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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 22, Number 10 October 2022 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Chris Patsilelis' Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Kirk Bane's Bookshelf
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Sarah Book's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf  

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

The Devil's Atlas: An Explorer's Guide to Heavens, Hells and Afterworlds
Edward Brooke-Hitching
Chronicle Books
680 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
9781797214474, $29.95, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Devil's Atlas: An Explorer's Guide to Heavens, Hells and Afterworlds", author Edward Brooke-Hitching presents a unique and beautifully illustrated guide to the heavens, hells, and lands of the dead as imagined throughout history by cultures and religions around the world.

Solidly packed from cover to cover with colorful maps, paintings, and captivating stories, "The Devil's Atlas" provides a compelling tour of the geography, history, and supernatural populations of the afterworlds of cultures around the globe. Whether it's the thirteen heavens of the Aztecs, the Chinese Taoist netherworld of "hungry ghosts," Islamic depictions of Paradise, or the mysteries of the Viking mirror world, each is conjured through astonishing images and a highly readable trove of surprising facts and narratives, stories of places you'd hope to go, and those you definitely would not.

A traveler's guide to worlds unseen, here is a fascinating visual chronicle of our hopes, fears, and fantasies of what lies beyond.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively informative, expertly organized and presented study, "The Devil's Atlas: An Explorer's Guide to Heavens, Hells and Afterworlds" is a unique and unambiguously recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Religion/Mythology collections. Informatively enhanced with the inclusion of a two page Bibliography and a six page Index, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Devil's Atlas: An Explorer's Guide to Heavens, Hells and Afterworlds" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Edward Brooke-Hitching is the author of The Madman's Library, The Sky Atlas, The Golden Atlas, The Phantom Atlas, and Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling And Other Forgotten Sports. The son of an antiquarian book dealer, he graduated from the University of Exeter with a distinction in filmmaking before entering independent documentary production. He lives in a dusty heap of old maps and books in London and has a Wikipedia entry at

Brigadistas!: An American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War
Miguel Ferguson, author
Anne Timmons, illustrator
Paul Buhle & Fraser Ottanelli, editors
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706,, New York, NY 10001
9781583679616, $89.00, HC, 120pp

Synopsis: "Brigadistas!: An American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War" is an exhilarating graphic novel about the Spanish Civil War that tells the story of three American friends who set off from Brooklyn to join in the fight -- determined to make Spain "the tomb of fascism" for the sake of us all.

Together they defy the U.S. government and join the legendary Abraham Lincoln Brigade, throw themselves into battle, and conduct sabotage missions behind enemy lines. As Spain is shattered by the savagery of combat during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), readers will see the darkening clouds of the World War to come.

Artist Anne Timmons has created a thrilling graphic novel in the spirit of the "war comic" genre that appeared after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II. Drawing upon the real-life experiences of Lincoln Brigade veteran Abe Osheroff, writer Miguel Ferguson offers a lively, accessible resource based on actual events during the Great Depression and the Spanish Civil War. Brigadistas! will stir the memories of older audiences who remember the Spanish Civil War as a time of unparalleled international solidarity and heartbreak, and it will expose young audiences to the passions, politics, and conflicts of a bygone era with striking contemporary relevance.

Critique: As informative as it is engaging, "Brigadistas!: An American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War" is a superbly produced graphic novel that will have particular and special appeal to readers with an interest in the Spanish Civil War -- with a particular emphasis on the Lincoln Brigade of non-Spanish volunteers. While also available in a paperback edition (9781583679609, $18.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Brigadistas!: An American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War" is unreservedly recommended for personal, highschool, and community library graphic novel and 20th Century History collections.

Editorial Note #1: Miguel Ferguson is an award-winning professor, author, and educational entrepreneur. As the founder of the company OfCourse!, he creates innovative curriculum and provides training on public policy and social justice topics.

Editorial Note #2: Anne Timmons is a Portland-based painter and illustrator whose work has appeared in a range of national magazines. In addition to teaming up with Trina Robbins on illustrated biographies and adaptations, she has worked with Paul Buhle on Studs Terkel's Working and Bohemians.

Editorial Note #3: Fraser M. Ottanelli teaches US radicalism and immigration history at the University of South Florida.

Editorial Note #4: Paul Buhle, retired Brown University Senior Lecturer, has authored and edited more than forty books on the American and Caribbean Left, and is the editor of more than a dozen nonfiction graphic novels.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Life Skills: Improve the Quality of Your Life with Applied Metapsychology, second edition
Marion K. Volkman
Loving Healing Press
9781615996803, $24.95 PB, Page Count: 268 pages
9781615996810, $36.96 HC
9781615996827, $7.95 eBook
B0BB3GG13B, $7.95

The new edition of Life Skills has an increased amount of practical and helpful exercises and remedies, beyond what I would have expected after having read the first edition. The second edition came along at an ideal time for me, as there was a change in my life involving memory deficits of my husband. I quickly realized I could try exercises bit by bit, and they helped. The book was not written for dealing with memory loss. I do not want to twist the author's words, only say what I felt while reading the book.

Recently, I read the Alzheimer's association book, The 36 Hour Day, as well as other books, including one on the topic from the Mayo Clinic Press. However, the reading was dry and clinical although life stories were included. The stories did not resonate with me or give me practical ideas. I felt the texts left me alone to deal with the situation. Necessary reading, to be sure, but the information was not immediately useful.

Life Skills gave me a clearer lens to deal with what was happening in my life. Volkman says traumatic stress is a factor in life and requires resolution. Dementia fits the definition of trauma, new, but traumatic. At first, the person is aware something is happening and is in great denial. It is traumatic to the caregiver as it is quite a change in life and affects several relationships. Dementia is terminal. Also, dementia fits "life as art" because it is very unclear what will help. One time one thing works, and another it does not. And emotional scales, bingo, looking at the situation with a scale is something that can help clarify what is going on, even if the situation will not improve. I could go on and on, but basically, I saw a fit for my life. And there is no way to deal with a person with memory deficits without being fully present, a point made many times throughout the book.

The study group suggestions advice, such as listening attentively to answers and giving neutral answers, helped to not anger my husband. Without thinking, I could escalate him by not listening long enough. I would think, "What in the world are you trying to say?" More listening, more facilitating (or scaffolding) his thoughts kept things calm.

When someone is withdrawing from the world, hobbies, relationships, aesthetics, and nature, it was good to have a list of what was being omitted from his life to understand what was wrong, instead of just feeling like everything was wrong. What precisely was happening? I could list things as I kept notes by checking the book.

Volkman says dissatisfaction is built into our consumer-based society. True. And yes, the goose story applies as I tried to see what my husband was avoiding.

In the ground-breaking book On Aggression, Lorenz (1974) talked about his pet goose who followed him everywhere, as much as possible. The goose's devotion allowed Lorenz the opportunity to observe its behavior closely. (Page 48)

I didn't need to follow him around as he started following me around, but I had to look closely to see how I might help. I tried to understand why as he complained. Fear? Traumatic memories I did not understand?

Many things in his life are unresolved, and they continue to demand attention, although they may never be resolved. Volkman helped me understand where some of the behavior was coming from. An alcoholic father, the Vietnam war, changing jobs as a design engineer when things went to production, and also moving to different states left emotional scars. I have to learn not to trigger reactivating such memories, or at least do some fast backtracking if I do. Triggering took on a whole new meaning.

Volkman states:

"Being aware of the whole concept of triggering and how it happens also allows us greater understanding of others. If someone is triggered and as a consequence of that, acts irrationally, trying to talk them out of it is often worse than useless. Getting someone to tell you exactly how they feel and letting them know that you are really hearing and understanding is often the most effective method." (Page 58)

News on TV could trigger memories. How often World War II and the Vietnam War are mentioned on television. Finding pleasant shows is very difficult for someone who prefers nonfiction. We settled on historical or dull documentaries, but they often wound up mentioning some war or another. I focused on reducing how much news he watched.

The Large Object Remedy seemed beyond us, but Volkman suggests using this idea over several shorter periods. And focusing on what can be done as opposed to what is outside our control is another helpful suggestion. Of course, I had heard this before, yet upon this reading the wise words seemed new again.

I appreciated the emotional scale as it gave me words to ask what was really going on in his mind. It is not his fault he may always be "below zero" at this point in his life. I need to not just make offhand remarks anymore, but note what emotional level he is at, and make more nonthreatening comments before discussing anything serious. Page 99 has a helpful exercise for several times a day around here. Also, not making "you" statements helps, as explained on page 117.

Caretakers must care for themselves, too, and page 219 has an excellent exercise daily exercise. I would recommend this to caregivers in general. Thinking of myself as a facilitator is more helpful, and the Socratic method of questioning nicer than a more lawyer-or-police-type approach.

I believe this book helps reduce stress, makes me more aware, and gives me guideposts for dealing with the situation I am in now.

Thank you to Volkman for writing this second edition just when I needed it!

Forward: Notes on the Future of our Democracy
Andrew Yang
9780593238677, $15.94 hardcover, $18.99, paperback, $12.99 Audio Book, 368 pages
B08XB374CH, $5.99 Kindle

Beginning with "Democracy by a Thread" and the fact that members of Congress have a 90 percent reelection rate while their approval rate hovers about 21 percent, Yang explains the political problems we are facing. Politicians and constituents both are tired of a system that doesn't seem to work. The book continues through to his several ideas about improving the system. Yang explains why no long-term solutions are possible without innovation. He states the situation is dire and has been sped up by the pandemic.

Yang shares the story of his run for the presidency to illustrate how the process works and what it costs. He describes meeting other candidates, and sometimes his impressions of them were incorrect. Reactions to him varied from, "Should I know who you are?" to becoming recognizable. People listened to his speeches, but few helped. Media outlets were not fair to all candidates. It was an ego-destroying process. Still, he ran a successful campaign based on advocating for a Universal Basic Income of $12k per year per adult, evolution from capitalism to Human Capitalism, and single-payer health care after job reduction.

Charts and graphs dramatically prove his points. Politically, things will not change as they are currently being done. He explains two-thirds of a child's education outcome is determined by many factors outside of school. By sharing information about his own family, he reveals education is another area requiring improvement.

Improving local journalism probably through a government program, universal health care not dependent on employment, a drastic over hall of tax programs, possibly a VAT tax as it is difficult to dodge, cleaning up campaign money, ranked choice voting (David Brooks agrees with this one), an overhaul of the primaries, ending the filibuster, and banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists after their service are some of the ideas he discusses both the pros and cons o towards the end of the book. He advocates ad-free choices in social media and television news. To bring back democracy, he thinks the government should be based on facts all parties recognize as accurate.

This book sparked lively debate in our family, and will cause thoughtful review of what might be done to improve the current state of affairs.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Chris Patsilelis' Bookshelf

The Greatest Raid: St. Nazaire 1942
Giles Whittell
Oxford University Press
9780197627907, $29.95 HC, 262 pages

During the bleak early, years of World War II Europe, before the allies could mount their massive D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France in June, 1944, Royal Navy Sailors and elite British commando teams launched several small-scale assaults upon coastal Norway and trans-Channel France. But their most audacious and effective raid - - Operation Chariot - - occurred in the early hours of March 28, 1942 when they attacked the immense naval repair complex at St. Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France. Putting this Crucially important dry dock facility - - - - the biggest in the world! - - out of commission would severely hinder Hitler's U-boat campaign against critical Allied shipping in the Atlantic. It would also force the dreaded German battleship Tirpitz which also roamed the Atlantic, back to Norwegian waters since it could then no longer rely on St. Nazaire for maintenance and repair.

However, as Giles Whittell in his meticulously researched work, "The Greatest Raid: St. Nazaire, 1942", states, "The real reason" for the raid - - considered by many to be an act of sheer, suicidal madness - - was simply that Britain was losing the war and desperate to show it could still fight."

Whittell, also author of "Spitfire Women of World War II" (2007) and "Bridge of Spies" (2010) (made into a 2015 movie starring Tom Hanks) begins his new book aboard the de-commissioned, World War 1 - era American destroyer, Campbeltown, on what would be her last voyage. The author informs us that 28-year-old Royal Navy Lieutenant Nigel Tibbetts, torpedo specialist, had, "With long rolls of copper fuse and four tons of Amatol explosive - - the kind used in depth charges to blow apart the pressure hulls of submarines - - ... turned the ship into a giant floating bomb". And the explosives were timed to go off 3.5 hours after the Campbeltown was steered to ram St. Nazaire's formidable South Gate.

A flotilla of fifteen small vessels trailed the Campbeltown. "All were loaded with commandos who had spent the past thirty-six hours eating, sleeping and contemplating the odds that they would soon die". writes Whittell.

A "pep" talk two weeks earlier from Lord Luis "Dickie' Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, wasn't exactly uplifting: Operation Chariot, the chief said was "a very hazardous operation. I am quite confident that you will get in and do the job all right, but, frankly, I don't expect any of you to get out again."

The Campbeltown, followed by the small flotilla, proceeded in St. Nazaire harbor and encountered sustained, accurate fire from powerful shore batteries as the explosive-laden, old World War I destroyer sped toward the dock's immense Southern Gate ...

Throughout this harrowing tale we are introduced to memorable, intrepid characters. There is young Captain Robert Ryder, leader of the raid. A Renaissance man of sorts - - "He could navigate by the stars. He could paint. He could" - - most crucially - - "endure." He "proved a capable leader, not so much by inspiration as by example."

We meet the Honorable Michael Wynn, "son of landed gentry .... War gave him a sense of purpose." Aside from defeating Germany, his chief interests were speed and girls.

But he was a technical genius. With no formal naval training, he designed and built his own torpedo - launching boat! - - And thats's what he sailed to St. Nazaire !!

Another notable in this distinguished cast of characters is 37-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Charles Newman, Commando Leader and Civil engineer, Whitell quotes one of Newman's fellow officers who said Newman looked like an old elephant "with cauliflower ears and a great big nose." Never without a pipe in his mouth, he would lead the assault troops on the raid. His demolition experts would then strategically strap explosive charges to St. Nazaire's sensitive dock facilities.

.... The Campbeltown smashes into the St. Nazaire's South Gate at 1:34 A.M., March 28, 1942.
"Thirty-Six feet of American Steel crumpled like foil' in her bow. The gun crew was immediately killed by enemy fire. The entire ship caught fire, men fleeing desperately. "The main deck was slippery with blood."

Whittell goes on to relate how the commandos, in their frenzied raid upon the dock area, suffered extreme losses. Twenty-year-old Bill "Tiger" Watson who survived the raid and went on to become a doctor, described his wounding in a highly medical-analytic manner: "The bullet broke my arm just above the elbow .... it just snapped the bone, sparing the main arteries and nerves. Even the exit wound was small and neat."

Private Tom McCormack was not so lucky. Half his head had been blown off, according to Commando Lieutenant Stuart Chant. "As he sat with his face clasped in his arms he made the most horrible gurgling noises"

At 11:46 A.M. Lieutenant Nigel Tibbet's explosives on the cambeltown finally went off - - nearly seven hours late! In a deafening eruption on flames and torn metal approximately 300 German soldiers, who had come aboard to examine the scuttled ship, were killed.

But, Whittell darkly points out, of the 623 courageous sailors and commandos who took part in the St. Nazaire action, nearly half were killed, wounded or captured.

The raid - - if ones can ignore the many casualties - - was a partial success. the dry dock facility could not be repaired for the remainder of the war and so, the fearsome battleship Tirpitz could no longer be maintained there and would, therefore, cease to be a threat to Allied shipping. But, sadly German U-boats could still prowl the Atlantic.

However, the more nuanced goal - - British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent dream - - had been realized: The daring raid on St. Nazaire became a tremendous morale-booster for a Great Britain which had nearly lost hope.

Shining a bright light on a lesser-known action of World War II, Giles Whittell's "The Greatest Raid: St. Nazaire, 1942" is a must-read for any aficionado of World War II history.

Chris Patsilelis

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

The Weed Gummies Cookbook
Monica Lo
Ulysses Press
PO Box 3440, Berkeley CA 94703-3440
9781646043668, $17.95, PB, 128pp

Synopsis: Homemade edibles are cost-effective, discreet, and delicious! With the publication of "The Weed Gummies Cookbook: Recipes for Cannabis Candies, THC and CBD Edibles, and More", Monica Lo offers a practical cookbook as the go-to DIY instructional resource for the cannabis curious of all levels and offers approachable ways to incorporate a variety of cannabinoids into your routine.

With step-by-step instructions and color photos, "The Weed Gummies Cookbook: Recipes for Cannabis Candies, THC and CBD Edibles, and More" provides pro tips for safely handling and labeling your confections.

"The Weed Gummies Cookbook: Recipes for Cannabis Candies, THC and CBD Edibles, and More" will enable even the most novice of readers to get inspired to create their own special gummies and candies that are even better than the average dispensary-bought treats with weed-infused recipes like: Sour Green Apple Gummies; Lavender Chamomile Sleep Gummies; Mocha Caramels; Honey Elderberry Lozenges, and so many more!

Critique: Profusely and informative illustrated in full color throughout, and also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99), "The Weed Gummies Cookbook: Recipes for Cannabis Candies, THC and CBD Edibles, and More" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library collections in those states where recreational cannabis has been legalized.

Editorial Note: Monica Lo ( is a multidisciplinary creative and the creator of Sous Weed, a blog-turned-culinary-cannabis resource founded in 2015. With a formal background in communication design from Pratt Institute, she honed her skills as a food photographer and stylist while working in the advertising industry in NYC. Her work for Sous Weed has been featured on the TODAY show, VICE's Munchies, Healthyish, and Vogue.

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Strauss, Spinoza & Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith
Edited by Jeffrey Bloom, Alec Goldstein, & Gil Student
Kodesh Press
9781947857759 $49.95 hc
9781947857728 $19.95 pbk

Is Judaism the truth?

Jeffry Bloom, a graduate of the University of Chicago who studied in several Orthodox yeshivas (rabbinical schools) in Israel after college, was bothered by what the scholar Leo Strauss wrote in his book Spinoza's Critique of Religion.[1] Strauss emigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1930s. He taught at the University of Chicago and was the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century until he died in 1973. He grew up in a nominally Orthodox Jewish home but was not Orthodox. He argued that Spinoza did not refute Orthodoxy. Judaism, he wrote, is based on faith, on beliefs but not provable facts. Other religions are also not provable, and even science cannot assert that what it claims is undoubtedly true. Bloom wondered if this assertion belittled Judaism or minimized it. He wrote, "Is Strauss correct that we can only claim to believe in the truth of Judaism, but we cannot claim to know it is true?" He joined with two others in seeking the views of seventeen Orthodox Jewish thinkers, rabbis and professors. Their essays are in the book Strauss, Spinoza & Sinai.

People have been bothered by uncertainty since ancient times. They want confirmation that what they think is true is really true. An oracle considered the Greek Socrates (circa 470 to 399 BCE) to be the most intelligent man of his generation because he recognized his ignorance regarding many subjects he investigated, that human wisdom begins with recognizing one's ignorance, and that the unexamined life is not worth living. But the Athenians were bothered by his claim that we do not know the truth and killed him.

His student Plato (circa 429 to 347) recognized the difficulty most people have with uncertainty and with ideas that conflict with what they think is certain. He developed the "noble lie." He told people that certain untruths were true to help make their lives pleasant.

The brilliant Islamic philosopher Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185) wrote about this in his easy-to-read Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale. I recommend this book. There are many valuable lessons in the philosopher Ibn Tufayl's twelfth-century masterpiece. But what is most interesting in his parable is his view that wise people, philosophers, and religious leaders must refrain from telling what they understand to the general population. This is especially true, he states, about religion. Organized religion, as understood by the masses, is necessary for the masses but wrong for people with understanding because it is not true.

Ibn Tufayl introduces his story by telling how his predecessors hid truths from the multitude. They said one thing in their books they expected the general population to read and something entirely different in books they wrote for scholars.

Alfarabi (870-950), for example, wrote in his The Ideal Religion that the souls of wicked people live on after death and are perpetually tortured, but in his Civil Practice and his commentary on Aristotle's Ethics - the Greek Aristotle lived from 383 BCE to 322 BCE - he wrote that the notion of life after death is wrong and that "all other claims are senseless ravings and old wives' tales."

Similarly, Ibn Tufayl tells us that the philosopher Avicenna (980-1037) warned intelligent people to be careful in how they read Aristotle because "if you take everything in Aristotle (literally), you will end up far from perfection."

So too, while discussing Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Tufayl points out that this philosopher hid what he truly meant so that only those who were learned would understand what is true. "Most of what he said was in the form of hints and intimations, of value to those who hear them only after they have found the truth by their sight or to someone innately gifted and primed to understand. Such men need only the subtlest hints."

Ibn Tufayl writes that he, despite years of study and his intelligence, had to work hard to unravel the truth from the lies his teachers and the lies taught him that he saw in books. They are notions not based on the truth but on blind faith and are wrong.

But not all thinkers were willing to live with uncertainty. An example is the Spanish Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141). Halevi argues in a circular fashion that Judaism is not based on faith but on historical experience. We know, he insists, that there were six hundred thousand Israelites at Sinai who experienced the revelation of the Decalogue because the Bible tells us so - and we know that the Bible is telling us the truth because six hundred thousand Israelites could not have been wrong. We also know that Judaism is true because what the Israelites saw and heard has been passed down to Jews by tradition. Halevi also "proves" that free will exists by arguing that we know it exists because we feel it exists.

The most outstanding Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1138-1204), would not have accepted Halevi's views. He agreed with the other philosophers. He called the "noble lie" the "essential truth," the untruths that people must teach people to control them, make them act appropriately, and feel good. That God grows angry when people misbehave is an example of an essential truth.

Like Socrates and Strauss, Maimonides knew that the human mind is incapable of knowing much about God and this world. He wrote that we could not know anything about God. The best we can learn are some things about what God created, including the laws of nature.

So, Strauss is right, Judaism is based on beliefs, not facts.

Some of the seventeen in this book disagreed. Some accepted Strauss' distinction between belief and knowledge but disagreed with his claim that Judaism rests on belief alone. For example, one writes that he hesitates "to become enthusiastic about a faith whose foundations are so admittedly tenuous... I would prefer a religion to demonstrate a little more conviction in itself before I become emotionally invested." Another similarly wrote that faith could and should be a stepping-stone to philosophy. One essayist saw the validity of Orthodox Judaism not in faith but in the tenacity and persistence of the Jew's belief. "Clearly, something in the consciousness of the Jewish people will not allow us, as a people, to abandon God."

Others spent their time telling us the benefits of Judaism that aid Jews even though we cannot prove Judaism to be true. Some accepted the Protestant theologian Soren Kierkegaard's notion that we have to have a "leap of faith" that goes beyond reason and rational considerations. This will satisfy us, for we will see the advantages of Judaism over other religions. One sees the significance of Judaism by viewing why people are prompted to convert to Judaism, while another considers the value of Judaism in Jewish history and the Oral Law in contrast to the Bible. Still others stress that it is more important to experience Judaism than to be worried about faith and the truth - be like the married couple that enjoys life together and strives to increase each other's enjoyment without spending time reading books analyzing how their bodies function.

All seventeen are interesting and thought-provoking, worthy of being read. The value of this book lies in its ability to make us think.

[1] The book was originally published in German and was translated into English in 1965.

My Mother's Sabbath Days: A Memoir
Chaim Grade, author
Channa Kleinerman Goldstein, translator
Inna Hecker Grade, translator
Jason Aronson, Inc.
c/o Rowman & Littlefield
9781568219622, $45.99 paperback

"My Mother's Sabbath Days" is a beautiful, fascinating, and eye-opening story by the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade (1910-1982). His name is pronounced gra, as in open your mouth and say ah, and de at the end pronounced as in eh, the word said in surprise. Grade in German and Yiddish means "straight." Since his first name Chaim in Hebrew means "life," his two names can be translated as "a straight life." David Remnick discussed the Swedish Academy Nobel Prizes in Literature in the September 5, 2022, "The New Yorker." He describes the failures of the Academy. Few people know anything about the 1901 first recipient Sally Prudhomme today. Remnick lists other forgotten authors and famous writers who received no award, such as Chekhov, Kafka, Borges, Orwell, Twain, and a long list more. Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991) won the award in 1978. Remnick does not mention him. But many, including Prize winners, are convinced that Grade was a far better writer and he deserved the Prize.

Grade's early writings were poetry. There are nine volumes of his poetry. "My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner," published in 1952, was Grade's first work as a novelist. He was successful, and other splendid, thoughtful dramas followed. The book is based on Grade's life. It is so good that other writers made it into a film and a play. It is about the different opinions of Judaism by two former classmates at an Orthodox Yeshiva. Grade and his fictional counterpart in the tale left the Yeshiva and became a secular Jew because they felt the lessons of the Yeshiva were wrong, even harmful. Rasseyner continued his life living the Yeshiva beliefs. The Grade stand-in argues that Jews must open their minds to the enlightenment. Hersh Rasseyner argues fervently that only observant Jews are faithful Jews. The story is a classic because of its lasting merit. Its message is still relevant today despite being first printed seventy years ago because it addresses the current dispute between secular and observant Jews. It highlights the conflict caused in the past and today. The conflict between being Orthodox and secular is also one of the many themes in this book.

Grade was raised in an Orthodox family. His tragic father, who is only briefly described in this memoir, was a champion of the enlightenment who challenged, as did his son, rabbinical rulings. But his mother, Vella, depicted extensively in this memoir, was very devout. It was from her that he took his artistic, poetic nature. She agonized as she saw her only living child turning away from Orthodoxy. She was married to a much older man and had two daughters with him, both of whom died in infancy. Her husband became sick and was unable to help obtain money for his family. They were extremely poor. They lived in a small space in Vilna, Lithuania. Polish forces occupied Vilna in 1920, and before the outbreak of World War II, the city of Vilna was part of northeastern Poland. Under the terms of the German-Soviet Pact, Vilna, along with the rest of eastern Poland, was occupied by Soviet forces in late September 1939.

When the German forces invaded Vilna in 1941, Grade fled to Russia. Among the wealth of information, this book tells about his experiences as a refugee in Russia. He was convinced the Nazis would not harm women, so he left his mom and wife in Vilna. He was wrong. They murdered both of them, along with many other innocent women. He immigrated to America in 1948.

There is much to enjoy and much to learn from this splendid book. What is most striking in this book is the artistry and brilliant, interesting descriptions of the many Jewish and non-Jewish people that Grade encounters. The agonies of Grade's mom move us. They show Grade as a first-class writer. We observe how the Jews deal with poverty and foolishly fight one another rather than unify and fight their mutual enemies. As a result, many unwisely turned to Communism which lured them with false promises of an ideal life in the Communist paradise. This behavior turned the semi-Fascist Polish regime to persecute many Jews. Many Jews who attempted to escape to Russia were arrested as spies and incarcerated in concentration camps. There is also, as previously suggested, the religious battle between Orthodoxy and secularism. What is it that alienates Grade from his mother's religion? Is it something rational? Or is it the treatment that his mom, fellow citizens, and his fellow Jews suffer from the Russians and the Germans? Would life in Vilna have been better if Grade was Orthodox?

Readers of this volume will see why even in its English translation, partly done by Grade's second wife after his death, is so highly praised.

The Sacred and the Profane
Chaim Grade, author
Harold Rabinowitz, translator
Inna Hecker Grade, translator
Jason Aronson, Inc.
c/o Rowman & Littlefield
9781568219639 $45.99 pbk / $37.12 Kindle

"The Sacred and the Profane' contains three excellent novellas by Chaim Grade translated from the original Yiddish by Harold Rabinowitz and Inna Hecker Grade, Chaim Grade's second wife, whom he married sometime after the Nazis murdered his first wife and his mother along with six million other Jews. The Yiddish name was Kloyz un di Gas, which means "The Synagogue and the Street.' It was initially published in 1982 under the title "Rabbis and Wives." In her foreword to this volume, Grade's wife explains that the name was changed since "Rabbis and Wives" can mislead readers, making them overlook the essential message of the book, that human life is a tension of opportunities, a tension between the sacred and the profane, that it is the nature of the profane to wage war on the sacred. Yet, in the end, human yearning for the spiritual - the eternal - spiritualizes and redeems even the battle of the sacred and the profane." She tells us that the revised title captures the meaning of the original Yiddish title.

Chaim Grade was a superb novelist who wrote about the terrible conditions of Jewish life in pre-World War II Lithuania and often primitive the worldview of these people because of discrimination and the difficulty of attending secular schools. This excellent, disturbing, and depressing 1974 collection of three novellas describes the pitiful and disastrous impact of these conditions upon three sets of people and their communities. It is worth reading because the stories are fascinating, they reveal a now no longer existing culture that was destroyed by the holocaust, and they serve as a warning to those Jews who seek to revive this culture in America and Israel, a culture of isolation and avoidance of secular education.

The stories also show Chaim Grade's concern that religion can in some people become exaggerated, destroying one's life and the life of one's family and acquaintances. While he does not mention it, the tales can remind us of the warnings of the Greek and Jewish philosophers Aristotle and Maimonides that our behavior should not be extreme but moderate, according to "the golden mean."

"The Rebbetzin" portrays how a rabbi's wife tries to break out of this culture by persuading her husband to leave a small isolated community for a larger one. Her motive is not entirely honest. She is still hurt by the senior rabbi of the larger community who jilted her. She persuades her husband to take a different approach in his sermons in the new city. This angers the rest of the community because he is now teaching that Jews should not sit back and await the coming of a messiah but work as Zionists to re-establish Israel. The rest of the community is convinced that failure to wait for God to act by engaging in Zionism is heresy, an attack against God, and an abandonment of the religious understanding of two thousand years of trust that God will aid Jews at the proper time.

"The Oath" portrays the religious life of a rabbi who was overzealous in his younger years, resulting in his wife insisting on a divorce he granted. It tells about a dying man who requests his son to swear that he will give up his secular education and study Torah with the divorced rabbi. He makes this request despite supporting his son's study in the academy for many years. His son reluctantly agrees and does so after his father's death without any enthusiasm, yearning to work instead in the field. The dying father also attempts to have his daughter swear to give up her love for an unreligious man who is a communist. She refuses. His wife observes Orthodox Judaism and loves it but cannot persuade her two children to do the same. She develops a relationship with the divorced rabbi.

"Laybe-Layzar's Courtyard" is, in my view, the best of the trio, even though all are excellent. Readers will see why so many people are convinced that Grade should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The approximately hundred-page novella tells about the life of different Jews, males and females, religious and non-religious, all living in the same courtyard. There is Rabbi Yoel Weintraub, a knowledgeable scholar who started in the rabbinate taking an extreme view regarding what is permitted and prohibited by Jewish law. But something happened, and he feels terrible saying matters were forbidden. He gives up the rabbinate, comes to Laybe-Layzar's Courtyard, spends his day secluded in the Bet Midrash, the study hall, studying the Talmud and Jewish Law books, and requires his wife to work selling fruits and vegetables to support them. The locksmith Heskiah Teitelbaum is radically different yet similar. He is also well-informed in Jewish Law but insists on acting strictly, fasts frequently, spends many hours studying in the Bet Midrash, reuses to work many times when he wants to study, and hurts the lives of his three daughters. We read what are, in essence, short tales of many others, including Paltiel Shklar, who sues his brothers about an inheritance and blames Rabbi Weintraub for not helping him; Moishele Manvas, who has an affair with a hat maker despite being married, and then with one of Heskiah Teitelbaum's daughters; Itka, Heskiah Teitelbaum's daughter, who wants to sell women's clothes in the center of town away from the Jewish center; Serel, another daughter who wants to marry a Jew who knows little about Jewish Law; Sheftel Miklishansky known far and wide for his extreme piety and humility who has a run-in with Heskiah because of Itka; and many more.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Family Handyman Whole House Storage & Organizing
Family Handyman, editor
Trusted Media Brand
9781621458043, $19.99, PB, 272pp

Synopsis: We all have 'stuff" and we all need to have places to put it and ways to keep it neat stored and accessible. That's where this edition of "Family Handyman Whole House Storage & Organizing" comes in. Whether you're looking to tidy up or store your belongings, this DIY instructional guide and 'how-to' manual is replete with a wide variety of projects and hints to make a living space the most orderly it's ever been.

"Family Handyman Whole House Storage & Organizing" includes more than 50 projects for organizing a kitchen, bathroom, backyard, bedrooms, office, workshop and more. There are also simple step-by-step illustrated instructions on building customized storage solutions. Of special note are the clever tips for storing bulky or awkwardly shaped items like blankets, sports gear and kitchen utensils.

Whether looking to build a storage shed or to take advantage of unused space in a closet, this informative and profusely illustrated volume will prove to be an invaluable resource for tidying up all around the house -- from the bathroom to the backyard and everywhere in-between.

Critique: Exceptionally well organized and presented, "Family Handyman Whole House Storage & Organizing" is thoroughly 'user friendly' in instructional technique allowing even the most novice householder or office worker to effective organize and store anything and everything. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99), "Family Handyman Whole House Storage & Organizing" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, and community library DIY home improvement, cleaning, caretaking, and relocating instructional reference collections.

Editorial Note: There is an informative and dedicated website for Family Handyman at

Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of Ohio: A Visual Guide
Robert Klips
Ohio University Press
215 Columbus Road, Suite 101, Athens, OH 45701
9780821424735, $39.95, PB, 392pp

Synopsis: "Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of Ohio: A Visual Guide" by Professor Robert Klips is a comprehensive and illustrated guide to the most common and distinctive moss, liverwort, and lichen species in Ohio. Concise physical descriptions, facts about natural history and ecology, and tips to distinguish look-alike species, are all presented in a friendly, conversational tone.

Featuring detailed photographs of the plant and plantlike species in their natural settings, "Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of Ohio: A Visual Guide" covers 106 mosses, thirty liverworts, and one hundred lichens and offers several avenues to match a specimen to its description page. Of special note are the "Where They Grow" chapters spotlighting species commonly encountered on field outings, and field keys to help readers quickly identify unfamiliar samples.

While designed primarily as an identification tool, this guide also frames moss and lichen spotting in a scientific context. The two main sections (bryophytes and lichens) detail their respective taxonomic kingdoms, explain their life cycles and means of reproduction, and illustrate variation in the traits used for identification. Essentially, "Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of Ohio: A Visual Guide" is an ideal and informative introduction to the biology of these intriguing but too-often-overlooked organisms and a means to enjoy, identify, and catalog the biodiversity all around us.

Critique: Informatively enhanced with the inclusion of a Bryophyte Glossary, a Lichen Glossary, a two page bibliographic listing of References, an eight page Index of Common Names, and a four page Index of Scientific Names, "Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of Ohio: A Visual Guide" will have a very special appeal to personal, professional readers interested in the subject of mosses, liverworts, and lichens -- making it a highly recommended and worthwhile addition to community, college, and university library Plant Biology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academic, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of Ohio: A Visual Guide" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $31.19).

Editorial Note: Robert Klips is an Associate Professor Emeritus in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at Ohio State University (OSU), where he taught for over twenty years. He currently manages the bryophyte and lichen specimen collections in the herbarium at OSU's Museum of Biological Diversity. Skilled in botanical macrophotography, Professor Klips served as the photographer for the Ohio Division of Wildlife's 2017 Common Lichens of Ohio Field Guide and contributed images to dozens of books, periodicals, and websites. He frequently conducts field work and educates nature study groups about the identification, ecology, and distribution of Ohio plants and lichens. He has a web page on the Ohio State University website at

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Prepare for Departure
Mark Chesnut
Vine Leaves Press
9781925965988, $17.99, PB, 292pp

Synopsis: At an early age, award-winning travel writer, Mark Chesnut, learned to dodge discomfort by jumping on the nearest plane, bus or car. That tactic proved especially useful when his single mother made it clear that there was no room for discussion about his gay identity.

Mark, overwhelmed with wanderlust, shoplifts in airports, avoids Southern Baptist salvation, acts like Hillary Clinton in a nursing home, and dresses in drag with his grandfather. He even creates an imaginary airline and flies away.

Now, as 89-year-old Eunice Chesnut moves to a New York City nursing home to be near her son, Mark's obsession with travel takes a backseat as he embarks on the most emotional journey of all.

More than an end-of-life memoir, more than a collection of childhood memories and travel stories, with the publication of "Prepare for Departure: Notes on a single mother, a misfit son, inevitable mortality and the enduring allure of frequent flyer miles", Mark Chesnut showcases what happens when a permissive mother and a mistfit son face death while revisiting life.

Critique: Written with deftly articulated humor and insight, "Prepare for Departure" will have a very special and particular appeal to readers with an interest in LGBTQ biographies and memoirs, travel as a career and a compulsion, and maternal family relationships. While also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99), "Prepare for Departure" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note: Mark Chesnut is a New York City-based journalist, editor and public speaker. The 2019 winner of the NLGJA Excellence in Travel Writing Award, Mark has written for Fodor's, Forbes Travel Guide, HuffPost, the Miami Herald, Orbitz, Travel + Leisure Mexico, the New York Times bestseller 1,000 Places To See Before You Die and the inflight magazines of Aeromexico, American Airlines and Avianca. He also writes a monthly column for Global Traveler Magazine, covers Latin America in his travel blog, and regularly contributes to travel trade publications Travel Weekly and TravelAge West. He has a dedicated website at

Steven Mitchell Sack
Legal Strategies Publications
9798985790603, $34.99, HC, 444pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "FIRED!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You're Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit", nationally known workplace attorney Steven Mitchell Sack ( has created a comprehensive guidebook for surviving a firing. With over 41 years experience, Sack gives you all the information and power you need to fight back, cut a deal, stand up for your rights, and land firmly on your feet.

Complete with up-to-date sample forms, letters and legal documents, "FIRED!" lays out in clear language what to do, what to ask for and insist on, and how to protect your rights if you are let go or forced to resign, feel you have been unfairly or illegally fired, exploited in any way or quit. "FIRED!" will not only save you money and increase your termination benefits, it will also save you time and your sanity so you can get on with your life.

Critique: Comprehensive, real world practical, thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "FIRED!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You're Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit" should be read by anyone facing the loss of employment for any reason and in any manner. An absolutely and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Jobs/Careers and Labor/Employment Law collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "FIRED!" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9798985790610, $24.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.99).

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Walking Him Home: Helping My Husband Die with Dignity
Joanne Tubbs Kelly
She Writes Press
9781647420895, $17.95, PB, 296pp

Synopsis: Alan and Joanne marry in midlife and live a happily-ever-after existence until, at the age of sixty-nine, Alan is diagnosed with a rare, fatal, neurodegenerative illness. As he becomes increasingly disabled and dependent on others, and decreasingly able to find joy in life, he decides he wants to end his suffering using Colorado's Medical Aid in Dying law.

Joanne desperately wants Alan to live, but when he asks for her help completing the Medical Aid in Dying application, she can't say no. She helps him complete the requirements, hoping deep down that his application will be denied -- only to be stunned when his medical team approves his request and writes him a prescription for the life-ending drugs.

Told with affection, spiced with humor, and impressive candor, "Walking Him Home: Helping My Husband Die with Dignity" is Joanne's deeply personal story of coming to terms with her kind, funny husband's illness; of learning to navigate the intricate passageways of caregiving and the pitfalls of our medical system; and of choosing to help Alan in his quest to die with dignity, even though she wants nothing more than to grow old with him. Tender and heartfelt, this moving and ultimately inspiring memoir is one woman's story about loving extravagantly -- and being loved in kind.

Critique: Inherently engaging, emotionally moving, thought-provoking, and above all, memorable, "Walking Him Home: Helping My Husband Die with Dignity" by Joanne Tubbs Kelly ( is one of those life stories that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Of special value to readers with an interest in euthanasia, suicide, grief/bereavement, and other end-of-life issues, "Walking Him Home: Helping My Husband Die with Dignity" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, and community library collections. It should be noted that it is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Ghosted!: Exploring the Haunting Reality of Paranormal Encounters
Brian Laythe, et al.
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476685779, $39.95, PB, 268pp

Synopsis: Reports of paranormal experiences vary tremendously, but are often associated with ghosts, haunted houses, and otherwise eerie circumstances. There exist both classic and modern texts on ghosts and haunted or possessed people, places and spaces; many discuss traditional ideas regarding such phenomena or utilize now-outdated research in highly academic and technical ways.

With the publication of "Ghosted!: Exploring the Haunting Reality of Paranormal Encounter" the team of Brian Laythe, James Houran, Neil Dagnall, Kenneth Drinkwater, and Ciaran O'Keeffe offers a very different approach in reviews provided by a leading-edge research program devoted to who has ghostly experiences and why.

With new insights both global in scale and multidisciplinary in scope, this collaboration by five researchers uncovers consistent evidence that anomalous experiences represent a very real "Haunted People Syndrome" -- a term describing anomalous experiences that manifest recurrently to the same percipients and are interpreted as "ghostly" and with implications for future research across academia.

The participation of new citizen scientists (the field investigators and researchers among us) is invited in furthering the exploration of paranormal mysteries. "Ghosted!: Exploring the Haunting Reality of Paranormal Encounters" is enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of photos and figures illustrating concepts and models, as well as a ten page glossary and a nine page Index.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively informative, thought-provoking, expertly organized and presented study, "Ghosted!: Exploring the Haunting Reality of Paranormal Encounters" is highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Metaphysical Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of those with a particular interest in parapsychology, ghosts and hauntings, that "Ghosted!: Exploring the Haunting Reality of Paranormal Encounters" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note #1: Brian Laythe, Ph.D., is the owner of Iudicium psychological consultancy, and the director of the Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience (I.S.R.A.E.).

Editorial Note #2: James Houran is a former faculty member of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (Dept. of Psychiatry) and is currently President of (TM) at HVS International--an online assessment business for human resource screening and selection.

Editorial Note #3: Neil Dagnall, Ph.D., is a reader (associate professor) in the department of psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University (UK). He has been involved with the teaching and researching of the anomalous for over 20 years and is a strong advocate of public engagement and education in science.

Adventures in Wonderland: Alice's Tea Party + Cocktails
Julie Murray, illustrator
Smith Street Books
c/o Rizzoli
300 Park Avenue South, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10010
9781922754066, $24.95, Novelty Book, 50 Cards

Synopsis: Ideal for anyone wanting to throw their own Alice in Wonderland - themed garden party, "Adventures in Wonderland: Alice's Tea Party + Cocktails" is comprised of a beautiful cards containings cocktails and sweet and savory finger food, as well as guides to invitations, venue ideas, what to wear, place settings, decorations, conversation starters, party games, and riddles to know and tell.

Whether you're going full Mad Hatter or just want to enjoy a quirky cocktail in a china teapot with friends, with "Adventures in Wonderland: Alice's Tea Party + Cocktails" there is everything needed to go down this rabbit hole -- including recipes for garden-party classics such as a Pimm's royale, a cucumber gin spritz, baked figs, goat cheese and tomato galettes, lemon madeleines, and more!

Critique: Unique, fun, and unreservedly recommended as a DIY party planning guide for a true Mad Hatter Tea Party experience, "Adventures in Wonderland: Alice's Tea Party + Cocktails" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and community library collections.

Editorial Note: Classically trained in graphic design and illustration, Julia Murray began her career illustrating at Huffer before spending ten years in London working as an art director for publishers such as Harper Collins and Hardie Grant. This experience has given her a versatility of style, a strength in combining typography with illustration, and a designer's eye for composition and detail. Her work reflects a love of color with a touch of femininity. She has a dedicated website at

Inland: The Abandoned Canals of the Schuylkill Navigation
Sandy Sorlien, with essays by Mike Szilagyi and Karen Young
George F Thompson Publishing
c/o Casemate Publishers
1940 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083
9781938086915, $45.00, HC, 192pp

Synopsis: The Schuylkill River flows more than 130 miles from the mountains of the Pennsylvania Coal Region to its confluence with the Delaware River. It passes through five counties (Schuylkill, Berks, Chester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia) and its valley is home to more than three million people. Yet few are aware of the hidden ruins and traces left by a pioneering 200-year-old inland waterway that opened in 1825: the Schuylkill Navigation. Some of it is literally buried in their own backyards.

Often called the Schuylkill Canal, this complex Navigation system actually boasted twenty-seven canals. The first of the anthracite-carrying routes in America, the 108-mile Navigation shadowed the Schuylkill River for nearly all its length. It once had more than thirty dams and slackwater pools, more than 100 stone locks, numerous aqueducts, and the first transportation tunnel in the nation. They were all built by hand starting in 1816.

During the 1940s, as part of a massive environmental cleanup of the river, this important and influential infrastructure was largely dismantled -- but not entirely. Two short sections of the watered canal get plenty of attention: the Oakes Reach at Schuylkill Canal Park near Phoenixville and the Manayunk Canal in Philadelphia. Both are popular recreational destinations. What happened to the rest of it?

Photographer Sandy Sorlien resolved to find out. Over the course of seven years, she repeatedly traveled upriver from her home near the Manayunk Canal, bushwhacking along the riverbanks and rowing and paddling in the river itself. Armed with camera and binoculars, loppers and trekking poles, nineteenth-century maps and modern satellite imagery, and later abetted by local historians and an archaeologist, she found all sixty-one lock sites and explored most of the canal beds. Her photographs reveal a mysterious remnant landscape, evidence of an extraordinary engineering feat that spelled its own demise. The water pollution created by the coal industry, unregulated factory and residential waste, and obstructive dams all but destroyed the river that fed the Navigation. Clogged channels, railway competition, and repeated flood damage meant the end of a way of life for the towns that boomed along the canals, and only a few historians keep its memory alive.

Along with Sorlien's color plates and explanatory essays, "Inland: The Abandoned Canals of the Schuylkill Navigation" features a selection of historic images, rare historic Schuylkill Navigation Company maps, and early Philadelphia Watering Committee plans. It also includes a foreword by renowned landscape scholar John R. Stilgoe, an essay on regional transportation history by Mike Szilagyi, Trails Project Manager for the Schuylkill River Greenways Natural Heritage Area, and an afterword by Karen Young, Director of the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. A sweeping new Schuylkill River map by Morgan Pfaelzer connects it all.

Critique: Holding a very special appeal for readers with an interest in landscape photography, photographic equipment and techniques, and regional American history, "Inland: The Abandoned Canals of the Schuylkill Navigation" is an extraordinary, beautifully presented, impressively informative, and highly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary Photography and American History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Sandy Sorlien ( is the author of Fifty Houses: Images from the American Road (John Hopkins, 2002). She has received three Fellowships in Photography from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a Commonwealth Speaker Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Humanities, and 2020 and 2021 Fellowships from the Charles E. Peterson Fund of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. She taught photography at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia for twelve years and at several other area schools. In 2013, she joined the Fairmount Water Works, the education center for the Philadelphia Water Department, as a watershed educator and environmental photographer.

Editorial Note #2: Mike Szilagyi ( serves as Trail Project Manager at Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area and serves as Chair of the borough Historic Commission. He has spent decades devoted to planning southeastern Pennsylvania's bicycle trail network, yielding a deep knowledge of the long-forgotten web of former railroad and canal rights-of-way built before the automobile came to dominate the landscape. A lifelong cyclist, Szilagyi is the author of Bucks County Trolleys (Arcadia, 2020) and co-author of Montgomery County Trolleys (Arcadia, 2018).

Editorial Note #3: Karen Young ( is Director of the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, the watershed education arm of the Philadelphia Water Department. Ms. Young has more than twenty-five years of experience developing and implementing urban environmental programs.

Julie Summers

Kirk Bane's Bookshelf

The Beatles and Philosophy: Nothing You Can Think That Can't Be Thunk
Edited by Michael Baur and Steven Baur
Open Court Publishing
9780812696066, $17.95, paperback

Written with insight and humor, the eighteen essays in this superb anthology will delight students of philosophy as well as Fab Four enthusiasts. Thoughtfully edited by Dr. Michael Baur, who teaches at Fordham University, and Dr. Steven Baur, professor at Dalhousie University, The Beatles and Philosophy is divided into nine sections: Nothing is Real: The Beatles on Knowledge and Reality; The Love You Make: The Beatles and the Philosophy of Love; Dear Prudence, Justice, and Virtue: The Beatles and Moral Philosophy; Why Don't We Do It in the Marketplace?: The Beatles and Social Philosophy; Think For Yourself: The Beatles and Existential Philosophy; They All Want to Change Your Head: The Beatles and Consciousness-Raising; We Can Think It Out: The Beatles on the Practice of Philosophy; Zarathustra's Silver Hammer: The Beatles and Nietzsche; and Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine: The Play of Language and the Play of Differences in the Beatles.

"The Beatles," assert the editors, "rapidly evolved from producing innocent teenage love lyrics to posing profound and disturbing questions about reality. They revolutionized popular songs intellectually as well as musically." Articles include "Realizing It's All Within Yourself: The Beatles as Surrogate Gurus of Eastern Philosophy" by Professor Ronald Lee Zigler (Penn State Abington); "All My Loving: Paul McCartney's Philosophy of Love" by Professor Robert Arp (Southwest Minnesota State University); "She's a Woman: The Beatles and the Feminist Ethic of Care" by Professor Peggy J. Bowers (Clemson University); and "I'd Love to Turn You On: The Beatles and the Ethics of Altered States" by Professor Jere O'Neill Surber (University of Denver).

The Beatles and Philosophy belongs to Open Court's terrific Popular Culture and Philosophy Series, which includes such titles as Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book About Everything and Nothing (2000); The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill Therefore I Am (2004); Hip Hop and Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason (2005); and James Bond and Philosophy: Questions Are Forever (2006).

In short, The Beatles and Philosophy is an entertaining and incisive volume and will appeal to both philosophers and deep-thinking fans of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Kirk Bane

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

A Short History of Queer Women
Kirsty Loehr
Oneworld Publications
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9780861542840, $15.99, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: Queer women have been written out of history since, well, forever. 'But historians famously care about women!', said no one. From Anne Bonny and Mary Read who sailed the seas together disguised as pirates, to US football captain Megan Rapinoe declaring 'You can't win a championship without gays on your team', via countless literary salons and tuxedos, with the publication of "A Short History of Queer Women", author Kirsty Loehr sets the record straight on women who have loved other women through the ages. And who says lesbians can't be funny?!

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented history showcasing the lives and achievements of lesbians, "A Short History Of Queer Women" is a seminal study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Women's History and LGBTQ history collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "A Short History Of Queer Women" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Kirsty Loehr is a writer and English teacher. She loves women, football, history and comedy - but not necessarily in that order. She lives in Brighton with her partner and their son. She has an author's page at

Best of Reader's Digest: Vol 3 - Celebrating 100 Years
Reader's Digest, editor
Trusted Media Brand
9781621458401, $24.99, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: Reader's Digest is an American general-interest family magazine, published 10 times a year. Formerly based in Chappaqua, New York, it is now headquartered in midtown Manhattan. The magazine was founded in 1922 by DeWitt Wallace and his wife Lila Bell Wallace. For many years, Reader's Digest was the best-selling consumer magazine in the United States; it lost the distinction in 2009 to Better Homes and Gardens. According to Mediamark Research (2006), Reader's Digest reached more readers with household incomes of $100,000+ than Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Inc. combined. (Wikipedia)

"Best of Reader's Digest Vol 3 -Celebrating 100 Years" is an impressive collection comprised of the very best of 100 years of Reader's Digest stories. It is brimming with inspiring tales about family and society, funny takes on human nature, and poignant personal accounts of important cultural events and historical eras. With essays from influential writers and entertainers nestled alongside remarkable tales about everyday heroes, this compendium also features hilarious jokes and cartoons, classic illustrations and photographs, and true stories from readers that made the Reader's Digest an enduring success.

Critique: Nicely illustrated throughout, "Best of Reader's Digest: Vol 3 - Celebrating 100 Years" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of the legions of Reader's Digest fans that "Best of Reader's Digest: Vol 3 - Celebrating 100 Years" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Editorial Note: Reader's Digest has an informative and dedicated website at

Birds & Blooms Everyday Nature Secrets
Birds & Blooms, editor
Trusted Media Brand
9781621458210, $19.99, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: Did you know that blackpoll warblers can fly nonstop for more than 80 hours and cover more than 2000 miles during that time? Or that grey squirrels can fall more than 100 feet without serious injury? These and many more fun facts comprise "Birds & Blooms Everyday Nature Secrets: Discover the Hidden World in Your Backyard".

Especially recommended to the attention of curious nature lovers, backyard birders and gardening fans alike will be captivated as they explore the many wonders of nature through: Fascinating details about backyard birds and other wildlife; Tips and tricks for better gardening; Real-life stories from fellow enthusiasts; Breathtaking full-color photography and whimsical illustrations; Inspiring nature quotes; Expert Q&As, infographics, top 10 lists, and more!

"Birds & Blooms Everyday Nature Secrets" is deftly organized into four themed sections: Your Backyard As Nature's Home; Why Do Birds Do That?; Stop To Appreciate The Beauty; and Ultimate Garden Know-How. Interested readers can easily explore a specific topic they're curious about, quickly glean answers to common questions (How do I keep away garden pests? What do I need to know about bird baths?), or just flip to a page and learn the answer to a fascinating nature question they never even knew they had.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated throughout with full color photography, "Birds & Blooms Everyday Nature Secrets: Discover the Hidden World in Your Backyard" is inherently fascinating and impressively informative, making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists for birdwatchers and home gardeners, as well as community library Gardening, Birding, and Wildlife Biology collections.

Editorial Note: "Birds&Blooms" is a premier backyard birding and gardening magazine with a dedicated website at

A Daughter's Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing
Sarah Birnbach
9781637560228, $26.99, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "A Daughter's Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing", Sarah Birnbach recounts her year-long odyssey to persevere through an unfamiliar world of Jewish prayer. To honor her beloved father, Sarah commits to reciting the Mourner's Kaddish twice a day in synagogue for eleven months (a Jewish mourning ritual that was historically reserved for sons) despite her father's initial request that she hire someone male to do so.

A novice worshiper and single working mother, Sarah encountered many obstacles -- including gender-based objections to her prayer practice, her own daughter's near-fatal car accident, an incident that tore her synagogue apart, and her mother's dismissiveness.

Sarah incorporated these religious and spiritual practices into her already hectic 21st-century life while struggling with the heavy emotional distress of grief. As she travels the country for work, Sarah must find a synagogue where she can pray in each city and town she visits, a challenge that brings many surprises -- and upsets. But throughout her year of devotion, Sarah takes comfort in the loving memories of her childhood while at the same time grappling with some very painful ones -- ultimately discovering how the path of faith and grief can lead to true healing.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, exceptionally well written, and impressively thought-provoking memoir, "A Daughter's Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing" is an ultimately inspiring story of breaking tradition in order to personally honor a loved one. Having a special appeal to readers with an interest in women and their roles and traditions within contemporary Judaism, "A Daughter's Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing" is highly recommended for personal, community, and academic library Biography/Memoir and Judaism Studies collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Daughter's Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.49).

Editorial Note: Sarah Birnbach embarked on her encore career as a writer in 2015 after successful careers as a human resource management consultant and a licensed clinical social worker. She is a six-time award winner of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, a program of the National League of American Pen Women, and a two-time award winner in Bethesda Magazine's essay contest. Her stories have been published in numerous magazines and professional journals. An active member of the Women's National Book Association, and has an has a page on the Wonderwell website at

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

The Man Without Shelter
Indrajit Garai
Independently Published
9798504316598 $4.00 pbk / $3.00 Kindle

In Paris, after the Arab Spring, Arnault and Lucy both find "the laws of jungle applied to this forest of humans" (56). Arnault, recently released from prison, tries to reenter polite society with honesty and integrity while Lucy emerges from a scandal at the law firm where she practices law. Their paths converge on a collective journey toward justice.

Within the human jungle, the book locates an alternative ethic in Arnault's and Lucy's parallel plights. Arnault finally finds home first among swans and then among migrants. What others might overlook - a bit of green turf and a village of makeshift shelters - Arnault sees animals and people sharing and doing their best to get along. He brings this view out in people he helps, while also provoking others skeptical of his intentions. The writing sets this peaceful tone in its spare, objective descriptions. Dialogue is kept to a minimum for a quiet and understated reverence. Lucy brings out the novel's emotion. Her mind and heart change as she gets to know both Arnault and other vagrants. She acts on intuition and principle and keeps the pace swift and spontaneous. In the end, these two characters achieve the goals they seek. They are a convincing portrayal of human dignity amidst chaos produced by real world traumas and corruption.

Mari Carlson

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

The Bad Angel Brothers
Paul Theroux
Mariner Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
9780358716891, $28.99 Hardcover

I've read and reviewed the last seven books from the "Dean of Travel Writing," Paul Theroux, and was fortunate enough to obtain one of the early copies of this book. I wrote my latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, in honor and appreciation of Theroux and another travel writer, "who personally knew and were inspired by Moritz Thomsen and passed their enthusiasm on to me." Thomsen wrote the Peace Corps experience classic, Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Theroux's book, The Tao of Travel, which celebrates 50 years of travel writing, inspired my series, "The Yin & Yang of Travel."

Theroux is probably the most prolific of the Returned Peace Corps writers, with 33 works in fiction and 53 books overall. As with his latest book, I wasn't enthusiastic about reading it, as I prefer his nonfiction travel stories. But just as was the case reading the life of the aging surfer in Hawaii in Under the Wave of Waimae, he does a stellar job developing the characters in this psychological thriller.

This most recent book is a classic tale of a dysfunctional family. A younger brother's rivalry with his older brother, Frank, a domineering brother and a well-known lawyer in their small community in Massachusetts. Frank also has a propensity to come up with some vicious betrayals, which leads to the growing frustration and psychosis of his younger brother, Cal.
Andrew Ervin of the "New York Times Book Review" does an admirable job summing up the narrative:

Theroux soon takes us back to their shared childhood and the lifelong rivalry that led to such fratricidal ire. Cal grows up to be a metallurgist and a prospector "searching wild places for minerals and metals." His escape from their stifling hometown first takes him to the American Southwest in search of solitude and, more importantly, gold. What he finds instead in the desert is a half-dead body. He's able to nurse the man back to health and return him to his fortified Arizona compound, only to discover that he has rescued none other than Don Carlos, the patriarch of a Mexican cartel. For his efforts, Cal is accepted as an honorary member of la familia Zorrilla, a wealthy, and obviously powerful family."

As someone from the Southwest, I appreciated Theroux's description of the impact of the desert's vastness on Cal, "My being in the bosom of the wilderness granted me silence and self-reflection; my prospecting was a form of meditation. As the weeks and months passed, I became more and more suited to living in the austerity of rocks and stones and cactus, hardier than I'd ever been, but more than that, mentally strong.... It was a spiritual awakening in one sense, but with my feet on solid ground, on bedrock, far from Frank's orbit.

Fortunately, the author takes Cal to mining operations in Australia, Central Africa, and Columbia for those who suffer from wanderlust. Theroux's Peace Corps experience probably helped him describe the "paradox of serious travel:"

You go far but after a while, months rather than years, it wears off. Then all is smooth in your life until you return to your hometown and are hit hard, stunned anew. There is no recovering from it. The culture shock of arriving home never leaves you - you long to escape it, to go away again soon. This became the latter of my working life.

The author does a masterful job describing one morbid scene in Africa where Cal is searching for precious ores:

It was a rectangular ditch at the periphery of the clearing, and the movement in the air just above it, like a skein of woodsmoke, were flies, whirring, gleaming, their blue bodies fattened by the light.

We approached the buzzing hole, but when the breeze lifted, and the reek hit us, we drew back. Moyo leaned and looked in, holding his shirt to his face. I stepped behind him and saw a man crammed into the pit, almost filling it, because he was bloated, tightened against his clothes, swollen and stinking, his whole head covered with flies.

"Congo," Moyo said. We have arrived.

Cal's character as a white savior is aptly described by Andrew Ervin, as well,
I didn't fully loathe Cal's white savior act until he returns to an emerald mine he co-owns in Zambia and ogles a village woman while she's balancing laundry on her head. 'I supposed like some colonizers - I was smitten,' Call tells us. He hires the woman, Tutwa, as a servant and she soon becomes his "junior wife," making her, by my reckoning, the third person of color whom he rescues from degraded conditions and who gratefully accepts him as family. He ends their affair later by paying for her to go to nursing school and start a new life. What a guy.

He met his wife-to-be and the other person of color in Colombia, where he worked for an emerald-mining operation. Vita is a half-Cuban woman he meets, falls in love with, and brings her home to Massachusetts, where they have a son. Vita becomes overdependent on the older brother, Frank, who provided pro-bono work for her charity to help children.

Much of the book's narrative is a constant litany of complaints and resentment of Cal towards his older brother. And Theroux is at his best as he builds these tensions and resentments toward what Ervin calls the "inevitable homicidal rage."

This growing resentment, boarding on becoming delusional, is reflected in this scene where Cal is in bed staring up at the ceiling of the deteriorating family home he has returned to:

Inspired by the stains (stains I regard as prophetic, omens to be seized and understood), I saw Frank as an infection. In my mind, I simplified him and made him small. He was teeth and claws; he was a greedy appetite; he was a yellow stain; he was a bad smell. He was not a person. I needed, for my sanity, to be rid of him so that I could go on living.

Cal's frustration comes to the fore when his lawyer presents him with a bill of $64,243 for litigation brought on by Frank. "I'm underwater, people say of their debt. It's an accurate image: I was sinking and suffocating."

I won't give away the final scene, which makes the read worthwhile, only to say that the cartel leader whose life Cal saved would become an essential part of this story's inevitable, violent end.
I agree with this summation on the inner flap of this book, "Few writers have as keen an eye for human nature as the inimitable Paul Theroux, and this riveting tale of adventure, betrayal and the true cost of family bonds is an unmissable new work from one of America's most distinguished and beloved novelists."

The Author

Paul Theroux was born and educated in the United States. After graduating from university in 1963, he traveled first to Italy and then to Africa, where he worked as a Peace Corps teacher at a bush school in Malawi and as a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1968 he joined the University of Singapore and taught in the Department of English for three years. Throughout this time, he published short stories and journalism and wrote several novels.

Theroux's novels include "The Lower River" and "The Mosquito Coast," and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, and Deep South. Several of his books have been adapted into major films. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod. One of America's most hard-working writers, Theroux has written over 50 fiction and non-fiction books.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Beasts Of The Earth
James Wade
Blackstone Publishing
9781665024082, $25.99 HB

Literary agility.

There are two timelines in Beasts Of The Earth. The one from the past, which begins in 1965, follows the boy Michael Fischer's escape from his abusive father Munday after horrific events suffered by Michael and his sister when Munday comes home from prison. The second is closer to the novel's present, which begins in 1987 and ends three years later. It follows Harlen Leblanc through a harrowing time that begins with the murder of a young woman at the school where Harlen works. The stories created by these timelines take place in alternating chapters divided into three parts and come together in the third part in a conclusion that aptly combines the end of a thrilling plot with a gut-wrenching doubt about whether the evil experienced by the characters in the novel will ever be extinguished by goodness.

There are two mysteries in Beasts Of The Earth. Who killed the Harper Girl? And who sits waiting at the end of your life to judge you? The story brilliantly weaves together an ephemeral whodunnit with a transcendental puzzle about god and death. James Wade is a master of blending plots in this manner, and this his third novel is a masterpiece. Wade's prose is lyrical, telling a story with a three part harmony of action, metaphor and imagery. The novel's plot is a haunting ballad of evil and an atonement that is as fleeting as it is obscure.

Wade takes the reader on a journey from the innocence of youth through the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air toward a reconciliation on the horizon. The story is dark at its lightest point. A theme of foreboding begins in the first chapters, when Wade employs some of his beautiful phraseology, "And yet his past still belonged to him, dragging along behind him like a great linked chain, becoming heavier with every step, and LeBlanc forever feared the day when the chain might cease its extending and jerk him backward into his reckoning." Passages like this one are frequent throughout the novel. The metaphors and allusions to physical actions are laced together brilliantly. Even at the time of the death of the old man that Michael witnesses, Wade uses a compelling juxtaposition of imagery and metaphor relating to birth and death, referring to "the springtime meadow of the soul" where there blows a "never-ending breeze" on which the old man in death will go "into the marveling . . .and find peace where it is." All of Wade's language in Beasts Of The Earth is melodious, playing on each page a song that grips a reader's heart and soul.

Toward the end of the story, Wade alludes on several occasions to a boatman calling for coins, which signals a looming moment of reckoning .The anticipation makes it impossible to stop turning pages until the end. But there is no "needlessly shocking" conclusion, as one misguided reviewer suggests. For the novel's appropriate closing, the story's music just fades away, leaving it to the reader to decide, in true literary form, the reckoning. Few modern novelists have Wade's literary agility, and Beasts Of The Earth s will certainly delight sophisticated readers.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

Making An AntiSlavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle Over Freedom
Graham A. Peck
University of Illinois Press
9780252085567, $24.95

The years leading up to the American Civil War were years filled with angst, strife, and sadness. In the Old Northwest, especially in Illinois, the complicated question of whether or not to allow slavery to continue to dominate political discourse and territorial expansion controlled every aspect of political life. Professor Graham A. Peck has written an in-depth history of Illinois in the run up to the Civil War and has provided the reader with a clear description of just how much slavery dictated the mood and beliefs of Illinoians and American's in general. Making An AntiSlavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle Over Freedom, is a great blend of scientific history, statistics, and narrative. The decades before the Civil War are presented in perfect microcosm in Making An AntiSlavery Nation.

In the years before the Civil War, Illinois was a state that was politically divided through an electorate that was divided about how to handle the possibility of slavery in the territories. Professor Peck discussed how the "Little Giant" Stephen Douglas attempted to manipulate that confusion in hopes of establishing his legacy both in Illinois and in Washington. Douglas would eventually wind up running for President in 1860 in a futile attempt to bend the will of the people to his own. Douglas would persuade many that slavery was not the evil that politicians in the North were portraying it as. This blind ambition would not only move Illinois to war, but would also succeed in fracturing the country into hostile sections.

Making An AntiSlavery Nation would make a great addition to any Civil War bookshelf. Scholars who are looking for a foundational piece of a research project need look no further. The narrative underscores the importance of making scientific history easy to read and enjoyable for the Civil War buff. Professor Peck's inclusion of the numerical data throughout the book make the narrative a sensible read for anyone who is interested in the intersection of political ambition, sectional strife, and civic duty. Making An AntiSlavery Nation is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the many growing pains of this great country of ours.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Kismet: A Thriller
Amina Akhtar
Thomas & Mercer
9781542034265, $24.95, HC, 336pp

Synopsis: Lifelong New Yorker Ronnie Khan never thought she'd leave Queens. She's not an "aim high, dream big" person, that is until she meets socialite wellness guru Marley Dewhurst.

Marley isn't just a visionary; she's a revelation. Seduced by the fever dream of finding her best self, Ronnie makes for the desert mountains of Sedona, Arizona. Healing yoga, transcendent hikes, epic juice cleanses -- Ronnie consumes her new bougie existence like a fine wine. But is it, really? Or is this whole self-care business a little sour?

When the glam gurus around town start turning up gruesomely murdered, Ronnie has her answer: all is not well in wellness town. As Marley's blind ambition veers into madness, Ronnie fears for her life...

Critique: With special appeal to readers with an interest in lawyers, criminals, and humor, "Kismet" by gifted storytelling author Amina Akhtar is a beautifully crafted, deliciously unique, and compulsive page turner of a read from cover to cover. While highly recommended, especially for community library suspense thriller fiction collections, it should be noted for personal readers that "Kismet" is also available in a paperback edition (9781542034258, $15.95), in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99), and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781713663454, $24.99, MP3-CD).

Editorial Note: Amina Akhtar ( is a former fashion writer and editor. Her satirical first novel, #FashionVictim, drew critical acclaim and was covered in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Martha Stewart Living, Entertainment Weekly, Fashionista, Book Riot, CrimeReads, and more. Akhtar has also worked at Vogue, Elle, the New York Times, and New York Magazine, where she was the founding editor of the women's blog The Cut. She's written for numerous publications, including Yahoo Style, Fashionista, xoJane, Refinery29, Billboard, and more.

The Desecrated
John Gray
Ellysian Press
9781941637807, $19.99, PB, 330pp

Synopsis: Hauntings. Disappearing corpses. A terrifying curse. None of those are in Jennifer Shelby's job description when she joins the night shift at the NYC Morgue. She just wants a quiet place to regroup after dropping out of college.

She also hadn't planned on babysitting a British super star. Trevor Pryce has been sentenced to community service at the morgue. His charm and love for macabre, practical jokes irritate Jennifer equally. And put him at the top of her list of suspects when things turn deadly serious.

Jennifer doubts her own sanity when she starts to see the impossible. Corpses move. They sit up. They try to speak. The visions plaguing Jennifer begin to manifest outside the morgue as well. She feels like there's nowhere to hide as the murders and mutilated bodies pile up. But she finds an unlikely ally.

As the hauntings become more shocking, Jennifer and Trevor join forces to uncover the truth. What they find is dark and malignant. And the trap they fall into threatens to close over them forever!

Critique: An impressively original and compulsive page turner of a read from cover to cover, "The Desecrated" is film and television writer John Gray's debut as a novelist and will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in fantasy horror fiction. A book to be read with all the lights on, "The Desecrated" is the stuff of which block-buster movies are made. While highly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Desecrated" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note: John Gray is an award winning writer-director-producer of films and television, and the creator of the long running TV series, Ghost Whisperer. He has written and directed many feature films and movies for television, including White Irish Drinkers, starring Stephen Lang and Karen Allen; Martin And Lewis, starring Sean Hayes and Jeremy Northam; the Emmy(R) nominated A Place For Annie, with Sissy Spacek; the Emmy(R) nominated mini-series Haven with Natasha Richardson and Anne Bancroft; Helter Skelter, and many others. He can be followed on Twitter @JThomasGray, or Instagram @bayrdge, and has a dedicated website at

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

The Lincoln Memorial (Images of America)
Kevin S. Schindler, author, Brian Anderson, author
Arcadia Publishing
9781540250377, $40.99 hardback

The Lincoln Memorial In Images Of America

Memorial Day, 2022, marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Published in November, 2021, this short photographic history, "The Lincoln Memorial" offers an excellent overview of the Memorial and its significance. Written by historian Kevin Schindler and Washington, D.C. attorney, Brian Anderson, the book is part of the Images of America series of photographic histories of American places published by Arcadia Publishing. The book consists of well-chosen photographs of this iconic American place with commentary by the authors.

The most interesting part of this book is the discussion of the dedication ceremony for the Memorial on May 30, 1922. Attendance at the event was estimated at 50,000 with the ceremony broadcast nationwide on the radio. Most of the African Americans in attendance were required to set in a segregated section under the patrol of guards. The one African American speaker at the event, Dr. Robert Moton, head of the Tuskegee Industrial Institute, was required to rewrite his presentation to soften his remarks on racial inequality. Other speakers at the event included Chief Justice William Howard Taft and President Warren Harding. Lincoln's son Robert was in attendance but did not speak. The ceremony was designed to promote the theme of national unity rather than racial equality.

The authors develop the theme of national unity in their discussion of the history and design of the Memorial. Construction plans for the Memorial were controversial from the outset and the project developed over many years during the height of the Jim Crow Era. While it recognizes Emancipation, the overriding theme of the Memorial was the creation of a strong united nation and the reconciliation of North and South.

The book discusses the planning and location of the Memorial, the difficulties encountered during construction and the nature of the Memorial itself with its Greek temple-like structure and large statue of Lincoln. Many small, supportive features of the Memorial also receive attention.

In addition to discussing the Lincoln Memorial, the book discusses other features of the National Mall, including many of the more recent additions. The discussion helps contextualize the Memorial among the other features of national significance.

For the past century, the Memorial has been used in many ways for large events which consider the nature of our country. Among the most famous of these events were the August 28, 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom which featured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I have a Dream" speech and Marian Anderson's performance on Easter Sunday, 1939 under the auspices of the National Park Service after the DAR had denied Anderson the use of Constitution Hall. These and many other events are described briefly in this book together with a consideration of the place of the Memorial in American culture.

I have visited the Lincoln Memorial many times during my years in Washington, D.C. The most recent was in the summer of 2021 when I toured the Memorial in the company of my visiting daughter and two grandchildren. It was a hot afternoon as I struggled with the stairs as my grandchildren saw the Memorial and were awed for the first time.

This short book offers a fitting introduction to a place of great national and international importance. It will enhance the ability of its readers to reflect on the Memorial, on Lincoln, and on the United States and its promise and history.

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding
Robert Hughes, author
9780394753669, $24.95 paperback

A Historical Masterpiece

As luck would have it, I recently [2001] had the opportunity to make a brief business trip to Australia. I knew very little about Australia and thought the best way to get some brief but non-superficial background would be to learn something of its history. I opted to read Robert Hughes's book which tells the story of Australia's founding and of its convict past. The book is lengthy, even too lengthy to complete on the 14 hour flights from the West Coast of the United States to Sydney and back. But the story was fascinating, and the book was well worth the attention and effort.

Hughes tells the story of the discovery of Australia, the decision of Great Britain to "transport" its convicted to the continent, the various kinds of lives the convicts found there, the aboriginal settlers and their treatment by the newcomers, and the ultimate creation of a new society. There are harrowing accounts of the passage from Britain to Australia in the convict ships, and still shocking accounts of the secondary places of punishment created in Australia for repeat offenders -- places such as Norfolk Island, Port Aurthur, and Macquarrie Bay. Hughes describes these nineteenth century camps as precursors of the Gulag in our own time, and I am afraid he is correct. They reminded me to of Andersonville Prison in our own Civil War but on a much broader, more wicked scale. The description of the prisons and barbaric punishments were to me the most vivid portions of the book.

Besides the horror stories, there is a great deal of nuanced, thoughtful writing in the book about the settlement and building of Australia and of the dangers of facile over-generalization about how the convicts fared, or about virtually any other historical subject. Some were able to serve out their sentences and rise to prosperity and a new life. Others were shamefully abused. The history of the aboriginal peoples too is described and it is an unhappy subject, alas.

Hughes begins with the early days of the transport and concludes when the system was finally abolished in the 1850's as a result of protests and of the Australian gold rush.

After reading this book, I thought I had realized my goal of learning something of Australia. More importantly, I felt part of the land even though I hadn't seen it before and will likely never see it again. Places that I read about and that were only names took on character and importance.
I have read a substantial amount of United States history but hadn't read about Australia before. This book is well-documented, eloquently written and has a feel for the pulse of its subject. It is an outstanding work of history and is sure to broaden the human perspective of the reader.

Violin Concerto
George Rochberg, composer
Peter Shepherd Skaerved, performer
Christopher Lyndon-Gee, performer
Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra, performer
Naxos American Classics
8559129, $8.23

Passionate Modernism

I was moved to listen again to the music of the American composer George Rochberg upon learning of his May 29, 2005 death. Rochberg began his musical career as a composer of atonal, serial music and attained substantial recognition. But in the mid-1960s, Rochberg began to break away from serialism or, more precisely, to combine modernistic techniques with an expressive, musical romanticism cast in a late-20th century idiom. Rochberg aptly referred to his style as "hard romanticism". Explaining his change in compositional style, Rochberg once said that "I was dissatisfied with the narrow strictures within which musical thought could take place. Basically, Serialism is an ice-cold, stingy, parsimonius form of human expression."

This CD of Rochberg's violin concerto captures the gut-wrenching passion of Rochberg's "hard romanticism". He composed the work in 1975 and it was championed by Issac Stern. But Stern also induced the composer to make cuts in the work, and it was generally performed in the shortened version. In preparation for this recording, and with the full enthusiasm and cooperation of the composer, conductor Christopher Lyndon-Gee discovered Rochberg's initial score for the violin concerto and restored it, in collaboration with Rochberg. The original version of the work appears on this disk with Lyndon-Gee conducting the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra with Peter Sheppard Skaerved playing the demanding violin solo. The CD is part of Naxos' American classics series and is the third album in that endeavor devoted to Rochberg's music. Lyndon-Gee also conducted a performance of Rochberg's fifth symphony in the series.

The violin concerto is a passionate, visceral work which makes great demands on the soloist, orchestra and listener. The work is full of sharp contrasts and conflicts with the soloist pitted against the forces of the orchestra and with jagged, angular, and anguished music juxtaposed against sections of lyricism and peace. The work too is formally divided into two parts, the first of which consists of three movements and the second of which consists of the final two lengthy movements. In this, the original version, the work is of unsusual length for a violin concerto, running almost 52 minutes.

The work opens with an introduction for the violin in double and triple stops. In the movement tough discordant passages alternate with slower more lyrical sections.

In the second movement, "Intermezzo A" the music quickly works up to a frenetic, seized theme in the violin which works to a huge climax in the orchestra before the soloist returns in a long plaintive theme, followed by a return of the initial frenzy.

The third movement, "Fantasia" follows without pause by building on a long held note. There is a moving opening theme in the violin followed by a slow, dark, and ominous passage in the orchestra. There is a great deal of tension between the soloist and the ensemble as the violin pleads against the full orchestra of strings, brass, winds, and percussion.

The lengthy fourth movement, "Intermezzo" moves slowly through a variety of moods and tempos. It opens slowly, picks up with moment of pleading in the violin, and includes scherzo and march-like passages as it proceeds. It is a difficult collage of a movement.

The finale, titled "Epilogue" begings with a sighing loud theme in the orchestra, after which the violin enters in the lower register. The orchestral theme plays a large part in the movement while the soloist moves gradually but inexorably to the higher reaches of the instrument and ultimately brings the work to a quiet, ineffable close.

This concerto manages to be tough, passionate, and heart-rending at once. It is a major work of Twentieth Century American music.

The listener wanting to celebrate and explore the work of George Rochberg could well start here.

Black Sounds, Cantio Sacra, Phaedra
George Rochberg, composer
Gil Rose, performer
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, performer
Naxos American Classics
B00006LI1Q, $7.97

Passion In Contemporary American Music

This CD consisting of three works by the contemporary American composer George Rochberg (b. 1918)will be a revelation to those listeners who shy away from modern music as cold, overly technical, and cerebral. Rochberg began his compositional career writing predominantly in an atonal idiom. Beginning in the mid-1960s he began writing tonal music as well, and his more recent compositions are predominantly tonal in character.In fact, many American composers, among them, Ives, Copland, Seigmeister, Orenstein, have moved between modernistic and more traditional musical styles at various points in their lives.

Back to passion. Of the three selections on this disc, two are wildly emotional affairs with themes of uncontrollable love and lust and of murder. I was gripped in particular by "Phaedra" (1973) which Rochberg describes as "a monodrama in seven scenes."

"Phaedre" is based on Racine's play, which in turn is based upon Euripides. It is a tale of Phaedre's incestuous love for Hippolytus, the son of her husband, Theseus. The piece is in seven movements four of which are for mezzo-soprano, speaking in the voice of Phaedre, and three of which are for small chamber orchestra alone. The vocal lines are passionate and declamatory and express to the hilt the feelings of love, lust, and uncontrollable rage. Mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger is outstanding in this performance. Fury comes through her voice, as she handles large vocal leaps and lets her voice snarl with anger. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project complements her voice in the arias and in the interludes, but this performance belongs to Ms. Nessinger.

This CD also includes music, "Black Sounds" (1965) written for a ballet called "The Act" which appeared on television in 1965. This music too tells a passionate tale of murder. It opens with a sharp, loud passage for strings and brass and, although it ends softly as the deed is done, the music continues with high intensity for its 17 minute duration.

The final work on this CD, "Canta Sacra" (1953) is a transcription of a short set of 12 organ variations by the baroque composer Samuel Scheidt. This music comes as something of a relief to the two outer works on the CD. It is moving and elevated music, well transcribed for orchestra, with little of the visceral, wrenching character of "Phaedre" or "Black Sounds."

George Rothberg supervised the recording of the CD and wrote program notes. The disc is part of Naxos's series of American Classics.

Robin Friedman

Sarah Book's Bookshelf

Dusty In The Outwilds
Rhiannon Williams
Hardie Grant Children's Publishing
9781760509507, 19.80 AU

5 stars!

This is a middle-grade novel (since it is higher than 250 pages) what's the book is about?
Dusty has grown up hearing whispers about her mysterious aunt Meg, who went off to live 'out wild' and never returned. Yet Dusty's father refuses to discuss what happened - and her only clue is a photograph of her aunt as a young girl with a strange, monkey-like creature on her shoulder.

But when Dusty learns that her family's beloved bushland property might be sold, she's convinced that only Meg could stop it happening. So Dusty sets off to find her... and that's when she discovers what 'out wild' really means.

The Outwilds are beguiling. Dangerous. And full of creatures Dusty half-remembers from old bedtime stories - beautiful, but deadly. Is Meg still out there? And even if she is, how will Dusty bring her home?

I think adults could enjoy it too, it is perfect, I would say 8+ but 9+ seems the perfect age, it was a good read, i usually only read YA or above, but will now be reviewing under, but this was a fast read, but I know some things may change since it was a ARC (Thank You Hardie Grant Publishing) so if you like books about fantasy magical places with some twist (may change) then I would recommend this book to none aged 8/9+

Thank you Hardie grant for the ARC

More Than Friends
Shonel Jackson
B09SNV7RGD, 6.79 Euro ebook / $6.49 Kindle

5 stars

Basically, the book is mostly about Jasmine, but there isn't really a POV of him in particular. The Jasmine King is in London. She's a star actress, but decided to reunite with her best friends and family from her high school days after she caught her fiance (her ex-fiancee) cheating on her . . Stefan (her high school crush) and basically he falls in love with her, she falls in love with him again, and the story continues (I don't want to spoil anything).

This is one of the best books I've read. I've only read a few this year, but I love reading so much that I hope to read more before the end of the year. Year, Don't put this off. I think it's a short book at 239 pages, but if you love modern romance or best friend to lovers, pick this up.

Shonel thanks for the book!

Sarah Book

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

The Half-Drowned King
Linnea Hartsuyker
9780062563705, $17.99

I read The Half-Drowned King because I embarked on a spree of reading Viking/Norse related books. Some time ago, I read all thirteen of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series, and more recently, I've read The Real Valkyrie by Nancy Marie Brown, The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, Erik the Red by Tilman Roehrig, Odin's Child and The Rot by Siri Pettersen. I then binged The Last Kingdom on TV and followed that with The Vikings and Vikings Valhalla. So this novel fits right in.

Inspired by Icelandic Sagas, author Linnea Hartsuyker, in The Half-Drowned King, takes major and minor Norse history characters and weaves their lives in a dense tapestry. She creates a strong, though flawed, protagonist in Ragnvald Eysteinsson, and fully realizes even her minor characters, many of whom would be considered villains nowadays. She faithfully recreates the Nordic world as documented in the sagas. When Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father dies, the boy is left to protect his sister and mother until he comes of age and can inherit the family lands. His mother remarries, and his stepfather screws Ragnvald out of his patrimony. Left landless, he raids with other Vikings, and one attempts to kill Ragnvald - at his stepfather's behest. From there, Ragnvald joins King Harald Fairhair's army and rises to become the commander of Harald's army. Hartsuyker also shows Svanhild, Ragnvald's sister, as she finds her own way in Viking society and attempts to avoid a political marriage.

I enjoyed reading and getting a new take on characters I recognize from other works like Uhtred, Alfred the Great, and Harald Fairhair. The Half-Drowned King is the first in the Golden Wolf saga. I look forward to reading The Sea Queen (already in my TBR pile) and The Golden Wolf, being delivered any day now.

West with Giraffes
Lynda Rutledge
Lake Union Publishing
9781542021746, $24.95

West with Giraffes has been on my to-be-read pile since it came out, and I regret taking so long to get to it. For some reason, the title made me think of Beryl Markham's marvelous memoir, West with the Night, so I was expecting something along the lines of a safari story. With that in mind, being in the midst of catching up on my reading of books set in Africa, I started this one. West with Giraffes ends up being completely different from my expectations but ever-so-delightful nonetheless.

Told in the first person by a war veteran, Woodrow Wilson Nickel, who feels his life ebbing away. At the ripe age of 105, he has but days left to live and sets out to write the story that has haunted him all his life. His present, trapped in a VA nursing home, is interspersed with his past, things that happened when he was seventeen years old.

Based on a true story and set during the Great Depression in 1938, the book takes place over the roughly twelve days it takes for Woody and the Old Man to drive from New Jersey to California in a customized truck, hauling two young giraffes to the San Diego Zoo. It's Woody's first big adventure since escaping from the Texas Panhandle and the Dust Bowl. West with Giraffes blends a coming-of-age story, a cautionary tale about ecology, a road trip, and a first love romance. Woody falls hard for Red, a female reporter a few years older, who follows the truck across the country. They all have secrets they never fully share. Along the way, they're threatened by the landscape, weather, circuses, and policemen. They're also rescued and sheltered by a black family, owners of service stations and restaurants, and hordes line up along the road to watch the giraffes pass.

West with Giraffes weaves fictional characters with real people like Belle Benchley, the first female zookeeper (though for years she was listed on the payroll as "executive secretary"). It also pulls in American history and the factors facing America at that time: the Great Depression lingers, the Dust Bowl has caused a massive emigration of people to California, the Jim Crow era is in full swing, Hitler has conquered Czechoslovakia, a second World War looms, and a hurricane has just hit the East Coast. A ship flounders in that storm with two giraffes on board. Miraculously, they survive the hurricane, but will they survive the trip across the States? In the midst of all the political and financial turmoil, Americans seek good news, and they find it in the journey of the giraffes with the animals' progress being followed in the newspapers.

This was an unexpectedly great story, funny, sad, and poignant all at once. I admit to being teary-eyed through the last few chapters. This should be made into a movie with Robert Duvall as the Old Man.

Blue Desert
Celia Jeffries
Rootstock Publishing
9781578690442, $16.95

Alice George, a headstrong young woman of sixteen, is trapped in the societal constraints of Edwardian England. When her family moves to Morocco, her life finally changes. Then, on a drive with her father and younger sister, their driver has an accident and overturns the automobile. When a Taureg man carries Alice away from the accident site, she considers herself less kidnapped than liberated. The desert, so open, inviting yet hostile, intrigues her as do the Tuareg. She lives with them until, with the onset of World War I, she leaves the Tuareg and returns to England in 1917. Alice must find her way through the landmines of Edwardian England which is completely different from what she remembers. Her family doesn't understand what has happened to her, so Alice hides her Tuareg life in her deepest soul. Alice's two worlds collide when she is 78.

The prose here is understated, the details sensuous and exquisite. The novel is deeply rooted in nature with lush descriptions of the seemingly empty Sahara desert and the moors and woods of Devonshire. The characterizations are complex, especially Alice. Jeffries weaves a tale of colliding cultures with collisions reverberating though individual cultures as well with undercurrents of "progress" coming to the Tuaregs. She contrasts the free nomadic life of the Tuaregs and the colonialism espoused by the British. Alice is unabashedly feminist in an age when women are bound to strict societal roles. Be prepared to root for an exceptional protagonist.

A Death in Durango
Doug Twohill
River Grove Books
9781632995582, $15.95

Being a Texan (and a former Colorado resident), I enjoy a good western and really thought I'd love this one. Sadly, A Death in Durango didn't deliver. The storytelling is chaotic. Every chapter introduces a new character or plot twist, with nothing to provide its/his/her relationship to the rest of the story or to bind the elements together. Though billed as "epic," it is far too short and too un-encompassing to qualify as such. The details and characterization are too sparse to do justice to the history of southwestern Colorado or for me to develop any attachment to any character.

'Til All These Things Be Done
Suzanne Moyers
She Writes Press
9781647422356, $17.95

Set in East Texas in the second decade of the 1900s, this novel depicts the events of the era (racial discrimination, discrimination against Catholics and foreigners, the 1918 and 1919 flu pandemics, poverty, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacy, and social upheaval) as they touch the life of teenager Leola Rideout.

Born into poverty which was worsened when her father lost his right arm in an industrial accident, Leola starts work early as a cotton picker. Having picked cotton for an uncle back in the 1960s, I can attest to the misery of that job. In her free time, Leola studies, hoping to go to college and become a science teacher. Her dreams are interrupted when her father leaves for Houston to find a clerical job and her mother dies of influenza. Leola works to keep her two sisters with her, but her grandfather sends them off to an orphanage.

The novel spans eight decades and begins and ends with Leola having visions of her father. Even as dementia robs her of memories, she can't let go of the loss of her father, who disappears in Houston, never to be seen again.

This book is great women's fiction, showing Leola's independent streak and budding feminism. Leola's voice is pure Texan. My grandmother was born and raised in East Texas, and she and Leola share the vocabulary of the time and place. I enjoyed reading words I haven't heard for decades.

Spirit Daughters
Carol Potenza
Tiny Mammoth Press
9781736326282, $29.99

Spirit Daughters continues author Carole Potenza's Nicky Matthews Mystery series. I've read everyTony/Anne Hillerman book and, being raised in the Southwest, loved how he (and later his daughter Anne Hillerman) captured so beautifully the aura of the land and its people. When I heard Hearts of the Missing had won the Tony Hillerman Prize for Best First Mystery Set in the Southwest, I was intrigued enough to read it and to continue with her Nicky Matthews' mysteries.

Potenza's books are every bit as enthralling as one of the Hillermans' Leaphorn/Chee/Manuelito mystery novels. Potenza's love for the New Mexico landscape comes through clearly. Additionally, she has a strong female protagonist in Nicky Matthews, an officer in the police department of the Fire-Sky people. Though not a native, she is trusted by the people she serves. Nicky is estranged from her parents, both world-class archeologists, though her father has since died. Nonetheless, her parents' research leads her to investigate tribal fertility rites and medicinal herbs. Her mother unexpectedly pops back into Nicky's life, resulting in the unraveling of many of Nicky's innermost demons. As always in a Potenza novel, there is enough science to entertain this physician. Can't wait to read the next one!

Double Exposure
Jeannee Sacken
TEN16 Press
9781645383703, $21.99

Author Jeannee Sacken draws upon her experience as an international photojournalist to augment reality in Double Exposure, the sequel to Behind the Lens. Annie Hawkins Green is a veteran photojournalist embedded during wars around the world. She's dropped her married name and now goes by simply Annie Hawkins. She returns to Afghanistan to try to rebuild the school her best friend started and which Annie helped fund, but in doing so, she exposes herself to more danger. As a result, she angers the men in her life. Her ex-husband declares he still loves her as his second marriage fails, and Cerelli, her new love, is angry at her hard-headedness and his own inability to adequately protect her. She continues to suppress her PTSD. Her daughter, a teenager as strong-willed as her mother, lays guilt-trips on Annie about never being there while encouraging her mom to pursue her life's ambitions. A law suit filed by another female journalist complicates Annie's life at work just as her ex's impending divorce and her daughter's truculence complicate her home life.

Like Sacken's Behind the Lens, I could not put Double Exposure down. Having spent time in Afghanistan during my own stint as an international travel photographer, I identified strongly with Annie. Sacken's vivid descriptions of people, places, foods, and the experience of taking photographs are authentic. She is true to the customs and religion of Afghans, sympathetic to their plight but wary of the effects of the Taliban and ISIS on the country. Annie herself is a strong female protagonist, one to be reckoned with by those who underestimate her drive and stamina. The other characters are convincing, multifaceted, and evolve over time, revealing layers that must be peeled away to reveal the truth. I confess I found an unexpected new "book boyfriend" - Finn Cerelli - and enjoyed Annie and Cerelli's slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance. I look forward to many more books in this series.

Suanne Schafer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

The Stories Behind the Poses
Dr. Raj Balkaran
Leaping Hare Press
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9780711271883, $27.00, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian mythology that inspired 50 yoga postures", Dr. Raj Balkaran introduces the traditional stories and wisdom behind many favourite yoga poses in a stunningly illustrated book of Indian mythology for yoga practitioners of all levels.

A beautifully written introduction to Indian mythology, readers will enjoy joining storyteller, scholar and teacher, Dr Raj Balkaran, as he explores the unforgettable tales behind 50 key yoga poses including the original warrior pose, the mountain pose, the cobra pose, the eagle pose, the lotus pose, the hero pose, and the corpse pose.

Readers will also be introduced to iconic Hindu Gods and Goddesses, from Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, to Shiva, Lord of Yogis, and Kali, goddess of mind, body, soul and death. Explore the rivalry between the sages Vasistha and Vishvamitra, and their cosmic feud over a wish-fulfilling cow.

Readers will learn, through the mythology of the poses, more about the roots of this ancient practice and how to use their teachings to better appreciate and respect yoga's true origins.

Suggestion: Enhance your own yoga practice by reading one story before or at the end of class, and incorporating the poses and their teaching into your life, as well as your yoga practice, and transform the way you view and practice this timeless art.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated throughout, "The Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian mythology that inspired 50 yoga postures" will be a treasured addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Yoga, Hindu Religion, Folklore & Mythology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for yoga students, yoga instructors, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian mythology that inspired 50 yoga postures" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Dr. Raj Balkaran is a renowned scholar of Hindu mythology and author of The Goddess and the King in Indian Myth (2018) and The Goddess and the Sun in Indian Myth (2020). He holds advanced degrees in Hinduism from the University of Toronto and University of Calgary. A seasoned online educator with a global cohort of students, Dr Balkaran also teaches online courses privately and at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. He apprenticed with an Indian master for twelve years as part of a living oral tradition dedicated to the preservation and application of Hindu mythology and philosophy. He therefore brings hundreds of hours of traditional transmissions of yoga philosophy tothe table, which he dovetails with academic rigor and captivating storytelling. He has a dedicated website at

When Birds Sing: My Journey from Trauma to Triumph
Arielle Spring
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982279066, $39.95, HC, 170pp

Synopsis: Arielle Spring was a sweet, small town girl with a promising future when her life took a drastic turn while in her early teens. Once her direction changed, she began a two-decades-long fall from grace into a dark world of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

"When Birds Sing: My Journey from Trauma to Triumph" is a candid yet inspiring memoir, in which Arielle details her journey through abuse to the moment when a conscious awakening prompted her to discover a power greater than herself that led her to see her reality with new eyes and reclaim each precious, broken piece of herself.

While disclosing how she began her ascent from trauma and shame to a liberating truth and freedom, Arielle reveals how she persevered through many difficulties, including homelessness, while relying on her faith in God to buoy her through her many harrowing experiences and ultimately return her to wholeness.

"When Birds Sing" is the spiritually uplifting story of a small town girl's heart-wrenching journey through trauma, abuse, and lost identity to a courageous, self-empowered transformation.

Critique: Of immense appeal to readers with an interest in the life story of a woman who overcame enormous challenges to finally achieve mental, physical, and spiritual equilibrium, Inspired and inspiring, "When Birds Sing: My Journey from Trauma to Triumph" by Arielle Spring ( is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary American Biography/Memoir collections. An inherently riveting read from first page to last, "When Birds Sing" is also available for personal reading lists in a paperback edition (9781982279042, $13.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

A Christmas Candy Killing
Christina Romeril
Crooked Lane Books
2 Park Avenue, 10th floor, New York, NY 10016
9781639101665, $28.99, HC, 204pp

Synopsis: Identical twin sisters Alex and Hannah are the owners of Murder and Mayhem, a mystery bookshop that sells their famous poison-themed Killer Chocolates. But now, there's a real killer in their midst. Shortly before Christmas, their septuagenarian neighbor, Jane, confides to Alex that a murderer from a true-crime show has taken up residence in the village. Unfortunately, she's also shared her suspicions with town gossip Netta. The next morning, Alex shows up at Jane's house to watch the show, but instead discovers Jane's body, with a box of Killer Chocolates nearby.

The sheriff quickly zeroes in on two suspects: Alex, a beneficiary in Jane's will, and Zack, a handyman who was seen leaving the crime scene. But Alex maintains her innocence and sets out to draft a list of other potential suspects -- townsfolk who'd recently been seen arguing with Jane.

When Alex gets hold of Jane's journal, she begins to understand the truth. But a bearer of ill tidings is arriving early this year -- and Alex just might not make it to Christmas.

Critique: A thriller of a 'whodunnit' cozy mystery by an expert in the genre, "A Christmas Candy Killing" is the debut novel launching mystery novelist Christina Romeril's 'A Killer Chocolate Mystery' series. A fun and deftly crafted read from cover to cover, "A Christmas Candy Killing" is unreservedly recommended for community library Cosy Mystery collections. It should be noted for dedicated mystery buffs that "A Christmas Candy Killing" is also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format ($13.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781666616675, $22.99, CD).

Kyoto Stories
Steve Alpert
Stone Bridge Press
1393 Solano Avenue, Suite C, Albany CA 94706
9781611720747, $19.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: "Kyoto Stories" presents Don Ascher, a young American living in Kyoto in the 1970s. He is a student of Japanese. He also teaches English, works at a shabu-shabu restaurant, and hangs out in the company of gangsters, hostesses, housewives, tea teachers, and fellow foreigners.

Set amidst the timeless beauty of the ancient Japanese capital and its garish modern entertainments, "Kyoto Stories" collection of fanciful episodes from Don's life is a window into Japanese culture and a chronicle of romance and human connections.

Critique: "Kyoto Stories" by author Steve Alpert will have a particular appeal to readers with an interest in biographical fiction and Japanese culture. A compendium of deftly crafted and memorable characters, places, and events, "Kyoto Stories" is an inherently fascinating read and a highly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Kyoto Stories" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).

Editorial Note: Steve Alpert attended Cornell University before enrolling in Columbia University's graduate department of East Asia Languages and Cultures, where he studied Japanese Literature under Donald Keene and Edward Seidensticker. He lived and worked in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Taipei for more than 35 years and speaks Japanese fluently and Chinese poorly. Miller gave up a promising career as an extra in Japanese B movies to work in Tokyo as a vice president at a major bank, president of a TV animation company, and head of a company that produced and distributed Japanese films. He has translated a number of Japanese films and several short works of Japanese fiction. Kyoto, where he lived as a student, is his favorite city in the world. Also the author of Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man: 15 Years at Studio Ghibli, he has a dedicated website at

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists
Gary Greenberg
Pereset Press
9781737308812, $36.95, HC, 428pp

Synopsis: Continuing his astonishing study of Egyptian influences on the Book of Genesis, Gary Greenberg moves from Egypt's historical chronology to its mythological chronology, with the publication of "Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis History, Volume II: Egypt's Mythological Period".

In this latest volume Greenberg meticulously uncovers the biblical book's deep dependence on Egyptian sources for some of its most famous stories, including the seven days of creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and the family of nations descended from Ham, Shem, and Japheth.

Despite the biblical narrative showing that Israel's formative period as a nation took place in Egypt, almost all biblical scholars and Egyptologists refuse to take such claims seriously, rarely looking at anything more than an occasional peripheral link. Greenberg's thorough scholarly examination of the biblical and Egyptological sources tears through this "papyrus curtain" and presents clear and convincing evidence that the original authors of Genesis worked from a solid knowledge of Egypt's literary and historical sources and used them as the basis of the Bible's primeval history.

It was only long after, when Genesis source documents were significantly re-edited and heavily redacted during the Second Temple period, did the Hebrews lose touch with their Egyptian roots. Greenberg sets the record straight and the results are impressive.

Some of the stunning discoveries in "Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis History, Volume II Egypt's Mythical Period" include:

How did the Genesis author determine in what year the first Patriarchs, from Adam to Jared, fathered their first son? Egypt's mythical chronology holds the answers. That the story of Noah and the flood was the original Genesis creation story and it was based on Egypt's most famous creation myths.

Who was the mysterious light that appeared on the first day of creation? (Yes, who, not what; No, it wasn't Jesus.) - Who were the biblical generations of Heaven and Earth and who were these children? - Egyptian deities in the Garden of Eden? What is the hidden Egyptian secret behind the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life? - How long did the flood last and what does that have to do with the Egyptian calendar? - Were there seven days of creation or eight?

Critique: A work of impressively detailed analytical scholarship, "Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis History, Volume II: Egypt's Mythological Period" is an informative, thought-provoking, iconoclastic, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college and university library Egyptology, Judaic, Old Testament, and Christian Biblical Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, Judaic/Christian theologians, Egyptologists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis History, Volume II: Egypt's Mythological Period" is also available in a paperback edition (9781737308805, $26.95).

Editorial Note: President of the Biblical Archaeology Society of New York and a Fellow of the Jesus Project, an organization of biblical scholars concerned with issues related to the "historical" Jesus, Gary Greenberg is the author of several highly-praised books on biblical history, including the popular biblical classic "101 Myths of the Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History." His works have been translated into many languages. He also has a dedicated website at

Willis M. Buhle

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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