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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 2 February 2020 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf Anne-Marie Reynolds' Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf Carole Mertz's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Catalina Bonati's Bookshelf Clabe Polk's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Courtney Bambrick's Bookshelf Cynthia Conrad's Bookshelf
Diane Donovan's Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Call's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Kavitha Blewett's Bookshelf Kirk Bane's Bookshelf Kirkus Reviews
Literary Titan's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf
Mark Walker's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Molly Martin's Bookshelf
Paul Lappen's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Sue Ready's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf

The Wolf Will Not Come
Myriam Ouyessad, author
Ronan Badel, illustrator
Schiffer Kids
c/o Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310
9780764357800, $16.99, HC, 32pp,

Throughout "The Wolf Will Not Come", a small rabbit getting ready for bed questions his mother on how she can be so sure that the wolf will not come to their house on one page. Meanwhile, on the opposite page, children can follow the progress of the wolf indeed creeping closer and closer to them, foiling the mother's reassurances one by one. In a delightful twist, the rabbit's fears are defused and all ends well. The irresistible drawings and surprise ending put nighttime anxieties in light-hearted perspective. "The Wolf Will Not Come" is clever picture book story for children ages 5-6 by the collaborative team of author Myriam Ouyessad and illustrator/artist Ronan Badel that disarms childhood bedtime anxieties in an unexpected way and is certain to be a unique, immediate and enduringly popular addition to family, preschool, elementary school, and community library picture book collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Wolf Will Not Come" is also available in a paperback edition (9780764358760, $9.99).

Andrea Kay

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

A Murder at Malabar Hill
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
9781760529406, A$29.99, paperback, 385 pages

"On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they'd almost collided"

Bombay, February, 1921. Perveen Mistry is about to enter Mistry House where she works as a solicitor in her father's law firm. Near the doorway she encounters this unkempt stranger but when she speaks to him he rushes away. Later, from her office window, she sees him still loitering across the road and determines, from the way he is dressed, that he is Bengali and possibly from Calcutta:

"the only place men wore British shoes and stockings with their dhotis was Calcutta, about twelve hundred miles away"

She is immediately anxious, and when she goes across the road to confront him and mentions the name Cyrus Sodawalla, he flees.

So, already there is a mystery. Cyrus Sodawalla and Calcutta clearly have special and disturbing meaning for Perveen, but it is not until later in the book that we learn of the events in her past which she had hoped she could forget

Perveen, as a local newspaper cutting kept in her office reveals, is Bombay's first woman solicitor. But Bombay court does not yet allow women advocates to approach the bench, so she has never appeared in court. Her father, too, has thought that his clients "needed a gentle introduction to the prospect of female representation", so she is helping him with paperwork and research on family law issues. Her current task is to examine proposed changes to the estate settlement of Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim textile-mill owner who has died of cancer at the age of forty-five, leaving three widows who follow the Muslim custom of strict seclusion.

Perveen is Parsi (a member of a group of Indian born Zoroastrians whose ancestors came to India from Persia) but she has studied Mohammedan law and understands the customary Muslim dower practices. Her concern about the proposed changes, outlined in documents presented by Farid's estate trustee, is that Farid's widows appear to be signing away their dower rights. "isn't it strange", she asks her father when they discuss these changes, "that all three women wish to make a change against their own interests - and two of the signatures are almost identical?".

One of the signatures, too, appears to be written by a woman who, only seven months earlier, signed her marriage certificate with an X, indicating that she had never learned to write.

So, here is another mystery.

Because they live in strict seclusion, a man would only be allowed to talk to Farid's widows through a purdah screen. But, as a woman, and a lawyer, Perveen is ideally placed to enter their part of the house and talk to them directly. Her father is doubtful but she is determined:

"Pappa, you own the only law firm in Bombay with an employee who can communicate directly with secluded women. Why not take advantage of the greatly underused asset that is your daughter?".

So Perveen meets the widows in their own home and as she gets to know each of them and gains their confidence she (and the reader) learn much about their lives in seclusion, about their marriages and their shared lives with their husband, and about the rivalries which inevitably exist between them. She learns, too, that each of them has a secret, and that the middle wife, Sakina, has a close relationship with Farid's estate trustee which underlies the mystery of the proposed changes to the estate and, eventually, leads to his murder.

This murder does not happen until one third of the way through the book, and there are many suspects, but it is Perveen who sorts out the various tangled and often broken threads and reveals the identity of the murderer.

The mystery of Perveen's own anxiety about the strange man outside Mystry House is gradually revealed in chapters which turn back to Bombay in 1916 when Perveen was secretly wooed and, after much family negotiation, wed to Cyrus Sodawalla. Her vastly changed life as a wife living with her in-laws in Calcutta begins well. She tries hard to maintain her independence, but it becomes increasingly difficult and the forced imposition of the ancient practice of monthly seclusion during her menses is a shock which turns into a nightmare. This is not the only horror she has to face in Calcutta and the danger of it all resurfacing is ever-present.

Easily and appropriately woven into the story is a great deal of information about India, Indian cultures and customs, Indian food, the beliefs and practices of the various religions in Indian society and, especially, the difficulties of studying and becoming an educated and independent woman in India in the early 20th century. Perveen's harrowing experiences as the only female student in Bombay's Government Law School, the animosity and vindictiveness of the male fellow-students and the lecturers who do not think she should be there, lead her to abandon her studies there.

Her later studies at Oxford University not only provide her with her qualification as a lawyer, but foster her independence and provide her with an English friend with whom she is re-united in Bombay. This special friendship with Alice, who is the daughter of a British diplomat who is special councillor to the British governor of Bombay, adds another dimension to the picture of life in India in 1921. Alice, Sir David Hobson-Jones and his wife, Lady Gwendolyn, live in a very secure, modern, "giant vanilla-coloured bungalow" which happens to overlooks the "sprawling Indo-Saracen bungalow" and extensive gardens of the Farid residence. And Alice, who is a mathematician, turns out to be of invaluable help to Perveen in some very dangerous encounters in the home of Farid's wives and children.

A Murder at Malabar Hill is enjoyable light reading, an interesting immersion in Indian life and culture, and a well-plotted murder mystery. The Washington Post deemed it to be "a first rate performance inaugurating a most promising series". And it has won the Agatha Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. The Wall Street Journal, based on a small taste of a second Perveen Mystery story at the end of the book, described it as "a splendid first installment in what promises to be a memorable series".

Dr Ann Skea, Reviewer (Ted Hughes pages)

Anne-Marie Reynolds' Bookshelf

Fossils 2084
Michael Beres
9781543983470, $15.95 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 266pp,

Fossils 2084 is a dystopian novel by Michael Beres. Sunset Village is a gated retirement community, surrounded by razor wire and monitored by drones. Can they survive the oncoming extinction? An AI-piloted hybrid airliner crash-lands on a golf course, full of evangelicals on their way to an environmental protest. The Sunset Village residents have kept themselves away from the rest of the world but the crash-landing changes everything for them. Chance meetings between the rescued and the rescuers, oligarchs ruling over everyone, the microcosm created by the Sunset Villagers is on the brink of collapse. Some are in complete denial while others, the Fossil Fuelers, grab gasoline for their gas-powered golf carts. The world is changing, heading for inevitable extinction, and the Sunset Villagers have just one chance to save themselves. Can they?

Fossils 2084 by Michael Beres is very different from what he usually writes. I've read his work before and this didn't disappoint me. Although dystopian novels seem to be the in-thing right now, this one has a unique storyline, one that keeps you reading simply because you have to know what happens. It's quite a scary novel really because it could all be so true - none of us knows the future, we just know that AI is likely to have a strong part to play. The characters in this story are really well-developed and likable and the plot just keeps you guessing all the way through, with plenty of action to keep you entertained. A compelling tale with fabulous characters, I guarantee this will keep you reading late into the night.

Anne-Marie Reynolds, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Beyond Market Dystopia
Leo Panitch & Greg Albo, editors
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583678435, $29.00, PB, 320pp,

Synopsis: How can we build a future with better health and homes, respecting people and the environment? Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Greg Albo (who is a professor in the Department of Political Science at York University, Toronto) and Leo Panitch (who is a professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto), the 2020 edition of the Socialist Register, "Beyond Market Dystopia", contains a wealth of incisive essays that entice readers to do just that: to wake up to the cynical, implicitly market-driven concept of human society we have come to accept as everyday reality. Intellectuals and activists such as Michelle Chin, Nancy Fraser, Arun Gupta, and Jeremy Brecher connect with and go beyond classical socialist themes, to combine an analysis of how we are living now with visions and plans for new strategic, programmatic, manifesto-oriented alternative ways of living.

Critique: Comprised of fourteen erudite and informatively insightful articles by experts in their fields, "Beyond Market Dystopia: New Ways of Living: Socialist Register 2020" is further enhanced for its readership with the inclusion of a complete listing of the contributors and their credentials, making it unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Social Issues collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Me and White Supremacy
Layla F. Saad
Sourcebooks Inc.
1935 Brookdale Road, #139, Naperville, IL 60563
9781728209807, $25.99, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, she never predicted it would spread as widely as it did. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it. Thousands of people participated in the challenge, and nearly 100,000 people downloaded the Me and White Supremacy Workbook.

Updated and expanded from the original workbook, "Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor", takes the work deeper by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and including expanded definitions, examples, and further resources.

Critique: "Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor" must be considered mandatory reading for anyone having to deal with the social injustice arising from racism and bigotry that has seen a dramatic resurgence in our American culture and society with the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency. While especially and unreservedly recommended for all community, college, and university library Contemporary Social Issues collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Me and White Supremacy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781094135410, $29.95, CD).

Carl Logan

Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf

Toward a Peeping Sunrise
Carole Mertz
Prolific Press
9781632751898, $8.95, 2019, Paperback, 17 pages

Carole Mertz, author, poet, and editor, has had works published in literary journals, U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and Africa. She is a Book Review Editor for Dreamers Creative Writing; reader of prose and poetry for Mom Egg Review; member Social Media Team, Ekphrastic Review; advance reader WNBA 2018 Poetry Contest. Her reviews appear in such magazines as: Arc Poetry Magazine, Ascent Aspirations, Christian Communicator, Conium Review, Copperfield Review, Into the Void Magazine, Main Street Rag, Midwest Book Review, Page & Spine, Quill & Parchment, South 85 Journal, World Literature Today. Her stories and essays appear in Cappers Magazine, Mature Years, Rockford Review, Society of Classical Poets, Tiny Lights, and others. She has won poetry challenges and contributed to anthologies. Kendra Boileau, Penn State University Press noted: "Mertz is a master of poetic form, imagery, sonority, and wit."

Toward a Peeping Sunrise is a chapbook divided into three sections: Waking, Reaching, Sailing. Mertz is a master of half-tones and reticence giving the reader ample recognition of her craftsmanship. She paints a view of contemporary society, past and present: the range is comprehensive, vibrating with inner life portrayed with word choices of a poet knowing inner life recognizing the uncertainties in our passages. There is a knowing of the darkness but also of the sunrises while "…searching for a distant view of everything."

Mertz looks squarely at time and the importance of memories in free verse and formal. Her title is taken from a short poem reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, "Waking" which looks at space, time, and "tiny tufts of pure thought." The ending of the poem, "That This Blue Exists" is another description of the poet's generous invitation to journey:

Together we'll navigate a
patchwork planet, searching
for a distance view of

May this chapbook be followed by others as well as collections by a poet presenting a world that is worth visiting: welding the spiritual and the real. The pages have the hard-won wisdom of a woman with a wonderfully sharp intellect and the craftmanship to share it.


Carol Smallwood and Nan Sanders Pokerwinski (974 words)

Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski
Behler Publications
9781941887066, $14.95, Paperback 300 pages

Nan Sanders Pokerwinski was a science writer at the Detroit Free Press for more than a decade, worked as a science writer for the University of Michigan News Service for fourteen years. She's been a contributing editor to Health and Alternative Medicine magazines and has written for More, Fitness, Dallas Morning News, and other print and online publications. Her journalistic byline is Nancy Ross-Flanigan and she's received a Pulitzer nomination, several awards.

Smallwood: What awards has Mango Rash won so far? How did you come to write it and how long did it take?

NSP: Mango Rash won first place in the memoir/nonfiction category of the 2018 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Awards and was a finalist for the Northern Colorado Writers Top of the Mountain Book Award, the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards (twice), and the 43rd New Millennium Writings Literary Awards.

I started writing about my Samoa experiences (which form the basis of Mango Rash) when I joined my first writers' group in 2004. I'd always struggled to convey to anyone who wasn't there at the time what it was like living on a tropical island as a teenager in the 1960s. I began writing my Samoa stories as a way to explain not only what the experience was like, but also why it made such an impression on me - something I'm not sure even I fully understood until I started writing about it.

I finished a first draft of the manuscript within two years but had to set it aside for a number of years, due to my workload and other circumstances. I kept submitting individual chapters to my writers' groups and to writing workshops, however, and filing away all the feedback. Eventually I was able to make time for more concentrated work on the manuscript as a whole, and I spent a year or two revising it, drawing on all that feedback I'd stockpiled. So I guess you could say it took 15 years from start to finish, but it was really only three or four years of active work.

Smallwood: How do you manage to write on such a wide range of subjects and styles? In what genre did you begin?

NSP: I write about whatever interests me, and I'm curious about a lot of things. I also try to write about things other people are curious about, which opens up a world of topics. I began in nonfiction, as a journalist, and most of what I write is nonfiction.
Writing in different styles is something that developed over time. When I decided to write my memoir, I wanted to get away from a journalistic, magazine-y style and adopt a more lyrical, literary nonfiction style. It took a lot of study, practice, and trial and error to begin to write differently.

Smallwood: Please share with readers your literary education background:

NSP: I've had no formal literary education beyond high school and one or two college classes. I've learned as I've gone along, from reading and from writing workshops. I missed a lot of classic literature on the way up, and I've enjoyed catching up (as well as discovering emerging authors) in mid-to late-adulthood.

Smallwood: I was surprised about you selecting potholes as a writing topic - how did that come about?

NSP: During my years as science writer for the Detroit Free Press, I specialized in looking at everyday experiences with a scientific slant. One winter I heard so many people complaining about potholes I decided to find out what scientists and engineers were doing to address the problem. I never expected to win an award for that story, but apparently the National Society of Professional Engineers thought it was prize-worthy.

Smallwood: Do you see a connection between your photography and writing?

NSP: What an interesting question! I'm not sure there's a connection, but the two activities are complementary. When I take photographs, I shift from thinking in words to thinking in images, and that shift gives the verbal part of my brain a rest, which stimulates my creativity and gives me fresh perspectives when I return to writing. Likewise, when I've been working with words for a long time without doing any photography, I find that I'm much more receptive to imagery the next time I go out to shoot.

Smallwood: How has living in Michigan influenced your writing and outside interests?

NSP: I've met and learned from so many gifted writers here in Michigan, and I've found very supportive writing communities in every part of the state where I've lived and worked: Detroit, Ann Arbor, and now West Michigan. It was here in Michigan - at the Bear River Writers Conference, to be specific - that I first felt I'd found my tribe of kindred writers. As for outside interests, I've always been drawn to nature and the outdoors, and living in Michigan - especially West Michigan - I have ample opportunity to indulge those interests through hiking, kayaking, photography, and just living in the woods.

Smallwood: What are you working on now?

NSP: Right now, mainly promoting Mango Rash and keeping my blog, HeartWood ( and newsletter, "Mango Meanderings," active. But I have several projects on the back burner that I hope to get back to work on soon: a novel about outsider art, creativity, and madness; a childhood memoir with themes of individuality, inclusion, and exclusion; a multi-media project that combines autobiographical collages with micro-memoirs; and a children's book that I'm collaborating on with my husband Ray Pokerwinski.

Smallwood: For more information about this diverse writer please check:


Carolyn Howard-Johnson Interview by Carol Smallwood

The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need to Know to Sell Your Book in 30 Minutes or Less, second edition
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Modern History Press
97816159948, $8.95, Paperback, $2.99, Ebook, 54 pages

Order paperback, ebook or hardcover

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers including USA Book News' winner for The Frugal Book Promoter now in its third edition. An instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade, she believes in entering (and winning!) contests and anthologies as an excellent way to separate our writing from the hundreds of thousands of books that get published each year. Two of her awards are Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment given by members of the California Legislature and Women Who Make Life Happen, given by the Pasadena Weekly newspaper. She is also an award-winning poet and novelist who shared what she's learned.

Smallwood: I can see how you might be exhausted with two books released in a month, but I am hoping you'll share a little about the second one because it's brand new to me.

Howard-Johnson: I can see why you might be surprised because The Great First Impression Book Proposal now has "Second Edition" in it - even on Amazon. And it is really a booklet, closer to what we poets call a chapbook than a real book. So, most authors know me by the full book in my HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers, not the booklets for I rarely promoted them. I was just too busy with the information most every author needs for their books to be successful. That brings me to the fact that book proposals are a tool that most writers assume are only needed by authors of nonfiction as part of the sales process to find a publisher for it or an agent to represent their book to publishers but things are different now.

Smallwood: Please tell how it is different:

Howard-Johnson: Well, I didn't know it myself until I got an agent to represent the rewrite of my first novel This Is the Place. It is out of print and is now called This Land Divided. It is already an award-winner. The first chapter won's Scintillating Starts contest, so I figured it would be easy to get an agent. But my agent, Terrie Wolf at AKA Literary wanted a book proposal! So I was the one asking, "Really?" Now that even big publishers expect their authors of about any genre to market or help market their books, most agents ask for a book proposal. It is a time-consuming process and most authors hate it. Lots of my consulting clients would rather pay me to write proposals for them than to ead the big, long, fat and utterly boring tomes that are out there as guides for the process. The trouble is, most authors can do it for themselves lots better than anyone else could. The author is the one with the voice! The author is the one with the passion!

Smallwood: Is that what lead you to write The Great First Impression Book Promoter?

Howard-Johnson: Exactly. I took the material I had written just to get the information I need to write a proposal for one of my clients and turned it into this booklet. I figured every author who must write a book proposal would rather learn how to do it in thirty minutes or so rather than read 300 plus pages! So, voila! There it is. 54 pages. Fast. I suspect the publisher at Modern History Press figured he could supply a copy of this booklet to the authors he was considering to get them to do the book proposal he needed - and they needed.

Smallwood: You say "they needed?"

Howard-Johnson: Actually, book proposals are great organizational aids. They can be a little like a story board for a film. They require all kinds of things an author and her publisher are going to need. Like a synopsis. A pitch. Nonfiction authors need a projected outline of their chapters or contents. But mostly a book proposal gets all authors thinking about their platforms and how to use them to market their books. Too many authors still believe the publishing works as it did decades ago. But we only need to be around a little while before we figure out that an author with a platform has an edge over an equally talented author who doesn't do much other than play with their friends on Facebook.

Smallwood: You're saying book proposals - for all the aches and pains - do as much for the author as they do for agents and publishers?

Howard-Johnson: Exactly. In fact all the planning and thinking they require can save them tons of time in the actual writing of their book. I remember reorganizing and rewriting the first chapter of my novel…well, lots of time. If I had an outline or storyboard or book proposal, I might have spend that time fine tuning the conflict, arc, characterization or whatever. A book proposal helps with all of that.

Smallwood: I don't remember seeing this book on your website.

Howard-Johnson: That's because Modern History Press did so much with it including a brand new cover from Doug West that blended with the new cover of the third edition of The Frugal Book Promoter. I love the typewriter. It reminds me of the one I used when I started out in journalism, which I did mostly because all of the smartest, cutest boys were on the high school journalism staff. There. Now you don't have to ask what got me into writing!

Smallwood: So, how can readers get this inexpensive, easy-to-read and use little booklet?

Howard-Johnson: "My" small press is as aware as big publisher are that a book isn't truly published without marketing. So Victor Volkman came up with the idea of using this book much like I had. It is available on Amazon as a hard cover, paperback, or e-book like all his books. (It was only available in the last two iterations when I self-published it.) And he is eager to get authors reading it because he feels as strongly as I do that it can make a huge difference to writing careers so he's also using it as a promotion. So those who the new release of my The Frugal Book Promoter, now in its third edition, directly from him at will received First Impression Book Proposal at no additional cost. We both figure that a great way to get an author off on the right foot or to give her a nudge in the right direction even if she has already made a few really big mistakes. (Use the code GO Frugal, to get this extra benefit.)

Smallwood: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Howard-Johnson: You know I have three full books full of things your audience should know. But here is just a teaser. Most authors misuse or underuse (or don't use) their review and interviews like this one to their advantage. They need to know a whole lot more about managing everything from managing Amazon reviews to getting reviews from the big journals like Library Journal. So, I'm suggesting my How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: the ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career.

Carol Smallwood
Reviewer and Interviewer

Carole Mertz's Bookshelf

Patterns: Moments in Time
Carol Smallwood
Word Poetry
9781625493057, $19.00, PB, 110pp

Author of more than a dozen volumes within the past few years, and more than fifty volumes total, Carol Smallwood continues to send her creative writing into the world. As in her other poetry collections, she performs the extraordinary mixing in Patterns of everyday events with phenomena. When I read her works, I gain respect for Smallwood's observant eye, recognizing she delves deeply into what lies before us and often creates poetic gems through use of such elements as car washes or supermarket products. That these elements blend in her poetry is not in itself surprising. But because she then wields her content into fixed poetical forms that adhere to the rhyming constrictions within that form, we see a poet unique in both voice and style and one who is highly secure in her craft.

Patterns: Moments in Time contains free verse along with the numerous poems in form. The latter range from triolet to tercet to villanelle to various rondeaux, with the pantoum her most frequently selected form. Sewn into her verses appear stitches of typical Smallwood themes: patches of quilting pieces, sky elements, "multi-views" of the universe, mythology, children's games, and even a J. Robert Oppenheimer quote. The reader is enriched by the liveliness and variety of her themes.

Though humor is not the quality first recognized in Smallwood's poetry, it is nevertheless present in subtle form in many of her verses. If "A Villanelle for Betsy" (p. 89) were not about dolls, we might smile at the three "old ones," who appear in the poem as if octogenarian cronies seated against a wall chatting. But when we come to "cracked heads," we jump to attention, gripped by the humor of the image.

Another humorous poem is one in which a foot becomes stuck in plaster. ("The Plaster Was Warm, p. 74.) "I'd waited / barefoot and was Cinderella / for a podiatry prince," the poet states.

One of the most admirable poems is "A Supermarket Triptych." (p.59) The required eight lines per stanza follow the formal rhyme scheme of ABaAabAB (here capital letters indicate repeated lines). Smallwood adheres fully to the triolet, a form which dates back to the Middle Ages. (Reading closely we again detect Smallwood subtle humor.) The first stanza follows:

Did the passersby think I was a restaurant owner instead of there
to enjoy the colossal bags and jars Alice in Wonderland size?

A Motown tune belted out love and emotions - places I didn't dare.
Did the passersby think I was a restaurant owner instead of there
to wonder, check the sales, notice anything new, leisurely stare
as I sip my courtesy cup of decaf, speculate on good looking guys?

Did the passersby think I was a restaurant owner instead of there
to enjoy the colossal bags and jars Alice in Wonderland size?

The poem "They Say" (p.75) comprises thoughtful reflection and ends with a memorable last line. (Memories of poems learned in childhood present to the reader.)

The poem "A Last Look" (p.52) is a perfectly composed villanelle. It places the reader in a mood at once anticipatory and nostalgic. The persona of the poem sees her image in a mirror that returns "a wavy reflection." Her forthcoming marriage brings apprehension. But the wedding will occur at dusk and the bride has "too long tarried." The mirror reflects to the bride her girlhood which, after a last look, we sense will soon vanish. Here is a case, as Wallace Stevens wrote, of "the pressure of reality" laying claim to a poet's imagination. Yet Smallwood writes, not from a chaotic stance, but out of composed contemplation; this creates the space that allows the reader to share in the pre-nuptial anxiety described:

Staring hard, I said goodbye in anticipation
Longing to see what was ahead when married
I looked in a mirror with apprehension

Another worthy villanelle, "A Mainstay" (p.49) describes how chapters in The Forsyte Saga no longer tightly entwine, the problem occurs from a "loosening of spine." The poet writes, the "Devon Edition, pure delight, makes me pine…"

In Patterns: Moments in Time Smallwood displays the moments in time with an eye to Eternity. "To see days revolve into centuries (without cries of the homeless) would be good," she writes in her final selection (p. 100). Moments (in this volume) are sometimes stunning in their simplicity. They inevitably draw the reader into a higher consciousness.

Editorial Note: Carole Mertz, poet and essayist, reviews frequently at Dreamers Creative Writing, Eclectica, Mom Egg Review, and Page & Spine. She reads in prose and poetry for MER, is book review editor at Dreamers Creative Writing, and has poems at The Ekphrastic Review, Eclectica, WestWard Quarterly, and in the 2019 Soc. of Classical Poets anthology. Mertz is the author of Toward a Peeping Sunrise (Prolific Press, 2019).

Carole Mertz

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

An Embarrassment of Riches (One of Nine in the Irish Lottery Series)
Gerald Hanson
Mint Books
9781793420251, $10.95 PB, $22.39 Hardcover, 292 Pages
B07XWM5ZSR, $4.99Kindle

An Embarrassment of Riches is about the harsh realities of life revealed with excellent writing and humor. Ursula and her husband win the lottery, and Ursula convinces Jed to move to Northern Ireland. Ursula wants to relieve her guilt by doing good for collaborating with the IRA as a youth. She pays off the mortgage for her brother's family, not realizing the lottery would not take care of all financial matters endlessly. Neither does her miserable, petty, scheming, criminal sister-in-law Fionnuala. With Jed continuing to gamble and over-estimating how far the lottery win will go, Ursula begins to realize the financial trouble they are facing. Fionnuala never realizes money is not endless and feels Ursula should provide her with a life of comfort.

The setting is "Free Derry" where neighborhoods are either Catholic or Protestant (still) and mural memorials of the troubles painted on massive stone walls. When Jed says he is going to a cafe, he is told:

"Ach, catch yerself on! That Magella who works there is a right scaldy geebag."

Jed finds the people of Derry a "never-ended wonder, their sharp wit and their passion all-consuming, and this came through in their language."

Having traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland and learning some of the phrases and slang, this book looked like an entertaining read. The Derry Women books by Gerald Hansen have dark comedy in the contemporary British and Irish literature genre. The thick and frequent colloquialisms are true to the area as Hanson's family lived in Derry, Northern Ireland some of the time. I read the box set of the first three of ten books about the Derry Woman, which was 967 pages. I found the Derry Girls television series to be hysterical, and here are the women. The reading can be a challenge, and looking up some of the meanings of phrases might be necessary. The author provides a short Derry-Speak Dictionary in the book, as well as a pronunciation guide for the character's names. I liked the reading challenge, although I felt so sad about how the wanes (children) were treated as they, too, are forced to learn to become criminals even though they are frequently at church. The confessions revealed to Father Hogan at St. Molaug's are memorable.

Note: For those who prefer a gentler reading experience, a PG version of this box set is also available on Amazon. The original books are fairly vulgar.

Tales2Inspire ~ The Opal Collection: Stronger Today Because...
Lois Stern, Adrienne Drake, Rod DiGruttolo, MJ McGrath, Jane Tichener, Elsa Kurt, Linda Bond, Nancy Perry, Maria Jordan, Vanya Erickson
9781703129854, $11.25 paperback, 121 pages
B083F38CPY, $4.95 Kindle

The ninth book in the Tales2Inspire(R) series is the Opal Collection. The Opal is a karmic stone that teaches us that what we give comes back to us. People who have faced some of life's most difficult challenges share how people who inspired and helped them either at that time or even previously gave them courage. Some of the stories are thankful for previous teachers or relatives who by their examples gave them strength of character. Some of these people were not able to be thanked in person, making for poignant stories.

Rodney Stotts tells of his father who was murdered when he was sixteen, yet he found light and purpose in a non-releasable owl which somehow led him to become a falconer. He now shares Rodney's Raptors with youth. This story has impressive photos of the falconer and some of the (very large) raptors.

All of the stories have photos that demonstrate they are real although seemingly almost unbelievable. From abuse and difficult challenges, Melissa Noel overcomes terrible circumstances with perseverance, hope, and faith.

Jane Forgey was a mother of five without child support must make a living which takes long hours and overwork. She writes, "Being a tough mother, keeping my children on a constructive path was more difficult than all the other jobs I had ever had."

Lois W. Stern tells about a relative who entered World War II as a private and returned as a captain. She called him Unkie. He was an attorney who truly cared for his clients as fame and fortune were not what it was about for him. Knowing him touched Stern throughout her life. He was sharp as a tack before passing away at age 104.

Uplifting, motivating, and sometimes funny, these stories will warm your heart and make you want to be a better person than you already are.

London for Immigrant Suckers: So Long Yugoslavia
Koyla S.
Independently Published
9781519076717, $9.99, paperback, 259 pages
B01H0MD002, $4.99, Kindle

London for Immigrant Suckers: So Long Yugoslavia is a trilogy in one volume and includes books 1, 2, and 3.

Yugoslavia in the title of any contemporary book on Amazon? In the title? Well, OK. My grandparents were immigrants from Yugoslavia to northern Minnesota, so this title grabbed my attention. Humor, truth, pain, suffering, and struggling to fit in and not stand out as different in London are all threads throughout this story.

The author voice is different, but I think it is authentic to Yugoslavians trying to speak and write English. I could hear my grandparents speaking in some of the sections. Rereading sentences here and there is required for understanding as some of the language might catch readers off-guard. I enjoyed the challenge of reading and thinking along with the author in his unique voice and writing style.

Peter Kovach, the protagonist, used to think he was very cool. He suffered from depression, two mediocre marriages, and lack of ambition for finding high-paying work due to his habit of sleeping. He never learns how to argue in English, so he makes mean faces followed by a Yugoslav curse when he needs to settle a problem.

Instead of immigrant, the author uses the word sufferer, which gets his point across very well. He says the children have freshly squeezed faces. The actual true history of the entire region including Slovenia is humorously told in a few pages in the book. Forming the new countries wasn't as easy as they all thought it would be, according to the author, as he likens wars to sports. He says, "All the major battles in WWII that included Yugoslavs were fought in Bosnia. Yugoslavia was born in Bosnia and it lived there." He says Slovenians are best a making fridges, washing machines, juices, toilet paper, and from time to time a good song.

Humorous, insightful historical fiction such as this is a pleasure to read.

Carolyn Wilhelm

Catalina Bonati's Bookshelf

Not-Quite-Supermodel: A Novel
Kathy Tong
SWP Press
9781734073607, $12.99 PB, $7.99 Kindle, 396pp,

Kathy Tong's Not-Quite-Supermodel is a very engaging and entertaining novel narrating the story of Alex, a university student working in a grocery store who is scouted by a major modelling agency, and her subsequent life in New York City interacting with endless supermodels, judgemental agents, and social media scrutiny. Characters are three dimensional and well built, and the overall writing style is well pronounced and unique.

The story starts off with Alex working at Safeway in Vancouver. She is immediately introduced alongside her fears, a sense of humor, her unique friends and family, and normal early twenties goals such as finishing uni and making enough money for tuition. Each character is dynamic and uniquely individualized, and all of them seem just about to leap off the pages. The writing encompasses a lot of slang and is aimed at millennial readers who keep up with social media and additionally with fashion trends and brands.

Alex's character is authentic and strongly develops throughout the story, with problems that range from the intense psychological drama which is addressed by what she calls her "plumbaphobia", to paying her rent, to how she should manage social media hate. She is also bridled by petty jealousy, which is one of the major motivators for her actions. Alex's honest self-esteem issues are a constant factor in the state of her mental wellbeing, and this is the emotional roller-coaster that paints the story every shade of relatable. Her issues mirror modern problems of not just youth but middle-age as well, and they are handled with skillful writing and come from obvious personal experience. Alex's story of moving to NYC to "make it" in modelling and fashion is not relatable or usual, but her personal problems and the way in which she deals with them is very approachable. Her sense of humor adds lightness and effortlessness to the telling of the story even if the problems which are addressed become heavy and hard to handle. Tong understands that however personal some problems may seem, most of the time they are universal. In particular, this writing and the characters appeal especially to twenty-something millennials struggling to hold on to themselves in the throes of fast-paced media and urbanicity.

There is a sense of morale sprinkled throughout the book in the shape of mantras, friends, a yoga guru, and particularly in the form of the ending, which seems a stretched and unsubstantial in order to achieve an uplifting closure. The ending is also very abrupt. Alex's awkwardness and physical clumsiness does on several occasions surpass the average gracelessness to the point where it becomes absurd and annoying and really just interferes with the point of the story. The exaggerated aspects of some parts of the book, such as the aforementioned clumsiness, or the gracefulness of friends, mark the story at some points as unbelievable and unrealistic. The fast ups and downs of Alex's career prospects and mental wellbeing can at times be a bit exhausting as the story develops, but this also maintains fidelity to real life scenarios. The ending seems to hurry itself up and is unreal when considering how authentic albeit dramatic the rest of the story is.

Nevertheless, qualms are few and far between. The writing is styled, unique, and hugely entertaining. Characters are fun and well structured. Alex is extremely authentic and her problems (and often her worldview) are those shared by many people who are currently facing (and have faced) life as young adults. This book is definitely recommended for those who wish to be entertained and to feel eerily represented in an uncommon, funny, and remarkable story.

Catalina Bonati
Reedsy Reviewer

Clabe Polk's Bookshelf

Ten of Spades; Part 5 of the Red Dog Conspiracy
Patricia Loofbourrow
Red Dog Press LLC
9781944223304, $15.42, hardcover, 242 pages
9781944223298, $14.99, paperback
B07YLFGMWJ, $3.99

Jacqui…Jacqui…you just can't stay out of trouble! Not that staying out of trouble is possible in a place like Bridges where each crime family is competing with the other three and it appears an as yet unidentified conspirator aims to topple the whole social system into chaos, and Jacqui Spadros is caught squarely in the middle. Of course, Jacqui, who loves solving mysteries and who is on the outs with her husband and her infamous father-in-law anyway, wouldn't have it any other way. The danger excites her, also scares her, but not as much as her father-in-law and some of his counterparts in the other families. Still, fewer worries about money would be welcome. Since the trial (The King of Hearts) she has been unemployed, seeking detective work, and "robbing Peter to pay Paul" much to the Spadros family's social discomfort. But now she has a new client. Can she locate her client's daughter before it's too late?

After all, people she knows are dying at a faster rate than ever. She is being pressured in a direction she does not want to go; and overwhelmed with unanswered questions. But who is pressuring her? Who is Master Rainbow really? Who is the mysterious "Black Maria" and what is her relation to Jacqui's new client's daughter? Who has turned a faction of Spadros family men against the Spadros family? Is Jacqui's friend, Joseph Kerr, not only missing but a criminal as well? What secrets do the Diamonds continue to hide?

In my opinion, The Ten of Spades gets off to a slow start as the complexities of the backstory are unwound for new readers, and for those like me with faulty memories. Once it begins moving, it moves quickly with many twists, ducks and feints. Readers may wonder how a book can change from mental turmoil to active turmoil in a page or two. But eyes will stay glued to the page waiting for the next shoe to fall.

The Ten of Spades is a fine addition to the Red Dog Conspiracy Series; one guaranteed to satisfy Steampunk, mystery and whodunit fans everywhere. 5-Stars.

Quantum Incident
Douglas Phillips
B071X4YJ5L, $0.99, Kindle, 44 pages

When the Higgs Boson was discovered at CERN, the Hadron sub-atomic particle accelerator/collider in Switzerland, many thought it opened a world of possibilities with respect to the likelihood of multi-dimensional existence and presented the probability of studies that would eventually elucidate the truth of quantum physics and the fundamental structure of space-time.

The author, Douglas Phillips, uses his imagination to weave a tale based on suspected properties of space-time described in the mathematics of quantum physics and creates a series of novels, The Quantum Series, each of which is based on the manipulation of space-time. Quantum Incident is the first of these books, providing a short introduction to the series.

Starting with a dramatization of the discovery of the Higgs Boson, observation of data representing a "string" is introduced. The proof of the existence of "strings" sets up experiments exploring the manipulation of space and time through higher dimensions upon which the series is based. The first of these is being accomplished in the story at the Fermi National Accelerator in Illinois. It involves sending a camera into other dimensions to record images of space in an alternative existence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Daniel Rice is otherwise occupied investigating the occurrence of weird aerial lights appearing daily in the skies of northern Nevada. The lights, believed to be reasonably close to the observation location are found to be anything but…and so begins the The Quantum Series with a brief introduction of the concept of quantum dimensions and introduction to the series' main characters, Dr. Daniel Rice and Fermi Laboratory researcher, Nala Pasquier.

While Quantum Incident is a quick, interesting read, it is not a novel, but rather an introduction of the basis for the stories in the later books of the series. 4-Stars.

Camp Lake
John A. Heldt
B07YKNKJ7P, $3.99, Kindle, 323 pages

Dateline, mid-1983. The Carson siblings have sought their time-traveling parents in the 1880s, 1918, 1944, 1962 and now, in 1983. While their parents remain lost in time, they feel sure their parents will return to Camp Washington in Maine where they met while employed as summer camp counselors while college students. They adopt a dangerous strategy; taking jobs as counselors and working alongside their own parents. What could possibly go wrong and upset the timeline? Could it be that their parents may never get together and thus, they might never be born? Theoretically, it could happen, and anxious moments occur when Caroline Martinez (Mom) seems to show more interest in an Australian watersports instructor than in Tim Carson (Dad). When events that did not occur in the original Carson timeline arise, anxiety also arises that they have inadvertently tampered with the orderly progression of time and when they finally return to 2017, things may not be as they remember them.

As with all families, time changes things. During the search for Tim and Caroline, Adam and Greg have married and are fathers. Natalie has also married and Caitlyn has a significant other in Dennis, an expert guitarist. Caitlyn, Cody and Dennis must function as summer camp counselors without giving themselves away or unduly influencing Tim and Caroline. Cody also has met his apparent soulmate in Karen, a fellow counselor who harbors a terrible secret.

Like the other novels in the Carson Chronicles series, the search by the Carson siblings and their parents to find each other in time is overwritten with romance, enduring friendships, danger and circumstances that bear far beyond the time they are occupying. It is a book with a little something for everyone and one that easily holds the interest of readers, especially those already deeply entrenched in following the Carson's activities through the series. It should appeal to a variety of readers of romance, sci-fi, adventure and to readers who just love a good heart-warming story with a little suspense. 5-Stars.

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

The Bus Ride; A Zany Busnapping Adventure
Joanie Chevalier
9781702614412, $6.95, paperback, 133 pages
B07ZL7CQPH, $1.99, Kindle

And the moral of this story is?

Take your pick. There are several morals in this metaphorical romp down life's highway. Sometimes we don't get to chose our traveling companions, and sometimes they turn out to be much more than we ever imagined. Other times, not so much. But in either event, we can never separate the silk purses from among the sow's ears until we get to know both the both the silk purses and the sow's ears.

So it is that several unlikely travelers find themselves on Doug's Greyhound bus each bound for a destination determined by his or her own story. Each has an agenda, and none of the agendas are the same until Devon imposes his agenda on the group and becomes the de facto leader. Doug, who has long ago been mentally and emotionally whipped into a passive role by an abusive wife and professional boredom, surrenders control immediately in favor of escape by taking a nap.

One by one, the stories of each of the passengers are revealed. One by one the others, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively, subtly influence each other by encouraging each other to divert their life paths into positive directions. As that happens, good things begin happening to all of them and all of them end the trip connected in ways they never imagined.

As a reader, I had no idea what to expect from this novella. I expected a dark comedy but never expected one with the depth The Bus Ride possesses. On the surface, it is entertaining in a dazed, crazy sort of way, but as you read the character's stories and realize that all have wacky histories, are desperate in different ways, and have, through circumstance, been thrown together on life's highway, the life messages hidden in The Bus Ride begin to emerge.

The Bus Ride is recommended for readers of any genre interested in a far-fetched, fun read, with deep roots. 5-Stars.

Heads Will Roll
Joanie Chevalier
9781521355374, $7.99, paperback, 284 pages
B0711X9XLN, $1.99, Kindle

Too fat? Have your head grafted onto a new body. Have a terminal illness? No problem! Simply pay your money and there's a brand new body waiting for you at your local surgeon's illicit operating warehouse.

Just one minor problem. No one has yet survived the surgery. Who will be the first? Will it be Barry? Barry is a wheelchair ridden victim of a fatal disease who is desperate for a new disease-free body and who wouldn't mind the ego-boost of being the first survivor.

Or, will it be Baby, a blonde thirty-something woman fearing her rich, married boyfriend is about to leave her and who believes a new body will give her a new future?

And, did I mention the bodies have to come from somewhere? It's not an accident the illicit clinic is in an area with many homeless closeby. You can have a supply of bodies quicker than you can say "Headknocker".

The dream, of course, is driven by Dr. Farkis, an egotistical medical maniac with an obsession for recognition and a way of discarding the victims of his failed experiments.

There are a variety of characters in Heads Will Roll each of which has a stake of some kind in Farkis' experiments. They are developed sufficiently to serve their roles in the story. I developed sympathy for only two characters; Kaneko, a Japanese teenager driven into Farkis' hands by her father's unrealistic expectations, and Joey, a man caught in his brothers' illicit body-procurement web. I was sorry for Barry and Baby although I quickly abandoned them to the pursuit of their own obsessions.

I found the premise of this book to be a bit of a stretch, but in the current atmosphere of medical technology and markets aimed at fulfilling every human whim, why couldn't this happen? In any event, it was fast-paced and entertaining and despite some skepticism on my part, it held my attention. It should be an enjoyable read for anyone who likes action novels with a sci-fi flavor. 4-Stars.

Clabe Polk, Reviewer

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The Cannabis Dictionary
Alex Halperin
Mitchell Beazley
c/o Octopus Books
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9781784726607, $20.00, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: A cannabis revolution is currently taking place in the United States as the general public embrace it as never before. "The Cannabis Dictionary" looks at every aspect of this special plant and is comprised of hundreds of entries that cover the key information from the cannabis world ranging from health effects, CBD oil and varieties of the plant, to legalization, big business and psychological impact.

Compiled by cannabis journalist Alex Halperin, and arranging entries in an alphabetical format "The Cannabis Dictionary" is an illustrated, complete and comprehensive guide through the many facts and falsehood surrounding the subject, giving an intelligent, in-depth but accessible overview of a fascinating, ever-changing topic.

Critique: With the snowballing effective of cannabis legalization in states across the country, "The Cannabis Dictionary" must be considered a core and essential addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, professionals, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Cannabis Dictionary" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Alex Halperin is a freelance business reporter in L. A. where he covers the marijuana industry, writes the newsletter WeedWeek and co-hosts the WeedWeek Podcast. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Fast Company and many other publications.

The War on History
Jarrett Stepman
Regnery Gateway Publishing, Inc.
300 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001
9781621578093, $28.99, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: "The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past" was written in response to the new phenomenon of Confederate memorials being toppled, Columbus statues being attacked with red paint, and the alarm that although it all started with protests against honoring slave-owning Confederate generals, it's not stopping there.

In "The War on History" Jarrett Stepman asserts that the vandals are only pretending to care about the character of particular American heroes. In reality, they hate what those heroes represent: the truths asserted in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution. And they are bent on taking America down and replacing our free society with a socialist utopia. All that stands in their way is Americans' reverence for our history of freedom. Which in the opinion of the protestors is why that history must be suppressed.

If American history is to survive this assault, Jarrett advocates that we must rally to the defense of our illustrious history. The War on History is the battle plan for that political, social, and cultural effort.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and presenting an impressive amount of detail, "The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past" is an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to community, college and university library American History collections in general, and Contemporary Political Science supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for students, academia, political activists, historians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The War on History" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781094086866, $29.95, CD).

Editorial Note: Residing in Washington, D.C., Jarrett Stepman is a columnist for The Daily Signal, a multimedia publication of The Heritage Foundation, where he writes about how American history informs our present politics. He was a 2018 Lincoln Fellow for the Claremont Institute, and has appeared on Fox News, CNN, and the One America News Network. His columns have been published by The Federalist, The American Mind, RealClearPolitics, and Congressional Quarterly, among many other outlets.

Clint Travis

Courtney Bambrick's Bookshelf

Nancy L. Davis
Finishing Line Press
9781635349719, $14.99, PB, 38 pp,

In her collection Ghosts, Nancy Davis presents a changing and challenging American landscape. Her poetic terrain is in turn at odds and at ease with history and wilderness.

The first poem in the collection, "Sanctuary," offers a glimpse of the layers of earth and time:

the dead are buried here.
contaminated fish bones compressed into
strata of an unintended geological age… (5).

Throughout the collection, we dig through that strata and examine the bones Davis unearths in poems that connect modern living to a pervasive but opaque past:

Like a mole, blind in its star-starved
pursuit of light - a tuberous longing
for air…


Far up the hillside, a mausoleum
of memory haunts. Children play
in the dirt… ("Ghosts" 11).

Setting poems in both domestic and untamed places - gardens, forests, cities - allows Davis to reflect on the interactions of time and place and the uneasy balance between:

in the lake house on the bluff
a woman opens her door
peering out somewhere between
dusk and remembrance… ("Into the Garden: Dreamscape" 17-18).

Davis shows us a land that is as scarred and aching as our own bodies, and as vulnerable. Birth and death are visceral and natural - shocking, but expected. In the garden, for instance, new life may be possible:

…mounds of freshly shredded mulch:
hardwood pining for resurrection,
redemption (18).

While in the poem "Desire" Davis describes a bear, she might be describing the unconscious or the way memory asserts itself unexpectedly and without welcome:

All at once it appeared: barreling out of its musky secrecy,
voracious demeanor, ambling with surprising speed and grace
up the hillside. clawing madly with one massive, capable paw
at the foliage caught in its thick, black pelt (27).

The "invasion" is jarring to the poem's speaker and to the reader, reminding us of the dangers we don't often see beyond the edge of our backyards. The bear reminds us of other bears we've seen or read about in the news or in fairy tales: "…bear stories circled the valley/like hungry hawks." They are familiar and foreign, "the most terrifying and exuberant," and like our memories, they threaten damage, but might pass quietly if we are lucky.

As it expands personal memory to cultural or political memory, the poem "Firestorm: Checagou" connects histories and peoples to the physical earth through work and violence. Industrial and natural imagery vie for attention through the poem as through the collection. The dangers evolve and transform as time passes and the landscape reflects human manipulation.

A clear-eyed and open-hearted reflection on our place in the American landscape, Ghosts helps the reader navigate a relationship with the relentless but fragile natural world and reminds us of our proximity to both danger and safety.

Courtney Bambrick, Reviewer
Poetry Editor of Philadelphia Stories

Cynthia Conrad's Bookshelf

The Barefoot Spirit
Bonnie Harvey & Michael Houlian
Evolve Publishing
9780988224544, $15.95 PB, 272pp
$9.89 Kindle, $19.905 Audio,

Here at BookTrib, I'm asked to review a lot of books. You can find me most evenings, weekends and train commutes deep inside a book bristling with Post-It notes. So it was a refreshing change when I was asked to review the audiobook of The Barefoot Spirit (Footnotes Press) by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, founders of Barefoot Wine. Not just an audiobook, mind you, but a "business audio theatre" book. A what, now?

As soon as I started listening, I understood. This wasn't just a voiceover artist reading a book out loud for me. Rather, it was an immersive listening experience, including actors playing the parts of various characters, punctuated by sound effects and enhanced with music. In a nonfiction audiobook, no less. I was embarking on a journey of the mind's eye into an engaging, often funny, informative look into the struggles, ingenuity and humanity behind the founding of America's top wine brand.


The book version of The Barefoot Spirit was released in 2013 and climbed within weeks to the top ten New York Times business bestseller list. Written by Houlihan and Harvey in collaboration with journalist Rick Kushman, it introduced readers to the indomitable spirit of a scrappy startup that managed to hoist itself, hand over hand, up the mountain of the impossible to become an iconic national brand.

The audiobook - I mean, business audio theatre - version brings the story and its many lessons to vivid life, along with all the colorful characters therein. Hollywood veterans Ed Asner and Gigi Perreau are among the cast of nearly two dozen (including the real founders of Barefoot and their actor stand-ins, Matt Weinglass and Hazel Paraoan). Dramatized dialogue and scenes are intervowen with sprightly narration by Alamada Karatihy, and each chapter is capped off with "conversations with the real Bonnie and Michael" featuring Kushman interviewing the duo.


If there's a message The Barefoot Spirit imparts, it's that entrepreneurship requires more than just hard work. It requires surprisingly little money, experience or knowledge to start but takes an innovative, learning mindset to succeed. This innovation is evident in many of the ways in which Houlihan and Harvey built and ran their business:

Learning by asking questions, talking to people on the front lines across the industry, assuming nothing

Identifying overlooked niches (or creating ones where there aren't any)

Leveraging stubborn industry challenges into opportunities that take advantage of the status quo or cleverly subvert it

Finding ways to combat human error and other companies' inefficiencies across the supply, delivery and sales chain

Believing that a solution to a problem is out there if you can only see it from the right angle or talk to the right person

Sharing information across the enterprise so that everyone is involved in problem-solving and value-adding

Celebrating mistakes as learning opportunities to take the business to the next level

Creating win-win situations that turn vendors, customers and consumers into partners

Looking at a "no" as a "not yet" and finding the way to "yes"

Promoting the brand in ways that foster brand-building and positive consumer perception without spending heavily on marketing

And this is only my "top ten" list of what I learned through the stories and examples contained in The Barefoot Spirit - lessons made indelibly memorable through the theater of the mind that is audio. Whether you are in the wine industry or not, a business owner, a corporate trainer or an employee looking for ways to add value, The Barefoot Spirit is well worth the listen.

Curious about "business audio theatre"? Check out a sample of the first full chapter of The Barefoot Spirit and "hear" what I'm talking about. Houlihan and Harvey have even started their own imprint, Footnotes Press LLC, to help other business leaders transform their knowledge, experiences and principles into audio stories. I, for one, am looking forward to more of these!

Cynthia Conrad, Reviewer

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

The Persistence of Consciousness
Raymond Shaw
Argive Press
9781792310195, $16.95, HC, 308pp

The Persistence of Consciousness: Its Prevention and Cure sounds like nonfiction, but is actually a comic novel set in a Minnesota college where existential arguments and philosophical debates permeate everyday life.

Raymond Shaw excels at tongue-in-cheek observation and strong dialogue as his characters interact over subjects ranging from University policy and the building of a wall to DNA evaluations, men and women's lives, cognition research, and more.

He also provides succinct, unusual descriptions that offer some surprises: "Something in Simon gave way, and his self-possession oozed down his pant leg like one of Salvador Dali's clocks." This and other fun observations of character behaviors, incongruities, and interactions are part of what makes this story so delightful: "Keeping her shoulders square, she slowly swayed herself across the room while giving the junior lecturer a buy-one-get-one-free look. Ford's mind began scrambling to come up with a reaction. Coming around the side of his desk, she looked down at him sitting in his swivel chair and leisurely pulled her skirt up to her waist. Apparently it was laundry day, and all of her underthings were in the washer."

Another intriguing facet to this story is Shaw's use of multiple narrators and perspectives, his introduction of each with a black and white photo at the beginning of his novel, and their individual, whimsical voices which capture their lives and times: "The U was happy as an Apalachicola oyster that Ford didn't want his job back, and that Simon didn't want to rip their balls off. The U just wanted the whole mess off the national news as much as Stafford and Simon did. The quickest way for that to happen was to avoid normal (spelled L-E-G-A-L) channels, so President Cinchbeldt dipped into the athletic slush fund for fifty grand apiece, which I'm not supposed to talk about or even know about, so please keep it under your hat."

From neurochemistry PhD Emmilene Suggs and University savant Montgomery Tubercules to middle-aged Detective Aishin, the fun romp incorporates scientific theories about consciousness into a story of characters who explore their worlds in different ways.

It's hard to easily peg the audience of The Persistence of Consciousness. Literary readers who want surprises, a science-based story, sexual escapades, and strong characters and dialogue will especially appreciate Shaw's attention to these details. He presents a story that captures the fundamental ironies and inconsistencies of life's definitions, cementing the notion that consciousness might be something best prevented.

Diane C. Donovan
Senior Reviewer

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus
Jonathan Sacks
Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.
c/o Toby Press
PO Box 8531, New Milford, CT 06776-8531
9789657760338, $49.95, HC, 327pp,

The best Bible commentary in English.

"The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus" is without doubt the best Bible commentary in English. I say this after using over a hundred such books while writing my own books on the Bible, such as my many volumes on the differences between the Hebrew Bible and its Aramaic translation called Onkelos. I feel so strongly about this conclusion that although I had heart surgery with five by-passes three weeks ago, on December 16, because my arteries were eighty percent closed and I am now in the recovery stage, I feel that I should share these thoughts so that people can learn much in a pleasant manner from this new translation and commentary, with a wealth of related information and illustrations.

This volume focuses on the second book of the Five Books of Moses, Exodus. The translation follows the suggestion of Maimonides to his own translator who translated his Arabic "Guide of the Perplexed" to Hebrew: Do not translate literally, word for word, because what makes sense in one language often does not make sense when copied literally in another language. So find the intent in the original and make the translation clear by inserting the intent, such as rendering vayehi vayamim harabim, which literally means "And it was many days," is rendered "Years passed."

The extensive commentary is by highly respected Modern Orthodox rabbis and is very rational. The many comments and essays on ancient Egypt and other Near Eastern countries are by scholars who are expert in the ancient Near East.

Among much else, the volume explains such things as why the numbers used in Scripture must be understood metaphorically, such as the number 70 descendants of Jacob coming to Egypt - for the number of males was less than 70, and when wives are included, the number is much higher. When the Bible states in the Ten Commandments that God rewards those who act properly for a thousand, it does not mean a thousand generations, but a thousand people often benefit from the good deeds of others. It also tells us why many Orthodox Jews do not accept the dating of the Exodus from Egypt asserted by scholars, and much more.

A history of surrounding nation and their customs is included. There are many maps, charts, timelines, dates, articles on language, Egyptology, the plagues, the Ten Commandments, what is the Masoretic Text, comparing the Torah to ancient Near East law collections, geography, biblical botany, pictures of the Tabernacle and items used during its service, and detailed discussions on subjects such as an introduction to the book of Exodus, archaeology items found in and near Israel such as the Mesha Stone, the story of the Golden Calf, the power of ancient covenants, the idea of a seven-day week with a day of rest being introduced by the Bible, and the purpose of the tabernacle with detailed pictures,

Everyone reading the several hundred pages of this excellent book or even browsing through it, whether Jew or non-Jew, even if the reader has a university education on the Bible or attended Orthodox yeshivot for many years, will benefit from this book a thousand-fold by learning more about the Bible, its history, its comparison with the teachings of other ancient cultures, and much more.

Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Call's Bookshelf

Acid Test: LSD vs. LDS
Christopher Kimball Bigelow
Zarahemla Books
9780999347249, $24.95, HC, $6.99 Kindle
9780999347232, $16.95, PB, 298pp,

When I was offered a review copy of this memoir/autobiography, I gathered from the time period mentioned in the publisher's description that the author, Christopher Bigelow, is probably about 20 years younger than I am, and that the popular culture of his adolescence, a thing which is so influential in a person's life as he or she is coming into young adulthood and which serves as a counterweight to the pressures of his or her elders, was already also a rebellion against the popular culture that influenced me at the same age in my life. I was a hippie. He was a punk. Punks hated hippies. Furthermore, I was an atheist from a mainstream Protestant background; he, one from a Mormon background. But we both took LSD and found it to be an undeniably excellent and profound experience. As an unexpected result, we both returned to the religious traditions of our respective sets of ancestors with a fresh perspective that we hoped and continue to hope is true to the original inspiration which gave rise to them.

The title, subtitle, and the brief description on the back cover were enough to convey some inkling of this. What I worried most about, when I was offered a copy to review, was that it would be amateurish and poorly written. Far from it! Christopher Bigelow is an artist. This is a very detailed autobiographical description of a roughly three-year period, 1984-1987, when he was a young adult, and as it ends, there are only hints of what lies ahead. He wrote this from a vantage point of many years later, but the appeal of the book is not nostalgia for the joy of being young. What we have here is an honest, entertaining, and moving expression of what it is like to be a human being, through the lens of a particular period in the life of a particular man. The narrative flows easily and is well thought out. He mentions a friend's name, and what is at first just a name is linked, over the course of the book, with accounts of interactions that become a portrait of yet another real person in all his or her individuality. Not once while reading it did I feel burdened with irrelevant information. Reading it made me feel more appreciative of the richness of detail in my life and in the lives of my family and friends, as we are living now. I felt happy while I was reading it.

As the subtitle indicates, two big themes are the role LSD played in the author's spiritual development and the Mormon tradition in which he was steeped, against which he was rebelling, and which he re-embraced after a spiritual crisis. I applaud his honesty about both. I learned some interesting things about Mormonism, some of which I find attractive, for example, the belief in a pre-mortal as well as post-mortal personal existence. This is something of which I had already become convinced independently, based on my inability to imagine my own nonexistence. I also agree with Mormonism's teaching that revelations are still ongoing, even though this raises the thorny issue of which ones are true. However, the book also makes clear something I find unattractive about Mormonism. And there are many things Bigelow himself found unattractive, which is why he rebelled in the first place, and some of which he still expresses doubts about even after he has returned to it. The one thing that seems most wrong to me is a contradiction that Bigelow confronts but doesn't resolve. The contradiction is between Mormonism's all-or-nothing, uncompromising demand on one's life, and its teaching that in this world everything, including Mormonism, is a mixture of light and darkness. True, Jesus said to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, and we Christians believe that the church is the body of Christ, but Jesus also asked, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." That is why I don't think a church should try to lay down the law about every aspect of its members' lives. The LDS Church seems to do this to an objectionable degree, giving rise to the all-or-nothing choice between the outwardly corporate blandness of a highly controlled lifestyle and a nihilistic, rebellious chaos that led to sad ends for some of Bigelow's friends. Bigelow attempts to resolve the contradiction, between the church's demands and its recognition that everything in this world is a mixture, by paying attention to the wilder, imaginative vividness of Mormonism, but he still seems to be struggling with this contradiction at the end of the book.

A note on the back of the title page indicates there are two more volumes to come: Mission Test and Zion Test. I look forward to reading them to find out whether and how he deals with this problem, as well as to enjoy his exceptional writing skills once again.

Jack Call, Reviewer
Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Psychedelic Christianity

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Jefferson's White House: Monticello on the Potomac
James B. Conroy
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781538108468, $27.00, HC, 328pp,

Synopsis: As the first president to occupy the White House for an entire term, Thomas Jefferson shaped the president's residence, literally and figuratively, more than any of its other occupants. Remarkably enough, however, though many books have immortalized Jefferson's Monticello, none has been devoted to the vibrant look, feel, and energy of his still more famous and consequential home from 1801 to 1809.

In "Jefferson's White House: Monticello on the Potomac", author and historian James B. Conroy, offers a vivid, highly readable account of how life was lived in Jefferson's White House and the young nation's rustic capital.

Critique: Impressively informative, detailed and documented, "Jefferson's White House: Monticello on the Potomac" is an extraordinary and deftly scripted study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. Enhanced for the reader's benefit with forty pages of Notes, an eight page Selected Bibliography, and a fourteen page Index, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Jefferson's White House: Monticello on the Potomac" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: James Conroy is the author of Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865 (Lyons Press, 2014) and Lincoln's White House: The People's House in Wartime (R&L, 2016), co-winner of the 2017 Gilder Lerhman Lincoln Prize and winner of the 2017 Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Prize. He resides on Boston's South Shore and speaks extensively, including being featured on C-Span Book TV.

Feeling Smarter and Smarter
Harold N. Levinson, MD
9783030162078, $18.99, PB, 312pp,

Synopsis: "Feeling Smarter and Smarter: Discovering the Inner-Ear Origins and Treatment for Dyslexia/LD, ADD/ADHD, and Phobias/Anxiety" is ground-breaking study in which renowned psychiatrist and clinical researcher Dr. Harold Levinson about understanding and successfully treating children and adults with varied combinations and severities of previously unexplained inner-ear-determined symptoms resulting in difficulties with: reading, writing, spelling, math, memory, speech, sense of direction and time; grammar, concentration/activity-level, balance and coordination; headaches, nausea, dizziness, ringing ears, and motion-sickness; frustration levels and feeling dumb, ugly, klutzy, phobic, and depressed; impulsivity, cutting class, dropping out of school, and substance abuse; bullying and being bullied as well as anger and social interactions; and later becoming emotionally traumatized and scarred dysfunctional adults.

"Feeling Smarter and Smarter" is also about and for the millions of frustrated and failing adults who are often overwhelmed by similar and even more complicated symptoms -- as well as for their dedicated healers.

All the dyslexia/inner-ear based impairments and their symptoms were discovered by Dr. Levinson to respond rapidly and often "miraculously" in 75 to 85 percent of cases when treated with simple and safe inner-ear enhancing medications -- thus enabling bright but dumb-feeling children and adults to feel smarter and smarter.

Critique: An original and seminal study of meticulously detailed and documented scholarship, "Feeling Smarter and Smarter: Discovering the Inner-Ear Origins and Treatment for Dyslexia/LD, ADD/ADHD, and Phobias/Anxiety" is an extraordinary, expertly organized and presented study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, medical school, college, and university library collections. It should be note for the personal reading lists of medical students, academia, physicians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Feeling Smarter and Smarter" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.25 Rent/$14.29 Buy).

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

The Untold Story of Everything Digital: Bright Boys, Revisited, second edition
Tom Green
CRC Press
6000 NW Broken Sound Parkway NW, Suite 300, Boca Raton, FL 33487
9780367355609, $199.95, HC, 208pp,

Synopsis: Now in a newly updated and expanded second edition, "The Untold Story of Everything Digital: Bright Boys, Revisited" celebrates the 70th anniversary (1949-2019) of the world "going digital" for the very first time -- a real-time digital computing's genesis story.

That genesis story is taken from the 2010 edition of "Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology, 1938-1958", and substantially expanded upon for this special, anniversary edition.

"The Untold Story of Everything Digital" is the historically accurate and detailed story of when a band of misfit engineers, led by MIT's Jay Forrester and Bob Everett, birthed the digital revolution. The bright boys were the first to imagine an electronic landscape of computing machines and digital networks, and the first to blaze its high-tech trails.

Critique: Informed and informative, "The Untold Story of Everything Digital: Bright Boys, Revisited" is a unique and extraordinary history and one that unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Untold Story of Everything Digital: Bright Boys, Revisited" is also available in a paperback edition (9780367220075, $39.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $37.95).

Editorial Note: A journalist, writer and video producer, Tom Green has been reporting on and producing programming about technology for over two decades. Green is the founder (2017), publisher and editor in chief of Asian Robotics Review. Previously, 2012-2016, he launched and was founding editor in chief of Robotics Business Review (a property of EH Publishing). Green was also on-air host and lead researcher (2013-2016) for Robotics Business Review's webcast programs, as well as lead editor and contributing author for Robotics Business Review's annual series of robotics research reports. Green has spoken at national and international robotics events and conferences; has been the subject of interviews on robotics with Barron's, The Wall Street Journal, Swissquote, and CNN Money, among others; and also serves as a consultant and adviser on robotics from startups to multi-national corporations.

French Cows and Four Kisses
Philip Dixon
c/o Veloce Publishing Ltd.
9781787115217, $14.99, PB, 200pp,

Synopsis: Having worked as a dairy farmer in the UK for 30 years, and achieved the top job in his profession, Philip longed to put a lifetime of experience into practice for himself on his own farm, instead of being at the beck and call of the landed gentry and their land agents. The opportunity presented itself in an unusual fashion when the estate he ran was to be split up and sold off, and he was made redundant.

In "French Cows and Four Kisses", readers will follow Philip's remarkable adventure into the centre of France, to the beautiful dairy farm of Les Marais; 75 hectares of softly undulating land with woods and a 5-hectare lake filled with coarse fish and ragondin (or coypu). Philip tackles the differences in agricultural techniques, whilst learning the language, mastered cooking acceptably for his French neighbors, and finds out that falling in love with France was not the same for everybody.

Critique: Sharing his eventful farming career, "French Cows and Four Kisses" is the sequel to Philip Dixon's highly entertaining first biographical book, "Dairy Cows and Duck Races". An inherently interesting and impressively well written account, "French Cows and Four Kisses" is an exceptional and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library biography collections.

Editorial Note: Philip Dixon's formative years were spent around the banks of the River Tyne in the north of England and later on farms in the area in the 1950s and 1960s. He describes himself as "first and foremost a dairy farmer" and has spent much of his working life farming and managing dairies in England and France, and has owned and run a chambre d'hote in France. In addition to farming, Philip has renovated houses, appeared on television and radio and had articles written about him in Farmers Weekly. Presently, he lives in Dorset with his wife, Heather. He has four children of his own and is stepfather to three more, all of whom are now adults. When he wrote this book, he was working in a special needs school, which he describes as an incredibly rewarding experience.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

The Adventures of Harry Stone
Larry Horowitz
Xlibris Corporation
1663 South Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781796015119, $22.99, HC, 284pp,

Synopsis: Harry Stone is just an average kid, doing the best he can to keep out of trouble and do well in school. But life has other plans for him. He cannot sit idly by when others are being bullied or hurt in any way. With Rachel's help, Harry must overcome a terrible childhood tragedy that eventually lands him in a Juvenile Detention Center for five years. It is there that he first starts seeing the cursed seven mysterious letters-in his dreams, in the clouds, even in his cereal.

Eventually he finishes his time in JD and hooks up with Rachel again, who introduces him to her new friend, Sherman, the smartest teenager in the world, who just happens to go to her high school. The three of them work together to solve the mysterious jumbled letters, but fall short of realizing the true meaning. Their common interest in Astronomy bands them together, and, with Sherman leading the way, they all get jobs at NASA and embark on a space mission that changes the course of mankind.

Harry's wit and courage are stretched to the limit when they leave their galaxy and land on the evil planet of Glarb, ruled by values of deceit, torture, and technology. There, they are enslaved for life, which is usually not very long for slaves. Fortunately, they find an ally in one of the animals on Glarb, the gifted Snurdles. But will it be enough to escape before they are all killed?

Critique: A thoroughly fun and fully reader engaging science fiction novel by an author with a genuine flair for originality and a distinctive narrative storytelling style, "The Adventures Of Harry Stone" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to school and community library YA Fiction collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated young science fiction fans that "The Adventures Of Harry Stone" is also available in a paperback edition ($15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Beyond the Shadowed Earth
Joanna Ruth Meyer
Page Street Kids
c/o Page Street Publishing
9781624148200, $17.99, HC, 400pp,

Synopsis: It has always been Eda's dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she's convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown.

Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he's trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.

Critique: A simply riveting read from first page to last, "Beyond the Shadowed Earth" is all the more impressive when considering that it continues to showcase author Joanna Ruth Meyer's self evident knack for originality, narrative driven storytelling, lyrical descriptive prose, and the creation of a new and villainous character. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both school and community YA Fiction & Fantasy collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Beyond the Shadowed Earth" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

The Iron Will of Genie Lo
F. C. Yee
Amulet Books
c/o Harry N. Abrams
195 Broadway, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10007
9781419731457, $18.99, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: Genie Lo thought she was busy last year, juggling her academic career with protecting the Bay Area from demons. But now, as the Heaven-appointed Guardian of California, she's responsible for the well-being of all yaoguai and spirits on Earth. Even the ones who interrupt her long-weekend visit to a prestigious college, bearing terrible news about a cosmos-threatening force of destruction in a nearby alternate dimension.

The goddess Guanyin and Genie's boyfriend, Quentin Sun Wukong, do their best to help, but it's really the Jade Emperor who's supposed to handle crises of this magnitude. Unfortunately for Genie and the rest of existence, he's gone AWOL. Fed up with the Jade Emperor's negligence, Genie spots an opportunity to change the system for the better by undertaking a quest that spans multiple planes of reality along with an adventuring party of quarrelsome Chinese gods.

But when faced with true danger, Genie and her friends realize that what will save the universe this time isn't strength, but sacrifice.

Critique: Another deftly crafted, impressively original, and completely riveting action/adventure Genie Lo fantasy novel by author F. C. Yee, "The Iron Will of Genie Lo" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both school and community library YA Fiction & Fantasy collections for young readers. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Iron Will of Genie Lo" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

The Good Hawk
Joseph Elliott
Walker Books
c/o Candlewick Press
99 Dover Street, Somerville, MA 02144
9781536207187, $17.99, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: Agatha is a Hawk, brave and fierce, who protects her people by patrolling the high walls of their island home. She is proud of her job, though some in her clan whisper that it is meant to keep her out of the way because of the condition she was born with.

Jaime, thoughtful and anxious, is an Angler, but he hates the sea. Worse, he's been chosen for a duty that the clan hasn't required for generations: to marry. The elders won't say why they have promised him to a girl in a neighboring clan, but there are rumors of approaching danger.

When disaster strikes and the clan is kidnaped, it is up to Agatha and Jaime to travel across the haunted mainland of Scotia to Norveg, with help along the way from a clan of nomadic Highland bull riders and the many animals who are drawn to Agatha's extraordinary gift of communication.

Critique: A deftly written page turner of a novel, "The Good Hawk" is the first book in author Joseph Elliott's the Shadow Skye trilogy introducing new kind of hero in the action/adventure novel of a mythical and ancient Scotland for young readers ages 12-18. While unreservedly recommended for school and community library YA Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Good Hawk" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781978665354, $14.99, CD).

Inside the Sun
Alexis Marie Chute
9781684630455, $16.95, PB, 384pp,

Synopsis: All worlds are dying, and it's up to one broken and dysfunctional family from Earth, the Wellsleys, to save the day.

Cancer-ridden Ella celebrates her fifteenth birthday beneath an enchanted mountain, but it is what lies even farther below (the mysterious Star in the sea) that demands she grow up quickly. While Ella grapples with the sacrifice she must make and the lies she is forced to tell, her mother, Tessa, is hell-bent on protecting her.

Through bizarre encounters, love-sick Tessa realizes that she is not the lonely orphan she believes. Her husband, Arden, and father-in-law, Archie, are not the only ones with magical bloodlines. This revelation changes everything.

As Archie chooses to embody his unexpected ancestry, he learns that leading the charge in the ultimate battle against evil won't be as easy as he thought. He'll need his family (and the strange allies he has gained) by his side to give Ella enough time to set things right.

Can they defeat the unstoppable Millia Sands (and another unexpected foe) before everything they hold dear is destroyed? Or will their adventure tear them apart for good?

Critique: "Inside the Sun" is the finale to author Alexis Marie Chute's 'The 8th Island Trilogy'. A deftly crafted novel showcasing her expertise and skills as a narrative driven novelist, "Inside the Sun" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to school and community library YA Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Inside the Sun" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

The Thousand Steps
Helen Brain
Catalyst Press
9781946395245, $17.95, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: On the brink of execution, 16 year old Ebba den Eeden is unexpectedly elevated from the bunker deep in South Africa's Table Mountain where she has lived all her life and never having seen the sun, believing (as do all the other teenagers who toil daily to make their food and power the bunker) that the world "Above" is uninhabitable due to a nuclear holocaust.

Instead, it turns out that she is heiress to a massive fortune -- one that everyone wants to control. While dealing with the machinations of the High Priest, his handsome son Hal, and the rules and regulations of a society and religion she doesn't understand, she must also try to save her three friends, still stuck in the bunker and facing execution any day!

Critique: A deftly crafted, impressively original, and inherently entertain novel by an author with a genuine flair for background detail basing a thoroughly reader engaging narrative storytelling style, "The Thousand Steps" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to any highschool or community library YA Fiction collection.

The Moon is Always Round
Jonathan Gibson, author
Joe Hox, illustrator
New Growth Press
1301 Carolina Street, #L101, Greensboro, NC 27401
9781645070276, $15.99, HC, 32pp,

Synopsis: Even young children want answers to the hard questions about God and suffering. In The Moon Is Always Round, seminary professor and author Jonathan Gibson uses the vivid imagery of the moon to explain to children how God's goodness is always present, even when it might appear to be obscured by upsetting or difficult circumstances.

"The Moon is Always Round" is beautiful, full-color illustrated book, in which Professor Gibson allows young readers to eavesdrop on the conversations he had with his young son in response to his sister's death. Father and son share a simple liturgy together that reminds them that, just as the moon is always round despite its different phases, so also the goodness of God is always present throughout the different phases of life.

A section in the back of "The Moon is Always Round" offers further biblical help for parents and caregivers in explaining God's goodness to children. Jonathan Gibson reminds children of all ages that God's goodness is present in the most difficult of times, even if we can't always see it.

Critique: Unique, thoughtful, exceptionally well written, beautifully illustrated, inspired and inspiring, "The Moon is Always Round" is especially and unreservedly recommended children's picture book for family, church, and community library collections.

Editorial Note: Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge) is ordained in the International Presbyterian Church, UK, and is associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He is co-editor with Mark Earngey of Reformation Worship, contributor to and co-editor with David Gibson of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, and Covenant Continuity and Fidelity: A Study of Inner-Biblical Allusion and Exegesis in Malachi.

Julie Summers

Kavitha Blewett's Bookshelf

Miracle Baby: A Fertility Doctor's Fight for Motherhood
Dorette Noorhasan, MD
Brown Books Publishing Group
16250 Knoll Trail Dr #205, Dallas, TX 75248
9781612543130, $24.95 HC, $9.99 Kindle, 220pp,

"Poignant, transparent, and empowering, Dr. Noorhasan's perspective will resonate with anyone facing a challenging journey to parenthood. Having found her own path to motherhood through surrogacy, she brings a physician's insight to a deeply personal struggle, and her books are much-needed tools to demystify infertility and help families find the hope and understanding to persevere."

Kavitha Blewett, MD
Obstetrics and Gynecology, Women's Health Specialists of Dallas

Kirk Bane's Bookshelf

Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need to Know
Ian Haydn Smith
Illustrations by Kristelle Rodeia
White Lion Publishing/The Quarto Group
9780711240261, $16.99, HC,

Any book with a cover depicting Quentin Tarantino doing the twist must be cool, right? Ian Haydn Smith's Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know definitely qualifies as hip. Cinephiles will relish this insightful, crisply written little volume, which boasts vibrant illustrations of each director by artist Kristelle Rodeia. Smith, editor of BFI Filmmakers Magazine, asserts, "Pioneering in their craft, fiercely and undeniably unique, or critically divisive: cult filmmakers come in all shapes and guises. Some gain instant fame, others instant notoriety. More still remain anonymous until a change in fashion propels them into the limelight." Among the directors Smith discusses are Ana Lily Amirpour, Kenneth Anger, Sofia Coppola, Alex Cox, Claire Denis, Jim Jarmusch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Russ Meyer, Gordon Parks, Seijun Suzuki, Melvin Van Peebles, and Lars Von Trier.

Appraising Harmony Korine, Smith avers, "Korine's films explore the underbelly of US society. His approach has attracted criticism: that his work is barely coherent and visually cacophonous. Others see a filmmaker breaking down film language and rebuilding it with a radically different grammar. Across five features as director and two as a writer, Korine has engaged with mental illness, life below the poverty line, dysfunctional childhood and the extremes of contemporary college life." He vividly describes Korine's Spring Breakers (2012) as "a dayglow fever dream - a John Hughes film on acid."

Evaluating the director most noted for Night of the Living Dead (1968), Smith observes, "Raising zombies from the dead and helping to bring horror into the modern age, George A. Romero has had a lasting influence on genre filmmaking…Although now established as a classic, Night of the Living Dead was initially a critical and commercial failure. It was only when the film began to do the rounds on the late-night cinema circuit that it built up a sizable following. Over the course of the next four decades, it spawned five sequels, whose themes offer up a withering critique of US society and values. They encompass anti-Vietnam rhetoric, the nuclear family, consumerism, reactionism in Reagan's America, concerns over the military scientific complex and class division."

Assessing John Waters, whom he calls "King of Kitsch," Smith contends, "There is good taste and bad taste, and then there's John Waters. The multi-hyphenate artist has transcended his career as a filmmaker to become the brand of his unique perspective on the world…Waters makes films that draw heavily from high and low culture, as well as from his own life experiences…As the 1980s progressed, Waters toned down the shock value of his work, but his gift for satire and highlighting hypocrisy among the middle class continued unabated…Once an iconoclast on the periphery of US film, he is now an icon of US popular culture. His stand-up shows sell out internationally, and his place as a singular filmmaker is assured."

Fans of offbeat cinema will enjoy Smith's perceptive and engaging study.

Kirk Bane

Kirkus Reviews

Independent Judgment and Introspection: Fundamental Requirements of the Free Society
Jerry Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick Books
9780978780357, $34.95, (HC), 204pp,

Kirkpatrick argues that a truly free society is impossible without an independent citizenry.

According to Kirkpatrick (Emeritus, Business/California State Polytechnic Univ.; Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, 2008, etc.), "independent judgment" has both an intellectual and a moral component: They are "correct perception of the facts of reality and courage to acknowledge and assert those facts."

A free society (one in which all people are free of coercion and equally protected under the law) is simply impossible without citizens who are capable of such intellectual liberty, he says, and so its cultivation is of paramount importance.

The author provides a wide-ranging defense of robust individualism that's deeply indebted to the philosophical work of Ayn Rand and her protege, Nathaniel Branden. Kirkpatrick particularly takes aim at philosophical schools such as materialism and determinism, as well as religion, which he sees as undermining free will and moral accountability. He also provides a powerful, provocative critique of educational systems that discourage creative thought and contribute to an authoritarian mindset.

When Kirkpatrick discusses the elemental attributes of a free society, he clearly means one in the classically liberal tradition, typified by laissez-faire capitalism. However, the author ventures further by making independent judgment a necessary ingredient in happiness itself, which issues from a "life of reason" in which one achieves "objectively valid, rational values."

Kirkpatrick intends his work to be a "scholarly book," and it's meticulously footnoted as it explains Rand's theories in a lucid and accessible manner. However, the book's philosophical depth doesn't match the rigor of its documentation. For example, the author never makes a persuasive metaphysical argument that the "individual entity" is the "primary unit of reality," nor does he establish ethical egoism as a theory, or that moral rights exist -- a notoriously difficult concept to demonstrate. Even more disappointing, however, is that Kirkpatrick seems to assume laissez-faire capitalism is the only system that engenders freedom, which is an unusual and historically suspect presumption.

A clearly written introduction to objectivism, but one that offers unconvincing arguments for its political conclusions."

Kirkus Reviews

Literary Titan's Bookshelf

Phoebe Douse: Secret Society for Special Abilities and Artefacts
L. Samuels
Valued Educational Services
9781732284661, $12.99 pbk, 322pp
9781732284678, $15.99 hc,

Phoebe Douse: Secret Society for Special Abilities and Artefacts allows a view into the life of young Phoebe, a high school student whose tendency to be unusually distinct has her feeling like an outcast. After her grandmother dies, it leaves her even more unsure about herself. Her grandmother would always tell stories that seemed fantastical about her life and travels. Phoebe took those moments for granted and when she can no longer have them, she is left feeling guilty. When she receives a strange invitation to attend school in Scotland she accepts the offer with the approval of her parents. She has no close ties outside of her family and she hopes for an adventure like the ones her grandmother had lived.

She soon realizes that while she fits in more readily than she ever has before, this sense of belonging actually makes the new school, her new classmates and her surroundings pretty extraordinary. When she finally begins to accept the possibilities that come with being extraordinary in an extraordinary place, she finds herself torn between her loyalty to her new friends and her grandmother's legacy. Phoebe has to figure out who she is able to trust before secret forces lead her on a path of no return.It would be unsurprising if L. Samuels' debut novel lands on the bestseller list. Any of the millions of Harry Potter fans would be a fan of Phoebe Douse and the well crafted, gifted characters L. Samuels brings to life. The origin of the main character is seeped in a legacy that is undeniably powerful but shrouded in mystery.

Every event and continuation was strategically laid out in a way that caused constant anticipation. Even so, at each moment of conflict, climax and revelation, there were still surprises. There were no moments of overwhelming unpredictability but the pace of events varied and provided an emotionally dynamic experience.

The least agreeable aspect of the book is that the reader is left wanting to know what happens next and in the world of storytelling, this kind of itch usually happens after a satisfying read. The best part is that a second installment is expected so the anticipation continues!

Literary Titan

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

1-2-3 My Feelings and Me
Goldie Millar, author
Lisa A. Berger, author
Priscilla Burris, illustrator
Free Spirit Publishing
6325 Sandburg Road, Suite 100, Minneapolis, MN 55427-3674
9781631983627, $15.99, HC, 40pp,

Synopsis: Young children often need help grasping the complexities of their feelings, which can sometimes be overwhelming. When children learn from an early age to handle their emotions in healthy ways, they are more likely to grow into adults who feel capable of facing life's challenges.

"1-2-3 My Feelings and Me" is friendly, positive picture book helps children understand their feelings better, giving them coping strategies for communicating and managing emotions more effectively.

Using an inviting counting format, "1-2-3 My Feelings and Me" invites children and adults to count to ten as they share and explore feelings together. "We feel our feelings in two important ways, in our bodies and in our minds. Our bodies may feel hot, shaky, or calm. Our minds and our thoughts might be telling us we are scared, or excited, or unhappy."

Along with presenting tools and strategies, "1-2-3 My Feelings and Me" reinforces emotional language and the ideas that while some feelings are more comfortable than others, all emotions are natural and important.

Critique: Entertaining, engaging, and with an important underlying message for children ages 3-8, "1-2-3 My Feelings and Me" is especially and unreservedly recommended for family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library collections.

Editorial Note: Goldie Millar, Ph.D., is a clinical and school psychologist. Since earning her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Toronto in 2003, Goldie has worked with children in hospital, forensic, community, and educational settings. She has a deep interest in children's mental health, emotional regulation, and evidence-based intervention strategies.

Lisa Berger, Ph.D., is a clinical, counseling, and rehabilitation psychologist who works with adolescents and adults in a private practice. In 2003, Dr. Berger received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Toronto. She has practiced in hospitals, post-secondary institutions, and community-based settings. Lisa's professional interests include emotional health and wellness, psychological trauma, and emotion-based therapy.

Priscilla Burris holds a creative design degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, as well as an early childhood education certificate. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and is also its US illustrator coordinator and advisor.

Everything Is Ok. Love, God
Heather Momper Leonard, author
Barbara Trauth, illustrator
LifeRich Publishing
9781489720887, $18.99, HC, 40pp,

Synopsis: Rebecca's beloved grandpa dies -- even after she had prayed for him not to. "Everything Is Ok. Love, God" is the picture book story of what happens when Rebecca changes her prayer and shares her story -- and message that even when life can be hard, God is always trying to tell us that everything will be okay.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Everything Is Ok. Love, God" is a welcome, unreservedly recommended, inspired and inspiring picture book story for young children throughout the Christian community.

The Angel Experiment
Corin Grillo
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781608686254, $15.95, PB, 184pp,

Synopsis: A mind-blowing miracle from the angels saved Corin Grillo's life, cured her of lifelong depression, and awakened her spiritual gifts. She now teaches others all over the world how to awaken their intuition, heal illness and addiction, create financial abundance, and discover their true purpose by working with the divine.

With the publication of "The Angel Experiment: A 21-Day Magical Adventure to Heal Your Life" she draws upon her particular experience and experience to provide A powerful way to talk to angels so they can hear you and help you; How to hear, see, and feel the angels in your life; Which specific archangels to call upon for your unique needs; 21 daily angel invocations to help you manifest miracles; 21 healing meditations to detox your heart, mind, body, and soul.

The underlying message of "The Angel Experiment" is that miracles are real, there is no such thing as coincidence, and a mighty team of angels always has your back.

Critique: As impressively informative as it is inspiring, and also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.55), "The Angel Experiment: A 21-Day Magical Adventure to Heal Your Life" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and community library Metaphysical Studies and Personal Growth collections and reading lists.

Editorial Note: Corin Grillo is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Angel Alchemy Academy. She has dedicated her life to sharing the transformational gifts she received while learning to work with the angels.

Bride of the Dragon King
Ann Drighton
Lulu Publishing
3101 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC 27607-5436
9781684702077, $27.60, PB, 140pp,

Synopsis: For most of her life, Elisabeth has had a recurring dream in which she is abducted by a dragon who has fallen for her and who forces her to be his forever. She has no idea what the dream means.

Elisabeth and her fiancee, Josh, are on a backpacking trip in Ireland, a place that has always called to her, when after a heated argument, she storms off into the wilderness. In the dark, she trips and falls, and then she has another dragon nightmare? One that seems more real than any previous dream.

When Elisabeth wakes up, she is in a strange village untouched by the modern world. Because of her injury, the village healer, a handsome stranger named Constantine, persuades her to stay until after the night of the town's annual festival. But it soon becomes clear that she has stumbled into a world beyond anything she could have imagined.

Critique: A deftly crafted and inherently engaging erotic fantasy for an adult readership, "Bride of the Dragon" showcases author Ann Drighton's genuine flair for originality and her distinctive and effective narrative driven storytelling style. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Bride of the Dragon" is also available in a paperback edition (9781684702084, $10.60) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

I'm Not Done Yet And...You Shouldn't Be Either
Dr. Cynthia Barnett
Aviva Publishing
9781890427795, $24.99, HC, 174pp,

Synopsis: In "I'm Not Done Yet... And You Shouldn't Be Either", Dr. Cynthia Barnett shares her story of overcoming obstacles, embracing change, fighting injustice, and re-firing her spirit. Today, she can truly say she loves her life. Her work, even after retirement, is rewarding to her and inspiring to others. But her journey to this place of self-satisfaction hasn't been perfect, or easy. She's had plenty of tough times. She knows that those tough times led her to the fulfilled, peaceful, and grateful life she now has is a life that has meant something to others and has given her unique skills and abilities to help society.

In the pages "I'm Not Done Yet... And You Shouldn't Be Either", Dr. Barnett shares stories of what led her to fulfillment, from a childhood growing up on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, to coming to America, struggling to get accepted into an American university, marrying, raising children, surviving divorce, and ultimately, rising to the top of her field.

Through all life's unexpected twists and turns, she was repeatedly faced with decisions that seemed beyond her. Often, she had to paddle extra hard just to tread water. But once she made the decision not to drown in self-pity, she threw herself into learning how to swim so she would never again feel helpless in the rough waters of life. Learn to swim she did, and so will her readers when they follow the example she sets in "I'm Not Done Yet... And You Shouldn't Be Either".

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "I'm Not Done Yet... And You Shouldn't Be Either" is a life-changing, life-enhancing, and even life-extending read. While unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "I'm Not Done Yet... And You Shouldn't Be Either" is also available in a paperback edition (9781950241507, $14.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.76).

Editorial Note: Dr. Cynthia Barnett is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and coach. Her "refirement message" has been featured in US News and World Report, local newspapers, and TV shows. She was recently featured in The Wall Street Journal and in TIME magazine in its lead article about women in mid-life who have reinvented themselves. She is the recipient of the inaugural AARP Purpose Prize, which recognizes people over the age of fifty who have "used their wisdom and experience to revitalize their lives and make the world a better place." She is a leading authority on how to "refire and reinvent, making dreams come true." Dr. Barnett is currently living a 'refired' life, paying it forward through her nonprofit program for girls, Amazing Girls Science, to help them ignite a spark for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). She resides in Connecticut and for more information visit

Down the Road
Rosemary Neering
Whitecap Books
c/o Fitzhenry & Whiteside
9781770503243, $22.95, PB, 224pp,

Synopsis: Traveling the roads and highways through the islands, mountains, and plateaus of British Columbia, Rosemary Neering talks to a fascinating cross-section of people in the small towns she visits. In coffee shops, post offices, and living rooms, she gathers their stories with the inquisitive ear of the traveller...[setting them] down with a storyteller's wisdom.

When Rosemary Neering talks to former urbanites used to having the world at their door, they feel that life is more complete in places where people don't lock their doors at night, and where everyone knows your life better than you do. But in many resource-based communities where the fisheries, forests and mines are increasingly controlled by large corporations, there is resentment towards urban approaches to rural problems. As she travels, a compelling portrait is formed of a world often hidden to city dwellers.

A few of the places portrayed in "Down the Road: Journeys through Small-Town British Columbia" include Merritt, Campbell River, Vanderhoof, Nelson, Kaslo, Nakusp, Prince George, and Quesnel.

Critique: An exceptionally well written and thoroughly reader engaging travelogue from beginning to end, "Down the Road: Journeys through Small-Town British Columbia" is an extraordinary, unique, compelling, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from first page to last -- making it an unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note: Rosemary Neering was born in England, but grew up in Brantford, Ontario. At nineteen, she moved to British Columbia and has lived in Vancouver, Nanaimo, and Victoria. Rosemary regards Down the Road: Journeys through Small-Town British Columbia as her favorite among the many books she has written, and the months spent traveling the back roads and byroads of the province as an adventure and an education never to be forgotten. A prolific writer, she is the author of, among others, Wild West Women: Travellers, Adventurers and Rebels, which won the 2001 Van City Book Prize, and A Traveller's Guide to Historic British Columbia. Rosemary lives in British Columbia with her partner, Joe Thompson, but frequently ventures forth once more to visit her beloved small towns scattered across the map of British Columbia.

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Lenore And The Problem With Love (When You Go To College To Save The Planet)
J.T. Blossom
B0829N4LF7, $2.99, Kindle

In Lenore And The Problem With Love (When You Go To College To Save The Planet), J.T. Blossom's sequel to The Tunes of Lenore, a freshman leaves college in California to pursue music in Nashville.

After their stunning performance at an experimental private boarding high school, Ella and her boyfriend, Brandon, secure spots at the prestigious Brecken University. They study the quantum effects in dogs, preparing them for release into the wild, where they will restore order ruined by humans. Ella becomes increasingly suspicious of the work while Brandon is more and more consumed by it. Ella, a fiddler, joins up with an agent in Nashville, who sees her play in a coffeehouse. She and her magical violin, Lenore, influences change in listeners far and wide, some for better and some for worse.

Many threads - Brandon and Ella's fragile relationship, the scientist's side project, University espionage and musical meanderings - dovetail into a complex and riveting plot, told over four parts, each more intense than the last. The mood is urgent (the world's fate is at stake) yet tempered by Ella's thoughtfulness. She asks her dad, "What if dreaming is a luxury humanity can't afford anymore?" (247). The ending is a prophetic and cataclysmic adventure.
Ella and Lenore are heroines together. Ella funnels all her romantic angst and school troubles into her fiddling. Lenore leads Ella into mystical, profound musical experiences that act as messages for her to decode. These dreamy passages push the book's dystopian genre into science fiction or fantasy. While most of the writing suits middle school audiences, the trance-like interludes and some scientific vocabulary, like "epigenetics," (165) expand readers' horizons.

Like Greta Thunberg, Ella, Lenore's main character, is an ordinary teenage champion, inspiring hope in the future through loving, creative endeavors.

Bone Chalk
Jim Reese
Stephen F. Austin State University Press
9781622882038, $22.00

Jim Reese's collection of essays and true stories, Bone Chalk, showcases Middle West small town life with grace, gravity and humor.

Reese grows up in Omaha, attends Wayne State College, Nebraska, where he meets his wife. They move to the countryside where her family lives. Before becoming an English professor in South Dakota, his jobs include Wayne State mascot, farmhand, newspaper reporter (and bundler), and teacher at prisons and jails. He and his wife have two daughters.

The first story takes place at a diner, the narrator watching himself ("you") try to fit in among locals. In the succeeding stories, "you" becomes "I." Instead of looking in from the outside, over the course of the reflections, Reese slowly finds his place among matriarchs and patriarchs in so-called flyover country. His mother and father-in-law each get a chapter, as well as his grandfather. Unlike newspaper reporting, where he "learned whose voice to capture - nobody's" (90), he captures his elders' personalities with punchy dialogue and their own tall tales. A favorite of his father-in-law's is when he and his young buddies help a drunk escape from town jail so they can get a ride home. The day Reese announces that his wife is pregnant for the first time, he discovers his grandfather's memory is failing. His mother-in-law is characterized by a handwritten sign taped to her door: "Please Ring Twice of Knock or Yell!" (25). Reese's admiration shows in his loving attention to detail.

Reese studies criminals as well as his family members. He goes to highschool with both a murderer and a girl he murdered. Around the same time, a serial killer also stalks boys in Reese's neighborhood. These experiences lead him to study Criminal Justice in college and go on to work in prisons. He continually wonders: "Is there a killer inside me?" How removed is any of us from criminality? The chapters on his prison students and these murders raise provocative political and ethical questions.

Other chapters are more humorous. Three are devoted to funny bumper stickers he encounters in his area. In one chapter, "hell bent on gaining new experiences" (112), Reese is the butt of the joke as he drives his boss's tractor into the garage. He finds his own voice learning how not to imitate clowns he hangs out with in high school and he encourages his daughters and students to find their own voices, too.

Whether serious or silly, Reese's prose reads like poetry. He says more in a paragraph than many write in pages. The final chapters are the shortest and most personal vignettes featuring his wife, daughters and co-workers.

Reese finds the profound in everyday, parochial life in his Bone Chalk.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey
Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
9780544866478, $30.00 HC, $15.99 Kindle, 448 pages,

I've travelled much of the world over the last forty years, thanks to Paul Theroux's many books, which now number 56. I was especially eager to read this book since I've made the journey through Mexico several times with my wife in a car (VW bug) and a pickup truck, so I was familiar with some of the challenges and dangers, not to mention adventures the author would encounter.

The "Godfather of Travel Writing" follows his own critique for what makes a superior travel book, "not just a report of a journey, but a memoir, an autobiography, a confession, a foray in South America, a topography and history, a travel narrative, with observations of books, music, and life in general; in short, what the best travel books are, a summing up."

This book includes countless memorable descriptions of Mexico's landscapes and insight into the country's history, as well as literary, including Mexican magical realism and political movements such as the Zapatistas.

A book on immigrations and the border is especially timely during this period of misinformation and distrust created by the present crisis. The author even admitted in an interview that his book was "inspired by everything that Donald Trump and other people were saying during the presidential campaign about Mexico, Mexicans, and the border - their uninformed opinions and stereotypes." He refers to the "Wall" as our great national paranoia and goes on to say, "One of the great reasons for traveling is to destroy stereotypes, to see people and things as they really are, to see the dynamics and the complexity of a country. As soon as he started saying things like, 'There's too many of them, they're coming over the border, they're rapists,' I had a great reason for taking a year or two to get to the bottom of it."

As is often the case, the author reveals something about himself and his state of mind when starting this project. At 76, he felt he wasn't getting enough respect, "I'd observed for years that the whole of American life caters to the 18-35-year old's. Books, music, educational TV shows, movies - it's all for them." Youth have become 'empowered by their spending, and that's created a kind of contempt for older Americans."

The author reveals that this feeling of rejection made it easy to identify with migrants and Mexicans, "who knew that same feeling of being despised." As befits this obstinate traveler and author, his response was, "My work is my reply, my travel is my defiance. And I think of myself in the Mexican way, not as an old man, but as most Mexicans regard a senior, an hombre de juicio, a man of judgement…"

Theroux starts his journey crisscrossing the border interviewing a diverse group of migrants detained in Mexico, and then driving south to one of the poorest states of Mexico, Oaxaca. As one would expect of a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and world traveler who has used every mode of transportation imaginable to meet those off the tourist's beaten path, his focus on the "common man" is reflected in who he meets and gets to know throughout his journey.

One lady, Maria, who touched his heart, was a middle-aged woman praying before her meal in a migrant shelter, the Comedor of the Kino Boarder Initiative. "She was Zapotec, from a mountain village in Oaxaca State, who had left her three young children with her mother, intending to enter the United States and (so she said) become a menial in a hotel somewhere and send money back to her poor family. But she had become lost in the desert and was spotted by the U.S. Border Patrol, seized, roughed up, and dumped in Nogales. The image of her praying did not leave my mind, and it strengthened my resolve. "On my trip, whenever I felt obstructed or low, I thought of this valiant woman, and moved on."

As someone who has ridden on a few of the back roads in Mexico and is aware of the constant threat of carjacking, I was amazed that the author actually drove down from Cape Cod in his own car and kept going on to isolated villages outside of Oaxaca - where there were some narrow escapes, "…Some of the boulders had sharp edges, as though they'd been split by a lightning bolt. I wondered whether at some point a rockslide would broadside my car, toppling it and my passengers into the deep ravine to my left, or whether the whole unstable road would give way in a stupendous landslide of mud and stones, dropping my car into the abyss, and burying us."

But his low-tech approach to travel is based on a desire to meet the common people, which means dressing down. In the introduction of the book he provides insights into what makes a good travel writer, such as seeing the "underside, its hinterlands, its everyday life" if you want to get at the truth of a country, which is what he strives to do in many of the stories of this book. He also cautions not to be in a hurry when traveling through a new country and always go low tech. You have a lot of mobility in a car that is unavailable to anyone waiting for a train or bus - you need mobility.

Theroux quotes Kerouac from On the Road to express what it is like to start this road trip, - "joy verging on euphoria. Behind us lay the whole of Americana and everything Dean and I had known about life, and life on the road. We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic."

Although the majority of Theroux's Mexican journey was in rural areas, he did spend ten days in Mexico City with 13 million inhabitants and all the chaos and police shakedowns which that entails. Of the 28 students in his class of authors, he agreed to teach for free, only one had never been to the U.S., but Theroux was struck by how few wrote about places like Oaxaca, where the per capita income is the same as Bangladesh. "In the Mexican literary tradition," he says, "almost no one writes about the rural areas. There's no William Faulkner, no Wright Morris, no Robert Frost."

His advice to the class was, "If you want to do something, go live in a small village in Chiapas. Live there like a Peace Corps volunteer and write about the people there. Mexico City is connected 'more to the big world than to the hard-up hinterland'".

Theroux would attend a number of celebrations in small villages in Oaxaca and Chiapas, which reveal much of the Mexican culture and mindset. "Where protest was mingled with the fiesta, the fiesta with ritual and many of the ritualized masquerades had their origins in ancient Aztec culture, an empire of blood sacrifice and skulls and glittering masks."

He'd attend a number of "The Days of the Dead" fiestas, which he describes as a "solemn ritual. It was a vigil in graveyards, it was a masquerade, it was a binge, it was an occasion for dressing up and looking fabulous, it included political protest, and it was a party." Disputations on death are a national pastime in Mexico, says the author, and Octavio Paz sums it up best, "The Mexican chases after death, mocks it, courts it, hugs it and sleeps with it. He thinks of it as his favorite plaything and his most lasting love."

Theroux asked his students in Mexico City to visit "La Capilla" of Santa Muerte (Saint of Death). He learned that the government had targeted some shrines that were associated with drug cartels. As the cult had grown in popularity, so government disapproval increased. The Santa Muerte would become the fastest growing faith in Mexico with millions of believers. Offerings of hope to the desperate (which included drug dealers, prostitutes, smugglers and gangsters) provided a spiritual shield from authorities.

Although much of the book includes anecdotes about the families who live in rural Mexico, the author's acute observations offered some eye-popping political and social analysis.

Mexico's quagmire of impunity has also been affected by the American drug and gun control policies. …The U.S. has criminalized the economy that services its vast appetite for drugs. The consequence is that Mexico pays a disproportionate share of the cost of the American gun and drug habits, further weakening the state….

He goes on to reveal that Americans are, "the world's largest consumers of illicit drugs, spending more than $100 billion a year on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines smuggled across the border, according to the 2014 RAND Corporation report." No surprise when the author reveals that "El Chapo" ran the largest airborne operation in Mexico, with almost 600 aircraft seized, while Aeromexico had a "piddling" fleet of 127 planes.

Other revealing statistics include that more than 200,000 people have been killed or have disappeared since December of 2006, and in the first ten months of 2017 there were over 17,000 murders in Mexico. By the end of 2017, Mexico would record over 29,000 murders, the majority of them cartel related.

The book ends in the southern, mostly Mayan Indian populated states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. According to Theroux, who profiles many of the local residents throughout the book.

You're dealing with people who have very little money and get very little help from the government. But they have a great culture they're very proud of, their family values are very strong, and they're very self-sufficient and creative. They mend their clothes, they fix their shoes, they're actually able to take something that's broken and repair it, they have a lot of cottage industries. I admire that, and I admire the ones who pick up and go to the border. Most of the people I've met who crossed the border just wanted to earn some money to send back and then go home; they weren't here to go on welfare or be the parasites they're identified as.

The author manages to connect with Subcomandante Marcos, the Mexican insurgent and former military leader of the Zapatista, which in 1994 was fighting for the rights of indigenous farmers throughout Chiapas, and whose base of operations was in the Lacadone jungle. Much to the authors surprise, not only was he invited to one of the group's camps, but was asked speak at an event. Theroux was nervous, since he respects what this leader represents, and when he approached the stage for the event, Subcomandante Marcos shouted, Venga Compañero Escritor (come fellow writer), and with a strong handshake and a hug welcomed him.

"The hug calmed in a way that went beyond helpful reassurance. The Comandante did not release me immediately, as I expected. He held me and said, 'Welcome'." As they departed, he shook hands with the other key leaders, "They were not the hands of commissars or bureaucrats. They held on, gripping my soft writer's hands with their crusty workers hands. Their strong handshakes made the men seem bigger somehow, their grip conveying power."

During his presentations, he connected with the audience of local Zapatista followers by revealing, "To you, I am sure I seem like just another gringo. But in fact, I am also part indigenous - the proudest part of my secret being. My paternal grandmother was a Menominee, a nation of people who lived in what is now Wisconsin, a people who lived in that region for six thousand years. This knowledge helps me understand your struggle a little better, because the indigenous people of the U.S. have been massacred and cheated and pushed to the margins ever since the first colonizers arrived on the continent. I share your defiance, and for this I am happy to be among you…"

He went on to say, "Being welcomed in this way by the Zaptistas - embraced, accepted, listened to - I felt I had been admitted to a band of brothers and sisters who had resisted all that was negative and destructive n Mexican life…"

As was the case in his last book, "Figures in a Landscape", the author struggles to accommodate the impact of groups that are purportedly helping the isolated communities in Southern Mexico.

"…All my adult life, beginning with my teaching in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have tried to understand how to reconcile the nature of poverty, the role of charity, the intervention of aid organizations, and the maneuvering of governments, especially those in the third world. After repeated visits to Africa over fifty years, I concluded that foreign aid as it is conventionally practiced is essentially a failure, futile in relieving poverty, and often harmful relieving the ills of a few at the expense of the many. Most charities are diabolically self-interested, proselytizing evangelists, tax-avoidance scammers with schemes to buff up the image of the found - often someone in disgrace or mired in scandal or obscenely rich…..and the charities do the government's work and in doing so, prevent oppressed people from understanding how they are being exploited."

On his way back to the U.S. border, a sense of melancholy descended on the author. "I guessed this was because of the self I remembered from being here long before, the defected man who had no idea where he was going. But I was a different person now, because I knew where I had been. Instead of being purified by suffering - sometimes the consequences of a travel ordeal - I had made friends on the road through the plain of snakes, and that had lifted my spirits."

My spirits were raised, as well, after reading this edgy but ultimately hopeful story, which mixes visit reportage and emphatic political commitment and includes a well-informed prescription for improving the situation between the U.S. and Mexico.

Editorial Note: Mark Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) spent over forty years in the developing world. He then went to Phoenix as a Senior Director for Food for the Hungry, worked with other groups like Make-A-Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, a Christian-based organization that supports survivors of human trafficking.

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association for Non-Fiction. He has been published in Ragazine, WorldView Magazines, Literary Yard, Literary Travelers and Quail BELL, and the anthology published by Wising Up Press. His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. Follow him on Facebook

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Why Are We Here?
Bruce Brodie
iUniverse, Inc.
c/o Author House
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781532048548, $22.95, PB, 446pp,

Synopsis: From the big bang, to the origin and evolution of intelligent life in a search for the meaning of human existence, "Why Are We Here?: The Story of the Origin, Evolution, and Future of Life on Our Planet", by author Bruce Brodie offers an informative look at evolution and the future of life on the planet.

Through many years of research and study, Brodie addresses a host of questions including: How did chemistry come to life?; How did the release of oxygen by cyanobacteria change the natural history of life?; How did mass extinctions reset the clock and reshape the course of biological evolution?;

Also considered: Why are homo sapiens so dominant?; Why do humans build vast civilizations, while chimps, with whom we share more than 98 percent of our DNA, are confined to forests and experimental laboratories and zoos?; How will cultural and technological evolution, which have transcended the slow pace of biological evolution, shape the future of life on the planet?; Can we escape the many existential threats that hover over us?

"Why are We Here?" offers a new and challenging perspective on how we think about the world, and our place and our purpose in the universe and the future of humanity. It presents a lasting sense of the amazing wonder and mystery of life.

Critique: Expertly organized and presented, "Why Are We Here?: The Story of the Origin, Evolution, and Future of Life on Our Planet" would prove to be an excellent choice for a curriculum textbook and is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Evolution Science collections and supplemental studies lists. Impressively informed and informative, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Why Are We Here?: The Story of the Origin, Evolution, and Future of Life on Our Planet" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Editorial Note: Bruce Brodie is a retired clinical professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina and co-founder and past chairman of the LeBauer-Brodie Center for Cardiovascular Research and Education at Cone Health in Greensboro, North Carolina. He has been a leader in research in the treatment of heart attacks and has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts in leading cardiology journals.

Fire, Ice, and Physics
Rebecca C. Thompson
The MIT Press
9780262043076 $24.95 hc / $14.49 Kindle

Synopsis: Game of Thrones is a fantasy that features a lot of made-up science?fabricated climatology (when is winter coming?), astronomy, metallurgy, chemistry, and biology. Most fans of George R. R. Martin's fantastical world accept it all as part of the magic. A trained scientist, watching the fake science in Game of Thrones, might think, "But how would it work?" In Fire, Ice, and Physics, Rebecca Thompson turns a scientist's eye on Game of Thrones, exploring, among other things, the science of an ice wall, the genetics of the Targaryen and Lannister families, and the biology of beheading. Thompson, a PhD in physics and an enthusiastic Game of Thrones fan, uses the fantasy science of the show as a gateway to some interesting real science, introducing GOT fandom to a new dimension of appreciation.

Thompson starts at the beginning, with winter, explaining seasons and the very elliptical orbit of the Earth that might cause winter to come (or not come). She tells us that ice can behave like ketchup, compares regular steel to Valyrian steel, explains that dragons are "bats, but with fire," and considers Targaryen inbreeding. Finally she offers scientific explanations of the various types of fatal justice meted out, including beheading, hanging, poisoning (reporting that the effects of "the Strangler," administered to Joffrey at the Purple Wedding, resemble the effects of strychnine), skull crushing, and burning at the stake.

Even the most faithful Game of Thrones fans will learn new and interesting things about the show from Thompson's entertaining and engaging account. Fire, Ice, and Physics is an essential companion for all future binging.

Critique: Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones is a companion book to the wildly popular television series (which is in turn based on the dark fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin) that analyzes the show's environment, mythical beasts, methods of execution and more through the lens of modern science. Intelligently written and thoroughly engaging, Fire, Ice, and Physics is a "must-read" for enthusiasts of the series, highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Fire, Ice, and Physics is also available in a Kindle edition ($14.49).

Michael J. Carson

Molly Martin's Bookshelf

Thirteen Tantalizing Tales
Jay Dubya
Bookstand Publishing
9781634988841, $24.95, Hardcover, 192 pages

Opening with Holiday Hooligans beginning page 1, is the initial submission in Jay Dubya's twenty-third story compilation Thirteen Tantalizing Tales.

"This narrative presents a glimpse into a most bizarre, eccentric, nonsensical case that I've ever been assigned to investigate," disenchanted FBI Inspector Joe Giralo had beckoned his three primary agents, Salvatore Velardi, Arthur Orsi and Dan Blachford into his eighth-floor workplace positioned inside the all-too-typical 600 Arch Street Federal Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"An encrypted communique just two hours ago and requested that my team attempt to decipher exactly what is going on."

From that groundwork The Reader is spurred with a riveting look into a more or less unplumbed series of criminals and very strange crimes.

The narrative continues to a certain degree humorous tenor with a variety of holidays experiencing another of the unusual non-robberies.

Conclusion of inquiry may surprise The Reader.

The Piano and the Organ: begin p 13 purchase of an upright piano in 1975 will have staggering influence on the narrator and his wife Joanne who add an organ in 1975.

The pair are parents of 3 lads, in 1992 the trio is busy with college.

The piano and organ commenced behaving in most unexpected manner.

Realty Reality: begin p 27 In April of 1966, elementary school educator Rita Grasso wedded insurance salesman Rocco Costa in St. Joseph Catholic Church, North Third Street, Hammonton, NJ. In April of 1968, Rita's sister and fellow elementary school instructor Arlene Grasso married former Air Force Sergeant and present construction company foreman Vincent Bartolone at the same St. Joseph Church. Both wedding receptions were celebrated at Buena Vista Country Club in nearby Buena.

The tale continues as The Reader is presented a foretaste into the slice of life existence of a not so classic family who do experience disappointment, theft and return of purloined items, contentment, maturing and death.

Doing Bristol: begin p 45 When his spouse journeys to Florida for a holiday with her sister; The Narrator, a New Jersey native visits the neighborhood where he grew up. Many changes have taken place; buildings are demolished, and new ones built in their stead.

A week spent in the local Comfort Inn™ in Bristol leaves The Narrator feeling a bit perplexed.

The Photo Finish: begin p 57 Business entrepreneur James Dante Carlino, proprietor of a recently constructed three-million-dollar brick and stone mansion scheduled to meet with Thomas Monastra the South-Jersey Central Bank President.

The visiting business executive and the resident real estate leader were scheduled to confer re a looming shopping center development project planned for erection just outside Somers Point, across the bay from scenic Ocean City, New Jersey.

Sleep Paralysis: begin p 79 The Narrator re-counts that during a required college literature class, The Storyteller industriously studied the philosophical essays of notable literary contributor Ralph Waldo Emerson, and, had also been assigned to read the recognized classic book Walden Pond, authored by Henry David Thoreau.

The Narrator learns that using self-taught mythos is somewhat analogous to playing with fire.

Rich Man, Poor Soul: begin p 91 The Speaker recounts that during July 2014 he and his wife escorted their grandson Dan and his eleven-year-old cousin Nick on a short-lived vacation jaunt down to Ocean City, Maryland. At The Outset the summer trip's destination was a rather sentimental and nostalgic one for The Narrator.

Lost Identity: begin p 103 Four experts gather to help figure-out the Chronicler's genuine identity.

The Narrator specifies that his agitated mind's muffled memories gradually began coming together like myriad floating pieces converging into a lucid kaleidoscopic pattern.

"But despite my noble mental effort, I still was not remotely cognizant of either my first or my last name."

Family Resentment begin p 113 The Bronson Family Vegetable Farm Established 1935, situated on a rural Road in Hammonton, New Jersey became well-known for providing excellent produce for major food distribution centers along the East Coast from Baltimore to Boston.

In 1960 old Joseph Bronson faced reality and handed-over the reins of the reputable operation to his two sons, Dennis and Ben.

Sibling Rivalry soon developed between the brothers.

Growing Young: begin p 125 The Narrator relates that December 7th, 2014 had become his own private, self-inflicted Pearl Harbor Day.

"I recollect that that particular Sunday morning started-out quite routine and nondescript." Church first then a stopover at local diner before traveling on to the local Home Depot™ for heater filters.

Fall of a heavy cardboard merchandise box from the top overhead shelf as The Narrator reaches for the filters leads to a three-week period of deep coma in the hospital; and to the possibility that The Narrator's long held secret may be exposed.

Corporal Teleportation, begin p 137, Science Fiction Tales often explore the theme of Time Travel.

The Narrator offers the genuineness of his personal 'Space Travel', which he calls 'Inexplicable Contemporary Teleportation.'

The Narrator purchases a new flat screen TV, turns it on and begins a wild series of the Baffling.

A Ride Through the Wharton Forest begin p 151 The first Wednesday of September, finds the retired middle school educators of Hammonton, New Jersey gathering at a local eatery or tavern to revel in the fact that the aged pedagogues no longer have need to enter a school building and tutor recalcitrant, willful teenagers.

Following the hour and half spent recollecting; Mack Vaughn and deer hunting buddy Jack Butler determine to scope out their favorite hunting area. What's that up ahead," Mack Vaughn declared while nervously pointing with his left index finger.

"Two armed guys standin' there are wearin' camouflage military uniforms …"

Contemporary Illuinati begin p 151 We discover The Speaker's father had four older sisters when he had been growing-up in Baltimore, Maryland in the early 1900s.

The Narrator presents to Readers to an Immigrant family who face tussle, pleasure, adversity and accomplishment. Major Fire, the early 1900s Influenza epidemic sweeping across the land, WW2, aunts, uncles, cousins, and loads of family contact and lastly an unanticipated bequest in the will of one aunt, the reading of the will,

and a most pleasant surprise for The Narrator.

Author Jay Dubya's bountiful imagination has again set down some most remarkable anecdotes. I particularly enjoy short stories, I find them ideal for reading when time may not be free for longer works. Each narrative is told in twenty or so pages.

Characters are nicely detailed, discourse is plausible, settings are depicted intensely permitting Readers to envision each location, whether pondered in themselves, or are filled with problems to be resolved; each anecdote draws readers into the storyline swiftly and maintains reader interest beginning to end.

My individual favorites include the sardonic humor presented in Holiday Hooligans, a mystery to resolve in the narrative Doing Bristol and Contemporary Illuminati ending with a most justified 'gotcha'.

Enjoyed reading each story, happy to commend for school and public library catalogue, as a gift for short story aficionados, as well as for the personal book shelf.

A Whisper of Rosemary
Colleen Gleason
Colleen Gleason, Inc.
9780615479903, $12.95, Paperback, 308 pages

Colleen Gleason's A Whisper of Rosemary introduces Readers to Allegra who very much wants to marry Lord Michael. The year is 1137 and Lord Michael is not the king's choice for her.

Her maid Maella's words rang in her ears. "My Lady…you cannot fight the king's will." Lord Merle Lareux is the king's choice for her, Allegra knows she has no choice; marriage to the one she loves is impossible.

The tale moves to 1155; Maris, the daughter Allegra was carrying at the time of her marriage is now of marriageable age.

Maris is the much-loved child Lord Lareux believes to be his own. Even though Allegra's life during her marriage with Lord Lareux has been reasonably rewarding; she is determined her daughter will not be faced with same heart-rending situation as Allegra faced oh her own marriage day.

While Allegra had been contented living on Langumont lands. Reality is, her heart had always belonged to Michael.

Writer Colleen Gleason has fashioned a mesmerizing narrative set in the time of lords, maidens, kings, power and deceit.

From the opening lines The Reader is brought back to the vistas, aromas and exhilaration of medieval times. A Whisper of Rosemary is an enthralling, fast paced tale certain to keep the reader engrossed.

Writer Gleason's lively characters presented in A Whisper of Rosemary are fully thought out personas each having their own individualities, peculiarities, characteristics and quirks. Settings are detailed, intended to draw Readers into the narrative, writing is accomplished with skill. Allegra's lasting anguish after being compelled into a marriage she did not wish for is unmistakable.

Maris the willful daughter of Lord Lareux is a youngster parents can well recognize. She has no wish to wed, nevertheless, her father determines that wed Maris will; and she will marry Victor D'Arcy who causes little more than icy fingers down her spine. Pitiless Bon de Savrille determines that if anyone marries the girl, it shall be he. Dirick of Derkland has no interest in marriage, he has returned home only to take revenge for the barbaric assassination of his father.

It is not long before the three young men, D'Arcy, Bon de Savrille and Dirick of Derkland find themselves caught up in a snarl entangling their destiny with that of Maris.

The often spicy jargon writer Gleason inserts between the players flows in a natural manner on the pages of A Whisper of Rosemary. Gleason's writing is both commanding and overflowing with enough detail to hold The Reader's attention spellbound.

A Whisper of Rosemary is a Highly Recommended, stimulating chronicle certain to tickle the fancy of those who relish more than just a dash of romance sprinkled into a fast-paced work jam-packed with finesse and a downright intriguing mystery.

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Paul Lappen's Bookshelf

Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet
Yasha Levine
PublicAffairs Books
c/o Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York NY 10104
9781610398022, $28.00, 370 pages

Conventional wisdom says that, in the 1960's, a group of universities started what became the Internet with help from the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency. The reality is very different.

William Godel, a military intelligence officer, thought that a better way to win in Vietnam was to use new technology to anticipate the movements and understand the motives of the enemy. Such new technology was also used on domestic war opposition. That is what led ARPA to create the Internet; using computers to spy on Americans.

Today, all of the major Internet firms, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, all collect private information for profit. They also let agencies like the National Security Agency scoop up their activity for its own purposes. Silicon Valley and the military are generally one and the same; a sort of military/digital complex.

The Tor browser was supposed to be The Answer: a method of communication that the government could not read. But, Tor got most of its original funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the people behind Voice of America and Radio Free Europe). For most of its existence, it has subsisted on large government contracts. Why is one part of the government, the BBG, supporting Tor, and another part of the government, the FBI, trying to shut it down? It keeps all the activists and other anti-government types in one place. Tor's credibility is certainly helped by an endorsement from Edward Snowden.

This is an excellent book. For some people, this book might be common knowledge. For the vast majority of people, this book is full of revelations about how ubiquitous surveillance has become in America. Nobody comes out clean in this book, which is highly recommended.

Paul Lappen, Reviewer

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Ghetto: The History of a Word
Daniel B. Schwartz
Harvard University Press
9780674737532, $35.00

In The Ghetto

In 1969, Elvis Presley recorded one of the many songs for which he is remembered. The song presented a short, moving portrait of life in a black ghetto in a large American city. It began:

"As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin'
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries".

Daniel Schwartz' new book, "Ghetto: The History of a Word" explores the African American ghetto that Elvis captured eloquently but goes back to a basic question about ghettos. This question can best be described in one of the many stories Schwartz tells. In the 1880s, a then young Jewish immigrant, Abe Cahan, went to the editor of the "New York Sun" to try to sell a story he had written. The editor was impressed and promised to publish the work. As Cahan was about to leave, the editor asked him a question: "Pardon me. You use a word about which I must ask. What is a ghetto?"

This revealing story has many points. The word "ghetto" did not enjoy wide currency in the United States in the 1880s., Cahan used the word to refer to the large, growing Jewish settlement on New York City's Lower East Side rather than to an African American ghetto. Most basically, the editor's question "What is a ghetto?" is the focus of Schwartz' book. He explores how the concept of "the ghetto" has changed over time. For most of its history the word "ghetto" has applied to Jewish settlements of varying kinds, and Schwartz discusses the impact of the changes and expansions of the word's meaning and use upon Jewish self-understanding including the relationship of Jewish people to the society of which they are a part.

This book is not the first in which Schwartz has used ambiguous, shifting concepts to explain the different ways in which Jewish people have responded to modernity. In 2013, Schwartz, Associate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at George Washington University, wrote a study of Jewish responses to the philosophy of Spinoza: "The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image." Schwartz traced many shifting word usages in his study of Spinoza, Most importantly he discussed different ways of understanding "secularism" and how it applies to Spinoza's thought. He also discussed different ways of understanding what it means to be Jewish as evidenced in different responses to the person of Spinoza. Schwartz perceptively titled one of the chapters of his book "Ex-Jew, Eternal Jew" to capture seemingly diametrically opposed ways of understanding Spinoza. I read and reviewed Schwartz' 2013 study of Spinoza, and Schwartz kindly sent me a review copy of his new book on the Ghetto.

As it was with the study of Spinoza, so it is with this study of different and changing understandings of the nature of the ghetto. Schwartz traces the changing use of the word "ghetto" over the centuries and the changing responses it has evoked. These responses have been largely negative but with time have evoked some positive responses and some sense of nostalgia. The study is not merely of changing word use and responses to a concept. Schwartz offers a study of Jewish communities over the ages to which the term "ghetto" has been applied and then shows how the term moved to include African American communities. There is a difference between examining the use of the word "ghetto" and examining the history of various communities, Jewish and African American, to which the word has been applied. In places, Schwartz' study is difficult due to the way he combines these two questions.

The book examines segregated Jewish communities from ancient and medieval times, but its story really begins in 1516 when Venice legally created a segregated Jewish area of residence and called in a ghetto. The term probably initially referred to an old copper refinery on the site to which the Jews were ordered to live; although other explanations for the term have been offered. Schwartz also studies a ghetto established in Rome by the Papacy some years after the Venetian Ghetto. These Italian segregated communities established by law, with walls, badges, and limitations on entrance and exit form the basis of the early understanding of the term "ghetto". In subsequent chapters of his book, Schwartz shows different communities with both similarities to and differences from the Italian ghetto to discuss the nature of these communities and the many changes in the reference and meaning of the word "ghetto". Thus, in detailed and learned chapters of the book, Schwartz discusses the emancipation of the ghettos wrought by the French Revolution and its aftermath, the transformation of the understanding of the ghetto through Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, the Americanization of the ghetto through Jewish immigration to the Lower East Side in New York City, the West Side of Chicago, and elsewhere, the harshness of the Nazi re-creation of ghettos prior to the Holocaust, and the shift in emphasis of the concept of "ghetto" following WW II from Jewish communities to African American communities of the type that Elvis captured in song.

Schwartz's study shows how Jews have struggled with modernity and with an understanding of themselves through the shifting nature of the concept of the ghetto, just as his earlier book showed differences in understanding Judaism and modernity though a study of responses to Spinoza. This book has the same strengths as Schwartz' earlier book. I enjoyed its wonderful erudition and the close and detailed readings Schwartz gives of literary, historical, and sociological writers, familiar and unfamiliar in exploring the ghetto and its history. The earliest such figure is Philo of Alexandria who, together with Spinoza, I admire greatly. Among many other writers, Schwartz discusses Berthold Auerbach, and his novel about Spinoza, the French Jewish opera composer Fromental Halevy, the German novelist Leopold Kompert, the famous English-American author Israel Zangwill, who helped coin the phrase "the melting pot", Abraham Cahan, mentioned earlier, the non-Jewish writer Hutchins Hapgood whose study of the New York City ghetto, "The Spirit of the Ghetto; Studies of the Jewish Quarter of New York" once was well-known, the Jewish writer on the Holocaust, Marie Syrkin, the novelist Jo Sinclair, the novelist and essayist James Baldwin, and many others. The works of these writers forms an integral part of Schwarz' study of the changing understanding of the ghetto. They were fascinating in their own right as many times in my reading of the book I needed to pause to try to learn a bit more about some of the people Schwartz discusses.

The study is open-ended and lacks a firm conclusion, as is appropriate for a shifting term. Schwartz writes:

"The word 'ghetto' has traveled a long distance to this moment of remembrance and reflection. It would be fair to say that it only emerged as a pan-European signifier at the very instant that it came to serve in nineteenth century ghetto literature as ... a site of memory. As a literary and imagined space, the 'ghetto' has been laced with recollections of times past from its inception. Yet the word has undergone numerous resurrections, each time seemingly in defiance of the assumed course of modernity out of the ghetto. The demise of the Venetian Ghetto, like that of the other early modern ghettos, was only the beginning of a semantic odyssey that continues to the present. Today, when the term 'ghetto' has been universalized and its formerly dominant Jewish associations muted, there is value in retracing the sinuous road the word had voyaged to get to this point. Only by understanding the winding journey of the word 'ghetto' within the Jewish experience can we begin to understand the complications that have attended its journey beyond it."

Schwartz study will appeal to readers interested in Jewish history and in the relationship of Jewish history to the broader world. The book is demanding to read. It includes detailed endnotes and sources but would have benefited from a bibliography.

The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image
Daniel B. Schwartz
Princeton University Press
9780691162140, $24,95

Spinoza And Jewish Culture

The philosophy and character of Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza (1632 -- 1677) have inspired a growing number of popular and scholarly studies in recent years. Much, but not all, of the attention given to Spinoza focuses upon his relationship to Judaism, the religion of his birth, and to subsequent developments in Judaism. In 1656, Spinoza was excommunicated, in a document of unusual harshness, by the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam. Following the excommunication, Spinoza wrote two seminal philosophical works: the "Theological-Political Treatise", which includes a strong critique of revealed religion, and the "Ethics" which sets forth Spinoza's own detailed and difficult metaphysics.

Daniel Schwartz' new and first book, "The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image" is the most recent study that examines the relationship of Spinoza to Judaism. More precisely, as the subtitle of the book points out, Schwartz is concerned with the history of studies of Spinoza in the Jewish community over the years, more than with Spinoza himself. Schwartz, an Assistant Professor of History at George Washington University argues that Jewish students of Spinoza have projected their own questions and thoughts about the relationship between Judaism and secularism upon the elusive 17th Century philosopher. The natures of both "Judaism" and "secularism" are both notoriously difficult to pin down. Schwartz identifies two broad understandings of secularism which run through his study. The first sees secularism, and a this-worldly orientation as a rupture from and a decisive break with a theological understanding. The second understanding sees secularism as evolving from religious sources and as developing, without necessarily fully repudiating, a religious outlook.

As Schwartz shows, the two understandings of secularism can be seen in interpretations of Spinoza, whose "Ethics" almost can be seen to straddle them. The first sees Spinoza in modern terms, as a philosopher of immanence or of single substance metaphysics. The second sees Spinoza as a Neoplatonist whose philosophy expresses a certain mystical non-Aristotelian pantheism. Both these views are found in the way non-Jewish and Jewish writers approached Spinoza. Schwartz wants to show, however, that Jewish consideration of Spinoza involved an engagement with Judaism and Jewish texts, that did not occur, or at least received little attention, in the broader approach to the philosopher.

Schwartz displays a great deal of learning and offers many insights into Jewish readings of Spinoza and into ever-present questions about the nature of Jewish identity. Each of his chapters involves different eras and thinkers but with a focus on one centralizing, representative individual. In his first chapter, "Ex-Jew, Eternal Jew" Schwartz offers a summary of biographical information on the philosopher and on his early reception. The remainder of the book examines Spinoza through the prism of Jewish thinkers over the years.

The second chapter of the book focuses on Moses Mendelssohn (1729 --1786), who sometimes is mentioned as a rival to Spinoza for the somewhat hyperbolical title of first modern Jew. Mendelssohn aimed to reconcile Judaism with modern thought and he had a conflicted, ambiguous relationship to Spinoza. According to Schwartz, Mendelssohn tried to present a refined view of Spinoza, retaining its insights and eliminating its disregard for Jewish law.

The following two chapters were the most interesting in the book because they discuss figures I knew little or nothing about. In chapter 3, Schwartz focuses on the now largely forgotten German novelist Berthold Auerbach (1812 -- 1882) who rejected the religious Orthodoxy of his childhood and, in 1837 wrote an influential novel about Spinoza, subsequently revised in 1854. According to Schwartz, Auerbach's novel struggles with ambiguities in seeing Spinoza as an entire break with Jewish tradition or as, somehow, modifying it and bringing hidden strands to light. In the following chapter, Schwartz examines East European Jewish Enlightenment in the figure of Salomon Rubin (1823 --1910), the first person to translate the Ethics into Hebrew. In 1856, Rubin wrote a book called the "New Guide to the Perplexed" ostensibly designed to displace the earlier "Guide" by Maimonides. The key figure in Rubin's "New Guide" is Spinoza, as the author again couches Spinoza's departure from Judaism in terminology derived from Jewish sources. It would be valuable to have both Auerbach and Rubin available in English.

In his fifth chapter, Schwartz examines Zionist engagement with Spinoza. He focuses upon scholar and literary critic Yosef Klausner (1874 --1958) who in 1927 in Palestine famously called for a revocation of the excommunication of Spinoza. Schwartz examines different forms of "political" and "cultural" Zionism to show the different and conflicting ways that Jewish secularism developed, reflected in the way they viewed Spinoza. In the final chapter of the book, Schwartz offers a close reading of I.B. Singer's famous story, "The Spinoza of Market Street" and of his novel, "The Family Moskat" to show how this famous Yiddish writer (1904 -- 1991) became a serious critic of Spinoza (something readers often overlook.)

In an all-too-brief but important Epilogue, Schwartz examines even more current attempts to place Spinoza within a secularized Jewish tradition, including the Israeli philosopher Yerimahu Yovel's "Spinoza and other Heretics" and the American philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein's short study "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave us Modernity". He opposes their readings in part to the work of other scholars, including Jonathan Israel and Steven Nadler, who argue strongly that the view of Spinoza as the "first secular Jew" rests in large part upon historical anachronism. Schwartz ends the book with some brief comments on his own views. Schwartz sees the current Jewish interest in Spinoza as showing a revitalized interest in Judaism and perhaps not a secularized Judaism at that.

Schwartz has written a thoughtful scholarly book that will have limited appeal to the Spinoza neophyte. Readers with a passion for Spinoza and readers who have struggled with questions of Judaism and secularism will learn a great deal from this study.

Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861 -- 1865
Clint Crowe
Savas Beatie
9781611213362, $32,95

A Young Historian Studies The Five Civilized Tribes In The Civil War

"Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861 -- 1865" is the first book by Clint Crowe, Assistant Professor of History and Political Science at Tulsa Community College and is an expansion of his PhD dissertation. The book caught me between two of my own interests: I worked in Indian affairs for a number of years and I have had a longstanding passion for the Civil War. I was fortunate to be able to pursue these interests when I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Savas Beatie.

The book tells the story of the Civil War experience of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. These tribes were initially located in the southeastern United States. In the 1830's they endured a difficult, forced relocation across the Mississippi River to the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma over what has become known as the Trail of Tears. As Crowe shows in his study, the Civil War experiences of the Tribes had their roots in this relocation. There were divisions between those tribal members who supported and those who opposed the move. The former tended to be on the path to assimilation in Southern society and frequently owned slaves. The latter, or full-blood group tended to speak their native language, to be traditionalist, and to oppose the move.

A strength of Crowe's book is showing the divisions among tribal members before the Civil War as individuals would differ fundamentally from their neighbors. There were assassinations, secret societies, and alliances by some of the wealthy Indians with the notorious and mysterious Knights of the Golden Circle which had the goal of expanding slavery. When the Civil War came, the Five Tribes were caught in the middle, with some loyal to the Union while others supported the Confederacy in which they were located. Crowe discusses the shifting alliances of the tribes and of their leaders during this time, with attention to the way both the North and South attempted to win the tribes over to their cause. The tribes ultimately split in alliance even though they were formally allied with the Confederacy. The two tribal leaders who exemplify the split and who receive much attention in this book are John Ross, who ultimately supported the Union and Stand Watie, the leader of the supporters of the Confederacy and the only Indian who attained the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. The book carries the story through to the end of the Civil War when a series of treaties and meetings in Washington, D.C. resulted in a fragile reconciliation of the conflicting tribal factions.

Crowe tells how the tribal factions fought each other in a mini-civil war within the broader conflict. He also describes the Indians' roles in the many battle in the Trans-Mississippi theater and of the way in which they were used and abused by both sides. Many Indians, both Unionists and Confederates, became refugees forced to flee their homes. They suffered greatly during the war years and frequently were victimized by unscrupulous traders and military and political leaders on both sides.

The most compelling sections of this book are those which concentrate on the Indians and on their struggles and hardships during the conflict. But Crowe's book is of necessity broader in scope as he discusses the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Events in this part of the Civil War are sometimes overlooked even by close students of the conflict. The area was cut-off after the fall of Vicksburg and became almost a separate war of its own. The fighting tended to be on a smaller scale than the battles east of the Mississippi but it was brutal. Crowe describes outlaws and guerrillas such as William Quantrill, but he focuses on the policy of "no quarter" and no prisoners that Southern soldiers accorded to African Americans fighting for the Union. I did not realize how pervasive the atrocities were in this theater of the Civil War; in places the story of the atrocities in this book takes attention away from the focus on the Indians.

The book offers accounts of the leaders and the battles in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Again, the result is a certain lack of focus between the broader story of the War on the one hand and the story of the Five Tribes on the other hand. The story of the Indians is complex in its own right to follow with five tribes and differing factions. The book becomes murkier and frequently difficult to follow when the Indian story is combined with a military and political history of the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Still, I learned a great deal from this book, both about the Five Tribes and about a part of the Civil War I know too little about.

This book helped fill a gap in my own knowledge of the Civil War and it will undoubtedly do the same for other readers. I wish Clint Crowe the best and hope that he pursues his scholarship and studies of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War in other writings.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

A Beginning at the End
Mike Chen
MIRA (Original edition)
9780778309345, $26.99

As in his debut novel, Here and Now and Then, Mike Chen brings a refreshing new emotionalism to science fiction with his latest work, A Beginning at the End. This is a refreshing take on post-apocalyptic sci-fi. A flu pandemic devastates the world population - and takes with it the world economy and infrastructure - bringing an end to the world as we know it. As a physician, I found that aspect both realistic and terrifying. This seems particularly apt in light of the new Chinese virus.

Chen does a great job in his near-future world-building, showing the after-effects of such a pandemic. He weaves together the lives of Rob (who lost his wife not to the flu but to the mob-mentality afterward); Krista (a survivor of childhood physical and emotional abuse from her alcoholic mother); Moira, a former child musical prodigy and pop star running from an abusive father; and Sunny (Rob's daughter who, despite the new world order, is a refreshingly outspoken and slightly precocious child). These characters read as real - flawed, but surviving. They search for normality in an abnormal world, living with the accumulated trauma of this post-apocalyptic world while staring at a new pandemic. They grapple with questions of identity, the new vs the old morality, how to become a family related, if not by blood, then by choice. Like Here and Now and Then, A Beginning at the End is a kinder, gentler look at post-apocalyptic science fiction and well worth the read.

Echoed in My Bones
Lisa A. Sturm
Twisted Road Publications, LLC
9781940189246, $19.95

Echoed in My Bones deals with interracial adoption. I chose to read it as I adopted a biracial child years ago and am interested in the topic. I also read the National Geographic "Black and White" issue (April 2018) with a photograph of twins, one black and one white, on the cover. This book tells of a similar pair of twins. The twins of the novel are separated at birth from their mother - and from each other. Though growing up in neighboring New Jersey towns, they have lives that diverge radically. One is adopted; the other begins foster family hell. This carefully crafted book explores issues of race and privilege. Though Ms. Sturm writes with expertise gained during her years as a family therapist, she understands the weaknesses and the strengths of the foster care system. She never allows her characters to become case studies, though. Rather she writes fully-formed characters with flaws and ambitions, giving the reader multiple points-of-view from which to engage the novel.

By tracing the lives of these twins, Sturm proves that one's destiny is determined by the color of one's skin and shows just how entrenched white privilege is. Yet her characters move beyond the expected as broken family bonds reform. This should be required reading.

Freefall: A Divine Comedy
Lily Iona MacKenzie
Pen-L Publishing
9781683131960, $14.97

Freefall: A Divine Comedy was patterned after Dante's work in which a man traverses Hell to reach Heaven. The book brings together installation artist Tillie Bloom and her three friends, Sybil, Daddy, and Moll, all nearing the big 6-0. After many years apart, they reunite at Sybil's place, a posh vacation home in Whistler, British Columbia. Here, they each reflect on their lives. Flashbacks provide backstory for each character and as the reader moves into the present, we see how satisfied or dissatisfied each woman is with her life.

The urgency they feel as they reach the end of their lives is heightened when, while hiking, they come face-to-face with a grizzly. As their get-together winds down, Tillie convinces her friends to travel to Venice, Italy for the Biennale, when she hopes to finally hit it big with her art installations.

I am a woman of an age this book should appeal to and found parts of it enjoyable, in particular the use of the Black Madonna and other art-history related items as well as second-wave feminism during the 1960s. The women are openly sexual, not sexualized, which is nice - maybe because they are products of the Age of Aquarius. At the same time, the writing felt a bit strained, particularly towards the end when snakes, termites, and pigeons assume metaphoric aspects, and the magical-realism bits seem over-the-top. Other parts, particularly those about religion, seemed repetitive.

No Man's Land: A Reschen Valley Novel Part 1
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger
Independently published
9781791523411, $15.99

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger presents an engaging and well-written historical fiction novel. Set in the 1920s, life in the Tyrol is hard. After World War I, the Austrian borders were redrawn and the Tyrol is "gifted" to Italy. Populism is rising in Italy, and the politicians and bureaucrats want to redefine the Tyroleans as Italians. The people was forced to Latinize their names, learn Italian, and burgeoning power companies want to flood their land to use to produce electricity to power much of Northern Italy. She has meticulously researched the era and the company, and she gives the tastes, sights and smells of the Austrian Tyrol as well as the history. I have traveled in Italy's Alto Adige and had no idea I was missing so much of its history and culture.

Poison: An ER Thriller
Rada Jones, MD
Independently published
9781712763391, $9.99

Poison is a thriller set in primarily in the Emergency Room where Dr. Emma Steele works. People who visit the ER are returning as codes or dropping dead within a few days of their initial ER visit. But only her most vile patients are dying: the child abusers, wife beaters, even a child burgeoning sociopath. As a physician, I appreciated the accuracy with which Jones presents clinical details. Her protagonist, Emma Steele, is interesting and well-rounded, strong, but flawed. She's a divorcee, well on her way to becoming an alcoholic, the mother of a pregnant, drug-using teenaged daughter. Emma handles all these problems while dealing with the life-and-death situations that arise in her ER. As the product of an abusive mother, she finds it hard to feel any remorse over the deaths of such loathsome people. At the same time, she confronts the moral dilemma that even the wicked deserve to live. As it becomes clear that a serial killer is at work, she starts snooping, trying to solve the mystery herself. She doesn't have a lot of sleuthing to do as there is only one contender for the role, something I found rather disappointing. This is the third and final volume in the ER Crimes, the Steele Files series, but it worked well as a stand-alone. Although some characters from earlier books make cameo appearances here, their relationships are all well-defined in book #3. This book is told in an omniscient POV with an occasional divergence in to the POV of Guinness, Dr. Steele's German Shepherd, truly one of the best characters in the book. I found it less of a thriller and more along the lines of a cozy mystery.

Searching for a Place to Call Home: A Tale About the Power of Art
Diana Stelin
Independently published
9781796775174, $14.99

Searching for a Place to Call Home is Diana Stelin's debut novel. She shifts between past and present to explore the life of Isabella, a young Russian emigre, and her attempts to integrate into American life. Her traditional Jewish family includes a hypercritical mother whose constant harsh words denigrate her daughter and influence her psyche for years to come. Despite her carping, the mother encourages Isabella to develop her talent and become an artist. Unable to fully assimilate into American culture and longing to return to Russia, Isabella searches the world for her true home, exploring France, Italy, and Australia. A trip back to Russia convinces her that her home is no longer there either. A failed marriage, a high-powered gallery job, financial problems, and children further suppress her passion for art. When she finally reawakens to her need for art, she's able to heal her psyche and then repair her damaged relationships. I enjoyed the way Stelin integrated art and artists into the narrative and showed their effects on Isabella. However, the point-of-view was rather distant, and Isabella's story was told rather than shown, thus I never really connected with her.

The Condor and the Hippo: Intrigue in Modern Africa
Larry Raymond
Independently published
9781796518429, $10.95

The Condor and the Hippo is a thriller set in present-day Zambia. Author Larry Raymond, who apparently spent time there, gives a true sense of place with lots of local color and vocabulary. However, the early part of the book is loaded with dense backstory that slows the progression of the plot as the reader follows Delvin's lack of headway in accomplishing his goals for helping the tribal peoples living outside the main city. Much of this could have been sprinkled in like pixie dust rather than being so heavily laden in the beginning. I almost stopped reading because of the excessive backstory. Much of the novel is "told" rather than "shown," which is also somewhat off-putting

Ironically, even minor characters are well-described down to scars on their bodies, but, in general, characters are not well-developed emotionally.

Subplots abound and bog down and detract from the forward momentum of the actual story. For instance, the two military men who want to use the main event (setting off dirty bombs in the capitol city to force the government to give more aid to the tribesmen in the countryside) to take over the government seemed superfluous. Tom Fowler, an American and his wife, Emma, also seem unessential (except for his role as consultant to the conference). I found it inexplicable that an outsider is the leader of this conference with the inference that no locals are capable of doing so - Tom is sort of a magical white guy who is brought in to help the tribal chiefs solve issues of immigration to the cities and chronic unemployment.

Also, the pacing seems off. For instance, Tom's trip down the river to Lake Kariba, which should have been nail-bitingly tense, is relegated to a very brief telling, rather than a showing of how nerve-wracking it is. The book is told in a very distant omniscient point-of-view, so the reader doesn't really get to know any character very well; despite the heavy backstory provided, there's no real sense of the characters' emotions.

Writers & Lovers
Lily King
Grove Press
9780802148537, $27.00

Lily King's Writers & Lovers is an extraordinary novel. As a writer I appreciate King's efforts at capturing the life of a writer. This is King's fifth novel and good enough that I'll backtrack and read her prior works.

Her protagonist, Casey Peabody, is fascinating. She's processing the sudden death of her mother with whom she's relatively recently reconciled as well as living with the knowledge that her father was a complete ass. She's been in a series of disastrous failed relationships and has fears of never being loved. To support herself, however poorly, while working on her novel (going on six years now) she works as a waitress in an upscale restaurant. She's overwhelmed by student loan debt, medical problems, and relationship problems. She endures sexism both in the restaurant and in the writing world. Her hopes, fears, missteps, and triumphs are emotionally compelling.

King's beautifully documents every aspect of Casey's character. Casey's insights into the world of writing are fascinating and often humorous - and I feel at least somewhat autobiographical. I enjoyed reading her thoughts about books, literary criticism, and teaching high school literature. The prose linguistically sophisticated, but clean and uncluttered.

I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Sue Ready's Bookshelf

Climate Change Captive 2035 and Project SAVE: Students Help Save the Earth
Carolyn Wilhelm
Wise Owl Factory LLC
9780999776681, $7.50 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 205pp,

Carolyn Wilhelm's newest Cli-Fi book written for the YA reader is a thought-provoking and engaging read for all ages. Earth has become so polluted people are living in enclosed city centers or are resisters living out in the woods. Students are working to finish the problem solving the adults started. It's a futuristic look at how the world has changed due to global warming with a focus on life in the year 2035. Readers meet the main characters Brea, Robert, and their families and two pen pals Kalli and Tristan from Northern Ireland. All characters are learning to cope in a new world faced with residual effects of climate changes from a previous society who disregarded warnings that greenhouse gas emissions from cars, power plants and other man-made sources would reach a concentration level trapping the sun's warmth near the earth's surface thus affecting the planet's climate system.

I found the book to be well researched with impressive documentation with endnote references at the end of the book. All of Wilhelm's meticulous research on climate change work was woven into the story. Each time Wilhelm used a true climate change fact it was noted within the story text with a little Roman numeral which then references a particular endnote found at the end of the book. In the eBook version, the reader can click on the Roman numeral and the citation pops up on that page. The details in the story are either entirely possible or based on scientific projections of what might happen in the future and how society would cope with consequences.

Characters Brea and Robert's families and Irish penpals are well developed and relatable. Situations each of them face seem entirely plausible with decontamination precautions, polarized sun-protective helmets, limited food sources, growth of dangerous poison ivy plants and limited water supplies. Government control has made laws for families who live within Green City 8763's border. Outside the city limits, severe limits on electricity are placed for those who chose to remain living in single-family homes. Brea and Robert are middle school-aged children encouraged in school to develop research topics for finding climate change solutions. Their efforts become more global with the introduction of Tristan and Kalli, pen pals from Northern Ireland. The years 2019, 2027, 2028, and 2030 are especially important in this story with pivotal climate change events noted. The dystopian type ending is fitting for a few people whose greed and disregard for lack of consequences contributed to their demise as they thought they were escaping the end of life on Earth in a spaceship.

Wilhelm is to be admired for her Call to Action with the publication of this book. She hopes readers will think more about what kind of world they want for future generations and what changes young people can do to promote a more habitable world. It's a valuable resource for the classroom and school libraries. As a teacher, I found the free study guide available at Wise Owl Factory a great resource to use with the book in the classroom.

Sue Ready

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Ransom Notes
Kathryn Ann Ransom
Westbow Press
c/o Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781973655985, $37.95, HC, 298pp,

Synopsis: Does your Christian life need a spark or challenge? Have you experienced sadness, loneliness, or lack of motivation recently? Following Jesus' time-honored tradition of parable telling, In "Ransom Notes: Moments of Reflection, Courage, Engagement, Worship, and Humor", author Kathryn Ann Ransom helps you address those needs with Biblical reflections on everyday life situations, both the positive and the challenging.

"Ransom Notes" is comprised of 101 short, devotional essays that encourage you to pause, reflect, smile, and review your own life while drawing you closer to the Lord. The essays share stories of humans doing exciting things for the kingdom, providing meaning to your life. Ransom bases the narratives and accompanying challenges on examples of God's people both growing and making mistakes.

Often humorous, the stories included in this collection inspire you to become a living example of God's love for others. Ransom Notes encourages you to grow in your understanding and appreciation for Christian living and draw closer in your relationship with the Lord.

Critique: A deftly written, inherently engaging, spiritually insightful, inspired and inspiring read from beginning to end, "Ransom Notes: Moments of Reflection, Courage, Engagement, Worship, and Humor" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, church, seminary, and academic library Christian Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of parishioners, clergy, seminary students, and unaffiliated members of the Christian community that "Ransom Notes" is also available in a paperback edition (9781973655978, $22.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.39).

Editorial Note: Kathryn Ransom is a former educator with specialty in helping students become better readers, she directed the reading program for the Springfield, IL Public Schools. Following retirement, Kathy worked with school districts throughout the United States. She is active in her community, having served on the board of trustees for a local public tv station, Lincoln Christian U., the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Lifelong Learners, and the International Reading Association (served as president 1998-99). She attends and has been active at Southside Christian Church in Springfield since moving there in 1958 immediately out of college.

Kathy loves traveling world wide. She just returned from Edinburgh, Scotland on August 24, 2019 after participating in the giant Edinburgh Arts Festival. Many of the essays are based on her travel experiences. Recently she shared in her weekly edition of Ransom Notes for the class she teaches, a shot of a leopard in tree in Africa. When she later viewed the shot on her home computer, she realized that the photo accidentally included another African resident. There on an adjacent limb was an owl also watching the leopard. Just like this "invisible" owl, God, too, watches over us, even though we do not visually see Him.

Kick Diabetes Essentials: The Diet and Lifestyle Guide
Brenda Davis, RD
Healthy Living
c/o The Book Publishing Company
PO Box 99, Summertown, TN 38483
9781570673764, $24.95, PB, 285pp,

Synopsis: "Kick Diabetes Essentials: The Diet and Lifestyle Guide" by nutritional expert and dietitian Brenda Davis is a definitively informative guide in which she explains the series of metabolic events that lead to diabetes and why this illness is so catastrophic for health. Over the last fifty years, nutrition researchers have built upon each other's work to prove that a diet based on plant foods could reduce diabetes risk and in many cases reverse diabetes. "Kick Diabetes Essentials" cites the latest research into why plant foods lead to success, which foods are the most effective, and how to construct a diabetes-busting diet that not only gets results but also is simply delicious. In addition, Kick Diabetes Essentials" combines diet, exercise, rest, and stress management into a powerful prescription for health.

Critique: An ideal combination of family friendly cookbook and a curriculum textbook that is an impressively non-specialist general reader friendly compendium of up-to-date information on the nature and treatment of diabetes, "Kick Diabetes Essentials: The Diet and Lifestyle Guide" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Health/Medicine collections in general, and Diabetes supplemental studies reading lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of medical students, academia, and anyone with a diagnosis of diabetes that "Kick Diabetes Essentials: The Diet and Lifestyle Guide" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Canadian registered dietitian Brenda Davis is a leader in the field of plant-based nutrition and an esteemed international speaker. Brenda is a past chairperson of the Vegetarian Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She also co-authored The Kick Diabetes Cookbook, Becoming Vegan Comprehensive Edition, and Becoming Vegan Express Edition. Her website is

Beauty Has Its Own Rules
Helga Rekanaty
Partridge Publishing Singapore
9781543751161, $98.59, HC, 156pp,

Synopsis: Which beauty treatment can serve as an alternative for a surgery? What are the main differences between fat freeze and fat dissolution? What's the essential difference between Botox and hyaluronic acid? What are the main causes of skin aging, and how do you maintain a fresh young-looking skin?

"Beauty Has Its Own Rules: Everything There Is to Know on the New World of Beauty Treatments" is the first-of-its-kind guide in which the interested reader will gain a thorough understanding of the different possibilities of anti-aging skin treatments. Fillers, injections, surgeries, proper nutrition, and vital food supplements-all with the aim to treat specific skin problems such as acne, cellulite, and pigmentation. All these are in "Beauty Has Its Own Rules", along with valuable data from Chinese medicine and proper nutrition.

"Beauty Has Its Own Rules" is an ultimate guide to answers such questions as to which new treatments and technologies exist in the beauty world today, what is the correct sequence of treatments, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment, what is the best treatment for you, etc.

Critique: Nicely illustrated throughout, "Beauty Has Its Own Rules: Everything There Is to Know on the New World of Beauty Treatments" by Helga Rekanaty (who is a Chinese Medicine expert, a Shiatzu Master, a beauty cosmetics professional, and owner of Helga Rekanaty Aesthetics Center) is exceptionally well written, impressively informative, and thoroughly 'user friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Beauty Has Its Own Rules" is also available in a paperback edition (9781543751147, $82.94) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Good Clean Beauty
Caroline Bercaw & Isabel Bercaw
Rock Point
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
9781631066597, $23.00, HC, 144pp,

Synopsis: "Good Clean Beauty: Over 100 Natural Recipes for a Glowing, Beautiful You" was written specifically for those women who are tired of endlessly searching for safe and natural makeup lines free of harsh, chemical-laden ingredients. Comprised of thoroughly researched recipes, perfect for those looking for natural and clean alternatives, and using only natural ingredients such as cocoa butter, almond oil, essential oils, and oats, women will know exactly what they are putting onto their face and body. It is particularly appropriate and practical for those who have allergies or sensitive skin and will appreciate and benefit from the non-toxic makeup ingredients.

"Good Clean Beauty" is divided into five parts (hair, body, makeup, eye shadows, and skin care) with each section utilizing common items that are readily available in the kitchen and bathroom and make luxurious scrubs, effective exfoliators, revitalizing face masks, long-lasting foundation, bright eye shadows, shiny lip glosses, and soothing lotions.

Also included are a wealth of tips and tricks of applying makeup, such as foundation, blush, lipstick, and eye shadow, as well as modifications to each recipe. Each ingredient is presented with a short overview of its natural properties and a full explanation on its use and application so that you can learn the healing and therapeutic properties of the ingredients, such as charcoal, arrowroot powder, and nutmeg.

Critique: A practical, effective, comprehensive, and thoroughly 'user friendly' instructional guide and manual for women wanting a healthy and eco-friendly approach to their personal hygiene and grooming, "Good Clean Beauty: Over 100 Natural Recipes for a Glowing, Beautiful You" is the perfect illustrated reference and would be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: Caroline and Isabel Bercaw are the sister entrepreneurs behind Da Bomb Bath Fizzers, a bath bomb and bath product company they created in 2015. Da Bomb Bath Fizzers has since become one of the leading bath bomb producers, and is known as an expert in the industry. The two sisters are the co-authors of Fizz Boom Bath! and are included on the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for trailblazers in retail and e-commerce.

Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work
Peter Adam
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110-0017
9780500343548, $39.95, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: "Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work" by British film maker and author Peter Adam is illustrated biography that lays out the origins of designer Eileen Gray and the details of her groundbreaking career. Gray began as a creator of opulent lacquer furniture and transformed into a pioneer of modernist design. Staying firmly independent, she developed a distinctive take on materials favored by fellow International Style designers, such as Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Mies van der Rohe.

Her talent made her an object of admiration among American expatriates such as Gertrude Stein, and her designs are now globally renowned including the E-1027, a ship-shaped home she created on a cliff near Monaco, which was hailed as a triumph of deluxe modern living, and her Dragons chair fetched $28 million at an Yves Saint Laurent auction in 2009.

This new edition of the biography by Peter Adam (the only surviving person to have been close to Gray during her later years), is a uniquely intimate survey of her life and work. Comprehensively updated and illustrated with material from Gray's personal archives (including correspondence, photographs, and architectural sketchbooks), Eileen Gray tells the full story of her life and reveals fresh details about her largely overlooked paintings, exchanges with Le Corbusier, and the fate of E-1027, the first building she designed.

Critique: Exceptionally informative, comprehensive, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work" will be a welcome and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community and academic library biography, architectural design, and furniture design collections in general, and Eileen Gray supplemental studies reading lists in particular.

Little Sister: A Memoir
Patricia Walsh Chadwick
Post Hill Press
9781682617823, $26.00, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: Imagine an eighteen-year-old American girl named Patricia Chadwick who, in the 1960s, has never read a newspaper, watched television, or made a phone call.

It was in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Leonard Feeney, a controversial (soon to be excommunicated) Catholic priest, founded his religious community called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Center's members (many of them educated at Harvard and Radcliffe) surrender all earthly possessions and aspects of their life, including their children, to him. Patricia was one of those children, and "Little Sister: A Memoir" is her personal account of growing up in the Feeney sect.

Separated from her parents and forbidden to speak to them, Patricia bristles against the community's draconian rules, yearning for another life. When, at seventeen, she is banished from the Center, her home, she faces the world alone, without skills, family, or money but empowered with faith and a fierce determination to succeed on her own, which she does, rising eventually to the upper echelons of the world of finance and investing.

A tale of resilience and grace, "Little Sister" chronicles, in riveting prose, a surreal childhood and does so without rancor or self-pity.

Critique: An inherently riveting account of a life raided in a cult and then the struggle to adjust and succeed in the broader society when finally emancipated from the cult, "Little Sister: A Memoir" is a unique, extraordinary, deftly written, and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Little Sister" is also available in a paperback edition (9781642933550, $17.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Patricia Walsh Chadwick was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1948. She received her BA in Economics from Boston University and had a thirty-year career in the investment business, culminating as a Global Partner at Invesco. Today she sits on a number of corporate boards, and she blogs on issues social, economic and political. She also mentors middle school girls at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem. In 2016, she founded and is the CEO of Anchor Health Initiative, a health care company that serves the needs of the LGBTQ community in Connecticut. She is married and lives in Connecticut with her husband. They have a daughter and a son.

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Enlightened in the 21st Century
Richard Krauland
Christian Faith Publishing
9781645696308, $12.25 pbk / $9.99 Kindle, 108 Pages

Right from the Introduction I had a feeling this book was going to be fascinating and it was. Why? Because the author invites us to draw a tree and then, after we have done so, he enlightens us about an incredibly common yet very accurate fact about that drawing, without seeing it himself, just from his observance of human nature. From that moment I was hooked, and thoroughly enjoyed every page!

Most people have important times in their lives which they remember clearly, and for Richard Krauland one of these times was one night in 1971 when he had a life-changing experience. He was 18 at the time, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated, the infamous Democrat's National Convention in Chicago had taken place, and the war in Vietnam was raging, causing unrest in the country. That night and through to the next day, instead of sleeping the author found himself examining his life, what he had been told, what he knew, and what he believed in, or not. The result was his 'philosophy of life,' one which he has followed in the intervening forty-eight years. This was just one of the divine interventions which he believes has shaped his life and made him the man he is today, despite health challenges, a successful businessman, philosopher, and mathematician.

From the wonders of science to his controversial views on 'fake science' this book contains his thoughts and philosophies, in a no-holds-barred format, because, in his words "I believe that being well-grounded in the truth is absolutely necessary for a successful life as a free person."

It was very interesting to read about our senses, and perceptions of things, and how these are continually evolving throughout time, from the far distant past into the future as scientific discoveries open our eyes to an infinite world which is waiting to be discovered. Yet at the other flip of the coin, he makes us think about the information we are fed via the social media, truths, half-truths, and lies, and emphasizes it is essential that we can differentiate between them to lead an enlightened life

I have no hesitation in highly recommending this thought-provoking book, and I challenge anyone with an inquisitive mind not to find it absolutely fascinating. Whether it is from the hundreds of interesting facts it contains, from the questions it answers, or the ability it has to make you sit up and think. Definitely one for those of us who have an enquiring mind which screams to be enlightened!

Imagine God
Rick Pribell
Christian Faith Publishing
9781644587300, $9.95 pbk / $9.95 Kindle, 80 Pages

This book was written after the author, Rick Pribell, had a heart attack in 2015. This near-death experience, a prophecy from Zachariah (Luke 1:78-79, NIV,) and his own inspirational encounter with a rising sun brought about a profound need to share with the world his message of "…how our emotions reflect God's spirit, an epiphany that transcends religious differences."

I have never read another book which so clearly and in such a straight-forward manner conveys the word of God in a format which will encourage the curious, and the needy, to explore the meanings behind his teachings in an easy to understand way.

Simply and yet with great clarity, in his own words the author explains what is meant when God said he had created us "in His own image." Once we understand this, the author then explores how our emotions, actions, thoughts, hopes fears and wants, are reflected in how God wants us to act, towards others, in situations, and in our journey of faith. In reading it I felt it helped me to understand his word so much better, look at emotional situations in another light, and it has enabled me to begin to know Him, and what he wants me to do and be, more.

The photograph on the front cover was taken by the author himself in Melbourne Beach, Florida. It has great significance to the author as it symbolizes a light shining in the darkness and showing him a path to guide his feet. It is a picture and a meaning which can be an inspiration to us all…

At a time when Scientific American reports 23 percent of us have forsaken religion entirely, this book is sorely needed. It is inspiring and heart-warming to read, helps us to understand how much God loves us, and its short compact format makes it quick and easy to reference when needed. Highly recommended!

Paddy Bostock
Wings ePress, Inc.
B08375SM14, $3.99 Kindle, 204 Pages

Over the years some unusual children's names have had their time in the spotlight, such as Mercedes, Beyonce, and Lovely. However, there are others, which have been chosen specially by doting parents, who are sometimes extremely short-sighted, or perhaps not worldly-wise, like Lord Xavier and Lady Hermione Barr. They chose to call their first, and only son Fergus Ulysses. A grand name, however one which was to be both his undoing and making when at the tender age of 11 he found himself catapulted from the vague education carried out by governesses and home tutors at Piddlington Hall, the family seat situated in a massive estate on the outskirts of Little Piddlington In The Marsh. His education was now to take place in a high-class boarding school, one of the best, the type of establishment where the Headmaster happily assured Fergus Ulysses' father it that would "…soon break him in, and make him the backbone of the nation…"

Fergus Ulysses endured life at this lofty establishment with fortitude, as one would expect from a boy from the upper classes, until NYC banker's son Dwayne Zobinski arrived. Then, as boys do, Dwayne nicknamed him Fubar. This at first seemed to be a harmless act, that is until Dwayne educated the boys on the meanings of this American acronym, and poor Fergus Ulysses had even more reason to resent his parents.

However, as fate would have it, one day an unfortunate incident (for some) took place and Fergus Ulysses made his escape and headed for 'Town' or London as others know it. Although from a sheltered upbringing, it soon becomes apparent that the young Fergus Ulysses is a clever young man as he uses wit, and cunning to remain a 'non-person,' and stay below the radar, with the aid of a new friend, a like-minded and equally talented musician Tosh, and his canine best friend Mutt.

As the now named 'The Fubar's' notoriety grows their gigs become more frequent, and the band gains new members. This talented author very cleverly entwines the lives of his characters and their families. As the idiosyncrasies of the individual characters become even more shocking, some might say they are unbelievable, that is, until they think about it and realise that they know, or have heard of someone who just might fit the bill.

This incredible story takes its readers across the world, into shady places, and into dangerous and farcical situations. There is never a dull moment on this rollercoaster ride, which is not only full of twists and turns but reverses, and full stops too.

I have loved reading Paddy Bostock's extremely funny books for some time. In this comically irreverent story, whose characters' true names are cleverly veiled, the current political climate, the countries, their leaders and their characters are humorously and accurately portrayed. In writing this incredibly entertaining story, the author has summed up cleverly Brexit, Trump, and the political intrigue which plagues our world today. I highly recommend this brilliant story to everyone who is looking for a book which is thoroughly entertaining until the very last page.

Rise to The Rhythm: Awaken The Beat and Live Your Life's Highest Capabilities
Joey L. Dowdy
Get Up & Groove
9781733207317, $5.99 pbk / $2.99 Kindle, 78 Pages

Joey L. Dowdy, or Dr. Dance, is a talented Choreographer who has worked with famous names such as the Backstreet Boys and Take Five. He is also an International Performer, Fitness Motivator, Writer, Host, Artistic Director, Producer, Author, and founder of "World Dance Grove & Get Up & Groove Entertainment." He brings his unique zest for life, and rhythm to life for his readers in this, his latest inspirational new book.

In it, he asks his readers "Are you tired of living a life that's going nowhere? If you've been down for too long or have you lost your life's rhythm?"

I for one answered yes. Like many my life was set in a hopeless rut. The New Year had past and as usual, it brought forth the usual resolutions from me. I would take more care of myself, take control of my life, variations on the same promises I have been making to myself for years, and then as the year goes by, I tried starting every new Monday. However, the truth is, I didn't have any idea how to change.

That was until the title of this well written and motivational book took my eye. Within, I discovered were the answers which I needed to set myself free. Reading it I have discovered how to find my own self-worth, and come to terms with the fact that it is okay to think of myself as a very important person, instead of putting others first all the time, something which as a wife, mother and grandmother doesn't come naturally.

How did this happen? Well, I discovered it through the author sharing his life stories and experiences with me. Reading about his passion for dance, the industry, people, and his absolute determination to succeed has been a real inspiration. Despite setbacks, and embracing challenges, with humor, and strength of character, he has not only succeeded, but inspired others. His life, like all of us, has been a learning curve, he has learnt and grown, and he, in turn, provides us with the tools we need to pick ourselves up, realize that no-one is perfect, and live our lives reaching our full potential. It won't be easy, as he says, after all, there is "No Gain, Without Pain," but you can do it!

In conclusion: Joey L. Dowdy is an inspiration, a self-made man who has worked and battled to get to where he is. This hard work and dedication he shares with his readers, not only inspiring within them the faith that they can be who they dream of, but also by then giving them the tools with which to achieve their own success.

My Walk Among The Stars: Rubbing Shoulders With Country Giants
Dick Flood
Richard E. Flood, Publisher
9780997337181, $15.56 pbk / $6.99 Kindle, 264 Pages

Do you love country music, are you fans of the legends in the industry? Well, if so, then now is the opportunity you've been looking for, a chance to take a trip down memory lane with Dick Flood, one of its stars, as he shares with you in words and pictures his experiences in the Nashville music scene.

This epic adventure starts with the author in the US army, stepping out of a C-47 at the Clark Air Force Base in the Philippine Islands, in early winter 1954. Fresh from South Korea, he fell in love with the beautiful islands and their people, despite the secret dangers lurking in its jungles.
However, his 'My Walk Among the Stars' began when he was discharged and returned to the United States two years later in 1956. He arrived back to an exciting time when television was coming into people's homes, overnight, so it seemed, the world shrank as the stars of radio could now be seen on television programs, and become even more real to their fans.

Teaming up with his friend Billy Graves, the pair became "The Country Lads." Their manager Mr. Connie B. Gay signed then up with CBS Television and they became known around the world for the next two years as they appeared on the Jimmy Dean morning show on Network TV.
Over the following years the author travelled with his music extensively throughout the United States, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean Islands, Labrador, Newfoundland, and Puerto Rico. Throughout the book he recounts his adventures in exotic destinations, and experiences rubbing shoulders with legends like Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison, when he performed with them in many shows, and the music they made proved immortal. Even now his songs are being used in movies and as backing, and of course enjoyed by country music fans worldwide in formats which the artists could not have imagined in their wildest dreams, at the time.

The interesting thing about this book is that, as the author chronicles the ups and down of his life, the reader is also treated to rare glimpses behind the scenes of the music industry, and the big film corporations of the day. Playing live in shows, and on TV, in prisons and military bases, including a three-months tour of the US military bases in the Far East, where the Dick Flood Show visited Guam, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines and hostile South Vietnam, his music captured the heart of his audiences. His story brings the superstar singers, musicians and performers of that time back to life, and his personal recollections of these people as friends and work colleagues, show the fans a side they don't usually get to see.

The twists, turns, and leaps of faith which happen to us all (and to the music industry) led Dick Flood to a complete change of career in midlife. He became an eco-warrior living amongst the wildlife in the Okefenokee Swamp, a 438,000-acre, peat-filled wetland which bestrides the Georgia - Florida line of the United States. He recounted that period of his life in his first book "Swampwise," (which was reviewed here favourably) where he writes under the pen name of 'Okefenokee Joe.'

In Summary: The country music scene, career opportunities seized, and lost, and a family life well lived, are all revealed in this astonishing and highly compelling biography of this talented musician, singer, and songwriter. Highly recommended!

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: A History
Kristie C. Wolferman
University of Missouri Press
201 S. 7th Street, Columbia, MO 65211
9780826221971, $34.95, HC, 434pp,

Synopsis: When Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened to the public in 1933, it was viewed as a miracle, an oasis of culture in a Midwestern town whose image was still largely one of cowboys and steaks. In an engaging style, Kristie Wolferman tells the history of the Nelson-Atkins from its founding to the present day in the pages of "The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: A History", a fascinating combination of people, events, and circumstances that culminated in an art museum that now holds its own among the finest in the world.

Wolferman begins by relaying how the trustees of the estates of the reclusive widow Mary Atkins and the family of Kansas City Star newspaper editor William Rockhill Nelson joined forces to establish a museum from scratch, then goes on to consider all of the highly talented people who directed and staffed the Nelson-Atkins along the way, their efforts resulting in many bold innovations, among them new collections, grounds, and educational programs and offerings.

With 100 color and black and white photographs, "The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: A History" will be treasured by all who love and admire this remarkable institution, one that attracts half a million visitors from across the city, state, nation, and world each year.

Critique: A co-publication of the University of Missouri Press and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kristie Wolferman's "The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: A History" is a particularly impressive, comprehensive, and seminal work that would well serve as a template for histories of other museums and their collections. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: A History" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $33.20).

Editorial Note: Kristie C. Wolferman taught middle school History and English for twenty years at Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City. She is also the author of "The Osage in Missouri" and "The Indomitable Mary Easton Sibley: Pioneer of Women's Education in Missouri" (both published by the University of Missouri Press).

Lush: A Season-by-Season Celebration of Craft Beer and Produce
Jacquelyn Dodd
Agate Surrey
c/o Agate Publishing
1328 Greenleaf Street, Evanston, IL 60202
9781572842762, $30.00, HC, 238pp,

Synopsis: "Lush: A Season-by-Season Celebration of Craft Beer and Produce" by Jacquelyn Dodd is a delightful and informative celebration of fruit, vegetables, and craft beer. Beer is as seasonal as produce; its ingredients come from the soil and are harvested at peak freshness, just like the offerings at a local farmers' market. That's way it is no surprise that the flavors of seasonal craft beers pair perfectly with the food we're eating at the moment.

A beautifully illustrated cookbook, "Lush" features 80 creative, produce-forward recipes -- all of which are made with seasonal craft beer. Whether the reader's Saturdays are spent at the farmers' market or at their favorite local craft brewery (or both!), Dodd's creative use of produce and beer opens the door to deliciously complex flavors that evolve with the seasons.

Critique: A lot of fun to simply browse through, page by page, "Lush: A Season-by-Season Celebration of Craft Beer and Produce" is a unique compendium of thoroughly 'user friendly', do-it-yourself recipes that will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, professional, and community library cookbook collections. It should be noted that "Lush: A Season-by-Season Celebration of Craft Beer and Produce" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.28).

Editorial Note: Based in the Pacific Northwest, Jacquelyn Dodd is the woman behind the award-winning website The Beeroness. Her beer-infused recipes earned her a spot as a finalist in Saveur's Best Food Blog Awards: Best Original Recipes in 2014; in 2015 Saveur included The Beeroness in its list of Best Beer Blog Finalists. She has been featured on the Today show, Lifetime Network, and CBS News, and in publications such as Food & Wine, Imbibe, Bite, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She has written for Parade, 1889, Draft, and Whisk, among others, and is the author of The Craft Beer Cookbook and The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook.

Willis M. Buhle

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