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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 5 May 2020 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf Amanda Murello's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Annette's Bookshelf Brady T. Brady's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf David Gaines' Bookshelf
David Jones' Bookshelf Eileen Skanchez's Bookshelf Elizabeth Hayford's Bookshelf
Erica Watkins' Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf Jason Cook's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Josh Stone's Bookshelf Judith Rook's Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Ketaki Datta's Bookshelf Kirkus Reviews
Lana Kuhns' Bookshelf Liz Gatterer's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Murphy's Bookshelf
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Matthew Payne's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Michael Radon's Bookshelf Molly Martin's Bookshelf Publishers Weekly
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Steve Jenkins' Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf

The Snow Queen
Michael Cunningham
9781250067722, $9.99 Kindle, $7.89 Paperback, $29.99 Audio CD

Not Just a Frozen Fairy Tale

Hans Christian Andersen is the Danish author who has contributed to the world some of the greatest fairy tales of all time. Many people know about The Little Mermaid thanks to the Disney classic, and Frozen I and II are landmarks in modern Disney animation. One year after the release of Frozen in 2013, Michael Cunningham published a novel with the title The Snow Queen even though it has nothing to do with the fairy tale. Nevertheless, it is still a compelling work of psychological fiction that asks deep and philosophical questions without delivering easy answers.

An unexplained vision that hovers above the New York sky impacts the lives of Tyler Meeks, his sister named Beth, and his younger brother, Barrett. Michael Cunningham had previously explored the theme of time in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, but The Snow Queen does more than simply borrow its title from the fairy tale that inspired Frozen I and Frozen II because it profoundly explores what it means to be alive while letting some of the most perplexing questions about existence remain unanswered. The Snow Queen is not just a fairy tale because Michael Cunningham reinvents it into a modern masterpiece of psychological fiction.

The Scar Boys
Len Vlahos
Carolrhoda Lab
9781606844397, $8.26 Kindle, $14.99 Hardcover $8.70 Paperback, $8.90 Audio CD

The Scar Boys Rock On!

Len Vlahos went from being a film school dropout to a published author. Because of his fortunate turn of events, Vlhaos felt compelled to write a semi-autobiographical novel based on his own transformation as he transitioned towards adulthood. The ending result is The Scar Boys.

This clever novel begins as a college admissions essay, and then evolves as a fully fleshed-out narrative. The characters are compelling as they learn about themselves, each other, and the power of music. The writing style is very unique because each chapter references famous songs and iconic musicians. The journey that all of these friends undertake together is reminiscent of the songs from the rock band "Journey" that became immensely popular while Glee made television history between 2009 and 2015.

Do not let the title fool readers into thinking that this novel is about injuries because it is a powerful tale about what it means to mature as people pursue their dreams. Play on!

Circling the Sun
Paula McClain
Ballantine Books
9780345534200, $12.99 Kindle, $14.41 Hardcover $14.04 Paperback, $31.89 Audio CD

Circling the Sun Flies High!

Paula McClain is currently one of the most popular writers in modern times. This New York Times bestselling author has taken historical fiction to a new level with contemporary fiction such as The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin. Meryl Streep might have earned an Oscar nomination for the "Best Picture" winner Out of Africa (1985), but Paula McClain reinvented the classic narrative of Karen Blixen with Circling the Sun.

Told with illustrious prose and elegant style, Circling the Sun is a compelling novel that encourages readers to pursue their dreams. Flying is symbolic, figurative, and metaphorical within this story as Beryl Markham yearns to soar. She is similar to Howard Hughes because he had lived larger than life, and even had Leonardo DiCaprio play him in The Aviator (2004). Unlike Karen Blixen, Beryl is the real heroine in Circling the Sun because her desire to fly represents the notion of women wanting to break free from social restrictions to truly enjoy what it means to be alive. Circling the Sun involves much more than aviation and classic cinema because it is a story about following dreams no matter how hard life might be, and hoping that the sun shall rise again in spite of dark times.

Alex Andy Phuong

Amanda Murello's Bookshelf

Sisters of the Perilous Heart (Mortal Heritance Book One)
Sandra L. Vasher
Mortal Ink Press
9781950989010, $12.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 412 pages,

Sisters of the Perilous Heart takes place thousands of years in the future, AAH (After the Arrival of Humans) on a planet called Kepler. A highly engineered virus from Earth, dubbed the Immortality Virus, causes fever, aches, fatigue, confusion, and for many, endless life. For Keplerian mortals, however, the foreign virus is dangerous, even deadly. When the newly coronated queen Vivian is attacked and infected, it is up to her magic-wielding brothers to find a solution. Since the assailant is still at large, nobody can be trusted. Elsewhere on Kepler is young Carina who is struggling to keep her erratic magical abilities in check. These two women need each other to survive. Far more is on the line than either of them realize.

Sandra Vasher offers readers a skillfully written novel enhanced with beautiful illustrations. The fictional world is complex and clever, yet not so distant from modern life so as to not include good beer! A myriad of independent characters with unique voices, especially among the Sisters of Novi Dupree, accompany the protagonists as they seek freedom and answers. Sisters of the Perilous Heart is an intelligent story filled with plucky characters in a fantastic setting. Sandra Vasher is a talented author who shines in the fantasy genre.

Editorial Note: This review first appeared in Indies Today

Amanda Murello, Reviewer
Indies Today

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

House on Endless Waters
Emuna Elon
Allen & Unwin
9781760877255, A$22.99, paperback, 309 pages, March 2020

"The image flickered on the wall for just a heartbeat, but even in that fleeting second, Yoel managed to discern that the woman in the picture was his mother; His mother in her early years, his mother in the days that preceded the compass of his memory, but his mother.

He stopped breathing"

Yoel Blum is an internationally famous Israeli writer. He is visiting Amsterdam for the first time, breaking a promise which his mother had demanded of him that he never set foot there. But his mother is dead, his Dutch publisher has insisted that they should meet, and his wife, Bat-Ami, has talked him into going.

Yoel knows that he was born in Amsterdam, but his mother, Sonia, refused ever to talk about it. Amsterdam was where the war had robbed her of his "father, her parents, her siblings and the life she might have had". If he asked about his past, his mother was dismissive "whatever was, was. Those waters have already flowed onward". She would never elaborate. She also kept herself and her family from others who might have been more forthcoming. "Anyone who immigrated to Israel as an infant is considered a native-born Israeli", she told him. And this is how Yoel regards himself.

Now, watching this loop of video which Bat-Ami has discovered in Amsterdam's Jewish Historical Museum, he sees his father there holding the hand of a small girl who is recognizably his older sister Nettie, and a baby in his mother's arms which is clearly not himself. He watches the loop again and again and is sure of this:

"It isn't me. Look at the shape of his head, the eyes, the hair. It isn't me"

Later, sat by a canal, where the waters "glowed dark and silent and all remembering, Yoel looks for even

"a fleeting shadow or echo left in it by his lost brother, who by his calculations done mainly on Nettie's estimated age in the museum film, was somewhat younger than him. His little brother."

So begins Yoel's search for more information, and this becomes the seed of his next book. Yoel decides that he must leave his family with Bat-Ami in Israel and return to Amsterdam alone to research it.

On his second visit to Amsterdam, Yoel spends hours at the Jewish History Museum trying to learn as much as he can about the sort of world in which is family once lived. And he learns much about the way the Dutch reacted to the German occupation of the city. One old woman, in a filmed interview, says that people knew what was happening in Germany, had heard about arrests and persecution of Jews, and guessed that Holland would be invaded, but

"We didn't believe it. We didn't believe it. We didn't believe such things could happen in Holland."

But, of course, they did, and other exhibits and films in the museum show just what did happen. Yoel leaves the museum feeling something of the fear that Jewish people felt as their freedom became restricted, access to schooling, employment and transport (even bicycles) was denied, businesses were closed, property and homes seized, arrests and transportation to unknown destinations became more frequent, and mothers secretly arranged for their children to be sent to live with non-Jewish families for safety, and were never told where they were sent. For Yoel, ordinary things suddenly become frightening, he feels watched, even groups of chattering tourists seem unable to afford him protection, yet he recognizes his paranoia and refuses to believe that this "frightened Yid" is himself.

His sister, Nettie, and an elderly Israeli woman who knew his mother when the family lived in Amsterdam, have provided Yoel with some information about their lives there. Nettie can tell him very little, but he finds the art-shop which their upstairs neighbour, Martin, had once kept and, adjacent to it, the street where they had once lived. "This is where the story unfolds" he tells himself, and seeing a run-down hotel which adjoins what was once Martin's shop, he impulsively takes a cheap room there which has a balcony overlooking the backs of the houses. The Dutch habit of leaving windows uncurtained allows him glimpses into the lives of those living in the nearest houses, and he becomes fascinated by a young woman and her baby and small daughter who live in one of them. He imagines that this could have been his mother in their earlier life, and so begins his novel:

"Sonia goes into the house without treading on the red autumn leaves piled in the doorway... She steers Nettie into the hallway, comes inside with the stroller, closes the door, and descends the steep staircase with both hands gripping the metal handle of the heavy stroller as it bounces in front of her, step after step. Nettie follows her down, counting the steps in English as her father had taught her only yesterday".

Past and present merge as passages from Yoel's notebooks chart Sonia's life and are interwoven with accounts of Yoel's daily activities and the findings of his research. So, Yoel's disorientation as he becomes more and more imaginatively immersed in Sonia's wartime world, takes place in present-day Amsterdam - in his seedy hotel room, in a square where three men wearing "only jeans and faded T-shirts" perform hand-stands for the passers-by, in a Starbuck's cafe, and among the groups of tourists and sightseers who throng Amsterdam, and for whom the horrors of the recent past are just 'history'. The people Yoel see queuing to go into Rijksmuseum do not see, as he does, the ghosts of a Jewish couple, his parents, who would flee there when a police raid was imminent and walk through the exhibits "just as if they were two ordinary art lovers and hoping no-one would ask for their papers"; they do not feel, as Yoel does, the legacy of fear, pain, loss, stoicism and, sometimes, guilt, which wartime events have left.

Yoel's disorientation, and his search for the identity of the baby he sees in his mother's arms in the museum's video, leave him uncertain of his own identity. The result of all his research resolves this, but his story is harrowing, it reflects the wartime experiences of many other Jewish children, and it leaves him with more questions, some of which may never be answered.

Emuna Elon is an internationally established Jewish writer and scholar, and House on Endless Waters is beautifully written, evocative, and often very moving. It is part detective story and part wartime Jewish history, but mostly it is about Yoel's imaginative immersion in his mother's early life, his attempts to capture this in his book, and his personal search for his own identity.

The House on Endless Waters has been smoothly translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Linda Yechiel.

A Theatre for Dreamers
Polly Samson
Bloomsbury, UK
9781526600561, A$22.99, paperback, 348 pages, April 2020

The boat turned, and there it was! Hey presto, the sudden flourish, conjured from bare rock by the gods and lit by the sun. A theatre for dreamers. The trick worked every time.

Hydra in the 1960s: A tiny Greek island unknown except to the rich and famous who would moor their yachts in the harbour or go to live in a forty-roomed ancestral home owned by the prominent Greek artist Nikos Ghikas; and to a small international community of artists and writers who went there to live cheaply in order to paint and write. Polly Samson writes of the island and island life so vividly that its charm is clear.

Erica, who tells this story, was living in London with her increasingly depressive and violent father, and caring for her terminally ill mother. Her mother, just before her death, gave Erica and her brother two small packages: 'They're for later', she had said: and to Erica - 'Have some adventures... Dare to dream'. Erica's brother's package contained the keys to a car, 'porcelain green, a convertible', which no-one had known that her mother owned. Erica's contained 'one-thousand unexplained pounds in a Post-Office savings account'.

Shortly after her mother's death, a book arrives for her in the post. Erica opens the parcel and reads the book, Peel Me a Lotus, by Charmian Clift. She reads of Hydra and 'a life of risk and adventure, of a family swimming from rocks in crystal clear waters, of mountain flowers, of artists and poseurs quietly ridiculed---of poverty and making-do and local oddballs and saints', and she longs to go there. There is a note to her mother inside the parcel:

Darling Connie, I wrote this book about our family's first year here on the island and it's at last been published in Great Britain. Spread the word in any way you can and most importantly don't let what I've written put you off coming. There's always a warm welcome for you here."

Erica remembers meeting Charmian when she was a child, so she writes to Charmian asking her if she will find a house on Hydra which she and her brother can rent, and as soon as she turns eighteen and her father can no longer stop her, she and her boy-friend, Jimmy, her brother and his girl-friend and her best friend drive off to Greece to go and live on Hydra.

Looking back years later, Erica remembers the 60s as a time when young backpackers 'took the hippy trail', experimented with drugs and were 'craving languor and sex and mind alteration' after wartime austerities. 'Ha! To my dad I was a bloody beatnik' she writes, but 'we were heady with ideals, drunk with hopes'.

On Hydra, Erica lives briefly with Charmian and her husband, George Johnston, who likes to refer to her ironically as 'Little Ricky from Bermondsy'. She helps to look after their three children, who are 'pretty free-range', cleans, collects and prepares food, carries water from the well, and, at the same time, does all she can to keep Jimmy happy while he paints. She meets the artists and writers who surround Charmian and George, and shares their music, the cheap wine, the hashish, the local dishes, the news and the gossip. And she sees Leonard Cohen arrive and watches his growing care for Marianne, whose Norwegian husband, the very successful writer, Axel Jensen, ultimately abandons her and their small son.

Reading the Acknowledgements, it is clear that Polly Samson researched this book thoroughly. Many of the well-known people mentioned in the book did live on or visit Hydra in the 1960s. Leonard Cohen and Marianne will be known to most people, and Cohen bought a small house and wrote his first novel whilst living there. Charmian Clift and George Johnston are probably less well-known. Both were Australian writers and journalists. George had become famous as a war- correspondent in World War II, both he and Charmian had published a number of books, and both were very successful journalists before they moved to Hydra with their children in 1954. They intended to live by their writing, and they became the centre of the atrists' community there. Later, they return to Australia. George won the Miles Franklin Award for his novels My Brother Jack (1964) and Clean Straw for Nothing (1969), and Charmian was well known for her outspoken essays which were regularly published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Herald. Charmian's suicide in 1969, on the eve of publication of Clean Straw for Nothing, was reportedly attributed to biographical revelations about their life on Hydra, and her reasons for disputing George's novelised version of events are part of Erica's discoveries in A Theatre for Dreamers.

A Theatre for Dreamers is a delightful novel, full of the beauty and the harshness of the island; glimpses of the lives of poor local people; the bohemian freedom of the artists' community; and, as George puts it, the 'bludgers lured by our fantastically blue water and cheap rent to live out their carefree immorality away from prying city eyes'. Erica, understandably, learns much about life, about the disadvantages of being a 'Muse', and about the fickleness of men. George is a typical gruff, outspoken Aussie bloke, he and Charmian fight, and drink and live life to the full, and Charmian becomes a caring motherly friend to Erica; Leonard is young and serious; and Marianne is beautiful, and happily dedicated to looking after the men in her life and creating attractive and comfortable homes for them to work in.

There is little comment about the role of women in these men's lives except for Charmian's complaints that whilst supporting George through the horrors he experienced and is now describing in his book, she is not getting on with her own work at all; and her advice to Erica that 'if you've got things to do its better to get on with them, it's not enough to simply enable some bloke to do his thing. Don't let the buggers clip your wings just as you're learning to fly'.

Samson's descriptions of the island are often idyllic, and the life of freedom, good friends, music, poetry, art, fresh local foods, cheap drinks and nude bathing in clear blue waters, is the stuff of dreams. A Theatre for Dreamers is a book for dreamers, too.

The Satapur Moonstone
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
978176529420, A$29.99, paperback, 349 pages, April 2020

India 1922: The Crown Prince of Satapur, Jiva Rao, is only 10 years old. His father and his elder brother have died, so he has inherited the throne of this small, remote Indian kingdom. Now, his widowed mother and his grandmother, the dowager maharani, are in bitter dispute over how best to continue his education.

Having solved the mystery of a murder at Malabar Hill, and demonstrated her usefulness in dealing with women who observe purdah, Purveen Mistry, the first woman lawyer in Bombay, has been commissioned by the British administrators of the district to investigate the reasons for this dispute.

Purveen resents the continuance of British rule and administration in India, and she has to hide her nationalist beliefs and her admiration for Gandhi when she is persuaded to accept this commission from the British for her Father's law firm. Her feminist leanings, too, are clear. When offering her the job, Sir David Hobson-Jones, one of the Bombay Governor's chief advisers, mentions that the British Agent in Satapur was responsible for the well-being of the royal children:

"What children? You only mentioned Prince Jiva Rao."

"He has a little sister, but I do not know her name."

Purveen didn't like the way he had almost forgotten about the princess, nor that he had labeled the young maharaja's mother a widow, when she should have been called a queen. Pointedly, she asked, "What is the maharani's name?"

She is also concerned when she discovers, on arrival at the bungalow of Satapur's British Agent, Colin Sandringham, that he is a bachelor. This is where she must stay during her investigation but

Now her name was written in the guest book. There was a chance this evidence of her staying under a single-man's roof could spread all around Poona and Bombay. It could ruin her name.

Purveen's first visit to the palace does not go well. After a frightening, stormy and accident-filled journey through the jungle by palanquin, she arrives wet and disheveled and is turned away at the palace gate. She gains admittance by sending in one of the gifts she has brought for the royal women: a moonstone pendant.

This leads to a very strange meeting with the prince's elderly and autocratic grandmother:

"How did you get my pendant?" the rajmata asked again....

"It is from France," Purveen added. She hoped she wouldn't be forced to admit another person had purchased it and passed it on to her because she hadn't thought ahead about gifts.

"From France?" she said raising eyebrows that were thick and surprisingly brown given her white hair. "My son always said it was the country he most wished to visit. But this is no French stone. It's my very own moonstone given by my favourite aunt as one of my wedding present....I know this is my pendant, the very one that has been lost for sixteen years".

The moonstone pendant and its origins are just one of the keys to explaining the mysteries of the Satapur palace.

Purveen has already seen the letters the royal women have written to Colin Sandringham asking for help in resolving their dispute. The prince's mother, Maharani Mirabai, has stated in her letter that she is concerned for the physical safety of her young son. And when Purveen meets the royal women, the prince and his younger sister, their elderly tutor and their powerful uncle, it is soon clear that there is more than just power play between the two women going on.

She discovers that there are serious questions about the nature of the death of prince's 13 year-old elder brother. He is said to have gone missing on a tiger hunt led by their uncle, Prince Swaroop, and was found dead the next day, seemingly mauled by a leopard or tiger. And there are questions, too, about the death of princes' father, which had been attributed to Cholera.

Strange things begin to happen. At the palace, a beloved pet monkey is poisoned and Purveen narrowly avoids the same fate. When she returns to the British Agent's house after her first palace visit, her bedroom is invaded while she sleeps and her camera is stolen. Then the crown prince suddenly vanishes and Purveen is accused of kidnapping him. She returns to the palace to help in the search and becomes trapped there. And when she manages to escape, things get very dangerous for her. The rough jungle which surrounds the palace, and her doubts about who is trustworthy and who not, add to the suspense.

Sujata Massey brings the many people in this book to life, and manages deftly to indicate Purveen's strengths and her weaknesses She also provides plenty of unusual characters whose actions rouse suspicion, including Prince Swaroop, who would inherit the throne should his nephew die; the palace fool, Aditya, who holds a strange place in the affections of the dowager maharani; the wealthy, internationally travelled, mixed-marriage couple, Yazad and Vandana Mehta - especially Vandana, who once lived at the palace, and who had provided Purveen with the gifts she took for the royal women; and a surly and secretive British-employed engineer, Roderick Ames, who looks Indian but speaks with a Welsh accent.

Meeting the Mehtas and Roderick Ames for the first time at the British Agent's bungalow

Purveen thought this was like a masquerade party. She had met a woman with a short, Western hairstyle and an Indian background; a Parsi man who was married to a Hindu; and a man with an English name who had Indian bone structure and colouring. And bringing them together was a casual young man who called everyone by their first names.

This casual man is Colin Sandringham. He too is an unusual character. He dresses 'more like an explorer than a diplomat', he has a false leg, and he learns Yoga from his Brahmin servant, Rama. He also recognizes Purveen as the young woman who, with her English friend, Alice, once played a hand of bridge with him in a mixed party when they were all studying at Oxford University. Purveen does not remember him, but he becomes her friend and confidant, and by the end of the book their friendship looks very likely to be continued. Purveen, however, does not know if the violent husband she fled from years before is still alive in Calcutta. And she has to tell Colin that Parsi law does not allow her to get a divorce:

The abuse he gave me was not severe enough.....A Parsi woman can only get a divorce if the damage is quite severe - loss of an eye, or a limb.

Nevertheless, seeing them together on the railway platform, when the mysteries are solved and Purveen is about to board the train back to Bombay, Maharani Mirabai notes their body-language and observes:

They were having trouble saying goodbye to each other. He was English, she was Indian, and of course they could not be together; but in some way, they had bridged that impassable river.

This second Purveen Mistry novel is as tangled, mysterious, fascinating and absorbing as Sujata Massey's very successful, A Murder at Malabar Hill. Purveen is certainly finding that being a female lawyer can be a dangerous profession but I hope that this is not the last we have heard of 'P.J Mistry Esquire'.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Annette's Bookshelf

Thou Art the Christ: A Devotional on the Life of Jesus
Jonathan Jenkins
WestBow Press
1663 Liberty Dr #5161, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781973657729, 24.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle
9781973657712, $39.95, HC, 380pp,

I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. :) Click here to go to my disclosure policy.

Are you looking for a devotional that will walk you through the life of Jesus? Jonathan Jenkins has put together a devotional where you can use any translation of the Bible that you are comfortable with. Let me tell you call about it in this review.

What I am Reviewing

Thou Art the Christ: a devotional on the Life of Jesus by Jonathan Jenkins was written in 2019 and published by Westbow Press. At 380 pages this softcover book does a good job at walking people through the life of Christ.

Thou Art the Christ provides a nonbreaking narrative of Jesus's life, connecting it to Old Testament prophecies about God's promise to send the Messiah for the whole world for any whosoever believing him. (from cover)

The Details on Thou Art the Christ

Thou Art the Christ is divided into 11 parts, they are:
1. Incarnation
2. Offer of a new life
3. Sermon on the mount
4. Trains the twelve
5. The turning point
6. Trains the seventy
7. Point of no return
8. Passion week
9. Last supper
10. Our Good Friday
11. His resurrection commissions us

One of the things I really appreciate in this devotional is that each devotional reading is directly applicable to the scripture reading. It's one of the reasons I dislike reading devotionals. You read the passage, then the devotional reading and wonder how one connects to the other. I did not have that with any of the devotionals I read.

With each devotional came 2-5 questions to answer. Again, directly related to the scripture passage and the devotional. These weren't empty minded questions, but ones designed to make you think.

Would I recommend?

Though I haven't read every single devotional in this book, I like it. I love that the author was clear about what he wanted to accomplish. A devotional about the life of Christ. He deals with the various aspects of Jesus' ministry, from birth through resurrection.

Each scripture reading is small, most of the devotions filled one page, the odd one going to a page and a half. Easy to read, good follow up questions, AND you can use whatever bible you fill most comfortable with. Instead of quoting scripture he provides the scripture reference so you can look it up yourself.

Annette, Reviewer
A Net in Time

Brady T. Brady's Bookshelf

I Feel Bad About My Dick, Lamentations of Masculine Vanity and Lists of Startling Pertinence
Darryl Ponicsan
Pleasure Boat Studio
9780912887920, $12.70, 143pp,
9780912887913, $22.00 HC, 160pp,

While we never find out why Ponicsan feels bad about his dick, we do find out a lot about a writer who's been turning out award winning screenplays and fiction for years. This book, a light-hearted send up of Nora Ephron's, I Feel Bad About My Neck finds Ponicsan waxing alternately philosophical and vinegary as he takes us on a trip through Hollywood's movie business, the Watts riots, breakfast cereal, sex and invasive medical procedures.

There are engaging digressions into the life of a script doctor, politics, porn, the benign-neglect style of parenting his folks practiced and the beauty of non-attachment. He moves it all along smoothly, never letting truth stand in the way of a good story. If you've ever wondered what Jack Nicholson's like, or who buys lunch when the players in the movie business go out to eat, or what the screenwriter of The Wild One said just before he died, this book is for you.

You couldn't call it memoir but then again, why not? Whatever you call it, at fewer than a hundred and fifty pages, it left me wanting more. If you like charming stories, good writing and a few laughs, ignore the title and buy this book.

Editorial Note: Brady T. Brady has published short stories in the anthology Editor's Choice III Fiction from U.S. Small Press and in the Hawaii Review and the San Francisco Reader, among others.

Brady T. Brady

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Organizations Evolving, third edition
Howard E. Aldrich, Martin Ruef, Stephen Lippmann
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781788970273, $199.95, HC, 384pp,

Synopsis: Now in a fully updated and expanded third edition, "Organizations Evolving" offers a unique theoretical framework for understanding organizational emergence, persistence, change, and decline. Synthesizing and integrating six paradigmatic approaches to organization theory, this updated and revised third edition presents an evolutionary view that provides a unified understanding of modern organizations and organization theory.

Key features of this third edition of "Organizations Evolving" includes: A sophisticated analytic comparison of six major approaches to understanding modern organizations and their evolution; An interdisciplinary focus, drawing extensively from sociology, social psychology, economics, history, management and entrepreneurship research; Supplementary materials from academic journals and the popular press, and multi-media resources in an online companion; Extensive case examples that illustrate key evolutionary processes; Study questions designed for extended and reflective learning.

Offering key insights and critical learning opportunities, "Organizations Evolving" is crucial reading for classes covering macro-organizational behavior and the sociology of organizations. Students of management studies and entrepreneurship, particularly those with a focus on organization theory, will also benefit from its interdisciplinary approach.

Critique: A seminal and expert work of collective scholarship, "Organizations Evolving" is an ideal curriculum textbook that is enhanced for academia by the inclusion of figures, tables, information boxes, an appendix (Research Design and Evolutionary Analysis), a fifty-six page listing of references, a seventeen page author index, and a seven page subject index. While unreservedly recommended for college and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, corporate executives, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Organizations Evolving" is also readily available in a paperback edition (978-1788970297, $55.00).

Editorial Note: Howard E. Aldrich is the Kenan Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Martin Ruef is the Jack and Pamela Egan Professor of Entrepreneurship, Department of Sociology, Duke University. Stephen Lippmann is an Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Gerontology, Miami University.

Chain of Gold: Greek Rhetoric in the Roman Empire
Susan C. Jarratt
Southern Illinois University Press
1915 University Press Drive
SIUC Mail Code 6806, Carbondale, IL 62901
9780809337538, $38.00, PB, 220pp,

Synopsis: Barred from political engagement and legal advocacy, the second sophists composed and performed epideictic works for audiences across the Mediterranean world during the early centuries of the Common Era. "Chain of Gold: Greek Rhetoric in the Roman Empire" is a wide-ranging study, in which Professor Susan C. Jarratt deftly argues that these artfully wrought discourses, formerly considered vacuous entertainments, constitute intricate negotiations with the absolute power of the Roman Empire. Positioning culturally Greek but geographically diverse sophists as colonial subjects, Professor Jarratt offers readings that highlight ancient debates over free speech and figured discourse, revealing the subtly coded commentary on Roman authority and governance embedded in these works.

Through allusions to classical Greek literature, sophists such as Dio Chrysostom, Aelius Aristides, and Philostratus slipped oblique challenges to empire into otherwise innocuous works. Such figures protected their creators from the danger of direct confrontation but nonetheless would have been recognized by elite audiences, Roman and Greek alike, by virtue of their common education. Focusing on such moments, Professor Jarratt presents close readings of city encomia, biography, and texts in hybrid genres from key second sophistic figures, setting each in its geographical context. Although all the authors considered are male, the analyses here bring to light reflections on gender, ethnicity, skin color, language differences, and sexuality, revealing an under recognized diversity in the rhetorical activity of this period.

While American scholars of ancient rhetoric have focused largely on the pedagogical, Professor Jarratt brings a geopolitical lens to her study of the subject. Her inclusion of fourth-century texts (the Greek novel Ethiopian Story, by Heliodorus, and the political orations of Libanius of Antioch) extends the temporal boundary of the period. Professor Jarrat then concludes with speculations about the pressures brought to bear on sophistic political subjectivity by the rise of Christianity and with ruminations on a third sophistic in ancient and contemporary eras of empire.

Critique: An erudite work meticulous scholarship, "Chain of Gold: Greek Rhetoric in the Roman Empire" is a seminal and documented study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for college and university library Greek and Roman rhetoric and philosophy collections. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of an appendix (A Recuration of Philostratus' Imagines), eighteen pages of Notes, a twenty-two page bibliography of Works Cited and Consulted, and an eleven page Index, "Chain of Gold: Greek Rhetoric in the Roman Empire" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $36.10) for the personal reading lists of students, scholars, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject.

Editorial Note: Susan C. Jarratt, a Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. She is a past president of the American Society for the History of Rhetoric and a past editor of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. She is also the author of Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured and a coeditor of Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words and Unruly Rhetorics: Protest, Persuasion, and Publics.

Carl Logan

Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf

Interview of Theresa Rodriguez
by Carol Smallwood

Longer Thoughts
Theresa Rodriguez
Shanti Arts LLC
9781951651220 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Released March 2020; $8.95; 48 pages

Longer Thoughts is the third book of poetry by Theresa Rodriguez, a retired classical singer and voice teacher who holds a Bachelor of Arts in vocal music performance from Skidmore College and a Master of Music with distinction in voice pedagogy and performance from Westminster Choir College. A native Manhattanite, she now lives outside of Philadelphia. With deep emotion, Longer Thoughts presents poems on such topics as: love, beauty, mortality, aging, and theological questioning. In fourteen lines, her sonnets in particular are able to communicate what takes essayists and writers thousands of words.

Smallwood: Why did you call your new collection Longer Thoughts?

As opposed to my previous collection of sonnets, Longer Thoughts contains many longer poems in a variety of forms as well as free verse. It is a small collection but diverse in its range of subjects.

Smallwood: When did you begin writing poetry? Do you do other kinds of writing also?

I am sure I began writing poetry in earnest when I was about ten and by high school had some poems published in my school's literary magazine. In addition to poetry, I have written articles for Classical Singer Magazine on a myriad of topics of interest to classical singers. When I was a young mother I wrote a book entitled Diaper Changes: The Complete Diapering Book and Resource Guide and had articles about cloth diapering published by various parenting magazines. My book When Adoption Fails explores my life story as an adoptee in a dysfunctional adoptive situation. In Warning Signs of Abuse: Get Out Early and Stay Free Forever I provide encouragement and instruction to women in abusive relationships. I am sure I have a few more books inside of me yet to come! I have also begun writing book reviews as well.

Smallwood: What are the classical poetry forms that appear in Longer Thoughts and what did Evan Mantyk of the Society of Classical Poets comment about your sonnets?

In Longer Thoughts I have included the villanelle, rondeau, triolet, ode and sonnet forms, in addition to free verse. Of my sonnets Mr. Mantyk has said, "In fourteen lines, her sonnets in particular are able to communicate what takes essayists and writers thousands of words." I have endeavored to branch out to other forms while maintaining my inclination towards the sonnet. I have also begun writing in the Petrarchan, rather than mainly Shakespearean, sonnet form and have some examples of this in Longer Thoughts.

Smallwood: How do you use symbolism and imagery in Longer Thoughts?

There are three poems in particular that use symbolism and imagery in Longer Thoughts. In the poignant free verse "China Crystal Fairy" I describe a "delicate fairy creature" which symbolizes a particularly fragile relationship that I had broken apart though my own clumsiness. In another free verse entitled "Full Circle" I use the imagery of a tree and the fullness of its life cycle to symbolize the aging process. In the sonnet "The Rise of Fall" I also reflect on the aging process by comparing its phases to the four seasons.

Smallwood: What are some magazines your poetry has appeared?

My poetry has appeared in the Midwest Poetry Review, the Journal of Religion and Intellectual Life, an Anabaptist publication entitled Leaf Magazine, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formalist Poetry by Women, Spindrift, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, and the Society of Classical Poets.

Smallwood: Please tell readers about your activities with the Society of Classical Poets:

My work began appearing with the Society of Classical Poets in 2014. In June of 2019 I and three other poets - James Sale, James B. Nicola, and Mark Stone - participated in a poetry reading at Bryant Park in New York City where we each read from American poets including Poe's "The Raven" and then read selections of our own work. This year I am one of four featured poets who will be reading at the 2020 Society of Classical Poets Symposium. My background as a classical singer has given me the ability to render my spoken poetry in an interesting and engaging way without being overly dramatic.

Smallwood: One of your poems is about keeping a journal. When did you begin writing one and how does it help:

My first poems began appearing as diary entries in junior high school. As I mention in the sonnet "My Journal," the place where I write is "a sanctuary, hallowed space." It is where I work out the rough drafts of my work, prune and hew and adjust and temper what I have done, as I craft it into art. I am not a very fluid writer and there are lots of marginalia and scribbled out lines and words in my journals. What I usually do these days, is get the poem written to a basic condition, then type it up on my computer, edit it and prune it some more, and then again, and again, as many times as necessary, and then transcribe it back into my journal, so that I have both the rough material and finished product in the same place. It helps to have a journal because it is my workshop, my studio, where I can work hard and get dirty and then preserve a polished work at the end of my endeavors.

Smallwood: Do you have ideas for your next book?

I am currently working with Shanti Arts to publish Sonnets in an enlarged second edition. Since the first edition in 2019 I have begun writing in the Petrarchan sonnet form and these as well as other new poems will be a valuable addition to my current sonnet collection.

Theresa Rodriguez's website is

Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, interviewer; her 13th collection is Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures (Main Street Rag, 2020)


Interview of Jaylan Salah
by Carol Smallwood

Workstation Blues
Jaylan Salah
PoetsIN, 2019
67 pages
Language: English

Award winning Jaylan Salah is a Writer, Poet, Translator, Content Expert and Film Critic. Workstation Blues is a collection from the cubicle which resonates with white-collar workers worldwide passing the time between meetings and computer screens. The poems blur: monsters are replaced by monitors, flame-throwers by LED lights and swords by client comments. Cristina Deptula, executive editor of Synchronized Chaos Magazine,
commented: "With energy and spunk, Jaylan Salah celebrates imagination, beauty, and most of all, freedom through her poetry and prose."

Smallwood: What is your educational, literary background and when did you begin to write prose and poetry?

Salah: I graduated in the faculty of Pharmacy at a prestigious private university in my hometown Alexandria, Egypt. You see, being a pharmacist and learning all the drugs in the pharmacopeia have nothing to do with literature or poetry, but it all started with school years at Sacred Heart Catholic School when the Sister senior encouraged me to be the next William Wordsworth and my mother told me to write the book I wanted to read.

Smallwood: Please share with readers what motivated you to write Workstation Blues? How long did it take you to write it?

Salah: A grueling, awful year of being bullied while working at a corporate. I faced multiple difficulties and threatening situations. A tough tooth to pull. I didn't expect the worst when I first applied to the job as a medical copywriter of course. But the experience overall was demanding, abusive and emotionally-draining. I wanted to cope with the toxic work environment so I wrote a poem a day until I had a notebook containing 200 poems. It took me one year to quit the job and have my manuscript ready for publishing.

Smallwood: How do you decide if something should be prose or poetry? Please include a published sample of each kind of your writing:

Salah: There are texts that you plan before sitting down to write. But others drag you into a mud fight and leave you breathless at the end.

Workstation Blues is the sample of poetry which requires inspiration but the planning and editing processes are heavily sought out. This piece of prose on the other hand, is a real trip:

Smallwood: In a interview, you shared: "My first heartbreak, pain was so demanding and incomprehensible. The only way with which I overcame its heaviness was through drafting my first short story collection which went to win a major national literary prize." What was the major national literary prize and what are some awards have you won?

Salah: I won 2 major prizes in my home country, the Young Talents National Competition for my short story collection titled "Thus Speaks La Loba" and 2nd place in the Organization of Cultural Palaces Competition for my novel titled Bogart...Play a Classic for Me.

I also won the "Bleed on the Page" Competition for Poetry and Prose organized by for my poem "Poof, Vagina".

Smallwood: Please tell readers about your work as a translator, content expert, film critic:

Salah: My translation career started with Goethe Institute where I translated articles, press releases and booklets. I became specialized in film criticism translation from various English and French publications to Arabic through my work with the Jesuits Cultural Center Publication, El Fim, in addition to Cinematograph Online Magazine. My big break came with Cairo International Film Festival when I translated prolific film critic, Mahmoud Abdelshakour's book, Mohamed Khan: Searching for A Knight. My work as a content creator started in 2017 when I started my fulltime career at medical companies creating, curating, editing and translating content.

Smallwood: What do you think of the role of women today?

Salah: I think women have a long way to go, especially if they are not White or Western.

Smallwood: What are some magazines in which you've appeared?

Salah: My writings were featured in multiple national and international publications such as Al-Ahram National Newspaper,, Synchronized Chaos, Guardian Liberty Voice, Cinematograph, Eye on Cinema, ZEALnyc, Africine, Elephant Journal, Vague Visages, and Cinema Femme Magazine.

Smallwood: Please share something about your love of animals:

Salah: I have always had a spirit animal, even way back before I fully understood the concept. My dream job is anything related to the care and rescue of animals; dog trainer, wolf reservation intern, cat hugger. I find myself in the company of animals - dare I say - more than that of humans. I have not known a love beyond my family that is stronger, purer and more earthly than that of my feline, canine and feathered buddies. You can read this to reflect on what I mean:

Smallwood: Has your writing appeared in audio?

Salah: Yes, some of my articles have audio versions:

Smallwood: What are you working on now and what is your writing schedule?

Salah: Currently I am working on a writing project, for which I have not yet decided a description nor a solid genre. The preliminary title is "Zorro", it will be in Arabic and contains 4 main characters; 3 women and the titular male protagonist. I am also preparing my second English poetry collection. My writing schedule is not as you would expect. There is daily writing involved of course but it is not consistent. I do not have a certain time of the day where I am more productive. I also invest heavily in the creation, preparation and research processes which include meditation, self-care and talking to strangers.

Smallwood: Please list links for readers to learn more about you:

Salah: Interviews with me can be found here, here and here.

Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, interviewer; her 13th poetry collection is Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures (Main Street Rag, 2020)

Carol Smallwood

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Show Jumping Team
Clare O'Beara
Independently Published
9781910544051, $6.50, paperback, 174 pages
B00NRBAA9A, $2.99, Kindle

Clare O'Beara is a former national standard showjumper for Ireland, which gives her an understanding of horse shows and competitions. This book has both female and male protagonists, yet the only "love" involved is love of horses. Parents and teachers will find this is an appropriate book for pre-teens and teens. Wholesome outdoor activity and the hard work involved in horse care are story threads. An unlikely group of teens who are from different backgrounds through a series of events end up participating in show jumping as team for part of an application to the National (Irish) Lottery. The end of the book leaves the reader with the impression the finally working well together team may win their grant.

Horses are part of Ireland's heritage. The Irish believe young people willing to train benefits society. The characters in the book are or learn to be responsible for horse care. They improve in skill level throughout the book and advance in event categories. Many facts are interwoven through the story making it multigenre fiction and nonfiction novel. Teens and pre-teens who like horses will learn more about how an interest, such as horses, brings multi-age people together.

Worship of Hollow Gods (Leaving Home Trilogy Book 1)
James Sniechowski
JayEss Publishing
9780991317202, $15.95, Paperback, 192 pages
B07CNWV4CH, Kindle $3.99, Audiobook $7.49

Worship of Hollow Gods by James Sniechowski is the first in the leaving home trilogy. This story has stayed with me months after finishing the novel. Beautifully written, beautifully crafted, and heart-wrenching, it is the story of a nine-year-old boy observing and thinking about his Catholic family. Sniechowski takes us back in time with written images of family gatherings and events.

Anna, the grandmother, is from the old country. Remember, when everyone talked about the old country? Maybe not, but it was common in those times. Anna's arranged marriage leads to some of the family dynamics. She lives upstairs from Jimmy's family, so her downstairs daughter can meet her every demand. Jimmy's mother, Helen, is also the bartender for Friday night family card games with her brothers and their wives. These first-generation Polish gatherings were for pinochle, poker, Stroh's beer, and whiskey shots.

Jimmy's father wasn't one of "The Brothers," but when one of them dies in an odd accident, he takes over as the undisputed leader for the arrangements. Little Jimmy watches and interacts as he forms his own opinions of friendship, family, Catholic school, the neighborhood gang, men, and women. Although the men acted like they were in control, little Jimmy knew it was the women who were, although they mostly did not have jobs.

Jimmy was an altar boy since kindergarten, and although he didn't know it then, something about his faith was unraveling. In Ambition to Belong, the second book in the series, he struggles more with his faith. I'm anxiously waiting for the last book in the trilogy to be released.

Flash Fiction Stories of the Young (Flash Fiction Anthologies Book 8)
Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen & Alyssa Devine
TJC Press
9781724418494, $7.99 paperback, 177 Pages
B07FYPN1JX, $0.00 Kindle

Flash Fiction Stories of the Young (Flash Fiction Anthologies Book 8) is a book devoted to stories about the young. Childhood has not always been easy and has changed drastically over time. This book has 73 stories, 250 words each, are from the very early 1900s, wars, the dust bowl, and modern-day. The settings are in different countries and cultures.

The photos before each story will capture your heart. For the story, Partners, a little girl is holding her puppy, and they are both covered in mud. Her reply to a question about what she has been doing is, "Nuffin'." Oh, really? Nothing? The images may inspire thoughts about the topics, yet the actual stories are full of surprises. The endnotes are in themselves an excellent read and encourage rereading of the writing pieces.

A story about a chimney sweep, plowing with mules, an accordion player in 1930 Paris, and going fishing are all part of this collection. There is a poignant story about a child in an Iraqi orphanage drawing her mother with chalk on the ground and curling up inside the picture because she missed her so much. Such stories will tug at your heart, while others such as one about a first haircut will make you smile.

What Really Killed Whitney Houston: How Unconscious Loyalty Destroyed One of the Greatest Talents of All Time - and Why It Could Be Happening to You
Judith Sherven Ph.D. and James Sniechowski Ph.D.
JayEss Publishing
9780970799203, $12.97, Paperback, 150 pages
B00AIHSPZM, $3.99, Kindle

What Really Killed Whitney Houston could be read for various reasons which might include having been her fan, wondering in general why such things could happen to famous and successful people, and also in case you might suspect something is holding you back from success.

Supposedly, our subconscious controls much of our lives, and a very conscious effort must be made (probably through counseling) to find out what holds people back from achieving all they could. Facts, examples, information, sources, and interviews reveal what correct advice could have provided for Houston. "Near misses" at finding her root problem are mentioned, such as excerpts from television interviews. Apparently, clinicians in rehab were so taken by her they did not do all they could for Houston.

The authors state: "Problems occur in any individual's life when the parent-child relationship and attachment to family of origin are experienced as the primary relationship, as it was with Whitney." Sherven and Sniechowski explain what they would have done to address Houston's root issues so she could have enjoyed her fame and confidently continued her life. The end of Houston's life was a tragedy for her, her family, the fans, and music. This book helps a person come to terms with the event.

Carolyn Wilhelm

David Gaines' Bookshelf

Songs from a Voice, Being the Recollections, Stanzas, and Observations of Abe Runyan, Song Writer and Performer
Baron Wormser
Woodhall Press
9781949116120, $17.95 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 178pp,

Songs from a Voice, Being the Recollections, Stanzas, and Observations of Abe Runyan, Song Writer and Performer by poet and novelist Baron Wormser might have been more felicitously called His Back Pages. But that would have been not only too clever by half but also, more importantly, untrue to the spirit of this entertaining novel that takes a brave crack at filling in some of the blanks of Bob Dylan's Hibbing and Greenwich Village days. In this story told in a voice channeled from Chronicles, Volume One and Theme Time Radio Hour, it's difficult to tell where Dylan leaves off and Runyan begins. And I mean that as praise.

The act of ventriloquism that Songs from a Voice pulls off should join Todd Haynes's I'm Not There, Michael Gray's The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, and Dylan's Chronicles in the canon of works-inspired-by-and-(mostly)about-Dylan. It's the best kind of fan fiction: a labor of love that moves beyond its inspiration to touch upon larger questions about America, music, poetry, and why art matters.

It is significant that half of Wormser's eighteen books have been volumes of poetry and that he served as poet laureate of Maine from 2000 to 2005. Although he has also published novels, short stories, a memoir, and two volumes about teaching, it is the poet who most clearly comes through and resonates in his-inspired-by-Dylan narrator in Songs from a Voice. Wormser's quatrains introduce each section of musings that take us from Abe Runyan nee' Abraham Starker from learning to listen in Somethingville, Minnesota to Greenwich Village the morning after a newspaper review (think Robert Shelton, fellow Bobcats) changes everything. These brief sections cover topics all across the universe: transistor radios, James Dean, Westerns, metaphor, the Ancients, mirrors, rhyme, theft, love, and - of course - women and sex.

The primary magic trick that Wormser pulls off is to make it seem plausible that if - and this is the huge wonderfully false-if at the heart of Songs from a Voice - Dylan were the kind of writer, interviewee, or raconteur who offered more information to his audience this is what he might offer. For example, if he were to spell out how a Zimmerman becomes a Dylan perhaps he would have said something like this and said it kind of this way: "I've been asked too many times about the last name I took. Sometimes I say that I wanted to be Paul Bunyan but that name already was taken, so I took one that rhymed with it.

Mostly I say I read a writer once upon a time named Damon Runyon and liked him. He wrote about guys and dolls in New York, the Broadway world of gamblers and bootleggers and chorus girls. It couldn't have been farther away from where I grew up, but his language had a snap to it - "dead as last Tuesday" - that impressed me and stayed with me. And the names Nubbsy Taylor and Jew Louie Baseball Hattie: Everyone was a character who had a hustle going. I could be a character too, and I could make up my own characters - and songs to go with them." This is terrific fun in its own right, and the choice of Abe as a first name and the -yan rather than -yon ending are added delights for those of us with heads full of only seemingly useless and pointless knowledge.

Wormser also has a Dylanesque fondness for lists. Cities, musicians, athletes, genres, and titles build into chants akin to Allen Ginsberg's "boxcars boxcars boxcars" in Howl. I repeatedly found myself smiling at the enthusiastic celebration of moments like this: "Shreveport, Nashville, Saint Louis, Memphis, Chicago, the signals went searching into the American night. I knew they were cities - workaday places - but they seemed mythical. The ads and jingles for cars, colas, and Preparation H to relieve hemorrhoids couldn't disperse that immense feeling." Celebration, yes, but also humor. Like Dylan, Wormser's Runyan has a sense of humor. He talks to snakes that rhyme and roads that teach time. In short, Wormser knows Dylan not only through all the biographies, interviews, and songs but also as a fellow artist who grew up in America after World War Two.

One of the most interesting and, as I alluded to in my opening paragraph, brave moments of Songs from a Voice revolve around Abe's descriptions of the inner lives of his parents. We know relatively little about Abe and Beatty Zimmerman, which is as it should be and as Dylan most likely prefers. Wormser riffs on what we do know and creates, as successful novelists do, inner lives and expanded worlds we believe regardless of and beyond the ostensible subject of the story. Put differently, I can imagine readers who know nothing about Bob Dylan finding this in an interesting portrait of a young artist as a weird man.

But let's be honest: most of us will read this knowing varying degrees of much about Bob Dylan. And I did have one bone to pick with Wormser (what kind of discerning Dylan fan would I be if I did not pick bones?). The final seventeen pages feel far too little to do justice to Dylan-in-the-Village and the blend of Bob-in-bed-with-his-muse and latter-day-repentance did not ring as plausible for me as the rest of the yarn. And an even smaller bone is whether Bob would have had a James-Dean-in-Times-Square- poster-that-eventually-became-a-Gap-ad on his Hibbing wall in the late 1950s. I'm thinking more a Rebel Without a Cause one from the local movie house lobby. But that little detail hardly matters because Abe Runyan did and that's what we call poetic license. May it and Baron Wormser, who has made our bookshelves a bit richer, stay forever young.

Editorial Note: David Gaines is Professor of English at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas and author of In Dylan Town: A Fan's Life (University of Iowa Press).

David Gaines

David Jones' Bookshelf

The Lady with Balls: A Single Mother's Battle in a Man's World
Alice Combs
Cypress House
9780998785417, $18.50 PB, $6.99 Kindle, 308pp,

This engaging book is actually three books in one: the very personal story of a strong-willed woman's family, friends, and motivations; the unlikely founding of a real-live business by a woman in a man's world, and a primer on how to be an entrepreneur. Alice Combs made a success of her life both personally and professionally, a tribute to her inner strength and conviction. Combs's accomplishment required her to balance family, partners, clients, and finances. She navigates the ups and downs with just the right combination of seriousness and humor. The final chapter, 'Seven Basic Business Lessons,' is useful information for anyone starting a business. Alice writes well; her story is lively and entertaining, and I recommend it without reservation.

Editorial Note: the reviewer, David Herstle Jones, is an economist and the author of Behind the Locked Door.

David Herstle Jones

Eileen Sanchez's Bookshelf

Pharmacy Girl: The Great War, Spanish Influenza, and the Truth about Billy Detwiler
Kate Szegda
Independently Published
9781791660574, $12.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 310pp,

A cautionary tale with a pandemic premonition

Historical fiction can create empathy and understanding of the challenges of the times through fictionalized characters. The characters in PHARMACY GIRL leap out to caution us to follow the guidelines from over 100 years ago. "Wash your hands" and "keep your distance from others" are familiar to all of us today. Follow the characters as some heed the advice, others ignore it and some who are caregivers do the best they can under the circumstances.

Although the author wrote this as a middle grade novel it is informative for more mature readers to guide and caution young readers and to be reminded of forgotten lessons. PHARMACY GIRL is based on research and most interestingly on Kate Szegda's own family's experiences during the 1918 pandemic.

Written and published before the 2020 pandemic we are managing today, it presents the heartache of loss, the heroism of many and finally, life that returns to normal.

Editorial Note: Awards: Silver Medal, 2019 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, Pre-teen Historical/Cultural Fiction; First Place, 2020 Delaware Press Association Professional Communications Contest.

Eileen Sanchez

Elizabeth Hayford's Bookshelf

Race Man: Selected Works, 1960 - 2015
Julian Bond
City Lights Publishers
261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133
9780872867949, $22.95 PB, $13.79 Kindle, 304pp,

Long (I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters) offers a new look at civil rights leader Julian Bond (1940 - 2015). Bond was an influential activist and politician, helping to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery before representing Georgia in the House and Senate.

This edited collection introduces Bond through his own writings as well as selected interviews with the author, successfully capturing the leader's evolving philosophy from the second half of the 20th century into the beginning of the 21st.

Bond's writings show the impact of his early decisions, including leaving Morehouse to become an activist along with his experiences with racism and with Jim Crow laws. The collection offers insight into Bond's personal and professional triumphs and failures, along with his enduring legacy.

Included is an afterword by historian Douglas Brinkley.

VERDICT: The readability of Bond's writings and the balance in the introductions make this an enjoyable, worthwhile, and essential volume that will appeal to a broad audience of readers interested in the civil rights movement and human rights overall, as well as to historians and political scientists.

Elizabeth Hayford, Reviewer
Library Journal

Erica Watkins' Bookshelf

Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults
Audrey Monke
Center Street
c/o Hachette Book Group
9781546081791, $28.00

In Happy Campers, Monke presents an actionable parenting guidebook for families seeking to create the magic of summer camp in their home.

The 9 camp secrets, fully proven by her years directing Gold Arrow Camp, are backed with carefully curated research.

This easy to read book features chapters that can be read in any order. In fact, parents can concentrate on one camp secret at a time and adapt the "Bringing Camp Home" section to meet their needs.

Highly recommended for all parents and grandparents.

Work Worth Doing: Finding God's Direction and Purpose in Your Career
Tom Heetderks
Harvest House Publishers
9780736979269, $15.99

I enjoyed Tom Heetderks' book Work Worth Doing. It reminded me of a quote by Teddy Roosevelt - "Far and away the best prize that life offers us the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

Admittedly, I selected this book because the cover reminded me of Cal Newport's Deep Work. But this work travels down a different path and pairs beautifully with Newport's title. While Newport focused on embracing environmental modifications necessary for intellectual labor, Heetderks identifies work as a blessing, requiring an understanding that there is purpose in one's work, whether or not it is satisfies the criteria of 'deep work'.

This inspirational self-help book delves into cavernous insights centering upon seeing the importance of work and internalizing work as a purpose ordained by God.

Written in a casual tone, sprinkled with clean humor, Heetderks has one unmistakable directive: grasp the concept that God chooses to use us and He desires to do so for His glory. For some of us, this opportunity appears in the form of a job.

This book, written as an encouraging text, will appeal to readers who are seeking answers to an age-old question - is my job making a difference? Some occupations have a precise answer. But, even in those positions, one can become disoriented in the haze of deadlines and unrealistic expectations. Heetderks presents common questions and injects scripture into some of the frequent answers to those questions. Moreover, he invites readers to drill deeper with supplementary resources.

While I will be thinking about this book for many years, the quote from Pastor Maltbie Babcock has sums up the book for me - "Be strong! We are not here to play, to dream, to drift; we have hard work to do, and loads to lift; shun not the struggle - face it; 'tis God's gift."

Dr. Erica Davis Watkins, PharmD, RPh, PMP, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Hope for Justice and Power
Kathleen Staudt
University of North Texas Press
1155 Union Circle #311336, Denton, TX 76203-5017
9781574417944, $24.95, HC, 360pp,

Synopsis: Texas-based affiliates in the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) offer a strong, mature organizing model compared with other community organizations. In "Hope for Justice and Power: Broad-based Community Organizing in the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation", Kathleen Staudt (Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Endowed Professor of Western Hemispheric Trade Policy Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso) examines the twenty-first-century activities of the Texas IAF in multiple cities and towns around the state, drawing on forty years of academic teaching and on twenty years of active leadership experiences in the IAF. Professor Staudt identifies major contradictions, tensions, and their resolutions in IAF organizing related to centralism versus local control, reformist versus radical goals, stable revenue generation, greater gender balance in leadership, and evolving IAF principles.

To analyze the Texas IAF, Professor Staudt draws on participant observation in El Paso, statewide meetings and training, on interviews, and on archival documents and media coverage. "Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Endowed Professor of Western Hemispheric Trade Policy Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso" will have a special appeal to those interested in community-based organizing and leadership, Mexican American and women's politics, civic-capacity building in education, political socialization, and both Texas and urban politics.

Critique: A meticulously documented and detailed history, "Hope for Justice and Power: Broad-based Community Organizing in the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation" is an extraordinary study and one which is especially and unreservedly recommended for college and university library Governmental Social Policy & Political Advocacy collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Hope for Justice and Power" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Against Creativity
Oli Mould
20 Jay Street, 10th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201-8346
9781786636492, $24.95, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: From line managers, corporate CEOs, urban designers, teachers, politicians, mayors, advertisers and even our friends and family, the message is 'be creative'. Creativity is heralded as the driving force of our contemporary society; celebrated as agile, progressive and liberating. It is the spring of the knowledge economy and shapes the cities we inhabit. It even defines our politics. What could possibly be wrong with this?

"Against Creativity" presents simply brilliant, counter intuitive, and insightful commentary in which Oli Mould demands that we rethink the story we are being sold. Behind the novelty, he shows that creativity is a barely hidden form of neoliberal appropriation. It is a regime that prioritizes individual success over collective flourishing. It refuses to recognise anything - job, place, person - that is not profitable. And it impacts on everything around us: the places where we work, the way we are managed, how we spend our leisure time.

Is there an alternative? Mould offers a radical redefinition of creativity, one embedded in the idea of collective flourishing, outside the tyranny of profit. Bold, passionate and refreshing, Against Creativity, is a timely correction to the doctrine of our times.

Critique: Inherently fascinating, impressively thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Against Creativity" is a unique, extraordinary, iconoclastic, and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Humanist Philosophy, Political Science, and Contemporary Psychology collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Against Creativity" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781786636508, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Jack Mason

Jason Cook's Bookshelf

Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-birth to Pro-Life
Herbie Newell
Lifeline Children's Services
9781734196405, $15.00 PB, $6.99 Kindle, 240pp,

Christ's church stands at the intersection of grace and truth in an increasingly polarized landscape. Image Bearers helps its reader to navigate such murky ethical waters in the American church. I appreciate Herbie's willingness to address issues at the heart of ongoing culture wars with the timeless wisdom of God's word. There is no quarter to be held for those holding to a self-centered Christianity marked more by proximity to party lines instead of one's neighbor. Herbie challenges the reader to consistent and faithful biblical witness; measured in effectiveness through the lens of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Image Bearers, no one's toes are safe.

Jason Cook

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Woman Called Moses Prophet for Our Time
Jean-Christophe Attias
20 Jay Street, 10th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201-8346
9781788736398, $26.95, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: According to tradition, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. He is depicted there in a surprising way: with and against God; with and against his people; bringer of the Tablets of the Law, which he breaks; a stuttering prophet, a guide to a Promised Land entry to which remains forbidden to him, and dead in an unknown tomb.

This is all very highly confusing for those who imagine a Moses carved out of a single block.

By way a series of possible portraits (including one of a female Moses) Professor Jean-Christophe Attias follows the metamorphoses of the Hebrew liberator through ages and cultures. Drawing on rabbinical sources as well as the Bible itself, he examines the words of the texts and especially their silences. Professor Attias discovers here a fragile prophet, teacher of a Judaism of the spirit, of wandering, and of incompleteness.

Receive and transmit. Listen, even when the message is confusing. Insistently question, especially when there is no answer. And always, remain free. This seems to be the Judaism of Moses. A Judaism that speaks to believers and others - to Jews, of course, but also far beyond them, inviting its hearers to have done with tribal pride, the violence of weapons, and the tyranny of a special place.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, informative and iconoclastic, and an impressively detailed work of original scholarship, "Woman Called Moses: Prophet for Our Time" is extraordinary and inherently fascinating reading. While unreservedly recommended for community, synagogue, college, and university library Contemporary Judaic Studies collections, it should be noted for rabbinical students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject it should be noted that "Woman Called Moses: Prophet for Our Time" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Jean-Christophe Attias is the Professor of Medieval Jewish Thought at the Ecole pratique des hautes etudes (Universite PSL, Paris). He is also the author of numerous scholarly works, essays and a personal memoir. He has published in English: IsraŽl, the Impossible Land, The Jews and their Future: A Conversation on Jewish Identities, The Jew and the Other, and The Jews and the Bible.

Hide Away
Jason Pinter
Thomas & Mercer
9781542005906, $15.95, PB, 367pp,

Synopsis: On the surface, Rachel Marin is an ordinary single mother; on the inside, she's a fierce, brilliant vigilante. After an unspeakable crime shatters her life, she changes her identity and moves to a small town in Illinois, hoping to spare her children from further trauma...or worse. But crime follows her everywhere.

When the former mayor winds up dead, Rachel can't help but get involved. Where local detectives see suicide, she sees murder. They resent her for butting in -- especially since she's always one step ahead. But her investigative genius may be her undoing: the deeper she digs, the harder it is to keep her own secrets buried.

Her persistence makes her the target of both the cops and a killer. Meanwhile, the terrifying truth about her past threatens to come to light, and Rachel learns the hard way that she can't trust anyone. Surrounded by danger, she must keep her steely resolve, protect her family, and stay one step ahead, or else she may become the next victim.

Critique: A deftly crafted and simply riveting read from cover to cover, "Hide Away" by Jason Printer is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated suspense/thriller fans that "Hide Away" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781799708681, $14.99, CD).

John Burroughs

Josh Stone's Bookshelf

The EQ Intervention: Shaping a Self-Aware Generation Through Social and Emotional Learning
Adam L. Saenz
Greenleaf Book Group
PO Box 91869, Austin, TX 78709
9781626346789, $16.95 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 264pp,

The EQ Intervention is one of the best books I have EVER read. In all of my years in education, I had yet to encounter a book that I felt was a true "page turner". Then I discovered The EQ Intervention. I would highly recommend Dr. Saenz's book to anyone involved in education at any level, or any career working directly with people. Adam's extensive background in psychology and his laundry list of degrees initially had me worried that the book would be talking over my head and leave me confused. But, Adam does a terrific job of making this understandable and relatable to all readers. His sense of humor kept me entertained through the duration of the book and I could not put it down once I started. The content is deep and thought-provoking, yet easy to grasp and absorb due to Adam's writing style. As a parent, teacher, coach and someone who has dedicated my life to working with people, I truly cannot say enough about The EQ Intervention. I think the world would be a much better place if we could get a copy of The EQ Intervention into the hands and hearts of all readers.

Josh Stone

Judith Rook's Bookshelf

My Fatima
Lydia Lin
Independently Published
9781079390087, $8.25 PB, $2.99 Kindle,

Set in Jordan and Lebanon in 1966, Lydia Lin's novel My Fatima covers the developing conflicts of the Middle East, seen through the eyes of a young West German schoolgirl. Although dimly aware of the complex political background which surrounds her, Trudy's interests are focussed mainly on the multi-national school she attends, the companions she meets there and the development of her first deeply emotional relationship beyond her family.

Directed at the teen and young adult reader, the pace of the narrative is completely appropriate for the content and presents interesting and engaging material. The narrative style also suits the subject, without being too simplistic. The main character is particularly well-defined, her perceptions adding a piquant dimension to the accounts of her daily routine and her tourist experiences. Many of the secondary characters also are vibrant and alive, often carrying the theme of the regional political confrontations to come.

The novel is generally well-constructed and builds firmly towards the single climax when Trudy, by default, becomes directly involved in her best friend's nationalistic affiliations. My Fatima by Lydia Lin draws a reader's attention, opens a door slightly into the ordinary lives of people in the Middle East and offers an enjoyable reading experience in general.

Judith Rook, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

A Story of Love
Melissa Malcolm-Peck
Westbow Press
c/o Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781973661665, $35.95, HC, 244pp,

Synopsis: An inherently engaging memoir about facing death and finally learning to live, "A Story of Love" is the personal story of Melissa Malcolm-Peck, who is a mother of three young children and who survived a series of four heart attacks. It is also the story of a nineteen-year transformational journey toward trust, forgiveness, and gratefulness. Of special note is that Melissa's three daughters came together to finish her book, sharing her legacy of love and a message of hope.

Critique: A very special, quite extraordinary, emotionally powerful, and deeply personal history that refreshingly candid and ultimately inspiring, "A Story of Love" is an especially recommended addition to community library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Story of Love" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781973661658, $19.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

The Fertility Manual
Dorette Noorhasan, MD
Brown Books Publishing Group
16250 Knoll Trail Drive, Suite 205, Dallas, TX 75248
9781612543284, $16.95, PB, 96pp,

Critique: When there is nothing you want more than to start or grow your family, fertility issues are the most frustrating and heartbreaking obstacles to encounter. But fortunately, there is hope.

As a fertility doctor who struggled through her own journey to motherhood, Dr. Dorette Noorhasan knows what it's like to be on both sides of the exam table. In "The Fertility Manual: Reproductive Options for Your Family" draws upon her unique bank of knowledge and experience to explore all the options.

One of the most respected fertility specialists in North Texas, Dr. Noorhasan walks her readers through the field of fertility testing and treatments in language easy for those without a medical background to follow and understand. She equips her readers with just the right tools and questions to bring to their doctor so that they can continue on their journey to parenthood with strength, courage, and hope.

Critique: Impressively 'reader friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, "The Fertility Manual: Reproductive Options for Your Family" is an extraordinary and exceptionally informative guide and manual that should be considered essential reading for anyone seeking to have a child and must deal with issues of fertility and infertility. An ideal reference guide and manual, "The Fertility Manual: Reproductive Options for Your Family" is unreservedly recommended for community, health center, college, and university library Health/Medicine collections in general, and Human Fertility supplemental studies reading lists in particular. It should be noted that "The Fertility Manual: Reproductive Options for Your Family" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Editorial Note: Dorette Noorhasan, MD is board certified in reproductive endocrinology and infertility as well as in obstetrics and gynecology. After obtaining her doctorate in medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, she completed her obstetrics and gynecology residency through the University of Texas at Houston's Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital program and her reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellowship at New Jersey Medical School. She is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and the Texas Medical Association. Dr. Noorhasan has published in numerous journals, including Fertility and Sterility, Human Reproduction, Women's Health Issues, the Journal of Pediatrics, and Obstetrics and Gynecology International.

Inside Incest
Madeline A. Garner
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982231095, $33.95, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: Madeline Garner's childhood family looked perfect from the outside-affluent, reputable, and successful. But Madeline seemed a bit odd. There was a dark and hidden reason for that.

In "Inside Incest: Psychotherapy and Energy Healing Transform This Therapist, and a Guide for Survivors", Madeline shares her inner experience of discovery and recovery from the devastation of early childhood incest and emotional neglect. She reveals the sexual abuse inflicted on her from the age of two months to thirteen years old at the hands of her father.

Garner, a psychotherapist for thirty-six years and an energy healer for eight, demonstrates her courage and tenacity as she shares what she has learned in this impressively candid memoir.

A combination of memoir and self-improvement book, Madeline helps her readers to: Understand different kinds of incest experiences and incest family behavior; Learn ways to soothe, cope, and manage your trauma; Explore the why, what, and who of different kinds of trauma treatment; Heal and become who they were meant to be.

While exploring the hidden epidemic of child sexual abuse, Garner also reviews different treatment options and provides warnings and advice to help prevent it.

Critique: With its explicit message concerning the importance of discussing childhood trauma as a means of healing its effects, "Inside Incest: Psychotherapy and Energy Healing Transform This Therapist, and a Guide for Survivors" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Inside Incest" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

A Week at Surfside Beach: A Collection of Short Stories
Pioerce Koslosky Jr.
Loba Publishing
9781952019005, $14.99, PB, 242pp,

Synopsis: Thousands of families and individuals are attracted to the South Carolina coast each year, renting houses up and down the beach throughout the seasons. They bring their lives with them when they come to this magical place.

In "A Week at Surfside Beach", author and South Carolina summer vacationer Pierce Koslosky Jr. has deftly crafted sixteen poignant short stories that paint a vivid portrait of the beach's diverse, temporary inhabitants: those people attracted to a landscape both beautiful and overwhelming in its ability to force introspection and change.

Set over the course of a single rental season that ends at Christmas, the unrelated characters populating the stories comprising "A Week at Surfside Beach" all have their stays in the blue beach house, yet each story has a distinct message at its core. Readers will follow people in every stage of life ranging from a six-year-old entering the imaginary world of crabs, to an escapee from a retirement home, and witness their varied individual experiences.

These are stories of hope and redemption, connection and detachment, and lessons taught and learned. Original, contemplative, heartbreaking and inspirational, "A Week at Surfside Beach" brings together a collection of tales with seemingly ordinary, simple, and familiar details -- yet underneath their calm, relatable surfaces exist the uncomfortable, extraordinary complexities of life.

Critique: A compendium of beautifully scripted stories that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf, "A Week at Surfside Beach: A Collection of Short Stories" by Pierce Koslosky is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

The Heart of "I AM": The Point of Divine Origin
Robyn Mary Edwards
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982230210, $49.99, HC, 618pp,

Synopsis: The Heart Of "I AM": The Point Of Divine Origin (Parts One, Two and Three) by Robyn Mary Edwards is an unfolding journey, a study into the path of realization of the Divinity of Mankind. It reveals the secrets of Divinity, the truth within the Self, God made Manifest as the diversity of all life and as your Immortal Being.

The Heart Of "I AM", is a journey of the soul's awakening evolution through Resurrection and Ascension. The soul's journey is taken through Alpha and Omega, the Body and Blood of the Self, as God's creation. With the remembrance of all aspects of the Self, we become the realization of the prosperity of the Heart, the understanding of the true Self; perfect creations, a manifestation of God's Heart, as seen through his Mind.

This journey is the most comprehensive understanding of Alpha and Omega, starting from the Stargate of Father Mother God, through to the dimensions of Space formed forth as the Body through which the Blood, the knowing of the Self flows as Eternal Light. This unfolding fulfills the revelation of God, that all should know the truth of God.

Critique: A metaphysical tour de force, "The Heart of "I AM" The Point of Divine Origin" is an inherently fascinating and impressively thought-provoking read throughout. While also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.69), "The Heart of "I AM" The Point of Divine Origin" is highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library New Age collections and Metaphysical/Spirituality supplemental studies reading lists.

Away to Me, My Love: A Sheepdog's Tale of Two Lives
Naomi McDonald
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982231040, $33.95, HC, 236pp,

Synopsis: When horse trainer Naomi McDonald impulsively buys a "shy" Border collie pup named Luke, and she believes it's fate. However, puppy Luke shows no signs of herding instinct, and a trainer tells her to put him down. At every juncture, Naomi must decide whether or not to abandon her dream of entering herding competitions with her beloved dog. Despite her earnest desire to enter this new, exciting world with respect and belonging, she inadvertently makes an enemy who can change everything for her and for her beloved Luke.

When Naomi has a vision of a past life, she realizes her journey with Luke involves more than meets the eye, more than she ever imagined. With the help of a medicine woman, Naomi learns that Luke is her teacher, not only for herding competitions but also for a spiritual journey that would take her into the world of shamanic healing, animal communication, and spiritual beings most people cannot see.

In the pages of "Away to Me, My Love: A Sheepdog's Tale of Two Lives", Naomi McDonald tells her own true story of love and joy, disappointment and sorrow, in order to illustrate that ordinary people who have past-life pain and childhood trauma can find guidance and peace in unexpected places. Now a certified shamanic practitioner, Naomi has studied with spiritual-wisdom teachers around the world. She is a spiritual guide, teacher, and author. It all started with a dog named Luke.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and inspiring memoir that will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library American Biography and Metaphysical Studies collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Away to Me, My Love: A Sheepdog's Tale of Two Lives" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781982231057, $16.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.49).

Editorial Note: Naomi McDonald Lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She's a mother of one, grandmother of two, dog mom of two, and the happy wife of one. Naomi uses her animal communication skills to benefit several rescue organizations. As a shaman and teacher, Naomi enjoys using true life stories to demonstrate principles and personalize learning.

Julie Summers

Ketaki Datta's Bookshelf

Worming of America or an Answer to the Arraignment of Women
Autumn Leaf
Free Grace Press
9781732166905, $29.95, 2018, 318 pages

The very appearance of the book in white cover seemed so scaring to me as I thought it would take me months to finish reading it, let alone writing a review of this tome! But believe me, I did not have to read the book, the book made me read itself, that too in bated breath. And, to my utter amazement, I could not stop till I finished it, in just seven days. And I was left with a feeling of perturbation, mingled with a heretofore-unknown feeling of seeing a different history unfolding before my eyes, before my sensibilities, in hurried succession. Finishing the book, I found myself in a pool of tears. A reviewer should not be emotionally moved, s/he has to be just, clear and analytical in approach. I wiped off my tears and got down to write a review dispassionately! I do not know why I was being reminded of Jane Anger's Her Protection for Women all the time and also Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

This is a tale narrated by Autumn Leaf, who is in reality, Susan Hutchinson, the daughter of Anne Hutchinson. In 1650, the year of Free Grace Controversy, Anne had been banished by the Puritans from the colonies for her religious beliefs. They had come from England and Susan's mother believed in Christ and Christ only. Free Grace believed in the eternal life a person was entitled to enjoy all his/her lifetime only by pinning one's faith in Christ. Naturally, the Puritan Church was going to take a secondary position. And that was why, Anne had been killed along with her family members for her religious creed. Anne's successor Susan was taken a prisoner and had to live a precarious life with the indigenous tribe, Lenape, till she could make a comeback to her own land. Susan opposed to her mother's oppressors. She could not come to terms with the society, which demeaned the idea of Free Grace! Autumn Leaf alias Susan was utterly heartbroken to witness the hanging of Mary Dyer, who was another deviant from the so-called religious faith and its practice.

Now a few areas are focused, which are sure to win our attention!

As a White orphan Susan or Autumn Leaf was being slowly, rather gradually being introduced to the 'Indian' life! I feel tempted to quote so that we can get acquainted with Autumn Leaf's agony, her feeling of being left out:

"The Lenape women reigned with a feminine and creator touch over all government decisions of their Indian Nation.

As a white-devil orphan, I silently learned about this Indian life and thought I'd compare it to the common man or common woman in the English and Dutch white-devil civilization I had just been abducted from. The common man, much less a common woman, still had NO legal right to own property in England or America. The Englishmen and Dutchmen I left behind are still indentured servants to their countries' royal families and the bourgeois loyalists who legislate and police the middle and lower-class rabble for them. " [45]

Ministers like Winthrop, Sir Jackson with his pure Puritan leanings, their lack of human rights, Susan's vouching for Free Grace, Susan's vociferating the cause of Anne Hutchinson's murder being the lack of gratitude or sensibility of the terrorists who "she was trying to sanctify and save from patriarchal incarceration and damnation"[49] - all these are pointers to the loss of the cause of Free Grace, which failed to win the hearts of the Puritan folks. History in the form of narrative is what this book is all about. This history is a turnaround to the old myths and legends being questioned which demand the native's rights to be preserved. Hardly any problem is there save their twisted, quirky thought that, " white-devils were for hanging and burning their[sic] own tribe. They never could figure out the white-devil obsession with mass incarceration and killing people with their Bible in their hands"[120]!

Throughout the book, Mary Dyer's execution acts as the cynosure. A long history of emotional bankruptcy, spiritual impoverishment is being questioned through such mindless execution! The wonderful, smooth, easy-flowing narrative makes this book a delightful read. A quote from the last page of this book would surely make the readers cogitate upon the fact of 'mindlessness' of the Lenape Indians, when they hung Mary Dyer: " The Puritan time does not: tick-tock, tick-tock, but the clock beats like an Indian drum in the woods: drum, drum, drum, drum.....For all I can see are women dancing and all I can hear is America singing, " Away with the witch. Away away, away." [318] Rationality was being slaughtered ruthlessly on the gallows, it seemed, the 'messiah' of those times was being crucified, it appeared! A must read, a bibliophile's item, no doubt!

Dr. Ketaki Datta

Kirkus Reviews

From Sudden Death to Paradise: The Story of a Near-Death Experience
T.S. Dismas
WestBow Press
1663 Liberty Dr #5161, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781973672555 (softcover); $13.95
9781973672548 (electronic); $3.99
9781973672562 (hardcover); $30.95, Page Count: 152

A debut memoir offers a guided tour of one man's near-death experience, Dismas opens his book with a stark declaration: He died for 10 minutes. After a long career in the military police and a vigorous indulgence in boxing and MMA, he'd come to think that he wouldn't face death until he reached old age.

But in August 2016, he woke up in the middle of the night experiencing the worst chest pains of his life and suddenly his views on mortality changed. Until his cardiac trouble and his subsequent near-death experience, he'd given no thought to the tales of people leaving their bodies and feeling as though they were approaching an afterlife.

The author had never been particularly religious, but then he established a new relationship with God. He was at this point in his life when he had a massive heart attack that landed him in an ICU with his doctors and family thinking the worst about his chances. His recovery turned out to be amazingly rapid, and it convinced him that God had a plan for him.

The bulk of Dismas' lucid memoir is concerned with his long, rocky, and protracted heart problems as he encountered one serious complication after another. These medical scenes are entirely gripping, and they'll be relatable to anybody who's ever gone through endless rounds of hospital testing.

The dramatic moment of the NDE is skillfully delayed. Its ultimate details will be intensely familiar to readers of NDE literature. The otherworldly vision of meeting God and surviving death will comfort believers, and the obviously subjective story will provoke skeptics.

A detailed and very readable account of a medical ordeal and an epiphany.

Kirkus Reviews

Lana Kuhns' Bookshelf

From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie "Back Country" of Randolph County, North Carolina
Margo Lee Williams
Backintyme Publishing
9780939479092, $22.00

Here is the story of a town that began as a small settlement of Quakers and free African-Americans. One that grew to produce numerous doctors, nurses, ministers and other professionals. In the 1900's, many school districts in Randolph County didn't even have schools. While William chronicles the lives of her ancestors, she offers witness to the power of education to change lives. Elegantly written, meticulously researched, "From Hill Town to Strieby" is an exemplary record of our times and of the people who played such a critical role within them.

Lana Kuhns

Liz Gatterer's Bookshelf

A Palette For Love And Murder
Saralyn Richard
Black Opal Publishers
9781644372043, $15.49 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 349pp,

Saralyn Richard's newly released novel, A Palette for Love and Murder, is a delightful return to Detective Oliver Parrott and the posh world of Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania. Many of the characters first introduced to us in Murder in the One Percent (The Killer Nashville 2019 Readers' Choice Silver Falchion winner) have returned in this tale of art, love, and murder. In this story, newlywed Parrott is tasked with solving the case of stolen art from the area's most notable artist and wealthy resident, Blake Allmond. Several of his paintings have disappeared from his estate - a theft noticed first by his live-in girlfriend, Elle Carmichael (who has a very interesting back story of her own, to boot). Just as the investigation is beginning, Allmond is murdered in his New York City apartment. While the murder investigation is outside of Parrott's jurisdiction, the two crimes must be related, so Parrott is set to solve the theft and, hopefully, assist in solving the murder.

Richard's writing style is perfect for this genre. Her story lines are detailed and logical but still warm and exciting. Even when dealing with tough subjects, like Parrott's wife's PTSD from her time serving in Afghanistan, Richard's compassion and gentleness shine through. Her characters are well developed and endearing to the reader. She has created a diverse and fascinating cast of characters. I hope there will be many more books in this series. We would all be lucky to have an Ollie Parrott in our lives.

Liz Gatterer attended Tulane University while living in New Orleans. It was there that she first began working with authors in the printing industry. Originally from Upstate New York, she moved to Nashville with her husband to pursue their careers (his being music). Three (absolutely fabulous) children later, she has returned to the working world in the industry she loves. She currently lives in Spring Hill with said husband and children, dogs, cats, and various other creatures. The necessity of multitasking has led her to an addiction to audiobooks - but, when able to, she still prefers to curl up with a good book (and a child in her lap).

Editorial Note: Killer Nashville is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. If you purchase a book from the links on this page, Amazon will give Killer Nashville a small percentage of the total sale. Killer Nashville receives zero compensation from publishers who have been selected for the Book of the Day.

Liz Gatterer, Reviewer

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Swerve: Poems on Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance
Ellery Akers
Blue Light Press
9781421836409, $12.00, PB, 74pp,

Synopsis: Collectively, the poetry comprising Ellery Akers's "Swerve: Poems on Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance" collectively celebrate the wild while also facing the compelling issues of climate change, extinction, and loss. These are poems that confront us with the many threats to our world, eventually guiding us through stages of grief towards hope and action.

The poems in Swerve give voice to the shock, fear, and desperation many feel about the current administration's anti-environmental policies. They meditate on the beauty of the non-human world. They champion women in the #MeToo movement who are empowering themselves and making vital changes. Powerful and compassionate, Swerve is ultimately a call to activism, inspiring readers to "swerve" and demand a better world.

Critique: Original, deftly crafted, intellectually thought-provoking, emotionally compelling, exceptionally memorable, and showcasing an impressive literary talent, "Swerve: Poems on Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance" by Ellery Akers will prove to be an especially prized and appreciated addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary American Poetry collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Swerve: Poems on Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.97).

Editorial Note: Ellery Akers is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent collection is Swerve: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance (Blue Light Press, 2020). She is also the author of Practicing the Truth (Autumn House, 2015), winner of the Autumn House Poetry Prize, the San Francisco Book Festival Poetry Award, and an Independent Publisher Book Award for Poetry; Knocking on the Earth (Wesleyan University Press, 1988), named a Best Book of the Year by the San Jose Mercury News; and Sarah's Waterfall (Safer Society Press, 2009), a children's novel.

Gifted: Women in Leadership
Debbie Duncan
Monarch Books
c/o Lion Hudson Limited
9780857219534, $12.95, PB, 208pp,

Synopsis: "Gifted: Women in Leadership" by Debbie Duncan looks at the history of women in church life and leadership, at egalitarianism and complementarism and says - women are leaders and so are men, what can we learn from each other ? "Gifted: Women in Leadership" looks at different leadership styles, gifts and skills. Among the contributors to "Gifted: Women in Leadership" are included stories from Margaret Sentamu and Christy Wimber to a Vicky Thompson and Bev Murrill.

Critique: An inherently thoughtful and thought-provoking read, "Gifted: Women in Leadership" will prove to be of particular interest to readers with an interest in women's issues from a Christian perspective. While especially recommended for church, seminary, community, and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of clergy, political activists for women's rights, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject, that "Gifted: Women in Leadership" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.30).

Editorial Note: Debbie Duncan is an advanced nurse practitioner and lecturer in nursing; a church leader and minister's wife. She is married to Malcolm and has a busy family life that includes being mum to their four grown up children. The family is ever growing with weddings and engagements! She is an author of over 50 professional nursing journal articles and two text books in nursing. She co-author of Life lines with Cathy Le Feuvre- a novel of emails between friends. She has also written 'The art of daily resilience' and 'Brave', courage through the seasons of our lives published by Lion Monarch. Debbie writes on a range of issues that often reflect her professional life and personal faith. With an MSC in strategic leadership and expert practice, a lead nurse in the NHS for many years, and church leader she is in a good position to write Gifted: Women in Leadership.

We Must Be Fearless
Anita Morgan
Indiana Historical Society Press
450 W Ohio Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202
9780871954381, $24.95, HC, 252pp,

Synopsis: Commemorating the centennial of women receiving the right to vote in the United States, "We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana" by academician and historian Anita Morgan examines the struggles and triumphs of a myriad of Hoosier women black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural who banded together to seek equal rights with men at the ballot box.

The story of the Indiana woman s suffrage movement can be divided into three stages. The first began with the first woman s rights association meeting in 1851 and ended in 1869. The second phase of woman s suffrage work in Indiana began in 1869 when the Indiana Woman s Rights Association reformed with a new name the Indiana Woman s Suffrage Association. The final phase of the suffrage movement in Indiana started with the 1890s as many Hoosier women worked with national women s groups or worked on local and state progressive reforms aside from or in addition to their work on suffrage.

Critique: A meticulous, seminal, and detailed work of outstanding scholarship, "We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana" is impressively informed and informative, making it a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community and academic library American Political History collections in general, and Women's Suffrage Movement supplemental studies lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Anita Morgan is a Senior Lecturer in History at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis. A former president of the Indiana Association of Historians, her work has appeared in Ohio Valley History, New York History, Michigan Historical Review, Indiana Magazine of History, and Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History.

And The Prophet Said...
Kahlil Gibran, author
Dalton Hilu Einhorn, editor
Hampton Roads Publishing Company
65 Parker St., Ste. 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781642970166, $14.95, PB, 176pp,

Synopsis: Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) was writer, poet, and Lebanese nationalist and visual artist. His teaching fable, The Prophet, remains one of the bestselling inspirational works of all time.

Deftly edited by Dalton Hilu Einhorn, "And the Prophet Said..." is a new and complete gift edition of Gibran's classic text that is enhanced with the additional inclusion of over 150 newly discovered poems, aphorisms, and epigrams by Gibran.

Originally published in 1923 by Knopf, The Prophet is a teaching fable that has been cherished by millions for nearly 100 years. It is a book of wisdom that to live, provides guidance for readers on how to live a life imbued with meaning and purpose. He explores all of life's important issues--including love, marriage, the human condition, friendship, prayer, beauty, death, and much more.

What makes this new and edition of The Prophet especially exciting is the inclusion of newly discovered Gibran material. In 2017, Dalton Hilu Einhorn gained access to the Gibran/Haskell archives at the University of North Carolina. Buried among this treasure trove of papers, he discovered over 150 of Kahlil Gibran poems, aphorisms, and sayings that had never been published.

Here is classic Gibran wisdom and inspiration that leads readers to contemplate love, beauty, mortality, and meaning. The words have an immediacy and depth that will appeal to the millions who have read The Prophet.

Critique: An absolute 'must read' selection for the legions of Kahilil Giran fans, "And The Prophet Said" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "And The Prophet Said" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Ignite Your Light
Jolene Hart
Running Press
c/o Perseus Book Group
250 W. 57th St., Suite 1500, New York, NY 10107
9780762496143, $23.99, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: Whether it's fresh flowers, old family photos, an intense sweat session, or a good friend, we all have things that light us up, that shift our energy and help us thrive. "Ignite Your Light: A Sunrise-to-Moonlight Guide to Feeling Joyful, Resilient, and Lit from Within" helps the readers to shine with the support of 13 key energy influencers in their lives ranging from relationships and environment, to food, creativity, and mindset.

A combination of self-help manual and cookbook, "Ignite Your Light: A Sunrise-to-Moonlight Guide to Feeling Joyful, Resilient, and Lit from Within" showcases: Delicious recipes that support glowing skin and optimal health; Provides fresh takes on self-care rituals, from yoga nidra to skin care as energy release; Offers support for releasing negative energy and stuck habits; Includes inspiration-packed profiles of the 13 leading factors that influence your energy and power your inner light; Features simple shifts that improve your long-term happiness via mindset, actions, environment, and relationships.

Critique: Beautifully illustrated with full color photography and illustrations, "Ignite Your Light: A Sunrise-to-Moonlight Guide to Feeling Joyful, Resilient, and Lit from Within" is an ideal combination of DIY advice for personal wellness and well-being, and thoroughly palate pleasing, appetite satisfying, and thoroughly kitchen cook friendly gluten free recipes. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Ignite Your Light" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Jolene Hart, CHC, is a health coach certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a former magazine beauty editor, and founder of the coaching practice Beauty Is Wellness ( She is the author of the Eat Pretty book series. Her work has been praised by InStyle, Martha Stewart Living, People, Refinery29, Mind Body Green, and many more publications in print and online. Jolene's coaching and writing looks at many areas of life, from stress, mindset, and hormones to diet, digestion, and personal care products, enabling readers to build a lifestyle that supports looking and feeling their best from the inside.

Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old
Kimberly Dark
AK Press
370 Ryan Avenue, #100, Chico, CA 95973
9781849353670, $16.00, PB, 160pp,

Synopsis: "Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old: A Makeover for Self and Society" by Kimberly Dark is a moving, funny, and startlingly frank collection of personal essays about what it means to look a certain way. Or rather, certain ways. Navigating Kimberly's experience of being fat since childhood (as well as queer, white-privileged, a gender-confirming "girl with a pretty face," active then disabled, and inevitably aging) each piece blends storytelling and social analysis to deftly coax readers into a deeper understanding of how appearance privilege (and stigma) function in everyday life and how the architecture of this social world constrains us.

At the same time, Kimberly provides a blueprint for how each of us can build a more just social world, one interaction at a time. Of special note is the inclusion an informative Afterword by Health at Every Size expert, Linda Bacon.

Critique: An inherently interesting and expertly written memoir that is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is informed and informative, "Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old: A Makeover for Self and Society" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library Health Care, Gender Studies, Eating Disorders, and Contemporary American Biography collections.

Kimberly Dark is a writer, professor, and raconteur. She has written award-winning plays, and taught and performed for a wide range of audiences in various countries over the past two decades. She is the author of The Daddies, Love and Errors, and co-editor of the anthology Ways of Being in Teaching.

Editorial Note: Kimberly Dark is a writer, professor, and raconteur, working to reveal the hidden structure of everyday life one essay, poem, or story at a time. She has written award-winning plays, and taught and performed for a wide range of audiences in various countries over the past two decades. She is the author of The Daddies, Love and Errors, and co-editor of the anthology Ways of Being in Teaching.

Gigi Berardi
North Atlantic Books
2526 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704-2607
9781623173913, $18.95, PB, 256pp,

Synopsis: Americans live in a culture that is awash with all manner of advice on nutrition and eating. But what does it really mean to eat healthy?

"FoodWISE: A Whole Systems Guide to Sustainable and Delicious Food Choices" is for anyone who has felt unsure about how to make the "right" food choices. It specifically meant for those dedicated food lovers who want to be more knowledgeable and connected to their food, while also creating meaningful dining experiences around the table.

With more than thirty years of experience in farm and food studies, In "FoodWISE", author Gigi Berardi, shows readers how to make food choices and prepare meals that are WISE: Whole, Informed, Sustainable, and Experience based. She also offers practical guidance for how to comb the aisles of your local food market with confidence and renewed excitement and debunks the questionable science behind popular diets and trends, sharing some counterintuitive tips that may surprise you -- like the health benefits of eating saturated fat!

Simply stated, "FoodWISE" will revolutionize how you think about healthy, enjoyable, and socially conscious cuisine.

Critique: Impressively informed and informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "FoodWISE: A Whole Systems Guide to Sustainable and Delicious Food Choices" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library vegetarian, vegan, nutrition, and food science collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for personal and professional reading lists that "FoodWISE" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Gigi Berardi is a professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. In addition to teaching food and geography classes in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe, she currently homesteads 25 acres with her family in the San Juan Islands in Washington, where she milks sheep and makes cheese. She has written numerous articles for both newspapers and scientific journals. She also maintains a popular food blog at

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Into The Suffering City: A Novel of Baltimore
Bill LeFurgy
High Kicker Press
9780578618784, $14.95, April 15, 2020

Baltimore's misfit-heros lead a tour of turn of the 20th century Baltimore, in Bill LeFurgy's first historical crime novel, Into The Suffering City.

In 1909, a beloved show girl named Lizzie is found dead in her boarding house. Sarah Kennecott, a medical doctor working for a private detective agency, investigates. The mayoral candidate, accused of Lizzie's murder, hires Jack Harder, whose specialty is "fixing problems" (12), to clear his name. Sarah and Jack join forces to get to the bottom of Lizzie's murder mystery.

Although they seem like opposites, Sarah and Jack are similar as outsiders. Outspoken, distant, and singularly focused on justice, Sarah shows signs of autism. Jack's military experience causes him debilitating flashbacks, as well as shaking, now associated with PTSD. Jack says, "I get my hands dirty to earn my dough. So you're a do-gooder idealist with your head in the clouds. Let's consider the possibility that our interests overlap" (68). Jack's gut instinct coupled with Sarah's brains show the strength of people pushed to the margins of society. Society's treatment of the pair contrasts their acceptance of each other.

Getting along in the world is presented as a dramatic and valiant struggle, against a backdrop of familiar political shenanigans. The three Baltimore mayoral candidates in the book are: the businessman accused of killing Lizzie, a wealthy social activist, and a proponent of white supremacy based on Biblical teachings. While politics between these three is ugly, Baltimore itself shines in living color. Jack's walks all over town expose jaunty jive talk, jazz music and entertainingly seedy characters. The heat ramps up as the last several chapters get shorter. Bursts of action culminate the novel with violence met with bravery and wit.

With Sarah's scientific inquiry and Jack's outlaw charm, Into the Suffering City celebrates the accomplishments of a dynamic duo in the context of Baltimore's grit and its glamour.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

Writers & Lovers
Lily King
Grove Press
c/o Grove Atlantic
154 W. 14th St., New York, NY 10011
9780802148537, $27.00, 2020, 324 pages, Hardcover

Writers love to write about being writers (see Philip Roth). Generally, I'm reluctant to review such books, as I'm afraid the audience for them is narrow. Writers also love to READ about writers, but does anyone else?

These days when the literary community is ready to jump on anyone who writes something that isn't either a memoir or what is sometimes called "autofiction" - fiction largely and provably informed by personal experience - maybe it's more excusable for writers to indulge in self-exposure, whether fiction or nonfiction. It's easier to avoid the screams of "appropriation!" from competing authors who feel slighted if their books haven't received the same attention - writers who assert some proprietary rights to certain kinds of stories. (You know who you are.) Given this proclivity, we might expect an explosion of literary-literary fiction, like Writers & Lovers.

I'm not sure that's good for the publishing industry, but if all of these writer's writers produce a book as fun and affecting as Writers & Lovers, maybe it's worth the risk. I'm not only a writer, too, but like the author, I spent more years of my life than I wanted to waiting on tables. And while she certainly hasn't represented the writing life I live, she has certainly nailed my experience of waiting on tables. The protagonist's times inside the restaurant were eerily reminiscent of my own, even though I worked at an interstate chain restaurant and hers was a high-end, fine dining establishment. The romances among the staff, familiarity (and repulsion) of certain clients, fear and cost of mistakes, double shifts, and inflexible hierarchies and ubiquitous misogyny gave me flashbacks, if not nightmares, for days. Also convincing is how the grief over her mother's death erupts at inconvenient times - when she's otherwise vulnerable or thrown out of kilter. I had similar fits of uncontrollable sobs and tears for months after my mother's and my brother's deaths - 30 years apart.

Less fortunate is this book's underlying reality as a love story, and as a romance, it is sadly predictable in that part of the plot line. I understand that romances, to satisfy their audiences, MUST be predicable (the lovers must meet early, something must keep them apart, in the end the must get together). Anything else will disappoint. But as a non-fan of romances (yes, I'm guilty of writing a couple romances in times of lethargy, and I still believe a bit of a love story can boost most novels), I was disappointed by the amount of plot devoted to that element in King's story.

All that hemming and hawing aside, the story of Writers & Lovers succeeds as a story of a woman's effort to get beyond the grief of her mother's death and find a way to be productive and creative under its weight. Written in first person and present tense, the prose has a momentum of a page-turner, even though the issues at stake aren't as weighty as the life and death of murder mysteries, espionage novels and Stephen King thrillers.

It's not clear that there are any answers in this novel for how to deal with the trauma of the death of a loved one, although along with waiters and writers, there may be some cathartic benefit to readers who have lost someone they love in the familiarity of the pain. The answer is as it has always been: time. Time and the distraction of the difficulty of financial survival in the 21st century, which takes our minds off the weighty grief as we focus on the irritating one.

Bottom line: I would recommend this to friends looking for a well-written, entertaining and true-to-life adult novel.

The Education of an Idealist
Samantha Power
Dey Street Books
c/o HarperCollins
195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007
9780062820693, $29.99, Hardcover, 542 pages, 2019

These days, it is comforting to know there are - or at least were - people in government who operate (or operated) on values and principles, base their decisions on facts and intelligent analysis, and treat political opponents and allies alike with respect. People whose bedrock values and principles that aren't movable or malleable or circumstantial. People whose values include having empathy, compassion, and sympathy for people all over the globe they'll never personally meet, who aren't their pretty, spoiled children, and who will never be asked to vote for them.

All memoirs are to some extent self-serving. No one writes their story hoping it makes them look bad. So, it's wise to be cautious about how principled an author claims to be. It's wise to remember what people do is more telling than what they say.

In her story of her life of political activism, Samantha Power provides plenty of evidence that she put her principles and ideals to work, whether it covering the front line in war-torn Bosnia or speaking for the United States as permanent representative to the United Nations under Barrack Obama. And by starting her story with the details of her early childhood in Ireland, sitting with her father at his favorite pub, the breakup of the family over her father's alcoholism, and her assimilation into American life in Pittsburgh, we get a solid understanding where those ideals came from.

But most of this book follows her career from war correspondent to Pulitzer-Prize winning author (for A Problem from Hell--about genocide) to advisor at the National Security Council and finally to UN representative, illustrating for anyone tenacious enough to tackle its 542 pages how differently past administrations have operated from the one we have today. While she and Obama disagreed, sometimes bitterly, over policy and actions regarding genocidal governments and UN resolutions, they remained respectful of each other and stayed friends. (Another old lesson in conducting good government.) Power gives him credit for spending hours reviewing this book and making valuable suggestions before it was published. One can't imagine either Power or Obama calling even the most difficult or oppositional politicians they face (governors?) names (snake?) or questioning their values or motives.

But how do you deal with international outlaws like Russia? Although she never forgives him for his country's evil and its leader's avarice, Power develops a respectful, even friendly, working relationship with the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churckin. But even respectful officials finally reach a breaking point, and for Power that was when he "dismissed, diverted, and lied" about his country's duplicity in the war in Syria.

"Is there literally nothing that can shame you?" she asks Vitaly in the Security Council's meeting to consider sanctions in the war Assad was promulgating against his own people. "Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?"

As Vitaly starts his response to her by calling reports of Russian involvement "fake news," Power is finished. She walks out, but by the time she reached her office, her comments on the UN floor have gone viral. "Once I gave the speech, I knew that I would not hear from Vitaly again," she writes. "And I was relieved not to see him, given what Russia had done."

While idealism and staying true to one's values is the theme of this book, the title betrays the reality of working in government, especially in international relations. The idealist who needed education - and the idealism that needed mediation - through her trial by fire was Power's belief in the ability of governments to act, always, according to their highest principles. What she learned was how much compromise and shading is required.

I think we have not seen the last of Power in national politics - whether a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020 or in 2024. And when she comes back, I hope she hasn't learned to compromise too much. We need government officials like her to help us regain the principles and values this country once held as core.

American Dirt
Jeanine Cummins
Flatiron Books
120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271
9781250209764, $36.50, Hardcover, 378 pages, 2019

So much has been argued over when it comes to this book: whether Oprah should have chosen it for her book club; whether Cummins was the right person to write it; and whether Flatiron was showing insensitivity to the Mexican writers by purchasing the manuscript from a mostly Caucasian woman living in the U.S.

The point of this review is not to continue that argument about cultural appropriation, but you should know that my next novel to be released is about a sixth-century nun who leads a rebellion in a monastery in Gaul. I am not a nun, not even Catholic, never lived in a monastery, have never led a rebellion, and don't believe I ever lived in the sixth century. So maybe that hints at where I might come down on the controversy: If a novelist must share a personal history with the protagonist of a novel, then we will only have memoirs and what is called "autofiction," and very writer's imagination will be confined to their personal experience. I think that is a very bad prescription for literature.

I loved this book. Among its virtues are the amazing world-building descriptions of place, the perfect pace of the narrative, the credible tension, the paralyzing dangers, the believable characters, the author's empathy, and the book's timeliness. It held me nearly speechless (imagine!) for the two days (I'm a slow reader) it took me to plow through it. It gave me nightmares, which were possibly as much connected to reading this in the scary time of coronavirus as any direct relevance it had to my life. When I finished it, my heart rate was probably double its usual 55 bpm, and my blood pressure was through the roof. I couldn't get to sleep for hours. I've never been so happy to get to the end of a journey as I was once the protagonist, Lydia, reached the end of hers. On the other hand, I had become so fond of Lydia, I didn't want to leave her by closing the book.

Lydia is a bookstore owner in Acapulco, wife to Sebastian, a journalist whose beat is the drug cartels, and mother of eight-year-old Luca. A charming, intelligent, complex man comes into her shop one day and surprises her with the books he chooses to buy - some of them her favorites. They develop a deep friendship that becomes the crux of the tragedy that propels Lydia and Luca's journey from her hometown to el norte, the dangerous and exhausting trip that comprises most of the tale.

The story begins at Lydia's quinceanera when 16 members of Lydia's family - including her mother and her husband - are murdered by a cartel angered by Sebastian's reporting. Escaping from the scene alive is just the first of a hundred challenges facing mother and son as they attempt to stay ahead of the cartel's book-loving jefe who is in love with Lydia and who, one assumes, wants to kill her for the betrayal of being married to Sebastian.

Travelling on bus, on foot, and on the top of La Bestia - the trains that migrants take north to reach the U.S., and south when they're deported from it - Lydia and Luca must evade narcotraffickers, corrupt policemen, narcotraffickers posing as policemen, rapists, and thieves, usually unable to tell who is who. They are robbed, bruised, sun-burned, blistered, sprained, along the way, and of course, perpetually frightened to the bone. They befriend many other migrants, most of them travelling through Mexico from brutality in Central American countries, ending up permanently attached to two beautiful teenage girls, whose smarts, stamina and bravery, as well as Lydia's kindness, save them despite the abuse they receive in part because of the good looks they wish they could disown.

Driven by very real threats and heart-stopping moments throughout, the book keeps up the riveting drama right up to the last pages. I know it has its critics who have questioned everything from Cummins' right to have written it to its errors and imperfect reflection of real migrant trauma, but I believe anyone who reads this book will leave the experience with a new-found empathy for the north-bound migrants in this hemisphere and a better appreciation for depth of the problems Mexico faces in its struggle against drug violence and corruption.

Some may think I'm not qualified to critique or review this book because of my ethnicity and personal history, in the same way they think Cummins was not qualified to write it. But I do not think that an intimate familiarity with the "facts" of a novel is required to review its merits as a work of fiction. If that were required, there would be no literary criticism - only personal essays.

I unequivocally recommend this book.

Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng
Penguin Books
9780735224315, $17.00 Paperback, 336 pages, 2018

This contemporary story of upper-middle-class suburbia is an engrossing, affecting tale of our time: a time when the haves and have-nots are separated by an widening opportunity gap this nation seems to have neither the wherewithal nor the inclination to narrow or bridge. In that way, Little Fires Everywhere anticipated by a couple of years the movie "Parasite," which similarly - though also differently - explores in a Korean context the irreconcilable conflicts that infect relationships based on mutual dependencies even as they demand the inviolable nature of social hierarchies.

The upper-middle-class Richardson family, even though so perfect in so many ways, has its issues - the main one being the reluctance of the youngest daughter, Izzy, to participate in the rest of the family's immersion in privilege and obliviousness. The other three children - lonely Moody, bitchy Lexie and the jock, Trip - each has a distinct personality, but complacency may be at their core. It's what you'd expect, given their parents. The mother, Elena, is not-very-ambitious local newspaper reporter; and the father, Bill, is an attorney without a cause. They live in Shaker Heights, a planned development in Cleveland - planned not only to look and feel ethnically and economically homogeneous, but also to make sure it stays so.

Elena rents out the house nearby that she inherited from her parents, and the story is set in motion when Mia and her daughter Pearl take the upstairs apartment and slowly insinuate themselves - although not entirely by choice - into the Richardson's lives. Moody, a quiet, well-behaved young teenager, is compelled by curiosity to befriend Pearl, who finding rare social acceptance, soon joins three of the Richardson children on the family-room couch, watching Jerry Springer. Daily. Izzy notably absent. Meanwhile, Lexie becomes fascinated by Mia's art - she's a photographer of some minor renown - and begins to spend time in the rental home, helping her develop film and create compositions. Even Izzy embraces the photographer, prompting Lexie to remark to Mia: "She's almost pleasant around you."

To further the families' entanglement, Elena, impressed by how clean Mia is keeping the apartment, convinces her to come to the Richardsons' house in the morning to clean and in the afternoon to cook dinner. Beyond that, another relationship develops between the families that complicates matters, but to reveal it here would be a spoiler.

The families' ties start to fray when Mia and Elena adopt opposite sides in a child custody case, each taking a position that can be expected from their widely differing economic status and concept of fairness. As the story continues, Elena decides that finding the truth behind Mia's single motherhood and Pearl's paternity could be a weapon in that custody battle, and without concern for the relationship between the two families that she's both encouraged and expanded, she doggedly asserts some bloated notion of her righteousness that eventually pulls all the tangled relationships apart.

Ng subtly plays with class differences, referring to Elena and Bill as Mrs. Richardson and Mrs. Richardson, but to an Asian lawyer as Ed, and to Mia always as Mia. The children, even prissy Lexie, start to push against their parents' apparent cluelessness about their prejudices, but the parents remain oblivious and self-assured in their rectitude. In the end, only one Richardson splits from the comfort of the tribe, and the reader knows that for all that happened, little learning has taken place.

The author deftly handles the myriad characters she needs in the novel, creating just enough personality in each, but not too much, and maintaining control over them. Her omniscient narration, wandering from head to head, is at first disorienting, but she handles it well, and before long, I settled into respecting her ability to share so many points of view. The only complaint I had as I finished the book was the lack of character development of Izzy - she who set the "little fires everywhere." (Not a spoiler; we know that from the first two pages.) As important and literally conflagration-causing as she is supposed to be, I wish Ng had better explored her alienation and its causes.

Bottom line: Recommended. Without hitting you over the head with polemics, the author has written an entertaining and well-constructed story with an important contemporary message.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Mark Murphy's Bookshelf

The Poet's Garage
Terry Tierney
Unsolicited Press
1950730417, 17.00 Brit. pounds, 2020

We know we're in for business when greeted with phrase 'the white of death and forgetting...' watching mosquitos flailing in wet paint in the last verse of the first poem. Tierney has a knack for pulling these pithy and sometimes beautiful epiphanies from the world about us. Weeping willows sprout like 'green flares.' In 'Widows Peak' apple cores 'shrivel to nothing but sound/the persistent echo of ocean.' In 'The Museum of Personal History' Tierney writes...

You clutch your memories like relics of saints
and snarl at me when I come too close.
You know I intend to violate them.

allowing the reader into his private inner world (though he walks 'softly like an outlaw') where we become the parched shoreline to his nourishing ocean of words. At once both lyrical and metaphysical, the poems in 'The Poet's Garage' are woven together with a lithe descriptive magic peculiar to Tierney's work, leaving us wanting more of the poet's proactive and provocative memories as we turn the last page of this fine book of poetry.

Mark A. Murphy, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Catch and Kill
Ronan Farrow
Little, Brown and Co.
c/o Hachette Book Group
9780316486637, $30.00/$36.50 Can., 2019, xvi, 450pgs

The world of Hollywood is a fascinating idea to most Americans. We look upon the actors and actresses that we see on television with a sense of astonishment and wonder. Media moguls are celebrated as success stories that rival only professional athletes. In Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, the world of Hollywood is absolutely torn apart and exposed for what many have thought it was and is, a sordid and dangerous world. Farrow, a son of the actress Mia Farrow and the famous director Woody Allen, writes with grace and eloquence, exposing a male-dominated arena of bullying, harassment, and sexual assault.

Catch and Kill reads like a suspense novel. Farrow brilliantly incorporates a narrative of threats, intimidation, and security concerns into a real-world criminal cover-up that reached to the highest levels of news organizations and Hollywood studios. Many of the names mentioned by Farrow in his investigation that became published in The New Yorker magazine are names that movie-goers and television watchers would gladly recognize. Their private lives are discussed with a tenderness and a genuineness that is sympathetic and makes the reader want to take the women in their lives and hug them a little tighter. Farrow has written a nonfiction work with the power of a novel and the detail of a newspaper article.

Catch and Kill is a very readable and engaging book It should be required reading for anyone interested in investigative journalism as well as criminal justice and criminal behavior. It should also be required reading for men who want to understand what women endure and are subject to in many working environments. This reviewer truly enjoyed Catch and Kill. It will be a great summer read and a foundation for our continuing national conversation around work and relationships.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.

Matthew Payne's Bookshelf

What Did Jesus Say: The Seven Messages from the Master
Rev. Terry Allan Christian
WDJS Publications
9780983984818, $19.95 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 157pp,

I think every person should spend some time listening to their sweet Jesus talk. I am fortunate enough to have read the PDF of this book and the layout and the pictures are outstanding. Sure get the Kindle version to read the text but do your loved ones a favour and get this beautiful book with all the pictures in it.

This book was profound and anointed. Some people would say that this is just the words of Jesus with no change, but this is not the case. These passages have come out of the four Gospels and have been put together by no less than the Holy Spirit in an order that really drives home points on key issues.

The section on the Word was so powerful. Seven overall messages and hundreds of sub messages, this book was a feast on Jesus and His wisdom. Jesus is just so rich and profound in what He says. I was told by Jesus to read His Gospels and try and work out what He meant with everything He said until further notice. I spent five years reading them and in the middle of that I met Jesus in the flesh and he explained some of what he was talking about on earth for ten minutes. Dressed as a homeless man and in disguise my spirit was quick to pick up that I was with Jesus. In ten minutes my mind was overcome with such wisdom.

Matthew Robert Payne

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Creative Success Now
Astrid Baumgardner, JD
Indi Books International
9781947480742, $20.00, PB, 206pp,

Synopsis: Creativity is a highly valued skill set that drives a significant portion of the global economy. It does not depend on a random stroke of genius, but instead on inspired hard work that creatives dive into, fueled by a sense of purpose and meaning with the potential for well-being and happiness -- and a job that pays.

In "Creative Success Now: How Creatives Can Thrive in the 21st Century", author, career coach, and faculty member of the Yale School of Music and head of the Office of Career Strategies, Astrid Baumgardner deftly lays out a three-part Creative Success Now Methodology consisting of the mindset, authenticity set, and skill sets that can empower you to pursue the creative life -- both for your personal journey toward success and because the world needs your ideas.

Ultimately, "Creative Success Now" will help you to solve the many problems you encounter as a creative person so that you can live as a successful creative in the twenty-first century.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Creative Success Now: How Creatives Can Thrive in the 21st Century" is a complete, thoroughly 'user friendly', and ideal DIY instruction manual and guide to achieving career success in any form or format of creativity. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, corporate, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Create Success Now" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Memo from Turner
Tim Willocks
Blackstone Publishing
31 Mistletoe Road, Ashland, OR 97520
9781094091075, $16.99, PB, 368pp,

Synopsis: During a weekend spree in Cape Town a young, rich Afrikaner fatally injures a teenage street girl with his Range Rover but is too drunk to know that he has hit her. His companions (who do know) leave the girl to die.

The driver's mother, a self-made mining magnate named Margot Le Roux, intends to keep her son in ignorance of his crime. Why should his life be ruined for a nameless girl who was already terminally ill? No one will care and the law is cheap. But by chance the case falls to the relentless Warrant Officer Turner of Cape Town Homicide.

When Turner travels to the remote mining town that Margot owns (including the local police and private security force) he finds her determined to protect her son at any cost. As the battle of wills escalates, and the moral contradictions multiply, Turner won't be bought and won't be bullied, and when they try to bury him he rediscovers, during a desperate odyssey to the very brink of death, a long-forgotten truth about himself.

Critique: An impressively engaging and deftly crafted novel by an author with a distinctive and consistently entertaining narrative storytelling style, "Memo From Turner" by Tim Willocks will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated suspense thriller fans that "Memo From Turner" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete an unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781538515358, $34.95, CD).

Michael J. Carson

Michael Radon's Bookshelf

A Man's Late Night Thoughts
Dorrance Publishing Co.
585 Alpha Dr #103, Pittsburgh, PA
9781645301301, $33.00 HC, 356pp,

"If your obituary won't read an amazing life and you are alive do something amazing."

Inspiration picks strange times to strike. Sometimes when you most need it, nothing comes to mind. Then there you are, lying awake at three in the morning, and some profound thought crosses your mind and lands squarely on your nose. This book collects those types of thoughts - self-attained wisdom and peculiar ways of looking at the world - and presents them as an entire volume.

With more than 300 to choose from, readers can turn to any random page and see the world through different eyes, surprised with the clarity and cleverness presented. Brief, witty, sometimes solemn, and at other times jovial, these thoughts are sure to strike a familiar chord with anybody that's ever been unable to turn their brain off after a long or challenging day.

Like a haiku or a micropoem, these thoughts are presented with minimal formatting and structure in order to let them reverberate through the readers' brains as if they were their own thoughts. The variance in tone and theme portrays these as real, honest, and fleeting bits of self-dialogue and not just a collection of idioms presented under a make-believe theme.

Often inspirational, other times heartbreaking, each page offers a single thought that can leave the reader surprised or in perfect cognitive harmony. While these types of reflections are not strictly male, the use of that gender in the title is apt as these are often the kinds of things that a man is brought up not to reveal but to internalize, and much rumination is given to the opposite sex. Straight and to the point with no additional window dressing, these snippets will provide readers with plenty to think or laugh about.

Michael Radon, Reviewer
The US Review of Books

Molly Martin's Bookshelf

Honey... Honey... Lion!
Jan Brett, author and illustrator
Putnam Juvenile
9780399244636, $18.99 Hardcover, $7.99 paperback

Fourteen First Graders, eyes aglow with anticipation rush to the 'reading' rug. Jan Brett and her splendidly fashioned works are class favorites for Osage County First Grade. Honey, Honey Lion! was a gift to our class from one of our classmates during our school book fair.

The Honeyguide, a small keen eyed pilot bird, and the Honeylion, a badger, are reciprocal cohorts. Living in Africa the twosome depend on each other in order to get the honey each wants.

The Honeyguide detects the nest where industrious bees are creating and storing honey. The Honeylion ruptures the hive with huge, robust claws. It has always been this way; the pair share the sweet honey in the comb together.

Nevertheless, one day, the voracious Badger does not share. He pinpoints the honey hoard himself, breaks it open and guzzles down the honey.

The Honeyguide is not happy.

The news of what the Badger has done gulping all the honey spreads from animal to animal across magnificent Okavango Delta. The Delta is packed with interesting creatures including among others; Kudu and hyena, zebras and jackals, elephants, and mongoose, and giraffes, are depicted along with hippos, warthogs, lilac roller, guinea hens, brilliant red bishop birds, and other birds, in addition to a lion.

Brett illustrates the African Delta locale in artful, helpful manner as she assimilates distinctive plants, including vigorous baobab, copious papyrus grasses, along with the towering Jackalberry tree.

The bush 'telegraph' is portrayed by the use of expressive language in the storyline. Anyone who has been to a jungle recognizes that the atmosphere is continuously teeming with noises, unless peril is in the vicinity.

Everyone, critter and man becomes watchful when silence exists.

From corner to corner across the African plain the ringing dissonance includes heralding of guinea hens, hippo thundering, fluting of bishop birds, hyena shouts, trumpeting of elephants, squeals of mongoose and Zebra exhales are the various animals' methods for transmitting messages far and wide.

A Great Deal of the tale concentrates upon the irate, implacable Honeyguide guiding Badger on a long ramble for honey. The account of the trip focuses on the din triggered while traveling through the Savannah grasses including 'swish, swish' of the grass and the boom, 'sprong' over the termite mound, 'pitter, patter' through the baobab roots, 'boom' heard while crossing the hollow log and straight into the acacia bush which happens to be the resting spot of a 'doesn't want to be bothered lion'.

The Honeylion causes a lot of noise during his expedition toward the intended hive. Then, evocative of an old childhood favorite 'The Bear Hunt,' he gets to do them all again in reverse during his terror driven trek back to the safety of his own den.

Illustrations are lively, well portrayed and child pleasing. Using longstanding African lore as the starting point for the story line; the Honeyguide coaxes Badger to trail behind her to a lion who is concealed under a tree.

Each double page arrangement is crammed with explanatory words portraying actions including scramble, bounce, and glide. The tale is promoted by use of imageries and text. Illustrations are child pleasing and outstanding in detail and realism. The abundance of animals to view in the lush, energetic African environment are so well accomplished.

Writer/Illustrator Brett notes that she and her husband have journeyed to Botswana three times. Her Images indeed bear witness to the actuality. It was from listening to the Africa guide in the course of one of her trips that Brett discovered the folklore of the Honeyguide and the Badger.

Marginal artworks are finished with African motifs illustrated in beads and cowry shells. I especially like Brett's use of thought provoking images: Brett's eye-catching renderings of African creatures depict the eye and the inspiration of the reader.

Badger, presented with sleek black and white fur and Honeyguide, with delicate wings shown in golden tans; are the essential players. Many of the double page layouts showcase a particular animal separately from the primary duo. Ornate, frequently feather embroidered ovals on either edge of the larger crucial images, transmit the most recent interactions being transmitted throughout the bush. Brett's illustrations, filled with greens and blues and tans flourish with verve and liveliness.

I especially enjoy the occasion to introduce a bit of literary awareness as we read Honey, Honey Lion! Folk tales and Legends are exceptional procedures for helping deliver messages to children. My first grade students, Osage County, Oklahoma; were mesmerized to learn that Writer/Illustrator Brett used an African legend as the basis for Honey, Honey Lion! The storyline is not one of her imagination, it is her representation of a component of the cultural make up of another people.

Classroom dialogue thrives each time I read Honey, Honey Lion!, the students recognize that if you don't follow the rule, whatsoever the rule may be, then you very likely will pay a price. Little people do not see the bird as vindictive at all, they simply realistically view her as punishing Badger for his dearth of right doing.

I find children are well capable to comprehend and put into words that societal mores, whether ours or elsewhere, does require something from its citizenry, and on occasion, if rule breakers will not follow rules; they may well face severe consequences.

Honey, Honey Lion! offers a broad assortment of critters, leading to Little Learners getting dictionaries or other books and searching to discover that animal on the pages. is the author site for Writer/Illustrator Jan Brett.

Included on her site are color pages for use with Honey... Honey... Lion! Brett offers free downloads of coloring sheets and other activity work. I have used color sheets illustrating one or another of the animals we find on the pages of Honey, Honey Lion! as a follow up activity following reading the text.

Twenty eight thumbs up is the consensus among fourteen First Graders in Mrs. M's class.

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Publishers Weekly

The Cracked Slipper
Stephanie Alexander
Bublish, Inc.
9781647040215, $14.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 362pp,

Alexander's alluring debut and series launch reimagines Cinderella's happily ever after as a tense, unhappy marriage while laying plenty of ground for installments to come. Alexander writes sensitively about reality falling short of dreams [and] does a solid job of taking a fairy tale and remixing it with feminist themes and dark edges.

Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want
Dr. Alexandra Solomon
New Harbinger
5674 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609
9781684033461, $17.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 240pp,

Psychologist Solomon (Loving Bravely) empowers and enlightens in this manual that encourages women to accept and control their sexuality. Dividing her lessons into three sections - "Preparing for the Journey," "The Journey to Sexual Self-Awareness," and "Your Sexy Is Here to Stay" - Solomon packs valuable advice, touching on such topics as giving consent, hookups, and self-compassion. Quoting Maya Angelou - "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better" - she counsels women to reexamine their long-held beliefs about sex and relationships, inviting them to understand that some of those beliefs - religious hang-ups and self-judgment among them - are damaging. Like a wise older sister or a trusted friend, Solomon illustrates how to move from fear to love with meditations, creative writing ("write an erotic short story"), and mental exercises (ask, "at which point in the day do you feel most connected to Your Sexy"). She also tackles the topic of sexual traumas and the poison they inject into relationships, and encourages experimentation and sexual fantasies as tools to learn one's own sexuality. "Joyful sex rests on risk, self-compassion, and trust," she writes. Solomon proves to be a savvy, empathetic voice in this educational and inspiring guide.

Publishers Weekly

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

America's Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War
Kenneth R. Rutherford
Savas Beatie
9781611214536, $29.95

The Civil War's Infernal Devices

Walt Whitman observed in his memoir "Specimen Days" that "The real war will never get in the books". Whitman explained: "Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors (not the official surface-courteousness of the Generals, nor the few great battles) of the Secession war; and it is best they should not -- the real war will never get into the books".

Whitman was undoubtedly correct about the many deeply internalized aspects of America's Civil War. But even today, Americans study and and try to increase their understanding of this seminal event in their history. Kenneth Rutherford's new book, "America's Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War" studies a frequently overlooked aspect of the war: the use of landmines by the Confederacy. The mines were responsible for a degree of the horror that Whitman found could never by captured in books. But learning about the mines and their use is possible, and Rutherford has given a good history of the development and use of Civil War mines, known to the Union at the time as "infernal devices" in his book.

Rutherford has first hand experience with landmines. In 1993, while in Somalia, he fell victim to a landmine and lost both his legs. He subsequently earned a PhD in history and became a leader in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, together with an international treaty banning the use of landmines. Rutherford is a professor of political science at James Madison University and turned his own experience with landmines into this near-pioneering study of the use of mines in the Civil War.

This lucidly written short study covers the Confederacy's use of mines both on land and at sea. Rutherford puts the development of mines in the context of the war by pointing out that the Confederacy needed to develop unusual, inexpensive forms of weaponry to compensate for its lack of men and material in prosecuting the war. The book shows the development of various forms of mines without overburdening the reader with technical detail, and it shows the Confederate leaders and bureaus that had the responsibility for the conduct of mine warfare.

Most of the book shows the use of the mines from the earliest days of the conflict through the end of the war. Some of the Confederacy's earliest efforts were ingenious but had little success due to technical glitches. In addition, some Confederate leaders including James Longstreet and Joseph Johnston opposed the use of landmines in the early parts of the war but later came around to support their use.

Rutherford documents opposition to mine use during McClellan's Peninsular Campaign but he also shows how the use of mines helped slow the Union advance on Richmond. He discusses the campaigns in which mines played a role and the ways in which the Union responded to landmine use. Many Union generals, particularly W.T. Sherman, would take Confederate prisoners of war and have them clear out the mines, a perilous undertaking, before the advance of the Union troops. Soldiers with mine equipment in the possession which they were captured risked summary execution.

This book is effective in the way it integrates the use of mines with the broader military history of the war. Rutherford describes many battles simply and clearly in a way that added to my broader understanding as well as to my understanding about mines. He describes the use of mines on Sherman's March to the Sea as well as in his subsequent campaign through the Carolinas. Rutherford offers an excellent discussion of the use of mines at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in the capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina, and of the role of mines in the unsuccessful defense. Rutherford offers an informative discussion of the Mobile Bay campaign late in the war and of the sinking of the USS Tecumseh when it ran into a mine. Although mines did not change the result of any battle, Rutherford shows how their use impacted the conflict and caused fear, pain, suffering and death. He argues the the Confederacy made the first major use of landmines in combat, and he traces the history of mines that lead to the 1997 treaty banning their use.

The book includes many maps together with images of the mines and the sites where they were used. It is meticulously documented and includes a useful glossary of terms associated with mine use together with a good bibliography. This unusual book added to my knowledge of the Civil War and undoubtedly will do so for other readers. The publisher, Savas Beatie, kindly sent me an advance reading copy for review.

Joan Silber
Counterpoint Press
9781640091139, $16.95

Life And Chance

Joan Silber's short critically-acclaimed novel "Improvement" (2017) is a story of people and of the frequently surprising consequences of their actions. The book is a tapestry, a metaphor used throughout, of different times and places, including New York City, Turkey, Germany, Virginia, and Philadelphia. The events in the story take place over a time frame of about forty years.

The novel is philosophical in tone. The title "Improvement" suggested to me the concept of meliorism, or working towards making things better, in the American pragmatism associated with William James and John Dewey. In facing difficult issues in life, people try to use their intelligence to find their way through a situation. They work to muddle through and make things better in specific cases as opposed to trying to reach an abstract goal of the good. So it is with the many characters in this book.

The book includes several sets of characters. The focus is on Reyana, a young single mother in New York City and her boyfriend, Boyd, who is serving a three month sentence at Rikers Island. When out of prison, Boyd works as a waiter in a small diner, but he has a larger vision. He develops a plan to sell cigarettes from Virginia in New York City to avoid the city cigarette tax. This scheme soon works to have unintended consequences, good and bad, for many others, including Reyana who declines to become involved.

The book moves quickly in short, spare, colloquial language with emphasis on the characters' hopes and dreams and, in particular, on their many sexual relationships. Silber offers a portrayal of African American street life. The characters are described in themselves and in their relationships to others, with the consequences of their actions sometimes forseeable and sometimes not.

The book is at its best in its early sections which develop the characters who appear throughout the work. As the story unfolds, it involves too many characters and loses something in focus. Among the characters are Reyana's aunt, Kiki, a former classics major who lived in Turkey and married a Turkish weaver of carpets. Kiki retains a love of reading and is devoted to Stoic philosophy. Other characters include Kiki's former husband a Turkish rug weaver, a long-distance trucker and his mistress, hospital and hospice workers, a young woman who works in an eyebrow bar, German smugglers of antiquities, an American sculptor whose career has turned flat, and many others. Although the book is too cluttered, the characters are engaging and individualized. It is valuable to see with the characters the effects of their actions and the many turns that life can take.

Many people will be reminded in reading this novel of unforeseen effects of their own actions upon others. This is an important aspect of life. The book illustrates both chance and connectedness, reminding me again of the melioristic nature of pragmatism discussed earlier. Readers, philosophically inclined or otherwise, will reflect in different ways on the respective roles of connection and chance in the concrete problems of life.

I thought of the current coronavirus epidemic in reading this book as it showed, if a different sense, how lives may change and how people are bound to one another in frequently chance ways. The Rikers Island scenes reminded me of the criminal proceedings involving Harvey Weinstein and, again, of how life may change.. Other parts of the story brought to mind events in my own life.

This book is short and somewhat disjointed but rewards reading. It is particular to its characters and yet will speak more broadly to its readers.

Robin Friedman

Steve Jenkins' Bookshelf

Our Year of War
Daniel P Bolger
Da Capo Press
9780306903267, $28.00 hardcover, $17.99 Paperback, 368 pages
978030690343, ebook

One of my personal reading goals is to learn more about the Vietnam War. So I when I found an inexpensive copy of Our Year of War, a book about two brothers serving side by side in Vietnam, I decided to purchase it. I am gald I did since it turned out to be a highly informative, readable and moving book.

The two brothers featured in the book are Tom and Chuck Hagel. You may be familiar with the name Chuck Hagel. He became a United States Senator from his native Nebraska and served as secretary of defense under Barack Obama. The Hagels spent much of 1968 serving in Vietnam and this book tells that story. It also explains how they came to have different views on the war.(Chuck would support it-Tom would oppose it)

Our Year of War is authored by Daniel Bolger, a retired United States Army General. He has written eight other books and is a contributing editor to US Army magazine.

Bolger begins begins by describing some of the Hagel Family History, tracing the brothers' path from the Nebraska prairies to the jungles of southeast asia. This helps explain some of the reasons that the two brothers decided to serve in Vietnam.

The majority of the book, however, is devoted to describing combat operations involving the two brothers. Some had heartbreaking consequences while others involved personal sacrifice. For example, take the time Tom and Chuck had to save each other's lifes. These stories provide a great insider view of what life must have been like for the average vietnam grunt (a term Bolger uses to describe the average Vietnam foot soldier. ) Bolger also does a great job of illustrating how this combat generated real emotions like anger and sadness.

The Vietnam war was affected by many outside political and social circumstances Bolger skillfully weaves these events into his story, showing how they influenced the war and the Hagles experience in it.

I appreciated the frankness and honesty of this book. Bolger is a former army general but he is not afraid to criticize Army Leadership and government officials for poor planning and decision making. For example he argues that mistakes like using the wrong tool (conventional U.S army forces ) for the wrong job(counterinsurgency ) were at the heart of our ill fated Vietnam venture.

I would recommend Our Year of War to anyone who to anyone interested in acquiring a deeper knowledge about what really went on in Vietnam.

Steve Jenkins

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Across the Great Divide: Book 1 The Clouds of War
Michael Ross
Elm Hill
9781595559340, $19.99

I read this book after interviewing the author on my website It's historical fiction set in Kentucky and follows the early days of the Civil War. Seen through the eyes of the Crump family and set in the neutral state of Kentucky, the book provides insights into both sides of the war and how blurred the lines were between the two sides. Will is a teenager when the novel begins and his sisters (Julia and Albinia) are somewhat older. Luther, a slave that Albinia helps escape, also plays a role as he embarks on the Underground Railroad.

Overall, the writing could have been tighter. For example, though Ross handles his large cast deftly, some (such as Will's youngest sister) play such a minor role they perhaps could have been cut. It is a "Christian" book, yet doesn't read as preachy. The historical aspects are well-researched and the issues (states' rights, the pros and cons of slavery, the religious aspects of slavery, abolitionists, etc) are well-documented.

Immortal Delirium
Carolyn M. Walker
Independently published
9781707414789, $TBA

Immortal Delirium is Carolyn M. Walker's sophomore novel, the second in the Immortal Series. It continues the story of Ethan West. A young artist, who has just won a major art exhibition and a scholarship to a prestigious Florida art college, simply disappears. His sister Kate can't find him. The police can't find him.

Immortal Delirium combines the biblical lore of angels and nephilim and births a new form of life, Lorns. These are immortal beings, yet can be killed. They have at least one superpower such as reading others' thoughts or concealing their bodies from others, as well as superhuman stamina. The forces of good and evil battle it out.

I enjoyed reading this. It was imaginative and clever with excellent world-building. The book does end on a cliff-hanger, so if you like stories neatly wrapped up, be prepared.

Miscreants, Murderers, & Thieves: a collection of short stories about devious behavior
Samuel W. Reed, editor
Reed Press
9780999067734, $12.99

Miscreants, Murderers, & Thieves compiles stories around a broad range of topics, all out of the norm - a bit of something for everyone with stories that can be read in one sitting. The leitmotivs that run through them include drugs, sex, murder, child abuse, mystery and others. The genres range from noir to sci-fi to steampunk.

One of my favorites was "The Temperature At Which Love Freezes" by Katherine Tomlinson. You'll vow to treat your spouse better after reading it! For an unreliable narrator, check out "First Tools" by Nicholas Zeman. Each story has its own sense of mystery, often with a twist at the end the reader doesn't see coming.

Pride of Eden
Taylor Brown
St. Martin's Press
9781250203816, $26.99

Pride of Eden is a gritty book inhabited by gritty characters. Anse Caulfield is a Vietnam vet and retired racehorse jockey. He is joined by Malaya, a discharged soldier who hunts poachers on an African wildlife preserved; Lope, a falcon-trainer who hunts surveillance drones; and Tyler, a female veterinarian and Anse's lover. The writing here is at times beautiful and at times a bit over-the-top. Some areas seem almost jagged, but those areas increase the intensity of the four people, all somewhat loners and hanging onto the outer rim of humanity, who come together in a "pride" of their own. They rescue - often with less-than-legal methods - big cats, wolves, elephants, crocodiles, and other creatures and have established Little Eden, a wildlife sanctuary on the Georgia coast. Brown binds together prehistory (for example, saber-toothed cats and mammoths trapped in the La Brea tar pits) and present times to establish a human-animal interconnection and has these animals narrate parts of the story.

The Disharmony of Silence
Linda Rosen
Black Rose Writing
9781684334308, $19.95

The Disharmony of Silence, released March 5, 2020 by Black Rose Writing, authored by Linda Rosen shows how secrets affect families through future generations. She tells the dual stories of Lena and Carolyn through alternating time lines separated by eighty-plus years. The Roth and Pearl families immigrated to New York from the same town in Russia at the turn of the nineteenth century. An argument between the fathers, the contents of which are unknown to either Carolyn or Lena, drives a wedge between the once-close families. Later, Carolyn - a granddaughter - begins genealogical research and discovers a secret that will shatter both families.

Anyone who has buried a loved one then had to deal with the after-effects of the death like selling a house, sorting through memorabilia, etc. will feel for Carolyn as she accomplishes these not-so-simple tasks. Rosen also does a good job walking a line between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish observances. Carolyn show growth as a character and comes to understand that she's not really very different from the lying husband she divorced. She also learns that sometimes doing nothing is the best action and what it means to be family.

I was pleased that the story meets an offshoot of the Bechdel test in that it doesn't involve violence against women. However, the story is a bit slow-moving in parts, and Lena and Carolyn's stories occasionally don't mesh well.

The Herd
Andrea Bartz
Ballantine Books
9781984826367, $27.00

The Herd begins with an act of what appears to be sexist vandalism in the smart, highly-desirable feminist work-sharing space, The Herd (with an emphasis on HER) starts off. From there, the novel explores relationships between women, how they fare in an all-female work environment, and the price of female ambition.

Two sisters, Hana and Katie, are reunited after Katie, who moved back to Midwest to care for their mother, and returns to New York. Hana is in the upper echelons of The Herd, but Katie has to go through the rigorous admissions process to avoid the appearance of nepotism. When Eleanor, the #1 of The Herd, disappears, Katie tries to solve the mystery. Everyone is suspect: Eleanor's hospital administrator husband, former lovers, men on an antifeminist, anti-Herd website, and someone who is blackmailing her. The plot is full of twists which keeps the suspense up right up to the bitter end. The writing is dark and smart.

The Last Tourist (Milo Weaver Book #4)
Olen Steinhauer
Minotaur Books
9781250036216, $27.99

The Last Tourist is apparently the fourth in the Milo Weaver series, but it easily stands alone. The novel has plenty of plot twists equalling what's expected in this genre and occasionally words are strung together in near-poetic way. The protagonist, Milo Weaver, is a scarred veteran of the spy world, but has returned to the States, married and has a child. Weaver isn't a suave debonair 007 copy, nor is he the skilled Jason Bourne,. He lacks the characterization Daniel Silva has invested his Gabriel Allon with, but Weaver is a relatable character. He's a scarred man who's has traded his old life for a wife, daughter and a normal American home life, but is now forced to return to the world of spook-dom.

The Leonardo Gulag
Kevin Doherty
Oceanview Publishing
9781608093816, $26.95

The Leonardo Gulag is a fascinating work. I chose to read it because it combined art and intrigue, much like my favorite spy novels, the Gabriel Allon series by David Silva. In it, young art student, Pasha Kalmenov, is rousted from his bed by the police and taken away despite his and his mother's protests that he's done nothing wrong. He's forced into a cattle car, but unlike the political prisoners in neighboring cars, he's given food, breaks to exercise, and warmer clothing. The political prisoners are dropped off along the way, but Pasha and other artists like him are taken to a gulag far beyond the Arctic Circle. They are forced to duplicate original drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. If an artists work doesn't meet the strict criteria, they are executed.

This is an intense read, a story of personal strength and determination - the will to survive.

Megge of Bury Down
Rebecca Kightlinger
Rowan Moon
9781734316803, $16.99, $16.99

Megge of Bury Down is a coming of age story set in medieval Cornwall. Megge, the protagonist, is six years old at the onset of the book. She's a bit of an odd duck in her family and feels distant from her mother and other relatives. The beginning of the book is slow, but things do speed up a tad as you read along. The pace throughout - particularly through the prologue - was slow, even during moments where exciting things happened. There's a lot of repetition of Megge's family history over 900 years and the writing at time seems rambling, yet the ending seems precipitous.

The plot is complicated with a lot going on. Megge's family, the seers and healers of Bury Down, have their own secrets - they seem unsure of what to tell or not tell her about them. Tossed into the mix are the superstitions of the locals, the healers' interactions with Jenifer Pennick and her mother, the odd hatred of Jenifer Pennick and her mother. All this is seen through Megge's naive eyes. She willfully refuses to assume the destiny her family wishes of her and views the books her family has sworn to protect with fear and ignorance.

The local Black Friars carry out the church's persecution of witches and burn innocent girls. Other sins the book deals with are false testimony, greed and jealousy, all of which have dire consequences.

If you like slow-build classic fantasy, this is for you. If you're a swashbuckling-type fantasy lover, this is probably not the book for you.

Queen of the Owls: A Novel
Barbara Linn Probst
She Writes Press
9781631528903, $16.95

Barbara Linn Probst's debut novel, Queen of the Owls, is stunning: gorgeous prose highlighting a book about creativity, seeing and being seen. As a former photographer and artist, this book has everything needed to intrigue me: Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Steiglitz, painting, photography, art history, feminism, and the price a woman pays to be creative, to be all she was meant to be, to be seen as herself - not merely in the male gaze or a reflection of a man.

Elizabeth is an Art History Ph.D. candidate stuck in the rut of a marriage that never should have been. Her dissertation is on O'Keeffe's time in Hawaii. Her feelings are chiseled open by an unusual relationship with a photographer, Richard Ferris. Together, they explore the seen and unseen, the whole and the fragment. With Ferris, she feels safe enough to reveal her innermost desires as they reproduce the photographs in which O'Keeffe posed for Steiglitz. When Ferris exhibits those photographs - without her permission - Elizabeth's position at the university, her personal and professional reputations, and her very marriage are at risk. Despite the precariousness of her life at the moment, Elizabeth realizes that she is authentic, a fully-dimensional person. She stands at this rift in her life and must decide whether to leap across the void or to retreat.

This is an intimate, yet psychologically deep look at one woman's attempts to balance love, life, children, and career - and above all, to liberate herself from the limits of her own expectations and to evolve.

Mary Keliikoa
Epicenter Press
9781603817066, $15.95

Derailed is author Mary Keliikoa's debut novel. I was fortunate to read a Netgalley copy of this book.

Kelly Pruitt is a strong female protagonist who has taken over her late father's private detective agency. She's also a recent divorcee struggling with a deaf daughter, a controlling ex-spouse, an interfering ex-mother-in-law, and a blossoming romance with a sexy cop. Her dog steals the show as he becomes a character himself. Ms. Pruitt is hired by a grieving mother to investigate the death of her daughter, which the police department has declared accidental. As the new PI delves into the victim's life, she's plunged into a steamy underworld. Her personal and professional lives begin a collision course that she never anticipates. The red herrings are cleverly planted and the ending a surprise.

Waltz in Swing Time
Jill Caugherty
Black Rose Writing
9781684334780, $20.95

I read this book because of the similarities in Caugherty's background and my own. My grandparents weathered the Dust Bowl and Depression in West Texas, and my grandfather followed the migrant farm worker circuit to make a living. In Waltz in Swing Time, Author Caugherty captures the depths of the Great Depression as well as the inevitable downward spiral of the elderly. Written in an almost memoir-like vein, the novel blends two time lines. In one (2006), Irene - the main character has been incarcerated in a fancy assisted-living residence by her daughter; the other is set during the 1930s with Irene as a teenager raised in a strict Latter Day Saints family in Utah.

Her mother wants Irene to be a staid farmer's wife. Her father indulges his daughter somewhat but still wants her to marry and remain in Utah. Irene is not only spirited, but talented and ambitious. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it, even if it means rebelling against her family. She dances, has a good voice, and dreams of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. She is desperate to escape her home town. While working at Zion National Park, she meets Harold, a larger-than-life man, an incredible dancer - and a notorious flirt. Irene manages to capture him. He talks her into a marriage that won't be recognized by the LDS. He becomes the catalyst that pulls her out of Utah.

If you like memoir and family-based historical fiction, you'll enjoy this one.

You and Me and Us
Alison Hammer
William Morrow Paperbacks
9780062993861, $27.99

You and Me and Us is a novel about love in the face of loss. The reader comes to care deeply for Alexis, an advertising executive, Tommy, her therapist husband, and CeCe, their teenaged daughter. Alexis and Tommy have a loving relationship marred by her inability to commit to a marriage, so they've lived together for years. Tommy who does on-line counseling and is a stay-at-home dad, has taken over the parenting of CeCe so Alexis can focus on her advertising company. Her relationship with CeCe is strained. This family's world is turned upside down when Tommy is diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. His only wish is to spend his last summer in the beach town where Alexis and Tommy grew up and where they have a mostly-used second home.

The emotional heartache and healing that occur over that summer is tremendous. Hammer does an excellent job of portraying the bittersweet and the ultra-sad journey this family takes. Alexis will lose the man she's loved for years and CeCe her father - and best friend. The story is told in the points of view of all three, but leaning heavily toward Alexis and CeCe. This is an uplifting story overall, though the end seems a bit rushed as far as Alexis and CeCe's grieving process goes. You'll need a box of tissues to get through it.

Diver's Paradise
Davin Goodwin
Oceanview Publishing
9781608093830, $26.95

Diver's Paradise is Davin Goodwin's debut noir novel. In it, he's captured Caribbean life quite well. There's great local color both on land and underwater. I read this because I enjoy a good detective story now and then.

Roscoe Conklin is a retired police detective and diver who's moved to the island of Bonaire and bought a rundown motel with his retirement account. At the beginning of the novel, he receives news of the deaths of his former partner and his wife back in the States. From there, people around Conklin are murdered, so he embarks on the trail of their killer while trying to solve - long distance - the murders of his friends. Unfortunately, he must have lost his edge during retirement because he frequently misses clues that are obvious to the reader. While "island time" may be vague, the police department there seems to work on "island mind" and are frequently dismissed as bumbling and lazy, and the switch in personality of the police chief is somewhat bewildering.

The Blue Period
Luke Jerod Kummer
Little A
9781542049979, $24.95

I read this novel because I am a former artist and love Picasso. Like the artist, I was expected to carry on the family tradition and become a painter. For me, this book situated Picasso in the historical events of the world. I hadn't connected him with the end of the Spanish-American War. Also, I enjoyed reading about old Barcelona, about the endless conflicts between Spain and Catalonia. I enjoyed Kummer's notes at the end of the book in which he talks about the extensive research required for this story. I've always had an affinity for Picasso's blue period, but had no idea it reflected years in which he was "blue" psychologically. This was not an easy read. It reflects Picasso's clinical depression, his poverty, the times he resorted to being a "kept" man so he could paint.

Kummer does a great job setting the stage whether developing Montmartre in the early 1900s or describing the turmoil in Spain. He also reveals bits of Picasso's personality that lead to his becoming the father of Cubism and an icon in his later life.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

What the Other Three Don't Know
Spencer Hyde
Shadow Mountain Publishing
P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130-0178
9781629727325, $17.99, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: If Indie had it her way, she would never choose to river raft with three other high school seniors, mostly strangers to each other, from her journalism class. A loner, a jock, an outsider, an Instagram influencer. At first they can't see anything that they have in common. As the trip unfolds, the unpredictable river forces them to rely on each other. Social masks start to fall as, one-by-one, each teen reveals a deep secret the other three don t know.

One is harboring immense grief and unwilling to forgive after the death of a loved one. One is dealing with a new disability and an uncertain future. One is fearful of the repercussions of coming out. One is hiding behind a carefully curated perfect image on Instagram.

Before they get to the end of Hells Canyon, they ll know the truth about each other and, more importantly, learn something new about themselves.

Critique: A deftly crafted novel by an author with a particular flair for originality and the kind of narrative storytelling talent that will keep her young readers fully involved from first page to last, "What The Other Three Don't Know" by Spencer Hyde promotes the message of personal self-acceptance -- especially for LGBTQ students. While very highly recommended for highschool and community library YA Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "What The Other Three Don't Know" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

At the Pond
Geraldo Valerio
Groundwood Books
c/o House of Anansi Press
9781773062327, $19.95, HC, 48pp,

Synopsis: On a dull gray day, a boy puts his dog on a leash and they walk to a shimmering pond where snowy white swans swim freely. One of the swans invites the boy and dog for a ride. They climb on its back and sail into a stunningly beautiful landscape, dotted with wildflowers, spoonbills and ibises. Foxes, rabbits and deer appear in this paradise, then butterflies and even bigger, more beautiful flowers. The boy unleashes his dog on shore, and the dog bounds off to play.

Now the boy wraps his arms around the swan's neck - he has a new friend. But when he puts the leash on the swan, the sky turns stormy gray, the water becomes turbulent, and the other swans fly away. Both the boy and swan are miserable, until the boy realizes he must free his friend. When he drops the leash into the pond, warm color fills their world and they return to where the boy's dog happily awaits him.

Critique: Author and artist Geraldo Valerio is a complete master of the wordless picture book format. In the pages of "At The Pond" he deftly explores the nature of true friendship and love in his newest creation with a beautifully presented story that will be enjoyed by children ages 3-7 and will be considered a unique and prized addition to family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library picture book collections.

Mike Sherer
Intense Publications
9781947796348, $24.99, HC, 332pp,

Synopsis: Sean lived a normal, teenage life in his normal, suburban hometown until his grandmother's ghost appeared and told him he had to stop an evil horde of spirits from overtaking Shadytown. To help him succeed, she put an invisible Celtic Cross around his neck and for an extra layer of protection, she gave him a pet rattlesnake.

As more and more evil spirits gathered, Sean needed more power to stop the destruction of not only his family but also his school and all of Shadytown. His grandmother promised help was coming, but she's only a ghost stuck in a bog. Sean felt victory was impossible. And that's before he even knew there's a demonic tree lurking in the field behind his house.

Critique: Original, entertaining, and a thoroughly 'kid friendly' fantasy novel for young readers ages 7-12, "Shadytown" by Mike Sherer will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to elementary school, middle school, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated fantasy fans that "Shadytown" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781947796164, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

DAR & Earth: Oraculi
Athena M. Kaiman
The Book Publishing Company
PO Box 99, Summertown, TN 38483
9781733982801, $17.95, PB, 350pp,

Synopsis: After her parents die of plague, Aelish journeys at age seventeen to DAR a magical commonwealth governed by females. But the refuge of her new home soon takes a dark turn. She discovers something horrific and embarks on a quest to vanquish an enemy she has never met.

In present day, Aelish returns to Earth as an Oraculi to Isabela, a twelve-year-old-girl of Mexican descent, with exceptional scientific aptitude. But Isabela wants nothing to do with DAR. Will Aelish fail in her mission to save her birthplace from runaway climate change?

Critique: An original fantasy novel by an author who employs a distinctive and thoroughly entertaining narrative storytelling style, "DAR & Earth: Oraculi" is the debut volume of a new YA Fantasy series and unreservedly recommended for highschool and community library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated fantasy fans that "DAR & Earth: Oraculi" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Lucy Crisp And The Vanishing House
Janet Hill
Tundra Books
9781770499249, $17.99, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: It has been a year since Lucy Crisp graduated from high school and she still hasn't found her calling. That is, until she discovers an exclusive arts college called Ladywyck Lodge. On a whim, she applies and is thrilled to be accepted into their program. Lucy moves to Esther Wren, the charming little town where it's based, and stays in the house her father buys as an investment: a magnificent building built by a sea captain in 1876. The house has history and personality -- perhaps too much personality!

Strange things start happening: Lucy hears voices and footsteps in empty rooms. She sees people and things that should not be there. Furniture disappears and elaborate desserts appear. What's worse is that the strange events are not restricted to her house. Lucy begins to understand that the town and its inhabitants are hiding many secrets, and Ladywyck is at the heart. As the eerie happenings escalate, Lucy fears she is being threatened -- but she is determined not to let fairy potions, spells and talk of witchcraft scare her away.

Critique: All the more impressive when considering that "Lucy Crisp And The Vanishing House" is author Janet Hill's debut as a novelist, this original, entertaining, and deftly crafted fantasy novel for young readers ages 12-16 is a particularly recommended addition to middle school, highschool, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections. A blending of mystery and the supernatural, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Lucy Crisp And The Vanishing House" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

The Plastic Problem
Aubre Andrus
Lonely Planet Kids
c/o Lonely Planet Publications
150 Linden Street, Oakland CA 94607
9781788689366, $14.99, Board Book, 112pp,

Synopsis: Plastic is everywhere! It's in our shoes, pens, toothbrush, car, toys, TV, water bottles, food packaging. It's almost impossible to get through one day without using it. And it's creating major problems for our world, our oceans, our animals and marine life, and ourselves.

In "The Plastic Problem: 60 Small Ways to Reduce Waste and Help Save the Earth", young readers ages 9-12 will learn how to become a 'plastic patroller' instead of a plastic polluter by learning about the easy ways they can cut plastic out of their lives. The simple actions found in this practical guide will help them protect the world and inspire their friends and family to do the same.

Tips include: Pack a zero waste travel kit to help your family reduce its rubbish on trips; Take better care of your clothes, swap items with friends, and get excited about hand-me-downs; Switch your toothpaste for natural tooth powders and choose an electric, non-throwaway toothbrush; Take a lunch to school in a reusable container and bring reusable cutlery; Reduce the amount of things to buy, reuse what is already owned, and recycle what is no longer needed; Take reusable bags to the supermarket when shopping; Think twice about single-use bottled water and fruit juices!

Critique: Thoroughly 'kid friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, "The Plastic Problem: 60 Small Ways to Reduce Waste and Help Save the Earth" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, family, elementary school, middle school, and community library Contemporary Environmental Issues collections and reading lists.

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Those Arkansaw Bumkins: with The Oinky Boinky Machine and Elmo Frumpkin
Preston Coleman
Book Baby
B08775K5FF, $4.96, 115 Pages

Preston Coleman has done it again! For those who loved his witty and extremely irreverent political satire The Lost Gospel of Donald, this talented author has this time written three short satires which will have those of us, exasperated by the American political system, laughing until they split their sides.

The first "Those Arkansaw Bumkins" tells of the Bumkins household's transportation by tornado onto the lawn of the Capital City Mal. Subsequently they have a meteoric rise to power as Co-Presidents of America in their new abode, the White Castle. Well, you can probably imagine the shenanigans which take place, but let me tell you, they are nothing compared to the tales you will read about in this entertaining and totally irreverent story. Let me just say that there's a clue in the stories subtitle, "A Gremlin in His Goober."

Then follows The Oinky Boinky Machine, which is the tale of Livingstone Ostrich, an Ostrich who bravely, after a great tragedy, decides to puts his head above the parapet. As with the popular classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, this is a tale of standing out in the crowd, and the consequences of doing so. Bravely the intrepid Livingston Ostrich decides that something has to be done to stop the horrendous Oinky Boinky Machine. But is he the bird to do it? Will he have the strength to overcome the cavernous machine, and its blood-sucking Vampire Pigs which reside within and keep it alive?

Last but not least is the tale of "Elmo Frumpkin. Poor Elmo Frumpkin is a forest hermit, who finds himself snatched from his peaceful life in the Deep South, and thrown into prison by Sher'f Gimby. There he discovers that his innocent behavior has caused him to be placed unwittingly into the criminal justice system. With his life changed forever Elmo and his far from conventional cell mate Hannibal Purdy escape from prison, and begin their rollercoaster of an adventure. Read it and laugh out loud, giggle or whatever takes your fancy, but most of all embrace wholeheartedly this talented author's clever use of irony and humor.

Destined to go down in history as the King of Satire, Preston Coleman is a refreshing blast of fresh air, and just what his country and the literary world need!

Available from Amazon:

Let Go and Let God . . . and Then What?
Suzanne Mondoux
Balboa Press
9781982225643, $15.99, 224 Pages

What an incredible book this is! Within its pages the author somehow it manages to combine self-help, inner healing, be motivational, and inspirational. What's more this book is suitable for all ages, genres, and professions, something I find unique.

Through the sharing of personal experiences with her reader, and the incorporation of a fictitious story about a cat called Delilah, her surroundings, and life, the reader is encouraged open their eyes to their world, look forward with a positive attitude, and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

From the moment we are 'aware' we absorb the information around us via other people. We learn, discover things about our world and environment, listen to the expectations and limitations others put on us. Now, through this enlightening book we each have the tools we need to unlock our dreams, reach our full potential, and then grow, taking one day at a time to discover the real us. We learn how to unburdening ourselves of the concepts and restraints of others, and truly become who we want to be.

From a very early age the author knew she had a strong affinity with the spirit world and animals. Her work has enabled her to recognise these gifts and her strength of character has led her to write her books. In fact her first published novel, How I Became a Dragon was inspired by her experiences whilst working in the Republic of Congo as Project Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the Sangha Tri-National landscape.

However, as she points out, if you are searching for God and enlightenment, it is not hidden in these pages. The purpose of this book is to, through telling her story, and talking about poignant moments in her life, which have opened her eyes to her true self, she hopes to inspire her readers to do the same.

To aid in this, the book's chapters focus on life experiences and at the end of each there is the opportunity for the reader to express their thoughts and experiences on each topic on the activity pages. These pages eventually combined to reveal their own unique journey. However, the author is keen to point out, our journey does not end there, because life is a continual adventure and the quest to discover new things about ourselves is constantly evolving each and every day.

In Conclusion: This book contains the key to opening your own mind into the possibilities which await you. Within, the author gives her reader the tools they require to move forward positively, with true self-belief, and the knowledge that they are 100% in control.

Available from Amazon:

The Divine Comedy, Volume Two, PURGE-THE-STORY
Luigi Enrico Pietra D'Oro
Independently Published
9798617764330, $12.99, 211 Pages

Dante's Divine Comedy was written nearly 700 years ago. It is widely considered to be the foremost work in Italian literature and was based on his contemporary, cultural and religious beliefs. Now this epic poem has been rewritten for the modern world by Luigi Enrico Pietra D'Oro (Lewis Goldstein.) Lewis Goldstein is fulltime Art and Art History Professor at Barstow Community College in California.
Purge the Story (Purgatory) is the second volume and is written in the same rhyming format as Dante's original. The first volume, Return to the Inferno was published in 2018.

Luigi's journey begins with the retelling of his last experiences in hell and his emergence onto the foothills of the Mountain of Purgatory, where he is met at the Gates of Purgatory by Pope Francis.

As we travel with Luigi through Purgatory, his, and our eyes are opened to incredible harm the male of the human species has caused to our planet. With striking clarity, the terrible destruction which has been wreaked by a relatively few large corporations is exposed, and we discover how their greed has caused untold damage to our planet, its inhabitants, and their habitats, with wide scale-pollution and long term ecological devastation.

However, this journey through Purgatory's purpose is to enlighten us to the realization that our planet can be saved if we are prepared to do what is necessary. The wrongdoings of men are laid before us and we are left in no doubt that the road to the salvation of the planet will not be easy. Man, to achieve redemption must take ownership for the horrendous deeds which have happened in the past, learn never to make them again, then purge the sins, and then make atonement for past transgressions. How can this be achieved? Luigi is shown how, and it is by the creation of a feminist partnership society, one which will heal and repair the damage caused by men, and in return realise a wonderful Earthly Garden.

In this powerful epic poem exposes the very worst in human nature, its greed and thoughtlessness, and yet offers seeds of hope in that by the creation of a new order, the earth can be reborn into the beautiful place it should be. Extremely thought-provoking! Highly Recommended.

Available from Amazon:

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Older Than My Boss
Carolyn Gaye
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781480881648, $30.95, HC, 246pp,

Synopsis: "Older Than My Boss: A Collection of Short Stories About Old People on the Verge of Making a Change" by Carolyn Gaye is for old people, anyone who knows old people, or anyone who contemplates becoming old.

The basic assumption is that we become wiser as we get older and we make good decisions as we approach certain crossroads in life familiar to people in their mature years that usually involve a loss of control over our relationships, finances, minds, bodies, occupations, and our day to day routines.

The flow of life carries us along almost imperceptibly. Its current is subtle enough to be felt only occasionally, as when we celebrate a birthday or cross the street to work for the thousandth time. It can also come to mind when we notice the children around us grow into their adulthood.

Denial is a beautiful thing until the day we can't ignore that the current of our aging has threatened to strand us on the shore unless we make adjustments and change course. It's time to make a decision, but which way to turn-the direction to freedom or responsibility, acceptance or resistance, involvement or independence. The answers are not always clear.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Older Than My Boss: A Collection of Short Stories About Old People on the Verge of Making a Change" is an inherently engaging and exceptionally well presented commentary on and about aging successfully. Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone and commentary, "Older Than My Boss" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library short story collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Older Than My Boss" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781480881631, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

My Detective
Jeffrey Fleishman
Blackstone Publishing
31 Mistletoe Road, Ashland, OR 97520
9781982517298, $25.99, HC, 288pp,

Synopsis: Detective Sam Carver journeys through sins scattered across the City of Angels, where hipsters, homeless, immigrants, producers, politicians, movie stars, and cops collide in mysterious ways. Every move Carver makes is anticipated by the killer, Dylan Cross. She has hacked his computer and knows his diaries and secrets. She sees in him a kindred and damaged spirit, a man who can understand her crimes, heal her scars, and love her. Dylan is reclaiming herself from a past of brutal injustices inflicted by a world of misogyny and power. Detective Carver is dealing with his own troubled history -- an elusive and violent father.

Critique: An intense and pitch-perfect novel of suspense, obsession and vengeance, "My Detective" is a riveting read and one that is especially recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "My Detective" is readily available in a paperback edition (9781094091105, $15.99), in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99), and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781982516994, $29.95, MP3 CD).

Willis M. Buhle

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

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