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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 24, Number 2 February 2024 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf C.A. Gray's Bookshelf C. Osborne's Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Dennis Zinn's Bookshelf
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Kate Michaelson's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Michael Carson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf  

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Pink Slime
Fernanda Trias
Heather Cleary
9781668049778, $24.00 hc / $11.99 Kindle, 224pp.

When the fog rolled in, the port turned into a swamp. Shadows fell across the plaza, filtering between the trees and leaving the long marks of their fingers on all they touched. Under each unbroken surface, mould cleaved silent through wood, rust bored into metal. Everything was rotting. We were, too.

The unnamed narrator of this story once wrote 'filler pieces' for a 'Ministry' magazine that her ex-husband, Max, called 'The Good Lie', deliberately losing the 'f' from 'Life'. Truly, it contained 'optimistic articles about how well river drainage and upgrades at Clinics were going', plus 'recommendations for safety protocols, success stories from the migration inland': all essential for 'gilding reality', and designed to 'distract people from what was happening'. What is still happening, as she tells the story, is an ongoing catastrophe. When the grey fogs lifts, the red winds carrying deadly algae regularly sweep through the city, alarms sound, people lock down in their homes, and security cars patrol the streets picking up any stragglers. Many become sick. Those with money move to the country, houses become derelict, and food supplies dwindle.

Everything she describes - the slow awareness of the epidemic, the 'Ministry' responses, the 'Clinic' which provides quarantine and critical care for those who contract the disease, food shortages, power blackouts, and uncertainty about the future - all this is worryingly familiar.

'If I am going to tell this story', she writes now, I should choose a starting point, begin somewhere. But where?'

The beginning is never the beginning. What we often mistake for the beginning is just the moment we realize something has changed. One day, the fish appeared; that was one beginning. We woke up to find the beaches covered with silvery fish, like a carpet made of bottle caps or shards of glass. The light glinting off it was painfully intense...

She is a good writer and a gentle but determined woman, and her care for others, her memories, her lucid dreams, and her descriptions of the beauty amongst the devastation, lightens the darkness of her story:

A few months later, the algae would spread across the river and turn its surface a deep burgundy... The river used to be brown or green, depending on an optical illusion produced by the sky; now, entire sections of it looked red - sometimes in a long strip extending along the horizon, sometimes a crimson circle like a fiery tongue emerging from the water. Our river was suddenly a patchwork quilt, a light show.

Each ending, however, is a new beginning. Her awareness of borders - of the perpetual flow of change - permeates her story and she is a lover of paradoxes and Buddhist koans. She and Max (who is 'always absorbed in his search for himself') used to 'spend the whole night talking and then, as birds announced the dawn and we [would lie] exhausted from digging around inside ourselves with words'. Fragments of their talks intersperse the chapters of this book, often puzzlingly, but they create pauses in her story; and her fluctuating emotions, and the difficulties she lives through, are soothed by her beautiful imaginative prose.

She has given up her writing work in order to care for a child named Mauro whenever his parents drop him at her flat, having 'drained their reserves of guilt' by looking after him for a month. Mauro suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes insatiable hunger. He is 'a child who can't tell the difference between a finger and a sausage', and, left by himself, Mauro will eat anything he can find, including garbage. But he is a child who needs the care and affection she gives him when he is with her; and the relationship between them is almost love, although Mauro is not capable of such long-term feelings.

Although she and Max are divorced, they have know each other since childhood and her relationship with him is still, as she puts it, like 'an elastic band that shot you toward him with the same force you exerted trying to get away'. Max's unconcern for his body has meant that he exposed himself to the red wind ('El Principe' the Ministry has called it) and contracted this infection which has flu-like symptoms and causes skin to peel off exposing the muscles. She visits Max in 'Clinics', where he is among 'the chosen few' - the 'exceptions, maybe even miracles' - who have 'made it out of the critical care wing' and moved to 'Chronic Care':

That's where the statistical improbabilities slept, the ones who couldn't manage to get better or lose ground. Maybe that's what stoicism gave Max: the ability to stay alive by virtue of incredulity or indifference.

She visits her mother, too, with whom she has a scratchy relationship and who nags her to leave the city. She has promised that the two of them will go as soon as she has saved enough money, but secretly she already has the money and does not want to leave.

Her accounts of these visits, and of her own thoughts and emotions are complex and moving:

My straight line gets tangled; I feel my penstroke waver and my drawing is suddenly a rope I'm tying around my own neck. Past, present, and future pass through the grinder of memory and fall mingled into a sterile vat.

Past, present, and future are woven into her story and tenses get confused as moments of crisis become more frequent, but this is never really a problem. The 'sterile vat', too, is a fragment of memory, something she recalls from being taken, as a child, to visit her carer's husband, don Omar, who is in charge of the factory producing the artificial food, 'Meatrite'. She sees the product being extruded from the machines like 'enormous swirls of meat toothpaste' which reminds her of 'pink slime', or of 'a piece of strawberry gum with all the flavor chewed out'. It is needed to feed the population and, on TV, a man in a surgical cap and latex gloves calls it 'a safe, complete, nutritious meal': 'He said: safety. He said: bioengineering. He said: superbacteria'.

The narrator, Mauro and Max are fully realized characters. So, to a lesser extent, are the narrator's mother and Defla, the woman who cared for her as a child, because her mother, 'never got off the couch when she was home'. Her memories of Defla are full of love but

Memory is a broken urn: a thousand shards and fragments of dried mud. What parts of you remain intact? You slip in the mud, lose your balance. And it has been such a delicate balance, one you tried so hard to keep, only to fall flat on your ass.

In spite of the grim scenario in Pink Slime, there is much beauty in the words of Fernanda Trias's narrator and in her sensitive, questioning nature. What may be difficult for those who have lived through the recent Covid 19 pandemic, are the memories this book will evoke. Towards the end, too, there are hints of more sinister events, as the Ministry begins the forced evacuation of everyone from the crippled city, and the narrator sees 'thin lines of people' climbing into trucks, 'their heads bowed, like schoolchildren who'd gotten into trouble and knew it', their suitcases left on the sidewalk.

At last, the narrator does leave the city. In spite of all her losses, in true Buddhist fashion, living from moment to moment, her thoughts circle back to what she said about beginnings being 'just the moment when we realize something had changed'. As one of the brief puzzles between the chapters puts it:

Everything has an edge; even the ocean is contained by continents / Is an edge the border of itself? / An edge is the beginning of another edge.

And the edge 'of the mind' is? 'Forgetting'.

Pink Slime is a remarkable book, and Heather Cleary's translation does full justice to the poetic prose which conveys the resilience, love and hope of the narrator: something, surely, that we all need in this ever-changing world.

The Fire and the Rose
Robyn Cadwallader
9781460752227, $31.62 PB 384pp.

'What you doing there, girl? Why stand and shiver when the sun shines? You must've heard the story of Little Hugh before. They recite it over and over.'

Eleanor looks toward the voice and doesn't move; it's Chera the Jewess, the twine seller.

'They made you scared of me, too? You know you're allowed to do business with us. It's just eating with us, or living with us, is the problem. The king thinks you might catch our evil ways if you get too close.' Chera coughs out a bitter laugh.

The year is 1276 and Eleanor has been living in Lincoln for 'more than two seasons'. She works as a kitchen maid for Stephen Wooler, an important wool dealer, but she is not used to dealing with the many Jews who live in the city. Chera was the first person to help her when she arrived from her village 'tired and lost', but Chera has a sharp tongue. She had been a rich woman, but since King Edward had recently forbidden money-lending, which in England only Jews were allowed to do, she, like other Jews, has had to learn a new way to make a living. As Chera tells Eleanor:

Two centuries ago King William invited us here, but he forbade us from joining guilds, so we had no choice but lend money, did we? Now King Edward has changed his mind and forbids usury... All I know is they always need money and Edward is even more greedy. More tallages against us. Even our boys, only twelve years old, are taxed.

Lincoln, as an important wool-trading city, had allowed Jews to settle there, but it was a city where they were especially hated. All Jews were obliged to wear a yellow badge; the Catholic church taught that they had killed Christ; those who needed to borrow money and had run up debts resented them; their language and their worship set the apart; and the story of Little Saint Hugh (one of Lincoln's most loved saints, whose tomb attracted pilgrims to the Cathedral) told of his kidnapping by Jews and his ritual sacrifice. Eleanor sees the woman, Marchota, whose husband had been tortured and had confessed to the murder, pointed out and abused, but Marchota is resilient and she eventually becomes an important part of Eleanor's life.

In her 'Author's Note', Robyn Cadwallader explains that two questions prompted her to write Eleanor's story. One was about the future of a little village girl who, in her earlier novel, The Anchoress, had learned to read and write: 'How would she fare in a small village?' The second was prompted by her shock on learning of the expulsion of all the Jews from England in the thirteenth century: 'How, and why, could a large group of the population be forced to leave the country in which they were born?'

The Fire and the Rose, however, is not a history book but one in which Cadwallader has 'researched deeply then imagined characters and events into the gaps', and her imagination has brought Lincoln and its inhabitants vividly and excitingly to life. Anyone who read The Anchoress, will know how Cadwallader can grip her readers and immerse them in the lives of her characters so deeply that you live with them, feel for them, and worry about them. She does this again in The Fire and the Rose. It is not a sequel to The Anchoress, but there are occasional references to things that happened there, and Eleanor, the energetic and curious child who once learned to read and secretly practiced writing letters with a stick in the dirt, is now a thirty-year-old woman and a skilled scribe.

It is hard to convey, in a short review, the richness and the emotional depth of this story, and the power of the history it covers. Part of the story is about Eleanor's determination to write and to defy the belief that women are not fit to work at such an art. In her home village, she had been employed by the Lord of the Manor to write up his accounts but an accidental death, a woman's antagonism and accusations, and 'much death and sadness', made her leave. In Lincoln she begins by convincing the taciturn Baundenay, who sells booksellers wares from his premises in Parchmingate, to let her have some scraps of parchment to practice on. Eventually, she confronts him, telling him how she learned her skill, and of her experience. He cuts her off:

'Aye, girl. I know all you've done, and I know what I've showed you. Get to it now.'

Eleanor takes a breath. 'I'd like to work for you. As a scribe, copying. I can do it from my house, and I can be quick, if need be. I'll copy close and take care.' The words come out in a rush.

'Oh, aye? Women don't do that work. You can't join a guild. And you've got a little one. That's your work.'

She argues, but he seems unmoved. Then: 'Listen. Come back in a week, and we'll see', he says.

This is only a small part of Eleanor's story. There is much more, and most of it tells of the growing attraction between her and the Jewish spicer, Asher. Both of them would face punishment, public shaming and even death from their own Christian and Jewish communities if their relationship were to be discovered. Their different religions divide them, and each struggles to understand the firm beliefs of the other and to find common ground between their faiths. They share a love of books and words, but they often disagree. And they both experience the prevailing hatred of the Jews and the events that see the whole Jewish community arrested and accused of coin-clipping and silver hoarding:

'Arrested the lot. Every single one. Took 'em to the castle.'

Eleanor stops, stunned by the blow. 'Who?'

'Them Jews. Who else? Good riddance, I say. And about time.'

'But why?'

'What do you mean why? You a Jew lover? Doesn't matter why, as long as they're gone'...

'But the women and children as well?' Jennet asks.

'Whole lot. And others, too. Not just Jews.'...

Eleanor wants to howl, to run, to find Asher, find out the truth...

Many of those arrested, mostly Jews but also a few who were thought to have been dealing with Jews, were publicly hanged or burned:

The platform is neat and sturdy, the rope thick and strong. The builders call to each other and laugh, apparently pleased with their work, as others bring rocks to set around a pole. Stake and gallows stand stark against the green expanse of Battle Place, tall and certain against the grey mottled sky.

This is part of the history of Lincoln. It is shocking to read of the anti-Semitism which existed at that time, and to know that it still exists. The misunderstanding of people who are different, included Eleanor - the port-wine stain that disfigures her face being so obvious that it sets her apart from others - is very real. Shocking too, to see the power of the Christian Church and the teaching that fostered discrimination and hatred, not just of Jews, but of anyone, especially women, who defied the clergy. Eleanor has reason to experience this, and reason to question the duplicity of the clergy, but her belief in the love of the Virgin Mary and the comfort she gets from that love, is deep and lasting.

Eleanor is an intelligent, independent woman, determined not to be dominated by any man or creed, and well able to think for herself, but the love between her and Asher is tested to the limit and often looks as if it will fail. As the reader already knows, the expulsion of all the Jews from England will happen, and the two of them will be affected by it. How they deal with it is immensely moving. Cadwallader, acknowledging the support of her husband, writes that he 'shared research trips with gusto', and that he 'read early drafts (and cried - twice)'. Most readers will completely understand why.

One other thing that adds to the power of this story and makes the book unique, is the poetry - a few single pages, each headed 'the walls speak', that separate some chapters. These are the walls of Lincoln and they hold the history of the city:

We see the city battle with itself

so many times we've seen this deadly dance

the fiddler bowing notes of fear

the drummer beating smooth and steady

kill the one you cannot understand

other woman Jew.

Yet there is hope, and the title of the book echoes lines from T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets:

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

Dr Ann Skea, Reviewer

C.A. Gray's Bookshelf

The Only Woman in the Room
Marie Benedict
Sourcebooks Landmark
9781492666899, $TBA print / $9.00 Kindle

I picked up this book by word of mouth. It was good, fascinating that it's a true story... but with some drawbacks. I sort of wonder how much is true and how much embellished...

The story follows the women who would come to be known as Hedy Lamarr, famous Hollywood beauty. She was born Hedy Kiesler, a Jew in Austria pre-WWII. She was a stage actress, and caught the eye of Fritz Mundel, known later as "the Merchant of Death." He was an arms dealer who sold weapons of war to the highest bidder, and it was believed at the time that he was courting Hedy that he was the only one standing between Hitler and Austria, with ties at that time to Mussolini. Hedy's father convinced her to marry Fritz, and she was actually enamored with him during their courtship too... but very quickly after they married, he changed, and started treating her like a piece of meat.

Here was where I started to wonder what was true and what wasn't. I had thought the title referred to the fact that Hedy was able to eavesdrop on Mundel's guests and later report what they'd said once she'd escaped to America, but the bias of the author suddenly made me aware of another meaning: she is alone in a man's world. It's not at all hard to believe that Fritz Mundel would have been a monster, would have raped his wife, would have been horribly jealous, but also would want to show off her beauty. Women certainly were treated much worse back then than they are today. That said, it was clear that this was a feminist's take on her life, which cast all the horrible treatment of her into question.

I already knew the story involved not only Hedy's flight to America from her abusive husband after it was clear that he was going to align himself with Hitler after all, and also her debut in Hollywood. Throughout the book up until that point, it references her "scientific ideas" that she tinkers with from time to time, though this is always very non-specific. It isn't until Hedy feels guilty for the fact that she absconded from Austria without alerting any of the other Jews that she decides that she will come up with an alternative, radio-frequency based torpedo that is far more accurate and unjammable, and use it to help the allies, with the view of shortening the war. She enlists an unlikely ally in this process, a composer, because of his ability to think outside the box. When she and George submit their brilliant plan for a patent and to the Navy for implementation, they use the name Hedy Kiesler rather than Hedy Lamarr, to avoid rejection due to her fame and beauty. When it's rejected anyway, they appeal... only to discover that it was rejected, "because she is a woman." I have a hard time buying that as the sole reason. I just feel like there had to be more to the story, and the author's obvious intense bias leads me to be suspicious of that conclusion.

That said, it was still a fascinating biography.

My rating: ****

Language: I think there was a little?

Violence: present but not gratuitous

Sexual content: present but not gratuitous

Political content: depending on your perspective, possibly heavy

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: *****

Language: none

Sexual content: none

Violence: present, but realistic and not gratuitous

Political content: none

C.A. Gray, Reviewer

C. Osborne's Bookshelf

A Philosopher, A Psychologist, and An ExtraTerrestrial Walk into A Chocolate Bar
Jass Richards
9781990083068, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 290pp

I found myself caught between wanting to sit and read "A Philosopher, a Psychologist, and an Extraterrestrial Walk into a Chocolate Bar" all in one go and wanting to spread it out. I haven't ever laughed that hard and gotten to spend time with such unflinchingly tough ideas at the same time. That is too rare right now... And the brilliance of the Alices! ...I can now pull out your book every time somebody tries to claim that novels can't have meaningful footnotes and references. [Thanks too] for pointing me to the brilliant essay series "Dudes are Doomed."

C. Osborne

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Propaganda and Persecution
Renee Poznanski, author
Lenn J. Schramm, translator
University of Wisconsin Press
9780299345600, $79.95, HC, 526pp

Synopsis: Ably translated into English for an American readership by Lenn J. Schramm, "Propaganda and Persecution" is Renee Poznanski's magisterial history of the French Resistance during World War II and offers a comprehensive exploration of the most significant issue in that period's social imaginary: the "Jewish question." With extraordinary nuance, she analyzes the discourse around Jews and Judaism that pervaded the Resistance's propaganda and debates, while closely examining the fate of Jews under Vichy and after.

Poznanski argues that Jews in France suffered a double persecution: one led by the Vichy government, the other imposed by the Nazis. Marginalization and exclusion soon led to internment and deportation to terrifying places. Meanwhile, a propaganda war developed between the Resistance and the official voice of Vichy.

Poznanski draws on a breathtaking array of sources, especially clandestine publications and French-language BBC transmissions, to show how the Resistance both fought and accommodated the deeply entrenched antisemitism within French society.

Her close readings of propaganda texts against public opinions probe ambiguities and silences in Resistance writing about the persecution of the Jews and, in parallel, the numerous and detailed denunciations that could be read in the Jewish clandestine press.

This extensive synthesis extends to the post-Liberation period, during which the ongoing persecution of Jews in Europe and North Africa would be portrayed as secondary to the suffering of the nation.

The winner of the 2009 Henri Hertz Prize by the Chancellerie des Universites de Paris, Sorbonne, "Propaganda and Persecution" makes major contributions to the study of the Resistance and of antisemitism.

Critique: An impressively informative, finely detailed, copiously documented, exceptionally well written/translated, and seminal work of original scholarship that includes 144 pages of Notes, a 22 page Bibliography, and a 7 page Glossary, "Propaganda and Persecution" must be considered a core addition to any personal, professional, community, and college/university library 20th Century French & German History in general, and supplemental Holocaust curriculum studies lists in particular.

Editorial Note #1: Renee Poznanski ( is a French-born Israeli historian, specialist in the Holocaust, and the Jewish Resistance in France during the Second World War, who teaches at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba, in Israel.

Editorial Note #2: Lenn J. Schramm is a professional translator of French and Hebrew to English. Among his many translations is The Sparks of Randomness by Henri Atlan.

How People Learn
Nick Shackleton-Jones
Kogan Page Inc.
9781398607217, $131.00, HC, 312pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "How People Learn: Designing Education and Training that Works to Improve Performance", Nick Shackleton-Jones provides L&D professionals with a new way of thinking about learning by exploring what happens when we learn.

In "How People Learn", Shackleton-Jones shows his readers how to apply insights from neuroscience, human behavior and artificial intelligence (AI) to learning design including tips on how to interest, excite and engage staff in training. Using the'5Di model', "How People Learn" ably demonstrates how to define, design and deploy training into existing workflows so it works both for and with employees. It also explores how simulations can be used to replicate a real-world challenge as closely as possible.

This newly updated and expanded second edition of "How People Learn" features new material on learning in a hybrid world, and how to manage skills development and performance now that work, workplaces and workers have changed. It includes more practical guidance on building programmes with user-centred design and covers developments in the connection between learning and cognition, alongside case studies and examples from companies such as BP and the BBC.

Critique: Newly revised and expanded, this second edition of "How People Learn: A New Model of Learning and Cognition to Improve Performance and Education" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented so as to be of maximum value and recommendation for personal, professional, corporate, and college/university library Leadership/Personnel Training collections and supplemental Human Resources/Business Management curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for MBA students, academia, corporate executives, personnel managers, entrepreneurs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "How People Learn: A New Model of Learning and Cognition to Improve Performance and Education" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781398607194, $41.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $33.59).

Editorial Note: Nick Shackelton-Jones ( began his professional life as a psychology lecturer, and working for Siemens, the BBC and BP in roles encompassing learning strategy, culture change, leadership, innovation, technology & multimedia. He established and led the learning innovation client service at PA Consulting, moving on to work as Chief Learning Officer for Deloitte in the UK before founding Shackleton Consulting.

Carl Logan

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Crapped Out
John Anthony Moccia
Stark House Press
9798886010114, $14.95, PB, 184pp

Synopsis: For Jack Hannigan, the Golden Years are miserable. He's stuck in an Orlando old folks home surrounded by blowhard civilians. The retired FBI agent spends his days staring out his window giving serious thought to eating his gun.

When a depressed wheelchair-bound fat guy moves across the hall things perk up. The two men hate each other on sight. Jack is convinced the newcomer is Anthony Finelli, a South Philly mobster who is using the facility as a hideout. Everyone else is pretty sure Jack is losing it. So he decides to single-handedly take his neighbor out.

But whoever the fat man might be he is no shrinking violet. And so the nursing home wars begin. It's funny how plotting murder can give an old guy a new lease on life.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, original, and just plain fun read from start to finish, "Capped Out" by John Anthony Moccia is a riveting great novel from that Stark House Crime Fiction series. Of particular interest to fans of the 'hard-boiled' crime genre "Crapped Out" is especially recommended for personal reading lists and community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted that "Crapped Out" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99).

Editorial Note: John Anthony Moccia ( was born in San Francisco, raised in the Army and grew up in Germany, Japan, Italy, both coasts and Hawaii. After he earned a Master of Social Work degree he served for 23 years in the Federal Probation and Pretrial Services Agency as an officer, supervisor and chief. He was a writer on the ShowTime television series STREET TIME. "Crapped Out" is his eighth crime novel.

Swanna in Love: A Novel
Jennifer Belle
Akashic Books
9781636141640, $16.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: It's the summer of 1982 and fourteen-year-old Swanna Swain is the only one left at camp. The place is a ghost town by the time her mother Val finally shows up six hours late (stoned and radiant) in a Ford pickup driven by Borislav, her new young Russian lover. Assuming she is headed home to her air-conditioned Upper West Side apartment, Swanna and her lovable younger brother Madding are instead dragged to Vermont -- ending up in an artist colony where kids are not welcome. They are forced to sleep in the back of the truck, while Val is cozy inside the house with the Russian.

Then Swanna meets Dennis, a handsome married father of two, at a bowling alley, and, knowing a thing or two about seduction from Judy Blume, her best friend at camp, and her own parents' many affairs -- she sets out to convince Dennis to help her. But love seldom obeys rules, and even a tough, smart, city girl like Swanna might not be able to handle falling in love.

Critique: With the publication of "Swanna in Love", novelist Jennifer Belle returns with a kind of inverse Lolita that explores adolescent desire from the girl's point of view. It is a fascinating read that turns hilarious and is wildly shocking. Published by Akashic Books, "Swanna in Love" is unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists for fans of humorous fiction and coming of age the hard way novels that "Swanna in Love" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781636141640, $16.95) and in digital book format (Kindle, $9.99)

Editorial Note: Jennifer Belle ( is the author of four novels, Going Down (which was named best debut novel by Entertainment Weekly and optioned for the screen twenty-seven times), High Maintenance, Little Stalker, The Seven Year Bitch, and Animal Stackers, a picture book for children (illustrated by David McPhail). Her stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Independent (London), Harper's Bazaar, Ms., BlackBook, the New York Observer, Post Road, and many anthologies.

Laugh Ash
Ches Smith
Pyroclastic Records
$18.00 CD / $12.00 digital

Drummer/composer/electronic music artist Ches Smith and an ensemble of talented musicians contributing vocals, flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, violin, trumpet and more present Laugh Ash, a genre-defying original album brimming with inventive rhythms and melodies. The improvisation of jazz, the boundary-breaking drive of new music, and the creative passion fueling the varied songs make Laugh Ash an unforgettable listening experience, highly recommended especially for music connoisseurs in search of something new. The tracks are Minimalism, Remote Convivial, Sweatered Webs (Hey Mom), Shaken, Stirred Silence, The Most Fucked, Winter Sprung, Disco Inferred, Unyielding Daydream Welding, and Exit Shivers.

Clint Travis

Dennis Zinn's Bookshelf

Pallenberg Wonder Bears - From the Beginning
Peggy Adler and Dibirma Jean Burnham, authors
BearManor Media
9798887710334 $38.00, HC, 206pp
9798887710327, $28.00 PB, $9.95 Kindle

Peggy Adler and Dibirma Jean have compiled an exhaustive compendium of the history of the Pallenberg Bears. I do not believe anything else like this exists in its depth and breadth. I'm certain this will be the "go to" research book in the future if anyone wants to learn their story. There is an historical time-line, copious photo's, a family genealogy, an extensive Glossary, and a copy of the handwritten memoir of Emil!

This is all backed up by a comprehensive Bibliography. All in all this is a breathtaking publication. The Pallenbergs should be honored to have their family history so enshrined and so well documented. And Peggy Adler and Dibirma Jean Burnham should receive the accolades they so richly deserve for their incredible efforts."

Dennis B. Zinn

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Together Again
Dr. Charles H. Freundlich
Independently published
9798370753930, $19.95 Paperback, 146 pages

Charles H. Freundlich's book "Together Again" is wonderful. I am a huge fan of him. If I were younger and lived where he was a rabbi, I would rush on Shabbat mornings to his synagogue to hear his sermons and on weekday nights to listen to his lectures. I know only about a half dozen rabbis whose synagogues I would want to visit. His is one of them.

I read, reviewed, and enjoyed each of his ten books and praised them. This is no exception.

The first of his seven tales is the true story of his early life. It is very well-written and emotional. It reflects his warm personality. The following six are fictions that address significant issues that confront Judaism. Freundlich addresses them with clarity, intelligence, sympathy, and consideration. They are fascinating, eye-opening, and thought-provoking.

The second focuses on the problem that the very religious in Israel are not participating in aiding the country and are living off of the country's charity. The third looks at how to solve family problems. The fourth examines whether the study of the Talmud is taught improperly. (I think it is.) The fifth analyses parents reuniting with children who were angry with them. The sixth deals with how to interact with people with seemingly untraditional ideas. The last shows that happiness can be found in the most unlikely places, even in the Western movie "Shane" and the comedy "Groundhog Day." For the truth is the truth, no matter what its source.

Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Alexandria Code
Mikel B. Classen
Modern History Press
9781615997848, $35.95, HC, 220pp

Synopsis: Isabella Carter is an archaeologist who is on the brink of a discovery about how some ancient artifacts could change the future destiny of mankind. Unfortunately, there are evil forces led by the mysterious billionaire Lazarus Fane who are hellbent on suppressing and destroying the knowledge of the ancients.

Can Dr. Carter, her grad students, and reluctant adventurer Aiden McKenzie recover and decipher the Alexandria Code before the massive manhunt closes in? Join her on a trek that leads from Sault Ste Marie to South America!

Critique: The stuff of which block-buster action/adventure movies are made, "The Alexandria Code" by Mikel B. Classen is a fun and riveting read from start to finish. As a novelist, Classen has a genuine flair for the dramatic and a effective, narrative driven storytelling style that quickly engages the interest of the reader. While also readily available for personal reading lists in a paperback edition (9781615997831, $21.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.95), "The Alexandria Code" is particularly and unhesitatingly recommended for community library collections.

Editorial Note: Mikel B. Classen ( has been writing and photographing northern Michigan in newspapers and magazines for forty years, creating feature articles about the life and culture of Michigan's north country. A journalist, historian, photographer and author with a fascination of the world around him, he enjoys researching and writing about lost stories from the past.

Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age
Richard Beck
Broadleaf Books
9781506487670, $19.99, PB, 301pp

Synopsis: We live in a secular age, a world dominated by science and technology. Increasing numbers of us don't believe in God anymore. We don't expect miracles. We've grown up and left those fairy tales behind, culturally and personally.

Yet five hundred years ago the world was very much enchanted. It was a world where God existed and the devil was real. It was a world full of angels and demons. It was a world of holy wells and magical eels. But since the Protestant Reformation and the beginning of the Enlightenment, the world (in the West, at least) has become increasingly disenchanted.

While this might be taken as evidence of a crisis of belief, with the publication of "Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age", Richard Beck argues that it's actually a crisis of attention. God hasn't gone anywhere, but we've lost our capacity to see God.

The rising tide of disenchantment has profoundly changed our religious imaginations and led to a loss of the holy expectation that we can be interrupted by the sacred and divine. But it doesn't have to be this way. "Hunting Magic Eels" shows us that with attention and an intentional, cultivated capacity to experience God as a living, vital presence in our lives, we can cultivate an enchanted faith in a skeptical age. Original published in hardcover (2021), this new paperback edition from Broadleaf Books includes a foreword from Sean Palmer as well as four new, additional chapters, including "Why Good People Need God," "Live Your Beautiful Life," and "The Primacy of the Invisible."

Critique: A thoughtful, deftly written, thought-provoking, quite compelling, and potentially life altering/enriching read from start to finish, "Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age" is an extraordinary and welcome addition to personal, community, seminary, and college/university library Christian Spiritual Growth collections. It should be noted for seminary students, academia, theologians, clergy, and lay members of the Christian community that "Hunting Magic Eels" is also now available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Richard Beck is Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He is also a popular blogger and speaker and the author of several books. His published research also covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity and why Christian bookstore art is so bad. Beck leads a Bible study each week for inmates at a maximum-security prison.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Queen of Clubs
Beezy Marsh
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
Blackstone Audiobooks
9780063342712, $18.99, PB, 304pp

Synopsis: London, 1957 -- After rising up against gangland's queen, Alice Diamond, formerly downtrodden Nell is living the perfect life of crime. Far from the East End slums where she was raised, she's now an accomplished professional thief by day (lifting luxury goods from high-end department stores) and a glamorous nightclub owner after dark.

Dressed in stolen silks and furs, Nell cuts a dazzling figure in the dimly lit clubs where she calls the shots. But a betrayal and botched robbery suddenly reverse Nell's fortunes... and her old rival Alice is hell-bent on taking her down.

Nightclub dancer Zoe is finally earning a living after escaping a poverty-stricken childhood. She'd rather work for Nell than set scores for Alice. But the life of luxury Zoe craves comes at a terrible price. When a vicious gang tightens its grip on Soho, all three women realize it pays to keep your friends close and your enemies closer!

Critique: The sequel of author Beezy Marsh's "Queen of Thieves", and further detailing the history of a group of all female gangsters in 1950s era London, "Queen of Clubs" will be of particular interest to fans of action/adventure crime novels. A simply riveting read from start to finish, "Queen of Clubs" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of the growing legion of Beezy Marsh fans that "Queen of Clubs" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798212898089, $40.95, CD).

Editorial Note: Beezy Marsh ( is an author who puts family and relationships at the heart of her writing. She is also an award-winning investigative journalist, with more than 20 years' experience of making the headlines in newspapers including The Daily Mail, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph.

The Wisdom of Winter: Reflections from the Journey
Jackie K. Cooper
Mercer University Press
9780881469073, $20.00, PB, 184pp

Synopsis: For his memoir, "The Wisdom of Winter: Reflections from the Journey", Jackie K. Cooper has spent the last three decades of his life gathering his memories of growing up in the South. He has studied the various seasons of his life and having reached the winter season, he offers reflections on lessons learned, the people who have influenced him, the role of God's hand in his journey, and the good fortune with which he has been blessed.

The stories comprising "The Wisdom of Winter" are presented in a narrative format and are as easy to absorb as a conversation between two friends spending an afternoon on the porch on a breezy summery day. The tea is sweet, and the stories are a mixture of the funny and the sad, but still heartwarming. Cooper's collection of his "wisdom of winter" is here to be shared, so open this book and let your mind be free to rest and relax, to listen and learn, to anticipate and appreciate.

Critique: Eloquent, inherently interesting, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "The Wisdom of Winter: Reflections from the Journey" is exceptionally well written, expertly organized and memorably presented. This paperback edition from the Mercer University Press is a fascinating read and an unreservedly recommended addition for personal reading lists, as well as community and college/university library American Biography/Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Jackie K. Cooper ( is the author of seven books. As a movie and book critic his reviews can be found online on his YouTube channel and social media pages. Cooper is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and one of the founders of the Southeastern Film Critics Association.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Human Rights, Security Politics and Embodiment
Aneira J. Edmunds
Anthem Press
9781839984471, $24.95, PB, 96pp

Synopsis: Virtuous institutions, such as human rights ones, have been neglected by securitization theory's focus on the national state apparatus as the key driver of security politics.

With the publication of "Human Rights, Security Politics and Embodiment", Aneira J. Edmunds challenges this assumption, showing the ways institutional human rights, deemed the most progressive of rights, have been complicit in rendering the body vulnerable.

While "Human Rights, Security Politics and Embodiment" principally focuses on the treatment of the veiled woman, it also considers wider cases involving torture: the ultimate removal of control over one's body and biggest transgression of human rights' supposed foundational commitment to bodily integrity.

Critique: Down through recorded human history, and for Islamic countries operating under Sharia Law, women were (and continue to be) considered the property of men. Even in the Western nations that attitude, although weakened, still continues to dominate. "Human Rights, Security Politics and Embodiment" will be of particular value to readers with an interest in Women's Studies and History, as well as Gender Oriented Sociology and Political Science issues. Simply stated, "Human Rights, Security Politics and Embodiment" is a seminal, ground-breaking, and compelling study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library collectons. It should be noted that "Human Rights, Security Politics and Embodiment" is also readily available for students, academia, women's rights activists, and governmental policy makers in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.70).

Editorial Note: Aneira J. Edmunds ( is an authority on human rights who tackles controversial and topical issues relating in particular control over the woman's body and the limitations of 'virtuous' institutions such as the ICC and the ECtHR.

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne
Katherine Rundell
Picador USA
9781250872500, $18.00, PB, 352pp

Synopsis: Sometime religious outsider and social disaster, sometime celebrity preacher and establishment darling, John Donne was incapable of being just one thing.

He was a scholar of law, a sea adventurer, a priest, a member of Parliament -- and arguably the greatest love poet in the history of the English language. He converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, was imprisoned for marrying a sixteen-year-old girl without her father's consent, struggled to feed a family of ten children, and was often ill and in pain.

John Donne was a man who suffered from surges of misery, yet expressed in his verse many breathtaking impressions of electric joy and love.

With the publication of "Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne", Katherine Rundell embarks on a fleet-footed act of evangelism, showing us the many sides of Donne's extraordinary life, his obsessions, his blazing words, and his tempestuous Elizabethan times -- unveiling Donne as the most remarkable mind and as a lesson in living.

Critique: Originally published in hardcover by FSG (2022) and now also available for the personal reading list of students, academia, and John Donne enthusiasts in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99), this new paperback edition from Picador must be considered as essential reading for John Donne curriculum studies lists and is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Literary Biography & Criticism collections.

Editorial Note: Katherine Rundell ( is a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where she works on Renaissance literature. Her bestselling books for children have been translated into more than thirty languages and have won multiple awards. Rundell is also the author of a book for adults, Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise. She has written for, among others, the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times.

Epic Ambition
Jessica Blum-Sorensen
University of Wisconsin Press
9780299344603, $99.95, HC, 338pp

Synopsis: By the time the Roman poet Valerius Flaccus wrote in the first century CE, the tale of Jason and his famous ship the Argo had been retold so often it was a byword for poetic banality. Why, then, did Valerius construct his epic Argonautica?

An innovative analysis, with the publication of "Epic Ambition: Hercules and the Politics of Emulation in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica", Professor Jessica Blum-Sorensen argues that it was precisely the myth's overplayed nature that appealed to Valerius, operating in and responding to a period of social and political upheaval. Seeking to comment obliquely on Roman reliance on mythic exempla to guide action and expected outcomes, there was no better vessel for his social and political message than the familiar Argo.

Focusing especially on Hercules, Professor Blum-Sorensen explores how Valerius' characters (and, by extension, their Roman audience) misinterpret exemplars of past achievement, or apply them to sad effect in changed circumstances. By reading such models as normative guides to epic triumph, Valerius' Argonauts find themselves enacting tragic outcomes: effectively, the characters impose their nostalgic longing for epic triumph on the events before them, even as Valerius and his audience anticipate the tragedy awaiting his heroes. Valerius thus questions Rome's reliance on the past as a guide to the present, allowing for doubt about the empire's success under the new Flavian regime.

It is the literary tradition's exchange between triumphant epic and tragedy that makes the Argo's voyage a perfect vehicle for Valerius' exploration: the tensions between genres both raise and prohibit resolution of anxieties about how the new age (mythological or real) will turn out.

Critique: An extraordinary, seminal, and thought-provoking work of ground-breaking and meticulous scholarship, "Epic Ambition: Hercules and the Politics of Emulation in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica" will have an extraordinary value for readers with an interest in Ancient/Classical literary criticism, Mythological/Folklore literary criticism, and Greco-Roman political literature. Enhanced for the reader's benefit with the inclusion of a twenty-page listing of Resources, forty-two pages of Notes, and an eight page Index, "Epic Ambition" from the University of Wisconsin Press is a welcome, unique, singular and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, and college/university library collections and supplemental curriculum Greco-Roman literary analysis studies lists.

Editorial Note: Jessica Blum-Sorensen ( is an Associate Professor and Program Director of Classical Studies at the University of San Francisco. She is also co-editor, with Thomas Biggs, of "The Epic Journey in Greek and Roman Literature".

A Happy Move
Devra Jacobs, author
Brit Elders, author
Beyond Words Publishing
c/o Simon & Schuster (distribution)
9781582709048, $16.00, Spiral Bound, 240pp

Synopsis: Moving. It's a major life change that we all will experience sooner or latter -- and often, not just once but several times.

It doesn't matter if it's across town or across the country, the event of moving creates a mixed emotional mindset. From packing up all your possessions to renting and driving a moving truck to reconnecting your services, there are so many things to take care of in a move that the whole process can be daunting.

Sprinkled with first-hand experiences and tips, "A Happy Move: Everything You Need to Know Before and After the Boxes Are Packed" is a DIY instructional guide for producing (and experiencing) a seamless, practical, stress-free move.

"A Happy Move" provides plenty of recommendations and resources, with insider knowledge from U-Haul(R) and 1-800-PACK-RAT. The convenient spiral-bound book includes various lists that help you check off the items required before, during, and after a move to make the process easier, more cost-effective, and more fulfilling.

It is the ideal instructional 'how-to' reference and guide for anyone considering a location change, whether it's for work, school, military service, closeness to family and friends, or just a change of scenery. No matter the distance or final destination, if you're a renter or homeowner, you, too, can follow this step-by-step process and experience 'A Happy Move'!

Critique: Comprehensive, exceptionally well written, thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "A Happy Move: Everything You Need to Know Before and After the Boxes Are Packed" is a practical interactive DIY manual that will help to avoid the anxiety and stress of relocation while giving the people who are moving great tips on how to organize, control, and enjoy the experience. While this spiral-bound edition from Beyond Words Publishing is unreservedly recommended for personal and professional Home & Household Moving collections, it should be noted that "A Happy Move: Everything You Need to Know Before and After the Boxes Are Packed" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: With twenty-nine moves in the last forty years under her belt, Devra Jacobs is a self-educated authority on moving. She and her family have moved all over the USA and even relocated once to Korea. Along the way, Devra has learned numerous valuable do-it-yourself lessons on everything from how to pack properly to hiring the right professionals for cross-country treks. In these pages, she shares the good, the bad, and the happy experiences that can help you have A Happy Move. The owner of Dancing Word Group, Devra is also a successful literary agent, representing both mainstream and higher consciousness authors worldwide.

Editorial Note #2: An internationally published author, Brit Elders focuses her research and work on nonfiction topics. She has written books, articles, documentary films, and ghost written and edited for others with a goal of learning something new from each project. She is also the CEO of, a position she's held since its inception. An advocate for naturopathic health and healthy eating, Brit has hosted radio programs and been a guest on radio and television in the US as well as other countries.

Julie Summers

Kate Michaelson's Bookshelf

Forget You Know Me
Jessica Strawser
St. Martin's Press
9781250184467 $17.99 paperback

Synopsis: Forget You Know Me explores the secrets that build up between even the closest people over time. This women's fiction novel begins with a bang: old friends, Molly and Liza, have finally connected for a long overdue "girl's night" video call to catch up. Once inseparable, the two have grown apart since single Liza moved to Chicago and Molly stayed in their hometown of Cincinnati, married, and started a family. When Molly leaves the video call for a moment to check on her little girl, Liza witnesses a masked intruder enter the kitchen. After calling the police and not being able to talk things through with Liza, Molly ends up driving through the night to make sure her old friend is doing okay, but once she gets there, Molly gives her the cold shoulder. What Liza doesn't know is that Molly fears the intruder might be someone she knows and that if her husband learns of the incident, her secrets could come to light. Could the intruder be the neighbor with whom she has grown too close or a lender applying pressure? Molly, who suffers unrelenting chronic pain, also owes tens of thousands of dollars of medical debt, and the lenders have made it clear they are losing their patience. Liza and Molly's husband, Daniel, carry their own secrets, and the incident with the masked man brings to light the many cracks that have formed between the best friends and spouses.

Critique: Strawser brilliantly unpacks the unraveling of this once-close trio. She depicts how minor incidents, lingering resentments, and a lack of communication split Liza, Molly, and Daniel apart until they are each left to tackle their personal crises on their own rather than rely on the people with whom they were once closest. Another particularly strong aspect of the novel is Strawser's empathetic depiction of chronic pain and the emotional and financial toll of looking for treatments has taken on Molly. As pain has hemmed her into a smaller, more manageable life, she has grown desperate to heal, even as her own husband implies she is making too much of her health issues. Forget You Know me portrays the fine-grained subtleties that make up human relationships and the effort required to mend the rifts that develop over time.

Editorial Note: This novel centers on a mystery but will have crossover appeal to readers of women's fiction. Strawser is the author of five other novels and her most recent, The Last Caretaker, is an Amazon Editors' pick.

Mother-Daughter Murder Night
Nina Simon
William Morrow
9780063315044 $18.99 paperback

Synopsis: This humorous mystery follows the three Rubicon women: Lana, glamorous real estate mogul, her more down-to-earth daughter Beth, and Beth's teen daughter, Jack. When Jack discovers a body while leading a kayak tour near their seaside home, the women, who are living together while Lana recovers from cancer, must set aside their differences and work together to find answers. As the women discover connections between coastal California land trusts and a recently deceased nursing home patient, they draw the attention of the police and others who underestimated the Rubicon women.

Critique: This mystery boasts a wonderful trio of characters, particularly Lana, who is proud, stubborn, and used to running the show. When cancer treatment pulls her away from her day-to-day hustle, she finds herself at a loss until her granddaughter Jack becomes embroiled in the murder investigation. Simon brilliantly depicts Lana's new sense of purpose as she determinedly dons a wig to hide her illness and works to clear her granddaughter. From the police detective to the suspects, Simon's characters are fully developed and compelling, and the development of their relationships feels heartfelt without sentimentality.

Editorial note: This novel is Nina Simon's debut and was a Reese Witherspoon's Book Club selection.

Kate Michaelson, Reviewer

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Black Women, Ivory Tower
Jasmine L. Harris
Broadleaf Books
9781506489834, $24.99, HC, 196pp

Synopsis: Black women in America are heading to college in record numbers, and more and more Black women are teaching in higher education. But increasing numbers in college don't guarantee our safety there. Willpower and grit may improve achievement for Black people in school, but they don't secure our belonging. In fact, the very structure of higher education ensures that we're treated as guests, outsiders to the institutional family -- outnumbered and unwelcome.

With the publication of "Black Women, Ivory Tower: Revealing the Lies of White Supremacy in American Education", Dr. Jasmine Harris shares her own experiences attempting to be a Vassar girl and reckoning with a lack of legacy and agency. Moving beyond the "data points", Dr. Harris examines the day-to-day impacts on Black women as individuals, the longer-term consequences to our professional lives, and the generational costs to our entire families.

"I want to arm as many Black girls and women as I can with the knowledge about these spaces that I lacked," says Dr. Harris. "By laying bare my own traumas, and those of Black women before me, I am providing them the tools to protect themselves, with an understanding of how deliberately many institutions will try to undercut them."

Trial and error has been required of Black students to navigate systems of discrimination and disadvantage. But this book now offers useful support, illuminating the community of Black women dealing with similar issues. Dr. Harris' personal story is not unusual, nor are her interactions anomalies -- "Black Women, Ivory Tower"explores why that is so.

Critique: Articulate, informative, extraordinary, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Black Women, Ivory Tower: Revealing the Lies of White Supremacy in American Education" will be of immense interest to professional and non-specialist readers who have an interest in African American college/university life and demographics. While a high value and unreservedly recommended pick for personal, professional, community, and college/university library collections and supplemental Contemporary Black Studies curriculum lists, it should also be noted that "Black Women, Ivory Tower" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Dr. Jasmine L. Harris ( is Associate Professor of African American Studies and coordinator of the African American Studies Program in the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Texas, San Antonio. A rising voice in the study of Black lives in the US, Dr. Harris's research and teaching focus on the experiences of Black people in predominantly white schools, specifically the social, physical, and economic impacts of their presence there. She has been published in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, Women's Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy.

Autismology: An Autism Dictionary
Tosha Rollins
Future Horizons, Inc.
9781949177961, $16.95, PB, 124pp

Synopsis: The author of "Autismology: An Autism Dictionary", Tosha Rollins, states, "As a mother of two young adults on the autism spectrum, I wish I had been better educated about autism. My children inspired my becoming a licensed professional counselor."

So she started the Autism in Action podcast and has created resources like 'Autismology' (basically meaning the study of autism) for families like hers having to understand and deal with the condition of autism in a family member -- as well as dealing with the medical and educational service providers, as well as the community in which they live.

Critique: "Autismology: An Autism Dictionary" is an essential and core addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library Autism collections for special needs educators, public school teachers, occupational therapists, ABA therapists, psychologists, mental health counselors, autistic adults, and parents with children on the autism spectrum. It should be noted for both professional and non-specialist general readers with an interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder in general and the parenting of autistic children in particular, that "Autismology: An Autism Dictionary" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.74) as well.

Editorial Note: Tosha Rollins is an ASD Clinical Specialist. She can be contacted on FaceBook at

Gatsby's Greatest Party Set
Julia Murray
Smith Street Books
c/o Rizzoli
9781922754653, $24.95 Card Deck, 50pp

Synopsis: With Julia Murray's "Gatsby's Greatest Party Set: Everything You Need to Create Your Own Rip-roaring 20s Party" you can transport your guests back to 1920s Long Island by throwing a Gatsby-era themed party. This beautiful deck contains recipes for cocktails and sweet and savory food, as well as ideas for invitations, venues, fashion, place settings, decorations, conversation starters, dance how-tos, party games, and iconic quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel.

Whether you'd prefer a glittering soiree or a down-and-dirty speakeasy, you'll find everything you need to create a legendary gathering for your nearest and dearest. Brew your own liquor infusions; stir up champagne cocktails, Mint Juleps, and Gin Rickeys; and prepare party food favorites like Oysters Rockefeller, Deviled eggs, and Icebox cake.

Don your glad rags, stock up on bootleg gin, and get ready for bee's knees of a party that will have everyone on West Egg gabbing!

Critique: Original, beautifully designed and illustrated, and the thoroughly 'user friendly' source for countless hours of party giving fun, "Gatsby's Greatest Party Set: Everything You Need to Create Your Own Rip-roaring 20s Party" from Smith Street Books as a part of their Smith Street Gift series, is of particular value to any with an interest in recreational party giving, as well as thematically appropriate party appetizers, cocktails, and mixed drinks. "Gatsby's Greatest Party Set" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library collections.

Editorial Note: Classically trained in graphic design and illustration, Julia Murray began her career illustrating at Huffer before spending ten years in London working as an art director for publishers such as Harper Collins and Hardie Grant. This experience has given her a versatility of style, a strength in combining typography with illustration, and a designer's eye for composition and detail. Julia's work reflects a love of color with a touch of femininity.

Mindful Escapes Meditation Cards
Alison Davies, author
Amy Grimes, illustrator
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
9780711290211, $16.99, Card Deck, 55pp

Synopsis: Whether you need a moment of calm on your commute or a power boost before a presentation, "Mindful Escapes Meditation Cards: Discover inner calm wherever you are, in 50 cards" is pack of beautifully illustrated guided meditation cards that will help you call on the healing properties of 50 of the world's most spectacular locations.

With this card deck you can restore your inner peace and leave stress behind while transporting yourself to the world's most powerful locations with 50 guided meditations.

"The Mindful Escapes Meditation Cards" deck contains 60 cards in a gift box: 50 illustrated location cards and 10 guidance cards to help you get the most out of the deck. There are meditations for every mood. You can choose from four categories: calm, energy, power or nature

Of special note are the Immersive illustrations by talented artist Amy Grimes depicting stunning and diverse landscapes from 6 different continents.

Critique: Unique, effective, inspired and inspiring, "The Mindful Escapes Meditation Cards" offers the gift of relaxation and is the unreservedly recommended and ideal choice for anyone who has an interest in travel, meditation, mindfulness or self-care.

Editorial Note #1: Alison Davies is an author, storyteller and freelance writer from Nottingham. She has penned over 50 books, including the popular 'Be More...' series for Quadrille, which started with Be More Cat, and includes to name a few, Be More Bee, Be More Sloth, and Be More Dog. More recently Alison has written a mix of fiction and folklore, with books like Tales Behind Tarot and The Goddess Stories. Alison is a professional storyteller and delivers sessions at universities on how stories can be used as tools for teaching and learning.

Editorial Note #2: As a professional artist and gifted illustrator, Amy Grimes has an informative and impressive website at

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Callas Imprint
Sophia Langton
The Crepuscular Press
9781739286392, $5.99 Kindle

Is it fair to measure a biography against its subject? In this case, yes. This book resembles Callas' masterful ease on stage, the artistic precision-passion balance she manifests, a reward of the many overtime rehearsal hours for which Callas was often criticized by co-stars. A book-sized Legend at the end attest to the book's twelve year labor. The result archives nearly everything ever documented about and is as full-bodied, that is, polished as well as unvarnished, as Maria Callas.

One need not be an opera lover to enjoy the book. As there is more to opera than voices, the book offers opera storylines and descriptions of sets and side plots between performers. Indeed, what this biography has over previous biographies and documentaries is the making of character, the intersection of Maria, the woman and human, and Callas, the artist. This is not a tabloid portrait. Its meat is not gossip and hearsay, rather, prioritizes Callas' own words and actions. From a childhood dominated by a stage-mother, war, and many moves between and around Greece and New York, to conservatory, to a career managed (or mismanaged) largely by her husband, to a drawn out divorce and health troubles causing a slow receding from the stage, time taken up with travel and friendships, her life is opera enough, without commentary. Brief intros and outros allow her life to speak for itself.

Two small intermissions for photos sandwiched in the middle of roughly 600 pages show a text focused on what the news failed to present about this famous woman. While her relationship with Onassis is pervasive, so is her lifelong pursuit of serving opera at any cost. The writing is dense with introspection and a literary cadence. Callas purports to be simple. The read is not. It shies not away from Callas' contradictions and conflicts. Nor does it dismiss these as outside the purview of her legacy.

There's a saying that entertainment gives people what they want; art gives what they don't yet know they want. In its exhaustive treatment of Callas from every vantage point - daughter, sister, wife, lover, friend, businesswoman, singer, teacher, and dog owner, among other roles - The Callas Imprint succeeds in showing Maria Callas sacrificing herself for art. As such, her act, as depicted in this biography, demands a long gaze into our own mirrors.

The Eye Opener
Indrajit Garai
9781537349893, $6.62 paperback

In this collection of three short stories, health ensues from crisis. In the first story, with a baby on the way, Franck risks his well being and his morals to provide for his family. But a collapse sets his priorities straight. Second, Nathan saves a woman from suicide when he first arrives in New York from Mumbai, giving her the chance to pay it forward later. Last, Cedric, a released convict of a crime he didn't commit, despite the odds, stands his ground when accused again.

In all three stories, men are pushed to the brink by economic and political forces beyond their control. Although fiction, the plots are realistic, dealing with current circumstances of recession, inflation, and drug use, among other societal challenges. As problems mount, so does the love and support of city workers, soup kitchen volunteers, and librarians, the heroes and heroines of these hopeful tales. The tone is therapeutic and hopeful.

With short sentences and clipped dialogue, the pace drives forward. Tension builds in pressurized scenes: imminent strikes and layoffs, courtrooms, and pregnancies. Details are saved for moments of beauty in parks and natural spaces, hinting at resolutions to come. Mostly serious, the ending note is humorous. As it probes the heart of today's crises, this collection infuses a breath of necessary fresh air. A healing, sanctifying read that recommends others, both fiction and nonfiction, by Indrajit Garai.

Mari Carlson

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Central America's Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration
Aviva Chomsky
Beacon Press
9780807055410, $15.95

This book seemed a perfect follow-up to the Guatemalan Journey, one writer's take on Guatemala. In contrast, this book provides a historical overview of some underlying causes of growing immigration to the US. Plus, one of my favorite authors, Todd Miller, who wrote Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, offered good reasons to read it,

I have waited for Central America's Forgotten History for the past decade. This thorough and thought-provoking book revives the history that has long been severed from the Central American experience in US discourse, especially around immigration. Chomsky demonstrates that you can't divorce centuries of colonialism and settler colonialism, US-supported dictators and death squads, and decades of neoliberal economic deprivation and dispossession from the people who arrive every day to the militarized US frontier.

The author touches on the underlying political realm of "neoliberalism," which promotes decentralization, local self-governance, and the promotion of formal democracy and decentralization, which grants local governments and cultural and ethnic minorities greater recognition and autonomy. "But it was an 'autonomy without resources' that failed to address the larger structures that communities marginalized."

The author also points out some of the implications of neoliberal market-based development based on extractivism, "Over half of the hundreds of environmental activities killed in the past decade lived in Latin America. Guatemala has the highest per capita rate in the world of killings of environmental defenders. In 2018, a record sixteen environmental activists were killed there."

One of the more recent ties between the US and the growth and proliferation of drug gangs. "By the turn of the 21st century, gang members were an American export," journalist Dara Lind concludes. Between 2001 and 2010, the United States deported over a hundred thousand people who had been convicted of crimes to Central America..."

Chomsky goes on to point out that "By 2000, up to 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States was shipped through Guatemala. Global organized crime took advantage of local societal breakdowns to "incorporate mareros (members of gangs) as cheap labor within a system of networks that employs down- and out youth everywhere in the world."

Chomsky contends that former President Trump's immigration policies were only the most recent iteration of over a century of US domination and exploitation of Central Americans. " The violence and poverty that afflicts Central America today is a direct result of colonial and neocolonial development policies and the cultures of violence and forgetting needed to implement and justify mayhem. If we want to create a more just world, we must acknowledge the many layers of collaboration and ignore today's underlying inequalities."

Historian Chomsky, coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University, writes that in Central America, "forgetting is layered upon forgetting." Against a backdrop of jungles, volcanoes, and agricultural fields, the people there proved victims to generation after generation of foreign resource extractors: first, the Spanish, who subjugated Native populations and imposed a caste-like system of governance; then European companies who, according to the author, kept the elites in their pockets, building an export economy of coffee and fruit that expropriated land; then U.S. military intervention. The latter is scarcely known to most Americans (and indeed, in its details, to many Central Americans). Still, it set in motion forces that finally led to the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Chomsky points out that the latter two were propped up by the Reagan administration, which asserted that the governments were committed to human rights and anti-communism. This might have been true, but, as Chomsky notes, the flood of refugees north "gave the lie to Reagan's claims of the government's legitimacy and right to US support. The failed policies of the Trump administration were in line with a system that imposed and promulgated neoliberal policies on what were de facto colonies. Still, even the wall-builders could do nothing about the resulting exodus.

As Chomsky notes, in 1970, the U.S. census counted 114,000 Central American immigrants; in 2017, there were nearly 3.5 million. The author makes a convincing case that much of Central America's violent unrest can be laid at the feet of U.S. leaders. Restores the region's fraught history of repression and resistance to popular consciousness and connects the United States' interventions and influence to the influx of refugees seeking asylum today. At the center of the current immigration debate are migrants from Central America fleeing poverty, corruption, and violence in search of refuge in the United States.

Aviva Chomsky addresses the urgent question, "How did we get here?" Centering the centuries-long intertwined histories of US expansion and indigenous and Central American struggles against inequality and oppression, Chomsky highlights the pernicious cycle of colonial and neocolonial development policies that promote cultures of violence and forgetting without any accountability or restorative reparations.

Chomsky examines how and why histories and memories are suppressed and the impact of losing historical memory, an important concept considering the growth of book banning and "sanitizing" school curriculums. Only by erasing history can we claim that Central American countries created their poverty and violence. At the same time, the United States enjoyment and profits from their bananas, coffee, mining, clothing, and export of arms are ignored. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the root causes of the current immigration crisis and the complex relationship between Central America and the United States.

And yes, the author is the eldest daughter of linguist Noam Chomsky. I've added this informative book to the bibliography of my forthcoming book, The Guatemala Reader: Extraordinary Lives & Amazing Stories.

About the Author

Aviva Chomsky is a history professor and the Latin American Studies coordinator at Salem State University. The author of several books, Chomsky has been active in the Latin American solidarity and immigrants' rights movements for more than thirty years.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

The Age of Insurrection
David Neiwert
Melville House
9781685890360, $39.99 US, $17.99 Kindle, 540 pgs.

American culture and history has been a rollercoaster ride of change, both good and bad. The rise of the alt-right has been a part of that culture and history for several decades. "The Age of Insurrection: The Radical Right's Assault on American Democracy" by award winning journalist David Neiwert, is a real-life chronicle of the growth of the white nationalist movement and how that movement has changed civil discourse in the United States into an extremely negative and polarizing aspect of what once was a positive and powerful way of life. Neiwert uses meticulous research and a wide variety of sources to support his argument that the white nationalist movement is a deliberate attempt to undermine American democracy. The incidents that Neiwert cites as examples of the rise of the alt-right are not fabricated but can be read about in the newspaper or online. The narrative defines the battleground that is the American landscape.

Neiwert describes efforts by white nationalist organizations like the Proud Boys, the Christian Identity movement, and the Patriot Front to overturn the rule of law and institute an authoritarian state at the grassroots level. These efforts include threats, intimidation, physical assaults, and a lack of accountability or responsibility. Many of these white nationalist groups attempt to hide their activities behind a veil of free-speech and freedom of expression. However, Neiwert writes that the contacts these groups have made in law enforcement and in the political arena have both given the efforts credence and have exposed these groups to increased scrutiny and questioning. Neiwert also describes how these groups have been given a virtual carte blanche in cities like Portland and Charlottesville to practice their activities without fear of punishment.

"The Age of Insurrection" is modern history at its best. Neiwert's use of a wide variety of newspaper accounts, blog postings, and social media support his argument that white nationalism is extremely dangerous and toxic to the American way of life. This is a book that should be read by anyone interested in figuring out a way to help banish white nationalism back to the fringe of society. It is a volume that is well written and easy to read. "The Age of Insurrection" is a true manual for how to deal with extremism.

Matthew W. McCarty, Ed.

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Dendera, Temple of Time
Jose Maria Barrera
Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
9781644118344, $60.00, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: Egypt is famous for its pyramids, the Sphinx, the temples at Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings, but 40 miles north of Luxor lies the best-preserved temple complex in all of Egypt: The Temple of Dendera, known for the famous "Zodiac of Dendera" which is now housed in the Louvre Museum.

Within the portico leading into the Hathor temple at Dendera is a little-known outstanding achievement of humanity: an extensive colored bas-relief (larger than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) meticulously encoded with the sophisticated astronomical knowledge of ancient Egypt.

With the publication of "Dendera, Temple of Time: The Celestial Wisdom of Ancient Egypt", and drawing on more than 5,000 high-resolution photographs he has taken at the Temple of Dendera, photographer and computer scientist Jose Maria Barrera presents a complete full-color photographic reconstruction of the ceiling of the pronaos at Dendera and reveals in detail how each panel represents celestial cycles of time from the Precession of the Equinoxes to the annual cycles of life found along the Nile.

Barrera also explains the meaning of the layout of the ceiling as it relates to the present, the past, eternity, the hours of the day, the phases of the moon, the constellations used in ancient Egyptian astronomy, and the Great Solar Year.

Additionally, Barrera provides a detailed analysis of each panel, including close-up photos, and explains each panel's astronomical and spiritual significance from the ancient Egyptian perspective as well as examining the myths, gods, and goddesses depicted. He also includes an appendix exploring the meaning and symbology of ancient Egyptian iconography.

Allowing the reader to experience the vivid details of this ancient work of art and science, "Dendera, Temple of Time: The Celestial Wisdom of Ancient Egypt" is a stunning and informative photographic exploration also recreates the sense of spiritual awe and power the Temple of Dendera radiates to its visitors, whether today or millennia ago.

Critique: This large format (12 x 0.8 x 9 inches, 2.88 pounds) hardcover edition of Jose Maria Barrera's "Dendera, Temple of Time: The Celestial Wisdom of Ancient Egypt" from Inner Traditions International is a prized and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library Egyptology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, Egyptologists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Dendera, Temple of Time: The Celestial Wisdom of Ancient Egypt" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $40.99).

Editorial Note: Jose Maria Barrera is a software engineer and application architect, specializing in data representation and languages, who has been fascinated by alchemy and Egyptian culture for more than 20 years. An avid photographer, his work has been exhibited in galleries in Chicago and New York City and sold at Sotheby's Auctions. Born in Colombia, he holds a master's degree in computer science.

American Narcissus
Chandler Morris
Dead Sky Publishing
9781639511402, $19.99, PB, 280pp

Synopsis: The American dream is dead, and Los Angeles is burning.

Stoned and porn-addicted surfer Baxter Kent is terrified of women and anxious to make things work with a sex robot.

Acid junkie Arden Coover has a useless philosophy degree and a doomed relationship he believes might save him.

His younger sister Tess is considering, or resisting, a convenient but loveless marriage to a wealthy, narcissistic novelist.

Ryland Richter, an alcoholic insurance executive with too much money and too few scruples, is seeking toxic solace in the arms of a dangerously unhinged subordinate.

As wildfires rage, this lost and hopeless cast makes their way through the embers of Los Angeles and beyond in a desperate search for meaning and connection in a world without a future.

With the publication of "American Narcissus", novelist Chandler Morrison's newest satire explores our search for love in all the wrong places, and what happens when we think we find it.

Critique: A master of iconoclastic satire and deftly turned plot points, "American Narcissus" showcases author Chandler Morrison's genuine flair for originality and the kind of narrative storytelling style that keeps and holds the reader's rapt attention from start to finish. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "American Narcissus" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99) as well.

Editorial Note #1: Chandler Morrison is the author of seven previous books, including #thighgap and Dead Inside. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He lives in Los Angeles.

Editorial Note #2: Dead Sky Publishing (along with its Death's Head Press imprint) publishes work that is inherently dark across a spectrum of genres and formats. From non-fiction to memoirs, from comic books to novels, from art books and photography books to short story collections.

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

The Book of Light, Anniversary Edition
Lucille Clifton, author
Ross Gay, foreword
Sidney Clifton, afterword
Copper Canyon Press
9781556596780, $22.00 hc / $10.99 Kindle

Lucille Stands for Light

"I am/ lucille, which stands for light". So the poet, Lucille Clifton describes herself in "daughters", an early poem in her 1992 collection, "The Book of Light" which has been reissued in this 2022 Anniversary Edition. Clifton (1936 -- 2010) was born and raised in upstate New York, served as the poet laureate of Maryland, and won the National Book Award for poetry in 2000 and in 2007 became the first Black woman to receive the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Selections from her poetry are included in the Library of America Anthology "African American Poetry: 250 Struggle and Song" edited by Kevin Young. This Anniversary Edition includes a Foreword by poet Ross Gay, whose poems are also included in the LOA anthology and and Afterword by Clifton's daughter, Sidney Clifton.

Clifton writes in a spare, minimalist style with few words and little capitalization or punctuation. Lines, sentences, and poems are short. The poems are highly personal with reflections on the poet's early life and family. But in this volume they have a transcendence as the poems reach outward to social comment and to broad religious and spiritual themes.

The volume begins with the poem "LIGHT" which consists of 39 single-word lines amplifying the meaning of "light" and establishes the theme and tone of the collection. An opening group of poems, "reflection" includes meditations on the poet's life based on her relations with others, including her grandmother, parents, husband, children, and friends. With all the difficulties of life, including those based on race and sex, light and hope win out. The poems have a celebratory tone, as witnessed by the final poem in "reflection" titled "won't you celebrate with me".

"won't you celebrate with me
what I have shaped into
a kind of life? I had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
I made it up
here on this bridge between starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed."

The second part of the collection "Lightening Bolt" includes poems on a broader range of themes, from the poet's imaginary encounter with Clark Kent, discussions of different cultures, the bombing of Philadelphia's Osage Avenue in the house occupied by MOVE in 1985, the 1991 Gulf War, Senator Jesse Helms, and more. The poems in this section, with there political content, tend to be less effective than the works in the rest of the volume. The final untitled poem with the epigraph "love the human" from poet Gary Snyder concludes

"love the silences
love the terrible noise
love the stink of it
love it all love
even the improbable foot even
the surprised and ungrateful eye"

The final section of the volume "Splendor turns to broad spiritual and religious themes with heavy allusions to Greek mythology and to characters from the Bible. Together with short, individual poems, "Splendor" includes two works consisting of several shorter poems. The first, "for memory," includes seven poems in the voice of a nun meditation on human life, secular and religious, and its relationship to the divine., The poem "gloria mundi" observes

"that it is more difficult
than faith
to serve only one calling
one commitment
one devotion
in one life".

The final work "brothers" includes eight short poems between God and Lucifer, recounted only in the voice of Lucifer. This beautiful, philosophical work reflects upon the nature of evil and of what the poet sees as the ultimate unity of life and the unknowability of God

"to ask You to explain
is to deny You.
before the word
You were.
You kiss my brother mouth.
the rest is silence."

Clifton's "The Book of Light" is a personal, spiritual collection of poems that rewards reading.

Hernan Diaz, author
Riverhead Books
c/o Penguin Publishing Group
9780593420324, $17.00 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

Storytelling On Wall Street

Hernan Diaz's 2023 Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Trust" absorbed me from beginning to end. For several days, I was captivated -- couldn't wait to get to it. This is a rarity for me. "Trust" is largely set in the financial district of New York City in the years surrounding the Great Depression.

Here is a bare-bones summary of the story. The main character is a financier and trader, Andrew Bevel, the latest, and last, of a line of traders in his family. The reclusive Bevel amasses a large fortune during the 1920s and also manages to make money during the early stages of the Depression. Bevel's wife, Mildred, is the daughter of another New York State family with wealth and with intellectual interests. While Bevel concentrates on making his fortune, Mildred promotes educational, artistic, and cultural endeavors, particularly the development of 20th Century classical music. When Mildred dies in a Swiss sanatorium, in the 1930s, Bevel carries on but is somewhat less successful than in the days with his wife. After Bevel's death and lengthy wrangling over his estate, his palatial New York City home is turned into a museum.

As is pointed out through "Trust", American literature has many works about New York City, the wealthy classes, the financial markets, and the nature of capitalism. This novel brings to it subject a strong sense of perspectivism. Bevel's story is told in four voices by four individuals, each with their own distinct voice and background. Each story has commonalities, but each is also different in terms of what happened and in terms of human relationships. The reader is left to think through the stories to come to an understanding of events and people. Showing and considering different points of view is integral to the humanities, whether history, literature, or philosophy, and to this novel. "Trust" considers city life, capitalism and greed, the arts, marriage, the relationship between imagination and realism, and more within its complex structure. It is challenging and mostly effective.

Each of the four storytellers are fascinating both as writers and as themselves. The first, Harold Vanner, was a minor novelist of the day who wrote a heavily fictionalized novella about the Bevels titled "Bonds". It was fascinating to get hints about Vanner through the book and to read his account. The second part, "My Life" was written by Andrew Bevel himself, with help, and tells his story from his perspective and to rebut Vanner's book.

The third and longest story is "A Memoir, Remembered" by Ida Partenza. She tells her tale from the standpoint of a 70 year old successful author. Partenza had been raised in poverty in Brooklyn by her father, an anarchist. At the age of 23, Bevel had hired her to help write his Autobiography. Partenza discusses her life with her father, how she came to be hired by Bevel, and how she became fascinated by the writing project and shaped it to her own as well as to Bevel's ends. The final section of the book, "Futures" consists of diary entries by Midred during her time in the Swiss sanatorium just before her death. Midred has a different perspective on the story and on her relationship with Bevel than do the other three storytellers.

The reader will be encouraged to think about the world of financial trusts and about whom to trust among the four narrators, with their differing aims and perspectives. In his "Phaedrus", Plato has Socrates say that the written word can be revealing but also narrowing in its fixity. With its varying written perspectives, "Trust" forms an excellent book for discussion.

With the many earlier literary antecedents to Diaz's novel, I was reminded most of "Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer" by Steven Millhauser which won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Martin Dressler is an American entrepreneur who, unlike Bevel was born to modest means. Dressler reaches the American dream of riches in New York City by founding a series of hotels before his businesses and his personal life come crashing down on his head. The story is a mix of realism and surrealism which captured something of the themes and locations of "Trust" in its own way. Unfortunately "Martin Dressler" has fallen into neglect. It deserves to be read both in it own right and as another voice on the themes of "Trust".

"Trust" is a challenging, provocative novel about an aspect of the American dream and the American experience.

Plato's Phaedrus: The Philosophy of Love
Graeme Nicholson, author
Purdue University Press
9781557531193, $TBA hardcover

Philosophy And Eros

The Phaedrus is among Plato's deepest and most moving dialogues. It is full of myth, poetry, insight and thought. Even more than is the case with most of Plato, it is difficult to pin this work down to consider it as a treatise on a single subject matter. The dialogue form and Plato's own thinking do not allow such reduction. Broadly speaking, the dialogue deals with the nature of love with this question threaded in with a discussion of the nature of speech and writing and their respective roles in thinking about important questions (such as the nature of love.) The main body of the dialogue consists of three speeches, one a written speech by Lysias, and two oral speeches by Socrates. The speech by Lysias and the first speech of Socrates argue that it is more advantageous for a young person to be wooed by a person who does not love him. Socrates second speech, the pivotal portion of the dialogue, strongly takes issue with this in a discussion of the nature of love, passion (madness), the human soul, and the world of Platonic form.

Graeme Nicholson is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a fellow of Trinity College. His book is a study of the Phaedrus prepared as part of a series of Purdue University Press' History of Philosophy Series, each volume of which is devoted to a detailed consideration of a specific philosophical text. The Phaedrus has received such consideration in other studies (by Charles Griswold, Luc Brisson, Seth Bernadette, among other scholars), but the work is inexhaustible and well deserves the extended treatment it receives here. Nicholson, properly and commendably, philosophizes with Plato. He sees the ancient character of the texts but does not stop there. He tries to show how the Phaedrus, with all its antiquity, addresses problems of modern readers in an important an elucidating way.

Nicholson's focus is on the nature of love. Many readers understand Plato to argue that eros is a step on the way to a broader, rationalistic understanding of the ideas. But Nicholson argues well that the Phaedrus reverses this pattern. Plato here sees eros and passion - a commitment to study and to understanding and a fire within one -- as a precondition to any serious endeavor, philosophical or otherwise. Nicholson proceeds to show how this understanding of eros allows Plato in the Phaedrus to take a broader view of the nature of myth, poetry, rhetoric, and music as themselves contributing to and enabling the process of philosophical understanding. I find this a valuable insight into the Phaedrus.

Nicholson also has challenging things to say about Plato's concept of being (or of being-beyond-being). He sees this as a spiritual and valuable concept, to simplify broadly, and as an important and, with current explanations and explications, viable antidote to much of the scientism and materialism in contemporary thought and in the assumptions of many people. This too is a valuable and thoughtful way of approaching the Phaedrus.

The core of Professor Nicholson's study is Socrates's great speech on love which he presents in Part II of the book in a fresh translation. This translation is followed by a long, careful, exploration in Part III of the various themes of the book. Part I of the book gives background on Plato and on the Phaedrus's relationship to Plato's body of work. There are introductory chapters on myth, rhetoric, dialectic, and writing. All these themes are important to the Phaedrus and they are developed with good use of authority to other Platonic and Greek texts, and to the work of modern philosophers and scholars.

The book suffers somewhat but ignoring Plato's own order of presentation. There is this a lack of attention to the dramatic development -- to the manner in which Plato tries to show the interrelationship of the themes of the Phaedrus -- how one leads into another. This is no small task. Thus in the early sections of the book, Professor Nicholson discusses themes that Plato reserves for the end of the dialogue -- such as the nature of dialectic and the relative merits of writing and discussion. (The story of the god Theuth and his gift of writing to the King of Egypt is discussed early in Nicholson, for example, but it appears only at the end of the Phaedrus.) The presentation thus misses some of the opportunities to discuss how Plato and the reader should view the development of the themes in the dialogue.

It is good to read the Phaedrus -- or to reread it as the case may be -- in the context of reading and studying this book. I thought the book helped me understand and appreciate the Phaedrus and Plato. This great ancient philosopher has much to teach us.

Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer
Steven Millhauser
9780679781271, $TBA print / $7.99 Kindle

An American Dreamer

Steven Millhauser's 1996 novel, "Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer" is a fable about the allure and limitations of the American dream. Set in a rapidly-developing New York City at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and recounted in an oracular style by an omniscient narrative voice, the book tells the story of "a man named Martin Dressler, a shopkeeper's son, who rose from modest beginnings to a height of dreamlike good fortune." As the story develops Martin "dreamed his dream" and was at length "lucky enough to do what few people even dare to imagine: he satisfied his heart's desire." But, as might be expected, the connivance of the gods "brings everything to ruin at the end."

Martin is in part a Horatio Alger figure. He works to pull himself up by his bootstraps, to seize the main chance, and to make his own way. Martin is also a loner and a dreamer. He spends hours lost in his own thoughts and images. From his youth, Martin walks the streets of a developing New York looking at the Brooklyn Bridge, the harbor, Central Park, the undeveloped areas on the City's West Side, and the still uncompleted elevated railway and subway. Martin tries to envision what could be rather than merely see what is before his eyes. Millhauser's book explores the tensions between Martin's businessman's realism and his idealistic dreaming.

As a young boy, Martin helps his immigrant father, Otto, in the small family cigar and tobacco shop on Broadway. Even as a boy, Martin is full of suggestions for expanding the store's trade. Otto reluctantly accepts his son's small suggestions while continuing to manage the store in the accustomed manner. This is not to be Martin's way.

Young Martin soon works his way into a job as a bellhop at the Vanderlyn, an old,ornate hotel down the street from the cigar store. Martin is punctilious in serving the needs of the hotel's guests. In the rooms and corridors of the Vanderlyn, Martin gets his first visions of an artistic life, in figures of a shadowy troupe of actors and his first hint of sexuality from a hotel guest, a frustrated, middle-aged woman.

Martin opportunistically secures the lease for and revitalizes the run-down cigar stand in the Vanderlyn's lobby. He rises within the Vanderlyn management to become second in command, but he is dissatisfied with his prospects. He develops a chain of urban restaurants called the "Metropolitan" which achieve large commercial success. Still dissatisfied, Martin sells his restaurants to purchase and refurbish the staid old Vanderlyn Hotel, which under its previous owners had not adopted to modern conditions.

With an all-consuming but unfocused ambition, Martin then builds and operates three additional hotels, the Dressler, the New Dressler, and the Grand Cosmos which are progressively larger and ever more unrealistically outlandish. Millhauser describes the hotels in long passages of descriptive intentionally unbelievable prose. The first two of Martin's hotels succeed while the final hubris-filled Grand Cosmos, an extraordinary world within a world, brings Martin down.

Martin's business ventures, with their mixture of realism and dream, and lack of fixed purpose, are mirrored in his relationships with women. As a bellhop at the Vanderlyn, the occasional hotel guest offers him the possibility of sexual adventure. Martin moves on to brothels and to hotel maids before becoming friendly with a mysterious family of three obscure women: Margaret Vernon, a widow, and her two daughters, the beautiful but ghostlike and recessive Caroline and her plain but energetic and insightful younger sister Emmeline. Martin is attracted to and marries Caroline but, with his bride's frigidity and ignorance, spends his wedding night with a maid at the hotel. Emmeline, with barely concealed anger, becomes his business confidant. The sisters become jealous and virtually interchangeable. Martin loses them both.

Martin dreams and strives, but he does not know himself or what he wants. Before Martin's marriage to Caroline, Emmeline confronts him with his lack of direction in the middle of apparent success. "But what do you want, Martin? What is it you actually want?" she asks. When Martin evasively replies, "Oh everything." Emmaline presses her question: "But I don't think you do, not in the usual way. In a way you don't want anything. You don't care if you're rich. Suppose you were rich, really rich. What would you do then?" Only after the double failure of the Grand Cosmos and of his marriage to Caroline does Martin admit to himself that he had "dreamed the wrong dream" in his unexamined pursuit of the world-substituting hotel complex and in his lack of attention to his own desires, both in his life work and in his need for love.

Millhauser's novel compares the limitations of the American dream, with its emphasis on materialism, endless economic growth, and ceaseless, thoughtless activity, with the dream's still unrealized potential. With his quest to realize his dream and the products of his imagination, unformed as they may be, Martin Dressler is the true American artist. At one point, as Martin walks the city streets alone, he has one of his many imaginative visions: "Martin imagined a city with trains in the air and trains under the ground, a fierce and magical city of moving iron, while along the trembling avenues there rose, in the clashing air, higher and higher, still buildings." Later, after making a success of one of his smaller hotels, Martin has an epiphany leading to his disastrous final venture in which he sees that "deep under the earth, in darkness impenetrable, an immense dynamo was humming." The vision of the dynamo, and the contrast between a simple past and a complex, industrialized future which pervades this book, owes a great deal to Henry Adams' similar dichotomy of modern life between the traditional and the new in his chapter the "Virgin and the Dynamo" from "The Education of Henry Adams."

Millhauser's writing is precise and evocatively surrealistic at the same time. Millhauser evokes as do few other writings the sights, sounds, and character of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. He portrays the city looking back from the standpoint of the late 20th Century, with its size, eclecticism, impersonality and, all too often, individual loneliness. The writing also has a dreamlike quality as the various characters in the story, especially Caroline and Emmeline whose names themselves invite confusion, seem to meld into and become interchangeable with one another. Martin's tale moves between hard headed commercialism and realism and the flights of fancy and outrageous impossibility.

"Martin Dressler" offers a thoughtful, troubled look at the United States and at its dreamers. The book holds out an important potential of American life in the form of self-knowledge and growth of understanding combined with the ability to articulate and to pursue a dream. Wisdom comes to Martin at the end, financially ruined and alone sitting in a park on an early Spring day, even though it comes late. In its exploration of American life and self-knowledge, "Martin Dressler"" offers a philosophical portrayal of what the American dream may become. The book is rare in the manner that seriousness and whimsy are combined. As a meditation on American life, "Martin Dressler" received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and made what is likely to be a lasting contribution to American literature.

The Plot Against America
Philip Roth
9781400079490, $TBA print / $17.49 Kindle

Roth's American Story

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote a less-than-successful novel, "It can't happen here" about how a fascist government overtook the United States. Philip Roth's 2004 novel, "The Plot Against America" seems to me a book in the tradition of Lewis's and other attempts to write novels of alternative history. I found Roth's book, gripping in places as it follows through on its premise. And on a smaller scale, the book offered a good portrayal of Jewish life in Northeast America in 1940s. The book offers a chilling picture of what might happen in any human society overtaken by fear and demagoguery. But for all its virtues, I found the book largely unconvincing.

The story is told by a narrator we are intended to think is the author -- named Philip Roth -- who, at the time book begins is 7 years old in living in Weewauken, New Jersey. His brother, Sandy, age 12 shows the makings of a talented artist and his parents are decent, hard-working people striving to arrive in America's middle class. There is much in this book about growing up Jewish in America and about Roth's and many people's ambivalences. Thus, early in the book Philip says: "It was work that identified and distinguished our neighbors for me far more than religion... The adults were no longer observant in the outward, recognizable ways, if they were observant at all."

The premise of the book is that aviation hero Charles Lindbergh captures the Republican nomination for President in 1940 and defeats President Roosevelt to become the thirty-third President of the United States. Lindbergh pursues a policy of keeping the United States out of WW II and by showing sympathy to Hitler and Nazi Germany. His vice-President is the isolationist Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana, and Henry Ford is Secretary of the Department of the Interior, which is implementing programs to move Jews from their homes, to destroy their communities, and to assimilate them into American life.

Phillip's family lives in fear with the election of Lindbergh, as do most members of their community. But even some family members are sympathetic to Lindberg. As the novel progresses, anti-semitic outbursts and violence in the United States assumes an increasing intensity, until the character of the story shifts at the end. Roth shows how Phiilp's parents, in particular, react to the fascist threat. Roth also portrays a highly diverse and secular Jewish community, some ambitious and upwardly mobile, some involved in organized crime, and many highly ambivalent about their course and life. With all their fear about violence and anti-semitism in what in the book is a fascist America, the characters strive otherwise to be Americans and to place themselves in the mainstream of American life. Thus, in a key passage late in the book, Philip says of his father after he uncharacteristically gets involved in fisticuffs: " He's like the very fathers he wants to be rid of. That's the tyranny of the problem. Trying to be faithful and to get rid of what he's faithful to at the same time." (p. 298)

In an important episode in the book, Roth's brother Sandy goes to live with a tobacco farmer in Danville, Kentucky as part of a Lindbergh administration program to weaken ties of Jewish young people to their community. Paradoxically, Sandy is well treated in Kentucky, becomes close to the Kentucky family, enjoys his experience of farm life, and learns something valuable in broadening his outlook and his understanding of people with a background different from his.

There was a substantial undercurrent of anti-semitism in the United States of the 1940s. Roth captures it well in his story and in the notes he appends to his novel. But the burden of writing a counter-factual story -- what didn't happen -- is too strong for this book. The Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie to run for president -- a highly responsible choice and no fascist. Lindbergh did not run for President, and the United States did not turn to fascism. This book is full of laceration, of the families in the book, and of American politics that is painful and largely overdone. For all the difficult times, I resisted most of the themes of the book and came away with a respect for the strength of American democracy. The book also reminded me of the freedom our country offers, as Americans may choose what to believe in the way of religion, or to practice a religion or not practice, as seems proper to them. These are great gifts offered by our country, and Roth's book reminded me of their value, almost in spite of itself.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
9781501132872, $TBA print / $14.99 Kindle

This is the third book I've read recently about World War II and the pillaging and looting of Europe by the Germans. The others were the nonfiction Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and the women's fiction The Last Masterpiece by Laura Spinelli. Each of them takes a different tack on the subject. Monuments Men is a wide-ranging factual look at the role of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives) division of the Allied Forces in their attempts to return looted artwork to the appropriate countries. The Last Masterpiece is told in two points of view, focusing on the two primary female characters, a German photographer and an American stenographer, who, though on opposite sides of the war, share a common goal. All the Light We Cannot See fits somewhere in between. It is a more tight view of the war than Monuments Men and somewhat wider in point of view than The Last Masterpiece. I admit I read All the Light We Cannot See prior to seeing the Netflix limited series and ended up feeling the two jarringly different.

All the Light We Cannot See deals with Marie-Laure and her father, the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History in Paris. When she goes blind, her father becomes her eyes and teaches her about the world through touch. When Paris is taken by the Nazis, Marie-Laure and her father flee to family in Saint-Malo, carrying the museum's most famous artifact, a legendary jewel. The other major character is an orphaned German boy, Werner, who is taken early into the German army because of his genius with radios. He spends the war tracking down illegal radio transmissions, and then his team kills the broadcasters. Their stories intersect when Werner is sent to track down an illegal radio in the vicinity of Saint-Malo. A third character is Reinhold von Rumpel, a gem appraiser drafted by the Reich to examine pillaged jewels. He has an added reason for seeking the jewel Marie-Laure's father carried from the museum: Rumpel believes in its ability to make its owner immortal.

The prose here is delightful, tender. Doerr does a wonderful job of capturing Marie-Laure's blindness and her compensations for the loss of her vision.

Kent Haruf
Alfred A. Knopf
9780375406188, $TBA print / $12.99 Kindle

Somehow I seem to be reading a lot of books set in the American or Canadian West which resonate with me: the works of Richard Wagamese, Peter Heller, and now Kent Haruf. Plain song, for which Haruf's book is named, is church music without instrumental accompaniment. Haruf's prose is lean and unadorned, simple yet elegant, yet render three-dimensional the farm people who populate his story: kids dealing with their parents' divorce; an elderly woman who bakes the boys cookies; two older men, the McPheron brothers (who remind me of the characters Garth and Walter in the 2003 movie, Secondhand Lions), a pregnant seventeen-year-old kicked out of the house by her mother and taken in by the McPherons. These characters' lives interweave through the novel like plain song, creating a lovely, powerful whole.

Plainsong is a humble story involving ordinary people living ordinary lives. Though most of the novel is delicate, gentle even delicate, there are sharp crescendoes: a disturbing teenaged sex scene as well as a violent attack by directed against the boys by an older teen in retaliation for being failed in American History by the boys' father. These dark glimpses both increase the stakes and establish a more true reality. Haruf doesn't retreat from from life's harsh realities; neither does he sensationalize them. The darker incidents remind us of our worst selves, while the love and redemption here send our souls soaring.

Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin's Press
9781250279927, $29.00 hc / $14.99 Kindle

Diva can no means be considered a biography of the fabulous opera soprano, Maria Callas, as it covers primarily the brief period of time in which she is involved with Aristotle Onassis, then the richest man in the world with only an occasional flashback to her childhood, her volatile relationships with the mother who exploited her young daughter's voice and the sister who out-competed Calla's for the love of the mother. Married young to a much older man, Battista Meneghini, she'd never experienced true passion. She found this once she was introduced to Onassis by Elsa Maxwell, a socialite/promoter.

I was eager to read a novel about Callas. I've listened to her for years on records and their more modern equivalents since I discovered opera while living a five-minute walk from La Scala. However, I found the prose rather simplistic and somewhat stilted. Although the book takes place in Paris, Milan, Athens, New York, but I rarely got a sense of them being distinctive places I remember from living there myself, except for a description of a New York City autumn. Goodwin did do a good job on capturing Calla's personality, her drive, and how she was essentially a self-made woman. Like her, Onassis was self-made, going from a child selling cigarettes to a wealthy man living for the most part on his ultra-luxurious yacht, and how he used people to achieve his personal goals. He bought cachet when he sought ultra-wealthy, titled people to give panache to his own life.

The Bullet Swallower
Elizabeth Gonzalez James
Simon & Schuster
9781668009321, $26.99 hc / $12.99 Kindle

The Bullet Swallower is described as a magical realism western with prose in the vein of Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though the breadth of those comparisons seems unfathomable, The Bullet Swallower is a unique novel, a truly quirky western, written across two different time lines, the 1960s and the 1890s. The novel is both humorous and heart-breaking. Having read the westerns of Louis LaAmour and Zane Gray as a teenager, I love books that blast the typical western out of the saddle.

In the 1890s timeline, Antonio Sonoro is the newest incarnation of his wealthy family, descended from Spaniards who have terrorized the indigenous population in search of ever more wealth. However, the ill-gotten wealth of his family has disappeared. He leaves the family hacienda, marries, and moves into a tiny jacal with his wife. A drought descends on his hometown of Dorado, Mexico, and it's harder and hard to make a living. He runs out of money and potential. When he hears of a train carrying Mexican goods to Houston, Texas, he decides to hijack those goods. His younger brother, Hugo, a good, educated man, decides to accompany him. In the attempt, Hugo is killed and Antonio wounded, becoming the legendary bandido El Tragabalas (the Bullet Swallower).

In the 1960s timeline, Jaime Sonoro (Antonio's grandson) becomes wealthy again, as Mexico's most famous actor/singer. When an antiquarian book dealer brings a book to him, he's both fascinated and repelled by the purported history of his family, a 5000 year old lineage of evil men, dating from the time of Cain.

The magical realism aspect is a character named Remedio, who might be an angel, might be the devil, but his job is to ensure that someone pays for the crimes the Sonoro family has committed.

This is a sweeping family saga that tackles multiple issues simultaneously: prejudice, border politics, the ethics, trauma, and colonialism. There are also underlying hints of epigenetics, the long-term effect of trauma on the genes of the descendants of those who suffered the original trauma, and a few religious overtones. The book looks at good, evil, family, friendship, loss, grief, and abandonment. Though Antonio Sonoro is a bad guy, he is an engaging protagonist who undergoes a dramatic character arc and ultimately brings about redemption through sacrifice. The author's note is good reading in itself as James relates how The Bullet Swallower both is and isn't her personal family history.

The Fetishist
Katherine Min
9780349727936, $14.99 Kindle

The Fetishist is the story of three people: a young punk rocker named Kyoko; Daniel, a now-middle-aged violinist who finally reconciles with his past; and Alma, a superb cellist, the love of Daniel's life, who feels she was never truly loved as a young woman. Kyoko's mother had an affair with Daniel that broke up her marriage and led to her suicide. Kyoko has carried her anger over her mother's death for years - and blames Daniel. He is now playing music for the dying while mourning the breakup of his own marriage.

The author's note to The Fetishist states that it is a "fairy tale of sorts, about three people who begin in utter despair." As the reader delves into the novel, they readily identify the treasure, the hero, the ogre, and the sleeping beauty. Like many fairy tales, there is a thread of darkness and often a happy ending. The novel looks deeply at our culture, its racism, its tendency toward colonialism, and the dynamics in which men wield power and some of those men fetishize Asian women. A fascinating own-voices read.

The Echo of Old Books
Barbara Davis
Lake Union Publishing
9781662511608, $16.99 pbk / $4.99 Kindle

Rare book seller Ashlyn Greer has a unique gift: when she picks up a book, she can feel the echoes of its previous owners' emotions. When two custom-bound volumes come into her possession, she begins a bit of detective work to discover who wrote them. There is no author named, no copyright page, no hints of when/where/why/how they were published. As she reads the two novels, she realizes that one is written by Hemi, a poor newspaper reporter, and the other by Belle, a wealthy socialite, each telling their version of their tragic love affair. Her research begins with the man who brought the books into her life: a college professor cleaning out after his father's death.

The characters are well written and, especially Belle, undergo a nice character arc. The book is told in chapters switching between Ashlyn's point of view interspersed with chapters from each of the two books. In The Echo of Old Books, author Davis deftly blends two time frames, the 1940s of the two books, with the 1980s of Ashlyn; two romances (Hemi and Belle's and Ashlyn and the professor's while slowly divulging why one was tragic and why the other two are so wounded by their pasts they can't seem to move on. I admit I sniffed a bit at the end.

The Last Masterpiece: A Novel of World War II Italy
Laura Morelli
William Morrow Paperbacks
9780063205987, $18.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

The Last Masterpiece is set in 1943 Italy as the Allies try to beat back the Germans and Italian Fascists. The reader meets Eva Brunner, a German photographer, who, to prevent her father from sending her little brother off to war, volunteers to go instead. Her father arranges a job for her in Florence where she begins working for the Nazis, photographing Italy's cultural heritage and watching as it is looted and send for "safekeeping" to a series of hideaways before being taken to Hitler's proposed Fuhrermuseum, a cultural area for his hometown of Linz. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Josie Evans works as a secretary at the Yale Gallery in Connecticut and enlists, along with her best friend, on whim in the WACs (Women's Army Corps. Because of her tenuous connection with the Yale Gallery, she is assigned to the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives), a handful of male and female art experts to try to save as much European art and architecture as possible.

Morelli does a good job showing both women's desire to protect and preserve art works, despite serving on opposite sides during the second World War. She also does a good job of showing women's involvement in the MFAA. I recently read The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History by Robert M. Edsel, and while The Last Masterpiece is women's fiction, to me, it did a better job of characterizing the unrelenting hunt for precious art before the masterpieces could come to harm either through neglect or outright destruction by bombs. The art works play major roles here, with lush descriptors rather than dull lists; female MFAA members are actually primary characters rather than being footnotes, and the prose is clear, crisp, and luminous, unlike the plodding words of The Monuments Men.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History
Robert M. Edsel
Center Street
9781599951492, $21.99 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

The Monuments Men has been on my to-be-read list pile since it came out, and I finally started it because I finished The Last Masterpiece by Laura Morelli dealing with the same subject. As someone with a lifelong interest in art and a former resident of Italy, this seemed to be right up my alley. The author admits upfront that the book, as originally written, was far too long, so he removed everything about Italy.

The book details the Nazis' looting of European works of art. Hitler, who deems himself a painter, plans to build a Fuhrermuseum, a cultural area for his hometown of Linz. He has Goring and others under his command steal works of art to be displayed there, and of course, they had sticky fingers and add stolen art to their own collections. The Allies arrange for the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives), a handful of male and female art experts to try to save as much of the European cultural heritage as possible.

Though this is well-researched nonfiction, it lacks any sparkle that might make it a compelling read. I could only handle the prose in small quantities: it is plodding and repetitive. The art, much of which I've seen firsthand, is essentially missing from this work. What is mentioned is not described with enough detail to give readers the insight into the beauty or the cultural significance of the works; granted since there are hundreds of thousands of looted works, each work cannot be detailed individually. The MFAA men Edsel describes are flat, lacking characterization; he doesn't mention any MFAA women. Rose Villand, an employee of the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris, is the only character who has any depth - and she was certainly a heroic person.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Heart to Heart Resuscitation: My Journal
Victor Montgomery III
MSI Press
9781957354422, $12.95, PB, 110pp

Synopsis: The companion to "Heart to Heart Resuscitation: A Memoir" (MSI, 2023), "Heart to Heart Resuscitation: My Journal" is a DIY recording journal and contains prompts for reflection and journaling in 12 different areas ("chapters"). There is also space for "additional journaling" should it be needed.

Critique: Especially recommended for anyone having to deal with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or the emotional stresses arising out of a suicide or the unexpected death of a friend or family member, "Heart to Heart Resuscitation: My Journal" will prove to be of effective and practical help in coping with and working through depression, sorrow, and grief.

Editorial Note: Victor Montgomery, III received specialized training in addiction counseling and crisis intervention from Breining Institute of California and Saddleback College and holds a Master's Level (M-RAS) as a Certified Registered Addiction Specialist - California State Approved Certification. Vic received a Bachelor of Arts Degree, Summa cum Laude honors in Psychology (BA) from Vanguard University of Southern California and a Master of Arts Degree from The University of Phoenix in Education (MAEd). He has earned a Lifetime Membership in Psi Chi Honor Society.

Let Your Light So Shine: A Prayer Coloring Book
Samantha Snyder
Doodle Art Alley Books
c/o aka Associates
9798989035700, $9.95, PB, 106pp

Synopsis: "Let Your Light So Shine: A Prayer Coloring Book" by Samantha Snyder shares 50 doodle art images of inspiring prayers, proverbs, and quotes from around the world for all ages to color. This spirituality oriented coloring book for adults features prayers, proverbs, and quotes from famous authors include St. Augustine, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and more.

Critique: This large format (8.5 x 0.24 x 11 inches, 9.6 ounces) paperback edition of "Let Your Light So Shine: A Prayer Coloring Book" from Doodle Art Alley Books will prove of special value to anyone with an interest in religious and inspirational coloring books for adults and is ideal for art therapy/relaxation activities.

Editorial Note: Samantha Snyder ( created the Doodle Art Alley website in 2008 while she was teaching elementary school in Texas. She had started drawing up her own coloring pages and printables for the classroom and her brother suggested putting them all together in one place. Since then, Doodle Art Alley (along with a couple of sister sites) has turned into a small business with thousands of free coloring printables, ebooks and coloring books.

Natural Remedies for Mental and Emotional Health
Brigitte Mars, author
Chrystle Fiedler, author
Healing Arts Press
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
9781644117866, $29.99, PB, 352pp

Synopsis: Mental health and emotional well-being are just as important as physical health. And like physical health, there are many simple ways to improve and support mental wellness with the healing power of herbs and other holistic remedies and practices.

With the publication of "Natural Remedies for Mental and Emotional Health: Holistic Methods and Techniques for a Happy and Healthy Mind" is comprehensive guide to natural methods to maintain a healthy mind by herbalist Brigitte Mars and natural health expert Chrystle Fiedler that explores the many common mental health concerns and stress-related issues (such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, anger, insomnia, brain fog, and trauma) and share remedies and practices to address and heal their root causes.

Citing recent medical studies, the co-authors examine the influence of diet and nutrition on mental health concerns and explore the benefits of specific foods, herbs, supplements, essential oils, and self-care techniques like acupressure, massage, and color therapy. The authors also explore holistic practices and treatments for moving through grief, breaking free from addiction, working with ADHD and epilepsy, supporting chronic conditions like bipolar disorder, PTSD, and Parkinson's disease, and recovering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke.

Presenting a wealth of holistic self-care therapies for mental well-being, emotional balance, and neurological health, "Natural Remedies for Mental and Emotional Health: Holistic Methods and Techniques for a Happy and Healthy Mind" is an DIY guide that enables each of us to heal the mind and nurture the soul -- the two essential keys to living a happy, joyful life.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Natural Remedies for Mental and Emotional Health: Holistic Methods and Techniques for a Happy and Healthy Mind" is a complete and comprehensive DIY guide to utilizing natural Remedies for mental/emotional health by employing holistic methods and techniques for creating and maintaining a happy and healthy mind which is key to maintaining a happy and healthy life. While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library collections on the subject of medical/psychological pathologies and Anxiety Disorders supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted that "Natural Remedies for Mental and Emotional Health: Holistic Methods and Techniques for a Happy and Healthy Mind" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.99).

Editorial Note #1: Brigitte Mars, A.H.G., ( is an herbalist and nutritional expert for more than fifty years. She is also a founding member of the American Herbalists Guild and teaches herbal medicine at Naropa University. An international lecturer, she is the author of several books, including Addiction-Free Naturally, and the creator of an app, iPlant.

Editorial Note #2: Chrystle Fiedler ( is a freelance journalist and author who has written for publications including USA Today, Mother Earth Living, Prevention, and Spirituality & Health.

How to Be French
Janine Marsh
Smith Street Books
c/o Rizzoli (distribution)
9781922754707, $19.95 hc

Synopsis: What does it mean to be French?

Is it pausing to enjoy a glass of good wine or a spread of cheese? Being a flaneur down laneways steeped in history? Knowing just how to dress so you always look effortlessly chic?

This book is a celebration of the French lifestyle - an education in drinking to savor the moment, travelling indulgently, and cherishing food and culture. A lesson in the joy of taking things slowly. We may not all live in France, but anyone can learn how to be un petit plus francais with this guide by Janine Marsh.

Critique: While not a substitute for a traditional travel guide, How to Be French will prove entertaining and enlightening both to travelers planning to visit France and Francophiles at home. Chapters offer insights to French food, fashion, and the joy of taking things slowly. Chapters also highlight France's best-known and most beloved locations. Beautiful, full-page color photography intersperses this wonderful "life hack" guide, ideal for incorporating one's favorite aspects of the French culture into everyday life. Highly recommended! "Savior-vivre is a way of life for the French. At its simplest, it's about good manners and taking joy in simple pleasures. There's more to it than that, however; it is also an understanding and application of the social graces."

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

When She Left: A Thriller
E. A. Aymar
Thomas & Mercer
Brilliance Audio
9781662504532, $16.99, PB, 332pp

Synopsis: When Melissa Cruz falls hard for a dreamy-eyed photographer named Jake, she can't resist the urge to run away with him. The problem is that she already has a boyfriend, a rising star in his family's crime organization. Betrayed and humiliated, Chris isn't going to just let her go.

To find Melissa, Chris turns to Lucky Wilson, one of his family's professional assassins. But Lucky has his own problems. After years of lying about his day job, his marriage is in shambles and he suffers from relentless panic attacks. He'll do this job if Chris will let him out of the killing life.

Lucky knows this is his best chance at salvaging the home life he always craved. But Melissa and Jake aren't going to abandon their chance at something real -- something they've both been lacking in their lives. But they aren't the only ones desperate to survive, and a powerful criminal family isn't the only danger.

And soon, it's clear that an unlikely partnership might be the only way for any of them to make it out alive!

Critique: A riveting and original novel from start to finish, "When She Left" by novelist E. A. Aymar is suspense thriller action adventure storytelling at its very best. A 'must' for fans of fast paced crime fiction, "When She Left" is available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99) and will prove to be a popular addition to community library collections. It should be noted that "When She Left" is also available in a complete and unabridged audio book edition (Brilliance Audio, 979-8400137907, $19.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note: E. A. Aymar ( is also the author of "No Home for Killers" and "They're Gone". His essays have appeared in the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Publishers Weekly, and more. He is a former member of the national board of the International Thriller Writers and is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Sisters in Crime.

The Shades Dripped Red
Peter Kurtz
Longitudes Press
9781732478947, $14.95, PB, 341pp

Synopsis:"The Shades Dripped Red" is also the sequel to "Black Jackknife", featuring suave private detective Nick Montaigne and ex-cop Vern Wister.

The subject again is homicide, only this time the duo has to struggle with espionage, small-town provincialism, and the military-industrial complex. Once again, author Peter Kurtz adroitly weaves both suspense and humor into an intriguing story.

An ever deepening murder mystery, with Montaigne and Wister poking around, surely it's only a matter of time before this cold case is thawed and a killer brought to justice?

Critique: Although a work of fiction, "The Shades Dripped Red" is based on a horrific, unsolved true crime in author Peter Kurtz's old neighborhood. With his distinctive and effective narrative driven storytelling style, this new 'whodunnit' mystery by Peter Kurtz is a fun read from start to finish and a 'must' for the reading lists of all dedicated mystery buffs. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted that "The Shades Dripped Red" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99) as well.

Editorial Note; Peter Kurtz is the founder of Longitudes Press, LLC, which publishes fiction and nonfiction books, while also offering proofreading and editing services. A gratefully retired Senior Technical Writer who disdains the military-industrial complex, he has authored magazine articles as well as four books, both fiction and nonfiction, academically and independently published.

Willis M. Buhle

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

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