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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 23, Number 7 July 2023 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf Andy Jordan's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Arthur Turfa's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Dee Lorraine's Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf Mayra Calvani's Bookshelf
Michael Carson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Theresa Werba's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf

Using AI Chatbots to Enhance Planning and Instruction
Monica Burns
9781416632580 $12.95

Using AI Chatbots to Enhance Planning and Instruction is not a book, but rather a six-page quick reference guide in a convenient, laminated fold-out format with holes punched to fit neatly into a three-ring binder. Using AI Chatbots to Enhance Planning and Instruction is expressly intended for educators, not students, since computer programs that employ language-learning artificial intelligence (a.k.a. "chatbots") are not (as of this writing) in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, among other potential liabilities. While AI Chatbots such as ChatGPT have drawbacks (for example, they are absolutely never guaranteed to return correct answers to a question, and sometimes "hallucinate" completely fictitious statements) they can, with proper supervision, be used to ease tedious tasks, generate ideas for teaching topics in new ways, search for potential student resources, and much more. Using AI Chatbots to Enhance Planning and Instruction hits the highlights of what chatbots can do at a glance, and is thoroughly accessible to educators of all backgrounds, even (especially!) those who have never tried writing a chatbot prompt before. Highly recommended!

Andrea Kay

Andy Jordan's Bookshelf

Subversion: The Strategic Weaponization of Narratives
Andreas Krieg
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
9781647123352, $104.95, HC, 252pp

Synopsis: Today more than ever, communities across the world are integrated into a complex, global information ecosystem that shapes the nature of social, political, and economic life. The ripple effects of actors trying to manipulate or disrupt this information ecosystem are far more severe than the primary effects that are merely being felt in the information space. In fact, the weaponization of narratives has already shown its potential to transform the character of conflict in the twenty-first century.

With the publication of "Subversion: The Strategic Weaponization of Narratives", Professor Andreas Krieg examines how malicious state and non-state actors take advantage of the information space to sow political chaos. Krieg also reveals how the coordinated use of weaponized narratives can achieve strategic-level effects through a six-stage process. Preying on vulnerable states and communities to find the fault lines within societies, these campaigns begin in the information space with an ultimate goal of producing tangible results (such as changes to policy or voting behavior, or spurring political violence).

Krieg closely examines recent subversion campaigns by two states in particular, focusing on Russia's interference in Western public discourse and the United Arab Emirates's demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

"Subversion" will provide academic scholars and governmental policymakers with a comprehensive understanding of one of the most urgent threats in international politics along with recommendations on how vulnerable communities can become more resilient.

Critique: A timely and essential contribution to today's national discussion about the impact social media, Artificial Intelligence, and related technologies are acerbating the insidious polarization and nefarious manipulation of the American public, "Subversion: The Strategic Weaponization of Narratives" is an impressively informative, usefully organized, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation. While having the very highest possible recommendation for being included in personal, professional, community, governmental, and academic library Political Science and Information Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject tht "Subversion: The Strategic Weaponization of Narratives" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $26.49).

Editorial Note: Andreas Krieg ( is an associate professor in the School of Security Studies at King's College, London. He is the coauthor (with Jean Marc Rickli) of Surrogate Warfare (Georgetown University Press, 2019) and the author of four other books. Outside of academia, Krieg works as a geostrategic consultant at his London-based political risk firm, MENA Analytica Ltd.

Andy Jordan

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

What an Owl Knows
Jennifer Ackerman
Penguin Press
9780593298886, $30.00 hc / $15.99 Kindle

The wise old owl lived in the oak
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can't we be like that wise old bird?
How wise is an owl? Does it live in oak trees? What can it see; how much can it hear; and how does it speak?

Jennifer Ackerman does not mention this old rhyme but she has travelled the world talking to owl experts, scientists, ecologists, wild-life groups, conservationists and 'citizen-scientists' in an attempt to answer all these questions. In What an Owl Knows, she reports on the latest owl studies, joins owl-hunters and owl-rescuers, and looks at the way humans have responded to owls over the centuries.

The subtitle of this book, the new science of the world's most enigmatic birds, suggests the book's focus on science and research, and owl lovers may be put off by a scientific approach and may, for example, not want to know some of the gruesome details of an owl's feeding habits:

It's the job of a male Burrowing Owl to deliver food to the burrow to feed the female. She likes fresh food, so the male doesn't kill the insects, just disables them. .... [As one researcher remarks] 'The male goes off, catches something, cripples it, brings it back, drops it off, and then goes and gets another on. That's impressive'.

Much of the book, however, is less ugly and makes absorbing reading. It explores the number of owl species (260 and growing); the range of places where owls live and what their living quarters are like; their superb 'superpower' vision and hearing; their hunting skills and prey; their interaction with humans; and their adaptability.

Owls, of course, are predators, and the size of their prey is sometimes amazing, but they are also caring parents. Marjory Savelsberg, who works with a team of scientists in the Loire Valley, had her career in classical music cut short by a disease of her heart muscles, but she uses her musical kills to analyse the vocalisations of a small population of Eurasian Eagle Owls. Her musical ear finds their individual calls distinctive and she can track and record their territories, their pairings and the size of the population.

Her first handling of one of the chicks made her think of 'these big mothers, weighing two, three, four kilograms, caring for these tiny little chicks weighing fifty grams. The tenderness they have is wonderful, yet with those same feet they kill rabbits without hesitation'. She has also seen a pair adopt a six-month old owlet unrelated to them.

The hunting skills of owls are remarkable. Their forward-facing eyes, specially adapted for night-vision, plus their asymmetrical ear clefts and the way the corona of feathers frames their faces and directs sound to the ears like a satellite dish, all help them to pinpoint prey. A Great Grey Owl can hear voles moving up to a foot-and-a-half deep beneath the snow, and to avoid the light distortion which snow (like water) causes, they 'hover for up to ten seconds directly above the prey before plunging straight down'. Their speed and weight allows them to penetrate the snow and capture the animal.

Ackerman records a lot of scientific research in detail, especially related to the owls' sight and hearing, but she is also interested in the way owls 'speak' to each other, their nesting habits, and their the way they deal with human disturbance of their habitats. Finding owls in order to study them, however, is an art and skill of its own, since they are masters of camouflage. Humans use all kinds of strategies to achieve this, but time and patience are clearly the most important attributes of an owl-researcher. So, too, according to the 'staff job description' at the Minnesota Owl Centre, is the ability to hoot like an owl. Owl whitewash (faeces deposits) and regurgitated owl pellets may show that owls are present, but they can still be impossible to see.

Burrowing Owls, which ornament their nest-sites with elaborate 'decorations', are easy to find, but difficult to catch for banding. Traps, nets and 'solar powered grasshoppers or cockroaches' that wriggle and buzz don't work in the dark; dead mice and 'mouse sound' may help, but older canny birds know to avoid them. As one researcher puts it:

The old-timers, the really good hunters, would fly over my bow net and say, 'Thanks David, but I can do better myself. I can catch kangaroo rats. I don't want to fuss with your little mouse. I know it's a game and I'm not playing'.

In spite of extensive research, Ackerman notes that 'most of what we know about the psychology of owls, their complicated motivation and nuances behaviour, we've learned from captive owls'. Captive owls, however, if they become imprinted on humans, can't be returned to the wild and their behaviour may be atypical. In spite of this, some captive owls have been valuable to research. Papa G'Ho, a Great Horned Owl at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, was admitted with wing damage which could not be repaired. His job, now, is to act as surrogate parent and to teach young owls 'essential owl behaviour', such as wariness of humans, self-defence and how to 'socialize with one another'. Young owls leave Papa G'Ho's care ready to attend 'flight conditioning and mouse school', and so impressive is his fathering that one year he won the coveted Coolest Dad award from Virginia Living magazine along with a human father. The human dad won a T-shirt, Papa G'Ho won ten dollars' worth of mice.

In spite of the scientific approach to most owl research, anthropomorphism is frequent. Most examples of anthropomorphism in this book are the researchers' humorous interpretations of owl behaviour, but the practice of giving human names to individual owls is common. At its worst, anthropomorphism attributes mathematical skills to the owl's brain, describing it as using 'math to pinpoint its prey', and as doing 'advanced math' 'using a statistical method called 'Bayesian inference'. This equates inherent skills with conscious calculation.

But are owls wise? There is no consensus about this. The problem is to find a 'fair test'.

Owls may not be smart in the ways crows are smart, in the ways we are smart, devising technical solutions to physical problems or comprehending the physics of underlying objects, but this may only point to the limitations of our own definitions and measures of intelligence.

Owls, however, have remarkable behaviour, hunting skills, sensory powers and a hint of magic, which this book sets out to reveal.

Humans seem always to have regarded owls as special. In some societies they are seen as bringing good luck: in others they are creatures of evil omen. In a chapter headed 'Half Bird, Half Spirit', Ackerman writes of famous owl owners like Florence Nightingale, Teddy Roosevelt and Pablo Picasso, and of the vast Centuries-spanning iconography of owls in myth, art and language. Owls, says Ackerman, have truths to tell us and 'we would be wise to listen'.

What an Owl Knows is replete with photographs of owls, which range from pictures of owlets and of the charming little Elf Owl to some fierce and slightly comic photographic portraits of a Spectacled Owl, a Flammulated Owl, A Mexican Spotted owl and a challenging Eurasian Eagle Owl.

Ackerman's final chapter deals with the ways in which owls are vulnerable to extinction in the face of changes brought about by climate change, invasive species, the use of pesticides, and loss of habitat. She writes that 'we are part of the problem', so, 'what can an individual do?' Getting to know all you can about owls is fundamental to their conservation, and this book makes a valuable and heartfelt contribution to this.

Dr Ann Skea, Reviewer

Arthur Turfa's Bookshelf

How To Live: A Memoir-in-Essays
Kelle Groom
Tupelo Press
9781946482839 $21.95

Groom writes a double Odyssey. The first chronicles her nomadic existence across the country as she goes from temporary teaching positions to residencies in writers' programs to seeking a temporary home courtesy of family and friends.

Along the way she details in increasing fullness her personal Odyssey. She is a woman in recovery, a survivor of sexual assault, of suicide attempts, and more. She reveals these things, along with her family background, gradually and with a minimum of repetition. At first mention, the reader can be frustrated because no further details are immediately forthcoming. However, Groom does give more details further on, and the reader will understand more fully.

"For two years, I've been traveling to places I've never been before, where I know no one. Trying to understand what home is." (p. 55). To a certain extent, home is Cape Cod, both in the parental home and the communities on that peninsula. But family members die or move away, and it seems less like home. New Smyrna Beach in Florida partially fills the need for home, but it offers no permanence.

She travels to Nevada, Wyoming, California, Washington DC, Virginia, and back to the Cape and Florida. Groom offers descriptive passages about the landscapes in which she lives. In addition, she writes about the people she meets; some in more detail than others who appear.

Even with the thousands of miles traveled, Groom admits she has a poor sense of direction. She would also say the same about her life. But some of the people she meets along the way, along with family members, some of whom have passed away, offer her assurance and encouragement. At the conclusion, one senses that a breakthrough has occurred and that life will improve.

These are reflective essays. How To Live is not a manual or guidebook, but more of a description of journeys that lead to increasing self-awareness and a sense of peace. The length of these essays lends itself easily to the reader who may not have time for a long text.

The Unreal City
Mike Lala
Tupelo Press
9781946482938, $21.95

This ambitious review of civilization, humankind, and poetry takes the reader far beyond the literary canon, contemporary time, and imagination. There is a struggle of cosmic nature, as shown on the back cover by the 15th century illustration of St. Michael fighting the devil.

Unreal city to which I came for work

...I want a holophrase (pp. 61/62)

Lala combines Eliot's The Waste Lsnd with Mirrlees' Paris: A Poem (I have excluded the citations referencing these works. Lala lists over a hundread of them in this work). What makes London, Paris, or any great city, centers of civilization, commerce, and power, unreal? That is what Lala examines. The irony is that the every activity that makes these cities what they are actually is the seed of their undoing.

In the following lines, "Lightyears from earth, in a ship in the milk of our galaxy" the narrator speaks of a dystopian 21st century desperately trying to set itself right again.

No more drilling, infinite growth, get off of my property,
all the old tantrums..." (p.62)

Five-and-a-half sections lead up to this, yet there is no surprise at all. In the third, Elizabeth Street, the narrator walks through the streets in an d around Greenwich Village, the various stores, shops and locations mentioned in rapid-fire manner. Names of musicians and artists are recorded in the same way.

The writing is lyrical and inventive: "Where a shaded gaze my lasso lassos lasses' eyes from thrice above my pay grade" (p. 9) is but one of many examples that literally stopped this reviewer in his tracks and cried out to be re-read several times and savored.

Lala's allusions and references include Yeats, Virgil's Georgics, Dante, several other poets, as well as other works by Eliot. The poet neither is name-dropping nor trying to impress the reader. Rather this work is grounded in the works referenced and represents an attempt to extend them to the present day. Both The Waste Land and Paris appeared a hundred or slightly more years ago; it is high time to re-evaluate society in the spirit of these and other poems. Virgil's work has enjoyed renewed interest during and after times of societal upheaval. It is therefore fitting to reference it here.

In Dandy Aisle the flash points of the world receive similar treatment:

the Philippines" (p. 14)

All of these places are dangerous enough, but in 1982 the blunt statement "The earth is dying" (p.17) shows that things are even worse than previously imagined. Then another kaleidoscope comes, this time of world leaders, from Reagan to Thatcher, to Kim Jong Un to Ali Khameni, along with A-10 Warthogs and AIDS.

The forms of the poem show great variation in spacing of lines, how the words themselves are arranged (not quite shape poetry)with free use of italics and capitalization. Lala ends on a pastoral note:

"Virgil sat with me as I studied quietly
playing my shepherds songs. Bending their notes
to my will. I was young then. I sang to you, a poet.
beneath the shade
of monoliths." (pp. 74-75)
Optimism? Perhaps Michael does indeed defeat the devil.

The acknowledgments are given in Viva Voce: A Note in a creative, whimsical way ( it reads like a short play or skit) as two figures gradually prepare to eat a meal and proceed to speak to what literary works influenced the text and to express thanks to all those who helped bring it out. The Unreal Citycertainly is worth the reader's time to reader, ponder, and re-read.

Night Logic
Matthew Gellman
Tupelo Press
9781946482945, $17.95

When one thinks of confessional poetry, Sylvia Plath or someone like her comes to mind. Vibrant poetry bares it all, whatever all is to the particular poet. In Night Logic readers have another type of confessional poetry in front of them. In these poems, Gellman relives childhood traumas and how they have formed the adult he became. Either kind of confessional poetry has its place and legitimacy. After all, it is the poet who determines the verse,

In this chapbook 21 poems of well-selected words constructs clear images of two traumas in the poet's life. Whether they are related or not, or to what extent they are is left to the reader. A father leaves his wife and two sons. The elder attempts to fill the paternal void, but realizes that he is queer.

From the title poem:
"To be queer is to be questioned
on the way your breathing
displaces light. The way you lilt
or stutter....." p. 13

The poem begins with Matthew Shephard's killing (although he is not mentioned by name, the details clearly establish about whom the poem speaks) and intertwines that with an experience the poet had of being stalked one night.

"...a boy is a star in the stratosphere
blinking like something that could be extinguished." p. 14

The transience of life comes across clearly here. A shining star is snuffed out simply because someone does not like it.

Transience appears in other ways also. Special Report, After Rain encapsulates the end of his birth family with the sound of his father's suitcase "...clattering down the stairs." p. 28. Tyler chronicles the poet's relationship with an early lover; both were bullied as children . This poem mentioned an injured bird being tormented by boys; the parallels are clear.

In several poems the sister the poet never had is mentioned. He searches for her in The Wheat Field, speaks about abuse that she endured in Beforelight, and concludes the chapbooks with Sister, Far Ahead. His mother and brother are not absent from these poems. The father's absence does play a role, since it is the first trauma.

The sister he envisions could be part of the poet himself, or a figure who would help him become the person he is. Regardless, Night Logic offers a well-written collection of a poet struggling to complete himself.

Tender Machines
J. Mae Barzio
Tupelo Press
9781946482846, $21.95

Barzio draws on several themes in this volume. She is a Canadian of Filipino ancestry, a mature woman and mother, who has lived in New York, experiencing 9-11 and the Pandemic, as well as a talented multidisciplinary artist with great insight. The tenderness comes from a Sylvia Plath quote (placed before the beginning of the poems) which identifies tenderness as the one quality a woman cannot see in a man.
A tender machine seems like an oxymoron at first. From the title poem:

"Though he designed mechanical birds. Cloud
ladders also, used to besiege city walls."

Yeats' mechanical bird from Sailing to Byzantium comes to mind, a beautifully-crafted device, but made also by one who crafts siege engines. A contradiction indeed, but not one that leads necessarily to ruin.

Not only a poet, Barzio is a librettist and a multidisciplinary artist. Her love fo music appears in several poems. Sunday Women on Malcolm X Boulevard is set during the pandemic and begins :

"My lungs grow black lilies
while I play Bach's Ich ruf zu dir

on the spinet in the Harlem room."
and in Claiver the sparse yet potent lines
"She will be a sting
plucked n the inside
of a piano.

between clavicles
an ocean sound."

In several other poems music, at times a specific piece, is referenced. Ekphrasis mingles with serious illness in At the Whitney Thinking About the Tress:

"...At the Museum there were no names
on the artwork. I kept taking pictures of clouds. Would
I love you more if you died?"

There are reflections on city life, and on herself as mother, lover, person.

"Before the towers fell
I loved for a time...."


"...'What exactly does
bi-racial mean' the child asks
black olive eyes peering up
into mine..."

There are poems about colonialism, establishing identity, and the above-mentioned themes. Here they flow together without rupture or confusion. Barzio employs a variety of poetic forms here that enlivens her well-crafted verse. This is a book to be savored, enjoyed, and read again.

Arthur Turfa

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Mighty Bad Land
Bruce Luyendyk
Permuted Press
c/o Simon & Schuster (distribution)
9781637588437, $32.00, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: Anything can happen in a pure wilderness experienced by few humans -- a place where unseen menace waits everywhere. "Mighty Bad Land: A Perilous Expedition to Antarctica Reveals Clues to an Eighth Continent " is an unembellished account of a scientist and his team exploring the last place on Earth. But, unlike most recent books on Antarctica, the reader becomes embedded with geologist Bruce Luyendyk's team. They share the challenges, companionship, failures, bravery, and success brought to light from scientific research pursued in an unforgiving place, Marie Byrd Land, or Mighty Bad Land.

The geologists make surprising discoveries. Luyendyk realizes that vast submarine plateaus in the southwest Pacific are continental pieces that broke away from the Marie Byrd Land sector of Gondwana. He coined "Zealandia" to describe this newly recognized submerged continent. Only the tops of its mountains poke above sea level to host the nation of New Zealand. This stunning revelation of a submerged eighth continent promises economic and geopolitical consequences reverberating into the twenty-first century.

The story occurs in the 1990s and fills a gap in the timeline of Antarctic exploration between the Heroic Age, the age of military exploration, and before the modern era of science. Danger is exponentially greater, isolation a constant threat without GPS, satellite phones, and the internet. As the expedition's leader, Luyendyk stands up to his demons that surface under the extreme duress of his experience, like nearly losing two team members.

Critique: Informative, fascinating, expertly written, fully reader engaging in organization and presentation, "Mighty Bad Land: A Perilous Expedition to Antarctica Reveals Clues to an Eighth Continent" by Bruce Luyendyk will prove to be of special appeal to readers with an interest in Antarctica history and exploration. While unreservedly recommended for community and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Mighty Bad Land" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Bruce Luyendyk ( is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. On his first expedition to West Antarctica in 1989, Luyendyk and his geology team found evidence that a large submarine plateau, a fragment from the Gondwana breakup, comprises a sunken continent beneath New Zealand. This eighth continent was named Zealandia by Luyendyk.

In 2016, the US Board on Geographic Names honored Luyendyk by naming a summit in Antarctica Mount Luyendyk. Luyendyk is a graduate of San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego. His prior research in marine geophysics included exploration of deep-sea black smokers, i.e., hydrothermal vents, using the deep submersible ALVIN off western Mexico. For this, he and colleagues shared the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion
Joshua Yindenaba Abor, editor
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781803927053, $240.00, HC, 434pp

Synopsis: Covering pertinent areas of sustainable and responsible investment (SRI), "Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion" examines SRI in developing markets including its evolution, principles and concepts. It explores the drivers and challenges in developing economies and analyses the theoretical underpinnings to critical issues pertaining to SRI.

Compiled and edited by Joshua Yindenaba, "Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion" is a timely book as it investigates investment strategies and philosophies that attempt to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns into investment decision-making.

In turn, "Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion" also provides an in-depth review of a number of different motivations for SRI, including: personal values and goals, institutional missions, and the demands of clients, constituents or plan participants.

"Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion" further defines how to integrate ESG issues into investment portfolios, looking to sustainable and responsible investors with a focus on financial performance, who believe in using these investments to promote ESG practices.

With a focus on sustainability in relation to business and investment, "Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion" is expansive series of studies that will be a useful guide for finance, business, environment, geography and innovation students, and researchers, practitioners, and policymakers interested in understanding sustainable and responsible investment, specifically for developing countries.

Critique: An impressively presented compendium of twenty-four erudite, insightful, and informative articles on the subject, "Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Developing Markets: A Companion" is an invaluable and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, corporate, college, and university library International Commerce and Economics collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Joshua Yindenaba Abor is a professor at the University of Ghana Business School, Ghana (

Carl Logan

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The UFO Experience
J. Allen Hynek
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781590033081, $21.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: The case against UFOs and unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) has not been put to rest. Although UFOs "officially" did not exist for decades according to the government, reports of sightings continue to be made, and the latest releases from the government and related hearings have surprised the world. While the scientific community has put UFOs out to pasture, the evidence used to dismiss them is rare and unscientific.

With the publication of "The UFO Experience: Evidence Behind Close Encounters, Project Blue Book, and the Search for Answers", Dr. J. Allen Hynek (a scientist himself, and the only government-paid ufologist in history), looks at the decisions made by officialdom in the early days of ufology and how these decisions have held us back -- to the point that we are still naively talking about UFOs as we were in the 1950s. Has seventy years of research made no difference at all in our understanding?

In "The UFO Experience", Dr. Hynek proves that there is a conspiracy afoot to hide the facts and that there are many cases that still need to be explained by mainstream science -- not dismissed with facile jokes and stupid logic. Citing specific cases, Dr. Hynek challenges those in the ivory tower by raising questions that have still not been answered and refuting mainstream arguments that have yet to be proven.

Critique: A seminal, ground-breaking, compreensive, informative, thought-provoking, iconoclastic, and long overdue combination of serious UFO/UAP history and study, "The UFO Experience: Evidence Behind Close Encounters, Project Blue Book, and the Search for Answers" by the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek is absolutely essential reading for anyone with an interest in the subject. Exceptionally well written, organized, and presented, "The UFO Experience" is especially an unreservedly recommended addition for community and academic library UFO/UAP collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The UFO Experience" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note: J. Allen Hynek (May 1, 1910 - April 27, 1986) served as official astronomical consultant to the US Air Force's Project Blue Book. He was an astronomer and professor of astronomy at Ohio State University and later became chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University in Chicago. Hynek started the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in 1973 and was largely responsible for the founding of MUFON (originally called the Midwest UFO Network). His books include The Hynek UFO Report and The Edge of Reality. He has a page on the Wikipedia website at

Big Tech in Finance
Igor Pejic
Kogan Page Inc.
8 W 38th Street, Ste 902, New York, NY 10018
9781398608986, $105.99, HC, 296pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Big Tech in Finance: How To Prevail In the Age of Blockchain, Digital Currencies and Web3", Igor Pelic provides a cutting edge look at Big Tech's play for domination of the crypto economy, its ramifications and how finance is fighting back.

"Big Tech in Finance" analyses the motives behind Big Tech's break into banking and unpicks the strategies behind the use of blockchain, technology interfaces, infrastructure and investments into blockchain unicorns. "Big Tech in Finance" then goes onto review how organizations in finance are countering these threats, with governments and banks driving their own strategies and use of centralized blockchains.

Delving into the fight between Big Tech, Big Banking, start-ups, and regulators, "Big Tech in Finance" analyzes which actors have the best shot at succeeding. It explores the key tools in play, such as smart contracts, digital central bank currencies, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and the metaverse.

"Big Tech in Finance" also divulges the geopolitical dimensions underpinning the power struggle and its implications for the industry.

Igor Pejic is an internationally recognized expert on blockchain, and in "Big Tech In Finance" he deftly draws on in-depth interviews with founders, investors, regulators, bankers and blockchain experts to provide valuable insider insights.

Critique: Simply stated, "Big Tech in Finance: How To Prevail In the Age of Blockchain, Digital Currencies and Web3" is a seminal, ground-breaking study that is an essential reading for finance and 'fintech' professionals, bankers and investors and anyone else interested in the developments of the 'fintech'. While a core and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, community, corporate, college, and university library Money, Finance, and Economics collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for personal reading lists of finance/economics students, academia, professionals, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Big Tech in Finance" is also available in a paperback edition (9781398608962, $34.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $31.41).

Editorial Note: Igor Pejic ( is a leading expert on tech-driven shifts in banking and finance. He is the author of Blockchain Babel, finalist of the 2016 Bracken Bower Prize, and winner of the Independent Press Award 2020 (technology category). Blockchain Babel was also a Financial Times book of the month. Pejic is also the publisher of the valued industry newsletter, The New Frontier, and his articles and interviews regularly appear in media such as the New York Times, the American Banker, Bloomberg and PwC's strategy+business. He has created online-courses, whitepapers and bespoke analytic research about the long-term strategic impact of new tech. He has held different management positions in banking and payments, currently at one of the largest banking groups in Europe. He worked previously as a management consultant advising Fortune 100 companies, as a business journalist and as a lecturer at the University of Vienna.

Anthony Mancini
Tolmitch Press
9781637605257, $16.00, PB, 296pp

Synopsis: Father Anton Weiss has been a priest for forty years. An obedient, hard-working servant of he church, but tormented all the while by a sensual interest in young men, and a persistent memory of his infatuation with a boyhood friend.

He begins his retirement in Taormina, an ancient Sicilian city, formerly a seventh century naval town, then a favored resort for Greek and Roman conquerors and foreign monarchs, now a haven for European and American artistes, writers and wealthy gay men. He is surprised to see that the city is open and tolerant of all forms of behavior.

His host, a young priest, has a relationship with the female caretaker. The church forbids mysticism, but she is famous for pagan powers that predate Christianity in the form of her ability to predict the future.

The locals, workers, shopkeepers, elderly women who attend mass every morning, think nothing of the blasphemic violations of their priestly household. The young boys in the streets offering themselves to the wealthy gay tourists are sinning to finance their marriages so they can create families and live respectable lives. The gay couples are in shameless and, at times, tragic pursuit.

It is here that Father Weiss meets a boy and is challenged by temptations. Here that he ponders the questions of his faith. He suffer his pains and doubts but hopes he will find peace. But he must live out his years in a world in which there are no easy answers.

Critique: With the conflicting adult themes of Catholic belief, homosexuality, and pedophilia, "Ashes" by author Anthony Mancini is an exceptionally thoughtful and deftly scripted novel whose extraordinary literary merits are as impressive as its subject matter is controversial. While readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Ashes" is a highly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Mancini, former journalist with the NY Post, director of the journalistic writing program at Brooklyn College for twenty-five years and author of nine novels on subjects ranging from the exile of Napoleon to the adventures of a crime solving grandma in Little Italy, creates a character torn by the struggle of desire, for the pleasures of the flesh, with deferral, a life of piety and sacrifice in hope for moments of peace to come.

The Human Rights Industry
Alfred de Zayas
Clarity Press
978949762525, $31.95, PB, 349pp

Synopsis: The promotion and protection of human rights is a pillar of the United Nations, enshrined in the Charter, the international bill of rights, elaborated in General Assembly resolutions and declarations, and buttressed by monitoring mechanisms and regional human rights courts. After WWII the world demanded respect for collective and individual rights and freedoms, including the right to live in peace, i.e. freedom from fear and want, the right to food, water, health, shelter, belief and expression. Human dignity was understood as an inalienable entitlement of every member of the human family, rights that were juridical. justiciable and enforceable.

It did not take long for these noble goals to be politicized. Many States systematically weaponize human rights for geopolitics. A "human rights industry" operates at all levels and instrumentalizes values with the complicity of diplomats, politicians, non-governmental organizations, academics, journalists, independent experts, rapporteurs, secretariat members and media conglomerates.

With the publication of "The Human Rights Industry", Aldred de Zayas addresses the decisive role played by major governmental and private agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, elite think tanks, Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and others in shaping a "perception" of human rights that primarily serves geopolitical interests. Major non-governmental organizations that once were truly independent, including Amnesty and HRW, today belong to the leading narrative managers.

The voting record in the General Assembly and Human Rights Council by China, Russia, the United States, Canada, UK, EU, OIC, Group of 77, Non-aligned movement, etc. documents who supports and who subverts human rights. Why do the Council and NGOs practice double-standards and allow States to brazenly lie, blackmail and bully weaker States? Under the pretext of providing humanitarian assistance, lethal military interventions are conducted, e.g. in Libya, emblematic example of how the noble idea of the "responsibility to protect" was corrupted. Propagandistic use of the words "human rights", "democracy", "rule of law", "freedom" - demean them and subvert rational discourse.

Drawing on more than four decades of working in the field of human rights as UN staff member, rapporteur, consultant, professor and NGO president, Alfred de Zayas examines how the tools of implementation of human rights serve to entrench political narratives promoted by the "industry".

Critique: A timely, informative, insightful, and thought-provoking study, "The Human Rights Industry" by Aldred de Zayas is a seminal work that is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, political activists, and governmental policy makers that "The Human Rights Industry" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.00,

Editorial Note: Alfred de Zayas ( is a former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (2012-18), former senior lawyer with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Secretary of the UN Human Rights Committee and Chief of the Petitions Department (registrar). Zayas grew up in Chicago, holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D., modern history from University of Gottingen, Fulbright Graduate Fellow in Germany. Retired member of the New York and Florida Bar, author of 9 books and more than 200 scholarly articles.

Fuat Tuac
Tuzu Kuru Records
$TBA CD / $8.99 digital

Turkish-Canadian singer Fuat Tuac presents Immigrant, a jazz album reflecting on the realities of 21st century life. From a song about homelessness in Toronto Park, to the pitfalls of trying to date online (especially when meeting someone offline was close to impossible during COVID-19 lockdowns), to a creepy song about a man who was dumped and couldn't resist spying on his ex through social media, Immigrant does not shy from difficult struggles or dark themes, yet manages to keep a sense of humor about life's irregularities. Fuat Tuac provides the vocals, with Eric St-Laurent on guitar, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Eric West on drums, Jordan O'Connor on double bass, and special guests Kim Richardson and Yesim Akin in two duets. Immigrant is thought-provoking and unforgettable. The tacks are No Strings Attached, Asla Unutamam, Chez Moi, Long & Winding Road, Immigrant, Aeroplane, Who's That Man?, Moss Park, La Rua Madureira, Stay, and Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim.

Clint Travis

Dee Lorraine's Bookshelf

Street Performers: Busking and Buskers
Geof Bard
Bastille Press
9798393475062, $12.95 Paperback, $24.99 HC, 314pp

Street Performers: Busking and Buskers by Geof Bard ushers readers into the real-life world of street musicians, jugglers, mimes, and more. Bard's book is the definitive guide for those who watch or consider becoming a performer with the world as their stage.

An accomplished violinist, mandolin player, and master of several other instruments, Bard confidently presents his busking insider's knowledge of those who bring happiness to sidewalks and subways everywhere. His legal background and advocacy for these talented performers add to the credibility of his book.

Through his skilled storytelling, Bard offers a fascinating history of busking worldwide. He blends humor, compassion, and common sense to keep readers engaged. Thoughtfully curated photographs help reveal the joys and pains these often-unappreciated street artists experience.

The author did a deep dive into various archives to produce fascinating tales. Readers learn little-known facts, such as George Washington's busking background and the origin of Leonard Cohen's song, "Blessed Is The Memory."

Bard's stories, including that of Jazzajilo in New York City, also known as the 'Dancing Is Happiness Guy," help readers appreciate the struggles these dedicated performers overcome to share their craft and the value of community support in continuing the busking tradition.

Street Performers: Busking and Buskers might tempt readers to purchase juggling hoops or take guitar lessons. Even if they are not inclined to hit the bricks after finishing Bard's book, readers won't pass by street performers without giving a round of applause and a generous tip.

From its playful prelude to its appended collection of court cases, Street Performers: Busking and Buskers by Geof Bard is a compelling read, well worth the time.

Dee Lorraine

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel
Jonathan Sacks
Koren Publishers Jerusalem
9789657766729, $49.95 Hardcover, 305 pages

While all a member of the general public need is a title and author, the rest of the information is what librarians and booksellers require to fill out a purchase order if motivated to do so.

One of the best English commentaries on the Torah

Koren Press' "The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel - Numbers" follows its predecessors in the Biblical books Exodus, Leviticus, and Samuel as a fourth outstanding biblical commentary on the Hebrew Bible. It contains information not in other books. It has a wealth of scholarly information written in an easy-to-read and interesting - even fascinating - fashion by more than a dozen and a half academic and Modern Orthodox rabbinic scholars. The information in the book is eye and mind-opening. It is the first work in English to fuse contemporary 21st-century biblical scholarship with traditional Jewish perspectives.

The word "Tanakh" is one of the names of the Hebrew Bible. It is an acronym comprising the three parts of the Hebrew Bible: T is for Torah, The Five Books of Moses (even though the word Torah is also used to describe a single Jewish law and all the books of the Bible). N is for the books of the prophets, Nevi'im in Hebrew. K is for the third part, Writings, Ketuvim in Hebrew. This book devotes five pages to answering the question, "What is the Tanakh?" It discusses "The Tanakh and contemporary scholarship" and states it is an Orthodox Jewish perspective.

The translation of the Torah text by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks follows the suggestion of Maimonides to his translator, who translated his Arabic "Guide for the Perplexed" to Hebrew: Do not translate literally, word for word, because what makes sense in one language often does not make sense when copied verbatim in another language. Find the intent in the original and make the translation clear by inserting it, such as Sacks' rendering l'gulgulothum not as the obscure translation in JPS "polls," but as military division, referring to chapter 2.

Among much else, the volume gives an extensive introduction to the book of Numbers, has a chart showing what transpired in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Hittites, Edom, Greece, Rome, and other nations in the ancient world while events occurred in Israel, a very informative index of over a dozen pages, forty pages listing by subject matter books and articles readers can use to research subjects that interest them for more detailed information, colorful photographs on virtually every page, and much more.

It comments on and explains such things as the history of ancient nations, archaeology, Egyptology, the near east, geography, halakha, repentance, the Jewish view in contrast to the cults of the dead, the laws of Hammurabi vs. the Torah, why Levites were separated from other tribes, how the Israelite army was organized, guarding the Tabernacle, viewing holy objects, defrauding under oath, is the law of the red cow rational, monotheism vs. magic, how should we understand the miracle of a fashioned snake on a pole, the Bilam story in chapters 22-24 and other episodes, laws concerning a suspected adulteress, and much more.

Everyone reading the 303 pages of this excellent book or even browsing through it, whether Jew or non-Jew, even if the reader has a university education on the Bible or attended Orthodox yeshivot for many years, will benefit from this book a thousand-fold by learning more about the Bible, what it is teaching, its history, its comparison with the teachings of other ancient cultures, and much more.

The Koren Lev Ladaat Humash - Bemidbar
Shlomo Einhorn, author
Zvi Grumet, author
Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.
9789657766293, $29.95, HC, 532pp

A book that prompts us to think, "The Koren Lev Ladaat Humash - Bemidbar" is a superb Bible commentary that is very enlightening. It is filled with information. It prompts readers to think and better understand the Bible. It has clear easy-to-see Hebrew text with the highly acclaimed Koren font and the readable English translation by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

It is filled with commentaries from many famed classical rabbis, rational and mystic, such as Rashi, Ramban, ibn Ezra, Yosef Bekhor Shor, Samuel Raphael Hirsch, Rashbam, Melekhet Mahashevet, Abarbanel, Malbim, Ralbag, Isaac Samuel Reggio, Yosef ibn Kaspi, Torat Ha'olah, Maimonides, Moshe Alshikh, Ho'il Moshe, and more. It also has a new commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn and Rabbi Dr. Zvi Grumet.

There are also fascinating eye-and mind-opening questions and Divrei Torah to encourage thinking and Shabbat discussions, essays at the end of most biblical portions called "exploring hashkafa" designed to challenge readers regarding the modern world and academic lessons.

Examples of thought-provoking questions from chapters 19 to 22, the weekly biblical portion of Chukat, are:

Why does the Torah assign the function of the red cow to Aaron's son Elazar and not Aaron?

What does Moses speaking to the nation of Edom, descendants of Jacob's brother Esau, teach us about dealing with someone when you have a history of an unpleasant encounter when you need to speak with them?

Abraham ibn Ezra wrote that in chapter 20, all the desert events occurred either in the first or fortieth year of the desert stay, but nothing about the intervening years. But other commentators disagree. Who is right? Will we ever know?

If ibn Ezra is correct, why is nothing reported about the middle years?

Rashi and other commentators note that immediately after relating the death of Miriam, the Torah states that the people did not have water. They conclude that the Israelites had water in the desert miraculously because of the merit of Moses' sister Miriam. Is this what the Torah is saying?

In 20:5, the Israelites complain that Moses failed to bring them to the land with grapes, figs, and pomegranates. Moses told them that God would take them to a land of milk and honey. Why are they talking about other items?

Verse 20:12 has God severely punish Moses and Aaron after he gave water to the Israelites by hitting a rock, "Because you did not put your trust in Me to demonstrate My holiness in the Israelites' eyes, you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them." Many different ideas are advanced to explain what Moses and Aaron did wrong.

Minha Belula states that Moses and Aaron sinned when instead of rebuking the complaining Israelites, they left the assembly to the Tent of Meeting. Why did the brothers act as they did?

A popularly-held theory for the punishment is that Moses hit the rock rather than speaking to it. It would have been a clear miracle if he had spoken to the rock, and the rock responded by spouting water. It would show that God was helping the Israelites. But having water flow by hitting the stone will cause the people to think this was a natural event. The striking broke open a hole for the water to flow.

Is it reasonable to think God punished the brothers because Moses hit the rock rather than speaking to it? Should we believe that God is so sensitive about His honor? Does God act like sensitive humans? Also, God told the brothers to bring the staff.

Isn't a more reasonable explanation for why Moses could not lead the Israelites into Canaan his age? His behavior during this episode showed that despite his heroic leadership in the past, he was no longer competent to lead the people. He was now too old to continue. It was now necessary to have a younger leader.

There is also a full-page discussion in this Koren book on whether divine commands, mitzvot, make sense. This issue, like the others the book raises, will make us think. We might consider the following.

A large segment of Jews is convinced, as Rashi is, that the explanation of many of the biblical commandments is unknowable. They call such a command a chok and cite the laws of the Red Heifer as the prime example.

Rashi takes this view from the Babylonian Talmud Yoma 67 and comments on verse 19:2, "This is the chok of the Torah," and writes, "Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying 'What is this commandment and what is the reason for it,' [scripture] calls it chok [a word implying delving deep, such as an inscribed law] that it is a decree to us, we have no right to think about it."

Rationalists such as Maimonides reject this opinion. They insist that everything in the Bible is reasonable. Maimonides explains the laws of the Red Heifer in his Guide 3:47.

The Koren book prompts us to consider many ideas about this issue.

Among much else, we are left to wonder, did the ancient rabbis believe that God gave commands to the Israelites that are inexplicable? Or, did the rabbis say they were baffling to make the average Jew they felt could not understand them to feel good, what Plato called "noble lies" and Maimonides "essential truths"?

Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy
Joshua Heter, editor
Josef Thomas Simpson, editor
Open Universe
c/o Carus Books
9781637700303, $24.95, PB, 280pp

Synopsis: Isaac Asimov (January 2, 1920 - April 6, 1992) was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. During his lifetime, Asimov was considered one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. A prolific writer, he wrote or edited more than 500 books. He also wrote an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. Best known for his hard science fiction, Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much non-fiction. (Wikipedia)

Simply stated, novelist Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy is arguably the most influential science-fiction epic of all time.

Published as a series of books and short stories from the 1940s to the 1980s, the series has impacted most subsequent science fiction, and influenced sciences like sociology, statistics, and psychology. The story has now been made into a highly acclaimed TV serial (Foundation), on Apple TV, the second season now shooting in Prague.

The story begins 45,000 years in the future, and spans centuries in which a vast and successful interstellar human empire is unknowingly headed for total collapse. Using an advanced mathematical technique called psycho-history, a brilliant scientist, Hari Seldon, predicts the collapse and establishes a "foundation" to bring about the resurrection of human civilization many generations in the future.

Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy is a collection of twenty-four chapter by philosophers exploring the philosophical issues and puzzles raised by this epic story. Topics include whether one individual can make a big difference in history, the ethics of manipulating large populations of people to bring about a desirable future result, the Dao of non-action, the impact of education on future generations, whether human affairs are governed by predictable cycles, whether attempts to plan for the future must be thwarted by free will, the futility of empire-building, the ethics of cloning human beings, and the use of logic in analyzing human behavior.

Critique: Of special appeal to the legions of Isaac Asimov fans, and deftly co-edited by the team of Joshua Heter and Josef Thomas Simpson, "Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy" is a compendium of twenty-three erudite and inherently interesting articles on the impact of the Foundation series on popular culture, introducing the concept of 'psychohistory'. Enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an eight page Bibliography, a four page listing of the contributors and their credentials (The Encyclopedists), and a three page Index, "Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy" is a significant and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Popular Culture & Philosophy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note #1: Joshua Heter ( teaches philosophy at Jefferson College, Missouri, and is co-editor of Better Call Saul and Philosophy: I Think Therefore I Scam (2022).

Editorial Note #2: Josef Thomas Simpson ( is an academic coach and part-time lecturer. He contributed chapters to Westworld and Philosophy: Mind Equals Blown (2019) and Orphan Black and Philosophy: Grand Theft DNA (2016).

The FUD Factor
Brendan P. Keegan
Forbes Books
c/o Advantage Media Group
18 Broad Street, Suite 300, Charleston, SC 29401
9781955884464, $27.99, HC, 226pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The FUD Factor: Overcoming Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt to Achieve the Impossible", Brendan P. Keegan is here to guide you on your way to corporate success.

In "The FUD Factor" Keegan sets the record straight: Fearless Leaders aren't born -- they are made. All of us have the capability to become the Fearless Leaders we aspire to be.

Drawing on lessons learned along his own Fearless Leadership journey and the lessons learned by emerging, stuck, challenged, and get-better leaders across all industries, experiences, and ages, in "The FUD Factor" Keegan urges us to face our fears, believe in ourselves, and inspire others through our own commitment to show up as a Fearless Leader every day.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, 'real world' practical, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "The FUD Factor: Overcoming Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt to Achieve the Impossible" is especially relevant and inspirational for readers with an interest in entrepreneurship and business management, improved leadership, and motivation. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99), "The FUD Factor" is a highly recommended and highly valued addition to professional, community, and academic library Business Management & Leadership collections and supplemental MBA curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Brendan P. Keegan ( is the president, CEO, and chairperson of Merchants Fleet, the fastest-growing FleetTech company in North America. He is an award-winning six-time president and CEO, having raised nearly $5.0B in capital and returned $10.0B to investors. With a background in the financial services, technology, and professional service industries, Keegan has led companies ranging from five hundred to ten thousand employees. He has led Merchants to be a two-time Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing Private Company, Deloitte Best Managed Company, Fast Company Top 10 Most Innovative Company, and more.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Katharine Beutner
Soho Crime
c/o Soho Press
853 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
9781641294379, $27.95, HC, 360pp

Synopsis: Massachusetts, 1897: Bertha Mellish, "the most peculiar, quiet, reserved girl" at Mount Holyoke College, is missing.

As a search team dredges the pond where Bertha might have drowned, her panicked father and sister arrive desperate to find some clue to her fate or state of mind. Bertha's best friend, Agnes, a scholarly loner studying medicine, might know the truth, but she is being unhelpfully tightlipped, inciting the suspicions of Bertha's family, her classmates, and the private investigator hired by the Mellish family doctor. As secrets from Agnes's and Bertha's lives come to light, so do the competing agendas driving each person who is searching for Bertha.

Where did Bertha go? Who would want to hurt her? And could she still be alive?

Critique: With the publication of "Killingly", the Edmund White Award-winning novelist Katharine Beutner takes a real-life unsolved historical mystery and crafts it into an unforgettable portrait of academia, family trauma, and the risks faced by women who dared to pursue unconventional paths at the end of the 19th century. An outstanding work of fact-based fiction, "Killingly" is an especially and unreservedly recommended pick for personal reading lists and community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted that "Killingly" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Katharine Beutner ( is an assistant professor of English at the College of Wooster in Ohio; previously, she taught at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She earned a BA in Classical Studies at Smith College and an MA in English (creative writing) and a PhD in English literature at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first novel, Alcestis, won the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and was a finalist for other awards, including the Lambda Literary Association's Lesbian Debut Fiction Award. Her writing has appeared in Tinfish, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Books, The Toast, TriQuarterly, Humanities, and other publications. She is also the editor in chief of The Dodge, a magazine of eco-writing and translation.

The Bucharest Legacy: The Rise of the Oligarchs
William Maz
Oceanview Publishing
1620 Main Street, Suite 11, Sarasota, FL 34236
9781608095681, $28.95, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: The CIA is rocked to its core when a KGB defector divulges that there is a KGB mole inside the Agency. They learn that the mole's handler is a KGB agent known as Boris. CIA analyst Bill Hefflin recognizes that name - Boris is the code name of Hefflin's longtime KGB asset. If the defector is correct, Hefflin realizes Boris must be a triple agent, and his supposed mole has been passing false intel to Hefflin and the CIA. What's more, this makes Hefflin the prime suspect as the KGB mole inside the Agency.

Hefflin is given a chance to prove his innocence by returning to his city of birth, Bucharest, Romania, to find Boris and track down the identity of the mole. It's been three years since the bloody revolution, and what he finds is a cauldron of spies, crooked politicians, and a country controlled by the underground and the new oligarchs, all of whom want to find Boris. But Hefflin has a secret that no one else knows - Boris has been dead for over a year.

Critique: "The Bucharest Legacy" is author William Maz's latest novel and the sequel to "The Bucharest Dossier" as once again CIA agent Bill Hefflin is back in Bucharest and a dangerously lethal world that is immersed in a 'cauldron of spies and crooked politicians'. With a genuine flair for writing political thriller novels of international mystery, crime, and suspense, "The Bucharest Legacy" will prove a welcome and enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense and Spy Novel collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Bucharest Legacy" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.49).

Editorial Note: William Maz ( was born in Bucharest, Romania, and emigrated to the U.S. as a child. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Following a residency in anesthesiology at Yale, he practiced medicine, and during that time, he developed a passion for writing fiction. He studied writing at Harvard, The New School, and The Writer's Studio in New York City, and he is now writing full time.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Your Body Is a Revolution
Tara Teng
Greenleaf Book Group Press
9781506483788, $26.99, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: Too many of us are living disconnected from our bodies, chasing a constantly moving target of "ideal," and accepting the societal narrative about which bodies are deserving of safety and protection. In an effort to keep ourselves safe, we shame, push aside, and assimilate parts of ourselves that don't align with the cultural norm. In turn, we are disconnected from our bodies and therefore from our humanity, losing sight of the true nature of who we are and who we were born to be.

With the publication of "Your Body Is a Revolution: Healing Our Relationships with Our Bodies, Each Other, and the Earth", embodiment coach Tara Teng offers an invitation to reclaim what has been stolen from us, to embrace the wisdom our bodies long to share, and to fully inhabit our lives -- perhaps for the first time.

"Your Body Is a Revolution" helps us untangle ourselves from centuries of body-based oppression built into our societal systems or masquerading as religion and teaches us to slow down and listen to the wisdom that comes through somatic practices. When we embrace right relationship with our bodies, we also come into right relationship with all things: ourselves, each other, the earth, and our spirituality.

Book your ticket home: home to your body. Take back what society says is too much, too loud, too feminine, too masculine, too gay, too worldly, too unique to fit into the restrictive mold built by patriarchy, colonization, and white supremacy. Come back home to the place you were always searching for. Here, your whole self is welcome.

Critique: Exceptionally well written from a Christian perspective and deftly dealing with sensitive subject matters, "Your Body Is a Revolution: Healing Our Relationships with Our Bodies, Each Other, and the Earth" is thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation. Inspirationally motivating, "Your Body Is a Revolution: Healing Our Relationships with Our Bodies, Each Other, and the Earth" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended contribution to personal, professional, community, and academic library Self-Help, Self-Improvement, Self-Esteem, and Personal Transformation collections. It should be noted that "Your Body Is a Revolution: Healing Our Relationships with Our Bodies, Each Other, and the Earth" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Tara Teng ( is an embodiment coach and somatic practitioner who works at the intersections of embodiment, justice, and sexuality, helping people overcome shame, heal trauma, and come back into relationship with their bodies. A former Miss Canada, she was named Canada's "Woman of the Year" in 2011, received an International Heroes award from the Joy Smith Foundation, and was presented with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of her human rights work to combat human trafficking. She lives with her three young children on the unceded traditional territories of the Kwantlen and Katzie First Nations, in Vancouver, Canada.

It Takes Two: Couples Erotica
Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor
Cleis Press
9781627783286, $18.95, HC, 218pp

Synopsis: Deftly compiled and edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" is comprised of a number of erotic short stories by gifted authors that enable couples take their passion in new directions, giving free reign to their filthiest sexual fantasies. Sometimes, they pretend to be someone else, engaging in erotic role-playing that allows them to embody their most sensual side and say and do things they wouldn't in their everyday life.

From BDSM encounters at Kink Camp to trying out new sex toys to outrageously filthy fetishes, glorious exhibitionism and voyeurism and sex in space, these couples find inventive ways to go wild with the one they love. No matter how well you think you know your partner, there's always something new to discover about what turns them on, as these characters find out.

The erotic stories comprising "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" are all about rekindling that intimacy and seeking out total ecstasy.

Critique: Stories conger up images, images evoke desire, desire enables adult relationships to thrive. "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" is an unreservedly recommended pick for couples in a mature relationship to enjoy themselves and each other in ways that will keep them interested, pleasured, and together. It should be noted that "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Rachel Kramer Bussel ( is a writer, editor, event organizer, and erotica writing instructor. She's edited over 70 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Dirty Dates, On Fire, Spanked, Please, Sir, and Please, Ma'am, and is the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series editor. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine,, Salon, Slate,, The Village Voice and numerous other publications. She can be followed on Twitter @raquelita and you learn more about her writing workshops and consulting at

Moving Past Marriage
Jaclyn Geller, PhD
Cleis Press
9781627782463, $18.95, PB, 373pp

Synopsis: Married Americans enjoy over 1,000 benefits and entitlements that are withheld from their non-marital counterparts. Health insurance, immigration rights, tax privileges (such as the estate tax), and hiring policies favor the married.

Marriage is financially supported and incentivized by the federal government. Social customs such as blockbuster weddings, subsidized honeymoons, and gifts reserved for wedded couples reinforce matrimony as a centering norm, and furthering the idea that "marriage is best", a commonplace in popular psychology, where marriage-averse people are often tarred as "commitment-phobes."

Despite this blatant and widespread prejudice, nonmarital Americans (nonmarital people) have not galvanized as a group to demand equality and inclusion. Why?

With the publication of "Moving Past Marriage: Why We Should Ditch Marital Privilege, End Relationship-Status Discrimination, and Embrace Non-marital History", Jaclyn Geller argues that it is because of our troubled relationship to history. As women's history once was, nonmarital history has been buried, so the disenfranchisement that nonmarital people share in wedlock-dominated societies, as well as our remarkable, far-ranging achievements, have been hard to spot.

In recovering our own history, nonmarital people can become self-aware as a group and begin to challenge marriage-centric thinking and practice.

Using examples of myriad luminaries who never married, "Moving Past Marriage" shows how nonmarital people have been a powerful creative force in history, contributing to science, art, religion, and literature, and often demonstrating great courage during times of war. "Moving Past Marriage" also suggests how American society could be organized differently, in a way that acknowledges and validates love and family in all its diverse forms. It asks people living outside matrimony to learn our own history and, building on that history, create a nonmarital consciousness.

Critique: A fascinating, detailed, and iconoclastic study, "Moving Past Marriage: Why We Should Ditch Marital Privilege, End Relationship-Status Discrimination, and Embrace Non-marital History" is an extraordinary, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read. Of particular interest to the LBGTQ community (as well as heterosexual men and women acquainted with the impact of marriage on personal goals and emotional well being), "Moving Past Marriage" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Marriage/Divorce collections and supplemental Sociology of Marriage/Family curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "Moving Past Marriage" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Jaclyn Geller is a professor at Central Connecticut State University and specializes in Restoration and eighteenth-century literature. Geller earned her doctorate in English and American Literature at New York University, where she met luminaries such as Adrienne Rich. She is the author of Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique as well as articles on early-modern satire, Samuel Butler, and Samuel Johnson. She has an online webpage at

Seeing Race Before Race
Noeme Ndiaye, editor
Lia Markey, editor
Arizona State University
PO Box 874402, Tempe, AZ 85287-4402
9780866988414, $79.00, HC, 300pp

Synopsis: Knowledgeably compiled and co-edited by Noeme Ndiaye and Lia Markey, with the publication of "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" is a large format (9 x 0.9 x 12 inches, 2.9 pounds) visual archive that includes a trove of materials including annotated or illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance costume books and travel books, maps and cartographic volumes produced by Europeans as well as Indigenous peoples, mass-printed pamphlets, jewelry, decorative arts, religious iconography, paintings from around the world, ceremonial objects, festival books, and play texts intended for live performance.

The contributors to Seeing Race Before Race" deftly explore the deployment of what co-editor Noemie Ndiaye calls "the racial matrix" and its interconnected paradigms across the medieval and early modern chronological divide and across vast transnational and multilingual geographies. This copious volume features items from the Fall 2023 exhibition "Seeing Race Before Race" (a collaboration between RaceB4Race and the Newberry Library) as a starting point for an ambitious theoretical conversation between premodern race studies, art history, performance studies, book history, and critical race theory.

Critique: In addition to twelve erudite and informative articles/essays, "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" is further enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of illustrations, a six page Glossary, a twenty-two page Bibliography, an eight page listing of the contributors and their credentials, and a seven page Index. While also available for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subjects covered, "Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World" is an exceptionally impressive and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, community, college, and university library Art History and Philosophy Criticism collections, and supplemental Cultural History curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #!: Noemie Ndiaye ( is assistant professor of Renaissance and Early Modern English Literature at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race and Racecraft: Early Modern Repertoires of Blackness.

Editorial Note #2: Lia Markey ( is director of the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library. She is the author of Imagining the Americas in Medici Florence and coeditor of The New World in Early Modern Italy, 1492-1750.

Finding a Way: Taking the Impossible and Making it Possible
Siri Lindley
Post Hill Press
9781637587928, $27.00, HC, 336pp

Synopsis: Siri Lindley wanted to be a world champion triathlete...even though she didn't know how to swim. She wanted to love and be loved...even though her father shunned her because she was gay. She wanted to savor every day and enjoy the life she'd made with her wife, her career, and her passion for horses...even though in November 2019 she was diagnosed with a rare (and usually fatal) form of acute myeloid leukemia.

Every time Siri has faced what seemed impossible, she found a way to not only survive the situation, but to thrive within it. Today, she's cancer free, a triathlon world champion, happily married, and one of the most popular coaches and motivational speakers in the world. Finding a Way is her life-giving guide for readers who are feeling stuck between the life they want to live and the life that they're living now.

Her memoir, "Finding a Way: Taking the Impossible and Making it Possible" will gives you the tools and strategies you will need to find a way through your struggles and on to triumph.

Siri's message to her readers is that 'You have everything you need inside of you to do this. You get to go first in deciding what story you want to live in any moment. You get to go first in deciding what is possible for you, what you are capable of, and what life's challenges will mean for you'.

"Finding a Way: Taking the Impossible and Making it Possible" teach you how to rewrite the stories in life that you are living. You can re-narrate those stories to bring out the best in yourself and open the gates to a greener pasture where you can finally put down your armor, open your heart, and receive the gifts of love, joy, and fulfilment that you so deserve.

Critique: Fascinating, inspiring, motivating, and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library LGBTQ Biography, Personal Transformation, and Self-Help/Self Improvement collections, it should be noted that "Finding a Way: Taking the Impossible and Making it Possible" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Siri Lindley ( is a two-time world champion triathlete and winner of twelve ITU World Cup races. She retired as the #1 ranking triathlete in the world --a place she held for more than two years. Today, as the top female triathlon coach in the world, she's guided Olympic medalists and Ironman champions to not only become better athletes, but also better people. Along with her wife, Siri founded and runs Believe Ranch and Rescue, a local horse rescue program in Colorado that has directly saved almost two hundred horses, as well as the national advocacy group Horses in Our Hands, which has been a key voice in decreasing the number of American horses slaughtered every year by 75 percent.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Rising: From a Mud Hut to the Boardroom - and Back Again
Graci Harkema
Page Two Books
9781774582510, $26.95, HC, 216pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Rising: From a Mud Hut to the Boardroom - and Back Again", Graci Harkema revisits her personal experiences growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan as an adoptee from the Africa's Congo. She traces her life's path to claiming and living her own story, becoming a successful consultant on diversity, equity and inclusion, racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, and women in business.

Born amid civil unrest in a mud hut in the Congo and weighing a mere three pounds, Harkema was left at an orphanage, where she was not expected to live another day. But that afternoon, a visiting American missionary saw her sleeping in a doll's bed and heard a voice inside her say, "This is your daughter."

Her childhood was spent wishing to be lighter and blonder, like her siblings and classmates. Out of fear of standing out even more from her peers, Harkema kept her sexuality a secret, only coming out of the closet years later -- during a job interview! Eventually, she learned to see her identity as her superpower, instead of her shame.

Today, Harkema helps embrace diversity and drive inclusion to ensure open and safe work environments. She is committed to empowering employees to perform to their potential as their authentic selves -- setting an example as she continues to live her own story, journeying to meet her birth mother, to discover one more piece of herself.

Critique: An extraordinary life story, "Rising: From a Mud Hut to the Boardroom - and Back Again" is an inherently fascinating read and one that will have special appeal to readers with an interest in LGBTQ and African American Biographies & Memoirs. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Rising: From a Mud Hut to the Boardroom - and Back Again" is a highly recommended pick for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Graci Harkema ( is the owner of Graci LLC, a consultancy providing training and speaking on diversity, inclusion and implicit bias for Fortune 500, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. The Grand Rapids Business Journal has named her a 40 Under 40 Business Leader of West Michigan, and one of the 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders of West Michigan. Graci received national media attention in 2019 for publicly resigning from a prominent Diversity & Inclusion leadership role to make a stand for racial equity and justice. Passionate about serving her community, she volunteers her time on LGBTQ+ non-profit boards and committees. She is also an avid supporter of her parents' faith-based non-profit, Heart for Central Africa, in her hometown of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You
Ally Henny
Baker Books
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton, Ada, MI 49301
9781540902658, $24.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: Being Black in a society developed by white men to benefit white men means constantly pushing back against systems that were not constructed for your flourishing. White privilege. White cultural norms. White beauty standards. White noise. You're made to feel that your life doesn't matter, your opinions aren't valid, and your entire existence is too loud. It can feel like the whole world is telling you to shut up.

To these forces, Ally Henny is here to say, "No. I am a loud Black woman, and I won't shut up." Ally knows what it's like to navigate racism and racialized sexism, having spent most of her life in predominantly white spaces. She's not taking it anymore, and with the publication of "I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You" she is calling her readers to join her in resisting racism by speaking the truth--no matter the cost.

"I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You" is compelling telling of Ally's her own story of finding her voice, pushing back against oppression, and embracing her unique perspective as a loud Black woman.

"I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You" is an invitation to find your own voice in a world that tries to silence you. If you're tired of feeling silenced, misunderstood, and abused by society, you'll find in "I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You" powerful words of liberation that will empower you to find (and use!) your voice.

Critique: A timely and appreciated contribution to the contemporary politics and racial discrimination issues of today from a decidedly Christian perspective, "I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You" is deserving of as wide a readership as possible. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99), "I Won't Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You" is a welcome and invaluable addition to community and academic library Contemporary Social Issues & American Race Relations collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Ally Henny ( is a writer, speaker, advocate-minister, and vice president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, an organization committed to encouraging, engaging, and empowering Black Christians toward liberation from racism. She completed her MDiv from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis in race, cultural identity, and reconciliation, and she hopes to lead a church someday. Ally has been leading conversations about race on her social media and blog, The Armchair Commentary, since 2014, and her posts reach millions each month.

A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration
Dale DeBakcsy
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (US distribution)
9781399045322, $34.95, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: For the last four hundred years, women have played a part far in excess of their numerical representation in the history of astronomical research and discovery. It was a woman who gave us our first tool for measuring the distances between stars, and another who told us for the first time what those stars were made of. It was women who first noticed the rhythmic noise of a pulsar, the temperature discrepancy that announced the existence of white dwarf stars, and the irregularities in galactic motion that informed us that the universe we see might be only a small part of the universe that exists.

And yet, in spite of the magnitude of their achievements, for centuries women were treated as essentially second class citizens within the astronomical community, contained in back rooms, forbidden from communicating with their male colleagues, provided with repetitive and menial tasks, and paid starvation wages.

With the publication of "A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration: Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM", author Dale DeBakcsy tells the story of how, in spite of all those impediments, women managed, by sheer determination and genius, to unlock the secrets of the night sky. It is also the story of some of science's most hallowed names - Maria Mitchell, Caroline Herschel, Vera Rubin, Nancy Grace Roman, and Jocelyn Bell-Burnell.

As well as the story of women scientists whose accomplishments were great, but whose names have faded through lack of use such as Queen Seondeok of Korea, who built an observatory in the 7th century that still stands today, Wang Zhenyi, who brought heliocentrism to China, Margaret Huggins, who perfected the techniques that allowed us to photograph stellar spectra and thereby completely changed the direction of modern astronomy, and Hisako Koyama, whose multi-decade study of the sun's surface is as impressive a feat of steadfast scientific dedication as it is a rigorous and valuable treasure trove of solar data.

"A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration" is not confined to identifying those who study space, but also of those who have ventured into it, from the fabled Mercury 13, whose attempt to join the American space program was ultimately foiled by betrayal from within, to mythical figures like Kathryn Sullivan and Sally Ride, who were not only pioneering space explorers, but scientific researchers and engineers in their own rights, aided in their work by scientists like Mamta Patel Nagaraja, who studied the effects of space upon the human body, and computer programmers like Marianne Dyson, whose simulations prepared astronauts for every possible catastrophe that can occur in space.

Told through over 130 stories spanning four thousand years of humanity's attempt to understand its place in the cosmos, :A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration" brings us at last the full tale of women's evolution from instrument makers and calculators to the theorists, administrators, and explorers who have, while receiving astonishingly little in return, given us, quite literally, the universe.

Critique: Simply stated, "A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration: Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM" should be a core addition to every highschool, community, college, and university library Women Scientist Biography and Astronomic History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. Exceptionally informative, expertly organized and presented, featuring a section of black/white photos, a four page Selected Reading List, and a four page index, "A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration" is also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Dale DeBakcsy ( has written the popular bi-weekly Women In Science column at Women You Should Know ( since 2014, creating a freely accessible archive of in-depth and rigorously researched articles detailing the history of women professionals in all branches of STEM. For three years, he was the author and illustrator for the History of Humanism series at New Humanist, and is a contributing author to the Great Minds column at Free Inquiry Magazine. His essays have appeared in Philosophy Now, The Freethinker, Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, American Atheist Magazine, The Humanist, and Free Inquiry Magazine.

Love at First Set
Jennifer Dugan
Avon Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
Blackstone Audiobooks
9780063307483, $18.99, HC, 336pp

Synopsis: The gym is Lizzie's life -- it is her passion, her job, and the only place that she ever felt like home. Unfortunately, her bosses consider her a glorified check-in girl at best, and the gym punching bag at worst.

When their son, Lizzie's best friend, James, begs her to be his plus one at his perfect sister Cara's wedding, things go wrong immediately, and culminate in Lizzie giving a drunken pep talk to a hot stranger in the women's bathroom -- except that stranger is actually the bride-to-be, and Lizzie has accidentally convinced her to ditch her groom.

Now, newly directionless Cara is on a quest to find herself, and Lizzie (desperate to make sure her bosses never find out her role in this fiasco) gets strong-armed by James into "entertaining" her. Cara doesn't have to know it's a setup; it'll just be a quick fling before she sobers up and goes back to her real life. After all, how could someone like Cara fall for someone like Lizzie, with no career and no future?

But the more Lizzie gets to know Cara, the more she likes her, and the bigger the potential disaster if any of her rapidly multiplying secrets get out. Because now it's not just Lizzie's job and entire future on the line, but also the girl of her dreams.

Critique: Of particular appeal to readers with an interest in contemporary LGBTQ+ romance and Rom-Com style humor, "Love At First Set" by novelist Jennifer Dugan is an original and exceptionally fun read from first page to last. While highly recommended for community library Contemporary Romance collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Love At First Set" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798212709835, $41.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Jennifer Dugan ( is the author of the young adult novels Melt With You, Some Girls Do, Verona Comics, and Hot Dog Girl. She is also the author of the YA graphic novel Coven.

The Sojourner's Road Home
Kelly Mack McCoy
Morgan James Faith
c/o Morgan James Publishing
9781636981093, $14.99, PB, 122pp

Synopsis: "The Sojourner's Road Home" by Kelly Mack McCoy is an inspiring resource for the reader in search of a deeper encounter with God's everlasting love and the discovery of their purpose in His plans. In these pages you will find hope and encouragement in each day of your journey as He guides you along unforeseen paths leading to profound change within yourself and the world around you.

Our personal sojourns take us through a troubled land in tumultuous times, but we can find comfort in knowing we are not aimlessly wandering on the road of life. The journey has much more meaning when we realize we are heading home to the welcoming embrace of our loving Father in heaven.

God is always with us, even when we feel like we are worlds away from everything and everyone we know and love. "The Sojourner's Road Home" is a reminder that no matter where we go or how long we stay away, we'll always have a place to come back to, even if our earthy home as we knew it is no longer there.

As author Kelly Mack McCoy recommends -- Take the 40-day journey. Your sojourn here will never be the same.

Critique: Of particular relevance and inspiring motivation for readers having to deal with depression and failing circumstance due to drug addition, alcoholism, economic setbacks, political instability, the recent pandemic, ministerial/pastoral malfeasance, and the other sundry ills that afflict our selves, our families, our communities, "The Sojourner's Road Home: A 40-Day Journey to the Heart of God" is a balm, a help, and a way to restore faith, stability, mental/emotional health, and a surcease from physical, emotional, and mental pain brought on by addiction, misery, and feelings of abandonment. Simply stated, "The Sojourner's Road Home: A 40-Day Journey to the Heart of God" is highly recommended for personal, professional, community, church, seminary, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement reading lists and collections.

Editorial Note: Kelly Mack McCoy ( pursued a life-long dream of becoming an author after a life-altering event changed the trajectory of his life. He teamed up with author John Floyd Mills, a former writer with the San Antonio Light newspaper, to co-author a series of novels about a trucker-turned-pastor-turned-trucker.

The Byways
Mary Pascual
She Writes Press
9781684631902, $17.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: Neurodivergent high school student CeeCee Harper has a temper and a reputation for trouble. Angry at the rumors and afraid she'll never fit in, she makes a wrong move -- and lands in the byways, a world of alleys, magic, and forgotten people. Some that aren't even human. And if she doesn't escape quickly, CeeCee learns, she'll be trapped for good.

Searching for a way out, she gets lost among monsters, drug pushers, the homeless, and political upheaval, and soon finds there are those who will stop at nothing to keep her from leaving. But the byways pull people in for a reason. CeeCee must figure out why she got stuck in the first place -- before her loved ones are put in danger and she loses them forever.

Critique: A riveting, original, and deftly crafted dark fantasy novel, "The Byways" by author Mary Pascual is especially and particularly recommended for both highschool and community library YA Science Fiction & Fantasy collections for young readers ages 15-18. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of fantasy fans that "The Byways" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Mary Pascual ( is a writer and artist who believes finding magic is only a matter of perspective. She loves stories about characters with heart and fantastical settings that are more than meets the eye.

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Barbara Isn't Dying
Alina Bronsky
Translated by Tim Mohr
Europa Editions
9781609458423 $17.00

"Papa. You should hear yourself," (125) says one of Walter's children when he asks why he should do laundry more than once a month. Walter's oblivion is readers' awareness. His flaws disarm and delight. Forced to care for himself when his wife is ill, he not only gains respect for her (albeit begrudgingly), but gathers around him a community who appreciate his failures as well as his successes.

We meet a sullen check out girl at the bakery Walter frequents, a single-mom bar owner he once fancied, a woman he meets through a cooking show chatroom, and Walter's son and daughter. Written from Walter's perspective, the detached, curmudgeonly tone highlights other characters' warmth. In particular, Barbara comes across as a wily master of pleasing herself as she placates Walter throughout their marriage. While Walter complains about the cashier's mumbling, she provides him recipes. The bartender accompanies him on errands and the chatroom friend invites him for coffee. Between outings, Walter cooks for Barbara and walks the dog. A seemingly pedestrian plotline, though, takes a dramatic turn when Walter overturns his major mistake. Without fanfare, the conclusion melts hearts. A Man Called Ove meets the self-made immigrant, Barbara isn't Dying brings out the best of humanity through one of our most recalcitrant.

Mari Carlson

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Poverty, by America
Matthew Desmond
9780593239919, $28.00, Hardcover, 304 pages

My interest in the impact of poverty was heightened when I joined the Peace Corps and began working in countries worldwide to alleviate suffering. And after thirty years, when I spent more time in the U.S., like the author, I was haunted by how the wealthiest nation in the world had so many people living in poverty. One in every nine people in America is officially poor, and one in eight children - why do we tolerate so much suffering amid so much wealth?

According to Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, there are many reasons, but the big one is that the rest of us benefit from it. This author brings a unique perspective by not focusing on the "poor," but on the rest of us and the economic and social systems that keep them poor.

Like a Peace Corps volunteer, his perspective was on seeing poverty up close and personal. His awareness of poverty started as a child in the Route 66 town of Winslow, Arizona. His father was a pastor at the First Christian Church, and as a graduate school student at the University of Wisconsin, he focused on the housing crisis. He moved to Milwaukee, living in a mobile home and then a rooming house where he befriended families who had been evicted.

Matthews' extensive research reveals the mind-boggling scope of poverty in the U.S. - 38 million can't get the basics, 39 million don't have medical insurance, and one in three families with two children makes $55,000 or less. They face a fear of eviction, police brutality, and run-down neighborhoods where death comes early. The U.S. allows a much higher proportion of its children - over 5 million - to endure deep poverty than any of its peer nations.
And yet, according to the author, the U.S. spends almost as much combatting poverty as other industrialized societies, second only to France. But how we try to help the poor explains why poverty persists.

To begin with, the most extensive welfare program in the country focuses on the wealthy and middle class in this country. Much of that goes to the well-off - such as the home mortgage deduction, one of many tax breaks accruing to the wealthiest America--$1.8 trillion dollars.
And even when we spend $100 billion on pets in the U.S., government spending on public works is declining. And if you combine all the tax breaks we get with social insurance programs like food stamps, the top 20% of Americans get about $35,000 from the government, while the bottom 20% get about $25,000 - a 40% difference.

Segregation is essential in creating poverty as it "poisons our minds and souls. When affluents live, work, play, and worship alongside fellow affluents, they can grow insular, quite literally forgetting the poor."

Another factor is tolerating unrelenting exploitation in the labor, housing, and financial markets. The author estimates that 61 million dollars are charged to low-income families for overdraft fees, check cashing fees, and payday loan interest.

Some states don't request the federal funds available to help people experiencing poverty. In Arizona, welfare dollars paid for abstinence-only sex education. In Mississippi, they hired an evangelical worship singer to perform at rallies and church concerns and to pay former NFL quarterback Brett Favre $1.1 million for speeches he never gave...

Matthew looks at solutions - the major one is simply that the wealthy pay their taxes. Corporate taxes are the lowest in 18 years. The head of the IRS testified that tax evasion by corporations and wealthy families costs the government about $41 trillion annually. So if the most affluent families just paid what they owed and stopped evading taxes by offshore accounting, if the top 15 paid what they owed, we'd have an additional $175 million per year.

Matthew also notes that the Federal government's response to the national health disaster brought on by COVID had an impact on poverty, especially children. It expanded the Child Tax Credit to poor, working-class, and middle-class families, which guaranteed income to households with kids. Those gains cut childhood poverty by a third, and yet they were not renewed after the pandemic.

The author contends that becoming a Poverty Abolitionist is a personal and political project. He urges those who want to participate in this project to divest from poverty in consumer choices (always looking for the lowest price), investment decisions, and jobs.
In the Epilogue, he says that we must support a government striving to end scarcity by rebalancing the nation's safety net and expanding policies that empower low-income people. "We detest all forms of exploitation, whether it is carried out by corporations, property owners, or financial institutions, even if - especially if - it benefits us.

We oppose racism, segregation, and opportunity hoarding in our communities and stand for shared prosperity. Poverty abolitionists are solutionist doers, prioritizing plan over critique, tangible wins over rhetorical ones, usefulness over purity - and we must organize."
Mathew ends his book with, "We don't need to outsmart this problem. We need to out-hate it."

"A data-driven manifesto that turns a critical eye on those who inflict and perpetuate unlivable conditions on others." - The Boston Globe

"This is the kind of awareness we desperately need to start to change this broken, cruel system." - LitHub.

The Author

Matthew Desmond is a social scientist and urban ethnographer. He is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. He is also a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine.

Desmond is the author of over fifty academic studies and several books, including "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Carnegie Medal, and PEN / John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.

"Evicted" was listed as one of the Best Books of 2016 by The New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and several other outlets. It has been named one of the Best 50 Nonfiction Books of the Last 100 Years and was included in the 100 Best Social Policy Books of All Time.

Desmond's research and reporting focus on American poverty and public policy. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, and is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society. He has been listed among the Politico 50 as one of "fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate."

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Mayra Calvani's Bookshelf

The Seeker
Dominick Domingo
9781716937606, $19.66 pbk / $3.88 Kindle, 241 pages

Embark on an enchanting journey where mythology, philosophy and self-exploration intertwine in The SEEKER. In this genre-blending novel, talented author Dominick Domingo captivates readers with a tale that reimagines the legendary Icarus, while weaving in an LGBTQ2 love story.

Through the lens of Greek classicism, The SEEKER transports us into a realm where the mythical collides with the modern, as Icarus's fall from grace takes an unexpected turn. Saved from a watery fate by our protagonist, the fictional demigod Amitayus, the two embark on an epic odyssey, facing Zeus-conjured challenges. At its core, this captivating narrative delves into profound themes of self-discovery and the complexities of familial bonds. The search for a mother and the quest for forgiveness toward a father form a rich tapestry of emotions that resonate long after the final page.

The SEEKER blends philosophy and mysticism in exquisite detail. The writing is elegant, ornate and profound, creating a vivid tapestry of imagery and lyrical prose that immerses readers in this mythical world. With his firm command of the language and sensitive observations, Domingo invites us to embark on a personal journey of introspection.

The SEEKER is a must-read for anyone seeking a transcendent literary experience.

Mayra Calvani

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

I Didn't Do It
Jaime Lynn Hendricks
c/o The Mysterious Press
58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007
c/o Penzler Publishers
9781613164112, $26.95, HC, 312pp

Synopsis: Murderpalooza is the premier thriller writers conference, and is meant to be an exciting celebration of the genre and its preeminent writers. But when bestselling author and industry favorite Kristin Bailey is found dead in her hotel room, four rival authors (a midlister, an egomaniac, a has-been, and a newbie) also get targeted by an anonymous social media account and wonder if they're next.

First, they find themselves bonding to try to find out who's behind it. As the account taunts them, it slowly reveals secrets that each of them have connected to Kristin -- secrets that make them a suspect in each other's eyes. Soon, they are turning on each other and silently accusing each as a killer.

With time running out until the awards ceremony where the social media account has promised a big reveal, the only thing they know for sure is that no one is better at both creating and solving a mystery than the people who write them for a living.

Critique: A simply riveting read from first page to last, with the publication of "I Didn't Do It" novelist Jaime Lynn Hendricks gives her readers a fascinating, thrilling, 'whodunnit' peek into the thriller writing world and those that inhabit it in this gripping and deftly crafted murder mystery of a novel. While highly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated murder mystery buffs that "I Didn't Do It" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Jaime Lynn Hendricks ( is also the author of Finding Tessa. Before writing thrillers, she spent two decades in print media and marketing.

Requiem for Betrayal
River Grove Books
c/o Greenleaf Book Group Press
9781632996718, $20.95, PB, 350pp

Synopsis: Recording artist and CIA contractor Brad James is working on his upcoming record release in Paris when he receives news that a friend and fellow operative, Boomer, has been found dead and battered on the banks of the Seine. Tasked with continuing Boomer's risky investigation into a suspected terrorist alliance, Brad must use his diverse range of connections from both the CIA and the music industry to find answers. Slowly, the terrorist plot begins to surface. And it could cost millions of lives.

Brad's search leads him to an alluring Honduran heiress, whose close link to the target of the operation puts her in grave danger. And Brad soon finds that he would do anything to protect her. Together, they must work to dismantle a global conspiracy and defend the city from looming catastrophe.

Critique: A deftly scripted novel of danger and sharp wit by Ephraim and published by River Grove Books, "Requiem for Betrayal" patiently unravels a thrilling tale of espionage, secrets, lust, betrayal, and (most of all) revenge. Taking the reader on a ride with more unexpected plot twists than a Disneyland roller coaster, "Requiem for Betrayal" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary Fiction collections. For the personal reading lists of those with an interest in romance, crime, and action/adventure, it should be noted that "Requiem for Betrayal" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Before turning to fiction writing, Ephraim ( was a professor of Finance with undergraduate, Master's and PhD degrees from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Madrid and the University of Paris. Before that he was a karate instructor, a recording and performing vocal artist, and country risk analyst. He has authored or co-authored nine books and over one hundred papers in top academic and financial journals.

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Jewish Milwaukee
Martin Hintz
Arcadia Publishing
9780738539720, $21.99 paperback

A Picture Of Jewish Milwaukee

The "Images of America" series by Arcadia Publishing offers the opportunity to explore local and regional history of many communities throughout the United States. Each volume consists of about 120 pages and 200 photographs together with background material and annotations of the photos.

For my first 21 years, I lived in Milwaukee, but I haven't been back since. I wanted to use the Arcadia volumes to bring back memories that were close to me of the city. This particular volume, "Jewish Milwaukee" (2006) by local author and journalist Martin Hintz was of special interest to me as it covers my own background and upbringing. The book has a broad scope, covering the period from the 1889s up to the early years of the Twenty-First century.

I lived in Milwaukee from 1947 to about 1968, Several photographs from that time were moving in their familiarity. For example, the book includes a photo of a float for Camp Sidney Cohen, a place where I spent many summers. I also was moved by a photograph of a storefront school, the "New Method Hebrew School" run by over 50 years by Harry Garfinkel, a Russian immigrant, I knew it well as my brothers studied with Garfinkel.. I remembered several of the spiritual leaders whose pictures are in the book, including Rabbi Jacob Twerski and Rabbi David Shapiro. It was good to be reminded of them and their ideals.

This book operated on a personal level.. But I learned a great deal from it beyond the scope of my own experience. The book consists of ten brief chapters which explore various aspects of Jewish life in Milwaukee over a substantial time. The subjects covered include early Milwaukee, family life, community activities, education, religious observance, business activities, activities pertaining to Israel, sports, and military service. The book documents a vibrant close-knit community which has participated actively in local life and in national life.

I was struck by the level of detail in the book. There are many photographs of individuals and of groups of people meeting at various community or business functions. Hintz identifies the subjects of the photographs in meticulous detail, frequently naming every person included in a photo consisting of row upon row. This gives a sense of personalization to the book. Few readers will know anything about the specifics of the lives of these people -- other than their status as community leaders -- but Hintz individualizes them in the annotations to the photographs.

The book places a great deal of emphasis on the business activities of Jewish people. It includes scenes of individuals hawking tobacco products from carts, selling fruit (as part of the fruit peddlers union), engaging in the trade of butcher and meat packer, selling clothes, working as policemen and firemen, doctors, dentists, and lawyers, and much more. The book shows individuals who achieved great economic success and emphasizes their philanthropic activities. It also includes many photographs of Jewish people with a connection to Milwaukee who went on to become famous, including Golda Meir, Victor Berger (a socialist Congressman early in the Twentieth century), Edna Ferber, Bud Selig (of major league baseball fame), Senator Herb Kohl, and others. Yet the book is more impressive when it tells of people who remain unfamiliar, but who led fulfilling and interesting lives in Milwaukee. There is an intriguing photograph of one Alter Esselin who was actively writing poetry in Yiddish during the time I lived in Milwaukee. I would like to learn more about him.

I enjoyed learning something about the history of Jewish Milwaukee before my time and even more I enjoyed seeing the many schools and other institutions that the Jewish community has created in the many years since I left the city. As I have no family remaining in Milwaukee. Hintz' book gave me the first exposure to the continuity of Jewish life in Milwaukee that I have had for many years.

This book will appeal most to those readers who, as I do, have a personal interest in the subject matter. The book offers a window into Jewish life over the years in a great American city.

The Jewish Community of South Philadelphia
Allen Meyers
Arcadia Publishing
9780738549552, $21.99, paperback

The South Philadelphia Jewish Community In Images Of America

I lived in West Philadelphia for three years in the early 1970s while attending law school and still think about the city. Philadelphia has a large Jewish community, but the subject of this book, the Jewish Community of South Philadelphia was almost entirely gone and had moved to other neighborhoods long before my law school years. And law school kept me busy indeed. I had some familiarity with the area and recognized some of the places in this book, "The Jewish Community of South Philadelphia" (1998). The author, Allen Meyers, was raised in the community. He has written several books about Jewish communities in Philadelphia and New Jersey together with books about Philadelphia trolleys and streetcars, He knows and loves the material in this book and brought this historical community to life. The book is part of the Images of America Series of photographic local histories of the many communities in the United States.

"The Jewish Community of South Philadelphia" offers a varied treatment of a community which at its height in the 1920s numbered about 125,000 people, The community was formed by the wave of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe beginning about 1880 seeking a better life in the United States. The first chapter of this book describes the immigration process to Philadelphia, which had its own immigration station along the Delaware River, similar to the much more famous Ellis Island.

The remaining ten chapters of the book offer perspectives on immigrant life in South Philadelphia that helped create a cohesive community for the new Americans. The book shows people to different degrees trying to keep their old customs while becoming Americans and adopting to their new home and the opportunities it provided. The book deals with broad areas of community life while offering some wonderfully particular views of people, places, businesses, and synagogues.

The second chapter of the book shows the "Landsmanschaften Organizations" which formed quickly to smooth the way for new comers. A chapter deals with Jewish cemeteries followed by a chapter of Philadelphia trolleys which helped the community to expand from South Philadelphia to the rest of the city and beyond. (Like the author, I love old trolleys and street cars). The book shows, and lists, the variety of small businesses and shops in the community. I was moved by this as I remembered my family's own small clothing business in Milwaukee. The book shows in two chapters places where community members would go for vacations and to unwind. A chapter deals with education and schools, secular and religious. A chapter in the book focuses on individuals who called South Philadelphia home, including sports figures, singers, artists, physicians, and community leaders. The final and most moving chapter of the book offered a look at some of the many synagogues that once served the area. Almost all these synagogues are no more. A few of the synagogues managed to survive into the late 1970s and early 1980s, shortly after my own years in Philadelphia. It would have been good, in retrospect, to have seen them. Meyers has written a large unpublished manuscript on Philadelphia synagogues which I think would be valuable to have in print. Much of the material in such a book and in this book on South Philadelphia is not readily available and deserves to be preserved.

I was moved reading about the history of the Jewish community in a city where I lived and came to love. I though about how the members of the community loved our country, worked hard to become Americans, and also tried to preserve something of their own traditions. I thought about other Jewish communities in places where I have lived, about similarities and differences, and about the promise of American life.

The Jewish Community of Washington, D.C.
Dr. Martin Garfinkle, author,
Arcadia Publishing
9780738541563, $21.99, paperback

Jewish Washington, D.C.

I moved to Washington D.C in the mid-1970s and have lived here, with a brief period in suburban Maryland, ever since. For most of that time, I have not been a practicing Jew, but this book struck deep chords with me.

I had a similar reaction to another book in the Images of America Series, "Jewish Milwaukee" by Martin Hintz, which is a photographic documentary of the city in which I grew up. But Dr. Martin Garfinkle's book, "The Jewish Community of Washington, D.C." has, somehow, a tougher, livelier feel. It brought the Washington Jewish community to life and, equally important, it brought Washington D.C. to life.

Dr Garfinkle is a fourth-generation Washingtonian who currently holds an academic position in New York City. The many pictures of his family give this book a highly personal touch. Although some Jews, such as the Garfinkles, have deep roots in the city, most have come to the city from somewhere else, just as I have done, and lack long generational ties to Washington D.C.

The book focuses on Washington D.C. itself rather than the substantial Jewish communities that have arisen in recent years in suburban Maryland and Virginia. The book is in ten chapters, the first three of which are comparatively lengthy with the remaining seven chapters short and particularized. There is much emphasis in the book on American patriotism within the Jewish community which I found gratifying and important.

The first chapter of the book describes, appropriately, Jewish worship in Washington D.C. I particularly enjoyed seeing the photographs of the earliest synagogues in what is today a part of the city near Chinatown and the Martin Luther King library. Many of these old buildings are still functional houses of worship for Christian churches. Garfinkle also offers photographs of former Jewish synagogues in Southwest D.C. and along the Georgia Avenue and 16th Street corridors, areas I know well.

In the second chapter of the book, "Making a Living", Garfinkle offers some wonderfully rare old photographs of small shops, grocery stores, "bargain" stores, clothing and jewelry stores, gas stations, auto parts stores, book stores, liquor stores, and restaurants. He offers a portrait of a striving, vibrant people and community. We see the inside of shops and small storefronts on Georgia Avenue and downtown Washington that are no more. The book offers a fascinating portrayal of the everyday life of newcomers to the city and of middle-class people. The photos date from the pre-New Deal era in which Jewish people were not a large presence in the Federal Civil Service.

The third chapter of the book discusses the many organizations and activities in which the D.C. Jewish community has been engaged over the years. Family activities, such as a home seder, and community activities, such as athletic activities, confirmations and groundbreakings for new buildings are featured. Presidents including Grant, McKinley, Coolidge, Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower took an active part over the years in activities involving the dedication of buildings and institutions of Jewish life in Washington D.C. Surprisingly to me, Calvin Coolidge appeared particularly and sincerely interested in these ceremonial functions.

The remaining sections of the book deal with interesting specific themes. Garfinkle, sharing the passion of many Jewish people for baseball, discusses three Jewish players on the old Washington Senators. Further chapters focus on Al Jolson, the son of a famous Rabbi in Southwest D.C., an early Jewish aviation pioneer, Washington D.C. Jews who gave their lives in WW II, Jews and African-Americans, a subject that deserves further exploration, U.S. Presidents, and individual moments, such as the unsolved murder of Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz of the Orthodox Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown in 1984.

I loved this book with its focus on the city and on the diverse and active lives of Jews in Washington D.C. Garfinkle offers an eloquent, individualized portrayal of a Jewish community in urban America.

Maine's Jewish Heritage
Abraham J. Peck and Jean M. Peck
Arcadia Publishing
9780738549651, $21.99, paperback

Maine's Jewish Communities

I have made two brief business trips to Portland and Bangor, Maine in the past year, enough to make me fall in love with the State. Thus, I was pleased to learn something about an aspect of Maine life that I knew little about but found intriguing: the history of Jewish communities in the State. I was able to visit the many small Jewish communities of Maine in this excellent photographic history, "Maine's Jewish Heritage" (2007) as part of the "Images of America" series of Arcadia Publishing. Images of America publishes photographic books of local histories of communities throughout the United States. The series offers readers the opportunity to explore communities that they know well, such as their hometown, as well as the opportunity to learn about unfamiliar places. For me, this book had components of both the familiar and the unfamiliar.

The authors of "Maine's Jewish Heritage", Abraham and Jean Peck, both are part of families with long histories in Maine. Abraham Peck has written widely on Jewish communities throughout the United States and on the Holocaust.

Most Jews in the United States live in large urban areas. I have spent my life in two cities with large Jewish communities. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and have spent most of my adult life in Washington D.C. I have read two books in the Images of America series that explore the Milwaukee and Washington D.C. Jewish Communities similarly to the way that the Pecks explore the Jewish community of Maine in this book. I am not and have rarely been a practising Jew, but all three books struck deep chords in me. Although I don't have personal experience with the Jewish communities of Maine, the photographs and commentary in this book of Jewish life in mostly small cities and town seemed immediately familiar. The photographs of synagogues, people and families, small shops, community organizations, and local leaders reminded me of communities I knew. I felt at home. There were some differences. The various Jewish communities in Maine are small and scattered through the State, mostly in the southern part, unlike the concentrated community of an urban area. From the Pecks' book, there appears to be substantial interaction among the various communities in Maine, some of which are located at considerable distances from each other. Life in small New England towns has differences from the life I know. But mostly, these were communities whose roots I shared.

In his share of the introduction to the book, Abraham Peck writes of several themes that have characterized Jewish life in the United States: "a belief in the promise of America; faith in the pluralistic nature of America; a quest for economic and professional success; and a commitment to the survival of the Jewish community." As far as the Jews of Maine are concerned, the community began in the 1840s but developed only with the large waves of immigration from Eastern Europe in the 1880s. The Maine Jewish communities were almost exclusively Orthodox and remained so until the 1940s. Portland Maine, Peck tells us, was once known as "The Jerusalem of America." Maine Jewry now includes a spectrum of all aspects of Judaism from Orthodox to nonpracticing. Peck also observes that while Jews have faced discrimination and exclusion in Maine, they have generally been welcomed into what has basically been a tolerant, open society. Peck quotes a leader of the Portland Jewish community in the late 19th Century who observed, with respect to his Christian neighbors that "our city fathers have in the past fully merited the good will and affectionate esteem in which they are held by us."

The photographs and commentary that follow the Pecks introduction illustrate the themes of Jewish life and integration of Jewish life within the American and Maine community. The first chapter of the book focuses on religious Jewish life in Maine with photographs of synagogues and religious practitioners from the 1880s to the present day in a variety of Maine cities, including Portland, Bangor, Biddeford, Bath, Presque Isle, Rockland, Calais, Old Orchard Beach, and others. The synagogues range from small wooden shacks to modern buildings and they cover all the various denominations of Jewish practice. It is a moving photographic tribute to religious worship.

The book continues with chapters showing the ways Jewish people earned a living in Maine which seems similar to the Jewish immigrant experience elsewhere in the United States: pedlars, small shopkeepers, clothiers, car dealerships, and wholesalers receive substantial attention, with recognition as well of the occasional Maine Jewish farmer.

The Jewish communities in Maine devoted important effort to improving relationships with their non-Jewish neighbors, to inter-faith activities, and to breaking down barriers of discrimination. In 1930, with the increase of KKK activities in Maine during the prior decade (which targeted mostly Roman Catholics) members of the Portland Jewish community were instrumental in creating the Portland Interracial Fellowship of America, which taught ecumenicism and tolerance among the many religious denominations in the city. Jewish religious leaders in Portland worked together with other religious leaders in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and in many programs designed to increase understanding and respect among people of different beliefs.

Other chapters of the Pecks book focus on the many Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish organizations that helped bring a communal focus to Jewish life in Maine. A small chapter describes Camp Modin and other Jewish summer camps in Maine, while a larger chapter offers photographs in both Maine and European settings of some of the large Jewish families that have long called Maine home. The final chapter of the book offers photographs of many distinguished leaders of the Maine Jewish community who have made important contributions of a local or broader character. For example, Dr Bernard Lown is a cardiologist who grew up in Lewistown, Maine. He was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for his work for the Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. (p.121) Henry Roth, the author of the famous novel of Jewish life in New York City, "Call it Sleep" (1934) lived quietly in Maine beginning in 1946 until his death.(p.123) The book concludes with a photograph of a young Jewish boy in Auburn, Maine participating in the religious ceremony of Sukkot. (p. 126) The Pecks appropriately describe this lad as "a symbol of Maine's Jewish future."

The Pecks sees the Jewish community in Maine as undertaking the difficult task of combining Jewish values, as individuals in the community understand these values, with the values of the vibrant, pluralistic democracy of the United States. Abraham Peck writes in concluding his introduction to this book: "For Jews in this nation, including Jews in the Jewish community of Maine both visions translate into an understanding that being a better Jew is important in becoming a better American." The Pecks offer an inspiring look at the American Jewish experience in the State of Maine.

The Jewish Community Of Northern Virginia
Susan Dilles and Sean Dilles
Arcadia Publishing
9781467108829, $23.99, paperback

The Northern Virginia Jewish Community In Images Of America

The Image of America series offers photographic histories of many American communities, including Jewish communities. I have been fortunate to read and review many books in this series about places and communities throughout the United States. This book, "The Jewish Community of Northern Virginia" (2022) is unusual in that it is the first book-length study of this Jewish community, primarily located in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The book has received substantial attention in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including reviews in the "Washington Post", the "Washington Jewish Week" and other sources. The authors, Susan and Shawn Dilles have been residents of Northern Virginia and participants in its Jewish community for more than 40 years. They are retired and did much of the research for this book during the two years of the pandemic. Rabbi Daniel Novick, a fifth generation native Virginian, wrote a short Foreword to the book and was among many who contributed photographs and information.

Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland are homes to large, active Jewish communities which receive substantial attention. The Virginia community was almost an afterthought until, in 2018, its Jewish population of about 120,000 surpassed that of both. The history of the community deserves to be remembered. As the authors write: "We did not intend to write an academic or sociological study, nor a comprehensive history. We affectionately think of this book as a community scrapbook that reflects how Jews in Northern Virginia worked, prayed, organized congregations, and built a multifaceted community during the last 160 years." As the authors conclude in their Introduction: "No longer under the radar, the Northern Virginia Jewish community today provides a wide range of cultural, educational, and religious opportunities for expression. We are happy to be witnesses to this tremendous growth".

The book begins with a story of how a "community of Jews" formed a "Jewish community" with the arrival of Jewish immigrants in the 1850s into Alexandria. The book offers photographs of some of the early pioneers and describes their activities accompanied by many rare photographs of storefronts and other local scenes of the day. Successive chapters continue the story by discussing early Jewish congregational life in the communities of Herndon, Fredericksburg, Winchester, and Arlington. The account emphasizes how enterprising many of the members of the community were both in business and political activities and in organizing communal Jewish life. As the community developed, Jews attained a larger presence in Falls Church and Fairfax. Jewish activities were not limited to synagogues and worship, but included the construction of a Jewish Center, Jewish Day Schools, summer camps and charitable and social organizations as well. Until recently, most Jewish activity in Northern Virginia has been Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist. In their final chapter, the authors show the recent return of Orthodox Judaism to Northern Virginia with the presence of Chabad. A brief but welcome bibliography concludes the volume.

I have lived in the Washington, D.C. area for many years. While not observant, I have participated in organized Jewish activities in both Montgomery County and Washington, D.C. Until recently, I had not had any experience with the Northern Virginia Jewish community. During the last year or so, I have had the opportunity to attend some services and community programs at Temple Rodef Shalom, a large, beautiful Reform congregation located in Falls Church and founded in 1962. Temple Rodef Shalom is in the middle of a series of activities celebrating its 60th anniversary, and I have been fortunate to attend some of them. It is a vibrant, welcoming community. I learned more about it from the many photos and texts in this book showing its history.

I was moved by the history shown in this book. I enjoyed the overview of the Northern Virginia Jewish community together with the depiction of the temple that I have come to know. This book is a worthy addition to the Images of America series which celebrates the breadth and diversity of American life and communities.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

La Vie, According to Rose: A Novel
Lauren Parvizi
Lake Union Publishing
9781662509858, $16.99

La Vie, According to Rose, Lauren Parvizi's debut, is a thought-provoking novel that covers a lot of ground.

First, it's a heartfelt story of self-discovery coupled with grief and family issues. Rose, the eldest daughter of a man who escaped Iran just as the Shah was deposed in the 1979. My family was living in Iran at the time, so the events leading to the events leading to the Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi are well known to me. When her sister becomes ill with some undefined chronic disease and her parents become focused on their daughter's illness, Rose, raised to please everyone, assumes family responsibilities that are beyond her years - to her own detriment. Later, her father succumbs to pancreatic cancer, and rather than gaining a sense of freedom, Rose remains stuck in a dead-end job writing copy in the Silicon Valley while continuing to be overly-involved with her two sisters and mother.

Second, it's a powerful, poignant story of an immigrant family adapting to life in the United States.

Third, it's a belated coming of age story. On a whim, thirty-two-year-old Rose travels alone to Paris and becomes involved with two interesting men, one a childhood friend who happens to live in Paris and the other a ne'er-do-well who is full of tricks and may even be dangerous. She is befriended by Marine, a self-help author in Provence, and begins to blossom.

I enjoyed the depictions of Rose's family life and all its trauma and flaws (though these were at times a tad over-written), Rose's journey to self-acceptance and learning to balance her needs with those of others, and the blend of romance and tawdriness that is Paris.

A Newlywed's Guide to Fortune and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery Book 6)
Dianne Freeman
9781496731623, $27.00

A Newlywed's Guide to Fortune and Murder is the sixth in the Countess of Harleigh cozy mystery series, set in London in 1900. In this story, the reader finds Frances, the Countess of Harleigh sponsoring the dowager Viscountess Winstead's niece for presentation to Queen Victoria. The Viscountess has been out of sorts for some time, and Frances is certain someone is trying to poison the dowager. Add to that the disappearance of an important item related to a donation of Egyptian artifacts to a museum that is being investigated by George, the Countess's spouse of two months.

The book is cleverly plotted with the usual broad array of potential suspects. As in the rest of the series, the delightfully witty relationship between Frances and George, the insight into Victorian conventions and social mores, not to mention the intrigue and mystery, enliven the series. I was interested to see just how frequently laudanum (a tincture of opium) was used to sedate and control women, particularly "inconvenient" women and how astoundingly rigid society in general was. This sixth in the series is as enjoyable a romantic mystery as the other five.

The Spare Room
Andrea Bartz
Ballantine Books
9781984820495, $28.99

Andrea Bartz continues to explore complicated female relationships in her works, laced with suspense and sinister overtones, which expand the usual range of emotions women generally have in fiction. I always enjoy seeing what she's cooked up between her female characters. The Spare Room differs from Bartz's other works in that it incorporates the pandemic and its sequestering of people which throws folks together - and keeps them in close proximity - under usual circumstances. Those social challenges, combined with a failed relationship cause Kelly, the protagonist, to leave her boyfriend (Mike) in Philadelphia and move to the suburbs of Washington, DC, to live with a former schoolmate (Sabrina) and her husband (Nathan).

None of these main characters are particularly appealing: all are unreliable, no one is fully whom they seem to be, and the relationships in which they engage are toxic. Kelly, at 34, is annoying, primarily because she has all the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old. Her thoughts yo-yo between sorrow at breaking up with Mike (though she admits to his emotional immaturity and temper issues) and joy at discovering a new relationship with Sabrina and Nathan (again, her thoughts yo-yo between seeing the couple as fabulous new love interests and fears that they aren't as fully invested in her as she is with them, nor are they telling her the truth about incidents in their past.)

Bartz moves into more sexual arenas in The Spare Room, including a threesome, which some readers might find offensive, but I didn't find that outrageous. The final chapters reveal a totally unexpected twist, one for which the foundation wasn't laid quite well enough. An epilogue fills in a bunch of blanks the reader may have had. It seems as if Bartz was trying to hard to tie up all the loose ends in her novel. Personally, I would have preferred these left open-ended. However, the writing is smart with some lovely one-liners, and the tension well ramped-up.

You Can Trust Me
Wendy Heard
9780593599310, $28.00

You Can Trust Me is an exciting thriller that grabs the reader from the start. Every character is far more than what they seem. Couple that with two unreliable narrators, and the reader is drawn further into the world of drifters and ultra-rich billionaires with each chapter.

Summer and Leo, two grifters bonded by loss of their families, form a family of their own. Leo ran away from her hometown after her sister dies in an accident and her parents bury themselves in their grief. Summer was raised by a nomadic, off-the-grid type woman. Summer has no birth certificate, doesn't know her full name, her father's name, nor her birthdate. She simply doesn't exist on paper. Her nomadic mother gave birth to her at the back of a van, and Summer spent her childhood drifting from campsite to campsite with her mother. When she was seventeen, her mother abandoned Summer at a campsite and took off on her own adventures. When Leo chooses to seduce a rich billionaire and then disappears, Summer determines to find her - and discovers the billionaire's private island and all his secrets.

The characterization is nearly perfect with each character's persona revealed like peeling away layers of onion skin. The time frames shift between past and present and between the two women. The pacing is fast; the plotting interesting. It is a dark, twisted read.

Clytemnestra's Bind
Susan C. Wilson
Neem Tree Press
9781911107590, 14.99 Brit. pounds

Queen Clytemnestra, happily married to Tantalus and with a newborn son, is devastated when Agamemnon, a rival to the throne of Mycenae, retakes the throne, kills her husband and son, then forces her to marry him. She has three children by Agamemnon, two daughters (Iphigenia and Electra) and a son, Orestes. She vows to protect the children born from her new husband and hides her earlier marriage. When Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia to Athena to assure prevailing winds to speed him to his invasion of Troy, he sets in motion his own downfall.

I've read multiple versions of Clytemnestra's story and wondered if this one would show me new insights. This novel begins with her first marriage to King Tantalus rather than with the murder of her daughter Iphigenia by Agamemnon, thus providing the background for her trauma of her marriage to a child-murderer, her relationship with her children, and ultimately her revenge.

I often compare Greek myth retellings to my all-time favorites, Madeline Miller's Circe and The Song of Achilles. Clytemnestra's Bind is a lyrical, poetic retelling of the story of the House of Atreus, its prose majestic and in keeping with the scope of the myths themselves. Susan C. Wilson truly deserves a place next to Miller with this magnificent retelling.

The Wind Knows My Name
Isabel Allende
Ballantine Books
9780593598108, $28.00

The Wind Knows My Name begins with Kristallnacht and ends with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Samuel Adler, a five-year-old Jewish boy, is sent to England in 1938 to hopefully survive the extermination of the Jews in Germany. The novel then moves to the present and weaves in the story of Marisol and Anita Diaz, a mother-daughter duo seeking refuge from personal danger in El Salvador. Other characters include Leticia Cordero (an aunt of Anita's) who escaped El Salvador after the slaughter of her family. Selena Duran (a social worker) and Frank Angileri (an up-and-coming young lawyer) are working on getting asylum for the blind Anita.

This story blends the past and present in the characters' stories, showing the effects of war and immigration on these two children, innocents who had nothing to do with the conflicts that led to their situations yet who suffer the most. Samuel and Anita survive - and do so well - with help from others, people who though they can't replace the children's missing families, can supply love and stability.

I found it disheartening to see that despite the eighty-year difference from Kristallnacht to the pandemic, human nature has not changed. And Allende reveals this so well, showing the same atrocities being committed by the Germans, by El Salvadorans, and by Americans (Marisol and Anita are separated at the border thanks to the Machiavellian dictates of President Trump in separating families).

I think the book could have benefitted from being longer. At 272 pages, it seems too short to handle these characters' stories in depth. I'd like less telling and more showing of their inner workings.

Unmasked: A De-Exinct Zoo Mystery (De-Extinct Zoo Mystery Series Book #1)
Carol Potenza
Tiny Mammoth Press
B0C445Z4NF Kindle only; $0.00

Unmasked is the first in Carol Potenza's new De-Exinct Zoo Mystery Series. Veterinarian Milly Smith trained in Siberia and now works in Pleistocene BioPark, a zoo dedicated by resurrected extinct megafauna (giant short-faced bears, dire wolves, smilodons, mammoths, woolly rhinos) brought back by de-extinction geneticists. Milly's first de-extinct animal is a Maskwa, a bear she raised from a cub and cares for deeply. Routine surgery on Maskwa's dental abscess goes awry, and Milly is injured and the dental surgeon killed. Milly must save her bear from being put down while tracking the killer who used the bear as a murder weapon.

Potenza is a biochemist, and her knowledge shines through in the mystery. Unmasked is akin to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park series in its blend of science and fiction. Potenza incorporates enough technical details to provide verisimilitude while not overpowering the reader with obscure details. It is a quick read, full of twists and turns and a touch of unrequited love.

Leonardo da Vinci: The 100 Milestones
Martin Kemp
Union Square & Co.
9781454930426, $29.95

I have several biographies of Leonardo da Vinci in my to-be-read pile (including Martin Kemp's Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Walter's Isaacson's Leonardo Da Vinci) and wanted to review some of the artist/scientist's work before embarking on the biographies. Martin Kemp is an expert on the life and works of da Vinci, so this book is a great introduction. I've seen some of da Vinci's works in the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci in Milan and at the Louvre in Paris, but Kemp's book contained multiple images from other sources I haven't seen before.

Kemp, a professor of Art History at Oxford University, also writes on the juxtaposition of science and art, so he is eminently qualified to write this book. That said, there were images on which I learned more than I wished to know and others I was left wanting more. I ended up reading most of the book on my computer so I could increase the size of the images (which are quite small on the Kindle) and study them in greater depth. I also read them in spurts of four to five images so they didn't run together. As a physician, I particularly enjoyed the illustrations of da Vinci's anatomical studies, particularly these of the female genitalia and fetus; as an artist, I enjoyed looking at his fabulous paintings.

Overall, a great book for a quick introduction to the works of da Vinci, a Renaissance man pivotal in the arts and sciences.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Shannon McNear
Barbour Publishing
1810 Barbour Drive, Uhrichsville, OH 44683
9781636095899, $15.99, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: Born the daughter of a Powhatan chieftain and a woman of unknown origins, Mato'aka enjoys a carefree life. When strange men from across the eastern waters appear near her home, she regards them at first as a mere curiosity. Soon, though, she finds herself torn between fascination for one of their leaders and the opinions and ways of her people -- then becomes a pawn in their delicate and dangerous game of politics. Drawn to a young Englishman, John Rolfe, who has lost a wife and baby daughter, she shares his griefs... and perhaps something more.

Could she have a future among the English of Jamestown, accepting their ways and even changing her name? Could her destiny be a part of the lasting legacy of the Lost Colony of Roanoke? The colony at Roanoke has disappeared into the shadows of history. But, what if at least one survived to leave a lasting legacy?

Critique: The third book in her 'Daughters of the Lost Colony: 1607' series, Shannon McNear's "Rebecca" is an historical romance novel that deftly portrays history with vivid authenticity and a compelling, entertain, carefully crafted, and wholesome storyline. A highly recommended pick for community library Historical Romance Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Rebecca" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (9781685924058, $37.99). Shannon's two earlier novels in this series are: "Elinor" (9781643529547, $15.99, PB) and "Mary" ( 9781636093864, $14.99, PB)

Editorial Note: Transplanted to North Dakota after more than two decades in Charleston, South Carolina, Shannon McNear ( loves losing herself in local history. She's a military wife, mom of eight, mother-in-law of three, grammie of two, and a member of ACFW and RWA. Her first novella, Defending Truth in A Pioneer Christmas Collection, was a 2014 RITA(R) finalist.

I Am A Palestinian Jew
Margalit Edelson
Mazo Publishers
9781956381382, $16.95, PB, 204pp

Synopsis: With historical background, "I Am A Palestinian Jew" is a memoir that covers the period between Margalit Edelson's birth in 1930 in Jerusalem through the period until the birth of the new state of Israel in 1948. She was a Jewish child living in Palestine under the British Mandate. Her family home, living conditions, Arab attacks, her family's friendship with an elite Arab family, her school environment, visits to the Kotel, and the onset of World War II are described. So are the ordinary things that children like to do.

As a teenager, Margalit joins the Irgun. She writes about her experiences as a member of this underground organization, including her unique connection with the commander of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, while he is on board the about-to-be-blown-up Altalena.

In the words of Menachem Begin: "It was difficult to set up our state. Tens of generations and millions of wanderers from one land of massacre to another... burning at the stake and torture in the dungeons, the sweat and toil of generations of pioneers and builders, the uprising of rebels to crush the enemy, the gallows, the banishment beyond seas, the cages in the deserts - all this was necessary for Hebrew independence to be declared in at least part of the country, the whole of which is ours." -- Menachem Begin, commander of the Irgun, to the new Jewish Nation on May 15, 1948, from the Irgun radio station Kol Zion Halochemet - Voice of the Fighting Zion. Menachem Begin went on to become the Prime Minister of Israel in 1977.

Critique: Offering a young woman's eyewitness account to her role in the underground resistence group called the Irgun and the birth of Israel as a nation and announced homeland to Jews around the world, "I Am A Palestinian Jew" is an invaluable and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library 20th Century Biography and Israeli History collections and supplemental Modern Jewish History curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, historians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "I Am A Palestinian Jew" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.890.

Editorial Note: Margalit Edelson ( was born in 1930 and grew up in Palestine, home to Palestinian Jews and Arabs. Britain ruled Palestine through a mandate from the League of Nations, the predecessor to the UN. Though Hebrew was her mother tongue and the language spoken around her, the London sponsored Evelina de Rothschild School for Girls which she attended, provided her with English fluency.

Lymph Health: The Key to a Strong Immune System
Christopher Vasey, N. D.
Healing Arts Press
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781644116357, $16.99, PB, 176pp

Synopsis: "Lymph Health: The Key to a Strong Immune System" is a practical guide to supporting your lymph health naturally. In it Christopher Vasey explores the essential role played by the lymphatic system in your overall health and offers self-care methods for strengthening and maintaining this important part of your body's immune system.

Vasey explains how the lymphatic system not only consists of the lymph circulating through your lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels, which helps drain toxins and flush cellular wastes, but also includes your bone marrow and several organs, such as the spleen and thymus, which produce lymphocytes to defend and protect your body against infections. He reveals the causes for a weakened or poorly functioning lymphatic system as well as the diseases and conditions that can arise if you suffer from reduced lymph health.

Explaining how to improve the function of your lymphatic system, "Lymph Health" details 12 natural therapies to support your lymph health. It also looks at simple dietary changes and explains how food toxins are a principle cause for sluggish circulation or obstruction of lymph.

"Lymph Health" also examines compression therapies, breathing practices, and physical exercises that stimulate the lymphatic vessels to improve circulation and explores hydration, herbal remedies, detox therapies, "dry" cures, and reflexology massage. It also looks at trampoline techniques for restoring full circulation and removing blockages from the lymphatic system.

Showing how lymph health is the key to a strong immune system, "Lymph Health" is an ideal guide enables the reader to improve their lymphatic function, boost their body's natural detoxification abilities, and enhance their overall health and well-being.

Critique: A high value and recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Holistic Health collections an supplemental curriculum studies lists, "Lymph Health: The Key to a Strong Immune System" is impressively informative, exceptionally well written, deftly organized and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation. It should be noted for holistic health students and practitioners that "Lymph Health" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Christopher Vasey ( is a naturopath specializing in detoxification and rejuvenation. He is the author of several books, including The Acid-Alkaline Diet for Optimum Health, Natural Remedies for Inflammation, Natural Antibiotics and Antivirals, and Restoring Your Intestinal Flora.

Coming Full Circle
Shannon Duncan
Present Moment Press Inc.
9781959254041, $16.95, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Coming Full Circle: Healing Trauma Using Psychedelics", Shannon Duncan provides a detailed, informative guide on using psychedelics to heal that is intertwined with a deeply personal memoir of the authors own journey of healing. It will empower its readers with a greater understanding of the true potential, limitations, risks, and nuances to the process of using psychedelics to heal trauma.

With each passing year, new evidence of the immense healing potential psychedelics offer for anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, and more emerge from credible studies and research groups. As the excitement grows, so too does the often dangerous misinformation generated by profiteers and pseudo experts. A fierce protector of those who are utilizing psychedelics as a way to heal their emotional wounds and trauma, Shannon Duncan knows firsthand the courage, determination, and vulnerability required to approach emotional healing in this specialized way.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, in "Coming Full Circle: Healing Trauma Using Psychedelics", author Shannon Duncan has created an ideal and informative introduction for readers with an interest in psychedelic substances within the context of experimental medical psychology. While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Psychology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, psychologists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Coming Full Circle: Healing Trauma Using Psychedelics" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Editorial Note: Shannon Duncan ( is an entrepreneur and author of the landmark book, Present Moment Awareness. Duncan enjoys sharing what he learned during his own intensive multi-year process of healing trauma with the help of psychedelics. An advocate for those seeking to heal from trauma, it is his sincere wish that sharing what he learned through his experiences will be of service to those who are in need.

Susan Bethany

Theresa Werba's Bookshelf

Laughing Matters: Poems with a Wink and a Smile
James A. Tweedie
Independently Published
B0C6BDL3L6, $2.99 Kindle, 185pp

This collection of humorous poetry by the excellent James A. Tweedie is more than a mere collection of clever jokings and funny sayings. James Tweedie is reveling in the power of language, and celebrates its gift-giving capacity in the ways in which words and phrases, and even various authors, and styles, and forms can be experimented with, played with, coaxed, and birthed into a fantastic array of poetic expression.

James Tweedie is not only a first-rate poet, but is also a musician and composer, which is very refreshing to me, as I am also both a poet and a musician. You can hear the musicality exuding from his poetry. The meter is clean and precise, the rhymes are perfect, rarely slanted, so you get the full effect of the satisfactions inherent in perfectly-executed formal poetry. But it never upstages the humor and wit of Tweedie's funny perspective, and the results are often quite unexpected! It is very refreshing and satisfying indeed to "hear" the sonorities and the rhymes and meter within my head as I read his work.

Tweedie is highly creative in his use of form. He employs the traditional Shakespearean form ABAB CDCD EFEF GG plus the variant ABBA CDDC EFFE GG. The opening poem "Fleet of Foot Pheidippides," is an excellent example:

Fleet of Foot Pheidippides

A Grecian runner named Pheidippides,
From Athens, ran to Sparta with a plea.
"We need your help to fight the Persians, please!"
But Sparta sent him back with, "Nosirree!"

Two-hundred eighty miles is what he ran,
For four or maybe five days he was gone.
But Athens received help from the god, Pan,
And Persia met defeat at Marathon.

Pheidippides, we're told ran all the way
To Athens to announce that they had won.
That's why it's called a "marathon" today.
For twenty-six-plus miles he had to run.

They say he gave the message and dropped dead.
But why did he not ride a horse, instead?

He also uses the Petrarchan form (in "I wrote a poem" ) as well as some unusual presentations such as an Anapest Dimeter sonnet, a Monometer sonnet, and a 20-line sonnet variant (as opposed to the traditional 14-line sonnet). He also creates a short piece of prose (in the poem "Doublespeak") from a sonnet by reformatting it, literally disguising the form and structure of the sonnet so it reads like a short essay. Ingenious! Some of his poems also have a Dr. Seuss-like quality to them, the prime example being the alliterative poem "Beastly Betty." You can tell Tweedie was having fun while writing this one!!!

Beastly Betty
An Alliterative Poem

Beastly Betty badly breaks her brother's
Buttocks with a bat upon his butt.
Broken, beaten brother barely bothers
Bellowing at bawdy Betty. But
Because bad blood between both babe and bro
Builds baleful bias brought by Betty's bane,
Beleaguered Bob bestows a bitter blow.
By blasting boiling bile on Betty's brain.

Tweedie often groups his poetry into cycles or themes: a sonnet cycle on the Brothers Grimm nursery stories, a set of "Equilateral Proverbs" (where the first and last words of the couplet rhyme), three limericks based on famous poems by Shakespeare and Dante, with the folksong Molly Malone thrown in, as well as a collection of seven riddles. He also has a poem on the death of Edgar Allen Poe, delightfully executed, and a collection of "Groaner Poems" with some truly groan-inducing puns.

There is such a joyous wordplay and reverie in language that exudes from Tweedie's work! What I truly love about Tweedie's poetry is his interesting rhyme combinations. I am delighted when I see such rhyming as death/shibboleth, if/glyph, tease/Diogenes, oogenesis/diaresis, Guinness/amanuensis, and antipode/postal code. There is a love of language that just exudes from each poem presented, a reverie and a celebration of the poetic possibilities waiting to be uncovered. It's truly enchanting! I couldn't wait to see what he would come up with next as I read!

I would have to say my favorite poem of the collection is "Don't Say I Didn't Warn You," which sold me on its very first line. Anyone who can put together "A pyroclastic vomit's what I call it;" is a hero in my book!

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

A pyroclastic vomit's what I call it;
An up-chuck from Mt. Shasta's north west side.
I bet you the last dollar in my wallet,
That everything that lived beneath it, died.
The famous Captain Cook saw from the ocean
Its pillared smoke arising in plain view -
A seventeen and seven-six commotion.
A record of the last time Shasta blew.
Now every volcanologist agrees
That since its active period reappears
In clockwork cycles of three centuries,
Its next eruption's due in fifty years.
Because the end is near, I wrote this sonnet
To warn you not to build your new house on it!

I also like this poem particularly because Tweedie employs the rhyme sonnet/on it, which I also have used in one my own sonnets.

Another of my favorites is "The Perfect Poem," a perfectly-executed sonnet on the creative process of formal poetry-making:

The Perfect Poem

There is, I'm sure, in someone's file drawer,
A perfect poem, written on a whim,
Perhaps, or, maybe as a simple hymn
Of thanks and praise to God, and nothing more.
Or, then again, the poem could express
The burning passion of a lover's heart,
A terse description of a work of art,
Or soul-torn angst amidst some cruel distress.
All grammar, syntax, perfectly intact,
Each foot a proper iamb, anapest,
Or trochee, dactyl, spondee, at its best,
Each comma in its place, each rhyme exact.
In spite of flawless tittle, jot, and letter,
There will be some who think they could do better.

Anyone who enjoys clever wordplay and creative use of language in novel and unexpected ways would be delighted to have their mind's ear experience the rich variety of form and humorous content in Tweedie's Laughing Matters. Highly recommended!

Editorial Note: James A. Tweedie ( is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, Dwell Time, Light, Deronda Review, The Road Not Taken, Fevers of the Mind, Sparks of Calliope, Dancing Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse. His poem "Pneuma" was a Laureate's Choice in the 2021 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest; his sonnet, "Forever Nine," was chosen Best Poem in the Summer 2020 edition of The Lyric. He was a First Place winner in the 2022 100 Days of Dante poetry contest and was honored with being chosen as the winner of the 2021 SCP International Poetry Competition. He claims to be an optimist.

Theresa Werba, Reviewer

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Last Songbird
Daniel Weizmann
Melville House
46 John Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
9781685890308, $17.99, PB, 336pp

Synopsis: A struggling songwriter and Lyft driver, Adam Zantz's life changes when he accepts a ride request in Malibu and 1970s music icon Annie Linden enters his dented VW Jetta. Bonding during that initial ride, the two quickly go off app and over the next three years, Adam becomes her exclusive driver and Annie listens to his music, encouraging Adam even as he finds himself driving more often than song writing.

Then, Annie disappears, and her body washes up under a pier. Left with a final, cryptic text ('come to my arms') a grieving Adam plays amateur detective, only to be charged as accomplice-after-the-fact. Desperate to clear his name and discover who killed the one person who believed in his music when no one else in his life did, Adam digs deep into Annie's past, turning up an old guitar teacher, sworn enemies and lovers, and a long-held secret that spills into the dark world of a shocking underground Men's Rights movement. As he drives the outskirts of Los Angeles in California, Adam comes to question how well he, or anyone else, knew Annie -- if at all.

Critique: A clear master of the Amateur Sleuth/Hardboiled Mystery genre, "The Last Songbird" by novelist Daniel Weizmann is a vividly written story about love, obsession, the price of fame and the burden of broken dreams, all within the context of a shifting, narrative driven plot that's a veritable roller coaster of unexpected twists and turns. A riveting read from cover to cover, "The Last Songbird" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated 'whodunnit' fans that "The Last Songbird" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note: Daniel Weizmann ( is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, the Guardian, AP Newswire, and more. Under the nom de plume, Shredder, Weizmann also wrote for the long running Flipside fanzine, as well as LA Weekly, which once called him "an incomparable punk stylist." Most recently, Weizmann co-authored Game Changer by Michael Solomon and Rishon Blumberg (Harper Leadership, 2020).

The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking
Greg Munck
The Core Media Group Inc.
9781950465767, $17.95, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: An inherently interesting combination personal memoir and self-help guide, "The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking" by Greg Munck will revolutionize the way you approach life's struggles.

In "The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking", Munck takes his readers on a journey of personal growth and self-discovery, revealing the secrets to finding true purpose and greatness. With inspiring stories and practical advice, "The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking" will empower you to take control of your life, find courage in the face of adversity, and build an unshakeable faith in yourself and God.

The readers of "The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking" will: Learn the secrets for facing and winning emotional and spiritual battles; Discover how to unlock their true purpose and discover greatness; Gain the courage to take control and overcome adversity; Develop an unshakable faith in themselves and in God.

"The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking" is Greg's deeply personal story of how he faced his own struggles head-on, overcoming an unpredictable and chaotic childhood with a drug-addicted father to becoming a combat-promoted United States Marine in the Gulf War.

Critique: Impressively well written and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking" is a quality and unreservedly recommended pick for personal and community library Contemporary American Biography and Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted that "The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99,

Editorial Note: Greg Munck ( is a combat-promoted Marine who served his country in the Gulf War. He went on to become the Asia Pacific Regional Manager for Q-Logic corporation before transitioning into full-time ministry. Greg is currently the lead pastor and co-founder of Crossline Community Church in Laguna Hills, California, and travels speaking for The Guide Soldier Foundation, which serves active and veteran military personnel worldwide.

Willis M. Buhle

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