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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 11 November 2021 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf Annette Meeuwse's Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Christiana Succar's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Darmashakthini Arujunan's Bookshelf Denise Baran-Unland's Bookshelf
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Katya's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mesca Elin's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Paul Lappen's Bookshelf
R.K. Singh's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Shefali Sequeira's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf

The Irish Clans: Book Five, Revolution
Stephen Finlay Archer
Manzanita Writers Press
9781952314001 $14.95

The fifth historical fiction novel in a seven-book series set during the Irish revolutionary period from 1915 to 1923, The Irish Clans: Book Five, Revolution continues the saga of an Irish family caught up in conflict with England. In Book Five, Revolution, the Clans act on a plan to search for treasure in order to finance their struggle. Tadgh and Morgan McCarthy, the Templars, and descendants of Barbary pirates all hunt for a prize of riches - but both the Templars and the pirates have the most ruthless intentions for the Clans, and for one another! A blend of swashbuckling adventure and the gritty consequences of armed rebellion against oppressors with superior numbers and arms, The Irish Clans: Book Five, Revolution is a thoroughly enthralling page-turner, enthusiastically recommended especially for Irish historical fiction connoisseurs.

Andrea Kay

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Borges and Me
Jay Parini
Anchor Books
9781838850227, A$32.99 HB, 320 pages

It doesn't matter if you have never read any of the work of the famous Argentinean writer Jorg Luis Borges, neither had Jay Parini when he was co-opted to look after the elderly, blind author and persuaded to drive him around the Scottish Highlands.

Parini is an American who, in the 1970s, was accepted as a PhD candidate at the Scottish university of Saint Andrews. As he explains, this was the choice he made when, after graduating from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, he had moved (briefly he hoped) back to live with his parents in the Pennsylvanian town of Scranton. The alternatives, as he saw them at the time were to 'Stay at home, where my mother would chop off my balls, or go to Vietnam, where they would be blown off'.

In Scotland, Parini settled into his studies, supervised by Professor Alec Falconer who seemed to be 'vaguely senescent' and forgetful, and who was dismayed by Parini's decision to write his thesis on the Orkney poet George Mackay Brown. Falconer was an ex-naval officer and author of the 'improbable' 'masterwork', Shakespeare and the Sea, in which he argued that Shakespeare's familiarity with naval terms clearly demonstrated that he has spent his 'lost years' as a 'naval man'. He regarded Mackay Brown, as a poor subject for a PhD, because he was not well-known and 'seem[ed] to be still alive'.

Parini's progress in researching this thesis, and his eventual meeting with George Mackay Brown in Mainland Orkney, are a minor theme in this book. So, too is his pursuit of Bella Law, a feisty, independent young woman who leads protest marches, runs the Poetry Society, and sports 'bright red sneakers', but already has what she calls a 'quondam relationship' with another man. More worrying, for Parini, is his status as a draft-dodger, especially as letters from his Draft Board (which he refuses to open) are regularly redirected to him by his mother.

The major theme of the book however, is his meeting with Borges at the home of Borges' friend and translator, Alastair Reid, and their subsequent voyage together around the Scottish Highlands in Parini's jointly-owned, 'rust-bucket', 1975 Morris Minor. Borges' challenging personality is clear from their first meeting:

We approached him without speaking.

'This is Jay Parini' Jasper said in his piping voice.

'I'm glad to meet you sir", I said.

'Speak louder, I'm blind' said Borges.

Jasper, is Alastair's young son: 'He's nine or ten. Almost eleven? I lose track', says Alastair. Whatever his age, Jasper is clever, articulate, funny and, as he says of himself, 'advanced for a boy'.

After this first meeting with Borges, a sudden phone call from Alastair, who has been called to attend a sick relative in London, leaves Borges in Parini's care. Parini wonders what on earth he will do with this 'difficult and self-involved' man, but Borges, on learning that Parini has a car, declares that he 'wants to see the Highlands':

'But you're blind, Borges', I said.

'Oh no, don't tell me you're blind as well?'

'I'm not'.

'What luck, then! You will be my eyes'....

'We will discover this wonderland together' Borges continued ' I know the points on the map: Perth, Aviemore, Inverness, Loch Ness and its monster, Grendel! And the battlefield of Culloden! Just to read a map of the Highlands is to recite poetry'.

Borges intended to cover all the costs, and he was also keen to 'surprise' a man in Inverness with whom he had been in correspondence about Anglo-Saxon riddles. These riddles, he explains to Parini, are all about surprises.

They set off at once, and Borges immediately christens the car 'Rocinante:

'I speak of the lazy old horse of Don Quixote. Rocin, in Spanish, this is a workhorse, but never a good one. Nunca! Lazy because exhausted, not unlike your motor-car, which may be unequal to the task of circumnavigating the Highlands'

From then on, and much to Parini's annoyance, Borges frequently addresses him as 'Sancho', Don Quixote's patient squire. Borges, like Quixote, is given to long rhetorical monologues. 'Being blind, he talks a lot', Parini tells Bella. He finds him both fascinating and irritating, and he despairs of getting any work of his own done, but Borges' philosophy of life and literature, about which he has extensive knowledge and which he expounds at length, does interest him and (clearly from this book) he learned a lot from it. At the same time, he is tasked with describing everything he sees as they drive in vivid and 'poetic' terms, and this, too, has influenced his writing.

'My work is only invention', Borges tells him. 'Novels and works of non-fiction rub spines, even mirror each other. Anything that passes through memory becomes fiction'. Perini, in his 'Afterword' to this book describes it as having grown from 'a novelistic memoir', to a 'narrative', a 'Borgesian 'fiction' or a story 'shaped by fiction or auto-fiction'. Whatever it is, memory, early notes, and many re-tellings have played a large part in it, and some of the situations he found himself in as he looked after this unpredictable, difficult and determined old man are very funny.

I laughed out loud at what Parini's wife, much later, came to call 'the night of pissing', when Parini and Borges have to share a bed in a B + B belonging to the dour Mrs Baird. Her husband, she tells them, 'died on the crapper', to which Borges frequently has to resort during the night, because of his weak bladder and the effects of Scottish beer, which, as he puts it, 'runs through the pipes of this old building'.

There is a worrying and funny description of Borges heading off into a storm reciting lines from King Lear, then falling down a sharp slope and having to be treated in hospital by a nurse who is so bemused by him that she suggests Parini 'alert his family to the issues'. Then there are the three 'Weird Sisters' from Kinross who appear through the mist at Scone castle and utter gnomic phrases; and the guide at the Andrew Carnegie Library, who has to stop Borges from licking the spines of old books. Predictably, too, Borges has to stand up in a small boat on Loch Ness to chant the 'Song of Creation' in Anglo-Saxon verse:

"It celebrates the music within us, how we can in dark moments sing! It caused such fury in Grendel, who was mad that men could sing like this, could soothe and inspire themselves and others....Then Grendel arrived, the fiend from hell. This is Nessie, dear boy! And now, yes, Nessie approaches!"

The result of this is unsurprising but Parini tells it well.

By the end of Borges and Me (a title chosen in tribute to Borges' own essay Borges and I), I really felt that I knew and liked this garrulous old man; and, because Parini often uses Borges' own writing to reconstruct some of their conversations, I also began to know a good deal about his ideas and his work. Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed being ferried around the Scottish Highlands, and elsewhere, by a writer who has absorbed some of the smoke and mirrors philosophy of Borges and who is also a gifted story-teller.

Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket
Hilma Wolitzer
Bloomsbury Publishing
9781526640802, A$29.99 PB, 179 pages

A woman went mad in the supermarket....well, haven't we all felt like that at times, especially if we have had two small children clinging to our legs and no money in our wallet?

The woman who has a very public breakdown in this story seems stuck in the supermarket aisle:

'Excuse me' I said tentatively, hesitant and self-protective as only a woman expecting her first child can be, 'Pardon me, could I just get through'.... She gripped the handle of her empty cart and said 'There is no end to it'. It was spoken so simply and undramatically, but with such honest conviction that for a moment I thought she was referring to the aisle of the supermarket. Perhaps it was blocked ahead of us, and she couldn't move up farther. But then she said, 'I have tried and tried, and there is no end to it. Ask Harold. Ask anybody, ask my mother'.

The woman gets more and more distressed, and other people, including the store manager, get involved. Eventually, the woman's husband turns up, grabs her arm and bundles her off, and the narrator finds her empty pocket book on top of her own in her empty trolley.

It is characteristic of Wolitzer's warmth and perception that we understand the feelings of both women in this story, and she captures the narrator's own confusion, helplessness and distress: 'When my husband came home from work I was sitting in the bathtub and weeping'.

This story, which is the first the 13 short stories in this book, was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1966 when Wolitzer was 36. Many others were published in the 60s and 70s, but the final story, written now that she is in her 90s, is right up-to-date in its Covid-based theme. Several of the best stories are vignettes of moments in the lives of Paulette (Paulie) and Howard, as told with clear-eyed humour by Paulie. This couple is as oddly assorted in character as are most ordinary couples and Paulie's view of their lives is like that of the fictional Mrs. Bridges, who is quoted in the preface to the book: 'while marriage might be an equitable affair, love itself was not'.

'We were married', Paulie tells us 'in those dark ages before legalized abortion', when doctors were 'of the old-fashioned tongue-depressor variety'. After exploring sex with Howard, Paulie discovers that she is 'in trouble':

'What do you want to do?' he asked.

'You know,' I said. 'What about you?'

Howard prevaricates but

He shuddered, receiving my message. I couldn't help thinking that men whose mothers have established an early habit of guilt in them are probably the easiest.

'So that's it', Howard said, and we were engaged

I threw my arms around him, sealing the bond. 'It will be wonderful,' I promised. 'We'll have a wonderful life together. We'll have terrific good luck. I can feel it.

He hugged me back, but all I could really feel were the drumbeat of his heart and the collapsing walls of his will.

Paulie takes us though her experiences with arrogant doctors; the joys, indignities and agonies of childbirth ('FUCKING LEADS TO THIS! Those charts ought to say'); shared problems, like her insomnia and Howard's depression (which she alleviates by driving them to visit open-houses on real-estate developments where they can imagine living with dual bathroom vanities labelled 'his' and 'hers'); the compromises of ordinary married life; and infidelities.

In one story a sex-maniac is reported to be loose in the building complex: 'It's about time', thinks Paulie, adding 'It had been a long asexual winter'.

In her final story, 'The Great Escape', Paulie and Howard are elderly, As Paulie puts it: 'in what seemed like only a few long afternoons, he and I turned seventy, and then eighty and then nearly ninety'. She remembers her own 'statuesque figure' which has given way to 'random bulges' which her doctor describes as 'Good padding against hip fracture'. Howard, 'who had once been so gorgeous and in such demand, was grizzled and paunchy and gray'. They share family jokes about death and 'Several of our friends beat us to it', says Paulie. The good thing, she notes, is that 'We have been together for such a long time that all our grievances have been set aside'.

Then Covid-19 intervenes. Paulie, however, is still optimistic: 'It's still going on - I mean the pandemic and the rest of life'; and she has clearly kept up with new technologies and imagines Zoom seances with the departed.

Paulie's intelligent, upbeat character, like that of the other narrators in this book, makes it a delight. Her stories are recognisably of the time they were written yet they are timeless. She captures the extraordinary aspects of life in the daily routines we take as ordinary, and her strong-minded characters are realistic in their frankness about sex, their optimism and their humour.

The Foreword to the book outlines some of the stories so thoroughly that you hardly need to read them, which would be a pity because you would miss Wolitzer's sly wit and the warmth and ease with which she draws you into the lives of her characters. You might suspect, too, that the Foreword was written by a good friend, it praises her so fulsomely. Wolitzer's work, however, has been widely published and she has received many awards for it. She is little known outside America, but for those who are not already familiar with her work this collection of her stories is a fine introduction to it.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Annette Meeuwse's Bookshelf

Ekleipsis: the Abyss
Tamel Wino
Privately Published
9781777408855, $11.99 paperback
9781777408848, $2.99 ebook

Clever. Clever. Clever. This collection of short stories in the horror/dark fiction genre gripped my imagination from the opening page and didn't release me until the final word. Wino is so adept at rapidly establishing plot and developing character within the first few lines of each short story. He weaves a claustrophobic sense of impending catastrophe which the reader simultaneously doesn't want to watch yet can't stop reading. The points of view in each of the six short stories include an eclectic mix of a billionaire, an average middle class family, an average young woman, hunters, a lounge singer, and pilot....truly something terrifying for everyone! The binding theme is the dark side of human nature, where normal people struggle with their perverse desires. Initially I was reluctant to even start reading this book because it is not my favorite genre, but at the author's courteous request I agreed to give it a try. I'm glad I read it....and I'm glad I finished it. He's so good that it's awful!

Annette Meeuwse, RN, BSN, MaOL, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Meet Nashville's Rising Stars
Karina Michel Feld
Independently Published
9780578924304 $TBA print / $0.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Every artist's career starts with a dream. A dream to create, to entertain and to fall in love with over and over again. It typically doesn't happen overnight, but as a journey over many months or years. Your career will take many twists and lapses, and to stay the course can be a grind. The entertainment business has more unpredictability and excitement than any other, and once you're in it's tough to leave. But why ever would you?

Over the past year I've enjoyed every minute of interviewing artists from all around the world, but there's something about Music City that has me coming back. The electricity in the air, the kindness and small town feel that you belong and it's just been there waiting for you.

Having been an actress, writer and film producer, music has long been the spark to my earliest memories and a way to connect and reminisce. In reading these articles I hope that listening to their stories and ups and downs will bring you joy and help you live in the moment. I learned so much from these interviews myself. Less polish and more authenticity and how just showing up can sometimes be half the battle. Each artist's story is unique, but all join a place of following their passion and living authentically.

Nashville has long been the birthplace of country music and legendary music careers. I hope this book helps you find joy in the journey, take small steps every day, stay true to yourself and more than anything, stay humble. Everyone makes mistakes, but you'll have the time of your life. Put on your best, get out there and enjoy the ride.

Critique: Meet Nashville's Rising Stars lives up to its title with interviews of twenty-five talented up-and-coming artists of the legendary Music City. From career-defining turning points to everyday travails, Meet Nashville's Rising Stars is filled with portraits of what it's really to like to transform art, music, passion and talent into a career. Meet Nashville's Rising Stars is enthusiastically recommended especially for lifelong fans of country music! It should be noted for personal reading lists that Meet Nashville's Rising Stars is available in an inexpensive Kindle edition ($0.99).

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

The Language Warrior's Manifesto: How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Odds
Anton Treuer
Minnesota Historical Society Press
B0848DJ1MG, $10.49
1681341549, $18.95 192 Pages

Dr. Anton Treuer is a professor of Ojibwe and author of many books. This book lays out an excellent and sound educational plan to revitalize Native languages for those wishing direction in this area. An explanation of why Native languages are so important to the health and well-being of students and communities is provided. Treuer explains how he learned his language and culture which was a long and winding path. A clear focus was not seen for some time, but he now leads complex events. At one point, Treuer was a single father of six children with enough determination to continue his work which encompassed more than Minnesota. People who helped him were mostly admirable, but one many had faith in later turned out to be quite a disappointment. The educational information is highly researched, correct, and offers a map for others. Resources and agencies that can help are listed. Grant writing for best results is explained.

Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could
Adam Schiff
Random House
9780593231524, $30.00, 484 pages
B0925DRH7F, $14.99

Schiff states, "Propaganda works, and it is devastating to both the truth and justice."

This book is based on facts and searchable, provable information. Exposing the misconduct of the Republican standard-bearer was met with objections, stonewalling, changes to agreements, lack of follow through, as well as false statements even on national television. A comprehensive and detailed timeline for the American public shows how difficult it was for the truth to be revealed. For instance, records show contacts between Nunes and Giuliani, and between Nunes and Lev Parnas, yet such information was minimized. Schiff outlines the many personal attacks to his family and himself for his work. Schiff also says:

"Truth matters. Right matters. But so does decency. Decency matters."

The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear
Kate Moore
B08LR174TM, $8.54 Kindle
9781728242576, $13.99, Paperback, $20.24 Hardcover, $30.60 Audiobook, 560 pages

Well-researched and heretofore not well-known information about Elizabeth Packard and her monumental efforts to help women (such as herself) confined to asylums around the time of the Civil War. Women had no freedom within marriages and no recourse regarding up to a lifelong commitment to such institutions, even when friends and family tried to help.

"Because married women at that time in the eyes of the law were 'civilly dead.' They were not citizens and subsumed within the legal identities of their husbands from the moment they took their marital vows."

Elizabeth Packard was sane, yet committed to the insane asylum. She met many sane women who were also patients. Few ever left such conditions. Doctors lied to her. Packard realized although there were those trying to help, the situation was up to her to resolve. It required many years of work. She was prevented from seeing her children for almost ten years. Although she received a trial after three years and was pronounced sane, her husband took the children to a different state where the trial was not valid.

Packard took her message far and wide. Some people read her book; some political leaders sometimes listened. After many years of public arguments, her life took a turn for the better. The book is a long and dark story about how difficult it was for women. Her own daughter died in an asylum. Moore includes modern examples of how people still dismiss women as being crazy to give them little credibility. This book is not to be missed.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Christiana Succar's Bookshelf

Walking With The Dead
Charles Domokos
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540 Castroville, TX 78009
9781684335053, $18.95 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 393pp

Walking with the Dead by Charles Domokos. This crime noir takes place in fast-paced L.A. and is the story of Charlie Tobias; a trained classical musician turned probate attorney. With the affable narrator and vivid imagery, the reader feels Charlie's angst about making his billable hours each month while wondering who else will end up dead. The author's use of language evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of L.A. as Charlie makes his way into the maze of the legal world of murder, deceit, and bribery. An engaging and humorous tale and a must-read for crime-junkies!

Christiana C. Succar, Ph.D., Reviewer
Reader's Corner, "Cocoa Beach Explorer"

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

S. R. White
Aurora Large Print
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print, Inc.
9781787824843, $TBA, PB, Large Print, 476pp

Synopsis: When a man is found savagely 'crucified' amidst a murky swamp in northern Australia, detective Dana Russo and her team are called to a shocking scene. The victim is a convicted rapist, just released from prison, who years earlier committed an atrocious crime yards from where he was killed.

Who murdered him - and why? With several potential leads, the investigation quickly becomes more complex, and sinister, than anyone imagined. And Dana realizes she'll have to confront her own troubled past to understand the true motives of the killer.

Critique: With more plot twists and turns than a runaway roller coaster, "Prison" by S. R. White is an extraordinarily compelling and compulsive page turner of a read. This large print edition from Aurora Large Print is directly and unreservedly recommended for the personal reading list of crime thriller fans and community library Mystery/Suspense collections.

Clint Travis

Darmashakthini Arujunan's Bookshelf

Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change
multiple authors
Arkbound Foundation, editor
Arkbound Foundation
9781912092123, $2.99 Kindle

"Who is an intellectual and what is intellectualism for?" (page 326)

This timely publication of voices from different corners of the world calls for urgency amidst a climate crisis, a pandemic, and global trade bottlenecks. It is a pragmatic message for all stakeholders to reconstruct present world views and to think beyond what is generally taught in mainstream education systems. This collection details transdisciplinary issues that are clearly spelt out for the reader to absorb. Indeed, this book is for anyone who wants to become an agent of meaningful change when the situation calls for it.

Darmashakthini Arujunan

Denise Baran-Unland's Bookshelf

Blue Religion
Alverne Ball
Sacramentum Press
9781944536022, $19.99 pbk / $4.99 Kindle 328 pp.

LocalLit book review: a crime fiction novel for readers of literary fiction

Joliet author's 'Blue Religion' is an even-paced character driven story.

The best part about not quite finishing "Blue Religion" by Alverne Ball of Joliet is that you won't find any spoilers in this review.

To be clear, I absolutely intend to finish the book. But "Blue Religion" turned out to be more of a well-written literary read than a fast-paced, plot-driven story that rushes to the end. But with the galley being 328 pages, I knew Ball had taken his time developing his story.

Now this was good news for me because crime fiction is probably the genre of which I have the least experience. But "Blue Religion" was different from those stories I'd previously read.

First, here is the description of "Blue Religion" on the Vital Narrative website that will publish the book in October: "In the sequel to 2016s "Only The Holy Remain," Detective Frank Calhoun springs back into action after a social worker and a rookie police officer are murdered in Chicago's East Garfield Park.

"Flanked by his new partner Fred Lions, while also battling remnants of his father's recent conviction, Frank chases down clues across the city as he begins to assemble pieces of the case. With mounting pressure from his girlfriend Gloria, as well as the assistant state's attorney striving to make a career off the case's headlines, Frank must keep his head on straight as he attempts to find the killer and navigate the pitfalls of the blue religion."

I have not read Ball's first book. Having read most of his second, I'm confident saying it's not mandatory to read "Only the Holy Remain" in order to follow "Blue Religion." That said, the release of "Blue Religion" is still several months away, so readers do have time to catch up.

Back to "Blue Religion." Ball hooked me in the opening line: "I was born in death."

And in the next lines, I knew Ball could write well and that the story would be a satisfying read:

At least that's how my father put it whenever I'd ask him about my mother. In truth, I guess he's right, because she died during childbirth. Some people say it was her last selfless act, but I've been told that a mother's love is unconditional, and no matter how one tries to spin it, the fact is, she died so that I could live.

Detective Frank Calhoun spends a little more time in the middle of the night reflecting on his past and how it affects his career, which the reader senses might be more of a calling than simply a career with a paycheck. Soon Calhoun's thoughts are interrupted with a message from his new partner, making sure Calhoun understood they were being called out to a crime scene.

But don't expect the pace to vroom from there. Ball unfolds his story with almost methodical precision. Even the officers make careful examinations and thoughtfully analyze the evidence.

I take a deep breath, then pull out a pair of latex gloves from my pants pocket and slide them on. After taking three long steps back from the body, I stand there and look at the layout of the scene. If there's one thing I can say I've learned from Lions, it's that every detective has a different method of approaching a crime.

Characters are three-dimensional. Back story and any need-to-know information is tightly woven into the narrative without slowly down the pace.

I stare across the small aluminum table at Officer Smith. His black hair is tucked neatly under his officer's cap, which he removes when he takes a seat. I can see that his eyes are still ablaze with hate for me as he scrunches his furry black eyebrows together into one long unibrow.

He taps his calloused fingers against the table, and in a way I'm grateful, because it keeps me from looking directly at the misshapen mound of cartilage over the bridge of his large hook nose - - where I broke it.

I decide to try and clear the air by letting him know that we don't need to be at each other's throats. In spite of everything, we both bleed CPD blue. "So, where's your partner, Richter?" I ask gingerly.

I'm sure fans of crime genre will enjoy this book. But I'm especially recommending "Blue Religion" to readers who enjoy immersive novels where the characters lead the story, readers who think they may not enjoy a crime novel.

Is literary crime fiction a genre? If it isn't, perhaps Ball has invented a new genre.

Denise M. Baran-Unland
The Herald-News for-readers-of-literary-fiction

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Studies in Spirituality: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Koren Publishers
9781592645763 $24.95

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' Legacy

One of the most lamentable recent event was the death of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who was born in 1948 and died on November 7, 2020. He was a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, award-winning author, an international religious leader, respected moral voice, and public figure. He served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. He held a number of professorships at several academic institutions including Yeshiva University, in New York, and King's College in London. He was a frequent contributor to radio, television and the press around the world. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called him "an intellectual giant." He was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize for his "exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension." He received 18 honorary doctorates. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, conferred him a Doctor of Divinity for his remarkable work. But it was not only politicians and intellectuals who read his brilliant writings. Average Jews and non-Jews read what he wrote and found them enjoyable, eye-opening, and inspiring. Therefore the 2021 publication of his book "Studies in Spirituality: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible" by Maggid Books and OU Press will please many audiences.

Rabbi Sacks tells us that there is in Judaism an authoritative code of Jewish law, but no single spiritual dimension. Every individual can follow his and her own path to God. Maimonides says this in Mishna, Sanhedrin 10:3. There have been and always will be many Jewish philosophers with different views as to what is important in life. There have been Jewish rationalists in the past who disagreed strongly with fellow Jewish mystics, and vice versa, and this continues today. This is fine. Rabbi Sacks writes about his book: "I hope the very personal nature of these essays helps you find your own way to the Divine Presence, which is always there: the music beneath the noise, the call beneath the clamour, the voice of God within the human soul."

There is much in Rabbi Sacks essays to make us think. He tells us in his introduction that spirituality is not the same as religion, though the two are related. Spirituality happens when we open ourselves to something greater than ourselves. Different people find it in different places, the beauty of nature, art, music, prayer, doing a good deed, learning a sacred text, in helping people, in friendship, in love. He says that he decided to write about spirituality because he saw that so many people search for it but are unable to find it.

In his first essay he asks, what was the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Why was it forbidden? Don't people need to know the difference between good and evil? Didn't Adam have this knowledge before he ate the fruit of the tree since he was created in the image and likeness of God? He explains that the tale is about the kind of morality we are called upon to live, and he explains that it has to do with the requirement to learn to listen. He tells us that there is much in this world we must listen to.

In his second essay he speaks about Judaism's teaching that we must exercise the power to pioneer, to do something new, to take the road less travelled, to venture out into the unknown.

Later he speaks about not crying out to God in anger or anguish, but, instead, hearing the still small voice saying, "The next step depends on you."

When he spoke about the patriarch Isaac, he asked, didn't he see that his son Esau was not a man of God? And he replies, "A father must love his son because he is his son.... Unconditional love is not uncritical, but it is unbreakable. This is how we should love our children - for it is how God loves us."

He raises many other questions in other essays and answers them, many. Why are Jews defined as the descendants of Jacob, the children of Israel? Jacob is the man who has the deepest spiritual experiences alone, at night, in the face of danger and far from home. He gives us the remarkable, indeed brilliant, interpretation of Rashi's grandson Rashbam about Jacob wrestling with a stranger. About having fear and overcoming it.

He advises us to have the courage to admit mistakes while telling us the observation of a politician who told him that politicians never admit their mistakes.

He repeats his lesson about listening near the end of his excellent book. The most important word in Judaism is shema, "hear," "listen," "pay attention." It is the motif-word of the book of Deuteronomy. Time and time again in the last month of his life, Moses told his people shema. It appears in the book 92 times.

We will gain much by listening to Rabbi Sacks.

Aldous Huxley
Harper Perennial Modern Classics
9780061561795 $16.99

Aldous Huxley's idea of a utopia

After reading Aldous Huxley's dystopian classic "Brave New World," a book that described a nation which adopted behaviors that destroyed the freedom of its inhabitants by placing them under multiple controls and which hindered their opportunity to develop by engineering their births, and reading Huxley's follow-up book "Brave New World Revisited" where he described in detail why he thinks the present world is turning into a copy of "Brave New World," I decided to read "Island," which is the opposite. It tells about a utopia, a remote Pacific island called Pala, which became an ideal society 120 years ago. "Brave New World" was published in 1932 by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Brave New World Revisited" in 1958, and "Island" in 1962, a year before his death.

I found that I like "Island" the best. The story is very good, the characters are interesting, the good people likable and those who are evil or have bad intentions interesting. Most of all, I found his criticisms of virtually everything outside of the utopia Pala to be true. He addressed many things, such as our medicine emphasizing treatments rather than methods to avoid illness, our psychology focusing on the bad elements of the subconscious rather than also examining the good elements, the need for people to engage in work not just exercise, our politicians being generally interested in accumulating money, power, and glory for themselves and having a single leader over a country is harmful, and religion on the island is not encourages. In Pala, Buddhism is preferred, the enjoyment of sex is encouraged, there is an emphasis on paying attention to the here and now, children having difficulties at home can move from one family to another, prisons do not exist in Pala which uses indoctrination in its place, population is controlled so there is no food shortages.

I did not agree with all that Huxley admired, especially not with his encouragement to use hallucinogenic drugs, but I found his thinking and proposals to be thought-provoking.

In the novel, peaceful Pala faces attacks from three main sources. The outside world, especially an island ruled by a dictator wants to conquer Pala, control it, and sell its oil. Pala has no weapons and is opposed to its use. A descendant of the rulers of Pala will be age 18 in a short time and is enamored by the behavior of that dictator and wants to lead Pala in that direction. The boy is fascinated by the many items sold in the more than thousand page Sears catalogue and wants many of them, items unnecessary in a utopia. A visitor to the island, a journalist, does not disclose that he is aiding a man who like the dictator also wants to control Pala's oil, a man who paid him well and promised a large bonus if he succeeds in his mission. The people of Pala show the journalist their island and tell him their ideas. Will he be persuaded to somehow aid the island? Will the near 18-year-old change his mind? How will the aggressive dictator be handled?

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Woods Within: An Amish Boy's Journey
Dr. Milo Yoder Jr
Dorrance Publishing
9781636612362, $14.00 pbk / $9.00 Kindle

Synopsis: Jake never meant to be a rebel. But that's just what he became the moment he turned sixteen and decided to continue going to high school. As the only Amish boy in his high school and the only teenager in his Amish community going to high school, Jake will face a unique set of challenges. Other teenagers worry about dating and trying out for the football team. Jake worries about being ostracized at school for being Amish and at home for going to school.

Venture into the woods within and walk with Jake as he's pulled between two worlds. One world holds all Jake has ever known and held dear, including what family he has left. But the world outside his little Amish community promises a new and brighter path that he just might have to take.

Critique: The Woods Within: An Amish Boy's Journey is a fictionalized memoir by Dr. Milo Yoder Jr., who grew up in an Amish family yet pursued education beyond high school in spite of Amish tradition. The Woods Within tells the story of sixteen-year-old Jake, who decides to continue attending high school even though he is the only teenager in his community who chooses to do so. Caught between two worlds, Jake worries about being shunned at school for being Amish, and shunned at home for continuing his education. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will find this story of navigating a tightrope balance between dreams, family, and society thoroughly fascinating from cover to cover. Highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that The Woods Within is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.00).

Editorial Note: Dr. Milo Yoder Jr. grew up in an Amish family as the youngest of nine children. Despite Amish tradition, Yoder continued his education and went on to finish high school and higher education. He has since become a doctor in psychoanalysis and maintained a private practice for fifty years.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

That Doesn't Just Happen: How Excellence Accelerates Everything
Mike Kai
9781954089211, $19.99 hc / $7.99 Kindle

Synopsis: If service were a simple task, there wouldn't be so many scathing Yelp reviews or dissatisfied customers venting online, on their smartphones, or at the nearest restaurant or dry cleaners. Such pique has a cost: One survey found that 94 percent of respondents avoided a purchase after reading a negative online review. Eighty percent changed their mind about a recommended purchase because of a "thumbs down."

Mike Kai has encountered reasons for such reactions, be that botched food orders, unreasonable delays, or service with anything but a smile. The way to overcome such business killers lies in the teaching implicit in a centuries-old story: King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Although details of the queen's visit to the famed, wise leader of Israel are brief, in this creative reflection Mike weaves the details of what we do know into modern-day business principles. In doing so, he shows how it is possible to employ the kind of excellence that turned the heads of royalty years ago - and will still impress others.

Critique: Pastor and inspirational business speaker Mike Kai presents That Doesn't Just Happen: How Excellence Accelerates Everything, a guide that draws upon spiritual and well as practical insights to improve excellence in one's business practices, especially in service industries. Quality, professional business provisions don't "just happen"; excellence is created through maintaining processes, details, curation, and culture that promotes it. That Doesn't Just Happen draws upon spiritual lessons and biblical parables to illustrate its points about business principles, yet readers of all faiths and backgrounds will find a wealth of invaluable, practical-minded, experience-tested principles. " can have the best sushi chefs, great food, and expensive COVID upgrades to make people feel safe, but if your customer service is lacking... then you may not stay in business for very long. Going on Yelp should help the management hear what people are saying - good or bad." It should be noted for personal reading lists that That Doesn't Just Happen is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.99).

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Saving Eric
Mary Burns
Austin Macauley Publishers
9781645750994 $10.95 pbk / $4.50 Kindle

Synopsis: Mary's nightmare began when her seven-year-old adopted son inexplicably screamed before dinner one night. From that point on, her son's struggle became her struggle. Mental and physical illness, along with drug addiction, turned her life upside down. The love Mary had for her son, though, never waned as she desperately tried to save him from his demons.

Critique: Saving Eric is the harrowing, true-life story of author Mary Burns' desperate efforts to save her son, who suffered grievously from mental illness and drug addiction. Her candid testimony spares no details of the day-by-day pain, setbacks, and perseverance. Saving Eric will speak to anyone who has endured the ongoing trauma of caring for loved one devastated by severe mental illness or substance abuse. Saving Eric also acknowledges that there are no guarantees in life, no matter how much love one has is one's heart, no matter how hard one labors. Profound, heartrending, and unforgettable, Saving Eric is highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Saving Eric is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.50).

Editorial Note: Mary Burns is a mother of three, a teacher, and has become involved in addiction advocacy since her son's death. She helped spearhead a walk called Changing the Face of Addiction, to help change the stigma of addiction. She has also brought her advocacy to her local state senator and addressed the New Jersey Senate Budget Appropriations Committee about the need for a change to the addiction treatment protocol. She was honored as an Advocacy Leader in 2017 by the New Jersey chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman's Guide to Grieving
Merissa Nathan Gerson
c/o Mandala Earth
9781647224196, $16.99

Synopsis: Though at times it may seem impossible, we can heal with help from our friends and community - if we know how to ask. This heartrending, relatable account of one woman's reckoning with loss is a guide to the world of self-recovery, self-love, and the skills necessary to meeting one's own needs in these times of pain - especially when that pain is suffered alone.

Grief is all around us. In the world of today it has become common and layered, no longer only an occasional weight. A book needed now more than ever, Forget Prayers, Bring Cake is for people of all ages and orientations dealing with grief of any sort - professional, personal, romantic, familial, or even the sadness of the modern day. This book provides actions to boost self-care and self-worth; it shows when and how to ask for love and attention, and how to provide it for others. It shows that it is okay to define your needs and ask others to share theirs. In a moment in which community, affection, and generosity are needed more than ever, this book is an indispensable road map.

This book will be a guiding light to a healthier mental state amid these troubled times.

Critique: Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman's Guide to Grieving is a self-help guide to recovery from the loss of a loved one. Author Merissa Gerson speaks candidly of the sudden death of her father, and how she sought to cope while by herself in new city. Chapters discuss practical dilemmas such as how to ask for help from one's friends, how to determine whether or not one is ready to date again, reaching out to grief groups and grief counselors, how to build memorial rituals on one's own terms, and much more. Forget Prayers, Bring Cake is a welcome addition to personal and public library Self-Help collections, highly recommended.

Editorial Note: Merissa Nathan Gerson, author of Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman's Guide to Grieving, is a New Orleans-based writer, professor and sex educator. Her written work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Playboy, and Tablet, among others, and she was the inherited trauma consultant for Amazon's Emmy Award winning television show, Transparent.

Free Rose Light: Stories Around South Street
Mary O'Connor
The University Of Akron Press
9781629221274, $24.95 pbk / $18.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Free Rose Light is the wide-ranging story of the people and community of South Street Ministries, in Akron, Ohio, told in the style of the ministry - improvisational, risky, and present. As much as this is the story of South Street through O'Connor's experience of the organization, it is also an invitation to the reader by example. There is no set of conclusions or directions provided in this work, save for one: don't let anyone define your story. You claim your own story.

Critique: Free Rose Light: Stories Around South Street is author Mary O'Connor's testimony of the people and community of South Street Ministries in Akron, Ohio. Here are true stories of a 58-block area that tell of poverty, independence, perseverance, close-knit bonds, and more. Heartfelt, candid, and painting portraits of lives across recent decades, Free Rose Light is thoroughly engrossing from cover to cover and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Free Rose Light is also available in a Kindle edition ($18.99).

Editorial Note: Mary O'Connor is an architect who specialized in public assembly spaces in her twenty-five-year practice in New York City. Prior to becoming an architect, she was an aquatic comedian and hostess at Manhattan Plaza Health Club. Her career came to an abrupt conclusion after a near drowning incident during an act that featured diving off the board in a full evening gown. She moves through the world via seven bicycles in four cities. O'Connor is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and received a Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in North Macedonia. Free Rose Light was pummeled and shaped into existence through the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program at The University of Akron.

On the Way to Casa Lotus
Lorena Junco Margain
Cuco Press
c/o Independent Book Publishers Association
9781736390511 $17.00 pbk / $0.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Lorena Junco Margain - passionate art collector and devoted wife and mother - is already shaken after abruptly fleeing Mexico and relocating in the USA with her family while pregnant due concerns for their safety. Then, she learns she has a tumor on her adrenal gland. Having long experienced unexplained symptoms of dizziness and lethargy that neither medications nor holistic or Ayurvedic treatments have helped, she embraces the news with tears of relief: with a simple surgery, she can regain her strength and joyful spirit. But fate can be mischievous, and to err is human - even for surgeons. Rather than improve after surgery, her condition worsens.

On the Way to Casa Lotus is the gripping true story of Junco Margain's journey coming to terms with the permanent consequences of a surgeon's devastating mistake. Mindful that even good people make errors and that vengeance would not mend her broken body or soul, she chooses instead to embark on a quest for peace and healing - beginning by seeking space in her heart to forgive.

Deeply compassionate, wise and poetic, On the Way to Casa Lotus lays bare some of the most poignant contradictions of the human condition, blurring the distinctions between guilt and neglectfulness, anger and sorrow, humility and shame, gratitude and despair. Rich with imagery and metaphors from the world of contemporary art, brimming with scenes from the author's close-knit, abundantly loving Mexican family, the book plants a seed of hope that loss and pain can serve a higher purpose: one of promoting forgiveness as a force for personal and universal change.

Critique: On the Way to Casa Lotus: A Memoir of Family, Art, Injury, and Forgiveness lives up to its title as a true-life memoir of one woman's struggle to recover from the devastating effects of a mishandled surgery. Author Lorena Junco Margain is blessed by the support of a loving Mexican family; out of concerns for physical safety, she and her family relocated from Mexico to the USA while she was pregnant. A tumor on her adrenal gland drastically affected her daily life, yet after surgical treatment, her suffering worsened. On the Way to Casa Lotus is a story about the healing power of forgiveness, and also shares Margain's love of art in its metaphors and imagery. On the Way to Casa Lotus is beautiful, inspirational, and highly recommended both for personal and public library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that On the Way to Casa Lotus is also available in a Kindle edition ($0.99).

Julie Summers

Katya's Bookshelf

The ReGender App
Jass Richards
9781926891682, (paperback); 9781926891705 (epub); 9781926891699 (pdf)
$14.99 (paperback); $4.99 (ebook)

This book is brilliant. ... The premise is really intriguing ... beta testers are sought for an app that can mask the gender of a person and change it to the opposite one by creating a hologram based on the person's initial appearance. ... The issues raised in the book are very timely and relevant at the moment. ... The author did an excellent job writing the dialogue ... and the scene at the airport just had me laughing out loud. I liked the humor, the writing, and the serious issues talked about in the book. ... Extremely thought-provoking. 5/5

Katya, Reviewer

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

The Space Between Us
Betty Pries
Herald Press
9781513808680, $16.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Conflict is inevitable. But rather than approaching conflicts as threats or problems to be solved, what if we could see our disagreements as opportunities for personal growth? Could our differences push us toward developing healthier relationships and communities? In The Space Between Us, facilitator and mediator Betty Pries gently guides readers toward seeing discord as an opportunity for positive change and a way to build resilience. Rooted in the conviction that conflict can strengthen our relationships and deepen our self-knowledge, Pries offers practical skills for engaging conflict and casts a vision for a more joy-filled future.

To get here, Pries plumbs the depth of both conflict theory and contemplative spirituality, proposing a vision for engaging conflict in new and life-giving ways. Rooted in Christian practices of mindfulness, connecting with our most authentic selves, and deep listening to uncover new possibilities, this book offers new ways forward in the face of interpersonal and organizational conflicts. It should be noted for personal reading lists that The Space Between Us is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Critique: Written from a deeply spiritual Christian perspective, The Space Between Us: Conversations about Transforming Conflict is a resource for navigating disagreements, conflict, and discord, with the goal of strengthening relationships. Chapters focus upon understanding authentic selfhood, learning spiritual disciplines, and overcoming barriers to forgiveness, and more. The Space Between Us is illuminating, invaluable, and highly recommended especially for personal and church library collections.

Editorial Note: Betty Pries is founder and CEO of Credence & Co., a consulting agency dedicated to working with organizations and their leaders to help them thrive and flourish. With over 26 years of experience coaching, mediating, training, facilitating, and consulting, Pries is highly regarded as a specialist in conflict, change, and leadership. She brings a unique mix of biblical and theological reflection, spiritual guidance, organizational leadership, and facilitation skills to her work with congregations, faith-based institutions, universities, health care, government agencies, and businesses.

Wisdom: Apprenticing to the Unknown and Befriending Fate
Paul Dunion
Gatekeeper Press
9781662907357, $18.95 pbk / $5.95 Kindle

Synopsis: Wisdom: Apprenticing to the Unknown and Befriending Fate is a lucid account of such an apprenticeship. The work's major theme is: You can't get life right; and if you allow, life may get you right. Efforts to get life right - including the Spiritual Bypass, the Intellectual Bypass, the Psychological Processing Bypass, and the Trivia Bypass - are debunked as alleged detours around life's mystery, unpredictability, and insecurity. The work offers a unique developmental model describing how wisdom evolves as we allow defeat to interrupt the ego's claim to sovereignty, preparing us to reconcile life's inevitable dominance. We can then begin to live the question: What is life asking of us? Further maturation of the apprenticeship happens as we live the question: How do we confirm what truly matters?

The target audience is composed of those who refuse to believe that aging means accumulating years while slipping into mediocrity, massaged by cocktails and playing golf. There is a population approaching middle age who are disillusioned with dominant cultural understandings of aging. They want to believe that aging is not simply about escaping an unfulfilling career and experiencing mental and physical decline. This group will greatly benefit from the work's lucid account of how to construct a personal epistemology, or what it means "to learn about how to know." The text introduces the notion of good knowing, which avoids branding a fact with certainty. The reader is encouraged to commit to knowing the knower, in regard to biases and psychological defenses, welcoming ambiguity and ignorance.

The target audience further encompasses those reaching retirement age who want to believe that their life experience is not limited to a series of personal and professional victories and defeats. Rather, they wish to leave behind a legacy as a final offering, embracing a life well-lived while feeling prepared to leave this earthly plane. The aging apprentice is inspired to acquire an artifact symbolic of some early driving force that rendered power in the name of adventure and ambition. Seven stages of development are examined, leading from the driving force of ambition to the driving force of discriminating wisdom. With less to prove, grace comes to the aging apprentice, interrupting a sense of urgency. Gratitude reconciles us with grace, morphing into the eyes of mercy, as the aging apprentice now knows the true name of home.

Critique: Wisdom: Apprenticing to the Unknown and Befriending Fate is a self-help guide about approaching the aging process with grace, keen judgement, and a desire to pursue fulfillment. Insightful and inspirational, Wisdom illustrates its philosophical principles with anecdotes, parables, blessings, and more. Wisdom is highly recommended especially for self- help collections related to aging. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Wisdom is also available in a Kindle edition ($5.95).

Editorial Note: Paul Dunion, EdD, is a psychological healer and philosopher committed to promoting the understanding of life as a mysterious, insecure, and unpredictable journey. Following a legacy of Celtic storytellers, writing and speaking are some of Paul's strongest gifts. He has blogged regularly for Huffington Post, Medium, and Self-Growth and has written dozens of articles pertaining to Human Potential. His previous book, Seekers: Finding Our Way Home, received a commendation in the 2018 Writer's Digest Self-Published Awards.

Margaret Lane

Mesca Elin's Bookshelf

This is what happens
Chris Wind
9781926891743 (paperback); 9781926891767 (epub); 9781926891750 (pdf)
$19.99 (paperback); $4.99 (ebook)

I find the writing style very appealing ... An interesting mix of a memoir and a philosophical work, together with some amazing poetry. This is what happens ranks in my top five of books ever read.

Mesca Elin, Reviewer
Psychochromatic Redemption

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

When Silence Screams
Mark Edward Langley
Independently Published
9798533959858 $15.99 pbk / $7.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Arthur Nakai, now armed with his newly minted Private Investigator license, has visitors on his doorstep at White Mesa. Melanie Manygoats and her young son arrive on a cold winter's day seeking his help locating her missing daughter, whom she fears has become one of the stolen. Arthur accepts and soon finds himself wading through the world of teenage prostitution where he discovers April has already been sold to a man known to everyone in the trade as The Cuban. Running underage girls is his business, and the revolving door of the flesh trade is always rotating, Meanwhile, a 15-year-old girl goes missing, her bicycle found hidden among scrub brush under a bridge over an empty desert wash. Are the cases related or are they simply part of a bigger, more horrifying picture plaguing Arthur's beloved Dinetah?

Critique: The third mystery featuring Arthur Nakai, now a licensed Private Investigator, When Silence Screams is a dark, horrifying tale of kidnapping and human trafficking. Arthur Nakai tries to help a desperate mother who fears that her missing daughter has been stolen by a notorious underage flesh trader known as The Cuban. When another girl goes missing, Arthur Nakai strives to discern any connection between the cases... and stumbles across evidence of an even greater conspiracy against the Dinetah people. When Silence Screams is all but impossible to put down until the last page, and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that When Silence Screams is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.99).

Michael J. Carson

Paul Lappen's Bookshelf

The Hidden History of American Healthcare
Thom Hartmann
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
1333 Broadway, Suite 1000, Oakland CA 94612-1921
9781523091652, $17.00, 162 pages

Why does every major industrialized country, except America, have some sort of national health insurance system? This book attempts to answer that question.

In the early 20th century, around 1915, the Woodrow Wilson Administration attempted to bring national health insurance to America (based on the German model under the Kaiser). It's failure can be blamed on Frederick Hoffmann of the Prudential Insurance Co, of America. He wrote all sorts of articles and pamphlets, emphasizing all the bad parts of the German system, and the British, which had started a few years previously. National health insurance would supposedly destroy the Daniel Boone spirit of individuality in America (sound familiar?). Today, the insurance industry has plenty of money to spend on Washington lobbyists to make sure that it stays that way.

Everyone has seen, or read, ads for Medicare Advantage health plans. The compete with, but have no connection to, traditional Medicare. Such plans get a lump-sum reimbursement each year from the government, so it is in their interest to make their patients look as sick as possible. Patients get a yearly visit from a nurse. A slight anomaly in a patient's heart rhythm, which doesn't affect the patient at all, is listed as Heart Attack (more money). An emotional problem that lasts more than 2 weeks becomes Major Depressive Episode (more money). This goes along with the usual denial of coverage the first time around. A number of sources report the government overpayments to these plans is in the billions of dollars each year. Also, switching from Medicare Advantage to traditional Medicare is impossible; you are locked in.

This is a short book, but it is a huge eye-opener. It is highly recommended for all Americans, and gets more than 5 stars.

Paul Lappen, Reviewer

R.K. Singh's Bookshelf

Crazy Class
Rajiv Khandelwal
Gurugram: The Poetry Society of India
9789391091149, $20.00, hc, 50 pp.

Rajiv Khandelwal
Gurugram: The Poetry Society of India
9789391091132, $20.00, hc, 50 pp.

Magic Moments
Rajiv Khandelwal
Gurugram: The Poetry Society of India
9789391091194, $20.00, hc, 50 pp.

Let's Crawl
Rajiv Khandelwal
Gurugram: The Poetry Society of India
9788194920687, $30.00, hc, 84 pp.

The nicely packed and attractively designed gift book set contains three books of poetry for children and one book on learning to write poetry. The set is imaginatively conceived and skillfully executed to promote verbal creativity among the present generation of children who have a wide variety of cultural exposure via TV, beginning with the cartoon channels to infotainment channels. Each book is also available separately.

Rajiv Khandelwal, an established Indian English poet, Electrical Engineer by education, and businessman by profession, seeks to arouse among children of all ages an interest in poetry reading and writing. He especially composes 50 poems for each of the three books and tries to make poetry accessible, as it appears to me, to post-primary and high school level students in the Second Language contexts where the medium of teaching/learning is English.

He and his poet and academic readers who offered their feedback about the suitability of the poems or their selections to him presume that the readers/learners have already acquired the basic knowledge of English language and grammar, are interested in poetry, and can be motivated to learn to write it, too.

So, Rajiv Khandelwal presents an "exotic collection of poems" with diverse themes and verbal music, to quote Julia Devardhi, who assisted him in making his choices. No doubt, most of the poems are good to read, engage the mind, and are entertaining, but for my 7-year old reader, Jahnavi, certain words and expressions were not understandable: "pot of gold" (Rainbow), "pneumonia" (Alarm), "legit" (Business), "fiscal", "referral", "corporate office", "ego" etc. Nevertheless, she said that in the book Magic Moments, "poems such as A Wise Box, True Tale, Battle With Corona, My Favourite Season, and Alarm are very good. I like them very much."

I would like to quote a couple of examples that bespeak the relevance and appeal of the poems Rajiv Khandelwal has composed:

"Peter had a petrol pump/ But now a days there was a slump/ Due complete clampdown in town/ Citizens were in lockdown/ For in air virus did not fade/ So, there existed no trade./ Could not even go to bank/ Money in house shrank and shrank/ Till no money left, even for rice/ Now all paid, for not heeding advice." (Covid and its Price, Adventure, p. 28); and "If I were God, I would instruct mom/ To make this food plan for her son Tom./ No, to green vegetables,/ Allowed daily eatables/ Will be ice-cream for breakfast.// For lunch, pastry will be must/ Dinner will be doughnut/ Each day, get six glassfuls of Pepsi/ I as God, declare such foods healthy" (If I Were God, Crazy Class, p. 1).

The poems are, no doubt, readable and successful. Yet, the poet should have possibly graded the 150 poems for different levels of readership, and made his selections accordingly, instead of 'mixing' them in the four-volume set for 'universal' use, from pre-primary to secondary level students/learners.

The fourth book, Let's Crawl, is aimed at teaching how to write a poem. It particularly seeks to develop the skill for writing Acrostic poems, Syllabic poems, and using vocabulary. The book is good in that it develops 'word sense' via different examples that are motivating and promoting one's feel for the English language, it's rhythm, rhyme, and other nuances. The poems, prompts, and exercises in it are effectively designed to help, understand, and encourage young learners to produce their own verses in English.

Additionally, Rajiv Khandelwal, as a poet, and now, as a producers of children's literature, makes a strong plea for using poetry both as input and output in the language learning process, which is appreciable. His new books make a significant contribution to children's literature and Indian poetry in English. Kudos to him for his fresh venture.

Professor R.K. Singh, Reviewer

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works
Lorine Niedecker, author
Jenny Penberthy, editor
University of California Press
9780520224346, $34.95 paperback

An Objectivist Poet From Wisconsin

I first learned of Lorine Niedecker (1903 -- 1970) from reading a selection of her poetry in Volume 2 of the Library of America's Anthology of American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. I was intrigued by the restrained, simple, and succinct character of the poems for two reasons. First, they reminded me of poetry I knew: of the work of Charles Reznikoff, in particular, and of his fellow-objectivist poets, Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, and W.C. Williams. I later learned that Niedecker knew these writers, and was close to them. She was particularly close to Louis Zukofsky, with whom she carried on a forty year correspondence and had a brief affair.

I was also intrigued when I learned that Lorine Niedecker spent most of her life in the small town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, which is approximately mid-way between Milwaukee and Madison. She lived on a small island called Black Hawk Island outside the town where her family rented cabins and fished. Much of her life was spent in poverty and for several years she was employed scrubbing floors in the local hospital. Most of the poets with whom Niedecker was associated lived in New York City. Although she visited New York City and spent time with Zukofsky, for the most part she learned and practiced her art by herself.

I was familiar with Fort Atkinson because I lived for a short time in my early 20's in Jefferson, Wisconsin, an even smaller town adjacent to Fort Atkinson. I was there briefly in the early 1970's, just after Niedecker's death (She lived in Milwaukee at the time.) and I don't remember hearing anything about her. Today the town of Fort Atkinson and the local library where Niedecker worked for a time are active in preserving her memory. I was moved to discover the work of this outstanding modernist poet who lived in obsurity in an area with which I was familiar.

I was grateful to find this collected edition of Niedecker's works edited by Jenny Penberthy, Professor of English at Capilano College, Vancouver. Ms. Penberthy has also edited a recently-published collection of letters between Niedecker and Zukofsky together with a book of critical essays: "Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet". This collected edition of Niedecker's poetry is attractively put togther, includes good notes and a listing of Niedecker's published volumes, and begins with an informative introduction by Ms. Penberthy to Niedecker's life and work. The poems are arranged chronologically. The book includes Niedecker's early efforts and also includes some important prose and radio pieces, including the short work "Switchboard Girl" and a radio adaption of Faulkner's "As I lay dying." Ms. Penberthy has done a great service in making Niedecker's work available.

Much of Niedecker's early work was as a folk-poet. In 1946, she published a collection of 80 short poems called "New Goose", which was based on the rhythms of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. These poems describe life in rural Wisconsin and show a strong sense of political activism -- in common with Zukofsky. They point to the injustices and hardships Niedecker found in war, the Depression, and a capitalist economy. A subsequent collection of early poems was titled "For Paul", named after Zukofsky's young son, and featuring meditations on music, art, and the world of nature.

Niedecker's later poetry becomes much more spare and formal. She tended to write short poems, in five lines with irregular feet. She was influenced by Haiku and by Chinese poetry as well as by her fellow-objectivists. These poems are autobiographical, and include many scenes of life on Black Hawk Island. The longest of these poems is titled "Paean to Place". Later poems also describe the Lake Superior area around Sault Ste. Marie which Niedecker visited with her husband whom she married late in life. She also grew increasingly interested in historical themes and wrote poetry about Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Adlai Stevenson, and Charles Darwin, among others. These poems integrate extensively quotations from their subjects into the text of the poems.

Niedecker's poems include irony, reflection, and a deep sense of place. They show a person who had learned to be alone with herself. Here is a short untitled poem by Niedecker (p. 157) which I hope will encourage you to read more.

"The death of my poor father

leaves debts

and two small houses.

To settle this estate

a thousand fees arise--

I enrich the law.

Before my own death is certified,

recorded, final judgement


Taxes taxed

I shall own a book

of old Chinese poems

and binoculars

to probe the river


This book is a collection of the works of an American poet who deserves to be read and remembered.

Rockville (Images of America)
Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation, Ltd. and Ralph Buglass
Arcadia Publishing
9781467104739, $21.99 paperback

Rockville, Peerless Rockville

Rockville is the county seat of Montgomery County, Maryland. It is a suburb of Washington, D.C. and a city in its own right. I am familiar with Rockville from living in Washington, D.C. for more than 40 years, visiting friends in the city, using its educational and cultural resources, and shopping in the endless stores along Rockville Pike.

This short photographic history, "Rockville" is part of the series of histories of American communities published by Images of America and Arcadia Publishing. It is written by "Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation, Ltd" together with local historian Frank Buglass. Peerless Rockville is a non-profit community organization founded in 1974 to protect buildings and artifacts important to Rockville's history and to teach about Rockville and its history.

The most striking thing about this book is the love and enthusiasm it brings to understanding the community. Reading the text and viewing the many images, the book convinces the reader that Rockville is, if not always "peerless" a comunity with a shared history and a sense of spirit ranging from its colonial past to the present and projecting into the future. The book presents a lively, diverse city with a sense of itself and a cohesiveness through good times and bad. It is valuable to have love and loyalty towards one's home as displayed in this history of Rockville.

In ten brief chapters, the authors take the reader on a historical journey that begins when Rockville was little more than a crossroads during the revolutionary era and continues through its growth as a city due to the combined influences of the railroad, trolley, automobile, and Metro, and to the city's expansion following WW II. The early chapters document the growth of the city and its rise as the county seat. The book shows the large African American presence and its influence in Rockville beginning with the years of Jim Crow segregation following the Civil War.. Rather than covering over or ignoring this segregationist history, the book shows how the city has struggled over the years to move on. Chapters of the book cover education in Rockville, the many different neighborhoods of the city, houses of worship, and residents of the city over the years who have made a difference to the nation.

The latter chapters of the book cover the story of urban renewal in Rockville. With the growth of Rockville Pike, the downtown community seemed to be deteriorating and fading away. In the 1960's many old storefronts and homes were demolished in an effort to revitalize the city. There were some successes in building residences, but the business revitalization of the downtown failed badly. Undaunted, the city tried again. It was able to reinvent itself and now boasts a thriving, prosperous business district. The old buildings and the new, historic sites and contemporary places are presented in this book with informative texts.

I enjoyed visiting Rockville through this book and learning about the city in more depth than I have been able to do during my many years in the Washintgton, D.C. metropolitan area. But more than the particulars of Rockville's history, I was inspired by the spirit of community, shared purpose, and enthusiasm for "Peerless Rockville" that shines through the pages of this book.

Metaphysics and Historicity: The Aquinas Lecture
Emil Fackenheim
Marquette University Press (or Literary Licensing, LLC)
9781258032104, $39.95 hardback or Internet Archive

Emil Fackenheim In Milwaukee

Emil Fackenheim (1916 -- 2003) is best known for his work beginning in about 1967 as a Jewish philosopher and theologian of the Holocaust who taught that there was a 614th commandment in Jewish law to not give a posthumous victory to Hitler. Prior to that time, Fackenheim wrote on Jewish philosophy but he wrote as well on broad philosophical themes not particularly tied to Judaism. Thus, in 1961, Fackenheim, then a professor at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, gave the annual Aquinas Lecture at Marquette University, Milwaukee, on the subject "Metaphysics and Historicity". His lecture was published, heavily expanded with extensive footnotes, in this book as part of the outstanding series of the Aquinas Lectures. I studied philosophy as an undergraduate in Milwaukee many years ago. The city and philosophy are always linked for me.

Fackenheim's lecture is broad and difficult and deals with metaphysics with no specific reference to Jewish philosophy. At the outset, Fackenheim points out that metaphysical philosophy, dealing with the broad nature of reality or what Aristotle called being qua being had little place in the then current practice of philosophy which was split between analysis and existentialism. Still, Fackenheim expressed gratitude that metaphysics could still be practiced and receive a respectful hearing in a forum such as the Aquinas Lecture. In his lecture, Fackenheim explores what he calls the deepest challenge to the pracitice of metaphysics in historicism. Roughly, historicism argues that metaphysics as the study of timeless being is impossible because all human activity and knowledge is historically conditioned. The issue in the lecture is whether human beings are able to rise above their historical situation to knowledge and life independent of it. Fackenheim finds an urgency to this question in view of the fast paced changes of modern life, the continued progress of science, and philosophical challenges to the possibility of metaphysics.

The body of this complex, difficult lecture develops what Fackenheim understands as the assumptions underlying historicism. He works to the conclusion that historicism cannot be sustained because, in Fackenheim's view, it is self-contradictory. Fackenheim briefly develops a position on the nature of man and of metaphysics. Human beings are both historically conditioned by their time, place and culture and also strivers for reality and for timelessness. The human condition is a necessarily uneasy mix of the tension between the two. The ultimate role of metaphysics is to show this tension and to point to the search for timeless being and for God. Fackenheim's highly erudite discussion draws from and comments on Aristotle, the German idealists, particularly Schelling and Hegel, existentialism, and process philosophy and pragmatism, among other sources.

I was fascinated to read Fackenheim practicing this broad, heavily traditional form of metaphysics. I looked for comments on Fackenheim's lecture and found a 1964 four-page review of Fackenheim's book by the American philosopher Sidney Hook (1902 -- 1989). Like Fackenheim, Hook was a philosopher who changed his emphasis and orientation over the years. However, Hook always remained a secular, hard-headed thinker, and a pragmatist. Hook finds the lecture "a straightforward piece of ontology which may raise the hackles of empiricists but it can serve a useful function in challenging them to rethink their philosophical approach in the light of other alternatives." Hook rejects the alternatives in which Fackenheim frames the issue between timeless reality and "self-creation" and he finds Fackenheim's discussion devoid of argument and in many places unintelligible. He rejects Fackenheim's form of metaphysics writing that "the very fact that Fackenheim can say that logic is not autonomous with respect to metaphysics and that conflicting metaphysical systems have different logics is further evidence that there is little likelihood that metaphysics will ever be regarded as a discipline whose conclusions may be legitimately regarded as knowledge."

I was glad to struggle with Fackenheim's book and glad as well to find Hook's bracing critique of Fackenheim's form of metaphysics. Philosophy has fascinated me all my life, particularly in thinking about the possibility of the form of metaphysics Fackenheim adopted in this early lecture. As is the philosopher's wont, I tried to think of ways of adopting what is best in both Fackenheim and Hook. I enjoyed thinking about Fackenheim's lecture and remembering my own early life with philosophy in Milwaukee.

Sidney Hook's review of Fackenheim's book is found in the Journal "History and Theory", vol 3 no 3 pp 389 --392 (1964). It was kindly provided to me by JSTOR.

Fackenheim's "Metaphysics and Historicity" is available in this book in the Aquinas Lecture Series published by Marquette University Press and is also included in a 1996 collection of Fackenheim's writings, "The God Within: Kant, Schelling, and Historicity", edited by John Rurbidge.

Robin Friedman

Shefali Sequeira's Bookshelf

It Wasn't Enough
Peg Tittle
9781926891712 (paperback); 9781926891736 (epub); 9781926891729 (pdf)
$14.99 (paperback); $4.99 (ebook)

I read this book from cover to cover in one afternoon, pulled inexorably along by the readable style and careful pacing. I then spent a long time staring at a wall, recovering from the free-fall, hurtling journey, coming to the conclusion that this book must be read. Women will see their lives. Men will see their crimes. Whether they will learn from this mirror remains to be seen.

Shefali Sequeira

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Erik the Red
Tilman Roehrig
9781646900039, $18.95

Erik the Red is a fictional account of the life of the eponymous Erik Thorvaldsson, a medieval Norse explorer. Erik is portrayed as a hot-tempered young man and follows his life until his death. Other prominent characters include Erik's wife as well as his best friend/slave, Tyrkir.

In the beginning, Erik appears to be a good guy that bad things happen to, and he and his family suffer for it as he is banished once from Norway and again from Iceland. This second banishment leads to him heading west to look for lands in which he will not feel persecuted.

This book looks at Nordic history at a particularly turbulent time: the conversion of the Norse from the deities of Thor/Odin pantheon to Christianity. Erik remains steadfastly faithful to his Norse gods, but his wife converts and establishes the first church in Greenland.

This was definitely a character driven book with little plot that doesn't follow Erik's timeline. I would not particularly call it a young adult book as there is little emphasis on the trials and tribulations of a young Erik, though we do follow his progress from being a rather young man to his settling down some after an accident. There are also a couple of issues that may move this from the YA category. There is an underlying yearning between Erik's wife and his best friend that apparently Erik never picked up on. There is also his illegitimate daughter, Freydis, who tries to entice her older brother into an incestuous affair. She also kills a slave and attempts to murder Leif's illegitimate son.

All the Colors of Life
Lisa Aisato, author
Olivia Lasky, translator
9781646900114, $24.00

All the Colors of Life is a charming children's book written and illustrated by Lisa Aisato. The book covers the range of human life: childhood, the teen years, early adulthood, empty nesting, and finally old age. The images are spectacular, with the colors in the pictures ranging from vibrant to dark, and Aisato's understated, minimalist words let her images shine. There is some attempt at diversity including a few lovely plates of black children mixed in with otherwise entirely white population. No other races populate this book, and the only holiday mentioned is Christmas. The issue of same-sex love is deftly handled in the early adulthood section with images of male/female, male/male, and female/female couples kissing. This book can be read to prepare children in very simplified terms for the changes to expect as they age.

Memento Monstrum
Jochen Till
9781646900107, $20.00

Memento Monstrum is an adorable book, purportedly the memoirs of Count Dracula who is currently living in his drafty old castle with his Countess. The illustrations are delightful. A grandfather vampire, Vlad Dracula, has to babysit his grandchildren for the first time while the mother and grandmother head to Paris together for a girls' weekend. One of the children finds an old photo album which encourages the grandfather to tell stories related to the photos. The book wittily reimagines monsters into safer images; for example: a Yeti becomes a fluffy white prima ballerina in Paris and a wolf man becomes a drummer who plays with the Beatles in Berlin in pre-Ringo days. I loved that Van Helsing was a zombie who lost a hand in a years-earlier battle with Grandpa Dracula.

The story itself is printed in black ink, and the grandfather's tales are printed in red ink with inset margins. A parent - or a child - could easily read one story and stop, saving the others for another night. Adults and children will enjoy the humor. The monsters are not at all scary, thus the book is good bedtime reading. The grandfather and the three kids bond while building a fort out of antique books and storytelling, reinforcing family values.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Mortality, with Friends
Fleda Brown
Wayne State University Press
9780814348741, $18.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Mortality, With Friends is a collection of lyrical essays from Fleda Brown, a writer and caretaker, of her father and sometimes her husband, who lives with the nagging uneasiness that her cancer could return. Memoir in feel, the book muses on the nature of art, of sculpture, of the loss of bees and trees, the end of marriages, and among other things, the loss of hearing and of life itself.

Containing twenty-two essays, Mortality, With Friends follows the cascade of loss with the author's imminent joy in opening a path to track her own growing awareness and wisdom. In "Donna," Brown examines a childhood friendship and questions the roles we need to play in each other's lives to shape who we might become. In "Native Bees," Brown expertly weaves together the threads of a difficult family tradition intended to incite happiness with the harsh reality of current events. In "Fingernails, Toenails," she marvels at the attention and suffering that accompanies caring for our aging bodies. In "Mortality, with Friends," Brown dives into the practical and stupefying response to her own cancer and survival. In "2019: Becoming Mrs. Ramsay," she remembers the ghosts of her family and the strident image of herself, positioned in front of her Northern Michigan cottage.

Comparable to Lia Purpura's essays in their density and poetics, Brown's intent is to look closely, to stay with the moment and the image. Readers with a fondness for memoir and appreciation for art will be dazzled by the beauty of this collection.

Critique: Part of the Made in Michigan Writers series, Mortality, with Friends is an anthology of essays blending elements of memoir, self-reflection, contemplations on the nature of art and sculpture, and much more. Author Fleda Brown muses about aging and care, as she writes about her father, her husband, and her own unease that her cancer in remission could one day return. Mortality, with Friends is neither mind-numbingly bleak nor unrealistically cheery; it is honest and emotional, written a lyrical element adding an ever-so-slightly poetic touch to its insights. Highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Mortality, with Friends is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Editorial Note: Fleda Brown's tenth collection of poems, Flying through a Hole in the Storm, won the Hollis Summers Prize from Ohio University Press. Earlier poems can be found in The Woods Are on Fire: New & Selected Poems, chosen by Ted Kooser for the University of Nebraska poetry series. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware and was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001 to 2007.

Give Me a Second Chance
Rachel Saginsky
Gefen Publishing House
9789657023327, $17.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Racheli is a regular American modern Orthodox girl. After her marriage, idealism brings her and her husband to Israel where they begin to build a family. Spiritual searchers, the couple falls prey to a cult. Over a period of six years, Racheli and her husband lose the ability to make their own decisions or protect their children. As a result, Racheli receives a five-year prison sentence. Eighteen months into her prison sentence, Racheli begins to understand where everything went wrong. From here, her healing begins.

Upon her release, Racheli marries a prisoner who still has time to serve. With his help, she is able to rebuild herself into a vivacious, mentally and emotionally healthy woman who learns to live with the irreversible consequences of her mistakes and nourish the children and grandchildren with whom she has contact.

Give Me a Second Chance sheds light on the dark shadows in this world in the hopes of giving strength to those still in their own personal darkness. The book encourages readers to give a second chance to those who have fallen.

Critique: Give Me a Second Chance is a novel based on a true story. The story follows Racheli, an American Orthodox Jewish woman, who emigrates to Israel with her husband. The couple becomes involved in a cult, with devastating and horrific consequences for themselves and their children. Racheli is sentenced to prison for five years; while incarcerated, she gradually comes to understand where she went wrong, why she went wrong, and how to live with the consequences of her actions. Give Me a Second Chance is a story about the struggle to make amends, and offers hope that it is possible to turn one's life around. Highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Give Me a Second Chance is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Editorial Note: Rachel Saginsky writes extensively for many major Jewish publications. Her background as a journalist means she's curious enough to ask the right questions and committed to thorough research. She has published four books to date. The two central themes throughout her literary works are hope and personal growth. These two lodestones shine bright in her latest book, Give me a Second Chance.

Dovetails in Tall Grass: A Novel
Samantha Specks
9781684630936, $16.95 pbk / $1.64 Kindle

Synopsis: As war overtakes the frontier, Emma's family farmstead is attacked by Dakota-Sioux warriors; on that same prairie, Oenikika desperately tries to hold on to her calling as a healer and follow the orders of her father, Chief Little Crow. When the war is over and revenge-fueled war trials begin, each young woman is faced with an impossible choice. In a swiftly changing world, both Emma and Oenikika must look deep within and fight for the truth of their convictions - even as horror and injustice unfolds all around them.

Inspired by the true story of the thirty-eight Dakota-Sioux men hanged in Minnesota in 1862 - the largest mass execution in US history - Dovetails in Tall Grass is a powerful tale of two young women connected by the fate of one man.

Critique: The debut novel of therapist Samantha Specks, Dovetails in Tall Grass is a historical novel inspired by the largest mass execution in American history - the 1862 hanging of thirty-eight Dakota-Sioux men in Minnesota. The story follows two young women, each on a different side of vicious, revenge-driven war. Emma is prairie homesteader whose family is attacked; Oenikika is a chief's daughter who desires to be a healer. Each woman has to fight for her own beliefs even as violence and death spiral out of control around them. Crafted with cultural feedback from award-winning Dakota writer Diane Wilson, Dovetails in Tall Grass is a stark portrait of both the worst and the best of human nature, compelling, unforgettable, and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Dovetails in Tall Grass is also available in a Kindle edition ($1.64).

Extraordinary Awakenings
Steve Taylor
New World Library
9781608687671, $18.95 pbk / $11.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Why do some people who experience the worst that life has to offer respond not by breaking down but by shifting up, into a higher-functioning, awakened state, like phoenixes rising from the ashes? And perhaps more importantly, how can we emulate their transformations? Over many years of observing and studying the phenomenon of life-changing awakening through extreme suffering, Steve Taylor coined the term "transformation through turmoil." He calls these people "shifters" and here shares dozens of their amazing stories.

In addition, Taylor uncovers the psychological processes that explain these miraculous rebirths after years of struggle or devastating loss, addiction, or imprisonment. He highlights a number of lessons and guidelines that the shifters offer us. In Extraordinary Awakenings, readers will find not only riveting stories of transformation that show the amazing resilience of the human spirit, but also hope and guidance to call on during their own struggles, together with inspiration and profound food for thought.

Critique: Psychology senior lecutrer Steve Taylor, PhD presents Extraordinary Awakenings: When Trauma Leads to Transformation, an examination of "post-traumatic growth", a term for when trauma leads to substantial personal development. Spiritual and personal awakenings can come from incarceration, bereavement, depression, stress, or worse. How can trauma and turmoil ultimately cause a positive transformation? Extraordinary Awakenings is not only a thoughtful study of individual cases pointing to a broader potential whole, but also a testimony of hope and resilience, highly recommended especially for public library Psychology and Spirituality collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Extraordinary Awakenings is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99).

Editorial Note: Steve Taylor, PhD, is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, the chair of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and the author of many bestselling books, including The Calm Center, The Leap, and The Clear Light. He blogs for Scientific American and Psychology Today.

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Conspiracy U: A Case Study
Scott A. Shay
Wicked Son
B09DTLMXML, $9.99, 198 Pages

Scott A. Shay, was one of the founders of the Signature Bank in 2001. He is the author of two successful books,' In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism,' which won a finalists award from National Jewish Books, and 'Getting Our Grove Back: How to Energize American Jewry.' He is a successful businessman who is happy to give talks, and be interviewed, on radio, TV, and podcasts.

As soon as you start reading this expose, you can tell it is written from the heart. The author himself admits it was difficult to write. Originally an article to commemorate his father's liberation from the Nazi concentration camp Dachau, the paper quickly grew until he realised that it must become a book. During the horrendous atrocities of the holocaust, Scott A. Shay lost his grandfather, aunts, uncles, and many other relatives to the Nazi murders, knowing this makes it is easy to understand the passion in his writing.

He begins the book by expanding his readers understanding of the definition, and history, of conspiracy theories. He explains how by allowing conspiracy theories and extremist propaganda, the Golden Rule of his beloved alma mater (Northwestern,) and society, which requires individuals or groups to be treated equally as human beings, and also for accusation to be investigated thoroughly, has been undermined. Whilst studying there he was targeted with Nazi propaganda, and to his dismay then learned that this was something the university were unwilling to do anything about. He then discovered that conspiracy theories abound, and what's more, the writings on Zionists, by esteemed scholars, experts in their respective fields, Arthur Butz and Steven Thrasher, were also indicative of conspiracy theories. They described Zionism as "a malignant conspiracy intended to harm other peoples through the use of covert, dishonest, manipulative, and/or violent means." Whereas in reality "Zionism is simply the expression of the Jewish people's right to national self-determination in their ancestral homeland, the right to their own state." Yet the Jewish people have fought and been persecuted throughout history in their attempt to attain it.

The depth of research which has gone into this book is astounding. The author really gives the non-Jewish reader an insight into the battles the Jewish people have endured over the centuries, and the strength of their religious belief to sustain their faith against adversity. I found this book extremely thought-provoking, and my eyes were truly opened to the politics of the far-right and far-left in their anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic, and anti-Zionist conspiracy theories. However, in reading this book, I also fully comprehend the complete depth of harm conspiracy theories can cause in all aspects of society.

This book is written on a very personal level. The author references Northwestern University, and its scholars because it is his alma mater. There is no doubt that Northwestern influenced him in many positive ways, inspiring him to become a lifelong learner, and his graduate studies there furnished him with the skills to compete in the banking and investment world. This heartfelt, and well researched book makes fascinating and enlightening reading. Highly recommended.

The Mirror, The Window, and the Wall
Kenny G. Down
New Thought Life
9781735662824, $9.95 pbk / $2.99 Kindle 62 Pages

Kenny G. Down, the author of this insightful little book has given his readers within its pages not only hope and inspiration, but also a simple blueprint which will empower them to embark on the road to spiritual awakening. Through his books, and his website (newthoughtlife. org,) his readers quickly realise that the author is a self-motivated man who has drawn upon his own experiences, both recovering from addiction, and of helping others, to write this book.

Intentionally written in a brief booklet style, this incredibly motivational book, empowers its readers. Kenny G. Down knows the struggles they will/are facing, he's been there too. Even in the title he conveys his understanding, how? Because The Mirror, the Window, and the Wall are analogies for our coping mechanisms to deal with these battles. Struggles bought about by our modern world where there are so many ideals to live up to, pressures to look and act a certain way, to have a good job, own a nice house in a good location, the list goes on and on...

Mentally, the biggest hurdles in life we have to live up to are the self-set, and perceived ideas we all have, intentionally and unintentionally set upon us by ourselves and others. Through this book, the author encourages us to look within ourselves, ask ourselves what do we want? Are we overwhelmed by the pressures heaped upon us? Are we ready for spiritual awakening? If the answer is yes to these questions, then take the author's hand and let him guide you, give you strength, and help you find the fortitude to unleash the spiritual you, and awaken your soul.

As well as revealing The Mirror, the Window, and the Wall's in our lives, and how we use them, the author also urges us to incorporate seven actions into our daily lives. In doing these actions, reading, writing, meditation, sharing the experience with others, and reading 'Darlene's Prayer,' (Which is in the book,) throughout the day, the author's words and experience will help and inspire you on your unique path.

Kenny G. Down lives in Seattle, Washington USA. He is not only an author, whose other works include Darko: The Sacred Heart of One Johanee Darko, but also writes poetry, short stories, blogs and vlogs.

This book is, in my opinion, much needed in this modern world of stress and enforced expectations. Through the words and wisdom of this experienced author, those searching for spiritual awakening will find the path to inner peace.

The Covenant Names of God
Richard Sones
Independently Published
B09FFW3S5G, $13.49, 126 Pages

Covenants (the word also means treaty) are the ways God has used to reveal himself to us throughout history. This book gives a fascinating in depth insight into the scriptures, explaining how the name of God has changed, and why. Including how YHWH evolved into Yahweh, and why, and the reason why the author has chosen the name Jehovah for God, in subsequent chapters of the book.

Throughout the book, in learning about 'The Covenant Names of God,' the readers, through the authors excellent and detailed explanations, can re-equant themselves with the words and actions of biblical characters and discover, then understand God's relationship with them. The chapters each begin with Jehovah followed by another word, which actually means a phrase. This phrase is explained by the author, as are the actions between God and his chosen one at that particular biblical time. which led to the particular Covenant Name.

In these modern troubled times, most of us can recall stories from the bible and the main characters. However, as we strive for more material assets, or to climb the work/property ladder, these stories tend to go to the back of our mind, and can seem irrelevant to modern life. Yet, this author reveals this is not true. In this easy to read book, we learn how God has tried the biblical characters of the bible, setting them sometimes heart-breaking and seemingly impossible tasks, and yet they are achieved. We read of miracles, not only in the bible, but those he has personally witnessed in his working career, these examples show that there are parallels with the biblical and modern times. Richard Sones demonstrates to us that the hand of God is with us every day, his will and compassion there for those who seek it.

The author has a Master's degree in Divinity, and was a chaplain the US army for nearly twenty-eight years. He is now a hospital chaplain, and the pastor of a Baptist church in El Paso, Texas. He has authored many books, on a wide range of subject, and has the ability to make difficult and sometimes complex subject matters easy to understand. In this, his latest book, 'The Covenant Names of God,' the author has not only revealed 'The Covenant Names of God,' to those of us who did not know them, but he also holds a torch of hope to those who will listen to the word of God.

Aline and the Blue Bottle
Carolina Ugaz-Moran
Privately Published
B07ZJVKDXJ, $2.99, 276 Pages

When you read of the exciting life this author has had, it is no wonder that she can produce such a spellbinding fantasy story. Having travelled widely as a child, and having a love of animals, Carolina Ugaz-Moran went to the University of Wisconsin where she majored in Biochemistry and Creative Writing. Now a wife and mother, the author has, through her incredible imagination created this amazing fantasy adventure set in a magical enchanting world inhabited by strange creatures.

However, as this story begins, the protagonist Aline, is a young girl who, is being brought up by her mom, and grandmother in our world. Halloween, which also happens to be Aline's twelfth birthday, is in three days...

Aline struggles to fit in at school, often being teased and taunted, and this year, her birthday was no exception, however, all this is about to change. This Halloween evening is destined to be like no other, because, as the evening draws to a close, Aline is told by her grandmother that her life is in danger, and she is whisked off, through a portal into another, magical world. Once there, suddenly her life begins to make sense as the secrets of her heritage are revealed.

Here, in the magical One World is where she belongs, and now is time for her to learn her real past, and purpose. She discovers that her destiny is to undertake an important mission. However first she has magical powers to unlock, and then, only when she is prepared, can she set off on her dangerous quest, which is to find the powerful blue bottle before the evil warlock Dashiok does.

This wonderful story contains all the excitement, mystery, and fantasy a reader could wish for. Gargoyles, dragons, sylphs, dryads, and guardians are just a few of the magical creatures which come to life as Aline and her two friends pass through One World on their perilous journey.

Having read this book, it is no surprise that it won the 2020 NYC Big Book Award under Juvenile Fiction, received the Independent Press Award Distinguished Favorites under Children's in 2020, and the 2019/2020 Reader Views Literary Award Honorable Mention under Children's Teens (Ages 12-16). Reading it I was reminded of my favourite author, the legendary J. R. R. Tolkien's incredible The Lord of the Rings and feel that this outstanding work of coming-of-age, fantasy is something truly special. I look forward to reading more of Aline's incredible adventures. Highly recommended.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society
Joel Stone
Wayne State University Press
4809 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201-1309
9780814348871, $24.99, PB, 140pp

Synopsis: Since its founding in 1921, the Detroit Historical Society (DHS) has been dedicated to safeguarding the history of their region so that current and future generations of metro Detroiters can better understand the people, places, and events that helped shape their lives. "100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society is written by senior curator Joel Stone who deftly captures in both words and photographs the little-known story of the people who have been telling Detroit's stories and preserving its material culture for the last century.

"100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society" leads in a chronological manner through four distinct phases-each with its own successes and failures-with a nod to the future direction of the DHS. Stone begins by laying a foundation of the city's history and describing the era that prompted the organization's founding-first intended as support for the Burton Historical Collection, then as stewards of a growing artifact collection in a "cabinet of curiosities." DHS became the primary support organization for a new municipally owned and managed historical department, resulting in multiple facilities and storytelling capabilities. Later, changing social and fiscal priorities prompted the DHS and its partners to adopt new strategies for interpretation, funding, outreach, and inclusion. Eventually, the DHS would assume stewardship of the Detroit Historical Museum and Dossin Great Lakes Museum, bringing new momentum to regional public history.

It is important to note the truism that historical museums and archives can be poor caretakers of their own history. The DHS's history was intertwined with a municipal department for so long that they actually have two histories that are only roughly preserved. Research for this volume has woven many disparate details into a cogent tapestry that is easily digested by museum professionals and visitors alike. It is a fascinating tale that reflects the pride Detroiters have in their city and shows trends in historical preservation and organizational structures across North America.

Critique: Exceptionally well researched, written, organized and presented, "100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society" is a distinctly impressive work of detailed scholarship and will serve as an impressive template for similar projects for other historical societies. While highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists of historical society board members, American history students, academia, and non- specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.74).

Willis M. Buhle

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