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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 12 December 2019 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf Andy Jordan's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
BlueInk Review BookViral Book Reviews Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Cristina Deptula's Bookshelf Daniel Brown's Bookshelf Daniel Casey's Bookshelf
David Adams' Bookshelf Ed Buckner's Bookshelf Elizabeth DiCesare's Bookshelf
Heidi Robbins' Bookshelf Helen Cook's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
James Sale's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf John Darcy's Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Kim Fields' Bookshelf Kirk Bane's Bookshelf
Kirkus Reviews Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf
Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Molly Martin's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Smeetha Bhoumik's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Tanja Laden's Bookshelf Valentina Thörner's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf

Quill of the Dove
Ian Thomas Shaw
9781771833783, $24.95, Paperback, 304 pages

After the publication of his first novel, entitled, Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls, Ian Thomas Shaw delves deep into the nature of war with a second novel that is as literary as it is political. Set in both 2007 and during the Lebanese Civil War, the main protagonist is Marc Taragon, a French journalist yearning to inform his readers about the warfare within that region. Because of his passion for writing and for current events, he agrees to have an interview with a young Canadian journalist named Marie Boivin. However, Taragon does not initially know that Marie really wants to learn about the secrets within her own childhood. Shaw writes with dexterity and skill to create a compelling historical fiction drama set against the backdrop of war.

This brilliant novel delves deep into the theme of illusion versus reality while also suggesting that reading printed text could bring about a sense of "virtual reality." The phrase itself might be more associated with computers, but reality could be virtual based on sensory and perception through the sense of sight. Particularly, Taragon is at the height of his career, but is unaware of how Marie wishes to learn more about herself. Marie Boivin even arranges for the interview simply because she lacks knowledge about her past. Therefore, one of the keys to dealing with reality is to accept facts of life even though there is a finite amount of knowledge that people in the real world could acquire with only their five senses. Reality itself is oftentimes very subjective as well, which is why secrets and lies are universal aspects of life itself.

Not only are the characters well-developed, but the title of this novel is very symbolic. The quill, by definition, is a feather from a bird used to write with (made famous by the renowned British novelist Jane Austen). The dove has been widely recognized as a bird that represents peace. Therefore, the title of this novel suggests that peace could exist if people had the willingness to express themselves through writing in order to gain mutual understanding. Warfare itself can be very chaotic, and the title suggests that writing about war (particularly through journalism) can abolish warfare, and bring about peace (just like a beautifully white dove).

This might have been Ian Thomas Shaw's second novel, but he has already established himself as one of the greatest writers in contemporary fiction. The studio called Original Pictures might adapt Quill of the Dove into a limited TV series. The novel itself features a fantastic duo between Marc Taragon and Marie Boivin as they both seek to uncover the truths of the war, Marie's childhood, and most importantly, who they are as people. Reality might not always be real, but such a paradox is actually universal fact given the subjective nature of reality itself. Virtual reality might not be what it seems visually, but it is clear that Quill of the Dove will hopefully inspire peace, love and tranquility for those willing to read this novel with their own eyes.

Alex Andy Phuong

Andy Jordan's Bookshelf

Quarter To Midnight
Ned Oaks
Linford Western Library
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print (USA), Inc.
PO Box 1230, West Seneca, NY 14224-1230
9781444841763, $20.99, PB, Large Print, 232pp,

Brutally attacked one night in the woods and then, hands tied, thrown into the river to drown, Steve Karner hadn't been seen in years, and everyone in the Oregon town of Stayton thought him dead. Then the five men who tried to kill him start dying, one by one; and it soon becomes apparent that Karner is not only alive, but riding a vengeance trail. But there are many questions to be answered and dangers to be faced along the way, including a cunning young millionaire who will use all his family's power to protect his secrets, and a cold-blooded hired killer out for Karner's blood. Western author Ned Oaks is a master of the vengeance quest action/adventure novel. This large print edition of his deftly crafted masterpiece, "Quarter To Midnight" is a simply riveting read that is unreservedly and especially recommended for the personal lists of dedicated western novel fans, as well as community library Western Fiction collections.

Andy Jordan

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Norse Mythology
Neil Gaiman
9781526619211, A$21.99, paperback, 282 pages

Before the beginning there was nothing - no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.

But even before this beginning, which opens the first chapter of Neil Gaiman's re-telling of the Norse myths, he has introduced the three most important characters: Odin ('the all-father'), Thor ('the thunderer'), and the trickster, Loki. And already he is a beguiling story-teller, quickly revealing their strengths and weaknesses but also offering asides like that in which he describes Loki's mother, Laufey, as being "known as Nal, or needle, because she was slim and beautiful and sharp". No wonder, then, that "Loki is more cunning, subtler, trickier than any god or giant. Not even Odin is as cunning as Loki" (which throws a new light on Odin as well).

Gaiman's chapters are short and compact and easy reading. Having described what happened 'Before the Beginning and After', he then tells us about the creation of 'Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds'.

As the mist world and the fire world meet, a creature named Ymir is formed. So, too, is the giant cow, Audhumla, who licks Buri, the ancestor of the gods, from the ice. Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve are born, and when Odin kills Ymir our own world is created from his bones, blood, teeth, eyelashes and brain:

Look up at the sky: you are looking at the inside of Ymir's skull.... And the clouds you see by day? Those were once Ymir's brains, and who knows what they are thinking even now".

Odin, Vili and Ve create our first ancestors, Ash and Embla from the wood of the Ash and the Elm. And as the worlds are made ready for the gods and their enemies and allies we learn of Yggdrasil, the mighty tree which links the nine worlds together. So much happens in this chapter, and there are so many unfamiliar names that it is, perhaps, the most difficult to remember. But for the rest of the book each chapter is filled with action, drama, excitement and terrors, as Gaiman brings the gods, the giants, the elves and all the other inhabitants of these nine worlds to life.

There are battles, bloodshed, magic, trickery, feats of bravery, endurance, betrayal and love - all the things which have kept these stories alive since they were first told in the lands of the Vikings. Gaiman has woven together the prose and poetic Norse Eddas and has brought his own great story-telling gifts to the re-telling.

He seems to have known Odin and Thor and Loki personally and he is willing to tell us their secrets. He casually lets us know, for example, that before the mighty Thor acquired his indestructible, ever-accurate, boomeranging hammer, Mjollnir, he had "broken a great many weapons over the years, normally by hitting things with them" and that "he had lost a number of otherwise excellent weapons by throwing them at things which irritated him and missing".

We hear, too, that Loki's children, the dangerous, giant wolf Fenrir, the disfigured daughter, Hel, and the Midgard Serpent, were the result of an adulterous liaison with the frost giantess, Angrboda, and that Loki's loyal wife, Sigyn, "who had been happy and beautiful when Loki courted and married her" now "always looked like she was expecting bad news".

Loki, of course, is a likeable villain. He is handsome, plausible and convincing. He shape-shifts, "drinks too much" and "makes the world more interesting but less safe". He is scary, understandable, and often funny.

Thor, too, has a dark sense of humour. Thor knows that it is Loki who, overnight, has stolen his wife's beautiful golden hair, because "when something goes wrong the first thing I think of is, it is Loki's fault. It saves a lot of time". He shatters Loki's front door and storms into Loki's house, holds Loki above his head, extracts a confession, and threatens him:

"She won't go through life bald", said Thor. "Because, Loki Laufey's son, if you do not put her hair back right now, I am going to break every single bone in your body. Each and every one of them. And if her hair does not grow properly, I will come back and break every bone in your body again. And again. If I do it every day, I'll soon get really good at it", he carried on, sounding slightly more cheerful.

"No!" said Loki. "I can't put her hair back. It doesn't work like that."

"Today", mused Thor, "It will probably take me about an hour to break every bone in your body. But I bet that with practice I could get it down to about fifteen minutes. It will be interesting to find out."

Gaiman makes all the well-known stories full of new interest and he tells others which are not so well-know. My favourite is the story of the way the poets' mead is made, stolen by the giant, Suttung, and re-stolen by Odin after a shape-shifting chase. The twist at the end, which beautifully characterises the world's worst poets, suggests that Gaiman is enjoying himself immensely.

Gaiman's final chapter 'Ragnarok The Final Destiny of the Gods', is compelling and exciting. "That is the end", he writes. "But there is also what will come after the end". And in the final lines of his story he provides an imaginative, moving and very satisfying conclusion to his story-telling.

Washington Black
Esi Edugyan
Profile Books
9781846689604, A$22.99, paperback, 417 pages

"My first master named me, as he named all of us. I was christened George Washington Black - Wash, as I came to be known. With great ridicule, he'd said he glimpsed in me the birth of a nation and a warrior-president and a land of sweetness and freedom. All this was before my face was burnt, of course. Before I sailed in a vessel into the night skies, fleeing Barbados, before I knew what it meant to be stalked for the bounty on one's scalp".

George Washington Black, who is the narrator of this story, was an eleven-year-old black slave on the Faith Plantation in Barbados when he was chosen by the plantation owner's visiting brother, Christopher, as ballast for his 'Cloud-cutter' air-balloon.

Christopher Black (known as 'Tich') is an abolitionist who abhors his brother's violent treatment of slaves. Whilst visiting Barbados, he plans to continue the air-ship experiments which his eccentric father had begun. As he tells his wealthy, arrogant and dismissive brother:

"I have tried animal bladders and silk stockings. Paper sacks. Even some of the more preposterous ones, to see if some merit was missed from them. But they were all abandoned quite rightfully, Erasmus. I think nothing works so well as hydrogen, and canvas".

So he begs the services of Wash, whose weight appears to be exactly right for his purposes, and Wash helps him to build the strange gondola-shaped vessel which will hang below the hydrogen balloon. When news reaches the plantation that Erasmus's and Tich's father has died, however, Erasmus decides to hand over the running of the plantation to Tich. This is the last thing Tich wants to do. At the same time, the unexpected suicide of a disturbed cousin who is also visiting the plantation threatens to implicate Wash. So, Tich escapes from the island in his Cloud-cutter, taking Wash with him.

Tich's balloon, with its strange gondola hanging below it, is pictured on the cover of the book in an image which is very like the iconic image associated with Jules Verne's Round the World in Eighty Days. And in many ways Wash's adventures are like those in Verne's famous novel, except that Wash is now advertised as a "Murderous" runaway slave and a £100 reward is offered for his capture and return, "Dead or Alive".

Wash's travels, initially with Tich, who treats him well and promises him his freedom when his own travels are done, take him around the world, from Barbados to "stinking" Norfolk Virginia, then to Hudson Bay and an outlying trading post where they live in an igloo amongst Esquimau people and where Tich abandons him, then to Nova Scotia, the Maritime Islands, Holland, and ultimately to (limited) success in London. His many adventures and experiences often reflect the difficulties of being a black run-away in a world dominated by white Victorian morality, prejudices and culture. He struggles to understand what freedom means to him, when there is still a price on his head and widespread prejudice against his colour. He also yearns to know why Tich abandoned him and if, after walking out alone into the icy waste, he is still alive. But Wash is a survivor and an optimist.

Wash's innate talent as an artist leads him to employment and, also, to his future wife, Tanna. Later, his employment by an eminent marine biologist leads him to invent tanks to preserve exotic marine specimens and this, ultimately, involves him with the Zoological Committee in London and participation in a grand exhibition there. But he does not believe that Tich is dead, and his urge to find him is obsessive, especially after he hears from the slave-hunter, John Frances Willard, who catches up with him but does not manage to capture him, that Tich is, indeed, alive.

As Wash grows up, there is much in his story which is incredible and which he himself puts down to the "ring of luck around my neck" which he had been told he was born with, although, he notes, "luck is its own kind of manacle". Wash's voice is strong, his story-telling skills superb and his memory of conversations and events brings to life the many people he has met throughout his life and the strange places and situations in which he has found himself. He remembers Big Kit, the slave woman who first reared and protected him, and the horrors of life on the plantation. He remembers all that happened with Tich; and his own friendship with Medwin, in whose rooming house he once lived. Geoff and his daughter Tanna, he writes of with love. All are strongly present in the book, as are his own thoughts and emotions.

Washington Black was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2018. Esi Edugyan, its author, has said it was the voice of its narrator that interested her, and the complicated position he found himself in, racially, socially, intellectually. Out of that grew a story about a boy of sensitivity and intelligence, seeking his foothold in a world where there can be no real belonging for him. In creating Wash and his story, Edugyan has not only written a very enjoyable adventure story but, through him, she has explored some of the complexities of freedom and identity.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light
Petina Gappah
Faber & Faber
9780571345335, A$29.99, paperback, 302 pages

"(Being a Faithful Account of the Final Years and Earthly Days of Doctor David Livingstone and His Last Journey from the Interior to the Coast of Africa, as Narrated by His African Companions, in Three Volumes)"

This sounds like the voice of Jacob Wainwright, who was one of seven former slaves employed by Livingstone on his expedition to find the source of the Nile. These young men had been rescued from slavers by British Gunboats, and educated in a missionary school in Nassik in India, before being returned to their homeland. Jacob, as we get to know him through his (fictional) journal, is earnest, proud, ambitious and exceedingly godly. His journal entries are written in the style of an 18th century novel like Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, and they are laced with praise to "The God of Israel and the God of Moses" and with Jacob's own religious ambitions. Jacob, however, has his weaknesses and, as he inadvertently reveals in his account, he is especially fallible when Ntaoeka (who is described by our other narrator, Halima, as "a beautiful trouble-maker") seems to favour him.

First, however, we meet Halima, who was, in fact, David Livingstone's female African cook. She is talkative, sociable, opinionated, acute in her opinions of others, and often very funny. In re-creating Halima, Petina Gappah has relied for facts on Livingstone's diaries and on other contemporary accounts of the expedition. She begins her early chapters with extracts from these documents, but she has used her imagination to bring all her characters to life.

Halima's voice is quite different to that of Jacob Wainwright. She laughs, sings, gossips, loves to speculate on the motives of others, and enjoys the company of Susi, one of the senior porters, although she knows that this stirs the jealousy of her husband, Amoda, and of Susi's "roadwoman", Misosi. She voices her opinions boldly and can be sharp-tongued with anyone, including Livingstone. When he is not writing but wants to chat to her about trivial things she gets impatient:

"'There is a lot of work,' I said, 'and I cannot stand here chatting, so if you don't mind, could you move off to bother someone else'."

But Halima is intelligent and it is she who persuades the group to carry Livingstone's body back to the coast.

She begins with the facts:

"This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land. For more than one thousand and five hundred miles, from the interior to the western [sic] coast, we marched with his body.... two hundred and eighty-five days after we left Chitambo, we reached Bagamoyo, that place of sorrow, whose very name means to lay to rest the burden of your heart."

Halima tells us much about Livingstone, his habits and his foibles, his interaction with the tribal chiefs through whose territories they pass, and the way in which he treats those who accompany him and conducts his expedition. She tells us of her own former life as proud daughter of the favoured slave/cook of the of Liwali (Sultan) of Zanzibar; how she was passed on to a Muslim judge; then sold to an Arab merchant; then bought by Livingstone as a wife for Amoda and promised her freedom when the expedition ended. She tells us a great deal, too, about the background and the behavior of other members of the expedition.

Jacob Wainwright, who discusses "the Unnecessary Presence of Women in Expeditions", naturally has a poor opinion of Halima. Astonished to hear that Doctor had purchased her as a wife for Amoda, he writes that she is

"a particularly troublesome woman, given to much levity and unable, apparently, to think seriously on any matter. Her propensity for causing quarrels among the women is great. The Apostle James may have written about her when he said: even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!".

Between them, Jacob and Halima describe a remarkable expedition, a remarkable journey across Africa, unfriendly tribes, deceit, magic, warfare, deaths, and a world where slavery, although abolished in England, was still a very real part of African lives.

Through her narrators, Petina Gappah has given a voice to the lively group of Africans who were essential to David Livingstone's last expedition, and who cared enough for him to make sure that his bones and his diaries and documents were saved and returned to his own country. She shows, too, how slavery was still endemic in Africa at this time; how terrifying it was for the expedition members to see evidence of the way some notorious slave-trading tribal chiefs captured and mistreated men, women and children; and how even fervent abolitionists like David Livingstone still benefited from slavery. Her skill has made this story enjoyable, interesting and thought-provoking.

To give the last word to Halima:

"On the long and perilous journey to bring him home, ten of our party lost their lives. There were no stones to mark the places where they rest, no epitaphs to announce their deaths. And when we who remain follow where they led, no pilgrims will come to show their children where we lie. But out of that great and troubling darkness, came shining light. Our sacrifice burnished the glory of his life".

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

BlueInk Review

Message in a Shell
Ghazi Kaddouh
9781483493336, $30.56 (hardcover), 272pp
9781483493312, $16.11 (softcover)
9781483493329, $8.99 (Kindle),

Ghazi Kaddouh lived in Lebanon and experienced the period of chaos and lawlessness that he writes about in Message in a Shell.

The novel - part crime story, part spy thriller, with a liberal dose of romance - revolves around Sami Badroni, a Shia Muslim trying to avoid the socio-political and religious cross-currents ripping apart the Middle East in the 1980s. Instead, he takes advantage of the opportunities available and is an up-and-coming drug smuggler.

He and his friends live a somewhat carefree life, despite the occasional sniper attacks, random shelling and air strikes that have decimated much of Lebanon. Competing forces fight in the country: Lebanese, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and French. The three great religions drive the strikes: Muslims, Jews and Christians. The novel follows Sami's journey through this minefield of allegiances and doublecrosses, where the authorities can be bought and your allies might become your enemies. Sami is framed for the murder of Israeli spies in London, and when Mossad isn't trying to kill him, treacherous gangsters are after him.

Kaddouh describes the daily lives of the Lebanese in sharp detail: "The streets were jammed with cars filled with people attempting to escape the slaughter. [Planes flew above], their robotic pilots pressing buttons to send their gifts of death to the masses below. Not a single one of those God-fearing aviators glimpsed the faces of the people they were murdering. So what if five hundred Lebanese and Palestinian people burned in one single day?"

Because Kaddouh knows the setting first-hand, his crisp prose authentically captures the era. His dialogue is natural, whether involving friendly banter or terse exchanges between adversaries, and the plot moves briskly. While the romantic relationships often seem artificial and underdeveloped, the emotional gaps are easily overlooked.

Although written from a Lebanese perspective, Message in a Shell isn't particularly political. As it chronicles the brutality and corruption of war, it offers a view of the Middle East most readers haven't seen and should find interesting.

Also available in paperback.

BlueInk Review

BookViral Book Reviews

Bailing Out the Company Canoe: Become a Better Boss
R.H. Franck
Independently Published
9781730822957, $17.99 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 240pp,

Browse the bookshelves and you will find a plethora of books on the subject of business improvement. Unfortunately, the quality and content of many fall far short of their promises and it's often difficult to find those that add any real value, but Bailing Out the Company Canoe: Become a Better Boss is one that quickly establishes its credentials. Different in that it looks at companies in crisis from the perspective of employees at all levels what we get are reflections that are powerful, poignant and above all authentic. These including the failings of author R. H. Franck whose candid thoughts on business analysis and senior management creates a practical blueprint for creating business improvement frameworks that achieve superior results and a roadmap for personal development.

Chapter 14: Who is The Fairest of Them All? The Narcissistic Paradox and Chapter 18: How to Create a Corporate Monster are particularly powerful whilst Chapter 23: Lights-Out, Life Lessons reminds us we have read a book that has taken us beyond academic rhetoric to the real world with tried and tested strategies for improving business performance and achieving higher levels of personal satisfaction through our deliverables.

Particularly recommended for entrepreneurial senior managers who want to ensure highly motivated and engaged employees. Bailing Out the Company Canoe: Become a Better Boss not only provides ideas on how to make organizations better but also delivers a level of practicality that sets it apart from the majority of other books on the subject. It is recommended without reservation. Book Reviews

SUMMARY: A management book full of specific tactics and countless bullet points to help bosses and managers excel.

BookViral Book Reviews

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Hunting the Caliphate
Dana J. H. Pittard & West J. Bryant
Post Hill Press
9781642930559, $27.00, HC, 352pp,

Synopsis: Presented in a vivid first-person narrative by a Special Operations Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) and his commanding general, "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell" provides fascinating and detailed accounts of America's fight against ISIS -- one of the most barbaric insurgencies the world has ever seen.

In the summer of 2014, three years after America's full troop withdrawal from the Iraq War, President Barack Obama authorized a small task force to push back into Baghdad. Their mission: Protect the Iraqi capital and U.S. embassy from a rapidly emerging terrorist threat.

A plague of brutality, that would come to be known as ISIS, had created a foothold in northwest Iraq and northeast Syria. It had declared itself a Caliphate (an independent nation-state administered by an extreme and cruel form of Islamic law) and was spreading like a newly evolved virus. Soon, a massive and devastating U.S. military response had unfolded.

"Hunting the Caliphate" presents the ground truth on the senior military and political interactions that shaped America's war against ISIS, a war unprecedented in both its methodology and its application of modern military technology. Readers will learn about the world of the Strike Cell, secretive operations centers where America's greatest enemies are hunted and killed day and night, as well as the realm of the Special Operations JTAC, American warfighters with the highest enemy kill counts on the battlefield.

Critique: Featuring an informative Foreword by General David Petraeus, "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell" showcases the American military's effective response to the terrorist threat that was (and continues to be) the Islamic organization called ISIS. While unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, military history buffs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Dana J. H. Pittard retired from the U.S. Army in 2015 at the rank of Major General after 34 years of active duty service. He was a highly decorated combat leader and commanded units at every echelon from platoon to division, including multiple combat tours in Iraq and the Middle East. In 2014, he was picked to lead the initial U.S. response to halt the aggressive spread of ISIS in Iraq.

Wes Bryant is a former Special Operations Forces Tactical Air Control Party - Joint Terminal Attack Controller (SOF TACP - JTAC), a member of the elite ground combat forces of the U.S. Air Force who serve as combat airpower specialists for America's special operations units. In 2014, as the senior enlisted JTAC to establish the Baghdad Strike Cell, he coordinated and controlled some of the first airstrikes of America's war on ISIS. Later, he was the senior airpower expert for special operations task forces hunting ISIS throughout Syria and Afghanistan until his retirement in 2018.

Adam Ford
The Countryman Press
c/o W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9781581572964, $24.95, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: Previously fallen from grace, vermouth is once again emerging as the next big thing in spirits. That's because without vermouth, to a true connoisseur, a martini is merely an iced vodka or gin. Now, once again, vermouth is being touted as the hottest trend in spirits. It is showing up in copious amounts on the best cocktail menus in the best cocktail lounges around the country. Vermouth has a rich history, deeply intertwined with that of America, and in the illustrated pages of "Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America's Cocktail Culture", martini expert Adam Ford offers the first-ever detailed look into the background of this aromatized, fortified wine, as well as vermouth's rise, fall, and comeback in America.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively informative read from cover to cover, "Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America's Cocktail Culture" is a unique and certain to be highly prized addition to personal, community, and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America's Cocktail Culture" is also available in a paperback edition (9781682684870, $19.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Adam Ford is widely recognized as America's leading expert in vermouth production and history. A lawyer by training, since founding Atsby New York Vermouth in September 2012, he has established himself as a leading voice in the education and promotion of the vermouth category and in New York spirits. Atsby Vermouth has enjoyed a meteoric rise and is now frequently found in cocktail menus in America's top cocktail bars. He has been quoted in leading publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Edible Manhattan.

Carl Logan

Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf

Wilderness House Literary Review Fall 2019

Scarlet Leaf Review 9-5-19

Carol Smallwood Interviews Michael Foldes, Founder, Editor-in-Chief of Ragazine

The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment appears every two months with such sections as: Literary; Art, Photography; and, columns including Politics, World, Education, Resources. Well-illustrated, the free on-line popular zine has a search option to quickly locate and welcomes submissions from artists, photographers, and a wide variety of writers.

Smallwood: You graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor's in anthropology and also attended other institutions. You've been a newspaper columnist, copy editor, and an electronics businessman. Please tell readers about your service with the Campaign for an Informed Citizenry:

First of all, Carol, thanks very much for asking me to do this interview with you. I'm most pleased you've taken an interest in what we're doing and how we do it.

The CIC is an organization founded by Dr. James Palombo to promote political and social awareness, not just to push personal issues. Jim and I became acquainted several years ago when an article appeared in the local paper about "a new zine in town," and Jim called to ask if I wanted to meet for coffee or a drink.

We have similar positions on social and political issues, and later on, when he asked if I'd be interested in working with him to help promote the group, it seemed logical to sign on.

As the political editor of Ragazine, Jim is a regular contributor. His books and columns in Ragazine explore issues concerning political, legal, and social conditions in the United States and elsewhere, which pretty much reflects the core sentiments of CIC: free and open dialog to encourage citizens to educate themselves and others to make informed decisions that will affect the future in the most positive ways possible.

Smallwood: You reside in the state of New York; how did Ragazine get its name, and how/when did you establish it? What was the most challenging part?

I was still living in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1970s when a group of friends started an alternative tabloid, arts-oriented magazine called Ragazine, to which I contributed. Later, I moved to New York City to work for High Times, and while Ragazine continued for some time in Columbus, it eventually dissolved.

My wife Margot and I were living in Tribeca and had made a number of friends and acquaintances who were artists, writers and photographers. It seemed like a good idea to start an alternative zine that would promote their work, and hopefully fill a need that was not being met by Soho Weekly, the village Voice and other alternative zines.

I had left High Times and gone to work with a construction crew renovating lofts and apartments in the City and tried my hand at publishing another alternative variously called Extra Extra and Monitor East. The idea was to give each issue a different cover name. I've never been very good at fund-raising, and couldn't afford to independently pay for printing, typesetting, and the other expenses that go along with print publishing. I think we made three issues when it went under.

A couple of years on, I changed occupations, moved upstate and went into the electronics business. The desire to publish never left. And, in 2004, with the Internet just coming into its own, I decided to resurrect Ragazine, which was - and is - something I could do in my spare time that other people use to play golf, fix up old cars, fish or go boating. The real key was, online publishing is relatively low overhead compared with print publishing.

Fortunately, I still had contacts with a number of creative friends who were - and are - willing to share their work. We've never had a cash flow to pay contributors, or the people who have worked to bring Ragazine online. We have had some donations over the years, but selling "space" has never been a big part of our effort. Just getting the work out to a larger audience has been the reward. The zine is free online, neither contributors nor staff get paid - all our income goes to covering overhead, such as our hosting site, contact distribution program and our free online daily published through

Smallwood: Your poetry has appeared in Mobius: The Poetry Magazine; Paterson Literary Review, Rosebud, and other journals. When did you begin writing--and in what genre?

I began writing as a child. I had written a poem and showed it to one of my parents' friends, who when she read it had tears in her eyes. I didn't understand why at the time, but I did realize then that thoughts and words had power, and I've been writing one thing or another ever since. While in Ohio, after college, I published a series of poetry chapbooks, one with tipped-in prints in a special edition. I guess I've always had it in me to publish cooperative ventures - perhaps to camouflage my own work, which I've declined so far to self-publish in collections. I love the power of word and image combined, and I think that's what's helped make stand out among online publications today.

Smallwood: Please tell a bit about Fashions and Passions (Me and Utopia): How did you become involved in translations?

I came across the series by Christopher Panzner, whose Fashions and Passions is a collection of altered images based on generally well-known historical works. Chris is an American artist living in Paris. I was inspired enough by one of the images to write a poem about it, and sent it to Chris.... Soon I was writing poems for all of the series, and to my surprise, he took the poems, combined them with the images, and made a series of it. There was no translating involved. All the poems were written in English by me to go along with the specific image to which they're attached in the series.

I have had poems translated into Hungarian (by Paul Sohar, also a Ragazine contributor), Spanish, French and Slovenian.

Smallwood: What columns seem the most popular with readers?

Steve Poleskie's column, Then and Now, deals with a variety of topics of contemporary and historical interest. Steve is an artist and retired Cornell professor with wide experience in the New York City art scene. He started Chiron Press, which published fine art screen prints by a number of well-known artists in the '70s and '80s.

I would add that all the columns have - or have had - their own followings. Galanty Miller's Re-Tweets, Fred Roberts' music columns, Jim's political essays, Mark Levy's columns with free legal advice for "starving artists", Barbara Rosenthal's articles sharing her experiences as a working artist, Fabia Wong, a Canadian who writes from France, and so on. A full list of contributing columnists and editors appears in About Us, with short explanations of what each is about. We've also been fortunate to have columns by Henry Giroux, who has kindly allowed us to reprint them from their appearance in TruthOut.

Smallwood: What countries are represented by contributors and readers?

We have had contributions from Slovenia, Hungary, England, France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Africa, and more. Our readership is global, and we espouse that the arts are a unifying ideal through which people can share in a variety of ways to gain better understanding of themselves and of one another.

Smallwood: Many magazines charge contributors fees or have ads but Ragazine does not. How does it manage?

Good question. Most of the expenses in an ongoing basis are covered by yours truly, but we do have some contributors whose names are listed on our "donors and contributors" page. Some people contribute a few times a year, and occasionally we get a large individual contribution, such as one that allowed us to incorporate, and others that seem to come in just as we think we'll never be able to pay one of our service vendors.

As I mentioned above, we've never been able to generate the cash flow needed to pay contributors - or staff - who certainly deserve whatever we would be able to pay them. It takes a very large amount of time to get out each issue, and doing it any more often than every two months with a minimal staff is out of the question without a living wage for doing it.... I don't apply for grants, as it seems to be a crap shoot who "wins" them, and I don't have the time for that...or for selling ad pages, for that matter. Occasionally we'll find a gallerist willing to kick in something, gratis for an article or just because, but that's rare. Recently I succumbed to accept a paid editorial, something I said I'd never was tough decision and just covered a six-month fee from one of our vendors to ensure we stay on line for the next few months...another "just in time."

We've always hoped that enough people would get exposure, and that enough others would appreciate what they do, to keep the circulation growing. In today's world, hope is not the answer. There's just too much competition, and while you may have the reputation as offering something different or special, if you can't make people aware you're alive, you'll be trampled.

Fortunately, the work keeps coming, and people keep reading. That's what it was about in the beginning, and it really hasn't changed.

Smallwood: Writers and readers have much to thank you for! Do you have any changes planned or a wish list for Ragazine?

Ragazine has a limited lifetime ahead. We will have one more open issue, September-October Volume 15 Number 5, and then a regional issue Volume 15 Number 6, comprised of the work of local/regional talent, and regular columns. After that, it appears we'll be closing shop. We plan to discontinue publishing in January for the foreseeable future. Word is out that Chuck Haupt, our art director, and I, will be stepping away and are looking for people to step in to take it over, but no one's come forward, yet.

Chuck and I worked at the Binghamton Press together in the early '80s, where he was as staff photographer and I was on the news desk and writing columns. He has been extremely helpful putting the zine out since coming aboard several years ago. Chuck is a Red Cross volunteer and recently accepted an expanded role there leaving him little time for Ragazine. If you know anyone.... It's been a good run, 15 years without missing an issue. You can go back and visit some of the early work at

As for a wish list? A lottery jackpot might do the trick. We'd be back in the blink of an eye.

Carol Smallwood

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Rio A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life
Joni darc Shepherd
Sojourn Publishing LLC
9781641841740, $39.99, Hardcover, $18.95, paperback, 295 Pages
B07WHCDWDL, $3.99 Kindle

The health and well-being of family and pets are central to this book, which addresses issues through stories of loved ones. Health care, naturalistic health, hospice, and caring for loved ones who are suffering are all discussed through real-life examples. This novel is nonfiction, true, and powerful. A quote at the beginning of one chapter says:

"Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them." Leo Tolstoy

This quote applies throughout the entire book as the author reveals her attachment to family and pets. She feels profound loss when her sister (misdiagnosed for years) passes away. She is able to get some healthier food for her mother in a nursing home by making a presentation to the staff and then making the food herself. Everyone is surprised when her mother improves.

The author has several dogs prior to Rio, but he is the one who helps keep the author going by becoming a show dog. She is able to get Rio on the condition she enters it in shows. She and the dog both live for the learning and involvement of the experiences.

The book surprised me as I thought, "Oh, a dog story." That was at first until I was finding many human truths revealed through the chapters as she advocates for more humane care for living things.

Unfinished Business: Pursuit of an Antarctic Killer
Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen
9781452061788, $25.99, Hardcover, $7.99, Kindle, $17.46 or 1 credit, Audiobook, 252 pages

Unfinished Business: Pursuit of an Antarctic Killer is Book 2 of the Antarctic Murders Trilogy. Captain Munoz has eluded police regarding a bank robbery that involved stolen millions. He hopes to keep his promotion and maintain innocence in the eyes of Naval investigators. He manages to escape many close calls. Even someone who knows him well cannot find evidence linking him to the robbery.

A well-written and suspenseful mystery to be solved by Captain Valderas and Lieutenant Commander Del Rio of the Chilean Navy's Office of Internal Affairs. They are searching for a vicious thief and murderer. The money and items of value seem to have disappeared. While they ponder that, the author shares significant information about Antarctica . . . things the author should know having lived there during the austral summer of 1961-62. The Cohen Islands are named for him.

Fictionalized (but basically true) events inform the reader as well as providing an entertaining and engaging read. In this book, we learn about someone who seemed to be a hero in Book 1 but who, in reality, was working both on sides of the law. This book stands alone but is more enjoyable with the background knowledge and stories found in the first book because of events resulting from the Chilean Earthquake of 1960. You will not be disappointed in starting from the beginning of this tale!

A tip for the frugal and avid reader: buy the entire trilogy on Kindle at a low price: purchase Cold Blood... the Antarctic Murders Trilogy as a single volume.

An Ambition to Belong (Leaving Home Trilogy Book 2)
James Sniechowski, Author
JayEss Publishing; 1 edition
9780991317226, $15.95, Hardcover, $3.99, Kindle, $12.84, Audiobook, 232 pages

Am Ambition to Belong by James Sniechowski is the second of the Leaving Home Trilogy. Jim is a 13-year-old first-generation Polish Catholic boy in Detroit during the 1950s and feels tugged between his traditional family and high school. His working-class family believes sending him to the upper-class private University of Detroit High School will help their son excel. They do not realize his factory-style shoes and clothing do not impress the other students and make him somewhat of an outcast.

Jim turns to a neighborhood street gang in an attempt to belong. His involvement is very limited, but the experience helps him grow up. The "ma" of the group (the owner of a cafe where they hang out) sees potential in Jim and counsels him. When one gang member gets cancer, Jim is the only other member to pay a visit by pretending to be a cousin to get past the nurses' station. It is important for Jim to help and ends up leaving his father's valuable book with the boy. His father doesn't find out, but why that happens is a sad story.

Jim learns about prejudice and hate when he finds a girl attractive and ends up fighting and injuring her boyfriend who just happens to be on the football team. The Jesuit priests and police become involved. Jim's running commentary throughout the book is what makes this book so memorable and poignant. Book one (Worship of Hollow Gods) took me back to the 1950s. Book two took me back to the 1960s. They describe the years and life at those times so well. I'm waiting for book three!

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Curriculum Writer and Author, Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The War for America's Soul
Sebastian Gorka
Regnery Publishing, Inc.
300 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001
9781621579403 $28.99 hc / $12.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Our country is at war with itself.

On one side are American patriots, dedicated to freedom under the Constitution; on the other side are leftists campaigning not just to win elections, but to radically transform the nation. In this political war for the soul of our country, America's patriots need a strategist with a blueprint for victory.

Luckily, we have such a man in Dr. Sebastian Gorka - a former strategist for President Trump and now a nationally syndicated radio host and a fearless culture warrior.

In his essential new book, The War for America's Soul, Dr. Gorka shows how America's elite - in both parties - betrayed our heartland, sabotaged the American dream, and accepted national decline as inevitable. It took a candidate with remarkable vision, dauntless courage, and unbreakable determination to change the narrative. That man was Donald Trump. A candidate who owed no favors to special interests, Trump articulated a new American nationalism that has been an extraordinary force for economic and political renewal.

Now, however, the Left is redoubling its efforts to defeat him. The leftists see him, rightly, as the great nemesis to their radical project.

Critique: Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a former strategist for President Trump, presents his unabashedly conservative, pro-Trump, pro-Breitbart viewpoint in The War for America's Soul. Gorka reflects on the biography "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance, and argues that the drug addiction, unemployment, and community decay described in that testimony are the product of soft-on-crime, welfare-dependency-inducing, anti-business, and anti-religious values of the "Left" of the political spectrum. Most of The War for America's Soul is in question-and-answer format, as Gorka is interviewed and gives his candid opinion on domestic politics, foreign policy, hot-button social issues, and much more. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Gorka's opinions, his insight into the scope and severity of modern problems is worth extended contemplation. "Legal immigration is fine. But it is terribly immoral to encourage illegal immigrants to put their lives and their children's lives into the hands of human traffickers who take their orders from drug cartels, rape women, and don't care if the immigrants die after they have paid for their passage." It should be noted for personal reading lists that The War for America's Soul is also available in a Kindle edition ($12.99).

Michael McGarrity
W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9780393357578, $15.95, PB, 384pp,

Synopsis: A long-unsolved missing person's case becomes a homicide investigation when the bones of the girlfriend of now retired Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kerney are unearthed forty-five years after her disappearance. And he is now the main suspect!

Critique: Another spell-binding, compulsively page turning suspense thriller of a novel by Michael McGarrity, "Residue" will prove to be a markedly popular addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated mystery buffs that "Residue" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

The Theoretics of Love
Joe Taylor
NewSouth Books
105 South Court Street, Montgomery, AL 36104
9781588383303, $28.95, HC, 376pp,

Synopsis: Fresh out of school, anthropologist Dr. Clarissa Circle finds herself thrust into a mysterious forensics investigation after exposing what was thought to be a Native American burial ground as a mass grave of not-so-recently murdered bodies.

Is a cult behind the killings? Were these ritual murders? Hired as a consultant to the local police department, Circle spends half of her time dusting bones and the other half knocking boots with homicide detective Willy Cox and an aging hippie who goes by the name of Methuselah.

A double suicide is discovered. And the plot thickens from there as other disturbing events unfold and people of questionable character surface and collide in this kaleidoscopic murder mystery/love story that is also madcap fun.

Critique: A riveting and thoroughly entertaining read for any and all dedicated mystery buffs, "The Theoretics of Love" expertly showcases author Joe Taylor's mastery of the genre and his genuine flair for originality and a distinctive narrative storytelling style perfectly suited to love, death and murder in the Bluegrass state! While especially and unreservedly recommended for all community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted that "The Theoretics of Love" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69).

The Man Who Got Away With It / The Three Widows
Bernice Carey
Stark House Press
1315 H Street, Eureka, CA 95501
9781944520809, $19.95, PB, 234pp,

Synopsis: "The Man Who Got Away With It" - Twenty years ago, young Inez Bailey was strangled to death, and the killer was never found. On a trip to California to visit his sister, Chicago police inspector Roy Malley finds this old crime intriguing. He's sure he could have discovered the murderer if it had been his crime to solve. Busman's holiday or not, he starts to dig. And uncovers more than he intended when he sets the wheels in motion in this small community. Because the killer is still among them, a respected member of society, a family man and business owner. He is in tight control of himself, has been for years. But with just a little push, he could let himself go. But letting go is the one thing he can't let himself do.

"The Three Widows" - The Bladeswells are on vacation, traveling by car from Omaha to California. While in Santa Cruz, they hear about a man found dead on the beach, which brings to mind a similar event which occurred while the couple were vacationing in Yellowstone - a man found dead with no identification on him. When Mr. Bladewell hears about another similar case in Yosemite, he begins to wonder if there isn't someone on a select killing spree. The next night finds them at a cabin resort in Escondido, where they join their hometown friend Chet. The unmarried Chet is enjoying the attention of three older women vacationers, all recently widowed. This sets Mr. Bladeswell to thinking (three dead men and three widowed women) that perhaps there is more than coincidence at work here -- that maybe one of them is a murderer.

Critique: Bernice Carey (1911 - February 22, 1990) was an American writer of mystery novels, short plays, and articles. Her works of crime fiction, written in the late 1940s to mid-1950s, appeared in English, and some of them were also published in French, Spanish, and Swedish. Now as part of the Sark House Press series of time-lost mystery classics, two of her best mysteries have been brought back into print for a new general of appreciative readers. While especially recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated mystery buffs that "The Man Who Got Away With It / The Three Widows" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books
9781948235426, $17.95, PB, 278pp,

Synopsis: In the early 2000s, a string of abductions rocked the small upstate town of Reine, New York. Only one girl survived: Alex Salerno. The killer, Ken Parsons, was sent away. Life returned to normal. No more girls would have to die -- until another one did.

It's been seven years since Kira Shanks was reported missing and presumed dead. Alex Salerno has been living in New York City, piece mealing paychecks to earn a livable wage, trying to forget those three days locked underground and her affair with Sean Riley, the married detective who rescued her. When Noah Lee, hometown reporter with a journalistic pedigree, requests an interview, Alex returns to Reine and Riley, reopening old wounds.

What begins as a Q&A for a newspaper article soon turns into an opportunity for money, closure and even justice. The disappearance of Kira Shanks has long been hung on Benny Brudzienski, a hulking man-child who is currently a brain-addled guest at the Galloway State Mental Hospital. But after Alex reconnects with ex-classmates and frenemies, doubts are cast on that guilt.

Alex is drawn into a dangerous game of show and tell in an insular town where everyone has a secret to hide. And as more details emerge about the night Kira Shanks went missing, Alex discovers there are some willing to kill to protect the horrific truth.

Critique: A deftly crafted suspense thriller by an author with a demonstrable gift for a riveting and narrative driven storytelling style, "The One That Got Away" is a simple riveting read from first page to last. While very highly recommended for community library Suspense/Thriller collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The One That Got Away" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Cherry Hill Publishing, 9781620797648, $39.95, CD).

Clint Travis

Cristina Deptula's Bookshelf

An Imperfect Rapture
Kelly J. Beard
Zone 3 Press
9780990633365, $13.04, PB, 282pp,

Editorial Note: Reviewer Cristina Deptula is a journalist, lover of literature of all sorts, and insatiably curious about the natural world and the human experience. She's the founder of the literary publicity agency Authors, Large and Small and the magazine Synchronized Chaos.


In her new memoir An Imperfect Rapture, author Kelly Beard ensured within the first few pages that readers knew something would tear her family apart and estrange her from everyone. This prediction gave me a sense of impending dread.

The story seemed to flounder as I kept waiting for the big cataclysmic event that would destroy the family when I realized I had been interpreting her memoir incorrectly. It was not something big and terrible that happened, but Kelly slowly realizing that she needed to escape the harshness of her childhood that provided the impetus for her to leave.

Kelly's story takes place decades ago in working-class rural and suburban neighborhoods in Southern California, Montana, and Colorado. She deftly anchors her story in time with brief mentions of news events: the high school with the strict dress code that has 'missed the hippie era,' the question about whether she should go to college in the same town where 'her father's favorite president, Reagan, was shot.' We know that the family has financial uncertainties because they eat 'canned cauliflower in the breadbasket of the world' and the children can only pick one small Christmas present to receive. And while the remote locations where the family lives, along with their strict religious practices, add to their isolation, the wide-open spaces also represent freedom and wide-ranging possibility to the father, who yearns to build a home and raise animals on the property.

Kelly Beard is a master of transitions: seamlessly shifting from one scene to another and providing backstory on characters with quick turns of phrase or carefully chosen, unusual words. Kelly's mom turns 'cadmium' in a phone booth at the shock of her own mother's sudden passing, before her husband cradles her and gently hangs up the phone. We learn of the author's bisexuality in two sentences which she works in to a memory of her grandmother's caressing her while reading her palm.

Much like the 'Old Testament' God she learned of through her fundamentalist background, Beard's story conveys both tenderness and terror. One of the most memorable parts of the book is the constant, sincere, devoted love her parents had for each other since marrying at eighteen. The pet nicknames her mother continues to call her father, the way he refuses to leave her alone at night while she experiences severe depression after the loss of her mother humanize them, make them seem real people with feelings and struggles of their own, rather than simply abusers. Her parents can show sincere caring for her: her father sits with her and gently shows her how to care for her favorite dog who is sick with distemper, and as she leaves for graduate school, he gives her a special table that he built himself.

However, both Kelly's mother and father hit her, with their hands and with belts, for small infractions such as spilling milk or forgetting chores. Also, in part due to their rigid religious belief system and in part due to their financial struggles, they isolate Kelly and her siblings from the outside world. In one chilling incident, Kelly's mom tells her she can go trick-or-treating with a friend from school, then retracts the invitation when her friend shows up in a vampire costume. Yet, rather than discussing the situation with Kelly or trying to meet her halfway, she keeps her daughter busy with chores in order to stop her from going while her friend waits outside in the car.

Kelly keeps a tight focus on her family and their ups and downs throughout her memoir, bringing up broader cultural events and economic trends only as they directly relate to the story she tells about her past. This focus keeps us engaged in the story as it unfolds, so we aren't drawn out of the moment by socioeconomic analysis. And it lets us experience the world as Kelly did as a young child before she had the language to connect her life to conditions in the outside world.

Yet Beard still offers up critical analysis of how broader factors influenced her early life. Her father's relentless optimism, and both of her parents' struggles with earning a living despite their willingness to work multiple jobs and her mother's going back to nursing school in midlife, causes them to move frequently. This causes her to more easily fall through the cracks and not get the attention she needs at school, despite acting out by skipping class to smoke weed. It takes her protesting over an unfair low grade the one time that she studied for a test for anyone to coach her towards doing better in school and show her how education could be important for her life. Even then, it's only the principal who sees her potential - teachers have already written her off when they've had very little time to get to know her.

Also, Kelly Beard very clearly shows how the shame of poverty causes people to self-isolate and diminish their own lives. Some of the worst pain Kelly experiences over her family's financial situation comes not from her own deprivation, but from embarrassment. Sometimes other people do look down on her, including the pastor and other members of a wealthy church who look away when they approach and don't reach out to welcome them. However, most times she remembers feeling shame over things like her father's paper route (a job for children, not grown men) or living in a trailer (only white trash live in trailers) without any specific mention of people treating her badly over those things.

The churches where most people are just as poor as the Beards are a kind of sanctuary for them from that shame. Also, the church served as a social network for Kelly's mother, especially, as her father often traveled for work. So, while this book details Kelly's intentional rejection of and journey out of fundamentalist religion, she acknowledges these nuances by pointing to possible different ways to practice faith: the kind Sister Busby at the family's first church who cares for her and her siblings, the Catholic nuns she meets in college and the sister of a friend who's a self-styled mystic who incorporate nurturing motherhood into their concepts of the divine. She even finds inklings of this kind of caring in an event that she could have mocked: a faith healing crusade led by popular women preachers within the fundamentalist Foursquare church movement.

And she does reflect on the paradox of how both she and her parents seemed unable to better their situation although definitely capable of dedicated hard work: her father's holding multiple jobs and building the family's homes, her mom's starting over and over again at different nursing schools until she earns her credential, her own many hours a day practicing piano as a music major in college. She points to how poverty can affect individual and group psyches, leaving people focused on avoiding disaster and making it through each day rather than on doing complicated research into how to improve their lives through means that are often inaccessible, such as higher education. So Kelly and her family would work very hard and save cash, only to lose it because of a natural disaster or their lack of expertise and background in some money-making venture, such as renting out their old house.

Kelly Beard is not afraid to hold herself accountable for her own actions. She regrets that she made a past boyfriend think she was more interested in him than she was, acknowledging how her past trauma influenced, but did not excuse, her actions. She also wishes that she had had the courage to stand up to her older brother when he perpetuated the cycle of physical abuse upon his own children.

And she has the maturity and distance to consider and acknowledge her parents' pain as well as their shortcomings. She reflects on the appeal of fundamentalist religion to provide answers, structure and community for the working poor, who can feel invisible as they struggle with unpredictable lives. On the other hand, she can see now how the harsh faith her parents practiced caused them to suffer as well as inflict suffering: their grief over Kelly's maternal grandmother's passing amplified by certainty that the woman is spending eternity in Hell for not practicing their brand of faith.

Over time, we can see how Kelly Beard gradually realizes the world is larger than her family and church community. How she moves, slowly, from a compliant child to a pot-smoking rebel and attempted runaway, to a woman with her own mind and purposeful goals to work towards in life.

Cristina Deptula

Daniel Brown's Bookshelf

When The Coin Is In The Air
John Young
Golden Antelope Press
9781936135707, $19.95 PB, $8.09 Kindle, 310pp,

Cincinnati novelist John Young's debut novel When The Coin Is In The Air is impressive.  Written in simple narrative prose, without fuss or mannered writing, the novel is the story (possibly autobiographical) of a young man growing up on a farm in small town in Indiana, who will end up living in Boston in this often moving, very powerful rite-of-passage book.   People who live in cities often sentimentalize small town and/or farming life, and Young often speaks fondly and occasionally longingly of particularly the outdoors, hunting and fishing, family surrounded by cousins, friends from childhood onwards. The book is also a very dark meditation upon domestic abuse, the kind that usually remains hidden behind the closed doors of any family with secrets of this type.

The narrator's mismatched parents and two sons are the immediate nuclear family of issue in the novel. The mother has given up much to marry and give her two sons a better future: that cliche is flushed out with grace and great clarity in Young's novel, to excellent effect.  The narrator, the younger of the two sons, not only idolizes his older brother, but is originally impressed by the antics of his father, who'd been a Greyhound bus driver until he came back to work the farm. The father's obsessed with sports, hunting, men's things, or as define by the mores of small town America in what appears to be the 70s or 80s.  Football's the game for high school boys in this family; the older brother's a natural athlete, the younger develops partially into one. The problem is that no performance in any game - high school sports, of course, are very big things in  small town America - is good enough for the father; we first get wind of the father's terrible temper and internal rage after a football game, when he won't stop screaming at his younger son, in front of the other members of the team and the coach. The reader is led to understand that this rage runs very deep; the father is at best abusive.

Meanwhile the mother,  who has developed her own cottage industry where she makes women's clothes for a variety of stores, encourages both sons to go to college (both got to Indiana University; Bloomington is the most liberal city in Indiana, much like Madison is in Wisconsin.  But after the older son departs, the father's rages at the younger son - who's a lot like his mother - increases and becomes terrifying.  When "the old man" teaches the narrator how to fight, the reader becomes aware that these skills will be essential later - though we're not expecting that the father's rage will be turned both against his wife, who eventually leaves him, and this son, who will become her protector.  The psychology here is impressive; this divided family will become truly tragic, as the father is determined  to get his wife back (in scenes of chilling violence) and to kill his younger son.

The passages in this novel describing this increasing violence are some of the novel's best writing. The narrator's also gone off to college, he's also gone to England for a summer, to begin his life as a high school teacher; he starts to date, has a few girlfriends and the like, learns that his older brother, now married with a child, has learned how to sidestep the father, so that the narrator receives the worst of the father's violence; he's trying to kill off the "feminine" in the younger son, concurrently. That such domestic abuse has become the dominant trope  in what might normally be just another Indiana farm family is what gives this novel  such power as the mother runs from hiding place to hiding place (usually to other family members); the denouement between father and son is brilliantly rendered; it goes on for many chapters and pages, as the horrors increase, evidence of the father's violence increasing.  The reader's just not expecting this ongoing violence, ongoing horror, and how it affects  the narrator's relationships with women, too. You can't help but remember Greek tragedies when you read this novel, and that's high praise, indeed.

I quite liked the way major decisions in the narrator's life are achieved by a toss of a coin; a friendly women at college has taught him that as the coin tosses mid-air, your heart will tell you then which choice you truly want, and this method serves the narrator in good stead repeatedly throughout the novel. Even after both (creatively talented) sons end up in advertising together in Indianapolis, the narrator's ultimate freedom comes when he no longer wants to live in his brother's shadow, and takes off for Boston to live a completely freely chosen life. At last.

The power in the novel rests with the author's abilities not only to describe the best and worst of small town life, and the dynamics between siblings, between mothers and sons and fathers and sons, but in it slow development of the father's rages and how it spills over into every family member. The reader will want to disbelieve what's about to happen, and John Young, the author, builds to this ferocious climax with such immense skill, that you realize you're in the hands and mind of a great psychologist, and, after all, the novel itself is mainly about psychology, after all, which thus places Young's novel in a great tradition; it has elements of 19th century novels while being concurrently quite contemporary; it's a quite powerful novel and an excellent debut.

Daniel Brown, Reviewer
Editor for AEQAI
Review published Summer, 2019 in AEQAI

Daniel Casey's Bookshelf

Manson Exposed: A Reporter's 50-Year Journey into Madness and Murder
Ivor Davis
Cockney Kid Publishing
9780990371038 Hardcover Edition, $34.95, 456pp
9780990371069 Paperback Edition, $19.95, 456pp
9780990371045 Digital Edition, $19.95 Kindle,

4 Stars

Having literally written the definitive book on the murders orchestrated by Charles Manson (Five to Die) in 1970, Ivor Davis returns with Manson Exposed, an expanded, even more thorough examination of arguably the most notorious murder of the 20th century. With more than fifty years of experience covering Charles Manson and even more as a seasoned reporter, Davis is able to refresh our understanding of the case while adding personal reminiscence and fascinating detail. It is the kind of detail making the case more real and not just some historical happening. When it comes to true crime writing, readers are voracious. While many may feel they know all they need to about the Manson murders or that they have all the necessary information, Davis does more of a deep dive into the man, the cult, and the truly horror murders. Doing so provides readers with not just a refresher course but a more meaningful understanding of the psychology of the time.

Davis also writes in an easy, warm tone not infrequently imbued with a sly humor and understatement making his more grim and serious scenes all the more weighty. We ought to expect this since as a foreign correspondent (Davis is English) he was immersed in a kind of practical investigative journalism rarely practiced these days. Before the 24-hour new cycle, journalists like Davis needed to be constantly writing getting new information while maintaining professional ethics avoiding mere sensationalism. A lesser reporter would have given into more base instincts when told by their editor "'we'll take everything you can give us. Your first-edition story runs to over seventy inches," which Davis explains for those of us unfamiliar with physical newspapers "meant that my story was going to be three times the normal length of what I usually filed." From the first, Davis has been able to craft vivid, visceral prose without ever exploiting or exaggerating the already cruel horror of the act.

Manson Exposed is the literary, investigative journalism equivalent of all of the true crime documentaries currently flooding steaming services like Netflix and HBO. What is perhaps most notable and interesting in the new book from Davis are the ripples circling out from the murder. He gives readers the personal stories of those directly involved and tangentially touch showing how such a cultural moment colors and clouds the lived experience of so many not just at the time but throughout history. Manson Exposed is fascinating and masterfully written making the subject new for those already familiar while enticing those only knowing the Manson murders as a distant cultural fiction. Ivor Davis once again does a stunning job of explaining the unexplainable with these utter horrific murders.

Daniel Casey, Reviewer

David Adams' Bookshelf

From Villain To Hero
Michael Clark
Ananias Publishing
9781079994292, $19.95 PB, $19.95 Kindle, 264pp,

There's no doubt that family violence, also known as domestic violence, remains a major problem in countries right around the world despite a growing chorus of voices calling for more action to tackle it, not only in responding to specific instances but in preventing them from happening.

Michael Clark's book, written for the US context but certainly of interest to anyone, anywhere, concerned about the issue, is a confronting read. Part memoir and part guide to addressing the issue, Clark draws on his own experience as a perpetrator of violence against his then wife Michelle, detailing his subsequent arrests and mandatory attendance at a 'Batterers' Intervention Program' as well as the damage it caused to his relationships before turning to how he was able to change his behaviour and, as the title suggests, transform his life.

It's written specifically to those perpetrators who have realised something needs to change in their life and are looking for some help in how to go about it as well as to those who are victims of such violence and all those who encounter the issue in their day-to-day work: pastors, law enforcement, and social workers among them.

The first seven chapters - about three quarters of the book - tell of Clark's own journey, his struggles with rage and the process through which he was able to identify its causes and become someone who was no longer controlled by his emotions. It's only in chapter eight that he turns to the pivotal role Jesus Christ played in his transformation. But, as he explains, that's a deliberate tactic.

"Because I suspect that many reading this book share my previous resistance to all things religious, I intentionally wrote the first seven chapters to only include a secular viewpoint," he writes at the start of chapter eight. "I don't want you to dismiss the techniques I learned and write this off as just another head-in-the-clouds faith book. I know that anyone who desires to change their behaviour can benefit from understanding themselves, and using the methods I've shared so far, regardless of their religious views or their degree of spirituality."

That said, Clark doesn't underplay the role faith played in his own transformation.

"[M]y relationship with God helped me answer some of the core questions I had about myself that my counselor had helped me identify: Am I loveable? Do I have a purpose? Can I be forgiven for the things I've done wrong and the hurts I have inflicted on others? Is there hope in the darkness I'm facing?" he writes. "God answers these vital questions like no other source can, because he created us. This changes everything in wonderful and very meaningful ways. As my relationship with God has deepened, I have noticed a number of profound differences in my outlook, my relationships with others, and my actions."

The book also talks about the organisation which Clark went on to establish - the Ananias Foundation - which aims to work to end family violence by providing guidance and encouragement to people who have been violent or abusive to their partners but who want to change (profits from the book go toward the foundation's work).

Each of the first seven chapters - there are 10 in total - comes with a section at the end outlining what Clark's experiences taught him, another sharing some thoughts for others going through a similar journey and, finally, some "guideposts" - discussion points about the issues covered in the chapter (the guideposts can also be found at the end of the eighth chapter as well). There's also a list of further resources at the back of the book.

This book, as Clark himself notes, is really a tale two "very different" lives - the first, when life was a "constant battle" and he was controlled by his emotions, and the second, in which he has self-control and his relationships "grow deeper and more satisfying every day" - and how and what it was that led the change from one to the other. It's aim is to help others do the same.

David Adams

Ed Buckner's Bookshelf

Religion Delusion
John Carlshausen
Amazon Digital Services LLC
ASIN: B07D917M1Q, $5.99, Kindle, 833 KB,

John Carlshausen's book Religion Delusion; the Great Mystery is not Whether There is a God, but Why People Think There is {2018} needs to be read by all theists {especially Christians} who have never stopped to consider whether their beliefs make any sense, who just assume that the religion they inherited is a god's gift to humanity and is somehow a proper basis for morality.

The folly of religion is described {and lampooned} well enough to send any thinking believer in search of theistic apologists who can at least pretend to logical refutation of Carlshausen's jibes.

Human civilisation would be enriched if all such theists would start on this exploration.

Ed Buckner, Reviewer
Former President of American Atheists and co-author of In Freedom We Trust

Elizabeth DiCesare's Bookshelf

The Grey Sisters
Jo Treggiari
Penguin Teen
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
9780735262980, $17.99, HC, 288pp, Ages 12 & Up
B07MKX428P, $10.99, Kindle,

I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but can safely say that I wasn't disappointed at all.

The first chapter is unlike anything I've ever read before: it takes place on a plane that is about to crash. Right off the bat, you know this story isn't going to be sunshine and rainbows. You quickly learn that a number of high school students were on the plane, and have been presumed dead and missing. However, their friends and family back home are not quick to forget them.

The story then shifts and follows three friends - Spider, D, and Min - who decide to take a trip up into the mountains to visit the plane's crash site. Spider and D had both lost siblings, and want to visit the site to get a sense of closure. Min decides to join them for the ride; plus, she has the most experience outdoors and knows they'll need a hand setting up the tent and starting a fire.

Once they get up into the mountains, though, something doesn't seem right. They have a run in with some strange men at a gas station, and also meet an erratic girl who seems to be running away from someone. Despite these strange events, they keep pressing on with their trip. Fans of thrillers will be yelling at them through the pages to turn around and go home, because we know nothing good comes from being alone in the wilderness at night. These three girls are headstrong and determined, though.

What happens next is something I never would have expected, especially in a YA book. I'm not about to give away any spoilers, so don't worry. I will, however, urge you to read this book to find out what happens in these sleepy mountains. I promise you won't regret it, and then afterwards, we can gush about the twists and turns, and unexpected events that occur.

The Grey Sisters is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, so you always get an inside look at what they're thinking. D and Min are enjoyable enough, but Ariel was by far my favourite character. She lives up in the mountains, and gives a perspective to the story that will keep you guessing until the very end. Where is she from, and what, exactly, is she trying to do? Readers, please, pick up this book and find out!

I'd recommend The Grey Sisters to anyone who enjoys thrillers, strong female characters, and true crime.

Elizabeth DiCesare, Reviewer

Heidi Robbins' Bookshelf

Adoring Abigail
Chalon Linton
Covenant Communications
9781524411527, $21.99, CD (Covenant Communications)
9781524411510, $14.99, PB, 208pp,

5 stars

Adoring Abigail is a quality Regency romance featuring a gentle relationship between Robert and Abigail that blossoms from genuine friendship into something even more special. The settings were easy to envision, from the vast estate Robert inherited, to the meadow and woods, to the cottage where Abigail lives with her grandmother. I enjoy characters that have realistic flaws and struggles, and Abigail having not only a speech impediment, but also a highly critical guardian, made me feel so much empathy for her. Through her circumstances she develops admirable attributes such as compassion and kindness, but it is Robert's encouraging approval that helps her overcome her timidity and strengthen her courage when faced with her most difficult trial of all.

Robert is at an important transition point in his life, and while he doesn't always handle the change gracefully, he is quick to apologize and make things right. I love how he and Abigail bring out the best in each other because they feel safe and accepted for who they really are. The story is well-rounded with the supporting cast of various community members and especially Robert's sister Hazel, all of whom brought the distinct feeling of country society. The author is skilled at drawing forth emotion while exploring a variety of themes such as gossip, loneliness, hypocrisy, prejudice, friendship, loyalty, perseverance, and triumph over adversity. There is a nice balance of character development, tension, sweetness, and satisfaction. Highly recommend!

(I received a complimentary copy of the book; all opinions expressed in this review are my own)

Heidi Robbins, Reviewer

Helen Cook's Bookshelf

Poverty Crusade: A little African village's campaign against world poverty
Robert Peprah-Gyamfi
Perseverance Books
9781913285005, $14.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 197pp,

The poor of this world, especially those in the developing world, are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their countries suffer under the burden of the unfavorable trading practices of the advanced countries. Their plight is further worsened by their own greedy and corrupt leaders who squander whatever meagre resources is left at their disposal.

Even though the basis for this book came from a dream the vision and plan to work towards ending world poverty is very real.

The author, R. Peprah-Gyamfi was born in Ghana in the tiny village called Mpintimpi - the village that is at the root of this story.

I highly recommend reading this book and catching the vision that launched this, one man's, campaign against world poverty.

A House With Holes: One Marriage Journey in a Charleston Renovation
Denise Broadwater
Mountain View Press
c/o Redemption Press
9781951350017, $24.99, HC, 192pp
9781951350000, $14.99, $2.99 Kindle,

Impactful and refreshing is how I would describe this unique book.

In A House With Holes, author and counselor, Denise Broadwater guides us through the challenges she and her architect husband face as they rebuild a 1920's Freeman's cottage in Charleston, SC.

Denise takes the reader on an incredible journey as they restore the cottage and strengthen their marriage - but the Broadwaters also are instrumental in rebuilding a broken community.

This book is warm and comfortable - not unlike the cottage that is being restored.

Denise's writing reaches deep and fills a place in your heart that most of us aren't even aware exists.

A very enjoyable read and I highly recommend this book.

Helen Cook

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Mac Raboy: Master of the Comics
Roger Hill
TwoMorrows Publishing
10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614
9781605490908, $39.95, HC, 160pp,

Synopsis: Beginning with his WPA etchings during the 1930s, Emmanuel "Mac" Raboy (April 17, 1914 - December 12, 1967) struggled to survive the Great Depression and eventually found his way into the comic book sweatshops of America. In that world of four-color panels, he perfected his art style on such creations as Dr. Voodoo, Zoro, The Mystery Man, Bulletman, Spy Smasher, Green Lama and his crowning achievement, Captain Marvel Jr.

Raboy went on to illustrate the Flash Gordon Sunday newspaper strip, and left behind a legacy of meticulous perfection. Through extensive research and interviews with son David Raboy, and assistants who worked with the artist during the Golden Age of Comics, author Roger Hill brings Mac Raboy, the man and the artist, into focus for historians to savor and enjoy.

"Mac Raboy: Master of the Comics" by Roger Hill is a full-color hardcover volume that includes never-before-seen photos, a wealth of rare and unpublished artwork, and the first definitive biography of a true Master of the Comics!

Critique: Profusely illustrated and impressively informative, making it an absolute 'must read' for anyone with an interest in the history and evolution of the American comic book, "Mac Raboy: Master of the Comics" is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections.

Contemporary Design Review
Cindi Cook
teNeues Publishing
350 Seventh Avenue, Suite 301, New York, NY, 10011
9783961711758, $95.00, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: Whether it's a kitchen appliance or an elegant piece of furniture, great design combines form and function to make everyday life more enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing, and comfortable. With "Contemporary Design Review", Cindi Cook draws upon her impressive expertise and experience to curate and showcase some of the finest contemporary designs around the globe across various design genres, from architecture to product design, to interior and garden design.

All the designs comprising "Contemporary Design Review" are shown in careful detail, including rich product descriptions, insightful interviews, as well as over 300 brilliant photographs. Lively behind-the-scenes profiles add a revealing perspective on the designers shaping our today and tomorrow -- making "Contemporary Design Review" a compendium of sparkling treasures to inspire and inform design professionals and enthusiasts with style, elegance, and supreme performance!

Critique: Exceptionally well organized and presented, "Contemporary Design Review" is a singularly informed and informative volume that is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections.

Best Unique Hotels & Retreats
Sebastian Schoellgen & Martin Nicolas Kunz
teNeues Publishing
350 Seventh Avenue, Suite 301, New York, NY, 10011
9783961711895, $95.00, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: "Best Unique Hotels & Retreats: Eighty Four Rooms" presents and beautifully showcases an impressive series of absolute highlights of the hospitality industry ranging from safari lodges and boutique hotels, to ocean retreats, ski hotels. and chalets. A lushly illustrated and informative compendium of hotels and retreats featuring breathtaking images, accompanied by vivid and informative texts, "Best Unique Hotels & Retreats" brings the holiday home and provides all the inspiration and information needed to plan for an unforgettable vacation.

Curated by Sebastian Schoellgen and Martin Kunz who are seasoned and experienced experts in specialist and boutique hotels, "Best Unique Hotels & Retreats" is also the ultimate address book for stylish places to switch off, retreats to recharge your batteries, and blissful places to have some time for yourself.

Critique: A unique and beautifully illustrated compendium that is an armchair traveler's pleasure to simply browse through and an invaluable resource for the business or recreational traveler's itinerary planning guide, "Best Unique Hotels & Retreats: Eight-Four Rooms" is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections.

Jack Mason

James Sale's Bookshelf
The New Book Review October 5, 2019

Chronicles in Passing
Carol Smallwood
Poetic Matrix Press
1733702539 $17.00, Paperback: 102 pages, 2019

Carol Smallwood's latest collection is full of her wonderful inquisitive and challenging response to the world. I particularly like her strong sense of form, which is evident throughout the collection, especially her use of repetition in her Villanelles, which is masterful as each lines draws out more implications and meanings for the reader. She is what might be termed a space and time poet. In other words, she is sensuously aware of her immediate topical environment, whether that be the shops or stores open nearby; or the flowers that are growing in the woods. At the same time, she has a wonderful historical imagination as she peels back the layers of history to interrogate Herodotus, Homer and even Gilgamesh; and not just people - the artefacts (for example, the Pyramids) too. This gives her collection its enormous range and sweep in terms of forms, times and place. Alongside all of this are her formidable powers of observation, as she notes all that is particular in what she sees. We may remember Thomas Hardy's famous line: 'he was a man who used to notice such things'. Well, Carol is a woman who notices such things. From the quotidian to the sublime, there is something here for everyone to resonate with.

James Sale, Reviewer

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Ultimate Toys for Men, New Edition
Michael Gormann, editor
teNeues Publishing
350 Seventh Avenue, Suite 301, New York, NY, 10011
9783961711727, $95.00, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: Compiled and edited by Michael Gormann, "Ultimate Toys for Men, New Edition" is the definitive catalogue for any discerning gentleman. Richly illustrated and meticulously curated, it gathers the best bespoke and luxury products and premium experiences around the globe, anchored in the belief that only top quality is true value for money.

Whether a sports car or mega yacht, a weekender bag or a boutique hotel, Görmann has selected the very best that the world can offer the modern cosmopolitan man. Age is irrelevant; the boys' toys just get bigger, or more exclusive.

The much-anticipated sequel to "Ultimate Toys for Men", this newly updated and expanded edition includes a dazzling array of slick new gadgets for guys, handmade beauties, customizable accessories, and all manner of luxuries to rent, buy, and experience. Special features cover the "Best of Mallorca," "Best of London," and the finest collector's items.

Critique: A pure pleasure to simply browse through, "Ultimate Toys for Men, New Edition" is a beautifully and profusely illustrated volume that will be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal and community library collections.

Kirby & Lee: Stuf' Said!
John Morrow, et al.
TwoMorrows Publishing
10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614
9781605490946, $26.95, PB, 176pp,

Synopsis: Now in a newly updated and expanded second edition, "Kirby & Lee: Stuf' Said!" includes minor corrections and 16 new pages of "Stuf' Said" by the creators of the Marvel Universe!

This first-of-its-kind examination, completed just days before Stan Lee's recent passing, looks back at Kirby & Lee's own words, in chronological order, from fanzine, magazine, radio, and television interviews, to paint the most comprehensive and enlightening picture of their relationship ever done -- why it succeeded, where it deteriorated, and when it eventually failed.

Also presented herein are personal recollections from Steve Ditko, Wallace Wood, John Romita Sr., and more Marvel Bullpen stalwarts who worked with them both. Rounding out "Kirby & Lee: Stuf' Said!" is a study of the duo's careers after they parted ways as collaborators, including Kirby's difficulties at Marvel Comics in the 1970s, his last hurrah with Lee on the Silver Surfer Graphic Novel, and his exhausting battle to get back his original art (and creator credit) from Marvel.

"Kirby & Lee: Stuf' Said" gives both men their say, compares their recollections, and tackles the question, "Who really created the Marvel Comics Universe?".

Critique: Compiled, researched, and edited by publisher John Morrow, "Kirby & Lee: Stuf' Said!" is an extraordinary, informative, and inherently fascinating history that is a 'must' for the legions of Marvel Comics fans. Profusely illustrated throughout, "Kirby & Lee: Stuf' Said!" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library collections.

Ronnie Scott's 1959-69
Graham Marxh, author
Simon White, author
Freddy Warren, photographer
Reel Art Press
9781909526631, $39.95, HC, 144pp,

Synopsis: Ronnie Scott's in London is one of the world's most celebrated jazz clubs. Freddy Warren began photographing Ronnie Scott's when it was still a construction site, and went on to photograph every major happening at the club for more than ten years. Warren's appreciation and love of jazz and its characters suffused his photos, as he sought to capture "the atmosphere (the 'aurora' as I call it) the movement ... the fantastic communication between the players, that makes jazz what it is."

Ronnie Scott's 1959 - 69, is published to celebrate the club's 60th anniversary, and for the first time Warren's vast archive of jazz photos has been accessed with nearly all the images included in this very special volume are previously completely unseen and unpublished.

In "Ronnie Scott's 1959-69" jazz enthusiasts and photography fans will find black-and-white photographs of Ronnie warming his hands around a fire on the construction site and inspecting the walls as they went up, followed by performance shots of the greats of jazz including Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone and many more.

Powerful on-stage portraits are accompanied by relaxed off-stage moments, such as Yusef Lateef holding an impromptu meeting around soup pots in the kitchen.

Critique: Offering a warm, intimate, and inherently fascinating portrait of a legendary jazz venue, Ronnie Scott's 1959 - 69 will prove to be a unique and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library 20th Century Jazz History and Photography collections.

John Burroughs

John Darcy's Bookshelf

Jeremy Griffin
Orison Books
9781949039047, $17.99 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 160pp,

The Outlining of Our Lives

Phrases come to mind while reading Jeremy Griffin's 2019 story collection Oceanography. Winner of the 2018 Orison Fiction Prize, Oceanography is a black-market firecracker of a book. In ten stories, Griffin taps into a depth of compassion that seems boundless, a moral imagination which must weigh a thousand pounds. He doesn't shy away from discomfort, nor does he lean into answers of the easy variety. His prose is sharp when a cut is called for; taught when tightness is needed. It is most likely the case you haven't heard about this book. That's fine. Griffin's Oceanography is a book that finds you - - that rare breed in the reading business.

In "Birding for Beginners," a widower takes up birdhouse-building and learns to mourn. In "Robo Warrior," Griffin uses the second-person perspective to orchestrate a darkly crafted tale of adolescent self-realization, a la Foster Wallace's "Forever Overhead," though for Griffin the realization is that of one's role as an object in the world and not a potential-filled subject. Griffin has a nose for affect and pathos, a crazily attentive ear for dialogue. Life is happening to his characters, moving in on them from the flanks, forcing them to adapt and decide. What is most successful about Oceanography is its dedication to the ordinary, the ways in which it sets its sight not on the speculative or dystopian, not on the spectacles of technology and the world-wide web, but instead on our shared, tragic, painful, altogether wonderfully disastrous humanity. To find any hope at all is difficult for Griffin's characters, but when they do find some it as if you have found some too. In the closing lines of "Birding for Beginners," the widowed protagonist, Sergio, looks over the wreckage of his destroyed birdhouses and by extension the wreckage of his life. He finds the courage to reassure himself: "The rest will return. He will build new feeders, yes, he will decorate the tree just as it was, but not yet. Right now he is taking his first ride on a motorcycle." Sergio does this with help from his neighbor, Buzz, and, riding along, "[Sergio] feels...the sun and the wind on his face and it is like flying."

Yet, for all its hard-won empathy, for all its bubbling reservoirs of compassion, there exists in Oceanography a grittiness, a loitering gutshot echo ringing from this assemblage of damaged people living in a damaged world. This notion perhaps hits hardest in the final story, "At the Bottom of Everything," in which the wounded survivors of a school shooting assemble at the secluded pond where the shooter filmed his video manifesto; here, they hold a sort of vigil, their scars exposed to the moonlight as they "float like corpses," waiting for the monsters in the deep to reveal themselves, biding their time before the next blow comes. Forced to linger in their incomprehensible hurt, Griffin shows us how the lasting stain of sorrow and suffering prevents us for doing much else but guarding what remains intact from another beating.

If these stories are lacking they are lacking in place. Settings are relegated to non-descript townships and descriptors of the like. Place seems not to concern Griffin, and, while it normally concerns this reviewer of yours, I set aside my proclivities for Oceanography. The texture of Griffin's characters and their fraying lives is rendered in such spectacular fashion as to mysteriously accomplish all the place-building a story requires. It is a collection you should read, then read over again. Jeremy Griffin must have lived a few hundred years to learn the sorts of things about life that fill this book. It is a joy and a comfort to have him around, to have him writing.

John Darcy

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Yes! It Really Is All About Me: The Journey of A Lifetime
Darleen Miller
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781452535753, $16.95, PB, 132pp,

Synopsis: "Yes! It Really Is All About Me: The Journey of A Lifetime" by Darleen Miller will make an impact on the lives of caregivers. It offers a perspective on nurturing the self. It will be a motivation to know how to answer the question of 'who am I? All of us are caregivers at some point in our lives and we need to feel loved and appreciated in service to the world. This is your journey; love who you are. Now is the time to learn how to serve the self in order to ultimately be better in our service to others.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Yes! It Really Is All About Me: The Journey of A Lifetime" is both inspired and inspiring. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99), "Yes! It Really Is All About Me: The Journey of A Lifetime" is unreservedly recommended for the personal reading lists of anyone who has, or expects to have, a caregiving relationship, either personally as with a family member or friend, or professionally as with a patient or client.

Romanies in Michigan
Martha Aladjem Bloomfield
Michigan State University Press
1405 South Harrison Road, Suite 25, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245
9781611863406, $14.95, PB, 128pp,

Synopsis: Part of the Michigan State University Press 'Discovering the Peoples of Michigan' series, "Romanies in Michigan" by Martha Aladjem Bloomfield is a groundbreaking study drawn from the oral histories of Romanies in the United States. It focuses on the Hungarian-Slovak Romani musical community originally from Delray, Michigan, as well as others from outlying areas in and near Michigan.

Originally Romanies came from India and hundreds of years ago traveled to Europe, Latin America, the United States, and, eventually, Michigan. Their stories provide a different voice from the stereotypical, bigoted newspaper articles from Michigan newspapers in the late nineteenth century through today that reflect law enforcement agencies' prejudices or "racial profiling".

Romanies in Michigan introduces their diverse, rich, resilient history in Michigan, based on oral histories, photographs, newspaper articles, legal documents, and other research as "Romanies in Michigan" informatively explores traditional modes of travel; Romanies' identity, history, perspective, and challenges with non-Romanies; their feelings as a minority group; and their self-efficacy, respect, and pride in their culture and work.

Critique: A unique and inherently fascinating sociological study, "Romanies in Michigan" is impressively informative and exceptionally well organized and presented. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Romanies in Michigan" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.95).

The View from Apartment Four
Skip Rozin
77 Street Press
9781733156301, $16.95, PB, 376pp,

Synopsis: New York in the 1960s featured the Upper West Side as a diverse community, with free July Fourth fireworks, elite performances at Lincoln Center, and reasonably priced apartments and restaurants, albeit tainted by a rate of crime that inspired one Saul Bellow character to compare the neighborhood with Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jump forward to the new millennium. While gentrification rendered those same streets safe, it also made housing too expensive for the working class and replaced dozens of pizza and barbecue favorites with fancy eateries and more sources of high-priced ice cream than anyone needs.

"The View from Apartment Four: On Loving and Leaving New York" by Skip Rozin is the story of that change as viewed up close and personal from a one-bedroom apartment, second floor front. And while the accompanying narrative is by the tenant, "The View from Apartment Four" deftly connects with all those others drawn to New York to prove themselves in that most competitive of environments -- in the arts, fashion, business, and sports as over time, they saw their situations change, and their priorities, putting their city lives in jeopardy.

"The View from Apartment Four" engagingly presents an intimate picture of the impact of these changes on Skip Rozin goes from being single to a married father of four, then joins those other New Yorkers forced to leave the city by taking on adult responsibilities avoided in our youth -- all while pursuing his work-a-day career as a writer.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively written, thoughtful and thought-provoking account, "The View from Apartment Four: On Loving and Leaving New York" is a unique, extraordinary, and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The View from Apartment Four" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Julie Summers

Kim Fields' Bookshelf

Seed Savers-Unbroken
Sandra Smith
Flying Books House
9781943345144, paperback, $14.99, 360 pgs
9781943345151, ebook, $5.99,

I am admittedly sad to see the series end. Originally written for children, author Sandra Smith upped the level of interest throughout the series to include a bit of teen interest - intertwined romantic twists, teen rebellion against parental authority, rebellion against political concerns about the wrongs being waged in society. I would consider the books age level appropriate for upper middle-grade through young adult.

The topic is truly relevant in the world today; whether one believes in global warming or not, or whether one believes in the slow acquisition of food sources, and genetic modification of American food by corporate giants or not, these are concerning topics in our world. Sandra Smith's series offers an easy to read "what-if" scenario that takes place in the not to distant future about these very real societal concerns. What if a corporation decided to slowly take over all food production including the very source of food; including harmful pesticides to control unwanted pests and these leeched into the food we grow and eat? What if the government knew about the dangers, yet turned a blind eye for financial gain and better control of the people? What if people were not able to make informed choices about the food they put in their bodies? What if we could not grow our own vegetables, herbs - raise our own meat source? These are things we take for granted every day, and we still count on our government to keep us safe in our choices.

Fictionalized with just enough truth to make the reader question "what-if", this is an eye-opening series, and as a school librarian, I will be sure to promote these books with my peers and get them in the hands of students; children who will one day be affected by some of these very timely topics.

Kim Fields

Kirk Bane's Bookshelf

Writing History with Lightning: Cinematic Representations of Nineteenth-Century America
Matthew Christopher Hulbert and John C. Inscoe, eds.
Louisiana State University Press
338 Johnston Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803
9780807170465, $55.00, HC,

Readers interested in film studies and U.S. history will welcome the publication of this superb anthology, thoughtfully edited by Hulbert (Hampden-Sydney College) and Inscoe (University of Georgia), which incisively analyzes more than twenty-five movies set in nineteenth-century America. This compilation, offering critical and perceptive articles by such prominent scholars as Michael Burlingame (University of Illinois at Springfield), James E. Crisp (North Carolina State University), Lesley J. Gordon (University of Alabama), Marcus Rediker (University of Pittsburgh), and Stephen J. Whitfield (Brandeis University), examines "how movies create popular understandings of American history and why those interpretations change over time."

The editors divide their book into five major segments: Frontiers, Empire, and the Early Nation; Slavery and the Antebellum South; Sectional Crisis and Civil War; The Lost Cause, Reconstruction, and the West; and Late-Century Economics and Immigration. Essays evaluate such diverse films as The Far Horizons, The Revenant, Jeremiah Johnson, The Alamo (both the 1960 and 2004 versions), The President's Lady, Young Mr. Lincoln, Amistad, 12 Years a Slave, Mandingo, Glory, Gettysburg, They Died with Their Boots On, Little Big Man, Gangs of New York, The Hateful Eight, The Undefeated, Far and Away, and Hester Street.

In short, Hulbert, Inscoe, and their contributors have produced an impressive and important volume. Cinephiles as well as history buffs should add Writing History with Lightning to their reading list.

Dr. Kirk Bane, Reviewer
Central Texas Historical Association

Kirkus Reviews

Bent But Not Broken
Don Cummings
Heliotrope Books
9781942762614, $16.50 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 214pp,

A playwright recounts his struggles with an embarrassing penis ailment in this debut memoir.

During the Great Recession, Cummings and his boyfriend of 16 years, Adam, moved to a small studio apartment in Queens. The author had noticed that his penis had begun to bend painfully to the right at an angle of 22 degrees, and he was becoming alarmed by it. A trip to a doctor confirmed that he was suffering from Peyronie's disease, a genetic condition in which plaque builds up between the tissue layers of the penis. "Think of a piece of scotch tape on a balloon," said his physician, searching for a suitable explanation. "When you blow up the balloon it bends in the direction of the tape because of the constriction. We need to break up that tape."

The treatment involved painful injections, not to mention exposing himself to a seemingly endless number of dispassionate medical professionals. The effect on his sex life - and the added stress for the already anxious playwright - put a strain on Cummings' relationship with Adam and his flings with a number of other men. Even more, the situation caused the author to contemplate his long relationship with his suddenly endangered body part: what it meant to himself as a man and a mortal.

Cummings' skills as a writer are apparent from the beginning. His prose is effortlessly clever, finding the entertaining medium between lyricism and sass: "As I plowed through the field of life with its fecund and fallow seasons, I had at least had this decent tuber to hold on to. But blight was setting in, famine most likely soon to follow. Death felt more real. I was concerned that depression would take me over. It did - but not for long."

The frankness with which he discusses his problem, the treatment, and his sex life makes for an oddly shocking book - one rarely reads quite so much about penises, as central as they often are to literature. He manages to demystify and destigmatize Peyronie's, which though obscure is not completely uncommon. More than that, he makes the most of an undignified opportunity to examine his own masculinity.

A blunt medical account that explores surprising terrain.

Sons Of Suicide: A Memoir of Friendship
Richard J. Knapp and J. David Pincus
$19.95 paperback, $9.95 e-book
9781733828703, $19.95 PB, $9.95 Kindle, 280pp,

Four men who lost parents to suicide strengthen their bonds of friendship in this memoir.
In this candid look at suicide - which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States - debut author Knapp and Pincus (Reel Baseball, 2003) focus on the emotional aftermath for those who are left behind. In 1966, the authors met during their senior year in a Maryland high school and, much to their surprise, soon found out their lives shared a striking similarity - their mothers had both killed themselves a few years earlier.

Over time, the two young men began to have heart-to-heart conversations about their grief. As the years progressed, they discovered they had two other friends, Tom and Dennis, affected by the suicide of a parent. Sometimes deep and sometimes chatty, this heartfelt memoir begins with conversations between Knapp and Pincus.

Later, the work includes email exchanges involving all four friends. Bouncing between different time periods and settings - high school in 1966, a bench beside a Cleveland Jewish synagogue in the mid-'90s, a baseball road trip in 1999, a popular Chicago restaurant in 2009 - the book realistically portrays these four baby boomers and self-described "sons of suicide" as they grappled with difficult questions, such as whether or not forgiveness for the act is truly possible.

Pincus wondered whether his mother thought about him moments before she killed herself. Though the topic is dark, the tone is upbeat - with some joking between old friends - as the men discuss how fortunate they are to currently have wonderful families and friendships.

The authors' language is sometimes memorably expressive. For example, when recalling his mother's death, Knapp notes: "Some images are etched deep in the mind with acid so caustic that they are always there, deeply imbedded yet near the surface at the same time." Seeking answers but not pretending to have them, this cleareyed account - a potential comfort to others who have suffered similar losses - can also help educate the public about suicide prevention.

Insightful and moving conversations about suicide and grief.

Life On Loan
Ashley Farley
Lake Union Publishing
9781542043861, $14.95 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 301pp
9781799709350, $14.99, Audio Book, MP3 CD (Brilliance Audio)

Two women change their lives to rediscover themselves in this novel.

Olivia Westcoat is a writer in South Carolina who has lost interest in the direction of her blog. She's sick of the high-society drama she's been covering and yearns to write a book. Lena Browder is a wife and mother who is in desperate need of an escape from her abusive husband and ungrateful daughter. Both women hop on a plane and leave their troubles behind, bumping into each other at an airport on a layover.

The old college friends decide to swap houses for a month, with Olivia traveling to Lena's small vacation cottage in the Northern Neck of Virginia and Lena heading to Olivia's chic condo in Charleston. Though it takes time to adjust to the pace of their new lives, Lena and Olivia begin to relax and envision a new future. Lena rediscovers her love of photography as she wanders the streets of Charleston and engages with the city's friendly residents. And in the quiet of a river cottage, Olivia unwinds and begins her novel.

Yet their life swap is not without complications. Olivia finds herself falling for the handsome widower next door, who is still struggling with his wife's death and his relationships with his children. And Lena stumbles across a case of elder abuse and ends up in some serious legal trouble.

Though Farley's (Only One Life, 2019, etc.) novel touches on some serious themes, such as abuse and the loss of a loved one, this story is really a modern-day fairy tale with a string of enjoyable but unsurprising events. Her main characters are well crafted and relatable, though some of the supporting cast lacks nuance. Lena's acquaintance Jade is a classic villain who is "evil and manipulative" while Lena's daughter promptly and somewhat inexplicably matures in the space of a few weeks. But maybe that's all part of the fairy tale. And who doesn't love a story of good versus evil that seems headed for a happy ending?

Swapping houses never looked so good in this light and sweet romantic comedy.

Kirkus Reviews

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Bridal Financial Boot Camp
Patricia B. Mull, CPA, PFS
LifeRich Publishing
9781489723017, $52.99, HC, 218pp,

Synopsis: In the pages of "Bridal Financial Boot Camp: A New Way of Thinking", certified public account and wedding expert Patricia B. Mull focuses on teaching brides how to recognize and manage the financial and other risks that are embedded in marriage so that before, during, or even after a good or failed marriage, brides can protect themselves and stay in control of their own financial future.

With divorce statistics for first, second and third marriages going through the ceiling, brides must learn how to protect and control their own financial future so that a divorce does not become both an emotional and financially devastating event in their life.

Whether you are about to say I DO or have already proclaimed I DO NOT, the tips and strategies that are embedded in "Bridal Financial Boot Camp" can help brides stay financially focused and in control of their own financial future.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, comprehensively informative, and specifically organized and presented for the benefit of the non-specialist general reader, "Bridal Financial Boot Camp: A New Way of Thinking" should be on the personal reading list of every woman contemplating marriage or who are currently engaged and planning their wedding. While very highly recommended, especially for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Bridal Financial Boot Camp: A New Way of Thinking" is also available in a paperback edition (9781489723031, $40.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World
Lonely Planet Publications
150 Linden Street, Oakland CA 94607
9781788682329, $33.99, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: From Antarctica and the Amazon to Victoria Falls and the Great Wall of China, "Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World" showcases 101 spectacular sights and how to see them on any budget. Inspiring and practical, with expert advice on how and when to visit, where to stay and a range of itineraries, travelers will discover how to best visit the world's wonders in a way that suits them.

This impressively illustrated collection includes both natural and human-made sights across the world revealing locations that represent the best and most extraordinary 'places to be seen'. There are sights that most people have heard of: the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China. But also less famous sights that cannot fail to captivate: the entwined tree bridges of Meghalaya in India, the intricate Islamic architecture of Naqsh-e Jahan in Iran, and the massive Buddhist temple of Borobudur in central Java.

"Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World" also features museums with remarkable collections of wonders too, such as the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. The planet's natural wonders are no less awesome: giant trees in California, cascading lakes in Croatia, multi-coloured hills in China, great waterfalls, and natural phenomena like the wave of cherry blossom that sweeps across Japan each spring, and the light show of the auroras across the planet's northern and southern extremities.

"Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World" also explains how each wonder, whatever your budget, can be personally visited on site. Of special note is the inclusion of a guide to each one that recommends the best times to visit, how to get there, and where to stay and eat -- however large or limited the visitors budget.

Critique: Certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library collections, "Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended resource for planning trips and will be of special interest and delight for armchair travelers everywhere!

Stutterer Interrupted
Nina G.
She Writes Press
9781631526428, $15.99, PB, 160pp,

Synopsis: Nina G bills herself as "The San Francisco Bay Area's Only Female Stuttering Comedian". On stage, she encounters the occasional heckler, but off stage she is often confronted with people's comments toward her stuttering; listeners completing her sentences, inquiring, "Did you forget your name?" and giving unwanted advice like "slow down and breathe" are common. (As if she never thought about slowing down and breathing in her over thirty years of stuttering!)

When Nina started comedy nearly ten years ago, she was the only woman in the world of stand-up who stuttered -- not a surprise, since men outnumber women four to one amongst those who stutter and comedy is a male-dominated profession. Nina's brand of comedy reflects the experience of many people with disabilities in that the problem with disability isn't in the person with it but in a society that isn't always accessible or inclusive.

Critique: Deftly written, "Stutterer Interrupted: The Comedian Who Almost Didn't Happen" is a very special kind of memoir that blends humor with candor. The result is an inherently fascinating read from beginning to end. While very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Stutterer Interrupted" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69).

We Got This
Marika Lindholm, et al.
She Writes Press
9781631526565, $17.95, PB, 352pp,

Synopsis: In the United States, more than 15 million women are parenting children on their own and without a man, either by circumstance or by choice. Too often these moms who do it all have been misrepresented and maligned. But not anymore.

In "We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor", seventy-five solo mom writers tell the truth about their lives, their hopes and fears, their resilience and setbacks, their embarrassments and their triumphs. Some of these writers' names will sound familiar, like Amy Poehler, Anne Lamott, and Elizabeth Alexander, while others are about to become unforgettable.

Bound together by their strength, pride, and (most of all) their dedication to their children, they broadcast a universal and empowering message: You are not alone, solo moms -- and your tenacity, courage, and fierce love are worthy of acknowledgment and celebration.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor" is an extraordinary compendium of exceptionally deftly crafted, well organized. and accessibly presented stories. An inherently fascinating read from first page to last, "We Got This" is unreservedly recommended for community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "We Got This" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69).

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

The Axe and Grindstone
Paul Phipps-Williams
Bad Press iNK
9781916084506, $9.99, paperback

When his best staff leaves for a better job, longtime pub manager, Mark Adams, finally wants a change himself. An old (more than a) friend offers him position as landlord. Problem solved! Or have Mark's problems just begun?

Phipps-Williams' The Axe and Grindstone is an ideal winter read, replete with soul-searching, bloodshed, comedy and a dash of romance. As Mark learns what he's gotten himself into, he wonders if it's really the opportunity to prove himself that he's been looking for. To take charge in his new place of employment means engaging in an ages' old battle between The Binding Brothers, who see God in screams, and The Council, comprised of all manner of spirits and beings. The Binding Brothers use torture as a means to, so-called, Enlightenment. Descriptions are gruesome and graphic. The tone of the book is not moralistic, rather, reveals the painful process of moral decision making. But the pub setting, gathering place to all walks of life, brings light-heartedness to the narrative. Mark and Nat, his old flame, rekindle their love facing demons together.

Mark speaks in the first person, often in short, stream-of-consciousness phrases. The effect is immediate, as if the action is happening to the reader herself. The text is so dense with details about prophecies, strategies, and ghoulish rituals, I couldn't skip a word for fear of losing my place in the thread. The plot is intricate and at times difficult to follow. It's easy to empathize with Mark, confused newcomer to a strange parallel universe.

At once a horror story, coming-of-age tale and fantasy, The Axe and Grindstone is a thought-provoking and entertaining story about trying to do right in a mixed-up world.

Were We Awake: Stories
L.M. Brown
Fomite Press
9781947917330, $15.00

Surprise is the theme in L.M. Brown's luminous collection of short stories, Were We Awake, out today, November 20.

Some of the stories in this latest collection are linked, as are the stories in Brown's previous release, Treading the Uneven Road (March 2019). Raymond, whose father dies in a work accident, appears in a few stories. The murderer of Nick Moody, found dead behind a pub, and Nick's family also feature in more than one tale. A clown, starfish, cats, exotic birds, estranged couples and lonely children star in others.

The stories revolve around a secret or a truth characters don't want to admit to themselves or others. Nollaig, friend of Raymond's mother, thinks about "all the things people kept inside, like the grief for a cat, and questions about a certain night" (192). In Hidden, Hazel learns about the twisted relationship between the adults in her household. In What It Means to Be Empty-Handed, a girl pretends to be the lost baby in an article she reads. The power she feels as she acts her part becomes her greatest vulnerability. In Crashing two mothers mourn the loss of their sons, one by the other's accidental killing. Cold Spell and Green Balloons stand out for their hopefulness about lasting friendships. Regardless of happy or sad endings, the surprises revealed are the icing on a cake of suspense and subtle, psychological shifts.

Brown turns the ordinary into a spooky extraordinary through stark, cryptic language. The stories take place in Ireland and on the US east coast, in everyday settings: kitchen tables, living rooms, neighborhood lanes, bedrooms, and littered beaches. Such innocuous spaces become liminal in Brown's literary worlds. For the workmate of Raymond's dead father, "the room was the crack" not to step on in the childhood game (10). Small details become clues to an underlying mystery. "He looked to the left, and then stepped back" (115). Enigmatic descriptions conjure something lurking below the surface.

Were We Awake are beautifully rendered horror stories, haunting, yet refined. Like the Emily Dickinson poem from which the title comes, the stories startle and wow in their dreamy drama. The awful-er, the better, so long as they remain fiction.

Ingvar: The Gods' Forsaken Son
Wayne Armstrong
B07WPL5TFH, $2.99, Kindle

Wayne Armstrong's Ingvar is a forthright account of one fictional Viking prince in the early 9th century, bookended by a helpful foreward and an epilogue that put the story into a historical framework.

Before he leaves on a raiding voyage, Ingvar asks his father, King Andorr, to name his successor - either Ingvar or step-brother Thorir. Ingvar leaves without a response and returns from his trip having lost his pillaged treasure to a storm. His father, the king, is dead. Thorir and his mother, Gyda, rule. Banished, Ingvar flees, determined to win back his rightful place and rescue his family from Thorir's prison. Ingvar's adventures in Iberia quickly descend into extreme hardship, solidifying his resolve for revenge.

Told in three parts, the plot is organized in chronological order and easy to follow. The middle section toggles between Ingvar's travels and Thorir's tyrannical rule at home. Descriptions of battles and survival are graphic and grotesque. The harsh landscape, with soggy crags and deadly sea in northern Europe and heat and deprivation in the south, echoes a difficult, barbaric life. Friendship and religion also figure into the narrative. The no-nonsense writing style is reminiscent of ancient myths and Sigrid Undset's retellings (Gunnar's Daughter).

The heart of the novel is Ingvar's maturing. Life experience tempers his brash behavior in the beginning of the book. He earns his leadership by the end. Other characters do not develop; they either remain loyal to Ingvar or prove themselves his enemies. Just as Ingvar learns, so will readers - the book is full of new vocabulary like "barbican," "thrall," "jarl," and "recce." Ingvar imagines hiring a "skald" (108) or epic ballad teller to recite his tale. He gets his wish - this is it!
A grisly and triumphant tale, Ingvar brings Viking lore to life.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

Rachel Maddow
Crown Publishing Group
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9780525575474, $30.00, Hardcover, $14.99, Kindle, 367 pages

It is tempting to take a big, impressive piece of work like Rachel Maddow's Blowout and boil its message down by quoting some very potent, strident phrases the author makes in conclusion of sections and in the wrap-up chapter of the book. It's tempting because it's impossible to summarize the facts in the book without virtually rewriting it from front to back. There's so much there. But stating the book's conclusions won't win over any hearts; such statements made without the supporting evidence to back it up, renders them shallow and overtly political. And I want you to read the supporting evidence.

First, let me assure you that this is a very readable book, for all its complexity. Rachel is a master at explanatory journalism, as any fan of The Rachel Maddow Show already knows. At times, I chuckled at a line or an exclamation that sounded "just like her." But commenting on her writing style seems superficial when the subject matter is of such vital and consequential nature.
Rachel, the professor, sprinkles through the book an economics lesson that underlies so much of the misery in the world - misery that persists despite technology, science, a scattering of democracies. It's the "resource paradox." The more natural resources a nation or state has to draw wealth from, the poorer its citizens will be, whether you are talking about school children in Oklahoma or the underfed, diseased population of Equatorial Guinea. That's because the lure of all the money to be made brings out the worst corruption and grift of the connected few who stand to reap all of its rewards, and apparently, the more money the corrupt get, the more they want.

This is the kind of book that makes a reader wonder: where was I when all this was happening? I'm an avid reader of the New York Times, and I follow political and economic news religiously. I knew about the controversy over fracking and the swarms of earthquakes that have rattled the state of Oklahoma since it began. I knew Rex Tillerson ran Exxon-Mobil before he was tapped to be Trump's Secretary of State. But oh, there was so much I missed!

Slipping my notice were details of Tillerson's cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Russian oil giant, Rosneft, and Exxon's slippery behavior in sneaking in an arctic oil drilling project despite sanctions imposed for Russia's attack on Crimea and the oil-rich oblasts of eastern Ukraine. The geo-political machinations of the Russian oligarchy's power grab over Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, to control the production and distribution of oil and gas - Russia's only economic engine, and a poorly run one at that - never made headlines that caught my attention. And while I thought I was sufficiently knowledgeable about the causes of earthquake swarms - even a 5.7-scale earthquake near Prague, OK - I had no idea of the behind the scenes lobbying and censoring that kept the state's environmental and geological agencies from reporting what was going on, keeping the industry on the state's payroll rather than keeping the state's elementary and secondary schools above Third World standards.

Now learning the sleazy and murderous ways of Putin's regime and Western oil-company (read: Tillerson) complicity in helping him build his dictatorship and a personal fortune (it may be the largest in the world) made my blood boil, even before finally getting to the books section on Trump's own stakes in the sanctions game. (Yes, it involves a hotel in Moscow that he was continuing to try to develop all while talking down the U.S. rationale for sanctions against Russia that would have prevented it.)

It took me a lot of hours to finish this book. It's readable, but dense. It's important but aggravating. So, I don't expect many Americans to reward it with the weeks-long stay on the NYT best seller list that something as today's popular memoirs have proven to be. So, I will succumb to the temptation to quote one of her concluding sentences, knowing that it will evince eye rolls from oil and gas executives and the industry's, the president's and Putin's defenders in Congress - perhaps from readers of this review. But having read the supporting evidence Rachel has gathered up to the point that she comes to this conclusion, I thoroughly defend her thought:
"Counting on the industry's sense of human responsibility - counting on it to act responsibly simply on its own recognizance - has proven a losing proposition. Oil and gas are valuable everywhere in the world, but with only a few exceptions the industry that produces them has shapen nations and states in ways that serve itself while screwing up pretty much everybody else."

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism
Terry McAuliffe
Thomas Dunne Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
9781250245885, $24.99 HC, $11.99 Kindle, 186pp,

The current political climate in America has created an amazing polarization. Compromise is a word that has been lost from the American lexicon. Extreme political opinions have become a normal aspect of American society and of the American conversation. Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has written a great book, Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism, that outlines the effects of this extremism through events such as the "United The Right" rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. A seminal event in recent American history, the "Unite The Right" rally pushed extremism into an uncomfortable spotlight.

Governor McAuliffe, who served as governor of Virginia from 2013-2017, outlines the events of August 12, 2017 in a fashion that is very process driven. He discusses the efforts by the Virginia State Police to work with local government in Charlottesville to insure the safety of all participants and the throngs of protesters who were in attendance. McAuliffe describes the tense filled hours that lead up to the rally, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, a protester, and troopers Jay Cullin and Berke Bates, who died when their helicopter crashed. The backlash against the rally organizers and participants was profound and resulted in a two-fold change in the impression of the white nationalist movement. The spotlight continued to shine on the movement itself but participants who did not want to be recognized were exposed for their secrets.

Beyond Charlottesville is a great book. It reads like a brief political science textbook. Governor McAuliffe writes with ease and with a sense of purpose and a sense of understanding that could only be the view of an active concern for the safety of every one involved. This reviewer would highly recommend Beyond Charlottesville as a primer for anyone interested in the White Supremacy movement and the intersection of that movement with American society.

Matthew W. McCarty

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Innovation On Tap
Eric B. Schultz
Greenleaf Book Group Press
9781626346635, $27.95, HC, 352pp,

Synopsis: "Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship from the Cotton Gin to Broadway's Hamilton" is the story of 300 years of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs (living and departed) who have gathered to "talk shop" in an imaginary barroom under the watchful eye of economist-turned-bouncer, Joseph Schumpeter.

From Eli Whitney and his cotton gin to the Broadway smash, Hamilton, their stories capture the essential themes of entrepreneurship, highlight the rules for success, and celebrate the expansive sweep of innovations that have transformed our world.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, deftly written, uniquely presented, and thoroughly thought-provoking read, "Innovation on Tap" will have an immense interest for anyone aspiring to or already engaged in entrepreneurial activities. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of business students, entrepreneurs, and non-specialist general readers that "Innovation on Tap" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

I Am Herod
Richard Kemick
Goose Lane Editions
9781773101422, $22.95, PB

Synopsis: On a whim, armchair-atheist Richard Kelly Kemick joins the 100-plus cast of The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, North America's largest production of its kind and one of the main tourist attractions in Alberta. By the time closing night is over, Kemick has a story to tell. From the controversial choice of casting to the bizarre life in rehearsal, this glorious behind-the-scenes look at one of Canada's strangest theatrical spectacles also confronts the role of religion in contemporary life and the void left by its absence for non-believers.

In the tradition of tragic luminaries such as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Goldstein, and David Sedaris, "I Am Herod" gives its congregation of readers unparalleled access to the players of the Passion: there's Judas, who wears a leather jacket even when it's 30?C; the Chief Sadducee, who is ostracized for his fanaticism; Pilate, the only actor who swears; the Holy Spirit, who is breaking ground as the role's first female actor; and the understudy Christ, the previous year's real-deal Christ who was demoted to backup and now performs illicit one-man shows backstage.

Critique: A uniquely extraordinary, deftly crafted, and inherently fascinating read from cover to cover, "I Am Herod" by Richard Kemick is a very highly recommended, iconoclastic, and thought-provoking addition to personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library collections. "I Am Herod" is one of those rare volumes that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf.

The Invention of Technological Innovation
Benoit Godin
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781789903331, $145.00, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: "The Invention of Technological Innovation: Languages, Discourses and Ideology in Historical Perspective", Benoit Godin (Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), Canada ) has produced a timely study that provides an intellectual and conceptual history of a key representation of innovation: technological innovation. Tracing the history of the discourses of scholars, practitioners and policy-makers, and exploring how and why innovation became defined as technological, Professor Godin studies the emergence of the term, its meaning, and its transformation and use over time.

Part I of this unique body of work offers a genealogy of technological innovation from technological unemployment through technological change and technological progress. Part II then turns to the discourse on technological innovation, asserting that it has emerged as a key term because it serves utilitarian functions.

"The Invention of Technological Innovation" will be of particular interest to students and academics who are studying the concepts and theories of innovation, whilst also being a key resource for corporate and governmental policy-makers, managers and analysts looking to gain a deeper understanding of the topic.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with six appendices, figures, tables, a fifty-three page bibliography, and a three page index, "The Invention of Technological Innovation: Languages, Discourses and Ideology in Historical Perspective" is a meticulous and seminal work of deftly organized and presented scholarship that is unreservedly recommended for both college and university library collections.

Michael J. Carson

Molly Martin's Bookshelf

Safe Beginnings
Christine Duncan
Susan Bodendorfer, cover
Treble Heart Books
9781931742856, $11.99, Paperback

The phone rang. "Beginnings, Battered Women's Shelter."

"What a crock. Ain't no battered women there," he whispered. I leaned forward as though that would help me hear, but the only word I could make out next was dykes.

"Can I help you?" I knew I sounded irritated.

He laughed. "I'm gonna help you, Honey. Get all those ladies out of there and send them home to their husbands where they belong before it's too late." -

Very quickly following that menacing telephone call; fire erupts in the building. Kaye Berreano, night shift counselor, is thrust into action helping to awaken and evacuate sleepy residents housed in the Denver Battered Women's Shelter.

Berreano rushes into acting; she shouts and pounds on doors, rousing sleeping occupants, calls 9-1-1, pinpoints the fire and to her dismay discovers new resident, Mary Ellen Schuster, unconscious in the inferno.

Kaye worries Mary Ellen's pregnant room-mate, Nicky, and Nicky's two small children may also be trapped in the fire.

Adding to the situation is the fact that no one at the safe house was particularly fond of resident Shuster.

Kaye herself a 'soon to be' single mom with her own divorce pending; realizes before long that Investigator Farrell, the Denver police arson detective working the case, is convinced Kaye knows the perpetrator.

From that opening Kaye's life becomes totally frenetic: her hours and paycheck are cut, then her paycheck is hung up in red tape.

The safe house residents are relocated to a Red Cross shelter, Kaye's husband Roger harasses her concerning their divorce settlement before deciding he wants guardianship of their children; son R.J. and daughter Hannah.

And, the threatening telephone calls continue.

The police continue downplaying the telephone threats; Kaye decides to do some probing on her own in addition to caring for her teenaged son and daughter and dealing with the divorce from Roger.

Before Roger turns his attention to a young 'bimbo', Kaye and Roger have been married for two decades. Kaye is trying hard not to feel rancorous that Roger and his lawyer have set up a settlement proposal to fully benefit Roger and leave Kaye with little to show for her years of marriage.

Upon the pages of her preliminary mystery novel Safe Beginnings, author, Christine Duncan presents a suspense jam packed, fast paced page turner over flowing with fully established characters and a suitably plotted storyline.

I found Duncan's main character, Kaye, to be a joy to read for the reason that she is so human. Kaye responds in predictable rational manner to the settings she faces, quite as most humans can be expected to do in same type state of affairs. On the night of the fire Kaye becomes rattled as many of us might and forgets the fire extinguisher, as many of us might.

She is a good mom who has uncertainties about her changing role with her children, she doesn't want her husband to know when he is getting to her, she exhibits disillusionment, impatience, anxiety, just as do all of us in comparable circumstance.

Safe Beginnings interlaces a dandy plot, presents credible conversation between believable well developed characters as writer Duncan takes a prickly premise and generates a highly understandable account about women and their efforts to muddle through a situation that even as close as only a decade or so ago; was often fuel for gossip but caused many to receive little reflection, sympathy or awareness.

Effort faced by those insulated in a battered woman's shelter or even the requirement for a shelter; has begun to move slowly away from the level of unmentionable in our social mores and into an understanding and acknowledgment that there are domestic matters that cannot nor should be hidden.

I found Christine Duncan's Safe Beginnings to be a thought provoking, fast paced mystery. Happy to recommend Safe Beginnings as a good choice for the personal reading list, the library catalogue and the therapist's shelf.

Help!: Debunking the Outrageous Claims of Self-help Gurus
Paul Damien
Synergy Books
9781934454145, $12.95, Paperback, 176 pages

Author Paul Damien declares on the pages of the preface of his Help!: Debunking the Outrageous Claims of Self-help Gurus that the purpose of Help! is to gauge critically what he feels are a gloomy class of contemporaneous accounts having a propensity for rearing a disagreeable head from time to time.

Having read the preface; I set out to study the balance of the book itself.

Chapter 0 The Pustulates; wherein the writer presents his interpretation concerning philosophies upon which Deepak Chopra centers his manuscript Ageless Body, Timeless Mind along with the philosophies as the focal point for many of his later works.

Chapter - 1: The Negation in which writer Damien is persuaded that information used is frequently pointed at mass consumers in the US and are actually an attempt to deride us. Moreover, Chapter 1 provides Readers data for Writing (Dirty) Secrets.

I found the chapter to be filled with a trace of the idiosyncratic as the writer offered a sequence of words to be committed to memory.

Damien asserts in order to become a guru; authors will need to grow an anthology of words to use. Whether the writer understands them is not imperative, however. He sees no need that the words need be automatically understood by the novice gurus.

Memorize the words with the intention to generate what he calls - guru type sentences - meant to 'grab the reader's attention by sounding as though a great, mystical concept is being put forth that could change the reader's life'.

As I continued reading through Help!, it became manifest that Author Damien has read a self-help volume offered by Australian author and film producer, Rhonda Byrne, to be especially unsettling.

Damien states frankly that Byrne and Chopra are his main targets. Chopra because, in the belief of Damien, he is an amalgamation of Dr Scott Peck and Dr Fritjof Capra.

Damien says where suitable, connections to Byrne's works are suggested.

Other chapter titles include 2 Insect Nation, 3 Damien's Laws to combat the Seven Choprasin Laws and 4 The Three Tenors. Chapter 5 entitled The Guru talks of the Placebo Effect, and Originality, while Chapter 6 touches on Deadened Buyers. Chapter 7 wraps up the work with Final Thoughts before listing appendices, along with a listing of a collection of notes prior to the bibliography.

I'm not certain how much significance Writer Damien proposed Readers would inculcate while reading his book Help: Debunking the Outrageous Claims of Self-help Gurus. His narrative includes adroit writing, filled with tart words and thought laced with humor.

Damien notes that Self-Help gurus collect lots of money by apparently enlightening the public regarding the subject of the great secrets of the world. Gurus, according to Damien, tell the non-gurus among the rest of us how to live and what to believe on the pages of their books.

Writer Paul Damien uses a blend of sharp ingenuity and all-pervading cynicism to take on Deepak Chopra as well as others of the various gurus. Damien specifies that the conundrums they advance will help us all toward becoming a little more accepting of others.

He says that to be a guru, it is necessary to engender an impression of writing with passion. To do so, per Damien, the successful guru seemingly pumps up inconsequential sentences with Eastern claptrap.

At times Paul Damien presents an almost penetrating blend of jocularity, deriding, and pragmatism, to reveal the inconspicuousness, insipid, and total ludicrousness that he feels incorporates the so-called work of a good many, well-known, self-help authors.

Thought-provoking read, noteworthy premise, worth the reading whatever Reader comprehension or acceptance of self-help may be.

Happy to recommend for all who may not be at all certain they agree, or, perhaps may simply disagree with self-help as put forth gurus.

Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke
Pamela Duncan Edwards
Henry Cole, Illustrator
9780064434805, $7.99, Paperback, 32 pages

Pamela Duncan Edwards' Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke is a delightful child and teacher pleasing narrative.

Osage County First Grade's ongoing acclamation of all things presented by children's author Pamela Duncan Edwards and Illustrated by artist Henry Cole was promoted from the first Duncan Edwards book I read to them.

Among one of initial books penned by Duncan Edwards is the enjoyable child pleasing narrative of Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke.

When Mom Fox decides upon a five-day, get away trip to Florida and does not include her eternally insatiable family of kits; the little ones are left in the care of brother Fosdyke. Of course, not much time passes before hunger sets in and the young foxes believe they must develop a food getting plan.

Perhaps they decide they can filch fowl from the nearby farmer's barnyard.

Then again, brother Fosdyke is not just any old average fox, Fosdyke has no yearning to filch fowl from the farmer's barnyard.

Rather, he promotes a preference for fungi, fries, fennel, fish, flan, figs, and French bread. Frank, Floyd, Freddy and little sis Flo want no part of such delicate food.

The foxy little brothers and Flo set out for the hen house first at 4:15, then at 4:45 and finally 5:15 on February 4 only to return each time quite as rapacious, unfulfilled and - out foxed- first by egg hurling feathery fowl, followed by their melee with a ferocious foxhound and lastly by a in the flesh meeting with the fuming farmer.

One of my foremost incentives for reading aloud to children in the classroom is to enable youngsters the encouragement gained from hearing movement of how language flows. The ebb and flow of spoken words is often missing for children who may be addressed in one-or-two-word commands and may be left to complete their language development void by watching TV and playing with children whose own language skills may also be scanty.

I found in the classroom; as children attend to stories inscribed - just for them-, they do begin expanding their mindfulness for how spoken language goes together.

Duncan Edwards' rhythmic writing procedure is met with bright eyed eagerness each time Osage County First Grade notice Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke in my hand as we gather for - reading on the rug- time.

One happy day following a reading of Four Famished Foxes I was pleased to be made aware of vocabulary building! The morning a grandmother accompanied her grandson to the classroom and told me he had returned home the previous day and announced, 'I am famished,' before devouring his after school PBJ snack was a delightful moment!

While Writer Duncan Edwards may have not have initially envisioned that Some Smug Slug as well as Four Famished Foxes would be alliterative; she noted that the words began to flow as the two books; which were among the earliest she created for children came into being.

I am pleased that the writer did not modify the sound patterning, Osage County First Grade enjoys searching for the words that - begin with a specific letter as we work together on initial sounds papers for language arts/reading development.

With at least 60 words all beginning with f on the pages of Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke; Emergent Readers are provided as a repetitive deftness of a storyline posed pretty much in tongue twisting fashion. As I turned from page to page; my students searched the graphics and listened with fervent interest for each F.

Little Reader eagerness did not wane with repeated readings, on the other hand, I always noticed a positive increase in student vocabulary as a heretofore unknown word began appearing in daily speech and vocabulary word writing.

Writer Duncan Edwards' nurturing, pleasing vocabulary merger is balanced to superiority by Illustrator Henry Cole's creative, vivacious, and lively entertaining images found augmenting the pages of this entertaining work.

I found Osage County First Graders needed little encouragement before beginning a recitation of the recurring and marvelous words beginning with - f- as I read Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke interspersed with many pauses to permit Little Learners occasion to chat re the words, the meanings and the sounds.

In general I found Emergent Readers tend to enjoy verbal communication; they enjoy the way words plummet from their tongue and repeat as they articulate the verbiage, they hear voiced around them. Anyone who has raised a child from infancy; can confirm to the melodic babble little people engage in while playing with toys.

Verbal interaction is part of who we are and what we can become.

I have found books chockfull with words not always found in the daily repertoire to be dandy for helping Emergent Readers grow larger language skills and grow a more significant vocabulary.

When their tongue-twisting mission sets fox siblings Floyd, Flo, Frank and Fred on the hunt for a tasty banquet, the little fellows and sis are determined to get themselves fed with real fox food.

It is when the foxes' chicken-hunting adventure is discouraged, time and again, that brother Fosdyke whips up, an on the whole vegetarian feast, which the famished little foxes find to taste down right amazing and not nearly as funky as they had worried.

"What fascinating flavors," they cry.

Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke is just, plain an amusing book to read and to hear read aloud. Thumbs up from Osage County First Grade. Happy to recommend for adding to the classroom book shelf, school, and public library catalogue, for gifting a special Emergent Reader, for gifting the class on first day of the new school term.

The Butterfly Alphabet Book
Brian Cassie and Jerry Pallotta, authors
Mark Astrella, illustrator
Charlesbridge Publishing
9780881068948, $7.95, Paperback

Brian Cassie and Jerry Pallota's The Butterfly Alphabet Book Illustrated by Mark Astrella is a delightful addendum to my assortment of children's Alphabet focused books.

Because I spent numerous years teaching first grade I have long been on the quest for yet another additional alphabet book. Finding The Butterfly Alphabet Book filled two educational needs for me. It is excellent for use for sounds work and letter introduction i.e. phonics tutelage, and, it is also very good for use it during our science work.

Turning the cover and sighting an Apollo butterfly sets the stage for what is to follow. A different type of butterfly as well as brief evocative text go along with each letter of the alphabet before ending with the Zephr Metalmark. My students are continually enthralled to appreciate that as with everything else there is no one size or color fits all when it comes to most groups of critters.

As the word dog may indicate Mrs M's Guye the daschie, or a fellow students poodle, or grandma's collie; so may the word Butterfly specify a large insect having a broad wingspan, or it may be a tiny bit of color darting among the flowers in the garden.

Together Little Learner's and Mrs M gaze through the wings of a Transparent butterfly and look in wonder while viewing a Queen Alexandra Birdwing. Little Learners ponder where is her crown, and, is she a real queen, or boss of the butterflies.

A to Z offers an unbelievable journey as we realize the splendor of the world's most magnificent insects. We converse regarding camouflage and why butterflies or other critters need to be able to hide as we search the graphic for the Indian Leaf Butterfly!

Little Learners are amazed to learn that skinny, smooth three part body and thin antennae help define butterflies from the chunky, fuzzy body and fuzzy antennae moths. We learn that Ulysses Butterfly and Urania Moth are cousins and read more regarding the differences and similarities of the various species.

I find Authors Jerry Pallotta and Brian Cassie have fashioned a delightful source work for use at home and in the classroom with their informative text. Illustrator Mark Astrella's comprehensive and glorious artwork brings gasps of marvel and enjoyment as Osage County First Grade oh and ah whilst Mrs M reads, and turns the page. I particularly like Astrella's method of presenting a deliberately blurred backdrop and the sharper focus of the moths and butterflies to assist in centering children's awareness upon the insects.

I relish listening to Little People chat with knowledge that the Magdalena Alpine's wings, black, help keep the little insect warm by absorbing light, while the Transparent Butterfly with those see through wings provides us a chance to add the word transparent to our vocabulary.

I like that straight forward simple to understand butterfly facts are introduced into the narrative. The life cycle of a butterfly is included to aid children toward recognizing the commonality between caterpillar and butterfly. Over lapping scales are illustrated demonstrating how the butterfly coloring is achieved. We discuss how or why a particular moth or butterfly may have gotten their name. What is it about the Dogface or the Great Purple Hairstreak that might have caused someone to think this a good name.

In the classroom I find Cassie and Pallota's The Butterfly Alphabet Book is a frequently chosen for trips home overnight as Little Learners share the reading with parents and siblings, it is habitually brought to the rug for me to read aloud to the class, it is taken by children to their table as they attempt to draw some of the lovely creatures depicted and it is selected often for free reading during DEAR reading period.

While Emergent Readers may not be able to read all the words; I find they enjoy sitting with a friend and chatting about the various moths and butterflies some we see in our area, and some we do not, they continue talking and talking about them.

Happy to recommend for classroom reading shelf, home, school and public library catalogue, gifting a special child's birthday or other holiday or for Little Student to gift the class on the first day of the new school term.

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Madison and Jefferson
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg
Random House
9780812979008 $24.00

The True Complexity Of The Past

Dedicated aptly to those who appreciate the "true complexity of the past" Andrew Burstein's and Nancy Isenberg's sprawling dual biography of over 650 pages of text and an additional 100 pages of notes and bibliography, "Madison and Jefferson" has the virtue of showing the difficult, multi-faceted character of historical study. The book resists the temptation of single-aspect historical explanation. The more one looks, the harder explanation becomes, to paraphrase the authors in their Preface. The book has two subjects and two authors. Burstein and Isenberg are the former co-holders of the Mary Frances Barnard Chair in nineteenth-Century U.S. History at the University of Tulsa. They are now, respectively, Manship Professor of history and professor of history at Louisiana State University. Isenberg is the author of a well-received revisionist biography of Aaron Burr, "Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr" while Burstein has written previously on Jefferson, "Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello".Andrew Jackson, and other subjects in early American history. There is a degree of repetition in this lengthy study probably resulting from the dual authorship.

The book examines the friendship and relationship between the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (1743 -- 1826) and the fourth president, James Madison (1751 -- 1836) during the course of over 50 years. The book has a number of aims which, in addition to its length and the complexity of its subject give it a polemical, disjointed character in places. It is a serious historical work but also has some of the unfortunate characteristics of an attempted blockbuster.

In tracing the interrelated careers of Madison and Jefferson, the book tries to rescue Madison from his position of relative obscurity and subordination to his more flamboyant, better-known colleague. The book has the commendable aim of making Madison better known. It separates his accomplishments from those of Jefferson by showing how the two founders had different perspectives, characters, and aims, how they frequently disagreed, and how Madison's accomplishments over the years, and his political skill as a legislator and president were as important to the early United States as those of Jefferson. In focusing on Madison the politician, the book takes away to a degree from Madison's accomplishments at the Constitutional Convention (the author's deny that Madison is entitled to the title "Father of the Constitution"). The authors also tend to understate the importance of the "Federalist Papers" which Madison coauthored with his later political foe, Alexander Hamilton.

The book attempts to do substantially more than explore the long-term relationship between Madison and Jefferson. The authors aim to change how Americans view these individuals and the rest of the founders. The tone is set in the first sentence of the book which describes Madison and Jefferson as "country gentlemen who practiced hardball politics in a time of intolerance." The authors attempt to remove Madison and Jefferson from what they perceive as their current status as iconic heroes and to see them as politicians in a harsh, challenging age. The book is skeptical and somewhat deflationary. Madison and Jefferson must be understood, first and foremost, according to the book, as the products of the plantations in the Tidewater area of Virginia in which they were raised and to which they always owed their first allegiance. Throughout their political careers, Madison and Jefferson did and wrote nothing without first asking the question, "How will it play in Virginia?". Their actions and political philosophies were geared to maintaining the primacy of Virginia among the colonies and then among the states. They did so, the book maintains, by promoting Westward expansion of the new nation for the purposes of increasing agricultural settlement by free farmers, and by defending the southern institution of slavery. More broadly, the aim of the book is to strip the generation of the founders from the sentimentality which, in the view of the authors, it still enjoys among too many people. The Revolution, its rhetoric to one side, did not promote equality among all but simply substituted the American elite, including Madison and Jefferson in Virginia and the commercial elite further North, from the ruling class of Great Britain.

In three lengthy parts, subdivided into chapters and subsections, the authors discuss Madison and Jefferson in the broader context of the revolutionary era. The first part "A Time of Blood and Fortune" covers 1774 -- 1789 and considers the Declaration of Independence, early colonial Virginia, the Revolution, and the Constitution, concluding with the Bill of Rights and the early days of Washington's presidency.

The second pat, "The Pathological Decade and Beyond" covers the years 1790 -- 1802, including most of Washington's presidency and that of John Adams. It deals with the early days of the Republic and the conflict between Hamilton and Madison, originally, and Hamilton and Jefferson when the latter became Secretary of State. The theme is the beginning of party politics which was, indeed, nasty and personal during the 1790s. The part ends with Jefferson's election to the presidency in 1800 and westward expansion with the Louisiana Purchase.

The third part "Signs of a Restless Future", covers 1803 -- 1836 and discusses the eventful latter part of Jefferson's presidency and his vindictiveness against Justice Samuel Chase and Aaron Burr. It proceeds to the events which led to the nearly disastrous War of 1812 during Madison's presidency. Madison distanced himself, eventually from his predecessor in rechartering the Bank of the United States, which both had earlier opposed, and in strengthening the Nation's defenses and expanding its budget in an un-Jeffersonian way. The final sections of this chapter consider the retirement of the two ex-Presidents, their continued friendship and political activity and their efforts, especially those of Jefferson, to shape how the revolutionary generation would be viewed by posterity. The book concludes with a rambling epilogue "Thawing Out the Historical Imagination" in which the author's try, with limited success, to tie together the many threads of their narrative.

There is much to be learned from this study. Among the values of the book, it shows that history must be learned slowly, with caution, over time, and from many sources. It is all to easy to extrapolate from the present to the past, a course which does not allow the past to speak in its own difficult, different voice for the lessons it may have. The problem with this book is that the authors overestimate their own originality, resulting in an irreverent tone not only to the era they consider but to prior students of the era. The authors view their skeptical, political approach to the era as an antidote to the tendency to idealize. But their deflationary tone is more part of the current temper than a critique of it. It seems to me that Americans are less guilty of idealizing their history and the founding generation than of ignorance of and lack of interest in it. This book is unlikely to make much impact on those who are apathetic about American history because its appeal will be largely to those readers who have a background and interest in the subject. For these readers, the skepticism and polemics in the book is overdone and probably all too unnecessary. This book is still a valuable contribution to understanding Madison, Jefferson, and early American history.

The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality
Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780525557500 $35.00

The True Complexity Of The Past Revisited

In 2010, historians Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein wrote a lengthy dual biography, "Madison and Jefferson" which they dedicated to those who appreciate "the true complexity of the past". The book emphasized the difficult character of historical study and warned its readers against the too-ready acceptance of commonplaces and myths. In their new book, "The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality" (2019) the authors describe their study of Madison and Jefferson as dispelling "the long held illusion that James Madison was Thomas Jefferson's dutiful political lieutenant". They argue that many historians have ignored their coequal relationship, overlooked Madison's partisanship, undervalued his presidency, and overstated his role at the Constitutional Convention.

The goal of Isenberg's and Burnstein's new book is to show that many students misunderstand the second and sixth presidents, John Adams (JA) and his son John Quincy Adams (JQA), more egregiously than, the authors insist, they misunderstand the relationship between Madison and Jefferson. The authors write in explaining the purpose of their study of the two Adams presidents.

"Father and son are seen as obstructionists, stuffed shirts, surly malcontents, who were resistant to the supposed good intentions embedded in Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy. Instead of viewing them as contrarians, we should know them as serious students of a road not taken, two who insisted that competence and rational judgment should supersede hollow celebrity and contrived popularity in a republic where voices ought always to register the choices of an informed citizenry."

The authors discuss the lives and lengthy political careers of both JA and JQA, their closely intertwined lives, and their father-son relationship. Commendably, the see the Adamses important less for their tangible accomplishments, important as they are, than for their writings and philosophy. Isenberg and Burstein write: "The best reasons we find for remembering the Adamses are those that concern their stubborn insights into human psychology. They understood the tricky relationship between human nature and political democracy, and how emotionally induced thought often undermined social and political justice." The skepticism, intellectual toughness, and realization of human weakness that the Adamses displayed is an important counterbalance to the story of American exceptionalism and to the easy view of a straight-line advance of democracy. The authors find the Adamses offer compelling insights in understanding "how the United States could have proceeded from its ecstatic opening pledge -- the magnanimous 'spirit of 1776' -- to where it is today as a distressed political system."

The book praises the Adamses love of learning and lifelong devotion to study. It seems them as offering a strong critique of the party system which began early in the presidency of George Washington and which led, in the authors' words to "tribalism". The Adams, father and son, were a "party of two". The authors summarize the fundamental commitments of JA and JQA in two succinct phrases: "independence" and "service to country".

As is its predecessor, "The Problem of Democracy" is a lengthy, sprawling book which aims to combine history, political philosophy, and biography and includes as well a degree of polemic. I have used the introduction titled "Mythic Democracy" to the book in framing its themes and might have used for this purpose the concluding section as well. The body of the book, however, is divided into two parts, "Progenitor" and "Inheritor", which constitute a more traditional dual biography of JA and JQA. It begins with JA's early life and legal career, his marriage to Abigail Smith, and his role in early revolutionary activity. It covers JA's long years abroad during the Revolutionary War and his relationship with his brilliant, intellectually-driven son. As JQA matured, he and his father began to relate to each other as colleagues and friends as well as father and son. The book explores JA's eight year vice-presidency and four year presidency while threading in JQA's activities during these years as a diplomat, Senator, and political thinker. With JA's defeat in his bid for a second term, the book show the rise of JQA in his role of Secretary of State and one-term president. After JQA lost his bid for a second term, he served as a Congressman for 17 years and attained renown for his independent opposition to slavery and to the "gag" rule.

At times, the thread of the book is hidden in the long biographical discussions. The book has the strength in showing the long relationship between Adams father and son, how the two were alike and how they differed. The most valuable parts of the dual biography discuss JA's and JQA'a lifelong devotion to learning. Both men were lifelong readers, diarists, and writers. They each learned from classical writers and from the Roman writer Cicero in particular. The authors offer an inspiring guide to the reading of JA and JQA. They also discuss in considerable detail the writings of the Adams father and son. Again, their writings are frequently passed over too quickly in more popular biographies. The book discusses in good detail JA's "Thoughts on Government", his three-volume "Defense of the Constitutions of the United States" and his "Lectures on Davila". JQA's writings receive equal attention, including his Diary, the "Publicola" lectures, his poetry, his Inaugural Address, and his study of the social compact late in life. Reading, writing, and thought are at the heart of this book and of the Adamses philosophy of government. They show how the Adamses critiqued individualism, charisma, the cult of personality, and over-reliance on the party system in their own day. The thought and career of the Adams counsels against a too-facile, superficial understanding of democracy.

I have long admired JA and JQA, and I learned a good deal from this book. The authors, perhaps, overstate their own originality, as there are other outstanding recent biographies and studies of the thought of both men. Readers inspired by this book to learn more may wish to explore the several volumes of original writings of JA, JQA, and Abigail Adams available from the Library of America.

The tone of "The Problem of Democracy" is sometimes overbearing, both as regards current affairs and the Adamses contemporaries. Figures such as Jefferson and Jackson should not be viewed as merely the product of the cult of personality or of a tribal two-party system. They too have their own strengths and their strong teachings and influence. as do John Adams and John Quincy Adams. There are many strands in American thought and life and it is important to try to recognize and weigh them on their merits and not simply to substitute one set of heroic figures for another. It is in this way that we will approach the goal of Isenberg and Burstein in understanding and appreciating our country and its history and the "true complexity of the past".

Robin Friedman

Smeetha Bhoumik's Bookshelf

No Finis: Triangle Testimonies, 1911
Deborah Woodard.
Ravenna Press
9781732641648, $12.95, PB, 78pp,

NO FINIS is a startling body of work based on transcripts of the trial that took place in New York City in 1911, after hundred & forty six garment factory workers - mostly young women recently arrived from eastern Europe & Italy, died in a fire in their factory on the top three floors of the Asch building. The building was renamed Brown building, and has become a part of the New York University. Deborah Woodard started writing this book deeply moved by her visit in 2011 to New York University's centenary exhibit 'The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire : Hundred Years After'. The tragedy had occurred on March 25, 1911. Deborah's imagination was also sparked by her musings on the labour exchange her mother had engaged in - writing in exchange for sewing (she wrote for her friend's children and received clothes in return). Deborah wondered: could those garment factory workers afford the shirtwaists they made ? This book is based on transcripts of the trial 'The People of New York Vs Isaac Harris and Max Blanck' and Deborah focuses on the cat & mouse game that the lawyer Mr. Steuer played with witnesses.

NO FINIS can be seen as a blazing new torch shining on dark storm tossed seas of the past that continue to carry their foibles into the present. To quote Josephine Nicolosi (a Triangle fire survivor of 1911 who witnessed yet another fire on March 19, 1962) when in anger and despair she cried out to a friend: 'what good have been all the years? The fire still burns.'
The scope of this slender collection is immense, interpreting events of over a hundred years ago, to uncover and create little apertures of light bringing redressal and hope.

NO FINIS is situated at the reflective intersection of writing, art, expression, creative justice, labour laws, factories, workplace safety, workers, women at work, migrants, language, the law.... fair practices and much more. It sears the imagination and stirs up conscience.

The most striking aspect of this collection is the craft - the transformation of legal transcripts into spare, eloquent, voluble poetry that speaks across a whole century to our individual and collective conscience. The ingenious illustrations by John Burgess complement the words in mapping the darkness that pervaded that spring of 1911.

The geometry of the words and the spaces within the book share a concern for the reader, who could be overwhelmed by the claustrophobic terror of the accounts. Sparse, spare, elegant and true, the pages let you experience tragic details in their safe stoic environment. For instance, this poem ' Mr Steuer and Ida Okan'.

Mr. Steuer and Ida Okan

When you went home at night did you ever have to go out the Washington Place door ?

Always I did.

Always? To the other lawyer you said usually?

I didn't say "Usually". I said " Always".

Didn't you shake your head up and down.

It's just a scatter of ash in my mind that I shake down.

When I say " Washington Place door", you say "elevators". I want to know what door you are talking about.

I didn't know what you asked me. I always used to go with the Elevators home.

What kind of work did you do ?


You mark ?

Yes sir.

Did you suffer injuries ?

I dream two scars where the wings should be. I see the mechanical up and down of the feathers each time I breathe.

Is this a dramatic performance ?

There was a girl curled stone-like on her side.

Smeetha Bhoumik

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

From Smokeless Fire: Summoned
M. A. Guglielmo
Tule Publishing
9781950510382, $18.99

M.A. Guglielmo's debut novel, Summoned, is a light-hearted, fun read which should appeal to older YA readers. Daniel Goldstein, a Jewish gaming designer, is told by his grandmother's ghost to summon a jinn to save the world from fallen angels. He ends up with a supernatural party girl. Zahara, who introduces him to her friend, Zaid. The three combine forces to battle the angels. The dialogue is zippy and laced with sarcasm. It was enjoyable to read a paranormal book with new-to-me Middle Eastern mythology.

Every Time He Dies
Tara East
Self Published
9780648581505, $16.10

The cover of this book alone would prompt me to read it. As a Texas gal who lives in a city where El Día de los Muertos is celebrated, the skeleton with its ties to Sugar Skulls drew me in. This book is about grief, hauntings, and identity.

The protaognist, Daphne Lawrence (Daff) is haunted by recent events in her life. Her fiance died in a tragic accident (one Daff fears she may have caused), her mother passed away from cancer, and she shut her father out of her life. She shifted her field of study from toxicology to embalming. She is a rational woman of science and doesn't believe in what she calls "woo-woo" things like crystals and ghosts and psychics. When she discovers a haunted watch buried in the sand, she must rethink her life.

This is a well-paced thrilled which follows two threads: Daff as she confronts her grief and her father as solves his last homicide before he retires from the police force. Author Tara East successfully blends paranormal, biker gangs, police procedurals, and "woo-woo" stuff, all in a well-delineated setting of Brisbane, Australia.

Beneath the Ashes
Dea Poirier
Thomas & Mercer
9781542092784, $15.95

Beneath the Ashes is the second in Poirier's Calderwood series. Detective Claire Calderwood is investigate a murder in a nearby community across the island where she lives. When a girl's body is discovered tied to the bed of a hotel room and covered with ashes from an ash can. There are no witnesses and the efficacy of the few clues has been diluted with DNA from multiple cigarettes. Claire must handle her past (the death of her sister) while figuring out who killed this girl. When another girl is found, Claire is faced with tracking down one very smart serial killer.

The pacing of the novel is fast and intense enough that I read it in one sitting. The police procedural aspect seems accurate. Claire is tough enough to be a cop, but with enough flaws to be human. Though this is the second in the series and I hadn't read #1 (Next Girl to Die), I was able to read Beneath the Ashes without difficulty. My only complaint was that Noah, Claire's boyfriend, isn't well realized, but that may be because he was well-delineated in book one.

The New England winter is almost a character in itself.

This book might do well read in conjunction with The Winter Sister by Megan Collins. Both books deal with the loss of a sister via murder, but the The Winter Sister is told from the POV of a "civilian" while Beneath the Ashes is told from the police POV.

Best Kept Secrets
Tracey S. Phillips
Crooked Lane Books
9781643852270, $26.99

Best Kept Secrets is Tracey S. Phillips's debut novel and provides a roller coaster ride and a surprise ending. Morgan Jewell, a female cop, becomes obsessed with finding the murderer of Fay, her best friend in high school. Morgan's current case is similar in modus operandi to that used by Fay's killer. Morgan partners with an approaching-retirement fellow cop, Donnie James. As with most serial killer thrillers, the mood is dark and intense as Morgan becomes convinced that the same person who killed Fay has been killing women for years. The narrative flip-flops between the killer's POV and Morgan's POV as well as between past and present; however, these flips are easily followed. Morgan is not the most likable protagonist. There is some repetition of facts, such as the definition of PITS, a form of PTSD, that were annoying.

Long Island Noir
Kaylie Jones, editor
Akashic Books
9781617750625, $15.96

Akashic Books, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, is dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors ignored by the mainstream. Akashic has an excellent reputation and when they release a new book, the quality is guaranteed to be superb. and put out some really good books. Long Island Noir, an anthology of dark fiction set on Long Island, has been in my to-be-read pile for far too long, and now I'm sorry I let it linger there. Most of the stories are quite good, rather unconventional, and present a gritty twist on the "American Dream." Though not every story is true noir, that off-shoot of pulp fiction epitomized by Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, these stories focus on Long Island's seedy with its loan sharks, hustlers, small- and large-scale mobsters, corrupt actions and pastimes of the wealthy. Kaylie Jones, the editor of this collection, makes the point that the Great Gatsby is really the first Long Island noir story.

Some of these stories are excellent, particularly "The Shiny Car in the Night" by Nick Mamatas. It was selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. Another favorite was Anjali's America. In it, a young Pakistani doctor treats another Pakistani woman whose fate she might have shared, had she not escaped from arranged marriage and completed her medical education. The story rang particularly true to me as, when I lived in Pakistan, I was friends with a woman with a Ph.D. in botany married to an intellectually-challenged rug salesman. In Gateway to the Stars, a young man is prevented from finding his younger, drug-addicted brother by a surly copy who, despite being raised in the same town as the young man, has adopted Long Island attitude.

Long Island Noir is definitely a book to savor, despite the page-turner quality of the stories.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Striding Lines: The Unique Story Quilts of Rumi O'Brien
Bobbie Malone
University of Wisconsin Press
728 State Street, Suite 443, Madison, WI 53706-1418
9780299325541, $24.95, PB, 112pp,

Synopsis: The gnarled branches of a beautiful old plum tree reach toward the sky. A mushroom hunter searches for morels among rolling hills. A small boat is tossed among the tumultuous waves of an angry sea. "Striding Lines: The Unique Story Quilts of Rumi O'Brien" is a beautifully illustrated homage to Wisconsin artist and quilter Rumi O'Brien who presents these striking images of her work and many more, accompanied by descriptions that share the stories of each piece in the artist's own words. Each quilt represents a moment, often autobiographical, crafted with whimsy, revealing an inspired talent.

In "Striding Lines" Bobbie Malone (an historian, author, and editor, and former director of the Office of School Services at the Wisconsin Historical Society) reaches beyond the quilts themselves to tell O'Brien's own personal story, from her initial foray into the quilting world to her developed dedication to the craft. Contributions from leaders in the art, textile and quilting community, including Melanie Herzog and Marin Hanson, contextualize O'Brien's work in the greater community of quiltmakers and artists. "Striding Lines" celebrates and showcases the life and ingenuity of a Japanese-born American immigrant whose oeuvre is equally Japanese and Wisconsinite -- and entirely distinctive.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, splendidly elegant, and impressively informative study of the life and work of Rumi O'Brien, "Striding Lines: The Unique Story Quilts of Rumi O'Brien" will be of particular interest to dedicated quilters, as well as the Wisconsin Art History collections of community and academic libraries.

Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen
Molly A. Kitamura & John Agcaoili
Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310
9780764358142, $29.99, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: Within the pages of "Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen" by the team of Molly a. Kitamura and John Agcaoili, tattoo artists from around the United States invite the reader into their personal kitchens in a unique and intimate cookbook comprised of their favorite home recipes.

The recipes are easy to follow and range from guacamole and margaritas to guava-glazed ribs, from mom's quesadillas de Oaxaca to vegan churros, and from grandma's baked apples to Freddy Corbin's apple pipe.

"Knives and Needles" impressively celebrates the intersection of food and tattoo culture and the beauty that comes from skill transforming into art, whether it is through ink or the plate. Full-color photos of the various artist cooks own tattoos showcase their work in vivid detail.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and unique culinary compendium, "Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen" is a singularly and especially recommended addition to personal and community library cookbook collections.

Dead Flowers
Alexander Laidlaw
Nightwood Editions
c/o Harbour Publishing (dist.)
9780889713550 $19.95 pbk / $13.25 Kindle

Synopsis: An anonymous writer stays up late into the night penning personal and inappropriate letters to a local public official. A new father and cook at a Montreal cafe chronicles the tyrannical rise of a new manager. An eccentric young student, in trying to carve out a space for herself, deals an existential blow to her roommate. Dead Flowers is a collection of stories featuring characters who have become estranged from the trajectory of their lives, yet must grapple with youth, love, isolation, drugs, friendship and the changing of seasons. These are stories of peripheral tragedies, moral ambivalence and compromise, chance and how we are shaped by what finds us.

Critique: Dead Flowers is an anthology of poignant short stories about characters who have drifted apart from the normal course of their lives. They face amoral tragedies both dour and bizarre. They may or may not learn from their complex predicaments, but perhaps the reader will? Dead Flowers is fascinating to the very last page, and highly recommended for connoisseurs of original fiction. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Dead Flowers is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.25).

Rishi Yoga
Pierre Bonnasse
Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
9781620557860 $16.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

Synopsis: In this detailed guide, yoga and meditation teacher Pierre Bonnasse reveals the simple movement, breathing, and awareness techniques of the Rishi Yoga tradition, passed down through generations of yogis in the Himalayas. He shows how to integrate Rishi Yoga into daily life for discovering and recognizing the Universal Self, or Pure Awareness, and unveiling the peace and joy inherent in each of us.

The author begins by detailing the foundational practices of Rishi Yoga: easy physical movements, done slowly and with full awareness, combined with breathing exercises, sensory perception, and concentration. These moving-meditation exercises are physically simple enough to be performed seated, standing, or lying down and work progressively to allow you to tune in to your energetic body centers and cultivate a natural and effortless sense of self-awareness, which is the hallmark of Rishi Yoga, in every situation and at every moment. The author explores how Rishi Yoga trains us to become receptive to all levels of being--the physical body, emotional body, and subtle body--and enables access to tissue-level awareness and cellular memory. He also looks at this dynamic meditation's rapport with traditional forms of yoga, such as Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Yoga Nidra, and with the philosophy of nonduality, Advaita Vedanta, and modern methods of mindfulness.

The author explains how, as Rishi Yoga advances you from personal awareness to a state of universal consciousness, it also becomes more and more integrated into the ordinary activities of daily life, making every moment--from the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep--an act of meditation, active perception, undivided attention, and expanded awareness. And once the practice of Rishi Yoga has permeated all facets of your waking life, it brings the realization that true happiness or Enlightenment is neither a state nor an experience to attain or acquire; it is an ever-present reality to be recognized behind every thought, emotion, speech, and action--the "ultimate Bliss" described by the ancient Indian scriptures.

Critique: Author Pierre Bonnasse, a teacher of yoga, meditation, and Indian philosophy, presents Rishi Yoga: Movement Meditation Practices of the Himalayan Sages. Several pages of black-and-white photographs illustrate the yoga poses described in Rishi Yoga, yet Rishi Yoga is more than a simple how-to guide. Chapters also explore the fundamentals of Rishi Yoga as a path toward mindfulness, and a means to improve one's day-to-day waking life. Rishi Yoga is highly recommended, especially for personal and public library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Rishi Yoga is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99).

The Secret of the Magic Crystal
Mishea Obiji
Anamcara Press LLC
9781941237267, $16.99, PB, 38pp,

Synopsis: Alana is reluctant to share her magical crystal, but also desperately wants the attention that comes when someone is envious of you, so she shows it to her two best friends, Mae and Samara. They beg her to let them have it for a night, and she finally agrees. Mae takes the crystal home and has her own dream where she is a powerful sorceress. Next, Samara takes the crystal and dreams that she is a mermaid deep in a watery cave filled with treasure.

Samara is enchanted by the glitter but the crystal shines a light towards the back of the cave where she sees an old octopus and he shows her a box with a riddle inside. The riddle tells of a mysterious light the octopus will guide them to. When she awakes, she knows that there was something special about the dream and that they must try and find a way to get back to the cave and continue on the journey that has been set before them.

Meanwhile, back in the forest a group of city children, who are the victims of a bossy character named Kyron, have come to play. They glimpse an eerie light dash by them and they follow it only to barge in on the dreamy world of Alana, Mae, and Samara. Alana's fanciful dream fades away as if it had never existed in the first place.

Only after Alana decides to open her heart and invite the group of city children into the world of the secret crystal does the magic truly begin! But how can all of the children share one crystal happily? They decide to seek the assistance of the old octopus from the cave, who offers them a final riddle, and an amazing out-of-this-world adventure!

Critique: An elegant, original, and wonderfully entertaining children's picture book story by author and illustrator Mishea Obiji, "The Secret of the Magic Crystal" will have a very special appear for young readers with an interest int fairies, mermaids and dragons. With its underlying and positive message of friendship, imagination and transformation, "The Secret of the Magic Crystal" is especially and unreservedly recommended for family, elementary school, and community library picture book collections for young readers.

Someone Else's Shoes
Ellen Wittlinger
Charlesbridge Publishing
85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472
9781580897495, $16.99, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Izzy, a budding stand-up comic, is already miserable about her father's new marriage and the new baby on the way. Then ten-year-old cousin Oliver and his father, Uncle Henderson, move in with Izzy and her mom because Oliver's mother committed suicide only a few months ago. And to make matters worse, Ben, the rebellious 16-year-old son of Izzy's mother's boyfriend, winds up staying with them, too.

But when Uncle Henderson (who has been struggling with depression after his wife's suicide) disappears, Ben, Izzy, and Oliver set aside their differences and hatch a plan to find him. As the threesome travels in search of Henderson, they find a surrogate family in each other.

Critique: A deftly crafted and thoroughly 'kid friendly' novel for young readers ages 10-16, "Someone Else's Shoes" by established children's author Ellen Wittlinger is an especially recommended addition to middle school, highschool, and community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Someone Else's Shoes" is also now available in a paperback edition (9781623541132, $9.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know
Marcelo Brazzi
9781796035148, $19.99 pbk / $3.99 Kindle, 202 Pages,

Your Party, your vote, be informed!

"This book explores the history and differences between political parties," the author Marcelo Brazzi summarises in his prologue. Then this "card-carrying independent," a well-travelled man, who holds a master's degree in systems engineering, and who has accomplished so much in his careers as a spacecraft engineer on NASA's Apollo program, and a computer science instructor at California State University, goes on to share with his readers a wealth of well researched information, which, when studied, enables them to come to a cognizant conclusion.

To understand the two major parties better, Marcelo Brazzi takes his reader back through history, reflecting on their past performances. These studies allow us to understand fully how the parties have evolved throughout the years, and examines their instigation, and implementation of various important political decisions which have been made, on subjects such as the vote for women, slavery, gun laws and workers' rights.

It was also very interesting to see how the various forms of media, with politics, like other things, have used their ability and power to influence the public. The media have the ability to manipulate the facts either way, and in return affect the bias, resulting in a remarkable influence on peoples decisions on which way to vote in an election, and an impact on the economy.

Other important issues which are considered are the environmental impacts caused by our actions, and the increase in population growth, both of which are hot topics at the moment. These two subjects which are intertwined, are having an incredible influence on the future of our planet, and the political decisions we make today will affect the health not only of our planet, but everyone on it. It is vitally important to take ownership of the problems we have caused, and the duty of those in power to ensure that changes are made not only for our generation, but for those to come, and indeed for this planets long-term survival.

In summary, this book offers the reader a comprehensive insight into the two major parties. The author explains clearly, throughout the book, and also in the Appendix, in various ways such as graphs, charts, tables, quotes, and references, how these parties have evolved and work. Highly recommended for readers who have a sincere interest in politics.

Available from Amazon

Dynomike: Pay It Forward
Frankie B. Rabbit
Independently Published
9781700400031, $13.33, 60 Pages

The message Dynomike is spreading in this bright and engaging children's book is that it's good to help others, not for reward, just to be a friend to someone in need.

When Dynomike goes to get some of his favourite strawberry pickles he is disappointed that the shop keeper Robyn has run out. However, being nice, Dynomike doesn't let this setback ruin his day, instead, when he spies his friend Spunky having trouble, quick as a flash he's to his aid. What does he want in return? Nothing! "Just pay it forward. Help someone today," is his reply.

Well Spunky follows Dynomike's advice and throughout the day the help is paid forward. All the small gestures mean a lot to the recipients, and just take a little time and consideration. What's more, at the end of the book the young reader discovers that sometimes, small random acts of kindness can reap wonderful rewards!

My granddaughter loved me reading this colourful book to her, she adores Dynomike and all his friends, so of course, we download each book as soon as it is released.

As a mother and grandmother it is nice to have found a series of children's books which are suitable for young children, and are also colourful and engaging for them. Most importantly, I can always be assured that each one will cleverly lead her train of thought towards being a nicer person as she grows up, and that it will encourage her to have compassion, and understanding, to others.

Available from Amazon

Gunfight in Abilene
Joe Corso
Independently Published
9781792796210, $19.19, 252 Pages

Joe Corso has written many great books and this new western which continues the adventures of The Calico Kid, now Sheriff Cal Rhymes of Cheyenne, is a must read for all wild west fans.

The book opens with a solemn notification in the Cheyenne Leader that a ranch has been plundered and the pregnant wife of the owner attacked and killed. The owner is none other than Cal, called away on business he is in Laramie, however as soon as he receives the editor's telegraph he heads home - one thought in his head, kill the men who killed his wife and stole his happiness.

Hardly glancing at the trail riders he passes on his way to Cheyenne, he is soon to learn that they were in fact the murderers. Leaving Cheyenne with his deputy and friend Spud it's not long however before they are hot on their trail and Cal has the opportunity to start gaining his revenge, discovering not only the names and descriptions of the culprits but also their destination, Abilene. But why Abilene?

The trail travellers and residents of the towns they pass through recognise The Calico Kid, and uneasily he faces the twin evils of being revered as a peacekeeper, but also being the target of every gunslinger, finding himself challenged to duels by those who cannot resist the chance that they might win.

As their journey progresses they join a family wagon through Indian territory their beautiful daughter Loretta is smitten with him, however, revenge is paramount in Cal's mind, nothing can distract him from his mission...

Why Abilene? Well these men are not just killers, they have other cards at play and it is the task of Cal, Spud, the sheriff of Abilene - Wild Bill Hickock, Jesse James, and their followers to ensure that the law is upheld and the guilty brought to justice - but what a challenge!

This story has it all, gunfights, outlaws, Indians, settlers and even romance, and with plenty of excitement throughout I am sure that this story will enthral all Wild West fans.

Available from Amazon:

Lights Out (Super Speed Sam Book 6)
Monty J. McClaine
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
9781540783882, $5.99, 74 Pages

In this special Super Speed Sam book mom is cooking the dinner and suddenly there's a flash of lightning and the kitchen light goes out, the bulb has gone! Being a mom she tries to act cool so her children, little princess Molly, and her older brother Jack are not scared. Dad's at work so she decides to change the bulb, even though she's scared of electricity and heights!

Jack gets his torch and she climbs up, onto the kitchen table to change the bulb...

What happens next brings tears of worry to the eyes of Molly and Jack, however someone else is in the kitchen, and watching the proceedings, their Basset Hound Sam. Sam has secret abilities which he earnt one very special Christmas eve, but that's another story, which fans like us of Super Speed Sam can read in Santa's Rescue Dog (Super Speed Sam Book5).

Quickly sizing up the problem, and what he can do to help, Sam accesses which abilities he will need and in the twinkle of an eye he changes. In super speed mode he uses these abilities, then returning to his normal self, without the children even noticing. Then in his very special way indicates to his young master Jack what he must do next.

What follows are very important messages to children, about how to act, what to do in the case of an emergency, and also a little tip about safety.

My granddaughter and I love these books, we read one each time she visits. She loves them because they are brightly illustrated and we love dogs, and I love the messages the author manages to weave into the story, and the bond which Jack and Sam share, although some would say they are partners in crime.

I highly recommend this book to all children who love animals, I am sure, that like us they will enjoy this, and the other Super Speed Sam adventures in this series.

Available from Amazon:

I Believe: It Is Ok to Be Afraid and Talk About My Fears, Just Like Sparky, the Amazing Dog
Suzanne Mondoux
Balboa Press
9781982222772, $8.99, 58 Pages

In this inspirational story two horses, Carlo and Teddy, are yet again on their adventures when they hear whimpering. Being inquisitive they decide to investigate, and discover a little black dog, hiding, head in paws.

The little dog is scared, and so being caring souls they suggest that he should come with them so he is not alone and afraid anymore. Eagerly he joins them on their journey and is happy when they suggest the name Sparky for him.

Teddy explains to Sparky that although he is scared, he has in fact already taken his first brave step by lifting his head from his paws and talking to them. Teddy believes that he knows just the place where Sparky will be at home, loved and encouraged to overcome his fears by the children and animals who live there.

After hearing about this amazing place Sparky is keen to go there, and when they arrive Sparky is immediately made to feel safe, at home and loved by everyone there.

In this 'I Believe' book, through interactive drawing and positive affirmations children discover that although facing their fears is scary at first, if they can take the step to bravely talk them over, they will be able to overcome them.

At the special place Sparky is invited to, and in the book, the author invites her readers to write for 30 days about the fears they have, and things which they can do to overcome them, and then also each day they are encouraged to think what they can do to help animals.

The author, Suzanne Mondoux is an explorer, environmental professional and author, and her love for animals and her dedication to being a voice for them shines through in this wonderful series of incredibly motivational children's books.

Available from Amazon

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Tanja Laden's Bookshelf

Hippie Chick, Coming of Age in the '60s
Ilene English, M.A.
She Writes Press
c/o Sparkpoint Studio
9781631525865, $16.95 PB, $8.69 Kindle, 344pp,

Originally from New Jersey, Ilene English was still a teen when she embarked on a carefree path that had her bouncing between California, Hawaii and Oregon. Throughout her different addresses, she experienced devastating deaths in her family as well as deaths of romantic relationships. Yet while her life has been punctuated by a series of losses, each privation served as a kind of catalyst for a new chapter in her life, and those chapters have come together in this earnest, pure memoir. "This book was a spiritual exploration for me, and in the process of writing it, I was transformed by the experience," English said in a Q+A.

English moved to San Francisco after her big sister gave her a one-way plane ticket as a high school graduation gift. English then moved in with three guys in 1963, shortly before she had a legal procedure referred to as a "therapeutic abortion," which required her to convince three psychiatrists that she would commit suicide if she had the child.

Through the process of living, learning, and writing, English comes to see that her cavalier attitude towards relationships with men underscored deeper issues of feeling less-than. While on the surface, the 1960s seemed like a free-love free-for-all, bolstered by the introduction of the birth control pill, it was actually somewhat counter to what she wanted and needed as a female. "[B]efore feminism it seemed less threatening to sleep with a guy than to make a scene by saying 'no,'" she writes out in the book. "After all, we had been brought up to defer to men, respect their wishes, and listen wide-eyed to their opinions. So free love was really about men satisfying their own needs."

Besides free love, another of the book's cogent themes is the role psychedelics played on the author's evolution as a human being. A self-described "Hebrew school dropout," English believes that psychedelics are a valuable tool in that they enable us to develop our perceptions and to experience life on a different level. "Through peyote and other plant teachers I was opened wide, and got to see that it is a spiritual universe and that we are spiritual beings," she writes. "But I still believe that our work here on this planet is to learn how to be a human being."

Today, English remains a big advocate of psychedelic therapy for healing and recommends reading Michael Pollan's book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

"What I believe is that psychedelics can be a sacred portal that take us to a world beyond this one," writes English. "Under their influence, I accessed a well of wisdom and love that most people will never even know exists. It was as if a deeply held secret was somehow revealed to me. I have always felt humbled to have had a fleeting glance of another world besides this one."

During her 70-plus years on this planet, English has used her natural curiosity, itinerant sensibility, and inherent drive to help others while helping herself. Hippie Chick is a valuable reminder that we are a sum of our life choices, and that oftentimes, the most painful lessons are the most valuable. The most important part is to give ourselves some slack, and to let those around us help when they want to. In the words of the author, "When people feel seen and accepted, that is when real healing begins to happen."

Tanja M. Laden

Valentina Thörner's Bookshelf

The Art of Working Remotely
Scott Dawson
Knight Rose Press
9781733991315, $23.99 HC, $8.69 Kindle
9781733991308, $14.99, PB, 174pp,

Scott has been working remotely longer than anyone I know. When he started working from home over two decades ago there were hardly any resources available. Distributed work wasn't really a thing yet, co-working spaces were far and wide in between, and today's communities around location independent jobs did not exist. But Scott knew what he wanted - so he had to figure out a way to make it work. Whether you are already working remote, or whether you are considering starting in a distributed company - this book will make you more productive and ensure that you don't lose your personal life in the process. And if you lead (or plan to lead) a remote team, the book can help you to level up your team - you might even consider it required reading for every new hire.

Valentina Thörner, Reviewer

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice
Eric Dregni
Motor Books
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
9780760367117, $24.99, PB, 144pp,

Synopsis: Until 1949, resurfacing an ice rink required an ungainly tractor-pulled shaver followed by three or four workers scooping away the shavings and then spraying and squeegeeing water. The process (including the refreezing) took more than an hour, as skaters or hockey players waited patiently. That all changed when a tireless inventor by the name of Frank J. Zamboni (who also happened to own a skating rink in Southern California) put his mind to creating a quality sheet of ice in a shorter time.

The story of the machines the Zamboni Company has produced (and which continues to be beloved among sports enthusiasts as ice skates and hockey pucks) is fully told in Eric Dregni's "Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice", a fun-filled history of machine-age ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that forever changed the nature of ice sports.

Inside this official illustrated story, created with the cooperation of the Zamboni Company, you'll be greeted by a wealth of visual material from their archives. Readers will learn about: The early development of Zamboni ice-resurfacing machines; How they work and have evolved over the years; The story behind figure-skating legend Sonja Henie's personal Zamboni ice resurfacers; Anecdotes from drivers; Stories behind paint schemes; Colorful tales about Zamboni ice resurfacer drivers -- and so much more!

Featured are the design and workings of the latest models, such as the world's first OEM lithium-ion-powered ice resurfacer, along with fun new Zamboni tales and milestones, like the 12,000th machine delivered and the 2018 formation of Zamboni Europe in Sweden. Entertaining sidebars explore the appeal of Zamboni machines, go inside Zamboni facilities, examine the company's other less-well-known machines, and highlight Zamboni machines' television and film "roles."

"Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice" offers skating sports enthusiasts of all ages a fun-filled and informative look at one of the most beloved machines on four wheels!

Critique: Unique, informative, profusely illustrated, and an inherently fascinating red from cover to cover, "Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice" is unreservedly recommended, especially for community library collections, as well as the personal reading lists of all ice skating and ice hockey fans!

Chris Sorrell, author
Jason Wilson, illustrator
Titan Comics
9781787734197, $12.99, HC, 48pp,

Synopsis: "MediEvil: The Comic Prequel" tells the story of Sir Daniel Fortesque after the ending of MediEvil 2. Traveling back in time Sir Dan encounters his original, living self and (re)experiences the events leading up to the legendary battle in which he first lost his life (and his eye). He must work with some old friends and battle some old foes if he is to save his kingdom and seal his status as the Hero of Gallowmere.

A thrilling prequel adventure, in the story that would have been MediEvil 3, told by the original creators of the beloved videogame! Director Chris Sorrell and lead artist Jason Wilson (Surface Tension) "MedieEvil" is a new tale starring Sir Daniel Fortesque, the skeletal knight, after he is swept back through time. Fans will meet Dan's living (and wimpy) past self for the very first time. Of special note is the inclusion of unseen cover art and six MediEvil movie poster designs.

Critique: Although a kind of prequel to two popular video games starring an undead hero, "MediEvil" can be fully appreciated as a stand alone read for those to whom this would be their first introduction to the collaborative work of author Chris Sorrell and illustrator Jason Wilson. While especially recommended for community library Graphic Novel collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "MediEvil" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Willis M. Buhle

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

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