Return to home
page Book Reviews, Book Lover Resources, Advice for Writers and Publishers
Home / Reviewer's Bookwatch

Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 22, Number 5 May 2022 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Chris Patsilelis' Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Michael Carson's Bookshelf Miriam Calleja's Bookshelf Paul Lappen's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

The Devil's Bargain
Stella Rimington
9780526612946, A$32.99, PB 257 pages

First, it was a Bulgarian flag for Harry's young son, to impress his school friends. Then it was some pretty earrings for his wife - 'just tiny pieces of red glass in some sort of metal setting' (although his wife's friend said were rubies in gold). Finally, Igor had concealed a wad of money in a some newspapers which he said might interest Harry, then he had walked away and disappeared.

It was Cold War days and Harry Bristow was Heysham Port's Special Branch Officer, responsible for checking Soviet and East European crew on and off their ships: 'They were allowed on land, but not to stay'. Igor's disappearance from the Hungarian ship Bogdana was clearly a break of regulations and Harry should have reported it, but he felt compromised by Igor's gifts, so he had said nothing, and hid the money away and never used any of it.

Since that time, Harry's career had prospered and he had become Deputy Head of Special Branch in Liverpool, but guilt had always haunted him and made him feel like a fraud. So, when he recognises Igor in front of him in a bank queue, and learns that he is now Peter Robinson, owner of Robinsons' Kitchens and a popular member of Liverpool City Council - potentially a Russian agent in a position of power - he knows he must do something about it.

Peter Robinson, whose real name is Pyotr Romanov is, indeed, a Russian spy. His handler, years before, had infiltrated him into England and had funded his life and his business there. Peter had done well, gradually establishing himself as a reliable, honest Englishman, whose mixed past (invented, and documented where necessary) explained his unusual accent and his apparent lack of relatives. The break-up of the Soviet Union, however, had cut him off from Moscow.

The last time he had tried to make contact, calling from a phone box miles away from Liverpool, the number was unobtainable. The silence wouldn't last forever, Romanov told himself, but he found the absence of any contact at all unnerving.

He determines to continue on his own, sure that eventually he will be contacted and 'the progress he would by then have made in infiltrating Britain would be of great value'. When he realises that he has been recognized by Bristow, however, he knows he must do something about it, so he sends him photographs taken when the 'gifts' had been handed over and demands a meeting.

Meanwhile, American and British security services start to take an interest in Peter Robinson, and two young women become deeply involved.

Manon Tyler, who has been working in the CIA agency in New York, has just been posted to the American Embassy in London. Before she leaves New York she attends a lecture given to agency staff by Dimitri Kazov, a former general who had once been Head of Foreign Intelligence in the KGB. He talks about the dozens of illegals he had infiltrated into America and Britain, most of whom had died or returned to Russia. His mention of one 'who did not return', however, sparks Manon's interest. After the lecture she asks him

'Was he sent to Great Britain by any chance? Do you think he might still be there? I'm interested because I am just about to go to London on a posting. I'd love to meet him'.

Kazov considered this. 'It was indeed to Britain he was sent. In my opinion he is unlikely still to be there. And certainly he would not be active now... I think he would have returned home some time ago'

When Manon ask the man's name, 'Either his real name or his cover name?', Kazov becomes icy and claims to have forgotten it.

In London, Manon meets up with an old English friend, Louise Donovan. Louise, has recently become disillusioned with her work as a solicitor, and has taken a job as a campaign organiser. She has just been in Liverpool organising 'the final week of the Robinson campaign' for a seat in Parliament. When Peter Robinson wins that seat he comes to thank Louise and takes her out to dinner. A relationship begins and Louise is, at first, delighted, but later begins to question it, especially after chatting to the driver Peter employs to ferry him to and from Liverpool and around London.

So, the scene is set. Louise and Manon become an important part of the investigation of Peter Robinson by British and American security services; Robinson advances his career as a Member of Parliament, whilst juggling meetings with Bristow; and when Bristow resigns from the police Robinson offers him a new job to keep him quiet. Added to this, Moscow suddenly decides to re-activate Peter Robinson as a spy, but internal fighting among officials there adds confusion to the plot.

Stella Rimington, as a former Head of MI5 in England, certainly knows the British secret services well, and knows the ways in which MI5 collaborates with the American CIA, and the tensions which are often present in this collaboration. She uses this knowledge well in this book, but there are aspects of the plot that do seem too coincidental and, occasionally, frankly unbelievable. Would experienced secret service professionals really let an untrained woman like Manon become deeply involved in an investigation, especially when they find that she goes beyond her instructions? Would a man who has spent painstaking and ultra-careful years perfecting his British persona let a girl-friend hear him having a telephone conversation in Russian or risk her seeing Russian books among volumes he is moving to his new flat? There is also one place where information given earlier about the suspect's movements is contradicted later: a man who is tailing Robinson describes two men going into a church, Robinson being the second (p.87-8): later Robinson's driver describes Robinson going into the church first, and the second man heading 'into the church after Robinson' (p.146). This seems like careless detective work on the part of the author.

Some of the characterisation in The Devil's Bargain is thin and the conversations rather wooden, and the plot is competent but not inspiring. However, I did have to keep reading just to see how this unlikely story is resolved.

I wonder, too, whether Stella Rimington deliberately chose to give her Russian villain, Peter Robinson, the name of her well-known fellow writer of detective fiction.

The Collected Writing of Assia Wevill
Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and Peter K. Steinberg, editors
Louisiana State University Press
9780807171356, $45.00

Assia Wevill in known to many people because of her relationship with Ted Hughes and her more difficult relationship with Sylvia Plath. There is much gossip about her but, as the editors of this book say, 'she remains a relatively understudied figure, because of the dearth of primary material available related to her'.

In their excellent 'Introduction', the editors, Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and Peter K. Steinberg, offer a brief but useful discussion of the scholarly approaches that have been made to Assia's life and work in terms of 'culturally prescribed' markers such as 'sex, race, class, nationality, and religion'. Their stated aim, here, is to present: primary materials that will fuel scholarship on Assia and by extension, Plath, Hughes and Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000); establishing Assia's significance in literary studies; and making available materials that recuperate or restore Assia's life and writings as much as possible, while developing our understanding of Assia as a significant woman in literary history, literary biography, and cultural and women's studies who partnered Ted Hughes and achieved professional successes by her own pen.

First, however, they note that anyone familiar with the work of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and with the biography of Assia by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, might be expected to have developed 'filters and biases' about Assia. With this in mind, they advise that

We could ask ourselves what kind of expectations we have and how we bring them to bear on Assia, and, by extension, the texts that follow.

This could very well apply to me. I was a friend of Ted Hughes from 1992 until his death in 1998, and of Lucas Myers, Daniel Weissbort and Olwyn Hughes, all of whom knew and liked Assia. Olwyn, in particular, worked closely with Assia on the publication of her English translations of the Hebrew poetry of Yehuda Amichai. I have studied Ted's work for many years now and have read his published letters to and about Assia; and I have worked closely with his Capriccio poems, which are about her and his relationship with her. I have also read Sylvia's poems, letters and journals many times; and the Koren and Negev biography of Assia. So, I will take Goodspeed-Chadwick's and Steinberg's' editorial advice and try to remain aware of my 'filters and biases' as I review Assia's writings.

Since my own area of studies is English literature, I read this book with a view to determining Assia's contribution to that field. First, however, I must take issue with the editors' claim that Assia was 'perhaps the most notorious 'other woman' in literary and cultural studies'. I think Augusta Leigh (nee Byron), the half-sister of the poet George Lord Byron, has already taken that title. Byron's wife, Annabella, provoked widespread scandal when she instituted divorce proceedings, accusing him of adultery, homosexuality, and incest with Augusta.

The Collected Writings of Assia Wevill is divided into four parts which cover, respectively, Letters, Journals, Poems and Miscellaneous Texts.

Part 1 contains 96 letters. The first was written on Thursday, November 18, 1943, when Assia was a 16-year-old schoolgirl living with her family in Tel Aviv. It is written to Keith Gems, a close friend of John Steel who, in 1946, would become Assia's first husband.

The last letter was written 'Circa January 1969' when Assia was 42. It is addressed to her father, Lonya Gutmann, and was written in London some time before Assia committed suicide, taking her four-year-old daughter, Shura, with her. It begins 'If you ever receive this letter, you will know that I have not taken this decision lightly', and goes on to regret the pain she would give him and to thank him for his kindness to her throughout her life; it also mentions her awareness of the 'criminality perpetrated on my little Shura'. According to Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, who provided the text of this letter (now lost) in their thoroughly researched biography (A Lover of Unreason, Robson Books, 2006, pp.204-5), it was written two months before Assia's death and was left on her bedside table.

Assia's letters were written to family, friends, husbands and lovers. They are mostly ordinary, news-filled letters, often practical, sometimes humorous, ironic or passionate, but with no especial literary merit. The first few, to Keith Gems, read rather as if Assia was practising her English and there are a few errors which reveal that English was not her first language. Koren and Negev write that Assia had English classes for three hours a week when she started Hebrew school in Palestine at the age of 6, and she only began to use it regularly when she went to Tabeetha High School, where tuition was in English. However, Assia clearly had a facility for languages and the English in her letters quickly became fluent and, mostly, correct.

Part 2, contains 28 journal and notebook entries which date from April 1963 to March 1969. Like the letters, I needed to read them alongside the Koren and Negev biography in order to put them into the context of Assia's complicated life, and to know, when there seemed to be sudden changes of locality or thought processes, which country she was in and with whom. I also found it less confusing if I knew which of her three husbands she was married to, living with or divorced from at the time of writing.

The journal entries reveal Assia's thoughts, memories, illnesses, moods, loves, hates and, above all, her doubts and insecurities. On November 29, 1966, she writes 'He's right. I'm idle. And I'm crossed by equal hazy directions'. In another entry, dated November 31, 1966, she records 'wallowing in Sylvia's notebooks'; decries her own 'withering selfishness'; and writes

How the perfect, round, all-inclusive, transcendent words fall away from them like little suns. How clumsy, ugly, angled, halting my own are. My glaring fault in everything. I think everything, but most in writing, is to let the orphaned spangle drop into my lap and then opportunously [sic] let it blow out like a buble [sic]. Bust? Then bust.

The random notes, according to the editors' footnotes, record quotations from various books; and present fragments of poems which, again according to the footnotes, contain annotations and changes written by David Wevill, Assia's third husband.

A few journal entries show strong moments of descriptive flair and imaginative word-coupling, such as when, in Ireland, Assia wrote of 'sheep and dung-clung cows going about their business'. Describing a six-week stay in Ted Hughes's family home at Heptonstall, she wrote 'a cage with six macaws wearing each other out with noises enough to occupy a whole street. Squalls. Orders. My own preserving indolence'. The most imaginative and literary entry was written when Assia decided to 'burrow into experimental tunnelling [sic]' and began to record vivid, almost hallucinatory, glimpses of her early life in Berlin: 'who is there? rows of wax dolls in Edwardian laces, the candle light power of 39 years muzzling their baby cheeks into frog jowls'. This entry goes on to describe 'the cauldron monsters of Wilhelm KOCH', a German author who seems to have written frightening tales similar to those of the Brothers Grimm.

Part 3 contains 51 poems, only 5 of which are by Assia, the rest are her English translations, from the Hebrew, of the poems of Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. The first two of Assia's poems are competent but unremarkable; the third is a fine, biting satire entitled 'Why Mr. L is not a swine', although the identity of Mr. L. is not revealed and it seems unlikely to have been Assia's second husband Richard Lipsey, who was not 'a Cornishman', as is the subject of the poem. The fourth poem, 'Once there was a large, flat stone', was, as Assia inscribed it, 'FOR TEDDY A VALENTINE. It is skilfully constructed, and tells an imaginative story which is presented in verse form with no regular metre. Assia also illustrated it, as described in a footnote, but it is not included in the small selection of photographs provided, a few of which show Assia's art work.

It seems that Assia began translating Yehuda Amichai's poems in the summer of 1967 and sent four of them to some 'student magazines'. She went on to translate more, working with Olwyn Hughes to present them to well-established publishers. Goodspeed-Chadwick and Steinberg note that 'two editions appeared in book form: Selected Poems (London, Cape Golliard, 1968) and Poems (New York, Harper and Row, 1969). These are fine poems, not written by Assia, but their translation into English was largely her work. She had a good ear for poetry, and it is clear from her letters that she loved Amichai's work and discussed a few of her word choices with him. She also told him that Ted Hughes had 'suggested the revised version' of one of her translations and that he had 'seen all the translations and combed them a little'. Hughes, who liked literal translations, wrote in a letter to Amichai

She finished the small book of translations and they're really good, all of them. As soon as she'd gone over them for the last time, I felt I must write to you straight off to tell you how good they were - they're excellent, in fact. I think they are the best I've seen, of translations of your poems. (Letters of Ted Hughes, Reid (ed.,) Faber 2007, p.277).

Part 4 of this book contains 4 miscellaneous texts, including a group-letter to hospital authorities about the state of the lavatories in the Maternity Ward; Assia's unsigned will; and Assia's introductions to Ted Hughes' readings of Amichai's poems for a BBC 3 broadcast on December 12, 1968. Assia's introductions offer biographical information and a brief overview of the tone and content of each poem.

The fourth item is a fragment of poetry, not by Assia but copied from Euripides' Classical Greek tragedy Hippolytus and the Bacchae. Feminists and psychologists will enjoy speculating about why Assia chose to record this part of a speech by Phaedra. Literary readers may recall that Ted Hughes' play, Phaedra, was published in 1998. It has been discussed as a version of Racine's play of that name and as being influenced by the Ancient Greek writings of, Seneca. Hughes, however, in letters to Keith Sager, refers to Euripides' play (Sagar, Poet and Critic, British Library, 2012 pp.214, 278, 280) ; and his outline of Euripides' version of the story of Hippolyta and Phaedra in Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (Faber, 1992, pp. 67-74), confirms that he knew Euripides' play well . It seems likely that Assia came across the lines she recorded in one of Hughes' books.

Assia was clearly an intelligent, imaginative and eloquent writer with a critical eye and a good understanding of the rhythms, moods and effects of language. She was also a skillful and creative artist. In her own words, however, I was endowed with too many minor qualities but with neither the will nor huge intelligence to bring them to a life of their own.

From the point of view of the value of her writing to literature, apart from her translations, this book confirms this.

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and Peter K. Steinberg have done a fine job of collating and annotating all they could find of Assia's writings. Some of the work she mentions in her letters - the film script for a short TV play which she wrote and directed, a book she began, and more poetry - remains lost.

The footnotes in the book are meticulous and informative. One on page 90 is, I think, mistaken in suggesting that Assia is 'invoking a dog breed' when she refers to 'a sort of Burmese Landseer view of Pagan'. Assia had studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art and Interior Design in London and is very likely to have known that Sir Edwin Landseer was a well-known English artist and sculptor. He painted landscapes and dogs, and reproductions of his painting of a stag, titled 'Monarch of the Glen', were once widespread. He also created the lions at the foot of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.

Overall, Assia's writings offer a vivid picture of Assia's character and a broader view of her life. They will be of scholarly value to those for whom these things are important. Their value to literature, however, is slight.

Isabel Allende
9781526648341, A$34.99 HB, 336 pages

'I came into the world on a stormy day in 1920, the year of the scourge.'

Violeta del Valle is now 100 years old and she is writing her life story for her beloved grandson, Camilo, because, 'when you are old and less busy you might want to remember me'. In a covering letter, she tells him that her life is 'worthy of a novel, because of my sins more than my virtues', and it becomes clear that she has lived through extraordinary events, personal as well as historical.

The scourge into which she was born was the Spanish Flue pandemic, and she writes vividly of the horrible symptoms of the disease; the early way her country's people responded to it by praying to Father Juan Quiroga ('the only saint worth worshipping'); and how, when that failed, the government intervened with force, lockdowns and curfews. Her father, who had been reading about the pandemic in other parts of the world, isolated his family, bought a Webley revolver ('for his own protection'), and posted armed guards at the gates of the del Valle mansion. Camellia House, which her father and his ten siblings had inherited from their father, was, in fact, a neglected ruin which her father was buying from his brothers 'in small installments', which eventually went unpaid.

Violeta writes vividly of her childhood as an only daughter, spoiled by her father; of her ailing mother; her favourite, protective brother, Jose Antonio; and of her two unmarried aunts - P a, a gifted herbalist whose fiance had died and who regarded herself as a permanently widow, and Pilar, who had dreamed of climbing Mount Everest and cried when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary beat her to it.

As Violeta grew older, her father hired a young Irish governess, Miss Josephine Taylor, who successfully tamed her tantrums and willfulness, and introduced her to the Encyclopaedia dia Britannica, which enthralled her and became her main source of learning. Miss Taylor also became the source of Violeta's first knowledge of secret lesbianism, as she watched her growing attachment to the radical, cross-dressing, feminist, Teresa Rivas.

Violeta's father was a clever and adventurous businessman, good at choosing lucrative investments but bad at keeping track of his debts. When the depression came and the stock-market crashed, his debts caused the family's downfall. He shot himself with his Webley revolver, and it was the thirteen-year-old Violeta who was the first to find his body. Years later, she sought the help of a psychiatrist, but

I have never been able to muster the emotion that should correspond to seeing your father dead from a bullet wound. I don't feel horror or sadness, nothing. I can describe what I saw, the emptiness and calm I felt, but nothing more.

So, the bailiffs move in, and the family went into 'exile' on a distant country farm owned by Teresa Rivas's uncle:

'This is where civilization ends, Indian territory', the conductor told us, as we waited for Torito and Jose Antonio to unload our luggage at the Nahuel station.

Violeta's account of her country life is full of fascinating detail about the native people of this area. Teresa Rivas's mother and father, Lucinda and Abel, are retired teachers who now travel the area voluntarily teaching basic skills to children in remote locations, and Violeta begins to accompany them. As they travel around, Lucinda also collects information about native plants, barks and medicinal herbs. She is especially friendly with a tribal healer, Yamina who uses shamanic techniques, enchantments, and a drum which 'belongs to the people' (meaning her people alone). Yamina eventually uses her shamanic powers on members of Violeta's own family, and Violeta records the ceremonies and drumming which helped her dying mother pass peacefully to the next world.

Violeta's period of nomadic teaching partly ended when she was 14 and a native chief asked Abel for her hand in marriage 'for himself or one of his sons'. Lucinda helped translate Abel's careful response that Violeta had 'a very bad temperament' and was 'already one of his wives'. He also declined to exchange her for another woman, as the chief then suggested.

Violeta's life at Nahuel did not end until she was 20 and moved to Sacrament to join her brother in business. This move was prompted, in part, as a way of avoiding committing herself to marrying Fabian Schmidt-Engler (a young veterinary student from a well-to-do, local German immigrant family) who had fallen deeply in love with her. She does eventually marry Fabian, knowing he would be boring but reliable, and he is 'the ideal husband, never pestering or asking anything of me...a fine man' but, she admits, she loved him but was never in love with him and she was 'good at fooling people with [her] act of submissive wife'. Yet, she managed to keep working with her brother, discovered that she has excellent business acuity, and made enough money to fund Fabian's veterinary research project of artificial insemination in cattle, which bored her and w'terribly disrespectful to the cows'.

The marriage ends with the sudden appearance of Julian Bravo, an adventurer and a pilot;

One day he fell out of the sky and into my life, his fame preceding him...He was a storybook hero.

He and Violeta begin a passionate affair and Violeta precipitously leaves Fabian. Julian moves in and out of Violeta's life, always promising to marry her (although Fabian refuses to agree to an annulment) but he turns out to be an unreliable monster, working with criminals, doing clandestine work for the Mafia and the CIA, rejecti'a coddled boy', and destroying the life of their daughter, although he adores her. Of cou'legendary fights, followed by an indecent reconciliation'. When Violeta finally acknowledges Julian's true nature, she takes cunning and effective revenge.

This part of Violeta's life plays out against a background of military coups in Chile and Argentina, both of which cause bloody oppression and horror which she cannot avoid seeing and being affected by, especially when her son is blacklisted for his political activities and is in danger of being arreste'disappeared', as happened to his close friend, Vania.

After Julian, there are other relationships, some unexpected, brief and friendly and finally one which is calm and loving and long-lasting. Violeta's story however, is not just about her love life.

'Remembering is my curse', Violeta tells Camilo.

In an existence as long as mine, there have been some unexpected people and events and I've experienced the good fortune of not having had my mind fail me; unlike my poor battered body, my brain remains intact.

She remembers not only the dramatic events, loves and losses in her life but the ways in which society has changed, especially for women. When she left Fabian divorce was impossible, and even if an annulment could be contrived all she owned belonged to Fabian. Birth control and abortion, too, were banned, although Violeta describes how women got around these laws. Late in her life, she uses her money to set up a Foundation to help women fight patriarchy.

Allende is a superb story-teller and Violeta's account of her life is full of interest and of interesting people. She has a dry sense of humour and knows just what Camilo will want to hear, including her comments on sexual pleasures. Even in her final days, living through the second pandemic of her life and facing her own death, she can't help berating Camilo for the pranks, rebellion and misdemeanors of his early days, when she cared for him and he caused her so much worry and heartache. Finally, we hear more about Camilo and how he, too, was tamed.

Violeta, too, is a good story-teller. The personal traumas she experiences, her emotions, her determination and resilience, and the terrible times she suffered through are vividly described. The only disadvantage of her epistolary style is that dramatic events become memories and lose some of the drama immediacy would give them. All-in-all, Violeta records a full, remarkable life, and her dying blessing for Camilo tails of in an image of love and beauty.

Dr Ann Skea, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

The Podcast Handbook
Jacqueline N. Parke
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476681931, $29.95, PB, 234pp

Synopsis: "The Podcast Handbook: Create It, Market It, Make It Great" by Jacqueline N. Parke provides a comprehensive overview of the burgeoning podcast industry. It also covers the history of podcasting from its roots in radio; the variety of genres, topics and styles of today's podcasts (both individual and corporate); and the steps required to build your own podcast.

This instructive handbook covers all the elements needed to create a successful podcast including platform options, programming, advertising and sponsorships. Supplemental essays from professionals in various industries provide information and tips to enhance the podcasting experience. The structure of this instructional 'how to' guide is easily adapted into lesson plans, and the exercises included for readers make it especially well suited for classes on podcasting.

Critique: Comprehensive and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Podcast Handbook: Create It, Market It, Make It Great" is the ideal DIY manual for creating, maintaining, and publicizing a podcast on any subject and for any audience. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49), "The Podcast Handbook: Create It, Market It, Make It Great" is a timely addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Podcast/Webcast and Web Marketing/E-Commerce collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Jacqueline N. Parke is the founder and CEO of Sweet G. Communications (a marketing and podcast production company), and has over 25 years of marketing, business development and communications experience. She is also an adjunct instructor at Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, New York), where she created a course called Podcasting: Creation and Strategy.

Carl Logan

Chris Patsilelis' Bookshelf

Year of the Hawk: America's Descent into Vietnam, 1965
James A. Warren
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
9781982122942, $28.00, 305 pages HC
8781982122966 ebook

As I write this review on February 25,2022 the vicious dogs of war have again been unleashed - this time by Russia upon a peaceful Ukraine. The dogs were also let loose in 1964-65 as the United States - in it's long, avowed battle against the spread of communism - ramped up it's military forces in Vietnam.

The immediate escalation point came on the evenings of August 2nd and 4th, 1964 when two U.S. Navy destroyers came under attack by communist North Vietnamese gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam. Although doubts existed about the validity of these reported attacks (darkness, stormy weather), President Lyndon Johnson secured from the U.S. Congress the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (August 7, 1964), allowing him "to take all the necessary measures" to protect US forces in Southeast Asia and to stop further aggression from North Vietnam.

The ensuing conflict - never a formally declared war - would last eleven years, ending in 1975. It would cost over 58,000 American lives and the lives of countless friendly and enemy Vietnamese.

According to James A. Warren in his succinct history "Year of the Hawk: America's Descent into Vietnam", "Few Americans could have found Vietnam on a world map in early 1965", but the US now found itself saddled with the Herculean task of preventing a powerful, never-ending communist North Vietnam insurgency into democratic South Vietnam.

Author Warren, a foreign policy analyst and author of "God, War, and Providence" (2018), and "Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam" (2013), tells us in detail how President Johnson's fateful decision on December 1, 1964 suddenly committed sending American ground forces and conducting an air war against North Vietnam.

The December 28-31, 1964 Battle of Binh Gia, Warren recounts, was the first disasterous

contact between US Army Ranger Forces and the enemy native Vietcong. Landing in helicopters, the "Ranger Battalion was ... ripped to shreds ... within minutes after disembarking from the landing zone .... The VC shot down a helicopter, killing all four Americans aboard."

Aside from the military/combat part of this history, Warren delves deeply into the political milieu. Pre-1964, we meet President John F. Kennedy, who is exceedingly reluctant to have the US become militarily involved in Vietnam's problems. He would only send military advisors there in 1961-63. On November 22, 1963 he is assassinated.

We get to know president Lyndon Johnson who - surrounded by Eastern Establishment Ivy League intellectuals like John Foster Dulles, Dean Acheson, and George Kennan - was made to feel insecure and intimidated in his dealings in international affairs.

And, revealing - in the author's candid, critical opinion - "Deep down", Johnson "didn't think America belonged in the fight."

We are also given vivid portraits of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh; General Vo Nguyen Giap, mastermind of America's eventual defeat in Vietnam, and Army General William C. Westmoreland - in charge of the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - whose strategy of a "war of attrition" (killing as many as possible, of the enemy to achieve victory) dominated the early part of the Vietnam War.

Back to the battlefield: Warren describes the fierce action of Operation Starlight (August 18-19, 1965) in which Marine Captain Bruce Webb "was killed by a wounded VC soldier playing dead .... sixty VC were killed ... running ... then shredded by naval gunfire and air strikes."

The climax of an American campaign to conquer the North Vietnamese in the Central Highlands was called Operation Silver Bayonet. In this operation there occurred America's first major engagement of the Vietnam War: The Battle of Ia Drang (November 14-16, 1965). Warren informs us that it was the worst military debacle to befall the US Army since General George Armstrong Custer and his troops were massacred by Cheyenne and Lakota Indians at the Battle of Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876).

The Ia Drang battle involved native, friendly, non-communist Montagnards tribesmen. Army Special Forces Major Charles "Chargin' Charlie" Beckwith came upon their camp which had just been attacked by the North Vietnamese: Dead "Montagnard tribesman ... were still lying in the wire. I mean everywhere. Dead people .... There were about sixty other dead Montagnards soldiers ... stacked up like cordwood. The smell was terrible."

The 3-day Battle of Ia Drang resulted in 304 dead Americans, 524 wounded. About 2,000 of the enemy were killed. (Reminder: The Vietnam War would last another ten years.)

Delving deeply and revealingly into the military/political strategies of the Americans, the South Vietnamese, and the communist North Vietnamese and Vietcong, James A. Warren's "Year of the Hawk" tells the tragic, improbable story of how the United States, a nation "widely regarded as the most powerful and prosperous ... on earth", was shockingly defeated by a non-technological, mostly civilian enemy - one without even an air force. And Warren describes all this vividly, concisely, in less than 300 pages! A remarkable feat. This book is a must-read for any military history aficionado.

"The beginning of every war is like opening the door into a dark room. One never knows what is hidden in the darkness."

-Adolf Hitler, June 21, 1941, the night before his fateful attack on Russia.

Chris Patsilelis

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The Armageddon Secret
Robert Burnham
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781665711562, $39.99, HC, 344pp

Synopsis: 1938: In a Berlin lab three years before America's entry into World War II, Hitler's scientists were first on the planet to release the atom's energy. Suddenly, Germany was the only nation racing to find the secret to the ultimate weapon. If the Nazis' quest couldn't be checked, civilization would vanish.

German general Ludwig Beck's heroic Black Orchestra Underground fighters swore to topple Hitler before he extinguished humanity. That much is history. In the heart of the terror-slammed German capital, Alex Drake, an American expat journalist with an old and very personal hatred of the Nazis, is recruited by Black Orchestra.

Their network of spies has uncovered the existence of Hitler's atom bomb project, but no German atomic scientist can be trusted to help them disrupt it. They must have a channel to America to piece together the knowledge essential to block this menace as they battle the Gestapo, betrayal from within, and their own demons to stop the German atomic bomb.

Success or failure of their struggle to derail Hitler's ultimate weapon lies with the widow of a fallen Black Orchestra member. Her courage and intelligence will ultimately decide the fate of humanity. The keystone for creating the atomic bomb: The Armageddon Secret.

Critique: Although a finely crafted work of fiction, "The Armageddon Secret" by novelist Robert Burnham is inspired by historical facts with respect to the Nazi weapons research and development program for creating a nuclear weapon of mass destruction. A riveting read from start to finish, "The Armageddon Secret" is a highly recommended addition to community library fiction collections -- and is also available for personal reading lists in a paperback edition (9781665711555, $18.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

And There He Kept Her
Joshua Moehling
Poisoned Pen Press
c/o Sourcebooks Inc.
1935 Brookdale Road, #139, Naperville, IL 60563
9781728247892, $26.99, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: When two teenagers break into a house on a remote lake in search of prescription drugs, what starts as a simple burglary turns into a nightmare for all involved. Emmett Burr has secrets he's been keeping in his basement for more than two decades, and he'll do anything to keep his past from being revealed. As he gets the upper hand on his tormentors, the lines blur between victim, abuser, and protector.

Personal tragedy has sent former police officer Ben Packard back to the small Minnesota town of Sandy Lake in search of a fresh start. Now a sheriff's deputy, Packard is leading the investigation into the missing teens, motivated by a family connection. As clues dry up and time runs out to save them, Packard is forced to reveal his own secrets and dig deep to uncover the dark past of the place he now calls home.

Critique: A fictional novel of unrelentingly suspense and the true nature of evil, "And There He Kept Her" showcases author Joshua Moehling's impressive literary ability to craft a memorably complicated hero as part of a compelling plot with more twists and turns that a carnival roller coaster. While highly recommended for community library Crime Fiction collections and of special interest to an LGBTQ readership, "And There He Kept Her" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781666583700, $22.99, CD).

Ursula Lake
Charles Harper Webb
Red Hen Press
P.O. Box 40820 Pasadena, CA 91114
9781636280219, $17.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Former best friends Scott and Errol meet unexpectedly at Oso Lake, a remote Canadian fly-fishing paradise where, five years before, fresh out of college, they had the time of their lives. Their situations, though, have changed, their high hopes quashed by workaday realities and, in Errol's case, marriage to Claire, who has come with him trying to stave off divorce.

But Oso Lake has changed. The fall before, a woman's severed head was left in a campfire pit beside the lake. The shadow cast by her murder is darkened further by a fire-scarred white truck driver who claims to be a long-dead Native shaman and has plans to eradicate not only Scott, Errol, and Claire, but all of Western civilization.

The beauty of the wilderness becomes, every day, more threatening and perverse. But the worst danger these vacationers face may be themselves.

Critique: Some authors just seem to have a natural flair for language and the kind of narrative driven storytelling that uplifts their fiction into the kind of novel that lingers on the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. With the publication of "Ursula Lake, author Charles Harper Webb demonstrates that he himself is one of those impressive novelists. With a special blend of romance, friendship, and action/adventure, "Ursula Lake" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community, college, and university library Contemporary Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Charles Harper Webb is a professor of English at California State University, Long Beach. His latest of twelve collections of poetry is Sidebend World (University of Pittsburgh, 2018). Webb has published a collection of essays, A Million MFAs Are Not Enough (Red Hen, 2016), and edited Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology (University of Iowa, 2002), used as a text in many universities. His awards include a Whiting Writer's Award, a Tufts Discovery Award, and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation.

Sensei's Pious Lie, volume 1
Akane Torikai
451 Park Avenue South, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016
9781647291129 $24.95

Synopsis: Intended for adult readers (18+), Torikai's work is a frank and nuanced examination of the emotional and practical effects of sexual violence, rendering the messy realities in gorgeously refined linework and dialogue far more naturalistic than most manga. The author veers away from blunt indictment to paint one of the most complex and fascinating psychological portraits of both rapist and victim in any medium. Very much not just for manga fans, Sensei's Pious Lie will appeal to readers of graphic novels and literary fiction in general.

24-year-old Misuzu Hara is a shy, introverted high school teacher, content to play the passive role of observer... until her quiet life is shaken to its foundations by two men: one her friend's fiance, the other her own student.

In Sensei's Pious Lie, Akane Torikai weaves a complex web of sex, ambivalence, desire, and violence that combines to produce one of the most nuanced and affecting explorations of the intersection between power and gender available in any medium.

Critique: Sensei's Pious Lie, volume 1 is the first black-and-white manga (Japanese graphic novel) in a series exploring the horrifying fallout of sexual violence. Misuzu Hara is a twenty-four year old high school teacher who passively keeps to herself. Her unassuming life is utterly upended by two men; one is her friend's fiance, and the other is her own student. Dark themes of violence, blackmail, control, and cultural misogyny - to the extent that having compromising photographs distributed could potentially ruin a woman's life, but not the life of the one distributing the photographs - run through this intensely gripping story. It should be emphasized that Sensei's Pious Lie is for adult readers only, as it contains graphic depictions of sexual violence.

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

To Whom Was the Promised Land Promised?
Abraham A. Sion
Mazo Publishers
9781946124838, $24.99 hard cover
9781946124753, $24.99 soft cover

Professor Abraham A. Sion, the author of "To Whom Was the Promised Land Promised?" this interesting, significant, and eye-opening book, knows the subject of the Israeli and Arab claims to the land of Israel better than most people. He served as Deputy State's Attorney for Israel. He is Professor Emeritus at Ariel University in Israel where, for over a decade, he chaired the Center for Law and Mass Media. He has practiced Law for years in Civil and Administrative matters. He has done intensive research on the Arab-Israeli conflict and participated in conferences and think tanks, with lectures, radio shows, and articles for over thirty years.

His approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is unique. It is based on legal documents, not moral ideas of right and wrong or on politics or on the rights of conquest. His view focuses on the legal right to the territory of Mandatory Palestine under international law. This is a book that should be read by all people interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Professor Sion presents sound arguments based on the legal documents that he describes in easy to read detail. He does not discuss the history of the presence of Jews and Arabs in Israel in ancient and modern times. His analysis begins with the events of post-World War 1, when The Ottoman Empire which sided with Germany was defeated and its land taken by the victorious allied forces in 1917.

The Ottoman Empire ruled over a large area of the Middle East for about 400 years from about 1517 until 1917, including land they called Palestine. In 1917, as a result of World War 1, the conquered land of the Ottoman Empire was divided. Most of it given to Arabs who created new nations. The area called Palestine was assigned to Great Britain to administer under legally-binding conditions discussed below.

Palestine was the name given to Judea by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 CE. He also changed the name of Jerusalem and committed brutal acts in an attempt to assure that Judaism will disappear. These acts followed the second attempt by the Jews in Judea to break off the yoke of Roman rule. Their first attempt ended in 70 CE with the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple and the exile of many Jews from their homeland. The second revolt ended in 135 CE. Hadrian's advisors suggested that he call Judea with the name of a group who came and settled in what is today the Gaza Strip, the Philistines.

England issued legal documents since 1917 which determined the rights of Jews to Palestine. These documents became part of international law. Professor Sion describes and discusses them in this book. The documents clearly indicate that just as Arabs were given the rights to the lands assigned to them, so too Jews were given legal rights to Palestine. If the legally binding documents that he discusses are ignored regarding Israel, they must be ignored as well for virtually all the Arab nations.

Catholic Spectacle and Rome's Jews
Emily Michelson
Princeton University Press
9780691211336, $39.95, Hardcover, 352 pages

Centuries of Despicable Behavior against Jews

Dr. Emily Michelson, senior lecturer in history at the University of St. Andrews, describes the over two and a half centuries when the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, Italy, forced Rome's Jews to attend weekly hostile sermons. The Church's aim was to convert the Jews to the Catholic faith. In the easy to read fascinating, eye-opening, well-documented book "Catholic Spectacle and Rome's Jews," she tells how the Jews were forced to march to the sermon and sit through it while being policed by men with sticks who poked Jews from time to time when they felt a Jew was not sufficiently attentive.

These forced sermons delivered to Jews were performed during the three centuries as a demeaning spectacle with local Christians, foreign visitors, and potential converts watching. They were delivered by religious leaders many of whom firmly believed they were doing the right, moral, and religious thing. The hostile sermons were delivered on Saturdays, making a mockery of the biblical mandate to delight in the Sabbath and rejoice in it. The Jews were divided into three groups. One third was required to attend each week. Thus each Jew had to hear about 17 sermons each year. The sermons lasted an hour.

It "was a staged, ritualized performance that also carried complex social implications throughout the city. It fostered street violence and pamphlet wars, drew tourists and spectators, and [the caricatures of the Jews and their practices] blurred the boundaries between real and imaginary Jews."

Jews arrived in Rome long before Christianity began in the second century BCE. From then through most of the Middle Ages, there was "an extended tolerance, stability, and civil relations between Jews and others in Rome." But by the mid sixteenth century, there was an enormous transformation probably because of the influx of Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily in 1492, Portugal, Navarre, and Provence in 1498, and Naples and Calabria in 1510. In was then that there was the first concerted effort to convert Roman Jews en masse. Rome's Jewish population was roughly three thousand, about 3 percent of its population before the influx, and by 1733 it was 4,059, but their imaginary presence in the mind of the Catholic leadership loomed much larger.

Along with other brutal activities designed to force or persuade Jews to convert to the Catholic religion, the first act was Rome's restrictive ghetto ordered by the Pope which was established in 1555 that was walled and locked. Others included Pope Urban VIII order that Jewish graves should be left unmarked.

A prominent thesis of the sermons was that rabbinic Judaism was a perversion of biblical Judaism. The lecturers claimed that the rabbis made changes in Judaism to conceal the fact that the Hebrew Bible and early Midrashic literature confirmed the truth of Christianity. They also used ideas in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, as proof that Christianity is correct. And they stressed that the messiah that Judaism hoped would soon arrive, had already come.

The demeaning forced sermons were abolished in 1847.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications
Aaron Angello
Rose Metal Press
9781941628256, $14.95, PB, 132pp

Synopsis: "The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications" by Aaron Angeloo includes: The story of a child keeps a pet cloud in a dresser drawer. A man who has coffee with his doppelganger. A 20-something stunt double performs pirate swordplay at birthday parties. A schoolkid who ponders the absurdity of Hell. A woman singing a Diana Ross song to a stranger across a subway platform.

In this genre-defying collection of short prose pieces, Aaron Angello explores the subtleties of recollection, imagination, and the connections, both momentary and long-lasting, between oneself and others. Each piece riffs on a word from Shakespeare's Sonnet 29.

Over the course of 114 days, Angello woke early, meditated upon a single word from the sonnet, and wrote. The results are sometimes funny, sometimes profound, and sometimes heartbreaking, accumulating into a map of a mind at work, a Gen X coming-of-age of sorts, seamlessly invoking the likes of The Golden Girls, Spinoza, Rick Springfield, and Rimbaud.

"The Fact of Memory" employs an innovative structure to pause and consider how language (and people) can both enthrall and abandon us, how the invincibility of youthful ambition gives way to the nuanced disappointments of aging, how unanswerable philosophical questions can share the page with glimpses of our former selves navigating a fragmented past.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, deftly crafted, entertaining and intriguing, "The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications" is a collection of small and truly memorable literary masterpieces to be enjoyed at leisure. Of special interest to those who enjoy literary essays, "The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as college and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Aaron Angello is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, Maryland. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theater at Hood College. He maintains a personal and professional website at

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Gun Honey
Charles Ardai, author
Ang Hor Kheng, illustrator
Titan Comics
9781782763468, $17.99, PB, 112pp

Synopsis: Joanna Tan is a woman who can get you the weapon you need, when you need it, where you need it -- no matter how impossible.

But when a gun smuggled into a high-security prison leads to the death of dozens and the escape of a brutal criminal, Joanna is suddenly forced by the U.S. government to do a job for them: find the man she set loose and bring him down.

Critique: Impressively illustrated by artist/illustrator Ang Hor Kheng, "Gun Honey" by author Charles Ardai is a compulsive page turner of an action/adventure graphic novel with a completely unexpected finale. A ripping great read from cover to cover, "Gun Honey" is enthusiastically recommended -- but for mature readers only.

Editorial Note #1: Charles Ardai's writing has appeared in mystery magazines such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, gaming magazines such as Computer Gaming World and Electronic Games, and anthologies such as Best Mysteries of the Year and The Year's Best Horror Stories. Ardai has also edited numerous short story collections such as The Return of the Black Widowers, Great Tales of Madness and the Macabre, and Futurecrime.

Editorial Note #2: Based in Ipoh, Malaysia, Ang Hor Kheng is an illustrator who works primarily with traditional media rather than digitally. His inspirations include Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Peter Konig, Jim Lee, and John Buscema.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

The Duke's Pursuit
Golden Angel
Cleis Press
101 Hudson Street, Suite 3705, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302
9781627783170, $18.95, PB, 218pp

Synopsis: When Philippa first debuted in Society, her black hair and sapphire eyes earned her the nickname "Lady Twilight", as well as the attention of Everett Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington. But when Everett's parents objected to the match, the spurned Philippa married the Earl of Essex instead.

After unexpectedly becoming a widow, Philippa found she missed the pleasures of her marriage bed. She is re-entering Society with a new aim in mind: to take a lover, or several. But among the many men vying for her attention, she did not expect to find Everett.

The Marquess of Hartington had given up hope of being with Philippa, but when circumstances and a bet places her back in his social circle, Everett realizes that he might have a second chance. Defying his parents and Philippa's expectations, Everett braves her wrath in order to prove himself worthy of her trust again. Now he just has to prove it to her.

Critique: A deftly crafted and original novel for mature readers, "The Duke's Pursuit" by Golden Angel is a simply riveting read from cover to cover. Eloquent, elegant, and also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99), "The Duke's Pursuit" is an impressive literary work set in an era of Victorian eroticism is memorable exceptional and highly recommended.

They Don't Want Her There
Carolyn Chalmers
University of Iowa Press
119 West Park Road, Iowa City, IA 52242-1000
9781609388195, $23.00, PB, 250pp

Synopsis: Before the nation learned about workplace sexual harassment from Anita Hill, and decades before the #MeToo movement, Chinese American professor Jean Jew M.D. brought a lawsuit against the University of Iowa, alleging a sexually hostile work environment within the university's College of Medicine.

As Professor Jew gained accolades and advanced through the ranks at Iowa, she was met with increasingly vicious attacks on her character by her white male colleagues -- implying that her sexuality had opened doors for her. After years of being subjected to demoralizing sexual, racial, and ethnic discrimination, finding herself without any higher-up departmental support, and noting her professional progression beginning to suffer by the hands of hate, she decided to fight back.

Carolyn Chalmers was her lawyer.

With the publication of "They Don't Want Her There: Fighting Sexual and Racial Harassment in the American University", Carolyn Chalmers tells the inside story of the pioneering litigation that unfolded during an eight year university investigation, a watershed federal trial, and a state court jury trial. In the face of a university determined to defeat them and maintain the status quo, Jew and Chalmers forged an exceptional relationship between a lawyer and a client, each at the top of their game and part of the first generation of women in their fields.

"They Don't Want Her There: is a brilliant, original work of legal history that is deeply personal for the author and her client -- and shows today's professional women just how recently some of our rights have been won and at what cost.

Critique: It is interesting to note that Carolyn Chalmers's career as an employment litigator, law firm partner, and mediator spans four decades and includes scores of cases of sex discrimination in American universities. That clearly informs her presentation of her landmark legal case as presented in the pages of "They Don't Want Her There: Fighting Sexual and Racial Harassment in the American University". With an informative Foreward by professor and physician Jean Jew, this remarkable, candid, and detailed account is an inherently fascinating and memorable read. While "They Don't Want Her There: Fighting Sexual and Racial Harassment in the American University" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Constitutional Law and Discrimination collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that it is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.80).

Before: A Novel
J. Kilburn
James K. Mossman III Publisher
9780578379180, $19.99, PB, 522pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Before: A Novel", author J. Kilburn brings readers a light-hearted and whimsical coming of age story that follows the adventures and misadventures of Just Regular Kids as they grow up in a pastoral and peaceful New England college town.

But all may not be as it seems! Events in a far-away criminal underworld lurk in the background as these teenagers take their first steps into adulthood. Readers will discover that two Sweet Sixteens have a lot more in common with hardened criminals than you (or they) might realize and surprises are in store for everyone!

Critique: "Before: A Novel" both celebrates and indicts the sweet and sordid to be found in small-town, everyday life. A deftly crafted blending of Crime Fiction and Coming-of-Age, "Before: A Novel" is a unique, inherently entertaining, and impressively memorable literary experience. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Before: A Novel" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.49).

What Artists Wear
Charlie Porter
W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9781324020400, $30.00, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: From Yves Klein's spotless tailoring to the kaleidoscopic costumes of Yayoi Kusama and Cindy Sherman, from Andy Warhol's denim to Martine Syms's joy in dressing, the clothes worn by artists are tools of expression, storytelling, resistance, and creativity.

With the publication of "What Artists Wear", fashion critic and art curator Charlie Porter guides us through the wardrobes of modern artists: in the studio, in performance, at work or at play. For Porter, clothing is a way in: the wild paint-splatters on Jean-Michel Basquiat's designer clothing, Joseph Beuys's shamanistic felt hat, or the functional workwear that defined Agnes Martin's life of spiritual labor. As Porter roams widely from Georgia O'Keeffe's tailoring to David Hockney's bold color blocking to Sondra Perry's intentional casual wear, he weaves his own perceptive analyses with original interviews and contributions from artists and their families and friends.

Part love letter, part guide to chic, and illustrated with 316 full color images and illustrations, "What Artists Wear" offers a new way of understanding art, combined with a dynamic approach to the clothes we all wear. The result is a radical, gleeful inspiration to see each outfit as a canvas on which to convey an identity or challenge the status quo.

Critique: An absolutely unique, inherently fascinating, and insightfully informative approach to the subject of art and artists, "What Artists Wear" will prove to be an immediately welcome and enduringly popular addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Art & Artists collections. Of particular interest to students, academia, artists and non-specialist general readers with respect to the interplay of fashion and art, it should be noted that "What Artists Wear" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.16).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in London, Charlie Porter is a writer, fashion critic, and art curator. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian, and GQ, among other publications.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses
Sarah Fay
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
195 Broadway, New York, NY, 10007
9780063068681, $27.99, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: For more than thirty years, a series of doctors diagnosed Sarah Fay with six different mental illnesses including: anorexia, major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder.

"Pathological" is her gripping story of what it was like to live with those diagnoses, and the crippling impact each one had on her life. It is also a rigorous investigation into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) -- psychiatry's so-called "bible", the manual from which all mental illness diagnoses come. Yet as Fay found out, some of our most prominent psychiatrists have been trying to warn us that the DSM is a fiction sold to the public as a fact.

In the pages of "Pathological", Fay calls for a new conversation about mental health diagnosis, one based on rigorous transparency. With exquisite detail and a precise presentation of fact, she digs up her own life at the root to finally ask, Is a diagnosis a lifeline or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Critique: All the more impressive when considering that "Pathological" is author Sarah Fay's debut both as the author of a memoir and as a work of investigative journalism revealing and exploring the ways we pathologize human experiences. An extraordinary, compelling, informative, insightful, and iconoclastic read from cover to cover, "Pathological" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Psychology/Psychiatry collections and a supplemental curriculum studies syllabus. It should be noted for students, academia, mental health professionals, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Pathological" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798200855032, $48.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Sarah Fay is an author and activist. Her writing appears in many publications, including Longreads, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time Magazine, The New Republic, McSweeney's, The Believer, and The Paris Review, where she served as an advisory editor. She's the recipient of the Hopwood Award for Literature, as well as grants and fellowships from Yaddo, the Mellon Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. She is also the founder of Pathological: The Movement (, a public awareness campaign devoted to making people aware of the unreliability and invalidity of DSM diagnoses and the dangers of identifying with an unproven mental illness. She also has her own website at

The Empress and the English Doctor
Lucy Ward
One World Publications
9780861542451, $30.00, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: Before modern medical advances eliminated it and within living memory, smallpox was a globally dreaded disease. Over human history it has killed untold millions. Back in the eighteenth century, as epidemics swept Europe, the first rumors emerged of an effective treatment: a mysterious method called inoculation.

But a key problem remained: convincing people to accept the preventative remedy, the forerunner of vaccination. Arguments raged over risks and benefits, and public resistance ran high. As smallpox ravaged her empire and threatened her court, Catherine the Great took the momentous decision to summon the Quaker physician Thomas Dimsdale to St Petersburg to carry out a secret mission that would transform both their lives -- and ultimately the whole human race.

With the publication of "The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great defied a deadly virus", author Lucy Ward expertly unveils the extraordinary story of Enlightenment ideals, female leadership and the fight to promote science over superstition.

Critique: Bringing out of an undeserved obscurity, "The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great defied a deadly virus" is (in this current era of a Covid pandemic) an inherently fascinating bit of medical history. An exceptionally well researched, written, organized and presented historical study that is a recommended addition to community, college, and university library Medical History collections and a supplemental curriculum studies syllabus, it should be noted for personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great defied a deadly virus" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781038606495, $29.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note: Lucy Ward is a writer and former journalist for the Guardian and Independent. As a Westminster Lobby correspondent, she campaigned for greater women's representation. From 2010 - 12, she lived with her family in Moscow, renewing her interest in Russian history. After growing up in Manchester, she studied Early and Middle English at Balliol College, Oxford.

How to Be A Woman Online
Nina Jankowicz
Bloomsbury Academic
c/o Bloomsbury Press
9781350267572, $14.95, PB, 128pp

Synopsis: When Nina Jankowicz's first book on online disinformation, "How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict" was profiled in The New Yorker, she expected attention but not an avalanche of online abuse and harassment which came predominantly from men.

All women in politics, journalism and academia now face untold levels of harassment and abuse in online spaces. Together with the world's leading extremism researchers, Jankowicz wrote one of the definitive reports on this troubling phenomenon.

With the publication of "How to Be A Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back ", Nina draws upon her rigorous research into the treatment of Kamala Harris (the first woman vice-president) and other political and public figures. Nina also uses her own experiences to provide a step-by-step plan for dealing with harassment, abuse, doxing and disinformation in online spaces.

Critique: Timely, informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "How to Be A Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back must be considered basic and essential reading for female researchers, journalists and all other women having a profile in the online and social media space. Exceptionally well written, organized, and presented, "How to Be A Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back" is and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Women's Issues & Media/Internet Political Issues collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, journalists, media professionals, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "How to Be A Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Nina Jankowicz is a Washington DC-based writer and analyst with a focus on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. She is currently a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Kennan Institute. Previously, she served as a Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow, a role in which she provided strategic communications guidance to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. Her writing has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Foreign Policy and others.

Nina received her MA in Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies from Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, where she was a Title VIII and FLAS scholarship recipient, and her BA in Russian and Political Science from Bryn Mawr College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She has lived and worked in Russia and Ukraine, and speaks fluent Russian and proficient Polish and Ukrainian. Nina was a 2017 Foreign Policy Interrupted Fellow.

In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy
Erika Zimmermann Damer
University of Wisconsin Press
728 State Street, Suite 443, Madison, WI 53706-1418
9780299318703, $99.95, HC, 320pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy", Erika Zimmermann Damer (who is an Associate Professor of Classics and of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond) deeply engages postmodern and new materialist feminist thought in close readings of three significant poets (Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid) writing in the early years of Rome's Augustan Principate.

In their poems, these three represent the flesh-and-blood body in both its integrity and vulnerability, as an index of social position along intersecting axes of sex, gender, status, and class. Professor Damer underscores the fluid, dynamic, and contingent nature of identities in Roman elegy, in response to a period of rapid legal, political, and social change.

Recognizing this power of material flesh to shape elegiac poetry, Professor Damer asserts, grants figures at the margins of this poetic discourse (mistresses, rivals, enslaved characters, overlooked members of households) their own identities, even when they do not speak. She also demonstrates how the three poets create a prominent aesthetic of corporeal abjection and imperfection, associating the body as much with blood, wounds, and corporeal disintegration as with elegance, refinement, and sensuality.

Critique: Elegantly eloquently, informatively thought-provoking, impressively organized and presented, "In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy" is an exceptional work of meticulous and dedicated scholarship and would be a welcome addition to college and university library Feminist Theories and Ancient/Classical Literary Criticism collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "In the Flesh: Embodied Identities in Roman Elegy" is also available in a paperback edition (9780299318741, $25.95).

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Blind Insights
Richard Krause
Fomite Press
9781953236647, $15.00

An act of creation does not require a how-to manual. Richard Krause's Blind Insights offers not techniques or tips, but a dare to BE a human with something to write. The aphorisms threaten. They hiss, bite, and snarl. They provoke a reaction: agree or disagree. They throw the reader back on herself. The stronger his response, the more it contradicts, or hints at something deeper going on. The book points beyond emotions to insight and revelation as the sources of inspiration in the messy fight of craft.

The short book toggles between epigrams and longer vignettes in a gratifying balance of dense, bite-sized nuggets of (un)wisdom and bigger (longer) gems of crystalline prose. They serve as examples to follow, or riff off of. Sections of the book feature famous authors in many epigrams. Instead of lifting these authors up as timeless models, they reduce them to men (and women) just like any other writer who must contend with her own limitations. In this way, the book is egalitarian and person-centered; equal opportunity to be as original as the next guy.
The book is a character study of someone any aspiring author wants to be, but has to break down and destroy in order to become. "Do we live in a world of our own making? Not as long we have a mind that is not" (66). Let this book illuminate your muse, that you'll run or dance or spar with her.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Travels with Myself and Another: Five Journeys from Hell
Martha Gellhorn
Gardners Books
9780907871774, $15.90 paperback

Martha Gellhorn wanted to be remembered as a novelist. Yet, most people remember her as one of the great war correspondents and for something that infuriated her, her brief marriage to Ernest Hemingway during the Second World War. Although Hemmingway was the unnamed "other" in her second chapter, "Mr. Ma's Tigers," when Martha was in China reporting on the Sino-Japanese war. She refused to be a footnote in someone else's life, nor should she be. Since her death, several biographies and a significant PBS segment about her have been produced.

I became aware of her writing while researching the iconic travel writer Moritz Thomsen since Gellhorn wrote an obituary about him in which she revealed her love of "Living Poor." She was "electrified by the absolute honesty of the man and then found "saddest pleasure," which was Thomsen's take on the most horrendous travel experiences that "opened my eyes."

I found no evidence that the two authors influenced one another, although they were both fascinated with the power of what Gellhorn referred to as her "horror journeys" because "The only aspect of our travels that is a guarantee to hold an audience is disaster...." She says, "The fact is, we cherish our disasters, and here we are one up on the great travelers who have every impressive qualification for the job but lack jokes...."

She reveals the inspiration for this book in the first paragraph of her text:

I was seized by the idea of this book while sitting on a rotten little beach at the western tip of Crete, flanked by a waterlogged shoe and a rusted potty. Around me, the litter of our species. I had the depressing feeling that I spent my life doing this sort of thing and might well end my day here. This is the traveler's deep dark night of the soul and can happen anywhere at any hour.

Gellhorn was in her 50s when she made her "horror journeys" but didn't write the book until twenty years later. Most of her travels occur in Africa. In the early 1960s, she made some money after selling a short story for TV and decided to travel for fun, although she doesn't mention that she left her adopted son behind.

Her travels took her to the Caribbean in 1942 after she learned that two hundred and fifty-one merchant ships were sunk in the Caribbean alone. The author loved journalism and the chance to see and learn something new.

This journey tells of her experiences "Messing About In Boats," where she was "...Soaked to the skin, frozen, nauseated, I swore that I would never travel by sea again after I reached Antigua. Sea was for swimming, wonderful for swimming. Otherwise, I loathed it." She also revealed an essential component of horror journeys, "...once you are on them, you cannot change your mind and get off them."

Most of her African horror stories are from West Africa, where I spent three years in Sierra Leone and could identify with some of her challenges and nuances. She starts in Cameroon and Chad, which don't impress her. Once she arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, she refuses to join an organized safari and insists on renting a Land Rover and exploring independently. Although typical of the early 1960s, the British safari guide refused to rent her a car unless she had a chosen companion to "protect" her.

One of the most significant challenges of Gellhorn's travels in Africa is caused by the sense of smell, and she states that she never realized that the "...nose could be the greatest barrier to human brotherhood." She goes on to say:

I'm nauseated by the smell of the blacks, unique in my experience - a sweetish stink of mixed urine and sweat - and very ashamed of myself. Cannot overcome this by act of will. No feeling about colour at all; on the contrary, the people who look right here are the blacks, the people that look out of place and queer are the whites. I think I cannot become friends with anyone whose mind I cannot reach...and am driven off by the horror of smelling them. This is going to be a nice problem.

As she travels deeper into Africa on her safari, she says it feels "oppressive." She also describes the incessant sound of drums in the background, which reminded me of nights spent upcountry in Sierra Leone, "The drumbeat is monotonous and untiring and merges finally with the steady grinding of the insects. The trumpets sound like reedy flutes and make music like that of Indian snake charmers, but the tune is always the same. In the dining room, the gramophone plays a record of a French crooner."

She concludes, "I feel that man is a brief event on this continent; no place has ever felt older to me, less touched or affected by the human race. But the blacks and the wild animals belong here...No one else does; and I doubt if civilization, our kind, ever will."

The author didn't like Uganda, which was preparing for independence.

"...The predicted bad trouble; without Europeans to oversee and direct, the economy would go to hell; kiss the coffee and cotton exports goodbye; the idea that Ugandans could govern themselves was madness. She says, "Africa is too big, everything in Africa is too big. People were never meant to live here. It should have been left to the animals. They came first. It's their place."

Some of the author's wit and humor emerge when describing Joshua's traveling companion, who the British safari leader chose. After touring with him for weeks she reveals what she'd learned about him,

"...I knew that Joshua was a hundred percent city boy, with very weak nerves. I still didn't know if he could drive. He knew that when I was tired I was as lovable as a rattlesnake, and I had been increasingly tired every day. Not what you'd call a true meeting of minds. The hell with it. It was over and the next time I chose to circumnavigate the globe, I would be more careful in selecting my companion. For a start, I would ask him to drive round the block."

A month after her return home to London, Joshua wrote her on fine paper saying that he would never forget our safari, he had never been so happy in his life, and I was his mother and father.
Her "love affair" with Africa was long, obsessed, and unrequited, lasting thirteen years. "Africa remained out of reach except for moments of union, when walking on the long empty beach at sunrise or sunset, when watching the night sky. Or later when I had built my two-room tenth permanent residence high in the Rift Valley and could look at four horizons, drunk on space and drunk on silence. Or always, driving alone on the backroads, when Africa offered me as a gift its surprises, the beautiful straying animals, the shape of the mountains, wildflowers..."

As a travel writer, I found her "Non-Conclusion" especially interesting:

Amateur travel always used to be a pastime for the privileged; now, it is a pastime for everyone. Perhaps the greatest social change since the Second World War is the way citizens of the free nations travel as never before in history. We have become a vast floating population and an industry; we are essential to many national economies, not that we are therefore treated with loving gratitude, more as if we were gold-bearing locusts... Americans overload their own National Parks and resorts, fly by millions to Europe, and inundate Mexico. Are we having the time of our lives?

I received my copy of this book from the editor of ELAND Press in appreciation of my article, "My Saddest Pleasures," about Moritz Thomsen. When the founder of ELAND books, John Hatt, was asked about the possible connection between Gellhorn and Thomsen, he said he didn't know of one, but he remembers going "gaga" over Martha. ELAND first published this book in 1982 and reprinted it again in 2007, thus confirming their mantra, "Keeping the Best of Travel Writing Alive." And I must agree with the ELAND publicists who remarked that Gellhorn is a "...woman who makes you laugh with her at life while thanking God that you are not with her."

Martha Gellhorn (1908-98) published five novels, fourteen novellas, and two collections of short stories. This was her best travel novel. As a war correspondent, she covered most major conflicts over sixty years, from the Spanish Civil War to the American invasion of Panama in 1989. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

Her letter to Tom Miller in April 1995 explained that she couldn't review the book he'd sent since her eyesight was destroyed in 1992 by "a famous Harkey Street twerp during a routine cataract operation." This would culminate in her apparent suicide in 1998 when at 89, suffering from ovarian cancer, which had spread to her liver, and almost totally blind, she apparently committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule.

Mark D. Walker MA, CFRE, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could
Adam Schiff
Random House
9780593231524, $30.00 US / $40.00 CAN, 512pgs

Politics in Washington have seemingly gone from being viewed as a necessary evil to a sordid world of backroom deals, tragic bargains, and a spotlight for those who have lost their morals. Many of the most recognizable figures in Washington are known for their terrible and nonprofessional behavior and their seemingly singular devotion to keeping their jobs. One of the few figures in the weird world of national politics who is a breath of fresh air and who seems to counterbalance the huge amount of negativity is Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Schiff led the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump and chronicles those tense days and weeks in his new memoir, Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could (New York: Random House, 2021, v, 512pgs, $30, $40 CAN).

Schiff writes of his childhood in a middle class Jewish home, of a keen interest in the law, and of his experience as an Assistant US Attorney in Los Angeles, California. He discusses early attempts at running for political office and becoming a Congressman from California in the 1990s. The main focus of Midnight in Washington is the work Schiff and his colleagues undertook to guide the impeachment of Donald Trump. Trump was only the third president in the history of our country to be impeached and the only president to be impeached twice. Schiff and his colleagues knew that securing a conviction would be extremely difficult due to the makeup of the Senate and the definite emphasis placed by Senate leadership on securing an acquittal.

Midnight in Washington is the definitive volume on life in Washington during the last two years. Adam Schiff has written an engrossing narrative that reads like a David Balducci novel or the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. It is a great combination of memoir, education in the law, and how to maintain one's focus and sanity in an environment that seems to change instantly. It is not a work that one can read in an afternoon, but rather is meant to be studied, thought about, and discussed by Americans who believe that there is good in government and that using politics for positive purposes can still be salvaged. Midnight in Washington should be on the shelf of all Americans who desire an enhance knowledge of how they can continue to be civic-minded and contributing citizens of the greatest country on Earth.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Party of One
Elizabeth Haidle
Fantagraphics Books
7563 Lake City Way, NE, Seattle, WA 98115
9781683965398, $24.99, PB, 126pp

Synopsis: For the past five plus years, Portland-based artist Elizabeth Haidle has attended figure drawing sessions and honed her illustration skills. With the publication of "Party of One" she gathers together a medley of her most dazzling watercolor creations from this period.

Delightful to look at, these lushly painted drawings also uncover the nuances of expression and gesture and evoke the personalities behind the poses. In addition to the gorgeous art, this collection offers insights into the creative process. Each tableaux of painted figures is accompanied by fresh, philosophical, funny, thought provoking, and brief commentary from the artist herself.

Critique: A fascinating compilation of figure art drawings captioned by the artist herself, "Party of One" will be of particular interest to aspiring artists seek to draw or paint the human form, male and/or female. While highly recommended for personal, professional, art school, community, college, and university library Contemporary Graphic Art collections, it should be noted for art students, practicing artists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Party of One" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle/Comixology, $17.99).

Editorial Note: Elizabeth Haidle specializes in nonfiction comics. She is the art & editorial director at Illustoria magazine. Her illustrations have appeared in graphic novels, picture books, and magazines such as The Nib and The New Yorker. Recent projects include an illustrated Tarot for All Ages deck, published by Lawrence King, and luxury pajama sets with Rock Soup. She teaches online and in-person workshops involving experimental comics, figure painting, and personal art practices. She has a website at and can be found on Instagram @ehaidle

Michael J. Carson

Miriam Calleja's Bookshelf

City Scattered: Cabaret for Four Voices
Tyler Mills
Tupelo Press
9781946482686, $15.95, PB, 44pp

Berlin 1930s. A shiny disco ball wouldn't be the first scene my mind would go to. Yet, Tyler Mills tackles this mammoth of a tiny book like the proverbial pink elephant: she invites us to understand all that is unsaid. "... we sing into impossible places, listening for the voice that comes back from the void," she writes in her acknowledgements. And that, indeed, is what Mills allows us, as readers and writers, to do.

City Scattered is written in four voices: I / Self / Woman in Berlin, Chorus, The Study, Interlocutor. Already we are immersed in the familiar/unfamiliar of the post-war era, we are observers of the inner workings of a well-oiled machine that will speed along no matter what. We know what's coming in the order of history, but our protagonists don't. Their hopelessness, their desperation, is mixed in with the glittering of their desires.

The treasury prints more paper. My purse thickens.
My pulse at my temple flickers

The working woman appears to us as though in black and white, hiding her silk slip beneath a wool skirt, smelling faintly of last night's gin. She needs to get to work, manoeuvring her way through a torn-up city. Work is her bain and her balm, a shocking new place for a woman to be.

We turn the pages to switch radio channels, with a little white noise in between. We collect fragments and as we move along we realise that this is one channel, one concern, one voice, one us, and one them.

The disco ball makes its appearance like the sun, clouds dispersing, revealing something different. The clouds return. In slow motion we watch lovers come together through strobe lighting. Love, after all, is always a protagonist of sorts. Mills lets us peep in. The clock ticks and we punch back out.

In The Study: Tiny Catastrophes of Everyday Existence, the voice nudges us to look at the slot/jackpot combo of where in society you happen to be born. The poem also offers a reflection between the depression era, the scrounging of marks, the scarcity of choice, and today's consumerist society.

At times the curtain draws a little more and Mills lets us pick up more clues. Feminist cries emerge, a reminder of how far we've come along, and how far we've come along; how we are still putting up with the things that some men do. The I / Self / Woman will not be put down, or put off, she will keep earning her living.

I like to think that later, the Interlocutor points out the details we miss from our echo chamber and from our somewhat privileged standpoint. We are, after all, reading a poetry book in a location that is probably, somewhat, of our choosing, are we not?

The study ignored coal staining the sheets
like ink as they hang out the window

Mills uses sound to bring us up from this coffin of desperation, again and again

water shoving through the wreck
of a ship: the pewter cups and spoons

I hear a wash of sea, a metal tingling of cutlery. A bird swoops us up and lets us watch from the top. Yes, the sunset does flash green for a moment, in the right conditions, if you watch closely. Between punch cards, we still get to witness beautiful fantastic sunsets.

And that's where I begin to fully understand the disco ball's significance. Of course...

the city scatter its sequins
like starlight over the floors

The poet plays with the self, the other; our protagonist affords small pleasures, desires what she deserves, avoids unnecessary pain, and warms herself with what she can. She is one and all of us. She dances with herself, dances in the cabaret, dances with death and the variations of her solitude.

This meaningless paper (money), how it haunts us, how it drives and ruins us. We are faced with it continuously, creating it anew and giving it value. An arbitrary object that runs the world.

Do I bow down to those above?
Am I a cyclist? Am I in a labyrinth?

In City Scatter, a moment of calm precludes the conclusion in Chorus Played on a Victrola: Treetop Calm. Trees in a forest protect their young through a pedagogy that prevents precocious growth. They do this by only letting a small percentage of sunlight through to reach the forest floor, giving the fledglings just enough food to grow sufficiently, but not too fast. The treetops of mature trees, therefore, form a canopy that acts as a disciplinary tool.

Humans have not learned from trees to protect their weakest. The clown faces wear distorted macabre faces, the sad party is over. It makes way for what's worse. A trippy juxtaposition in I / Self / Woman in Berlin 1930s A spotlight blackens the brick wall describes just this.

Mills composes poems that subtly indicate the spaces in between. But just as a disco ball can barely be subdued so too is the message. History repeats itself while we are watching. We carry on.

Miriam Calleja

Paul Lappen's Bookshelf

Turn Your Fandom Into Cash: A Geeky Guide to Turn Your Passion Into a Business (or at least a Side Hustle)
Carol Pinchefsky
Career Press
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser
9781632651976, $17.95, 204 pages

You are a total geek. You have seen all of the Marvel movies (several times each). You world revolves around cosplay at conventions. Is it possible to make money from geekdom?

First of all, make some mockups of your proposed protect, and pass it around to friends and fellow geeks. Is there a market for it? Intellectual Property (IP) is very important. If you are selling Avengers t-shirts, Marvel will get very upset with you (legally). You need to learn how to market yourself, and your business, whether online or in-person. How will you get funding to start your business? Options include Kickstarter, Patreon or your parents.

The best place to market your product is at conventions. How much will you have to spend (transportation, food, lodging)? You need to at least break even at a con, or just don't go back next year.

There is a lot involved with making money from geekdom. This book does a very good job at exploring all of them. It is very much recommended, not just for geeks, but for everyone looking for a way to make some money.

Paul Lappen

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Brahms: Complete Songs Vol. 7
Johannes Brahms, composer
Benjamin Appl, performer
Graham Johnson, performer
B078XH1PBT, $19.90

Benjamin Appl Sings Brahms

This CD is the seventh in a series of ten devoted to the complete songs of Brahms. Each CD features the scholar-pianist Graham Johnson in a collaboration with a leading contemporary singer. The booklet accompanying each CD includes the text and translation of each song together with Johnson's extensive discussion of each song. The series, which has been completed, offers an outstanding way to explore Brahms' songs in depth. The format follows similar projects by Johnson in recording the complete songs of Schubert, Schumann, Faure, and Strauss.

Baritone Benjamin Appl joins Johnson on this CD, which was recorded in December, 2016 and released in 2018. Appl (b. 1982) was the last private student of the famed Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and has become increasingly well-known for his performances of lieder and of Bach. This CD was my first experience with Appl. I found his voice rich and expressive in Brahms with excellent collaboration with Johnson.

The main attraction of this series is the opportunity to listen to Brahms' output as a song composer and to respond to his music. Brahms' songs are not as well-known as those of Schubert and Schumann. As Johnson says several times in his notes, Brahms learned a great deal from these and other composers but also tended to go his own way.

Of the 28 songs on this CD, eight are from Brahms' collection of 49 German Folksongs, WoO33. Brahms took what he thought were traditional folk melodies and added a detailed piano part. The melodies were in fact not authentic folk songs but had been composed by others, Regardless, the beauty and simplicity of these songs makes them endearing.

The remaining twenty songs on this CD are arranged loosely chronologically and are parts of published collections with opus numters. Most of the songs will probably be unfamiliar to listeners who do not have a passion for art song. As do the German Folk Songs, many of the songs on this CD show Brahms' strong interest in setting folk poetry and in writing folk song-like settings. Other songs are largely romantic and sad, with detailed and varied piano writing. Brahms seemed to be more intimate and self-revealing, particularly about his unhappy relationships with women, in his songs as compared to his more famous larger scale works. His songs show lyricism. The CD includes a small number of fast-paced. lighter songs such as "Blind Man's Bluff", op 58 no 1.. These are relatively uncommon in Brahms' total song output.

The song that I most wanted to hear on this CD was "A Good, Good Night", opus 59 no 6, with text attributed to George Daumer. This song is in the voice of a frustrated young man who is turned away from intimacy with a young woman who cooly bids him good night. This song was set for piano by the American composer Lowell Liebermann in his "Four Etudes on Songs by Brahms" op 88 (2004). I have been learning the Liebermann etude on the piano, and drew insight and meaning from the Appl's and Johnson's performance of the original.

Other songs I enjoyed included "Nightingale" op. 91 No. 1, two different Serenades, op. 58 no 8 and op 70 no.3, and four rarely performed songs to texts by Maximillian Von Shenkendorf, Op. 63. These songs deserve to be heard and particularly in "To a Portrait" and "To the Pigeons" show the strong influence of Schubert on Brahms.

The folksongs on the CD include Brahms' setting of "The song of Milord Falkenstein", op 43 no 4 which tells the story of a strong-willed woman defending her man and a late song about the consequences of infidelity, titled "Betrayal", op.105 no 5.

I find it better to listen to only a few songs at a time rather that to play the CD through. Johnson's notes are invaluable, but they should be read separately from the listening.

I have listened to Brahms' songs for some time, but I am enjoying and appreciating them more in listening gradually to this set of the complete songs by Graham Johnson. I returned to this CD a few years after I had heard and reviewed the first six volumes. I also enjoyed getting to hear Benjamin Appl's lovely performances on this recording.

Total Time: 77:42

Brahms: Complete Songs Vol 8
Johannes Brahms, composer
Harriet Burns, performer
Graham Johnson, performer
B07SDWD9KY, $13.99

Harriet Burns Sings Brahms

In Harriet Burns' singing, Graham Johnson's pianism and liner notes, and especially in Brahms' music, this CD is a treasure. Soprano Harriet Burns has an expressive voice for the intimacy of art song. This CD of Brahms, recorded in October 2018, was her debut. It is volume eight in a series of ten presenting the complete songs for voice and piano of Brahms, following-up earlier complete sets of the songs of Schubert, Schumann, Faure, and Strauss. Each of the ten Brahms CDs features a different singer, which gives the listener the opportunity to hear some of the best singers of art song of our day. Harriet Burns is fully part of this esteemed company of lieder singers. The scholar-pianist Graham Johnson collaborates beautifully with Burns and also wrote the book length liner notes. The notes include texts and translations together with detailed discussion of each song. The notes enhance appreciation of the songs and of Brahms.

This CD is part of a set, but it is also rewards hearing on its own. It offers its own journey through the art songs of Brahms arranged in a rough chronological order and loosely grouped to form a theme. In this volume, many of the songs feature a woman's loneliness in the search for love. Many of the songs also have a source in folk music, as Brahms understood it. Early in his liner notes, Johnson suggests as a theme of this recording of Brahms, "loneliness and abandonment" with some songs also featuring "a short redemptive postlude."

In his larger works, Brahms often hid his feelings. His songs are not as well-known as his symphonies, concertos, or chamber music but they are intimate. Brahms' feelings about love, women, sexuality and loneliness come through in his songs as in no other part of his output. Again, Johnson writes in his liner notes: "[i]t may well be that the twenty-year old Brahms was already embarking on the pathway whereby his lieder would become a kind of diary: it was often the content of the poems, rather than the distinction of their authors, that governed his choice of texts. Like most ordinary people he was capable of being touched by poems because they seemed to give voice to his own emotional quandries."

This collection features 19 Brahms songs with opus numbers. It begins with two songs from opus 6, followed be the complete six songs of opus seven, which generally establish the theme for the CD. The eleven remaining songs range from opus 14 through opus 97. The songs are mostly short, restrained, and sad in the voice of frustrated love. I found listening to the music a good companion for solitude. Among the many songs I loved were the "Spanish Song" from opus 6, to a text by Paul Heyse, "True Love" from opus 7, setting a poem by Eduard Schultz, "Agnes", from opus 59, which sets a poem by Eduard Morike set by many other composers, "Spring Song, from opus 85 to a poem by Emanuel von Geibel, and "Separation" from opus 96, to a traditional text.

The CD also includes seven songs from Brahms' collection "German Folksongs" published late in his life without an opus number. These are endearing songs in which Brahms embellished themes that he took, frequently mistakenly, to have their sources in folk tunes. The songs are still lovely. The tenor Robin Tritschler participates in four of the seven songs. For me the highlight of this group of folk song settings was Burns singing the final work, "In silent night, at first watch."

This CD, either alone or with is companions, is a wonderful way to explore and to respond to the songs of Brahms.

Total Time: 63:03

The Great 'What If's of the American Civil War
Chris Mackowski and Brian Jordan, editors
Savas Beatie
9781611215731, $29.95 hardback

Examining Pivotal Moments Of The American Civil War

The "alternative" or counterfactual attempts at histories which often find their way into novels usually leave me skeptical.. Although this new book from Emerging Civil War "The Great 'What Ifs" of the American Civil War: Historians Tackle the Conflict's Most Intriguing Possibilities" (2022) at first invoked my doubts, I was won over in my reading.. Far from presenting alternative or counterfactual history, the volume examines some of the key pivotal moments of the Civil War and analyzes their importance. Although cast in terms of "what if's" most of the book is squarely within the responsible practice of history. Chris Mackowski and Brian Matthew Jordan, both excellent Civil War historians, edited this volume. Peter Tsouras, an author of several novels of alternative history, wrote the Foreword to the volume. I found it most useful to plunge into the essays themselves in order to understand what this book was about.

The book consists of twelve essays of "what if's", each by a Civil War historian, involving twelve important moments of the Civil War, together with an additional "what if" at the conclusion. Each essay considers certain events and asks what might have happened if the event had been different. An example is the death of Stonewall Jackson following the Battle of Chancellorsville. Many people argue that if Jackson had been present at Gettysburg, the South might have won the battle. Of course, this is counterfactual and we don't know. Kristopher White's essay in this volume attempts to dissolve some of the mystique surronding this question by a close examination of the facts of Chancellorsville, of Jackson and his health, and of Gettysburg. In other words, White's essay counsels against drawing rash conclusions.

Essays in this volume that take an approach similar to White's include Timothy Smith's essay on the Battle of Shiloh, Kevin Pawlak's study of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign, Dan Welch's study of Gettysburg, Chris Mackowski's treatment of Lee at the North Anna River, and Kristen Trout's study of Sterling Price's 1864 expedition in Missouri. Each of these essays encourages the reader to look closely at the complexity of determining what happened before speculating on what might have happened.

Other essays raise broader issues but fall well short of alternative histories. Actions and histories are contingent. A good example is Cecily Zander's essay on the relationship between Braxton Bragg and Jefferson Davis. Zander, entirely reasonably, holds Bragg at least partially responsible for the Confederacy's poor showing in the Western theater of the War. She develops her position well without speculating on what might have happened if the South had found more capable leadership. Similarly Dwight Hughes' essay on the possibility of British intervention in the conflict shows how this possibility had been approached by the principals at the time and about the importance of Britain's non-intervention to the North and, for the opposite reason, to the South. Frank Jastrzembski's essay discusses three individuals who might have become commanders of the Army of the Potomac but who did not and comments on their possible leadership styles. Barton Myers examines Robert E Lee's decision against guerilla warfare at the surrender at Appomattox. And two essays, by Jonathan Noyalas and Bryan Matthew Jordan examine aspects of Lincoln's presidency, including the undoubted significance in the course of events to his assassination. These essays stay close to factual record and avoid speculation or counterfactual history. I enjoyed and learned from them.

As the editors point out following the essays, "nothing in the past had to turn out the way it did". This is a crucial lesson to learn about history.. The book concludes with brief but good bibliographies prepared by the authors of each individual essay for readers wishing the explore the particular subject matter in greater detail. Excellent maps and images with procative commentaries enhance the themes of the book.

This book is the product of Emerging Civil War, a non-profit corporation presenting "the collaborative effort of more than thirty historians committed to sharing the story of the Civil War in an accessible way." The book admirably fulfills that goal.

The Ordering of Time: Meditations on the History of Philosophy
George Lucas
Edinburgh University Press
9781474478557, $75.98 hardback

Philosophy As A Collaborative Exercise

George Lucas's "The Ordering of Time: Meditations on the History of Philosophy" (2020) consists of a series of essays written over a thirty year period which offer reflections on the nature of philosophy and on how the practice of philosophy uses its history. The goal of the book is to show that philosophy is inadequately served by focusing on the writings of a handful of seminal thinkers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. Rather philosophy is a social, collaborative endeavor which relies on the work of many people, including those who have been forgotten.

In recent years, attention has been given to the philosophies of women, people of color, and people from non-Western cultures. Lucas recognizes the importance of considering these groups, but his focus is somewhat different as he tries to discuss the collaborative nature of philosophy within the Western tradition itself. He emphasizes the many strands of philosophy, including the many people within contemporary philosophy whose work tends to be marginalized. Lucas is Distinguished Chair in Ethics and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the US Naval Academy. Among his many other positions, he has served as the president of a small academic philosophical organization, the Metaphysical Society of America and his been honored with the Paul Weiss Founder's Medal periodically awarded by the Society. The Society has been something of an outlier in academic philosophy in its devotion to traditional philosophical questions about the nature of reality. Lucas's book expressly pays tribute to many presidents and members of the Society, among other thinkers. I was fortunate to participate in the recent annual conference of the MSA organized around the theme of "Metaphysical Traditions in Dialogue" and to meet Lucas.

The book consists of an Introduction followed by nine loosely-connected essays. The title derives from a fragment of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander which because of its importance to the book deserves quotation.

"Out of the Boundless [aperion] the World arises from whatever is the genesis of the things that are:

into this [Boundless] they must pass away according to Necessity.

for they must pay the penalty and make atonement to one another for their injustice according to the Ordering of Time."

Lucas devotes a chapter to this fragment from Anaximander which echoes throughout the book. He argues that it is important to get inside a philosopher's thought to think "with" rather than about it. He finds it valuable to search for the nature of "unmediated experience" with the Pre-Socratics, a search for a "given" which has been challenged by much contemporary thought. Finally, he emphasizes the ethical aspects of Anaximander's statement, as it suggests that various ways of philosophical understanding are unjustly put aside and marginalized with the passage of time.

These insights are expanded in subsequent chapters as Lucas explores forgotten figures in the history of philosophy, such as Friedrich Beneke, as well as figures, such as Lotze, who were once deemed important but are now forgotten. In a chapter titled "A New Methodology for Philosophy" Lucas discusses the work of Paul Weiss, the founder of the MSA, whose writings have been largely marginalized. Lucas expands in his book on the nature of philosophy and on how it uses its history. He considers several alternative approaches before describing an approach he calls "Reflective Historical Engagement" which, in Lucas's account owes a great deal to the thought of Alfred North Whitehead. According to Lucas, "Whitehead saw philosophy itself as irreducibly historical, as a kind of vast, ongoing conversation in which one must immerse oneself and to which one's own philosophic stance is constructed as a response." This method of engaging with the history of philosophy, for Lucas, is more important than the particulars of the thought of any individual, including Whitehead.

Lucas offers other important insights in discussing philosophy and its history. He finds that various historical positions in philosophy are not so much refuted as they are simply set aside when subsequent thinkers no longer share their questions or find them worthwhile. Sometimes it is valuable to step back to recover the nature of philosophical questions. Lucas also offers analogies to philosophical thinking with legal thinking as legal principles are applied through cases to new situations. He sees an even stronger parallel with rabbinic thinking in Judaism. The words of the text of the Torah are deemed sacred and then discussed and applied through the ages by considering the text, the views of predecessors, and contemporary questions. So too, for Lucas, philosophy should use its past. He disclaims approaches that are solely interpretive. Just as the rabbis grounded their thoughts in the Torah, so philosophers must return to Being and to an understanding of reality rather than simply indulge in hermeneutics.

In the latter chapters of the book, Lucas explores the philosophy of history and the nature of the past. He also develops his themes through detailed consideration of the early and late philosophies of both Ludwig Wittgenstein and Whitehead drawing both important parallels and differences in their practices of philosophy. Lucas has been heavily influenced by the work of both thinkers and finds that they came to share in common a skepticism about science and logical exactitude as exhausting the nature of philosophical thought. The thought of both thinkers came to have some commonalities with that of their early colleague, G.E. Moore. Lucas writes:

"The rejection of the primacy of logic, the desire to return to pre-Kantian modes of thought, the distrust of certainty, the endorsement of common sense and the wisdom of common language and common life, the reconception of metaphysics as hypothetical, heuristic, and grounded in experience, and a belief in the ineffability of semantics and the indefinability of the Good, however, together link these three Cambridge philosophers in an ironic challenge to the world-view of their contemporaries and place them thoroughly on the side of the ancients against the moderns, as critics of the false promise of Enlightenment."

Lucas's short book ranges broadly and suggestively over the work of many thinkers in developing its view of the communal nature of philosophy and its view of how philosophy uses and remains in discussion with its history. I learned from Lucas's counsel to think with rather than about particular thinkers in practicing philosophy and from his comparison of philosophical thought with the method of rabbinical commentary.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Truth and Other Lies
Maggie Smith
TEN16 Press
9781645382621, $18.99

Truth and Other Lies is an impressive debut. Author Maggie Smith juggles two genres (coming-of-age and mystery), three nuanced female characters, and multiple difficult topics.

The youngest of the three women, Megan Barnes, returns to Chicago after losing her job and her boyfriend in one day. She becomes a stereotypical boomerang child by moving back in with her mother. On arriving home, she learns that her mother, who leans as far to the political right as Megan does to the left, is running for Congress on a staunch anti-abortion platform.

Because of her mother's political aspirations, Megan finds it hard to find a new job in journalism due to the potential for conflicts of interest. Taking advantage of a chance encounter, Megan ends up on the staff of Jocelyn Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Megan hopes this will lead to the job in investigative reporting she desires. However, things aren't as easy as she hopes .

Smith works in hot topics such as abortion and provides a sensitive look at both sides of that issue. There are also the underlying generational and political divides, sexual harassment, morality and ethics, all handled equally sensitively.

Rewrite the Stars
Christina Consolino
Black Rose Writing
9781684336500, $18.95

Rewrite the Stars is about a failing marriage - one that is complicated by the husband's post-Afghanistan PTSD. Sadie and Theo are watching their true love and dream marriage dissolve, and they must decide whether to give up or dig in and retrench.

Sadie, a working mother, spends her time taking care of everyone else, including Theo. They have filed for divorce but still share a house, though at this point, they are more friends than husband and wife or lovers. She experiences a "love at first sight" phenomenon at the grocery store and begins to see that she might have a different future. She hesitates to grasp that happiness, knowing moving on will cause Theo pain - not to mention the effects on their three children.

This novel is filled with coincidences. Andrew (the grocery store guy) just happens to meet Theo though they don't realize that they are interested in the same woman. Andrew's mother just happens to live in the same town where Theo and Sadie spend their vacations. Andrew just happens to live a few doors down from on of Sadie's best friends, and no one realizes the neighbor and the grocery store guy are the same man. Nonetheless, this is a heart-warming story about how relationships change, how love evolves, and how we all owe it to ourselves to explore various paths to happiness. It also takes a sensitive look at PTSD and how it affects people and those around them. Theo, a war veteran with PTSD, has returned to his family a very different man. This is an all too familiar story for so many war veterans, and the novel provides a lovely example of how, though the trauma experienced cannot be undone, sometimes souls can be mended and relationships rewritten into something meaningful to all.

Portrait of a Thief
Grace D. Li
Tiny Reparations Books
9780593184738, $26.00

Portrait of a Thief is told from the points of view of five Chinese-American college students. Will Chen, an art history student at Harvard, is approached by a Chinese super-corporation to steal five sculptures (fountain heads) that were looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing and repatriate them to China. Will recruits his sister and three friends to accomplish the deeds, but none of these kids' skillsets really prepare them for the job.

People wanting a pure "heist" story will be disappointed. This book is more about the relationships of the students and how they deal with their families' pasts and their own biculturalism. Some feel more connected with China than with America, and vice versa. They all feel the weight of being the first generation to become American, and they carry all the hopes of their families. I saw in this book echoes of The Tiger Mom's Tale by Lyn Liao Butler, in which Lexa Thomas, a mixed-race Taiwanese American woman, tries to reclaim her cultural identity.

As a former artist who retains a love of art and art history, I appreciate the descriptions of the art and the museums the students were to rob, especially Will's connections to both making and looking at art. I also feel strongly about the repatriation of art "stolen" as these fountain heads were as Europeans raped the cultural identity of China and other nations.

Optic Nerve
Maria Gainza
9781948226165, $25.00

I started out not liking Optic Nerve, an "autofiction" book, feeling it read as the rather self-indulgent memoir of a neurotic woman. However, I soon changed my mind. The author, Maria Gainza, is an Argentine art critic, and her insights into her self and the paintings that mean the most to her is extraordinary. She weaves her life and art history into a mesmerizing account. Her thoughts on her life and art wander in an intimate, nearly a stream-of-consciousness manner, tying her life in Buenos Aires with works of art from El Greco through Mark Rothko, stopping along the way with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Theodore Gericault, Gustave Courbet, and Henri Rousseau. Having been married to an art historian for 35 years, I particularly appreciated this line: Carelessly administered, the history of art can be as lethal as strychnine. In this case, however, the novel was edifying both in terms of art history and the narrator's psyche. Optic Nerve shows the mental and emotional connections between a viewer of the art and the artwork itself.

The narrator of Optic Nerve is an Argentinian woman whose obsession is art. The story of her life is the story of the paintings, and painters, who matter to her. Her intimate, digressive voice guides us through a gallery of moments that have touched her. In addition, the title references the nerve that connects the eyes with the brain, without which perception of images would be impossible.

Dark Circles
Caite Dolan-Leach
Ballantine Books
9780593356043, $28.00

Dark Circles has a rather unique structure. Told by Olivia (Liv) Reed, a former starlet who's developed some personality disorders stemming from her childhood and her mother's mysterious disappearance, the story is split between her POV and that of the scripts of her podcast called Vultures, which include ads for new wave cosmetics, etc. The book does a superb job of showing Liv's character: she is snarky, rude, egocentric, self-destructive, and somewhat humorous. She does have a nice character arc, though.

When her manager sends Liv to the Finger Lakes region of New York state for a "retreat" (AKA, rehab without being rehab), Liv finds a friend, Ava, who tells her how four young women have committed suicide, all somehow related to the retreat the House of Light and to astronomical events (equinoxes and solstices). Liv breaks out of her retreat and starts the podcast in an attempt to solve what she feels are mysterious deaths.

I enjoyed the structure of the book, the wise-cracking voice of Liv, and the setting in what should be placid upstate New York. I've spent a fair amount of time in the part of the state and know how peaceful it can be. Dark Circles makes those tall pines sinister and foreboding.

Acts of the Women
Patrick Andersen
Adelaide Books LLC
9781956635126, $19.60

Acts of the Women is grounded in one of the most known and most sacred stories in history, the death of Jesus Christ. Author Patrick Anderson significantly twists this story by telling it from the points of view of the women involved, many of whom are well known, others less so. The book succeeds at presenting a fresh look at a two-millennium old story and provides some nice glimpses into ancient times such as the Library at Alexandria. There's also a switch from the biblical timbre to a somewhat humorous tone. People who adhere strongly to a literal version of the Bible may be offended, but as an atheist, I found it refreshing.

The women presented are intelligent, well-educated, and capable of running the show single-handedly as they and their families spread the word of the Christos through western Europe and the far East. Each woman talks about "the look," a stare they learn from their mothers, designed to quell the behavior of any man and coerce the behavior the women desired, their way of subverting their male-dominated world. I found them not so strong as devious. As a feminist, I find these women's attitudes toward men offensive; I would have preferred that women and men work together equally without relying on subterfuge.

Some of the vocabulary seemed modern and anachronistic. With buckboard which dates from the 1830s, I was immediately taken out of the story with visions of the American West, and germ in the sense of disease did not appear until the late 18th century.

Suanne Schafer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

What If It's Wonderful?
Nicole Zasowski
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9780785226482, $18.99, PB, 240pp

Synopsis: Author and marriage and family therapist Nicole Zasowski knows what it's like to take a blow that makes it difficult to look to the future with expectation and ask herself these questions. Yet, as she found the courage to celebrate, she discovered God is as present in our joy as He is in our pain.

Yes, God's purpose for us is worked out in our struggles. But what if it is also worked out in our dreams and our delighted joy? With the publication of "What If It's Wonderful?: Release Your Fears, Choose Joy, and Find the Courage to Celebrate", Nicole helps the reader to: Overcome the fears that keep you from looking toward the future with joy; Let go of the lies you've believed about happiness and embrace celebration as a part of spiritual growth; Approach life with an expectant heart and courage to trust God's good gifts.

With a psychological and spiritual case for celebrating, Nicole challenges her readers to let go of the habit of practicing disappointment and fully embrace joy, beckoning them to ask themselves a new question: What if it's wonderful?

Critique: Reflecting Christian life values throughout, "What If It's Wonderful?: Release Your Fears, Choose Joy, and Find the Courage to Celebrate" is a life enhancing, life inspiring, and life appreciating read from cover to cover. Of special value as a resource for clergy engaging in Christian Pastoral Counseling, and unreservedly recommended reading for all members of the Christian community (and the secular community as well!), it should be noted for personal Self-Help/Self-Improvement reading lists that "From Lost to Found: Giving Up What You Think You Want for What Will Set You Free" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (9781713669418, $18.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note: Nicole Zasowski is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the author of "From Lost to Found: Giving Up What You Think You Want for What Will Set You Free". She maintains a website at:, and can be followed on Instagram: @nicolezasowski

Hidden: Life with California's Roma Families
Cristina Salvador Klentz
Brown Paper Press
9781941932186, $49.99, HC, 144pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Hidden: Life with California's Roma Families", photojournalist Cristina Salvador Klenz takes us behind the scenes of an ethnic minority largely unknown and yet routinely reduced to stereotypes by mainstream America.

Since their exodus from India more than a thousand years ago, the Roma (widely known by the exonym "Gypsies," which is increasingly considered an offensive pejorative) have migrated all over the globe, having survived centuries of discrimination and persecution along their travels.

Klenz's work (the first of its kind) features various nations of Roma in America, including the Kalderash and Machvaya, whose ancestors were kept as slaves in Eastern Europe for 500 years; the Xoraxay, whose people arrived in California after extended stays in Chile; the Mihais, who immigrated to the United States from Colombia; and the Ludar, who were forbidden from speaking their native tongue while enslaved and therefore had lost the Romani language entirely by the time they encountered Klenz.

Beginning in 1990, Klenz spent several years with Roma families in California; documenting their lives on black-and-white, 35mm film; and developing the film in her home bathroom-turned-dark room. With a foreword by Ian Hancock, widely considered the world's preeminent Romani scholar, "Hidden: Life with California's Roma Families" provides historical as well as social context for the volume's 120 photographs, all lavishly printed in Italy and published by Brown Paper Press.

Given their widely divergent paths to the United States, many Romani-American nations today have little social contact with each other, but the groups have been brought together in this rare, intimate collection of photographs so that readers may gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the history, celebrations, and struggles that bind Romanies together.

Critique: A unique, coffee-table style (12 x 1 x 10 inches) compendium of inherently fascinating visual images, "Hidden: Life with California's Roma Families" is a unique and extraordinary work of quality photojournalism. Impressive, thought-provoking, memorable, "Hidden: Life with California's Roma Families" is very highly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Photography & Photojournalism collections.

Editorial Note: Photojournalist Cristina Salvador Klenz has worked for newspapers in New York and California. She was part of a team of photographers named as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Born in Porto, Portugal, Klenz immigrated to the United States as a young child. Her documentary photography work on the Roma culture has been published worldwide. Her images are part of the collection of The Romani Archives & Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Bronwyn Adcock
Aurora Large Print
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print, Inc.
9781787829374, $TBA, Large Print, PB, 294pp

Synopsis: Ignited by a lightning strike in a remote forest, the Currowan fire was one of the most terrifying episodes of Australia's Black Summer. It burnt for seventy-four days, consuming nearly 5,000 square kilometres of land, destroying well over 500 homes, and leaving many people shattered.

In the aftermath, there were questions. Why were resources so few that many faced the flames alone? Why was there back-burning on a day of extreme fire danger? Why weren't they better prepared?

Bronwyn Adcock fled the inferno with her children. Her husband, firefighting at the front, rang with a plea for help before his phone went dead, leaving her to fear whether he would make it out alive. Now, with the publication of this large print paperback edition form Aurora Large Print and distributed to an American readership by Ulverscroft, Bronwyn tells her story (and those of many others) including what they saw, thought, and felt as they battled that blaze of never-before-seen intensity.

Critique: One of the major 2019-2020 fire outbreaks in Australia, "Currowan: A Story of Fire and a Community During Australia's Worst Summer" by Bronwyn Adcock reveals the human experience during those perilous and at times desperate situation from a on-site, eye-witness, and deeply personal perspective. Reading with all the flair of a literary novel, this true life account is an inherently interesting and highly recommended addition to personal reading lists and community library Natural Disaster & Disaster Relief collections in general, and Australia's fire fighting histories in particular.

Editorial Note: Bronwyn Adcock is an award winning Australian journalist and writer with 25 years experience. She has worked as a radio current affairs reporter and radio documentary maker for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), as a video journalist for the international affairs program Dateline on SBS Television Australia, and as a freelance writer for the Griffith Review, The Saturday Paper and The Monthly.

My Love Affair: Thorns and Roses
Natalia Lazarus
Central Park South Publishing
9781736313497, $28.95, HC, 204pp

Synopsis: Actress/Director Natalia Lazarus, in her critically acclaimed, starring performance in the dramatic, two-character play A Picasso, fell madly in love with a dashing banker in the early days of the play's run in Paris. With the publication of "My Love Affair: Thorns & Roses", Natalia tells (in verse) the intimate story of her passionate, erotic romance that became an unforgettable moment in time.

Critique: Articulate, elegant, eloquent, engaging, "My Love Affair: Thorns & Roses" is a very special kind of memoir-told-in-verse. It is an entertaining, inherently fascinating read -- and one that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Simply stated, "My Love Affair: Thorns & Roses" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections.

Editorial Note: An accomplished, multi-talented actress, writer, director, and stage producer, Natalia Lazarus is well known and respected in Hollywood as the passionate Founder and Producer of the distinguished Los Angeles Performing Arts Conservatory and its iconic Promenade Playhouse, which celebrated its 25th anniversary year in 2021. Natalia has devoted much of her life to participating in the seven lively arts. She has acted, directed, and produced more than 35 stage productions, starred in playwright Jeffery Hatcher's dramatic, two character play, 'A Picasso, in Paris', penned the 'One Woman Show Birthday Girl', which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the stage play 'Remains of a Nation', in which she also starred and directed the film version, and the screenplay 'A Year in Picasso.'

Not a Cat: A Memoir
Winter Miller, author
Danica Novgorodoff, illustrator
Tilbury House, Publishers
12 Starr Street, Thomaston, ME 04861
9780884488798, $18.95, HC, 32pp

Synopsis: Between his opening greeting and the bookend closing page on which he stalks away after taking no questions, Gato wants to make one thing perfectly clear: Although he has four legs, two ears, and a long, long tail, the word "cat" does not define him. His identity is his alone to describe and determine.

With the help of Danica Novgorodoff's laugh-out-loud illustrations, author/storyteller Winter Miller takes young readers on a fun tour of Gato's adventures, accomplishments, and daily activities that makes mincemeat of any first impressions. Gato wears a sweater and a leash, so is he a dog? He runs in pastures, so is he a horse? He likes flowers, so is he a bee? He swims, so is he a duck? He has flown in airplanes and ridden in subways, so is he a person? Maybe he's all those things, but what he truly is, he wants us to know, is Gato.

Critique: Based upon the author's own feline companion, and to underline this message of empowerment and self-identity, the back cover and backmatter include photos of the real Gato (Winter Miller's cat) doing everything he claims and more. Signs on walls, headlines in newspapers, New Yorker cartoon homages, and sight gags on every page reward repeated readings and will make "Not a Cat: A Memoir" an truly fun picture book with a serious underlying message about self-determination. All the more impressive when considering that this is the author's first children's picture book, and while also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.21), "Not a Cat: A Memoir" is an original and unreservedly recommended addition to family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library picture book collections for children ages 3-5.

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Vietnam Geopolitical Affairs
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781665708210, $44.95, HC, 520pp

Synopsis: In 1965, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Tung-Phong reached out to the Vietnamese leaders in the North and South. He wanted to inform his contemporaries about the short-term needs of Vietnam as a whole and opine on long-term goals. The result was the book he published in October 1965: Chinh- Vit-Nam or Vietnam Geopolitical Affairs.

Now with the publication of "Vietnam Geopolitical Affairs" his daughter, Elizabeth T. Le, offers the first English translation of the landmark book in this text composed of three parts:

Part 1 offers a history of Vietnam from the year 938, when Ngo-Quyen reclaimed An-Nam's (then Vietnam) independence after one thousand years of Chinese domination.

Part 2 contains what led to the general uprising, the revolt in the nineteenth century, communism, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam).

Part 3 is the translation of her father's book.

What made her father's book powerful is that he explored where Vietnam stood on the world stage and the historical baggage it carried. Moreover, he sought to find out how Vietnam could propel itself forward for the sake of future generations.

Critique: A unique and invaluable contribution to our understanding of the historical, political, social, economic, and military aspects of Vietnam, "Vietnam Geopolitical Affairs" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, governmental, college, and university library Southeast Asia History collections in general, and a Vietnam History supplemental curriculum studies syllabus in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers that "Vietnam Geopolitical Affairs" is also available in a paperback edition (9781665708227, $33.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Willis M. Buhle

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

Copyright ©2001

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design