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Alex Phuong's Bookshelf
Mindful Beauty: Holistic Habits to Feel and Look Your Best
9780738761862 $16.99 Paperback, 248 pages
B07S1H5JPP, $12.99 Kindle
A compelling theme in literature, film, and life is the meaning of identity. Indeed, sometimes authors and filmmakers create narratives to help people come alive figuratively. Nevertheless, real life is reality, and caring for oneself is a must. That is part of what makes this publication by Debbie Palmer truly timeless. Within this book, Palmer presents tips, tricks, and techniques to help people stay well physically, mentality, emotionally, and also holistically. The world itself is a very busy place, and time itself is limited, yet this publication could help people look and feel their best so they could tackle the world, and accept life for what it truly is! Be the personal best that one could possibly be, especially within post-modernity!
Alex Andy Phuong
Andrew Brown's Bookshelf
Shanti Arts LLC
9781951651350, $12.95, July 2020, 80 pages
Theresa Rodriguez was called "The Sonnet Queen" by one of her other appreciators following a recent public reading she gave. While there are a few other women, and not that many more men, who have written and published sonnets in our time (not exactly a popular genre compared to the fad of 'instapoetry'), she is the only contemporaneous 'female sonneteer' I know of - which is to say, the only woman who has written many sonnets, a la Shakespeare, and published a book exclusively devoted to the craft.
In his literary criticism, William Empson showed a subtle attention to what he called "the singing line." In her new collection of poetry, Sonnets, Rodriguez raises this concern for the musicality of verse to a spiritual level. Take the first stanza of 'The Sacred Harp:'
The music, oh the music starts, and we
Begin to sing in skillful harmony;
Begin to sing in sweet simplicity;
Begin to sing in deep complexity.
As both a poet and a trained classical singer, Rodriguez is more consciously aware of the musicality of poetry than most, and it is not surprising that other poems in this collection such as 'The Piano,' and 'Oh, When I Hear,' also take music as a subject. Most are of course not directly about music, per se, though all display the melodious qualities of regular meter and perfect rhyme. Those that do take music as their surface-level subject are really avenues of exploring larger themes: a panegyric to a Steinway as an expression of ideal beauty, suffering as a path to "where a truth, so sacred, may be found," and, in 'The Sacred Harp,' the worship of God's mystery.
In just these three poems, Rodriguez's work captures what poetry (and I would add, most great art in general) is meant to do: to capture truth, beauty, and goodness. Poets, those writers who carefully order their words to make of it a musical language and to use metaphors liberally, are those beings most suited to drawing comparisons in the order of creation. Rodriguez seems to implicitly understand this idea that poetry is, perhaps after pure music, the straightest vehicle to God. 'Sonnet for the Sonnet-Maker,' is addressed to God Himself, and draws our attention to how the elegance of iambic pentameter dominates so much of the King James Bible:
You know the beats and rhythms, the iamb
Which pulses like a crippled-legged walk;
You, with the force of one who said, "I am
That I am," in iambs you will talk
Of truth and beauty, pain and sorrow, all
And nothing, touching both Heaven and Hell
In what you speak and say...
"Cripple-legged walk" is a brilliant detail: a phrase that at once mimetically describes the iambic line, and with it our relationship to God. It finely illustrates Aquinas's concept of analogical predication, and how words may be understood two different ways as they apply to two different levels of being. God, "I am that I am," knows the "beats and rhythms" of the iamb, and communicates to us in His "cripple-legged walk" because we, as bipedaled, fallen creatures, must use words to hobble towards He who soars. In 'Sonnet Sonnet' Rodriguez repeats this imagery with variation to refer to the three poets with sonnet forms named after them. Being mere mortals (though ones who approach the divine closer than others), the "cripple-rhythmed beauty" of Petrarch, Shakespeare, and Spenser is emphasized for their more delimited abilities to exercise "Condensed and distilled thought," rather than to touch Heaven and Hell or to recall the void.
In 'CCP and Falun Gong Sonnet,' the first-person narrator awakens on an operating table with one or two less internal organs: "Go, invoke / your party loyalty as I am cut / And mutilated." From communing with the deities in golden ages of yore, we have degenerated to living in a Kafkaesque world where the muse is an anonymous bureaucrat singing of zoning laws.
Rodriguez expresses her own sense of belief in opposition to pernicious modern tendencies in the sonnet, 'In This Post-Christian Era,' as well as in a number of other poems in the collection that explore her faith. These tend to come in the latter half of the book; they are preceded by reflections on the art of sonnet-writing and relationships, and precede in turn final poems on the decay of time. One might roughly divide the collection into four sections dominated by these themes (though there are also a few on political and historical subjects interspersed throughout). The move from writing, to love, to God, to the passing of things would seem to be no accident, and this framework offers further proof that Theresa Rodriguez is an artist who speaks to the soul.
The straightforwardness of many titles ('Spenserian Sonnet,' 'Petrarchan Sonnet,' etc.) are mirrored in the candor of Rodriguez's personal, often self-conscious, reflections on all of the topics mentioned; and the variety of sonnet-styles she mixes (sometimes within a single poem) echo the variety of topics. The pathos of certain poems is balanced by a mimetic wit in others. In 'Enjambment sonnet,' the lines begin in terse sentences that give way to longer ones that flow over, preventing isolation between lines. The weight of the line is shifted to the beginning and middle rather than the end, as the addressee is enjoined to
Dissent! The point
Is to surprise. Surprise! Then negate
All smoothed-out evenness.
The carefully chosen end word "point" gives a sense of periodization before rushing us along to the next line, as the author "negates" the usual expectations of the poetic line. The brief imperative, "Think!" is sandwiched at the midpoint of the line before the final couplet. "And then think more," we are told. Theresa here shows us that the art of poetry, while inventive, is more than mere spontaneity. In the equally clever 'Five Minute Sonnet,' the narrator opens the first stanza relating doubts as to whether such a thing can be done, increases in confidence during the second stanza, and describes the flow of how, "The lines just come so quickly to my mind," in the third, until hitting writer's block in the final couplet. Artlessness in art is not really a thing, aside from occasional brief spurts as the one that resulted in Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan,' following waking from an opium dream. Lacking drugs for stimulation, most examples of effortlessness are only apparent - the Muse only descends upon one after long reflection. Examples of pure spontaneity that contemporary free-verse poets often brag about are simply the results of museless minds.
In poems like 'Annelid Sonnet,' 'Cut Sonnet,' and 'Homeless Sonnet,' each titular analogy is at once partly autobiographical, a description of her subject matter on love or pain, and a metaphor for the artistic process. In 'Sonnet of the Hardened Heart,' she employs crustaceous imagery to create an analogy with the relation between flesh and spirit:
Care less, I warn myself; bother no more
With inner crevices: prying the shell
Like scabs (rough, oozing, sore), which crust, but tell
Of tumults against the psychic seabed floor;
It is in vain.
She goes on to pile images on top of one another to convey a sense of being "entombed" within her existence: "the meat" is like "newborn skin" and "the vaginal flower." The effect on display here is an example of William Empson's second of the seven types of ambiguity he describes in his book of that name: when two or more meanings are resolved into one for purposes of building psychological complexity.
Rodriguez often undertakes to explore her conceptual themes through a repetition of abstract words. Most of these occur in poems about the self-reflexivity of writing, and occasionally in poems about capturing the divine. In 'Earl of Oxenford's Sonnet' she defines a term with itself ("For truth is truth, and you do shake a spear...") to justify the narrator's euphoria in discovering the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship. In 'Form Sonnet' there is the nested identification-turned-negation of
....the freedom that free form can miss.
For freedom in most freedom is remiss
In finding beauty in this poetry.
Rodriguez here highlights the contradictory nature of free verse: that through its own lack of discipline it loses the quality it seeks to define itself through. Referring then to her own penchant for poetic structure she writes, "In building such some scoffers might dismiss: / But such is perfect perfection to me." Here the placement of "perfection" upsets the hitherto perfect meter of the stanza, creating an ironic effect.
This placing of the same abstract term adjacently to itself as a different part of speech occurs in several other poems in the collection. In 'The Simple, Stalwart Faith,' she asks, "Where is the light / that lit this darkened darkness?" She could have used 'deepened,' to modify "darkness" or some other synonym of 'intensified' to make her point, yet she chose to use the same word to emphasize the depth and doubling of a metaphysical condition once was "lit" by "light." In the next line, "Now I strive to say regurgitated prayers," she further emphasizes the sense of monotony to the rituals that underlie her doubts. Some might see the use of abstractions in this way as a weakness that undermines the purpose of poetry, whose strength lies in the use of sensual imagery; Rodriguez, though, seems to use them to careful effect in most places in a way that reflects her themes.
The William Empson quote about "the singing line" cited at the beginning of this essay is better applied to Rodriguez than even Empson himself - a modernist poet whose verse reflects his admiration for scientism by employing objective diction, and as such can sometimes falls rather flat. Rodriguez writes in a straightforward and clear style, and while her poems operate on different levels, there is little that's overtly contradictory in a head-scratching way. With a few possible exceptions, the reader seldom stops to invent interpretations or tease apart multiple meanings that must be held in the mind at once. These are poems that can be appreciated by the average literate person, as well as the more sophisticated enthusiast.
Theresa's website is www.bardsinger.com
Andrew Benson Brown is a poet who lives in rural Missouri. In exile from urbane delights and perversions, he spends his days tending to the needs of the downtrodden. At night he enters the ancient courts of ancient men, via the Internet Archive. He is currently in the early stages of writing a mock epic poem about the American Revolution.
Andrew Benson Brown
Ann Evans' Bookshelf
Confessions of a Hobo's Daughter
Cave Moon Press
Confessions of a Hobo's Daughter is a feast for history buffs, a "historical memoir." Nolan was not yet born when her father was a hobo but her authoritative imagination brings the story immediately alive by using her father's "I." The reader sees the world through his eyes as he rides the dangerous rails, is starved, beaten, abused, tortured, imprisoned, cheated, and misused by powers beyond his control. His story, as told by his daughter, rivals The Grapes of Wrath in its intimate rendering of pre-Depression and Depression poverty in America: the cruelty, the brazen profiteering, the sullen forbearance and quiet perseverance of people with no power but their steely will. Timothy Egan's chronicle, The Worst Hard Times, also puts the gritty dust of the Depression in the reader's mouth.
The reader learns that "All the hobos used symbols painted onto water towers or fences, to communicate where it was and warn't safe to go." Nolan's hobo father picks up a message left on "a Chicago fence near the yard." A society used to instant communication will do well to reflect that there are a few people still alive who remember how to leave a message without a cellphone.
Nolan imbues the suspenseful, fast-paced story of her father with implied social commentary, but it is mostly a testament to his courage, endurance, wit, intelligence, and spiritual strength.
There is, however, a second "I" in the book, Katie Nolan herself. She muses at length about her romantic life - should I break up with Gerald? Why were my marriages so miserable? What was my Zen Buddhist monk lover thinking? Tepid gruel when compared with the powerful story of her father.
The tale is further addled by placing idioms at the beginning of each chapter, such as "Lay the Flattering Unction to One's Soul" or "Law of the Medes and Persians" along with their definitions according to Roget's Thesaurus, 1947. While this reader was plunging headlong into her father's vivid adventures, this pause for a nugget of recherche historical linguistics slowed the headlong pace.
Careful, well-observed descriptions abound. "Lean-to wooden snow fences dotted the nearby landscape along the rutted road. Far in the distance, rolling hills seemed to sing bass.... It was like those mountains flung themselves up high, and if they could sing they'd be changing to tenor by early winter, when snow dotted the top of the peaks." Each description is a pleasure in itself, but the garb of the woman in the next seat on the train is not as important as the garb of men roasting squirrels and stolen chickens over a fire in the "Jungle," yet there are many such descriptive digressions in the book, again slowing the pace.
Her father's near-starvation, near freezing to death, extreme day-to-day poverty, loss of place, family, and friends, lasted for more than a decade. He is beaten and robbed by corporate "bulls" hired to put an (often lethal) end to the hobos. Their dead victims are buried by hand in whatever suitable ground is accessible. At one point, just before his trajectory turns upward, he is badly injured and thrown in jail, and he reflects, "So this is how a man ends, I thought. Stuck in jail, alone with his regrets, abandoned and down on all fours. I just laid there, without much fight. That scared me more than the whips had." But his admirable man picks himself up yet again, eventually achieving his dream of owning a little ranch where nobody will lord it over him.
Another takeaway from this riveting story is that all suffering, no matter how extreme, too soon becomes nothing more than a bedtime story.
Modern Americans are also reminded of the cost of the American Dream in which most are now living. Nolan's father left his family at thirteen so his parents would have one fewer mouth to feed and lived for years with a version of nothing that modern Americans never experience, yet he had no tolerance for self pity. "Well, sometimes I felt like I'd fallen into a deep hole. Got tuckered out. But depressed on the road? Are you kiddin'? Ain't no time for poor folks to carry on thataway."
His daughter did not inherit that optimistic perseverance. She complains that people can't understand how it feels to "come from a hillbilly background." Another recent bestseller Hillbilly Elegy hawked the same complaint, as if there were some prickly peculiarity in that culture that regular humans find hard to imagine. "[C]lass differences," the reader is passionately told. But doesn't everybody come from a "class" that other people are not part of? The least the rest of us can do is to be curious and learn as much as we can about people who are not like us, and this book contributes to that end.
Nolan's father was quite a guy, and the reader learns to love him much as his daughter did. For that achievement, Katie Nolan deserves a heap of credit.
Ann Anderson Evans
Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Beneath the Night
Guardian Faber Publishing
c/o Faber & Faber
9781783351534, A$29.99, 290 pages
On a mountain in 'Australia's Warrumbungles range', Stuart Clark stood under the clear night sky and experienced the sublime:
There was no light-pollution on the mountain and I was staggered by the number of stars I could see. There were so many that I found it difficult at first to pick out the familiar constellations. The stars appeared so bright and so 'close' that I felt an almost irresistible urge to reach up and pluck one from the sky.
For most of us, living in night-lit towns and cities, this is something we may never experience. It was the way our ancient ancestors saw the night sky and, for them, this moving panoply of stars with its regularly repeating patterns of constellations was ever present, but we have little evidence of what they thought about it.
In Beneath the Night, Stuart Clark sets out to chart the way in which the stars have influenced human history. He introduces us to artists, henge-builders, wanderers, philosophers, mathematicians, astrologers and astronomers, kings and presidents, all of whom have played their part, and he begins with what little evidence we have - the art and artifacts - of the lives of some of the earliest hominids 20,000 years ago.
Archaeologists interpret the meaning of these early artifacts in different ways. One, for example, proposes that the pattern of notches carved into a ten-centimetre-long piece of fossilized baboon bone found in the ruins of Ishango, an ancient Congolese village, represents a tally of the phases of the moon. Another has discovered that one group of notches on it are prime numbers between 10 and 20. Did these ancient people know about prime numbers?
Another archaeologist, struck by the pattern of six dots above the shoulder of an auroch (an extinct ancestor of the bull) painted some 16,000 years ago on the wall of one of the Lascaux caves in France, interprets these as representing the bright cluster of stars known as the Pleiades which feature in myth, astrology and astronomy around the world.
Such archeological theories are plausible and there is no doubt that early people were aware of the stars, but to equate the Lascaux cave painting of bull and stars with the image of the constellation we know as Taurus the Bull, as has been done, is to endow it with a name, picture and myth given to it by Ancient Sumerians 10,000 years later. This requires quite a feat of imagination. Clark remarks that this association is 'the most interesting part of the story' and that the Bull of Heaven and the Pleiades, which are, in fact, situated above the shoulder of Taurus in the night sky, are the subject of similar stories around the world. He goes on to retell the Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh and his rejection of the amorous advances of the goddess Inanna who, furious, sends a bull to kill him.
It fails after an ally of Gilgamesh rips the bull in two and throws it back into the heavens. Even to this day, Taurus is usually depicted as the front half of the bull only. According to the Babylonians, the two hind legs could be found in the constellations we now call Ursa Major (the Plough) and Ursa Minor.
These myths and stories are Eurocentric and although Clark does note that other cultures, the Australian Aborigines, for example, tell different stories about the Pleiades he does not also note that these cultures often 'read' the sky in a completely different way. For the Australian Aborigines, for example, the dark mass between the stars of the Milky Way is more important than the stars. It is seen as the Dark Emu, which moves across the sky indicating by its position the seasons when Emu eggs are laid and when they are ready to eat.
Nevertheless, this is only a very small part of Clark's book. Once people began to record their observations in written form the effect of the night sky on human history becomes clear. Clark covers the use of the stars for navigation and agriculture, mathematical calculations associated with the planets, calendars and the ability to predict events on earth, almanacs, superstition, the way civilisations grew, and the development of celebratory festivals, rituals and religion.
Along the way we meet most of the famous, and some not-so-famous, people whose work with the stars has influenced our history. He writes about Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Boethius, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Halley, Hoyle and others. More surprising, perhaps, but adding to the interest of the book, is his inclusion of such people as Lucretius, Giordano Bruno, Van Gogh, Jung, Dickens, Allan Leo, Madam Blavatsky, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and, in the modern space-age, the Russian history-makers, Ham the chimpanzee, Yuri Gagarin, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the reclusive librarian Nikolai Fyodorov, Sergei Korolev, and the German rocket engineer, Wernher von Braun.
Clark deals simply with the mathematics and physics which has, over the centuries, been used in studying the stars. Some of it is complex but Clark's stories lighten the text, as do his discussions of the importance of music (especially), poetry, art, novels and films in our learning and our interest in the night sky. Kepler for example, not only spent his life working on a theory which explained planetary movements and conjunctions, he also designed and had built a model in silver for Duke Frederick I of Wurttemberg to prove his theory:
It was to stand in the entrance hall of the Duke's palace, where it would be a talking point. Kepler even promised that the pipework would be hollow so that it could function as a drink dispenser. Each shape would carry a beverage which mirrored the astrological properties of the planet it supported. In the case of Saturn, this meant filling it with bad beer or corked wine.
Unfortunately, when he came to assemble the model the shapes didn't fit together, but this only spurred him on to refine his calculations.
Other fascinating facts are scattered through the book. We learn how the three star-guided 'magi', powerful astrologers who followed a star to Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus, first became 'kings', then simply 'wise men'; and my favourite 16th century theory about comets is that proposed by George Busch, a 'German painter and astronomer', (which you must read for yourself).
Beneath the Night is an interesting, well-written and very readable book. Stuart Clark, understandably since he is an astronomer and scientist, believes that although we now rarely see the true glory of the night sky we can still experience the awe it inspired in our ancestors. At the end of his book, he writes that 'our connection to the night sky is inescapable, it is instinctive' and science has brought about technology which means that 'we are now more connected to the cosmos than ever before'.
I am not sure that technology can provide us with the awe that a clear, star-lit, night sky inspires, but the recent establishment of International Dark Sky Parks, and the provision of designated dark sky reserves in parts of our cities, means that some of us will again be able to marvel at the wonders of the night sky.
Mike Di Placido
9783901993800, 10.00 Brit. pounds, 77 pages
Alpha, with Paul Bond's horned crow posing as a 'Roadside Shaman' on its cover, is an eclectic selection of Mike Di Placido's poetry. He clearly loves to imagine meeting Alpha males in unusual settings and aims to be one of them - if they will let him.
After having a tense breakfast with Attila the Hun (toast and coffee and a smashed chair, in case you wondered), he sees Ghengis Khan, with his retinue, horses, ponies and women, ambling down the station platform of a new railway branch-line to Scarborough in his home County of Yorkshire.
Not all his famous males are so fearsome. There are actors, singers, musicians, film-stars, poets (of course!), and footballers, too. He even ventures into myth and meets Tiresias at the Bottle Bank:
He was sitting on a bench in the sun, tracing a crack
in the path with his stick. Tiresias, he announced,
when my last bottle was posted, was there anything
I'd like to know?
Global warming? Nuclear destruction? The Higgs boson? Tiresias knows how it all turns out, but I can't tell you his answers, because it would spoil the fun.
The tone of many of the poems is ironic, especially those offering the poet persona's presentation of himself. And his aspirations for fame are frequently undermined by self-doubt. In his parody of Masefield's poem 'I must go down to the sea again', he goes down to his shed so often that his children, he says, "told me their names yesterday". "Pity I have forgotten mine", he adds. And admitting to "shamelessly stealing" a stylistic technique used by James Joyce in chapter 17 of Ulyssses, he tells a nameless questioner why he loves his shed so much.
In two poems which I really enjoyed he speaks in the style of a great poet and of a philosopher. 'As the onset of rain threatens the barbecue, he adopts a Shakespearean persona', is a beautifully crafted semi-serious poem with a final line which made me laugh out loud.
'Chow Lung's Penultimate Talk to His Son, Ling Po' is very different. This is a serious poem, borrowing the style and the Taoist philosophy of an ancient Chinese teacher:
Come, now, hold my hand. Gentleness is a strength -
never be ashamed to show it. Like the riverbank reed,
bending in the storm, or the humming-bird's wing, fragility is a thing
we are stupid about and know little of. And Truth? Truth exists,
but is located in the still heart.
I don't know anything about Chow Lung, but Li Po was a gifted poet born in 701 and still revered in China. His poems speak of nature, solitude, and the joys of 'Drinking alone in the moonlight'. Li Po seems to be a more likely candidate for the 'son' in this poem, than the 20th century artist 'Ling Po', who was born Chow Yi Hsien but given the name Ling Po by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Ling Po became famous for his renderings of Wright's creations. Identities in this poem, however, are less important than the poem itself, which is a fine imaginative creation and a pleasure to read.
The most serious piece in this book, and perhaps the most interesting for poets, is an imagined exchange of letters between the 19th century "Romantic" poet John Keats and the renowned "Postmodern" 20th century poet, John Ashbery. Written in poetic prose, these two letters are warm and friendly as the two men discuss "the magical linkage of poetry". Keats explains his idea of negative capability - the state he believes we must be in when, with our limited knowledge, we "try to fathom the enigma of existence". Ashbery tells Keats about the "postmodern and avant-garde poetic" in modern poetry and of his own preference for "highlighting the movement between moments of reality". No matter what we think we are doing, Ashbery tells Keats, "we are all categorised!....you, Keats, are a Romantic alongside Blake, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth".
In Alpha, Mike Di Placido skillfully uses a variety of poetic forms and the result is a collection of lively, enjoyable, thoughtful and often funny poems.
Allen & Unwin
9781760529796, A$29.99, 244 pages
I discovered, by accident, when I was half-way through this book, that it is based on real war-time espionage events which unfolded in London between 1939 and 1940. Evelyn, the main character in The Imitator, is a fictional representation of Joan Miller, a young woman from a very ordinary background who became an undercover agent for MI5. She infiltrated a secret fascist group whose members supported Hitler's plans to invade Britain and she was responsible for the arrest of one of its key figures.
Rebecca Starford imagines Evelyn's life and the mixed emotions and conflicts that might plague an ordinary woman who lives half her life as a lie, pretending to be what she is not, and seeming to espouse views which she actually abhors. It is a thought-provoking concept, and the plot twist and the dramatic (fictional) events in the final chapters of the book are unexpected and gripping.
Until I discovered this real-life parallel, however, my response to the book was lukewarm. The descriptive prose is often adjective-driven; Evelyn is a rather cold character; and the upper-class friends with whom she mixes are thinly drawn, live in mansions, dine lavishly, and enjoy fox-hunting. Apart from one episode in which Evelyn fearfully crouches in a cramped bomb-shelter during an air-raid, there is little feel for the ever-present danger, deprivation, darkness and deaths which governed the lives of Londoners during the war.
My response to the book was, perhaps, more personal that a reviewer's should be, since I grew up in Pimlico (the area which Evelyn comes to know well) in the immediate post-war years. Bomb-sites were our childhood playgrounds: there were three in my street alone and many, many more in the streets all around us. Food scarcity, and the rationing of food, petrol and clothes, was something which affected our lives daily, and rationing of clothes did not end until eleven years after the war was over.
In the middle of the war, however, meeting her friend, Julia, at the swanky Dorchester Hotel, Evelyn enjoys 'Afternoon Tea', which arrived on a tiered stand. There were finger sandwiches with cucumber and cream cheese, chicken and mustard, smoked salmon and dill. Sweets were warm raisin and plain scones with homemade jams and Cornish clotted cream, as well as pastries. Evelyn ordered Darjeeling tea, Julia had champagne.
Unlike Evelyn and her rich friends in this book, ordinary Londoners would never have dined at The Dorchester or The Ritz or in expensive restaurants like Le Boulesin, and in wartime it would probably have been impossible to buy a silk dress in a couturier shop, as Julia does for Evelyn, since all available silk was being used to make parachutes. The dress was made of pale blue silk, with silver buttons down the front and an apricot sash tied in a loose bow at the back. She checked the label- House of Worth - and asked the proprietress the price. It was twenty-five pounds, more than she could ever hope to afford.
'We'll take it' Julia said, sweeping past Evelyn towards the counter.
'What? No, Julia, we won't'.
Julia brought out her cheque book. 'What else should I spend my allowance on?'
For a while, it was the anachronisms which kept me reading: there were no urban foxes or squirrels in London gardens until quite recently; bilberries grow wild in England, but blueberry muffins, as we know them, did not appear until the advent of Starbucks first coffee shop in London in 1998; the chimneys of the Battersea Power Station were grey and smoke-stained during the war, not white, as Evelyn sees them. The most glaring anachronism came when Evelyn 'took the underground to Pimlico': Pimlico underground station did not open until 1972.
Picking out errors like this is unfair, since this is a work of imaginative fiction not a history book. Starford, however, is so meticulous about naming all the London streets which Evelyn traverses, and accurately describing the interiors of some of the places she visits and works in, that I expected her to be equally careful with other things. And it was one of Starford's careful descriptions which led me to the true spy story.
Evelyn is summoned to 'an imposing red-brick apartment building called Chemley Court set back from the Thames' in Pimlico and overlooking St George's Square, where she begins to work for spy master 'Bennett White'. I recognized this building as Dolphin Square, which is two streets away from my old London home. I and my school-friends would save our pocket money to go and swim in its stylish pool, where, almost unbelievably, they also had hot showers.
A casual question by one of Evelyn's colleagues - 'You do know that Mosley lives in the building? Somewhere on the ground floor, goosestepping about' - piqued my curiosity and I began to look up the history of Dolphin Square. MI5 spy master, Maxwell Knight, did live and work from there, and the arch fascist, Oswald Mosley also lived there. This led me to information about Anna di Wolkoff; a secret society of fascist sympathizers called 'The Right Club', the women members of which met at Anna's 'Russian Tea Room' in Kensington; and Anna's eventual arrest and imprisonment for passing War Office information to the Germans. Anna, in The Imitator, becomes Nina Ivanov, her club is the Lion Society, and the Russian Tea Room is her 'Arbat Tea House' in 'Harrington Road' in Kensington. This is where Evelyn is first introduced to her.
After meeting Nina, Evelyn attends an inflammatory fascist talk at Caxton Hall. In The Imitator it is given by B.L.Chesterfield - a fictional name for A.K.Chesterton, who did, in fact, give such a talk. Walking near Green Park with Nina after the talk she witnesses a terrifying scene: a young man is being chased by a gang of half-a-dozen men, all dressed in black trousers, belts with big brass buckles and black turtle-neck sweaters. They were gaining on the young man, who flew past Evelyn only to trip on a hedge a few dozen yards ahead and careen into a rose garden.
Evelyn sees their arm bands and fascist insignia and she is desperate to help the young man but torn by her need to maintain her cover and convince Nina that she supports the fascist cause. In the end she hurls racist abuse at the man, to Nina's approval.
When we first meet Evelyn, her spying days are over but her past complicates her developing relationship with a man who knows nothing about it. A sudden meeting with Julia, who had been an essential part of that secret life, threatens to bring it all out into the open. So, as the book develops, her whole story is told. Growing up as the only child in a working working-class family, Evelyn wins a scholarship to an exclusive girls' boarding school (a lightly disguised version of Roedean) where she is scorned for her 'Sussex' accent and her 'summer sales' clothes before she learns to fit in and makes wealthy friends. She goes on to study German at Oxford University, then works for a cosmetic company until a friend's father organises a mundane job for her at the War Office. From there, like her real-life counterpart, Joan Miller, she is recruited by MI5 to work as a spy infiltrating fascist and communist groups. Evelyn's ability to observe others and fit in with their way of living underlies her success. At their first meeting Bennett White sums her up:
I can see you are indeed calm and self-assured. Attractive. Not enough to draw attention to yourself, but certainly enough to charm. And, like all good spies, you never draw attention to yourself.
Later, he tells her
before you can gain this group's trust you musts start thinking like them. You must, essentially, become like them
Evelyn's life becomes exciting, stimulating and scary. Rebecca Starford manages to capture her mixed feelings and her ambitions, and to suggest just how damaging the need constantly to 'become like them' might be.
At the end of the book Starford's acknowledgments refer to her research at the Imperial War Museum and the National Archives in London, to several book about wartime life in London, and to one about the 'The Kent-Wolkoff Affair'. In the end, I found The Imitator both interesting and flawed, and I was sorry that more had not been made of that true story in promoting the book.
The following web pages may be of interest:
'Dolphin Square: The UK's most notorious address?' BBC News. Published 10 August 2015
Joan Miller Spartacus Educational
The Right Club
'Ballroom blitz: sex and spying in London's wartime hotels'
Matthew Sweet. The Guardian. 30 Oct 2011.
'New ITV show The Halcyon reveals debauched secrets of London's spies, aristocrats and politicians in the dark days of World War Two': Jen Pharo. The Sun. Dec 2016.
Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer
Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (distribution)
9781526750792, $49.95, HC, 232pp
Synopsis: In 1375, Sir William Cantilupe was found murdered in a field outside of a village in Lincolnshire. As the case progressed, fifteen members of his household were indicted for murder, and his armor-bearer and butler were convicted. Through the lens of this murder and its context, historian and author Melissa Julian-Jones in her detailed study, "Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe", will explore violence, social norms and deviance, and crime and punishment 'at home' during the Hundred Years War.
The case of William Cantilupe has been of interest to historians for many years, ever since Rosamund Sillem brought it to light in her work on the Lincolnshire Peace Rolls in the 1930s, but this is the first time it has received a book-length treatment, taking relationships between the lords and their servants into account.
The verdict (guilty of petty treason) makes this one of the first cases where such a verdict was given, and reveals the deep insecurities of England at this time, where the violent rebellion of servants against their masters (and wives against their husbands) was a serious concern, enough to warrant death by hanging (for men) and death by burning (for women).
The reader is invited to consider the historical interpretations of the evidence, as the motives for the murder were never recorded. The relationships between Sir William and his householders, and indeed with his own wife and whether the jury were right to convict him and his alleged accomplice in the first place is laid out for the reader's benefit and interest.
Critique: A seminal and original study of detailed and painstaking scholarship throughout, "Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe" by academician and historian Melissa Julian-Jones is a unique and extraordinarily informative and exceptionally well written contribution to community, college, and university library British Medieval History & Culture collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, historians, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $29.99).
Editorial Note: Dr Melissa Julian-Jones teaches history at Cardiff University Centre for Continuing & Professional Education and was the Network Facilitator for the International Research Network, Voices of Law: Language, Text and Practice, 2016-2018\. She is the co-founder and co-organizer of the biennial Power of the Bishop in the Middle Ages conference, and the co-editor of its volumes.
The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne
Michael Martone, editor
BOA Editions, Ltd.
9781950774210, $16.99, PB, 224pp
Synopsis: Deftly 'edited' by Michael Martone, "The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne" is a Midwestern mythology that celebrates facts, fiction, and the impermanence of art. Inspired by the real-life pioneer of early aviation who invented the art of skywriting, the brief stories comprising this collection follow the adventures of Art Smith and his authorship in the sky.
"The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne" recreates the wonder of the early flying machines as it re-imagines the unwritten stories told about the daredevils who flew them.
Critique: An erudite, eloquent, polished, and inherently fascinating, totally engaging read from first page to last, "The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne" by Michael Martone will be an enduringly valued and appreciated addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).
Editorial Note: Currently a Professor at the University of Alabama, where he has been teaching since 1996, Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he learned at a very early age about Art Smith, "The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne," and the adventures of this early aviation pioneer. Martone has written or edited over twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, essays, and short stories, including The Moon over Wapakoneta (FC2, 2018), Brooding (University of Georgia Press, 2018), Winesburg, Indiana (Indiana University Press, 2015), Four for a Quarter (FC2, 2011), and Michael Martone (FC2, 2005), a memoir in contributor's notes. His stories and essays have appeared in The Best American Stories, The Best American Essays, Harper's, Esquire, Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, Bomb, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Professor Martone has been a faculty member of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College since 1988.
Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf
Color and Line
9781952326806, $16.00, Paperback, 75 pages
Carole Mertz is a graduate of Oberlin College with a concentration in fine arts. The widely respected Midwestern writer is Book Review Editor at Dreamers Creative Writing, a Member of the Prize Nominations Committee at The Ekphrastic Review, and a reader for Women's National Book Association. Carole judged (in formal verse) the 2020 Poets and Patrons in Illinois International Poetry Contest. Color and Line is a collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by works of art on canvas.
Smallwood: When did you begin writing poetry? Do you write fiction, nonfiction?
Mertz: I began writing fiction and nonfiction 15 years ago when I wrote the first third of a novel about a Vietnam vet. (My main character stays with me and still intrigues me.) I started on poetry about 10 years ago. Writing and reading poetry is my favorite genre, though I regard essay as a more strenuous and more commendable endeavor.
Smallwood: What attracted you to ekphrastic poetry which can be traced back to the days of Homer? Please include a definition and some advice for others wishing to write it:
Mertz: I submitted my first piece to The Ekphrastic Review in the fall of 2018. Drawn to Lorette Luzajic's wonderful site, I soon began responding to her bi-monthly challenges. She offers a given photo of the artwork, and one must respond within two weeks. For me, these challenges became an exciting new opportunity for self-expression. Somehow this approach freed something in my writing style. Poets, young or old, will be rewarded by visiting this inspiring site.
I'm aware of the definition of ekphrasis derived from the Greek as a "writing out" or better, an "out-writing." For me it means interpreting what I see in the visual art or recording my emotional responses. Luzajic invites the writer to study the painting, to free-associate, to research the era or influences of the artist, or simply to have fun interpreting and inscribing what you see. Some poets write in the person of the painter, some address the painter as if living; such a variety of responses come forth. This, too, is stimulating, to see your piece next to the responses of others, to consider forms they chose, whether essay, rhyme, or prose poems, whether shorter or longer descriptions.
If desired, at The Ekphrastic Review one can also submit an artwork of one's choice, accompanied by your ekphrasis. I did this with my writing on "Lapin Agile," an extant cabaret in Montmarte with its interesting history.
Smallwood: Why is ekphrastic writing important to you?
Mertz: I think it strikes a deep chord in me. When I travelled in Europe as a student, I felt my world expanding as I viewed the great artworks we students viewed, visiting museums, cathedrals, galleries, etc. A trip to Italy, at that time, remains a highlight of my life. I can recall the excitement, for example, of discovering a tiny painting by Fra Angelico hung in an alcove in a monastery where we students stayed one night just outside of Siena. These fine arts interests were sparked by my studies, also by the fact that I had three sisters, two of whom were juried artists who inspired me. It's only now, decades later, that I've experienced the joy of valuing their artwork and others' works through written expression.
Reading Barnes's Keeping an Eye Open, Chevalier's Girl with the Pearl Earring, and White's Travels in Vermeer, was also a stimulus.
Smallwood: Besides the cinquain, do you use other formal poetry in the 42 poems composing Color and Line?
Mertz: The collection includes several other forms: a haibun, several haiku, a meta-poem, a hymn, several surreal poems, and one or two rhymed or written in strict meter. In the short poem "Waiting" I decided to use litotes as part of the poetic form.
Smallwood: How do you select writing a poem in prose, formal style, or another?
Mertz: If writing ekphrastic, I try to capture quickly my first impressions. I do very little editing. If I sense rhymes forming, I incorporate them. For better or worse, I value the immediacy of my response. I find if I work too hard trying to make a poem fit a form, I'll lose the poem. I do work a lot, however, with line breaks and how a poem appears on a page, once completed. I love enjambment when I can get it to work effectively. Overall, I'm a "water colorist," not an "oil painter."
Smallwood: Do you have favorite paintings you selected in Color and Line?
Mertz: I like the formality of Sofanisba Anguissola's "The Chess Game." (I'd die for a name like hers!) Who today would play chess dressed in stiff up-to-the-neck brocades, as her 'learned ladies' did? But I love the painting for the way it elevates the mind of females. She painted in a milieu dominated by men. Even with a father who was an artist, she had difficulty establishing support and a following. Yet she persisted and succeeded, for we know her and her works to this day. Many of her self-portraits have also survived the 500 years.
Another painting, Franz Kline's "Vawdavitch," returned me to a segment of my own past. In the 60s a lot of injustices were occurring - from civil rights abuses, to the Vietnam War, "flower children", etc. Remembering the first time I saw a Jackson Pollock up close triggered something that showed me how to relate to Kline in a personal way. His indignation was far different from mine, but his works were created in the era I alluded to.
Pippin's "The Domino Players" of 1943 pleases me for its beautifully balanced blacks, reds, and whites. Though it depicts deep poverty, it presents to me a scene of deep familial harmony; hence its title "As a Father Shows Compassion to His Children."
Smallwood: Why are some poems not single spaced such as, "A Dark and Rainy Night"?
Mertz: I think there was no conscious reason. But the way "Lethe's Slim Threads Caught" is laid out echoed some of the geographic space I envisioned. The layout seemed to enlarge the air, as the persona clutched after the taunting creatures.
Smallwood: The cover by Nancy Boileau is so fitting. Was it especially created for Color and Line?
Mertz: Last July Boileau was in a highly creative phase. She kept sharing photos of works she'd produced. I became interested in them as possible book covers, but I had to call her to see if her "Music of the Spheres II" was done specifically for my book. She said no. But she readily set the piece aside for me.
Smallwood: Are you working on another collection?
Mertz: Nothing in the works, yet. But I'd like it to be a book of essays. I suspect it will be years in the making.
Smallwood: Do you have sites about you to share?
Mertz: Viewers can see my Writer Profile at Poets and Writers http://www.pw.org/directory/writers/carole_mertz
I haven't set aside time for my website which is still in the design stage.
Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf
Into the Deep: Science, Technology, and the Quest to Protect the Ocean
Twenty-First Century Books(TM)
c/o Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
241 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401
9781541555556, $19.05 Library Binding, 152 pages
B081H5L6VJ, $9.99 Kindle
Into the Deep: Science, Technology, and the Quest to Protect the Ocean is scientific, detailed, research-based reports, charts, graphs, and information everyone should be familiar with to understand our warming oceans. The oceanographers and institutions working on ocean projects are highlighted in the text. Biography insets give aspiring students information about leaders in this field and how they might prepare for such vocations.
In this book, we learn the ocean supplies about 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe. We understand all life on the planet depends on the ocean. As humans have pumped CO2 into the atmosphere, the composition of the water itself is changing. If nothing is done about climate change, the temperature will rise to 9.0o F by the end of the century.
More than 80 percent of the ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored.
There are three problems with learning about the ocean: 1) It is huge, 2) It is dark, and 3) Ocean pressure limits human exploration access. It would be easier to convince people of the problems if we could see the ocean floor.
The book's Lexile level is 1200, which equates to grade 9; however, the book is suggested for readers ages 11-18. It seems more appropriate for ages 15 and above. Adults may even find some of the text challenging.
Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
Margot Lee Shetterly
9780062363602 $9.98 Paperback, $$21.99 Hardcover, $12.99 Audio Book, 368 pages
B01MYUTJR7, $6.99 Kindle
Hidden Figures, the book, is unlike the movie in that it is a detailed nonfiction text. It reads almost like a research report. Uncovering a wealth of material and many people to interview, she had to select what to include and what to omit. The decisions were difficult. Several women's careers are highlighted in detail. The information is presented more as factual information than a novel. The book accurately explains segregation at Langley Air Force Base and the civil rights struggles of the larger society.
Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, the setting of the story. She knew women who had been "computers" (mathematicians), and also some of the younger women were still working at NASA. Her father was a research scientist in Langley's Atmospheric Science Division. She writes almost like an insider, although it required much research.
Hidden Figures could be used as a source in a civil rights class. It also includes complex scientific detail for those interested in aviation and spaceships.
Dr. Brad Johnson
9780367433109, $29.95 paperback, $118.68 Hardcover, 120 pages
B08MV9Z4ZT, $16.17 Kindle
Educational leadership and administration do not sound like exciting topics, but as Dr. Brad Johnson writes with clear language, Principal Bootcamp is an engaging read. If I could, I would like to give this book to every principal in America. Dr. Johnson selected the term "Bootcamp" as with the high stakes testing and short tenure of principals, connecting with teachers has to be completed relatively quickly. Principals are sent to turn around test scores and fix school cultures in about three years. It can be done by following Dr. Johnson's exceptional advice.
Dr. Johnson is one of the most engaging speakers (and writers) in education and leadership. His life's work shines throughout the book. He tells what to do and what not to do with stories and examples. It is not a book full of jargon, as he believes in speaking so people can understand. Because he appreciates the time constraints facing teachers, parents, and principals, he gets right to the points he wants to make.
He says the first step in creating a committed staff is shifting from an administrator mindset to a leadership mindset. The focus must not be on a personal agenda, but assets you can bring to the job. He believes in lifting those you lead towards success in their careers. He stresses being fully present while listening to others throughout the chapters.
The reason I picked this book was from reading Dr. Johnson's tweets. He "gets" teachers and schools. The book's topic is about being an effective leader, but I relished the parts where he describes teachers. He suggests not loading up the calendar with meetings and professional development during conferences or report card grading. How smart is that? Very. Just as in the classroom, a principal should not "punish" everyone if a rule is broken. Praise should be public, he says, but problems should be addressed quickly and privately and should be about ideas, not the individual.
Maslow before Bloom is another of his mantras, which is valid for students and also teachers. He says the principal and staff are like an orchestra. Everyone helps accomplish the job of education in a school. He believes in teamwork over individual work to avoid teachers feeling like they are competing against each other. He says teachers should be hired for strengths and then managed for those strengths, not any weaknesses. He understands as he has been a teacher himself.
I love it that he states, "I believe that too often teachers are treated more like students than adults, which means administrators prefer compliance over anything else." Unfortunately, this is many times true. Reading this book will provide principals with the information they need to be true leaders. In my opinion, every principal should own this book.
Sojourner Truth: American Abolitionist (Heroes of the Faith)
W. Terry Whalin
9781593106294, $20.48 paperback, 210 pages
B00CCTVANS, $0.99 Kindle
I read this book as I was interested in learning more about Sojourner Truth. As a former elementary teacher, much of my reading about abolitionists was in books for teaching and middle grade. I was happy to find this detailed and well-researched book. Although this is a Heroes of the Faith book, I selected it because it is a biography. I learned why she chose that name for herself. As she left her old slave life, she picked Sojourner as she was going to travel to speak. When asked what her last name was, she realized slaves did not have last names. She said her last name was Truth. Both names were from Bible verses.
She set out for years on end to speak in many states without worrying about accommodations or meals. God provided for her needs as people offered her places to stay and food to eat. She never knew what was next and did not worry.
The book's exciting parts were her responses to the hecklers and white supremacists. She politely answered, sometimes with humor, when confronted. She used straight forward common sense to refute various arguments.
Waste: One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret
Catherine Coleman Flowers
The New Press
9781620976081, $22.92 Hardcover, $7.49 Audio Book, 256 pages
B0843LNZNQ, $14.57 Kindle
Catherine Coleman Flowers is a one-woman warrior for environmental injustice, climate change, race, and health disparities. She states these things would never be found on a death certificate. She has worked with many famous people, too numerous to mention, as detailed in the book.
Her primary focus is on poor people who live substandard lives without waste treatment and therefore have raw sewage in their lawns. At first, she thought this was only in Lowndes Country near Montgomery, Alabama. Famous people visited her location and witnessed this first hand. She made senators, congressmen, and presidential candidates aware of the problems through her tours. People with no septic systems were being fined and arrested when they could not begin to pay for such services. Sometimes they were paying for municipal water bills without benefit.
Through the years and efforts to gain attention to this problem, she learned 65 percent of the land in the U.S. cannot support septic systems. She knows the issue of waste is spread throughout the United States in mostly rural areas.
The book's details will alarm and inform readers and be added to climate change and racial discrimination book lists. Powerful reading!
A Promised Land
9781524763169, $23.99 Paperback, Hardcover $23.96, $12.99 Audiobook, 753 pages
B08GJZFBYV, $17.99 Kindle
Volume one in Barack Obama's presidential memoirs, A Promised Land, describes what happened and how he felt about events for the first few years in office. He worried about every decision and realized perfect answers were not possible. The book is very detailed. Readers will feel as though they are right in the Oval Office, Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and other locations overhearing important conversations.
How the Obamas dealt with continually being in the spotlight surrounded by the secret service is explained. When the secret service has to check out a house before a playdate, normality is more challenging. Obama describes the discrimination and prejudice they experienced. Yet, they remained kind and hopeful despite the many unfair comments.
The photo section has a lovely selection of historical images. The writing is excellent. Humorous comments are sprinkled throughout, providing some comic relief for a mostly serious text, such as when Obama's young daughter wonders why in the world a crowd of people would gather to see her Daddy.
Michelle Obama is quoted quite a few times, providing additional perspective. The reader will have a broader understanding of the presidency with family comments interwoven along with history.
Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
9780358395317, $45.99 Paperback, $13.99 Hardcover, $14.29 Audiobook, 256 pages
B08PF2TRJX, $9.99 Kindle
Published in January of 2021, a new idea is sweeping the world. Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing has already been translated into 15 languages. Unlike wellness trends, this requires no unique sports clothing, equipment, or goal setting. Did you know doing nothing is good for people? The author has lived in the Netherlands for ten years and learned about this topic first-hand.
In Dutch, niks is a noun, niksen is a verb, which means nothing-ing. It involves no emotional load and is not mindful. However, there are dos and don'ts, hence the book which explains it all. It is for overly scheduled and busy people. This book offers a refreshing new possibility for readers who may be tired of trying to achieve wellness program goals.
Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC
Christina Kennison's Bookshelf
In Picardy's Fields: Prequel to the Diamond Courier (A Resistance Girl Novel Book 1)
Cover Design: Ebook Laurch
Interior Design: Jamie Davis
Hannah Byron Books
9879083089201, $12.99 Print, $4.99 Kindle, 306 pages
Byron provides readers a charming romance during one of the most unprecedented wars of slaughter and destruction. She manages to weave a graceful tale around one of the most haunting periods of contention where 16 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives. In Picardy's Fields is a tender and engaging account for those who like historical novels combined with romance. Readers will find themselves rooting for fascinating and heroic characters in the middle of a brutal World War 1 battlefield.
The year is 1918 and the location Paris. World War 1 had entered its fourth year and young Agnes de Saint-Aubin finished her schooling as an assistant surgeon. She'd spent considerable time working alongside her mentor, Professor Alan Bell, a respected American surgeon at the American Hospital in Paris. She's spirited, strong, and one of very few female surgeons for the time. Unfortunately, she'd fallen in love with Alan. The problem was he was married, and not to just anybody, but to a famous French painter named Suzanne Blanchard. When Alan announced he intended to spend time in hospital close to a battlefield called Dragoncourt, Agnes decides she wants to help too. Alan doesn't like the idea thought. It's dangerous. Agnes' loving step-father, the Baron Maximilien de Saint-Aubin et famille, agrees however, and before long, the couple are on their way to the most rewarding and dangerous times of their lives.
For a time, Agnes and Alan do make a difference saving Allied soldiers, and though their relationship deepens, it remains a friendship. Suddenly, the medieval castle turned hospital, is invaded by German soldiers and Agnes and Alan are forced to save enemy soldiers. Their lives are at stake and they're worn out. When Agnes learns who the invading German general is, her worry causes further concern and she contrives a facade. The charade isn't altogether terrible though until the general learns of their shenanigans.
An elegant tale of heroism in the face of brutality. Byron doesn't disappoint. Vivid and heartwarming.
Christina F. Kennison, Reviewer
Clabe Polk's Bookshelf
Cooking for Cannibals
Laugh Riot Press
B08L5KJFBR, $2.99, 371 pages
Every drug has side effects. In Cooking for Cannibals by Rich Leder, a promising new pharmaceutical guarantees the Fountain of Youth, but at a price that may be too high to pay. Dr. Sikorski is an illegitimate researcher, running an illicit laboratory, funded (unbeknownst to each other) by two competitive corporations in two different embargoed countries. Carrie is a socially challenged behavioral scientist who loves rats and who has an octogenarian mother. Johnny Fairfax is a tattooed ex-con butcher who dreams of being a chef. A crooked parole officer has perched him on the thin line dividing freedom from prison. The Greek Gods are Carrie's rats. They are the first recipients of the experimental drug. Their fate determines the fates of all of the other characters. But now the new drug has disappeared, and all hell has broken loose.
As expected, Rich Leder has delivered a fascinatingly readable dark humor novel full of bizarre characters, just believable enough to make readers think they could be real. Certainly, truth is stranger than fiction. Having said that, the plot is implausible; or is it? Stranger things have happened. The Fountain of Youth doesn't exist, pharmaceutically or otherwise, but the desire is part of human nature. Certainly, cannibalism exists just as surely as desperate situations exist, as surely as crooked parole officers exist and investors are played against each other. The residents of Copa can be forgiven for their desire for youth. Johnny can be forgiven for his desire to barbeque Ben Boston on a spit, and Carrie can be forgiven for her desire to reclaim her aging mother's life. Sikorski, Tino (the Cleaner), Wolf (the Fixer), and Ben Boston are unforgivable.
Without a doubt, Cooking for Cannibals, delivers a bizarre, far-fetched, darkly humorous motorcycle ride into Los Angeles madness. It is a tongue-in-cheek reading pleasure for any lover of dark comedy, so grab a copy, climb onto Johnny Fairfax's Harley-Davidson and read off into the sunset! 5- Stars.
An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the author in hopes of receiving an honest review. The above review represents my honest opinion of the book.
Clabe Polk, Reviewer
Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Douglas & McIntyre
c/o Harbour Publishing
9781771622561, $18.95, PB, 244pp
Synopsis: The endearing and unflappable Dr. Annick Boudreau regularly confronts a myriad of mental health issues in her psychiatric practice at the West Coast Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia. But even Annick is stunned when Sanjay, a young patient who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is arrested for the brutal murder of his roommate.
While Sanjay is tortured by repeated violent thoughts, he is horrified by them and Annick is convinced that he would never enact one of them in real life. But the police and prosecutor are convinced that they have caught the perpetrator and aren't interested in looking very hard. Unable to talk to the authorities because of doctor-patient confidentiality, Annick feels compelled to investigate on her own, whatever the risks. What she discovers takes her into the dark side of Vancouver, where she uncovers a truth that's very different from what the police and prosecutors imagine.
Critique: "Primary Obsessions" by Charles Demers launches a new series of deftly crafted mysteries starring Dr. Annick Boudreau and involving themes of mental health. A longtime CBT patient himself, Charles Demers brings authenticity to a particular aspect of psychiatric practice "Primary Obsessions", illuminating shadowy subject matter with sensitivity, wit, and the kind of narrative storytelling style that engages the reader's full and rapt attention from first page to last. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated suspense/thriller fans that "Primary Obsessions" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).
Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate
S. Fred Singer, et al.
The Independent Institute
100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621-1428
9781598133417, $26.95, HC, 256pp
Synopsis: Now in a thoroughly revised and significantly expanded third edition, "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate" continues to form the capstone of the distinguished astrophysicist Dr. S. Fred Singer's lucid, timely, dramatic, yet hard science look at climate change.
Dr. Singer fully explores the inaccuracies in historical climate data and the failures of climate models, as well as the impact of solar variability, clouds, ocean currents, and sea levels on global climate -- plus factors that could mitigate any human impact on world climate.
Singer's masterful analysis decisively shows that the pessimistic, and often alarming, global-warming scenarios depicted in the media have no scientific basis. In fact, he finds that many aspects of increased levels of CO2, as well as any modest warming, such as a longer growing seasons for food and a reduced need to use fossil fuels for heating, would have a highly positive impact on the human race.
As alarmists clamor to impose draconian government restrictions on entire populations in order to combat "climate change," "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate" reveals some other startling, stubborn contradictory facts. In sum, despite all the hot talk (and some outright duplicity), Dr. Singer's position is that there is no "climate crisis" resulting from human activities and no such threat on the horizon.
Critique: Iconoclastic, eloquent, erudite, and offering a minority opinion on the subject, "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate" offers a climate change denial argument that should be a part of every community, college, and university library Environmental Issues collections in general, and supplemental Climate Change curriculum studies reading lists in particular.
Editorial Note: S. Fred Singer was one of the world's preeminent authorities on energy and environmental issues. A pioneer in the development of rocket and satellite technology, Dr. Singer designed the first satellite instrument for measuring atmospheric ozone and was a principal developer of scientific and weather satellites. Author of more than 400 technical articles in scientific, economics, and public policy journals, plus more than 400 articles in popular publications, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Washington Post, Dr. Singer received his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University.
Elan Kluger's Bookshelf
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
c/o Penguin Random House
Self-help is often considered a realm inexactitude, where good ideas go to die, then become popularized. As stereotypes go, this is a fairly spot on impression, and its wisdom is a useful razor to cut through most self-help books that are recommended. There are exceptions. This book by Scott Adams, is a shining one. Sort of an autobiography, sort of a diet book, sort of career advice, this book is hard to categorize. But it is certainly self-help. Strangely enough, it is actually helpful.
Whereas most authors give specific advice about working 2 hours everyday on a project or "deliberate practice" or something of that sort, Scott Adams gives vague suggestions. "Increase your energy." What does that mean? How can that be quantified? It defies all quantification. Instead, bare and plain, he commands: "get more energy." Adams blogs because it gives him more energy. He eats less white rice and potatoes because it drains him of his valuable energy. In fact, he makes the outlandish claim that writing the book gives him energy.
For career advice Adams says build up skills. Is he a good drawer? He's fine. Is he a good writer? He's fine. Does he know a lot about business? He knows some. And with that he is a bestselling cartoonist. Many focus on mastery of one skill. Becoming the best violinist, the best skier, the best psychology professor. Adams says get good (not excellent) at a few skills and it is much easier to succeed as the category becomes your own.
The rest of the book may be useless, but not in a classic self-help sense. The 20 pages of content aforementioned are in every self-help book. But the other pages are what make this book special. Instead of plain writing, regurgitating the same psychological studies, Adams writes with wit and humor, telling interesting anecdotes. They may be useless, but they are a good kind of useless.
It is your best bet to not read self-help books. This book is the exception.
Elan Kluger, Reviewer
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
The Trojan Women
Dr. Howard Rubenstein
Granite Hills Pr
An ancient still relevant play about the ravages of war
"The Trojan Women" is a superb translation and adaptation of a splendid play by Euripides (about 480 to about 406 BCE) who wrote tragic plays in ancient Athens. Scholars estimate that he wrote over 90 plays, most have been lost during the past 2,500 years. Only about a dozen and a half survived. It was first performed in 415 BCE. It is based in large part upon the classic Iliad by Homer which describes the war between the Greeks and Trojans.
In about 1250 BCE, the two nations engaged in a ten year battle. The son of the king of Troy, Paris, fell in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta, and persuaded her to abandon her husband and come with him to his home in Troy. Menelaus asked his brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, to help him get his wife back. Agamemnon agreed and persuaded many Greeks from many countries to join him in the quest. He assembled a fleet of 1,000 ships containing 50,000 Greeks. They fought in Troy for ten years and were only successful when they tricked them into thinking that they were giving them a gift of a huge wooden horse. Unbeknownst to the Trojans, Greek soldiers were hidden in the huge horse. When the horse was taken into the city of Troy, the Greeks emerged, opened the gates to their fellow soldiers, slaughtered all the males in the city, and took the women and children as slaves.
"The Trojan Women" tells the tale of the Trojan women and children who survived the calamitous siege and sacking of Troy, focusing especially on four Trojan women: Hecuba the queen of Troy, Cassandra her daughter who has the ability to give prophesy, Andromache the widow of Troy's greatest hero Hecuba's son Hector, and Helen who caused the war. The first three lament the loss of Troy and of everyone and everything they hold dear, while Helen tries to justify her adultery and save herself from being killed by using feminine tactics. The three and other Trojan women have the challenging task of adapting to their new lives as slaves. Most but not all of them realize that their fate is much worse than the speedy murders of their husbands and sons.
The play is translated and adapted by Dr. Howard Rubenstein, a noted physician and author of ten very well-received plays. Rubenstein published his work in 1998. It had its premiere in 2001. His translation is written in easy to read very pleasant free verse. He has a 42 page introduction in which he explains the play and tells that he made a few changes in it in response to the criticism of the play by the ancient humorous Greek playwright Aristophanes and the more famous Greek philosopher Aristotle. He discusses the six criticisms and tells what changes he made in response to them. He tells us that Euripides was one of three great Greek tragedians. The others are Aeschylus and Sophocles, and that Aristotle considered Euripides "the most tragic of the poets." He explains how the play shows that the gods do not care about human suffering, the play teaches people to question everything and think for themselves, and that unlike other Greeks of his time, Euripides emphasized human dignity. Thus, besides giving us an excellent translation and adaptation of a great classic, Dr. Rubenstein reveals much other interesting information.
Koren Mikraot Hadorot
The best English commentary of the Torah
While most books containing commentaries on the bible either focus on all five books of the Torah or just one of the five books, and then gives only the commentaries of about a dozen commentators as well as that of the author of the volume, Koren Mikraot Hadarot offers much more. It is part of a forthcoming series of 55 volumes. Five of the books of Exodus have been already been published, including this one on the portion read in synagogues on Shabbat February 6, 2021, called Yitro, as well as part of it is read in synagogue services during the evening of January 30 and the morning services of February 1 and 4. Each volume contains abridged excerpts from more than forty commentators from Philo (25 BCE-50 CE) and the early Midrashim until the present day.
The books are divided in to two parts. Opening the Yitro book from the right side are 43 pages with the Hebrew Torah text of Yitro, a new much improved translation of the Torah portion by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the commentary of Rashi in Hebrew with a new very readable English translation by Rabbi Sacks, such as rendering eyl kana in 20:5 not as "a jealous God," but as "for I the Lord your God demand absolute loyalty," a three-page discussion on the translation of Rashi, a page with the Ten Commandments with Taam Elyon (an alternate version for how the musical notes are in the prior Hebrew text), and the haftarah for Yitro in Hebrew and English translation. Readers will be delighted to find that Rabbi Sack's translations make the biblical and Rashi texts clearer than in other volumes because Rabbi Sacks often adds words to clarify what the Bible and Rashi are saying. For example, Rashi's Hebrew explanation why God stated He rested is unclear. Rabbi Sacks adds in brackets a clarifying sentence: "If God, who neither requires nor takes any respite, nevertheless is said to rest, then certainly people who strive and toil to exhaustion should rest on the Sabbath."
Opening the book from the left side readers will find an additional 216 pages divided into four sections. (1) Commentaries from the early time of the sages. (2) The classic commentators. (3) Confronting modernity. (4) Three essays surveying some of the previously mentioned remarks. Each of the first three sections begins with a chart showing the dates of the commentators. The commentaries are translated by Rabbi Jonathan Mishkin.
The first section has the ideas of 17 commentators from Philo, the Talmuds, and over a dozen different Midrashim from the beginning of the Common Era until the thirteenth century. Among the many comments is the view of Midrash Lekah Tov that the Torah was revealed to the Israelites at Sinai on a Shabbat. This Midrash also says that Mount Sinai was given this name because nations of the world were jealous and hated (sina) Israel who received the Torah while they did not. Mekhilta Derabbi Shimon states that there are two distinct prohibition in the Ten Commandments, one forbidding craving and another desiring. Philo contends that male and female servants must be given a rest on the Sabbath to teach them not to despair of better times that lay ahead when they will be free.
The second section contains interpretations from 14 sources from 1040 until 1619 such as Ramban (Nachmanides) saying that the opening words of the Ten Commandments "I am the Lord your God" is a positive command to know about God. Sforno writes that the Decalogue's prohibition against making an image exists even if the image is not worshipped. Maimonides' son explains "six days you shall work" does not require people to work, it only gives them permission to do so.
The third section has commentaries from ten sources from the eighteenth century to the present time. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, for example, states that when the Decalogue says "six days you shall work" the work should be viewed and performed as divine service. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes that the temple altar must not be made of hewn stones; it must contain imperfections that reflect the people offering sacrifices upon it.
In summary, this new series offers readers what could be called an encyclopedia of abridged interpretations from over 40 sources on a single biblical portion. While the original more detailed version of each source would give even more information, and it would have even been nicer if some other sages such as the teachings of the great Maimonides was included, and readers will not always agree with the comments of the sages who are included, what we are given is an enormous gift that will undoubtedly open our eyes and minds to the many ideas in the Torah and Jewish tradition, and will give us a delightful book to read on Shabbat.
Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer
Jack Mason's Bookshelf
Romulus: The Legend of Rome's Founding Father
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (distribution)
9781526783172, $34.95, HC, 288pp
Synopsis: According to legend, Romulus was born to a Vestal Virgin and left for dead as an infant near the Tiber River. His life nearly ended as quickly as it began, but fate had other plans. A humble shepherd rescued the child and helped raise him into manhood. As Romulus grew older, he fearlessly engaged in a series of perilous adventures that ultimately culminated in Rome's founding, and he became its fabled first king.
Establishing a new city had its price, and Romulus was forced to defend the nascent community. As he tirelessly safeguarded Rome, Romulus proved that he was a competent leader and talented general. Yet, he also harbored a dark side, which reared its head in many ways and tainted his legacy, but despite all of his misdeeds, redemption and subsequent triumphs were usually within his grasp. Indeed, he is an example of how greatness is sometimes born of disgrace.
Regardless of his foreboding flaws, Rome allegedly existed because of him and became massively successful. As the centuries passed, the Romans never forgot their celebrated founder.
"Romulus: The Legend of Rome's Founding Father" by historian Marc Hyden is the story of Rome's founding that many ancient Romans believed.
Critique: As inherently fascinating a read as it is an impressive work of meticulous scholarship, historian Marc Hyden's "Romulus: The Legend of Rome's Founding Father" is a truly extraordinary, expressly informative, and highly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Roman History & Culture collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists.
Editorial Note: Marc Hyden is the Director of State Government Affairs at a Washington DC-based think tank, and he graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in philosophy. He has had a long-standing fascination with ancient Rome and has written extensively on various aspects of its history. He is also the author of 'Gaius Marius: The Rise and Fall of Rome's Saviour'.
War in Greek Mythology
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (distribution)
9781526766168, $42.95, HC, 240pp
Synopsis: Even though war, and conflict generally, feature prominently in Greek mythology, comparatively little has been written on the subject. This is surprising because wars and battles in Greek mythology are freighted with symbolism and laden with meaning and significance - historical, political, social and cultural.
The gods and goddesses of war were prominent members of the Greek pantheon: the battles fought by and between Olympians, Titans, giants and Amazons, between centaurs and lapiths, were pivotal in Greek civilization. The Trojan War itself had huge and far-reaching consequences for subsequent Greek culture.
The ubiquity of war themes in the Greek myths is a reflection of the prominence of war in everyday Greek life and society, which makes the relative obscurity of published literature all the more puzzling.
In the pages of "War in Greek Mythology", author and historian Paul Chrystal redresses this by showing how conflict in mythology and legend resonated loudly as essential, existentialist even, symbols in Greek culture and how they are represented in classical literature, philosophy, religion, feminism, art, statuary, ceramics, architecture, numismatics, etymology, astronomy, even vulcanology.
Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of an Appendix (War Deities in Greek Mythology), nine pages of Notes, a nine page Further Reading bibliography, and a nine page Index, "War in Greek Mythology" is an extraordinary and expertly presented study that will prove to be of interest and value to students, academia, and non-specialist general readers alike. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Greek Mythology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted that "War in Greek Mythology" is also readily and easily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $25.00).
Editorial Note: Paul Chrystal is the author of some seventy books published over the last decade, including recent publications such as Wars and Battles of the Roman Republic, Roman Military Disasters and Women and War in Ancient Greece and Rome. He is a regular contributor to history magazines, local and national newspapers and has appeared on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and on BBC local radio throughout Yorkshire and in Teesside and Manchester. He writes extensively for several Pen & Sword military history series including 'Cold War 1945 - 1991', 'A History of Terror' and 'Military Legacy' (of British cities).
John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Yanks Behind The Lines
Jeffrey B. Miller
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781538141632, $24.95, HC, 296pp
Synopsis: More than nine million soldiers died in World War I. At the same time, a US-led effort saved nearly ten million civilians from starvation behind the lines during the German occupation of Belgium, yet one of America's greatest humanitarian efforts is virtually unknown today. With the publication of "Yanks behind the Lines: How the Commission for Relief in Belgium Saved Millions from Starvation during World War I ", author and historian Jeffrey B. Miller tells the remarkable history of two American and Belgian citizen-created organizations that led a massive food relief program for civilians trapped in German-occupied Belgium and northern France.
Herbert Hoover, then a successful international businessman, was the driving force behind the effort, coercing and bullying the governments of Germany, Great Britain, France, and the United States to allow a group of idealistic young volunteers to organize in occupied Belgium and coordinate the distribution of tons of food and clothing to desperate Belgians. These crusaders, known as CRB delegates, had to maintain strict neutrality as they watched the Belgians suffer under the harsh German regime. Miller tells compelling stories of German brutality, Belgian relief efforts, and the idealistic Americans who went into German-occupied Belgium from October 1914 up to May 1917, when they were forced to leave after the April entry into the war of the United States.
"Yanks behind the Lines: How the Commission for Relief in Belgium Saved Millions from Starvation during World War I" deftly interweaves the history of the time with fascinating personal stories of volunteers, diplomats, a young Belgian woman who started a dairy farm to feed Antwerp's children, the autocratic head of the Belgian relief organization, and the founder of the American organization, who would become known to the world as the Great Humanitarian and later, largely because of his work in Belgium and post-war Europe, would become the thirty-first president of the United States.
Critique: An impressively written study, "Yanks behind the Lines: How the Commission for Relief in Belgium Saved Millions from Starvation during World War I" is an inherently fascinating read. An exceptionally informative and meticulous presented history that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that "Yanks behind the Lines: How the Commission for Relief in Belgium Saved Millions from Starvation during World War I" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781538141649, $29.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $27.50).
Editorial Note: Jeffrey B. Miller has been a writer, editor, and author for forty years. His career includes starting six magazines (city, regional, and national), being editor-in-chief of five inflight magazines, and director of communications for AAA Colorado. Miller's book career started in 1983 with his first book, "Stapleton International Airport: The First Fifty Years", which was published by Pruett Publishing. It was the first history book about a major U.S. airport. Then, in 2000, he developed the idea and was co-author with Dr. Gordon Ehlers of "Facing Your Fifties: Every Man's Reference to Mid-life Health" (M. Evans & Co., New York, 2002), which was one of only three health books that Publishers Weekly included in its Best Books of 2002.
The Muslim Brothers in Society
American University in Cairo Press
200 Park Avenue, Suite 1700, New York, NY 10166
9789774169625, $49.95, HC, 312pp
Synopsis: The Islamists' political rise in Arab countries has often been explained by their capacity to provide social services, representing a challenge to the legitimacy of neoliberal states. Few studies, however, have addressed how this social action was provided, and how it engendered popular political support for Islamist organizations. Most of the time the links between social services and Islamist groups have been taken as given, rather than empirically examined, with studies of specific Islamist organizations tending to focus on their internal patterns of sectarian mobilization and the ideological indoctrination of committed members. Taking the case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB),"The Muslim Brothers in Society: Everyday Politics, Social Action, and Islamism in Mubarak's Egypt" by academician Marie Vannetzel offers a groundbreaking ethnography of Islamist everyday politics and social action in three districts of Greater Cairo.
Based on long-term fieldwork among grassroots networks and on interviews with MB deputies, members, and beneficiaries, "The Muslim Brothers in Society" shows how the MB operated on a day-to-day basis in society, through social brokering, constituent relations, and popular outreach. How did ordinary MB members concretely relate to local populations in the neighborhoods where they lived? What kinds of social services did they deliver? How did they experience belonging to the Brotherhood and how this membership fit in with their other social identities? Finally, what political effects did their social action entail, both in terms of popular support and of contestation or cooperation with the state?
Nuanced, theoretically eclectic, and empirically rich, "The Muslim Brothers in Society" insightfully reveals the fragile balances on which the Muslim Brotherhood's political and social action was based and shows how these balances were disrupted after the January 2011 uprising. It provides an alternative way of understanding their historical failure in 2013.
Critique: A masterpiece of meticulous scholarship throughout, "The Muslim Brothers in Society: Everyday Politics, Social Action, and Islamism in Mubarak's Egypt" is ably translated into English for an American readership by David Tresilian (who is a professor of Comparative Literature and English at The American University of Paris) is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of Figures, Tables, Maps, twenty pages of Notes, a twelve page Bibliography, and a twelve page Index. While unreservedly recommended as a core addition to community, college, and university library Islamic Law and 20th Century Egyptian Sociology & Political Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Muslim Brothers in Society: Everyday Politics, Social Action, and Islamism in Mubarak's Egypt"
Editorial Note: Marie Vannetzel is a CNRS fellow at the Center for Economic, Legal and Social Studies (CEDEJ) in Cairo, and currently a visiting teacher at the University of Cairo, Faculty of Economics and Political Science (FESP). She received her PhD with distinction from Sciences Po Paris in 2012. Through an interdisciplinary approach combining political science, sociology and anthropology, she has been studying Egypt through the past fifteen years. Her research interest focuses on the politics of social action and redistribution.
Julie Summers' Bookshelf
1st Grade at Home: Reading & Math Skills
The Princeton Review
c/o Random House Inc.
9780525571735, $12.99, PB, 288pp
Synopsis: An especially timely instructional guide and manual for parents wanting to support their child's first grade level education in reading and math skills during this pandemic driven era of remote learning and hybrid schooling "1st Grade at Home: Reading & Math Skills" is ideal for parent in guiding and supporting their child's learning.
It provides: Guided help for key 1st grade reading and math topics; Skills broken into short, easy-to-accomplish lessons; Explanations for parents, plus independent question sets for kids; Fun at-home learning activities for each skill that use common household items; Parent tips, review sections, and challenge activities which are seeded throughout the book.
The perfect mix of parent guidance, practical lessons, and hands-on activities to keep kids engaged and up-to-date, "1st Grade at Home: A Parent's Guide with Lessons & Activities to Support Your Child's Learning" covers key grade-appropriate topics including: letters and sounds, compounds and contractions, early reading comprehension, numbers and place value, addition and subtraction, fact families, patterns and shapes, and so much more!
Critique: Throughly 'parent friendly' in organization and presentation, "1st Grade at Home: A Parent's Guide with Lessons & Activities to Support Your Child's Learning" is especially recommended to the attention of all home schooling parents and parents of any first grade remote learning student. While highly recommended for family, community, and school district collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "1st Grade at Home: Reading & Math Skills" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note: The experts at The Princeton Review have been helping students, parents, and educators achieve the best results at every stage of the education process since 1981. The Princeton Review has helped millions succeed on standardized tests, and provides expert advice and instruction to help parents, teachers, students, and schools navigate the complexities of school admission. In addition to classroom courses in over 40 states and 20 countries, The Princeton Review also offers online and school-based courses, one-to-one and small-group tutoring as well as online services in both admission counseling and academic homework help.
Atlantic Publishing Group
1405 SW 6th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34471-0640
9781620237502, $21.95, PB, 132pp
Synopsis: The underlying message and purpose of "New Me" by David Niroo is that we are all born in this life as a child ready to love to the fullest. As we grew, we covered our true self with layers of fear and social and religious beliefs. So how can we correct years of behavior and habits that keep us from unlocking our true potential? How can you break the cycle to become a New You?
Beginning with his own story, David shares his own journey through self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment in order to transform into his new self. Drawing from what he learned, David sets out to explain concepts, such as God, the soul, fear, happiness, choices, and intuition, which are invaluable in the process of transformation. Knowledge of what we are made of will allow us to live life with love, but a lack of knowledge creates fear in our lives.
Outside of these topics, readers of "New Me" are introduced to daily regimens that can allow them to begin to live a life full of love, and to experience peace, allowing them to have a happier inner self and see the outside world through non-judgmental glasses. This enables them to move from this life to the next on a positive soul journey, giving them the opportunity to fix their soul's karma and learn the lessons needed for their soul's evolution. If you can master this, you will finally get back to the God, who set us free to live lives as we wish and learn lessons on this "earth school."
By following David's advice, the reader can start their journey to become the best version of themselves. Anyone and everyone can become a "New Me".
Critique: As inspired and inspiring as it is informatively motivating, "New Me" is an especially recommended addition to community, college, and university library Popular Psychology, Spiritual Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "New Me" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $1.99).
Editorial Note: David Niroo was born on October 13, 1950, in Tehran, Iran. He came to the United States to receive a higher education and follow his American dream. Through hard work and compassion, David accomplished great financial success. David is a natural-born motivator and leader who seeks the path of understanding to answer his life's questions and strives to have knowledge of the spiritual world. These endeavors have given him peace, joy, and harmony in his life.
Guiding Lights: The Extraordinary Lives of Lighthouse Women
c/o Exisle Publishing
9781925820621, $27.99, HC, 256pp
Synopsis: Women have a long history of keeping the lights burning, from tending ancient altar flames or bonfires to modern-day lighthouse keeping. Yet most of their stories are little-known. compiled and written by Shona Riddell, "Guiding Lights: The Extraordinary Lives of Lighthouse Women" is comprised of true stories drawn from around the world that chronicle the lives of the extraordinary women who mind the world's storm-battered lighthouse towers.
From Hannah Sutton and her partner Grant, the two caretakers living alone on Tasmania's wild Maatsuyker Island, to Karen Zacharuk, the keeper in charge of Cape Beale on Canada's Vancouver Island, where bears, cougars and wolves roam, the lives of lighthouse women are not for the faint of heart. Stunning photographs from throughout history accompany accounts of the dramatic torching of Puysegur Point, one of NZ's most inhospitable lighthouses; 'haunted' lighthouses in across the US and their tragic tales; lighthouse accidents and emergencies around the world; and two of the world's most legendary lighthouse women: Ida Lewis (US) and Grace Darling (UK), who risked their lives to save others.
"Guiding Lights: The Extraordinary Lives of Lighthouse Women" also explores our dual perception of lighthouses: are they comforting and romantic beacons symbolising hope and trust, or storm-lashed and forbidding towers with echoes of lonely, mad keepers? Whatever our perception, stories of women's courage and dedication in minding the lights (then and now) continue to capture our imagination and inspire.
Critique: A unique, eloquent, and impressively informative study, "Guiding Lights: The Extraordinary Lives of Lighthouse Women" by Shona Riddell is an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Women's Biography & History collections in general, and Lighthouse History supplemental studies reading lists in particular. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Guiding Lights: The Extraordinary Lives of Lighthouse Women" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).
Editorial Note: Shona Riddell has a long-held fascination with lighthouses she is a writer for 20 years and has written a sub-antarctic history book "Trial of Strength" with Exisle Publishing.
All-Natural Perfume Making
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9780760369142, $19.99, HC, 128pp
Synopsis: With "All-Natural Perfume Making: Fragrances to Lift Your Mind, Body, and Spirit", as their instructional guide anyone can turn botanical herbs, flowers, and essential oils into wonderful-smelling, healthy, and sustainable perfumes.
In "All-Natural Perfume Making", author and herbalist Kristen Schuhmann deftly guides beginning perfumers in the art and techniques of crafting oil-based, alcohol-based, and solid perfumes. Learn the history and traditional benefits of certain scents as you create your own unique blends from a variety of plant-based ingredients.
In addition to smelling good, natural scents can be a powerful self-care tool to benefit mental and emotional health. Feeling anxious? A blend of vanilla, lavender, cedarwood, and neroli can help relax frazzled nerves. Have a big test coming up? Boost your brain power with rosemary, sweet orange, and peppermint. Once you've grasped the techniques in All-Natural Perfume Making, the possibilities are endless as you mix, layer, and experiment with natural scents.
Perfect for the beginner who wants to create their own signature scents without the use of harsh chemicals, this book provides a solid base on the philosophy and methods of crafting all-natural fragrances that not only smell fantastic but can add to your well-being.
Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout, "All-Natural Perfume Making: Fragrances to Lift Your Mind, Body, and Spirit" is an extraordinary, effective, and thoroughly 'user friendly' DIY instructional guide and 'how to manual' that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Potpourri Craft, Aromatherapy, and Green Housecleaning collections and reading lists.
Editorial Note: Kristen Schuhmann is an herbalist, instructor, ESL teacher, and wellness blogger who has written for Mind, Body, Green; Basmati.com; and Herbs for Health. She lives in Kirkland, Washington, and teaches online courses through her business, Botanical Alchemy & Apothecary.
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Uprising: How Women Used the US West to Win the Right to Vote
Michigan State University Press
1405 South Harrison Road, Suite 25, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245
9781611863826, $44.95, PB, 320pp
Synopsis: Decades before white women won the right to vote throughout the United States, they first secured that right in its Western region -- beginning in Wyoming in 1869. While many scholars have studied why and how the Western states enfranchised women before the Eastern ones, "Uprising: How Women Used the US West to Win the Right to Vote" by Tiffany Lewis (who is an associate professor of rhetoric and communication in the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, City University of New York) examines the influence of the West on the national US suffrage movement.
As the campaign for woman suffrage intensified, US suffragists often invoked the West in their verbal, visual, and embodied advocacy. In deploying this region as a persuasive resource, they challenged the traditional meanings of the West and East, thus gaining additional persuasive strategies.
The analysis of Professor Lewis's with respect to the public discourse, images, and performances of suffragists and their opponents shows that the West played a pivotal role in the successful campaign for white women's enfranchisement that culminated in 1920. In addition to offering a history of this political movement's rhetorical strategy, Lewis illustrates the usefulness of region in protest -- the way social movements can tactically employ region to motivate social change.
Critique: An impressive and seminal study, "Uprising: How Women Used the US West to Win the Right to Vote" is an extraordinary history of the women's suffrage movement in the American West. Expertly written, organized and presented, "Uprising: How Women Used the US West to Win the Right to Vote" must be considered a core and essential addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library American History collections in general, and the Women's Suffrage Movement supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular.
The HOW to Inner Peace: A Guide to a New Way of Living
9781897238974, $18.99, PB, 206pp
Synopsis: Many of us now understand the concept and value of mindfulness, but we are challenged when it comes to achieving it in our daily lives. If you are ready to know just how to reliably access the peace and joy you long for, then "The HOW to Inner Peace: A Guide to a New Way of Living" by Constance Kellough is the only book you will need.
Kellough (who is an author, meditation teacher and publisher of great spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle), shares her accumulated wisdom in this comprehensive guide to finding inner peace. She provides practical, how to instruction for practicing Innerbody Meditation, a life changing tool for going beyond the limitations of the mind; identifying and managing the ego; healing separation and cultivating deeper intuition and presence.
If you have ever longed to employ mindfulness as a daily practice in your life or wondered how to effectively remove the stumbling blocks standing between you and the life you know you could be living, let "The HOW to Inner Peace: A Guide to a New Way of Living" be your guide.
Critique: Thoroughly 'user friendly' in commentary style, organization and presentation, "The HOW to Inner Peace: A Guide to a New Way of Living" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The HOW to Inner Peace: A Guide to a New Way of Living" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.95).
Editorial Note: Constance Kellough is a visionary who popularized the self-help genre, bringing revolutionary, spiritual teachings to the forefront of modern culture. Her first publication, "The Power of Now" introduced Eckhart Tolle to the world. Since 1997, she has gone on to publish more groundbreaking, inspirational books by such authors as Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Michael Brown, and Dr. David Bercelli. These books and many others have changed the dialogue around Conscious Parenting, Spirituality, and Trauma Release theories worldwide.
The Man of Jasmine & Other Texts
c/o Distributed Art Publishers
155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10013-1507
9781900565820, $23.99, HC, 192pp
Synopsis: In the 25 years since Atlas Press original published the account by Unica Zurn (1916 - 70) of her long history of mental crises, she has come to be recognized as a great artist at least the equal of her partner, the Surrealist Hans Bellmer. Yet her work is barely comprehensible without the texts printed here in the pages of "The Man of Jasmine & Other Texts" (and now revised by translator Malcolm Green) in which she demonstrates how Surrealist conceptions of the psyche allowed her to welcome the most alarming experiences as offering access to an inner existence that was the vital source for her artistic output.
Green's introduction to this volume was the first study to consider her life and work from this perspective.
Zurn's first mental collapse was initiated when she encountered her fantasy figure, "the Man of Jasmine," in the person of the writer and artist Henri Michaux. This meeting plunged her into a hallucinatory world in which visions of her desires, anxieties and events from her unresolved past overwhelmed her present life.
Her greatest works were produced during times of mental crisis, often when confined in asylums, and she tended to encourage the onset of these crises in order to provoke intense creativity. Her description of these episodes reveals how language itself was part of the divinatory method that could aid her recovery or predict a new crisis.
Her compulsion for composing anagrams allowed her to release from everyday language an astonishing flood of messages, threats and evocations. This method, and Zurn's eloquent yet direct style, make "The Man of Jasmine & Other Texts" a literary masterpiece, while providing a rare insight into extreme psychological states.
Critique: A unique and original work of immense literary interest and value, this new edition of "The Man of Jasmine & Other Texts" from Atlas Press is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Literary Fiction collections, as well as the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject.
Giving Grief Meaning
9781642503135, $18.95, PB, 224pp
Synopsis: How do you make sense of loss and tragedy? After the sudden and devastating loss of her infant daughter, Lily Dulan (a marriage and family therapist, psychotherapist and certified yoga teacher) meditated, prayed, and ruminated on the only thing she had left -- her baby girl's name.
In Lily's courage to address and move through her pain, she developed a cross pollination of proven psychological modalities, 12-step wellness tools, spiritual healing applications, meditations, and ancient yoga self-help processes she called "The Name Work".
"Giving Grief Meaning: A Method for Transforming Deep Suffering into Healing and Positive Change" is her heartfelt memoir in which Lily shares her healing journey and her method for unleashing the power in names and giving them special meaning to help move through the grief process in a thoughtful and transformative way.
What's in a name? Meanings! The Name Work method teaches you how to assign special meaning and qualities to the letters in names - a deceased loved one's or your own - and how to create positive affirmations for each letter's attribute. It is a tangible and personal self-healing method for whatever obstacles arise; a unique, new wellness tool for healing and self-discovery.
The Name Work also includes: Affirmations, self-guided questions, meditations, and practices; An A-Z dictionary of qualities to help create your own affirmations; Life hacks for addictive behaviors and moving though trauma and loss; A first-hand account of the author's personal healing journey.
Critique: Intensely personal, candid, informative and ultimately inspiring, "Giving Grief Meaning: A Method for Transforming Deep Suffering into Healing and Positive Change" will prove invaluable reading for anyone having to deal with the loss of a loved one -- especially in these times of a lethal pandemic. While very highly recommended for community library Death/Dying/Grieving collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Giving Grief Meaning" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.49).
Editorial Note: Lily Dulan is an MFT Psychotherapist with a master's degree in Psychology and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She also holds a Master of Arts Degree in Teaching from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and is a certified Heart of Yoga Teacher. After her first daughter, Kara Meyer Dulan, died at home from SIDS at two months old, Lily started a foundation in her child's memory called The Kara Love Project. The Kara Love Project has teamed with local, national and international organizations such as the Unatti Foundation in Nepal, Venice Arts in Los Angeles and Foster Nation to serve marginalized youth. It has also developed and supported programming to benefit the mental and physical wellbeing of seniors in Los Angeles county. Ms. Dulan facilitates The Name Work workshops and educational events in the greater Los Angeles area for universities, organizations, corporations, and small private groups.
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf
A Feigned Madness
Cennan Books of Cynren Press
9781947976207, $21.00 paper, 392 pps
A Feigned Madness, journalist Tonya Mitchell's debut historical fiction novel, reveals Elizabeth Cochrane, the real identity behind an up-and-coming reporter, who goes by Nellie Bly, at the turn of the 19th century. Relegated to covering boring cultural events, even after she proves her mettle as a more serious investigator at a Pittsburgh newspaper, Elizabeth Cochrane moves to New York to try to sell stories to The World. The World accepts her proposal to write about the infamous Blackwell's insane asylum - from the inside. Now, she has to figure out how to fake her way in. Once she does, she fears for the poor women who, unlike her, can't escape Blackwell's cruel treatment. She uses her write up (as Nellie Bly) not only to impress The World but also to mete out justice upon Blackwell's administrators.
A budding romance running alongside the main plot enhances the portrayal of Cochrane's deep capacity for love as well as her struggle to speak her mind. Cochrane and George McCain communicate covertly, through poetic flower language, adding to the intrigue of Cochrane's lofty schemes. She is shown standing up for the downtrodden in stories about factory working conditions and about the YMCA. George advocates for her work and warns her about the costs involved in going too far. Although she appreciates his care, it only encourages her to take the biggest risk of all: Blackwell's. The novel's driving flow pulls readers in immediately and continuously to Cochrane's determined goals. Despite McCain's wooing and her smitten heart, she never loses sight of her aims to keep writing for the benefit of all women.
Tonya Mitchell's story of Nellie Bly breaking into the masculine world of journalism is every bit as thrilling as the expose that cinches her fame.
Mari Carlson, Reviewer
Marj Charlier's Bookshelf
Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
Rebecca Wragg Sykes
c/o Bloomsbury Publishing
9781472937490, $28.00 Hardcover, $9.02 Kindle, 385 pages
I consider myself a paleoanthropological enthusiast - not an expert or even an amateur. Just an observer. Indeed, my first major in undergraduate school was anthropology. And I have been an avid reader of natural history, archeology and paleontology all my life. So, I greeted with enthusiasm this latest compilation of research and evidence of our Neanderthal ancestors.
(I say "ancestors" advisedly: not because we descended from them, but because we interbred with them in the past, to the extent that some 3% of our genes are thought to be contributed by them.)
Kindred is as billed: comprehensive and carefully documented. It breaks no new ground, but it pulls together all we have learned from the various Neanderthal and Denisovan sites in Europe, Asia and Africa over the past three centuries. Although each chapter is introduced with a fictional bit - most of them describing what may have been the sensations, thoughts, or actions of individuals representing this branch of our human tree - much of the text is academic and soberly presented. No flights of fancy here. I'm certain her academic counterparts approve of this compendium.
As a lay person, however, the lesson I got from this weighty book was that, other than new information from advances in genetic research, much of what we know about Neanderthals comes from tools, and if there's one thing that will put a paleoanthropology enthusiast to sleep, it's tools. Blades, scrapers, bladelets and points. Where they were found, where they were moved from and to, and how technologically sophisticated they were. Other than that, we learn a bit from bones - those of the hominins and of butchered animals - and some from hearths and purported burials. But mostly, all we've got is tools.
As a joke, I told my publisher recently that I was reading Kindred to discover which of my bad behaviors I could blame on my Neanderthal genes. Alas, I came nowhere near such a revelation. As Sykes herself declares, for a more fleshed-out version of Neanderthal life and Neanderthal-Homo-Sapiens interaction, one may be better served reading Jean Auel's Earth's Children series. Until scientists can put some flesh on those old bones and hands on those old tools, I suppose that's where I must go to find my excuses.
A side note: I understand that publishers have been turning to Print-On-Demand services to provide books these days, as printing plants are overwhelmed by demand for big titles such as Obama's memoir. Some publishing observers have lauded this trend. This means, often, publishers are producing perfect-bound hardcovers with pages that are glued directly to the spine (as it typical with cheaper paperbacks) without the first sewing pages into more durable folios. While I understand the reasoning, I don't like paying nearly $30 for a hardcover that falls apart on first reading. I'd rather wait until the right printing facility is available to print a high-quality book.
Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World
W.W. Norton & Company
9780393542134, $26.95, Hardcover, $9.32 Kindle, 308 pages
On his show on CNN, Fareed Zakaria famously predicted the pandemic four years before it came to this country. Now he has used his talents for prognostication to predict what he thinks we will learn from the disaster.
I would summarize Zakaria's 10 lessons like this:
1) Life on earth has become riskier because of our insatiable consumption and the speed at which we live. To survive, we need to recognize these risks, including climate change and our crowding of the planet, and find ways to mitigate them.
2) Zakaria expresses his second lesson clearly in his title to the chapter: What Matters is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality. Debates about the amount of spending are beside the point. The problem isn't bureaucracy - it's corrupt bureaucracy, and Zakaria indicts the Trump administration for failing to meet the challenge of the virus.
3) Markets Are Not Enough is the title of his next lesson - and the point is fairly obvious. We can't save ourselves from disease or our species from annihilation by allowing markets to make all our decisions.
4) Listen to the Experts - and the People, he writes. This is a plea for a return to rational thinking, an understanding of and faith in science, and (quite on a different tack) return to a more representative government. The rule of our country by a minority of religious radicals and rigid partisans is destroying the people's faith in democracy.
5) As our lives are more and more ruled by our devices and artificial intelligence, we need to focus on what makes us human. We need to celebrate loyalty, love, and generosity.
6) Humans are social animals, as Zakaria credits Aristotle as advising us. If nothing else, nearly everyone can agree that the social isolation of the COVID crisis has raised our appreciation of our social nature, and our need for community. Rather than chasing us out of cities, he argues, the pandemic should remind us of why we love to live in them.
7) In the way the pandemic has shown access to effective treatments and vaccines is not universal or fair, it has reminded us of the consequences of inequality. Inequality is growing, he says, and while its continued growth may be inevitable, we can mitigate its effects, and we should if we want a civil society.
8) Globalization isn't going to go away because we now fear the spread of viruses from other parts of the world. Digitization has sped up globalization. Attempts, such as some of those by the recent administration, to shut down trade are counterproductive. "If you want to raise the living standards of your people, you have to find ways to buy and sell from the rest of humanity."
9) The bi-polar world of U.S. versus China may be inevitable, but it threatens both economic prosperity and liberal society. A return to international cooperation, faith in international institutions, and open trade can mitigate the danger.
10) COVID may have turned countries inward and nationalistic. But "bashing" globalism - now a popular refrain of totalitarian leaders in the world - can force us into a "nihilistic competition." Zakaria argues that the greatest danger to a liberal international order based on cooperation and human rights "is not China's expansionism but America's abdication." Trump alienated our friends and emboldened our enemies as he withdrew the U.S. from the international stage. If nations become more interconnected and interdependent, everyone will end up better off.
Zakaria's book is a plea to use the lessons of the pandemic--a global disaster that has highlighted our recent missteps and our failure to address climate change, inequality, and nationalism - to build a better world. Perhaps no one will read this book who doesn't already agree with its lessons. But to those who disagree, Zakaria raises the challenge: what are your lessons, and how do they point to a more secure and sustainable future?
Bellevue Literary Press
9781942658702, $16.95, Paper, $12.99 Kindle
A fable for those anticipating the apocalypse and the post-Anthropocene world with fear and sorrow, The Bear is a mesmerizing prose poem that skips over the way we humans arrive at our end, but assures us when we get there, all will be fine.
The last two humans on earth travel through thriving forests and meadows, over hills and mountains, across rivers and valleys, and through the swampy ruins of human civilization to acquire a bucket of salt, a necessity that no longer appears in round boxes at a supermarket. The father teaches the girl - names are unnecessary when there are only two people left - what she needs to know to survive, and when she is left alone, a bear with all the wisdom of the flora and fauna of the world provides the final lessons she needs to return home.
I recommend the book for all troubled by what they feel is our reckless race to extinction. And for those who have no such fear, it is a beautiful literary escape from our rigidly constructed, over-engineered, and digitally infested lives.
The Midnight Library
c/o Penguin Random House
9780525559474, $26.00, Hardcover, $13.99 Kindle, 304 pages
One of the wonderful benefits of belonging to a book club - mine, like many, made up solely of women - is sharing opinions about books, especially when they push against what appears to be a consensus by other readers. Even if we don't reach total agreement amongst ourselves, it is with some relief I often find my own unfavorable reactions to a book that has been well-received by the public echoed by one or more of our 17 club members. It gives me the guts to honestly review a book that has seriously disappointed me.
Caveat: Eighty-six percent of the consumer reviews on Amazon for The Midnight Library have been four- or five-star. It was chosen as a BuzzBook for winter 2020. As I write this, the hardcover version is ranked on Amazon as number 21 in all books, number 3 in Time Travel Fiction, number 9 in Literary Fiction, and number 18 in Women's Literature & Fiction. Its Kindle version ranks even higher.
While the sales rankings don't prove that everyone who has read the book loved it, it does indicate that the public reception has been positive enough to encourage many, many people to buy it. Of the 12 of us who attended my recent book club meeting, only four - sometimes five - of us gave it a thumbs-down, sometimes for different reasons. Some of us found the protagonist whining and unlikable. Some of us found the premise silly or derivative. Better than half of our members, however, loved the book, the premise, and its execution.
The protagonist in The Midnight Library is a multi-talented but depressed woman who has just lost her job and regrets many of the decisions she's made in her life. Therefore, she has decided to end it with an overdose. Instead of ending up dead, she finds herself in a strange library filled with different versions of her life story, all riffs on how her life would have turned out if she'd made a different decision at some crucial point in her past. Her guide in this library - a librarian from her childhood who was once kind to her, gives her the chance to change those decisions and see how things go. If she likes one of the new directions, she gets to stay there. If not, she can either choose to die or go back and live out her real life. In some of these lives, she sees that people have turned out to be more flawed than she thought they were. In most, she finds that alternative choices would not have made her any happier. And in the final alternative life, she experiences "It's a Wonderful Life" episodes, seeing how others' lives would have been destroyed if she hadn't been there to help.
As women, we club members questioned the author's decision to write the most satisfying of the alternative stories - and the longest one - as a traditional female story of motherhood and marriage. Would a woman writer have depicted that as the most satisfying of all? We nearly unilaterally thought not. Most of us thought the idea of studying glaciology on a Norwegian archipelago sounded like the most gratifying of her alternatives.
My club members all acknowledged regretting some decisions made in our lives; at some points, even fantasizing about how things would have turned out if they had chosen differently. But as we are mostly in our 60s and 70s, most of us have come to terms with those decisions long ago. It's part of growing up. It's not necessarily that we have accepted that this is "the best of all worlds," but that we have realized such regrets are simply life lessons, and we've gotten on with things. We concluded with the thought that this book is really a book for much younger readers - millennials and younger - who are still in the throes of such regrets and might learn something from the protagonist's journey.
As for my own rating, I'd give the book three stars - the prose wasn't distracting, and the book wasn't overly long or digressive. But I felt the premise was unoriginal and derivative, and the protagonist was someone I had trouble hanging out with. I kept wanting to leave her to stew in her narcissism and regrets so I could get on with tending my own garden.
Marj Charlier, Reviewer
Mark Walker's Bookshelf
A Long Petal of the Sea
c/o Penguin Random House
9781984820150, $28.00 Hardcover, 336 pages
I hadn't read any of Allende's books since "House of Spirits" and saw several revealing interviews of her over the last few months and decided it was time to reacquaint myself with her latest novel. The setting of the Spanish Civil war and Chile drew me in even more as many of my favorite authors lived through the war like Federico Garcia Lorca, George Orwell, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda.
Also intriguing was the landing of the protagonists in Chile after the military takeover of Pinochet. The President who was toppled was the author's uncle, Salvador Allende and I was in Chile just after it happened in the early 70's. Plus my favorite Chilean author, Pablo Neruda would play a key role in the story as he financed the boat bringing a group of refugees from France to Chile.
I was not disappointed. This epic tale begins in the late 1930's when General Franco and his fascists overthrow the government forcing hundreds of thousands to flee into France and tens of thousands would lose their lives. Among the refugees was Roser, a pregnant young widow who escapes with Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased lover. In order to survive they must unite in marriage. They would be amongst the 2,200 who board the Winnipeg, as ship chartered by poet Pablo Neruda and escape to Chile.
The author uses Neruda's poems to begin a number of chapters like this one which relates to the brutal conditions Roser and Victor find in a concentration camp in France:
Let's keep anger, pain, and tears,
Let's fill the desolate voice
And may the nightly bonfire recall
The Light of the deceased stars
Neruda would even inspire the name of the book in this scene where the refugees depart France to the unknown, "...None of them knew anything about Chile. Years later, Neruda was to define it as a "long petal of sea and wine and snow..." with a belt of black and white foam, but that would be have left the migrants none the wiser. On the map, it looked slender and remote."
Another of Neruda's poems introduces a chapter about Victor's affection for a lover which I used to begin one of the chapters of my book "Different Latitudes" as well:
If little by little you stop loving me,
I'll stop loving you little by little.
If suddenly you forget me
Don't come looking for me,
I'll already have forgotten you"
From the The Captain's Verses
The author provides insider information when describing the chilling aftermath of the brutal military coup the aftermath, "...They said Salvador Allende had committed suicide in the palace, although Victor suspected they had killed him as they had so many others. It was only then that he understood how grave the situation was. There would be no going back."
Government ministers were arrested, Congress was declared in permanent recess, political parties were banned, press freedom and citizen's rights were suspended until further notice...To avoid being murdered by his own comrades in arms, the former commander in chief fled to Argentina, but a year later a bomb was put in his car and he died, blown to pieces together with his wife."
One riveting scene takes place in the infamous stadium where Victor was taken prisoner, as told by a metalworker arrested two days after the coup, "Don't attract attention. Stay still and silent - they can use any excuse to beat you to death with their rifles. They're wild animals."
"So much hatred, so much cruelty...I don't understand," Victor mumbled. His mouth was dry, and the words stuck in his through.
"We can all turn into savages if we're given a rifle and an order,", said another prisoner who had come over to them."
Towards the end of the story, Victor is living a lone in a very isolated rural community after the death of his wife, but is reunited with his estranged daughter and in the last scene, "It seemed to Victor he was listening to Roser in her final moments, reminding him that we human beings are gregarious, we're not programmed for solitude, but to give and receive. That was why she insisted he mustn't withdraw into old age, and even chose him a new partner. He suddenly thought tenderly of Miche, the kindhearted neighbor who gave him the cat, brought him tomatoes and herbs from her garden, the tiny woman who sculpted fat nymphs..."
According to Publishers Weekly, "Majestic . . . both timeless and perfectly timed for today . . . Allende's assured prose vividly evokes her fictional characters [and] historical figures . . . seamlessly juxtaposing exile with homecoming, otherness with belonging, and tyranny with freedom."
"Allende . . . has deftly woven fact and fiction, history and memory, to create one of the most richly imagined portrayals of the Spanish Civil War to date, and one of the strongest and most affecting works in her long career." - The New York Times Book Review
About the Author: Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of a number of bestselling and critically acclaimed books, including The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, Paula, and In the Midst of Winter. Her books have been translated into more than forty-two languages and have sold more than seventy-four million copies worldwide. She lives in California.
Mark D. Walker, Reviewer
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf
Wire Gate Press
9781954065017, $19.99 PB
This beautiful piece of storytelling set in colonial times that will forever touch a reader's heart and soul.
Colonial Pennsylvania, 1710 - 1715, Lawrence, a parentless young man who had been frequently demeaned by his grandfather, was rewarded by an inheritance of a prosperous brewery in Philadelphia. He hired a Native American guide to take him hunting in the wild, beyond the small farms and homesteads just on the fringes of the civilized world. When the guide decided to travel deeper into the wild lands, on his way north to the New York colonies, Lawrence remained behind to hunt alone, and during three solitary days he discovered the parts of himself not injured by his grandfather's abuse. The imagery of this event in the novel is beautiful. "The wilderness didn't judge. In aloneness, he found peace - if only for the moment - and his veins filled with a rushing motion, like the waters of a cold mountain stream." On his way back to civilization, Lawrence became lost and a storm made him seek shelter at an isolated farm, just on the edge of the wild. The farmer, Pierre, and his family took him in. Pierre, older than Lawrence, old enough to be his father, had come to the colonies from France, carrying with him his own scars of family abandonment, which, like Lawrence, he wanted to leave behind. From here the story unwinds, narrated in alternating sections by Lawrence, Pierre, Pierre's daughter, Catharine, Pierre's son, Jean, and several smaller characters when warranted by the story's twists and turns.
The writing in Chateau Laux is excellent, but what is most remarkable is the storytelling. The pacing in which the story is unfolded and the characters are revealed puts the reader in a comfortable chair, sitting in front of a roaring fire, mesmerized by the words in the narrative, and hoping that the storyteller will continue, without interruption, until the novel's end. There are back stories, carefully placed, that bring the narrators to life and, in several instances, serve as portents of tragedy to come. Imagery is often employed to build the carefully constructed plot. An example is an observation made, upon Jean's returning home to learn a dog had bitten Catharine, that "Ever quiet as it slipped into late afternoon, the day had the eerie apprehension of one thing ending and another not yet begun." Pierre's backstory is carefully layered into present events, and supports how important moments in the story are presented, like the arrival of Lawrence, Jean's joining a militia, and a tragic fire. In Pierre's past he mourned the loss of his mother, "putting her to rest while the drunken soldiers slept, placing her so deep she would never be disturbed." He cannot forget how his father rode away to petition the king and then failed to return, or how he was shown kindness during his tenure in the tailor shop after arriving in Philadelphia. The mixing of the past and the present gives an emotional depth to the story it would not otherwise have. Pierre kept the history of his family in France close, the reader hears much of it in interior monologue, until the night before Jean left with the militia, when he told Jean about his ancestor Iņigo. This lays the groundwork for what is to come. He advised his son, "No matter the circumstance, remember that you are not an island of fear and despair." Although delivered by Pierre as fatherly advice, this proves to be a powerful observation in the story made true by the struggles of all of the narrators. And for Pierre, the backstory of his life in France came together with his present life after the McDonall incident, when he made the self-observation that, "He had a family that needed his guidance, in spite of his shortcomings, and his father had come through for him, after all, these many years later, a whisper from the past, the voice of reason." Lawrence did not have the good fortune of a father like Pierre's. But Pierre in the end took on that role for Lawrence in a brilliant conclusion when he granted the Chateau, and in a symbolic manner, Lawrence, use of his name.
The character development in Chateau Laux makes the novel great. So many modern novels have poorly crafted characters, who are no more than skeletons, placeholders for cheap twists of plot and, sadly, social commentary. Chateau Laux is art, the best of creative writing, a lighthouse among dim lights. A reader will feel Pierre and Lawrence, and the rest of the narrators, in his or her heart and soul. They become real people in a real story, and the moral a reader can take away is, as it should be, a moral composed by the reader, and not dictated by the author. It is a miracle of sorts, that the world is given such a beautiful work by David Loux, an event not unlike the birth of twin foals.
Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Confessions of a Bookseller
David R. Godine, Publisher
9781567926644, $25.95, 326 pgs
I have had a dream of owning a bookshop since I was a child. I am fascinated by books and their overwhelming presence in my life and in the lives of those whom, like me, feel a need and compulsion to have books almost as close as our significant others, children, and pets. Confessions of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell, (2019, Godine, 326 pgs., $25.95), reads like a year long journal from virtually every book lovers' life. Confessions of a Bookseller is a true manual for how to turn a love of books into a lifelong obsession and a true calling. Bythell is open and honest about the ups and downs of the book trade, especially his interactions with online giant Amazon.
Bythell's shop is in Wigtown, Scotland. It is a beehive of activity that is always full of interesting and obnoxious characters. Bythell uses a very sharp and sarcastic wit to deal with pseudo-intellectuals, arrogant socialites, and hagglers looking to wheel and deal. He also manages to impact the lives of his employees, friends, and family in a positive and engaging way through the shop. The Bookshop seems to truly be a passion rather than just a business.
Confessions of a Bookseller was a very satisfying read. I imagined myself browsing the shelves, buying a box of books, and talking about books over a cup of Earl Grey. Bythell's journal is funny, witty, and sarcastic, as well as being a true outlining of the perils of owning a bookshop in the internet age. Books are a true measure of the man, and a true gauge of character. Confessions of a Bookseller, more so than Amazon, is a true road map for those who treasure the written word and the containers of those words, called books, that are so necessary and important.
Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.
Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond
Morgan James Publishing
11815 Fountain Way, Suite 300, Newport News, VA 23606-4448
9781642799606, $29.95, HC, 240pp
Synopsis: "Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond: Wisdom from the Past for Your Best Future" by Jerry Gladstone goes against the so-called experts who say millennials are lazy, entitled and have labeled them "Generation Me", the "Peter Pan Generation", "Trophy Kids", and "Snowflakes".
Gladstone says these "experts" forget what it was like being young. Could millennials benefit from some good "Old School" advice -- absolutely. Would they benefit from social, financial, and life skills that they were not taught in school -- definitely. This is precisely what "Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond" offers. The goal is to provide "old school wisdom" to the new generation. The inspiration within is provided by Academy Award and Grammy Winners, Super Bowl and Music Icons, Olympians, Boxing, UFC World Champions and even Billionaires.
There are many "pain points" the millennial generation are challenged with each day including, job security, social media overload/anxiety, social distancing living up to society expeditions, fear of missing out (fomo), and debt. Within "Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond", there are chapters that help millennial's deal with their pain points. The content throughout is unique and appealing because it does not insult the millennial generation, it provides useful strategies and techniques to achieve their dreams and navigate through life's twists and turns.
Critique: While specifically direct to the attention of the millennial generation, "Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond: Wisdom from the Past for Your Best Future" also has great and practical value for anyone else having to deal with career and financial issues. Exceptionally well written and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond: Wisdom from the Past for Your Best Future" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Old School Success for the Millennial Generation & Beyond: Wisdom from the Past for Your Best Future" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781642795132, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).
Editorial Note: Jerry Gladstone is highly regarded in the self-development industry as a speaker and success coach Certified by The International Coach Federation (ICF). At the age of twenty-six, he founded a small fine art company and grew it into an international business that specialized in the production, distribution, and marketing of a wide variety of entertainment fine art. Jerry's business associations have given him unique access to movie studios and celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone. In conversations with Sylvester and other super achievers, Jerry observed a "Common Thread" to success that inspired him to author "The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams".
Prodigal Son: An Orphan X Novel
c/o St. Martin's Publishing Group
9781250252289, $27.99, HC, 432pp
Synopsis: As a boy, Evan Smoak was pulled out of a foster home and trained in an off-the-books operation known as the Orphan Program. He was a government assassin, perhaps the best, known to a few insiders as Orphan X. He eventually broke with the Program and adopted a new name (The Nowhere Man) and a new mission, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. But the highest power in the country has made him a tempting offer. In exchange for an unofficial pardon he must stop his clandestine activities as The Nowhere Man. Now Evan has to do the one thing he's least equipped to do -- live a normal life.
But then he gets a call for help from the one person he never expected. A woman claiming to have given him up for adoption, a woman he never knew -- his mother. Her unlikely request: help Andrew Duran, a man whose life has gone off the rails, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, bringing him to the deadly attention of very powerful figures. Now a brutal brother & sister assassination team are after him and with no one to turn to, and no safe place to hide, Evan is Duran's only option. But when the hidden cabal catches on to what Evan is doing, everything he's fought for is on the line -- including his own life.
Critique: A impressively crafted and riveting novel, "Prodigal Son: An Orphan X Novel" by Greg Hurwitz deftly combines heart-pounding action with plot twisting suspense. The result is an inherently compelling read from cover to cover. While an especially recommended addition to community library Contemporary Suspense Thriller Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Prodigal Son" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99), and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Macmillan Audio, 9781250787934, $39.99, CD).
Michael J. Carson
Peter Blaisdell's Bookshelf
The Lies of Locke Lamora
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9780553588941, $8.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 736pp
Three-star book reviews may be the most useful critiques for judging a book. These reviews call out both good and bad aspects of a story and thread the needle between gushy fanboy/fangirl praise (4 and 5 stars) and spiteful hating on a book (1 and 2 stars). In that spirit, I'm giving The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch 3 stars on a scale of 1 to 5. To me, this novel represents a good, but unremarkable effort with flashes of vivid, fluid writing interrupted by erratic pacing.
This review, while not intended to 'damn by faint praise', is wildly at variance with the fulsome acclaim this super popular and well-reviewed fantasy has gotten over the last decade and a half.
Lynch's world-building is quite good. The picaresque novel takes place in a city-state, Camorr, seemingly inspired by Renaissance Venice with intriguing hints of a higher, alien civilization that preceded the current story. This setting is carefully, lovingly, at times excessively, described throughout the story (more about this below).
Complementing the physical setting, Lynch has assembled a cast of characters that seem to be pulled from Oliver Twist by way of The Sting; a lovable gang of scoundrels navigates the Byzantine intricacies of Camorr seeking big scores. In fact, Lies appears to be overtly Dickensian. Great! Dickens is wonderful with characters and setting, so the novel has a Victorian feel with regard to pacing and detail; Lynch can't be faulted for wearing these influences on his shirtsleeve.
Ah yes, the plot. I'd almost forgotten. The plot is frequently slowed by long expository tracts, flashbacks, and sundry other digressions. Sure, some of these provide backstory and they are often vibrantly written, but too many of them clog the story's forward momentum. Given the novel's efforts to create suspense as Locke and his comrades attempt to outwit criminal and supernatural threats, all this shifting back and forth results in a meandering cadence to the novel. More chronological linearity in the plot would have significantly improved the story's flow.
The main character, the eponymous Locke, is also problematic. He's sorta charming and kinda shrewd, but if the novel's characters have to keep reminding themselves (and the reader) of these qualities, he's not as cleverly roguish as the author wants us to think. He leads endless banter between his gang members that is designed to display his smarts and demonstrate their mutual affection as well as lighten the mood and be endearing to the reader. However, this seems heavy-handed as often as it seems clever. Further, Locke can appear to be a collection of characteristics as much as an actual character despite all the backstory we get to show the genesis of his personality and motivations.
Related to this point about motivation, there are other issues including a possible love interest for Locke whose untimely demise is probably meant to provoke him to vengeance as well as reinforce just how rotten the baddies are. However, because we never really get to know her, it's hard to work up much angst when she meets a sticky end.
Momentum does finally begin to build in the second half of the story - the main villain needed to have been introduced earlier, but there's a problem here too; the villain's primary henchman (the 'bondmage') is so all powerful, the reader can be left wondering why he doesn't just seize control of Camorr himself and dispense with the rest of the characters and the story.
The Lies of Locke Lamora isn't a bad book. In fact, it's pretty good and its faults could easily have been fixed with better editing - say, judiciously removing about 50 pages and creating a cleaner, more propulsive narrative flow by reducing the number of flashbacks. The generally ecstatic praise heaped on Lies is more a comment on the current state of fantasy reviewers, readers and writing than whatever virtues or flaws this particular book has.
Many fantasy readers (and other genre readers too) are inclined to inhale books uncritically and authors and publishers have responded by cranking out gobs of novels. I don't know how long it took Lynch to write Lies. By rumor, it was a while, but other writers in this space produce novels - often as part of a seemingly interminable series - in as little as six weeks. For many readers, quantity trumps quality. This is really no more than a modern incarnation of the pulps where serialized fantasy and science fiction was produced rapid-fire to entertain readers. Though there is an audience for well-written, 'upmarket' fantasy judging by the popularity of Neil Gaiman and China Mieville's work among others, this audience is much smaller than for books where quality is secondary to just getting words on a page (or a Kindle) as evidenced by the volume of books in this genre that hit the virtual shelves every week. It's a happy circumstance when entertainment and writing quality meet in one book.
Carpio, Glenda R. (2008) Laughing Fit to Kill: Black Humor in the Fictions of Slavery, Oxford University Press, NY
Jerkins, Morgan (2020) Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Researches Her Roots, HarperCollins, NY
Penniman, Leah &Washington, Karen (2018) Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, Chelsea Green Publishing, VT
Peter Blaisdell, Reviewer
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die
Princeton University Press
Spinoza As A Philosopher Of Freedom
In Proposition 67 of Part IV of the "Ethics", Spinoza writes "A free person thinks least of all of death. and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death." Spinoza scholar Steven Nadler adopts Spinoza's proposition as the title and theme of his new book "Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die". (2020) Unlike many works on Spinoza, which focus on the difficulties of Spinoza's metaphysics and epistemology, Nadler's book studies the guidance Spinoza offers in leading a good and a happy life. In other words, Nadler takes the title of Spinoza's great book, the "Ethics" seriously. Thus, early in his study, Nadler points to a question from a friend posed suddenly during a bicycling trip as suggesting the theme of the book: "So, what is the relationship between Spinoza's metaphysics and his ethics?"
Nadler argues that Spinoza is concerned throughout with the nature of freedom. In the "Theological-Political Treatise" which Nadler discussed in his earlier study, "A Book Forged in Hell" Spinoza explored freedom in the context of thought and speech. In the "Ethics", Nadler finds that Spinoza develops an internal concept of freedom which, "consists in being an active and self-governing agent." Nadler continues:
"The free person .... is in control of his life. He acts rather than reacts. He will certainly do what he wishes but what he wishes is guided from within, by knowledge rather than by imagination, sentiment, or feeling. The free person is led by reason, not by passion. The life of the free person is, in short, the model life of the human being."
Nadler guides the reader through the "Ethics" in developing the nature of freedom. He begins with Spinoza's rejection of the anthropomorphic God of the Abrahamic religions, replacing it with the pantheism (or, as some read it, atheism) of one infinite substance, "God or Nature". He discusses the broad deterministic character of Spinoza's thought and develops Spinoza's concept of human nature expressed in the difficult term "conatus" or the tendency of every being to persist in and develop its own nature.
The body of Nadler's study explains Spinoza's development of his ethics -- his understanding of the good life for persons, expressed in Parts III, IV, and V of his book, "Ethics". Nadler's discussion explores the relationship between reason and the passions for Spinoza. Nadler works to help the reader see how Spinoza developed his concept of human freedom in the face of the strict determinism of his metaphysics. He explores broad questions ranging from Spinoza's understanding of human nature, the nature of virtue and of human happiness, self-esteem and self-love, fortitude, honesty, friendship, whether suicide is ever permissible, and death, and the free man's attitude towards life and death.
Unlike Spinoza's notoriously difficult writing, Nadler writes with grace and simplicity. The book is written as a guide to lay readers as well as a text for those versed in Spinoza's thought. The book discusses Spinoza's text and tries to explain it sympathetically. Various scholarly nuances and alternative readings are mentioned in the text and discussed in the endnotes and in the bibliography. Nadler draws on Spinoza's writings and letters in addition to the "Ethics". His account is enhanced by biographical and historical detail -- he discusses the contents of Spinoza's library, for example; and in discussing Spinoza's view of death, Nadler points out the plague that raged in his lifetime, an eerie reminder of the pandemic of today. Nadler draws insightfully of philosophers who influenced Spinoza, including Aristotle, the Stoics, Maimonides, and Descartes to give the reader context for Spinoza's thought while also drawing apt comparisons between Spinoza's ethics and the ethics of Kant. He also takes the reader back several times to an early work in which Spinoza explained the reasons which lead him from a relatively comfortable, conventional mercantile life to a philosophical life in search of understanding and the good. In a work called "The Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect" Spinoza had written:
"After experience had taught me the hollowness and futility of everything that is ordinarily encountered in daily life, and I realized that all the things that were the source and object of my anxiety held nothing of good or evil in themselves save insofar as the mind was influenced by them, I resolved at length to enquire whether there existed a true good, one which was capable of communicating itself and could alone affect the mind to the exclusion of all else, whether, in fact, there was something whose joy and acquisition would afford me a continuous and supreme joy to all eternity."
The search for the good and for understanding set out in this early autobiographical sketch culminated in the understanding of philosophy and of the part of wisdom set forth in the "Ethics".
I found Nadler's book inspiring in bringing me to think again about Spinoza. "Think Least of Death" will be of value to readers interested in the nature of philosophy as a guide to life and, in particular, to readers who wish to engage with Spinoza.
Louis Zukofsky, Selected Poems
Louis Zukofsky, author
Charles Bernstein, editor
Library of America
Louis Zukofsky In The American Poets Project
The American poet Louis Zukofsky (1904 -- 1978) was born in New York City to Orthodox Jewish immigrants. He attended Columbia University and soon became a leading practitioner of modernist poetry. Zukofsky's poetry is difficult. My interest in Zukofsky stemmed from my admiration for the work of his friend, also a child of immigrants, the fellow- poet Charles Reznikoff (1894 -- 1976). Zukofsky and Reznikoff were both part of the "Objectivist" school of modern American poetry. Zukofsky wrote an essay about his friend in which he identified the crucial elements of Objectivist poetry as sincerity and objectivity.
Edited by Charles Bernstein, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, this book of Zukofsky's Selected Poems (2006) offers a broad and challenging introduction to Zukofsky's work which is notoriously resistant to being excerpted or paraphrased. Bernstein's introduction offers wise advice in reading the volume. Readers should concentrate on the musicality and flow of the language rather than on puzzling out the meaning. They should try to see the work and the volume as a whole. And they should not get discouraged. I had tried reading Zukofsky before and given up. I almost gave up again with this volume but was able to become involved with much of the poetry.
Zukofsky had a long career, and this anthology spans his writing from the early 1920s to just before the poet's death. It is best to read the book straight through rather than to skip around. The selections include a variety of long and short poems together with Zukofsky's translations of the Roman poet Catullus.
The poetry is varied. It manages to be both personal and to lack reference to self. The poems are allusive with a great deal of word play. His parents and his wife and son play large roles in the book. The poems respond to the Depression. They look back upon the Judaism of his parents and upon the continued role of Judaism in Zukofsky's secular life. Zukofsky was influenced by Marx early on. The influence of Spinoza on Zukofsky and on his secular Judaism ultimately was much stronger. The poetry is involved with the beauty of music and the beauty of language. The poems almost always adopt a particular form, sometimes traditional such as the sonnet. More often Zukofsky's form involves writing five-word lines and stanzas of a fixed length.
Three lengthy poems are represented in this collection, and Zukofsky's work revolves around them. The "Poem Beginning 'The'" is an early work which brought Zukofsky to the attention of Ezra Pound. It is excerpted here. A poem titled "4 Other Countries" dates from the mid-1950s and is given in full. Zukofsky's masterwork which occupied him from 1928 to 1974 is titled simply "A". It runs over 800 pages and consists of 24 parts, one for each hour of the day. The poem is meant to depict Zukofsky's life. The poem has been described as the most "hermetic" in English -- highly personal and impenetrable. This anthology offers substantial excerpts from several parts of "A" to give the reader a flavor of the work.
The short poems and the Catullus translations are on the whole more accessible than the longer poems. Late in his life, Zukofsky composed a work titled "80 Flowers" which I struggled to read at one time. Excerpts are presented here. These poems are highly obscure but moving.
I struggled with this book but was able to enjoy most of it with the exception of part 23 of "A", a poem of 1000 lines with five words in each line. Part 23 is reproduced in full in this book. I found it opaque.
With the warning against excerpting Zukofsky, here is a short passage from "A" part 12 about Zukofsky's father that I found moving.
"Rabbi Pinchas: It teaches a man,
There is no one who is not
Taught by his soul.
A disciple: If that is so
Why does it not rule?
Rabbi Pinchas: The soul teaches,
It never repeats. "
This book of Zukofsky's selected poems is part of the American Poets Project published by the Library of America. The short, beautifully produced books in this series perform an invaluable service in introducing readers to, in its words, "the full scope of our poetic heritage". Readers may enjoy the opportunity to explore the variety and creativity of poetry written in the United States through these volumes. Zukofsky's work, while it will likely never be popular, has an esteemed place in the American practice of poetry.
Karl Shapiro, Selected Poems
Karl Shapiro, author
John Updike, editor
Library of America
Karl Shapiro In The American Poets Project
The Library of America founded the American Poets Project in 2003 to present the work of American Poets who generally were not fully represented in the LOA's main series. In the words of David Starkey: "[n]ow at 32 volumes, the series offers an eccentric and largely gratifying look at many of the lesser lights of American poetry". (Santa Barbara Independent, April 30, 2019). Among the writers included in the American Poets Project is Karl Shapiro, (1913 -- 2000) in this 2003 volume of Selected Poems edited and introduced by John Updike (1932 -- 2009). The volume offers a good selection of works from throughout Shapiro's career from the early 1940s through the early 1990s together with Updike's thoughtful overview of Shapiro's work. This brief volume might serve to carry forward Shapiro's work to current and future readers and to prevent it from being forgotten.
Shapiro was born in Baltimore and served three years as a medic in New Guinea during WW II. From just before his service and through and beyond it, Shapiro wrote prolifically. His writings brought home to readers the war experience with its death and destruction through the return of the soldiers in sailors in a poem titled "Homecoming". I am writing this review on December 24: thus here is a Shapiro poem from the war years titled "Christmas Eve, Australia".
"The wind blows hot, English and foreign birds
And insects different as their fish excite
The would-be calm. The usual flocks and herds
Parade in permanent quiet out of sight,
And there on crystal like a grain of light
Sticks in the crucible of the day and cools.
A cloud burnt to a crisp at some great height
Sips at the dark condensing in deep pools.
I smoke and read my Bible and chew gum,
Thinking of Christ and Christmas of last year,
And what these quizzical soldiers standing near
Ask of the war and Christmases to come,
And sick of causes and the tremendous blame
Curse lightly and pronounce your serious name."
During these years, Shapiro also wrote poems about his pre-war life and about finding beauty in everyday seemingly pedestrian objects, such as the poems "Buick" and "Honkytonk". He also wrote poems about how he saw his relationship to Judaism and his Jewishness. Shapiro received substantial recognition for his early poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize and an appointment from 1946 --47 to what is now the position of United States Poet Laureate.
In the mid-1960s, Shapiro's poetry took a new direction. The early poems, such as the poem quoted above, are traditional in form in rhyme and meter. Many other poets of his time had written in more modernist forms. Shapiro's "The Bourgeoise Poet" published in 1964 shows the influence of Walt Whitman and the Beats. the book consisted of untitled prose poems with sprawling themes, and lengthy unmetered lines and paragraphs. Titles subsequently were added to the individual poems, which include works such as "The Bourgeois Poet", "High School" "Burlesque" and "I am an Atheist who says his prayers".
The poems could be irreverent, satirical and critical. However, Shapiro, unlike many other writers, retained a positive view of America and of the middle, middling class of which he was a part. A generous selection from the "Bourgeois Poet" is included in this volume of selected poems.
The poems in this volume center around the early writings and around "The Bourgeoise Poet". The works written between the two and after "The Bourgeoise Poet" seem largely to return to Shapiro's earlier style. His poem shows a modern, personal sensibility informed by a basic conservatism.
I had read some of Karl Shapiro before and enjoyed broadening my reading of his work with this selection. I liked his Jewish-themed works, including "My Grandmother", "The Synagogue", "Israel", "The First Time", "The Convert", and "My Father's Funeral". I also enjoyed the poems satirizing intellectual life and its frequent pretentiousness and the many love poems in the volume.
This volume and the American Poets Series performs a service both in making the works of Karl Shapiro accessible and also in allowing readers to explore the creative breadth and variety of American poetry.
Samantha Melamed's Bookshelf
The Blue Island
9781949229264, $17.00, PB, 105 pages
Like picking up on a long-lost conversation with undivided attention and ease, The Blue Island throws its reader into its first chapter, Ascent to the Gallows - in media res - of a woman walking home, wending her way through her noisy neighborhood. The opening lines in "Theme", the first poem in the collection, begin "Late night maybe morning/ heading home through/ wet dark streets." It is the casualness of these lines that offer a romantic version of loneliness and wandering, the springboard for what is to come. You can almost hear a jazz piano accompanying the conversational voice, one likened to that of Kerouac. Likewise, Cole's stream-of-consciousness narrative traverse countries and continents from the Pacific Northwest to France to Mexico throughout the entire piece.
The collection veers off on a tangent with Oblivion Night, the second, longest, and best chapter of The Blue Island. A Tennyson quote introduces the chapter, from "The Lotus Eaters", "'Courage,' he said, and pointed toward land,/ 'This mountain wave will roll us shoreward soon," which gives us the semblance of hope, or imminent change of the reality we see and know. Ellipses and run-on stanzas characterize Oblivion Night. The transitions between thoughtful observations or intrusive memories are not fluid, but the tone manages to remain constant throughout. In one stanza, the narrator confesses,
I use theater
as a place to duck away
when I'm lost or high
or too drunk to drive
or otherwise can't go home
in which we establish trust and enter this romanticized theater with him as a movie-goer, but then seem to starkly morph into a character in the show he is watching. The character then professes in the next stanza, "I was in character, / reaching like toreador for the holy water." Thus, begins the journey, the character, and his serial costume changes.
The best scenes begin with blunt or undeniable truths: "This is where Dennis Hopper died;" "It's the lulls that kill ya"; "The thing about this journey is you don't know when it ends." The reader has never left "those plush rocking chairs" in the theater, and remains watching the subsequent scenes flash on the screen - a high-speed carousel of observations or memories that pull the reader in so that they are invested enough to feel disoriented when the scene cuts abruptly, only to start all over again in a tumble-rush. At times, Oblivion Night dips into absurd spectacles, like the
circus with lit stages
and naked freaks on ropes,
a huge human fish tank
then oscillates back to nostalgic memories when our protagonist was
young and full of dreams
and cynicism and time time time
to design our revenge on the great monster universe
that plucked us up from the deep
celestial drift and threw us into this
jungle, this smog dumpster
in a beautifully woven take on existential angst. One memory that stands out to me is the character's affair with a holy woman, who hires him to paint apartments, where they "made love in empty rooms." You would think that there would be an arc, a climax, but the character merely walks away. And that is that. The stanza is simple, visual, and again nostalgic. In the last page of the section, our character concludes with an allusion to the isolation of J. Alfred Prufrock: "And who are these people/ who come and go? / I want to drink alone."
One criticism may be that there is too much going on, which means his shorter poetry ends up focusing on nothing. And yet, the "million things at once" theme might make sense with the ease and nuance of his descriptions. "Yet here I am offered another day/ privilege pain of consciousness/ the sparks fly in the void," our narrator laments in "Prologue" in The Journal of Lord Kensington chapter. The recurrence of shared dread and nostalgia sounds all too familiar in the astute observations by which he articulates them. Nothing may just be the point.
For the most part, rhyme is natural enough to add musicality to the poetry without forcing to acknowledge the fact that it rhymes, like "Flight":
The moon is a bright jewel eye
looking through the skull of night
down a tunnel that I travel
on my way to dawn light
Yet, at times, as in the closing poem, "Ferry Run" when read aloud, it does sound a bit like a nursery rhyme chant: "we cross and stand/ re-cross and sway/ and reach for land that slips away."
Cole is a seasoned writer; his tone is congruous throughout. The most radical risk he takes in form is an extra indentation. This is done in earnest. He does not care to pull any wild tricks on his reader just to do them. The beauty is in the simplicity. This may be why my favorite poem in the collection is "The Doghouse" in the final chapter, Island Time. "The Doghouse" is so visual in the familiar way that makes the reader feel cozy:
You've got no image
but you've got the gray
rain against the windows
you've got the old crowd
You would almost miss the depth of despair that comes with a certain comfort. Cole continues, "...and good old-fashioned/ whiskey stares." Can anyone explain this phenomenon of whiskey stares? No. Does it make total sense in context anyway? Absolutely.
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Waiting for the Night Song
Julie Carrick Dalton
Waiting for the Night Song is a genre-breaking work - literary fiction blended with suspense, racial issues, and climate change. The protagonist, Cadie Kessler, is an entomologist studying beetles and how they kill trees, which in turn, because of the increase in fuel, sets up forest fires.
Cadie and Daniela live on the shores of a New Hampshire lake - until a catastrophic incident occurs when Cadie is eleven destroys their friendship. Decades later Daniela calls Cadie to tell her their long-held childhood secrets are about to surface with dire consequences Daniela's family and other people.
The prose is lyrical and the descriptions of nature, of the New Hampshire woods so vibrant you can almost hear the night call of the birds, taste the fresh water of the lake, feel the cushion of fallen leaves beneath your feet . If you're a nature fan, you might want to read this in conjunction with several other recent reads with superb depictions of nature: The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow, Winter Loon by Susan Bernhard, In a Town Called Paradox by Miriam Murcutt, or Wild Life by Keena Roberts.
Song for a Cowboy (Kings of Country, 2)
9781492688594, $8.99, January 26, 2021
Sasha Summers skillfully blends country music and football in a cute second chance romance. Brock and Emmy Lou were high school sweethearts separated by her life as a country music mega-star and his as a football playing phenomenon. Brock and Emmy Lou are as star-crosses as Romeo and Juliet. After six years of secretly longing for each other, they're thrown back into each other's lives by their work with a common charity. This is the second in the Kings of Country series but reads well as a stand-alone novel.
Summers's romances generally have more than a simple love story. I enjoy them because she keeps readers on edge with just enough suspense to propel readers through the story. Her characters are not stereotypical: they struggle against aging parents with Alzheimer's and drug addiction.
In a Town Called Paradox
Richard Starks & Miriam Murcutt
Genre Women's Fiction; Western United States Fiction
I read In a Town Called Paradox shortly after reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, set in the same geographic area. Paradox is, in part, the story of how cowboy movies began to be made in Utah - which is diametrically opposed to Abbey's vision of the West, particularly those areas set aside in National Parks. I grew up in Blanding, Utah during the time in which both books were set - which might explain why I enjoyed them.
In a Town Called Paradox three lives intersect: Corin, who, when her mother dies, is sent to live with her aunt Jessie on a cattle ranch that's on it's last legs; Ark, a young man raised by missionaries in the Amazon then sent to boarding school in England; and Yiska Begay, an innocent Navajo sent to jail on a trumped up charge, then sentenced to life imprisonment for killing another inmate in self defense.
In the 1950s, a town father decides to lure Hollywood producers into Paradox by building a fake frontier town to be used as a set. Overnight, Paradox changes. Sightings of stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rock Hudson become commonplace, and money from Hollywood pours in, allowing the little town to prosper.
Corin falls in love with Ark when he arrives to give a different kind of star-sighting - the heavenly bodies above. A tragic accident wrecks their young marriage. At this point, the third person enters the stage, Yiska Begay. Though the convergence of these three lives seems unlikely, authors Starks and Murcutt pull it off successfully.
The Demeter Code
The Demeter Code is the third in Russell Brooks' Fox and Parris series, but I found it worked well as a stand-alone novel. His use of multiple perspectives works well at times, though I found the swirls and eddies of time distracting. The repetition of the story line within those eddies was also frustrating. For instance, in one chapter, Fox is doing his own thing while on a phone call with Parris in which she gets pulled over by state troopers. The next chapter, in Parris's POV, circles back to a time before the phone call. The reader then follows her story and finally again reads about her being pulled over by the state troopers. Early in the book, there is mention of Fox's training in wilderness survival which is repeated later in the novel. It struck me as I was reading it that the second description was a nearly word-for-word reiteration of the first. I also found the sex scene gratuitous. There didn't seem to be enough sexual tension between Fox and Sparks, either before or after their sexual encounter, to warrant the scene.
That said, The Demeter Code is a tale with multiple intersecting plotlines, a complex cast of characters (I was thrilled to see a woman as head of a head of an American spy organization), and an interesting take on modern politics and the military-industrial complex. The plot has plenty of twists and turns, always unexpected.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
The Gardener of Baghdad
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
I'm trying to catch up on books lingering in my to-be-read pile and pulled this one out. The Gardener of Baghdad opens in a bookstore in Baghdad during modern times. With the current unrest and political fighting, Adnan, the owner of the bookstore, is afraid for his family but is undecided about leaving his beloved bookstore he inherited from his father. While dusting his special collection of antique books, he finds a hidden memoir, written during another period of unrest earlier in Iraq's history.
The memoir depicts the life of Ali, a young farm boy who, with the guidance of an older man and his wife, learns English and all about botany. A bright, successful young man, Ali builds a well-known garden design business. Eventually, Ali falls in loves with Mary, a young British woman, daughter of a general. Despite coming from two very different worlds, they two fall in love and marry. Political unrest makes their life harrowing as they try to escape both British and Iraqi military.
This book is a love story to the Baghdad of old as well as love between Ali and Mary. It's full of hope, despite the long-term effects of civil unrest in the city.
Heroic Measures: American Heroines of the Great War
W J Power
Gwen Spencer, a scrappy young woman from the coal belt of the States, fights for a different life. As an orphan, she's sent to live with an aunt who resents the expense of keeping the child. But Gwen, who's scrubbed floors and picked up odd bits of coal, manages to defy her aunt and leave behind that drudgery of a life to become a nurse. As she's graduating nursing school, the United States has become embroiled in World War I, so Gwen volunteers for the Army Nurse Corps, vowing to stay until the conflict is over.
She's transported to France where she discovers that nursing is not a pleasant occupation. She deals with mud, inadequate housing, insufficient clothing to keep her warm, overbearing physicians, a devastating lack of supplies - plus thousands upon thousands of wounded men. After months in service, she again volunteers - to be part of an acute care team. Gwen and her group treat the wounded at the front lines, trying to get them fixed up within ninety minutes.
Things are not always bleak. Two men are interested in her: a British nobleman and an American - almost literally the boy next door.
I liked this book for multiple reasons: its historical accuracy, its medical accuracy, its depiction of strong women and their ability to perform under stressful conditions, and its representation of women's contributions to the war efforts. Of course, Gwen herself, a woman who's not afraid to reach out and grab a future for herself, is an empowering vision.
The Vigilante Game
Meghan Scott Molin
The Vigilante Game by Meghan Scott Molin is a humorous contemporary mystery/romantic comedy with diverse characters: a geeky female main character (Michael-Grace), her straight-laced cop boyfriend (Matteo), and her drag-queen best friend (Lawrence) along with beaucoup geeksters as secondary characters. It is the third in the Golden Arrow series but works well as a stand-alone read. The tone is slightly snarky, and the pace clips along rapidly, keeping me fully focused on the novel. Most enjoyable is that MG, who in prior books in the series is tired of men trying to change her and has given up on relationships, yet remains a woman fully-functioning on her own. She is courageous and determined, doesn't wait around to be "saved" by a man, and remains delightfully geeky and, though comfortable with herself, a bit out of place in the real world. The slow-burn sexual tension between MG and Matteo is charming and has progressed nicely from their first meeting in The Frame-Up. The blend of romance and mystery is deftly woven. People who enjoy Star Trek, classic comic books, mysteries, and contemporary romances will enjoy this book.
Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin's Press
Genre Contemporary Women Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Thriller, Mystery
It was refreshing to read a beach read in January. Though The Newcomer seems a bit long, I read it in one sitting. This is a classic fish-out-of-water story. The Newcomer revolves around Letty, formerly a Southern woman who now lives in NYC. When she finds her sister murdered, Letty and her four-year-old niece hightail it out of town and end up at a run-down old-fashioned motel. There they encounter a sympathetic motel owner; her son, a sexy, if somewhat skeptical, local cop, many hilarious stereotypical seniors, two bad guys, and an undercover female FBI agent (who should have had a bigger part).
The plot is rather cheesy (a heroine on the run with a big problem). There are multiple points of view (including that of a mother cat trying to move her newborn kittens to a safer home), some of which (the cat) seemed gratuitous. The little niece was adorable and well-captured; on the other hand, the motel guests were stereotypical. Overall, this was an okay-for-the-beach read. It was enjoyable and didn't strain my brain, but wasn't a great read.
I received a free copy from a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for a fair and impartial review.
Suanne Schafer, Reviewer
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
9780374154110, $24.00, HC, 128pp
Synopsis: The history of philosophy has been a predictably tragic or comical succession of palliatives for human disquiet. Thinkers from Spinoza to Berdyaev have pursued the perennial questions of how to be happy, how to be good, how to be loved, and how to live in a world of change and loss. But perhaps we can learn more from cats (the animal that has most captured our imagination) than from the great thinkers of the world.
In "Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life", the philosopher John Gray discovers in cats a way of living that is unburdened by anxiety and self-consciousness, showing how they embody answers to the big questions of love and attachment, mortality, morality, and the Self: Montaigne's house cat, whose un-examined life may have been the one worth living; Meo, the Vietnam War survivor with an unshakable capacity for "fearless joy"; and Colette's Saha, the feline heroine of her subversive short story "The Cat", a parable about the pitfalls of human jealousy.
Exploring the nature of cats, and what we can learn from it, Gray offers a profound, thought-provoking meditation on the follies of human exceptionalism and our fundamentally vulnerable and lonely condition. He charts a path toward a life without illusions and delusions, revealing how we can endure both crisis and transformation, and adapt to a changed scene, as cats have always done.
Critique: An inherently fascinating read that is as informative as it is thought-provoking, "Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Philosophy collections. It should be noted for the personal reading list of students, academia, and feline fanciers everywhere that "Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Tantor Audio, 9781705257791, $19.99, CD).
Editorial Note: John Gray is the author of "The Silence of Animals", "The Immortalization Commission", "Black Mass", and "Straw Dogs". A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he has been a professor of politics at Oxford, a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale, and a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics.
The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women
Catherine E. McKinley
9781620403532, $30.00, HC, 240pp
Synopsis: Most of Americans today grew up with images of African women that were purely anthropological -- bright displays of exotica where the deeper personhood seemed tucked away. Or they were chronicles of war and poverty -- "poverty porn".
But now, with the publication of "The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women", curator Catherine E. McKinley draws on her extensive collection of historical and contemporary photos to present a visual history spanning a hundred-year arc (1870 - 1970) of what is among the earliest photography on the continent. These images tell a different story of African women: how deeply cosmopolitan and modern they are in their style; how they were able to reclaim the tools of the colonial oppression that threatened their selfhood and livelihoods.
Featuring works by celebrated African masters, African studios of local legend, and anonymous artists, "The African Lookbook" fully captures the dignity, playfulness, austerity, grandeur, and fantasy-making of African women across centuries. McKinley also features photos by Europeans (most starkly, striking nudes) revealing the relationships between white men and the Black female sitters where, at best, a grave power imbalance lies. It's a bittersweet truth that when there is exploitation there can also be profound resistance expressed in unexpected ways -- even if it's only in gazing back.
These photos also tell the story of how the sewing machine and the camera became powerful tools for women's self-expression, revealing a truly glorious display of everyday beauty.
Critique: The McKinley Collection, featured in "The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women:, is a personal archive representing African photographies from 1870 to the present -- and as such is a seminal and unreservedly recommended addition contribution to African History, African American history, and Women's History collections to community, college, and university library collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).
Editorial Note: Catherine E. McKinley is a curator and writer whose books include the critically acclaimed Indigo, a journey along the ancient indigo trade routes in West Africa, and The Book of Sarahs, a memoir about growing up Black and Jewish in the 1960s - 80s. She's taught creative nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University.
Teaching Gloria E. Anzaldua
Margaret Cantu-Sanchez, editor
Candace de Leon-Zepeda, editor
Norma Elia Cantu, editor
University of Arizona Press
1510 E. University Boulevard
P.O. Box 210055, Tucson, AZ 85721-0055
9780816541904, $100.00, HC, 360pp
Synopsis: Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua (September 26, 1942 - May 15, 2004) was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She loosely based her best-known book, "Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza", on her life growing up on the Mexico-Texas border and incorporated her lifelong experiences of social and cultural marginalization into her work. She also developed theories about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders, including on the concepts of Nepantla, Coyoxaulqui imperative, new tribalism, and spiritual activism. (Wikipedia)
Collaboratively compiled by the editorial team of Margaret Cantu-Sanchez, Candace de Leon-Zepeda, and Norma Elia Cantu, "Teaching Gloria E. Anzaldua: Pedagogy and Practice for Our Classrooms and Communities" provides pedagogical application of Anzaldaua's noted theories including, la facultad, the path of conocimiento, and autohistoria among others. This comprehensive and collective study provides examples, lesson plans, and activities for scholars, professors, teachers, and community members in various disciplines including, history, composition, literature, speech and debate and more for those interested in teaching the theories of Gloria Anzaldaua.
Critique: Exceptionally well organized and presented, "Teaching Gloria E. Anzaldua: Pedagogy and Practice for Our Classrooms and Communities" is unreservedly recommended as a core addition to college and university library Hispanic & Latino Biographies, Hispanic American Demographic Studies, and Educational Philosophy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Teaching Gloria E. Anzaldua: Pedagogy and Practice for Our Classrooms and Communities" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9780816541140, $30.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.50).
The Alchemy of Inner Work
Lorie Eve Dechar & Benjamin Fox
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781578636860, $18.95, PB, 272pp
Synopsis: Alchemy is the science of transformation in terms of how to change one thing into something else. In "The Alchemy of Inner Work: A Guide for Turning Illness and Suffering Into True Health and Well-Being", the wife and husband team of Lorie Eve Dechar and Benjamin Fox deftly collaborate to examine how illness, suffering, and disease (the "lead" of our lives) can become the "gold" of our authentic selves, and the key to good health and well-being.
Drawing on traditional Chinese medicine, Eastern and Western alchemical traditions, Kabbalah, and Jungian psychology (plus case studies from working with patients) "The Alchemy of Inner Work" provides hands-on insights for bringing "the soul of medicine" back into our lives.
"The Alchemy of Inner Work" features: A simple introduction to the ancient practices and principles alchemy; How the alchemical model offers a profoundly new path to true health and well-being; An array of practices for removing the barriers that block our own healing energy; An invitation to alchemical "dream work" as a support on the path of healing.
Critique: Informed, informative, motivatingly inspiring, "The Alchemy of Inner Work: A Guide for Turning Illness and Suffering Into True Health and Well-Being" is an extraordinary approach to achieving and maintaining wellness and well-being. Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Alchemy of Inner Work: A Guide for Turning Illness and Suffering Into True Health and Well-Being" is especially appropriate and recommended for community, college, and university library Health/Medicine collections. 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 Alchemy of Inner Work: A Guide for Turning Illness and Suffering Into True Health and Well-Being" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note #1: Lorie Eve Dechar holds a Master's Degree in Acupuncture from the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, MD, 1985. Lorie has trained in Jungian and Gestalt psychotherapy, is a certified Focusing-oriented psychotherapist, and has become recognized as a modern interpreter of classical Taoist practice
Editorial Note #2: Benjamin Fox is a professional counseling astrologer and a licensed massage therapist with 20 years of integrative bodywork and healing experience.
Fireflies at 3 am
Synopsis: If there is a book that throws light on the quirks, beliefs and vanities of humans in a style that's refreshingly new, impactful, thought-provoking and then this is it. Fireflies at 3 am. The book gives birth to a new genre of writing, 'Shoetry'. Where you experience the flow of poetry and the ebb of stories in one book.
All in all, every title is short, simple and insightful. Many of them will linger with you, like the taste of the finest single malt whiskey or the first kiss, for a long time to come.
Critique: An original work of "Shoetry", that is, poetry interspersed with brief prose stories, Fireflies at 3 am reflects on the ironies of the human condition, with inightful free-verse and moments of introspective contemplation. Minimalist line drawings enhance this sometimes thoughtful, sometimes tragic collection. Highly recommended. "Friends of Money: They were my friends in need / I was their friend indeed / When in their need / They always found my deed / But after every deed / They found another deed."
Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
A. L. Frances
Ruby Rose Publishing
9780960105106, $11.99, 186 Pages
Charismatic and handsome Matthew Honey seems to have it all, an impressive seaside home, a successful business and a beautiful daughter Eve. Yet although this is in part true, those who know him understand that this immaculate, accomplished man is hiding behind a facade. Years ago he lost his beautiful wife, Eve's mother, Lauren, in a tragic accident. Self-preservation mode has become his way of life, and his only reason for living, his lovely daughter who is now sixteen.
However, as we all know, life can change in an instant, and his world is turned upside down when he meets the alluring Jess. Captivated, and immediately under her spell, he finds himself obsessed by her. Eve, although originally terribly hurt by another woman seeming to usurp her mother, seems eventually to warm to her too.
Yet, although their daytime hours are happy, Mark and Eve's nights are consumed with terror. Matthew, is even questioning his sanity. Is he just feeling guilt for daring to love again, or is there some other, far more sinister reason for his nightmares?
As this intriguing horror story unfolds, the author takes her readers on a terrifying journey deep into Matthew and Eve's psyche. There, we discover a place where an evil entity dwells. But what does it want?
This incredibly absorbing horror story captured me from the very first page. The first book by this young English author, it is the first of a four part series. Born in South Manchester and now a mother and living in Hollingsworth, A.L. Frances decided to write her first book at the age of twenty-nine, and I can't wait for her next one! Highly recommended!
The Rugged Entrepreneur: What Every Disruptive Business Leader Should Know
Carlton Scott Andrew
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781948677684, $17.90, 240 Pages
Carlton Scott Andrew, the author of this educational and inspiring book has had an incredibly successful business career. Whilst at North Carolina State University he founded the college market newspaper, then graduated with a degree in economics and business management. To gain a high level of business finance education he worked in corporate banking, then spent four years with NCNB (now BoA) in their corporate division handling mergers & acquisitions and corporate accounts. With this vast business experience behind him he then began his career as a serial entrepreneur.
Rugged Entrepreneurs (aka "Ruggeds,) are the author's name for people like himself who have the strength, and rugged determination, to build a successful business and then take it to the top. They are that special breed of people who are not afraid to take the bull by the horns, and work hard to make their dreams and ambitions come true.
Top businesses are created, and grow at the hands of dedicated professionals who have strong work ethics, have learnt essential business skills, and have confidence in themselves and those around them. Carlton Scott Andrew has, through looking back over his career pinpointed four key elements for success, (1) A fervent work ethic, (2) A humble and healthy pride (what he calls "Rugged Pride,") (3) Fortitudo mentis (aka, mental toughness, and lastly (4) Faith.
These four elements are explained in detail, enabling those who have the fire in them to succeed' to do so. Everything you need to know is within these pages, clearly described and backed with real-life examples, facts, analogies and stories which will help the reader retain the information through emotional word picture associations. Not only does he cover the establishment of a successful business, but he then looks forward into the future and the impact people, events and competition can have on it. The reader learns about the necessity for foresight, insight, drive and purpose, all essential elements if your enterprise is to succeed, and go to the top.
As an entrepreneur, your business is your responsibility, it is you, your presence in the business world. Perhaps you already have a business which is struggling, and you don't know what to do. Well this is the book for you too, the author gives you the tools you need to understand what you need to improve, be successful, and for your business to stand out from the crowd. However, be warned the road to the attainment of your goals is not an easy one, or for the faint hearted, however, with big sacrifices come huge rewards, for those who take up the gauntlet.
This author knows what it take to succeed and is living proof that his blueprint works .Packed with sound business advice, backed by strong examples and enlightening concepts, this book is, in my opinion, essential reading for anyone who wants to succeed. Carlton Scott Andrew has given you the tools you need, now it is up to you to use them.
Operation Ugly Truth: A Nurse's Firsthand Account of the NYC Pandemic 2020
Patrice M. Foster
9781734865738, $14.99, 171 Pages
Sometimes you come across a book which you feel everyone in the world should read, I feel this is one of them. This book is the author's story, in which she gives a no-holes-barred account of life as a frontline nurse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Late in 2019, the world was hearing rumours that in Wuhan, which is the sprawling capital of Central China's Hubei province, there was a highly infectious disease Covid 19, which was spreading alarmingly. No-one took much notice, the world assumed it would soon be under control. How wrong we all were...
In March 2020. One infected person arrived in America, and from that moment no-one was safe. New York once a teeming metropolis became a ghost town. Actions were taken, policies announced, but it was too late. From that just one case, New York had in April more coronavirus cases than China, Iran and the UK, which were at the time the worst affected.
It was then that the brave nurses and other healthcare workers were called upon to help their co-workers. The need was desperate for nurses to care for the infected people, both in hospitals, and also in various makeshift buildings commandeered to hold the incredibly numbers of people desperately ill.
These brave nurses left their homes and loved ones, and travelled wherever their expertise was needed. Selflessly they helped others, knowing that by doing so they would be condemned to isolation, unable to see their friends and families for fear of spreading the infection to them. In this compelling story we discover what it is really like being a frontline nurse helping Covid 19 patients.
Patrice Foster was born in Jamaica, and despite being abandoned by her mother, and a hard childhood she graduated and became a RN in 1998. Since then she has been a successful business owner, and is the author of many books. She continues to work as a nurse, and follows her own path to healing and self-discovery.
This is a story which should be read by all. Everyone, in one way or another, has been, or will be affected by this virus. During our lives each of us will at some time turn to nurses and health professionals to care for us. Now is your chance to discover what life is really like for them during this pandemic.
Bare: Love, Sex, and Finding Your Soulmate
B08PW6BTHT, $5.99, 180 Pages
What a title, and what an author! As the CEO of Viking Queens, and radio host on Crushing 40, impact Radio USA, Kimberly Love daily inspires and coaches listeners to change their lives. That she practices what she preaches is obvious when you read this entertaining and thought-provoking book aptly titled 'Bare: Love, Sex, and Finding Your Soulmate.'
What makes this book so engaging is that the author has no problem laying bare her own romantic and sex life, on the road to enlightening her readers. Candidly she admits to loving kissing and, well everything about being in love, and demonstrating that love to a partner. However, in with the romance of kissing, and exploring relationships, this no-holds-barred author is equally open about some not so wise choices she has made, and the lessons she has learned. This openness gives the reader a chance to reflect on her words, and really think about their relationships as well. From a 'having been there and got the tee-shirt' standpoint she has no reservations about using her own experiences to illustrate the character traits she can only see now she is free of the person, and I feel sure this will be invaluable to some of her readers. I have to say that I've never been attracted to 'bad' men but have known others who have been, and who also suffered in abusive relationships, and the insights she gave me will definitely make me a more educated listener in future.
I thought that her reinforcement throughout the book that it is okay no to be in a relationship was something I found personally very comforting. Being older than the author, not being in a relationship now, after years of happy marriage is extremely strange. This book came at just the right time for me, as I have been struggling with being alone and after being with a partner since I was 21. The author's words made me realise that now is the time to discover me, and it's okay to do so.
I loved her views on soulmates. Don't despair, if, or when you find yours, it is wonderful. Despite the belief that love dies down as the year's progress, in my relationship it never did. Personally I found it lovely to read that it's normal after years of marriage to fancy the pants off your partner! It appears kids aren't always right, when they say you are too old!
At the beginning of the book the author gives a great list of soundtracks for this book, something which I really enjoyed listening to. I found that reading this book is like having a really good sleepover with your best friend. You know, when you're sharing a bottle of wine, or two, and the topics starts getting steamy. Your inhibitions go and, you find yourselves giggling about those ex's, the things they got up to, and what you really thought of them...
If you're looking for love, fed up with it, just got out of a relationship, or just fancy a really good read, then this is the book for you! Highly recommended.
Susan Keefe, Reviewer
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf
The Truth About The Barn: A Voyage of Discovery and Contemplation
Great Plains Publications
9781773370507, $20.95, PB, 208pp
Synopsis: In the pages of "The Truth About The Barn: A Voyage of Discovery and Contemplation", author David Elias offers answers to important questions about how barns came into being, why they look the way they do, why they're worth reflecting on, and what possible future they may have. Individual chapters investigate the barn's place in culture and religion, art and literature. Psychological and philosophical implications are explored. Readers are treated to an occasional recollection of the author David Elias' own personal experiences with barns.
Critique: Occasionally illustrated with black/white photography, "The Truth About The Barn: A Voyage of Discovery and Contemplation" is an extraordinarily informative study and one that will be particularly appreciated by anyone with an interest in the history of the barn and its role in popular culture. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Truth About The Barn" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).
Editorial Note: Currently residing in Winnipeg, Canada, David Elias is the author of six books -- most recently "Elizabeth of Bohemia". His fiction has been nominated for a number of awards, including The Books in Canada First Novel Award for Sunday Afternoon and The Journey Prize for his short story, 'How I Crossed Over'. His work has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies across the country, and in addition to writing he spends time as an editor, writer-in-residence, mentor and creative writing instructor.
Finding Dr. Livingstone
Mathilde Leduc-Grimaldi & James L. Newman, editors
Ohio University Press
215 Columbus Road, Suite 101, Athens, OH 45701
9780821423660, $95.00, HC, 560pp
Synopsis: In 1871, Welsh American journalist Henry M. Stanley traveled to Zanzibar in search of the "missing" Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone. A year later, Stanley emerged to announce that he had "found" and met with Livingstone on Lake Tanganyika. His alleged utterance there, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume," was one of the most famous phrases of the nineteenth century, and Stanley's book, "How I Found Livingstone", became an international bestseller.
Collaboratively compiled and expertly co-edited by the team of Mathilde Leduc-Grimaldi and James L. Newman, "Finding Dr. Livingstone: A History in Documents from the Henry Morton Stanley Archives" is fascinating volume that transcribes and annotates the entirety of Stanley's documentation, making available for the first time in print a broader narrative of Stanley's journey that includes never-before-seen primary source documents ranging from worker contracts, vernacular plant names, and maps, to ruminations on life, lines of poetry, bills of lading -- all scribbled in his field notebooks.
"Finding Dr. Livingstone" is a crucial resource for anyone who is interested in exploration and colonization in the Victorian era, the scientific knowledge of the time, and the peoples and conditions of Tanzania prior to its colonization by Germany.
Critique: An invaluable resource of original documents, "Finding Dr. Livingstone: A History in Documents from the Henry Morton Stanley Archives" is an extraordinary work of meticulous and detailed research and scholarship that is especially and unreservedly recommended as a core addition to personal, professional, community, college and university library 19th Century East Africa History, 19th Century Historical African Biographies, and 19th Century based General Africa Travel Books collections in general and Henry Morton Standly/David Livingstone supplemental studies reading lists.
Editorial Note #1: Mathilde Leduc-Grimaldi is curator of the Henry M. Stanley Archives and Collections at the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium). With James L. Newman, she edited Adventures of an American Traveler in Turkey by H.M. Stanley. Her past exhibitions include Dr Livingstone, I Presume (2013). She is in charge of archives and history training programs for graduate students, archivists, and librarians from Central Africa.
Editorial Note #2: James L. Newman is emeritus professor of geography at Syracuse University's Maxwell School. His previous works include The Peopling of Africa: A Geographic Interpretation, Imperial Footprints: Henry M. Stanley's African Journey, Paths without Glory: Richard Francis Burton in Africa, and Encountering Gorillas: A Chronicle of Discovery, Exploitation, Understanding, and Survival. He lives in Syracuse, New York.
Willis M. Buhle
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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