living in a house on a hill, beside which 'someone had thought to put a driveway like a ski ramp', he had safely negotiated this 'bastard drive' and had just unlocked his front door, when he noticed a little snake on his doormat.

I knew baby snakes carry venom, they're born fully loaded and ready to strike. I took a step or two back but this one didn't look perturbed. He lay like a special delivery.

Being a gambling man, DBC immediately starts wondering 'what background jungle of odds' - what 'cascade' of events - had brought him and this little snake together on doorstep. He decides that the odds are very long. Meeting this snake, however, turns out to be very significant for him, since the national lottery game 'used mystical symbols alongside its thirty-six numbers', one of which is a little snake. DBC bets on this Little Snake/number and wins that night's draw.

Luck? Maybe. In DBC's philosophy of life there is more to it than that. There is 'vivid maths', a cascade of causes and effects which had brought him and Little Snake together, and another cascade which caused his number to win. There's statistical probability, which calculates numbers based on sums, equations and algorithms: but what if there is another form of maths which describes patterns and events, and which we could tap into?

DBC likens the calculation of risk (gamblers' odds) to a stage scenario:

the background is an infinite jungle of risks where probabilities flick round like animals, none of which we can see, the jungle is dark to us, there are obscene hoots and cries but no creatures appear until they suddenly do. While here in the foreground are the mangroves of risks we are aware of and can possibly calculate.

One has gambling odds subject to human and animal influences: the other has 'straight mathematical chances'. DBC's goal in this book is to examine the first; the 'panorama of imaginary maths', 'snake maths, a background and foreground of writhing coils'.

If this sounds complicated, it is, but DBC has a wonderful facility for using events from his own vivid life to shape his enquiry. He is an affable, sharp-witted story-teller with a nicely off-beat view of the world. He knows how to deliver a punch-line, and he is often very funny.

I especially enjoyed his investigation into the betting practices of the punters frequenting the small suburban betting-shop where, being unable to afford a smoke, he began 'recycling' the 'treasure of discarded cigarettes' from the ashtray outside.

The betting-shop was gold for dog-ends as smoking was banned indoors and punters had to come out to soothe their nerves, grow their courage and reflect on the bang of their wins and losses. Winners smoke as much as losers at a betting shop, this is the observation.

Now I want to say here that I have never before and have never since scavenged for smokes, and even then wouldn't have dreamt of it outside a casino for instance, being a person of lofty standards. But it gives a sense of that homely outskirts atmosphere that it felt like par for the course there.

He gets to know the regulars, listens to their 'nervy conversations in two-word snatches' ('fuckin scratched', 'Jokin?', 'fuckin mongrel') and learns the mythologies of the horse-racing track: 'greys aren't happy in strong sunshine' etc. He observes that the bookies always make money, and eventually, 'by instinct while observing the maths in the betting shop', he works out his own betting system and 'gifts' it to us here.

DBC's chapters are short and pithy. They also contain some serious discussions about relativity, quantum physics, parallel worlds, Schrödinger's cat, Gisin's intuitionist mathematics, and QBism ('which proposes that a quantum state ... is not an element of reality - instead it's the degree of belief we have in the outcome of our measurement'). There is much to think about, so I read this book in short bursts. As Einstein apparently said, referring to the uncertainly of mathematical laws in relation to reality: 'Mathematics is all well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose'.

DBC always brings us back to the real world and its oddities, which include the parrot, and what he learns in Trinidad about La Diabolesse, Douens, and the soucouyant spirit which left him with a blood-soaked pillow and no visible signs of attack.

Little Snake guides this inquiry into risk, but there is also the 'Undreamt-of-risk' posed by an encounter with Big Snake, which challenges his ingenuity and makes him think again about how our own attitudes might influence the odds. He doesn't get to place a bet on the Big Snake number in the national lottery but, since the physicists' uncertainly principle suggests that nothing is fixed and that 'before we toss the dice we are both winners and losers', he considers this to be 'a quantum win'.

By the end of this book we are left to ponder whether luck is a question of colliding, and possibly predictable, cascades of linked events, and whether our own attitudes (confidence, or a firm belief that we are a winner, perhaps) can influence the outcome of these events.

Hello Little Snake.

Bonjour vivid maths.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Bryant & Underwood's Bookshelf

She Reads Truth Christian Standard Bible
Raechel Myers and Amanda Williams
B&H Publishing Group
c/o Lifeway Christian Resources
One Lifeway Plaza, Nashville, Tennessee 37234
9781433648199, $49.99 HC, 2,226 pages

Yet, we will celebrate. Tonight we felt the passion and excitement for something that we haven't felt either for in quite a while - to write. We think we've hidden behind the fear of mediocrity and the desire for authenticity and ended up being disobedient to the Lord nudging us (tonight, pushing pretty hard) to share our thoughts and what He is so lovingly revealing to us. Well, this may be mediocre, but with all of our hearts we pray that it is authentic and relevant.

We recently invested in a new copy of God's Word - a SheReadsTruth Bible! It is full of devotions, reading plans, and aesthetically pleasing introductions for every book. A couple of weeks ago, we turned to a devotion entitled "Yet I Will Celebrate" in a book that we honestly had never read on our own time before - Habakkuk. The devotion focused on Chapter 3, Habakkuk's prayer: Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3: 17-19.

When we read these words, we thought immediately of Job, who, in his worst moments after being stripped of everything he ever owned or cared for, praised the Lord saying, "Though you slay me, I will bless your name." We thought immediately of our beautiful cousins who have been battling cancer for several years and has blessed the Lord over and over in the midst of pain and suffering. It was easy for us to jump to the examples of obedience we've had seen in the application of this scripture; however, it took us a few moments to think of ourselves - to recognize that we too have experienced the fig tree that doesn't bud or the fields that have no harvest. It took us a few moments to recognize that the Holy Spirit was convicting us of being disobedient; of being conditional in our adoration and praise of Jesus.

We were quick to recognize the obedience of others, but hesitant to evaluate our own response to the hardships and inconsistencies of this life. We walked away from that moment praying for a heart that rejoices in the desert. Several days ago, we came across this passage again. We read it once and we thought of a situation to which we so desperately needed to apply this word. The Lord was faithful in reminding us that we had prayed for a heart that rejoices in the desert and then prompting us to do so. It is so freeing to praise a sovereign God who sees us, knows us, loves us, and even when there is nothing, He is everything we need. We had gotten it - alright, praise Him in the storm. And then, a storm hit.

A couple of days ago, a collective heartbreak rang out in response to a heavy tragedy in our community. We heard this heartbreak from a distance as strangers mourned and grieved their friends. We heard this heartbreak close enough to feel it as friends mourned and grieved their friends. We went home on that Monday and prayed for wisdom and guidance for how to be there for hurting friends, and where did He lead us yet again? Habakkuk 3:17-19. We knew that the Lord had been preparing our heart to meditate on this verse, and we know that maybe you who are reading need to meditate on it as well. Through tragedy, brokenness, dysfunction, heartache, drought, storm, or pain, God deserves our rejoicing simply because of who He is and what He has done on the cross.

This passage meant so much for us over the past few weeks. It has meant conviction when we were disobedient to apply it, it has meant growth through applying this word and rejoicing in the hard times, it has meant encouragement for hurting hearts and a call to praise Him even when it hurts. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we've had so many opportunities today to do exactly what we prayed - to be there for our hurting friends - and it was the same prompting over and over, to share these verses. Even today, someone comforting a group of hurting students used this same passage to encourage them, as if God had not already stamped it on our hearts. God knew that we needed to read this passage a few weeks ago, and He knew that we would need this passage now.

Earlier we wrote that this "may" be mediocre. In reading through it, we're sure that it is but thanks for making it this far if you have. We felt the familiar zing of excitement at the nudge we felt to write out our thoughts and share what the Lord has been teaching us. When it doesn't make sense, when we want to know why, when we don't understand, when our friends are hurting, when we're hurting - The sovereign Lord is our strength - Yet, we will celebrate.

Sister Jenna Bryant & Brother Charles Underwood, Media Reviewers
Southern Baptist Convention Ordained Pastors & Temple Baptist Church Interns

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living
Mark Matousek
Monkfish Book Publishing Company
9781948626576, $16.99, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: Do survivors of life's greatest trials possess a secret knowledge? Is there an art to survival, a map for crossing the wilderness -- or dealing with daily life? Why do some people blossom through adversity while others stop growing?

Drawing on twenty years' experience in this field, using stories, parable, and scientific data, with the publication of "When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living" by acclaimed memoirist Mark Matousek gives the first-ever comprehensive look at this mysterious phenomenon of viriditas, the power of drawing passion, beauty, and wisdom from the unlikeliest places.

Matousek interviews hundreds of well-known survivors (including Joan Didion, Elie Wiesel, and Isabel Allende) and experts such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jonathan Kozol, and Sogyal Rimpoche. He also includes extraordinary testimonials ranging from a Tibetan nun imprisoned by the Chinese at age eleven, and the women of Calama, Chile, digging for their "disappeared," among countless others.

Drawing insight and advice from these many heroic individuals, Matousek presents a chorus of wisdom for how to survive our own lives and prevail despite the vicissitudes of being human.

Critique: Observant, insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living" is an extraordinary study that is as real world practical as it is inspirational. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Spiritual Self-Help, Self-Improvement, and Personal Transformation collections. It should be noted that "When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.14).

Editorial Note: The author of eight books including Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life and Writing To Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery, Mark Matousek, M.A. is an award-winning writer, teacher, and speaker whose work focuses on transformative writing for personal, professional, and spiritual development. He is also a featured blogger for and has contributed to numerous anthologies and publications, including the New Yorker, Details, Harper's Bazaar, The Chicago Tribune, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Matousek is the founder of The Seekers Forum, an online community for non-sectarian spiritual dialogue, and a founding member of V-Men (with Eve Ensler), an organization devoted to ending violence against women and girls. It should be noted that Matousek offers workshops in self-inquiry and personal development internationally, using his Writing To Awaken method, which has helps thousands of people around the globe world to reach their artistic and personal goals. He has a dedicated website at

Go the Bark to Work
Bark Twain
Viva Editions
2246 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710-2219
9781632280800, $17.99, HC, 36pp

Synopsis: The pandemic has been with us for what seems like forever. And every day seems like Groundhog Day! You wake up. You eat. You Zoom with colleagues. You send emails. You binge watch television. You feed the dog. You ponder buying bitcoin or dogecoin for your four-legged best friend. And then the next day you do it all over again. This is not the life you or your dog expected. You both need more.

Your lab, pug, or poodle was happy when you stopped going to the office. But, frankly, after all these months of having you home, he is over it. He needs some alone time! What does your dog think?

Probably just what laugh-out-loud canine humorist Bark Twain thinks:

*Go the Bark to Work. You've been home for months and you're cramping my style.
*Go the Bark to Work. I need to get with the poodle next door!
*Go the Bark to Work. You need a shave - I'm afraid you have fleas!
*Go the Bark to Work. Our money won't last forever. I need food and toys, you know!
*Go the Bark to Work. You need a girlfriend. I know what you watch on your computer!

With this funny opus, Bark Twain joins the pantheon of famous dogs who bring joy to our lives. Move over Snoopy, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Benji, Beethoven, and Lassie; Bark Twain is funnier, snarkier, and more street savvy than you'll ever be. So, buy it for yourself or as a gift book for a friend. And you just need to . . . Go the Bark to Work!

Critique: What can only be described as a laugh out loud picture book for adults, "Go the Bark to Work" is a timely and much needed jolt of humor -- especially when what the pandemic has done to all of our lives can only be responded to by tears and/or laughter -- and along with Bark Twain, the preferred response is to see the humor in even this most depressing of times. Also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format, "Go the Bark to Work" is highly recommended for community library collections -- and is an ideal gift selection for anyone who needs a not-so-subtle encouragement to get back to work!

Editorial Note: Bark Twain is a dog who knows his mind and is frustrated with the world today. His owner is just home too darn much. After puppy school and watching all those tv shows with Cesar Millan, he is well trained, but his patience is running out with his owner. He admires the fame and fortune won by dogs like Snoopy, Lassie, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Bark Twain is thinking about buying Dogecoin, getting a Tesla, and flying to space on one of Elon Musk's SpaceX flights. He is no fan of Grumpy Cat or Garfield. This is his first book.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

The Crystal Pond: A Young Girl's Journey Through Imagination
Alvin M. Stenzel
Independently Published
9798542970776, $8.99 paperback, Page Count: 184 pages
B09B2FW36R, $2.99 Kindle

A beautiful blend of magic, hope, and inspiration with an artistic storyline. Perfect for teen girls and all who hope for a better world. Goals and convictions play essential roles. Light, shapes, colors, and stars are painted with vivid words. Characters appear and change over time. This is a satisfying, imaginative read, part quest and part fairy tale. Do not miss reading about the author and why he wrote the story, as this unforgettable information will tug at your heart.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

A Killing Rain
Faye Snowden
Flame Tree Press
9781787586130, $26.95, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: After Raven Burns returns to Byrd's Landing, Louisiana to begin a new life, she soon finds herself trapped by the old one when her nephew is kidnapped by a ruthless serial killer, and her foster brother becomes the main suspect. To make matters worse, she is being pursued by two men -- one who wants to redeem her soul for the murder Raven felt she had no choice but to commit, and another who wants to lock her away forever.

Critique: With a particular appeal to readers with an interest in gothic tales of homicide fiction, "A Killing Rain" by Faye Snowden is a polished gem of a crime novel, replete deftly crafted characters, unexpected but riveting plot twists, and a memorable finale. While highly recommended for community library African-American Mystery, Thriller and Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated suspense/thriller fans that "A Killing Rain" is also available in a paperback edition (9781787586116, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Editorial Note: Faye Snowden is the author of noir mysteries, poems and several short stories. Her novels include Spiral of Guilt, The Savior, Fatal Justice, and A Killing Fire, a dark, southern Gothic tale featuring homicide detective Raven Burns. Faye has been awarded writing fellowships from Djerassi and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime (SinC) where she serves as Board Secretary for SinC National. She has participated on many writing panels, appeared as a guest lecture in several university writing classes, and taught information technology courses at the university level. She also has a dedicated website at

All The Broken Girls
Linda Hurtado Bond
Entangled: Amara
9781649372147, $8.99, PB, 368pp

Synopsis: Crime reporter Mari Alvarez was never able to solve her mother's murder ten years ago. But when a woman is gunned down on the doorstep of her West Tampa neighborhood, Mari can't shake the eerie sense of connection.

Now there have been two murders in two days. Each crime scene awash with arcane clues -- and without a trace of DNA from the killer. And for each victim, a doll. The first is missing an eye. The second is missing a heart. But are these clues leading to the killer or messages for Mari?

Caught up in a maelstrom of Old-World superstition, secrets, and ties to her own past, Mari has only one option. Put the puzzle together before someone else dies -- even if it destroys her career. But there's no escaping the hungry spider's web when it's been made just for you!

The enigmatic message is that when one falls the others will break -- unless she plays the game...

Critique: With a special appeal to readers with an interest in kidnapping, serial killers and vigilante justice, "All The Broken Girls" by Linda Hurtado Bond will prove to be a deftly crafted and inherently riveting read from cover to cover. While highly recommended as an addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "All The Broken Girls" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: By day, Linda Hurtado Bond is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. By night, she's an author of James Bond like adventures and heart-stopping thrillers. She has a dedicated website at

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

My Quarrel
Chaim Grade
Toby Press

A Brilliant Story

I am convinced that people could learn much from non-religious writings, even some, but not all, crime novels. Thus, my desire to increase my knowledge is why I still read more than a hundred fictional non-religious books annually, in addition to my studies of biblical commentaries. I will give an example of one such book. It is a short story of only 57 pages in its original Yiddish edition and 45 pages in its English translation. Both versions are in the bilingual English-Yiddish edition published by Toby Press in 2020, part of the prestigious publications of Israel's Koren Press.

The story is by the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade (1910-1982), pronounced gra, as in open your mouth and say ah, and de at the end pronounced as in eh, the word said in surprise. Grade in German and Yiddish means "straight." Grade's early writings were poetry. "My Quarrel" was Grade's first work as a novelist. He was successful, and other splendid, also thoughtful dramas followed.

The Noble winning novelist Elie Wiesel once said of Grade that he was "one of the great - if not the greatest - of living Yiddish novelists. The story is called in English "My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner." It is so good that other writers made it into a film and a play. It is about the different opinions of Judaism by two former classmates at an Orthodox Yeshiva. Grade and his fictional counterpart in the tale left the Yeshiva and became a secular Jew because they felt the lessons of the Yeshiva were wrong, even harmful. Rasseyner continued his life living the Yeshiva beliefs. The Grade stand-in argues that Jews must open their minds to the enlightenment. Hersh Rasseyner argues fervently that only observant Jews are faithful Jews.

The story is a classic because of its lasting merit. Its message is still relevant today despite being first printed in 1952, seventy years ago, because it addresses the current dispute between secular and observant Jews. It highlights the destruction of Judaism and the conflict caused in the past and today. Talmudic rabbis and scholars agree that the second temple in Jerusalem, for example, was destroyed in the year 70 because Jews could not live peacefully together. Had they got along, Rome would not have demolished the temple, destroyed the land of Israel, and caused most Jews to wander in the diaspora for two thousand years.

The two former Yeshiva students were friendly classmates when they attended the right-wing very observant rabbinical school but did not see each other for decades after the student with Grade's rational view of Judaism left the school. He became a secular Jew while his former friend continued at the school, became hostile to secular Jews whom he considered Jewish traitors, and rose to be the head of several Yeshivas. The two met in 1937 before the Nazi conflict, 1939 when Germany began to murder Jews and the former classmates lost their entire families, and 1948 when Jews reestablished Israel. The novel has six chapters. Of these, 1948 takes six, over 85 percent of the text. Hersh Rasseyner was abrasive throughout.

Each criticizes the other in 1937 and 1939. For example, Grade scolds Hersh: "You laugh at people who work and do business [while you stay at home or the synagogue reading the Talmud] because you say they don't trust in God [to provide your needs]. But you live on what those exhausted women labor to bring you [not God], and in return, you promise them - the world to come. Hersh Rasseyner, you have long since sold your share of the world to come to those poor women."

Grade censures Hersh for his narrow, divisive, and alienating Orthodoxy and scolds him for dismissing fellow Jews and righteous non-Jews from his circle. What would the non-Jewish people who saved Jews during the holocaust think if they heard Hersh's Orthodoxy excluded them?

Hersh insists that humans should not rely on their works and ideas. They should choose between good and evil as Jewish Law chooses for them. He mocks Grade for failing to realize that humans are incapable of understanding life and insists that they need to rely on rabbinical teachings. Grade responds that he doesn't consider it a particular virtue not to have doubts. The "heroism of secular thinkers lies in [striving to improve themselves and society and] their ability to risk and live in doubt."

Ultimately, after the holocaust and the bickering, Chaim Grade ends his tale with a plea to Hersh Rasseyner and all who think like him to stop excluding people who do not believe as they do.

The message of Judaism is respect for others. Love your neighbor as yourself. What is harmful to you, do not do to others. Neither Adam nor Eve were Orthodox Jews, but God created them. All humans, with no exception, are created in the image of God. Abraham wore no yarmulke. King Solomon acquired materials from pagan idol-worshiping kings to build the temple. Non-priests entered the temples' Holy of Holies to make repairs so that it would not fall apart. Secular Jews led the reestablishment of Israel before and in 1948.

We need to be together, or we will cease to exist.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Balance: How It Works and What It Means
Paul Thagard
Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023-7015
9780231205580, $32.00, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: Living is a balancing act. Ordinary activities like walking, running, or riding a bike require the brain to keep the body in balance. A dancer's poised elegance and a tightrope walker's breathtaking performance are feats of balance. Language abounds with expressions and figures of speech that invoke balance. People fret over work-life balance or try to eat a balanced diet. The concept crops up from politics (checks and balances, the balance of power, balanced budgets) to science -- in which ideas of equilibrium are crucial. Why is balance so fundamental, and how do physical and metaphorical balance shed light on each other?

With the publication of "Balance: How It Works and What It Means", Professor Paul Thagard explores the physiological workings and metaphorical resonance of balance in the brain, the body, and society. He describes the neural mechanisms that keep bodies balanced and explains why their failures can result in nausea, falls, or vertigo. Professor Thagard connects bodily balance with leading ideas in neuroscience, including the nature of consciousness. He analyzes balance metaphors across science, medicine, economics, the arts, and philosophy, showing why some aid understanding but others are misleading or harmful. Professor Thagard contends that balance is ultimately a matter of making sense of the world. In both literal and metaphorical senses, balance is what enables people to solve the puzzles of life by turning sensory signals or an incongruous comparison into a coherent whole.

Bridging philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, "Balance: How It Works and What It Means" shows how an unheralded concept's many meanings illuminate the human condition.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented for both an academic and non-specialist general readership for those with an interest in the subject, "Balance: How It Works and What It Means" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Philosophy and Popular Science collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists that "Balance: How It Works and What It Means" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Editorial Note: Paul Thagard is distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Waterloo and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Cognitive Science Society, and the Association for Psychological Science. His books include The Brain and the Meaning of Life (2010); Natural Philosophy: From Social Brains to Knowledge, Reality, Morality, and Beauty (2019); and Bots and Beasts: What Makes Machines, Animals, and People Smart? (2021).

Taming the Rascal Multitude
Noam Chomsky, author
Lydia Sargent, editor
PM Press
PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623
9781629638799, $59.95, HC, 448pp

Synopsis: When Noam Chomsky writes about something (US foreign policy, corporate policies, an election, or a movement) he is not only quite specific in recounting the topic and its facts but also exercises relentlessly uninhibited logic to discern the interconnections between the evidence and broader themes involved. This may seem mundane, but virtually every time, even aside from the details of the case in question, the process, the steps, the ways of linking one thing to another illustrate what it means to be a thinking, critical subject of history and society, in any time and place.

"Taming the Rascal Multitude: Essays, Interviews, and Lectures 1997 - 2014" is a judicious selection of Chomsky's essays and interviews from Z Magazine from 1997 to 2014. In each one Chomsky takes up some question of the moment. As such, in sum, the essays provide an historical overview of the history that preceded Trump and the reaction to Trump. The essays situate what followed even without having known what would follow. They explicate what preceded the current era and provide a step-by-step revelation or how-to for successfully comprehending social events and relations. They are a pleasure to read, much like the pleasure of watching a great athlete or performer, but they also edify. They educate.

Reading Chomsky is about understanding how society works, how people relate to society and social trends and patterns and why, and, beyond the specifics, how to approach events, relations, occurrences, trends, and patterns in a way that reveals their inner meanings and their outer connections and implications. It is like reading the best you can get about topic after topic, and, more, it is like watching a master-craftsmen in a discipline that ought to be all of ours understanding the world to change it.

Critique: Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historical essayist, social critic, and political activist. He is also a major contemporary figure in analytical philosophy. "Taming the Rascal Multitude: Essays, Interviews, and Lectures 1997 - 2014" offers a complete introduction to the man and his political/cultural writings for those unfamiliar with Chomsky, and is an essential and core addition to personal, professional, and academic library Contemporary Political Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Taming the Rascal Multitude: Essays, Interviews, and Lectures 1997 - 2014" is also available in a paperback edition (9781629638782, $27.95).

Editorial Note #1: Noam Chomsky is a laureate professor at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. His work is widely credited with having revolutionized the field of modern linguistics and Chomsky is one of the foremost critics of U.S. foreign policy. He has published numerous groundbreaking books, articles, and essays on global politics, history, and linguistics. His recent books include Who Rules the World? and Hopes and Prospects.

Editorial Note #2: Lydia Sargent is a founder and original member of the South End Press Collective, as well as Z Magazine, which she co-edits and co-produces. Her plays include "I Read About My Death in Vogue Magazine" and "Playbook" with Maxine Klein and Howard Zinn. She is the editor of Women and Revolution: The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

The Fall of Roman Britain: and Why We Speak English
John Lambshead
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (US distribution)
9781399075565, $34.95, HC, 176pp

Synopsis: The end of the Roman presence in the island of Great Britain was both more abrupt and more complete than in any of the other European Roman provinces. When the fog clears and Britain re-enters the historical record, it is, unlike other former European provinces of the Western Empire, dominated by a new culture that speaks a language that is neither Roman nor indigenous British Brythonic and with a pagan religion that owes nothing to Romanitas or native British practices.

Other ex-Roman provinces of the Western Empire in Europe showed two consistent features conspicuously absent from the lowlands of Britain: the dominant language was derived from the local Vulgar Latin and the dominant religion was a Christianity that looked towards Rome. This leads naturally to the question: 'what was different about Britannia?' A further anomaly in our understanding lies in the significant dating mismatch between historical and archaeological data of the Germanic migrations, and the latest genetic evidence. The answer to England's unique early history may lie in resolving this paradox.

With the publication of "The Fall of Roman Britain: and Why We Speak English", author John Lambshead summarizes the latest data gathered by historians, archaeologists, climatologists and biologists and synthesizes it all into a fresh new explanation.

Critique: An absolutely fascinating read from cover to cover, "The Fall of Roman Britain: and Why We Speak English" will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in the evolution of the English language, Roman history, and Medieval British history. Featuring a four page Time Line, and a seven page Bibliography, "The Fall of Roman Britain: and Why We Speak English" is original and exceptionally well written, organized and presented study that is highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Fall of Roman Britain: and Why We Speak English" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in Rainham, Kent, UK, Dr John Lambshead designed the award-winning computer game, Frederick Forsythe's Fourth Protocol, which was the first icon-driven game, was editor of Games & Puzzles and Wargames News, and has written a number of wargaming rules supplements for Games Workshop. He also wrote the officially licensed Dr Who gaming rules for Warlord Games. He was co-author, with Rick Priestley, of Tabletop Wargames, A Designer and Writers Handbook (Pen & Sword Books, 2016). When not designing games he is a novelist writing SF&F for Bane Books.

Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats
Anthony Nicholas
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (US distribution)
9781399086004, $34.95, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: When it was launched, the Titanic was considered to be the queen of the ocean liners. She was a sleek, sultry beauty who was sunk with a full load of passengers and crew on her maiden voyage. A kind of 21st century Flying Dutchman, with interiors by Cesar Ritz, still striving to achieve the waters of a port she would never reach.

Fueled by a subtle mixture of horror, fascination and sheer, fatal glamour, she surges heedlessly across the still, starlit calm of our collective subconscious, hell bent on achieving her chilling, near midnight rendezvous with her killer. The Titanic is a brilliantly lit stage, carrying her cast of exotic, terminally endangered extras toward an abyss at once both unfathomable and inconceivable.

Here's where any similarity with any other tome about the Titanic ends.

With the publication of "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" by Anthony Nicholas and for the first time ever, a succession of key characters and groups of individuals come to the fore. Center stage, over seventeen chapters, we meet the men whose decisions, actions and omissions combined like some slow burning powder trail to trigger a final, cataclysmic conclusion; the foundering, in mid Atlantic, of the biggest moving object ever seen on the face of the planet.

One by one, a series of individuals take a bow. Seemingly omnipotent owners and hugely experienced ship's officers. Engineers and designers. Would be rescuers and embattled wireless operators.

In the pages of "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" the reader will meet them as individuals, not supermen. Their histories, backgrounds and life experiences are assessed for the first time ever, putting their actions on the night that Titanic sank into a context, a light as stark as that of the distress rockets, arcing into the sky.

Critique: Written with all the dramatic flair of a finely penned novel, "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" is a massively impressive work of meticulous historical research. Fascinating and informative, "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" is highly recommended for community, college, and university library 20th Century Maritime History collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic: Superstars and Scapegoats" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Editorial Note: For those interested, there is an impressive website devoted to the Titanic at

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas
Dr. Monica Vermani
Vita Odyssey
9781777915506, $21.95 (Amazon), PB 227pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas" by clinical psychologist Monica Vermani, readers will learn how to heal their past, deal with their present, and take control of their future by working smarter (not harder) on their healing and growth.

"A Deeper Wellness" offers a roadmap that will leads out of pain and fear, and into a better life relieved of trauma, stress, and mood disorders.

Dr. Monica Vermani deftly shares insights, knowledge, and self-reflective exercises honed over her 25 years as a clinical psychologist an in the pages of "A Deeper Wellness" provides 18 concise life lessons designed to take personal healing to a deeper level.

"A Deeper Wellness" shows how to: Identify and understand the interplay of your problematic physical symptoms, negative thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors; Free yourself from past hurts and emotional debris; Take steps to factor your wellbeing into the equation of your life; Connect with opportunities for healing and growth; Commit to living a more authentic, and happy life.

Critique: A complete course of DIY instructions on dealing with life's traumas, stresses, and inevitable anxieties, "A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal and professional Popular Psychology Psychotherapy, Anxiety Disorder Treatment, and Self-Esteem Development & Maintenance collections and reading lists.

Editorial Note: Dr. Monica Vermani is a clinical psychologist, public speaker, teacher and author in the field of mental health and wellness, and a registered member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario. In her private practice, Dr. Vermani Balanced Wellbeing, she provides a multi-faceted treatment approach through a variety of techniques and treatments, including supportive Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Breath~Body~Mind practices, executive coaching, Mindfulness Meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). She has a dedicated website at

The Lady in the Woods
Maria Bluni
Austin Macauley Publishers
9781649790699, $28.95, HC, 232pp

Synopsis: Mariah Talbot seems to lead a charmed life. Successful and talented, she is an interior designer in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood and, by all accounts, is fulfilling her dreams. But appearances can be deceiving. Few people know the truth about her tragic past and why she guards her heart so fiercely, or the fact she is still very much in love with a ghost.

Andrew Maddenis a partner in one of Boston's elite law firms. Bracing himself for a confrontation on his commute to work one morning, the last thing he expects is to be captivated by the woman who emerges from her car. Mariah is unlike any woman he has ever met, and their attraction is instant. But as he soon discovers, there is much more to her than meets the eye. He clings to the hope that with time, she will come to trust him completely.

But time is precious and fleeting. Neither of them could have predicted the bizarre twist of fate that alters the course of their lives forever. Only when Andrew embarks on his own journey, unraveling the haunting secrets of Mariah's past, does he finally come to understand that love never dies -- and neither does the soul.

Critique: With a very special appeal to readers with an interest in contemporary romance novels, "The Lady in the Woods" by author Maria Bluni is a deftly crafted and emotionally satisfying novel populated with memorable characters and an inherently riveting story. While highly recommended for community library fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Lady in the Woods" is also available in a paperback edition (9781649790705, $14.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.50).

Sonya Haramis
Peace of the Dreamer
9780976224747, $12.95, PB, 36pp

Synopsis: "Moments" is a beautiful little booklet comprised of inspirational photographs coupled with thoughtful and thought-provoking sayings. Author Sonya Haramis invites the reader to escape, dream, reflect, meditate and relax. With lush photographs of ocean, beach, sky, sunset, night time sky, roses, and crystals, readers are reminded they are surrounded by peace, beauty, and grace.

If they invite silent awareness into their lives, readers can experience every moment as precious. "Moments". Readers will discover that life is made up of precious moments and to create and enjoy them, and that love is there for us in every moment, in all moments. There are also some pages for readers to journal and images for them to color.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring "Moments" is a gentle reminder of how precious each moment is in life. Simply stated, "Moments" is a thoughtful, life affirming, and unreservedly recommended gift for a loved one or for oneself.

Editorial Note: Sonya Haramis, M.Ed., is a musician and an award-winning author of inspirational books and action-adventure wisdom stories. She is a storyteller who weaves ancient wisdom into modern stories. Through her award-winning books, she shows us we can find our power within -- especially when we think all is lost - and rewrite our future. Sonya shows us that even when we are broken, there is hope. She also has a dedicated website at

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Carry Me: Stories of Pregnancy Loss
Frieda Hoffman
She Writes Press
9781647423599, $16.95 PB, 264pp

Synopsis: After Frieda Hoffman's second miscarriage, she felt alone, ignorant, and overwhelmed with emotions. Finding little literature or support available, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she decided to create the resource she wished she'd had: real stories about pregnancy loss from real women without the off-putting lens of religion or academia so typical of the self-help genre.

Through Hoffman's own journey and those of nineteen women she interviewed, "Carry Me: Stories of Pregnancy Loss" explores universal themes of grief, bearing witness, transforming adversity into opportunity, and the paradox of feeling alone while sharing a common experience. The diverse women and narratives unpack the physical, emotional, and financial challenges of loss; notions of womanhood and motherhood; and the intersections of public health, body politics, and patient care. Readers are called to action to share their own stories in order to heal themselves and support others.

Nearly everyone knows someone affected by pregnancy loss, yet most of us are not comfortable, even in the relative safety of the company of friends and sisters, discussing this serious health issue. It's time to normalize the dialogue and help one another through our losses by sharing our resources, our wisdom, and our stories -- by carrying one another.

Critique: With a special appeal to readers with an interest in, or having to deal with, fertility issues and/or postpartum depression, "Carry Me: Stories of Pregnancy Loss" is an informative and compassionate collection of stories that will resonate with all women (and men) who have experienced the failure of a desired pregnancy. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Pregnancy & Childbirth collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Carry Me: Stories of Pregnancy Loss" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Frieda Hoffman is a transformative coach and mediator, creative consultant, and entrepreneur with a passion for supporting women and courageous leadership. As a coach, she aspires to uplift her clients and break down the barriers that keep so many from stepping into their full potential. As a writer, she aims to cultivate compassion, strength, and a greater sense of connection, particularly for and amongst women. She holds an MA in social work and conflict management from Berlin's Alice Salomon University, a dual BA in psychology and anthropology from Johns Hopkins University, and is an ICF Professional Certified Coach. She also has a dedicated website

My Cookbook Passion
S. P. Grogan, editor
Gaudium Publishing
c/o Histria Books
9781592111176, $40.99, HC, 228pp

Synopsis: Not like any other, "My Cookbook Passion: Culinary History and Adventure in Exploring My Collection" is a cookbook with a historic recipe anthology attempts to define and track the evolution of the cookbook and the modernization of the kitchen.

Pamela Kure Grogan's "My Cookbook Passion" draws upon a vintage selection from her 3,000 volume cookbook collection showcasing the changing palates of those at-home and at-travel epicureans. In it, she visualizes the impact of various world wars, financial depressions, expanding transcontinental auto usage, and the technological advancement of utensils and ingredients used in the kitchen on the public's taste.

"My Cookbook Passion" is a color panorama of historic cookbooks and recipes with the stories of how such books came into being -- including chapters on: "Entertaining is Fun"; "Reach for the Stars" on celebrities; "Inns & Farms"; books on food publishers like Barrows & Co; and a list of famous chefs and their restaurants, most now gone from the scene. There are even hints about becoming a discerning cookbook collector.

Critique: Profusely and informative illustrated in full color throughout, "My Cookbook Passion: Culinary History and Adventure in Exploring My Collection", is expertly compiled with informative commentary by dedicated cookbook collector Pamela Kure Grogan, and will have a very special appeal and interest for professional chefs, enthusiastic food lovers, and kitchen cooks at home who want to try out the heirloom recipes they will find within its pages.

An inherently fascinating and impressively informative history of the cookbook that is especially recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted that "My Cookbook Passion: Culinary History and Adventure in Exploring My Collection" is also available in a paperback edition (9781592112029, $29.99).

Editorial Note: Pamela Kure Grogan worked for twenty years as Store Manager at Williams Sonoma and at Sur La Table kitchen stores. She has also served as Food Editor for an online food company. Today, Pamela is an active 'passionate baker' with her fan-followed social media sites, kitchen a'stir, and her dedicated website at

The Original S.T.A.R.S. Guidebook for Older Teens and Adults
Susan Heighway, author
Susan Kidd Webster, author
Future Horizons, Inc.
107 W. Randol Mill Road, Suite 100, Arlington, TX 76011
9781949177893, $19.95, PB, 166pp

Synopsis: The goal of "The Original S.T.A.R.S. Guidebook" was to promote positive sexuality and prevent sexual abuse. Now in a newly revised and updated second edition, this valuable resource presents new information about sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural diversity, cyber security, and includes even more helpful materials.

This new edition provides assessment tools that can be used to identify the strengths and needs of each individual. Each activity can be catered to address specifi c needs.

The STARS model is specially designed for teaching adolescents and adults with a broad range of disabilities, emphasizing four important areas: Understanding Relationships; Social Interaction; Sexual Awareness; Assertiveness.

Critique: A consumable textbook on human sexuality, this newly revised and updated edition of "The Original S.T.A.R.S. Guidebook for Older Teens and Adults: A Social Skills Training Guide for Teaching Assertiveness, Relationship Skills and Sexual Awareness" by the team of Susan Heighway and Susan Kidd Webster is especially and unreservedly recommended as a highschool and college Human Sexuality curriculum textbook. It should be noted for personal and professional reading lists that this new edition "The Original S.T.A.R.S. Guidebook for Older Teens and Adults" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.95).

Editorial Note #1: Susan Kidd Webster, MSSW, is an emerita faculty with the School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 1985, Ms. Heighway and Ms. Webster have both worked in sexual abuse prevention and sexuality education for people with developmental disabilities. They have provided consultation to community agencies, presented at conferences, and conducted workshops on the local state and national levels on the areas of sexuality and sexual abuse.

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

One More Day
Diane Chiddister
Boyle and Dalton
9781633375529, $14.99

One More Day is about Grace Woods Care Center's final days as a small non-profit from resident and staff points of view. They may also be final days for Thomas, a retired anthropology professor, and Lillian, a woman with dementia. In stream of consciousness, these two characters tell the everyday experience of aging, away from home, in unfamiliar surroundings. Confusion, humor, and misunderstandings with family members and caregivers ensue when memories from the past blur with current happenings. Meanwhile, Sally, an aide, endures workplace banter and complaints. She loves her job, and more so as she falls in love with a new maintenance man. Beth, Sally's boss, navigates Grace Woods' sale to a for-profit enterprise. Her novel ideas for working with the elderly are dismissed by the new owners.

The book's use of multiple perspectives makes for an intimate, humorous, and comforting portrait of what could be a depressing subject. Residents and staff are shown serving each other, creating bonds that belie convention and celebrate a common humanity. Their overlapping threads keep the book's pacing buoyant and flowing. Dialogue is achingly realistic and awkward. Getting old is hard to talk about! The book exudes optimism as characters learn to express themselves to each other. Imaginings of death infuse the text with poetry and mysticism. Thomas' anthropological inquiries add a serious overtone to the book's casual tenor and hint at this novel's important place among more scholarly geriatric studies.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia
Karida L. Brown
University of North Carolina Press
9781469647036, $29.95, 254 pgs

Appalachian Studies can be a wide and often interrelated field. The disciplines of Sociology, Anthropology, Literature, and History are becoming increasingly employed as one in order to understand the lives, families, and employment of the hardworking men and women, black, white, and brown, who called and still call the hills home. Dr. Karida L. Brown, a sociologist at UCLA and descendant of two families, the Davis and Brown families of Lynch, Kentucky, has written a masterful work of both narrative and scientific importance, that discusses a cross-section of the lives of those Appalachian settlers.

Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2018, 254pgs., $29.95), tells the story of the African-American citizens of the towns of Lynch, Benham, and Cumberland, in Harlan County, Kentucky. The men and women of these coal towns established homes, raised wonderful families, and made the mountains sing with laughter, hard-work, and the joy of what the future may hold. They also felt the cold and traumatic grip of institutional and personal racism, both from white citizens where they lived and the companies that they worked for. The narrative that Dr. Brown shares, which utilizes all of the above mentioned disciplines in masterful symmetry, is a narrative of self-sustaining dedication to the American dream.

Gone Home should be required reading for anyone interested in Appalachia. Dr. Brown has written a work that reads like a history as well as the scholarly work that it most certainly is. An interested reader would quickly be able to glimpse the lives that Dr. Brown chronicles as the epitome of the American dream. This review recommends Gone Home as both Appalachian History and Social Science, as well as an excellent tale of reminiscing and what might have been. It will occupy a place on my shelf for years to come.

Matthew W. McCarty

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Designing Peace: Building a Better Future Now
Cynthia Smith, et al.
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
c/o Distributed Art Publishers
155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10013-1507
9781942303329, $45.00, PB, 240pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Designing Peace: Building a Better Future Now", author Cynthia Smith considers how we could collectively put our creative forces together to envision a future we want to live in and take action to create it now? Designing Peace is an intersectional snapshot of the actions (culturally diverse and wide-ranging in scale) that are currently in play around the world.

Offering perspectives on peace through essays, interviews, critical maps, project profiles, data visualizations and art, "Designing Peace" conveys the momentum that design can gain in effecting a peace-filled future. From activists, scholars and architects to policymakers and graphic, game and landscape designers, "Designing Peace" flips the conversation: peace is not simply a passive state signifying the absence of war, it is a dynamic concept that requires effort, expertise and multidimensional solutions to address its complexity.

Designers engage with individuals, communities and organizations to create a more sustainable peace ranging from creative confrontations that challenge existing structures, to designs that demand embracing justice and truth in a search for reconciliation. This unique publication aims to expand the discourse on what is possible if society were to design for peace.

The contributors to "Designing Peace" include: Michael Adlerstein, Pablo Ares and Julia Risler, Merve Bedir, Everisto Benyera, Nadine Bloch and Andrew Boyd, Lee Davis, Toni L. Griffin, Kristian Hoelscher, Dillon Horwitz, Michael Kenwick, Jason Miklian, Michael Murphy, Binalakshmi Nepram, Caroline O'Connell, Chelina Odbert, Tone Selmer-Olsen and Håvard Breivik, Beth Simmons and others.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a one page Select Bibliography, a five page listing of Acknowledgments, and a nine page Index, this coffee-table style (8.4 x 0.8 x 11.9 inches, 1.95 pounds) edition of "Designing Peace: Building a Better Future Now" is beautifully and effectively illustrated throughout and will have a special appeal to readers with an interest in green sustainability and design history. Exceptionally well written, impressively organized and expertly presented, "Designing Peace: Building a Better Future Now" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, college, and university library collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Trained as an industrial designer, over a decade Cynthia E. Smith led multidisciplinary planning and design projects for cultural institutions. After earning a graduate degree at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Smith joined Cooper Hewitt, where she integrates her work experience with her advocacy on human rights and social justice issues as their Curator of Socially Responsible Design. She also serves on international design juries and lectures widely on socially responsible design.

David: God's Chosen Crucible
Joseph Ganci
Independently Published
9780997803228, $38.00, HC, 490pp ($18.55 Amazon)

Synopsis: As described in the Old Testament, David is every man's man, an outlaw prophet, a man of war, and a man of God. He is at various times in his eventful life a ruthless warrior, an ardent lover, skilled musician, and poet-philosopher. God sees in him the heart of a lion, the tenacity of a bear, and an ever-faithful man of action. So it was that God called an unlikely and lowly shepherd boy to become the king of the Jews and fighting prince of Israel.

David overcomes all odds in escaping every snare, evading every trap, and learns from every encounter, growing in understanding and effectiveness in the love of his Creator. He protects, defends, and enlarges the stakes of Zion, the resting place of God's chosen people.

David reaches the pinnacle of all worldly success. He marries the love of his life, escapes from his death on the orders of a vengeful King Saul, and eventually and in desperation, David seeks sanctuary with Achish, the Philistine prince that calls David a friend, even giving him a Philistine village and inviting him to battle against Israel.

Then there is the kidnapping of David's two wives and his ferocious battle against the shapeshifting Amalekites. Eventually as he wins them back and, in doing so, captures a vast treasure trove of flocks, herds, and gold.

The battle at Mount Gilboa saw the destruction of Saul and his son's foretold by the witch of Endor. The fall of the city of waters leading for the first time in their history the establishment of the empire of Israel.

David's story includes the time he looked down from the high walls of Rabbah at a young woman washing herself and, wanting her for himself, brought about destruction of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. The woman Bathsheba, the future mother of Solomon, the future king of Israel, was to bring David to his knees begging the forgiveness of God.

Critique: Although most people are aware of the story of David and Goliath, the giant, "David: God's Chosen Crucible" by Joseph Ganci is a brilliant retelling of all the stories about the shepard boy who would one day become a King of Israel. Reading with all the informational value of a history textbook deftly combined with the entertainment of an action/adventure novel, "David: God's Chosen Crucible" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "David: God's Chosen Crucible" is also readily available as a paperback (9780997803235, $19.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Michael J. Carson

Miriam Calleja's Bookshelf

Hillbilly Madonna
Sara Moore Wagner
Driftwood press
Distributor: INGRAMSpark
9781949065220 $14.99 paperback

What are we doing with what has been handed to us?

Writing as a stranger in a foreign land, Hillbilly Madonna by Sara Moore Wagner educates me in ways that history or travel books couldn't. The often derogatory term 'hillbilly' is something I'm familiar with from movies with stereotypes. Wagner's childhood, however, is not a cookie-cutter one. She does not attempt to sugar-coat her memories to make them palatable for the poetry-reading type either, supposedly a different kind of person altogether.

I'll only say
the word rupture; my skin
is this blank page I fill
with batting, wound
after wound
after wound.

This book is about families, their struggles and disparities, but it is also about painful human conditions. Addiction, neglect, and abuse often do not announce themselves and we find them seeping into our lives, not truly noticing them until they are etched in deep.

I don't know what I am, want to be
unseeded, un-fathered, unseen,
I want to get out of this
piped coffin my father built
from junkyard parts.

And even then, even if we somehow manage to remove ourselves from situations and people, these linger in our bodies, memories, and even in our DNA.

Before he hits, he sends his cry into the stones around
him, imagines they hold these last words, the last breath, the
man he never wanted to be

Even though a lot has been written about Appalachian life and addiction, this account is personal and feminine and it carries us through the experiences of children in these situations that very much shape their future. It makes us acutely aware of the moments in which a minute decision or choice can alter the future.

You should keep your pain
close as your first bible, write
in the margins of it.
Pain is weakness
leaving the body,
is also a consequence
of life as a woman

What are we doing with what has been handed to us?

Above all there is the tenderness of surviving, of scraping past situations that could have been worse. There is also tenderness in familial bonds, memories that can't be recreated in another time and place. Wagner doesn't shrug off or deny her past, she moves through it, she makes it out to break some cycles for better or for worse. And she takes us along with her.

Miriam Calleja, Reviewer

R.K. Singh's Bookshelf

Dazzling Light
S.L. Peeran
Authors Press
9789355291301, $30.00 hc, 284 pp.

I have been pursuing S.L.Peeran's poetic career since his first collection IN GOLDEN TIMES. He has assiduously nurtured his Sufi spiritual sensibility vis-a-vis the chaotic political, religious and moral disruptions that eat into the very fabric of humanity.

The poems in his latest book, DAZZLING LIGHT continue to be meditative, reflective, and morally uplifting. His creativity has matured to an evolutive height that transcends "the burdens of stormy life," here on the earth. His imagination draws on the inner strength and enlightenment that comes with unshakeable faith in the Unknown and surrender to His Love.

The spiritual instinct of the poet asserts that the changes in life and nature, though apparently negative, are ultimately for good, as a "New World order is in making." Like a sage poet, Peeran experiences the angst and struggle of everyone in his soul and reassures us that the sufferings and torments of the hell, like the pleasures of paradise, are short-lived, but "the shining eternal light/ would glorify all souls/ rivers will meet ocean."

The soul's flame is never extinguished; it is the breath of the divine, the eternal within, which prompts us all to unite with the Almighty: "From Him we came, unto Him we will join." The poet becomes a willing tool in the hands of the Creator to reveal His light in the darkening nights of everyday living in this "wretched clumsy material world."

As a seeker and revealer, poet Peeran is on a quest for inner peace, for Nirvana, for Moksha, by becoming one with Nature and Soul-conscious. His poems turn prayers when he exclaims, "O Heaven show Thy Mercy on all of us!" or acknowledges, "I am a puppet in His Hands, since/ I surrendered to Him unconditionally./ Like weather beaten village women/ voiceless, homeless in tattered clothes./Oh! who can feel my pulse, my fever?"

The well-constructed poems with contemporary issues and idioms in Dazzling Light are revealing and enlightening: These reveal the various facets of life, sufferings and decline in human habits, behavior and norms, tensions and diseases, pollution and prejudices, enmity and madness, treachery and immorality, and temptations and intolerance, without ignoring the tragedy - "Where there is a Prophet, there is a Hitler."

Peeran is sincere, humble, honest, and well-meaning in his narrative of the contemporary society and its future. He sounds an enlightened fakir with soulful music and seeks to free us from "self-created malaise" and lower animal passion. His words sink deep into the texture of today's culture and have a wide extension of meaning and implication. Each poem in the volume is a plea for inner harmony, peace, happiness, and freedom from ignorance.

I am confident that readers will empathize with the poet's vision of a spiritually transformed world order as well as its music of beauty and inner light of divine presence, and enjoy reading the collection. I strongly recommend it to scholars and researchers in universities and colleges.

An Anachronous Shower
Subhrasankar Das.
Insha Publications
9788195325993, Rs. 470, hc, 61 pp.

Subhrasankar Das is a promising Indian English poet from Tripura. Born in 1986, he has been active as a bilingual poet, translator, and editor of Shadowkraft (an international multilingual webzine) and Water (an international video magazine), and music composer. An Anachronous Shower is his fifth collection of verses, which he dedicates to all the Frontline Covid Warriors. He is a new voice, with contemporary ethos and intensity of awareness beyond the vigour and verve of the region he hails from.

Das writes with confidence, is internationally-minded, cosmopolitan , and concerned with existential as well as personal and broader world issues. His collection has a distinct bearing of his multifarious reading and exposure, with ironic echoes of content and style one may easily relate to. For example, Rabindranath Tagore's famous poem, 'Where the mind is without fear…' gets a changed perspective in his observation:

"Where the mind is with fear
and the head is missing,
where people have learned from grass,
the spells to be a Lilliput and the art of living
under the feet of a monster
the best place for the rebels to rise."
('Where the Mind is With Fear", p. 19)


"We move our wrists, press keyboards or pens
to generate meaningful sentences but don't write.
We use our vocal cords and tongues
to produce stunning sounds but don't speak.
We are engineered to be self sufficient and self destructive.

We have everything.
But we can't breathe
('The Country of Avengers', p. 56)

Most of the poems that read well are rooted in emotion awake to its own environment just as the larger ecosystem of the NorthEast India is predominant. For example,

"The wicks and the condiments are burning themselves
to keep the flame alive

The God is in coma

The legendary lamp-stand is absorbed in contemplation

And the disciple has lost his prayer
('The Alter', p, 7)

"We've been facing frequent power-cuts
since we are born.
We urgently need some Happydents or laughing damsels
so that we can pay taxes on love
and avoid paying taxes on electricity.
Then.. we can shed some loads to save money
(..I hope you understand what I mean, don't you?)
or we can exchange our beloveds
with the amateur or experienced ones
and make agreements for some profit.
Don't you do that, huh?"
('For Sale', p. 61)

"...I don't drink.
But whenever I meet my darling
I get drenched
with the reminiscence of my grandmother.
She said,
Same are the ancestors of volcano and lake.
She said,
Pavement is vagabond's dining table."
('Pavement', p. 60)

I enjoyed reading some of the micropoems that add to the poet's lyrical richness, brilliance, thought, and texture of the collection:

"Trying to erase you
I go on rubbing the eraser on me." (p. 30)

"I've become a circle
being desirous to be perfect.
Please distort me somehow…somewhere" (p. 32)

"There is no scent of relationship
in the sari of grandma

the handicraft of home-maid
and whiff of surf excel" (p. 47)

"A tattered pair of shoes was thrown into exile and they yearned for a kiss
A dog missed them
A moonstruck rescued them
and travelled across four cities at ease" (p. 57)

" There is winter in one corner of Love.
You won't like to take shower, even if you are burning." (p. 59)

Obviously, the poet has a strong critical viewpoint as he raises questions that the system manages to avoid. He effectively articulates the anger of millions of people who have been suffering quietly. An Anachronous Shower has so much to think about. It strikes me as a remarkable addition to the diversity of voices and verses from the North-East and merits wider attention of the media and academia.

Dr. R.K. Singh, Reviewer

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Ludwig van Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas
Ludwig van Beethoven, composer
Boris Giltburg, performer
Naxos Classics
B0986BDRJT, $34.55

Beethoven During The Pandemic

Boris Giltburg (b. 1984) emigrated from Russia to Israel as a child, won competions, and established himself as a virtuoso pianist. In 2015 -- 2016, I had the opportunity to hear three recordings of Giltburg, including a CD of Schumann, a CD of Rachmaninov, and a CD of four Beethoven sonatas. I loved them. In 2019, with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth approaching, Giltburg decided to learn the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, including the 23 he hadn't played before. He did so at first as what he termed a "personal exploration" in order to deepen his understanding of the music of this great composer. Giltburg called his project "Beethoven 32".

The pandemic arrived during the year of Beethoven's 250th birthday. Project 32 broadened during Giltburg's pandemic-enforced solitude. Giltburg decided to film a performance of each sonata with the assistance of filmaker Stewart French. During 2020, Giltburg was able to learn each of the 32 sonatas and to play each from memory with French, each using only a single take. To play the 32 sonatas at a high, virtuoso level from memory within the course of a year, including learning 23 from scratch, seems to me a remarkable achievement. Each recording was made public, with Giltburg sharing his journey through Beethoven with a virtual audience. In addition to learning and performing the music, Giltburg wrote lengthy notes on each sonata, which he shared with his audience. In 2021, a nine-CD set of Giltburg's Beethoven sonata cycle, replete with Giltburg's notes was released. I remembered hearing Giltburg a few years earlier. During the pandemic, I hadn't listened much to the Beethoven piano sonatas and wanted to hear Giltburg's performances.

Giltburg aptly describes his performance of the sonatas as a journey. Beethoven's piano sonatas encompass his entire creative career and show his development and change as a composer and in his life. Giltburg began with the three sonatas of opus 2 and concluded with the final sonata, opus 111. (The two opus 49 sonatas are out of place by opus number and are Beethoven's earliest works in the form.) He wanted to understand and share in Beethoven's development and to see each work as unique and also as part of the series of 32. In this, he succeeded beautifully.

I followed Giltburg's own journey in my listening by working through the sonatas in order from beginning to end. Each is a work onto itself. They are usually grouped into "early" Beethoven consisting of the eleven sonatas through opus 22 and the two sonatas of opus 49, followed by middle period Beethoven, including works such as the "Tempest", "Hunt", "Moonlight", "Waldstein", "Appassionata" and "Les Adieux" sonatas and the late works, consisting of the final five sonatas, or six sonatas if opus 90 is included in this group. It is wonderful to hear these works individually and in the series. Giltburg brings out the musical character of each work, a difficult accomplishment given the short time he had to prepare.

As an amateur pianist, I have struggled with several Beethoven sonatas over the years. My most recent effort, prior to the pandemic, was with the "Hunt" sonata, opus 31 no. 3. I had also studied in the immediately prior years the opus 22 and opus 26 sonatas. I have played the Sonata Pathetique, the Waldstein, Opus 10 no. 1 and no. 3, and others at a distinctly amateur level. I was most interested in remembering my own efforts with these works through Giltburg's performances. I also have some favorites among the sonatas, including the ambitious early opus 7 and the two short sonatas of opus 78 and opus 79. I enjoyed revisiting these works with Giltburg.

The late sonatas were the highlight of this journey with Giltburg and, I think, of Beethoven's 32 works in this form. Giltburg offers a large-scaled performance of the magisterial "Hammerklavier" sonata, opus 106, with its extended, deeply personal slow movement and its large fugue. But I was more taken with the intimacy of the remaining five late works, particularly with the beautiful extended set of variations which concludes opus 111 and the set of 32.

I listened to most of the sonatas on CD and also watched some of the filmed performances. (The same recording is used in each.) I enjoyed the immediacy of the film version, watching Gilburg's hands and face.

I have heard many recordings of the Beethoven sonatas over the years, both as parts of complete cycles and as individual performances. There is always something to be learned in listening to these works anew and in hearing the interpretations of gifted performers, such as Giltburg. I was grateful for the opportunity to hear Beethoven again and to share his music and inspiration as we move towards what, I hope, is the end of a long, difficult pandemic.

Middle Passage
Charles Johnson
9780684855882, $TBA paperback

Homo Est Quo Dammodo Omnia

The quotation "Homo est quo dammodo omnia", attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas, may be translated "In a way, man is everything". It serves as one of three epigraphs to Charles Johnson's 1990 National Book Award winning novel, "Middle Passage". Robert Hayden's poem "Middle Passage" about the terrors of slavers and a statement from the Upanishads: "Who sees variety and not the Unity wanders on from death to death" serve as the other two epigraphs for Johnson's beautifully complex and erudite philosophical novel, set largely on an illegal slave ship from New Orleans in 1830.

Charles Johnson (b. 1948) became the first African American novelist to win the National Book Award following Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" which received the honor in 1953. A professor of philosophy and English for many years, Johnson is also an essayist, screenwriter, and novelist. He has long been a practicing Buddhist. "Middle Passage" reflects his interest in understanding America, its history, and capacity for change. The book is also a sea yarn of sorts written to entertain. The book is heavily allusive to the literature of the sea, particularly to novels of Herman Melville and to Homer's "Odyssey".

The main character and the book's narrator, Rutherford Calhoun, 22, is a manumitted former slave from southern Illinois who has moved to New Orleans where he becomes a gambler, womanizer and petty thief. He has a relationship with Isadora, an African American schoolteacher from Boston. When he becomes pressed by his debts and by Isadora's desire to marry, he stows away on the first ship out of New Orleans, a rickety and illegal slaver, with the suggestive name, the "Republic". (Congress had outlawed the international slave trade in 1808,) In a memorable opening sentence, Calhoun observes that "Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women." The "Republic" sails to Africa in search of taking captives from a tribe called the Allmuseri. This is a fictitious entity. Johnson elaborately develops the belief system of the Allmuseri, and their god, who becomes a captive on the ship together with his people.

The book combines realism, philosophy and myth. Calhoun is tough and street-smart and has a remarkable way with words. He changes from a thief to a writer and reflective thinker in the course of the book. He also is possessed of remarkable erudition, attributed to the kindness of his former master, a learned clergyman who hated slavery, in Illinois. Scenes on the outgoing voyage, in Africa, and on the return are described in detail in passages which range from the humorous to the shocking. The leaky and unreliable "Republic" is buffeted by storms and Calhoun becomes involved in a mutiny by some of the crew against the captain, in the captain's efforts to defend himself, and in a rebellion by the Allmuseri en route.

The history in the book is combined with a great deal of anachronism and with philosophical/religious discussion which owes a great deal to Buddhism. Thus the novel is not a straightforward history of a slave ship. Rather, Johnson probes beneath the surface to develop a metaphysics about non-duality -- the unitary character of experience -- and an understanding of the United States, tied into non-duality and based upon the need of Americans of every background to see and understand themselves as a people and to avoid polarizing fights about identities. A crucial goal of the book, I think, is to help Americans to understand themselves. Late in the novel, as his character is transformed by his experiences Calhoun reflects upon what America, with its faults, has come to mean to him as a black man:

"The States were hardly the sort of place a Negro would pine for, but pine for them I did. Even for that I was ready now after months at sea, for the strangeness and mystery of black life, even for the endless round of social obstacles and challenges and trials colored men faced every blessed day of their lives, for there were indeed triumphs, I remembered, that balanced the suffering on shore, small yet enduring things, very deep, that Isadora often pointed out to me during our evening walks. If this weird, upside-down caricature of a country called America, if this land of refugees and former indentured servants, religious heretics and half-breeds, whoresons and fugitives-- this cauldron of mongrels from all points on the compass -- was all I could rightly call home, then aye: I was of it. There, as I lay weakened from bleeding, was where I wanted to be."

I thought of the approaching Independence Day holiday in reading this book. I also thought of the polarization in our country and of the need for people of varying identities and beliefs to come together as, in the simplest metaphor in this book, seamen on a ship. I have seen interviews Johnson gave in the years following "Middle Passage" in which he discusses the role of American literature in encouraging individuals to think of themselves as sharing in an America rather than being entrapped in their own smaller ideas of identities. His book has great breadth and development as it moves from the individual story of Rutherford Calhoun and his development from his days as a former slave and petty crook. The book encourages reflection on the nature of the United States as well as on philosophical questions on the nature of reality. I think this 1990 National Book Award-winning novel deserves more attention that it currently receives. It is a modern American classic.

Collected Stories: A Friend of Kafka to Passions
Isaac Bashevis Singer, author
Ilan Stavans, editor
Library of America
9781931082624, $16.45 hardback

Isaac Bashevis Singer In The Library Of America -- Volume 2

My college-bound grandson expressed an interest in Judaica and in Yiddish writing as he prepared to go off to school. I had, in fact, been reading an old copy of this Library of America volume of Singer: "Collected Stories, A Friend of Kafka to Passions" and had it with me during a recent visit. I was surprised to learn of my grandson's interest in a culture of which he knew little. I gave him my old battered copy and acquired a new one for myself and slowly continued to read through this lengthy volume of 65 stories and 850 pages.

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1903 -- 1991) grew up in Poland, the descendant of rabbis and deeply steeped in Orthodox, Hasidic Judaism. He early became a writer in Yiddish and emigrated to the United States in 1935 where he lived for the rest of his life. Continuing to write in Yiddish for various periodicals, Singer's work began to be translated into English in the 1950s and his popularity and exposure to a large audience increased. Singer began to assist in the translation of his works and came to regard English as his "second original language". In 1974, Singer received the National Book Award for his short story collection "A Crown of Feathers" included in this volume, and in 1978 he became the seventh American citizen to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Singer's popularity has waned somewhat subsequent to his death.

The Library of America published three volumes of Singer's Collected Stories in 2004, to coincide with the centenary of his birth, and reissued the volumes in 2015 in a box set. Ilan Stavans, who also edited the LOA volume "Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing", edited the volumes. Singer became the first fiction writer in an original language other than English to be included in the LOA. (An earlier LOA book was devoted to Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote in French.) Singer was a prolific writer who also wrote lengthy novels and children's books, but the stories are probably the most accessible single part of his work.

"What makes a writer an American writer?", the LOA asks on its page introducing Singer. This writer of tales centered on the pre-WW II world of Polish Jews touched on a welter of themes shared by the broad American experience. In the words of the LOA, "his parables seemed, to his newfound American audience, startlingly apposite to the morally ambiguous world ushered in by World War II, even as they evoked, as in a dream, a time and a place the war had brutally obliterated".

Singer's stories are set in his native Poland, both in rural areas and in Warsaw, and, increasingly, in the United States. For me, the stories have broad philosophical themes which center upon religious faith and its difficulty in contemporary life. The stories illustrate the search for meaning and morality in life amid uncertainty and change. They explore the nature of reason and rationality, frequently illustrated by the figure of Spinoza, as juxtaposed with feeling, passion, and mystery. Singer's works are replete with spirits, amulets and supernatural figures from of old.

Another broad theme of Singer's work, criticized by some, is sexuality. The stories explore the pervasive character of sexuality both in modern secular life and in the seemingly closed world of the Orthodox Jewish community in Poland. The stories offer more than a suggestion that sexuality and the religious search are intertwined.

Singer's stories have an immediacy in their telling, and many are strongly autobiographical. They often include a Singer-like narrator who converses a single other individual who shares his, or sometimes her, story. Whether set in Poland, in America, or elsewhere, the stories often take place in a cafeteria, writer's club, or apartment, or other place for conversation and reflection. Stories and issues come to life through the interaction of a small group of individuals and in their telling. The parochialism of the stories is apparent, but the universality of their concerns is as well.

The three books included in this LOA volume each include stories mostly published separately in magazines. As Singer became more widely known, the English translations followed closely upon the original Yiddish. The themes seem to me largely constant among the three volumes with Singer's concerns and preoccupations restated engagingly in many different ways. Singer had a complex relationship to Judaism. He seems to me enmeshed in it always and to come closest to it in his latter works. The two initial books in this volume "A Friend of Kafka" and "A Crown of Feathers" have a more searching, skeptical tone for me than most of the stories in "Passions".

The titles of each book are well-chosen. and I enjoyed the stories on which they are based. In "A Friend of Kafka" (1970), I also particularly liked the stories "The Cafeteria" and "Something is There". In the National Book Award winning, "A Crown of Feathers" (1974), the stories I liked included "A Day in Coney Island" and "The Cabalist of East Broadway". In the aptly named volume "Passions" (1975) which explores both religious and sexual longings, the stories "Old Love", "Sabbath in Portugal", and "The New Year Party" were among those I most enjoyed. The latter two books also include short introductions by Singer which offer insight into what he was about.

The LOA volume includes a chronology of Singer's life, notes on the texts and on the stories, and a brief glossary of Yiddish expressions found in the stories.

I was grateful for the opportunity to explore I.B. Singer again through this LOA volume. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to explore the remaining two volumes in the LOA series. My favorite story by Singer, "The Spinoza of Market Street" is included in the first volume. I was glad to see as well that Singer may be of interest to new young readers, as evidenced by my grandson.

Carnival Strippers
Susan Meiselas, photographer
Farrar, Straus, Giroux
9780374513818, $TBA

Carnival Strippers

"Carnival Strippers" is a photographic documentary of the carnival strip shows that flourished in county fairs in small-town New England through the late 1970s. The book consists of photographs of the strippers, the managers, callers, and barkers who run the shows, and their customers, or "marks".

The book first appeared in 1976 and his long been out-of-print. The photographer, Susan Meiselas, was at the time a young woman just out of graduate school. She spent the summers of 1972 -- 1975 following the carnivals and in getting to know the women to photograph them and their environs. She at first offered her photographs and interviews to various feminist publications who turned them down.

Meiselas subsequently went on to a distinguished career as a documentary photographer working extensively in Central America and Kurdistan. In 1992, Meiselas was named a MacArthur fellow.

"Carnival Strippers" received attention upon its initial publication for its frank, but nonjudgmental portrayal of its tawdry subject. The book was made into two plays before it, like the carnival strip shows themselves, disappeared from attention. Then, in 2000, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City featured a retrospective of the photographs. The Whitney Museum published this second edition of "Carnival Strippers" in 2003 with Sylvia Wolf, curator of photography at the Museum contributing an essay. Deidre English of the Graduate School of Photojournalism at the University of California at Berkeley has also written an essay for the book.

In the 2003 edition, 16 new photographs are added from Meiselas's source materials and 13 photographs that appeared in the 1976 edition are deleted, making a total of 76 photographs in the book. The new edition is also rearranged from the initial text. There are two sections of photographs, the first called "the girl show" and the second called "portraits". The essays by Wolf and English draw parallels between Meiselas's work and the work of Brassi's 1930 photos of Paris prostitutes, as well as with the work of contemporary photographers such as Diane Arbus. To me the strongest parallel is Belloq's collection of photographs of prostitutes in Storyville, New Orleans dating from the turn of the century.

In the grainy black-and-white photographs of the life of the carnival strip shows, we meet the women and the barkers on the front stage called a "bally" enticing the men to enter the show. For a price of $2 or $3, the show consisted of four or five women each dancing naked to, generally, a single 45 rpm record. The book shows photos of the girls at work to crowds of leering men. The world of the "girl shows" was competitive and nasty.... We see the girls off-stage in dressing rooms and in private moments reflecting on their lives. There are extensive interviews with the strippers, the managers and barkers and the patrons. The book also comes with a CD featuring the sounds of the strip shows, interviews with the girls, and a 1997 interview with Susan Meiselas.

The book paints the picture of a low, tawdry life with mutual exploitation between the girls, their managers, and the patrons. Yet it is a way of life not without its fascination. It is a life of poor, mostly ignorant, and exploited women, but also a life based upon the rejection of convention and upon attempts to attain independence. Meiselas clearly became taken with the strippers, their attempt at independence, their eccentricities, their vulnerability, and their vulgarity. For Meiselas and her subjects, Carnival life is something that gets in the person, making it hard to leave when one has been exposed. I found the life of these now gone carnivals and girl shows got inside me as well in reading this book.

The women in this book are not beautiful, air-brushed models and the book has little to offer in the way of titillation. Meiselas tries to show the viewer and the reader the carnival life for what it was. The book shows a dark corner of the eternal theme of sexuality and love between men and women in all its difficulty and ambiguity....

Reviewer's note: This book was initially published in 1976 and the review above was published on October 28, 2003, as an Amazon reader review of an edition published in 2003. In revisiting the review, I have just learned that a new edition of this book "Carnival Strippers -- Revisited" was published in May, 2022., The 2022 edition includes the original 1976 version of the book together with much additional material. I have not yet read or reviewed the 2022 edition but thought that my review of the 2003 edition was worth presenting here for the Midwest Review of Books.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Until We Meet
Camille DiMaio
9781538738047, $15.99

Camile DiMaio is an author well known for giving her readers beautifully-written, well-researched books centered on historical events, while providing a story all her own.

Until We Meet brings together two close-knit sets of friends during World War II. Margaret, Gladys and Dottie have very different personalities, but they all work at the Brooklyn Shipyard, doing jobs that were done by men before the war. Gladys, an early feminist, believes women are capable of doing anything. Dotty, a "traditional" woman, lives with Margaret's brother. Their wedding is postponed because he's drafted. After he leaves, she learns she's pregnant. When her parents kick her out, she depends on her two friends for support. Margaret, the primary point-of-view character, blends feminism and tradition; she's practical but thrilled she has so many job opportunities. These women work at the Navy Yard, building the last of the great battleships, the Missouri, and the newest generation of naval ships, the aircraft carrier. The women spend their free time knitting socks for soldiers, even writing letters to keep up the mens' morale. Margaret starts writing to one of the men and he shares his life with her. She wonders if she'll meet him in person after the war.

The three men, John, Tom, and William, meet in military training and stay together when they go to war, becoming their own "band of brothers" as they complete their paratrooper training in Great Britain before heading to war. Their feelings as they face enemy troops is beautifully written. War scenes are not overly graphic, but allow the reader insight into what these young men experience. The reader sees the war through their eyes and through the letters they exchange with family at home.

Until We Meet deftly combines the feelings of the women left at home and explores the life-and-death emotions of men at war. Overall, the book is about kinship, love, and friendship with a hint of romance between the various men and women.

Dead Drop: A Detective Nathan Parker Novel
James L'Etoile
Level Best Books
9781685121143, $16.95

Dead Drop is the first in Author James L'Etoile's Detective Nathan Parker potential series. I've read and enjoyed his earlier Detective Penley series. Readers who enjoy noir, thrillers, police procedurals, and suspense will like these books. James L'Etoile uses his background in the prison system to add verisimilitude to the novel.

The protagonist, Detective Nathan Parker, is based in Arizona. He has recently lost a fellow cop - his partner - murdered by an unknown assailant in a drug cartel. Parker has also ended his relationship with a female FBI agent.

Suspense is high from the get-go as the novel starts out with the discovery of dead bodies packing into 55-gallon drums and covered with some unknown chemical. From there, the book hits on violence on the southern border of the US, racial issues, illegal immigrants, and politics. The good guys and the bad guys aren't clearly delineated, making this an intellectual teaser as well. My favorite part is that Parker has a tremendous character arc, and it will be interesting to learn where this growth will take him.

Behind the Lens
Jeannee Sacken
TEN16 Press
9781645381945, $17.95

Author Jeannee Sacken draws upon her experience as an international photojournalist to heighten reality in Behind the Lens. Annie Hawkins Green is a veteran photojournalist embedded during wars around the world. While in Afghanistan she and her military escort are ambushed by the Taliban. In the incident, her escorts are killed, and a young girl dies in Annie's arm. In the eight years since, she has suppressed her PTSD. When she returns to Afghanistan to teach a photography class to high school girls, and is when exposed to the similar conditions, she experiences nightmares and hallucinations. The intensity of her wartime experiences are counterbalanced by the war at home between husband and his new wife, and Annie's daughter, Mel.

I could not put this book down. Having spent time in Afghanistan during a stint as an international travel photographer, I can attest to the the accuracy of Sacken's vivid descriptions of people, places, foods, and the experience of taking photographs. Annie herself is a strong female protagonist, one to be reckoned with by those who underestimate her drive and stamina. The other characters are convincing, multifaceted, and evolve over time, revealing layers that must be peeled away to reveal the truth. I confess I found an unexpected new "book boyfriend" in Behind the Lens - Finn Cerelli - and a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance.

The Rot (The Raven Rings, Book 2)
Siri Pettersen
9781646900015, $19.95

Genre: Young Adult, Norse Fiction, Fantasy, Myths and Legends

This is a YA fantasy story that reads like an old Norse myth. The story combines fantasy with a young adult love story in the classic hero's quest. The protagonist is Hirka, a now-sixteen-year-old girl, who is different from everyone else she knows. She was born without a tail. As a baby she was left out in the snow and found and raised by a kind man. She faces the coming-of-age ritual all teens in the country face, but she is unable to bind, the critical requirement of the test. She runs away to avoid the test, and thus begins her adventures. Evil lurks everywhere as do her challenges. In this second in the series, she has been transported to contemporary Britain and learns the truth of her birth. She must decide who to trust in this new world where she doesn't even speak the language even as she tries to reunite with her true love, Rime.

The world building is stupendous. The fantasy vocabulary is not so extensive that you need to speak Norwegian to "get" it. The characters are unique. An enjoyable read.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Classic Calligraphy for Beginners
Younghae Chung
Quarry Books
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
9781631599842, $24.99, PB, 144pp

Synopsis: Calligraphy is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a pen, ink brush, or other writing instrument. A contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner".(Wikipedia)

"Classic Calligraphy for Beginners" by experienced calligrapher Younghae Chung introduces the fundamental techniques for mastering two classic calligraphic scripts, Copperplate and Spencerian, plus easy-to-follow exercises and fun, modern projects.

Guided by instructions and illustrations by noted calligraphy artist and teacher Younghae Chung, you will: Receive a detailed yet concise overview of tools, supplies, and terminology; Try out your materials with basic warm-ups and nib exercises; Learn the essential principles or strokes and create the lowercase and uppercase letters of the featured scripts; Take your letters to the next level and add flourishes with confidence; Explore brush pens and non-flexible writing tools to emulate the look of calligraphy on large-scale and unusual surfaces; Reinforce core skills by applying the scripts to a variety of simple, modern projects on paper, wood, glass, fabric, and other surfaces, and get inspiring tips on how to add beautiful details that lend a modern touch; Find sample guide sheets for Copperplate, Spencerian, and brush calligraphy.

Critique: Beautifully and instructively illustrated throughout, "Classic Calligraphy for Beginners: Essential Step-by-Step Techniques for Copperplate and Spencerian Scripts - 25+ Simple, Modern Projects for Pointed Nib, Pen, and Brush" is a complete and comprehensive instruction guide and 'how to' manual for the novice calligrapher. Thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Classic Calligraphy for Beginners" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Calligraphy, Pen & Ink Drawing, and Graphic Design collections and supplemental curriculum studies syllabus. It should be noted for calligraphy students and practitioners that "Classic Calligraphy for Beginners" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Younghae Chung is a classically trained left-handed calligrapher, teacher, and creative entrepreneur. After working in a New York City advertising agency and nonprofit organization, she decided to pursue her passion for the arts and teaching and launched Logos Calligraphy & Design. Younghae's mission is to keep penmanship alive by sharing her joy and love of writing, creating, and offering resources to help others learn a timeless craft. She believes it's never too late to learn something new! She has taught thousands of students, both in-person and online, connecting with and cultivating a diverse community of students from more than 35 countries worldwide. More about Younghae's work and classes can be found at and she also can be followed on Instagram @logos_calligraphy

The White House: An Historic Guide, 26th Edition
The White House Historical Association
740 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20006
9781950273300, $22.95, PB, 250pp

Synopsis: Since 1962, the White House's celebrated spaces and rich history have been portrayed for the public in a continually updated guidebook, "The White House: An Historic Guide". This trade paperback guidebook marked the beginning of White House history as a unique field of study. It was the first, and for its time, only comprehensive published work on a place that symbolized the history of America and all that the nation stood for to the American people.

The first guidebook was published on July 4, 1962 with a first print run of 250,000 copies. Sales now exceed 5 million copies and on July 28th, 2022, the White House Historical Association will release its 26th edition, offering an intimate room-by-room tour of the interior of the house, with new photographs and content.

With this the 26th edition, "The White House: An Historic Guide", celebrates 60 years in print, and with it, the White House Historical Association celebrates its 60th year in publishing.

It was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's wish that such a book be written, and her letter opened the first edition, the first project of the White House Historical Association. Since that time eleven first ladies have continued the tradition, including First Lady Dr. Jill Biden who has written an opening letter for this new edition. Of the guidebook, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden has said: "As an educator, I hope this guidebook will inspire curiosity about the presidents and first families who reflect their time in history and help us learn from that past so that we can build a more just nation."

The 26th edition was released to coincide with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's birthday on July 28th and will feature new spreads with photographs of behind-the-scenes areas including the bowling alley, the kitchen, collections storage, the calligraphy office, the floral shop, the tennis court, and pool. The new edition of guidebook will also provide readers with a more comprehensive view of the White House with fold-out pages and wide-angle photos.

Among the rooms that are featured in the 26th edition with new photography and updated text include the State Rooms, the West Wing, and the Second Floor, as well as new photographs of the Queens' Bedroom, Lincoln Bedroom, Center Hall, Yellow Oval Room, President's Dining Room, West Sitting Hall, Oval Office, West Wing Reception Room, and the Roosevelt Room. There are photographs of never-before-seen features from within some of these rooms including: the Presidential Seal on the ceiling of the Oval Office, the Gettysburg Address displayed in situ in the Lincoln Bedroom, and President Theodore Roosevelt's Nobel Peace Prize Medal in the Roosevelt Room. The guidebook also shares updated photography of the gardens and grounds around the White House.

While the White House re-opened for tours this spring, the new guidebook offers a walking tour of the exterior, with a key to its architectural elements and grounds, so that visitors viewing the White House from the streets of Washington, D.C. (and armchair tourists at home) can enjoy and appreciate the house that belongs not just to the president, but to all the American people.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated with full page color photography throughout, this new 26th edition of "The White House: An Historic Guide" provides an impressively informative and up-to-date 'armchair tour' through the history, architectural, and interior designs of what is arguably the single most important building in American history. Simply stated, this new and expanded edition of "The White House: An Historic Guide" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community highschool, college, and community library collections.

My Thirty-First Year (and Other Calamities)
Emily Wolf
She Writes Press
9781647420826, $17.95, PB, 416pp

Synopsis: On her 30th birthday, Yale-educated Zoe Greene was supposed to be married to her high-school sweetheart, pregnant with their first baby, and practicing law in Chicago. Instead, she's planning an abortion and filing for divorce.

Zoe wants to understand why her plans failed -- and to move on, have sex, and date while there's still time.

As she navigates dysfunctional penises, a paucity of grammatically sound online dating profiles, and her paralyzing fear of aging alone, she also grapples with the pressure women feel to put others first.

Ultimately, Zoe's family, friends, incomparable therapist, and diary of never-to-be-sent letters to her first loves (the rock band U2), help her learn to let go -- of society's (and her own) constructs of female happiness.

Critique: A brilliantly written novel of friendship, failure, and humor, "My Thirty-First Year (and Other Calamities)" by novelist Emily Wolf is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, recognizable, and fun read that will have a very special appeal to women readers ages 18-88. While highly recommended, especially for community library Women's Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "My Thirty-First Year (and Other Calamities)" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.95) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dream Scape Media, 9781666609462, $22.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Emily is an ardent feminist, U2 fan, and native Chicagoan. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she volunteers with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and with her synagogue's Board of Trustees and Social Justice Core Team. Emily lives in Houston and has published several essays in the Houston Chronicle . Whe has an interesting and dedicated website at

"The Fairy Pastoral" and "Songs"
William Percy, author
William Shakespeare, author
Anna Faktorovich, author
Anaphora Literary Press
9798750086658, $25.00, PB, 156pp

Synopsis: A standard "Shakespearean" comedy takes a group of youths who are attracted to those who are not interested in them, and regroups them by the conclusion into neat pairings of three or four marriages. In contrast, "Fairy Pastoral" appears to have been censored because the men in the pairings are wooing their intended partners from the beginning, while the women are homicidally opposed to marriage and prove to the men how much they hate them during the plot, only for them all to be forced into four marriages that all of them are miserable in by the resolution.

The setting is the Forest of Elvida inhabited by a kingdom of fairies. Events open with a power-transfer from Princess Hypsiphyle to Prince Orion over accusations of mismanagement. Then, the Princess attempts to regain power across the competitive hunt the Court undertakes. Political and romantic tensions are repeatedly interrupted with slap-stick comedy of Schoolmaster Sir David trying to teach literature while his rear-end is showing, he is falling asleep, and in rare instances when he manages to relate a coherent lecture, the students fail to comprehend his meaning.

This is a satire not only on the miseries that accompany forced-marriage, but also about the failures of pedagogic institutions, and irrational transfers of political power through subterfuge and sexism.

Critique: Volume 8 of the British Renaissance Re-Attribution and Modernization Series by Professor Anna Faktorovich, "The Fairy Pastoral" and "Songs" is an inherently fascinating study that will have special and particular appeal for readers with an interest in Shakespeare, Elizabethan Drama, and the Shakespeare/Percy controversy. Highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Literary Criticism collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Fairy Pastoral" and "Songs" is also available in a paperback edition (9798750086146, $20.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Anna Faktorovich is the Director and Founder of the Anaphora Literary Press. She taught college English for over four years at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and the Middle Georgia State College. She also has a Ph.D. in English Literature and Criticism.

Susan Bethany

Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

Euphoric Wonderland: An Eclectic Collection of Psychedelic Poetry to Stimulate the Senses and Open the Mind
Ryan M. Becker
Trippy-Ass Books
9798985433012, $12.95, Paperback
9798985433029, $20.95, Hardback

"True happiness is to enjoy the present,
without anxious dependence upon the future."
-Lucius Annaeus

Feelings of intense excitement and happiness characterize euphoria. It allows a person's emotions the opportunity to be released into the world. Step into the pages of this book, and you will discover a rich collection of poems that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster of self-discovery.

Each one is unique in its creation; you will find no two topics are ever the same. You will get to dive deeply into the author's mind and soul as each word penetrates deep within your body. The words he uses are bold and intense. They can make the reader stop, think, and absorb what is trying to be communicated.

Ryan M. Becker's book provides a fresh feel-good appeal that other authors lack. These poems can open the mind to new and uncharted territory. I predict this book is about to make a lasting impression in the literary world

Suzie Housley

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Praying with the Enemy
Steven T. Collis
Shadow Mountain Publishing
P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130-0178
9781629729947, $26.99, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: When pilot Captain Ward Millar is forced to eject over enemy territory in North Korea, the ejection explosion snaps both of his ankles. Unable to walk, he is easily captured by North Korean and Chinese soldiers who interrogate, threaten, and starve him for strategic wartime information. He feeds the enemy false information while plotting his escape. But it's only a matter of time before they discover his lies. He knows it will take a miracle to gain his freedom, but his previous self-reliance on his own capabilities has never included appealing to a higher power. If only he had faith like his wife, Barbara, whose firm belief in God can move mountains.

North Korean soldier Kim Jae Pil was raised to believe in the power of prayer, but, knowing the Communist Party's views on religious groups, Kim and his family must keep their Christian faith secret. He is desperate to escape the army, return to his family, and then flee to South Korea.

With Millar imprisoned and unable to walk, and the North Korean army increasingly suspicious of Kim's actions, it seems impossible that either man will find the freedom they so desperately desire. But when these wartime foes cross paths, they find in each other an unlikely ally. Despite speaking different languages, Millar and Kim find common ground in their fragile faith and must rely on each other to undertake a daring escape.

Critique: A story of courage, determination, unlikely friendship, and enduring faith, "Praying With The Enemy" by novelist Steven T. Collis will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in Christian fiction, as well as Korean War military fiction with a strong them of faith in the face of potentially lethal persecution in particular. An original, deftly crafted and reader compelling novel, "Praying With The Enemy" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Praying With The Enemy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.49).

Editorial Note: Steven T. Collis is the author of the nonfiction book "Deep Conviction" and the novel "At Any Cost". He is also a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law and the faculty director of Texas's Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and Law and Religion Clinic. Previously, he was the Olin-Darling Research Fellow at the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. He has a dedicated website at

Ursula Lake
Charles Harper Webb
Red Hen Press
P.O. Box 40820 Pasadena, CA 91114
9781636280219, $17.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Former best friends Scott and Errol meet unexpectedly at Oso Lake, a remote Canadian fly-fishing paradise where, five years before, fresh out of college, they had the time of their lives. Their situations, though, have changed, their high hopes quashed by workaday realities and, in Errol's case, marriage to Claire, who has come with him trying to stave off divorce.

But Oso Lake has changed. The fall before, a woman's severed head was left in a campfire pit beside the lake. The shadow cast by her murder is darkened further by a fire-scarred white truck driver who claims to be a long-dead Native shaman and has plans to eradicate not only Scott, Errol, and Claire, but all of Western civilization. The beauty of the wilderness becomes, every day, more threatening and perverse. But the worst danger the vacationers face may be themselves.

Critique: Original, deftly crafted, a truly memorable suspense thriller of a read from start to finish, "Ursula Lake" by novelist Charles Harper Webb will have a very special appeal with readers who have an interest in the blending of romance and action-adventure. While especially and unreservedly recommended as an enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Ursula Lake" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).

Editorial Note: Charles Harper Webb is called "Southern California's most inventive and accessible poet" and is the nation's foremost proponent of Stand Up Poetry. A former professional rock singer/guitarist and licensed psychotherapist, he is Professor of English at California State University, Long Beach. His latest of twelve collections of poetry is Sidebend World (University of Pittsburgh, 2018). Webb has published a collection of essays, A Million MFAs Are Not Enough (Red Hen, 2016), and edited Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology (University of Iowa, 2002), used as a text in many universities. His awards include a Whiting Writer's Award, a Tufts Discovery Award, and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. He has a website at

Willis M. Buhle

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

Copyright ©2001

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design