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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 22, Number 3 March 2022 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Anglin & Underwood's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf Annette Meeuwse's Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Dee Lorraine's Bookshelf Gini Grossenbacher's Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf Jessica de Koninck's Bookshelf Jim Cox's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Natalie Soine's Bookshelf Paul Lappen's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Anglin & Underwood's Bookshelf

If I Ignore It, It Will Go Away (and Other Lies I Thought Were True)
Marsha Marks
WaterBrook Press
c/o WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
10807 New Allegiance Drive Suite 500, Colorado Springs, CO 80921
9781578566983, $19.99 HC, $5.75 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 192pp

This was a cute book filled with humorous life lessons the author learned in many memorable ways. It included chapters on lies about home, marriage, children, money, relationships, God, appearances, prayer, life and lies we believe about ourselves. We admit that Mrs. Marks stresses us out a little with her haphazardly approach to life We couldn't help but see ourselves in many of the lies she has confronted. And while the book is in no way groundbreaking, nor is it meant to be, it is nice to know that others have believed the lies we so often get tangled up in.

Sister Bailey Anglin & Brother Charles Underwood, Reviewers
Teachers & Church Librarians

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

J.R. Thorp
Pegasus Books
97818388528327, $25.95 PB, 336pages

I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear's wife. I am here.

'Here', is the abbey in which King Lear's queen has been locked away. She recalls being taken suddenly from the royal palace in the middle of the night, not being allowed to speak to any of her family, and being bundled into a carriage and driven 'four days overland'. Still, after fifteen years, she does not know why: ''My crime' we call it, my vice, the unknown offence that led to my sentence'

It is not necessary to know Shakespeare's play, King Lear, to understand her story. A brief outline of the play prefaces Thorp's book. In Shakespeare's play, too, Lear mentions his wife's tomb, which suggests that she is dead*, but he is distressed, angry, exaggerating in order to make the point that a true daughter should be happy to see him, so this could be interpreted as hyperbole. Now, in Learwife, we hear her voice and she is very much alive as she recalls a messenger bringing news to the abbey of the death of Lear and of her three daughters:

I forgot in the moment that he would not know who I was...

'The king was mad, madam. ... 'Divided his kingdom. Banished his younger daughter for a trifle. Not balanced'. Cordelia, I thought. Was it my fault, whatever it was. What did I do to you?

And what? Did he take a sword to them all?

'No. No, there was a battle; at the last there was terrible confusion, and by dusk the princesses and king were dead. War being what it is, madam'.

Madam. Perilous territory! 'Madam me no madams', I told him.

From the moment she hears of these deaths, her mood swings between grief and anger. She is proud, clever, full of memories, and full of plans. Over the years, she has learned to wield her power cunningly to guide and influence the abbess, who has been her only contact with the nuns. These deaths, she believes, mean that she will now be asked to leave the abbey: that she will be, 'bundled off' and have to fend for herself. So, she determines to find the graves and ensure that her loved ones are properly buried, not just thrown into the earth at the side of a battlefield or lying 'in a row in one rut of dirt, four astride, a family band linking arms'.

She wants, too, to find Kent, Lear's loyal servant, who was believed to have survived. Kent, whom she had known since childhood and who had befriended her through her two marriages: the first to a religious fanatic, who had sickened and died; the second to the young Lear, lusty and headstrong. Both of whom she had loved fiercely.

Her plans are thwarted, not just by the abbess, but also by plague, which puts the abbey into quarantine. The nuns have recently got used to seeing her, so she is persuaded to tell them about her palace life. Her first account shocks them:

'I was married at fifteen to a boy who would not fuck me because he was a saint. He died of saintliness, and I ran across country to marry the pagan Lear, and gave him three daughters, and so he hated me. And the Lord would not raise either of them, ladies, because He has given me the suffering of ten husbands in the bodies of two and that is quite enough'...

Their faces! People always think I will talk like a bird. Sweet short chirps, snippets laced bits of sentences. The frail song of a seasonal animal. I astonish them. As I did when I was married.

'Man-language!' she had called it. 'Straight, thick, pillaging and forcing through', and she remembers Goneril berating her for swearing in court. Relenting, she decides, now, to entertain the nuns, to offer them 'little nicks', 'little mouthfuls of a queen's life', 'the garlands of the history, not the meat'

Through her memories, her stories, and her ongoing thoughts and her actions, we gradually learn more about her. Her first marriage had been to a beautiful young king who 'prayed for hours in sackcloth' while she 'sat and rotted with frantic love'. She thinks of Lear with a mixture of love and anger, reliving their happy times together, remembering his obstinacy, petulance and foolhardiness, soothing his rages - 'Of course I miss him'. He could be gentle, and he could be unfeelingly cruel: 'Lear would leave a boy naked in the snowy field to show disdain'.

Like any mother, she has many memories of her children. Goneril - a quiet girl 'with her own mysteries' and her 'book of saints' - a 'little wild witch'. Reagan, cool and beautiful - 'Heron-girl', 'every morning she rose and unbound her hair and I would think, God help the man who sees it'. The two of them squabbling over a toy. An older Reagan, furious when her will was thwarted. Cordelia, she remembers only as the frail three-month old baby she had to leave behind the night she was driven away with milk still leaking from her breasts.

The symbol of nothingness recurs in the queen's story, as it does in Shakespeare's play. She recalls Lear learning about the idea of nothingness and non-existence and the shape of Zero, and rejecting it: 'What is this thing, this round thing? You cannot build on a hole in the earth. If I have nothing I need no mark of it'. Her own thoughts are that this symbol has meaning. Zero is the circle which contains everything. The king and queen are the centre of their royal circle. When they step outside it, as Lear does when he divides his kingdom between his daughters, and as the queen is forced to do when she is banished, they become nothing - powerless. You can be 'written out of the book', as the queen says when she finally learns what crime she is supposed to have committed.

For Lear, stepping out of the circle led to madness. For the queen, when the circle in which she has lived 'is broken', she learns to live within the circle of the abbey walls, where the abbess rules. Until the end of the book we do not know her name. She is 'Queen', 'always and to everyone, except Kent', but she learns to make her own circle and 'stand within it' so that the circle of her life 'may become something'. And she keeps the secret of her name, believing that names have power

My own name. I say it in secret in the cart, and the hanging dust moves. Power to move earth, power to calm water: the queen's name. Though forgotten.

Lear's wife may have been exiled, shamed and forgotten, as she tells us, but in Learwife, J.R. Thorp's superb, sustained feat of ventriloquism gives her a life, a voice and a character all her own and enough emotional and psychological depth to make her live in our imaginations. Thorpe allows us to judge her occasional cruelty, understand her anger, her longings, her love for her children, and her frustration. We can admire her cunning and her fortitude, and see how age and circumstances change her, throwing her deeper into her memories, where the ghosts of her past continue to haunt her:

The gardens are gorgeous. Crusts of white, on the burned trees. The ghosts will knot them and wear them as garlands on their bright hair.

Learwife is beautifully written and is a remarkable and fascinating novel.

*King Lear, by William Shakespeare, Act II, SceneV.

Regan: I am glad to see your Highness.

Lear: Regan, I think you are; I know what reason
I have to think so. If thou shouldst not be glad,
I would divorce me from thy mother's tomb,
Sepulchring an adultress.

The First Astronomers
Duane Hamacher with Elders and Knowledge Holders
Allen & Unwin
9781760877200, A$32.99 PB, 304 pages

We are part of the environment: the Sun, stars, rain, trees...even the noise of a bird and the wind that rustles through the trees. We are part of that.

-Uncle Alo Tapim, Meriam Elder.

Duane Hamacher is an astrophysicist who has worked with First Nation Elders around the world to collect the knowledge of the skies that has been passed down for generations among their people. He records the knowledge of the 'sky-persons' (the 'Zugubau Mabaig') of the Torres Strait islands; the 'Tiaborau' of Tonga; the 'sacred star medicine' of Lakota Elders in Midwest USA; and that of other 'Knowledge Holders', ancient and modern, around the world.

This knowledge has always been of practical and vital importance for navigation, hunting, fishing, and the planting and tending of crops, and it ensured human survival for centuries before Western scientists began to study the skies. It is also a rich source of traditional stories, songs, beliefs, ceremonies and rituals through which knowledge is passed on and which enriches the lives of the people and teaches them traditional customs and cultural laws.

As Hamacher writes:

Indigenous astronomers knew about the movements of the Sun, eclipses, sunspots, solstices and the seasons in enormous detail through daily observation.... They understood the phases of the Moon, the cause of eclipses, sounds associated with auroras, and so much more.

The First Astronomers shows clearly how our ancestors watched and recorded the changing positions of the Sun, Moon, stars and planets; how they related these changes to the seasons, the movement of tides, the availability of foods, and the habits of animals. They understood the complex patterns of movement of planets, noted landmarks which matched the rising and setting of the Sun at different times of the year, saw changes in the brightness of stars, and their appearance and disappearance, recorded the position and orientation of the Moon, and could predict eclipses.

For indigenous astronomers, everything seen in the skies is reflected on earth - 'as above, so below' is their belief - and for indigenous cultures the position of particular constellations in the sky has specific meaning, and the stories associated with them are used as mnemonics for recognizing their shapes and importance. In a chapter on navigation, Hamacher describes, for example, how this can be used to help navigation of long distances overland, and how this relates to the 'songlines' which are known to Australia's indigenous people.

Indigenous Australians identify the dark nebulae clouds of the Milky Way as the Dark Emu, and its movement across the sky is their guide to the times for the hunting out and eating the nutritious emu eggs[1].

Among the Tupi people of the Brazilian Amazon and the Moquit people in Argentina, these same dark spaces are seen as the celestial rea, a flightless bird similar to the emu. For them, the protector or 'master' of each species 'regulates human access to the plants and animals as resources, ensuring a sustained balance'. Tupi stories, tell of the master of the rea, Ma˝ic, who is dangerous. He is pursued across country by a powerful ancestor and, 'When cornered, the rea climbed up the trunk of the omb˙ tree into the sky'. It is this rea - Ma˝ic's soul-shadow - which the Tupi see in the dark spaces of the Milky Way.

In the traditions of the Meriam people in the Torres Strait islands, the story of Tagai 'informs them about changing seasons, traditional Law and the behavior of animals - all through the movement of the stars'. Tagai, the great warrior, hunter and fisher, is represented in the night sky by a group of constellations which Western astronomers identify as Corvus, The Southern Cross, Lupus, Centaurus and Hydra. Duane Hamacher provides a diagram of Tagai spread-eagle in the sky with his limbs linking the constellations, he stands above the canoe (Scorpio) in which he and 12 shipmates set off on a fishing expedition. The crew, so it is told, disobeyed Tagai by drinking all the water ration, so he punished them by bundling them into two groups of 6 and throwing them into the sky as far from him as possible. There they remain - six of them as Usiam, the stars known to Western astronomers as the Pleiades, and the other 6 as Seg, the belt and scabbard of Orion.

The names of stars and constellations used by astrophysicists and Western astronomers derive from Latin and Greek mythology where they, too, have stories linked to them. Unlike the stories still told by indigenous peoples, however, any practical lessons which may have been linked to these stories have been long forgotten. Hamacher notes, too, that scientists have often dismissed indigenous stories and traditions as 'folklore' only to find that there is truth in them.

The traditions of First Peoples ranging from Australia to Greenland tell of strange sounds associated with the auroras. They are reported as whistling, crackling and hissing....

Inuit traditions from Iglulik associate the sound of an aurora with the noise made by spirit ancestors playing a ball game in the sky....

...a Tlingit woman from Hoonah, Alaska, said her grandmothers taught her to listen for the northern lights when she was a child. 'It's our ancestors letting us know. "We crossed over but we are still here with you"'.

Scientists were skeptical. Only in 2016 did a team of Finnish scientists prove that these sounds exist, but unlike the First Peoples, whose knowledge has been gained by experience and by long-term holistic observation of the sky and earth, they used a 'complex multi-microphone system' to do so. Astrophysicists, as Hamacher admits, rely on sophisticated equipment to 'see' the sky and what they 'discover' often confirms things the First Peoples have known by direct observation for centuries and have put to practical use.

The First Astronomers includes scientific explanations which are clear, if a little dry; fascinating star-stories from many cultures; first-hand knowledge provided by Elders; art-works and photographs; and a few personal recollections by Duane Hamacher. I particularly enjoyed his account of getting lost in the Australian bush after visiting the site of a meteor crater and rescuing himself and his companion by using his shadow, a technique he had been told of by an Aboriginal Elder. As Hamacher says at the end of the book, 'there is a great deal more we can learn if we simply listen'.

This is a book which is full of information and interest but above all it is a plea for the continuing acknowledgement, collection and recording of the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Indigenous Elders and their peoples. All royalties from this book will go to charities supporting these endeavors

The Elders and Knowledge Holders who contributed to the book are identified, with brief biographies, at the beginning of the book and many other sources are quoted and referenced.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Annette Meeuwse's Bookshelf

The Wild Geese are Home
Wolff Reed
Self Published
9798507657001, $15.18 paperback / $4.99 Kindle

When I read a book, I make it mine. I underline. I mark up the margins with all sorts of symbols - hearts, notes like "Love it!' and "LOL", exclamation marks (which can mean 'so good' all the way through to 'ugh, cringy, not so great'). I mention this here, because in my copy of "The Wild Geese Are Home" by Wolff Reed, I have all kinds of notes and exclamation marks of only the best kind!

This book opens in 1950s Missouri in March when the "frost burrows into the sleeping soil and gathers in the dark, gnawing at the bones of the previous year" (p. 2). Mamaw is coaxing young teen Mary Catherine out of bed in the early morning darkness to go goose hunting with Daddy and PaPaw. From here the book meanders forward and backward in time, spinning the threads of the dynamics within the family unit, while also helping the reader understand, along with Mary Catherine herself, why her mother died. The main plot is Mary Catherine's sweet friendship with Naomi, but there are also touching side plots. At the end of one chapter, I wrote in the margin, "they write what it is to fall in love". Throughout the whole book, the authors creatively convey the characters' courage to cope with life's challenges and changes, while also giving the reader an intimate glimpse into the pithy, daily life of this family.

I admit I was slightly skeptical of this book when indie author Reed kindly requested me to read and review it. The back cover's summary states that this book is a coming-of-age story about two teenage girls, one white and one black, in 1950s Missouri. I was not convinced that he and his co-author Jessica Wolff could pull off writing this story from the points of view of those two characters in that context. But....they did a spectacular job!!!! The authors gift the reader with a heart-warming, poignantly hopeful story. My margin notes say things like "Love!", "Family!", "Tears", "God...but not preachy", "Life", "Wow!", "puberty", "books", "men"....and these themes indeed emerged as some of my favorite things about this book.

I also appreciate the lyrical quality of their writing. The imagery of sentences like, "In spring you can smell the mud wishing for the sea" (p. 6), and "I kept swimming around in the river of my mind" (p. 153) consistently delighted me as I read. I also appreciate the unpretentious wisdom that these fictional characters nonchalantly dropped into my day as I read. Things like, "When it comes to truth, dear, never listen to the words. Always watch the eyes. Eyes tell the real truth." (p. 137). Finally, I also appreciate how this book made me laugh (when it wasn't bringing a tear to my eye). Sentences like, "You need to look like dirt to avoid being seen by a goose. And we all did." (p. 3).

In conclusion, this book is a compelling story and a delightful read. I recommend it for all audiences. I give it a score of 5 out of 5 on my Reader Rating scale. It made me homesick for a place I haven't been yet.

Annette Meeuwse, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

The Historical & Technical Sciences For The Discovery Of The Secret Tomb Of Emperor Chinggis Qa'An Founder Of The Mongol Empire
Alan Nichols, J.D., D.S., B.A.
Regent Press
2747 Regent St., Berkeley, CA 94705
9781587905438, $60.00, HC, 206pp

Synopsis: Chinggis Qa'an (best known in the west as Genghis Khan) died almost 800 years ago. His tomb has never been located in spite of the strenuous efforts of treasure hunters, government officials, academics, explorers, and thieves looking for this legendary underground treasure-trove of extraordinary wealth, history and insights into the Mongol empire, its leadership and Chinggis Qa'an, -- who is quite possibly the greatest military leader in human history.

Based on four field expeditions and historical research over ten years, "The Historical & Technical Sciences For The Discovery Of The Secret Tomb Of Emperor Chinggis Qa'An Founder Of The Mongol Empire" by Alan Nichols establishes the eight elements that need to be determined to show the location of the gravesite of Chinggis Qa'an consistent with Mongol tradition, Mongol Shamanism, and the Emperor's instructions. Then, based on these elements and employing state of the art ground penetrating radar, Nichols goes on to pinpoint the location of the actual tomb.

Critique: A coffee-table style volume (8.5 x 0.69 x 11 inches), "The Historical & Technical Sciences For The Discovery Of The Secret Tomb Of Emperor Chinggis Qa'An Founder Of The Mongol Empire" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of 'A Geophysical Analysis Of Mountain X' by Alan Nichols and Bruce W. Bevan. A model of archaeological survey and scholarship that is exceptional in its organization and presentation, is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, college, and university library Archaeology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: A past president of the New York based Explorers Club, Alan Nichols has traveled extensively in Chinggis Qa'an's old empire in central Asia. A trial lawyer, politician, and educator as well as an explorer, Nichols has led four Mongolian Expeditions and nine Explorers Club Flag Expeditions. He is the first person to bicycle the entire 10,300 mile silk web (aka erroneously Silk Road) from Turkey to China, and also the first Westerner to circumambulate Mount Kailash after it was opened by the Chinese. His numerous publications include To Climb a Sacred Mountain: One Man's Search for God Atop the Holy Mountains of the World; Journey: A Bicycle Odyssey through Central Asia and The Hunted & The Hunter: The Search for the Secret Tomb of Chinggis Qa'an; and Brothers at War.

The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny
Bradley Schurman
Harper Business
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
9780063048751, $29.99, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: Societal populations all over the world are getting older, the result of the fact that we are living longer and having fewer children. At some point in the near future, much of the developed world will have at least twenty percent of their national populations over the age of sixty-five. Bradley Schurman calls this the Super Age. Today, Italy, Japan, and Germany have already reached the Super Age, and another ten countries will have gone over the tipping point in 2021. Thirty-five countries will be part of this club by the end of the decade. This seismic shift in the world population can portend a period of tremendous growth -- or leave swaths of us behind.

With the publication of "The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny", Schurman explains how changing demographics will affect government and business and touch all of our lives. Fewer people working and paying income taxes, due to outdated employment and retirement practices, could mean less money feeding popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare -- with ever greater numbers relying on them.

The forced retirement or redundancy of older workers could impact business by creating a shortage of workers, which would likely drive wages up and result in inflation. Corporations, too, must rethink marketing strategies -- older consumers are already purchasing the majority of new cars, and they are a growing and vitally important market for health technologies and housing. Architects and designers must re-create homes and communities that are more inclusive of people of all ages and abilities.

Schurman warns that if we are not prepared for the changes to come we will face economic stagnation, increased isolation of at-risk populations, and accelerated decline of rural communities. Instead, we can plan now to harness the benefits of the Super Age: extended and healthier lives, more generational cooperation at work and home, and new markets and products to explore. The choice is ours to make.

Critique: A timely contribution to our on-going national discourse (which can be traced back to the 1950s fears of dramatic global population growths) regarding our own aging population, "The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny" is enhanced for academia and the non-specialist general reader with the inclusion of a two page listing of Acknowledgments, twenty-eight pages of Notes, a two-page Author Biography, and a thirteen page Index. While unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library Contemporary American Economic, Gerontology, and Demography collections, it is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 979-8200851898, $43.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Bradley Schurman is a demographic futurist and opinion maker on all things dealing with the business of longevity. He's the founder of The Super Age, a global strategic advisory firm. Bradley is a social connector who has built his reputation by helping leading organizations harness the opportunities of our increasingly older and generationally diverse world. He explains to them how shifting demographics and the collision of the megatrends of decreased birthrates and increased longevity are remaking social and economic norms in the United States and around the world.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Moving Your Aging Parents
Nancy Daniel Wesson
Loving Healing Press
5145 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
9781932690545, $42.95 HC, $21.39 PB
B003Y74HUU, $6.95 ebook

I read Moving Your Aging Parents for myself, as a possible person to be moved someday. I learned I would like to give the book to my children to learn about the process, what to consider, and how to be helpful. The book's focus is on completing by listening with the heart. It has a mountain of detailed information, checklists, and personal vignettes to illustrate certain points. The Nine Life Domains are explained, the art of asking questions, and even floor plans are included for planning a move.

Not only for the elderly, this book actually could be read by many people anticipating downsizing or reducing clutter prior to moving.

Emotional attachment to objects that might not be visible to anyone helping with a move needs to be considered, much like Mari Kondo's method of holding something to see if it sparks joy (elderly style). Wesson suggests creating a vision before any life decluttering. Room by room and environmental factors are discussed. Each chapter has suggested activities, but I would read the entire book first and then re-read it before carrying out the plans. Highly recommended not only to read but also as a reference book.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The Thirsty Arabia
Anna Faktorovich
Anaphora Literary Press
9798750071425, $27.00, HC, 172pp

Synopsis: Now ably translated into English and expertly edited by academician Anna Faktorovich, "Thirsty Arabia" was originally written over a century before the first English translation of the Qur'an was published. Despite this shortfall in primary sources about Islam, this comedy incorporates with unbiased research a wealth of theological and cultural details.

Information flowed into Britain from Muslim countries alongside general trade in goods after Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I in 1570, but trade was halted shortly after this play was written in 1603.

The narrative is launched when Muhammad declares he will destroy all mortals in Arabia for their sins in forty days with a drought. Muhammad's angelic council objects that there might be good people in the region worth saving, so Muhammad allows Harut and Marut to travel across Arabia disguised as humans to attempt to find any do-gooders to save Arabia.

The main romantic entanglement across this plot is the unsuccessful courtship of Marquess of the Deserts Epimenides by most of the eligible bachelors, including two imams (Caleb and Tubal), the wealthy magician astrologer Geber, the two disguised angels (Harut and Marut) and Muhammad himself.

While most of the characters are distracted with love, the Arabian people are dying of thirst, and fraudsters such as Cavu? work to capitalize on this desperation with tricks such as selling water-licenses. Spirits, magic, time travel and fortune telling are used to gain favor and preferment, while angels and good spirits punish evil-doers.

The Aristotelian "Square of Opposition" in a logic game the angels play with Muhammad is only one of the many educational and entertaining devices. The poetic, wooing love songs, and witty refusals alone are sufficient for modern readers to explore the surprises along this ancient narrative.

Critique: Volume 5 of the British Renaissance Re-Attribution and Modernization Series published by the Anaphora Literary Press, "The Thirsty Arabia" is an extraordinary, inherently fascinating and entertaining drama that is enhanced with expert notations and commentaries by the editor and translator Anna Faktorovich. While also readily available for both personal and academic reading lists in a paperback edition (979-8750070657, $22.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "The Thirsty Arabia" is a unique and recommended addition to community, college, and university library English Drama & Literature collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Anna Faktorovich is the Director and Founder of the Anaphora Literary Press. She taught college English for over four years at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and the Middle Georgia State College. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature and Criticism.

Someplace to Be Somebody
Lisa Loraine Baker
End Game Press
9781637970102, $27.99, HC

Synopsis: By the time Marshall Brandon was five he'd been beaten, abused, and abandoned. By eighteen he was addicted and dealing drugs, fully involved in living the life of a thug. By the time he finished his tour in Vietnam, all he wanted was to take the white man down.

But God had other ideas.

"Someplace to Be Somebody: God's Story in the Life of Marshall Brandon" by Lisa Loraine Baker is a memoir that reads like an adrenaline-packed novel as it delves deep inside the life of a man who should not have survived, let alone be ministering to men and women in a way few others can. A man working to free people from opioid addiction and fighting the brutal racial rifts that are battering our country.

"Someplace to Be Somebody" is the raw and riveting story of a man crushing insurmountable odds through the power of a God that says nothing is impossible.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Someplace to Be Somebody: God's Story in the Life of Marshall Brandon" is the extraordinary story of an extraordinary man -- and one that will give hope to other young men who have started off their own lives under similar circumstances. Especially and unreservedly recommended for community, church, seminary, college, and university library Contemporary American & Christian Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Someplace to Be Somebody: God's Story in the Life of Marshall Brandon" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: For seven years (2004-2012), Lisa Loraine Baker assisted an African-American pastor (Marshall Brandon) at her former home church. His amazing and timely testimony, and their deep friendship cemented the decision that Lisa should be the one to write his memoir.

Clint Travis

Dee Lorraine's Bookshelf

Collected Stories
Don Tassone
Toerner Press
9780578354354, $15.00 US paperback / $3.99 US Kindle

A 42-year-old man awakens from a 500-year-long coma. An eight-year-old girl, orphaned and critically injured in a car accident, needs a heart and lung transplant in 1952 - 29 years before a surgeon ever performs such a procedure. A lonely 12-year-old boy, cold and wet after falling in a creek, is lost in the woods far from home at nightfall.

What do these individuals have in common? They are three of many characters author Don Tassone brings to life in his latest book, Collected Stories.

Tassone's sixth short story collection features 50 of his cherished favorites, gathered from a wide range of publications, including Friday Flash Fiction and Scarlet Leaf Review. As in his earlier collection, Snapshots, the characters are people who can easily be the reader's neighbors, relatives, coworkers, friends - or the reader.

The Collected Stories book cover invites readers to relax with a hot cup of coffee or cocoa on a chilly evening. Alternatively, the book makes a great spring and summer read. A calming green-blue background color, a blend of sage and seafoam, sets the mood for lounging at home, on a lawn, at a beach, or by a pool.

Tassone dedicates his book to his four-year-old goddaughter Alice, one of his nine grandchildren. Alice has Down syndrome, and Tassone is donating his royalties from Collected Stories to the National Down Syndrome Society. Dorothy, a fictional character with Down syndrome, is the main character in the first story.

Collected Stories takes readers through five themes in its 260 pages: Blessing, Fantasy, Journey, Sorrow, and Joy. Each story offers multiple layers, making them worth reading more than once.

A standout story in the Fantasy section is "Everything is Real," the author's homage to Rod Serling. Serling, a superb storyteller of the supernatural, created and narrated his popular 1960s television series, The Twilight Zone. Readers familiar with Serling's style will feel his strong influence in this tale. Tassone captures Serling's rhythm successfully and delivers a powerful ending and epilogue, which Serling would likely approve.

Collected Stories reveals the author's ability to give copious details without overkill. First, he paints his word pictures with a broad brush. Then, like an Old Master creating a work of art, he uses his fine-tipped brush, filling in the small spaces with color, passion, and authenticity. Tassone nails details like John Isner serves aces.

In "Who Is Peter Caruso?" Caruso doesn't just plan to attend a dinner party. He intends to wear a new Cesare Attolini cashmere blazer and Bruno Magli shoes and take a 2006 bottle of Sassicaia from Tuscany to the event. Overkill? No. Tassone's technique skillfully draws readers in by creating a vibrant portrait of the character's psyche.

"Flashpoint," one of the four creative non-fiction stories, also demonstrates Tassone's masterful attention to detail. Throughout the story, the reader feels what the characters feel. The description of Pete emerging from glacial Alaskan waters after swimming without a wetsuit compels the reader to want to wrap him in a blanket and hand him a Thermos of steaming hot coffee. After reading this stirring tale, it's easy to see why the original publication earned Tassone a Pushcart Prize nomination.

For readers who enjoy microfiction, the bountiful selection includes "Masks," "Swimming Lesson," I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "Carousel."

Longer tales, including "Flashpoint," "Who I Found in Angle Inlet," and "Who Is Peter Caruso?" are perfect for savoring with a hot cappuccino, an iced mocha, or a tall, cold glass of lemonade.

I read an advance copy to write this review. Collected Stories launches in paperback and Kindle on Monday, March 21, 2022: World Down Syndrome Day.

In short, Collected Stories by Don Tassone delivers an entertaining and provocative assortment of tales to please micro, flash, and creative non-fiction fans. For a preview, listen to Tassone read "Carousel" and watch a video interpretation of his story on the YouTube channel SUPERFAST STORIES.

Dee Lorraine

Gini Grossenbacher's Bookshelf

Reluctant Rebel
Parris Afton Bonds
Motina Books
B09MR79STH, $3.99

In 1917 Walt Stevenson, war correspondent turned BI undercover agent, arrives in El Paso from Mexico City during Pancho Villa's revolutionaries and General Pershing's American Expeditionary Force. El Paso was making brisk international trade, and its smuggling operations were no secret. Espionage agents abounded, in addition to German spies involved in shady political deal-making since America was on the verge of war with Germany during WWI. His purpose in El Paso was to determine the identity of Germany's master spy, Felix Sommerfeld.

Pia Arellano, a housemaid for a German family, feels someone staring at her as she exits the El Paso-Juarez streetcar: Walt Stevenson observes her from down the street. She dreams of a much better life, and she desires to buy land and build a house. After a typhus outbreak in El Paso, the entry point from Juarez changed. Authorities require the Mexican workers crossing into El Paso to strip and spray their bodies with fumigating chemicals. A rumor circulates that inspection officers take naked women's photos and distribute them. Pia leads a women's migrant worker riot on the international bridge, and Walt recognizes the same Pia Arellano and admires her defiance.

Pia and Walt's amorous-but-hesitant relationship develops amidst border skirmishes as many nations vie for guns and ammunition, for cattle in exchange for American money. This activity occurs in light of international espionage focusing on the Zimmerman telegram. Germany promises Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico if Mexico allies with Germany during WWI. Against this turbulent background, Pia offers Walt genuine vulnerability and honest love, but is he ready to accept it? The answer lies within quickly turned pages filled with heart-stopping action, lovable characters, and well-drawn historical details - a sparkling novel that both educates and entertains.

Gini Grossenbacher, Reviewer

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, A Hasidic Village in Upstate New York
Nomi M. Stolzenberg and David N. Myers
Princeton University Press
9780691199771, $35.00, Hardcover, 496 pages

The unexpected successes of Satmar Hasidim

"American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, A Hasidic Village in Upstate New York" is a brilliant, eye-opening, thought provoking, easy to read and enjoyable book by two university scholars, Nomi M. Stolzenberg of the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law who has written widely on law and religion, and David N. Myers of the University of California, Chair in Jewish History, whose many books include Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction.

Despite the radical ways Satmar Hasidim differ from mainstream religions and even from most other Jews, as we will soon read, the authors write, "The fundamental claim of this book, [is] that the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel is a quintessentially American phenomenon." "Fighting for the right to preserve one's culture is in fact quintessentially American ... whether it be the Christian baker who refuses to make a cake for a gay wedding or an Orthodox Jew who practices a controversial form of circumcision." Thus, the authors tell us that we will learn much about America by reading how Satmar became successful.

Readers will learn how a group of pious, Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jewish families, dressed differently than the current American fashion, settled in a small area in upstate New York. They built a village that was turned into a town. They have a powerful local Satmar government despite strong even legal opposition by nearby non-Jewish and even Jewish neighbors. They did this despite there being no precedent for such a town in European Jewish history. Remarkably, as the authors stress, although Satmar insisted that their adherents continue the practices of a prior century in Eastern Europe, they achieved success by using American methods of participating in local and state elections, becoming a formidable voting bloc, influencing politicians at all levels, using the courts, getting government monetary support, and more. They would not have been successful - not at all - if they maintained their basic principle of separation from the non-Jewish world to the greatest extent possible.

We read a detailed description of the charismatic founder of Satmar Hasidim, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1974), who had this view of separation. He dreamed of founding a Jewish town modeled on the shtetls, the small enclaves, where he was born in Hungary. The project began on September 27, 1972, when a Satmar man purchased the first parcel of land in Monroe, New York. On March 2, 1977, the village of Kiryas Joel was formally established. On July 1, 2018, Kiryas Joel became a formal town called "Palm Tree," English for "Teitelbaum."

The name Satmar is derived from the name of the birthplace of Rabbi Teitelbaum's version of Hasidim. He formed the group in 1905. He dedicated it to reject modernity, to reverence the way of the ancient Israel, and separation from the non-Jewish world. He included a strong hatred of the current State of Israel which, in his opinion, failed to wait for the messiah's arrival before establishing a secular state. The "impure language" of Modern Hebrew must never be spoken. His view of Judaism and that of his followers is a refusal to change any tradition of the nineteenth century, including clothes, reading material, beliefs, and practices. This is a code of conduct enunciated by Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839 - known as Chasam Sofer), "innovation is forbidden as a matter of Torah law."

Satmar Hasidim grew quickly from 1905. It is today the largest Hasidic movement in the world. It has over 150,000 members. Since the death of Rabbi Teitelbaum and the death of his successor, most of the Satmar Hasidim are either located at Kiryas Joel or in Williamsburg under two different leaders. What prompted the division is reported intriguingly by the two authors.

As a result of conformity, Kiryas Joel is a sea of uniformity. Men are dressed in black with tzitzis (fringes) hanging outside their pants from their prayer shawl undergarment. Most men have beards and carefully twirled sidelocks based on their interpretation of Leviticus 19:26. Women wear long skirts as well as tops that cover their necklines and sleeves that extend to their wrists. They wear thick stockings, not sheer ones. Married women cover their heads after shaving off their hair every month.

Procreation is a sacred ideal in the community and many families therefore have between eight and fifteen children. Girls are encouraged to marry at age 18 and boys at 20. The median age of Kiryas Joel is 12.4. Homes are crowded, children rarely have their own bedroom, but each parent has his and her separate bed for religious reasons.

There are signs advising men and women to walk on different sides of the street during the Sabbath and holidays. Women are forbidden to drive cars. Foods such as sushi is deemed too blatant a symbol of assimilation into American society and is unacceptable.

Secular education is minimized. There is no public library in the town. Men are encouraged to learn sacred texts. Women are allowed some secular studies. The average Satmar has little understanding of how the outside world works and many men lack functional levels of English required to make their way into a competitive labor market. The burden of economic responsibility therefore shifts to women.

The median household income is $26,000 half the national average. As of 2008, nearly fifty percent of Satmar families live below the poverty line. A high 93 percent of the village are enrolled in Medicaid programs for low income individuals and families.

The authors conclude their very insightful book by reminding us that "one may look aghast at the weakened wall of separation between synagogue and state" because of the many supports that the state, including the funds the federal government gives Satmar, "as well as KJ's [Kiryas Joel's] decidedly conservative values on gender, education, and social integration. But none should doubt that Kiryas Joel is an American creation, born and bred in this country, and belongs to a long tradition of strong religious communities [of all faiths] that have survived and flourished in the United States."

We should add that although one may disagree with the Satmar Hasidim and dislike how they practice their religion, we need to recognize that under American law and the biblical demand to love your neighbor as yourself, they have a right to their view. We dare not interfere with them or belittle them unless they harm others, which they certainly do not do.

Dialogues of Love and Fear
A Rabbi's Daughter, a Kes's Son, and Hope for the Future
Maggid Books
c/o Koren Publishers
9781592645466, hardcover, $29.95, First English Edition, 2021

Israel's First Ethiopian Rabbi Speaks to Us

Rabbi Dr. Sharon Zewde Shalom, the author of the very thoughtful book Dialogues of Love and Fear is without doubt what the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote about him, "a shining light of not only Ethiopian Jewry but of the Jewish people as a whole." He is an Orthodox rabbi, trained at the elite Yeshivat Har Etzion, sometimes called the "Harvard of the Yeshivot." He has a doctorate in Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He enjoyed a prestigious post-doc at Brandies University. He served in the Israeli army as an officer. He is the congregational rabbi to Holocaust survivors in Kiryat Gat, Israel, an Ashkenazi synagogue. He holds an important academic college position. Dialogues is his second book. His first was From Sinai to Ethiopia. He is the first Ethiopian rabbi in Israel. When a newspaper reporter asked a synagogue official where he is the rabbi why they chose an Ethiopian as their rabbi rather than an Ashkenazi, he responded "Are you looking for knowledge, or color?"

People can go on the internet and see him tell his story. He was born in Ethiopia in 1973 and given the name Zewde Tesfay. This was the same year that the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013) issued a halakhic ruling that recognized the Ethiopian Jewish status. When he was eight years old, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad told the Ethiopian Jews in his village to leave Ethiopia and travel to Sudan. Many were housed in Sudan for seven years. There was much sickness. About 4,000 Ethiopian Jews died there. When his parents saw the danger they sent him ahead of them. When he arrived in Israel in 1982 when he was eight years old, he was given the new name Sharon Shalom and was treated very well. But after being there for two months, he was told his parents died. It was as much as two years later that he learnt they arrived in Israel, were looking for him, and they were reunited. Today, he is married to an Ashkenazi social worker and the two have five children.

Dialogues of Love and Fear is a fictional reflection upon Rabbi Shalom's life and transformation. It is a series of interesting conversations between the daughter of a rabbi and the son of a leader of the Ethiopian community. The two had met at an absorption center in Israel, liked each other, but separated when the daughter's father was disturbed over the relationship because of the color of her friend's skin. Ten years later, they meet again in Israel. Both never married. He tells her that he thought about her all the time during the ten years and that he loves her. She says she doesn't know what love is. She recognizes that she likes him but is afraid to go further.

They agree to meet from time to time - soon it becomes daily - and talk about what is on their mind. Their talks are interesting, very informative, eye-opening, thought provoking and include love vs. infatuation, the understanding that people even of the same race are different but equal, racism in Israel, the limits of personal interpretations of religious requirements, God's relationship to the world, human responsibilities and behaviors, the need for pluralism which accepts diversity as part of the human essence, respecting differences in others, blending cultures, the different practices of the Ethiopians who left Israel some 2,500 years ago before the Pharisees and later rabbis established the halakha, that Ethiopians don't recognize the Mishna, Talmud, or Midrash produced after they left Israel, why do some people including rabbis feel that Ethiopians should accept rabbinic Judaism, why do they think rabbinic Judaism is holier than the pre-rabbinic practices of Ethiopians - indeed they discuss everything that interests people of all races and religions.

The rabbi's daughter works in an absorption center and is very helpful to Ethiopians. She has an anti-rational approach to Judaism and religion generally, which is common to many religious people. She is certain that God is involved in everything in this world, on a daily basis, and nothing happens that God does not want to happen. Humans, she stresses, need guidance from God, otherwise they are totally lost. She feels that Judaism is hierarchical, that is controlled by humans from above, and this is the way it should be, one must obey rabbis, even though women are at the bottom of the system. She rejects her friend's idea that Judaism and life generally should be horizontal, everybody, even those of another religion should be recognized to be on the same level. She accepts the idea that the halakhic decisions depended upon the majority of rabbis who happened to be in the ancient academy at the time a vote is taken. She believes like Yehuda Halevy that the Jewish people are specially loved and protected by God, and rejects the teaching of Maimonides that all humans, indeed even non-humans, are loved by God who created them.

The Ethiopian is a lawyer and very rational. While the rabbi's daughter places the responsibility for improvement on God and on society, he sees the main responsibility resting on individuals. He feels that human must use their intelligence. We must never forget our need to ask questions about everything. We must not believe we know something and not challenge our knowledge. We must understand that every way of life has its price and brings certain responsibilities and consequences, even a life in accordance with Torah. Life demands that we act, not wait for divine guidance or aid. The Zionist view of the persecuted Jew may not be the perfect view of Judaism. If someone believes in God but isn't gracious and compassionate in day to day life, the person's piety has no meaning. If on the other hand, one who eats non-kosher food but works to help the needy and tries to create social justice, "should be viewed as one who is doing God's will." He felt that one comes close to God by accepting personal responsibility. Expanding the boundaries of halakha enable the acceptance of different kinds of Jewish people. The Ethiopian approach is to do good; in its religious world, the words "perhaps" and "maybe" are utterly foreign.

Two traumatic events left an open wound in the fictional Ethiopian's heart and that of the book's author: the doubt cast on Ethiopian Jewishness and that the Israeli blood bank maintained a policy for years of discarding blood donations of Ethiopians. The two are also bothered by the Ashkenazic oppression of Sephardic Jews in the 1950s, although today about 40 percent of the Ashkenazim of that generation now have grandchildren with Sephardic heritage. Marriages from the Ethiopian community and all others account for about 12 percent of marriages today, while the marriages between blacks and whites in the US is only 6 percent of all marriages.

At one time during their discussion, the Ethiopian says to the rabbi's daughter, if people would direct their energy toward learning more about the unique world of Ethiopian Jewry, they would discover some surprising things. Among much, they will come to understand and evaluate the issues and factors that were significant at the time before halakha was established. They would understand that in the Ethiopian world there is not the precise definitions and halakhot and strict rules of behavior that abound in rabbinic Judaism; instead there is plenty of room for spontaneity. And they will know that holiness is not something outside an individual; it comes about when the person does what God wants.

This book besides giving us an interesting story will help achieve this goal and help us obey God's command to love our fellow as ourselves.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Death Tango: Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and Three Fateful Days in March
Yossi Alpher
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781538162071, $36.00, HC, 232pp

Synopsis: "Death Tango: Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and Three Fateful Days in March" by Yossi Alpher traces the Middle East dynamic back to the events of March 27 - 29, 2002. March 27, Passover Eve, witnessed the most bloody and traumatic Arab terrorist attack in Israel's history, the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya. On March 28, an Arab League summit in Beirut adopted the Arab Peace Initiative, the most far-reaching Arab attempt to set parameters for ending the Israel-Arab conflict. The next day, Israel invaded and re-occupied the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield.

In "Death Tango", Alpher illustrates the interaction between these three critical events and depicts the key personalities (politicians, generals, and a star journalist) involved on all sides. It moves from a suicide bombing to the deliberations of Arab leaders; from the Israel Prime Minister's Office (where Ariel Sharon fulminated against Yasser Arafat) to Washington, where the United States fumbled and misunderstood the dynamics at work; and on to the Jenin refugee camp, where Israeli soldiers won a bloody military battle but Israel lost the media battle of public opinion.

Based on extensive interviews and his deep personal knowledge, Alpher analyzes the three days in late March 2002 as a catalyst of extensive change in the Middle East, concluding that Arabs and Israelis are dancing a kind of "death tango".

Critique: An impressively detailed and presented account of a key military episode in Israel's troubled history, "Death Tango: Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and Three Fateful Days in March" is both a compelling and informative study and one that is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Israel History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Death Tango: Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and Three Fateful Days in March" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $34.00).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in Israel, Yossi (Joseph) Alpher is a consultant and writer on Middle East strategic issues. He is also the author of Periphery: Israel's Search for Middle East Allies and No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine. His books have won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize, the Chechik Prize, and the Chaikin Prize.

Jack Mason

Jessica de Koninck's Bookshelf

Start Again
Miriam Sagan
Red Mountain Press
9781952204241, $21.95

There are substantial benefits to growing older, or old. Among them is the opportunity to reflect on the various stages of life: childhood, adulthood, and, for some, parenthood and grandparenthood. This ability to look forward and to look back forms a great circle. In Start Again (Red Mountain Press, 2022), the most recent collection by poet Miriam Sagan, author of more than thirty books of poetry, fiction, memoir and essay and two-time winner of the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award, the poet turns these reflections into a mandala in verse.

Mandalas, or variations on mandalas, are common to many spiritual traditions. Mandala means circle in Sanskrit. A mandala can be a tool for spiritual guidance, to focus attention, to aid in meditation, to map deities, or as a representation of a spiritual journey. Typically, they are circular with no beginning and no ending. Sagan brings to her mandala a variety of traditions including her own Jewish tradition, as in "Tashlich, 5781" where the speaker tosses "crumbs of regret" into a dry riverbed.

The opening poem, "Along the Chama," begins on a river and establishes that the poet is on a journey. Though the collection is by no means narrative, with each poem the metaphoric journey unfolds, accruing more and more meaning as details gradually emerge. In various poems the speaker explores the role of mother, child, grandmother, spouse in relation to one another and from various points of view. She writes unflinchingly about aging and disability. At the same time, the poet displays great wit. "Ranchos de Taos" begins:

you think you

have problems


kept us awake

all night

The writing is spare, piercing and informed by a deep sense of history. The poems are situated in the natural world, the spiritual world, and the political world. In "By the Shrine",

yellow flutters and falls

on stone steps

neither Buddha or Shinto


Nature and various religious traditions move together in a circular dance while maintaining a keen sense of the human condition. In "The Devil," an exploration of developing the atomic bomb:

a truckful of saints

going in the opposite direction

from us

seems a sign.

Sagan's dance rotates in the directions of both of humor and horror.

Start Again is laid out in a single section. This single thread assists in maintaining the flow of the poems from beginning to end. The final poem, "Spring is Coming," returns the reader to the start of the year. The poem begins.

I know that spring is coming,

desire in our always broken hearts,

chipped and mended so many times

like Japanese teacups

The circle is complete. Broken, we are starting over.

Jessica de Koninck, Reviewer

Jim Cox's Bookshelf

Paris Blue: A Memoir of First Love
Julie Scolnik
Koehler Books
9781646634712, $29.95 hc / $2.99 Kindle, 252pp

Synopsis: In Paris, 1976, twenty-year-old American student Julie Scolnik had just arrived in the City of Light to study the flute when, from across a sea of faces in the chorus of the Orchestre de Paris, she is drawn to Luc, a striking (and married) French lawyer in the bass section.

"Paris Blue: A Memoir of First Love" is a compelling memoir of an ebullient young American and a reserved Frenchman which will transport its readers to the cafes, streets, and concert halls of Paris in the late seventies, and, spanning three decades, evolves from deep romance to sudden heartbreak, and finally to a lifelong quest for answers to release hidden, immutable grief.

Against a magical backdrop of Paris and classical music, "Paris Blue: A Memoir of First Love" is a true life story (with a dark underbelly) about the tenacious grip of first love.

Critique: A deftly crafted, inherently fascinating, and impressively candid memoir by someone who has a genuine flair for writing her compelling life story that is usually the province of award-winning literary fiction authors, "Paris Blue: A Memoir of First Love" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography & Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Paris Blue: A Memoir of First Love" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781646634699, $17.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Editorial Note: Julie Scolnik is an accomplished concert flutist and the founding artistic director of Mistral Music, a chamber music series that since 1997 has been known for its virtuosi artists and imaginative programming and the personal rapport she establishes with audiences. Julie also maintains an informative website for "Paris Blue" at

Jim Cox

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Not Just a Walk in the Park
James B. Cora, author
Jeff Kurtti, author
Disney Editions
c/o Disney Book Group
9781368043649, $26.99, HC, 192pp

Synopsis: On June 16, 2016, Shanghai Disneyland Park, located in Pudong, Shanghai, opened to great fanfare and acclaim. Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger called the world's twelfth Disney park "one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of The Walt Disney Company". But a short three decades before, there were only two Disney parks -- both of which were in the U.S. How this unique entertainment enterprise expanded and was embraced all around the world is one of the most ambitious and successful, but little-documented aspects of The Walt Disney Company's history.

Leading that pioneering and influential initiative was a fascinating man who, like Walt Disney himself, was the right combination of experience, enterprise, curiosity, and cultural complement at just the right time and place: Disney Legend Jim Cora.

Part memoir, part cultural history, part documentary -- and always fascinating, revealing, candid, and frequently humorous "Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career" is the first-ever documentation of Disney's rise as a worldwide powerhouse in destination recreation and cultural export; and the circumstances, events, and individuals who brought it all to life.

Critique: A unique biography and a 'must read' choice for the ever growing legions of dedicated Disney fans, "Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career" is as fascinating as it informative. Written by Jim Cora with the assistance of Jeff Kurtti, this true insider's account is impressively informative and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library collections.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

The Little Women Devotional
Rachel Dodge
Barbour Publishing
P.O. Box 719, 1810 Barbour Drive, Uhrichsville, OH 44683
9781636090962, $16.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: "The Little Women Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion to Louisa May Alcott's Beloved Classic" by Rachel Dodge offers lovely inspiration that explores the themes of faith, family, contentment, wisdom, and joy in the classic Louisa May Alcott novel "Little Women" -- a literary work that has been and continues to be cherished by generations of readers.

Each reading comprising "The Little Women Devotional" corresponds with a chapter from "Little Women" and invites you to embrace God's guiding hand in your life as His cherished daughter. This beautiful chapter-by-chapter devotional includes original artwork throughout, and each reading includes examples from the novel, scripture, life application, and prayers perfect for groups, book clubs, or personal reflection.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, thoughtful and thought-provoking, contemplative and memorable, "The Little Women Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion to Louisa May Alcott's Beloved Classic" will prove to be an especially appreciated addition to personal and community library collections. It should be noted that "The Little Women Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion to Louisa May Alcott's Beloved Classic" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Rachel Dodge is the author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (Barbour 2020) and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (Bethany House 2018). Rachel also teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and is a writer for the popular Jane Austen's World blog and Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine.

The Love That Dares
Rachel Smith, author
Barbara Vesey, author
Ilex Press
c/o Octopus Books
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9781781578292, $19.99, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: Compiled by Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey, "The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History" is an intimate and inspiring collection of letters revealing some of the greatest queer love stories in history.

A good love letter, straight or gay, can speak across centuries, and reassure us that the agony and the ecstasy one might feel today have been shared by lovers long gone. In "The Love That Dares", queer love speaks its name through a wonderful selection of surviving letters between lovers and friends, confidants and companions.

Alongside the more famous names coexist beautifully written letters by lesser-known lovers. Together, they weave a narrative of queer love through the centuries, through the romantic, often funny, and always poignant words of those who lived it.

"The Love That Dares includes letters written by: John Cage; Audre Lorde; Benjamin Britten; Lorraine Hansberry; Walt Whitman; Vita Sackville-West; Radclyffe Hall; and Allen Ginsberg.

Critique: A unique, fascinating, and memorable read, "The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History" is unreservedly recommended read for all members of the gay community. While especially appropriate for community, college, and university library LGBTQ literary collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note #1: Rachel Smith was born in Providence, raised in Hope, Rhode Island, and currently resides in London, where she is an archivist at Bishopsgate Institute. She is also an award-winning screenwriter. She is also the author of a collection of her poetry and photography, Words & Pictures, in 2016.

Editorial Note #2: Currently residing in London, Barbara Vesey, after 25 years as a writer, editor and proofreader, was retrained as an archivist. She is proud to work at the archives of both the Bishopsgate Institute and the Society of the Sacred Heart.

Women of Walt Disney Imagineering
Elisabete Erlandson, et al.
Disney Editions
c/o Disney Book Group
9781368021951, $29.99, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers", a dozen female Imagineers recount their trailblazing careers! Capturing an era (and preserving the stories they have told their daughters, their mentees, their husbands, and their friends) a dozen women Imagineers have written personal stories from their decades designing and building the Disney world-wide empire of theme parks.

Illustrated with the women's personal drawings and photos in addition to archival Imagineering images, "Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers" represents a broad swath of Imagineering's creative disciplines during a time of unprecedented expansion.

Intertwined with memories of Disney legends are glimpses of what it takes behind the scenes to create a theme park, and the struggles unique to women who were becoming more and more important, visible and powerful in a workplace that was overwhelmingly male.

Each chapter is unique, from a unique Imagineer's perspective and experience. These women spent their careers telling stories in three dimensions for the public. Now they have assembled their stories in print, with the hope that their experiences will continue to entertain and illuminate.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively informative compendium showcasing twelve women and their roles in creating Disney theme parks, "Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers" is an extraordinary read from cover to cover and will have a special appeal to Disney theme park fans. Simply stated, "Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note: The contributors include: Maggie Elliott, senior vice president, Creative Development Administration; Eli Erlandson, principal concept architect; Peggie Fariss, executive, creative development; Paula Dinkel, principal lighting designer; Karen Connolly Armitage, Concept Designer; Katie Olson, Principal Color Concept Designer; Becky Bishop, area development executive; Pam Rank, principal show lighting designer; Lynne Macer Rhodes, producer; Kathy Rogers, executive show producer; Julie Svendsen, concept show designer; Tori Atencio McCullough, Director (interior design).

Clouds: Love Poems From Above The Fray
Jon Meyer
Joshua Tree Interactive
9781733232845, $35.00, HC, 194pp

Synopsis: According to poet and photographer Jon Meyer, "Clouds: Love Poems From Above The Fray" has been a four-decade project, containing poems and photos influenced by his travel across five continents -- witnessing beautiful vistas in towns, in cities, and above all, in nature.

"Clouds: Love Poems From Above The Fray" draws upon the thousands of the resulting photos that are now contained in Meyer's personal archive.

A quintain is any poetic form containing five lines. Over seven hundred five-line quintain poems were written down, from which sixty-four were paired with these photos for Clouds. The style evolved into "short, post attention span poetry," ie. quintains that illustrate the inner and outer states of our environment. Opposite the poems, Meyer provides commentaries noting the adventure of finding the visual image.

Critique: The black-and-white photographic images are perfectly paired with a brief but thought-provoking quintain poems. The result is a truly memorable and contemplative experience for the browser, one page at a time. "Clouds: Love Poems From Above The Fray" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Contemporary Poetry & Photography collections.

Editorial Note: An award winning poet and photographer, Jon Meyer has also authored two other highly recommended collections: "Love Poems From New England: reflections on states of mind and states of heart" and "Love Poems From Vermont: reflections on an inner and outer state".

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Steeped in Stories
Mitali Perkins
Broadleaf Books
9781506469102, $24.99, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: The stories we read as children shape us for the rest of our lives. But it is never too late to discover that transformative spark of hope that children's classics can ignite within us as adults.

Award-winning children's author Mitali Perkins grew up steeped in stories -- escaping into her books on the fire escape of a Flushing apartment building and, later, finding solace in them as she navigated between the cultures of her suburban California school and her Bengali heritage at home. Now with the publication of "Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls", Perkins invites us to explore the promise of seven timeless children's novels for adults living in uncertain times: stories that provide mirrors to our innermost selves and open windows to other worlds.

Blending personal narrative, accessible literary criticism, and spiritual and moral formation, Perkins delves into the children's novels of Louisa May Alcott, C. S. Lewis, L. M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other literary "uncles" and "aunts" that illuminate the virtuous, abundant life we still desire. These novels are not perfect, and Perkins honestly assesses their critical frailties and flaws related to race, culture, and power. Yet reading or rereading these books as adults can help us build virtue, unmask our vices, and restore our hope. Reconnecting with these stories from childhood isn't merely nostalgia. In an era of uncertainty and despair, they lighten our load and bring us much-needed hope.

Critique: A combination of literary analysis and Christian spiritual growth oriented commentary, "Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls" is an extraordinary literary experience and one that will have special appeal for dedicated bibliophiles with fond remembrances of the seven children's novels showcased by Mitali Perkins. A delightful, thought-provoking, informative, and fully entertaining volume, "Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls" is highly recommended for community, college, and university library Children's Literary Criticism collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.01).

Editorial Note: Mitali Perkins is an author of novels and picture books for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near; Forward Me Back to You; Rickshaw Girl; and Bamboo People, among others. Her books have been nominated for the National Book Award, won the South Asia Book Award, and listed as a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Perkins's books are known for their strong characters who cross all kinds of borders, seek community, and promote justice.

The Soul Garden Pathway: Discovery Guide
Sally Gallot-Reeves
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982262136, $25.99, 130pp

Synopsis: "The Soul Garden Pathway: Discovery Guide" by Sally Gallot-Reeves offers a spiritual journey encircling the reader in discovery of the self, the higher self and the soul. Beginning at the Tree of Life and proceeding along life paths in a bourgeoning garden, each section brings greater understanding to the universal laws and spiritual truths that influence our life and growth.

A creation of Love and Light, the Soul Garden connects our soul to spirit, spirit to heart, and heart to mind. Walking forward, the garden paths bring awareness of where we are, where we have been, and where we wish to be. As spiritual beings in human form, we seek a place of peace and sanctuary wherein we are free to explore the dimensions of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self. To learn, to grow, and to expand in all ways that assist us in becoming whole; who we are meant to be and what we are meant to bring into this world.

The Soul Garden leads you to a place of consciousness; planting the seeds you wish to cultivate and nurturing the plants you wish to mature. Designed for both those new to their spiritual journey and those that are looking to expand further, the Soul Garden weaves foundational concepts with higher awareness of our physical and intuitive senses, connections with Higher Self and Spirit, appreciation for the gifts of abundance.

Your soul is eternal, transcending time and ages, to bring Divine Purpose, Light and Love into the world; and Peace, Harmony and Balance into our lives. We seek to be surrounded by Grace, Benevolence and Acceptance. We seek to create the sanctuary of our soul. Welcome to the Soul Garden.

Critique: A meditative, insightful, thoughtful and thought-producing experience that is thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, and which includes the necessity of the reader's involvement in filling out illuminating questionnaires that assist in self-analysis and descriptive problem solving, "The Soul Garden Pathway: Discovery Guide" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99) and especially commended to the attention of non-specialist general readers with an interest in Religion, Spirituality, Self-Help and Self-Improvement.

Editorial Note: Sally Gallot-Reeves is a personally described spiritual gardener planting seeds. Her life's work is dedicated to promoting the Highest good for all individuals, animals and nature kingdoms. Communicating through her writing, she reveals her innermost thoughts and feelings to nurture and guide readers to their own discoveries and awareness. Sally believes compassion, love and acceptance are the foundations to our living in harmony and unity. Her published works include Behind the Open Door: The Book of Light, the story of a highly gifted and telepathic child and her magical adventures navigating a world she doesn't understand; and Between Shifts, a book of vignettes in poetry drawing from her experiences with patients, families and caregivers. She also maintains an informative website at

A Heart's Landscape: An Invitation to the Garden of Moments
Susan Lax
Your Moment Press
9780578962948, $32.95, HC, 226pp

Synopsis: Some days, our hearts or souls can't find the glasses we need to see, and we cannot hear our own music. We find ourselves on a kind of autopilot, forgetting the preciousness of being and losing touch with our creative spirit. But on other days, our being fills with excitement, magically showing us the miracle of joy.

With the publication of "A Heart's Landscape: An Invitation to the Garden of Moments", author Susan Lax explores the gifts of awareness and encourages her readers to be present in the moment.

"With A Heart's Landscape", Lax offers a path to an attentive heart. On every page, her words and timeless photographs meet your soul in the perfect place. In times of grief, illness, or life transitions, you'll find healing and strength within these pages. As a spiritual counselor, end-of-life caregiver, and Reiki practitioner, Lax shares the truths and inspirations she has learned from the beauty of the human spirit and the gifts of nature and awareness.

Wonderment patiently hopes to be discovered and illuminated by all you are.

Critique: A unique, unusual, insightful, thought-provoking, and ultimately inspiring read that will be of special and particular interest to those with an interest in the subjects of energy healing, love and loss, death and grieving, "A Heart's Landscape: An Invitation to the Garden of Moments" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections.

Editorial Note: As a young mother and wife, Susan Lax studied creative drama at Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts in Israel. After graduating, she developed and implemented an educational curriculum for creative drama at an elementary school before moving to the United States. Her evolving spiritual path led her to Chochmat HaLev, an independent center of Jewish meditation. While there, she developed a newfound passionate relationship with the power of spiritual healing, and in 2002 she became a certified Reiki practitioner. Susan now offers spiritual coaching and care that is focused on, but not limited to, those touched by illness and loving someone through death. She also leads workshops and guided meditation sessions. She maintains an informative website at

Margaret Lane

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Sisters Of Night And Fog
Erika Robuck
9780593102169, $17.00 PB

Two extraordinary women in a time of madness and dread.

The heroines in Erika Robuck's novels are always well crafted. There are two women in Sisters Of Night And Fog, making their way through the desperate times of German occupation of France in World War II. The stories of the two women take place in separate locations during most of the novel, Virginia in France and Violette in England and France. These stories are carefully entwined by Robuck in alternating chapters that, each with its own plot, create deep and complex characters for the reader, the contrasting feelings and circumstances of the two transcending the prose in many ways. There is wonderful imagery associated with each plot that, like the details on the periphery of a woman's portrait, complements the character development in the story. Although the plot's events are horrible, the portraits of Virginia and Violette are beautiful, which makes the grief in the story all the worse after the two come together at Ravensbruck.

The novel utilizes two points of view and an interval of decades. Almost all of the plot is depicted in the third person voices of Virginia and Violette during World War II. But the story begins with an unidentified woman talking in the first person in 1995 at Ravensbruck with another woman. There are hints at the identity of the women, but they have no meaning until the story progresses through several of the war years. A reader knows from the imagery associated with the first person narrator that tragedy will occur at some point. There is a "wave of nausea" at the sight of Ravensbruck and difficulty with reconciling "the withering body I inhabit with the woman I am in my mind." This first person narration, positioned intermittently through the novel, is an engine of dread, revving its power when it appears. Suspense filled each chapter in The Invisible Woman, but it wasn't coupled with the dread that appears in Sisters Of Night And Fog. In the latter, a reader turns the pages with a desperate hope that the worse will not occur.

No matter how many times one reads about German atrocities during World War II, the emotions evoked are almost visceral, and so horrendous as to be incredible. One cannot help but want to find some beacon of understanding in the darkness. Perhaps it is courage, a word often exchanged by the heroines in Sisters Of Night And Fog. Still, there is too much cruelty and misfortune for much light to shine, too much horror for the courageous survivors to claim a victory. For the survivors in Sisters Of Night And Fog, there is only a hollow victory at the liberation, and a fleeting one at that for the fact that nothing could change the shooting alley's "wall still stained with blood after fifty years. There's nothing that will ever remove those stains. Not from the wall. Not from the perpetrators' souls."

Sisters Of Night And Fog is a story replete with contrasts. In some places, the contrasts denote strength. Virginia and her husband, Philippe, are made strong by their differences. "Where she's anxious, he's calm." The imagery associated with them make Virginia's character complex: "He's the sun to her moon. Their dance of opposites brings them each in perfect balance." But Violette's contrasts are rough ones, her personality challenging and her demeanor confrontative, particularly with her father. She has to dig deep to be strong. What comes to mind is a stag, stomping its foot before it bellows. This image is employed brilliantly by the author, both in England and in France, and, in a marvelous presentiment of the fates of the heroines, it is on one occasion associated with a German officer hunting. Another magnificent image is the day moon, a moon that captivates children. The day moon appears several times in the novel, but it is at the end, when it is combined with courage, that a redemption of a sort is suggested. Can making known the German atrocities and the women's courage be a useful lesson concerning the scar upon humanity caused by Hitler? History educates, it is true. But can it be an inoculation against a future barbarity? Today's barbarous acts have been made commonplace by modern media coverage, almost to the point that there is a dull acceptance of it by viewers. Perhaps, novels like Sisters Of Night And Fog can sharpen the blade of Hitler's horrors that should cut deep into all of our souls.

Ericka Robuck's mastery of the historic novel is in part due to her careful and extensive research of the era in which her stories take place. The heroines in Sisters Of Night And Fog were based on real heroines, Virginia D'Albert-Lake and Violette Szabo. Bringing them together into a single story attests to Erika Robuck's creativity, what makes her novels so much better than most. She has taken these real people and historical events and woven them into a beautiful tapestry that can only inspire future generations, for whom this history must be kept alive.

The Orchard
Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry
Ballantine Books
9780593356012, $28.69 HC

A magnificent story about the desperate times of Generation Perestroika.

Two teenagers in 1980s Russia share a cigarette. The reckless one, Milka, has just jumped from a high flying swing but sustains only a minor cut, saying from her seated position in the snow, "Wouldn't that be cool to die on the same day as our Communist Leader?" The cautious one, Anya, tells her she's nuts, that "Death is nothingness." These two attitudes accompany the friends throughout the story. Milka is a dreamer of far away and exotic places. Anya is too practical for that, and her friend's dreams only invoke her insecurities. Anya's family has a modest dacha in the countryside, on which is an apple orchard. Milka's mother has nothing but an incorrigible second husband, but Milka accompanies Anya to the dacha as if she is Anya's sister. The apple orchard is a bit of a nod to Chekov's cherry orchard, but it's a loose connection. Gorcheva-Newberry's apple orchard doesn't so much represent materialism as Chekhov's did. It is instead a symbol of the fragility of life during Russia's transformation between Stalin and Gorbachev.

Like many Russian novels, The Orchard is rich with imagery. After an argument between Milka and her mother, Anya observes Milka's face: "Winter lived there, with its ferocious winds and dead ossified earth and hard frozen snow." Gorcheva-Newberry brilliantly weaves these images into the personalities of the novel's characters. As seasons change, so do the characters, who often interact with each other with as much drama as a storm accompanying a passing cold front. In the end, a reader cannot know one character without the other three. Anya may be the narrator of the story, but the story is nothing without the others. It is reminiscent of Dostoevsky.

Can The Orchard be categorized as a coming-of-age novel? There are many elements that suggest it can be. At one point Milka states that she doesn't want to grow up, "Because then you can't blame anyone else for the shit that's happening. It's your own responsibility." The cynicism appearing in many of Milka's observations is also expressed by the girls' two boyfriends, Lopatin and Trifonov. The author cleverly uses the personalities of the four characters to make pictures of angst and happiness, defeatism and hopefulness, and, finally, at the end of the novel, long after two of them have come of age, a mournful loss of resilience. Of course, there is a political backdrop to the story, much as there was in 1960s America for stories about those years. In Russia the times were much more sinister, where "We knew we had a fate, a destiny, designated by the Communist Party, and it was as irrevocable as the stars or the moon, as life itself." There was some optimism, nevertheless, for a new Generation Perestroika when Anya and her friends were seventeen. But the optimism is fleeting for three of them.

Part Two of the novel begins in 1988, not in Russia but in America, where Anya marries while she is a foreign exchange student. Decades pass without her returning to Russia, and the reader sees her cautious personality bloom in her marriage. She says about her husband, "We rarely argued or disagreed or had long passionate conversations, and sometimes I thought of us as two pet fish in our aquarium, navigating through tall wavering weeds or hibernating inside a plastic castle, or hiding under a rock, ostracized by the glass." But like so many Russian novels, trouble creeps into Anya's life when she learns that a developer in Russia is badgering her parents to sell the dacha and its apple orchard. She must make a trip home. The weather imagery returns in a fashion similar to that used in Russia during Part One of the book. While driving her to the airport, her husband's "face was a fall day - eyes clouded with thoughts, lips curled, folded at the corners like dry leaves." Clearly, Anya's life in America hasn't been as harsh as it was in her coming of age years. Does the toned down imagery mean that the reader can expect a more optimistic end to Anya's story than the endings in Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, or Chekhov? That's for the reader to decide. For Anya's family and friends, who'd not gone to America, the bleakness remains. Anya looks at her mother and notes that the "joy had been washed from her eyes; they were no longer blue but a dark, morose gray."

Anya looks for closure during her visit to Russia, going to Milka's house to confront her stepfather and visiting old places. The imagery returns to that of her teenage years, "a sunless frostbitten dawn, the air so white, as though sewn from snowflakes." Worse, there was no snow, "the landscape grim, barren. It seemed as though nature wasn't hibernating but dying." And, of course, Lopatin shows up as the developer who wants the dacha and the orchard. He describes himself as an "old Russian with new money," as well as bad news, of course. Anya and Lopatin go to the dacha, where they drunkenly try to make sense of life and then, with a nod to Chekov, chop down an apple tree, after which there is an orgy of self-reconciliation of a sort involving a chainsaw, a visit to cemeteries, a reckoning for Milka's stepfather, and, sometime later, the planting of apple trees in Virginia. The timing of the action as well as the prose associated with all of these events is well done.

It is difficult to make sense of the ending of The Orchard, except perhaps by a tortured interpretation that the novel's character's lives served a purpose. But that wouldn't be in line with Russian fatalism, certainly, and it would be out of line with the novel's predominant imagery, which suggests that life "is just weather, wind and rain, spurts of blinding snow." If there is closure in the novel, it occurs for Anya in Virginia, not in Russia. Gorcheva-Newberry's novel is a tour de force regarding the indelible marks written on young lives during desperate social and political times. And it is hard to say that the novel's characters ever come of age. There is no profound passage into adulthood, only a capitulation to the reality that nothing better is on the horizon.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth
Sam Quinones
Bloomsbury Publishing
9781635574357, $28.00, $38.00 CAN, 424 pp.

The drug use epidemic in the United States has reached unreal levels. Deaths from drug overdoses are at all-time highs that can rival deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, is a true chronicle of the effects of the opioid epidemic, fentanyl and methamphetamine usage and how these dangerous drugs have torn apart small towns, factory cities, and overcrowded population centers. Author Sam Quinones has crafted a masterful narrative that illustrates the profound effects of what started out as the need of Americans to alleviate their pain. Quinones writes with a need to inform the public about the death toll from the opioid epidemic and also with a need to find answers.

Small town America has been ravaged by economic exploitation, social unrest, and desperation. The opioid epidemic made those same small town shells of their former selves. Quinones does a wonderful job of describing the lives of small town Americans who have been struggling with addiction. He tells their stories in great detail with a compassion that is readily identifiable with anyone who is struggling with addiction or with a family member fighting the addiction battle. Quinones describes the journey of ex-Marines, star high school athletes, and breadwinners into and out of addiction in places like Portsmouth, Ohio, Kenton County, Kentucky, and Los Angeles, California. He does not make a distinction between rich and poor, white or black, male or female.

The Least of Us is part biography, part history, part science, and part memoir. Quinones describes addiction as a medical and behavioral brick wall that cannot be breached. The folks that Quinones meets will always struggle with their addiction and the physical and mental impacts of drugs such as Fentanyl, Heroine, and Methamphetamine. The Least of Us is a very emotional narrative. It should be on the shelf of anyone and everyone who has been and is being impacted by the scourge of addiction.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife in Ancient South Italian Vase Painting
David Saunders
Getty Publications
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1682
9781606067345, $70.00, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: What happens to us when we die? What might the afterlife look like? For the ancient Greeks, the dead lived on, overseen by the god Hades in the Underworld. We read of famous sinners, such as Sisyphus, forever rolling his rock, and the fierce guard dog Kerberos, who was captured by Herakles. For mere mortals, ritual and religion offered possibilities for ensuring a happy existence in the beyond, and some of the richest evidence for beliefs about death comes from southern Italy, where the local Italic peoples engaged with Greek beliefs. Monumental funerary vases that accompanied the deceased were decorated with consolatory scenes from myth, and around forty preserve elaborate depictions of Hades's domain.

With the publication of "Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife in Ancient South Italian Vase Painting" by David Saunders, for the first time in over four decades, these compelling vase paintings are brought together in one volume, with detailed commentaries and ample illustrations. The catalogue is accompanied by a series of essays by leading experts in the field, which provides a framework for understanding these intriguing scenes and their contexts. Topics include attitudes toward the afterlife in Greek ritual and myth, inscriptions on leaves of gold that provided guidance for the deceased, funerary practices and religious beliefs in Apulia, and the importance accorded to Orpheus and Dionysos. Drawing from a variety of textual and archaeological sources, "Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife in Ancient South Italian Vase Painting" is an essential source for anyone interested in religion and belief in the ancient Mediterranean.

Critique: Knowledgeably compiled and expertly edited by antiquarian curator David Saunders, published in a coffee-table style volume (8.5 x 1 x 10.5 inches) by the J. Paul Getty Museum, and featuring an impressive series of magnificent full color photographs with detailed captions and commentaries, "Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife in Ancient South Italian Vase Painting" is a unique, beautiful, informative, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library collections that will have a very special appeal for those interested in ceramic and pottery art, as well as ancient Greek history, culture, and mythology.

Editorial Note: David Saunders is associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. He co-edited The Restoration of Ancient Bronzes: Naples and Beyond (Getty, 2013) and Dangerous Perfection: Ancient Funerary Vases from Southern Italy (Getty, 2016).

Michael J. Carson

Natalie Soine's Bookshelf

Yin: Completing the Leadership Journey
Lisa Marshall
Dennison Press
9781736237007, $24.95, 154 pp.

Yin: Completing the Leadership Journey was written by Lisa J. Marshall throughout 2020, the first year of the Covid 19 pandemic when people found it difficult to come to terms with the changes in our world. Yin helps readers to build their own confidence to use their voices and tell their stories, sharing their wisdom in the process. Lisa provides inspiring quotations, references, and useful suggestions for further reading in each chapter, as well as thought-provoking questions for the reader to consider and answer for their own benefit. The book includes subjects such as leadership, maturity, instinct, nature, spiritual health, wellbeing, and many more. "Explore it, try it on, and begin your own journey of imagining how the world could and should be."

What a beautiful book. Yin by Lisa J. Marshall certainly is an eye-opener. Lisa has clearly done her research and together with her personal knowledge, skills, and experience, Lisa has produced Yin: Completing the Leadership Journey. Lisa authored the book not for her own benefit but for our benefit, to help us as we journey through life. I especially enjoyed the thought-provoking questions that I never knew needed to be asked. The book is well-written, smooth flowing, and an absolute pleasure to read. Filled with quotes and life lessons, the book provides the reader with an educational experience like no other and begs the question - what does the future hold? I recommend Yin: Completing the Leadership Journey to people of all ages for their own personal development.

Natalie Soine
Readers' Favorite

Paul Lappen's Bookshelf

Wullie the Mahaar Gome: Book 1: Blackhope Scar
David Kennedy McCulloch
Blue Forge Press
9781986492119, 450 pages, $16.99

First of a series, this novel is about Finn McDougall, your average schoolboy in Seattle. His life totally changes when Great Uncle Hugh gives him a gome (not a gnome). It's a rude, bad-tempered Scottish rock creature called Wullie, who has lived for hundreds of years.

Finn, and Hadley Kobayashi, his next door neighbor, are drawn into a plot involving rusting barges on Seattle's waterfront, a snobby French woman, abandoned coalmines and flooded quarries in Scotland, an abandoned Scottish military base, bullies, gangsters and weird Scottish food. Can a pair of kids, Great Uncle Hugh and a rock creature who likes to eat metal, stop something really awful from happening in the city of Edinburgh?

Start with "Excellent" and go from there; that's how good this book is. The writing and imagery are very well done. It has plenty of action, and reaches the level of Amazing. It may be intended as a Young Adult book, but adults will also love it. This deserves more than 5 stars.

Paul Lappen

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Brahms: Complete Songs Vol. 3
Johannes Brahms, composer
Simon Bode, performer
Graham Johnson, performer
B005OCESD4, $14.78

Simon Bode Sings Brahms Lieder

This CD is the third in a series of the complete songs of Brahms for solo voice and piano on Hyperion prepared under the auspices of the scholar-pianist Graham Johnson. The first CD in the series featured Mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschlager, while the second featured soprano Christine Schafer. This new volume in the Brahms cycle is the first by a male singer and it features a promising new artist, the German tenor Simon Bode (b. 1984) who is less well-known than the singers on the earlier volumes. Bode is a member of Oper Frankfurt and made his debut in Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio in 2010. He is scheduled to sing Tamino in The Magic Flute in 2012. This CD is his first recorded lieder recital. Bode sings the Brahms lieder with a beautiful, lyric but rich voice. He sings with clarity in his upper register, as he frequently is required to do in these songs. Bode and pianist Johnson collaborate well together in this recording. The performance by this young singer is on the same high musical level as the earlier volumes in this series.

As do the prior volumes, the CD includes selections from both Brahms' lieder and from his late collection of folksong - type material from the Deutsche Volkslieder. There are six songs from this collection included, three at the beginning and three at the end of the album together with 20 lieder arranged in rough chronological order beginning with selections from opus 14 and continuing through opus 106. In general, Johnson does not present the songs in a single opus in their entirety, but this CD in fact includes one such set: the five songs Brahms published in 1868 as his opus 49.

A major attraction of this series, besides the music, the singing, and the piano is the book-length liner notes written by Johnson. Each song on the CD is given in full text and English translation followed by extensive textual and musical analysis. These notes make the series an ideal way for listeners wanting to explore Brahms' lieder seriously and in detail. The notes need to be used carefully to avoid distraction. Thus, I first listened to the CD straight through and tried to avoid the temptation of reading the notes while listening. I then listened to the songs one-by-one after reading the appropriate discussion by Johnson. This process was laborious but it helped me follow both the notes and the music. I then returned to hear the music on its own, with only the text and translation. The notes make many valuable cross-references to songs by other composers including, for example, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, and Debussy.

Brahms' songs may be unfamiliar, on the whole, even to listeners familiar with the songs of Schubert or Schumann. But this CD includes the one Brahms song that everyone knows: the famous Lullaby, included as part of the opus 49 collection. Most often, the Lullaby is sung by a woman, but Bode's gentle, lilting performance does the music justice. With the exquisite piano part, Brahms Lullaby is a more intricate piece than might be apparent from the usual popularizations.

The remaining songs are of a varied character. Most of them deal with themes of sorrow and loss, but some, such as the little Serenade, op.70 no.5,or "On the Ship", op 97 no.2 are light and playful. Many songs have nature as a theme. Brahms also frequently uses folk material even in his lieder. The melodic lines tend to be flowing emotive while the piano part is frequently contrapuntal and difficult.

In addition to the Lullaby, the highlights of the CD include Brahms' setting of a poem by Eduard Morike, "To the Aeolian Harp", op 19 no.5. This is a tragic song that Morike wrote following the death of his brother. There is another famous setting of this poem by Hugo Wolf which differs greatly from Brahms'. In his notes, Johnson discusses in detail the differences between the two settings. I had not been familiar with Wolf's setting, but the Brahms song and Johnson's discussion prompted me to seek it out.

Brahms frequently used his songs to express intimate feelings that are far less apparent in his larger compositions. A sad, highly personal song in this collection is "In Woodland Solitude", opus 85 no. 6, setting a text by Karl Lemke. This song describes a close encounter by would-be lovers in the woods. The scene is intense, but the relationship stops short of physical consummation. The song captures the frustration of Brahms' few attempted love relations with women in his life, particularly Clara Schumann. Another lovely song with a text by Lemke, "In the garden by the shore", op 70 no. 1, offers a similar reflection on lost love.

The selections from the Deutsche Volkslieder are generally much lighter. The most familiar of the folk songs included in this collection is "My girl has a rosy mouth" with its simple joy and long passages of wordless vocalizing la-la-las.

I enjoyed getting to hear a promising young new singer in this CD. More importantly, the CD gave me the opportunity to continue to hear Brahms' songs in detail and to increase my appreciation and understanding of them. Lovers of art song will treasure Graham Johnson's ongoing cycle of Brahms' lieder.

Total Time: 60:51

Brahms: Complete Songs Vol. 4
Johannes Brahms, composer
Robert Holl,performer
Graham Johnson, performer
B008H2IIGG, $16.42

Robert Holl Sings Brahms Lieder

The pianist and scholar of classical song, Graham Johnson, is in the process of recording the complete songs of Brahms on the Hyperion label. The Brahms series will accompany Johnson's complete cycles of Schubert, Schumann, Faure, and others. Each CD in this series, as in the past series, features a different highly renowned singer, offering the opportunity to explore beautiful songs from a variety of perspectives. The volume under review is the fourth of the Brahms series and features bass-baritone Robert Holl. This was the first I have heard Holl: he has many recordings of Schubert lieder, and one prior recording of Brahms lieder, to his credit. He also sings Wagnerian opera.

Holl has a deep beautiful voice that has a wide range. Many of the songs on this CD feature sudden, difficult shifts to a high almost falsetto register and Holl handles these shifts smoothly. Most of the songs are taken at a slow tempo which suits the low voice. The songs are predominantly sad and melancholic with themes of impending death, lost love, and nostalgia. The lyrical melodic line in the songs frequently is combined with dense, multi-voiced and harmonically shifting writing for the piano. Holl and Johnson make a musically intimate partnership on this recording.

The CD includes 24 songs, some of which are individual and some of which are grouped. The highlight of the recital is the performance of one of Brahms' last compositions, the "Vier Ernste Gesange", opus 121. This is a series of four songs, with Brahms perhaps reflecting on his own illness or upon the recent death of Clara Schumann. Brahms selected and set texts from Ecclesiases and First Corinthians. These are difficult, moving, passionate songs on the bittersweet transience of life and on release in death.

Another complete set is the five lieder of opus 94 for low voice, which the composer seemed to expect to be performed as a unit by a single singer. (This is not the case for most of the single opus numbers that include several songs.) Each of these songs is likewise slow and melancholy as the middle-aged protagonist reflects on death, the evanescence of youth, and of failed opportunities for romance. A third set of related songs on this CD includes the three nostalgic works titled "Heimweh" -- longing for home, which Brahms gathered as part of his opus 63.

For listeners with some background in Brahms' songs, this CD includes some of his greatest lieder including "Your Blue Eyes","Old Love", "O cool forest" the "Sapphic Ode", and "Like Melodies" -- a song about music and composition similar in some ways to Schubert's "An die Musik".

Besides the music and the performances, Graham Johnson's lieder recordings feature extensive book-length program notes. The 35-page booklet accompanying this CD includes texts and translations of each poem Brahms set together with lengthy literary and musical annotations of each song. Johnson's discussion emphasizes the influence of Schubert's songs on Brahms and on similarities and differences in their styles. The booklet offers listeners the opportunity to explore the songs individually, slowly, and in depth. It is an invaluable resource for listeners seriously interested in lieder.

For many lovers of music, Brahms' songs are the least-familiar part of his output. The songs are deeply crafted, mostly sad, and lyrical. They offer a more intimate, personal music than Brahms allowed himself in his larger compositions. My understanding and love for this music has deepened through the recordings in this series. I look forward to the continuation of this complete cycle of Brahms songs and the accompanying booklets.

Listeners who want to listen closely to Brahms songs or who are passionate about lieder will love this recording and the musical collaboration between Holl and Johnson.

Total Time: 76:06

Being in America: Sixty Years of the Metaphysical Society
Brian G. Henning and David Kovacs, editors
9789042038288, $118.00

The Owl Of Minerva In America

The Owl of Minerva, a symbol of depth and wisdom, graces the cover of "Being in America: Sixty Years of the Metaphysical Society" edited by philosophers Brian G. Henning and David Kovacs. The owl is a fitting symbol for a study of the practice of metaphysics in America and of a scholarly society devoted to its perpetuation. Speculative metaphysics has not been the dominant form of philosophical practice in the United States. In fact much of 20th century philosophy was devoted to proclaiming the death of metaphysics for various reasons, including the claimed all-encompassing study of science as a means of understanding the world. Philosophical trends including analytic philosophy, logical positivism, existentialism, and many forms of pragmatism generally set themselves against metaphysics as a purported study of being or reality.

In 1950, philosopher Paul Weiss of Yale University founded the Metaphysical Society of America devoted to the "study of reality". The society was founded to provide a forum for the many voices in philosophy that were largely denied a forum by the prevailing state of the discipline. The society was intended to encourage metaphysical thought in a philosophically pluralist way -- from a broad variety of perspectives. The first meeting of the new society took place April 15, 1950 at Yale. Weiss gave a brief inaugural address titled "The Four-Fold Art of Avoiding Questions" in which he stressed the importance of metaphysical inquiry on "such root questions as the nature and relation of being and non-being, God and the world, time and eternity, good and bad, logic and existence, the individual and the totality. The new society, and the related scholarly journal, "The Review of Metaphysics" would provide a forum in which such "root questions" could be addressed.

Since 1950, the Metaphysical Society of America has met every year (with the exception of the pandemic of 2020) in its conference in which papers are presented generally grouped around a broad metaphysical theme. At every conference the president of the society for the year delivers a substantial philosophical address.

The wonderfully ambiguously titled "Being in America" is at once a story of a small part of America, an example of the study of Being, and a history of an American community of scholars. The book documents the work of the Metaphysical Society of America during its first sixty years (1950 -- 2010). The heart of the volume consists of eighteen of the presidential addresses given over the years by the society presidents at the annual conference. The addresses are personalized through the accompanying brief biography and photograph of each speaker. The addresses are grouped loosely by subject matter into four parts rather than chronologically. The first part "The Question of Metaphysics" includes ten addresses. The three addresses in part two explore "The Question of Knowledge". In part three, three speakers explore "The Question of Language", while in the final part, three society presidents discuss "The Question of the Good."

The addresses vary markedly in their philosophical perspectives, their styles, ranging from literary to logically rigorous, and their themes. There is a broad overlap in the addresses as they all tend to address the nature of metaphysics and its importance. They try to counter the popular view of metaphysics as airy and abstract and the views of other philosophers that deny its possibility and regard it as a pseudo-study, and to show that metaphysical questions arise from the specifics of human experience and that it is the part of wisdom to consider them. The eighteen addresses include many by philosophers known to me, including Marjorie Greene, Stanley Rosen, Richard Bernstein, Nicholas Rescher, John Herman Randall, Jr. and others as well as addresses by thinkers I met for the first time in this volume. I struggled with many of the addresses but was moved by the anthology, individually and cumulatively.

In addition to the presidential addresses, the volume includes Paul Weiss' inaugural address, mentioned earlier, together with an overview of the society and its mission by Henning and Kovacs. William Desmond, another past president wrote a Foreword on the vicissitudes of the study of Being in America and elsewhere and on the role of the Metaphysical Society while past president Robert Neville's epilogue questions the direction philosophy will take in the future, whether as a narrow, technical specialty or as expansive, with themes that speak broadly to people. Neville's heart and the volume are with the latter. The volume concludes with a list of the sixty presidential addresses delivered through 2010 and the sources of their initial publication, largely in the "Review of Metaphysics".

I am not a professional philosopher, but I have loved philosophy all my life. Since retiring from a career in the law some years ago I have been able to devote more time to philosophical thinking. I was privileged to give a presentation at the 2019 Metaphysical Society of America Conference and will do so again at the 2022 annual conference, the pandemic permitting. I was moved to learn about the society, its mission, and its history through this book.

A History of Philosophy in America, 1720--2000
Bruce Kuklick
Clarendon Press
9780199260164, $47.95 pbk

An Overview Of American Philosophy

Bruce Kuklick, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania has written extensively about American philosophy and theology as well as about American social thought While his most recent book, "Intellectuals at War" deals with the impact of ideas on officials in high places, Professor Kuklick's "A History of Philosophy in America 1720 -- 2000" tells the story of American philosophy from the colonial era to the present. The book draws upon Professor Kuklick's earlier study of philosophy at Harvard, "The Rise of American Philosophy" and upon his study of American theology "Churchmen and Philosophers".

In his Introduction, Professor Kuklick defines the philosophical endeavor as a "more or less systematic writing about the point of our existence." Professor Kuklick finds that American thought remained under the sway of theology for a longer period than was the case in Europe. Again in his Introduction, Professor Kuklick locates the general direction of American thought in the "long circuitous march from a religious to a secular vision of the universe." He describes the long influence of idealism in America, followed by a closely-related pragmatism, to the current uneasily-prevailing materialistic and scientific philosophy.

Throughout the book, Professor Kuklick admirably draws parallels between American approaches to philosophy at different times. Thus, the book opens with a lengthy consideration of Puritan thought beginning with Jonathan Edwards and proceeding about through the time of the Civil War. For Professor Kuklick, this thought was dominated by the theology of Calvinism and focused on the individual and his relationship to God. The pragmatic thought which succeeded theologically-based philosophy tended, with exceptions, to be idealistic in character and viewed idealism as a means of reconciling Darwinism with a sense of human meaning. Peirce and James developed their distinctive pragmatisms while John Dewey developed his different, experimentally based form of instrumentalism. The pragmatic school represented the high-water mark of philosophy in the United States, and it was followed by an era of professionalization and fragmentation, under the influence of the growth of science and a variety of European thinkers, including Wittgenstein, the Frankfurt school, and existentialism. In the final portion of his book, Professor Kuklick gives substantial attention to the work of Quine, Kuhn, and Richard Rorty.

Professor Kuklick is critical of American philosophy for its relative neglect of social and political issues. He attributes this neglect to the initial questions posed by philosophers concerning the relationship of the individual to the Divine, with social philosophy relegated to an afterthought. He fears, as have many before him, that with its focus on analysis, professional philosophy has lost the ability to engage people's minds and hearts that it possessed during the time of James, Royce, and Dewey. A related theme of this book involves the various ways different universities pursued philosophy and the influence they exercised. Broadly speaking, Harvard and the philosophy departments under its orbit became predominant in the age of pragmatism and expanded this dominance as philosophy grew closer to the sciences in outlook. Yale was more heavily influenced by theology and struggled for many years to find an identity for its practice of philosophy different from the scientifically-oriented thinking of Harvard. These alternatives would include, among other things, traditional metaphysical idealism and phenomenology and existentialism. I found this discussion struck a personal note as it reminded me of the time, many years ago, when I applied for and was accepted into the graduate philosophy program at Yale, a course I did not pursue.

While philosophy remains a troubled endeavor, Professor Kuklick believes that "reflective people throughout American history have needed something like philosophy. They have wanted its synthesis of instruction and argumentation, and in all likelihood they will find a way of extracting this mix from the cultural vision in which they find themselves." (p.285)

Professor Kuklick has written a learned history which itself is a work of philosophy in that it shows deep insight into the nature of the discipline and into the thought of the many thinkers it considers. These thinkers include, besides those I have mentioned earlier, Ralph Barton Perry, Roy and Wilfred Sellars, C.I. Lewis, Arthur Lovejoy, Paul Weiss, Nelson Goodman, Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, and many others. It is a study that has remained fascinating to me over many years. Readers interested in philosophical thought and its development will benefit from this book.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma
Stephanie Foo
Ballantine Books
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593238103, $27.00

Genre: Memoir, Child Abuse

Stephanie Foo uses her journalism background to research and beautifully write her memoir of surviving long-term childhood abuse. She simultaneously places her entire life in review, revealing her most intimate feats and desires. As a survivor of childhood abuse (though not as horrific as that which Ms. Foo endured), I felt sympathy and horror and relived much of my own maltreatment. Ms. Foo freely admits her anger and shame present in her life. Fortunately, she has the wisdom to seek treatment from multiple mental health professionals - to quit those who didn't help her. She tells her story with humor, despite its horrors. This was a marvelous book with much insight into Ms. Foo's personality, her problems, her strengths, and is well worth reading. People who might be triggered by fairly blunt descriptions of the abuse she sustained should read this with caution.

The Violin Conspiracy
Brendan Slocumb
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593315415, $28.00

I read this book in one sitting, pulled along by the events and the emotional drama. The Violin Conspiracy follows Rayquan "Ray" McMillian, a virtuoso violinist from childhood through his entry into the world-famous Tchaikovsky musical competition in Moscow. Shortly before he's due to compete, his violin is stolen. The violin belonged to his great grandfather and had been stored in his grandmother's attic for ages. When Ray has the instrument cleaned, he learns it is a Stradivarius worth $10 million. This debut novel, a combination of a bildungsroman and a heist novel, also reveals the author's love of music and the violin.

This is a coming of age story about a young black man trying to break into the nearly all-white world of concert musicians. He struggles against what seem to be unsurmountable odds with a family that thinks he should work at Popeye's chicken rather than play the violin. Ray also faces both overt and covert racism as people reveal their ignorance and racist selves when they assume he should only play Gershwin or jazz or that he's the help rather than a soloist. Many of Ray's experiences were based on those of the author, Brendan Slocumb, which amplifies their meaning. As the mother of a young black male, I can confirm that the sort of racism that Ray confronts still exists, and I am pleased that Slocumb wrote these incidents, particularly the slavery endured by Ray's family, honestly. The author's notes at the end of the book were as affecting and inspiring as the book itself.

G. R. Macallister
Gallery / Saga Press
9781982167899, $27.99

Genre: Historical Fantasy, Greek & Roman Myths, Feminism

Scorpica is richly-drawn fantasy centered around what happens to matriarchal societies when no more female children are born. A quintet of women rule their individual kingdoms, the borders and characteristics of which were set by treaty centuries before. There's enough swashbuckling swordswomanship, political intrigue, magic (good and bad), heroines, villains, and family competitiveness for Scorpica to be enjoyed by feminists, by Game of Thrones enthusiasts, and by DC Comic's Wonder Woman aficionados.

Author Macallister creates a delightful fantasy realm, a vast geographical world and a time frame that spans centuries is filled with five different cultures derived from the characteristics of each kingdom, each with a special skill, craft, or resource. Scorpica is populated by intelligent Amazonian females who play all these roles: fierce warriors, evil sorcereresses, and treacherous queens plus miscellaneous thieves, goddesses-to-be, magical healers, and ill-fated teenagers.

I am eager to read future books in this series.

Gods of Jade and Shadow
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey
9780525620778, $17.00

Genre: Mythological retellings, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Mexican literature

Gods of Jade and Shadow is quite different from Silvia Moreno-Garcia's noir-ish Velvet Was the Night. Gods of Jade and Shadow is set in the Yucatan peninsula during the 1920s. The old myths and religious beliefs of the indigenous folk have withered away, supplanted by Christianity. Casiopea Tun, a young woman about to turn eighteen, is a poor relative taken in by her maternal grandfather and his family. Casiopea works as the family maid, cleaning floors and polishing her grandfather's boots to pay for her upkeep. Her cousin MartÝn, arrogant and privileged despite being rather dull-witted, physically and emotionally abuses her. While her family is out, in a moment of defiance, she unlocks a chest in her grandfather's bedroom, thus releasing Hun-Kame, a Mayan god of death, whose bones had been imprisoned in the chest by his minutes-younger twin, Vucub-Kame. To further weaken his brother, Vucub-Kame scatters bits of his older brother across Mexico and the American Southwest. Casiopea's grandfather had been tasked with guarding the box of bones. Over the years, as nothing had ever happened, the grandfather becomes lax in his duties. Hun-Kame rises from the chest, determined to reclaim his throne and imprison his brother in turn. Hun-Kame enlists Casiopea, who wants to live her hometown anyway, and the two set off across Mexico to recover his missing bits.

Casiopea and Hun-Kame encounter flappers with short skirts and shorter hair, demons, evil spirits, sorcerers - and her cousin who has been enlisted by Vucub-Kame to woo Casiopea to the "dark side." Casiopea and Hun-Kame develop a deep, wounded love as they travel into the unknown searching for themselves. Casiopea develops into a strong heroine rather than remaining as the overworked, abused poor relative. Hun-Kame, god though he might be, develops a bit of humanity as he travels with her.

Moreno-Garcia does a divine job blending the Jazz Age with Mexican mythology. The tone of the story is resplendent with details of the Underworld, Xibalba. She successfully blends Art Nouveau, Mayan temple architecture, bizarre animals, blood-thirsty gods, and exotic stonework.

Crooked in His Ways: A Lightner and Law Mystery
S. M. Goodwin
Crooked Lane Books
9781643857442, $27.99

Genre: Historical Thrillers, Pre Civil War Thrillers, Historical Mysteries, Financial Thrillers

S. M. Goodwin pulled me into Crooked in His Ways immediately just as she did the first book in the series, Absence of Mercy. As a physician I enjoyed her descriptions of Jasper Lightner, a Crimean War hero with post-traumatic stress syndrome and a traumatic brain injury - and am fully aware of how lucky he was to have survived in those pre-Civil War days when there was no such thing as a sterile procedure. The second son of a cold-hearted duke, Jasper inherits enough money to become independent of his father and begins working as a Detective Inspector on London's Metropolitan police. In 1857 Jasper is sent to New York City to train American policemen on investigative techniques. Some time later, still in the States, he is sucked into another grisly murder, that of a blackmailer. Even he feels challenged when the list of victims - and thus suspects - surpasses one hundred.

Goodwin has created some marvelous characters, both major and minor, and populates them in a NYC that rings true to the times with pre-Civil War politics and Tammany Hall. Jasper faces both American fascination with and prejudices against titled Brits, the latter of which survives though the Revolutionary War ended some eighty years earlier. Though Jasper predates Sherlock Holmes by some years, he too has an addiction: opium helps the headaches generated by his traumatic brain injury.

This fantastic detective novel has plenty of twists and turns, yet there are no loose plot bunnies Eagerly awaiting the next in the series.

Robin Hood - The Shadows of Sherwood Forest
Tilman R÷ehrig
9781646900077, $18.95

Genre: Young Adult, Medieval Fiction, Action and Adventure

Robin Hood - The Shadows of Sherwood Forest is an interesting twist on the typical Robin Hood story as it is told from the point of view of Little John. I recently read R÷ehrig's Erik the Red and found his Robin Hood much more readable. Robin Hood is considerably lighter than Erik the Red and without the more sinister sibling incest. That is not to say that Robin Hood is without darkness, after all it is subtitled The Shadows of Sherwood Forest. There is the toxic Prince John as he and his henchmen overtax the local peasants and torturing and killing them if they are unable to pay. This would be a good read for young adults if they aren't triggered by such happenings. Overall, I enjoyed the book and appreciated R÷ehrig's switch of point of view to bring new eyes to the legend of Robin Hood.

The Island of Missing Trees
Elif Shafak
Bloomsbury Publishing
9781635578591, $27.00

Genre: Cultural Heritage Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction, War Fiction, Turkish Fiction, Greek Fiction, Cypriot Fiction, Magical Realism

The Island of Missing Trees is undoubtedly the most beautiful, most lyrical book I've read in 2021. I have previously read and enjoyed her The Bastard of Istanbul, but feel she outdid herself with this newest book. Shafak writes with imagination, originality, and a hefty dose of magical realism of the people and natural environment of Cyprus.

Cyprus has a turbulent history, governed in succession by Greece, Turkey, and Britain; finally, the UN moves in to help settle a long-running civil war. Besides providing a Romeo and Juliet-type love story, this novel gives a knowledgeable yet compassionate account of Cyprus's tragic past, looking in depth at its inhabitants and communities, fractured by war, partition, and religion.

The narrative switches from the late 2010s to the past 1970s, the setting shifts from London to Cyprus, and the narration moves between Ada, her father, and a fig tree. First the reader meets Ada, a sixteen-year-old girl of Cypriot origins, raised almost entirely without knowledge of her family or its past. After the death of her mother only months before, Ada struggles to hold herself together. Ada's father, Kostas (a Christian Greek), and mother, Defne (a Turkish Muslim), fell in love, but due to the disapproval of both their families, they keep their relationship a secret. The couple is torn apart when Kostas is sent to England at the height of the civil war. Years later, after his wife's death, he retreats into his studies of ecology and trees.

This book is powerful, moving, and profound without being stuffy. Though I was moved to tears several times (and at the end felt like I needed a good, cleansing cry), Shafak never resorts to sentimentality as she writes of the depths of war and loss - and the epigenetic changes those traumas evoke. Shafak masterfully connects our human lives with those of the natural world, particularly trees.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Bitter and Sweet: A Journey into Easter
Tsh Oxenreider
Harvest House Publishers
PO Box 41210, Eugene, OR 97404-0322
9780736985536, $18.99, HC, 160pp

Synopsis: The theme of bitterness runs through Bible as a sour reminder of sin's presence in our world -- yet it's because of this bitterness that the grace of Jesus is so sweet and satisfying. As we learn to turn from our vices and crave real beauty, goodness, and truth through the pursuit of virtues, we grow nearer to God and become more like who He made us to be.

"Bitter and Sweet: A Journey into Easter" by Tsh Oxenreider is a lovely devotional created to help members of the Christian community to meditate and rejoice in the transcendent miracle of Easter. "Bitter and Sweet" reveals what it means to participate in the liturgical traditions of Lent, from fasting to almsgiving; showcases artwork and music that illuminate the impact (both personal and global) of Jesus's death and resurrection; and contemplate the wonder of Christ's redemption of all humankind, especially as this time of introspection reveals our human limitations.

Starting on Ash Wednesday and leading you all the way through Holy Week, "Bitter and Sweet" is a welcome invitation to better understand Jesus's sacrifice as we delight in His ultimate love for us.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Bitter and Sweet: A Journey into Easter" is an extraordinary and uplifted read for the Easter season from cover to cover. Also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.49), "Bitter and Sweet: A Journey into Easter" is a welcome and unreservedly recommended addition to the personal reading lists of clergy, seminary students, and all lay members of the Christian community regardless of their denominational affiliations.

Editorial Note: Tsh Oxenreider is an author, a teacher, a travel guide, and a podcaster. Her popular weekly newsletter, The Common Place, reaches tens of thousands of loyal readers. She maintains a website at

The Healing Garden
Juliet Blankespoor
Mariner Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
9780358313380, $30.00, HC, 448pp

Synopsis: "The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies" by botanist Juliet Blankespoor is the ultimate reference for anyone looking to bring the beauty and therapeutic properties of plants into their garden, kitchen, and home apothecary. Both informative and accessible, "The Healing Garden" covers how to plan your garden (including container gardening for small spaces); provides essential information on seed propagation, soil quality, and holistic gardening practices; showcases 30 detailed profiles of must-know plants (including growing information, medicinal properties, and how to use them); presents foundational principles of herbalism; includes step-by-step photographic tutorials for preparing botanical medicine and healing foods; and presents 70 recipes for teas, tinctures, oils, salves, syrups, and more. Packed with sumptuous photography, "The Healing Garden" will have a very special appeal to home gardeners who want to branch out to culinary and medicinal herbs, home cooks and those interested in natural wellness, and novice and skillful herbalists alike.

Critique: Profusely illustrated, comprehensive, thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies" is an ideal instructional guide and manual for making useful, practical, and effective remedies for a variety of ailments and must be considered as an essential and core addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Herb Gardening & Horticulture as well as Alternative Medicine collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Juliet Blankespoor is the founder of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. She has a degree in botany and over 25 years of experience teaching and writing about herbal medicine, botany, plant propagation, and organic herb cultivation.

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

The Starlight Club 14: The Sicilian Caper
Joe Corso
Privately Published
B09RVFYLVF, $0.99, 210 pages

Genre: Crime Fiction

As this story begins, we join Bobby in the room his daughter Lynn and her husband built for him at their home in Darien, Connecticut. Bobby's tales of the adventures which took place at the Starlight Club in his old neighbourhood of Queens, New York, never failed to enthral his daughter, and through his narration of them to her, this incredible author's readers.

We are about to go back in time 50 years, to where it all began, and I can tell you readers, you are in for a real treat! We have throughout this series come to love, respect, and fear the crime boss Big Red who owned the Starlight Club back in its heyday. But what motivates a man to succeed, what gives him the grit, drive, and determination? Is it his nationality, where he lives, or his upbringing perhaps?

Well, we are about to discover that it's Red's traumatic witnessing of his father's execution when he was 14 years old which changed his life forever. That it was a case of mistaken identity makes no difference. Hurting, and wanting revenge, Red, with his good friend Trenchie track down one of the murderers and mete justice, however the other, Enzo Batto eludes them.

Luckily, Red's uncle Yip, a successful crime boss, takes him under his wing and teaches him the business. Italian family values are very strong, and starting at the bottom, Red quickly rises through the ranks, along with his good friend Trenchie. As the story unfolds, we finally discover how the famous Starlight Club was born, and how Red gained the respect of those around him.
Yet, as we know from previous stories, there's always someone trying their luck, and a chancer's slip up leads Red, to take some of his loyal men with him to Sicily. There in a castle deep in the Italian mountains lives a local Don who, who has not only offered protection to Red's enemy, but has nothing but contempt for the Americans who arrive in his domain. That all changes however, when Red and his gang discover the secrets of not only the Don's castle, but also what lies hidden nearby...

Italian Vendettas may lie quietly sleeping for years, but they are never forgotten, as we discover in this exciting crime adventure.

This story from multi-award-winning author Joe Corso is amazing. It takes us back in time to when crime gangs ruled New York, a time when to be on top bosses had to be ruthless but fair, and their men had to trust their comrades literally with their lives.

From New York to the Sicilian mountains, and a castle which holds many secrets, this is a story you won't be able to put down. Highly recommended!

Hidden Intentions
Alan Brenham
Hidden Intentions
Black Opal Books
9781644372845, $13.99 pbk / $2.99 Kindle 340 pages

Genre: Crime Thriller

In writing this nail biting thriller, the author Alan Brenham has used expertise gained over a lifetime as a Texas law enforcement officer, criminal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney to give his readers an unforgettable experience. In 'Finding Cailey,' we discover the horrific trials and tribulations a captive goes through, live through the agony their family feel, and get a feel for the sheer amount of work which goes into discovering who the guilty party is, and why they have carried out the crime.

Like any 13 year old girl, Cailey Marshall just wants to fit in at school, and if entering a spooky old house and completing a dare is what it takes to be part of her 8th Grade club, then that's what she is willing to do.

Her father Barry Marshall is now a professor, however, he used to be a police detective. The knowledge and experience he gained in his previous career becomes a double edged sword when he receives a phone call informing him that his daughter has been abducted. The abductors don't want money however, instead they are asking him to do an impossible task, in exchange for the return of his daughter...

Seemingly being watched at every turn, confused, and warned not to contact the police, Barry and his wife Erin desperately search for clues as to who their daughter's captives could be, and why they have asked for the terrible reward in exchange for her life.

As the time ticks by to the week deadline the captors have set, all their ideas lead to dead ends, and Barry and Erin are at their wits end. Meanwhile a frightened Cailey has to listen to her captors' plans for her future, and their lies.

In writing this story the author gives his reader a glimpse into the lives of others, from the high flying lives of the rich, to, through Cailey's plight, sampling the very real experiences of the street children who roam wild in the towns, gleaning what they can, when they can, whilst dodging the law.

I loved this story and the amount of detail and obvious experience which went into the writing of it. It is exciting, nerve-wracking, fast paced and full of tension - I just could not put it down, and highly recommend it.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

New Polarizations and Old Contradictions
Greg Albo, editor
Colin Leys, editor
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583679371, $29.00, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: In the America of today, "Polarization" is a word commonly used by everyone from mainstream journalists to the person in the street, whatever their political stripe. But this widely recognized phenomenon deserves scrutiny.

Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Greg Albo (Professor in the Department of Political Science at York University, Toronto) and Colin Leys (Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario), The 58th volume of the Socialist Register, "New Polarizations and Old Contradictions: The Crisis of Centrism" takes up the challenge, asking such questions as: Are the current tendencies towards polarization new, and if so, what is their significance? What underlying contradictions - between race, class, income, gender, and geopolitics - do the latest polarization trends expose? And to what extent can "centrist" politics continue to hold and contain these internal contradictions?

The original essays comprising "New Polarizations and Old Contradictions: The Crisis of Centrism" examine the escalating polarization of national, racial, generational, and other identities, all in the context of growing economic inequality, new forms of regional and urban antagonism, "vaccine nationalism", and the shifting parameters of rivalry between the "Great Powers".

Critique: Timely, erudite, informative, thought-full and thought-provoking, "New Polarizations and Old Contradictions: The Crisis of Centrism" is also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) will be of interest for community, governmental, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science collections in general, and Fascism/Non-US Legal Systems supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular.

Movie Theaters
Yves Marchand, photographer
Romain Meffre, photographer
Ross Melnick, contributor
Prestel Publishing
9783791387741, $80.00, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: Still present in every American city and town, grandiose movie palaces, constructed during the heyday of the entertainment industry, and that now stand abandoned, empty, decaying, or repurposed.

Since 2005, the professional photographic duo Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have been traveling across the US to visit and photograph these early 20th-century relics. In the hundreds of lushly colored images comprising "Movie Theatres", they have captured the rich architectural diversity of the theaters' exteriors, from neo renaissance to neo-Gothic, art nouveau to Bauhaus, and neo-Byzantine to Jugendstill.

They have also stepped inside to capture the commonalities of a dying culture (crumbling plaster, rows of broken crushed-velvet seats, peeling paint, defunct equipment, and abandoned concession stands) as well as their transformation into bingo halls, warehouses, fitness centers, flea markets, parking lots, and grocery stores.

Using a large format camera, the photographers' carefully composed images range from landscape exteriors to starkly beautiful closeups. Presented here in a gorgeous oversized format, exquisitely printed with superior inks and spot varnish, "Movie Theaters" is a massively illustrated eulogy in visual praise and appreciation of the American movie palaces of yesteryear.

Critique: Enhanced with the inclusion of an informative essay by Professor Ross Melnick (Director of Graduate Studies, University of California - Santa Barbara), "Movie Theaters" is a magnificent, coffee-table style (14.5 x 1.27 x 11.63 inches) volume that will have a very special appeal to fans of what was originally referred to as 'movie palaces' -- and well deserved that descriptive. A beautiful book to simply browse through, "Movie Theaters" will prove to be a welcome addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Cinematic History, Architecture, and Photography collections. Librarians should note that "Movie Theaters" would make a desirable and welcome Memorial Fund Acquisition selection.

Editorial Note: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre began their collaboration in 2002 by exploring Parisian remains. Their previous books include "The Ruins of Detroit" and "Gunkanjima".

Willis M. Buhle

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

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