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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 23, Number 3 March 2023 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susie Garber's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Seven Empty Houses
Samanta Schweblin, author
Megan McDowell, translator
Riverhead Books
c/o Penguin Random House
9780525541394, $25.00

Samantha Schweblin's stories are weird and wonderful, and, given the strange behaviour of people that we hear about every day, completely believable.

What does a daughter feel when she has to deal with her mother's obsession for, unbidden, tidying the expensive homes of complete strangers then running off with some favoured object?

How does a man cope when his visiting parents are joyfully running around naked in the garden and his ex-wife is terrified that her new man, or their grandchildren, might see them?

What does it feel like to be old, inform, and wanting to die, but all that happens is that you make a short list to stave off the increasing memory failures and become obsessed with packing up almost everything in the house?

Schweblin creates characters who draw you into their lives so that you feel their dilemmas. If there are resolutions, they are unexpected. Her approach is subtle, too, hinting at psychological disturbances and letting the reader feel their effects, rather than spelling them out.

You know that the list-making woman wants to die and when it seems imminent is dismayed when it doesn't happen. You know she is aware when strange and worrying things seem to occur, in spite of her list. You know, too, that she relies on her equally elderly husband, although she only ever refers to him disparagingly as 'he' and 'him'. He appears on her list:

Classify everything.
Donate what is expendable.
Wrap what is important.
Concentrate on death.
If he meddles, ignore him.

When he dies, she simply crosses the last item from her list.

Often, there is a feeling of threat in the stories, as in 'An Unlucky Man', which begins:

The day I turned eight, my sister - who absolutely always had to be the centre of attention - swallowed an entire cup of bleach. Abi was three.

The narrator describes the ensuing panic and how she ends up sitting alone in a hospital waiting room while her parents and sister are being helped.

Then a man came and sat down next to me. I don't know where he came from; I hadn't noticed him before.

"How's it going?" he asked.

I thought about saying "Very well" which is what Mom always said if someone asked her that, even if she'd just told me and Abi that we were driving her insane.

"Okay," I said.

When the man offers a voucher for a free ice cream cone, she refuses, but eventually agrees to leave the hospital with him. The reader worries about what is happening and the tension is maintained until the end of the story. The ending is unexpected, but still troubling.

There are not seven empty houses in this book, as the title might suggest, but the minds of seven people, none of which are empty and all of which are disturbed in some way. Schweblin is adept at suggesting uncomfortable feelings about filial duty, the worrying behaviour of neighbours and the urge to help, the disorientation felt when moved to unfamiliar places, love and the lack of love, and the ways in which people distract themselves from difficult emotions.

The situations she invents are odd, and the people she puts into them are individuals, each with their own character, thoughts and behaviour. Altogether, this is an unusual, beautifully imagined and unsettling book, where each one of us might recognize the feelings of its inhabitants, although we may not act them out in quite the same way.

Birnam Wood
Eleanor Catton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
c/o Macmillan
9780374110338, $28.00

Twenty-nine-year-old horticulturalist, Mira Bunting, is looking for some under-utilised land which she and the activist Birnam Wood collective can quietly develop. The Birnam Wood volunteers cultivate whatever vacant land they can find, give half the yield of any crop to the landowner in exchange for the use of water and electricity, and anything that is left after they had fed themselves is sold to provide seeds etc. or donated to the needy.

Permission is not always obtained, and Mira can lie convincingly if they are discovered trespassing. She is also adept at adopting online aliases, and is currently presenting herself as a retired sixty-eight-year-old woman with a nest-egg that she wants to invest in some rural real-estate. The farm at Thorndike, which the estate agent had offered but which had since been withdrawn from sale looks, when Mira studies it on an online map, as if it might suit their purposes. The area has just been partly isolated by a landslide and the paddocks look empty and currently unused.

A few more searches reveal that the owner, Owen Darvish, of Darvish Pest Control, has just been Knighted for services to conservation.

Mira was scowling. It annoyed her, almost as a matter of principle, that anyone of this man's age, race, gender, wealth, and associated privilege should use his power... should possess - allegedly - the very kind of rural authenticity that she herself most envied and pursued.

She decides to visit the farm and investigate.

Meanwhile, Shelley Noakes, Mira's long-time friend and associate, has been considering her life and has decided that she had originally joined the Birnam Wood collective just to try and escape her constant feelings of inadequacy. Now,

Shelley wanted out. Out of the group; out of the suffocating moral censure, the pretend fellow feeling, the constant obligatory thrift; out of financial peril; out of the flat; out of her ['not romantic'] relationship with Mira.

What disrupts the plans of both women, however, is the sudden appearance of Robert Lemoine.

Mira has been exploring the seemingly deserted Thorndike property and has come across a small airstrip with a 4-seater amphibious plane parked on it. Initially there was nobody about, but when she returns to the airstrip later a man suddenly steps out from behind the plane and demands to know who she is and what she is doing. Mira lies that she is scoping the location for a film company but the man refutes this, demands the camera she uses to suggest innocent trespassing, and finds that it is unused and unusable. Then he addresses her by her name.

Robert Lemoine, Mira discovers when she later searches for information about him, is an American billionaire, a venture capitalist, a 'serial entrepreneur', and Company Director of Autonomo, which builds sophisticated surveillance drones. Like other Silicon Valley Doomsday Preppers who plan to survive the coming breakdown of society [], he has bought a property in New Zealand and is, ostensibly, building a bunker.

One of Lemoine's drones had been tracking Mira from the time she entered the Darvish property. It had taken him 'barely 20 minutes to execute a man-in-the-middle attack' on her phone and to complete access to Mira's on-line data 'both present and historical',

he also had the power to intercept and change her messages in both directions.

Lemoine accepts Mira's confession about what she is really doing on the property, and he is interested in what she tells him about Birnam Wood. He sees potential for investment in the collective as a way of satisfying the New Zealand requirements for granting new residents a passport, so he seems to support her plans:

"I'll stay out of your way if you stay out of mine."

She was still confused. "Why?"

He smiled. "Why?"

"Yeah. Why would you do that?"

"Because you intrigue me, Mira Bunting, and I want to see your garden grow".

Lemoine, for all his seeming charm, is a clever, coldly calculating con-man and he 'could recognise his own'. He sees Mira's willingness to trespass, her ability to lie, her flagrant defiance of him and her practice of assuming false identities. 'Mira Bunting, he thought, tasting the syllables, you little criminal'.

He has taken pains to perfect his persona as a 'far-sighted, short-selling, risk embracing kleptocrat... a status-symbol survivalist hedging his bets against any number of potential global catastrophes'. He is still in the process of buying the farm but he is already building a bunker there as cover for the mining of huge deposits of rare-earth elements that he knows to be on the land. Mira Bunting's collective would, he decides, be an appropriate shield for his supposed activities on the farm: 'a fine piece of camouflage'; he would be 'Lemoine the libertarian'. So far, in spite of the landslip, 'the extraction site remained secure', and he has already organised remove of the rich slurry from the site and from New Zealand. He will sell it and become 'by several orders of magnitude, the richest person who ever lived'.

Shelley, whilst Mira is away, has bumped into Mira's one-time lover, Tony Gallo. An old supporter of Birnam Wood, Tony has been teaching overseas for a few years. He and Mira had parted awkwardly but he wants to see her again, so Shelley invites him to the meeting (the 'hui') Mira has called to tell the collective her news about the Darvish farm and Lemoine's offer of financial support.

Tony, who is an idealist, is radical, anarchic and vehement in his opposition to capitalism and many other isms. He embarrasses everyone at the hui by fiercely challenging one member (ranting, really) about her views on a number of topics, and when Mira explains Lemoine's proposed financial support he is predictably outraged and accuses her of 'getting into bed with the enemy', 'selling out', and compromising the principles of the group.

He walks out of the meeting but wants to find out more about Lemoine; and he decides that the offer to Mira and the incursion into New Zealand of super-rich doom-preppers intent on becoming citizens, would make a good story - a 'scoop' with potential. So, he goes to Thorndike to investigate. What he comes across there shocks him and makes him look deeper .

Owen Darvish and his wife have been introduced earlier in the story and established as likeable characters. When Tony contacts Owen, the questions he asks send Owen to the farm to see what is going on. From that time, things escalate. There is a death in which Shelley and Mira are both implicated. Lemoine, the expert, corrupt, problem-solver finds a way to cover this up, but Tony's discoveries threaten his whole enterprise.

The hunting down of Tony in rugged landscape, the use of drones to follow and detect people, and the hidden presence of Lemoine's private group of armed mercenaries, who carry out his orders unquestioningly, make the action tense and full of suspense.

The slower early part of the book, as Catton develops her characters' personalities, documents Tony's rants, and follows Mira and Shelley as they examine their own lives, work the soil, and reflect on current political dilemmas (the 'sorry' question, cultural appropriation, inter-generational guilt, for example) - all this is far outweighed by the threats, the dangers and the uncertainties they face, and the cynicism and cleverness of Lemoine and his carefully controlled manipulation of others.

Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood turns out to be a gripping thriller, skilfully exploiting the personality, motivation and choices of her characters, and testing what each of them is willing to do to survive. The ending is disturbing, not least because it leaves the reader to imagine what might happen next.

Return to Valetto
Dominic Smith
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
c/o Macmillan
9780374607685, $28.00

Hugh Fraser is an American academic whose Italian mother, Hazel, used to take him to her home village in Italy for their summer holidays. He has fond memories of Valetto, this tiny, hilltop, Umbrian village, which had been a thriving town until a massive earthquake in 1695 sent a third of it into the canyon below. As a child, the old iron Saint's Staircase, which was half lost in the void, had fascinated him. Now, only ten people live in the village and the staircase has 'become a favourite spot for reckless tourists and ruminating locals'.

Hugh's maternal grandmother, Ida Serafino, and his mother's three elderly widowed sisters, Rose, Violet and Iris still live in the crumbling medieval Serafino villa to which Hugh is returning for Ida's one-hundredth birthday celebrations and for other, academic, reasons.

Hugh's academic specialisation is, as he likes to say, "in abandonment":

This had always been my quip at academic conferences and faculty gatherings, but it wasn't until I published a book about vanishing Italian towns and villages that people realized how serious I was.

Now, he is back in Italy to speak on university conferences panels and at guest lectures, and to re-visit some of the places in which he had done research over many summers. He is also anxious to clarify an e-mail his aunt Violet has just sent him telling him that the stone cottage at the Seraphino villa, which he had inherited from his mother and in which they had always lived during their summer visits, had Una Occupante Abusiva - a squatter.

Hugh is a likeable narrator. He is still mourning his wife, Clare, who had died of cancer six years previously; and he is close to his daughter, Susan, who is completing a PhD in economics at Oxford University. He and Susan have just spent a few days revisiting Rome, and she has returned to England, but they share their grief and her frequent text-messages often help him through difficult times:

'Fwiw, I think of her every single day and it still kills me.

Have you thought about going back to that therapist/life coach?'

Hugh's describes his train journey from Rome to Orvieto, where he is picked up in an ancient Fiat driven by Milo, who has been the tuttofare ('everything-doer') for the Seraphino family since he was eleven, when his father died, and whose mother still cooks and keeps house for them all. Hugh has known Milo for 'nearly forty years', so they catch up on family news and gossip during the drive:

Do you think the woman in the cottage is bonafide? I asked him

'Bonafide', Milo said, 'or malafide' yes, that is the question'. He drummed his calloused fingers on the steering wheel. 'We will let the enquiries run their courses'.

'Is there going to be a royal commission?'

'His forehead and eyebrows suggested it was not out of the question. Your aunt Iris is very complete.'

To Hugh's surprise, the identity of the squatter, Elisa Tomasi, begins to reveal family history of which he has been completely unaware.

Elisa has a letter, seemingly written by Hugh's grandfather, Aldo Seraphino (now deceased), leaving the cottage to Elisa' mother. Hugh knew that Aldo had left Valetto during the war when his activities as a partisan had been revealed by a local fascist sympathiser. No-one had heard from him since, and the aunts are very bitter about this abandonment.

Elisa claims that Aldo had joined partisans in the mountain forests near her Alpine village on the Swiss border with Italy; that he had lived with them under an assumed name; and had worked in their village for her father as an assistant casket-maker. Her family has always sheltered partisans, and when the war ended and Aldo came down from the mountains, weak, feverish and traumatized, Elisa's mother, Alessia, had nursed him. In gratitude for the many years she had looked after him, he had written the letter leaving the cottage to Alessia.

Unlike his aunts, who are determined to prove that the letter is a forgery, Hugh feels sympathy for his grandfather and recognizes that Alessia's might have some moral claim to the cottage:

I was coming to understand that my grandfather had died a broken man. Felled by guilt and grief after living alone up in the mountains, his partisan friends buried nearby, the sepsis eventually taking him whole. How could Aldo Serafino have returned to his old life in Umbria, with its asparagus plots and frescoes, after all that?

The existence of this letter, however, is not the only shock Hugh suffers. When looking round the villa shortly after he arrived, his aunt Rose told him that they had sheltered a number of children there 'when the Allies began bombing Italian cities near the end of in WWII':

This is where the children slept during the war starting in February of 1943. I remember because it was my birthday month and we had a little party down here....The children came to us from Turin and Milan. Mother had to make an extra birthday cake to feed them all.

Hugh's mother, who had been eight in 1943, had never mentioned this, nor had anyone else when he had interviewed them for his book a few years earlier. He is even more shocked when he discovers that Alessia, was one of these children and that she and his mother had become close friends.

In an attempt to find out if Alessia's letter is genuine, and, if possible, to visit his grandfather's grave, Hugh travels with Elisa to her ancestral village in the Ossola valley and meets Alessia. There are more shocks for him when he learns that she and his mother had secretly corresponded with each other until his mother's death a few years previously; and Alessia has kept all two hundred and six of his mother's letters which she then gives to Hugh. Reading just a few of them, Hugh discovers troubling evidence that something traumatic had happened to the girls in Valetto, about which they refused to speak. Alessia is clearly still very distressed by this event but is eventually persuaded to tell Hugh what happened.

The result of this revelation echoes through the rest of the book. Fascism and retribution for past wrongs become as important as the outcome of Alessia's claim on the cottage. Mixed in with this, however, is preparation for grandmother Ida's 100th birthday celebration - a donkey-pageant and meal - to which she has invited everyone in Valetto, plus everyone who has left it to live elsewhere, plus an unknown number of others. She has no idea how many will turn up.

Among the delights of Dominic Scott's book are the glimpses of Italian life, the local customs and the closeness of small communities; his aunts' frequent disagreements and rivalries; and his grandmother's still feisty and determined character. Hugh comes to admire Elisa's down-to-earth, determined approach to life and he is especially thankful to her when, as an expert chef, she volunteers to take over the catering from the local family, who want exorbitant payment for the extra guests when the result of Ida's invitations becomes apparent. Elisa's argument with these caterers is typically fiery:

They are imbeciles, canteen cooks, not worthy of sharpening a knife or peeling and apple... The husband, who calls himself a chef, lectured me on the nature of Umbrian cuisine, as if I were a fucking schoolgirl....You should have seen his face after my dissertation on Umbrian food.

Return to Valetto is easy reading, with a good story and well-developed characters. The Italian setting is enjoyably evoked, and the fragments of Italian history are interesting. The scattering of Italian words and phrases throughout the book may irritate some readers, but most are neatly translated without disturbing the flow of the text. Altogether, this is a novel which lives up to its promotional blurbs as being an engaging story about family loyalties, and about the lasting power of long-buried secrets from WWII.

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

All Else Failed: The Unlikely Volunteers at the Heart of the Migrant Aid Crisis
Dana Sachs
Bellevue Literary Press
c/o NYU School of Medicine
550 First Ave., OBV A612, New York, NY 10016
9781954276093, $19.99, PB, 304pp

Synopsis: In 2015, increasing numbers of refugees and migrants, most of them fleeing war-torn homelands, arrived by boat on the shores of Greece, setting off the greatest human displacement in Europe since WWII. As journalists reported horrific mass drownings, an ill-prepared and seemingly indifferent world looked on. Those who reached Europe needed food, clothing, medicine, and shelter, but the international aid system broke down completely.

With the publication of "All Else Failed: The Unlikely Volunteers at the Heart of the Migrant Aid Crisis", journalist Dana Sachs presents a compelling eyewitness account of the successes (and failures) of the volunteer relief network that emerged to meet the enormous need. Closely following the odysseys of seven individual men and women, and their families, "All Else Failed" tells a story of despair and resilience, revealing the humanity within an immense humanitarian disaster.

Critique: A timely and important expose with respect to our contemporary national and international conversations regarding Emigrants/Immigrants and Internationally sanctioned Human Rights Law, "All Else Failed: The Unlikely Volunteers at the Heart of the Migrant Aid Crisis" is of particular interest and applicability to readers with respect to the rising problems of population displacement around the world which has been exacerbated by climate change, wars, political oppression, and economic catastrophes. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "All Else Failed" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary Social Issues collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Dana Sachs ( is a journalist, novelist, and cofounder of the nonprofit Humanity Now: Direct Refugee Relief, which supports grassroots teams providing aid to displaced people. A former Fulbright Scholar, she is also the author of three works of nonfiction, The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam; The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam; and All Else Failed: The Unlikely Volunteers at the Heart of the Migrant Aid Crisis (forthcoming from Bellevue Literary Press in March 2023), as well as the novels If You Lived Here and The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and Mother Jones

The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering
Leslie Iwerks
Disney Editions
c/o Disney Book Group
9781368049368, $35.00, HC, 752pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering" by Leslie Iwerks, the highly acclaimed and rated Disney+ documentary series, The Imagineering Story, becomes a book that greatly expands the award-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks' narrative of the fascinating history of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The entire legacy of Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) is covered from its inception through future projects with never-before-seen access and insights from people both on the inside and on the outside. So many stories and details were left on the cutting room floor of the documentary, this massive print edition of "The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering" allows an expanded exploration of the magic of Imagineering.

Critique: An exhaustively detailed and comprehensive history that will be of special interest to anyone who has ever been to a Walt Disney theme park, "The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering" is a seminal and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of dedicated Walt Disney fans that "The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Leslie Iwerks ( is an Academy Award and Emmy nominated director and producer. For over a decade, she has produced, directed, and edited award-winning feature and short documentaries, television specials, tributes, corporate films, and digital content. Her clients have included Disney, Pixar, Hearst, Starz, Bravo, GE, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among others. Her body of work encompasses enterprise feature films (The Pixar Story, Citizen Hearst, ILM: Creating the Impossible, The Imagineering Story, The Hand Behind the Mouse) to her acclaimed environmental and social issue documentaries (Recycled Life, Pipe Dreams, and Downstream).

Carl Logan

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Landlord by Design 2
Michael P. Currie
Beachrock Publishing
9780995303706, $16.99, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: Buying property might not be your first choice when considering how to pay off the mortgage, finance an expensive vacation, or save for a college fund, but it should be. Regardless of your financial literacy or the money in your bank account, property investment can be your ticket to financial freedom.

With countless possible paths to create cash flow, there are more ways than ever to become a property investor -- so how do you navigate your options and find what's right for you?

In "Landlord by Design 2: Moves to Make and Paths to Take for Real Estate Investing Success", author and landlord Michael P. Currie shows how easy building wealth can be. With two decades of experience in property investment, he combines personal stories with practical, actionable steps to help you step into smart real estate investing that provides immediate profits.

"Landlord by Design 2" shows: Over 20 ways you can invest in real estate, from commercial, Airbnb, and multifamily properties to house hacking your single-family home or flipping houses; Uncomplicated, minimal-effort methods to capitalize on undervalued rental property - even with a zero-dollar down payment; Joint venture possibilities that can minimize your risk while boosting your passive income potential; Techniques to hire a high-quality property manager, including a list of interview questions; How to build a good professional reputation in your local real estate market.

Critique: Offering an ideal and effective introduction to real estate investing success, "Landlord by Design 2: Moves to Make and Paths to Take for Real Estate Investing Success ", Michael P. Currie has provided a simple but effective start-up guide for beginners. By applying the information comprising "Landlord by Design 2", and with hard work, you can make your dreams come true as a real estate investor. While highly recommended as an essential and core addition to personal, professional, and community library Real Estate Investing and Money/Finance collections, it should be noted that "Landlord by Design 2" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Michael P. Currie ( is a Canadian-based landlord and property manager and the owner of Landlord by Design. Michael got his start as an investor in the early 2000s by flipping houses before starting the Landlord by Design blog to share his strategies for smarter property management. In 2016, Michael published his first book, Landlord by Design: Complete Guide to Residential Property Management. Michael is also a member of IPOANS (Investment Property Owners of Nova Scotia).

You, Me, and Airbnb
Mark & Kirsten Krikke
Big Crutch Publishing
9781778223815, $14.99, PB, 156pp

Synopsis: Building cash flow and having quality time with your loved ones can be a struggle. Real estate investment and financial freedom feel like "someday" goals. But with a little understanding of how the North American financial system works, even first-time home buyers can be on their way to big profits in less time through Airbnb rentals.

The untapped market of midterm Airbnb rentals (longer than 30 days but less than a year) could be the real estate sweet spot you need to generate passive income, build a better quality of life, and embrace financial freedom. Real estate investors and Airbnb superhosts Mark and Kirsten Krikke started with one basement rental and evolved to create their own property management business, utilizing the power of midterm rentals.

"You, Me, and Airbnb" by Mark and Kirsten Krikke is a 'real world practical' guide to building your own success through real estate investment on your terms that includes: 7 reasons to invest in real estate, like using inflation as an advantage to reduce your debt; The pitfalls and potential of our financial system and how to make it work for you as an investor; The business pros and cons of different types of short-term, long-term, and midterm rental properties; How to manage a successful Airbnb property (online ratings are everything!); Who should be on the ultimate rental team, from service professionals to lawyers and financial experts.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "You, Me, and Airbnb" is an ideal combination of instructional resource and 'how-to' manual for investing in buying and managing real estate in terms of the Airbnb market. While available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "You, Me, and Airbnb" is a seminal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, and community library Real Estate Investing and Home- Based Business collections.

Editorial Note: Mark and Kirsten Krikke ( enjoyed running their own Airbnbs so much that they decided to do it for other people. Their path to running their own property management business and financial freedom started with Airbnb rentals. Now they educate young families on the income opportunities with real estate investment.

Headless World
Sheila Ascher, author
Dennis Straus, author
McPherson & Company
PO Box 1126, Kingston, NY 12402
9781620540497, $20.00, PB, 336pp

Synopsis: "Headless World" by co-authors Sheila Ascher and Dennis Straus confronts the invention of Time within the universe of human experience, memory and desire. Composed of one hundred thirty-one pieces divided midway by a solid red page, impressionistic, disruptive, and hermetically philosophical, "Headless World" is a strangely alluring, disturbingly prophetic, and comically horrifying novel by the co-authors of "The Other Planet" in which the edges between human reality and inhuman fantasy are sharply observed and imbued with saturated colors, sensual cravings, sonic banality, ontological mystery, theatrical cruelty, and an encroaching trans-human future.

Critique: One of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book is finished and set back upon the shelf, and having a very special appeal to readers with an interest in deftly crafted, inherently fascinating, and satirical dystopian fiction, "Headless World" is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library Metaphysical/Visionary Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Appearing 35 years after The Other Planet, "Headless World" is the capstone novel by Sheila Ascher and Dennis Straus. From the late 1960s to the present, their collaboration produced a significant body of of innovative fiction emanating from their home in Rockaway Park, Queens, NY. Sheila Ascher passed away at the end of December, 2020, leaving Headless World, their longest and most complex novel, destined to be their final work. Four earlier volumes by Ascher/Straus are published by McPherson & Company (Letter to an Unknown Woman, The Other Planet, The Menaced Assassin and Red Moon/Red Lake) and remain in print.

The Dismembered
Jonathan Janz, author
Cemetery Dance Publications
9781587678622, $16.99, PB, 174pp

Synopsis: In the spring of 1912, American writer Arthur Pearce is reeling from the wounds inflicted by a disastrous marriage and the public humiliation that ensued. But his plans to travel abroad, write a new novel, and forget his ex-wife are interrupted by a lovely young woman he encounters on a London-bound train. Her name is Sarah Coyle, and the tale she tells him chills his blood.

According to Sarah, her younger sister Violet has been entranced by a local count, a man whose attractiveness and charisma are rivaled only by his shady reputation. Whispers of bizarre religious rites and experimental medicine surround Count Richard Dunning, though no wrongdoing has ever been proven. Sarah's family views the Count as a philanthropist and a perfect match for young Violet, but Sarah believes her sister is soon to become a subject in Count Dunning's hideous ceremonies.

Smitten by Sarah and moved to gallantry by her plight, Arthur agrees to travel to Altarbrook, Sarah's rural ancestral home, in order to prevent Violet from falling into ruin. He soon learns, however, that his meeting with Sarah on the train was no accident. And his arrival at Altarbrook represents a crucial but ghastly step in the Count's monstrous plot."

Critique: A masterpiece of Gothic Fiction, "The Dismembered" novelist Jonathan Janz is a compelling read from first page to last. Original, eloquent, fascinating, erudite, "The Dismembered" will have a very special appeal to readers with an; interest in supernatural and erotic themed suspense thrillers. While highly recommended for community and academic library Literary/Horror Fiction collections for mature readers, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Dismembered" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798212032704, $21.95, CD).

Editorial Note: Jonathan Janz ( is the author of more than a dozen novels. He is represented for Film & TV by Ryan Lewis (executive producer of Bird Box). His work has been championed by authors like Josh Malerman, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen Graham Jones, Joe R. Lansdale, and Brian Keene. His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novels Children of the Dark and The Dark Game were chosen by Booklist and Library Journal as Top Ten Horror Books of the Year. He also teaches high school Film Literature, Creative Writing, and English.

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel - Leviticus
Jonathan Sacks
Koren Publishers
9789657766712 $49.95

A new outstanding commentary on the biblical book Leviticus.

Koren Press' "The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel - Leviticus" follows its predecessors on the Biblical books Exodus and Samuel as a third outstanding biblical commentary. It contains a wealth of scholarly information written in an easy-to-read and interesting - even fascinating - fashion by more than a dozen and a half academic and Modern Orthodox rabbinic scholars. It is eye and mind-opening because the book of Leviticus deals with many matters no longer part of Judaism other than the moral and practical teachings underlying sacrifices and temple Priestly and Levitical services. The many comments and essays on Moses' sanctuary, the later temples, and temples of ancient Near Eastern countries are by scholars who are experts in the ancient Near East.

The translation of the Torah text by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks follows the suggestion of Maimonides to his translator, who translated his Arabic "Guide for the Perplexed" to Hebrew: Do not translate literally, word for word, because what makes sense in one language often does not make sense when copied literally in another language. Find the intent in the original and make the translation clear by inserting it, such as Sacks' rendering vehiktir in 1:9, which literally means "turn into smoke," as "burn it all."

Among much else, the volume gives an extensive introduction to the book of Leviticus, has a very informative glossary of a dozen pages, devotes close to three dozen pages listing by subject matter books and articles readers can use to research subjects that interest them for more detailed information, a half dozen pages with as many a forty names on each page of the sources of the multiple colorful images in the book, about a dozen pages of index, and much more. It comments on and explains such things as archaeology, Egyptology, the near east, flora and fauna, geography, halakha, repentance in Leviticus and Numbers versus the ancient Near East, as well as describing Moses' tabernacle in the desert to the temple in Jerusalem and pagan temples, the theory of sacrifices, the "holiness code" in the ancient Near East, the timeline of Israel in relation to Egypt, Mesopotamia, Hittites, Greece, Rome, and more.

A history of the surrounding nations and their customs is included. There are colorful pictures on virtually every page, many maps, charts, dates, articles on language, what is the Masoretic Text, comparing the Torah to ancient Near East law collections, pictures of the Tabernacle and items used during its service, and detailed discussions on subjects such as God receiving "a pleasing aroma," the ancient use of salt, the use of the number seven in Near Eastern rituals, the significance of horns on the altar, making atonement, oaths, the eternal flame, divine revelation, why raise hands to bless people, and much more.

Everyone reading the 299 pages of this excellent book or even browsing through it, whether Jew or non-Jew, even if the reader has a university education on the Bible or attended Orthodox yeshivot for many years, will benefit from this book a thousand-fold by learning more about the Bible, what it is teaching, its history, its comparison with the teachings of other ancient cultures, and much more.

ArchitecTorah: Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion
Joshua Skarf
Urim Publications
9789655243680 $39.95

A Fascinating book on the lessons derived from architecture in the Bible

Urim Publications published "ArchitecTorah, Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion" by Joshua Skarf in 2023. It contains 178 short, informative, easy-to-read essays on the fifty-four weekly portions focusing on Torah topics that reveal hidden information about God and architecture design and theory in his 594-page book. He gives at least two examples for each of the 54 weekly biblical portions. The items he focuses on are clear, interesting, and thought-provoking. He identifies what is unclear in biblical passages, inquires what underlies the things, and derives information and lessons from his query. For example, he shows how the biblical commands to install a roof guardrail and place mezuzot on doorposts teach helpful safety, spiritual, and other practical lessons beyond these requirements. He draws on many writings, including rabbinical commentaries, Talmuds, Midrashim, Halacha, Roman and Greek literature, and modern writings.

In the first two parashas of Exodus, for example, there are four and three discussions. At the outset of Exodus, for instance, he notes that ancient commentators in Midrashim see that the Torah does not reveal how the Egyptians started the enslavement of the Israelites. The Midrashim give imaginative notions, such as that Pharaoh himself began to work, and the Israelites felt they should courteously help him. Pharaoh then withdrew and forced the Israelites to continue. He tells us how the Roman emperor Vespasian used a similar trick. He also writes that ground-breaking and cornerstone ceremonies involve building owners similarly to add dignity to the work, motivate better performances, and solicit funds.

In another chapter, he focuses on Pharaoh ordering midwives to murder newborn Israelite boys. They refused because they feared God, and "he made them houses." Two items are obscure. We do not know who the "he" is and the nature of the houses. Interpretations differ. In one, God gives the women metaphorical houses, dynastic lines of priests and kings. Others say it was Pharaoh who placed the midwives under house arrest. Still others suggest Pharaoh built houses for Egyptians in Israelite neighborhoods to spy on the Israelites. Skarf discusses Joseph's plan to settle his family in Goshen, apart from the Egyptians, and the current desire of many Jews to live in Jewish neighborhoods.

In the second parasha, to cite other interesting examples, Skarf points out that none of the ten plagues designed to punish the Egyptians and show God's power did anything to Egyptian temples and idols. Why? He refers us to the Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zara 54b, which states that destroying temples and idols does not uproot idol worship. It is necessary to get people to recognize God. He follows up by telling readers the Jewish view that a building, even one devoted to idols, is not in itself unethical.

In another chapter, he notes how the plague of frogs invaded Egyptian houses. Why he inquires, is there an emphasis on homes? He discusses the view of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch that the Egyptians lorded over their slaves for many years and were now getting their comeuppance. The slaves owned no place of their own. He also discusses the sanctity of the home in Judaism, how the plagues passed over the Israelites' houses, the Passover law to rid homes of leaven, and other laws involving the importance of homes.

In short, this book is both fascinating and enlightening. Well worth reading.

The Koren Tanakh Graphic Novel: Esther
Jordan Gorfinkel and Yael Nathan
Koren Publishers
9789657767795 $25.99

A graphic novel of the biblical book Esther

"The Koren Tanakh Graphic Novel Esther" is an excellent volume that will be enjoyed by young and old. The biblical story of Esther and Mordecai's struggle against anti-Semitism in ancient Persia has fascinated people of all religions for centuries. The events are celebrated joyously by the holiday of Purim instituted by ordinary people, not rabbis nor Jewish leaders. The people were fascinated by the events. The rabbis accepted the holiday celebration of what transpired only after the people created the practice. This is what the book itself says. With its graphic drawings, this volume will enlighten and bring smiles to people who read it.

Because of the broad interest and enjoyment of the Esther story, many graphics exist. This book is one of the best. Instead of the usual English translation, the 178-page book has the biblical Hebrew with the often-praised unique Koren forms of the Hebrew letterings on pages left. In contrast, many graphic portrayals of the Hebrew with modern English translations are shown on the right. The drawings are eye-catching. Esther is beautiful. We see the emotions on her face and in her actions. Mordecai looks pious. The king looks dumb and fat. With his Adolph Hitler-type mustache, Haman seems like a conniver; we see it in his eyes.

Jews and non-Jews of all ages can benefit by reading the Esther story in its graphic manner. The drawings show matters that readers of the Hebrew and English fail to see. There is more depth in the illustrations. There is more to enjoy and think about.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Mental Health Mayday
Gregg Bagdade MA, PPC, NCC
MSI Press
1760-F Airline Hwy, #203, Hollister, CA 950243
9781957354224, $16.25, PB, 110pp

Synopsis: From their swearing-in all to the way until retirement, even the most hardened firefighters can be affected by mental health concerns. With the publication of "Mental Health Mayday: A Firefighter's Survival Guide from Recruit through Retirement", Gregg Bagdad explores the why and explains the how to better prepare these individuals for a healthy and productive career and life, based on his personal experience as a counselor, who also has 27 years experience as a firefighter and as a paramedic.

With "Mental Health Mayday: A Firefighter's Survival Guide from Recruit through Retirement", community firefighters can learn how to acknowledge their mental health issues, such as PTSD, addiction, or anger issues while developing strategies to address these concerns with techniques and solutions throughout their career.

Critique: As a 'first responder' having to deal close and up-front with tragedy and danger, "Mental Health Mayday: A Firefighter's Survival Guide from Recruit through Retirement" is the quintessential self-help guide to dealing with the mental, physical, and emotional stresses of one of America's most dangerous, yet necessary professions. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Mental Health Mayday: A Firefighter's Survival Guide from Recruit through Retirement" should be considered as required reading for anyone engaged in firefighting, and a part of every firehouse and community library Firefighting Psychology, Education, and Training collections.

Editorial Note: Licensed Professional Counselor Gregg Bagdade is a Mental Health Counselor with his Master's degree from Concordia University. He obtained his Bachelor's degree from Penn State in Human Development and Family Studies where he interned at the Chicago Fire Department employee assistance program. Much of his studies were dedicated to understanding trauma-related issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Gregg is currently a firefighter/paramedic for the Chicago Fire Department logging in almost 20 years in this position. He heads the First Responder Program at CCAH helping fire/police/military cope with the rigors of their career. (

This is Learning Experience Design
Niels Floor
New Riders
c/o Peachpit
9780137950737, $39.99, PB, 304pp

Synopsis: We have all had memorable experiences that taught us valuable lessons and leave a lasting impression. What if you could design such experiences for the learners at your school, company, or a client? You can - with the breakthrough perspective, methodologies, skills, and tools of Learning Experience Design (LXD).

Whether your background is in design or learning, Niels Floor helps you take responsibility for the entire learning experience: all that happens, what each learner does, how it makes them feel, and how the outcome affects them.

Floor illuminates nine indispensable LXD rules and walks through all six steps of the iterative LXD process: question, research, design, develop, test, and launch. You'll explore his powerful Learning Experience Canvas for designing outstanding experiences; and successfully integrate complementary tools such as Personas, Empathy Maps, and Experience Mapping.

Packed with inspiring examples and enlightening exercises, this book provides all you need to confidently practice LXD yourself and transform more lives through learning.

You will learn how to: Discover new possibilities and creative solutions for learning; Empathize with the learner and their challenges through design research; Craft unforgettable experiences that deliver lasting, meaningful positive impacts.

Critique: Expertly written, organized and presented, "This is Learning Experience Design: What it is, how it works, and why it matters" is a complete DIY combination of instructional guide and 'how to' manual. Also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.99), "This is Learning Experience Design: What it is, how it works, and why it matters" will be of special value to readers with an interest in desktop publishing, computer science, and classroom education and is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: Niels Floor ( is a pioneer in the field of learning experience design (LXD). He created the Learning Experience Canvas (, initiated the LXDCON conferences, and founded Floor owns Shapers, an international LX design and training agency and has delivered talks, workshops, and training around the world.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

The Ship Beneath the Ice: The Discovery of Shackleton's Endurance
Mensun Bound
Mariner Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
Blackstone Audiobooks
9780063297401, $35.00, HC, 416pp

Synopsis: On November 21, 1914, after sailing more than ten thousand miles from Norway to the Antarctic Ocean, the Endurance finally succumbed to the surrounding ice. Ernest Shackleton and his crew had navigated the 144-foot, three-masted wooden vessel to Antarctica to become the first to cross the barren continent, but early season pack ice trapped them in place offshore. They watched in silence as the ship's stern rose twenty feet in the air and disappeared into the frigid sea, then spent six harrowing months marooned on the ice in its wake. Seal meat was their only sustenance as Shackleton's expedition to push the limits of human strength took a new form: one of survival against the odds.

As this legendary story entered the annals of polar exploration, it inspired a new global race to find the wrecked Endurance, by all accounts "the world's most unreachable shipwreck." Several missions failed, thwarted, as Shackleton was, by the unpredictable Weddell Sea. Finally, a century to the day after Shackleton's death, renowned marine archeologist Mensun Bound and an elite team of explorers discovered the lost shipwreck. Nearly ten thousand feet below the ice lay a remarkably preserved Endurance, its name still emblazoned on the ship's stern.

With the publication of "The Ship Beneath the Ice: The Discovery of Shackleton's Endurance", author Mensun Bound chronicles two dramatic expeditions to what Shackleton called "the most hostile sea on Earth." Bound experienced failure and despair in his attempts to locate the wreck, and, like Shackleton before him, very nearly found his vessel frozen in ice.

Complete with captivating photos from the 1914 expedition and of the wreck as Bound and his team found it, this inspiring modern-day adventure narrative captures the intrepid spirit that joins two mariners across the centuries -- both of whom accomplished the impossible.

Critique: Enhanced with both black/white and full color photos, "The Ship Beneath the Ice: The Discovery of Shackleton's Endurance" is an inherently fascinating and informative account that will have a very particular appeal to readers with an interest in Antarctica exploration history. While highly recommended, especially for both community and academic library Explorer Expedition and Maritime Archaeology collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Ship Beneath the Ice" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 979-8212201308, $41.99, MP3-CD)

Editorial Note: Mensun Bound ( was Director of Exploration on the 2019 and 2022 expeditions to locate Shackleton's Endurance. Previously a Triton Fellow in Maritime Archaeology at St. Peter's College, Oxford University, he is a leading marine archeologist who has discovered many of the world's most famous shipwrecks.

Codice Maya de Mexico
Andrew D. Turner, editor
Getty Publications
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1682
9781606067888, $24.95, PB, 96pp

Synopsis: Ancient Maya scribes recorded prophecies and astronomical observations on the pages of painted books. Although most were lost to decay or destruction, three pre-Hispanic Maya codices were known to have survived, when, in the 1960s, a fourth book that differed from the others appeared in Mexico under mysterious circumstances. After fifty years of debate over its authenticity, recent investigations using cutting-edge scientific and art historical analyses determined that Codice Maya de Mexico (formerly known as Grolier Codex) is in fact the oldest surviving book of the Americas, predating all others by at least two hundred years.

Edited by Andrew D. Turner, "Codice Maya de Mexico: Understanding the Oldest Surviving Book of the Americas" provides a multifaceted introduction to the creation, discovery, interpretation, and scientific authentication of Codice Maya de Mexico. In addition, a full-color facsimile and a page-by-page guide to the iconography make the codex accessible to a wide audience. Additional topics include the uses and importance of sacred books in Mesoamerica, the role of astronomy in ancient Maya societies, and the codex's continued relevance to contemporary Maya communities.

Critique: Published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from October 18, 2022, to January 15, 2023, "Codice Maya de Mexico: Understanding the Oldest Surviving Book of the Americas" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Mayan History and Meso-American Archaeology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Andrew D. Turner ( is a senior research specialist at the Getty Research Institute. Trained as an archaeologist and art historian, Turner's work focuses on ancient Mesoamerican material culture, religion, and symbolism. He has held positions at Yale University and the University of Cambridge; at Getty he is the project lead for the Pre-Hispanic Art Provenance Initiative, which traces the movement of looted pre-Hispanic art through the international art market.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

They Got Daddy: One Family's Reckoning with Racism and Faith
Sharon Tubbs
Quarry Books
c/o Indiana University Press
9780253064455, $65.00, HC, 162pp

Synopsis: January 15, 1959 was a day that changed one African-American family forever. White supremacists kidnapped and severely beat rural Alabama preacher Israel Page, nearly killing him because he had sued a White sheriff's deputy for injuries suffered in a car crash. After "they" "got Daddy," Israel Page's children began leaving the Jim Crow South, the event leaving an indelible mark on the family and its future. Decades later, the events of that day fueled journalist Sharon Tubbs's epic quest to learn who had "gotten" her mother's daddy and why.

With the publication of "They Got Daddy: One Family's Reckoning with Racism and Faith" author Sharon Tubbs follows her family's moving journey from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the back roads and rural churches of Alabama. This is a powerful revelation of the sustaining and redemptive power of faith and unflinching testimony to the deeply embedded effects of racism across the generations. It also demonstrates how the search for the truth can offer a chance at true healing.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, organized and presented combination of Black History and Biography, "They Got Daddy: One Family's Reckoning with Racism and Faith" is a compelling story and one that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library American History/Biography and Racism/Ethnic Studies collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "They Got Daddy" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9780253064462, $20.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.00).

Editorial Note: Sharon Tubbs ( began her professional career as a newspaper reporter and editor. In a career that spanned seventeen years, she worked briefly for the Philadelphia Inquirer then for the Tampa Bay Times. As a journalist, she covered various beats that included small-town government, local crime, and national religious issues. Today, Sharon Tubbs is a writer, inspirational speaker, and the director of a nonprofit organization that empowers under-resourced residents in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to live healthier lives.

The Kabbalah of Writing: Mystical Practices for Inspiration and Creativity
Sherri Mandell
Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781644116104, $18.99, PB, 160pp

Synopsis: Revealing how the ancient spiritual tradition known as the Kabbalah can be applied to the art of writing, with the publication of "The Kabbalah of Writing: Mystical Practices for Inspiration and Creativity" author Sherri Mandell presents a mystical system for developing creativity and harnessing divine inspiration in your storytelling and other written works.

Sharing insight from her own spiritual journey and her years of teaching writing, Mandell explains how the characteristics of the 10 sefirot (the channels of divine creative life force that make up the elemental spiritual structure of the world) can be used to think about and develop writing in a profound way and give you the power to grow as a person and a writer. She explores each sefira in detail and how it can be used to manifest creative visions through words. Showing how writing can be healing and redemptive, she provides writing exercises and imaginative techniques to help you create a writing practice that allows you to appreciate the richness of life, retrieve its divine beauty, and share your unique wisdom.

By unveiling how writing can become a spiritual path, a pilgrimage to discover the sacred stories within, Mandell shows that sharing your inner truth and expressing your personal gifts of imagination through writing is part of your individual spiritual mission as well as an essential part of the spiritual evolution of the world.

Critique: With a special relevance for students of the Kabbalah, and readers with an interest in the subjects of Mysticism, Metaphysics, Spiritual Self-Help, and Personal Transformation, "The Kabbalah of Writing: Mystical Practices for Inspiration and Creativity" is also highly recommended for aspiring writers seeking to improve their craft. While very highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, writers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Kabbalah of Writing: Mystical Practices for Inspiration and Creativity" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Sherri Mandell ( currently resides in Israel and is an award-winning writer who has contributed to numerous magazines and journals, including USA Today, The Times of Israel, Hadassah Magazine, and the Jerusalem Post. She is also the author of several books, including a spiritual memoir The Blessing of a Broken Heart, which won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She holds a master's degree in creative writing and studied Kabbalah with teachers in Jerusalem. For the past 20 years, she and her husband have directed the Koby Mandell Foundation in Israel whose flagship program is Camp Koby, a therapeutic sleepaway camp for bereaved children.

Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide
Juliet Patterson
Milkweed Editions
9781571311764, $25.00, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: In 2009, Juliet Patterson was recovering from a serious car accident when she learned her father had died by suicide. His death was part of a disturbing pattern in her family. Her father's father had taken his own life; so had her mother's. Over the weeks and months that followed, grieving and in physical pain, Patterson kept returning to one question: Why? Why had her family lost so many men, so many fathers to suicide, and what lay beneath the silence that had taken hold?

With the publication of "Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide" and in three graceful movements, Patterson explores these questions. In the winter of her father's death, she struggles to make sense of the loss -- sifting through the few belongings he left behind, looking to signs and symbols for meaning. As the spring thaw comes, she and her mother depart Minnesota for her father's burial in her parents' hometown of Pittsburg, Kansas.

A once-prosperous town of promise and of violence, against people and the land, Pittsburg is now literally undermined by abandoned claims and sinkholes. There, Patterson carefully gathers evidence and radically imagines the final days of the grandfathers (one a fiery pro-labor politician, the other a melancholy businessman) she never knew. And finally, she returns to her father: to the haunting subjects of goodbyes, of loss, and of how to break the cycle.

Critique: A unique family study, "Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide" is an eloquent and moving examination of a family experienced inter-generational tragedy of suicide reflected in personal, familial, political, and environmental histories. Candid, informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library LGBTQ Studies collections. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the causes and consequences of suicide that "Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note: Juliet Patterson ( is the author of two collections of poems, "Threnody" and "The Truant Lover" -- which was a finalist for the Lambda Award. Her poems and essays have appeared widely. She has received fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Minneapolis-based Institute for Community Cultural Development. Her other awards include the Arts & Letters Susan Atefat Prize in nonfiction and the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Our Beloved Friend: The Life and Writings of Anne Emlen Mifflin
Gary B. Nash, author
Emily M. Teipe, author
Penn State University Press
820 North University Drive, University Park, PA 16802-1003
9780271093888, $124.95, HC, 370pp

Synopsis: Born into one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia and raised and educated in that vital center of eighteenth-century American Quakerism, Anne Emlen Mifflin was a progressive force in early America. This detailed and engaging biography, which features Anne's collected writings and selected correspondence, revives her legacy.

Anne grew up directly across the street from the Pennsylvania statehouse, where the Continental Congress was leading the War of Independence. A Quaker minister whose busy pen, agile mind, and untiring moral energy produced an extensive corpus of writings, Anne was an ardent abolitionist and social reformer decades before the establishment of women's anti-slavery societies. And at a time when most Americans never ventured beyond their own village, hamlet, or farm, Anne journeyed thousands of miles. She traveled to settlements of Friends on the frontier and met with Native Americans in the rough country of northwestern Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada.

With the publication of "Our Beloved Friend: The Life and Writings of Anne Emlen Mifflin", co-authors Gary B. Nash and Emily M. Teipe provide a unique and informative window onto the lives of Quakers during the pre-Revolutionary era, the establishment of the New Republic, and the War of 1812.

Critique: An impressive work of seminal scholarship that is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an eleven page Image Gallery, a two page Appendix, a seventeen page Bibliography, and a twelve page Index, "Our Beloved Friend: The Life and Writings of Anne Emlen Mifflin" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library 19th Century American History, Quaker Christianity, Slavery Abolition History, and American Revolution Biography/History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Gary B. Nash ( was Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of numerous books, including Warner Mifflin: Unflinching Quaker Abolitionist,a biography of Anne Emlen Mifflin's husband.

Editorial Note #2: Emily M. Teipe received her B.A. and M.A. degrees from California State University, Fullerton and her Ph.D. from University of California, Riverside. She is professor of History and Women s Studies at Fullerton College where she has taught for twenty-three years. In 2010 she received the Teacher of the Year Award from the student body. Some of her other publications include- America s First Veterans and the Revolutionary War Pensions; A Woman's Journal, Reading and Writing on Themes in Women s Studies; Will the Real Molly Pitcher Please Stand Up? Prologue, the National Archives: The Brandeis Brief; The British Stamp Tax; and The Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery 1775.

Done Being Single: A Late Bloomer's Guide to Love
Treva Brandon Scharf
Greenleaf Book Group Press
9798886450200, $24.95, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: Treva Brandon Scharf is a woman who has paid her dues in the dating world. She has survived countless romances, relationships, boyfriends, breakups, heartaches, and heartbreaks. She ben loved and lost, dumped and got dumped, and finally became a first-time bride at the age of 51. With the publication of "Done Being Single: A Late Bloomer's Guide to Love", Scharf (who is a gifted blogger and writer), shares all the juicy details of her long road to the altar.

A universal source of inspiration and practical advice, "Done Being Single" is part self-help/dating advice, part-memoir, and an entertaining read throughout from first page to last.

It doesn't matter if you're a late bloomer or early blossomer; male or female; single or partnered; millennial or midlifer. It doesn't matter if you're divorced, widowed, new on the market, stuck in dating hell, dreaming of getting married, or just dreaming of getting laid, there's something for everyone.

If you're freaking out in your 20s, hyperventilating in your 30s, living a life of not-so-quiet desperation in your 40s (like Treva was), or needing a jump start in your 50s and beyond, she's got you covered.

As a late bloomer, here's what she's discovered: You don't need to have it all figured out by a certain age. There's no date to be married by or deadline for achievement. Just because you don't hit your benchmarks in a timely fashion - or hit them at all - doesn't make you a failure; it just makes you you.

Even if you're not technically a late bloomer, there's always time to become who you really are or want to be. But the truth is, everyone is a late bloomer in some way. We're all works in progress, and the learning, growing, and evolving never stops. Remember - your timeline is yours and yours alone, and you'll bloom when you're ready. The amazing thing is that once you do start blooming and see your talent, creativity, power, and potential begin to blossom, you'll realize you had it in you the whole time.

Some other things she discovered as a late bloomer are: Life doesn't come with a grand plan, but if you've got one, follow it. You don't need a vision of your future, but if you see it, keep it in your mind's eye. You don't need a road map, but if you have life GPS, use it. The only thing you need to do is be proactive. So start now. Go now. Launch now. Reinvent now. Bloom now. Envision the person you want to be and go be it.

Critique: A compendium of wit, wisdom, and laugh out loud anecdotes that are recognizable to all of us, "Done Being Single: A Late Bloomer's Guide to Love" is all the more impressive when considering that it is Treva Brandon Scharf's debut as a published author. Deserving of as wide a readership as possible, "Done Being Single" is unreservedly recommended for community personal reading lists and community library Dating, Relationship, Parenting, and Motivational Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections.

Editorial Note: Treva Brandon Scharf ( is the product of divorce, an admitted commitment-phobe, serial dater, marriage first-timer at 51, and badass with a heart of gold. A former advertising copywriter, Treva is an ICF-certified life coach, dating and relationship coach, and long-time fitness professional. When Treva isn't dispensing tough love dating advice, she's a Special Olympics coach and mentor to at-risk kids. She is passionate about politics, policy, and people of all ages and abilities. Treva co-hosts the podcast Done Being Single with her husband Robby Scharf, a fellow late bloomer. Together, they deliver dating intervention and relationship advice to listeners all over the world.

Margaret Lane

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp
Hermann Hesse
9781478200208, $9.50

I became enamored with Hesse's work in Crested Butte, Colorado, where I managed a dozen houses that paid for my schooling at Western State Colorado University. Those were the days of "Counterculture." The bookshelves of most of my student renters inevitably included Hesse classics like Siddartha, Demian, The Glass Bead Game, and the iconic Whole Earth Catalog - displayed in smoke-filled living rooms.

By the early1970s, Hesse had become a cult figure, and in 1968, the California rock group, Steppenwolf, named after one of Hesse's other classic books, released "Born to be Wild," which was featured in the film Easy Rider. The author was always obsessed with believing that the open road offered freedom. He often put on his hat and strolled into the night without a clear idea of where he wanted to go. Not surprisingly, this book influenced Jack Kerouac's, On the Road and The Dharma Bums.

After forty years of working with international organizations, I turned to travel writing to share some of my stories and what I learned. When I discovered that Hesse had written about an eternal drifter, a true drop-out, I had to read it.

Hesse had intended to follow in his father's footsteps as a Protestant pastor and missionary but rebelled against traditional academic education. Or as he puts it in one passage," A father can pass on his nose and eyes and even his intelligence to his child, but not his soul. In every human being, the soul is new."

Eventually, he'd work as a bookseller and, in protest of German militarism, moved to Switzerland, where he lived in self-imposed exile until he died in 1962. Yet another reason so many Boomers gravitated to his work during the anti-Vietnam war days.

With profound understanding and sympathy, but also with some irony, Hesse portrays Knulp's life journey, love affairs, and questioning of life. Here's part of that story,

In reality, though he did little that was expressly prohibited, he carried on the illegal and disdained existence of a tramp. Of course, he would hardly have been so unmolested in his lovely fiction if the police had not been well disposed towards him. They respected the cheerful, entertaining young fellow for his superior intelligence and occasional earnestness and, as far as possible, left him alone.

And yet, in his later years, he showed regret,

How clear and simple life was! He had thrown himself away, he had lost interest in everything, and life falling in with his feelings, had demanded nothing of him.

He had lived as an outsider, an idler and onlooker, well-liked in his young manhood, alone in his illness and advancing years. Seized with weariness, he sat down on the wall, and the river murmured darkly in his thoughts.

The novel reaches a final powerful climax when God reveals to Knulp his true purpose in life,

'Look,' said God, 'I wanted you the way you are and no different. You were a wanderer in my name and wherever you went, you brought the sedentary people a little nostalgia for freedom. In my name, you did silly things and people made fun at you. I myself was mocked in you and was loved in you. You are my child and my brother and a part of me. There is nothing you have enjoyed and suffered that I have not enjoyed and suffered with you.'

'Yes,' said Knulp, nodding heavily. 'Yes, that's true, and deep down, I've always known it.'

One of the great masters of contemporary literature, Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

About the Author:

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was born in Germany and later became a citizen of Switzerland. As a Western man profoundly affected by the mysticism of Eastern thought, he wrote many novels, stories, and essays that bear a vital spiritual force that has captured the imagination and loyalty of many generations of readers. In 1946, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Glass Bead Game.

Hermann Hesse, ranked among the great masters of contemporary literature, was born in Wurttemberg in 1877. After his first novel, Peter Camenzind, was published in 1904, he devoted himself to writing. In 1919, he moved to Switzerland to protest against German militarism, where he lived in self-imposed exile.

Hesse was strongly influenced by his interest in music, the psychoanalytic theories of Jung, and Eastern thought. He wrote: "My political faith is that of a democrat, my world outlook that of an individualist."

Hesse's best-known works include Knulp, Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Klinsor's Last Summer, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge, and spirituality.

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
Anchor Books
c/o Knopf Doubleday
9780385490818 $15.95

I decided to read this book after I saw the author promoting a fundraiser for PEN America to combat book banning. She partnered with Penguin Random House to create an unburnable version of her often-banned novel, The Handmaid's Tale. She is depicted with a flame thrower. Margaret Atwood is among the top twenty authors banned, with three titles and fifteen bans in eleven districts. One of the positive results of book banning is that many readers will read them to find out why they're being suppressed.

She's also an accomplished author with over fifty books translated into 35 languages. This book hasn't been out of print since it was first published in 1985 and has sold millions worldwide. Over the years, it has been reproduced in many formats, and in 2016, Hulu announced a straight-to-TV series of the book. Atwood was a consulting producer and played a small cameo role in the first episode.

But what makes this book special is that although it was written 28 years ago, the dystopian society it depicts seems to reflect the direction we're moving towards today, making this a very timely story worth reflecting on. With the wife of a Supreme Court Justice involved with the sedition of January 6th and a Supreme Court, which has overturned Roe vs. Wade and a woman's right to determine a choice on abortions, this fictional story seems possible.
Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute released new findings showing how successful Christian Nationalists have spread their oppressive message.

The rising influence of Christian nationalism in some segments of American politics poses a significant threat to the health of our democracy. Increasingly, the major battle lines of the culture war are being drawn between a right animated by a Christian nationalist worldview and Americans who embrace the country's growing racial and religious diversity.

In a racial breakdown, the study indicates that 64% of white evangelical Protestants - the most significant percentage of any group - identify as either adherents or sympathizers of Christian nationalism.

Atwood acknowledges the extent to which her dystopian vision of many years ago is proving relevant today, "It's this aspect that seems the most possible to me at those uneasy moments when I find I'm convincing even myself of the plausibility of my own dire creation."

In the author's dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. This led to the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enclaves the few remaining fertile women. The main protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid obligated to produce children for one of Gilead's commanders. She is deprived of her husband, her child, her freedom, and even her name.
The inspiration for the Republic of Gilead came from a study of early American Puritans at Harvard. She contends that Puritan leaders wanted to establish a monolithic theocracy where religious dissent would not be tolerated.

She revealed in an updated introduction in 2017 that her book is not "anti-religious." It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny, which is a different thing altogether."

Atwood was also inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978-1979, where a theocracy was established that drastically reduced women's rights and imposed a strict dress code on Iranian women. And where the leaders frequently profess in a very sanctimonious manner to act from the highest moral principles, in reality, the opposite is the case.

She lists a series of influences to developing this story" executions, sumptuary laws, book burnings, the Lebensborn program of the S.S. and the child-stealing of the Argentinian generals, the history of slavery, the history of American polygamy...."

The novel concludes with a fictional epilogue described as a transcript of an international historical association conference in 2195. In it, the keynote speaker explains that Offred's account of events was recorded onto cassette tapes later found and transcribed by historians studying what is then called "the Gilead Period."

In a final scene, Offred is led into a parked van by armed guards, and she says, "Whether this is my end or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing. I have given myself over into the hands of strangers because it can't be helped." And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light."

And as the novel ends, its story and inspiration are picked up and moved along by the Hulu production in 2016. Bruce Miller, the executive producer, created the series. It was ranked the 25th of 38th best TV series of the 21st century by The Guardian and BBC and has gone five seasons. Hulu announced that this would be the sixth and last season. The Hulu production is dark and foreboding and reflects the underlying suffering within the dystopian world Atwood envisioned.

"Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions... An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking... Read it while it's still allowed." - Houston Chronicle.

About the Author:

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her novels include Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and the Madd Addam trilogy. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid's Tale, was followed in 2019 by a sequel, The Testaments, which was a global number-one bestseller and won the Booker Prize. In 2020, she published Dearly, her first poetry collection in a decade.

Atwood has won numerous awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In 2019, she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honor for services to literature. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright, and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Civil War by Other Means: America's Long and Unfinished Fight for Democracy
Jeremi Suri
Public Affairs Books
c/o Hachette Book Group
9781541758544, $30.00 US / $38.00 CAN, 322 pp.

The Civil War was truly the seminal event in American History. The war itself decided the fate of slavery forever. The war also left open who would rule the country after the North and South were reunited. Jeremi Suri, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has written a volume that attempts to answer that very question. Civil War by Other Means: America's Long and Unfinished Fight for Democracy, chronicles the fight to finally end the Civil War in American Democracy. Suri describes the era of Reconstruction (1865-1877) as an era of instability and dissension that has not officially ended.

Reconstruction was intended to bring the country back together and to restore the image of American democracy to Europe and the rest of the world. Professor Suri writes that Reconstruction evolved into a danger-filled time in which white Southerners were essentially given free reign to move the old Confederacy back to the antebellum world. Politicians such as Lincoln and Grant were idealistic in their plans for the postwar countryside. The assassination of Lincoln, the corruption of Grant's second term, the assassination of James Garfield, all contributed to a reconstruction and post-war period that left African-Americans in a state that was almost a return to slavery. Suri writes that Reconstruction was a missed opportunity to change the course of American society that has left subsequent generations still trying to find a positive end to the Civil War.

Professor Suri has written an excellent book. Civil War by Other Means should be an essential piece of any Civil War era reading list or college history course. It is easily readable, flows well, and is very engaging. Civil War historians, scholars of race and society, and general readers will do well to think about the themes that Professor Suri presents in this book. Civil War by Other Means should be a central piece of the researcher's Civil War tool-kit. It is a great little book that can serve as material for answering that most important question: Who won the Civil war?

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Standing Up to China
Ashley Yablon, Esq.
Brown Books Publishing Group
16250 Knoll Trail, Suite 205, Dallas, Texas 75248
9781612545585, $27.95, HC, 228pp

Synopsis: What would you do if your ambitious career suddenly transformed into a deadly game of international espionage? With the publication of "Standing Up to China: How a Whistleblower Risked Everything for His Country", Ashley Yablon's takes his readers into the dark crevices of deceit and corporate greed of one of the world's most powerful Chinese telecom giants.

As the freshly minted General Counsel for telecom company ZTE, Yablon uncovers an illegal scheme selling billions of dollars' worth of surveillance equipment to embargoed countries. If left unchecked, these transactions could threaten the security of the United States at the highest levels.

Instead of turning a blind eye, Yablon risks everything, including his life and career, to uphold justice -- leading him down a course of personal and professional destruction. "Standing Up to China" is modern-day story of David and Goliath, as Yablon goes head-to-head with some of the most dangerous and powerful Chinese crime bosses in the world.

Ashley Yablon's life is a testament to the fact that what is easy is not always right, and what is right is almost never easy. The incalculable power that sets a hero apart is choosing to do what's right, even if (especially if) it costs everything.

Critique: A relatively unknown story that deserves the widest possible readership given the current activities of China in terms of its relationship with the USA, "Standing Up to China: How a Whistleblower Risked Everything for His Country" will be of particular value to readers with an interest in the politics of privacy/surveillance, telecommunications base espionage, and the on-going efforts of China to steal intellectual properties and subvert American international policies. While unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, corporate executives, and non- specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Standing Up to China" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Ashley Yablon ( is an ambitious, driven law man who believes that success is earned, not given. As general counsel of ZTE, Yablon bravely stood up for his country during the biggest scandal to ever hit the tech industry. His refusal to toe the line when faced with a dangerous moral dilemma is an inspiration to all Americans.

The Swim Prescription
Alexander Hutchison
Hatherleigh Press
c/o The Hatherleigh Foundation
62545 State Highway 10, Hobart, NY 13788
9781578268467, $20.00, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: Whether you swim competitively, to get fit, to stay healthy, or just swim for fun, with the publication of "The Swim Prescription: How Swimming Can Improve Your Mood, Restore Health, Increase Physical Fitness and Revitalize Your Life" by Alexander Hutchison is the all-in-one guide to everything this incredible sport has to offer.

"The Swim Prescription" is the authoritative reference on all aspects of swimming for health, including: Detailed explanations of how swimming benefits various health conditions; Step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate swimming into any lifestyle; Helpful tips on swimming equipment -- what you should and shouldn't buy; Three full 12-week workout courses designed for any skill level; Key points for advanced topics including nutrition, strength training and more.

Swimming is regenerative, beneficial and one of the easiest and most affordable way to rebuild and maintain your fitness. Perfect for all ages and fitness levels, "The Swim Prescription" unlocks the power of swimming and makes it accessible for everyone

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the health and recreational values of swimming, "The Swim Prescription: How Swimming Can Improve Your Mood, Restore Health, Increase Physical Fitness and Revitalize Your Life" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Swimming, Sports Training, and Health Exercise collections. It should be noted that "The Swim Prescription" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Alexander Hutchison, PhD, is a fitness and wellness expert in Dallas, Texas and the owner of The Athlete Company. The Senior Editor for the journal Advanced Biology, he has experience coaching swimming, water polo, triathlon, marathon, and most recently, strength and conditioning. After completing his master's degree in Kinesiology at Texas A&M University, Alexander was named the head swimming coach at Austin College. He received his doctorate in Exercise Physiology and Immunology at the University of Houston. He reviews for several journals in exercise science, nutrition, and immunology, and is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. He is also the author of Exercise Ain't Enough. (

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Symphony No. 8 in C Major
Franz Schubert, composer
Concerto Budapest, performer, Andras Keller, performer
Tacet Records
B0BP4178QK, $24.99

Schubert's Great Symphony In Time Of Illness

Franz Schubert's "Great" C major symphony, D. 944 has long been one of my favorite works of music, I tend to reserve it for special moments and have been listening to it repeatedly during a time of illness in this new recording by the Concerto Budapest conducted by Andras Keller. The work was recorded in November, 2017 in the Italian Institute, Budapest.

Schubert's "Great" symphony is a work of transcendent beauty and hope from its opening horn call which seems to beckon from another world. The opening movement works gradually to a climax in which the horn call returns in the entire orchestra with full force. The second movement features a solo from the English horn juxtaposed against a reflective theme in the strings. The third movement begins with a folk-like schzerzo with an inspring trio which, I remember, has been aptly described as capturing the feeling of the Union soldiers coming to the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The fourth movement is a triumphal whirlwind of triplets, difficult to play, It brings the "Great" symphony to an inspring, triumphal close.

Although I have heard Schubert's "Great" symphony many times performed by several different orchestras, this recording was my first experience with the Concerto Budapest and Andras Keller. They did the music justice. I liked the meandering changes of tempo throughout which did not take away from a feeling for the whole. The reading allowed Schubert's orchestration to come out with its many passages for brass, beginning with the opening theme for the horn, and winds. I loved the texture of the orchestral writing and its overall lyricism. The performance reminded me of why I love this symphony, with its message of song and hope.

The recording includes detailed liner notes by Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich titled "C Major and Symphonic Joy -- Franz Schubert 1824 at the crossroads between the Classical and Romantic eras." The notes emphasize the combination of large scale form in this unique symphony with a highly subjective, personal voice. The notes helped me with my listening and with my own personal response to the work. I also was glad to learn about the Concerto Budapest and about Maestro Keller.

Schubert's "Great" symphony is one of the treasures of music and a particularly beloved work to me. I was inspired and moved by its sound of transcendent hope during a time in which hope and joy were particularly welcome.

Total Time: 57:08

The Story of an African Farm
Olive Schreiner, author
Joseph Bristow, editor
Oxford University Press
9780199538010, $12.95 paperback

The Story Of An African Farm

My study of the African American mystic and theologian Howard Thurman led me to this famous 1883 novel "The Story of an African Farm" by Olive Schreiner (1855 -- 1920). Thurman refers to Schreiner often in his writings, and in 1973 prepared an anthology, "A Track to the Water's Edge: The Olive Schreiner Reader" with an Introduction to Schreiner's work and its influence on him followed by selections from Schreiner's writings. I also was interested in Schreiner's novel from my reading many years ago of two other Victorian novels which considered feminism or, as it was then called, the "woman question": "The Bostonians" (1886) by Henry James and "The Odd Women" (1893) by George Gissing. The novels by Schreiner, James, and Gissing are fascinating separately and taken together in their differing views of feminism and other important social and intellectual issues.

Set in South Africa in the mid-1860s, Schreiner's novel tells the story of Lyndall, a "new woman", Em, a more conventional woman and Waldo, a young man and a freethinker, from their childhood through adulthood and death on a large farm owned by a Boer woman. The novel is in two parts in each of which a different man wanders into the farm and becomes a focus for events. The first part features a swindler and a rouge, Bonaparte Blenkins, while the second part features, a "new man", Gregory Rose, a dandy of shifting sexuality.

The novel straddles between Victorianism and modernity, as shown in the appearance of the two different men in the two parts of the book. In her Preface, Schreiner remarked upon this, noting that it had confused some readers. She first described a "stage method" of portraying human life under which "each character is duly marshalled at first, and ticketed; we know with an immutable certainty that at the right crises each one will reappear and act his part, and, when the curtain falls, all will stand before it bowing.". She then contrasted the "stage method" with the "method of the life we all lead" under which "there is a strange coming and going of feet. Men appear, act and re-act upon each other and pass away." Schreiner argued that "life may be painted according to either method; but the methods are different. The canons of criticism that bear upon the one, cut cruelly upon the other". With this distinction, Schreiner offers an insightful discussion and illustration of an important characteristic of literary modernism.

Schreiner writes in a poetical, expansive heavily idiosyncratic style influenced by her study of the Bible. While it has a story and plot, the novel is philosophical and heavily digressive. Long passages of dialogue, and entire chapters, explore important questions. The opening chapter of Part II, "Times and Seasons", for example is a lengthy philosophical meditation on religion at different stages of life. The book in fact discusses at length questions of religion and loss of religious belief. It discusses political issues through references to the works of John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer. And it discusses issues of the "new woman" and of feminism, including sexuality, marriage, suffrage, education, and transvestism. Thus, many ideas are raised in "The Story of an African Farm" and it should not be limited to only feminism. Ideas are woven into the stories Schreiner tells about her characters and about South Africa, beautifully if not always smoothly. I became involved in the sad, varied lives of the three main protagonists.

I was more interested in Schreiner's thoughts on religion than in her discussion of feminism, even though the book is mostly remembered as a work of "first wave" feminsim. Schreiner was a freethinker who rejected traditional Christianity. The book has a passionate,mystical tone suggesting a pantheistic approach, I think, and a unity of all life. I think the searching, mystical, and yet skeptical tone of the book is what most influenced Thurman; but Schreiner's views on sexuality, gender relations, pacifism, and politics were also important to this great American mystic and civil rights activist. While Schreiner's work is often polemical in tone, a reader does not have to agree with feminism or Schreiner's version of feminism to love this book. My own interests led me to her discussion of religious questions.

It is valuable to see limitations in a book or writer one admires. Schreiner is not overly-critical of colonialism in South Africa, and she is often condescending and prejudicial in her characterizaions of black people and in her language describing them. Howard Thurman was painfully aware of these aspects of Schreiner's work. Still, he was able to be moved deeply by what he found extraordinary in Schreiner's language and vision, to learn from it, and to try to incorporate it for himself. There is something to be learned from this. Every person, particularly Schreiner, has his or her blind sides, formed in part by history, With the fallibility of individuals, it is possible to learn and move forward. Howard Thurman did so in his love for Olive Schreiner. Perhaps in doing so, he offered some insight in how people can move forward and learn from one another in the face of differences.

The Long Discourses of the Buddha
Maurice Walsche, translator
Venerable Sumedho Thera. forward
Wisdom Publications
9780861711031, $50.00 hardback

The Digha Nikaya

This book is a modern translation of the Long Length Discourses of the Buddha, a seminal collection of early Buddhist texts. The Digha is part of the scripture of the Theravada school of Buddhism. The Theravada school is is the oldest surviving form of Buddhism and is still practiced in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and elsewhere. Together with other forms of Buddhism, Theravada has attracted a great deal of interest in the West, and this book will be invaluable in making its teachings accessible. This collection of discourses is considered canonical by all other schools of Buddhism. Subsequent understanding of the Buddha's teachings built upon it, even when they seemed to depart from it.

The Digha is a collection of 34 discourses (suttas), originally written in Pali. The form of the teaching differs from that of later Buddhist teachings in that in the Digha, the Buddha is presented as a person wandering through India and teaching his disciples, followers of other sects, kings, princes, gods, and anyone who is open to listen. The teachings are difficult but the emphasis in this collection is on psychology more than on metaphysics. The Buddha described his Dhamma as designed to end suffering and to teach people how to be happy. That is the core of this volume.

Many scholars believe that the Digha was written specifically to introduce the Buddha's teaching to lay followers. Most (but not all) the suttas in the collection involve discussions between the Buddha and various lay people or followers of other sects. The suttas in the collection include a great deal of mythology and storytelling. These factors, together with the content of the discourses, tend to show it was designed for a large audience, rather than only for close followers of the Buddha's teachings. They remain an outstanding source for those wanting to make a serious effort to study the Buddha.

Many of the suttas in the collection present important expositions of the Buddha's Dhamma (teaching). The first sutta in the collection, translated here as "What the Teaching is Not" is basic but difficult. The reader coming to the Digha might want to begin with the second sutta, "The Fruits of the Homeless Life". This sutta is widely studied and is a beautiful exposition of the Buddha's teaching and its value.

Sutta 15 of the collection, the "Great Discourse on the Origination" is the most detailed single discussion in the Pali Canon of the Buddha's fundamental and uncompromisingly difficult teaching on dependent origination -- impermanence, selflessness, and interconnectedness. Sutta 22, "The Greater Discourse on the Foundation of Mindfulness" is the basic meditation sutta which should be studied by those wishing to develop a meditation practice. Sutta 16, the longest sutta in the Pali Canon, tells the story of the Buddha's last days and of his passing. In it the Buddha exhorts his followers to "strive on with diligence" to achieve their goal of enlightenment. Sutta 31, the Sigala Sutta, differs markedly from the remaining suttas in the collection in that it consists of the Buddha's rather worldy advice to a worldly young man.

I have the good fortune to belong to a Sutta Study group led by an able teacher where for the past year or so (the group has been meeting much longer) we have explored this collection in depth. We generally have one person assigned to lead the discussion of a sutta (our group averages about ten) and we all read and discuss it over a two-hour session. (The longer, more difficult suttas require several sessions.) This is an ideal way to study the text. If such a group is unavailable to you, the best way to proceed, I think, is to read the collection slowly -- do not try to rush or to do it at once -- concentrate on the sections that seem to speak to you and go back to them. This is a text that is not meant to convey history or dogma but to encourage reflection, meditation and study.

The translation of the text is by Maurice Walshe, a scholar and a distinguished Buddhist lay practitioner who also translated the German works of the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart. Walshe wrote a useful introduction covering key Buddhist concepts, a summary of each sutta, and brief notes. His translation is homespun, colloquial, and accessible. It serves its function of allowing the reader to approach the text and the Dhamma.

Walshe and Wisdom Publications have done great service in making this volume available to interested readers in the West. (Wisdom has also published companion volumes of the Middle-Length Discourses and the Connected Discourses.) This is a difficult book but will repay the effort many times. May this book help the interested reader to understand the teachings of the Buddha.

The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
Sean Willentz, author
W.W. Norton & Company
9780393329216, $29.95 pbk
9780393058208, $35.00 hc

Sean Willentz On American Democracy

In "The Rise of American Democracy" (2005) Sean Wilentz has written a sweeping study of the pre-Civil War United States. His study explores the long-standing tensions in early America which led to the Civil War, and it emphasizes the nature and fragility of democratic government. Sean Wilentz is Professor of History and director of the Program in American Studies at Princeton. He has written extensively on American history.

The primary goal of Professor Wilentz' book is to show how democracy expanded and grew in the United States from the earliest days of the Republic through the election of Abraham Lincoln. The book is lengthy (796 pages of text plus over 150 pages of notes) and filled with learning and detail.

In his book, Professor Wilentz offers a traditional narrative history as he focuses, and stresses "the importance of political events, ideas, and leaders to democracy's rise -- once an all-too-prevalent assumption, now in need of some rescue and repair". (p. xx) The three primary characters in his story are Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln, and the history centers around the direction these leaders gave to the development of democracy in the United States.

There are three large sections in the book. The first section covers the United States from the Revolution through the War of 1812 and emphasizes the transition from an elitist government founded on property and privilege to Jeffersonian democracy. The second section covers the "Era of Good Feelings" (which Professor Wilentz recharacterizes as the "Era of Bad Feelings"), moves through the Missouri Compromise, and then concentrates on the presidency of Andrew Jackson with his destruction of the Second Bank of the United States and his confrontation with South Carolina over nullification. This section concludes with the formation of the Whig party and the election of 1840. The third section of the book covers the growing and increasingly polarized conflict between North and South over slavery. This conflict was exacerbated by the War with Mexico and the resultant questions about the extension of slavery into the new territories. North and South became increasingly militant following unsuccessful Congressional attempts to defuse the controversy in 1850 and 1854. Professor Wilentz gives the reader the history of this conflict, with perceptive treatments of the Fugitive Slave Act, "bleeding" Kansas, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Dred Scott decision and much else (including a good discussion of Herman Melville and "Moby Dick"). This section culminates in a discussion of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln's election to the presidency in 1860, and Southern secession.

The book has a thick, complex texture because of the disparate events it covers and the many threads Professor Wilentz integrates into his narrative. There are long economic discussions focusing on the Bank of the United States and the tariff. There are good treatments of American expansionism and "manifest destiny", of Indian policy, and above all else slavery. Professor Wilentz covers both national and state and local politics as he offers detailed discussions of how the individual States, both North and South, gradually expanded the franchise to include, by the outset of the Civil War, virtually all white males. Professor Wilentz gives a wealth of information about coalition politics and about compromise as the many movements in American pre-Bellum society, from the Federalists, to the Northern and Southern Whigs, to the Northern and Southern Democrats of every political stripe formed alliances with each other in an attempt to create a national politics and to cover o!ver increasing dissention and disagreement resulting from the "peculiar institution". Professor Wilentz also emphasizes how much of American democracy developed "from the ground up" beginning from the time of President George Washington. Americans formed combinations and organizations outside the political system to make their voices heard. There are many instances, but the fullest treatment in this study belongs to abolitionism and to incipient unionist organizations of workers.

Professor Wilentz ties his material together by lengthy summations and preludes at the beginning and end of virtually every section. This allows the reader to keep track of what otherwise would be (and still remains) a complicated story. There is an excellent use of biography of many people,familiar and unfamiliar, and of the telling story or anecdote. In addition, Professor Wilentz' interest in democracy -- how it developed and how it was unable to keep the United States from falling into sectionalism and near destruction -- gives a center to the book. Professor Wilentz' sympathies are obviously with the growth, expansion, and inclusiveness of American participatory democracy as they developed up to the Civil War and continued with the "New Birth of Freedom" that President Lincoln proclaimed at Gettysburg.

This book probably will overwhelm readers who lack at least a basic grounding in pre-Civil War American history. For those with the requisite background and interest, the book presents an outstanding overview of America's pre-Bellum history, and a thoughtful account of where our country has been and where, Professor Wilentz suggests, it should be going.

American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume 1: Henry Adams to Dorothy Parker
Robert Haas, John Hollander, Carolyn Kizer, Nathaniel Mackey, and Marjorie Perloff, compilers
Library of America
9781883011772, $40.00 hardback

Twentieth Century Poetry In The Library Of America -- 1

Although still not widely read or appreciated, American poetry underwent a renaissance in the Twentieth Century. At some point, readers will look back at our Twentieth Century poetry as a benchmark of literature and a guide to the thoughts, feelings, and events of our difficult century.

In this, the first of two volumes of Twentieth Century American poetry, the Library of America gives access to a treasure of reading that is moving, elevating, and disturbing. The book consists of readings from 85 poets, arranged chronologically by the poet's birthday. The earliest writer in the volume is Henry Adams (b. 1838) and the concluding writer is Dorothy Parker (b. 1893). Some writers that flourished later in life, such as Wallace Stevens, thus appear in the volume before works of their peers, such as Pound and Elliot, who became famous earlier.

For me, the major poets in the volume are Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, W.C. Williams, Ezra Pound, T.S. Elliot, Marianne Moore. They are represented by generous selections, including Elliot's "The Waste Land", Stevens' "Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction", and several Pound Cantos given in their entirety.

It is the mark of a great literary period that there are many writers almost equally meriting attention together with the great names. There are many outstanding writers here, some known, some unknown. To name only a few, I would include E.A. Robinson, James Weldon Johnson, Adelaide Crapsey, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, H.D. Robinson Jeffers, John Crowe Ransom, Conrad Aiken, and Samuel Greenberg. It would be easy to go on.

There are different ways to read an anthology such as this LOA volume. One way is to browse reading poems as they catch the reader's eye. Another way is to read favorite poems the reader already knows. I suggest making the effort to read the volume through from cover to cover. Before beginning reading each individual poet, the reader might consult the biographical summary at the end of the volume. These brief biographies illuminate both the poets and their poetry. The notes are sparse, but foreign terms in Pound and Elliot's poetry are translated. In the case of Elliot and Marianne Moore, the volume offers selections from their own notes.

By reading the volume through, one gets a sense of continuity and context. Then, the reader can devote attention to individual poems. Some twentieth century works, such as those by Pound, Elliott, Moore, or Stevens are notoriously difficult. Read the works through if you are coming to them for the first time, and return to them later.

I was familiar with many of the poems in the book before reading the anthology but much was new to me. I learned a great deal. My favorite poet remains Wallace Stevens, partly because he combined the life of a man of affairs, as an attorney and insurance executive, with deep art. This remains an ideal for me. It is true as well for W.C. Williams, although I am less fond of his poetry.

In a poem in this volume, "Libretto" (p. 371) Ezra Pound wrote: "What thou lovest well is thy true heritage". Pound's observation is the best single sentence summation I can think of for the contents of this volume.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Anna Quinn
Blackstone Publishing
9798200756636, $25.99

You'd think a novel set in a cloistered convent populated by nuns following vows of silence would a sleeper. Guess again. Anna Quinn's Angeline blasts that notion out of the water.

Teenaged Meg is the only survivor of an automobile accident that kills her entire family. Stricken with guilt, she joins a cloistered convent to pray for the suffering of others - and hopefully obliterate her self. She takes the name Sister Angeline and spends her days in silence and prayer. The Archdiocese of Chicago closes the convent due to lack of funds. Angeline is thrust into a new life when she's assigned to a radical convent in the Pacific Northwest run by feminists. They break every rule Angeline has spent years internalizing, and she struggles to adapt. When her new home is threatened, she musters the strength to fight back, to relinquish her fear and grief, to open herself to new places, new people, new freedoms.

I like Anna Quinn's writing. Her prose is near-poetic as she explores how our past lives affect our current states, how we reform, recuperate, and grow. Angeline is poignant but not teary and combines the mystical with millennia-old beliefs and twenty-first century front page news. This is a truly lovely novel that develops into an exciting thriller.

Three Can Keep a Secret (A Greer Hogan Mystery Book 3)
M. E. Hilliard
Crooked Lane Books
9781639102365, $28.99

Like M.E. Hilliard's debut novel, The Unkindness of Ravens, the newest in her Greer Hogan Mystery series, Three Can Keep a Secret, grabbed me from the onset. The first person narration rapidly pulls the reader in the the thought processes of amateur sleuth, Greer Hogan, a former New York City high-powered executive who becomes a small town librarian after the death of her husband. Greer's intelligence and personality shine through from the onset. I immediately bonded with a gal who calls herself a "girl detective" and who's read all the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew mysteries and prefers Trixie to Nancy because Trixie "got into more trouble." Despite her affinity for childhood heroines, Hilliard aligns her protagonist with others within the mystery genre, including Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot.

Hilliard has also done a bang-up job in creating a chilling gothic atmosphere complete with a spooky, creaky old mansion-turned-public-library, populated by dark Victorian images of the former owners of the manor, the requisite nooks and crannies, creaking floors, and drafty windows, and ravens inside and out. It also has a well-constructed plot, plausible but twisted. When Anita Hunzeker, the universally disliked battle-ax chair of the library board of trustees, is run off the road and killed, there are plenty of suspects. Greer jumps in to help the police solve the mystery.

There is some personal growth here as well. Though Greer has reinvented her life after the death of her husband, she is coming to terms with it and her feeling that the man jailed for the crime is innocent.

The Northern Reach
W. S. Winslow
Flat Iron Books
9781639102365, $28.99

The Northern Reach is W.S. Winslow's debut novel, but it certainly doesn't read as a beginner's effort. It is an ambitious collection of interconnected stories (somewhat akin to the structure of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan) told from multiple points of view over multiple generations. Winslow deftly handles this extended family filled with dysfunctional souls who suffer loves, losses, grief, despair, tragedies, infidelities, disappointments, and resentments. There are many characters, but each section has a family tree showing who's who.

The writing is gorgeous at times, the tone melancholy, as Winslow relates the resiliency and determination of her many characters. Maine is almost a character itself, its cold, rugged beauty pushing people into the close quarters of the village of Wellbridge, ensuring the friction that occurs when folks rub together. Plus the ever-present pull of the sea on the characters.

The White Bone
Barbara Gowdy
Metropolitan Books
c/o Henry Holt
9780805060362, $24.99

The White Bone has been in my to-be-read pile for a decade, and I finally got around to reading it. Author Barbara Gowdy writes from the point of view of elephants on the African savannah as they face threats from mankind, climate change, and their natural predators. I cannot think of another author who has so splendidly gotten into the mindset of another species. While minimally anthropomorphic, the elements have dreams, legends, myths, and a naming system. Gowdy's research is impeccable.

Mud, a young female, has been adopted into another herd after the death of her mother. She is a visionary with dreams that predict the future. A male elephant, Tall Time, brings word of a mysterious relic, the White Bone, said to hold great power that can lead them to the Safe Place where at least they will be protected. Finding this bone and getting to the safe place are no easy. matters.

The elephants, despite their plight, remain hopeful on their epic journey. The pathos of their plight is astonishing, thus the book is rather sorrowful, even bleak at times. The book is definitely worth reading because of Gowdy's exploration of the minds of another species.

Your Driver Is Waiting
Priya Guns
9780385549301, $23.00

Initially I had trouble getting into Your Driver Is Waiting because the author's voice was so strident. As I got perhaps a chapter or two into it, though, I realized why and ended up really liking a fresh voice.

Damani's father has just died. Her mother is depressed to the point of catatonia. Working many shifts as a driver for an Uber-like organization, she is constantly tired. Between giving rides, she runs home to feed her mother and carry her to the bathroom. She begins to see nothing but endless drudgery. Her friends feel much the same. The city is overrun by various protest groups, but she doesn't have time to get involved - she'd rather sleep. Until she gives a ride to Jolene, a white woman of the five-star variety. They quickly become obsessed with each other - until Jolene performs an unforgivable act and sets off a devastating chain of events.

The strident voice is perfect for Damani - she is fiery, frustrated, and barely holding her life together. The novel is darkly comedic, a social commentary on the haves and the have-nots, the meaning of friendships and family, sexual orientation, stigmatized communities of various kinds, and the inequalities in the United States where "all men are created equal."

Geraldine Brooks
9780399562969, $28.00

Until Horse came along, I could never have imagined a book that would fascinate my race-horse raising brother and me, his art-loving sister. I loved this novel. Author Geraldine Brooks deftly weaves multiple story lines and time frames into a single heart-stopping novel. First, there is the story of Jarrett, the enslaved horse-trainer of Lexington, one of the best thoroughbreds of all time. This starts when Jarrett is young and Lexington is a foal in the 1850s, moves through the Civil War and beyond. This is historical fiction at its best. The fictional Jarrett is fully developed and just superb when set into the antebellum South.

There are three contemporary plot lines. One follows Jess, an Australian woman who runs the Osteology Department of the Smithsonian Institution and is in charge of rebuilding Lexington's skeleton and who becomes involved with Theo, a Nigerian-American PhD student in art history. The second story line is that of Theo, who is writing his thesis on American equestrian art and how the horses are individualized but the black grooms are not - until he finds an equestrian piece in his neighbors' trash that makes him reconsider his thesis. The third is a glimpse into the lives of New York City's artist Jackson Pollock and art dealer Martha Jackson and a single American equestrian piece in her private collection. These stories are linked by this junkyard find, and the book meshes past and present - and America's racial issues - in a deeply emotional story.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Plant-Powered Protein
Brenda Davis, et al.
The Book Publishing Company
9781570674105, $27.95, PB, 192pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Plant-Powered Protein: Nutrition Essentials and Dietary Guidelines for All Ages", registered dietitians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina join agrologist Cory Davis for a deep dive into the politics and fallacies surrounding plant-based protein. Together, they present the science and studies that validate why protein derived from plants is not only comparable to protein from animal products but is also often superior to it!

In the pages of "Plant-Powered Protein" readers are given a clear understanding of the role of macronutrients and micronutrients, and how the amino acids found in protein promote healthy growth. They learn how to determine their recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein.

The three co-authors also target specific age groups, as well as athletes and pregnant women, and offer recommendations for how to obtain all the vital protein and nutrients their bodies require. From a lower carbon footprint to plant compounds that help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, the case for eating more plant protein is strong.

Of special note are the pantry suggestions, cooking tips, quizzes and thirty recipes making it easy to put this essential information about protein from plants into practice.

Critique: Enhanced with full color, full page photographs of finished dishes in the section reserved for recipes, as well as numerous informative charts, "Plant-Powered Protein: Nutrition Essentials and Dietary Guidelines for All Ages" is a well presented introduction that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Health/Nutrition and Vegan Diet Cookbook collections.

Editorial Note #1: Brenda Davis, RD, is one of the world's leading plant-based pioneers and an internationally acclaimed speaker. Widely regarded as a rock star of plant-based nutrition, she has been referred to by VegNews as the "godmother" of vegan dietitians and was the 2022 recipient of the Plantrician Project's Luminary Award.

Editorial Note #2: Vesanto Melina, MS, RD, is a sought-after speaker at health conferences worldwide. A consultant for individuals as well as the government of British Columbia, she is the lead author of the current position paper on vegetarian diets for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In 2016, Vesanto received the prestigious Ryley Jeffs Award from Dietitians of Canada.

Editorial Note #3: Cory Davis, MBA, MSc.IM, P.Ag, is a professional agrologist who has worked in natural resource management since 2012. A lifelong advocate for animal welfare and environmental stewardship, he brings an integrated perspective to natural resource management and environmental stewardship.

What Do You Want Out of Life?
Valerie Tiberius
Princeton University Press
41 William Street, Princeton, NJ 08540
9780691240688, $27.95, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: What do you want out of life? To make a lot of money -- or work for justice? To run marathons -- or sing in a choir? To have children -- or travel the world? The things we care about in life (family, friendship, leisure activities, work, our moral ideals) often conflict, preventing us from doing what matters most to us. Even worse, we don't always know what we really want, or how to define success.

Blending personal stories, philosophy, and psychology, "What Do You Want Out of Life?: A Philosophical Guide to Figuring Out What Matters" by Professor Valerie Tiberius is both insightful and entertaining as she offers invaluable advice about living well by understanding your values and resolving the conflicts that frustrate their fulfillment.

Professor Tiberius introduces you to a way of thinking about your goals that enables you to reflect on them effectively throughout your life. She illustrates her approach with vivid examples, many of which are drawn from her own life, ranging from the silly to the serious, from shopping to navigating prejudice.

Throughout, "What Do You Want Out Of Life?" emphasizes the vital importance of interconnectedness, reminding us of the profound influence other people have on our lives, our goals, and how we should pursue them. At the same time, Professor Tiberius offers strategies for coping with obstacles to realizing your goals, including gender bias and other kinds of discrimination.

Whether you are changing jobs, rethinking your priorities, or reconsidering your whole life path, "What Do You Want Out of Life?" is an essential guide to helping you understand what really matters to you and how you can thoughtfully pursue it.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, and as informative and insightful as it is motivationally inspiring, while "What Do You Want Out of Life?: A Philosophical Guide to Figuring Out What Matters" is unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that it is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.37).

Editorial Note: Valerie Tiberius ( is the Paul W. Frenzel Chair in Liberal Arts and professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota. Her books include Well-Being as Value Fulfillment: How We Can Help Each Other to Live Well and The Reflective Life: Living Wisely with Our Limits.

Mom Who Works
Jenna Worthen
James Martin Publishing
9798986131108, $15.99, PB, 206pp

Synopsis: Being a mom is a full-time job. Yet over and over, women feel the need to separate motherhood and careerhood. Where fathers who put family first are celebrated in the workplace, women choosing a family and a career often comes with increased mom guilt, slower professional success, and unfair workplace discrimination.

But, as a Mom, balancing both doesn't have to leave you overwhelmed while fighting the impossible expectation to "do it all" -- whatever that is. You can take control and define what it means for you to have it all.

In "Mom Who Works: The Tools to Redefine What It Means to be a Working Mom", Jenna Worthen sounds an anthem to redefine what it means to be a working mom in a world without "working dads". A compendium of valuable wisdom and personal-growth tools from moms like you, this is an effectively informative guide that will empower you to lose the label, ditch expectations, and confidently navigate pregnancy, baby, and beyond as a working woman.

"Mom Who Works" reveals: How to take the mother part of you to work and use it as one of your greatest strengths; That the "Mom Who Works Manifesto" is your self-love declaration of permissions, promises, and boundaries to define what "all" means for you; How to trust in your mom-intuition to instinctively make the best decisions for yourself, your career, and your family; Healthy self-care rituals for true work-life balance, like the art of the power nap and the task keeper task-management system; Tips to help you become the best boss for other moms in the workforce.

Critique: The clear and persuasive message of "Mom Who Works: The Tools to Redefine What It Means to be a Working Mom" is that you as a working mother do not have to do it all -- but you can have it all, when you define your "all". As motivationally inspiring as it is 'real world' practical, "Mom Who Works" is unreservedly recommended reading by any mother who aspires or is compelled by circumstance to work outside the family home. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99), "Mom Who Works" is an enthusiastically recommended addition to community library Women's Issues collections.

Editorial Note: Jenna Worthen ( is the author of "Mom Who Works" and the founder and chief curator for an online, global organization of the same name. Exhausted by the label "working mom" and all the things that come with it (unnecessary bias, mom guilt, lesser pay and career mobility, and more) Worthen sought a new identifier for women who work. Thus, the phrase "mom who works" was born.

Susan Bethany

Susie Garber's Bookshelf

Up Bow, Down Bow: A Child with Down Syndrome and His Journey to Master the Cello
Nancy M. Schwartz, author
April E. Beard, author
Modern History Press
9781615997039, $23.95 Paperback, $30.99 Hardcover, 132 pages
B0BMSQ521Q, $6.99 Kindle

Everyone has challenges. The question is not what our challenges are but how we view them and what we do in response to them. Nancy Schwartz along with her co-author April E. Beard, shares her response to challenge in a book that captures the idea of hope and perseverance and finding the beauty in each person. Nancy's son Alex has Down syndrome and other health problems which make it difficult for him to do many things however, Nancy and her husband and children have always viewed Alex in a positive way and focused on what he can do. The idea of focusing on the positive in each person is what G-d wants and it's what will make the world a better place.

In her first book Up Not Down Syndrome Nancy shared her journey of giving birth to Alex and discovering what a blessing he is for her family. In this book she and her co-author share how music, the universal language has given Alex a voice in the world.

"Children with varying abilities have much to offer all of us. This book speaks to how parents, families, and communities can support children with diverse capabilities and the joy we can receive in return." Barbara Bowman, Irving B. Harris Professor, Erikson Institute.

The story of Alex's musical journey is told in three voices. Nancy, the mom, April, the music teacher, and Alex, the student. In this book the reader witnesses "The triumph managed through a parent's love and persistence, a teacher's dedication, a young boy's desire to learn, and music's power to transform." (A Parent's Guide to Public Education in the 21Century.

In Nancy's words from the book. "When I first started telling people, even well-meaning friends, "Alex is going to study the cello!" They reacted in one of two ways. Either they smiled and nodded in a way that conveyed the message Poor, delusional Nancy with her unrealistic dreams. Or they said what they were thinking. "Ummm,,, How is that possible?"

I have to admit that, even to me, playing the cello seemed about as likely for someone like Alex to accomplish as a flight to the moon. But I tried not to let m skepticism show. Even along the way, I was not without my doubts. When Alex started cello lessons and still could not take himself to the bathroom, there were moments when I thought this is going to be impossible.

"It was April's unending belief in my son, her little cello student, that dispelled all these doubts - first mine, then others. Somehow, the rhythm of her teaching wiped away everyone's disbelief that Alex could achieve the unbelievable. And he has! Through April's example, I came to see yet again that, when we believe in ourselves and our path, anything is possible. Anything. This has been a continual lesson in my life..."

"At the same time, twelve years later, I've come to know that the world doesn't always view Alex the way I do. Some see his disability - the way Alex cannot talk, cannot walk, cannot feed himself, or use the facilities himself, and stay stuck there."

Nancy shares that she notices the averted glances but she shares that those who underestimate Alex miss out on the reality that he is someone capable, someone with gifts, someone that can shatter expectations - a person just like any other and at the same time, uniquely and exquisitely himself."

There was a great rabbi who would stand up for people with disabilities because he said these were people with very high neshamahs (souls).

In this book the reader comes along on the wonderful journey of Alex's learning the cello and it's a journey that will inspire everyone to always have hope and to see the positive in every situation.

Susie Garber

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Jewish Pride
Michael Steinhardt
Wicked Son
c/o Post Hill Press
9781637580028, $28.00, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: What are the keys to a proud Jewish life? Part memoir, part manifesto, with the publication of "Jewish Pride" philanthropist Michael Steinhardt offers a compelling vision for a rich, rewarding future for Jews in America and around the world.

From his middle class beginnings in Brooklyn to a spectacular Wall Street career, Steinhardt understood that apathy and assimilation were threatening the Jewish future in America. Meanwhile established Jewish institutions were failing in the urgent task of strengthening secular Jewish identity.

Using his own capital and the wisdom and connections Steinhardt had gained in his successful business career, he recruited partners, focused on data and results, and even got the Israeli government to help launch the revolutionary Birthright program. By turns provocative, inspiring, revealing, and outright hilarious, "Jewish Pride" fully captures Steinhart's unique personality and outlook and offers honest talk about the Jewish world today, along with a bold prescription for revitalizing Jewish life in the future.

Critique: A fascinating, informative, and motivationally inspiring read from cover to cover, "Jewish Pride" is an impressively well written and engaging memoir that is unreservedly recommended as an addition to community, synagogue, college, and university library Judaic Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Jewish Pride" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Michael Steinhardt ( is one of the Jewish world's most prominent philanthropists. Born in 1940s Brooklyn, following a spectacular career on Wall Street he has spent decades inspiring Jewish pride through the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and launching revolutionary programs like Makor, OneTable, and Birthright Israel. He is the author of "No Bull: My Life In and Out of Markets".

The Singer of Israel
Henry O. Arnold
WhiteFire Publishing
9781946531292, $16.99, PB, 314pp

Synopsis: The last official act of the prophet of Yahweh was to secretly anoint a replacement for the king of Israel who has been brought low by an unbalanced mind. The great prophet of Israel lives in fear of the wrath of the king. Then out of the hills of Bethlehem emerges the last-born son of a family of shepherds to become the unforeseen hero of Israel.

When David sings of the glory of Yahweh, this shepherd wins the hearts of the royal family and restores King Saul's troubled mind. But when the singer/shepherd defeats the champion of the Philistines in single combat, David becomes forever known as "the giant-slayer". Saul quickly sees that David is now a threat to his kingdom and secretly plots to have him killed.

David may be the champion of the people of Israel, but he must live under the constant threat of Saul's wrath until he is finally forced to flee for his life.

Critique: Henry O. Arnold's 'The Singer of Israel' series, "The Singer of Israel" is based upon the story of King Saul and David in the Old Testament. it is a tale of triumph and tribulation, deepest love and burning rivalries. A deftly crafted work of Biblical fiction, "The Singer of Israel" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Historical Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Singer of Israel" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: Henry O. Arnold ( two other volumes comprising his historical/biblical fiction trilogy "The Song of Prophets and Kings", includes "A Voice Within the Flame" and "Crown of the Warrior King".

Willis M. Buhle

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