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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 23, Number 12 December 2023 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf C.A. Gray's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Kate Michaelson's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Michael Fitzgerald
Transit Lounge
9781923023024, $27.54 HC / $14.99 Kindle 208pp.

I'm not always Zelda, and Zelda is not always me.

The voice is not Zelda's and yet it is, and this is a very strange book which is not at all what the blurb inside the dust jacket suggests it is. Instead it is something of a mystery, until the owner of the voice which is 'not always' Zelda has dropped enough hints to make her identity clear. As the film critic C. J. Johnson says on the back cover, this woman is someone 'we all know and don't know at all, and she is passionate, smart, self-aware and very, very funny.'

Zelda Zonk, whose body she inhabits, lives with her two cats, Carson and Isak, in an architect-designed, cliff-top apartment in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse. Carson and Isak, so the voice tells us,

are named after two writers I had lunch with in the (late?) 1950s. Not that their taste runs to oysters, white grapes and champagne, as those two lady writers did, nor are they female....Carson and Isak are undoubtedly boys. I've always preferred the company of males.

The cats disrupt this person's typing on her ancient American Royal machine as she remembers 'important and personal' fragments of her 'way of being': her films, her three husbands, and her thoughts and opinions about photographers, producers, films, books, art, and about Zelda. 'It must be two decades since you last saw (heard?) the twists of this tongue', she tells us. 'But why now you ask - what has changed?'. Two things, apparently. 'One was a typewriter and the other a book, and they were addressed to Zelda Zonk'.

Zelda, appears to be Jewish (as was this other person, who converted to Judaism after she married her third husband), and she observes many Orthodox Jewish customs.

You might not notice her, only your reflection in her sunglasses. With the slight synthetic sheen of her wig as it catches the sun, the Jewish ladies think of her as their own, as do the Irish widows up at the cemetery on the hill, though she's not a member of any group.

Zelda's taste in clothing is 'quite dark' we are told, but expensive. She wears furs and black Ferragamo heels, her camera is a Leica, she likes to visit the cemetery, and she has stuck photographs of three missing young men to her apartment wall. They 'are both missing and lost' and were last seen on the cliff-top headland, from which Zelda and 'not Zelda' have been hearing terrible things happening late at night.

One night a scream so pitiable it sent the cats scampering into the bathroom. Then the other night a kind of yodelling, a drowned baritone that brought my palms flush with the salt-streaked window glass.

So begins another mystery. And when a young man called Danny locks himself out of the apartment next-door to Zelda's a series of events begin which involve them both and which reflect some of the terrible things which did happened on the Sydney headlands not so very long ago.

There are other things mentioned in Late which Sydney-siders will recognise but others will pass over as just being part of Zelda's world. She takes ferry rides on Sydney harbour and notices recognizable places; she refers to iconic buildings which have long been both loved and reviled; she walks on easily known pavements and paths; and her descriptions of the wildlife, plants, and of the colours of the sea and sky are beautiful and exactly right.

Alongside Zelda's peregrinations, there are constant references to acting, filming, to 'not Zelda''s early life, and the many things which she did or was said to have done. Frequent footnotes, too, offer details and comments on events, books and films. There are many digressions but often they are linked to the skills required in acting a part - as if Zelda, too, is just another part.

So now do you see my problem? How I keep getting distracted and then life intervenes. Working out how to play it doesn't get any easier, doing it justice (life, that is) being true to it but keeping it loose. (Nothing must come between me and my part - my feeling - concentration).

She tells of how she first met Zelda in the Jewish quarter of Los Angeles, how she 'put on the black wig and sunglasses' as a form of disguise: then 'I took Zelda home in my big black Cadillac and we've been together ever since'. And she describes her own death in detail, and the details of the Jewish rites Zelda performed over her body, taking 'the role of shomer, the guardian or watcher over my body, and also its agent of purification'. At the same time she, as Zelda, is trying to answer a philosophical question Daniel has posed about a falling girl in a book he and Zelda and she have all read. Their conjoined lives interweave like this throughout the book and the imaginative flair of 'not Zelda' allows her to join herself to both Zelda and Daniel and feel everything they experience. This is especially gripping in the final dramatic pages of the book.

It becomes clear that this woman who builds so much of her life into this story-telling was not the dumb blonde she became in her films but was clever, funny, determined and talented. And once her identity is known there are online accounts of her life which confirm all this.

Altogether, Michael Fitzgerald's Late is a most unusual book, with a daring, and sometimes confusing, structure. Some readers may find it too puzzling, others may know straight away the identity of the speaker and will enjoy the conceit, but even for those who, like me, suspect the identity but wait for confirmation, Late is an imaginative and enjoyable read. Significantly, Fitzgerald notes in his 'Acknowledgements' that 'its many literary sources are integral to it', and part of the experience of reading it is recognising at least some of these, but this is never essential to the story.

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

C.A. Gray's Bookshelf

Catherine Marshall
Gilead Publishing
9781683701323, $24.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Even though I've read this at least once and I think at least twice before, I found that I remembered almost none of it. I've been on a "Christy" kick ever since a trip to the Appalachians, listening to this, reading the novellas for kids that I've just discovered, and also re-watching the 1990s TV miniseries. The characters are lovable, and all of the versions are quite episodic, so they lend themselves well to a series.

The story follows Christy Huddleston, a 19 year old in the year 1912, who felt after a 'pitch' at church that God had called her to be a teacher in the backwoods of Cutter Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains. It's told as a frame story, beginning with what I gather is the author speaking to her mother - the real life "Christy" I just discovered, though Catherine Marshall's mother was actually named Lenore. (The intro to the novel was fascinating, to hear Catherine Marshall's son recount how his grandmother Lenore reacted to the dramatization of her own life!) Apparently a huge percentage was based on life, but it was still decidedly fictionalized in some key points, hence the name change.

Cutter Gap is the poorest of poor areas, where children and adults alike go without shoes even in the snow, and entire families live in single room cabins covered in filth. The mission house where Christy lives is large and clean, though sparse. Christy's first introduction to these people is an accident that requires the only doctor in the cove, Doctor Neil MacNeill, to literally perform brain surgery on a crowded cabin's kitchen table. From there, Christy has a number of moments of self-doubt: she's never taught before and she has nearly seventy student of all ages to contend with. Some of the students perform cruel pranks on others and herself, and she finds herself caught up in generational mountain feuds. But she falls in love with the children, and finds her purpose in them.

The other three supporting characters are David, the preacher, Miss Alice Henderson, a fellow missionary, and Doctor MacNeill. David is set up early on as Christy's primary love interest, and remains so for much of the book, but on this reading he struck me as... not quite a Pharisee, but perhaps a pretender. His faith seemed paper-thin, but he was afraid to let anyone know it, and seemed frightened to discover it himself. Doctor MacNeill is a prominent rival for Christy's affections in the novellas and the TV series, but less so in the novel for most of the book; rather, he infuriates her more than not in the novel. He's openly non-Christian himself, and challenges Christy's beliefs, which drives her to Miss Alice for answers. Miss Alice is the only one in the story with a deep and abiding faith throughout - her understanding of God is that He is always good, He wants His children to have joy, and the promises of scripture are there for the taking, but they don't come to pass automatically. It is she who mentors Christy such that she eventually finds the answers to Neil's questions.

The novel has far more adult themes than the novellas do; key characters died in the novel version, to my surprise, and the blood feud between a few of the mountain families has some really tragic and dark results. But this is the only one actually written by Catherine Marshall, I learned - everything else was just based on her work. She was a wonderful writer.

My rating: *****

Language: none

Sexual content: none

Violence: present, but realistic and not gratuitous

Political content: none

C.A. Gray, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Daddy: A Son's Reckoning with Personal and Collective Trauma in America
Tim Lewis
Rose + Spiral
9798986026022, $34.99, HC, 298pp

Synopsis: When Dr. Tim Lewis was twenty-eight years old, his father shot his mother while she was sleeping in his childhood bedroom, and then he turned the gun on himself. As he sat in the hospital waiting room while his mother clung to her life, his friends and family seemed to have only one question for him: "Why?"

"Daddy: A Son's Reckoning with Personal and Collective Trauma in America" is his attempt at an answer.

While "Daddy" is the story of Dr. Lewis's personal trauma, substance abuse, and his lifelong dedication to PTSD research as a clinical psychologist, it turns out it is also the story of America and American men.

When he first set out to write his memoir, Dr. Lewis intended to include a brief exploration of PTSD to help round out his personal narrative while including some helpful historical information about the early days of psychology. However, after just a little digging, solid, scientific-seeming principles began to slip through his fingers. He realized that as a culture-including in the discipline of psychology-our relationship with trauma is like that of a familiar cousin we see only at weddings and funerals-we might think we know it, but we don't.

What Dr. Lewis discovered is not just an entertaining dive into medical history, but also a story with relevant, far-reaching implications, not the least of which is the question of personal responsibility in the perpetration of domestic abuse and other forms of violence. What happens to a person as they experience trauma? Are they in control as they are being traumatized? Years later, when and if that trauma resurfaces as abuse perpetrated on others, are they in control then? How come some victims become abusers and others don't?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but in Daddy, Dr. Lewis explores possible conclusions through the history of his own trauma, his father's upbringing and time fighting in World War II, and the United States' troubling past of slavery, misogyny, war, and systemic oppression. Betty White also makes an appearance.

The Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence assuring that "all men are created equal" were also men who beat and enslaved human beings. If we can for a moment see our whole nation as a single person whose guiding principle is this document, what does it mean for our founding principles to be so rife with delusion and cognitive dissonance? In what way is our culture itself traumatized and forever oscillating back and forth-like a traumatized person presenting Borderline Personality Disorder-between victim and perpetrator.

Finally, through therapy, meditation, education, and radical acceptance, can PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and other issues related to trauma be cured for good? Can we help ourselves and those in our lives to leave their pasts behind and re-emerge as more caring, more present, and less troubled individuals?

Critique: Part memoir, part psychological study, "Daddy: A Son's Reckoning with Personal and Collective Trauma in America" is an extraordinary, informatively insightful, and inherently fascinating read that will be of special and particular value to professionals and non-specialist general readers with an interest in dysfunctional families, the psychology of familial violence, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Daddy: A Son's Reckoning with Personal and Collective Trauma in America" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections and supplemental Familial Trauma curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for psychology students, academia, family counselors, social workers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Daddy: A Son's Reckoning with Personal and Collective Trauma in America" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.49).

Editorial Note: Dr. Tim Lewis ( is a San Francisco-based writer and clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma-related disorders. His areas of interest include issues of loss, identity, and well-being. Lewis became deeply involved with the philosophy and theories that underpin what is popularly known as mindfulness. His personal meditation practice is informed by the Vipassana tradition and he utilizes these approaches in his work as a therapist and in his writing.

Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan: From Deserts to Clouds
David Yetman, author
Alberto Burquez, author
University of Arizona Press
9780816548736, $30.00, PB, 376pp

Synopsis: Aptly co-authors by David Yetman and Alberto Burquez, "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan: From Deserts to Clouds" provides an accessible and photographic view of the culture, history, and environment of an extraordinary region of southern Mexico.

The Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan are lauded by botanists for their spectacular plant life -- they contain the densest columnar cacti forests in the world. Recent archaeological excavations reveal them also to be a formative Mesoamerican site as well. So singular is this region that it is home to the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Through firsthand experience and engaging prose, co-authors Yetman and Burquez provide a synthesis of the geology, ecology, history, and cultures of the valleys, showing their importance and influence as Mesoamerican arteries for environmental and cultural interchange through Mexico. "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan" also reveals the extraordinary plant life that draws from habitats ranging from deserts to tropical forests.

The co-authors (both of whom are experts in their respective fields), begin with a general description of the geography of the valleys, followed by an introduction to climate and hydrology, a look at the valleys' often bewildering geology. "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan" also delves into cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the valleys and discusses archaeological sites that encapsulate the valleys' fascinating history prior to the arrival of Europeans. "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan" then concludes by describing the flora that makes the region so singular.

Critique: Expertly illustrated throughout with full color photography, "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan: From Deserts to Clouds" is exceptionally well researched, written, organize and presented. A work of meticulous and impressively informative scholarship, "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan: From Deserts to Clouds" is especially recommended to the attention of readers with an interest in Mexico travel guides, and both Mexican and Native American history. Also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $28.50), "Mexico's Valleys of Cuicatlan and Tehuacan: From Deserts to Clouds" is a very special and highly advised addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library Mexican Geology & History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: David Yetman is the editor and author of many books, including The Saguaro Cactus (with Alberto Burquez). He is co-producer and host of the PBS series In the Americas with David Yetman.

Editorial Note #2: Alberto Burquez works as a researcher at the Instituto de Ecologia, Department of Ecology of Biodiversity, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. He is a co-author (with David Yetman) of The Saguaro Cactus.

Carl Logan

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Cold Record
Eric Ferguson
Independently Published
9798394718434, $23.95, HC, 385pp

Synopsis: After a young woman is found brutally murdered on an estate in remote northern California, detectives swiftly identify and arrest Andrew Rodarte, a young man passing through the area, for the crime.

Returning to the judicial arena after years away, veteran DA Sonya Brandstetter takes on the prosecution of Rodarte as a personal mission, while junior prosecutor John Patrick Howland - assisting to his own surprise - does little more than watch. But after a startling revelation at his trial raises the stakes for Rodarte, a late crisis irrevocably alters its course. And years later, Howland is called upon to revisit the killing, its agonizing aftermath, and the layered nature of truth itself.

Critique: An original, compelling, and deftly crafted read from start to finish, it is all the more impressive when considering that "Cold Record" is author Eric Ferguson debut as a novelist and will prove to be of very special interest to dedicated fans of courtroom drama, mystery and suspense. It is interesting to note that as an author, Eric Ferguson has drawn on his 19 years of experience as a criminal prosecutor which enabled him provide a story of justice sought and served with a remarkable authenticity with respect to how a brutal crime affects more than just the perpetrator and the victim. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Cold Record" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9798368260587, $14.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.95).

Editorial Note: Eric Ferguson ( graduated with honors from Chapman University School of Law in 2004. He has been a prosecutor in southern California since 2005, primarily focused on habeas corpus and post-conviction litigation.

Baby Godiva
Marty Holland
Stark House Press
9798886010206, $15.95, PB, 248pp

Synopsis: Young Godiva is an innocent in the world of men. She still carries her two dolls with her wherever she goes. And even though she is the daughter of a minister, she loves to verbally tease. When she taunts Carly Moore at the swimming hole in the woods, she lands both of them in a situation that could mean a whole lot of trouble for young Carly.

There is a storm, and the big Crazy Tree falls over, pinning Godie within its branches. Unable to free her, Carly panics and runs.

All the townsfolk know is that Godie is found with her dress up, her scalp torn, and blood on her thighs. And when Carly is found hiding, they all cry rape, and lock him up. At his trial, even Godie testifies against him. All Carly can do is tell what he knows, that he thought he saw someone in the bushes, that he didn't rape Godie, that he is innocent.

Can anyone save Carly from the electric chair? And what really happened at the swimming hole?

Critique: Featuring an informative Introduction (Tracking Mary Holland) by Woody Haut, "Baby Godiva" by novelist Mary Holland (which was originally published posthumously published in 2021), now Stark House Press has released a new edition in paperback as part of their Crime Fiction series -- as well as in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99) for the personal reading lists of mystery buffs. Highly recommended for personal and community library Mystery/Suspense collections, of special note in this paperback new edition is the inclusion of a complete bibliography of the novels, novellas, short stories, and a screenplay by Mary Holland.

Editorial Note #1: Marty Holland was born Mary Hauenstein on November 2, 1913 in Beaverdam, Ohio. She began writing at 12, and after moving to Hollywood with her family, she got a job as a script typist for the movie studios. Her writing career began with short stories for the pulps before her first novel in 1945, Fallen Angel, which she sold to 20th Century Fox and was immediately filmed by Otto Preminger. She followed this with The Glass Heart, a twisted tale of deceit for which James M. Cain wrote an unfilmed screenplay; and the 1950 story idea for The File on Thelma Jordon, directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Barbara Stanwyck. Holland continued to write stories and screenplays and did uncredited writing for TV before dying of cancer in 1971.

Editorial Note #2: Woody Haut ( is the author of Woody Haut's Blog, a weblog dedicated to noir fiction and film, music, poetry and politics.

America's History: A Tuttle Twins Series of Stories 1215-1776
Conor Boyack, author
Elijah Stanfield, illustrator
Libertas Press
9781943521944, $98.99, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: History is more than just dates and names and battles -- it is also about ideas and power and philosophy. America's history is no different. It's a tale of trade, exploration, adventure, and tension between groups of people with different perspectives and priorities.

The problems and challenges we face today are quite different from what America's founders lived through -- but their experiences offer us a treasure trove of inspiration and knowledge that we can learn from and apply to our own circumstances.

Why did the colonists embrace independence? What had to take place for the public to be ready for a revolution? How do trade and tariffs play into the tensions that provoked political problems between nations? These questions and many more are answered in "America's History: A Tuttle Twins Series of Stories 1215-1776", a set of stories for young readers so that they can learn the lessons that will help them to stop repeating mistakes from our past.

Critique: The Tuttle Twins series is known for being fun and informative, and for promoting traditional family values. America's History: A Tuttle Twins Series of Stories 1215-1776 is accessibly written by Conner Boyack, whose thoroughly 'kid friendly' text is effectively supported by the illustrations of Elijah Stanfield. "America's History: A Tuttle Twins Series of Stories 1215-1776" is recommended for family American History collections and personal reading lists of children in grades 4-6.

Editorial Note: Connor Boyack ( is the author of 43 books, including the popular Tuttle Twins children's books that have sold millions of copies. He is also the president of a high impact think tank -- The Libertas Institute (

Clint Travis

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Takka Takka Bom Bom: An Intrepid War Correspondent's 50 Year Odyssey
Al J. Venter
Casemate Publishers
9781636243801, $34.95, HC, 408pp

Synopsis: The world's oldest and still-active war correspondent, Al J. Venter, has reported from the front lines for well over half a century, witnessing the horrors humanity visits upon itself in twenty-five conflict zones across Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

"Takka Takka Bom Bom: An Intrepid War Correspondent's 50 Year Odyssey" is his personal and professional memoir in which Venter masterfully recounts his experiences, sharing the real stories behind the headlines and the sharp lessons he learned that enabled him to survive his countless exploits, ranging from exposing a major KGB operative in Rhodesia entirely by accident, and accompanying an Israeli force led by Ariel Sharon into Beirut, to gun-running into the United States.

Critique: A candid, informative, fascinating, eventful, dangerous life story laid out in vivid detail, "Takka Takka Bom Bom: An Intrepid War Correspondent's 50 Year Odyssey" is an especially and unreservedly recommended pick for personal, professional, community, and college/university library collections. Of special and particular attraction and value for readers with an interest Afghan war biographies/memoirs, warfare intelligence and espionage history, and 20th/21st Century military journalism, it should be noted for journalism students, academia, military history buffs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Takka Takka Bom Bom: An Intrepid War Correspondent's 50 Year Odyssey" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Al J. Venter ( is a specialist military writer and has had 50 books published. He started his career with Geneva's Interavia Group, then owners of International Defence Review, to cover military developments in the Middle East and Africa. Venter has been writing on these and related issues such as guerrilla warfare, insurgency, the Middle East and conflict in general for half a century. He was involved with Jane's Information Group for more than 30 years and was a stringer for the BBC, NBC News (New York) as well as London's Daily Express and Sunday Express. He branched into television work in the early 1980s and produced more than 100 documentaries, many of which were internationally flighted. His one-hour film, 'Africa's Killing Fields' (on the Ugandan civil war), was shown nationwide in the United States on the PBS network. Other films include an hour-long program on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as well as 'AIDS: The African Connection', nominated for China's Pink Magnolia Award. His last major book was 'Portugal's Guerrilla Wars in Africa', nominated in 2013 for New York's Arthur Goodzeit military history book award.

Winter Fire: Christmas with G.K. Chesterton
Ryan Whitaker Smith
Moody Publishers
9780802429285, $24.99, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: It may be because I am silly, but I rather think that, relatively to the rest of the year, I enjoy Christmas more than I did when I was a child. My faith demands that such be the case. The more mature I become the more I need to embrace the joys of the incarnation. The more mature I become, the more I need to be but a child. -G. K. Chesterton

With the publication of "Winter Fire: Christmas with G.K. Chesterton" by Ryan Whitaker Smith, readers can experience the warmth of Christmas through the winsome wit and wisdom of beloved and legendary writer G. K. Chesterton. A devotional that is ideal for the Christmas season, "Winter Fire" features selections of Chesterton's writings, accompanied with commentary, Scripture readings, and reflections.

Readers will be encouraged by Chesterton's insight, charmed by the Victorian-inspired artwork, and delighted by the traditional English recipes -- leading them to make Chesterton's poetry, short stories, and essays a part of their own Christmas traditions!

Critique: While also readily available from Moody Press in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.49), "Winter Fire: Christmas with G.K. Chesterton" offers a truly festive and memorable celebration of childlike wonder. Especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, church, seminary, and community library collections and Christmas gift giving, this beautifully hardcover illustrated edition of "Winter Fire" is unique, delightful, entertaining, and inspiring.

Editorial Note #1: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (29 May 1874 - 14 June 1936) was an English writer, philosopher, Christian apologist, literary and art critic, and the creator of the Father Brown mystery novels.

Editorial Note #2: Ryan Whitaker Smith ( is an author and filmmaker from Nashville, Tennessee. His film projects include the romantic drama Surprised by Oxford, based on the award winning memoir by Carolyn Weber, the Lionsgate documentary The Jesus Music, and a forthcoming adaptation of G. K. Chesterton's comic adventure The Ball and the Cross. He is coauthor, with Dan Wilt, of Sheltering Mercy and Endless Grace, two collections of prayers inspired by the Psalms.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Life Ignited: A Hopeful Journey, Sparked by Fire
Connor McKemey
Lioncrest Publishing
9781544539751, $26.99, HC, 160pp

Synopsis: In just a split second, Connor McKemey went from being an active, athletic thirteen-year-old whose life revolved around school, sports, and family, to being engulfed in flames from a propane tank explosion in his backyard. Passing out in the ambulance, he woke up three months later to discover that 90 percent of his body had been burned.

Defying the grim 1 percent chance of survival doctors gave him, the young teen tapped into his inner strength to rebuild his life. From coming to grips with what happened-and his drastically changed appearance-to coping with the pain of rehabilitation and over a hundred surgeries, he faced adversity without losing sight of his dreams.

Through mental resilience, he resumed playing sports in high school and college and became a coach for an elite lacrosse program. Today, McKemey gives talks to audiences worldwide, showing others that they, too, can come through excruciating challenges with a profound sense of self-acceptance.

Critique: Candidly honest, exceptionally well written, and impressively inspiring, "Life Ignited: A Hopeful Journey, Sparked by Fire" by Connor McKemey is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of readers with an interest in life altering, life enhancing, Self-Help/Self-Esteem life experiences that "Life Ignited" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781544539768, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.49).

Editorial Note: Connor McKemey ( is a motivational speaker, mentor, and coach who openly shares his true-life story of being a burn survivor to inspire others to live their best life. His burn scars remind him that he's a survivor, not a victim, and he takes this message on the road to show others they, too, can overcome their mental, physical, and emotional scars to discover what's possible. Unabashedly real and unflinchingly optimistic, McKemey launched his own business, MAC Mentality, dedicated to helping people create resilience so they can thrive against adversity.

Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez
Eve Golden
The University Press of Kentucky
9780813198088, $40.00, HC, 488pp

Synopsis: Before Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, and Penelope Cruz, there was Lupe Velez -- one of the first Latin-American female stars to sweep past the xenophobia of old Hollywood and pave the way for future icons from around the world. Her career began in the silent era, when her beauty was enough to make it onto the silver screen, but with the rise of talkies, Velez could no longer hope to hide her Mexican accent.

Yet Velez proved to be a talented dramatic and comedic actress (and singer) and was much more versatile than Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, and other legends of the time. Velez starred in such films as Hot Pepper (1933), Strictly Dynamite (1934), and Hollywood Party (1934), and her popularity peaked in the 1940s after she appeared as Carmelita Fuentes in eight Mexican Spitfire films, a series created to capitalize on Velez's reputed fiery personality.

The media emphasized the "Mexican Spitfire" persona, and by many accounts, Velez's private life was as colorful as the characters she portrayed on-screen. Fan magazines mythologized her mysterious childhood in Mexico, while mainstream publications obsessed over the drama of her romances with Gary Cooper, Erich Maria Remarque, and John Gilbert, along with her stormy marriage to Johnny Weissmuller.

In 1944, a pregnant and unmarried Velez died of an intentional drug overdose. Her tumultuous life and the circumstances surrounding her early death have been the subject of speculation and controversy.

Critique: With the publication of "Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez", author Eve Golden expertly utilizes her extensive research to separate fact from fiction and offer the reader a thorough and riveting examination of the real woman beneath the gossip columns' caricature. Written with evenhandedness, humor, and empathy, "Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez" rescues this remarkable Mexican actress from an undeserved and fading obscurity. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Cinematic History/Biography collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated film buffs and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $32.99).

Editorial Note: Eve Golden ( is the author of numerous theater and film biographies, including Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn't Help It, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway, The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall, and John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Getting Lost to Find Home: A Memoir
Caroline Miller
Rutherford Classics Publishing
9798218022105, $17.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Caroline Miller is a teacher, lobbyist, labor leader, politician, artist, and author who shares with her readers a candid account of her youth with the publication of "Getting Lost to Find Home: A Memoir".

The ink being barely dry on her college diploma from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, she followed her fiance to England. Two years later, after struggling to adapt to life in a new country, the man she adores breaks her heart.

Rudderless, she joins a friend headed to teach in Africa. The 1960s is an era when white colonial empires are struggling to maintain their grip on indigenous populations. By the time she arrives in East Africa, UHURU, the cry for freedom has ignited the land.

"Getting Lost to Find Home" is her coming-of-age story and mirrors the struggle of new nations. Her intensely personal life story is a saga of surprise, suffering, and joy, with markers along a road that began with heartbreak and lead to the discovery of human connection.

Critique: Fascinating, thought-provoking, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring, "Getting Lost to Find Home: A Memoir" by Caroline Miller will have a particular relevance for readers with an interest in friendship stories and American memoirs set against a background of mid- to late 20th Century Africa. While an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community and college/university library American Biography/Memoir collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Getting Lost to Find Home: A Memoir" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99).

Editorial Note: Caroline Miller has a website with links to her books, appearances, blog, videos, and more at:

My Journey to Lhasa
Alexandra David-Neel
Dover Publications, Inc.
9780486851105, $19.95, PB, 352pp

Synopsis: "My Journey to Lhasa: The Personal Story of the Only White Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City" is the memoir of Alexandra David-Neel who almost one hundred years ago became the first white woman to successfully journey to the Tibetan sacred city of Lhasa.

In her own words: "What decided me to go to Lhasa was, above all, the absurd prohibition which closes Thibet."

The result of her adventure "My Journey to Lhasa" is one of the great adventure classics first published in 1927, and is now arguably considered one of the best adventure books of the last 100 years.

Disguised as a Tibetan pilgrim traveling with her adopted son, a native Tibetan, Alexandra made a treacherous midwinter trek over the mountains to Lhasa, encountering bands of robbers, corrupt military agents, bouts of starvation, and wild animals. Alexandra is the first Western woman to be received by any Dalai Lama in the history of Tibet.

Critique: With the publication of this paperback edition of "My Journey to Lhasa: The Personal Story of the Only White Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City", Dover Publications is to be commended for bringing back into print a 'timeless and time lost' classic for a new generation of appreciative readers and one that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and college/university library Tibetan Buddhis and Travel Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: An indomitable traveler, opera singer and anchorite, a onetime director of the Tunis Casino and the first Western woman to be granted an audience with the Dalai Lama -- few women have shaped more fascinating lives for themselves than Alexandra David-Neel. She was born in Paris in 1868, the only child of an unhappy marriage, and constantly ran away from home. After studying eastern religions in Paris, she went to India and Ceylon, and thereafter toured the Far and Middle East and North Africa as an opera singer. In 1904 she married Philippe Francois Neel in Tunis: they separated almost immediately, but he financed many of her later travels and they wrote regularly to each other till his death in 1941.In 1911, she left Paris for Northern India, where she subsequently graduated as a Lama, and spent a winter with her boy companion, Yongden, a Sikkimese lama, in a cave, dressed only in a cotton garment and studying Buddhist teaching. Later she spent three years in a Peking monastery. In 1936, with Yongden at her side, she went for the last time to Asia, staying eight years. A legend in her own time, she died just before her 101st birthday in 1969.

Life in the White House
Betty C. Monkman
The White House Historical Association
9781950273447, $22.95, Perfect Paperback, 264pp

Synopsis: Inspired by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson and first released in 1966, "Life in the White House" is the story of the ongoing history of life as lived in the Executive Mansion. Now in a newly updated and expanded edition that includes the Joe Biden White House, "Life in the White House is written by former White House Curator Betty C. Monkman who served in the Office of the Curator during seven presidencies and was herself a witness to four decades of White House life,

"Life in the White House" is heavily illustrated with historical images and photographs from the presidencies of George Washington through Joe Biden. This White House history opens with the chapters on how the presidents have used the house as both a home and an office and continues with a section on "Where Hospitality Makes History," which includes the history of State Dinners and such beloved holiday traditions as the presidential turkey pardoning, official Christmas trees, and the annual Easter Egg Roll.

A section on the "First Family at Home" sheds light on how the first ladies have used the national stage and made the house into a family home. The joy of White House weddings and the tragedy of White House funerals further reveal that the story is a human one.

A section on "The President's Park," tells the story of the Rose Garden; the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden; the greenhouses; the Children's and Kitchen Gardens; and the Commemorative Trees; as well as the garden as a setting for presidents pursuing their favorite sports.

A final section on "A House for the Ages" focuses on the household staff and how they make the house function. Chapters on improving the White House through the introduction of plumbing, electricity, and computers as well as the large-scale renovations of the Truman era give us a sense of how the house is maintained and preserved.

Critique: Profusely and beautifully illustrated throughout, this new and up-to-date 15th edition of "Life in the White House" from the White House Historical Association is an especially and unreservedly recommended pick for personal, professional, community, and college/university library American History collections in celebration of a classic American icon -- The White House.

Editorial Note: Betty C. Monkman is a former White House Curator and author of "The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families" and "The Living White House". She joined the Curator's office in 1967 and helped fill gaps in the White House's collection. Monkman also served as Chief Curator from 1997 through 2002. Among her duties was supervising the changeover between presidential administrations, including between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Upon her retirement, she had served as curator under eight presidents.

Curious Sounds: A Dialogue in Three Movements
Roger Mooking, author
Francesca Ekwuyasi, author
Arsenal Pulp Press
9781551529295, $21.95, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: Roger Mooking is well-known as a celebrity chef and the host of such television shows as the Cooking Channel's Man Fire Food and Everyday Exotic; he is also a recording artist with five albums to his credit and a visual artist who creates immersive experiences that merge the visual, sonic, and culinary arts.

Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer and filmmaker who won wide acclaim for her award-winning, bestselling debut novel, Butter Honey Pig Bread. These two enormously talented Black artists join forces in Curious Minds, a book of art, stories, and conversations that illuminates the journey to find solace and perspective in an increasingly hyperactive and distracting world.

Inspired by the fact that the average human attention span lasts 8.25 seconds, "Curious Sounds: A Dialogue in Three Movements" is a collection of small bursts of light, color, and words that explore how time shapes and defines the world, especially from a Black perspective.

Comprising three parts, each of which mirror the arc of a life (the Learning, the Living, and the Leaving), "Curious Sound" offers a series of fleeting moments and visuals that help us to discover the beauty in our own chaos.

Critique: Eloquent, elegant, unique, memorable, and inherently interesting from cover to cover, this large format (8 x 0.7 x 10.1 inches, 1.9 pounds) hardcover edition of "Curious Sounds: A Dialogue in Three Movements" from Arsenal Pulp Press will hold a decided interest for readers with respect to Canadian literature, artists. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.49), "Curious Sounds: A Dialogue in Three Movements" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library supplemental Black Studies curriculum lists.

Editorial Note #1: Roger Mooking is a celebrity chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and visual and recording artist born in Trinidad and raised in Canada. He is the host of such television shows as Man Fire Food, Heat Seekers, Greatest of America, and Everyday Exotic and has appeared as a guest judge on such programs as Chopped and Guy's Grocery Games. As a musician, he has released five solo studio albums and won a Juno Award as a member of the soul/R&B trio Bass Is Base.

Editorial Note #2: Francesca Ekuwyasi is a writer, filmmaker, and visual artist. Her debut novel, Butter Honey Pig Bread, won the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ+ Emerging Writers from the Writers' Trust of Canada, was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award, a Governor General's Award, and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, and was runner-up in the 2021 edition of CBC's Canada Reads competition.

Julie Summers

Kate Michaelson's Bookshelf

Mastering the Art of French Murder
Colleen Cambridge
9781496739599, $27.00 hc

Synopsis: This historical cozy mystery follows Tabitha Knight, an American living in Paris who befriends Julia Child while she is studying at Le Cordon Bleu. When Tabitha attends a party at the Childs' apartment, a fellow party-goer is killed, and the evidence leaves no doubt that one of her fellow revelers must be the murderer. To clear her name and Julia's, Tabitha embarks on an investigation that takes her through Paris neighborhoods, theaters, and markets. When she's not sleuthing, she and Julia are in the kitchen discussing the case and whipping up fine French cuisine.

Critique: Lovers of historical mysteries will enjoy the level of detail Cambridge brings to post-World-War-II Paris, including the intrigue of American and Soviet spying. Meanwhile, fans of cozy mysteries will delight in seeing Julia Child brought to life on the page as she coaches Tabitha through everything from roasting a chicken to making an omelet.

Editorial note: This book is the first in Cambridge's American in Paris series. She also writes another series of historical cozies set in Agatha Christie's home.

The Photo Thief
J.L. Delozier
CamCat Books
9780744307290, $14.99 pbk

Synopsis: Philadelphia cop Dan Brennan is still struggling with the loss of his young daughter to cancer when he is called to the death of a Philadelphia socialite. Although the victim died by falling down the stairs, her daughter Cassie insists there was more to it. As he investigates the death, Brennan becomes close to eighteen-year-old Cassie, whose severe epilepsy has kept her isolated from kids her own age. However, she spends a great deal of time in her Pap's photo room where she finds plenty of company in the spirits of the murdered Philadephians depicted in the vintage photos. One spirit, in particular, compels her to delve into their cold cases and find justice for them. Cassie enlists Brennan's help, and the two form an unlikely bond as they work to unearth secrets from her family's complicated past and present.

Critique: Delozier has a deft touch when it comes to balancing a mystery, alongside historical and paranormal elements. This book will appeal to readers who love ambiguous paranormal elements that blur the line between the supernatural and everyday life. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Brennan and Cassie - two individuals struggling with more than their share of loss and finding a way to help each other through it.

Editorial note: The Photo Thief won the 2023 IPPY Award Gold Medal in Mystery and was a finalist for the ITW Thriller Award and the Silver Falchion Award. For those who like to listen to their books, the audiobook won the 2023 AudioFile Earphone Award.

Mistletoe and Murder (A Kate Hamilton Mystery)
Connie Berry
Crooked Lane Books
9781639105137, $9.99 e-book

Synopsis: In this novella, American antiques-dealer Kate Hamilton and Detective Inspector Tom Mallory are making the final preparations for their Christmas wedding when Kate's friend Sheila disappears. Prior to her disappearance, Sheila had been planning her own wedding and selling off old belongings as she prepared to move in with her soon-to-be-husband. The day before she vanished, Sheila consulted with Kate about a coin collection and mentioned having a valuable coin given to her ancestor by Queen Victoria. Fearing someone may have harmed Sheila for this coin, Kate sets off on a journey to find out what happened to her friend, all while trying to prepare for her own wedding, appease an overbearing wedding planner, and greet friends and family flying in for the big day.

Critique: Fans of Connie Berry's Kate Hamilton series and British cozies as a whole will be delighted to read or listen to this Christmas novella. From a fifteenth-century cathedral, to a quaint antiques shop, Berry immerses readers in the charming world of antiques and English village life, this time with a wedding and the extra warmth of the holidays added in. Delightful characters and a well crafted mystery will keep readers engrossed from beginning to end.

Editorial note: Berry has written four other novels in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series and calls this novella #4.5. The first book in the series, A Dream of Death, is set in the Scottish Highlands and won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery.

Kate Michaelson, Reviewer

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Life Hacks
Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour Publishing
9781636096933, $16.99, Spiral Bound, 223pp

Synopsis: Featuring hundreds of immanently practical tips, tricks and techniques from Amish housewives, "Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Life Hacks: Hundreds of Tips for Cooking, Cleaning, Gardening, Wellness, and More" is a spiral bound and profusely illustrated compendium of household advice and wisdom as shared by Amish contributors.

An ideal 'how to' resource for anyone seeking ways to make everyday life easier, with "Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Life Hacks" there are hundreds of DIY practical tips covering all aspects of keeping a home ranging from stain removal to homemade laundry detergent, from baking perfect piecrust to making recipe substitutions, from taming a cough to mending a cut.

Of special note is the practical and 'user friendly' advice for canning fruits and vegetables, sewing, gardening, animal care, and more! Woven throughout are Amish sayings and proverbs and colorful photos, making this an enjoyable read and a perfect gift.

Critique: An ideal and unreservedly recommended pick for personal, family, and community library 'Green Housekeeping' and Regional Cookbook collections, "Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Life Hacks: Hundreds of Tips for Cooking, Cleaning, Gardening, Wellness, and More" is a welcome and environmentally protective compendium of step-by-step instructions that are a distillation of Amish approaches to living from day-to-day and home and garden management.

Editorial Note: Wanda Brunstetter ( is an award-winning romance novelist who has led millions of readers to lose their heart in the Amish life. She is the author of over 100 books based on personal research intended to accurately portray the Amish way of life. Many of her books are well-read and trusted by the Amish, who credit her for giving readers a deeper understanding of the people and their customs.

Organic Beauty: An Illustrated Guide to Making Your Own Skincare
Maru Godas
Smith Street Books
c/o Rizzoli
9781922754783, $24.95, HC, 128pp

Synopsis: Cottage-core, wellness, and sustainability are deftly blended in "Organic Beauty: An Illustrated Guide to Making Your Own Skincare" by Maru Godas.

A playful, illustrated DIY instructional guide and 'how-to' manual for organic based skincare, readers will learn what plants to use, how to collect and prepare them, and create your own masks, scrubs, balms, butter, hair lotions, and much more with detailed step-by-step instructions.

From helping you to decipher those complicated product labels and showing you how to make cosmetics from the plants in your own backyard, to how to use natural ingredients to help you care for your body, "Organic Beauty" is an impressive compendium of practical and 'user friendly' tips for building a healthy, natural lifestyle that fosters beauty from the inside out.

Critique: A beautifully illustrated guide to living organically, "Organic Beauty: An Illustrated Guide to Making Your Own Skincare" will be of immense value to readers with an interest in a range of subjects from making soap, face masks, and deodorants, to essential oils, facial/body scrubs, creams and lotions. This large format (8.85 x 0.77 x 10.92 inches, 1.7 pounds) hard cover edition from Street Smith Books is a strongly recommended addition to personal, professional, and community library Self-Care & Hygiene/Grooming collections.

Editorial Note: Maru Godas ( is extremely passionate about illustration, painting, and urban sketching and has worked for over eighteen years as a designer and illustrator across a number of international publishers. Based in Barcelona, Godas combines her creative activities with workshops and trips where she teaches and practices urban sketching. Organic Beauty is her fourth book.

Brave Love: A Nurse's Story of Courage and Compassion in a Kenyan Hospice
Juli Boit
Hope Books
9798891850064, $17.99, PB, 260pp

Synopsis: The reader will embark upon a truly extraordinary life journey within the pages of the autobiography "Brave Love: A Nurse's Story of Courage and Compassion in a Kenyan Hospice". Guided by the prayer, "What does it look like to love in this situation?" Juli Boit's memoir emerges as an unyielding testament to her transformative hospice leadership in Kenya, encapsulating the very heartbeat of her stories.

The resonance of this question reverberates through every line, echoing with the cadence of compassion, courage, and vulnerability. Boit's narrative tapestry intricately weaves the intricate dance of loss and joy, seamlessly intertwining the threads of suffering with the profound tapestry of belonging.

As a mother to children navigating chronic illness and a guiding beacon in healthcare leadership, Boit beckons us to shatter the chains of injustice and embrace the limitless realm of mercy. Her memoir challenges us to fine-tune our listening, to fearlessly confront our doubts, and to wholeheartedly recognize the shared humanity that binds us together.

Within the pages of "Brave Love", a profound revelation unfolds: love is an ever-evolving journey. Boit's candid prose doesn't just invite us; it compels us to embrace discomfort, reimagine our perspectives, and resoundingly answer love's transformative call with unswerving compassion. In a world fractured by divisions, Boit's memoir emerges as an unwavering testament, extending an invitation to harness the invincible, life-changing force of "Brave Love".

Critique: Fascinating, inspiring, exceptional, memorable, "Brave Love: A Nurse's Story of Courage and Compassion in a Kenyan Hospice" is especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Brave Love: A Nurse's Story of Courage and Compassion in a Kenyan Hospice" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.49).

Editorial Note: Juli Boit ( is an author, nurse, and social justice advocate fighting for global health rights and compassionate care for patients and providers alike.

Margaret Lane

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Again And Again
Jonathan Evison
9780593184158, $28.00

A masterpiece of misdirection about a man with a giant imagination.

The protagonist in Again And Again has a multitude of identities. He is a Visigoth street urchin, a Marine, a janitor, a centenarian, and a famous author's cat. How many lives does a cat have? Quite a few, according to Jonathan Evison, as well as too many. Evison's beautifully crafted character development in this novel is anchored by alternating versions of Eugene Miles, who tells the story about an extraordinarily long life that leads him to a crisis of despair, when he longs to "escape the hamster wheel of transmigration and proceed to where the cold, dark rivers flowed." The reader then waits until the end to discover whether Eugene gets wet.

Eugene's story is told with first person narration over more than one thousand years. This is a departure from Evison's prior novel, Small World. Walter Bergen's story plays out through third person narration by several related characters over a mere 170 years. Evison's novels, no matter what point of view their narrators employ, are all about character development. Only one principal character exists in Again and Again, and his experiences move through time, as if the novel was a combination of several portraits in period costumes. These are painted with brilliant brush strokes made out of Eugene's accounts of his earlier identities. The reader sees, through Eugene's eyes, a dungeon room in Seville, a gas station in Victorville, a tiny studio in the Boyle's Heights section of Los Angeles, a flat in Chelsea, and finally in an apartment at the Desert Greens eldercare facility. At each place resides a different antagonist who adds a new dimension to Eugene's character, whether as a love interest, like Gaya or Gladys, a jailer, like Assad al-Attar or Wayne, a master, like William or Oscar, an erstwhile friend, Stowell, or finally a confidant, Angel. After telling the stories, Eugene sees that a pattern has emerged over his lifetimes, one of "ineffectualness" and "abject failure." He has not connected "to the larger world by any meaningful measure because nobody, not one person, had ever claimed me without relinquishing me soon after." And thus, with the end of his current lifetime looming, he feels that during his lives he was "forever an orphan."

Again and Again is a masterpiece of misdirection. As with all his novels, Evison's protagonist digs a hole. In this novel, the reader is never sure how deep the hole is. Or whether there is much of a hole at all. Is Eugene telling the truth? He says at one point, "I've been less than completely transparent about my past." Writing this story in first person narration was a brilliant choice by Evison. Eugene gives new meaning to the concept of the unreliable narrator. And how deep do his untruths go? Are they lies only about incidents within one of his lives? Or were there no earlier lives at all? Those questions make the novel's message compelling. The reader must decide whether Eugene's hole is bottomless or whether it is the making of a garden bed in which flowers will soon grow.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Gods of Four Mile Creek
Phillip Howerton
Golden Antelope Press
9781952232831, $18.95, PB, 124pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Gods of Four Mile Creek", author, essayist, academic, and poet Phillip Howerton explores the inescapable ambivalence we hold toward the places of our upbringing. In 68 exquisitely detailed poems, 19 photographs, and two essays, Howerton considers aspects of the world into which he was born -- specifically the rivers, farms, fish, birds, and stubborn humans of the rural Ozarks. As his explorations of "Folks, Living and Dead," "Amusements," and "Displacements" demonstrate, these elements may be gods of our own creation, gods which we simultaneously reject and embrace.

Howerton's poems bring careful attention to individuals who ponder, avoid, celebrate, and recognize themselves in the elements of their natural world. By acknowledging their kinship with blackjack oaks, homeless groundhogs, or discarded milk cans, readers come to discover much about who they were and who they might become. In "Farm Team," for example, a lone boy plays baseball with trees and barn doors as imagined teammates. When "the barn foundation/ hits another grounder" the "impossible catch" is "witnessed by a crowd/ of Holsteins." And readers see the imagination and resilience which farm life once required and still requires.

Ultimately, "Gods of Four Mile Creek" creates a unique sense of being and belonging. And running through this landscape of place and self is a seven-mile-long creek, oddly named "Four Mile Creek," that is filled with joy, tragedy, and relentless change.

Critique: A volume of thoughtful, memorable, eloquent, elegant, revelatory poetry, essays, and visually evoking word crafted images in the mind and feelings of the reader, "Gods of Four Mile Creek: Poems, Essays and Photographs" by Phillip Howerton is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and college/university library Contemporary Poetry collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "Gods of Four Mile Creek: Poems, Essays and Photographs" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note: Phillip Howerton, a sixth generation Ozarker, was brought upon a small farm in southern Dallas County, Missouri. After spending several years as a milk truck driver, a production worker, and a beef farmer, he earned degrees in English, history, and education from Drury University and a doctorate in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has taught English at colleges and universities in the Ozarks for more than twenty years, is co-founder and co-editor of "Cave Region Review" and general editor of "Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies" and his essays, reviews, and poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals. He received the 2019 Missouri Literary Award from the Missouri Library Association. (

Sleep is Now a Foreign Country
Mike Barnes
9781771965125, $15.95, PB, 112pp

Synopsis: In the summer of 1977, standing on a roadside somewhere between Dachau and Munich, twenty-two-year-old Mike Barnes experienced the dawning of the psychic break he'd been anticipating almost all his life. "Times over the years when I have tried to describe what followed," he writes of that moment, "it has always come out wrong."

"Sleep is Now a Foreign Country: Encounters with the Uncanny" is Barnes finely wrought, deeply intelligent memoir of madness, its antecedents and its aftermath as Barnes reconstructs instead what led him to that moment and offers with his characteristic generosity and candor the captivating account of a mind restlessly aware of itself.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and engaging read from start to finish, "Sleep is Now a Foreign Country: Encounters with the Uncanny" will be of particular interest with readers concerned with mental health and personal memoirs. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Contemporary Biography/Memoir collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sleep is Now a Foreign Country" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Mike Barnes is the Canadian author of twelve books of poetry, short fiction, novels, and memoir. He has won the Danuta Gleed Award and a National Magazine Award Silver Medal for his short fiction, and the Edna Staebler Award for his photo-and-text essay "Asylum Walk." His most recent book of nonfiction, Be With: Letters to a Caregiver, was a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Award.

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Moral Progress in Dark Times: Universal Values for the Twenty-First Century
Markus Gabriel, author
Wieland Hoban, translator
9781509549481, $35.00 hc

Markus Gabriel's Moral Realism

I became interested in this book, "Moral Progress in Dark Times: Universal Values for the Twenty-First Century" from reading a July 1, 2023 review by Erica Lucast Stonestreet in the online journal, "Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews". The book's author, Markus Gabriel (b. 1980) is a German philosopher at the University of Bonn who has also held several fellowships in the United States. He writes for both a scholarly and a popular audience. Wieland Hoban translated the book into English.

In his book, Gabriel undertakes the ambitious project of reviving a position of moral realism and placing moral realism in the context of our troubled modern times, with its pandemic, dictatorships, increasing violence, digitalization,and environmental issues. These and other factors are the source of "dark times" a phrase that may be derived from Hannah Arendt, an author Gabriel admires, and her book "Men in Dark Times". Gabriel's book aims to develop a philosophy of moral realism which he also calls a new enlightenment and to show its importance in helping lead people out of their current difficult situation. The book is broad in scope as Gabriel explains what moral realism is, contrasts it to various other form of thought, particularly relativism, neo-liberalism, and scientism, and tries to show how moral realism may help as a force for moral progress.

Gabriel summarizes the goal of his book in the Epilogue in which he emphasizes the objective character of morality and the existence of "moral facts": He writes:

"I will have reached my goal for now if you have understood that moral progress in dark times is possible, and that there are objectively existing moral facts that address us as humans and neither have nor need any justification through evolution, God, or universal human reason. Ethics requires no substantiation outside of itself; its claims collapse if one does not acknowledge that rational, systematic, open-ended and fallible reflection is the best way to find out what we should or should not do for ethical reasons. This practice of reflection rests on a millenia-old history that began on the European continent with the ancient Greeks, but which is found in many cultures and also developed in the interwoven histories of other parts of humanity."

He follows with a broad statement about the nature of human life which has heavy overtones from the philosophy of Kant: "The aim and meaning of human life is a good life. A good life is one in which we make ourselves responsible actors in the kingdom of ends and understand ourselves as living beings that are capable of higher, universal morality. Such a conception of humans is the foundation of all enlightenment, which has occurred in various places in all parts of the world at different times."

In the opening part of the book, Gabriel develops the core claims of his moral realism, He states that moral facts exist objectively independent of the opinion of any person or group, that moral facts are knowable and "spirit dependent" but in dark times they are clouded over by lies, propaganda, ideology, Third, Gabriel argues for the universality of moral facts, at all times and places independent of culture, gender, religion, age, national origin. Gabriel discusses and tries to rebut various post-modernism and theories of ethical and cultural relativism. The discussions are lengthy and dense, but important.

The second part of the book, "Why there are Moral Facts but not Ethical Dilemmas" discsses the many sources in life of carrying through on the objectivity of moral facts and the demands of morality, The third part of the book,"Social Identity: Why Racism,Xenophobia, and Misogyny are Evil" explores the tortuous theme of identity -- I was initially attracted to the book because I am interested in issues surrounding identity and wanted to learn Gabriel's views. He sees identity claims, racial, nationalistic, religious, gender-based, as inconsistent with the universal character of moral fact. He develops his critique in part based upon scientific findings and he uses it to attack identity-driven politics not only on the right but on the left as well. His goal is something of a radical centrism.

The book's final part, "Moral Progress in the Twenty-First Century" is even more expansive than what proceeded it. Gabriel had described human life in spiritual terms as "the capacity to lead a life in accordance with a notion of who we are and who we want to be." (179) This leads to a large conception of the nature of being human which separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Gabriel argues that human spirit does not get recognition in current reductive forms of thought such as neo-liberalism, with its focus on economics and on the power of self-interest, or exclusive emphasis on science, which ignores other important humanistic ways of understanding life. In a lengthy footnote, Gabriel writes: "There are no findings in natural science which prove that neither God nor an immortal soul exist. The possible character of the scientifically observable universe has no bearing on the metaphysical question of whether there are dimensions of reality that go beyond what can be scientifically observed." (261) Gabriel believes that educational process need to be redirected to emphasize factors other than mathematics and science. In particular, he argues that education should be broadly humanistic and should include, in particular, the study of philosophy, logic, ethics and metaphysics for a critical, non-reductionist approach to questions of the meaning of human life.

"Moral Progress in Dark Times" is a challenging, provocative book. It is difficult in many places for readers familiar with philosophy not to speak of lay readers. I learned from the book and thought in broad outline if not in all specifics it was valuable. The publisher of the book, Polity Press, kindly sent me a review copy.

Living with Nietzsche: What the Great Immoralist has to Teach Us
Robert Solomon
Oxford University Press
9780195306774, $31.49 Kindle

To Live With Passion

At the outset of his study "Living with Nietzsche" (2006), the late Robert Solomon (1942 - 2007) offers a telling autobiographical detail that sets the tone for the book. After graduating from college in the 1960s, Solomon entered medical school at the University of Michigan and was unhappy with his studies. He heard the philosopher Frithjof Bergmann lecture on Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal recurrence, and this experience changed Solomon's life. "It provoked me into steeling myself with the philosophical resolve to take a close look at my life and my unhappiness and confusion and my larger role in the world." (p. 15) Following the lecture, Solomon withdrew from medical school and began graduate work in philosophy, a decision, he says, he never regretted. Solomon taught continental philosophy at the University of Texas for many years and wrote extensively about Nietzsche, existentialism, and the emotions.

Solomon's anecdote captures many themes of his study. For Solomon, Nietzsche is a thinker concerned with human life rather than abstract ideas. Nietzsche's goal was transformative, both for himself and his readers. He wanted to learn and to teach how to love life and to jar his readers into realizing and pursuing what they found valuable. Nietzsche stressed, against an abstract rationalistic and conformist spirit, the importance of passion - what a person cares about - in pursuing a life of value. He stressed the importance of taking risks and of changing situations that made one unhappy. Thus, as a young man Solomon realized that he did not wish to pursue his medical studies and dedicated himself to the life of philosophy. Solomon also came to reject the initial teaching of Nietzsche that led him to this realization. Solomon came to believe that the doctrine of eternal recurrence, while provocative, was obscure, unnecessary, and likely incorrect. It was a metaphysical teaching that Solomon concluded, after years of reflection, ran counter to what he primarily valued in Nietzsche. So in his book, Solomon takes judicious measure of this great philosopher. He tries to explain what Nietzsche has to teach, while separating out the components of Nietzsche's thought that Solomon finds metaphysical, hyperbolic, or incorrect.

Readers who disapprove of Nietzsche generally stress what they see as the nihilistic component of his thought. They see him as the "immoral, blasphemous, the sacrilegious" (p. 3) denying any form of rationality and any recognition of moral behavior beyond, perhaps, force. Solomon understands Nietzsche as transforming morality by celebrating a life of "rich passions, `deep' emotions, exquisite taste, and a sense of personal elegance and excellence." (P. 4) Thus, Solomon understands Nietzsche as opposed to universalizing tendencies in both metaphysics and ethics. Nietzsche denies any abstract and necessarily binding concept of truth and teaches both naturalism and perspectivism. He rejects both Kantian and utilitarian ethics while arriving at a teaching of the good life that is close, in some respects, to that of the ancient Greek skeptics and to the "virtue" ethics of Aristotle.

Solomon's book is a mixture of a passionate, transformative call to his readers of the type Nietzsche might have approved with detailed, sometimes difficult philosophical analysis. Thus the book will appeal to both the scholar and to those with a new interest in Nietzsche, but it will also frustrate both kinds of readers at times. The chapters remind me of concentric circles, as Solomon continually restates his understanding of Nietzsche with different emphases and at with varying degrees of abstraction. Thus, Solomon begins with an analysis of what he, unhappily, calls Nietzsche's "ad hominem" style of writing. Solomon aptly points out that Nietzsche was interested in what he called the "psychology" of belief. When this psychology was understood, for Nietzsche, abstract philosophical questions of the "rightness" or "wrongness" of certain doctrines would tend to fall away. Nietzsche's psychological approach led him to what is today called perspectivism - the claim that individuals see truth and ethics from their particular place and that if is impossible and undesirable to have an absolute theory of truth or ethics - or any theory at all. Nietzsche then tries to explain how this perspectivist approach does not lead to nihilism but to a revalued ethics and to the development of qualities in individuals that celebrate the place of passion, love, meaning, commitment, and honesty. In the central chapters of his book, Solomon develops a Nietzschean ethic that he compares in detail to Aristotle. In the concluding chapter of his study, Solomon compares Nietzsche to the existentialist thinkers he also admires, including Kierkegaard and Sartre. (Solomon appears to be much less fond of Heidegger). Nietzsche is sometimes distinguished from these thinkers due to his rejection of untrammeled free will, his teaching of amor fati (loving one's destiny), and his stress on character as determinative on one's actions. Besides offering a difficult discussion of the philosophical nature of agency, Solomon tries to show the important place personal responsibility has for Nietzsche, making him closer to Sartre and Kierkegaard than is sometimes realized.

Solomon does not hesitate to criticize Nietzsche or to discuss the many inconsistencies in his thought. Nietzsche was a profound and, provocative, if not always careful and consistent, thinker. Among other things, Solomon questions Nietzsche's teachings of the "will to power" as a metaphysical holdover from Schopenhauer, narrows the focus of Nietzsche's teaching of "resentment" as the basis for common understanding of ethics, takes issue with the spatial and metaphorical description of human passions as "drives", and rejects the confusing and metaphorical distinction between alleged "deep" and "shallow" values or ways of understanding. He explores the tensions between Nietzsche's "blaming" perspective, all-too-common in many people, and his perspectivism, which seems to counsel an approach minimizing the tendency to blame and to criticize others. Solomon sees the important teaching of Nietzsche to lie in the undermining of cant, in recognizing the centrality of a personal approach to philosophy, in the recognition of passion and sexuality, and in Nietzsche's central teaching of learning to love one's life and character.

Charles Portis
Abrams Books
9780879517038, $16.00 pbk

On the Road with Norwood Pratt

I read Charles Portis' (1933 -2020) most famous novel, "True Grit" at about the time the Library of America published Portis' "Collected Works" which include his five novels together with other writings. The LOA volume begins with Portis's first novel "Norwood" (1966) which is short, humorous, and full of eccentric characters and the adventures of its title character. "Norwood" has elements both of the road novel and the picaresque novel, but its style is all its own. The novel offered me a welcome contrast from some longer, more ponderous reading.

Norwood travels by bus from Camp Pendleton, a marine base in California to his home in Ralph, Texas when he gets a hardship discharge to take care of his sister, Vernell. a "heavy, sleepy girl with bad posture". Ralph, Texas is described in the "Texas Almanac" online as "Ogg, on U.S. Highway 87 in south central Randall County, is a switch on the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway" with no reported population in the 1980s. In the 1960s, when the story takes place Norwood and has family are shown as living at different times on both sides of the tracks of this small Southern town.

When he left the marines, Norwood forgot to collect a seventy dollar debt owed by his buddy, Joe William Reese, whose home is in Arkansas but who is said to be in New York City. Norwood, not getting along with his sister's husband, soon has the urge to leave Ralph and his the dream of playing his guitar and singing for the "Louisiana Hayride" a radio show modelled on the "Grand Ole Opry". But first he travels to New York City driving hot cars and a prostitute arranged by a local shady businessman and disbarred lawyer, Grady Fring (the "credit king").

The book chronicles Norwood's many adventures on his trip to New York City and back to Ralph. He jettisons the stolen cars and the young lady, hops freight cars and arrives in New York, but his pal has gone home. Norwood befriends a Jewish beatnik together with a young woman who likes him but doesn't appear romantically interested. And so it is back to Ralph, but in the process Norwood meets and falls in love with a young woman Rita Lee, jilted by her marine lover, a show business midget, Edmund Ratner, and a chicken, Joann. He also stops in Arkansas to collect his debt. On returning to Ralph, he settles scores with Fring, the sleazy credit king.

"Norwood" is a wonderfully humorous little novel about road life, odd characters, and about a seemingly ordinary young man coming into his own. The book sings with the particularities of its characters and Portis's depictions of the details of people, places, and things. The book also sings with its many references to country music and singers. Together, with "Norwood", I read an essay by Portis "That New Sound from Nashville" in the LOA volume which describes the history of country music and its status at about the time Norwood took his trip. The essay describes the Grand Ole Opry together with the Louisiana Hayride, the focus of Norwood's ambition. The essay concludes with a description of the life of the country musician.

"It's not an easy life at all. There's fame in it of a sort, and money and that keeps a lot of them going. But there's some deeper feeling too that keeps them out on the road, with a night here and a night there, and a long drive in between, singing their songs, some trash, some gold, about hearts and wrecks and teardrops.. They can't talk about these things so they sing them."

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the LOA volume devoted to Charles Portis.

The Rabbit Hutch
Tess Gunty
Vintage Books
9780593467879, $17.00 pbk

From Monrovia, Indiana To Vacca Vale, Indiana

Reading Tess Gunty's National Book Award winning novel "The Rabbit Hutch" reminded me of "Monrovia, Indiana" an outstanding documentary film from 2018 directed by Frederick Wiseman. I saw the film at the AFI Theater near my home, and it has stayed with me. I would like to see it again. The film is set in the small town of Monrovia, roughly in central Indiana with a population of about 1600. Over its 143 minute length, the film shows the lives of the members of the community at work, play, worship, in serious events and at play. The film had a feeling of realism, without ideology or judging. The primary audience for the film was educated individuals in the urban centers of the East and West, Some of the polarization in American life involves the tension between rural and urban areas, a tension that rose in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Wiseman's film offered a valuable perspective. The official synopsis of the film states:

"The film explores the conflicting stereotypes and illustrates how values like community service, duty, spiritual life, generosity and authenticity are formed, experienced and lived. The film gives a complex and nuanced view of daily life in Monrovia and provides some understanding of a rural, mid-American way of life that has always been important in America but whose influence and force have not always been recognized or understood in the big cities on the east and west coasts of America and in other countries." (quoted on wiki page for the film)

I had hoped that Gunty's novel might offer a restrained, thoughtful view of a middle American town in Indiana as did Wiseman's film. Her novel is set in Vacca Vale, Indiana, which, is a larger version of Monrovia, an industrial rather than a farming town, and fictitious. In the novel Vacca Vale is part of the rust belt. For many years, the town was prosperous and the home to many workers in the automobile industry. The auto manufacturer left the town, leaving poverty, crime, loneliness, and severe environmental pollution in its wake. Some less than well-intentioned efforts are underway throughout this story to revive the town and bring back prosperity, at least for some.

The title "The Rabbit Hutch" refers to a dilapidated apartment building which houses a variety of Vacca Vale's poor and lost. The decrepit character of the building allows little room for privacy. The novel follows the lives of several residents of the Rabbit Hutch. Their backgrounds and lives are diverse and eccentric. The stories are extreme and hit the reader on the head with a hammer.

The main character is an eighteen year old, Blandina, who lives in an apartment in the Rabbit Hutch with three young men. Each of the four are former residents of foster homes who are trying to make it on their own. Understandably, sexual tension develops between the three young men and their female roommate. Blandina, a promising and bright student, has dropped out of school and works in a cheap restaurant. She has a mystical temperament and reads about great women medieval mystics including Hildegarde of Bingen and St. Teresa of Avila. The novel follows her life over the course of about a week and her relationship to the roommates and to other residents of the Rabbit Hutch.

In the course of reading I had different responses to the novel. Portions of the book are beautiful and incisive as Gunty describes her characters and their varied backstories. The discussions of mysticism are inspiring. The book captures the poignancy of a once thriving town which has fallen on hard times and which is making some efforts at recovery. Some of the material in the book could form the basis for a portrayal of a rust belt town, along the lines that Wiseman achieved in his portrayal of the farming town of Monrovia, Indiana.

Alas, it was not to be. The novel is long and herky-jerk. It wanders and, with the impressiveness of some of the individual scenes, is difficult to follow and didn't hold my attention. But the problem with the book is deeper. While some of the book shows people trying to live their lives in the face of economic and personal misfortune, the novel, for the most part, doesn't allow the characters to speak for themselves. The book is more of a social criticism of Vacca Vale and of the economic system responsible for the town's present difficult times. The novel is concerned with large ideas, such as the failings of late capitalism, selfishness, pervasive ignorance, male toxic sexuality, male domination, phoniness, cruelty to animals, American class structure, and much more. It is too much to discuss well, takes the author away from her characters, and is preachy and ideological. The book, unlike "Monrovia, Indiana", does not let the characters speak for themselves but instead imposes the author's beliefs and understanding of their lives upon them.

Although there was promising material in "The Rabbit Hutch" it was disjointed, shrill, and ultimately left me with the sense that it was moved more by ideology and by social and political commitments than by the story and the characters. I became increasingly disillusioned with the book over the course of my reading. The journey from Monrovia to Vacca Vaca, Indiana was disappointing.

Stay and Fight it Out: The Second Day at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, Culp's Hill and the North End of the Battlefield
Kristopher White and Chris Mackowski, PhD
Savas Beatie
9781611213317, $16.95 pbk

The Fight For Culp's Hill And Cemetery Hill -- July 2, 1863

Over the years I have found a great deal to be learned about the United States from a study of the Civil War and of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 -- July 3, 1863). This new (2023) book in the Emerging Civil War Series. "Stay and Fight it Out: The Second Day at Gettysburg" offers a readable, thoughtful account of the July 2 events on the North end of the Battlefield (the Union right, Confederate left) at Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. This part of the battle is sometimes overlooked as visitors tend to focus on Little Round Top and related actions on the south part of the Battlefield. The title "Stay and Fight it Out" is a quotation from Union Major General Henry Slocum, commander of the Union XIIth Army Corps heavily involved in the defense of the right part of the Union line. The quote aptly describes the courage and fortitude of the troops, North and South.

The authors of this study, Civil War scholars Kristopher White and Chris Mackowski, Ph.D, have written a companion volume "Don't Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg" which discusses the better-known account of the July 2 battle from Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge.

This new study offers a strong, convincing picture of the critical character of the fighting on the northern front. The fighting was as hard and the stakes were as high as in the south and center. The Union held the heights and seemingly impregnable positions and defended valiantly. On both Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill the Confederacy's valiant but poorly coordinated attacks came close to success and might have broken the Union position. The book tells the story well, with good text, many images of participants, places, and monuments, and clear, useful maps to help the reader follow the action.

The authors set the stage with a discussion of the first day at Gettysburg and with the Army of Northern Virginia's failure to take the high ground at Cemetery and Culp's Hills following its success on July 1. The book stresses how the lack of command coordination plagued Confederate efforts throughout the battle, beginning on July 1 and continuing through the fighting on the northern and southern fronts on July 2. The book stresses the topography of the battlefield, with its heights, rolling hills, streams, and the town of Gettysburg itself and their impact on the battle.

In successive chapters, the authors discuss the early action on the northern front and its intended relationship to the Confederacy's attack on the southern front. Culp's Hill was the northernmost part of the Union line, and Ewell's Second Corps attacked it in the early evening. The fighting was severe and the Union forces outnumbered but the position held. The fighting on Culp's Hill can be highly confusing but it is presented clearly in this book with enough detail to be meaningful. Later that night other elements of Ewell's Corps attacked the neighboring Cemetery Hill. The Union position was formidable but the Confederacy for a moment appeared to break through. The effort failed due at least in part to poor coordination among the Southern commanders.

The book includes several appendices which offer walking tours of Gettysburg a driving tour of Culp's Hill, a study of restoration efforts in recent years on the northern part of the battlefield, and a summary of depictions of Culp's Hill in early art and photography. The book includes an Order of Battle and brief suggestions for further reading.

I remember fondly the time I spent on Culp's Hill trying to understand the fighting. It was gratifying in particular to learn of the restoration efforts subsequent to my last visit. I would love to see Gettysburg again.

The book conveys a strong sense of the ferocity of the battle and of the passion, gallantry, and commitment of the soldiers. The book encourages reflection on the United States and on the ideals which were both preserved and developed in the Civil War. It is valuable to consider the Civil War as our country goes through difficult times. The publisher, Savas Beatie, kindly sent me a review copy.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

The Stone Stories
Mandy Haggith
Sarabande Books
ASIN B09Q128K5D, $16.95

The first, The Walrus Mutterer, told from the point of view of Rian, a teenager living in Great Britain during the Iron Age (circa 320 BC) and being trained to become a priestess. She is loved, by at least some people in her foster family, though her foster father sells her to a greedy trader, Ussa, in exchange for a sword. Rian is branded, taken away, and placed on Ussa's boat Ron. The crew goes off in search of the Walrus Mutterer, a great hunter of the big beasts. Rian is sold almost immediately to a fellow traveler, Pytheas, a Greek from Massalia (Marseilles). She remains a strong independent woman despite her enslavement and eventually meets and falls in love with the Walrus Mutterer.

The second, The Amber Seeker, is told from the point of view of Pytheas, starting when he leaves his home and follows him through his journeys in search of sources for tin, amber, and ivory. We see his interactions with his slave, Rian, from his point of view. Pytheas returns home. He is a rather ambivalent character, not evil, so much as confused by his own behavior with Rian, and he is, of course, rather self-aggrandizing and in denial of the reality of his behaviors.

The Lyre Dancers completes the series, and is told from the points of view of a middle-aged Rian, her daughters Soyea (by Pytheas) and Rona (by the Walrus Mutterer). It completes the love story between Rian and the Walrus Mutterer.

These books provide insight into women's role in the Iron age and into ancient rituals and folklore as well as the Mother Earth religion. More than that, Mandy Haggith's descriptions of the land, its harshness and beauty, are lyrical and sweeping; beyond that, her images of the sea, its currents, sky, and inhabitants (whales, walruses, fish, and seabirds) are truly moving. I'd classify this historical eco-fiction, beautifully written, and tugging modern hearts into a long-denied oneness with nature.

Medicine Walk
Richard Wagamese
Milkweed Editions
9781571311153, $24.00

I read two other of Richard Wagamese's other works (Indian Horse and Dream Wheels) and loved them enough to decide to read his entire backlist.

In Medicine Walk, the main character, a sixteen year old boy, doesn't have a name initially. Franklin Starlight, the boy, is called upon to visit his father, Eldon, with whom the boy has had a minimal relationship. But duty-bound, he journeys on horseback to his father, to learn the man is dying of alcohol-induced liver failure. After neglecting his heritage for years, the father wants to be buried as a traditional Ojibwa warrior in the mountains. On a journey of discovery of each other and themselves, Franklin ties his father to a horse and walks by his side. Medicine Walk is a record of that journey, through rugged mountain country, and becomes a trip into their shared past as the dissolute father narrates the desolation and the one true love of his life.

This is a novel about the goodness of the human soul and has a wonderful redemptive ending. Wagamese's prose is spare but laden with emotion, particularly nuanced here, considering this book is autobiographical fiction. His writing soars through the mountains and his insight and compassion for his characters is rich and rewarding. Franklin is raised by "the old man," another character whose name is unknown until the end.

This is one of those books will haunt you as it covers child abuse, neglect, PTSD, profound love, more profound grief, and self-destructive tendencies. Wagamese doesn't dwell on the harshness of Franklin's life but presents it as a fait accompli, neither playing down nor sensationalizing it.

My Name Is Iris
Brando Skyhorse
Avid Reader Press
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781982177850, $28.00

Set in a dystopia MAGA-esque future, My Name Is Iris explores the dark side of the United States and fascism. Iris Prince and her husband have drifted apart over the years. Their divorce is unsurprising, but the lack of drama regarding it is. Iris (originally named Ines, was renamed when her teacher couldn't pronounce it) starts over with a new house, new neighborhood, more time to spend with her nine-year-old daughter, Melanie.

The government with the aid of a Silicon Valley start-up has created a substitute for driver's licenses called the Band which is available only to those Americans who can prove that their parents are bona fide US residents. Iris, whose parents are undocumented aliens, is now of unverifiable origin. As Iris settles into her new home, she wakes up one day and finds a wall growing between her and her neighbors. No one else can see it. It is covered in glass shards to keep people both in and out.

I found the characterization to be a bit flat. Iris tends to ramble in her thoughts and overall isn't a very likable character. That said, the book combines elements of stinging social commentary, magical realism, a dystopic vision of the future, the classic immigrant story, and and deals with issues such as MAGA-type intolerance and racism that should be at the forefront of American discussions.

A Bend of Light
Joy Jordan-Lake
Lake Union Publishing
9781542037907, $23.95

During the World War II, Amie Stillwell lives in England and serves as a photo interpreter for the Allies. When the war ends, she works in Washington, DC, for several years but is eventually fired to make room for returning veterans. In a quandary, she returns to her home on coastal Maine, a fictitious village based on Kennebuckport.

Back home, odd incidents begin happening immediately as Amie, in an attempt to save someone's life, crashes her Aston-Martin into a Bentley stopped on the tracks with a train barreling down the tracks. The driver takes off before Amie can determine who they are. Later, Amie connects with people she's known all her life, most importantly Shibby Travis, a transplanted Texan, who served as Amie's foster mother. Mysterious events happen such as a young boy being dropped off to be cared for by Shibby, the town's de facto "foster home" for children and people being murdered by an unknown assailant. Amie uses the attention to detail she perfected in England, using a stereoscope to identify changes in the landscape that might signal changes indicating movements of the Nazi army, looking for what was there or wasn't there before, to look for the killer. In the midst of these happenings, Amie also searches for a boy she once loved who ran away from Shibby's home to serve in the war and who appears to have been killed in action. But his death remains unconfirmed, and Shibby believes he is still alive.

Joy Jordan-Lake does a great job capturing the essence of Maine and the 1950s. She also develops a strong female character not afraid to deal with misogynists. There is a hint of romance, but it's not the basis of the book, and it's refreshing to have a woman with better things to do (like get her life back together, open her own art gallery, and solve mysteries) than fall in love.

Faed to Black (Fractured Face Book 2)
Sarah J. Sover
Falstaff Books
9798862974485, $14.99

Faed to Black is the second in a two-volume series by fantasy writer Sarah J. Sover and is a mystery involving the fae world. The story begins in book 1, Fairy Godmurder, in which Gwendolyn Evenshine drops out of her family and goes to the Academy to become a fairy godmother. When Francesca, her very first assignment as a fairy godmother, is killed by a serial killer, Gwen goes into overdrive to solve the mystery of whodunnit. In book 2, Gwen is faced with more difficulties as her family is being decimated by some unknown agent and Gwen moves from 15th in line for the throne to 5th. There is a wonderful final battle between the Seelie and Unseelie forces during which Gwen becomes Queen of the fae. An entertaining read. There is also a short story involving the backstory of the griffin here, Junior Detective Samson Wayne, a member of the Korranthian Police Department and, along with pixie Chessa Moon, one of Gwen's best buds. Being a long-time King Arthur fan, I loved the references to Morgan Le Fay and Avalon.

The Blue Monsoon (Blue Mumbai Thriller Book 2)
Damyanti Biswas
Thomas & Mercer
9781662503924, $16.99

The Blue Monsoon is the second in the Blue Mumbai Thriller series, following The Blue Bar, but can be read as a standalone. Senior Inspector Arnav Singh Rajput is called to a bizarre murder at a Hindu place of worship, a Kaali temple: a man has been killed, his face savagely cut, his genitalia removed, and symbols of a tantric cult are carved into his chest. This is the first of several similar murders. It is a copycat killing after the first was posted on social media or is a serial killer loose in Mumbai?

Author Biswas transports her readers to Mumbai, and the monsoon rains become a character: the entire novel is damp, wet, flooded with rain and emotions, scented with mold and mildew. Arnav's paralyzed wife is in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy, yet he cannot be there to assist her as the killings pile up. Treachery is all around, including a mole in his own office, and if things weren't bad enough, floods threaten the slums of Mumbai and the ritual killings promise ethnic- and caste-related riots. The book's topics range from social media to the ancient caste system, the Indian version of Affirmative Action, child pornography, the long-term cultural/religious conflicts of Muslims and Hindus, plus the graft and corruption of the police system.

Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD
Romeo Dallaire
Random House Canada
9780345814432, $28.00

As I revised my own novel about the Rwandan genocide, I ran across a memoir by retired Canadian general and senator, Romeo Dallaire, in which he describes his twenty year battle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I had read his earlier memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. It was a wonderful resource and an inspiring, though horrific look, at the human strength, frailty and cruelty evidenced in the Rwandan Genocide.

Dallaire served as the commander of the United Nations forces in Rwanda in 1994 in which 800,000 people were killed in the span of 100 days. The book is a challenge to read because of both his personal anguish and his recollections of the sheer brutality of the genocide. The memoir alternates between his current problems of despair, sleeplessness, anxiety, and overwhelming guilt and the past with memories of his time in Rwanda. There, he witnessed - and was unable to prevent - the genocide, largely due to the limitations the United Nations placed on his mission, the lack of technical, military, and financial support.

Dallaire truly bares his soul in this heartbreaking, gut wrenching memoir. He took his feelings and was able to turn his efforts to multiple humanitarian efforts: increasing the awareness of and treatment of PTSD in Canadian soldiers, focusing on children forced to become soldiers, and human rights. His phenomenal work ethic and commitment to humanity are inspiring. One of the most compelling quotes from this book is: "Are all humans human? Or are some humans more human than others?" I truly believe Dallaire is more human - and more humane - than many of us.

Shadow is a Colour as Light is
Michael Langan
Lume Books
9781839012815, $14.99

Shadow is a Colour as Light is, an ambitious novel even for a seasoned writer, is particularly ambitious as a debut novel. I started out not liking it and, after several false starts and stops, nearly put it aside as a did not finish. For some reason, I persisted and at about 60%, I ended up being glad I did as all the various story lines seemed to come together.

The art of Cezanne, the French Post-Impressionist artist, bind the book together. In addition to Cezanne, his wife, Hortense Fiquet, and his best friend, Emile Zola, characters include: a Chinese billionaire who invents a machine to replicate painting that are indistinguishable from the originals, his dead wife, his dead son (one of twins), his personal physician, his personal assistant, and the surviving twin who at the age of fifteen determines never to leave his apartment; a movie director, his assistant, the financier of the movie, the star who plays Cezanne; a poet and his ex-wife; Nick and his girlfriend (the future assistant to the movie director) in Liverpool; and other miscellaneous characters. Essentially all the characters are flawed, often fatally. They compete for space, and their stories don't interrelate well until about the aforementioned 60% mark. Keeping track of the various characters, time shifts, and scenes in the movie and the personnel involved is at times difficult.

Cezanne's art and life provide the central themes for the novel: love and loss. Author Lagan's descriptions of art and life are amazing as are his tie-ins with his characters' lives and Cezanne's art.

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers
Romeo Dallaire
Vintage Canada
9780307355782, $18.00

This is my third book by Lt. General (Ret'd) Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander during the Rwandan Genocide in 1993-1994. Though suffering from significant PTSD from his experiences there, Dallaire has pushed forward with multiple volumes based on current research that are against genocide or against the use of children as soldiers. In They Fight Like Soldiers he puts forth the unique idea that children are a 'weapons system' rather than mere soldiers. They are a commodity of nearly endless supply that can be used to kill; to provide transport drugs and small arms; to sweep areas where mines are potentially buried as they are heavy enough to set off the mines, but are disposable; and in the case of girls, they can cook, clean, serve as sex slaves and bush wives, and literally give birth to the next generation of child soldiers.

Initially, Dallaire speaks to his own childhood and how he moved into the military. Then he shows, through a fictional compilation of many boy soldiers' stories, how a child is stolen or bought, and then radicalized. Later, he shows another fictional story, a UN soldier killing a child soldier, a girl, and the long-term effects on the soldier's emotional state after that act.

This is a thought-provoking book that forces readers to look at the role of children through history and how they have often been marginalized, ill-treated, and considered disposable.

Though we Americans claim to have risen above such demeanor, we nonetheless refuse to pass gun control laws to protect our own children, much less deal with gun control when those weapons are used by children in foreign lands, from induced rituals and murder to being trained to become a killing machine. I applaud Dallaire and his continuing and consistent efforts to prevent genocide and the use of child soldiers.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food
Bridget Elworthy, author
Henrietta Courtauld, author
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
9781760763855, $50.00, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: Co-authored by 'The Land Gardeners', Bridget Elworthy and Henrietta Courtauld, "Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food" is a celebration of soil and its connection to the food we eat. This visually sumptuous book is an especially beautiful and informative collection of essays, recipes, and teachings on soil and food. It is also a celebration of how we can put these at the center of our lives and is essential reading for anyone who cares about the planet and health.

With the publication of "Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food", Elworthy and Courtauld share their wisdom on how to care for your soil while London-based chef Lulu Cox shares her favorite recipes for cooking simple, honest food that brings people together. Soil to Table is also a visual feast with paintings by British figurative painter Nancy Cadogan from her body of work "All The Good Things," which celebrates our relationship with nature, food, and the landscape around us. Essentially, "Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food" draws attention to the important link between the health of our soils and the food we eat.

Critique: This impressive large format (10.3 x 1.3 x 13.3 inches, 4.8 pounds) hardcover coffee-table style edition of "Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food" from Thames & Hudson features 120 illustrations, of which 112 are in color. Fascinating and inspiring to simply browse through one inspiring/informative page at a time, "Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food" is a choice addition for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Gardening, Horticulture, and Natural Cuisine Foods collections. Indeed, "Soil to Table: Recipes for Healthy Soil and Food" would make a prized and appreciated Library Memorial Fund gift acquisition.

Editorial Note: Bridget Elworthy and Henrietta Courtauld trained and worked as lawyers before becoming growers and garden designers. They co-founded The Land Gardeners to raise awareness and educate gardeners, growers, and farmers about soil health. They ran an organic cut flower business in Oxfordshire, England while embarking on their quest to find solutions for soil, plant, and planet health. Their previous books include The Land Gardeners: Cut Flowers also published by Thames and Hudson and Clive Nichols English Gardens published by The Land Gardeners Press.

Lisa Niver
Post Hill Press
9781637587812, $18.99, PB, 224pp

Synopsis: Lisa Niver had quit her job, rented out her condo, and was traveling around Asia. To the outside world, Niver was a woman living out her dreams of exploring ancient ruins in Cambodia and seeing orangutans in Borneo. In private, she was keeping a dark secret. But, when she found herself lying on a sidewalk in Thailand, looking up at the sky in severe pain, she knew things had to change. At age forty-seven, Niver found the courage to set course on a new life.

Feeling like a failure, pushing fifty, and moving home to her parents' house to start again from scratch, Niver started taking one tiny "brave-ish" step at a time to take her life far away from the old one and into the adventurous world of travel writing. These small hurdles led to the challenge of trying fifty new things before turning fifty. From diving into shipwrecks, swimming with sharks, bobsledding at 3 Gs, to indulging in wild escapades, Niver found herself traversing the world on a journey of reinvention, personal growth, and discovering what it actually means to be "brave."

While "Brave-ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty" chronicles Niver's inspiring expeditions to distant corners of the world including Myanmar, Cuba, Morocco, Kenya and Mongolia it is much more than just a travelogue. Niver's story is also a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of perseverance. "Brave-ish" will inspire the reader to dream big, take risks, and embrace the unknown to create a life filled with wonder and excitement, even when courage seems elusive.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, articulate and descriptive, "Brave-ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty" by Lisa Niver is a deftly crafted and inherently fascinating read that is part travelogue, part memoir, and part self-help. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Brave-ish" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Lisa Niver ( is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty times.

American Landscapes
Ann J. Abadie, editor
J. Richard Gruber, editor
University Press of Mississippi
9781496845733, $50.00, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Ann J. Abadie and J. Richard Cruber, "American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World" is a major contemporary survey of landscapes in art and literature of the United States, especially the American South.

Inspired by William Dunlap's extraordinary "Meditations on the Origins of Agriculture in America" and a collection of forty paintings and photographs by Southern artists, this volume brings together artists, authors, and scholars to present new perspectives on art and literature both past and present.

The volume includes art and text from artists John Alexander, Jason Bouldin, William Dunlap, Carlyle Wolfe Lee, Ke Francis, Linda Burgess, Randy Hayes; photographers Sally Mann, Ed Croom, and Huger Foote; museum directors Betsy Bradley, Jane Livingston, and Julian Rankin; and authors W. Ralph Eubanks, John Grisham, J. Richard Gruber, Jessica B. Harris, Lisa Howorth, Julia Reed, Natasha Trethewey, Curtis Wilkie, Joseph M. Pierce, and Drew Gilpin Faust.

This diverse group explores major eras of American history portrayed in Dunlap's painting, a landscape that evokes the displacement and genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the Civil War, and William Faulkner's fiction. They examine the history of landscape art in America, connecting art with the works of major writers like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Natasha Trethewey, and Jesmyn Ward.

In eighteen new essays written during the pandemic and since the events of January 6, 2021, the essayists emphasize how the key issues Dunlap addressed in his 1987 artwork have become part of the national discourse and make his work even more vital today.

Critique: Published by the University Press of Mississippi, this large format (11.2 x 1.2 x 10.3 inches, 4.35 pounds) edition of "American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World" is part of their University of Mississippi Museum and Historic House series. Profusely and beautiful illustrated throughout with full color photos and images, "American Landscapes: Meditations on Art and Literature in a Changing World" is an inherently fascinating and impressively informative read from start to finish. Of special note is the Prelude (Meditations on the Origins of Agriculture in America) and the Afterword (Meditations by J. Richard Gruber. There is also included a complete ten page listing of the contributors and their credentials and a seven page Index. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.99), this coffee-table style hardcover edition is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Landscape/Seascape Art collections and Regional American Literary Criticism curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Ann J. Abadie is former associate director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and coeditor of numerous scholarly collections from the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference.

Editorial Note #2: J. Richard Gruber is director emeritus of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He has published more than forty-five books and catalogs, including Dunlap: William Dunlap; Dusti Bonge, Art and Life: Biloxi, New Orleans, New York; and A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana (the latter two published by University Press of Mississippi).

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

In the Lair of Legends
David Buzan
Black Rose Writing
9781685133313, $29.95, HC, 274pp

Synopsis: The most highly decorated Native American in the history of the United States Cavalry, Jolon Winterhawk is a combat veteran of countless bloody skirmishes during the American Civil War. He's a man of honor, struggling with sworn allegiances to two different nations-the country he's sworn to protect, and the tribe he's promised to defend.

During a top-secret mission to escort a military gold train through Oregon's rugged Cascade Mountains, Winterhawk emerges as the sole survivor of a large-scale ambush. Duty-bound to complete the assignment and honor the sacrifices of his fallen comrades, Winterhawk makes the fateful decision to personally deliver the precious cargo of gold.

While Winterhawk embarks on a treacherous wagon trip across miles of dangerous wilderness, an aerial unit from the Army Balloon Corps has been dispatched to locate the missing train. Soon, the aeronauts seize upon a diabolical opportunity-stealing the gold for themselves.

Outnumbered and outgunned, Winterhawk soon finds himself in the fiercest battle of his life. But he quickly discovers that man is not his greatest enemy. Because there's something else lurking deep in those woods -- a monster of myth, a horrifying creature of enormous size and lethal intent.

Critique: With the publication of "In The Lair Of Legends", author David Buzan reveals a genuine and impressive flair as a novelist for originality and the kind of narrative driven storytelling style that keeps his readers full attention from start to finish. Of particular attraction to readers with an interest in historical thrillers and action/adventure novels, While "In The Liar Of Legends" is especially memorable and unreservedly recommended addition to community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that it is also readily available in a trade paperback edition (9781685132507, $21.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: David Buzan ( is an optioned screenwriter. He has also had his work published in American Cinematographer, Film Score Monthly, This Week Magazine, among several others. David is a graduate of the Vancouver Film School, and also holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Liberty University.

Otho Eskin
Oceanview Publishing
9781608095704, $27.95, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: Washington, D.C. homicide detective Marko Zorn takes on a far-reaching, complicated investigation when a narcotic more deadly than fentanyl spreads across the city, causing countless fatalities. His search for the people behind the off-label drug leads him to a Big Pharma company run by mysterious, psychopathic twin brothers. Anyone who crosses them is dead.

Marko discovers that the company will soon release another dangerous prescription opioid analgesic, but when the company learns that this information has been leaked, more bodies pile up. Let down by his higher-ups, Marko sets off to solve the deadly ring of crime that now surrounds him, all while evading repeated attempts to kill him.

Marko will need all his wits, skills, and contacts both inside and outside of the law to shut down the twin brothers' criminal drug empire. Can a painting from a major art theft decades earlier provide the key to how Marko can cripple the whole operation?

Only if Marko isn't killed first!

Synopsis: The third novel in the Marko Zorn series by novelist Otho Eskin, "Firetrap" is an original, fun and riveting read from start to finish. "Firetrap" will have a particular interest to fans of police procedurals and action/adventure suspense thrillers. While highly recommended as a popular pick for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Firetrap" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.49) as well.

Editorial Note: Otho Eskin ( is a lawyer and a former member of the United States Foreign Service. He is active in the Washington theater scene and a playwright whose work has appeared in New York, Washington, D.C., and the first two novels in the Marko Zorn Thriller Series are "The Reflecting Pool" and "Head Shot".

Willis M. Buhle

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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