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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 6, Number 9 September 2006 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Andrew's Bookshelf Bethany's Bookshelf
Betty's Bookshelf Bob's Bookshelf Buhle's Bookshelf
Burroughs' Bookshelf Burton's Bookshelf Carson's Bookshelf
Cassandra's Bookshelf Cheri's Bookshelf Christy's Bookshelf
Debra's Bookshelf Emanuel's Bookshelf Gary's Bookshelf
Gloria's Bookshelf Gorden's Bookshelf Harwood's Bookshelf
Henry's Bookshelf Kaye's Bookshelf Magdalena's Bookshelf
Margaret's Bookshelf Slessman's Bookshelf Sonali's Bookshelf
Sullivan's Bookshelf Theodore's Bookshelf  

Reviewer's Choice

The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
John Tayman
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th floor, New York, NY 10020
074323300X, $27.50, 421 pp. 1-800-223-2336

Dr. Alma Bond, Reviewer

The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai reveals the untold history of the infamous American Leprosy settlement on the Hawaiian island of Molokai and of the exceptional people who managed to survive under the most horrific circumstances. In 1866, twelve men and woman and one small child were put aboard a leaky schooner and cast away to an island prison. They were soon joined by hundreds more. Exile on Molokai continued for more than a century, the longest and deadliest instance of medical segregation in American history. In all, more than eight thousand people were banished to the settlement. Some remain there still. For the first time, John Tayman reveals the horrendous history of the unfortunate lepers who inhabited for over a century the gorgeous island that looks like Paradise.

The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai is a wonderful book. The protagonist, strangely enough, is the disease of leprosy. The book is fascinating, as the author tells us of its history, its horrible disfiguring symptoms for which there was no cure, how the various patients adjusted, and finally, the triumphant conquering of the illness and the return of the lepers to normal life.

Descriptions of the facial and bodily disfigurement suffered by inmates are appalling, as well as fascinating. Some of the depictions are disgusting, even to a vivid description of the nauseating odors emanating from patients. Particularly loathsome are accounts of the faces of patients so ravaged they were unrecognizable. A description of leprosy which has not been improved upon since was given by Dr. Areataeus of Cappadocia. in the first century, A. D., when he wrote (p. 97), "There is no disease which is graver and more violent.... it is filthy and dreadful to behold, in all respects like the wild animal, the elephant, lurking among the bowels, like a concealed fire, it smolders there...(then) blazes forth...The respiration is fetid...tumors predominate...The hairs on the whole body die prematurely...The skin of the head (becomes) deeply cracked...nose elongated...ears red, black, contracted, resembling the elephant...Sometimes, too, certain of the members will die, so as to drop off, such as the nose, the fingers, the feet, the privy parts, and the whole hands; for the ailment does not prove fatal, so as to relieve the patient from a foul life and dreadful sufferings."

No age was exempt from the dreaded disease. Although it was primarily an illness of late childhood, adolescence, and early adult life, late onset was occasionally experienced. In the 50s, a study was done indicating that only 7 out of a population of 585 patients had suffered the onset of the disease between the ages of 65 and 70. Over 8000 people suffered from this disastrous disease on Molokai, where they remained sequestered as virtual prisoners for more than 100 years.

In 1974, a true "miracle drug" called rifampin was developed. It proved able to kill the leprosy bacilli in three days. "For the first time in 100 years," the Star Bulletin reported, "no one in Hawaii requires hospitalization for leprosy" (p. 287). Every patient was now qualified for release. Unfortunately, it was too late for some. They had been there so long they had lost all ties with the mainland, considered Molokoi their home , and refused to leave the island. By the end of the 90s, the average age of residents was 74. Leprosy could now be cured in three months. The usual treatment consisted of a sulfone-type medication called dapsone, clofazimine, and rifampin. A single aluminum-foil blister pack, resembling a package of Sudafed, contained a month's supply of medication. According to the World Health Organization, "When the regiment was completed, the disease became 'a closed chapter in the life of the person.'" 11 million people worldwide were cured of the illness. Experts estimated that 2.5 million cases remained, of whom 90% were in poor South Asia and Africa. Lepers found in the United States were mostly immigrants from those areas. Since the infliction was so rare in the United States, it was often misdiagnosed or overlooked by doctors. It is now known as "Hanson's Disease," in order to lessen the stigma lepers suffered from biblical times onward, a stigma that still exists.

Late in the history of Molokai, younger inmates who had been treated with the new medication often appeared unscathed by the disease, to the point where they looked as though they were normal. For example, a tour guide conducting a group of tourists through the village and pointing out landmarks was asked, "Where are all the lepers?"(p. 295).

The tour guide answered, "You're looking at one."
The visitor replied, "But you don't look like a leper."
The guide answered, "Looks can be deceiving."

The Colony is an unusual book in several ways. The protagonist, strangely enough, is the disease of leprosy itself. The book is fascinating, as the author tells us of its history, the horrendous disfiguring symptoms for which there was no cure, how the various patients adjusted, and finally, the triumphant conquering of the illness and the return of the lepers to normal life.

Unfortunately, the book is not as good when it speaks of the various lepers and officials of the dreaded island. I sometimes found it difficult to tell one from the other, and had to return to the introduction of a character earlier in the book to find out to which person a passage referred. This is particularly true of the officials, who occasionally seemed interchangeable. Tayman is a science writer, not a psychologist, and it makes sense that his descriptions of the symptoms of the disease and their treatment is more noteworthy than his insight into human character.

The most clearly drawn and best known person in the book is Father Damien, who was highly significant in the history of Molokai, and whose selfless efforts on their behalf made life more tolerable for thousands of lepers over many years. After his death, he was ordained a saint by the Catholic Church.

Father Damien was sent to Molokai in1873 at the age of 33, as a replacement for his ailing brother. He was supposed to be rotated out of the settlement in a little more than two months. Instead, he spent the rest of his life there, visiting each inmate at least once a week, and acting as director, doctor, general handyman, and gravedigger. He soon became the primary force in the colony. A typical day's work lasted 19 hours, and might include saying mass, hearing confessions, performing baptisms and last rites, greeting each newcomer to the island personally, constructing coffins for the dead, digging graves (at one point it was said that Damien personally had dug 1,300 graves), spinning bandages, dressing sores, passing out medicine, playing with children, conducting lessons in carpentry, and giving detailed advice about gardening and crops. By the time his rounds were finished, Father Damien would grope his way in the chalky light to the rectory, where he began to write. If not sleepy when finished, he would read a chapter of the New Testament.

Father Damien remained in robust health for many years. At all times, he believed he had to behave as if the disease could have no effect on him. He took no precautions whatsoever. He did not refrain from embracing the sick members of his congregation, touching a dying patient with oil, or laying the host on the tongue of a communicant. Lepers had access to his home at any hour of the day or night. He ate from communal bowls of poi, shared his pipe with patients, and was often seen "bandaging the most frightful wounds as though he were handling flowers"(p. 125). It is no surprise that in1886 the good Father came down with leprosy himself. It is only surprising that he did not develop it sooner. He died in 1889 at the age of 49, after spending 16 years on the island.

To be decreed a saint, a person has to have been someone of "heroic virtue," a test Father Damien easily passed. Then it has to be established that the potential saint has begotten a genuine miracle. In 1895, a critically ill French nun had prayed to Father Damien for relief. She recovered. No medical evidence for her return to health could be found. The Vatican deemed it a miracle, and he was now Blessed Damien. At the beatification ceremony, Pope John Paul 11 exclaimed, "He became a leper for the lepers...revealing the beauty of his inner self, which no illness, no deformity, no weakness can totally disfigure" (p. 309). Father Damien became world famous, and thousands of tourists came to visit his grave.

Despite a lack of clarity in distinguishing among several characters, John Tayman has written an utterly engrossing account of one of America's most shameful secrets. The book is a page turner that is difficult to put down. Nobody who has read it will ever forget Tayman's devastating history of the lepers of Molokai. It is highly recommended to everyone who enjoys a good story, likes to be spoon fed science, or simply wishes to know the history of our country, be it good or bad.

John Tayman is the former deputy editor of Outside magazine and an award-winning editor and writer. He has served as executive editor of New England Monthly, editorial director of Rocky Mountain Magazine, editor-at-large of Men's Journal, and contributing editor to Men's Health, Life, CQ, People, and Business 2.0.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi
Thorndike Press
295 Kennedy Memorial Drive, Waterville, ME 04901
158274487X, $13.95, 609 pp.

Coletta Ollerer

Azar Nafisi is a professor of literature living in Tehran during the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. Women are repressed in many ways including the wearing of the veil. Azar has lost her position at the University of Tehran for refusing to veil her head and decides to meet with former students to read western fiction and thereby study western ideas. They meet every Thursday at her apartment, arriving veiled but removing them in the safety afforded there.

The first book they tackle is Lolita. They come to see how Lolita's character compares to their lives with respect to her powerlessness. Lolita has lost her parents. She is alone in the world and needs to depend on this terrible man, Humbert. He takes advantage of her circumstances and imposes his will on her. The little group comes to see the parallel under the rule of the Ayatollah. The Iranians are powerless and have no place to turn to get away from the Ayatollah. The girls and their professor came to see that "life in a totalitarian society is where you are completely alone in an illusory world full of false promises and where you can no longer differentiate between your savior and your executioner." (p49)

The next book they study is The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. Gatsby's dream is to find entrance into the world of the wealthy. The dream is so intense that "it removes from him the power to differentiate between imagination and reality." (p260) Azar proposes that what the Iranian people had in common with Gatsby was "this dream that became our obsession and took over our reality, this terrible, beautiful dream, impossible in its actualization, for which any amount of violence might be justified or forgiven." (p260)

In discussing Henry James' novel, Washington Square, Azar compares the ordinary Iranian citizen to its heroine, Catherine. None of those who interact with her have the slightest empathy with her. Their concern is with their own needs and desires. In Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, the government is without empathy for its citizens while forging ahead with its own agenda. In the end Catherine is victorious in her quiet steadfast way as are the Iranians who remain after the death of the Ayatollah. "A stern ayatollah, a blind and improbable philosopher-king, had decided to impose his dream on a country and a people and to re-create us in his own myopic vision. So he had formulated an ideal of me as a Muslim woman. . .and wanted me to look, act and in short live according to that ideal." (p295)

Austen was among others of her century's novelists who made marriage the central idea of their work. What women said and did and thought were the ingredients of the story and gave it its momentum. With Austen it was not "the importance of marriage but the importance of heart and understanding in marriage." (p542) Austen's ladies wanted the right to choose, a precious tenet of democracy. Azar is pleased to understand that the girls in her reading group "by refusing to give up their right to pursue happiness, had created a dent in the Islamic Republic's stern fantasy world." (p498)

This is a story which reveals the intricacies of life in a totalitarian, fundamentalist Islamic society, how some in its members remain strong and others buckle and get lost in the political fog.

"Like all great mythmakers, he (Ayatollah) had tried to fashion reality out of his dream, and in the end, like Humbert with Lolita, he had managed to destroy both reality and his dream. . . . Yet he had done this with our full compliance, our complete assent and complicity." (p438)

The Shadow of Poe
Matthew Pearl
Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
1400061032 $15.72 384 pages

J. Conrad Guest, Reviewer

Historical fiction is in vogue these days. Being a devotee of Edgar Allen Poe, I had high hopes for "Shadow of Poe," Matthew Pearl's second novel, but alas, it was not to be. Pearl, the author of the best selling "The Dante Club" is a more than able writer, and his passion for its topic -- Poe -- is obvious. The story surrounds a group of fictitious characters set against the historical period of Edgar Poe's death. Pearl's language for this historical novel is accurate if a bit too Poe-like. His research into the events surrounding Poe's demise, as well as the political state of France and the family Bonaparte (which is tied in with the story) is meticulous.

"Shadow's" shortcoming is with its protagonist, Quentin Hobson Clark, a young Baltimore attorney who, upon witnessing Poe's sparsely attended funeral, becomes obsessed, to the exclusion of all else - in cluding his practice as well as his young fiance - with rescuing the dead poet's reputation. While alive, like many artists, Poe struggled with finding an audience and the success that accompanies it; indeed, his greatest acclaim came only posthumously. At times Clark, himself a Poe aficionado, makes the most amazing leaps of deductive reasoning, leaving the reader thinking, "huh?" While at other times he lets the most obvious pass over his head, with clearance to spare. It could perhaps be argued that this is the basis for genius (indeed, Einstein had to be told when it was time to eat and sleep).

Clark's endeavor takes him to Paris in an effort to locate Auguste Duponte, the French detective after which Poe supposedly modeled the character C. Auguste Dupin in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," who, in Poe's story, discovers the truth behind the slaying of two women. Clark is convinced that Duponte will help him unravel the mystery behind Poe's mysterious death. Clark brings Duponte back to Baltimore where it becomes a race to solve the mystery before another Frenchman, the Baron Dupin, the self-proclaimed real Dupin, and his assassin/wife, Bonjour can. This part of the story seems, at best, contrived, at worst, an unnecessary literary device to keep the reader turning pages.

It isn't until nearly two-thirds of the book have passed that Clark uncovers one of the underlying themes of "Shadow:" "the most dangerous temptation in life is to forget to tend to your own business... if pursing the causes of others - even in charity - prevents your own happiness, you will be left with nothing... Even if you were to find the truth (behind Poe's death) they (the public) would only deny it in favor of a newer speculation. We cannot sacrifice ourselves on an altar of Poe's mistakes."

Unfortunately by then the reader cares little that the annoying Clark has lost his fiance and is in endanger of losing even more. We are carried along alone by the mys tery of Poe's death, which is merely a conjecture, and is left tantalizingly unsolved by a mere footnote- "I implored Duponte to expand on this ill-omened statement in full; he relented only under the condition that I never write of it publicly. If I am at a future date able to relate Duponte's revelations touching this point, it must be at a site far more private."

The end is far too tidy, and many readers will be swept along by the fiction of "Shadow's" mystery and its happy ending for Clark. I don't begrudge Pearl whatever level of success "Shadow" may bring him; indeed, by today's standards, such literary devices as he employed are often accompanied by success, but by my standards, I could have done with far less fiction. While I can't say I didn't enjoy "Shadow," my recommendation for a far more enjoyable read in the historical fiction genre is Dominic Smith's "The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre."

Four stars only for its obvious love of labor.

Tabloid Dreams
Robert Olen Butler
Henry Holt & Co.
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0805055894 $12.00, 203 pages, (646) 307-5095

Dan Schneider, Reviewer

After winning a Pulitzer Prize for his 1992 short story collection of Vietnam-based stories, A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain, Robert Olen Butler followed it up with a collection of a dozen tales, Tabloid Dreams, based upon the sort of headlines ripped from the tabloid weekly newspapers one finds on checkout lines at supermarkets. After a lackluster career as a novelist, Butler seemed to be verging on becoming a great writer for, even though A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain had its ups and downs, there were two or three genuinely great short stories. The work in Tabloid Dreams, however, seems to manifest that A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain was an aberration, and Butler is merely a competent writer who lucked into the Pulitzer- one of the rare times in recent decades that the award was given to a worthwhile book.

Tabloid Dreams is a mediocre book, at best. The tales are basically all summed up by their titles-cum-conceits, and are told in the first person. Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed follows an Englishman after his death on the ship, and decades of his afterlife as part of the evaporation and rain cycle of water. He ends up trapped in a waterbed as a horny couple have sex, and thinks of a woman he fell in love with before the ship went down. He urges her to get in a lifeboat, and cannot get her out of his mind. It's a solid tale, but much too long, although it does have a solid ending. In Woman Uses Glass Eye To Spy On Philandering Husband the tale starts off well, but Butler simply does not know how to end the tale, so it just sort of stops. It's a very poor story, and little above the tabloid level it tries to spoof. Boy Born With Tattoo Of Elvis follows its lead character obsessing over how his peers will react to his freakish birthmark. There really is no point to this tale. Woman Loses Cookie Bake-Off, Sets Self On Fire has a nice conceit, and a solid end, but meanders a bit too much, as the lead character struggles with her own existence's meaninglessness.

In Jealous Husband Returns In Form Of Parrot, a woman buys the reincarnation of her husband takes him home, where he watches her sex life with her new boyfriend, fixates on his human existence's errors, his lust for her, and his inability to convert his still coherent thoughts beyond the usual parrotic squawks. In many ways this voyeurism is a pale echo of perhaps the best story in Scent, Love, so it unwittingly recapitulates- in its inferiority to the earlier tale, all the flaws this whole book has in relation to Butler's earlier, superior book. It also has a very bad ending, which is perhaps the greatest flaw in all the tales in this collection. Butler sets up the ideas in the tales with a brio, but builds no real three dimensional characters, so has no realistic 'out' from their predicaments to offer. Woman Struck By Car Turns Into Nymphomaniac finds a New York Public Relations hack called a nymphomaniac by a tabloid, who gets revenge on the publication's editor. There is no insight nor even humor in the tale. Butler is at his vapid, Postmodern worst in this story. Here he does the typical PoMo schtick of dropping vapid pop cultural references that have already faded into obscurity. Note how a decade after the book's publication so much of what is stated here is not relevant, and some as meaningless as the courtly intrigues off a John Dryden's verse:

One day in spring I stepped into the crosswalk at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street and perhaps I was distracted by the thought of the Jenny Jones show, wishing it was the Oprah show instead, but Oprah doesn't do the real sleazy subjects, bless her pure and, for the moment, top-rated heart. So when your author is a Manhattan psychologist with a practice in masturbation therapy and a book called Touch Yourself, Cure Yourself, you take what you can get. In this case she was to be the resident expert on the I Have More Fun with Me than with My Partner segment.

The tale then careens to its weak end, loaded with fetishism, but a well-worded last sentence that sums up the schizoid writing that the book is filled with. Note how vapidly the tale's end is set up by banalities:

And he went down, onto his knees, and he bent to me and he began to kiss my toes and I thank my gypsy cab driver for teaching me how pleasurable all that can be and my hand was on the meteor and I picked it up and it was very heavy, very heavy indeed, and its heaviness sent a thrill through me, a sweet wet thrill, and I looked down at the straight white part in his hair, the very place where this meteor was about to strike, and I thought how sexy. How truly sexy is the secret shape of a man's brain.

It's a big comedown for both the tale, and its writer, but too typical of the stories in the book. But, he gets even worse in the next tale, Nine-Year Old Boy Is World's Youngest Hitman. Yes, it's about a preteen murderer, but it's so unrealistic, and so filled with bad, cartoonish Brooklyn accents that it reads almost like an early Martin Scorsese film project that was rejected. Dialect writing almost always fails, and Butler's lack of an ear for it, and lack of a real story, doom the reader of this dismal tale.

Every Man She Kisses Dies is a bit better, and has an almost Biblical resonance. Yet, the tale's lead finds her 'talent' for death wastes away when she finds true love. What could have been a nice political commentary on the sexes and social-sexual relationships, however forced, instead descends into pabulum. The end, again, is execrable. Doomsday Meteor Is Coming is better still, if only because it's lighter and silly, and it ends ambivalently- as we do not know if the end truly is nigh, or not, but it's nowhere near a tale that is resonant and will stick with a reader ten minutes after it's read. Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover is a tale that was later expanded into a novel by Butler, although for what reason is unfathomable, as that tabloid grist- the alien abduction, gets a twist as abductor and abductee meet in a Wal-Mart parking lot. There are some mild tee-hees, but they cannot fill a short story, much less a novel. In JFK Secretly Attends Jackie Auction, the still living ex-President goes to Sotheby's auction house to voyeur his wife's belongings. The tale is as banal as its premise, and ends very weakly.

The last tale, Titanic Survivors Found In Bermuda Triangle, is told from the point of view of the woman that the lead character from the first tale puts on the lifeboat. She is depressed, goes back to the moment of the ship's sinking, and imagines her congress with the man who saved her. While the end is a good scene, Butler write sit in the most bathetic and banal fashion, which is emblemic of the whole book. The premises are thin, but a better writer would have deepened and truly 'realized' the characters more. Readers never connect with the leads because they are never real characters merely in outrageous scenarios. They are just puppets that ride the wave of the tales' conceits- sort of third rate (at best) Twilight Zone episodes that lack depth and all end weakly. It is a truism that tales that start and end well can get away with muddled middles, but those that end badly can rarely be good, and never near greatness. Pulitzer Prize Winner Loses Touch And Becomes Third-Rate Pulp Fiction Hack may be an interesting enough title for a story- and one that would work well in this book, but as the reality embodied in a work of art it's all too real, and all too depressing. Tabloid Dreams a profound disappointment for a writer with potential, and readers who are searching for real literature in this deliterate age.

The Church of Women: Gendered Encounters Between Maasai and Missionaries
Dorothy L. Hodgson
Indiana University Press
Bloomington, IN
0253345685 (hc) $65.00
0253217628 (pbk) $29.95 330 pages

Girard-Jean Kohler
Dorothy Hodgson (nee Cardiff) has created a solidacademic reputation at Rutgers University,specializing in the well-known Maasai tribe of EastAfrica. It is surprising, therefore, at how shoddythe scholarship of this book is, cobbled together fromfield notes over the course of twenty years. The mainthesis, about women of an African tribe assertingindependence in their lives via religious conversion,could be credible - except for the largely subjectiveand selective development of Hodgson's arbitraryarguments.

From the vastness of Maasai-land in Tanzania,disregarding the Maasai over the border into Kenya,Hodgson has chosen as her tiny sample three atypicalvillages, near the town of Monduli, near the city ofArusha, a couple of thousand people out of hundreds ofthousands whom she mainly ignores. She states her apriori premises early on, then throughout proceeds tobeg the question in trying to prove her case. In theprocess she misinterpretes her own data, convenientlyoverlooks realities from other, more traditional areaswhich do not collaborate her stated biases, andgenerally misrepresents what had transpired before herarrival and even during her vaunted "participantobserver" visits.

For instance, Hodgson uses supposed "spiritpossession" as a telling argument for religiousexperience by certain women. She is undaunted by thefact that significant conversions took place beforethis phenomenon began to appear, that large sectionsof Maasai-land are even now untouched by the hysteria,that even the Lutheran pastors whose writings she usesto substantiate her contention do not agree with herspeculations.

One has to wonder about the veracity of the professionwhen someone with Hodgson's reputation in her field isso methodically wrong, so mistaken in even mundanefacts such as locating places accurately andmisidentifying co-workers, so disdainful ofinconveniently contrary data.

I know all of this, because I was there during much ofthe period and at places Hodgson pontificates about. This potboiler does not do justice to her topic, notto the Maasai, not to the women of the Church.

Abundantly Wild
Teresa Marrone
Adventure Publications Inc.
820 Cleveland St. S, Cambridge, MN 55008
1591930340, $22.95, 2004

Jenny Caron

The Midwest is in for a treat with Marrone's wild edibles cookbook. This comprehensive guide not only helps its readers identify nature's treats (and how to use them), but maps out their habitat, range and seasons available. Marrone also discusses look-alikes, providing pictures of the correct and incorrect plants.

From cattails to nettles to morels, this should be every Midwestern nature lover's bible of cooking. Over 260 recipes are introduced in 8 clearly marked sections, ranging from "top ten wild foods" to "nuts" to "greens and flowers". Recipes range from the quick and familiar - "Honey-Roasted Nut Clusters" to the delicious "Vegetable Terrine with Mushrooms".

These recipes are for beginners and experts alike, and tastefully combine the glorious flavors of nature with familiar ingredients to create exquisite dishes. And tasteful it is. Marrone has been gathering and cooking wild foods for more than 20 years, and not only has a knack for identifying and successfully using them in recipes, but also has a way with words. This is a guidebook for identifying nature's edible foods, a cookbook and a wonderful read. Marrone adds personality to this book, and it proves to make a wonderful gift for any nature lover with a sense of adventure.

The Pocket and the Pendant
Mark Jeffrey
Lulu Press
Audiobook:, free download
1411613236 $16.94 (print)

Kaylea Hascall Champion

The Pocket and the Pendant audiobook, read by the author, is a friendly science-fiction adventure about four children thrown together by strange circumstances. Time has stopped for most of humanity, and an evil alien force seeks to dominate the people of earth. Jeffrey interweaves Einstein and ancient Babylonian and Egyptian creation myths while sending his characters on a mission to save the world. Although the plot was not wholly original, it was full of twists and new variants on older themes which kept the story entertaining. Performed with energy and panache and reinforced with dramatic music, this 13-episode story is family-friendly and would make excellent bed-time listening.

The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho
Harper Collins
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
8172234988 $5.99 1-800-242-7737

Nitin Saraswat

This inspiring story revolves around a boy named Santiago, and how he follows his dreams which ultimately lead to the treasure of his life. Translated from Brazilian to English the story bears simple words and witty statements like the wise man describing the secret of Happiness as:
The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon, handing a spoon with two drops of oil in it and asking the boy to move around his palace and enjoy the scenes.

Santiago travels quite a geographical distance from the Andalusian plains in Spain to the pyramids of Egypt meeting variety of people in the way including the Alchemist. And it all started with a dream he had, sleeping in an abandoned castle in Andalusia.

Unlike his father, he follows the yearning of his heart to travel and see the world around him and hence becomes a shepherd. The author talks about omens which are the signs considered to be spread everywhere around people which keep guiding them towards their goal. The boy had his share of difficulties and hardships as in being cheated by a stranger in Tangiers (the port city) , in the desert with the tribesman and after being beaten up by the men at the Pyramids. The author mentions a new but striking language called the Language of the World which did not depend on words and which helped Santiago in returning to wealth after he was penniless in Tangiers.

The turn of events take the reader from Spain to Tangiers to the eventful desert journey and finally to the place destined to be hiding Santiagos treasure. The only guiding force behind his entire journey was reading the omens and following them. It is in the deserts that he meets the Alchemist who guides him through the desert and deserts him just before he hits upon his treasure.

The story has many interesting turns, like the one in which Santiago was required to transform himself into the wind in front of the tribesmen who had taken them captives and the author excels in describing the way he manages to do so. In the end the reader feels rejuvenated and perhaps gives his innate feelings a little more room to grow and expand.

Miracle in The Andes Nando Parrado
Orion - UK & Crown
Orion House, 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, London, WC2H 9EA
Crown, Random House, Inc
280 Park Avenue (11-3), New York, NY 10017
0752871935 $15.75 304 pages

Nolene-Patricia Dougan, Reviewer

How Strong is Your Will to Survive?

Most of us will never have to ask ourselves such a question, but at only 23 years old, Nando Parrado had to.

We have all heard the story of the Uruguayan rugby team travelling to Chile by plane that met with disaster. The plane, unable to maintain its height because of severe weather conditions, collides with one of the sharp mountainous peaks. The plane is cut in two, one half plummets from the sky only to crash among the towering peaks of the Andes, while the other half--carrying survivors--hits the incline of a snow-covered mountain and dives deep into a valley. Those who survived the crash, look to the skies above, hoping and praying for any sign of rescue. With limited food supplies and limited clothing to shield them from the cold, they are forced to come face to face with the knowledge that they must act or they will die. Three brave men begin a journey--a gruelling trek that no one has ever attempted before, with only a glimmer of hope and no clear path to their destination, they set out to help their friends and save themselves. One of these men is Nando Parrado; Miracle in the Andes is his personal story.

The first few pages of the novel walks the reader through Parrado's first moments after the crash as he wakes up and realises his gruesome predicament. He describes the cold as it first hit him, "burning his skin like acid," making it hard to breathe, hard to move, and as a consequence even harder to live. Those first moments are terrifying, and the reader is right there with him, experiencing every chilling second. As the book progresses, Parrado reflects on his life leading up to the crash. Unlike Nando, his father was a hardworking man who worked long hours to make sure that his family could live the life that he did not. His father's philosophy was that all the good things in life have to be earned. Parrado talks about how his father tried to teach him this lesson, but he did not listen as he was more interested in girls and rugby than having to grind out a living. Yet Parrado must have learnt this lesson; how else could he have survived what he did?

Written in the first person, Miracle in the Andes enables the reader to experience each long, excruciating step of Parrado's journey. It is an open and honest account of a tragedy and one man's struggle to survive. I would not recommend this book for in-flight reading! But I do highly recommend reading this book at some point in life. Miracle in the Andes is not just a story of survival; it is a story of the lengths a person will go to save a friend. The boys who were travelling to Chile to play rugby became men through their experiences. They should be thought of as heroes, an example to us all - "that anything is possible as long as you are willing to suffer."

If this book has any lesson for us, it is perfectly expressed in the last line: "Do not waste a breath."

Near Mama's Heart
Colleen Newman
Trafford Publishing
6-E-2333 Government Street,Victoria, BC V8T 4P4 Canada
1412079195 $14.99 USD/$17.24 CAN 28 pages 1-888-232-4444

Shari Maser, Reviewer

Mothers and fathers of breastfeeding babies and toddlers, rejoice! Near Mama's Heart offers photo after photo of sweet nursing moments, with a gentle, affirming, breastfeeding-friendly narrative.

Children's librarians, rejoice! Finally, here is a book that breastfeeding families will be excited to find on your shelves. In this simple, loving photo-essay, there are no bottles, no pacifiers, no highchairs, no playpens... Just families bonding in the most intimate way possible. This is a must-have for every neighborhood library.

Pediatricians, obstetricians, midwives, dentists and the myriad other healthcare professionals with waiting rooms for mothers and children - rejoice! Now you can offer a book that breastfeeding families will look forward to reading in your waiting room.

And last but not least, children - rejoice! This book is especially for you! Whether it reminds you of your own family or teaches you something about other children and their families, every page is sure to bring a smile to your face.

The 4 Hundred And 20 Assassins Of Emir Abdullah-Harazins
Joseph DeMarco
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403
1418441023 $12.95 148 pages

Vicki Cox

"On top of Mount Zion, hidden high above the walls of the palace, it is said that there is a garden of absolute perfection. It's supposed to be a replica of Babylon or something like that. More beautiful than heaven," this is the fictitious garden of Emir Abdullah-Harazins. The garden is used as leverage throughout the book, as Emir (The Prince) Abdullah-Harazins gets young men to serve and kill for him. Harazins is in very little of the book but seems to shape the book through various flashbacks and descriptions of himself and his garden.

The book follows the hazy and stoned Anazasi on route to deliver his dead father's remains. Anazasi is in a mental and physical haze after everyone in his family has mysteriously died in various "accidents" and clearly does not want to be alive. As Anazasi gets wrapped up in his travels, he begins to suspect there is an ulterior motive for his assignment. Is he going crazy? Or is he really supposed to kill the king of his country?

This book is written very cleverly, and is hard to follow in parts, but I think paints a very interesting picture of not only what one views as Paradise, but also the mindset of a pot smoker, particularly the youth of America. The 4 Hundred and 20 Assassin of Emir Abdullah-Harazins stays with you long after you have finished reading it, and ultimately gets the reader to question their idea of paradise and happiness.

Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World
Lama Surya Das
Broadway Books
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
0767901576, $15.95, 432 pages

Victoria Kennedy

If you're new to Buddhism and seeking more information this book is a good place to start. I consider it a how to manual for Buddhists and an informative and thought provoking book for the rest of those who are searching for spiritual wisdom and advice. Surya Das gives us a blueprint for awakening and discovering our true selves. His instructions tell us how to go about achieving more compassionate and peaceful lives. The book is written in a clear and down to earth style that is easy to read. If nothing else it will give you a lot to think about. I recommend this book for anyone seeking guidance and wisdom on their spiritual journey.

This quote from the preface sums up what you will find when your fingers walk the pages of this book. "Today there is a genuine need for an essential, western Buddhism: pragmatic, effective, and experiential, rather than theoretical or doctrinal. We are drawn to spirituality that is simple, direct, and demystified-a sane, nonsectarian, integrated path to wisdom, personal transformation, and enlightenment for modern men and women actively engaged in life." Lama Surya Das has written a follow-up titled, "Awakening to the Sacred."

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back
Norah Vincent
Viking Books
c/o Penguin Putnam Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0670034665 $24.95 304 pages 1-800-847-5515

Zinta Aistars, Reviwer

Few things fascinate us, all of us, more than the opposite gender. Surely that is the main draw of Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man, the nonfictional story about this gay female journalist who spends extended time disguised as a man in order to learn more about that gender. To see the world from and through a man's eyes, or at least as closely to his view as possible.

I expected to be fascinated. I was. Vincent begins with a chapter that describes how she accomplished this feat, then adds chapters on friendship (she joins a bowling league), sex (she delves into the baser side of the male psyche and visits strip clubs), love (she dates a long string of very varied women with surprising results), life (she joins a Catholic monastery), work (pounding the pavement as an aggressive salesman), and, finally, self (she joins a men's therapy group and accompanies them on a retreat to get more in touch with their emotions). Her conclusion, if we are not to give too much away, is that she is most happy being a woman, thank you.

Vincent's journey of discovery begins with a revelation that made me almost gasp YES! that's exactly how it is! the very first time she dresses as a man and walks the same street she has so many times walked as a woman:

"As a woman, you couldn't walk down those streets invisibly. You were an object of desire or at least semiprurient interest to the men who waited there, even if you weren't pretty...

That was it. That was what had annoyed me so much about meeting their gaze as a woman, not the desire, if that was ever there, but the disrespect, the entitlement. It was rude, and it was meant to be rude, and seeing those guys looking away deferentially when they thought I was male, I could validate in retrospect the true hostility of their former stares."

I have no doubt most any woman can relate to this. It is nearly impossible to describe to our brothers in humanity just how this feels. Vincent, switching places from one side of the gender fence to the other in this manner, does it beautifully.

Perhaps most difficult to read is the chapter on Vincent making the strip club rounds with her male pals. I have often pondered why men seem so mesmerized with the images seen in porn, on street corners, and the glossy, airbrushed and objectified images presented in media, even while beautiful real women stand available beside them. Vincent gives insight:

"But as I began to understand more about the shame that arose in men from the need to visit places like this, and the undoubted shame that arose in the dancers for having to work in them, I thought I began to understand something more about the kind of woman that becomes a sex object in the eyes of men. A lot of women have asked themselves why so many men are so fond of modern porn stars and centerfolds, women who aren't real women, whose breasts are fake, whose hair is bleached into straw or perversely depilated, whose faces are painted thick, and whose bodies have been otherwise altered by surgery or diet to conform with doll-like exactitude to something that isn't found in nature. Why, I had so often wondered, didn't men want real women?..."

Vincent describes what these men really want, and I will not quote here because of the language used (appropriately), but the conclusion is that men do not want witnesses to their basest behavior. And so, writes Vincent:

"A real woman is a mind, and a mind is a witness, and a witness is the last thing you need when you're ashamed. So f--ng a fake, mindless hole is what you need. The faker the better."

Crude, but apt. When I checked this section with a male friend, he reluctantly agreed.

But Vincent is not on a mission to degrade the male gender. Dare I say, the male gender does so well enough by themselves, certainly in these episodes. Yet there is another side, and Vincent equally well taps into the rest of the story, rounding it out. She writes of male bonding with a tenderness that never loses its masculinity (and continues on how real women love real, read imperfect, men -- agreed!). She exposes the suffering of men when they are denied their father's approval and warmth. She speaks of the injustices women sometimes throw on men at first encounter, judging them in as fully an objectified manner as men judge women. She chides women for often bringing on male hostility themselves when assuming an emotional superiority that closes down all communication. Finally, however, she states that both genders are hurting, lonely, longing to connect, and fault can be found, just like quality, in both sides.

This is not a journey to be missed. Perhaps I can't claim great surprise in reading any of Vincent's revelations. But I was given an insight into the opposite gender that was as open as any I've encountered. This author had no mission but to be a good journalist and see what she could see, record what she observed.

I recommend this book highly to both men and women. It is great and much needed fodder for discussion and learning. Agree or disagree with Vincent's conclusions (I didn't always agree), nevertheless it has tremendous value for open communication.

Andrew's Bookshelf

The Afghan Campaign
Steven Pressfield
1745 Broadway,New York, NY 10019
038551641X, $ 24.95, 320 pages, 1-800-726-0600

"The Afghan Campaign" is Steven Pressfield's latest book on warfare in the world of ancient Greece, Sparta, and Alexander the Great. Like his previous best-sellers "Gates of Fire" and "Virtues of War", this book is a vivid and exciting historical novel that gives the reader a soldiers-eye view of war between the West and East.

In a unique style of writing, Pressfield uses Matthais, a 15- 16 year-old volunteer into Alexander's army, to narrate the story of Alexander's campaign to conquer the world. As the army marches east through Iran, India, and Afghanistan, Matthais describes how he and his equally young friends Rooster, Flag, and Ash, sweat, live, and often die in these bloody and raw days. Not surprisingly, these young infantrymen complain and moan about the same topics that our young infantry Marines complain about today – low pay, bad officers, the lack of available women, and expensive booze.

In scenes that could have been taken from CNN or MSNBC, it doesn't take much imagination to substitute our young men carrying M-16's for Matthais and his friends carrying swords as they fight their way through the cold Afghan passes up in the Hindu Kush – each learn that Afghanistan and the Afghan warriors fight in a style all their own. Pressfield is a former Marine enlisted man himself, and it shows in his blunt, accurate, timely, and often funny style of writing. But as Matthais and his fellow troops adapt their tactics to beat their Afghani enemy, their adaptations come at a cost of both lives and perhaps their own humanity.

This is more than just a "cut-n-slash" historical novel. Pressfield has an ability to bring these characters to life, to imbue these young soldiers with the same balance of pragmatism and idealism that can easily be transferred to the realities of war that we see on our televisions nightly. Highly recommended!

Baby Jack
Frank Schaeffer
Carroll & Graf
c/o Avalon Publishing Group
245 West 17th Street, 11th floor, New York, NY 10011-5300
0786717165, $ 25.95, 320 pages 1-800-788-3123

"Baby Jack" is a continuation of Frank Schaeffer's theme ( that he first introduced in his NY Times bestseller "Keeping Faith- A Father-Son Story about Love and the United States Marine Corps", and discussed again in "AWOL" ), that there is a huge moral and social gap between those individuals who serve in the military vs. those do not.

Similar to his 1993 best-selling memoir "Keeping Faith," Schaeffer's newest book focuses on an upper-class Boston family ( the Ogden's ) whose youngest son Jack ruins his father's ( Todd ) plans for his upper-middle class "waspy" lifestyle by joining the Marine Corps – and worse, joins as an enlisted man, instead of at least joining ROTC in college.

The first half of "Baby Jack" deals with the unhappiness and dismay of Jack's father, and that of his mother Sarah, and the detached bemusement of his older sister Amanda. Jack's only supporter is his high school girlfriend Jessica. In a unique and interesting style of writing, Schaeffer writes each chapter from the viewpoint of the various characters, hence the reader gains a far deeper understanding of Jack, Todd, Jessica, and Amanda than one would see in a usual novel. Todd's sulking ruins not only the previous good relationship between his son and himself, but also ruins the relationship between Todd and his wife. This part of the story is interesting, and told well, but is hardly much more than a fictionalized version of the recruiting drama as experienced in many families.

But then after boot camp and MCT, young PfC Jack Ogden is killed while in combat in Iraq, and finally "Baby Jack" – and Schaeffer's skill as a writer - comes alive. God suddenly appears as a main character, and the interplay between Jack and God, between Jessica and God about Jack and Baby Jack, and God as a narrator, will be appreciated by both the civilian and military readers and their families.

Despite Jack's combat death in Iraq, this is a surprisingly funny book, with some touching and humorous exchanges between Jack and God. The reader will enjoy God shouting "ooh-rah" when excited, and later admitting to hanging out primarily at Parris Island, and "loving Stan O'Malley 1st Sgt, Chief Instructor most of all the people alive on earth…" which gives the reader a good idea as to where Schaeffer's sympathies lie.

Does Todd finally understand why his son joined the Marines? Do Jack and his father finally reconcile? Read the book and find out. Frank Schaeffer has managed to capture the range of emotions so common to a Marine and his family during wartime in a manner that is both very readable and thought-provoking.

Andrew Lubin, Reviewer

Bethany's Bookshelf

Health Care USA, 5th edition
Harry A. Sultz & Kristina M. Young
Jones And Bartlett Publishers
40 Tall Pine Drive, Sudbury, MA 01776
0763736252 $69.95 1-978-443-5000

Now in an updated fifth edition, Health Care USA: Understanding Its Organization And Delivery by co-authors Harry A. Sultz (Dean Emeritus School of Health Related Professions State University of New York at Buffalo) and Kristina M. Young (Instructor Department of Social and Preventive Medicine School of Public Health and Health Professions University of Buffalo, State University of New York) is a solid guide for students, professionals, and lay people to the latest industry developments, cost increases, and legal transformations to the American health care system. From the organization, origin, and performance of hospitals, to the nuances of financing health care, managed health care, long-term care, and mental health services, Health Care USA spares neither depth nor statistical analysis. Charts and graphs help illustrate the meticulously researched data, and exhaustive notes and an index round out this "must-have" reference guide for any reader seeking a better understanding of America's governmental health care bureaucracy.

Gifted Children Gifted Education
Gary A. Davis Ph. D.
Great Potential Press Inc.
P.O. Box 5057, Scottsdale, AZ 85261
0910707731 $32.95 1-602-954-4200

Gifted Children Gifted Education by Gary A. Davis Ph. D. (winner of the E. Paul Torrance Creativity Award from the Creativity Division of the National Association for Gifted Children) is a no-nonsense guide to the concept of giftedness in children, and how parents can provide opportunities to cultivate their children's gifts. Chapters address how to identify gifted children, the pros and cons of educational acceleration from grade skipping to early college admission, how to aid the development of thinking skills and creative growth, and common problems or counseling needs among gifted children. Written in a conversational style accessible to the lay reader, Gifted Children Gifted Education is highly recommended for parents of gifted children.

College Planning For Gifted Students
Sandra L. Berger
Prufrock Press
5926 Balcones Drive, Suite 220, Austin, TX 78731
1593631812 $18.95 512-300-2220

College Planning For Gifted Students by Sandra L. Berger, adjunct instructor to George Mason University, teaching curriculum differentiation and former guru of the Ask ERIC answer desk and USA Today hotline, is a straightforward guide to selecting the right college for one's needs and getting in. Chapters discuss choosing the right college to apply to, weathering the application process, common pitfalls to watch out for, scholarship and financial aid options, and a wealth of appendices covering useful resources. Enthusiastically recommended, especially for anyone with their eye on the most prestigious colleges.

Mother And Me
Julian Padowicz
Academy Chicago Publishers
363 West Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60610
0897335449 $27.50 1-800-248-7323

Mother And Me: Escape From Warsaw 1939 by documentary flimmaker Julian Padowicz is the true story of a Jewish child who grew up estranged from his mother to the point of hating other Jews. Virtually ignored by his mother and raised by his Catholic governess Kiki -- who taught him that God didn't love Jews because of what they did to His Son and that the only way Julian could go to heaven was to become bapitized. Julian's world transformed forever when World War II came to Warsaw. Kiki had to return to her family; his stepfather joined the Polish army; and the mother who once barely made time for him assumed responsibility for raising him. Determined to provide for her son, Julian's mother cut in food lines and later, under Soviet occupation, befriended Russian officers for extra rations of food and fuel. In the winter of 1940 as conditions for survival deteriorated, Julian's mother brought him in a daring escape to Hungary on foot, through the Carpathian mountains. Mother And Me is an unforgettable memory of blood bonds being thicker than water, and a family love that burns most fiercely when family is threatened. Highly recommended.

Susan Bethany

Betty's Bookshelf

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
John Ringo
Baen Books
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471
1416520597, $24.00, 307 pages

John Ringo's done it again. When you've read the last page of his newest scifi warfare book, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, you'll surface for air with a dazed look around to remind yourself of where you actually are. Oh, yeah. You're not fighting the forces of evil in a spaceship hurtling through space, beset by evil creatures, dark elves, orcs, and just plain mean people, as you try to save mankind. You're in your bedroom. (OK, that's where I was. You might be in your living room. Or on the porch. Whatever.) In my humble opinion, the folks who compare Ringo's style to Tom Clancy's miss the mark by a mile. Clancy's books are merely exciting. Ringo's grab you by the throat and simply will not let you go.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon starts with a prologue introduction to Private Tur-uck, an orc from New Destiny that's having a very bad day. Then, in Chapter 1, Blood Lord Herzer Herrick shows up, also having a bad day, as he trains for his latest mission (a guaranteed cluster fisk, in his opinion). A tanker full of reactor fuel is returning to Earth, and whoever can control it and its contents will have the edge in the struggle for world control. The forces of good (read "the United Free States") are determined that the fuel will end up in their hands, and Herrick has been tasked with making it happen.

It doesn't seem like that great of an idea. Sure, Herrick's a Blood Lord's Blood Lord. True, he's one heck of a fighter on the ground. But now, in a very short period of time, he has to learn how to fight in zero grav, against who-knows-what kind of monsters. So why is he in charge? Simple. The original team was slaughtered during training by some horrible kind of altered spider or scorpion or something, sent by New Destiny's leaders. Now, it's time for the B Team, led by Herrick.

That wouldn't be too bad – Herrick lives by the Blood Lords' motto, "Die or Drop" – but a bunch of civilians have been conscripted for the mission. One of them is Megan Trevante, former member of the late Paul Bowman's harem, one of the thirteen "Key Holders" that control the protocols of the AI that runs the planet – and Herrick's fiancee. He hates her participation, but it can't be helped. A key holder is a vital part of the battle plan, and she's the only UFS holder who can be spared.

This could be a problem. Will having Megan in harm's way end up dividing his attention? Maybe, but there really isn't any choice. She's going. So, he'll just have to make sure she, at least, makes it back to Earth in one piece. Which won't be easy. Megan may not be a trained Blood Lord, but she's not one to sit back and wait to be rescued, either; she escaped the harem by poisoning Paul, and she's just as committed to the mission's success as Herrick is. Who knows what she'll do?

Throw in additional problems caused by Megan's distaste for sex (thanks to her harem days), female underlings who'd love to take Megan's place (and don't mind letting Herrick know), Herrick's determination to remain faithful to Megan (however long it takes), poor intel (really poor), a mission rapidly going to hell in a handbasket (with no steering mechanism); and a few nightmare creatures (altered by New Destiny and sent to destroy anything in their way), and you've got a story that'll keep you up for hours past your bedtime. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need a nap.

Agent to the Stars
John Scalzi
Subterranean Press
P.O. Box 190106, Burton, MI 48519
1596060204, $30.00, 286 pages

In 1997, writer John Scalzi started his first novel, after deciding to find out if he was capable of writing something that was longer than two thousand words. He told himself it was just a practice novel that would never see the light of day, so there was no worry about how good it would be. And since it would never be sold, it wouldn't matter what he chose as subject matter, either. The self-deception did the trick; in the book's introduction, Scalzi says it took him three months to write and "…I had a ball. Writing [this] novel was one of the most fun writing experiences I've ever had."

Completed book in hand, he decided to see if it would sell. The results weren't encouraging. True, everyone who saw it liked it. However, no one wanted to publish it. By that time, Scalzi had a web site up, so he bunged the manuscript onto the site and asked readers who liked it to send him $1.

To his surprise, between 1999 and 2004, he received $4,000 from grateful readers. To his further surprise, a publishing house then decided they wanted to publish it. I'm glad they did. Now readers can enjoy reading Agent to the Stars while lying in bed or soaking in the bathtub, rather than while hunching over a computer screen.

Agent to the Stars introduces us to Thomas Stein, a junior Hollywood agent, whose boss gives him the job of introducing Earth to the Yherajk, who are worried about how they will be accepted by humans. True, the Yherajk are friendly and eager-to-please, speak excellent English (learned from thousands of hours of television sitcoms), and know more about earth's entertainment industry than any earthling alive (with the possible exception of BGSU students who've chosen to pursue a pop culture degree.)

However, as they themselves admit, "We look like snot. And we smell like dead fish." With this major image problem, making first contact with a PR expert (Stein's boss) instead of the White House made perfect sense to them. However, since the alien make-over needs to be kept a deep dark secret until the Yherajks are ready to make their worldwide debut, Stein's boss thinks Stein should handle it. After all, who pays any attention to junior agents?

It's not going to be easy. However, if Stein can present the Yherajk to Earth in a positive light, he'll not only have a major place in earth's history, he'll have nice percentage of the most amazing deal ever to come along. Can he pull it off?

I started reading Agent to the Stars because I really enjoyed Scalzi's Old Man's War. It was a little hard going at first, but I figured I'd at least give him long enough to demonstrate whether or not he could pull me past the "eeeeuw – gross" alien description and make me want to finish the book. The answer turned out to be: Yep, he could. Interesting premise. Fun story. Nice job!

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Lynne Truss
Gotham Books
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
1592400876, $19.95, 209 pages

Lynne Truss, a book reviewer for The [London] Sunday Times, takes the subject of punctuation very seriously. Indeed, she takes it so seriously that she was constrained by her conscience to write an entire book about it, in the hope that she'd make a difference in the world. It seemed unlikely, despite her rallying cry of "Sticklers unite! You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion (and arguably you didn't have a lot of that to begin with)." After all, how many sticklers are there, anyway? When's the last time anyone you know spent any time at all discussing the importance of comma placement (unless it was after telling the joke that the book is named after)?

In fact, Truss says the book was originally aimed at the tiny minority of British people "who love punctuation and don't like to see it mucked about with" and she freely admits that she didn't expect much. "Grammatical sticklers are the worst people for finding common cause because it is in their nature to pick holes in everyone, even their best friends. Honestly, what an annoying bunch of people," she says.

So, imagine her surprise when her book became a New York Times best seller. Who knew so many Americans were sticklers about punctuation (or at least, wanted to read about it)? I hope she doesn't read my review, though, because I'd hate to be the one who breaks it to her that there probably aren't that many.

What the US does have (in great and growing numbers) are readers who enjoy almost any topic if it's written about in a witty and interesting manner. And if Truss is anything, it's witty and interesting. From her opinion on the abuse of the apostrophe by greengrocers to her belief that "hyphen usage is just a big bloody mess [that is] likely to get messier", Truss makes punctuation as fascinating as almost anything I've ever read does. Fascinating punctuation. Now, there's a first. I can't wait to see what she takes on next.

Betty Winslow

Bob's Bookshelf

The Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook
Andrea Froncillo with Jennifer Jeffrey
Ten Speed Press
1580086861 $19.95 168 pages

Gilroy, California, may be the garlic mecca of the West during the summer when the town's festival attracts thousands of visitors but in San Francisco the Stinking Rose Restaurant is where garlic fans congregate. You only have to follow your nose to find the North Beach restaurant located on Columbus. The hearty Californian-Italian fare created by executive chef Andrea Froncillo combines the flavors of the southern coast of Italy with the garlic fields of California. Now it's not necessary to make the trek to San Francisco to enjoy Chef Froncillo's signature, garlic laced dishes. "The Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook" offers 65 of the eatery's most popular recipes. Italian Pot Stickers, Forty-Clove Garlic Chicken, Creamy Garlic-Spinach Cheese Fondue, Pasta with Butternut Squash, Fried Sage and Garlic Chips, and Garlic Ice Cream are just a few of the delights you'll find in this well illustrated cookbook. The restaurant's mouth watering side dishes you'll want to try at home include Pesto Mashed Potatoes, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Eggplant and Caramelized Onions with Roquefort Dressing and Broccoli Rabe.If seafood is one of your favorite entrees, the Lemon-Baked Salmon with Garlic Caper Butter, Cioppino, and the Louisiana Shrimp in a Garlic-Tomato Broth are to die for! When it comes to cooking with garlic, you can't do much better than these recipes which keep satisfied diners returning year after year to The Stinking Rose.

The Potluck Cookbook
Dolores Kostelni
Collectors Press PO Box 230986,Portland, OR 97281
193311214X $19.95 128 pages 1-800-423-1848

The potluck is one of the most traditional gatherings that include food and fellowship. The perfect potluck dish is one that can be made ahead of time, travels well, and can be easily served. "The Potluck Cookbook" by Dolores Kostelni features over 100 recipes for any potluck gathering.

From party starters, soups and appetizer casseroles to meat and poultry entrees, you'll find a wide variety of dishes to dazzle your friends and family. Besides a special breakfast and brunch section, the author includes a "Family Favorites" chapter which features a Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole, Tuna Noodle Casserole, and Macaroni and Cheese. Desserts haven't been forgotten either. There are recipes for Carrot Wedding Cake, Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble, PTA Brownies, and Viginia Apple Cobbler. Retro illustrations accompany this fun cookbook that harkens back to the comfort food of your youth. And yes, you'll find instructions for whipping up a killer potato salad, Deviled Eggs, and Green Bean Casserole!

Ginseng, the Divine Root
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
P.O. Box 2225 Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2225
1565124014 $23.95 308 pages

One of the world's oldest plants, predating the continental drift, ginseng first appeared more than 65 million years ago. Most people think of ginseng as an Asian plant, but it's also native to forests in much of North America. In fact, the "living fossil" sparked a boom in Minnesota no so long ago that was reminiscent of the California Gold Rush. People flocked from surrounding states to dig and sell the valuable root.

David Taylor's "Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World" investigates the King of Herbs and why this plant is as important today as it was centuries ago. Ginseng's legendary powers are said to improve stamina, relieve stress, stimulate the immune system and enhance mental clarity. The plant is being studied today in conjunction with the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, and it is at the very center of the huge herbal boom.

As he weaves together the natural and social history of ginseng, Taylor tells a story that includes international crime, Native American myths, gourmet cuisine, herbal medicine, and ecological recovery. The elusive plant's trail stretches from New York and North Carolina to the Midwest before it reaches across the Pacific to Hong Kong and the remotest corners of China. Once into the book you'll be totally captivated by this tale of the Root of Life and the wheelers, dealers, diggers, and stealers who have sought it down through the ages.

Bob Walch

Buhle's Bookshelf

How Tradition Works
Michael D. C. Drout
Arizona Center For Medieval And Renaissance Studies
P.O. Box 874402 Tempe, AZ 85287-4402
0866983503 $47.00 1-480-727-6503

How Tradition Works: A Meme-Based Cultural Poetics Of The Anglo-Saxon Tenth Century by Michael D. C. Drout (Associate Professor of English at Wheaton College) re-examines "memetic" theory while contemplating the manner in which traditions are created, modified, perpetuated, and recognized. Especially focusing upon the Oral Traditional Theory as revealed in a case study of the longevity of classic Anglo-Saxon poetry from the tenth century, How Tradition Works is especially intended for specialists in evolutionary theory, memetics, and Anglo-Saxon studies. A serious-minded, college and graduate school-level discussion of the complexities of intergenerational human societal expression.

Heart Attack
Curtis Mark Rimmerman, M.D.
Cleveland Clinic Press
9500 Euclid Avenue NA32, Cleveland, OH 44195
1596240318 $14.95 1-216-444-1158

Heart Attack: A Cleveland Clinic Guide by Curtis Mark Rimmerman M.D. (Medical Director for Cleveland Clinic Westlake, Lakewood, and Avon Pointe) is the no-nonsense official guide from The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center, selected as the best Heart Center in America according to U.S. News & World Report's annual survey for the past eleven years. Numerous individual case stories clarify solid information about heart anatomy, telltale signs and warnings of risk to the heart, the patient's role in managing heart disease, how to choose the right heart doctor for one's needs, and much more. Of particular importance are the heart disease myths that Heart Attack thoroughly debunks, such as "if I have no symptoms, I'm not at risk", "heart disease begins in adulthood", and "smoking only hurts the lungs/cigars are 'safe'". A solid, fact-filled resource thoroughly accessible to lay readers, and highly recommended.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

In Deep Water
Felix Perry
Breakwater Books LTD
100 Water Street, P.O. Box 2188, St. John's, NL A1C 6E6
1550812033 $13.95

Based on the biography of "Dobbin the Diver", a Newfoundlander who in the mid 1800's dared to defy conventional careers to become a salvage diver/underwater treasure hunter, In Deep Water reads like a novel written in first-person perspective, but stays close to the facts from the original biography, nonfiction articles written about Dobbin's life, and meticulous research. The result is an adventure spanning 50 shipwrecks, fourteen exciting years, gold, silver, money, jewelry, and glimpses of the unfortunate remains of those whose final resting place was the sea floor. Technological limitations made diving a much more dangerous enterprise over a century ago, and In Deep Water's title reflects the threats Dobbin braved in search of wealth and adventure. Especially recommended pleasure reading for diving and salvage enthusiasts.

Academic Collective Bargaining
Ernst Benjamin & Michael Mauer, editors
The Modern Language Association Of America
26 Broadway, New York, NY 10004
0873529723 $22.00

Academic Collective Bargaining is an anthology of essays by learned contributors to educate readers about the history and context of collective bargaining as a negotiation tactic, particularly in the academic career realm. Addressing the concerns of both constituents and administrators in collective bargaining, and opening the way to speculation on the future of academic unionism, Academic Collective Bargaining is an insightful and scholarly treatment of its chosen field.

The Other Quebec
J. I. Little
University Of Toronto Press
10 St. Mary Street, Suite 700, Toronto, ON, M4Y 2W8
0802093973 (pb) 0802091008 (cloth) $35.00 (pb) $70.00 (cloth) 1-800-565-9523

The Other Quebec: Microhistorical Essays On Nineteenth-Century Religion And Society by historian J. I. Little offers a wonderful glimpse of 1800's Quebec through records of true-life stories, journals, and community events. The Other Quebec is not a sweeping general history, but rather a collection of in-depth microhistories about specifics, from the Temperance Movement in the Eastern Townships 1830-52 to the 1800's perspective on marriage and parenthood. Researched in fine detail, and illustrated with a handful of black-and-white photographs, The Other Quebec offers a charming and insightful portrait of the past to lay readers and scholars alike.

John Burroughs

Burton's Bookshelf

Welcome To The Night Shift
Jim H. Duncan
860 Aviation Parkway, Suite 300, Morrisville, NC 27560
1411651820, $13.00, 135 pp. (919) 459-5858

While reading Jim Duncan's first published book of poetry, I often got this image of a P.I. type with his feet crossed on top of a mahogany desk in a dark office. Think Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer and you have it. It's the dark-edged voice with a sense of humor in Mr. Duncan's poetry that gave this image its home in my mind. The works in this collection seem to combine a fear of aloneness with the joy of it as well. You can feel the emotions—the hope, sadness, wonder and questions—that all writers face.

I could probably pick something out of every poem in the book that I liked. In each one, we're given an intimate look at the workings of this individual. One poem, in particular is "I've Killed My Fish Tonight". My favorite part is "this empty tank sits quietly/filter deadened/food soggy and sinking/my reflection peers back through the empty waters/and sees an empty night/through empty eyes"... The subject and choice of words used to paint this picture, are simple yet brilliant. They aren't just words to read on a page, they're images that seem to jump out at you and say, 'look at me!' To get a feel for all this collection offers, you have to read it yourself. This book, as well as his second poetry collection, Thrift Store Majestic, can be found at the author's website, A true talent on the rise.

Like Dandelion Dust
Karen Kingsbury
Center Street
Time Warner Book Group
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
1931722854, $12.95, 2006, 370 pp.

I can't recall a time that an author's dedication or acknowledgements made me cry, but this book's did. I knew this was going to be a heart wrenching story, so after reading through those first pages and thinking of my own children and how precious they are, I settled back with a box of tissue nearby and began to read the rest of the book.

Chapter after chapter flew by as I devoured the struggles, the hope, love and faith of the characters. Mrs. Kingsbury tackles some tough issues—adoption, abuse, religion, just to name a few—with a tenderness and knowledge that sets the reader fully in the story.
Four-year-old Joey is a breath of fresh air. I think his fears as well as his strength in finding and trusting God tugged at my heart the most. What a special little boy. I could also appreciate the adults in the families. They were all unique in their own way.

This was the first Karen Kingsbury book I've read but it won't be the last. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have read and reviewed such a wonderful story by a talented author. It couldn't have come to me at a better time. As for the tissue, I went through half a box. It was well worth it.

Lynn Burton

Carson's Bookshelf

Between Justice & Beauty
Howard Gillette Jr.
University of Pennsylvania Press
3905 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4112
0812219589 $22.50 1-800-537-5487

Between Justice & Beauty: Race, Planning, And The Failure Of Urban Policy In Washington, D.C. by Howard Gillette Jr. (Professor Of History Rutgers University) examines how, as the only American city directly under congressional control, Washington D.C. has historically been used to test federal policy initiatives and social experiments. Some results have been positive; many have not, and the best of intentions striving to bring social justice to the largely black populace have failed. A large federal presence has been created, but to what ends? Gillette claims that this bloated and all-too-often ineffective federal presence is a triumph of beauty of justice, and searches for a more effective means to bring help to the city dwellers who need revitalization the most. A scholarly, well-researched treatise, sparsely illustrated with black-and-white photographs, Between Justice & Beauty attacks longstanding social problems head-on in search of solutions.

The Power To Persuade
Michael G. Carew
University Press Of America
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
0761831657 $38.00

The Power To Persuade: FDR, The Newsmagazines, And Going To War, 1939-1941 by Micheal G. Carew (Assistant Professor Of Economics at Baruch College, New York) is the true story of the role four magazines played in generating support for America's involvement in World War II against the Nazi-led Axis. At the time, the magazines "Life", "Look", "Newsweek", and "Time" reached over 40 million readers - almost 50% of America's electorate, mostly middle to upper class. By the end of November 1941, enough of the formerly anti-war opposition hand changed their opinions and joined Roosevelt's electoral consensus. The Power To Persuade scrutinizes how a nation could go from neutrality to active participation in the war against the Axis in two short years, drawing on a wealth of compiled data presented in various charts. Appendices packed with even more statistics and bibiolography round out fascinating insight into a crucial phase of American history.

Healthcare For Less
Michelle Katz, M.S.N.
Hatherleigh Press
5-22 46th Avenue, Suite 200, Long Island City, NY 11101
1578262224 $15.95 718-786-5338 ext. 202,

Healthcare For Less: Getting The Care You Need Without Breaking the Bank by Michelle Katz M.S.N. (host of cable Television show Today's Health) is an extremely practical primer to the financial lingo of healthcare plans, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Medicare and Medicaid, coverage for those in the military, COBRA, and much more. Tips to save money range from basic prevention advice to keep oneself in good health, to learning how exactly to read a medical bill, to negotiation strategies with healthcare institutions and providers. In the modern era of spiraling prescription and health care prices, Healthcare For Less is strongly recommended for all but the wealthiest Americans.

The Neal-Schuman Library Technology Companion, second edition
John L. Burke
Neal-Schuman Publishers Inc.
100 William Street, Suite 2004, New York, NY 10038
1555705502 $59.95

Now in an updated second edition, The Neal-Schuman Library Technology Companion: A Basic Guide For Library Staff by John L. Burke (Interim Director of the Garden-Harvey Library, Miami University of Ohio) is a straightforward guide for librians and library workers to the latest technological tools available to the profession. Chapters discuss general concepts and specific "how-to" tips in acquiring and fully utilizing computers from desktops to laptops to handheld devices, computer networks from WiFi to email, software systems, library databases, search tools from Amazon to Google, how to protect library technology from spam, spyware, and other security threats, and much more. Each chapter concludes with questions for review and self-testing, in this hands-on guide with sample screenshots to illustrate its points. Enthusiastically recommended for all librarians, from novice to expert technology users, in today's technology-driven world.

Generals In The Cabinet Room
Yoram Peri
United States Institute Of Peace
1200 17th Street NW, Suite 200, Washington DC 20036-3011
1929223811 $19.95 202-457-1700

Generals In The Cabinet Room: How The Military Shapes Israeli Policy by Yoram Peri (Professor of Political Sociology And Communication at Tel Aviv University) forcefully and persuasively argues the premise that while once Israel's military was the servant of its civilian political leadership, today it is the Israeli generals who have the lead in foreign and defense policymaking. The repercussions for Israeli--Palestinian relations, Israeli democracy, and other democracies are potentially earthshaking. Generals In The Cabinet Room traces recent military-political Israeli history with especial focus on the 1990's and beyond, and warns of a future in which democracy itself could potentially fall victim to too much militarization. Highly recommended.

Michael J. Carson

Cassandra's Bookshelf

Eva Hesse: Sculpture
Elisabeth Sussman and Fred Wasserman with essays by Yve-Alain Bois and Mark Godfrey
Yale University Press
New Haven and London,
The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Ave, New York, NY 10128
0300114184 $50.00 175 pp.

For me Eva Hesses story is all about being a Jew, a woman and an artist in a patriarchal society. In the late 1960s,the political is personal became a catch phrase embodying the influential role played by feminism during this era. Feminist critics including Cindy Nemser and Lucy Lippard lead the charge to restore women artists to art history and to document the work of contemporary women artists. Were it not for such pioneering work, Eva Hesse's art, like that of other women of the period, would have fallen into obscurity.

For a whole generation who doesn't know who Eva Hesse was or anything about her art this book is an eye opener. We live in an age where ethnicity and identity politics are the bread and butter of the day. For these reasons people are at least taking a second look at Eva Hesse's art and life in a way that finally includes her reality. This book (catalogue) focuses on a recreation of her 1968 breakthrough exhibition and once more brings before the public her extraordinary sculptures and drawings. Eva Hesse has been one of the only women ever credited with being part of the so-called Minimalist movement in the history of modern/contemporary art. The names of the men are probably more familiar to readers and include Sol Lewitt and Robert Morris. This particular form of art emerged in the 1960s in the wake of a movement towards the "dematerialization" of art as a way of getting away from the "commodification" of art during this period. It was based on certain Marxist inspired and utopian notions about human nature and materialism. It focused on the geometric and formal properties of art. These were supposedly "dumb" works of art. Other more sensitive and knowledgable critic have related her work to artists such as Lee Bontecou, Lucas Samaras and even Robert Smithson because of the anthropomorphic influences that her work supposedly contains. This all fit in with the various movements that emerged during the period of her lifetime but in no way really defined her art in the context of her experiences. What the current catalogue/book tries to do is set her work within the frameworks of her life as a child of survivors of the fall out from the Holocaust. Fred Wasserman's essay "Building a Childhood Memory: The Diaries of Eva Hesse's Early Years," is a treasure trove of information (97-133). Recently, the Jewish writer, Melvin Jules Bukiet observed, JEWS ARE GOOD AT TWO THINGSs: being killed and writing about it. Simply put, Eva Hesse's art is a reflection of being Jewish and the consequences of being a victim and a survivor.

The artist herself tells us:I used to stand alone at night and I used to be terrified. My mother was there but not therethere, but not there. Iwas shifted from home to home. I was raised in a different place and so was my sister. My mother was in and out of sanatoriums.

What her art is really good at is visualizing the unspeakable and working a kind of healing grace through it¡ªa healing grace that has been largely ignored by the art historical establishment. Eva Hesse took a delight in forming syntax, in making phrases, in repeating letters, alphabets, in making meaning where none had been before. Her work is full of transient movement, permutations, circles surrounded by shadows, by the dark of night. She remembered it all even before she had the words to say it, the visions to embody it. She evoked a kind of restitution through disclosures; a moral authority that spoke of the emotional confusion and the effects of aryanization on every area of public and private life, particularly from a two year old child's vantage point.Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1936 to a prominent Orthodox Jewish family. In December 1938, she and her older sister Helen were sent to Holland on a kindertransport (children's train) to escape Nazi extermination pogrom. They were placed in a Catholic home in Holland. Two-year-old Eva was reunited with her parents three months later, and the family came to reside in New York City, where Hesse was raised in the German Jewish refugee community of Washington, Heights. Holidays were important to the children; especially Hanukkah and Passover. Actually, for the Seder, Eva learned to say the four questions (Mah Nishtanah). She liked going to shul and she had a religious disposition, which suggests she had a potential for mystical thinking. In 1945, her Uncle Nathi and Tante Martha were killed in Bergen-Belsen and then the family received the terrible news that her mother's parents Moritz and Erna Marcus had been murdered at Auschwitz. Given the facts of her life, it comes as no surprise that Eva emerged from this troubled background with a divided consciousness of belonging and not belonging. What she was sure of was that she did not want to live on Park Avenue and be a Doctor's Wife. These are the facts that helped to form Eve Hesse as a person and the subjects of her art. Beth Turk's beautifully illustrated "Chronology of Eva Hesse's Life," (133-145) captures Hesse's beauty, her spirit and her art through a collection of family photographs, exhibition notices and assoted other materials that document her life and art.

Restoring Eva Hesse to the context of Jewish culture and life reveals how being educated in an orthodox Jewish household shaped her thoughts, imagination and values. Situating her in a Washington Heights Jewish refugee community fragrant with fresh strudel and the burning pain of longing, yearning, dislocation and exile lets us see through the abstraction of her work to the rich content of her art. Her friend Nancy Holt commented:I can never remember a time that we were at her place, where she didn't bring out a memento of her past.... at least a half an hour to an hour, would be spent looking at some log, or a diary, or pictures of her parents or her stepmother or something. And generally, at least one story about the past, and then fragments of the past mementos, other than pictures and writing...She thought her present was connected to this past history, into childhood.

In a sense she fed off of that material.Eva Hesse's art is a narrative of trauma and redemption. Hesse witness to displacement, exile, unbearable loses; the quintessential modernist experience, the rootless refugees living in a diaspora from herself: the Jewess, the modern soul seeking redemption and healing from a broken world. That the wisdom of nothingness (Ayin) permeates Eva Hesse's vision comes as no surprise. The gist of Eva Hesse's art is encompassed by the Jewish mystic Maggid of Mezerich who commented, Before a thing is transformed into something else, it must come to the level of Nothingness.

Elie Wiesel once said, People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell. Absolutely, Hesse has a story to tell in a unique voice¡ªrich and otherworldly. Had Hesse not died from a brain tumor at the tender age of thirty-four. Had she lived there is no telling what she might have achieved. What this book does is being Eva Hesse's art back to life and give readers a rich and varied picture of this extraordinary artist who avanced the cause of modern art light years beyond her male contemporaries at a time when less was less.

The Passion of Mary Magdalen
Elizabeth Cunningham
Monkfish Book Publishing Company
27 Lamoree Roade, Rhinebeck, New York 12572
0976684306 $29.95 640 pp.

Generally I love historical fiction even with a science fiction twist. I adored Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Heartlight" and "The Saga of the Renunciates." Heck I even liked "The Da Vinci Code, despite all its historical liberties. So I should have liked this book. Why didn't I like it, why did I find it so irritating and frustrating? First of all the book is several books in one which makes it very hard to get into and to keep track of the characters. The heroine Maeve (Mary) is a kind of slut cum wonder woman from some crazy mixed up Celtic island. Her star crossed, boy friend with the dirty feet is supposed to be the historical Jewish boy carpenter, Jesus. Their story is told from Maeve's point of view and it is wild. We are taken through slave markets, whore houses, ancient Rome according to Cunningham. But readers will be oddly jerked out of time and place by the authors zig zagging between ancient and contemporary language and events. How couod Maeve/Mary Magdalen know about Scarlet O'Hara or Gone with the Wind? How could Roman matrons know about coffee klaches and other social customs only available after World War II. when displaced German Jews made them common place?

The problems with this book are too many to dig into in the space of a short review. The book is too long and needlessly complicated to warrent more than a word of warning to readers. If you don't know history and don't care, if you don't mind being snapped back and forth between time periods like a pin-pong ball, if you can stand the ham sliced thick as home-made bread laced with more than a touch of the Gospels according to Cunningham this may be the book for you. It certainly wasn't for me. I don't care for gutter language where it doesn't fit, I don't like sex scenes that are swell and fall like so many inflated blimps. There are plenty of truly talented writers working in the genre but this book can make you sick to the very soul when it comes to the spiritual and it is saturated with religious notions that are sterile of any lessons at all. In the line of entertaining reading this book is like an elbow in your ribs.

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander
Ann Herendeen
Author House
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, Indiana 47403
1420869639 541 pp. 1-800 839-8640

Unlike the previous book, Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander is a fun read. In this bisexual regency romance, Ann Herendeen had smartly brought together the style of Jane Austin and a strong command of English history. Not only does she set the characters in context but she actually writes the dialogue accurately so that one gets a sense of the period. Her descriptions of clothing, manners, architecture, food, and finances are on the mark and her sense of gender relations is equally representative.

Andrew Carrington is one of those tall, dark and dangerous anti-heros that one hates to love--but does love. His female counter part Phyllida is equally charming and a bit of a con artist. In agreeing to Marry Carrington in an "arrangement" to use Hilary Clinton's well phrased term, Phyllida insists on her own profession albeit "anonymously." "I say, Carrington, I think you're making too much of this. After all, she said she don't use her own name and nobody knows she's the suthor." (32) And, so their bargin is struck. Andrew does his duty and it ain't half bad. Gradually they learn to appreciate each other and Phyllida finds herself liking some of his boy friends.

Herendeen has a delightful sense of humor and her inflection like Chaplin's is perfect for getting laughs as in a scene where Phyllida who is amply endowed dressed up in men's clothing and invades the sacred house of sodomy, a bachelors club where men roam free and do as they will regardless of the law of the land. Add to this a spy drama that brings to this book a dry wit and sparkle that makes it well worth reading. It's a little bit like an English pot pie with a Lubitsch touch. Good dialogue, historical accuracy and some unusually delightful bit pieces make this spy melodrama an entertaining read.

Welcome to the World Baby Girl!
Fannie Flagg
Ballantine Books
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
080411868X $7.99 391 pp., 1-800-726-0600

Fannie Flagg is one of my all time favorite authors. She is a model voice in a world full of garbble. What I like about her wrting and this book in particular is it's less is more philosophy. Yes, Flagg is a philosopher. It's not just that she is a great story teller who keeps the readers interest page after page. What she does is lace her novels with home grown wisdom that makes common sense; a rare thing in our getting and spending global economy.

In this captivating, comic and melodramatic novel, Flagg comes to terms with life choices and how they shape us as individuals. She says that the one thing God made a mistake about in creating human beings was in giving them "free will" the choice of chosing between good and evil. Her cast of characters are all richly described. We get to know and love or hate them. Take Sidney Capello, a scum bag digger up of dirt on other people whose sole motivations, like many of todays politicans right, left and center, are paranoia and greed. (392) What he will do for a buck and the atrocities he is willing to commit are only part of the story. The heroine, Dena Nordstrom (the baby girl of the title) is drop dead beautiful with her white skin, blond hair and blue eyes, is on a fast track career high as she migrates from job to job climbing the ladder of ambition until she lands in the big Apple with a prime time television spot. Of course, she drinks, smokes and parties to much, and she develops a bleeding stomach ulcer. This sends her to a shrink named Gerry O' Malley who immediately falls head over heels in love with her despite her very obvious intimacy problems. In the background keeping the book alive and down to earth are her father's family. They are small town folks who live in Elmwood Springs, Missouri and are of no particular interest to the world.There is a lot in this book worth reading. Dena is vivid, alive and despite her failings, charming. The book suggests how good she could really be under better circumstances. But the circumstances are at the heart of this book. Who is Dena really, where does she come from and who are her people. All this is revealed in due course whichis what makes this such a moving read. In one scene she flies down to New Orleans to interview Tennesse Williams. Now Williams doesn't give interviews to just anyone but he makes an exception because of Dena's friendship with the last newsman of integrity who he admired and respected. Of interviews In a stinging critique of journalism, Flagg has William's tells her "I rarely give interviews anymore. Of course, now it really doesn't matter; they write them anyway." "I call them the Masturbation Pieces. They do it without me."(246) Dena asks him if he believes in God. And he says, God? "Well, he's either the meanest bastard that ever lived or the most careless." Then he tells her the one true thing, "We must be kind and forgive one another or we won't survive." But even among the most religious there seems to be a great blind spot covering the world, an inability to learn from past experience. Civilization is as precarious as a sand castle. All the care and effort it took to create it can be knocked down in a second by some bully or another.(248). This is a hell of a powerful statement and one that we might all pay some attention to. People seem timid about speaking out, or confused by current events and/or in a state of shock as the world seems to hover on the edge of utter chaos. The passion for vengeance is terrifying and inevitably leads to the horror and bloodshed we are currently experiencing in the middle east yet all this could be averted as Flagg points out with a little "loving kindness and a willingness to forgive and start afresh. This is something that seems beyond most of the human race. Yet Flagg tells us and I think she truly believes the words she puts in Aunt Elner's mouth when Dena asks her, "do you really like people? "They just tickle me to death.... but, yes, I like people."To tell you the truth, I feel sort of sorry for most of them. Some days I could just sit down and cry my eyes out...poor little old human beings--they're jerked into this world without having any idea where they come from or what it is they are supposed to do, or how long they have to do it in. Or where they are gonna wind up after that. But bless their hearts, most ot them wake up every morning and keep on trying to make some sense out of it. Why, you can't help but love them, can you?(379-80).

Read this book if you want to know all about human dignity. Read this book if you want to know how impossible vengeance is and how bestial human beings can be and what lows they can sink to, read this book if you believe in the power of redemption. This is not a book for the weak of character and it is more than just an entertaining novel. It is philosophy and the stuff that great poetry is made of.

The Devil in Babylon
Allan Levine
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
81 University Avenue, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5G 2E9
0771052731, $27.95 448 pp.

This is a very information filled book and what I like about it is how it compares and contracts modernism in American and Canada. Levin has a Ph.D in history and it shows. He gives us interesting portraits of Emma Goldman, William Jennings Bryan, Nellie McClung, Mae West, Al Capone and Jane Adams who were among the movers and shakers who helped to make the modern age. Using music, social history, movies, dance, the suffragist movement and immigrants he shows us the formation of a modern society based on race, class and money.

Although I have read many histories of modernism in connection with my own work I found Levine's take entertaining and accurate. He creates a colorful picture of mainstream culture and politics filled with red hot information and plausible explainations. His book is generally respectful of historical facts and at times a bit dry but he livens things up when he writes about Scarface, Lansky and Al Capone, and Prohibition (224) His take on SEX, Mae West's production if it, is delightful. John Sumner and his Society for the Suppression of Vice was not amused.(306) They called Sex "moral poison" and tried to shut it down. Critic's called it "a monstrosity plucked from the garbage can, destined for the sewer." To add insult to injury, West then produced and directed a new play about homosexuality called "The Drag." But before the play opened West and the cast of SEX were arrested and put on trial. What was at issue was "how she delivered her lines."(308). She was convicted but with her typical business woman's mind she said, "I expect it will be the making of me." She wasn't wrong. Her fame spread to Hollywood and the rest is history. Levine's telling of the many tales of Mae West, a truly liberated woman, are delightful. Her "innuendoes and double meanings" still have audiences roaring with laughter.

In a more serious vein, Levine documents Black Tuesday and the economic crisis of the 1930s.(350). Using history, American philosophy, religion and poetry he paints a dark picture augmenting it with a description of Canada's refusal, not unlike the United States, to receive large numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. From 1933 to 1945, the U.S. admitted two hundred thousand European Jews, while Canada found room for only five thousand. (353)

His discription of the opening of the Chrysler building in New York City, one of the gems of the art deco era, is dazzling. I have spent many afternoons just looking at this skyscraper and taking in the wonders of its elegant decorations. "From it's dome and tower large nickel-chrome steel gargoyles to it's exquisite interior, everything about the Chrysler Building is first-rate."(359) Indeed, and The Devil in Babylon is an easy read and first rate at giving informaton in a smart, concise and well written style.

Cassandra Langer

Cheri's Bookshelf

Whitewater Rendezvous
Kim Baldwin
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
430 Herrington Road, Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110384 $15.95 240 pp.

I enjoy a book that takes me on an adventure—both physical and emotional. Whitewater Rendezvous by Kim Baldwin does both. Once again, the author of Force of Nature, and the critically acclaimed Golden Crown Literary Award finalist, Hunter's Pursuit, has given her fans compelling characters amidst a breathtaking backdrop. The journey through the Alaskan waterways with its wildlife and fauna would make even a homebody feel like exploring nature.

Baldwin does her homework, thus creating a believable setting, but it is the gorgeous, buff, and multi-talented tour guide, Chaz Herrick, who will have everyone booking their next trip. Even a workaholic TV network news big shot like Megan Maxwell can't help falling in love with the Northern Alaskan frontier and a certain someone she soon finds she can't live without.

Baldwin sets up the longing between two admirable characters that can be equally stubborn. She then throws other obstacles in their way, which makes finding a resolution sweeter. The author draws the reader in by their senses, dazzling us with the landscape, feeding our desires a little bit at a time until the climax, where all inhibitions are

obliterated. More importantly, Baldwin gives us pause to consider what's important, what's worth preserving in life, and it's not always fame and fortune. How can anyone compare the dirty yellow-gray air over Chicago with the vivid blue of the Arctic sky?

Take a Whitewater Rendezvous, kayak along with the Broads in Broadcasting, and feel one with nature just as Megan learns to do because of an outdoors enthusiast who captures her heart and will capture yours too. You'll be putting your priorities in proper order before you know it or at the very least wishing you could. When it comes to romances, Whitewater Rendezvous by Kim Baldwin will leave you sated. The foreplay is excruciatingly exquisite, the sex completely satisfying and hot, and the resolution complete for a worthwhile read. I recommend it and hope to get to visit Alaska someday soon. There is way more than the caribou and grizzly bears that I hope to see there, that's for sure. Megan and Chaz may not seem to have much in common but read the book to find out if they have what it takes for a long-term relationship.

Too Close to Touch
Georgia Beers
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
430 Herrington Road, Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110473 $15.95

In her third novel, Georgia Beers delivers an immensely satisfying story in "a modern day romance," Too Close to Touch. Warm-hearted Kylie O'Brien seems an unlikely match for tough gal Gretchen Kaiser, but the chemistry between them is undeniable, and the reader becomes readily invested in their future.

Gretchen starts a new job as a Regional Sales Manager at a company that needs her expertise. She relocates from Poughkeepsie to far upstate, Rochester, New York. She does so willingly in hopes of putting some distance between her and her family, among other reasons. On her first Saturday night out, she finds the Black Widow bar, and surprises herself by having a great time with the local lesbians. An overachiever who prides herself on improving the performance of a failing sales force, Gretchen has the reputation of Cruella de Ville, which is fine with her since she's more interested in the bottom line than winning a popularity contest.

There are key ingredients lacking in Gretchen's personal life, but she compensates for it in her professional life, as if achieving one's goals is all that matters. What the woman lacks in height, she more than makes up for in personality. Gretchen competes with the 'big boys,' and wins in a man's corporate world by exuding strong leadership and managerial skills. She also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, and has a well-hidden mushy side beneath her cool exterior. Gretchen has no trouble finding dates, and she prefers casual sex because she's not looking to settle down. Until she meets Kylie. . .

In the love department, Kylie is the complete opposite of Gretchen. She can't get into one-night stands, but rather searches for her one true love. Intelligent, competent, and equipped with excellent social skills, Kylie is an asset to Gretchen as her executive administrative assistant. Kylie knows just what to do and what to say. She is well-liked by all who know her and loved by many. Her attraction to Gretchen may be physical at first, but Kylie finds there's more to her feelings than meets the eye. However, their professional affiliation puts a damper on any chance of a relationship between the two. Kylie turns heads and has on occasion broken hearts with her endearing, bubbly, and charismatic personality.

Kylie's best friend Mick is hot! She's big, in a muscular way. She's butch, and she's jealous of Gretchen for capturing Kylie's heart. Mick loves Kylie, pays her the most adoring compliments, can fix anything, and exudes sex appeal. She's a femme's dream (or worst nightmare) come true. Beers creates an appealing character readers can empathize with on many levels. And Mick adds to the existing conflict between Gretchen and Kylie, resulting in an intriguing triangle with Kylie in the middle.

Beers knows how to generate sexual tension so taut it could be cut with a knife. For example, Kylie says to Gretchen, "Either kiss me right now or stop whatever it is you're doing with your thumb, because it's driving me crazy" (p. 139). Up to that point, the reader is praying Kylie would say that.

What makes Too Close to Touch memorable for me is how effective Georgia Beers is in demonstrating the power play between a boss and her subordinates, and especially, how under the right circumstances, and with the right woman, a tough, reserved, private control freak can let go and let a caring and loving woman take charge. Gretchen goes through an enormous growth curve when she figures out what's important in life and she learns that lesson in the last place she expects to, from her father.

Beers weaves a tale of yearning, love, lust, and conflict resolution. She has constructed a believable plot, with strong characters in a charming setting in this well-written and carefully edited book. It's obvious that Beers cares deeply about her characters from the way she portrays their strengths and weaknesses. Readers can't help falling in love with them, too. If you enjoy a romance that leaves you happy and completely sated, don't miss Too Close to Touch. I look forward to Georgia Beers' next novel Fresh Tracks due in November 2006.

Under the Fig Tree
Emily Reed
Blue Feather Books, Limited
P.O. Box 5867, Atlanta, GA 31107-5967
0975573977 $13.99, 142 pp.

Under the Fig Tree, by Emily Reed, is an inspiring collection of poetry commemorating one woman's journey through life, and the words pour out of her heart with perfect rhyme and reason. This fine collection of poems ignites the senses and tells a story, thus making it a memorable reading experience.

In modern society, poetry is often treated like a second-class citizen to fiction, possibly even third class, if you add non-fiction to the mix. It is common for small lesbian presses to discourage poets since the market makes it difficult to cover their expenses. There are calls for submissions, for example, in erotica anthologies, which will consider poetry, but not encourage it. Unfortunately, the demand for poetry has dwindled, and one cannot fault publishers for giving readers what they want and for not embarking on a risky venture. However, Reed's collection in Under the Fig Tree has something for everyone. Reed writes about love, lust, hatred, and fear, in a way that's easy to assimilate and difficult to dismiss.

I admit guilt when it comes to seeking poetry for my personal library, but it's time to rekindle the desire for this oft forgotten art form, which isn't as easy to write as it looks. Under the Fig Tree is a great place to start because it gives even the most resistant poet in all of us a dose of magic in a way we can relate to, because the power and beauty touches our heart.

Reed's style is catchy; it reads like the lyrics to a favorite song. Her poetry gets right to the point. She doesn't beat around the bush, unless you want her to, as in the erotic poem, The Burning Bush.

The Burning Bush (poetry reproduced with expressed permission by the author)

I took my shoes from off my feet,
I took the rest off too
I stood before the burning bush
Prepared to worship you.

I knelt down on my knees in awe
I bent my head down low
I looked upon the burning bush
And felt the fire grow.

I put my hand inside the fire
I felt the scorching heat
I felt the flames engulfing me
With no thought of retreat.

I ventured then to taste the fire
I licked the tongues of flame
I worshipped at the burning bush
Not stopping 'til you came.

I saw the bush was not consumed
Although it burned with fire
It must indeed be holy ground
The font for my desire.

Some critics would say that any poem which is easy to understand in its entirety, and that doesn't make learned scholars spend countless decades pondering the true meaning as intended by the author has less literary merit. Clearly, they have not read poetry merely for the joy of melodious words, the raw emotions with which she speaks, such as Emily Reed writes in Under the Fig Tree. Nor have they come away with Reed's pleasingly metrical verse, which inspires the reader to look at poetry in a different light. Poems so powerful in their message, as in Regrets.


Our mortality nips at our heels
But fools that we are, we ignore it
We see it strike out at our friends
And then we decry and abhor it.

We squander our time on this earth
We waste precious moments we're given
But thinking of her at death's door
I wonder. By what are we driven?

By plans to accumulate cash
By living for others' opinion
By hoping to live out our dreams
Before we approach Death's dominion.

But the future is not guaranteed
And Death lies around the next corner
I don't want to die with regrets
I cry for myself as I mourn her.

The careful way Reed assembled the poems speaks clearly of an underlying mission to tell a story, to depict the journey. From chapter one, Dates, as in the dried fruit, but really, the synonym, courtship rituals, are delicacies that build to sustenance. Dates to pomegranates to vines, figs, olives, and finally to wheat and barley surely provides substance.

For poems that speak of truth, offer hope, try to make sense of the injustices of the world, and make you feel, don't pass the poetry by where it sits upon a shelf. Do something totally worthwhile for yourself. Read Under the Fig Tree by Emily Reed, you'll be glad that you did, you'll be glad you listened to me. But don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself. Next time you're in a book-buying mood, take Under the Fig Tree off the shelf.

Cheri Rosenberg

Christy's Bookshelf

Forever Odd
Dean Koontz
Bantam Dell
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
0553804162 $27.00 334 pages, 1-800-726-0600

Publishers Weekly calls Dean Koontz a master storyteller, and in my view, they're right on target. I've read him for over 30 years and was hooked with "Whispers", absolutely one of the creepiest books ever written - and I mean that in a good sense. I still get goose bumps over that one.

Odd Thomas is exactly what his name implies. Why? Because he can see dead people. Although they can't verbally communicate with him, Odd manages to figure out what's troubling these spirits who, for whatever reason, choose to stay behind. In this installment, Odd has taken a leave of absence from his job as a fast-food cook and is grieving the death of his girlfriend, Stormy. Elvis Presley's ghost is still hanging around and Odd can't figure out how to help him. When Odd is visited by the spirit of Dr. Wilbur Jessup, he immediately goes to his house, where Odd's best friend, Danny, lives. There, he discovers Dr. Jessup's battered body and that his friend is missing. Danny has what is known as brittle bones disease and is deformed because of this, and Odd fears for his friend's life. Suspecting that Danny's biological father has taken him, Odd employs what he calls psychic magnetism to guide him toward his friend. He is lead to a fire-damaged casino, where Odd faces off against Datura, a mentally deranged woman, and her two powerful male companions who kidnapped Danny in order to draw Odd to them. Datura is fascinated by the occult and suspects Odd is a witch doctor. Before the day is through, she means to steal his spirit.

That last sentence is probably an exaggeration but that's the point I took from the book. As always, Koontz gives the reader a compelling story, which takes place over one day. His ability to vividly and realistically portray evil characters does not falter with this book. Odd is an engaging character who accepts his "burden" with grace and tries to encourage those spirits he encounters to cross over into the next life. I look forward to more in this series.

Killing Time
Linda Howard
Ballantine Books
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
0345453468 $7.99 400 pages 1-800-726-0600

In January of 1985, a time capsule is buried next to the flagpole in front of the Peke County, KY Courthouse. Twenty years later, the time capsule mysteriously disappears and the only thing the security camera reveals is an instant flash of light. Chief Investigator Knox Davis is mystified by this but doesn't have long to investigate due to the murder of a prominent attorney. At the crime scene, Knox discovers Nikita Stover snooping around. Although Nikita claims to be an FBI agent, Knox isn't buying that. Nikita has a slight accent and doesn't understand common terminology. When Knox threatens to arrest her, Nikita confesses she is an FBI agent, but from 200 years in the future, and has been sent back to try to find the contents of the missing time capsule; one of which holds the secret to time travel.

While Knox and Nikita try to track down the missing time capsule, a killer from the future is stalking them with the intent to murder Nikita. Although Nikita and Knox are fully aware she will eventually have to return to the future, they cannot deny their growing attraction for one another.

Fast-paced and filled with action and romance, this is an entertaining read. Although some questions remain unanswered, Linda Howard, as always, delivers her readers and fans an intriguing paranormal suspense.

The Bone Collector
Jeffery Deaver
Penguin Books USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
067086871X, $22.95 424 pages,

I saw the movie first, then read the book. Both are very good, but the book is superior simply because there is so much more information offered regarding forensic investigation. A former renowned criminalist, Lincoln Rhyme is a quadriplegic confined to his bed. With the ability to move his head, neck and one finger, Lincoln has the best technical support at hand but has lost his zest for life and is looking forward to an assisted death. But he's drawn into the search for a man who snatches hostages and then stages their death, copying crimes committed by a former serial killer. Patrol officer Amelia Sachs is first on the scene at a particularly grueling murder - a man has been buried alive, the only indication of his whereabouts, his bloody hand rising from the earth. Lincoln is impressed by her efforts to protect the crime scene and insists Amelia be the one to walk the grid at subsequent scenes, following his directions. Although Amelia is reluctant at first, she begins to respect the process and Lincoln's frantic efforts to find the bone collector. She and Lincoln team up, never knowing that the killer's ultimate intention is to murder both of them.

A gripping read, filled with plenty of information about forensics for those so interested, with a plot that moves along at a fast pace. There is a tease of attraction between Amelia and Lincoln, which this reader hopes will carry forward through the series. In essence, this is one of those books that's hard to put down and stays with you after the read.

The Two Minute Rule
Robert Crais
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0743281616, Hardback, 336 pages, $24.95

The two minute rule refers to the length of time a bank robber is assured before the police show up. When Max Holman, a former bank robber, is released from prison, his only goal is to reconcile with his estranged son, who is now a policeman. But the night before Max's release, his son and three other cops are shot to death. Although the police quickly arrest a suspect, Max learns the suspect has an alibi and begins to doubt they have the right man. Max asks the person who arrested him ten years before, former FBI special agent Katherine Pollard, to help him investigate who actually killed his son and why. At every turn, the police thwart their efforts to learn the truth behind the killings, and it isn't long before the FBI starts throwing up walls.

Max Holman is an interesting character, a man whose past revolved around taking drugs and robbing banks and who took little interest in his son until his incarceration. Although Max is intent on staying straight, life's circumstances keep disrupting his efforts. Katherine Pollard is a woman who abandoned her life as an agent to raise her two young sons and now finds herself adrift and bored. She and Max hold an attraction for each other which neither feels comfortable acting upon.

The book moves, for the most part, at a fast pace; enough to keep this reader turning pages and engaged in the story. The characterizations are wonderfully portrayed and the mystery a good one.

Christy Tillery French

Debra's Bookshelf

Deep Blue Alibi
Paul Levine
Bantam Dell Publishing Group
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
0440242746 $6.99 496 pages

This second installment in Paul Levine's series of courtroom whodunits finds Miami legal partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord defending murder suspect Hal Griffin, the former business partner of Victoria's father. But the "locked boat" mystery in which Griffin is implicated--two men on a yacht in the middle of the ocean and one of them ends up dead--is only one of several puzzles to be solved in this book. Griffin's reappearance in Victoria's life stirs up her resentment and curiosity about her father's long-ago suicide, while Steve sets out to uncover the secrets behind his father's retirement from the bench--not quite disbarment--years earlier.

As in Solomon vs. Lord, the first book in Levine's series, much is made of Victoria and Steve's vastly different personal styles: she's Ivy League uptight, he's Jimmy Buffett mellow. We see more, also, of Steve's nephew Bobby, who puts his unusual talents to work helping his Uncle track down a killer. Both of the principals turn out to have parents with intriguing pasts, though Steve's disgraced father seems, at least at this point in the series, to be a more nuanced character than Victoria's silicone-enhanced mother. The secondary mysteries the two parents bring to the book add to an already solid story. An enjoyable read and a good mystery.

Zen and the Art of Crossword Puzzles
Nikki Katz
Adams Media Corporation
57 Littlefield Street, 2nd floor, Avon, MA 02322
1593375638 $12.95 211 pages

Nikki Katz's Zen and the Art of Crossword Puzzles is part of a series of Zen-related hobby books published by Adams Media (Zen and the Art of Knitting, etc.). In her contribution to the series Katz provides thumbnail histories of both crossword puzzles (first published in 1913) and Zen philosophy (considerably older), and she frequently points to intersections between the two--how Zen principals can be used to make one's crossword experiences more pleasant, how solving crosswords can be experienced as a kind of "working meditation." But Katz's book is hardly all Zen all the time. She discusses a great number of topics in the book's ten chapters: crossword solving rituals and methodologies, hints for solving puzzles, an explanation of British cryptic crosswords (for which I am especially grateful), the health benefits of puzzle solving, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, crossword-related poetry and paintings and fiction (specifically, the Nero Blanc series of crossword mysteries). Some of what Katz has to say will be too lightweight for hard-core cruciverbalists, but there should be something new in the book for just about everyone.

Katz conducted a great many interviews while working on the book, which she punctuates with personal anecdotes gleaned from her interview subjects. As it happens, I am among those whom Katz contacted: she writes in chapter eight about my habit of blogging the New York Times Sunday crossword every week at

Katz ends each chapter with a tip for improving--or at least for altering--one's crossword experiences: in the last chapter, for example, she suggests that readers try solving a crossword online if they haven't before as a means of broadening their crossword experiences; elsewhere she suggests that readers try creating their own crossword-related poetry. An original puzzle follows each chapter, and Katz lists a number of crossword resources in a handy appendix--online crossword sites and dictionaries, anagramming tools, construction software, etc.

The Ruins
Scott Smith
Alfred A. Knopf
1745 Broadway, 21st floor, New York, NY 100019
1400043875 $24.95 319 pages

The vacation is close to idyllic. Four friends in the Yucatán in August, three weeks of snorkeling and sailing and lazing in the too-hot sun before they head off in the fall to their various futures--graduate school for three of them, a job teaching English in a prep school for the other. They're Americans, Jeff and Amy and Stacy and Eric, two couples, but the group quickly became international: Mathias, a German with good English, and a trio of non-English-speaking Greeks join the party, tagging along with the Americans. A hint of menace over this situation is introduced on the book's first page:

"There were three Greeks--in their early twenties, like Mathias and the rest of them--and they seemed friendly enough, even if they did appear to be following them about."

Eventually the friends decide to take a trip to the interior, to an archaeological dig a half day away by bus, then taxi, then by foot. It's another adventure, and a good deed, as Mathias is worried about his brother, who'd made the same trip some days earlier. But it turns out that once you leave the tourist areas behind, the air conditioned bars and the hotels and the miniature golf courses, the Yucatán can get very dangerous very fast.

There are no chapters in Scott Smith's book, just section breaks, which is probably just as well: turning the page to start a new chapter would just slow down your reading. The book is scary as hell, with a villain that is, once you put the book aside and start to think about it, frankly ridiculous, but that doesn't matter either: the book is frightening enough, the plot compelling enough to keep you reading. In a sense also, the identity of the villain doesn't matter that much. The Ruins is really a long character study, its well-developed protagonists, isolated from the rest of the world, put under duress and under a magnifying glass. What happens to someone, the question is, when he's subjected to fear and stress? How do different sorts of people respond to it? And do their varying responses matter that much, in the long run? Eric asks himself the question at the beginning of the book: "Who are they?" he wonders, thinking first of the trio of Greeks, then of his own friends and girlfriend. The question will be echoed at the book's end.

The Ruins is a horror story, but character-driven. It reminded me, particularly in its opening pages, of a Patricia Highsmith novel: the author introduces his characters and their situation, and hints at something awful to come, in direct, uncomplicated prose, as if telling the story were the easiest thing in the world to do. It's a fantastic read, and you'll want, if you can, to read it straight through without interruption. But if you do, start early in the morning: this is not a book you'll want to be reading late at night, when you're the only one lying awake, when the rest of the house, beyond the halo of your bedside lamp, is dark.

The Dark Backward
Julia Buckley
Midnight Ink
2143 Wooddale Drive,Woodbury, MN 55125-2989
0738708267 $13.95 240 pages 1-800-843-6666

Thirty-year-old Lily Caldwell is short and pretty and tough, unforgiving and angry, the last of these with good reason. About a year before author Julia Buckley's narrative begins, Lily's partner had been killed on a routine traffic stop, and Lily herself had been shot and almost killed. This would have been bad enough, but worse was the fact that no one believed Lily when she came to, after seven and a half minutes of being technically dead, announcing that she'd seen the shooter's face in a vision: as if handsome Governor Nob Stevens had nothing better to do than gun down police officers on a rain-slick street in the middle of the night. Lily's persistent belief that Stevens was the shooter cost her her job and, ultimately, her husband, whom she left because of his failure to believe her. But despite this lack of support Lily has continued trying to find a connection between Stevens and the cold case she and her partner had been investigating before the shooting, the murder some seventeen years earlier of a young schoolteacher, Emily Martin. Buckley follows Lily and her growing circle of supporters as evidence of a connection between Emily and Stevens starts to pile up. But trapping the powerful Governor will not be an easy task: he's a formidable man who's not accustomed to losing.

The dramatic title and creepy cover of Julia Buckley's debut novel don't quite convey its character: The Dark Backward is a cozy, the blood and gore left undescribed, with a strong, likeable female lead. Lily's supporting characters, once they wander back into her life--her old boss, for example, her sister-in-law, her husband--are likewise likeable enough, though not as well fleshed out as Lily herself. Nob Stevens' character, too, is not examined as fully as one would like: he is a one-dimensional bad guy, which is okay, but he could have been a more powerful figure and the book more gripping if readers were invited to understand events from his perspective.

The Dark Backward is billed as a standalone thriller, and the author is apparently busy on an unrelated series of mysteries that will debut in 2007. But I can see Lily Caldwell and her husband Grayson anchoring a series of their own. The book isn't perfect, but it's a promising first novel. I'd be up for seconds.

Journal of the Dead
Jason Kersten
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
0060959223 $12.95 236 pages 1-800-242-7737

Raffi Kodikian and David Coughlin met during their college years, in the mid-1990's, and bonded over air guitar and Cheers, movies, mutual friends, and shared confidences. Some five years later they decided to take a road trip west together--David was moving from Massachusetts to California--one leg of which brought them to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park. They meant to camp out in the park for one night and see the caves before taking off again. But Carlsbad was as far as they got. Raffi and David hiked into Rattlesnake Canyon, a "remote, mostly unheard-of rift in the Chihuahuan Desert," and pitched a tent, but in the morning they were unable to find the trail they'd followed in. Days later they still hadn't found their way out, and they'd long since run out of water. When rescuers arrived on day four--on August 8, 1999--Raffi was still alive, if dehydrated, and he admitted to having stabbed David to death just that morning by way of ending his friend's suffering.

Jason Kersten tells the story surrounding Raffi's fatal stabbing of David in his compelling book Journal of the Dead. Kersten covers the history of his subjects' friendship, the particulars of their trip cross country and of their fateful stay in Carlsbad, and the ensuing arrest and prosecution of Raffi. Along the way Kersten discusses myriad related topics--the affects of dehydration on the body, the near absence of precedent for mercy killings in survival situations, the legal defenses considered and rejected by Kodikian's counsel.

Kodikian's case is inherently fascinating because of its ambiguity: Raffi was neither obviously innocent nor clearly guilty of having acted from malice aforethought. Kersten--who refuses to state his own opinion on Kodikian's guilt or innocence--does a wonderful job of explaining the arguments from both sides of the courtroom, addressing those issues which tend to exonerate Kodikian and unpacking those parts of his story that don't quite add up. (One troubling aspect of Kodikian's case, for example, is that he was released from the hospital--he walked out of the hospital himself--after only one hour of treatment, hardly what one would expect for someone who was allegedly so severely dehydrated that he had contemplated suicide.) Because Kodikian refused to be interviewed for the book, Kersten reconstructs what happened to the friends in the desert from other sources, including courtroom testimony and physical evidence. Kersten's account left this reader, at least, unsure of what to make of Kodikian, and appreciative of the legal system's apparent wisdom in dealing with his case.

Kersten is a good writer. His book is punctuated by well-turned phrases that reward rereading: "So that morning he [Coughlin] stood in a driveway outside an apartment building in the town of Milford, forcing himself to part with the woman who name was all poetry: Sonnet Frost." Perhaps by way of padding the story, which grew out of a 2000 Maxim magazine article, Kersten includes information not strictly pertinent to the case: a history of the town of Carlsbad, the story of an ill-fated Confederate campaign across the Rio Grande, a horrific tale of dehydration and death in the Sahara. These make for interesting enough reading. But sometimes Kersten's book is more drawn out than it needs to be. His account of the early stages of the friends' road trip is unnecessarily long, for example, and the 50-odd page account of Raffi's sentencing hearing at the end of the book likewise might have been abbreviated. But this complaint is relatively minor. Kersten succeeds in elucidating for readers the fascinating case of Kodikian's mercy killing--or murder--in a manner that, happily, leaves the mystery of the story unresolved. It's a very good true crime story.

And Only to Deceive
Tasha Alexander
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
0060756713 $23.95 310 pages 1-800-242-7737

Emily Ashton, the widow of Viscount Ashton, barely knew her husband before his death on safari, mere months after their wedding. She hadn't married Philip for love, but rather because that's what you did in late 19th-century London when a titled bachelor asked for your hand and if, like Emily, you were eager to escape a nagging, pedestrian mother. But well into her mourning period, having borne the discomfort of not being heartbroken over her husband's death, Emily begins to learn more about him--enough to become interested in classical antiquities, one of Philip's passions, and enough to find herself falling in love, belatedly, with a man who seems to have been her perfect match. But delving into Philip's past lands Emily in trouble, not merely with the clucking dowagers who deem her conduct inappropriate for a lady, but also because her investigations threaten to expose the thievery of a gang of black-market antiquities dealers.

Tasha Alexander's debut novel is not an edge-of-your-seat read--which the book's billing as, "A Novel of Suspense" might have suggested. Instead it offers a clever mystery cum romance wrapped in charming pseudo-Victorian prose. Emily and her various hangers-on discuss everything--ungentlemanly crimes, the marriage prospects of their acquaintances, the majesty of Chapman's Homer--with great delicacy, very often over port, which was apparently considered a most unladylike drink at the time. The story is recounted in the first person by Emily, with brief excerpts from her late husband's diaries following each chapter. Emily is a likeable heroine, rebelling against her suffocating mother and the confines of Victorian society while uncovering the secrets of her husband's life and death. It's a pleasure to watch her do so. The mystery of one of Emily's suitors is wrapped up a little too quickly for my taste at the end of the book, and some readers may be bored by Emily's effusive discussions of Greek art and literature. I don't think this is the sort of book that will linger long in one's memory, but And Only to Deceive is a perfectly pleasant, absorbing read while it lasts.

Rules for Old Men Waiting
Peter Pouncey
Random House
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
1400063701 $21.95 210 pages 1-800-726-0600

After the death of his wife Margaret in the spring of 1987, Robert MacIver himself fell into disrepair--failing to eat properly or to keep in contact with his former colleagues, not seeing to the work that needed doing on his isolated house on the Cape, more decrepit and older, even, than he. Given his failing health, some malady, never named, from which he suffers, MacIver's further decline is inevitable. He is resigned to it, nearly welcomes it, but after an accident jolts him from his despair he determines, as he puts it, to retrench. He establishes a set of ten rules for himself, "a simple skeleton of the well-ordered life for a feeble old man," by means of which he intends to live with some dignity until the end, and to approach death on something like his own terms. The rules include practical instructions for keeping himself fed and clothed and clean as well as directives for keeping the house heated. Having failed to lay in firewood during his months of lethargy, this last is a serious issue. MacIver decides that he will burn picture frames and furniture--though not "articles of fine craftsmanship"--as well as "books of rival scholars and other trash, before good books and my own." Arguably the most important of MacIver's ten rules, however, is that in which he imposes on himself some manner of work. As a retired professor of history, specializing in the First World War, it is not surprising that MacIver elects as his final project in life to tell a story set in the trenches of that conflict. The story he writes, of men consumed by rage over private grievances, is as nuanced and well-written and compelling as MacIver's own. It spills into the book in fragments as MacIver writes it, the stories of his life and his imagination moving in lock-step toward their inexorable, parallel ends.

Rules for Old Men Waiting does not merely record the final months of a once fearsome man. Readers are shown MacIver also in earlier periods of his life as the old Scot, literally feverish in the evenings after long hours at the typewriter, allows himself to remember them: MacIver as angry adolescent, fatherless after World War I, his venom given purpose on the rugby field; Lieutenant Commander MacIver on board the HMS Constant in September 1944; MacIver as historian and teacher and as husband to Margaret, the near perfect woman who "tamed the wild boar on Parnassus"; MacIver as father. To readers it feels as if Pouncey's character were spat whole into vastly different circumstance from one moment to the next, his character remaining much the same, though of course this is the effect of looking at a long life in disconnected segments.

Pouncey's novel, his first, is a beautifully written piece of prose, punctuated by innumerable well-wrought sentences that slow the reader: "The house and the old man were well matched," the book begins, "both large framed and falling fast. The house had a better excuse, MacIver thought; he was eighty, but the house was older than the Republic, had been a century old when Thoreau walked the Cape, though he couldn't have seen it tucked away in the non-descript maze of scrub oak." The author clearly knows his way around the English language, and his classical training--Pouncey is a retired classicist--is likewise apparent in his vocabulary and Homeric theme and references. Rules for Old Men Waiting is a thought-provoking read, gentle, and sad in the way a life lived tolerably well but ended, or due to end, is sad. The dialogue in the book, of which there is not much, does not always ring true. And the final chapter--not the epilogue--goes on a few pages longer than necessary as MacIver remembers a further episode from his rugby-playing days which seems, however, out of step with what has preceded.

I'm not precisely sure yet what we are to make of the relationship between Pouncey's powerful story-within-a-story and the narrative that frames it, whether the shorter work is intended to bring out the themes of the larger work, for example, the menis motivating MacIver's characters to mirror his own, but it bears thinking on. And Pouncey's slender volume, if it hasn't already been made abundantly clear, definitely merits your time.

Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor
Laura Schaefer
Thunder's Mouth Press (Avalon imprint)
c/o Avalon Publishing Group
245 West 17th Street, 11th floor, New York, NY 10011-5300
1560256869 $13.95 149 pages 1-800-788-3123

Online dating sites and advertisements and TV shows like Blind Date or The Love Connection are really nothing new. Personal ads have been with us for nearly 300 years. In Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor Laura Schaefer collects almost 200 examples of the genre, most dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries, and most having appeared originally in English and US publications. Schaefer divides the ads among eleven chapters by type--the self-deprecating or desperate, the poetic, the downright bizarre, and so on.

As with any collection of this sort, the majority of the texts selected for inclusion will probably fail to interest any given reader, and readers will differ in which of the ads included most appeal to them. But among the ho-hum here that didn't spark my interest are some true gems. For example: a 19-year-old GI writing in 1946 to ask for pen pals; the parents of a sickly 21-year-old looking to attach their daughter to some benevolent doctor; a 70-year-old, castle-owning German baron in the market for a very particular sort of 16- to 20-year-old girl; notice that a lisping, one-legged wife has run away with the parish priest; a man with a glass eye looking for a woman "who also has a glass eye or some other deformity not more severe." My own favorites in Schaefer's collection are those ads that offer a snapshot of real life, recording some small unremarkable moment long lost to memory. What can have transpired between these two on a London street, for example, to prompt such interest?

"A LADY WHO passed a Gentleman on Monday, the 17th of this month in Hart-street, Bloomsbury, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, without speaking to him, is anxious for an opportunity of seeing him again, any time after the 7th of January."-- December 25, 1810,The Times (London)

More than a century later, more than an ocean away, another chance encounter was memorable to at least one of the parties concerned:

"LADY WHOSE CAR ticket was refused by conductor on S. Meridian car, Friday, June 20 at 7 a.m. wishes to communicate with gentleman who witnessed the refusal. DRexel 5056."
--June 26, 1924, Indianapolis Star

In some cases one wants desperately to know how the advertisers fared in their quests.

The personals are surely a rich source of social history. Certainly they reflect their times, young widows and widowers apparently being thick on the ground in the 19th century, and the contracting of relationships hinging very often on the quantifiable resources one could muster--whether a yearly stipend or a tractor. It is also interesting to note that the dangers inherent in forming relationships by mail, electronic or traditional, are not new, and neither is the discussion over the desirability of doing so.

Schaefer's book is a quick read, and many of her selections are excellent. There are times when I would have liked her to provide additional context for her selections. Murders committed by men placing personal ads are alluded to on two occasions, for example, and one would like very much to know more about these cases. It would also be interesting--though I realize this isn't the book Schaefer set out to write--if the author had researched what is known of the subsequent history of at least some of the advertisers featured: that elderly, castle-wielding baron must have left his mark in the record books, for example. But Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor is recommended as a quick and interesting read and as a window into what seems to be a rich vein of historical information.

One Day the Ice Will Reveal All its Dead
Clare Dudman
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0143034731 $14.00 405 pages 1-800-847-5515

Clare Dudman's first novel for adults (she published a children's book in 1995) takes the form of a series of vignettes strung bead-like from the memory of her subject, German scientist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930). If Wegener's name isn't familiar to you it's because you don't have a geologist in your life: he is the father of modern plate tectonics. Though recognized today for his contributions, Wegener was derided during his lifetime for his theory of Continental Drift--that the earth's continents are not static but are constantly moving, and that their movement over billions of years can explain various geological and biological phenomena.

Channeling Wegener's voice, Dudman tells his story from childhood, through his days as a student, to adulthood, a full scientific and personal life that included the deaths of siblings, military service, marriage and children, repeated expeditions to the frozen reaches of Greenland, and ridicule at the hands of his scientific peers. Occasionally the older Wegener, the man telling the story, interjects to remark on his youthful pomposity, say, or to hint at future events. But for the most part one is allowed to lose oneself in the reading, which very often means finding yourself alongside Wegener on the Greenlandic ice, behind a sledge in minus 30 or 40 or 50 degrees, the white underfoot difficult to distinguish from the white above the horizon:

"I look no farther than the pony's hindquarters. To look any farther would be to see the bank of snow, appearing almost vertically in front of me. I don't want to see. I don't want to know. If I can just travel as far as the pony, if I can just do that. I look no farther. I celebrate each one of these small victories in silence, and then go on again. Sometimes I tell myself that when I reach that point just a little ahead of me we will stop and rest, or stop and make camp. But we don't. ... There is just more and more snow, more and more ice, and the only thing that changes is that sometimes it is deeper, sometimes softer, sometimes breaks away in pieces, and sometimes groans a little under foot or crunches. But it is all just snow. Or ice. Part of a slope that doesn't seem to end, just goes on and on, until my clothes are wet with effort."

When you walk away from this book what you're sure to take with you are Dudman's descriptions of ice, its different textures and temperatures and colors, rendered so vividly on the page you can almost feel its cold.

One Day the Ice Will Reveal All its Dead is not a straightforward account of a man, nor quite like anything I've read before. Often Dudman approaches the episodes of Wegener's life that she has elected to include obliquely, from some wholly unexpected angle. Here, for example, is Wegener during his days as an astronomy student at the University of Berlin, adding his corrections to the Alfonsine astronomical tables:"It is a printed copy I hold now, a late edition, the famous Parisian one of 1545. The paper is cream, thick, wizened with age, and the printing is imperfect--some of the curved Latin letters have bled a little from their moulded fonts--for this is a new art, not yet properly mastered. The owners of these tables have made notes, and with time the ink has become a gentle sepia, unobtrusive, part of the book. I too am adding parts of myself to the pages: oils are leaking from the skin of my hands and molecules of fat are smearing themselves invisibly on its surface. Part of the book is also becoming part of me: some of the ink is leaching minutely from the paper and into my pores, and some of the grains of the paper are detaching themselves, floating into the air and being drawn irretrievably into my lungs. In these small ways we are blending together, the wizard and his book of spells."
It is of course always true to say that no two writers will get across the same piece of information in precisely the same way, but given an infinite number of writers instructed to describe Wegener at his astronomical computations, I can't imagine any producing a picture remotely like the one Dudman paints here.

My complaints about the book are few, and almost entirely unrelated to the writing itself. I found Dudman's final chapters slightly confusing, those in which she details Wegener's last, fatal expedition to Greenland. The explorer's movements might have been easier to follow, however, if a series of maps tracing Wegener's expeditions had been included in the book. I would also have appreciated the addition of a timeline and photographs. Perhaps these can be included in future editions.

Dudman has managed to blend the various aspects of Wegener the man--the scientist and explorer, sibling and son and husband and father--into a book that is equal parts science and poetry. The result is a startling accomplishment, and well worth the read.

Debra Hamel, Reviewer

Emanuel's Bookshelf

London Is the Best City in America
Laura Dave
375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014
0670037567, $24.95, 246 pp.

3 years ago, Emmy left her engagement ring with her sleeping fiancee in a hotel room in Rhode Island. Rather than returning home, she stayed and took a job at a tackle shop telling everyone she is making a documentary on longshore fisherman's wives. Now as her brother Josh faces his impending nuptials, she must help him deal with his second thoughts while facing some feelings of her own. Past and present.

When Emmy returns home for her brother's wedding, he confides in her that there is a problem. That problem's name is Elizabeth. Though Emmy cares for her brother's fiancee Meryl, she can't help but to help her brother realize he could be making a mistake in marrying Meryl if his heart is somewhere else. Will Josh make the right decision? Can Emmy let go of her past and move on?

London Is the Best City in America is a well-written story that deals with love, life's choices and second chances. Laura Dave will no doubt be recognized as one of the exciting new authors of the year. However, the story's slow and somewhat predictable plot makes the book read more like a drawn out short story than a page-turner. Still, Dave has a style that makes the book a worthwhile endeavor that new fans will find endearing. Recommended.

Karyn Langhorne
Diary of an Ugly Duckling
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299
0060847557, $6.99, 371 pp.

What's a woman to do when she considers herself fat, black and ugly? This is the question the protagonist in "Diary of an Ugly Ducking" by Karyn Langhorne (Street Level) is faced with. The woman, Audra Marks, works as a corrections officer by day and lives for classic movies by night. The thing she wants most in this world is the attention of a handsome but seemingly uninterested co-worker, Art Bradshaw.

Audra's life is taken for a rollercoaster ride when she is chosen as a participant on a reality TV show. Though she accepts the offer to be beautified, the price (which includes many surgeries, therapy and skin lightening while the cameras are rolling non-stop) may be too much to pay. Meanwhile there's also family to deal with, including a sister in a war zone whose e-mails are dwindling, a niece who depends on her and a mother who is dead set against her total body makeover. The question is, will she be able to handle the pressure, live with her choices and still win the man of her dreams?

"Diary of an Ugly Duckling" is a superb work of fiction. Langhorne's writing not only comes to life but it also challenges your thinking on issues such as our society's idea of who is beautiful and the importance of racial identity. It is by far one of the best books of 2006 thus far. This work and this writer will be celebrated for many years to come. You will love this page-turner.
Highly Recommended.

Emanuel Carpenter, Reviewer

Gary's Bookshelf

Natural Selection
Dave Freedman
77 West 66th Street, New York NY 10023-6298
1401302092 $21.95

Freedman has created a new kind of prehistoric creature that becomes a menace in our modern day. The novel is reminiscent of Steve Alten's "Meg" which was about a dinosaur era animal like a shark that is found to be menacing the oceans. This time the monster is so much more sinister because it has other abilities that enable it to be a bigger threat because it can come out of the water. Though it is a page-turner gripping novel like "Jaws," "Meg," and " Jurassic Park," it does distance itself from them. "Natural Selection" is a great summer read.

Dian Hanson's the History of Men's Magazines Volume 1
6671 Sunset Boulevard Suite 1508, Los Angeles, CA 90028
3822822299 $49.99 1-888-827-2436

Hanson has done a remarkable job of tracing the beginnings of the men's magazine. She includes Mr. Comstock a federal official who controlled all of the mail. He was so bad because if he decided it was too racy for the mail service to deliver he would fine the Postal Department and destroy the item. He even felt the J C Penny catalog fit into that profile. Hanson traces the history also with photos and artwork. This is the first volume that goes from 1900 to post WWII.

The Playmate Book
Gretchen Edgren
Introduction by Hugh M. Hefner
6671 Sunset Boulevard Suite 1508, Los Angeles, CA 90028
3822839760 $39.99 1-888-827-2436

Finally there is a book to highlight the best part of the magazine Playboy. It is filled with photographs of the most beautiful women to grace the pages of the revolutionary publication. Some of the sexy playmates from the fifties to the nineties are Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield, Stella Stevens, Jo Collins, Allison Parks, Liv Lindeland, Pamela Anderson Lee. One noticeable aspect is that the picture quality, color and detail improved over the years. Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder and with this book there is a lot to behold This updated edition has some great new additions to a book that was already good. Now its fantastic. Some of them are more Playmate's photos from January 1997 to December 2004, a section titled "Catching Up" that is all about what many of the former Playmates are currently up to and there are 24 mentions of women who posed for the magazine who are no longer with us

The Playboy Book 50 Years
Gretchen Edgren
6671 Sunset Boulevard Suite 1508, Los Angeles, CA 90028
3822839760 $39.99 1-888-827-2436

Now expanded with 10 more years of Playmates, photos, artwork, and commentary, this new edition is bigger and better than the last one that covered 40 years. The cover is glossier with more pages and the price is less than its previous version.

In his introduction Hugh Hefner states, "The images collected in this book serve to explain both Playboy's popularity and its influence. In a time of repression and conformity, Playboy presented a revolutionary perception of life that was both sophisticated and playful. The editorial point of view that life was more than a vale of tears, that play and pleasure were important parts f being alive was deflected in the words and pictures of every issue."

Sure, Playboy is the playmate of the Month and beautiful nude women. But it has always had controversial interviews, fiction, excerpts or short stories by the best writers, and excellent articles. For instance, Playboy was the first major magazine to exact "Fahrenheit 451," the novel on censorship by Ray Bradbury. In the 60s they published the James bond Novels by Ian Fleming. We first saw "Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic and "Roots" by Alex Haley in the 70s. the list is endless of what has appeared through they years. Broken into decades the book shows the many different aspects and changes the magazine has taken. THE PLAYBOY BOOK 50 YEARS adds to the legacy of Playboy magazine and is a gem that will soon be a collector's item

Justice Repaid
BJ Taylor Longpre
Publish America
P.O. Box 151, Frederick, MD 217505
1592861989 $19.95 240-529-1031

Suzanna White, a detective with the Los Angels Police Department learns that not everything is as it seems when she begins to investigate the death of her husband Tom White. She finds that his partner is not very forthcoming with information. She enters a very dark and sinister world she had no idea her husband was involved in. The writing is fast paced with a very believable story.

BJ Taylor Longpre
Publish America
P.O. Box 151, Frederick, MD 217505
1413703062 $19.95 240-529-1031

Longpre combines elements of horror and science fiction to tell another sinister gloomy tale that is quick reading. Her characters are well fleshed out, with writing that is rapidly paced to its final revealing conclusion .

Matt Arnold
Iceni Books
610 East Delano Street Suite 104, Tucson, Arizona 85705
1587363216 $13.95

Just before she dies Taylor Weir's mother confesses that she had his father killed. Now Weir's world is never the same. He goes on a journey to learn the truth about his life and his parents. Matt Arnold has written a very good novel that pulls the reader in from the first page to the final revealing answer that began Weir's quest.

The Addicted Entrepreneur
Hiram K. Solomon
Outskirts Press
10940 S. Parker Rd. - 515, Parker, Colorado 80134
1598005278 $15.95 (888) OP-BOOKS

Hiram K. Solomon has a great idea: to tell how drugs and booze can ruin a person's life, but there is one thing the author has forgotten to do. Tell a story I want to read. The writer has a stand off writing style that never gave me the idea that the people he writes about are characters. There is very little dialogue and he describes in a journalism fashion what happens in the people's lives. This type of writing also slowed down the progression of the book for me. Reading a novel should be a pleasurable experience. For me it wasn't anywhere close.

Day of the Dead
Thunder's Mouth Press
245 W. 17th Street, 11th Floor, NY 10011-5300
1560257814 $12.95

This is a fun novel of sex written by a porn star with a huge following. What a great idea Mercedez has a great way of describing sex in this loaded tale of men and women between the sheets.

Savanna Samson
Thunder's Mouth Press
245 W. 17th Street, 11th Floor, NY 10011-5300
1560257822 $12.95

Here is a second book by another star of Vivid Films and it is brimming with hot hot sex scenes throughout the novel. Like "Day of the Dead" by Mercedez the books are about the writer enjoying sex with men and women.

Catastrophes, Chaos & Convolutions
James P. Hogan
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471
1416509216 $7.99

I've always felt that Hogan is one of the best newer writers of science fiction and this collection of short fiction and non-fiction science articles is a shining example of why. There are over 25 pieces that show the unique perceptions of Hogan. His novels and shorter fiction have always been easy to read and not so scientific detailed. His non-fiction is fun reading, but many may not have the same opinions as Hogan.

Gary Roen

Gloria's Bookshelf

Out Cold: A Brady Coyne Novel
William G. Tapply
St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0312337469 $24.95 320 pp. 1-888-330-8477

Brady Coyne, the Boston attorney who has appeared in over 20 novels by William G. Tapply, lets his dog out into the backyard of his Back Bay townhouse one wintry January morning and discovers the body of a young girl. When the girl dies, Brady is unable to ascertain whether or not she was still alive when he found her, and is deeply troubled by the possibility that he might have done more and perhaps saved her life. He is even more disturbed when a piece of paper with his address on it is found in her pocket. When he shows the dead girl's photo around in hopes of tracking down her identity, one of those to whom he shows it is herself soon found dead, and Brady suspects there is a connection. A s he says: "It all came down to the girl. Who was she? Why did she have directions to my house? Why did she pick my backyard to die in? Why did she have to die in the first place?" The answers to these questions can only be discovered by Brady doing some investigating, both the virtual and the actual kind, and finding the answers puts him in mortal danger.

It was with eager anticipation that I opened this latest Coyne novel, and I was happily rewarded. This series has long been a favorite of mine, with its wonderful prose, leavened with just the right amount of humor, his terrific characters and evocations of Boston: "It was one of those crisply cloudless winter days—bitter cold and dust dry, with a sky so blue it was almost purple. When I walked to the office, the sunlight glittered and ricocheted off the fluffy new snow as if each flake was a tiny gemstone. I smiled at the people I passed on the sidewalk on Boylston Street, and some of them actually smiled back at me. It was that kind of day."

This author never disappoints, and "Out Cold" is another winner for William G. Tapply. Recommended.

Echo Park
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0316734950 $26.99 384 pp., 212-522-7200

Echo Park, the newest book by Michael Connelly, opens with a scene in 1993 at a Hollywood apartment complex when LAPD detective Harry Bosch discovers a car belonging to Marie Gesto, a young woman who had gone missing ten days earlier. The cops are never able to solve the case, and Marie's body is never found. Fast forward to 2006. Harry, now a member of the Open-Unsolved Unit, has been haunted by the case ever since, periodically reviewing the evidence, keeping in touch with the young woman's parents and determined to find out what happened to her, although he has become convinced she is no longer alive. One day he is told that a man about to go on trial for two brutal killings has said he committed several other murders over the years, including that of Marie Gesto, and Harry is called in to reopen the case and take the man's confession. In so doing, he is shown evidence that he and his former partner ignored a lead in the original investigation that could have led to finding the killer, thereby preventing all his subsequent crimes; Harry is devastated. All of Bosch's well-known personal demons are unleashed. As he says: "…taking it straight to the heart is the way of the true detective. The only way." Of course, taking it straight to the heart is what makes Harry so vulnerable, an d such a wonderful protagonist. The present investigation is complicated by the fact that the prosecutor handling the case is a man now vying for the DA's job in an upcoming election. Never one to "go along" and bow to political pressure, Bosch must now walk a tightrope, which means investigating on his own when necessary, no matter where it leads.

As are the earlier books in the series, and indeed all of Michael Connelly's books, the book is well-written and –plotted, and thoroughly engrossing. Minor quibble: The ending was a bit of a letdown for me; I'm not sure why. That notwithstanding, plan to read this book when you have no pressing engagements, because it's nearly impossible to put down once you've started reading.

Field of Blood
Denise Mina
Little, Brown & Co.
1271 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY 10020
031615458X $7.50 441 pp. 212-522-7200

Having recently read and loved Denise Mina's new book, "The Dead Hour," the second book in an expected five-book series in which Paddy Meehan is the protagonist, I was anxious to read the first book in the series, "Field of Blood," which came out in 2005 and has recently been published by Little, Brown in paperback. This book is as masterful as its successor.

"Field of Blood" is set in 1981 Glasgow [with some flashbacks to 1963], where 18-year-old Paddy, overweight and self-conscious and filled with ambition, is a copyboy and general errand person at the fictional Scottish Daily News. Unemployment is high and poverty abounds. Irish Catholics, such as Paddy [though in her case her religion is practiced more out of habit and to please her parents than anything else], are not held in high regard. The book's sense of place is extraordinary. The descriptive passages are such that one can see the people and places clearly – of one heavyset Glaswegian woman: "The shoulders of her pale green raincoat were halfway down to the elbows to accommodate her shape;" of a wintry afternoo n: "Smoke and icy breath rose like steam from cattle as the frosty black tarmac glittered silver around them." For their part, a typical Meehan relative is described as being comprised of superstition, sanctimoniousness and a general distrust of Protestants. A running backdrop is the tale is the story of the wrongful incarceration years before of Paddy's namesake, a man also a minor part of "The Dead Hour" but whose backstory is gone into in more detail in the earlier book.

When a three-year-old boy is found murdered, Paddy discovers that one of the two boys being held in the crime is a cousin of her fiance. Paddy feels that despite the fact that the boys were involved in the terrible murder, evidence against them has been concocted, and investigates to try to discover the truth. Truth and justice are the holy grail for this young woman, and despite her own vulnerability she perseveres in that quest. Denise Mina is a remarkably good writer, of whom Val McDermid has said she is a "great channeler of the voices normally despised and disregarded." Her empathy for those about whom she writes is clearly displayed, and in the process she has created a wonderful story. The book is highly recommended.

Every Fear
Rick Mofina
Pinnacle Books
850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022
0786017465 $6.99 US/$9.99 Can. 212-407-1500

The suspense in this new novel by Rick Mofina begins in Chapter One and doesn't let up till the book's end. The tale is of every parent's worst nightmare: Lee Colson's life is turned upside down when his adored 7-month-old son, Dylan, is stolen from his stroller in front of a local store in their "safe" northwest Seattle neighborhood. Marie is critically injured by the van in which her baby has been spirited away. Was it a random act, or was Dylan targeted?

Jason Wade, a local reporter, and Detective Grace Garner each separately vow to track down the kidnappers. Jason and Grace 'team up' at one point to share information to the benefit of each, and there are hints of a personal relationship to be explored in future novels in the series, to which I am eagerly looking forward.

The book makes the point that every body has a dark side, and everybody has secrets. Those with secrets in their own past extend to the protagonists as well, including not only Grace, with a life-altering incident in her past, but Jason's father, a former Seattle cop whose police career ended with an event only hinted at, to be revealed in some future book. "Every Fear" is the second in this series by Rick Mofina, who has written five other novels as well.

Fast reading, suspense filled and absolutely gripping, this book grabs hold of the reader and doesn't let go, and is recommended.

The Betrayed
David Hosp
Warner Books
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0446576956 $24.99 419 pp. 212-522-7200

Sydney Chapin, daughter of wealthy, politically influential parents, has returned to Washington, D.C. after her second year of law school to work as a research assistant for a law professor at Georgetown University. Though estranged from her patrician motion [her father having died five years prior], Sydney is attempting to reconnect with her older sister, Elizabeth, a Washington Post reporter and mother of a teenage daughter. Three weeks after she arrives back in town, her sister is brutally tortured and murdered. More horrifyingly, Liz' daughter is the one who discovers the body. Sydney is determined. to discover the truth behind the crime. She finds allies in Jack Cassian and Darius Train, the detectives assigned to the case, and they find that much more is involved than a 'simple' robbery, as first appears.

David Hosp, in his second novel [following "Dark Harbor"] here invades territory staked out by George Pelecanos, drawing a portrait of some of the mean but mostly privileged streets of Washington DC and its environs, into the realms of power, wealth and influence. The novel is filled with suspense and very well-crafted, and the fact that a couple of the upcoming plot developments seemed apparent to this reader did not detract from the enjoyment of this fast-paced read. Recommended.

All Mortal Flesh
Julia Spencer-Fleming
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10010
0312312644 $22.95 336 pp. 212-674-5151

All Mortal Flesh, the newest in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, finds Clare, the parish priest in the small Adirondack, upstate NY town of Millers Kill, and Russ, the local police chief and married man she loves, having just wrenchingly ended their relationship. The following day, an even more devastating event occurs: Russ is told that his wife, from whom he had recently separated when he told her of his love for Clare, has been brutally murdered. Loving Clare, yet still loving his wife, matters are only compounded when both Clare and Russ are considered prime suspects, not only by the police but by the local gossip-loving town residents.
With her usual adroit skill, Ms. Spencer-Fleming has written another wonderful tale of these very human protagonists in this, their sixth appearance. The sense of place is vivid, and the wintry weather graphically evoked. There is a slam-bang ending with a final unexpected and stunning turn as this suspense-filled tale concludes. An excellent and fast-paced read, and it is recommended.

Arizona Dreams: A David Mapstone Mystery
Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Avge., Ste. 103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
1590583183 Hardcover, 254 pp; $24.95 800-421-3976

Ruthlessness engendered by the seemingly limitless Arizona real estate boom [and the fortunes being made by those engaged in any aspect of it] is the theme of this new book by Jon Talton, the fourth in the David Mapstone mystery series. The author makes clear his love of this part of the country and its natural beauty, and his heartbreak at its violation. He has woven a story involving murder, blackmail and deals within deals.

David Mapstone is a deputy sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona, having held that job for five years and then, making use of his Ph.D. in history, becoming a college history professor. Now he has returned to Phoenix to reacquire his badge as he says: 'to work on old unsolved cases, using a historian's techniques to budge them, if not solve them.' His wife, Lindsey, also a Deputy Sheriff, calls him the History Shamus. A former student arrives at his office one day asking for David's help – a letter left by her late father tells of a murder he says he committed 40 years earlier, and gives details of the burial site. But the body discovered there is of recent vi ntage. Then one of David's neighbors is found dead, murdered with an ice pick. When a second man is found killed in the same manner, the investigation widens. When a powerful local politician and his wife are implicated, the matter becomes a political hot potato, and David's job, at the very least, is threatened.

The author's descriptions of the Arizona heat had me all but perspiring. As well, his message comes through loud and clear. I had a bit of a problem with some of the writing, in that some of the dialogue did not ring true to me, and some of the writing was not as smooth as it might have been. As well, one confrontational scene between David and Lindsay switches gears too quickly, I thought. But the story was an interesting one, and the mystery well plotted, albeit a bit convoluted at its resolution. All in all, I had mixed feelings about this one.

Gloria Feit

Gorden's Bookshelf

Dark Eye
William Berhardt
Ballantine Books
A division of Random House, Inc.
New York, NY
0345470168 $7.50 454 pp.

Bernhardt is a mystery writer who develops characters the reader loves. In 'Dark Eye,' he creates two flawed characters that grabbed the reader. Susan Pulaski is a police behaviorist who delves into the psyches of the most twisted criminals in Las Vegas. She is also an alcoholic suffering from alcohol induced delusions and a ruined personal life. Her partner in the story is Darcy O'Bannon a twenty-five year old autistic savant who is just able to function in real life with some everyday help. Their nemesis is a twisted serial killer who reads Edger Allen Poe.

There is enough reality with the characters that you begin to identify with them. The serial killer is a predator whose agenda is so extreme that the reader starts to feel the terror of his victims. Each page increases the tension as the action builds and the identification with the characters becomes stronger. The climax is powerful and logical enough that the mystery reader is satisfied and wanting to read more.

'Dark Eye' is one of the best detective mystery novels of the year. The finely crafted story takes the reader on a journey so intense all you want is more.

Dead Watch
John Sandford
G. P. Putman's Sons/Penguin Putman Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0399153543 $26.95 373 pp.

Sandford writes suspense novels with bigger than life characters who have enough everyday in them for the reader to feel that they either are real or should be real. With his Kidd and Davenport novels, he connected across the board with his readers. With 'Dead Watch,' he has a story and characters that match his previous work but the balance of the fantasy and reality is just off the mark.

Ex-senator Lincoln Bowes has disappeared and his wife is being watched. Jacob Winters, an Army veteran and a government problem solver, is asked by the Administration to look into the matter. Winters considers himself a specialist in forensic bureaucracy. He knows the ins and outs of how governments work and how to make it work for him. Winters doesn't know that death and murder are just the first steps in a twisted political intrigue that has a goal of changing who will sit in control of the government.

'Dead Watch' starts as a fairly simple, but twisted, detective mystery with a touch of romance. It hits its stride when the story changes to an action/adventure. This is a book to read. It takes you on an enjoyable ride with a smooth fun narrative. No one will finish this book without a smile on his/her face.

S.A. Gorden, Reviewer

Harwood's Bookshelf

Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult
Richard Metzger, ed.
Disinformation Books
220 East 23rd Street, Suite 500, New York NY 10010
097139427X, 352 pp., $24.95,

I found this item on while searching for a similar title. Normally the only persons who would learn of its existence would be the intentionally disinformed in the process of looking for more books that contribute to the dumbing of America. Not surprisingly, thirteen brainwashed reviewers gave it an average of 4.5 stars out of five, because it fed them the kind of superstitious hogwash that permeates the Cloud Cuckoo Land in which they live. Telling such ignoramuses that "occult" is a weasel word for "that which does not exist" would be like telling Scientologists (the suckers, not the hoaxers) that they have been conned by confidence swindlers. Book of Lies, like everything else from this appropriately named publisher of disinformation, endorses as legitimate the masturbation fantasies of the educationally challenged. If you need me to tell you it is a criminal waste of a perfectly good tree, you are already in deep doggy doo.

William Hatfield
Angus & Robertson
GPO Box 82A, Melbourne, Vic 3001, Australia, 1932
B0008BRKW2 $30.00

An English "busted duke," as a sheepmate describes him, becomes a ranch hand in the Australian outback at the beginning of the 20th century. I read this book straight through five or six times when I first encountered it. While I was about 12 or 13 at the time, it is not really a children's book. All of the characters are adults, and the story is not aimed at juveniles. Sheepmates is a useful source of Australian social history, and much more entertaining than We of the Never Never, set in the same time and place.

D.M. Bennett, The Truth Seeker
Roderick Bradford
Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst NY 14228-2197
1591024307, $30.00, 400 pp.

"The United States was predominantly orthodox Christian. The Church had overwhelming power and influenced or controlled nearly every aspect of American citizens' lives…. A nation proudly hailing its freedom of speech, it enforced puritanical laws and church-sponsored censorship. America was home to a minority of reform-minded citizens trying to enlighten and change the rigid and intolerant religionist majority still clinging to archaic superstitions…. Many Americans believed that one had to be religious, preferably Christian, to be a moral person. Religious adversaries tried to link freethought to immorality…. Nearly every Christian denomination in America had its own newspaper or journal, and the overwhelming majority of the nation's 'secular' daily newspapers were also owned and edited by Christians…. Their mission was to declare America a 'Christian' nation and officially acknowledge: 'God as the source of all authority and power in civil government' and 'the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among the nations and his revealed will as of supreme authority.' … [The judge] disallowed the defense attorneys' plans to employ the freethought argument of comparing alleged obscene passages … with certain sections from the Bible."

The foregoing is not intentionally a description of the America of George W. Bush, although a future historian writing about that evolutionary throwback's conspiracy to repeal two thousand years of human progress would not need to change a single word. Rather, it refers to the nineteenth century, when publisher D. M. Bennett was convicted and jailed for not believing in the gods the polis believes in, although, like all other prosecutions for the same offence in the past two centuries, the crime was officially described by a euphemism. Bennett wrote, "The charge is ostensibly 'obscenity,' but the real offense is that I presume to utter sentiments and opinions in opposition to the views entertained by the Christian Church." That could as easily have been written 130 years later, with only the euphemism changed, by Dr Jack Kevorkian.

Bennett wrote in The Truth Seeker, March 29, 1879, "Is this free America? Can this be a United States Court? Is this the institution established by the swords of Washington, Ethan Allen, and Israel Putnam, and by the pens of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson? Is this, indeed, United States justice, where every man is guaranteed the liberty of conscience and the freedom of speech, and where the state and the Courts were not to know or favor any form of religious creed? No; it is the American Inquisition!"

Reminder: Bennett was referring to court proceedings of March 1879, not November 2000. And when he wrote, "It almost makes my blood boil to see these insidious, canting, ingratiating, hypocritical knaves gliding around from place to place, and the obsequiousness accorded them. They have proved enemies of the human race," he was referring to French priests of 1880, not televangelists of the 2000s.

D. M. Bennett was the founding publisher of The Truth Seeker, one of America's first periodicals to tell a sizable audience the truth about religion and its pushers, in defiance of the Comstock laws under which he was persecuted. His motivation for offering facts to the disinformed is well summarized in his acknowledgment (Truth Seeker, Nov 25, 1882) that, "We honestly believe Christianity to be false, to be the greatest sham in the world, without truth in its history, without loveliness in its doctrines, without benefit to the human race, and without anything to sustain it in the hold it has upon the world." Considering that this and similar recognitions of observable reality were penned over a century ago by such persons as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, it is surprising that Intelligent Design propagandists do not tout the Jesus hoax's continued existence as a refutation of evolution, since they have certainly not evolved in 30,000 years. But then, the usurper in the White House might well be seen as evidence that chimpanzees evolved from creationists.

Like most freethinkers before and since, D. M. Bennett had previously been a brainwashed godworshipper (tautology), specifically a Shaker. Bradford notes concerning that self-destructive cult that, "their strict rules of celibacy … eventually caused their demise." Sadly, the Catholic priesthood has not suffered the same fate. Perhaps one of the differences is that the Shakers practised what they preached. (Anyone who still thinks priests do so has probably been living on another planet.)

As a biography, The Truth Seeker is best described as adequate. Its primary value lies in its depiction of an era that evolved Americans view as a black mark on the history of their nation, and ayatollahs of the Christian Taliban look back on as a golden age to be revivified at any cost.

William Harwood

Henry's Bookshelf

The Old West in the Old World - Lost Plays by Bret Harte and Sam Davis
Lawrence Berkove and Gary Scharnhorst
University of New Mexico Press
MSC11 62901 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
0826337643, $34.95 227 pp. 1- 800-249-7737

Bret Harte made his mark as a writer of short stories portraying the American West in the latter nineteenth century. But he aspired to produce plays, which found appreciative audiences in the West and could be highly successful financially. To this aim, he worked with others to adapt one of his best-known stories, "The Luck of Roaring Camp," into a play; though it never did earn much. Sam Davis was another writer of the period--widely-known, though he did not gain the historical literary status of Harte. He wrote a play titled "The Prince of Timbuctoo." Both Harte's and Davis's plays are printed in their entirely with introductions and illuminating notes by the editors who have been professors of English. They go together for their theme of the superiority of the naturalness of inhabitants of the American West over the stale, compromised, constraining upper-class, aristocratic code of ethics--a theme running through American lore and literature. Davis's play incorporates this theme with American main characters who travel to the African city of Timbuctoo. Harte's play is taken from papers of his donated to the Library of Congress in 1952; Davis's, from the discovery of a manuscript in an old trunk in his birthplace Branford, CT. The comic plays are of note in the history of American literature and stage for having women as main characters and also as among the few surviving works in this genre which was popular in the West in its transition from frontier to settled towns and cities.

The Letters of Jean Toomer, 1919-1924
Mark Whalen, editor
University of Tennessee Press
293 Communications Building, Knoxville, TN 37996-0325
1572334703, $38.00 249+xliv pp.

Lewis Mumford, Alfred Steiglitz, Harte Crane, Countee Cullen, and Sherwood Anderson were among the notables of his era the leading Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer corresponded with. Toomer's letters to these and others have meticulous notes by Whalen, a lecturer in American literature at the U. of Exeter; which notes give a pronounced biographical and critical dimension to the volume. Most of the letters are now at the Beinecke Library at Yale. They were written in the few years surrounding the publication of Toomer's book "Cane" which brought him into the spotlight. Not only this and other works, but also many of the letters try to come to grips with Toomer's complex racial make-up. In a letter to his publisher Horace Liveright, he writes, "My racial composition and my position in the world are realities which I alone may determine...Feature Negro if you wish, but do not expect me to feature it in advertisements for you...Whatever statements I give will inevitably come from a synthetic human and art point of view; not from a racial one." Such letters record Toomer's finely-tuned thoughts on social, political, and literary realities and issues in America at the time. The letters from the relatively short period associated with the completion and publication of Toomer's signature work "Cane" give a crystallized picture of the psychology, values, and aims of this author.

Bodies of Evidence: Forensic Science and Crime
Dr. Scott Christianson
Lyons Press/Globe Pequot Press
246 Goose Lane, Guilford, CT 06437
1592285805 $26.95 192 pp. 1-800-836-0510

The different types of forensic evidence are matched with notorious cases where they played a central role. In a few instances, natural disasters where the same type of evidence was used to identify bodies or remains are included to demonstrate its usefulness. Ballistics evidence was crucial in determining who assassinated President Kennedy in Dallas. An expert psychological profile led to the Connecticut bomber George Metesky. The role of DNA in the O. J. Simpson murder trial is well-known. Fingerprints, computer files, and blood traces are among other types of evidence similarly covered. Both the author and Levine writing the Foreword have extensive experience in criminology in New York law enforcement. The book coincides nicely with the current interest in forensic science treated in many movies and TV programs. This is recognized by listing a number of the films and programs on a back page.

The Seductions of Community: Emancipations, Oppressions, Quandaries
Gerald W. Creed, editor
School of American Research (SAR)
Santa Fe, NM
0852554400 $29.95 320+xii pp.

The 10 perceptive essays by college professors, most in departments of anthropology, cut a path between ideas and ideologies (e. g., Communism) putting community in a desirable or glowing light and other views such as Freud's on the behavior of crowds bringing out the irrational, demonic, vein in communities. Whatever one's perspective, as Gerald Creed of Hunter College states in the opening article setting the stage for the multifaceted study of community as a concept, element of society, and actor in it to follow, "community is not a thing...but a moment in modern rule...saturated with affective power." And more than this, "[C]ommunities are constituted by and constitutive of regimes of knowledge." This "regime of knowledge" distinguishes one community from another. A particular community's regime empowers it by giving it a base and focus. Communities in South America, Africa, and England are examined to shed light on different facets of community. American suburbs as also seen in one chapter as constituting an identifiable community.

Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Gobalized Middle East
Diane Singerman and Paul Amar editors
American University in Cairo
c/o International Publishers Marketing, distributor
22841 Quicksilver Drive, Dulles, VA 20166,
9774249283 $34.50 542+xviii pp. 1-800-758-3756

For Cairo at this time, "cosmopolitan" does not suggest a certain definition or image as it generally does with reference to say, New York, Paris, or Dubai. With Cairo, the term/concept relates to potentials and aspirations which have come to the surface with limited, yet unprecedented political turns in recent years. "Cosmopolitan" thus encompasses a diversified range of voices, ideas, and activism within this somewhat changed social space. "In Cairo, 2005, a new urban-based, cosmopolitan, radical democracy agenda began to emerge, as the product of a three-year convergence trend within and between leftist, liberal, and Islamic groups, and a myriad of city and transnational advocates." Individuals and groups organizing around communities and universities and human rights, religious, and feminist groups brought "attention to a set of dynamics and protagonists bustling at the urban crossroads of an assertive, outward-looking Middle East." Nineteen essays by authors associated with universities and research organizations from countries around the world report on many facets of this cosmopolitanism which has emerged in Cairo. Coffee bars, media, popular culture, economics, tourism, class, and ethnic groups are among these. Though the recent outbreak of warfare between Israel and Hezbollah is sure to have some effect on the Cairo cosmopolitanism as it is a central development of Egyptian society and experiment for other Middle Eastern countries, the essays make for not only a timely, but an incomparable view of phenomena in the Arab world which go largely unknown.

Bauhaus Culture - From Weimar to the Cold War
Kathleen James-Chakraborty editor
University of Minnesota Press
111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290,Minneapolis, MN 55401-2520
0816646880 $25.00 246+xix pp.

Starting from Bauhaus's precursors in German and Prussian culture, the span of this influential modernist school and movement is followed mainly in Germany up until the years after World War II. Each chapter is written by a different author with a background in art or art history. But unlike most groupings of pieces by different authors on a particular subject, this one is not eclectic or merely loosely jointed. As a testament to the oversight and skill of the editor, these nine essays give a cogent chronological picture of the Bauhaus movement with inter-related content. Leading artists and innovators of Bauhaus, related historical and cultural topics, the field's aesthetics, and specific styles, areas, and art works are taken up over the chapters. This readable, knowledgeable, and comprehensive work with aspects of social history and cultural studies holds rewards for both newcomers to Bauhaus and more advanced students of it and art history. A myriad of subjects are treated both freshly and concisely in an approach which can serve as an introduction or an enjoyable review.

Exiles in Hollywood
David Wallace
Amadeus Press
c/o Hal Leonard Corporation
512 Newark Pompton Turnpike, Pompton Plains, NJ 07444
0879103299 $22.95 246+xv pp. 1-800-637-2852

The director Fritz Lang is the "Monocled Aristocrat"; Aldous Huxley is one of the "Pacifists"; the screenwriter Salka Viertel, close companion of Greta Garbo, is the "Catalyst"; Igor Stravinsky is notable for "Film Music," and so on through 19 chapters as Wallace focuses on the many European emigres who gathered in Los Angeles and became involved in various ways in Hollywood's film business. In a popular style, the author of "Hollywoodland" and similar other books draws profiles of the talented individuals who fled from Europe's troubles, particularly Nazism in Germany, and notes their achievements and influences. By its breadth, the book demonstrates the effects this polyglot group of emigres had on American film in its formative period. Film directors such as Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder, for example, introduced the film-noir style to American films. Working with Walt Disney on "Fantasia," Stravinsky brought new dimensions to animated films.

Cannibal Fictions: American Explorations of Colonialism, Race, Gender, and Sexuality
Jeff Berglund
University of Wisconsin Press
1930 Monroe Street, Third Floor,Madison, WI 53711-2059
0299215909 $65.00 233+xv pp. 1-800-621-2736

The assistant professor of English at Northern Arizona U. analyzes how there "emerged [in American society] a deeply ambivalent discourse, simultaneously estranging and familiarizing the barbaric cannibal." P. T. Barnum's exhibition of "Fiji Cannibals" in the 1870s was one of the first coherent, widespread examples of this ambivalence involving fear and fascination with the cannibal. In it, the "cannibals" were confined and thus tamed for the amusement of the public. Earlier instances of the U.S. European, white public's unsettled feelings about cannibals representing the foreign and wild are seen in works of Melville, Poe, and other pre-Civil War writers. With Edgar Rice Burroughs' turn-of-the-century book "Tarzan and the Apes," a white European male becomes a part of the cannibalistic world, and in some ways exceeds even the cannibals in their ferocity and freedom from the restraints of civilization. Generally overlooked aspects of the popular book and movie "Fried Green Tomatoes" uncover recent dispositions regarding cannibalism and the concept of the other and the repressed it stands for. By analysis of such texts, other media, and aspects of past and modern-day culture, Berglund sheds considerable light on the continual and changing play between the figure of the cannibal without and cannibalistic characteristics, urges, and designs within.

Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book - Unmasking the Myth of Modernity
Thomas Andrae
University Press of Mississippi
3825 Ridgewood Road, Jackson, MS 39211
1578068576 $50.00 206+ix pp.
1578068584 $20.00 1-800-737-7788

Certainly Carl Barks is well-known for his vivid, singular drawings of the Donald Duck characters in the Disney comics and cartoons. He would have a place in the pantheon of 20th-century comic illustrators for the imagination of his portrayals and scenes on the basis of their entertainment value alone. But beneath the prodigious output were deep undertones reflecting concerns and mores of popular culture and an implicit critique of many of these--which aspects of Barks's comic illustrations Andrae fully brings out. "Barks's tales are inextricably linked to the politics of his time and offer one of the most trenchant critiques of patriarchal capitalism in any popular media." One sees this inhering in the character Uncle Scrooge with his boundless love of lucre and joy in diving into his swimming pool filled with coins. Born in 1900, Barks lived to be nearly 100. He teamed with Disney in the 1930s. In his later decades, Barks evolved from implicit perspectives on general foibles such as greed and materialism to criticisms of specific aspects of U. S. politics and its effects. Many of these later strips "call into question the tentacle-like homogenization of both the Third World and the United States by consumerism and global capitalism." Andrae covers amply all of the layers of Barks's illustration art from unique style with lasting appeal to incorporation of issues of popular culture and often critiques of these. Readers will look forward to subsequent books following this first in the publisher's Great Comic Artists Series.

Henry Berry

Kaye's Bookshelf

Peter and Beth
Doug Lalli
Hats Off Books
610 East Delano Street, Suite 104, Tucson, Arizona 85705
1587364964, $16.95, 186 pp.,

The back cover tells the essence of this fiction novel:

"Five years after Peter Granelli's lone sexual encounter with Beth, a close friend from his college days, he spots her from a distance on a Manhattan street. Soon he becomes obsessed with the idea that Beth might have become pregnant as a result of their (somewhat disastrous) tryst, and for months he considers tracking her down and learning the truth. Finally Peter and Beth come face to face and he gets his answer. Why, though, doesn't he quite believe what she's telling him?"

Doug Lalli is a good writer–clear, straightforward–and carries you right along, but this novel is much more than a story about Peter's obsession over Beth. It's about Peter: his childhood, family, relatives; his feelings about his father, Mike, who rejected him; his job, which he doesn't like; his friendship with Rick, a co-worker; his marriage to Claire which recently ended; his developing relationship with therapist Dr. Rhonda Millstein; and at the heart of it all . . . "But how can you trust people," I asked, "when you don't trust people?"

Somehow you feel a New York influence in Peter's psychological tripping but it's the mystery of the possible child which holds you and still, even when you know, continues to hold you as Peter can't decide how he feels, can he trust her, what does he want to do. It may be called Peter and Beth, but it's definitely not a romance novel. I would recommend this book based on the quality of Doug's writing and his insightfulness into the complexity of the human condition.

Eric, My Son . . . lost to drugs
Joanne Baker
Llumina Press
7915 W. McNab Rd, Tamarac, FL 33321
1595265325, $14.95, 260 pp.,

To tell you about this book, first I will quote from the back cover–just as it is presented:

"This is a true story about a mother's losing battle with her drug-addicted son and their many ups and downs through life. His story begins as a hyperactive child and progresses to a troubled, drug-addicted teenager. The book discribes the forces that drove him to take drugs. It talks about society, his genetic inheritence, and his parents' failure. Eric was raised like a child in the fifties, his parents not realizing how dangerous the world had become by the eighties. Eric gave up drugs and alcohol for a year at a time, and everyone thought he would be fine. However, the temptation would never go away! His poor judgement, due to being slightly slow, always added to his problems. His family always gave him more credit than they should have. Perhaps it is hard for parents to face reality. They always want to believe their children are doing fine. His parents encouraged Eric to make his own decisions, but this led to many frightening situations; still no one thought his life would end the way it did. They always thought that some day he would find himself."

Based on what I have quoted, you can decide for yourself if this book is one you might want to read. If you are dealing with a similar problem, possibly the book may give you insights into the problem and support to let you know that you are not alone with the problem. The book is presented in a journal-like memoir fashion and may have been written to help the author work through her grief and the complexity of losing her son. Eric, My Son is Joanne Baker's first effort at writing a book--it's a long, hard process and a rich learning experience.

The Oregon Project
Natasha Roit
Tapestry Press
2000 E. Lamar, Ste 600, Arlington, TX 76006
193081948X, $14.95, 198 pp.

I would like to start this review by telling you a little about Natasha Roit, the author, and what she has brought to this novel. Natasha was born in the Soviet Union and came to the US when she was 14. She graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. As a lawyer she represented the Browns against O.J. Simpson in the custody battle for Nicole Brown's children and won on appeal. She earned the Clay Award in 2003, which named her the California Trial Lawyer of the Year and in 2004 was named one the top 50 Female Attorneys in California by the Daily Journal.

The Oregon Project is a well-written, intricately woven mystery of multiple facets bound together in a realistic fictional tale with a strong theme about the power and political pressures existent within our current justice system. In this tangled web we have DA Grant Bellinger and Assistant DA Mitchell Landau in an election battle, several real estate scam artists (George Stone and Charlie Parks)–The Oregon Project, the beautiful Tess Lowe, and organized Chinese crime. Allow me give you a sample of Natasha's writing from page 1:

"On any given night, this alley was permeated with a brew of dumpster trash and drug-filled urine. Its filth was matched only by its darkness and the scent of gut wrenching fear emitted by anyone who happened to turn into it by accident or, as in this case, was brought here against his will.

"He stopped feeling his hands somewhere midtown. Luckily, the rope cut off circulation and relieved him of the pain. Now, he knew it was only a matter of time–his time. The stench of the alley hit as soon as he was dragged out of the back of the black sedan. There were three of them, but he could only feel two now, one on each arm, pushing him further and further into the abyss of this strange location, which would soon become his final resting place. Where was the third? Did he stay with the car? Was he the one holding the gun, and would put the bullet in his head? Did any of it really matter?"

And the essence of this book from page 197:

"In truth, it was not hard to explain at all. The first two years being the district attorney were, in short, unbelievably satisfying. Mitch was exactly where he wanted to be. He worked hard, made good changes, and made the right decisions. But then came the new campaign, the fundraising, the contributions and the expected promises in return. He was being challenged by one of his subordinates, a woman he respected and liked.

"This was nothing compared to his battle with Bellinger, but the scent was rising. He could feel himself softening his once hard-line stances in order to appease, even slightly, those who would help him get reelected. He was breaking no laws, and crossing no lines. But he felt himself slipping into the Bellinger abyss, tasting, and for the first time, understanding what must have turned Bellinger from a good prosecutor into a corrupt politician.

In a good system of laws, this was a bad system of politics. In order to stay in power to do good, one had to succumb to allowing some bad. Nor did he see a good solution to this quagmire, although he contemplated it often. If, instead, the district attorneys were appointed for life, the way U.S. Supreme Court justices were, there would be no accountability other than one's own conscience, a rather weak monitoring system. . . ."

Natasha Roit has used her knowledge and legal experience to create this excellent, contemporary mystery. The Oregon Project is her debut novel, and I highly recommend this engaging, fast-paced read which will be available September 2006.

Chocolate Days Margarita Nights, The Lottery Murders
Mckenna davis
1663 Liberty Drive Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403,
142088935, $19.99, 328 pp., 1-800-839-8640

This novel is a fast-paced, easy-read mystery/romance. After Shay Caldwell wins $127 million in a lottery, the murders begin. A greedy man wants all the money and kills the people in his way. Although it is a contemporary story based in Manhattan, it had a fairytale-feel for me–somewhat superficial–from the beginning to the end. The author's writing style is typical. The title and cover are interesting and attractive. If you like contemporary adult fairytales, you might try this book, though $19.99 is a bit high.

Unpredictable Results
Charles Inglin Publishing Inc.
PO Box 9949, College Station, TX 77842
1589395794, $14.95, 288 pp.

To begin, I'd like to let the author tell you about himself, and I quote from the back cover:
"Charles Inglin was born, raised and still resides in the Wine Country of Northern California. His favorite whine is that he's the only one he knows who doesn't own a vineyard.

"Mr. Englin earned a degree in History, on the reasonable premise that if you haven't a clue where you're going, you should at least know where you've been. At one point in his career the U.S. Army spent a considerable amount of money in an effort to make a soldier of him. The sole result of this program was to provide yet another example of how the Department of Defense squanders taxpayer money.

"Having shown little aptitude for either academe or the military, Mr. Inglin of course turned to the last refuge of Liberal Arts majors and became a computer programmer, at which profession he has labored for more than two decades."

After reading these three paragraphs, do you feel what I felt?. . . a desire to read this book and meet the author. It's the "tone" that's the key. My grammar book tells me that tone is the basic attitude expressed by the writer, and mood, the atmosphere he creates. The tone of this book will delight you, as it did me.

Unpredictable Results is written in the first person and its protagonist, Dunstan "Dunce" Malvern, is like a leaf upon the wind who unwittingly finds himself with three life-threatening problems in a futuristic world with advanced technologies on Hildred's Planet. As the forces of greed work beneath the surface, Jheebs, an android servant and the salvaged property of Dunstan, may save the day. But, don't forget . . . there are unpredictable results.

As I seem to be quite taken with the tone, allow me to quote so that you may decided for yourself, from page 3:

"Thank you, Jheebs. You may clear the table now. Everything was done to perfection, as usual. I think we shall be ready for dessert in, say, twenty minutes or so. This splendid pinot secco should keep us happily occupied until then.

"Jheebs? Why, yes, he is quite a useful fellow. Couldn't do without him. Also quite unique, and you know, only one of his kind on Hildred's Planet. Jheebs and I go back quite a few years now. How I came to be associated with him is one of those stories so absurd, so riddled with improbable events, even I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't been there.

"I well remember how it all started that evening at Uncle Grump's. A pleasant, clear early summer's evening much like this, with the lights of Ilnestrom just starting to come on as they are now, all strings of white, amber, gold against the deep blue of the western horizon. Very spectacular. And if you think the view from here is wonderful you should see it from Uncle Grump's penthouse."

And in closing from page 286:

"That gave me something to think about. After a bit I ventured an observation.

"You won't be offended, I trust, if in the future I occasionally indulge in somewhat lengthier consideration of your recommendations before deciding whether or not to endorse them?"

"Of course not, sir. Such is always a good policy when dealing with automata."

So there you have it–a small sampling of a well-written, delightful mystery tale about a futuristic socioeconomic system where one works at what one likes as much as one cares to. Any financial gain you made during your lifetime is returned to the central money pool when you die to support future generations. I agree completely and espoused a similar idea in my book, The Rose Sisters Trilogy. I highly recommend Unpredictable Results to anyone and everyone!
A Promise for Destiny
Leonard Moody
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Rd - 515, Parker, CO
1598002333, $23.95, 260 pp.

You open this book to immediate intrigue–a letter of confession written by a husband to his wife. Will the marriage survive? What did he need to confess?

"I just finished reading a letter, a confession, from a man I grew to trust, to understand, to admire, to respect, and to love. Yesterday my husband, Lucas, mysteriously asked me to come to this place, a place he called "holy," a place unknown to anyone, even me, until today. It was here I found the letter.

"As I sit here on this cold, hard rock, high above my homeland, the early June afternoon sun can barely break through the darkness that surrounds me. The warm southerly breeze cannot piece the coldness in my heart. Not more than fifty feet behind me are the makeshift graves of my two sisters."

From there, the primary protagonist, Lucas Ambler, is pulling a sixteen-year-old girl, Barb, out from under his truck and taking her home with him. Barb is one of three women, all with tragic histories, who live together and considered themselves sisters. Lucas Ambler lives alone in his family-built log home in the Adirondack Mountains; he is financially independent but works as a nature guide. It is evident that Lucas's experience with intimate relationships is limited. Almost at first sight he falls in love with Anne, one of the sisters. Soon, all the sisters are living with him, and he has family again. Barb psychically sees death in the future and elicits a promise from Lucas . . . a promise for destiny.

For a fictional romance novel, the characters in this story are very unusual, and yet realistic. The circumstances of their coming together are strange, yet also believable. The depth of conscience is extreme, to the point of physical disability. There were occasions, however, where I felt the characters were somewhat out of character, given what we knew about them, but, in general, the story is a page-turner of suspense, intrigue and romance. The author excels at descriptive narrative, and I would recommend this book to readers interested in fictional romance with a twist. Leonard Moody was born and raised in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New Your State and A Promise for Destiny is his debut fictional novel. Congratulations!

Ernie's Great Adventures
Ernest T. Thompson
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Rd - 515, Parker, CO
1598004085, $15.95, 68 pp.

I don't get many children's books to review, and I won't pretend that I understand the logic behind this book. I do understand that the stories were written to inspire children to use their imaginations–to do and be whatever they want.

Ernie's Great Adventures includes five short stories–each two pages long: Ernie's Great Adventures as a Chef, as a Sailor, as a Pilot, as a Fireman and as a Pirate. The rest of the book from page 11 through page 63 is Ernie's Word Dictionary with one letter of the alphabet on every other page plus a word, i.e. A - Amazing, B - Big, C - Colorful, etc. Possibly Ernie ran out of imagination.

As the alphabetical letters take up most of the book, it is my assumption that the author intended this book for pre-school children; however, there are no colorful pictures inside of any kind, and in this respect, I do not think it will compete well with the colorful books on the market. If it was, indeed, intended for older children who might understand the concept of using your imagination, then the 52 pages of alphabetical letters are fluff and fill. The book has an attractive cover, but I think for the limited content, at $15.95 it is overpriced.

According to the back cover, Ernest T. Thompson grew up in North Carolina spending most of his life in the military. He says, "Sometimes your environment dictates your outcome in life. If you start off as a kid with no hope then you will end up as an adult with no hope. Having hope is not something someone gives you. Hope starts in the mind and puts you on a course to something bigger and better." To which I say, "Amen, Ernest!. . . keeping working and don't stop hoping."

Hooked on a Horn - Memoirs of a Recovered Musician
Gene Hull
Trafford Publishing
Victoria, BC V8T 4P4 Canada
1412067219, $22.00, 261 pp.

As I specialize in reviewing POD published book, I regularly receive memoirs–twenty-five in the past four months, to be exact. In addition, I have reviewed novels based on the true-life experiences of the authors: Clouds Are Always White on Top by Nolan Lewis, Battle Downunder by Charles Rush and Fears Flutterby by Rose Lamatt, to name a few. Memoirs are written for many different reasons: to share a problem, loss and insight with others; to help work through the loss of a loved one; to share travel adventures and aspects of different cultures; to purge one's soul–confess our human foibles; and, in the end, to remember and immortalize one's own life.

Hooked on Horn is indeed a memoir, but in many ways, so much more! It's a sea adventure, a musical adventure, a small insight into our greatest jazz musicians in eras past, a family adventure, a mother's pride for her son's success. It is the story of a young man's dream, begun at age 10, and his disciplined 'alpha' efforts to make that dream come true.

The parts of Gene Hull's life that he has chosen to share about his professional musical journey are entertaining, educational, humorous, musically enlightening, heart wrenching, poignantly inspirational and presented with a creative flair. Gene has been in the music/entertainment field just about all his life. He has put together a number of bands, been on the road with big-name bands, conducted bands and produced shows and for a good part of his later life, was the producer of award-winning production and ice shows for the Royal Caribbean International.

There are two parts in this wonderful book which conjured up some tears. The first is the story about the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival. Gene's group, the Jazz Giants–a band of ex-professional musicians who wanted to play interesting big band arrangements, was selected to be the guest opening band. This was their big opportunity! Allow me to quote several passages:

"Months zoomed by with extra rehearsals, arrangements being polished, new ones written, PR mailings to hundreds of jazz fans, stories and interviews in local papers, even radio interviews. Interest in us steamrolled. We were becoming a household name in Connecticut. . . .

"We kicked off our program at 8:00 PM. I don't remember a note we played; it went so fast. But I do remember the brass section screaming out into the night with colossal fire. The saxes steamed together like bonded brothers and took their ensemble sound to another level. From our first note, the energy and drive poured over me, almost putting me in a trance. The band was like a locomotive. Get out of the way everybody. Here we come.

"The applause was generous from the sell-out crowd who had come expecting to see the famous. . . . In reality most every player had managed to play close to his best at the same time. A rare moment for us. I was proud to stand up there in front of this real band of brothers, who had laid it out for all to hear. This is who we are, world."

They were expecting the album from the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival to be their "big break." But, as fate would have it, all the tapes were spoiled by an electronic quirk. There would be no album, and ultimately, the Jazz Giants's sound was lost with no 'recorded' history. If Gene was 12 in 1941 when he received his first saxophone, he would have been 33 in 1962. The second story took place over forty years after that Newport Festival. Peter, one of Gene's eight children, tracked down the live recording of the 1962 Festival and contacted the Library of Congress.

"The Gene Hull Orchestra, The Jazz Giants," had been recorded at Newport '62. A single CD could be assembled from the tape and made available with permission of the producer and for non-commercial purposes only."

Peter chose a family reunion in 2003 to present Gene with the CD of the live recording.

""Just looking at the packaged CD placed before me gave me a jolt like a sudden electric current. Shivers came right from the stomach. Then I completely lost it.

"Dad," my daughter Amy whispered, "why are you crying? I've never seen you cry."

"I don't know."

But I did know. I was seeing my yesterdays. My grown children as wide-eyed little kids, asking me where I was going. And me telling them, "Straight up." The Jazz Giants rehearsing at Bill's Castle. A boy sitting on a bus on a cold winter night, clutching his first saxophone wrapped in a pillow case. All the jazz concerts the band had played. Katherine Hepburn scolding me. Benny Goodman captivating me. Paul Whiteman berating me. Wood Herman and Duke Ellington making me feel humble. Las Vegas dazzling and disappointing me. The years with Damone. Elvis greeting me with such honesty. The miles of piled-up travel. And saying good-bye to a teary young family on the front porch, as I'd leave to seek fame and fortune on yet another road trip. . . .

I tried to tell my family that this CD was more than just a recording, that their lives were in it as much as mine. It didn't matter that I couldn't find the words. They knew. We listened to the CD together. The sound of the band–its energy and musicality–far exceeded the memories I had parked away. Now suddenly the sounds were alive and bright again, clearer than ever.

The look on their faces was worth the struggling years. The kids understood at last why the Jazz Giants had been one of the most important musical accomplishments of my life, and appreciated what it took to create it."

So, if that doesn't grab you, you're either dead or nothing will. I highly recommend this delightful, entertaining memoir and hope with its next edition we find a CD included so that we too can enjoy the Jazz Giants at the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival.

Beyond Innocence
Sunny Serafino
P.O. Box 985, Collierville, TN 38027
1598723596, $17.95, 331 pp.

This story is about a young woman, Dorothea "Thea" Fitz-Simmons, who moves to New York City in 1950 to teach music at a private school against her mother's strong objections. Through one of the male teachers at the school she meets Edward, who cleverly manipulates her into marriage for her money. He wines and dines and ultimately convinces her to elope with him. When her famous attorney father dies, it turns out there is no estate. When she finally tells Edward, he beats her close to death. Edward goes to jail, but wants to talk with Thea before they extradite him for a previous crime. In this last meeting Thea, still bruised and broken, has her say and walks away . . . to continue her life teaching music in New York City.

There was much I could relate to in this story as I personally left home against my parents wishes when I was eighteen in 1959 and took a bus to Los Angeles, where I knew no one. Somehow, I found Jackie's boarding house at Hobart and Wilshire (food and shelter for $20/week) and froze in place when a four-foot-tall man opened the door. I gathered up my courage, rented a room and soon found a job ($300/month) within walking distance. Also, the relationship between my father and me grew deeper in a similar manner to Thea's.

Even though I could relate to the situation and the problems, my feelings while reading were . . . it's all so typical. Plus, I couldn't buy into the idea that Thea's marital problem was the result of her naivety. If such an "Edward" were to come into my life now (with all my experience) and treated me as he did Thea, I probably would elope with him, too. And then there is the question: how will she know the difference when she wants to trust another man?

Sunny Serafino is an excellent writer, and Beyond Innocence is well-written and well-edited. Just because the plot didn't grab me, doesn't mean it won't appeal to you. We all have different tastes in what we like to read. When I finish a book, I like to feel that I learned something, that I experienced something through the book that I could not have otherwise, that the book moved me spontaneously to laughter and/or tears and that the style and quality of writing deliciously titillated my mind--a big order to fill. Sunny Serafino is an award-winning novelist who currently lives in Avon Park, Florida. Other novels by Sunny include: Secrets; Echoes, Nobody's Child, and Pure Gold. Following Daddy is her only nonfiction work.

The Color Purple
Alice Walker
Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY
0671526022, $8.93, 251 pp.

Typically, I spend my free time reading POD published books to review; however, now and then I read something else. "The Color Purple" is not a new book and has won several awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the American Book Award. Quoting from the back cover:

"Life wasn't easy for Celie. But she knew how to survive, needing little to get by.

Then her husband's lover, a flamboyant blues singer, barreled into her world and gave Celie the courage to ask for more–to laugh, to play, and finally–to love."

I had not planned to do a review but as many books contain some element or discussion about religion, I thought I'd add Shug Avery's thoughts on the subject to the pot, quoting from page 177-178-179.

"Well, say Shug, if he came to any of these churches we talking bout he'd have to have it conked before anybody paid him any attention. The last thing niggers want to think about they God is that his hair kinky.

That's the truth, I say.

Ain't no way to read the bible and not think God white, she say. Then she sigh. When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. You mad cause he don't seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! Do the mayor listen to anything colored say? Ask Sofia, she say.

But I don't have to ast Sofia. I know white people never listen to colored, period. If they do, they only listen long enough to be able to tell you what to do.

Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don't know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

It? I ast.

Yeah, It. God ain't a he or a she, but a It.

But what do it look like? I ast.

Don't look like nothing, she say. It ain't a picture show. It ain't something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you've found It. . . .

She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can't miss it. It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my high.

Shug! I say.

Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That's some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves'em you enjoys'em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that's going, and praise God by liking what you like.

God don't think it dirty? I ask.

Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love–and a mess of stuff you don't. But more than anything else, God love admiration.

You saying God vain? I ask.

Naw, she say. Not vain, just want to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.

What it do when it pissed off? I ast.

Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.

You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.

Yes, Celie, she say, Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, make faces and flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to get attention we do, except walk?

Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I'm still adrift. Trying to chase the old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) Not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing."

To which I say, "Amen, Alice Walker."

R. E. Starr
PO Box 2399, Bangor, ME 04402-2399
1591139708, $31.95, 396 pp.

A serial killer is hanging people and attaching notes by a six-inch hand-forged nail to their bodies, "It is a righteous thing to recompense affliction to them that afflict you." The antique yacht Poseidon is stolen from a Biscayne Bay canal and destroyed. Mysterious letters signed "G" are sent to Brock and Sarah London. The werewolf Gondul sees all but where is Aklia, Cain's sister?. . . and who are Aegir and Ran, John and Isabel Cole?

Retribution is a multifaceted, mystery thriller, close in complexity to Dan Brown's, The DaVinci Code, with life and death hanging in the balance. More questions: who, why, what is the connection between the murdered people, what about the yacht Poseidon?. . . how are Brock and Sarah involved? And then, too, it has some mystery-solving similarities to Nora Roberts's Key Trilogy. You'll get a little taste of lots of history: mythological, biblical, European, the New England witch hunts and organized "mafia" crime.

Ron Starr is a good writer with a fertile imagination. Retribution is a quality hardcover, well-written and well-edited novel. The complexity is above normal which spikes your interest and makes the mystery a page-turner. Mythology and biblical history are significant factors in this tangled web of intrigue. To find out how R. E. Starr weaves his multi facets together, you'll have to read the book, and . . . I highly recommend you do.

Retribution is R. E. Starr's third novel. He is an author of multiple supernatural suspense and detective novels including Welcome to the Alwahnee and Mounds. He lives with his wife Doris and their cats in a Central Florida beach community. You can contact Ron via E-mail at or visit his website–

Knock Knock Who's There?
Michael Shocket
Authors Online Ltd
19 The Cinques, Gamlingay, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG193NU, England
0755202414, $14.95, 212 pp.

To begin, let me tell you that Michael Shocket is my favorite POD author. There's a special 'something' in his writing that always delights me. I know he's in his early eighties, but his mind is 'young at heart.' I have reviewed two of his books this year which you can find in my Archives: The Binding of Isaac in March and Know Me Tomorrow in May. As I said in my second review, "He has an intimate, casual tone (not quite as intimate and casual as Stephen King's, but similar) with spurts of humor, drama and a strong sense of sexuality. His honesty, human foibles and compassion ring true and clear . . . ."

His titles always fascinate me, and to the question of this title, Knock Knock Who's There?, I would have to answer: Life . . . life with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, love and hate, politics, finances, health, sexual encounters, friends and most importantly . . . family. And I quote from the back cover:

"This is a family story, told in turn by each of its members. The matriarch, Diana, a retired headmistress of repute, is suffering from Alzheimer's. Although smitten with episodes of dementia, she has recurrent period of wisdom, enabling her to play a crucial role in dealing with the various crises which beset her daughter, Harriet, son, Adrian, his wife, Mildred, and their accident-prone children, Sophie, an art student, and Nick, a teenager, who is unable to keep out of trouble."

A unique technique Michael uses is writing from a first-person point of view (POV) for each main character in the novel, so you know what the person is thinking and feeling, which brings you more intimately into his/her life. Another facet I like is his ability to weave contemporary issues–politics, drugs, teenage violence, unwanted pregnancies, extramarital sex, the tragic affects of Alzheimer's–into this family story. He opens with Adrian completely paralyzed in a hospital bed and only able to communicate by blinking his eyes, once for "yes" and twice for "no," and comes full circle to close with the resolution of Adrian's problem. Allow me to provide you with a sample of Michael's writing and share one such issue as Diana writes a letter to Mildred, from pages 124-125:

"I'm taking the opportunity to write this while still in relatively full control of my faculties. It's open to question whether or not I am fortunate in having the diagnosis of Alzheimer's made known to me in its very early stages. On the one hand I am able to make appropriate arrangements, prepare psychologically for what lies ahead, and avoid being taken by surprise by the symptoms which will inevitably arise. On the other hand, if I were unaware of the condition I'd be spared the agony of knowing that I am inevitably going to lose the faculty of reason - the most precious one of all. I'd rather lose sight, hearing or both my legs.

"However, Dr. Alzheimer may not know it yet, but he's got a fight on his hands. There are still enough cells functioning in this old brain of mine to resist his weapons of biological warfare. Diana Harcourt-Smith has no intention of going like a lamb to the slaughter. Apart from anything else she's an incorrigible optimist. What do you know about stem cell research, Dr. Alzheimer? Even if it's too late for me - and I've got a sneaking hope it might not be - one way or another we'll beat you! Please take note of the fact that - given the opportunity - I intend to volunteer to be a guinea pig on any experimental programme.

"Brave words! But realistically I have to face the fact that I am likely be reach the stage of becoming little more than a vegetable, except that certain unpleasant animal functions will persist, and make me a disgusting burden either to those I love, until they can no longer stand the sight, sound and smell of me. And then what? There's the prospect of being the discarded shell of a human being kept alive in some infernal asylum, in the unwelcome company of other creatures best described as the walking dead. I can't rid myself of the thought that somewhere inside the useless and offensive husk of my body will be some element that is me. Will I be remotely conscious of what I have become? Because that, Dr. Alzheimer is a condition I cannot - and will not - accept. The alternative is inescapable, and the purpose of this document is to ensure that, while I am still of reasonably sound mind, I can make my wishes known.

"I do not want my body to survive my brain, whether the solution is suicide or euthanasia. It would be a simple matter for me to put an end to it all here and now. The idea has indeed crossed my mind, but been quickly dismissed. I love my life too much. I always have. Even in its darkest moments, after the death of my beloved Arthur, I clung to the comfort of a wonderful family, learned to laugh again, immersed myself in work which brought me both satisfaction and pleasure. I'm blessed with the joy of having two wonderful grandchildren.

"Perhaps what makes the wonders of this world - this life - so precious is their very transience, and my awareness of being deprived of them before very long. I savor the delights of each season, even the harshest chill of winter. . .

"God bless you - if there can be a God - and, if not, let me bless you, dearest Mildred, together with all my wonderful family."

Dr. Michael Shocket is a retired lecturer living in Hertfordshire. Knock Knock Who's There? is his third novel, and I highly recommend them all!

Kaye Trout, Reviewer

Magdalena's Bookshelf

Jamie's Dinners
Jamie Oliver
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014,
0141015756, $39.95, 336 pp., 1-800-847-5515

Yes, it's another celebrity chef cookbook, but like his gorgeous compatriot Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver's cookbooks are always reason to celebrate. Although he doesn't have anything like the literary nous of Nigella (in fact he has been reported as saying he never ever reads), Jamie has created his own culinary niche. His cooking has always been promoted as 'naked,' or rather, simple, unadorned, based on good ingredients and simple techniques rather than fancy sauces and difficult constructions. He calls everyone (even visiting ladies) "mate," slides down banisters, flirts with old women, and has enough photos of himself in each cookbook to fill a glossy magazine spread. He uses streetwise, casual terms to describe his food like "pukka tukka," and "lovely jubly," and invites everyone round for a feed. There's no denying that his food traverses the line between culinary and easy, and that he has inspired young people around the English speaking world to don aprons, buy mortar and pestle sets, sharp knives, and get cooking. In this latest cookbook, Jamie goes a step further, and positions the cookbooks as a guide for cooking simple, regular, easy family meals. The focus is on teaching basic cooking skills while still allowing for impressive output that the whole family is prepared to eat, and the book fulfils its promise. The recipes are really simple. The food is really good. And the focus is truly family oriented. After all, Jamie is now a family man himself and his interests in ensuring that kids go off to school with good quality food in their lunchboxes and eat healthy breakfasts each morning and solid dinners each evening is not just theoretical. Nor is the notion that cooking for families often means quick, simple, and cheap.

The book opens with Jamie's top ten dinners, including things like sausage and mash, burgers and chips, lasagne, jacket potatoes with fillings (spud-u-likes as we call them in our house), apple pie, roast chicken, fish and chips with mushy peas, chicken pie, chicken tikka masala, tomato soup, chicken tikka masala – you get the idea. It's the kind of food you could probably stomach most evenings (though perhaps a little on the stodgy side, even with Jamie's special seasonings), and the kind of food you probably love too. Of course every ingredient is fresh--the tomato soup leaves Campbell's for dead, which is, of course, the whole point—and there are plenty of herbs, personal tips, and suggestions for variations. The rest of the book has been designed to be versatile, especially the innovative Family Tree chapter. This chapter contains 5 very basic recipes for pesto, tomato sauce, shoulder of lamb, stewed fruit and a way of using bought puff pastry (thank god Jaime didn't suggest we make it – I might have been tempted to try again). But each of these dishes becomes the basis for many more using the basic ingredient to create a whole range of different dishes. Once you've mastered it, you won't think of recipes in quite the same way, since any base has the potential to be used this way, so this chapter is quite an eye opener, especially for someone how hasn't done much cooking.

5 Minute Wonders contains 8 dishes which can be made in less than 5 minutes, and have been included to show the person who claims they simply don't have time to cook, that they truly can. Again, and as is the case with all of the book, the real value of the chapter isn't the recipes per se, although they are all good enough to serve to guests, but the way they change perception. Of course you have to have the ingredients: good filet, fresh fish, chorizo sausage, pak choi and oriental noodles, but it might be easier to pick them up on the way home from work than to pick up a takeaway and the end result is so much better that your local may lose your business.

Other chapters contain fresh lunches (perfect for kids who are sandwich jaded, although I'm not sure how my son will react to Crispy Peking Duck in Pancakes), gorgeous and fast salads (I tried the Carrot and Coriander Crunch Salad and it was as delicious as it was easy), soups, vegetables with 3 options for each veg, pasta, meat dishes, fish, and desserts based primarily around fruit, although there are also a couple of very rich tarts.

While there is an element of the classic in the recipes Jamie includes (after all, everyone knows how to cook burgers and chips don't they?), and everything is easy peasy, there is a little innovative twist in every single recipe that makes it unique and particularly delicious. It might be the inclusion of a certain herb or spice, or the technique like tray baking, or the use of foil wrapping or the combinations Jamie uses like mixing ratatouille with white fish or adding mozzarella and red wine vinegar to macaroni cheese (it really works), but everything is original and new despite being utterly familiar. The book ends with some information about making your kitchen work better. This is really a terrific cookbook. Clearly the impact of having a family has had a positive influence on Jamie Oliver and there is no hint of the dilettante about Jamie's dinners. The food tastes superb, is easy to cook, is child friendly (really!), is nice enough to serve to visiting royalty (assuming you've got access to good ingredients), and is reasonably healthy. There's not much more that a person could want from a cookbook.

The Man of My Dreams
Curtis Sittenfeld
175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1800, New York, NY 10010
0330441280, $32.95 266 pages 1-888-330-8477

There's something tragic about the character of Hannah Gavener, the protagonist in Curtis Sittenfeld's second novel. She begins in the slightly vacuous fairy tale of celebrity gossip magazines and never seems to break through the muzzy sense of wanting her own "happily ever after." Hannah's alienation and sense of physical awkwardness is one which underlies the book and we follow her emotionally crippled attempts at relationships with an almost frustrated sense of superiority. The opens with the fourteen year old celebrity obsessed Hanna, living with her vivacious aunt Elizabeth while her parents go through a messy divorce, and then jumps five years to Hannah as a Tufts University Freshman. Hannah then gets another year, and three consecutive months before jumping another five years to an adult Hannah at her mother's second wedding.

While The Man of My Dreams is set up as a coming-of-age novel, Hannah's growth is primarily physical rather than emotional. Although it is a rather unsatisfying read in that sense, there are many aspects to this capable narrative which make it stand out. The first is the unusual narrative voice. From the beginning, it is clear that the point of view is Hannah's, and the narrative tone and voice also Hannah's, but the narrator is still third person omniscient. This sets up a strange dialectic between the person who is telling us about the events, using standard third person devices like "Hannah said," but who also seems to be experiencing the events with the emotional resonance of Hannah, in the present tense. For example, in the first section, the narrator describes the pool at Hannah's parents' country club with the diction and structure of a fourteen year old girl:

There is cement everywhere around the pool, as if it's in the middle of the sidewalk. At her parents' country club, the pool is set in flagstone. Also, you have to pay three dollars just to get in here, at the snack bar you use cash instead of signing your family's name, and you must bring your own towels. The whole place seems slightly unclean and though it is a humid evening, Hannah isn't sorry she lied about not having a bathing suit.(18)

The reader is made a participant in Hannah's tremendous self-consciousness as she works through her youth in the search for love and the meaning she feels this would give her life. Although Hannah's neuroses aren't formed out of the kind of introspection that you'd expect from such a self-obsessed protagonist, we develop a good sense of her through the discussions she has with the therapist Dr Lewin that Hannah takes on during her Taft years:

Dr. Lewin nodded calmly. (Oh, Dr. Lewin, Hanna sometimes thinks, let it be true that you're as decent and well adjusted as you appear! Let the life you have put together be genuinely gratifying, make you exempt from all the nuisances and sorrows of everyone else.)(65)

Hannah's is a detailed and precise personality, and she experiences most of what she does vicariously, in the tortured examination that occurs within her head:

And yet attending to things that make Hannah unhappy - it's such a natural reflex. It feels so intrinsic; it feels in some ways like who she is. The unflattering things she notices about other people, the comments she makes that get her in trouble, aren't these truer than small talk and thank-you notes? Worse, but truer. And underneath all the decorum, isn't most everyone judgmental and disappointed? (127 )

Set against Hannah's paralysis is the overt impulsiveness of her cousin Fig, whom Hannah is continually saving. Although Fig herself isn't a particularly appealing character, existing mainly in a series of incidents, she brings with her a boyfriend, Henry. Hannah becomes infatuated with Henry, partly because he is the first male she is able to talk to in a friendly rather than reactive way, and partly because of his inaccessibility. It is Hannah's inability to cross the line from attraction to reaction with Fig's boyfriend Henry that makes her paralysis so obvious. She carries on a vicarious love affair through tenuous, hint ridden letters that amount to nothing, has a fling with a male form of Fig, and then finally finds herself in a "real" relationship with Mike. Mike makes it clear that Hannah is significantly more attractive than she thinks she is, and he showers her with the kind of affection she had been searching for throughout the novel. However the earth shaking she had always hoped to feel with `love' doesn't happen and, hiding in her infatuations, Hannah slips off:

She realises she can never express these sentiments, but is she supposed to pretend, even to herself that she doesn't feel them? (163)

Hannah isn't completely repressed however. She does manage to reject her father in a restaurant scene full of overly creamy ravioli-her stubborn pride bouncing off his arrogant superficiality, and she walks out on Mike and resolves her future. The Man of My Dreams is not a happy novel by any standards, nor is it redolent with transcendence. In the end, Hannah has removed herself from the narrative so thoroughly that we are left with only a letter, an ending that has been criticised as being too mechanical and obvious. In some ways though, it feels like the reader has been Hannah's crutch, like Dr. Lewin, and that she has freed herself of us in a structural way, just as she has freed herself from the search for the man of her dreams. The real question is whether, by the end of the book, Hannah has come to terms with her own beauty. One can imagine that the answer is, tentatively, yes, although there is no joy in the revelation, only a kind of resigned acceptance.

Magdalena Ball, Reviewer

Margaret's Bookshelf

The Giant Encyclopedia Of Monthly Activities
Kathy Charner, Maureen Murphy, & Charlie Clark
Gryphon House Inc.
10726 Tucker Street, Beltsville, MD 20705
0876590121 $29.95 1-800-638-0928

The Giant Encyclopedia Of Monthly Activities: For Children 3 To 6, written by the team of teachers Kathy Charner, Maureen Murphy, and Charlie Clark for use by fellow teachers, is a vast compendium of inexpensive and educational classroom ideas. Organized by the recommended school month for each group of activities, suggestions range from "Everyone Needs a Nametag" (September) to "Pumpkin Math" (October), "Snow Painting" (January), "Paper Daffodils" (March) and much more. With over 600 options, ranging from projects that take a few minutes to long-running activities over the course of a month, The Giant Encyclopedia Of Monthly Activities is a near-inexhaustible treasure trove of clever ideas. Highly recommended for educators, day care centers, babysitters, and anyone else who works with young children.

Hebrew Illuminations
Adam Rhine
Sounds True
PO Box 8010, Boulder, CO 80306-9886
1591793459 $29.95

Adam Rhine is a professional artist and member of the American Guild of Judaic Art. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation in Lincolnwood Illinois. Enthusiastically recommended for personal, synagogue, academic, and community library collections, Hebrew Illuminations showcases the Judaic symbolism and themes of Rhine's art as it had originally appeared in calendars, greeting cards, magazine covers -- and even on chocolate candy! Comprised of forty-four truly stunning and memorable images, Hebrew Illuminations is especially recommended to the attention of students of kabbalistic meditation practices through offering a visual contemplation of hidden meanings in Hebrew letters and symbols ranging from the "Aleinu" (a declaration of faith that inspires an offer of praise for all creation), to the "Chai" (a tribute to the divine for the miraculous gift of life). Here are to be found emotionally and spiritually moving images in honor and celebration of jewish holidays, Torah passages, Sabbath practices, and so much more. In the tradition of medieval illuminated manuscripts, Adam Rhine's Hebrew Illuminations is both a showcase collection of superb art and a volume of meditative inspiration for spiritual insight and reflection.

The Compleat Crabber
Christopher R. Reaske
Burford Books
32 Morris Avenue, Springfield, NJ 07081
158080134X $12.95

Now in a newly revised and streamlined edition of "The Compleat Crab & Lobster Book", Chrstiopher Reaske's The Compleat Crabber provides specialized instruction on catching and preparing the blue crab, a denizen of the eastern waters ranging from the Atlantic waters from Cape Cod down through Florida and the Gulf Coast. Covering diverse methods for catching crabs with nets, handlines and traps, The Compleat Crabbe is enhanced with the natural history of the crab, crab lore and trivia, and a mouth-watering wealth of recipes ranging from Crab Dips, to Crab and Cucumber Sandwiches, Crab and Cheese Fondue, Company Seafood Casserole, Crab Neuberg, and more. The Compleat Crabbe is a "must" for anyone wanting quick and easy instructions for catching and cooking the Blue Crab.

Rael Isacowitz
Human Kinetics
PO Box 5076, Champaign, IL 61825-5076
0736056238 $19.95 1-800-747-4457

Human Kinetics is the premier publisher for "user friendly" sports and fitness instruction manuals and guides. Rael Isacowitz is one of the leading pilates experts in the world and the owner/founder of Body Arts and Science International. In "Pilates: Your Complete Guide To Mat Work And Apparatus Exercises", Isacowtiz presents a methodical, organized, photo illustrated, in-depth instruction manual for perform pilates movements correcting and provides a unique set of challenging exercise sequences which allow the movements to flow and blend into one continuous motion. Along with straight mat work, Isacowitz introduces the aspiring pilates student into a range of pilates apparatus that include: Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Step and Ladder Barrels, Ped-a-Pul, Arm Chair, and Magic Circle. Covering 210 exercises, the positive results for the pilates student will include improved posture, enhanced muscle tone, increased core strength, and enduring flexibility. Rael Iscaowitz's "Pilates" is a strongly recommended exercise guide for personal and community library Health & Exercise training manual and reference collections.

Margaret Lane

Slessman's Bookshelf

Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice From an Extraordinary Writing Life
Jerry B. Jenkins
Writer's Digest Books
4700 East Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236
1582974179, $24.99, 223 pages

This writer is always seeking to hone her craft. I read a lot of how-to books on writing and find most of them of little use to me. However, Jerry B. Jenkins' book, Writing for the Soul, Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life, had just the opposite effect.

Jenkins background includes a journalist background where he learned to write concise and meaty. And, I mean meaty. He doesn't use a lot of flamboyant word play and doesn't believe in adjectives, the result being a book worth its price.

This book is filled with Jenkins' experiences with various sports and religious leaders as he researched them for biographies. These accounts provide some real insight on these public figures. From Walter Payton and baseball's, Hank Aaron, to Billy Graham to singer, B.J. Thomas, you will find these experiences worth the read.

Jenkins also includes a must-read section at the back of the book which this reviewer intends to explore. This book should also be added to that list. To wrap up this review, I will use the words used by B.J. Thomas as he wrapped up a particularly good recording session, "Put the chairs on the wagon, the meetin's over!"

I'm So Proud of You, My Friendship With Fred Rogers
Tim Madigan
Gotham Books, Published by Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014
1592402275, 196 pages, $20.00

While an employee of a local newspaper, one of my duties was to edit the newsletter for our newspaper employees. One section was always dedicated to bios of new employees. While interviewing one of these new employees, I asked the question, "If you could live out any dream you wanted, what would that be?" The answer can quick and without hesitation, "To live in Mr. Roger's neighborhood." This is the effect that Fred Roger's, creator and star of the classic, "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" television show has had on all who were privileged to watch this classic.

Tim Madigan, author of "I'm So Proud of You, My Friendship with Fred Rogers," has managed to capture the very essence of this kismet like joining of souls that he and Fred Rogers shared.

The book is filled with emails, letters and recollections of visits between these two men. It was apparent by this reviewer that divine intervention was the source of this friendship. Tim Madigan was to experience one of the hardest times in his life after his initial meeting with Mr. Rogers. It was Rogers who gave Madigan the strength, wisdom and will to work through these tough times. This friendship worked for both Madigan and Rogers as each were willing to share and open themselves wholly to the other. For each, they would have an opportunity to be there in times of need.

Madigan sums up his friendship with Fred Rogers in a letter to Rogers by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson's Friendship, "The moment we indulge our affections, the earth is metamorphosed: there is no winter, and no night, all tragedies, all ennuis vanish - all duties even, nothing fills the proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of loving persons. Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years…."

Have I wetted your appetite? This book would be a great gift for a special friend, a welcomed and enduring addition to your own library and an invitation for its readers to step out and open up to new relationships. For the price of an exotic pound of coffee, you will have at your fingertips, solace and comfort. Not only that, but you'll sleep better afterwards than you would if you had bought that coffee!

Ann Allyn Slessman

Sonali's Bookshelf

Sun Storm
Asa Larsson
Delacorte Press, Random House
1745 Broadway New York NY 10019,
038533981X $22 310 pages 212-782-9000

British classic crime meets the Lapland in Asa Larsson's debut novel "Sun Storm," strongly reminiscent of "Smilla's Sense of Snow" by Peter Hoeg. The book opens with: "When Viktor Strandgård dies it is not, in fact, forthe first time." And immediately you are hooked and transported to Kiruna, asmall village in northern Sweden.

Viktor's troubled sister Sanna Strandgård discovers his brutally butcheredbody on the floor of the church he founded in Kiruna. She immediately turnsto her childhood friend Rebecka Martinsson, a tax attorney in Stockholm, foremotional support, childcare for her two daughters, and legal assistancewhen Sanna is charged with her brother's murder. While the local policeinvestigate, led by sympathetic, pregnant Inspector Anna-Maria Mella,Martinsson starts digging into the case as well as into her own pastconnection with the victim, his family, and his church.

No matter the trappings of civilization and advances in technology, people'sunforgiving attitudes, especially bigotry, are alive and well. Solstorm isas much a story of the life of Sweden's Laplanders and the attitude of theCaucasian citizenry to them as it is a murder mystery story. And just likeHoeg's story, Larsson's story also employs the snow and the countryside as arichly landscaped character, through which you understand the joys andsorrows of the land's original people. This is a story that is starkly beautiful and warmly humorous.

An Assembly Such as This: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman
Pamela Aidan
Touchstone, Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas New York NY 10020
0743291344 $14.00 288 pages

Keira Knightley (as Elizabeth Bennett) and Colin Firth and Matthew MacFadyn(as Mr. Darcy) have ensured that Jane Austen and her 1817 novel "Pride andPrejudice" stay at the forefront of romantic imaginations. Thus, thelandscape was set for Pamela Aidan and "An Assembly Such as This: A Novel ofFitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman."

With a formidable grasp of Regency-era vocabulary and writing-style, Aidantells the story from the viewpoint of Mr. Darcy and gives us entree to histhoughts and feelings of the events and people in "Pride and Prejudice." Thegorgeous trade paperback cover serves as an excellent backdrop for theenfolding tale.

Unfortunately, Aidan has taken Jane Austen's redoubtable sparkling novel andturned it into a ponderous three-volume set. The main missing element, inthis attempt to follow in the footsteps of the indomitable Austen, is herdelightfully a propos sense of humor. New, secondary characters, such as theHursts--Mrs. Hurst being Charles Bingley's older sister--simply blend intothe wall hangings. And I fell to wondering how could an author, who writesin such great detail about Darcy or Caroline Bingley, be so remiss in hercharacterization of the other people in her story.

But perhaps the worst is Darcy, who comes off as an unbending, unbearablesort, rather high in the instep--rather different from image Austen hadbuilt up in our minds. Despite this inauspicious though creditable start, Ihope Aidan will reinvent Darcy from a prosy bore back to the Regency romancehero he was meant to be, with much to recommend him to a vibrant intelligentgirl like Lizzie. All fans of Jane Austen's novels and the film versions of the books will nodoubt look forward to Aidan's next two books, "Duty and Desire" and "TheseThree Remain," and the emotional perambulations of Mr. Darcy.

Sonali T. Sikchi, Reviewer

Sullivan's Bookshelf

A Matter of Opinion
Victor S. Navasky
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003
0374299978, $27.00 458 pages, 212-741-6900

This volume contains the rants, ramblings, and opinions of one Victor S. Navasky, former Editor, now Publisher, and soon to be Emeritus, of The Nation magazine. This left-leaning/liberal journal of political and cultural opinion is the oldest continuously published such magazine, from either side of the political spectrum, in America today. E.L. Godkin began The Nation in New York City in 1865.

The journal's history, covered lightly in this read, is replete with tales of political and social struggle and strife by earlier staffers and/or owners like Godkin, Oswald Garrison Villard, Freda Kirchwey, and Carey McWilliams. Navasky, who took over the editorship from the last mentioned, escorts the reader through those trials and tribulations in an interesting, humorous, though at times, disorganized way. Still, it's fun to read.

Author Navasky writes entertainingly about several present-day writers such as Calvin Trillin, Katha Pollit, Eric Alterman, Christopher Hitchens, Alex Coburn, Jonathan Schell, and many others on the masthead at one time or another. Other writers from the past and now deceased, like I.F. Stone and Murray Kempton, come in for high praise, too. Receiving kudos, also, on several pages of this tome is The Nation's current editor and, obviously, Navasky's handpicked successor, Katrina vanden Heuval, who is frequently as seen on political TV talk shows.

This reviewer has, admittedly, been an avid Nation reader for years. So, more out of loyalty to the author than to an initial interest in the tome, the reviewer picked up and began to read Navasky's 400+ page book. The stories told, however, were thoroughly interesting and compelling enough to read enjoyably to volume's end.

Amazingly, the author has, in the modern era, somehow managed to keep The Nation vibrant editorially and viable financially. This in itself is a modern miracle. If the book proved one point, it was that capitalism and the free market economy aren't dynamic enough to keep journals of opinion in existence. And it's true, for right-leaning opinion journals as well. Money, lots of it, must be constantly infused, sought after, or cajoled from those with similar political leanings that are willing to give without having the usual ownership privilege of controlling their investment. The segment on how the intrepid editor got funding from movie actor Paul Newman is a case in point. One the other hand, Navasky's enrolling in a business class at Harvard with multi-millionaires in hopes of attracting some of them as investors didn't turn out as well.

Navasky delves into the unique characters that have owned, contributed writing to, and edited The Nation. In these tales, what becomes evident is the variety of liberal factions that co-existed through the years. And not unlike today, they would constantly be nitpicking and backbiting. Still, the amazing thing is that through the editors' and owners' dedication to the cause, the magazine grew, not making money, mind you, for the publication but gaining in readership. According to the book's author, subscriptions are currently up over 184,000. Not too shabby for a little weekly journal of opinion printed on cheap newsprint paper. Of course, the magazine, as ever, has been daring and fearless in challenging U.S. administrations, policies, and politicians from both sides of the aisle.

"[...] When I started to teach at Columbia," writes the author, "I looked around for a usable textbook and couldn't find one. This is not that textbook, although it may be in the tradition of learning from one's own mistakes as well as those of others. This is not a personal memoir, but at times it feels like one, because I have felt free to draw on my adventures (mostly misadventures, really) in the magazine trade. I have also felt free to draw on what I have written elsewhere, because when I have written elsewhere I have felt free to draw on this and I am no longer sure which is/was which. And this is not a biography of The Nation, although, because I have worked there for a quarter of a century, a disproportionate number of my examples, anecdotes, citations are from and about The Nation."

Navasky, with an undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College and a Yale University Law School diploma, lives in New York. Besides being publisher of the venerable magazine, he is a journalism professor at Columbia University. His previous tomes include Kennedy Justice and Naming Names. Recommended (thought it helps if the reader is already a fan of The Nation magazine).

State of War The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration
James Risen
Free Press
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0743270665 $26.00, 240 pages, 1-800-223-2336

Risen details the Bush administration as it relates to the U.S. national security scene from before 9/11 to the present day. The Afghanistan and Iraq War plus CIA activities come in for special coverage. Little in this book is new for readers who have closely followed those various events in real time. But reading the story in its entirety makes for a devastating epic and woeful tale about the current presidency.

The entire Bush administration looks ominous in this volume: "...the president [George W. Bush] personally and directly authorized new operations, like the NSA's domestic surveillance program." Rumsfeld, in particular, comes across as the 800-pound gorilla/bully of this presidency: "Rice [Condoleezza, then National Security Advisor, now Secretary of State] was forced to play catch-up and to accept professional indignities, particularly at the hands of Donald Rumsfeld. Some of her chagrined aides believe others in her place would have resigned." George Tenet, head of the CIA, comes across as a yes man: "A lot of people went to George [Tenet] to tell him that Iraq would hurt the war on terrorism, but I never heard him express an opinion about the war in Iraq," said a former Tenet aid. "He would just come back from the White House and say they are going to do it [the Iraq War]."NSA's domestic spying only recently revealed in the New York Times after sitting on the story for a year is touched on, but precious little new detailed information is revealed in these pages.

Risen further writes in his book, "But after 9/11, George W. Bush parted ways with the traditions of his father [the one who was the 41st president, not the One above], and that decision has had consequences that are still playing themselves out. Above all, it has led to a disturbing breakdown of the checks and balances within the executive branch of the United States government. Among the consequences: a new domestic spying program, a narco-state in Afghanistan, and chaos in Iraq."

James Rise, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting with the New York Times, is a national security journalist. He has co-authored other books, including Wrath of Angels. Risen and family live in the nation's capital. A fast, easy read, this volume will bring readers up to speed on what's going on in the U.S. today. Recommended.

Medici Money Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence
Tim Parks
Atlas Books
Jordan House, Old Milton Green, New Milton, Hampshire BH25 6QJ, UK
0393058271 $22.95 273 pages,

Here's the story of the rise and fall of Florence, Italy's rich, powerful, Christian bankers who befriended popes, famous artists, politicians, nobles, religious orders, and a few others (with money or power of course). And all the Medici family asked in return was just sweet financial deals, exoneration from crimes committed, gold florins, political compromise, key positions for sons, nephews, and cousins, wealthy, titled, and/or politically-connected brothers-or sons-in-law, and, oh yes, Heavenly forgiveness for sins.

Giovanni opened a wool factory in Florence then six years later a second factory. He retired in 1402 and gave the bank to son Cosimo, who soon opened more branches.
Throughout, Cosimo is careful to sidestep the major sin in the Roman Catholic Church of that day and age: usury, or the charging of interest on loans. After all, this sin (though not necessarily rape, murder, or incest) could and probably would get you condemned to Hell in the afterlife.
To mitigate such dire consequences, instead of levying straight interest on a loan, financial fees on money lent, or on deals involved, would always be assessed. Of course, it was but a murky way of committing usury. So the Medicis bought from religious people, including the pope, 'indulgences,' (time off for good behavior), a method of repaying the church for some, though not much, of the profits made. In any case, when a Medici died, he expected to spend less time in Purgatory (sort of a halfway house) for the supreme sin of usury on that long, hard road to Heaven. Helping that situation along was when a Medici relative became a pope. Then the sin situation was eased a tad.

Through all this intrigue, war between and among the Papal States, Florence, Milan, Venice, and various other city/states broke out quite regularly. Seldom did anyone get killed. But each armed venture of aggression or of defense cost these communities tons of money. Guess who lent it to those states or more specifically to their top doges. That's right, the Medici banks. And they didn't charge interest. But somehow, they made a lot of money.
Seldom did the pope condemn the money lending. He was, in fact, often the one who borrowed the most money for these wars. If the pontiff wasn't a Medici family member, and even when he was, he was frequently in hock to the Medici family bank.

Lorenzo II Magnifico eventually took over the bank. He befriended artists and commissioned works from them. But he spends more money on this benevolence than the bank takes in. Otherwise in the family succeed II Magnifico. But eventually the banks close one branch after another. Less than a hundred years have gone by from its beginning to its demise.
International trade had become quite strong during this period, but that led to protectionism, which hurt foreign banks. That was a factor in the Medici failure. But there were many other causes that could have been prevented. To this day, tourists can still view some of the art and architecture that the Medici's money brought into being through the artists the bankers patronized.

This story is, in some ways, an early-day version of the popular TV show Dallas or, more specifically, Dynasty. It's an even more enjoyable story to read, however, because it's so well written and true.

The author writes, "When we think of the period that has come to be known as the Renaissance, we think above all of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries; we think of the great art and architecture produced then, from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo; and we are aware of the Medici insofar as they had a relation to that art and those artists. Hence we think of them, and above all of Cosimo and Lorenzo, as living in the heydey of early modern times, before which, with the forward-looking exceptions of Dante, Giotto, and Boccaccio, all is darkness. Thus the myth. Yet there is a sense in which the men we are talking about, and particularly Giovanni di Bicci and Cosimo, must have seen themselves rather as coming afterward, of living in the aftermath of something, not the beginning of a golden age."

Tim Parks, the author, lives in Italy. He's written a couple other books concerning that land and has translated books on Italian subjects. He's also written almost a dozen novels. Recommended.

Jim Sullivan

Theodore's Bookshelf

The Interpretation of Murder
Jed Rubenfeld
Henry Holt and Co.
115 W. 18th Street, New York, NY 10011
0805080988 $26.00, 384 pp., 212-8886-9200

The title, of course, is a play on Sigmund Freud's seminal work on dreams. And Freud plays a central role in this well-done mystery. The year is 1909, and the book begins with Freud's disembarkation in Hoboken, New Jersey along with his colleagues, Sandor Ferenczi and Carl Jung. Freud has been invited to deliver a series of lectures at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, but first they are to spend a week in New York City. It was Freud's only visit to the United States, and one which gave him a bad impression of the country and its inhabitants. All of the foregoing is known to have happened in 'real life,' but little else is known of Freud's one journey to America.

In this new novel by Jed Rubenfeld, no sooner do Freud and his associates establish themselves at the Hotel Manhattan, along with their American counterparts and hosts, than the murder of a young debutante is discovered, soon followed by an assault and attempted murder of another young debutante. It is from this point that psychoanalysis and detective work intertwine to bring the mystery forward. To further reveal the plot would be an injustice to the reader, who is encouraged to devour this excellent novel.

The author has painstakingly researched every aspect of the descriptions of 1909 New York City, and has incorporated many of the historical figures including Harry Thaw who murdered Stanford White atop of his Madison Square Garden, Mayor George B. McClellan, and others. He has quite inventively used many of Freud's writings and statements as dialogue. The blend is fascinating, and unusual in a debut novel. The author has written other books on constitutional law (he is a Professor of Law at Yale University and an expert on the subject) but this work of penetratin g crime fiction seems quite a departure from so staid a subject. Let's hope it's not a one-time phenomenon and that there is more to come from this talented writer.

Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
Jacqueline Winspear
Henry Holt and Co.
115 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011
0805078983, $24.00, 336 pp.,

The truth as seen in the eyes of an artist—depicting the horrors of the battlefield during World War I -- is the subject of his masterpiece to be shown at an exhibition in 1931. On the eve of the showing, while preparing to mount the work, the artist, Nick Bassington-Hope, falls from the scaffolding, breaking his neck. His twin sister isn't convinced the death was an accident and retains the services of Maisie Dobbs to investigate.

Nothing is simple, and the outcome of the inquiry is far from expected. Maisie is an unusual person, having served as a nurse on the battlefield, becoming a psychologist and investigator. This is the fourth Maisie Dobbs novel, in which she meticulously and often intuitively slogs on to solve the mystery. She shows rare insights coupled with meticulous reasoning—a [relatively] modern female Sherlock Holmes. Often the novel overwhelms the reader with detail, but that is Miss Dobbs' forte and raison d'etre. The characterizations are well-drawn and the story unusual. An excellent read.

The Darkest Place
Daniel Judson
St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0312352530 $23.95, 310 pp., 1-888-330-8477

A bizarre series of drowned youths in waters in the fancy Hamptons on New York's Long Island sets off a complicated story of police neglect (the official explanations of suicides or accidental deaths put forth so as not to discourage tourism or real estate panic) combined with private investigators, various suspects and criminal undercurrents, pepper this tale. The chilling events are accented by brutal sub-zero temperatures over a few December days.

Deacon Kane, a college instructor who has two published novels to his credit, is facing writer's block as he is unable to recover from the death by accidental drowning of his son four years before. He becomes a person of interest when his alcoholism and furtive affair with a married woman prevent him from proving his innocence. The distraught parents of one of the victims retain private investigators to prove the death was not a suicide. As Kane sinks lower, and the deaths of more boys occur, the mystery escalates to a chilling conclusion.

The story is unusual, the writing fluid, the plot unusual but believable. Behind it all is an unexpected mastermind who has who has intricately plotted the crimes and has planted clues leading to Kane as the murderer. In the end, the question is will it end as he has planned it?

Mark Billingham
William Morrow
10 East 53rd Street,New York, NY 10022
0060841664 $24.95, 400 pp., 212-207-7000

Tom Thorne has proved to be a maverick but talented London detective, skilled at capturing killers, in previous novels. And he continues to show an unusual talent in this latest entry, again showing not only an unusual method for his work but incurring the wrath of his superiors.
Hardly recovered from the death of his father in what might have been an arson fire, following which he took some leave, Tom returns to work on the theory that keeping busy is better than wallowing in the misery of mourning. The problem is his assignment is not to his liking, basically chaining him to a desk and burying him in paperwork and administrative tasks, rather than chasing the bad guys. His "attitude" is taken note of and he is given a choice of taking some more "vacation" or "gardening" (where he is given make-work at a computer to find ways to attract ethnic minorities to the force, and more boredom).

While at the latest task a few gruesome murders of homeless people occur. Tom is informally consulted when others are stumped by the lack of clues and information. No one on the street is talking to the authorities. Tom suggests going undercover on the streets to locate the killer. And an exciting tale ensues full of excellent observations and insights. In the process, Tom finds his way back, but not without danger to himself down to the exciting conclusion. You won't be able to put this novel down. It will keep you on the edge of your seat even down in the depths of the London underground.

Kill All the Lawyers
Paul Levine
Bantam Books
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
0440242754 $6.99, 283 pp., 212-782-9000

This latest installment—the third—in the Solomon-Lord series is just as entertaining as its predecessors. Only, perhaps, a little more harrowing for Steve Solomon, who has to face a homicidal psychiatrist bent on revenge for Solomon's unethical act performed while defending him. Steve leaked information to the prosecutor enabling him to get the psychiatrist convicted of manslaughter and put away for six years, despite the fact that the man was his own client. Finally released with all rights including his medical license restored, Dr. Kreeger sets out to frame Steve. And Steve finds himself in all kinds of scrapes, as usual, not only with the law and the courts, but his partner and lover, Victoria Lord. The novel is filled with the customary witticisms and continues a fun-filled series. Can't wait for the next one!

James Siegel
Warner Books
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0446531863 $24.99, 369 pp., 212-522-7200

What's a discredited reporter supposed to do when he smells the story of a lifetime? That's the dilemma facing Tom Valle, who was summarily dismissed [and almost prosecuted] from a prestigious New York newspaper for having fabricated over 50 stories. A kind-hearted owner/editor in a small California town takes pity on Tom or just listens to his parole officer's suggestion and gives him a job, albeit covering PTA meetings, mall openings, socials and the like.

One day, Tom suggests a story about the 50-year anniversary of a massive dam burst in a nearby town which obliterated it and apparently killed all residents save for a three-year-old girl. The editor tells Tom his predecessor was working on the same idea before apparently going crazy three years before.

Then Tom witnesses a car accident involving two drivers whose identities, he discovers, do not check out. Later he sees one of them almost by mistake, who turns out to be an actor paid $5,000 to "perform" at the accident site. The other driver, identified by information in his wallet, is killed and burned beyond recognition. Such identification says the driver was a white man; the doctor who performed the autopsy believes the dead man was black. Then Tom finds the person with that name alive in his mother's home.

The series of coincidences and leads continue to mount, and the story speeds up until Tom unravels the mystery of the flood and its aftermath. And he writes the story, but who would believe him? And therein hangs the tale. After a slow start and a lot of repetition, the novel picks up steam and begins to make a lot of sense toward the end. It is an interesting concept and cleverly plotted.

Bleeding Hearts
Ian Rankin
Little, Brown & Company
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0316009121 $24.99, 400 pp.

It's taken 12 years for this novel to cross the Atlantic, and the wait certainly was well worth it. Originally published in the UK under the Jack Harvey pseudonym, it is still Rankin, although not a Rebus novel. The Harvey books resulted from Rankin's publisher believing he could sell more than one novel a year, after the initial Rebus success, using another name. Current editions show the author as Ian Rankin, of course.Parenthetically. Rankin has been quoted in a Scottish newspaper as stating that he is going to end the Rebus series next year, so that there are only two new novels in that series to look forward to—one this fall and the finale. Say it isn't so, Ian! He said he's thinking of writing children's books.

Well, Bleeding Hearts is no children's tale. It's about an assassin who shoots his victims through the heart on the theory that it's humane. His latest assignment is a lady journalist, who he shoots as she is leaving a hotel with a lady politician. It is complicated by the presence of an Eastern European diplomat, and the question arises who was the intended victim. Was the hit a mistake?
The plot then develops because the police arrive almost simultaneously and Michael Weston, the shooter, believes he was set up. He escapes capture narrowly through a ruse and decides to find out who hired him, something he usually never wants to know. The journalist was investigating a cult, and it appears they might be responsible.

Michael chases all over England and the United States, where the main cult headquarters is located, before returning to England to discover the truth. In his wake are a lot of bodies, and in the end the question of his distaste for continuing his profession is raised. It may not be a Rebus Novel, but it certainly is a Rankin Book. There hardly is any better praise. A Rankin by any other name is still a Rankin.

The Mortician's Daughter
Elizabeth Bloom
Mysterious Press
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0892967862, $24.00, 800-759-0190

Apparently you can go home again, despite what Thomas Wolfe wrote. At least, that's what Virginia Lavoie discovered when she received a telephone call from her best friend in Western Massachusetts to come back to the small town she grew up in and find out who murdered her son.

Ginny at the time was a suspended New York detective (internal affairs was investigating dirty cops, Ginny included; she wasn't on the take but was taken in by a lover). So Ginny drove up north to find out what happened to the 19-year-old boy and along the way reignited a teen-age romance. All she remembers when she gets there are her negative memories. But she finds changes she hardly recognizes in the town. But the insular attitudes of the long-time residents are unchanged. There's even a Starbuck's-like coffee establishment with the fancy name of Cafe des Artistes.

The first homicide she came to investigate leads to a second, and then a third. Are they related? And Ginny almost becomes a fourth—twice. She uncovers the skeleton of her friend's 19-year-old runaway older sister who supposedly left town 16 years earlier. A promiscuous teenager who apparently slept with at least half the town's males was carrying a three-month old fetus at the time of her death. Was the father the murderer? And was it related to the recent crimes?

The intricate plot and excellent writing carry the tale forward with suspense. The twists and turns (including Ginny's amorous adventures with her teenage now-grown boyfriend) keep the reader on the edge of the seat. And Ginny has two tasks: solve the mysteries of the murders as well as what she wants to do with the rest of her life; can she work out either or both? Recommended.

Theodore Feit

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

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