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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 3 March 2020 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf Andy Jordan's Bookshelf Ann Anderson Evans' Bookshelf
Ann Skea's Bookshelf Astrid Iustulin's Bookshelf Brendan Donaghy's Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Dale Neal's Bookshelf Erica Watkins' Bookshelf
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf Jen Lis' Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Kimberlee Benart's Bookshelf
Kirk Bane's Bookshelf Kirkus Reviews Maeve Ballantine's Bookshelf
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Marty Duncan's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Michelle Jacobs' Bookshelf Molly Martin's Bookshelf Paul Lappen's Bookshelf
Publishers Weekly Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf Suzie Housley's Bookshelf
Tyla Taylor's Bookshelf U. Melissa Anyiwo's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf

Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt
Morgan E. Moroney
Rockridge Press
9781646114238, $12.99, PB, 160pp,

Morgan E. Moroney is a PhD candidate in Egyptology, focusing on Egyptian art and archaeology. She has worked at several museums and excavates in Egypt and Ethiopia. In "Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt: Egyptian Mythology for Kids" which was written specifically for children ages 8-12, she reveals that from the rising of the morning sun to the summer flooding of the Nile River, the ancient Egyptians believed powerful gods and goddesses ruled over every aspect of their daily lives. This Egyptian mythology guide takes young readers on a memorable trip through the sands of time to explore the world of pharaohs and sphinxes and ancient Egypt, including the illustrated myths of incredible Egyptian gods and goddesses with stories describing the magic each deity performed along the Nile. "Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt" also showcase how Egyptian mythology was a key part of ancient Egyptian culture, like pyramid building, the mummification process, and even the worshiping of cats. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both school and community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Andrea Kay

Andy Jordan's Bookshelf

Valley Of Thunder
Sam Clancy
Linford Western Library
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print (USA), Inc.
PO Box 1230, West Seneca, NY 14224-1230
9781444843408, $21.49, PB, Large Print, 248pp,

Josh Ford is the best man the Marshal Service has ever had, so when the governor of Montana needs someone to look into the disappearance of wagon trains in the Bitterroots, Ford is the man he chooses. What Ford finds is a brutal and self-described English autocrat who rules over his kidnaped slaves with a brutal terror unlike Ford had ever seen before. Ford and his Nez Pearce allies must fight to the death against this maniac and his small army of murderous gunmen. When a final confrontational twist puts it all in jeopardy, Ford realizes that the badge he wears may be the difference between law and justice -- and to do justice that badge must be temporarily disregarded. This large print edition of author Sam Clancy's "Valley Of Thunder" is a simply riveting western novel by an expert in the genre -- and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections.

Andy Jordan

Ann Anderson Evans' Bookshelf

A Candle for San Simon
Kelly Daniels
Owl Canyon Press
9780998507392, $19.95, PB, 274pp,

This story belongs on television; it has a span of unforgettable characters, a locale so exotic it feels like science fiction, a plot with as many switchbacks as an Andean mountain road, and underlying social commentary that bubbles up so subtly you barely notice it. The story digs deeper than Narcos into the complex evils of the drug trade. The French Connection is a more whizbang, but this plot flies just as fast. For intimacy of detail and sense of place it rivals The Poisonwood Bible.

Chucho Cruz is a jovially corrupt jefe; Norman Caruthers is a doomed alcoholic American ex-pat and his son, Max, is an aspiring missionary; Max's Mayan girlfriend Karma is a survivor; Vicky is a vicious female gangster who learned her trade in the U.S.; and there is a forlorn baby and a colorful supporting cast lead by Red the bartender and no-armed Frank.

The author, Kelly Daniels, has been paying close attention to persons and places. His descriptions are riveting, especially the lengthy bus trip from Guatemala to the border of Colombia. His depictions of intimacy are spot on and funny - the woman inserting a tampon before meeting a dangerous gangster lest she be caught short, men's management of their erections, and a visit to a pestilent toilet in the Guatemalan Outback.

Caruthers, who scrapes by driving a broken-down former American school bus from one hardscrabble Guatemalan town to another, is living in an alcoholic hell, the kind where all that matters is the booze. And speaking of hell, Vicky, the female jefe, resembles the devil closely enough, though our view of the devil might change if we viewed him as a hurt, abused, betrayed, violated, toughened, suffering being whose brilliance is expressed as evil. Daniels embraces his characters, no matter how low they go, and they do go low. It takes storytelling chops to follow characters into hell - just ask Beckett, or Dostoyevski, or Dickens.

There are evocative phrases in this book one would see nowhere else, such as "the ultimate gringo trump card" and "Kekchi Mayan." Metaphors are rare but sharp: "... a homeless man, dressed like a wizard in a winter coat whose ragged hem dragged along the ground as he ambled..." Echos of Mayan language, dress, and history permeate the story.

The voices of the Guatemalans and the Americans are different, which one of the points of the book. The unspeakable violence of ancient Mayans who, for example, captured victims, cut open their chests, and removed the still-beating heart, is matched by the tortures of the modern drug gangs. Max, the would-be missionary, realizes that he is ministering to the hapless descendants of the people had their hearts cut out, not the powerful elite who did the deed. For the Guatemalans, the United States is where they might run when life becomes intolerable, yet the American Norman decides against going back. He can give up on Guatemala, "sell the bus..for whatever pittance he could get and catch a ride north, throw himself on the mercy of his native land, a zone notably short on mercy for the poor, but what did he expect? Likely he'd end up on the street, his humiliation absolute." No City on a Hill for him.

Max values the communal closeness of Guatemala. His American mother has abandoned him, but he and Karma take responsibility for an abandoned Mayan child.

The reader is prompted to wonder which place she would rather be. If that's too heavy a thought, she can relax into a helluva story and leave the philosophy for later.

Ann Anderson Evans

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

A Dictionary of Interesting and Important Dogs
Peter J. Conradi
Faber and Faber
9781780724041, A$24.99, hardback, 223 pages

First, a confession. I am not particularly fond of dogs. So, when this book was sent to me for review I was unenthusiastic and expected it to be just another collection of cute tales for dog-lovers. I was wrong.

Opening the book at random, I was surprised to find a fascinating tale of a missing hiker and of his faithful dog, Foxie, who survived for three months beside his dead body, possibly by eating it. Of course not everyone believed this. Wordsworth wrote the poem 'Fidelity' in which he attributed Foxie's survival to 'divine sustenance or 'love divine''. But Wordsworth apparently failed to notice that Foxie was a bitch and referred to her throughout the poem as 'he'.

Like the story of Foxie, other entries in this 'dictionary' discuss literary figures, provide poetic references and poems, and consider the merits of particular arguments about dogs.

Did Shakespeare dislike dogs or not? Professor Stephen Greenblatt claims that Shakespeare was fond of 'using dogs as shorthand for something base' and his work is full of dog insults - 'whoreson dog', 'hell-hound', 'slave, soulless villain, dog', and Richard III is that 'bloody dog':

for horses, rabbits, even snails, ...Shakespeare felt deep, inward understanding, but with dogs his imagination curdled.

On the other hand, a Victorian writer remarked that Shakespeare's description of hounds in A Midsummer Night's Dream (IV, i) shows that he was both a fine 'judge of dogs and an out-of-doors sportsman'.

Darwin, Virginia Woolf, Freud, Dickens, Karl Marks, plus a number of much less well-known people, all appear in this book as either dog-lovers or people with a special interest (good or bad) in dogs.

Freud's dog, it seems attended consultations as a comfort dog but indicated exactly when one should end by 'yawning and wandering about'. Dickens once punished his dog for running home ahead of him by dosing it with castor oil. And essayist Thomas Carlyle tolerated his wife's beloved dog, Nero, but deemed him to be 'of small merit, and little or no training'.

Among other dogs in this book we learn more about Tintin's dog, Pongo; Nana from Peter Pan; Cerberus; Ulysses' dog, Argos; Laika, the first dog in space; Nipper, the dog listening to his master's voice on a phonograph and whose portrait eventually became the trademark for HMV records; Judy, the POW dog who was 'buried in her RAF jacket with her various campaign medals'; and the role of dogs in making Amundsen the first man to get to the South Pole.

Not all of the dog stories here are comfortable reading. Especially the one about the two Swedish women who, after seeing caged research animals in the Pasteur Institute in Paris, enrolled as medical students in London and witnessed medical demonstration-experiments on dogs. In 1903, 'against legal advice - they published their anti-vivisection diary'. Legal proceeding for slander ensued but the case was widely publicised and there was widespread protest. Mark Twain wrote the emotive anti-vivisection story, 'The Dog's Tale'. And a bronze statue of a small brown dog, commissioned by the World League Against Vivisection was erected in London's Battersea Park, with a damning inscription, It immediately became the focus of marches and riots. One protest by 1000 London medical students, who were determined to destroy it, had a police escort 'and, briefly, a busker with bagpipes'. For a time, Battersea Council employed six policemen a day to protect it, but arguments about it continued and it was briefly removed in 1910.

Over 75 years later, on 12 December 1985, the present memorial to the Brown Dog was unveiled in Battersea Park behind the Pump House...mounted on a five-foot high plinth.

More debate ensued and the present position of the statue is in a secluded spot between the Old English Garden and the Buddhist stupa.

To balance this, there are some delightful poems. Herbert Asquith wrote about his 'Hairy Dog'; Dorothy Parker penned a 'Verse for a Certain Dog'

Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong
Yours the white rapture of a winged soul
Yours is a spirit like a Mayday song,
(God help you if you break the goldfish bowl!)

I especially like Cecil Day Lewis's wonderfully descriptive 'Sheepdog Trials in Hyde Park', which he ends by comparing the dogs' 'shepherding of the unruly' to his own poetic task of 'controlled woolgathering'.

Perhaps as proof that his is not just a book full of cute, lovable mutts and uncontrollable dogs (and owners), there is a page headed 'Recipes for cooking and eating dog'. Those who flinch at this title may be comforted to know that no actual recipe is included.

Below Deck
Sophie Hardcastle
Allen & Unwin
9781760876388, A$29.99, hardback, 290 pages

It starts below deck. Olivia (Oli) has been kidnapped. Well, not actually kidnapped but rescued late at night, in a drunken stupor, by Mac, an old man who now needs to deliver his yacht to another boatyard by 10am in the morning:

You, young lady, were blind. Couldn't even tell me your name. Was I supposed to let you go home like that? No, Jane and I had to carry you to the boat.

Oli, on a night out at the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney had just quarreled with her boyfriend, Adam. Her parents live in Singapore, and she is living with her grandfather in the Sydney suburb of Manly. After the initial shock of waking up at sea on a strange boat, her first lesson about Mac is that he is a joker.

'Where am I?' I repeat, louder this time.

'You're on the Tasman.'

At my feet, there are ropes coiled around metal stumps, and lines threading up a towering pole. The old man pulls on one of the ropes and the creases in the sail above me are smoothed out, like skin pulled tight around bone. I feel the boat pucker, then lift a little.

'The what?'

'The Tasman Sea', he says pointing at the endless expanse of ocean'...

I feel like a hand is wrapped around my throat, squeezing. I might throw up. 'I need to get off.'

'You will. In a few days ... when we get to New Zealand.'

But he doesn't take her to New Zealand. Instead he moors the boat at Newport Yacht Club, just up the coast from Sydney Harbour, buys her a milk shake and chips, then drives her home to Manly in his car.

Shortly after this, Oli's grandfather dies suddenly and unexpectedly. Shocked and disorientated; alienated from her parents, who visit briefly for the funeral; not knowing what to do with herself and gloomily contemplating the offer of a post-graduate internship with a prestigious investment bank, which she doesn't want to take; Oli remembers that Mac had offered to let her join him when he sails his yacht back from Newport to Sydney, and to introduce her to his partner Maggie.

This first trip with Mac and Maggie is Oli's introduction to sailing. 'Sailing', Mac tells her, 'isn't about control. It's about listening, feeling, surrendering and adapting'.

Maggie chimes in 'It's also about getting cold and wet while going nowhere fast.'

This is the start of Oli's close friendship with Mac and, especially, with Maggie, who shares Oli's way of experiencing the world through sound and colour. A later, longer, trip with Mac and Maggie to Hamilton Island in the Coral Sea not only cements that friendship but awakens Oli to the beauty, the magic and the terrors of sailing.

Sophie Hardcastle clearly knows and loves sailing and the sea, and she writes realistically and poetically about Oli's experiences. The first part of the book, 'Sea Garden', is often idyllic and ends with Oli underwater listening to whale song:

I hear whale song in swirls of violet and Prussian blue.

And in the same way that realizing the blue of the sky is only an illusion marks both the death of innocence and the birth of imagination, listening to whale song is both an ending and a beginning. It's the lifting of a veil.

Part two of the book, 'Sea Monsters', is very different. Oli is now four years older and an experienced sailor. She is in Noumea and has almost run out of money, so she takes a job with an all-male crew of four who are delivering a yacht from Noumea to Auckland in New Zealand. What happens on the voyage is a nightmare which will damage Oli's relationship with the sea almost irreparably. Oli describes all that happens so vividly that we hear and see, in harrowing, emotional detail, how what begins with a terrible storm and an accidental breakage, ends in disaster, horror and near madness. And this storm is played out, too, in the explosion of sexual tensions which ends in a brutal rape.

It is this which sets the scene for part three of the book, 'Deserts'. Oli, again, is a few years older. She now lives in London where she works as an assistant to the curator of a small, successful, art gallery. She has a new man in her life and she is happy. Just as the first part of the book immerses the reader in Oli's beautiful, sunny, ocean-filled world in Sydney, so this part of the book brings her more sophisticated, land-bound, London world of art to life. But she has abandoned the sea altogether and even the sight of it beneath the pier on a day-trip to Brighton causes her to panic:

Through the gaps I see the ocean. Washing back and forth. Sways of white foam. My breath quickens. I taste the salt. Feel it in me. Until suddenly, I can't breathe. My muscles clench like ice snapped frozen.

So, when she is invited to accompany a group of female artists, writers and musicians on a boat trip from South America to Antarctica, so that they can make work about the changing landscape, she is adamant that she will not go.

News of Maggie's death, and a brief return trip to Sydney to be with Mac, changes that. Oli braves the ocean once again to help Mac pour Maggie's ashes into the sea so that 'she becomes part of the ocean':

She becomes a deep-sea current. Seashell bones on the summer tide. Maggie becomes something else.

In the final chapter of the book, 'Sea Ice', Oli experiences the strange landscape and climate of Ushuaia, beyond which is the Beagle Channel, Isla Navarino, and the Drake Passage 'stretching all the way to Antarctica'. And then she is on a ship, reliving some of the horrors of the 'Sea Monster' chapter but surviving, coming to terms with her terrors and healing.

There is a strongly feminist ending to the book, where Oli, on the ship amongst the women, finds new strength, and comes to see that the ocean is the one constant in her life, surrounding the world, linking past and present, everything and everyone. Immersing herself in its icy waters, she hears, again, the whale song, which for her is 'both an ending and a beginning':

Beneath icebergs suspended in the grey, I open my eyes. Darkness is endless, all stretching. There's whale song. The song starts, or stops.

.... And suddenly it's all dark salt, a neck of black pearls. This story ends here, at the end of the earth. Here, where silence is thick like muscle, a body ancient and strong .... I'm Queen of the tide, full and round, swelling, overflowing. I'm a flood. I am strong, I'm huge. I'm an ice cliff cracking. I'm breaking off. I'm dissolving in the sea. And all the stories in me become part of the beyond.

Below Deck is a remarkably ambitious first novel by Sophie Hardcastle. Its chapters span an arc of emotions, people, landscapes and lands. And Oli, who tells her own story, tells it in language which is often poetic, imaginative and allusive. The title, too, suggests not only Oli's sailing experiences but also the hidden psychological depths which come from those experiences. Not everyone will be attuned to Oli's way of seeing and describing her world but those who are will very much enjoy this book.

Dr Ann Skea (Ted Hughes pages)

Astrid Iustulin's Bookshelf

Soccer Is Fun Without Parents
Dr. Peter M. Jonas
MSI Press
1760-F Airline Hwy, #203, Hollister, CA 95023
9781933455440, $19.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 160pp,

As the sister of an ex-soccer player, I remember my father's frustration about the behavior of other children's parents during matches. These adults, though armed with good intentions, embarrass their children with some of the worst performances. They scream, protest, and coach when they should not. Drawing attention to themselves and pretending their child is a prodigy are the only concerns of these bizarre but not rare people. So, I enjoyed reading Peter M. Jonas' book Soccer is Fun without Parents, where these types are humorously analyzed. A valuable and amusing handbook, it divides soccer parents into categories and informs them of the rules and lessons they very likely ignore.

The father of a soccer player himself, Jonas has collected many delightful anecdotes and instructions. The stories and types of parents are funny, and I often smiled and laughed while reading this book. The picture is realistic, and every kind of person I have met during a soccer match has a place here. However, the message is serious. The representation of soccer parents should make readers (especially adult readers) reflect. I appreciate that Jonas stressed how parents' behavior is embarrassing for children. It seems they ignore that their offspring just want to have fun, and Jonas has done the right thing by reminding them of this. As he points out, parents are the only problem in this sport. The sooner they will learn the lesson of this book, the better it will be for their children.

Astrid Iustulin, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Brendan Donaghy's Bookshelf

Bea Green
Conrad Press
9781911546740, $14.86 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 336pp,

Bea Green's Trenouth is a work of fiction set in Cornwall, England. It tells the story of Elinor Campbell, an artist in her late twenties. She is a young woman who has experienced the sudden death of her fiance a year previously and, unsurprisingly, has been left with emotional scars. She is recovering from a nervous breakdown and has left her home in Scotland to spend time with her seventy-year-old uncle, Leo Jago. He lives in a cliff-top cottage called 'Trenouth' in Warren Cove on the rugged Cornish coastline. Elinor's hope is that a change of scene will help her recover from the debilitating feelings of anxiety and panic that have plagued her since her fiance's fatal accident.

The story opens in dramatic fashion. In the middle of a howling Cornish storm, in the early hours of the morning, someone is hammering on the front door of Leo's cottage. Elinor is petrified as her uncle goes to answer the door. Six young men stand on the doorstep, soaked through, shoeless, and without a word of English between them. Leo provides them with dry clothes and a hot drink before phoning the police. An hour later, immigration officials arrive and take the young men away.

It is the first of several odd events that occur in the following weeks that make Leo wonder if the age-old Cornish tradition of smuggling has been updated to incorporate something more sinister. At first, Elinor is too preoccupied to worry about this. Her attention is focused on exploring the Cornish coast, learning to surf, and starting to paint again. Then there is her growing friendship with a young doctor called Tony. He is obviously attracted to Elinor, but is she ready for another relationship at this time? Will it help or hinder her recovery?

I really enjoyed the depiction of Cornwall in this novel. The author captures vividly the wild coastline and the crashing Atlantic waves that make the place a great draw for surfers. The energy of the dramatic landscape reflects the drama playing out in Elinor's head, as she struggles to control her fears. Beyond the landscape, the author also captures the essential Celtic aura that surrounds Cornwall, with all its mythology, history, and language. She conveys the sense of timelessness that pervades the place. The rhythm of life is slow in Warren Cove, the pace of change even slower. Elinor's story unfolds in this same unhurried fashion.

I was less keen on the novel's rather narrow focus. By that, I mean that the story is told exclusively in the third-person from Elinor's point of view. On the one hand, this gives the reader a very strong sense of what Elinor is feeling and an insight into the internal battles she is fighting. It also means, however, that we see other characters only through her eyes. Some fare better than others from this approach. Leo and Elinor's friend and fellow-artist Barbara Bligh, for example, are relatable, well-developed characters. Others, perhaps, do not leap off the page with quite the same intensity.

I am awarding this novel 3 out of 4 stars, deducting one star for the narrow focus mentioned above. The book has been professionally edited, as I found only three very minor errors in a work of over three hundred pages. The story is suitable for older teenagers and above. There are a few curse words uttered by the various characters, but they are very much at the lower end of the swearing spectrum. There are one or two scenes that involve sex but these are mild enough not to frighten the horses. Readers who enjoy slow-burning novels laced with romance and mystery should like this one.

Brendan Donaghy, Reviewer
The Online Book Club

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Deference to Doubt
Herman M. van Praag
Urim Publications
c/o KTAV Publishing House
527 Empire Boulevard, Brooklyn, New York 11225
9781602803701, $24.95, HC, 296pp,

Synopsis: "Deference to Doubt: A Young Man's Quest for Religious Identity in First Century Judea" is the story of Amos, a young Judean living in the first century CE, who is searching for his identity. He debates with representatives of the main religious and ideological movements of his time, subjecting the resulting torrent of varying, often contradictory views to critical analysis.

The conclusion Amos reaches is that there is no obvious dogmatic endpoint to his quest. From the profusion of opinions, he will have to compile a fitting spiritual ''menu'' that gives depth and meaning to his life, with dialectics and ongoing discourse as his guiding principle and doubt as the foundation for his religious life.

Critique: In the form of a novel, "Deference to Doubt: A Young Man's Quest for Religious Identity in First Century Judea", Professor van Praag pursues the direction he took in his books God and Psyche (God en Psyche), Beyond Sensibility (Het Verstand te Boven) and Just Beyond Reason (Net Voorbij de Rede), and boldly, yet respectfully, interprets and reflects on the concept of God, the Bible, and the people who appear in it. An inherently fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "Deference to Doubt" is an extraordinary and especially recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: Herman M. Van Praag is Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the Universities of Groningen, Utrecht and Maastricht in The Netherlands and at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He has conducted a great deal of research into the relationship between (abnormal) brain function and (abnormal) behavior. In 1989, he was knighted by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands for his scientific and educational work. Professor Van Praag received the Founders Award from the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) in December 2019, to acknowledge his efforts to put religion/religiosity/meaning/purpose (long considered to be irrelevant for psychiatric diagnosis and treatment) on the agenda.

Red Coats and Wild Birds
Kirsten A. Greer
University of North Carolina Press
116 South Boundary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-3808
9781469649825, $90.00, HC, 190pp,

Synopsis: During the nineteenth century, Britain maintained a complex network of garrisons to manage its global empire. While these bases helped the British project power and secure trade routes, they served more than just a strategic purpose. During their tours abroad, many British officers engaged in formal and informal scientific research. "Red Coats and Wild Birds: How Military Ornithologists and Migrant Birds Shaped Empire" by Kirsten A. Greer (Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Histories and Geographies at Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario, Canada) is ambitious history of ornithology and empire and tracks British officers as they moved around the world, just as migratory birds traversed borders from season to season.

Professor Greer examines the lives, writings, and collections of a number of ornithologist officers, arguing that the transnational encounters between military men and birds simultaneously shaped military strategy, ideas about race and masculinity, and conceptions of the British Empire. Collecting specimens and tracking migratory bird patterns enabled these men to map the British Empire and the world and therefore to exert imagined control over it.

Through its examination of the influence of bird watching on military science and soldiers' contributions to ornithology, "Red Coats and Wild Birds" remaps empire, nature, and scientific inquiry in the nineteenth-century world.

Critique: An impressively informative and groundbreaking history, "Red Coats and Wild Birds: How Military Ornithologists and Migrant Birds Shaped Empire" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college and university library British Military History collections and supplemental curriculum studies. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Red Coats and Wild Birds" is also available in a paperback edition (9781469649832, $29.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.79).

Carl Logan

Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf

Bookends Review February 19, 2020

Interview with Carole Mertz (2,041 words)

Toward a Peeping Sunrise
Carole Mertz
Prolific Press
9781632751898, $7.95, Paperback, 17 pages

Carole Mertz, author, poet, and editor, has had works published in literary journals, U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and Africa. An Oberlin College graduate, she's Book Review Editor for Dreamers Creative Writing; reader of prose and poetry for Mom Egg Review; member Prize Nomination Committee for Ekphrastic Review; advance reader WNBA 2018 Poetry Contest. Kendra Boileau, Penn State University Press noted: "Mertz is a master of poetic form, imagery, sonority, and wit."

Smallwood: Your poems show a knowing of the darkness but also of the sunrises while "...searching for a distant view of everything." The poems encompass childhood, courtship, marriage, maturity, and the reader is advised to "hang on to your memories." How did you decide the chapbook's title?

Mertz: Thank you for searching out my themes and encapsulating them so well. I suppose I wanted a title that would show a kind of awakening. For Toward a Peeping Sunrise I borrowed a line from one of the poems.

Smallwood: You've said your chapbook follows an arc. What do you mean by that?

Mertz: I suppose there's an arc to the thematic subdivisions, simply beginning, middle, end. But what I mean has more to do with the tempo of the poems. Progressing from one to the next with a rising tempo, as in "Dolly's Broke" moving faster and louder into the implied dangers in "Ballast." These urgencies settle down in the two final poems toward a quiet diminution, as if equivalent to a musical crescendo and decrescendo.

Smallwood: What have you learned from creating this chapbook?

Mertz: Selecting from fewer number of poems made it easier for me to arrange them around given themes. (When I worked with larger selections, I found I was unable to organize the greater number of poems coherently because too much of my work was as yet eclectic and impossible to group.) I also learned lessons after the chapbook's publication - that you're never prepared enough for the PR work that must follow. Writing is only the beginning; marketing and continued networking are additional responsibilities. These inevitably intrude on the writing time. Learning to balance these activities is always a challenge.

Smallwood: When did you begin writing poetry? Was it the first genre you used?

Mertz: I began writing poetry about twelve years ago, though I was then taking a course in writing short stories. A first poem about a snowstorm was accepted by a small digest. The success of it and seeing my name in print got me hooked on poetry, though I hope vanity was not the only motivator at the time. Soon a mystery won second place at the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal. But doing poetry became and remained the dominant genre for me.

My very first serious work, however, was writing nonfiction. After a week-long course at Concordia Publishing House, my writing, and that of my husband, was accepted for publication by CPH. During this shared project, we each wrote on 15 separate themes. I must admit, I enjoyed the subtle competitive element that entered in - I wanted to write as well as my husband.

Smallwood: Why did you choose the particular publisher for your chapbook?

Mertz: When Prolific Press chose my manuscript, I was approaching one of my decade years. Their acceptance came as a nice birthday present. The owner of the press promised a deliberate schedule that he followed throughout, meeting every one of his projected deadlines. Working with Prolific Press for a first volume was a pleasant way to learn the steps needed in matters of cover design, collection of blurbs, and decisions about layout. A former writing school instructor had persistently advised students to self-publish and I had planned to do that. But everything requires time and know-how. Working with Prolific Press was a non-stressful alternative.

Smallwood: What are some magazines/anthologies where your essays, stories, poetry, appear?

Mertz: Going back a few years, I've had work in Arc, Copperfield Review, CutBank, Conium Review, and World Literature Today. More recently I've published a series of reviews at Mom Egg Review, Eclectica, and Dreamers Creative Writing, with poetry at Indiana Voice Journal, The Write Place at the Write Time (recently discontinued), Eclectica, The Ekphrastic Review, and elsewhere. I was pleased to have a poem included in Journal VII, the 2019 anthology issued by the Society of Classical Poets, an online poetry site I regard as one of the finest.

Smallwood: Why is that site of interest to you?

Mertz: The Society of Classical Poets furthers the writing of poetry in classical forms. I regard the preservation of these techniques as important as, for example, the retaining of classical forms in music. One cannot perform an Aaron Copland, for example, before one has studied a Beethoven Sonata or perhaps a Debussy Prelude. I don't mean to preach, but I believe unless we preserve the old forms, we lose a great deal. A number of fine poets today are writing sonnets of equal caliber to Keats or Shakespeare, though written in contemporary language. The Society promotes these modern-day writers. The Society also values the concept of beauty which seems so lacking in much contemporary work I read.

Smallwood: What is the form of "The Mellow Season" included in your chapbook and published by the Society?

Mertz: This poem consists of three quatrains. The lines alternate regularly between 8 and 7 syllables, which is to say it has consistent meter.

Smallwood: Where are your most recent publications?

Mertz: In addition to Toward a Peeping Sunrise, recent reviews appeared in Main Street Rag, Into the Void, and Dreamers Creative Writing. I like the method of publication at Dreamers. First a 300-word review is published in the print edition. This is followed by a 700- to 1000-word review printed online. I like the process of writing on the same material in both the shorter and longer form. The long form first, and then condensed. But sometimes the process is reversed.

Smallwood: What poetry writing challenges have you won?

I was happy to win several poetry challenges issued by the Wilda Morris blogspot. Morris's imaginative orinots differ each month. They taught me new ways of approaching poetry. One could write about colors, or about "memories of my father", or use of numbers in poems - simple approaches, but they always taught me to innovate and also introduced me to classical poets and contemporary poets I hadn't yet known.

Smallwood: What's your association with the Mozart Academy in Salzburg, Austria?

Mertz: My studies at the Academy gave me a year of learning not only in music performance (I'm a professional pianist and organist), but also in European history, the fine arts, and the German language. Seeing major artworks face-to-face in the museums of Paris, Vienna, Florence, and Rome created impressions during my early student days that have remained throughout my life.

Smallwood: You write with ease poems based on a picture. How do you select the pictures and what's the name of this poetry form?

Mertz: In my family, two sisters are visual artists. Not a painter, myself, it became very satisfying to write my own impressions of paintings in poetic form, though initially I knew nothing about ekphrasis, which is an artist's interpretation of another artist's work. During 2019, I suddenly encountered all these wonderful works at The Ekphrastic Review, both the writers' and the painters', and began submitting my own poetry there. Lorette C. Luzajic, owner of the review, makes it all very inviting. She simply requests poems (preferably unrhymed) or nonfiction pieces based on what you see or feel when viewing a work. "Have fun while you write," she says. At her site, you can select a visual of your own choice or respond to one of her bimonthly ekphrastic challenges. These have ranged from works by Rothko to Joan Miro to Franz Kline. I'm musing here, but I suppose one could also write ekphrasis based on aural works, as well, or based on architectural constructions. Camille Paglia, for example, wrote an astonishing ekphrastic essay on the altar and the Pope's Chair at the Vatican. Similarly, passages within a novel I'm reading (Josephine Wilson's Extinctions) are written as ekphrasis on Marcel Breuer's Wassily Chair, photos of which are included in the novel.

Smallwood: In the first poem in Toward a Peeping Sunrise, a chapbook divided into three sections, "Singularity" appears in the title - a word often used in physics. How did you come to select it?

Mertz: I hadn't thought of "singularity" as a physics term. I merely wanted a word to indicate something unique, something happening only once. If I may add something about that poem, "Seeing to the Singularity..." it's almost shocking to me that I should have published a poem of self-affirmation.

Smallwood: Why does that surprise you?

Mertz: In my old Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing, there was always the underlying tenet, spoken or unspoken, that one should avoid bragging in all its forms. This comes from the religious restrictions I experienced at the time.

Smallwood: What are some of the topics you cover in your essays?

Mertz: I like to offer tips I think might be of use to beginning writers. I've written about how to establish good relations with editors of literary journals, the importance of MOOC learning, meeting writing deadlines, how a bird can teach you about persistence, about the selection of nominees for the Pushcart and other prizes, etc. But writing reviews is an entirely different matter.

Smallwood: Please explain MOOC learning:

Mertz: Many MOOCs are offered online free of charge. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. A participant simply logs into the website to sign up. Through interactive participation the writer MOOCs put writers in contact with numerous other writers across the globe.

Smallwood: Please tell us what you mean about a bird's persistence:

Mertz: I wrote an essay that drew the parallel between the patience required of the writer and the persistence of the robin, sitting on the nest until her fledglings are hatched. The writer must use the same persistence as the bird, remaining at the desk until the work is completed. The bird sits long hours, she doesn't run off for a "snack" until the male robin appears to take her place on the nest. Our writing requires similar care and devotion.

Smallwood: What appeals to you about writing reviews?

Mertz: Each volume taken up is like receiving an entire new personality into my life. I've reviewed collections by Mary Jo Bang, Layli LongSoldier, Judith Swann, and Dovali Islam, for example. Each artist has her unique view, style, and content. It's like entering a new country, each time. I don't critique until I feel I've become thoroughly immersed in the given work, and personality, to the extent possible. Reading contemporary artists is what makes this business of writing such an adventure.

Smallwood: You look squarely at time and the importance of memories in free verse and formal. Your poem "Waking" is in a form reminiscent of Emily Dickinson. The poem looks at space, time, and "tiny tufts of pure thought." Who are your favorite poets?

Mertz: Dickinson is certainly a favorite. But there are so many. Among the classics, Keats in particular. Then Whitman and Frost. Of late, Stafford, W.S. Merwin and Bishop. I've loved Wallace Stevens who always gets at things "not quite sayable," to quote Carol Frost. And then contemporaries such as Gluck, Harjo, and so many others.

Smallwood: What are you reading now?

Mertz: My latest are Joan Gelfand's You Can Be a Winning Writer (I hope its wonderful title rubs off on me!) and Clive James's Poetry Notebook in which he offered reflections on the intensity of language.

Smallwood: Are you working on another chapbook or poetry collection?

Mertz: It's my intention. As I write more, it's fun to consider how certain themes might combine into a cohesive whole. April Ossmann, author of Event Boundaries, a poetry collection, offers strategies in the ordering of poems in a collection. These useful tips appeared in The Practicing Poet, Diane Lockward, Editor.

Smallwood: Do you have social media, links, readers may learn more about you?

Mertz: Readers can view my writer profile at Poets & Writers. My website, as yet under construction, is

Editor's Note: Carol Smallwood, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, and interviewer; her last collection is Chronicles in Passing.

Carol Smallwood

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Cherished Pulse: Unconventional Love Poetry (Celebration Series of Poetry Chapbooks)
Magdalena Ball and Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Independently Published
9781449546052, $5.95, paperback, 42 pages
B004HB1W9Q, $2.99, Kindle

The Celebration Series of Poetry Chapbooks covers many aspects of life, seasons, and holidays. Cherished Pulse is appropriate for loved ones. It is small enough to fit inside a greeting card envelope or could be used instead of a card for a memorable gift.

Magdalena Ball's poems focus on nature and deep feelings at the same time. "Ocean," "Great Sky," "Aurora," and the rest speak beautifully of deep love, longing, and intimate relationships.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson's portion of the book includes poems such as "A Woman's Heart," and "Watching My Daughter Say Goodbye to a Fleeting Love" speak of life and how perspective changes through the years regarding love.

The poems are profound and moving. The book is definitely a read and read again. I wish I was able to write a review that measured up to their high standards and talents!

The Good Audit: And Other Oxymorons
C.P. Aiden
Independently Published
9781798896655, $9.49, paperback, 261 pages, $17.99, Audio Book
B07PJSWLBQ, $2.99, Kindle

Hilarious! I was laughing out loud as I read. In this book, no one has a name. People are referred to by job titles such as Finance Manager, Staff 1, Backup Staff, Intern, CFO, Partner, and so on. Although generic, each of the people behind the titles have different personalities such as you find in a corporation. As you would expect, Intern and Staff 1 are the most excited to be working and make positive comments, while those of higher rank do not have to ingratiate themselves to others to the same degree and speak more frankly.

The corporations also have no names other than Widget or Gadget maker.

The book starts when Widget Maker Company is being audited. Of course, the audit team is seated as far away as possible from the firm's finance team. In the basement with no ventilation and little comfortable seating as the auditors slave away working ridiculously long hours. Very comical situations arise from the conditions in the basement, so soon, the audit team is moved upstairs but still nowhere near the finance department.

The author is an accountant, and everything in the book rings true. It is like being able to read a Dilbert cartoon. We hear the spoken conversation of the workers but are also privy to the snide pinging comments of others nearby. Including the text messages was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the author. An actual audit from start to finish is conducted in this unique and amusing story format.

Adoption Matters: Orphan Train to Modern Day Nonfiction Short Stories of Adoption & Foster Care
Dianne L. Rowe
Privately Published
9780578615240, $10.00, paperback, 208 pages
B0847J48XX, $4.99, Kindle

From start to finish, this book is full of honest, down to earth, and candid stories of adoption. The first story by Dianne L. Rowe is about her mother who was adopted from the orphan train and although experienced a difficult time, persevered and ended up happily married. Although her life was never easy, she was a role model for her children.

Rowe also writes an article providing background for the orphan trains which ran in America from 1854 through 1929. 1929 was the onset of the Great Depression, but it was actually the settlement of the west that caused a decline in the demand for adoption.

Rowe herself was an adoptive mother, and also shares that story in the book, also.

The project took two years to complete. Rowe suggested the idea to her writing group which had several other adoptive parents. It was well-received and thus began the journey of collecting stories.

Stories about relatives finding each other after fifty years, becoming a parent after fostering a child, a story about adopting a child while in military service in Germany, South-Korean adoptions to the USA, local adoptions in Minnesota, and a story about one person learning later in childhood she was not the oldest child in the family are all included.

Alex Asks Grandpa About the Olden Days: A 1940s Story
Gary L. Wilhelm
Wise Owl Factory
9781729375280, $12.00 paperback, 67 pages
B07ZZK89V1, $4.99, Kindle

Alex Asks Grandpa About the Olden Days: A 1940's Story shows a younger child asking about the olden days (before he was born). Life was different decades ago with party-line phones, radios but no television or videos, hearing chicks in the post office each spring, a blacksmith who would help fix kids' bikes, and seeing threshing machines at harvest time. Even though grandpa lived in a small town in South Dakota, there were differences between city and country life. City Grandma read library books aloud, while country grandma canned food. Grandpa's mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse. His father's construction company dug roads and church basements, often for free. Grandpa and Alex have a good talk about the olden days in this multi-genre nonfiction and fiction book.

Flash Fiction for Animal Lovers (Flash Fiction Anthologies Book 7)
Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen and Alyssa Devine
Privately Published
9781724203250 $7.99 paperback, 178 Pages
B07FSL925V, free, Kindle

Seventh in a flash fiction series by Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen (and Alyssa Devine) Flash Fiction for Animal Lovers is a book devoted to animal lovers. Not that there aren't animals throughout the series, this book is special and for those who love animals. Beginning with provocative and engaging photos with animals (I wish I could show some here), Cohen weaves an understanding of both people and animals together forming stories that take us by surprise at the endings.

For example, "Exhausted" is the story of a dog who mysteriously arrives at the same time each day, lays down and takes a nap, and leaves an hour later. A note asking what is going on is attached to his collar, asking what is going on. The dog returns with another note that says he lives most of the time with six children and that he is probably trying to rest up. The note asks if the owner could accompany the dog tomorrow.

Always a surprise ending, and many stories are based on actual historical or current events. The endnotes and footnotes are as entertaining as the 73 stories.

Carolyn Wilhelm

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles
Natalya Watson
Kyle Books
c/o Octopus Publishing
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9780857837219, $19.99, HC, 160pp,

Synopsis: Now beer enthusiasts can metaphorically taste the history of beer with Natalya Watson's "Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles" which deftly presents a unique, historical approach that shows her readers which beer styles emerged when and how the different styles have influenced each other over the years.

Starting in the UK during the 1600s, "Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles" moves across time and travels the world to tell the stories behind some of today's best-known beer styles ranging from German lagers, to stouts and porters, to double IPAs, to sour beers -- all while recommending modern day brews that will give a taste of history!

Critique: Nicely illustrated, "Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles" is a fun and informative historical survey of one of the world's oldest and most popular beverages with roots back to the very beginnings of human civilization. While certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all beer connoisseurs that "Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin
Jerome Charyn
Bellevue Literary Press
c/o NYU School of Medicine
550 First Ave., OBV A612, New York, NY 10016
9781942658504, $26.99, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: On a windy night in 1937, a seventeen-year-old German naval sub-cadet is wandering along the seawall when he stumbles upon a gang of ruffians beating up a tramp, whose life he saves. The man is none other than spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Canaris adopts the young man and dubs him "Cesare" after the character in the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for his ability to break through any barrier as he eliminates the Abwehr's enemies.

Canaris is a man of contradictions who, while serving the regime, seeks to undermine the Nazis and helps Cesare hide Berlin's Jews from the Gestapo. But the Nazis will lure many to Theresienstadt, a phony paradise in Czechoslovakia with sham restaurants, novelty shops, and bakeries, a cruel ghetto and way station to Auschwitz. When the woman Cesare loves, a member of the Jewish underground, is captured and sent there, Cesare must find a way to rescue her.

Critique: A deftly written and original novel presented with an impressively reader engaging narrative storytelling style from beginning to end, "Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin" by Jerome Charyn is an extraordinary combination of suspense thriller and a love story born out of the World War II era horrors of a country whose culture has died, whose history has been warped, and whose soul disappeared with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Cesare" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.49).

St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking
Dana Haynes
Blackstone Publishing
31 Mistletoe Road, Ashland, OR 97520
9781538507698, $26.99, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: Michael Patrick Finnigan was a New York cop and a US Marshal who figured out that following the rules doesn't always get the job done. Katalin Fiero Dahar was a soldier, spy, and assassin for Spain, who figured out that breaking the rules doesn't always get the job done.

Together, they created St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking, a largely illegal bounty hunting operation based in Cyprus and working throughout Europe. Operating under the radar for the presiding judge of the International Criminal Court, they track down the worst of the world's worst.

Someone is kidnaping Middle Eastern refugee children as they flee war-torn countries and selling them into prostitution around the world. Finnigan and Fiero get the assignment to track them down and save the refugees. But when they discover that the perpetrators are a Serbian mobster (with patronage at the highest levels of the United Nations) and a battalion of the Kosovo military, the partners reach out to their ''friends'' to find justice, including a corrupt banker, a cadre of mercenaries, and a crew of professional thieves.

The battle to stop the mass kidnappings ranges from Belgrade and Zagreb, to the Loire Valley and Milan, and to the plains of Kosovo. As Finnigan and Fiero close in, the conspirators realize that the judge of the ICC is the real threat and plan an assassination. Now the partners have to save their patron and the kidnapped refugees from a rogue military force with nothing left to lose.

Critique: A simply riveting and compulsive page-turner of novel from cover to cover, "St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking" is the stuff from which blockbuster movies are made. While unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated action/adventure fans that "St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking" is also available in a paperback edition (9781094091068, $16.99), in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69), and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781538494837, $29.95, MP3 CD).

Clint Travis

Dale Neal's Bookshelf

On Serious Earth: Poetry and Transcendence
Daniel Tobin
Orison Books
PO Box 8385, Asheville, NC 28814
9781949039030, $18.00, PB, 152 pp.,

Who knew Gertrude Stein is to blame?

Stein, the grande dame of modernist prose such as Tender Buttons and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, exemplifies the avant-garde quest that severed words from the real world and from the obligation to mean anything beyond the music on the page, argues poet Daniel Tobin in his engaging new study, On Serious Earth: Poetry and Transcendence.

Too many poets have taken Stein's dubious path, but turning your back on the world is not just an aesthetic choice. Tobin points to the problematic peace Stein made with the Nazis and their evil, even promoting Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps as a joke, but certainly a tasteless joke. Her unabashed support for the Vichy regime allowed her to remain a Jewish celebrity living comfortably in occupied France. Such a stance makes for bad politics and poetics.

Whereas the modernist master T.S. Eliot didn't necessarily follow down Stein's dead-end, he could be said to have retreated into a conservative Anglicanism of white guy privilege.

Post-modernism might be said to have thrown out the possibility of any meaning along with the tired traditional forms. Taking dead aim at the lowered ambitions in too much of post-modern poetry, Tobin argues for the necessity of transcendence, that poetry should and can be more than a self-referential word puzzle that turns off so many readers. Without a larger meaning, too many contemporary poems read like a neurotic nattering, a self-absorbed shell game, an echo of social media selfies.

Upfront, Tobin stakes his preference for a "poetry that bridges the nexus where the profane and sacred cross, poetry that continues to celebrate 'the impulse toward transcendence' in a seemingly unredeemed world." But Tobin is a man of his times, not trying to scramble back to a belief system more suitable to Milton or Donne.

Tobin finds some clues to our current crisis in the thought of the 20th-century philosopher Simone Weil, who sees the world as both barrier and bridge in the quest for a higher meaning. Weil herself took up her heterodox Christianity after being bowled over while reading George Herbert's poem "Love": "Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back.... "

Poetry still matters in terms of the spirit, even in a materialistic and skeptical age where the enchantments and consolations of religion have largely fallen away, but the longing for transcendence remains. On Serious Earth draws its title from Philip Larkin's "Church Going," a study of a wrecked sanctuary that even for an unbeliever retains some power, a point of departure.

It is fitting that Tobin's book found a good home with the Asheville, NC publisher Orison Books, which promotes poets and fiction writers unafraid to explore spiritual concerns in a materialistic age of disbelief.

More than churning out another craft book, Tobin plumbs the cultural and aesthetic assumptions that underlie the practice of contemporary poetry. Tobin brings in metaphysics, theology, philosophy - those larger concerns that are too often lost when poets only focus on the fragmentary and self-referential sides of pop culture.

Being intellectually honest, Tobin raises more challenging questions than offering polemic answers. He ends not with Larkin or Eliot, but with the more irascible Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, who still honored the wrestling with a divine absence to fuel his poignant poetry.
Just as Stein snarkily quipped of her hometown of Oakland, California, that "there is no there there," Tobin turns the tables on much of what passes for our contemporary letters. What's the point of poetry without a there there?

Dale Neal, Reviewer
Author of Appalachian Book of the Dead

Erica Watkins' Bookshelf

Trouble is What I Do (Leonid McGill Book 6)
Walter Mosley
Mulholland Books
9780316491136, $24.00

Writing as smooth as the 147-year old corn liquor Leonid savored, Trouble is What I Do met me with lyrical, witty prose. Pour yourself a couple fingers of your favorite cognac and follow Leonid on his latest caper.

This is a racially-charged and politically gripping noir detective tale, where a 21st century real-world problem fuels the storyline and enhances the clever tale of P.I. Leonid McGill.

Having been five years since the last Leonid McGill story, Mosley fans will welcome McGill back with open arms as he works on a time-sensitive case for Philip "Catfish" Worry, all while facing his own demons.

I was pulled into McGill's life and began to understand who he was thanks to the parallel narratives - relationships with his father, his son, his wife, and his past.

This book has changed the way I view crime fiction and has set a new bar upon which I will evaluate other books in this genre.

While this is detective fiction at its best, it sends a message that many refuse to hear, or are too deeply rooted in their own antipathies to even see there is a problem. This problem - underlying racial hierarchy and ethnic purity - was elegantly portrayed.

Highly recommended to fans of Mosley and those seeking realistic detective fiction.

The Blue Cloak (True Colors Series)
Shannon McNear
Barbour Books
9781643523149, $12.99

The Blue Cloak was a strong and interesting read. Well-written and engaging, the story evoked emotion teetering on shock and astonishment. The story was beautifully written, with a consistent style and tone, efficiency of description, and complete with authentic dialogue, yielding an even pace. As with all the books in this unique series, The Blue Cloak is original and serves as an excellent addition to the historical fiction genre.

Erica Watkins, Reviewer

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Maimonides' Hidden Torah Commentary Exodus 1-20
Michael Leo Samuel
First Edition Design Publishing
9781506908830, $24.95

An Excellent Study of Maimonides

The Spaniard Maimonides (1138-1204) is generally considered the greatest Jewish philosopher. He sours so high above other people that he is called "The Great Eagle." The popular saying about him is "From Moses to Moses, there were none like Moses." The first Moses is the biblical law giver. The second refers to Maimonides whose first name was Moses. The saying is stating the Maimonides surpassed in wisdom all of the prophets and all of the ancient sages.

He was not only a philosopher but also a doctor. Beside his writings on philosophy, he wrote about a dozen books on medicine, an extensive commentary on the Talmud, and a fourteen-volume series on Jewish Law.

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel's books on Maimonides' interpretations of the biblical book Exodus, "Maimonides Hidden Torah Commentary: Exodus 1-20," reveals much that many people do not know and does so in a clear easy to read fashion. While 448 pages long, and filled with information, it is only the first of his two books on Exodus. It is superb. His two books on Genesis have already been published.

He includes insights that Maimonides had about the Exodus from Egypt and many concepts implicit in the biblical book but not stated explicitly. He tells readers the views and teachings of many other scholars, Jewish and non-Jewish. After reading his book, readers will learn much about religion in general, Judaism in particular, philosophy, mysticism, what is important in life, proper behavior, and will be prompted to think and understand new ideas, as well as develop fresh innovative sensible new views on ideas they held dear in the past.

He discusses how the Israelites changed in Egypt, that the idea of God remembering and hearing are metaphors, a close analysis of Moses' first experience with God, what really are miracles, Maimonides thoughts on subjects such as divine tribulations, what is "sin," the biblical use of anthropomorphisms such as "the hand of God," for Jews do not believe that God has a physical body, and even subjects such as the origin of the practice to eat three meals on the Sabbath, a brief history of the ancient Jewish calendar, and Maimonides' letter to a monk who converted to Judaism.

But this is not all. Among a wealth of other topics, Rabbi Samuel discusses: Should one lie to save lives, what inspired Moses who was raised in the Egyptian palace in luxury to help the oppressed Israelites? Are God's names what people should call God, or do they indicate how God acts? Does the Tetragrammaton, y-h-v-h, indicate that God exists forever? What is the meaning of the divine name El Shaddai? Why was Moses reluctant to be a prophet? Where there other prophets who were also reluctant to do God's will? How did Moses' prophetic ability differ from that of other prophets? Why didn't Maimonides include the belief in miracles in his list of thirteen principles of Judaism? How could Moses leave his father-in-law Jethro to return to Egypt to save the Israelites when he had sworn to Jethro that he would never leave him? What is the meaning of the biblical description that God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Did God cause Pharaoh to "sin"?

He also compares Maimonides to the other rational thinkers Ibn Ezra and Spinoza as well as the mystic Ramban and contrasts them with ancient views. He speaks about classical and modern opinions on the origins of religion, was monotheism the original religion as the Bible seems to say, what are the views of anthropologists, the strange practice of praying to parents and angels, the history of anthropomorphism, he compares Maimonides and Islamic theology, and discusses Maimonides and religious naturalism.

These items are just some of what Rabbi Samuel includes in his treasure trove of thought-provoking, eye opening, and valuable discussions.

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus
Jonathan Sacks
Koren Publishers
9789657760338, $49.95

The best Bible commentary in English

"The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel" is without doubt the best Bible commentary in English. I say this after using over a hundred such books while writing my own books on the Bible, such as my many volumes on the differences between the Hebrew Bible and its Aramaic translation called Onkelos. I feel so strongly about this conclusion that although I had heart surgery with five by-passes three weeks ago, on December 16, because my arteries were eighty percent closed and I am now in the recovery stage, I feel that I should share these thoughts so that people can learn much in a pleasant manner from this new translation and commentary, with a wealth of related information and illustrations.

This volume focuses on the second book of the Five Books of Moses, Exodus. The translation follows the suggestion of Maimonides to his own translator who translated his Arabic "Guide of the Perplexed" to Hebrew: Do not translate literally, word for word, because what makes sense in one language often does not make sense when copied literally in another language. So find the intent in the original and make the translation clear by inserting the intent, such as rendering vayehi vayamim harabim, which literally means "And it was many days," is rendered "Years passed."

The extensive commentary is by highly respected Modern Orthodox rabbis and is very rational. The many comments and essays on ancient Egypt and other Near Eastern countries are by scholars who are expert in the ancient Near East.

Among much else, the volume explains such things as why the numbers used in Scripture must be understood metaphorically, such as the number 70 descendants of Jacob coming to Egypt - for the number of males was less than 70, and when wives are included, the number is much higher. When the Bible states in the Ten Commandments that God rewards those who act properly for a thousand, it does not mean a thousand generations, but a thousand people often benefit from the good deeds of others. It also tells us why many Orthodox Jews do not accept the dating of the Exodus from Egypt asserted by scholars, and much more.

A history of surrounding nation and their customs is included. There are many maps, charts, timelines, dates, articles on language, Egyptology, the plagues, the Ten Commandments, what is the Masoretic Text, comparing the Torah to ancient Near East law collections, geography, biblical botany, pictures of the Tabernacle and items used during its service, and detailed discussions on subjects such as an introduction to the book of Exodus, archaeology items found in and near Israel such as the Mesha Stone, the story of the Golden Calf, the power of ancient covenants, the idea of a seven-day week with a day of rest being introduced by the Bible, and the purpose of the tabernacle with detailed pictures,

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

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Autonomous Revolution
William H. Davidow & Michael S. Malone
Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
1333 Broadway, Suite 1000, Oakland CA, 94612
9781523087617, $26.95, HC, 264pp,

Synopsis: We are at the dawn of the Autonomous Revolution, a turning point in human history as decisive as the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. More and more, AI-based machines are replacing human beings, and online environments are gathering our data and using it to manipulate us. This loss of human autonomy amounts to nothing less than a societal phase change, a fundamental paradigm shift. The same institutions will remain (schools, banks, churches, and corporations) but they will radically change form, obey new rules, and use new tools.

In "The Autonomous Revolution: Reclaiming the Future We've Sold to Machines" William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone go deeply into the enormous implications of these developments. They show why increases in productivity no longer translate into increases in the GDP and how zero cost, one-to-many communications have been turned into tools for cybercrime and propaganda.

Many of the book's recommendations (such as using taxes to control irresponsible internet behavior and enabling people to put their data into what are essentially virtual personal information "safety deposit boxes") are bold and visionary, but we must figure out how we will deal with these emerging challenges now, before the Autonomous Revolution overcomes us.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of thirty pages of Notes and a fourteen page Index, "The Autonomous Revolution: Reclaiming the Future We've Sold to Machines" is a groundbreaking work that is unreservedly recommended for community, corporate, governmental, college and university library computer and technology collections in general, and human/computer interaction supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, faculty, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Autonomous Revolution" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.55) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781690566687, $19.99, CD).

Editorial Note: William Davidow was Intel's senior vice president of marketing and sales, where he is credited with inventing modern high-tech marketing. He cofounded the venture capital firm Mohr Davidow in 1985. He is the author of three books and the coauthor of two, including The Virtual Corporation.

Michael S. Malone covered the technology beat for the San Jose Mercury News in the 1980s and remains one of world's best-known technology-business journalists. He is the author or coauthor of nearly thirty books, including The Virtual Corporation with William Davidow. He is currently the Dean's Executive Professor at Santa Clara University.

American Intelligence
Ben P. Lafferty
University of Massachusetts Press
PO Box 429, Amherst, MA 01004
9781625344601, $90.00, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: The rapid expansion of the newspaper business in the first decade of the American republic had crucial consequences for cultural, commercial, and political life in the early United States, as the nation went from having dozens of weekly newspapers to hundreds. Before organized newsrooms and bureaus came on the scene, these fledgling publications were filled with content copied from other newspapers as well as letters, poems, religious tracts, and ribald anecdotes submitted by readers.

Taking up the New Hampshire newspaper industry as its case study, "American Intelligence: Small-Town News and Political Culture in Federalist New Hampshire" unpacks the ways in which an unprecedented quantity of printed material was gathered, distributed, marketed, and consumed, as well as the strong influence that it had on the shaping of the American political imagination. Academician and historian Ben P. Lafferty also considers the lives of the printers themselves and asks why so many men chose to pursue such a fraught and turbulent profession.

This snapshot resonates with the contemporary media-saturated and politically chaotic age.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of twenty-six pages of Notes and a two page Index, "American Intelligence: Small-Town News and Political Culture in Federalist New Hampshire" is an impressively informative, exceptionally well written, deftly organized and exceptionally well presented history that will prove to be a unique and enduringly appreciated addition to community, college, and university library American Journalism & Publishing History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "American Intelligence" is also available in a paperback edition (9781625344618, $28.95).

Editorial Note: An independent scholar based in Washington, DC., Ben P. Lafferty holds a PhD from the University of London's Institute for the Study of the Americas.

Jack Mason

Jen Lis' Bookshelf

Armadillo Rodeo
Jan Brett
Puffin Books
9780142401255, $6.99,, 1995

Bo the armadillo has a tendency to wander off, which is exactly what he does despite his mom telling him to stay close. When he spots a bright red armadillo he thinks is a new friend, it's too much temptation. Bo takes off after the new friend ...which turns out to be Harmony Jean's new cowboy boots! Luckily, Bo's mom has doggedly pursued Bo all day long and finds him in time to bring him home safely.

This book is not new, but it was quick to become a favorite at our house. And despite it being by a very popular picture book author and illustrator, I have found that not as many people have heard of it as I would expect. My kids love the western theme and illustrations. It also has the bonus of highlighting an animal not frequently found in other books (with some fun facts about armadillos, too!). As with other Jan Brett books, the panel illustrations add even more to the story and are worth a pause to point out and discuss with lap readers. Though it seems that Bo doesn't get in nearly enough trouble for wandering off (kind of like Curious George seems to get off easy most of the time), I love that the mom armadillo patiently looks for him all day.

The Unhoneymooners
Christina Lauren
Gallery Books
9781501128035, $9.99

Olive is a careful pessimist who fiercely loves her family, especially her twin sister Ami. Ethan is her nemesis, and also happens to be her soon-to-be brother-in-law. After an awkward moment in their first meeting, Olive has Ethan pegged as a class A jerk. But when everyone else at the wedding between their siblings gets fast and violent food poisoning, Olive and Ethan end up sharing Ami and Dane's dream honeymoon. They should be able to put up with, or at least each other, or at least stay out of each other's way, for ten days in paradise. Or can they?

This is every bit the romantic comedy I was hoping for when I picked it up. The authors' sense of humor was spot on for me, and on several occasions I was caught giggling out loud. Reading this book in the winter in the Midwest was perfect timing as well; if only I could have done my reading in Hawaii.

As for the characters, I found them delightful and loveable. That is especially true for Olive and Ethan, but also Ami and the supporting characters as well (though one of them can certainly take a hike). Though I don't really think this was a true "hate to love" story, that didn't bother me at all. In fact, I appreciate that it was a little nuanced in that respect. I did feel it could have been longer and gone deeper into some story lines, but the main characters were generally well developed and interesting. I particularly liked that Olive was honest with herself and was able to do some genuine, non-indulgent self-reflection.

The part of the story that takes place in Maui feels very different from the part that takes place in Minnesota. It seemed the whole mood changes as drastically as the weather. In some ways, it felt a little disconnected. However, as I said, it added a dimension that drew me right into the story during February in the Midwest.

Though definitely a light hearted read ("brain candy" as my dad would say), The Unhoneymooners has important themes. Among these are forgiveness, how a single offense should or should not set the lens through which a person is viewed, and family.

Jen E. Lis, Reviewer

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

How the World Works
Paul Cockshott
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583677780, $89.00, HC, 440pp,

Synopsis: In "How the World Works: The Story of Human Labor from Prehistory to the Modern Day", author Paul Cockshott, using the dual lenses of Marxist economics and technological advance, has managed to pull off a stunningly acute critical perspective of human history, from pre-agricultural societies to the present. In this ground-breaking study, Cockshott deftly connects scientific, economic, and societal strands to produce a sweeping and detailed work of historical analysis.

Critique: An impressively erudite, exceptionally informative, and expertly presented study, "How the World Works will be of especially interest for dedicated scholars of history, science, and economics for years to come, as well as non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Labor History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "How the World Works" is also available in a paperback edition (9781583677773, $32.00).

Editorial Note: Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer, working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on fifty-two patents, his research covers robotics, computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His previous books include Towards A New Socialism, Classical Econophysics and Computation and Its Limits.

Cyberwarfare: An Introduction to Information-age Conflict
Isaac R. Porche III
Artech House
685 Canton Street, Norwood, MA 02062
9781630815769, $159.00, HC, 500pp,

Synopsis: Conflict in cyberspace and database security breaches are becoming a daily occurrence in all public and private sectors and is of growing concern on many levels -- including national security and infrastructure vulnerability. As a result, knowledge of the topic is becoming essential across most disciplines. In "Cyberwarfare: An Introduction to Information-age Conflict", Professor Isaac Porche reviews and explains the technologies that underlie offensive and defensive cyber operations, which are practiced by a range of cyber actors including state actors, criminal enterprises, activists, and individuals.

"Cyberwarfare: An Introduction to Information-age Conflict" fully explains the processes and technologies that enable the full spectrum of cyber operations. Interested readers will learn how to use basic tools for cyber security and pen-testing, and also be able to quantitatively assess cyber risk to systems and environments and discern and categorize malicious activity.

Critique: Impressively comprehensive, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Cyberwarfare: An Introduction to Information-age Conflict" is an ideal curriculum textbook and unreservedly recommended for corporate, governmental, college and university library Intelligence and Operations collections in general, and computer digital database security supplemental studies reading lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Isaac R. Porche III is a chief engineer at a large defense contractor. He was formerly a senior engineer at the RAND Corporation, where he served as the Director of the Acquisition and Development Program in the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center. He is a former member of the U.S. Army Science Board and is currently an adjunct instructor for Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Politics and Strategy.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Mindful Loving
Kathleen Todd, MSW
Diana Baysinger, MC
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982226534, $30.95, HC, 176pp,

Synopsis: We all have a desire for connection, acceptance, and love. Mindful loving is a choice that partners make to help fulfill this desire. It takes a daily commitment to practice living and loving more fully, but when we do so, we can find greater passion and purpose in our lives.

"Mindful Loving: A Guide to Loving with Passion and Purpose" is a collaborative project by Kathleen Todd and Diana Baysinger for the purpose of empowering couples to sustain connection with each other.

"Mindful Loving" offers information and insights about a variety of topics including: The basics of mindful loving-ensuring loving communication and understanding and respecting differences; The natural cycles of mindful loving; Practical tools that can help you build, remodel, and strengthen relationships.

Whether you are trying to change relationship patterns in your life or you and your partner are both committed to enriching your bond, the advice and commentary provided in "Mindful Loving" based comprising can aid you on your journey. More than just a concept, mindful loving is a practice that transforms love into one of life's greatest sources of joy and fulfillment.

Intended for both couples and individuals, this guide seeks to teach you how to create greater passion and purpose in your loving relationship.

Critique: Holding a master's degree in social work (MSW), Kathleen Todd draws upon her more than thirty years as a counselor and relationship expert in co-authoring "Mindful Loving: A Guide to Loving With Passion and Purpose". Diana Baysinger (MC) brings to "Mindful Loving" her years of experience and expertise as an international coach/consultant, as well as a contributor to both academic and business online newsletters. The result is an exceptionally well written and thoroughly 'user friendly' instructional guide and manual that will be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal and community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of individuals and dedicated couples that "Mindful Loving" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781982226510, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.39).

And Then There Was Light: My Journey through Mental Illness
Christine Taylor
LifeRich Publishing
9781489710697, $33.95, HC, 220pp,

Synopsis: Christine Taylor was a young girl who grew up in what she initially thought was an ideal family in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Upon relocating to the city, her idealistic world began to crumble with the development of, and the need for, special reading classes. She overcame that disability only to emerge from a dysfunctional family.

Life got more traumatic after being physically abused by her father and emotionally and mentally mistreated by her "loving family". Added to the mix was the sexual abuse she endured and the need to be a perfectionist. As life unraveled, Taylor developed unrelenting mental illness. Although she received many psychoactive medications, ECT treatments, and years of counseling, God blessed her with a spiritual healing at the age of sixty-three. Since then, she has been in the light and is now working on her master's degree in counseling and therapy to give back to those who are dealing with mental illness.

In "And Then There Was Light: My Journey through Mental Illness", Taylor candidly shares her lifelong journey through mental illness, beginning with a happy childhood that grew dark. She ably narrates how she found healing through unconventional methods.

Critique: An especially recommended memoir for anyone who have themselves suffered from an abusive family situation and/or our having to deal with their own emotional problems and issues, "And Then There Was Light: My Journey through Mental Illness" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to their personal reading lists. Certain to be an appreciated and valued addition to both community and academic library collections, it should be noted that "And Then There Was Light: My Journey through Mental Illness" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781489710680, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99).

More Than Words
Hannah Dunnett
Monarch Books
c/o Lion Hudson
9780857217936, $19.99, HC, 76pp,

In the pages of "More Than Words", Hannah Dunnett's beautiful artwork that interweaves Bible verses and images is truly inspiring. From sailing boats bobbing on the river and lighthouses standing tall, to majestic trees and soaring mountains, to welcoming cottages and cosy kitchens, Hannah paints pictures that help us understand scripture and reflect on God's word in a fresh way. In "More Than Words", Hannah has chosen twenty-four of her favorite pictures and tells the story behind each one. As she draws out key verses and their meaning and offers questions to reflect on, readers will gain new insight and understanding. This collection of beloved artwork is divided into four sections: The Wondrous Cross, Father God, Teach me Your Ways, and Let Your Light Shine, and will take individual readers, or small groups, on a journey further towards the heart of God.

Critique: "More Than Words" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, church, seminary, and academic library Christian Living collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Editorial Note: Hannah originally studied medicine and worked as a family doctor before becoming a full-time artist in 2011. Her popular paintings are inspired by scripture and sell as poster prints and greetings cards. Residing in Cornwall, England, with her family, she maintains a website at:

Me, My Selfie & Eye
Janna Lopez
Book Baby Publishers
9781732753808, $16.99, PB, 330pp,

Synopsis: We've all heard of the midlife crisis, and it tends to evoke particular images -- such as men buying sports cars, or for women, it's steamy affairs with younger men. But there's more to midlife than crisis or indiscretion.

In "Me, My Selfie & Eye: A Midlife Conversation About Lost Identity, Grief, & Seeing Who You Are", Janna Lopez explores midlife identity loss and the subsequent grief that accompanies it. She examines emotional, mental, and spiritual complications with honesty, humor, questions, insights, and reflections about how to navigate this very specific transition and come out whole on the other side.

"Me, My Selfie & Eye" is a timely book that was written to connect, console and encourage anyone in the throes of midlife identity crash. It's a practical, modern conversation about the process of midlife upheaval and pinpoints grief as the main culprit, especially when everything we believed as true about ourselves becomes uncertain. It aims to help reconstruct a lost midlife identity, and guide the reader through the untidy process of flying through until they can see their true self again.

Critique: Expertly and effectively written, organized and presented, "Me, My Selfie & Eye: A Midlife Conversation About Lost Identity, Grief, & Seeing Who You Are" is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is 'real world practical' and ultimately inspiring. A life-enhancing, life-changing read from cover to cover, "Me, My Selfie & Eye" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Me, My Selfie & Eye" is also readily available in an inexpensive digital book format (Kindle, $1.99).

Editorial Note: The life work of Janna Lopez has consistently revolved around expression through words and images in the form of poems, short stories, and essays. She was a successful magazine publisher for nearly a decade, and a communications consultant for over 25 years, serving small businesses, non-profits, and multi-million dollar companies by designing creative marketing strategies.

Me Dying Trial
Patricia Powell
Beacon Press
24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210
9780807083659, $18.00, PB, 208pp,

Synopsis: Gwennie Augusta Glaspole is a schoolteacher who is trapped in an unhappy marriage and quickly saddled with six children. Gwennie resists Jamaican cultural expectations of playing dutiful wife and mother, struggling in a loveless, often abusive relationship, she eventually relocates to Connecticut.

Critique: Deftly dealing with issues of religion, sexuality, immigration, domestic violence, and gender inequality, "Me Dying Trial" is author Patricia Powell's masterful debut as a novelist and establishes her as a major voice in Caribbean literature. This is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Me Dying Trial" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781974991426, $24.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Patricia Powell is the author of A Small Gathering of Bones, The Pagoda and a forthcoming novel, The Good Life. Her awards include the Bruce Rossley Literary Award, the Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Powell has taught creative writing at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Currently she is Martin Luther King Visiting Professor at MIT. Powell lives in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest
Sharon Wood
Mountaineers Books
1001 SW Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134-1161
9781680512625, $24.95, HC, 272pp,

Synopsis: On May 20, 1986, high on Mount Everest, Sharon Wood was ready to give up. Snow plumes swirled off the summit ridge and spilled down the North Face, engulfing her. A four-hundred-foot high rock wall, the crux of the Hornbein Couloir, loomed above -- an impossible climb! Then Wood's partner, Dwayne Congdon, handed her the end of the rope and said, "your lead". Hours later, at the far too late hour of 9:00 p.m., Wood became the first North American woman to reach the summit, and the first woman in the world to do so via the difficult West Ridge. Their ascent of the West Ridge by a new variation, without Sherpa assistance, is an accomplishment that has never been repeated.

In "Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest", Sharon Wood reflects on the seventy days she spent on the mountain and on the pivotal experiences and influences that brought her to that staggeringly beautiful and austere corner of the world. Beyond the physical hardships, she faced personal challenges as an outlier in the male bastion of Himalayan climbing. These were compounded by the vexing presence of her past mentor and lover with his new girlfriend on the American team climbing on the same side of the mountain. It didn't help that the media pitched the two women as rivals, both vying to become the first North American woman to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world. Wood rose to all these challenges, finding camaraderie and inspiration among her teammates, particularly in the expedition cook, a strong woman whose perspectives were essential to the team's remarkable esprit de corps, as well as with "the other woman," her so-called American rival.

Critique: A simply riveting read that is a 'must' for all dedicated mountain climbing enthusiasts, "Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest" is an extraordinary life story of an extraordinary woman. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Biography and Mountain Climbing collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Rising" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.57).

Rising is both a gripping, adrenalin-filled mountain story and a reflective memoir that reaches beyond the summit to explore a life lived in Everest's long shadow: unexpected acclaim, outrageous expectations, and personal struggles. As Wood tells her story today, her perspective is steeped in six decades of life experience rich with adventure, change, growth, and humility. It is a tale that feels poignantly relevant - a testament to the strength of the human spirit to overcome all obstacles, whether mountain peaks, social expectations, or self-imposed barriers.

Editorial Note: Sharon Wood is an internationally certified alpine guide and was recognized with the "Mountaineer of the Year Award" in 1987 by the American Alpine Club. She is a writer, business owner, and sought-after professional speaker. Her writing has appeared in The Vancouver Magazine and in Everest: The Best Writing and Pictures from Seventy Years of Human Endeavour. Sharon lives in Canmore, Alberta, where she continues to teach and guide in the Canadian Rockies. She maintains a website at

The Practice of Social Work with Older Adults
Mary Kaplan
Health Professions Press
PO Box 10624, Baltimore, MD 21285-0624
9781938870866, $38.99, PB, 224pp,

Synopsis: With the rapid growth of the aging population, the need for geriatric social workers is at an all-time high. This resource for students and practitioners addresses the critical demand head-on by illuminating the many rewards, challenges, and opportunities for social workers to provide counseling, care management, and support to older adults. Written from a practice perspective by Mary Kaplan, a geriatric social worker with a long and varied career in the field, "The Practice of Social Work with Older Adults: Insights and Opportunities for a Growing Profession" illustrates strategies and interventions that move theory into real-world social work settings.

The features of "The Practice of Social Work with Older Adults" include key points for each chapter and more than 20 stories to use for discussion, providing an instructive overview of the profession that covers: A brief history of gerontological social work and its origins; Critical issues and challenges faced by older adults; How social work addresses elder well-being, from mental health and substance abuse to living environments, family dynamics, economic resources, and more; The ethical principles that guide this work; Important aspects of diversity, including ethnicity, economic status, and gender identity.

Critique: Expertly written, organized and presented, "The Practice of Social Work with Older Adults" is an ideal textbook for geriatric social work curriculums and as a career guide for both aspiring and practicing professionals. Providing a comprehensive and descriptive survey of the growing field of geriatric social work, "The Practice of Social Work with Older Adults" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community social services departments, as well as college and university library Social Work collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Practice of Social Work with Older Adults" is also available in a digital book format (eTextbook, $31.99).

Editorial Note: Mary Kaplan, M.S.W., is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in healthcare and geriatrics for over 40 years as a clinician, administrator, educator, and community activist. She is retired from the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies, where she was the Director of the Student Internship Program and taught courses on mental health and aging, geriatric care management, and Alzheimer's disease. She is also the author of five books and has given presentations and conducted workshops throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia.

Julie Summers

Kimberlee Benart's Bookshelf

Little Joe Smileyhead
Lexi Kinney
Bublish, Inc.
9781647040130, $17.99, HC
9781647040116, $12.99, PB
$4.99 Kindle, 36pp, Ages 4-6,

Little Joe Smileyhead is a children's picture book by Lexi Kinney with full-color illustrations by Marinella Aguirre. Little Joe is a happy three-year-old child who rises early in the morning, eager to help his parents with their chores. However, his parents become frustrated as he gets a bucket stuck on his head and is covered in flour from cakemaking, noodles from his lunch, leaves from a leaf pile, and water from a hose. Little Joe doesn't understand why his parents get mad at these things when he only wants to help. At the end of the day, after he's bathed himself and gotten into bed, Mom and Dad kiss their adorable sleepyhead son goodnight and they, too, wonder why they ever got angry.

In Little Joe Smileyhead, Kinney gives children a fun adventure in the virtue of being helpful, and she gives parents a gentle prod about patience. Written in rhyme and beautifully illustrated, the story will have children laughing at what they see ending up on Little Joe's head as he moves from chore to chore and parent to parent in his quest to be helpful. For adults who read this charming story to or with their children, it's a reminder that flour, noodles, leaves, and especially bubbles will all wash away. What's important is to help your children grow both in happiness and helpfulness. Appreciate their desire to help with chores and encourage them to take on tasks with greater independence, even if it means a little more work for you in the end. Another delightful read from this author.

Kimberlee J. Benart, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Kirk Bane's Bookshelf

The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction
Edited by Paul Simpson, Michaela Bushell, and Helen Rodiss
Rough Guides/Haymarket/The Penguin Group
9781843533870, paperback,

Boasting a photograph of Albert Camus on its cover, The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction will interest readers who enjoy unorthodox, cutting-edge literature. In short, this volume "is an eclectic and essential guide to the literary world's greatest cult authors and the facts behind their fiction." Discussing more than 200 writers, from Kobo Abe (sometimes called "the Japanese Kafka") to Richard Zimler (known for such works as The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and Hunting Midnight), it offers succinct, though insightful, examinations of the authors and their publications. Full of captivating facts, The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction also provides an informative section on graphic novelists. Another segment of the book pays tribute to 35 cult characters, "the fictional heroes and heroines who have jumped off the page and into popular culture," including Sally Bowles, Walter Mitty, Holden Caulfield, and Philip Marlowe.

Consider the following passages on three noted cult writers:

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) authored such underground classics as Junky, Naked Lunch, and The Soft Machine. Over time, he "became a cultural and artistic icon" praised by such fans as Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, David Bowie, and Kurt Cobain. Moreover, Burroughs "became an honorary godfather to the New York wave of punk and coined the term heavy metal."

James Ellroy (born in 1948), "the self-proclaimed Mad Dog of American crime fiction," has written such novels as The Black Dahlia and The Cold Six Thousand. "Ellroy brings rare venom to his fiction. At best, he writes slickly-plotted, noirish crime novels that offer the salacious, sensational secrets you would expect from a scandal mag like the one he spoofs in L. A. Confidential, served up with some of the best dialogue this side of a Billy Wilder script, allied to a grim, cynical view of the human race and American society."

Nathanael West (1903-1940), "an apocalyptic dreamer, out of place, out of time," published Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust, "for many the definitive Californian novel, with its depiction of crazed fantasists drawn to the Golden State by their dreams. The freakish characters, comic-surrealism and apocalyptic imagery are remarkable for an American novel written in the 1930s...But by the 1960s West's savage, gloomy humor seemed utterly contemporary."

Impressively researched and crisply written, The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction - which perceptively analyzes the "genre benders, beats, gurus, drunks, junkies, disappearing artists, sinners and surrealists" who populate its pages - will appeal to enthusiasts of the offbeat.

Dr. Kirk Bane

Kirkus Reviews

Why Was She Named Fatimah?
Blessed Names
Nabi Raza Mir Abidi
Kisa Kids Publications
9781683120476, $5.00, HC, 21 pp.,

This third installment of a picture-book series seeks to educate Muslim children about the importance of major figures in their religion - especially the meanings and importance of their names.

This story opens with the birth of Fatimah to Hadhrat Khadija, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Hadhrat Khadija had been ostracized by society for embracing the Muslim faith and marrying a poor man. Instead of the women in the village, Fatimah's birth was attended by four heavenly women sent to her by Allah. Thus, the blessed Fatimah was born, and she was favored by her parents.

After Hadhrat Khadija's death, Fatimah cared for her father and was a good and obedient daughter. She grew up and married Imam Ali, known as the first imam from whom all subsequent ones descend. The couple were very holy, and they had four children who went on to become important religious figures as well.

At the close of the tale, the Prophet Muhammad tells Imam Ali that his daughter's name means "the one who separates," as in the one who will separate the followers of Allah from those facing punishment on the Day of Judgment.

Abidi's (Tales of the Last Messenger, 2019, etc.) engaging and deeply religious tale is accompanied by bright, uncredited digital illustrations. All individuals who are considered holy are depicted with shining lights in front of their faces as indicators of their blessed nature.

Unfortunately, many religious terms are not defined in the text. Still, this instructive book is a superb accompaniment to other teachings about Islam provided by parents or religious leaders.

An appealing and informative Muslim tale.

Kirkus Reviews

Maeve Ballantine's Bookshelf

FOTUS: A Novel
Kevin Kunundrum
Bancroft Press
3209 Bancroft Road, Baltimore, MD 21215
9781610884891, $27.95 HC, $4.99 Kindle, 360pp,

With our current political climate as outrageous as it is, satire and comedy have become more prominent in contemporary entertainment. One such piece of satirical comedy is "FOTUS" written by Kevin Kunundrum, award winning satirical author, and published by Bancroft Press.
The concept of the book alone is quite out there. It centers around Alexander Jackson Rett, an unborn fetus who gains sentience and the ability to speak. In addition to that, he refuses to be born and decides to stay in utero for the rest of his life. If that was not enough of a concept to work with, he also decides to run for President of the United States. The book is framed as a memoir from the point of view of Alex as he recounts his journey through gaining sentience, becoming an overnight internet sensation and his campaign trail. He also describes the people he interacts with on a daily basis, such as his vice president Mavis DaLyte, his personal secretary Gladiola Gaze and the White House intern Brayden Carter, whose life and struggles also take up a decent portion of the book.

It is quite obvious that this fetus president is meant to represent Donald Trump, with his outspoken and brash attitude, callous mocking of other people, and taking a pause about every five paragraphs to send out tweets, usually mocking or calling out his political opponents such as Mallory Blitzen, the book's representation of Hillary Clinton. Despite the amount of satirical potential and great amount of comedy that comes from the character of Alex, there is so much going on that the reader has to keep track of. Not only is the reader focusing on Alex telling his story, but also how Alex handles political criticism, how he deals with his policies and how the public is reacting.

Also there are the life and struggles of Brayden Carter and how he deals with his job, his somewhat racist friend Reggie and his relationship problems with his girlfriend. There is also a secret society of billionaires known as the florists, who are the ones who pushed Alex to be elected in the first place, Alex's mother suffering from a stroke; there is so much to keep in mind. Perhaps this is meant to represent the massive amounts of juggling someone has to do as a public official, but at some point one must realize enough is enough.

In addition to the massive amount of plot, some of the jokes seem to be in poor taste. Some of them are laugh out loud hilarious but others leave a bitter taste behind. For example, in the first third of the book, Alex reminisces about how he went to Germany and met with the German President and in his down time he enjoyed a trip to "one of the many death camp theme parks they've got over there." While pushing the boundaries of what is comedically acceptable is interesting in some cases and somewhat admirable in others, an out of left field Holocaust joke is not the kind of joke that people want to see. Another example is Alex's mother, who suffered a stroke on the day of Alex's inauguration and is left in a vegetative state and is wheeled around in a motorized wheel chair. In addition to that there are plenty of gay jokes as well as the use of the N-word by a white character.

The author addresses the use of these jokes in an interview conducted by the company that published FOTUS, his explanation being, "What my characters say is their business. They speak to each other un-self-consciously, and are unconcerned with how their words might sound to someone outside their world; someone with their own agenda or axe to grind. And if one blames the author for such things, then they don't understand the role of the artist in society."
There is a fine line between satire and offensive for the sake of being offensive and with the current political climate that line becomes more and more blurred. There are jokes in the book that tread that line that are absolutely hilarious. There are other examples of how to do this tactfully as well. One example being the show South Park which has made a legacy of being offensive. The difference between "FOTUS" and "South Park" is that the show does something with the subject of their jokes, usually taking them in a direction nobody would expect. With "FOTUS," the joke is simply set there and you are expected to laugh without doing anything with the joke.

Of course, entertainment is in the eye of the beholder. What one person finds offensive, another person may find hilarious, so it is left up to the readers to decide what they like and dislike.

Maeve Ballantine, Reviewer
Entertainment Editor, The Point News
(St. Mary's College of Maryland's student newspaper since 1940)

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

She Leads
Tim Jordan, M.D.
Children & Families Inc.
9780977105144, $14.95, PB, 109pp

Synopsis: Tim Jordan is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician. In "She Leads: A Practical Guide for Raising Daughters Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead" Dr. Jordan draws upon his more than 30 years of experience and expertise in counseling girls and young women in personal growth/leadership retreats and camps.

"She Leads" describes three leadership qualities that are most in need today: being inner-directed, having high social-emotional intelligence, and being assertive. The underlying message of "She Leads" is that whether or not the reader's daughter or granddaughter becomes the leader of the free world is less important than her acquiring the skills to carve out the life she deserves and desires.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, and thoroughly 'user friendly', organization and presentation "She Leads: A Practical Guide for Raising Daughters Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead" is impressively informative, 'real world' practical, and essential reading for the parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and counselors, as well as unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Parenting instructional reference collections.

Wild Ride Home
Christine Hemp
Arcade Publishing
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781950691241, $24.99, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: In the pages of "Wild Ride Home: Love, Loss, and a Little White Horse, a Family Memoir", Christine Hemp invites the reader into the close Hemp family, which believes beauty and humor outshine the most devastating circumstances. Such optimism is challenged when the Christine suffers a series of blows in the form of a dangerous fiance, her mother's dementia, unexpected death and illness.

Buddy, a feisty, unforgettable little Arabian horse with his own history to overcome, offers her a chance to look back on her own life and learn to trust again, not only others, but more importantly, herself. Christine skillfully guides her readers through a memoir that is, despite devastating loss, above all, an ode to joy.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, inherently fascinating, impressively candid, ultimately inspiring, and related in a thoroughly reader engaging narrative storytelling style by a writer with a gift for conversational expression, "Wild Ride Home: Love, Loss, and a Little White Horse, a Family Memoir" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Wild Ride Home" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Editorial Note: Christine Hemp lives on Washington's Olympic Peninsula with two horses, two cats, and one husband. She is the author of That Fall and has aired her essays and poetry on NPR. She teaches at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival and Hugo House. She maintains a website at

Women Rowing North
Mary Pipher
Bloomsbury Press
175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 315, New York, NY 10010
9781632869609, $27.00, PB, 272pp,

Synopsis: Women growing older often find themselves having to contend with ageism, misogyny, and loss. Yet as psychologist Mary Pipher shows in "Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age", most older women are deeply happy and filled with gratitude for the gifts of life. Their struggles help them grow into the authentic, empathetic, and wise people they have always wanted to be.

In the pages of "Women Rowing North", Pipher offers a timely examination of the cultural and developmental issues women face as they age. Drawing on her own experience as daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, caregiver, clinical psychologist, and cultural anthropologist, she explores ways women can cultivate resilient responses to the challenges they face.

"If we can keep our wits about us, think clearly, and manage our emotions skillfully," Pipher writes, "we will experience a joyous time of our lives. If we have planned carefully and packed properly, if we have good maps and guides, the journey can be transcendent."

Critique: Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, "Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age" is an impressively informative and even inspiring read. While especially recommended for senior citizen, community, and academic library Women's Issues and Aging/Gerontology collections and supplemental curriculum studies, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Women Rowing North" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781632869616, $17.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.18).

Editorial Note: Mary Pipher is a psychologist specializing in women, trauma, and the effects of our culture on mental health, which has earned her the title of "cultural therapist" for her generation. She is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including Reviving Ophelia, The Shelter of Each Other, Another Country and most recently, Women Rowing North.

Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad
John Eldredge
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781400208661, $24.99, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: By engaging in a few wonderfully simple practices (or what John Eldredge calls "graces") you can begin to recover your soul, disentangle from the tragedies of this broken world, and discover the restorative power of beauty.

After reading "Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad" you will: Learn how to insert the One Minute Pause into your day; Begin practicing "benevolent detachment" and truly let it all go; Offer kindness toward yourself in the choices you make; Drink in the simple beauty available to you every day; Take realistic steps to unplug from technology overload.

These simple practices and others are ready for the taking. You don't need to abandon your life to get it back. Begin restoring your life here and now. Your soul will thank you for it.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad" is impressively 'user friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation. While an especially recommended addition to church and community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Get Your Life Back" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781799732198, $24.99, CD).

Editorial Note: An author, a counselor, and a teacher, John Eldredge is also the president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recover their own hearts in God's love, and learn to live in God's kingdom

Struggle and Success
Renee Hollis, editor
Emotional Inheritance
c/o Exisle Publishing
9781925820089, $19.99, HC, 248pp,

Synopsis: "Struggle and Success: True Stories That Reveal the Depths of the Human Experience" is a unique collection of real-life stories in which 25 people take the reader on an inspiring journey through the struggles they have overcome in pursuit of success. From small personal triumphs, to large career goals or lifetime achievements, each success, big or small, offers an inspirational insight into the inner workings of lives from around the globe, highlighting one of humankind's greatest traits -- resilience.

Readers will discover the successes of everyday people, from life in a rural African village, to surviving the droughts and rains of Western Australia, from discovering a new world in post-World War II Canada, to following a young girl learning to navigate and overcome the perils of schoolyard bullying.

In "Struggle and Success", readers will discover that no dream and no situation is stillborn. These stories show how we can all turn personal struggles into our own successes using the wisdom we acquire along the way. Interwoven with inspiring quotes from notable figures as diverse as Walt Disney, Oscar Wilde, Demi Lovato and Martin Luther King Jr, the result is a collection of true stories dedicated to the unrelenting spirit of the human race.

Critique: As thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring, "Struggle and Success: True Stories That Reveal the Depths of the Human Experience" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: Renee Hollis is an author, photographer and organizer of collaborative projects for creative artists. Prior to running the Timeless Wisdom International Writing Challenge, she created two national photographic competitions in New Zealand, as well as an international photographic competition celebrating African children. The winning entries from these competitions were published in the books Aroha: Love (2008), Calle Me Kiwi (2013) and Celebrate African Children (2013). In 2016, Renee completed her Diploma in Writing for Creative Industries, reigniting her love of writing. Her goal with the 'Timeless Wisdom' series is to create a fantastic opportunity for both new and practised writers to share a powerful message with thousands of readers and contribute to be a highly collectible, beautifully produced series.

Postcards from Lonnie
Lisa Johnson
Rand-Smith Publishing
9781950544134, $16.00, PB, 200pp,

Synopsis: It all started on Christmas Day 1993. Lisa and Lonnie were sitting on their mom's rickety yard swing, when Lisa's curiosity took over. She asked Lonnie questions about his life on the street, about being homeless. To her surprise, he answered honestly, humorously, and thoughtfully.

That conversation continued throughout the next four years as Lisa wrote questions on postcards addressed to herself, then mailed them in packets to Lonnie at the flower shop on his corner. He wrote his answers and mailed them back. Lonnie answered a lot of questions and even asked a few, too. His detailed, matter-of-fact responses gave Lisa an unfettered view of a population living on the fringes of society and the issues they face every day.

Essentially, "Postcards from Lonnie: How I Rediscovered My Brother on the Street Corner He Called Home" is a dialogue between Lonnie, who speaks through the postcards, and his sister, who not only learns a lot about her brother but also about herself. Intimate and revealing, this is a unique family memoir and a universal story of love, respect, family, and ultimately hope.

Critique: Impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Postcards from Lonnie: How I Rediscovered My Brother on the Street Corner He Called Home" is an inherently fascinating read and a timely commentary in a time when homelessness in America continues to be a growing problem in America. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Biography and Contemporary Social Issues in general, and Homelessness in America supplemental studies lists in particular, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, social reformers, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Postcards from Lonnie" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69).

Carrie Schuchts Daunt
Ave Maria Press
PO Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556
9781594719691, $15.95, PB, 160pp,

Synopsis: Compiled and edited by Carrie Schuchts Daunt, "Undone: Freeing Your Feminine Heart from the Knots of Fear and Shame" is collection of raw and redemptive testimonies from real Catholic women, punctuated with guided reflection and contemplative prayer, and offering the reader with an encounter with truth and healing tailored to specific identities as daughter, sister, bride and mother.

Sharing personal testimonies of illness, loss of faith, rejection, promiscuity, abortion, broken marriage, infertility, miscarriage, addiction, betrayal, bulimia, and depression, the fifteen women presented in the pages of "Undone" identify shame and fear as major barriers to their relationships. In their stories, they share how their shame was untangled and their identity restored.

This chorus of bold women (including Lisa Brenninkmeyer, founder of Walking with Purpose; Jen Settle, managing director of the Theology of the Body Institute; Debra Herbeck, founder of Be Love Revolution; Judy Bailey, executive director of John Paul II Healing Center; and Jeannie Hannemann, founder and executive director of Elizabeth Ministry International) will encourage the reader to explore and undo the knots in their own life as well.

Daunt shares the same prayer exercises and spiritual reflection material used at the John Paul II Healing Center's Undone women's conferences, including: Inner healing prayers; Spiritual exercises for identifying core wounds; Spiritual exercises for renouncing false belief systems; Reflection questions.

"Undone" is an essential guide to distinctly feminine healing that will leave the reader willingly and eagerly stripping away the bondage of sin and shame allowing them to become the women God calls them to be.

Critique: As thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring, "Undone: Freeing Your Feminine Heart from the Knots of Fear and Shame" (which is also readily available in a digital book format: Kindle, $9.99) is a unique, effective, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, church, community, and academic library Catholic Women's Issues collections and Christian Personal Growth studies lists.

Editorial Note: Carrie Schuchts Daunt is a presenter and prayer minister for the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee, Florida. She developed the material for the center's Undone women's event. Daunt earned her bachelor's degree in speech communication from Berry College in Rome, Georgia. She teaches classes at home and for the Sacred Heart Home Educators cooperative, where she is also on the executive board. Daunt also has led women's bible studies and presented talks on marriage, Theology of the Body, and authentic femininity for her parish and diocese.

Life Coaching for Successful Women
Valorie Burton
Harvest House Publishers
PO Box 41210, Eugene, OR 97404-0322
9780736980272, $14.99, PB, 256pp,

Synopsis: You aim high and work hard to achieve your goals, but the path to success is littered with obstacles. When you're faced with difficult dilemmas, how you respond will determine whether you achieve your dreams or give up altogether.

Professional certified life coach Valorie Burton knows the value of pausing and reflecting in critical moments as a way to drive personal growth. In her practice, she has developed life-changing questions to help you make meaningful choices that lead to authentic success.

In "Life Coaching for Successful Women: Powerful Questions, Practical Answers" Valorie offers a fresh way to help you think about what matters, build the courage to follow through, and discover a vision for your relationships, career, money, health, and spiritual life that energizes you. She will: Teach you to face opportunities and obstacles with intentionality to discover your purpose; Inspire and equip you to think differently in the face of fear, failure, setbacks, and challenges; Offer a coaching toolbox of more than 100 powerful questions that will propel you forward.

A free, online video course is also available to offer insight into how you can coach yourself. The modules include "Success requires breakthroughs," "Breakthroughs require persistence," and "Reset your mindset to see obstacles as an opportunity."

Critique: Thoroughly 'user friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, in the pages of "Life Coaching for Successful Women: Powerful Questions, Practical Answers" readers will discover how straightforward questions and specific, doable action steps will help them to move confidently toward the life they were created and aspire to live. While especially recommended for both community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Life Coaching for Successful Women" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Valorie Burton helps people get unstuck and be unstoppable in every area of life. Founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute, she has written a dozen books, served clients all over the world, and made multiple appearances on The Today Show, The Dr. Oz Show, and CNN. She has her own website at:

Margaret Lane

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

The Alice Network
Kate Quinn
William Morrow
c/o HarperCollins
9780062654199, $16.99, Paper, $11.99, Kindle

My friends who have read this book tell me they can't believe it hasn't been made into a movie. One of my book club friends has postulated that it hasn't hit the screen as a consequence of MeToo#--an unwillingness by studios to portray any woman as willing to turn herself into a sex slave for any reason - even in order to help defeat the Germans in WWI. I'm not sure that's why, but I too think it would be a great movie.

This is great read, a long book - nearly 500 pages - that doesn't sag a bit in the middle. Moving back and forth in time, from WWI to post-WWII France, the novel brings two women together in search of the truth of what happened to their best friends. Eve served as an English spy in what was known as the Alice Network in WWI, and Charlie (short for Charlotte), an American who runs away from her mother in Paris to avoid having the abortion that her mother mandated. Charlie wants to find a childhood friend who disappeared in France during WWII. Eve is recruited to help Charlie, and the mission expands to include finding out what really happened to the women who ran the Alice Network. Although belligerent and reluctant at first to help Charlie, Eve's eventually convinced to join Charlie's search by her desire for revenge against a man who cooperated with the Germans.

Of course, the two missions merge, and come together in a happy-ever-after sort of ending that may make your eyes roll. While it may be too good to be true for some readers, it is well executed. There are a couple of love interests, which have caused some readers to complain of a "chick-lit" quality to the story, but I don't think they distract that much from a wonderful exploration of the true story of the women spies who helped defeat German imperialism in our two world wars.

On the Plain of Snakes
Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
9780544866478, $30.00, Harcover, $15.99, Kindle, 435 Pages

Paul Theroux takes you places like no other travel writer. It's never a written equivalent of a tourist's slide show or highlight reel; it's an investigation of place and people that reads like a kind of geopolitical anthropology. This account of a 2019 voyage through Mexico, expresses something new for him: a sense of vulnerability related to his age of 79. And, it goes without saying, perhaps, his prose is wonderful - quite often poetic - making On the Plain of Snakes a pleasure to read.

Most of the dangerous backroads and impoverished villages where Theroux spent most of his time are places that tourists don't see. He seeks out people who have either been in the U.S. as migrant workers or say they want to go to the U.S. for jobs, including many who either failed to make it across the border or succeeded after many failures. His exploration of the migrant life and the reality behind our border crisis is far more interesting and essential for our understanding than any American artist's (or wannabe artist's) travelogue of San Miguel de Allende. (Theroux visits that city, as have I, and our impressions were the same: pretty and clean, but yet as bifurcated economically and culturally as it could possibly be.) He starts by traversing the border, west to east, and then plunging down the entire country into the Zapatista-held state of Chiapas.
My criticism of the book comes from that same focus: we meet a few writers in Mexico City who are taking his class there, and a few other middle-class folks, but he spends 90% of his time with poor, rural people whom he calls "real" Mexicans. There have to be many Mexicans who also have something to say about their country and its relations with the U.S. who are real estate agents, hotel owners in tourist towns, urban shop owners, used car salesmen, office secretaries, middle managers. They're "real" too. But we hear little from them in this book. Rather than a broad portrait of Mexico, we get a narrow squint that represents only the most desperate of its citizens. It would be as if a scholar from Denmark came to the U.S., taught a seminar in transportation management in New York, and then spent the rest of his time in our most impoverished rural areas, and went home to write a book about "The Home of the Brave." Most of us would probably feel like our country had been slighted.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Riverhead Books
Penguin Random House
9780525541332, $27.00, Hardcover, $13.99, Kindle, 2018 (translation copyright)

I am not a fan of what a friend of mine calls "crazy person" fiction. I like my protagonists to be sane, or at least as sane as I am, which is debatable, of course. I disliked The Woman in the Window intensely for many reasons, including the mental instability of at least two of the characters, and I had difficulty buying into the character of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (not to mention that both of those books failed in surprising me with their "twist" at the end). Perhaps it is that I have enough stress and tension in my life these days that I'm not looking to hang around with people more disturbed than I am.

This is perhaps why it took me so long to get into this book, recently translated and introduced into the U.S. from Poland, which has received so much critical acclaim.

The story is about a socially awkward woman who lives in a remote rural development - a vacation home enclave that's pretty much abandoned during the Polish region's brutal, snowy winters. There are murders (passive voice intended), and our protagonist, Janina, develops a theory - largely for consumption by the inept local police - that it might be animals doing the murdering as revenge against hunters. When not engaged in an obsessive study of astrology that reminded me of A Beautiful Mind in its bizarre attempts to connect the entire universe in one huge web, Janina makes some new friends, who accept her despite her strangeness because each of them have their own obsessions and issues with society. While the ending wasn't surprising, it was satisfying, especially for me as an animal lover.

When I first started it, I told my husband I doubted I'd finish it. But I stuck with the story, and in the end, I was glad I did. I stayed with it because of the evocative writing, scene setting, and snarky humor. At times I actually laughed out loud, which I rarely do when reading (even when reading books that promise to leave me ROTFL - see Born a Crime). Now that I have read it, I recommend it. It's a great read, whether you can identify with the protagonist or not.

The Silent Patient
Alex Michealides
Celadon Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
9780250301697, $26.99, Harcover, $13.99, Kindle

Sometimes I get weary of being the only reviewer giving thumb-downs to books that have not only received critical acclaim, but also have sold millions of copies. But here I go again.

The Silent Patient had been on the New York Times bestseller list for 22 weeks as of February 23. Therefore, it has probably sold about a quarter of a million copies or more, if you trust experts' estimates that it takes at least 10,000 sales a week for a debut novelist (like Mr. Michealides) to make the list. I'm not sure The Silent Patient has sold by the millions yet, but there is no doubt that most authors and publishers would describe a book as a success if it makes the list. So, here I am, tearing into a bonafide success like a jealous, spurned lover.

The Silent Patient has been called a "psychological thriller," although in an interview, Mr. Michealides declined to endorse that categorization. A therapist - the talking kind - gets an assignment he wants badly, for reasons that aren't very clear, to try to reach a woman who hasn't spoken since she killed her husband - or at least was accused and found guilty of it. Theo gets the job and makes progress no one else has had in communicating with her. It's fairly difficult to tell much more of the set-up or the plot without giving too much away, except perhaps to say the novel relies two big genre-fiction tropes in setting up the story: The "my daddy didn't love me" and the "my wife is having an affair" tropes are at the center of Theo's internal conflicts and the book's plot.

This is perhaps the reason I found the book tiresome. Let's face it: has anyone's father ever approved 100% of his offspring? Whining about it all the way through the novel, Theo is simply tedious. He has enough personal flaws and bad habits to make perfectly reasonable for his wife to have an affair. I don't know why he was surprised. In fact, there are no sympathetic major characters in this book, which doesn't necessarily doom a story to failure (obviously: see the bestseller list), but a couple of redeeming qualities in one or two of the main characters would be nice.

There is one undeniably charming aspect to this book, and I'm certain that is why it is still selling well. Friends have probably told you: You may not like it, but you have to keep reading! The end! Yes, it has a major twist at the end, and Michealides pulls it off by an innovative treatment of the timing of the various chapters. I won't elaborate, or it will ruin the surprise, which in my opinion, is the only good reason to read this book.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Figures in a Landscape: People and Places Essays: 2001-2016
Paul Theroux
Eamon Dolan
c/o Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
9780544870307, $28.00, Hardcover, 416 pages

The "Godfather of contemporary travel writing" has probably chronicled more places in the world than almost any other author. The second page of his book lists the forty Theroux publication which gives one a sense of what a prolific writer he is. This is his third volume of essays, following Sunrise with Seamonsters (1984) and Fresh Air Fiend (2001) for a total of 134 essays written over 53 years. This new collection of essays is a veritable cornucopia of sights characters and experiences covering the globe. I concur with Theroux's own critique for what makes a superior travel book when assessing this one, as "not just a report of a journey, but a memoir, an autobiography, a confession, a foray in South American (in this case the world) topography and history, a travel narrative, with observations of books, music, and life in general; in short, what the best travel books are, a summing up." The collection includes varied topics and showcases his sheer versatility as a writer. As always Theroux writes with irony and misanthropy which partially explain his unique perspective on so many aspects of life.

The title of the book is based on a 1945 painting by the Irish-born artist known for his grotesque, emotionally charged, raw imagery which is based on a photograph of Eric Hall dozing on a seat in Hyde Park which according to Theroux sums up all travel writing and many essays. In order to visit the wealthy and powerful as well as the common people, one must travel on the cheap and dress down. In the introduction of the book he provides insights into what makes a good travel writer such as seeing the "Underside, its hinterlands, its everyday life" if you want to get at the truth of a country which is what he strives to do in many of the stories of this book. He also cautions not to be in a hurry when traveling through a new country and always go low tech. Theroux doesn't carry high-tech items like a cell phone, camera or computer because they're fragile and irreplaceable and make on the target of robberies. As Theroux puts it, "Who steals notebooks?"

Theroux goes on with, "The freelance is guided by curiosity and must, in its pursuit, be uncompromising, never betraying his or her gift by writing badly or in haste..." and "At its best, the freelance writer lives a life of happy accidents." His example is an assignment in China in 1980, on a Yangtze River cruise which led to more assignments in china and eventually a yearlong travel for "Riding the iron Rooster." According to Theroux, one of the advantages in the randomness of this sort of freelance writing life is that one makes a reasonable living without having to, "put down one's work aside and enter a classroom, or apply for a fellowship, or be some sort of consultant..."

His reflections on the state of the media today seem most timely, "As I write, magazines are closing, few television programs interview serious writers, and (apart from NPR) radio is mainly music and sports talk. The writing professional that I have always known is changing, old media is ossified, and what I know of new media is that it is casual, opinionated, improvisational, largely unedited, full of whoppers, often plagiarized, and poorly paid...." Leading him to believe that the "barbarians are at the gate, because they have always been there, giving writers a reason to be vigilant, and unsparing, and fully employed."

His travel essays take us to Ecuador, Zimbabwe and Hawaii among other places. He even includes a chapter on the theme, "Traveling Beyond Google" where he rails against the "Don't go there" know-it-all, stay-at-home finger-wagger who warn against what are often the best travel experiences. He reminds us how the natural disasters and unprovoked cruelty that one comes across on the road can be " enrichment, even a blessing, one of the trophies of travel, the life-altering journey." He was even forced to tell one genial Canadian who was complaining about the horrors on some of the countries he recently visited that the place where they were talking was just a few miles from what a local newspaper labeled, "America's homicide capital" - Camden, New Jersey.

Theroux did heed one finger-wagger in 1973 while passing through Singapore who warned against visiting Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia. He pointed to the difference of traveling in a country where the state of law prevails and one in a state of anarchy so he went to Vietnam, which wasn't without risks as the country was "defenselessly adrift in a fatalistic limbo of whispers and guerrilla attacks..." But the real story wouldn't really emerge for another thirty-three years when he returned on his "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" journey. He returned to Hue which had been a "hellhole" during the war to find happiness after war and "almost unimaginably, there can be forgiveness." According to Theroux, "Seven million tons of bombs had not destroyed Vietnam; if anything they had unified it..." He went on to observe that Hanoi which had suffered more than most cities from aerial bombardment during the war looked, "...wondrous in its postwar prosperity, with boulevards and villas, ponds and pagodas, as glorious as it had been when it was the capital of Indochina, certainly one of the most successful and loveliest architectural restorations of any city in the world." Lesson learned, "...while weighing the risks and being judicious, travel in an uncertain world, in a time or change, has never seemed to me more essential, of great importance, or more enlightening."

Ecuador and the upper Amazon would be one of the first places Theroux introduces us in search of the "grail of psychotropics" which was inspired by William Burrough's account of a drug search in Peru and down Colombia's Rio Putumayo in his "The Yage Letters." According to these letters "Yage is yaje, Banisteriopsis caapi: vine of the soul, secret nectar of the Amazon, the shaman's holy drink, the ultimate poison, miracle cure. More generally known as ayahuasca..." a word Theroux found "bewitching." This trek would fulfil one of Theroux's primary reasons to travel, " find obstacles, to discover my limits, to ease the passage of time, to reassure myself that innocence and antiquity exist, to search for links to the past, to flee from the nastiness of urban life and the paranoia, if not out-right dementia, of the technological World..."

Theroux would consult his fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, friend and "self-exiled writer" Moritz Thomsen on the location of "ayahuasqueros" along the river people in eastern Ecuador. He signed up for an "Ethnobotanical experience" whose organizers characterized as eight days in the rainforest, for eco-awareness and spiritual solidarity, to learn the names and uses of beneficial plants. They'd live in a traditional village of the indigenous Secoya people on Ecuador's Oriente region on a narrow branch of Burrough's Putumayo, "where the ayahuasca vine clinging to the trunks of rainforest trees grows as thick as a baby's arm."

Almost immediately Theroux felt uneasy being part of what turned out to be a "nervous and ill-assorted bunch" but fortunately he met the "vegetalista" Don Pablo who he could trust and according to Theroux, "remains one of the most gifted, insightful and charismatic people I have met in my life." Theroux even confided in problems writing his latest novel at which point Don Pablo spoke about the "Eye of Understanding." "This eye can see things that can't be seen physically," he said, "Some people have this third eye already developed. And for others the Eye of Understanding can be acquired through ayahuasca or some other jungle plants." On several occasions, Theroux was able to separate from the group with a local guide and learn more about the local culture and topography.

When reflecting on the trip Theroux realized that it had not been an ethno-botany trip of shamanism as an encounter with child prostitutes, gunrunners, Big Oil, and blighted jungle, a place surrounded by FARC guerrillas. The diminishing number of Secoyas seem doomed. That village would soon be swallowed by the encroachment of oil people, who were only half a day's march through the forest." The trip had offered glimpses of danger but what separates adventure from disaster according to Theroux is that you live to tell the tale.

Theroux's book includes some gems of literary criticism and reveal real depth about the work of one of my favorite travel authors Graham Greene, but also of David Thoreau, Joseph Conrad, and Hunter Thompson. Of Graham Greene, Theroux reminds us that he, "...lived and thrived, in an age where writers were powerful, priest-like, remote, and elusive..." I'm one of those who worshipped anything Greene wrote, especially "Journey Without Maps" and "Heart of the Matter" since I'd worked in Sierra Leone for several years. Yet Theroux brings a new level of insights into many authors and famous people, in this case he was familiar with Greene's official biographer, Norman Sherry who occupied the same office chair Theroux would hold at the University of Singapore. According to Theroux, "Aware that he led a hidden life, Greene developed a habit of evasion, which was an almost pathological inability to come clean. His secretiveness led him at times to keep a parallel diary, in which he might chronical two versions of this day, rather sober and preoccupied, the other perhaps detailing a frolic with a prostitute..." He goes on to say that "Greene was a restless traveler, a committed writer, a terrible husband, an appalling father, and an admitted manic-depressive..."

Much to my surprise, Theroux points out that "Green's book is an ingeniously worked-up account of only four weeks in the Liberian bush by an absolute beginner in Africa. Greene admits this early on. "I had never been out of Europe before; I was a complete amateur at travel in Africa. The book lacked humor, it was dark and broadly political according to Theroux and eighteen months after it was published it was withdrawn due to a threatened libel suit. The book is filled with misinformation and distorted beliefs about Africa according to Theroux. That Liberia was unmapped, and that cannibalism was a threat although it was not practiced except in the minds of timid fantasists, whom one does not normally lump together with modern cartographers."

When Greene returned to Africa in 1942 to do wartime intelligence work he stuck to Freetown, Sierra Leone as the backdrop for "The Heart of the Matter" and according to Theroux, "Africa is not the subject but the shadowy backdrop for this essentially inward-looking novel that questions the elements of belief and damnation, heaven and hell." The reason the book is one of Greene's best, "is perhaps that he was desperate the whole way through, and that in some important aspects the trip was the fulfillment of his childhood fantasies." In retrospect in his seventies and on the anniversary of this trip, he wrote his cousin Barbara who made the trip with him, "To me that trip has been very important - it started a love of Africa which has never quite left me...Altogether a trip which altered life."

Biking enthusiast and comic extraordinaire, Robin Williams is one of his most fascinating public figures Theroux introduces the reader to and he could be better understood through psychologist Oliver Sacks who was also profiled along with Elizabeth Taylor and a Manhattan dominatrix. Initially I was surprised at the profile of Dr. Oliver Sacks until I realized that Robin Williams starred in the Oscar nominated film in 1990 based on his Dr. Sacks book which was published in 1973 entitled, "Awakening". Although Sack's story is fascinating, much of what he learned reveal some of the psychological issues facing Williams.

Theroux was fascinated by Dr. Stack's "street Neurology" which refers to the assessment of a person's condition after observing their behavior in a casual setting. He said that Sacks has "something of Sherlock Holmes in this shrewd summing up of scattered neurological clues..." Dr. Sacks considered that Sherlock Holmes was possibly "autistic" and Samuel Johnson "Tourettic" based on his neurological experience. Sacks proved that a person's so called handicap often causes the development or new skills or the discovery of assets. He was a listener of "seismographic sensitivity, a clear-sighted and inspired observer, attentive, with tan eloquence that allows him to describe a person's condition with nuance and subtlety."

Actually, since the filming of "Awakenings" he'd become a friend of Robin Williams and claimed that, "There is no one like Robin." His insights would inform Theroux's quest to determine, "Who's he (Robin) when he's at home?" After attending Julliards in New York City, Williams found that he expressed himself with the greatest freedom in stand-up comedy especially late night comedy clubs, with such a crazed take on the world he seemed like a Martian which led to his first success, Mork & Mindy (1978-1982). This period included a coked-out life marked by the death of his close friend john Belushi from a drug overdose. Williams freely admitted his is self-destructive which included excessive cocaine use and to bingeing in general. Include heavy drinking, grossly overweight, using cocaine, under exercised, no discipline, "Just parties" - his self-esteem was low and he fortified his ego with performances in comedy clubs - the Comedy Store and the Improv.

During a day of biking with Williams in Marin County, Theroux got to know him better and was convinced that if he were not able to move people to laughter, he would be nearly "defenseless." Dr. Sacks considered Robin" hyperspontaneious" and suggested that he verges on the Tourettic, given to alarming impulses and wild associations, those same shouts and barks. "He is never better than doing stand-up comedy in front of a life nightclub audience. It is vivid and transcendent obscenity." He went on to say, "Anarchic wit is not possible without experience of a very dark side." When Theroux requested clarification Dr. Sacks said, "There must have been grim and difficult passages in his past." Both Dr. Sacks and Theroux identified many of the factors that led to Williams tragic death by hanging in 2014, and although this essay was evidently written before his death, since the essays in this book go as far as 2016, a "post script" from Theroux summing up Williams life and the tragic circumstances of his death would have been helpful.

One of Theroux's several stories in Africa about the seizure of commercial farms by President Mugabe in Zimbabwe set the stage for his take on the continent, "I love the African bush, I hate African cities. After my last Africa trip, I swore that I would never go back to the stinking buses, the city streets reeking of piss, the lying politicians, the schemers, the twaddlers, the crooks, the money changers taking advantage of weak currency and gullible people, the American God-botherers and evangelists demanding baptisms and screaming, "Sinners!" - and forty years of virtue-industry CEOs faffing around with other people's money and getting no results, except Africans asking for more.

Theroux builds on what he perceives as the negative impact of outsiders on Africa with his profile of the rock star Bono in his essay, "The Rock Star's Burden" with, "...While there are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by an overpaid and semi educated Irish rock star with a goofy name and a cowboy hat, I can't think of one at the moment..." Much of his venting on the subject is due to return visits to Malawi where he was a Peace Corps volunteer and found that it, "...has worse education, more plagued by illness and bad services, and poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early sixties, but it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state."

He strengthens his point with, "When the Malawi minister of education stole the entire education budget of millions of dollars in 2,000, and the Zambian president stole even more a year later, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? Bono and other simplifiers of Africa's problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid. I got a dusty reception lecturing at the Gates Foundation when I pointed out the successes of responsible policies in Botswana, compared to the kleptomania of its neighbors, the tens of millions that have been embezzled by politicians in Zambia and Malawi. Donors enable this behavior by turning a blind eye to bad governance and the actual reasons these countries are failing." Spoken like a true Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and world traveler who appreciates the complexity of real development.

The last four chapters provide a rare glimpse of what makes the man and one of the most prolific travel - Returned Peace Corps Volunteer authors of modern time. "My Life as a Reader" confirms that many great authors are prolific readers. "...Reading has been my refuge, my pleasure, my enlightenment, my inspiration, my word-hunger often verging on gluttony. In idle moments without a book, I read the labels on my clothes or the ingredients panel on cereal boxes. My version of hell is an existence without a thing to read, that I would hope to correct it by writing something..." He goes on to reflect, "Reading took off the long dark African nights and gave me relief and hope, for no matter how badly the day went, a book was waiting for me at home, and this has continued to be the cast." He even divides the world between those who read and those who don't. "...reading cannot be compartmentalized; it is a skill and a pleasure that needs to be inspired, so that it becomes a lifelong passion."

"I did not set out to be a writer. My desire was to be a medical doctor, but this was thwarted by ten years of travel, during which I fell into writing, served an apprenticeship, and fifty years went by, and I am still at it. To me, what writers read is as interesting as what they write... For my Tao of Travel, I read about 350 books and quoted from many of them. The pages of my work are filled with references to books I've loved." As an avid reader, I appreciate an author who does his research and reads many more books that I ever could.

In "Dear Old Dad: Memories of My Father" we learn some startling facts about the author. "My father - whom I loved and who loved me - never read a word I wrote, or if he did, never mentioned that fact. It was like an embarrassing secret we shared, of a creepy proclivity I had, something that we couldn't discuss without awkwardness..." He further clarifies this disconnect with, "My father did not read novels - anyone's novels, at least not modern ones,.. And I had not become a writer to please my parents, only myself. A writer is rarely able to do both, and I know that, far from wishing to please them, I wrote as an act of rebellion."

Theroux had an even more estranged relationship with his mother who "was mercurial, insecure woman - as domineering people often are - and she feared me for my defiant aloofness. I knew this and made myself more noncommittal and cooler. It antagonized her that she didn't know what was in my head..." This relationship was further strained when Theroux "fled" with a girl to Puerto Rico and upon her return she went to a "home" near Boston where she delivered a baby at the Mass. General. She gave the baby up for adoption and he found out almost forty years later that the boy had been educated at an Ivy League college and ended up a multimillionaire. Both Theroux's parents were disappointed but according to Theroux, "But when I had needed them, they did not help, could not help, simply were not there, except - in my mother's case - to blame. It was a great lesson to me, a motto for my escutcheon: I am alone in this world."
Theroux further reflects on his father with, "Memoires, fragments, generalizations - what do they add up to? This recollection of mine seems insubstantial, yet that itself is a revelation. I thought I knew him well. On reflection, I see he was strange, and he seems to recede as I write, as sometimes when I asked him a question about himself, he backed away. In writing about him like this, I realize I do not know what was in his heart. He is just like those skinny old men in Burma and Thailand and Vietnam who inspired me to think of him."

And yet Theroux sometimes felt that he was his father, "My father hated gabbers, gasbaggers, and ear benders, and so do I. My father had a way of inhaling deeply through his nose when he was impatient, and I do it too...I have a similar temperament. I am generally humane, relatively serene, and like to be left alone, as he did. I will sometimes agree to anything to keep the peace, because he felt (as I do) that you can't really change the narrow stubborn mind of a person who is set in his belief, and anyway why bother?"

Theroux felt that his mother was literally killing his father described the relationship between them as, "If there was a lesson for me, these family experiences resolved themselves in my horror of weak and vain, nagging and castrating women. As soon as I sense an echo of my mother in a woman's voice, I recognize the snarl of a she-wolf and flee....but only the one think I've failed to do, ultimately a cynicism and a merciless refusal to see my pain - when in my life I've heard those things, or heard something as subtle as a sniff, a snort, a harrumph, a certain tilt of the head. I have mentally shut myself down and vowed to end the relationship, because I do not want to become the person that my father become in his old age, reduced to dependence on an unhappy woman who not only didn't know what she wanted, but needed most of all someone to blame."

In the end, Theroux's father wanted to be left alone. "He would have been appalled if he ever got wind of instances of my wayward behavior, I had a mediocre school record. I was arrested by the police at a campus demonstration in 1962 in Amherst. I had fathered an illegitimate child. I was kicked out of the Peace Corp ("terminated early") in 1965 for a number of transgressions, my first wife and I split up in 1990, I wrote umpteen books - and these events or topics were never mentioned at all, and perhaps in my father's mind they never happened. Or was it because they were "faits accomplis" that there was nothing to say?"

In the final essay, "The Trouble with Autobiography", Theroux provides a 500 words which "are all I will ever write of my autobiography." At the age of 67 he asked the question, "Do I write my life or leave it to others to deal with?" He has no intentions of writing one and plans to put obstacles in the way of those who try since, "Biography lends to death a new terror." He claims that Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is "glittering miniaturism but largely self-serving portraiture, was posthumous..." Theroux harkens back to the "mysterious B. Traven" (born Otto Feige in Germany), author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and ten other novels, who succeeded in frustrating any biographers by assuming multiple identities, changing his name three or four times, and living as a recluse in Mexico. He wrote, "The creative person should have no other biography than his books."

Theroux goes on to say that autobiography is an "unreliable little creature, or even a loose and baggy monster, this form of personal narrative exerts a horrible fascination on me. When a writer's autobiography is published I pounce on it. I want to know what this lonely business was like for him or her..." In the end, he also provides the readers of this book with many fascinating details of his life.

I totally agree with Theroux that as a reader we should not be reading books but reading the author, "devouring all the novels and stories, and then whatever biography I could find." I've read about a quarter of his books, so I have many more adventures to look forward to. Theroux was last sighted in Mexico, probably working on his next book. I can't wait!

Editorial Note: Reviewer Mark D. Walker, Peace Corps Guatemala spent over forty years with such groups as Make A Wish International, Food for the Hungry and Hagar. His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond and his essay "Hugs Not Walls: Reuniting the Children" were winners in the 2018 & 2019 Arizona Authors Association Annual Literary Awards competitions. He has been published in Ragazine, WorldView and Revue Magazines, Literary Yard, Literary Travelers and Quail BELL, as well as an anthology published by Wising Up Press.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Marty Duncan's Bookshelf

Isle of Dogs
Patricia Cornwall
GP Putnam's Sons
039914739X, $26.95, 2001, 421 pp

There two almost normal persons in this novel. Andy Brazil, a state trooper and helicopter pilot; and Judy Hammer, Director of the State Police. A year has passed since Hammer gave Brazil the freedom to do research into the history of Virginia. Brazil is about to write a series of columns that talk about the history of pirates in the Chesapeake Bay. And he will begin to hint that certain steps should be taken by the near-blind Governor Crimm.

On the darker side Smoke and his road-dog 'pirates' are robbing people. Unique, the girl who sets up their targets, uses a box cutter to slash their targets. Major Trader, the Governor's assistant, has an evil contract with the road dogs. We discover Trader has destroyed all of the messages sent by Gov. Crimm to his Director of State Troopers. Crimm has three daughters who believe they are entitled to be served with everything they want. And the dentist on Tangier Island is about to be kidnapped by Islanders who are protesting the Governor's plan to turn their island into a NASCAR race track.

Into this craziness comes Andy Brazil, the normal state trooper. His role is to convince his readers of the positive future for Virginia. This novel spins the relationship between the Governor and 'his' state police. It paints a (sometimes) hilarious image of people in government following their own dictates without concern for the law.

Ms. Cornwall: the novel was a chuckle, a laugh, and darkly entertaining. We can be concerned that public servants might mis-behave. And we know the people on Tangier Island are not that innocent and uninformed. Isle of Dogs is a tongue-in-cheek look at the life among men and women in state police blue.

Reviewer Marty Duncan has recently published with Amazon his Black Powder trilogy that tells the story of The Dakota War; The Fifth Minnesota (through 1865); and New Americans on the plains in Minnesota.

Marty Duncan, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue States Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth
Rachel Maddow
Crown Publishing
9780525575474, $30.00, 412pgs

The oil and natural gas industry is a domineering force in the American economy in 2020. The amazing amounts of cash generated by the giants of this industry are unfathomable to the average American. Rachel Maddow, in her newest volume, Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue States Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, (Amazon $12.50), has chronicled the extremely quick rise and just as quick fall of the most influential business in the country. The importance and influence of the oil and gas industry cannot be overstated, as well as the political influence of insiders such as Rex Tillerson, Aubrey McClendon, and Hank Hamm. Blowout is an accurate and swift-moving narrative that is mindful of how this industry has impacted American life since 2000.

Maddow describes the meteoric rise of Aubrey McClendon, the founder and leader of Chesapeake Energy. McClendon is described as a hard working speculator who can guess where the good oil and gas is, takes exorbitant vacations, and loved Oklahoma so much that he brought a pro basketball franchise to the state. Maddow also describes Russian oil interests, attempts to influence the 2016 United States elections, and politicians such as James Inhofe, who attempted to pollute the science of fracking and earthquakes in Oklahoma. Maddow writes with emotion and an energy that is typical of her reporting and her very eloquent presentation and style. Blowout would be a great work to use in an introductory political science class or in an economics history class.

Blowout is a great read. Anyone who is interested in how the American oil and gas industry has influenced the last thirty years of American life should tackle Blowout. It is a good look at how far out of control American politics and business are and how eager politicians were and are to keep their power and their influence. The events mentioned in Blowout are current history and many readers will picture these events in their memories and their influence on American culture. Blowout is a must read for anyone interested in American power and memory.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Charles Johnston
Ixia Press
c/o Dover Publications, Inc.
31 East 2nd Street, Mineola, NY 11501
9780486836799, $8.95, PB, 128pp,

Synopsis: Made available in English to appreciative readers by the Irish author Charles Johnston, "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man" is an ancient text that represents one of yoga's most influential and important works. Dating back to India of the second century B.C., the yoga sutras constitute a complete manual for the study and practice of the philosophical system. The sutras, or threads, are aphorisms of wisdom that offer guidelines to living a meaningful and purposeful life. This volume explains the eight limbs of the discipline: restraint, observances, posture, breath control, withdrawal from the senses, attention, meditation, and stillness.

Little is known about the life of Patanjali beyond the assumption that he was a contemporary of the Buddha. In the pages of The Yoga Sutras of Patanajli", Johnston (who was an immensely learned scholar of Eastern traditions), offers his readers a straightforward translation of Patanjali's writings. This easy-to-follow interpretation will prove a rewarding companion to yoga students, participants in teacher-training programs, and students of Eastern philosophy.

Critique: This classic edition of "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man" is essential reading for all dedicated students and practitioners of yoga, as well as a welcome and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Yoga, Meditation, and Eastern Philosophy collections and supplemental studies.

Editorial Note: Irish author Charles Johnston (1867-1931) was a scholar of Oriental studies and a classmate of William Butler Yeats, with whom he co-founded Dublin's Theosophical Lodge in 1886. He studied Sanskrit, Russian, and German and translated many works, devoting himself mainly to philosophical and theosophical texts.

Earth Almanac: Nature's Calendar for Year-Round Discovery
Ken Keffer, author
Jeremy Collins, illustrator
Mountaineers Books
1001 SW Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134-1161
9781680512823, $24.95, PB, 256pp,

Synopsis: "Earth Almanac: Nature's Calendar for Year-Round Discovery" presents the greatest hits of North American nature! Deftly structured around the seasonal patterns in nature, the day-by-day descriptions offer insight into activities and connections throughout the natural world.

Beginning with the Winter Solstice in December, "Earth Almanac" highlights a wide range of natural history, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, insects, intertidal and marine life, trees, plants, fungi, weather phenomenon, geology, astronomy, notable environmental activists, and more, and reveals the ebb and flow of nature across the planet. Each season features more than 90 entries, and sidebars throughout provide calls to environmental action, citizen science opportunities, and details on special dates or holidays.

"Earth Alamanc" can be enjoyed one day, month, or season at a time -- just dip in and out of it as you observe the world around you.

Critique: An impressively informative and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Earth Almanac: Nature's Calendar for Year-Round Discovery" is a a profusely illustrated and extraordinary compendium of facts and stories about the biodiversity and the natural world of North America, making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Nature/Wildlife/Environmental Studies collections.

Editorial Note: A vagabond naturalist, Ken Keffer has been involved in projects from monitoring small mammal populations in Grand Teton National Park to studying Bactrian camels in Mongolia. He has also worked as an environmental educator. A regular contributor to Birds & Blooms magazine, Ken is the author of eight books on nature subjects for both children and adults and currently lives in Des Moines, Iowa. He can be visited online at

Artist Jeremy Collins is known for his unique drawings and maps featured in books, films, and commercial work and recognized throughout the outdoor industry. He is the author of Drawn: The Art of Ascent (Mountaineers Books, 2015) and the Wild Lines calendars. He can be visited online at and on Instagram @jer.collins.

Michael J. Carson

Michelle Jacobs' Bookshelf

One Simple Text...: The Liz Marks Story
Betty Shaw with Dave Brown
MSI Press
1760-F Airline Hwy, #203, Hollister, CA 950243
9781933455518, $19.95, PB, 158pp,

"I could not believe that this was my child. She looked so broken."

This moving personal memoir is about the aftermath of a car accident caused by distracted driving. Betty Shaw recounts the harrowing minutes and days following her daughter's accident and the difficult months and years of recovery that have followed. The struggle is compounded by guilt when Shaw realizes that her daughter was responding to a text that she sent to her when the accident occurs. In addition to detailing the efforts to save her daughter and rebuild her life, Shaw concludes with her daughter's determination to find a purpose for her suffering and survival as she dedicates her time to sharing her story with audiences as a cautionary tale.

Shaw, with the help of Dave Brown, guides readers along her journey as a mother, offering personal details of her own life as well as a range of emotional responses to the difficulties of her daughter's recovery. Shaw's inclusion of Liz's mental health struggles after the accident offers powerful truths that move well beyond the physical challenges that Liz endures. Liz's brain injury and the changes to her appearance impact her social interactions. Shaw opens up with unflinching honesty about her inability to help her daughter assimilate to her new normal. In clear prose and a direct style, Shaw shares the highs and lows and offers hope in the midst of suffering, triumph in the face of the unimaginable.

Shaw's narrative will inspire and uplift as it flicks on a warning light about the dangers of distracted driving and shines a bright shimmering light on the resilience of the human spirit. It is a gift of a story for anyone parenting teenagers who believe they are invincible and indestructible even as they engage in risky behaviors like texting and driving.

Michelle Jacobs, Reviewer
US Review

Molly Martin's Bookshelf

Nina's Memento Mori
Mathias B. Freese
9781627877107, $10.95, Paperback, 148 pages, September 24, 2019

Upon the pages of Nina's Memento Mori Author Mathias Freese has set down a sincere, commanding requiem to the wife he loved and lost to illness.

'My intent here is to lay bare the themes and curlicues of my existence and in so doing, show how this impacted upon Nina, whether for good and bad with indifference at times.'

The 140+ pages of narrative subsequent to that statement reads at times as might a script for a film, and, at times a requiem that her death granted them so little time together.

The Table of Contents presents brief; 5 or so page snippets, in nineteen chapters with headings reading Fade IN: Wake Up, Dissolve: Observer Observed, Voice Over: Cemetery Mind and ending with Director's Cut: A Primitive Lot and Fade out: Nina's Poetry and Unfinished Memoir. This segment is followed with the next section entitled, Four Takes.

FOUR TAKES offers Take One: The Wound, Take Two: Into the Fen, Take Three: Down to a Sunless Sea and Take Four: Each and Every Time.

Then is the Intermission: Tesserae.

Reading on leads the Reader to The Cutting Room and a grouping of seven chapters with titles Dissolve: And Then She is Gone, Close Up: Inception, Fade in, Voice Over, Flashback, Preview, Fin and lastly Coda.

I believe the writer's sentence at the bottommost of page 19 really sums up the determination he followed for writing this manuscript, "So, Sweetheart, here I try foolishly to tell you who you were married to and, in so doing, to know you."

Writer Freese has shaped an unadorned, touching, virtually painfully heart-felt elegy account that lays bare the remembrance and powerful depths of sadness frequently faced following the death of one beloved.

Nina Wingard Freese, a retired special education educator of autistic children, perished as a result of ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease.

Freese shares his torment following her death in addition to what might have been in this eloquent requiem. If only they had had a little more time together. For each; this was not a first marriage, however, brief as it was, they shared the view that it was the greatest.

Contemplative and augmented with photographs, we see Nina as a little girl and again several more times as she is growing up then as a young mother and as a handsome, mature woman.

Writer Freese's chaunt is a journey stained with much unhappiness, a little girl adopted, not particularly loved; marriage, not particularly loved, children who behave in not particularly loving manner when adults, and yet, Nina clung to the belief, that she too merited love and was willing to try again.

As do many, Author Freese found explicit expressions of caring awkward during the time when Nina was alive, and aware; and before the ALS deprived her of the ability to verbalize the love her husband had for her. It was left for him to accept and acknowledge his feelings, to validate and share Nina's life and his feelings for her as he pens his sorrow, as well as his hopes and his comportment.

He contemplates how short their time together was, as well as how many parallels existed earlier in their lives. He was a lonesome child not maltreated overtly, but not nurtured either. Nina bore the physical abuse, not nurture, of her adopted mother.

Nina's demise led Freese to probe into his Jewish heritage; he allows the Reader some comprehension regarding the effect of religion on his life through his discussing many Biblical references.

Given the actuality of Nina's death; mood of the work is dismal at times, on the other hand, Nina's hopeful mindset and her technique of allowing Freese to feel important and remarkable is persuasive.

Each chapter introduces another stage in their lives, even though the time was short lived and soon past.

Culpability plagues him even now for having used a hospice setting for her last days; even though devotion to care for someone suffering ALS does necessitate preparation as training in nursing care for one suffering ALS, along with understanding and undying commitment; it is not an easy choice.

His sense that he failed her, I'm certain she'd differ; and recollect the love, the closeness and just her singular joyful beauty and unrequited love for him.

I met a number of family members who harbored terrible guilt that their debilitated loved one was becoming a resident in the nursing care facility where I worked for a time as social services director.

Few of us are trained to care for our loved ones needing advanced nursing care.

The knowledgeable hands of a trained caregiver aids the physical welfare of patients; loving visits with family is every bit as essential.

The concluding chapter comprises so much and the letter she might have written to him speaking of forgiveness, comprehension and letting him know that he was the only husband who really esteemed and adored her. She cherished him and honored him for devoted and loving of her.

And she meant for him to go on with life that was not submerged in grief.

Writer Mathias B. Freese invites us on a journey within the life and ephemeral time he had with Nina Elaine Wingard, and, lets us hope that in the not too distant future he will rightly find solace, harmony and never stop writing.

His voice is robust, his manuscripts peerless and this reader is left believing Nina's Memento Mori to be a devoted, moving praise to a special woman whose memory, especially for him, is unlikely to fade in time.

Powerful read ... Happy to recommend for public and college library catalogue, Therapists book shelf, and for readers who have perhaps known in family, friendship, or care center a couple like Nina and Mathias.

Wind Follower
Carole McDonnell, author
Darla Middlebrook, narrator
Wildside Press LLC
Juno Books
9780809557790, $12.95, Paperback, 248 pages, August 29, 2007

Carole McDonnell's Wind Follower pulls The Reader right into the storyline as we meet Loic who is speaking.

Loic informs us he will explain to us initially vis-a-vis how Krika died.

Kirka's shaman father fetched Kirka before the elders at the Spirit Shrine, the sacrificial mound called Skull Place by the clan. Kirka was bound, the skin of his face had already been thrashed away, he was sobbing, begging and crying out for compassion.

Even Though Loic was more than a little dumbfounded, he forgave Kirka. Loic contemplated, who could tolerate such distress with weeping. Kirka had challenged his father's directive that he declare regard to the spirits. And now; he was to be put to death as a part of the monthly sacrifice ritual.

Kirka remained where he had dropped beneath a barrage of stones.

Focusing on Loic tyu Taer and Satha tya Monua a married couple from dissimilar tribes; Wind Follower represents a multiplicity of key tribes discovered in the account.

Tribes are removed both by race and skin color.

Tribal groups consist of white skinned, light skinned and dark-skinned clans. Likewise, it is not just skin color which sets the numerous groups away from each other. Each tribe or clan is engrossed by its own group of fairly inflexible and ironclad, shared ideals, principals and ethics in addition to uniqueness, societal norms and even physical presence outside light or dark skin tones.

One group indicates an Asian influence, while another gives the impression as more traditional African, while a third conveys the sense it is a balance of more than a single racial group.

Additionally there is even a mystical band created of a range of persons who interact with the native peoples in dissimilar manner; some helpfully, some evidently with no distinction as well as some not entirely noble.

Loic is from the clan having light skin tone while Satha's physical appearance is quite dark.

Writer McDonnell draws upon her wide-ranging store of investigation into early African tribal practices in order to better set down a representation of the rituals, mores and qualities of the assorted parties in order to portray a representative clash of societies where social traditions and customs are absolute law. Wherein to unsettle a cultural more might well lead to demise of the individual, or even to conflict and outright battle among the groups.

When the prosperous Doreni Pagatsu, son of the king's First Captain first sees Satha, a sympathetic, dark skinned beauty, from an impoverished Theseni clan in the marketplace he decides that he wants her to be his spouse.

Satha's tender kind-heartedness offered towards some members of Loci's clan is viewed reluctantly by several of the clan and will eventually lead to her being ruthlessly raped.

The violent attack triggers the demise of her first child. Loic and Satha will be perpetually at odds psychologically, mentally, and finally physically because of the loss.

Jam-packed with made-up nuances Wind Follower is an explanation of earliest African people, their values and their customs, ethos and way of life in which the belief of forebears and spirit reverence are interwoven with a credible Christian message.

Writer McDonnell does not shy from matters relating to sacred belief, traditional group or of race. The locale of the account offered in the form of fantasy; serves to cause the anecdote to be even more out of the routine.

First person accounts can be complicated to produce with steadfastness. Not only does Writer McDonnell utilize first person as her method for getting this narrative recorded, although, on the pages of Wind Follower McDonnell competently interweaves the individual stories of the duo of main characters: Loic and Satha, and manages to use first person effectively not once but twice.

Loic and Satha each re-count their own part of the saga. That McDonnell is a clever author and master storyteller is unmistakable as she adroitly manages to give each character their own distinctive voice.

The various ethnicities, backgrounds and personalities as represented by novelist McDonnell are plausible and convincing. Wind Follower is an account in which the reader is immediately drawn into the prominent, wholly reputable and even, at times, tragic setting of Ibeni, Doreni, Thesini.

Loic is a man propelled when he sets out to learn and eliminate the man who physically abused his wife. Hardship strikes Satha once more during the period her husband is clashing with dark forces in his pursuit to locate Noam.

Satha is imprisoned and sold into slavery. Loic, too, has much the same fate as the pair suffer anguish, not knowing the whereabouts of the other, whether they will ever reconcile or if they will even again return to their homes.

Wind Follower is a sociologist's dream novel. The volume offers varied cultures, with all their nuances of qualities and distinctiveness in a believable and most gripping read. The work may bring the reader to a larger, perhaps deeper understanding regarding social sanctions, social mores and status of taboo without appearing preachy or causing the reader to feel overawed in the intricacies.

Not for everyone; I am happy to recommend for those who enjoy a novel sure to bring about some thinking as well as reading.

Wind Follower is a dandy choice for gifting inquiring minds, for the young adult book list, public library, sociology class and mature readers.

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Paul Lappen's Bookshelf

Jimmy's Got a Gun: The Crash Brothers Forever
Melvin Douglas Wilson
Yorkshire Publishing
9781947825352, 42 pages, $19.95, 2017

This is the story of a group of inner-city junior high school students, led by Mely Mel, the narrator, who are bused to a suburban junior high school. This is because their local school is very unusable.

They form their own "crew," called The Crash Brothers. They concentrate on helping the elderly in their neighborhood, with things like lawn mowing and snow shoveling. They go to church every Sunday, and otherwise work to be good people. They run into Big Mike, the local bully, and his crew, and they scatter. Jimmy, one of the Crash Brothers, isn't so lucky. He is grabbed by Big Mike, beat up, and his lunch money is stolen.

Several days later, the Crash Brothers are at a local pizza parlor, when Big Mike enters, and asks Jimmy to step outside. Jimmy calmly finishes his pizza, walks outside, and pulls out a gun (registered to his father), pointing it at Big Mike's head. Does Big Mike become another gun violence statistic? Does Jimmy get hauled off to jail?

This story is intended for middle school students, and it is really good. Gun violence affects every corner of America, so this is extremely timely. The faith-based part is at the end, when the local pastor helps the crew understand exactly what just happened. It is short, and very much worth reading, for kids and adults.

Paul Lappen, Reviewer

Publishers Weekly

The Companion
Kim Taylor Blakemore
Lake Union Publishing
9781542009669, $24.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 272pp,

YA author Blakemore (Bowery Girl) makes her adult debut with a captivating tale of psychological suspense. In 1855, Lucy Blunt awaits hanging for multiple murders in the New Hampshire State Prison. Lucy's unreliable narrative alternates between her thoughts on her present predicament and reminiscences of her past life, including the circumstances leading to her incarceration. At age 11, Lucy's mother and brother die from whooping cough. Her father drinks away his grief, and later, when Lucy becomes pregnant out of wedlock, he disowns her. Forced to leave home, she takes a position as maid with a local family. The previous maid, Mary Dawson, was found drowned in a brook. Plagued by Mary's death, Lucy realizes she may have murdered Mary to gain employment. Another murder follows. At one point, Lucy says the murders were caused by arsenic poisoning; later on, she describes a totally different scenario. Trying to ferret out what is and isn't true will keep readers guessing to the end. This will appeal to those who like thoughtful character studies. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group.

Publishers Weekly

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

American Pragmatism: An Introduction
Albert R. Spencer
Polity Press
9781509524723, $69,95, $24.95, paperback

A New Study Of American Pragmatism

There has been an increasing interest in pragmatism in recent years among philosophers, and this interest has been shared with a broader public in books such as Louis Menand's 2002 work, "The Metaphysical Club". Albert R. Spencer, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University, is one of the recent scholars to write an overview of pragmatism that will appeal to non-specialists and to newcomers to pragmatic thought in his book, "American Pragmatism: An Introduction" (2020). With an enthusiasm that might be contagious for some readers, Spencer writes of his aims in the book:

"If any of my readers notice any significant omissions, I hope the work as a whole will inspire them to devote their lives to this thriving philosophical tradition -- and maybe also to engage in the perennial task of ameliorating the mistakes of the past."

The book has an ambitious scope. In the five chapters that comprise the body of his study, Spencer tells the story of the pragmatic tradition in philosophy from its founding in the late 19th century to the present. This story is told appealingly and well. In the Introduction to the study, Spencer makes some broader, more global claims about pragmatism. Some of the introduction gives the reader an overview of other books that have told the history of pragmatism, both popular and scholarly studies, including Menand's, among many others. Spencer also explores predecessors to the pragmatic tradition in American philosophy, particularly through insightful discussion of the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. More broadly, Spencer discusses whether pragmatism is an "American" philosophy and what it might mean to consider a philosophy "American".

It is at this point that I think the Introduction becomes confused, especially because it is placed before any consideration of the philosophers themselves. Spencer develops a sense of the particularity of pragmatism's approach to many philosophical questions and sees pragmatism as based upon a "sense of place". In that respect, he places pragmatism in the context of a broad, largely uncomplimentary picture of American history focusing heavily on the dispossession of American Indians, the institution of slavery, westward expansion and the growth of the country from a colony to a bellicose superpower, environmental despoliation, and the like. Among many other things, Spencer writes at the outset in his Preface: "[T]his book approaches pragmatism through the critical lenses of settler colonialism, manifest destiny, and chattel slavery." Some may find the portrayal harsh and broader that what is needed to give context to pragmatism's development in the United States. Fortunately, Spencer also has at the outset meliorating, to use a pragmatic term, words to say about his project and about the historical critique. He writes:

"The purpose of this book is not be be anti-American; on the contrary, I love this nation, its people, and its land. They are my home. But love, and even patriotism, often require critical analysis, and an acknowledgment of the reality, scope, and magnitude of past problems, if healing is to occur."

Thus the book, in my view, unfortunately loses a degree of focus before it begins. The lengthy, careful expositions of pragmatist thought which follow in the book do not, in my view, require the harsh historical critique of the Introduction, and the critique is not at least expressly presupposed by most of the philosophers Spencer discusses. Other books, including historian Jill Lepore's two recent works, "These Truths" and "This America" may offer a broader, more compelling story of the frequent tension between the United States's accomplishments and its ideals than does Spencer's study of American pragmatism.

Fortunately, the book largely rights itself following the long, wandering introduction. In his five chapters, Spencer offers good, specific discussions of the pragmatists and their thought and work. Each chapter contextualizes the philosophers under discussion by placing their thought in the context of their lives and of their times, avoiding sweeping generalizations. Spencer offers readable summaries of the thinking of the pragmatists with references to their important writings which will encourage readers to explore these writings for themselves. He shows that the term "pragmatism" must itself be used with care, as with most broad philosophical terms, as the pragmatic tradition in American philosophy is contested, with diverging but related teachings and emphases. Spencer also, commendably, broadens the pragmatic tradition by showing pragmatic elements in the thought of philosophers sometimes not primarily associated with pragmatism. He also frequently supplements his analysis of texts with examples from his own experience and reading and from popular culture.

Each of the five chapters focus on a small group of thinkers and develops a critical aspect of pragmatic thinking. In the first, and probably best, chapter of the book, Spencer explores the nature of fallibilism as developed in the work of Charles Peirce and William James, who become emblematic of the fundamental division in pragmatic thinkers between the logical thought of Peirce and the experiential, pluralistic thought of James. Peirce is seen as engaging with Descartes and in exploring science while James is portrayed as engaging with the empiricism of Hume. Spencer discusses well James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" and "A Pluralistic Universe" as well as some of Peirce's important writings. Interestingly, Spencer also and properly includes the idealistic philosopher Josiah Royce together with Peirce and James in making a crucial contribution to the early history of pragmatism.

The second chapter moves from Cambridge to Chicago and the key concept becomes meliorism, or working towards social improvement in particular situations. Spencer begins with Jane Addams and Hull House. He is not the first philosopher to do so, but it is commendable for Spencer to make the case for Addams' philosophical importance. He then turns to John Dewey, a seminal figure in pragmatism, and shows how Dewey's philosophy developed from his own early work as a schoolteacher, as a student of Hegel, and as a colleague of Addams. Here again, Spencer expands the canon of pragmatists by calling attention to George Herbert Mead, a colleague of both Royce and Dewey, who made his own contribution to the melioristic work of Addams and Dewey.

Spencer's third chapter returns to Harvard and explores the work of several distinguished students of James and Royce that expanded the pluralistic character of James' pragmatism. These figures include George Santayana, W.E.B. DuBois, whose thought is shown to have elements beyond the pragmatism of his teachers, Horace Kallen, and Alain Locke. There is a great deal to learn from Spencer's sympathetic discussions of each of these thinkers.

Chapter four of the book explores the convergence between pragmatism and the growing American school of analytic philosophy. The concept largely explored in this chapter is verificationism, an important part of Peirce's thought and developed differently in the growth of analytic philosophy. Spencer offers the reader a good introduction to truth tables and meaning-reference distinctions, and the thorny question of analyticity as he explores the work of C.I. Lewis, Quine, Davidson, and others. This chapter culminates in the work of Richard Rorty who in his book "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" found the analytic project self-defeating. He proclaimed the "end of philosophy" and tried to move beyond philosophy be a new version of pragmatism, modifying and expanding the pluralism of James and Dewey.

The final chapter of the book explores a variety of contemporary thinkers under the pragmatic concept of "hope". This chapter is somewhat rushed and loses some of the continuity maintained in the previous four chapters. Spencer explores the political thought of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas which owes a great deal to the American pragmatists. He explores the work of the Australian thinker How Price who tries to rehabilitate the concept of truth from the criticisms offered by Rorty and to combine the pragmatisms of Pierce and James. The chapter concludes with a discussion of American Indian and Latin American philosophers, some of whom are receiving a good deal of attention. The discussion moves quickly and, it seems to me, in a direction beyond the scope of pragmatism. I enjoyed being reminded of anthropologist Paul Radin's 1927 book, "Primitive Man as a Philosopher" which I read long ago and which is now back in print.

There is a lot to learn and to enjoy in Spencer's book about pragmatism, its history, and continued influence. I hope the book will encourage some of its readers to, in Spencer's words, "devote their lives" to pragmatist thought or, more modestly and pragmatically, to use pragmatism as a tool for better understanding their world and themselves. The publisher, Polity Press, kindly provided me with a review copy of this book.

Platonic Mysticism: Contemplative Science, Philosophy, Literature, And Art
Arthur Versluis
SUNY Press
9781438466323, $80.00, $20.95, paperback

A Study Of Neoplatonism And Mysticism

For many years, I have been interested in mysticism, philosophy of religion, Platonism, and Buddhism. Thus, I was excited to find this 2017 book by Arthur Versluis, "Platonic Mysticism: Contemplative Science, Philosophy, Literature, and Art", which explores these matters and more. Versluis is Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies, Michigan State University. He has written extensively about mysticism, but this book was my first exposure to his work.

Plato's works are fundamental to western thought and are susceptible to many interpretations. Although other scholars read Plato differently, Versluis legitimately reads Plato through the Neoplatonism of Plotinus and his successors. An important goal of Versluis' book is to show that Platonic mysticism as elaborated in Plato, Plotinus, Dionysus the Aeropagite, Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, and others is fundamental to western thought and to the development of Christian mysticism. With increasing knowledge of Buddhism and other Eastern religions, western mysticism in the 20th century came to include Buddhist teachings which in many but not all respects were consistent with the Neoplatonic tradition.

Versluis argues that Platonic mysticism deserves to be understood and practiced in its own right. He is critical of the modern academy for largely marginalizing Platonism, Plotinus, and mysticism and failing to view them as a way to understanding, seeing them instead through psychology, particular cultures, and history. Versluis describes mysticism and Platonism as "the nature and development of man's spiritual consciousness" (quoting Evelyn Underhill). Vesluis explains that Platonic mysticism constitutes

"the reflective awareness of our own transcendent nature, or to put it another way of the nature of transcendent reality from which, in this tradition, it is said we are indivisible. As such, mysticism has offshoots and subsets that can better be understood with reference to it, but mysticism essentially is contemplative ascent and illumination, whatever cultural context it exists within. (p, 8)

In a passionately-written, erudite work, Versluis offers a history and a defense of Platonic mysticism. He begins with a chapter tracing its development through Plato, Plotinus, and Dionysius the Areopagite through the great medieval Christian mystics, He traces the thread through more modern mystics, including the Cambridge Platonists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and contemporaries such as Willigis Jager. There is much to learn and to absorb in his discussion.

Versluis discusses studies of mysticism beginning with William James' famous book "The Varieties of Religious Experience" and argues that scholarly work gradually detached mysticism from its universal, philosophical roots, as developed in Plotinus, and began to view it through largely in psychological terms. He discusses further the increasing dismissal of mystical thought and experience in the academy with the continued rise of a scientific, materialistic outlook. In a pivotal chapter titled "The Externalist Fallacy" Versluis argues that mystical thought and experience deserve to be studied in their own terms and that contemporary analysis has no legitimate reason for dismissing mystical thought and cutting it off.

In the three final chapters of the book, Versluis offers many insights into the nature of Platonic mysticism. In "On Literature and Mysticism" he explores how mystical insight, which is beyond language, may be explored and suggested through language in the works of Plato and Plotinus, and in various writers and poets, such as William Blake and Rilke. He discusses well and at length the late work of the literary critic Northrup Frye who once said: "for a long time I've been preoccupied by the theme of the reality of the spiritual world, including its substantial reality." (Versluis at 96).

In a chapter titled "Transcendence", Versluis explains further the nature of Platonic Mysticism and of Buddhist mysticism and argues that science, historicism, or analytic studies have shown no reason to reject them as a guide to the fundamental nature of reality. In "Contemplative Art, Contemplative Science" Vesluis shows how art, similarly to literature may point to transcendence in the work, for example, of the Hudson River School of American Painting. He urges serious and renewed attention to given to Platonic mysticism, both through the arts and through what he sees as studies of contemplative experience, or contemplative science.

I share many of Versluis' passions and thoughts, which in my case come from an early interest in Plato and a more recent but still lengthy interest in Buddhism and in Meister Eckhart together with an interest in Jewish mysticism and philosophy. I learned a great deal from him. His book addresses the criticism of mysticism through science and psychology, but it does not discuss other broad issues that need to be addressed, including the nature of individuation and the problem of evil. Versluis properly points out the inconsistency between the approach of Platonic mysticism and the confessional, creedal approach of Western theistic religions, an inconsistency which probably cannot be bridged. Still he has kind things to say about most religious and their search. Although he does not discuss it at length, I was disappointed with Vesluis' brief comments about Judaism which seem to me unduly dismissive and stereotyped. He writes that the inconsistency between theistic religions and Platonic mysticism is particularly acute "in a tradition of worshipping a tribal god that emphasizes one's own people as the elect or chosen and others as lesser or lost". (p. 60-61) I found these strictures unfair on their face to Judaism and found as well that they ignored the long tradition of Jewish mysticism, including Jewish mysticism influenced by Neoplatonism. Thus, even though I learned much from the book and share a great deal with it, I felt the strong need to disengage myself from this work.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

All the Silent Voices
Elena Mikalsen
The Wild Rose Press, Inc
9781509228898, $17.99

This is author Elena Mikalsen's third book, and with each her prose has tightened. Here, she draws upon her experience as a psychologist. Her protagonist, college student Emma, has been raped, beaten, and left for dead by a football player. She is forced from school and spends years trying to block out the attack. Eventually she moves on, finds a loving husband, and has a high-school-aged daughter. Emma works in marketing for a pharmaceutical company. When her company is bought out by another, she learns that her new boss is her rapist. All her old feelings of despair and anger return. She vows revenge.

This emotion-packed thriller is particularly apt in light of the current #MeToo movement. Emma's rape kit was destroyed before it could be tested. The people who were supposed to help her (her counselors, the dean, even the police) instead sweep her rape under the carpet - all so the school could build a sports complex.

Adding to the drama are Emma's infertility and the fact that she's never told her husband, Aidan, that she was raped. Emma's desire for revenge endangers not only herself, but her family, and often approaches illegal methods.

Mikalsen also provides an intimate look into the world of the pharmaceutical industry. Like many of the mega-industries in American, Big Pharma is full of graft and corruption with profits made at the cost of people's lives. As a physician myself, I found these elements accurate and they gave a sense of verisimilitude to the novel.

This book reads as a near-documentary of many of America's current flaws.

American Dirt
Jeanine Cummins
Flatiron Books
9781250209764, $27.99

American Dirt has been mired in so much controversy, I almost didn't read it. In the end, though, curiosity pulled me in so I could make up my own mind.

The #MeToo and the #OwnVoices movements have caused a fundamental shift in America and in American literature. As a writer myself, I don't believe that only POC writers can write a POC story, that only people who have been raped can write a true account of rape, that only women can write female voices, or that only men can write male voices. The key ingredients for any book are a good imagination, empathy, and a sensitivity to the story/voice you are writing.

That said, I agree with Roxane Gay's article in January's GAY magazine: "Creativity demands that anyone should be able to tell the kinds of stories they want, but how those stories are told matters and creative freedom does not grant critical immunity. Perfection isn't the goal, but accuracy and authenticity are. When people tell stories beyond their subject position, all too often they do it poorly. The depictions are caricatures, rife with stereotypes, flat and distorted. The people whose communities are so poorly represented speak up but are rarely heard. Writers are allowed to make mistakes.Writers are allowed to write bad books. To critique American Dirt isn't about jealousy or misogyny or censorship. It's about demanding better."

Certainly Jeanine Cummins has the right to produce any type of fiction she likes, but having her work read by Latinx sensitivity readers before publication might have helped flesh out her rather flat, stereotypical characters. She has taken what is a harrowing experience to millions of immigrants - crossing into the US from its southern border - and turned it into a common thriller. I read the entire book in two evenings, so it's definitely a page-turner. The language ranges from gritty to near-poetic. I found point-of-view shifts, particularly toward the end, problematic, and there were shifts from past to present tense that didn't quite make sense to me. As American Dirt is a thriller, the characterization isn't particularly strong, and it's more plot-driven than character-driven. While it is okay as a thriller, it wasn't great, and certainly never reached the level of characterization seen in my favorite thrillers: the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva.

I read the acknowledgments / author's notes at the end and found this phrase particularly icky: "I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it [a true immigrant story]?" So only someone the color of pale toast could write the immigrant story? What quirk in her brain allowed such words to pop out of her mouth, and what idiot in her publishing team thought that would be a good quote? Many people, including Latinx writers, activists, and immigrants, have written books of equal or greater stature. The real "American Dirt" is that the American publishing system is broken. The vast majority of people within the industry are white, view the world with white privilege, and seem committed to promoting that privilege, thus true migrant stories have been written but, sadly, never published.

If She Had Stayed
Diane Byington
Red Adept Publishing, LLC
B084D619KF, $2.99

If She had Stayed is Ms. Byington's sophomore book, and it was such a joy to read I whizzed through it in one sitting. She successfully blends women's fiction with time travel while fan-girling Nikola Tesla. Kaley Kline, a mid-thirties woman, having never lived up to her potential, feels she is a "dud." When she discovers pages from Tesla's journals detailing time travel, she resolves to prove his assertions are correct. Tesla, too, is a bit of a dud, never living up to his potential as a scientist nor never reaching the success of his contemporaries. As the director of the new Tesla Museum in Colorado Springs, Kaley hopes to make her museum successful and envisions the old journal as the means to do it - plus she'll get personal kudos for being the second person to travel through time.

The tone is upbeat but with some darker undertones of madness and abuse, but revealing those would disclose the plot. The characters - from Kaley to her boyfriend to Tesla - all have appropriate growth during their character arcs.

Master of Sorrows
Justin Travis Call
Blackstone Publishing
9781982591786, $26.99

Master of Sorrows is Justin Travis Call's debut novel. I was intrigued by the lines from the book blurb on Goodreads: But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same? This is an anti-magic fantasy in which magical artifacts, when found, are confiscated and hidden away as they are considered to be tools of the dark god.

The hero is Annev, a boy born without an arm in a world where those with physical deformities are presumed to worship the dark god. He manages to survive in this anti-magic world only through the use of a magical prosthetic arm. Annev is driven by love and loyalty instilled in him by his surrogate father/mentor, Sodar. Early on Annev feels surges of power and hate when he touches objects of magic. He and his friends are schooled in becoming warriors and must pass a test to become an avatar. they fail, they are forever forbidden to leave the hidden village of Chaenbalu. Only avatars may leave to hunt down magical artifacts. The descriptions of this test are quite well done.

Annev has a love interest, Myjun, that falls quite flat. She espouses the anti-magical dogma sanctioned by her father. Despite the fact that Annev is diametrically the opposite of anti-magical, he maintains his crush on her.

The very long "readings" from the religious tracts slow down the book, and I found I simply skimmed them.

River Rising
John A. Heldt
Independently published
9781097352043, $11.99

John A. Heldt's River Rising is the first in the Carson Chronicles series. He apparently specializes in time-travel works, and this book follows that approach.

When the five Carson children's parents disappear, the family lawyer gives them a sealed letter. Upon opening it, they find their parents are time-travelers who have apparently lost their way. The intrepid kids, who range into the upper twenties down to sixteen, decide to go find their parents, Tim and Caroline. Heldt blends fiction with fact and has well-researched events of the 1880s, but never addresses the grandfather paradox, butterfly effects, or causal loops. In fact, these kids manage to fall in love with 1880s Johnston, PA locals without much consideration of the effects these love interests might have on the future.

The novel is far too long at 660 pages and has too many threads to be effective. Four of the five children develop interests in the opposite sex, and perhaps a couple of those could have been deleted or several of the kids simply stayed home in Arizona. This book was also hard to place as far as reading level. The simplistic language left me feeling I was reading young adult, but the carnage of the Johnstown flood and the sexual overtones (though faint) left me feeling this should be more of an older YA. It definitely lacked the sophistication of a more adult work.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide
Michael R. Johnston
9781787583139, $14.95

The Blood-Dimmed Tide is the second in Michael R. Johnston's Remembrance War space opera series. It would have been helpful to have read the first, but Johnston provides enough backstory that reading the first isn't essential. In the distant past, human destroyed their planet and took to the stars. They wandered alone in space until finally taken in by the Zhen. The Zhen were not as compassionate as they originally seemed. Earthlings remain second-class citizens. Tajen Hunt, a human, has rediscovered Earth and taken the planet back from domination by the Zhen. As a result, humans are again walking where their ancestors walked 1000 years earlier. The world building is excellent and technical stuff believable enough for me to suspend disbelief. There's a touch of romance (I enjoyed two men being both husbands to each other and partners in saving Earth), lots of techie stuff, and humorous banter.

The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill: A Novel
James Charlesworth
9781510731790, $24.99

In his impressive debut novel, The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill, James Charlesworth covers a lot of ground. First, he deftly builds an entire family of offbeat characters, most of them more than a little unlikeable. Second, his characters cross America from end to end: starting as hard-scrabble farmers in the Dust Bowl, they moved to San Bernardino, then the oil fields of Alaska, on to Florida to New York City to Houston to Michigan to Nebraska. For years, these four children follow a father who is always chasing the next fast buck without regard to the emotional needs of wives and children. Third, Charlesworth captures the soul of America as we struggle with the Depression, the Vietnam War, and other major events in our shared history and proves that the American Dream is unattainable for most, especially the senior Hill's children, forever emotionally scarred by his emotional absence.

The prose is gorgeous, laden with depth and feeling. This epic family saga is sure to become an American classic.

The Sinful Scot
Maddison Michaels
Entangled: Amara
9781670931771, $18.99

Though The Sinful Scot is the third book in Maddison Michaels's Saints and Scoundrels series, it can be read as a standalone novel. This book comes with a trigger warning in the beginning as Michaels takes on a tough subject - especially for the romance genre, and does it with sensitivity - spousal abuse and spousal rape. Connie is raised to marry a man chosen by her parents, one most likely to elevate the family status. Unfortunately, the duke they choose turns out to be a sadist who beats his wives and mistresses indiscriminately. Connie confides in her mother who urges Connie to be a better wife and to not antagonize her husband. She remains committed to the relationship only to protect her stepdaughter. She awakens one morning to find her husband dead in her bed and his blood all over her. Soon she realizes she's being framed for a murder she didn't commit. Her estranged childhood friend, Alec, has become a physician. When he realizes her situation, though, he vows to help her. Alec helps her escape, taking her on the run to clear her name. Their undeniable chemistry results in the requisite epilogue with a happily-ever-after and a bun in the oven.

The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World's Most Notorious Terrorists
Tracy Walder
St. Martin's Press
9781250230980, $27.99

Tracy Walder's The Unexpected Spy is her memoir of her years as a counterterrorism officer in the CIA and a special agent in the FBI in the post-911 world. She makes it clear in the beginning that she wouldn't reveal any classified information, so I was prepared for the redacted lines. She overcomes childhood obstacles (she had floppy baby syndrome and was expected to be mentally retarded) and eventually heads to a California university and pledges a sorority. At a job fair, she meets a CIA recruiter and thus begins her journey into the world of international spies with both the CIA and FBI. A strong woman, she cares deeply about America and about people and who maintains a global rather than an America-first attitude. Throughout her adventures, she juggles being "womanly" (caring about her hairstyle and wearing lipstick) with her job in a largely male-oriented world. She becomes an avowed feminist as she battles daily with overt sexism in both organizations as men call her,"Malibu Barbie," because of her California origins and her blonde hair.

This is a eye-opening glimpse into the attitudes of American governmental agencies, and it's harrowing that they can treat women in such a nasty misogynist manner. She switched from the CIA to the FBI and was treated horribly there. When the sexism grew too much, she armed the next revolution by teaching girls how to negotiate their way through such hostilities and how to seek out the truth.

Walder's account was highly personal and humorous at times. An exceptional read and highly recommended.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Bezalel's Body: The Death of God and the Birth of Art
Katie Kresser
Cascade Books
c/o Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401-2960
9781532645655, $48.00, HC, 230pp,

Synopsis: The major premise of "Bezalel's Body: The Death of God and the Birth of Art" by Professor Katie Kresser is that when a God dies, art is born. With Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the human imagination began to be remade.

In "Bezalel's Body" Professor Kresser locates the historical roots of the thing we call art. She weaves together centuries of art history, philosophy, theology, psychology, and art theory to uncover the deep spiritual foundations of this cultural form.

Why do some people pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting? Why are art museums almost like modern temples? The answer lies in Christian theology and the earliest forms of Christian image making. By examining how cutting-edge art trends reveal age-old spiritual dynamics, Kresser helps recover an ancient tradition with vital relevance for today.

Critique: An erudite and seminal work of meticulous, detailed, and exhaustive scholarship, "Bezalel's Body: The Death of God and the Birth of Art" is an extraordinary and inherently fascinating read that is as thoughtful as it is thought-provoking. Enhanced with an extensive listing of illustrations and a four page bibliography, "Bezalel's Body: The Death of God and the Birth of Art" is a very special and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Religious Art & Art History 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 "Bezalel's Body: The Death of God and the Birth of Art" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781532645648, $28.00).

Editorial Note: Katie Kresser is a Professor of Art History at the Seattle Pacific University. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2006, where she specialized in American and European modernism with a secondary focus on early Christian and medieval art. She is the author of several critical essays as well as the book The Art and Thought of John La Farge (Routledge, 2013).

The Country Nurse Remembers
Mary J. MacLeod
Arcade Publishing
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781950691296, $24.99, HC, 360pp,

Synopsis: Mary MacLeod's mother died in childbirth when Mary was five, an event that marked for the child a "before time" (a lost joyful time) -- and after. She was shunted from one relative to another while her father coped with his grief. He married again only nine months later, perhaps to have a mother for his child, but her new mum, harsh and withholding of her love, quickly exerted complete control over her thoughts and deeds, with her father oblivious. Her name was changed to her stepmother's choice of "Julia". Yet the pale, thin, quiet little girl didn't know she was unhappy: things were just the way they were.

Narrating from the perspective of the child she was but with the understanding and empathy of the nurse and mother she became, Mary recounts in her memoir, "The Country Nurse Remembers: True Stories of a Troubled Childhood, War, and Becoming a Nurse" the moving, intimate, indelible story of her young life, growing up in rural England near Bath, relishing the good times when her stepmother was friendly or she helped her father in the garden, experiencing the world war (including air raids and blackouts, the war effort, evacuees, and German prisoners), winning a scholarship, leaving home to train for three years as a nurse, and gradually finding her way as an independent woman.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively candid, engagingly presented, and deeply personal memoir, "The Country Nurse Remembers: True Stories of a Troubled Childhood, War, and Becoming a Nurse" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Country Nurse Remembers" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in England, Mary J. MacLeod qualified as a nurse in England and has lived in Aden (now Yemen), the United States, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia as well as her husband George's native Scotland.

Fleabag: The Special Edition
Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Theatre Communications Group
520 Eighth Avenue, 24th floor, New York, NY 10018-4156
9781559369855, $14.95, PB, 104pp,

Synopsis: In 2013, Fleabag made its debut as a one-woman show in the sixty-seat venue called the Big Belly, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's Underbelly. It was an immediate hit, going on to enjoy two runs at London's Soho Theatre, national and international tours, while picking up prizes including Critics' Circle, The Stage, Fringe First and two Off West End Theatre Awards, plus an Olivier Award nomination.

The 2016 TV adaptation propelled Fleabag and Phoebe to worldwide fame, earning critical acclaim and further accolades including Writers' Guild, Royal Television Society and BAFTA Television Awards. A second season followed in 2019, winning an amazing six Emmy Awards, along with a sold-out run of the original play in New York.

This special edition of the play is released alongside Fleabag's first West End run at Wyndham's Theatre, London. It is introduced by Deborah Frances-White, stand-up comedian, writer and host of The Guilty Feminist podcast.

Critique: An absolute treat for all dedicated theatre buffs, and also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.49), "Fleabag" by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary American Plays collections.

Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place
Joan Frank
University of New Mexico Press
1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM 87131-0001
9780826361370, $19.95, PB, 208pp,

Synopsis: Showcasing author Joan Frank's travels in Europe and the United States, "Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place" explores the quest for place that compels and defines us: the things we carry, how politics infuse geography, media's depictions of an idea of home, the ancient and modern reverberations of the word "hotel," and the ceaseless discovery generated by encounters with self and others on familiar and foreign ground. In the pages of "Try to Get Lost" Frank deftly posits that in fact time itself may be our ultimate, inhabited place -- the "vastest real estate we know," with a "stunningly short" lease.

Critique: A unique, entertaining, thoughtful and thought-provoking blend of essay formatted travelogue and observational commentaries, "Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place" is an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

In the Garden
Whitaker House, author
Becky Speer, illustrator
Whitaker House
9781641234023, $14.99, PB, 128pp,

Synopsis: "In the Garden: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants of the Bible" considers not only the lilies of the field, but all the plants, trees, herbs, shrubs, and flowers that played a role in the biblical narrative. From the barley Ruth harvested to the hyssop David craved, from the frankincense the wise men brought to Jesus to the sycamore tree Zacchaeus climbed, the Bible is peppered with allusions to the plants that were a part of daily life in the ancient Near East and in New Testament Israel.

With original and expertly drawn illustrations, "In the Garden" is beautifully images and clarifies the biblical references to fifty plants and provides delightful new insights into the Word of God. "In the Garden" also includes indexes to each plant and its corresponding Scripture references, a calendar of Jewish festivals and the growing seasons in Israel, and tips for growing your own biblically inspired garden.

Critique: A beautifully presented, impressively informative, contemplatively inspiring read from first page to last, "In the Garden: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants of the Bible" is a unique, extraordinary, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, church, community, and academic library collections.

Naked in the Zendo
Grace Schireson
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115-4544
9781611806564, $16.95, PB, 184pp,

Synopsis: We need to remove our ego's clothing to truly see ourselves and the world as they are. "Naked in the Zendo: Stories of Uptight Zen, Wild-Ass Zen, and Enlightenment Wherever You Are" is comprised of Grace Schireson's stories about her Zen journey from child to being grandmother and sharing deep insights about how we can find awareness, feel it in our bodies, and experience it wherever we are.

Grace's path is at times ordinary as she relates stories of youthful naivete ("Will Zen Get You High?"), parenting ("You Exist; Therefore, I Am Embarrassed"), and pets ("The Honorable Roshi Bully Cat"), along with stories of her studies with Suzuki Roshi ("What's Love Got to Do with It?"), Keido Fukushima Roshi ("Don't Bow"), and more. Each of her stories, whether humorous or poignant, highlights the power of awareness to transform our lives and the remarkable work of this pioneering woman in American Zen.

Critique: An absorbing, entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring read from first page to last, "Naked in the Zendo: Stories of Uptight Zen, Wild-Ass Zen, and Enlightenment Wherever You Are" is an especially recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Zen Spirituality and American Biography collections. It should be noted that "Naked in the Zendo" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Grace Schireson is a clinical psychologist and a teacher in the Suzuki Roshi lineage, Soto Zen tradition, empowered by Sojun Mel Weitsman. She has also practiced in the Rinzai tradition and was encouraged to teach koans by Keido Fukushima Roshi. Grace is the author of Zen Women and co-editor of Zen Bridge. Grace is the head teacher of the Central Valley Zen Foundation, president of the Shogaku Zen Institute, and teaches meditation at Stanford University.

How to Age Joyfully
Maggy Pigott
c/o Octopus Books
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9781786859686, $16.99, HC, 160pp,

Synopsis: Research shows that we can make a big difference to how well we age. From staying active to connecting with others, "How to Age Joyfully: Eight Steps to a Happier, Fuller Life" by Maggy Pigott is an uplifting book that shares the secrets to ageing well in eight steps -- each of with will help keep you healthy and happy. Each step has easy-to-follow tips, alongside inspiring words both ancient and modern... and more!

Critique: As practical and effective as it is inspired and inspiring, "How to Age Joyfully: Eight Steps to a Happier, Fuller Life" is one of those life-enhancing, life-enriching, quality of life improving reads that is unreservedly recommended for senior citizen center and community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "How to Age Joyfully: Eight Steps to a Happier, Fuller Life" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note: London-based Maggy Pigott CBE is relishing retirement, having discovered the joys of dancing (tango and ballet), Twitter and volunteering, including being Vice Chair of Open Age. This London charity helps thousands of people over 50 lead healthy, happy and fulfilled lives.

The Everything I Have Lost
Sylvia Zeleny
Cinco Puntos Press
701 Texas, El Paso, Texas 79901
9781947627178, $15.95, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: 12-year-old Julia keeps a diary about her life growing up in Juarez, Mexico. Life in Juarez is strange. People say it's the murder capital of the world. Dad's gone a lot. They can't play outside because it isn't safe. Drug cartels rule the streets. Cars and people disappear, leaving behind pet cats. Then Dad disappears and Julia and her brother go live with her aunt in El Paso. What's happened to her Dad? Julia wonders. Is he going to disappear forever?

Critique: A coming-of-age story set in today's Juarez, "The Everything I Have Lost" is an inherently riveting read that radiates a realism that engages the reader's total engagement and absolute attention from first page to last. While this riveting novel is especially recommended for community and school library YA Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Everything I Have Lost" is also available in a paperback edition (9781947627185, $11.95).

Editorial Note: Sylvia Zeleny is a bilingual author from Sonora, Mexico. Sylvia has published several short-story collections and novels in Spanish. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Texas at El Paso where she is currently a Visiting Writer. In 2016 she created CasaOctavia, a residence for women and LGBTQ writers from Latin America.

Avidly Reads Making Out
Kathryn Bond Stockton
New York University Press
838 Broadway, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10003
9781479843275, $14.95, PB, 176pp,

Synopsis: Mid-kiss, do you ever wonder who you are, who you're kissing, where it's leading? It can feel luscious, libidinal, friendly, but are we trying to make out something through our kissing? For Kathryn Bond Stockton, making out is a prism through which to look at the cultural and political forces of our world: race, economics, childhood, books, and movies. Avidly Reads Making Out is Stockton's personal memoir about a non-binary childhood before that idea existed in her world. We think about kissing as we accompany Stockton to the bedroom, to the closet, to the playground, to the movies, and to solitary moments with a book -- the ultimate source of pleasure.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, often humorous, always engaging read from first page to last, "Avidly Reads Making Out" is a delightfully thoughtful and thought-provoking little book that is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library LGBT Demographic Studies, American Biography, and Contemporary Literary Studies collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Avidly Reads Making Out" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Kathryn Bond Stockton is the Distinguished Professor of English, Dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, and Associate Vice President for Equity and Diversity at the University of Utah. Most recently, she is also the author of The Queer Child, or Growing Up Sideways in the Twentieth Century (Duke University Press 2009).

Avidly Reads is a series of short books about how culture makes us feel. Founded in 2012 by Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle, Avidly (an online magazine supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books) specializes in short-form critical essays devoted to thinking and feeling. Avidly Reads is an exciting new series featuring books that are part memoir, part cultural criticism, each bringing to life the author's emotional relationship to a cultural artifact or experience. Avidly Reads invites us to explore the surprising pleasures and obstacles of everyday life.

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

The Saint of Lake Topaz (The Starlight Club Book 11)
Joe Corso
Independently published.
9781711022437, $19.95, 186 Pages, Paperback

Genre: Crime Thriller

Those, who like myself love the Starlight Club series adore them not only for their excitement, but also for the way they immerse us into the sights and sounds of a time long past. The stories which an elderly Bobby tell his daughter Lynn allow an insight into the ruthless, yet honourable life of Big Red Fortunato and the men who worked for him.

In this story, Lynn has joined Bobby in the new rumpus room to hear a story about Bull. So Bobby takes us all back to 1962 and the Lucky Draw Card Club in Anaheim, California.

Things have settled down nicely at the club and Bull decides it's time to move on and take up his job as manager of Red's Double Seven casino in Las Vegas, but on the way he decides to pop in on his old army buddy Sal Stark.

When Bull arrives at the Lucky Lady Restaurant and Casino which Sal and his wife Cindy own he is troubled to discover that they are being bullied by Jarret Hastings a local business man who wants to buy the casino. He finds Sal recovering in hospital, and it appears Hastings will stop at nothing to get his own way. However, Hastings is yet to meet the formidable Bull who owes Sal an enormous debt of gratitude for saving his life in Korea, and when Bull discovers more about Hastings 'businesses' it becomes apparent that he must be stopped!

Hastings, working from a warehouse has some very shady business deals going down, and when Bull discovers that one of them is kidnapping young girls and selling them to rich Arabs for perverse acts he is incensed.

However, this turns to blood lust when little orphan Susie, who has been praying for a saviour from her captors gets the chance to plead to her 'saint' Bull. Hearing her story he immediately takes her to Sal and his wife Cindy, and sets about stopping the horrific trafficking of young girls.

Bull is joined by Red, (who leaves the Starlight Club in the charge of Tarzan,) Trenchie, Pissclam, and Johnny Eight Fingers. These men hardened to what life has dealt them have very strict rules and one of them is that they will not tolerate anyone abusing kids, they believe that kids are innocent and should be kept away from harm.

With temperatures rising to boiling point, Hastings is determined to get the casino to facilitate money laundering, the Arabs expect to have their shipments of young girls on time, and Bull, Red, and the boys are determined that they will be stopped!

Through the Starlight Club stories those of us who have never been, and hopefully never will be part of this type of world are treated to a fly-on-the-wall view of the honour system that these types of men live by. The underworld which those not in the know don't see, a world of corruption and greed, where life is expendable yet debts are honoured and always repaid, and men who have each other's backs, are loyal without question, and put family first.

The author Joe Corso has, in this exciting new book in the Starlight Club series yet again brought the sights, sounds and values of a bygone era back to life. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves an exciting adventure full of crime, love, passion, and twists and turns at every page turn.

Letters from Federica
Suzanne Mondoux
Balboa Press
9781982241841, $15.99, 220 Pages

Suzanne Mondoux, the author of this outstanding mystery, is a voice for animals, an explorer and is dedicated to the protection of animals and the environment. She is a professional author of children's and environmental books. This is her first mystery story, which I found compelling and intriguing reading, its twist and turns kept me riveted until the last page.

The protagonist is Leo Orsini a talented performance artist and songwriter, who at the age of six met the girl next door, the girl whom he would love for all his life, the beautiful Federica Russo.

Theirs was a true love story, however, it was one which was to be cut short cruelly just two weeks after their wedding, forty years before this story begins.

Leo is a generous man who has loved, drunk and eaten to excess all of his life. Surrounded by friends, he has a successful career, lives in a beautiful castle, and has found love again in the form of William, a sensitive and compassionate heart surgeon. He appears to have it all, yet he is still haunted by Federica's disappearance.

Herself a singer, musician, and songwriter, Federica had left a series of letters to him, poems in which she expresses her deep love for him, yet also her fears. But what can she be afraid of, what demon was lurking in the shadows of her mind? How could she the happy, beautiful wife he married, in just a few days turn into a haunted woman who then disappears?

These questions torment Leo, and he is racked with guilt wondering if there were things he should have noticed or done. Then, following a private reading of the letters to his close friends' it is decided to investigate further.

As they delve into the true meanings of the letters and re-live their memories of Federica, secrets from the past are revealed, and it becomes apparent that she is trying to protect Leo, but from what?

This story is outstanding, giving its readers a glimpse into the lifestyle of high fliers, yet it is heart-wrenching and deeply emotional. I highly recommend it to lovers of a really good mystery!

Kitchen Decorations (Super Speed Sam)
Monty J. McClaine
Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
9781534731257, $5.99, 72 Pages

It's raining outside so what better thing to do than some baking, and Mom is getting prepared, along with her little helpers, Jack whose six years old, and the youngest member of the family and their little princess, Molly. Of course the whole proceedings are being supervised by Sam the families loyal and superhero (although that's something the McClaine family don't know) Basset Hound.

Now all moms know what fun it is to teach their children to bake, however, sometimes it can become very messy, but that's all part of the fun, right?

Everything starts off fine in the McClaine kitchen, Jake and Molly are following Mom's instructions, and Sam, well Sam is being a hoover as most dogs are.

However, suddenly the doorbell rings and Mom has to leave the room and answer it. Well that's when Jack's mischievous nature comes to the fore and things get very much out of control...

Of course, being the family guard dog, Sam has accompanied Mom to check that the stranger at the door isn't a threat, and having established that he returns to the kitchen.

Oh how it has changed, I'll leave you to imagine what a naughty boy could do. What will Mom say if sees what has been done?

Its action time and only Sam can save the day, but will his super powers be enough, or will Mom come in too soon and discover what has happened?

Well my granddaughter and I loved discovering the answer, and seeing the bright illustrations in this super story, and you will too when you read this exciting adventure in the Super Speed Sam series.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

A Cold Drink of Meaning: Words of Pith and Ponder for the Parched
Bruce Newman
Independently published
9798602974287, $9.99, Paperback, 135 pages
B083XTGQ5L, $3.49

Let the sparkling words enter your mind and penetrate deep within your soul as each poem holds its own special meaning. This is the time that allows you to stop, reflect, and allow yourself to absorb words filled with enrichment.

As you find yourself losing yourself to the pages that make up this book, you feel a great relief as calmness enters your body. You will find that it's as though the poems are speaking to you as an individual and written with you in mind.

The author has included a bonus section he calls Melanges. These are a large collection of quotes and sayings that allow you to grow as an individual and discover one that captures your life trials and tribulations.

Bruce Newman is a talented poet that knows how to provide the best for his readers. He has put his heart and soul into this collection and produced an award-winning novel. I highly recommend him and any of his books, for he always puts the reader's satisfaction first.

Suzie Housley

Tyla Taylor's Bookshelf

Yoga Cocaine
Daralyse Lyons
Modern History Press
9781615994854, $19.95, hardcover, 240 pages
9781615994847, paperback

A powerful journey of transformation and personal evolution

Jessica is an incredible character with a powerful story. Following her journey tugged at my heart and although the subjects addressed (addiction, relapse, recovery, trauma) were highly charged, the author's irreverent way of writing also infused humor into the character's voice. The book, like life, was dramatic, comedic and everything in between. If it were possible to give 6 stars, I would.

Tyla Taylor

U. Melissa Anyiwo's Bookshelf

Patricia Leavy
9789004414013, $15.00, PB, 173pp
9789004414020, $73.00, HC, 174pp

Film is a novel I had no idea I was waiting for until I started to read it. Film is the story of three women who moved to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams. Each has faced obstacles and "me too" challenges. Although they enjoy different degrees of "success," each woman has found herself at a crossroads. When a man in their circle is suddenly catapulted to instant stardom, these women struggle to come to terms with their own stalled dreams. They must go on a journey of self-discovery, looking back at their pasts, in order to find the inspiration to move forward.
They also find strength in the bonds of their friendships.

The writing itself moves between the present and skillfully rendered flashback scenes in order to illustrate how each woman has arrived in her current circumstances and how she might move forward. The tone effectively vacillates between melancholy and light, fun, humor. Leavy shows her skills as a social scientist turned novelist in the dialogue which is engaging, resonant, and authentic. The backdrop of Hollywood, from movie studios to small LA nightclubs, makes this an imminently fun read.

In Film, we are immersed in a world tailor-made for any audience, one which offers an insightful glimpse into life after college and those confusing years of our twenties. The protagonist, Tash Daniels, has appeared in two of Leavy's previous novels, Low-Fat Love and Blue. However, Film works as a stand-alone novel, and you can certainly read it as such.

The concept of a 'big life' is returned to in the world of Tash, now a college graduate finding her way through the thorny world of deciding and accepting her future. At what point do we choose our 'big life' or learn to accept that 'big' means happiness and not wealth? When do we leave behind our unrealistic expectations of easily attained success and embrace our true passions, even if they are hard and don't immediately offer a path to material prosperity? How do we get in our own way? How do unaddressed past traumas leak into our present and prevent us from moving forward?

There are so many elements that demonstrate Leavy's expertise in explicitly and implicitly drawing out the truths at the heart of humanity in today's world in ways we can all relate to, while creating a story that feels incredibly intimate. But Leavy's greatest talent is writing stories for varied audiences that can be read at multiple levels, from consuming them in an afternoon on the beach to doing a deep analysis in the classroom.

I've used Low-Fat Love (2011, 2015) in class many times because it resonates with the students in ways general historical material cannot, feeling accessible and thus understandable. Film provides an even more nuanced look into a phase of life already murky in some imaginations, yet one we can recognize at whatever point of life's journey we are on. Leavy's diverse range of characters, with different sexual orientations, helps students see versions of themselves while developing empathy for the complexities of difference.

It's also her bravest novel, dealing with issues sparked by the current #MeToo Movement, in a sensitive yet direct way that will resonate with any reader. Her characters help us all realize that we only really see shades of people, tips of icebergs that often hide deep wells of pain. In the end, the message is a powerful and empowering one about lighting the fire within, women supporting one another, and making room for professional and romantic passion in our lives. Indeed, we can strive for a 'big life.'

I could write a thousand pages of reasons to consume this novel on a lazy afternoon, since once you start you won't be able to put it down. I could even write a long list of reasons to use this novel in your Contemporary History, Social Work, Communication, Film, Women's and Gender Studies, Sociology, and Capstone courses. In the end, you should just read it and judge for yourself. I promise you won't be disappointed. Highly recommended.

U. Melissa Anyiwo, Ph.D.

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Power of a Tale
Haya Bak-Itzhak & Idit Pintel-Ginsberg
Wayne State University Press
4809 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201-1309
9780814342084, $64.99, HC, 464pp,

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Haya Bar-Itzhak and Idit Pintel-Ginsberg, "The Power of a Tale: Stories from the Israel Folktale Archives", showcases a collection of fifty-three folktales in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Israel Folktale Archives (IFA) at the University of Haifa. Established by the folklorist Dov Noy in the 1950s, the IFA is the only archive of its kind in Israel and serves as a center for knowledge and information concerning the cultural heritage of the many ethnic communities in Israel.

For this jubilee volume, contributors each selected a story-the narrators of which vary in ethnic background, education level, gender, and length of time in Israel-from the more than 24,000 preserved in the archives and wrote an accompanying analytic essay. The folk narrative is anchored in tradition, but it is modified and renewed by each narrator as they tell it to assorted audiences and in different performance contexts.

The stories they tell encompass a myriad of genres and themes, including mythical tales, demon legends, marchen of various sorts, and personal narratives. Contributors employ diverse approaches to analyze and interpret the stories, such as the classic comparative approach, which looks at tale types, oikotypes, and motifs; formalism, which considers narrative roles and narrative functions; structuralism, which aims to uncover a story's deep structure and its binary oppositions; and more.

Translated for the first time into English, the stories and accompanying essays comprising "The Power of the Tale" are evidence of the lively research being conducted today on folk literature. Scholars and students interested in Jewish folklore and literature will appreciate this diverse collection as well as readers interested in Jewish and Israeli culture.

Critique: A unique and inherently fascinating contribution to the growing body of Israeli literature, "The Power of a Tale: Stories from the Israel Folktale Archives" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Folktale/Folklore/Mythology collections.

Editorial Note: Haya Bak-Itzhak is Professor Emeritus of Literature and Folkore at the University of Haifa.

Idit Pintel-Ginsberg is a researcher of Jewish culture, focusing on folk literature, intangible cultural heritage preservation, Jewish cultural symbolism, and folklore in rabbinical and medieval Jewish thought and its interaction with contemporary cultural issues.

Bob Marley in Comics!
Sophia Blitman, text author
Gaet's, writer
Bast, cover artist
NBM Publishing
160 Broadway, Ste. 700, East Wing, New York, NY 10038
9781681122496, $27.99, HC, 176pp,

Synopsis: In the middle of a depressing youth in a ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, Robert Nesta Marley sees only one way out: music. And that music will be what Jamaica made of rock and pop locally that had hardly been heard anywhere else: reggae! It is Marley who brings the unmistakable beat of reggae to the entire world. From small stages in Jamaica, his partners, The Wailers, accompany him all the way to the most fabulous world tours and adulation. In addition to a rocketing musical career, the most famous rasta wants to shake things up and proclaim his humanitarian and egalitarian values.

Critique: Strikingly illustrated in a graphic novel format by an impressive array of different artists showcasing different artistic styles, "Bob Marley in Comics!" is an extraordinary and unique biography of the life and music of Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Marley (6 February 1945 - 11 May 1981) that is unreservedly recommended for the personal reading lists of the legions of Bob Marley fans and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community and academic library biography collections.

Rameses III, King of Egypt: His Life and Afterlife
Aidan Dodson
American University in Cairo Press
420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018-2729
9789774169403, $35.00, HC, 176pp,

Synopsis: Rameses III (often dubbed the "last great pharaoh") lived and ruled during the first half of the twelfth century BC, a tumultuous time that saw the almost complete overthrow of established order in the eastern Mediterranean, and among Rameses's achievements was the preservation of Egypt as a nation-state in the face of external assault. However, his reign also saw economic challenges, and increasing dissatisfaction, which culminated in the king's own assassination.

"Rameses III, King of Egypt: His Life and Afterlife" by Egyptologist Aidan Dodson is richly illustrated volume that is the latest in a series of studies that aims to provide accounts of key figures in ancient Egyptian history that covers not only their life-stories but also their rediscovery and reception in modern times. Accordingly, it follows the king from his birth to his resurrection through modern research, describing the key events of the reign, his major monuments, and the people and events that led to these becoming once again known to the world.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a listing of Abbreviations and Conventions, a four page Chronology, twelve pages of Notes, a twelve page Bibliography, a two page listing of Sources of Images, and a six page Index, "Rameses III, King of Egypt: His Life and Afterlife" is an impressively informative, expertly organized, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Egyptology collections in general, and Rameses III supplemental studies lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Aidan Dodson is Hon. Professor of Egyptology in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol, UK, was Simpson Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo in 2013, and Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society during 2011-16. Awarded his PhD by the University of Cambridge in 2003, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 2003. He is the author of over twenty books, most recently a new edition of Amarna Sunset (AUC Press, 2018) and Sethy I, King of Egypt (AUC Press, 2019).

Willis M. Buhle

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

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