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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 7 July 2021 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Carole Mertz's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Christina Francine's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Elan Kluger's Bookshelf Emily Boyd's Bookshelf
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf
Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf
Marlan Warren's Bookshelf Michael Carlson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Tammy Ruggles' Bookshelf Theodocia MacLean's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf


Alex Phuong's Bookshelf

Malibu Rising: A Novel
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine Books
c/o Random House
http://www.randomhousebooks.com
9781524798659, Kindle $13.99, Hardcover $17.07, Paperback $24.68, 384 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Malibu-Rising-Taylor-Jenkins-Reid/dp/1524798657

A Great Summer Read

This novel involves much more than the famous California city. In fact, the epic beach party within this novel is no ordinary party that college students might attend. Furthermore, the night that the four siblings share offers a conclusion to an unforgettable summer. Additionally, the lives of the four main characters change dramatically in the city of Malibu. Therefore, gather up the courage to read this compelling novel, and never view the changing seasons the same way ever again. Cheers to the end of summer (supposedly)!

Alex Andy Phuong
Reviewer


Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City
Edmund Richardson
Bloomsbury
https://www.bloomsbury.com/us
9781526603814, A$29.99, 331 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Alexandria/dp/1526603780

James Lewis (alias Charles Masson) was clearly an excellent story-teller, and in Edmund Richardson he has found the perfect biographer. Richardson, too, is a great story-teller, able to bring history vividly and excitingly to life whilst carefully researching and recording his sources. He begins, promisingly,

This story is about following your dreams to the ends of the earth - and what happens when you get there.

Had he know what was coming, Lewis might have stayed in bed.

Richardson admits from the start that people have been searching for the truth about Charles Masson for almost 200 years; that Masson's autobiography is full of lies; and that 'every writer who has taken on Masson has ended up with some embarrassing bruises'. Yet, although he relies heavily on Masson's heavily titled Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab Including a Residence in Those Countries from 1826 to 1838, and the equally unreliable journals and letters of other 19th century travelers in those lands, he also uses official documents and letters to tell Masson's story.

James Lewis was born in 1800 and grew up in London. At the age of 21, he joined the East India Company which, at that time, was a dominant power in India, controlling trade (especially in opium), and maintaining its own private army and a vast network of spies. Lewis served in its Bengal artillery for 6 years, participated in the siege of Bharatpur, and then, as Richardson puts it, declared 'independence day' and deserted from the army camp in Agra. It was mid-summer, he had little money, he discarded his army uniform, changed his name to 'Charles Masson', and had to live on his wits. In his autobiography, he wrote

I was now destitute, a stranger in the centre of Asia, unacquainted with the language - which would have been most useful to me - and from my colour exposed on all occasions to notice.

From this inauspicious beginning Mason went on to become 'one of the greatest archaeologists of the age'. His work was read, first, at the Asiatic Society of Bengal to 'applause so loud it might have been heard in Kabul'. It reached the attention of learned societies in England, and some of his finds are now displayed in the British Museum. His journey to this status, however, is the stuff of adventure stories and Richardson makes the most of it. He endured robbery, beatings, incarceration and near starvation; he accompanied bands of robbers, became a holy man who would be fed by local people, a Muslim pilgrim on the Haj, a quack doctor dispensing magical potions and charms, and, at one time, an American traveler from Kentucky. He was kidnapped, offered a kingdom (which he declined), and became an expert in self-invention. Inevitably, he eventually came to the notice of an East India Company spy, but because of the intimate knowledge had had acquired of the country, and his ability to mix with of the local people and with the local rulers, instead of executing him the Company blackmailed him into becoming one of their spies.

Masson had to endure many things before this and his interest in archaeology began by accident. After leaving Agra he headed for the Indian border. Reliant on begging for food and water, he barely survived the searing heat of the Thar Desert to cross the border and arrive in rags at Ahmedpur, in present day Pakistan. There he was taken to the court of the Khan, where he met an American adventurer called Josiah Harland.

'Harland went through life with his hand on his pistol and his head in the clouds' writes Richardson, and Harland's Personal Narrative is one of his sources of information about Masson. When Masson met him, Harland was about to 'help' the exiled king of Afghanistan to regain his throne. He had his own 'ragged bunch of mercenaries', and he saw in Masson a trained soldier who could be useful to him, so he enlisted him and paid his as his 'confidential retainer'. Harlan was obsessed with the life of Alexander the Great, and the area in which they travelled as they headed for Afghanistan was well-known as 'the subject of Alexander's exploits'. He constantly regaled Masson with stories of Alexander.

Some of Masson's most traumatic and shaping experiences happened after he 'deserted' Harlan's ragged 'army', but 'on 9 June 1832, Masson walked through the gates of Kabul, after a journey that had taken almost five years'.

The Pashtans say that when God created the world he had a heap of rocks left over, out of which he made Afghanistan. Crossing the borderlands, even in good company, was an arduous journey. But to Masson, everything seemed strange and beautiful. Dusty brown plains and wide fertile valleys gave way to red-gold mountain foothills and snow-covered peaks. Dazed from lack of sleep, 'I could almost imagine', he wrote, 'that I was travelling in fairyland'. He had fallen in love with this land.

Hardly anyone noticed him in Kabul, he lived a quiet life, reading all he could about Alexander (Richardson does not say where he found the books) and he began to exploring the surrounding borderlands where Alexander had reputedly built a great city. He found coins with strange inscriptions, which he managed to decipher as ancient Greek, and then, in a mound near the tiny village of Bimaran, his workmen uncovered a slate-lined apartment which held inscribed coins and a grey soapstone container.

Masson had eyes only for the container. Slowly, carefully, he lifted the lid. Inside, the light shimmered and glinted on metal and jewels. The container was full of 'burnt pearls, beads of sapphire', and precious gems. 'In the centre was standing a casket of gold'.

This gold casket, which is now in the British Museum, had figures shaped into its sides, one of which is the first known depiction of Buddha.

To fund his excavations, Masson had riskily contacted the East India Company's Resident in Kutch, Henry Pottinger, who was known to have a passion for antiquities. Pottinger was hooked, and sent Masson money so that he could continue his work. Unknown to Masson, however, the East India Company's Spy-Master, Captain Claude Wade, had come to know of his real identity. Wade 'loved bribery so much that he was known as 'baksheesh sahib', or 'Mr Payoff', and 'every piece of intelligence from Afghanistan went through him'. He was intimately concerned with the political maneuverings of the ruling Afghans in Kabul, and he was in need of a new spy in there. After following Masson's every recent move, he thought Masson 'would be perfect for the job'. So, he persuaded the East India Company to offer Masson a pardon in return for spying for them. Masson had no choice but to agree, but he hated every minute of spying on his former friends. Nevertheless, he was a good spy; but he was disgusted, later, when his reports were distorted to support arguments for the British invasion of Afghanistan.

Wade, however, became convinced that Masson has been playing a double game and was spying for the Russians and he had him imprisoned. Masson was eventually cleared of this charge but meanwhile all his journals and papers had been stolen, lost or destroyed. His services were no longer required by the East India Company, he received no compensation for his years in Wade's prison, and he returned to England sad and angry at the fate of Afghanistan. Although he only ever recovered a few of his papers, he did eventually manage to complete his book, but it received poor reviews and he made no money from it and, in spite of his brief period of fame amongst archaeologists, he never received the recognition he deserved. He died a poor and disappointed man, and is buried in an unmarked grave in a churchyard in East London.

Richardson is Associate Professor of Classics at Durham University. His brief biography at the end of this book says that he is 'fascinated by characters on the edge of histories', and that he 'tells tales that seem a little too strange to be true'. Masson's life was clearly a gift for him, and he tells this tale with the imaginative flair of all good story tellers, setting the scene, picking out the exciting bits, adding a little Sufi poetry, and making the most of the many colourful characters Masson met. That he leaves a few questions unanswered - such as how Masson, seemingly form a poor area of London, managed by the age of 21 to have learned to read Latin and Greek (p.4) - may be due to a lack of historical evidence, but is perhaps to be expected from a story-teller who needed to pack so much information into a very entertaining book.

Songbirds
Christy Lefteri
Bonier: Manilla Press
c/o Allen & Unwin
https://allenandunwin.com
9781786580825, A$29.99, 384 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Novel-Christy-Lefteri/dp/0593238044

The day that Nisha vanished, before I even realized she'd gone, I saw in the forest a mouflon ovis. I thought it was odd. These ancient sheep, native to our land are wild and rare.
Yiannis had come to associate mouflon ovis with Nisha, the young Sri Lankan woman he had fallen in love with. They had seen one together when they were walking in the Cyprus mountains on Nisha's day off, and Nisha had been entranced. Yiannis had watched her face 'bright with curiosity', and, amazingly, it had stepped towards her as if they shared something Yiannis could not understand. Now, Nisha has vanished and Yiannis, heartbroken, thinks it may have been his fault.

Petra, too, who employs Nisha, is worried. In Nisha's room, she finds Nisha's passport, her precious heart-shaped locket containing photographs of Nisha and a young man, a diamond ring, and a lock of hair. 'That's my Sri Lankan sister's hair', her daughter Aliki tells her:

Her name is Kumari. She is two years older than me - she's eleven'. She stared at me. 'Did you even know that?'.

Petra realises just how little she knows about Nisha, who has lived with her and Aliki for nine years, caring for Aliki since the time that she, Petra, was too numbed by grief over the death of her husband to be a mother to her new-born baby. She knows that Nisha would never leave her most precious possessions behind and, especially, that she would not have left without saying goodbye to Aliki who loves Nisha and is closer to her than to Petra. At Aliki's insistence, Petra begins to search for Nisha, asking everyone who knows her if they have seen her or heard from her and, eventually, trying to report Nisha as a missing person at the local police station.

The officer in charge is uninterested and dismissive:

I can't concern myself with these foreign women. I have more important matters to attend to. If she doesn't return my guess would be that she's run away to the north. That's what they do. She's gone to the Turkish side to find better employment. These women are animals, they follow their instincts. Or the money, more likely.

Petra is shocked. She knows Nisha is not like that and she knows something is wrong.

Yiannis, too, has been trying to find Nisha. He rents the top floor of Petra's house but they rarely meet, and he and Nisha have kept their relationship secret from Petra, because maids are not meant to have boyfriends. But Nisha visits Yiannis late at night, and around midnight, because of the time difference, she uses his tablet to talk to her own daughter back in Sri Lanka. Nisha also likes to keep the two worlds of her life separate:

Downstairs, at Petra's, I am nanny to Aliki. But when I come up here - and everyone is asleep and there are no demands on me - I remember who I really am. I can be a real mother to my own daughter.

Slowly we get to know Yiannis, Petra and Nisha. Yiannis had lost his executive position in a bank during the 2008 financial crisis. Now, he makes a living by foraging for wild asparagus and mushrooms, but mostly by illegally poaching the small, endangered and protected songbirds for which Cyprus is a rest-stop on their migratory route from Europe to Africa. He catches them in nets from a fishing boat, or on gluey lime sticks, 'hundreds of them strategically placed in the trees where the birds come to feed'. He bites their necks to kill them humanely, then cleans, plucks and pickles them ready to sell on to distributors who supply bars and restaurants, where diners considered them a delicacy. 'They are worth more than their weight in gold', he says. 'Usually I make more than 2,000 euros for each hanging'.

Yiannis hates this work, and not just because it is dangerous and he is always afraid of being caught. He has promised Nisha that he will stop, but stopping is dangerous, too, because he knows too much about this illegal trade and would be targeted by those who organize it. He was recruited to poaching by an old childhood friend, Seraphim, who usually works with him, but he now suspects that Seraphim may have had something to do with Nisha's disappearance.

Petra, now that Nisha has vanished, learns to juggle household chores with her work as an optometrist. She now has to look after her daughter and they start to get to know each other. Petra's optometry shop caters for well-to-do customers and her search for Nisha takes her to the home of one of these to talk to the two Sri Lankan maids there who knew Nisha. She sees how this middle-class woman treats her maids like children. They are rarely allowed out of the grounds of the house, because the woman and her husband are 'worried that they will be led astray'. 'These girls have the attention span of fleas', she says the woman at one point. It is a common attitude towards foreign maids who come to work on the island.

Soneeya and Binsa, however, know Nisha and are worried that they have not heard from her. Soneeya, too, has found a bracelet near an old abandoned house which Aliki had inscribed and given to Nisha as a birthday present and which Nisha always wore. Soneeya also, hesitantly, tells Petra about the love between Yiannis and Nisha,

Petra puts up missing persons flyers wherever she thinks someone might have seen Nisha, and eventually she learns about Mr Tony, a Cypriot man whose cafe in Limassol has become a meeting-place for domestic workers on their days off. She arranges to meet him and finds that he, too, is distraught about a young woman he had been helping to escape an abusive employer and who also has gone missing, as has another woman. Later, two more women, both with young daughters, disappear. Petra, Yiannis and Tony all go to the police, but each time the police are uninterested. Only when a body is washed from a disused mine-shaft are they obliged to take action.

Chapters narrated by Yiannis and Petra alternate and we learn about Nisha's earlier life in Sri-Lanka and the reason she left to take a domestic-maid's job in Cyprus. In the course of her search, Petra meets other foreign workers and hears their stories. A few were seduced by social media and dreamed of a rich life but most have obligations - elderly parents, invalid siblings, families they must support: 'Tell me. Who will do this if I don't?' says one. All of the women are paying off debts to the agents who found them work.

I met so many women that night....One of the girls began to cry...'I want to go home, madam,' was all she said. She didn't tell me where home was.

'Can't you go? Just pack your bags and go.'

Through her tears, she laughed. 'It's not as easy as that'.

Interspersed between the narrations are brief chapters of lyrical beauty.

At night, a bat circles the lake, almost invisible against the water. For a brief moment, the clouds part and the moon catches its large wings, its fragmented flight,.... On this night the earth and the sky join without a seam. There are white flowers in the fields, hundreds and thousands of them. Had there been a full moon, had there not been thick clouds in the sky, they would glow like stars, and heaven and earth would be mere reflections of each other.

These pages seem irrelevant to the main story but when a man disturbs them they gradually become linked to it. It is as if death and beauty are inextricable - as is suggested, too, by the songbirds.

In the final pages, we hear from Nisha herself, as another Sri Lankan maid translates the diary Nisha was writing for her daughter

When I held you as a baby, close to my skin, and looked down into your eyes, I saw everything I loved and everything I feared. Within them I saw the sunset over Sri Prada (there's another story about this! Keep reading and you'll find out!).... I also saw your future, this made me afraid.

When I first arrived here, I could hear you crying. You might find it hard to believe but it was you I heard, I know that now....So, I sat in the little boat in the garden and sent you stories and love through the night.

I have so much to tell you. But be patient. Reality and truth need time to unravel.

Songbirds is a beautifully constructed, moving and sad. As in her earlier book, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri draws the reader into lives of those she writes about so that you feel their hopes and fears, see things through different eyes, and, perhaps, come to understand why some must leave their countries, cultures, and often families, too, in order to survive; and why others are often blind to their plight. In a note to the reader, Lefteri describes the origin of the book, the research she did, and the way true stories shaped it. Songbirds, she writes

is a story about migration and crossing borders. It is about searching for freedom, for a better life, only to find oneself trapped... It is a story about learning to see each and every human being in the same way as we see ourselves.

Dr Ann Skea, Reviewer
http://ann.skea.com


Carl Logan's Bookshelf

30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor
Karen Gedney, author
Ismael Santillanes, illustrator
DRG Consulting, LLC
9780999880906, $14.95, PB, 358pp

https://www.amazon.com/30-Years-Behind-Bars-Trials/dp/099988090X

Synopsis: "30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor" by Karen Gedney is the story of an internal medicine specialist who spent almost thirty years behind bars as a prison physician. She was designated as one of the best in the business by the American Correctional Association and won a 'Heroes for Humanity Award' for her work in HIV in the correctional system. Her true stories document the journey of a naive young physician who survived a world she was ill-prepared for and turned it into a calling.

Critique: An compellingly informative and deftly written memoir, "30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor" showcases Dr. Gedney's career and provides fascinating insights into a correctional system. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections in general, and Penology supplemental studies curriculums in particular, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Carl Logan
Reviewer


Carole Mertz's Bookshelf

Not Pink
Margaret Kasimatis
https://www.margaretkasimatis.com
CreateSpace Independent Publishing
9781548167592, $9.95 Paperback, $2.99 Kindle, 252 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Not-Pink-Margaret-D-Kasimatis/dp/1548167592

As clinical psychologist and Clinical Associate Professor of Health & Medicine at Carroll University, Dr. Margaret Kasimatis displays an obvious wealth of understanding of human nature and of the characters she introduces in her novel, Not Pink.

Kasimatis describes a family situation in which, though love for each other is clearly shared, each of five family members are troubled by a particular loss. The novel focuses mainly on Mae, a young girl who at the age of ten is removed from her small family, her mother and her brother Michael, and sent away to a Catholic boarding school. Mae resents her uncle for having implemented this boarding school plan. She sees him as distant and uncaring and she's angry that her mother has allowed this so-called solution.

One can sympathize with Mae's mother. She has lost her husband and is struggling to cope with her emotional and financial problems. Since she has not completed her education, she has limited skills and feels ill-equipped to raise her family without additional financial support.

Mae doesn't understand much of her family dynamics and longs to be with her brother Michael, but he's been sent to military school and they meet only at family Holidays. Mae struggles through seven years of school away from home, full of resentment. Her confusion increases when at age 17 she falls in love with Jack. However, he must soon depart for South America and a job with the Peace Corp. Her infatuation with him seems all-important. What must she do? Abandon her own education, marry him and accompany him to his post in Peru? When she tells her mother and Uncle Nick of her engagement and intention to marry, they immediately reject the plan. She is too young. She has not even completed her high school education. Uncle Nick delivers a firm ultimatum. Thwarted, Mae turns her anger against herself and enters a phase of extremely reckless behavior. She is declaring her independence, but her actions are all taken with the attitude of "I'll show them!"

I particularly like the clarity with which Kasimatis portrays the forces at work on each of her five characters, helping the reader to see both the negative and positive drives in evidence. Kasimatis carries the reader forward by maintaining an underlying tone that somehow remains hopeful. This, in spite of the fact that Mae will bring suffering and hurt to her family and to herself by the actions she will take.

Alcoholism, drug addiction and self-destructive tendencies, including cutting, are dominant in Mae's life, even as she tries to assume more responsible roles - eventually as wife and mother. We also see her coming to face-to-face with the restrictions her Catholic faith has placed on her. That the religious element is respected, not shunted, is another reason to value this novel.

Not Pink (the title derives from a color choice of Mae's daughter and also has connections to an event that happens early in the novel) lays out the consequences of selfish behaviors; it presents an underlying premise that if one faces the truth, one can begin to construct a meaningful life and contribute to the well-being of one's family. Seeing the truth allows beneficial change to happen. Kudos to Kasimatis for bringing these lessons to the fore.

The realistic dialogue, the kindred playfulness seen between Mae and her brother, the care their mother feels for her children, the ultimate explanations Michael derives about his mother's relationship with his uncle and aunt make this a most satisfying novel, genuine in its revelations. Worthwhile for adults to read, it is also suitable for a young adult readership. Its apt description of adolescent behaviors and the complexities of family life bring to mind Loraine Folk's novel The End of Aphrodite and the short stories in Nancy Gerber's 2018 collection, A Way out of Nowhere.

Eagle & Phenix
Nick Norwood
https://nick-norwood.com
Snake Nation Press
https://snakenationpress.org
9780997935349, $15.00, 72 Pgs.

http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Phenix-Poems-Nick-Norwood/dp/0997935340

Eagle & Phenix Evokes Lost Times, Lost Places, and the Will Toward Betterment

Nick Norwood teaches creative writing at Columbus State University and directs the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians in Columbus, Georgia, and Nyack, New York. He's the author of several poetry collections, including one produced as a limited edition in collaboration with the artist Erika Adams. In Eagle & Phenix, we find narrative poems, all but one written in free verse.

The spaces the author inhabits to share his poems with the world are places in his personal history (the childhood, the racing home after school to skirt school bullies, walking the Tar Road) and the town's history (the closed-down cotton mill in Columbus, Georgia, and the now decontaminated Chattahoochee River.)

His poems traverse fields where men sweat swinging bales of hay, the burnt-out warehouses and empty shacks, the muscle-armed men with grease stains standing before their workbenches, and spaces above the river where the eagle flies. We discover a very American quality in the images in this collection, the way Norwood brings us close to the earth, close to the efforts men made, and the way, with the closing of the mills, our country has moved on.

In the opening section of Eagle & Phenix, we see the childhood scenes. Norwood's use of alliteration makes Orientation (p.17) particularly rewarding with such phrases as [The sunlight] "glosses the cowhides and silvers grass under its glare." And "red clay as clear as a trail of blood."

In "Shetland," (p.19), the only rhymed poem, the narrator comes face to face with Shorty, the family horse.

He was a rough beast, I a skittish child.
But for once, now, we two were reconciled...

In Part II, the poet "visits" family members, including great-grandmother and great-grandfather. These are written in memoriam and enhance the historical quality of the collection. "Aunt Sue" (p. 29) depicts an independent spirit who moved out West. (...you stayed, / 900 miles from family and friends, / became vice president of the local bank / and lived alone on the outskirts of town). Also in Part II, breathless moments occur in "In a Deer Stand with My Daughter." (p.33)

A crow caws like a circus barker.
Again. Again. Then flies off. I lift
my binoculars, and lo, there he is
at wood's edge, melted into reality,
his modest rack like a small castle

The moment of taking the shot (with daughter as hunter), makes the poem so fine in its creation of time shared by two people, its building of tension, and its sweet resolution.

In this collection, Norwood is recording histories and textures of the town of Columbus, Georgia, the birthplace of Carson McCullers. Citing her words as epitaph to Part III, the poet broadens our understanding of the town: "When the mills are slack this town is veritably a place of lost and hungry people." With the poems "Clamor," "Remains of a Brick Kiln Built by Slaves," "LB on the Violin," and "Hired Hand," Norwood extends the McCullers kind of Georgia loneliness and hunger. In "Abandoned Farmhouse," (p.47) the narrator explores an old house, a barn, and a rusted 1940s Dodge, describing the view from the bedrooms as stretching "toward a brown treeless horizon sad as a Sunday afternoon" and the seat covers of the old Dodge as emitting "ghosts like an aged Limburger." We see, sense, and smell the scene.

All but one of the poems in Part IV fit tightly together. They give a definitive history of the cotton mill culture, and like the eagle, weave around the town and the Chattahoochee. Lines from "Eagle & Phenix Dam," (p.51) are evocative: lunging lint / all day and slouching home / to a company shack. Haunting, too, these from "Eagle-Watching" (p. 57):

On an oak limb her beak-blade went in
eyeball-first while the homeless dozed
on nearby benches, belongings
leaf-bagged beside them.

"Eagle," (p. 60) a poem of five stanzas of unrhymed quatrains, seems not to belong to this collection, for its theme is the landing on the moon.

Throughout, Norwood offers consistency of craft in his high-powered descriptions, evoking lost times and lost places. Those were difficult times in the town. The poems make us appreciate how Norwood's writing preserves something in our country that needs preservation: that hard will to make things better.

Lovely Daughter of The Shattering
Patrice Boyer Claeys
Kelsay Books
https://kelsaybooks.com
9781949229509, $14.00 Paperback, 75 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Lovely-Daughter-Shattering-Patrice-Claeys/dp/1949229505

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Manchester, and a nominee for Best of the Net, Patrice Boyer Claeys is also the recipient of a Certificate in Poetry from the Writer's Studio of the U. Of Chicago. Her beautiful poetry collection speaks to me as an elegiac emblem of the poet's love for her child. It is admirable in the way it conveys the pain and care involved in mothering a disturbed child, and perhaps even more admirable in its use of a rather difficult poetic technique: the cento poem.

Some poems are given in the mother's point of view, some in the child's. We learn about an adoption in the opening poems. "Loving You," (14) employing a Biblical quote from Proverbs, tells us "there will be no resting place." (For either parent or child, we presume). From this and other poems in the volume, we suspect the infant has suffered more than one trauma.

In subsequent poems Claeys shifts to the child's troubled adolescence. "Vampire," a cento poem, (15) stings with its imagery:

That's when you can't escape
the sky, Too light,
it enters the dark hole of the head
like a tongue passing over a bloody knife.

This verse links to an earlier one in the collection in which the baby's head is defined as "riddled with / petroglyphs left / by the other / mother." (12) These are poignant metaphors describing injury.

"The Call" (27) clearly catches the self-centeredness of a teenager home from school, raiding the refrigerator. Its phrases "school sucked," "I just can't stand being around ugly people," "NO CHEESECAKE," "you like to starve me," "this cool kid," "maybe we should chill together," and "while we all puked" make the point: everything is to be understood in how it affects the egocentric adolescent.

"Child" (16), nevertheless, sears through a violent scene and shows us that, by decision, the mother will prevail.

So, my precious child, rail on.
I will survive the choking doubt that sends me down
this slope of pain, that rounds my shoulders
as I lightly pat for broken glass.
I will hold fast.

"Dear One" (18) describes a truce, of sorts:
We have made it to 15.
I no longer need to find
reasons to punish you...
We can put down the saw,
walk away from the log.
No more pushing and pulling...

In "cento" poetry, each line is a line taken verbatim from another poet. (Claeys borrows from as many as 18 poets within one poem.) Lovely Daughter of The Shattering contains eleven of these remarkable cento poems, wielded skillfully in their movement toward the author's final declarations.

I found "A Daughter's Lament When Her Son Returns to His Father" (63) one of the most touching of the cento poems. (In it, the teenager, now an unwed mother, must hand the child over to its father.) "I should have known we have no footing," she mourns, in a borrowing from Rose Auslander. Here Claeys also quotes from Gail Goepfert, Carl Dennis, Chana Bloch, and others; their styles are concealed within the poem's pervading sorrow.

In appreciating Claeys's inventiveness in the cento poems, readers may also value the opportunity to revisit the voices of these other poets, as I did. "I Have Fallen a Long Way" (57) opens with lines from Sylvia Plath, for example, and closes with a line from Mary Jo Salter. Yet these voices, through Claeys's control, form one new, cohesive whole:

I must be alone,
left alone for once
so I can't see and contemplate the ache.
I'm not thinking of you,
of something amiss
of worrying about where you are and how you're doing
of a dark hole
of one kohl-lined, almond eye.

Kudos to Claeys for her close connections to these various poets and for her skill in assimilating them into her own expressive creations.

Leave It Raw
Shakira Croce
Finishing Line Press
https://www.finishinglinepress.com
9781646622658, $14.99 Paperback, 42 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Leave-Raw-Shakira-Croce/dp/1646622650

Now and then a significant debut chapbook enters the literary stage. Almost before it can take its bows, we sense the artist's potential and immediately call for a second act.

Most of Shakira Croce's poems in Leave It Raw are compelling and well crafted. They place characters in vivid settings, give hints of relationships, and stir our imagination. A few poems cause the reader to beg for more clues to allow fuller comprehension. These include the opening poem, "Blue Ridge Mountain Runaway," and "Searchlight." The latter, though laden with suggestion, provides but scant certainty for the reader.

Yet, as I read on in the collection, I am more accepting of Croce's scant depictions, recognizing this as part of her style in Leave It Raw. Many poems involve commuting, riding the buses and trains in and out of New York City. I was a straphanger for years in that city and know what it's like to ride the rails and jostle with the crowds. Croce puts us there, creating the city scenes with deft poetic strokes.

In "Departure," she writes - "she hurries from under / cranes hanging in the sky / anticipating the construction of the 29th floor." Then midway through the lines, "Her bus arrives, and she sits / opposite a man who looks just like the actor... marveling at the light blue of his eyes." Later, "Looking back to the man, / she was surprised that he still held her face." As the character disembarks she realizes she feels "less alone than when she rose that morning."

A poem with a more rural setting, "The Remains" depicts two people picking through destroyed objects following a house fire. The two recollect their shared childhood and consider again the remains of their relationship. We glimpse a charmed moment in their lives which brings the poem to an effective close: "It was the first time the two of them.../ stopped and looked deep and breathless into each other's eyes / and laughed."

I particularly liked the final selections in the collection; all are narrative poems. "Break from the Headlines" describes the tearing down of dead oak trees, as a child is left unattended. "Our Hands" describes a lost friendship. "Misdiagnosis" makes us wonder at a mistake in a "specialist's" overlooking of the health records.

The final two poems, "Second Honeymoon" and "Cycle" are sweetly forward-looking. The author contemplates what "our future granddaughter will need." She discloses a desire "to want to produce my own little girl before she's gone." ("She" represents the persona's mother.)

Shakir Croce earned a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and later studied in Florence, Italy. The appealing cover of Leave It Raw was designed by Warren Croce. The author is widely published in literary journals and was a finalist in the Linda Flowers Literary Award competition. We eagerly await her "second act" following a highly successful debut.

Carole Mertz, Reviewer
https://www.carolemertz.com


Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

U.P. Reader -- Volume #5: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World
Mikel Classen and Deborah K Frontiera
Modern History Press
www.ModernHistoryPress.com
9781615995714, $17.95 paperback, $28.95 hardcover, 308 pages
B09253976L, $5.95 Kindle

http://www.amazon.com/U-P-Reader-Bringing-Literature/dp/1615995714

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is also known as Upper Michigan or the UP, with people native to the area known as Yoopers. Hear it? Yooper and UP? Michigan has two peninsulas. The authors of this anthology are from the upper peninsula (don't confuse it with the lower one with the Trolls, that won't do). The area has a rich local culture, rough terrain, and myths. Lake Superior shipwrecks are still being discovered. Historical photos were shared by many of the writers.

Stories, poems, and interviews in this volume revolve around hunting, fishing, mining, boats, long stretches of rural roads, pasties, writing obituaries, long winters are described with humor or sad details. One story says, "mosquitoes back here could flay the flesh and the deer flies circle[d] nearby with fork and knife ready to finish off the scraps."

I read this laughing out loud at parts that caused my husband to ask what was so funny. I had to buy him a book to finish mine in peace.

Writers, listen up! Advice for writing and a story about one author's book currently in production to become a movie are included. People young and old alike who have lived in the U.P. learn how to enter the contests for inclusion in the next anthology.

Life Skills: Improve the Quality of Your Life with Metapsychology (Explorations in Metapsychology)
Marian K. Volkman
Loving Healing Press
https://www.lhpress.com
9781932690057, $16.95 paperback, $5.95 Kindle, 188 pages
B0040JHURS, $5.95

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Skills-Improve-Metapsychology-Explorations/dp/1932690050

Some people keep reliving the past and therefore face anger or addiction issues, according to theories discussed by this author, Marian K. Volkman. Do you know or see people who get angry beyond reasonable for some situations? Do you wonder what their problems might be? Do you know people who are dealing with addiction issues? Do you wonder why some people have anger management issues or become alcoholics? Repressed painful memories may manifest in this way, and until the fundamental problems are dealt with, people will not improve and find happiness in life.

Out of sight, out of mind is not something that works with people suffering from painful past issues or even PTSD. It takes a great deal of effort to repress such memories. If you know someone in this situation, Volkman tells you how to observe and realize what might trigger outbursts or physical illness. The problems demand resolution.

Chapter exercises explain what to look for, offer ideas for discussion or thinking, and better understand human behavior. Perhaps even our own! The author states:

"When we become aware of our own behavior, especially our own less-than-perfectly-rational behavior, we have greater understanding and more personal power to act in saner and more creative ways."

Children, for some reason, are experts at observing what triggers people. If we have trouble figuring something out, see if a child can help notice. Sometimes we might intervene, and sometimes we need to realize the issues are more extensive than a temporary fix can solve.

Ask, don't tell, is perfect for helping someone calm down. Several concrete ideas are also given so we can know how to de-escalate a situation. An emotion scale and a decision-making model are provided to help us all understand ourselves and others better.

Carolyn Wilhelm
Wise Owl Factory LLC
https://www.thewiseowlfactory.com


Christina Francine's Bookshelf

The Gypsy's Warning, book two of the Shape-Shifter's Wife series
Carolyn Radmanovich
Bookstand Publishing
https://carolynradmanovich.com
9781634988858, $14.95 pb
1634988858, $24.95 hc
B089HZGSGZ, $0.99 Kindle

http://www.amazon.com/Gypsys-Warning-Book-Shape-Shifters-Wife-ebook/dp/B089HZGSGZ

"This was crazy, giving up the only life I had ever known. Jumping off the bridge was the only logical recourse for me. I must take the leap" (11).

The date is May 31, 1995 and spunky Heather Hayes cannot believe what she's about to do in order to be with her sister. Could jumping into the Russian River really take her to the year 1849, a tumultuous time in history during California's goldrush, or would she drown in the swirling darkened depths?

The Gypsy's Warning is the second in a series about two sisters searching for happiness. They had traveled the world and couldn't find any such thing. Each one unable to grasp and keep love. Angelica's husband died in an earthquake leaving her struggling, and Heather found herself drawn to men she could never have. Heather finds a letter from her sister making an unbelievable claim, and realizes she has nothing to lose. She follows her sister's instructions to takes the plunge. Just when an urgent need to breathe would cause Heather to pull water into her lungs, something amazing approaches her.

When Heather climbs from the river, and is greeted by sloping hillsides and canopies of greenery, and with sounds of birds and a swirling river, she feels as a new born baby. She decides that "Despite [her] doubts, it appeared [Angelica] was right." Now, how would she find Angelica in a vast wild place alone in another time? Though resourceful, when footsteps approach from behind, she can't help but wonder if she'd done the right thing.

Radmanovich takes readers on a journey through time back to California during the Gold Rush era. The adventure blends bewitchment and wild west reality. The spot-on historical setting offers insight to the realities of the environment at the time, and of the suffering. At the same time the story provides romance and magic. The heroine is outspoken when women were supposed to be meek, and her locks stick out because they are blazing red. An independent woman journeys through time and experiences the best and the worst of people during the Gold Rush. She learns a lot about herself as well. Life threw a lot at her. More to overcome required her spirit through. A gypsy warns her about yet another journey, one filled with "great peril" (175).

Speculative fiction readers and those drawn to unusual possibilities will enjoy this second book in Radmanovich's Shape-Shifter series. Is transportation to another time-period merely a near-death experience, or a ride through a dimensional door? History buffs will enjoy The Gypsy's Warning for more reasons than history however. They will want to know if the two sisters finally find each other. An added mystique is the two stories are based off the author's real-life episode of falling into the Russian River and almost drowning. Enchanting, fun, and heartwarming.

Christina Francine, Reviewer
www.ChristinaFrancine.org


Clint Travis' Bookshelf

River, Sing Out
James Wade
www.JamesWadeWriter.com
Blackstone Publishing
BlackstonePublishing.com
9781982601089 $27.99 hc / $8.69 Kindle

https://www.amazon.com/River-Sing-Out-James-Wade/dp/1982601086

Synopsis: Attempting to escape his abusive father and generations of cyclical poverty, young Jonah Hargrove joins the mysterious River -- a teenage girl carrying thousands of dollars in stolen meth -- and embarks on a southern gothic odyssey through the East Texas river bottoms.

They are pursued by local drug kingpin, John Curtis, and his murderous enforcer, Dakota Cade, with whom River was romantically involved. But Cade and Curtis have their own enemies, as their relationship with the cartel controlling their meth supply begins to sour.

Keeping tabs on everyone is The Thin Man, a silent assassin who values consequence over mercy.

Each person is keeping secrets from the others -- deadly secrets that will be exposed in savage fashion as their final paths collide and all are forced to come to terms with their choices, their circumstances, and their own definition of God.

With a colorful cast of supporting characters and an unflinching violence juxtaposed against lyrical prose, River, Sing Out dives deep into a sinister and sanguinary world, where oppressive poverty is pitted against the need to believe in something greater than the self.

Critique: River, Sing Out is a suspenseful take of drugs, criminal networks, and desperation. A young man and a teenage girl seek to flee violence and poverty, chased by dangerous enemies. Dark secrets abound, in this intense journey through the depths of both Texas rivers and human depravity. It should be noted for personal reading lists that River, Sing Out is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.69).

Clint Travis
Reviewer


Elan Kluger's Bookshelf

Inside the Cold War: Loy Henderson and the Rise of American Empire 1918-1961
H.W. Brands
Oxford University Press
https://global.oup.com
9780195067071, $60.00

http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Cold-War-Henderson-1918-1961/dp/019506707X

Biography is best used as an entry point to discuss a subject. The Power Broker tracks the fall of New York. Loy Henderson's life tracks neatly with the rise of the US from continental to global power. Henderson spent his life in the Foreign Service and played his part in some of the most important diplomatic spheres of his era.

Loy and Roy Henderson were inseparable, until the beginning of World War I. Because of an arm injury, Loy stayed home as Roy went off to fight for the US. Loy eventually joined the Red Cross but by the time he reached Europe, the war was over. That did stop him, and he spent the early years of his career working in Europe. Roy died in the war, and Brands credits this to his unusual amount of self-regulation and fastidious work habits. Instead of pure ambition as his drive, he felt and his widowed father emphasized that he carried the burden of his fallen brother in whatever career he went to.

Years working before the War and spent in school, as well as his aid work, meant that when Henderson joined the foreign service, he was already 30, whereas most were new college graduates. He was not a withdrawn intellectual like the most famous foreign service officer of that era George Kennan, nor was he openly outgoing. His most distinguishing characteristic was a skill at consular administration. Whereas the most brilliant and famous of foreign service officers appear from writing skill or good relations with foreign leaders, Henderson had the simple but powerful skill of good management, which helped his rise.

He was chosen to assist William Bullitt when the US opened relations with the USSR, and as third in command, he was mostly in charge of that famous group of officers. His age constantly set him back, as younger officers were given Russian language training - something that was not afforded to him. He continually worked, even spending time in a Magic Mountain-like sanatorium, before leaving because he wanted to continue to work, despite his possible tuberculosis.

His work at the embassy in the Soviet Union was rewarded with being sent to a whole different area, wasting the detail he had used as he had spent much of his time focusing on the Soviet Union. He was eventually appointed head of near eastern affairs and got in conflict with much of the Truman administration due to his "love for Arabs," which was used as a slur due to his opposition to American recognition of Israel.

He spent time in India, having difficult relations with Nehru, and worked with Mossadegh, eventually supporting his eventual overthrow.

While not the most famous, nor the most distinguished diplomat, Henderson was present at many important historical moments and shaped them according to his pragmatic vision. While biographies typically cover the most momentous figures, this one covers someone behind the scenes, and in doing so, shows the power of devoted service, even without world-historical recognition.

Elan Kluger, Reviewer
elankluger.com


Emily Boyd's Bookshelf

The Colorado Kid
Stephen King
https://stephenking.com
Hard Case Crime
www.hardcasecrime.com
9781789091557, $12.95 Print, 180 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Kid-Hard-Case-Crime/dp/1789091551

Stephen King wrote a book that no other author could have published: the pacing is glacial, the ending is not satisfying, and the genre is unclear. Nonetheless, Mr. King gives the readers genuine characters, a picturesque setting, and a story that is impossible to forget. That, perhaps, is the point Mr. King is making.

Mr. King breaks from his usual horror stories and plummets into crime mystery with The Colorado Kid, published under the Hard Case Crime imprint. Yet, he attacks the genre in the same manner that he approaches every story -- with Stephen-Esque originality. The Colorado Kid is not a traditional whodunit, nor is it a hard-boiled crime like many Hard Case Crime books. Instead, this book is more of a meditation on how people ponder unsolvable mysteries for decades.

In The Colorado Kid, a man is found dead on an island beach off the coast of Maine. It takes a year to identify the body, but that is only the beginning of the mystery. How did he get to Maine from Colorado? Why did he come? What was the cause of death: murder, suicide, or accidental?

Years after the incident, two old newspaper reporters, Vince Teague and David Bowie, are still considering the mystery. They have a young intern, a woman named Stephanie McCann, to whom they tell the story. Teague is 90 years old and the founder of The Weekly Islander, the island's only newspaper. Bowie is the 65 years old managing editor of the paper. McCann is a college journalism student who has come to the island to be their summer intern. Except for an opening scene in a restaurant, the entire book takes place in the newspaper's office. The only action in the story is the occasional trip to the refrigerator for a cold drink and later excursions to the restroom.

The book is a quick, easy, entertaining read that I finished in the space between brunch and tea time on a Sunday afternoon. However, I was somewhat bored by the lack of action. The non-stop conversation became tedious. I found I didn't care about the three main characters very much. They were having a pleasant afternoon's conversation without any conflict. There were no stakes, nothing to lose, nothing to gain. What kept me reading was the mystery of the Colorado Kid.

Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books and has become one of the world's most successful writers. His first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974 and made into a movie in 1975. His latest work, Billy Summers, will be released on August 3, 2021. Check out his website: https://stephenking.com

Emily A. Boyd
Reviewer


Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

EYE-OPENING AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING RABBINIC TALES

While the Talmud and other rabbinic documents are known as volumes containing legal discussions, most people do not know that the Talmud and other rabbinic volumes such as Midrash also include non-legal writings about theology, ethics, psychology, health, and many other topics, as well as fascinating and delightful stories. Along with being appealing, riveting, and charming tales, these accounts also contain subtle often overlooked lessons. Rabbi Dr. Moshe Sokol offers a very interesting easy to read study of these eight dramatic reports about rabbis facing extreme difficulties. His analyses are exceptionally thoughtful. He asks questions about the narratives and offers wise insightful explanations. As much as we enjoy the stories before reading his examinations of them, we enjoy them much more when we read his penetrating thoughts.

The title of Sokol's book, "The Snake at the Mouth of the Cave," is the title of one of the eight tales and is only one of several strange events in that tale. The stories focus on many human problems: improper behavior by pious men, interpersonal conflict, alienation, pain, triumph, success, failure, love, fear, anger, redemption, yearnings, and more. He analyses all of the accounts in a rational eye-opening manner. He tells us the sources of each of them and gives us an enlightening introduction to each, including the bio of the main character and the conditions of the time he lived.

The first three are devoted to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. The leading scholar of his time, around 70 CE, said that Eliezer had a phenomenal memory; he was like a plastered cistern that never loses a drop. He absorbed and knew all the teachings of his predecessors. Eliezer is remembered for affirming, "I never said anything I had never heard from my teachers." The first of the three tells is about his remarkable youth, how he only began to study at age 28. The second, the most remarkable story in the book relates his disagreement with all other scholars, every one, and how several miraculous events occur proving he was right including God intervening in the dispute and declaring that he is correct about the issue at hand and is always correct. Yet, the ancient sages rejected Eliezer's view, rejected the miracles that proved him to be right, and rejected God who declared that he was correct. And they went further. Despite his towering intellect and achievements, when Eliezer refused to accept their view they excommunicated him. How could they do this? How could they reject God? Is excommunication a proper reaction to a difference of opinion? Wouldn't excommunication cause future students to be unable to learn from the wise Eliezer? Why does the story end with God being pleased with being rejected? The third tale tells about Eliezer dying still refusing to accept the view of the majority.

The remaining five tales are also dramatic, raise questions, seem contrary to Jewish thought, yet Judaism accepts them as containing the truth.

The book's fourth chapter analyses Akavya ben Mahalalel who refused to retract four of his legal decisions despite extreme pressure from the majority of rabbis, and who was also excommunicated. Why did the sages fear Akavya's dissents? Isn't this a violation of free speech? Why did Akavya dissent? What was so important that he was willing to be excommunicated rather than recant?

The fifth, sixth, and seventh stories looks at the behavior of the leading sage of Israel when Babylonia had more enlightened sages, Rabbi Yohanan ben Nappaha, traditionally recognized as the editor of the Jerusalem Talmud, who in the fifth chapter, refused to engage in business, and despite poverty, decided to spend time in study. The sixth has his complex relationship with his close friend, brother-in-law, and student Reish Lakish, a former thief. The seventh describes how the relationship ended with both dying because Rabbi Yohanan refused to pray for Reish Lakish's recovery, despite his sister's heartfelt plea, when the tale reveals that his prayer would have saved Reish Lakish's life, and Rabbi Yohanan realized his mistake and died in misery because of his despair. And in the seventh, reverting to an earlier time, Rabbi Yohanan has a disastrous encounter with the sage Rabbi Kahana, seeks to resurrect him after killing him, and faces the snake.

The last chapter in the book is an analysis of the strange occurrence to Honi, the magic worker who could force God to bring rain, who slept for seventy years. Why seventy? Did it really happen? What did Honi learn? What do we learn? Honi was considered a very pious and knowledgeable man. Why didn't the people whom he met when he awakened try to learn from him?

How should we interpret rabbinic tales filled with miraculous and non-natural events? Should we accept them as literal reportage of actual events? Are the tales addressing the changes that occurred to Judaism after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE and the ascendancy of Babylon over Israel? If so, what are they telling us? Is what they are telling us relevant today? What do the tales teach about relationships? What do the incidences tell us is a well-lived life?

Readers will find that Rabbi Sokol's analyses address all of these questions and more. There is much in this 231 page book to entertain, teach, and improve us.

WAS BARUCH SPINOZA WRONG OR WHOLLY OR PARTIALLY CORRECT?

Spinoza lived from 1632 to 1677 in Holland, had an excellent education, knew the writings of Jewish philosophers, and was considered quite intelligent even at an early age. The Amsterdam community expected him to become a rabbi. His views are unalike the notions of most Jews at his time and now, but he would not have been criticized had he not expressed them at the wrong time.

The Jews who settled in Holland were mostly refugees from the appalling persecution in Spain, Portugal, and other countries. They had been forced to hide their true religious beliefs, becoming Marranos - ostensible Christians - while living in these lands. They obtained a somewhat unclear and therefore dangerous right to maintain a synagogue when they escaped to Holland, but they lacked complete freedom and peace of mind. They felt that they must be very circumspect in what they said and did and not to offend the Christian government in the city in any way. They were deathly afraid that the government officials would see even the behavior of a single Jew as an act of rebellion that was supported by the entire Jewish community.

Since the average Jew and non-Jew in the seventeenth century believed in such things as the ever presence of God, a soul, the inerrancy of the Bible, faith rather than reason, the power of prayer, and the existence of helping angels, and since the Christians killed even their fellow religionists who rejected these notions, the Jewish officials excommunicated several Jews who held contrary views to protect the rest of the Jewish community from Christian outrage and death. One of these was Spinoza, who was excommunicated at age 24, in 1656. Spinoza said that God can be seen in the laws of nature, doubted the immortality of the soul, argued against faith, and denied the existence of angels. The Jewish community did not realize that Spinoza's ideas were not new and that the respected twelfth century Jewish sage Moses Maimonides had the same opinions.

Jewish and non-Jewish thinkers called Spinoza's ideas atheistic and immoral. But, then, as years passed, scholars began to recognize the value of his philosophy. The following are some of his teachings in a bit more detail:

1. There are fixed laws of nature that people should study and understand in a scientific and rational manner, making decisions based on the facts that this study reveals, not on beliefs, faith, dogmatism, tradition, or superstition - and certainly not on ideas rejected by logic, science, and the human senses such as what we can see.

2. Everything is determined by nature, not by miracles, magic, prayers, or incantations.

3. There are no defects in the laws of nature. God does not need to interfere in this

world to change anything. God is not like the plumber who needs to return to the work he did to make repairs; God got it right the first time.

4. People are not the center of the universe.

5. God functions in nature. Scholars differ regarding this point. Spinoza may have meant that God does not exist and what we call God is nature. This is called pantheism. It is a view that Maimonides rejected. However, Spinoza may have meant that the human mind cannot know anything positive about God, only negatives, such as there cannot be more than a single God, and all we can really know about God is from what God created or formed, namely the laws of nature. This is also Maimonides' view, the way he understood Exodus 33:17-23, when Moses beseeched God to tell him what God is.

6. Thinking is also affected by natural laws. Cause and effect exist in physical nature; a specific action is followed by a specific result. The same occurs with thinking. It is frequently possible to predict what a person will think based on what has just occurred to the person. Spinoza's critics contend that this idea denies free will because it states that a person is compelled to think particular thoughts. They misunderstand his point. Spinoza is saying nothing more than what modern psychologists say: there is a natural law of cause and effect in regard to both actions and thought.

7. The "foundation of virtue is the endeavor (by a person) to preserve the individual self, and happiness consists in the human capacity to preserve its self." But, while looking out for one's own happiness, one must be careful not to hurt others because harming others eventually harms the individual who causes harm.

8. As the ancient Greek Aristotle taught, a person must act according to the nature of humans and not the nature of vegetation, animals, or inanimate objects. Since the nature of humans is their reasoning ability, people must conduct their lives by using reason, not follow others like a faithful dog, or sit passively like a bouquet of roses hoping to be sniffed or like a chair that their master can sit upon. Humans must exert themselves physically and mentally, both intellectually.

It is no surprise that people who believe that God is present in the world, changing nature when people pray for changes, who think of themselves as the most important element of the universe - in short, most of humankind - would vilify Spinoza as an annoying heretic and do everything in their power to banish him and his kind far from their sight. However, it may be a good idea to rethink this position because Spinoza may be right in whole or in part. And he may be saying what Maimonides said before him.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer
www.booksnthoughts.com


Jack Mason's Bookshelf

What Child Is This?
Conrad Tanner
Dorrance Publishing
https://www.dorrancepublishing.com
9781647022150 $27.00 pbk / $22.00 Kindle

https://www.amazon.com/What-Child-This-Conrad-Tanner/dp/1647022150

Synopsis: Trek Brandis has been haunted for a number of years by a young boy who appears to him in a recurring dream. He has no idea who the child is or what the dreams mean. When he goes on his honeymoon, he by chance sees a photo of a child and recognizes that it is the same child from his dreams - making him now realize that the boy is real. Trek will stop at nothing to find out who the child is and why he has been coming to him through his dreams.

Critique: What Child Is This? is a suspenseful novel about the bridge between dreams and reality. Trek Brandis is troubled by recurring dreams of a child he knows nothing about. When he recognizes the child in a photograph, he decides to find out once and for all who the child is, and why the disturbing dreams won't stop. His search gradually uncovers a cruel and tangled web of confused, depraved, and demented people, a web that also surrounds him. What Child Is This? keeps the reader in suspense to the very end, and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that What Child Is This? is also available in a Kindle edition ($22.00).

Jack Mason
Reviewer


John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Jesus Christ Movie Star
Phil Hall
BearManor Media
PO Box 71426, Albany, GA 31708
www.bearmanormedia.com
9781629336992, $32.00, HC, 176pp

https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Christ-Movie-Star-Phil/dp/162933698X

Synopsis: The life of Jesus Christ has challenged and inspired filmmakers from the pioneering works of the late 1890s through today's digital cinema. No other life story has been the subject of so many films, with so many wildly different (and often controversial) interpretations.

The big screen Jesus has traveled through both multimillion dollar epics and microbudget underground films, recreating the miracles of the Gospels while also advocating for modern political issues. Moviegoers have seen Jesus walk on water and conquer death, and also break into show tunes and play straight man to a zany Bette Midler.

Films about Jesus have inspired a diverse range of controversies, ranging from a groundbreaking copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Thomas Edison to an intellectual scandal that rocked the 1964/65 New York World's Fair to accusations of anti-Semitism against Mel Gibson's distinctive interpretation of the New Testament.

In the pages of "Jesus Christ Movie Star", Phil Hall, (who is also the author of "The History of Independent Cinema" and "In Search of Lost Films", and host of the podcast 'The Online Movie Show'), takes the reader on the most extraordinary odyssey in cinematic studies by tracing how filmmakers from across the years and around the world have sought to fill theaters with the story of Jesus. Beloved classics and bizarre curios are part of this memorable journey as the "light of the world" brings illumination through the lens of a movie projector.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively informative study that will be of immense interest to film buffs and members of the Christian community alike, "Jesus Christ Movie Star" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, church, seminary, college, and university library Christian Cinema and Cinematic Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, film buffs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Jesus Christ Movie Star" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781629336985) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.95).

Editorial Note: Phil Hall's three-decades-plus career encompasses work as a United Nations radio reporter, the president of a New York public relations and marketing agency and the author of 10 books.

John Burroughs
Reviewer


Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Thinking Like a Boss
Kate Crocco
Baker Books
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton, Ada, MI 49301
www.bakerpublishinggroup.com
9780801094767, $19.99, HC, 224pp

https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Like-Boss-Uncover-Overcome/dp/0801094763

Synopsis: With over 11 million female-owned businesses in the US today, more women than ever are taking the reins to create their own success. But still others who feel the pull to start a business are afraid that they don't have what it takes. Maybe they have a great idea but wonder if, as women, the are actually qualified to make it happen. Or who want to expand their business, but are worried about how it will affect their family.

In "Thinking Like a Boss: Uncover and Overcome the Lies Holding You Back from Success", Kate Crocco draws upon her years of experience and expertise to expose and counter the 12 limiting beliefs that are holding women entrepreneurs and business owners from their true potential, such as: I should have it all together and I don't; I'm not ready or qualified to start; I don't have enough time; It's already been done before -- and more.

With plenty of inspiring true stories and actionable steps that any woman can take (starting now!) "Thinking Like a Boss" will help turn limiting beliefs into limitless opportunity.

Critique: As real world practical as it is inspiring motivational, "Thinking Like a Boss: Uncover and Overcome the Lies Holding You Back from Success" is an extraordinarily effective and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Business Management collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of MBA students, academia, corporate executives, business managers, entrepreneurs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Thinking Like a Boss: Uncover and Overcome the Lies Holding You Back from Success" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781540901262, $15.99), and in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.68).

Editorial Note: Kate Crocco, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, confidence and mindset coach and writer who mentors female leaders around the globe. She has coached women through one-on-one, group, and mastermind programs, as well as through her Confident Ladies Club® community. She is the host of a weekly podcast, Thinking Like a Boss, where she shares and equips entrepreneurs to stop believing the lies holding them back from success and to begin believing the truth that they are capable of turning their dreams into their reality.

Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy, and Other Last Chances
Catherine Keller
Orbis Books
Price Building, Box 302, Maryknoll NY 10545-0302
www.orbisbooks.com
9781626984134, $26.00, PB, 240pp

https://www.amazon.com/Facing-Apocalypse-Climate-Democracy-Chances/dp/1626984131

Synopsis: Drawing on John's prophetic Apocalypse, theologian and academician Catherine Keller unveils a "dreamreading" of our current global crisis -- particularly the threat of climate change and ecological devastation. She shows that John's New Testament gospel is not a foretelling of future events, but a parable of our present reality, which exposes the deep spiritual roots of these threats.

Critique: Of special relevance to clergy, seminary students and non-specialist general readers within the Christian community with an interest in Christian Liberation Theology, Science & Religion, and the New Testament Apocraphal Writings, "Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy, and Other Last Chances" is an extraordinary and thought-provoking read. While a recommended addition to church, seminary, community, college, and university Biblical Studies library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy, and Other Last Chances" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.90).

Editorial Note: Catherine Keller is the George T. Cobb Professor of Constructive Theology in The Graduate Division of Religion of Drew University. Her many books include Apocalypse Now & Then; God & Power; Face of the Deep; On the Mystery; Cloud of the Impossible; and most recently, Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public.

The Art of Contemplation
Mary Angelon Young
Hohm Press
www.hohmpress.com
9781942493648 $19.95 pbk / $15.81 Kindle

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Contemplation-Mary-Angelon-Young/dp/1942493649

Synopsis: In this compassionate and resourceful book, the author gently guides the reader into a larger awareness, reminding us of simple ways to stay grounded in the present moment and connect with what is real in an increasingly unreal human world. She invites us to remember that we are never separate from the elements of the natural world (earth, air, fire, water, space), and shows us how to tap these treasures for contemplation that can bring us back "home" to ourselves, our breath, our trust in the goodness of human nature.

With personal narrative, meditative reflections and invitations to creative expression, the author draws us into the garden of her inner world. Here we witness how it is possible to transform the suffering we experience in ourselves and others into a nourishment that feeds our essential being. This contemplative journey quiets our anxious minds and troubled emotions, and ultimately refines our offerings of service toward what is most beneficial and effective.

With a background in Jungian studies and psychotherapy, and decades of life on a path of contemplation, the author draws from a wide range of faith traditions as well as from transpersonal psychology. She fearlessly engages both the light and the shadow elements of our human experience, inviting us to confidently welcome self-knowledge and the potentials contained within all of the moods of life, even our depression, doubts, or despair.

Lovers of the natural world, as well as seekers in any spiritual tradition, will find encouragement and inspiration in joining the author on this journey into the inner world.

Critique: The Art of Contemplation is a simple guide written especially to promote inner peace in today's trying times (including but not limited to the immense suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic). With a combination of personal testimony, poetry, inspirational quotes, reflections ideal for meditation, encouragement to engage in artistic expression, and more, The Art of Contemplation supports the harmony within by reminding the reader of their connections to forces far greater than any individual. An index rounds out this gentle sanctuary of words and ideas, highly recommended for anyone seeking respite from stress and worse. It should be noted for personal reading lists that The Art of Contemplation is also available in a Kindle edition ($15.81).

Julie Summers
Reviewer


Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Embracing God in Sacred Creation: A Thirty-day Spiritual Sojourn
April Dawn Reese
Westbow Press
c/o Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
www.westbowpress.com
9781973697305, $27.95, PB, 80pp

https://www.amazon.com/Embracing-God-Sacred-Creation-Thirty-day/dp/1973697300

Synopsis: April Dawn Reese didn't know it at the time but when she first launched her paddle board into the Chesapeake Bay, it would be the beginning of a great spiritual journey. This journey would bring many encounters with the presence of God in His inspiring creation. Through the synthesis of journaling, reflection and photography, and through the dual lenses of counseling and Christianity, "Embracing God in Sacred Creation: A Thirty-day Spiritual Sojourn" was created for the benefit of anyone Inspiration & Spirituality.

Critique: Beautiful full color photography is matched with inspiring commentary and thoughtful observations. The result is "Embracing God in Sacred Creation: A Thirty-day Spiritual Sojourn", an uplifting combination of images and ideas that are very highly recommended. It should be noted that "Embracing God in Sacred Creation: A Thirty-day Spiritual Sojourn" is also readily available in an inexpensive digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Every Little Win
Todd Tilghman, author
Brooke Tilghman, author
Tricia Goyer, author
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
www.thomasnelson.com
www.brillianceaudio.com
9781400229109, $26.99, HC, 240pp

https://www.amazon.com/Every-Little-Win-Celebrating-Victories/dp/1400229103

Synopsis: When Todd Tilghman, pastor and father of eight from Meridian, Mississippi, auditioned for The Voice, he counted it as a win simply to sing in front of an audience other than family and church members. Despite no music or vocal training, he not only made it through the blind audition (with all four celebrity judges vying to coach him) he also won the show's entire eighteenth season. Fans were drawn to Todd's tremendous joy on stage, giving them much-needed inspiration during the hard challenges of a global pandemic.

In the pages of "Every Little Win: How Celebrating Small Victories Can Lead to Big Joy", and with the assistance of Tricia Goyer, Todd and Brooke share how their focus on joy and celebrating every little win has helped them to overcome numerous challenges over their twenty-plus-year marriage. From adopting two children from South Korea to fighting for their newborn son's life to pastoring a small congregation through periods of adversity, Todd and Brooke share the lessons they've learned and the strategies that have moved them from fear to faith to ever-present joy.

Critique: Inspiring and inspiring, informative and entertaining, "Every Little Win: How Celebrating Small Victories Can Lead to Big Joy" is an extraordinary biography of a contemporary Christian family. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library American Biography & Memoir collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Every Little Win" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781713598381, $26.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note: Tricia Goyer is a speaker, podcast host, and USA Today bestselling author of over 80 books. Tricia writes in numerous genres including fiction, parenting, marriage, and books for children and teens. She’s a wife, homeschooling mom of ten, and she loves to mentor writers through WriteThatBook.Club.

Good Girls Don't Make History
Elizabeth Kiehner, author
Kara Coyle & Keith Olwell, authors
Micaela Dawn, illustrator
Wide Eyed Editions
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
www.quartoknows.com
9780711265424, $22.99, HC, 160pp

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Girls-Dont-Make-History/dp/0711265429

Synopsis: "Good Girls Don't Make History" is an important and timely graphic novel that amplifies the voices of female legends from 1840 to the present day. Reliving moments from the lives of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, Ida B. Wells, and Susan B. Anthony, these inspiring stories are boldly told from one of the most formative eras in women's history -- the fight for the vote in the United States.

"Good Girls Don't Make History" begins at a modern-day polling station in California with a mother and daughter voting together, then flashes back 180 years to the World Anti-Slavery Convention where the women's movement got its legendary start. The twists and turns take readers across the country and through time, illuminating parallels between epic battles for liberty in the past and similar struggles for justice today.

Critique: The collaborative work of authors Elizabeth Kiehner (a Future of Work leader by day, graphic novel creator by night) and Kara Coyle (an award-winning creative director and writer. Working in the advertising industry), and award-winning freelance illustrator Micaela Dawn (whose work has been featured in magazines, on book covers, and in several international galleries), "Good Girls Don't Make History" is an extraordinary and 'learning effective' approach to understanding the Suffragette movement that resulted in the right of women to vote in American elections. Informative, thought-provoking, entertaining, "Good Girls Don't Make History" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, highschool, community, college, and university library Graphic Novel, American History, Political Science, and Women's Issues collections.

Margaret Lane
Reviewer


Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Landscape of a Marriage
Gail Ward Olmsted
Black Rose Writing
https://www.blackrosewriting.com
9781684337217, $20.95

https://www.amazon.com/Landscape-Marriage-Central-Park-Beginning/dp/1684337216

In 1858, Fred Olmsted, the landscape architect behind Central Park and other national treasures, marries his brother's widow, Mary, and fathers her children. Mary reminds herself she's made of sterner stuff to find courage to adapt to this "marriage of convenience." But as she and Fred fall in love, she discovers that sterner stuff might not mean what she thinks. Perhaps it means leaning on Fred, relying on their companionship and devotion through family deaths, work hardships, and uncertain world events.

Gail Ward Olmsted, a descendant of Fred Olmsted through marriage, sculpts a portrait of the Olmsted marriage like Fred builds his career: project by project. Each short chapter highlights a characteristic or pivotal moment in the family's life. From weekday meals, funerals, or holidays, the vivid scenes convey shared toil and tenderness. Reliance on dialogue brings out individual personalities with immediacy and reflects Mary's perspective: her attention to relationship, feelings, and domestic concerns. In putting family first and herself second, Mary's concerns seem to run counter to the suffrage movement going on around her. But her children and husband convince her of her worth and value before the law, and at home. Mary's soft-spoken personality and salt-of-the-earth conversations endear her to everyone around her, including readers.

An album of snapshots covering fifty years, this book gives a vivid overview of a turn-of-the-century couple. Events like the Civil War, Tammany Hall corruption, and the World's Fair, seen through the lens of women and children, offer a poignant, personal glimpse into the past and into families everywhere.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer
https://marisbookreviews.wordpress.com


Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

Right Back Where We Started From
Joy Lanzendorfer
Blackstone Publishing
https://www.blackstonepublishing.com
9781094089027,$27.99 Hardcover, $8.69 Kindle, 336 pages

http://www.amazon.com/Right-Back-Where-We-Started/dp/1094089028

Right Back Where We Started From is a book I really wanted to like. The story is of three women - grandmother, mother, granddaughter. Grandmother's husband forces her to travel across the country in a covered wagon to pursue his dream of striking it rich in the Gold Rush. He ends up making his money in a more mundane but sure-fire way, in banking. Mother grows up in their mansion and feels she has a right to always live that way. She marries poorly at first, but later meets a prune farmer from whom she siphons money. That doesn't go well. Daughter, for some reason, think she's entitled to the good life of a rich woman like her mother once was, but has no intention of doing anything remotely respectable to get there.

The book is well-written and well-edited, but I found myself struggling to get through it. There is not a sympathetic, likeable or respectable person between the two covers. The women all think the world owes them wealth, health and happiness, whether they've earned it or not. They're greedy and shifty, and mostly mendacious, and they're angry when they don't get what they want. The men are liars, scoundrels and thieves, or pitiable pushovers. I would have liked someone to cheer for, put some faith in, or at least to care a little bit about.

There's another thing about this book that stymied me (although I did finish it, so there was something pulling me along.) The prologue opens with the mother declaring that "Everyone wants to move to California," and it proceeds as if to argue that no one should. I started to think that the author was suggesting that only despicable people live in California or end up here. (Yes, I live in California.) This is odd, if true, because the author was at least at one time (and perhaps still is) a journalist in Petaluma, CA, which is not a bad place to live. Perhaps there's motive but not judgment in her plot: Perhaps she bemoans the state's growth over the past century and wants to discourage others from coming. If I had thought California was populated with the characters who populate this novel seventeen years ago, I certainly wouldn't have moved here.
I thank the publisher for providing a free copy of this book for review.

Radio Girls
Sarah-Jane Stratford
New American Library (Penguin Random House)
9780451475565, $16, Paperback, $11.99 Kindle, 384 Pages, 2016

http://www.amazon.com/Radio-Girls-Sarah-Jane-Stratford/dp/0451475569

Set in London in the 1920s and 1930s, this fast-paced story of the rise of broadcast journalism, specifically the BBC, and the rise of fascist sympathies in the UK, portrays the transformation of a shy, uneducated and mousy woman into a broadcaster and journalist with responsibility, poise, and confidence. Maisie Musgrave (a fictional character) comes to the BBC as a self-deprecating, insecure Canadian ex-pat with a Broadway actress for a mother and a father who disappeared before she ever met him. Her ambition is to find a husband and return home to have babies and set up a household. Through her exposure to the ambitious and politically motivated intellectuals at the BBC, she discovers her own talents and that changes the course of her life.

Although the novel often feels rushed, the pace does reflect the hectic nature of the news business, even though the BBC wasn't allowed to broadcast actual "news" at first, relegated to analysis, features and interviews, thanks to the jealous territoriality of the newspaper industry. The cast of players that the author gives major roles - some fictional, some based on real people - is large enough to give a sense of the chaos of the early BBC, but it involves more (out or closeted) gay men and women than you might expect within a single company or - for that matter - building. It is hard to know if, other than Hilda Matheson, a real pioneer at the BBC and lesbian, the early BBC was such a magnet for LGBTQ journalists and engineers, or if it was the author's intent to make the book more popular with the LGBTQ community.

This book has been around for five years, but I happened to see it on BookBub, and decided to check it out. It was engaging read that introduced me to the beginnings of the BBC and broadcasting in the UK.

Eternal
Lisa Scottoline
G.P. Putnam (Random House)
9780525539766, $28 Hardcover, $14.99 Kindle, $30 Large Print Paper, 480 Pages, 2021

http://www.amazon.com/Eternal-Lisa-Scottoline/dp/052553976X

Although prolific Scottoline is known for writing mysteries, she here turns to historical fiction to tell the story of the Nazi invasion of Italy, and interment and extermination of hundreds of Rome's Jews in World War II.

Scottoline's three main characters are fictional young people caught up in the fascist movement, resistance, and persecution of the Nazi takeover of Rome, but much of the setting, the timeline, and the events represent real history. The story is devastating on both an individual level - the way fascism tore families and friends apart - and on a national level, as the country eventually - too late for many Jews - came to terms with its own culpability in abetting fascism and Hitler, mainly because the trains were running on time.

Best friends from the beginning of time, Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro experience the approach of war, the growing restrictions on Jews, the deprivations brought by Mussolini, and the eventual murder of Roman Jews, each from their own family's perspective. A uniquely civil love triangle develops as the teenagers mature, and for Elisabetta, much of the narrative arc involves choosing between Marco and Sandro and supporting herself as a young, orphaned woman. For the boys, the war and the nationalist movement are far more important drivers of their actions and choices. For Marco, the pull of the legitimacy and power he gets from his job with the fascists, and for Sandro, the growing threats to his Jewish family, provide the tension as they navigate Rome's deterioration and as the fascists force families apart and pit friends against friends.

I heard Scottoline give an interview with her editor from Putnam in which she described the extensive on-the-ground research she was able to do before the pandemic. It shows. Rome becomes a character of the novel, and the reader can feel the cobblestones rattle a body's joints as bikes traverse the city, cross bridges and pass through old Roman gates.

I have two minor complaints about this book: First, I thought it was a bit longer than it should have been to hold readers' interests all the way to the end. (Caveat: I feel a bit like Emperor Joseph II when I say that. "Too many notes.") And second, I was surprised to read the repetitive physical descriptions, particularly of people, from such a gifted writer with such excellent editors.

Those caveats aside, I highly recommend Eternal as a unique look at WWII among the current, homogenous deluge of books about Europe's northern war theatres and the spy networks of the first half of the twentieth century.

Say Nothing
Patrick Radden Keefe
Doubleday (Penguin Random House)
9781984883216, $28.95 Hardcover, $31 Large Print paper, $13.99 Kindle, 800 Pages, 2019

http://www.amazon.com/Say-Nothing-Murder-Northern-Ireland/dp/0385521316

Named one of the ten best books of 2019 by the New York Times, I waited a long time to read this excellent history of The Troubles in Northern Ireland because I'm a lazy reader and I resist anything over 300 pages. However, I am glad I waded into Say Nothing at the recommendation of a friend who has a non-familial, distant relationship with the author.

Keefe's history of the bloody, violent conflict in Northern Ireland, which spilled over into England, Ireland, and continental Europe, starts with the disappearance of a mother of ten who was taken by masked men in Belfast in 1972. From there, he details the rise of the violence, and profiles and follows the leaders who masterminded the bombings and murders and some of the minor actors who participated in the violence and political movements. Even with Keefe's extensive research and detailed history, unanswered questions remain about the responsibility for certain deaths, and the intent of some of the terrorist leaders, which is testimony to the complexity of the issue and the shifting political aims of the players and factions involved.

The author brings the story full circle, closing the mystery around the mother-of-ten's disappearance. In the final quarter of the book, he details attempts to document the movement and the relative culpability of various leaders, understand their intent and their later frustrations, and evaluates the disappointing, desultory results. The book loses momentum in this section, but that doesn't take away from its value or the tremendous understanding it imparts.

These Tangled Vines
Julianne MacLean
http://www.juliannemaclean.com
Lake Union Publishing
9781542025393, $14.99 Paperback, $4.99 Kindle, 304 Pages

http://www.amazon.com/These-Tangled-Vines-Julianne-MacLean/dp/1542025397

These days when people talk about "fantasy" as a genre, they usually mean stories of made-up worlds, dragons, vampires, underworlds - places and creatures and rules different from those of our everyday world, products of someone's imagination.

But These Tangled Vines from the prolific romance and women's lit world author, Julianne MacLean, is a fantasy in a different sense. It's the kind of fantasy you might dream up as you're watching the clock over your desk at work crawl past 3:30, knowing it will NEVER get to 5:00 and happy hour. It's the fantasy you have as you stare at a pile of bills on your dining room table, facing once again the fact that two plus two in your bank account is never going to equal five, which is what you owe the utility companies. Or the fantasy you sink into when the kids are screaming in the back seat, your mother is on the phone asking you to tell your father where he can shove you-know-what, and your husband is in on the other line, waiting for you to titillate him with what's for dinner tonight.

I can't think of three women I've ever known who wouldn't think it a fantasy to find out they might have inherited a billion-dollar vineyard and estate winery in Italy from a biological father they didn't even know existed, just when they've lost their boyfriend and are on the verge of bankruptcy. (Note: I said "might have.") That is what MacLean's heroine discovers (again "might have"), and as a reader of this kind of prose, you know whatever happens from the first page to the last, in the end, she's going to have exactly the kind of life you've always dreamed of.

There's only a bit of a mystery here to delay the arrival of this happy ending: did the man who owned the vineyard really love the protagonist's mother? But otherwise, this romance presents itself exactly as you expect it to at the beginning and it won't surprise you all the way through. Many of the characters are straight out of the romance playbook, especially the greedy, lazy half-brother who is all about what's in it for him (moneywise, that is), the mother who wanted so much more from life than she got from her invalid husband, and the man who builds a viticultural empire, but loses the love of his life.

All that said, it qualifies as an escapist summer beach read, and is exactly what I expected from Lake Union Publishing.

A Good Marriage
Kimberly McCreight
HarperCollins
https://www.harpercollins.com
9780062367693, $27.99 Hardcover, $16.99 Paper, $11.99 Kindle, 400 Pages

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Marriage-Novel-Kimberly-McCreight/dp/0062367692

If this book had come out right at the beginning of the summer, rather than in the crowded launch month of March, I believe this would have been a sure-fire bestseller of the summer beach-reading season. It has all the right stuff: a sassy and snooty upper-middle class social set full of colorful characters, a murder mystery that presents more eligible perpetrators than the crowded train car in Murder on the Orient Express, and enough potential motives to keep a defense attorney busy for a decade, tracking down leads. The twists of the plot keep you guessing right up to the end, and then everything falls into place like it was inevitable, but still unexpected. Just as we expect good mysteries to do.

Lizzie, a recently hired, reluctant corporate lawyer, whose former dream job was as a public defender, gets a call from an old college acquaintance - a "flame" if he tells it, a nuisance if she does. Through a serious of devious, despicable, and manipulative tricks, he gets her to represent him in his trial for the Park Slope murder of his wife, and his defense ends up being anything but easy. From his prison cell, he keeps adding to the risks she'll face if she fails to get him acquitted, while outside of prison, none of the couples who were friends of the victim prove to be quite what they initially appear. There's a lot of dirty laundry here, all of which is in danger of being exposed when the computer system at the private school that connects them all is hacked. The mystery of how anyone connected to the school or the murdered woman has managed to stay married reveals itself to be as unresolvable as the murder itself. Lizzie's own already troubled marriage is increasingly threatened when it appears her husband might join the cast of possible murderers. As she tries to solve the murder and save her job, Lizzie wonders what makes a good marriage and how does one know if it's worth saving.

This is a face-paced, fascinating mystery set in a tony Brooklyn neighborhood that looks a lot glossier from the outside than it does once McCreight explores its (perhaps fictional), seedy underbelly. Highly recommended.

Marj Charlier
Reviewer


Mark Walker's Bookshelf

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together
Heather McGhee
https://heathermcghee.com
Random House Publishing Group
http://www.randomhousebooks.com
9780525509561, $28.00

http://www.amazon.com/Sum-Us-Everyone-Prosper-Together/dp/B087CBHQQK

I initially came across this book after listening to several interviews with the author and realized that her focus on how racism affects all Americans was consistent with what we've learned about the consequences of the COVID pandemic, where the majority of developing countries are unable to access the vaccine, despite none of us being safe until everyone is vaccinated. And the consequences of ignoring the plight of so many Central Americans forced to flee their homes to head north in search of safety and a decent quality of life.

The author embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, analyzing what we lose as a country when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm - the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Interestingly, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed.

Race would play a central role in the rise from a starving colony to a superpower. The economy depended on systems of exploitation, which, in 1860, resulted in four million human beings in a slave trade with a market value of $3 billion, which benefited white colonizers and slaveholders. This, according to the author, made it easier to sell the idea that the inverse was also true: that liberation for people of color would necessarily require taking something away from white people. Indigenous groups would fare even worse, as an estimated 56 million lives, or 90 percent of all the land's original inhabitants were lost, either through war or disease.

The consequences of the institutions and systems established to maintain this social order have consequences today. President James Madison created the Electoral College as a compromise to the slave states, which had won a Three-fifths Compromise in the Constitution, giving them added power in Congress based on a fraction of the nonvoting Black population. Consequently, an Electoral College built to protect slavery has sent two recent candidates to the White House, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, despite having lost the popular vote.

The author uses the events of the 1950s and 1960s to illustrate the impact of the zero-sum paradigm when white officials in communities across the country opted to drain their public swimming pools rather than integrate them. Instead of promoting a higher standard of living for everyone, the author points out that the United States is near the bottom of the list of industrialized countries, below Latvia and Estonia, when it comes to per capita government spending. Consequently, our roads, bridges, and water systems rated a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Nationwide, white public school districts have $25 billion more in funding than those that are overwhelmingly of color, making the dependence on local property taxes to determine the quality of our children's education even less defensible. One example of how the education system impacts everyone is that, since 2017, the average public college tuition has nearly tripled, helping bring its counterpart, skyrocketing student debt, to a level of $1.5 trillion in 2020. And according to the author, "This represents an alarming stealth privatization of America's public colleges." She goes on to reveal that millions of students are also paying double digit interest on private loans.

The author demonstrates the impact of racism on our healthcare system, "A study modeling COVID-19 transmission routes in a representative U.S. city found that the majority of the city's infections came from situations where racism was driving higher exposures." She goes on to say that the country's inadequate public health capacity can be understood as a "drained pool" - antigovernment sentiment that has hobbled the public health infrastructure and "decades of cuts to public hospitals in low-income and communities of color have left half the low-income areas without a single ICU bed..."

The one thing that white supremacy does provide is "scapegoats." She points to the function that immigrants from Latin America play in today's "racial theater," being blamed for the loss of jobs and the more diffuse, "way of life." The author quotes Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who told her audience, "In some parts of the country, it doesn't seem like the America that we know, and love doesn't exist anymore," and blamed that on immigrants.

The author does offer "five discoveries," which will lead to a "solidarity dividend." First, "refill the pool of public goods, for everyone." Uprooting the "zero sum paradigm" by designing solutions in which one size does not fit all. And finally, to begin to establish our shared history, which has been destroyed by forces selling denial and ignorance, and whose projections have succeeded in robbing us of our own shared history.

The author ends her book with the realization that "Since this country's founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts..." "We in 'We the People' is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than, and greater for, the sum of us."

According to the NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, "One of today's most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone - not just for people of color."

About the Author

Heather McGhee is an expert in economic and social policy. The former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos, McGhee has drafted legislation, testified before Congress and contributed regularly to news shows, including NBC's Meet the Press. She now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization. McGhee holds a BA in American studies from Yale University and a JD from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.

At Home and Abroad
V.S. Pritchett
North Point Pr
B01K3RSN80, $TBA, January 1, 1989

http://www.amazon.com/At-Home-Abroad-V-S-Pritchett/dp/1448200873

While perusing my books recently, I recognized this book by V.S. Pritchett, who is a British writer and literary critic and a well-known travel writer. I'd recently written several of my own stories on Latin America, "The Ying & Yang of Travel: Traveling Solo," and "Tschiffley's Epic Equestrian Ride," so I decided to get this author's take. After all, according to the "WorldCat List," which is the largest data- base on books for libraries around the world, Pritchett had logged 422 works in 1,896 publications in 5 languages in almost 43,000 library holdings. And he was knighted of Sir Victor Pritchett.

Sir Victor chose to fly from country to country, as opposed to my approach of riding buses or in the back of trucks and Paul Theroux's preference for railroad travel on "The Old Patagonia Express." According to the author, who made this trip in 1956, "For anyone who lives by eye and ear, as I do, to use them in the exotic South American scene is a major pleasure of life. In the months I was there, I flew a good ten thousand miles, saw men and women at their most primitive and most civilized, crossed from sea to sea, from mountain to jungle. Mine was quite literally, a flying visit; but the impressions of the flying visit are sharp and indelible."
He was inspired by an editor in London who told him, "If I were a young man, I would pack up and go to South America for life. That is the continent of the future." He wanted to observe how the nation creating civilizations of Spain and Portugal had been transplanted. How America and the Indian and Negro races they mixed with had changed them. And, "I believe in differences, and I have tried to set out how the Colombian differs from the Peruvian, the Chilean from the Argentine, the Argentine from the Uruguayan, and the remarkable Brazilians from all..."
Upon arrival in Ecuador he observes, "The Indians are in the streets, the Indians are in the art. There is a cult of the Indians. But they are still serfs on the huge estates where the Friesian-Holsteins gaze in the lovely Andean valleys." He goes on to say that, "Quito is the most Spanish-looking city in South America, and architecturally the richest..."

In Peru, he flies to Cuzco and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, "Those implacable walls of the Incas, beautiful in their mortarless, ingenious interlocking, became foundations on which the Spanish manors and cloisters, the Spanish arcades and green and brown balconies, the rich Spanish churches, have been built..." And he adds to the ambience with, "But at the top of the street we do not hear the Spanish goat bells. Instead, there is a group of long-necked llamas heavy with their wool, looking at us de haut en bas with a disdain one had never noticed in duchesses. The Inca stone blocks are a timeless and simple geometry, one of the fundamental inventions of the human race..."

His comparisons between the countries he visits is insightful, "Once again you see how irreconcilably the South American states differ. Peru is courtly; Bolivia is barbaric. In Chile, the Spanish spirit has been diluted: central Chile has the classical grace of the Mediterranean; southern Chile, of the lakes, with its cool and rainy climate and its blossoms hung against the snow mountains, suggests a Japanese print, or again, because of its plantations of firs, some part of Germany or Scandinavia; in the extreme south the cold and harshness of the uninhabitable country are Antarctic...I have heard the Chileans called the English of South America..." He refers to Uruguay as "little Sweden" for cultural and political reasons. "Montevideo is the least American of modern South American cities. It is very Germanic. It even goes in for small British and German motorcars."

He describes the tropical fruits and beverages of Brazil as follows, "The Brazilian picks out his mango and smells it first, as if he were pausing to accept or reject the bouquet of a wine, making sure it has just the right, faint exhalation of the curious turpentine-like fragrance. In tropical countries, the scents and savor of the fruits are a refined pleasure of the senses. They like wines in their vintages; indeed, the fruit of South America is really the wine of the country and the juices offered at the stalls belong to a world of natural soft drinks that is closed to palates hardened by alcohol. For myself, though I cannot drink the sweet Guarana, which is consumed all over Brazil, I find the dry Guarana sold in the Amazon delicious. Most of the whiskey in South America, by the way, is a swindle, the gin deserves only to be drowned, the lager beer is excellent and the various vodka-like fire waters are for desperation."

He sums up the future of the continent at the end of trip as follows, "We have plunged into a life whose values are often basically distinct from our own, and which is awake and creative. What, we must ask, will this continent become when it is fully opened and its huge natural resources used? All travelers in South America are staggered by its wealth and its prospects. They are overcome by its beauty. We have had the incredible luck to see a continent at the moment of its awakening."

From South America, the author continues his travels through Portugal. -Down the Seine. -Guideless in the Pyrenees. -Journey in Greece. -Irish character. -Americans in my mind. -London. -Thames River of history and the Appalachian Mountains. As a foreigner, he provides the reader with a unique take on the essence of the Appalachians, "North Carolina is proud. Proud of having less than 1 percent of foreign blood in its stock. Proud of its pure Scottish, Irish and English blood. There you hear a strange dialect, not an acquired twang, but a traditional, custom-hewn brogue, something which hovers naively between a Devonshire accent and the Oxford manner..."

He even goes on to describe this unique dialect, "Nat Pearcy is my name. Yessir. I didn't catch yours. Oh, yes. Why, right smart of them folk living in Gap Creek over Cloudland. There's Ned, and Doc, and Tom, and Commodore. Would you-uns be like kin to them? Well, no, I guess not, because you-uns comes over the waters. Whaur did you-uns come from? Are you married? So am I. Well, well!..."

I must agree with Eudora Welty of the New York Times Book Review when she says, "He is one of the great pleasure-givers in our language."


This from an obituary written by P.N. Furbank of the Independent:

For surprisingly many years V. S. Pritchett (Sir Victor Pritchett) was the best short-story writer and, equally, the best impressionistic literary critic in Britain. He was also the author of a very distinguished travel book, The Spanish Temper (1954), five estimable novels, and a memorable two-volume autobiography (A Cab at the Door, 1968; and Midnight Oil, 1971). But the fact that his reputation was always high and suffered no great fluctuations tended to obscure the real distinction and importance of his achievement.

As a short-story writer, Pritchett attached a very high value to the "ordinary." He was occasionally said to cherish eccentrics, but this was a mistake, as he himself remarked. He was not interested in prodigies and monsters and was not driven by obsession, or at least on the scale of a Balzac or Dickens. What interested him was ordinary people, that is to say, unique people, and the temporary or momentary relationships and bizarre conjunctures into which life has a way of thrusting them.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer
www.MillionMileWalker.com


Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Olga
Bernhard Schlink
Translated by Charlotte Collins
HarperVia
www.harpercollins.com
9781474611145, $27.99, HB
B08R3XLLR9, $14.99 eBook

http://www.amazon.com/Olga-Prof-Bernhard-Schlink/dp/1474611133

A story full of emotions, giving a flavor of a life during the century following the time of Bismarck.

The protagonist in the novel, Olga Rinke, mistrusted "grand" undertakings. Plenty of them happened over the time in which the novel takes place, starting with Bismarck's undertaking to make Germany big and powerful, colonizing places like South West Africa and Samoa. And then came the German rivalry with Britain, its motivation to support Austria against Serbia and declare war on Russia, France and Belgium, the beginning of World War I, followed two decades later by Hitler's designs on all of Europe, which became World War II. Olga's lover, Herbert Schroder, harbored grand plans as well. He began his life with childhood running, every place he went. He next joined the colonial army in Africa, then traveled to South America, the Kila Peninsula, Siberia, and the Kamchatka Peninsula, and finally he sought to find the Northwest Passage and the North Pole. Olga accused him of a misguided search for the great expanse, the expanse without end. Herbert was not dissuaded. He set off for Nordaustlandet in 1913, a journey, Olga feared, that would snatch him away in the bloom of his life. Olga stayed at home, alone for two world wars, and then was afflicted by deafness from an illness, which meant the loss of her teaching career and the beginning of her job as a seamstress in 1950, soon working only for a family with a young boy named Ferdinand.

The first part of the novel, before Ferdinand, is written in a third person, omniscient, point of view. It is a biographical account of Olga's life before 1950. The second part of the story is told by Ferdinand in his account of Olga's life from 1950 until her death when she was ninety. Through Ferdinand's observations, gaps in Olga's early years are filled in and the reader is handed a wider perspective of the history of Germany surrounding Olga during her life, a closer look at the "grand" events and a contextual exploration of the woman. The passage of time in the first two parts of the novel can leave the reader dizzy. Events and years, sometimes decades, pass in between the paragraphs. This pace is a brilliant device used by the author to demonstrate how memory works, and how the meaning of one's life can be uncovered by putting it side by side with historical events. Through a minor character in the novel, the owner of a secondhand bookshop in Tromsø, Schlink directly comments on the process, lest the reader miss it: "History is not the past as it really was. It's the shape we give it." The third and final part of the novel is epistolary. It contains the letters Olga sent to Herbert, letters he never received, care of a post office in Tromsø, a small town from which he was to depart on his search for the Northwest Passage. These letters are found by Ferdinand in his trip to Tromsø and reveal what Olga thought during the decades after Herbert's departure, in effect granting the reader her sometimes shocking first person narrative to complement Ferdinand's earlier one. With the help of these letters, Ferdinand binds together Olga, Eik and Adelheid Volkmann and concludes the story, noting that before her death from an explosion at a statute of Bismarck Olga "set the counterpoint to the melody of her life."

Olga is as much about emotions and memory as it is about the historical events during the life of a German woman. This is as it should be. In the words of Doris Lessing, "Novels give you the matrix of emotions, give you the flavour of a time in a way formal history cannot." German history and the enormous social upheaval that occurred between Victorian and modern times is inextricably entwined with Olga's life. At one point Ferdinand comments upon Olga's like of walking through cemeteries: ". . . everyone was equal here: the powerful and the weak, the poor and the rich, the loved and the neglected, those who had been successful and those who had failed . . . All were equally dead, no one could or wanted to be grand anymore, and too grand wasn't even a concept." Olga castigated Ferdinand at one point, accusing him of being a moralizer, wanting to save the world instead of attending to his own problems: "Moralizers want it both ways: big and cozy at the same time. But no one's ever as big as their moralizing, and morality isn't cozy." For these attitudes, Olga held Bismarck responsible, but how true her words rang when also applied to Hitler's reign. And how true they ring in today's "grand" globalized world, full of an expanding "cancel" culture and, in Ferdinand's words, a "media that have forgotten how to do research and replaced it with moralizing sensationalism."

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer
https://www.markzvonkovic.com


Marlan Warren's Bookshelf

All Storms Pass: the Anti-meditations 2 - Rain and Fire
Luke Benoit
Privately Published
9780692222119, $17.95, Paperback 346 pages

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0692222111

"If anyone ever told you that you were anything less than wonderful - they lied."

- ALL STORMS PASS: RAIN AND FIRE

Life Coach Luke Benoit has followed up his book, ALL STORMS PASS: THE ANTI-MEDITATIONS with a second book in the series: RAIN AND FIRE. Warning: This is not a book for the faint of heart in need of recovery from trauma. It's a two-fisted, take-no-prisoners approach to coping with mental, emotional, and psychosomatic traumatic challenges.

This book offers ways to soothe the suffering and liberate them, if they are willing to face their demons.

As with the first book, Benoit presents verses he calls "anti-meditations" (which are the same as meditations, only different). RAIN AND FIRE continues to riff on therapeutic themes of recovery, addiction, self-help, and personal spirituality. A former psychotherapist with extensive 12-Step Recovery knowhow, Benoit proposes that these anti-meditations may occasionally serve as puzzles - jumping off places for discussion, self-assessment, or prayer.

As a philosopher and poet, Benoit strikes a balance between his own truths and universal truths. Yes, he went through the Valley of the Shadow, but he points out that his experiences are not unique. The question ultimately is not necessarily how can we avoid trauma, but how can we flourish in spite of it?

RAIN AND FIRE'S hybrid of searing poetry, confessional naked rage and heartfelt love is tempered with popup humor that keeps the reader smiling through tears while turning pages. Instead of titles, the meditations have subject-oriented headlines such as:

"When will it be success and how will I know it when it gets here?"

"Today, I will admit that sometimes BEING STUCK IS A CHOICE"

"Today, I will accept that LIFE is not an ALFRED HITCHCOCK MOVIE"

"There comes a time when no matter where you've been and no matter what you've been through, you have to MOVE FORWARD anyway"

And my personal favorite:

"I will WALK MY DOG -
no matter what else is
going on."

Even Benoit's Dedication starts out with a smile:

"For my Auntie Cia,
my Mom and Dad
and the Tall Dark Stranger
I thought might bury me
in the basement."

In a poignant, highly personal passage, the author reveals that after writing the first book, he suffered a physical and mental breakdown that was eventually diagnosed as severe vertigo - a health crisis that ended his progress for a time, except in the arena of healing, which eventually did happen.

Benoit does not attempt to offer readers magical solutions received from On High, but supplies aid as a fellow traveler who has come many times to a crossroads that asks him to choose between Light and Darkness, and he continues to choose Light.

I highly recommend this book to advocates of 12-Step Recovery and those who wish to learn more about it; seekers of recovery from trauma or life itself; spiritual seekers; and poetry lovers.

Marlan Warren, Reviewer
http://roadmapgirlsbookbuzz.blogspot.com


Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Family Illness
Evan Wechman
Austin Macauley Publishers
https://www.austinmacauley.com
9781647503475, $25.95, HC, 190pp

https://www.amazon.com/Family-Illness-Evan-Wechman/dp/1647503477

Synopsis: Steve suffers as a child in the 1980s, growing up in a secular Jewish household. He has lots of physical and verbal tics while in school but lives in fear that his secret living with a mental illness in a hostile world will be revealed. As Steve grows up into a young adult, his illness plays tricks on him, making him question every moral aspect of his life. His fears intensify at the same time as he learns that a family member has OCD as well. This encourages Steve to fight back, but he wonders if he has lost too much of his life to the disease.

Although a work of fiction, "Family Illness" by Evan Wechman offers a quite realistic and entertaining work that was specifically written to give mature readers a sense of what it is like for someone to grow up afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Critique: An insightful, compelling and carefully crafted novel by an author with a genuine flair for a memorable narrative storytelling style that keeps the readers full attention from first page to last, Evan Wechman's "Family Illness" is readily and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Family Illness" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781647503482, $11.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.50).

Editorial Note: Evan Wechman is a freelance journalist who has reported on other political and cultural issues occurring in society. He is also a professional speaker who addresses obsessive compulsive disorder and other mental health issues to help erase the stigma of living with a mental illness. Evan grew up suffering in silence from damaging effects of OCD but has learned how to fight back.

Michael J. Carson
Reviewer


Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Mr. Sammler's Planet
Saul Bellow
Penguin Classics
https://www.penguin.com
9780142437834, $16.00, paperback

http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Sammlers-Planet-Saul-Bellow-audiobook/dp/B07R81YPP2

Mr. Sammler And Meister Eckhart

In Saul Bellow's National Book Award winning novel, "Mr Sammler's Planet", Artur Sammler, a 74-year old Holocaust survivor, is a devoted reader of the medieval German mystical philosopher, Meister Eckhart, Sammler's love of Eckhart immediately established a bond with me. We are both Jewish, of the same age, and students of the Meister. As the novel opens, Sammler travels every day from his west side New York City apartment to the 42 Street Library where he reads Eckart's Latin works. Late in the novel, Sammler remembers how, returning from a trip to Israel, he was in his accustomed place in the library reading the following passage from the Meister.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit. Poor is he who has nothing. He who is poor in spirit is receptive of all spirit. Now God is the Spirit of spirits. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, and peace. See to it that you are stripped of all creatures, of all consolation from creatures. For certainly as long as creatures comfort and are able to comfort you, you will never find true comfort. But if nothing can comfort you save God, truly God will console you." (209)

Sammler observes that he does not literally believe what he reads. Still, after a lifetime of voracious reading, Sammler finds that he does not find the need to read anything else beyond Eckhart.

Eckhart and his teachings of spirit and detachment form only one point of departure for Bellow's rich, philosophical novel which considers the relationship between detachment and spirituality and human connection in the person of Artur Sammler. The novel is set over a three day period in 1969 in New York City with many flashbacks to Sammler's earlier life as a Jewish-Polish emigre in London, where is was a friend of H.G Wells, and then to his wartime life in the Holocaust where his wife and many others were murdered before his eyes and he literally faced death from both the Nazis and the Poles.

The book includes extensive dialog and the reader hears the voice of Sammler together with the voices of many others. However the novel is written in the third person through an omniscient narrator who seems to understand all his characters' inward thoughts and whose voice often blends with theirs, particularly Sammler's. The third person narration allows the reader to distance from and to reflect upon the voice and thoughts of Sammler.

The novel is set against the backdrop of what was once termed the sexual revolution and also against the rise of the student protest movement and the New Left. Technological advance and the landing on the moon also form important parts of Sammler's reflections in the novel, as do the crime-ridden, violent streets of New York City. Sammler reflects on his surroundings in interior monologues, but more so in conversations with others. Bellow introduces many of Sammler's relatives and acquaintances. Sammler's relationships and responses to them shape the book, which is a mix of interiority and action. Here follows some of the primary characters in the story.

Sammler had been rescued from a displaced persons camp in 1947 by his nephew, Gruner, a successful physician and investor, who has largely financially supported Sammler throughout his life in America. Gruner has two adult children, a daughter who is sexually promiscuous and a son who is intellectually gifted but a drifter perpetually on the make. Sammler is uncomfortable with the lifestyles of both Gruner's children.

Gruner had also rescued Sammler's daughter Shula, known as Shula-Slawa who had in her turn been rescued by nuns and lived in a convent during her teenage years where she absorbed Catholicism in addition to her Jewish birth religion. Shula-Slawa has been in an abusive marriage in Israel. Sammler rescues her yet again and brings her back to New York City. She steals a manuscript from an Indian biophysicist, a theft which leads eventually to a lengthy and important philosophical discussion between the scientist and Sammler.

Sammler lives with his widowed, lonely niece in a west side apartment. In the course of his bus trips from the library, Sammler observes an African American pickpocket. The pickpocket, noticing Sammler's attentions, follows Sammler home, leading to a pivotal scene and confrontation.

Sammler lost an eye in the Holocaust. This partial blindness is a crucial metaphor in the novel as it encourages the reader and Sammler himself to reflect on the possible limitations of Sammler's opinions and perspectives on what he sees. As the book progresses over its three-day course, Sammler seems to move from his internalized, isolated critical perspective on himself, American society and his family and acquaintances to a less critical perspective recognizing the importance of human bonds and commonalities. With all the emphasis he places on God and on detachment, as indicated in the quote earlier in this review, Eckhart's mysticism also recognizes the importance of life in the world. Sammler comes to deepen, in my view, rather than to reject, his understanding of Eckhart's spirituality and to appreciate the importance of human loyalty and to fulfilling what he calls the "terms of his contract".

Bellow's novel provoked conflicting responses upon its publication, and it continues to do so. The novel has been subjected to a great deal of scholarly, critical attention, as is appropriate for its intellectual and human depth and for its themes. The book is not light reading. "Mr Sammler's Planet" will bear repeated reflection. Readers will have different views about Sammler and about whether they agree with his various positions about the America of his day and our own. The book encouraged me to reflect, as only great literature can do, upon my own "contract" and my own thoughts and my engagement with life.

Milwaukee Jazz
Joey Grihalva
Arcadia Publishing
http://www.arcadiapublishing.com
9781467103107, $21.99 paperback

http://www.amazon.com/Milwaukee-Jazz-Images-America-Grihalva/dp/1540239543

Milwaukee Jazz In Images Of America

I lived in Milwaukee up to graduation from the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee in 1969. I think of the city often and have come to love it more. I learned my love of music in Milwaukee, including love for the piano which I have played for most of my life. While growing up, however, I knew almost nothing about jazz, not to speak of jazz in Milwaukee. Joe Grihalva's pictorial history, "Milwaukee Jazz" taught me a great deal about my old hometown, from before my time, through the years I called Milwaukee home, through the present.

I didn't realize jazz had such a strong history in Milwaukee. Grihalva captures many aspects of jazz over time in the Cream City. He covers the many well-known artists who were frequent performers in the city, including, for example, Duke Ellington. He explores performers who were born in Milwaukee but who achieved fame elsewhere, including Al Jarreau and Woody Herman. He gives a great deal of attention to performers who spent most of their careers in Milwaukee but were not well known nationally. These performers included the saxophonist and teacher Berkeley Fudge, who has a large presence in the book, and the singer, Charlene Gibson. I was intrigued by both Fudge and Gibson and took the opportunity to hear some of their music. I was also surprised to learn about Bill Carlson. While growing up, I knew Carlson as the tv weatherman. I didn't know about his background as a big band leader.

The book begins with the early history of Milwaukee jazz from the 1920s and proceeds to the history of the big band era. The following lengthy chapter focuses on the many jazz musicians who played in Milwaukee over the years. Women performers and vocalists, "special ladies" indeed have a brief chapter of their own followed by a chapter devoted to famous performers appearing in Milwaukee. I loved the ad for the Milwaukee appearance of Billie Holiday and the photo of the live performance of Dinah Washington.

Grihalva points out the large presence of outdoor music in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, I had left the city by the time of the Summerfest, but I remember fondly music at the bandshell in Washington Park, near my home. I was glad to see it featured in the book. So too, I remember some of the sites covered in the book, including places in Bronzeville and downtown and was glad to learn more about them. I loved seeing the streets of my old city.

The book describes the development of the academic jazz program at the Washington Conservatory of Music and at the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee. I briefly studied classical piano at the former and I graduated with a BA in philosophy from the latter. I loved seeing the places again and thinking about their impact, most of which was well past my time.

The final chapters of the book show contemporary jazz in Milwaukee, following the large influence of the pioneering academic programs.

Besides the music, the performers, the streets, and the places, the book reminded me of some other aspects of Milwaukee. The book points out the large Mafia presence in Milwaukee during the time I lived in the city and the prominent role it had in jazz clubs. There is, for example, an image of a portly, club owner whose body was found brutally mangled in 1960, allegedly a victim of the Mafia. The book also points out the strongly racially segregated character of Milwaukee which had a large impact both on jazz performers and on their audiences.

The book is part of the Images of America series of photographic histories from Arcadia Publishing. The many books in this series offer a wonderful way to learn about American local history and local culture, including the culture and history of Milwaukee.

In the years since leaving Milwaukee, I learned something about jazz, but it is not my primary music. I was glad to read this wonderfully researched book and to remember my hometown and its places. I remembered how much I have taken away from my early years in Milwaukee, in particular my lifelong love of music.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
James A. Beckman
Arcadia Publishing
http://www.arcadiapublishing.com
9781467105439, $21.99, paperback

http://www.amazon.com/Harpers-National-Historical-Images-America/dp/1467105430

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park In Images Of America

I visited Harpers Ferry many times with family and friends after moving to Washington, D.C. in 1974. I fell in love with the little town, with the rivers and mountains and trains and history. Unfortunately, it has been several years since I have been able to visit. Thus, I was glad to find this new photographic history "Harpers Ferry National Historical Park" (2020) which brought back memories and taught me about the Park. The author, James Beckman, lives near the Park and has written and lectured extensively on its history. The book is part of the Images of America Series of Arcadia Publishing. I have found this series invaluable in giving an understanding of American history and American places.

Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and the National Park straddles the states of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Beckman's book offers an overview of the early history of the area, including Thomas Jefferson's visit to what has become known as "Jefferson's Rock", the use of the area for a large armory, John Brown's 1859 raid, and the changing fortunes of Harpers Ferry in the Civil War. In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation making Harpers Ferry a National Monument and in 1963 President Kennedy signed a bill making Harpers Ferry a National Historical Park.

The book includes many beautiful images of the scenery and history of the area interwoven with the story of the development of the Park. I enjoyed seeing the photos of the old town that is no more. After the Civil War, Harpers Ferry was gradually rebuilt to include many Victorian residences and stores. Most of these and other buildings had fallen into disrepair. The Park Service had to make a decision on which buildings to restore and which to destroy. It opted to present Harpers Ferry as it was through John Brown's Raid and through the end of the Civil War. (This decision could have been stated more clearly earlier in the book.) As a result, much of the Victorian character of the town following the Civil War had to go.

Beckman offers many photos of the Low Town of the Stone Steps to Jefferson's Rock and to the Lockwood House, which I climbed many years ago, of the heights, and of the rivers, bridges, and trains. The images are well chosen and beautifully reproduced together with Beckman's insightful commentary. I enjoyed the many photographs of Storer College, an African American College that operated in the Harpers Ferry heights from 1867 -- 1955. Beckman also emphasizes sites in Harpers Ferry associated with the Niagara Movements and other important events in the area of Civil Rights. In addition to the importance of the rivers for scenery, transportation and energy, Beckman also covers the frequent flooding at Harpers Ferry which took away with one hand what the rivers had given with the other hand and ultimately led to the use of the area for a National Park.

Near the end of the book, Beckman offers reflections on why people visit Harpers Ferry. Some come, for example, "to be inspired by gifted individuals", "to learn about the shared history of all Americans" "to paint, write poetry, or otherwise express their artistic talents", or "to just walk quaint streets of a historic village and marvel at unique architecture and history." Beckman concludes that the study of history, "should inform us all on how to navigate life, hopefully making the country and the world a better place in the process."

I enjoyed visiting Harpers Ferry National Historical Park with Beckman's book as a guide. The book brought back memories of happy times. I would love to have the opportunity to see Harpers Ferry again for myself.

Robin Friedman
Reviewer


Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

A Thousand Ships
Natalie Haynes
Harper
https://www.harpercollins.com
9780063065390, $27.99

http://www.amazon.com/A-Thousand-Ships-Novel/dp/B0896TD2ZR

The classic myths we read in high school tell us of conquests of men and the glory they achieved from this events. A Thousand Ships focuses on the women in a unique perspective, told by Calliope, the goddess of epic poetry as she answers the pleas of a poet for inspiration. She compiles the stories of the many females - goddesses, demigods, Greeks, and Trojans - whose lives are affected by the Trojan war. Readers see that the drama of war is not only found on the battlefield, but in all the places women wait for their men to return, all the while enduring or succumbing to the horrors of politics, religion, and war. A Thousand Ships is not told in chronological order but is rather an assemblage of stories. The characterizations are so crisp and extraordinary that the reader is able to connect fully with each of these women.

The self-aggrandizing Greek gods wreak havoc on the lives of mortals and unabashedly use others - their peers, lower-level gods, demi-gods, and mortals as instruments to implement their dark impulses.

Men don't come off any better than the ancient gods in A Thousand Ships. Achilles is not only a great warrior, but a killing machine; his indiscriminate body count includes not only soldiers, but innocent women, children, and the elderly. Agamemnon is pathetic, a coward hiding behind his men.

A cast of mostly female characters, Hecabe (Priam's widow), Cassandra (her daughter), and Andromache (Hector's widow) are Trojan women captured by the Greeks. Other women featured include Penthesilea (an Amazon), Clytemnestra (Agamemnon's wife), all facing moral choices equal to those of their men: when and how to resist their captors, to go along, to seek revenge and justice, to find their freedom. Penelope, having heard of Odysseus's exploits from bards, tells their story via letters. The reader sees her patience growing thin as his cast of serial lovers expands and his trip home lengthens.

The Witch's Heart
Genevieve Gornichec
Ace
c/o Random House
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca
9780593099940, $26.00

http://www.amazon.com/The-Witchs-Heart/dp/B08BT816GT

The Witch's Heart is a marvelous retelling of Norse myths centered around Angrboda, a giantess, Loki's first wife, and the mother of multiple monsters. Should sit beside Madeline Miller's Circe and The Song of Achilles for majestic retellings of mythology from the female gaze.

Angrboda is burned at the stake three times for refusing to give Odin knowledge of the future. She survives, though she's left injured and powerless. The giantess ('"Giant" was a misnomer: a name, not a descriptor, for giants were often no larger than the average person') flees to a remote forest. Angrboda is eventually found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki. Because of her ill treatment, she distrusts everyone, including Loki. Despite his promise to "let you know up front that I shall not, under any circumstances, make you a promise I can't talk my way out of," he breaks through her resistance. She eventually falls in love with him, a love that survives even his harshest tricks and failings. He comes and goes at odd intervals, but their union produces three children, monsters all: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jormungand, and the female Hel. Angrboda foresees their fate and prefers to raise them in her isolated forest. As she recovers and her prophetic powers return, she learns that not just her children but all of existence may be in danger.

Aided by a huntress, Skadi, Angrboda must choose whether to accept the fate she's foreseen for her children or build a new future for them. She slowly realizes how dastardly Loki is, and entertains her growing feelings for Skadi.

This is a book about enduring love, loss, and hope.

Price to Pay
M. A. Guglielmo
https://www.maguglielmo.com
Tule Publishing Group, LLC
https://tulepublishing.com
9781954894037, $17.99

http://www.amazon.com/Price-Pay-M-Guglielmo/dp/1954894031

M.A. Guglielmo's novel, Price to Pay, is a light-hearted, fun read which should appeal to older YA readers. The story begins in Summoned and Soul to Steal (#1 and #2 in the series) in which Daniel Goldstein, a Jewish gaming designer, is told by his grandmother's ghost to summon a jinn to save the world from fallen angels. He ends up with a supernatural party girl, Zahara, who's actual form (when she's not dressed to kill in human clothing) is a cuddly kitten with wings. She introduces Daniel to her friend, Zaid. The battle continues as she meets Harut, one of two fallen angel brothers. Marut, the other brother, wants to destroy humankind. The four, along with forces they've gathered to their side in Summoned and Soul to Steal, combine forces to battle the angels and Zahara's father, who's united with the bad guys. The dialogue is zippy, snarky, and laced with sarcasm. Price to Pay pulls together various elements and romances from the prior two books and wraps things up nicely. It was enjoyable to read a paranormal book with new-to-me Middle Eastern mythology.

Incense and Sensibility, The Rajes Series Book 3
Sonali Dev
William Morrow Paperbacks
c/o HarperCollins
https://www.harpercollins.com
9780063051805, $15.99

http://www.amazon.com/Incense-Sensibility-Novel-Rajes-3/dp/006305180X

Incense and Sensibility is a rather loose retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. It is the third in the Rajes series but works well as a stand-alone. The novel deals with Yash Raje, who's been a character in the prior novels, but comes into his own here. He has had a long-repressed romance with India Dashwood. He has hidden this behind a pseudo-relationship, an agreement he reached with another woman so that they both could be free to pursue their careers without pressures to marry from their families.

Yash is running for political office when he and his bodyguard are shot at a rally. The tragedy sends his ratings sky-high but Yash is left with both PTSD and survivor's guilt because his bodyguard is in a coma. India is enlisted to help Yash overcome these psychological hangups. But as he becomes closer to India, he wonders if politics if where his heart truly lies.

In the meantime, India has become a renowned yoga teacher. As she helps him overcome his trauma, she knows she has always loved him but wonders if a relationship with him will keep him from accomplishing all the good he wants to do in the world.

Incense and Sensibility is a complex long suppressed romance. As Yash and India come together, author Dev gives the reader a mature, sensitive, second-chance-at-love romance.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and impartial review.

We Were Never Here
Andrea Bartz
Ballantine Books
c/o Penguin Random House
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com
9781984820464, $27.00

http://www.amazon.com/We-Were-Never-Here-Novel/dp/198482046X

We Were Never There caught my attention from the first page. Emily, a nearly-thirty woman, has takes annual trips to some exotic locale with her friend of ten years, Kristen. In Quiteria, Chile, Emily has a momentary vision of pushing Kristen off an elevated wooden patio. I immediately wondered what would prompt this reaction, and - over the course of the book - learned what was going on.

The previous year, while they were in Cambodia, Emily takes a young man back to their room and is attacked. Kristen comes to her rescue, but must kill the man to protect her friend. Incredibly, on their last night in Chile, Kristen takes a cute backpacker back to their room. When Emily arrives, Kristen states he attacked her, and she had no choice but to kill him in self-defense.

When the women return home (Emily to Wisconsin and Kristen to Australia), Emily suffers PTSD symptoms from the two episodes. She decides to bury the incident and get involved in a new relationship. Kristen surprises Emily with a visit only days after they left Chile. Emily starts to question Kristen's motives and must confront their past. The two women jockey for position as "the bad guy" through the book, and the shifts are fascinating. The characters are well-developed and the book rapidly paced in Bartz's best book yet.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer
SuanneSchaferAuthor.com


Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Art for the Ladylike
Whitney Otto
Mad Creek Books
c/o Ohio State University Press
180 Pressey Hall, 1070 Carmack Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1002
https://ohiostatepress.org
9780814257821, $23.95, PB, 324pp

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Ladylike-Autobiography-through-Century/dp/0814257828

Synopsis: In "Art for the Ladylike: An Autobiography through Other Lives", Whitney Otto limns the lives of eight pioneering women photographers (Sally Mann, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Ruth Orkin, Tina Modotti, Lee Miller, Madame Yvonne, and Grete Stern) to in turn excavate her own writer's life.

The result is an affecting exploration of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be an artist, and the perils and rewards of being both at once. In considering how feminism, career, and motherhood were entangled throughout her subjects' lives as they tirelessly sought to render their visions and paved the way for others creating within the bounds of domesticity, Otto assesses her own struggles with balancing writing and the pulls of home life.

Ultimately, she ponders the persistent question that artistic women face in a world that devalues women's ambition: If what we love is what we are, how do those of us with multiple loves forge lives with room for everything?

Critique: An inherently fascinating, deftly written, impressively original, thoughtful and thought-provoking read throughout, "Art for the Ladylike: An Autobiography through Other Lives" is an extraordinary, unique, and welcome addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Art for the Ladylike: An Autobiography through Other Lives" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note: Whitney Otto is the author of five novels, including How to Make an American Quilt (which was later made into a movie of the same name) and Eight Girls Taking Pictures. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and in several anthologies.

Smoke Hole
Martin Shaw
Chelsea Green Publishing Company
85 North Main Street, Suite 120, White River Junction, VT 05001
www.chelseagreen.com
9781645020950, $19.95, HC, 144pp

https://www.amazon.com/Smoke-Hole-Looking-Wild-Spyglass/dp/1645020959

Synopsis: At a time when we are all confronted by not one, but many crossroads in our modern lives (identity, technology, trust, politics, and a global pandemic) celebrated mythologist and wilderness guide Martin Shaw has now published "Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass", a volume comprising three metaphors to help us understand our world that is currently assailed by the seductive promises of social media and shadowed by a health crisis that has brought loneliness and isolation to an all-time high.

"Smoke Hole" is a passionate call to arms and an invitation to use these stories to face the complexities of contemporary life, from fake news, parenthood, climate crises, addictive technology and more. Dr. Shaw urges us to reclaim our imagination and untangle ourselves from modern menace, letting these tales be our guide.

Critique: Deftly crafted and thoughtfully inspirational, "Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college and university library Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology Literary Criticism collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: An acclaimed teacher of myth, Dr. Martin Shaw is the author of the Mythteller trilogy (A Branch from the Lightning Tree, Snowy Tower, Scatterlings). He also founded the Oral Tradition and Mythic Life courses at Stanford University, and is the Director of the Westcountry School of Myth in the UK. His translations of Gaelic poetry and folklore (with Tony Hoagland) have been published in Orion magazine, Poetry International, Kenyon Review, Poetry magazine and Mississippi Review. Dr. Shaw's most recent books include The Night Wages, Cinderbiter, Wolf Milk, Courting the Wild Twin, All Those Barbarians, Wolferland and his Lorca translations, Courting the Dawn (with Stephan Harding).

The Ayurveda Kitchen
Anne Heigham
Aster
c/o Octopus Books
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
www.octopusbooksusa.com
9781783253616, $24.99, HC, 208pp

https://www.amazon.com/Wellness-Kitchen-Ayurvedic-transforming-sanctuary/dp/1783253614

Synopsis: Family kitchens come in all shapes and sizes. But by using the principles of Ayurveda, which is one of the fastest growing alternative health practices, and with a little vision, you can turn any space into a wellness kitchen that nourishes body, mind and soul.

With "The Ayurveda Kitchen" as your guide you can imagine (and put into practice) fresh, vibrant growing herbs, seeds sprouting and pickles fermenting, clean organized cupboards with delicious aromatic spice mixes, clear worktops ready for preparing fresh vegetables that aren't left to languish at the bottom of the fridge in plastic wrap. At the change of each season, taking a few hours to clean out and prepare for the next season (a 'kitchen sadhana').

"The Ayurveda Kitchen" fully engages the senses, heals the body and clears the mind. You will learn how to use your kitchen as a natural pharmacy to improve your health and prevent imbalances with key Ayurvedic ingredients, 80 perfectly balanced vegetarian recipes and simple home remedies. Breathing and mindfulness/energy exercises are also included to clear 'ama' (sludge) and ignite 'agni' (fire).

Critique: Offering an inherently interesting and practical approach, "The Ayurveda Kitchen" by Anne Heigham is an extraordinary informative, nicely illustrated, impressively presented, and inspiring combination of cookbook and DIY alternative medicine compendium. While very highly recommended for family and community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Ayurveda Kitchen" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Anne Heigham has a Masters in Ayurveda and is a qualified Kundalini and Children's Yoga teacher. She is one of the few advanced Amnanda and Moksha practitioners in the UK (specialist Ayurvedic therapies). For the past 11 years she has been treating clients and teaching yoga, during which time she also ran a hotel where she offered specialist Ayurveda retreats.

Susan Bethany
Reviewer


Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Resetting Healthcare Post-COVID-19 Pandemic
Sanjay Prasad
Ebookit.com
9781737199410, $14.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle, 166 Pages

https://www.amazon.com/Resetting-Healthcare-Post-COVID-19-Pandemic-Sanjay/dp/1737199416

The author of this very informative book, Dr Sanjay Prasad has been a highly qualified, successful, and respected surgeon for nearly 30 years. He specialises in otology, neurotology and skull-based surgery, with a sub-speciality in otolaryngology. Dr Prasad lives and practices in Washington DC, with his wife Deepika and they have four adult children of whom they are very proud. He is the founder of SurgiPrice, Inc., which has two subsidiaries SurgiQuality and SurgiConnect, which have missions to connect patients with the best surgeons who operate in a cost effective environment.

Dr Prasad begins this book by looking back at how our world has changed since the emergence of COVID-19. The speed of its spread and the loss of lives during this pandemic has been unprecedented. It is thanks to the united work of healthcare systems around the world in their efforts to find a vaccines, and then efficiently arranging mass vaccinations for the people very quickly - Operation Warp Speed (OWS,) that many people are a lot safer now. These vaccinations along with wearing masks, social distancing, and scrupulous hygiene, are working effectively in the fight against Covid-19, although recurrences are a high possibility, and may be so for some time.

Fear of the pandemic, and government guidelines have meant that the healthcare system has changed beyond belief. No longer do we sit in crowded waiting rooms passing and receiving germs whilst waiting to see a doctor. This previous 'normal' way of life is now too dangerous. Instead technology has risen as our saviour. We can have telephone, Facetime, Skype or other types of consultations, safe in our own home. The internet and emails have been utilised in revolutionary ways and these giant leaps forward keep everyone as safe as possible.

However, another victim of the pandemic are those people who need elective surgery, and here we are not talking about cosmetic surgery, but rather those surgeries for life threatening illnesses like cancer, and heart problems, where the patient is not admitted through Emergency but rather has their surgeries arranged by their practitioner or the hospital. The pandemic has, through necessity postponed countless of these surgeries, with sometimes tragic results.

As a doctor, the author knows that patients, when being informed of a medical diagnosis, through worry, fear, or for many other reasons don't always take in everything the doctor or surgeon tells them. At times like these the mind goes blank, you don't think to ask questions, query options available, ask if the person who will do your surgery is the best surgeon, or a million other things. He acknowledges that the patient slips into 'The Patient Trap' and decisions are often taken with the patient being swept along the system. This is where SurgiQuality comes in to play, looking after the patient and assuring they get the best care, at the lowest price.

Dr Pasad empowers his readers with important information, such as, and this one surprised me, that Centres of Excellence (COE) are self-proclaiming, any centre can give themselves this label! He looks at how advertising, TV, magazines and billboards are used to entice clients, and points out that it is the surgeon who does the operation and arranges the post-op care, not the hospital!

This is where the author's company SurgiQuality comes in. It offers security of expertise, and an easy to understand star-graded system. The patient are provided with a hand holding service, and can rest assured they are being evaluated by the best medical professionals. These professionals ensure that all the options which are available are being considered, whilst lowering the clients out of pocket expenses.

How to enrol in SurgiQuality, and how it works is clearly explained, and there are plenty of case studies for the reader to examine.

This world is changing so fast. Isn't it nice to know that, whatever health problem arises, there's someone you can trust to hold your hand, and guide your decisions, with YOUR best interests at heart?

Hush Money: How One Woman Proved Systemic Racism in her Workplace and Kept her Job
Jacquie Abram
Independently Published
9798554443305, $6.45, 144 Pages

https://www.amazon.com/HUSH-MONEY-Proved-Systemic-Workplace/dp/B08M8HF4Z7

Well readers, the author of this incredible work of fiction reveals that despite the years of campaigning against racial discrimination, racial prejudice sadly still exists in the workplace. The story which follows is inspirational, a tale of strength, integrity and determination.

The protagonist, Ebony, had a lot on her plate, going through a divorce, and a mother, she is living with her adopted mother, Babette, and battling against the odds, when her luck changes. A career opportunity arises, and although temporary at first, the true skills of this young woman of colour are very soon appreciated, and she becomes a rising star at the Daebrun Career Institute. However, as we are to discover soon things change, along with jealousy, the ugly head of systemic racial prejudice arises...

The story which follows tells of the horrific and cruel racial discrimination which the protagonist endures in the various jobs she undertook at the Daebrun Career Institute. These injustices were carried out by work colleagues, and her superiors. She endured terrible treatment which left her feeling worthless and degraded. However, whilst her eyes shed tears, and her heart broke, she, with the guidance of her mother found strength through God and Jesus, learning not to fight evil with evil, but to trust in her faith.

Yet, this clever woman who gave so much to her career also documented every indiscretion and false accusation, giving her solid references, something she needed countless times.

Despite the discrimination against her she used her wit and intelligence to reveal the perpetrators, and false accusations, and despite everything rose through the company to dizzy heights. However, she needed her strength for her personal life too, as whilst her career was sometimes in turmoil, she also had heart-breaking personal tragedy to deal with,

This work of fiction is truly one of fortitude, determination, and courage, from which we can learn that anything is possible, with faith. It sends a clear message to rise against racial discrimination, and reveals that with honour, and detailed notations, justice can prevail.

In the character Ebony, the author Jacquie Abram reveals some of her struggles as a single mother, facing prejudice, and it is just this element of reality which makes "Hush Money" such an unforgettable, and inspirational story!

Mart of Darkness: When More Is Not Enough
Phil Granchi
Privately Published
9780984391431, $19.99, 196 Pages

https://www.amazon.com/Mart-Darkness-When-More-Enough/dp/0984391436

This incredible comedy satire is definitely the product of a whacky mind! The author's style of writing immediately made me think of the late Douglas Adams, and his 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.'

Phil Granchi's protagonist, Ted Kojwaclczsziziek, is literally taken on a rollercoaster ride through AllMart, the brainchild of genius entrepreneur McAlsteinetti. Ted's job is to infiltrate AllMart with a team of special-forces operatives who fear the CEO has become unhinged, but what they discover inside transcends belief.

What an experience this book is, yes an experience, because a 'read' somehow doesn't do it justice. Right from the first page we are thrown into a zany world, wacky, and at first, it seems unreal, science-fiction and fantasy. Indeed a lot of it is, however, for those who hang on for grim death, and stay the course, it is so much more. Because weaved into this incredible comedy satire, if we look carefully, there's the history of the superstore, the hypermarket, and dare I say, those enormous corporations who seem at times to be taking over the world.

Oh yes, Allmart, like those mega giants we all know are out there, it started small, a humble store servicing the community, offering homes and work for the locals. It was popular, supported - but then somehow it just grew, and grew, and grew, until it took over the whole area. In time it became the world's largest chain of discount stores.

The reader can see for themselves the amazing bargains, the sales gimmicks, clever marketing, those offers you just can't resist, so much so that you forget about the credit card maxing out, you just get another one! Lost in the fantasy world of having what you want, when you want, everything is possible, doesn't that sound magical? However, the possibilities don't stop there, what happens when the world is not enough, well...

Join the author for the experience of a life time, meet people whose lifestyles may ring a bell, see for yourself the wonderful offers available in this unique book. If you don't believe me why not take a look at the Allmartstores website, yes it's there, put the name in your search engine, you'll see what I mean.

To say that this book is cleverly written is an understatement, it is truly a work of art, a comedy satire, blended with science-fiction and fantasy, guaranteed to take you on the adventure of a lifetime. Highly recommended!

Harry the Honest Horse
K. A. Mulenga
https://www.kamulenga.com/index.html
NLSA
9781991202000, $9.99, 24 Pages

https://www.amazon.com/HARRY-HONEST-HORSE-childrens-friendship/dp/1991202008

Harry the horse lives in Horseville, a beautiful place with a lovely meadow and lake. He is worried though, his best friend Hank just can't resist fibbing, even though he knows it's not right. Then, when Harry challenges him, his answer is always that life would be boring without fibs.

Poor Harry is not happy, deep down he knows Hank is being naughty, and yet he's his best friend, what can he do?

One day Hank managed to persuade Harry to play a prank on an old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Neigh. Together the horses take Mr. and Mrs. Neigh's hay, and the next morning when asked if they know where it is, before Harry can answer, Hank says that a big wind blew it away!

This is bad enough, but when Hank goes a little further with his pranks on the old couple, Harry just has to confide in his dad, who tells him of a wise saying, which Harry takes in.

You see, Harry is not a bad horse, he is just being led into mischief by his friend. Empowered by his dad's words, Harry when asked by the old couple if he knew what happened, chooses the path of honesty, and is wonderfully rewarded for it.

When his friend Hank sees what has happened, it makes him think, and he realises that he is wrong, it is not good to be a fibber, honest is really the best way to be. Harry has taught his best friend a valuable lesson.

In this lovely story the author teaches children, through a simple, yet effective story, beautifully illustrated, that being honest is really very important. Even if your friends are being naughty and telling lies, it is better not to follow them, but instead tell the truth, and set a good example!

The Starlight Club 13: The Old Doll
Joe Corso
Independently Published
9798748142946, $12.99, 263 Pages

https://www.amazon.com/Starlight-Club-13-Old-Doll/dp/B0943T8HHD

I'm a long-time fan of The Starlight Club series of books by Joe Corso. Each story is a stand-alone, however it is fascinating to watch the characters' lives evolve over the series. The stories are told through the eyes of Bobby, someone who observed the events of that time, and he narrates them to his daughter Lynn, in the little room built for him. at her home in Darien, Connecticut.

Joe Corso is an award-winning author, who was born in Queens, New York, and attended the Manhattan HS of Aviation trades, and the Academy of Aeronautics. He is a Korean veteran. As well as writing this excellent series, he has also written amazing stories from his years as a firefighter working for the FDNY. He has also written adventure, science fiction, and westerns. He has four children, thirteen grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.

In this exciting story, Bobby takes us right back to the 1960's, at The Starlight Club, with its owner Red, and right hand man Trenchie. Through their dealings both with the gangsters, cops, their 'family' and others, readers are able to get a real feel for life in Queens at that time. Plus, in this story, Bobby reveals a terrible mistake he made as a youngster, and one he has never forgotten...

At this time, as well as the continuing underground power struggles with gangland bosses, it is the time of horrendous riots which raged in New York, causing terrible loss of lives, and the storyline gives a glimpse into how these were instigated, and by whom.

However, it was a potential hit on Joey-Boy, one of Red's men which brought about the meeting of Red with the 'Old Doll,' Betsy Nagel, a now reclusive former Ziegfeld Follies, girl. Captivated by this star of legendary grandeur, Red's mission becomes to reintroduce her to the modern world. With the help of his famous movie star wife, Iris Lang, and his company, Starlight Productions in California, Red is determined the world will yet again wonder at Betsy Nagel's timeless talent, and beauty.

In this book, through the talented writing of this award-winning author, we are able to enter the underground world of gang life in New York. We learn of the camaraderie, code of honour, and unswerving code of ethics that the members of the families live by. Life is ruthless, death can happen at any time, yet the families and those they care about are protected and looked after at any cost.

I highly recommend this book, and indeed the whole series as wonderfully written gangland crime thrillers, with dashes of romance, and compassion included.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer
https://www.susan-keefe.com


Tammy Ruggles' Bookshelf

Jenny the Chimpanzee
Lotus Kay
Eifrig Publishing
https://www.eifrigpublishing.com
9781632332486 $14.99 hc

https://www.amazon.com/Jenny-Chimpanzee-Lotus-Kay/dp/1632332485

Jenny the Chimpanzee by Lotus Kay is a wonderfully engaging children's book about Jenny, a chimpanzee who helps young audiences learn about evolution and history. Jenny is the one explaining things, and will immediately bring young readers into the story. But there is more than text. The narrative rhymes make it fun to read and easy for children to learn. There are also important, inspiring quotes by the famous environmentalist and chimpanzee expert, Dr. Jane Goodall. There is plenty for children to be excited about in the story, and parents will like it too--the message of how humans and wildlife are connected on earth and that, human or chimp, caring for one another is of utmost importance.

The author offers an irresistible combination of rhyme, story, message, and illustrations by Chey Diehl. This book is actually the most recent in the Bears for Cares series of books, a campaign launched by Kay and her sister Jazmin as a Jane Goodall-based project for Endangered Species Day. The campaign hopes to bring attention to wildlife and our planet through education and books like Jenny the Chimpanzee. But perhaps more than that, the book hopes to show even young readers that they can play a part in making the world a better place for every living creature. The message seems to be that caring is the first step to making improvements. The message is relevant, the illustrations are charming, and it's great to find Jane Goodall featured prominently. Jenny the Chimpanzee by Lotus Kay is a lovely story about interconnectedness and caring, and would be a terrific addition to any book club or children's library.

Tammy Ruggles, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite
https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/jenny-the-chimpanzee


Theodocia MacLean's Bookshelf

Solving Peculiar Crimes
Radine Trees Nehring
http://www.radinesbooks.com
St Kitts Press
9781931206075 $15.00 large print pbk / $4.99 Kindle

https://www.amazon.com/Solving-Peculiar-Crimes-Radine-Nehring/dp/1931206074

Carrie and Henry encounter peculiar crimes in these stories featuring right, wrong, and redemption. Carrie's urge to help people who are in trouble often draws her into puzzling and sometimes dangerous human events. Henry provides support and back-up when her curiosity and helpful nature expose both of them to trouble and danger. Carrie McCrite and Henry King are the protagonists in Nehring's popular "To Die For" Mystery Series.

Readers familiar with Carrie McCrite and Henry King (protagonists) in Author Radine Trees Nehring's very popular "To Die For" Mystery Series will be one step ahead of those of us who are just beginning the journey. Radine Trees Nehring's award-winning writing career began when she fell in love with the Arkansas Ozarks. Her book locations are in Arkansas, where fans embrace her mysteries and are eager to share their beautiful state with the world.

Theodocia MacLean, Reviewer
Book Marketing Global Network
https://bookmarketingglobalnetwork.com


Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Rublev Trinity
Gabriel Bunge
SVS Press
575 Scarsdale Road, Yonkers, NY 10707
www.svspress.com
9780881413106, $34.00, HC, 120pp

https://www.amazon.com/Rublev-Trinity-Icon-Monk-painter-Andrei/dp/0881413100

Synopsis: Many art historians and scholars have described the sublime icon of the Holy Trinity by St Andrei Rublev, but nothing equals this detailed and comprehensive theological explanation by Benedectine monk Gabriel Bunge in the beautifully illustrated and informative pages of "The Rublev Trinity: The Icon of the Trinity by the Monk-Painter Andrei Rublev" published by the SVS Press.

In this inspired and utterly sober work, Fr Gabriel (who possesses a thorough knowledge of patristic literature and is known worldwide for his writings on contemplative prayer) aims to make the icon's timeless message accessible to the contemporary praying believer. The author understands precisely that Russian iconographic art, much more than the Romanesque and Gothic sacred art of the West, represents a theological confession of faith.

Icon painters were conscious of this responsibility, and the monk-painters who learned their Orthodox faith through the prayer of the Hours and the Divine Liturgy, through the familiar texts of the hymns and the Gospel readings, reflected the revelation of God in their art. Fr Gabriel, completely attuned to this method of inspiration, upholds the palladium (the sign and meaning of Holy Russia) in this work, and reverently expounds upon the awesome utterance by Pavel Florensky: 'There exists the icon of the Trinity by St Andrei Rublev; therefore, God exists.'

Critique: Showcasing 23 perfectly printed color plates, "The Rublev Trinity: The Icon of the Trinity by the Monk-Painter Andrei Rublev" is an extraordinary, fascinating, informative, inspiring volume that would grace any personal, seminary, church, community, college, or university library Orthodox Christian iconography collection.

Willis M. Buhle
Reviewer


James A. Cox
Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937
e-mail: mbr@execpc.com
e-mail: mwbookrevw@aol.com
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