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Alex Phuong's Bookshelf
9781686589867, $19.99 Paperback and Kindle, 194 pages
The Second Amendment
The right to bear arms is a controversial topic in American politics. Fortunately, this text delves deep into that subject while openly displaying the pros and cons to owning and using guns. This argument has been a hot topic throughout American history, and is still important even during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The future might be uncertain for America, but hopefully this publication can help readers decide on their own how to behave in society where real life is highly subjective.
Alex Andy Phuong
Alma Bond's Bookshelf
Dead on the Delta: An Alexa Williams Novel
9781620064337, $19.95, Paperback, 236pp
Dead on the Delta is the latest in the exciting series of Alexa Williams mysteries by Sherry Knowlton. Ms. Knowlton is a fine writer, who writes beautiful prose as good as that of much of our finest fiction. Anyone interested in elephants will come away from reading the book knowing a great deal more about them, as well as hippos and lions.
The book is an exciting, suspenseful story which grabs the attention of the reader from the very first page. Alexa Williams, the major sleuth of the series, and. her lover, Reese, are visiting Africa, which Reese loves and has persuaded the reluctant Alexa to accompany him. We will see a lot of Reese, as they tiptoe through a delightful resumption of their romance. Alexa's hometown is Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Knowlton's descriptions of Carlisle are real enough to make anyone acquainted with the town homesick.
In this suspenseful tale of international corruption and hatred, Alexa Williams once again proves a formidable heroine. The ins and outs of the book will keep will keep you up for the night. It is an important book, which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and wishes to learn about the workings of crime in a small town. Unlike with most mysteries, you will also enjoy the beauty of Sherry Knowlton's writing.
Editorial Note: Sherry Knowlton is the author of the Alexa Williams series of crime thrillers, including Dead of Autumn, Dead of Summer and Dead of Spring. When not working on her health care consulting business or traveling around the world, Knowlton lives in the mountains of South Central Pennsylvania.
Dr. Alma H. Bond, Reviewer
Ann Skea's Bookshelf
There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job
9781526622242, A$26.99, 416 pages
This whole situation had come to be because I'd sat down one day in front of my recruiter and informed her that I wanted a job as close as possible to my house - ideally, something along the lines of sitting all day in a chair, overseeing the extraction of collagen for use in skin products.
So says a single 36-year-old Japanese woman who has just left a job she has worked in for 14 years because it had 'sucked up every scrap' of her energy. Living with her parents until her unemployment insurance runs out is fine for a while but she knows that 'hanging around doing nothing forever' is not a long-term solution.
So, maybe monitoring secret cameras installed in the home of a writer who is believed to have unknowingly been given 'hot stuff' contraband by a friend will be a 'cushy' job. This is the first job taken by Kikuko Tsumura's heroine. We never learn her name, but as we follow her through several temporary jobs we find that she is sympathetic, inventive, wary but friendly with any fellow workers, prone to adding innovative changes to repetitive tasks, and that she enjoys snacks like 'Natto and Cheese Thins (With Wasabi!)', breadfruit crisps (she considers making her own), and various tasty-sounding bento box selections, such as the one from the Gifts of the Forest shop - 'tofu burger, salt-and-pepper flavoured breadfruit crisps, a salad of kale, quinoa and nuts, and slices of persimmon for dessert'.
Kikuko Tsumura is clearly as inventive as her heroine. The 5 jobs this young woman takes involve surveillance; helping to write brief advertisements to be broadcast on the local bus; devising and writing slogans for small, individual packets of rice crackers; putting up posters in the local area; and perforating and separating piles of tickets for an exhibition. She is good at all these jobs but each one turns out to have a mystery or an added task which begins to consume her attention and cause her stress. Often, since she is innovative, she is the cause of her own problems.
Boring as the jobs are, her interaction with those she meets and works with and her involvement with strange aspects of the various jobs keep her, and the reader, interested. Firstly, she solves the problem of the hidden contraband. Then in a new job, helping to write the brief, chatty advertisements for local businesses, to be aired on the bus, she is also asked to 'keep an eye on' Ms Eriguchi, with whom she works, and to report anything she notices which seems strange. This puzzling instruction eventually seems to be linked to the way the small businesses which Ms Eriguch promotes seem to suddenly pop up, then if their advertisement is stopped they inexplicably vanish.
When this job ends, something similar is offered: devising slogans for the backs of small packages of rice crackers. Here Kikuko Tsumura's own inventiveness has clearly been vital. Initially, her heroin simply works with the topics chosen by her predecessor, but when she has to choose new topics, which she is instructed to make 'accessible to everyone from ten to ninety, and also avoid anything too safe", her imagination freezes. A comment by her boss about weird names sets her off on new, but intensive, research and the topic she devises is 'Know Your Name'. Each packet deals with a different 'kanji' - a written Chinese character used in the Japanese language.
The first name of Mrs Nihei, with whom I ate lunch, was Yoshino. She said that her parents had died relatively young and she'd never had the chance to ask them properly about why they'd chosen the name for her. When I decided to feature her particular character for 'yoshi'... divulging that it carried the meaning 'beautiful', 'excellent' and good', she was delighted, and told me that she'd presented a sample packet as an offering at her home alter. That was really nice for me to hear.
Other topics are equally inventive and popular, but then a new product poses new problems. Suggested topics are voted on by the staff and she has three to offer, none of them very inspiring:
The vote would most likely go to 100 famous Japanese mountains, which hadn't even been my idea in the first place, but that was fine. I honestly didn't care any more, I thought, as I headed for the canteen.
Standing there slumped in the line for food, the phrase ran through my head - 'rice crackers for exhausted people'. They would probably suit me very well in my current state.
Eventually the parameters of the job change, the work becomes too intensive, and she decides not to renew her contract.
Each temporary job has its curious aspects. The poster distribution job starts well but turns out to have unexpected social complications which lead to its own end, and in the final job, which she finds almost ideal, odd things begin to happen, and there are suggestions of ghosts and of a yeti-like creature lurking among the woods.
Finally, the young woman we have come to know finishes this last job. In every job, she concludes, 'you just have to give it your all and hope for the best'. But if you do that, as she has learned, there really is no such thing as an easy job. So, she feels it is time to again 'embrace the ups and downs' of her former career.
Kikuko Tsumura has won awards for her short story writing and this is her first novel to be translated into English. It is like a well-linked series of short stories with an interesting Japanese flavour, and her translator, Polly Barton has done an excellent job, making the text fluent and easy-to-read without losing its unique character.
The Last Good Man
9781526609236, A$29.99, 416 pages
The air is rich enough to turn stones to men and men to stone. Careful not to step on anything that will make a noise, Peck edges towards the sound of heavy breathing, towards the black mark that becomes a body in the bog.
Duncan Peck watches as a group of men and women in hooded raincoats pull the man from the bog, bind him, and cart him away in a wheelbarrow. Leading the group is James Hale, the boy his mother had taken in, the 'cousin' he had grown up with and grown to love, the man who had crept way from the house in the night, leaving him alone in the crumbling city where food is running out and danger is everywhere.
Hale had finally written to him inviting him to join him in a remote and isolated village on Dartmoor. Now, Peck stays hidden from the rain-coated group but in the fading light he follows their faint tracks across the bog-strewn moorland. The first sign he sees of the village is a wall 'the size of a large barn'. As he gets closer, he sees that it stands alone and there are papers and posters stuck to it. Some have simple community messages and requests, but at the top of the wall are posters scrawled in red paint and in capital letters:
GEOFF SHARPE DOESN'T CUT THE MEAT GOOD. I SAW GEOFF SHARPE STEALING SLIVERS. NOBODY LIKES GEOFF SHARP. I HOPE GEOFF SHARPE DIES.
Peck is nervous, not knowing what to expect in this strange place, and not knowing how his 'cousin' will react to his sudden, unannounced arrival. Having secretly watched Hale and another man through an uncurtained window, he enters Hale's home with a revolver cocked. Hale welcomes him and introduced him to his neighbour, Peter, who confiscates the gun, telling Peck that guns are banned in this village. This gun, however, will eventually cause much damage.
The tension McMullan builds in these opening pages is sustained throughout the book. Partly, it is fuelled by Peck's own uncertainties as a stranger in a close community which has developed its own system of control and justice. He questions the influence of the wall, where anonymous people write their opinions and make accusations. And he is disturbed by the sort of 'atonement' which those deemed transgressors of the community values must make. These atonements include being exposed to public ridicule in the stocks; carrying heavy pieces of furniture roped to their backs; or having a limb deliberately broken. He and Hale also share a past trauma linked to the death of Peck's mother, and this is gradually revealed as Peck remembers their boyhood.
Hale, Peck learns, has become leader of the 'chasers' who bring back those who run away from justice. Hale decides the atonement and administers the blows which break a limb if he deems this necessary. He is a powerful man in the village but Peck, as an outsider, sees the way this village functions, sees the way gossip and ill-feeling can distort the truth, and sees the usual human flaws hidden and revealed. The village seems well-established but
After enthusing about the apple trees and the barley fiends, the school and the pub, there are questions about the wall, the stage and scaffold in the middle of the green, the furniture carried about. Hale does his best to listen to Peck's misgivings. 'It keeps the peace' he assures.
Hale's neighbor, Peter, is an awkward, ineffectual man, who is a poor workman and makes a joke of his own clumsiness. He has alienated people, and someone writes terrible (false) accusations about him on the wall. When Peter panics and runs away, Hale and his 'chasers' go after him, and Peck is persuaded to go with them. This precipitates a dramatic chain of events which link Hale, Peck, Peter, Peter's wife Charlotte and their young daughter, Maisie. The system of law and order in the village is compromised and Peck's own ideas of change for the good are tested.
Charlotte and Maisie are interesting characters, and Charlotte had already been part of the story, her thoughts and emotions threaded through the pages. When she, too, runs away her experiences on the moors offer a different view of the way in which the community works.
Thomas McMullen tells a dramatic story and he tells it well. He conveys the mixed emotions of his characters with empathy and handles violence plainly and, sometimes, with surprising poetic imagery. Occasionally his imagery becomes strange - 'the night sits with its knees under its chin'; 'the candles are lonely' - but this poetic flair brings village life and the Dartmoor landscape to life.
Underlying the story, but never obtrusive, is an exploration of the way in which people communicate with each other and how group opinions influence truth and justice - something which is currently very relevant.
In a 'Note from the Author' which accompanied my proof copy (and which I expect will be incorporated in the final book) McMullan describes how the book began after he had encountered an old wall plastered with papers in a room in a Chinese university where the photocopying machines were kept. When the words were translated for him by a Chinese friend, he learned that they were 'crude, hateful, often sexual slurs about named people' - 'a vile type of graffiti'. He learned, too, that these public writings had been part of Chinese culture since imperial times but were best know now for their use during the Cultural Revolution. This wall represented a 'violent tradition' being continued.
McMullen's own assessment of The Last Good Man rings true:
Truth, language and identity are at the heart of this book, but this is ultimately a story about people holding themselves together, living with grief, contending with ideas of goodness.
Ann Skea, Reviewer
Barbara Castleton's Bookshelf
The Most Controversial Qur'anic Verse: Why 4:34 Does Not Promote Violence Against Women
John Andrew Morrow
c/o Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9780761872092, $90.00 HC, $85.50 Kindle, 350pp
Billions of people around the world mourned the destruction of the massive statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. Why? Because for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike they represent something beyond the human experience - something supremely sacred. For Muslims around the world, the Qur'an is like that, a text whose words are held in such reverence that the idea of alteration is akin to apostasy. The Qur'an, the divine doctrine for approximately 1.6 billion Muslims, contains 114 chapters, some as short as three verses, while others unfold in complex and lengthy sections. Orally revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel over a period of two decades, 609-632 CE, the teachings and doctrines in the Qur'an are considered divine and immutable by most believers. To take issue with divine inspiration, to challenge its historic or modern interpretation, would certainly call up comparisons to the divisive discourses from the Christian Bible such as both Matthew 27:24-25 and Ephesians 6:5. The first verse appears to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus, an accusation that has for centuries led to the oppression of and violence against Jews. The second has historically been used to justify slavery and to call on slaves to submit meekly to their masters. Both verses have rightly been challenged by researchers and religious experts.
Dr. John A. Morrow's current efforts to shine a rational, scholarly light on a contentious verse in the Qur'an is a truly formidable undertaking, not to mention a subject known to elicit extreme reactions and even venom from the public. Yet, Dr. Morrow, an academic and activist as well as a prolific writer on Islam, has chosen to shoulder the challenge of disputing the accepted interpretation of Verse 4:34, which states both in Arabic and in this English translation:
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and beat them [emphasis mine]; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For God is Most High, Great (above you all). (4:34)
In the foreword to his book, The Most Controversial Qur'anic Verse: Why 4:34 Does Not Promote Violence Against Women, Dr. Morrow explains that the project was triggered first by a beloved daughter's birth, and second, by the passing suggestion of another scholar. As a man of prodigious scholarship and broad feminist commitments, Dr. Morrow had finally to face the elephant in the room, the infamous Qur'anic verse, placed in the chapter titled "The Women" (Al-Nisa'), which appears to grant husbands carte blanche to strike or beat their wives. At its core, the verse seems to promote domestic violence thus the author's deep-water immersion into this quest and its investigation took his own faith to the mat, testing all that he holds dear including the inviolability of the Qur'an itself. If the Qur'an is never wrong, then how can the Qur'an propose these violent acts? "And beat them," - three words that growl menacingly in the modern world, are laden with history, misogyny, and religious complicity. Morrow decided that an investigation of the phrase would require a 360-degree view of the verse and, so, in this volume, he has assigned a single focus per chapter. Thus, reader finds chapters named:
Interpret the Verse by the Verse
Interpret the Verse in Light of Directly Related Verses
Interpret the Verse in Light of the Qur'an as a Whole
Interpret the Verse in Light of Prophetic Traditions that Prohibit Disciplinary Domestic
Violence and others. Dr. Morrow has comprehensively investigated varied approaches to the verse by deconstructing the verse itself, analyzing verses related to 4:34, measuring the accepted interpretation of the verse in terms of Qur'anic doctrine as a whole, holding the verse up alongside other Prophetic teachings, and placing it in a historical context. In each case, Morrow has excavated ancient and modern writings on the topic, pitting researchers and religious scholars against one another in a 1400-year debate, one that crosses international boundaries and spans many religious belief systems.
In the first chapter, for example, Interpret the Verse by the Verse, Morrow probes the etymology of the consonant triad d-r-b, the root for daraba and the source for the specific 4:34 variant idribuhunna, widely held to mean "beat them." However, Morrow asserts, with exhaustive evidence, that the choice to assign "beat them" to idribuhunna is akin to assigning truth to a single pattern in a kaleidoscope. While daraba does mean to beat, it is but one of fifty-eight separate and diverse meanings. Others include, according Morrow and other respected sociolinguists: to play; to make music; to sting; to express indignation and disregard; to separate and to part; to impose; to set forth, to travel, to move; to turn away from, to dispense with, to leave, to forsake, to abandon, to desert, to avoid, to ignore, to disregard or to shun. Despite this wealth of options, the predominantly male Qur'anic scholars and authorities have habitually embraced the more violent and demeaning "beat them", thus modeling for religious and language communities across the globe a behavior antithetical to the Qur'an as a whole, as well as the Prophet's broader teachings.
Arabic-speaking Muslim scholars and Orientalists have for centuries clung limpet-like to a single interpretation and have even expanded upon it. For example, in the late 1800s, Sufi scholar Muhammad Thana'Allah Panipati asserted in Tafsir al-Mazhari, "If she commits a sexual indecency, neglects her daily prayers, fails to fast during Ramadan, or does not complete the ritual bath after sexual intercourse or menstruation, he should hit her or imprison her, as he deems fit." Other scholars may cushion the blows with semantically reduced violence, stipulating that it be less severe or even symbolic, but the onus remains with the husband without offering the wife an equitable measure of disciplinary religiosity by which to amend a husband's flaws or restrain his negative habits.
With tragic irony, not to mention intermittent, yet palpable fury, Morrow interrogates a millennium of opinion, probing religious and human history for why a supposedly divinely communicated pronouncement would fail to provide safety and respect for the distaff half of the population. Utilizing recent and reliable statistics, he exposes the bruising realities of the actions of men against women around the world, delivering numbers on domestic violence, spousal killings, beatings, injuries, hospitalizations, and victims. He follows with documented figures from majority Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey, nations in which women experience domestic violence at the highest rates globally. For example, as many as 90% of women in Pakistan suffer through beatings and other forms of domestic violence. In Afghanistan and Turkey, the figures are 90 and 45%, respectively. In other words, for many women worldwide, including the Muslim ummah (community), violence against women is a norm, set in some cases by cultural tradition, and in other cases by religious complicity and judicial laxity.
The weight of history, commentary, law, and religious tradition that supports the accepted view of 4:34 positions this verse as a real "axis of evil", one that sits at the base of a mammoth reverse pyramid of male-dominated thought. There, at the nether point of the pyramid, men have established and imbedded a belief that women are not just second or lesser than men, but, in fact, consigned to a sphere of value beneath livestock. To alter, realign, or challenge the idea that men have supremacy over women and thus, may punish or educate them with a stick, is far older than Islam. As Morrow writes, "As disturbing as it may be, the right of men to physically discipline their wives is as ancient as history. The Code of Hammurabi, which dates from nearly two-thousand years BCE, decreed that women must submit to their husbands, failing which the husband had the right to punish them physically for disobedience. Later Assyrian law also permitted the beating of wives. In early Roman law, a husband had the right to beat, divorce or murder his wife if she dishonored him" (p. 163). Consider that, with every morning prayer, millions of the world's Jewish men recite a verse that declares, "Blessed are you Lord... for not making me a woman" (p. 70).
Place that phrase in any of the upper sections of our virtual reverse pyramid and you will have an idea of how the more punitive view of Verse 4:34 might have come to pass. Morrow's book fills in every layer of bias, malfeasance, and assault promulgated against women. For over 4000 years, within the spiritual and interpretive construct of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, humans with vaginas have been denied agency and autonomy. A broader implication, and one revealed in the assertion that "God created man in His image and that He would not have created woman if it were not for man," (p. 20) would imply that God chose to create an inferior being because He could not conceive a being that would be on par with men. Are we talking of a God with limited skills?
Even the Prophet Muhammad comes under painstaking scrutiny, though one of his wives reported, "The Prophet never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact, he did not strike anything with his hand except in the cause of God or when the prohibitions of God were violated, and he retaliated on behalf of Allah." Yet, conversations attributed to the Prophet seem to tell a less benign tale. While Muhammad was recorded to have said, "The most perfect among believers in faith is he who is the best in manner and the kindest to his wife," other sayings describe an incident when a woman ran to the Prophet and cried "foul" because her husband had beaten her, leaving visible abrasions. She told the Prophet that she deserved restitution, which was usually in the form of money. Muhammad agreed, saying that the woman was in the right. But then, from the heavens, God spoke and offered an opposing view: "Men are the qawwamun over women, because Allah hath made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart and scourge them. Then, if they obey you, seek not a way against them." Chastened, Muhammad admitted that he had thought one way about the violence and God, another.
Apparently, God's will, as deciphered by men, still holds sway in the 21st century. A momentous, seemingly critical document on violence against women written by Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah, published in 2007, was initially lauded as game changing and timely, granting its author the moniker "feminist." As one of six major ways women are demeaned and violated, Fadlullah asserts, "We have firstly the physical violence in which women are beaten. This form represents the most degrading human practice, since it shows that men are incapable of resorting to reason and logic to prove their viewpoint. It also does not prove that men are strong. On the contrary, it proves that they are weak, for only the weak are in need of unjust violence."
However, before applause break out in the mezzanine, where many of the Muslim women are sitting, Morrow transports us through an analysis of Fadlullah's document and on to a recognition, that, like God, Fadlullah disagrees with his own assertions when it comes to 4:34. In the lengthy text of his jurisprudential encyclical, he never mentions 4:34 by number. He avoids the one verse that specifically calls on husbands to beat their wives. Like a horse refusing to make a jump, Fadlullah balked at the gate. The reason may reside in an earlier writing about the Qur'an, Tafsir min wahi al-Qur'an, within which he comments on 4:34, saying, "'And beat them.' This is the third way, the way of beating, but it does not represent the unreasonable beating practiced by man in a state of agitation because of bad temper, psychological complexity, and the need to give vent to wrath, but rather a calm disciplinary beating that shows humiliation for her." Oh, well if it is supposed to be educational, that makes all the difference. Not. Morrow, with his more recent and successful experience in social work as a cerebral banner, jumps in order to stress that in effective parenting, punishment and discipline are not designed to humiliate, but rather to educate. Yet, Fadlullah specifically uses the word humiliate, demonstrating that the goal of the beating is to demean a woman, to suppress her will to defend herself, and to keep her down.
Yet, all is not lost in the author's eyes. Here and there in the Muslim world are others who are questioning the accepted truth of wife beating. Morrow sites Abdulaziz Bayindir, current scholar in Islamic jurisprudence and one of those charged with issuing religious edicts, and he explains how Bayindir went from "the husband who has provided solid evidence that his wife has committed adultery holds the right to leave her out of the marital bed and to beat her" (p. 208) to doing his own in-depth research on the topic and finding that "almost all the sources were manipulated" (Ibid.) Like Dr. Morrow, Bayindir looked, found, and documented how "False interpretations of the Qur'an and false prophetic traditions had contaminated his comprehension of Muslim scripture" (Ibid.)
Reading this religio-archeological debate is analogous to viewing a championship Wimbledon match with ideas bouncing from one side of the argument to the other as each player applies skill, study, and passion to the effort. The difference is that the winner of a tennis match will not change the course of life for billions of humans. "While I disagree with discarding Islamic Tradition and traditional scholars, as this amounts to tossing out the baby with the bathwater, I am equally convinced that fossilized religions have no future. They degrade, disintegrate, and return to dust. For religions to survive, they must be living organisms. They are like gardens that require care, cultivation, and pruning" (p. 189). If Dr. John Andrew Morrow can make even a dent in a 1400-year-old pattern of abuse, hundreds of millions of women will benefit and, he predicts, Islam itself will rise heavenward in the estimation of believers and unbelievers alike.
Bonnie Jo Davis' Bookshelf
Smiling at Strangers: How One Introvert Discovered the Power of Being Kind
$14.95 softcover / $4.99 ebook, 118pp
Smiling at Strangers was written for us introverts and others who are shy and for people who think there needs to be more kindness in the world. The author, Nancy Lewis, is committed to starting a Kindness Revolution in her home town of Bellingham, WA, and has hopes it will spread worldwide with the help of her book. In her author profile, Nancy says she had always planned on writing a book, but she didn't expect to get started after she turned 80.
I was drawn to this book because I'm very introverted and have a hard time making friends. As a child I spent as much time as I could with my nose stuck in a book, but that isn't practical as an adult. Nancy's book encouraged me to reach out to people more and to practice small acts of kindness every day. I pay more attention to the people around me, and I find myself reaching out more often with a smile or a compliment.
Smiling at Strangers is a handbook to leading a much more involved and satisfying life by showing simple kindness to others. As you take each brave step you'll find that many people will return that kindness to you. In some cases the kindness you give may be the highlight of someone's day. I highly recommend you buy a journal and keep track of your progress as you're reading the book so you can look back and see how far you've come.
My favorite part of the book is this passage: "My working hypothesis is that what we do as individuals affects everything. If we behave with kindness, everyone benefits in some measure. If we behave unkindly and without consideration for others, the world in some small or large measure suffers. It's my belief that if there is any hope for this hurting world - the planet and all who share it - those of us who are willing must take responsibility for bringing the healing touch of loving-kindness to those we encounter wherever we find ourselves."
The author shares the unique journey she took that led her to be more confident, brave and outgoing. She was always kind, but she came out of her experience in writing the book understanding how kindness to others can change their life one day at a time.
If you're looking for inspiration to help you live a more satisfying life, this book is for you. It will help you to connect with others in a way that impacts the entire world in big and small ways.
Bonnie Jo Davis, Reviewer
Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About
Ryan Casey Waller
Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781400221325, $18.99, PB, 256pp
Synopsis: Mental illness loves to tell lies. One of those lies is that you really should be able to manage what you're struggling with. Pastor and psychotherapist Ryan Casey Waller says no. Mental health issues are not a symptom of a spiritual failing or insufficient faith; rather, suffering is the very thing our Savior seeks to heal as he leads us toward restoration. And yet, as Waller has experienced personally, the battle can be lonely and discouraging. But it doesn't have to be.
Combining practical theology, clinical insights, and deep empathy, in the pages of "Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About" Waller offers a rare mix of companionship and truth, inviting us to: Have shame-free conversations about mental health;
Discover why self-knowledge is so important to a deep relationship with God; Understand the intersection of biology, psychology, and spirituality; Xxplore varying avenues of healing in community, therapy, and medication; Be equipped to support loved ones while practicing self-care.
Waller bridges the gap between the spiritual and the psychological in this empathetic, imminently helpful guidebook, reminding us all that we are not alone. Hope starts now.
Critique: As informed and informative as it is inspired and inspiring, "Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About" will prove to be especially valued reading for anyone (or a loved one) who is struggling with mental health issues -- especially in the era of pandemic, economic distress, political divisiveness, and socially hostile confrontations. While a critically important addition for community, mental health center, college, and university library Contemporary Psychology and Mental Self-Help collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781713571605, $23.99, CD).
Editorial Note: Ryan Casey Waller is a licensed psychotherapist, lawyer, and pastor who has heard all the jokes about being both lawyer and priest. But if you have another one, he's always game for more laughs. He studied philosophy and religion at the University of Southern California before pursuing a law degree, a masters in theology, and a masters in counseling from Southern Methodist University. He practiced law before turning to a career in ministry, serving in both academic and ecclesial settings. He is now in private practice in Dallas.
PO Box 5131, St. Louis, MO 63139
Reedy Press was co-founded in 2003 in St. Louis, Missouri, by Josh Stevens and Matthew Heidenry, two museum publishing professionals who sought to help cultural institutions and organizations publish books. In the early years, Reedy's list of clients grew to include schools and cities, with commemorative books soon becoming a specialty. Professionals and companies joined the mix of publishing partners, as titles began to encompass everything from narrative histories to cookbooks to children's picture books.
In recent years, the company has increased the number of titles it publishes traditionally while still partnering with clients on myriad projects. The current owner, Josh Stevens, sees the balance of traditional and commemorative/custom titles as the key to continued success.
Since its founding in 2003, Reedy Press has released hundreds of books. The list of titles and clients continues to expand.
One of their specialities is the publication of an outstanding series of city specific travel guides that are exceptionally informative and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation. Very highly recommended for personal, professional, and community library American Travel Guide collections, here are some particularly outstanding titles:
"100 Things to Do in Ann Arbor Before You Die" (9781681062655, $17.00, PB, 146pp) Known as home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor repeatedly earns as a spot as one of the top ten places to live in the US. And its distinctive dining, colorful neighborhoods, and year-round festivals make it a top destination for visitors too. "Things to Do in Ann Arbor Before You Die" showcases countless activities, sites, and unique corners of A-squared. There are insider tips, curated itineraries, and hidden gems to delight natives and visitors alike. Hit the Kerrytown area to tempt your palate at the farmers market or world-famous Zingerman s Delicatessen a destination all its own. Come back every season to sample the festivals: movies in spring, music and art in summer, and don t forget football in the fall! The Big House is home to the Michigan Wolverines and the nation s largest stadium. From unexpected cuisine like a Himalayan cafe, to underground cocktail clubs, and some of the most eclectic shopping experiences, you ll find it all through the walkable downtown and beyond. And with local author Patricia Maiher at the wheel, you re bound to find some exciting twists and turns along the way. Come find your own special reasons to love A2 and all the things to do there.
"100 Things to Do in Sioux City and Siouxland Before You Die" (9781681062730, $17.00, PB, 160pp) At the place where Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota converge and the mighty Missouri begins its long journey south lies a wonderful corner of the world called Siouxland by the locals. Sioux City, Iowa boasts a rich, vibrant, and sometimes surprising history that you can still experience today. And with "100 Things to Do in Sioux City and Siouxland Before You Die", you won t miss any of the exciting sites to explore complete with detailed itineraries. See the past resurface in fossils left in the prehistoric Great Interior Sea. Discover the Art Deco architecture of the 1920s and learn why Sioux City was once known as Little Chicago. Get insider tips for the best corn mazes, county fairs, shopping, and art by the likes of modern master Grant Wood. Don't forget to save room for some of the world s freshest, straight-from-the-farm meat and produce, or discover local favorites like America s oldest popcorn company. Active local author Lindsay Hindman is well integrated into her Sioux City community and brings readers along with an expert eye. Whether you re a life-long resident or a first-time visitor, her book is your guide to a great time in Siouxland.
"100 Things to Do in Lincoln Before You Die" (9781681062716, $17.00, PB, 160pp) Named in honor of our 16 th President, Lincoln was built to be Nebraska s capital in 1867 and has steadily grown into the big small town, it is today at around 300,000 people. With a vibrant arts scene and the advantages of being a university town, you might say Lincoln is in the middle of everything. With "100 Things to Do in Lincoln Before You Die" as your guide, you ll find insider tips and adventurous itineraries to help you make the most of your next visit. Despite its growth, the city retains its friendly atmosphere and many businesses and restaurants have been a part of the community for decades. Find the hidden gems worth discovering tucked within these pages. Try the specialty German beef cabbage sandwich or bite into a gourmet burger at a chain named in honor of Abe. Attend the June music outdoor concerts that now attract international performers. Spin the wheels at the National Museum of Roller Skating. Walk around the only tractor testing facility in North America built in 1920 housed in the Larsen Tractor Test & Power Museum. Before donning your red to cheer for the Huskers at Memorial Stadium, explore the store that will outfit you in style. Local author Gretchen Garrison offers you her top tips on this friendly tour of her hometown. With her expert advice, you'll find more than a hundred things to do in The Good Life State s second largest city.
These are just three of the '100 Things to Do' series from Reedy Press. It should be noted that each of them are also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99). You can find a listing of all the titles in this celebratory travel series (and much more!) in their website: https://www.reedypress.com
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf
A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future
Sir David Attenborough
Grand Central Publishing
B089CKYNT9, $14.99 Kindle
9781538719985, $12.99 Audio Book, $23.40 Hardcover, $26.00 Audio CD, 272 Pages
A Life on Our Planet describes the life of British Naturalist Sir David Attenborough and the climate changes he witnessed first-hand during his long life and world travels. Beginning and ending in Ukraine for a specific purpose, the text details two possible endings. One, of course, has a dire sixth mass extinction. The other, a happier ending that will require all nations of the Earth to work together, agree, and not waver from the goals of stopping global warming. His hope is humankind will survive through cooperative efforts and understanding of why we have reached the Anthropocene, which could end in the disappearance of human civilization. He says, "...the task could hardly be more daunting."
Attenborough explains the Holocene was one of the most stable periods on Earth. For 10,000 years, the average temperature did not vary more than one degree Celsius. It could warm more than four more degrees Celsius by 2100. Such warming could cause the biggest worldwide migration crisis the world has experienced. Coastal cities would flood, ports destroyed, and people would have to move farther inland. More than a quarter of people could live in places where the temperature reaches twenty-nine degrees Celsius, making farming impossible. Again, people would have to relocate.
The book and film offer much more explanation and also solutions. We already know what to do. Various countries are highlighted, which demonstrate how to avoid catastrophe. For instance, The Netherlands has limited farming space down to a science that also uses fewer chemicals. We will have to learn from each other and work hard to save ourselves, not the Earth. Attenborough says the Earth will survive, as it has before. If you only have time to read one of his books, this would be best.
How to Write a Children's Fiction Book
9780999294918 $14.95 paperback, 262 pages
B0891PHML4, $6.99 Kindle
Children's books are more complicated to write than they first appear. This practical and well-organized book has explanations and formulas for writing them, with examples. There is an assignment for each of the eight sections. An entire book may be written by consulting this text. Children's target audiences and genres are included. If you need story ideas, the first chapter covers that right away. Cioffi shares that character and dialogue are significant as these must be convincing to the child. Language must be authentic with age-appropriate words. Plot, theme, the craft of writing, hiring help, researching publishers, self-publishing, marketing, and working with editors are covered. An extensive list of resources is provided. Cioffi's comprehensive book is a must for children's book authors.
Cruising Alaska on a Budget: A Cruise and Port Guide
B06XPYP75F, $4.99 Kindle, 301 pages
Although I'm not going to take any cruises during the pandemic, I read this book and am convinced it would be reasonably easy to plan a trip. It is a complete guide to cruising Alaska, as the ports and cruise lines that go to Canada, Washington, and Alaska are described. Entertainment, classes, what to pack, how to transfer airports, minors' rules, and extra excursions are explained in detail. Brasher shares her insider knowledge for advice on where to eat, stay, visit, and shop. I felt knowledgeable about such travel when I was finished reading, but I wouldn't leave home (for Alaska) without a copy at my side.
Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages
B00L8G66RQ, $4.99 Kindle, 75 pages
Purple Pencil Adventure Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages is a journal with images and relatively long writing prompts with questions. It would help homeschools or at school, perhaps with a small group of independent, motivated writers. As a former gifted education teacher, I can see this would be good for pullout classes. It includes creative writing, seasonal writing, and even writing your own writing prompts. One chapter helps explain to children why people write, such as improving their skills, doing better at school work, or just for fun. Writing is part of school or work. It helps you in all aspects of life. Usually, writing prompts are only about a sentence long. This book provides additional inspiration, so children couldn't say they didn't have any ideas.
Snapshots from Real Life: Personal Stories to Warm the Heart and Tickle the Funny Bone
Creative Caravan Press
1927626684, $3.70 paperback, 168 pages
B0764LF4M2, $3.70 Kindle
Snapshots from Real Life is an anthology by six writers who share personal heart-warming and hilarious stories from their own lives. Relatable real-life situations we all understand will have you engaged and laughing out loud in portions. Find out about the World-Famous Gopher Hole Museum, the day a house sank, how to find four-leaf clovers, and what the car you drive says about you within the pages of this well-written book.
Mom & Me: A Story of Dementia and the Power of God's Love
Deborah Lyn Stanley
2 Timothy Publishing
9780984239177, $9.25 paperback, 94 pages
B08GY1BXHF, $2.99 Kindle
Deborah Lyn Stanley's book, Mom & Me: A Story of Dementia and the Power of God's Love, is heart-tugging and a detailed journal. The author took exceptional care of her mother-in-law and explains how to care for dementia patients with kindness. She stresses that the person inside is still the same as before the illness, which may be challenging to remember. Mom & Me is a must-read and reference book for anyone caregiving for a person with dementia. It is also a love story.
Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery
9781735131009, $7.99 paperback, 149 pages
B08C51J8NK, $6.99 Kindle
Eleven-year-old Abi finds herself in the middle of a real murder mystery. A ghost appears to her and asks her to investigate. Her first ghost! How is she supposed to solve the crime when she is just a kid and told what to do and when? The grown-ups do not understand. She has to work around the rules imposed on her to keep the greedy man from demolishing a country inn and blaming the murder on an innocent person. Time is limited (only 48 hours), and she has to think fast.
A magic story with a female protagonist is just what the doctor ordered after many boys' books. Plus, there is important work to do, which she is capable of doing. A real problem and solution help the story be grounded, although Abi gets particular messages. A Border Collie helps, too, which is a reassuring touch.
This is the perfect book for any "tweens" looking for their next great read.
Blooming Red: Christmas Poetry for the Rational (Celebration Series of Chapbooks)
Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Magdalena Ball
9781449948245, $5.95 Paperback, 60 pages
B004GXB4AW, $2.99 Kindle
Profound and moving poetry reflecting the reality of Christmas, which may not be that of commercials and photos. Early rising when the children are young, aching for those times when they are grown and perhaps have moved away. Howard-Johnson writes of the "echoes of foil tearing, and crushing of frail tissue." She writes the baby in the nativity set is always the first to go missing.
Ball writes about how time is different for children, and "we touched each moment with tiny, trembling hands." She was a child six million years ago, according to one of her poems. She says, "...after hours at the mall, belief wears thin."
The poetry is so beautiful, and my review cannot begin to do justice to the writing. This is a book to read again and again. It is the right size to add to a holiday card and would make a perfect present.
10 Publishing Myths: Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed
W. Terry Whalin
Morgan James Publishing
B07STPZ6L1, $8.49 Kindle
9781642794526, $14.95 Paperback, 165 pages
Aspiring authors begin noticing information regarding the publication process as they start work on manuscripts. Picking up such information informally may cause misunderstandings. Whalin explains what is involved and how the publishing world works. His writing style is clear and understandable. He has seen the industry from the viewpoint of an author. Some of his books are bestsellers. He has a wealth of information to help save writers from needless mistakes.
Each chapter ends with a myth buster. I have heard them all. This book is the quickest way to find the truth and will give authors confidence. Avoid a steep self-learning curve and learn from the best. This book is also helpful for writers at any stage of the process.
Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC
Chris Molinari's Bookshelf
The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780525429760, $28.00 HC, $14.99 Kindle, 418pp
9780593285961, $30.00, PB, Large Print, 576pp
9780593212820, $45.00, Penguin Audio, CD
In 2012 Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King discovered an ancient parchment which was written in Coptic. The document contained the words "my wife," a quote attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. The passage is controversial since it raises the issue of whether Jesus was married. Subsequently, the text has been called a forgery; even so, it brings forth a host of topics, one of which concerns the meaning of true discipleship for women. Married or not, women have always had to face the "shame"--or even "blessing," as it were--of having to assume the burden of pregnancy, a time of life during which their honor is put to the test. Indeed, if one looks to the Hebrew administrative documents in circulation, one would find the words "wife" and "woman" (Hebrew: issah) used interchangeably. A person using the word "woman" could be referring to a female spiritual tie.
Imagine how many key biblical passages would be read differently if we substituted the word "woman" for "wife." Reading the Old Testament, we can sense the presence of the feminine divine in every passage. In addition, many texts on the subject of the feminine divine have been lost, making it difficult for scholars to understand these narratives. Thus, it is a pleasure to encounter works of historical fiction that trace the history of women religious figures. Sue Monk Kidd's The Book of Longings is one such account. The book tells the story of Ana, a young scribe who becomes the bride of Jesus.
At the outset, Ana is a religious-minded youngster of Galilee who refuses an arranged marriage. Her father's position as chief scribe for Herod Antipas makes it hard for Ana to oppose her father's will. Nathaniel ben Hananiah, the suitor, has offered bountiful lands in exchange for the hand of his beloved. However, Ana marches to the chords of a different beat. Fearing that her scribal works recording the lives of religious women will be burned and lost forever, she decides to enlist the help of her Aunt Yaltha, a wise woman whose skill at family matters will help her oppose the wedding.
The marriage fails. Galilee is ravaged by a plague, and many a loving pair is thrown into sorrow. As Ana looks into her medicine bowl with its engraved image of a dove, she prays for a healthy life. She knows that her character is flawed and that she is unkind to others; her tumultuous spirit, so attractive to her friends, often results in a hurtful disregard for those around her. Warned of a plot to burn her scrolls, Ana conceals them in goatskins and even goes so far as to hide them in a cave. When Herod's wife, Phasaelis, invites her to the palace, Ana becomes enmeshed in Herod's struggle to become king. Herod entices Ana into sitting for her portrait and forces her to take bribes. Angered at his offers, Ana grabs one of the telltale trinkets and flees.
The book proceeds with its weave of inner voices, each skein signifying a different world. First, we hear the voice of the social world inhabited by Ana and her family; second, we become aware of the voice of civil revolt, a world in which zealots begin to confront the officials who hold sway; and third, we are brought into proximity with the spiritual voice of Jesus. In the civil world, we meet Ana's brother, Judas, a power-hungry man whose attraction to violence is stronger than his will to serve God. He develops ties to the Zealots, a messianic group raising havoc against the authorities. After his friends set fire to Nathaniel's fields, Judas is imprisoned with the leader of the revolt, Simon ben Giora. In spite of these obstacles, Judas is attracted to violence. Unable to bond with Jesus, he is loyal only to the sword.
The spiritual world centers on Ana, whose dedication to the Lord exemplifies religious growth. Her communion with Jesus leads her to embrace a deeper faith. From the very first, it is Jesus who shields Ana from charges she stole Herod's gift; it is also Jesus who helps her surmount the social anger produced when she is stoned almost to the death. Jesus marries Ana out of a sense of duty to His community, for He knows that she is capable of giving birth to a symbolic child, one who will help her achieve her desire to be "born again." Ana learns to turn the other cheek against her oppressors. In doing so, she assumes the guise of the feminine divine.
The Book of Longings is one of the most exciting novels ever written on the subject of the life of Jesus. The biblical characters come alive, and the frame narrative is full of ideas about the events that created the New Testament. The novel can be read from diverse perspectives, and it will attract readers from many different religious groups. Scholars will find the book to be well researched, and though I noticed one small problem with the map (the city of Besara is usually said to have been located on the route between Nazareth and Haifa rather than on the banks of the River Jordan), I thought the book was carefully done. In this work of astounding power, Sue Monk Kidd has given us a vision of religious ecstasy.
Clabe Polk's Bookshelf
Bad to the Bones: An Evan Buckley Thriller, Book 1
9781978161948, $12.99, $17.46 audiobook, 308 pages
B076H9C28F, Free on Kindle
Evan Buckley is a private investigator torn between his conscience, his need to make a living, and the emotional turmoil boiling inside him since his wife's unexplained disappearance. Necessity forces him to take on sleazy divorce cases, often against his better judgment and occasionally placing him in personal danger. When an unexpected opportunity arises to investigate the cold case of a missing man and his son, he sees the possibility of providing closure to a wife and mother who deserves it and to redeem his professional soul from the depths of divorce case hell. However, Evan's new case has proven too much for the local police. Are they lazy? Incompetent? Or, is there another reason such as conflict of interest, or something even more sinister? Every contact Evan has with a witness from the old case raises new questions about their relationships. Someone is hiding something, but who? What are they hiding?
Bad to the Bones is told with humor and a real sense that there is a hidden agenda Evan, and the reader is not seeing. I liked that Evan was unwilling to allow appearances to go unchallenged. Therefore the story twisted its way around several characters involved in the case, none of whom's hand are completely clean. The story is told in the first person from Evan's point of view, a perspective I usually don't prefer, but in this case works well, especially when he describing getting beaten to a pulp in great detail. An excellent detective thriller! 4-Stars.
Loads of Trouble: An Izzy Izzard Dystopian Thriller
Roo I. MacLeod
9798683329303, $12.99 paperback, 328 pages
B08B3MN7SC, $2.99, Kindle
Izzy Izzard, a seventeen and a half-year-old (just ask her) refugee from Arundel Asylum, looks for her brother, Dougal, the private detective that was supposed to take care of her upon her escape from the institution where she had been committed for little more than the ability to read people's minds since the age of fifteen. Her other brother, Elliot, is dead but still lives in her imagination. Her parents are also dead but not particularly missed...and now, Dougal is also dead. But why? And by who's hand?
Thus begins Izzy's inquiry into Dougal's death. Aided by an oddball cast of characters, all of which have personal agendas, alcohol, and her blue and yellow pills; hounded by an equally odd assortment of adversaries with a variety of underhanded interests, one of which probably killed Dougal (but which one?) she seeks the killer against a backdrop of military martial law and the dystopian social conditions permeating Albion Minor.
Loads of Trouble is a well-written, engaging tale of competing interests in a small dystopian community where everyone knows everyone else and strangers are not particularly welcome. The characters are interesting, well-developed, and all are nutty in different ways. I found the story interesting, and the disparate interests of the antagonists, any of which could have been Dougal's killer, kept the story moving from possibility to possibility...colorful characters acting on a gray monotone stage of social collapse and corrupt military control.
Izzy's Loads of Trouble should be a welcome, entertaining read for anyone who likes kinky mysteries, or suspenseful action. 4 Stars
Captain of the Tides Gunner Morgan
Charles D. Morgan with Jacque Hillman
The HillHelen Group
9781733362689, $32 hardcover, 234 pages
Captain of the Tides Gunner Morgan by Charles D. Morgan and Jacque Hillman is the biography of a man living at the right time, in the right place, with the drive, talent, and contacts to achieve his destiny. A historic novel seen through the eyes of Navy Gunner Charles Morgan, Captain of the Tides, is a movie of Morgan's life from the days before the Spanish American War until his death at ninety-four. Morgan is an American hero, a man whose life is defined by the period when the U.S. Navy was becoming a world power, and Cuba, Key West, and Miami were becoming trade centers. Morgan was the first enlisted man to ever become a naval officer, the man leading navy divers to recover documents and bodies from the sunken USS Maine. He worked with Thomas Edison, with Henry Flagler, with Pan American Airlines, with the "King of Cuban sugar", and developed the Key West Naval Air Station.
I was fascinated with The Captain of the Tides Gunner Morgan because it is an excellent, historically accurate, description of the changing times and conditions in Cuba and South Florida at the turn of the century. For me, having written a historic novel focused somewhat on the yellow fever scourge, the true accounts of the suffering caused by yellow fever were as important Morgan's professional achievements. The personal letters, original news clips, photos, and other documents left to Charles D. Morgan by his grandfather, Gunner Morgan, ensures a book that is historically informative, readable, and impressive. Reviewed by Clabe Polk for Readers' Favorite.
Code Name Orion's Eye
ToMar Associates Publishing
9781542934558, $12.95 paperback, 294 pages
9781432727376, $34.95 hardcover
B06WLPZKR7, $2.99 Kindle
In Code Name: Orion's Eye, Tom Gauthier threads fiction around true events that occurred in the South Pacific in October 1943. Adolph Hitler is faced with the Allied bombing of the German industry, Nazi failure to subdue England, and a stalemate with Russia. Increased pressure forces Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler into a bitter race to steal new American radar technology. Otto Hauptmann, a SS Colonel, and top Nazi spy, is tasked to steal the radar system. Simultaneously, Goering tasks George Nicolaus, his agent in Mexico, to steal it as well. Marine Major Amos Mead, OSS, is assigned to safeguard the radar system, "Orion's Eye". With Navy Chief Petty Officer, Harmon Wetmore, Merchant Marine Lieutenant, Donovan Gochais, and many other military and OSS contacts, Mead works to foil the Nazi plan as Orion's Eye leaves San Francisco aboard the USAT Cape San Juan, along with the USAAC 1st Fighter Control Squadron, the 855th Engineer Company (Aviation), and the 253rd Ordnance Company (Aviation) bound for Australia.
In my opinion, Tom Gauthier has packed suspense, intrigue, and reading enjoyment into Code Name: Orion's Eye. Gauthier presents well-developed characters, most of whom are based on real, named, unsung heroes of World War II. Other characters and interactions are fictional. I felt real tension as Gochais, confined to a ship, must find a traitor among the officers on board. I found Code Name: Orion's Eye to be a fine wartime adventure story; entertaining, historically educational, and well worth the read for lovers of war, intrigue, and action books. Reviewed by Clabe Polk for Readers' Favorite.
Bone Thief (The John Driscoll Thrillers, Book 1)
9781952225109, $13.99 paperback, 332 pages
9780739463291, $9.75 hardcover
B08LPWKJDH, $13.29 Kindle
NYPD Homicide Lieutenant John Driscoll is a man with a tragic past. He struggles daily to overcome his sense of guilt, and obligation to a wife consigned to a coma by the traffic accident that killed his teen-aged daughter. Sergeant Margaret Aligante works for Driscoll. A woman also beset by tragedy, Aligante is beginning to have feelings for her boss, but his obligations to his wife, and his guilt, frustrate her. Detective Cedric Thomlinson also works with Driscoll but fights a daily battle with alcohol abuse. Together, they are racing the clock, as well as public and political pressure to find and stop a psychopath, Colm Pierce, who is killing women and removing their bones, hands, and feet. Bone Thief by Thomas O'Callaghan is a well-written, first-class, police procedural novel with exceptionally well-developed characters and action. I empathized with Driscoll's emotional situation, and liked his loyalty and determination, but felt bad for Aligante and Thomlinson, and sadness for Pierce's innocent victims.
Mr. O'Callaghan uses fine detail, together with his knowledge of New York's streets and businesses making readers feel like they are part of the action, but the detail complements rather than distracting from the story. Originally published in 2006, the story contains many references to businesses and internet services by name many of which have changed through merger or bankruptcy thereby dating an otherwise timeless storyline. I found this to be a distraction rather than a fatal flaw. I found Bone Thief to be an exceptionally well-written thriller by a knowledgeable author. Reviewed by Clabe Polk for Readers' Favorite.
Heaps of Trouble: An Izzy Izzard Dystopian Thriller
Roo I. MacLeod
B08JQD3PBC, $0.99 Kindle, 355 pages
Izzy Izzard, a seventeen and a half-year-old (just ask her) refugee from Arundel Asylum, is eliminating potential murderers suspected of killing her brother Dougal. In Heaps of Trouble, her search continues, complicated now by swelling forces against her...the clan, the army, the Slotvaks, no help from Robert and Janis (who are missing in action)...and a new case concerning a missing talented young musician brought to her by his mother, a woman of questionable motives with money. To find the child, she must confront Robert's mother, and seek his father, aided by Sally, Robert's teenaged assistant, Roller-Girl, and two reporters of dubious motivation.
Heaps of Trouble keeps the Izzy Izzard story flowing with suspense and violent confrontations. One is never sure who to trust, or exactly what alliances are aligned against Izzy, but readers have confidence that Izzy is a match for the forces she faces. No new characters of significance are introduced in this book. Instead, the action rocks along much the same as Loads of Trouble; entertaining but not overwhelming. It is a worthy followup to Loads of Trouble, a worthwhile bridge to future Izzy Izzard books, and sure to be enjoyed by fans of strong, but sometimes clueless female main characters in suspenseful settings.
3-Stars because the book needs strong proofreading and editing.
Clabe Polk, Reviewer
Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Removing the Stalin Stain
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781789045215, $19.95, PB, 200pp
Synopsis: Can Marxism emerge from the long shadow cast by Stalinism, and challenge capitalism? There is undoubtedly a growing interest in Marxism and socialism. Opinion polls show a majority of young Americans regard socialism as a real political, philosophical, and social/economic option. It is against this reality, and as a contribution to growing debates, that "Removing the Stalin Stain: Marxism and the Working Class in the 21st Century" has been written by political economist William Briggs.
Marxism, as an ideological force and instituted to lead the charge against capitalism, has been poorly served in the past century. Many of its core messages have been obscured by authoritarian and dictatorial usurpations by the likes of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. In "Removing The Stalin Stain" William Briggs gives a rousing defence of Marxism, calling for a return of the working class to the centre of potential struggle. Briggs seeks to heal the damage done to Marxism, in the name of Marxism, over generations past.
Critique: An erudite and deftly crafted study, "Removing The Stalin Stain" is impressively informative and exceptionally well organized, making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science & Philosophy collections. It should be noted for students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Removing The Stalin Stain" also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).
Editorial Note: Currently residing in Melbourne, Australia, where he is affiliated to Deakin University, William Briggs is a political economist whose special areas of interest lies in Marxist political theory. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist, and political activist. He lived and worked in Moscow during the last years of the Soviet Union. Decades later he completed a PhD that defended classical Marxist theory. He writes for the blogsite Pearls and Irritations and occasionally for the Hobart Mercury on International Politics..
Marx, Dead and Alive
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583678800, $89.00, HC, 192pp
Synopsis: Karl Marx saw the ruling class as a sorcerer, no longer able to control the ominous powers it has summoned from the netherworld. Today, in an age spawning the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, our society has never before been governed by so many conjuring tricks, with collusions and conspiracies, fake news and endless sleights of the economic and political hand. And yet, contends Andy Merrifield in Marx, Dead and Alive: Reading "Capital" in Precarious Times, as our modern lives become ever more mist-enveloped, the works of Marx can help us penetrate the fog.
In "Marx, Dead and Alive" (a book that begins and ends beside Marx's recently violated London grave side) Merrifield makes a spirited case for a critical thinker who can still offer people a route toward personal and social authenticity. Bolstering his argument with fascinating examples of literature and history, from Shakespeare and Beckett, to the Luddites and the Black Panthers, Merrifield demonstrates how Marx can reveal our individual lives to us within a collective perspective -- and within a historical continuum.
Who we are now hinges on who we once were -- and who we might become. This, at a time when our value-system is undergoing core "post-truth" meltdown, makes "Marx, Dead and Alive: Reading "Capital" in Precarious Times" a timely and timeless study.
Critique: Exceptionally well written, informative insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Marx, Dead and Alive: Reading "Capital" in Precarious Times" is an extraordinary study and one that should be a part of every community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science & Theory collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political scientists, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Marx, Dead and Alive: Reading "Capital" in Precarious Times" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781583678794, $23.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note: Andy Merrifield is an independent scholar and author of a dozen books, as well as numerous articles, essays and reviews appearing in Monthly Review, The Nation, Harper's Magazine, New Left Review, The Guardian, Literary Hub, Jacobin, and Dissent. He is a prolific writer about urbanism, political theory and literature, with titles credited to him including Dialectical Urbanism (Monthly Review Press), The New Urban Question, and Magical Marxism. He has also published three intellectual biographies, of Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord, and John Berger, a popular existential travelogue, The Wisdom of Donkeys, a manifesto for liberated living, The Amateur, together with a memoir about cities and love, inspired by Raymond Carver's short stories, called What We Talk About When We Talk About Cities (and Love).
Palestine: A Socialist Introduction
Sumaya Awad & Brian Bean, editors
PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618
9781642594126, $50.00, HC, 250pp
Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Sumaya Awad and Brian Bean, "Palestine: A Socialist Introduction" systematically tackles a number of important aspects of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, contextualizing it in an increasingly polarized world and offering a socialist perspective on how full liberation can be won.
Through an internationalist, anti-imperialist lens, "Palestine: A Socialist Introduction" explores the links between the struggle for freedom in the United States and that in Palestine, and beyond. It examines both the historical and contemporary trajectory of the Palestine solidarity movement in order to glean lessons for today's organizers, and compellingly lays out the argument that, in order to achieve justice in Palestine, the movement has to take up the question of socialism regionally and internationally.
The contributors to "Palestine: A Socialist Introduction" include: Jehad Abusalim, Shireen Akram-Boshar, Omar Barghouti, Nada Elia, Toufic Haddad, Remi Kanazi, Annie Levin, Mostafa Omar, Khury Petersen-Smith, and Daphna Thier.
Critique: Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, exceptionally well organized and presented, "Palestine: A Socialist Introduction" is a timely and invaluable contribution to our understanding Israeli/Palestinian relations, history, and possible future. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary International Studies collections in general, and Palestinian Affairs supplement curriculum reading lists in particular, it should be noted for students, academicians, political activists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Palestine: A Socialist Introduction" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781642592764, $18.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.25).
Editorial Note: Sumaya Awad is a Palestinian writer, analyst, and socialist organizer based in New York City. Her writings focus on Palestinian liberation, anti-imperialism, Islamophobia, and immigration, and have been featured in the Feminist Wire, In These Times, Open City, the Middle East Solidarity Magazine, and Slate, among others. Sumaya is the coauthor of "Palestine and Elections " in the collection Socialist Strategy and Electoral Politics, released by Verso Books, Jacobin Magazine, and Haymarket Books in 2019. She has spoken widely at universities and grassroots organizations across the country, and is a cofounder of the Against Canary Mission Project, which helps defend student activists targeted by blacklists for their Palestinian rights advocacy.
Brian Bean is a Chicago-based socialist activist, writer, and speaker originally from North Carolina. He is one of the founding editors of Rampant magazine. His work has been published in Jacobin, Socialist Worker, Red Flag, International Viewpoint, Bel Ahmar, Spring Magazine, Green Left Weekly, Chronique de Palestine, Agency, Viento Sur, and more.
Elan Kluger's Bookshelf
The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma
Brooks Adams and Henry Adams
Of the Adams family, John and John Quincy are the most famous, having each been president. Quincy's son, Charles Francis Adams never won the elections that would have made him famous. Charles Francis's sons most importantly, Henry Adams is famous for a whole new reason, as a literary phenom and historian. The Education of Henry Adams is not important because Adams is an aristocrat, it is important because it is excellent. Henry Adams is also venerated for his History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He also wrote a work on medieval architecture and theology called Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Henry Adams has been written about many times, with a new biography having been released late last year. The other sons of Charles Francis Adams Sr. have gotten less attention.
The oldest was John Quincy Adams II, a Democratic politician in a largely Republican age. Charles Francis Adams Jr. was a successful railroad executive. Henry Adams, as previously discussed, was a historian and writer. Finally, the coauthor of the book under discussion, Peter Chardon Brooks Adams (known colloquially as Brooks Adams). Brooks was a lawyer by trade, and for many years was a professor of law at Boston University. More importantly, he wrote various books. His first The Emancipation of Massachusetts argued that the patriarchs of Massachusetts were autocrats. He wrote a few pamphlets critical of the gold standard. He wrote his masterpiece, The Law of Civilization and Decay which argues there is a law of history, and that it points to the decline of the United States.
Henry Adams' posthumously published, The Education of Henry Adams was a great success and won the Pulitzer Prize. Brooks collected up some of Henry's excess essays into The Degradation of Democratic Dogma and wrote a 100-page introduction. In reading biographies of Henry and Brooks, one notices more what the introduction does not have than what it does. It starts as a personal history of Brooks and Henry, then begins to discuss their grandfather, John Quincy Adams. One of the more important moments between Brooks and Henry was when Brooks sent a draft of his biography of Quincy, and received in response a 50-page letter, ripping it to shreds. Brooks then added some of the content, telling the story of the election of 1828, the final defeat of American aristocracy, and the "degradation of the democratic dogma." Most introductions are supposed to be related to the material of the book. This one is an exception. Nevertheless, the introduction shines, and one could never be bored reading it.
The actual essays are of moderate interest. Henry Adams writes of the growth of scientific history, and he seeks to find a law of history (like Brooks in The Law of Civilization and Decay). His study of chemistry led him to "The Rule of Phase Applied to History." This work is interesting for its absurdity. The other essays are staid examinations of the historical method.
Altogether, however, the book is a masterpiece and should be read and reread. Brooks Adams's introduction is ingenious and the essays are creative.
Elan Kluger, Reviewer
Clutter: An Untidy History
9781948742726, $26.00 HC, $11.49 Kindle, 192pp
This short book, only 176 pages in a 5×7.5" jacket size, reads like a trip down memory lane for some of us. She delves into Victorian culture and the rise of the middle class. The "rag and bone" traveling men and, later, shops that supported a layer of the economy and the values of thrift that were necessary before the age of mass production. On page 69 we revisit the rise of the now-defunct Montgomery Ward catalog and store, followed by the iconic Sears catalog, drawing a direct line to today's big box stores and online shopping model.
Howard's reflection on how we got here, and specifically how she found herself in the predicament of clearing out her mother's untidy house, feels rather without judgment. I suspect that readers can decide to be a little more thrifty, a little slower to buy and bring home more consumer goods, but this book doesn't feel like a political statement or treatise on green living. It's more like a meeting with a therapist who gently probes, "And then what?"
Her familial responsibility gets her interested enough in the topic to travel to Philadelphia (my hometown) for a conference on hoarding disorder that took place in recent years. She learns more about the disease, which was only recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-V in 2013. According to the definition, people with hoarding disorder have a conscious, ongoing urge to accumulate possessions, coupled with anxiety or mental anguish whenever those possessions get thrown away. This goes well beyond standard household clutter. The disease is thought to affect approximately 2% of the population. And thankfully, most households need not be concerned that avoiding the laundry or having shoes out of place will lead to the slippery slope of hoarding disorder. The two are related in the same way that a common cold and cancer are related; they are both medical events, but with different origins, treatments, and outcomes.
For a practitioner in the organizing and productivity fields like myself, I was glad to see the topic of clutter in general and clearing out a parent's home treated with respect and research. She cites many of the same studies and trends I have shared before. Too many to mention; if you are new to this blog, support the author by purchasing the ebook to reduce your own clutter footprint. She hit on my own personal philosophy, after decades of keeping a home for my own family and helping others become more organized, that is often attributed to William Morris, a 19th-century designer: own fewer things, well made.
Taking the subject seriously, she underscores the reality that much of life's caretaking falls more to women than to men, and that those who need help need not go it alone. Both of the professional organizations to which I belong (and often teach for) are mentioned. The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals is mentioned on page 128. The Photo Managers, formerly known as APPO, is mentioned on page 164, almost an afterthought, helping people deal with their photos. Digital data hoarding is the next frontier, already being studied formally.
The book concludes with the house being cleared, all the possessions gone (although not all to her satisfaction), and the author back to her own home where she states the obvious...
"I have promised my children I won't leave them the material mess that fell to me. I have to try. We all do."
If this topic interests you, but you prefer a happy fictional story, check out the novel, The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Serendipity had me reading this sweet book at the same time I was reading Clutter. It's a fairy tale about a rich novelist with a penchant for finding and cataloging lost things and what happens when he leaves his house and his "treasures" to the young woman who was his assistant in his later years. Throw in a ghost, a hunky gardener, and a lost St. Theresa charm, and you have your basic Hallmark Channel-style story that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy...but won't get your closets any more organized.
Jack Mason's Bookshelf
The Straightforward Guide to the Music Biz
9798696650753, $14.99, PB, 100pp
Synopsis: Over the past couple of decades advances in technology have changed the music industry substantially -- and will likely continue to change for many more years to come. Now more than ever it's vital that musicians become familiar with the rights they have in their music and how they can make money in this digital world. "The Straightforward Guide to the Music Biz: An Entertainment Lawyer Breaks Down the Industry" is essential reading and an invaluable reference guide for any and all musicians needing a clear, simple, concise and comprehensive overview of how the music industry is organized and the typical contracts musicians will encounter.
Critique: What they don't teach you in highschool and college music classes is that if a musician wants a career in music that will support them, they had best understanding that the music business is very much a business. They need to understand the role of a manager, how to understand a contract, how to keep good financial records -- or what to look for with respect to accountants and CPAs, and how continually advancing technologies will impact revenue from performances and recording sales. "The Straightforward Guide to the Music Biz: An Entertainment Lawyer Breaks Down the Industry" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented, making it an ideal and essential reading for anyone aspiring to a profitable and successful career in music.
Everything You Never Learned About Sex
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781789046380, $21.95, PB, 208pp
Synopsis: Who did you talk to about sex when you were a kid? If you're a Millennial, chances are your answer is "nobody". "Everything You Never Learned About Sex: Take Back Your Masculine Power & Use Your Sex Energy For Good" is an all-inclusive look into a man's world, where author Michael McPherson (a pioneer in the realm of sacred sexuality, intimacy, inner-child work, empowered masculinity, divine union, and heart-centered living and leading) shines a light on what it was like for the men of his generation to mature sexually -- and why so many still haven't.
In the pages of "Everything You Never Learned About Sex", Michael explores what's currently in the way of men experiencing an empowered relationship with sex and what they can do to take back their power. Along the way, he brings to light some of the less understood nuances of sex including sex energy, sexual desire, and the purpose of sex.
Captivating, rich, and heart-wrenchingly vulnerable, "Everything You Never Learned About Sex" is a revolutionary blueprint for men to deconstruct their inherited relationship to sex, step outside the cultural norm, say 'no' to the further manipulation of their sex energy, and rebuild a relationship with sex on the basis of love instead of fear.
Michael, through his self-reflective insights, on-the-court shares, and 'how-to' embodiment practices, empowers his readers to reclaim their stolen innocence, restore their heart, honor sex as sacred, and use their sex energy to create more love in the world.
Critique: Timely and timeless, "Everything You Never Learned About Sex: Take Back Your Masculine Power & Use Your Sex Energy For Good" is especially and unreservedly recommended for everyone and anyone who never got 'the talk' from their own father -- or even in this age of rampant divorce and unwed mothers never had a father to be giving such a talk. Impressively informative, exceptionally thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Everything You Never Learned About Sex" is seriously and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Human Sexuality collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Everything You Never Learned About Sex" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).
The Five People You'll Meet in Prison
Brandon M. Stickney
PO Box 65360, Baltimore, MD 21209
9781610881968, $28.95, HC, 336pp
Synopsis: "The Five People You'll Meet in Prison: A Memoir of Addiction, Mania & Hope" is the story of how, after years of hedonism in the literary life, journalist Brandon M. Stickney was caught in an opiate epidemic drug sting and sentenced to prison.
Surrounded by society's most troubled individuals and hostile guards, Stickney faces his addiction and mental illness behind the razor wire. Searching for answers, he befriends four inmates and a guard who help change his life. Haunted by severe cravings, nights of mania, and threatened by prison's evils, he clings to hope, learning that recovery is possible, even in the darkest of places.
Startling yet humorous, a truly memorable real-life rendering of the anti-hero's journey, "The Five People You'll Meet in Prison" is part jailhouse memoir and part expose on the largest of America's industries -- prisons.
Critique: A unique, inherently fascinating, informative and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "The Five People You'll Meet in Prison: A Memoir of Addiction, Mania & Hope" is an invaluable addition to community, college, and university library Criminology & Penology collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of students, academia, criminologists, penologists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Five People You'll Meet in Prison: A Memoir of Addiction, Mania & Hope" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.69).
John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Religious Tourism and the Environment
Kiran A. Shinde & Daniel H. Olsen, editors
c/o CRC Press
6000 NW Broken Sound Parkway NW, Suite 300, Boca Raton, FL 33487
9781789241600, $130.00, HC, 192pp
Synopsis: The remarkable growth in religious tourism across the world has generated considerable interest in the impacts of this special type of tourism. Expertly compiled and co-edited by Kiran A. Shinde and Daniel H. Olsen, "Religious Tourism and the Environment" focuses on environmental issues and then moves beyond the documentation of environmental impacts to examine in greater depth the intersections between religious tourism and the environment.
Beginning with an in-depth introduction that highlights the intersections between religion, tourism, and the environment, the contributors to "Religious Tourism and the Environment" then focuses on the environment as a resource or generator for religious tourism and the environment as a recipient of impacts of religious tourism. Individual chapters informatively discuss such important areas as disease, environmental responsibility and host perspectives.
Covering as many cultural and environmental regions as possible, "Religious Tourism and the Environment" provides: An in-depth, yet holistic view of the relationships between religious tourism and the environment; A conceptual framework that goes beyond listing potential environment impacts; A strong focus on explaining the universality of the deeper environmental issues surrounding sacredness and sacred places.
From a global writing team and featuring case studies spanning Europe and Asia, "Religious Tourism and the Environment" will be of great and particular interest to researchers and students of tourism and religious studies, as well as those studying environmental issues.
Critique: Impressively comprehensive, exceptionally well organized, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation, "Religious Tourism and the Environment" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to corporate, governmental, college, and university library Ecotourism Travel Guides, Hospitality, Travel & Tourism collections, and Environmental Economics supplemental curriculum studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academicians, tourism professionals, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Religious Tourism and the Environment" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $123.50).
Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online
James P. Howard II & John F. Beyers, editors
6000 NW Broken Sound Parkway NW, Suite 300, Boca Raton, FL 33487
9780815372363, $130.00, HC, 438pp
Synopsis: Even before the current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, online education had become a major component of higher education worldwide. In mathematics and statistics courses, there exists a number of challenges that are unique to the teaching and learning of mathematics and statistics in an online environment. These challenges are deeply connected to already existing difficulties related to math anxiety, conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas, communicating mathematically, and the appropriate use of technology.
Expertly compiled and deftly edited by the team of James P. Howard II and John F. Beyrs, "Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online" bridges these issues by presenting meaningful and practical solutions for teaching mathematics and statistics online. The contributors focus on the problems observed by mathematics instructors currently working in the field who strive to hone their craft and share best practices with our professional community.
"Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online" also provides a set of standard practices, improving the quality of online teaching and the learning of mathematics. Instructors and their students are certain benefit from learning new techniques and approaches to delivering content.
Critique: Covering such issues as Course Design, Student Interaction, Using Technology, Teacher Education, and a Commentary (Online; Mathematics Education, the Good, The Bad, and the General Overview), "Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online" is an ideal addition to college and university library Mathematics Education collections and as a curriculum textbook for Applied Mathematics supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academics, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject of on-line education that "Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $58.95).
Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Bandwidth Recovery For Schools
Stylus Publishing, Inc.
22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012
9781642670776, $29.95, PB, 230pp
Synopsis: "Bandwidth Recovery For Schools: Helping Pre-K-12 Students Regain Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Trauma, Racism, and Social Marginalization" by Cia Verschelden makes the case that societal realities (such as poverty, racism, and social marginalization) result in depleted cognitive resources for students and for those who are trying to help them succeed.
Each of us has a finite amount of mental bandwidth, the cognitive resources that are available for learning, development, work, taking care of ourselves and our families, and everything else we have to do. These "attentional resources" are not about how smart we are but about how much of our brain power is available to us for the task at hand. When bandwidth is taken up by the stress of persistent economic insecurity or the negative experiences of racism, classism, homophobia, religious intolerance, sexism, ableism, etc., there is less available for learning and growth. This is as true for young children and youth as for their parents and teachers.
"Bandwidth Recovery For Schools" also includes a case study of Rochester, New York (where the economy has been decimated with the closure of major employers) and how its financially strapped school system worked with colleagues at the University of Rochester to use the distributed leadership of its teachers, with the active support of principals and superintendents, to revitalize its schools to better serve its diverse and low-income student population.
Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Bandwidth Recovery For Schools" is especially recommended to the attention of classroom teachers, concerned parents, progressive school leaders, and all members of the general community who are interested in the well-being of children and youth and the education of all our children. While also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $28.45), "Bandwidth Recovery For Schools" is an important and timely addition to school district, college, and university library Career Development Counseling, Vocational Guidance collections in general, and Educational Certification & Development supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular.
Editorial Note: Cia Verschelden has worked in higher education for over three decades. A residence hall director during her doctoral research, she has also served as a faculty member in social work, sociology, women's studies, American ethnic studies, and nonviolence studies. She is currently the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at Malcolm X College in Chicago.
The Radiant Lives of Animals
24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210
9780807047927, $19.95, HC, 160pp
Synopsis: Concerned that human lives and the natural world are too often defined by people who are separated from the land and its inhabitants, in the pages of "The Radiant Lives of Animals" Indigenous writer (Chickasaw) and environmentalist Linda Hogan depicts her own intense relationships with animals as an example we all can follow to heal our souls and reconnect with the spirit of the world.
From her modest forest home in Colorado, and venturing throughout the region, especially to her beloved Oklahoma, Hogan introduces us to horses, packrats, snakes, mountain lions, elks, wolves, bees, and so many others whose presence has changed her life. In this illuminating collection of essays and poems, lightly sprinkled with elegant drawings, Hogan draws on many Native nations' ancient stories and spiritual traditions to show us that the soul exists in those delicate places where the natural world extends into human consciousness -- in the mist of morning, the grass that grew a little through the night, the first warmth of this morning's sunlight.
Altogether, this beautifully packaged gift is a reverential reminder for all of us to witness and appreciate the radiant lives of animals.
Critique: Eloquent, inspiring, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "The Radiant Lives of Animals" is a unique and extraordinary read from cover to cover. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Native American Poetry, Nature Writing & Essays, and Contemporary Short Stories Anthology collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that ""The Radiant Lives of Animals" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).
Editorial Note: Linda Hogan is a poet, novelist, essayist, teacher, and activist. Her work illuminates environmental and Indigenous activism, as well as Native spirituality. Her literary works have earned her awards and fellowships including a National Endowment of the Arts award, a Guggenheim, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of America, and, most recently, the Thoreau Prize from PEN and a Native Arts and Culture Award. Linda maintains an informative website at www.lindahoganwriter.com.
The Gold Digger
P.O. Box 719
1810 Barbour Drive, Uhrichsville, OH 44683
9781643527123, $12.99, PB, 256pp
Synopsis: In 1907, shy but loyal Ingrid Storset travels from Norway to support her grieving sister, Belle Gunness, who owns a farm in LaPorte, Indiana. Well-to-do widow Belle, who has lost two husbands and several children, provides Ingrid with enough money to start a small business. But Ingrid is confused by the string of men Belle claims to be interviewing for her next husband. When Nils Lindherud comes to town looking for his missing brother, who said he was going to marry Belle, Ingrid has a sinking feeling her sister is up to no good.
Critique: The ninth volume in the simply outstanding 'True Colors: Historical Stories of American Crime) from Barbour Publishing, "The Gold Digger" by Liz Tolsma is another 'fiction novel based on factual history' and riveting story of American criminal activity with elements of historical romantic suspense. Showcasing author Liz Tolsma's impressive flair for a reader engaging narrative storytelling style, "The Gold Digger" is an inherently entertaining read from cover to cover. While especially recommended for community library Christian Mystery & Suspense Romance Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Gold Digger" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.34).
The Audacity to be Divine
Austin Macauley Publishers
9781645363613, $12.95, PB, 212pp
Synopsis: Mary Mrozowki was a quintessential New York housewife living in the depth of despair. Bearing the secret of her family's tumultuous past, Mary reclaimed her truth and strove for redemption against all odds -- transcending as a social activist, international organizer, and spiritual leader for the masses.
Mary was able to transcend worlds. Having integrated Christian modalities with Eastern philosophies, she established a lay monastic house of contemplation called "Chrysalis House." She mingled as an equal with spiritual and religious leaders, companions and strangers. As her teachings led her across five continents, thousands followed, considering her a modern day saint, role model for transformation, and sage for self-fulfillment.
Seeking truth was her religion. Amidst a sea of neutrally-dressed spiritual leaders, out would walk Mary as a vision in a bold red dress and heels. She did not fit in and she did not want to -- she was embraced by those who found solace in her relatability and charisma beyond measure.
Critique: The biography of a remarkable woman who had a memorably positive impact on the hundreds of those who knew her and the lives of tens of thousands who did not, "The Audacity to be Divine: A Soul's Journey Towards Illumination" by Judith Halbreich (Mary Mrozowki's oldest daughter) is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Audacity to be Divine" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.50).
Editorial Note: Judith Halbreich's lifetime of advocacy work is focused on the importance of all children having a home base and continuous mentorship. She is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist with a successful executive career in social services, clinical research, and mental health. Judith is the founder of Home of Champions, a unique program in Upstate New York that identifies leaders emerging from the foster care system and supports them towards becoming champions of their best selves.
Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir
Douglas & McIntyre
c/o Harbour Publishing
9781771622486, $18.95, PB, 256pp
Synopsis: When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn't expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervor. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots.
"Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir" tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. It follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for "other people", Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one's wild side and finding one's tribe in the unlikeliest of places.
Zarankin's thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, "Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir" will have a very special appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one's place in the world.
Critique: Eloquent, informative, personal, and impressively well written, "Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections. Of particular interest to the birding community, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781662071201, $22.99, CD).
Katherine McCord's Bookshelf
Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir
University of Nebraska Press
233 North 8th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68588-0255
9780803226234, $24.95 HC, $24.95 Kindle, 208pp
In "Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir", Sonja Huber details, through the lens of her own story, what it is like to maneuver through the health care system in the U.S. uninsured and the shame it ensues: "I bundle up to ride the T to the "free clinic" - the words had an ominous sound. I'd never encountered free healthcare, and I assumed that if they were giving it away, you'd have to endure some public humiliation first."
Huber's difficult story, one plagued by chronic sickness and chronic pain, is given to us clearly, impactfully and in a detailed manner in the way that this gifted artist human writer would. Her glowing words, yes, they glow, are that of a wordsmith: "I numbly wandered into our host's bathroom. On a low wire rack with bath products beneath the sink, I spotted an amber bottle with prescription-strength allergy medication. I picked up the bottle of Claritin. Like a cache of powerful larvae, the ovals nestled densely."
The whorl reminds she knows what she is doing. The emotional toll is unavoidable: I become the speaker. I am exhausted. Look, she shows, people get sick. People get chronically sick. People, without healthcare, have to scramble, with dire consequences. Yet sometimes the gorgeously wrought voice buoys, so we can get to the finish line. Still a quagmire, but with her deliciously described bright spots of humanity.
Editorial Note: Reviewer Katherine McCord won the Autumn House Press Open Book Award in Creative Nonfiction, for her literary memoir manuscript, Run Scream Unbury Save (2017), which Michael Martone called "Brilliant."
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Women, We're Only Old Once!
Bertha D. Cooper
1760-F Airline Hwy, #203, Hollister, CA 950243
9781950328260, $19.95, PB, 256pp
Synopsis: With over ten years of growing into an old woman with the help of her friends, Bertha Cooper knows whereof she writes. In her self-help book on aging,"Women, We're Only Old Once!", her readers will learn that growing old is not the slow death of our personalities, our bodies, or our relevance to the world. Someday, it will happen, but not yet! Feel the wisdom below the years we've lived and the power that comes with making our own choices about our aging selves.
"Women, We're Only Old Once!" offers explanations for natural changes that occur while aging and transitions we must make as we age. Women can be relieved to learn that having less endurance or word-finding problems are not signs of disease. Women are empowered to put their energy and spirit where it counts on their journey in this important phase of life.
Critique: Very highly and unreservedly recommended for the personal reading lists of all women whatever their age, "Women, We're Only Old Once!" is exceptionally well written and presented, making it a unique and certain to be enduringly popular addition to senior citizen and community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections for women readers.
Editorial Note: When Bertha D. Cooper started into her own experience with aging, she realized she had questions about natural aging compared to pathological aging which dominated her professional work. She combined her curiosity about aging and passion for writing in an on and off ten-year quest that resulted in the book, Women, We're Only Old Once, Keep What You Can, Let Go of What You Can't, Enjoy What You Have! released October 5, 2020 by MSI Press -- who gave her another writing opportunity to write a short book on managing during the pandemic. Staying in character, she wrote Old and On Hold, Aging in Place during the Pandemic and which was released June 23, 2020. Bertha has been a featured columnist for The Sequim Gazette, a local weekly newspaper published by Sound Publishing for over seven years. Her column appears every other week.
Guilty When Black
9781952320583, $16.99, PB, 308pp
Synopsis: "Guilty When Black: One Girl's Journey Down the Twisted Road of Injustice & The Atrocities of Female Incarceration" by Carol Mersch is the poignant and gut-wrenching story of a young African American woman, Miashah Moses, who, through unrelenting media attention and a rush to judgment by the DA is charged with second-degree murder in the fiery deaths of her two small nieces, Noni, 4, and Nylah, 18 months, when she fed them lunch and left for eight minutes to empty the trash. While she was gone, the faulty stove caught fire, a not uncommon occurrence in the low-income apartments, according the electrical contractors.
Deftly organized as a four-part story, "Guilty When Black" offers a rare glimpse into the unique challenges faced by minority and marginalized women in Oklahoma, a state with the highest rate of female incarceration in the nation. Miashah's plight is intertwined with vivid stories of five incarcerated women, the rise of one judge and fall of another, and the landmark exoneration of three black men wrongfully sentenced for crimes they did not commit.
This non-fiction account is prefaced with a gripping account of the Tulsa 1921 Race Massacre, the largest slaughter of African Americans in U.S. history that left the city's affluent Greenwood district, known as the "Black Wall Street," burned to the ground.
Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Guilty When Black: One Girl's Journey Down the Twisted Road of Injustice & The Atrocities of Female Incarceration" is a timely contribution to our on-going national discussion over social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Guilty When Black" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Black Studies, American Biography, and Contemporary Criminology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.
Editorial Note: Carol Mersch is an Oklahoma author and journalist specializing in narrative non-fiction. She has published eight books and numerous articles which she authored and co-compiled with others in areas of space exploration, law enforcement, and spirituality. She maintains an informative website at www.carolmersch.com.
Falling Open in a World Falling Apart
9781936012923, $15.95, PB, 138pp
Synopsis: Amoda Maa is a spiritual teacher, offering meetings and retreats to support and deepen the living of an awakened life. She has been sharing her teachings since 2012, initially at small gatherings. Today, her teachings are followed by a growing number of seekers world-wide.
With the publication of "Falling Open in a World Falling Apart: The Essential Teaching of Amoda Maa", readers are provided with the "jewel" of Amoda Maa's teachings -- how to be fully awake and fully human, open in a way that's the key to freedom and to what's most needed in our troubled times.
Unlike having no boundaries, this openness transforms reactivity, ends separation, leads us to our true authority, and guides us with the intelligence of love.
Critique: Deftly written, impressively thoughtful and thought-provoking, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Falling Open in a World Falling Apart: The Essential Teaching of Amoda Maa" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of non-specialist general reader with an interest in Transpersonal Psychology, Personal Transformation Self-Help, as well as Religion & Spirituality, that "Falling Open in a World Falling Apart" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).
The Future of Us
Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023-7015
9780231177573, $20.00, PB, 320pp
Synopsis: Raymond is a talented young artist who carries his work from homeless shelter to homeless shelter in a tattered bag but has never even been inside a museum. He is emblematic of the children that the pediatrician and children's advocate Irwin Redlener has met over the course of his long and colorful career. Inadequate education, barriers to health care, and crushing poverty make it overwhelmingly difficult for many children to realize their dreams.
"The Future of Us: What the Dreams of Children Mean for Twenty-First-Century America" is a memoir in which Redlener draws on his poignant personal experiences to investigate the nation's healthcare safety net and special programs that are designed to protect and nurture our most vulnerable kids, but that too often fail to do so.
"The Future of Us" follows Redlener's winding career, from his work as a pediatrician in the Arkansas delta, to treating child abuse in a Miami hospital, to helping children in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The reader accompanies him to the board of USA for Africa, to cofounding the Children's Health Fund with Paul Simon, as he persuades Joan Baez to play a benefit concert for his clinic in rural Arkansas, and to dinner with Fidel Castro. But what has motivated him most powerfully are the children who struggle with terrible adversities yet dream of becoming paleontologists, artists, and marine biologists.
These stories showcased in the pages of "The Future of Us" are his springboard for discussing larger policy issues that hinder us from effectively eradicating childhood poverty and overcoming barriers to accessible health care. Persistent deprivation and the avoidable problems that accompany poverty ensnare millions of children, with rippling effects that harm the health, prosperity, and creativity of the adults they become.
Redlener persuasively argues that we must drastically change our approach to meeting the needs of children -- for their sake and to ensure America's resiliency and influence in an increasingly complex and challenging world.
Critique: An inherently compelling read from cover to cover, "The Future of Us: What the Dreams of Children Mean for Twenty-First-Century America" is an eloquently crafted, thoughtful and thought-provoking read. Featuring an informative Foreword by television journalist Jane Pauley, "The Future of Us: What the Dreams of Children Mean for Twenty-First-Century America" is very strongly recommended for both community and academic library Children's Studies Social Science, Pediatrics, Social Services & Welfare collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, social scientists, social workers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Future of Us" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note: Dr. Irwin Redlener is a practicing pediatrician, as well as the president emeritus and cofounder of Children's Health Fund and founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute, where he is a senior research scholar.
Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture
University of Arizona Press
1510 E. University Boulevard
P.O. Box 210055, Tucson, AZ 85721-0055
9780816540075, $35.00, PB, 180pp
Synopsis: "Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking Through the Kaleidoscope" by Professor Vanessa Fonseca-Chavez exposes the ways in which colonialism is expressed in the literary and cultural production of the U.S. Southwest, a region that has experienced at least two distinct colonial periods since the sixteenth century.
"Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture" traces how Spanish colonial texts reflect the motivation for colonial domination, arguing that layers of U.S. colonialism complicate how Chicana/o literary scholars think about Chicana/o literary and cultural production. "Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture" also brings into view the experiences of Chicana/o communities that have long-standing ties to the U.S. Southwest but whose cultural heritage is tied through colonialism to multiple nations, including Spain, Mexico, and the United States.
While the legacies of Chicana/o literature simultaneously uphold and challenge colonial constructs, the metaphor of the kaleidoscope makes visible the rupturing of these colonial fragments via political and social urgencies. "Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture" challenges readers to consider the possibilities of shifting our perspectives to reflect on stories told and untold and to advocate for the inclusion of fragmented and peripheral pieces within the kaleidoscope for more complex understandings of individual and collective subjectivities.
"Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture" is intended for readers interested in how colonial legacies are performed in the U.S. Southwest, particularly in the context of New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. Readers will especially relate to the book's personal narrative thread that provides a path to understanding fragmented identities.
Critique: A timely and impressively informative contribution to Hispanic American Literary Criticism and Hispanic American Demographic Studies, "Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking Through the Kaleidoscope" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of six pages of Notes, a ten page listing of References, and a ten page Index. An exceptional work of detailed scholarship and also readily available for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject in a digital book format (Kindle, $33.25), "Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking Through the Kaleidoscope" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections.
Editorial Note: Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez is an Assistant Professor of English at Arizona State University. Her work focuses on colonialism, place studies, and the narratives of southwestern U.S. communities. She is also a co-editor of Spanish Perspectives on Chicano Literature: Literary and Cultural Essays and Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland.
Marj Charlier's Bookshelf
The Boy in the Field
9780062946393, $26.99 Hardcover, $13.99 Kindle, 254 pages
Matthew, Zoe and Duncan are walking home to their small town outside of Oxford, England, when they spy an injured boy in the field. While the attempted-murder mystery that follows provides much of the suspense of this three-youngsters-coming-of-age novel, the true heart of it lies in the impact that saving the boy in the field has on them. Even as the event pulls the siblings closer, the three each embark on their own lonely pursuit for meaning. Matthew is driven to sometimes risky lengths to try to solve the mystery, while Zoe takes on a different kind of risk, seeking a love that is perhaps beyond her years. Duncan, meanwhile, turns his sensitive soul toward his art, and as an adopted Turkish boy, the incident in the field inevitably leads to his desire to find his birth mother. All this movement takes place within the crucible of their parent's crumbling marriage.
Livesey's prose is both simple and evocative. It is with great tenderness that she renders the infidelity and pain of the parents and the emotional dilemmas of their children, creating a story that is both sad and comforting at the same time. There isn't an unsympathetic character in the book - not even the person who turns out to be responsible for hurting the boy in the field. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I highly recommend it as a companion for long, cold winter nights.
c/o Penguin Random House
9781524749224, $27.95 Hardcover, $13.99 Kindle, 338 pages
Agnes is an art teacher at a New England private girls' school, and as artists might be inclined, she has a soft spot for the odd girl in the class. Heidi is difficult, prickly, not particularly handsome, but talented. In a brief lapse of judgment, Agnes buys a flashy pair of boots, and then deciding that they are wrong for her, gives them to Heidi. Heidi goes to New York one day by train to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in said boots and is picked up by a lecherous older man. What happens is not a surprise, but Heidi returns devastated, and seeks Agnes's comfort. In another brief lapse of judgment, Agnes blurts out a response that doesn't seem all that surprising, but it provides the turning point that launches the rest of the novel. Many, many pages are devoted to Agnes's life after that, much of it is not terribly interesting and seems only tangentially relevant. Heidi waits years for the chance to wrest revenge - payback, that is - and when it comes, it doesn't work well.
The Cold Millions
9780062868084, $28.99 Hardcover, $14.99 Kindle, 337 pages
In a recent "By the Book" column in the New York Times Book Review, Jess Walter was asked "Can a great book be badly written?" His answer, in part: "I think writers sometimes fall in love with this idea of 'the gorgeous sentence' and it becomes their only definition of writing. But other elements are also part of writing; to me, an elegant narrative shape is every bit as beautiful as great prose."*
Ironically, Walter is downplaying one of his own strengths - beautiful prose. As I read The Cold Millions, I frequently put it down with a loud sigh. My husband asked, "What? Don't you like it?" "No," I replied, "I love it. But I'll never be able to write like this."
Such is the upside and downside of being a novelist who loves to read. I kept trying to figure out what made this book so good that I could hardly keep reading it at times. But that's not possible with great prose - just when you want to stay on the surface as a student of the writing, the great story AND the great prose pull you in, and you forget what you're there to do.
Walter's story about the labor movement of the early twentieth century features some real people in both historical and fictional settings, and two main fictional characters caught up in the struggle for economic justice amidst great inequality, suffering, and judicial indifference. Sixteen-year-old Rye leaves home after the death of his parents to find and reunite with his free-spirited and rabble-rousing older brother, Gig. Rye wants to reject his brother's radicalism, but he is quickly swayed. He listens to his brother and other labor agitators over beers and whiskeys and observes: "It's quite a thing when the world is upside down to hear someone say it don't have to be - that a man could be paid enough to feed and house himself."
Arrested for protesting at a free-speech rally in Spokane, Washington, (where most of the novel is set), Gig ends up with a long, torturous sentence in a squalid jail, but Rye is sprung because of his age. He joins up with the (real) Elizabeth Gurley Flynn labor organizer, a pregnant woman who despite her talents and power is as underestimated and slandered as the hobos and anarchists of the movement. Settling back down, he finds a job and lives well, if menaced by guilt for being more fortunate than his brother. The third-person and first-person narratives of the brothers and a few other characters are rendered so compellingly that a reader can't help but believe even the fictional ones fairly represent real, once-living people. (In his acknowledgments, Walter quotes Albert Camus: "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.") In a few such stories, Walter brings us right up to the men's last violent moments and final thoughts, and their exits are rendered with a long dash, mid-sentence. Only in such convincing fiction can a writer get by with that trick.
Walter's sympathies are clear from the start. As Rye listens to righteous speeches about equal rights, he muses: "Hell it took only your first day in a Montana flop or standing over your mother's unmarked grave to know that equal was the one thing all men were not. A few lived like kings, and the rest hugged the dirt until it cracked open and took them home." The reality, poverty, injustices, and cruelties of lived experiences behind that sentiment that make it hard to convincingly argue any other side of the polemic.
Add to that the period and geographical detail that sets you down in the time and place within just a few pages, and I say this: Any "best fiction of 2020" list that doesn't include this book is mistaken. It is unquestionably the best book (out of about 75) that I read all year.
*In this interview, Walter also demonstrates his wonderful, understated sense of humor, which makes it worth reading on many levels. To wit: "Once, during the eight years between novels, my mail carrier caught me at the mailbox looking for a check. He asked what was taking so long with my new book. 'A novel takes time,' I explained. 'You have to research it, craft it, find the thematic strands, tear it apart, rework it.' He shrugged. 'James Patterson published three books this year and I liked them all.' Point, mailman." For more: www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/books/review/jess-walter-by-the-book-interview.html.
Marj Charlier, Reviewer
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf
In Times of Rain and War
Shadow Mountain Publishing
9781629728544, $26.99 HB
This beautifully written novel slides between great heights of hope and deep depths of despair.
Perhaps the principal character from In Times of Rain and War is a black box carefully made by Audrey's father, somewhat like a tefillin used by observant Jews to hold verses from the Torah. It was cleverly designed to require quick presses to its corners in a particular sequence in order to slide its lid free. Inside were letters Audrey had written to her father and those he had written to her. As time passes in the novel more letters are added to the box, two of them written by Wes with whom Audrey has fallen in love. And finally are letters written to them. These letters contain much of the beautiful prose in the novel, and each of them written by Audrey or Wes contains a secret.
The novel takes place in wartime England, during the German bombing of London and before the Americans enter the war. The male protagonist, Wes, is an American marine, sent to observe the art of defusing unexploded bombs. The young woman, Audrey, is a German national who entered England with a forged passport in order to escape the Nazis. Wes and Audrey have their personal demons, but they fall in love, as you would expect. And with that a description of the novel's plot must stop, in order to avoid spoiling the novel's intensity and the author's magnificent rendition of the disasters that befell the English during Hitler's ruthless bombardment of innocent citizens.
The pace of the novel's action is fast, but in many places the author uses a small pause in the action to illustrate a poignant moment. In a moment when Wes stands over a German airman he has killed in a small country church, he calls out "I had no choice," as he looks up at a sculpture of Jesus on a silver cross. The author observes, "He seemed to be looking down at Wes, or was he looking past him at the dead man? Either way, he was wearing his own circle of thorns, and he looked to be crying." Much later in the novel, Audrey holds Wes in an embrace in a warehouse despite the fact that sirens are wailing. She consoles him over the death of a teammate, and determines she will not let go even if bombs begin to fall. "She knew well, from her own experience, that emotional wounds exposed to the air at nighttime invariably cause the sharpest of pain. His sorrows would scab over, but a cut this deep would take time to fully heal." These are but a few examples of the beautiful imagery that Camron Wright weaves into the plot.
At the end of the novel, the ebony prayer box appears to take one last letter. War changes people. A man who survives war cannot leave it behind. But Camron Wright has written much more than a PTSD novel. His beautifully written novel slides between great heights of hope and deep depths of despair. These are what war's survivors must endure. They are what must go into the prayer box.
University of Nevada Press
9781496225023, $24.95 PB
This beautifully written novel looks into a void in two lives, and follows two difficult journey's back from nothingness.
The Leave-Takers is a novel sometimes hard to put down and often hard to resume reading. It follows the struggles of two pill-taking addicts confronting their addictions, suffering the deaths of family members, and managing the heartbreaking failures of maintaining their own relationship. The pathos experienced by them is very hard to bear at times. The reader wants to believe that their stars with one day align and the disappointments will stop. But hopes are dashed time and again. Whether or not a resolution will ultimately occur is always uncertain.
The imagery in the novel is brilliant. The void is likened by Jacob to a "road sign with no lettering, a clear sheet of plastic, a blank sheet of paper." After Laynie arrives in South Dakota she compares herself to the winter landscape at the Cocklebur Farm, thinking, "Her old self barely clung to life. Here she could drag it up from the ground, rebuild it, rehabilitate it." At one point, Laynie struggles not with answers but with her inability even to find a question to guide her about what to do with herself. The question wasn't "something about peace and purposefulness, balance and dignity and the fluid, relinquishing ease that she'd never found in herself but knew had to be living somewhere beneath her crust of grief and mourning." Sadly, whatever the question may be, it is never answered.
The dead help tell the stories of the two protagonists, Jacob and Laynie. The dead protagonists are Jacob's brother, Daniel, and Laynie's father, William Jackman. A significant part of the story involves a journey to leave behind personal possessions of these dead protagonists in an uncertain attempt, perhaps, by Laynie and Jacob to rid themselves of the components of their mourning that keep bringing them back to popping pills. There is clever allegory here. The two of them, by dispensing with items like Daniel's guitar or William's shaving kit are in fact confronting "their deepest addiction" of making the dead live again. The idea is that "Once they buried the dead, the pills would follow." But an addict's life is full of such devices of rationalization. They are as futile as the changing of Laynie's name to Alanya in order to insure she will bear a healthy baby. It is all a part of a brutal reality that Steven Wingate so masterfully presents.
High praise is certainly in order for this novel, and several authors have bestowed it in their publicity commentary. But some of them do the novel a disservice with their optimistically bent adornments. What is laudatory about this book is its depiction of addiction as a desperate struggle. It rarely ends well. Alanya and Jacob are not fairy tale characters who overcome adversity to reach a rainbow. There is no rainbow in Leave-Takers, no love song, no perseverance, and no regeneration. For the most part, hard luck and addiction bring with them a lament of meaninglessness. Steven Wingate dramatically portrays the ugly truths his characters must accommodate. At the end there are still cockleburs clinging to the hard earth.
9781948954143, $19.99 PB
This clever novel gives the reader an hilarious perspective of a young man bumbling his way through work, religion and sex.
Although Meiselman is meant to be humorous, it's protagonist, Meiselman, is tragic. He lives in a house given to him by, and very close to, his stereotypically funny Jewish parents, who don't think of themselves as funny, only as seriously observant Jews. His wife, Deena or Daisy, depending on the circumstance, had to take courses on how to be observant. She takes it seriously, although it seems more out of duty than belief. And Meiselman is a mess who keeps sliding away from observance, when he isn't thinking about the Chicago Cubs. Judaism in the novel is a bit murky, as much from the depiction of the characters as from the attempts at humor.
The story is told from Meiselman's point of view almost exclusively. Sometimes it is hard to tell where an observation is coming from because Landes disguises it. But everything that happens is sifted through Meiselman's eyes and one needs to question how much these depictions are slanted. Meiselman also portrays action in advance, as he does after his meeting with the Rav when on his way home with the Rav's pronouncement concerning the blood spot on his wife's underwear, he "envisions how the rest of the night will unfold." His vision is strangely sexual and in the end he comments, "This is more or less what happens." It is hard to know whether that comment is truthful, as is the case with most of his commentary, particularly when it is coupled with memories of his childhood, like the ones with Ethel, who also happens to be his boss. Meiselman's circumspection is particularly profound when he is interacting with the pink-haired woman, who during all of the novel is a subject of his poorly concealed lust. She asks a question at the Shenkenberg reading and Meiselman's rendition about it is more about himself than her, "Indeed, she is the liberator. You've made it to the stage is the pink-haired woman's message. The light shines on you the same as it does for Shenkenberg, while the rest of us sit cramped in narrow seats on the other side, faceless in the dark." It's no matter that the pink-haired woman's question itself isn't repeated.
Meiselman, the novel, is a very long concoction of strands of Meiselman's neuroses looping in and out of memories and rationalizations about his tortured life. The problem with the story is its length. The strands the narrator weaves during the narration start to entangle with themselves after about three hundred pages and the story begins to gasp for air. We've heard it too many times, already, readers will want to say. Put us (and Meiselman) out of our misery. Please.
9781775540922, $19.99 PB
This even paced novel tells a unique historical story about a Jewish spy struggling to understand himself during World War II.
Levi's War has only a grain of truth when it comes to its primary protagonist, Levi Horowitz. The setting is certainly historical, but Levi not so much so. The characters with whom he interacts, both in Berlin and in Assisi, are certainly real: Hitler and his confederates as well as Father Don Aldo Brunacci. But Levi's actions, and the plot in which he engages, is imagined.
The writing in Levi's War is good and the plot is evenly paced. The descriptions are careful, and nuanced well in the case of Levi's intimate moments. His first one occurs with Pierre while swimming in the ocean. "An arm around his chest pulled him back down, and then it happened. Just a second, there and gone." The same is true later in the story during his romantic liaisons with Erik, and the description of their final encounter is particularly poignant. These presentations lend credibility to occurrences that could easily have otherwise been unbelievable.
Still, the plot of Levi's War often struggles to fit within the real events of the years in which the story takes place. Being Jewish in Nazi Germany is nothing new, and being homosexual in that time has also been explored in historical literature. One needs only to remember the musical Cabaret for an example of that. To be Jewish and homosexual, as well as a spy, is certainly extraordinary. And this novel strains when it links the two in Levi. In the end, the reader knows little about Levi the person, other than that he was Jewish, a homosexual and a spy. That is disappointing.
This novel is the third is a series of novels about the Horowitz family. It is the weaker of the three, almost an afterthought about the Horowitz's. One feels when finished reading the novel that one has completed a paint by numbers portrait of the Horowitz family.
Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump
9781984820426, $28.00 Hardcover, 352 pgs
The Trump presidency is winding down, with the end being just a few weeks away. The amazing road that America has traveled over the last four years has including dangerous curves, sheer drops, and blind spots that have almost caused the American experiment to crash and burn. A portion of this wild ride has been chronicled in Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, by Sarah Posner (New York: Random House, 2020, vii, 352 pgs, $28 US, $35 Can). Posner, an experienced investigate journalist, has written the proverbial "road map" of how the Christian right subsumed the mainstream conservative climate and turned it dangerously and sharply further right. Unholy is a beginning chapter in the tumultuous and sad history of the Trump presidency.
Unholy discusses the last four years from a very interesting vantage point. Many of the "celebrities" of the Christian right have been active in molding the Republican party into a religious political party. This effort has been going on full force since the days following the Watergate scandal of the mid-1970s. Political operatives who have worked in the political shadows for decades, used the Trump presidency to push an agenda of repealing basic human rights for women, minorities, and LGBTQ individuals. They simply used the "pulpit" as their avenue of choice, and the fear and ignorance of rural American churchgoers as a platform to spread dangerous propaganda. Thankfully, books like Unholy are rolling off the presses at an increasing rate and can only be used to shed light on the motives of these political operatives and their minions and define the last four years as an awakening to the efforts of some to severely altar the American dream.
Sarah Posner has written an easily readable and highly engaging volume. Her use of the words of the Christian right as well as data gleaned from news outlets only underscores the importance of this book. Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, should be a must read for anyone interested in the precarious position of civil rights in America. It should also be required reading for anyone concerned with the negative use of hope and trust by those eager to assume power on a federal level. It is a great book and assumes a much needed place of prominence on the shelf of American history and culture.
Matthew W. McCarty, EdD
Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Politics, Police and Other Earthling Antics
Austin Macauley Publishers
9781645754671, $10.95, PB, 148pp
Synopsis: Author and satirist Mickie Winkler is an alien from Planet Zalaria who delights in chronicling our antics here on Planet Earth. She has observed earthlings watering their decorative plants. She marvels at the 40,000 state laws Americans pass each year.
Now in the pages of "Politics, Police and Other Earthling Antics" Mickie wonders why cops buy expensive body cameras when all the cameras seem to fail. Her readers can share her fascination with earthlings when they absorb her observations, all presented in very short pieces -- short enough to share with guests.
Zalarians were once much like earthlings, Mickie explains, but alas, we now lack the ever-entertaining drive for power and sex, so evident among earthlings and chimpanzees. (Mickie, by the way, has no doubt that when female earthlings achieve parity with males, they too will demonstrate a drive for power and has so written in this very book.)
As an illegal alien, Winkler has zero inalienable rights. Before beaming back to Zalaria, she still needs to answer the question: is there intelligent life on Earth?
Over her years in advertising, as an English coach abroad (in China and Russia and Turkey), as a Mayor of Menlo Park, CA - as well as a wife and mother - Mickie has wondered whether there is intelligent life on earth. Her new book, "Politics, Police and Other Earthling Antics", is comprised of 54 illustrated, short and irreverent anecdotes reflecting on the unique and baffling habits of ordinary people, police and politicians.
After reading her book, Mickie Winkler hopes you look at us all with a new set of eyes!
Critique: Wickedly and non-stop funny, "Politics, Police and Other Earthling Antics" is a remarkably entertain satire and one that will be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library collections of humorous and memorable fiction.
The Long Pause and the Short Breath
Nicole Freezer Rubens
The Three Tomatoes Book Publishing
9781735358536, $18.99, PB, 110pp
Synopsis: "The Long Pause and the Short Breath" by Nicole Freezer Rubens is a simply stunning, deftly crafted, thought-provoking, and memorable collection of poems and photography thematically focused on New York City's experience with the Covid-19 pandemic that has so dramatically affected its residents and visitors.
With a keen artist's eye and laser sharp insights, Nicole Freezer Rubens takes her readers inside the pandemic bubble of New York City through the lockdown, the endless sirens, the protests, the salutes to those who cared for us, the loss of lives and freedoms, and then out the other side when the quarantine was finally lifted.
The stark and often shocking beauty of her photographs tell the story of a city on pause -- but it's the photos combined with the poetry that speaks volumes of lives upended that make a unique and dramatic impact as her readers find themselves swept up in a tidal wave of emotions and a love story to the "eternal flame of New York City that can never be extinguished".
Critique: An inherently fascinating read from first page to last (and a body of work that would serve well as a template for similar efforts to document the pandemic's impact on other American cities, towns and villages), "The Long Pause and the Short Breath: Poems & Photos - Reflections On New York City's Pandemic" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Photography and Contemporary Poetry collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Long Pause and the Short Breath" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99) and that as a Library Memorial Fund Acquisition selections that "The Long Pause and the Short Breath" is also available as a 'Print on Demand' hardcover ($31.62, www.amazon.com).
Follow Me: Eighteen Essential Lessons on Leadership
Gefen Publishing House
255 Central Ave #B-206, Lawrence, NY 11559
9798653904653, $12.95, PB, 88pp
Synopsis: The leadership philosophy of Israeli Brigadier-General Gal Hirsch is condensed into eighteen crucial lessons in the pages of "Follow Me: Eighteen Essential Lessons on Leadership"
The chapters comprising "Follow Me" include: Find Your Inner Voice; Cultivate Steadfastness; Demonstrate Backbone; Adopt the "We before I" Attitude; Envision the Actual and the Possible (Two Pictures); Inspire Vision; Prepare to Pay a Price; Play Each Role as Your Last; Know That Values Determine Results; Develop Knowledge for Decision Making; Empower Your Professionalism via Learning; Be First among Equals (Two-Millimeter Leadership); Protect Your People; Always Accomplish the Mission; Create a Leadership-Developing Environment (LDE); Use a New Language; Develop Self-Confidence and Courage; Display Humility and Reverence.
Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Follow Me: Eighteen Essential Lessons on Leadership" is highly recommended reading for anyone with a position of authority and responsibility whether it be military, corporate, or governmental. While especially and unreservedly for community, corporate, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Follow Me" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.19).
Editorial Note: Gal Hirsch was born in a remote town in the Negev Desert of Israel and has dedicated himself to a military career since childhood. After graduating from a military academy with honors, he volunteered for and was accepted into a prestigious elite commando reconnaissance unit of the Paratroopers Brigade. Rising in the ranks of the IDF, he served among other posts as Chief of Operations in Central Command and Commandant of the IDF officers training school. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 2005 and appointed Commander of the Galilee Division in Northern Command, the position he held during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. After his resignation, Hirsch established Defensive Shield Holdings, which specializes in innovative technologies in defense and security-related sectors for governments and major corporations. From 2012 to 2015 Hirsch was called back to serve in the IDF as a full active reservist, appointed as Deputy Commander of the new IDF Depth Corps. He also teaches at various IDF leadership programs and serves as Chairman of the Israel Leadership Institute.
The Clear Light: Spiritual Reflections and Meditations
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781608687121, $18.95, HC, 136pp
Synopsis: In an Eckhart Tolle Edition from New World Library, "The Clear Light: Spiritual Reflections and Meditations" is Steve Taylor's newest contribution to a an Eckhart Tolle poetic tradition. Taylor offers short and powerful reflections as a guide to spiritual awakening and as experiential glimpses of the state of enlightenment itself.
Taylor also ranges widely, through subjects including "Making the Human Race Whole," "Freedom from the Past," and "The Reality of Connection," always in clear and simple language. Best of all, he reminds us of the choices we always have when life feels chaotic and overwhelming: empathy, acceptance, and love.
Soothing but also challenging, Taylor's words continually affirm the profound bedrock of peace and even joy in the present that is always available. Browsing through the pages of "The Clear Light" is a transformational spiritual experience in itself.
Critique: Reflective, introspective, contemplative, thought-provoking, deftly crafted, "The Clear Light: Spiritual Reflections and Meditations" is a memorable and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary Poetry and Religion/Spirituality collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Clear Light" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.16).
Editorial Note: A senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University and currently residing in Manchester, England, Steve Taylor is the author of eleven previous books on psychology and spirituality, including The Calm Center and The Leap, his first two books in New World Library's Eckhart Tolle Editions imprint. He is also the author of the Return to Harmony audio course.
Michael J. Carson
Niles Reddick's Bookshelf
The Blue, Red Lyrea
B08NKB861J, $3.99 Kindle, 134 pages
Newly released from the multi-talented Mehreen Ahmed, The Blue, Red Lyrea is a twin novella book: Offing and The Cheshire Grins. Both novellas have been written in a stream-of-consciousness style and are like the constellations of the lyre of the deep skies. Both have exotic settings and seem magical and surrealistic.
Both novellas also pull readers into the psychology of the characters and the complexities and existential crises they experience whether job loss, a love affair, death/murder of a sibling or the disappearance of a cat. The title The Blue, Red Lyrea is symbolic of the colors of two of five main constellations. Blue is indicative of hot and red, indicative of cold and an existential allusion to life and dancing at a cosmic tune of a symbolic harp that Lyra represents.
Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning author, has a phenomenal writing career, is internationally published, and critically acclaimed. One of her many short stories won The Waterloo Short Story Competition in 2020, and her work has been nominated three times for The Best of the Net Awards in 2020, a Pushcart Prize Award Nomination in 2020, and two-time nomination for Ditmar Awards in 2016 and 2019.
As a nominee for Aurealis Awards in 2015 and a nominee for Christina Stead Prize in 2018, Mehreen's book was announced as The Drunken Druid's Editor's Choice in June 2018, and readers should be excited about her recent announcement of her forthcoming flash fiction collection.
A diverse and talented writer, Mehreen Ahmed has written novels, novellas, short stories, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, academic, prose poetry, memoirs, essays, and journalistic work. Her works have been podcast, anthologized, and translated in German, Greek, and Bengali. She has two masters' degrees and a bachelor's (Hon) in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Queensland and Dhaka University. She was born and raised in Bangladesh. She lives in Australia.
Niles Reddick, Reviewer
Robert Francos' Bookshelf
Saving Grace: A Psychological Thriller
D. M. Barr
Black Rose Writing
9781684335565, $19.95 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 243 pages
Murder mysteries are a genre that has always been popular, but one needs to dig deeper, as they also can be broken down into subgenres: there's the Noir/hard-bitten detective who at some point will mention the dirty city; there's more of a police procedural, like those written by Sue Grafton; and then there is the category that Saving Grace could be included.
This falls more in line with the Agatha Christie / Murder She Wrote / Monk kind of almost artistic straightforwardness that makes it a bit more palpable for the average reader. That does not mean there won't be blood and murder, it is just a stylistic choice that I personally enjoy. It's certainly not a comedy, but it is a lighter shade of dark. Just from the name/word pun of the title, you know this is going to be a fun ride.
For those who don't know, DM Barr is a celebrated writer with a few books under her belt now, and quite a number of awards. In the full disclosure department, I have known Barr in my life a while back, though I haven't seen her since around 1990, when she was a magazine writer, but well before she was a published book author.
Most reviewers have referred to Saving Grace as a psychological thriller, and rightfully so. The central and titular character is a woman with a history of paranoia, and so now in her middle age, living with her husband and two teenaged sons, she has spent a large amount of her time under the thumb of numerous medications that keep her less than clear-headed. But she is going to change that by cold turkey-ing the drugs and go on with her life.
This leads to a nice line of "what is real and what is imagined?" Is Grace's middle management husband, Eliot, a lothario who is only sticking around until Grace's estranged rich father passes on and leaves her, his only living relative, his loot? And is Eliot's plan to do away with Grace once that happens? She's becoming more convinced by things that may or may not be true; she is living in a world of delusional circumstantial evidence fed by mental strain and a lack of medicines, and the prospect of being gaslit. But as a woman of a certain age, Grace indicates in the novel, "Life without meds overflowed with possibility" (p. 7).
It doesn't help that between Grace's passive-aggressive husband's condescending and her two young teen sons' lack of respect, she is living in a world of toxic masculinity, seeing her for what she can give them, rather than helping in a substantial way. This is just part of the reason she is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Everyone around Grace can see it, but her. The question is, what is real?
Grace is well read, as her only outlet for cathartic emotion, and Barr nicely uses characters of other novels to have her express how she is feeling, such as "She felt as trapped as Henri Charriere in Papillon, doomed forever to imprisonment on Devil's Island. Except unlike him, she had no ally to help her escape" (p. 17). Barr never talks down to the audience, using language that is lush and languid, occasionally scattered with words like prophylactic homicide and uxoricidal (look it up; I did).
There are also quite an engaging ancillary cast of characters, such as her daddy, Barrington (I can so see Ray Wise in the role), who is a mean, nasty and elderly Trump-type who likes to belittle and name-call, and his mistress Caprice, who is more than a decade less Grace's age. A third wheel in the relationships between Grace and Eliot, and also Grace and Barrington, is Grace's psychologist, Dr. Emma Leighmann, who has been treating her since she was a child. It's debatable whose best interest she has in mind, since Barrington's long fingers have a financial hold on her. Another is Sheryl, Eliot's over-ambitious secretary, willing to do what it takes to make her boss rise in the ranks, planning that he will take her with him, be it in the office or, as Grace fears, to replace her. Then there's the toxicologist Grace befriends, Tom Druthers (as opposed to Smothers). You know something is up when Grace thinks, "Neither hand bore a wedding ring. It made sense - no self-respecting wife would let her husband leave the house in such a state." Sure that's a heteronormative comment, but in context it is dripping with possibilities. Speaking of which, of course the more the secondary characters, the better both the possible body count and, arguably even more importantly, the red herrings.
Two other individuals are the sister and brother team of Andrea and Hack. She's a mystery writer who takes Grace under her wing, and he's a late-teen gonif due to his gambling habit. The two of them are central to the story, though they are not in it, generally, until a third of the novel. Their presence is due to be profound.
The book is thankfully not formulaic, beginning with the murder, and then most of the rest are the events leading up to the moment of execution, as it were. There are also lots of surprises along the way, including the presence of a possible Undzer Shtik (Jewish Mafia), which made me laugh. There is also some serious side commentary on the issues of LGBTQI, conversion therapy, and homeless teens that are noteworthy being important lynchpins in the story without anywhere near being preachy.
A few interjections are also dispersed throughout about the political climate, not really taking a left/right side, but noting the cultural angst, such as one character, an aspiring writer, stating, "I write ... Ultra-Cozies... They're short mysteries with only two or three characters, take place in one location, and have very little action. ... They're for readers so traumatized by the current political climate, they can't tolerate too much drama" (p. 70). As dire as the basic storyline is, there is levity here and there, such as one aspiring writer character describing her genre: "It's Yoga romance. My latest, Chakra Full of Nuts, hit number one in the category last week. It's about two Yogis who fall in love at a cashew farm" (p. 70). Or when Barr, as narrator, states about a tense moment: "The room grew as silent as the second 'n' in 'condemn'" (p. 72). There are also a slew of (translated) Yiddish axioms that are bound to make the reader giggle.
The reason for the mention of writers, Grace decides to write a mystery novel, Salvaging Hope, using her life as the paradigm, hereby pre-emptively securing her safety as her fears are publicly circulated. A pretty brazen yet cool idea for a Marshall McLuhan-esque hot medium; or a one character describes it, "Publishing rather than perishing" (p. 92).
While the body count is not huge, its more realistic number is still relatively lively (pun intended), and the story builds and then explodes in the final third of the book when time catches up to the prologue, and then there are enough people introduced in Team Grace's to try to figure out the answer. I'm willing to admit that despite the red herrings, I figured out (guessed) who was the central villain about a third in, but even so, was not totally sure until near the end (comes from years of watching shows like Monk and Midsomer Murders).
Chapters are relatively short at a few pages each, making them easier to digest, but considering the storyline, it is harder to put the damn thing down. I'm a relatively slow reader, but it only took me three days to go through it (normally, this would be a week, at least). That speaks to the quality of the story.
While I have not yet read Barr's other books, Expired Listings (2016) and Slashing Mona Lisa (2018), there is a lot of meta text in here. For example, Barr and Grace are around the same age, both writers of lighter stuff until the novels came, and Barr's also quite wealthy dad (I have been to his beachfront house in the Hamptons in the 1980s for a Barr pool party, but never met him, so cannot attest to the comparison to Barrington). As the story unfolds, we are also met with a secondary meta-formation, as we learn of Grace's writing development (such as adding in said secondary characters), and that her first novel was about real estate agents, a field in which Barr has also embraced, showing she's not beyond using the "write what you know" maxim. All for the better of her readers, I must add.
How did this book make me feel, overall? As Druthers put it, "...happier than a mosquito on the first day of summer" (p. 189).
Robert Barry Francos
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography
A New Biography Of Howard Thurman
The African American mystic, philosopher, and spiritual guide, Howard Thurman, (1899 -- 1981) has been getting renewed attention the past few years, including this new biography by Paul Harvey, "Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography" (2020). Harvey, professor of history and presidential teaching scholar at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, has written several books on American religion and race. His study of Thurman is part of a "Library of Religious Biography Series", a series aimed at a popular in addition to a scholarly audience, that aims to show how "religious biographies open a window to the sometimes surprising influence of religion on the lives of influential people and the worlds they inhabited." I had earlier read Allen Guelzo's book in this series: "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President".
Harvey's biography tells the story of Thurman's life and of why Thurman is worth knowing. The book's focus is on Thurman's thought, which is broad and sometimes elusive, and on its influence on the Civil Rights Movement. Harvey makes extensive use of the Thurman papers at Boston University which have been edited and published over many years in five volumes of papers and two volumes of sermons and other writings under the leadership of the scholar of religion, Walter Fluker. The biography also draws upon Thurman's over twenty published books, with an emphasis on Thurman's most famous work, "Jesus and the Disinherited" (1949).
Harvey properly sees Thurman as "foremost a man of ideas" and as a lifelong spiritual seeker. He describes well how Thurman developed from his Baptist upbringing in highly segregated Daytona Beach, Florida under the influence of nature and of his grandmother, a former slave, to become a teacher of metaphysical, spiritual and communal unity. Thurman taught the importance of both spiritual, personal contemplation and of social activism. The understanding of his thought requires thinking about how these two strands are related. Harvey's biography recognizes the metaphysical, mystical aspects of Thurman's work but it focuses more on his activity and writing in support of civil rights and of his sympathy for a religion for those with "their backs against the wall" as expressed in "Jesus and the Disinherited".
The six chapters of Harvey's book explore Thurman's long life, his accomplishments, and his writings. Harvey pays commendable attention to Thurman's second wife, Sue Bailey Thurman, whose accomplishments in her own right often are overlooked. (Thurman's first wife died from illness early in the marriage.) The opening chapter discusses Thurman's childhood and his efforts to get an education, including his reaching out to study with the Quaker mystic, Rufus Jones. Thurman had a long, influential career as Chaplain at Howard University, and took a trip to India where he met Gandhi and had a mystical vision at Khyber Pass. Thurman's trip, and his addresses and sermons from his years at Howard, are explored in the second and third chapters of Harvey's book.
Perhaps Thurman's greatest tangible accomplishment was his role as the co-founder of the first inter-racial, ecumenical church in the United States, the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, in San Francisco. It took both courage and a spirit of restlessness for Thurman to set out on this journey and founding, which receives a great deal of attention in chapter four of Harvey's biography.
In chapter 5, Harvey discusses Thurman's service as the first African American chaplain at a non-historically black university. Thurman brought a universalist vision to bear at Boston University, which involved many interactions with future civil rights activists and with others, including the Jewish mystical teacher Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Thurman was a widely-known figure during this time and his sermons and addresses were often broadcast on radio. He also experienced tension between his universalist, spiritual vision and the more sectarian Protestant focus of Boston University.
The final chapter captures Thurman's busy years in retirement as he sought to expand his teachings to a still broader audience through travels and through his late writings.
Harvey's book lacks footnotes but it includes a valuable Bibliographical Essay for readers wanting to learn more about Thurman. Harvey shows much graciousness by encouraging his readers to explore an upcoming lengthier and more academically oriented biography of Thurman, "Against the Hounds of Hell" by Peter Eisenstadt, scheduled for publication in 2021.
Of the many writings and speeches of Thurman discussed in this biography, I found the following small exchange telling. While Thurman was at Boston University in the 1970s, the future theologian and university dean James Earl Massey had prepared an early biographical manuscript about Thurman and gave it to Thurman and his wife to review. Thurman candidly told Massey that the work was more an anthology of Thurman's writings than an "interpretation of their significance as the material passes through your own mind and spirit." Harvey observes on this incident.
"Thurman wanted his disciples to reflect more on their own inward journey than on repeating the words of others, even of the spiritual master. The manuscript was left unpublished. Massey later went on to publish extensively on preaching and spiritual disciplines."
My understanding of Thurman deepened from reading Harvey's book. This biography makes an excellent introduction to the active mysticism of a wise philosopher, theologian, and teacher.
The Plotinus Reader
Lloyd Gerson, editor
Hackett Publishing Company
9781624668944, $54.00 hardback, $18.00 paperback
Some Time With Plotinus
I have been spending time with Plotinus through this new book, "The Plotinus Reader" (2020) edited by Lloyd Gerson, a renowned scholar of Neoplatonism and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Time spent with Plotinus is time well spent even though the text makes for notoriously slow and difficult reading. I have been interested in Neoplatonism for a long time. but it is always a challenge to read Plotinus himself. The publisher and the American Philosophical Association made this book available for free download during this time of pandemic. I couldn't resist the opportunity to revisit Plotinus. I have been reading the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, in an online study group, and Bergson was influenced greatly by Plotinus. His early book, "Time and Free Will" is framed by an epigraph from Plotinus which I found again in working through "The Plotinus Reader": "If a man were to inquire of Nature the reason of her creative activity, and if she were willing to give ear and answer, she would say Ask me not, but understand in silence, even as I am silent and am not wont to speak."
I have also been reading the African American mystical theologian and philosopher, Howard Thurman, (1899 -- 1981) whose work shows an even more deeply Neoplatonic cast than Bergson's. In his book, The Centering Moment" (p. 23), Thurman offered the following meditation on Plotinus.
"The world, the cosmos, my little life, are contained in God, and if I keep the roadway open, even as I live, doing my thing in the world of things, I can keep journeying back home to be recentered, renewed, recreated, redeemed, over and over again, as long as I live and beyond."
Thurman continues with a prayer recognizing the universality of Plotinus' spiritual teachings.
"For the assurance, our Father, of the movement of Thy spirit in the heart and mind and life of one whose language and whose culture and faith differed in so many crucial ways from our own but whose truth belongs to us even as it belongs to Thee, we give uncluttered praise and thanksgiving. Walk beside us and in us; surrounding us with Thy love, that the way we take may bring us safely to Thee, who is the source of all there is, the delight of our spirits, the God of our salvation."
"The Plotinus Reader" offers the opportunity to struggle with and be inspired by Plotinus with Gerson as a guide. The heart of the book consists of eighteen key texts from the "Enneads" in recent scholarly translations. A short introduction by Gerson precedes each text. Gerson also offers a summary of the key concepts in each paragraph of the text to help the reader along. Gerson's footnotes offer further explanatory material together with references to the many works from Greek philosophy from which Plotinus drew. The supportive material is helpful for working through texts which must remain daunting.
The last third of the book consists of additional supportive material. Gerson presents sections of the works of earlier philosophers, including the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, and others whom Plotinus discusses. The interested reader thus will have many sources to hand for consultation. I also found it inspiring simply to be reminded of these works. And the book concludes with a glossary of some of the technical terms that Plotinus uses in the texts in the book.
Plotinus is not a philosopher for quick reading. But one can get a sense of his teaching and his philosophical/religious spirituality from the works in this book. Of the works in this volume, the final selection "On the Good or the One" probably offers the clearest summation of Plotinus' teachings on the whole. It also would be useful to read this book together with some secondary source material on Plotinus. I recommend Pierre Hadot's book, "Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision".
I was grateful for the ability to spend time with Plotinus during this period of pandemic and to think about how his thoughts, in themselves and through others, have been over the years a source of inspiration to me.
Kenneth Fearing: Selected Poems
Kenneth Fearing, author
Robert Polito, editor
Library of America
Kenneth Fearing In The American Poets Project
Kenneth Fearing (1902 -- 1961) is probably best known for his 1946 noir novel "The Big Clock" and for its 1948 film adaptation starring Ray Milland. Fearing was a poet who wrote of the complexity, impersonality, and commercialization of life in New York City during the Great Depression and WW II. Fearing sometimes is called the "Chief Poet of the American Depression", but his poetry tends to be little read today. This book of Fearing's "Selected Poems" was published in 2004 by the American Poets Project of the Library of America and edited with and Introduction by Robert Polito, a poet and biographer who also edited a two-volume collection of Crime Novels from the 1930s -- 1950s for the Library of America.
The volume includes selections from each of Fearing's books of poetry, including "Angel Arms" (1929), "Poems" (1935), "Dead Reckoning" (1938), "Collected Poems" (1940), "Afternoon of a Pawnbroker" (1943), "Stranger at Coney Island" (1948) and "New and Selected Poems" (1956). Fearing's poetry shows a high degree of continuity; the stronger and more characteristic poems tend to be in the earlier volumes.
The immediate impression Fearing's poems made on me was that of a noir poet with the themes of loneliness, loss, alienation on the streets and in the office, and corruption expressed in film noir and in noir novels and stories. The writing has a sharp, hard-boiled feel with lengthy, rat-a-tat lines punctuated by slang, advertising slogans, graffiti, and the like. Fearing is a poet of the city with an ambivalent attitude to it. He is heavily critical of its commercialization and of its loneliness and violence of all kinds. The poetry may also have an implicit sense of renewal.
With their origins in the Depression, Fearing's poems have a strong economic component. He was part of a group of writers on the Left, and he was frequently associated with communism. The poems certainly talk about the crassness and materialism of business and American life as well as about the impact of poverty and hopelessness during the Depression years. The ideological component of the poems should not be over-emphasized, and Fearing himself declined to categorize his work in this way. The poems are better seen as works of imagination and vision and of the poet's reflections on what he saw in New York City streets.
Here is a sample of Fearing's poetry, the poem "Andy, Jerry, and Joe" from the volume "Angel Arms".
"We were staring at the bottles in the restaurant window,
We could hear the autos go by.
We were looking at the women on the boulevard,
It was cold,
No one else knew about the things we knew.
We watched the crowd, there was a murder in the
papers, the wind blew hard, it was dark,
We didn't know what to do.
There was no place to go, and we had nothing to say,
We listened to the bells, and voices, and whistles, and
We moved on,
We weren't dull, or wise, or afraid,
We didn't feel tired, or restless, or happy, or sad.
There were a million stars, a million miles, a million
people, a million words,
A million laughs, a million years,
We knew a lot of things we could hardly understand,
There were liners at sea. and rows of houses, and
clouds in the sky, and songs in the halls,
We waited on the corner,
The lights were in the stores, there were women on
the streets, Jerry's father was dead.
We didn't know what we wanted and there was
nothing to say.
Andy had an auto and Joe had a girl."
I was reminded in reading Fearing of two other writers of his time who I have read and who are probably even more obscure today than is Fearing. The poet Horace Gregory was a close friend of Fearing's who also wrote poems about the down and out in New York streets in books such as "Chelsea Rooming House" and "Chorus for Survival" during the years Fearing was active. The novelist and essayist Edward Dahlberg championed Fearing's work and wrote an introduction to "Angel Arms" which is not included in this selection of Fearing's poems but which I would like to read.
In these days of pandemic and social and economic dislocation, Fearing's voice is worth hearing and remembering. The American Poets Project publishes small uniform volumes of American poets, revealing the high accomplishment of many American writers and the variety of their poetry. It is an outstanding series for thinking about the United States and its art. The poems of Kenneth Fearing are a worthy component of this series. The volume will interest those readers interested in Depression writings and readers who want to see Fearing within the broad range of American poetry.
Steve Blackburn's Bookshelf
Chris Wallace with Mitch Weiss
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781982143343, $30.00, HC, 320pp
9781797105444, $29.99, CD
9781982143350, $17.99 PB, $14.99 Kindle
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" -- Oppenheimer's translation from the Bhagavad Gita
2020 is seventy-five years removed from 1945, when the US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, making us the first and still the only country to use atomic weapons in war. Countdown 1945 is Chris Wallace's telling of the events during the 116 days from Truman's assumption of the Presidency following the death of Franklin Roosevelt until the atomic bombing at Hiroshima.
The "countdown" structure helps to move the story along and provides a tight focus for the short book (under 250 pages for the book, 8 hours 45 minutes for the audiobook). Wallace uses the structure to move the action back and forth through the main players - President Harry Truman who makes the decision to use the bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer and crew who labor at Los Alamos to perfect it, Paul Tibbets and his team who dropped the bomb, and Hideko Tamura, whose family is subject to the atomic blast.
If this is your introduction to the story of the development of the atomic bomb, you won't be disappointed. Wallace's telling is brisk and keeps the pages turning. My problem with the book is that in order to keep it a page turner, much of the background and context of the story is left out. It's a fascinating time in history, and if you like this book I'd encourage you to seek out others like McCullough's Truman, Neiburg's Potsdam, Bird and Sherwin's American Promethius and Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
I read the audiobook, narrated by the author, whose confident newsreader's voice lends itself well to this story.
Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876
William H. Rehnquist
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9780375413872, $39.99, HC, 288pp
9780375713217, $15.00 PB, $12.99 Kindle, 288pp
Centennial Crisis is Chief Justice William Rehnquist's interesting but ultimately disappointing telling of the disputed election of 1876.
The book is quite good at giving us the background of the central characters in the 1876 election - Grant, the outgoing President, Hayes, the candidate who ultimately won, Tilden his opponent. This takes up the first four chapters.
Chapter 5 covers the election itself, and here's where things get disappointing. Over the preceding 90 some pages Rehnquist covers the players in detail, but the play itself gets only eighteen pages, and there are twists and turns here that clearly could have benefited from further detail. I got to the end of Chapter 5 more than a bit confused by it all - Louisiana had a committee that simply threw out votes until they got the result they wanted? Oregon's governor simply substitutes electors because why? It's all really strange and not well explained - even to a reader living through the strange contortions of the 2020 election.
Suffice it to say that more than one state (Hello Florida) submitted votes from more than one slate of electors to the Electoral College, throwing the election to Congress. How Congress made it's way through the electoral mess, and managed to enlist Justices of the Supreme Court while doing so is the subject of the rest of the book.
Centennial Crisis is interesting as the product of the legal mind of the Chief Justice whose court ruled on the Florida ballot disputes in the 2000 election. It's worth a read for that reason alone. But if you are looking to understand the environment and the politics of 1876 that led to the dispute in the first place, then it's best to look elsewhere. Rehnquist, legal wizard he, is of course much more interested in the legal process of resolving the dispute, and it's impact on (and to) the Supreme Court, and that is the story he tells here.
Into No Man's Land: A Historical Memoir
Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive
University of Michigan-Dearborn
9780933691186, $20.00 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 308pp
Into No Man's Land is an affecting and compelling true account of one young girl and her family's experiences during the Holocaust. Escaping Warsaw Poland after the Nazis invade, Mama and Tata Miller, and their daughters Irene and Halina wind up robbed of their worldly possessions and left as refugees in "No Man's Land" on the Polish border with the Soviet Union. What follows are years of hunger and deprivation, a narrow escape for the mother from a train bound for a Nazi death camp, time in a Soviet labor camp for the whole family, separation of the girls from their parents into an orphanage, death of the father, and then, after the war, resettlement back into Poland where they find all their extended family has been murdered by the Nazis. Irene and her mother eventually emigrate to Israel where Irene marries, and with her husband moves to the US.
I had the opportunity to hear Irene Miller speak to a community group at Temple Jacob in Hancock, Michigan in 2017. Well into her 80s, she stood and spoke for over an hour in a plain and straightforward manner, relating many of the tales that are in this book. Like her speaking manner, so too this book has a matter of fact tone that draws you in and makes you feel Irene's experiences, and become a part of the family as they are buffeted by the war. At just over 300 pages this book reads quickly - I read it in two sittings. I highly recommend it.
Steve Blackburn, Reviewer
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Outlawed is an amazing speculative Western that really shakes up the Western genre by tackling the patriarchy, gender roles/identity, race, religion, fertility, and medicine in a unique way. The protagonist is irresistible: a no-nonsense, determined heroine, who has the gumption to teach herself medicine from old textbooks. I was so involved in the book I read it in one evening.
Set in an alternate America, a massive flu has wiped out much of the population leading to a return to a strict patriarchy and to witch hunts. With the need to replace the population, fertility becomes a major issue in women's lives as does keeping children alive. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and the deaths of infants are considered to be caused by witches. Women with fertility issues are cast out, and witches become victims of horrible violence.
Newly-wed seventeen year old Ada loves her husband, and she loves being her mother's midwifery apprentice. A year later, Ada remains childless. After she's denounced as a witch, she's sent to a convent, where the mother superior determines that Ada is not nun material. She leaves the convent hoping to reach Pagosa Springs, Colorado, to study with a midwife there.
Instead, en route to Pagosa Springs, she joins the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws. The gang seems to be a rough, hard-scrapple group of nonbinary women with no one bound by the gender they were assigned at birth. The Gang is led by a preacher-turned-robber known as the Kid. Charismatic (and probably bipolar), the Kid wants to create a safe haven for outcast women, but the Kid's plans soon become grandiose and threaten the safety of the Gang.
What is most refreshing about Outlawed, is the refreshing amount of LGBTQ+ representation.
Joanne Kukanza Easley
Black Rose Writing
Sweet Jane is Joanne Kukanza Easley's debut novel. In it she spins the tale of generations of alcohol addiction and its effects on a family in Odessa, Texas. Jane survives a rough childhood, but leaves when she realizes how little her mother cares for her. At that point, Jane hitchhikes to California for a better life.
Jane returns to Texas and manages with a lot of support to become a psychologist married to a psychiatrist. When her mother dies, Jane goes home, sans husband - as she doesn't want him to see the world from which she came. She's forced to face the ghosts of her past before she can try to save her crumbling marriage.
It is interesting that I've recently read two books set in Odessa, Texas, a town just twenty-two miles from where I grew up. The other book is Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore, released at almost the same time as Sweet Jane. Of the two, Valentine is a better book. It is grittier with a more interesting structure and truly captures the ambiance of Odessa during an oil-field boom. Sweet Jane, while good, is fairly predictable and the ending seems a bit facile as Jane deals with her past history and failing marriage in just a short period of time.
Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic
Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev
This is a genre-breaking book with elements of thriller, science fiction, New Adult, and even romance. Which may or may not be a good thing. A boy commits suicide, but doesn't die - he simply is transported to another location - sans clothing. He soon learns to use his ability to get out of difficult situations. Unfortunately, every time he does this he loses some of his memories of his past. He names himself Aristotle and writes his own obituaries.
He eventually learns that he has a genetic abnormality that allows him to to this, an ability that some unscrupulous people - rich men who want their lineage to be perpetuated ad infinitum and scientists - want to harness his genetics.
Aristotle falls in love with Lilyanne who is a carrier of the same recessive genetic mutation. Aristotle dies one more time and loses Lilyanne.
Suicide is romanticized and Aristotle is "addicted" to killing himself and seems to have neither any particular emotional revulsion about repeatedly killing himself or significant psychological trauma from doing so. There are some sex scenes that really aren't X-rated, but also aren't in keeping with the rest of the story; they do, however, add to the New Adult genre.
Though there is a romance and Aristotle is billed as "the last romantic," I didn't find him particularly romantic. His idea of romance seems to be stuck in the early adolescent phase.
Rosary Without Beads
Five Star Publishing
I reviewed this book back in 2018 when it was originally released. I followed up by listening to the audiobook of Rosary without Beads released October 9, 2020 by DHB Write Productions. Rarely have I found such a perfect compliment of audio book narrator with a book. Daniela Medrano's slight accent blends perfectly with the voice I hear in my head of Holguin-Balogh's narrator, a young New Mexican woman, in Rosary Without Beads. I highly recommend this audio book; the narration and production quality are excellent.
Travel back in time to New Mexico Territory's Lincoln County war which ran from 1878 to 1881. Rosary Without Beads captures the romance of the legend of Billy the Kid. Told in the unique voice of Ambrosia Salazar, a sheepherder's daughter, filled with language tethered to the earth with occasional breaks into either lust or heaven or moments that are both. The language is lyrical and unique. There is an understated lust which is far sexier than most blatant romances and unique turns of phrase that fully embody Ambrosia's internal struggle between her sexual desire for Billy the Kid and a more traditional marriage to Ramon, based more in financial terms than in true love (Ramon lusts after Ambrosia's sister, Sinfarosa, who has traded farm life for the brothel).
Holguín-Balogh shows Billy's charm as well as his disregard for Ambrosia's passion and weaves a compelling blend of truth and fiction. The reader not only gets a view of the abject poverty that governs Ambrosia's life, but also of its deep spiritual roots and underlying passion. One truly understands why such a vulnerable, passionate young woman would be swayed by the charms of bad boy William Bonney and why, willing to accept his life on the run from the law, she dreams of running off to Mexico with him.
The Time Gatherer
Time Fold Books
Author Rachel Dacus in The Time Gatherer has written a prequel to her book about a group of art historians touring Italy in The Renaissance Club. This tour group is led by George St. James, a time gatherer. This prequel shows St. James as a young man learning to control his time-traveling abilities. He gets help from a 23rd century geneticist and a medieval monk. He falls in love along the way - with a 17th female artist.
I enjoyed The Time Gatherer immensely. Dacus captures a eutopic rather than dystopic 23rd century. Readers expecting a full-flow romance between St. James and painter Elisabetta Sirani will be disappointed as this book encompasses much more than the romance.
In short, if you enjoy time travel stories, you'll enjoy The Time Gatherer. If you want steamy romance, remember, this is an adolescent young man in the throes of his first love.
Blind Vigil is the seventh book in Coyle's Rick Cahill private investigator series, but reads well as a stand-alone book with just enough back story splashed in to orient the reader. Cahill is not on the best of terms with the local law enforcement stemming from days when he was the primary suspect for his wife's murder. He has one good male friend, Turk, who becomes involved in the murder of his fiancee. Cahill also has a new girlfriend, Leah, who has seen him through being shot in the face in Santa Barbara and the long road to recovery and learning to live with his blindness. In addition, a fellow PI, Moira, has worked with Cahill on a few cases. These are the primary characters in Blind Vigil.
Cahill is a great wounded hero, and Coyle does a superb job of capturing Cahill's efforts to deal with his lost eyesight, showing how he becomes reliant on his other senses and counts steps and uses his cane to get around. Cahill is a moody PI, tough, hard-boiled, and unapologetic, in the tradition of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The secondary characters are well-developed. I enjoyed this one enough that I'll have to backtrack to read books #1 through #6.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
One For the Money
One for the Money is the first in a new mystery series by author D. B. Borton. Cat Caliban is a saucy Cincinnati grandmother with the cursing ability of a sailor. After her husband dies, she starts looking for a new job and decides to become a private detective. She deems she's qualified because she's raised three children and is used to seeking out the criminal who spilt grape juice on the couch, and she's been reading detective novels for years.
She is as-yet unlicensed when she discovers a dead body in one of the apartments in the small complex she's just bought. The police appear to be letting the investigation slide as the murdered woman was a street person known as Betty Bags, so Cat inserts herself into the fray, eager to gain detective experience.
Cat at times verges on falling into fanciful thoughts, pulling in ideas from Miss Marple, Nancy Drew, and Jessica Fletcher, to help solve her crimes. Fortunately, she is able to tell cozy mystery from reality and eventually solves the crime.
I enjoyed this fun look at women-of-a-certain-age who refuses to do what is expected. Also I was happy Cat not only finds a new vocation in her post-menopausal years, but she discovers a compatible group of new friends and allies in the tenants of her newly-purchased apartment complex. Another plus is that a young man of limited mental resources helps her out, and she graciously allows him to enjoy the accolades, thus increasing his self-worth. One for the Money isn't great literature but is definitely a fun read during the Covid pandemic.
The Maverick (Book 1 of the Jane Valiante series)
Hyde Park Press / Broken Arrow Books
The #MeToo movement has done much to increase public outcry regarding the mistreatment of women by men. I applaud Jennifer Valenti on writing this book and speaking out about her own experiences as the survivor of sexual violence. Women are so often judged as being deserving of such behavior. This book reveals the behavior women have learned over eons: we are unworthy of love; we deserve to be treated badly; sexual assault is our fault because we asked for it by dressing provocatively, by not dressing provocatively, by being too outgoing, by being too shy - essentially just by being female.
Unfortunately, I found the depth of emotion to be somewhat lacking in a book I had hoped would be gut-wrenching. The writing was dry, even the dialogue between two best friends, Jane and Carmen. I would have expected a more suspenseful approach to Jane's treatment within Imaigene.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review.
Take It Back
St. Martin's Press
Take It Back is so engrossing I stayed up until two a.m. reading it, then spent the next few hours replaying it in my head. Wow! Such a great book with challenging situations and legal and moral quandaries. Mariska Hargitay (Lieutenant Olivia Benson on Law & Order) would be proud of how Kia Abdullah handles special victims' cases!
The premise of Take It Back is simple yet plausible - horrifyingly apt in these times. A sixteen-year-old white teenaged girl suffers from neurofibromatosis, a condition in which tumors grow in the nervous system. She has multiple deformities from this as well as balance issues. She accuses four immigrant boys, all Muslims, of raping her. The boys back up each others' stories. So who is telling the truth?
Zara Kaleel has left a lofty legal position to become a rape counsellor. She believes Jodie, but taking her case affects Zara on a personal level, because her career and her extracurricular activities, like dating white men, shake the status quo of her fairly staid Muslim family and brings back her conflicts with her deceased father. The case also places her in the cross-hairs of racial issues: the Muslim community rises up in arms when she prosecutes the four Muslim boys.
Take It Back is a great read for those who enjoy crime thrillers or legal thrillers as well as those who like reading about contemporary socially relevant issues. This book addresses social issues we hear about on a daily basis and highlights how divided the world is in terms of politics, culture, religion, class, and race. Its twists and turns, particularly at the end, will keep readers entranced.
Suanne Schafer, Reviewer
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Women's Perspectives on Human Security: Violence, Environment, and Sustainability
Richard Matthew, et al.
Ohio University Press
215 Columbus Road, Suite 101, Athens, OH 45701
9780821424278, $80.00, HC, 320pp
Synopsis: Violent conflict, climate change, and poverty present distinct threats to women worldwide. Importantly, women are leading the way creating and sharing sustainable solutions with respect to those issues.
Women's security is a valuable analytical tool as well as a political agenda insofar as it addresses the specific problems affecting women's ability to live dignified, free, and secure lives. "Women's Perspectives on Human Security: Violence, Environment, and Sustainability" is a collection of contributions by experts that focuses on how conflict impacts women's lives and well-being, including rape and gendered constructions of ethnicity, race, and religion.
"Women's Perspectives on Human Security: Violence, Environment, and Sustainability" also looks beyond the scope of large-scale violence to examine human security in terms of environmental policy, food, water, health, and economics.
Multidisciplinary in scope, these essays from new and established contributors draw from gender studies, international relations, criminology, political science, economics, sociology, biological and ecological sciences, and planning.
Critique: Collaboratively co-edited by the team of Richard A. Matthew (Associate Dean of Research and International Programs and Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine); The late Patricia A. Weitsman (who was professor of political science and director of war and peace studies at Ohio University); Gunhild Hoogensen Gjřrv (Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Centre for Peace Studies, UiT The Arctic University of Norway); Nora Davis (a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, School of Social Ecology); and Tera Dornfeld (who received her PhD from the University of California, Irvine, School of Social Ecology and works on environmental advocacy and policy), "Women's Perspectives on Human Security: Violence, Environment, and Sustainability" is the newest addition to the 'Human Security' series from Ohio University Press.
Comprised of twelve erudite, insightful, and informative contributions by experts in the field, "Women's Perspectives on Human Security: Violence, Environment, and Sustainability" is a body of meticulously presented scholarship and a welcome addition to college and university library Women's Studies collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists.
Beat Cancer Daily
Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781401961947, $19.99, HC, 384pp
Synopsis: A healing mindset takes fortitude, faith, and courage -- and acceptance of support when you need it most. As the survivor of cancer for over 15 years, Chris Wark personally knows the daily struggles involved in healing from cancer and wants to support you as you walk this path with God. This daily devotional offers nuggets of scripture, inspiration, encouragement, and actions for surviving life's difficult storms. Embrace the challenge and know that you have the divine guidance and power to prosper -- mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Your future will be better than your past, better than you can even imagine.
Critique: A daily devotional to support, encourage, and inspire anyone on their cancer-healing journey, "Beat Cancer Daily: 365 Days of Inspiration, Encouragement, and Action Steps to Survive and Thrive" is especially recommended to the attention of anyone having to deal with cancer within themselves, a loved one, or a colleague. Thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Beat Cancer Daily" is very highly recommended for community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Beat Cancer Daily" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).
Editorial Note: Chris Wark is the author of "Chris Beat Cancer: A Comprehensive Plan for Healing Naturally". He is a patient advocate, a speaker, and a health coach. Chris was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2003 at 26 years old. He had surgery, but instead of chemotherapy, he used nutrition and natural therapies to heal himself. Chris has made many appearances on radio and television and was featured in the award-winning documentary film The C Word. Chris inspires countless people to take control of their health and reverse disease with a radical transformation of diet and lifestyle.
The Language of Loss
Barbara Abercrombie, editor
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781608686957, $16.95, PB, 224pp
Synopsis: When Barbara Abercrombie's husband died, she found the language of condolence irritating, no matter how well intended. "My husband had not gone to a better place as if he were off on a holiday. He had not passed like clouds overhead, nor was he my late husband as if he'd missed a train. I had not lost him as if I'd been careless, and for sure, none of it was for the best." She yearned instead for words that acknowledged the reality of death, spoke about the sorrow and loneliness (and perhaps even guilt and anger), and might even point the way toward hope and healing.
When she found those words in the writings of others she used them to comprise "The Language of Loss: Poetry and Prose for Grieving and Celebrating the Love of Your Life".
This compendium of wisdom, insight and candid compassion is a volume best dipped into and read slowly. It is a collection of poems and prose to lead you through the various phases of grief. The selections follow an arc that mirrors the path of many mourners ranging from abject loss and feeling unmoored, to glimmers of promise and possibility, then through to gratitude for the love they knew. These writings, which express what often feels ineffable, will accompany those who grieve, offering understanding and solace.
Critique: "The Language of Loss: Poetry and Prose for Grieving and Celebrating the Love of Your Life" is a book to be brought to the attention of anyone, especially in this time of pandemic, that has suffered the loss of a love one, a friend, or a colleague. Especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Grief & Bereavement collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Language of Loss" is readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note: Teaching in the Writer's Program at UCLA Extension, Barbara Abercrombie has published fifteen books, including Courage & Craft: Writing Your Life into Story and A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement.
Find Joy: A Devotional Journey To Unshakable Wonder in an Uncertain World
9781734952285, $21.99, HC, 250pp
Synopsis: In a difficult, divided world, or when going through challenges, for Christians it can be hard to lift our heads and hearts and yet Jesus says He came to bring good news of great joy for all people! It s a promise for us no matter our circumstances! But how do we get there?
"Find Joy: A Devotional Journey To Unshakable Wonder in an Uncertain World" is 60-day devotional, social researcher and Christian author Shaunti Feldhahn that focuses on eight key elements of finding joy truths that shine out from both science and scripture.
Providing an amazing journey to transform our minds and find Christ-focused wonder in the midst of everyday life no matter what our situation might be, to Find Joy is not just a positive-thinking exercise, it is an intentional choice that will transform our hearts and minds and lives.
Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Find Joy: A Devotional Journey To Unshakable Wonder in an Uncertain World" is a life-changing, life-enhancing, spirituality developing resource that is especially and unreservedly recommended to the attention of all members of the Christian community in general, and women seeking a spiritually enhanced life for themselves and their loved ones in particular. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Find Joy: A Devotional Journey To Unshakable Wonder in an Uncertain World" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).
Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity
PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
9780830848058, $17.00, PB, 224pp
Synopsis: "So what are you?" -- Chandra Crane knows what it's like to get that question. She has a Thai birth father, a European American mother, and an African American father who adopted her when she was five. With this mixed multiethnic and multicultural background, she has keenly felt the otherness of never quite fitting in.
Where do people of mixed ethnicity belong? Those of us with multiethnic backgrounds may have pain surrounding our mixed heritage. But we also have the privilege and potential to serve the Lord through our unique experiences.
In the pages of "Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity" Crane deftly explores what Scripture and history teach us about ethnicity and how we can bring all of ourselves to our sense of identity and calling. Readers will discover the fullness of who they are, find out how their mixed identity can be a blessing to themselves and to the world around them.
Critique: A moving testament to the value of a multiethnic identity from a Christian perspective, and exceptionally well written for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject, "Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity" is a unique and especially recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Ethnic Demographic Studies, Self-Esteem, and Christian Personal Growth collections. It should be noted that "Mixed Blessing" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.15).
Editorial Note: Chandra Crane is a resource specialist for the multiethnic initiatives department of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and a member of the multiethnic Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi. She has written for In All Things, The Well, and The Witness: A Black Christian Collective.
Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Bad Love Beyond (Bad Love Series Book 3)
Kevin L. Schewe MD
Broken Crow Ridge
9781950895748, $20.94, 286 Pages
Kevin Schewe's 'Bad Love Series' of science fiction adventures take storytelling to the next level. This talented author not only transports his readers on exciting adventures through time, which are historically accurate, but he also enhances their enjoyment by suggesting a sound track list. Throughout the book there are references to these songs which evoke wonderful memories for the characters, and fit into the plot brilliantly.
The main protagonists are the Bad Love Gang who live up to their motto 'Live dangerously, have fun, don't die.' They are all described in the front of the book and this is where the readers discover their nicknames, and the reasons behind them. As the series has progressed the gang has grown, and between them they have a wide expanse of knowledge and skills, which prove invaluable during their escapades. However, the gang are hunted by spies Boris and Christine Krovopuskov, who will stop at nothing to learn the secrets of The White Hole Project (time machine) for Mother Russia, killing without compassion anyone who gets in their way!
As Bad Love Beyond begins, the gang find themselves invited yet again to The White House, Oval Office. However, although only ten weeks have passed since their last meeting with President Gerald R. Ford for the gang, it has been thirty years for the President. Those years between have taught him to respect the advice of the gang, and he reads them extracts from The Book of Presidents about their last visit, and events which happened in 1945 (story told in Bad Love Tigers, Book 2 in the series.) They talk about an imminent NASA mission in the planning, and then Bubble Butt reveals he has an idea for a secret plan to use The White Hole Project to go into the future. It hinges on going back in time to WW11, when the gang were sent on a mission to keep the Area 51 Project, and its secrets in America's hands. It was on this adventure that they saw the alien Blue Nova One, he believes he can go back, re-live the time, and seize the moment to explore the future.
It's a success! The gang are transported to the beautiful planet Azure, 11.5 billion light years from Earth, and find the planet, how it has evolved, its people, and their technology fascinating. Good relations are established. However they soon discover that the Queen of Azur is worried, an environmental disaster is set to destroy the Republic of Azure, a distant island nation, however, distrust has arisen between the peoples, can the Bad Love Gang heal the rift, help, and avert disaster? Join the gang as they battle bravely against adversity, facing danger and death in their quest to save the planet, and the people of the Republic of Azure.
Vividly detailed, and historically accurate, this author sends his readers on an unforgettable rollercoaster of a time travel story, guaranteed, I believe, to rival the classic 'The Time Machine' by H. G. Wells. Highly recommended!
Pieces of Wood
Kenneth James Moore
9781735817903, $12.99, 562 Pages
This book took me back to my childhood and my father reading extracts of the atrocities carried out by the Nazi against the Jews in the WWII concentration camps. These terrible things are well documented, held up as they should be as an example to the world of the terrible injustices suffered by helpless people at the command of a cruel dictator. Yet, in the first few pages of this book I discovered another, unknown, yet horrific act of evil which was carried out in the Mariana Archipelago. There five-thousand women and young boys were brought to be burnt alive in the Shinagawa Manufacturing company's ovens, built on site by The Imperial Japanese Army.
It was July 4th 1944 when the then 27 year-old Marine Corps Captain Frank Clifford smelt gaseous fumes and went to investigate....What he saw that day was to live with him for the rest of his life, and his actions that day were set to have a marked effect on the lives of those involved, their offspring, and impacted on the lives of many, decades later.
Whilst Hitler's aim was land acquisition, the Japanese wanted to rid the world of everyone who wasn't Japanese, and see Emperor Hirohito and his heirs seated on the Throne of the Chrysanthemum, as rulers of the world! The Japanese scientists had been working germ warfare for years, and Dr. General Ishii Shiro was already experimenting, using prisoners as Guinea pigs...
However, this was years ago. This story is set in1978 Chicago, where the FBI's first female Special Agent, Michaelene (Mike) Westgate has been called to investigate a series of killings.
As the death toll rises, the public are getting scared. Michaelene and fellow agent Steve Donaldson are desperate for answers. When 'their own' begin to be targets they suddenly realise that there may be more than one killer, a scorpion and a frog. If this is the case, what is the link between them, and what is their motive?
As the plot thickens in this incredibly clever thriller, the reader finds themselves learning fascinating snippets about Japanese history, as they are drawn into the warped psyche of two men, linked, and driven by powerful beliefs.
The author of this book is a very successful businessman and investment banker who established The Moore Financial Group, which he sold aged 45 years. He went on to fulfil his life-long passion which is to bring closure to the families of America's MIA. His non-profit organisation Moore's Marauders continue on their global mission to locate the remains of America's fallen.
This book is not only a great thriller, it is also, and I think more importantly, a story which should be told. At the end of the book there are graphic photos, information, and statements about the ovens. The author was once asked: "Why am I the one person in the world best suited to tell this story? He said, the answer is easy. Simply because in June of 1998, I was perhaps, the only living being to unwittingly crawl into the human incinerators featured in this novel since they were last in use on July 3rd, 1945." What more powerful reason could there be?
I thank God that there are people like the author, people who are brave enough to speak for those who no longer can, like the poor victims, the Japanese cruelly called "Pieces of Wood."
Conceal Reveal: The Space between Entrepreneurs and the Defense Industry
New Degree Press
9781636765860, $14.99, 266 Pages
Julie Willis is a driven, and passionate woman. She is driven by so many factors, the people she has known, her working career, and her involvement with all levels of the military machine in America. It is all these things which culminated in her decision to become an entrepreneur and establish her company DEFIANT.
In this revealing book, Julie Willis takes her readers into her life, both personal and professional. For 'Mrs Average' me it was a real eye-opener. Already an insider in the defense industry, Julie's life is like a movie, always on the go, a whirlwind, flying off to meetings, walking the halls of power. Exciting yes, however, it didn't take me long to realise the magnitude of the responsibility which goes with such a job. The warfighter, his or her safety, and the ability for them to be able to do their job is the most important thing in the author's life, it's what she lives for!
Don't let her self-confessed bubbly extrovert image fool you, this woman has a sharp eye and quick mind. As the reader discovers, both of these have been honed by sitting quietly and watching the political playouts at meetings, and real experience with the military and defense.
It was this insight which made her decide that there was a need for someone to bridge the gap between democracy and those creative technical companies, academia and entrepreneurs, providing a venue so each can meet and discover what is available, or will be coming soon. This book tells the story of how this was achieved, and her company DEFIANT was born, bridging the gap between the entrepreneurs and the defense industry.
At the beginning of this review I described the author as passionate, and she is certainly that. She loves her country and all that it stands for. However by the end of the book I realised that she loves the warfighter more, because they are there, on the front line, keeping us all safe, and she is determined they will have the very best!
Susan Keefe, Reviewer
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf
The Affordable City
2000 M St NW Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036
9781642831337, $32.00, PB, 280pp
Synopsis: From Los Angeles to Boston and Chicago to Miami, US cities are struggling to address the twin crises of high housing costs and household instability. Debates over the appropriate course of action have been defined by two poles: building more housing or enacting stronger tenant protections. These options are often treated as mutually exclusive, with support for one implying opposition to the other.
Shane Phillips believes that effectively tackling the housing crisis requires that cities support both tenant protections and housing abundance. In the pages of "The Affordable City: Strategies for Putting Housing Within Reach (and Keeping it There)" he offers his readers more than 50 policy recommendations, beginning with a set of principles and general recommendations that should apply to all housing policy. The remaining recommendations are organized by what he calls the Three S's of Supply, Stability, and Subsidy. Phillips makes a moral and economic case for why each is essential and recommendations for making them work together.
There is no single solution to the housing crisis, clearly it will require a comprehensive approach backed by strong, diverse coalitions. "The Affordable City" is an essential tool for professionals and advocates working to improve affordability and increase community resilience through local action.
Critique: Exceptionally and effectively well written, organized and presented,"The Affordable City: Strategies for Putting Housing Within Reach (and Keeping it There)" is an extraordinary instructional guide and reference that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Urban and City Planning/Development collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political activists, and governmental policy makers, that "The Affordable City" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.27).
Editorial Note: Writing about housing and transportation policy at Better Institutions (www.betterinstitutions.com), Shane Phillips is an urban planner and policy expert based in Los Angeles. He is currently managing the UCLA Lewis Center Housing Initiative and teaching public policy as an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California. Phillips previously worked as the Director of Public Policy for Central City Association, a Downtown LA advocacy organization.
Food Town, USA
2000 M Street NW, Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036
9781610919449, $28.00, HC, 208pp
Synopsis: Look at any list of America's top foodie cities and you probably won't find Boise, Idaho or Sitka, Alaska. Yet they are the new face of the food movement. Healthy, sustainable fare is changing communities across this country, revitalizing towns that have been ravaged by disappearing industries and decades of inequity.
What sparked this revolution? To find out, Mark Winne traveled to seven cities not usually considered revolutionary. He broke bread with brew masters and city council members, farmers and philanthropists, toured start-up incubators and homeless shelters. What he discovered was remarkable, even inspiring.
In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, once a company steel town, investment in the arts has created a robust new market for local restaurateurs. In Alexandria, Louisiana, "one-stop shopping" food banks help clients apply for health insurance along with SNAP benefits. In Jacksonville, Florida, aeroponics are bringing fresh produce to a food desert.
Over the course of his travels, Winne experienced the power of individuals to transform food and the power of food to transform communities. The cities showcased in "Food Town, USA: Seven Unlikely Cities That are Changing the Way We Eat" remind us that innovation is ripening all across the country, especially in the most unlikely places.
Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively informative read throughout, "Food Town, USA: Seven Unlikely Cities That are Changing the Way We Eat" is an original and seminal work of exhaustive research and insightful relevance. An exceptionally well written, organized and presented study that is highly recommended for community, college, and university library Agriculture & Food Policy, Rural American Sociology, and Contemporary Food Science 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 "Food Town, USA" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.39).
Editorial Note: For 25 years Mark Winne was the Executive Director of the Hartford Food System, a private non-profit agency that works on food and hunger issues in the Hartford, Connecticut area. During his tenure with HFS, Mark organized community self-help food projects that assisted the city's lower income and elderly residents. Mark's work with the Food System included the development of a commercial hydroponic greenhouse, Connecticut's Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, several farmers' markets, a 20-acre community supported agriculture farm, food and nutrition education programs, and a neighborhood supermarket.
Winne now writes, speaks, and consults extensively on community food system topics including hunger and food insecurity, local and regional agriculture, community assessment, and food policy. He also does policy communication work for the Community Food Security Coalition. His essays and opinion pieces have appeared in The Nation, Hartford Courant, Boston Globe, In These Times, Sierra, Orion, Successful Farming and numerous organizational and professional newsletters and journals across the country.
The Declaration of White Independence
9781647645496, $17.76, PB, 161pp
Synopsis: Was the Big Bang a stick of dynamite -- or, was it a cosmic seed? It is the latter that rings through in this scholarly philosophical treatise. The truth is the Big Bang was an autotelic cosmic seed and the universe is an organism for cultivating Consciousness. All of mankind (the whole of the cosmos) is literally the offspring of a massive cosmic fireball, which at the moment of its inception was pregnant with a multi-dimensional ordered reality.
This "big seed" is now unveiled as an integrated and teleological reality that possesses exquisitely fine-tuned parameters capable of permitting life to evolve. All history is the history of the evolutionary transubstantiation of matter to Spirit by means of the biological-life processes of Blood and Reason.
All life is on an evolutionary journey of Ascensional Transudation, or more specifically, on a course to become spiritual. The world is ours, each and every one of us -- the future is now.
Critique; Thoughtful and thought-provoking, "The Declaration of White Independence" by social theorist Kyle McDermott is a unique, inherently interesting, and provocatively iconoclastic read that will have special appeal for students of metaphysics and transudationism -- making it a highly recommended addition to community, college, and university library philosophy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.
Willis M. Buhle
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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