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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 23, Number 5 May 2023 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
Jennifer Jilks' Bookshelf Joan McGrath's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Karen Sidall's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf MescaElin's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Patricia Bloom's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Weikelm's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Kate Morton
Mariner Books
c/o HarperCollins
9780063020894 $32.00 hc / $15.99 Kindle PB 640pp.

Anyone who has read Kate Morton's earlier novels will know that she excels at setting the scene, creating interesting and likeable characters, leading you on until you are sure you have guessed the 'secret', then, in the end proving that there is more to it than you ever imagined. Homecoming is no exception. It is also, as the publisher's blurb says, 'A love letter to her home country', Australia.

The 'Prologue', set in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, on New Year's Eve 1959, introduces Isabel Turner, an English woman living with her Australian family on a cattle property known locally as 'The Station'. Isabel is perched precariously on the top rung of a wooden ladder, attempting to hang bunting in a part of the garden where she knows it will annoy her husband, Thomas, Always, he expected their picnics to take place where Edward Wentworth, the Victorian builder of their grand old stone house, had been photographed among 'his similarly bearded' friends, 'arranged in elegant recliners', under what had come to be known as 'Mr Wentworth's Cedar'.

It was unclear to Isabel exactly when she'd first started taking guilty pleasure in causing that small vertical frown line to appear between her husband's brows.

Isabel has lived in this house for fourteen years, and she has the children ('proper little Australians') and her carefully planned and tended garden, to keep her busy, but Thomas is frequently away in London. She had been feeling lonely and out-of-sorts recently and sometimes she imagines what it might be like if she could make them all disappear, 'say for an hour, maybe a day - a week at the most. Just long enough for her to have some time to think'.

Almost a year later, on Christmas Eve, 1959, a local man, Percy Summers, has just spent a hot, exhausting day helping to clear thick bush from a local property to prevent bush-fires. He is trespassing on The Station to get water for his old horse, when he sees Isabel and her children lying on a rug next to the waterhole:

Later, when he was asked about it, as he would be many times over the course of his long, long life, Percy Summers would say truthfully that he'd though they were asleep.

Isabel, Matilda (14), Evie (10), and John (9), however, are dead. An old-fashioned wicker crib hangs from a branch of the willow tree near them, but although Percy knows that Isabel, Mrs Turner, has just had a baby, he is so shocked, and so keen to get help, that he does not think to look in it.. The baby, the police find when they get to the scene, is missing. So, begins the mystery of the unexplained deaths and the missing baby.

Chapter 1 jumps to London, 7 December 2018. Jess has lived in London for twenty years, ever since leaving Sydney for a gap-year. She is a successful journalist, but her latest suggested project has been rejected by her usual editor, and she is finding that freelance work is become increasingly difficult. Her long-term relationship with Matt is over, and 'for now, she had neither a job, a boyfriend, nor a child', plus, she had taken over the mortgage of the house she and Matt had been buying together. So, when she receives a phone call telling her that her beloved grandmother, Nora, who has brought her up since she was ten, has fallen down the stairs of her old home and is in hospital, a return to Sydney, and an article on 'how it feels like to go home after so long away', seems possible. When the Sydney doctor tells her 'Your grandmother's eighty-nine years old... if you're thinking of coming home to see her, I wouldn't leave it any longer', she takes the flight home.

The links between these two ages, and the two stories, begin with Jess's memory of an overheard conversation between Nora and a strange man at the funeral of Nora's brother when Jess was ten. The word 'halcyon' had caused her grandmother great distress. Jess, who collected words, had looked it up in an old dictionary she had found in Nora's house, but she still could not understand why this word has so upset Nora. Eventually, she discovers that 'Halcyon' is the name of the house Nora's brother, Thomas, owned in the Adelaide Hills.

Back in Sydney, living again in Nora's beautiful old house (which Matt had once described as 'a grand lady. Dressed up in an iron lace shawl, looking out over her harbour') Jess begins to discover that there are secrets about Nora's life and about her own early life - things which no-one will tell her, even now. Patrick, who was employed to look after Nora as she began to suffer the effects of ageing, tells Jess that Nora had been disturbed recently by a letter from a lawyer in South Australia, and had been saying something about someone taking her baby. Elderly Mrs Robinson, who has been Nora's housekeeper since she was sixteen, thinks this might have something to do with Nora's husband, who separated from her shortly after Nora had Polly, Jess's mother.

'I suspect he wanted their life to return to the way it had been before your mother was born,' Mrs Robinson said. 'He considered that he had been patient and now he wanted his wife back. But motherhood changes people. The world was different for your grandmother once Polly was on the scene. Understandably when you know what she went through to have her. She doted on her, would hardly let her out of her arms, and he became jealous'.

Jess's estranged mother is no help in solving these puzzles, and the reason for their estrangement also puzzles Jess.

Gradually, Jess discovers the things which have been kept from her, and the connection between her family and the mysterious murder and kidnapping at 'The Station' in the Adelaide Hills. She starts to research the 'story' of these events, as it appeared in newspapers at the time and, especially, in a book called As if They Were Asleep, which was written by a man who had 'stationed himself in South Australia for the duration of the police investigation and inquest into the Turner deaths'.

A number of chapters in Homecoming are written as if taken from this book, and their style is that of a popular family saga as they imaginatively fill in the details of Isabel's life at The Station, picture the lives of her children, chart the ongoing hunt for the missing baby, and report the gossip and theories provided by local people, some of whom had worked for Isabel.

Kate Morton's accounts of Jess's progress and frustrations as she searches for answers are inserted between her chapters of As if They Were Asleep; and Homecoming becomes a gripping detective story, with the usual revelations and the occasional false leads, but also a story of the long-lasting effects of family secrets, and, importantly for Morton, a chance to write vividly about Australia, as in her description the Adelaide Hills:

Meanwhile, tall and slender on the upsweep of hills that surrounded their river-run valley, the blue gums stood silent. Streaky skins glinting metallic. They were old and had seen it all before. Long before the houses of stone and timber and iron, before the roads and cars and fences, before the rows of grapevines and apple trees and the cattle in the paddocks. The gums had been there first, weathering the blistering heat and, in turn, the cold wet winter. This was an ancient land, a land of vast extremes.

Altogether, Homecoming is a carefully crafted, well-written book. Jess is a likeable character and her attempts to discover more about her past span times and generations to make a fascinating and absorbing story.

Max Porter
Graywolf Press
9781644452295, $25.00 hc / $11.99 Kindle 122 pp.

What goes on inside the head of a very troubled teenager?

Shy has, by his own account, has been expelled from two schools, been arrested and cautioned, 'sprayed, smoked, snorted, sworn... trashed a house... broken a nose... stabbed his stepdad's finger'. Now, he is creeping out of Last Chance school at 3.13a.m. with 'a big bag full of rocks' on his back.

Here he is, as he sees himself:

Caught between times. In the fold. Escaping.

Little Shy at thirteen o'clock with the last of his skunk and his favourite tape. Boy on the stairs, stepping through Tom's Midnight Garden. That's what it feels like, fuckinell that's exactly it. He hasn't thought about that book for years.

Max Porter seem to have the knack of knowing just what his characters think and feel, and being able to capture this for his readers. As in his earlier books, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, and Lanny, he intuits their thoughts, speaks their languages, and is innovative and imaginative in the way he tells his story.

Shy's head is a mess, and the swirl of voices that revolve in his memory become part of an inner monologue which accompanies his escape. In this mix we hear the school staff, Owen, Amanda, Steve and Jenny; some of other the boys living at Last Chance, including Benny, with whom Shy seems to have form a tentative bond; and fragments from a documentary about the school which seeks to present alternative views:

'Psychologically disturbed juveniles requiring special educational treatment, or a bunch of teenage criminals on a tax-payer funded countryside holiday?' ....

[the camera pans across the lawn] 'An ordinary bunch of teenagers kicking a ball about, or some of the most disturbed and violent young offenders in the country?'

Porter uses different typefaces to identify the voices but it is not always clear who is speaking. Amanda is introduced in the documentary as a 'senior live-in staff member' who 'comes from a background of caring'. She is often named when she speaks and her voice is clear. Jenny seems to be a councellor - 'Shy? Anything you want to share?'; Steve - a teacher/psychologist; and Owen - in charge and the enforcer of the rules.

Shy remembers 'conversations with Steve about William Blake and migraines and ayahuasca, conversations with the doctor about pills and avoiding weed and horror films, conversations with Jenny about fight and flight, fresh air and exercise'.

The staff clearly care about the boys but are often frustrated: 'If you feel like an idiot, perhaps stop behaving like one'.

Shy does not understand what makes him do the unacceptable things he does. He feels the thoughts of others 'buzzing' in his body 'like I can know what they're thinking', so he seems to 'know what's going on', but 'then it's gone again. Just sludge. Shit. Just me again'.

As he creeps out of the building, across the grounds and into the fields his head is full of the beat-box music he loves; his first failed attempt at sex with his girl-friend; terrifying, confusing nightmares; a happy time exploring Black Market Records in London with his cousin Shaun; and difficult times with his mother and his step-dad, Iain. Even the best times seem to end up going wrong. Mum and Iain's words loom large, literally at one point spreading in large type across two pages. Shy knows his mum loves him and worries about him, but it makes him angry. Iain tries to understand Shy and, clumsily, act as go-between when his mum gets upset:

If you think that's an OK way to speak to your mum then you need to have a serious think... You cannot do this / This is not OK / ... Talk to me / Talk to me / Talk to me / Whoa, calm down.

As he trudges through rough country in the darkness, Shy is aware that he is 'overthinking' - his thoughts 'lopping along in odd repetitive chunks'. He feels alone, 'very small, very ignorant'. The weight of the rucksack on his back is almost unbearable, but its purpose does not become clear until late in the book. What eventuates is not altogether unexpected, but its results are. And the events that lead to these results are strange and not totally convincing, in spite of Shy's muddled head and the effects of his having smoked his last spliff.

Max Porter's Shy is not a big book but he achieves the seemingly impossible task of making the reader like and feel empathy for Shy, in spite of some of the terrible things he has done. He also, in just fragments of text, brings to life the people whose words fill Shy's head. This may sound disjointed, and textually it is, but it is a very understandable expression of Shy's thoughts and the struggles he has with himself. All Shy wants is to know why he does what he does and why everything seems always to go wrong. Porter's imaginative engagement with Shy manages to convey just what it must be like to have uncontrollable impulses and not to know why, or how to stop that happening.

By the end of the book Shy is no wiser and still prone to impulsive violence. Nothing has been resolved, but he is 'wrapped up in other people', and there is 'no weight on his back' as he 'waits for another day'. Porter leaves the reader with hopeful images, but inevitably wondering how long this pleasant scene can last, especially as it is known from the start that the listed, historic, Last Chance building and grounds have been sold to developers and the school must soon close.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

DisConnected: The Roots of Human Cruelty and How Connection Can Heal the World
Steve Taylor
IFF Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803410302, $25.95, PB, 228pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "DisConnected: The Roots of Human Cruelty and How Connection Can Heal the World", psychologist Steve Taylor offers a new vision of human nature and a new understanding of human behaviour and social problems.

Connection is the most essential human trait - it determines our behaviour and our level of well-being. Cruelty is the result of a sense of disconnection, while "goodness" stems from connection. Unfortunately, the most disconnected people gravitate to positions of power, which leads to "pathocracy," the most common form of government during the 20th century.

Disconnected societies are patriarchal, hierarchical and warlike. Connected societies are egalitarian, democratic and peaceful. We can measure both social progress and personal development in terms of how far we move along a continuum of connection. At the most essential level, we are always interconnected.

Altruism and spirituality are experiences of our fundamental connection. Regaining awareness of our connection is the only way by which we can live in harmony with ourselves, one another, and the world itself.

Critique: Of special note for readers with an interest in mental andspiritual healing, politics and government, and contemporary social psychology, "DisConnected: The Roots of Human Cruelty and How Connection Can Heal the World" is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of four Appendices, a one page listing of Acknowledgments, eight pages of Notes, and a ten page Index. While highly recommended as an addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary Psychology collections, it should be noted for students, academia, counselors, and non- specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "DisConnected: The Roots of Human Cruelty and How Connection Can Heal the World" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Steve Taylor ( is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He is the author of many best-selling books on spirituality and psychology. For the past ten years, Steve has been included in Mind, Body Spirit magazine's list of the world's 100 most spiritually influential people. He currently resides in Manchester, UK.

Black Founder: The Hidden Power of Being an Outsider
Stacy Spikes
9781496739568, $28.00, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: Stacy Spikes knows what's it like to be an outsider. He certainly knew he didn't fit the mold of a successful future tech entrepreneur. But he marshaled his resilience and ultimately set out to shatter that mold -- along with the glass ceiling that came with it. Finding his footing in the tech world was an education in the complexities of being an outsider. But as Stacy came to see, rather than a hindrance, it afforded him a unique position of power.

Beginning as a film studio gopher, Spikes quickly rose through the industry ranks, being named one of the Hollywood Reporter's 30 Under 30. Still, he was an outsider looking in. So he set out to make his own dreams a reality. Defying expectations, Spikes effectively disrupted the status quo and reinvented himself from junior executive to CEO Tech Founder. What ensued was an escalating adventure with bigger stages, bigger risks, and a roller-coaster ride of exhilarating ascent (unpredictable collapse) -- and a story book return.

Now with the publication of "Black Founder: The Hidden Power of Being an Outsider ", Stacy Spikes shares his challenges, pitfalls, and keys to personal and professional fulfillment. He shows how the seemingly impossible can be overcome by having faith in oneself and creating from a place of confidence. Taking readers inside the battles of the boardroom and beyond, "Black Founder" is a business memoir that will inspire every outsider who has a dream.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, inherently fascinating, inspired and inspiring, "Black Founder: The Hidden Power of Being an Outsider" will have an immense appeal to readers with an interest in entrpreneurial biographies and African- American memoirs, While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99), "Black Founder: The Hidden Power of Being an Outsider" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Stacy Spikes ( is an award-winning entrepreneur, co-founder and co-chairman of MoviePass, founder of the Urbanworld Film Festival, and a former film marketing executive and producer. Named by USA Today as one of the 21 most influential Blacks in technology, Spikes is also the founder and CEO of PreShow Interactive, a branded content app that rewards gamers for watching long-form video content.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

The Personal Librarian
Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, authors
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593101537, $17.00 Paperback, $27.00 Hardcover, $40.00 audiobook, 352 pages
B08HL999ZD, $12.99 Kindle

Authors Benedict and Murray carefully researched Harvard's first African American graduate, Richard Greener. Graduating in 1870, the Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875, removing equal protection under the law. The authors wondered what life was like for the daughter he had introduced to the rarefied world of art and manuscripts, later becoming an art expert.

The Personal Librarian of J.P. Morgan is historical and literary fiction at its best. What would it be like to have known and worked with the famous Mr. Morgan as part of high society social and family life? After working as a librarian at Princeton University in its rare books department, Belle Marion Greener, who went by the name of Belle da Costa Greene, is exactly what she did. Belle Marion Greener would never have been able to be hired by Mr. Morgan because of her race. But she passes as white, her family mostly passes, and as Belle da Costa Green, she is offered the position. This is only because her African American father has left the family, so Mama creates opportunities for her children in the wider world by deciding to live as whites. This meant few trips home to DC to visit relatives as part of their imposed lifestyle.

Passing as white meant personal hardship for Belle as she wasn't able to have children because they might be born with skin darker than hers. Little dating, always being dressed up, as well as being ever so careful not to let her guard down to protect her image all caused many tense moments and worries. She lived at home with her mother and siblings providing well for them. The fear of losing everything was ever-present. There were dramatic near misses, although she kept her job.

Passing was difficult in the early 1900s, and Belle's livelihood depended on keeping up the image. She loved her job and would bid at auctions, travel, meet world-famous people, while working against her father's equal rights arguments in courts, newspapers, speeches, and journals.

A personal story of how white privilege affects people in our society may be more memorable than a nonfiction text.

Our Missing Hearts: A Novel
Celeste Ng
Penguin Press
B09QBYCC3J $14.99 Kindle
9781408716922, $29.00 hc / $18.00 pbk / $40.00 Audiobook, 347 pages

Complex story focused mostly on one family reveals a difficult dystopian future with book bans and neighbors spying on each other in the name of patriotism. This book is not "what if" but shows what could really happen. To avoid suspicion, people trying to help find the missing have to communicate without electronics, using in-person talking or an elaborate note system. Communication is watched. I appreciate the author's ability to show how prejudice affects especially children. Excellent story. I read this in two days not wanting to put it down.

As I read, I thought some true events had occurred after she wrote this book. The book seemed to predict our near future. The author states, "I drew inspiration from many real-life events, both past and current - and in some cases, things I'd imagined had become realities by the time the novel was done."

Scary and thought provoking!

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Communism and Strategy: Rethinking Political Mediations
Isabelle Garo
20 Jay Street, 10th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201-8346
9781839768163, $29.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Communism is not just a dream of a better world, it is also a theory about how we get there. If the question of communism is making a comeback today, this renewed interest is often accompanied by an abandonment of any concrete political perspective.

Critical philosophies are flourishing and proliferating, but, folded into the academic terrain, they often remain disconnected from the global issues associated with the present crisis of capitalism, contributing, in turn, to the fragmentation of the resistances that are opposed to it.

Instead of locking the perspective of emancipation into the registers of utopia, or relegating it to the side of an empty populism, Isabelle Garo studies comprising "Communism and Strategy: Rethinking Political Mediations" present the conditions of a contemporary revival of the alternative as a collective construction, anchored in real aspirations and struggles and inseparable from a rethinking of the theoretical work.

By addressing the impasses faced by many of the most fashionable radical theorists such as Badiou, Laclau, the theorists of the commons, and then revisiting them in relation to Marx and Gramsci also allows us to re-read the latter from the point of view of contemporary questions of the state and the party, of work and property, of conflict and hegemony.

Thus, to rethink strategy is above all to re-explore the question of mediations, whether they be forms of organization or existing mobilizations, as sites par excellence of political invention.

Critique: Erudite, informative, thought-provoking, insightful, challenging, iconoclastic, and a masterpiece of contemporary political philosophy, "Communism and Strategy: Rethinking Political Mediations" by Isabelle Garo is an especially recommended addition to personal, professional, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of those with an interest in Political Economy and Economic Conditions, as well as Communism/Socialism, that "Communism and Strategy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Isabelle Garo ( is one of the leading contemporary specialists of Karl Marx in France and the author of several books on critical thought and anti-capitalist perspectives from the perspective of a Marxism that is engaged in the contemporary debate of ideas. Her books focus on art, ideology, French philosophy of the 1970s, Karl Marx and his work.

The Hitler I Knew
Otto Dietrich
Greenhill Books
c/o Pen & Sword Books
9781784389987, $29.95, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: "Up to the last moment, his overwhelming, despotic authority aroused false hopes and deceived his people and his entourage. Only at the end, when I watched the inglorious collapse and the obstinacy of his final downfall, was I able suddenly to fit together the bits of mosaic I had been amassing for twelve years into a complete picture of his opaque and sphinx-like personality." - Otto Dietrich

When Otto Dietrich was invited in 1933 to become Adolf Hitler's press chief, he accepted with the simple, uncritical conviction that Adolf Hitler was a great man, dedicated to promoting peace and the welfare for the German people. At the end of the war, imprisoned and disillusioned, Dietrich sat down to write what he had seen and heard in twelve years of the closest association with Hitler, requesting that it be published after his death.

Dietrich's role placed him in a privileged position. He was hired by Hitler in 1933, and was a confidant until 1945, and he worked and clashed with Joseph Goebbels. His direct, personal experience of life at the heart in the Reich makes for compelling reading.

Critique: Simply stated, this edition of "The Hitler I Knew: The Memoirs of the Third Reich's Press Chief" from Greenhill Books should be given a careful reading by anyone with an interest in the mastermind that launched World War II and took his adoring nation with him into an utter devastation that would take decades to recover from. This eyewitness combination of biography and memoir by Otto Dietrich (31 August 1897 - 22 November 1952) who was a German SS officer during the Nazi era, who served as the Press Chief of the Nazi regime, and who was a confidant of Adolf Hitler is enhanced for the reader with an impressively informative introduction by Roger Moorhouse. "The Hitler I Knew: The Memoirs of the Third Reich's Press Chief" was originally published in 2014 and this new hardcover edition is a prized pick for community and academic library World War II History & Biography collections and personal reading lists.

Editorial Note #1: Dr Otto Dietrich was the Third Reich's Press Chief from 1933 to 1945. He was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to seven years in prison, where he wrote his memoirs. He died in 1952, aged 55.

Editorial Note #2: Roger Moorhouse ( is a historian of the Third Reich. He has been published in over 20 languages. He is a tour guide, a book reviewer and a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Warsaw.

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture
Francis A. Schaeffer
9781433576911, $24.99

Rabbi Dr. Nachum L. Rabinovitch (1928-2020) authored "Pathways to Their Hearts," an easy-to-read book by a renowned scholar about how we should think and live. His views are correct. They are based on the rational teachings of the "Great Eagle," Judaism's foremost philosopher Maimonides (1138-1204). Rabbi Lord Jonathan Saks (1948-2020), called the "towering intellect of Judaism," the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, wrote a fifteen-page foreword to the book in which he praised his former teacher as "one of the supreme rabbinic scholars of our time, outstanding in a wide range of different fields." He calls the book "an outstanding work, vast in scope, monumental in scholarship, the distilled wisdom of one of the great Jewish minds of our generation."

The book contains nine enlightening chapters about the significance of the Torah, commandments, morality, human obligations, and goal, how rabbis identified Jewish laws in the past, and how they should do so today. He emphasizes that there is no conflict between science and Judaism and tells us what wrongs King Solomon performed, which should be a warning to us.

Rabbi Rabinovitch shows how the Bible and rabbinic texts talk practically about humans. He saw, as did Maimonides, that the primary purpose of Jewish law is to create individuals and society dedicated to the cause of justice, compassion, kindness, and peace. He quotes Maimonides' Guide 3:31, "every commandment from among the 613 commandments exists either with a view to communicating a correct opinion, or to pointing an end to an unhealthy opinion, or to communicating a rule of justice, or to warding off an injustice, or to endowing men with a noble moral quality, or to warning them against an evil quality."

The French Jewish philosopher Gersonides, also called Ralbag (1288-1344), said the same. "Our Torah differs from the precepts and rituals of other nations, for our Torah contains nothing that cannot be derived from logical reasoning and understanding."

Rabbi Rabinovitch stresses that true scholarship means being open to the truth, no matter its source - and not imposing our views on the material in front of us. "Laboring in the Torah" requires us to read everything written about the subject before us, analyze it to seek its deep plain sense, and think about it independently and critically. He also stressed that a wise person, like the Greek philosopher Socrates, dares to live with uncertainty.

He wrote that Moses pleaded with God in Exodus 34:9 to forgive the Israelites because they are stiff-necked people. Moses was saying that being stiff-necked can lead to perseverance and the creation of what is good for individuals and society.

Judaism, to the rabbi, is not just a matter of deeds. It is also a process of creating ways to the heart, habits of intellect, and emotion that lead to the goal of loving-kindness.

Judaism never opposed the search for truth. "One who ignores the wisdom of the natural sciences ultimately condemns himself to the limitation of possibilities, to the point that he will have no control over the physical world and will be unable to achieve even the best and loftiest desires. A complete human being needs both types of wisdom" [Torah and science]. "God gave man the capacity to disclose nature's mysteries.... It is incumbent upon man not only to discover what is, but also to imagine what ought to be, and then to make that improved existence a reality."

It is a mistake to think that religious Jews must reject scientific ideas such as the theory of evolution, the existence of people on other planets, and even the belief that humans can create life from inanimate substances. We must remember that "great Torah scholars of various periods contemplated such possibilities and entertained similar ideas. Indeed, some of these sages cited biblical proof texts for their opinions." In Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 2:1, Maimonides praised scientific studies and wrote that they cause us to know the greatness of God. Rabbi Rabinovitch reminds us that Maimonides added that "solving life's ongoing challenges enable the formation of the ideal society."

Rabbi Lord Saks is undoubtedly correct. This is an outstanding eye-opening book.

Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Teaching Race in the European Renaissance
Anna Wainwright, author/editor
Matthieu Chapman, author/editor
9780866988353, $79.00, HC, 562pp

Synopsis: "Teaching Race in the European Renaissance: A Classroom Guide" by co-editors Anna Wainwright and Matthieu Chapman provides both educators and students the tools they need to discuss race in the European Renaissance both in its unique historical contexts and as part of a broader continuum with racial thinking today.

"Teaching Race in the European Renaissance" gathers scholars of the English, French, Italian, and Iberian Renaissances to provide exercises, lesson plans, methodologies, readings, and other resources designed to bring discussions of race into a broad spectrum of classes on the early modern period, from literature to art history to the history of science.

"Teaching Race in the European Renaissance" is specifically designed and intended to help educators create more diverse and inclusive syllabi and curricula that engage and address a diverse, twenty-first-century student body composed of students from a growing variety of cultural, national, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.

By providing clear, concise, and diverse methodologies and analytical focuses, "Teaching Race in the European Renaissance" will help educators in all areas of Renaissance Studies overcome the anxiety and fear that can come with stepping outside of their expertise to engage with the topic of race, while also providing expert scholars of race in the Renaissance with new techniques and pedagogies to enhance the classroom experience of their students.

Critique: Comprised of twenty-three erudite, informative, and thought provoking contributions by scholars well versed in their subjects, "Teaching Race in the European Renaissance: A Classroom Guide" is exceptionally well organized and presented, making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended core addition to personal, professional, college, and university library European History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Teaching Race in the European Renaissance: A Classroom Guide", a multi-disciplinary guide to classroom discussion of race in the European Renaissance, is also available in a paperback edition (9780866988360, $19.95).

Editorial Note #1: Anna Wainwright ( is assistant professor of Italian Studies and core faculty in Women's and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is the coeditor of Innovation in the Italian Counter-Reformation and The Legacy of Birgitta of Sweden: Women, Politics and Reform in Renaissance Italy.

Editorial Note: Matthieu Chapman ( is a theatre educator, scholar, theorist, director, and dramaturg. He is professor of theatre arts at SUNY New Paltz.. He is the author of Antiblack Racism in Early Modern English Drama: The Other "Other."

Leading the Small Police Department
Gerald W. Garner
Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
2600 South First Street, Springfield, IL 62704
9780398094041, $39.95, PB, 262pp

Synopsis: Almost 90 percent of the police departments in the United States employ 25 officers or fewer. Many agencies are staffed by fewer than ten peacekeepers. The leaders of these small departments face some of the same challenges as do the bosses of larger departments, but they encounter many additional problems, as well, and they labor in a somewhat different environment.

Much has been written to assist the CEO of the larger department. Much less effort has been devoted to aiding the smaller agency chief in navigating the operational, personnel, and political landscape to be found in the smaller community, to name but one of the challenges.

With the publication of "Leading the Small Police Department", Gerald W. Garner fills that knowledge gap. Garner is a 52-year veteran of law enforcement who has served as a successful police chief in cities of 8,000, 23,000, and over 100,000 citizens.

"Leading the Small Police Department" is a compilation of real-world experience and lessons learned, bolstered by the observations of many other police chiefs. Its goal is to assist the small agency chief in building and maintaining an exceptional police department. It is additionally designed to assist the leader in enjoying a successful and rewarding career for as long as he or she chooses to be employed there.

"Leading the Small Police Department" is not a book about leadership or management theory. Rather, it is a handbook focused upon providing practical, time-proven advice for handling the small department chief's daily fare of challenges and opportunities. It will prove equally useful to the leader of a larger police department, but the focus will remain on the small agency boss.

Critique: Covering every aspect of small community policing from recruitment and leadership, to budgeting and politics, "Leading the Small Police Department" is the ideal manual for anyone aspiring to or being promoted to being the Chief of Police. A complete course of informative instruction, "Leading the Small Police Department" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented -- making it unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Law Enforcement collections.

Editorial Note: Gerald W. Garner ( is Chief of Police, Corinth Police Department, Corinth, Texas.

Jack Mason

Jennifer Jilks' Bookshelf

CottageEscape.zyx: Satan Takes Over
Jass Richards
9781990083037, $9.99 paperback, 125p
9781990083044 (epub)
9781990083051 (pdf) (free downloads at author's site)

I reviewed another Jass Richards book, Turblojetslams. It was a hilarious take on modern cottage life. We cottaged from 1960 until 2010. Things were so different in the 60's. Not for the better.

CottageEscape.zyx: Satan Takes Over takes modern times, with renters who fire off fireworks every night for two weeks, jetskis doing figure 8's, bonfires day and night, and manages to solve the problem. It is a hilarious take, based in reality. You know Jass has lived this life. It is way too familiar.

I love the creativity with which she writes. I just laugh at her take on modern cottage life, as much as I cry over the inhumanity towards one another. The noise that blocks out the sounds of the critters, what with technology and lake toys. The sights and smell of smoke wafting across the lake, bonfires on hot summer days. The notion that landowners are kings of their own castles drove us away from lakeside life.

It was a timely read for us, as we work on preventing a gun range nearby. Jass is a kindred spirit, a clever writer, and a person with a seriously wonderful sense of humour. Some days you just have to laugh. If you need a laugh, you can find her publications here, I've downloaded several on my iBook. It makes for great reading. You'll shake your head as you recognize characters, as much as you want to whack them upside the head!

Jennifer Jilks

Joan McGrath's Bookshelf

Particivision and other stories
Chris Wind
9781926891170, $9.99 paperback, 190 pp.
9781926891118, $4.99 epub
9781926891583 pdf

As the title indicates, this collection of stories is about getting into the thick of things, taking sides, taking action, and speaking out loud and clear, however unpopular your opinion may be. Some of the causes Wind espouses will get no argument from any thinking person. Ecology and the preservation of the environment, mandated by legislation in his fantasy of the future "Tour of Duty," concern all of us.

So do the restoration of some sense, decorum, and dignity to Canada's parliamentary system, as in "Answer Period"; the production of uninsulting, rational advertising for sensible people sickened by meaningless hype, as in "New and Improved"; and the need to prevent the school system from becoming completely clogged with unwilling louts whoa re incapable of profiting from the experience, as in "School Board."

The title story advocates participation (rather than a mindless, couch-potato frame of mind) for television aficionados. Wind's view on the ethics of suicide, poignantly expressed in "Coda: Canon," his story about changes in human sexuality that will all but do away with sexual intercourse in "The Sexual Evolution," and his face-off between the forces of faith and those of secular humanism in "The Great Jump-Off" will probably annoy at least half of the people half of the time.

His is an iconoclastic perspective, and this collection's 13 stories although of uneven quality, are refreshingly out of the ordinary.

Joan McGrath

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Together on a Shared Journey
Hua Wen
China Books & Periodicals, Inc.
360 Swift Avenue, Suite #48, South San Francisco, CA 94080
9780835103220, $29.95, PB, 409pp

Synopsis: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, "Together on a Shared Journey: 100 Stories of the Communist Party of China in International Communication" by Wua Wen offers a unique compendium of fascinating and informative stories drawn from friends of China from around the globe.

Presented is a memorable collection of first hand personal accounts taken from all levels of society, which demonstrate the scope and reach of New China, whose experiences have profoundly impacted the lives and careers of those in all walks of life.

Critique: "Together on a Shared Journey" is an ideal, unique, and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Chinese History & Culture collections, as well as the personal reading lists for those in government, politics, academics, business, and the humanities ass well as the non-specialist general readiner wanting to know more about contemporary Chinese society and the profound impact of the Communist party on the lives of the Chinese people.

Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible
Christopher Sparkes, translator
Filament Publishing
9781913623470, $50.00 HC, 1220pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible", Christopher Sparkes provides a new translation of the Bible that unmasks historic twisting of the original Gospel message to support particular beliefs. It will be as controversial as John Wycliffe's first translation into English which was declared illegal for anyone to read by the church which had him declared a heretic."

Since the first English translation of the Bible in 1380, more than 630 years ago, there have been around 150 English translations. So why do we need another one?

Author, scholar, poet and grammar expert Christopher Sparkes has spent twenty years painstakingly going back to the original Greek and Hebrew, and has identified "a thousand blunders" which have been repeatedly left uncorrected. Over the centuries, as translators strived to make the language more "modern" and understandable, so many errors and mistranslations have occurred that many of the original meanings have been obscured, or even lost.

The acid test, according to Sparkes, is that if you translate the English versions back to their original Greek or Hebrew, they are too often nowhere near the original. So what has gone wrong?

The problem facing translators is that they already knew (or thought they knew) the stories and teachings they were translating, so when the original Greek or Hebrew didn't quite fit with them, they "fidgeted" the words to make them fit with what they believed. Words have been added, taken away or changed to fit with specific creeds or beliefs. As George Gershwin wrote "The things that you're liable to read in the Bible - it ain't necessarily so!"

With "Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible" Sparkes has taken a different approach, using "Deep Grammar, Transcendent Logic, Internal Harmony, and Diamond-Mining Research", to unpick the locks, untangle the barbed wire, and discover the meanings of Greek and Hebrew words and phrases which have been wrongly translated in every single English version.

Critique: Simply stated, "Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible" by Christopher Sparkes is a seminal, groundbreaking, and impressive contribution to the rectification of original and perpetuated errors of translation with respect to the Old Testament and New Testament sacred scriptures, and therefore an essential and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, church, seminary, college, and university library Biblical Studies collections and supplemental curriculum Christian Theology studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, theologians, clergy, seminary students, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: After lecturing in Higher and Further Education, Christopher Sparkes is now a free-lance educator (
As well as being co-author of textbooks on writing and grammar, he has published poetry, short fiction, academic essays, reviews and artwork.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

The Habit of Poetry: The Literary Lives of Nuns in Mid-century America
Nick Pripatrazone
Fortress Press
P.O. Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440-1209
9781506471129, $28.99, HC, 125pp

Synopsis: Something of a minor literary renaissance happened in midcentury America Catholicism from an unexpected source. Nuns were writing poetry and being published and praised in secular venues. Their literary moment have now faded into history, but it is worth revisiting.

The literary creations of poetic priests like Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., and Robert Southwell, S.J. have been both a blessing and a burden -- creating the sense that male clergy alone have written substantial work. But Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the 17th century Mexican poet-nun famous for her iconic verses and trail blazing sense of the role of religious creative women, set the literary precedent for pious work from women.

Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn, a critic and poet, was praised by Flannery O'Connor and kept long correspondences with many of the best poets of her generation. Carmelite nun Sister Jessica Powers published widely. Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, poet and university president, transformed Catholic higher education.

With the publication os "The Habit of Poetry: The Literary Lives of Nuns in Mid-century America", author Nick Ripatrazone brings together these women and others. Their poetry is devotional and deft, complex and contemplative. This mid-20th century renaissance by nun poets is more than just a literary footnote; it is an informative case study in how women negotiate tradition and individual creativity.

Critique: A simply fascinating read throughout, "The Habit of Poetry: The Literary Lives of Nuns in Mid-century America" is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a ten page Bibliography, twenty pages of Notes, and a four page Index. An impressive work of original and seminal research, "The Habit of Poetry" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, seminary, and university library American Poetry, Christian Poetry, and Women's Poetry collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of poetry students, academia, clergy, seminary students, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Habit of Poetry" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $26.99).

Editorial Note: Nick Ripatrazone ( is the culture editor for Image Journal, a contributing editor at The Millions, and a columnist for Literary Hub. He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and Esquire. He is also the author of Longing for an Absent God and Wild Belief.

The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God's First Sacred Text
Barbara Mahany
Broadleaf Books
510 Marquette Avenue N, Minneapolis, MN 55402
9781506473512, $27.99, HC, 191pp

Synopsis: Throughout millennia and across the monotheistic religions, the natural was often revered as a sacred text. By the Middle Ages, this text was given a name, "The Book of Nature", the first, best entry point for encounter with the divine. The very act of "reading" the world, of focusing our attention on each twinkling star and unfurling blossom, humbles us and draws us into sacred encounter.

As we grapple to make sense of today's tumultuous world, one where nature is at once a damaged and damaging source of disaster, as well as a place of refuge and retreat, we are called again to examine how generously it awaits our attention and devotion, standing ready to be read by all.

Weaving together the astonishments of science; the profound wisdom and literary gems of thinkers, poets, and observers who have come before us; and her own spiritual practice and gentle observation, Barbara Mahany reintroduces us to "The Book of Nature" as an experiential framework of the divine. God's first revelation came to us through an ongoing creation, one that (through stillness and attentiveness to the rumblings of the heavens, the seasonal eruptions of earth, the invisible pull of migration, of tide, and of celestial shiftings) draws us into sacred encounter. We need not look farther for the divine.

Critique: "The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God's First Sacred Text" by Barbara Mahany is a deftly crafted volume of eloquent, lyrical, and inspiring observations, insights, and verbally created imagery that will be of special appeal and value for readers with an interest in environmentalism, nature conservation, and spirituality. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.49), "The Book of Nature" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Nature & Spirituality collections.

Editorial Note: Barbara Mahany ( is an author and freelance journalist beloved for her features and writing that appeared in the Chicago Tribune for almost thirty years. She is known for her writing at the intersection of nature, spirituality, interfaith considerations, and family. She is also the author of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door.

Whistling in the Dark: Personal Essays
Lucienne S. Bloch
Bold Story Press
9781954805446, $17.99, PB, 250pp

Synopsis: "Whistling in the Dark" is a compendium of Lucienne S. Bloch's beautifully written personal essays in which she explores her world on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Growing up in the 1950s as the daughter of refugees from Hitler's Europe who longed for their former lives and culture, these essays explore Lucienne's youth, her mother's Viennese upbringing, her father's work in the diamond business and long battle with Alzheimer's, her typewriter, the landscapes of New York, her ongoing sense of alienation, and her development as a writer.

Readers will be swept up in the graceful prose that distinguishes Lucienne S. Bloch's award-winning work. The universal themes of memory, belonging, family, identity, survival, and aging are artfully woven throughout the essays comprising "Whistling in the Dark" and will resonate with readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Critique: Eloquent, interesting, memorable, "Whistling in the Dark: Personal Essays" will be of special appeal to readers with an interest in Jewish and Women's memoirs as well as emigrant/immigrant biographies. While available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Whistling in the Dark: Personal Essays" is especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Biography/Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Lucienne S. Bloch ( graduated from Wellesley College, where she received an Academy of American Poets Award and a prize from the New England Poetry Society. She subsequently worked at New Directions, and then at Random House. Her first novel, On the Great-Circle Route, was published by Simon & Schuster. Her second novel, Finders Keepers, was published by Houghton Mifflin. One of her short stories was chosen for the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project and is anthologized in The Sound of Fiction. She wrote "Hers" columns for The New York Times, was a Resident Fellow at Yaddo, and was awarded a Fellowship in Fiction by the New York Foundation for the Arts. She began writing personal essays sixteen years ago. They have been published in Raritan, North American Review, Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, and Five Points, and one was excerpted in Harper's. Four were cited as Notable in The Best American Essays of 2011, 2014, 2017, and 2021.

The Presence of Rhythm in the Flow of Time
Phyllis Grilikhes
Regent Press
2747 Regent St., Berkeley, CA 94705
9781587906329, $29.95, PB, 160pp

Synopsis: Co-existent with the life force and regulating its flow is the phenomenon of rhythm. Song and the measured beat of a poem are also expressions of rhythm and can be the way a pattern moves through the "now" of time. Without rhythm there is no time.

With the publication of "The Presence of Rhythm in the Flow of Time", Phyllis Grilikhes concentrates on the artistic and psychological culture of the 20th century, seeking to show how the arts reveal these patterns.

Critique: Nicely illustrated with book color and black/white images, "The Presence of Rhythm in the Flow of Time" is a fascinating and thought provoking study that will have special appeal to readers with an interest in poetry, dance, and the arts. "The Presence of Rhythm in the Flow of Time" is a seminal and unreservedly recommended to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Cultural Anthropology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Phyllis Grilikhes retired after almost thirty years of teaching and mentoring students at City College of San Francisco. A former dancer, she is at present an author, licensed psychologist, a classical pianist and tapestry, and the author of "To Set A Light In Every Tunnel: The Story of a Life " and "Autism's Stepchild, A Mother's Story).

Julie Summers

Karen Sidall's Bookshelf

Just Think About It!, second edition
Peg Tittle
9781926891866 (paperback)
9781926891873 (epub);
9781926891880 (pdf)
$9.99 (free downloads at the author's site) 470 pp.

Broad-ranging collection of essays that really got me thinking about my world and myself.

This expanded edition of Peg Tittle's 2018 publication, Just Think about It!, touches on an amazingly wide range of topics that really made me think and reconsider my life, my choices, and our business-as-usual world.

So much of what we are bombarded with on social media and mass media, so-called "op-eds" are just a lot of noise; this author provides something very different. These are thought pieces, succinctly and logically presented for one's consideration.

I did not agree with everything Tittle argued - our life experiences have differed, and I know this impacts my beliefs and viewpoints. But still, I came away feeling like I'd had a meaningful interaction with a rational, well-rounded adult, and I really enjoyed and appreciated it.

Sexist Shit that Pisses Me Off, second edition
Peg Tittle
9781926891835 (paperback)
9781926891842 (epub)
9781926891859 (pdf) $9.99 (free downloads at the author's site) 378 pp.

Although I did not agree with everything presented, I found it thoughtful and thought-provoking!

Every now and then, I run across an author's work to which I feel an immediate personal connection: Peg Tittle's is one. Although she has an extensive publishing history, Sexist Shit that Pisses Me Off is my introduction to her thoughtful and thought-provoking essays.

While reading, I found myself nodding in agreement and sometimes grinning in delight that someone else has wondered about a particular thing. Granted, I wasn't 100% in agreement on every topic, but even those really caused me to think and consider the points and arguments presented, and many of these I want to think about further because I'm just not clear in my mind on them just yet.

The author's writing style suited me well. It carried me right along from start to finish; I would normally call it an easy read, except it's not. The title should clue the reader that these are not happy topics or happy essays. I would read a couple of pieces and then needed a breather. I had to step away from the book to think and calm my thoughts. Things hit home, some things that I'd never put words to myself.

Karen Sidall

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World
Annahid Dashtgard
The Dundurn Group
9781459750623, $19.99, PB, 216pp

Synopsis: In a series of deftly scripted interlocking stories comprising "Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World", Toronto based author Annahid Dashtgard shares her experiences searching for, and teaching about, belonging in our deeply divided world.

A critically acclaimed, racialized immigrant writer and recognized inclusion leader, Dashtgard writes with wisdom, honesty, and a wry humour as she considers what it means to belong, be it to a country, in a marriage, or in our own skin -- and what it means when belonging is absent.

Like the bones of the human body, these stories knit together a remarkable vision of what wholeness looks like as a racial outsider in a culture still dominated by whiteness.

Critique: Original, eloquent, inherently interesting, thoughtful and though provoking, "Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World" is an especially memorable and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Canadian Biography/Memoir collections. A compendium of erudite essays, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Annahid Dashtgard ( is CEO of Anima Leadership, a racial justice consulting firm. Over the last two decades she has worked with hundreds of organizations and leaders to create more inclusive workplaces. Her first book, Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation, met rave reviews.

Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic
Karen Lee Ashcraft
Bristol University Press
9781529221398, $149.95, HC, 264pp

Synopsis: Is populism fueled by a feeling of manhood under attack? If gender is its driving force, are there better ways to respond? COVID-19 delivers a stark warning: the global surge of populism endangers public health.

With the publication of "Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic", Professor Karen Lee Ashcraft introduces "viral masculinity" as a novel way to meet that threat by tackling the deep connection of our social and physical worlds. "Wronged and Dangerous" calls us to ask not what populism says, but how it spreads.

Leading with gender without leaving socioeconomic forces behind, "Wronged and Dangerous" upends prevailing wisdom about populist politics today. You do not need to know or care about gender to get invested. You only need to be concerned with our future.

Critique: An exceptionally well organized and presented contribution to Male Gender Studies, "Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic" is a seminal work of ground-breaking scholarship and unreservedly recommended as a core addition to professional, community, college, and university library Gender Studies and Political Science 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 "Wronged and Dangerous" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781529221404, $19.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Karen Lee Ashcraft ( is Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado Boulder. She grew up in the lap of white evangelical populism and her research examines how gender interacts with race, class, sexuality, and more to shape organizational and cultural politics.

If You Love Them Leave Them Lists
Catherine Rahal, author
Wendy Moenig, illustrator
Independently Published
9781778198809, $19.99, PB, 100pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "If You Love Them Leave Them Lists: A Guide to Navigate Difficult Conversations and Organize Your Affairs", Catherine Rahal provides a short and informative guide on how to organize your affairs to help you prepare a roadmap or legacy notebook that will adequately serve as a guide for your representatives: your power of attorney, your healthcare and financial proxy (mandatary), and eventually, when you have passed away, your executor (liquidator).

We all like to imagine that our affairs are in order, that our families will have in hand necessary information in the event of our incapacity or passing. "If You Love Them Leave Them Lists" will enable you to feel secure in the knowledge that your family will be guided by your wishes during challenging times, as much as can be, with this DIY legacy notebook in hand.

Well organized and accessible to even those most reluctant to face facts. Ready-to-use lists are there for those who don't want to invent their own methods. If one wants to feel reassured that all is in order, "If You Love Them Leave Them Lists" is the ideal 'fill in the blanks' DIY manual to follow.

Critique: Impressively 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "If You Love Them Leave Them Lists: A Guide to Navigate Difficult Conversations and Organize Your Affairs" is an ideal and effective DIY guide to preparing your legacy for your chosen beneficiaries. All to often a sudden death will leave loved ones scrambling to deal with all that such a loss will entail -- that's why "If You Love Them Leave Them Lists: A Guide to Navigate Difficult Conversations and Organize Your Affairs" is such a necessary preventative to such confusion and anxiety with respect to passing on your estate to the next generation according to your wishes. It should be noted that "If You Love Them Leave Them Lists: A Guide to Navigate Difficult Conversations and Organize Your Affairs" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.32).

Editorial Note #1: Personal tragedy and financial disaster early in life motivated Catherine Rahal to pursue work as a personal financial advisor from 1991 through 2018. Catherine is a published writer, whose personal finance columns have appeared on the Canoe Money website and in the Montreal Gazette. Certifications in elder planning along the way, became the catalyst for working on ways to simplify important decisions for those of us of a certain age.

Editorial Note #2: Wendy Moenig has a design/writing/marketing background in radio, television, the film industry and professional sports. She is a graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design and studied Journalism at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. This broad spectrum of experience has enabled her to find elegant solutions using image and text to tell stories and share ideas -- one of her passions for the last 30 years.

Angel at the Paradise Hotel
Teresa O'Driscoll
Roundfire Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781789048858, $30.00, PB, 328pp

Synopsis: When tourism transforms a fishing village on the green and beautiful Greek island of Corfu, old hatreds, envy and greed threaten to tear the community apart. Behind the scenes, personal demons fuel division while guardian angels battle to neutralize their influence...

Hotelier Jason (who is planning to get rich) ruthlessly chases his goal, unaware of the trouble and danger he is stirring up.

Three visitors from Ireland, America and Wales bring their own problems. Clare, running from a broken relationship, is drawn into a love triangle with Jason. Aeron, battling a mid-life crisis, is closer to despair than he realizes - while Bethany, jolted by a Big Birthday into doing a Shirley Valentine, is hoping it will sort her life out.

As the sizzling summer unfolds, each faces make-or break-challenges. Extra help is at hand though, with the arrival of Gabriella, angel of Greece. When meddling demons prevail, and smouldering greed and vengeance reach flashpoint, can she avert disaster?

Critique: A deftly crafted and original novel of mystery, suspense, and holiday romance, "Angel at the Paradise Hotel" by talented novelist Teresa O'Driscoll is a fun read from cover to cover. While a terrific and recommended pick for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Angel at the Paradise Hotel" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.49).

Editorial Note: Teresa O'Driscoll ( was born in Wales to a Scottish mother and Welsh father with Irish roots. She worked as a journalist in Greece and now back home in Wales she feels her experience of living abroad enlivens her work, while a Celtic heritage adds a mystical touch.

Margaret Lane

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Where Coyotes Howl
Sandra Dallas
St. Martin's Press
c/o Macmillan
9781250277909, $26.99 HB

An elegant mural of the difficulties of life in early Twentieth Century Wyoming.

The story in Where Coyotes Howl concerns the happiness and tragedies that befall its two protagonists, Ellen and Charlie, on the High Plains of eastern Wyoming. Living on the High Plains during the time in which the novel takes place was hard. There were blizzards, drought, snakes, sicknesses, and, of course, coyotes. And there were also the human dangers posed by several of the inhabitants of Wallace, Wyoming. The reminders of all these things were the deserted shacks formerly inhabited by people who had failed.

The plot of Where Coyotes Howl moves through a progression of calamities that occur over a period of two years. Calamity is certainly not a stranger to those trying to make a life in the years around 1915 near a small town built on the hardscrabble prairie. There are accidents, diseases, and bad fathers who kill children. Husbands abuse, and try to murder, their wives. And nature brings its own misfortunes, like blizzards and drought, black snakes that devour chicken eggs, and skunks that kill chicks. Ranchers have few resources to ward off calamity. Sometimes all they have is good luck.

Sandra Dallas brilliantly depicts the optimism with which her characters move their lives forward and the despair that comes when their fortunes reverse. Her portrait of the hard life of the times is both realistic and beautiful. She doesn't hold her punches when tragedy occurs. Nor does she overstate the periods of joy that slide in between.

As with all Sandra Dallas novels, the story is about the characters. The early Twentieth Century prairie life is only a backdrop for a sensitive rendition of the joy and suffering that occurred during the adversities Ellen and Charlie faced. They stand up to metaphorical coyotes in their story with bravery. Time and again they pick themselves up off their knees after horrible events to face new challenges. There are no superhuman feats. What is particularly brilliant about the author's storytelling is its very human characterization of its character's lives and feelings. Charlie says early in their relationship, "Don't you ever serve me vinegar pie. I don't ever want us to think we're so broke we have to eat vinegar pie." Ellen remembers their first summer together "like a talisman, holding on to the memories in hopes those times would come again."

Ellen clutched her talisman many times during the novel. And she was often philosophical in an understated way about her misfortunes. It was the way of the high plains, a life captured so beautifully in the novel by Sandra Dallas. The sky was in Ellen's eyes a "bluebird blue," but sunsets could be "violent," which she remarked "mirrored her passion for Charlie and his for her." This novel never lapses into moral commentary. The events are presented in a straightforward fashion, the same as the manner in which the characters approach their lives. The book is an elegant mural of the difficulties of life on the Wyoming high plains. Readers can stand back and draw their own conclusions about the meaning of life, the presence of god, and why coyotes howl.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

MescaElin's Bookshelf

Paintings and Sculptures
Chris Wind
9781926891156, $12.99 paperback, 72 pp.
9781926891194, $4.99 (epub)
9781926891187 (pdf)

It has been a long time since I read a poetry book. I seem to enjoy poetry from time to time, but more than reading it, I like writing it.

But when I came across Paintings and Sculptures by Chris Wind, I was hooked. You know that feeling, when you read the first page and you know you are going to like that book? That happened when I read the first poem.

Each poem is describing in a witty, clever manner a famous painting or sculpture. I loved Mona and I could picture the scene, it might have happened that way, we'll never know. Also The Last Supper was brilliantly clever. But my favourite one was Lady of Justice - such a fine poem with a subliminal message.

You have to bring your fine senses when you go into reading Paintings and Sculptures. Otherwise you will not understand all the subtleties hidden between the clever verses.

This is for sure a book I will reread every couple of months.


Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Chris Thomas
Post Hill Press
9781637587690, $28.00, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: Chris Thomas is not yet thirty years old when he finds himself managing the immense pressure, eccentric personalities, and extenuating circumstances of an international story, where one small misstep could adversely impact the search for a missing teenager and the reputation of her family.

Now, twenty years later and with the publication of "Unexpected: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion", Thomas takes readers behind the scenes, providing new details, perspectives, and commentary on finding Elizabeth Smart.

In the process of reflecting on Elizabeth's search and rescue, Thomas discovers how growing up in the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormon) helped push him to develop the exact kind of intuition needed to manage Elizabeth's kidnapping and rescue, and to do so while the world watched.

Unexpected juxtaposes crucial events from the Smart case with Thomas's experience growing up in the Latter-day Saint culture, including coming to understand the secret of a broken war hero before it was too late.

Critique: A fascinating and informative read from first page to last, "Unexpected: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion" will have a particular appeal to readers with an interest in Mormonism and true crime stories. While very strongly recommended, especially for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Unexpected: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Chris Thomas ( is a writer, speaker, and communication professional. He is best known for his work as the Smart family publicist during the nine-and-a-half months Elizabeth was missing. In this capacity, he fielded more than ten thousand calls from journalists, served as a family spokesperson by completing hundreds of interviews, helped coordinate the Smart's lobbying efforts for the national Amber Alert, and managed a crush of media when Elizabeth was rescued. John Walsh of America's Most Wanted said that Thomas deserves most of the credit for keeping the public and family focused on finding Elizabeth. Thomas also managed the trial and sentencing of Elizabeth's abductors, helped position her as a leading child advocate, and managed Elizabeth's engagement, her surprise wedding, the birth of her children, and the divorce of her parents.

The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope
Luke Adam Hawker
Ilex Press
c/o Octopus Books
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9781781578704, $19.99, HC, 64pp

Synopsis: Imagine a world without trees. A world that is in many ways like our world, but where magnificent canopies, tree climbing and leaves rustling in the breeze are something only the elderly Tree Generation remembers.

Until a young girl comes along, a girl who is brave and spirited and willing to follow where her imagination takes her. Climbing accidentally into a parallel world, where nature still exists in its purest form, Olive experiences the wonders that her own world has lost.

From the bestselling author of Together, The Last Tree is a powerful and beautifully illustrated evocation of the fragility of our natural world and a magnificent celebration of its beauty. Ultimately this is a wonderful story of hope and new beginnings.

Critique: Beautifully illustrated in black-and-white sketch art, "The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope" is an extraordinary literary work that will be of special appeal to readers with an interest in graphic art as a storytelling medium. Unique, special, entertaining, inherently fascinationg and memorable, "The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope", while also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library collections.

Editorial Note: Luke Adam Hawker ( worked as an architectural designer before becoming a full time artist in 2015. He sells his signed and limited edition prints to fans throughout the UK and the rest of the world. He has also been commissioned by brands such as the Soho House Hotel Group, and has an artwork hanging in the Parliamentary Art collection. He can be followed on Instagram @lukeadamhawker

Michael J. Carson

Patricia Bloom's Bookshelf

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun
Jass Richards
9781926891521, $14.99 paperback, 194 pp.
9781926891538 (epub)
9781926891552 (pdf) (free downloads at author's site)

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun is a terrifically funny and ingeniously acerbic novel about a woman who decides to earn money doing what she loves best: dog walking. But, when she starts to accumulate more and more dogs (each with its own, unique story), did she - ahem - bite off more than she could chew?

Patricia Bloom

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Tender is the Night
F. Scott Fitzgerald, author
9781909305175, $9.99 pbk

Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night"

F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1934 novel "Tender is the Night" is a story of part of America's "Lost Generation" in the period following WW I. Most of the story is set on the French Riviera in the 1920s with a large cast of wealthy, dissipated and idle Americans with little to do with themselves. The book tells of the fall of Dick Diver, a promising and idealistic young American psychiatrist. As an intern in Zurich, Dick had married a beautiful wealthy young American woman, Nichole Warren, who had been his patient. Nichole had severe and lasting psychiatric issues resulting from sexual abuse by her father. While on the Riviera, several years into the marriage, Dick is attracted to a callow 18-year old American movie actress, Rosemary Hoyt. Although he resists Rosemary's advances at the time, her memory stays with him. She and Dick have a brief affair a few years later. Dick ultimately sees her as shallow. By that time, his life has dissipated through drink, idleness, problems with Nichole, and the corrupting effect of Nichole's money. Nichole leaves Dick, and he returns to the States for a lonely, wasted life. It is all very sad.

The story is haunting, effectively organized, and well told. The opening scenes take place on the French Riviera with Dick seemingly at the height of his powers as a socialite and budding medical writer. After an extended opening, the story doubles back to Dick's life in Zurich and his fateful courtship of Nichole. We then witness Dick Diver's inexorable deterioration, alcoholism, and degeneracy, and the break-up of his marriage. The writing is eloquent and spare, with good characterizations of mostly unappealing people and pictures of places. Fitzgerald shows the rootlessness of a class of Americans after the Great War and the corrupting effects of money and idleness. Dick Diver's story, I thought, was sad and sentimental rather than tragic. There is little of the hero about him.

"Tender is the Night" is the story of wandering lives, lost innocence, and the waste of human potential. In some ways, the book reminded me of the writings of the Beats, following WW II. It is a 20th Century American book that rewards knowing.

A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790's and the Birth of American Nationalism
Carol Berkin
Basic Books
9780465060887, $30.00 hc

American Nationalism In The Age Of Federalism

With many books addressing the early history of the United States under the Constitution, it is difficult to present this story in a fresh, insightful manner. Carol Berkin succeeds admirably in capturing the critical role this early history played in the development of American constitutionalism and the significance of the achievements of Presidents Washington and Adams in her book, "A Sovereign People, The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism" (2017). Berkin, the author is many books on American history, is the Presidential Professor of History Emerita at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. I have read one of her earlier books, "Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant."

Berkin explores the achievement of the American Federalists, particularly Washington, Adams, and Hamilton. The Federalists were those who supported the ratification of the American Constitution. They argued that the Constitution was necessary to create a strong, effective central government rather than a loose confederation of states. The Constitution was ratified, but it was a close thing. With the election of George Washington as the first president, many Americans still remained skeptical of the constitution and the Federal government and feared it would deprive them of their liberties.

Berkin explores the development of American constitutionalism and of Americans' slow placement of loyalty and patriotism in the national government through discussion of four crises in the administrations of the first two presidents. The first two of these crises, the Whiskey Rebellion and the Genet Affair, occurred during the Washington Administration. The third and fourth crises, the XYZ Affair and the Alien and Sedition Acts, occurred under Washington's successor, President Adams. Some historical accounts tend to see the handling of these crises as a bridge to Democratic government beginning in 1800 with the presidency of Jefferson. Berkin finds much to be admired in the Federalists and in their handling of each of these four crises. She writes:

"Modern Americans often assume that nationalism was an obvious and even automatic response to the transition from colonies to an independent country after the Revolutionary War. But this assumption misses the reality that the core of nationalism -- loyalty to a country and its government and its shared identity as its citizens -- was a result of the hard work of governance. The governments of Washington and Adams did not find perfect solutions to the crises facing their country, but over the course of their administrations Americans came to acknowledge that the federal government was the best-equipped institution to deal with critical domestic and foreign problems."

Berkin offers good background and detailed discussion of each of the four crises she describes. She shows how each crisis constituted a threat to the fledgling American nation rather than an exaggerated local incident that the government tried to exploit for its own purposes. The resolution of each crises worked to strengthen the Federal government and Americans sense of patriotism and loyalty to the government, even when some Americans might disagree with individual decisions.

Thus, Berkin argues that the Whiskey Rebellion, over the government's power to tax, was resolved largely through the great personal admiration Americans had for George Washington. The Genet Affair, involving a French minister's attempt to end-run the national government to secure support for revolutionary France, led to a realization of the Executive Branch's role in the conduct of foreign affairs beyond the personal prestige of the individual holding the presidency. The XYZ affair involving an attempt by the French minister to extort bribes and loans in exchange for peace with France, led to Americans of all political stripes uniting in the face of this foreign effort to separate Americans from each other and from their government. The Alien and Sedition Acts showed both that commitment to the national government was stronger than commitment to party and that criticism of government enactments was based on the Constitution itself, rather than on a rejection of constitutionalism and of nationalism.

Berkin concludes:

"The arc of nationalism can thus be traced through the crises of the 179os. The trust placed in Washington as an individual, so critical in the approval of his handling of the Whiskey Rebellion, was transformed during the Genet affair into a respect for the office he held. The XYZ affair helped Americans recognize their shared identity, a national identity that limited the power of provincialism to shape their views and their political choices. And the challenge to the Alien and Sedition acts demonstrated that there was no longer an anti-Constitution movement but a loyalty to the Constitution that could withstand a difference in interpretation of the powers it invested in the federal government. This loyalty was fundamental to the acceptance of the notion of a loyal opposition in politics. And the idea of a loyal opposition helped sustain the Union until the struggle over the survival of slavery created a breach too broad and too deep to be mended without bloodshed."

Berkin writes clearly and well, perhaps as a result of long years experience in college teaching. She states the goals of her book clearly in the introduction, presents her materials clearly and coherently in short, digestible sections in each chapter, repeats and summarizes her materials as she proceeds, and reaches a compelling understandable conclusion in the final section of her book.

Berkin's "A Sovereign People" tells an important story about the growth of American nationalism and about the importance of loyalty. It reminded me in today's difficult time about the importance of American nationalism and about how Americans of differing political views and persuasions can disagree with one another while retaining a shared sense of respect together with a strong commitment to American identity.

Moses, Man of the Mountain
Zora Neale Hurston, author
9780061695148, $14.99 pbk

Zora Neale Hurston's Novel of Moses

With the Jewish holiday of Passover only a few weeks away, I decided at last to read Zora Neale Hurston's 1939 novel, "Moses, Man of the Mountain". Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, as recounted in the Bible. Hurston's novel tells the story of the Exodus, drawihg freely on the Biblical account, but from her own perspective. I have long been an admirer of Hurston from "Their Eyes were Watching God", "Mules and Men" and other sources and wanted to hear what she had to say about Moses and Exodus.

Passover is celebrated by a festive meal, called a Seder, at which a text, the Haggadah, is read and discussed. A striking feature of the Haggadah is that Moses is barely mentioned. The reason for this, as I understand, is to acknowledge God as responsible for redeeming the Jewish people from slavery and to avoid the temptation to idolatry that would occur by focusing on Moses as the redeemer.

Hurston knew her Bible well, but I doubt if she knew the Haggadah. In her Introduction to "Moses, Man of the Mountain" she contrasts her approach with the understanding of Moses in Judaism and Christianity. Her approach, and what she sees as the approach to Moses in other cultures, was to focus on Moses as a man, not because he brought the Ten Commandments down from Sinai but "because he had the power to go up the mountain and to bring them down. " For people held in slavery, the story of Moses teaches his power and "the terror he showed before all Israel and to Pharoah and THAT MIGHTY HAND". It is valuable to see this difference at the outset in reading Hurston's novel.

Hurston's novel begins with the edict of Pharoah to kill all newborn Jewish males, and it concludes as Moses goes to meet his death after leading the Israelites for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The story uses the Biblical account with Hurston's changes and embellishments The book features a shifting and beautiful use of language and tone. The narrative portions of the book are written in an almost Biblical style. Portions in dialogue, particularly involving the Hebrew slaves, are written in the colloquial American Southern black vernacular that Hurston used in "Their Eyes were Watching God", thus combining the African American experience with the experience of the Hebrews.

The portrayal of Moses is complicated, as it is in the Bible, and Hurston emphasizes his relationship to the Egyptians and to the Midianites and his father in law Jethro as well as to the Hebrews. There are ambiguities in the portrayal of race and of identity. The years Moses spent with Jethro and with Jetro's daughter and his wife, Ziporrah, in particular receive much attention in Hurston's story.

The novel includes a great deal of discussion of women, beginning with the birth of Moses and continuing through the years in the desert. Moses' Egyptian mother, his sister Miriam, and his wife Zipporah receive a great deal of attention, much of which is unfavorable, as also is the case for Moses's brother Aaron.

As Hurston's introduction suggests, the emphasis is on Moses' role as a leader, in bringing the Israelites out from Egypt and in keeping them together in the attempt to form a nation. A major theme of the book is that African Americans and other oppressed peoples need to be strong and take destiny into their own hands rather than blaming others for their plight. Hurston's view of the African American experience differed from many African American writers of her time, leading in part to a neglect of her writings for many years.

The book is long and beautifully written but sometimes tends to wander. It is sometimes criticized for having no clear message or sense of direction. While something may be said for this view, Hurston was the rare writer who tried to think for herself. Her writing cannot be reduced to the feminist, black, or liberal stereotypes common to her day and to our own. Her novel resists easy attempts at moralizing or summation, as is also the case with the Biblical account.

In "Their Eyes were Watching God", Hurston used focused on a discrete place, the African American town of Eatonville, Florida and described it and its residents with great sympathy and particularity. She wrote an unforgettable book using folklore and local life which is universal in its specifics. "Moses, Man of the Mountain" explores some of the same themes but in the context of the Biblical story. It is harder to get a handle and a clear sense of direction for this latter story. It is still an outstanding novel which encouraged me to think more both about Hurston's vision and about Passover.

The City, Marimba Concerto, Moonlight
Kevin Puts, composer
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, Katherine Needleman, Ji Su Jung, performers
Naxos American Classics
B0BQ9JB2W5, $11.99

The American City In Music

Some contemporary American composers write highly accessible and emotive music on broadly American, ceremonial themes. One such composer is Peter Boyle (b. 1970), best-known for his work "Ellis Island: The Dream of America". Boyle's work reminds me of the composer under review here, his near-contemporary Kevin Puts, (b. 1973), the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his opera "Silent Night". Puts composes in a variety of genres and his music is varied. lavishly orchestrated, propulsive, and accessible. As does Boyle, Puts frequently writes American ceremonial music, such as his Symphony No. 2, available on a different Naxos CD, which commemorates the events of September 11. The highlight of this new CD is "The City", composed in 2016 to commemorate Puts' beloved city of Baltimore but expanded to become a broader based meditation on the American city.

As is the Symphony No. 2, "The City" is a single movement work of about 22 minutes. The recording is a live performance from April 15, 2016 by the Baltimore Symphony conducted by Marin Alsop. The work was initially presented in multi-media with a collage of city scenes accompanying Puts' score. That might well be the best way to experience this music but I was moved by hearing it on its own in this recording. The work portrays the modern large American city with its diversity, promise, and difficulty. The work flows through different themes and tempos, beginning with a lengthy, pulsating and percussive passage and a more meditative lyrical section. It portrays the size and drive of the city, Baltimore, as a symbol together with the many different voices it contains and the need for the voices to get along with and respect one another if the vision is to work. At midpoint, there is a long held single note followed by reflection and commentary among the earlier themes of the work. Puts wrote that the work assumed a different course for him following incidents of police brutality in Baltimore and elsewhere. His music captured for me something of the American city, and its promise and problems.

This CD also includes two unusual concertos composed at different times. The Marimba Concerto was first composed in 1997 when Puts was a student and later revised. The recording dates from June 3-4, 2021 and features the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop together with BSO marimbist Ji Su Jung. Marimba concertos are scarce. Over the summer, I heard the Marine Chamber Orchestra perform Emmanuel Sejourne's 2006, "Concerto for Marimba and Strings" with soloist Jonathan Besesi. That work is in virtuosic style and often requires the soloist to run from one end of the marimba to the other. Puts' concerto is a much quieter, more reflective work with long lyrical orchestral passages which the marimba expands and discusses. Puts says the work has a Mozartean influence which for me was clearest in the meditative second movement marked "Broad and Deliberate". This is a delightful concerto which, together with the concerto I heard over the summer, brought home to me the expressive musical capabilities of the marimba.

The second concerto on this CD is "Moonlight", oboe concerto no. 2, composed in 2018, The recording is of a live performance of November 15, 2018, featuring the Baltimore Symphony, Marin Alsop, and BSO oboist Kathleen Needleman. Puts writes that a 2016 film, "Moonlight" helped inspire this work. This concerto combines accessible, emotive writing with modernistic elements. It is frequently anguished, passionate in tone with long wailing passages in the first movement and more taut writing in the second. The oboe part is virtuosic and frequently high in the instrument's register. The work shows a great deal of intricacy in the relationship between the soloist and orchestra. The work's third movement is based upon a line by the American poet Theodore Roethke, "In a dark time, the eye begins to see" that is emblematic for the concerto as a whole. Puts says that "as I write this note, I continue to strive for vision and understanding in the midst of the great national division we continue to endure."

Kevin Puts offers his insights into his music in the liner notes. The CD is part of the "American Classics" series of Naxos. I was moved to think about Baltimore, a city I love and visit often, and the American city with Puts' music. I also was moved to learn more about Puts' music and about the scope of American creativity in the two accompanying concertos. This music deserves its place in a series devoted to American Classics.

Total Time: 66:39

Dangling Man
Saul Bellow, author
Penguin Classics
9780143039877, $15.00 pbk

Difficult Freedom

Saul Bellow's short and first published novel "Dangling Man" (1944) explores broad themes of community and alienation in the words of a self-centered young man awaiting induction into the Army in 1942-43 during WW II. The book sold poorly but it established Bellow as a writer of promise. The story is set in Chicago and is told exclusively by means of diary entries of the protagonist, who is identified only as Joseph, between December 15, 1942, and April 9. 1943. As befitting diary entries, most of the book is recounted in the first person. But in several places, Joseph tries to study and describe himself and speaks of his life in the third person. In diary entries late in the story, Joseph holds lengthy philosophical discussions with an alter-ego.

Joseph is 27 years old and a Canadian citizen. As the book opens, issues of citizenship have delayed Joseph's induction into the Army for seven months, during which he becomes the "dangling man" belonging neither to civilian nor military life. During this time, Joseph leaves his job working for a travel bureau. He is supported by his long-suffering wife of five years, Iva. He becomes increasingly resentful of his dependency on his wife. With their economically marginal situation, Joseph and Iva have given up their modest but reasonably comfortable flat for a squalid rooming house. Joseph expresses his disgust throughout the book for his landlord and landlady and many of the cotenants.

As his diary entries reveal, Joseph had tried before he saw himself as the dangling man (which in fact had been his situation throughout his life) to create a balance between his work and his interests which are largely intellectual and scholarly. For a brief time, Joseph had been a communist. He left the party and his former comrades shun him. He tries to think through the nature of American society and its relationship to individualism. When Joseph loses his job, Iva encourages him to read and to pursue his writings on the Enlightenment and on Romanticism. But with his restlessness and his new-found if precarious liberty, Joseph is unable to do so. He sits for long hours in his room unable to do anything, takes short walks for meals, has an affair, fights with his family and former friends, and he broods.

In one of several scenes of fighting in the book, Joseph and Iva visit his brother Amos, his wife Dolly, and daughter Etta for New Years. Amos has made a financial success of his life and presses Joseph to accept financial help which he proudly refuses. During the catastrophic New Years dinner, Joseph refuses his brother's offer of a holiday gift of cash. More tellingly, Joseph finds himself in a highly-compromising, sexually charged situation with his brother's daughter. Other fights with former friends and colleagues occur througout the book as part of Joseph's inability to decide what to do with himself.

Joseph wants to accept and function in American society and not to pursue the criticism and rejection which was common among intellectuals then and remains so today. He supports, however tentatively, the war effort and tries to make his peace with capitalism and materialism. These efforts are unsuccessful as Joseph cannot avoid his stance as an alienated outsider. Joseph finds he cannot make use of the freedom with uncertainty that has been offered to him as the draft board finally resolves Joseph's status. At the end of the book, Joseph is about to be inducted, facing an uncertain future with his wife and family, and the induction comes as a relief to him from his own purposelessness.

Although set in Chicago, Bellow's novel is heavily influenced by the themes of European philosophy and existentialism. Dostoevsky's anti-hero in "Notes from the Underground" is a predecessor of Joseph. Joseph is also preoccupied with the writings of Goethe as an attempted counter-balance to his own situation.

As in much of Bellow's later writing, "Dangling Man" juxtaposes scenes of American toughness and street life with long passages of philosophical reflection. The themes of alienation and liberty presented in this book cut deeper than the specific situation that confronts Joseph. As a narrator, Joseph is solipsistic and narcicistic. He also dislikes women. A disturbing tone of subtle racism underlies the book. Although short, the book drones on at times and lacks the sparkle of Bellow's later writing. Still, "Dangling Man" is a thoughtful and ambitious novel that captures something important about freedom and the American dilema.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Chris Bishop
RedDoor Press
9781913062521, $15.95

Bloodlines is the fourth of a trilogy that has turned into a five-book series, The Shadow of the Raven. I have not read books one through four, but as I've read all of Bernard Cornwell's The Warrior Chronicles, I had no trouble following the storyline and characters. Bloodlines picks up where the first three books left off with the death of Matthew(a monk turned warrior) and bringing in his two children and Alfred the Great. The characters are interesting and the bloodlines of Matthew's children (Edward and Ingar) convoluted. Certainly there is plenty of treachery and the on-going war with the Vikings to keep the reader enthralled.

Though Bloodlines is well-researched, I did not find the prose to be of the same high quality as Cornwell's. There seems to be a lot of telling, especially with dialogue used to tell the reader what everyone in the story should already be aware of. For example, early in the book, Alfred is meeting with his generals, and Osric comments, 'That was when he was wounded by that arrow in the chest?' I will not backtrack and read the prior books nor will I read the upcoming fifth.

Night of Fire
Colin Thubron
Harper Perennial
9780062499769, $15.99

I enjoyed Night of Fire. Its structure is somewhat akin to A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan in that it is a series of short stories bound together by a rather subtle common thread, in the case of Night of Fire, a rooming house going up in flames, one floor at a time. The boarders include the owner of the building, an amateur astronomer/photographer looking through his telescope on the roof; a failed priest; a neurosurgeon; a naturalist; an anxious invalid reliving his boyhood; and a drug addict hallucinating in the basement.

This is not an easy read as it combines ideas of religion and philosophy, with some neuroscience and physics tossed in. There were a number of lovely rich words I had to look up. Any book that enhances my vocabulary, I consider worthwhile. The author, Colin Thubron, is a travel writer, and his descriptions of an orthodox monastery on a Greek island, cremations in India, and Rwanda refugees in Tanzania both rang true and intrigued this veteran world traveler. The prose is perceptive and thought-provoking, and the memories of all the victims of the fire are often heart-breaking.

Minerva Spencer
Crooked Sixpence Press
9781951662592, $16.95

I raced through this novel in one evening. Regency historical romance tends to bog down in the ton and its rigid social mores. I really welcomed a novel with a neuro-divergent heroine and a wounded hero. Throw in a bit of gender-bending and cross-dressing, and you have an interesting romance. The heroine, a rather plain woman, is also a brilliant mathematician. The BSDM-light sex is explicit but not nauseatingly so, just be forewarned if you're a bit squeamish about such. Altogether, a fun, usual Regency novel.

Mark Rubinstein
Oceanview Publishing
9781608095469, $27.95

Downfall is a fast-paced novel set in New York City in the 1980s. It is something of a mashup of a police procedural and character-driven fiction and includes the points of view of the two detectives, a physician, Richard Shepard, whose father is murdered, and the murderer himself. Two murders occur close together and seem unrelated except that one of the men killed is Richard's Doppelganger. Because of this, Richard believes he is being targeted, though who would want to kill him and his father? The premise is fascinating.

As a police procedural, it reads a bit odd. The detectives spend little time actually "detecting." The point of view of the murderer seems somewhat superfluous as it doesn't provide but a bit or two of information that isn't duplicated elsewhere.

That said, the prose is clever and tight. There are some great one-liners such as: "the body heat in the place could bake a loaf of bread," "his beer gut's big enough to have its own zip code," and "the marriage has soured like a carton of milk that's past its sell-by date." The points of view change fairly frequently with no indication of whose POV the reader is in, and the voices of the individual characters aren't sufficiently different that the reader knows instantly. Overall an interesting read but not a great one.

Silver in the Bone
Alexandra Bracken
Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780593481653, $19.99

Silver in the Bone by Alexandra Bracken is the first in a series of Arthurian legend-inspired Young Adult fantasies set in contemporary times in Boston and later in Avalon. I found Bracken has written less a retelling of the Arthurian legends and more used them as a springboard into a new world.

Bracken uses a lot of child abuse, neglect and abandonment here. Few of the main characters have experienced a "normal" childhood. Tamsin and her unrelated "brother" Cabell are both Hallowers, and both have been abandoned and somewhat loosely adopted by Nash who abandons them in turn. Cabell is cursed to become a dog when stressed. Emrys, the spoiled son of the head Hallower, has been subjected to something or someone that scars his entire body. Tamsin is a smart-mouthed pessimist on the outside but a scarred, traumatized young girl on the inside with substantial trust issues. Neve is a young self-taught sorceress who was also abandoned but retains positive outlook and a caring personality.

The world-building is fantastic, the magic system interesting, the plot twisty and fun with a huge betrayal, and the main characters are complex, layered, yet relatable and strong. There's a hint of an enemies-to-lovers romance trope between Tamsin and Emrys. At times this book reaches the realm of horror, so it probably best for upper age young adults. My main criticism is that the ties to the Arthurian legends were not strong enough. They seem to be more of a plot device than a retelling - and, since seeing the movie Camelot as a child, I am a sucker for anything related to King Arthur. The book does end on a cliff-hanger; nonetheless, I look forward to the next in the series.

Stalking Shakespeare: A Memoir
Lee Durkee
9781982127145, $28,00

Stalking Shakespeare: A Memoir of Madness, Murder, and My Search for the Poet Beneath the Paint is fascinating. Author Durkee is honest about his abuse of Adderall and alcohol while consumed with his obsession with finding the definitive portrait of William Shakespeare. I enjoyed "watching" him collect images, harass art historians and librarians while searching for the consummate image.

There is a lot of art history (and art terminology) and British history here, more than the usual memoir might contain, but it all pertains to his sometimes obsessive search. The prose is witty, snarky, and irreverent. It should be a treat for Shakespeare nerds to read and can serve as a detective story as well. I cannot comment more without giving away the prize question: did Durkee find the truth he sought or not?

The View from Half Dome
Jill Caugherty
Black Rose Writing
9781685131807, $21.95

Set in San Francisco during the Great Depression, The View from Half Dome is the story of sixteen-year-old Isabel Dickinson. After her longshoreman father dies on the docks, she and her family (her mother, a teenaged brother James, and a nine-year-old sister) move to the squalid Tenderloin District. Her brother joins the Civilian Conservation Corps and works at Yosemite National Park. They barely get by, even with him contributing most of his salary.

A tragic accident occurs, and Isabel runs away from home to join her brother in Yosemite. There she's befriended by Enid Michael, the first - only female - ranger-naturalist on staff. They form a deep bond, sharing their love of nature and the poems of Emily Dickinson. From Enid, Isabel learns that women can be independent.

The View from Half Dome, a great coming-of-age story, is historical fiction at its best. Author Jill Caughterty deftly interweaves fiction and reality. Enid Michael was, in fact, the first female ranger-naturalist. The photographer Ansel Adams and his wife are also real people. I was fortunate, in my prior life as a photographer, to take a class from him before his death at eighty-two in 1984, so I really appreciated his presence in the book. As a lifelong "birder" and conservationist, I also enjoyed the descriptions of birds, plants, trees, and the mountains themselves.

Lightning Strike
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books
9781982128685, $27.00

Lightning Strike is the eighteenth of twenty Cork O'Connor mysteries, a new-to-me mystery series. I started with it because it's the prequel to the rest of the series. I recently read Krueger's extraordinary novel, Ordinary Grace, which is a beautifully-written coming-of-age story and enjoyed it so much I decided to embark on reading the O'Connor series. Like Ordinary Grace, Lightning Strike is set in Minnesota in the 1960s. Cork, a pre-adolescent, starts the story as an ordinary child, but as his hometown is beset by multiple tragedies, his innocence is tested by a creeping awareness of adult issues: secrets, lies, adultery, murder, suicide, racial issues (particularly prejudice against Native Americans), and PTSD.

Krueger's writing is exquisite. The characters, like those in my favorite spy novels, Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series, are well-constructed and superbly endowed with humanity. The plot has the requisite twists, turns, and red herrings that lead to an imminently-satisfying denouement.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

The London Seance Society
Sarah Penner
Park Row Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
Blackstone Audiobooks
9780778387114, $30.00, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: 1873. At an abandoned chateau on the outskirts of Paris, a dark seance is about to take place, led by acclaimed spiritualist Vaudeline D'Allaire. Known worldwide for her talent in conjuring the spirits of murder victims to ascertain the identities of the people who killed them, she is highly sought after by widows and investigators alike.

Lenna Wickes has come to Paris to find answers about her sister's death, but to do so, she must embrace the unknown and overcome her own logic-driven bias against the occult. When Vaudeline is beckoned to England to solve a high-profile murder, Lenna accompanies her as an understudy. With shared determination, the women find companionship that perhaps borders on something more. And as they team up with the powerful men of London's exclusive Seance Society to solve the mystery, they begin to suspect that they are not merely out to solve a crime, but perhaps entangled in one themselves...

Critique: A riveting read that is deftly written with intoxicating suspense and sultry prose, with her novel, "The London Seance Society", author Sarah Penner has crafted an original and memorable story that blurs the lines between truth and illusion, while revealing the dangers and risks that women will take to avenge the ones they love. A highly recommended pick for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of Historical/Occult fiction fans that "The London Seance Society" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete an unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798212224048, $41.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Sarah Penner ( is also the author of The Lost Apothecary which will be translated into forty languages worldwide and is set to be turned into a drama series by Fox. Sarah spent thirteen years in corporate finance and now writes full-time.

Self-Healing with Chinese Medicine
Clive Withm, L.Ac., M.S.c.
Findhorn Press
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781644117057, $34.99, PB, 292pp

Synopsis: The human body is a part of nature and as such is governed by the universal principles of the natural world. When we turn to ancient Chinese medicine, we find a unique ecological approach to understanding how our body functions. Basic concepts like yin and yang, the balance of the elements, flow and blockage, dampness and dryness explain the effects of change on our body systems, thus providing tools for how to keep our body healthy and flourishing.

"Self-Healing with Chinese Medicine: A Home Guide to Treating Common Ailments" is a detailed and easy-to-follow guide by licensed acupuncturist and health promoter Clive Witham who addresses how and why illness in the body occurs and what we can do to nurse ourselves back to health. With clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions, he shares effective and proven self-care treatments for a number of common health disorders, from colds and high blood pressure to backache, nausea, menstrual pain, and depression.

The simple application of the core principles of Chinese medicine give the backdrop of how you can use food therapy, manual techniques of acupressure and Gua sha, exercise, and lifestyle advice to make the changes you need from within. You can learn to assess your own ailments, understand the main syndromes and illness patterns, and become proactive in lifestyle changes that can alleviate symptoms and support recovery.

"Self-Healing with Chinese Medicine" will enable you to manage your own healing process, delve into a fresh perspective of the natural world to maintain balance and flow in your body system, and build up resilience with simple self-care.

Critique: A complete manual of instruction that will prove indispensable for professional and aspiring practitioners of Chinese medicine seeking to address common illnesses and self-care treatments ranging from simply colds, to high blood pressure, to menstrual pain, to depression, and so much more. Impressively informative, exceptionally well organized, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation, "Self-Healing with Chinese Medicine: A Home Guide to Treating Common Ailments" is unreservedly recommended as a core addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Alternative Medicine and Chinese Medicine collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, professional practitioners, and non-specialist general readers that "Self-Healing with Chinese Medicine" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.99).

Editorial Note: Clive Witham L.Ac., M.Sc., ( is a licensed acupuncturist and the director of the Komorebi Institute and the Gua sha Center in Spain. For more than a decade, he ran a chronic illness clinic in North Africa. The creator of Ecology in Motion Gua sha, he specializes in Gua sha and promoting the knowledge of ancient Chinese healing as a viable, practical world medicine. He is also the author of several books, including Holographic Gua Sha and Facial Gua Sha, Clive lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Parent's Battle Plan
Laine Lawson Craft
Chosen Books
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton, Ada, MI 49301
9780800763145, $29.99, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: Today's technology has made sinful experiences and deadly choices accessible to our teenagers and young adults with just a click. And parents are left with the disappointments (and devastating fallout) of their children's choices.

Through sharing her own story of praying three very wayward prodigals home, Laine Lawson Craft offers not only hope and insight, but also a practical, tried-and-true battle plan for parents walking this heartbreaking season of life. You will discover how to handle the emotional roller coaster of trust, deal with your children's self-destructive choices, pray emboldened by God's promises, fight for your child's destiny, and win the war of darkness over your children -- even when you don't get the miracle you asked for.

The principle and underlying message of "Parent's Battle Plan: Warfare Strategies to Win Back Your Prodigal" by Laine Lawson Craft is that you as a parent in this fiercely secular and social media driven ages are not alone, that there is hope and healing for every hurting heart.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, the "Parent's Battle Plan: Warfare Strategies to Win Back Your Prodigal" is invaluable reading and a parenting resource deserving as wide a readership as possible. Exceptionally well written, organized and thoroughly 'parent friendly' in presentation, "Parents Battle Plan" is an unreservedly recommend addition to personal, family, professional, community, and academic library Parenting collections. It should be noted that it is also readily available in a paperback edition (9780800762841, $16.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) for the personal reading lists of readers with an interest in parent and child relationships from a Christian perspective..

Editorial Note: Laine Lawson Craft ( is an author, popular media host, and in-demand speaker. The founder and publisher of WHOAwomen magazine (2010-2018), she regularly hosts online challenges and masterclasses as well as Facebook Live events that reach thousands. Her Livin' Lively with Laine podcast encourages women around the world, and her Warfare Parenting podcast encourages parents of adult children.

Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years
Kristen Hatton
New Growth Press
1301 Carolina Street, #L101, Greensboro, NC 27401
9781645072782, $16.99, PB, 176pp

Synopsis: As parents of young children anticipate the teen years, with the publication of "Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years", counselor Kristen Hatton helps them lay the groundwork so that having honest conversations, setting reasonable limits, and exploring issues of the heart will prepare them and their children for the next stage. Hatton helps moms and dads make the connection between their current parenting and future outcomes. By evaluating their parenting, they will see where their own fears, desires, and insecurities lie and how to pivot to practices of faith and trust in God.

Proactive, long-haul parenting will help parents and children be better prepared for engaging in the realities of peer pressure, decision-making, and recognizing the connection between behavior and the heart.

"Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years" covers: Evaluating your parenting style to identify whether you are under- or over-parenting; Discovering practical strategies for redemptive parenting and living out the gospel of grace in your home; Encouragement to take wise, faithful steps while depending on God's grace for parenting mistakes and failures.

Critique: Exceptionally 'parent friendly' in organization and presentation, "Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years" is an ideal combination of 'how-to' manual and instructional guide for effectively parenting children through their adolescent and young adult years. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community and academic library Parenting collections.

Editorial Note: Kristen Hatton, LPC-Associate, ( is a counselor and author passionate about helping families. Kristen is the author of Get Your Story Straight, Face Time, The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students,

Austin Noir
Hopeton Hay, et al.
Akashic Books
232 Third Street, #A115, Brooklyn, NY 11215
9781636140902, $42.95, HC, 294pp

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Hopeton Hay, Scott Montgomery, and Molly Odintz, "Austin Noir" from Akashic Books featuring fourteen brand-new short stories by Gabino Iglesias, Ace Atkins, Amanda Moore, Jeff Abbott, Scott Montgomery, Richard Z. Santos, Alexandra Burt, Lee Thomas, Miriam Kuznets, Jacob Grovey, Chaitali Sen, Molly Odintz, Amy Gentry, and Andrew Hilbert.

Critique: With the common thread of Austin, Texas, "Austin Noir" is a new compendium of original short stories, each of which are showcased gems of noir fiction and unreservedly recommended for both personal reading lists and community/academic library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections. Of special note is the inclusion of a listing of the contributing authors and their credentials. It should be noted that "Austin Noir" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781636140896, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note #1: Hopeton Hay ( is a book talk show host and producer based in the Austin metro area who has been interviewing crime-fiction authors since 2009. Currently, he hosts and produces the Diverse Voices Book Review podcast which features a monthly crime-fiction episode.

Editorial Note #2: Scott Montgomery ( became immersed in the crime-fiction scene while working at the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. In Austin, he has continued to work as a bookseller at BookPeople, specializing in the genre. His writing has appeared in Shotgun Honey and the anthologies Murder on Wheels, Lone Star Lawless, and The Eyes of Texas.

Editorial Note #3: Molly Odintz ( is the senior editor of CrimeReads. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Paper Brigade and the Austin Chronicle.

Susan Bethany

Weikelm's Bookshelf

This Will Not Look Good on My Resume
Jass Richards
9781926891484, $14.99 paperback, 236 pp.
9781926891415 (epub)
9781926891491 (pdf) (free downloads at author's site)

Brett has trouble holding down a job. Mainly because she's an outspoken misanthrope who is prone to turn a dead-end job into a social engineering experiment. Sometimes with comically disastrous results, sometimes with comically successful results. (Like pairing up a compulsive shopper with a kleptomaniac for an outing at the mall.) I don't agree with everything she says, but I will defend her right to say it -- because she's hilarious!

My favorite part was when she taught a high school girls' sex ed class that 70% of boys will lie to get sex, 80% won't use a condom, yet 90% are pro-life. She was reprimanded, of course. I think she should have gotten a medal.

You will likely be offended at one point or another, but if you are secure enough to laugh at your own sacred cows instead of just everyone else's, this is a must read.


Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Shaping of a Soul
Richard Harries
Christian Alternative Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803411620, $21.95, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: Richard Harries was serving as a soldier in Germany when he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that God was calling him to be ordained. He had virtually no religious background, but like Martin Luther, he could do no other.

His memoir, "The Shaping of a Soul: A Life Taken By Surprise" is the candidly personal story of a man who has engaged in some of the major issues of our time and who, for fifty years, has been a much loved voice on 'Thought for the Day' in the Today program. Bishop of Oxford from 1987 to 2006, Harries was made a Life Peer on his retirement and remains active in the House of Lords as Lord Harries of Pentregarth. In a life repeatedly taken by surprise, he tells how he is still able to retain his faith even in our present highly secular and skeptical society.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "The Shaping of a Soul: A Life Taken By Surprise" is a testament to a religious life lived out in spiritually challenging times. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Shaping of a Soul" will have a special relevance to readers with an interest in religious faith and Christian leadership. While highly recommended for community, academic, and seminary Christian Biography/Memoir collections, it should be noted for the persona reading lists of seminary students, clergy, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject tht "The Shaping of a Soul" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note: After a varied ministry as parish priest, theological lecturer and Dean of King's College, London, Richard Harries served as Bishop of Oxford from 1987-2006. As a broadcaster and writer he has offered a robust, intellectually grounded defense of orthodox Christian faith in a skeptical age. (,_Baron_Harries_of_Pentregarth)

At the Helm
John H. Dalton
Knox Press
9781637585153, $28.00, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: John Dalton's life is an inspirational American success story. With the publication of "At the Helm: My Journey with Family, Faith, and Friends to Calm the Storms of Life" he traces his journey from modest beginnings in Louisiana to traveling the world and working across private and public sectors and four presidential appointments all culminating in his appointment as the 70th Secretary of the Navy.

As Secretary of the Department of the Navy, including both Navy and Marine Corps, Dalton had to weather the storm of the Tailhook controversy, navigate through the Naval Academy cheating scandal, manage the new policies of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and women serving in combat. His record with these situations shines as a model of ethical leadership during crises.

Dalton has created an account of his life for the benefit of posterity and to encourage others at this challenging juncture in American history. His memoir recounts his experiences and the bedrock values which shaped him and the hard lessons he received from them -- including the essence of principled leadership.

At the Helm is a portrait of a man who has lived life ethically and to the fullest, doing his utmost to leave the world better than he found it.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and having a special appeal to readers with an interest in American success stories, "At the Helm: My Journey with Family, Faith, and Friends to Calm the Storms of Life" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "At the Helm" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: John H. Dalton ( served as the 70th Secretary of the Navy and was recognized by the National Security Caucus as their 1997 International Security Leadership Award recipient. After graduating from the US Naval Academy, he served on two submarines. In 1977, President Carter nominated him as president of the Government National Mortgage Association ("Ginnie Mae") and later a member and then Chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. In July 1993, President Clinton nominated him as Secretary of the Navy where he served for five and a half years.

My Name Is Joe And I Am A Pizza Man
Joe Farruggio, author
Theirry Sagnier, editor
Fourth Lloyd Productions
9781735034157, $29.00, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "My Name Is Joe And I Am A Pizza Man, An American Story", Joe Farruggio presents his life experiences which are the quintessential immigrant story and an entrepreneur's tale of rags to riches, demonstrating that with courage, intelligence and instinct the Great American Dream can still come true!

"My Name Is Joe" follows Farruggio from his childhood in Sicily to the kitchen of his world-renowned Il Canale restaurant in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown.

Pizza is the most popular food in the world and Joe Farruggio knows everything there is to know about this delicious Italian creation: best ingredients including wheat from Italy, open fire oven for the right temperature, baking time for best results. In this memoir Joe tells how he succeeded and shares what it takes to run a successful restaurant.

"My Name Is Joe" also provides valuable tips for anyone considering entering the culinary business. Joe honors friends, family, hard work, and his restaurant patrons in this exuberant memoir designed to inspire and encourage others.

Critique: Of special appeal to readers with an interest in entrepreneurship, culinary memoirs, and pizza, "My Name Is Joe And I Am A Pizza Man, An American Story" is an inherently fascinating, impressively informative, and deftly presented memoir that is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "My Name Is Joe" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99).

Editorial Note #1: Joe Farruggio ( was born and raised in beautiful Agrigento, Sicily. With more than 53 years of restaurant, entrepreneurial, and culinary experience, he is now the owner of the renowned Washington, DC landmark Il Canale (one of Yelp's Top 100 Places to Eat 2022), as well as the rapidly expanding 90 Second Pizza Concept and A Modo Mio in Virginia.

Editorial Note #2: Thierry Sagnier ( is a writer whose works have been published in the United States and abroad. He is the author of The IFO Report, (Avon Books), Bike! Motorcycles and the People who Ride Them (Harper & Row) and Washington by Night (Washingtonian Books). He is also the author of Thirst, a thriller based in Washington, DC's, mean streets, and the sequel, Dope. Writing about People, Places and Things is a collection of essays chronicling Sagnier's thoughts on writing, family and friendships, and cancer. He is also the author of a The Fortunate Few (NUNM Press), Montparnasse (Apprentice Press) and L'Amerique (Apprentice Press).

Willis M. Buhle

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