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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 23, Number 6 June 2023 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ananya Hazarika's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf Brian Grant's Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Lauren Reed's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Michellia Wilson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf  

Ananya Hazarika's Bookshelf

Baking a Bicycle
Lois Wickstrom, author
Nicolas Milano, illustrator
Gripper Products
9781954519756, $11.99, PB, 34pp. Ages 4-8

5 stars

Baking a Bicycle by Lois Wickstrom and Nicolas Milano is a unique and creative children's book where the art of baking combines with the science of building a bicycle.

Every year on his Unbirthday, Caspian is surprised by an unusual gift from his grandfather. He wonders whether, this year, he could have a bicycle as his gift. While his grandfather agrees, Caspian is surprised to find "baking up dust" inside an envelope the following morning instead. While his grandfather has a surprise in store, will Caspian be able to make a bicycle with the ingredients that he has?

This beautifully illustrated story offers a delightful journey through building a bicycle from scratch, simultaneously providing delicious cakes, pastries, and bread recipes. It consists of two main sections.

The first section deals with building a bicycle, from selecting the necessary materials to assembling the different parts. A detailed explanation of each step makes it easy for even novice bike builders to follow along. The illustrations and photographs help demonstrate the different techniques and tools used.

The second section focuses on baking. Lois Wickstrom and Nicolas Milano provide a range of recipes that are easy to follow, even for beginners. One of the things setting Baking a Bicycle apart is how it seamlessly blends two seemingly unrelated topics. The authors draw parallels between the precision required in bike building and baking, making it intriguing and entertaining.

Overall, it is fun and informative and will appeal to anyone interested in either baking or building bicycles.

Ananya Hazarika, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Big Swiss
Jen Beagin
9781982153083, $27.00 hc / $12.99 Kindle, Paperback, 325pages

Forty-five-year-old Greta is an audio transcriptionist for a sex therapist called Om (whose real name is Bruce). Om tape-records his sessions with clients then sends the tapes to Greta, who works from home wearing headphones, fingerless gloves, a kimono and leg warmers, and making comments to herself as she does so.

Om's clients are identified on the tapes only by their initials. His sessions involve 'breathing, touch and mindfulness', and he favours chanting, 'fire-breathing' and gong baths.

OM: I was thinking we could chant the word "Har" which is another word for God.

FEW: You're joking, right?

"You wish" Greta said

OM: "Har" is an ancient mantra for prosperity and good health.

FEW: We'll be repeating the word "Har"? As in "har, har, har, har"?

OM: You'll be surprised how you feel afterward.

"You'll feel homicidal" Greta said.

Greta had never seen the gong Om uses but she knows it is large and shiny, and the first time she heard it mentioned he'd said

"I waxed my gong for you in case you wanted a sound bath at the end of our session", which Greta had transcribed as "I waxed my dong for you".

Om' subsequent text to her - "It's gong, honey, not dong" becomes a treasured phrase for her.

This offers some idea of the way Greta's mind works and, given that transcripts form quite a large part of Big Swiss, it is obvious that there is a lot of frank sex talk in this book. This becomes more graphic - and almost pornographic - when Greta meets Big Swiss and they begin a passionate relationship, but the book is also very funny, and Beagin has created some wonderfully zany characters.

'Big Swiss' is the name Greta gives to FEW when she begins to transcribe Om's sessions with this woman. FEW intrigues Greta and she learns a good deal about her from these sessions. She is a young gynocologist who is consulting Om because she has never had an orgasm, and she also claims to have a huge aura 'The size of a barge'.

"Your aura is giving me a head injury," Greta would have said, had she been in the same room. "I'm clinging to the side of the barge, bleeding from the scalp".

Listening to FEW's voice, Greta imagines that she is 'tall and from Switzerland, and often dressed from top to toe in white, the colour of surrender', that she has 'a gap between her two front teeth' and 'pale blue eyes', and that she is 'stunning but sterile'.

When at an unofficial dog-park an heroic woman rescues Greta's beloved Jack Russel, Piñot, from a savage attack by a pit bull terrier, Greta recognises her voice as that of Big Swiss and sees that she is young, and even more beautiful than Greta had imagined. Her dog, too, is 'Sleek, silver, the most beautiful dog Greta has ever seen'. They exchange names and a little information about themselves, but Greta has to try hard not to reveal that she already knows a lot about FEW (Flavia Eloise). She tells her that her own name is Rebeka, spelled with a 'k', and that she works as a transcriber 'For journalists. From the city'. They agree to accept the invitation from pit bull terrier's apologetic owner for a drink next day at the bar where he works.

After that, things get more complicated for Greta, especially when she and Big Swiss, as she still calls her, find they are sexually attracted to each. Greta is not sure if she is gay. She had broken up with her long-term, dependable, boy friend, who wanted to marry her, before changing careers and moving to Hudson, New York, to have 'her own bed'. She now lives in a dilapidated old mansion owned by Sabine, who regards herself as a witch and sells various hash-enhanced products to the locals. 'But we're not lovers', she tells Om, when she learns that he knows Sabine.

Greta always added that last part as a joke, since it was patently obvious Sabine didn't have a gay bone in her body. But no one ever laughed, so maybe it wasn't that obvious. Or maybe it just wasn't funny. She wondered how many of Om's bones were gay. One or two, she decided.

We learn a good deal more about Greta's past life, her mother's suicide and her own suicidal thoughts; and about Big Swiss's traumatic relationship with convict Keith, who tried to kill her, has just been released from prison, and is stalking her We learn more about Sabine, and about some of the other Hudson residents - people Greta once assumed Big Swiss would view as 'emotional libertines or, to use a more psychological term, total fucking basket cases'.

Most of all, we learn about the passionate love-making between Greta and Big Swiss. And things get really strange when Greta finds herself transcribing FEW's sessions with Om, where she talks about her 'adulterous' relationship (she is married ) and describes some of their meetings. Greta is constantly aware that she needs to confess to Big Swiss, but she keeps putting it off, so she continues to hear Falvia's descriptions of her and of their meetings which are often at odds with what the way she sees their relationship, prompting exclamations of and "Excuse me?", "Right":

FEW: Sometimes it feels almost spiritual. Maybe I'm supposed to learn something from her? She acts like she's having a religious experience.

OM: Which religion, if you had to hazard a guess?

"The Church of Euthanasia," Greta said.

I could have done without so much discussion of 'pussy'; and about whether a pussy looks like 'advanced origami' or 'a clumsily wrapped Christmas present' ; or a vagina is 'a grand ballroom with a vaulted ceiling'. What kept me reading, however, was Greta's personality, her wonderfully pithy view of Hudson's people, its wellness culture and its new-age pretensions, and her sharp tongue, which often made me laugh out loud.

Big Swiss is currently in the development stage for a limited season series with HBO. Jen Beagin has provided plenty of social satire and a colourful cast of odd characters for the adapter to work with, but I do wonder how they will televise all the sex.

The Guest Room
Tasha Sylva
Henry Holt & Co.
9781250863959, $28.99 pbk / $14.99 Kindle, 401pages

'33-year-old woman found dead in a London park'

The woman was Tess's sister, Rosie, and in her grief Tess has become obsessed with finding Rosie's killer. One way is to try and tempt him to kill her, too, so she wanders dark places like Hampstead Heath at night, watching strangers, testing them:

'I dare you.'

His boots scuff louder.

'Go on. Grab me.' Almost alongside. Strong aftershave on him - amaretto, over-sprayed and bitter. I fix my eyes on his. His black irises are gleaming in the tawny glow. Then, just like that, they drop away. And he's past.

As the days pass, Tess's behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. She shadows Rosie's former partner, Oliver, even though (as the police explain to her in detail) he has 'a cast-iron alibi'. He repeatedly tells her to stop texting him. She suspects a barman who 'was looking at Rosie a lot, he smiled at her'; a friendly local shop-keeper; the strange, quiet, man who lives across the road from Rosie's flat; anyone who knew or met Rosie. Luke, the downstairs neighbour who keeps calling on Tess and trying to get her to go out with him, in spite of his having a live-in girl-friend, Ivy, seems more of a nuisance than a potential killer, but she finds Ivy oddly over-friendly, and too forgiving of Luke's pursuit of her. Nothing, and no-one seem normal to her any more.

Four months have passed and Tess does not think that the police are doing enough to solve the case. She constantly phones Detective Sergeant Pettiford, offering new and increasingly dubious 'leads'. Pettiford is endlessly patient and understanding with her but you can hear his growing frustration as he tries to keep her obsessive and erratic behaviour in check.

Tess had always been very close to Rosie, but shortly before her death Rosie had become increasingly disturbed, would not share her worries with Tess, and had begun to keep her at a distance. Then, on the night of Rosie's death, Tess had missed three phone calls from her, and the voicemail after the last call had broken off suddenly:

'... A loud sniff. 'God, I've had a horrible evening. And I think there's some -'

What was she going to say? Something? Someone? And that sniff - it sounded as if she was crying.

Where was I? Why didn't I answer? Or call her back? Questions that have repeated so many times in my head they don't sound like questions any more.

Tess had been in bed with a man, her phone in the next room, and she had not seen the calls until the next morning. She feels that if she had not missed these calls Rosie 'could still be alive'.

Now, Tess has taken over Rosie's mortgage and is living in her flat, but her earnings as a translator (she is half Spanish) and her part-time job as an invigilator at the Barbican's art gallery, are not enough. And Rosie's bedroom, especially, bothers her.

I considered asking friends if they needed a room. Except I didn't want a face I knew. I didn't want someone taking root, becoming fixed.

I decided to open it up to strangers. More neutral that way, as a guest room.

At first it was hard, letting them in. Every noise and movement, every time they were in the kitchen, the bathroom, turning around to find them smiling at me - grating.

The compensation for this, however, is that Tess can exercise her curiosity about her guests' possessions, secretly exploring their room when they are out. One guest had a bag of empty cheese and onion crisps packets in the wardrobe; another collected seeds; one man had a mallet.

It's not just possession, though. It's the thrill of being in here, somewhere off limits the minute I welcome a guest. The risk [they] could come back at any moment. Catch me. And what would happen if [they] did. How would I explain it? I've never needed to because I've never been caught.

Tempting fate again.

Arran is a little different. He has booked the room for four weeks whilst he looks for a permanent place to rent. He is tall, blonde, easy to talk to, but quiet - he moves soundlessly - and, unusually for a guest, he notices things about the flat. He also asks odd questions:

'Where have your parents gone?'

'So you're all alone here?'

Tess feels attracted to him and there seems to be some connection between them. He makes himself at home in the flat, bakes bread, cooks vegetarian meals, but she can't quite make him out. Searching his room when he is not around, she finds a notebook with entries that intrigue her. Arran seems to have developed a passion for a young woman. He describes following her, watching her in a cafe, trying to bump into her at a Yoga class, and he describes his growing feelings for her. There are certain things about these notes that seem familiar to Tess, and she begins to think that the 'you' Arran is writing about is herself.

But there is another voice in the book. The voice of someone who clearly lives very close to Tess, calls her 'the Spanish Girl', and knows a great deal about her. As the book progresses, this voice becomes more sinister:

Tess has no one. Friends, family, all of them have dried up. Nobody to help her. Left with me, though she hasn't realised this yet. And I'm no puppet, no pawn on this chessboard. Forced to do things most people would find disturbing. As if they know anything. As if they could ever understand.

Nothing is clear. Tess feels danger all around her, and the tension mounts. She and Arran become close and sleep together, but his diary-like notes, which she still secretly reads, make her suspect him of seeing another woman, too. So, she shadows him. What she sees confuses her even more.

The Guest Room is a carefully constructed and compelling mystery story, and a fine study of the way grief and uncertainly can disturb the mind. The final revelation is unexpected, and the ending is realistic and satisfying.

Tasha Sylva writes well, and knows just how to keep the reader involved and guessing.

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

Brian Grant's Bookshelf

The Omega Legacy
Bruce Golden
Shaman Press
9798392819904, $19.95, HC, 311pp
9798392684267, $12.95, PB; $2.99 Kindle

Death and rebirth... humanity dies out and is reborn. In between a civilization of synthetic beings rises. The world is never the same again.

Everywhere you look these days, the talk is all about artificial intelligence and the near-future dangers that lie therein. What about the more distant future? What horizons might A.I. evolved towards? Author Bruce Golden gives us one possible answer to that question in his novel The Omega Legacy.

The concept is one I've never come across in my extensive reading of science fiction. In this storyline the what if is... what if, at some future date, the human race is driven to extinction by a lethal virus (not COVID). In that case the only intelligences left would be artificial. Golden postulates the super computers, androids, and robots that remain active would eventually create their own society as they continued to advance and improve themselves.

These "synthetic" (as they prefer to call themselves) lifeforms are virtually immortal, and do indeed evolve and advance over the decades, even to the point where they begin developing human-like emotions. In part this is a result of their exposure to so much leftover human culture--reading human books, watching human films and TV shows, listening to human music. Ultimately, though, they begin creating their own works of art. This artistic development is just part of their evolution.

Everything in their world is progressing fairly smoothly until one synthetic scientist decides to clone a human being. This creates quite a bit of controversy, with some factions against such experiments and some enthusiastically for it. He's allowed to continue his research and discovers raising a human child is not something he was prepared for.

Flash forward 20 years... more and more humans are being cloned by other scientists. At this point the humans are oddities, collectors' items, pets, aesthetic creations desired by many synthetics. That is until the humans begin breeding on their own in violation of certain regulations.

As the human population swells, synthetics learn that, like kittens and puppies, humans are entertaining and compliant when they're young, but as they grow older they develop an independent streak. They develop their own desires--their own plans for the future.

Adding to the growing human problem is a large contingent of aliens who arrive on Earth wanting to immigrate. There's plenty of room on the depopulated planet, so the synthetics are agreeable... until the aliens' prolific reproduction rate forces them to expand to more and more territories. Ultimately this leads to war. But the conflict the synthetics face isn't just with the immigrants. Humans begin to demand equal rights, and an underground insurrection starts to make itself heard.

All-in-all Golden lays out a fabulous premise. He pulls it off without resorting to an overload of hard science that bogs down some scifi, because it's really more of a character story. There's also a mystery involving the origin of the Omega Virus, but I won't give it away here.

Like in most of his books, Golden's chapters move along quickly, filled with character interactions and dialogue. And the dramatis personae in this tale are both unique and marvelous. My favorite is the old synthetic who's seen it all--the only one who dates back to the time of humans. His perspective is both heartwarming and humorous. As he says, he's come a long way since he had that "new robot smell." Others include a synthetic who loves old hard-boiled detective fiction and is assigned to investigate a series of murders; a formerly human woman whose memory engrams were uploaded and stored before she died in the pandemic, only to be revived inside a synthetic body; and John, the first human clone who ultimately leads the revolution for human rights.

I found the first section of the novel to contain a fabulous bit of world building, and the short final section a perfect ending. There are some slow parts to the middle sections, but that's when many of the characters are fleshed-out and I didn't care that the actions slowed down somewhat.

If you prefer pages and pages of lush descriptive phrases and illusive metaphors, this probably isn't the book for you. Golden's style is more cinematic. He gets to the heart of the matter and lets his characters deal with their predicaments, their relationships, their aspirations--be they synthetic, human, or alien.

Brian Grant

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Cold Sun: The Search for World War II Airmen Lost in a Tibetan Glacier
William H. Jordan
Texas A&M University Press
9781648430916, $47.00, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: In January 1944, a US Army Air Corps transport, en route to its home base in India, crashed into a snowfield in Tibet, killing all crew members. Because of the remote location and fierce winter weather, the aircraft was covered by heavy snowfall. The snowfield glaciated, completely hiding the aircraft until its accidental discovery by a Tibetan hunter in 1993. A nearby Chinese army garrison launched an immediate reconnaissance into the crash site and brought out remnants of the airplane and remains of the crew. They then notified the American Embassy in Beijing.

Then-Colonel William H. Jordan, commander of the US Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, was assigned to investigate the crash site and to recover, identify, and repatriate the remains of the fallen US servicemen. "Cold Sun: The Search for World War II Airmen Lost in a Tibetan Glacier" is Jordan's recounting of the events surrounding the recovery, including the final, solemn duty of officially informing the lost crewmen's family members (by this time in middle age or older) of the fate of their loved ones some five decades earlier.

Jordan deftly weaves the mission of the aircraft and crew's fate through the prism of America's history of identifying and recovering their fallen warriors, the efforts over the years, and technological leaps needed to finally accomplish this grim, necessary mission.

Critique: Fascinating, detailed, and impressive informative. "Cold Sun: The Search for World War II Airmen Lost in a Tibetan Glacier" is major study is enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a section of black/white photographic illustrations, twelve pages of Notes, a four page Glossary, and a fifteen page Index, "Cold Sun" is based in the personal reflections of Jordan and the others involved, in telling the truly gripping story of a tragic loss during World War II, and a harrowing recovery effort, and the human efforts involved so many decades later. Unique and exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Cold Sun" is a prized and recommended pick for personal, professional, community, and academic library World War II History/Biography collections and American Military Aviation History supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: William H. Jordan served in the Joint Casualty Resolution Center from 1987 through 1989, charged with leading the first recovery and forensic identification of US service personnel remains in Southeast Asia after the end of the Vietnam War. He also held command of the US Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, 1993 - 96, followed by time spent in the negotiations, US policy, and operational recoveries in Southeast Asia, Russia, North Korea, and Brazil. He is the recipient of the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Air Medal, and the Bronze Star. He splits his time between western Kentucky and Idaho.

Divorce Smart: How to Thrive and Come Out Whole
Adam Weiss
Independently Published
9798386224141, $27.95, HC, 228pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Divorce Smart: How to Thrive and Come Out Whole", Adam Weiss gives his divorcing readers the leverage needed to incentivize the other person to settle. This leverage might be in the form of information, money, or anything that will cause the other side to want to resolve the case, and more importantly, in a way that is wanted as a settlement.

"Divorce Smart" will also provide readers with a step-by-step guide to what is essential to help their case and save themselves time and money along the way. When it comes to dealing with asset assignment, "penny wise and pound foolish" can add up to tens of thousands of dollars when dealing with an irrational or vindictive spouse.

With "Divorce Smart", divorcing readers will be so much better equipped to handle the divorce process after reading about their legal rights and options. Finding a middle ground that the reader can accept depends on understanding what the opposing side could contend about these concerns.

This will assist the reader select their best and worst-case scenarios because, essentially, the outcome of the divorce will depend on which of the spouse's stories the judge buys into the most. Your goal is to ensure the judge believes that you have suffered unfairly. In its most basic form, this strategy aims to win the heart of the court.

Critique: Simply stated, divorce is not just an emotional trauma but it can (and often is) a financial catastrophe. Clear, comprehensive, and invaluable, "Divorce Smart: How to Thrive and Come Out Whole" is critically important reading for anyone contemplating or going through a divorce action in a court of law. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Divorce Management collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Divorce Smart" is also available in a paperback edition (9798218136529, $24.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Adam Weiss is not an attorney, nor a financial advisor. He is was a married man who never thought in 38 years of togetherness would end with a torn apart family and financial ruin. But it happened and took more than two years to resolve in the court via zoom to add insult to injury. Why did it take so long? Many people told me it will be less than a year; my kids are all grown up. Split the assets and sell the house. One, two, three goodbye good riddance.

Not so fast, the ex would have nothing to do with easy- Instead, they went on to hire not one, but five lawyers to drag out court procedures. He saw his lawyer's retainer fee dwindling with each encounter from conversations with opposing counsel to court hearings and filing motions. And during each of these proceedings, Adam recognized that something was missing: a lack of concern for proper human compassion and urgency in the court system. H knew it wasn't going to be easy, but was still shocked by how the court mill moved through paperwork without a care in the world for the people standing before them nor the cost. He decided to share what he learned through personal experience and how to improve your odds of better results by being better prepared walking into your own divorce.

Quantum Spirituality
Peter Canova
Bear & Company
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
9781591434634, $20.00, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: From the dawn of history, a universal wisdom tradition has existed that explains humanity's purpose in the cosmos and our relationship to the Master Source Consciousness. This mystical philosophy was harnessed by the ancient seers known as Gnostics, who were in direct contact with Source Consciousness. As Peter Canova reveals in "Quantum Spirituality: Science, Gnostic Mysticism, and Connecting with Source Consciousness", not only do the ancient teachings of Gnosticism contain important spiritual truths, but they profoundly align with the modern sciences of quantum physics and psychology. They can also provide us with a transformative path to higher consciousness and practical tools to create your own reality.

Merging modern science and ancient wisdom, Canova explores the perennial principles of Gnosticism and shows how they describe major theories of quantum physics, such as the Big Bang, parallel universes, the Holographic Universe theory, and Einstein's Relativity. He recounts the Gnostic story of Sophia from a scientific standpoint, showing how it describes the fall of spiritual consciousness into material existence. He also provides in-depth evidence that Jesus taught a hidden, mystical Gnostic initiation rite.

Explaining how the Master Consciousness created and shaped all life, including humans, the author reveals how Source gave us a critical role to fulfill in the cosmos, including the ability of our thoughts to affect the material world. He describes Carl Jung's role in the spiritualization of psychology and how this can be used by the modern spiritual seeker to pursue a path of enlightenment and personal fulfillment.

Ultimately showing how enlightenment is a process wherein outer manifestations arise from inner experience (including synchronicity and dreams) "Quantum Spirituality" reveals how each of us can harness the power of quantum spirituality to transform our world on both an individual and collective level.

Critique: With a special and particular relevance to readers with an interest in Gnosticism, Quantum Theory, New Age Metaphysics, and Unexplained Mysteries, "Quantum Spirituality: Science, Gnostic Mysticism, and Connecting with Source Consciousness" is an especially informative, insightful, and thought-provoking contribution for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in these subjects that "Quantum Spirituality" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Editorial Note: Peter Canova ( is an international businessman who, after a series of life-changing spiritual experiences, began writing on spirituality and consciousness. He has been researching early Christianity and other ancient spiritual traditions as well as quantum physics and the nature of consciousness for more than 35 years. The author of the award-winning First Souls Trilogy, he has contributed to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series and he hosts a podcast, Quantum Spirituality, on Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network.

Carl Logan

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The Malevolent Seven
Sebastien de Castell
Jo Fletcher Books
9781529422771, $28.00, HC, 384pp

Synopsis: 'Seven powerful mages want to make the world a better place. We're going to kill them first.'

Picture a wizard. Go ahead, close your eyes. There he is, see? Skinny old guy with a long straggly beard. No doubt he's wearing iridescent silk robes that couldn't protect his frail body from a light breeze. The hat's a must, too, right? Big, floppy thing, covered in esoteric symbols that would instantly show every other mage where this one gets his magic? Wouldn't want a simple steel helmet or something that might, you know, protect the part of him most needed for conjuring magical forces from being bashed in with a mace (or pretty much any household object).

Now open your eyes and let me show you what a real war mage looks like -- but be warned: you're probably not going to like it, because we're violent, angry, dangerously broken people who sell our skills to the highest bidder and be damned to any moral or ethical considerations.

At least, until such irritating concepts as friendship and the end of the world get in the way.

My name is Cade Ombra, and though I currently make my living as a mercenary wonderist, I used to have a far more noble-sounding job title - until I discovered the people I worked for weren't quite as noble as I'd believed. Now I'm on the run and my only friend, a homicidal thunder mage, has invited me to join him on a suicide mission against the seven deadliest mages on the continent.

Time to recruit some very bad people to help us on this job!

Critique: A fascinating, riveting, original, and compulsive page turner of an action/adventure sword & sorcery style fantasy novel, "The Malevolent Seven" by Canadian novelist Sebastian de Castell is a deftly crafted read and showcases his genuine and impressive flair for the kind of narrative driven storytelling style makes for a truly memorable and entertaining read from cover to cover. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Epic Fantasy collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated fantasy fans that "The Malevolent Seven" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Sebastien de Castell ( is the author of the acclaimed swashbuckling fantasy series The Greatcoats which was short listed for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy. the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut, the Prix Imaginales for Best Foreign Work and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His YA fantasy series Spellslinger was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and is published in more than a dozen languages.

Sunny Pines
Ray Garton, et al.
Cemetery Dance Publications
9781587679025, $14.90, PB, 86pp

Synopsis: After an absence of twenty-two years, childhood friends Connor, Miguel, and Jelica agree to meet at Sunny Pines, the mobile home park where they grew up.

Sunny Pines had always been a violent place, where drugs and crime were prevalent and visits from the police commonplace. Some say it had been built on bad ground, a spoiled, cursed land. Nothing positive ever came from Sunny Pines, and those who managed to escape it carried the traumas from that environment wherever they wound up.

For the three friends, this is a solemn gathering and, hopefully, a way to put the past to rest. A recent fire destroyed the neighborhood, killing six and leaving many more injured. But their return does little to quiet their childhood memories. Instead, their arrival stirs every vile remnant of dysfunction into waking, and they must face their demons if they are to truly leave the mobile home park for good.

Critique: The collaborative literary project of accomplished co-authors Glen Krisch, Ray Garton, Bev Vincent, and Kealan Patrick Burke, "Sunny Pines" deftly combines a coming of age theme with a suspense thriller of a story that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Highly recommended to the attention of readers with an interest in adults dealing with their childhood demons, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sunny Pines" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

The Dollmaker
Morgan Shamy
CamCat Books
9780744308624, $25.99, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: When Dawn Hildegard's best friend Rose is kidnapped by "The Dollmaker," a crazed serial killer who creates "art" from women's bodies, she drops everything to find her -- including her dream of becoming a doctor.

With the help of a handsome new acquaintance and his mysterious brother, they set off to find the killer. Although they quickly become friends, Dawn cannot shake the uneasy feeling that the brothers know more about the murders than they admit.

As more and more victims are found murdered and displayed throughout town, Dawn must use her wits to find Rose before it's too late. And before she too becomes the Dollmaker's next victim.

Critique: A riveting hardcore suspense thriller of a read from beginning to end, "The Dollmaker" is a deftly scripted and genuine 'whodunnit' historical mystery by novelist Morgan Shamy and especially recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections. For the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs, it should be noted that "The Dollmaker" is also available in a paperback edition (9780744308686, $19.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: Morgan Shamy ( is a former ballerina, turned Gothic Mystery writer. Primarily known for her YA Fiction, Morgan discovered writing when her three-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer. It was through that experience that she was instilled with the need to share art and magic with children through words on the page.

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Values in Halakha
Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein
c/o Koren Publishers
9781592646067, $29.95 hc / $9.99 Kindle

What is the value of Jewish laws?

I understand that Jewish laws are valuable because they help us learn how to behave and improve ourselves and society.

"Values in Halakha" is by Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015). He was an eminent rabbinic scholar and teacher who served as one of the heads of the famed prestigious Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel for over forty years. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He taught literature and Talmud at Yeshiva University in New York and started YU's "Kollel," where ordained rabbis continued their studies and was its head for a decade. He moved to Israel in 1971 and became the joint leader of Yeshivat Har Etzion for decades until his death. He published studies on Talmud and Jewish Law and Thought and was awarded the Israel Prize for Torah Literature in 1974. He continues to be considered by many rabbis and scholars as an intellectual and spiritual beacon light.

One of Aharon Lichtenstein's goals in "Values in Halakha," "Halakha" meaning Jewish Law," is to show the values embedded within and emerging from Jewish teachings, values that improve individuals and society. He discusses six cases that rabbis needed to decide.

He tells readers about the contributions to Jewish teachings by the famed Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1525-1572). Isserles was frequently confronted with the apparent conflict of Halakha and the personal needs and desires of the person involved. The cases are fascinating, and how he resolved these matters and what it tells us about Halakha is enlightening. Among much else, Isserles decided that when Halakha gives the opinion of many rabbis, the decider in a case can choose against the majority opinion, which became the Halakha, and rule according to the view of the sole dissenter. In this chapter, he also discusses Humanism. What is it? He offers a definition. "Humanism is a worldview which values man highly." Should Humanism impact Halakha?

Lichtenstein tells readers about Rabbi Ya'ir Hayim Bacharach (1638-1702), who, in analyzing a case, decided whether two conflicting groups could choose to compromise and not follow the Halakha. The issue is interesting, and his decision that the compromise in the case is improper tells us much about Halakha.

Rabbi Bacharach was also involved in a case of whether an individual needs to consider the public interest. A certain man was bankrupt and wanted to move to an area where he could gain profits. The non-Jewish leaders of the new site restricted the number of Jews. If he arrived, it would put the community in danger of various sanctions. May he immigrate to the new locale?

The fourth case involves the concept of Lifnim Mishurat Hadin, going beyond the line of the law. When, for example, the law allows something, such as keeping a found object in some cases, the finder should go beyond the law and return the thing to the former owner.

The fifth case focuses on when, if ever, Jewish authorities can force a reluctant Jew to do what is proper.

The sixth case analyses the responsibilities of recipients of charity. This subject is in the news today in America. Can the government insist that welfare recipients seek work and take it?

In short, Rabbi Lichtenstein's analyses of six issues concerning Jewish Law not only sets fascinating cases before readers but also gives them a keener understanding of it.

Great Biblical Commentators
Avigail Rock
c/o Koren Publishers
9781592646074, $34.95

Dr. Avigail Rock's book (1971-2019) "Great Biblical Commentators," is a very informative, eye-opening, thought-provoking introduction to twenty-four of the many rabbis and scholars who commented on the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. All of the many who did so could not be listed in the 426 easy-to-read pages, which contain the biographies, methodologies, and samples of their unique insights, teachings, and explanations. To do so would require a series of books many times the size of this volume. For example, Philo, one of the first philosophers of Judaism, who lived at the beginning of the Common Era and wrote extensively on the Bible, and Maimonides (1138-1204), whose many books explain the Bible, are not included. This, of course, does not detract from the importance of Dr. Rock's book.

Dr. Rock's book is essential because Bible commentaries cannot be understood if the reader does not know the commentator's basic thinking. For example, Nachmanides, a mystic, felt that mysticism is true and the Tanakh is true, so the Tanakh must contain mysticism, and those who do not see and comprehend the mysticism in the Bible fail to understand it. To cite another example, Rashi felt that the moral lessons that the early rabbis derived from the biblical text were so significant that he inserted them into his commentaries even though the Bible's wording does not even hint at the essential rabbinical teaching. In contrast, Rashi's grandson, Rashbam, disagreed with his granddad and told him so. He, Maimonides, and others felt we must separate the rabbinical lessons and seek to understand the simple meaning of the biblical words.

I enjoy Rashbam above all the other commentators Dr. Rock discusses. I understand that the ancient rabbis would agree with him. They taught that Jews should read the Torah twice in the Hebrew original and once in the Aramaic translation of Targum Onkelos. Why? I feel they are saying, we wrote Midrashim, which contains lessons Jews should know. But they should also know the plain meaning of the Torah. The Targum Onkelos translation has the plain meaning - with some differences, such as removing portrayals of God acting as a human.

One may not agree with every interpretation of the twenty-four commentators. There are some that I disagree with. But this is fine. Scholars often disagree. What is important is that Dr. Rock is revealing much that Torah readers need to know. And even if they disagree here and there, they will learn much, very much, from this book.

The following is a tiny sampling of what Dr. Rock reveals. She mentions and agrees with my dating of Targum Onkelos. "Dr. Israel Drazin, an Onkelos scholar, claims that we should date Targum Onkelos around the year 400 CE." She refers to my "Dating Targum Onkelos by Means of the Tannaitic Midrashim," Journal of Jewish Studies 50, no. 2 (1999): 246-58.

Saadia Gaon, like Onkelos, avoids translating and literally explaining verses attributing physical characteristics to God. But he treats the substitutions differently. For example, in [Genesis] 17:22, the verse states, "And God went up, and [Saadia] renders, and the glory of God went up." Maimonides rejected the idea that there was a divine "glory." He felt that the glory seems to be a second deity. Maimonides's fear was realized. The glory was called the "Shekinah," the Presence during the Common Era. Many Jews, even rabbis, think of the Shekinah is a divine being separate from God.

Rashbam and Abraham ibn Ezra state that the plain meaning of the Bible's command to put God's teaching as "a sign on your arm" and "between your eyes" is not a command to wear tefillin. The tefillin command is rabbinical. The Torah only states that Jews should think about God's commands whenever they do things or contemplate on something. Rashbam also said that while the current custom is to begin the day at sunset, the biblical day begins at daybreak. This is the plain meaning of Genesis 1:5 and similar verses, "And it was evening, and it was morning, one day." A new day started at daybreak. Thus, according to the Torah, Shabbat begins on Saturday morning and ends on Sunday morning.

Nachmanides insisted that the land of Israel is holy, and God did not want Jacob to return from his twenty-year absence from Israel married to two sisters, which violates later Torah law. So God killed the love of Jacob's life, Rachael, to stop him from sinning. He also believed that all the biblical commands apply only in the holy land of Israel and need not be observed outside of Israel. The rabbis mandated that the biblical commands be observed even in the diaspora. He also insisted that there are two kinds of miracles, those that are evident such as the plagues that God used against the Egyptians, and hidden miracles, ongoing even today, such as causing leaves to fall and rain to descend.

Dr. Mordechai Breuer, a modern Orthodox rabbi (1921-2007), took the unusual approach of accepting the documentary hypothesis that the Torah is a compilation of several different documents written by authors in different historical eras. He explains Torah texts the scholars use to "prove" their view to fit with traditional Jewish thinking. For example, he contends that God included different versions of tales and laws in scripture to express different meanings and messages.

These radically different ideologies show why readers of Bible commentators will benefit by knowing them to fully comprehend why the commentators are interpreting scripture as they do.

Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Church of Birds: An Eco-History of Myth and Religion
Ben H. Gagnon
Moon Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803411224, $19.95, PB, 248pp

Synopsis: As humanity steadily decimates the global bird population, scientists and scholars are discovering that birds may have played a greater role in shaping human evolution than primates. Our distant ancestors imitated birdsong to develop language and followed bird migration flyways around the world, consistently settling in prime bird habitat.

"Church of Birds: An Eco-History of Myth and Religion" by Ben H. Gagnon is an eco-history of human evolution that's supported by recent scientific discoveries, ancient myth, and sacred texts. Across dozens of cultures, migratory birds were seen as divine agents of a benevolent sun, delivering seeds to the landscape in spring and guiding souls to a heavenly paradise in the fall. These mythic roles were ultimately incorporated into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Critique: With the publication of "Church of Birds: An Eco-History of Myth and Religion", award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and novelist Ben H. Gagnon tells a long-forgotten story of the profound bond between people and birds, and how humanity's early eco-history ultimately shaped the world's global religions. Informative, fascinating, iconoclastic, thought-provoking, "Church of Birds: An Eco-History of Myth and Religion" will have a particular interest for students of the history of paganism, shamanism, the Abrahamic religions, and the symbolism of birds in religion. Also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.49), "Church of Birds: An Eco-History of Myth and Religion" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library History of Religion and Metaphysical Studies collections and supplemental curriculum reading lists.

Editorial Note: Ben H. Gagnon ( has won awards as a newspaper reporter, editorial writer, documentary filmmaker, long-range city planner, and most recently as a novelist for his work of historical fiction, People of the Flow: A Journey into Ireland's Ancient Past, published in October 2019. Gagnon has been a speechwriter, a campaign manager for open space, co-producer of the State of the World Conference at the Aspen Institute, and a DJ on public radio in Colorado and Massachusetts.

Wuxia America: The Emergence of a Chinese American Hero
Michael DeMarco, author
T. G. LaFredo, editor
Via Media Publishing
9781893765498, $16.95, PB, 152pp

Synopsis: Dr. Jason Lou represents a medical tradition transmitted over centuries through his family lineage. In 1857, his ancestor brought the art to San Francisco from China to serve the growing Chinese population who arrived during the gold rush and railroad building period. A newspaper publishes an in depth feature about Dr. Lou.

After the article is published, a series of break ins occur. A few discover that Dr. Lou is a master of another art practiced in strict privacy: a martial arts system transmitted in tandem with the medical tradition. Was there something in the feature article that induced the criminal activities?

Investigators soon learn that they are dealing with an international crime ring who have two odd interests: gold and the reparation of bones to China from the Chinese who have died during the gold rush and railroad building period. An interdepartmental governmental team is formed and formulates theories regarding those responsible for the crime. Dr. Lou proves vital in the investigation and its eventual resolution.

Ten years later, Dr. Lou and others realize the profound significance of what they've learned from their fateful brush with organized crime.

Critique: With the publication of "Wuxia America: The Emergence of a Chinese American Hero" written by Michael DeMarco and edited by T. G. LaFredo, readers will become more familiar with the history and culture of Chinese in America. This unique history will be of particular interest to Chinese Americans who can take pride in their history and be inspired by the main character as a role model -- a hero in the broadest sense. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Wuxia America" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library American/Chinese History and Biography collections. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Wuxia America" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: Michael DeMarco received a Master's Degree in Asian Studies from Seton Hall University and studied at National Taiwan University's Mandarin Training Center. Working in the People's Republic of China and in Taiwan emersed Mike in Chinese history and culture. For over twenty years, he published the peer-reviewed quarterly Journal of Asian Martial Arts and continues publishing and writing, including Martial Art Essays from Beijing, 1760. He has also consulted and appeared in television documentaries that were aired on the Discovery Channel, Arts and Entertainment, The History Channel, and The Learning Channel.

The Evolution of China's Anti-Poverty Strategies
William N. Brown
9789811972805, $59.99, HC, 137pp

Synopsis: An open access book, "The Evolution of China's Anti-Poverty Strategies: Cases of 20 Chinese Changing Lives" presents the findings of author William N. Brown's 3 decades of studying China's evolving anti-poverty strategies. It argues that much of the billions that nations spend yearly on economic aid is used inefficiently or to treat the symptoms but not the root causes of poverty. China, however, has evolved an effective sustainable alternative by providing the means for self-reliance to not only relieve economic poverty but also poverty of spirit. As a result, the success of China's historic war on poverty has been due not only to top-down visionary leadership but also to the bottom-up initiatives of an empowered populace unswervingly united in ending poverty.

From 1993 to 2019, the author drove over 200,000 km around China and interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life as he explored the evolution of China's anti-poverty strategies from simplistic aid and redistribution, which often engendered dependency and poverty of spirit. Over time, the philosophy shifted to empowerment by fostering self-reliance -- or as Chinese put it, "blood production rather than blood transfusion".

The primary method of empowerment was to provide modern infrastructure, "Roads first, then riches," so rural dwellers in remote Inner Mongolia or the Himalayan heights of Tibet had the same access to markets, jobs and internet for e-commerce as their urban counterparts. People who seized the opportunities and prospered first then used their newfound wealth and experience to help others.

The stories compiled here include a Tibetan entrepreneur whose family was impoverished in spite of 300 years of service to the Panchen Lama, a the farm girl with 4 years of education who now has several international schools, a biotechnology company and poverty alleviation projects across China, and the photographer who walked 40,000 km through deserts to chronicle the threat of desertification. Their tales underscore how diverse people across China helped make possible China's success in alleviating absolute poverty and why Chinese are now confident in achieving a "moderately prosperous society".

Critique: Fascinating, informative, insightful, thought-provoking, exceptionally well organized and presented, "The Evolution of China's Anti-Poverty Strategies: Cases of 20 Chinese Changing Lives" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Chinese Economic & History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: William N. Brown ( is an Xiamen University business professor who, at the age of 64, has spent more than half his life in southeastern China's Fujian province. Fluent in Mandarin and the Fujian dialect, Professor Brown has lived in Xiamen, one of China's first five special economic zones, for 32 years.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

The Egyptian Bourse
Samir Raafat, author
HH Prince Abbas Hilmi, foreword
HE Youseff Boutros Ghali, foreword
c/o American University in Cairo Press
9789775864161, $43.00, HC, 112pp

Synopsis: The Egyptian Stock Exchange in its glory years is beautifully remembered with the publication of "The Egyptian Bourse" and features an impressive collections of stock and bond certificates and brief histories of the Egyptian companies which issued them.

This large-format hardcover album (12.1 x 0.7 x 15.7 inches, 4.65 pounds) of expertly reproduced full page images of choice stock and bond certificates issued in by registered companies through the Egyptian Bourse, or Stock Exchange, will be a source of informative fascination, not only for scripophilists, notaphilists, and economists, but for anyone interested in early twentieth-century Egyptian financial history and memorabilia and the aesthetic value of these beautiful collectors' items. Each individual certificate tells a story about the company which issued it, and the fascinating and dynamic business families that drove Egypt's economy at the time.

Founded in 1903 at the behest of Maurice "Moise" Cattaui Bey (1848 - 1924), scion of one of Cairo's then most powerful business families, the newly incorporated Bourse and Banking Company of Egypt Limited, also known as the Bourse Khediviale du Caire, was initially housed in the Manuk Building, once home to the Ottoman Bank on Adly (formerly Maghrabi) Street. It was later moved to a building at the center of Cairo's downtown district of Ismailia, not far from the National Bank of Egypt (today's Central Bank).

The real-estate boom which began in Cairo around 1895 would end in what became known in the annals of speculative history as the Crash of 1907. With the publication of "The Egyptian Bourse" Samir Raafat tells the story of the rise and fall of the Egyptian Bourse, from the sale of the century by Khedive Ismail of Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal in 1875 to the Free Officers coup of 1952.

Critique: Beautifully illustrated with more than fifty vintage shares and stocks in full color, "The Egyptian Bourse" by Samir Raafat is informatively enhanced with Forewords by HH Prince Abbas Hilmi and HE Youssef Boutros Ghali. A massive volume that is unique and impressive, "The Egyptian Bourse" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Egyptian Economic History collections, and will be of special and particular fascination to readers with an interest in 19th and Early 20th Century Egyptian/Turkish history and corporate Egyptian business profiles.

Editorial Note: Samir Raafat was born in Cairo in 1949. The holder of a BA in economics from the American University in Cairo, he worked for Bank of America for several years and later for KREIC, a leading Kuwait real-estate company. Switching careers, he later became a columnist for two Egypt-based English-language magazines and a freelance correspondent for regional and international publications while publishing four books on Egypt's contemporary architectural and social history. He is currently a private researcher (

Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach: America's Techno-Spy Empire
Kristie Macrakis
Georgetown University Press
9781647123239, $29.95, HC, 280pp

Synopsis: Ever since the earliest days of the Cold War, American intelligence agencies have launched spies in the sky, implanted spies in the ether, burrowed spies underground, sunk spies in the ocean, and even tried to control spies' minds by chemical means. But these weren't human spies. Instead, the United States expanded its reach around the globe through techno-spies.

With the publication of "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach: America's Techno-Spy Empire", Kristie Macrakis shares her investigation into how America's technophiles inadvertently created a global espionage empire: one based on technology, not land. Macrakis also shows how in the process of staking out the globe through technology, US intelligence created the ability to collect a massive amount of data. But did it help?

Featuring the sites visited during her research and stories of the people who created the techno-spy empire, Macrakis guides her reader from its conception in the 1950s to its global reach in the Cold War and Global War on Terror.

In an age of ubiquitous technology, "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach" exposes the perils of relying too much on technology while demonstrating how the US carried on the tradition of British imperial espionage.

Critique: Definitively researched and documented, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, readers with an interest in the history of espionage and technology (as well as those who work in the intelligence field) will find the revelations and insights revealed in "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach" to be informative, fascinating, compelling, and alarming. Especially now that we are entering a rapidly evolving technology that will be increasingly dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and the escalation of wars both hot (Russia/Ukraine) and cold (China/US). A seminal work of meticulous scholarship, "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach: America's Techno-Spy Empire" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.4() and highly recommended for personal, professional, community, governmental, college, and university library Political Intelligence Gathering & Technology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Kristie Macrakis ( is Professor of the History of Technology and Intelligence at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of many other books, including Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda and Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi's Spy Tech World.

Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age
Nathan Bomey
c/o John Wiley and Sons (dist.)
9781509545933, $25.00, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: In these turbulent times, so dramatically defined by ideological chasms, clashes over social justice, and a pandemic intersecting with pervasive and deliberate misinformation, Americans seem hopelessly divided along fault lines of politics, race, religion, class, and culture. Yet not everyone is accepting the status quo.

With the publication of "Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age," journalist Nathan Bomey paints a forensic portrait of Americans who are spanning gaping divides between people of difference. From clergy fighting racism in Charlottesville to a former Republican congressman engaging conservatives on climate change and Appalachian journalists restoring social trust with the public, these countercultural leaders all believe in the power of forging lasting connections to bring about profound change.

Though the blueprints for political, social, and cultural bridges vary widely, bridge builders have much in common -- and we have much to learn from them. In "Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age", Bomey deftly dissects the transformational ways in which bridge builders are combating polarization by pursuing reconciliation, rejecting misinformation, and rethinking the principle of compromise.

Critique: A timely, insightfully informative, articulate, and thought-provoking contribution to our on-going national discussions about the impact of polarization on American politics and culture and what can be done to ameliorate it, "Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age" requires as wide and pervasive readership as possible. While especially and unreservedly recommended for professional, community, governmental, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science collections in general, and supplemental curriculum Civil Rights/Liberties studies lists in particular, it should be noted for the personal reading lists that "Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.00) as well.

Editorial Note: Nathan Bomey ( is a reporter for USA Today based in the Washington, D.C., area and the author of two previous books, Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back and After the Fact: The Erosion of Truth and the Inevitable Rise of Donald Trump. He is a regular guest on TV and radio networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and NPR. He has also received the National Headliner Award, the Michigan Notable Books award, and multiple honors from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He can be followed on Twitter: @NathanBomey

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products
Franks J. Nice, RPh, DPA CPHP
Platypus Media
9781951995102, $24.95, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: Nonprescription medications and products are used by breastfeeding parents more often than prescription drugs, but not all over-the-counter (OTC) products state whether they are safe to use while breastfeeding. The truth is that everyday products commonly recommended and used can be harmful for an infant when passed through breastmilk. Whether curing a headache, taming allergies, or taking an herbal supplement, navigating the packed shelves of everyday products can be difficult -- and detrimental to a breastfeeding infant's health.

With the publication of "The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products", pharmacist Dr. Frank J. Nice provides simple guidelines for breastfeeding mothers enabling them to make safe and informed decisions about a variety of products. Multiple easy-to-read tables contain clear answers to the question: "Is this safe to use while breastfeeding a baby?" Each table contains a clear "OK" or "UNSAFE" designation for every product or ingredient, as well as a rating following Dr. Thomas Hale's Lactation Risk Categories.

From acne medications to zinc tablets to energy drinks, "The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products" is comprehensive compendium covering more than 1700 different products. A table of active ingredients covers nearly every other available product, and a list of products most commonly recommended by pharmacists will help families make a quick selection for their health needs.

"The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products" also includes safety information for the use of alcohol, marijuana, and CBD, as well as cosmetic, herbal, and dietary products. Other useful information can be found throughout the book, such as a guide to understanding OTC drug labels and a list of websites for further reading.

Critique: Exhaustively comprehensive and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products" is the only book breastfeeding parents require in order to keep their baby safe while looking after their own health. An essential guide for all breastfeeding parents, lactation consultants, and healthcare providers who work with parents, "The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Pharmaceutical Drug & Medical Guides collections in general, and Breastfeeding Instructional Reference studies lists in particular. It should be noted that "The Breastfeeding Family's Guide to Nonprescription Drugs and Everyday Products" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Frank J. Nice ( has practiced as a consultant, lecturer, and author on medications and breastfeeding for over 45 years. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Pharmacy, a Masters Degree in Pharmacy Administration, Masters and Doctorate Degrees in Public Administration, and Certification in Public Health Pharmacy. He has worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, practiced at the NIH, and served as a Project Manager at the FDA. After retiring, he is now self-employed as a consultant and President of Dr. Nice's Natural Products. He has authored over 50 peer-reviewed articles on the use of prescription medications, Over-the-Counter (OTC) products, and herbals used during breastfeeding.

And She Lived Happily Ever After
Deborah Durbin
Moon Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803411477, $16.95, PB, 144pp

Synopsis: "And She Lived Happily Ever After: Because every woman deserves a happy ever after!" by journalist and author Deborah Durbin is an inspirational and motivational book for women, reminding them that they are in charge of their happy-ever-afterness and that they don't have to adhere to societal rules and regulations if they don't wish to.

Inside "And She Lived Happily Ever After", Durbin covers more than thirty life tips and reminders, including building your own world profile, why it's important to wait 24 hours before reacting, why it's so important to surround yourself with radiators and not drains, and many more life lessons that she has learned (sometimes the hardway!) over the years. These lessons are short and to the point and written in a style whereby the reader can dip in and out for a life lesson when it suits them.

Critique: A compendium of informative, insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking life examples and commentaries for women having to deal with the social expectations, limitations, and vulnerabilities that all women have had to deal with throughout their lives, "And She Lived Happily Ever After: Because every woman deserves a happy ever after!" is especially recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections for women. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of those with an interest in Women's Health, Spiritual Healing, and personal transformation that "And She Lived Happily Ever After" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note: Deborah Durbin ( has over 20 years' experience working in print media for national magazines and newspapers as a freelance journalist and feature writer. She writes regularly for all the MBS magazine titles, Chat it's Fate, Take a Break, and other UK & US magazines.

Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends One-Pan Wonders Cookbook
Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour Publishing
9781636095257, $16.99, Spiral Bound, 224pp

Synopsis: "Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends One-Pan Wonders Cookbook" is a new cookbook that showcases authentic Amish recipes, plus ways to simplify meal prep and cleanup.

When you are busy and don't want the hassle of a multi-step, multi-dish meal, with "Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends One-Pan Wonders Cookbook" you can keep it simple and put it all in one pan. A brand-new compilation of recipes from Amish cooks will help you manage mealtime with ease.

Comprised of more than 200 recipes, "Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends One-Pan Wonders Cookbook" includes recipes for: Breakfasts; Soups; Casseroles; Sheet pan meals; Skillet meals; Salad as a main dish; and even some Desserts!

Critique: Featuring a lay-flat spiral binding and profusely illustrated with full color photographs, family home cooks of all ages and culinary backgrounds will find this prized and thoroughy 'user friendly cookbook to be a valuable, appreciated, distinctive, and popular addition to their collections.

Editorial Note: Wanda E. Brunstetter ( is one of the founders of the Amish fiction genre. She has written more than 100 books translated in four languages. With over 12 million copies sold, Wanda's stories consistently earn spots on the nation's most prestigious bestseller lists and have received numerous awards.

Staff of Laurel, Staff of Ash
Dianna Rhyan
Moon Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803411965, $17.95, PB, 192pp

Synopsis: At the crossroads of nature and the human imagination, Gaia Earth is sentient, fertile, and eloquent. When ancient goddesses, outcasts, heroes, and poets speak, they speak on her behalf to reveal living myths that first enchanted sacred landscapes. Their primal stories emerge from wilderness and rise from buried libraries to jolt us awake.

We meet a lone goddess battling fifty giants, a beguiling wife who is secretly a serpent, a radiant lyre about to sing her own poetry, and an ogre whose heart is his forest. When oaks and rivers call for justice, when furies and monsters counter king and plow, let us turn our ear to hear. As we listen, mythic fragments lead us from marble palaces to nymph-haunted gardens, on a quest that teems with strange immortals.

Along the way, a goddess of desolation, a mistress of animals, ash tree spirits, and a trickster water god appear as guides. Primeval green wisdom emerges from abyss, forest, and borderland, hidden in myths we almost lost forever, in ancient images that say things we no longer can.

Critique: A fascinating, compelling, informative, thought-provoking, truly memorable study that will be of immense interest to studies of Gaia representing a sentient planet Earth, "Staff of Laurel, Staff of Ash: Sacred Landscapes in Ancient Nature Myth" by mythologist Dianna Rhyan is a a welcome and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Metaphysical & New Age Studies collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, Wiccans, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Staff of Laurel, Staff of Ash: Sacred Landscapes in Ancient Nature Myth" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Dianna Rhyan ( is a mythologist and therapist whose work focuses on nature goddesses and the spirituality of sacred landscapes. She has a PhD in Ancient Greek and Latin, taught college for thirty years, and has been a visiting scholar for archaeological excavations in Greece and Cyprus.

The Torch of Brighid: Flametending for Transformation
Erin Aurella
Moon Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781789042818, $15.95, PB, 144pp

Synopsis: What is flametending, and how can a simple devotional practice be engaged with as a transformational spiritual path? The devotional practice of flametending for Irish Goddess and Christian St. Brighid, traditionally kept once every twenty days, can become a daily spiritual practice for transformation when combined with twenty spiritual inquiries as an inner journey of reflection.

Brighid is a goddess of the fires that transform ore into tools, plants into medicine, and inspiration into poetry. Through guided meditations, energy work, contemplation, and journaling, you will learn how to open yourself to Brighid so her torch of illumination can guide you in transforming your fear and pain into power and joy!

With the publication of "The Torch of Brighid: Flametending for Transformation" by Erin Aurella, readers will be able to discover how Brighid can walk with them through the seasonal cycle of the year and bless their personal endeavors.

Author Erin Aurella's message is: Let Brighid become your daily companion so her light can lead you to wisdom and wholeness.

Critique: Fascinating, informative, thought-provoking, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone, commentary, and presentation, "The Torch of Brighid: Flametending for Transformation" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.49) and is a singularly impressive and recommended addition to the Metaphysical Studies collections and reading lists for anyone with an interest in Paganism, the Celtic Religions, Irish Mythology, and New Age Goddesses & Worship.

Editorial Note: Erin Aurelia ( is an author, poet, spoken word performer, and book editor who has tended Irish goddess Brighid's flame for twenty years. Her work has been featured in the Paganism 101 anthology by Moon Books and in two anthologies by Goddess Ink: Brighid, Sun of Womanhood and Stepping Into Ourselves, An Anthology of Priestesses.

Julie Summers

Lauren Reed's Bookshelf

Seeking Enlightenment in the Age of Awakening: Your Complete Program for Spiritual Awakening and More, In Just 20 Minutes a Day
Rose Rosetree
Women's Intuition Worldwide, LLC
9781935214533 (KDP POD)
9781935214519 (IngramSpark POD) $24.95, 360pp

Synopsis: These days with something as groundbreaking and monumental as the publication of Rose Rosetree's Seeking Enlightenment in the Age of Awakening, you might expect flurries of announcements on your phone, courtesy of social media blasts, newspaper headlines, interviews on late night talk shows, and more to get your attention. Yet, this mighty volume, which has quietly and powerfully entered the scene without fanfare, epitomizes true treasure in today's ever-growing sea of spirituality and self-help books. You would be remiss not to take note of this revolutionary tour de force.

Seeking Enlightenment in the Age of Awakening is the first book ever published to talk about how human consciousness has changed in the dawn of a new age and what the implications are for seeking self-actualization. Rose Rosetree, the visionary founder of Energy Spirituality™, is the first person to discover Chakra Databanks and develop Stage 3 Energetic Literacy with the ability to read auras in fine detail. The cutting-edge discoveries in this book are combined with in-depth research on auras.

Further, in a mere 360 pages, Rosetree illuminates a simple, effective path on which anyone can reach their full potential in life. No, this isn't some trendy self-help book riding on the waves of feel-good fads. This book is the real deal, as Rosetree, herself in Spiritual Enlightenment, is an Enlightenment teacher with a track record of helping students attain Enlightenment. Read the accounts of her students in Age of Awakening Enlightenment at the end of the book or check out her students' Enlightenment validations at her blog, Deeper Perception Made Practical.

Rosetree writes with astonishing lightning clarity, cutting through today's popular illusions. In her powerful yet tender tone, she addresses the reader throughout the book as "Smart Spiritual Seeker." For she writes with the understanding of what it means to be Homesick for Heaven. This is a book that is focused on getting readers onto the path to Enlightenment, a practical program that doesn't get lost in theories or abstractions. Nor is anything watered down. Everything Rosetree writes is clear, purposeful, and aimed at educating the reader in understanding the what, the goal of spiritual seekers today, and the how, the steps to get there.

Divided into three parts, Seeking Enlightenment in the Age of Awakening reads like a three-act play. Rosetree begins by presenting a modern-day mystery, setting up the reader with foundational knowledge, then raises the stakes throughout the book, guiding the reader through a labyrinth of complex concepts, until the truth begins to dawn from within the reader. Rosetree's skill as a master teacher lies in her pacing and language. Not only is she able to articulate the most abstract concepts with absolute clarity, but she does so with humor, while building understanding systematically, in digestible chunks. The book logically flows from one concept to the next, effortlessly lighting up the reader's understanding.

This how-to will help readers make sense of these early years of the Age of Awakening, which began on December 21, 2012. Rosetree's "Program for Spiritual Enlightenment" in this book is designed to awaken, educate, and guide the reader toward using full potential in life.

The leading-edge ideas and their practical application could serve as a welcome game changer for today's seekers of spiritual awakening, self-actualization, and more.

Critique: Seeking Enlightenment in the Age of Awakening is very highly recommended for community and academic collections in Self-Help, Religion, Spirituality, Mind-Body, Metaphysics, and Psychology; presenting a "Program for Spiritual Enlightenment" from a teacher with expertise at helping with personal growth and spiritual awakening now, in the Age of Awakening (i.e., since the Shift on Dec. 21, 2012). Exceptionally well written and presented.

It should be noted for personal reading lists that Seeking Enlightenment in the Age of Awakening is also available in eBook formats. ($9.99)

Lauren Reed

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Pagan Portals - Where Fairies Meet
Daniela Simina
Moon Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803410197, $12.95, PB, 96pp

Synopsis: Traditions surrounding fairies are, essentially, a cross-generational compass that helps young and old to orient themselves into the ever-changing cultural landscape. As such, fairy traditions allow people to position themselves on the time-space continuum, not only through perpetuation of values but also through connecting deeper with the subtler realms that surround and interpenetrate consensus reality.

Connecting to subtler realms gives access to a body of knowledge built upon the record of interaction between our world and the Other. In Ireland and Romania, fairy traditions are alive and evolving. The study of the parallelism that exists between bodies of lore, past and present, from areas diametrically opposed on the map of Europe, gives scholars, lay people, and spiritual seekers access to an everlasting repository of wisdom.

Critique: A welcome, informative, and appreciated contribution to the growing library of Fairy lore and history, "Pagan Portals - Where Fairies Meet: Parallels between Irish and Romanian Fairy Traditions" must be considered a core addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in paganism, folklore, spirituality, and spirit guides that "Pagan Portals - Where Fairies Meet: Parallels between Irish and Romanian Fairy Traditions" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Editorial Note: Daniela Simina is a medicine woman, fairy witch, and author who focuses primarily on Romanian and Irish fairy lore and traditions. She researches, writes, and teaches various classes on esoteric subjects related to energetic healing, yoga, and of course, fairies. (

Living Wild: New Beginnings in the Great Outdoors
Joanna Maclennan, photographer
Text by Oliver Maclennan
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
9780500023501, $40.00, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: More of us than ever are reevaluating how and where we live, and contemplating replacing our disposable consumer culture for a simpler life. With the publication of "Living Wild: New Beginnings in the Great Outdoors", photographer Joanna Maclennan tells the stories of people around the world who have made the leap into the unknown, offering an intimate glimpse into what it means to live closer to nature. "Living Wild" is inspirational reading for anyone who aspires to reset the batteries and live more sustainably.

The impact of climate change and the pressures of city life (not to mention the life-changing events of the last two years) have left many of us dreaming of a simpler existence that benefits the environment and resets the mind. The lifting of restrictions, including travel, has meant that more of us than ever are reevaluating how and where we live, eschewing disposable culture in favor of a more meaningful and sustainable way of life.

From a family who relocated to the remote Australian bush to a young couple who live and work on a narrowboat on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal in the U.K., "Living Wild" tells the stories of people around the world who have made the leap into the unknown, exploring what inspired them and how the move has impacted upon their families and livelihoods.

From tackling the daily challenges of living off-grid to minimizing waste and growing your own food, "Living Wild" will be inspirational reading for anyone who aspires to live more a more sustainable life style.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated with full color photography in support of an informative and inherently interesting commentary, and very highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections, "Living Wild: New Beginnings in the Great Outdoors" will prove to be of special interest for readers with respect to nature, ecology, and sustainable living.

Editorial Note #1: Joanna Maclennan ( is a freelance photographer based in France. She has contributed to many books and magazines, including the World of Interiors, the Telegraph Magazine, Elle Decoration Country, the New York Times, and Marie Claire. She is the photographer for The Foraged Home.

Editorial Note #2: Oliver Maclennan is a freelance copywriter/editor based in London and author of The Foraged Home. (

aka Associates

aka Associates is a premier publisher of coloring books and puzzle books -- and have now released two new additions to their acrostic puzzle books series:

"Quote Acrostic Favorites: Volume 12" (9781734048391, $9.95, PB, 170pp) is a compendium of acrostic puzzles selected by former USA Today crossword puzzle editor Charles Preston. Each of these 50 favorite acrostics reveal wise and witty sayings on topics from education and humor to history and sports. Crack the clues in the word column; transfer them to the diagram; and discover quotations from people like Dave Barry, Mahatma Gandhi, Simon Garfield, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, and more. Volume 12 of "Quote Acrostic Favorites" Includes 50 favorite puzzles on topics including "It Knocks Me Out," "May Retirement," "Prove Me Wrong," "Successfully Aging," and "They Always Fell."

"Quote Acrostic Favorites: Volume 13" (9781734048308, $9.95, PB, 170pp) is crossword puzzle expert Charles Preston's selection of acrostic puzzle exercises that offers up everything a puzzle fan could want in the form of 50 original acrostic puzzles. Players are invited to crack the clues in the word column, transfer them to the diagram, and discover quotations from people ranging from Neil Armstrong, Peter Drucker, and Benjamin Franklin to Eric Hoffer, Bertand Russell, and more! Volume 13 of the Quote Acrostic Favorites' series including Foreign Relations, Our Greatness, Papers, Path to Paradise, and Turning the Page.

Both titles are especially and unreservedly recommended to the attention of all dedicated word puzzle fans!

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

Synopsis: Married Americans enjoy over 1,000 benefits and entitlements that are not available to non-married Americans. These include health insurance, immigration rights, tax privileges (such as the estate tax), and hiring policies favor the married. Marriage is financially supported and incentivized by the federal government. Social customs such as blockbuster weddings, subvented honeymoons, and gifts reserved for wedded couples reify matrimony as a centering norm and further the idea that "marriage is best", a commonplace in popular psychology, where marriage-averse people are often tarred as "commitment-phobes".

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

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

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

Critique: A seminal and iconoclastic study, "Moving Past Marriage: Why We Should Ditch Marital Privilege, End Relationship-Status Discrimination, and Embrace Non-marital History" is an extraordinary and ground breaking read. Articulate, challenging, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Moving Past Marriage", while available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.4), is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Marital Law and Legal Issues collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Jaclyn Geller ( is a reader, writer, and professor. A professor at Central Connecticut State University, she specializes in Restoration and eighteenth-century literature. She is also the author of Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique, as well as articles on early-modern satire, Samuel Butler, and Samuel Johnson.

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

Synopsis: With the publication of "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" by Rachel Kramer Bussel, couples can now take their passion in new directions, giving free reign to their most intimate sexual fantasies. Sometimes, they pretend to be someone else, engaging in erotic role-playing that allows them to embody their most sensual side and say and do things they wouldn't in their everyday life.

From BDSM encounters at Kink Camp, to trying out new sex toys, to outrageously fetishes, to glorious exhibitionism and voyeurism and sex in space, couples can now find inventive ways to go wild with the one they love. No matter how well you think you know your partner, there's always something new to discover about what turns them on, as these characters find out. The erotic stories in "It Takes Two" are all about rekindling that intimacy and seeking out total ecstasy.

Critique: "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" is a deftly compiled collection of erotic storeis by the award-winning Rachel Kramer Bussel, along with contributions by popular authors including Rae Shawn, Christina Berry, and Katrina Jackson, Also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49), "It Takes Two: Couples Erotica" is the perfect inspirational erotica read alongside that special someone (or someones)!

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

Margaret Lane

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Facing the Congo: A Modern-day Journey Into The Heart of Darkness
Jeffrey Tayler
9780609808269, $17.00

I'm always attracted to any adventure delving into the "heart of darkness" in Africa. And in this case, a book inspired by Conrad's epic trip in 1890 down the Congo River on a steamer after being appointed by a Belgian trading company. This story came to mind while floating down the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, where the dense tropical forest came up to the river's edges, and one could hear different languages on shore (mostly Q'eqchi).

But Tayler's travel adventure is on an entirely different level as he follows the Congo River on a barge for 1,100 of the river's 2,900 total miles in a country where over 220 languages are spoken. The width of the river ranges from five to seven miles. The barge is steaming with deckhands, merchants, prostitutes, spiritual followers, fishermen, and children.

He was also planning the descent in a native, dugout canoe (pirogue), which hadn't been attempted since Stanley did it. Henry Morton Stanley coined the term "Dark Continent of Africa" around 1876 as he led an expedition that King Leopold I of Belgium set to "prove that the Congo basin was rich enough to repay exploitation."

This colonial past explains some of the mistrust of foreigners, especially white foreigners, which Tayler had to deal with. This passage from the Lonely Planet provides an overview of the conditions the author would encounter on his adventure:
Because of the ongoing chaos in is a significant problem throughout the country...Regarding danger, Kinshasa is unrivaled in Central Africa... groups with knives and guns have attacked travelers in broad daylight, so even walking around Kinshasa during the daytime poses serious risk...Foreigners have been dragged at gunpoint from their cars at major intersections and murdered...

And yet the author was undaunted, "The Congo River filled my dreams and flowed through my waking hours, and my expedition took on a fated aspect." However, these dangers did convince him that before getting in a pirogue, he'd take a barge from Kinshasa upriver to Kisangani. This made perfect sense, considering the river is 15 miles wide at Kinshasa. I'd venture to guess that the author's experience as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer bolstered his willingness to enter this journey where lesser travelers would have feared to tread.

The author tells how overwhelmed he was by the abject poverty of Kinshasa:
...But the smoke of burning garbage floated under the palms; the sun was flooding down razor-sharp, bleaching away colors and lending the city the incinerated look of Hiroshima after the blast. Dust, decay, crazed men in uniforms, starvelings, and cripple - it all hit me, and I was nearly broke. I felt nausea rising within me; pity and revulsion, and shock swamped me and kept at bay the fear I had thought I would feel. Although I had expected to see poverty, I had no idea it would upset me so much viscerally...

The real adventure doesn't begin until halfway through the book, "Alone on the River," when the author sets out in a pirogue with only one local "guide," Desi.... As we slipped away from the bank, the bow of our pirogue cut a pale gray V in the Indigo River. Sweat ran down my eyes, soaked through my shirt, and blanched into expanding blotches on the thighs of my cotton trousers." This is how the 1,100-mile journey down the Congo to Kinshasa would begin.
I empathized with the author based on my own travels upcountry in Sierra Leone, West Africa, when he stopped one evening to rest, "The drums beat on, becoming muffled, and then a chanting began, a haunting dirge, and then there were shouts. It unsettled me, and I switched around in the tent to face the river through my net door. There was no moon, only a blackness filled with drums and chants and the high-voltage buzz of mosquitoes that screamed and whined thick as fog where my breath exited the gauze...."

When they stopped in a city, the author was expected to check in with someone from the country's secret police, "SNIP." "In Zaire, most problems that didn't crawl, bite, sting, or cause dysentery had to do with the police or military." Tayler says, "The whole Zairean government had devolved into a sham institution, a façade of buildings with brass placards, doors with nameplates, people with titles, and nothing behind them; it builds nothing, performed no services, represented no one. It probably no longer paid the pettifogging SNIP officer sitting in front of me his salary." Making corruption and bribery a way of life.

Eventually, intrigue with his assistant and a local soldier the author hired for protection for a section where the local population was known to kill any whites who turned up, plus illness took its toll, "Later, after we returned to the hotel, I fell ill in the debilitating heat of the late afternoon. Tormented by nausea, my intestines tightening into knots, I rolled from side to side on the lumpy mattress in my green room, weak and clammy, listening to the lizards crawl up the walls and the parrots squawking outside my window...."

Finally, the author would have to abandon his quest, with 470 miles to go. At this point, this adventure entered what I'd referred to in my latest book, My Saddest Pleasures, those trips which held great expectations, but would fail to the point that all involved were in dire straits. The author's helper, Desi, distracted him with Christian chants and hymns. His health deteriorated to the point that he might not make it. These are the journeys we remember the most, and they always include a certain level of regret:

I did not know what to say. I felt I was to blame for having undertaken this trip, which now seemed like it could cost the life of this poor fellow, or leave him more debilitated than ever, which would ruin the lives of a dozen other people, given his position of breadwinner for an extended family, in all my preparations I had never imagined that it would be my guide whose health would fail and not my own. But an isolating fear settled like a stone on my heart, isolating because, even in the company of others, we face death alone...

Tayler would come to grips with his guilt in the final paragraph of his epilogue:
The best we can do is exorcise our demons through action, for time will always be short, and there is always much to be learned from living - even when the lessons prove to be deeply painful.

"Tayler is a skilled craftsman who could become a significant new voice in travel literature. Compelling and deeply unsettling reading."-Booklist

The Author

Jeffrey Tayler (Morocco 1988-90; PC/Staff Poland 1992; Uzbekistan 1992-93). He is a PCV writer who never came home but has kept writing. He was the 2001 Best Travel Writing winner for Peace Corps Worldwide. He is the author of such travel books as Siberian Dawn and Facing the Congo and has published numerous articles in The Atlantic, Spin, Harper's, and Conde´ Nast Traveler.

Tayler lives in Russia and, in the current issue of The Atlantic, has a piece on a remote archipelago of Russia, one of the country's holiest places, the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral. It is located on the largest Solovetsky Islands and "amid the gale-lashed White Sea, just outside the Arctic Circle," Jeff writes. Tayler lives in Moscow, and Solovki is 650 miles away by plane. (And you thought it was a long way to your site!)

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

My Last Innocent Year: A Novel
Daisy Alpert Florin
Henry Holt and Co.
9781250857033, $25.99, HB, 304pp
9781250857057, $17.99, PB, $14.99 Kindle

A dry riverbed of consciousness.

A girl from the lower east side goes to a thinly disguised Dartmouth college where a semi-consensual sexual encounter with a fellow student evolves into an entirely consensual adulterous relationship with a professor. My Last Innocent Year is a debut novel by Daisy Alpert Florin, whose writing evidences an enormous potential. The beauty and succinctness of Ms. Florin's prose demonstrates a budding talent. But her story telling needs some work.

The novel is written in the first person, the narrator being the protagonist Isabel. The plot moves chronologically, although chock full of backstories, from the Zev Neman dorm room incident, just before senior year winter break in 1997, to a point in her womanhood in January 2017, although events after Isabel's college graduation day in 1998 take place entirely in the novel's last chapter. That chapter ends, seemingly, in the character's present day after a metaphoric dream of the protagonist as "a girl in dusty sandals and denim shorts, chipped nail polish and cigarette breath," about to embark on the journey that has just been recounted to the reader. The story returns to its beginning, it turns out, via a circular path that is at many points illuminating, until the drawn out ending, when it becomes confusing and annoying.

Ms. Florin tells her novel's story through narrative pauses, some of which contain backstories within backstories. Actually, a reader soon realizes the entire novel is a backstory of sorts, which accounts for many of the editorial reviews and endorsements of My Last Innocent Year alluding to the coming of age genre. But that seems to be too easy a genre categorization: story in first person narration that involves the path taken by a young protagonist to a self-revelation that leads to a better equanimity for her life, what John Truby calls a New Equilibrium. It's a great genre for selling books, particularly with the semi-consensual-Monica Lewinsky and sleeping-with-a-professor twists as well as hints that it shares a space with Salinger and Fitzgerald. But in terms of literary merit, there is little in the novel that distinguishes it from so many other commercial novels in the category.

My Last Innocent Year uses sex as its common denominator. It's almost just an audience grab for it doesn't progress clearly to the protagonist taking a new moral action, which happens during the confrontation with Debra and Zev at a party in Chapter 17 or her decision to break her promise to Connelly in Chapter 20 and report Tom's location. Other more complex elements of Isabel's character work to that end: regret, mourning her mother, and feelings of inadequacy, to name a few. These create a desire and the need that propel Isabel's journey to self-revelation. To give the author the benefit of the doubt, the semi-consensual sex at the beginning of the novel may be the spark that sets the other elements ablaze, but it runs the risk of looking like a trick that insults the reader's intelligence. There is clever imagery in the protagonist's revelations that accompany these confrontations: Isabel's stealing Roxanne's amber earring, Isabel's memory of her mother's advice about knitting, and the rabbi squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste onto a plastic tarp. But the end of the story is too many pages away, the plotline falters, and the narrative drive slows down into a twenty year long piece of telling, not showing.

Would that the novel had ended in Chapter 20 with Isabel's self-realization and accompanying equilibrium that comes soon after the anonymous tip about Tom's whereabouts. Or the technique that Ms. Florin had used instead to tell the story was stream of consciousness. It is interesting that in an earlier manuscript, her novel had included a second time line, one that was ultimately extracted from the body of the novel and condensed into the published novel's last chapter. (See the author's essay in a 2021 edition of Bookends.) Leaving the second time line infused with the first had the potential of making the bones of a story like that of Mrs. Dalloway. That condensed last chapter in the published novel, unfortunately, turned the coming of age story in My Last Innocent Year into a somewhat flat fictional memoir. It took away the story's vitality by watering down the moral challenges with the protagonist's psychological need, including a distracting, and unneeded, opponent. The protagonist's quest to do the right thing and the final confrontation that leads to self-revelation become obscured by the addition of Chapter 21. That chapter is little more than a nineteen year exposition of a marriage, a child, a divorce and a successful writing career, all of which do little more than reenforce Isabel's self-revelation in Chapter 20. This exposition certainly gives the publisher good marketing copy, but it sadly diminishes the moments of Florin's literary talent that peek through the first twenty chapters.

My Last Innocent Year certainly pushes all the buttons necessary to make it a commercial success. Casual readers will delight in its political allusions, its sexual themes, and the happily ever after view of a successful forty year old woman. But serious readers may be disappointed with the novel's cursory treatment of what they hoped would be the character development of a confused or disconsolate person like Holden Caufield or Jay Gatsby, something that might have made the novel transcend the desiccated fictional memoir that it is.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer
Author of "Belinda"

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Bloodbath Nation
Paul Auster
Grove Atlantic
9780802160454, $24.00, 152 pgs

America is one of the most developed countries in the world. The last two and a half centuries have shown America to be described as a republic, an empire, and a world power. However, with the position of possibly being the world's last remaining superpower, America has also emerged as the country where guns play a role in virtually all aspects of everyday life. Bloodbath Nation, by Paul Auster, is a little book that does a big job of sharing America's tragic evolution into a nation of ever-increasing gun violence and mental health emergencies. Auster, a masterful writer, has woven a personal narrative into his depiction of the American narrative of gun violence.

Auster begins and shares his own story throughout this extended essay with the reader. He describes his own experiences, not as a direct victim, but as a family member that has been impacted by gun violence. Bloodbath gives Auster the opportunity to open up about his own experience and also to chronicle the experiences of others that were direct victims of gun violence as well as parents, children, and other family members who experience the permanence of loss due to gun violence. That permanence is felt to a greater degree in Bloodbath with the addition of photographer Spencer Ostrander's work. Ostrander traveled the country depicting the locations of gun violence in a black and white stark reality of what was and what might have been.

Bloodbath is an excellent work. The tone of the narrative presented is one of a rational approach to curtailing American gun violence and how that gun violence has affected our great country. Austger writes with the personal knowledge of gun violence that makes this work so important. Bloodbath is an intelligent and well-written look at how our country has changed. It should have a place on the shelf of any American who enjoys a concert or a ballgame, has children, or understands the importance of a sane and safe society.

Matthew W. McCarty

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Development in Spirit
Seb Rumsby
University of Wisconsin Press
9780299342302, $79.95, HC, 219pp

Synopsis: As state economic policies promote integration under a single logic of modernist development, many impoverished groups remain on the margins. With the publication of "Development in Spirit: Religious Transformation and Everyday Politics in Vietnam's Highlands", academician Seb Rumsby explores the practices employed by communities on the fringes of such nation-building projects. Using an everyday political economy lens, Rumsby demonstrates how seemingly powerless actors actively engage with larger forces, shaping their experience of development in ways that are underexamined but have far-reaching consequences.

Following state-led market reforms in the 1980s, Vietnam experienced stunning economic transformation. But for the Hmong communities of the country's north and central highlands, the benefits proved elusive. Instead, the Hmong people have pursued their own alternative paths to development. Rumsby shows how mass conversion to Christianity led to a case of "unplanned development" that put the Hmong on a trajectory of simultaneous integration into the market economy and resistance to state authority.

Many of the strategies community members employ are tied to the Christianization of everyday life. Religious actors play complex and often contradictory roles in facilitating networks of exchange and shaping local ideas about progress. They are influenced by national and transnational religious networks, especially US-produced radio broadcasts by Hmong American Christians and local converts.

Critique: "Development in Spirit: Religious Transformation and Everyday Politics in Vietnam's Highlands" is a compelling study that provides new theoretical and empirical insights into the interplay of religion, neoliberal development, and marketization across the nations of the world. Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of Illustrations, an informative Introduction and Conclusion by academician and university lecturer Seb Rumsby, an eight page Appendix, twenty pages of Notes, a sixteen page Bibliography, and a six page Index. "Development in Spirit" is especially recommended for personal, professional, college and university library International Studies, Vietnamese History, and Asian Christianity collections and curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Seb Rumsby ( is lecturer of Southeast Asian politics at Queen Mary University of London. He is the co-founder of Hmongdom, a nonprofit rural development organization.

Shilajit: The Ayurvedic Adaptogen for Anti-Aging and Immune Power
Wolfgang Windmann, PhD
Earthdancer Books
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
9781644117637, $17.99, PB, 160pp

Synopsis: With the pubication of "Shilajit: The Ayurvedic Adaptogen for Anti-aging and Immune Power", Wolfgang Windmann offers a complete guide and fact-based portrait of Shilajit as a substance with long-standing tradition in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, along with Russian folk medicine.

Shilajit has been known much sought-after for centuries in Asia, but the Western world is only just starting to discover it. In its pure form, it is a brownish-black homogenous mass with a smoky aromatic smell and occurs mainly in the Himalayas. After extraction, it is processed for internal use in the form of capsules, tablets, or powder.

Shilajit contains many antioxidant, cell-protecting, and vitalizing components that help stabilize and maintain health. This full-color guide explores how to use Shilajit for a strong immune system, enhanced cognitive performance, protection from toxic stress, and healing inflammation. It also looks at Shilajit's anti-aging benefits, how it stimulates the immune system, and the protection it can offer for a sensitive stomach and gut.

Critique: Offering a complete and throughly 'reader friendly' guide to Shilajit medicine, "Shilajit: The Ayurvedic Adaptogen for Anti-aging and Immune Power" is an impressively written, organized and presented reference that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Alternative Medicine, Chinese Medicine, and Herbal Remedies collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, alternative medicine practitioners, medical personnel, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Shilajit: The Ayurvedic Adaptogen for Anti-aging and Immune Power" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: With almost thirty years of experience and his background in natural science and pharmacy, Wolfgang Windmann, ( holds a degree in pharmacy and a doctorate in natural sciences from the University of Würzburg. He has been working with Shilajit since 1994 and has twice traveled to Central Asia to study its formation and extraction. He runs a pharmaceutical company with a focus on natural products and lives near Leer in East Frisia, Germany.

Michael J. Carson

Michellia Wilson's Bookshelf

Meredith Stricker
Tupelo Press, Inc.
9781946482723, $21.95

Documentary style lyric poetry best describes Meredith Stricker's new poetry book release, REWILD. This is a book to crawl into, not just hold. We travel through war torn years to present, none the better for wear than when we began. She opens:

1948: Hiroshima

1948: the first shopping mall is built in the U.S.

Two opposing forces brought into the forethought of the reader's mind. There is war, hatred, violence and then as we crawl towards the threshold of the first shopping mall, we see war, hatred and violence. It's different and yet not different. We transition into a vision built of a reality TV show where we see war, hatred and violence of a different type. Competition breeds these things in war, the competitive nature of shopping malls and the reality game show that also illustrates torture with competition.

Stricker makes mention of writer, Rainer Maria Rilke. German by birth, poet by life. In SHOT LIST FOR RILKE, Stricker uses the visual tool of colons to begin each line. Each line also begins with a lower case letter as if she is evaluating the importance of the message within each thought. A lowercase opening softening the impact of the lines of poetry:

: let this ache run over, let our yearning
for celebrity expose us like light-sensitive emulsion

: toward the rarity of each unsocial-mediated self

Ponder the ache for something we yearn to have, notoriety. Emulsified - a mixture of compatible parts, unlike oil and water or vinaigrette, racing to a resolve and the frequency of something not so important.

Chronology . 2

We are momentarily taken away from the drawings of Rilke and introduced to thoughts of Einstein and Freud. Again - an emulsion. Two sketches of people from another world brought to the forethought. A man of mathematics and a man of psychoanalysis. Rilke still representing the artist he was.

In the poem, THAT BEAUTY, the word picture is vividly painted of vibrant hues used by the great poets. It is easy to visualize the melding colors with a beauty commonly painted by poets. This line opens our minds and hearts to the color-wheel of the placement of words. The best words put in their best order. Poetry. The poet never satisfied with the hues shared within the lines:

"It was golden, purple, violet, gray and blue.
It was that beauty the great poets dream about
but describe most poorly and inadequately"

There is nothing more important or timely that the lyrical combination of words and lines and visions and things important and things not so important captured in the breath of Stricker's compilation withing the gray cocoon of this book. In the poem, DARK MATTER, the use of visual art hums its tune, as this poem is drawn with a sway of carefully chosen words. No line unimportant as they are, "scattered in bits like/sparrows..."

THE REWILDING, the poem of the namesake of the book. Another artistic run of words and lines and visions, but within this poem things become serious. We are dealing with the wares of war.

"nowhere is abstract unless we are abstracted
erasure held like a fierce lantern"

Each poem within a poem drawing out a darkness being "lost in desolation and grief/laments the double death of Eurydice, the bare land/around him restores itself as forest/one living,/unshielded tree at a time moves in closer to listen..." Closer to listen to what? She continues, "mouth open, stained with tears/there is nothing not alive to us/even wasteland..." We are sorely reminded that the war and rumors of war evolves into news that becomes unconscious.

The environment, the notable people, notable events open like a rabid flower with prickly tips and draws the reader into an explosion of imagery and artistic language. The fourth section of the book, UNBUY YOURSELF, offers a conundrum with just its title. How does one "unbuy" oneself? Read further and be enlightened. Again, Stricker uses white space to unfurl this section of the poem. The image of something burning that "cannot be placed/in a paper or plastic bag/cannot be downloaded/ or barcoded/cannot be held/ only once..."

Birds. THE SWIMMERS OF AIR. Open wings, wide exposed to glide in an air, ravaged. "as our language untethers from our senses (word) by fibered (Word (TM))/ "imagine the arborescence of words, their many tongues..."

Yes, the tree of words, stately, protruding, licking the ears of readers with their "beautiful, unruly petals" The imagery here draws one closely to something natural, by nature, a dry landscape.

Stricker's drawing of poetry in COMMERCE & THE COLOR OF KINGFISHERS, saturates us with a true understanding of what poetry and poets mean to a cold world,

"we are hungry as field mice, in burr-stubble and brush, egg sacs glisten
the unsellable becomes and endangered species

(poetry for instance) where pelicans dive intent and dark
unincorporated ink, wily, unprofitable

down a dirt road, obstinate walnut trees slow in coming to leaf
do not concern themselves with efficiency"

This book burns with relevancy and an urgency. It is vulnerable and painted with images that scalds the mind. We are drawn to see beauty and ugliness at the same time as word pictures spawn randomly over the entire book. As the mushroom cloud of literature explodes over the pages, we know we have been touched by a compilation that is important to our beings. We live in uncertainty - a world of upheaval. This book experiments with that upheaval beginning with Hiroshima and ends with a "breath that tangles every living thing/burning sensation, not unlike love."

Michellia Wilson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3
Sergei Rachmaninov, composer
St Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, Abbey Simon, performers
c/o Naxos
B0BSWQYCPT, $16.99

Celebrating Rach 2 and Rach 3

The year 2023 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninov (April 1, 1873 -- March 28, 1943). There will be many commemorations of Rachmaninov and his music. I have my own small story. Too many years ago, I was in a music appreciation class where the young pupils each were assigned to write a short report about a composer. Each student drew a name from a hat, and I drew Rachmaninov. The written papers were followed by an oral presentation to the class. The teacher asked me "What was Rachmaninov's greatest work?" "The third piano concerto" I said. "Sorry" was the reply, "it is the second concerto". And I was downgraded from an "A" to a "B".

I learned a lot about music from that teacher, but that event has stayed with me. I was reminded of it when I listened to this reissue of both Rachmininov's Second and Third Concertos performed by Abbey Simon and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. These performances date from 1979 and were released on Vox, a nearly inexhaustible source of classical recordings. They have been reissued by Naxos, which purchased Vox in 2018. Abbey Simon (1920 -- 2019) was a virtuoso, "powerhouse" romantic pianist who studied with Josef Hoffman and who concertized and recorded extensively. Leonard Slatkin (b. 1944) has had a long, distinguished career as a conductor, including serving as Music Director for many years for the National Symphony Orchestra in my home town. He became Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony in 1979 when this recording was made.

I loved hearing these recordings of the "Rach" 2, in C minor, op. 18 and the "Rach" 3 in D minor, op. 30. These works are large scale, heavily romantic, lyrical, and heart-tugging. Simon's virtuoso technique is on full display but more important his musicality is as well. His performance lacks self-aggrandizement but instead responds to the scores with their many changes of mood and themes. The piano writing, particularly in the third concerto, is notoriously difficult. The orchestral part is at least the equal of the piano part in these concertos which are of symphonic stature. Simon's performance is beautifully integrated with Slatkin's and the St. Louis Orchestra's.

As I listened to the two concertos, I couldn't help recall my classroom experience of many years earlier. What is Rachmaninov's greatest work? Well, the third concerto may bel less popular and less immediately accessible but it has grown on critics and audiences. Even when I was a kid, opinion had shifted to the third concerto as the composer's masterpiece, as reflected in the research I had done. Still, the second concerto has always been and remains the favorite of listeners and concert goers. I was moved by both these concertos but my heart was more with the second. The conclusion is that I was right in the answer I gave that was rejected many years ago, but my venerable teacher was right as well. Both concertos are beautiful.

Listening to these concertos is a fitting way to celebrate Rachmininov's 150th anniversary. This CD of Abbey Simon and Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is an excellent way to hear these works, both for listeners new to them and for listeners with a deep love of this music.

Total Time: 71:41

Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education
John Dewey
Create Space Independent Publishing Platform
9781512343335, $5.60 paperback

Reading Democracy And Education

John Dewey (1859 -- 1952) was part of the "Golden Age of American Philosophy" together with Charles Peirce, William James, Josiah Royce, and others. With their many differences, these philosophers helped develop a distinctive American philosophy of pragmatism. After a period of neglect, pragmatism has experienced a resurgence in recent years, and I have learned a great deal from it. Although I had earlier read some of Dewey's prolific and difficult writings, I only recently read his 1916 book, "Democracy and Education". Dewey wrote during the time that psychology was separating itself from philosophy. He contributed greatly to this creation of psychology as an independent discipline, as did William James. As James did earlier in his book "Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals" Dewey had a strong interest in education, shown in "Democracy and Education" and in many other writings.

At the beginning of his career and for many years, Dewey was a philosophical Idealist heavily influenced by Hegel. In this regard, he was similar to Josiah Royce, but the two philosophers would move in different directions. By the time he wrote "Democracy and Education", Dewey had long abandoned his Idealism while recognizing its continued impact on his thought. In company with some other readers. I think there is a much larger residual impact of Hegel's thought in Dewey than he cared to admit.

Dewey is unusual in that his work is studied in two disciplines: education and philosophy. Dewey's thoughts on education became part of a progressive movement in educating children that was praised, condemned, and misinterpreted and that is still discussed today in educational circles. I know little about the applied practice of Dewey's educational thoughts but approach him instead more through the broad questions of traditional philosophy. Dewey was ambivalent about "the broad questions of traditional philosophy". In any event, both educators and philosophers, sometimes combined in the same person, are involved in the serious study of Dewey.

"Democracy and Education" (1916) is a lengthy, difficult book from what is usually described as the "middle" period of Dewey's long career. Dewey's states the aims of the book in the "Preface". He endeavors to "detect and state the ideas implicit in a democratic society and to apply these ideas to the problems of the enterprise of education". He immediately raises the highly philosophical questions of "purpose" -- the purpose of democratic society and the purpose of education within it. Dewey says he will bring to bear on his study recent developments in the natural sciences, including evolutionary theory, the experimental method, and changes in industrial organization in capitalism. He wants to explore how education may help to understand and realize the "democratic ideal".

The book consists of 26 chapters, each with subsections, which loosely develop an issue and which conclude with a useful short summary. The writing may be garrulous and repetitive and not well organized. It is still highly insightful. The opening chapters of the book address the nature and purpose of education, centering perhaps on the concept of "education as growth". Then, several chapters in the middle of the book address the educational curriculum, including subjects such as geography, history, the natural sciences and mathematics. Dewey explores matters such as education in preparation for a career, with the requisite skill set, education to become a participant in a democratic society, and "liberal" education with its traditional goals for people who have leisure and a degree of financial security. There is a provocatively titled chapter "The Individual and the World" which echoes a famous American metaphysical treatise, Josiah Royce's "The World and the Individual". The final chapters of the book become, if possible, increasingly philosophical in tone, with the titles "Philosophy of Education", "Theories of Knowledge" and "Theories of Morals". Dewey opposes philosophical and educational theories which separate the "inner" life of persons from the "outer" and the social and communal. The book concludes:

"All education which develops power to share effectively in social life is moral. It forms a character which not only does the particular deed socially necessary but one which is interested in that continuous readjustment which is essential to growth. Interest in learning from all the contacts of life is the essential moral interest."

In reading "Democracy and Education", I was impressed by its breadth, philosophical knowledge, and attempt to redirect and refocus the nature of philosophy. Dewey is deeply engaged with the history of philosophy, particularly with the Greeks. He has a great deal to say on modern philosophy, Cartesianism, and its limitations, and on Hegel. On a more particularized level, there are many individual passages in this book that I learned from, including a discussion of the piano and of pianists, such as myself, who try to serve the masters of both classical music and of ragtime.

In Chapter XVIII, "Educational Values", Dewey writes:

"An individual may have learned that certain characteristics are conventionally esteemed in music; he may be able to converse with some correctness about classical music; he may even honestly believe that these traits constitute his own musical standards. But if in his own past experience what he has been most accustomed to and has most enjoyed is ragtime, his active and working measures of valuation are fixed on the ragtime level. The appeal actually made to him in his own personal realization fixes his attitude much more deeply than what he has been taught as the proper thing to say; his habitual disposition thus fixed forms his real 'norm' of valuation in subsequent musical experience."

What I learned most from "Democracy and Education" was Dewey's broad conception of philosophy and its nature. The book will reward readers interested in philosophical questions and in American pragmatism.

Bread Givers
Anzia Yezierska
9781420972320, $8.99 paperback

A Young Immigrant Woman On Hester Street

Hester Street on New York City's Lower East Side has become emblematic of the American Jewish immigrant experience. It is celebrated in a 1975 film based upon a story by Abraham Cahan and in many works of immigrant literature, including this outstanding novel of 1925, "Bread Givers" by Anzia Yezierska. Yezierska (1880 -- 1970) was born in Poland and came to the United States with her family just before the 20th Century. Her father was a learned, Orthodox scholar of the Torah and Talmud. Yezierska was a born storyteller and writer and "Bread Givers" is an imaginative novel drawn loosely from her experiences, heavily embellished and dramatized.

Her novel tells the story of a young girl who chafes under Orthodoxy and under her controlling father and who seeks her own life and, as she says to become a person. Yezierska's work was forgotten for many years but was revisited in the 1970s with the rise of feminism. The book is told in the first person by Sara Smolinksy, beginning when she is about ten and continuing through her young womanhood to about the age of twenty-seven. Sara is the youngest of four daughters of a rabbi, who devotes full-time to the study of Jewish texts and brings in no income. The four daughters and the wife struggle with menial jobs to support the rabbi and the family at a level of poverty.

The novel describes in no uncertain terms a familial arrangement that today would be called patriarchal. The father is controlling, bullying of his family and forces bad marriages on each of the first three daughters, after each has had love interests elsewhere. Young Sara rebels and leaves the family. She takes a miserable room by herself and struggles to take college preparatory courses to become a teacher. With great effort and sacrifice she is able to pursue her education and her dream of independence. She remains lonely for family and for love and male companionship.

"Bread Givers" is a passionate, emotive, melodramatic novel. It has the feel of immigrant life in the fractured English of its characters, in its portrayal of claustrophobic, crowded tenements and rooming houses, of pushcarts and peddlers, and of poverty. The father in this book who devotes his days to religious study is highly atypical as the book shows many male characters who strive hard to escape poverty and to find material success. The book also shows poets, dreamers, and scholars among the children of the ghetto.

American Jewish literature and life often dwell upon gender and feminist related themes, and this is certainly the case in Yezierska's novel. Reb Smolinsky many times expresses what he presents as a Jewish textual account of the relationship between the sexes in which a relationship with a man is necessary for the fulfillment of a woman. His wife and four daughters disagree in their ways, but only Sara has the strong will of her father to rebel and leave. The book has many feminist elements, but it would be unfair to see it as a feminist tract. There is a great deal in the book about the need for love, family and sexuality as opposed to (or in addition to) independence and career. Sara learns that independence and career are not enough to make her happy or to fulfill her dream of becoming a person. The book captures in its emotive writing something of the passions and ambiguities in the relations between the sexes.

The book explores issues even more basic that relations between the sexes. The book strongly rejects the Jewish Orthodoxy practiced by Reb Smolinsky. It also questions the relentless pursuit of money and of material success practiced as a means to escape the poverty of the ghetto by most of the characters with the partial exception of the Reb. The book suggests the importance of learning, reflection, and wisdom which may perhaps be found and practiced in many ways. There is some sympathy after all for Reb Smolinsky and his devotion to a life of prayer and study. Still, I found the book largely celebrates American secular life as liberating and as offering individual persons the opportunity to choose for themselves the life they find meaningful and rewarding.

I have read other literature set on the Lower East Side, including works by Abraham Cahan, mentioned above, Henry Roth, Charles Reznikoff, and Michael Gold. I have no family from that area and have never even visited, but I always feel a deep tug of familiarity and recognition. I felt at home with Anzia Yezierska and loved her novel. It brought home to me Jewish immigrant life together with an appreciation for the breadth and precious nature of the American experience.

True Grit
Charles Portis, author
Harry N. Abrams
9781468306293, $7.99 paperback

True Grit

For several years, I have been interested in Westerns and in their portrayal of America. Only last month, the Library of America published a volume of the Collected Works of Charles Portis (1933 -- 2020) which gave me the incentive at last to read Portis's most famous novel, "True Grit" (1968), largely set in the West and in the Indian Territory in the late 1870s. After its initial success, "True Grit" wandered in and out of print. The novel itself seemed buried by the two film versions: the 1969 version directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne and the 2010 version directed by the Coen Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges.

Portis's novel is a story of the American West and a tale of revenge. It has strong elements of both "Huckleberry Finn" and "Moby Dick". The novel features the inimitable voice of Mattie Ross. At the time of the story, Mattie is a 14 year old girl living on a farm in Yell County, Arkansas. After a hired hand, Tom Clancy, senselessly guns down her father, Mattie vows revenge. She enlists the services of Rooster Cogburn, a violent hard-drinking former member of the Quantrill Gang during the Civil War and a killer and thief in his own right. The party also is joined by a young Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf. The three wander through the West in search of their quarry, with Mattie in search of justice for her father's killer and both Cogburn and LaBoeuf in search largely of financial reward.

Mattie Ross is the first person narrator. She narrates the story as an aged woman, in about 1918, reflecting on what became the formative moment of her life. The long lapse of time creates distance and ambiguity in Mattie's account. Mattie speaks in a deadpan voice as she describes both her activities and the brutality and violence she witnesses in her search. She is not bashful or reserved in her opinions as she is a committed Presbryterian who quotes the Bible at every opportunity and moralizes heavily, both to the characters in the story and to the reader.

Mattie's story involves an eccentric cast of characters going well beyond Rooster Cogburn. The reader is able to form his or her own idea of the characters separate from Mattie's depictions. The characters are sharply etched, with most being a mixture of good and bad. The reader also sees through Mattie's eyes the beauty, expanse, and dangers of the American West, its sparseness, mountains, rivers, forests, and snakepits.

The reader's view of the story may differ from Mattie's own, as she seems to accept without comment its brutality and violence. Portis does not offer a triumphaist portrayal of the settlement of the West. Even so, the story shows a love for the United States, for the land, and for the diversity and strengths of the people. With all his faults, Rooster Cogburn has strong loyalties and heroic qualities. He becomes an inspiration, for better or worse, for the remainder of Mattie's life.

Portis's novel reminded me of a latter story of the American West, Robert Coover's postmodernist 2017 novel "Huck out West". Portis's novel has been compared to "Huckleberry Finn" while Coover's has both Huck and Tom Saywer as characters during roughly the same time period as "True Grit". Both novels show a great deal of greed, corruption, and violence in the settlement of the West. Coover's story is bleak and unremittingly harsh and one-sided in its negative portrayal of the United States and the Western settlement. With all its lightness and humor, Portis offers a deeper and more complex view. With its focus on violence, greed, and the partial view of its narrator, the novel offers a chastened positive view of the United States and its people.

This novel sparkles. It is a worthy inclusion in the Library of America and deserves its growing reputation as an American classic.

Buddha of Infinite Light
D.T. Suzuki, author
9781570624568, $16.95 paperback

Pure Land Is Here

The great scholar D.T. Suzuki is best known for his work on Zen. In "The Buddha of Infinite Light" Suzuki explores the "Pure Land" or "Shin" Buddhist tradition. This is the most widely followed Buddhist tradition in Japan.

The book consists of lectures Suzuki gave in 1958 to the American Buddhist Academy, New York City. They were first published in 1970 and were revised and edited by Professor Taitetsu Unno of Smith College in 1997.

The book is short but dense. It is not a mere summary of the Pure Land Tradition, valuable as that is for those coming to it without background, but a development and an interpretation of it.

Pure Land differentiates between an other-power, or Oya-sama in the spiritual life, in which we respond to a source outside ourselves, and a self-power. Most Buddhist teachings, particularly the Theravada tradition, rely on self-power. The practitioner has to work out his own salvation through meditation and right practice and following the eight-fold path.

As I understand it, Pure Land is an other directed form of Buddhism which views Amida Buddha as the source of love, compassion, and the source of salvation. I don't think it quite equates to the Western concept of God, difficult as that concept is to explain. By reflection on Amida Buddha and the chanting of his name, the Pure Land Buddhist hopes to attain the Pure Land with the ultimate goal of Nirvana.

Suzuki writes (page 24)"Pure Land is right here, and those who have eyes can see it around them. And Amida is not presiding over an ethereal paradise; his pure Land is this defiled earth itself." Thus, contrary to what may be the usual interpretation of the Pure Land, Suzuki does not equate the Pure Land to an other worldly heaven but places it within us and our lives to be achieved by faith, practice, and sincerity. This interpretation, I think, tends to establish points of similarity between Pure Land (Shin) and Zen.

This is a learned book with discussions of Buddhist texts and history. As with his works on Zen, Suzuki draws illuminating parallels with western religious thinkers, including Meister Eckhart. There is also a chapter I found particularly eloquent on Pure Land Myokinin. This is a term that applies to devoted followers who have attained spiritual understanding but who are not ordinarily learned in a traditional academic sense. Pure Land provides a form of salvation open to everybody willing to trust in Amida rather than an exercise that appeals only to the learned.

This book would probably not be the best introduction to Buddhism for a person approaching it for the first time. The book explains the Pure Land tradition shortly but in depth. It shows the appeal of the movement. It thus does not simply present an interpretation of a foreign religious tradition but can help readers of all persuasions understand something of the nature of spiritual life.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Our Wolves
Luanne Castle
Alien Buddha Press
9798369716748, $10.99

I always enjoy Luanne Castle's poetry and its connection to our past and to nature. Our Wolves is a bit of a departure from that, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Here, she subverts the old fairy tale, "Little Red Riding Hood" and, though a unique combination of poetic forms and shifting points of view - from Little Red to her mother to her grandmother to the wolf to the huntsman - shows that within each of us lies a wolf. Underlying ideas highlight the way the patriarchy programs girls to say "I'm sorry" to everyone and to "study his face for bared teeth or curled lips./Take the belt without crying." The father slaps her bare skin with his palm. This is definitely a book to read slowly and savor so you can catch all the innuendos and subtle humor and twists in this age-old story.

A Court at Constantinople
Anthony Earth
Eorthe Books, LLC
9798215602690, $13.99 print / $4.99 Kindle

As someone who's lived around the world, I know firsthand how cultures can collide, and the book, A Court at Constantinople, does a great job showing just that. After the Crimean War (1853 to 1856), Turkey wants to expand its international reputation and is selling business opportunities like hot cakes. They've negotiated a treaty with the British who want to impose their occidental legal system on a sharia-based Turkish system.

James Bingham, a young English lawyer and a commoner who's won his position via the school of hard knocks, is struggling to succeed in his chosen profession. His fiancee has just died. Since he's now unattached, he's coerced into joining Her Britannic Majesty's Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople. Bingham is ordered to work on legal reforms with Osman Mehmed, a Turkish law student, but there's never enough time to get the job done. The two men meet Rosamund Colburne, an early feminist. The cases brought before the British court interweave with the story of these three young people's lives. A brutal beating of a rich merchant's daughter and the subsequent trials of the various suspects (the British suspects by the Sultan's legal system and the Muslim suspect by the British system) highlight the legal and diplomatic channels between Turkey and Great Britain and the differences between the two legal systems.

The book has a lot of legal terms, but I felt they were needed to add verisimilitude to the writing.

The Blue (Genevieve Planche #1)
Nancy Bilyeau
Lume Books
9781911445890, $16.99 print / $3.99 Kindle

The Blue is a historical thriller set in France and England in mid 18th century. Porcelain is a huge commodity, so much so that the obsession over porcelain brings to mind the Dutch obsession with tulips a century earlier. Britain and France are duking it out over the best colors.

Genevieve Planche, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, wishes to become an artist. When she meets Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers to send her to Venice to study - if she steals the formula to the color blue being developed in a British porcelain factory. Genevieve learns the art of industrial espionage - but falls in love with the man from whom she's to steal the formula. It was hard to put this book down as characters shifted allegiances, relationships changed, and the war between Britain and France affect the lives of the characters.

Bilyeau does a great job blending multiple storylines and ideas about art and science that were prevalent during the mid 18th century. Cobalt, to make blue pigments, was mined without the insights modern technology provides into the long-term effects: ecological, psychological, and physiological.

The Fugitive Colours (Genevieve Planche #2)
Nancy Bilyeau
Lume Books
9781839014666, $12.99 print / $2.99 Kindle

The Fugitive Colours is Nancy Bilyeau's sequel to The Blue, a historical thriller set in the 1760s. Genevieve Planche is an artist who, as she tries to pursue a career in the arts, finds that men control the art world. Genevieve must live with actions that occurred in The Blue and that currently affect her life. Now married with a child, she must make ends meet, and thus opens a design studio and turns her talents to designing fabrics for local Huguenot silk weavers. Ultimately, she learns that men control that industry as well - in fact, men control all of society.

When a famous artist invites her to an evening honoring the recently-deceased artist, Hogarth, she dares hope that her work will be acknowledged. Instead, she and her spouse are again plunged into the world of spies. No one is who or what they seem to be, but they all want her husband, a chemist, to break his agreement with the British government that he will no longer create colors for artists or porcelain makers.

Bilyeau does a great job blending multiple storylines and ideas about art and science that were prevalent during the mid 18th century. Scientists were exploring electricity as the potential to replicate the soul or to resurrect human bodies. Other scientists were still searching for the Philosopher's Stone that would turn lead into gold. The gap between the haves and the have-nots was widening as Britain taxes literally everything to pay for the seven years of war with France. Artists and writers were beginning to show the downtrodden in art and literature, forcing people of the time to acknowledge society's imperfections.

The Embroidered Book
Kate Heartfield
9780008380595, $28.99 / $11.99 Kindle

The Embroidered Book, a historical fantasy, follows the Hapsburg girls, Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette from childhood to becoming monarchs of Naples and France respectively. This is a well-researched volume which takes the history of these two women and binds it with the idea that magic is part of their world. As youngsters, they find a book of magic spells with an embroidered cover that belonged to their governess after she is killed in her bed. The two girls study the spells and gradually become magisters or mages.

As they assume their duties as royalty, Carolina works to suppress the actions of Ferdinand, her weak and profligate spouse. Marie Antoinette, whose husband Louis the XVI takes seven years to consummate their marriage, is prevented from doing much due to the rigorous protocols established by the Sun King, Louis XIV. They both try to deal with the growing use of magic in their countries with the old-school Order trying to keep magic to themselves and the rogues trying to free magic to be used by all.

This is a historical fantasy, but I found the fantasy elements kept me from being completely gripped by this book. I've found the French Revolution fascinating since reading Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities in high school. Since then I've read The Journey by Antonia Fraser, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette and The Fountain of St. James Courtby Sena Jeter Naslund, The Fatal Friendship by Stanley Loomis, and Becoming Marie Antoniette, a trilogy by Juliet Grey, so I needed no prompting to keep u[ with the vast cast of characters. Unfortunately, The Embroidered Book doesn't fully live up to the others. Several times in the 655 pages I wondered if the book would ever end.

Laurie Lico Albanese
St. Martin's Press
9781250278555, $27.99 / $14.99 Kindle

Hester is a marvelous, sensual tale which envisions a young Scottish immigrant, Isobel Gamble, as she arrives in Salem, Massachusetts. When abandoned there by her husband, she meets and falls immediately in love with the just-out-of-college Nathaniel Hawthorne. As determined as she is to make a life on her own with her needlework skills, he wishes to become an author.

Part of the sensuality of this book lies in the beautiful descriptions of women as artists with their needles and thread. Here, the needle not only represents women's domestic submission to men, but also their economic wherewithal, creative strength, and their ability to subvert male dominion. As a woman who has embroidered and practiced other forms of needlecraft since the age of five, I rejoiced in the role the needle plays in this book. I loved the lush play of the spectrum as Isobel, a synesthete, sees sounds, voices, words, letters as colors. This "gift" makes her prey to those staunch god-fearing souls of Salem who believe any woman out of the ordinary is inherently a witch.

This book has some kinship with Leah Angstrom's Out Front the Following Sea in describing early America but is more sensual and on some level, more believable. It also has some kinship with one of my favorite books, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund, showing the same type of indomitable heroine.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Displaying Organisation: How to Successfully Project Manage Your Exhibition
Rhiannon Goddard
Facet Publishing
9781783305063, $73.95, PB, 198pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Displaying Organisation: How to Successfully Project Manage Your Exhibition", Rhiannon Goddhard has provided a practical, step-by-step guide to planning and implementing exhibitions. Drawing on her in-depth experience of managing a wide range of exhibitions and installations, she breaks down the process of exhibition creation into easy-to-read sections

Split into distinct sections, "Displaying Organisation" covers not only key tasks, but also explores the skills and knowledge specific to the museum and heritage sector including: Defining and planning your project; Setting up a project team, assigning roles and responsibilities; Carrying out a formative evaluation and writing an interpretation plan; The foundation skills needed to be a successful project manager - budget, risk and programme management; Advice and approaches on how to tackle common problems to ensure success.

Critique: Featuring 'top tips' from industry leaders and professional as well as real-life examples and templates "Displaying Organisation: How to Successfully Project Manage Your Exhibition" is essential reading for both new and experienced museum and exhibition professionals, as well as students studying to enter the heritage sector. Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of Tables, Figures, Boxes, Case Studies, a four page Bibliography (including on-line resources), and a seven page Index. An extraordinary and highly recommended core addition to personal, professional, institutional, and academic library instructional reference collections, it should be noted that "Displaying Organisation" is also available in a paperback edition (9781783305056, $47.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $31.99).

Editorial Note: Rhiannon Goddard ( has been working in museums for over 20 years. Since 2008 she has been at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) managing the implementation of major exhibitions including 'Royal Style in the Making' and 'Fashion Rules' at Kensington Palace. As Head of Public Engagement Projects and Business Management she has fulfilled the role of Project Director for installations including 'Superbloom' at the Tower of London for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Prior to working for HRP Rhiannon worked at the British Museum, with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and Somerset House. She has an MA in History of Design from the V&A /RCA.

The Spirituality of Grief
Fran Tilton Shelton
Broadleaf Books
9781506483108, $18.99, PB, 195pp

Synopsis: Grief is all-consuming. Shattering. After the death of a loved one, we ask questions about the meaning of life, the whys of death, and how to carry our sorrow.

With the publication of "The Spirituality of Grief: Ten Practices for Those Who Remain", grief counseling specialist Fran Tilton Shelton honors the complex nature of grief and offers simple comfort: we are not alone, and there is no one right way to grieve.

Fran Shelton (a spiritual director and cofounder of the nonprofit Faith & Grief), directly deals with all the questions that emerge in the wake of a loved one's death: Why are we exhausted? What do we do with guilt? How do we take care of ourselves? And when will we get over our grief? Each individual chapter offers a spiritual practice, emerging from a variety of religious traditions, for those who remain. From breath prayers and nature walks to the examen and sacred reading, Shelton guides her readers through each spiritual practice and its potential for sustaining hope and connecting us to God.

All who love will eventually grieve. Universal and particular, shared and solitary, grief rearranges every aspect of life. But by bringing the resources of spirituality to bear on our losses, we can carry our sorrows rather than silence them. Within the rhythms of spiritual practices, we find what we need to make it through the week, the day, the hour. We don't move on when a loved one dies, but grace can help us sustain our love for them and their love for us.

Critique: Simply stated, "The Spirituality of Grief: Ten Practices for Those Who Remain" by Fran Tilton Shelton is unreservedly recommended reading for anyone who has suffered or is suffering the loss of a loved one and finds themselves sinking into a grief fueled depression. Offering a Christian oriented perspective on dealing with death, love, loss, and grief, "The Spirituality of Grief" is especially commended for personal, professional, community, church, seminary, college, and university library Grief Counseling collections. It should be noted that "The Spirituality of Grief" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Fran Tilton Shelton ( is a founder and president of Faith & Grief, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for comfort and hope to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. She is a spiritual director and earned her doctor of ministry degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She has served in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for over two decades and is currently a parish associate at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas. The author of "No Winter Lasts Forever", Shelton is a member of Spiritual Directors International and has been recognized by Faith Hospice and Forefront Living Foundation for her impact on those experiencing grief.

Quantum Integrative Medicine
Amit Goswami, author
Valentina R. Onisor M.D., author
Monkfish Book Publishing Company
9781948626873, $24.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: Inspired by the Dalai Lama to apply the integrative ideas of quantum science to practical everyday problems in people's lives, famed physicist Amit Goswami began working in 1999 in the field of health and healing. His first task was to use the new quantum metaphysics to provide a basic science for the systems of alternative medicine and thus begin a tentative integrative medicine. This was accomplished in The Quantum Doctor, first published in 2004.

What was still lacking was a unified theory of health leading to a new science of heath which would treat disease as a health disorder. Much more expertise in specifics was needed for such a project. In 2016, Goswami partnered with Valentina Onisor, MD, trained in both allopathic and most systems of alternative medicine as well including Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, aromatherapy, and homeopathy. "Quantum Integrative Medicine: A New Paradigm for Health, Disease Prevention, and Healing" is the culmination of their efforts to date. It is intended for both laypeople and health professionals.

Critique: Of special and particular relevance to readers with an interest in Holistic Medicine, Ayurveda Medicine, and Mental/Spiritual Healing, "Quantum Integrative Medicine: A New Paradigm for Health, Disease Prevention, and Healing" is informatively enhanced with the inclusion of an informative Introduction (The Time is Ripe for Quantitative Integrative Medicine), an eight page Bibliography, and a sixteen page Index. Informed and informative, expertly organized and presented, "Quantum Integrative Medicine is a substantial and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Alternative Medicine collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for medical students, academia, medical practitioners, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Quantum Integrative Medicine" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.71).

Editorial Note #1: Amit Goswami ( is a theoretical nuclear physicist and member of The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics since 1968, teaching physics for 32 years. After a period of distress and frustration in his private and professional life starting at the age 38, his research interests shifted to quantum cosmology, quantum measurement theory, and applications of quantum mechanics to the mind-body problem. He became best known as one of the interviewed scientists featured in the 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!?. Goswami is also featured in the recent documentary about the Dalai Lama entitled Dalai Lama Renaissance, and stars in the upcoming documentary "The Quantum Activist". (Wikipedia)

Editorial Note #2: Valentina R. Onisor ( is a practicing physician, a pioneer of quantum integrative medicine specializing in family medicine that integrates conventional medicines with various systems of alternative medicine (acupuncture, Ayurveda, naturopathy, and aromatherapy). Committed to consciousness awakening related sciences for over two decades, Valentina is also a yoga and meditation teacher (Sivananda Vedanta Forest Academy; Yoga Alliance; Universal Consciousness Ambassador, CSETI). She has developed together with Amit Goswami the transformative practice of Quantum Yoga, that integrates quantum science with traditional spiritual practices (yoga, qi gong, meditation, esoteric Christianity, Tibetan tradition).

Shamanism in Chinese Medicine
CT Holman
Singing Dragon
c/o China Books & Periodicals, Inc.
9781787751378, $48.00, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Shamanism in Chinese Medicine: Applying Ancient Wisdom to Health and Healing " by CT Holmon, and American readership is presented with compellingly described study and presentation of the healing techniques of Chinese shamanism while respecting their tradition.

CT Holman is a medically trained and licensed clinician of over 20 years, and in "Shamanism in Chinese Medicine" clearly explains how Chinese shamanism can be seamlessly woven into modern lifestyle and contemporary medical practices. He explores effective methods to address physical pathologies and emotional imbalances by applying shamanic-influenced techniques including visualizations, verbal healing and shamanic drumming, among others for self-care and medical treatment. The primary resource for the material presented originates from Holmon's intensive decade-long study under shamanic teacher, Master Zhongxian Wu.

Several color illustrations and before-and-after patient photos are included that beautifully depict the spirit-based diagnostics and treatments. Incorporating numerous clinical examples and thoroughly researched procedures, "Shamanism in Chinese Medicine" teaches western practitioners how to combine treatments (concentrating on the spirit and soul) with modern medicine to treat the whole person and enrich their practice.

Critique: Exceptionally 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Shamanism in Chinese Medicine" is a truly enlightened and enlightening study -- making it is a 'must-read' selection for Chinese medicine practitioners, other medical professionals, and non-professional readers with an interest in the subject of Chinese medicine. While also available in a paperback edition (9781805010128, $50.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $37.99), "Shamanism in Chinese Medicine" is especially and unreservedly recommended as a core addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Shamaism, Acupunture/Acupressure, Chinese Medicine collections, and supplemental curriculum History of Medicine studies lists.

Editorial Note: Master Zhongxian Wu (, a lifelong Daoist practitioner, is the lineage holder of four different schools of Qigong and martial arts. Since 1988, Master Wu has instructed thousands of students, both Eastern and Western, in his unique and professionally designed courses and training programs. He has authored 12 books (five in Chinese) on Chinese wisdom traditions. Along with his wife, Dr. Karin Taylor Wu, he founded Blue Willow World Healing Center and QinJian Akademin to preserve and promote the classical Chinese arts throughout Europe, North America and China.

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Frontier Fake News: Nevada's Sagebrush Humorists and Hoaxsters
Richard Moreno
University of Nevada Press
9781647790868, $21.95, PB, 192pp

Synopsis: When readers see the names Mark Twain and Dan De Quille, fake news may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But these legendary journalists were some of the original, and most prolific fake news writers in the early years of Nevada's history.

With the publication of "Frontier Fake News: Nevada's Sagebrush Humorists and Hoaxsters", historian and author Richard Moreno puts a spotlight on the hoaxes, feuds, pranks, outright lies, witty writing, and other literary devices utilized by a number of the Silver State's frontier newsmen from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Often known collectively as the Sagebrush School, these journalists were opinionated, talented, and individualistic.

While Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), who got his start at Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise, and Dan De Quille (William Wright), who some felt was a better writer than Twain, are the most well-known members of the Sagebrush School, "Frontier Fake News" includes others such as Fred Hart, who concocted a fake social club and reported on its gatherings for Austin's Reese River Reveille, and William Forbes, who enjoyed sprinkling clever puns with political undertones in his newspaper articles.

"Frontier Fake News" traces the beginnings of genuine fake news from founding father Benjamin Franklin's "Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle, Number 705, March 1782," a fake newspaper aimed at swaying British public opinion, to the fake news articles of New York and Baltimore papers in the early 1800s. But these examples are only a prelude to the amazing accounts of petrified men, freeze-inducing solar armor, magically magnetic rocks, blood-curdling massacres, and other nonsense stories that appeared in Nevada's frontier newspapers and beyond.

Critique: Enhanced for the reader with a section of black-and-white historical illustrations, a four page Selected Bibliography, and a nine page Index, "Frontier Fake News: Nevada's Sagebrush Humorists and Hoaxsters" is an inherently fascinating bit of 19th Century American journalism and literary satire. Impressively researched and written, "Frontier Fake News" is highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Frontier Fake News" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.49).

Editorial Note: Richard Moreno is the former publisher of Nevada Magazine and author of fourteen books, including Roadside History of Nevada, A Short History of Carson City, and A Short History of Reno. For more than three decades, he has written a weekly history/travel column that appears in the Lahontan Valley News and the Nevada Appeal. In 2007, Moreno was awarded the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award.

Built to Beat Chaos
Gary Harpst
c/o Wiley Professional Trade Group
9781394158409, $25.00, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: Over 47% of leaders say that chaos is pervasive in their organizations. Though disorder can feel overwhelming at times, human beings are actually designed to overcome and conquer chaos. With the publication of "Built to Beat Chaos: Biblical Principles for Leading Yourself and Others", teacher, coach, speaker, and author Gary Harpst presents an insightful and practical discussion of how to transform chaos into order by relying on strategies drawn directly from the Bible.

The Readers will learn how to find fulfillment and success by leaning into your innate ability to calm the madness and control chaos by: Understanding the fundamental processes underlying how we put things together for a purpose; Discovering why everyone is biblically called to leadership and the dynamics of self-leadership; Applying biblical principles to transform your organization through action.

Critique: Exceptionally well reasoned, written, organized and presented, "Built to Beat Chaos: Biblical Principles for Leading Yourself and Others" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, corporate, church, and academic library Leadership & Management collections. It should be noted for corporate board members and executives, business managers, church pastors, and other organizational leaders that :Built to Beat Chaos" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.00).

Editorial Note: Gary Harpst ( is an author, a keynote speaker, and a teacher. As a successful software entrepreneur, he has been recognized as one of the Top 100 United States-based thought-leaders on management and leadership by Leadership Excellence magazine.

Willis M. Buhle

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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