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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 22, Number 6 June 2022 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Annette Meeuwse's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Gini Grossenbacher's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Marianne Farina's Bookshelf
Mark Walker's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Perdita Buchan's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
University of California Press
9780520383364, $29.95 PB / $20.99 Kindle

Failure is fatal to happiness but can be fruitful for fame. Metaphorically, resurrection often follows crucifixion. Sometimes partial but spectacular success adds glamour to a downfall, like Alexander's or Napoleon's. Magellan is exceptional because his failure was total. Yet his renown seems impregnable.

Why is this? Filipe Fernandez-Armesto does not answer this question but he does trace Magellan's life and times with scholarly thoroughness, advising anyone prompted to celebrate Magellan's achievements in 2022 (7 centuries after 35 sailors - without Magellan - completed the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe) to 'discard the myths, penetrate the truth' and learn what Magellan's achievements, and failures, really were.

As Fernandez-Armesto admits, there is little that can be said for certain, but he marshals whatever evidence is available, makes no apology for 'wielding imagination disciplined by the evidence' and by his own 'long study of the subject', and is thorough in checking and citing his sources, including those originally written in Spanish.

One of the delights of this book for me, was Fernandez-Armesto's absolute confidence in his own ability 'to show more of what Magellan was like than any of [the author's] predecessors'; and his willingness to voice controversial opinions about, for example, those 'Enrages' who express 'modern wrath' by toppling statues, like those of Columbus, in order 'to protect them from onlookers and onlookers from offence'. However, this book is so packed with information about the history and politics of Magellan's times, and with other information peripheral to Magellan's actual voyages, that it is not always easy reading.

Magellan, it seems, in spite of the kudos he has garnered over the centuries and the many things which have been named after him (craters on the moon, for example) was not a hero, nor did he circumnavigate the globe, as is popularly believed. His loyalties were 'negotiable', he took needless risks, launched an invasion, and briefly captured one of the 'giants' in the South American land he jokingly named 'Patagonia' (meaning 'big-paws') and which he 'took possession of in the name of the king of Spain'. The voyage for which he is best known was a failure, he lost ships, his sailors died or deserted, two of his ships' captains incited their crews to mutiny against him, and he failed to reach the destination which he was supposed to reach.

Against all this, Fernandez-Armesto makes a good case for Magellan's chivalric intentions, showing how the pattern of his life was influenced by his education as a page at the Portuguese court of Dom Manuel, where 'chivalry was the aristocratic ethos of the day' and young men absorbed its code and were trained for holy warfare. Magellan's own writings, too, show that he had read the popular legends of knights errant; and his actions in the Philippines, where he began to convert the islanders to Christianity, were clearly undertaken with Christian zeal. Magellan, it was said, 'rarely displayed prudence but never lacked courage'.

Fernandez-Armesto, spends a good deal of time describing the political and business complexities of the world into which Magellan was born. He fills out details of his early life, his marriage, his mercantile ventures, and, in particular, his war experiences during Portuguese colonising expeditions along the east coast of African. Eventually, Magellan, like many other Portuguese adventurous young men at the time, abandoned Dom Manuel when he did not receive the recognition he thought he deserved, and gave his allegiance, instead, to the Spanish king, Charles V.

Spain and Portugal, then, abided by a division of the world's oceans first laid down in a papal bull in the fifteenth century. The terms of this division relied on questionable geographical knowledge. Latitudes had been drawn but longitude was unknown, so there was room for territorial disputes. The Moluccas, in particular, which were the source of the three most valuable spices in the world - nutmeg, mace and cloves - were claimed and occupied by the Portuguese but Magellan convinced Charles V that they were in fact in Spanish territory. Charles therefore agreed to finance an expedition which would seek out a way of reaching the Moluccas without using the Portuguese route around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa.

Magellan set out with 5 ships and 234 men. Fernandez-Armesto vividly describes the horrors of that journey in which the ships first crossed the Atlantic to the southernmost tip of South America in order to seek a passage through to the Pacific, and then could sail on to the Spice Islands and the Indian Ocean. Delayed by adverse winds and storms, the ships became battered, food ran short and men died from scurvy. The fleet chose to overwinter at San Julian in Argentina, where mutiny, executions and murders, kidnapping of natives and burning of villages took place. In April, one ship was sent on an exploratory venture and found 'an inviting estuary' but it was shipwrecked in a storm and the crew became castaways. Two of them walked 2 terrible days, through snow, to reach Magellan who sent a rescue party. When the strait was eventually found, passage through it was long, tortuous and taxing: 'The completion of the course to the ocean left no doubt that the strait was better understood as an obstacle than a gateway'; and Magellan's voyage was already a failure:

The strait was too far from Spain. The way was too long and arduous, the weather too cold, the available food too scarce and unnourishing, the winds too adverse, the coasts too hazardous. Magellan's route, even if it eventually led to the Spicery, would never be able to compete with the faster passage the Portuguese already followed.

Nearing the end of the strait, and against the advice of officers and pilots, Magellan, who 'always responded to setbacks with obduracy, like a compulsive gambler on a losing streak', decided not to abandon the mission and return to Spain. So, they went on, and emerged into the Pacific. Around this time one ship, San Antonio, deserted.

Magellan had no idea of the vastness of the Pacific. It was 4 months of 'unprecedented physical and mental suffering', which Fernandez-Armesto describes and comments on, before the fleet sighted the islands of Guam and Rota. There the ships were boarded by seemingly friendly natives who began to steal whatever they could. 'A few discharged firearms' drove them away and Magellan mounted a retaliatory raid before the ships 'skedaddled', not towards the Malaccas, but towards the Philippines.

It seems that Magellan deliberately defied Charles's order and decided that Philippine gold was a more favourable and more valuable acquisition than spices. There he set about converting the various islands to Christianity, baptizing the natives, celebrating mass, and, so becoming, as Fernandez-Armesto puts it, 'an aspirant holy man' who, nevertheless, was also intent on establishing his own lordship. The reports of the battle with the natives of Mactan, in which he was killed, are fragmentary and contradictory. 'Magellan rushed into battle against Mactan as unwarily as a knight at a tilt', we are told, with a 'handful of companions' against what some witnesses describe as thousands of natives, others as between thirty-eight and sixty. After more deaths and delays the fleet finally left the Philippines. There were not enough men left to man three ships so only Victoria and Trinidad sailed on. No-one knew how to get to the Moluccas, so after careening the ships off the coast of Borneo and replenishing supplies, they wandered.

The final chapter of The Straits, 'Aftermath and Apotheosis, recounts the rest of the story. The ships were in poor condition: Trinidad was too wormed and leaky to make the voyage home, so it underwent repairs, whist Victoria set off for Spain. There were more hardships, disasters and deaths, some due to straying into Portuguese waters, others due to the poor state of the ships, the weather, scurvy, and the lack of food supplies. After 3 years, of the 5 ships and 234 men who set out from Spain on this great voyage of discovery, only four survivors from the Trinidad got home to Spain, whereas eighteen men were still aboard the Victoria when she reached Seville, and thirteen shipmates whom the Portuguese had captured were returned soon afterwards.

The voyage had been an unmitigated failure. It was amazing that anyone got home alive; and to return with any sort of cargo was enough to make commodity marketeers salivate. The common opinion, however, that the expedition made a cash profit is false.

Fernandez-Armesto concludes by discussing, again, some of the ways in which Magellan, 'a failed conqueror who burned villages and coerced and killed people', continues to be the subject of adulation. He admits that Magellan did have admirable qualities but he wonders how he manages to escape 'dethronement' now that any of the commonplaces of the past such as 'imperialism, slavery, incontinent bloodlust and unjust discrimination' are recast as crimes. He is clearly puzzled by this and discusses it at some length. Maybe he hopes this book will change things, because his final questions suggest that he still has not found the answer:

The spirit of adventure can and often does mislead its followers into rapacity and rapine. But they deserve some credit for answering its call. Where would we be without it? Where would we be without them?

Robert Dessaix
Brio Books
9781922598783, A$34.99 PB, 320 pages

'Abracadabra - an ancient Aramaic spell avra kadavra ('it will be created in words')'

On his preface to these collected writings, Dessaix describes them as 'talks of mine from gala occasions, along with a few chatty but targeted pieces of journalism....[plus] a short story'; and on the back cover, he is quoted as calling his journal articles 'feuilletons'. Before I began to read the book, I looked up the translation of 'feuilletons' - 'soap operas' was the first translation I came across.

Dessaix prefers to translate the word as 'performances' - 'a particular kind of brief literary entertainment', an 'irreverent 'jeu d'esprit' that our era seems to shy away from'. Typically, he gives us the history of the word from its eighteenth century 'suave original French', to its use by the Russians, who were 'masters of the form'.

By the time the reader gets to Dessaix's own feuilletons in the second section of this book, we already know that he loves the Russian language and literature, enjoys the panache and subtlety of the French and their language, and is erudite, intelligent, witty, provocative, opinionated and fun to listen to (since he regards these writing as 'conversation') even when you disagree with him. He is also in inveterate gossip, claiming that

For me, gossip is a kind of choreographed chatting (not just speaking) that goes beyond the hard facts... From my point of view, as I once tried to explain it, ' serves a comedic purpose in the drama of our lives. It's an impudent, disruptive game with appearances...' And that's what performance is.

Dessaix's gossip tells us a great deal about him and about his views on such disparate topics as, for example, kissing, reading, writing, 'Where Babies Come From' (a chapter title), literature, foreign parts and 'How Enid Blyton Changed My Life' (another chapter title).

Dessaix grew up in 'middle class', suburban Sydney. His adoptive father, Tom ('a man of no great consequence at all to anybody apart from me'), was not a reader, nor did he listen to good music, but he loved languages, learned French and Indonesian and, Dessaix says, 'he opened window after window in my mind - windows I'd swoop in an out of all my life'. In particular, Tom encouraged Dessaix to do whatever it was he wanted to do:

I wanted to dance after I'd seen Red Shoes - who didn't?

'Well dance then,' he said, 'I'll get you the shoes.' And he did. (Me. A boy. In 1950-something).

Marry, don't marry, learn Russian, believe, don't believe, live in Paris (although I'll miss you) - do it. Days are to be happy in.

Tom's 'snaps' of his own early travels in Russia, Japan and Malaya also stirred in Dessaix the urge see the world - so, 'off I flew when still a child and still have not quite come home again'.

Many of Dessaix's talks were originally given to literary groups or at writers' festivals, and his eclectic reading, especially of Russian classics, is evident in his references to Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Nicolai Gogol, also Andre Gide, Joseph Campbell, Proust and Borges. But he refers just as casually to modern writers and to those who were his earliest influence, like Richmal Crompton of the Just William books, Kenneth Grahame and Wind in the Willows, and, especially, to Enid Blyton:

Why Enid Blyton? Because she knew 'the secret places children like to escape to'. She knew how to take her readers on dangerous and exciting adventures, adventures in which they go to strange places, struggle with enemies, rely on the loyalty of friends, overcome all odds, then, always, return home, just as in traditional hero-stories.

'Every book of Enid Blyton's that I read was about adventuring', says Dessaix, 'An adventure is a transforming narrative'. He enjoyed the magic of the Faraway Tree stories, but he 'fell under the spell of the Famous Five', who provided him with his own 'private fantasy land with its own private language'

It was not Gogol who actually changed my life, however. He gave me a voice, but he didn't change my life. I would like to say it was Aquinas or Darwin or, at the very least, Sartre who did, but it was in fact Enid Blyton.

Abracadabra is probably best read a little at a time so that Dessaix's one-sided 'conversations', so full of ideas and opinions and changes of scenery, do not get exhausting. However, he is good company. I enjoyed being taken to Ladakh and Ooty and Venice. I agree with him about the media's obsession with sport and share his 'disinterest' in watching 'men chasing a ball and falling over'. And I laughed at his love-letter to his Collins Robert Unabridged French-English English-French Dictionary:

Bonjour, cher dictionnaire! (Here the French would put an exclamation mark - can you hear it? So jubilant, so like a kiss, so much chirpier than our English comma

I like his comments about the way good fiction can open our minds and challenge 'the single-mindedness of the pious today - of those who know what's right and have little curiosity about what others love and have loved at different times in different places and why'. And I empathise with his lament over the now minimal coverage of serious literary fiction in The Times Literary Supplement. I enjoyed his assessment of the Lonely Planet Indonesian Phrasebook's entries under ROMANCE, which move directly from 'I love you' to 'Would you like to meet my parents', followed closely by 'I never want to see you again'. It reminded me of my own antique pocket-size Italian phrase book which provides phrases for addressing 'baggage porters' and 'carriage drivers'.

One of the last pieces in Abracadabra is an 'of-the-cuff' reflection on 'Connoisseurs' in which Dessaix suggests that his own 'appreciation of taste...sites ill with modern sensibilities'. Clearly he appreciates the expertise of, for example, curators who create art exhibitions which thrill him, and he is dismayed by the way individual expertise in any subject - art, wine, cigar, etc. - now seems so little valued. Dessaix himself is certainly a connoisseur of literary fiction, as several of the pieces in this book demonstrate, and he is also an excellent performer - a master, you might say, of the feuilleton.

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

Annette Meeuwse's Bookshelf

Another in the Fire
Aaron Reed
Self Published
9798471016620, $22.96 paperback

Author Aaron Reed's handwritten note to me on his book's inside cover is dated October 31, 2021. Halloween. This date could not be more fitting....this book turned out to be the biggest trick-or-treat of my lifetime! Another in the Fire chronicles Reed's descent into his personal hell of meth addiction in the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, becoming an international drug mule, ultimately getting caught in a Columbian airport, and surviving more than three years' imprisonment in La Modelo prison.

The tricky part is that I knew Aaron at the beginning of this journey. We were professionals working together, each living adventurous, comfortable 'expat' lives in southeast Asia. As a high school English teacher, he was witty, well-read, and articulate. Students liked him. He and I shared congenial conversations and laughs almost daily, ranging on topics from books and writing, to navigating life (and traffic) in tropical Phnom Penh. And not once, until I received this book over ten years later, did I ever, EVER suspect the downward spiral that Aaron was beginning to slide down at that time. One of my first thoughts on reading this book was to wonder if I could have made any difference or provided any support if I had known back then what I know now. It was a sobering reminder of how glibly I can take so much for granted about others, unless I am willing to move beyond the superficial. This quote that I came across while preparing a presentation for staff came to mind as I read:

In truth, most people with addiction are hard-working people who pay their bills, who have families and even stand out as examples of what "success" looks like. We are often people sitting at the desk next to yours at work, in the pew at church, helping you move. Addiction, in many cases, is hidden. The turmoil is internal and unseen.

Yet, in spite of the distressing nature of Reed's story, unbelievably the treats also abound in this book. Treats of great storytelling, of the grimmest of grim hero's journey trope, and mostly of hope. A master storyteller, Reed kept me turning pages to see what would happen next. He uses language like, "our mouths full of nothing to say" and "riding February into March, everything was confetti". Finally, he is candidly honest, brutally human, sparing nothing and no-one, including himself. He lays the underbelly of addiction bare and slays it again and again with his words and his truth.

I definitely only recommend this book for open-minded adults who are not easily offended by reality. Reed includes the torrid details and graphic content. Just when I quietly wondered how things could get any worse for Aaron, they did - in the most awfully unimaginable ways. In his own words, "The entire maggot-infested cornucopia was better than being alone". In my opinion, Reed's courage is paralleled only by his talent and his tenacious spirit.

Annette Meeuwse, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

The SuperOptimist Guide to Unconventional Living
Nathaniel Whitten, author
Walter Morton, author
Vitally Important Books
9780977480784, $14.95, PB, 202pp

Synopsis: Nathaniel Whitten and Walter Morton, the transmitters of SuperOptimism, have been at the forefront of self-experimentation for over 40 years. With the publication of "The SuperOptimist Guide to Unconventional Living" they present their latest findings designed to free the mind and revive the spirit through natural means. Their readers can now sidestep the status quo and open their neural pathways to more expansive thinking with this new volume from the original transmitters of SuperOptimism.

A unique collection of thought experiments, provocations and activities, "The SuperOptimist Guide to Unconventional Living" will assist in awakening the senses, challenging conventions, and sparking daily adventures. Among the many secrets contained within these pages, there are cogent answers to the following: 1. How can thinking backwards propel me forwards? 2. Why is it preferable to listen to the news in French? 3. Which four words will improve my outlook forever? 4. Can I journey into space without the need of a rocket? 5. Why should I carry a lemon at all times?

For those who favor Zen Buddhism, stoicism, white magic, transcendentalism, free will or post-humanism, this eclectic guide will help spur the imagination and refresh your practice.

Critique: Impressively well written, thoroughly friendly in organization and presentation, "The SuperOptimist Guide to Unconventional Living" is a thought-provoking, ultimately inspiring read, occasionally iconoclastic, life-changing/life- enhancing volume that is especially recommended for personal reading lists and community library DIY Self-Help/Self- Improvement collections.

Running to Win: The Story of Eric Liddell
Ellen Caughey
Barbour Publishing
P.O. Box 719, 1810 Barbour Drive, Uhrichsville, OH 44683
9781643525273, $9.99, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: A world-class runner and a committed Christian, Eric Liddell (16 January 1902 - 21 February 1945) was a Scottish runner who bypassed an Olympic qualifying race because it was being held on a Sunday. Then he qualified in a different race and won a gold medal (in world record time!) in the 1924 Paris games.

But Liddell left his fame behind to become a missionary in China. His dramatic story, which inspired the Academy Award-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire, will challenge you to run the race of life mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 - 2:

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith."

"Running to Win: The Story of Eric Liddell" is an informative biography detailing Liddell's life and ministry, and the sacrifices he made in commitment to God.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and although a work of non-fiction biography, "Running to Win: The Story of Eric Liddell" reads with all the drama of a finely crafted novel. While highly recommended for community, college, and university library American Biography & Christian Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Running to Win: The Story of Eric Liddell" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.49).

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Summers at the Lake: Upper Michigan Moments and Memories
Jon C. Stott
Modern History Press
5145 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105-9627
B09YDNKM6R, $5.95 Kindle
9781615996704, $19.95 PB, $34.95 HC, 177 pp.

Jon C. Stott delightfully described the many joys of lakeside living with the unchanging activities of summer. Deb Le Blanc's many photographs are stunning, enriching the text. Readers will feel like they are right there at the cabin next to the author. Stott says calendars are not required; just note the active fly type until summer is over and time has flown. Fireflies? Not so much, however. Light pollution, habitat loss, and pesticides make precious sightings few. Excerpts from the author's father's published writings show how lakeside living was the same for several generations that spent summers at the lake. Often locals will not reveal where their prized blueberry picking spot is, but we find out where the author found his spot. Famous poets and authors are quoted concerning flowers and typical sightings of the Upper Peninsula. Encounters with hummingbirds, loons, blue herons, and ducks are recounted. Dealing with older appliances, including televisions, meant adventures with fire and explosions. Lakeside clothing such as printed T-shirts, beekeepers' hats, and treasures are sorted according to events. Read about when Stott paddled his canoe four centuries into the past on a quiet morning. Take a trip back into the summers of your childhood and reminisce as you read. Nostalgic, melancholic memories.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir
Michelle Zauner
B08DMXF7ZZ, $13.99 Kindle
9780593396599, $15.95 HC, $15.95 PB, $12.99 Audiobook, Pages: 416

Zauner's book is highly rated in the areas of cookbooks, gastronomy, death & grief, as well as rock-band biographies. Although, it isn't really something for everyone, as the topic is her mother's death and how difficult it is to care for someone with cancer. Because food was how Zauner's mother expressed love, it is the text's central theme. There are no recipes but descriptions of Korean food meals. H Mart sells Asian foods, so that is the reason for the title.

Zauner is part goodie-goodie and part rebellious teen. She, like many children, put her mother through some trials and which she later regrets. She says:

"Sometimes, my grief feels as though I've been left alone in a room with no doors."

She states there is no escape from the reality of someone who dies. She wonders how many people at H Mart are there because they miss their families. The author spent summers in Korea and attended language lessons. She never really learned to speak Korean well, making it challenging to communicate with relatives who spoke little English. She was actually born in South Korea, grew up in Oregon, and comes full circle when her band plays in Seoul decades later. The albums are also available for her "Japanese Breakfast" band.

True Tales: The Forgotten History of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Mikel B. Classen
Modern History Press
B09WJMKV12, $5.95 Kindle
9781615996353, $29.95 HC, $18.95 PB, 162 pp.

Pioneer days conjure up romantic, sentimental ideas of simple living and being close to nature. However, the truth also included lawless, rugged, difficult times. Native Americans and those from Europe mined, traveled, worked, logged, and sailed Lake Superior's frontier wilderness amid uncivilized criminals, kidnappers, and slavers. Laws were few, enforcement was scarce, violent events were often, and shipwrecks were many. Wonderful life-saving deeds of kindness and compassion are also recorded on these pages as opportunities to be a hero were many.

Consider mining. Yes, rarely paired with pioneers such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, yet it is part of history at the same time. And Lake Superior! So few people understand how cold it is year-round (about 40 degrees) or how many shipwrecks (about 350) have taken place in the deepest waters of the Great Lakes. Before modern mariner tools, sailors had a strenuous, grueling life when pirates were plundering boats. Surviving crashes in winter required ingenuity and persistence unless a body became an icicle. And slavers trafficked women to stockades, as detailed in the book.

Classen does history an excellent service by revealing the truth. Sometimes we think humanity has advanced little. An attitude quickly challenged in these pages. Readers will feel gratitude for all they have today after finishing these tales.

The Home Wind
Terri Martin
B09YP2M2MF, $4.95 Kindle, 182 pp.

The Home Wind is a U.P. Notable Book Award Winner. As a former teacher, I recommend this as an "all boy" book for reluctant readers. Two boys met and became friends in the 1870s at a logging camp. The hardships of the boys are true because of the author's well-researched history of the time. It is a page-turner that I could not put down.

Jamie's father is killed in a logging accident. His mother, the camp cook, tries to keep Jamie safe by giving him kitchen duties. Jamie longs to be a man and do what he considers men's work. Accidents, drinking, fighting, severe weather, lack of money, and fires all-cause plenty of issues. It is incredible how the people carry on.

Jamie finds a sick boy, Gray Feather, in a barn. Mother and Jamie care for him as the boys become friends. Each boy has lost one parent. Gray Feather wants to find his father, but not for reasons you might suppose. The backstory for each of the main characters helps explain the major story.

One joy Jamie has is riding horses to deliver lunch to the men, which is a bright spot in his day. However, it wasn't easy to trudge home with supplies if a horse ran off. Those days, children could not always tell their parents the complete truth for fear of punishment. Gray Feather explains Kee-way-din means the wind that calls me home.

A discussion guide at the end of the book is a plus for teachers and book clubs.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Alice in Borderland, volume 1
Haro Aso
9781974728374 $19.99 pbk / $10.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Eighteen-year-old Ryohei Arisu is sick of his life. School sucks, his love life is a joke, and his future feels like impending doom. As he struggles to exist in a world that can't be bothered with him, Ryohei feels like everything would be better if he were anywhere else. When a strange fireworks show transports him and his friends to a parallel world, Ryohei thinks all his wishes have come true. But this new world isn't an empty paradise, it's a vicious game. And the only way to survive is to play.

The first game starts with a bang, but Ryohei manages to beat the clock and save his friends. It's a short-lived victory, however, as they discover that winning only earns them a few days' grace period. If they want to get home, they're going to have to start playing a lot harder.

Critique: Alice in Borderland, volume 1 begins a black-and-white manga (Japanese comics) saga about an eighteen-year-old young man who struggles with school and the future... until suddenly he and his friends arrive in a mysterious parallel world. But this new world is a vicious place that plays games with the lives of his friends, and even winning the "game" can only buy a brief respite. Will the players of the "game" be forced to turn upon one another for survival? Intense, sometimes violent, and highly thought-provoking, Alice in Borderland is a thoroughly mesmerizing read. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Alice in Borderland, volume 1 is intended for mature readers, also available in a Kindle edition ($10.99).

Crazy Food Truck 1
Rokurou Ogaki
9781974727292 $12.99 pbk / $8.09 Kindle

Synopsis: Gordon is a gruff, middle-aged cook running a food truck in a sand-covered wasteland. When he encounters Arisa, a naked girl sleeping in the middle of nowhere, he takes on the unintended traveling companion and her unexpected appetite. Too bad she also has unexpected baggage - an armed militia hot on her tail! Fasten your seatbelts for post- apocalyptic cooking and violent mayhem on this crazy food truck road trip!

Critique: Crazy Food Truck 1 is a black-and-white manga (Japanese graphic novel) that kicks off an action-packed, post- apocalyptic odyssey, in which a middle-aged cook and a young girl with a near-insatiable appetite seek to evade a violent militia hot on their tail. Fast, furious, packed with both outrageous shocks and ambitious cooking, Crazy Food Truck lives up to its title! It should be noted that Crazy Food Truck is recommended for mature readers due to explicit content, including nudity and violence - the post-apocalyptic, militia-riddled setting is not a kind or merciful place. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Crazy Food Truck 1 is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.09).

Welcome Back, Alice volume 1
Shuzo Oshimi
9781647291044 $12.95 pbk / $7.99 Kindle

Synopsis: The story revolves around three childhood friends, Yohei, Kei, and Yui, who are reunited in high school. What appeared to be a straightforward love triangle between two boys and a girl takes an unexpected turn when Kei shows up looking and dressed like a girl. Suddenly, Yohei is thrown into a maelstrom as he struggles between his infatuation with Yui and his lust for Kei.

In this story of adolescent awakening, perversion, and love, Oshimi takes a bold approach and sets out to explore the boundaries of gender, sexuality, and identity.

Critique: Welcome Back, Alice volume 1 begins a black-and-white manga (Japanese comics) series about a love triangle with a twist. When three childhood friends reunite in high school, one of them - Kei - no longer appears to be a boy. Instead Kei looks and dresses like a girl, but still uses men's urinals and says, "I'm done being a guy, but that doesn't mean I want to be a girl." When the friends gather for a reunion party, their three-way attraction heats up - only now the attraction is between a young man, a young woman, and Kei, and all three are attracted to each other! It should be noted for personal reading lists that Welcome Back, Alice volume 1 is intended for mature readers (age 18+) due to sexual situations, and is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.99).

Drunk Log
Mark E. Scott
Speaking Volumes LLC
9781645405559, $14.95, PB, 218pp

Synopsis: If all goes according to plan, tonight will be Jack Current's last. The young engineer is at the end of his emotional rope and plans to take his own life. But first, a bar crawl through his downtown Cincinnati neighborhood is in order.

Accompanying him during his final hours is a dollar store notebook. The Drunk Log. In it, he documents the evening, ruminates on his existence and remembers his 7-year-old nephew, who died exactly a year earlier. It is a loss for which Jack feels responsible -- a lapse in judgement for which there is no forgiveness. Buckling under the weight of oppressive guilt, Jack plans to jump off the scenic suspension bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky.

"Drunk Log", is a darkly humorous, deeply introspective exploration into one man's attempt to find peace in the face of unrelenting pain. Told with a fast clip, the entire book covers about 8 hours and deftly avoids becoming an ominous dirge through relatable (and flawed) characters, unexpectedly funny situations, a budding romance and the wobbly balancing act of a man who must remain sober enough to write in his journal and finish what he started, but drunk enough to jump off a bridge.

Critique: Of particular interest to fans of deftly crafted satire and urban life fiction, "Drunk Log" by Mark E. Scott is one of those unique novels that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99), "Drunk Log" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

Clint Travis

Gini Grossenbacher's Bookshelf

Like a Complete Unknown
Anara Guard
New Wind Publishing
9781929777259, $18.99

A runaway pregnant teen named Katya Warshawsky. A widowed empathetic doctor named Robert Lewis. The Chicago streets of the late 1960s pulse with hippie harmonies, tie-dye fabrics, and anti-war protestors. Katya dreams of a more creative life than she finds at her working-class home; thus, she launches onto the streets and meets up with various characters who help and hinder her as she tries to understand her mixed-up world. Robert steps out of his comfortable office life into the streets, determined to find Katya and help her with her pregnancy while also finding solace from his lonely life. A remarkable double-layered journey of self-discovery in an era in many ways starkly parallel to our own. Masterful character development and a detailed tapestry of people, places, and historical detail make for a compelling, memorable novel.

Gini Grossenbacher, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Scared to Life
Ryan George
Punchline Publishers
9781955051071, $14.99 252pp

Synopsis: The underlying message of "Scared to Life: Tales of a Good God Who Reveals His Heart When Ours Is Racing" by Ryan George is that if you long for a life of adventure, it is available to you. If you wish your life was part of a grand story, it can be. If you are tired of comparing your life to your Instagram scroll, there is a way out. There is a path to more.

In "Scared to Life", Ryan leverages tales of adventure to address our comparison culture, the ache we feel that the stories of our lives aren't enough, and the suspicion that there's more to the Christian journey than what we've experienced. Jesus designed all of life to be a grand, mysterious adventure. With the publication of "Scared to Life", Ryan offers practical suggestions for living an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

That won't be easy, and sometimes it will look different than we imagined it. But it can be good and rich, fulfilling and cathartic. Adventure often costs us something, but it calls out to something deep inside us. If we want a faith life that draws out the best in us and attracts others to join us, we must lean into our fears and doubts.

Critique: An inherently interesting, thought-provoking, and inspiring approach to a Christian life style, "Scared to Life: Tales of a Good God Who Reveals His Heart When Ours Is Racing" is a particularly fascinating and absorbing read. Combining adventurous traveling with an appealingly Christine perspective, "Scared to Life" is highly recommended for the personal reading lists of all members of the Christian community regardless of denominational affiliations.

Editorial Note: Ryan George has traveled to all seven continent and both polar circles. An adrenaline junkie, Ryan is a certified wingwalker, a bungee jumping enthusiast, and a via ferrata connoisseur. He has surfed in the Arctic, raced 4 different kinds of race cars, and paraglided in 7 countries. He co-leads Dude Group, a spiritual adventure community.

Macron Unveiled
Alain Lefebvre
Gaudium Publishing
c/o Histria Books
9781592111459, $29.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: The world is changing fast and politics are changing with them. Throughout history, times of change are marked by great leaders changing the world for the better. Our world today is in crisis. There is a need for a new generation of politicians to change the world, and they seem to appear, with a new style to how they think and how they behave, and Emmanuel Macron, now having been reelected to the presidency of France, could very well be a prototype.

With the publication of "Macron Unveiled: The Prototype for a New Generation of World Leaders", Alain Lefebvre examines Macron's first four years as France's president, scrutinizing Macron's personality, his way of solving problems, his sources of inspiration, his mistakes, his difficulties, as well as the impact he may already have had in his country, in Europe, and the world. New leaders with a modern approach to politics are quickly emerging, and despite having limited political experience, they are facing the challenges of today head on.

As the world recovers from the disastrous impact of President Trump, there is a growing interest in world affairs what leadership will look like tomorrow. New ideas and new ways of doing things are changing the political landscape. As a former French Diplomat, psychologist, and political coach, Alain Lefebvre is uniquely positioned to explain the French perspective to international audiences. He brings careful analysis and historical context to Macron's time in office and presents the information in a way that will helps readers gain a better understanding of who Macron is as a man, a leader, and a prototype for the next generation of political leaders.

Critique: Exceptionally informative, impressively well written, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presented, "Macron Unveiled: The Prototype for a New Generation of World Leaders" is an extraordinary and comprehensive political biography that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science & Biography collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Alain Lefebvre has served in senior positions as a diplomat and a senior civil servant and works in Europe as a strategy consultant for governments and companies, and is a political coach. He has participated in several political campaigns and has been directly involved in the European Union's negotiations with French ministers. The author of three books about French and European politics, he splits his time between Finland and France. He has his own website at

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

The Last One Out: Yates McDaniel, World War II's Most Daring Reporter
Jack Torry
Schiffer Military
c/o Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310
9780764362682, $29.99, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: When Yates McDaniel died in Florida in 1983, few outside his family paid much attention. The only hint of his fame came in a brief obituary buried on the inside pages of the New York Times. The obit suggested bravery and a past far more exciting than almost anyone knew. Even those who worked alongside him in the 1960s at the Associated Press were startled to learn what McDaniel had been, what he had done when he was a young man and the world was at war. Yet, this remarkable reporter covered more of the Asian war than anyone else, ranging from the savage Japanese assault on Nanking in 1937, to the fall of Singapore in 1942, to landing with US Marines on New Britain in 1943. He took risks no other reporter ever accepted, and colleagues joked that Japanese bombers followed him wherever he went.

Critique: With the publication of "The Last One Out: Yates McDaniel, World War II's Most Daring Reporter" by Jack Torry (who is the former Washington bureau chief for the Columbus Dispatch), the true life story is revealed for the first time of a remarkable man pursuing the dangerous role of a war time journalist during World War II in the Pacific Theatre. A work of exceptional and detailed research, "The Last One Out" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library World War II History & Biography collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of military history buffs students of journalism, that "The Last One Out" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.99).

Soul of Marrakesh: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences
Zohar Benjelloun, author
Fabrice Nadjari, author
Jonglez Publishing
9782361954659, $14.95, PB, 144pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Soul of Marrakesh: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences" armchair travelers and on- site visitors alike can step inside Yves St Laurent's private library, drink the best orange juice in the legendary Jamaa el-Fna square, stay with some renowned traditional gnawa musicians, feast on the medina's most eco-friendly tagine, while away a few days in a hotel hidden in a palm grove that's also a rare bird sanctuary, discover the secret museum where everything is for sale ...

The authors of "Soul of Marrakesh: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences", Zohar Benjelloun and Fabrice Nadjari, are passionate about Morocco. Together they have explored every corner of the fascinating city of Marrakech to provide their readers with the most exciting and unexpected experiences.

"Soul of Marrakesh: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences" is comprised of: The 30 best experiences a city has to offer; Interviews with those who give the city its spirit; Original illustrations that capture the city's soul. All while unlocking the hidden doors of a city, capturing its essence, and delving into every last nook and cranny to uncover the soul of the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated in full color throughout, "Soul of Marrakesh: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences" is an extraordinarily written, inherently fascinating, impressively informative, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Travel Guidebook collections.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Love & Genetics
Mark MacDonald, author
Rachel Elliott, author
Unsolicited Press
9781950730902, $17.00, PB, 204pp

Synopsis: When a family secret comes to light, lives are changed forever "Love & Genetics: A true story of adoption, surrogacy, and the meaning of family", an honest, beautiful, and sometimes painful memoir by siblings Mark MacDonald and Rachel Elliott.

Adopted at birth, Mark as an adult set out to find his genetic family. In doing so he found something he never expected -- three full-blood siblings, including a persistent sister who would alter the course of his life. He finds himself faced with the emotional task of coming to know his entire birth family, along with the unintended impact it has on his parents and his marriage.

This raises age-old questions around the understanding of his own identity and his place in the world-now framed in extraordinarily real and explicit terms: What defines family? Nature or nurture? Life rarely affords such an opportunity for self-examination.

The story also focuses upon the relationship that develops between Mark and his sister, Rachel, as they discover each other through constant letters and eventual face-to-face meetings. When Rachel learns that Mark and his wife are struggling with having children, a radical idea takes over-could. Could she, a sister he never knew and still barely knows, one who lives on the other side of the country, possibly carry their child? Would they trust her to?

Including original correspondence between Rachel, Mark, and their biological mother, Marilyn, "Love & Genetics" follows the events of a tumultuous year in an astonishing story of love, loss, and the meaning of family.

Critique: An extraordinary true-live story that will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in fertility, surrogacy, adoption issues, "Love & Genetics: A true story of adoption, surrogacy, and the meaning of family" will prove to be a unique and welcome addition to community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Love & Genetics" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Chasing Baby: An Infertility Adventure
Morwenna Trevenen
Great Plains Publications
9781773370750, 16800

Synopsis: Grow up, get a job, find a partner, have a family, live the dream. This was always the plan -- but with some deviations along the way. With the publication of "Chasing Baby: An Infertility Adventure", and using a blend of sarcasm and vulnerability, Morwenna speaks about growing up, finding love, and then struggling when the rest of "the plan" isn't meant to be.

This is the raw and very real story of one couple's roller coaster ride as they discover infertility, try various treatments, suffer an adoption reversal, and learn to make new plans and find the funny moments.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and laced with dark humor, "Chasing Baby: An Infertility Adventure" by Canadian author Morwenna Trevenen is a raw, sarcastic, informative, recognizable, true-live account of the struggles of growing up, dealing with infertility, fertility treatments, and the adoption process. Having a special appeal to readers having similar experiences or conditions, "Chasing Baby: An Infertility Adventure" is highly recommended for community library Parenting/Adoptiaon/Fertility collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Chasing Baby: An Infertility Adventure" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Butterfly Awakens
Meg Nocero
She Writes Press
9781647421755, $18.95, PB, 312pp

Synopsis: "Butterfly Awakens: A Memoir of Transformation Through Grief " by Meg Nocero depicts the story of the extraordinary transformation of a forty-something Italian American attorney as she moves through unimaginable grief and sadness watching her beloved mother lose her battle to breast cancer.

This tumultuous life experience shifts her world, causing her to question her life choices and opening her up to her soul's calling. Nocero brings readers along on her journey through a dark night of the soul as she deals with the grieving process, a toxic work environment, and intense stress that results in depression, anxiety, and an acquired somatic nervous disorder called tinnitus.

Through it all, she never gives up, instead looking for the help she needs to start to heal and find her light. In the end, like the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, this story is a beautiful love letter that honors Nocero's mother's legacy while detailing the awakening of her own.

There are many stories about breast cancer and grief, but none are quite like this one. Throughout her personal memoir, Nocero pulls the reader deep into her story through the intensity of her emotions; and in the end, after resigning from her career as a federal prosecutor due to a toxic administration, she searches for the lighthouse she saw in a vision when her mother died.

Embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain to get to the lighthouse at Cap Finisterre, she sets out to wake up and live again; the butterfly connection and the stark honesty of her writing offers her readers important lessons learned from moving through grief so that each person can shine their light again.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, deeply personal but striking a universal chord of recognition about love and loss, grief and healing, "Butterfly Awakens: A Memoir of Transformation Through Grief " is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists for anyone having to deal with similar situations in their own lives that "Butterfly Awakens: A Memoir of Transformation Through Grief " is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Meg Nocero, also the author of The Magical Guide to Bliss: Daily Keys to Unlock Your Dreams, Spirit & Inner Bliss and Sparkle & Shine: 108 M.A.N.T.R.A.s to Brighten Your Day and Lighten Your Way. She founded Butterflies & Bliss LLC and S.H.I.N.E. Networking Inc., a nonprofit that provides educational scholarships to young innovative leaders in her community. In addition to being named Miz CEO Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019, Nocero appeared on CNN Espanol with Ismael Cala and hosts her own You Tube channel and a podcast called Manifesting with Meg: Conversations with Extraordinary People.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

A Woman's Story
Francine Rodriguez
Madville Publishing
9781948692601, $19.95, PB, 244pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "A Woman's Story", author Francine Rodriguez tells the stories of Latina women's lives in tales revealing conflict in gender bias, experiences of exploitation, violence, powerlessness, and sometimes resulting in pain and despair in their turbulent world.

But these original stories also tell of these women's celebration of life itself that empowers them and gives them the will to sustain. These are stories that will resonate with the reader on a deeply emotional level.

Critique: As "A Woman's Story" documents, as a writer, Francine Rodriguez knows how to spin a narrative and keep it going with energy. Here she created a series of truly memorable characters who are both compelling and unique. Although a work of fiction, these are the stories about the realities of women having to live hard lives, some at the poverty line, some a little better off, but all desperate in some way. While highly recommended for community, college, and university library Women's Fiction and Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Woman's Story" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Francine Rodriguez grew up in and around downtown Los Angeles and later worked as a Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Investigator in the Federal sector. All told, she has worked in the fields of law and psychology for over thirty years, and her experiences in these fields inform her writing. She has published two previous novels, A Fortunate Accident (Booklocker 2015), and A Woman Like Me (Booklocker 2019). She has her own website at

Dear Barack
Claudia Clark
Disruption Books
9781633310575, $22.95, PB, 350pp

Synopsis: Today, we know US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as two of the world's most influential leaders, together at the center of some of the biggest controversies and most impressive advancements of our time. But while their friendship has been the subject of both scrutiny and admiration, few know the full story.

Taking office at the height of the 2008 global recession, Obama was keenly aware of the fractured relationship between the US and Europe. And for her part, Merkel was suspicious of the charismatic newcomer who had captivated her country.

Faced with the challenges of globalization, the two often clashed over policy, but (as the first Black president and first female chancellor) they shared a belief that democracy could uplift the world. United by this conviction, they would forge a complicated but inspiring partnership.

"Dear Barack: The Extraordinary Partnership of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel" by Claudia Clark is a thoroughly researched document of the parallel trajectories that led to Obama and Merkel meeting on the world stage and the trials, both personal and political, that they confronted in office. At times in the leaders' own words, "Dear Barack" details such events as Merkel's historic acceptance of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Russia's annexation of Crimea, and the 2013 NSA spying scandal, demonstrating the highs and lows of this extraordinary alliance.

A story of camaraderie at a global scale, "Dear Barack" shows that it is possible for political adversaries to establish bonds of respect (and even friendship) in the service of the free world.

Critique: As informative as it is well written, organized and presented, "Dear Barack: The Extraordinary Partnership of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel" must be considered essential reading for both its political biographical value and for its inherently interesting details about one of America's most popular presidents working against a stonewalling opposition in the Senate, and one of Germany's most effective leaders in the post-Cold War era. While also available for personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject, "Dear Barack: The Extraordinary Partnership of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college and university library Contemporary Political Science & Political Biography collections.

Editorial Note: Claudia Clark is an author, speaker, and activist focused on social justice and democracy. In 2017, Clark and her husband moved from California to Germany, where she served as the national Get Out the Vote (GOTV) coordinator for the Democrats Abroad Germany chapter in preparation for the 2020 presidential election. Clark has several advanced degrees, with a focus on social work, women's history, and labor. She currently lives in Berlin, where she is conducting research for her next book about the rise of the alt-right in Europe.

Poppin' Past Forty: The Holistic Path to Midlife Fertility
Donna Shaw
DreamSculpt Books and Media
9781954968714, $16.95, PB, 327pp

Synopsis: "Poppin' Past Forty: The Holistic Path to Midlife Fertility" addresses women (and their husbands) who are over 40 and trying to get pregnant. This compendium of specific information is exactly what author Donna Sonkin Shaw wished she'd had when she began her own fertility journey after 40. Through informative interviews with world-renown fertility doctors and experts, plus insightful questions and nutritional tips and recipes, Donna helps women over 40 who want to bear a child to navigate the medical maze and daunting fertility industry to optimize your opportunities to conceive.

Simply stated, "Poppin' Past Forty" provides all the groundbreaking information that is required in order to prepare the mind and spirit of women over 40 to make room for their baby.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, "Poppin' Past Forty: The Holistic Path to Midlife Fertility" is comprehensive and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organized and presentation. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Reproductive Medicine & Technology collections, it should be noted personal reading lists that "Poppin' Past Forty: The Holistic Path to Midlife Fertility" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.95).

Editorial Note: As a Certified Holistic Health Coach for over a decade, Donna Shaw is an expert at navigating the best options for nutrition, lifestyle and work/ life balance for woman trying to conceive. Donna loves supporting pregnant women over forty because she was one. She was told by four of "New York's Best" doctors that she would never have a baby with her own egg. Donna and her husband were able to conceive a gorgeous healthy baby with very little intervention and with her own egg! Donna has her own website at

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Stand Your Ground
A.J. Ullman
Independently Published
9798525802254, $9.99

This novel follows in the footsteps of Ullman's previous works of complex, timely, and intense fiction. What it adds to the collection is more reader involvement. Cady, the protagonist, is asked at the end, "How do you live with yourself?" (247). The book compels us to put ourselves in Cady's shoes and ask what we'd do.

Cady Fox grew up with her aunt January when taken away from her heroin addicted mother. She attended private school, overcoming bullying and other obstacles, graduated from college, hiked the Appalachian trail, then tackled law school. On the eve of possibly being made partner at her firm, Cady shoots a young black man dead in a park. Secrets come out in the case and ensuing media hype, but does the truth?

Like Cady, armed with guns and a sharp tongue, the text is armored with metaphor. It compares Cady to memes and stereotypes. Steeped in pop cultural references, the reader can readily relate and get involved. On the flip side, Cady employs jazz and art analogies in dialogue with her "boyfriend" and a kid she mentors. These push the story to deeper levels in an enjoyable blenc of action and contemplation.

Just when Cady seems lost behind a cloud of roles and types, she surprises. The conclusion jumps out, turns the rest of the story on its head, and causes readers to think twice about everything we assume. This novel is an exquisite character study of our schizophrenic age, in a story of a young female vixen-lawyer from Kentucky.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Marianne Farina's Bookshelf

The Messenger Of Mercy: The Covenants of Coexistence from the Prophets of Pluralism
John Andrew Morrow
Sanbun Publishers
9788194870296, $6.12, PB, 288pp, (475 Indian rupees = $6.12)

It is not unusual to come across texts that present a religion's core beliefs and principles systematically so readers can grasp critical concepts of a religion's teachings, history, institutional documents, core words and terms. We call these dictionaries, compendiums, and even encyclopedias. They are essential reference material because they offer clarity about a religion for both adherents of the tradition and those interested in learning about other the religion.

Morrow has provided such a volume in his The Messenger of Mercy but has added distinctive features to his systemic approach. It is a creative departure from the more traditional alphabetized organization. He begins with the claim that Prophet Muhammad was a Prophet of Pluralism and the founder of an ethos of covenants of coexistence between religions, and then beginning with the first chapter, each chapter supports his claim and serves as a foundation for the next. The seven appendices of the book further underline the information contained in these chapters while also creating critical resources for further study of the content and initiatives discussed in the text. This organization allows the reader to engage the thesis of the work and its significant research.

For example, Chapter One focuses on the pillars of Islamic faith and practice, which express the ideals of Islam as revealed in the Qur'an. Chapter Two: "Proclaiming the Ideals of Islam," explores how Islamic principles and values are realized within the Muslim community in relationship with its neighbors. The author provides a detailed account of how Prophet Muhammad exemplifies ideals such as justice, love, and solidarity. Chapter Three, "Constitutions, Covenants, and Coexistence," and Chapter Four, "Implementing the Ideals of Islam," focus on the text's central claim. Morrow demonstrates through using thorough documentation how Prophet Muhammad and Muslim leaders implemented these ideals of Islam by generating constitutions, covenants, and, when necessary, criteria for armed conflict that promotes and sustains social good and religious solidarity throughout the region. This section includes testimonies from various scholars about the authenticity of these documents, treaties, and governance plans.

The final chapter, "Putting Principles into Practice," offers evidence that the Muslim community continues to uphold its commitment to morally responsible geopolitical justice. It details the centers, programs, and declarations that carry forward Prophet Muhammad's message of mercy in concrete words and action. The chapter describes these innovative initiatives and their capacity for encouraging newer forums of dialogue and engagement among religious and cultural groups. The seven appendices and bibliography substantiate the content and claims in the text, and provide readers with resources to continue their study of these topics.

Morrow's masterful text brings into the light documents that have been hidden and or dismissed from scholars and followers of Islam and all religions. The absence of such documents has real consequences for the fields of theological research and religious peacebuilding. To rectify such invisibility and potential drawbacks, he offers the reader a comprehensive study of Prophet Muhammad's negotiations with religious communities and other constituencies throughout the geographic region. It also demonstrates by such evidence a more profound realization of Prophet Muhammad's style of leadership that sought to honor and sustain religious pluralism.

I have found this text invaluable as a researcher and teacher of interreligious dialogue, comparative religion, and religious peacebuilding. In my institution's graduate courses, we have studied this text and others by Dr. Morrow. The students appreciated the depth of research and the accompanying resources. The text offers resources for critical engagement concerning the history, development of teachings, and implementation of these the Covenants as they have unfolded in various historical epochs. It is rare that a text can present depth and breadth on a topic, and extremely rare that a text will also encourage further research on the reader's part. Of course, to fully appreciate the contents of the book, a reader will need to have some foundational knowledge of Islam's history and teaching. For though Dr. Morrrow's first chapter does provide an overview of Islam, my students who had some knowledge of Islam were able to draw more from this work and connect it to their understanding of Islam and the civilizations that benefitted from its canons and engagements. For this reason, Dr. Morrow's work, particularly this text, will remain central to my courses on Christian-Muslim Relations and Religious Peacebuilding. Ancient scholars believed that educating a person was an act of mercy; Dr. Morrow book, The Messenger of Mercy: Covenants of Coexistence from the Propjet on Pluralism and the learning and inspiration it provides is indeed an act of such mercy.

Editorial Note: John Andrew Morrow is a Metis French-Canadian born in Montreal, Canada. He has worked as a university professor for two decades. He lectures around the world, works an analyst, and acts as a religious and political advisor to world leaders.

Marianne Farina, CSC, PhD., Reviewer
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Where Was I? A Travel Writer's Memoir
Tom Miller
Independently published
9798784237101, $16.99

I've gotten to know the author over the years based on a shared appreciation of iconic writer Moritz Thomsen, who Tom met in Ecuador and our love of travel and travel writing. The Panama Hat Trail is one of my all-time favorite tales, and I was impressed when I learned it took the author two trips and eight months to complete it! My wife, who is Guatemalan, loved How I Learned English, a series of stories of Latinos learning English.

Since the author is considered by many as one of the best nonfiction/travel writers, I headed for the chapter on that subject. Initially, the author didn't know that travel writing was a genre, but quickly learned, "Great travel writing describes what's going on when nobody's looking. It consists of equal parts curiosity, vulnerability, and vocabulary. It is not simply for know-it-alls or the indecisive. "A well-grounded sense of place is a challenge for the writer." That says it all.
But wait! He goes on with, "Surely as buses plunge off Peruvian mountainsides, his favorite travel accounts are full of, "polemic, prejudice, and adversity; revelation, conquest, and triumph." And that the best travel writing "elegantly addresses history, geography, and politics; biology, culture, even criminology. Its refreshing honesty reveals a world of surprising love and disappointing fools, unforeseen circumstances, and stimulating challenges, " All of this is a reminder of why I love travel writing and everything Miller writes.

Next, I found the segment about his relationship with fellow writer Moritz Thomsen, who he met in Quito at 9,300 feet. He saw the "chain-smoking Thomsen with some frequency and formed a deep friendship that continued during an extensive correspondence. He admired Thomsen for "... the words he chose, the order he put them in, his grand illusions and sideways allusions."
After providing background on Thomsen's life and how he joined the Peace Corps at 48 and published four (eventually five) books by the end of his life, Miller briefly described what made them so special, "They revealed elegantly phrased but brutal truths about life among the poor. Drawing on Proust, Stravinsky, and Hemingway, Thomsen got inside the skin of his rawboned neighbors and found them burdened with a combination of passion and ignorance."

His best-known book was Living Poor, the Peace Corps experience book. According to Miller, Thomsen proved to be a man of insufferable integrity and undeniable charm. He deflected efforts to translate his works into Spanish, which I thought should have been "...because, as he once confided, he did not want those he lived among to see that he wrote about them."

Miller was a keynote speaker at the First International Conference on Moritz Thomsen in Quito. Ecuadoran writers reappraised Moritz Thomsen - dealing with salient questions such as Was Thomsen an ex-pat or a true Ecuadoran. Should his work be considered travel literature? According to Miller, one Ecuadoran sniffed, "Too much politics and social awareness, but minimal artistic sensibility." Through all of this, Miller was named the HUESPED ILUTRE (Illustrious Guest) for writing about Ecuador and keeping the words of Moritz Thomsen alive."
Miller and I were contemporaries, both Conscientious Objectors protesting the war in Vietnam, although he wrote for some of the top underground publications. He said his last salaried job was in 1969 so he could pursue a fifty-year career as a freelance writer. He interacted and dealt with Jerry Rubin, who he eventually deemed a "public nuisance."

He tells a fascinating story of his search for the real Don Quixote. In Spain, he tracked down a "Puticlub" (whorehouse) to determine if any of the ladies knew or talked about Don Quixote's leading lady, Dulcinea.

He describes some of his 30 visits to Havana, where he met his wife, Regla, and his interaction with Ry Cooper. The latter introduced him to the world outside of Cuba through the magical music group "Buena Vista Social Club."

Miller spent much time on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, living most of his life in Tucson, Arizona. He provides considerable insight on immigration, "I am the beneficiary of Baltic immigration from two generations ago (Lithuania) and a benefactor contemporary Caribbean migration, and I can assure you of this: the numerous foreigners who cross our borders invigorate our workforce, stake out our own neighborhoods, and enrich our country with their language and culture. If that's patriotism, give me more."

Miller begins and ends his memoir with his battle with Parkinson's at 62, making for some very poignant stories. As he puts it, "...I'm here to say that having led a fairly healthy life into my early sixties, to suddenly learn that the rest of my time would be spent with a disease from which I could never get better, only retard it from getting worse, well, that put me in a funk. FunquĦimo."

And ends his book with, "Parkinson's is fashionable these days," writes Michael Kinsley in Old Age: A Beginner's Guide. Perhaps so, but it was never on my dance card, lord knows. Still, on entering my ultimo tercio de la vide, the final third of my life, I've broken through denial and reluctantly adapted to the unknown. Now, where was I?"

I agree with fellow author Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost about Miller, "A superb display of sharp observations from a man who's been everywhere you'd ever want to go, known everyone you'd ever want to meet, and brought it all alive in a voice you wish you had."
One last note, the author was obliged to self-publish his memoir, despite having written seven books, edited four, and is considered one of our best nonfiction writers - a clear indicator of changes in the publishing industry and the reputation for travel writing.

The Author

Miller was born and raised in Washington, D.C., attended college in Ohio, and since 1969 has lived in Arizona, 65 miles north of the Mexican border. He has been writing about Latin America and the American Southwest for more than thirty years, bringing us extraordinary stories of ordinary people. His highly acclaimed adventure books include "The Panama Hat Trail" about South America, "On the Border," an account of his travels along the U.S.-Mexico frontier, "Trading With the Enemy," which takes readers on his journeys through Cuba, and, about the American Southwest, "Revenge of the Saguaro" (formerly "Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink" -- which won the coveted Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book of the Year in 2001). He has edited three compilations, "Travelers' Tales Cuba," "Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader," and "How I Learned English." Additionally, he contributed to the four-volume "Encyclopedia Latina."

Miller, a veteran of the underground press of the late 1960s, has appeared in Smithsonian, The New Yorker, LIFE, The New York Times, Natural History, and many other publications. He wrote the introduction to "Best Travel Writing - 2005" and has led educational tours through Cuba for the National Geographic Society and other organizations.

Well-traveled through the Americas, Miller has taught writing workshops in four countries, and his books have been published in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. In recognition of his work, the University of Arizona Library has acquired Miller's archives and mounted a major exhibit of the author's papers, including Moritz Thomsen materials. He is affiliated with that school's Latin American Area Center.

Mark Walker, Reviewer

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies
Simon Webb
Pen & Sword Books
Casemate (distributor)
9781399000079, $34.95, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies", author Simon Webb tells the fascinating story of the origin of our ideas about wizards, witches and fairies. We all have a clear mental image of the pointed hats worn by such individuals, which are based upon actual headgear dating back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. Carefully sifting through old legends, archaeological evidence and modern research in genetics, Webb shows us how our notions about fairies and elves, together with human workers of magic, have evolved over the centuries.

This fascinating exploration of folklore, backed by the latest scientific findings, will present readers with the image of a lost world; the one used as the archetype for fantasy adventures from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones. In the process, the real nature of wizards will be revealed and their connection with the earliest European cultures thoroughly documented.

After reading "The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies", nobody will ever be able to view Gandalf the wizard in the same light and even old fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast will take on a richer and deeper meaning. In short, our perception of wizards, witches and fairies will be altered forever.

Critique: Enhanced for the reader with a section of black/white photos, a listing of illustrations, an informative introduction, an appendix (The Magical Year), a two page Bibliography, and a six page index, "The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies" is an impressive compendium of information that is as informative as it is 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation. While also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99), "The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies" is a welcome and highly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Folklore/Fairytale/Mythology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Simon Webb is the author of a number of non-fiction books, ranging from academic works on education to popular history. He works as a consultant on the subject of capital punishment to television companies and filmmakers and also writes for various magazines and newspapers; including the Times Educational Supplement, Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

Never Say P*G: The Book of Sailors' Superstitions
R. Bruce MacDonald
Harbour Publishing
9781550179798, $18.95, HC, 176pp

Synopsis: Ever wondered why the skipper gave you a hairy eyeball when you stepped aboard the ship with your left foot? Or why a brolly or a bumbershoot (for the newly seasoned sailor, an umbrella) will bring trouble aboard? Find out all this and more in "Never Say P*G: The Book of Sailors' Superstitions".

This never-seen-before collection of maritime superstitions ranges from the East Coast to the Great Lakes of Canada, from the Inuit to the First Nations Peoples of the Pacific Northwest. From A: why killing an albatross is bad luck, but seeing one is good luck; to B: why bananas are so feared that some sailors only refer to them as "that curved yellow fruit"; to C: clapping aboard a ship will bring thunder. With "Never Say P*G" you will be fluent in sailing superstitions in no time!

From sailor and author R. Bruce Macdonald (who swears he didn't know not to stir his tea with a knife) "Never Say P*G" is an indispensable guide to the ways in which we ward off bad luck at sea and attempt to keep ourselves safe by shaping fate through signs and symbols. The original "marine insurance" for sailors, superstitions offered a semblance of control amidst a dangerous and volatile life aboard, at the mercy of the weather, the crew, the ship -- and even pirates. Ultimately, this compact encyclopedia reveals that superstitions have always been with us to comfort, to charm and to ease fears. Now you can learn them all as you sail the high seas!

Critique: Nicely illustrated throughout with black-and-white images, "Never Say P*G: The Book of Sailors' Superstitions" is an inherently fascinating and informative compendium of maritime beliefs that will fully engaging the reader from first page to last. Unique, informative, thought-provoking and fun, "Never Say P*G: The Book of Sailors' Superstitions" is highly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library Maritime History & Folklore collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: R. Bruce Macdonald is a writer, sailor and artist with a passion for maritime history. He has logged over 100,000 nautical miles. Macdonald has contributed to SAIL, Cruising World, Ocean Navigator, Soundings and Sailing magazine, and is the author of North Star of Herschel Island (FriesenPress, 2012) and Sisters of the Ice (Lost Moose Books, 2021). He lives along the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia aboard North Star with his family,.

Michael J. Carson

Perdita Buchan's Bookshelf

Choices: Three Novellas
Annabel Thomas
Bottom Dog Press
9781947504332, $18.00 PB, $8.00 Kindle, 176pp

Dorsey and the Amish Man, the first, and arguably most successful of the three novellas in Choices, is a love story complex enough for a novel. In her twenties, Dorsey is taking care of her dying father when she meets the young Amish farmer, Menno. Dorsey's father, a writer, has moved them to rural Captina, Ohio, because of his memories of the farm where he spent his boyhood. "All life since has been dross," her father says, which, of course, includes Dorsey and Iva, her mother, who left when Dorsey was eight.

Since the farm was also the locus of Dorsey's happiest early memories, she is drawn to Menno and the Amish life shaped by the seasons and rituals like barn raisings and corn huskings. She longs for the simplicity of his dedication to the land and his people, but she has inherited the restlessness of The World, as Menno calls her father. She accepts her father's many gods (mostly other writers about whom he writes a biographical series) rather than Menno's one God. Menno, for his part, distrusts the outside world. An older brother left the Amish community only to commit suicide on his return. When Menno travels with Dorsey to Taos, to scatter her father's ashes on D. H. Lawrence's grave, both must make a choice.

The Lost Book, the second novella, has a tighter focus, alternating between two characters on a single day. Emory and Floris are an old married couple. Emory works as a plumber though they live on Floris's rundown family farm. Floris is mourning the recent loss of her sister, Neva, a "no nonsense" woman with whom Floris had almost nothing in common, especially as Neva was an unbeliever while Floris is a devout Pentecostal.

On this particular day, Floris is obsessed with a missing library book, The Novel: A Modern Guide to Fifteen English Masterpieces. She is convinced it would have been a way to reach Neva. "The words of these writers weren't overtly religious and so wouldn't put Neva off. But listening to them she'd have to admit that caring between people was, as Floris believed, the gateway to God."

Emory is facing a less tangible loss, the loss of libido. On this same day, Floris has persuaded him to attend a lecture by a famous urologist in a nearby town. While Floris scurries about searching for the book, Emory listens to the doctor discuss late life impotence and possible remedies, including the new miracle cure, Viagra. To Emory, this seems pointless. "I'm through with that foolishness", he says - though he is sympathetic to Bugle, his old hound, who refuses to believe that he can no longer catch a rabbit. When Emory returns at the end of the day, he and Floris find themselves at odds, defeated and angry, until familiarity restores the old balance.

The last novella, Tuesday at the Airport is closest to the short story. Addie, middle aged and alone in the world, is trying to come to terms with the loss of her parents and their own loss of the rural Appalachia that they left for Tappan City, Ohio. In Tappan City, Addie's father, a postal worker, spent all his free time working on a book on the history of the postal service, leaving Addie at the mercy of her unhappy mother. "Well," Mama would say, "what WAS the point of life, Addie Mae?" The question haunts Addie. On this Tuesday, she has come to the airport to watch people, as though by watching and listening to strangers, she might find the answer. But this day happens also to be the day of the Challenger explosion which is played over and over on the airport TVs. A major disconcerting loss presented in an unfamiliar medium leaves Addie farther than ever from being able to see a point in the quests that carry people as far as outer space.

Each of these novellas presents a choice between the simple acceptance of the way things are and the desire, exacerbated by the modern world, for change and challenge. Annabel Thomas has a gift for creating character and a clear eye for this conflict in all human relationships.

Perdita Buchan, Reviewer
New York Journal of Books

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Brahms: Complete Songs Vol 9
Johannes Brahms, composer
Robin Tritschler, performer
Graham Johnson, performer
B083XS1BPG, $12.99

Robin Tritschler Sings Brahms

There are many kinds of songs to love, including the songs of Ronnie Spector (1943 -- January 12, 2022) who died during the time I was listening to this CD. I thought of her.

The scholar-pianist Graham Johnson and Hyperion Records have released series of the songs of Schubert, Schumann, Faure, and Strauss in addition to the recently completed ten CD series of the songs of Brahms. The CDs in each series feature a different singer together with Johnson's extensive liner notes,which include texts and translations together with discussion of each song. This CD, the ninth in the series of the songs of Brahms, features the Irish tenor Robin Tritschler. Tritschler is in the early stages of a promising career as a recording artist and performer on the concert stage, singing opera and concert music in addition to lieder. I loved his singing of these mostly sad, simple, and emotive songs. This Tritschler/Johnson collaboration dates from October 2018 and was recorded in All Saints' Church, London.

Brahms' songs constitute the most personal, intimate part of his output. They likely echo his own romantic hopes and frustrations. The songs have beautiful melodic lines together with piano parts that range from the simple to the deceptively simple to the complex. Brahms was in love with what he took for folk song, with medievalism, and with nature.

The songs on the CD are grouped in loose chronological order. Even though this is the ninth in a series of ten, the CD includes a mix of relatively well-known songs together with some that are lesser-known. It is a moving recital, best listened to a few songs at a time.

The songs I most enjoyed include "To a Violet", op 49 no 2 setting a text by Ludwig Holty, a song of unrequited love. This song is among the group that the American composer Lowell Liebermann transcribed for solo piano in his 2004 composition "Four Etudes on Songs of Brahms", opus 88, It is a work I hope to learn to play. Both the Brahms song and the Liebermann transcription are intimate and beautiful.

One of Brahms' most beloved songs is the duet "Vain Serenade", op. 84 no. 4, to a traditional text that Johnson says is the first Brahms' song he was asked to accompany. The song shows an ardent, would-be suitor summarily dismissed by his young lady. Soprano Harriet Burns is featured on this song and on four other duets on the CD.

Other songs I enjoyed include "Sunday", op. 47 no 5, to a traditional text in which a young man dreams of his lady setting out from home to attend church. The meditative, intense, "Alone in the Fields", op 86 no. 2, is one of Brahms' most frequently performed songs and sets a poem by Herman Allmers. The final work with an opus number on this CD is the simple but enigmatic "May catkins", op. 107 no 4 to a text by Detlev von Lilencron. It is a tale of old, lost love that gets a detailed discussion by Johnson in his notes. The program concludes with seven songs from Brahms' late collection of German Folksongs, WoO33. They are endearing and a joy.

This CD is a lovely way to hear Brahms, either by itself or together with the other CDs in the series. I was reminded that the beauty of song and of feeling is easily broad enough to encompass both Johannes Brahms and Ronnie Spector.

Total Time: 74:13

Brahms: Complete Songs Vol. 10
Johannes Brahms, composer
Sophie Rennert, performer
Graham Johnson, performer
B08D4Y527P, $19.98

Sophie Rennert Sings Brahms

Brahms frequently expressed his love for the mezzo-soprano voice. In her CD recital of Brahms songs, the young Austrian mezzo Sophie Rennert shows that Brahms' love was deserved. Rennert sings with passion, depth, and beauty, bringing forth the varied but mostly sad and intense character of Brahms as a composer of song. Her CD is the tenth and last of a series of the piano-accompanied songs of Brahms that was the project of the scholar-pianist Graham Johnson and of Hyperion Records. It is an outstanding addition to Johnson's earlier series of the songs of Schubert, Schumann, Faure, and Strauss. The CD was recorded in October 2018 in All Saints Church, London.

Although this is the final CD in the series, it offers an outstanding program of Brahms songs from the familiar to the lesser-known. Thus, Brahms' greatest song may well be "Eternal Love" op. 43 no. 1 to a text by one Hoffman Von Fallersleben. The song tells the story of a passionate, forbidden love between two mismatched lovers as they flee through a dark forest. Rennert and Johnson perform it beautifully.

Other individual songs on the CD include Brahms' first work in the genre, "True Love", op. 3 no 1., to a poem by Robert Reinick, which makes a remarkable beginning to the more than two hundred songs Brahms composed during his life. The song is a dialogue between a mother and a daughter, a form Brahms used often. The young woman expresses her love and faith in her absent lover while her mother tries to warn her away. The romantic and lyrical "May night" op. 43 no.2 to a text by Ludwig Holty is also frequently performed and captures a mood of intense loneliness. "My sleep grows ever quieter", op105 no2. to a text by Hermann Lingg is also a sad song in which a young woman on her deathbed thinks of her absent beloved and tries to beckon him to her side before she dies.

With the many individual songs, the highlight of this CD was the set of eight "Gypsy Songs", op. 103, that Brahms' friend, Hugo Conrat, translated from traditional Hungarian poems. These short songs feature erotic, swirling music of fire, passion, love and loss. It is a joy to hear this music in the performance by Rennert. The CD includes the two songs Brahms wrote for voice, piano and viola obligato as his op. 91, "Assuaged longing" and "A sacred cradle song" with Lawrence Power on the viola complimenting Rennert and Johnson. These pieces are "housemusic" of the highest order.

The CD concludes with six songs from Brahms collection of "49 German Folksongs" from late in his life. (The remaining songs from this collection are scattered through the earlier CDs). These are beautifully melodious pieces that Brahms himself regarded highly. I particularly liked the sad love song "Down there in the Valley" of the works on this CD.

As do the other CDs in the series, this CD includes extensive liner notes by Graham Johnson with the text and translation of each song together with Johnson's musical and textual discussions. These notes are invaluable for listeners wanting to explore Brahms' songs in depth or to learn more about a particular work.

I greatly enjoyed this CD and the melting voice of Sophie Rennert. The entire series, with its music, singing, pianism, and scholarship offers an outstanding way to explore the songs of Brahms. Lovers of art song will love this final recording in the series and its companions.

Total Time: 79:11

Brahms (Master Musicians Series)
Malcolm MacDonald, author
Schirmer Reference
9780028713939, $39.95 paperback

Malcom MacDonald's Biography Of Brahms

A colleague of mine noticed the picture of the young Brahms on the cover of MacDonald's biography. She remarked with surprise on his handsome, vigorous appearance. Too often people tend to think of Brahms as an old, bearded, somewhat overweight composer of conservative romantic music. The text of MacDonald's ambitious study, together with the cover portrait, aims to dispel stereotypes held by many about Brahms. For MacDonald, Johannes Brahms (1833 --1897) was an unabashedly romantic composer (granting the difficulties of defining that notoriously difficult term, "romantic"), with strong ties to the musical past who looked forward to and helped create the linear, contrapuntal, and decidedly unromantic music of the twentieth century. MacDonald's interest in the relationship between Brahms and Schoenberg is understandable as he has written a companion volume on Schoenberg for the "Master Musicians" series.

The book is both a biography of Brahms and a musical study with heavy emphasis on the latter. In the biographical sections of his account, MacDonald covers briefly Brahms's childhood in the rough, seafaring districts of Hamburg,his early musical instruction, and his wide reading. He describes Brahms's relationship with the Schumann's and the ambiguities of his lifelong love for Clara Schumann. There is a great deal of emphasis on Brahms's inability to marry, despite several flames in his youth. MacDonald describes how love and passion inform Brahms's work throughout and how music helped Brahms give voice to feelings that, for whatever reason, he could not express in his life.

MacDonald also places Brahms in a musical context that includes his extensive study of his predecessors, from his contemporaries through Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn, to the baroque and earlier. Brahms was undoubtedly the most musically learned of the great composers and he was able to integrate his learning with his own romantic voice. MacDonald finds that Brahms remained throughout his life a romantic composer. This means, I think, that Brahms saw music as an essentially spiritual calling, somewhat of a substitute for the role revealed religion plays in the lives of many, which emphasizes romantic and physical love, the unity of man with nature, and the value of the past. Bach used the past in his devotion to early music and to folksongs of many types. Brahms's romanticism, and the manner in which he integrated it with counterpoint and variation, paved the way for the destruction of romanticism and for the creation of a more recognizably modern sensibility.

I found the most valuable part of MacDonald's book to be the detailed analyses he offers of virtually all Brahm's major works. The discussion is presented chronologically. The musical discussions generally follow the biographical sections of the book and deal with Brahms's compositions by categories: orchestral music, chamber music, choral music, piano, song. MacDonald offers numerous musical examples, discusses the history of each work, and integrates each work nicely into a discussion of the entirety of Brahms's output.

Reading this book impressed upon me the wide variety of masterpieces Brahms composed during his life. MacDonald's accounts can be followed by the nonspecialist and give an inspiring picture of Brahms and his music. While reading, I thought of the works of Brahms with which I am familiar and wanted to revisit them in light of MacDonald's discussion. I also thought of the many works of Brahms I don't know but would love to explore in light of what I learned from the book. Little more can be asked from a musical study.

MacDonald writes with a deep affection for Brahms which he conveys well to his readers. He writes that Brahms "has been my favorite composer ever since I was old enough to think about music" (at x) and it shows in the deep thought and work represented in this study. MacDonald's closing discussion of Brahms's output captures well his view of Brahms. He writes: "Aware of the tragedies, paradoxes, and imponderables of existence, Brahms wrote to provide sustenance for the here and now. His music seeks to give beauty, nobility, a sense of meaning to the brute fact of human transience." (p. 401)

This is an outstanding study which should inspire the reader to hear Brahms, or to rehear him with an awakened heart.

Johannes Brahms: A Biography
Jan Swafford
9780679745822, $19.79 paperback

Jan Swafford's Biography Of Brahms

I read Jan Swafford's monumental 1997 biography of Johannes Brahms (1833 --1897) after reading his biography of the American composer Charles Ives and after reading the 1991 biography of Brahms by Malcolm MacDonald. Swafford has written an outstanding biography of Brahms and a through, perceptive consideration of his music. But greater than either of these accomplishments, his book brings Brahms and late ninetheenth century Vienna to life. Swafford has given a great deal of thought to Brahms, and his book helped me think about the nature of creative gifts, about the relationship between love and calling, and about many matters that are much broader than either biography or music.

Swafford gives a great deal of attention to two formative experiences of young Brahms: 1. his childhood of poverty in Hamburg where he played as a pre-adolescent in dives frequented by prostitutes and sailors (this account has been questioned by some writers) and 2. Robert Schumann's article about Brahms at the age of 20, heralding the young man as the heir to Beethoven and predicting a brilliant future for him.

Swafford's book emphasizes Brahms's difficulties throghout life in forming a lasting, sexual relationship with a woman other than prostitutes. Brahms exhibited to sort of behavior towards women frequently described in terms of "The Virgin and the Whore." Brahms could only be physically intimate with women he did not respect. Thus, Brahms ultimately rejected the romantic opportunities that came his way in the persons of Clara Schumann and Agathe von Siebold, among other women. He withdrew into a protective shell when friendships with women threatened to become romantic. Yet women were the greatest source of inspiration to Brahms as a composer. He poured into his music what he denied himself as a man. A crusty figure, Brahms was difficult to know intimately, particularly by women.

The article by Robert Schumann made Brahms famous from the age of twenty before he had done much. Great things were expected of Brahms, but Schumann's praise burdened the fledgling composer with the fear that he would disappoint Schumann's hopes in him. Brahms worked slowly and became an astonishing musical craftsman; but he felt he had to justify Schumann's confidence as well as meet the standards of the great composers of the past, especially Beethoven.

There is a wealth of discussion in this book of Brahms' relationships with both Clara and Robert Schumann, their daughter Julie, the violinist Joachim, the critic Hanslick, Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and many others. The book is set in the last years of liberal Vienna, and Swafford poignantly draws the relationship between Brahms's music and the rise of irrationality, anti-semitism, and violence that would soon plague the Twentieth Century.

I found Swafford's discussions of Brahms music highly insightful. It is less detailed, perhaps, than Malcolm MacMacDonald's study which discusses virtually every work of Brahms; but there is ample material here to form a basis for an exploration and appreciation of Brahms's music. Brahms' romanticism and his musical formalism and learning are well-explored and tied in with a consideration of his major works. Swafford's most thorough musical discussions are of the four symphonies, and he tends to move quicker over Brahms's songs. (This was also the case in Swafford's book on Ives.)

I felt I got to know Brahms, in spite of himself, in this book. Brahms devoted himself wholeheartedly to his art, and in the process lost a great deal of the value of human love and human sexual closeness. It was and remains a difficult exchange. More than encouraging the reader to get to know and love Brahms's music, Swafford's biography will help the reader think about and try to compassionately understand people.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Agustina de Aragon
Gail Meath
Independently Published
9798727361863, $10.99

Gail Meath brings a legendary Spanish woman to life in this historical women's fiction, Agustina de Aragon. The novel is based on the life of Agustina Raimunda Maria Saragossa, the Spanish Joan of Arc. The novel appears well-researched and to accurately depict the daily life of Spaniards in the early nineteenth century before and during the Peninsular War (1808 - 1814) in which Napoleon attempts to conquer Spain. This becomes known as the Spanish War of Independence.

Agustina begins as a headstrong girl and matures into a courageous, patriotic woman. Along the way she falls in love with Roca, a military man attached to the base in her hometown. They marry and carry their love into the battlefield. She earns the nickname "Artillera" when, seeing her husband wounded in battle but struggling to light a cannon, she grabs the torch and fires the cannon into an onslaught of French soldiers. Her bravery sparks the downtrodden Spaniards into resisting the French, often using guerrilla war tactics. She becomes the first woman - and probably the youngest person - ever inducted into the Spanish military as a lieutenant. She is later promoted to major and ultimately receives the Spanish version of our Medal of Honor.

Meath introduces us to a real-life legend, but overall her novel falls a little flat. I appreciate Meath's efforts at bringing a woman, essentially unknown outside of Spain, to modern readers. I enjoyed reading it because I have Spanish ancestors. Written in strict chronological order, Agustina de Aragon is mostly told rather than shown. While it takes us into Agustina's world and presents the realities of war, it could use a bit more depth.

The Van Gogh Woman
Debby Beece
Archway Publishing
9781665720359, $42.95

In the current surge of books regarding the Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Willem Van Gogh, author Debby Beece presents a somewhat unique view. She writes of the triad formed by Van Gogh himself, his brother Theo, and Johanna, Theo's wife, seen primarily from the point of view of Johanna. Beece presents Van Gogh as not mentally ill, but as an overly-sensitive man whose moods swing downward as he sees man's inhumanity to man. Beece attributes his death in July of 1890 to suicide. Theo dies in January 1891 from the ravages of syphilis. As the sole beneficiary of the the two men's estates, Johanna takes it upon herself to preserve the legacy of her husband as an early proponent of modern art while driving a long-term goal of preventing Vincent from fading into obscurity and establishing him as a master of modern art. Her son, Willem (Vincent's namesake) eventually inherits Van Gogh's works and establishes a museum dedicated to his uncle's masterpieces. The book is well-researched, and Beece writes well of art, frequently using Van Gogh's own words to describe his painterly methods.

The Doctor's Daughter
Shari J. Ryan
9781803143736, $10.99

The Doctor's Daughter is World War II fiction at its best. It shows how families can be divided by war and by political beliefs - even misconceptions. The point of view alternates between the two protagonists, Sophia Amsler and Isaac Cohen. Sofia and her mother are Jewish, but her father isn't. He is recruited by the Nazis to care for their soldiers. He complies, thinking his efforts will enhance the status of his "Privileged Marriage" and increase the likelihood his wife and daughter will survive the war. Isaac is a young man who is separated from his father and mother in a Warsaw ghetto when he and his sister are taken to Auschwitz.

Sofia and her parents live a rather posh existence on a farm while Isaac and his family are starving in the ghetto. When Isaac and his sister are sent to Auschwitz, he is forced to be slave labor on Sofia's family farm. As she watches the Nazi guards mistreat their prisoners, she determines to save them and recruits her parents into this daring plan.

Ryan doesn't avoid the atrocities committed by the Nazis or the blind adherence to Hitler's many grievances against Jews, Romani, and other ethnic groups he feels are inferior to Aryans. Instead she walks a fine line between describing and overplaying them. Because of the grotesqueness of the subject matter, it's hard to say I enjoyed this book, but it does provide a well-researched, well-written description of life as a Polish Jew in the 1940s. It is also a story of the perseverance of hope during the most dreadful of conditions.

Elektra: A Novel of the House of Atreus
Jennifer Saint
Flatiron Books
9781250773616, $27.99

Elektra follows three different women through the Trojan War. First are Clytemnestra and Elektra herself, a mother-daughter duo that demonstrates the tragic interconnection between their fates. Cassandra, the "mad" daughter of King Priam and his wife, Hecuba, is cursed by Apollo to be able to predict the future yet have no one believe her. Clytemnestra, after Agamemnon kills their daughter Iphigenia to obtain a good wind to sail to Troy, begins to hate her husband. Later, this hatred is cemented when she learns that Agamemnon has taken Cassandra, a female prisoner from Troy, to serve as his concubine. Clytemnestra determines to kill her husband for revenge. Elektra, a "daddy's girl," has waited impatiently for the war to end to show her father that she's grown into the daughter he envisioned and hates her mother for killing Agamemnon. Cassandra has predicted the Trojan War and its devastating end - to no avail.

Saint weaves the stories of these three women together effortlessly. The relationships between the three women are complex, particularly the twisted relationship between Clytemnestra and Elektra. But Saint's prose doesn't quite rise to the majesty of Madeline Miller's in Circe and The Song of Achilles, but I'd still rate this a five-star read.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv
Erin Litteken
Boldwood Books
B09ZVKGH9D, $3.99

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv is the second book I've read recently (the other being The Doctor's Daughter by Shari J. Ryan) dealing with genocide. The Memory Keeper deals with Holodomor, the starving to death of the Ukrainian people in the early 1930s, while The Doctor's Daughter deals with the Jewish genocide in World War II Poland. Additionally, both books use alternating points of view. However, The Memory Keeper is a more complex book as it alternates past and present points of view (Katya in the 1930s in the region of Kyiv, and Cassie, her granddaughter in Illinois in 2004) parsing the history out as it is revealed to the children and grandchildren of those who survived it. During Holodomor, nearly 9 million people were killed by the Soviets who stole farming equipment and crops to ship to the Soviet Union, leaving the Ukrainians to starve. I found it to be more heart-breaking than The Doctor's Daughter.

The characters in The Memory Keeper of Kyiv are complex and authentic. They deal with their various emotional traumas in different ways but survive. Katya is particularly endearing because the onset of dementia releases long-suppressed memories of the Holodomor.

The Lava Witch (A Dark Paradise Mystery Book 3)
Debra Bokur
9781496737854, $26.00

The Lava Witch, is the third in the Dark Paradise Mystery Series, but it reads well as a standalone novel. I like it enough to consider going back and reading #1 and #2. There are enough hints as to the background of Kali M hoe, a detective with the Maui Police Department. Kali is also a kahu, a spiritual leader in her Hawaiian community, so designated by her grandmother.

Kali has been called to a bizarre crime scene where a young woman has been tortured and killed. Because of her ties to the spiritual aspects of Hawai'i, her methods are somewhat unorthodox, in this case guided by stories in a book written by her grandmother. Kali is also haunted, damaged by the killing of her long-time boyfriend by drug dealers.

I enjoyed the atmosphere and how author Bokur made the glamorous islands dark and forbidding. There were lots of twists and turns in the plot as well.

Cashing In: The Corruption Kings
Jonathan D. Rosen
Next Chapter
9784824107008, $18.49

The premise of Cashing In is intriguing. It certainly made me consider the current prison system which is dangerously flawed in comparison with the private prison system which, in an effort to make money, cuts corners at the expense of the imprisoned. The book seemed too short and the ending too abrupt. The characters were many, ranging from a cardiologist who becomes addicted to painkillers after an accident to the many other inmates and their captors, the families of the inmates, and the fourth estate with several journalists investigating the private prison system in Florida. Due to the shortness of the book and the multiple characters, I felt they weren't as fully developed as they could have been.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

We Kept Our Towns Going
Phyllis Michael Wong
Michigan State University Press
1405 South Harrison Road, Suite 25, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245
9781611864205, $19.95, PB, 196pp

Synopsis: Michigan's Upper Peninsula is known for its natural beauty and severe winters, as well as the mines and forests where men labored to feed industrial factories elsewhere in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But there were factories in the Upper Peninsula, too, and women who worked in them.

With the publication of "We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula", Phyllis Michael Wong tells the stories of the Gossard Girls, women who sewed corsets and bras at factories in Ishpeming and Gwinn from the early twentieth century to the 1970s.

As the Upper Peninsula's mines became increasingly exhausted and its stands of timber further depleted, the Gossard Girls' income sustained both their families and the local economy. During this time the workers showed their political and economic strength, including a successful four-month strike in the 1940s that capped an eight-year struggle to unionize.

Drawing on dozens of interviews with the surviving workers and their families, "We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula" highlights the daily challenges and joys of these mostly first- and second-generation immigrant women. It also illuminates the way the Gossard Girls navigated shifting ideas of what single and married women could and should do as workers and citizens. From cutting cloth and distributing materials to getting paid and having fun, historian and author Wong gives us a rare ground-level view of piecework in a clothing factory from the women on the sewing room floor.

Critique: A masterpiece of original scholarship, "We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula" is further enhanced for the benefit of the reader with the inclusion of a number of black/white photos, an Appendix (People Interviewed for the Book), a four page Glossary, a ten page listing of Sources, and a nine page Index. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Regional American History, Labor History, and Women's History collections and supplemental curriculum lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Phyllis Michael Wong has held roles as a historian, an educator, and thirty-year member of the university level academic world, including as First Lady at Northern Michigan University (2004 - 12) and San Francisco State University (2012 - 19).

The Little Book of Vaginas: Everything You Need to Know
Anna Lou Walker
Cleis Press
101 Hudson Street, Suite 3705, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302
9781627783224, $13.95, PB, 144pp

Synopsis: The vagina is the elastic, muscular part of the female genital tract. In humans, it extends from the vestibule to the cervix. The outer vaginal opening is normally partly covered by a thin layer of mucosal tissue called the hymen. At the deep end, the cervix (neck of the uterus) bulges into the vagina. The vagina allows for sexual intercourse and birth. As part of the monthly menstrual cycle it also channels the menstrual flow beginning with puberty and concluding with menopause.

"The Little Book of Vaginas: Everything You Need to Know" by Anna Lou Walker (is also the editor of Reader's Digest magazine) is pocket- sized book that will debunk the myths and help the reader to gain a better understanding of everything they were never taught, including: The amazing things the vagina does from puberty to menopause; Advice on the most common complaints and how best to alleviate them; The vagina in pop culture - from the page to the stage.

Simply stated, "The Little Book of Vaginas: Everything You Need to Know" is succinct and celebratory guide separates fact from fiction and will change the way girls and women think and talk about their 'wonder down under'.

Critique: Impressively comprehensive, exceptionally well written, reliably informative, throughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Little Book of Vaginas: Everything You Need to Know" should be a part of every middle school and highschool Health Class curriculum, as well as community, college, and university Human Sexuality collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of parents, girls and young women that "The Little Book of Vaginas: Everything You Need to Know" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Wildflowers of the Indiana Dunes National Park
Nathanael Pillae, author
Scott Namestnik, author
Quarry Books
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
9780253060419, $35.00, PB, 458pp

Synopsis: The Indiana Dunes are located on the picturesque coast of Lake Michigan, and are one of the most biologically diverse parks in the US national park system. Keen hikers can spot white mayapple blooms, orange-fringed orchids, pink lady slippers, and more.

"Wildflowers of the Indiana Dunes National Park" offers visitors a unique handbook highlighting over 160 of the common and exceptional wildflowers found along the trails of Indiana Dunes National Park and the surrounding area. In addition to the usual scientific species names, descriptions, and bloom periods, co-authors Nathanael Pilla and Scott Namestnik offer deeper narratives, including the folklore surrounding the flowers, look-alikes, animals associated with the plants -- information that will be remembered much more easily than the length of a petal.

Profusely illustrated with more than 350 color photographs, "Wildflowers of the Indiana Dunes National Park" will be an asset to the casual hiker of Indiana Dunes National Park, a useful tool to the experienced botanist, and a delight to anyone interested in wildflowers.

Critique: Impressively written and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Wildflowers of the Indiana Dunes National Park" is the ideal, compact (4.3 x 1 x 8.3 inches), and easily portable guide for anyone visiting the Indiana Dunes area who has an interest in wildflowers. Indeed, So informed and informative, "Wildflowers of the Indiana Dunes National Park" could well provide a template for similar wildflower guides for other State and National Park systems. While very highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Botanical, Flower Horticulture, and Ecotourism collections, it should be noted for that "Wildflowers of the Indiana Dunes National Park" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $33.25).

Editorial Note #1: A botanist and musician, Nathanael Pilla received his master of science in biology from Purdue University Northwest. Nathanael is an active public speaker and nature enthusiast whose written work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, including Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science.

Editorial Note #2: Scott Namestnik has a degree in botany from Miami University and serves as the Natural Heritage Program Botanist at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Division of Nature Preserves, where he conducts botanical inventories, assesses sites for protection consideration, and documents and monitors endangered and threatened species. He is also the co-author (with Michael Homoya) of "Wildflowers of the Midwest".

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Troll Tale & Other Scary Stories
Birke R. Duncan, et al.
Independently Published
9798809983075, $11.99, PB, 438pp

Synopsis: Originally published in 2001, this new and expanded edition of "The Troll Tale & Other Scary Stories" is a compendium of timeless yarns spun by fantastic storytellers. The stories include ghosts, fairies, wraiths, and premonitions -- with all of these are eerie tales having been collected by folklorists Birke Duncan & Jason Marc Harris, and with this new edition also featuring the dramatic talents of Garrett W. Vance, Bob McAllister, Ralph Cheadle, Holly Luidl Wyatt, Chris Aynesworth, Andrew Brinkman, and many more.

Critique: With a special and particular appeal and interest to academia and non-specialist general readers with an interest in folklore, fairytales, and mythology, this new edition of "The Troll Tale & Other Scary Stories" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists.

You Know Exactly
Paul Madonna
West Margin Press
9781513134819, $34.99, HC, 176pp

Synopsis: "You Know Exactly, the Third Collection of All Over Coffee" by Paul Madonna enigmatically melds art, story, and travel to capture the profundity reflected outside and resting deep within the soul.

With original writings plus collaborations with award-winning writers including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Cheryl Strayed, Andrew Sean Greer, Robert Olen Butler, Kristen Tracy, Daniel Handler (otherwise known as Lemony Snicket), and more, artist and writer Paul Madonna deftly pairs words with exquisitely rendered cityscapes to create a poignant, thought-provoking showpiece. Each page offers something unique: short stories, poems, fleeting thoughts, and one-liners displayed alongside pen and ink drawings that travel from San Francisco to New York, from Paris to Tokyo.

The effect coalesces into a mesmerizing work that entices the reader to returning to it again and again.

Critique: an impressive coffee-table style volume (8.8 x 0.9 x 10.7 inches, 2.35 pounds), "You Know Exactly, the Third Collection of All Over Coffee" is an inherently fascinating book to browse through and will have a very special appeal to academia and non-specialist general readers with an interest in such diverse art categories as comics, manga, landscape and seascape. Thought provoking and occasionally iconoclastic, "You Know Exactly, the Third Collection of All Over Coffee" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Art History & Studies collections.

Editorial Note: Paul Madonna is an award-winning artist and author whose unique blend of drawing and storytelling has been heralded as an 'all new art form.' He is the creator of the series All Over Coffee, which ran in the San Francisco Chronicle for twelve years, and the author of five books. His second collection, Everything is its own reward, won the 2011 NCBA Award for Best Book, and his collaborative book with author Gary Kamiya, Spirits of San Francisco, was a 2020 best-seller. Paul's work ranges from novels to cartoons to large-scale public murals and can be found internationally in print as well as in galleries and museums, including the Oakland Museum of California, the William Blake Association in France, and the San Francisco International Airport. Paul Madonna has an informative Wikipedia page at

Willis M. Buhle

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