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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 9 September 2021 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carol Taylor's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Suzie Housley's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf Zulfiqar Ali's Bookshelf

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

The Great Forest
David Lindenmayer, author
Chris Taylor, Sarah Rees, Steven Kuiter, photographers
Allen & Unwin
9781760879822, A$32.99 HB, 192 pages

The Arbornaut
Meg Lowman
Allen & Unwin
9781760876791, A$32.99 PB 368 pages

These two books are very different but the purpose of both is the same: to immerse us in the fascinating world of trees and to convince us of their importance, especially in old-growth forests, for our health, wellbeing and, ultimately, our survival.

The Great Forest is a beautiful book, handsomely bound and full of stunning photographs. These, interspersed with occasional pages of explanatory text, show us the land, trees, plants and animals of the Central Highlands which rim the city of Melbourne in Victoria. Here, some of the tallest forests in the world, which have been some 600 million years in the making, provide the people of Melbourne with nearly all their drinking water. Sadly, they have been targeted for extensive logging for over a hundred years.

The photographs show the rolling landscape of mountain ranges, ancient crags and rocky outcrops; the waterfalls, streams, and fens; the unique shapes, colours and heights of the trees; and the rich and strange understory of tree-ferns, wattles, fungi, mosses and lichens. They also show some of the unusual animals which live in the forests, many of which are nocturnal, so rarely seen.

The contorted shapes of Snow Gums in sun and in snow display the rich olive, salmon and white colours of their bark. The tallest moss in the world grows on the forest floor; the eerie iridescent green of the Ghost Fungus lights up the night; and Mountain Brushtail Possums eat the hallucinogenic fungi which growing on the trunks of Mountain Ash. The huge, soaring Mountain Ash, 'the tallest flowering plant in the world', can reach 90-100 metres in height, and one archival photograph from 1933 shows all the inhabitants of the village of Fernshaw gathered around by the great girth (measured at 19.5 metres) of one of these giants, where they look like little elves in a fairy tale.

The amazing variety of these photographs leads, at the end of the book, to scenes of destruction and devastation caused by logging, clear-felling, and by bush-fires which have become fiercer more frequent in recent years. The contrast is shocking.

David Lindenmayer, who writes the notes in the book, argues for the establishment of a National Park to protect this environment, but he writes, too, of the need to restore the health of the forest after the 'brutal catastrophic damage' which European colonization of the forest began and 'the damaging legacy' of which 'lasts to this day'. Old growth forest generate more water than younger trees, and are more resistant to fire, but 98% of the forests are now less than 80 years old, so it is 'critical that we start now' to protect them. 'We must not forget about the people in small towns and regional areas who make a living from logging forests', he writes, but 'this is not a contest between jobs and the environment. Rather, well-managed conservation is good for all'. He advocates careful, eco-friendly, forest management; training full-time, professional, fire-fighters; re-vegetating key areas; and developing eco-tourism. Importantly, he sees the need for consultation with the local Aboriginal people, who have been the Traditional Custodians of these forests 'for tens of thousands of years'.

Meg Lowman, 'the Arbornaut' of her memoir, provides a world-wide perspective on this same subject, writing that

It shouldn't be a surprise (but it still is for some) that planetary health links directly to forests. Their canopies produce oxygen, filter fresh water, transfer sunlight into sugars, clean our air by absorbing carbon dioxide, and provide a home to the extraordinary genetic library of all earthbound creatures, among many other crucial functions.

Meg's passion for studying nature began early when, as a child, she collected wild-flowers, pressed them between the pages of telephone books, tried to identify each specimen, and stored the whole collection under her bed, where to her mother's distress, it attracted mice. At the age of 11, she won second prize for this collection at the New York State Science Fair. She went on to identify old birds eggs which her grandfather had collected, and inspired by reading the work of the biologist, Rachel Carson, she conducted her first simple scientific experiment by comparing the shell thickness of one old hen's egg from her grandfather's collection with that of fresh eggs from her mother's refrigerator.

As a shy, nature-obsessed child she had no-one to share this interest with until her parents agreed to let her attend a summer wild-life camp. There, her enthusiasm grew and was invited to return the next summer as a junior staff member.

All of these childhood passions, patched together like a quilt, led me to ultimately become one of the world's first arbornauts. I probably would not have pursued field biology as a career without a halcyon childhood of outdoor exploration. Mostly trees. Mostly solitude. Mostly wildflowers, leaves, and curiosity about how nature operates.

Lowman became one of the first scientists to investigate the tops of trees, the canopy which, as she notes, is home to 'upward of half of all terrestrial animals', and which she dubbed 'the eighth continent'. She has now spent decades as a scientist exploring this 'continent', educating others in this pursuit, teaching and mentoring students, and bringing together a global community of arborealists. She designed and helped to construct the first tree-walk in Australia, and has gone on work on others around the world. None of this was what she planned to do when she welded together some pipes to make her first sling-shot, fired a weighted fishing line into a tree, hauled up a sturdy rope and began to climb. Taking hints from caving friends at Sydney University, she refined her climbing gear and climbed higher, experiencing 'sensory overload' on her first climb into a tall Australian rain-forest tree:

Beams of light began to flicker on my face as I drew closer to the top of the coachwood. Then mayhem broke loose around me. I had entered the sun-flecked leaves of the official upper canopy...creatures munching, flying, crawling, pollinating, hatching, burrowing, sunning, digesting, singing, mating, and stalking. The life surrounding me was entirely invisible from the forest floor.

Lowman's career, especially as a woman working in a scientific environment dominated by men, has had its ups and downs (no pun intended), but she has been persistent and innovative and very successful in promoting the scientific study of tree-canopies. 95% of the forest exists above ground-level, but until quite recently scientific research has taken place in the understory and around the trunks of trees. Lowman likens this to having a doctor diagnose the state of your health by examining only your big toe. Her own exploration of this 95% has been laborious and pains-taking. In Scotland, in bitter weather, she studied the leafing and flowering pattern of Scottish birch trees and constructed her first rickety platform 'to survey the tree crowns about twenty-five feet high'. In Australia, she climbed higher and over a period of three years numbered and labeled hundreds of branches and leaves on five different species of rain-forest tree to observe seasonal changes and depredation by insects. This including the giant stinging tree, which as hairs with stings thirty-nine times more toxic that the hedgerow stinging nettle.

Lowman writes in a chatty, easy-going way, describing her life, her experiments, her achievements, and her ongoing aim of sharing her story so that others, especially young women, will be inspired to follow their passions and not hesitate 'to be smart and strong'. Her detailed descriptions of her research were sometimes a little too long for me but they are balanced by glimpses of her personal life, and by vivid accounts of her travels and adventures in the Amazon rain-forest, in India and in the Cameroons. Since she began her career, technology has changed the way scientific research is recorded and disseminated and Lowman has adapted to that, now using it to create innovative and important scientific networks, and to link citizen scientist together to collect and record data.

In many ways, The Arbornaut complements and adds to the arguments presented in The Great Forest. I was happy to read Lowman's clear account of just how forests produce the water which Lindenmayer tells us is so important to us, and glad to learn of the initiatives taken, worldwide, to increase awareness of the natural environment. Both books also demonstrate the way climate change is affecting the world's forests, and how essential it is that Governments everywhere recognize and address this issue. Careful management of the forests, as Lindenmayer says, 'is good for all'

Once There Were Wolves
Charlotte McConaghy
Hamish Hamilton
c/o Penguin Random House
Flatiron Books
A$32.99 PB, 272 pages
9781250244147 $27.99 hc

When I was eight, Dad cut me open from throat to stomach.

Such a dramatic first line promises a dramatic story and Once There Were Wolves certainly lives up to this promise. There is violence, mystery, death, love, nature ... and there are wolves hunting in the forests.

Inti, who speaks this line, is a young biologist who specialises in the behavior of wolves. She has had experience of re-wilding in Utah and in the Yellowstone National Park. Now, she is Head of the Cairngorms National Park's Wolf Project, which will see fourteen wolves released 'to live freely in the Scottish Highlands'.

'I am a bad-tempered Australian who finds it hard to hide contempt and sucks at public speaking', she tells us when, with her colleagues, she is preparing facing a public meeting where there will be many people, especially the local sheep-farmers, who oppose the introduction of wolves. As the novel progresses, however, we come to know her better and learn what has made her so angry, but we also learn of her compassion and her deep love of wolves.

For the first sixteen years of her life, she and her twin sister Aggie spent 'a couple of months each year' visiting their father in his forest home in Vancouver. She describes it as 'our true home, the place we belonged. The place which made sense to me'. There, her father taught them to hunt and track, to kill only what they would eat, and to live self-sufficiently. It was there - on the day that her father showed them how to skin a rabbit - that Inti felt every part of that process and passed out. And it was there, on that day, that she saw her first wolf.

'I am unlike other people', she tells us:

I move through life in a different way, with an entirely unique understanding of is called Mirror-touch synaesthesia. My brain reacts to the sensory experiences of living creatures, of all people and even sometimes animals. If I see it, I feel it.

For Inti, this condition is both a delight and a curse. Her 'city-bound-gritty-crime-detective mother' in Sydney tries to inure her to the pains she will inevitably feel and have to live with by giving her a rational way of distancing herself from others. Sometimes this works and she can tell herself that she is separate from what she sees and feels: at other times what she sees, and therefore feels, is physically overwhelming.

All of this becomes part of Inti's story, but above all, Inti's closeness to the wolves is clear whenever she is near them and they become a beautiful living presence in the book:

Not long ago, not in the grand scheme of things, this forest was not small and sparse but strong and bursting with life. Lush with rowan trees, aspen, birch, juniper and oak, it stretched itself across a vast swathe of land, colouring Scotland's now-bare hills, providing food and shelter to all manner of things.

And within these roots and trunks and canopies, there ran wolves.

Now, the wolves are being re-introduced in the hope of restoring the natural order which has been destroyed by the unhindered proliferation of deer that eat the green shoots of new growth. When we first meet them, the wolves are caged and being carried into pens from which they will eventually be released into the wild. There, it is hoped, they will 'move the deer along' as they hunt.

...the dark is heavy and their breathing is all around. The scent has changed. Still warm, earthy, but muskier now, which means there's fear in it, which means one of them is awake.

Her golden eyes find just enough light to reflect.

Easy, I bid her without words.

She is wolf Number Six, the mother, and she watches me from her metal crate. Her pelt is pale as a winter sky. Her paws haven't known the feel of steel until now. I'd take the knowledge from her if I could. It's a cold knowing. Instinct tells me to try and soothe her with soft words or a tender touch but it's my presence that scares her most, so I leave her be.

Throughout the book, we follow the release and the progress of the three packs of wolves as they establish their territories, make dens, and begin to hunt. Inti and others track their movements through the signals from their collars, but the signals are only there when a wolf is close, so knowing their habits is essential. Eventually, the scientists construct a hide so that they can watch one den where cubs are born. Inevitably, once the wolves start hunting a sheep is killed and the farmer wants revenge. Another farmer, a man whose violence to his wife is clear to Inti, but which others choose to ignore, suddenly disappears and no-one, except Inti (who finds and buries his body) and some other, unknown, person knows anything about it. Inti is sure that if his body is found, the wolves will be blamed, but she is also sure that it was not a wolf-kill She has become friendly with Duncan, the local police chief, and they have slept together, but on the night the farmer was killed Duncan had left the house just after midnight, and she begins to suspect him of being the murderer.

'There are languages without words and violence is one of them', Inti says at one point. She knows wordless language well, because, from childhood, she and her twin have used a sign language as their secret way of communicating with each other. She also knows the language of violence well, and she and Aggie have such a close connection to each other that a trauma which has left Aggie silent, fearful and unable to leave the house, has made Inti her carer. The love between them is fierce. Inti cannot ever imagine them being apart, and few people know that Aggie lives in the rather isolated, rented, Scottish cottage with Inti.

Fear and human violence are everywhere in this book, and sometime the tension created was so strong I found it almost overwhelming, but always the wolves and Inti's interaction with them provided the balance which kept me reading. There are passages of natural beauty, too. Visiting the hide, Inti feels what she sees:

Dawn peeks over the horizon as we arrive at the edge of the Glenshee Pack's territory...The sun turns the white ground sparkling and its warmth fills my muscles with energy....From the hide I watch the pups enjoy the morning light, and my chest aches to see them playing so joyously. I feel their teeth graze my skin, their tongues lick my face, their paws batting me to the snow. I feel their pelts pressed to me, their warmth, their strength, their certainty mine. To be so at home in your body. To be so at ease, and powerful.

I have to leave here. The pull to stay is strong, the feel of them too visceral. I feel wolf; I am forgetting myself.

There are flashes of humour, too, and a birth which brings Inti such deep feelings of tenderness that it is one of the most emotionally powerful passages in the book.

Charlotte McConaghy draws the readers into the lives of her characters, and realistically coveys the closeness, secrets, fears and mutual support of a small community, where people have grown up together and know each other well. Inti, as an outsider, does not always understand this, and she is an easy target for those who oppose the re-wilding project, but she finds grudging acceptance and even tentative friendship and approval, often in unexpected places. Her complex character, her outspokenness and her determination to hide traumas of her own, mean that sometimes she is her own worst enemy, but her energies drive this book and her voice as she tells the story is compelling. Ecology, climate-change and self-sufficiency are casually woven in as an underlying theme, but it is the creatures - humans and wolves - which are the heart of the story.

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

God, Guts, and Gallantry
Dr. William H. Joslin
Westbow Press
9781973697657 $24.95 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Major James Lide Coker of Hartsville, South Carolina was a gutsy man of God and an entrepreneurial genius who founded 20 successful businesses. He grew up in the Old South, but became one of the most forward-thinking leaders of the New South. His business odyssey alone makes a fascinating story, but his expansive heart and keen intellect reached well beyond commerce. He was a passionate leader of the Christian faith, a pace-setter in women's education, and a progressive in race relations. Ahead of his times in every way, he concluded his own book on the Civil War with these words: "There is one great result of the war between the States for which we are truly thankful: slavery is abolished."

Though high-born, he and his family were brought low. In the Civil War, he bravely defended his homeland, fighting with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Virginia, where his brother was killed. In Tennessee, James's left thigh was shattered at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and he became a prisoner of war. Delirious with pain, he had several harrowing escapes from death before finally returning home to Sherman-devastated South Carolina.

He had lost almost everything, including the use of a leg. But with extraordinary valor, he rose up with a crutch and a hoe to re-establish his farm, and went on to lead the economic, educational, and spiritual rebound of his region in a time of crisis and carpetbaggers.

James became the wealthiest man in South Carolina, yet remained humble and down to earth. His war agonies and innate sensitivity to human need enabled him to identify with the harshest realities of the human condition and with the plight of the disenfranchised. When his ingenious and diligent post-war initiatives brought him rivers of prosperity, he let them flow through him to bless countless others in his rural state. A deeply spiritual man, Major Coker also faithfully taught the boys' Sunday School for thirty-eight years.

For the benefit of present and future generations, his inspiring story, with fresh perspectives and previously unpublished material, is retold in Dr. Joslin's unique style, blending biography, daring adventure, courageous faith, and the drama of American history.

Critique: God, Guts, and Gallantry: The Faith, Courage, and Accomplishments of Major James Lide Coker is a biography of James Lide Coker (1837-1918), a permanently injured veteran of the Civil War who would later conclude that the abolishment of slavery was the war's greatest accomplishment; a businessman and farmer who believed that scientific principles applied to farming and the development of industry were critical to the devastated, post-war South; a deeply religious man who taught Sunday School for thirty-eight years; and more. His keen financial acumen and his strong moral conscience are standout to this day, and his biography is a welcome contribution to public and college library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that God, Guts, and Gallantry is also available in a Kindle edition ($2.99).

Carl Logan

Carol Taylor's Bookshelf

The Culinary Art Portfolio of Josephine E. Jones
Wendy Jones
Ida Bell Publishing, LLC
9781946348036, $29.00 71 pages Spiral bound

The Culinary Art Portfolio of Josephine E. Jones is neither a cookbook nor a how-to-book. It's a portfolio, with ready- to-frame prints of the culinary art created by Josephine E. Jones with photography by the late John Turner, written by her daughter Wendy Jones.

Introduced as "where art and food intersect" Jones writes, "For years, people took snapshots of Josephine's food before devouring it, declaring that it 'looked too good to eat.'"... "I cannot tell you how Josephine did what she did. I can only describe it. My mother did not take a class, read a book, or make sketches of what she wanted to do before she did it. I never saw Josephine practice her cutting technique before she put a piece of fruit or vegetable on a creation."

... "I think she visualized the culinary creation, and then cut, carved, and placed all the components where they needed to be to complete that vision." ... "My mother lived her life that way too, envisioning what she wanted to accomplish, despite the obstacles of racial, gender, and class discrimination, then taking the steps to complete her vision."

You'll find within the book the "process" for putting together: Not-A-Cake Sandwich Loaf, Fruit Bowl, Ham with Chaudfroid Sauce and Rice, Apple Birds, Gelatin and Cake, Vegetable Salad Fixings, Shrimp with Dipping Sauce, Pineapple with Honeydew and Watermelon, Sandwiches and Vegetables, and Crenshaw Melon, among others.

Although there is information about the ingredients used in each dish, and the process, there are no quantities or amounts of the ingredients. There are, however, charming anecdotes by Jones as to how her mother made them, which give a peek into their life at that time. In this regard, they are less recipes than vignettes that illustrate how Josephine turned her work into art, and used the process, at times, as a lesson about life for her daughter.

Fruit Bowl:

"Similar to flower arranging, Josephine pays attention to the shape and color of each fruit to make this arrangement. The walnuts and grape shears draw the eye to the apples, which are the focal point of the fruit bowl. The grapes hang down, leading the eye to the lower arrangement, which may be the result of having too much fruit for the bowl, but my mother ensures it does not go to waste.

During my childhood, this fruit bowl sat in the center of our dining room table, where I spread out my books to do my homework. My mother always said, 'Centerpieces should be edible.' I would grab an apple, crunching its tart juiciness before tackling math, my weakest subject.

I also think the strategic placement of this fruit bowl was Josephine's way of encouraging my studying by ensuring that I had nutritious food readily available to nourish my brain. She repeatedly passed on the advice that her father had given her:

'Get a good education. They can't take that away from you.'

My mother added her own advice to my grandfather's:

'Decide what you want to do and work hard at it. There are a lot of free things. The Y has activities, the library... you have to read a lot. One of the most important things in life is reading. You have to keep on reading and create what you want. You get visions.'"

The book is oversized, and the 16 full-color photographs are in a binder spine with perforated pages to facilitate framing. These are not contemporary photos, and as such have a charming throwback quality to them. They were taken in 1975 by the late John Turner when he was the professional photographer for Standard Brands, where Josephine worked. This was the Fortune 500 company that made Chase & Sanborn Coffee, Royal Gelatin, and Planters Peanuts. The company is now Kraft. The author includes in the Introduction, the Origins of the Culinary Art Photos, where she explains the genesis of the photographs and the collaboration. And it's quite an interesting origin story.

"On April 17, 1975, the Center for Science in the Public Interest - and other organizations promoting nutritious food - designated the day as the first National Food Day. To celebrate the day, Standard Brands asked Ms. Jones - the supervisor of the employees' cafeteria - to create culinary art for a photographic display. Once the photographs were removed, the company gave the negatives to Josephine." In 1977, the employees' cafeteria moved from the 10th floor to the 11th floor, and the photographs were used to decorate the new cafeteria.

More than a collection of fine art food photography, it is a memento and a love letter from Jones to her mother. Josephine E. Jones was ahead of her time. "The daughter of a South Carolina sharecropping family, she came to New York City in 1946 with a high school diploma and a gift for cooking."

She began as a cook in private homes, then in 1953 she filled a two-week vacancy at Standard Brands, and ended up staying for 31 years, becoming the supervisor of the employees' cafeteria in 1967.

Jones was also a Harlem activist, who helped restore their formerly "drug-saturated" block. Alongside Michael Henry Adams, the architectural historian, she helped to preserve Harlem's historic buildings, including the 1887 family brownstone. When her marriage ended, Jones worked on three jobs to send her daughter, Wendy, to the Dalton School, Yale University, and Columbia University.

As Jones writes about the dish, Crenshaw Melon, "The joy of creation evident here energizes me as I dive into my writing. Similar to the fruit bowl on the dining room table when I was a student, my mother's artistry is once again inspiring me."

Josephine E. Jones was an extraordinary woman whose professional and personal contributions framed and shaped her daughter's life, and who should be celebrated for the artist, activist, and change maker she was.

Carol Taylor, Reviewer
AALBC (African American Literature Book Club)

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Carnival Lights
Chris Stark
Modern History Press
9781615995783, $37.95 Hardcover, $24.95 Paperback, $6.95 Kindle, 268 pages

A riveting read with a two-week linear story running through a story spiraling through generations of Native American relatives. Teen girls run away from a reservation to Minneapolis, arriving with twelve dollars. Of all the difficulties I anticipated they might have, the story was different. Family and societal issues faced by the past generations are reflected in the complicated lives of the girls. A young gay man befriends them shortly, but for the wrong reasons. Briefly, they find safe spots to spend the night, making their way to the Minnesota State Fair for temporary jobs. It is 1969, and they do not blend in well at the fair and are discovered by unsavory characters as the book ends.

Vietnam War protests, race issues, payphone booths, Bob Dylan's songs, the first moon landing, and sexual preferences are part of the story. Stark begins the book by explaining why their families cannot help the girls, and they need to run. Social workers could not be trusted because they took children off the reservations to send them to boarding schools. The teens have nowhere to turn except themselves. Sher is the stronger teen with the gift of intuition but sometimes cannot get Kris to listen.

Stark makes it abundantly clear we inherit the past life problems of our families and society, which need to be dealt with at some point.

I Miss the Rain in Africa: Peace Corps as a Third Act
Nancy Wesson
Modern History Press
9781615995752, $24.95 Paperback, $37.95 Hardcover, 296 pages
B0949MFWP6, $7.95 Kindle

Wesson volunteered for the Peace Corps in northern Uganda after Kony's most recent 20-year war. He mutilated people and weaponized HIV/AIDS, which created millions of orphans. It wasn't easy in every imaginable way. From the difficulty of trying to buy one fresh egg in a grocery store to organizing a children's library in a nation without new books, Wesson did her best with the many projects she worked on or led.

For instance, one project was inspired by her work with a second-grade teacher and ended up being the Pillow Case Dresses Project. There is a sister pillowcase literacy project, as well. Wesson organized a Peace Corps office which took two months of work before the value of it was realized by the people who worked there. An audiologist by education, she also helped hundreds of people to obtain hearing aids. She persisted!

Travel was difficult, and destinations were not always reached. Darkness and mud hampered getting to stations. Buses would not start until full of passengers. Schedules did not matter. Waiting was part of almost any process. Animals on transportation, chickens hanging by their feet from bicycle handlebars, insects, and no air conditioning under sweltering conditions were other difficulties that had to be endured.

However, Wesson shares a love of the people, her successes, and an optimistic tone about her experiences as a volunteer. She even stayed a few months longer than required to finish working with one of her notable projects, a student she sponsored financially to attend school.

Carolyn Wilhelm
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Evil Roman Emperors
Phillip Barlag
Prometheus Books
c/o Rowman & Littlefield
c/o National Book Network (distribution)
9781633886902 $19.95 pbk / $13.69 Kindle

Synopsis: Nero fiddled while Rome burned. As catchy as that aphorism is, it's sadly untrue, even if it has a nice ring to it. The one thing Nero is well-known for is the one thing he actually didn't do. But fear not, the truth of his life, his rule and what he did with unrestrained power, is plenty weird, salacious and horrifying.

And he is not alone. Roman history, from the very foundation of the city, is replete with people and stories that shock our modern sensibilities. Evil Roman Emperors puts the worst of Rome's rulers in one place and offers a review of their lives and a historical context for what made them into what they became. It concludes by ranking them, counting down to the worst ruler in Rome's long history.

Lucius Tarquinius Suburbus called peace conferences with warring states, only to slaughter foreign leaders; Commodus sold offices of the empire to the highest bidder; Caligula demanded to be worshiped as a god, and marched troops all the way to the ocean simply to collect seashells as "proof" of their conquest; even the Roman Senate itself was made up of oppressors, exploiters, and murderers of all stripes. Author Phillip Barlag profiles a host of evil Roman rulers across the history of their empire, along with the faceless governing bodies that condoned and even carried out heinous acts.

Critique: Evil Roman Emperors: The Shocking History of Ancient Rome's Most Wicked Rulers from Caligula to Nero and More lives up to its title as a horrifying historical rendition of Rome's most corrupt, cruel, and destructive leaders, and the atrocities they committed. Crimes committed by other Roman governing bodies are also discussed, and Evil Roman Emperors is also notable in its logical undertaking of ranking the profiled Roman Emperors, from least to most heinous. Thoroughly accessible to lay readers and historians alike, Evil Roman Emperors is an unforgettable addition to World History collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Evil Roman Emperors is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.69).

Glow Girl
Jennifer Lucic
Underground House Publishing
9781736838303 $13.99 pbk / $7.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Glow Girl is a story about a young woman named Lilly. Damaged from a lifetime of being ridiculed for her weight, and obsessed with the dream of finding love, she escapes into her mind where not having friends or knowing love doesn't matter. Until the first semester of her college career when Lilly falls for a real boy in English class. Adam is the strong, confident, men-want-to-be-him, women-want-to-be-on-him guy. Lilly's obsession with her dream world turns into a fixation on getting Adam to notice her.

Lily allows herself to be bent and broken to fit the mold of a woman he demands her to be, losing herself along the way, and coming to in an unfamiliar world. A new culture takes hold of her, disguised as a misfits' playground full of neon lights and cuddle puddles, where EDM reins and evil people lurk in plain sight. Her only protection? A coke-addicted boyfriend who's probably too busy s****ing someone else, anyway. Lilly finds herself in a deadly situation naivety can't save her from. Who will save her this time? Or is she doomed to face the consequences of her choices that become her end?

Trigger Warning: Glow Girl includes imagery of drug abuse, violence, strong language and death.

Critique: Glow Girl is not a novel for the faint of heart. Lily, a young college woman who has suffered hostility and ridicule all her life over her weight, finders herself obsessed with a handsome college man named Adam. Yet Adam demands that she change herself in one manner after another to be with him. Trapped between a bizarre neon-light world and a coke-addicted boyfriend, is Lily doomed to lose herself completely, and possibly lose her life as well? Raw, intense, and suspenseful, Glow Girl is unforgettably compelling to the very end. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Glow Girl is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.99).

This Distance We Call Love
Carol Dines
Orison Books
9781949039221 $18.00 pbk / $9.49 Kindle

Synopsis: These stories explore the complexities of contemporary family life with a fine balance of humor and insight. This Distance We Call Love takes its title from the interwoven themes of connection and disconnection in our most intimate relationships: sisters battle issues of duty and obligation when one sister becomes homeless; a mother and daughter take a trip to Mexico, only to be followed by the daughter's stalker; a family living in Rome must contend with their daughter's rape; parents navigate raising their only child in the age of climate change; a biracial daughter whose mother is dying battles her own internet sex addiction. While some relationships fall apart, others remain entrenched in old patterns, grappling with notions of self and duty. Altogether the stories delve deeply into the relationships that impact and inform our lives, creating a portrait of American family life today.

Critique: This Distance We Call Love is an anthology of short stories about contemporary families facing difficult, often dangerous situations and hard choices. What is one sister's duty when another sister becomes homeless? How can a mother and daughter defend themselves against a stalker who follows them to Mexico? What is a family living in Rome to do when their daughter is raped? The stories of This Distance We Call Love are raw, gripping, and portray dilemmas with no quick and easy solutions. It should be noted for personal reading lists that This Distance We Call Love is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.49).

Clint Travis

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Last Viking
Don Hollway
Osprey Publishing
4301 21st St, Suite 220B, Long Island City, NY 11101
9781472846525, $30.00, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: King Harald III of Norway (1015 - 1066) who was called Hardrada, or "Hard Ruler" was a real-life fantasy hero who burst into history as a teenaged youth in a Viking battle, from which he escaped with little more than his life and a thirst for vengeance. In the pages of "The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada" by Don Hollway readers will journey with this legendary viking across the medieval world ranging from the frozen barrens of the North to the glittering towers of Byzantium and the passions of the Holy Land.

King Harald Hardrada would fight for and against Christian, Muslim and pagan rulers. He would bed handmaids, a princess and an empress alike. Writing poetry and amassing a fortune along the way before returning home to claim his love, his crown and his destiny, he would ultimately die like an iconic Viking: in battle, laughing, with sword in hand.

"The Last Viking" is a fast-moving narrative that reads like a novel, combining Norse sagas, Byzantine accounts, Anglo Saxon chronicles, and even King Harald's own verse and prose, into a single, compelling story. While pointing out errors and contradictions in the ancient stories for the sake of accuracy historian Don Hollway brings the true tale of this hero vividly to life.

Critique: An inherently fascinating. absorbing, entertaining, deftly written, impressively informative, and extraordinarily detailed account, "The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Medieval European Biography collections in general, and Viking History supplemental studies curriculums in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.60).

Editorial Note: Author, illustrator, and historian, Don Hollway, has published articles in History Magazine, Military Heritage, Military History, Wild West and World War II to Muzzleloader, Renaissance Magazine and Scientific American. He also maintains an informative website at

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers
Marcello Di Cintio
1686 Ottawa St., Suite 100, Windsor, ON, Canada, N8Y 1R1
9781771963848, $16.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: In "Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers" author Marcello Di Cintio, writes that "The taxi is a border". That in occupying the space between public and private, a taxi cab brings together people who might otherwise never have met -- yet today most of us sit in the back and stare at our phones. Nowhere else do people occupy such intimate quarters and share so little. In a series of interviews with drivers, their backgrounds ranging from the Iraqi National Guard, to the Westboro Baptist Church, to an arranged marriage that left one woman stranded in a foreign country with nothing but a suitcase, "Driven" seeks out those missed conversations, revealing the unknown stories that surround us.

Traveling across borders of all kinds, from battlefields and occupied lands to midnight fares and Tim Hortons parking lots, Di Cintio chronicles the many journeys each driver made merely for the privilege to turn on their rooflight. Yet these lives aren't defined by tragedy or frustration but by ingenuity and generosity, hope and indomitable hard work. From night school and sixteen-hour shifts to schemes for athletic careers and the secret Shakespeare of Dylan's lyrics, Di Cintio's subjects share the passions and triumphs that drive them.

Critique: A masterpiece of original sociological research, "Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers" is an extraordinary and deftly presented series of perspectives. Unique, engaging, entertaining, inherently fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Urban Sociology collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Editorial Note: A resident of Calgary, Canada, Marcello Di Cintio is the author of four books including Walls: Travels Along the Barricades which won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. Di Cintio's magazine writing can be found in publications such as The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, The International New York Times, and Afar. His last book, Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense, examines life in contemporary Palestine as seen through the lens of literary culture. Di Cintio is a former writer-in-residence with the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program and the Palestine Writing Workshop, and a featured instructor at the Iceland Writers Retreat.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

A Room of Her Own
Robyn Lea
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110-0017
9781760761745, $45.00, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: Creative practitioners, philosophers, and rebels, the women chronicled in the pages of "A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women" by author Robyn Lea refuse to compartmentalize or neglect any of their talents or interests. Instead, their lives are a canvas for their artistry which can be seen in their homes and studios, on their tables, and in their wardrobes.

Equal parts biography and interior design study, "A Room of Her Own" illustratively showcases twenty extraordinary women and takes us on a private tour across the world into their personal and professional domains. Among them are painters, sculptors, writers, chefs, designers, jewelers, curators, makers, and directors. While each individual woman has navigated a unique path, they are united in their refusal to play by the rules of others.

Taking in the likes of the grand, sweeping halls of a castle in the Austrian countryside, a convent-like property in Mexico, and a cozy home on the banks of the Hudson, "A Room of Her Own" celebrates the homes, philosophies, design aesthetics, and practices of these inspiring multihyphenates.

Critique: Fully and beautifully illustrated with full color photography throughout, "A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women" is an inherently fascinating, impressively informative, exceptionally well presented compendium that will hold particular interest for interior design students and professionals. Unique, welcome and informative, "A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women" will prove to be an immediately and enduringly popular and appreciated addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Interior & Home Design collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Robyn Lea is an Australian photographer, author, and director who has been working internationally for over twenty years. Author of "Dinner with Jackson Pollock", her critically acclaimed work has featured in the New York Times, Vogue, Vogue Italia, Vogue Living, Time, and Elle Decoration UK, among other publications.

The Bright Book
Jessi Raulet
Better Day Books
c/o Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310
9780764361210, 96pp

Synopsis: Comprised of creative ideas, exercises, and prompts from internationally-acclaimed artist Jessi Raulet (EttaVee), "The Bright Book: A Creativity Workbook Designed to Help You Shine" is organized into eight chapters and features creative DIY opportunities such as journaling, collage, drawing, painting, and writing. Themes include: nurturing the artist within, exploring various art techniques without self-judgment, identifying and expressing an authentic style, harnessing the creative energy of travel and movement, experiencing the powerful effect of color on emotion, developing creative confidence, and sharing the joy of creativity with others. Designed to inspire, "The Bright Book" comes with metallic edging, elastic closure, foiled cover, and artist-quality paper.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, as well as being thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Bright Book: A Creativity Workbook Designed to Help You Shine" is an extraordinary mixed-media DIY craft book, and unreservedly recommended to the attention of any non-specialist general reader wanting to exercise and develop their ability to express themselves in number of differing media and formats.

Editorial Note: Maintaining an informatively impressive website at, Jessi Raulet has turned her artwork into the international brand EttaVee, well-known for its bold patterns, playfulness, and optimistic color palettes. EttaVee products are available at Target, Pottery Barn, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Barnes & Noble, Wayfair, TJMAXX, HomeGoods.

Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic
Karia Huebner
University of Pittsburgh Press
9780822946472, $100,00, HC, 408pp

Synopsis: Combining art biography, "Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic" by Karla Huebner (who is an Associate Professor of Art History and an affiliate faculty member in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality program at Wright State University) examines the life and work of the artist Toyen (Marie Cerminova, 1902 - 80), a founding member of the Prague surrealist group, and focuses on her construction of gender and eroticism.

Toyen's early life in Prague enabled her to become a force in three avant-garde groups (Devetsil, Prague surrealism, and Paris surrealism) yet, unusually for a female artist of her generation, Toyen presented both her gender and sexuality as ambiguous and often emphasized erotic themes in her work.

Despite her importance and ground-breaking work, Toyen has been notoriously difficult to study. Using primary sources gathered from disparate disciplines and studies of the artist's own work, "Magnetic Woman" is deftly organized both chronologically and thematically, moving through Toyen's career with attention to specific historical circumstances and intellectual developments approximately as they entered her life.

Professor Karla Huebner offers a re-evaluation of surrealism, the Central European contribution to modernism, and the role of female artists in the avant-garde, along with a complex and nuanced view of women's roles in and treatment by the surrealist movement.

Critique: A critically important and impressively informative contribution to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Surrealist Literary Criticism collections and of immense and special interest for students in Russian and East European studies, "Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic" is profusely illustrated and especially and unreservedly recommended reading.

Nowhere in Place
Christopher Jordan
George F. Thompson Publishing
c/o Casemate Publishers
1940 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083
9781938086854, $30.95, HC, 144pp

Synopsis: Photography and meditation are known to facilitate reflection and introspection. They teach us to see both the outer world and the mysterious landscape within. In the pages of "Nowhere in Place: Where Photography and Meditation Meet", photographer Christopher Jordan explores the meeting place between meditation and photography and how this mirroring of outer and inner worlds plays upon both the surface of his consciousness and the sensor of his digital camera.

Before Jordan ventures outside to make pictures, he spends time in quiet meditation. This is an important process of switching gears from the everyday noise of the cluttered mind to a more serene state of awareness. This reset allows Jordan to see the world in fresh ways, appreciating overlooked details that might escape a mind preoccupied with business-as-usual.

"Nowhere in Place: Where Photography and Meditation Meet" starts in Tuscaloosa, where Jordan lives. For many, T-town is a place of Southern charms and Alabama football, but, for Jordan, it becomes a visual play of textures, colors, and abstract planes with nary a person in sight. The pictures reveal a placeless solitude within the frame of his camera. "Nowhere in Place" then moves west to Boulder, another college town, where his contemplative eye continues to fix upon unusual shapes, colors, and textures while intersecting with an occasional figure -- and ultimately reaches full bloom in India, where the interplay between inner and outer landscapes knows no bounds, as his camera reveals a kaleidoscopic interplay of people, places, and things.

Within each locale, Jordan photographed "nowhere" in particular, because, for him, the photograph becomes a place of its own being: a sanctuary for meditation, a record of what is seen and heard and felt, an opportunity to see a place and an image right now. For Jordan, the photograph is a medium of meditation and transcendence, providing a point of intersection where one recognizes our shared, common humanity.

Critique: Profound, unique, thought-provoking, inherently compelling, exceptionally well organized and presented, "Nowhere in Place: Where Photography and Meditation Meet" is an especially fascinating volume showcasing the meditative potential of full color photographic imagery -- making it a welcome and highly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Contemporary & Contemplative Photography collections.

Editorial Note: Christopher Jordan is a photographer and Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. His photography engages many styles, ranging from classical, large-format, black-and-white images to the experimental, material-based digital images one sees in this collection. Jordan also maintains an intensive "householder" spiritual practice, integrating yoga, meditation, and mindfulness into his life and work. Jordan's photographs have appeared in Diffusion: Unconventional Photography, Lenscratch, the national traveling photography exhibition, "Spinning Yarns," and numerous exhibitions in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Jordan maintains and informative website at

The Yoga Engineer's Manual
Richelle Ricard, LMT
North Atlantic Books
2526 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704-2607
9781623176334, $29.95, PB, 368pp

Synopsis: Supplemented with more than 100 illustrations and photos, "The Yoga Engineer's Manual: The Anatomy and Mechanics of a Sustainable Practice" by author and yoga teacher trainer Richelle Ricard makes yoga anatomy simple, clear, and accessible. With tips, tools, and practical advice for on-the-mat applications, this essential resource is written for yoga teachers and practitioners of all traditions. It offers a step-by-step, layer-by-layer examination of the connection between our physical and energetic bodies, their activation through finding one's best personal alignment, and methods for utilizing asana practice to explore the deeper nature of the Self.

To experience the full benefits of yoga, "The Yoga Engineer's Manual" illustrates and explains that we need to start with understanding the body: its mechanics, physiology, and our own individual strengths and limitations. Too often, outdated yoga modalities and rote memorization fail trainers and students with a one-size-fits-all approach. "The Yoga Engineer's Manual" introduces the functional anatomy, postures, asanas, and yoga-classroom skills that teachers need to confidently lead safe and effective classes that work for all students. "The Yoga Engineer's Manual" also includes exercises, study guides, and supplemental materials for an interactive and continuous learning experience.

Critique: The ideal introduction to yoga for Yoga practitioners, instructors, and the non-specialist DIY general reader with an interest in the subject, "The Yoga Engineer's Manual: The Anatomy and Mechanics of a Sustainable Practice" is exceptionally well organized and presented. While also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.99), "The Yoga Engineer's Manual: The Anatomy and Mechanics of a Sustainable Practice" is also especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Health & Fitness collections in general, and Yoga instructional reading lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Richelle Ricard's career story started over 25 years ago in the basement classroom of her high school gym in Spokane, WA, learning about anatomy and sports medicine. Since then, they have taken her around the world teaching, learning, writing -- and teaching some more.

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

The Land of Piceno
Phoebe Leed, author
Nathan Neel, author
Rondini Press
9781735853215, $45.00, HC, 204pp

Synopsis: Le Marche, Italy (or Picenum as the Romans called it) is known for the enchanted Sibillini Mountains, vineyard covered hills, and the splendid Adriatic Coast.

The collaborative work of authors Phoebe Leed and Nathan Neel (who for over thirty years have explored the back roads of Le Marche, sought out fantastic tales, and tracked down family history), "The Land of Piceno: The Life and Times of Le Marche, Italy" ranges from the earliest archeological traces of human settlements, through the Roman conquests, to the catastrophic earthquakes of 2016. Barbarian invasions, Italian communes, Napoleon, and Garibaldi connect here in a romantic landscape of astounding beauty and historical turmoil.

The fascination and heartbreak of Le Marche's history is a living experience. This nicely illustrated history displays the jewelry and weapons of the early Piceno culture, follows the circuitous routes of necromancers, brigands, and St. Francis. Savor the wines and olives, renowned since Roman times, in Renaissance piazzas and hilltop fortress towns. Armchair travelers will enjoy visiting the partisan battlegrounds of WWII and the Grotto of the Sibyl, where medieval knights risked eternal damnation.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and informative read from cover to cover, "The Land of Piceno: The Life and Times of Le Marche, Italy" is the next best thing to a personal on-site visit and will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, college, and university library Italian History collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Land of Piceno: The Life and Times of Le Marche, Italy" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781735853208, $28.50).

Where After
Mariel Forde Clarke
6th Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781789046175, $18.95, PB, 216pp

Synopsis: "Where After: Where Do Our Loved Ones Go After They Die?" by Mariel Forde Clarke is the kind of journey that will compel readers to view life after death in a completely different way. What happens to us and our loved ones after death is the question that has traversed the universe for centuries and is considered one of life's greatest mysteries. While many of the world's renowned philosophers, scientists, theorists, doctors, and great mystics endorsed the existence of the afterlife, in "Where After" asserts that whether you believe in God or heaven, you can be comforted by the sense that an afterlife exists beyond the realm of one's physical comprehension. Drawing on the findings of patients who have had near death experiences and visions, and on those of renowned scientists and doctors, Clarke helps the reader chart the journey of the soul and navigate their grief.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking read throughout, "Where After: Where Do Our Loved Ones Go After They Die?" is a unique, extraordinary, and highly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, seminary, college, and university library Metaphysical Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, clergy, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Where After: Where Do Our Loved Ones Go After They Die?" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.49).

Editorial Note: Mariel qualified as a serologist in veterinary science many years ago, assuming this was her career for life. All that changed in 1992, when she was faced with her own mortality and upon surviving, changed the direction of her life towards a more holistic and spiritual pathway. She is certified in many healing modalities, from hypnotherapy, Reiki, crystal healing, shamanism, integrated energy healing, light body healing, mediumship, angel and ascension teacher, and spiritual counselor. She runs a private practice where she lives in Galway, Ireland.

Future Widow
Jenny Lisk
Bluhen Books
9781735613604, $17.99, PB, 294pp

Synopsis: Jenny Lisk had no idea what was coming. At forty-three, she had a lot going on. A full-time job. Two young kids. A home to manage. And suddenly -- a husband with inoperable brain cancer. How could this be her life?

In between surgeries, ER visits, thousands of pills, and ultimately, hospice at home, Jenny kept her corner of the world updated through a CaringBridge online journal, and found strength through a community that rallied to her side.

She needed it because she felt totally lost every time she thought about the future she never saw coming: parenting grieving children, and rebuilding some sort of life for three (out of four) members of her family.

Critique: A deftly written and intensely personal account of a woman and her family dealing with brain cancer, "Future Widow: Losing My Husband, Saving My Family, and Finding My Voice" is both a compelling and informative read from beginning to end. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Future Widow" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: It should be noted for anyone having to deal with a similar medical disaster in their own family that there are tips for widowed parents at the author's website:; tips for supporting friends at:; and Book Club discussion questions at:

Hollywood to the Himalayas
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati
Mandala Publishing
c/o Simon and Schuster
9781647223656, $29.99, HC, 368pp

As a Stanford grad in the midst of getting her PhD in Psychology, Sadhvi Saraswati was comfortable with her life. Despite years of grappling with an eating disorder and trauma from her early childhood, she felt as if she was successfully navigating her way through early adulthood. When she agreed to travel to India to appease her husband (and because she loved the food!) Sadhvi would have never imagined that she would be embarking on a journey of healing and awakening.

"Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation" describes Sadhvi's odyssey towards divine enlightenment and inspiration through her extraordinary connection with her guru and renewed confidence in the pleasure and joy that life can bring. Now one of the preeminent female spiritual teachers in the world, Sadhvi recounts her journey with wit, honesty, and clarity and, along the way, offers teachings to help us all step onto our own path of awakening and discover the truth of who we really are -- embodiments of the Divine.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and presented, "Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation" by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati is an inherently fascinating and impressively informative combination of memoir and travel guide. While very highly recommended for community, college, and university library Biography and Hindu Ritual collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Hollywood to the Himalayas" is also readily available in an inexpensive digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Editorial Note: American-born Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, PhD, moved to India in 1996. A graduate of Stanford University, she was ordained by Chidanand Saraswatiji, president of one of the largest interfaith institutions in India, into the tradition of sanyas and lives at the Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh, where she leads a variety of humanitarian projects, teaches meditation, gives spiritual discourses, and counsels individuals and families. One of the world's preeminent spiritual leaders, Saraswati is the author of four previous books on spirituality, and is also well known as a writer, speaker, and activist. She serves on several committees (within the United Nations and World Bank) for international charity and economic development and is a member of the Transformational Leadership Council as well as the director of the International Yoga Festival.

2 Weeks to Feeling Great
Gabriela Peacock
Kyle Books
c/o Octopus Publishing
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9780857839633, $24.99, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: "2 Weeks to Feeling Great" is nutritionist Gabriela Peacock's comprehensive guide to health and well-being designed especially for busy people who may not have the time (or inclination!) to commit to strict rules that are not compatible with real life and focuses on what is achievable. This culinary compendium includes two detailed 14-day programs on intermittent fasting, scientifically proven to be the most effective method of safely reaching a healthy weight. "2 Weeks to Feeling Great" focuses on the 4:3 and 16:8 two-week plans - the two most effective and clinically researched weight-loss methods. It also includes quick and easy recipes to support the weight-loss plans.

Covering everything from improving sleep to rebalancing hormones and increasing energy, the easy-to-remember tips and recommendations require minimal effort but deliver significant results. Gabriela also looks at other lifestyle factors, in addition to diet, that affect health - from household and beauty products to reducing the use of plastics. The bottom line is, you don't have to be perfect in order to feel and look better.

Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout in full color, "2 Weeks to Feeling Great" is a well and deftly crafted combination of sound health and weight control practices based on a series of recipes for dishes that are as palate pleasing as they are appetite satisfying. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "2 Weeks to Feeling Great" is unreservedly recommended for personal, family and community library cookbook collections in general, and weight control references collections in particular.

Editorial Note: Born in the Czech Republic, Gabriela Peacock has built her practice as a nutritionist around a realistic approach to the demands of modern life. Having worked as a model, she then spent nine years studying two degrees, the first in Naturopathic Nutrition, before going on to graduate from the University of Westminster with BSc (Hons) in Health Science - Nutritional Therapy. Gabriela specializes in intermittent fasting weight management plans and in 2016, launched her range of supplement programs, based on her extensive experience in the role supplements play in supporting restful sleep, increased energy, healthy immune function, weight loss and general physical, as well as mental, well-being.

Margaret Lane

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

April in Paris
John J. Healey
c/o Skyhorse Publishing
9781951627744, $24.99 Hardcover, $16.99 Kindle, 264 pages

What's not to like here?

An aging white guy, a bit of a snob (okay, a lot of a snob), who inherited millions through no effort of his own, flies back and forth between Europe and the U.S. (the Hamptons included, of course) in private jets, pisses off his academic colleagues with his intolerance, lusts after a woman decades his junior, eats extravagant meals, and drinks expensive Champagne and wine at every meal? Okay. Not much there pull you in? Well, he does adopt a rescue puppy. And at one point, while ogling the young woman of his passion, whose perfect little body is clad in a tiny bikini, he does admit to getting a little soft around the middle. Not that it limits his sex appeal, apparently.

At the core of this novel, the protagonist finds out about a murder that took place in the house in the Bronx where his family lived at one time, and he is curious about who did it. But rather than do some actual sleuthing to find out, he solves the mystery by quoting at length boring, staid, publicly available trial transcripts and revealing a deus ex machina confessional letter - delivered in two parts for no obvious reason other than to stretch out the "suspense."

So why did I finish reading this book? And why, when I profess not to review books I dislike, am I reviewing this one? It's not because the "whodunnit" is compelling. To be honest, I didn't care much for it. Its protagonist just isn't the kind of person I can identify with - or even abide. I'd avoid him like a bad bottle of wine. But it is summer, and despite the flaccid plot, the prose isn't bad.

The Overstory
Richard Powers
W.W. Norton & Co.
9780393635522, $18.95 Paper, $27.95 Hardcover, $18.95 Kindle, 502 pages

I'll admit it: big books frighten me. Although I count many thick tomes among my favorite books of all time (Guns, Germs, and Steel - 528 pages; The Tangled Wing - 543 pages), I always approach a big book with some trepidation. Will my limited patience and attention span keep me from finishing it?

This is probably why it has taken me three years to finally break open The Overstory, a book that came out in 2018 and that I've had on my shelves since it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. And, indeed, it did take me nearly half a month to get through it, but when I finished the last page, I cried. Not because the ending was particularly sad, but because I was sorry I had reached the end. Its message is profound, and it made an indelible impression on me that I can't shake.

Powers employs in this novel a structure that works remarkably well, considering I've never seen it used before (I'm sure some of our readers have, and I'd love to hear about such books). He starts the novel with eight chapters he places under the heading "Roots," in which he introduces us to seven individuals and one couple, who are totally unrelated except that at some point, they notice or study or fall in love with a tree or trees in general. This is a book about trees, but it's also a book about people's relationships with trees, and humankind's dependence on trees and the environments that trees sustain.

For me, the most compelling character is Patricia Westerford, who studies trees and brings to us an understanding of them that gives the book its power of persuasion. A different child, one with hearing and speech problems, she becomes a successful scientist, discovers how trees communicate, is roundly criticized for that observance, falls into obscurity, and then rises again at the end of the book to deliver a profoundly disturbing message the world does not want to hear. I rarely ask my husband to read the books I review, but I insisted he read the chapter than introduces her, and since then, when we go hiking, there's always a reason to bring up something we learned in reading it.

Much of the novel describes the efforts of a cadre of environmentalists who try to save ancient trees in the Western U.S. This diverse assortment of activists provide much of the plot of the last two sections of the book, as we watch their involvement with the government, loggers and the forests themselves determine their fate - each as seemingly inescapable as the next. And along side their stories are those of non-activists whose own reaction to the forests and untethered nature bring hope that the activists fail to deliver.

I know it's a lot to ask. It's a big book. It comes together somewhat slowly from the individual stories to a well-shaped whole. But read it. Please.

The Last Thing He Told Me
Laura Dave
Simon & Schuster
9781501171345, $27.00 Hardcover, $13.99 Kindle, 320 pages

There was a time, I believe, when most Law & Order episodes and many, many crime novels were about the same kind of perpetrator who is responsible for the mystery at the center of this novel - the specifics of that "bad guy" I won't reveal here. Does it make you uncomfortable that I withhold the core truth of this novel? That I make you wade through 300 pages of a painfully obsequious protagonist's repetitive musings over a stepdaughter who clearly hates her to find out why Hannah's husband disappeared? But wait you must, if you decide to dip into this novel. The reveal is withheld so long that it comes as both a relief and a disappointment. "Oh, that?" was my reaction.

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club choice, apparently heading for a Hello Sunshine movie production, The Last Thing He Told Me has received nearly universal praise. It has 31,000+ reviews on Amazon, most of them 5-star. But I wasn't as impressed as those reviewers. Perhaps my displeasure was in the details: the lame description of a stock market fraud that seemed to be written by someone who has absolutely no understanding of accounting or IPOs; or the reference to Bevo, the University of Texas mascot, as a "steer bull." (You're one or the other, Laura, never both.)

I may also have liked this book more if I were the mother of a teenage daughter and could understand why an adult would put up with her attitude. Here, the stepdaughter's disdain for the woman who is trying to protect her borders on abuse. Hannah tries to get 16-year-old Bailey to tolerate her - at least - (and her musings about it get to be repetitive) but the brat misbehaves right up to the final paragraphs. Are teens all like that these days? Are some of them? Paint me grateful to not know! On the other hand, Hannah's trouble in deciding how to feel about the husband she thought she knew seems real and believable. She loves the man but doesn't know if she should.

As well reviewed as this book has been, it probably isn't necessary to relay the outline of the plot, but here it is in brief. Hannah's much loved husband disappears and leaves her with no explanation and with a plea to protect his daughter. He worked at a company that perpetrated some kind of investor fraud involving inflated revenue. She tries to find him. Bailey's memory of times with her father is helpful, although that help is given begrudgingly. In the end, the answer to the puzzle of the man's disappearance is a bit fantastical and hard to swallow and makes the page-turner a bit of a letdown. Hannah's ability to handle the powerful man responsible is incredible. If she were that smart and that savvy, I would have expected her to have displayed some of that brilliance earlier. Instead, she makes misstep after misstep and seems woefully na´ve.

If you want to read what everyone else is reading and raving about, this is the book for you. Its sales are likely to continue to top Amazon's charts for a very long time.

The Paper Palace
Miranda Cowley Heller
Riverhead Books
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593329825, $27.00 Hardcover, $13.99 Kindle, 400 pages

Another Reese Witherspoon-anointed novel, The Paper Palace largely pleases and in some minor ways disappoints. Reading it is an immersive experience - one definition perhaps of a good summer read. The plot is developed over multiple time periods, interspersed in a way to make the most of its impact on the protagonist, and handled masterfully. Although the reader is thrown back and forth in time, Heller never loses us. The author's descriptions of place and time are mesmerizing; her prose never falters.

About both a love affair nurtured in a privileged, upper-class childhood in the back woods of Cape Cod, and about sexual abuse and incest, the story's main line is about Elle's need to decide whether to stay with her wonderful, loving, sexy, handsome and successful husband, or to leave him for her childhood love. The novel is suffused with character-building interiority that brings the protagonist Elle to life, and her mother is vividly incarnated in dialogue and behavior, but the author does a lesser job of creating real male characters around her. Her husband's cluelessness seems a little odd, given how perfect he is in all other aspects; and her childhood love's willingness to leave a wonderful marriage himself is little explored. However, the story is sufficiently driven by Elle's conundrum, and although her quandary is all about the men, it doesn't require us to know them like we know her. In spite of this, I'll have to admit that I found her final decision hard to understand, which may say more about my lower-middle-class, Midwest upbringing than the about the novel's successful denouement.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

The Invisible Woman
Erika Robuck
9780593102152, $9.99 EB

A complex and nuanced historical novel with an unforgettable heroine.

Her nom de guerre is Diane, but she is Virginia Hall, a young modern and affluent American studying in Paris in 1926 when she is introduced in the novel The Invisible Woman. She is daring, going to see Josephine Baker sing bare-breasted, and feisty, whacking her boyfriend when he kisses another girl at a party. Jump forward to March, 1944, Virginia's gaiety is gone as she makes her way toward Haute-Loire, France, accompanied by Cuthbert, her prosthetic leg, on a mission to "unleash hell on the Nazis." In wartime France as an SOE/OSS agent, Virginia chooses the name Diane, picked to spite the Nazis who'd called her Artemis, the Greek goddess equivalent to the Roman's goddess Diane. The Gestapo also called her "the Limping Lady."

The plot of the novel is fast paced. The reader stays on the edge of her seat during every airdrop Diane arranges, every coded message she sends, and every Nazi checkpoint she must pass as she moves deeper into France. The characters are well developed through a third person narrative written from Diane's point of view. The narrative technique is skillfully employed by the author to make the danger real and convey the heartbreak suffered by members of the French Resistance when one of their members, often a spouse or relative, is captured or killed. Interwoven into the story are many flashbacks that tell Virginia's story: her childhood summers at Box Horn Farm in America, where as she got older she had the nickname "Dindy," her "lightning-fast romance" with Emil in the 1930s, and the accident in Smyrna in 1933 when her leg must be amputated. The last is a turning point in the story, not directly related to the war but significant in that it made Virginia into the determined woman who later became a heroine.

The characters in The Invisible Woman are brilliantly crafted and make the novel a literary work. They are sometimes as reckless as they are brave, and they are emotionally complex, revealing as Diane interacts with them the fears and sorrows in their lives, and giving testament to the atrocities inflicted upon them by the Germans. As the story moves forward, D-Day looms, "The long sobs of the violins of autumn," and arrives, when the "heart is drowned in the slow sound, languorous and long." Then the German barbarity explodes, the actions and characters so monstrous that one must put down the book occasionally to take a breath, as if looking away from the horrible carnage depicted in a movie. The monsters, unforgettably described, are Anton Haas, the German MP, an early pursuer of the Limping Lady, and Robert Alesch, the haughty priest with "ice-blue eyes" and "doughy white skin," who betrayed the Resistance for the Gestapo's money. And then, finally, comes the story's zenith, brought by a Jedburgh named Paul Goillot, his real name. For Diane it is the beginning of a metamorphosis from the leader of le Corps Franc Diane to Virginia Hall.

Erika Robuck carefully researched the heroine and events in The Invisible Woman. This is clearly shown in the Afterword and additional information at the end of the book. Beside Virginia Hall, many of the characters are based, sometimes loosely and sometimes precisely, on real participants in the French Resistance. What is most remarkable about the novel, however, is not historical accuracy but the magnificent creation of the characters in the book. Virginia Hall is brought to life in the story, as is the depiction of her life struggle and the horrible circumstances in France inflicted by the Nazis in World War II. Robuck's novel is a beautiful work, so complex and nuanced that readers will carry the story with them for a long time.

First Course
Jenn Bouchard
TouchPoint Press
9781952816499, $14.99 PB

A delicious romance stuffed with great food and wonderful characters who will make you cry and laugh when your stomach isn't growling.

Life is full of surprises, as the saying goes, and as one travels its path one must navigate through swamps and over boulders, the pessimists among us always hearing thunder in the distance and the optimists meeting adversity with a Billy Joel tune. In First Course, Jenn Bouchard takes the reader on a short excursion along life's path with a beautiful story during which her protagonist, Janie, or as her sister calls her "Jae Jae," surmounts tragedy while cooking delicious food and cautiously falling in love. Set mostly in Maine, some have called the book a "beach read," but it's complex narrator and her compelling observations make it much more than that. In fact, there is only one meaningful scene at the shoreline, at Peak's Island, near Portland, where the dialogue between Janie and Rocky is certainly more compelling than the view of the ocean.

Crostini and watermelon margaritas early in the story are meant to dampen the disappointment of a runaway boyfriend and loss of a job. The departing boyfriend, Cole, is the novel's antagonist. He is easy to dislike, particularly if one is put off by self-centered dudes from California. But the real tragedy in the story occurs soon after Janie's first sip of the margarita, and she is soon on her way to join her sister, Alyssa, in Cape Elisabeth, at the family summer house where, despite its rocky coastline, the story's swamp of tragedy awaits. What follows is a couple of months, late summer and early fall, through which the author beautifully guides her characters in and out of heartbreak, confusion, and at last triumph. The writing is smooth and the action is evenly paced. The characters are well developed by the author, who magnificently juxtaposes their personalities to highlights their strengths and flaws: the boyfriends, Lance, Mark, Cole and Rocky; Janie's mother Corinne and Lance's mother Meredith; Alyssa's husband, dastardly at first but soon redeemed, and Cole, who gets close to improving, but remains impossible to like. By the end of the novel a reader really knows these people, a tribute to the author's careful development of them by their interactions with each other and the narrator.

A year elapses near the end of the novel, and closure arrives, as it should in a good romance. But the end is multi-dimensional, believable and yet elegantly uplifting, with a final touch of humor. As Janie says, "My whole life is in one room." It's not the customary kiss on the beach at sunset. It's a wonderful moment, a capsule of sensory appreciation the reader can pocket to enjoy over and over. Oh, and was food mentioned? The books plot is energized with good food, from homemade biscuits with bacon, meatballs, pizza, and spinach and mushroom wantons. We'll overlook the rancid gorgonzola. Janie had nothing to do with that.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers
Marcel Strigberger
Book Baby Publishers
9780995950122, $19.95, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: Baby Boomers are the epicenter of our curren register of generations. They've experienced everything from the milkman delivering bottles, to the first moon landing, to the very important invention of the sticky Post-it Note. Boomers baffle the younger generations, who don't even know what a milkman is.

Comprised of entertaining observations and musings on issues such as health decline, technology overwhelm, retirement, longevity, death, and other fun matters, "Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-Biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging" by Marcel Strigberger is a humorous and upbeat look at aging from a baby boomer's perspective.

Critique: Replete with humourous ironies aplenty, "Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-Biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging" is fun, funny, and all to familiar -- making it especially and unreservedly recommended reading for anyone with an interest (or experience!) with the travails and struggles of the aging process. While certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-Biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

The Summer of '63: Gettysburg
Chris Mackowski, Dan Welch, editors
Savas Beatie
9781611215717, $29.95

The Summer Of 1863 At Gettysburg

This new book, "The Summer of '63 Gettysburg: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War", consists of a series of essays designed for a broad audience of non-specialist readers on the Battle of Gettysburg. The Emerging Civil War is a non-profit public history platform which, among other things, maintains a Civil War blog. Many of the essays in the book are revised, expanded versions of works originally posted as blogs while others are new. The volume also includes eight maps of the battlefield together with many images.

The essays take a broad, diverse approach. Some offer relatively detailed looks at various aspects of the battle while others offer more personal responses to the battle together with human interest stories of the participants. Caroline Davis' short essay, "A Poet's Perspective: Melville on Pickett's Charge" combines battle history with literature. She explores Pickett's Charge through its treatment in Herman Melville's poem, "Gettysburg: The Check" from his collection of Civil War poetry, "Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War". Melville's poetry is rarely discussed in books focusing on Civil War history. It was a creative touch in this book to present Pickett's Charge through Melville's reflections.

The essays in the volume begin with background to the battle in Eric Wittenberg's essay "Nobody can Truly Understand the Battle of Gettysburg without a Solid Understanding of the Battle of Chancellorsville" followed by Kristopher White's essay discussing the change in command in the Army of the Potomac from Joseph Hooker to George Meade only three days before the battle. The book includes several essays on the sometimes underestimated first day of the battle, including one of several contributions by Kristopher White, "The Curmudgeon, the Eccentric and the Norse God" which explores the failure of the Confederate Army to attempt the capture of Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill at the conclusion of the first day battle.

The essays on the second day have lttle to say about Joshua Chamberlain and his role in the defense of the far Union left at Little Round Top, but they cover much else of this remarkable day of war. The jointly-written essay "Gettysburg: Day Two" offers an excellent overview while Dan Welch's contribution, "Where all so well did their Duty" offers a clearly written and well detailed overview of the often overlooked heroics on the far right of the Union line in the defense of Culp's Hill.

Caroline Davis' discussion of Melville is the main essay focusing on the third day of the battle. An excellent essay by Eric Wittenberg explores the retreat from Gettysburg and largely vindicates the pursuit offered by Meade in the face of strong criticism from his day to the present. Cecily Nelson Zander's essay "Unintentional Reconciliation" is a historiographical study of how Gettysburg and the Civil War were perceived in the War's aftermath. She raises questions about the reconciliationist view between North and South that is one of the major ways of thinking about the post-War period. The final essay I want to mention is Dan Welch's "Traveling to Gettysburg: Chester S. Durfee and the 1913 Reunion" which offers a rare glimpse of a survior of the First Minnesota on his train journey to Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary of the Battle.

"The Summer of '63" helped me understand my continued fascination with Gettysburg, a fascination which has helped me better understand our country. The publisher, Savas Beatie, kindly sent me a review copy.

What is Philosophy of Mind?
Tom McClelland
9781509538775, $19.95 paperback

"The Mind Is An Enchanting Thing

is an enchanted thing
like the glaze on a
subdivided by sun
till the nettings are legion.
Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti;"

The American poet Marianne Moore captured the fascination and mystery of the mind in her 1943 poem, "The Mind is an Enchanting Thing"; and her poem might serve as an introduction to the ways philosophers, scientists, and lay individuals, as well as poets have thought about the mind. While Tom McClelland's new book, "What is Philosophy of Mind" (2021) does not discuss poetry, it explores other ways in which the mind continues to fascinate. McClelland is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. His short book guides helps readers to explore questions about the mind, about the relationship of philosophical to scientific study of mind, and about the nature and value of philosophy,

The book is clearly and succinctly written for the benefit of non-specialists, including students and those in the broader public with philosophical interests. An endearing feature of the book is the author's personalization of issues through the use of a soccer player named Mindy. During the closing moments of a soccer match, Mindy is about to take a penalty kick which will win the game if successful. McClelland sets out aspects of Mindy's mental responses as she prepares for and executes her kick, including her desire to score, her memory of the goalkeeper's likely defense, her intention on how to aim her kick, her belief on how the goalkeeper will respond, her feeling of elation when the kick succeeds, and the nagging pain in the ankle which Mindy ignores under the pressure-filled moment of the kick. Throughout the book, McClelland returns to Mindy to illustrate various ways of understanding her responses and understanding the mind.

In his opening chapter, McClelland discusses the difficulties in pinning down the nature of mind and, more broadly understanding the nature of philosophy. McClelland description of philosophy is worth quoting. It is the "discipline that asks the big questions about life, the universe and everything. It asks metaphysical questions about the nature of reality, epistemological questions about our knowledge of reality, and normative questions about the value of things in reality. It grapples with these questions by challenging our most basic assumptions, analysing our most foundational concepts and constructing a clear and coherent framework for thinking about the world." The definition takes a commendably broad, ambitious view of the nature of philosophy.

Psychology, neurology, and computer science have made their own crucial contributions to understanding the mind. McClelland wants to show, however, that the approaches of these sciences do not eliminate the need for philosophical reflection about the mind and its nature. McClelland finds three "big questions" that philosophers have tried to answer about the nature of the mind: 1. What is the relationship between mind and matter? 2. How do we acquire knowledge about our own mind and the minds of others? 3. What sort of things have minds and what kind of minds do they have?

In successive chapters of the book, McClelland develops historically the answer philosophers have given to these questions. Each chapter begins with an exposition of the answer together with a discussion of the considerations that led to the answer and made it appealing. McClelland works towards assessing the answers each approach gives to the three big questions, explaining the insights of each answer and the ways in which it has been found wanting. He shows how the difficulties of one approach lead to the answers of another.

McClelland begins his analysis with the dualism between mind and body propounded by Descartes. He follows this with an exploration of two materialistic theories of the mind, known as behaviorism and as the identity theory. McClelland then gives a detailed, and in many respects sympathetic treatment of a functionalist treatment of the mind and its relationship to the computer revolution. He shows a number of ways in which functionalism may offer a materialistically based understanding of mind without the deficiencies of earlier forms of materialism.

Following the discussion of dualism, materialism, and functionalism, McClelland doubles back to study the nature of consciousness itself which seems to be left hanging by each of the three theories. Among other possibilities, McClelland sketches a pansychist, idealistically influenced theory of mind. Panpsychism has some adherents among contemporary philosophers. McClelland also cautiously suggests that the approaches most philosophers take to the philosophy of mind focuses too strongly on the phenomenon of consciousness while thinking more intently about matter and its properties, known and unknown, might prove to be a more successful way of understanding.

The final chapter of the book offers suggestions on how philosophy and the sciences might better work together in understanding the nature of mind while suggesting that the large conceptual questions and questions of meaning studied by philosophy are unlikely to go away.

While not having the enchantment of Marianne Moore's poem or of her evocative figure of "Gieseking playing Scarlatti", McClelland's book offers a good overview to the philosophy of mind and to the value of philosophical thinking about the mind. Each chapter of the book concludes with a series of important definitions and with a short list of suggestions for further reading. The book is part of a series published by Polity titled "What is Philosophy" which Polity describes as "[s]parkling short introductions to the key topics in philosophy, written with zero jargon by leading philosophers, ideal for the beginning-level student." Polity kindly sent me a copy of "What is Philosophy of Mind?" to review.

Collected Poems
May Swenson
Langdon Hammer, editor
Library of America
9781598532104, $40.00

May Swenson In the Library Of America

The Library of America published this volume of the "Collected Poems" of May Swenson (1913 -- 1989) in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the poet's birth. The volume includes the seven books of poems Swenson published during her life together with a large selection of uncollected poems. It also includes a short collection of Swenson's essays about poetry. The book preserves Swenson's poetry in an attractive volume and will likely become the definitive edition of her work. Landon Hammer, professor of English at Yale University, edited the volume, which includes as well a valuable chronology of Swenson's life. Hammer also edited the Library of America's volume of Hart Crane's poetry and letters.

Settings of two Swenson poems by the American composer William Bolcom in a recording by soprano Carole Farley with the composer at the piano got me interested in the poet and provide a short introduction to her work. The first, "The Digital Wonder Watch (An Advertisement)" (p. 488 this volume) comes from Swenson's 1987 collection "In other Words" and shows her combination of whimsy, satire and depth. Swenson's satire on technology and advertising comes through in the composer's tick-tock piano setting. While describing the many advanced features of her "wonderful watch" the poet asks, "Does it show how to wind up/a broken heart?"

The second of Swenson's poems "Night Practice" is included in her 1963 collection "To Mix with Time" (p. 152 of this volume). Bolcom set the work as part titled "I will Breathe a Mountain" of poems by American women. The poem captures the experimental, modernistic cast of many of Swenson's poems in which the theme is mirrored by the form of the poem on the page. The poem is written in the form of a pyramid as the poet meditates and tries to come to terms with the inevitability of death. The poem concludes with the line "I will breathe a valley, I will breathe a mountain", which Bolcom adopted as the title of his song cycle.

Swenson was the child of Swedish immigrants who were devout Mormons. She lived until graduating from college in Utah before moving to Greenwich Village where she lived for many years. She lived the Bohemian life of a young artist supporting herself by a variety of jobs until she became established as a poet. Swenson ultimately won a great deal of critical recognition. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Grant, and the Bollingen Prize for poetry among other honors. During her life, she had lovers and companions, male and female.

The American poet Elizabeth Bishop greatly influenced Swenson and the two became close friends. Swenson wrote several poems to or about her mentor. As did Bishop, Swenson wrote many fables about animals, such as "The Lion" (p.6). I found that Swenson's work has a teasing quality that moves between fun and seriousness. She has a broad range and writes about animals and nature as well as about city life in for example "Riding the 'A'" (p. 187). She writes about science and its relation to poetry and shows a particular interest in the astronauts and in space exploration. There are poems about Swenson's travels to the American West, to Florida, and to Europe. Many poems are set on the Delaware shore where Swenson lived in the late years of her life. Many of Swenson's poems have an erotic character. After her death, collections made and published of her "love poems" drawing heavily on uncollected works.

The poems are rhythmical and beautifully crafted with detailed, specific observation and a poet's eye and ear for the precise word. Many of the poems are immediately accessible. Swenson is best-known as a modernist for her efforts to integrate form with sense, as is the case in "Night Practice" among many other poems. Swenson used many different shapes in different poems and even varied the font size of the text. This collection captures the experimental character of her work. Probably the most characteristic of Swenson's books is "Iconographs" (1970) in which the form captures the poem in the manner of an iconographic painting.

Swenson wrote of the surfaces of things, but she did so deliberately. She wrote of sight and language for their own sakes to show things afresh and also to make the reader pause and see things in a new way and for oneself. The poems have depth and concern for meaning together with the surface playfulness. The poems are almost all short, but two of the lengthy poems, "Banyan" and "Some Quadrangles, the 1982 Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Poem" capture much of the spirit and purpose of her writing. In an essay, "The Poet as Antispecialist", Swenson explained:

"What is the experience of poetry? Choosing to analyze this experience for myself after an engrossment of many years, I see it based in a craving to get through the curtains of things as they appear to things as they are and then into the larger, wilder space of things as they are becoming. This ambition involves a paradox: an instinctive belief in the senses as exquisite tools for this investigation and, at the same time, a suspicion about their crudeness."

The Library of America deserves thanks for its efforts to celebrate the best of American accomplishment in literature and poetry. May Swenson's poems deserve their place in this celebration. I was pleased to have the opportunity to get to know her writing in this volume of her Collected Poems.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

The End
Mats Strandberg
9781646900060, $18.95

The End is a pre-apocalyptical dystopian science fiction young adult book that deftly handles a bevy of social issues. It blends sci-fi with thriller as teens solve a murder. It may be more suited for older teens as alcohol, sex, and drugs play a large role. The premise is that Foxworth, a newly discovered comet, is heading directly toward earth. It is too late to try to change its course, so all the inhabitants of the planet know the exact date and time of their demise - four months from now.

The story is told in two points of view: Simon's girlfriend, Tilda, dumps him just after the news breaks, and Lucinda, a teen with leukemia, whose date to die has suddenly changed. She writes journal entries that are being sent into space to hopefully be saved for posterity. When Tilda is killed, Simon and Lucinda join forces to find Tilda's killer.

The book is nicely diverse without being overt. Simon is the child of a lesbian couple, one of whom is from Domenica.

The book shows how various people deal with their impending deaths. Tilda, and for a while, Simon, party every night - the sex, drugs, rock and roll scene. Some sink into the world of porn. Football continues to be a major means of escape, but the riots afterward are disturbing. Simon's half-sister, Emma, is pregnant with a child that should be born after the comet arrives. She moves into total denial. Other folks join fundamental churches and become evangelists, thinking God will only allow those who have been baptized into heaven.

The End also incorporates current political issues quite well. There are those people who feel that the comet is "fake news" or a plot hatched in Russia. Society breaks down. People quit coming to work. Money is worthless. Gas is rationed. Food is rationed as well, distributed through vouchers issued by the government. But volunteers keep food on the table and run hospitals

Despite its heavy subject matter, The End, is a story about reconciliation, about learning what really matters, who others really are, and who you are. Well worth reading.

The Collector's Daughter: A Novel of the Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb
Gill Paul
William Morrow Paperbacks
9780063079861, $16.99

Gill Paul gives us another work of historical fiction in which she explores the lives of women she feels history has neglected. The Collector's Daughter is a dual timeline story, split between the 1920s and the 1970s, between Egypt and Great Britain.

In the earlier time frame, Lady Evelyn Herbert, the only daughter of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, wants to be an archaeologist and has journeyed to Egypt several times. Her father is funding the excavations of the famous archaeologist, Howard Carter, as he searches for the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun. In November 1922, Lord Carnarvon receive a telegram that Carter believes he has found the tomb, and Eve and her father journey there to enter it with him. Eve is the first to enter the tomb.

Later, in London in 1972, Eve is in her early 70s and has suffered after another stroke, one of several she has had since she had a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident. While doing physical and speech therapy, she receives a visitor from Egypt, one Dr. Ana Mansor. While chatting with Mansor, Eve's memories give her a goal to recover her speech quickly.

The book does a good job of depicting Eve as a strong woman, far ahead of her time in her wishes to be an archeologist. Instead, she falls in love and marries, giving up her dreams of Egypt. Gill shows the process of rehabilitation after a stroke quite well. She also ties the past and present together with the "curse" of King Tut's tomb.

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women
Nancy Marie Brown
St. Martin's Press
9781250200846, $29.99

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women is part history, part archeology, and part social criticism of the Icelandic sagas. Brown admits that much of the book is speculation based on archeological finds throughout the Vikings historical range and beyond. The book, though, is a much-needed correction to the male-centric, misogynic attitudes first put forth by Snorri Storlusson and his ilk as they rewrote the Icelandic sagas. Those ideas were repeated and amplified in the nineteenth century which, with its desire to "catalog" everything, also rewrote much of the world's history to conform to Victorian ideals.

Brown's speculation is based in part on fact: in 2017, a high-level presumed-male warrior buried in Birka, Sweden is shown, through DNA testing, to be female. Brown also accesses Snorri Storlusson and others who were trying to document the Icelandic sagas, albeit with a medieval male-oriented Christian bent. Her expansive knowledge of Viking history and sagas bring Viking society to life. The Real Valkyrie reveals how medieval and modern biases shaped our vision of Viking women even more than data and facts have.

The Real Valkyrie gives this female Viking a name and imagines her life and her experiences. Each chapter begins with the imagined life of this woman warrior. This book blends both history and historical fiction, thus readers who prefer straight fiction or straight history may find this book maddening. I found this book to be beautifully written and researched. I loved the rich details Brown provides as well as her take on what a female Viking might have experienced.

Athena's Child
Hannah M. Lynn
Independently Published
9798703200018, $10.99

In Athena's Child, Hannah Lynn depicts a beautiful young Medusa serving in Athena's temple. Poseidon forces himself upon her. Athena, rather than blame Poseidon for raping her acolyte, blames Medusa and curses her, making her into the monster of mythology. Lynn's Medusa, feeling forsaken by her goddess, tries to live in peace on her island, but her seclusion is interrupted time and again by wannabe heroes, hoping to kill her. This depiction of Medusa shows the persistence of the male hierarchy and how women, even other women, blame the victim for her own rape rather than blaming the perpetrator.

Lynn also writes from Perseus's point of view and shows his desire to decapitate Medusa. He wants to save his mother from marrying King Polydectes. Perseus plans to weaponize Medusa's head and use it to kill the king.

The prose in Athena's Child is a bit simplistic and far less poetic that that in Madeline Miller's Circe or Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls. Lynn does ask us to listen to the stories of women that the patriarchy sees as villains and to reevaluate their lives in view of the #MeToo movement. However, so much of the book is in Perseus's point of view that the momentum for feminism is diluted. This is a short, easy read that might be a good middle grade reader for a child who won't be triggered by the rape and killing. Because it is so short, though, the characterization suffers a bit.

Country Music Cowboy
Sasha Summers
Sourcebooks Casablanca
9781492688624, $8.99

Sasha Summers skillfully blends country music and an opposites-attract romance. Loretta and Travis are each facing demons: her drinking, gambling loser of a father and absent mother while he battles his own history of drinking, drugs, and chasing women. Each fears commitment while desiring each other as they embark on a joint musical career billed as TrueLove.

Summers's romances generally are more than a simple love story. I enjoy them because she keeps readers on edge with just enough anxiety to propel readers through the story and characters that are not stereotypical.

The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out
William Dameron
Little A
9781542044745, $24.95

Raised in a conservative Catholic family, where the father has abdicated his role, William Dameron senses his sexual differences but suppresses those feelings. He goes on to marry and father two girls and remains very involved in their lives, those less so in the life of his wife. As he comes to term with his homosexuality, he writes honestly of the raw emotions he experiences, his doubts about leaving his daughters as his father left him. Once he does declare himself gay, Dameron write about how he has to deal with the detritus of his decades-long lies and how they affected him, his wife, and their two daughters. The story is deeply human, filled with truth and deception, old heartbreak and new love, self-loathing and self-acceptance, and struggles to maintain his relationships with his family. This book should open the eyes of those who doubt that homosexuality is inborn or a choice people make. Well worth reading.

A Spartan's Sorrow (The Grecian Women Trilogy #2)
Hannah M. Lynn
Independently Published
9798721713392, $12.99

In the first of the Grecian Women Trilogy books, Athena's Child, Hannah Lynn retells the story of Medusa and Perseus. In the second of the trilogy, Lynn revisits the Trojan War, focusing on Clytemnestra. As in her depiction of Medusa, in A Spartan's Sorrow, Lynn again handles the persistence of the male hierarchy and how women, even other women, blame the victim for her plight rather than blaming the perpetrator.

Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon and the sister of Helen of Troy, remains at home, governing their kingdom well, while he goes off to fight the Trojan War. Lynn gives us a strong, complex woman with fierce maternal instincts, brought about by Agamemnon's murder of her beloved first husband and her first son. Her protective, perhaps overly-protective, instincts determine her future.

The prose here is less simplistic than in the prior Athena's Child, but still far less poetic that that in Madeline Miller's Circe or Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls. Lynn does ask us to listen to the stories of women that the patriarchy sees as villains and to reevaluate their lives in view of the #MeToo movement. However, as in Athena's Child, Lynn ends in the male point of view, as she follows the life of Clytemnestra's son, Orestes, thus diluting her efforts at feminism. Because A Spartan's Sorrow runs fifty pages beyond the length of Athena's Child, Lynn has more room to focus on characterization, thus Clytemnestra is more fully realized, and the rest of the cast is better developed as well.

The Secret of the Grand Hotel du Lac
Kathryn Gauci>br? Ebony Publishing
9780648714415, $14.99

Ms. Gauci presents her usual extraordinarily well-researched historical fiction. She has the ability to present unique characters in a fascinating story. In rich prose, she conjures the countryside of France both in the heat of summer and the ice of winter - and mentions the wonderful food and wines the French managed to conjure even during the austerities of World War II. Against this idyllic setting, she then shows the stark contrast of the German occupation of France and the struggle of the French Resistance against the Nazis. Set against this backdrop, Elizabeth Maxwell and her husband Guy, both of England, are sent to France to facilitate the Brits work with the Resistance. There is suspense on every page as Elizabeth, Guy, and the members of their resistance cell face danger at every turn, especially as it becomes clear that someone deep within their cell has betrayed them to the Nazis. An atmospheric novel, fraught with tension, and a great glimpse at another of Gauci's strong women protagonists.

The Paris Wife
Meghan Masterson
ASIN B095P9JMQL, $3.99

An enjoyable historical fiction novel. I was transported to Paris in the mid 1850s with the Carbonari (Italian radicals) plotting against the French Emperor, Napoleon III, in an effort to get him to back them in their attempts to release Piemonte from Austrian rule.

A doctor's daughter from the Italian countryside, Livia and her new husband arrive in Paris, sent by Conte Cavour to try to influence the French Emperor. Livia soon finds a friend, Elizabetta, the Emperor's mistress, who takes Livia under her wing.

This is also a slow-burn romance between a husband and wife in their marriage of convenience. As a physician and avid gardener, I appreciated the details of botanicals, poisons, and their uses. This was an engrossing, richly-imagined historical novel about women in a man's world.

Velvet Was the Night
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey
9780593356821, $27.00

Velvet Was the Night is more noir than thriller; it seems like an updated Raymond Chandler-esque book. The tone is persistently dark, even bleak, but the reader gets the sense that the point-of-view characters will come through. It is set during the 1970s, a decade in which the Mexican government used force against protesters, including students, communists and left wing dissidents. Paramilitary groups, like the Hawks in the story, administered the force, including death and torture.

Elvis, one of the POV characters, is part of the Hawks. A slum kid who envisions himself as Elvis Presley, he dreams of a better life but is unsure of how he can escape the one he's in. Maite, the other POV character, is a secretary who's bored with her job and fantasizes about suave lovers who will help her escape her dreary existence. When Maite's neighbor disappears, the beautiful Leonora, a rich wanna-be activist, Maite is drawn into the world of student revolutionaries and gangsters. Maite and Elvis share a love of American music and books, things that could hold their relationship together - if they ever develop one.

The Family Plot
Megan Collins
Atria Books
9781982163846, $27.00

I was sucked into this macabre book from the first page. It's like The Addams Family meets true crime television. It contains all the elements to draw a reader in. A mother's obsessive grief leads her to actions that scar her family forever, leaving them dysfunctional on many levels. She homeschools them with a curriculum of her own devising: true crime. Stir in a secluded existence on a gloomy atmospheric island in a home called "Murder Mansion" by the locals, the disappearance of the protagonist's sixteen-year-old twin, and a series of unsolved murders by a serial killer, and you have the bare bones of The Family Plot.

The protagonist, twenty-six-year-old Dahlia, returns to her island home after her father's death. When the grave is dug in the nearby family plot, a body is already there - and DNA testing proves it to be her missing twin who'd been struck in the head with an axe. Dahlia, to deal with her own grief, decides to find out who murdered her brother. Her endeavors reveal more than anyone in the family suspected and threaten to tear the family apart.

The Family Plot is definitely twisted, dark, macabre, and filled with juicy tidbits about true crime deaths. If you favor dark thrillers, this one will fill the bill.

Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them
Sian Evans
St. Martin's Press
9781250246462, $28.99

It was an effort for me to finish this book. I enjoy reading women's history and how previous generations of women paved the way for the rights we women now enjoy. Though it was well-researched, the books failed to capture my interest. There was a plethora of minute details, many of which were repetitive and/or unnecessary to start with, far beyond what was required to make the author's point. The first few chapters were very repetitive, and the pacing was uniform throughout.

The Guilt Trip
Sandie Jones
Minotaur Books
9781250265586, $27.99

In Sandie Jones's The Guilt Trip, three couples travel to Portugal for a destination wedding. Rachel and Jack are the sister-in-law and brother of the groom, Will, who is already on site. Their friends Noah and Paige accompany them on the same flight as does Ali, the bride. Rachel and Noah were besties back in university, but now her best friend is Paige. Rachel lives a dream existence as a mother and the wife of a steadfast husband. Ali is a polarizing character, an over-the-top beautiful, self-centered woman, who dresses to the hilt while using a filterless-mouth as a rapier. The friends question whether Will has made the right choice for his bride. Jack, in particular, feels most strongly and confides to his wife that Ali has cheated on Will.

During the wedding weekend unfolds, the compass shifts multiple times as characters reshape their assumptions and misunderstandings are clarified. Soon, the couples are squabbling with each other. The shifting poles expose lies that threaten the relationships of the three couples - with tragic consequences.

The Guilt Trip is a page-turner of a domestic thriller. At the end, just as I thought my head had quit spinning, it was jerked around again.

In the Wake of the Stars
Samantha Heuwagen
Samantha Heuwagen LLC
9781734701371, $15.99

Author Heuwagen deftly combines alien-invasion-type science fiction with psychological drama and strong, capable women. Her background as a psychologist allows her to write accurate - if heart-wrenching - descriptions of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety/panic attacks, and sexual assault. So glad to read the conclusion of the series. This novel pulls together the exploits of Sorg Aves and Naluba as well as Melissa and Clairfic. I love the emphasis on emotional healing Heuwagen brings to her work.

The Exit Strategy
Lainey Cameron
The Wild Rose Press, Inc
9781509231386, $18.99

Lainey Cameron, author of The Exit Strategy, left the tech industry then used those experiences as a rare female executive to fuel her debut novel, The Exit Strategy. Her knowledge of the challenges women face in such male-dominated fields is obvious and honestly portrayed here.

This is women's fiction at its best: two women, both strong and intelligent, bond while they overcome many difficulties - not the least of which is that they love the same man. They work together to bring down both the industry they work in and the man who done-them-wrong. I enjoyed this book and its love-triangle with a twist.

Boy, Falling
Jenny Jaeckel
Black Rose Writing
B08ZT3T95V, $3.99

Boy, Falling is a sequel to the family saga House of Rougeaux by Jenny Jaeckel. Unlike House of Rougeaux, this novel is considerably easier to read as it is told in three sections in three points of view that overlap somewhat in time.

It begins in 1985 in Montreal where a young Black man, Gerard Rougeaux, struggles with his rising awareness of his difference - he is homosexual. He soon learns that he is adopted as well, the lovechild of his aunt and one of her professors at the musical school she attends. In 1909, he moves to Paris to expand his musical horizons and, there, accepts his true self.

In the middle section, Jeannette, takes over. She is a music teacher in New York. During the stock market crash, her work is terminated; however, all the white teachers remain employed. She faces the question many women face: should she marry a man who can provide security, even if she doesn't love him? lot of joy in her work.

In the third section, Gerard's niece, who nowadays would probably carry a diagnosis of ADHD or something on the autism spectrum, takes over. She learns to deal with her special talents.

Boy, Falling tackles such diverse topics as love, suffering, grief, neurodiversity, homosexuality, and racism. The book quite improvement to the first, feeling more concise and cohesive and moving forward in time in a linear fashion with only minimal overlaps between the three characters. Jaeckel also covers less time in the 278 pages rather than compressing three centuries into the 308 pages of House of Rougeaux. While there are still many characters (family, friends in France and the US), the three noted above dominate, and though there were many Rougeaux family characters in House of Rougeaux, they are mentioned only in passing in Boy, Falling. There is also less emphasis on magical realism, with it being limited to a similar dream that ties the three main characters together.

The Blue Dolphin
Kathryn Gauci
Ebony Publishing
9780648714422, $13.64

Ms. Gauci presents her usual extraordinarily well-researched historical fiction. She has the ability to present unique characters in a fascinating story. In rich prose, she conjures the heat of the Greek summer, the sapphire Aegean seas, the shushing sounds of waves on the beach. Against this idyllic setting, she then shows the stark contrast of the German occupation of Greece and its islands as well as the struggle of the Greek Resistance against the Nazis. Set against this backdrop, Nefeli, the owner of The Blue Dolphin tavern, lives with her daughter, Georgia, on an unnamed Greek island. Nefeli's husband, Yianni, died in a World War II battle four years earlier. She had always thought Yianni to be the love of her life, so when the village matchmakers start scheming, she is resistant. She eventually caves and decides to marry the local storekeeper. During a violent storm, a German pilot washes up on the shore near Nefali's house. Being a good Christian, she is unable to leave him there to die - or be shot by the locals. She brings him into her humble home and treats his wounds. During the few days they have together, these two unlikely souls fall deeply in love. Nefeli breaks off her engagement to the storekeeper, setting off a chain of events that reverberate through the rest of the story and its unexpected ending.

Geckos & Guns: The Pakistan Years (Living as an Expat Series Book 2)
Sharon Bazant
9781647193188, $18.95

I enjoyed this memoir of Ms. Bazant's time in Pakistan in the early 1990s. I lived in Islamabad where her UN-employed husband was stationed, but my timeframe was 1977 just as Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq took over as president after a military coup. Many of our memories are the same: the gaudy jingle trucks, the ubiquitous poverty, the universal dress of shalwar (trousers) and kameez (long shirt), haggling in the markets, and the aromas of new spices in the air. I loved living there but was uncomfortable with the many holdovers from British Colonial days as well as the caste system. My family, like Ms. Bazant's did not have the protection of a foreign governmental agency, but we were able to utilize the American Club to get a "real" hamburger. I also enjoyed her descriptions of her family's journeys to Bangkok, Ceylon, Greece, India, etc. She is able to fully capture the experience of being a "fish out of water" while traveling the world.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

The Get It Together Planner: Living with Intention Week by Week Diary
Ink & Willow
c/o Waterbrook Multnomah
9780593192924, $17.00

Synopsis: The Get It Together Planner features classic Scriptures on fruitfulness and productivity as well as timeless quotes from inspirational experts in the fields of purpose, mindfulness, and intentionality. The beautifully designed interior has ample room for recording appointments and deadlines, shopping and to-do lists, meal plans and budgets, and much more. Each month, space is dedicated for reflection on the month past and setting firm intentions and goals for the month ahead.

Critique: The Get It Together Planner is a consumable, week-by-week planner opening with a two-page spread of yearly calendars from 2021-2026, then offering pages with lines for written entries, spaces for pictures or drawings, monthly grids for tracking one's budget and planning meals, week-by-week to-do lists with priorities, and much more. Classic lines of Scripture about productivity intersperse this practical resource, enhanced with a ribbon bookmark for ease of use. The Get It Together Planner is an excellent tool for efficiently organizing one's goals and maximizing the use of one's time, and also makes an excellent gift! Highly recommended.

Editorial Note: The Ink & Willow line infuses contemplation and inspiration into the regular spiritual practice of creative-minded Christians, wherever they are in their faith journey. Each thoughtfully curated gift product is based in biblical truth and sparks a reminder of how God reveals beauty in the midst of our ordinary.

Spirit of Your Soul
Peg Roberts M. Ed.
Five Women Publishing
9781733337243, $17.99

Synopsis: The intuitive writings in Spirit of Your Soul contemplate life's journeys, struggles and perspectives and the impact they have on us. Focusing on the mind-heart-soul connection, they provide insight and thought-provoking ideas about the inner growth we seek and our desire for peace and harmony.

Today, clarity and serenity sometimes feel unattainable. They often seem just out of reach. So consumed are we with our jobs and our families, it is difficult to find time for ourselves. All we really want in life is to be happy and stress free, to lead peaceful lives and for the world to set itself straight.

This collection of wisdom filled writings presents an opportunity for you to determine what you really want out of life, to realize what an incredible person you are and to appreciate what you have already achieved. They challenge you to see life more clearly and get to know your Self and your Soul. Together, they offer alternative approaches to decision making, letting go of your past, appreciating your present and looking ahead to discover where you want to go next.

Critique: Spirit of Your Soul: Insight into Life's Journey and the Mind-Heart-Soul Connection is a contemplative volume of intuitive poetry designed to help the reader focus on the interconnections of the mind, heart, and soul. Beautiful, insightful, and enlightening, these writings are ideal for helping one cultivate kindness and appreciation for everyday miracles. "Peace and tranquility reflect / back upon you also / Attitude is a matter of choice / and choices have consequences / Lessons once learned need not be repeated / Make your choices wisely / Make them your own / That you may savor the sweetness of life." Also highly recommended is "Spirit of Your Soul: Journal" (9781733337243, $17.99), a consumable journal intended as a companion title and perfect for writing down one's innermost thoughts.

Editorial Note: Born and raised in Massachusetts, Peg discovered her ability to hear the answers to questions posed by her and others during a journaling class that she took quite by accident. Growing up on the coast fostered her deep love of the ocean. She resides in seaside communities in both Massachusetts and Florida. As a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner and a Reiki Master, Peg also helps herself and others stay healthy.

Four Gifts of the Highly Sensitive
Courtney Marchesani
Hay House, Inc.
9781401957032, $16.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Are you often told that you are too sensitive? Can you intuit things before they happen? Are you an introvert who cares deeply about the people and places around you?

Using a new and specialized framework for understanding empaths and sensitive individuals, integrative health coach Courtney Marchesani demystifies the science of sensitivity to help you maximize your gifts of empathy, intuition, vision, and expression.

Her insightful sensitivity quiz will help you to recognize where your strengths lie, while her Mind-Body Method will help you to heal from the past and current trauma affecting your sensory processing and employ coping skills to manage what can be an overwhelming onslaught of intense emotions and sensations.

Allow your sensory intelligence to shine and relish your profound ability to connect with the world by recognizing and honoring your unique gift of sensitivity.

Critique: Four Gifts of the Highly Sensitive: Embrace the Science of Sensitivity, Heal Anxiety and Relationships, and Connect Deeply with Your World is self-help guide about recognizing and making the most of one's natural gifts for sensitivity and empathy. Chapters offer a four-week plan designed to help one develop coping skills for dealing with intense emotions and sensations. Other helpful measures discussed include stress-reduction techniques, breath work, aromatherapy, sleep remedies, and the ancient practice of Ayurveda. While Four Gifts of the Highly Sensitive can't replace the counsel of a licensed psychologist, it makes an excellent supplement to professional care, and also serves as a good self-help guide for highly sensitive people who do not feel the need to see a professional. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Four Gifts of the Highly Sensitive is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Editorial Note: Courtney Marchesani is an integrative health coach, intuitive, and healer with an M.S. in Mind-Body Medicine. You can visit her online at

In the Hole
Ben Levin
Jumpmaster Press
9781949184501 $15.00 pbk / $5.00 Kindle

Synopsis: Nine-year-old David Kimball finds his safe and secure world unexpectedly unraveling after discovering his father has lost the family restaurant business, and subsequently their home. Forced to live in a borrowed car until it too is lost, David, together with his parents and sister, Julia, desperately seek shelter. After finding temporary housing in a decrepit inn, together with other individuals facing homelessness, David struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy even as his family faces the challenges and trauma of being homeless.

Over time, through hard work and the support of their family and community, David searches for the inner strength and outward skills needed to help his family triumph over their dire circumstances. Will David and his family make it out of the hole? Read this latest release from teen author, Ben Levin, to find out!

Critique: In the Hole is a novel for young adults about nine-year-old David Kimball, whose life is turned upside down when his alcoholic father loses the family restaurant, their house, and eventually, even the car they were sheltering in. David struggles "in the hole" of crushing poverty, even as he tries to find ways to support his family. Then his beloved little sister slips into a coma for lack of nourishment. How can David lift his family out of the hole they've sunken into? Thought-provoking and serious-minded, In the Hole confronts a serious modern-day social dilemmas, and is highly recommended especially for school and public library YA Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that In the Hole is also available in a Kindle edition ($5.00).

Kidney to Share
Martha Gershun and John D. Lantos, MD
ILR Press
c/o Cornell University Press
9781501755439 $26.95 hc / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: In Kidney to Share, Martha Gershun tells the story of her decision to donate a kidney to a stranger. She takes readers through the complex process by which such donors are vetted to ensure that they are physically and psychologically fit to take the risk of a major operation. John D. Lantos, a physician and bioethicist, places Gershun's story in the larger context of the history of kidney transplantation and the ethical controversies that surround living donors. Together, they help readers understand the discoveries that made transplantation relatively safe and effective as well as the legal, ethical, and economic policies that make it feasible.

Gershun and Lantos explore the steps involved in recovering and allocating organs. They analyze the differences that arise depending on whether the organ comes from a living donor or one who has died. They observe the expertise - and the shortcomings - of doctors, nurses, and other professionals and describe the burdens that we place on people who are willing to donate. In this raw and vivid book, Gershun and Lantos ask us to consider just how far society should go in using one person's healthy body parts in order to save another person.

Kidney to Share provides an account of organ donation that is both personal and analytical. The combination of perspectives leads to a profound and compelling exploration of a largely opaque practice. Gershun and Lantos pull back the curtain to offer readers a more transparent view of the fascinating world of organ donation.

Critique: Kidney to Share is the true-life story of kidney donor Martha Gershun, who recounts the many steps of the process with the aid of physician and bioethicist John D. Lantos, MD. A compelling personal account as well as a "must-read" for anyone contemplating kidney donation, Kidney to Share also reaches beyond the author's individual experience to contemplate larger ethical questions concerning to what extent a healthy person's body parts should be used to aid or save another person. Kidney to Share is highly recommended for both personal and public library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Kidney to Share is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Awakened by Grace
Darlene West
Resource Publications
9781725259928, $26.00 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: After the tragic death of his wife, Katie, Professor Franklin Franklyn blames himself. Filled with anguish, he walks away from his family and removes himself from all social interactions, which augments his suffering. But soon after the second anniversary of his wife's death, his self-imposed reclusive lifestyle is interrupted by an unplanned visit from his eight-year-old granddaughter, Maggie. From that point on, Maggie's faith-filled answered prayers manifest before Franklin's eyes. As the two experience God-led divine appointments, Maggie encourages new people to become part of Franklin's life. In spite of all Franklin witnesses, he finds it difficult to let go of his guilt and move on without his wife.

Critique: Awakened by Grace is a powerful Christian novel about terrible loss, and the slow, difficult path to recovery, guided by the Grace of God. Professor Franklin Franklyn loses his beloved wife to an automobile accident, which could have been avoided if only he'd listened to her request to drive home before freezing rain made the conditions dangerous. Devastated by guilt, Franklyn withdraws from his family and society. It's only through his connection to his eight-year-old granddaughter Maggie, and the divine love of God, that Franklyn can bring himself to embark on the long, difficult road to forgiveness and healing. Poignant and thoughtful, Awakened by Grace is a welcome addition especially to church library fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Awakened by Grace is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Editorial Note: Darlene West has a bachelor's degree in English with a writing minor in the concentration of fiction, as well as a master's in adult education. Darlene is a retired corporate developer, program designer, evaluator, training needs assessor, and curriculum specialist.

Susan Bethany

Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

My Cool Red Hat
Nahrain Taylor
N Taylor
B09DTT5FZF, $3.99 Kindle, 37 pages

"The greatest adventure is what lies ahead."


A girl's pride and joy revolve around a bright red hat. She takes it wherever she goes, giving her the confidence and courage, she needs to tackle the world.

The bright red hat travels with her to meet many new and exciting people and pets. With each encounter, it stays by her faithfully as she finds her next adventure.

This book will show how a young girl gains strength and confidence in placing her trust in a red hat. The object allows her to set out and conquer the world by herself bravely.

This book would be an excellent addition to any school library. The bright illustrations allow the book to come alive in the reader's hands. The confidence the red hat gives the young girl will show how a simple object has the power to provide self-assurance and enlist responsibility.

Suzie Housley

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Discovering Life's Purpose: Re-Examining the Club
Del H. Smith
Xulon Press
2301 Lucien Way, Suite 415, Maitland, FL 32751
9781545612040, $22.49, PB, 414pp

Synopsis: The audience for "Discovering Life's Purpose: Re-Examining the Club" by Del H. Smith is anyone who has thought very much about life's purpose. Especially since most of us are so busy putting one foot in front of the other that we seldom look up and see where we are going.

For those who think that life's purpose is basically unknowable, "Discovering Life's Purpose" pursues the question of the meaning and intent of life with thinking that is fresh, logically supported and (perhaps most importantly) independent of unsupported religious teachings.

"Discovering Life's Purpose" will prove to be invaluable reading for those who have rejected some religious teachings or have rejected religion completely with "Discovering Life's Purpose" questioning religion and many of its teachings and answers these 'life purpose questions' with facts-based argument.

Especially relevant for Christian's who are finding their faith to be somewhat dissatisfying, "Discovering Life's Purpose" describes ways to enrich Christian faith and introduces the reader to the joys which that enrichment provides as they follow the author's journey from atheist to unfulfilled convert to fervent Christian.

The thinking it triggers in the reader can support their discovery of life's purpose for themselves.

Critique: Of special merit and relevance for anyone struggling with or aspiring to a personal and/or spiritual transformation, "Discovering Life's Purpose: Re-Examining the Club" is especially and unreservedly recommended -- and will prove to be a welcome addition to community library Philosophy, Spirituality, and Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections.

Editorial Note: Upon his retirement, Del Smith began a decade and a half of research into the purpose of life. His pursuit of life's purpose ran the gambit from atheism to unfulfilled convert to fervent Christian. His journey involved a critical examination of The Club - the (multi-denominational) Christian Church. He is currently developing a video blog entitled The Meaning of Life for YouTube.

Willis M. Buhle

Zulfiqar Ali's Bookshelf

The Middle East Crisis Factory: Tyranny, Resilience and Resistance
Iyad El-Baghdadi and Ahmed Gatnash
C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd
9781787383043, $19.95

'The Middle East Crisis Factory' reflects the well-trenched opinions of the authors more than anything else. On pages 96-96, for example, Iyad El-Baghdadi and Ahmed Gatnash state Issa Amro - a Palestinian activist saying that 'they [the Israelis] want to keep the Palestinians violent so they can kill them.' Issa Amro accuses the Israeli authorities of torturing him because he was engaged in a 'non-violent protest for human rights. The question is, would such a policy serve the Israeli interests? Did Issa Amro notice the level of panic among the citizens of Israel whenever a rocket landed on them or flew over them? Would such a salvo of attacks not affect the air traffic? What about the impact on the tourist industry? Tourism is such a vibrant segment of the economy in the well-being of a country. The more peaceful and prosperous is Israel better it is for her twenty per cent Muslim population. Furthermore, we learn (55) that the Syrian government had clamped down on the 'moderate groups', and had released the 'hardened extremists' from prison so that they torch the ambers of hatred into the fire 'through a combination of turning a blind eye, implicit coordination, and direct material support.' Why, on earth, should a functioning government indulge in such a nefarious activity against its own people? Similarly, we learn about the leeway enjoyed by the extremists in the prison cells as reported by Mohamed Soltan - another activist (61-62). The Al-Qaeda and ISIS members were seen engaged in recruiting and persuading the innocent inmates to prepare themselves for an 'anarchist violence' as the only means 'to dry the system' in charge. The prison officers knew what they were doing. Yet, the latter did not interfere. Moreover, we learn how 'under the American guards' noses' (81) the extremists gave lectures and even taught the techniques of using weapons at the Bucca Camp. It was in this camp that ISIS was formed first. With head over heels in the war in Iraq, how could the U.S. aid and abet against whom they were struggling in such scorching conditions?

El-Baghdadi and Gatnash emphasise that by breeding an entrenched fear of terrorism the public is kept under thumb. The masses remain grateful and thus faithful for the protection of their lives, property and honour. Because human beings are not always on the same page, the 'dissenters' and 'civil society activists' (63) are thoroughly chastised. Counteracting 'terrorism' - a global malaise spells a good omen among the rest of the international community of the civilized world. There is no need to seek approval if your own house is in order. Flattering the power centres of the world begs not cooperation but obsequiousness. It would strongly suggest that the governments of the MENA region are literally weak which they are not. Visit any of these countries to know how smooth the flow of life is. 'Dissenters' and 'civil society activists' are countered head-on for the sake of social harmony and peace. Unlike the protagonist who must shoot the elephant against his own conscience, exposed as he was vividly before thousands of Burmese according to George Orwell, the governments and people of the MENA do not need to please anybody.

El-Baghdadi and Gatnash tie together the greed for power and its prolonging with the greed for money (152-3). We learn about the financial assets of some of the heads of state. The figures are given as if for Twitter or Facebook. Academics won't recommend such casualness.

Is the Middle East a crisis factory? This is the region blessed with prophets of God. About half of the existing population in the world believes in the Divine through these messengers from this blessed land. Let me say what I saw during Hajj. Tens of thousands of pilgrims were sighted as staying along the roads temporarily. They did not form the regular quota. In other words, they were like the uninvited guests. Since they were in the house of Allah (the sacred boundary of Harmain Sharafian of Ka'aba), the Saudi government had to accept them as their own guests for being the guests of Allah. The government knows that they are the same people whose right to stay in the country has long expired, yet they are ignored on humanitarian grounds. Could any other country in the world show such generosity? Besides the centre of spiritual salvation, the Middle East is the largest haven for foreign workers. Their number may well exceed the actual population of some of these countries of the MENA region. I invite El-Baghdadi and Gatnash to visit and ask these workers. Or pay a visit to the country of these workers and ask their relatives, friends and neighbours. It is not a change, it's a miraculous change that the meagre to average salaries make. Spirits rehabilitate just as they did when the rural parents received modest cheques sent by their sons serving as the ORS in the British army of India. Could any other country open its door to both the skilled and semi-skilled workers on such a scale?

The phrases like ...'tyrants need terrorists' and terrorists need tyrants'... 'tyrants and terrorists' enjoy 'a symbiotic relationship'... 'the presence of terrorists is a blessing for foreign actors' (61) appear quite often threading the entire work as if the entire region is at the mercy of the times of 'tyranny' during the French Revolution. Apart from the last four decades or so the region has not been a victim of terrorism on such a scale. Does it truly serve the interests of the Iraqi government to ignite sectarian tension? Most of the governments are thought to be Sunnis. Do the authors know the number of high-ranking Shiites of these countries? Who are the people forming the majority of conscripts of the Syrian army?

El-Baghdadi and Gatnash make an interesting point when they mention the level and magnitude of 'brain drain' from this region. This is alarming. The authors also claim that the region is 'water-stressed' (139) and is not showing enough interest in containing and overcoming the issue of the water shortage. At the same time, the reader is frightened to read the account of destruction caused to the region. The authors say that the Arab world accounts for '45 per cent of the world's terrorism; 68.5 per cent of its battle-related deaths; 47 per cent of its internally displaced; and 57.5 per cent of its refugees' (140). What the hell is going on? This is how the authors turn the tables in this work.

Again and again, we encounter the same point: the 'regimes' survive because they have created a 'vicious circle' (142) in which 'each side relies upon the other for support, and pressure upon any of the sides is distributed onto the other two.' Outside help bears the burden if needed. Are these countries of the MENA region really 'regimes'? Regimes are self-centred. El-Baghdadi and Gatnash need to remember the amount of monetary largess dispensed to the rest of the world as a gesture of philanthropy. Regimes use carrots and stick like the U.S. or the former Soviet Union or today's Russia. The warlords in Afghanistan would be pleased whenever they raided the British interests along the border. Both the Raj or the Tzar had to secure their interests in the so-called 'Great Game.' The governments of the MENA region do not nurse such grand strategies. Who comes to rebuild the Palestinian towns whenever they are destroyed by Israel? It is either the UAE or Saudi Arabia that rescue Pakistan by putting a billion-dollar into her reserve enabling a smooth sailing with IMF, the World Bank or the FATF. None of the regions is spending as much as the MENA on their students studying abroad.

The authors believe that the world today is a hostage to an elite class whose elitism owes to corruption. By referring to Ilya Zaslavskiy, El-Baghdadi and Gatnash maintain that 'everything and everyone is corruptible, and that individual human life does not have any inherent value' (153). If this were the case then why should the government of Qatar host the intra-Afghan conferences with a view to find the solution to their problems via peaceful dialogue. Qatar is not a neighbour of Afghanistan like Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. China is the largest country even if having the smallest border with the greatest stakes. Moreover, if the Yemeni warring factions are touched by the suffering of the entire population, then why can't they get the help of Qatar? Are the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE not at the forefront of those giving donations to Yemen on humanitarian grounds? Are the Houthis 'strong enough to challenge Saudi and Emirati advanced Western technology?' (191). The authors make sweeping statements. They say that the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been fearful of the growing Iranian influence in Yemen. What about the chronic internal power struggle of Yemen? In the end, as in the case of Afghanistan, the leaders of Yemen may do well by enjoying the largess of Qatar as a host. Even the brief accounts of the history of each of these countries recapitulate the facts known quite well.

El-Baghdadi and Gatnash are advised to read some well-known historians of the region.

Dr. Zulfiqar Ali

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

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