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

Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 23, Number 8 August 2023 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Arthur Turfa's Bookshelf C.A. Gray's Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Charles King's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

The Escapades of Tribulation Johnson
Karen Brooks
HQ Fiction
9781867227243, A$14.99 PB, 560pp.

Papa always said I was unnatural - that I'd too much to say for myself. He said a great many other things beside, all of which included the prefix un: ungrateful, ungodly, unguarded, unlike other girls.

Girls in 1679, when Tribulation Johnson grew up, were expected to defer to their 'fathers, brothers, other men, God'. 'Yes sir. No sir. As you wish, sir.', Tribulation says, was the 'unspoken law. It was the same when they became older women and, especially, wives.

It was lucky for Tribulation that at the age of seventeen, after a disastrous failure (or refusal) to control her tongue, she was banished from her father's house and sent to live in London as a 'companion' to her widowed cousin.

It was especially lucky, that her cousin happened to be Aphra Behn, who was already notorious for her own outspokenness and was known to make her living from her writing. Tribulation's father, desperate to get rid of her so that her older, widowed, sister's prospective second marriage could go ahead without hindrance, believed (mistakenly) that Mrs Behn lived with her mother and only wrote 'on men's behalf', or he never would have agreed to let her go there.

The opening sentence of the 'Prologue' to this book - 'The potshotten woman tangled in the sheets beside me looked and smelled like a corpse' - almost put me off reading more, but it soon became apparent that this 'foul-smelling' woman had appeared sober and reliable when she had met Tribulation's father and he had employed her to escort Tribulation safely to London. Tribulation, typically, has other ideas and has planned ahead. She dons the clothes of a brother who had died fighting for the Royalist cause before she was born, pays off the woman with the money her father has given her for this purpose, and because she has learned that on stage 'a woman can be whatever she wishes' she daringly adopts the 'breeches part' and makes her way independently to London. Her arrival at Aphra's house is a disaster, but Aphra takes her in and looks after her, and so begins 'Act 1' of her 5 Act drama.

Tribulation's account of her 'escapades' is lively and detailed, and full of her hopes, joys, woes and ambitions. Her descriptions of life in Restoration London, and of London itself and its inhabitant, are vivid and fascinating and, if occasionally her appreciation of the scene is a little flowery, she can be forgiven, for she is learning, under Aphra's guidance, to be a writer.

Having spent her 'entire life' in the village of Chartham, cared for after her mother's death by her much older sister, and with no friends, because of her stern and forbidding clergyman father, Tribulation finds London a source of wonder.

There were women in flounced dresses and velvet capes, wearing pattens over their pretty shoes. Their faces were artificially pale; some wore black patches on their cheeks and breasts. These included star shapes, a crescent moon and even a horse and carriage galloping across a generous decolletage. The poor beasties forever plunging into a fleshy canyon.

The men, too, were 'ostentatiously garbed' and wore 'towering periwigs' and high heels. Aphra's conversation amazes her, peppered as it is with casual references to White Hall ('where the King lives?'), New Exchange and St James's Park, and with the names of famous people. 'Mrs Behn counted John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, among her dearest friends'; the King's favourite mistress, Nell Gwyn is her 'favoured companion'. All this made Tribulaton's head 'reel'.

When Tribulation tells Mrs Behn (who soon becomes just 'Aphra') that she would like to find some employment in order to supplement the allowance her father is paying for her upkeep, Aphra agrees to allow her to accompany her to the Dorset Garden Theatre, for which she writes her plays. She suggests that there might even be a small part for her in one.

We locked eyes, 'Imagine what your father would say', she said with mock severity.

'Aye', I said breaking into a grin. 'I am'.

The Dorset Garden Theatre, owned by the King's brother, The Duke of York, is one of the two permanent theatres in London. The other, owned by the King, is Drury Lane. Both are very popular and attract people from all walks of life. Peeping through the curtain, when she first accompanies Aphra to the Dorset Garden, Tribulation sees men in huge wigs shaped like 'devil's horns', women in hooped skirts:

The great and the small took their seats waving at those they knew, climbing over barriers to shift closer, offering powdered and pockmarked cheeks, wet lips and gloved hands to be kisses... Arguments broke out... Some slurped and burped down drinks... The noise grew....

Women carrying baskets of oranges...wove through the press of people, selling them. The women were squeezed, grabbed, forced onto laps; there were scuffles and shouts and much laughter.

'Are they always like this?' she asks Mrs Betterton, the theatre manager. 'Oh no dear', says Mrs Betterton. 'Usually they are much much worse'.

Weeks later, during a performance of a provocative play by Aphra, a fight breaks out - swords are drawn, the actors join in using stage props, and only when the man who began the argument gets on stage and orders 'For the sake o' God, peace' does it stop.

Much of what Tribulation relates is historically true. There was such a fight at the Dorset Garden Theatre; many of the actors she names really did act at the Dorset Garden and at Drury Lane; Aphra's life was as she describes it; and, especially, the Titus Oats Popish Plot which threatened the assassination of the King and his replacement with a Catholic monarch did cause widespread suspicion of anyone who was known to favour Catholicism.

A second strand to Karen Brooks' novel, which is introduced early, is largely fictional. Gabriel Freeman is a spy who is infiltrated into the Dorset Garden company and tasked with seeking out Catholic conspirators. He needs, in particular, to watch Aphra Behn who had been a spy herself and who had once had a close relationship with William Scot, a fugitive regicide, and might still be in touch with him.

Inevitably, the two strands of the novel intertwine and Tribulation becomes involved in Gabriel's dark, secret world. Ultimately, too, she discovers secrets about her own family, and the reason she was christened 'Tribulation'.

Meanwhile her own writing career, guided by Aphra, burgeons. Her pamphlets discussing current issues, and hawked around London by the Mercury women, along with newssheets and tracts, become topics for discussion but, because she writes anonymously, often signing herself 'One of the Fair Sex', her work is attributed to men.

So, too, are Aphra's controversial writings. When Tribulation and Aphra collaborate on a play based on a recent notorious marriage - The Revenge or, A Match in Newgate - Tribulation notes that the dialogue was so 'bold, quite libertine, and didn't hesitate to be brutal', that Aphra made the decision 'not to claim authorship - for either of us'.

It was performed in late June; as word flew around there was a production so salacious even the author hadn't put his name to it, crowds flocked to see it.

The Revenge or, A Match in Newgate was performed at the Dorset Gardens in 1680, and is still sometime attributed to Thomas Betterton, who was an actor and theatre manager at that time. There are also other plays written by Aphra or with a Prologue written by her, which have anonymous authors.

Both Tribulation and Aphra are delightful characters, and both are determined to change the way women are seen (or are required to not be seen) in their society. Karen Brooks, in her Author's Note, outlines the known details of Aphra's life, and declares her long love of her and her work. She frequently heads her chapters with quotations from Aphra's writings and she quotes Virginia Woolf's acknowledgement of Aphra's role in earning women 'the right to speak their minds'. For that, Woolf wrote, 'All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn'. Karen Brooks has done better. She has revived Aphra and her words while weaving a fictional tale into the facts of her life, at the same time offering a fascinating picture of the way theatres functioned in Restoration England and of Aphra's huge role in their popularity.

George: A Magpie Memoir
Frieda Hughes
Profile Books
9781800814790, A$34.99 HB 264pp.

George, the baby magpie Frieda Hughes rescues and falls in love with is, as she readily admits, 'a little eating-shitting machine'.

'Don't write the grotty stuff', said a friend who was visiting during George's adolescence when I mentioned my desire to record his existence. But why not? Birds crap, and baby birds crap enormous amounts because they eat vast quantities to fuel their prodigious growth rate, in some cases doubling in size every three days.

So, if like Hughes' friend you are 'quietly repelled' by descriptions of the very messy and sometimes gruesome habits of corvids, this book may not be for you.

George, however, is a charming, inquisitive and intelligent bird, and Hughes' accounts of her relationship with him as he grows up are perceptive and often delightful, even if you do wonder how she can stand having George sit on her shoulder and shit down her back as she works at her writing or her art, and steal food from her plate as she eats. Her accounts of his learning to walk and to fly are funny but they show, perhaps surprisingly, how much practice birds must put in to acquire these skills. And George's earliest tussle with the worms Hughes digs up for him from her garden is, as she says, 'cartoonish'.

One of the worms hooked a loop of its body over George's beak as he tried to swallow both ends, so the more he swallowed the tighter the loop on his beak became.... I unhooked the loop, stretching it over the tip of George's eager beaks so that he could swallow the worm.

Hughes' accompanying sketch shows a fluffy, fat George, with a knotted worm around his beak and a startled look on his face. Later sketches chart his growth into a sleek, alert and active black-and-white bird, even if one does show him spread-eagle on the sofa after he slammed into the wrong (closed) window when returning from a flight and knocked himself out.

George: A Magpie Memoir, is as much a memoir of Hughes' own life during the 20 months in which George lived with her, as it is of his learning and development, his increasing intelligence and independence, and the way he fits into Hughes' family of a husband and three tiny Maltese terriers. 'The Ex', as Hughes refers to her then husband, clearly is not enamored of George, but Snickers, Widget and Mouse are intrigued by him and Snickers 'clearly wanted to adopt him'. Although Hughes is nervous that one of the dogs might bite George, even accidentally, the dogs and magpie play chasing games with each other and occasionally, when the opportunity offers, join each other in mischievous mayhem.

Clearly, keeping a growing magpie is not for the faint hearted or squeamish, and it is a learning experience for bird and human. It is a surprise for Hughes when one morning, at the time when George had barely mastered walking, she finds his closed cage empty and him perched precariously on one of the dogs' feeding bowls.

I placed him back on his T-shirt nest in the cage, but two minutes later all three dogs were barking.... I watched impressed, as he waddled to the edge of his makeshift nest on his heels, and fell over the side. Then, unsteady, he raised himself up, stumbled towards the bars like a drunk, turned sideways and slid one wing out of the cage. He squeezed his chest through, which must have hurt because he let out a cry of complaint, then the other wing followed. He was free.

Hughes gives George more and more freedom, eventually coaxing him out of a window so that he can fly in the garden. She is scared each time that he will not return, yet he does, but he also begins to visit the neighbours, not all of whom are happy to see him, especially as he has a habit of using human heads as a take-off trampoline: 'every time he came into contact with strangers - and pretty much everyone was a stranger; he jumped on their heads'. Bernie, the plumber who is working on the ancient pipes in Hughes's 'part-Georgian/part-Victorian' Welsh house, came 'to complain that George was attacking him'. George, however, having 'bounced off Bernie's head', was by then busy sorting out the tools he found in the open boxes in Bernie's pickup: 'everything he could possibly want to steal' was there.

Increasingly, as George reaches adolescence and Hughes begins to 'leave him to his own devices' perhaps believing he is 'snoozing on his perch', chaos ensues:

When I came in from working in the garden later I found a scene of devastation; it was as if someone had busted a full bag of rubbish all over my kitchen floor. The plethora of magpie crap was expected, but he'd discovered the bowl of used teabags and hadn't just shredded one, but had taken the time to shred all of them. He must have flown around the room with them to tease the excited and happy dogs who didn't want to miss a good party, because there were tea leaves and empty teabags on the chairs, the table, the kitchen-unit surfaces, the floor, the sofa ... and there were shards of wood everywhere, as if a very small log had exploded.

The wood turned out to be bits of red pencils George had found and dropped on the floor, where the dogs had demolished them.

On another occasion, Hughes and 'The Ex' return from an evening out to find that the shredded contents of a box of matches and a box of tissues have made the kitchen look as if it has been 'hit by a snowstorm'.

Hughes is not endlessly patient with George, she often gets angry with him but she is besotted, so he is forgiven. Unfortunately, other people are not so easily charmed, and his reaction to Hughes' cleaning lady, Mary, is especially bad: he seems to hate her and on one occasion he attacks her feet, sits on her car door so she can't close it, slides down the windscreen staring at her, runs around her car 'as if to stop her', then chases the car down the road. It is clear that he needs to be confined, so Hughes plans to build an aviary. She is open in this book about her gardening obsession, so this aviary is going to be an 'oasis' and it is going to be huge - 21 feet by 28 feet and 12 feet high, with a pond, ivy and clematis climbing up the support pillars, and with 'a forest of bushes and little trees for George to play in'.

Hughes, who is expert at mixing concrete, laying pavers, and can remove 'several tons of earth' riddled brambles and ground elder', has a carpenter to help her, but she has a damaged spine which gives her constant pain and frequently incapacitates her, and she is prone to the return of her chronic fatigue syndrome when she gets exhausted. She is also painting, writing a regular poetry column for The Times, and, at the same time, trying to hold her disintegrating marriage together as The Ex becomes more and more distant and keeps wanting a divorce then changing his mind. Physical work, she says, helps her back pain, and she also has ADHD, which helps to explain her seemingly constant activity, but unsurprisingly her body eventually rebels at all the stress and she has to seek help for 'various puzzling medical problems that appeared to be worsening'.

Ultimately, of course, George leaves home, and the book is dedicated to him 'and his children', although Hughes never sees him again. Her diary entries continue after his departure and record her own ill health, the end of her marriage, and the beginning of her obsession with motorbikes - something she 'had longed for since the age of fifteen'. Still, for her, the loss of George is another loss in her life. She tries to fill this 'bird-shaped hole' by adopting another corvid, but it is old and sick and it dies: 'The trouble with death', she writes in a poem, 'is that it's never one death'; and she connects this crow's death 'To the death of my father / And the desertion of my mother / Who took her own life'. However, she now has her 'forever home', where she feels happy and settled, and her aviary, which she begins to use for a variety of other birds.

Hughes' passion for George taught her resilience and just how much pleasure and stability a curious magpie could bring to her life. Never could she have guessed, she writes at the end of her book, 'how many more owls would arrive to populate my kitchen and my aviary and take over my life, becoming a source of joy and equilibrium when the going got tough - all because of a little magpie called George'.

Now, as the blurb at the back of the book tells us, Hughes shares her Welsh home with 'fourteen owls, two rescue huskies, an ancient Maltese terrier, five chinchillas, a ferret called Socks, a royal python and her collection of motorbikes'.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Arthur Turfa's Bookshelf

Preeti Kaur Rajpal
Tupelo Press
9781946482983, $21.95

In her debut poetry collection, Rajpal interweaves two connected stands in a bold fashion. Her Sikh family experienced the turmoil and brutality of the 1947 partition which created India and Pakistan. Her own search for identity as a young American Sikh coincides with the shock of 9/11and the resultant aftershocks in the United States, which included the 2001 Patriot Act. A connecting thread is the Punjabi language; Rajpal transliterates many of the terms' some characters of the Gurumukhi script appear now and again in the texts.

Speaking of her grandfather in the singing :
the trains the killing the falling
berries the mulberries staining the land
alone he swallows an entire constellation (p. 30)

There is almost as much unsaid as said here. There are no further elaborations on the violence and confusion. The poet strings nouns forming images, while verbs are at a minimum. Visually the reader encounters a variety of formats. One appears to be from a notebook complete with a drawing, several shape prose poems, and the one dealing with the Patriot Act contains numerous footnotes which function as stream-of-consciousness poems.

At times, this is a difficult read, but the persistent reader will gain insight into Rajpal's method and meaning. There is a glossary at the end of the book to explain the many terms that would be unknown to most readers do not share or know about her background. The glossary might serve better placed before the text itself or converted into numbered footnotes which would be more appropriate at the end of a section or the entire work.

An impressive debit, and this reviewer for one is eager to see what creative paths the poet will take with future works. Whether she arrives at an understanding of her role as a modern Sikh in the United States or still searches for it, the poetry will be worth the reader's time.

Arthur Turfa

C.A. Gray's Bookshelf

The Echo of Old Books
Barbara Davis
Lake Union Publishing
9781662511608, $28.99 HC ($18.42 Amazon), 443pp
9781542038164, $16.99 PB ($12.49 Amazon), 443pp
ASIN: B0B9RNFT4S, $4.99 Kindle
Brilliance Audio, 9798400110276, $29.99 MPW-CD ($27.89 Amazon)

Delightful - and with a surprise happy ending!

I'm not entirely sure how I'd even classify this book. It's part romance, part mystery, and part fantasy (though it's urban, and the main character has what Orson Scott Card would call a micropower: she can read the emotions in old books left over from the person who last owned them). It's also told in a very unique style: two arguing manuscripts from former lovers, and the reader, Ashlyn, in between, as she digests the story.

Ashlyn is an owner of an old bookstore, which is perfect for her, given her particular gift. She's had a rough life, and takes refuge in the books she loves. When she gets a donation of two strange bound volumes, without author names or publication pages, she becomes curious, particularly when she's hit with the overwhelming sense of heartbreak from both of them. Yet she finds that the two volumes are a set, a he said/she said recapitulating a romance gone wrong. Even in the volumes, neither of them names the other except for by nickname: he calls her Belle, and she calls him Hemi (which seems to allude to Hemingway, as he is apparently a writer himself).

Ashlyn becomes so engrossed in their stories that she determines to track down the donor, and stumbles upon Ethan, related to the man who donated them. Ethan is a writer too, and while he brushes her off at first, eventually she interests him in the sleuthing process of who they were and what happened to them. Ashlyn feels strongly that there has to be something they're missing, since both writers seemed to equally believe themselves to be the wronged party. In the process of investigating, Ashlyn and Ethan delve into their own romance.

The end of the two manuscripts ends unfinished, but Ashlyn and Ethan deduce that "Belle" is actually Ethan's estranged great-aunt. This leads to unraveling the rest of the mystery. I won't spoil it except to say that Ashlyn's instincts are correct. While nothing in the story led me to believe that there would be a happy ending for Hemi and Belle, when there finally is, it's very satisfying. Barbara Davis endings usually are!

My rating: ****1/2
Language: none
Sexual content: it's there, but in a fade-to-black kind of a way
Violence: none that I recall
Political content: none

C.A. Gray, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Marvelous Magnetic Machines: Building Model Electric Motors from Scrap
H. P. Friedrichs, author
Artisan Ideas
9781733325042, $29.95, HC, 160pp

Synopsis: You are standing in front of an old card table in a driveway at a garage sale. On that table is a one-quart aluminum saucepan, a votive candle holder, pieces of some office machinery, and a wooden awards plaque. What do you see there?

If you did not answer "a six-cylinder radial electromagnetic attraction motor," then you need your own copy of "Marvelous Magnetic Machines: Building Model Electric Motors from Scrap"!

With the publication of "Marvelous Magnetic Machines: Building Model Electric Motors from Scrap", H.P. Friedrichs (author of "The Voice of the Crystal and Instruments of Amplification") explores the principles behind the operation and construction of five simple, yet impressive, model electric motors.

Aspiring mechanical model makers are often discouraged by their lack of access to machine tools, like mills, lathes, or drill presses. Friedrichs demonstrates that with some basic knowledge, an open eye, and a sharp mind, one can use commonly available (and often discarded) parts and materials to engineer one's way around any lack of expensive machine tooling. In fact, every motor in this book was built from scrap, and can be assembled with hand tools.

With "Marvelous Magnetic Machines" you will learn where to hunt for and find materials, and where to salvage suitable bearings. You will know where useful solenoids can be extracted from scrap, and how to fabricate bobbins to wind your own. You will also learn how to time your motors, fashion a connecting rod, make a commutator from scratch, use a hall effect sensor to detect magnet position, use a transistor as a switch, and much more.

Critique: Nicely illustrated throughout, "Marvelous Magnetic Machines: Building Model Electric Motors from Scrap" is exceptionally well written, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation -- making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Science/Technology and DIY electric motor instructional reference collections . It should be noted that "Marvelous Magnetic Machines" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: H.P. Friedrichs ( is a degreed electrical engineer (BSEE), inventor, and author with more than three decades of experience working in domains ranging from audio, medical, and radio, to software, automotive, and aerospace. At present, he is a Principal Engineer with Honeywell, involved in the design and support of specialized equipment used for testing and validating aircraft power generation products.

An American Cannabis Story
David Goodman
PowerHouse Books
9781648230295, $42.00, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "An American Cannabis Story", author and photographer David Goodman welcome you to Puffin Farm, one of Washington state's first legitimate canna-businesses and the brainchild of growers Jade Stefano and Ben Short, the couple at the center of this cannabis adventure and the driving force behind some of the world's purest organic, top-quality weed.

"An American Cannabis Story" is comprised of detailed first person texts and stunningly beautiful photographs of the behind-the-scenes cultivation, extraction, and processing of the finest grade, sun-grown, organic cannabis on the market.

This is not your average cannabis farm, and Goodman makes that point by taking you deep into the operations of this Sun+Earth Certified grower. Unlike the backwoods pot field operations of yore, Goodman's photographs of the sweeping, sun-drenched fields and gorgeous up-close plant studies provide a surprisingly wholesome view into modern American organic cannabis cultivation.

A first-of-its-kind book, "An American Cannabis Story" deftly explores the founders' odyssey, beginning when they met in high school at the tender age of fourteen, and shows how the pair went on to develop multi-award-winning techniques and skills that led them to become among the most respected cannabis growers in the USA.

Thanks to Goodman's close relationship with these cannabis pioneers, the reader is privy to everything that goes into the cultivation of cannabis as Goodman trains his lens on all the goings-on at the farm, as well as on the proud young farm workers, following a full-season-crop's progress from seed to cure. Further chapters cover the processes that go into the making of all the various cannabis products, with beautifully detailed photo spreads of the manufacture of bubble hash, vaping oil, rosin, and pre-roll joints, among others.

"An American Cannabis Story" offers an in-depth look at the cannabis industry's wholesome new attitude, packed with stunning images, and filled with the hopes and dreams of today's new green entrepreneurs.

Critique: As inherently fascinating as it is impressively informative, this large format (11.81 x 1 x 9.21 inches, 1.65 pounds) coffee-table style edition of "An American Cannabis Story" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Marijuana Cultivation collections and supplemental Lifestyle/Gardening Photography curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: David Goodman ( is a self-taught photographer who received his first camera at the age of 8, learned to develop film at 11, and created photography throughout his teen years in the darkroom he built in the basement of his Long Island home. He opened his first photography studio in New York City when he was 24. Over the years his work has appeared in print and online publications as diverse as The New York Times, Vogue Magazine, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. His most recent NYC gallery show featured his photo series on Manhattan's revolutionary park, the High Line.

Carl Logan

Charles King's Bookshelf

Actively Unwoke: The Ultimate Guide for Fighting Back Against the Woke Insanity in Your Life
Karlyn Borysenko
Bombardier Books
9781637582725, $27.00; ($35.00 autographed edition), Page Count: 240
Formats: hardcover, audio, Kindle

Anyone who feels helpless against or overwhelmed by "The Woke" should read Actively Unwoke: The Ultimate Guide for Fighting Back Against the Woke Insanity in Your Life. Readers learn ideas from Karlyn Borysenko, an industrial organizational psychologist, to defend themselves against the aggressive verbal attacks and pernicious practices of leftist authoritarians and social justice warriors. A quotation from Actively Unwoke's book jacket frames readers' approach to the cultural chaos fomented by The Woke: "If you ever wondered what you would have done during the Civil Rights movement or in 1930s Germany, the answer to that question lies in what you are doing now."

Borysenko stipulates dissenters of The Woke's dogma (e.g., Critical Race Theory) have ground to make up, because "The Woke" have entrenched themselves at every level of education, government, media, and business, and exert their control over others. Action, she asserts, is needed now to thwart The Woke's ideological indoctrination and to preserve the exercise of God-given American rights of speech, assembly, and worship. The Woke intentionally use fearmongering to intimidate and browbeat people into conforming to their practices and obeying their orthodoxy. Here's one of their strategies: they appeal to the notion of "goodness" to manipulate or to bully everyone into complying with their belief system and rituals.

Borysenko argues The Woke are unconcerned about justice. Their movement is not about addressing or rectifying racism so much as it is about a power-grab that exploits accusations of racism to achieve their goal: namely, subverting capitalism and individualism which are supplanted with their socialistic dictatorship based on equity, not equality. Borysenko explains, for instance, intersectionality and its corollary - the oppression hierarchy - as one of the means exploited by The Woke to advance their mission and to advantage their agenda.

In her Introduction, Borysenko wrote: "The most important thing that you need to understand about the woke in this country is that, for their leaders, everything is about power....And the easiest way to gain power over another human being is to scare them into silence. On the woke political left, they do this by calling everyone who disagrees with them a racist....This was a game invented by people who are only interested in silencing their opponents so that power is easier to obtain and hold on to."

Karlyn Borysenko earned a doctorate in psychology and set up her own consultancy. Her first book was Zen Your Workplace. She also uncovered and publicly exposed odious white identitarians who tried to infiltrate the anti-C.R.T. movement. A survivor of "cancel culture", Borysenko investigates the nature of and reports on the ramifications of wokery in politics and culture on her eponymous Youtube channel. She publishes her observations on the existential threats posed by social justice warriors and authoritarianism on her Substack account, Actively Unwoke.

Conceived to fill a gap in the literary marketplace, Borysenko wrote Actively Unwoke as an introductory, nontechnical manual designed to explain The Woke's mindset, to decode and interpret their culture, to formulate "rules" for counteracting wokery, and to offer "self-care" advice for anyone being socially or professionally "cancelled", or ostracized.

Borysenko credits the authors of Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody (2020), The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (2019), and The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (2018) for writing intellectual tomes about woke-leftist ideology. However, she avoids intellectualizations in Actively Unwoke. Her objective, she wrote in Chapter 2, was "to provide practical knowledge that average people (the ones who have jobs and kids and sometimes just want to be able to relax and watch the game on the weekends) can use to understand and interact with the woke in their lives".

It is currently available in hardback edition through online retailers such as Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Amazon. Some copies autographed by the author are sold through Premiere Collectibles' website.

Karlyn Borysenko is a credible authority whose latest book is based on empirical research. She has immersed herself in thousands of hours of videos about Critical Race Theory produced by Woke activists and authoritarians.

The passages in Actively Unwoke empower readers with knowledge and inoculates them against the virulent ideology of the Woke zealots. One antidote that Borysenko favors is "standing your ground" with the belief you have in your unwoke or anti-woke convictions and "never to bend the knee" to The Woke's demands. Moreover, counteracting authoritarianism is another ploy. In Part Two of the book, she enumerates rules to guide readers through turbulence created by the Woke.

Borysenko implores her readers not to believe the trickery of The Woke's accusations. In her Introduction, she impels her readers: "When you stop being afraid of being called a racist, you take their power away from them."

Although the cynosure of her analysis is authoritarianism committed by leftists and members of the Democrat Party, Borysenko acknowledges that operatives on the political right can be just as equally authoritarian. In brief, this book is one that leftist authoritarians prefer you do not read, because it unmasks who they are as political operatives.

At the beginning of Chapter 8, Borysenko cautions readers that enacting legislation, such as anti-C.R.T. laws, will not engender a voluntary cease-and-desist of the Woke's "cultural revolution". Most of The Woke are too possessed by and intoxicated with their authoritarian ideology.

The book lacks two features (an index and glossary). However, Borysenko effectively defines and contextualizes the meanings of woke terms like "anti-racist" and jargon like "unconscious bias" within the passages of her book. Key vocabulary is italicized to attract her readership's attention.

Actively Unwoke can be read in a few hours, but it should not be skimmed. There are no extraneous sections in this compact, practical volume. As a narrator, she imparts factual information without being dull. Indeed, she can be charming and amusing at times as she relates information. Borysenko succeeds in her goal to enlist readers to understand the Woke's ideology and their methods and to neutralize or dismantle their culture and ideology.

Charles King

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Maidens of the Cave
Lloyd Devereux Richards
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
Blackstone Audiobooks
9780063348851, $18.99, PB, 368pp

Synopsis: Forensic anthropologist Christine Prusik has a knack for solving the most unusual cases -- and for bending the rules in the process.

When the bodies of young women start appearing in the caves of Indiana and Illinois, Christine immediately jumps into action. But her Chicago field office is undergoing a reorganization, and the boys' club at the top seem more interested in getting all the paperwork in order than solving the murders.

Christine isn't going to let a little red tape stop her, and when she discovers that all the bodies have the same mysterious pin-sized bruise on the back of their necks, she realizes she'll have to confront her own inner demons to find the killer.

Critique: Of special and particular appeal to fans of hardcore police procedural mysteries, "Maidens of the Cave" (novelist Lloyd Devereux Richards second volume in his 'Stone Maiden' murder mystery suspense thriller series) is a deftly crafted and compelling read from beginning to end. Offering more unexpected plot twists and turns that a Coney Island roller coaster, "Maidens of the Cave" is a terrific read and a welcome addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated 'whodunnit' mystery buffs that "Maidens of the Cave" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackston Audio, 9798212693394, $41.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Lloyd Devereux Richards worked as an attorney in Vermont and raised three children. Previously, he served as a Senior Law Clerk for an Indiana Court of Appeals judge, researching and writing drafts for dozens of published opinions, including the appeal of a serial killer sentenced to death and subsequently electrocuted. He has an informative page on Wikipedia at

The Visibility of Things Long Submerged
George Looney
BOA Editions, Ltd.
9781950774944, $17.00, PB, 184pp

Synopsis: With swamps, alligators, revival tents, faith healers, sex, death, guilt, sin and snakes, with the publication of his short story anthology, "The Visibility of Things Long Submerged", author George Looney leads us through a dark landscape brimming with the miraculous and the peculiar alike. A man from a fire shows up on someone's doorstep, covered in ash and barely alive. One man's actions make an entire town question its own violence. A healer is bitten in half by an alligator as a crowd looks on.

Dripping with Southern gothic, The Visibility of Things Long Submerged gazes at the obscure and obscene. Densely populated with characters that know intimately the trials of life and the restorative powers of love, these stories are filled with a deep longing for something beyond the restless disquiet.

Critique: Comprised of nine carefully crafted, original, and memorable short stories, "The Visibility of Things Long Submerged" collectively showcase author George Looney's impressive literary gothic storytelling talents. Of special appeal to readers with an interest in Religious Fiction, "The Visibility of Things Long Submerged" is a very highly recommended pick for community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Visibility of Things Long Submerged" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: George Looney ( is the author of three previous collections of fiction that have won the Leapfrog Press Fiction Award, The Elixir Press Fiction Award, and the Elixir Press Fiction Chapbook Award. He has also published thirteen collections of poetry, including books that won The Bluestem Award, The White Pine Press Poetry Prize, and The Red Mountain Press Poetry Prize. He is Distinguished Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, where he founded the BFA in Creative Writing Program and is editor of Lake Effect and translation editor of Mid-American Review (where he began the ongoing Translation Chapbook Series in 1983). With Phil Terman, he was co-founder of the original Chautauqua Writers' Festival.

Wendy Whitman
Post Hill Press
9781637589441, $18.00, PB, 272pp

Synopsis: After the shattering conclusion of Cary's quest for justice for the victims of a suspected serial killer in "Premonition", the first volume of author Wendy Whitman's 'The Deer Killer' series, "Retribution" picks up with her cohorts continuing their own investigation to hunt down the person responsible for the heinous murders.

The man the media has dubbed the "Deer Killer" continues to haunt bucolic Connecticut -- but now, his true agenda has been revealed. As more innocents fall victim to his prey, Detective Hank Nowak's father enters the picture, only to become entangled in the murderer's diabolical plot. The past informs the present as Hank, private detective Vito Loggia, and Sergeant Joseph O'Malley race against the clock to stop the killings. Who will be next? More importantly, who will come out on top in this deadly game of vengeance?

Critique: "Retribution" continues to showcase author Wendy Whitman's remarkable and genuine flair for creating a serial killer based murder mystery in an original and riveting story of immense suspense and more unexpected plot twists and turns than an Oklahoma cyclone. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated murder mystery fans that "Retribution" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Wendy Whitman ( has a unique background through her decades-long work as an executive and producer for Court TV and HLN, covering almost every major high-profile murder case in America. Through her knowledge of the most detailed aspects of the crimes, Ms. Whitman has become an expert on the subject of murder in America.

Illegitimate Authority
Noam Chaomsky, author
C. J. Polychroniou, editor
Haymarket Books
9781642599473, $65.00, HC, 350pp

Synopsis: "Illegitimate Authority: Facing the Challenges of Our Time" from Haymarket Books is a compendium of informative interviews which were conducted for Truthout by C.J. Polychroniou and in which Noam Chomsky addresses the rapid deterioration of democracy in the United States and rising tensions globally.

Chomsky examines the crumbling social fabric and fractures of the Biden era, including the halting steps toward a Green New Deal; the illegitimate authority of the Supreme Court, in particular its decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade; and the ongoing fallout from COVID-19. Chomsky also untangles the roots of the War in Ukraine, the diplomatic tensions among the United States, China, and Russia, and considers the need for climate action on an international scale.

Critique: Incisive, informative, timely, thoughtful and thought-provoking, the perceptions and insights of Noam Chomsky are legendary and "Illegitimate Authority: Facing the Challenges of Our Time", (a published series of interviews with him) we can consider his current thoughts. observations and assessments of the topical political issues our day with respect of the dangers to our democracy arising from an increasingly totalitarian and personality cult infected Republican Party and a divisive, inept, self-defeating Democratic Party. Especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science & Social Issues collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should also be noted that "Illegitimate Authority: Facing the Challenges of Our Time" is also available in a paperback edition (9781642599053, $17.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: Noam Chomsky ( is Institute Professor (emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. His work is widely credited with having revolutionized the field of modern linguistics. Chomsky is the author of numerous bestselling political works, which have been translated into scores of languages. Recent books include What Kind of Creatures Are We?, as well as Optimism Over Despair, Notes on Resistance, and Chronicles of Dissent.

Editorial Note #2: C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism's politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout's Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. (

Clint Travis

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

A Forest Journey: The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization
John Perlin
Patagonia Books
9781938340970, $38.00, HC, 520pp

Synopsis: From antiquity, ancient writers observed that forests always recede as civilizations develop and grow. The great Roman poet Ovid wrote that before civilization began, "even the pine tree stood on its own very hills" but when civilization took over, "the mountain oak, the pine were felled."

This happened for a simple reason: trees have been the principal fuel and building material of every society over the millennia, from the time urban areas were settled until the middle of the nineteenth century. To this day trees still fulfill these roles for a good portion of the world's population.

Without vast supplies of wood from forests, the great civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, Egypt, Crete, Greece, Rome, the Islamic World, Western Europe, and North America would have never emerged. Wood, in fact, is the unsung hero of the technological revolution that has brought us from a stone and bone culture to our present age.

Until the ascendancy of fossil fuels, wood was the principal fuel and building material from the dawn of civilization. Its abundance or scarcity greatly shaped, as A Forest Journey ably relates, the culture, demographics, economy, internal and external politics and technology of successive societies over the millennia.

"A Forest Journey: The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization" by John Perlin was originally published in 1989 and the updated in 2005. Now in a third edition, "A Forest Journey provides comprehensive coverage of the major role forests have played in human life. It is a history told with grace, fluency, imagination, and humor.

"A Forest Journey" has gained significant recognition as a Harvard Classic in Science and World History and as one of Harvard's "One Hundred Great Books". This is a foundational conservation story that should not be lost in the archives. This new, updated and revised third edition emphasizes the importance of forests in the fight against global warming and the urgency to protect what remains of the great trees and forests of the world.

Critique: A standard classic that is now published in a newly updated third edition, "A Forest Journey: The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization" continues to be a unique, seminal, ground-breaking history of the role trees have played in the recorded stories of human civilizations. While available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.498), "A Forest Journey" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library History of Civilization/Culture collections and supplemental curriculum Forests/Forestry studies lists.

Editorial Note: John Perlin ( is the author of four books: A Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology; A Forest Journey: A History of Trees and Civilization; From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity; and Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story of Solar Energy. Perlin taught physics at University of California, Santa Barbara.

The File
Gary Born
Addison & Highsmith Publishers
c/o Histria Books
9781592112050, $29.99, HC, 372pp

Synopsis: Sara West is a beautiful 28 year old graduate student on a scientific expedition in Africa who stumbles upon a cache of WWII Nazi files in the wreck of a German bomber hidden in the jungle. The files reveal the location of a multi-billion dollar war-chest, secretly deposited by the Nazis in numbered Swiss bank accounts at the end of WWII.

Critique: Having a very special appeal to readers with an interest in historical thrillers with a bit of the supernatural thrown in, "The File" by novelist Gary Born is the original and compelling story of a captivating heroine who is pursued across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe by relentless Russian and American hitmen. A simply riveting read from start to finish, and all the more impressive when considering that it is author Gary Born's debut as a novelist, "The File" is highly recommended for community library Historical Action/Adventure Fiction collections and available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).

Editorial Note: Gary Born ( is a renowned international lawyer. He has represented countries and businesses in nearly 1,000 international disputes around the world, including cases involving Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Mr. Born has also published widely on international law, including the leading commentaries on international arbitration and litigation. He has taught at universities in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, including Harvard Law School, National University of Singapore, and St. Gallen University. He currently resides in London.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Yooper Ale Trails
Jon C. Stott
Modern History Press
9781615997282, $39.95, HC, 230pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan's Upper Peninsula" by Jon C. Stott, beer and ale enthusiasts can visit the 29 unique craft breweries and brewpubs of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Choosen from among eight different Ale Trails for your personal journey, "Yooper Ale Trails" also explore the backstories of the breweries, brewers and owners, along with tasting notes on each brewery's most popular beers.

Jon C. Stott, award-winning author of five beer travel books, provides expert guidance for both craft beer aficionados and tourists to enjoy one of 170 locally-brewed lagers or ales after visiting the many scenic wonders of the U.P.:

The tours are arranged geographically from the shores of Lake Huron, across the north of the peninsula close to Lake Superior and then east from the Wisconsin border to the shores of Lake Michigan. Short essays on each brewery introduce you to the brewer's, the places their beers are served and the flavors of the beers themselves. Complete contact details about each brewery and their available services (food, off-sales, accessibility, etc.), descriptions of beer styles with examples from UP breweries and a glossary of brewing terms. Road maps for each ale trail and photographs of each establishment, making the breweries easy to find.

Critique: A fun and practical resource to plan itineraries with, "Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan's Upper Peninsula" features a number of black/white photos, five Appendices, and a useful Index. Impressively and descriptively informative, "Yooper Ale Trails" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal and community library Midwest Travel Guide collections. It should be noted that "Yooper Ale Trails" is also readily available to all dedicated beer/ale lovers in a paperback edition (9781615997275, $24.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.95).

Editorial Note: Jon C. Stott (Professor Emeritus of English, University of Alberta) has spent extended summers in the Upper Peninsula for over half a century. He is the author of five beer travel guides, including the award-winning Island Craft: Your Guide to the Breweries of Vancouver Island, as well as two other books about Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Paul Bunyan in Michigan: Yooper Logging, Lore, & Legends and Summers at the Lake: Upper Michigan Moments and Memories. He spends the cold, snowy months in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His beer blog includes frequent updates on the breweries he has visited.

The Creation of Self: A Case for the Soul
Joshua R. Farris
Iff Books
c/o Collective Ink Books
9781803410869, $27.95, PB, 328pp

Synopsis: Situated in broader science-and-religion discussions, "The Creation of Self: A Case for the Soul" by Joshua R. Farris is the first book-length defense of a creationist view of persons as souls.

"The Creation of Self" therefore serves as both a novel argument for God's creation of selves and as a critique of contemporary materialist and emergent-self alternatives, critically examining naturalistic views that argue for a regular, law-like process behind the emergence of personhood.

With the publication of "The Creation of Self", Joshua Farris argues on the assumption that persons are fundamentally unique individuals that look more like singularities of nature, rather than material products grounded in regularity or predictability from past events. By extending the basic intuition that we are unique and mysterious individuals, Farris develops a sophisticated analytic defense of the soul that requires a sufficient explanation not found in nature but made by a Creator who has intentions and the power to bring about novel entities in the world.

"The Creation of Self" gives philosophers, theologians, and the layman reader intellectual grounding for thinking about persons as religious beings. It also aims to help readers understand why recent scientifically motivated objections to the soul are unsuccessful, and why we must consider a religious conception of persons as souls as a common starting point.

Critique: Erudite, eloquent, challenging, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "The Creation of Self: A Case for the Soul" is a welcome and highly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Religious Philosophy collections and supplemental Sociology of Religion curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, philosophers, clergy, and non-specialist readers with an interest in the subject that "The Creation of Self: A Case for the Soul" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.49).

Editorial Note: Joshua Ryan Farris ( is Humboldt Experienced Researcher Fellow at the University of Bochum, Germany, and an established author and editor.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Forest School Handbook
Naomi Walmsley, author
Dan Westall, author
The GMC Group
9781784946654, $24.99, PB, 168pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Forest School Handbook", co-authors Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall showcase a lively collection of DIY activities, crafts, bushcraft skills and nature-based play that will inspire kids of all ages to thrive outside.

Whether just out for a walk, going camping or exploring in the woods, "Forest School Handbook" is handy-sized and highly portable volume will be your essential instructional 'how-to" guide for connecting with the natural world. Packed from cover to cover with illustrated ideas and activities for children of all ages, there are bushcraft basics, survival skills, nature crafts and ideas for both energizing and peaceful outdoor play.

Encouraging controlled risk taking, boosting social skills, wellbeing and a healthy resilience, the "Forest School Handbook" is the ultimate way to avoid battles over screen time and classroom-induced fatigue.

Critique: Effectively and profusely illustrated throughout with full color photography, "Forest School Handbook" is an ideal outdoor activities resource for parents and teachers wanting to expose their students and offspring with the healthy and skill building activities that are as fun as they are educational and confidence building. Thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Forest School Handbook" is especially and unreservedly recommended for family, school, and community library Nature Crafts collections for ages 5 to 105!

Editorial Note: Dan Westall and Naomi Walmsley run Outback2Basics from their patch of woodland in Shropshire in the UK. Specializing in bushcraft and Stone Age skills, they provide unique experiences for school children and teachers to connect to nature. Dan has been a bushcraft teacher for many years and has also acted as a medic and survival consultant on various TV shows. Naomi is a qualified bushcraft instructor and Forest School Leader and believes that every child should be able to safely light a fire and have at least ten uses for a stick by the age of ten. Together, they undertook a five-month Stone Age immersion experience in the US, living in the wilderness without any modern equipment, profoundly influencing their lives and teaching.

We Set the Night on Fire: Igniting the Gay Revolution
Martha Shelley
Chicago Review Press
814 North Franklin Street, Chicago, IL 60610
9781641609418, $28.99, HC, 244pp

Synopsis: Martha Shelley didn't start out in life wanting to become a gay activist, or an activist of any kind.

The daughter of Jewish refugees and undocumented immigrants in New York City, she grew up during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and 1950s, was inspired by the civil rights and anti - Vietnam War movements that followed, and struggled with coming out as a lesbian at a time when being gay made her a criminal.

Shelley rose to become a public speaker for the New York chapter of the lesbian rights group the Daughters of Bilitis, organized the first gay march in response to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and then co-founded the Gay Liberation Front.

She also co-produced the newspaper Come Out!, worked on the women's takeover of the RAT Subterranean News, and took a central role in the Lavender Menace action to confront homophobia in the women's movement.

"We Set the Night on Fire: Igniting the Gay Revolution" is Martha Shelley's personal story and a feminist and lesbian document that gives context and adds necessary humanity to the historical record.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, impressively informative, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "We Set the Night on Fire: Igniting the Gay Revolution" is essential reading for all members of the LGBTQ community and an unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "We Set the Night on Fire: Igniting the Gay Revolution" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.49).

Editorial Note: Martha Shelley ( is a longtime political activist from Brooklyn. After the Stonewall Riot, she organized a protest march that morphed into today's pride parades, and she was one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front. Her essays, poetry, and short stories have appeared in many anthologies. She has published three novels and four books of poetry.

Spirit Wheel: Meditations from an Indigenous Elder
Steven Charleston
Broadleaf Books
9781506486659, $19.99, HC, 264pp

Synopsis: I stand in the midst of creation's wheel / And watch in wonder the quiet majesty of its turning. / We are in the care of a love without limit or definition / Under the protection of a love that never looks away.

When the Spirit speaks to him in his daily prayers, Choctaw elder and spiritual explorer Steven Charleston takes a pen and writes down the messages. He then shares these thoughts with thousands on social media. In these musings, Charleston taps into the universal questions that draw us to prayer, no matter our spiritual background: Why am I here? Where do I belong? Where am I going?

"Spirit Wheel: Meditations from an Indigenous Elder" is a stunning collection of more than two hundred meditations with which Steven Charleston introduces us to the Spirit Wheel and the four directions that ground Native spirituality: tradition, kinship, vision, and balance.

The life we inhabit together has been called many things by Indigenous people: the Spirit Wheel, the hoop of the nations, the great circle of existence, the medicine wheel. We are all on that ever-turning wheel, Charleston says--all of creation, people and animals, rocks and trees, the whole universe.

Together we can turn toward the wisdom of our ancestors, kinship with all of Mother Earth's creatures, the vision of the Spirit, and mindful balance of life.

We are all searching for belonging and a vision of the world that makes sense. We can meet those longings as we ponder the blessings of Spirit Wheel, in the breathtaking moments when insight becomes an invitation to wonder.

Critique: Of special value to readers with an interest in Native American tribal and ethnic practices, mental health/spiritual healing, "Spirit Wheel: Meditations from an Indigenous Elder" is an inherently fascinating, inspiring, thoughtful and thought-provoking compendium of insightful, spiritually nurturing meditations that are at once both personal and universal, While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49), Steven Charleston's "Spirit Wheel" is particularly and unreservedly recommended pick for personal, community, and academic library collections and supplemental Native American Studies curriculum lists.

Editorial Note: Steven Charleston ( is a leading voice of justice for Indigenous peoples, the environment, and spiritual renewal. A member of the Choctaw Nation, Charleston has appeared on ABC World News Tonight, BBC World News, and other outlets. The author of more than a dozen books on theology and spirituality, including Ladder to the Light, Charleston has served as the Episcopal bishop of Alaska, president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, and professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary. He serves as the theologian in residence at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University.

From Princess To Porn Star: A Real-Life Cinderella Story
Tasha Reign
Cleis Press
9781627783255, $18.95, PB, 224pp

Synopsis: Once upon a time in the beautiful land of Laguna Beach, CA, lived a girl named Rachel Swimmer. She was curious, clever, and like any hopeful heroine, committed to forging her own path in life. She yearned for more than an ordinary existence and a boring nine to five, so she joined the world of adult entertainment, where she finally felt fulfilled. However, her fairy tale began to crumble when at the mere age of twenty, her father passed away, leaving her evil step-mother in charge of his estate -- and Rachel disowned.

Despite being down on her luck, she poured her heart and soul into her work, eventually alchemising into her erotic royal highness, Tasha Reign. But like all the princesses in fairy tales past, she experienced some tempestuous twists and turns amidst her journey.

"From Princess To Porn Star: A Real-Life Cinderella Story" will satisfy any unanswered questions one might have about the adult entertainment business. In this remarkable memoir, Tasha Reign dives into the many aspects of the patriarchal industry from racism and misogyny that porn perpetuates to the empowering attributes it has to offer. Armchair readers will embark on a lively adventure into the mind of one of porn's most popular, yet controversial actresses and find out how she found her happily ever after in the real world.

Critique: Amazingly informative, startlingly candid, deftly written, inherently fascinating, "From Princess To Porn Star: A Real-Life Cinderella Story" by Tasha Reign (aka Rachel Swimmer) is a compelling memoir and an unreservedly recommended pick for personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections. With an immense interest for readers with a curiosity about the realities of the porn industry, it should be noted that "From Princess To Porn Star: A Real-Life Cinderella Story" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Tasha Reign (, arguably one of the most legendary and popular adult performers in the nation, graduated from UCLA in 2014 with a degree in Women's Studies and Masters in Journalism from USC's Annenberg School in 2019. From the very beginning of her career, Reign has been outspoken about her support for women's rights and women's sexual freedom, and as an advocate for normalizing sexuality and advancing the rights and respect of sex workers. Her activism has been profiled in the Guardian, CNN, and her writing has been published in the Huffington Post and Al Jazeera America. She also penned a column for Mel Magazine. Reign has spoken at numerous fraternities and on college campuses to bring her message of consent and respecting women's sexual boundaries to students.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Designing-Women's Lives: Transforming Place and Self
Toby Israel
ORO Editions
31 Commerical Blvd., Suite F, Novato, CA 94949
9781954081116, $29.95, PB, 200pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Designing-Women's Lives: Transforming Place and Self ", environmental psychologist Toby Israel calls for a place-making revolution based on women's culturally nurtured "feeling" sensibility.

Women too often have had to repress that sensibility in order to become designers. Now, rather than struggle to fit-in, women can break new ground by using Toby Israel's 'Design Psychology' as the foundation for creating emotionally satisfying place.

To encourage such a heart/mind shift, the author discusses how she took architecture Gold Medalist Denise Scott Brown and interior design legend Margo Grant Walsh through a series of Design Psychology exercises.

The process revealed ways these renowned women unconsciously embedded their heroic struggles as minority females in their designs: Grant Walsh's journey from her Chippewa childhood home with only one green couch to her plush NYC residence reflected her embrace of her Native American + designing-woman's identity. Scott Brown grew up in a more privileged South African household, yet she translated the oppression she witnessed during Apartheid and the bias she experienced as a Jewish woman into the inclusive approach to architecture that made her famous.

Interweaving such designing-women's stories, feminist design thinking and her personal vignettes, Toby Israel inspires her readers to "design from within" in their personal psychology as a form of personal liberation. Project case studies further demonstrate how Design Psychology helped women create a nurturing (even transformative) home during life-passages such as partnering or grieving. Such case studies provide inspiring examples of how color, shape, texture, space layout, and special objects can be catalysts for such personal evolution.

Critique: Beautifully illustrated throughout with numerous full color photographs, "Designing-Women's Lives: Transforming Place and Self" will be of particular interest to readers concerned with the subjects of Architectural Criticism, Popular Psychology, Women's Intellectual Creativity. Insightful, iconoclastic, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Designing-Women's Lives: Transforming Place and Self " is a prized pick for personal, professional, community, college, and university collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Toby Israel ( is the founder of Design Psychology, a field that's gained international attention in the LA, NY and Financial Times, CBS Sunday Morning, and NPR's "Talk of the Nation." Trained as an environmental psychologist, she is a multi-disciplinary design, psychology, arts, and education professional who applies scholarship to the "real-world" practice of place-making.

Buttercups & Gratitude: My Illustrated Journey with Andrew Wyeth
Helen Murray Sipala, author
Bruce E. Mowday, editor
Regent Press
2747 Regent St., Berkeley, CA 94705
9781587906534, $29.95, HC, 148pp

Synopsis: Andrew Newell Wyeth (July 12, 1917 - January 16, 2009) was an American visual artist, primarily a realist painter, working predominantly in a regionalist style. He was one of the best-known mid-20th century American popular artists.

"Buttercups & Gratitude: My Illustrated Journey with Andrew Wyeth" is the second book on a diary written by model and friend Helen M. Sipala during a more than 20-year relationship with world-famous artist Andrew Wyeth.

With the publication of "Buttercups & Gratitude", Helen gives additional details to her highly successful first memoir, "Beyond the Marriage Bed: My Years as Friend, Model and Confidante of Andrew Wyeth".

"Buttercups & Gratitude" is impressively illustrated with private photographs taken by Helen's husband George Sipala. The new memoir includes inside glimpses of the Christmas parties hosted by Helen and George Sipala and Helen's observations of Andrew Wyeth in many private situations.

Critique: A fascinating, informative, and profusely illustrated memoir, "Buttercups & Gratitude: My Illustrated Journey with Andrew Wyeth" must be considered as 'essential reading' for the legions of Andrew Wyeth fans. This large format (8.5 x 0.56 x 11 inches, 1.67 pounds) edition of "Buttercups & Gratitude" from Regent Press is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library 20th Century American Artist Biography/Memoir and Art History collections.

Editorial Note #1: Helen Sipala was a model and friend to Andrew as the two shared a two-decade relationship.

Editorial Note #2: Bruce E. Mowday ( has authored more than 20 books on history, true crime, business and sports. He has also assisted a number of authors in completing and publishing books.

The Best of Reader's Digest: Volume 4
Reader's Digest, editor
Trusted Media Brands
9781621459323, $24.99, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: For more than a century, the Reader's Digest has been sharing stories of small miracles and unlikely friendships, steadfast courage and enduring love -- stories that transcend time and place.

Now with the publication of "The Best of Reader's Digest: Volume 4", the editorial staff of the Reader's Digest presents another volume of our most memorable narratives, including: The hilarious tales of smart people doing the dumbest things; The heart-stopping story of two friends who get caught in a dangerous current and are swept out to sea; An intimate essay by Bishop Desmond Tutu on the value of forgiveness; Hilarious jokes and cartoons, classic illustrations, photographs, and true stories from readers -- along with a bonus content never published in the Reader's Digest magazine.

Critique: Nostalgic, entertaining, thoughtful, and thought-provoking, "The Best of Reader's Digest: Volume 4" continues the literary excellence that hallmarked the first three volumes of this simply outstanding series. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99), this hardcover edition of "The Best of Reader's Digest: Volume 4" is highly recommended as an invaluable addition to community and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: The Reader's Digest brings big ideas to your kitchen table, shares stories you can't put down, offers clever ways to live your life and the chance to laugh and cry together about what makes us all human. Founded in 1922 by DeWitt and Lila Wallace, Reader's Digest magazine has a circulation of 3 million while the website receives more than 12 million monthly visitors. In addition, the brand includes websites, original video, books and social media. Reader's Digest has: 222K followers on Instagram; 3.1M followers on Face Book; 108K followers on Pinterest; 118.4K followers on Twitter.

Seeing Race Before Race
Noemie Ndiaye and Lia Markey, editors
9780866988414, $79.00, HC, 300pp

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Noemie Ndiaye and Lia Markey, the capacious visual archive comprising "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" includes a trove of materials such as annotated or illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance costume books and travel books, maps and cartographic volumes produced by Europeans as well as Indigenous peoples, mass-printed pamphlets, jewelry, decorative arts, religious iconography, paintings from around the world, ceremonial objects, festival books, and play texts intended for live performance.

The contributors to "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" deftly explore the deployment of what co-editor Noemie Ndiaye calls "the racial matrix" and its interconnected paradigms across the medieval and early modern chronological divide and across vast transnational and multilingual geographies.

Featuring items drawn from the Fall 2023 exhibition "Seeing Race Before Race" (a collaboration between RaceB4Race and the Newberry Library) is an ideal starting point for an ambitious theoretical conversation between premodern race studies, art history, performance studies, book history, and critical race theory.

Critique: A seminal and ground-breaking volume, "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" will prove to be of immense interest to students of Art History, Philosophy, and Race Relations. While available for the personal reading lists of students, academia, historians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject, "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" is a welcome, unique, and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, community, college, and university library collections and supplemental Art/Racism curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Noemie Ndiaye ( is Assistant Professor of Renaissance and Early Modern English Literature at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race and Racecraft: Early Modern Repertoires of Blackness.

Editorial Note #2: Lia Markey ( is Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library. She is the author of Imagining the Americas in Medici Florence and co-editor of The New World in Early Modern Italy, 1492-1750.

Margaret Lane

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

The Forever Witness
Edward Humes
c/o Penguin Group USA
9781524746278, $28.00, HC, $15.99 Kindle, 384pp

The old saying that "time waits for no man" is as true today as it ever was. Time can stand still when it should be flying by and it can zoom past when attempting to treasure a moment that will forever last only in the world of memories. For cold case detectives like Jim Scharf, time can seem to be a hurdle only for those without the tools to tie the past and the present together.

In "The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder", talented author Edward Humes chronicles Scharf and his team of cold case detectives and volunteers as they solve the four decade old murder of two teenagers in Northwest Washington near the Canadian border. The story of how this murder was solved and the legal trials and travails is an engrossing and exciting read.

When the murder occurred in late 1987, DNA investigations and genetic genealogy were still in their infancy. However, local police were able to preserve evidence collected as two different bodies were discovered at two different locations. Detective Scharf and his team were able to work with CeCe Moore and other dedicating genealogical investigators to discover a DNA match and link that match to the eventual killer of two young persons. The trial that followed was a defining moment in the usage of genetic genealogy as a crime fighting tool that is still coming of age as the third decade of the twenty-first century begins. "The Forever Witness" is an excellent narrative of that coming of age and implications for the future.

With "The Forever Witness", author Edward Humes has written an engaging and neutral story of how science has changed law enforcement and how law enforcement is using that science to its advantage. Humes also does an excellent job in describing how the numerous privacy concerns that have resulted from the use of DNA solicited by commercial entities and how those companies may not be completely honest with folks who are looking to figure out their own histories.

"The Forever Witness" is a compelling look into the numerous questions raised by genetic genealogy and its supporters and opponents. Anyone interested in how this new science can have an impact on their own view of the world would do well to read this volume. It is perhaps a newly created foundational piece of what the future may hold.

Matthew McCarty

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Sinners of Starlight City
Anika Scott
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
Blackstone Audiobooks
9780063306226, $18.99, PB, 352pp

Synopsis: It's the worst year of the Great Depression, and America needs all the hope it can get. The Chicago World's Fair, a glittery city-within-a-city, becomes a symbol of the good that's yet to come. But every utopia has a seedy side -- and that's Rosa Mancuso's world. As the mysterious Madame Mystique she mixes magic with a dose of bare skin burlesque, bringing customers to the home of the Fair's carnival rides and spectacles.

Rosa doesn't perform for fame, though. She has come from Mussolini's Italy to America, where she's plotting her revenge for the murder of her family. The perpetrator will soon arrive at the World's Fair via a celebrated Italian air fleet, and Rosa is determined to be prepared.

But when her estranged cousin, Mina, comes to her desperate for help, with a dangerous mobster close on her heels, Rosa agrees to protect Mina and her new baby, born across the color line. With the clock ticking, Rosa decides the only way to survive is to make vengeance a family affair and prompt everyone to, at last, confront the sins from their pasts.

Critique: A deftly crafted, original and gripping story of retribution, belonging, and survival, with the publication of "Sinners of Starlight City", novelist Anika Scott effectively explores the complexity of identities straddling ethnic lines and asks, who gets to decide who we are and where we belong? A riveting and memorable read from cover to cover, "Sinners of Starlight City" is particularly recommended for personal and community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted for readers with an interest in cultural heritage fiction, and an inherently fascinating suspense thriller of a read that "Sinners of Starlight City" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, B0C5H9RS4R, $41.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note: Anika Scott ( was a journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Chicago Tribune before moving to Germany, where she currently lives in Essen with her husband and two daughters. She has worked in radio, taught journalism seminars at an eastern German university, and written articles for European and American publications. Scott is also the author of the novel The German Heiress.

Twist of Fate
D. L. Mark
Head of Zeus
9781803287744, $16.95, PB, 400pp

Synopsis: She says he's a victim. They say he's a killer.

A man goes on the rampage in central London, killing several people in a seemingly random attack. One of the victims is researcher Jethro Durdage, whose sister Claudine witnesses the whole thing. Riven by grief, Claudine retreats to the house in the Fens where she and Jethro grew up.

As she starts to process what happened, Claudine finds out the police believe Jethro was not the victim but the orchestrator of the attack. Why would a gentle, kindly man want to cause such bloodshed -- and why would he include himself in the list of victims?

Claudine soon finds herself down a rabbit hole of mystery. What was causing Jethro such unease on the day of his death? His research into a medieval cult could hold the key, and the more she investigates, the more Claudine is troubled by the same unease that plagued her brother.

Can she solve the riddle before more people die... or will the darkness get to her too?

Critique: An original and simply riveting read from cover to cover, "Twist of Fate" by D. L. Mark is a deftly crafted novel that will have an immense interest and appeal to fans of suspenseful psychological thriller fiction with the kind of narrative driven and distinctively memorable storytelling style that will hold their full attention from first page to last. While highly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Twist of Fate" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Editorial Note: D.L. Mark ( spent more than fifteen years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with the Yorkshire Post. His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the competent and incompetent investigators; the inertia of the justice system, and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy. He writes psychological suspense thrillers and historical novels, plus the DS McAvoy series (as David Mark).

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Marilynne Robinson, author
9781250784018, $17.00 paperback / $9.99 Kindle

The Reverend John Ames Writes To His Son

This beautifully evocative Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson has received many accolades. I was unfamiliar with it before reading some of the perceptive reviews from my fellow readers and online reviewers. These reviews made me want to read the book. I used the novel in my own turn in 2011 for a book group which has several good readers none of whom knew the book.

"Gilead" is a book about American religious life and religious faith. This in itself is not particularly unusual, but the book is distinctive because of the broad sympathy it shows to traditional American small town Protestantism. The book is also unusual because of the positive way in which its major character is portrayed. Set in a small midwestern town called Gilead, Iowa, the major protagonist is a 76 year old minister, John Ames, born in 1880. The time is 1956, during the middle of the Eisenhower administration, and a time many Americans view with nostalgia. The Reverend Ames has been told he is dying of a heart ailment. He wants to set down his thoughts in a letter for the benefit of his young son, slightly under 7 years old, the child of his old age. The book consists of this reflective, rambling and wise letter from Reverend Ames to his child.

As a young man, Reverend Ames had lost a wife and child in childbirth. For most of his subsequent adult life, he lived alone, reading extensively, writing sermons, watching baseball games, preparing simple dinners and tending to his congregation. Then, at age 67, Reverend Ames unexpectedly fell in love with a woman at least 30 years younger than himself, uneducated and of uncertain background. She began to attend the church and gradually encouraged the Reverend's attentions, leading eventually to the suggestion "You should marry me." With the disparity in age and background, the marriage proved peaceful and happy.

The book, and the letter, are wandering and formless. Portions of it are narratives of Reverend Ames's life and family. Ames was the third in a family generation of ministers. His grandfather had been an Abolitionist in Kansas and had served in the Civil War. He had a fiery, eccentric disposition. His son had been much more pacific and reserved in his opinions. Besides Reverend Ames, there was another son, Edward, who became a nonbeliever and an adherent of the thought of the German philosopher Feuerbach. Reverend Ames reflects a great deal on his minister forbearers and on their influence on him.

Ames also reflects a good deal upon the life and children of an aging minister and lifelong friend named Boughton. Boughton has a middle-aged son, John, who is a nonbeliever and apparently something of a wastrel. He returns to the book midcourse when is father is terminally ill. Reverend Ames does not trust the young man but has many strained discussions with him about theology, faith, and salvation.

Besides the gossamer-thin story line, Reverend Ames' letter to his son includes reflections of religion, faith, God, love, the good life, hope, and much else. Some of the book is in the form of aphorisms or paragraphs that might come from a sermon and that interrupt whatever narrative flow might be going on. The tone of the writing throughout is elegant, restrained and simple but with a great deal of life and thought underneath. The book is full of the love of the physical world, particularly the little town in which the story is set, the water, the fields and the people. There is a tone of forgiveness and acceptance of difference. With its in the main conservative tone, Reverend Ames has a great deal to say about American racial issues. Reverend Ames is an erudite small town pastor who wears lightly his substantial learning. Here is one passage taken from near the end of the book (p.245) out of many passages that might be chosen to illustrate the character of Reverend Ames's meditations for his son, for the reader, and for himself.

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance -- for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?"

In its portrayal of what might be regarded as a form of traditional American religion, this book challenges current negative pictures in the culture. All the same, the book develops well the tension between religious belief and secularist alternatives. This is a quiet reflective story that needs to be lingered over. It will be enjoyed by thoughtful readers, regardless of religious persuasion.

Marilynne Robinson, author
9781250784025, $17.00 paperback / $9.99 Kindle

Marilynne Robinson's Home

"In college all of them had studied the putative effects of deracination, which were angst and anomie, these dull horrors of the modern world. They had been examined on the subject, had rehearsed bleak and portentous philosophies in term papers, and they had done it with the earnest suspension of doubt that afflicts the highly educable. And then their return to the pays natal, where the same old willows swept the same ragged lawns, where the same old prairie arose and bloomed as negligence permitted. Home. What kinder place could there be on earth, and why did it seem to them all like exile? Oh, to be passing anonymously through an impersonal landscape! Oh, not to know every stump and stone, not to remember how the fields of Queen Anne's lace figured in the childish happiness they had offered to their father's hopes, God bless him." ("Home", p. 284)

Marilynne Robinson's "Home" (2008) is an closely textured novel that explores individuality, family, community, and the world of everyday life interweaved with religious faith. The novel is set in the small fictitious town of Gilead, Iowa, in 1956. It is the second in a series of Robinson's four "Gilead" novels the first of which "Gilead" received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. I had read the earlier novel many years ago and wanted to revisit Gilead with Robinson at last. The characters are largely the same. The two books have aptly been described as companion novels, and it unnecessary to have read "Gilead" before reading "Home".

The midwest small town of Gilead is home in this book, but more specifically home is large, old, Victorian and poorly maintained family home of the Reverend Robert Boughton, the aged, retired minister of the town's Presbyterian church. The home has been in the Boughton family for generations. Boughton and his wife, deceased when the story begins, have raised eight children in the home, four boys and four girls. Of the eight children, six have moved away to pursue their own lives and to return to their Gilead home for visits. The two youngest children, for differing reasons, have returned home to live. The youngest child, Glory, 38, is unmarried and before returning home had taught in high school for many years. The next child, Jack, 43, has had a tumultuous childhood and adulthood. He returns to the family home bedraggled and hung over after an absence from home of twenty years.

Among other Biblical allusions, the novel draws heavily on the parable of the Prodigal Son in telling the story of Jack and the Boughton family. The novel, begins with the relationship between Gloria and Jack. Gloria is already at the Gilead home, and she has difficulty even recognizing the adult Jack and in remembering their childhood of years earlier. Gloria and Jack are cautious of one another and reluctant to share details of their past lives which have been in many respects troubled and sad. Gradually the two siblings open up to a degree to each other. With the Reverend Boughton, Glory and Jack likewise have their secrets. Jack had always been the minister's most beloved child, perhaps because of his wild, rebellious nature, and has caused him and the family no end of difficulty. Jack has not remained within the faith, but that is the least of it, with his life of alcoholism, theft, and prison. In addition to the Boughton family relationships, the Reverend John Ames, Bouton's best friend and the narrator of the novel "Gilead" is an important character in this book.

Jack feels a great deal of remorse for his life and for the difficulty he has caused his family. He has a longstanding relationship with a woman, Della, to whom he writes daily but who does not respond. Glory has had a longstanding relationship with a man who has deceived her before she returns to Gilead. The aged Reverend Boughton is ill and failing fast as he seeks a reconciliation with his son.

The novel interweaves the quotidian, apparently mundane details of everyday life with spiritual themes. The story of the Boughtons is intertwined with changes in the town and changes in America. The family, town life, and American life are portrayed without the sharp, judgmental character that has become all-too-common as Americans look at themselves. American Protestantism receives a sympathetic portrayal. but the spiritual tone of the book is broader.

The overarching theme of the book is forgiveness, of oneself and others, and a recognition of human fallibility. The ultimate home of this book is God. In theological terms, the novel explores the nature of grace. Individuals are sinful but, in terms of the book's Protestantism, God offers forgiveness and hope, without judgment, even when it may be unearned. In my view, the book offers a great deal of wisdom. It recognizes human finitude and need for change while offering an antidote to the social criticism and anger that have become too commonplace in American culture.

With its sadness, "Home" offers an ultimately hopeful, spiritual vision of American culture and American life.

Marilynne Robinson, author
9781250784032, $17.00 paperback / $9.99 Kindle

The Story Of Lila Ames

I loved Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Gilead"(2004) when I read it in 2010 but have waited until now to explore her three subsequent novels set in the same small Iowa town and involving the same characters. This novel, "Lila"(2014) is the third of the four, and it tells the story of the second wife of the Revered John Ames, the primary character of "Gilead".

The four novels discuss a form of American religious life and offer a more sympathetic, involved portrayal than is sometimes the case. While each of the four books may be read independently, some background from the first novel, "Gilead" may be useful. "Gilead" is recounted in the form of a letter from the Reverend John Ames, 76, to his son, age 7. He wants to offer some wisdom and reflection to his young son, as Reverend Ames feels he will soon die from heart disease before his child grows up. When he was young, his wife and baby died in childbirth and he lived alone until, age 67, he married a mysterious woman, Lila, less than half his age who became the mother of his young son. Reverend Ames's best friend is another minister, Boughton, who has several children, including a wandering, rebelious son, Jack.

The novel "Lila" fleshes out the story of Reverend Ames's wife of his old age. It discusses her background, their courtship, and their marriage in more detail than did the first book. The book beautifully combines storytelling and theological reflection. The scenes shift between Lila's early life and her time in Gilead with the Reverend Ames, while the story concludes with the birth of their child. The story moves slowly with much reflection by both Reverend Ames and his wife.

Lila had lived a hardscrabble wandering life in the midst of the Great Depression. She had been taken from her neglectful parents by a woman named Doll, and she and Doll frequently travel in the company of other drifters. Doll and Lila struggled hard to support themeselves mostly in rural areas, but Doll also tried to give Lila a rudimentary education. The characters, wander, separate, and come together. Lila spends time working in a brothel in St Louis under the name of Rosie before she ultimately drifts to a shack near Gilead and slowly gets to know Reverend Ames.

Both characters share a loneliness and yet an attraction for the past lives. They obviously have radical differences in education and outlook. Still, they get to know each other and the relationship takes hold. Lila and Reverend Ames have extensive discussions about Scripture and, more broadly, about religion and about the mystery of life. Lila has a strong intellectual curiosity and she reads and copies Scriptural passages and discusses them with Reverend Ames. Early in their relationship, Reverend Ames writes a letter to Lila which includes the following passage.

"You must have thought that it has never occurred to me to wonder about the deeper things religion is really concerned with, the meaning of existence of human life. You must have thought I say the things I do out of habit and custom, rather than from experience and reflection. I admit there is some truth in this. It is inevitable, I suppose."

For both Reverend Ames and Lila, there always is the possibilit that Lila will leave and return to her former life. There is a felt tension between Lila's former life and what is seen as Christian teaching. The tension is implicit throughout the book and discussed. Ultimately Lila and the Reverend Ames resolve it in their own ways.

This beautifully written novel offers a profound view of American life and of the nature of religion that, I think, transcends sectarianism. The themes and the tenor of this book are rare in current American literature, and they resist easy characterization. I was moved to revisit the town of Gilead and its characters with Marilynne Robinson after being away for many years. I look forward to reading the additional two books in the series.

Marilynne Robinson, author
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
9781250832917, $17.00 paperback / $9.99 Kindle

Jack's Story

The first extended scene in Marilynne Robinson's novel "Jack" takes place at night in a graveyard. The two main characters, Jack Boughton and Della Miles, come accross one another seemingly by chance. They have met before and been out to dinner. During their lengthy obscure conversation, they discuss many things, including their relationship, their pasts, and their love of books. Della at first wants nothing to do with Jack. But by the end of their graveyard conversation, the two are in love. The novel is devoted to unravelling this strange scene and its consequences.

"Jack" (2020) is the fourth novel in Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead" series, primarily set in the small fictitious town of Gilead, Iowa, in the mid-1950s. The novels explore American community life through the lives of two aged Protestant ministers and close friends, the Reverend John Ames and the Reverend Robert Boughton, and their families. The novels have a distinctively religious tone. Each novel explores the same themes in different ways and from different perspectives. In reading "Jack", I have read each of the four novels in the series. I think that "Jack" may be read as a stand-alone, but the reader will benefit from knowing the earlier books.

This novel is set in the late 1940s before the events recounted in the earlier three books. It is set primarily in St. Louis with important scenes in Chicago and Memphis, but none in Gilead. Jack Boughton is the next to youngest child of the Reverend Boughton and, unlike the other seven children, has always been difficult. He fathered a child out of wedlock and ran away to St. Louis where he survives by a series of low paying jobs and by the kindness of his brother Teddy. Jack is a thief, a liar, and an alcoholic who has served time in prison and who is pursued by loan sharks and their minions. Upon leaving prison, he has a chance meeting with Della Miles, also the child of a Protestant minister. Della is black. She is a school teacher, prim and proper, devoted to her job and to racial uplift. During the time frame of this story, marriage between white and black people is illegal in the states concerned (not in Iowa) and inter-racial romance is subject to heavy prejudice from both races and from virtually all the characters who appear in this story.

Much of the story is told in dialogue, such as the opening scene, and much is told by a narrator who gets inside the characters' deepest thoughts and feelings, especially those of Jack. Jack is deeply ashamed of himself and of his shabby life. Many of the scenes take place on the streets, in rooming houses, and in bars and stores in the poor parts of St. Louis. Jack might not be out of place in a novel by Charles Bukowski, a writer at far remove from Marilynne Robinson. Jack does not want to bring harm to anyone, especially Della. At various times he tries to end the relationship for her sake. The relationship persists with the difficulties it brings to them both, especially Della who has ahead of her a promising career and a comfortable material life.

I could sympathize with Jack's St, Louis life from, as mentioned, my reading of Bukowski and other authors. Jack also has qualities which could have formed the basis for a happier, more fulfilled life. He plays the piano well and he is a reader of literature and poetry. The books and authors he has read include John Milton, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams's long poem "Paterson", and Hart Crane. He gets a brief job in a bookstore. I enjoyed being reminded of these American poets whose works and visions inform the story, as does Milton.

This is a sad book. It focuses more than the other three books in the series on racial prejudice. The book is strongly religiously themed with its portrayal of two children of ministers. With Robinson's Protestantism, there is a strong sense of Original Sin, Predestination, and the finite nature of human beings and human societies. There is a sense too of the knowledge of good and evil. With the errant nature of the characters and society, the book offers a sense of human weakness, and divine grace and of the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.

"Jack" is a beautifully-told story worthy of its place with its three companion novels. I enjoyed getting to know Jack Boughton and Della Miles and thinking about them with Marilyne Robinson.

Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of the Myth of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (The Terry Lectures Series)
Marilynne Robinson, author
Yale University Press
9780300171471, $16.50 paperback / $11.99 Kindle

A Novelist's Thoughts On The Mind

Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Gilead" portrays an aging, dying minister in a small Iowa town who reflects upon his life and family, on God, and on the United States for the benefit of his young son. The book is written eloquently and poignantly. "Gilead" is thoughtful in its simplicity, but never forgets its form as a work of fiction.

I was eager to read more of Robinson. Instead of turning to her other novels, I found her recent book of essays, "Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self." (2010) I also found an excellent review that Robinson had written for the December 13, 2010, issue of "The Nation" of "The Heart of William James", a new selection of essays by the great American philosopher with an introduction by Robert Richardson. Judging from "Absence of Mind", Robinson has learned a great deal from James. In particular, Robinson focuses on James' pluralism and on his great interest in broad philosophical questions together with his scientific efforts. James opposed explanatory monism -- the effort to explain all human experience by reducing it to a single theory -- whether that theory was Hegelian idealism or scientific materialism. Investigative trains need to be followed where they lead but not necessarily beyond them. Human life requires a multiplicity of of explanatory paths, and lived experience, for James, always has primacy over theory rather than the other way round. Throughout his life, James struggled with questions of theism and ultimately developed his own concept of an evolving God that, to the extent I understand James, owes little to traditional Judaism or Christianity. Much of what is best in "Absence of Mind" seems to me the result of Robinson's engagement with James.

The essays in "Absence of Mind" derive from lectures Robinson gave at Yale under the auspices of the Dwight Harrington Terry Foundation Lectures on Religion in the light of Science and Philosophy. The aim of these lectures is to broaden and purify religion by considering and integrating within its framework the teachings of the sciences. Accordingly, Robinson takes as her broad subject the relationship between religion and certain forms of thinking claiming to derive from science. Her broader subject is the individual human mind and its subjectivity and the creation of art and culture.

Unlike, "Gilead" which moves with simplicity and unforced persuasion, "Absence of Mind" is dense, difficult, and at times sharply polemical. The style of the book is elegant and shows the personal touch of a creative writer. And the theme of the book is akin to "Gilead" as Robinson celebrates self and humanity against various modernisms. There is a great deal of insight in "Absence of Mind" but Robinson frequently does not help herself, as, it seems to me, she elides important distinctions, moves too quickly at times, and offers illustrations and critiques that sometimes appear to have little relevance to the points she is trying to make. This short book is a struggle. It is worthwhile, but Robinson is less effective as a philosopher or essayist than she is as a creative writer.

Robinson targets what she terms "parascience" -- which many modern writers refer to as scientism. It is a form of reductivism that tries to show how scientific discoveries in one or several fields suffice to answer questions outside the field and to eliminate or rephrase questions of religion, philosophy or, broadly, human culture. For Robinson, these reductivisms, which are inconsistent with each other, brush away the individual mind, its subjectivity, and its ability to reflect upon itself. What she says is valuable and important. It seems to me that she doesn't distinguish clearly enough different approaches to reductivism. At times, she speaks in the language of transcendence, or Cartesianism, by apparently considering mind as a thing separate from physical bodies. Usually she avoids this ontological dualism. In the last and best of the four essays included here, "Thinking Again" she seems willing to grant that the mind in an important sense is "part of" the brain.(my term) She says that human inner life and culture cannot even so be explained solely in physicalist or evolutionary or other reductivist terms. This too is an important point, but it should not be conflated with ontological dualism, and it should be seen to be independent of any necessary commitment to theism.

The reductionists Robinson considers include Sigmund Freud in a long and interesting essay on Freud's metapsychology. Robinson does not challenge the analysis Freud made of individual patients (although she might) but instead she attacks claims that Freud made in his late books about the origins of civilization and religion in claimed universal acts of sexual repression. Robinson argues against this claim as reductivist and as based upon Freud's own extrapolation from the political situation in the Europe of his day. What she says is interesting but not necessarily convincing insofar as it proposes to explain the origins of Freud's theories. Other more contemporary writers that Robinson considers and rejects for reductivism include Herbert Spencer, and the contemporary writers E.O. Wilson, James Kugel, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, among others. The first essay, "On Human Nature", I found a confusing effort in which Robinson moves from James' treatment of religion in "The Varieties of Religious Experience" to other ostensibly scientific approaches to religion which would remove the importance of the heart of the individual. The second essay, "The Strange History of Altruism" argues that sociobiologists and other reductionists are unable to account for the prevalence of altruism in human thought and behavior. The remaining two essays, on Freud, and on mind-brain reductivism, are more challenging than the first two essays, and I have touched on them earlier.

Robinson is at her best when she describes the intimacies of the human heart and the achievements of human culture. Thus she writes well of

"the odd privilege of existence as a coherent self, the ability to speak the word 'I' and mean by it a richly individual history of experience, perception, and thought. For the religious, the sense of the soul may have as a final redoubt, not as argument but as experience, that haunting I who wakes us in the night wondering where time has gone, the I we waken to, sharply aware that we have been unfaithful to ourselves, that a life lived otherwise would have acknowledged a yearning more our own than any of the daylit motives whose behests we answer to so diligently." (p. 110)

Robinson writes well and convincingly when she speaks in her own voice and discusses individual subjectivity and human culture. She also did well in her focus on William James, a thinker who will repay many rereadings and rethinkings. In her attacks on scientism, I think Robinson is broadly correct, but her considerations of specific authors and positions tends to be fuzzy and obscure.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Amelia Peabody Mystery Series
Elizabeth Peters
Mysterious Press
Kindle, $9.99

I had such a great time reading all the Aaron Elkins series of Gideon Oliver mysteries in order, I decided to tackle the Amelia Peabody series next. This twenty-volume mystery series follows Amelia, a self-proclaimed Victorian spinster through thirty-nine years of her life. An ardent feminist, at the ripe old age of thirty-two, she uses an inheritance to travel to Egypt and explore her passion, Egyptology. She is a fabulous, feisty, strong-willed woman who has multiple faults but is extremely intelligent and quick-witted. There, she meets Radcliffe Emerson, an archaeologist who features quite prominently these books as her adoring husband. Amelia, by her own admission, is not beautiful. She has wiry black hair, sallow skin, and is short and slightly plump, but Emerson sees her as truly beautiful in mind and body. They have a delightful attitude regarding sex; though everything occurs behind closed doors, it's clear the couple has an active and frequent sexual relationship and are the loves of each others' lives. Their son, Ramses, is an odd child who grows into an interesting adult blending his parents best and worst features.

Each book functions as a stand-alone; each mystery is self-contained, solved within the pages of the book. I found it fun to read them in chronological order and watch the characters develop over time. If you choose to read them chronologically, be aware that the publication order is not the same as the chronological order. You can find both lists here:

After The Ape Who Guards the Balance, the order shifts: The Ape Who Guards the Balance, A River in the Sky, The Falcon at the Portal, The Painted Queen, then the order returns to normal. A River in the Sky was the last book completed wholly by Elizabeth Peters. The Painted Queen was completed by Joan Hess after Elizabeth Peters' death and doesn't quite live up the rest of the series.

Where the Dead Sit Talking
Brandon Hobson
Soho Press
9781616958879, $25.00

Like Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse, Where the Dead Sit Talking is a complex story simply told. Hobson's prose isn't quite as elegant as that of Wagamese but close. Both are chronicles of children growing up in the worst possible conditions, but where Indian Horse is concerned with traumas endured in Canadian Indian residential schools, Where the Dead Sit Talking tells the story of Sequoyah, a fatherless fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy thrown into the Oklahoma foster care system when his mother goes to jail.

Though Sequoyah is, to some extent, cared for, he spends most of his time alone, friendless and depressed and unattached to people or his surroundings. Initially, he seems resilient, but as the story progresses, he is shown to have what many children in similar circumstances have: an affect so flat he doesn't react to much of anything, an inability to relate to others, to interpret his relationships with others, to recognize when he's placed himself in danger, or to control his impulses to harm others or himself. The foster family with whom Sequoyah is placed is better than some, and the parents seem to genuinely care for the children in their care. His is a story of persistence in the face of neglect, physical and emotional trauma, and a profound loss of hope.

Both books stand as indictments to both historical and current treatment of Native Americans and the resultant poverty, and prejudice. They are told in simple, spare language that heightens the trauma these young men endured. These books should be a must-read for high schools students across the nation - though certain states would be certain to ban them. Both should be required reading in the upper grades of high school, especially in light of the residential graves discovered in Canada and the migrant crisis at the southern border of the United States where children were torn from their parents. These novels deal with difficult topics but handle them beautifully. They would be great in a critical race theory classroom. History is selective when written by the "winners," but all sides of an issue should be taught and the plights of the "losers" shouldn't be ignored. American and Canadian treatments of Native Americans is genocide, no less than what Hitler did to Jews and other "undesirable" races. Like Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner and Wagamese's Indian Horse, Where the Dead Sit Talking will haunt me, and I'll think of it often in years to come.

The Gideon Oliver Skeleton Detective series
Aaron Elkins
Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller
Kindle only, $6.99

This is a review of the entire Gideon Oliver mystery series.

Fellowship of Fear is the first of an eighteen-book mystery series with forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver, Ph.D. as the protagonist. I started with Dead Men's Hearts (#8 in the series) and liked it enough I started collecting individual books as they came on sale, saving them until I could read the entire series in one fell swoop. The day came when I had almost the entire series, so I bought the last two and settled in for two weeks of reading. Roughly 250 pages each, they are quick reads; some days I could get through two.

Elkins is an anthropologist, and his knowledge of the human body is apparent. As a physician, I enjoyed the science and the anatomy of Gideon's forensic work with the police and FBI. He visits several foreign countries as well as some of the United States, and these locales seem accurately depicted to this world traveler. There is some romance, rather old-fashioned and staid, but Gideon is that kind of guy. He marries the woman in question and they remain happily married through the series.

Some books, of course, were better than others (I thought Dying on the Vine set in Tuscany, was probably the weakest), but overall, the series rates a solid four stars and are a predictably fast, interesting read with widely varied locales and plots.

While Justice Sleeps: A Thriller (Avery Keene Book 1)
Stacey Abrams
9780385546577, $28.00

Stacey Abrams, lawyer and Georgia Democratic political superstar, writes a tense legal thriller starring legal clerk Avery Keene that begs the question of what happens when the US Supreme Court is split, and Howard Wynn, the justice with the swing vote lies in a coma. He's designated his law clerk as his legal guardian and expects her to solve the mystery of what led to his circumstances. Avery faces powerfully ruthless political players intent on removing Wynn from the Supreme Court - even if it means turning off his life support. Some people are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal, including murder and threatening the lives of those closest to Avery.

Abrams uses her political and legal background to great effect here. This is an intelligent thriller that covers a broad range of topics: politics, genetic bioengineering, Supreme Court procedures, international biomedical company mergers, medical and military ethics, and a secret code based on chess moves.

Signs: A De-Extinct Zoo Mystery: (De-Extinct Zoo Mystery Series Book 2)
Carol Potenza
Tiny Mammoth Press
9798986769004, $6.99

Signs is the second in Carol Potenza's new De-Exinct Zoo Mystery Series and continues the story of veterinarian Milly Smith, who trained in Siberia and now works in Pleistocene BioPark, a zoo dedicated by resurrected extinct megafauna (giant short-faced bears, dire wolves, smilodons, mammoths, woolly rhinos) brought back by de-extinction geneticists. The current mystery deals with Gigantopithecus blacki, giant ape-like creatures intelligent enough to learn American Sign Language for the deaf. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the novel because I was at the University of Oklahoma when the chimpanzee, Lucy, was learning ASL from primatologist Roger Fouts. I also liked that the diet for these animals must become de-extinct as well before bringing the animals back to life.

Potenza is a biochemist, and her knowledge shines through in the mystery. Signs and Unmasked is akin to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park series in their blend of science and fiction. Potenza incorporates enough technical details to provide verisimilitude while not overpowering the reader with obscure details. It is a quick read, full of twists and turns and a moving forward of Milly's unrequited love for Luther.

Escape to Florence
Kat Devereaux
Harper Paperbacks
9780063321311, $18.99

Escape to Florence switches between the present and World War II in telling the story of two women. The first, Tori, is a British author living in the present day on an isolated English estate with a cold, hypercritical husband. The second is Stella, a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in a small town in Tuscany during World War II and works in the Resistance against the Nazis and Italian Fascists. She eventually escapes her abusive family (who adore Achille as much as they despise her) by running away with a young man, leaving no trace of her whereabouts. When Tori's grandmother dies, she leaves Tori enough money to escape the marriage. She flees to Florence, a city she learned to love while visiting there with her grandmother. Tori researches her grandmother's past and learns her grandmother was the lover of Achille Infuriati, a famous Formula One race car driver - and Stella's older brother. This romance is to become the basis of a book she's writing for a British publisher.

There isn't quite a balanced approach to both women. Escape to Florence starts with Tori, and her story weighs more heavily, in terms of word count, as she adjusts to living in Italy, going through a divorce, and finding a new lover. The Italian aspects ring true to me, having lived for sometime in Northern Italy. Though the story was interesting, the ending seemed a bit flat as too little is resolved: the book is never published, the divorce never comes through, and Tori's new romance is still too new to gel.

The Heiress Swap
Maddison Michaels
Entangled: Amara
9781649373960, $8.99

Poor little orphan Evie is taken in by her wealthy aunt and uncle. To show her appreciation, she's tried to be compliant and helpful, to the point of journeying to England to learn to be a secretary and work in her uncle's company. Her cousin Aimee convinces Evie to trade places, with Aimee learning to be the secretary so she can further understand her father's company and help him run it while Evie takes over Aimee's season in London. There, Evie encounters a duke who makes her bristle because he is convinced she's an American Dollar Princess, bringing her wealth to Britain to trade for a title. Evie is not an ordinary heroine, she doesn't really want to marry - she wants to become a paleontologist.

The Heiress Swap is retelling of the Prince and the Pauper, an enemies to lovers trope, secret identities, a forced fake engagement, topped by a murder conspiracy, all set at the turn of the twentieth century.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Woman from Lydia
Angela Hunt
Bethany House Publishers
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton Road, Ada, MI 49301
9780764241840, $29.99, HC, 384pp

Synopsis: "Woman from Lydia" by Angela Hunt is a finely crafted New Testament era novel about three Philippians whose lives were changed by the Apostle Paul -- a jailer, a formerly demon-possessed enslaved girl, and the woman referred to as Lydia, each of whom find their fates are intertwined. In the face of great sacrifice, will they find the strength to do all that justice demands of them?

Critique: With a special appeal to readers with an interest in Christian historical fiction featuring New Testament characters, "Woman from Lydia" is an exceptional and highly recommended pick for personal reading lists and community library Historical Fiction collections. It should be noted that "Woman from Lydia" is also available in a paperback edition (9780764241567, $17.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Angela Hunt ( is the author of more than 150 published books. Angela's novels have won or been nominated for the RWA RITA Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Christian Book Award, and the Holt Medallion. Four of her novels have received the ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award, and Angela is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Romantic Times Book Club and ACFW. Angela holds ThDs in Biblical Studies and Theology.

Book of Earth: A Guide to Ochre, Pigment, and Raw Color
Heidi Gustafson
Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
9781419764653, $35.00, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: Part anthropological study, part art book, and part how-to manual, with the publication of "Book of Earth: A Guide to Ochre, Pigment, and Raw Color", Heidi Gustafson introduces and then immerses her readers into the world of ochre, a naturally occurring mineral used to make pigment.

Each chapter delves into Heidi's personal and rare pigment archive of more than 600 pigments from around the planet, thereby providing a thorough exploration of natural color, while challenging our notions of the inanimate world. Of special note is that "Book of Earth" also includes practical advice and techniques for creating your own pigments and applying these skills in everyday life.

Critique: Beautifully, expertly, and informatively illustrated with full color illustrations throughout, "Book of Earth: A Guide to Ochre, Pigment, and Raw Color" features eight pages of Notes, a two page listing of Resources, a six page Bibliography. Comprehensive and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in commentary, organization and presentation, "Book of Earth" is a highly desirable addition to personal, professional, community, art school, college, and university library Crafts/Hobbies, Graphic Design/Color Use, and Art History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for art students, academia, artists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Book of Earth" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Heidi Gustafson ( is an artist and ochre specialist based in the rainy, volcanic North Cascades of rural northern Washington. She is called the "ochre whisperer" by American Craft, and is noted as the "woman archiving the world's ochre" by the New York Times.

Still Blue: New and Selected Poems and Retina Prints
Elizabeth Goldring
BkMk Press
University of Missouri-Kansas City
9781943491384, $34.95, PB, 184pp

Synopsis: "Still Blue: New and Selected Poems and Retina Prints" is a compendium of Elizabeth Goldring's best work and spans decades of her poetry and images. As a poet and visual artist who is legally blind, Goldring explores different ways of seeing -- through the concision of poetic syntax, through her innovative experiments with the scanning laser ophthalmoscope as an MIT researcher, and through poems that consider vision, its loss, disability more broadly, human mortality, natural beauty, and the poet's response to war.

Of special note are the stunning visual images of the human retina which offer bold statements of color, montage, and technological exploration.

Critique: Unique, thought-provoking, original, memorable -- the combination of free form verse with full color illustrations deftly combine to make "Still Blue: New and Selected Poems and Retina Prints" a welcome and highly prized addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary Poetry collections.

Editorial Note: Elizabeth Goldring Piene ) received her B.A. cum laude from Smith College and a master's degree from Harvard University. Although visually challenged, she continues to work as a poet, writer, media artist and inventor. At the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1975-2013), she held positions as research fellow, senior fellow, acting co-director, exhibits and projects director, and lecturer. While at MIT, she invented seeing machines and created a visual language, retina prints and video documentation addressing conditions of blindness. Goldring has authored five books of poetry and Centerbook: The Center for Advanced Visual Studies and the Evolution of Art, Science, Technology at MIT, a history of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, as well as several articles and exhibition catalogues. Her poems have appeared in several anthologies and journals including Asylum, Prairie Schooner and New Letters. She has given readings and performances in the United States and Europe. In 2006, she received "Best and Brightest" Awards from MIT Technology Review, Esquire, and Scientific American.

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son
Joe Benevento
Addison & Highsmith Publishers
c/o Histria Books
9781592112012, $29.99, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son", novelist Joe Benevento reimagines the Holy Family's story through the very human voice of Joseph.

Mary's announcement of her unwed divine pregnancy only begins his troubles. He now also has to navigate the unreasonable dictates of a disheveled, wise-cracking Angel Shlomo, and Mary's surprising insistence that she remain a "Blessed Ever Virgin", pushy in-laws, Roman contractors, Jesus's crazy cousin John, and the allure of the harlot Safiya.

Those are just a few of the challenges for an imperfect man assigned to become a role model for the son of God!

Critique: Original, fun, funny, and a masterfully crafted work of satire, "My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son" is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.49), this hard cover edition of author Joe Benevento's "My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Biblical/Historical Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Joe Benevento is the grandson of southern Italian immigrants and grew up in a working class neighborhood in Queens, the fifth of seven children. His particular interest in Saint Joseph traces back to his childhood and the importance attached to his "name day," March 19th, which featured an Italian-American parade in New York City and special "St. Joseph Day pastries" in all the Italian bakeries.

The One Truth
Jon Gordon
c/o Wiley Professional Trade Group
9781119757351, $27.00, HC, 176pp

Synopsis: "The One Truth: Elevate Your Mind, Unlock Your Power, Heal Your Soul", by Jon Gordon, seeks to guide its readers on a path to discover revolutionary insights, ancient truths and practical strategies to elevate their minds, unlock their powers and live their lives to the fullest.

"The One Truth" is that our state of mind, the thoughts we think, the words we say, the life we live, the power we have and everything we experience is ultimately influenced by oneness and separateness.

As we learn about the unseen forces that lower your state of mind, separate and weaken us and the hidden power that elevates our minds, unites and strengthens us, we will see life through a new lens, think with more clarity, confidence and act at higher level.

Once we know what Jon Gordon called the One Truth, we will see how it impacts leadership, teamwork, mindset, performance, relationships, addictions, social media, anxiety, mental health, healing and ultimately determines what we create and experience.

Critique: Exceptional in organized and presentation, "The One Truth: Elevate Your Mind, Unlock Your Power, Heal Your Soul" is insightful, challenging, thoughtful, thought-provoking, motivational, and ultimately inspiring. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.00), "The One Truth: Elevate Your Mind, Unlock Your Power, Heal Your Soul" is a valued and recommended addition to professional, community, corporate, college, and university library Business Management/Leadership collections and supplemental MBA curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Jon Gordon ( has inspired millions of readers around the world and has worked with many of the best leaders, organizations and teams on the planet.

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