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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 6 June 2019 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Andrea's Bookshelf Andy's Bookshelf
Bethany's Bookshelf Buhle's Bookshelf Burroughs' Bookshelf
Carson's Bookshelf Charlier's Bookshelf Clint's Bookshelf
Duncan's Bookshelf Julie's Bookshelf Logan's Bookshelf
Margaret's Bookshelf Mari's Bookshelf Mason's Bookshelf
Molly's Bookshelf Robin's Bookshelf Suanne's Bookshelf
Susan's Bookshelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Visits and Other Passages
Carol Smallwood
Finishing Line Press
9781635348002, $18.99, paper, 115pp

Barbara Ellen Sorensen, Reviewer
Mom Egg Review, April 8, 2019

Visits and Other Passages by Carol Smallwood is a collection of poems, short essays, observations and vignettes that take the reader on an intellectual, yet deeply personal odyssey. A reader of this volume quickly realizes that the author is not just a mere observer, but an active participant in a magnified life. Indeed, she mentions viewing events through the prism of a magnifying glass on several occasions. What she compels the reader to come away with is the realization that life in all its ordinariness is not mundane but fantastic and fascinating, and awful and wonderful, simultaneously. And that "the strangest thing of all was not to see how strange things really were" (6).

The book lucidly moves through sections that hold us riveted through visits from a snippy Avon lady to stories peopled with familial figures such as aunts, uncles, and cousins. Contemplative vignettes highlight thoughts on writers as diverse as Hemingway and Isak Dinisen. The delicate rendering of the ordinary is infused with the philosophy and disparate principles of these writers. Simple actions such as people-watching become linked to Chaucer's Canterbury Tale because the gem in his tales is that there are, "people so alike and so unalike, so endlessly interesting" (13).

Though Smallwood references more writers of prose than poems, her sure poetic hand and knowledge is evident in the formal verses she pens. Her sonnets, pantoums, villanelles and tercets, triolets and rondeaus seem effortless and the rhymes move at a pace that never feels forced or contrived. The lovely cinquain, "Prufrock Napkins," is elegant in its intertwining of crash fast-food joints with sublime T.S. Eliot images of fog and rooms and women who "come and go/talking of Michelangelo" (37).

Smallwood's prose is brimming with poignancy and explores the ultimate loneliness of twenty-first century technology. "Will the owners of computers take over the custodianship of culture and knowledge?" she wonders (79). Libraries seem quaint now and out-of-step. "... everything changed," she writes, "... if you just looked, you saw libraries giving way to the electronic pursued by the fear of becoming obsolete" (84). With emotional acuity, Smallwood shakes us with the hard realization that we are aging into a social anthropology dominated and controlled by youth. A young woman passes Smallwood and "she looked through me, preferring, perhaps, not to see herself sitting there when she got my age" (85).

Smallwood lifts us out of these personal observations in the fourth section of her book that delves into the beauty of the natural world and how everything is linked through the awareness and concentration of science. An invasion of butterflies, moving tectonic plates and whirling planets all pull the reader forward and out of ourselves. The fact that we are all connected is, finally, a welcomed cliche but Smallwood is not content with letting us sleep peacefully with this collective actuality. She warns, " is in this subterranean well that the best and worst of us lurks and I think writing is dipping into this well ... sensing it best not to got too far or else we'll never return - or if we do, are forever changed and do not belong any more" (109).

America: The Farewell Tour
Chris Hedges
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York NY 10020
9781501152672, pages, $27.00, 388 pages

Paul Lappen, Reviewer

"America's best days are still ahead." That's what politicians and business leaders are supposed to say. This book gives a very different view.

A chapter looks at one family's journey through the nightmare of opioid addiction. Another chapter gives a Very Detailed look inside the porn business. The Taj Mahal Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City may still be officially open. The gaming tables are empty, and large numbers of the hotel rooms are unusable. Maintenance in the rooms that are used is a thing of the past, so a guest may have to deal with, for instance, leaky toilets or cockroaches.

Antifa and the alt-right are two different manifestations of the same phenomenon; people who are frustrated and feel left behind by global capitalism. The factory which provided a decent living for residents of a small Midwest town has closed, and moved to Mexico, leaving them with no alternatives, and no hope. The average minority resident of New York City is more than tired of being repeatedly stopped and frisked, or given a ticket for something like jaywalking, simply because a white cop feels like it.

People who are in prison will get paid a few cents for working, usually for some large corporation, if they get paid at all. Especially in private prisons, they will get financially gouged for everything else, including phone calls to their loved ones.

Donald Trump may have ridden this frustration to the White House, but that does not mean that he can do anything about it, until corporate control of America is eliminated. This is certainly not an optimistic book, but it is a very eye-opening book. It is highly recommended for all Americans.

Driving Honda: Inside the World's Most Innovative Car Company
Jeffrey Rothfeder
9781591847977, $16.00

Pedro Blas Gonzalez

The Honda Motor Company is an elite automaker. This is the case for several reasons, not least of which is their efficient and highly reliable products. Most importantly, Honda is a model of how to operate a business, especially in lieu of the immense competition that automakers face today.

Mr. Soichiro Honda, the colorful and stoic founder of this now household name brand, emerged from the ruins of WWII Japan to create reliable motorcycles and small engines. Part of the success that the Honda Motor Company enjoys today is because the company is not a top-down model of management that stunts the ingenuity of its workers, engineers and designers.

The management of Honda regularly consults with workers in their factories for input about what is working well and what needs improvement. This makes management aware of potential problems that will eventually escalate into the notorious and feared recalls that automakers dread. Recalls are not only expensive to correct, but also tarnish a company's reputation, which in turn, affect a company's bottom line.

Driving Honda: Inside the World's Most Innovative Car Company traces the development and growth of the Honda Motor Company from a small motorcycle shop to a multinational corporation that has plants in several countries.

Among the most interesting aspects of the book, readers are introduced to the concept of waigaya, a Japanese word, and Honda operating concept, that essentially means to not become complacent with the status quo and to not become self-satisfied with past achievement. This concept is introduced to workers in order to make them understand their responsibility in building reliable machines. Part of the importance of this concept is that workers learn to identify problems in their respective section of the assembly line before the automobile is allowed to move to another section. Part of the concept has to do with cultivating a work ethic that takes pride in paying attention to detail, quality-control and ownership.

Another important aspect of the book is the author's discussion of Honda's strategy and aspiration to become a worldwide product, when the company opened a plant in the US in the early 1980s, and later built a colossal and state of the art plant in Lincoln, Alabama. Driving Honda is an essential read for people who are interested in the meeting of economics, technology and culture.

Kate in the Land of Myths and Wonders
J.P.H. Tan
Harvest Global Network
9789811181221, $9.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 222pp,

Samantha Gregory, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite Book Reviews & Award Contest

Young Adult - Fantasy - General

Kate in the Land of Myths and Wonders by J.P.H. Tan is the story of a teenage girl called Kate who has just turned fifteen. Her mother left when she was young, along with her little brother, and her father died of a heart attack. She has quite a blighted view of the world and feels that her life is quite boring. But that all changes when she goes on a trip with her friend, Gus.

I think that Kate has an unusual life and the fact that she has been given everything, including a check for a million dollars for her birthday (that's a heck of a present) shows that she has no real idea of the world. She's bored because everything comes easy to her.

J.P.H. Tan has written and interesting book with Kate in the Land of Myths and Wonders. The fantasy element of it is a little reminiscent of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Alice from Alice in Wonderland, but this story has more Christian overtones. It is about growing up, coming of age and dealing with difficult situations such as death. The author has Kate believe that she is odd, but I don't think she is as odd as she thinks she is. Of course, most teenagers feel different and isolated at some point in their lives.

I think this book would appeal to young teens - around twelve to fifteen years old, but slightly older teens might enjoy it too. I would recommend it as it was quite an enjoyable story to read

Crisis: The Card People 3
James Sulzer
Fuze Publishing
9780999808986, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 217pp

Jonny, Reviewer

Crisis is the third book in the suspenseful Card People trilogy by James Sulzer. It doesn't seem possible, but I think it has more surprises and plot twists than the first two books combined! First, Paul's nanodust transfer from a card person back to himself as a human goes awfully wrong. While he, his brother Sam, and their friends try to figure out what happened with that, the news starts reporting that a bomb has been set in Chicago and the President of the United States is sick.

Since the Vice President is out of the country for the unforeseeable future, power has been handed over to a top advisor named Vincent Slaughter. He quickly announces the importance of purifying America so that everyone in the country is the same, and he has the power to define what that is. Sadly, immigrants start being arrested, and hate groups are spreading their messages by marching through the streets. As if all of this mayhem is not enough, villain David Westfield, from the earlier books in the series, appears out of nowhere in Paul and Sam's backyard to taunt and try to attack everyone there.

The visit attracts a variety of fire and police vehicles including Squinty Eyes, who is the CIA agent that the boys and their friends don't trust. When they open the front door, he starts threatening and questioning everyone inside. He wants information about any possible new nanodust, where the card people are, and what any of them might know about the boys' missing father, nanotechnology expert, Samir Kapadia. They handle the scary situation with the help of the card people and their good-natured animated friends, but they also immediately begin to wonder if the President is missing instead of sick. Now the boys and their friends are desperate to find the President and help get America back to normal. In the end, no one would ever guess just how much mystery they unexpectedly uncover along the way!

Crisis is a fast-paced, action-packed story! There are enough details repeated from the earlier two books in the series that this one makes sense on its own. It's also an amazing conclusion for anyone who already read Parts 1 and 2. I can't think of a single loose end Mr. Sulzer left! The way he uniquely weaves controversial historical, political, and social issues into the magical world of nanimated objects makes this story seem serious and funny at the same time. The book is written for ages 8-12 and would probably appeal to both boys and girls since it has such a wide variety of characters and subplots. However, it contains references to Adolf Hitler, an Ultimate Leader, a Nazi-type salute, and guns, which parents might want to discuss with younger readers. Overall, the book has a positive message!

All of the characters have dramatic flair, but I like Paul, Sam, and their friends because of how well they work together. They're able to imaginatively solve problems at a moment's notice. I especially like how they quickly step outside of their own problems and concerns in order to do what they can to stop the government from being overthrown. I think the best part of the story is that while the kids are doing the right thing and helping others, they are pleasantly surprised to find the truth they were seeking all along. Once I started reading, I could not put this book down!

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected
Edwin Wong
Friesen Press
9781525537561 (paperback), $14.99
9781525537554 (hardcover), $23.99
9781525537578 (eBook), $5.93, 378pp,

Ho Lin, Reviewer
Foreword Clarion Reviews

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a piquant, far-reaching study of tragedy as an art form.

Defining the nature of theatrical tragedy is a formidable task; everyone from Aristotle to Nietzsche has taken a crack at it. In his stimulating The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, Edwin Wong posits a fresh approach based upon the modern ups and downs of the stock market.

Tragedy, the book argues, can be seen as the ultimate in risk theory. Overconfident or desperate heroes make calculated gambles, resulting in unexpected, high-consequence results. In this wide-ranging treatise, Wong analyzes dozens of examples, from Oedipus Rex to Death of a Salesman, to find compelling evidence that explains why certain tragedies have more lasting power than others.

The study focuses on the structure, philosophy, and poetics of tragedy. This risk theory is at its most convincing when it comes to structure, noting that the genre is characterized by three movements: the protagonist encountering temptation; a wager on a favorable outcome (most often involving life and limb); and a metaphorical cast of the dice, in which the protagonist makes his gamble and endures the subsequent results. In modeling this, supporting references and plot points are pinpointed from classic tragedies. The book further delineates different approaches, from "frontloaded" variants (which begin with a bang and end with introspection) to "backloaded" versions (in which cataclysmic outcomes are saved for the climax).

Tragedies are further segmented by their scope (involving a single hero and "risk event," or a series of unfortunate events ensnaring numerous characters). Fascinating side topics, including the invention of the concept of money and how it led to tragedies being boiled down to the price of life itself, are covered, and the book invites consideration of the commonplaces of tragedy, from the supporting characters who influence protagonists' decisions to the influence of the supernatural. This work moves toward a final comparison of tragedy with other major genres and disciplines that demonstrates how they also reflect the human condition.

Such analyses run the risk of being dry, but this is engaging work. It pulls passages from classic plays in a generous way and serves as a fun primer on tragedies in general, as well as a bracing presentation of its theories. Ranging musings tap into heliocentric theories of the universe, historic disasters such as the French Maginot Line in World War II, and how the action in a tragedy mirrors the second law of thermodynamics. These heady detours don't always cohere with the book's grand theories, but their multidimensional approaches are lively and thought-provoking.

Making the case for risk theory as a new definition for tragic theater, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a piquant, far-reaching study of tragedy as an art form.

Princess of Shadow and Dream
Ellie Raine
ScyntheFy Press
9781732323803, $7.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 150pp,

Melinda Hills, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Review Rating: Five-stars

In the underground world of Nirus, the Death family prepares for a wedding in Princess of Shadow and Dream by Ellie Raine. Serdin is to become betrothed to Rovinne, a high-born councilwoman, but the arrival of the Dream family, Myra in particular, changes things in a way that no one could foresee. With the disappearance of the Death family's two Dream Catchers, it is up to King Dream and his daughter, Myra, to protect the Death family in the subconscious realms. It quickly becomes obvious that evil is at work in the kingdom though, since the Reapers have a hard time finding the missing Dream Catchers as they are repeatedly attacked by undead necrofera. Myra, while becoming more and more attracted to Serdin, must also keep her true mission in mind; to watch for the birth of twins who will play an important role in the future of the realms. As the plot unfolds, lines are crossed that may have serious consequences for all realms involved, but if it has been foreseen by King Dream, it must be all right - or won't it?

Ellie Raine has created an interesting and unique alternate world in Princess of Shadow and Dream, the prequel to the NecroSeam Chronicles. I liked the characters and the sense of anticipation the author has created in this prequel. Each group of characters is specially gifted and their talents serve them well as they engage in their daily activities as well as the exciting battles in which they find themselves. The writing is easy to follow and smooth to read with realistic dialogue and plenty of descriptive support. A love story brings two of the characters together, all in preparation for the rest of what promises to be a great series. This is a lovely book for YA and older readers who enjoy fantasy at its best.

Britfield and the Lost Crown
C.R. Stewart
Devonfield Publishing
9781732961203, $24.99, HC, 394pp
9781732961210, $16.99pp, PB
9781732961234, $19.99 Audio Book (Ian Russell narrator)
9781732961227, $9.99, Kindle

Reviewed by: Chanticleer Book Reviews

Tom and Sarah are best friends who reside in a dilapidated English orphanage housed in a 16th-century castle. Only this castle isn't the kind that inspires romance or chivalry; Weatherly orphanage is run like a maximum-security prison where children are forced to work, creating goods that are sold in the local village.

Many orphans have tried to get beyond Weatherly's gates and have failed. Mr. Speckle, a scurrilous caretaker, prowls the grounds, keeping constant surveillance, ensuring the children are working and staying in their place. But Tom is a daring lad, often going on "raids" to steal books from the private library of Weatherly's owners for his friends to read. Mr. and Mrs. Grievous, a dreadful pair who frown upon any sort of learning, run the orphanage.

One day, Tom and Sarah resolve to get out of Weatherly - forever. Ahead of them, the path is long, twisting, and dangerous, filled with a whirlwind tour through the English countryside. Here, author Stewart sharpens his focus and showcases the beauty and mystery of Great Britain. Readers will discover the places that are dear to the author's heart as Tom and Sarah travel far and wide, including places such as the Midlands, Canterbury, Windsor Castle London and many more. But trouble is always nipping at Tom and Sarah's heels, and when the renowned Detective Gowerstone takes up the case, the pair are nearly captured. They only escape by commandeering a hot-air balloon!

As we follow them on their clandestine route, we begin to learn more about who Tom might be - and why some highly placed operatives would like to see him eliminated altogether. It all goes back 150 years to the disappearance of the mysterious Britfield dynasty and the ascendancy of Queen Victoria, leaving one to wonder, Did the wrong person get the crown?

Britfield and the Lost Crown delivers as a detailed and intriguing first-in-series read that is sure to capture the attention of the middle grade and young adult crowd and those who love the Y/A action and adventure genre. Readers journey through the English cities and countryside beautifully rendered in the narrative. The book also includes maps and intelligent background information about the setting and history with access to online illustrations and commentaries on castles, villages, and towns where our heroes visit. Overall, Britfield weaves plot, texture, storytelling, and fascinating characters into a winning combination and enriching experience for adventure fans.

"A daring escape, a wild adventure, and a discovery of a hidden identity is at the heart of this Y/A novel that is sure to whisk readers off to all points Great Britain. A fine story with plenty of color. Recommended." - Chanticleer Reviews

Gripped Part 1: The Truth We Never Told
Stacy A. Padula
9781949483888, $13.50 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 186pp,

Kyle Banker

The novel Gripped Part 1: The Truth We Never Told, by Stacy Padula is book that I could not be put down due to its unique character web and thorough storyline. It addresses the problem of addiction within teenagers from a variety of situations, such as affecting a potential professional football player named Taylor Dunkin. Taylor is helped by other characters such as his brother Marc to move past his troubles with drug abuse after being prescribed painkillers after surgery. Along with this, multiple relationships are created that are also affected in some way by drugs, specifically targeting the partnership of Chantal and Jon. As a result, two outliers, Cathy and Jason, bond together to avoid being impacted by the same problems while also maintaining a healthy relationship. Through this, they both continually help their friends and family to return Montgomery to the socially-active and safe place that it used to be.

This book is a quick read that is perfect for Middle School and High School students, while also being very applicable to adults wanting to know more about teenage drug abuse. This book introduces the consequences that come with taking drugs, and this could hopefully reduce the likelihood of students utilizing drugs throughout their education; this is very important considering the steep increase of drug usage in the United States. In all, I rate this book a 5/5 and would recommend reading it. I loved this book because it was both powerful and thorough, yet easy to follow.

President Kennedy's Promises
Anna M. Carroll
Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
9781544095752, $19.95 PB, $7.98 Kindle, 321pp,

Sandra Fox Murphy

This is a complex and authentic story. Ms. Carroll's novel is the story of a troubled young woman, Kegs, who, suddenly immersed in a temporary work situation, sees a side of life she'd not previously been exposed to. Her story is full of diverse characters, Chicago color, and struggles, both Kegs' own and those of her clients in the welfare realm. Though her acknowledged research reveals differently, Ms. Carroll tells this story as if it's her own, for the reader finds herself right there, walking the Chicago streets in the 1960's on a hot summer day or trudging through winter snow. The author has made these people real, as if you could touch them, and the emotions and scenes are raw. President's Kennedy's Promises is a novel written with the poignancy and revelations this story, immersed in history, deserves.

The novel takes its title from President Kennedy's promise to a poverty-stricken Ukrainian child. Kennedy promises the child he will find her father who is lost in one of the massive mental hospitals of mid-century America. The Chicago Welfare Department serves as a vehicle for the story. But it is not a story of poverty. It is a story of neighbors. Wealthy Kegs Addams reluctantly shows up in the neighborhood as the welfare worker. Kegs plans to enter the Foreign Service, but her father's illness has delayed her plans.

Chicago is ablaze with Kennedy's New Frontier and new waves of the uprooted settling in the city with earlier refugees from war-torn Europe. From those she meets in the neighborhood, Kegs learns the promise and price of flight from one's homeland. From the young psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Shannon, Kegs learns how the human mind protects and sometimes fails its owners.

The author, a student of history and depth psychology, returns as a novelist to streets like the streets she walked as a young caseworker. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in history and a Master of Social Work degree from Loyola University of Chicago. She also earned a Ph.D. from Smith College's Program of Advanced Study in Social Work. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry appear in commercial, literary, and professional publications in this country and abroad. Her poetry has been read on public radio.

The Witch Port Video Game
Leonard Bassed
Independently Published
9780620779845 (hardcover), $11.34, 108pp
9780620789035 (e-book), $3.99

Pacific Book Review

In this modern day fantasy, three teenagers are unexpectedly caught up in an enticing video game that draws them into a world of conflict and sorcery. Here the rules are simple - use and obtain power, trust no one, and stay alive. Leonard Bassed's The Witch Port Video Game presents an occult invasion into a fictional suburbia where seemingly ordinary individuals are confronted with a challenge to survive.

In the pleasant town of Cradle Creek, high school friends Martin Robinson, Francesca Dubois, and Mackenzie Hollister are in their junior year at St. Phillips Academy of Performing Arts. Smart, cautious, and fastidious Martin hopes to attend Julliard. Francesca, is a blonde, blue-eyed ballerina type, and counterpart Mackenzie, a likeable, hardworking, bohemian harbor dancer's aspirations. Unfortunately, when the three sneak off to an elite NY establishment, they are soon introduced to an unusual gaming device that connects them to a web of dark sorcery.

Back at school, the arrival of a handsome substitute teacher, Logan MacQuoid, with his younger brother, Crayton, quickly sparks a battle ground between witches and warlocks, rapidly transforming what was thought to be a game into a new, present day reality. With the help of Dr. Chambers, an English teacher with her own command of the occult, these classmates come to recognize their own special gifts, as they enter a shadowy landscape and face enemy forces.

From friendship and angst, and nudges of sibling rivalry and parental control, to a never-ending fashion parade marked by nuances of designer pink golf shirts and leopard stilettos, Bassed weaves many of the traditional, relatable themes into this adventurous teen drama. Such elements speak to the constants of high school years, no matter where they occur, though here the story that comes to life both within and around the halls of academia is creatively heightened by opposing forces of good and evil, a history of witchcraft, and the significant ramifications of abusing otherworldly powers.

The lesson behind the affirming magic is clearly, "It's all about the intentions." Like most tales of sorcery, much of the artistry comes through in the details. From spoken incantations and a special "Hasta Veneficus" (spear of the wise) symbol used to block witch or warlock powers, to the use of a special brown powder that demonstrates the ability to drop an evil opponent to his knees, the pages are intertwined with fantastical elements. Whether demonstrated through premonitory visions, hailed in mid-air body slams, or highlighted with flowers bursting into flames, Bassed showcases the unique abilities of these newbie teen sorcerers. In this contemporary realm even modern technology holds its place in the atmosphere of potent wizardry, as narrator Martin makes use of the World Wide Web to track down a dangerous, yet protective talisman sold through the proprietor at Betty Boo's Parlor of Magic.

As a nod to the popularity of witchcraft in the entertainment arena, Bassed's characters liken their newfound situation to the 1990s TV show Charmed, where three sisters discover their own supernatural abilities. With the same intention they suddenly realize their daily academic schedules are now being compromised by a "Harry Potter thing ... going on after hours."

In terms of formatting, the book's smaller print sizing may be a bit disconcerting for some readers, but should be less problematic for the intended hawk-eyed, young adult audience. However due to the paragraph structure of the narrative, with all dialogue blended directly into this framework, it can often take a moment to decipher which character is speaking. The confusion comes about particularly in group conversations.

While the book's final moments leave us with a rather sudden, enigmatic ending, an end note does indicate a sequel Witch Port Igniting the Coven on the horizon. For those who enjoy the entertaining literary chemistry that results from inquisitive teens and their foray into the mysterious world of sorcery, Bassed's venture should prove an intriguing reveal.

Parents for World Peace
Laura Fobler
Union Square Publishing
9781946928108, $17.12 PB, $8.65 Kindle, 160pp,

Dan Kahn

"Laura Fobler's book makes an important social contribution for human relations in general, and specifically in raising children. Focusing on the needs which underlie behavior, eliminating polarising judgment, and being authentic is a powerful prescription for peace on Earth!"

Editorial Note: Dan Kahn is the National Field Coordinator of The Peace Alliance, the Executive Director of the Florida Restorative Justice Association, and the Case Manager of the Community Connections Program.

Lori Daniels Mystery: Pillow Talk
Tom Preschutti
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
97811684332656, $18.95 PB, $6.99 Kindle, 195pp,

Authors Reading

Pillow Talk by Tom Preschutti is a novel chronicling much of the lives of some Pennsylvania police officers who are tasked with the job of dismantling a notorious drug-pushing operation call the Fifth Street Gang. Preschutti paints a gritty, realistic look at the life of cops in a metropolitan Pennsylvania city. His novel is not just a story of catching the bad guys but also a critical look at those within the precinct, their relationships, camaraderie, love affairs, jealousies and also other serious internal conflicts. Preschutti doesn't waste your reading time with a lot of drivel about things that have no relevance to his story. He is the omnipotent storyteller feeding you just what is needed to move the story along and keep it exciting. I was impressed with how his style of writing kept me reading a few pages more and then a few more pages because they all had importance to them.

Pillow Talk revolves around Police detective sergeant Lori Daniels, Detective Sergeant Brenda Cervetti, officer Regina Boris, bad guy Mark Turgeson and a cast of other minor characters that are woven into the story.

Sergeant Lori Daniels is a good cop who is smart and has proven she has what it takes to be a leader on the force, but she is also a lusty romantic lady who finds herself pulled between numerous coworkers creating a somewhat toxic workplace. It isn't just the search for a gang kingpin and drug busts that take up their investigative time but also the disappearance of one of their own. The officer missing was close to Sergeant Lori Daniels, and Detective Sergeant Brenda Cervetti so her whereabouts is a major concern to them. Has she eloped, had an accident, or something more sinister? The search is on; does her disappearance have anything to do with their investigation into the Fifth Street Gang?

The novel is full of action and numerous dead bodies, some killed by the police and others killed by the bad guys. The actions take place in numerous locations in Pennsylvania; sometime in Harrisburg, sometimes in Washington Township, even small towns like Coudersport and more.

The novel is perversely appealing with its pulpy vitality that comfortably straddles the line between cop story and the soap opera antics of its characters.

Through Preschutti riveting, uninhibited narrative, he skillfully exposes the intricate social anatomy of Lori Daniels' police world, with its general mayhem that is experienced on a daily basis. He examines the lives of its people - their passions and vices, their ambitions and defeats, their passivity or violence, their secret dreams and kindnesses, their cohesiveness, and rigidity, their struggles, their loves, their rejections, and often their courage.

The protagonist, Lori Daniels romances are complicated dances between partners that's as much about sex as it is the legal and ethical ramifications of these unions. Yes, there is a lot going on in Pillow Talk; does Lori's crush on Police Lieutenant Detective Mike Costner become anything more than a physical relationship? How does her previous relationship with Captain Tom Exeter turn out? Do they squash the 5th Street Gang operations? In short, Pillow Talk is an ingenious, inventive thriller and page-turner about power, drugs, sex, corruption, and secrets that can destroy.

Everyone is a Star
Bruce Ario
9781788767491, $12.65 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 298pp,

Matt Menge

There is a common belief that lawyers are some of the harder-working white collar business people. This is very true of Bill McCutcheon, the main character of Everyone is a Star, by Bruce Ario. Forced to defend his own daughter of a serious charge while at the same time working for his boyhood idol, at different parts of the country, close to losing his job, close to having his daughter in prison and losing his wife, this is not the routine life we think of when we think of lawyers. Yet this is the life that our main character is confronted with.

Still, this book is much more than just a drama. It gives profound insights into the life of the mentally ill. We often think psychiatrists know the most about mental illness, yet people like the author, who spent a lot of time with the mentally ill and to some extent are mentally ill themselves, know just as much. We also get insights into how the mentally ill don't always have a niche in the legal system, as if they were some sort of commonplace oddity.

This is also a story of outgrowing one's childhood. Bill McCutcheon is given the opportunity to work for his boyhood idol, Randall Smith, a Dylanesque character, and to some extent must turn away from him. In fact Smith is a little more than a boyhood idol and borders on being his personal demigod, and McCutcheon at one point faces actually losing his job in abandoning Smith in order to defend his own daughter. But the story is more complex than that; we see how Bill McCutcheon's reverence for Smith often drags him down in life and on a few occasions even challenges him, in contrast, to be a better person. It is a curious story of the convergence of hero-worship and a look at actual religion. Yet, in the end, McCutcheon seems to transcend his veneration for Smith, if not completely, but few of us, after all, fully 'grow up'.

Bill's daughter, Sara, is also intriguing. She seems a helpless victim of her mental illness, yet there hints of capacity to her. First of all, her delusions are almost entirely focused on her identity, and not the rest of the world. They also don't seem to worsen under external pressure, such as when she seems to have a recovery while actually in prison. Able to maintain a great deal of spunk, despite being undermined by her own brain, Sara is an unexpected heroine in the book.

This book, although fiction, gives great insight into little-perused aspects of our world and its legal system. It is also an uplifting book, not about how the protagonist's hero is not really a hero, but conversely, how everyday people are stars. This is a welcome antidote to the cynicism that so often pervades our world today. It is an exciting, hopeful, and endearing book.

Water Bodies
Jeffrey Perso
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540 Castroville, TX 78009
9781684331994, $16.95 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 151pp,

Steve Nelson

In "Water Bodies" the aptly named narrator, John Voltaire, has been beckoned to return to his hometown to help settle the family "estate." What follows is a series of events that could be considered a comedy of errors if it didn't so accurately depict the horrifying folly of contemporary human existence. Like in all great works of satire, the events described are both unbelievable and undeniably authentic.

While the narrator's interactions with his brother, sister, father, and assorted townsfolk are malignant (and engrossing) in one way or another, the real conflict in the novel is between the earth and the citizens of the Mississippi river town of "L," with the former seemingly bent on expunging the pest of humanity, one "water body" at a time.

The novel is littered with expertly drawn characters, most who fall into the categories of defeated, escapist, or ignorant. Just about all are self-centered, hypocritical, and corrupt in one way or another. And some are downright astounding in their small-mindedness, cruelty, and desperation. They are all irresistible.

Though something sinister oozes from nearly every page, the effect is not all disheartening. The entrancing narrative, courtesy of the narrator's philosophical musings, alongside his objective and scientific depictions of people and the land (presented in sentences that are sometimes so poetic they jump off the page and encourage re-reading), somehow simultaneously conveys a sense of hope. How this happens, I'm not sure, though as we know, with art, not everything can be explained.

Perso seems a direct descendant of both Voltaire and Twain, with echoes of the works of both of those writers ringing loudly in this engrossing novel. In "Water Bodies" he brings a dying town to life, one misadventure at a time. Read this book and you won't look at water, or people, in the same way again.

Radio Underground
Alison Littman
Last Syllable Books
9780996430623, $15.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 354pp,

Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Inspired by her senior thesis on Radio Free Europe's rock 'n' roll programming in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, Alison Littman's Radio Underground explores the aftermath of the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution on the lives of three people in Budapest - underground journalist Eszter Turjan, her daughter Dora, and a young rock 'n' roll enthusiast who, in letters to DJ "Uncle Lanci," calls himself "Mike a Korvinkozbol." Most of the action takes place in 1965, nearly nine years after the uprising, when Eszter is in a secret prison. Dora, now in her mid-20s, works as a censor for the postal service and tries to please her hardline Communist father, Ivan. Mike's letters full of humor, sexual innuendo, and strange English expressions brighten her workdays. Although Eszter's political commitments made her an inattentive mother, Dora cannot stop thinking about her, especially after hearing strange noises from the Ministry of Interior near her office. Unlucky in relationships, in large part because of her parents' difficult marriage, Dora becomes attracted to a very drunk young man named Ferenc who she meets in a clandestine music club, after which they have an unfortunate encounter with police that draws Dora into the world of prohibited radio and music.

The story is told from each main character's point of view - Eszter's in first person, Dora's in third, and Mike's through confessional letters to Uncle Lanci that read like passages fed into Google Translate. This narrative decision gives each character a distinct voice that serves as a window into their personalities. Eszter is bold and impulsive, pursuing what she thinks is right without considering those around her. Dora has learned from her to keep a distance from the world and other people. Mike's exuberance and willingness to risk everything for love echoes Eszter's character, but with the kind of love and humanity that can make a difference in the world - if he doesn't get himself killed first.

Vivid literary writing will satisfy readers, but it doesn't get in the way of the story - a thriller featuring sympathetic young people on the run from secret police who operate a massive torture chamber in the basement of the Ministry of Interior, which was the headquarters of the Nazis before the Communists took it over. (Today it's a museum that draws visitors from around the world.) Littman captures Budapest during this time, including the large Communist Party rallies, the terrifying black Zis automobiles favored by the police, and the ubiquitous hidden radios that played banned Western music from Radio Free Europe. Radio Underground explores the role of young people in the fight for freedom and democracy, with rock 'n' roll a symbol of the refusal to give in to a monoculture established by those in power. It's a story from the past that resonates soundly in the present.

Dogs and Autism
Annie Bowes, DVM
Future Horizons, Inc.
721 West Abram Street, Arlington, TX 76013
9781941765906, $14.95 PB, $9.85 PB, 133pp,

Sally McClelland Cox, reviewer
Autism, Asperger's Sensory Digest

The fact is, the book Dogs & Autism written by Veterinarian Annie Bowes isn't anything you might think it would be.

One reason: As a child growing up -- not having been diagnosed with autism, which she had - Annie Bowes discovered that the one being in this world who was always there for her - 100% of the time -- was her dog. Her father's vocation as a logger mandated that he had to be gone most of the time, so she was left with her dog that adored her for who she was (not for what she wasn't or what she might not be.) She didn't understand others, like her siblings, who were fixated on being social, naturally gravitating to school. They mocked her delayed speech and her total inability to understand their jokes, social nuances, and joy in being with hordes of other kids in the playground.

As she grew, she simply wanted to travel with her dad, so she could be with her dog. She read books copiously. Together, she and her dog explored, always with the confidence she was loved and protected by her dog.

It was her dog who listened to her attempts to try to talk, never correcting her, simply fascinated and patient as Annie developed her voice and her ability to speak. It was her dog who understood her emotional ups and downs, wanting to protect her while, always, desiring to please her.

It was her dog who gave her the greatest gift she contends every child should be given - particularly one who isn't like other children -- a sense of self-esteem, a confidence that who she is is the way she should be.

So, Dr. Bowes pulls no punches. From her first chapter, she's on a mission to provide the extensive research she's gathered over the years from her personal experience and knowledge as a veterinarian to convince parents that having a dog for a child on the autism spectrum is an alternative treatment for their child's growing up to become a whole, confident, functional individual. She explains in the introduction:

Dogs can sense the approach of an earthquake before the ground trembles. . . (They) sense when their owner is sad, happy, or afraid, and they respond accordingly. Dogs feel. They don't need it explained to them. They don't care what frightens you; they are there for you. . . . They aren't judgmental and don't demand that you pull yourself together. They will be silly with you or cuddly, depending on the support you need.

If you don't get her mantra, she practically shouts it out in the first chapter's title: "Buy A Dog!" It doesn't have to be a trained companion dog; it doesn't have to be an expensive dog; it simply has to be a dog who wants to be with your child. If you make a mistake in your choice of the dog, she tells you to get another one. Your child's health (and she has the data to substantiate it) and wellbeing are worth it (and she has the tidbits of her life story to explain "wellbeing.")

Annie Bowes didn't attend school until she went to college and, subsequently to veterinarian school. Her fascinating life associated with dogs (as well as horses, elk, bears, tribes in the Philippines, and so many other amazing side-bar stories) makes the reader to want more. To convince those who really don't know much about dogs, she has researched through history, through science, through data about dogs - including their types and temperaments - to convince parents with children on the autism spectrum they REALLY need to buy a dog for their child. She investigates "What's the worst that could happen?" She spices things up with humor, titling one chapter "A Dog Bred to Run and Kill Isn't a Good Choice for an Apartment."

She concludes convincingly that Dogs Understand Autism!

Bottom line: Every parent with a child -- with autism particularly - should read this book! You can't put this book down, not only because it's so packed with stories and data you might not know, but she's a superlative writer and honest to the core. When you finish reading this book, you know you've met an incredible lady (and emergency room and critical care veterinarian) who knows of what she speaks!

Decanted Truths
Melanie Forde
Mountain Lake Press
9781730785863, $16.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 416 pp.,

The Prairies Book Review

With its pitch-perfect evocation of people and places from a bygone era and interesting premise, the novel is a must read for fans of historical fiction...

In Decanted Truths, Forde constructs a brilliant historical family saga populated with colorful characters and successfully evokes the Great Depression era. It tells the story of two Irish immigrant families seen through the eyes of Leah Gavagan.

Twice-orphaned Leah has always found it hard to fit in with her surroundings. A death in the family unravels shocking secrets that upends Leah's life and sends her on a journey of finding her place in the world. The novel is slow to start but soon the pace quickens with heavy suspense at the back, culminating to a highly satisfying denouement.

A stunning book that expertly explores the difference between mistakes and sins.

Dirty Science
Bob Gebelein
9780961461140, $16.00 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 220pp,

Paige Lovitt Reviewer
Reader Views (03/19)

In "Dirty Science," Harvard educated Bob Gebelein discusses corruption in the scientific establishment in regard to accepting scientific research outside of the realm of physical science. Gebelein is dismayed to see the current trend of people who are viewed as scientific authorities being placed upon a pedestal of infallibility, where they can discount someone else's research without needing to offer proof using scientific method. These scientists focus on physical science, which can be seen and proved by physical evidence, as being the only true science. Anyone reaching beyond this limited viewpoint by exploring areas outside the accepted physical beliefs is ostracized and shunned to the point of being denied publication, funding for research and even employment. These fear tactics have become the norm - the result blocking our entire culture from the benefits of scientific exploration in the mental and spiritual realms. This book was written to educate readers about this issue of "Dirty Science," so that they can recognize when unscientific methods are being used to discredit someone.

While "Dirty Science," is a discussion about science and the importance of using the scientific method in research, you do not have to be a scientist to follow this. Gebelein does an excellent job of explaining what the reader needs to know to understand the severity of the issues presented. His style of writing is very easy to follow, even though he is discussing a complex matter. He also does not discount valid scientific research, he just wants "the experts," to acknowledge that there is scientific evidence that validates science that goes beyond physicalism. His education and dedication to research demonstrates that his findings are credible.

Like Gebelein, I do believe in science, but I also believe that science exists outside of the realm of physical science and that researchers should have an opportunity to present their research without fear of their careers being ended. It is important to note that the author discussed valid research that has been done in the area of parapsychology. I personally have had many experiences that I have been unable to explain. I know that there are many others like me. I want to be able to refer to valid research to get an idea of what I might have been experiencing. As long as credible researchers are discouraged from sharing research in outside of physicalism, our resources will be limited.

I look forward to reading several of the sources that are mentioned. "Dirty Science," would be an excellent textbook for critical thinking courses. I participated in a critical thinking course at California State University, Fresno. This course was titled, "Science and Nonsense." It was taught by two physicists - one believed in a higher power and the other did not. This book would have been a perfect reference for that course! It was fascinating, and both professors approached the topics discussed with open minds. I am so grateful that I had that opportunity, because "Dirty Science," is a reminder that this is rare. Having enjoyed "The Mental Environment," also written by Bob Gebelein, I am pleased to recommend "Dirty Science." It will open reader's eyes.

What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class
Anne Andrew
Clear Purpose Publishing
9781775258315, $16.95, PB, 214pp
9781775258321, $4.99, Kindle,

Cynthia Ramsay, Reviewer
Jewish Independent

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of "inherent worth" and "unconditional love." But many fewer of us actually live by these precepts. Anne Andrew would like to help change that fact.

In the introduction to "What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class: The Key to Raising Trouble-Free Kids and Teens", Andrew shares, "My experience as a worried parent of a once-troubled teenager (now a well-functioning adult) and my wish to help other parents avoid the sleepless nights, debilitating fear, helplessness and despair, led me to write this book. Our family's ordeal lasted more than six years and, during that time, we learned strategies that not only helped us survive but actually allowed us to thrive.... At the same time, I was working as a school principal and became aware of the mental health crisis that was starting to take hold in younger and younger students." As examples, she notes that 77% of children report having been bullied at school and 80% of 10-year-old girls wish they were thinner.

Andrew was a school principal at Temple Sholom for 20 years. "It's likely," she writes, "that one or more of your children will face some kind of difficulty, whether it's an eating disorder, bullying, drug addiction, depression or other mental health issue, and it is almost impossible to predict whose child that might be. You can't always see it coming - we certainly didn't!"

Based on what she was learning from her family's therapist, Andrew "concluded that there is an absolute and fundamental concept that underpins healthy human life." That concept - inherent worth - is the subject of the first section of What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class. Part 2 focuses on unconditional love, explaining "why it is so difficult for us to accept and own our inherent worth, then explain[ing] how this can be done and become part of your 'way of being.'" The third part of the book discusses parenting priorities, "kindness versus grades," and "teaches how to parent out of love - not fear."

While targeted to parents, What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class is a valuable guide for anyone who has negative opinions about themselves, which, to hazard a guess, is the vast majority of us.

One of the tools Andrew presents in her book is the Choose Again Six-Step Process, which was developed by Diederik Wolsak, founder and program director of Choose Again Attitudinal Healing Centre and author of Choose Again: Six Steps to Freedom. Wolsak wrote the foreword of What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class. In it, he notes that Andrew - who is a Choose Again facilitator - "has written a manual which draws directly from her own heroic and victorious battle with depression and her transformation of some crippling core beliefs. But, more to the point, it tells the story of two people, parents, coming to terms with what they needed to heal to become real parents. Real parents teach by demonstration. Real parents are transparent and not afraid of what they'll encounter when they begin their own journey to removing all barriers to love."

By healing a negative belief about ourselves, we can change our behavior. "By following our familiar feelings, we can retrieve early childhood memories in which we can discover the genesis of our beliefs and we can begin to transform them," writes Andrew. "You have to be in the feeling for it to work - it is a process that has to be felt, not an intellectual exercise." In brief, when you're upset, for example, acknowledge that you're upset; take responsibility for the feeling - it is not your child's fault, but rather "a negative belief that you made up in early childhood has been triggered"; focus on the feeling and identify it; remember the feeling and try to determine when you first ever felt it; once you have that memory, contemplate how you judged yourself in that moment and how you thought others judged you; and, lastly, try "to fix your mistaken belief by a process of forgiveness that replaces your mistaken belief with the truth of you - that you are inherently worthy, whole and complete."

Andrew invites parents to use the day-to-day parenting upsets as portals to self-healing so that parenting becomes a journey into self-awareness. This in turn benefits the kids enormously. When parents heal their own negative beliefs, they won't worry about being judged by others, they won't be drawn into competitiveness and will not need to over-program their children, so that makes life and parenting less stressful and more fun for the whole family.

The Murder of History
Rabeyah Khalid
Sang-e-Meel Publications
9789693523553, $80.00, HC, 321pp,

Rabeyah Khalid

'The Murder of History' is written by Professor Khurshid Kamal Aziz. He has written several other books i.e. Britain and Muslim India, The Making of Pakistan, Party Politics in Pakistan, The Pakistani Historian, etc.

'The Murder of History' is basically a critique of history textbooks that are taught and used in Pakistan. It states that what is being taught as History in Pakistani schools and colleges is national mythology, and the subjects of Social Studies and Pakistan Studies are nothing but the vehicles of political indoctrination. Our children don't learn History. They are ordered to read carefully selected collection of falsehoods, fairy tales, and plain lies. Why and how has this come about? Who is responsible for this? In what ways is this destroying the social fabric of Pakistan? Why doesn't anyone protest this?

In this book, a distinguished Pakistani historian and political scientist asks and answers these questions for the first time by making an in-depth study of the 66 textbooks on these subjects in use in the schools and colleges of the country. The book comprises of four chapters:

1. The Prescribed Myths
2. The Calamity of Errors
3. The Road to Ruin
4. The Burden of Responsibility

In the first chapter the writer provides the reader with the major inaccuracies, distortions, exaggerations, and slants to be found in each officially prepared and prescribed textbook and in a representative selection of private commercial publications which are wide in use as textbooks.

The basic questions asked related to the history of Pakistan, War of Independence, about Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan, Congress was formed and was a Party of Hindus, objectives of Muslim League, life of Jinnah (education & training), life of Iqbal, Iqbal gave idea of Pakistan, Pakistan Resolution, date of independence, after formation of Pakistan, Ayyub's era, wars of 1965 & 71, fall of Dhaka, Zia's era, etc.

In the second chapter the writer first rearranges some serious transgressions i.e. wrong dates, wrong assertions, biased and confusing assertions, completely incomprehensible assertions, errors of omission, errors of commission and mentions their corrections as follows:

Pakistan didn't come into being on 14th August 1947, but it came into being in 15th August 1947. The Lahore resolution was not passed on 23rd March. The preceding was started on the 22nd March after three speeches preceding was adjourned and the same happens on the 23rd March and finally, on 24th March at nine o'clock at night, Lahore resolution was passed. It is written in some books that Urdu was the language of South Asia, but this is wrong because Urdu was spoken by very few people because people of subcontinent spoke other languages like Punjabi, Gujarati, Hindi.

In the third chapter the writer phrases major misgivings in the following interrogative terms and tries to seek their answers:

Why is so little attention paid to the get-up of the book and how does this affect the mind of the student?

What signals and warnings do the content of the book send to the nation?

What are the lessons to be learned from what the book omits or passes by with a cavalier glance?

On whom does the burden of responsibility fall for all these faults and failings?

How does the use of the book endanger the moral an intellectual integrity of the student?

In what diverse ways does the knowledge disseminate by the book act as a leaven on the people at large?

Briefly, the disappointment of the child with the textbook leads to the following results. As there is no love of books, there is no love of reading. He will read books to pass the examination but never for the sake of pleasure and will die uneducated. He will be a bad parent as to how can he instill in his child a love in which he himself is a stranger. He will never know the demands and requirements of his profession.

In the fourth chapter, the writer states that the variety, outrageousness, and ubiquity of the mistakes in these books raise the question: who bears the responsibility of the contents and the quality of the matter presented?

The burden of the responsibility rests on the Establishment, the authors, and the teachers, in this order. History is different for the elites i.e. private school elite students which mainly study in European or American standard schools.

This book clearly focuses on its central message of criticism on the History textbooks used in Pakistan. The writer lists clearly their errors of fact, emphasis, and interpretation, enumerates their major omissions, corrects their mistakes, brings out the distortions they teach and perpetuate, estimates their ravaging effects on the students and measures their impact on the nation at large.

This book has very few weaknesses and one of them is a repetition of correct facts i.e. the writer corrects the wrong assertion repeatedly in almost mentioning of every analyzed book and then again in detail in chapter 2. This can lead the reader into boredom whereas the writer claims that he asks the reader to bear with this repetition in the interest to clarify.

This book is highly recommended for the students to realize that what they are studying is a pack of lies and they should know the truth. It is an eye opener for them and even for the people who studied and believed in the lies that were taught to them regarding history in the books.

The contents of this book will shake up every reader and throw every student and every parent into a panic.

Blackbird: Poems
Laura Grace Weldon
Grayson Books
9780999432761, $15.95, PB, 64pp,

Michelle Wilbert

While reading Laura Grace Weldon's latest collection of poetry, Blackbird, I found myself anchored to continuity of time, family, place, and human experience woven into pieces glowing with vivid, knowable imagery of the quotidian mysteries that infuse every life. Written in the genre of naturalistic, free form poetry, this is thoughtful, careful work worthy of respect and careful reading. Crafted with nuance and wit, the poems are bracingly honest, redolent with subtle shifts in light and mood, with perception that rings true to experience.

There is nothing static in these poems - they move with a dynamism that holds the center of each poem without shaking the structure and or offering a summation; the reader is left to be with each poem on its own terms. The poems are deeply personal, reflecting on events and people close at hand: the speaker's home and land, her mother, son, husband, dog, chickens, family illnesses and deaths and all of it offering an intimacy both personal and universal. To read these poems is to experience a moment in time as it was lived. All offer a clear view of the reflective observation of the naturalist - of the poet.

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of two previous books, an earlier poetry collection, Tending (Aldrich, 2013), as well as a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning. She evokes through these poems a sturdy sense of the emotional and spiritual healing that tender, contemplative observation brings. The poems record events and memories chiseled by words the way time and tides shape a shoreline. Within this obvious artistry, though, there is no subterfuge, no sense that she is smoothing the surface of stone and jagged edges - they're all present and accounted for - but one feels the sense of acceptance of things as they are, including emotions of anger, sadness and simple, full-hearted joy. The poems stay in the moment, living it fully and unapologetically, ennobling the ordinary. There is a strong, thematic element of a powerful willingness to abide with, to partner with, life - all of it. Only where there is a perceived threat to those the speaker in the poem loves does one have the sense that she would move from the role of observer to action, as in the poem "Notice To Fibromuscular Dysplasia," in which she shares a clear directive to her disease to watch its steps where her family is concerned. In it, she is fierce, a she-wolf, a mother consumed with the need to protect her child and the willingness to fight to the death to do so:

I am a tornado, earthquake, tsunami,
I will knock your house into splinters,
I will drown you in my tides,
I will drop you into a fissure so deep
you won't hear yourself cry for mercy. (28)

There is a blend of gentleness and precision in all of these poems standing as a lovely testament to the dignity of, and the commitment to, a creaturely life. William Stafford once wrote in his own poem, "The Way It Is," that "There's a thread you follow... Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get don't ever let go of the thread." At no point does "Blackbird" let go of the thread; it is consistent and reliable as the tides. The poems ring with experiential reality and an ever present holistic worldview detailed in luminous simplicity:

The new people don't know
we tucked blessings behind these walls.
On bare beams, the kids crayoned
bubble-face stick figures
and I wrote poems
in thick, black marker, dizzied
by vapors that make words permanent. ("Moving Day" 30)

Some poetry wants to be read in a candle-lit room or in the forest. Some fare best with a bottle of red wine and a bit of cheese; some want a public reading in a London cafe or a traditional Irish pub as the Guinness makes the rounds. This is a collection to be lived with; to read while making breakfast, or hanging the laundry. To live in tandem with the words, to be alongside, sharing the work. One wants to add one's own memory, own story of heartache, joy, loss, grief, anger - the human condition. There is a deep sense of comfort to be drawn from these poems, and they stand individually and collectively, connected by that tenacious and visible thread of human connection and the eye and soul of an artist aware and present to the life around her.

White Gloves & Rob Roys
Ilona Saari
9780692946329, $10.99 PR, $2.99 Kindle, 270pp,

Daniel Casey

There is a casualness to the tone of Ilona Joy Saari's novel White Gloves & Rob Roys making it feel conversation in its telling. This trait also allows readers to find themselves deeply immersed in a story that if told in a different tone - perhaps one more strident or earnest - would turn readers off. This is the great success of Saari's novel, her ability to keep readers engaged as she spins a purposeful tale without allowing them to slip away due to some personal quibble so to fully experience the story.

Ashley is a young journalist looking to make her mark. She writes lifestyle pieces with the ambition to move to more 'serious' reporting. While working on a piece about Schraffts Restaurant she encounters a group of women who are essentially lore-keepers. And Ashley listens. Spanning several decades from the early 1900s through the 1930's and up to the 'present' of 1968, the women spearheaded by one Vi Wildling recount their experiences giving readers a vivid portrait of New York City, specifically Manhattan. In the telling, Ashley finds her own life being impacted as she ruminates on what she has heard in her interviews and strives to climb the career ladder.

Saari is able to cover major historical events such as the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire through the eyes of characters who lived through the cultural moment. In the process readers are also given details about places (hotels, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants) enlivening the story to make it feel not just realistic but as though the city itself is an animated, growing character alongside the protagonists. We realize what we are reading is the hard work of women struggling to establish themselves in a world that often changes (for the better) but still presents them with the same obstacles due to gender. It is immensely satisfying to see these women finally have their stories told and to another woman who will make them 'real,' that is seen, by recording and promulgating them. There is a shared sense of worth in this novel between its characters, which is a rare element in fiction.

White Gloves & Rob Roys patiently and deftly explores what it takes and what it means to be a working woman striving to be able to live independently. While we see ridiculous acts of gender discrimination change over time, the stories told reveal to us the battle to confront the larger sexist structure is ongoing and something united women across generations. And in the midst of this, readers are given murder mystery making the recollections all the more compelling. Saari's prose is smooth, digestible, and articulate giving readers lucid images of the characters in the world, in the city, as well as deep depictions of their emotional states and internal lives.

Falling into Freedom
Michael Doud
Michael Doud, Publisher
9781732611702,$17.95 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 258pp,

Daniel Casey

In 1989, Michael Doud realized he had been depressed for nearly 40 years and wanted to break free of it, "I've done this before. I'm doing it again, making yet another attempt to escape my unsatisfactory life and probably botching it one more time." What we read in his memoir of sorts, Falling into Freedom, is a personal history, an inventory of all the successes and challenges that built up to that moment in the winter of 1989 where Doud decided he's have enough.

In the narrative mix, Doud isolates the causes of anger and frustration, those roots of his battle with depression, as well as the effects of poor decisions. Readers will find the book raw and open, a trait common in many memoirs, but Doud is able to present us with something more than just a personal narrative writ large. He is able to craft a work of nonfiction where he is actively striving to articulate and act on beliefs, concepts, and hopes to not merely 'right' his path but to allow him to live a life of meaning. Thus, we are presented with a sort of coming of age story regarding personal philosophy and one meant to be not just an inspiration to others but offer practical advice.

Nearly everyone who sits down to write about their life is insistent they've lived through something meaningful not just for themselves but for others. This imperative to tell, to share with others is a noble instinct yet as we all know, often times 'crazy adventures' are really just bland, self-absorb tales. Fortunately, Doud's vignettes avoid such tiresomeness by focusing on consequences rather than on the mere acts themselves, a simple distinction but one often lacking in works of the genre.

Recounting his fears and anxieties, Doud brings readers back again and again to his generation's greatest successes and failures as he stands a mirror for many Boomers to see themselves reflected. Discovering and embracing meditation but finding it elusive to truly capture due to seemingly ever-present desires, Doud as a young man seems to drift. The trauma of Vietnam sends him down a dark path but yet even in that dimness there is a flicker of that sense of ease and calm he first experienced in mediation.

Thus, when he and by proxy readers discover that this has been the goal all along, we can see a true change in how one relates to the world around oneself. Doud is his own test subject taking readers across the world in search of actualization. There is certainly success here. His method for self-examination is unpretentious with its great strength being it can only give out to practitioners what they are willing to put in. It may not sound like much, but this trait alone will often delineate authentic practices for self-improvement from those 'quick fixes' pedaled by many a guru. Many readers of the spiritual and self-help genre will find Falling Into Freedom at once touching and challenging as it is designed not just to inspire but to provoke action. As such, it is one of more superior works of personal growth and transformation one could find.

The Soul Snatchers
Richard Sanford
Inverness Press
9780985744533, $9.95 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 174 pages,

The Book Dragon

Tzaro Janssen, a seismologist in a next-gen lab in the San Juan Islands, is toeing a fault line. His girlfriend Therica has become... not herself. Stories like hers are lighting up media around the globe - psychotic breaks, social isolation, explosive violence. And no known cause.

A chilling discovery on Therica's phablet fractures the world Tzaro knows and propels him into a strange, altered one. At the center is Therica's obsession, the mega networking platform Wundrus.

With the fates of Therica, his son Derek, and billions of the socially interconnected in the
balance, Tzaro and the rag-tag team who join him - Calvin Carmody the professor of ancient languages, Svetla the Bulgarian Guber driver, Wes the old-school programmer, and hardheaded Morgan, rebel with a cause - plunge into a race against madness.

In a future world not so distant, in a cyber cell in the shadowy foothills, the soul snatchers are watching, and waiting.

Final Judgment: 4 Stars out of 5

Immediately, readers are thrown into a new-age version of our current world, perhaps a century or more forward from our known time of the 21st century. The characters still go about normal day events, but are now even more connected to each other via technology... and new social media sites such as Wundrus and Ping. But despite the ability to share and communicate with each other even more efficiently and quickly, the characters show signs of isolation and distrust, leading to horrible events playing on the news daily. An unlikely band of old friends and newfound acquaintances join up and embark on a journey to save the world from an internet virus that can alter people's behavior and psychology. But what will they find along the way?

"We all know what's been happening. People afraid to talk to each other, to look each other in the eye. Too paranoid to ride a bus or a train. Killing members of their own families. No motive. No cause or explanation. This is the cause - the game." (Loc 2261)

This book may be a little hard to get into in the very beginning. For me, there were a lot of names of cities and other geographical locations as well as names of new technological advances that were not explicitly explained. However, I was able to discern most of what was occurring without too much difficulty, and I believe that this actually highlights the problem that Richard Sanford is attempting to get across: People in this advanced, technological world are too isolated from each other. They have forgotten how to communicate with each other on a personal and emotional level. The way the dialogue is written reflects this idea, as it tends to jump around without indicators as to who is talking... Similar to the flow of a group chat or other social media communication, where everything is happening very quickly and the topic can change in an instant.

Checking his reflection on the plane of glass, he wondered which lines traced that history and which mapped to his current coordinates on a fault line between women... (Loc 30)

Throughout the novel, the story remains fixed on the main character Tzaro, a seismologist (aka Earthquake analyzer). I love how he is depicted throughout the book; how everything he sees is tinted by his seismologist lens, and thus he is able to see how the beauty of his girlfriend - as well as the world - mirrors the beauty of seismographic wave lines. In this new-generation of overwhelming technology, he is one of the few that are still able to connect on a personal level... And it is because of this fact that he may be able - with the help of like-minded individuals he picks up along the way - to find the source of the problem and hopefully revert its effects. Without his and others disconnectedness from technology, all would be lost.

I really enjoyed this novel as it traveled both through the Sci-Fi and the thriller/mystery realms. Not only was I attracted to learning more about the technological advances such as Phablets, the use of drones, and holograms, but I was also on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what would happen next. The similarity of this world to our own in this day and age is chilling... Such a problem could occur here as Cyberterrorism is becoming more and more frequent and people are losing themselves within social media. As I was reading, I felt as though the fate of my own world was at stake, and I had to continue until I knew what the ending would be... Good or bad, or both.

Tzaro admired the hologram, physically perfect but literally empty. (Loc 1575)

What will the effect of social media be on our society in a hundred years or more? Will it band us together or completely isolate us from making meaningful connections to those around us? This novel sheds some light upon the issue that is plaguing our society today.

Sex and the Serial Killer: My Bizarre Times with Robert Durst
William Steel with Gary Greenberg
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
9781727241099, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 194pp,

Angela Knaus, Reviewer

I got this book yesterday and after lunch I decided to read a chapter or two to get a feel for the story. By the end of the night, I had read the whole book. It's rare that I can sit and read a book cover to cover in just one sitting. With a few regular life interruptions halting me every once in a while, I still got the whole thing read in just a few hours' time.

In an incredible first-hand account, we read of a horribly disturbed and vicious man who preyed on the vulnerable, the weak and the frail, the disenfranchised. Most of these victims were female. Unsuspecting at the start and slowing driven to the terror of knowing their demise was looming over them.

Robert Durst is currently being held in prison during his trial for the murder of Susan Berman, who happened to be his best friend at one time and for many years.

William Steel is NOT the author's real name. It is a pseudonym that he is using for his protection. Protection from whom? From what? Robert Durst. And the law. He is currently at an undisclosed location and will be until the Durst matter is fully resolved.

The experiences and memories told by Steel are, at the very least, disturbing and at most, bone chilling and blood curdling. Some of it is so incredible that it would be hard to believe if you didn't know the history of the man in this book and also, the man telling the story.

William Steel is a former jewel and art thief. He has found his redemption and reformation in religion. He describes in as much detail as he can the horrific experiences he encountered as a close personal friend of Robert Durst.

There are many interesting things about this book. The first, and most obvious, is the personal and ongoing friendship with Durst. Steel felt from the very moment he met Durst (due to the circumstances) that Durst had killed his wife. This suspicion was bolstered as time went on until Durst practically confessed to Steel decades later.

William Steel was a thief. That's an admitted fact. That doesn't mean he didn't have a moral compass. He talks about his ill mother and the effects growing up with her had on him. He became a front line protector of his mother and other people he saw bullied, especially women. He may have done a lot of morally questionable things during his years of thievery but, he drew the line at violence. If he witnessed a woman getting mistreated, he became the "knight in shining armor" and at the same time maintained his distance as best he could from the horrors he was so often faced with.

Durst is a multimillionaire. A man on trial for murder with millions of dollars at his disposal for his dream team legal defense squad. But there are some serious hurdles the defense will have to overcome if they are going to get a Not Guilty verdict on the trial over Susan Berman's untimely demise. The biggest one being that Durst seems to talk about his crimes...a almost anyone. I have never heard of another serial murderer talking about his crimes so often to so many people.

There is a mountain of inside information from Steel about Durst. Not only his crimes but also just the kind of person and man that he was. Steel gives the exact kind of insight we always look for when talking about serial killers. Who was this person? How did he behave on a day to day basis? What did his eccentricities include and how did ALL of this relate to his crimes???

Another interesting thing is that, even with all his morals about human beings and women, Steel was still (AT THAT TIME) very much a criminal. His inaction in not reporting Durst to the police on many occasions stemmed from not having enough evidence, trying to set him up for blackmail or arrest AND keeping himself, and others, safe from Durst.

The ability to not only put up with someone like Robert Durst but to also be able to stomach the things he did is an incredible feat. There are MANY instances described in detail where Steel, like any normal human being, would want to kill Durst. But, his ability to read Durst and manipulate him saved his own life and at least two others.

Throughout reading this whole book it was never forgotten that the narrator was a convicted criminal. HOWEVER, not all criminals are violent and bad people and NOT ALL CRIMINALS lie. While it is true that we do see a lot of criminals lie a vast majority of the time, do NOT let that cloud your ability to accept information from a first-hand source.

Steel repeats various things many times throughout the book and although I know that books go through many drafts and editing processes, his core statements never change. He accepts what he was and is honest about what happened. Even with things, as he tells us a few times, that are incredibly embarrassing to him.

That's not always easy for a man to do.

Plus, after reading this, you have to know that their chance meeting outside a restaurant would have been just that, a chance meeting between two strangers and nothing more. BUT, because of Robert's big boastful mouth and that of his partner and friend at the time, Susan Berman, William Steel was immediately curious about this "millionaire" and was hoping to get a scam going to swindle some money away from the rich man. Instead, what he got was first class, front row seat to the tragic psychopathy that makes up Robert Durst.

This book will creep anyone out. But it's ridiculous to think that people like this don't exist. The fact that he is currently on trial does give me some relief, although, these days, the justice system doesn't seem to be working as well as it could be. I, after reading this book, will be very curious to see how that trial progresses because I DO think Robert Durst killed his wife and others. The things in this book, some of them are just too far out to be made up. I mean, crime drama TV shows haven't even been able to come up with this kind of stuff.

Any true crime fan will love this book. Horror fans might be partial to it as well. Anyone with a weak stomach or is easily offended, this book isn't for you. You can wait for the Lifetime Channel made-for-TV movie.

5/5 Stars

Update: Since this is such a fast read and so fascinating, it would be ridiculous for you not to have your own copy. Visit the link below to purchase and shudder with horror and disbelief.

Amazon purchase link:

Quests and Quandaries (Book #1 of The Floating Isles)
Alda Yuan
9781949883008, $13.95 PB, $0.99 Kindle, 282 Pages,

Aradhna Kaur

When I first read the synopsis for the novel, I was immediately intrigued, because it sounded like it would be a little funny and irreverent, and honestly made me think of Dungeons & Dragons in the sense that anything could happen depending on how your dice rolled. I expected a fun story.

And that is what I got.

This was a satirical take on quest stories and fairytales, and gender roles in these stories. It poked fun at the stereotypical heroes and heroines and damsels in distress, all the while very much aware that it was a quest story with a princess at the helm. There was a very real chance of the characters becoming caricatures, but they did not, because they were allowed to make fun of themselves, and the story made fun of everything.

The footnotes were very reminiscent of The Princess Bride and more recently for me, Libba Bray's Beauty Queens, and it made the whole story feel like an inside joke that the readers were also in on.

The story did not take itself too seriously, and everything was very tongue-in-cheek, making it a very quick and enjoyable read.

Andrea's Bookshelf

Captain Maximiliano Luna: A New Mexico Rough Rider
Richard Melzer
Rio Grande Books
925 Salamanca NW, Los Ranchos, NM 87107
9781943681624 $19.95

Captain Maximiliano Luna: A New Mexico Rough Rider is the biography of one of New Mexico's Rough Riders, the colloquial name for the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War, and the only one to see combat. They came to be known as "Roosevelt's Rough Riders" when they were under the command of Theodore Roosevelt, years before he would become President of the United States. Captain Maximiliano Luna's story tells of his privileged upbringing, military training, service in Cuba and the Philippines, and his ultimate sacrifice. Expertly researched, featuring a wealth of annotations a handful of black-and-white photographs, a bibliography, and an index, Captain Maximiliano Luna: A New Mexico Rough Rider is work of scholarship that captivates the imagination. Highly recommended, especially for public and college library American Biography collections.

A Guide to the Gospels
W. Graham Scroggie
Kregel Publications
2450 Oak Industrial Drive, NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505
9780825439049 $35.99 pbk

A Guide to the Gospels is a classic, seminal work of biblical scholarship by author William Graham Scroggie (1877-1958). Critical-minded an enhanced with a plethora of charts, maps, and lists, A Guide to the Gospels scrutinizes each of the Gospels in-depth from both a historical and a spiritual perspective. Chapters include "Geographical Setting of the Gospel Story", "Genuineness and Authenticity", "The Person of Christ" and much more. Highly recommended, especially for public and church library collections.

Andrea Kay

Andy's Bookshelf

Mr. Know-It-All
John Waters
Macmillan Audio
175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 315, New York, NY 10010
9781250223944 $39.99

Read by author John Waters, Mr. Know-It-All is a wry, sardonic, tell-all audiobook flavored with Waters' uniquely blunt, insightful, and tongue-in-cheek sense of wit. Waters talks about how to build a home so ugly, yet so trendy, that no one but you would ever live in it; how to confess love without emotional risk; how to "fall upward" in Hollywood; and much more. Mr. Know-It-All is acerbic, biting, and utterly hilarious. Highly recommended, especially for personal and public library collections. 8 CDs, 10 hours.

Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro Overture
The Great Kat
$2.99 rent / $9.99 digital purchase

The Great Kat (a.k.a. "The World's Fastest Guitar Shredder") presents an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, utterly sensational rendition of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro Overture (2 min.), a music video on DVD that demonstrates her brilliant guitar shredding skills. In the music video, The Great Kat shreds Mozart's classic work at breakneck speed on guitar/violin, in the role of Susanna. Count Almaviva tries to seduce Susanna, but Kat becomes a dominatrix-bride who whips Figaro into submission! (For obvious reasons, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro Overture is recommended to mature viewers). The audio of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro Overture is also available in CD or digital formats. It should be noted that, as of this writing, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro Overture music video is free for Amazon prime members to view.

Andy Jordan

Bethany's Bookshelf

Commuter Spouses
Danielle J. Lindemann
ILR Press
c/o Cornell University Press
512 East State Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
9781501731181, $19.95, PB, 198pp,

Synopsis: In "Commuter Spouses: New Families in a Changing World", Danielle Lindemann (Assistant Professor of Sociology, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) explores how couples cope when they live apart to meet the demands of their dual professional careers. Based on the personal stories of almost one-hundred commuter spouses, Lindemann shows how these atypical relationships embody (and sometimes disrupt!) gendered constructions of marriage in the United States.

These narratives of couples who physically separate to maintain their professional lives reveal the ways in which traditional dynamics within a marriage are highlighted even as they are turned on their heads. "Commuter Spouses" follows the journeys of these couples as they adapt to change and shed light on the durability of some cultural ideals, all while working to maintain intimacy in a non-normative relationship.

Professor Lindemann suggests that everything we know about marriage, and relationships in general, promotes the idea that couples are focusing more and more on their individual and personal betterment and less on their marriage. Commuter spouses, she argues, might be expected to exemplify in an extreme manner that kind of self-prioritization. Yet, as "Commuter Spouses" reveals in documented detail, commuter spouses actually maintain a strong commitment to their marriage. These partners illustrate the stickiness of traditional marriage ideals while simultaneously subverting expectations.

Critique: An extraordinary, original, and seminal work of meticulous and rigorous scholarship, "Commuter Spouses: New Families in a Changing World" is an unreservedly recommended and core addition to college and university library Contemporary American Sociology collections in general, and Modern Marriage, Family, and Labor Relations supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Commuter Spouses" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

The Great Within
Han F. de Wit
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115-4544
9781611806816, $24.95, PB, 360pp,

Synopsis: In the pages of "The Great Within: The Transformative Power and Psychology of the Spiritual Path", psychologist Han de Wit explores the psychology found in age-old contemplative traditions and takes us deep into the mind of the spiritual practitioner. Using Buddhism as a framework, and drawing insights from several world religions, "The Great Within" demonstrates how contemplative practices can open us up to our own wisdom and compassion. The result is a vivid illumination of the process of spiritual transformation and an important contribution to contemporary psychology and psychotherapy.

Critique: Impressively thoughtful and thought provoking, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Great Within: The Transformative Power and Psychology of the Spiritual Path" will have a special and enduring appeal for students of psychology and practitioners of Buddhism. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of eight pages of Notes, a six page Bibliography, and a fifteen page Index, "The Great Within" is a fully and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary Psychology, Philosophy, and Buddhism Studies 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 "The Great Within" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Han F. de Wit received his PhD in psychology from the University of Amsterdam in 1977. In 1983, as a visiting scholar at Naropa University, he started a research program that brought him international acclaim as a founder of contemplative psychology. Trained as a Buddhist teacher by Chogyam Trungpa and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, he is also involved through his writings in the dialogue of Buddhism with Western psychology, philosophy, and religion.

Night School: A Reader for Grownups
Zsofia Ban
Open Letter Books
c/o University of Rochester
Lattimore Hall 411, Box 270082, Rochester, NY 14627
9781940953885, $15.95, PB, 270pp,

Synopsis: "Zsofia Ban's Night School: A Reader for Adults" by Zsofia Ban uses a textbook format to build an encyclopedia of life presented subject by subject and ranging from self-help to geography to chemistry to French.

With subtle irony, Ban's collection of "lectures" guides readers through the importance and uses of the power of Nohoo (or "know-how"), tells of the travels of young Flaubert to Egypt with his friend Maxime, and includes a missive from Laika the dog minutes before being blasted off into space, never to be seen again.

A wildly clever read that makes our ordinary and familiar world appear simultaneously to be foreign and untamed as it brings together lust, taboos, and the absurd in order to teach us the art of living.

Critique: Ably translated from Hungarian by Jim Tucker (who is a classical philologist living in Budapest, translated works from German, French, and Italian before making the acquaintance of George Konrad for whom he has translated some 35 essays from the Hungarian, in addition to works by numerous other authors), "Night School: A Reader for Grownups" by Zsofia Ban is an extraordinarily thought-provoking page turner of a read from cover to cover. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Night School: A Reader for Grownups" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.42).

Editorial Note: Zsofia Ban grew up in Brazil and Hungary, and is the author of three works of fiction and four essay collections. She has won the Glass Marble Prize, Tibo Dery Prize, Palladium Prize, Mozgo Vilag Prize, Attila Jozsef Prize, and Balassa Peter Prize for her writing. A former writer-in-residence at the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) program, she is currently a professor of American Studies at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary.

Human-Powered Poetry from the Appalachian Trail
Daniel Zube
Peter E. Randall Publisher
9781937721770, $14.95, PB, 112pp,

Synopsis: "Human-Powered Poetry from the Appalachian Trail: A Thru-Hiker's Perspective" is a compendium of poems and color photographs by Daniel Zube that provide his readers with the essence of his experience when thru-hiking all 2189.8 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Critique: A simple, deftly crafted, and pervasive pleasure to browse through from cover to cover, "Human-Powered Poetry from the Appalachian Trail: A Thru-hiker's Perspective" is an extraordinary combination of poetry and imagery that will prove impressively inspirational and entertaining for anyone who is an outdoor enthusiast enjoying their own hikes and rambles through the natural world. Especially ideal for armchair travelers as well, "Human-Powered Poetry from the Appalachian Trail" will prove to be an immediately prized and enduringly welcome addition to personal and community library collections.

The Flower Fix
Anna Potter
White Lion Publishing
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
9781781317884, $27.00, HC, 208pp,

Synopsis: From blousy blooms, to speckled branches, to rich foliage and delicate petals; nature has the power to inspire and energize, calm and soothe, focus and still. In "The Flower Fix" Anna Potter has harnessed this magic with 26 tailor-made combinations of flowers to bring a floral boost to your home, no matter what your mood.

With easy-to-find seasonal blooms, found items such as twigs and dried fruit, and any assortment of containers, discover how simple it is to bring a little bit of nature's mystery into the everyday. Spanning all seasons and including both larger installations and smaller, simpler projects, there is something for anyone looking to play, experiment, and create atmosphere with flowers.

Each project lists the equipment, flowers, and foliage needed to start the project along with step-by-step instructions. You'll also find a guide to basic flower arranging; notes on color palettes and how to use color; and a flower glossary listing the color, seasonal availability, and vase life of each flower.

Beautifully and profusely illustrated throughout, "The Flower Fix" is an inherent pleasure to browse through, to inspire ideas of interior decor with, and an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to personal and community library collections. It should be noted that "The Flower Fix" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.81).

Rebecca E. Bender & Kenneth M. Bender
North Dakota State University Press
North Dakota State University
Dept. 2360, PO Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050
9781946163059, $34.95, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: More than four hundred Russian and Romanian Jewish homesteaders settled on about eighty-five farms in McIntosh County, North Dakota, beginning in 1905. After clearing rocks and boulders, growing wheat and flax, raising cattle and chickens, and selling cream from their sod houses, most were successful enough to own their own land.

"Still" by Rebecca Bender and her late father Kenneth Bender is a history of five generations, a family we meet first as they flee Odessa and last as they make their ways as American Jews -- and as Dakota farmers, as students and storekeepers, as soldiers and lawyers, and even as a teen in an international competition who stands face-to-face with Netanyahu.

Rebecca Bender and Kenneth Bender collaboratively answer the question recently posed to Rebecca by a newspaper reporter: Are you still Jewish?

Critique: An inherently engaging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read, "Still" is an extraordinary history that is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of an appendix (Still, lyrics and music by Rebecca E. Bender), a four page Biobliography, and a ten page Index. "Still" is an extraordinary, unique, and unreservedly recommended contribution to personal, community, and academic library American History and Contemporary Judaic History collections and supplemental studies lists.

Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism
Lisa Taylor, editor
Louisiana State University Press
338 Johnston Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803
9780807170489, $47.50, HC, 288pp,

Synopsis: Compiled and edited by Lisa Taylor (Professor of English at Sinclair Community College and the editor of Teaching Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms"), "Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism" examines the connections linking two major American writers of the twentieth century -- Edith Wharton (January 24, 1862 - August 11, 1937) and Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899 - July 2, 1961).

"Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism" is comprised of twelve critical essays collectively revealing the two writers' overlapping contexts, interests, and aesthetic techniques. These contributions are accompanied by a foreword from Wharton scholar Laura Rattray, and a critical introduction by Professor Tyler as the volume editor, contributors.

Together, the essays in this engaging collection prove that comparative studies of Wharton and Hemingway open new avenues for understanding the pivotal aesthetic and cultural movements central to the development of American literary modernism.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism" is an erudite and impressively informative contribution that is especially recommended for college and university library Literary Studies in general, as well as Edith Wharton and/or Ernest Hemingway supplemental reading lists in particular. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $42.66).

Setting a Table for Two
Avraham Peretz Friedman
Compass Books
9780986177439, $21.34, PB, 140pp,

Synopsis: "Setting a Table for Two: Enhancing Relationships, Achieving Intimacy" by Rabbi Avraham Friedman is an instructional manual and guide that combines the best wisdom available today in the world of marriage counseling with the timeless wisdom of our holy Sages within a Judaic tradition.

In a world where marriages are suffering and need the most support possible, "Setting a table for Two" offers understandable and practical methods for bolstering and strengthening a Jewish marriage. If you wish to enhance your relationship, achieve real intimacy and create a safe space for your marriage to flourish, "Setting a Table for Two" is a certain an invaluable resource to help you succeed at just that!

Critique: As inspired and inspiring as it is 'real world practical', "Setting a Table for Two: Enhancing Relationships, Achieving Intimacy" is impressively 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended for couples within the Judaic community seeking to make their marriages prosper both emotionally and spiritually. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Setting a Table for Two" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $1.99).

Editorial Note: A popular speaker and author, Rabbi Avraham Peretz [Cary A.] Friedman received semichah from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Formerly Executive Director of the Duke University Jewish Learning Experience, as well as Associate Editor of OU Press, Rabbi Friedman is the author of eight books (among them "Table for Two," "Marital Intimacy," "Chanukas HaTorah," and "Beautiful Days, Holy Days") and his work has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Jewish Observer, Jewish Action, Horizons, and Mishpacha.

Living with a Green Heart
Gay Browne
Citadel Press
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9780806539003, $15.95, PB, 288pp,

Synopsis: "Living with a Green Heart: How to Keep Your Body, Your Home, and the Planet Healthy in a Toxic World" was written by Gay Brown (an environmental pioneer and founder of Greenopia) specifically for those who are worried that the environmental damage we are doing to our planet literally leaving them sick, sore, and gasping for unpolluted air. For those wanting to take back our inalienable rights to clean air, clean water, and healthy food.

From the home to the office, from the foods we eat to the clothes we wear, "Living with a Green Heart" is a compendium of practical actions that can be taken today that will improve anyone's Personal Environmental Health, and help them to stop feeling overwhelmed, reduce illness, improve sleep, mood, and focus, and start making a difference.

"Living with a Green Heart" will help the reader to: Make conscious choices when shopping, and support companies with good environmental stewardship and healthy products; Test water for harmful chemicals, install an affordable water filtration system, and reduce water use by utilizing water more efficiently; Work with a family doctor to create a personal plan for detoxing your body; Use only non-toxic and organic household products, and choose organic, eco-friendly fabrics made by sustainable and fair trade certified companies; Choose the method of transportation that makes the lightest carbon footprint.

The underlying message of "Living with a Green Heart" is that even the smallest change for the better, faithfully practiced, can have an immense positive impact on our minds, bodies, and spirits -- not to mention the planet!

Critique: Impressively informative, exceptionally well written, impressively organized, expertly presented, "Living with a Green Heart: How to Keep Your Body, Your Home, and the Planet Healthy in a Toxic World" is as 'reader friendly' as it is 'real world practical' -- making it highly recommended as a core addition to both community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement instructional reference collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of students, environmental activists, and non-specialist readers with an interest in the subject that "Living with a Green Heart" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Susan Bethany

Buhle's Bookshelf

Military Realism
Peter Campbell
University of Missouri Press
113 Heinkel Bldg., 201 S. 7th Street, Columbia, MO 65211
9780826221841, $50.00, HC, 390pp,

Synopsis: After the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army considered counterinsurgency (COIN) a mistake to be avoided. Many found it surprising, then, when setbacks in recent conflicts led the same army to adopt a COIN doctrine. Scholarly debates have primarily employed existing theories of military bureaucracy or culture to explain the army's re-embrace of COIN, but in "Military Realism: The Logic and Limits of Force and Innovation in the U.S. Army", Peter Campbell (Assistant Professor of Political Science at Baylor University) advances a unique argument centering on military realism to explain the complex evolution of army doctrinal thinking from 1960 to 2008.

In five case studies of U.S. Army doctrine, Professor Campbell pits military realism against bureaucratic and cultural perspectives in three key areas (nuclear versus conventional warfare, preferences for offense versus defense, and COIN missions) and finds that the army has been more doctrinally flexible than those perspectives would predict. He demonstrates that decision makers, while vowing in the wake of Vietnam to avoid (COIN) missions, nonetheless found themselves adapting to the geopolitical realities of fighting "low intensity" conflicts. In essence, he demonstrates that pragmatism has won out over dogmatism.

At a time when American policymakers remain similarly conflicted about future defense strategies, Campbell's work will undoubtedly shape and guide the debate.

Critique: Informative, thoughtful and thought provoking, "Military Realism: The Logic and Limits of Force and Innovation in the U.S. Army" is an extraordinary and meticulous study that is enhanced with the inclusion of sixty pages of Notes, a sixteen page Bibliography, and a nine page Index. Exceptionally well organized and presented, this scholarly analysis is very highly recommended as a core addition to community, college, and university library Military History and Military Science collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Military Realism" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $42.66).

The Scars We Carve
Allison M. Johnson
Louisiana State University Press
338 Johnston Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803
9780807170373, $45.00, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: In "The Scars We Carve: Bodies and Wounds in Civil War Print Culture", Allison M. Johnson (Assistant Professor of American Literature, San Jose State University) considers the ubiquitous images of bodies (white and black, male and female, soldier and civilian) that appear throughout newspapers, lithographs, poems, and other texts circulated during and in the decades immediately following the Civil War. Rather than dwelling on the work of well-known authors, "The Scars We Carve" uncovers a powerful archive of Civil War - era print culture in which the individual body and its component parts, marked by violence or imbued with rhetorical power, testify to the horrors of war and the lasting impact of the internecine conflict.

The Civil War brought about vast changes to the nation's political, social, racial, and gender identities, and Professor Johnson argues that print culture conveyed these changes to readers through depictions of nonnormative bodies. She focuses on images portrayed in the pages of newspapers and journals, in the left-handed writing of recent amputees who participated in penmanship contests, and in the accounts of anonymous poets and storytellers. Professor Johnson reveals how allegories of the feminine body as a representation of liberty and the nation carved out a place for women in public and political realms, while depictions of slaves and black soldiers justified black manhood and citizenship in the midst of sectional crisis.

By highlighting the extent to which the violence of the conflict marked the physical experience of American citizens, as well as the geographic and symbolic bodies of the republic, "The Scars We Carve" diverges from narratives of the Civil War that stress ideological abstraction, showing instead that the era's print culture contains a literary and visual record of the war that is embodied and individualized.

Critique: A unique and seminal work of scholarship, "The Scars We Carve: Bodies and Wounds in Civil War Print Culture" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of twenty-eight pages of Notes, a twenty-page Bibliography, and a nine page Index. Impressively informative, exceptionally well organized, "The Scars We Carve" should be considered a core addition to community, college, and academic library American Civil War History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Scars We Carve" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $36.02).

No Spiritual Investment in the World
Willem Styfhals
Cornell University Press
512 East State Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
9781501730993, $95.00, HC, 306pp,

Synopsis: Throughout the twentieth century, German writers, philosophers, theologians, and historians turned to Gnosticism to make sense of the modern condition. While some saw this ancient Christian heresy as a way to rethink modernity, most German intellectuals questioned Gnosticism's return in a contemporary setting. In "No Spiritual Investment in the World: Gnosticism and Postwar German Philosophy", Willem Styfhals (who is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) at the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven) explores the Gnostic worldview's enigmatic place in these discourses on modernity, presenting a comprehensive intellectual history of Gnosticism's role in postwar German thought.

Establishing the German-Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes at the nexus of the debate, Styfhals traces how such figures as Hans Blumenberg, Hans Jonas, Eric Voegelin, Odo Marquard, and Gershom Scholem contended with Gnosticism and its tenets on evil and divine absence as metaphorical detours to address issues of cultural crisis, nihilism, and the legitimacy of the modern world. These concerns, he argues, centered on the difficulty of spiritual engagement in a world from which the divine has withdrawn. Reading Gnosticism against the backdrop of postwar German debates about secularization, political theology, and post-secularism, "No Spiritual Investment in the World" sheds new light on the historical contours of postwar German philosophy.

Critique: Exceptionally well organized and including a fourteen page Bibliography, along with a thirteen page Index, "No Spiritual Investment in the World: Gnosticism and Postwar German Philosophy" is an extraordinary and seminal work of outstanding scholarship that is unreservedly recommended for college and university library Contemporary Philosophy collections and supplemental studies curriculum textbook lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "No Spiritual Investment in the World: Gnosticism and Postwar German Philosophy" is also available in a paperback edition (9781501731006, $32.58) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Senegal Abroad
Maya Angela Smith
University of Wisconsin Press
1930 Monroe Street, Third Floor, Madison, WI 53711-2059
9780299320508, $79.95, HC, 232pp,

Synopsis: "Senegal Abroad: Linguistic Borders, Racial Formations, and Diasporic Imaginaries" by Maya Angela Smith (Assistant Professor of French and Italian studies at the University of Washington) explores the fascinating role of language in national, transnational, postcolonial, racial, and migrant identities.

Capturing the experiences of Senegalese in Paris, Rome, and New York, "Senegal Abroad" depicts how they make sense of who they are -- and how they fit into their communities, countries, and the larger global Senegalese diaspora. Drawing on extensive interviews with a wide range of emigrants as well as people of Senegalese heritage, Professor Smith contends that they shape their identity as they purposefully switch between languages and structure their discourse.

The Senegalese are notable, Professor Smith suggests, both in their capacity for movement and in their multifaceted approach to language. She finds that, although the emigrants she interviews express complicated relationships to the multiple languages they speak and the places they inhabit, they also convey pleasure in both travel and language. Offering a mix of poignant, funny, reflexive, introspective, and witty stories, they blur the lines between the utility and pleasure of language, allowing a more nuanced understanding of why and how Senegalese move.

Critique: An erudite and insightful study that is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of thirty-for pages of Notes, a twenty-six page Bibliography, a ten page General Index, and a one page Index of the Informants, "Senegal Abroad: Linguistic Borders, Racial Formations, and Diasporic Imaginaries" is an outstanding work of original scholarship that will prove to be an invaluable contribution to college and university library Literary Criticism, Senegal Cultural Studies, and Linquistic Studies collections and supplemental curriculum textbook lists.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

Early Puerto Rican Cinema and Nation Building
Naida Garcia-Crespo
Bucknell University Press
Bucknell University
1 Dent Drive, Lewisburg, PA 17837
9781684481187, $99.95, HC, 250pp,

Synopsis: "Early Puerto Rican Cinema and Nation Building: National Sentiments, Transnational Realities, 1897-1940" by Naida Garcia-Crespo (who is an Assistant Professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland) focuses on the processes of Puerto Rican national identity formation as seen through the historical development of cinema on the island between 1897 and 1940.

Anchoring her work in archival sources in film technology, economy, and education, Professor Garcia-Crespo argues that Puerto Rico's position as a stateless nation allows for a fresh understanding of national cinema based on perceptions of productive cultural contributions rather than on citizenship or state structures. "Early Puerto Rican Cinema and Nation Building" significantly contributes to the recently expanding discussions of cultural networks by analyzing how Puerto Rican cinema navigates the problems arising from the connection and/or disjunction between nation and state.

Professor Garcia-Crespo persuasively argues that Puerto Rico's position as a stateless nation puts pressure on traditional conceptions of national cinema, which tend to rely on assumptions of state support or a bounded nation-state. She also contends that the cultural and business practices associated with early cinema reveal that transnationalism is an integral part of national identities and their development.

Professor Garcia-Crespo shows throughout this study that the development and circulation of cinema in Puerto Rico illustrates how the "national" is built from transnational connections.

Critique: A seminal work of original and meticulous scholarship, "Early Puerto Rican Cinema and Nation Building: National Sentiments, Transnational Realities, 1897-1940" is a unique and valued contribution to Puerto Rican history and popular culture. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a fourteen page Bibliography, thirty-two pages of Notes, and a three page Index, "Early Puerto Rican Cinema and Nation Building: National Sentiments, Transnational Realities, 1897-1940" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, faculty members, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Early Puerto Rican Cinema and Nation Building" is also available in a paperback edition (9781684481170, $34.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $34.95).

Baby Don't Hurt Me
Chris Kattan
BenBella Books
10300 N. Central Expressway, Suite 400, Dallas, TX 75204
9781944648497, $24.95, HC, 270pp,

Synopsis: Chris Kattan has defied comparison, expectations, and sometimes gravity with his inimitable style of physical comedy. By creating some of the most memorable Saturday Night Live characters, as well as his many roles in film and television, Kattan has remained one of the most fearless and versatile comedians in the world.

Not long after Chris was labeled one of the improv group Groundlings' "must-see" performers in the company, he was cast on SNL -- and within the first six weeks, Chris's film career also took off.

Now in his memoir "Baby Don't Hurt Me: Stories and Scars from Saturday Night Live" and for the first time, Kattan opens up about eight seasons on SNL, performing alongside friends and future legends including Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, and Tina Fey, and guest hosts from Charlize Theron to Tom Hanks to David Bowie. He also shares stories of his unusual childhood (involving a secluded mountain with zen monks) with Leonard Cohen and Alan Watts.

"Baby, Don't Hurt Me" offers SNL fans an unprecedented look into Chris's life, from his fascinating relationship with Lorne Michaels, a private Valentine's Day dinner with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, an unforgettable flight with Beyonce, and even breaking his neck on live television.

Critique: Deftly written with candor, wit, and a true insider's insights, "Baby, Don't Hurt Me" is an utterly fascinating and inherently entertaining read from cover to cover. While certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of SNL enthusiasts in general, and Chris Kattan fans in particular, that "Baby Don't Hurt Me" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.72).

The Long Revolution of the Global South
Samir Amin
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583677742, $89.00, HC, 408pp,

Synopsis: Samir Amin is Director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal and President of the World Forum for Alternatives. His numerous works include Eurocentrism: The World We Wish to See, The Liberal Virus, Unequal Development, and Spectres of Capitalism.

"The Long Revolution of the Global South: Toward a New Anti-Imperialist International"is second volume of the autobiographical memoirs of Samir Amin.

In this continuation of his life story Amin takes us on a journey to a dizzying array of countries, recounting the stages of his ongoing dialogue over several decades with popular movements struggling for a better future.

As in his many works over the years, "The Long Revolution of the Global South" combines Amin's astute theoretical analyses of the challenges confronting the world's oppressed peoples with militant action.

In these final writings based on his life, Amin presents us with theoretical interventions, analyses of political conjunctures, and narration of personal experiences. Amin's reminiscences of travels to places too often overlooked by the world at large are a joy to read.

We even catch a glimpse of some of his memorable (and sometimes not so memorable) culinary adventures!

Critique: An impressively erudite memoir that is exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Long Revolution of the Global South: Toward a New Anti-Imperialist International" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Biography collections and Globalization Studies supplemental curriculum lists. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Long Revolution of the Global South" is also available in a paperback edition (9781583677735, $30.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.00).

Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar
Ron A. Austin
Southeast Missouri State University Press
One University Plaza, MS 2650, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701
9781732039919, $18.00, PB, 172pp,

Synopsis: Winner of the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel, Ron A. Austin's semi-autobiographical, linked story collection, "Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar" follows the misadventures of Avery Colt as he struggles to survive in North St. Louis alongside his family.

Learning the best way to slaughter a goat, rebuilding his family's corner market, and reckoning the weight of a revolver are just a few of the challenges Avery faces. As he matures through each page, Avery takes control of his circumstances and attempts dangerous feats of alchemy. By confronting his own fears and limitations, he seeks to transform cruelty into compassion, rind into fruit, despair into hope.

Charged with urgency and emotion, Austin's prose faithfully renders a community determined to overcome crisis with strength, dark humor, and plenty of heart.

Critique: An erudite compendium of original short stories that are as inherently entertaining as they are deftly crafted and presented, "Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar" is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

John Burroughs

Carson's Bookshelf

The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA
Richard L. Holm
Mountain Lake Press
24 D Street, Mountain Lake Park, MD 21550
9780981477374, $30.00, HC, 584pp,

Synopsis: Many books, fiction and nonfiction alike, purport to probe the inner workings of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Many (including the current Trump administration) attempt to allege that America's civilian spy operation has run amok and been infested with rogues and criminals.

"The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA" is the candid story of CIA director Richard L. Holm, complete with accounts of suspense, of harrowing encounters, of villains. But this personal and professional autobiography is different. It is a straightforward, honest, surprisingly captivating memoir by one of the CIA's most well-known and honored career officers.

For more than three decades, Richard L. Holm worked in the agency's Directorate of Operations now the National Clandestine Service the component directly responsible for collecting human intelligence. His assignments took him to seven countries on three continents, and his travels added many more destinations. At almost every turn Holm encountered his share of dangerous characters and situations, including one that nearly ended his life before he turned 30.

But "The Craft We Chose" is more than a detailed chronicle of those episodes. It also reveals Holm's private life, his roots and family, his courtship and marriage, and his four daughters, whom he affectionately calls his platoon.

Critique: Timely given the current nature of our national politics and the dedicated attempts by President Donald J. Trump to undermine American confidence in our intelligence community, "The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA" is a clear reminder of how dedicated the men and women of our Central Intelligence Agency truly are. An inherently fascinating and impressively informative read from beginning to end, "The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA" is unreservedly recommended as an essential, core addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Going to the Wars
John Verney
Paul Dry Books
1700 Sansom Street, Suite 700, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5214
9781589881310, $17.95, PB, 250pp,

Synopsis: "My brother officers. Are they human?" Thus reads the first journal entry of twenty-three-year-old John Verney, graduate of Eton and Oxford, lover of modern art and literature, who has, almost on a whim, joined a part-time cavalry regiment of the British Army in 1937.

At the outbreak of World War II two years later, Verney arrives in the Middle East and there learns, almost in spite of himself, to be a soldier. In 1943, he becomes a parachutist and leads a "drop" into Sardinia to attack German airfields. His adventures there (two weeks wandering through enemy territory, his capture, and his eventual escape) are brilliantly told in "Going to the Wars: A Journey in Various Directions".

Woven into the fabric of this narrative of a young man growing reluctantly to maturity and coming to terms with military life, are Verney's thoughts and feelings about his wife, Lucinda, and the child he has never seen, and his longing to return to them.

Critique: An absorbing, thoughtful, deftly written, and deeply personal story, "Going to the Wars: A Journey in Various Directions" by John Verney is an extraordinary account that is unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Military History & Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Going to the Wars" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99)

Editorial Note: John Verney (1913 - 1993) was a writer, painter, and illustrator. An assistant film director, officer in the North Somerset Yeomanry, and newlywed at the outbreak of war in 1939, he subsequently served in the Royal Armoured Corps and the fledgling Special Air Service. He fought in Syria, Egypt, Sardinia, and Italy. His other military adventures in Italy are told in his book "A Dinner of Herbs", which is also published by Paul Dry Books.

On Active Grounds
Robert Boschman & Mario Trono, editors
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3C5
9781771123396, $42.99, PB, 296pp,

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Robert Boschman (Professor of English, Languages, and Cultures at Mount Royal University, Calgary) and Mario Trono ( who teaches at Mount Royal University, Sunapee, New Hampshire), "On Active Grounds: Agency and Time in the Environmental Humanities" considers the themes of agency and time through the burgeoning, interdisciplinary field of the environmental humanities.

Comprised of fourteen essays and a photo album covering topics such as environmental practices and history, temporal literacy, graphic novels, ecocinema, ecomusicology, animal studies, Indigeneity, wolf reintroduction, environmental history, green conservatism, and social-ecological systems change, "On Active Grounds" also speaks to the growing concern regarding environmental issues in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

This erudite collection is organized as a written and visual appeal to issues such as time (how much is left?) and agency (who is active? what can be done? what does and does not work?). It describes problems and suggests solutions. "On Active Grounds" is unique in its explicit and twinned emphasis on time and agency in the context of the Environmental Humanities and a requisite interdisciplinarity.

Critique: Enhanced with the inclusion of numerous images, a listing of the contributors and their credentials, and an eleven page index, "On Active Grounds: Agency and Time in the Environmental Humanities" is a timely, thought-provoking, and seminal work of scholarship that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, social/political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "On Active Grounds" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $30.00).

Michael J. Carson

Charlier's Bookshelf

Madeline Miller
Little, Brown & Company
c/o Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104
9780316556347, $27.00, Hardcover, $13.99, Kindle

Madeline Miller burst onto the literary scene only a couple of years ago with her first novel, Song of Achilles, which instantly became a best-seller. I ignored it at the time; I'm not a fan of fantasy novels, and a rewrite of Greek mythology - with magic, underworld, and epic battles amongst the gods - is about as close to fantasy as you can get without vampires. But now that I have read Circe at the advice of my agent, I plan to dive into Achilles next.

What has drawn me in is the page-turning quality of Miller's writing. Yes, she knows the classics (her BA and MA are in classics), but she also knows hatred, love, fear, loneliness, passion, hunger, and the strength it takes to marshal the forces to manage them all, whether goddess or mortal. The truths that come to Circe as she learns what it means to be mortal - and eventually chooses it - put every self-help book on every library and bookstore shelf to shame. These lessons don't come as quotable aphorisms that might caption a poster of a soaring eagle or erupting volcano, but as slow revelations about how humans connect with each other, for good and for evil, for now and for eternity, because of their mortality.

Many of the ancient stories retold in this novel are familiar to us, if only vaguely, but the author infuses them with living humans/gods that we can understand and relate to in a way that I never could with Homer's hero/villain Odysseus, for one. By stepping away from the epic battles and monsters that dominate the ancient mythology, and entering the mind and body and garden of Circe, Miller has made the stories relevant to those of us whose battles aren't fought with magic and swords, but with daily compromises and small emotional losses and victories. Further, the natural rhythm of the author's voice (what? complete sentences?) make this novel more accessible than many that purport to describe the real world we live in. A reader can settle into this story from the first page as the quotidian detail of Circe tending her gardens, mixing her potions, and walking around her island with her lion and wolves are rendered without literary artifice.

I highly recommend Circe, regardless of your interest in mythology. If you're interested in what makes humans tick, this book is for you.

Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump
Rick Reilly
Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104
9780316528085, $28.00, Hardcover, $14.99, Kindle

Of the dozens - perhaps hundreds - of books inspired by the presidency of Donald Trump, my guess is very few will ever change anyone's mind about him. People who love him buy and read books that praise him; people who hate him buy and read books that excoriate him.

But I say "very few" instead of "none" because Commander in Cheat may be one book that could change a Trump supporter's mind about Trump - if they can get past the title and the unflattering (but frequently published) photo of him on the front. Because golf is largely a rich (yes, some poor people play golf, including me) man's (yes, 6 million American women play golf, including me) sport, country clubs around the world are largely Republican bastions (except for mine, again). But Republican or not, if a person plays golf, and if she loves it, she can't help but hate what Donald Trump has done to the sport.

I would never have guessed this book would be written by Rick Reilly, a veteran golf reporter whose own novels about golf are so sexist they compelled me to write my own two golf novels with strong female (not the bar-cart girl) protagonists. But he won me over with this book, which reads more like a cri-de-coeur of a man trying to save golf for the world than one obsessed with politics. "We were just getting past the stereotype of golf being a game for fat, blowhard, rich white guys playing on fenced-off courses while people of color push lawnmowers behind them - and along comes Trump," he writes in his sum-it-all up final chapter titled "The Stain."

Commander in Cheat covers a lot of territory, from the way Trump cheats on the course to the way he cheats in business; from the way he bullies caddies and playing partners to the way he bullies countries and governments; from the way he lies about his golf courses to the way he lies about his affairs with porn stars; from the way he ignores the rules and etiquettes most golfers hold sacred to the way he ignored Puerto Rico's hurricane devastation. I'm certain that the book won't change the minds of his staunchest political supporters - who include his "inside caddy" - his social media manager - and his "outside caddy" - the guy who carries his golf clubs to and from his cart (Donald never walks). But it might reach across the aisle to some of those who hate cheating in golf enough to start to question the man who's made cheating great again.

Little Faith
Nickolas Butler
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
9780062469717, $26.99, hardcover, $1.99, Kindle

There is a sentence about one-fifth of the way into this gentle, tragic novel that made me fall in love with the protagonist. "He had learned, over decades of marriage, that when he was not actively listening to Peg, it was in fact more dangerous to pretend that he was."

Reading that wise lesson, written with all the humility and good sense we hope our husbands possess after "decades of marriage," reminded me how powerful it is when a great writer creates a character so human, flawed and loving that it gives us a new perspective on very old realities - in this case a decades-long marriage and the heartbreaking work of being a grandparent.

Butler's story is about Lyle, a grandfather who tries to protect his precious, precocious grandson, Isaac, from a holy-roller preacher whom his mother has fallen in love with, at the same time that he is struggling with his own loss of faith. A classic clash between a high-dollar evangelical religious cult run by a charismatic and narcissistic pastor, and the quiet, pragmatic religion of rural America forms the central tension of the novel. Lyle's life-long friends - a pastor, a similarly retired co-worker, and a couple who owns an apple orchard that soaks some of Lyle's post-retirement excess time - provide sounding boards for Lyle's concerns about Isaac's health, the bizarre behavior of his hyper-religious daughter, and the scary power of the handsome, well-spoken preacher who has won over a congregation by the power of his personality. His interactions with them are quotidian, yet infused with empathy, reason, and sincerity; and devoid of cynicism, rancor and pretension. Yet despite its calm delivery, both Lyle's pain and his benevolence will haunt you long after you've finished its tear-inducing last pages.

The impetus for his novel, Butler tells us in an author's note at the end, was the death of an 11-year-old girl in Wisconsin (the author's home state) from complications of undiagnosed juvenile diabetes that went untreated as her family prayed for her recovery, eschewing modern medical care. Like hers, Isaac's story will break your heart at the same time that the love that radiates from this beautiful novel will help it mend.

Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens
G. P. Putnam's Sons
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780735219090, Hardcover, $26.00

Even if you hibernate far from civilization - deep in a Carolina marsh, say - you must have heard of this book. By early May, it had been on the NYT Best Seller list for 32 weeks - many of those weeks it was at No. 1. Typically, I have no problem ignoring many books that top the fiction sales lists, especially if they're another in a series of murder mysteries, courtroom dramas, fantasy/vampire novels or other such genre. But when a book of literary fiction becomes so well-read (or well-bought, anyway), I start to believe there must be something to it. Word of mouth is the best way to boost a book's popularity, and I began to think there had to be something special about Where the Crawdads Sing, or so many people wouldn't be recommending it to their friends.

Yet, I waited many weeks to read it because so many synopses I had read didn't captivate me, which just proves that some books thrive in spite of their marketing, rather than because of it. The short descriptions stressed the "strangeness" of the "Marsh Girl," as Kya is known to the townsfolk in nearby, tiny, backwater Barkley Cove, and the conservative community's view of this remarkable woman, even though the book is written from the perspective of Kya's beautiful world, looking inward and out, not the town, looking in. Also, many critics glossed over the beauty of this story or its writing, some even comparing this book with Barbara Kingsolver's novels, which frankly is an insult to Delia Owens. Both her action and scene-setting passages have much more momentum than Kingsolver's often laborious, tedious and pretentious writing.

Kya grows up alone in the marsh of the Carolina coast, abandoned by her dysfunctional family, and teaches herself how to survive. Tate, a sensitive, less-isolated young man, is drawn to her and befriends her in spite of the town's disapproval. They share a love of nature and the way it accommodates the joys of solitude, learning and reflection. He teaches her to read, and from there, she blossoms, but after Tate leaves her for an academic career, she is charged with and tried for the murder of the town bully.

This is Ms. Owens' debut as a novelist, which is surprising, given how beautifully she has mastered the elements of character, plot, tension, setting and arc of the form. How does anyone write such a beautiful masterpiece right out of the box? Her previous books - "three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa," as the book jacket relates - obviously indicate how she mastered nature writing, however.

In spite of the joy with which I consumed this book, I had three little reservations. First, the amount of head-hopping - switches in viewpoint from one person to another - within scenes indicated perhaps too little attention form her editor. Second, I am not a fan of courtroom drama, and the one here just seems to prolong the denouement without adding anything to our knowledge of what happened. Third, the very last few sentences of the book seemed unnecessary. We really don't need - or maybe even want - to know who really killed the town bully to enjoy this novel.

All that said, the two days I spent in a lodge in the Black Hills, waiting for the rain to stop, reading this novel were among the most pleasant I can remember for a long time. This book was engrossing in the way nothing has been for me since A Gentleman in Moscow, the last novel I can say I found impossible to put down until I had blown through its last pages.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Clint's Bookshelf

Cover-Ups & Secrets
Nick Redfern
Visible Ink Press
43311 Joy Rd., #414, Canton, MI 48187-2075
9781578596799, $19.95, PB, 400pp,

Synopsis: Newly increasing fears of nuclear war, widespread surveillance of the population, the increasing incidences of mass shootings, the rise of a totalitarian state and so much more have led millions of American citizens to distrust the word of their government.

Then there are the seemingly countless conspiracy theories in circulation that suggest the world as we see it is not as it really is. Everywhere there seem to be disinformation campaigns from the Russians and others trying to tell us that up is down and right is wrong.

The last few years particularly have seen an incredible rise in conspiracy theories about deceptions and cover-ups. They range from the controversial to the shocking and from the nightmarish to the downright terrifying. And you can find all of them in the pages of "Cover-Ups & Secrets: The Complete Guide to Government Conspiracies, Manipulations & Deceptions" by Nick Redfern who works full time as an author, lecturer, and journalist, writing about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and now -- government conspiracies.

Critique: Simply packed from cover to cover with government related conspiracies ranging from UFO suppressions, to the Kennedy assassination, to Bigfoot conspiracies, to zombies, cloning, and privacy invading surveillance, "Cover-Ups & Secrets: The Complete Guide to Government Conspiracies, Manipulations & Deceptions" is an inherently fascinating and paranoid inducing read that will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library collections.

Original Prin
Randy Boyagoda
9781771962452, $14.95, PB, 224pp,

Synopsis: Eight months before he became a suicide bomber, Prin went to the zoo with his family. Following a cancer diagnosis, forty-year old Prin vows to become a better man and a better Catholic. He's going to spend more time with his kids and better time with his wife, care for his recently divorced and aging parents, and also expand his cutting-edge research into the symbolism of the seahorse in Canadian literature. But when his historic college in downtown Toronto faces a shutdown and he meets with the condominium developers ready to take it over (including a foul-mouthed young Chinese entrepreneur and Wende, his sexy ex-girlfriend from graduate school) Prin hears the voice of God. Bewildered and divinely inspired, he goes to the Middle East, hoping to save both his college and his soul. Wende is coming, too.

Critique: Expertly crafted with a smooth and reader engaging narrative storytelling style, author Randy Boyagoda has created an inherently riveting novel that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining from cover to cover. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists and community librarians that "Original Prin" is also available as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance, 9781799716341, $24.99, CD).

The Killing Habit
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press
c/o Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
154 West 14th Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10011
9780802128249, $26.00, HC, 432pp,

Synopsis: While DI Nicola Tanner investigates the deadly spread of a dangerous new drug, Tom Thorne is handed a case that he doesn't take too seriously, until a spate of animal killings points to the work of a serial killer. When the two cases come together in a way that neither could have foreseen, both Thorne and Tanner must risk everything to catch two very different killers.

Critique: In "The Killing Habit", novelist Mark Billingham once again brings together the wild-card detective Tom Thorne and the straight-laced DI Nicola Tanner on a pair of lethally high-stakes cases. A deftly crafted and riveting cliff-hanger of a read by a master of narrative storytelling, "The Killing Habit" is unreservedly recommended for community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Killing Habit" is also available in a paperback edition (Grove Press, 9780802129581, $16.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.04).

Editorial Note: Currently living in London, England, Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and also won the Sherlock Award for "Best Detective Created by a British Author." His books, which include the critically acclaimed Tom Thorne series, have been translated into twenty-five languages and have sold over five million copies.

Too Fat to Go to the Moon
Rob McCleary
Zero Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781785352317, $13.95, PB, 160pp,

Synopsis: In 2030 America is broke. When NASA is forced to raffle off a trip to outer space and the orbiting Houston Astrodome, Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, the ticket is won by a guy from Cleveland who is so fat he can't make it out of his own house, let alone get crammed in a rocket ship. Instead he auctions the ticket off, and the winning bid belongs to the patriarch of the Van Kruup family, an American dynasty founded on coal, railroads, and masturbation (not necessarily in that order).

But when they lose their inter-generation fortune in the Great Funk Crash, Stanely Van Kruup, sole heir to the Van Kruup fortune, is evicted from the ten thousand acre estate in rural Pennsylvania he has left only once since birth and must search for his (presumed dead) older brother in an attempt to restore his inheritance.

Critique: "Too Fat to Go to the Moon: Gay Sasquatch Saved My Life" by Rob McCleary is a deftly crafted and absorbingly entertaining work of avant-garde fiction that will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Too Fat to Go to the Moon" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Rob McCleary has written for such children's television shows as Jacob Two Two, The Moville Mysteries, and Pecola. His short fiction Nixon In Space was featured in the Brooklyn Journal Recommended Reading, as selected by Jonathan Lethem.

Clint Travis

Duncan's Bookshelf

The Collectors (Camel Club Book 2)
David Baldacci
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104
9780446531092, $26.99, 436pp.

Four eccentric older veterans of Washington, D.C. politics are puzzled by the sudden mysterious death of a member of their Camel Club. Their friend was Director of the Library of Congress rare book room. His death may be connected to the death of the Speaker of the House.

Onto the scene comes Annabelle Conroy, an ex-wife of the rare books director. She has just conned a vicious, self-absorbed casino owner out of $40 million. Annabelle uses her extensive 'artistic' skills to assist the 'older' members of the Camel Club.

Baldacci gives the reader strong characters in Oliver Stone (ex-CIA) but one character, the weak-kneed 'cowardly Lion' type called Caleb was way 'over-board.' This reader felt no empathy for Caleb and felt his cowardly behavior was fully over-emphasized.

Night of the Fox
Jack Higgins
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
0671637274, $14.95, 316 pp

An American Colonel (Kelso) has been swept off a Motor Torpedo Boat into the English Channel during an attack by German MTBs. He has survived with a leg broken in multiple places. He is floating in a rubber raft ...and washes up on the shore of Jersey, an English island occupied by Germans. There is a wrinkle: Col Kelso knows when and where the D-Day Invasion will be staged; Allied Command is frantic to see Kelso rescued or killed to prevent him being tortured.

Night of the Fox describes the efforts of an SOE officer (Special Operations Executive) named Martineau who is trained to kill. His partner is a Jersey girl, fluent in French, trained nurse (Sarah) who takes on the role of a French tart to enter Jersey with Martineau, who will portray a German Standartenfuhrer with the power of the Gestapo.

By sheer coincidence General Rommel has a Jewish actor portraying himself on Jersey; Martineau discovers he is not Rommel and they plan an escape from Jersey using the daily mail plane.

Sarah is telling this story from hind-sight, 40 years after the events. Higgins gives us the comfort of knowing what lives the characters led after 1945. And we can be thankful; we must know how Martineau and Sarah lived after the war. WTG Higgins!

Marty Duncan, Reviewer

Julie's Bookshelf

A History of Magic and Witchcraft
Frances Timbers
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (distribution)
9781526731814, $32.95, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: Blowing away folkloric cobwebs, "A History of Magic and Witchcraft: Sabbats, Satan and Superstitions in the West" is an enlightening new history dispels many of the misconceptions rooted in superstition and myth that surround witchcraft and magic today as historian Frances Timbers brings together elements of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, Christianity, popular culture, and gender beliefs that evolved throughout the middle ages and early modern period and contributed to the construction and eventual persecution of the figure of the witch.

While demonologists were developing the new concept of Devil worship and the witches' sabbat, elite men of significant social status were actually attempting to practice ceremonial magic. In the twentieth century, elements of ceremonial magic and practices of cunning folk were combined with the culturally constructed idea of a sect of witches to give birth first to modern Wicca in England and then to other neopagan movements in North America.

Witchcraft is a metaphor for oppression in an age in which persecution is an everyday occurrence somewhere in the world. Consider President Donald Trump denigrating description of the Muller Report investigation as a 'Witch Hunt'. Fanaticism, intolerance, prejudice, authoritarianism, and religious and political ideologies are never attractive whether it is in the popular culture or a political administration.

Critique: Of special note for academia is the inclusion End Notes (six pages), a Further Reading bibliographic list (two pages), and an Index (five pages), making "A History of Magic and Witchcraft: Sabbats, Satan and Superstitions in the West" a significant and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, Wiccans, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "A History of Magic and Witchcraft" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.81).

Editorial Note: Currently an Adjunct Professor at Trent University in Canada, Frances Timbers holds a PhD in British History from the University of Toronto and has published two books on witchcraft and magic: "Magic and Masculinity: Ritual Magic and Gender in the Early Modern Era" and "The Magical Adventures of Mary Parish: The Occult World of Seventeenth-Century London". She has also published a number of peer-reviewed journal articles.

Can't Make This Stuff Up!
Susannah B. Lewis
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781400208012, $17.99, PB, 224pp,

Synopsis: Susannah B. Lewis is an author, blogger, and humorist. She's had several articles and videos go viral and has been featured in Erma Bombeck's Humor Writers, Parents magazine, US Weekly, and Reader's Digest. She can be found online and on social media @whoasusannah.

Millions of online fans have flocked to Susannah's hysterical, take-no-prisoners videos that capture her uproarious yet deeply faithful view of the world. Now with "Can't Make This Stuff Up!: Finding the Upside to Life's Downs" she brings to book form her keen eye for the absurd as she reveals her experiences growing up in a small Tennessee town.

From the time an escaped albino panther wandered into her backyard to the Thanksgiving when an egg in the table's centerpiece hatched a baby chicken to the kind neighbors who brought casseroles in Tupperware for months (even years) after her father died when she was just eleven years old, the stories she tells delve deeply into the rich culture of the South that molded her.

Clinging to the promises of God in times of grief and looking for every opportunity to laugh, Susannah is the wry yet wise girl next door who invites you to sit a spell beside her on the front porch.

Critique: A wonderfully entertaining page turner of a read, "Can't Make This Stuff Up!: Finding the Upside to Life's Downs" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Can't Make This Stuff Up!" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781721346028, $22.99, CD).

Natural Encounters
Bruce M. Beehler
Yale University Press
PO Box 209040, New Haven, CT 06520-9040
9780300243482, $30.00, HC, 304pp,

Synopsis: "Natural Encounters: Biking, Hiking, and Birding Through the Seasons" is a kind of "personal encyclopedia of nature's seasons" in which lifetime naturalist Bruce Beehler reflects on his three decades of encountering nature in Washington, D.C.

Beehler takes his readers on a year long journey through the seasons as he describes the wildlife seen and special natural places savored in his travels up and down the Potomac River and other localities in the eastern and central United States. Some of these experiences are as familiar as observing ducks on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., or as unexpected as collecting fifty million year old fossils on a Potomac beach.

Beyond our nation's capital, Beehler describes trips to nature's most beautiful green spaces up and down the East Coast that, he says, should be on every nature lover's bucket list. Combining diary entries, riffs on natural subjects, field trips, photographs, and beautiful half tone wash drawings, "Natural Encounters" shows how many outdoor adventures are out there waiting in one's own backyard -- inspiring the reader to embrace nature to achieve a more peaceful existence.

Critique: Offering a year round guided excursion by a dedicated naturalist, "Natural Encounters: Biking, Hiking, and Birding Through the Seasons" is an exceptionally informative, extraordinarily entertaining, and inherently fascinating read from cover to cover. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Natural Encounters" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.37).

Editorial Note: Bruce M. Beehler is a research associate in the Division of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He served as a scientist and conservationist for the Smithsonian Institution, Conservation International, U.S. Department of State, and Wildlife Conservation Society. His previous books include "Lost Worlds: Adventures in the Tropical Rainforest" and "North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring".

In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy
Erika Zimmermann Damer
University of Wisconsin Press
1930 Monroe Street, Third Floor, Madison, WI 53711-2059
9780299318703, $99.95, HC, 320pp,

Synopsis: "In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy" by Erika Zimmermann Damer (Associate Professor of Classics and of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond) deeply engages postmodern and new materialist feminist thought in close readings of three significant poets (Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid) writing in the early years of Rome's Augustan Principate.

In their poems, they represent the flesh-and-blood body in both its integrity and vulnerability, as an index of social position along intersecting axes of sex, gender, status, and class. Professor Damer deftly underscores the fluid, dynamic, and contingent nature of identities in Roman elegy, in response to a period of rapid legal, political, and social change.

Recognizing this power of material flesh to shape elegiac poetry, Professor Damer asserts they grant figures at the margins of this poetic discourse (mistresses, rivals, enslaved characters, overlooked members of households) their own identities, even when they do not speak.

Professor Damer demonstrates how the three poets create a prominent aesthetic of corporeal abjection and imperfection, associating the body as much with blood, wounds, and corporeal disintegration as with elegance, refinement, and sensuality.

Critique: An original work of meticulously informed and informative scholarship, "In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of forty pages of Notes, a twenty-four page listing of References, a four page Index Locorum, and a thirteen page Index. "In the Flesh" is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as college and university library 'Literary Criticism' collections in general, and Latin Classics supplemental curriculum lists in particular. Of special note is a complete eight page listing of the Wisconsin Studies In Classics series.

Francis Bacon's Hidden Hand in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
Christina G. Waldman
Algora Publishing
9781628943306, $25.95, PB, 326pp,

Synopsis: Dedicated Shakespeare enthusiasts and first time readers alike have long been struck by Portia's impassioned plea for mercy and by the sophisticated lawyerly twists of the trial of Antonio v. Shylock in the Shakespeare play The Merchant of Venice.

In "Francis Bacon's Hidden Hand in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice: A Study of Law, Rhetoric, and Authorship", Christina Waldman shows how the scene shifts from a "law court" to "chancery court", thereby presaging the evolution of the English legal system, and she brings in a wealth of references to writers who have examined this play and related questions.

Her own research has turned up countless suggestive examples of word-play along with intriguing possible historical precedents for names and symbols used in the drama, adding layers of appreciation and pleasure to the reading of one of Shakespeare's most famous plays.

Critique: A thoroughly impressive work of iconoclastic scholarship, "Francis Bacon's Hidden Hand in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice: A Study of Law, Rhetoric, and Authorship" is a 'must read' contribution to the every growing library of Shakespearian scholarship. As thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is meticulously researched and documented, "Francis Bacon's Hidden Hand in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice: A Study of Law, Rhetoric, and Authorship" is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library Shakespearian Studies collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Shattered by the Darkness
Gregory Williams
Health Communications, Inc.
3201 S.W. 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442-8190
9780757322174, $12.95, PB, 168pp,

Synopsis: Dr. Gregory Williams is on the Administrative Leadership Team at Baylor College of Medicine's OB/GYN Department located in the Texas Children's Hospital at the heart of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. He has a PhD in counseling and is a well-known speaker and teacher.

In "Shattered by the Darkness: Putting the Pieces Back Together after Child Abuse", he shares his dark and horrific childhood of sexual abuse and fifty-year journey of trying to put the pieces of his life back together.

The vital lessons learned in the process of finally stepping out of the emotional darkness and into the light will give you strength to ultimately open the deepest parts of your heart and find the courage to face your own personal darkness. Today is the day to take your life back!

Discover that no matter what abuse, hurt, pain, or betrayal you have experienced, you no longer have to live your life "Shattered by the Darkness". This empowering book transforms the silence of shame into a rallying cry for hope and healing.

Critique: Told with a sensitive candor from beginning to end, "Shattered by the Darkness: Putting the Pieces Back Together after Child Abuse" is an extraordinary and ultimately inspiring address to one of our most chronic conditions of domestic violence -- child abuse. While an absolutely essential and unreservedly recommended additions to both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Shattered by the Darkness" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Julie Summers

Logan's Bookshelf

Strategic Warning Intelligence
John A. Gentry & Joseph S. Gordon
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
9781626166547, $110.95, HC, 296pp,

Synopsis: Strategic warning is the process of long-range analysis for the purpose of alerting senior leaders to trending threats and opportunities that require action. It is a critical intelligence function.

It also is frequently misunderstood and underappreciated. In "Strategic Warning Intelligence: History, Challenges, and Prospects", John A. Gentry (Adjunct Professor in the Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs) and Joseph S. Gordon (who holds the Colin Powell Chair for Intelligence Analysis at the National Intelligence University, and is President Emeritus of the International Association for Intelligence Education, as well as a former an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency) draw on both their practitioner and academic backgrounds to present a history of the strategic warning function in the US intelligence community.

In doing so, they outline the capabilities of analytic methods, explain why strategic warning analysis is so hard, and discuss the special challenges strategic warning encounters from senior decision-makers. They also compare how strategic warning functions in other countries, evaluate why the United States has in recent years emphasized current intelligence instead of strategic warning, and recommend warning-related structural and procedural improvements in the US intelligence community.

"Strategic Warning Intelligence" examines historical case studies, including postmortems of warning failures, to provide examples of the analytic points they make.

Critique: With "Strategic Warning Intelligence: History, Challenges, and Prospects" Professors John A. Gentry and Joseph S. Gordon significantly update our understanding of strategic warning intelligence analysis for the twenty-first century. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Strategic Warning Intelligence" will prove to be of special and enduring interest scholars and practitioners -- and will be an ideal teaching text for both intermediate and advanced students.

While unreservedly recommended for governmental and academic library International Affairs & Security Intelligence collections and supplemental studies curriculums, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, security advisors, military policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Strategic Warning Intelligence: History, Challenges, and Prospects" is also available in a paperback edition (9781626166554, $36.95) and in a digital book format ($22.99).

Tribunes of the People and the Trade Unions
Karl Marx, et al.
Pathfinder Press
PO Box 162767, Atlanta, GA 30321-2767
9781604881059, $12.00, PB, 147pp,

Synopsis: A compilation of the writings of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Farrell Dobbs, and Jack Barnes, "Tribunes of the People and the Trade Unions" draws on generations of revolutionary struggles by working people to explain why organizing to strengthen the unions is not only essential to the fighting unity and political striking power of the working class. It's central to building a revolutionary proletarian party as well.

But the activity of a workers party neither begins nor ends there. It begins by extending the party's political reach in all directions -- to cities, towns, and farms. By exchanging views and experiences with all layers of workers, farmers, and other toilers -- irrespective of skin color, language, religion or sex. By broadening cultural horizons and knowledge of history and the world.

A tribune of the people uses every manifestation of capitalist oppression to explain why it's workers and our allies who can and will (in the course of struggles by the unions and beyond) lay the foundations for a world based not on violence and competition, but on solidarity among working people worldwide.

Critique: As thoughtful, thought-provoking, and relevant today as it was when these articles, essays, and commentaries were first produced, "Tribunes of the People and the Trade Unions" is an extraordinary volume that brings back into print perspectives on social and political issues that continue to be of value to a whole new generation of appreciative readers. This new Pathfinder Press edition of "Tribunes of the People and the Trade Unions" is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library collections.

Where You Goin' with That Gun in Your Hand?
Keith Elliot Greenberg
Backbeat Books
c/o Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
33 Plymouth Street, Suite 302, Montclair, NJ 07042-2677
9781617136856, $24.95, PB, 288pp,

Synopsis: To Alice Cooper, the outlaw quality of rock 'n' roll is little more than theater. "Just because I cut the heads off dolls, doesn't mean I hate babies " he once said. But others have lived by the criminal philosophy espoused in their work. "The only negative thing about murder is that when you kill someone, longer suffer " said Norwegian black-metal rocker Varg Vikernes of Mayhem in 1993, the same year he stabbed musical rival Euronymous to death.

His tale is prominently featured in "Where You Goin' with That Gun in Your Hand? The True Crime Blotter of Rock 'n' Roll" by Keith Elliot Greenberg. This unique compendium deftly examines a total of 21 fatal crimes tied to the music industry, such as the murders of Marvin Gaye, Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, and Selena.

In the case of Vikernes (dubbed the most violent musician in the history of metal) the performer is the perpetrator. In other instances (the deaths of John Lennon or Run DMC's Jam Master Jay, for example) the star is the victim. Other chapters deal with conspiracy theories involving musicians whose lives ended prematurely (e.g., the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, the Doors' Jim Morrison, and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain).

Critique: A factual work of history that reads with all the narrative style and engagement of a first rate novel, Keith Greenberg's "Where You Goin' with That Gun in Your Hand?" is a simply riveting read from cover to cover and is certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: Keith Greenberg is the author of several true-crime books including: "December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died" and "Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: James Dean's Final Hours".

Environment in the Courtroom
Allan E. Ingelson, editor
University of Calgary Press
2500 University Drive, N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4
9781552389850, $64.99, PB, 824pp,

Synopsis: Canadian environmental law is a dynamic and exciting area that is playing an increasingly important role in furthering sustainable development policy. Environmental law has distinctive relevant principles, operating procedures, implications, and importance in comparison with other areas of law, and these distinctions must be appreciated both within the legal community and by all those who are concerned with the way that courts handle environmental cases.

Expertly compiled and edited by Allan Ingelson (who is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Calgary and whose research focuses on regulation of the Canadian and international energy and mining sectors), "Environment in the Courtroom provides extensive insight into Canadian environmental law.

The contributors cover key environmental concepts and the unique nature of environmental damage, environmental prosecutions, sentencing and environmental offences, evidentiary issues in environmental processes and hearings, issues associated with site inspections, investigations, and enforcement, and more. This seminal collection has the potential to make a significant difference at the level of understanding and practice.

Containing perspective and insight from experienced and prominence Canadian legal practitioners and scholars, "Environment in the Courtroom" deftly addresses the Canadian provinces and territories and provides context by comparison to the United States and Australia.

Critique: An erudite collection that comprehensively covers the issues of Canadian environmental law "Environment in the Courtroom" is an essential and unreservedly recommended reference for all those interested in Canadian environmental law and should be a core addition to both governmental and academic library Judicial Studies and Environmental Issues collections and supplemental studies reading lists. For the personal reading lists of law students, environmental attorneys, environmental social activists, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Environment in the Courtroom" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $61.74).

Carl Logan

Margaret's Bookshelf

108 Yoga and Self-Care Practices for Busy Mamas
Julie M. Gentile
MSI Press
1760-F Airline Hwy, #203, Hollister, CA 950243
9781942891840, $14.16, PB, 120pp,

Synopsis: "108 Yoga and Self-Care Practices for Busy Mamas" was written by Julie M. Gentile specially for mothers who find themselves too busy to take good care of themselves.

Whatever their situation, every mother deserve spectacular health and wellness. With Millennial working mama, certified yoga teacher, and widely published author, Julie Gentile, as a personal wellness mentor, "108 Yoga and Self-Care Practices for Busy Mamas" coaches the reader along their own authentic wellness path.

Using 108 writing prompts and self-care practices, yoga poses, meditation, and breathing exercises, Julie shows a series of practical ways to become self-care savvy from a fresh perspective that only a modern mama would understand!

Critique: Profusely illustrated with step-by-step instructions, "108 Yoga and Self-Care Practices for Busy Mamas" is an ideal approach to a daily DIY yoga-based health care system that can be carried out by anyone, anywhere, at anytime. "108 Yoga and Self-Care Practices for Busy Mamas" is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Health/Medicine instructional reference collections in general, and Yoga supplemental studies lists in particular.

Clara Barton's Civil War
Donald C. Pfanz
Westholme Publishing
9781594163104, $28.00, HC, 228pp,

Synopsis: "I always tried to succor the wounded until medical aid and supplies could come up -- I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner." So recorded Clara Barton, the most famous woman to emerge from the American Civil War.

In an age when few women worked in hospitals, much less at the front, Barton served in at least four Union armies, providing food and assistance to wounded soldiers on battlefields stretching from Maryland to South Carolina. Thousands of soldiers benefitted from her actions, and she is unquestionably an American heroine. But how much do we really know about her actual wartime service?

Most information about Barton's activities comes from Barton herself. After the war, she toured the country recounting her wartime experiences to overflowing audiences. In vivid language, she described crossing the Rappahannock River under fire to succor wounded Union soldiers at Fredericksburg, transporting critical supplies to field hospitals at Antietam, and enduring searing heat and brackish water on the sun-scorched beaches of South Carolina.

She willingly braved hardship and danger in order to help the young men under her care, receiving in return their love and respect. Most of Barton's biographers have accepted her statements at face value, but in doing so, they stand on shaky ground, for Barton was a relentless self-promoter and often embellished her stories in an effort to enhance her accomplishments.

In "Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital", historian Donald Pfanz revisits Barton's claims, comparing the information in her speeches with contemporary documents, including Barton's own wartime diary and letters. In doing so, he provides the first balanced and accurate account of her wartime service -- a service that in the end needed no exaggeration.

Critique: Meticulously and exhaustively researched, impressively well written, organized and presented, "Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital" is a seminal work of outstanding scholarship and a critically important and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library American Biography 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 "Clara Barton's Civil War" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note: Donald C. Pfanz is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. In his 32 year career with the National Park Service, he worked at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Petersburg National Battlefield, and Fort Sumter National Monument. He is a founding member of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now the Civil War Trust) and has written six books about the Civil War, including "Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life" and "War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg".

Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional
Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP
Pauline Books & Media
50 St. Paul's Avenue, Boston, MA 02130-3433
9780819865175, $16.95, PB, 224pp,

Synopsis: When Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, began keeping a ceramic skull on her desk and tweeting about it, she had no idea she'd be starting a movement. Her daily tweets about memento mori (which is Latin for "remember your death") contained quotes and insights that have inspired others to remember death daily. Many have found this ancient practice to provide an important perspective on their lives in view of Jesus' call to repentance, conversion, and the hope of resurrection.

And now Sr. Theresa Aletheia's series of tweets has led to a memento mori-inspired Lenten devotional. Each day contains a refection written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia based on the liturgy of the day for all of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. The devotional also includes a memento mori examen or review of the day, a daily moment of intercessory prayer, and daily reflections on death from the tradition, including the Church Fathers and many of the saints. Prompts are provided for journaling that can be used along with the "Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Journal" -- which is also available from Pauline Books.

Lent is a time when we remember the death of Christ and the sacrifice he made to give us eternal life. This devotional will help you to meditate on your own mortality and the incredible gift of salvation in preparation for Easter. Whether you get a skull for your desk, a memento mori journal, or a Lenten devotional, it is vitally important to the Christian life to remember the fragility of your life on earth -- because one day you will die.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional" is deftly written and compiled by an erudite religious sister with thoughtful and thought-provoking reflections for each day of Lent. While very highly recommended for all members of the Catholic community, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Remember Your Death" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

The Buddha Pill
Miguel Farias & Catherine Wikholm
Watkins Publishing
9781786782212, $14.95, PB, 352pp,

Synopsis: In "The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? ", pioneering psychologists Dr Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm put meditation and mindfulness under the microscope. Separating fact from fiction, they reveal what scientific research (including their groundbreaking study on yoga and meditation with prisoners) tells us about the benefits and limitations of these techniques for improving our lives.

As well as illuminating the potential, "The Buddha Pill" persuasively argues that these practices may have unexpected consequences, and that peace and happiness may not always be the end result.

Offering a compelling examination of research on transcendental meditation to recent brain-imaging studies on the effects of mindfulness and yoga, and with fascinating contributions from spiritual teachers and therapists, "The Buddha Pill's deftly weaves together a unique story about the science and the delusions of personal change.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking collaboration, "The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?" will have exceptionally appeal to anyone with an interest in meditation. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Buddha Pill" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Warren Watson
Master Point Press
9781771400480, $19.95, PB, 198pp,

Synopsis: It has been many years since any bridge author attempted a comprehensive description of preemptive bidding, and much has changed in the interim. Modern players open the bidding on lighter values, and preempts, formerly based in at least a semblance of sanity, are now made on the flimsiest of excuses.

"Preempts" by Warren Watson is a comprehensive treatment of preemptive bidding -- not just when to open and with what, but the issues surrounding constructive and obstructive bidding in the subsequent auction.

Critique: An invaluable and exceptionally well organized and presented instructional guide and manual that is unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library Bridge gaming collections, Warren Watson's "Preempts" should be considered an especially high priority read for all intermediate to advanced level bridge players.

Editorial Note: A former Aerospace Engineer who is currently an artist with a diploma in Fine Arts from Okanagan University College in Kelowna, BC, Warren Watson is also an avid bridge player. He is an ACBL Sapphire Life Master, an ACBL accredited bridge teacher, a bridge columnist for the Trail Times, an ACBL director, an accredited ACBL tournament assistant and the Kootenay Jewel Bridge Club manager.

Community and Solitude
Anthony W. Lee, editor
Bucknell University Press
Bucknell University
1 Dent Drive, Lewisburg, PA 17837
9781684480234, $99.95, HC, 270pp,

Synopsis: A devout Anglican and a generous philanthropist who, politically speaking, was a committed Tory, Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 - 13 December 1784), was also an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Samuel Johnson's life was situated within a rich social and intellectual community of friendships -- and antagonisms.

Expertly compiled and deftly edited by Anthony W. Lee, "Community and Solitude: New Essays on Johnson's Circle" is a collection of ten essays that explores relationships between Johnson and several of his main contemporaries -- including James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Frances Burney, Robert Chambers, Oliver Goldsmith, Bennet Langton, Arthur Murphy, Richard Savage, Anna Seward, and Thomas Warton.

"Community and Solitude" also analyzes some of the literary productions emanating from the pressures within those relationships. In their detailed and careful examination of particular works situated within complex social and personal contexts, the essays in this volume offer a "thick" and illuminating description of Johnson's world that also engages with larger cultural and aesthetic issues, such as intertextuality, literary celebrity, narrative, the nature of criticism, race, slavery, and sensibility.

The featured contributors include: Christopher Catanese, James Caudle, Marilyn Francus, Christine Jackson-Holzberg, Claudia Thomas Kairoff, Elizabeth Lambert, Anthony W. Lee, James E. May, John Radner, and Lance Wilcox.

Critique: An invaluable, erudite, thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution to the study of Samuel Johnson's life, philosophy, and literary work, "Community and Solitude: New Essays on Johnson's Circle" is an extraordinary body of informative and deftly scripted scholarship. While unreservedly recommended, especially for academic library 18th Century Literary & Culture collections in general, and Samuel Johnson supplemental studies reading lists in particular, it should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that "Community and Solitude: New Essays on Johnson's Circle " is also available in a paperback edition (9781684480227, $34.95).

Editorial Note: Anthony W. Lee's research interests center upon Samuel Johnson and his circle, mentoring, and intertexuality. He has published three books and more than thirty essays on Johnson and eighteenth-century literature and culture. He has two books forthcoming, Revaluation: New Essays on Samuel Johnson (with the University of Delaware Press, 2018) and "Modernity Johnson": Samuel Johnson Among the Modernists (Clemson University Press, 2019).Anthony has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Tech University, Kentucky Wesleyan College, the University of the District of Columbia, and the University of Maryland University College, where he also served as Director of the English and Humanities Program.

Holy Grounds
Tim Schenck
Fortress Press
P.O. Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440-1209
9781506448237, $18.99, PB, 200pp,

Synopsis: "Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith - From Dancing Goats to Satan's Drink" was written by Tim Schenck, (an avid coffee drinker, Episcopal priest, writer, and creator of the popular online devotion Lent Madness, and who serves as pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hingham, Massachusetts) especially for those who like their coffee with a bit of inspiration, a hint of humor, and a dose of insight.

From the coffee bean's discovery by ninth-century Ethiopian Muslims to being condemned as "Satan's drink" by medieval Christians, to becoming an integral part of Passover in America, coffee has fueled prayer and shaped religious culture for generations.

In "Holy Grounds", Pastor Schenck explores the relationship between coffee and religion, moving from faith-based legends that have become entwined with the history of coffee to personal narrative. He takes readers on a journey through coffee farms in Central America, a pilgrimage to Seattle, coffeehouses in Rome, and a monastic community in Pennsylvania.

Along the way, he examines the power of ritual, mocks bad church coffee, introduces readers to the patron saint of coffee, wonders about ethical considerations for today's faith-based coffee lovers, and explores lessons people of faith should learn from coffeehouse culture about building healthy, authentic community.

Christian coffee enthusiasts can follow Pastor Schenck on Twitter @FatherTim.

Critique: An inherently absorbing, informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking read that is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Holy Grounds" is highly recommended to the attention of all members of the Christian community.

The Bobcat
Katherine Forbes Riley
Arcade Publishing
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781948924092, $22.99, HC, 192pp,

Synopsis: Laurelie is a young art student who suffers in the aftermath of a sexual assault, and has grown progressively more isolated and fearful. She transfers from her busy city university to a small college in rural Vermont, where she retreats into her vivid imagination, experiencing the world through her art. Most comfortable in the company of the child for whom she babysits, and most at ease in the woods, Laurelie has shunned any connection with her peers.

One day, while exploring the woods, she and her young charge encounter an injured pregnant bobcat -- and the hiker who has been following it for hundreds of miles. In the hiker and his feline companion Laurelie recognizes someone as reclusive and wary as herself. The hiker, too, finds human companionship painful to endure, yet he is drawn to wounded Laurelie the way he is drawn to the bobcat. As Laurelie moves toward recovery and reconnection she also finds her voice as an artist, and a sense of purpose, maybe even a future, comes into sight. Then the child goes missing in the woods, threatening the bobcat, the hiker, and the fragile peace Laurelie has constructed.

Critique: All the more impressive when considering that "The Bobcat" is author Katherine Forbes Riley's debut as a novelist, this inherently compelling, deftly scripted, and thoroughly entertaining page turner of a read is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Bobcat" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781721385478, $19.99, CD).

Margaret Lane

Mari's Bookshelf

The Mourning Islands
Douglas Wells
TouchPoint Press
9781946920638, $16.99

The Mourning Islands, setting and title of Douglas Wells' third novel, becomes home to its lonesome characters - as well as a battleground for competing interests.

Talmon Bonnett is not long out of the hospital, recovering from service in Mogadishu, when he's hired by investors to spy on the manager of a fancy new resort they're building on the Mourning Islands. But Talmon quickly befriends the manager, larger-than-life Rusty, his sultry voiced sister, Marlene, and his vulnerable fiancee, Claire. Talmon and Rusty get stuck between the real investors in the resort, shady Cuban crime bosses, the Maldonado brothers. When Talmon's employers reveal their true mission for him, he must decide where his motivations lie. Loyal to Rusty, in love with Marlene and compelled by Claire, whose sad life has made her older than her age, he confronts anxiety and fear residing in him "like a coiled serpent" (149).

Talmon captivates from the start. Understated, mysterious, a loner with a dark past that flashes behind his eyes, he reminds of Bladerunner. Told from his perspective, the writing is observant and unemotional. He is a man of few words, allowing others to come into the foreground. Marlene, in particular, shines in his eyes. She's worth taking risks for. She gives him someone to dream about and plan a future around. Their attraction increases the drama surrounding the resort; whatever happens with the resort has bearing on their love. He sees himself in Claire, running from her messy past. Rusty is a born leader, charismatic and fun-loving. Taken as a team and adhoc family, these characters elicit confidence and compassion over and against the conniving Maldonados.

This is no simple tale of good versus evil, however. The heroes and bad guys are shades of both. There's an undercurrent of cynicism and despair coursing through the narrative. Rusty concludes, "You lose, you win. It's American way" (192). Yet, the natural beauty of the Mourning Islands and budding love provide a counterargument. Well-drawn gruesome fight scenes are offset by tender romance scenes. A complex web of backstabbing and greed make for a meaty plot to get wrapped up in. The conclusion is a realistic mix of justice and casualties.

A crime thriller, The Mourning Islands is also a thoughtful story about the lengths we'll go to beat demons and fulfill dreams.

The Cracks in Our Armour
Anna Gavalda
Europa Editions
9781609454968, $17.00, 208 pgs

In Anna Gavalda's eleventh book, The Cracks in Our Armour, ordinary moments open up to timeless revelations.

Mostly men, and some women, young and old, tell these seven tales in first person. A voluptuous immigrant girl falls for a poet at a party in Paris. A recent widow befriends a stranger, who confesses her own woes. A truck driver buries the dog he loved despite not naming it so he wouldn't get attached. An older man and younger girl go on a date to McDonald's. An insurance assessor defends his son for a misdeed at school. A worn-down businessman tries to say goodbye to a new friend discovered dead. Hungover on a train ride home after a bachelor party, a traveller's seatmate draws his portrait.

Gavalda's previous books largely center around women characters (with the exception of 95 Pounds, about a boy). These latest stories tackle the male perspective. They are about people having difficulty talking about their feelings. They are about coming to terms with mysteries and accepting new circumstances. The writing finds innovative ways to elucidate what isn't easily expressed. The jolting syntax, stream of consciousness style prose of the last story in particular, perfectly portrays the hardly-lucid narrator.

While the heavy topics of death, torturous childhoods, financial distress and alcohol abuse are in the background of the stories, characters give each other hope. Each "I" is clear and distinct, with slang and dialect. Each narrator's side comments about their own storytelling shows self-awareness, self-possession. These developed narrators are able to see into other people they encounter. The vulnerability between characters is tender, leaving a reassurance that it's safe to open up.

The Cracks in Our Armour is a feel-good literary collection, mining the best of humanity.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Mason's Bookshelf

Unreading Shakespeare
David P. Gontar
New English Review Press
PO Box 158397, Nashville, Tennessee 37215
9781943003006, $34.95, PB, 550pp,

Synopsis: David P. Gontar has served as Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Southern University from 1975 to 1982. Thereafter he was engaged in the practice of law in New Orleans, Louisiana and southern California. He is currently Adjunct Professor of English and Philosophy at Inner Mongolia University in China. In 2010, he was the English editor of China's application to UNESCO for World Heritage Status of the Xanadu site in Inner Mongolia, granted by UNESCO in June of 2012. David's writings have appeared in Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, Tulane Studies in Philosophy, Plantation Society in the Americas, Loyola Law Review, and New English Review.

In "Unreading Shakespeare" Professor Gontar shakes the foundations of Renaissance studies, as he breaths new life into William Shakespeare's Othello, Hamlet, Falstaff, Rosalind, and many other of his characters in what can be justifiably described as the definitive exposition of Shakespeare in the 21st century.

"Unreading Shakespeare" teaches us how to find the real wisdom of Shakespeare, shows the major philosophical influence on Shakespeare is not Montaigne but Plato, introduces Katherine of Aragon as Feminist Hero, uncovers the comic dimension of Shakespeare s Tragedies, presents the Socratic Apology of Falstaff, and rescues King Lear from modern oblivion.

Critique: An exceptionally well written and presented study, "Unreading Shakespeare" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Shakespearean Studies Collections and supplemental curriculum lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Unreading Shakespeare" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Forbidden Hollywood
Mark A. Vieira
Running Press
c/o Perseus Book Group
250 W. 57th St., Suite 1500, New York, NY 10107
9780762466771, $30.00, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: Drawn from the enormous TCM film library, "Forbidden Hollywood: When Sin Ruled the Movies" is a unique and illustrated history of the 1930-1934 'pre-Code' film era. Film buffs will eavesdrop on production conferences, read nervous telegrams from executives to censors, and hear Americans argue about "immoral" movies. They will see decisions artfully wrought, so as to fool some of the people long enough to get films into theaters. They will read what theater managers thought of such craftiness, and hear from fans as they applauded creativity or condemned crassness. They will see how these films caused a grass-roots movement to gain control of Hollywood-and why they were "forbidden" for fifty years.

"Forbidden Hollywood" showcases the twenty-two films that led to the strict new Code of 1934, including Red-Headed Woman, Call Her Savage, and She Done Him Wrong. Movie fans will see Paul Muni shoot a path to power in the original Scarface; Barbara Stanwyck climb the corporate ladder on her own terms in Baby Face; and misfits seek revenge in Freaks; and a Tarzan movie that was X-rated and not for kid matinees!

More than 200 newly restored (and some never-before-published) photographs illustrate pivotal moments in the careers of Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Greta Garbo; and the pre-Code stardom of Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, James Cagney, and Mae West.

Critique: Providing and impressively informative, absorbing, detailed, and definitive portrait of an unforgettable era in American filmmaking, "Forbidden Hollywood: When Sin Ruled the Movies" is an inherently fascinating, page-turner of a read that will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both community and academic American Film History collections and supplemental curriculum studies rosters. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated film buffs that "Forbidden Hollywood" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Residing in Los Angeles, Mark A. Vieira is a photographer and author who specializes in Hollywood history. He has lectured at USC, UCLA, Lincoln Center, Universal Studios, and the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Vieira has appeared in documentaries such as TCM's Moguls and Movie Stars and Complicated Women. He is also the author of George Hurrell's "Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille, and Into the Dark", among other film-related titles.

We Sold Our Souls: A Novel
Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books
215 Church Street, Philadelphia PA 19106
9781683691242 $14.99 pbk / $14.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Every morning, Kris Pulaski wakes up in hell. In the 1990s she was lead guitarist of Durt Wurk, a heavy-metal band on the brink of breakout success until lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom, leaving his bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Now Kris works as night manager of a Best Western; she's tired, broke, and unhappy. One day everything changes - a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down, and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band. Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite Durt Wurk and confront the man who ruined her life. Her journey will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a satanic music festival. A furious power ballad about never giving up, We Sold Our Souls is one woman's epic journey to reclaim her life - and save her soul.

Critique: We Sold Our Souls: A Novel is a dark, modern-day fable about the preternaturally high cost of stardom. Kris Pulaski is a washed-up guitarist who discovers a horrifying secret about the former lead singer of her band. Far more than her own soul could be on the line, in this riveting parable about the insatiable desire for fame and glory at any cost. Highly recommended! It should be noted for personal reading lists that We Sold Our Souls is also available in a Kindle edition ($14.99).

Jack Mason

Molly's Bookshelf

No Roses for Harry!
Series: Harry the Dog
Gene Zion, author
Margaret Bloy Graha, illustrator
9780064430111, $7.99, Paperback, 32 pages

Gene Zion's No Roses For Harry, illustrated by Maragaret Bloy Graham, features Harry, the white dog with black spots, and the gift he receives from Grandma.

He is not too crazy about it.

The gift is a sweater, and, it is not just any sweater. Harry receives a lovingly hand-knitted sweater having big roses all over it. Harry hates it. He is just not a roses kind of fellow!

Harry is a white fellow with black spots.

Harry tried the new sweater on, and it really did feel all cozy and comfortable. Nonetheless, he didn't like those roses.

Harry thought it was the silliest sweater he had ever seen.

Harry was very embarrassed; every person laughed and laughed when he wore it. So he tried losing it... over and over. No matter how hard he tried, someone always managed to locate the sweater and bring it back.

At last a mother bird swoops in and with a tug of her beak the sweater begins to disappear. Now Harry is a happy little pup. Black and white is the look he prefers.

Before long, he discovers Grandma is coming for a visit. Now he does not know what to do. Harry doesn't want Grandma to have hurt feelings, she WILL want to see him wearing the sweater, but he can't get the sweater back either.

It is gone. Now, what to do? Harry's family searches everywhere for the sweater, but, they can't find it. When Grandma arrives, she and Harry go for a walk in the park, where up in a tree they see a bird with a nice new nest.

It is a nest that looks just like Harry's sweater.

When Grandma goes home she knits another sweater for Harry. This time it is white with black spots!

My resident critics; over the years, many classes of first graders, settle in for listening; it is time for our daily 'reading on the rug' before we go home for the day. Children always hurry a little faster when the book I am holding is one of Gene Zion's, Harry books. I have found children love Harry and his escapades.

No Roses for Harry! is a child pleasing tale. Artworks done in subdued tones and old-fashioned illustrations set the tenor for the work. Harry first appeared way back, during the 1950s. I continued using the copies that I first began using some thirty-five plus years ago.

My first graders then loved the stories, today, even though worn and well used, the books are enjoyed, handled carefully and listened to raptly by each new group of six-year-olds. Paperback copies are taken home to be enjoyed with family and friends.

The popular protagonist of Harry the Dirty Dog fame does his best to be rid himself of Grandmother's well-intentioned gift. And when he finally succeeds; he must contemplate the consequences of his behavior.

He does love Grandma and doesn't want to hurt her feelings.

The work offers good discussion starters for little learners as we discuss how to receive a gift we really would rather not have; and how we don't want to hurt the feelings of someone when they are trying to do something nice for us, even if what they come up with is really just plain horrible.

I often hear that children can be so 'cruel'. I have found; in general, little people are just beginning to develop feelings of empathy for others, however, in general, few children I have known are simply trying to be mean or nasty to one another.

It is naivete that most often causes children to blurt out the first thing that pops into their minds. Books such as No Roses for Harry! provide some of the grist to be used for guiding children's empathetic development.

I like that each of the Harry books is accomplished using child friendly terminology, provides a problem to solve as Harry becomes involved in a serious situation, and offers twists of plot to maintain children's interest.

Gene Zion, in tandem with two-time Caldecott Honor winner Margaret Bloy Graham effectively fashioned numerous long-time children's favorite stories about Harry, including: Harry by the Sea, Harry the Dirty Dog, and No Roses for Harry.

The graphics compliment the chronicles impeccably and add to the old-fashioned feel of the work. First published in 1958 the pictures depicted in No Roses for Harry! are those of a small town such as the ones in which I taught.

Pictures are unpretentious, I like that children are not overcome with too vivid color or overelaborate, too detailed imageries. The pictures are completed using quiet greens and muted oranges, as well as black and white.

Illustrator Bloy adds complimentary little touches such as bricks on the houses, and wallpaper on the walls. My resident critics search for small details, earrings and other features in the images as they listen.

Emotions are clearly portrayed on the faces of characters. My resident critics voice approval of the illustrations.

No Roses for Harry! received many thumbs up during my years of reading to resident critics. Happy to recommend No Roses for Harry! as a dandy choice for the pleasure reading list of children, as an addition to the home, school, classroom and public library collection, and as birthday and other noted days for a beloved child.

Greater Purpose
Spencer Vail
Vail Enterprises
9780970999405, $TBA, Paperback, 246 pages

Spencer Vail addreses a query people may have considered have What if I had the authority to transform outcomes?

What might readers do should it be realized that powers outside credence were possible?

Spencer Vail's Greater Purpose published by Vail Enterprises presents The Reader an account grounded upon a challenging principle placed in a stimulating chronicle deposited as a sweeping, fresh process.

The Narrative is focused around reactions of a quartet of very juxtaposed persons. The one shared component between them is the circumstance of their death and alteration via an eruption of dazzling light which leads to their reappearance to live for 'the Greater Purpose.' Heidi is an abused wife, Philip Barlow is CEO of an InterNet Company while Carlos Gonzales is a construction worker, and, Amy Sullivan is up and coming in her field. Each resides in diverse areas of the United States.

Writer Vail's storyline is at once fascinating and challenging. The four all perish at the precise same instant in time and are revived by a bright glowing light. Each of the four comes to comprehend they have been made recipient of powers beyond any they may have imagined.

The Reader will observe the comportment and behavior of these four different persons who happen to share one mutual manifestation and face the query, who will use their new power for promoting the good for all and who will use their power only for personal advantage or retaliation.

Greater Purpose, filled with stimulating and unanticipated turns of plot as each character begins to utilize their new powers is a tribute to Author Vail's talent to deftly weave a group of memorable persons faced with important principled questions into a convincing drama. The reader may find himself/herself incapable to forecast what happens next as he/she is drawn into the tale.

The Reader may begin to consider would she/he use them for personal gain, vengeance, or the Greater Purpose? Writer Vail's inimitable style is sure to appeal to those who enjoy a narrative that is neither formula or predictable but is a bit out of the ordinary.

It is a tribute to Vail that he is capable to weave a group of unforgettable, dissimilar characters into a captivating drama. Suspense builds as The Reader continues to turn the page. This well written, believable tale becomes one difficult to put down especially so for readers who may be interested in near death experiences.

The tale allows readers to relate to a particular character as if the reader too is experiencing the specific circumstance. Vails characters are compelling, their entertaining lives are diverting. Vail gives us a peek into what might be expected when life and the illusory come together.

Spencer Vail, a self-avowed admirer of Stephen King has created a compelling composition based on a spellbinding premise. He has patterned his work after the drama and intrigue found within King'. works and because he has; The Greater Purpose, a 250 page composition, is presented in a Reader absorbing fashion.

Writer Vail's characters are well fleshed, their lives are often intriguing. Vail gives us a glimpse into the maneuverings as might be predictable should life and the unreal meet head on.

While transitions are not completed with quite as much expertise as writer Vail continues attaining with continuing his craft. The flow of reading is broken up a little now and again, on the other hand the chronicle continues with more than enough reliability to keep the reader turning the page.

Diehard devotees of King may reflect that writer Vail does not yet offer serious rivalry to the master, but then who of us does, nevertheless, Vail's inimitable panache is sure to tickle the fancy for readers who appreciate the atypical.

Happy to recommend for readers who relish a well penned, extraordinary narrative.

Santa Claus: is he for your child?
John Hoh
HoneyMilk Publications
0615185770, $35.51, Hardcover: 134 pages

Wisconsin's Author John Hoh has created a fine manuscript prepared as a tool for educating adults including parents and those merely interested in the fable, legend, folk lore, myth surrounding the mysterious figure children, especially here in the US, almost universally love.

Chapter 1 assists parents appreciate that the myth of Santa has grown to enormous magnitudes.

Chapter 2 The Man Behind the Myth is defined.

Chapter 3 describes The Legends of the Three Virgins.

Chapter 4 we study how The Saint Becomes the Patron of Sailors.

Chapter 5 The Reader traces Nicholas on his way to Nicea during a scarcity of food.

Chapter 6 assessment is presented vis-a-vis innumerable old-style stories and folklore surrounding saints to the mythologies of Greek and Roman beliefs.

Chapter 7 Nicholas Earns His Honor and Place of Veneration.

Chapter 8 deliberates regarding Nicholas and Nationalism.

Chapter 9 Saint Nicholas and the Reformation are studied.

Chapter 10 offers Santa in the New World,

Chapter 11 Saint Nick and Santa Today are deliberated.

Chapter 12 presents a discussion into whether Santa might actually be anti-Christ

Chapter 13 submits notions as to how Santa devotion might be a system of idolatry.

Chapter 14 argues the case whether Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus are the same.

Chapter 15 The book finishes up with concluding thoughts.

A Bibliography follows.

Technical Writer, Lutheran lay religious leader Author Hoh delivers a great deal of evidence regarding social values, customs, ethnicities, views, and activities in his work Santa Claus: is he for your child?

It is apparent that writer Hoh has taken on a great deal of investigation into the numerous ethnic and native traditions, folklore, and legends surrounding the concept of a good hearted personage who visits during the December Christian Holiday season.

I found Santa Claus: is he for your child? To be a well written treatise in which writer Hoh provides a cornucopia of provocative, thought provoking material regarding Santa Claus and/or St Nicholas. Hoh's writing is concise, coherent and highly comprehensible.

I particularly liked reading how the Santa figure is viewed in numerous countries world-wide; as Hoh presented in Chapter 8.

During my many years in the K-1 public school classroom my classes were provided material concerning various national holiday practices taking place during December; children were always flabbergasted to learn that Christmas customs by various ethnic or native groups world-wide do not inevitably match those practiced in any other.

Because I did not teach any religious canon; my students learned how innumerable countries world-wide celebrate, or not, Christmas. I was happy my schools in California or Oklahoma have never complained that our study of world-wide Christmas customs, including dates between 5 December and January 6 should be discontinued.

Parents have always been very interested to see what their children are learning, and have been somewhat surprise to realize they themselves also were learning as a result of our class Christmas study. When my own children were growing up; this book would have been useful. All the evidence re customs is nicely gathered in one volume, I had to make do with bits and pieces gathered from here and there.

Hoh says in his closing chapter 'Hopefully this book will help each of us ... know the truth behind Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas.' Whether the reader likes or dislikes the notion of Santa writer Hoh's book Santa Claus: is he for your child? Is certain to enlighten many regarding how innumerable cultures and societies worldwide celebrate, or not, the Christmas holiday.

Presented in fifteen chapters and bibliography covering 122 pages, Santa Claus: is he for your child? sets out to educate parents regarding the various myths surrounding the Santa figure; I find Hoh's goal is readily accomplished.

I Found Santa Claus: is he for your child? To be a well thought out tome. Enjoyed the read, found much of interest. Happy to recommend.

Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson
Byron Farwell
W. W. Norton & Company
9780393310863, $29.95, Paperback, 560 pages

Byron Farwell's Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson introduces the work first with The Table of Contents listing a full range of material relating to the life of Thomas Jonathan Jackson. From his Birth and Boyhood, West Point, The War with Mexico where he proved himself as a fearless, intuitive soldier skilled in tactical battlefield maneuvers, and Garrison Duty, as well as his years as a somewhat boring professor at VMI. Author Farwell presents a comprehensive outline of the life of the man many called and continue to call Stonewall.

Religion, Marriage, Death of his first wife, Elinor Junkin, due to complications of childbirth, as was common at the time; as well as the death of that child and Jackson's remarriage to Mary Anna Morrison, his second spouse, the War Between the States wherein he lost his life, battles, and his last days as he lay dying at Guinea Station; Jackson is presented as an intriguing figure in our nation's history.

Jackson is depicted on the pages of Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson as a complex man who could be spiteful in his dealing with others. Moreover, as well as being a very fervent pious man, he was at times vindictive while at other times chivalrous and gentlemanly. The focus of this work contains the classification of battle accounts which have served to launch Gen'l Jackson as a knowledgeable, decisive, offensive leader who was willing to face peril, form astute tactical exercises and regularly turned the odds to his favor.

Farwell unswervingly contends that Jackson was likely more lucky than anything else; which somewhat lessens the effects of the Gen'ls capacity for compelling his enemies toward making blunders.

Farwell does present grounded sentiments specifying Jackson's documented complications in getting along with colleagues and subordinates alike. The author suggests that the long-held belief --that Jackson's demise following the battle of Chancellorsville was a disaster for the South; might not have been that much of a devastation for the Confederacy. Farwell discloses an eccentric, neurotic, murky temperament behind the behavior of the celebrated Confederate general.

Nevertheless, Jackson's military acumen as revealed in Farwell's narrative was indisputable.

Jackson is presented by Farwell as a rather peculiar country lad who was able to overcome all restrictions of education or understanding by ignoring any exploit not crucial to his work. Two major facets of the man were get-up-and-go and uncompromising self-restraint, Jackson was a man who first displayed a near pathological lack of concern in the face of danger during the Mexican War.

As was the case with many of his contemporaries Jackson's preliminary exposure to combat came during the Mexican War; he was assigned as an artillery officer and soon demonstrated a aptitude for command. However, what brought even more attention to himself was a complete fearlessness under fire fixed to a desire to distinguish himself. Jackson did accomplish his objectives otwithstanding what he felt was a disappointingly short duration of the war.

He spent a good bit of his profession prior to The War by engaging in squabbles and legal action with his professional colleagues.

Of Jackson's military intellect, and his aptitude for accomplishing Herculean exertion from the men under his command there is no uncertainty. Jackson's failings presented by Farwell are as fascinating: he often did not follow orders exactly; he fell asleep at the oddest moments, he did not communicate well with students or secondary officers; which was so clearly revealed when Jackson was fatally wounded at Chancellorsville.

On the brink of an important triumph, the advantage was lost simply because no one knew what it was he intended to do.

Thomas Jonathan Jackson, 1812-1863, was an orphaned child for whom the future might have been austere. In the South, during the 1860s, agricultural farming and military careers were both recognized as significant, suitable endeavors for folk of quality. Jackson, a coarse country lad with token initial education, attended West point, finished with a comparatively unremarkable record, even though he was near the top of his class. Embarking upon a military career lifted Jackson from the depths of privation to a life of acknowledgement, commendation, acceptance and while not great affluence, it was at least a life much better than that he had known as a poor child.

Jackson found garrison duty in Florida, to be less satisfying than that found during the conflict with Mexico. Jackson engaged in unimportant conflict with his commanding officer, revealing his predisposition for tenacious, out of proportion, grudges against people with whom he took offense.

Jackson next took a job as an instructor at the young Virginia Military Institute, VMI, in Lexington, Virginia. Holding the job for he made his home in Lexington for the decade he held the job teaching young cadets. The advent of The War provided him abundant prospects for displaying his military mindfulness and intellect.

I did find Farwell appears to dedicate more time to Jackson's insufficiencies, his disappointments and his lack of personal grace than he does to the general's aptitudes and personal warmth and wit. The narrative encompasses a good bit of accurate, documented, data however, the author tends to insert his prejudice and sentiments which are not always indicated with documented historical data causing the book to be less useful as a reference source than it might have been.

Writer Farwell notes in his forward that the sobriquet Stonewall was one which the general himself preferred be given to his brigade and not to himself which is a documented fact regarding the General. On the other hand the name of the book is Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson which beggars the question why continue to forward the misconception that it was the man and not the brigade which was known as Stonewall?

NOTE: regarding the appellation Stonewall. The name came as a result of Jackson's staunchness in the face of danger at Manassas Junction/Bull Run. When Confederate Gen'l Bee reached the top of a hill and noticed Jackson sitting calmly; Gen'l Bee shouted his familiar line, "Look! There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally round the Virginians!"

The retreating Confederates took the shout to heart and began to reform a solid line. What Bee might have meant, or even have agreed were the actual words will forever be lost, he died later in the battle.

NOTE: Jackson's falling asleep when sitting is documented. In his home, open for public inspection in Lexington, the visitor will find a 'standing' desk which Jackson devised for his work. He did not fall asleep when on his feet.

This book is a part of my personal library, read in concert with other works regarding General Jackson it has more value than being viewed as the last word in accuracy. As with most books regarding historical matters Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson is a book to read, and then use as reference.

My own copy, as are all the books in this house regarding The War, is replete with underlines, highlights and margin notes.

Happy to recommend with the caveat: read more than one book on any historical subject, and especially do so when reading about Confederate Generals.

Welcome to the Ice House
Jane Yolen
Illustrator Laura Regan
Putnam Juvenile
9780399230110, $16.99, Hardcover, 32 pages

Jane Yolen's Welcome to the Ice House transports the reader to a fascinating location occupied with a frozen, undulating snowy vista as far as the eye can see. For the inexperienced; the frozen countryside give the impression as an unforgiving and intimidating place. I found Little Learners to be more than ready to consider the incredible land found in the polar regions. My First Graders were always captivated with the arctic along with any and all of the wildlife living there.

I found each of my Osage County First Grade Students began choosing arctic themed books from our classroom library shelf from the first day our new school term began, and, continued choosing them for free time reading, and take home books to share of family and friends.

Comprehensive graphics of polar animals proliferate the pages of this well-designed work. Winter in the arctic is a period of long winter days and, glacial arctic nights during which time a wide-ranging diversity of animals including walrus, moose, numerous birds, caribou, gyrfalcons, grizzly and polar bears, lynx, killer whale, fox, ptarmigan seal, and wolves, sieze and hold children's attention from the first page to the last of Welcome to the Ice House, as we gather on the rug for reading time at the end of the school day.

Most of the children in my classes are fortunate to have seen arctic fox, polar bear, seals, and penguins, at our nearby Tulsa zoo. We all shared sadness when 'our' polar died of old age. The children recognize bears, caribou, lynx, killer whales, and walruses from pictures they have seen.

Ptarmigan is a mesmerizing word to little folks who are just learning to sound out words. Images of the bird are shown in child pleasing detail.

As I read Author Yolen's chronicle, my students look at the illustration of the chilly sea where killer whales hunt and comment that the whales must be ready to eat some of the crowd of walrus in the water. A rushing wolf pack trailing a snowshoe hare along with a fox searching for lemmings permit children time to contemplate the subtle ebb and flow of nature. Living things take in sustenance if not, they die.

Students whose older brothers, dads and uncles may bring home a wild turkey or deer develop an understand as they become able to verbalize that hunting to appease hunger is not mean or evil; in nature, meat eaters eat meat and they prey upon critters because they are hungry, it is the way of nature.

Author Yolen's manuscript distinguished with Illustrator Laura Regan's carefully detailed illustrations move the reader from austere winter into glistening spring and summer. Where once was ice and snow, children begin to realize that there is more than just cold and white and snow as we are privileged to view a burst of color as white fox becomes a brown animal and lush blossoms wave in the warmer air.

Osage County First Grade students always enjoyed searching for the critters while listening to word penned by poet author Yolen and gazing at the two-page illustrative spreads. Regan's captivating illustrations jam-packed with accurate representations of nearly concealed, indigenous Arctic inhabitants provide Little Learners opportunity for quiet discussion while searching for the critters.

I enjoy the rhythm and pulse of language found in Jane Yolen's expressive words occupied with the magnificence and splendor of arctic life, animal and plant, displayed in the Chilly scenes. Author Yolen and Illustrator Regan transport the arctic to lifespan by means of their skillful use of lexicon and portrayal.

I found Welcome to the Ice House to be a beneficial element when placed in a teaching unit concerning the arctic locale and ecosystem. Graphics and script deliver grist for dialogue in this well received work by Writer Jane Yolen.

Happy to recommend for gifting a special Youngster, as well as for the public, school and classroom library shelf.

Molly Martin, Reviewer
Molly Reviews Books

Robin's Bookshelf

Walt Whitman Speaks
Walt Whitman, author
Brenda Wineapple, editor
Horace Traubel, contributor
Library of America
9781598536140 $19.95

With Walt Whitman In Camden

The Library of America aptly celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman (1819 -- 1892) with this short new book, "Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America". Whitman is no stranger to the LOA which includes a large volume of Whitman's poetry and prose, a selected volume of poetry in the American Poets Project series, and more. Yet this volume shows a new side of Whitman which will help readers think about his importance in the 200th year of his birth. Brenda Wineapple, the volume's editor, has written extensively on 19th century American history and literature, including her 2013 history, "Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848 -- 1877". The title "Ecstatic Nation" itself is an appropriate way for thinking about Whitman.

This new book consists of selections from Whitman's conversations during the last four years of his life with Horace Traubel. Whitman had been living in Camden, New Jersey from 1873. He met the adolescent Traubel ( 1858 -- 1919,) and the two gradually became trusted friends. Beginning when Traubel was 29, he would visit Whitman daily and meticulously take down the results of their wide-ranging conversations. Traubel eventually accumulated over 5000 pages consisting of his discussions with Whitman, and these conversations were published in nine large books, each titled "With Walt Whitman in Camden". Traubel's first book was published in 1906, and the final volumes of the series were published at last in 1996. Traubel's books documenting his association with Whitman has dwarfed Traubel's own considerable literary output which has been almost forgotten.

The nine volumes of Traubel are far too much even for the most avid student of Whitman. The LOA and Wineapple have performed a service by radically pruning Traubel's work to create this short book of under 200 pages. The volume consists of Whitman's short statements, many of which are under a paragraph in length, on a variety of subjects. The selections are arranged by subject matter and include only Whitman's own words rather than any interplay with Traubel.

The 35 sections in the volume allow the reader to share the companionship of Whitman in his old age. The book begins with some thought of Whitman on "Nature" and continue with his observations ranging over other literary figures, his own writing, including "Leaves of Grass", and on literature, poetry, and criticism. Further selections offer Whitman's thoughts on human relationships, including, markedly, sexual relations, friendship, love, and self-reliance. Wineapple presents some of Whitman's thoughts on his beloved United States, including discussions of democracy, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, politics, internationalism, radicalism, and the promise of America. The latter selections in the book take a philosophical cast as Whitman discusses science, religion, spirituality, the mystery of life, and his own response to old age and impending death.

The book offers the reader an excellent, short opportunity to spend time and to think with Whitman. If the nine volumes of Traubel are too much, however, my feeling was that this volume was too short and that there was more from Whitman that might be said. Still, this volume is a treat to make the elderly Whitman accessible to a wide readership in the LOA. In her perceptive introduction to the volume, Wineapple shares her own reaction to getting to know Whitman through Traubel.

"I found him to be a remarkable man, alert and engaged and without regret, a democrat in all things although not without his prejudices. .... In reading through his observations and declarations, I believe now more than ever that Walt Whitman remains an original, a man far ahead of his time who insisted on being himself. Proud never to have backed down or away from what he wanted to do, he did not mask his own wish, even his burning need to be recognized. So he collaborated with Horace Traubel, and hence with me, and with all of us who can for a little while eavesdrop on Whitman speaking about Whitman and his work, about other poets, about critics, about religion, and about his beloved America."

I was grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Whitman. In this time of polarization, it is a gift to hear his voice. Whitman reminds us of the importance of patriotism and of the value and promise of the United States even when Americans may criticize one another and disagree. Whitman's breadth, love of country and spirituality speak more clearly than ever to our rowdy, diverse, and sometimes divided nation.

Four Later Novels
Elmore Leonard, author
Greg Sutter, editor
Library of America
9781598534924 $40.00

The Later Elmore Leonard In The Library Of America

American literature shows a great deal of breadth, depth, and diversity. In a time of polarization, Americans should learn from and share the accomplishments of their culture in literature and in other endeavors. One of the unique features of American literature, and culture, is the blurring of boundaries between "serious" edifying writing and "popular" writing for entertainment. The United States has produced literature, music, and art that straddles these lines.

The Library of America performs an irreplaceable service in preserving and presenting the best of American writing in the areas of novels, poetry, history, philosophy, journalism, and more. The series presents many books that include elements of both edification and entertainment, including outstanding works of genre fiction. Among these books are the works of Elmore Leonard (1925 -- 2013) who enjoyed a long career as a writer of Westerns and of crime and suspense fiction. The LOA has presented a great deal of Leonard. The most recent LOA Leonard book is a volume of four Western novels from early in his career. Before that, the LOA had published a set of three books each consisting of four novels from Leonard's career as a writer of crime novels. Before his death, Leonard had collaborated with the LOA in choosing the contents of the three volumes.

The book I am reviewing "Four Later Novels" is the last in the three-volume set and consists of works written between 1990 and 2002. It is impressive how Leonard continued to write and develop his work into old age. While these works are all in Leonard's distinctive style, it is valuable to see how different they are from each other in settings and characters. The books have settings in Florida, Mississippi, Detroit, and Hollywood and place is important to each work. Each book displays Leonard's gift for snappy, punchy colloquial dialogue which captures the nature of the speakers. Although the books involve crime and suspense, they have a lightness and a humor which is among their most appealing qualities. While the books are written to entertain, they will be some thinking about the meanings that lie just below the surface. Of the four books in this collection, the first three became successful Hollywood movies.

The earliest novel in this volume "Get Shorty" (1992) is probably Leonard's best-known work. It features a small-time Miami loan shark, Chili Palmer, who arrives in Hollywood via Las Vegas where he manages to indulge his lifelong passion for movies by writing a script. The book is also a satire of Leonard's own experiences in Hollywood and combines a story of loan sharking and drug dealings with the story of Hollywood characters. Chili himself is the main attraction of this book as he says "look at me" to his deadbeat debtors and they manage to pay what they owe. The book explores life mirroring films mirroring novels.

"Rum Punch" (1992) is set in Florida and tells a tangled tale of double-crossing in a large drug deal. The book has two primary characters, Jackie Brown, a flight attendant who is complicit in the drug enterprise and who wants to avoid prosecution while walking off with the heist and Max Cherry, an aging bail bondsman who befriends her. The fast-paced story takes many twists and turns while also suggesting the needs of its characters to find meaning and love in their otherwise materialistic lives.

On the whole, I found "Out of Sight" (1996) my favorite of these four books. Set in Florida and in Leonard's Detroit, the book combines crime with a surprisingly tender love story. It explores the relationship between Jack Foley, 47, a lifelong bank robber who escapes from a Florida prison as the book begins in Karen Sisco, 27. a Deputy U.S. Marshall stationed in Miami. Early in the story, the two meet and are briefly bedded together where an undeniable chemistry and attraction develops. The attraction continues as Foley travels to Detroit to join a gang of no-nonsense, fierce crooks and Sisco is sent in pursuit. The relationship between the two is poignantly described, and Sisco develops into one of Leonard's best-drawn characters.

The final novel in this volume "Tishomingo Blues" (2002) is a large-scale sprawling work set in Mississippi, It was Leonard's own favorite among his books. The novel features many eccentric and sharply-drawn characters hailing from Mississippi and Detroit. The plot centers around a civil war reenactment of the Battle of Brice's Cross Roads fought June 10, 1864, during Sherman's march to Atlanta. The characters in the story include Dennis Lenahan, a high diver down on his luck, and a former professional baseball player, Charlie Hoke. The book features tawdry scenes of casinos, brothels, and bars. Civil war reenacting, the blues, drug violence, and American lives, both North and South, figure prominently in this book which displays the difficulty of moral choice in exploring the activities of its many characters.

In reading these four Leonard novels, I found the whole greater than the sum of the individual parts. The novels are sharply written and fun while still having their stories to tell. The novels in this LOA volume help show the range of American writing, including the genre of crime and suspense. They are a worthy addition to the LOA and a good way for readers to think about and appreciate the scope of American culture.

Robin Friedman

Suanne's Bookshelf

Angel in the Fog
TJ Turner
Oceanview Publishing
1620 Main Street, Suite 11, Sarasota, FL 34236
9781608092413, $26.95

Turner's historical fiction novel, Angel in the Fog, is the third in Turner's alternate history series in which Lincoln was not assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. I enjoyed the historical content, the suspense, and the action. Having read the first two in the series (Lincoln's Bodyguard and Land of Wolves), I have to admit that this one was my favorite. I devoured it in two sittings. The book was well-written, the characters complex and well-developed, and the plot fast-moving and intriguing. This prequel to Lincoln's Bodyguard fleshes out the story of Molly Ferguson, a character readers met in books one and two, and one ripe for in-depth exploration. I found Angel in the Fog more exciting and interesting than even the original. All are suspenseful, fast-paced, well-written and well-researched with complex well-developed characters.

An added treat here is the introduction not only of Molly Ferguson, but a real life character, Kate Warne, who Pinkerton hired as the nation's first female detective. strong, self-possessed, independent, strong, self-possessed, independent woman, Warne trains Molly to be a detective. These women were undaunted by the notion prevalent at the time of the Civil War that women were intellectually inferior to men and used their brains - as well as their sex - to their advantage to get the job done.

As a young girl, Molly was tragically uprooted from her family home and loved ones. This event set off circumstances that mold edMolly into a strong and courageous warrior in the War between the States. Readers follow her personal growth as well as her groundbreaking career was a female spy. Turner seamlessly weaves her story into American history.

Come and Get Me
August Norman
Crooked Lane Books
9781683319757, $26.99

Caitlin Bergman, an award winning journalist, returns to the university to receive an honorary degree. She missed getting it twenty years earlier because she bailed out of college weeks before earning her degree. In her thank-you address, she spontaneously reveals that she left because she had been raped.

Caitlin is a savvy independent female protagonist, but now that she's back in town her panic attacks have increased. She realizes that she needs help and is able to find it with a former professor/psychologist.

While she is in town, a young woman vanishes, joining the one that disappeared two years ago. The local police seem loath to fully investigate. Caitlin determines that the disappearance of these two girls be fully investigated - unlike her own rape.

This story is written by a male from the first person female perspective. The current "own voices" clamor says that only those who have experienced a particular sexuality or torment should be able to write about that experience. My feeling is that any empathetic person can write about such experiences. Norman does a good job both with the female POV and handling the messy, distasteful details of abduction and rape. If you are an "own voices" proponent, you won't care for this book. If you're not, you're in for a real treat of a thriller.

De-Extinctions: A Quick Immersion
Carles Lalueza-Fox
Tibidabo Publishing
9781949845006, $12.00

De-Extinctions: A Quick Immersion by Carles Lalueza-Fox is a short book but packed with fascinating facts and tidbits. There are few better placed to discuss de-extinction than Lalueza-Fox as he is one of the pioneers of the field of ancient DNA and has seen the field evolve from a technical curiosity to a field that holds enormous future potential. I was interested in reading it because, thanks to my dinosaur-loving son, I've only seen all of the Jurassic Park movies about a million times. Lalueza-Fox writes in detail about genomes, gene sequencing, etc. As a retired physician, I had no trouble following him, but his writing is not so far out into the scientific ozone that the average reader can't understand him. He writes eloquently about animal species that have gone extinct, whether through habitat failure, man's intervention killing or via climate change. Having relied on Jurassic Park for my information, I had not realized how complex re-making a species would be. The process begins with trying to sequence the various genes, and with no currently viable species, we might never know if we got the sequencing correct. Then there is the problem of finding an appropriate surrogate mother.

Lalueza-Fox states, "I believe it would be a mistake for conservationists to perceive the birth of de-extinction as a threat because it offers a glimmer of hope that should not be underestimated. The resurrection of species could be used as a launching pad to promote comprehensive conservation." This view certainly gave me hope for the future of our planet.

Overall, this was a fascinating read.

Her Daughter's Mother
Daniela Petrova
G.P. Putnam's Sons
9780525539971, $26.00

As a woman and a physician who's undergone a fertility work-up, I was very interested in reading Her Daughter's Mother by Daniela Petrova. Little did I know I was getting myself into a psychological thriller. Entranced, I stayed up until four a.m. to finish the book in one sitting.

Lena is a savvy woman, an art historian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has spent years developing her career. For the past eight years she's been living with her boyfriend. They've struggled with infertility so long that they've lost sight of everything else in their relationship.

When at last they decide to use the eggs of an anonymous donor, Lena inadvertently befriends that young woman which leads to unforeseen tragic consequences in her life, that of her boyfriend, and that of the donor.

This book gripped me from the beginning, and I enjoyed all the plot twists and turns revealed through the points of view of three different unreliable narrators and interwoven with the events of the infertility process.

This story is more than a thriller, though; it's also a story about women finding connections with each, searching for redemption, and defining "family." At the heart of this novel is two women's journey toward finding family, connection, and redemption, which took the novel beyond the usual psychological suspense.

How to Be Loved: a Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship
Eva Hagberg Fisher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
9780544991156, $24.00

Sometimes, the hardest thing to change is yourself. Eva Hagberg Fisher has written a gut-wrenching memoir about being being unloved and unloveable. This isn't a typical love story, though Eva falls in love with Winston Fisher, her husband, but is a story about the love between friends. While dealing with multiple life-threatening illnesses (a brain hemorrhage from a cyst in her pituitary gland, ablation of an aberrant heart conduction pathway known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and lastly, mast-cell activation syndrome in which her body literally became allergic to almost everything, Eva slowly learns to allow herself to be loved. She accepts and returns multiple friendships that others extend her, particularly Allison, who is dying from metastatic breast cancer, Lauren, who is bipolar, and Winston, Eva's physicist husband, who believes in her and her symptoms when doctors are telling her she's crazy.

There is a moment in the book in which Eva lists to Allison all the reasons she is unlovable, and Eva realizes those are the same traits for which people love her. Eva's experiences with Allison give Eva the ability to allow people to approach and become close to her. Another great moment is when Eva allows herself to surrender. The writing is sometimes raw, sometimes a bit self-serving, sometimes a bit self-pitying, but overall it is an admirable account of a woman who overcomes addictions to alcohol and cocaine and the breakdown of her own body.

An important idea, though the violence aspect doesn't play heavily in the book, Eva admits that even she, a woman, has learned not to believe other women, "And it wasn't limited to illness. I thought about reports of sexual violence or assaults ... it was easier for me to believe that the world was fundamentally safe ... than it was for me to see how prevalent violence was. How prevalent, in my case, illness was." As a female physician, I have treated many women whose physicians (usually male) have discounted their symptoms, chalking them up as being psychological rather than physical with a real underlying cause. How to be loved is also an accurate documentation of one woman working her way through multiple physicians, hoping each believes her and finds a bona fide cause for her symptoms. And also a look at how subtly the patriarchal beliefs of women as inferior, weaker, overly-emotional, and unbelievable have infiltrated our psyches, women included.

Kill Code
Clive Fleury
TCK Publishing
9781631610561, $14.99

Kill Code by Clive Fleury is a dystopian read that was equal parts engaging and unsettling, especially since the setting was both realistic and disturbing as it reflects the results of climate change. The coast of Southern California including the Pacific Coast highway have eroded into the ocean. Smog has given most people breathing problems. The percentage of unemployed people has skyrocketed.

In this world, the National Security Council (NSC) has become an elite for that purports to protect folks from the Krails, a band of Mad Max type motorcycled hoodlums. In actuality, the protect the upper class.

The characterization was fairly strong, and the main character, Hogan Duran, has enough inner conflict to make him interesting. The book is a bit slow starting as Fleury spends a fair amount of time world-building and giving readers a glimpse into the inner workings of Duran. An ex-cop with PTSD from watching his partner get shot, Duran resigned from the police force and now lives with the wheelchair-bound partner and works delivering newspapers.

Duran's life is changed forever when he is accepted into the elite NSC. He learns that the NSC is not what he expected, and he has to make decisions that will change his life, and potentially the NSC and the nation itself. The action scenes are impeccably written. You'll race through this book, unable to turn pages fast enough.

Miracle Creek
Angie Kim
Sarah Crichton Books
c/o Simon and Schuster
9780374156022, $27.00

Angie Kim's debut novel is a genre-breaking combination of courtroom drama, thriller, mystery, and family drama. Kim deftly blends these myriad elements, a cast of complex characters, and a fascinating plot.

Miracle Creek starts - literally - with a bang as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber filled with autistic children and their parents explodes. The ensuing pages pieces together lives, lies, half-truths, and lies by omission, all recounted by seven unreliable narrators, as the arson/murder trial progresses. No one is innocent. No one is who they seem to be. Layer by layer, everyone's flaws are revealed and events unravelled as the body count rises. Kim writes with exquisite nuances of the differences between right and wrong, slowly deconstructing each situation and the inner struggles the seven narrators undergo.

But Miracle Creek is more than a courtroom drama. It blends the lives of Korean immigrants, children with cerebral palsy or autism, and their parents with interesting twists: Munchausen by proxy syndrome, sexual assault, and the moral and ethical questions involved as, one by one, characters obstruct justice to serve their own ends or to protect their children.

Kim writes with gut-wrenching detail of life with a child on the spectrum, and is spot-on in capturing the joys and tribulations of having such a child.

The Riddle of the Sphinx
Alexandre Montagu
Persepolis Press
9781732602106, $16.95

I chose to read The Riddle of the Sphinx because my family lived in Tehran during the timeframe of Keyvan/Eric's childhood there and because I am currently - somewhat inadvertently - reading a bunch of "own voices" books and this book fit right in.

Montague uses the "sliding door" technique of showing alternate realities and divides the book, like the answer to the Sphinx's riddle, into childhood, teen years, and full adulthood. Keyvan/Eric lives a privileged life in Tehran and attends an international school His family no longer practices Islam, and he's never been in a mosque. While in school he has several same-sex experiences which are outlawed by Islam. When the Shah is deposed and Khomeini takes over the reins of government, Keyvan's life changes. After his family's escape from Tehran and their move to Paris, he then goes on to college at Princeton.

The Riddle of the Sphinx has pages and pages of historical information on Persian culture and the impact of Islam on it, including descriptions of the 2500 year rule of the Shah's family. In addition, in the Princeton segments, there was a lot of description of Proust and his writings. Overall, these segments tended to tell rather than show, and I frequently found myself skimming them.

On the other hand, the description of Keyvan/Eric with his various lovers was delightful to read, and Montagu gave very good description of Keyvan/Eric's sexual awakening in the first two sections of the book. Later, when Eric has emerged fully as Eric and is a mature man with a wife and children and a top-notch career as lawyer, he is dissatisfied with where he ends in life. He grapples with his inner homoerotic desires and his current lifestyle. The final third of the book deals with how he handles this dissatisfaction with his life.

The book is quite character-driven as the reader sees Eric grow and mature as he struggles with his identity. The class of self versus culture and the reaction to life-altering adversity should have driven the novel forward. Unfortunately, there is a lot of pedantic narration that reads textbook-dry.

Unbroken Threads
Jennifer Klepper
Red Adept Publishing, LLC
9781948051118, $15.99

Jennifer Klepper's debut Unbroken Threads is a lovely, thoughtful book about the intersection between two women's lives.

The protagonist is a former securities lawyer who's been a stay-at-home-mother, Jessica. She's trying to re-enter the work force by doing pro bono work with an organization that helps refugees with the complex and often arcane procedures in solved in seeking political asylum in the United States. Her first case involves Amina, a Syrian woman who wears a hijab.

The characters grow nicely as the novel progresses. For example, Jessica, the lawyer, realizes that she is more prejudiced than she believed she was while her clearly more-bigoted husband also moves toward less intolerant views. Both women overcome biases toward each other as their friendship deepens.

Though on the surface Unbroken Threads is about refugee sand prejudice, it is also the story of two women finding themselves through the friendship and their individual and joint travails. Klepper, the author also guides readers in understanding the Syrian - and other - refugee crises and the challenges of being a refugee in the States. In this age of #OwnVoices, Klepper found the wherewithal to write from the point of view of a Syrian immigrant and does a superlative job weaving the lives of the two women together.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan's Bookshelf

Bloody Coffee
Michelle Dim-St. Pierre
Mountain Abor Press
9781631835223, $16.99, 332 Pages

In this traumatic and sometimes heart-rending novel we meet a teenage girl called Leigh, whose world has been turned upside down when she discovers that the man she has always known as her father isn't actually her biological father. This traumatic fact was not uncovered as you might think by accident, but as a result of being given by her mother, her own journals of that period in her life.

Although Leigh lives in New York, she travels to Tel-Aviv where her mother used to be a nurse to track down and meet her 'real' father Dr Ezra Sloan. However, by accident or because of the circumstances, (Who can tell?) this confrontation doesn't go as planned and instead a distraught Leigh finds herself performing CPR on Sloan as he suffers a heart attack. With the ambulance sirens fading into the distance it is a confused Leigh who is left wondering what the future holds.

However, the plucky young lady is undaunted, and despite having to face the wrath of Sloan's wife and sons, she has the fortitude to continue in her quest to discover the reasons why he is not in her life, and is surprised and confused by what she uncovers.

Leigh's dogged determination means that her life alternates between New York and Tel-Aviv, and as more and more of her mother's past is revealed the questions mount up, and a tormented Leigh finds herself desperately searching for answers to her questions.

Throughout, the reader can clearly see both sides of this very emotional story. Although my heart bled for Leigh at times, and her torment was easy to understand, as the saying goes 'you have to walk a mile in someone's shoes, before you can judge them.' As a parent and a mother Sharon's decision to reveal the truth was a brave one, and with the resulting emotional backlash and recriminations, one has to admire her ability to support her daughter at times. After all everyone is entitled to their own secrets...

The author Michelle Dim-St. Pierre, was born and spent half her life in Tel-Aviv, before moving to America. In this very powerful novel overflowing with emotional turmoil and suspense, she uses her work and life experiences to keep her reader spellbound until the very last page. I highly recommended this book to lovers of fictional human interest stories, laced with intrigue and mystery.

Available from Amazon

Anuk: Book of Words
Suzanne Mondoux
Balboa Press
9781982225520, $17.95, 260 Pages

In the author's first book, The Adventures of Anuk: The First Leap, we meet Anuk on her 16th birthday. At the beginning of the story she is living with her adopted Mammal Beings Julea and Lucca, but she is an Assisi Human. For those who don't know, Assisi Humans are very special beings, half animal half human, and they have a very important responsibility, and this is to keep the harmony between the humans and other Beings. However, on her birthday she is given a book of poems and two medallions with magical powers, and is told that she must follow her destiny and travel to her homeland of Roese.

This, the second book, opens with Anuk living happily on Roese Island, her home for several seasons. It is a time of great joy because she is celebrating her graduation. After causing a sensation on her arrival, now aged 23 she is an accomplished culinary explorer, and the islanders call her the 'Island Chef.' Talked about, and an inspiration to the young Being on the island, Anuk is very popular, is loved by her students, and is always welcome into their homes for the reading of poems.

Anuk meets with her Dragon friend Noga, and together they go to the graduation ceremony where Noga reads from the Book of Words. "We are the last herd of Elephant Beings to walk the Orb." The words are chilling, and everyone recognises that the book has a significance that no-one has realised before. Contained within its pages is a hidden map which reveals the location of Satao, the place where the last remaining Elephant Beings exist.

At The Round Table Council, Anuk is asked to read from the book. With mounting horror the council members discover how the Elephant Beings had to hide their tusks from the Etani, who were notorious killers of the Elephant Beings for their ivory tusks, and then about their massacre by the Poach under the command of the Empire.

Gradually Anuk understands the significance of the golden elephant tattoo which has been emerging between her shoulder blades. When she reveals it to the council it is complete, and she discovers that the Book of Words she was entrusted with aged 16 was actually written by the Elephant Beings, and it is her destiny to return to them, she is its one true guardian!

With this revelation comes another, the Empress has discovered the Book of Words is on Roese Island and is coming to retrieve it.

With the islands peoples in danger, Anuk is hailed as the 'Change Maker' and with Aye, Noga, Kinkajou, and EagleOwl as her companions, she embarks on her quest to return the book to Satao.

This spectacular adventure sees the intrepid troop facing real dangers, strange creatures and mythical beings, both friends and foes. However, together they stand united, listen to advice and have an heroic race against time to keep the Book of Words safe. But will they succeed in their quest, and reach their destination before the dreaded Etani or Poach?

The author's incredible imagination and gift for writing has produced this second book in the Anuk series. Within, her readers have the opportunity not only to escape into a wonderful, magical, land, but also through its amazing characters to learn valuable life lessons about duty, giving to others and conservation.

Available from Amazon

Dynomike: Proud To Be Me
Frankie B. Rabbit
Dynomike Teaches
9781091804654, $14.99, 55 Pages

My granddaughter and I are great fans of the Dynomike books, she because of the lovely stories and bright illustrations, and myself because of the skill Frankie B. Rabbit exhibits in managing to put important life lesson skills within pages of a book which easily captures the attention of young children.

In this Dynomike book, Dynomike is visiting summer camp, something looked forward to, or dreaded by children each year. He arrives confident that he is going to have a wonderful time, playing and making new friends.

However, this is before Mr. Pop Sour announces that it's time for kickball. Eager to play Dynomike is excited until he strips in a puddle and emerges covered in mud.

Poor Dymnomike, and if that's not bad enough a nasty bully called Freckly Frock picks on him and taunts him, which isn't very nice at all!

What a nasty character Freckly Frog is! His actions make Dynomike slink away, ashamed, and feeling afraid and insecure. The horrible bully has really made him sad.

Then, sitting in the cabin Dynomike realises that this scared person isn't who he is. He has come to camp to enjoy himself and make friends. Empowered by this realisation, he decides that he will not be defeated and confronts Freckly Frog. When he does his words make the bully realise how horrible he has been.

This little story holds an enormous message, one of believing in your strength and self-worth. Children reading this will gain courage and learn through Dynomike how to deal with nasty bullies, and importantly, how to show friendship to them afterwards and 'be the bigger person.'

Not only is this story one which all children will enjoy and learn from in a gentle way, but also the author has also kindly given his readers a free Dynomike book at the end.

Available from Amazon

A Future With Hope
Carl S. Armato
Independently Published
9780692153147, $19.99, 200 Pages

A Future With Hope - what an excellent title for this book, it sets the tone perfectly for the inspirational and educational content.

The author, Carl S. Armato was diagnosed in the mid 1960's with type 1 diabetes at the very young age of 18 months. However, the knowledge that their son was the youngest child ever to be diagnosed with diabetes in St. Mary Parish, Patterson, on the Gulf Coast in rural Louisiana enthused his parents, Lucien and Leona Armato, with a determination, and that was to change the whole family's diet and lifestyle to fit in with the diagnosis. Their positive attitude followed Carl through the years and gave him the faith that he was master of his own destiny, not diabetes!
Although a pediatrician, Dr. Carmen Posada had an interest in endocrinology for type 1 diabetes and with her support and tutelage his mother learnt how to check and control his sugars, something which he in turn would learn and have to do throughout his life.

However, he was determined not to be defined by his diagnosis, and with the support of his family, friends, and wife Christi he has enjoyed his life, and enriched the lives of those he has known over the past 52 years.

With a philosophy that knowledge is power, he has become an expert on diabetes, so much so that in 2012 he became CEO of Novant Health, a hospital which outperforms all hospitals in the same data platform in terms of diabetes care. Embracing changes in technology and always happy to offer advice and support, it wasn't until a few years after becoming CEO that he opened up about having the disease himself.

In writing this book, the author has culminated a lifetimes experience with the disease at all ages, which in itself offers the reader a real insight into the dedication to diet and exercise that is critically important to manage the disease, and how dangerous not paying attention to it can be. Throughout he stresses the necessity of having a good support system. Indeed, his family, friends and wife have also contributed to the book which gives other perspectives, and the admiration and respect he has earnt over the years from the medical profession and his friends is to be admired.

My husband has type 2 diabetes, and did for a period of time have type 1, so I am very aware of how the disease can make you feel. This book is incredibly uplifting, it is very easy to become depressed about the need to take sugar readings regularly, and the lifelong diagnosis, the positive attitude the author has embraced is an example to us all.

Interesting, well written, and full of information and inspiration, this book is a must read for not only those who have diabetes, but also their families.

Available from Amazon

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

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

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