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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 11 November 2020 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf Andrea Kay's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Bertha Jones' Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf
Clabe Polk's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Elan Kluger's Bookshelf
Gregory Stephenson's Bookshelf Helen Cook's Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Kelly Smith's Bookshelf Laura Taylor's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Mollie Wright's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Ross Pittman's Bookshelf S. M. Heacock's Bookshelf
Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf
Tyra White's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf  

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf

Shirley Jones: A Memoir
Shirley Jones and Wendy Leigh
Gallery Books
9781476725970, $12.99 Kindle, $21.87 Hardcover, $16.49 Paperback, 272 pages, July 23, 2013

Gallery Books is dedicated to publishing a wide variety of must-read books on a wide array of interesting topics...

Honoring a Hollywood Starlet

Films within earlier eras were much different compared to the superhero flicks in modern times. Films from bygone days involved adaptations, epics, and dealing with Hollywood censorship. Nevertheless, film history is rich and vibrant, and that is especially true with the life story of Shirley Jones.

Written by the starlet herself, Jones presents a very candid depiction of her rise from being a young girl from a small-town to a Hollywood sensation. Some of the content within this memoir is very mature, but it also has a nicely frank quality to her writing (that included the help of Wendy Leigh). The memoir also includes several photographs that reveals the life and career of this Oscar-winning actress. This memoir is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the musicals from Rodgers and Hammerstein, films from the psychedelic '60s, or anyone wanting to learn more about one of the greatest women Hollywood has ever seen and heard.

Alex Andy Phuong

Andrea Kay's Bookshelf

A Guinea Pig Night Before Christmas
9781526613561 $15.00

Part of Bloomsbury's "Guinea Pig Classics" series, A Guinea Pig Night Before Christmas is a delightful, pocket-sized rendition of the classic poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" featuring full-color photographs of adorable guinea pigs dressed up as Santa or reindeer on every other page. A heartwarming celebration of both the holiday season and these beloved furry mammals, A Guinea Pig Night Before Christmas is pure joy to page through and makes an excellent giftbook or stocking stuffer. Highly recommended!

Andrea Kay

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

The Time of Our Lives
Robert Dessaix
Brio Books
9781922267276, A$32.99 hardback with dust jacket, 317 pages, Oct. 2020

Robert Dessaix is 76 years old. Not quite spry enough to join the middle-aged hotel guests dancing to boom-box music by the lotus pool of his Indonesian hotel - 'I know my limits' - but alert enough to admire the 25 year-old wellness instructor in his clinging T-shirt and shorts. At the same time, he finds the scene disturbing.

He notices how the dancers lose themselves, 'like kids at play', but it reminds him of the gym he used to go to where everyone, 'without exception', looked anxious: 'What were they fighting against? Flabbiness? Obesity? Heart disease? Stress? What?' His friend, Sarah, who is of similar age to him knows the answer: 'It's death they're afraid of - or at least dying.'

Much of this book reflects Dessaix's musings on this as he discusses it with various ageing friends living in different countries around the world and sees how they live their lives. 'You can try and look young forever', says Sarah when she meets him for breakfast at their Indonesian hotel,

'like Jane Fonda and whatshername from … you know …'

'Joanne Lumley.'

'It's the names that go first, isn't it. Nouns come next, apparently. Yes, her. You can try to die young as late as possible, in other words…'

'Did you just make that up?'

'No. Or you can do what you've done'

Dessaix, according to Sarah, has failed to grow up in the first place. This sets him puzzling over a more personal question. What does she mean? As always, his musing and puzzling take him all over the place and involve people alive and dead. This includes friends who are happy at whatever age they have reached; the anthropologist, Ernest Becker, who has written that the 'immortality project' is doomed from the start; Ogden Nash, with a pithy rhyme summing up the dilemma of nonchalance; Nietzsche, who believed in the playful child hidden 'in every genuine man'; Andre Gide, whose sex-drive took him frequently to Morocco 'to purge his mind and body again'; Diana Athill, who lived and loved to the age of 101; and many more.

As far as conclusions go - and Dessaix's musings are open-ended - not growing up amounts to being childlike, not childish. It is the ability to play, as Lewis Carol did in his nonsense rhymes, John Cleese did in his clowning, and the Goons did in the Goon Show. One of his female friends describes the freedom of playing with her grandchildren. Dessaix's own playing, he decides, is travel, language learned just 'for pure pleasure', intense conversations with friends, and dancing.

Gay ballroom dancing, by the way, is the most exuberantly joyful thing I have ever done in my life …. We weren't there to master the art of ballroom dancing, we were there to enjoy ourselves enormously, although we did make some effort to get the footwork right. We rhumba'd and cha cha'd, we waltzed and foxtrotted, we jived and tangoed for two hours each week with only a short break for tea and cake. The lesbians brought the cake.

(I did ponder the adherence to conventional gender roles suggested by that last sentence). Typically, for Dessaix, the tea break allows for a philosophical discussion with another man about the difference between happiness and contentment, and he explores this further and in detail for the rest of that particular chapter.

What has partly focused Dessaix's contemplation of death and dying is the situation of his partner's mother. Rita. Chapters describing their visits to her as she lies rambling and failing in St Ursula's Grange nursing home appear throughout the book. Her situation is distressing and, for Dessaix, thought provoking. To him, Rita seems to have had no inner life, a situation which he finds desperately sad - 'How can anyone contemplate old age and its discontents without an inner life', he wonders. Rita seems not to have needed one, which he finds hard to understand. Yet, even in these chapters, Dessaix's wit and humour lighten the mood.

Dessaix's musing covers emptiness and nothingness, religion, Nirvana (as he climbs the stupa at Borobodur), God, the attraction or otherwise of various countries, music, art, and whatever else happens to crop up in his varied travels. Literature, and authors like Turgenev, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky, are frequently in his thoughts. And, at one point he comments on Edward Said's theory of 'Late Style'. He describes this as 'fragmentation and loss of interest in continuity', 'an irascible opposition to established conventions', and 'inwardness rather than history'. In many ways this describes Dessaix's own late style, although his personality, wit and humour hold the book together. It helps that he has decided that at his age 'nobody cares if you are keeping to the rules or not':

Until you're well into middle age, your self-esteem is constantly being threatened, you are forever wondering whether or not you are measuring up, or whether you should care about the fact that you obviously aren't …. Not even (probably) your own mother cares if you're keeping to the rules. Apart from your mother and those with a vested interest of some description nobody is even thinking about you at all. So take a deep breath and rejoice!

Although he is 'careful about where he says that he finds Samuel Beckett 'teeth-grindingly boring', he obviously feels free to say it to his readers.

Time of Our Lives is, by turns, philosophical, down-to-earth, sad and funny. For Dessaix, an abundant inner life is what will sustain us 'right through to the end' and it is 'something which happens when we open up to what surrounds us and then dance it, speak it, write it, sing it, love it, turn it upside down and inside out behind our eyes'. It is shaped, he says, 'by an unending playful curiosity about the world', and this is exactly the approach he demonstrates in this book.

The Devil and the Dark Water
Stuart Turton
Raven Books
978140888965, A$29.99, 555 pages, Oct. 2020

The Devil and the Dark Water reminds me a little of the old circular joke: It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to the Mate, 'Tell us a story.'' So the Mate began, 'It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to the Mate, 'Tell us a story.'' So the Mate began, 'It was a dark and stormy night ...'

Turton certainly tells a tall tale in which there is a ship, a grizzly crew, some terribly dark and stormy nights, and, since it is a mystery story in which the mysteries are finally resolved, it is, like any detective story, circular.

Had I relied on the blurb, which speaks of a loyal bodyguard, a noblewoman with a secret, a dead leper staking the decks, and 'unholy miracles', I may never have chosen to read this book, but the note which says it is 'a glorious mash-up of William Golding and Arthur Conan Doyle' hooked me in.

In a jokey afterword titled 'An Apology to History, and Boats', Turton tells us that he doesn't believe in assigning books to genres since 'no two readers are the same, which means no two readings are the same'. He is, he says, 'a bit worried some people might describe this book as a 'boat book', or a piece of historical fiction' simply because it is about a boat and it is set in 1634. So, 'Please don't send me critical letters about proper rigging techniques on galleons, or women's fashion in the 1600s', because this book is 'historical fiction where history is the fiction'.

It would, in any case, be almost impossible to fit the book into any genre other than that of good, fantastically unbelievable and very entertaining stories. Containing, as it does, a galleon, a murderous crew, lots of deaths and devilry, priceless treasures, and a cast of characters, all of whom have dark secrets, it is exactly the sort of gripping yarn you would tell on a ship's deck on a dark and stormy night.

The first 'unholy miracle' brings Lieutenant Arent Hayes and noblewoman Sara Wessel together in a mutually compassionate task. As the passengers and crew are preparing to board the spice-ship Saardam to sail from Batavia to Amsterdam, a lame, tongue-less leper impossibly climbs onto a pile of crates on the quayside, cries out that the ship and all who sail in her are doomed, then is consumed by flames. Arent snatches up a cask of ale and douses the flames, Sara dashes from her carriage and administers numbing medicine to the dying leper, then Arent ends his impossible pain with a sword thrust to the heart. The mystery of the speaking, tongue-less, dead leper, who then re-appears on the ship throughout the book is the first mystery. There are many more.

Arent is impressively tall and strong, and an experienced killer who has fought in many battles. He is boarding the ship as the hired, long-term protector of Samuel Pipps, a well-known solver of mysteries. Pipps is, for the moment, the prisoner of the Governor General of Batavia, Jan Haan, who is the husband of Sara Wessel. Sara, an independent, intelligent woman, who was married off to Jan Haan by her avaricious father, despises her husband, who beats her and who has imprisons their teenage daughter, Lia, because she is 'dangerously clever'. Now, both she and her daughter have hopes of escape and freedom once the Saardam, which Haan has commissioned to carry them to Amsterdam, arrives there. Hann takes on board a huge, mysterious box, and a object called 'The Folly', which few have been allowed to see but which he has orders to present to the powerful 'Gentlemen 17' who own the Saardam and whose company runs spices from the Dutch East Indies to Holland. The Folly will, they believe, speed up the passage of their ships and make them the foremost traders on this route. Haan also plans to deliver Samuel Pipps to them, because Pipps has been accused of a treasonable offence and must be tried and executed for it. Arent does not believe in the charges.

There are a number of other well-drawn characters among the passengers and crew, and all are woven into the weird happenings which plague the ship. Terrifyingly, beneath it all, and seemingly in control of everything that happens, is Old Tom, the devil who haunts the ship whispering in the ears of everyone aboard:


The whisper caused her to freeze, her skin prickling.

'Who's there?' she demanded, blood thumping in her ears.

'Your heart's desire - for a price - ' ….

- What do you yearn for? Tell me and I'll depart'… 'And what will you give for it?' ... 'Blood spilt and a bargain sealed…'

Old Tom has a history of causing witch hunts, murder and fear. His mark is an eye with a tail, and its appearance has always foretold terrible disaster and horror. Its power had first been demonstrated around the village in which Arent grew up:

Woodcutters noticed it first, etched in the trees they were felling. Then it began to appear in villages and, finally, carved into the bodies of dead rabbits and pigs. Wherever it happened some calamity followed. Crops were blighted, calves delivered stillborn. Children disappeared never to be seen again.

Everyone recognises it as a mark of evil, and now it begins to appear on the Saardam, first on the mainsail as it is hoisted, then everywhere, carved on cargo in the darkness of the hold. Fear spreads and the threat of mutiny grows. Arent, who seems to be one of the few honourable men on the ship, has had the mark of Old Tom etched into his wrist since he was a boy but does not know how it got there That mystery is just a minor puzzle in the growing tangle of intrigue, deception, evil and trickery which needs to be resolved.

Stuart Turton is a good story-teller. When the mysteries were finally unravelled, I was disappointed - not so much by the implausible solutions but by fact that the story had come to an end. It had all been good, easy reading and devilishly puzzling fun.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Bertha Jones' Bookshelf

Unlocking Godly Wisdom: Solomon's 7 Pillars of Wisdom
Darius Good
Good Treasure Ministries
9798666544976, $19.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 350 pages

When I opened your book for the first time, I sensed an anointing which is unusual. It is brilliant, timely, and much needed for our "easy come, easy go" high-tech superficial culture. So many have been sold the notion that by solely depending on their educational and financial achievements is the path to lasting success. Your book exposes what many have declared as outdated, irrelevant and beneath the intellectual scrutiny. Your book lets us know that the invaluable, unchanging wisdom of God is what we need to pursue. This book is the roadmap that helps us to recognize, seek and obtain God's will for our life. I believe God will use this book in ways that we don't yet understand. I wish I'd had this book during my adolescent years because I had many questions but not enough answers. You write like you teach, which makes it easy to comprehend. Pastor Darius, you really hit the ball out of the park with your first book! Wow!

Bertha Jones

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

The Passport That Does Not Pass Ports
Isabel Balseiro, editor
Zachariah Rapola, editor
Michigan State University Press
1405 South Harrison Road, Suite 25, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245
9781611863734, $34.95, PB, 218pp

Synopsis: Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by Isabel Balseiro and Zachariah Rapola, "The Passport That Does Not Pass Ports: African Literature of Travel in the Twenty-First Century" is comprise of seventeen pieces on travel in Africa by leading African authors take readers to places at once homelike and foreign.

Against the tropes of travel writing, "The Passport That Does Not Pass Ports" offers the acuity of vision of particular types of travelers. These are travelers whose mother tongue may find the hint of familiarity across otherwise unintelligible languages and for whom a foreign land isn't necessarily strange; in it they perceive vestiges of the familiar. For them, the act of traveling extends a canvas on which to depict someone else's reality -- a reality never too distant from their own.

What makes these writings coalesce is a reflection about the act of being in motion, about reconfiguring place; a consciousness of how geography redirects the focus of one's gaze and, in turn, how that altered gaze filters inward. Having absorbed the landscape, inhaled the scents, paid heed to accents, and accepted the condition of being out of place, these travelers reconstitute individual consciousness and join a collective sense of existing beyond borders. Place inhabits this renewed sense of self; literature enables its expression.

Critique: An inherently interesting, impressively informative, and thoroughly inviting introduction to travel writing on Africa, "The Passport That Does Not Pass Ports" is absorbing reading that will have special and particular appeal to on-site and armchair travelers, as well as students of African literature, humanities and the arts. While very highly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Passport That Does Not Pass Ports" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $33.20).

Editorial Note: Isabel Balseiro is Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvey Mudd College in California. A visiting research associate at the University of Cambridge, the Federal University of Pernambuco, and the University of Cape Town, she is the recipient of fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the James Irvine Foundation, among others.

Zachariah Rapola is a writer and filmmaker who currently mentors emerging young writers in rural parts of South Africa. His collection of stories Beginnings of a Dream won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 2008. His short fiction and poems have appeared in Tribute, Boston Review, Serendipity, Opbrud, Witness,and Discovering Home.

The Beer Diet: How to Drink Beer and Not Gain Weight
Gary Greenberg
Cosmic Cafe Press
9780578712956, $14.99 pb / $4.99 Kindle 182pp

Synopsis: Beer has been around since the tail end of the Stone Age, and it's more popular than ever in the 21st Century as the craft brewing industry explodes across America and beyond. Unfortunately, that creates a problem that beer-lovers tend to wear around their middle. But it doesn't have to be that way!

In the pages of "The Beer Diet: How to Drink Beer and Not Gain Weight", natural health journalist and avid home brewer Gary Greenberg explains how small adjustments in your life can make a huge difference in your waistline, and your overall health. "The Beer Diet" not only offers invaluable health tips but also pays homage to the world's most popular beverage and even shows you how to brew your own.

Critique: Original, unique, exceptionally informative, impressively entertaining, amazingly effective, and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Beer Diet: How to Drink Beer and Not Gain Weight" is essential reading for any and all dedicated beer enthusiasts seeking to enjoy the benefits of their favorite beverage while avoiding unintended consequences to their health and well-being. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Beer Diet: How to Drink Beer and Not Gain Weight" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois
George H. Ryan Sr. & Maurice Possley
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781538134542, $32.00, HC, 280pp

Synopsis: In January 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions -- the first such action by any governor in the history of the United States.

Despite a long history as a death penalty proponent, Ryan was emotionally moved after allowing an execution in 1999. He was also profoundly disturbed by the state's history -- 12 men had been executed and 13 had been exonerated since the return of the death penalty in Illinois in 1977. More had been proven innocent than had been executed.

Three years later, in 2003, Ryan pardoned four death row inmates based on their actual innocence and then commuted the death sentences of 167 men and women. This was the largest death row commutation in U.S. history. At that time, 12 states and the District of Columbia barred the death penalty. His actions breathed new life into the movement to abolish the death penalty in the United States. Over the next 15 years, Illinois and seven other states would abolish the death penalty -- New Jersey, Maryland, New Mexico, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Washington.

Today, the push to reform the criminal justice system has never been stronger in America, a nation that incarcerates more men and women than any other country in the world and also wrongfully convicts hundreds of men and women. Although the number of executions carried out every year continues to drop in the U.S., the death penalty still exists in 31 states. Moreover, in some non-death penalty states, factions seek to reinstate it.

"Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois" is, in his own words, the story of George Ryan's journey from death penalty proponent to death penalty opponent. His story continues to resonate today. He defied the political winds and endured the fury and agony of the families of the victims and the condemned as well as politicians, prosecutors and law enforcement. It is a story of courage and faith. It is a timely reminder of the heroic acts of a Republican Governor who was moved by conscience, his faith and a disturbing factual record of death row exonerations.

Critique: A fascinating and impressively informative read from beginning to end, Governor George Ryan's "Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois" was written with the able assistance of Maurice Possley and is unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Criminology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, criminologists, political activists, and non-specialist readers with an interest in the subject that "Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $30.00).

Editorial Note: Maurice Possley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Governor Ryan cited the reportage of Possley and his colleagues at the Chicago Tribune when he declared the moratorium and emptied death row. Possley is now senior researcher for the National Registry of Exonerations, a national database of more than 2,500 wrongful convictions maintained by the University of Michigan Law School, Michigan State University College of Law and University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

What Foreigners Need to Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language, and more
Lance Johnson
Independently Published
9781478131359, $7.95, paperback, 158 pages
B00A5B8SSU, $7.95 Kindle

What Foreigners Need to Know About America From A To Z explains how America appears to new immigrants. I realized it would be an excellent tool for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. The book helps foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding of America. It will also inform Americans who want to learn more about the U.S. compared to other countries around the world, which is a frequent topic of discussion at our house. It even includes what we think of foreigners as well as what they think of us. Although I was born in Minnesota, I found the information to be such an informative mirror on life here. I feel the book would be a fantastic resource for people seeking citizenship in the USA.

The chapters are grouped into four sections.

Section I - America's Heritage. The historical background of why America and its people became who and what we are today. Included is an actual citizenship sample test with answers at the end of the book.

Section II - America's Culture. How do we live our everyday lives, ranging from customs and etiquette -- to what's on the minds of Americans, to education, literature, and movies? This section starts with America's culture and could be consulted for customs and etiquette information. It explains about applying for financial assistance for college.

Section III - America's Business. This section explains our complex business environment, operations, customs, and why American businesses are successful worldwide. The topics of appointments, small talk, business entertaining, and owning a business in America are also described.

Section IV - America's Language. Grammar, speech, writing, and communication skills, slang, and accent reduction are covered. What is the difference between British and American English? This book tells.

Kingdom of Souls
Rena Barron
Harper Teen
9798615294631, $15.68 Hardcover, $10.39 paperback, 487 pages
9781982688134, $23.86, Audiobook CD
B07H4YXGQ3, $8.99 Kindle

Rich with magic and based on the Yoruba religion and culture, Kingdom of Souls has witchdoctors, orishas, and strong family ties. Other Western African cultures are also included as the Yoruba people descend from a variety of communities. The beauty and complexities of cultures are expressed through storytelling. Arrah, the strong female protagonist, does not begin with having the same magic abilities as others in her family and people and struggles as she wishes she could succeed at magic. Her ancestors are seemingly unable to help her. She is so disappointed, year after year, until (with good reason) she trades years of her life to be able to have special abilities. She hopes to help with the problem of children who are disappearing with her new skills.

Family and friends are tested throughout the story. News did not travel quickly through Africa long ago, so Arrah is never sure what might be happening. Beings change identities, return from the dead, and suffer even though magic is available. She is unable to help her father when he is under a spell, which causes her grief. Her mother turns out to be more complex and challenging to understand than would appear during the beginning of the story.

This book is the first in a planned trilogy. The author, Rena Barron, found it easy to find books with magical and fascinating YA characters who were white, but not black (like her). She decided to write some books to fill this gap. She never saw herself in science fiction and fantasy books available. She feels children should be able to see themselves in the stories they read.

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet
Mark Lynas
National Geographic
9781426203855, $18.69 Hardcover, $13.49 Paperback, 336 pages
B002RI9F0E, $5.99 Kindle

Although Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet was written in 2007, it could have been written today. The predictions made by the author then are astoundingly accurate. The book is not science fiction. It summarizes papers written by 7000 scientists for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Climate refugees, superstorms, desertification, salination of coastal lands, increased flooding, and fewer areas for growing food are explained as they would happen by one, two, three, four, five, and six degrees Celsius. There is a separate chapter for each degree increase. Changes for life on Earth are described in scholarly, horrifying detail. The planet will survive. Will we?

There is time to act, although the emissions problems beginning with the Industrial Revolution cannot be undone. Intelligent countries could work together to prevent further planetary doom.

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
Allan Jacobs
Crown Publishing Group
a division of Penguin Random House LLC
9780451499608, $17.89 Hardcover, $17.95 Audible, 160 pages
B01MR8V850, $1.99 Kindle

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds was written by Allan Jacobs to help people facing uncertainty from anti-intellectualism in today's world. Discrimination is needed about which news and social media posts are real or which might be fake. The topics of alternative facts and social media arguing are discussed in this text. How to deal with it all?

Jacobs tackles many common myths about how people think that we may take for granted without -- well, thinking. He researched and quotes several famous leaders in this area. He makes enlightening observations. We can take his thoughts to heart to help us deal with misinformation.

Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls
Annette Whipple
Reycraft Books
9781478869627, $17.95 Hardcover, $8.95 Paperback, 32 pages

Owls fascinate children and adults alike. This book tells the truth about how owls see, spin their heads, digest food, as well as why they spit out pellets. The answers to questions children ask about owls is available in this book. I learned a few things myself. At owling banding events, I did wonder if birders' headlamps hurt the owl's eyes which are always staring straight ahead. While reading this book, I found out their pupils shrink so immediately they do not need to turn their heads. Rereading would be enjoyable. Any age of birder would appreciate it.

Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town
Peter Earley
Bantam Books, 1996
9780553763560, $9.49, paperback, $20.42, hardcover, $9.99 audio cassette, 581 pages
B00EW5CUY8, $7.99 Kindle

Peter Earley wrote Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town in 1995. The book is based on a 1986 murder in Monroeville, Alabama, the supposed fictional location of To Kill a Mockingbird. Although two white girls were murdered, only the well-to-do girl's case was covered in this text. Evidence was tampered with; eyewitness accounts were conflicted.

Several months later, Walter "Johnny D." McMillian, a black man with no criminal record was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the crime. Although innocent, Early describes how Johnny D. was sent to a single cell on death row so close to where prisoners were executed; the terrible after-odors could be smelled. He stayed there for six years. Even though he was set free through the efforts of lawyer Bryan Stevenson, he thought he was still in jail during his dementia years.

The eBook version has atrocious editing as it was written in the early days of electronic books. There are extra spaces throughout with some apparent misspellings; however, the book was well-researched. A balanced view of the never-solved mystery was presented. Readers or viewers of Just Mercy will find this book helpful.

Dark Moments: A Thrilling Romantic Suspense (Angel Falls Series Book 4)
Charlene Tess and Judy Thompson
Independently Published
B08KHSLH6X, $3.99 Kindle
9798695694727, $6.99 Paperback, 256 Pages

Angel Falls in northern New Mexico is the perfect setting for an idyllic small town. Given the low population, murders would seem to be easily solved. However, finding the correct suspect involves two strangers with painful pasts who must learn to trust each other. The local horse whisperer is blamed. Even the new doctor in town knows better. Both single, can they open up to each other to save the kind but solitary, misunderstood horse farmer from jail?

Slotski's World
Gary Roen
Legacy Book Publishing
9781947718432 $19.95, paperback, 180 pages
B07W4GLQXR, $9.99 Kindle

2020 needs a Slotski Bear! Maybe a few million of them. Telepathic, magic powers a hideous, clawed teddy bear usually found on garbage heaps solve problems wherever he is taken. Slotski is pleased when picked up by a person or a trash truck to avoid being run through a compactor.

At the Deli, Slotski senses when death is near. On the moon, Slotski manages to find garbage. Starships, the year 2060, chips inserted into brains, even houses in the sky will provide delightful entertainment.

Somehow most people who pick Slotski up need some help then drop him off for his next experience. Those with antagonistic feelings towards the bear or those he helps soon find out they should stay far away. All the while seemingly innocent as perceived to be just a toy, Slotski saves the world one situation at a time.

A book of seventeen stories takes sci-fi readers to the place of joy they experience when reading their favorite genre. I loved this book.

Tales2Inspire ~ The Topaz Collection: Personal Awakenings
Lois Stern
9781492252054, $11.25 paperback, 122 pages
B00GNL1W5C, $4.95 Kindle

The Topaz Collection: Personal Awakenings is an anthology in the Tales2Inspire® series. The stories will help the reader see the world through new eyes. Various everyday occurrences caused personal awakening, which will touch your heart. Some of these events have happened to everyone. Not everyone will respond the same way. The authors all have photographic proof of their true stories.

One child considered one person in a long line of caretakers as a babysitter until someone who knew his native language pointed at her and said, "Grandmother." The child responded with love and hugs, and a new relationship was born. A World War II story of a "camp" and how the person and family dealt with the situation is included. The fearful viewpoint of an adopted child from another country offers insight into her life in America. One family decides to live simply, so they make significant lifestyle changes that provide more contentment than the rat-race. There are more stories, of course.

The Topaz is the symbol for this book as it is the gem of self-realization and energy, truth, and forgiveness. Very fitting for the experience of reading this book!

Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Reference Guide for Avoiding Word Trippers and Crafting Gatekeeper-Perfect Copy, 2nd Edition
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Modern History Press
9781615995240, $24.95 Hardcover, $9.95 Paperback, 56 pages
B08DDJ7LZT, $2.99 Kindle

A reference manual, business writing mini-course, and helpful editing tips book all rolled into one! It gives the information (secrets) necessary to get through the gatekeepers in the publishing process. With a dictionary of often misused words, it should be easily accessible while working. Using this book will be a confidence builder as it will help show your best work. What a fantastic resource for any writer!

Carolyn Wilhelm

Clabe Polk's Bookshelf

A Time for Violence: Stories With an Edge
Max Collins, Joe Lansdale, Richard Chizmar, John Russo, Richard Matheson Bev Vincent, Stewart O'Nan, authors
Craig Douglas, illustrator
Andy Rousch and Chris Roy, editors
Close to the Bone Publishing
an Imprint of Gritfiction Ltd.
9781795546904, $10.99 paperback, 268 pages
B07N94MLQL, $2.99 Kindle

How do you like your murder and mayhem? Served with a knife? A gun?

Do you prefer premeditated murder or crimes of passion; that instantaneous blast of emotion that can never be recalled. The one that will haunt you forever?

A Time for Violence is an anthology of twenty-five short, violently sweet, short stories especially for those who love to read violent crime. It is a collection of works that take no prisoners and make no apology for their violent themes. Whether you like your mayhem served by surprise in a back alley at gunpoint, in an explosion of violent rage, or as revenge served as cold as ice, you will find it here written by some of the best crime and suspense authors in the business.

I felt the stories in this book were short, fast-paced, and hard-hitting. They should satisfy the most demanding readers who crave action thrillers. 5-Stars.

This book was provided free by the author in hopes of receiving an honest review. The above review represents my honest opinion of the book.

The Salford World War; The Amelia Hartliss Mysteries: Book 12
Mike Scantlebury
Privately Published
B07GTP3GDK, $2.99 Kindle, 117 pages

Despite being a British government secret agent, Melia often seems like she's behind the eight-ball; the only person in the room without a clue. It's not merely that she doesn't have all the information. Rather, it's that everyone around her is withholding information. Nevertheless, Melia has a job to do. A job that would be easier if her colleagues were more forthcoming.

Adding to Melia's frustration, it seems that everyone in China town has an interest in her assignment and most of them have varying degrees of financial or other business interests, personal vendettas or other issues against the man she is assigned to safeguard. If that's not enough, her "client" and her bosses both have undisclosed agendas.

Told in terse narrative, short and to the point, this story grows in complexity by leaps and bounds leaving the reading wondering where it is going. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. However, I felt the characters lacked depth and believability, and the storyline, although complicated, lacked plausibility. My overall impression was more of a caricature than a serious story.

Be that as it may, I found reading The Salford World War to be an interesting diversion if only due to the author's writing style. Readers seeking intriguing, but lightweight, entertainment should love it. 4-Stars

This book was provided free by the author in hopes of receiving an honest review. The above review represents my honest opinion of the book.

The Tube Riders; Exile (The Tube Riders Series, Book 2)
Chris Ward
Privately Published
9781973266136, $12.99 paperback, 424 pages
B00H5K0X9Q, $2.99 Kindle
B01L9FCC9G, $21.83 audiobook

The Tube Riders have successfully evaded the Governor of Mega Britain and his huntsmen, including Dreggo by fleeing to France and collapsing the second "Chunnel"…or have they? Certainly, they have injuries that need healing and there seems to be no one around in France to help them.

Dreggo has been found by monks, washed onto the beach, injured and nearly drowned and they are nursing her back to health. So much for the Tube Rider's clean getaway!

Not to be defeated, the Governor has called on a unique character that he has kept locked away for forty years and is blackmailing him into pursuing the Tube Riders in France. Altogether a nasty proposition, for now the Tube Riders must find a way to get the information on a digital photo memory card into the hands of the European governments, a task that much easier said than done…especially since the Governor has found a way to turn significant resources in France against them.

However, extreme circumstances make for extreme alliances, and the opportunity arises to save the mission. But will they get help from the European nations against the Governor of Mega Britain? Guess you'll need to read it to see. One thing is certain. Readers will not be disappointed with the action. This book is just as action-packed and imaginative as its predecessor in the series.

Strongly recommended for readers of dystopian and action books of all types. 5-Stars.

The Tube Riders; Revenge (The Tube Riders Trilogy, Book 3)
Chris Ward
Privately Published
9781973266143, $12.99 paperback, 406 pages
B00I3HRCQW, $2.99 Kindle
B07BK9P35N audiobook

Some years have passed since Exile (Book 2). Marta is now a mother, living with her husband and children in the Freeman's settlement in the Cornwall exclusion zone. However, a raid carried out by the Governor's guards has taken her children and killed her husband, and Marta finds herself a Tube Rider once again, and the inspirational leader of a violent rebellion as she sets out to rescue her children and exact revenge on the Governor. Will she succeed in freeing the children? What will her fate be?

Revenge is a rip-roaring ride through a violent rebellion against a tyrant that has repressed more people and groups than are initially apparent. All they need is a leader, even a reluctant leader…one who is willing to charge into danger and take what it brings.

However, the Governor has special powers and some type of alien artifact influencing him. The rebellion is balanced on a thread. Will fate favor the rebels or the governor?

The action is unrelenting as Marta and the remaining Tube Riders hurtle toward their fate! So settle in and prepare to cling to the edge of your seat all night reading Revenge. 5-Stars.

Looking for Life
Clayton Graham
Privately Published
9798669812713, $19.95 paperback 202 pages
B08DLK6PMS, $2.99 Kindle

Okay! Lovers of SciFi short stories, grab hold of your trousers, settle in your favorite reading chair, and push the "buy" button for Looking for life, Clayton Graham's new short story collection. The best-selling author of Milijun, Saving Paludis, and Amidst Alien Stars adds another winning, entertaining collection to Silently in the Night.

Whether your tastes run to aliens stranded in the Australian Outback, or to exploring astronauts stranded to the mercy of an artificial AI-controlled planet, Looking for Life offers something ominous and suspenseful for just about every SciFi taste. With characters ranging from scientists to robots, and plots ranging from direct threats to dark conspiracies, these stories keep suspense high. The truth is, I couldn't wait after finishing one tale to begin the next; I'd finished the book before I knew it and was looking for the next story.

So tighten your courage, and settle into your spacesuit, here we go into the unknown! 5-Stars.

The Watchmaker's Daughter (Glass and Steele Book 1)
C.J. Archer
Privately Published
9780648214694, $7.95 paperback, $19.95 audiobook, 302 pages
B01DK93WKW, $4.99 Kindle

India Steele is a victim of one of the oldest scams in Victorian England. She is a woman left alone by the death of her father and dismissed out of hand by her fiance. Her fiance, who has worked himself into her father's good graces, inherits the father's watch and clock shop, the shop in which India apprenticed under her father and which she had expected to run. But alas, in Victorian England women cannot inherit or own property of their own, and the Watchmaker's Guild is unanimous in their refusal to admit a woman as a practicing watchmaker. India is homeless with nowhere to go and no real prospects for a job.

Matt Glass is a mysterious American with a problem. He must find a particular watchmaker in London to repair his watch; a particular watchmaker with particular skills. He has no idea of the man's name or location, only that he is from England and was in Broken Creek, New Mexico five years previously. He encounters India and hires her to help him find the mysterious watchmaker. Having no options, she works for Glass but has reservations that he is all he seems to be. Along the way to seeking the missing watchmaker, India encounters many surprises, threats, and adventures, barely surviving many of them. One of the keenest surprises and greatest threats to her is the vulnerability of her own heart.

Flawlessly written, with excellent characterization and brimming with twists and turns, The Watchmaker's Daughter kept me guessing until the end. It is an entertaining book with both a storyline and a lesson about people and the social conditions of the time. 5-Stars.

The Signal (The Earth Song Series, Book 0)
Nick Cook
Voice From The Clouds Ltd.
9781999893408, $4.06 paperbook, 134 pages
B07FDZ5LJ8, $0.99 Kindle

Lauren Stelleck has a rare ability to 'see' sounds in her head as colors and images. Not all sounds, but the sounds received by radio telescopes from the 'ether'. However, while indulging her passion for experiencing these sounds at the Lovell Radio Observatory, the equipment goes crazy with an unbelievably strong signal that causes electrical pyrotechnics not just at Lovell but also at radio telescopes worldwide. What could possibly cause such a phenonema? Whatever it is, the government sees it as a threat to national security and locks Lovell, and Lauren down.

The Signal is the 'hook' for the four Earth Song Series. It is an effective hook making readers want to understand where the phantom signal is coming from and what the effects will be. It is well written, mysterious, suspenseful, and entertaining, and a fine four star story, worth only three stars because it is merely a 'hook' for a serial series.

Home World (Triple Stars Trilogy, Book 0)
Simon Kewin
Privately Published
B082FPLB9S, $0.99 Kindle, 118 pages

When Conciliator Magdi accepted the task of mediating a possession disagreement between the planets Gogon, Sejurne, and Arianas over the uninhabited planet Forge, she knew it would be as tough an interplanetary task as diplomacy offered. Little, however, did she know she would wind up investigating the death of a diplomat, nor would she be aware that a tactic she would use would foretell the destruction of Coronade and the empire she had always known.

Three main characters compete for power. One demands Forge as a planet to hold a growing population. Another demands Forge as a source of uranium to construct a life-saving power-grid. The third sees Forge as a spiritual "heaven" portion of their religious beliefs. Magdi must consolidate and address their interests while independently investigating their claims of legal rights to Forge. The murder of one of the delegates puts her at odds with everyone and distracts all of them from the elephant in the room, the disappearance of the vessel Magellanic Cloud.

Home World is the first book in the Triple Stars Trilogy as does a fine job of enticing readers to buy the rest of the series. After all, who wouldn't want to know what looms to destroy the empire as they know it. The disaster is looming throughout Home World but is ignored in the story so little is actually known about the rest of the series. Home World is a fine entertaining standalone tale worthy of four stars, but as I personally dislike these types of marketing techniques, I have discounted it to three stars.

The Last Artifact (Book 1, The Dark Rift)
Gilliam Ness
Polymath Publishing
B01AOGTC30, $0.00 Kindle, 233 pages
B01MAUZPZK, $7.49 Audio

What combines the best aspects of history, symbolism, end-times prophesy, religious fantasy, science fiction, adventure, demonic possession and horror? The Last Artifact Trilogy, Book 1, The Dark Rift.

Take a hidden portal to hell, combine it with an all too believable Satan-driven conspiracy of the powerful to dominate humanity, stir it together with an incestuous child damned from birth, add two otherwise innocent people fated from birth to save humanity from a fate worse than death and you have the premise behind The Last Artifact Trilogy. The Dark Rift brings them all together in a fascinating way in a book that's impossible to put down.

This book is the first book in a trilogy that will keep readers of any type of action/adventure, religious fantasy, science fiction, end-times prophesy, or horror glued to their seats. 5-Stars.

Ash (Asher Benson #1)
Jason Brant
Privately Published
9781494830205, $14.99 paperback, 332 pages
B00HL7Y1X2, $Free Kindle
B0128BPUY4, $7.49 Audio

How do you spell relief? For former Army Lieutenant Asher Benson, its spelled B.E.E.R.

Benson has a strange form of PTSD derived from a brain injury caused by an IED explosion that killed the rest of his team. His injury causes him to know the thoughts of everyone around him. It is an affliction, while useful at certain times, is overpowering and best controlled by copious quantities of beer. The result is a persona of vagrancy.

However, Asher's psychic ability is not unique. There are others with psychic abilities, some more controlled and powerful; as Asher will find out, some are bound for revenge.

Ash is a thriller that combines dry, tongue-in-cheek humor with nonstop action and a tendency for the reader to cry "uncle" in sympathy for Asher…after all, how much can one man take? But Asher seems to be willing to take it all.

This is a tall tale, one in which the main character has an ability that is not fully believable, an ability to absorb punishment that is not believable, and a lifestyle that is only marginally believable. Nevertheless, readers will cringe with empathy for Asher. His friend, Drew Lloyd, and Nami are more believable characters and Sammy is quite believable…especially her disbelief that a chance encounter with Asher has placed her life in danger.

Laced with sarcastic humor in the face of potentially fatal circumstances, this book will keep thriller and action books readers glued to the edge of their seats well into the night. 5-Stars.

See You Soon
N.C. Marshall
Privately Published
9781530878598, $11.79 paperback, 243 pages

You can go home again…but sometimes it's hard. Emily thought she would never return to her hometown, to the drama and tragedy that had beset her younger life. She thought that was all behind her…until an email from her former best friend, Ali ignited her memories and all her fears.

What follows is a suspenseful psycho-thriller. Ali has disappeared. Has she met with foul play? Is she dead? Where is she? Even though Emily has not heard from her in fifteen years she must find out. To do so, she must journey to her old hometown and confront long-dormant emotions, animosities, and relationships, most of which are unresolved. She finds that others have unresolved emotional issues involving her as well.

Emily is a mess of unresolved past emotional traumas, including an unsuccessful marriage to an abusive man she has not seen in years. Is he behind Ali's disappearance? Is he the one with access to Ali's house, and Emily's vacation cabin? Does he have the chutzpah and the means to threaten their daughter?

Who knows? Only readers will know for sure as they clutch the edge of their seats while reading this suspenseful story. 4-Stars

Clabe Polk, Reviewer

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

America's First Female Serial Killer
Mary Kay McBrayer
Mango Publishing
9781642502077, $18.95, PB, 216pp

Synopsis: America's first female serial killer was not always a killer. "America's First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster " by Mary Kay McBrayer is a work of deftly crafted fiction based upon the true story of first-generation Irish-American nurse Jane Toppan, born as Honora Kelley. While all previous books about her life and her crimes are all facts and no story, "America's First Female Serial Killer" posits that while Jane Toppan was absolutely a monster, but she did not start out that way.

When Jane was a young child, her father abandoned her and her sister to the Boston Female Asylum. From there, Jane was indentured to a wealthy family who changed her name, never adopted her, wrote her out of the will, and essentially taught her how to hate herself. Jilted at the altar, Jane became a nurse and took control of her life, -- and the lives of her victims.

Readers of "America's First Female Serial Killer": Will gain insight into the personal development of a severely damaged person without rationalizing her crimes; Vividly experience the rarely told story of a female serial killer; Understand that even monsters were humans, -- at first.

Critique: "America's First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster" will have a special and particular appeal for true crime buffs. While especially recommended for both community and college/university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "America's First Female Serial Killer" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781662009211, $22.99, CD).

The Dogs of Winter
Ann Lambert
Second Story Press
9781772601404, $19.95, PB, 328pp

Synopsis:"The Dogs of Winter" by novelist Ann Lambert begins after a howling snowstorm envelops Montreal, and the body of a young woman is discovered in its wake. The only clue to her identity is the photograph in her pocket, and on it, the phone number of Detective Inspector Romeo Leduc.

Meanwhile, Marie and Romeo are busy navigating their deepening relationship, and a student at Marie's college is the victim of a terrible assault. While Romeo begins to think that the dead woman may be linked to violence against several homeless people in the city, the search for justice in both cases is thwarted by societal apathy and ignorance, even as the killer is stalking the frigid streets of Montreal, preying on and terrorizing its most vulnerable citizens.

Critique: The sequel to "The Birds That Stay", Ann Lambert's new novel "The Dogs of Winter" is another simply riveting suspense thriller of a read and continues to showcase the author's natural knack for the kind of narrative storytelling that keeps the reader's riveted attention from beginning to cliff-hanger style ending. While highly recommended for community library Myster/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of the growing legions of Ann Lambert fans that "The Dogs of Winter" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Lost Little Sister
Michael Prelee
North Star Press of St. Cloud
9781682011140, $15.99, PB, 300pp

Synopsis: Kelly Dolan has been missing for nine years. The college graduate was preparing to start her life with a new job in a new city when she vanished over Labor Day Weekend. For almost a decade, her sister Quinn and private detective Paulie Carmichael have been searching for her. After an armed robbery at a lakeside store turns to murder, they become convinced a serial killer is targeting the small town of Hogan but can't convince the police.

Critique: An original and very nicely crafted novel of mystery and suspense featuring more unexpected plot twists and turns than a Disney Land roller coaster, "Lost Little Sister" by novelist Michael Prelee will prove to be an immediate and enduringly welcome addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections and the personal reading lists of all dedicated suspense/thriller fans.

Cannabis Healing
Franjo Grotenhermen, M.D.
Park Street Press
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781620558317, $19.99, PB, 240pp

Synopsis: "Cannabis Healing: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of CBD, THC, and Other Cannabinoids" by Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen is an authoritative yet practical guide to the healing properties of cannabis and cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, and explores how to use these substances to treat a wide range of physical and emotional conditions.

Dr. Grotenhermen first examines the history of marijuana as medicine, including its important role in U.S. medical practice during the 19th century. He explains the biochemistry of cannabinoids and shows how they interact with the human body, including a look at cannabinoid receptors and how cannabinoids occur naturally in the body. The author then draws on his years of experience legally treating patients in Germany as well as numerous research studies and tests to provide an in-depth guide to the many healing applications for cannabis and its derivatives.

The therapeutic applications covered include the use of CBD to treat seizures, epilepsy, anxiety, several forms of cancer, muscular disorders, and psychotic states and the use of THC to treat schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, ADHD, Tourette's, Parkinson's, impotence, depression, lupus, COPD, and chronic pain, among many other physical, neurological, and emotional conditions.

The author also examines the various cannabis-derived medications available, such as Cannabinol, Dronabinol, and Marinol, and the main methods of administering cannabis. He offers a complete discussion of safe use, possible side effects, contraindications, and precautions (including during pregnancy and chemotherapy), alongside research data that confirms cannabis as one of the least toxic substances in existence.

Critique: Expertly and knowledgeably written by a practicing physician, "Cannabis Healing: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of CBD, THC, and Other Cannabinoids" is an ideal and thoroughly 'reader friendly' guide that provides everything the non-specialist general reader needs to know to use cannabinoids safely and effectively for health and healing. Also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99), "Cannabis Healing: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of CBD, THC, and Other Cannabinoids" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Health & Medicine collections.

Editorial Note: Currently residing in Germany, Franjo Grotenhermen, M.D., is recognized as a top expert on the therapeutic use of cannabinoids. Dr. Grotenhermen has written many articles and books on the subject, is the executive director and a board member of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM), and its sister organization, the German Association for Medical Cannabis.

Clint Travis

Elan Kluger's Bookshelf

A Theory of the Aphorism
Andrew Hui
Princeton University Press
9780691188959, $29.95

The aphorism is an elegant way to transfer knowledge. It can do in one sentence what some books take a few hundred pages to do. Andrew Hui doesn't just ruminate on the aphorism. Instead, he contributes a theory of the aphorism, in an aphorism. "The aphorism comes before, after, and against philosophy." Hui gives profiles in aphorists, including Confucius, Heraclitus, and Nietzsche. Each profile he uses as case studies in his theory. The magic of the book does not come though, as the title implies, from the theory. Instead, the book truly makes it worthwhile by the simple feature of spending 180 pages, thinking about aphorisms and the exegesis of them. Reading remarkable thoughts across multiple millenia, and having them interpreted by a world class scholar, is extraordinary, and worth triple the price of admission.

The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe
Daniel H. Nexon
Princeton University Press
9780691137933, $47.95

The Thirty Years' War has been written about and rewritten. In a field such as that, it is hard to contribute new interpretations. In Daniel Nexon's first foray into the academic book field, he does just that. Nexon skillfully lays out the impacts of various systemic changes and cultural changes especially the rise of Protestantism. For a stimulating combination of theory and history, this is the book.

Elan Kluger, Reviewer

Gregory Stephenson's Bookshelf

Northern Light
The Cistercian Nuns of Tautra Mariakloster
Sr. Cheryl Frances Chen, Sr. Hanne-Maria Berentzen, Sr. Anne Elizabeth Sweet & Sr. Maria Rafael Bartlett
Cistercian Publications
9780879071608, $24.95, pp. 201, 2020

Many of us enjoy reading of lives lived on the edge, that is lives lived dangerously, vividly - soldiers, bullfighters, explorers, spies. Extraordinary, exciting lives. But there are, of course, other kinds of brinks and borders: interior verges, frontiers of the mind and spirit. In this sense (and in other ways, as well) the Cistercian nuns of Mariakloster on the island of Tautra in Norway may be seen to be living lives on the edge, lives devoted to an uncompromising endeavor of growing beyond themselves, lives directed toward a silent inward encounter with Mystery.

The island of Tautra is located in the Trondheimsfjord in the west-central part of Norway, far enough north for the northern lights to be seen in winter. Tautra is a place of seasonal extremes of daylight and darkness, warmth and cold. At the winter solstice, the sun rises at 10:02 a.m. and sets at 2:33 p.m. At the summer solstice, the sun rises at 3: 02 a.m. and sets at 11:37 p.m. while the twilight lingers throughout the brief night. In autumn and winter, storms and gales are not infrequent. Sometimes snow falls in May. From the year 1207 to 1532, the island was the site of Tautra Abbey, a Cistercian monastery, which was dissolved during the reformation and its lands seized by the crown. (The ruins of the abbey have since become a popular tourist destination.) The Mariakloster was established on Tautra in 1999, its foundation stone laid by Queen Sonja of Norway. The community of Trappistine nuns (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Obervance) currently occupying the Mariakloster numbers fourteen, drawn from nine different nationalities. The sisters support themselves by manufacturing and marketing soaps, balms and creams. They also tend a vegetable garden and a small orchard, grow greenhouse tomatoes, gather mushrooms and pick and preserve raspberries and red currants which abound on the island.

Northern Light consists of accounts by four nuns resident in the Mariakloster, chronicling the practices, occupations and events of the year (from New Year's day to Christmas) as experienced on Tautra. Their descriptions include carefully observed details of the island's changing weathers and skies, its flora and its birdlife. The nuns pursue a rigorous schedule (rising each morning at 4 a.m.) of prayer, the reading of scripture, the singing of antiphons, and manual labor. Through most of the day, they maintain silence among themselves. The austere simplicity of their lives seems to instill in them a joyous openness to natural beauty. Wind, waves, stars, clouds, storms, snowfall, flowers, phases of the moon, tender spring leaves and many-hued autumn leaves are all received by them with gratitude and wonder. The sisters also relish congruences between the turning seasons of the year and the cycle of liturgical seasons that they observe, discovering between the two a reciprocal relationship in which each illuminates the other.

The nuns of Mariakloster live lives on the edge of society, rejecting consumerism, materialism and the ethos of instant-gratification in favor of simplicity and a spiritually engaged life. Their inner lives may be said to be lived on "the razor's edge" (as the Katha Upanishad phrases it) of a personal search for union with God. ("Sharp like a razor's edge is the path, the sages say, difficult to traverse.") Their attention is fixed firmly upon essential things and ultimate concerns, their lives dedicated to an inward transformation, to a relentless re-shaping and refining of consciousness, reaching forward beyond the barriers of self-will and self-centeredness toward self-giving and a deepening sense of the divine presence.

Northern Light will interest any reader whose concerns or curiosity extend to the psychology of monasticism or contemporary spirituality. With its handsome color photographs and rich descriptions of the daily lives of the sisters through the course of a year - "so ordinary on the surface, yet extraordinary in the depths" - Northern Light possesses a quiet capacity to prompt us to reflect seriously upon the quality of our own lives.

Gregory Stephenson

Helen Cook's Bookshelf

The One That Got Away
Clint Hofer
Page Publishing
9781644248881, $14.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 216 pages

This was by far, one of the most fun books I've read in quite a while. Comedy, romance, adventure, and a little St. Louis history all tucked neatly between the covers. If you want some good laughs this is the book for you. I kept reading wanting to see 'what happens next.' I read it in a little over two days. I just couldn't put it down.

Helen Cook

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

The Elixirist
Avraham Azrieli
Privately Published
9781953648037, $9.99

An excellent engrossing novel

Avraham Azrieli's "The Elixirist" is excellent, so full of exciting events that it will make a wonderful motion picture. It is the story of a young boy of 16, Sall, who lived in the biblical time of the judges, before the Israel tribes united, when they sometimes engaged in war with one another, when Israelite and non-Israelite nations fought to gain territory, all of which happens in this tale. But it is not about Israel, although the Hebrews are sometimes, rarely, involved. It is about a boy from the land of Edom, a country to the south-east of Canaan, whose father is a healer, who is hated by the high priest of Edom who felt that healing belongs to God and people should not interfere and attempt to heal people as Sall's father does and as Sall helps him do.

The problem that Sall faces is that he has fallen in love with the high priest's daughter and the high priest would never allow him, the son of a healer, to marry her. More to the point the girl looks at him with contempt. He wishes he would be better looking and be able to impress the girl he loves. He has a dream in which a dwarf tells him that if he travels the far distance to Damascus he will find an elixirist who will change him. He decides to take the trip on a donkey with his mother's dog, despite the many dangers in the war-torn world on the way. An elixir is an alchemic preparation for transmuting base metals into gold. An elixirist is a person who uses elixirs. If the elixirist can change metals into gold, he thinks, he can change me into a man who my love will like.

The trip is filled with adventures: a meeting with the Edomite general who is in love with his mother who inexplicably advises Sall not to return home for many months, the encounter with a female handless dream reader on a mountaintop, his journey with a Moabite merchant who robs him of his mother's dog, slavery to a potter in Jericho, finding a way to end the slavery, capture by a group who ties him naked in the sun where he blisters until he looks like a leper and is shunned by fearful people who see him, the magical healing at Job's bath, his journey with the lying brown prince of Kush who had a secret murderous agenda, the battle between two Hebrew tribes provoked by the brown prince, the fishing success that he developed, the kindness of a hunchback, drowning and being saved and taught by the elixirist, the unequal battle between Edom and Egypt, and much more. Even perhaps of equal significance is that during each leg of his long journey the 16-year-old hears life-saving wise advice, usually one-liners, that teach him, and which he uses as he moves on.

Who was the elixirist? How did he do his magic? Did the 16-year-old change? Did he get the girl he loved?

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son
Michael Ian Black
Algonquin Books
PO Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2225
9781616209117, $24.95, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: In a world in which the word masculinity now often goes hand in hand with toxicity, In the pages of "A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son", comedian, actor, and father Michael Ian Black offers up a way forward for boys, men, and anyone who loves them.

Part memoir, part advice book, and written as a heartfelt letter to his college-bound son, "A Better Man" reveals Black's own complicated relationship with his father, explores the damage and rising violence caused by the expectations placed on boys to "man up," and searches for the best way to help young men be part of the solution, not the problem.

"If we cannot allow ourselves vulnerability," he writes, "how are we supposed to experience wonder, fear, tenderness?"

Honest, funny, and hopeful, Black skillfully navigates the complex gender issues of our time and delivers a poignant answer to an urgent question: How can we be, and raise, better men?

Critique: Thoughtful and thought provoking, insightful and realistic, impressively intimate and engagingly candid, "A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son" is especially recommended for community library Parenting collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of any man wanting to be a positive influence in the live and character of a son that "A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.44).

Editorial Note: Michael Ian Black is an actor, comedian, and writer who started his career with the sketch comedy show The State, on MTV, and has created and starred in many other television shows. Movie appearances include Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, and Sextuplets. Black is also the author of several books for children, including I'm Bored, I'm Sad, and I'm Worried, and the parody A Child's First Book of Trump. His books for adults include the memoirs You're Not Doing It Right and Navel Gazing, and the essay collection My Custom Van. Black also co-authored with Meghan McCain America, You Sexy Bitch. As a stand-up comedian, Michael regularly tours the country, and he has released several comedy albums. His podcasts include Mike & Tom Eat Snacks, with Tom Cavanagh; Topics, with Michael Showalter; How to Be Amazing; and Obscure.

American Spies
Michael J. Sulick
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
9781647120375, $24.95, PB, 392pp

Synopsis: "American Spies: Espionage against the United States from the Cold War to the Present" presents the stunning histories of more than forty Americans who spied against their country during the past six decades. Michael Sulick, a former head of the CIA's clandestine service, illustrates through these stories (some familiar, others much less well known) the common threads in the spy cases and the evolution of American attitudes toward espionage since the onset of the Cold War. After highlighting the accounts of many who have spied for traditional adversaries such as Russian and Chinese intelligence services, Sulick shows how spy hunters today confront a far broader spectrum of threats not only from hostile states but also substate groups, including those conducting cyberespionage.

Sulick reveals six fundamental elements of espionage in these stories: the motivations that drove them to spy; their access and the secrets they betrayed; their tradecraft, or the techniques of concealing their espionage; their exposure; their punishment; and, finally, the damage they inflicted on America's national security.

"American Spies" is the sequel to Sulick's first book, "Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War". Together they serve as a basic introduction to understanding America's vulnerability to espionage, which has oscillated between peacetime complacency and wartime vigilance, and continues to be shaped by the inherent conflict between our nation's security needs and our commitment to the preservation of civil liberties.

Originally published in hardcover in 2013 and now readily available in paperback and in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.37), and "American Spies: Espionage against the United States from the Cold War to the Present" is enhanced with the inclusion of a new preface that brings the conversation up to the present, making "American Spies" is as insightful and relevant as ever.

Critique: With the current presidency of Donald J. Trump and his seemingly inexplicable deference to Vladimir Putin and the Russian military establishment's espionage activities and interference with the American political election process, "American Spies: Espionage against the United States from the Cold War to the Present" is an urgently important and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, university, and governmental library collections on Espionage, Political Intelligence, National and International Security.

Editorial Note: Michael Sulick, after a twenty-eight year CIA career, retired as the agency's Director of the National Clandestine Service, where he was responsible for coordinating the espionage activities of the US Intelligence Community and managing global covert operations on terrorism, weapons proliferation, and regional and country-specific issues. He also served as Chief of CIA counterintelligence where he strengthened collaboration with the FBI on major espionage cases. A specialist in Russian and East Europe, he was chief of the Central Eurasia Division responsible for intelligence collection operation and managing foreign liaison relationships in the region. Overseas Mr. Sulick served as the senior CIA representative in Russia, East Europe and was also an officer in locations in Asia and Latin America. In 1991, he was the first CIA officer to enter the Soviet Union to forge new relationships with the intelligence services of a newly independent former Soviet republic.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Imagining Wild Bill: James Butler Hickok in War, Media, and Memory
Paul Ashdown & Edward Caudill
Southern Illinois University Press
1915 University Press Drive
SIUC Mail Code 6806, Carbondale, IL 62901
9780809337880, $26.50, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: When it came to the Wild West, the nineteenth-century press rarely let truth get in the way of a good story. James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok's story was no exception. Mythologized and sensationalized, Hickok was turned into the deadliest gunfighter of all, a so-called moral killer, a national phenomenon even while he was alive.

Rather than attempt to tease truth from fiction, in the pages of "Imagining Wild Bill: James Butler Hickok in War, Media, and Memory" coauthors and journalists Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill investigate the ways in which Hickok embodied the culture of glamorized violence Americans embraced after the Civil War and examine the process of how his story emerged, evolved, and turned into a viral multimedia sensation full of the excitement, danger, and romance of the West.

"Imagining Wild Bill" demonstrates that an invented "Wild Bill" Hickok glorified him as a civilizer. The press of that time inflated his body count and constructed his legend in the midst of an emerging celebrity culture that grew up around penny newspapers. His death by treachery, at a relatively young age, made the story tragic, and dime-store novelists took over where the press left off. Reimagined as entertainment, Hickok's legend continued to enthrall Americans in literature, on radio, on television, and in the movies, and it still draws tourists to notorious Deadwood, South Dakota.

American culture often embraces myths that later become accepted as popular history. By investigating the allure and power of Hickok's myth, Ashdown and Caudill explain how American journalism and popular culture have shaped the way Civil War - era figures are remembered and reveal how Americans have embraced violence as entertainment.

Critique: An absolutely fascinating and meticulous work of seminal scholarship, "Imagining Wild Bill: James Butler Hickok in War, Media, and Memory" is an extraordinarily informative and exceptionally well presented study and one that is unhesitatingly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community, college and university library American Biography collections in general, and Wild Bill Hickok fans in particular.

Editorial Note: Both Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill are professors emeritus of journalism at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They have co-written Inventing Custer: The Making of an American Legend; Sherman's March in Myth and Memory; The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest; and The Mosby Myth: A Confederate Hero in Life and Legend. Ashdown specializes in literary journalism, international communication, and popular culture, and Caudill focuses on media history, the Civil War era, and the history of ideas in public memory and the press.

The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul
Russell Moore
B&H Publishing Group
1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234
9781535998536, $22.99, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: In this era of pandemic, economic collapse, political polarization, and social/cultural conflict we live in a fearful and cowardly time. Some are anxious and withdrawn, seeking to escape the notice of whatever scares them. Others mask their fear with fighting and quarrelsomeness. The root of all of this fear is the fear that we might lose our belonging in whatever tribe in which we seek safety, the fear that we might have to stand alone.

The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage. Our problem is not so much a lack of knowledge as a lack of nerve. And yet, Jesus told us that we are to stand with courage. That doesn't mean that we will be fearless, but that we will know how to face our fear and keep walking toward the voice that calls us homeward. Gospel courage is nothing like the bravado of this anxious age. The call to courage is terrifying because the call to courage is a call to be crucified.

In "The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul", author Russell Moore calls readers to a Christ-empowered courage by pointing the way to real freedom from fear -- the way of the cross. That way means integrity through brokenness, community through loneliness, power through weakness, and a future through irrelevance. On the other side of fear is freedom: the freedom to stand.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul" is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring. This time study and exhortation is especially and unreservedly recommended to community, church, seminary, and academic library Christian Church Leadership, Social Issues, and Spiritual Growth collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of seminary students, clergy, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Courage to Stand" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination. He is the author of several books, including "Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches" and "The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home".

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

American Utopia
David Byrne, author
Maira Kalman, illustrator
Bloomsbury Press
9781635576689, $24.00, HC, 160pp

Synopsis: Artist, writer, and musician David Byrne and artist, writer, and designer Maira Kalman are old friends and decided to collaborate with "American Utopia" and in this time of pandemic, economic collapse, social justice protests against systemic racism, and deeply flawed political governance offers their readers an antidote to cynicism, bursting with pathos, humanism, and hope -- featuring words and lyrics brought to life with more than 150 colorful paintings.

The text is drawn from David Byrne's hit Broadway play "American Utopia". The four-color artwork by Maira Kalman, which she created for the Broadway show's curtain, is composed of small moments, expressions, gestures, and interactions that together offer a portrait of daily life and coexistence.

With their creative talents combined, "American Utopia" is a salvo for kindness and a call for jubilation, a reminder to sing, dance, and waste not a moment. Beautifully designed and edited by Alex Kalman, "American Utopia" is a balm for the soul from two of the world's most extraordinary artists.

Critique: If ever there were a book for our troubled times,"American Utopia" is it. While especially and highly recommended for both community and college/university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "American Utopia" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses
Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Delphinium Books
PO Box 803, Encino, CA 91436
9781883285920, $24.95, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: An impressive short story anthology, "Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses" is comprised of twenty-five works of superbly crafted literary fiction by author Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Her characters are indefatigable New Yorkers whose long-established routines are thwarted by a swerve of fate or a mishap or a time warp.

A man generously lends his car to his ex-wife and is bewildered when she neglects to return it and keeps making implausible excuses not to bring it back A neat and orderly clothing store owner is taken in and manipulated by an ailing elderly neighbor who then leaves her all earthly possessions A woman who has been left by her husband for a younger woman and forced to visit the couple in order to see her children realizes with a mixture of fascination and elation that her former husband has been physically and psychologically debilitated by his recent marriage to a much younger wife.

The majority of the characters created by Schwartz reflect her many decades of accumulating wisdom and her sharp and fascinating perspective bringing to her imaginative and original fiction new angles of intelligence as applied to the kind of day-to day questions that are universal in the life experiences of us all.

Critique: Original, entertaining, thought-provoking, "Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses" is a memorable anthology of stories, many of which will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While very highly recommended for both community and college/university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note: Lynne Sharon Schwartz is the author of twenty-three books that include the novels Disturbances in the Field Leaving Brooklyn a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and Rough Strife a finalist for the National Book Award She has also published non-fiction short stories a memoir essays and translations Schwartz is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation the National Endowment for the Arts in fiction and translation and the New York State Foundation for the Arts She has taught widely in the United States and abroad and currently teaches at the Bennington College Writing Seminars and the Columbia University School of the Arts.

Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life
Ashley Whillans
Harvard Business Review Press
60 Harvard Way, Boston, MA 02163
9781633698352, $28.00, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: Four out of five adults report feeling that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it. These time-poor people experience less joy each day. They laugh less. They are less healthy, less productive, and more likely to divorce. In one study, time stress produced a stronger negative effect on happiness than unemployment.

How can we escape the time traps that make us feel this way and keep us from living our best lives?

"Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life" by Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans is a playbook for taking back the time you lose to mindless tasks and unfulfilling chores and will give you proven and effective strategies for improving your "time affluence." The techniques Whillans provides will free up seconds, minutes, and hours that, over the long term, become weeks and months that you can reinvest in positive, healthy activities.

"Time Smart" doesn't stop at telling you what to do. It also shows you how to do it, helping you achieve the mindset shift that will make these activities part of your everyday regimen through assessments, checklists, and activities you can use right away. The strategies Professor Whillans presents will help you make the shift to time-smart living and, in the process, build a happier, more fulfilling life.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life" is an ideal DIY instructional guide and manual to improving the time management skills and awareness of the reader. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and the non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject of time management that "Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.49).

Editorial Note: Ashley Whillans is an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and a leading voice in time and happiness research. Whillans has worked with groups as diverse as consulting firms, couples, the US military, and women managing vegetable stands in Kenya. She is part of the Global Happiness Council and the Workplace and Well-Being Initiative at Harvard University. Her research has appeared in numerous outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, BBC, the Atlantic, and the Economist. She maintains a website at Ashley Whillans at and can be found on Twitter -- @ashleywhillans

Your Pet, Your Pill
Margit Gabriele Muller
HSH Press
9781953342003, $17.99, PB, 342pp

Synopsis: "Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life" is a positive, motivational and inspirational book by veterinarian Margit Gabriele Muller that will impact the way we look at our pets.

All pets (dogs, cats, horses, fish, rabbits, birds) can lead you to your path to HSH - Happiness, Success and Health. Filled with stories of how pets have helped people overcome emotional and physical challenges, "Your Pet, Your Pill" demonstrates how pets have the ability to transform our lives, by making them better and more enriched.

"Your Pet, Your Pill" is deftly organized into three distinct parts, Part 1 (Pets and happiness), Part 2 (Pets and health) and Part 3 (Pets and success) and demonstrates how our pets can help us to find ourselves again. We can improve ourselves tremendously when we look at pets as our guide, help, support and idol. Their unconditional love and incredible joy of being present in the moment are the foundation for our lives and our relationship with others.

Pets can heal us so deeply that they are our best medicines for love, for laughter, for happiness, for joy, for health, and for success. Based on Margit's extensive personal experiences with animals as pets and patients, "Your Pet, Your Pill" offers readers a fascinating look at how the animals in our lives help us achieve happier, healthier, more successful lives through their incredible joy, tender companionship, unwavering support and unconditional love.

Filled with thought-provoking research and inspiring and entertaining stories, "Your Pet, Your Pill" is guaranteed to help anyone develop a deeper understanding of how our pets' trust, courage, endurance, self-confidence, bravery and resilience allow us to successfully foster those traits in ourselves -- in both our personal and professional lives.

Critique: Unreservedly endorsed reading for anyone who has enjoyed a pet companion or is an animal rights enthusiast, "Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly appreciated addition to personal, professional, community, and academic Pets/Wildlife collections. It should be noted that there is also a companion "Your Pet, Your Pill(R) Workbook" (9781953342027, $9.99, PB, 94pp).

Editorial Note: Margit Gabriele Muller is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with a doctorate in falcon medicine and more than twenty-five years of experience in the field. She is a sought-after speaker and Certified Life Coach, NLP Master and International Protocol Manager. Since 2001 Dr. Muller has been the Executive Director and Chief Veterinarian at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital in the United Arab Emirates. Under her expert leadership, the hospital has become the world's largest falcon hospital, as well as the world's leading center for falcon medicine. A member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, UK, the Association of Avian Veterinarians, USA, and the Bavarian Chamber of Veterinarians, Germany, Dr. Muller is also the author of ", Practical Handbook of Falcon Husbandry and Medicine, and Modern Veterinary Practice Management. More information on

Julie Summers

Kelly Smith's Bookshelf

Child X
Mick Lee
Troubadour Publishing Ltd
9781800467972, $14.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 218pp

Child X is a story about redemption. Ray, a down on his luck Private Investigator has the opportunity to clear his gambling debts with one job. This job will bring Ray face to face with an incident from his childhood. The beginning of the book grabbed my interest immediately. I became frustrated when I realized that a few of the main characters went by aliases. I am happy I stuck with the story because the ending was brilliant!

I give this book 3 stars mainly because of the confusion over the characters' names.

Ask No Questions
Claire Allan
Avon Books
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
9780008383527, $12.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 400pp

This is a book review on ASK NO QUESTIONS by author Claire Allan due out January 2021. Claire Allan, is a former journalist from Derry, Northern Ireland. This book contains easy to understand Irish dialect such as 'eejits" or idiots and "jumper" also known as sweaters in America.

This book made me feel like I was a local in Ireland following the case of a young girl murdered. The murder is not described in detail so this book is suitable for people that may usually shy away from anything depicting harm to a young child. There's one sexual situation that does NOT involve the child. I enjoyed this book and would classify this as MYSTERY/THRILLER.

I really enjoyed the twists, the fact that the author did not include too many characters and the depiction of Halloween in Ireland. The plot was perfectly cultivated and the author did not stray from the main plot.

I also enjoyed the fact that the author named a character in her book after a fan she met at a book signing - Sue in the police department.

Her name is Rose
Apple of my eye
Forget me not
The liars daughter

This book comes out January 2021 and in the meantime, I will read her other books! I invite you to check out this author!

Kelly Smith

Laura Taylor's Bookshelf

Once In A Blood Moon
Dorothea Hubble Bonneau
Acorn Publishing, LLC
9781087903149, $14.95 PB,$13.99 Kindle, 336 Pages

"Devastation, courage, and inspiration hallmark Once In A Blood Moon, a remarkable historical novel from author Dorothea Hubble Bonneau. This talented writer reminds us all of the fragility and the strength of the human spirit. Losing her life of privilege and being sold into slavery forces Alexandra Degambia onto a path of self-discovery and reinvention in early 1800's America. The young woman endures soul-shattering heartbreak in her quest to survive, discovers unexpected allies, and inspires with her strength and dignity as she reclaims her identity as a free person of color, a gifted musician, and a teacher of her African heritage. This tale of desperation, injustice and courage is a much-needed addition to our grasp of our nation's history. A 5-star reading experience. Highly recommend!"

Laura Taylor

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season
Barbara Mahany
Abingdon Press
2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., PO Box 280988, Nashville, TN 37228-0988
9781791007553, $19.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: Winter is the coldest time of the year. The days are shorter, and the nights are longer. Deciduous trees are bare of leaves, and some animals hibernate. Christmas is celebrated, one year comes to an end, and a new year begins.

In "The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season", journalist and author Barbara Mahany unfurls month by month the winter season exploring the natural world to find the holy within and the holy all around during this sacred season. Expanding on content from Barbara's previous book "Slowing Time", this beautiful two-color gift book is part almanac, part scrapbook, part field notes, and part recipe box, all combined to show appreciative readers just how to experience the winter world around them with joy and curiosity.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, featuring monochrome illustrations, and a pleasure to simply browse through a few pages at a time (especially during those long winter months!), "The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season" is an extraordinary and highly recommended addition to personal Christian Inspirational & Devotional collections. It should be noted that "Stillness of Winter" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Trinity Sight
Jennifer Givhan
Blackstone Publishing
31 Mistletoe Road, Ashland, OR 97520
9781094091211, $15.99, PB, 304pp

Synopsis: Anthropologist Calliope Santiago awakens to find herself in a strange and sinister wasteland, a shadow of the New Mexico she knew. Empty vehicles litter the road. Everyone has disappeared -- or almost everyone.

Calliope, heavy-bellied with the twins she carries inside her, must make her way across this dangerous landscape with a group of fellow survivors, confronting violent inhabitants, in search of answers. Long-dead volcanoes erupt, the ground rattles and splits, and monsters come to ominous life. The impossible suddenly real, Calliope will be forced to reconcile the geological record with the heritage she once denied if she wants to survive and deliver her unborn babies into this uncertain new world.

Rooted in indigenous oral-history traditions and contemporary apocalypse fiction, "Trinity Sight" asks readers to consider science versus faith and personal identity versus ancestral connection. Lyrically written and utterly original, Trinity Sight brings readers to the precipice of the end-of-times and the hope for redemption.

Critique: An absolutely fascinating, absorbing, compelling, and deftly scripted novel by an author with an impressive flair for originality and the kind of narrative storytelling style that keeps the readers rapt attention from first page to last, "Trinity Sight" by Jennifer Givhan will prove to be a unique and enduringly appreciated addition to community and college/university library Contemporary American Literary Fiction collections. Originally published in hardcover in 2019, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Trinity Sight" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Editorial Note: Jennifer Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors' Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa's Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, 2019). Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers' Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal's Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and ten Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and the Kenyon Review. She can be found discussing feminist motherhood at as well as on Facebook and Twitter @JennGivhan

Look Alive
Luiza Flynn-Goodlett
Southeast Missouri State University Press
9781732039988, $15.00, PB, 60pp

Synopsis: Luiza Flynn-Goodlett is the author of six chapbooks, including Tender Age, winner of the 2019 Headmistress Press Charlotte Mew chapbook contest, and Shadow Box, winner of the 2019 Madhouse Press Editor's Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared in Third Coast, Pleiades, and The Common. She serves as editor-in-chief of Foglifter and lives in sunny Oakland, California.

Her latest poetry collection, "Look Alive", documents the construction of a queer femme self in the hostile territory of American late capitalism. Its speaker encounters darkness in the form of violence perpetrated by both individuals and by societal systems of power and oppression, and yet, rejects the narratives articulated by that violence, celebrating instead softness and gentleness, and ultimately, cleaving to the natural world in all its radiant, mysterious queerness.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, deftly honed and emotionally penetrating, the verse comprising "Look Alive" will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf -- making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as both community and college/university library Contemporary American Poetry collections and supplemental curriculum studies.

A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson's Culinary Heritage
Carolyn Niethammer
University of Arizona Press
1510 E. University Boulevard, P.O. Box 210055, Tucson, AZ 85721-0055
9780816538898, $19.95, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: Drawing on thousands of years of foodways, the cuisine of Tucson, Arizona deftly blends the influences of Indigenous, Mexican, mission-era Mediterranean, and ranch-style cowboy food traditions. In the pages of "A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson's Culinary Heritage" cookbook author Carolyn Niethammer offers the reader a kind of literary food pilgrimage, where stories and recipes demonstrate why the desert city of Tucson became American's first UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

Showcasing both family supper tables and the city's trendiest restaurants feature native desert plants and innovative dishes incorporating ancient agricultural staples, Niethammer reveals how the Sonoran Desert's first farmers grew tasty crops that continue to influence Tucson menus and how the arrival of Roman Catholic missionaries, Spanish soldiers, and Chinese farmers influenced what Tucsonans ate.

White Sonora wheat, tepary beans, and criollo cattle steaks contribute to make Tucson's cuisine unique. In "A Desert Feast", kitchen cooks will see pictures of kids learning to grow food at school, and encounter the farmers, small-scale food entrepreneurs, and chefs who are dedicated to growing and using heritage foods.

It's fair to say, "Tucson tastes like nowhere else."

Critique: Profusely and beautifully illustrated throughout with full color photography of people, places, and culinary products, "A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson's Culinary Heritage" is an extraordinary feast for the mind and palate. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Southwestern American Food History & Cookbook collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson's Culinary Heritage" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Carolyn Niethammer has spent her life writing about the foods and people of the Southwest in award-winning ethnobotanies, cookbooks, and biographies. She leads Tucson gastronomy tours covering everything from edible wild plants to the latest farm-to-table restaurant offerings with heritage ingredients. The most recent of her five cookbooks is "Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants".

I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir
Sarah Kurchak
Douglas & McIntyre
c/o Harbour Publishing
9781771622462, $19.95, PB, 240pp

Synopsis: Sarah Kurchak is autistic. She hasn't let that get in the way of pursuing her dream to become a writer, or to find love, but she has let it get in the way of being in the same room with someone chewing food loudly, and of cleaning her bathroom sink. In the pages of her personal memoir, "I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder", Kurchak examines the Byzantine steps she took to become "an autistic success story", how the process almost ruined her life, and how she is now trying to recover.

Growing up undiagnosed in small-town Ontario in the eighties and nineties, Kurchak realized early that she was somehow different from her peers. She discovered an effective strategy to fend off bullying: she consciously altered nearly everything about herself ranging from her personality to her body language. She forced herself to wear the denim jeans that felt like being enclosed in a sandpaper iron maiden. Every day, she dragged herself through the door with an elevated pulse and a churning stomach, nearly crumbling under the effort of the performance. By the time she was finally diagnosed with autism at twenty-seven, she struggled with depression and anxiety largely caused by the same strategy she had mastered precisely. She came to wonder, were all those years of intensely pretending to be someone else really worth it?

Tackling everything from autism parenting culture to love, sex, alcohol, obsessions and professional pillow fighting, Kurchak's enlightening memoir challenges stereotypes and preconceptions about autism and considers what might really make the lives of autistic people healthier, happier and more fulfilling.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, engaging, informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking personal account of a life lived with the condition of autism, "I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir" is especially intimate, detailed, and informative -- making it unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Contemporary American Biography collections. Of immense and particular interest to anyone suffering from a similar condition, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Secret Angels
Smita Bhattacharya
B07ZMR9MB4, $2.99 Kindle

Welcome to Chapel Road, a real corner of Mumbai, where murals in closed alleys, tiny shops, dense housing and intrigue galore entice two young women on a short stay in the city.

Childhood friends Darya and Veda rent a room in a Chapel Road villa for a two month working adventure. Neither can concentrate on work, however, as cases of girls missing from the area pique their curiosity and concern. Are the cases related to the creepy family operating the villa?
Like colorful Chapel Road, Secret Angel's prose is packed with information and stimulation. The story accelerates steadily, weaving multiple threads into an intricate tapestry. The cast is diverse: rich, poor, cruel, just, European, Indian, young and old. The goal is not only to solve the missing girl cases but to expose deeper mysteries. "Because 'finding out' was more important than 'being safe'." (107) Cover-ups, the dark web, myths, cults and human trafficking play parts in the drama. Messy romances add to the emotional rollercoaster. Darya and Veda's friendship and the loyalty of loved ones redeem the tale's gruesome moments.

The book alludes to Darya's tumultuous past, told in Secret Angel's prequel, Kiss of Salt, and ends on a cliffhanger foreshadowing future adventures. Secret Angels sets a high bar for Bhattacharya's future crime-thriller novels. The next one is set in Romania.

Hawthorn Woods
Patrick Canning
Privately Published
9798663487979, $15.95, July 16, 2020

Francine is counting on a two week house sitting gig in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois, July 1989, to heal from two years of post-divorce pain. Usually the life of the party, she would love her drama to take a backseat to the small town's intrigue, but she quickly becomes its target. On her very first night, she's attacked by Maggie, Russian wife of the town's police chief. Maggie is just one of Hawthorn's many colorful characters. There's Laura Jean, Francine's new best friend. The bossy dispatcher, Lori, rivals Laura Jean for town organizer and gossip, among others.

Most intriguing of all is Bruno, also visiting, like Francine. Unlike Francine, though, he's not relaxing; he's working to track down a missing criminal. Francine, up for a distracting challenge, joins his hunt, only to discover things are going to get worse before they get better. Hawthorn Woods is a hotbed of deception and crime. The deeper Francine and Bruno dig, the line between victim and perpetrator is hard to define.

The Nancy Drew-esque investigation, modernized with Stranger Things-esque setting and characters, draws the reader right in. Their antics are entertainingly weird. Lori has a goat. Bruno wears hideous ties. Parades, garage sales, and animal carcasses are the talk of the town. But below the surface, deeper concerns lurk. Canning draws timely and philosophically astute parallels between events of the past and the ongoing life of the psyche. Each chapter begins with a question on a personality inquiry. Are the answers Francine's, or could they be anyone's? After a busy two weeks detecting, the finale ramps up to lightning speed. Justice prevails through Francine and Bruno's combined talents.

Hawthorn Woods, Canning's third novel, is as complex and whimsical as his previous two, but aimed at an older audience. A crime-thriller with a comedic-romantic twist is just what the doctor ordered to treat the Covid doldrums.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

Catherine Ryan Hyde
Lake Union Publishing
9781542042383, $10.99 Paperback, $4.99 Kindle, 298 pages, 2019

This is a novel about a young man whose life is turned around by an old lady and her two dogs who live in the woods. As such, it is fine. I might have been able to say good, if only she had left off the last 10% of the book. I would say great if she had left out about half the internal monolog in the first 90%. Of course, then we'd have a novella instead of a novel. But the novella might be better.

The story is a sentimental one about a kid named Lucas whose parents never stop arguing, a brother drafted into Viet Nam, and a best friend who is sullen and contemplating suicide. Lucas has a lot on his plate, and it seems as if his life will come to no good if he doesn't find a way to get out from under the load.

To escape the loud argument at home, Lucas is out walking in the woods one day, when he discover a cabin guarded by two large dogs. Sure that the dogs will eat him alive, given the chance, he takes off running, and to his surprise, the dogs run with him, not after him, and all three creatures discover the peaceful joy of long-distance running. Soon after, he meets Zoe Dinsmore, the dog-owner who lives in the cabin, and Lucas learns of her difficult past. Before the end of the novel, Lucas, his brother, and his best friend all end up supporting each other, helping each other to deal with their individual demons.

The story moves along well, and Hyde is an accomplished storyteller. The dogs are charmers, and her characters are all well-wrought, at least in their initial presentation. But I had a problem with Lucas's near-constant internal monologue that Hyde seems to believe is necessary if we readers are going to "get it." It's more than we need, and more action, narrative, and dialogue would have made this book a less ponderous read. The final 10% is presented as "Part 2: 50 Years Later." I wish I hadn't read it. It's preachy, full of long soliloquies (disguised poorly as dialogues), and reiterates all the messages of the first 90%. It felt like being hit over the head with a Nerf hammer, and it took all the charm out of the story and even the characters. Yes, it ties up the loose ends. You find out what happened to all the main characters, but it ruined the book for me.

In its sentimentality, the book falls in line with what we expect from Hyde. A prolific writer with more than 30 novels to her name, she is probably best known for Pay it Forward, a 2000 novel that was used as the loose basis for a feature film about (per her publisher's description) "a boy from a troubled family, who develops a plan as part of a school project that starts people doing good things for each other." That film received what the industry calls "mixed reviews." Again, the negative reviews of the film criticized its dripping sentimentality, but the book received generally better reviews, including from Publishers Weekly and Amazon, and proving that schmaltz sells, was a best-seller, translated into 23 languages.

Brides of Rome: A Novel of the Vestal Virgins
Debra May Macleod
Blackstone Publishing
9781094000244, $25.99 Hardcover, $9.99 Kindle, 254 pages, 2020

Through the lens of a Vestal Priestess of the early Roman Empire, Brides of Rome presents a unique, revelatory, and unflinching fictionalized history of political and religious life at the time of Julius Caesar's execution and the early reign of Augustus (45-24 BCE). Vestal virgins pledged 30 years of their youth to protecting the Vestal flame, the Goddess Vesta's eternal flame that protected Rome from all enemies from within and abroad. In return, the virgins lived in luxury, were treated with dignity, and were freed of obligations to marriage and childbirth. If their virtue was ever questioned, however, and they could not prove their chastity, they would be buried alive in the "Evil Field."

Pomponia, one of the Vestals, is in love with Quintus, a high priest she has known since childhood, and she struggles to remain chaste in spite of their powerful - though unexplained - attraction to each other. As Augustus trades one wife for another and beds a different virgin bought at the slave market every night, Cleopatra and Marc Antony conspire to break Rome's grip on Egypt, and powerful and jealous women plot to knock the Vestal priestesses off their pedestal, the novel is pulled forward by Pomponia's plans and dreams for a future with Quintus after her 30-year duty. Once she is named Vestalis Maxima, the pressure on her to remain virtuous and above reproach is heightened, even as Quintus, away in Egypt on a mission for Augustus, writes her increasingly provocative love letters.

While the forbidden love between the high priest and priestess provide an engine for the novel, the timeline is demarcated by the political, military, and matrimonial conflicts of the day. The prodigious historical research evident in this novel give the author's stark and brutal scenes veracity. From the descriptions of beliefs, rituals, festivals, funeral rites and mummification, modes of transportation, the buildings of the Roman fora, and styles of dress, Macleod brings to life the stories of Caesar Augustus (Octavian), his sister Octavia, his lover Cleopatra, and Cleopatra's lover, Marc Antony, in cinematic detail.

Macleod doesn't shy away from the ugliness of Roman life, and she appropriately resists recasting the men of the times with any attribute we would consider modern. They are unrestrained rapists, abusers, and murderers - even the priests. They are libertine, gluttonous, and full of lust and salaciousness. Monogamy is entirely decoupled from matrimony, at least as far as men are concerned. A 21st-century woman might wonder how a woman of any era could fall in love with any of them - particularly a high-priestess - even a high priestess accustomed to watching gladiators, decapitations in chariot races, and raw sporting events pitting humans against lions. Perhaps Macleod is making the case that "love" in Roman times was not a matter of emotion and shared values but was simply an animalistic sexual attraction. In a different version of "couldn't put it down," I found myself racing to finish the book, if only to end my time in that vividly cruel, uncivil "civilization," and get back to our less bloody, if just as politically unsettling, time.

The voice of the narrator, which takes on many points of view through the novel, is in all cases juvenile and not introspective - again, perhaps a condition of the period - but the sex and violence of this novel puts it out of range of younger readers of historical fiction and young adult romance fans. Human and animal sacrifices, executions, suicides, rapes, beheadings, and floggings bloody the pages with emotion- and compassion-numbing frequency. Once a hairy, Greek brute shoves the face of a pregnant woman in his smelly groin, you know this isn't a tale for your pubescent daughter.

The novel's attention to period detail and the mores and attitudes of the times make this a fascinating story of Roman life, told from a wholly new perspective.
I thank the publisher for providing an early copy of this book for review.

You Lucky Dog
Julia London
c/o Penguin/RandomHouse
9780593100387, $16.00 Paperback, $9.99 Kindle, 2020

There is no end to my desire to escape these days - my habit of watching 2.5 hours of evening news shows every night notwithstanding. And my two new escapes are mystery/thriller novels and romances. The romance thing started with watching a few movies on the Hallmark Channel (yes, really), but once that very repetitive formula started to bore me, I turned to romance novels. And when it comes to those, one of the novels' must-haves for me is a dog. If it has a dog as a main character, I'll probably read it.

But what about two dogs? Julia London's You Lucky Dog should really be titled You Lucky Dogs, because two basset hounds who look enough alike to put the plot in motion are the stars of this lively novel. In fact, I might even argue that the romance between the two dogs - one a sullen, sedentary fellow and one a happy, energetic gal - is a little more convincing than the romance between the two owners. But that's quibbling.

Carly is up to her ears in problems - problem clients, problem parents, and now a problem pup, Baxter, that her sister (with her own overwhelming problem children) has convinced her to foster. But one day when she comes home, she finds that Baxter has changed personality completely. Not only is the dog on the couch - an absolute no-no in Carly's house - but this dog is the opposite of sullen. Of course, Hazel, the basset hound that the dog walker switched for Baxter, is owned by an attractive and smart neurologist who comes home to find a depressed basset in place of his happy hound.

Given that setup, the trajectory isn't hard to imagine, and it doesn't disappoint, even though London takes us through a few hoops and some sometimes overwrought distractions to get us to its logical conclusion. Her easy prose and fun dialogue carry readers along, and even if it only distracts you from today's news for an evening or two, I'd recommend it as election-season therapy.

Funeral for a Friend
Brian Freeman
Blackstone Publishing
9781982663728, $27.99 Hardcover, $8.69 Kindle, 319 pages, 2020

The more I want to escape the political dystopia of our day, the more I find myself picking up murder mysteries and thrillers. It seems odd that I'd seek to assuage a need for calm by diving into bloody mayhem, but there you are.

I'm pleased, then, to be introduced to Brian Freeman, a writer of more than 20 psychological thrillers, including this one, the latest in his Jonathan Stride series of novels. I would compare him easily with Michael Connelly, who appropriately has praised his work.

Jonathan Stride is a detective in the Duluth police department and, while it appears he has cleaned up his act - both marital and policing - over the past few years, he's not always been a saint. Seven years ago, he withheld information about his personal connection to the disappearance of a pain-in-the-ass reporter whom no one but his editor seems to miss. And now the reporter's body is discovered with a bullet hole in his forehead, and Stride's lie has come home to haunt him.

In a twisting tale that allows seven of the novel's main characters to weave in and out of each other's current and past lives, Stride and wife, Serena - also a police officer - must solve the murder even though they are not allowed to officially investigate the case. Stride's secrets surrounding the murder are parceled out in well-timed, as-needed bits, and the case is finally solved in just the way a reader wants: with the murder making sense, the identity of murderer signaled all along, but the revelation of his/her guilt still a surprise. Woven into the intrigue, adding tension, is a very believable story of Stride's adopted daughter, who gets her own subplot, which, of course, eventually is woven into the main plot line.

A true master of storytelling, this novelist has now become one of my go-to authors when I'm looking for an engaging, world-stopping distraction in book form.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Where No Man Pursueth
Michael E. Jimerson
Atmosphere Press
9781649218667, $15.99 PB, February 21, 2021

Where No Man Pursueth is a morality tale that is beautiful and believable.

Are there degrees of badness? Where No Man Pursueth asks the question in many ways. Is a lie as bad as a murder? Ray Elliot struggles with these questions for more than thirty years in the novel and decides on answers repeatedly, only to change his mind time and again. He says on several occasions, as do other characters, that some men need killing. But when he carries this philosophy out, it so adversely affects him that he is haunted by it, so much so that when near the end of the novel he confronts a man who is so evil a character that, hands down, he needs killing, Ray Elliot cannot do it.

The novel could be called a morality tale. The hero makes a mistake, and in his heroic efforts to correct it, bumbles his way down a number of wrong paths. The villain is a scoundrel and a killer who never seems to suffer what he clearly deserves and often enjoys what he shouldn't. The heroine, one of the villains ill begotten bounties, asks the hero for help. But in the course of aiding her, the hero tells her a lie that shames him to such an extent that he must run away for decades to pay a penance. The three of these characters come together at the end to enact a scene of redemption. Well, sort of.

It is the "sort of" that makes Where No Man Pursueth a fine story. One thinks of the Hemingway novels when reading this novel. What happens never clearly displays an answer to the questions posed, particularly those associated with immorality. It's a real depiction of life, what's good and true, in Hemingway terminology. Texas literature also has many similar tales, where a clear of view of morality isn't baked into a pie. Larry McMurtry is a master of those stories. If there is to be redemption at the end, the reader must provide it.

This is Jimerson's first novel, and it is far too soon to say he is a Hemingway or a McMurtry. A polish isn't quite there in his story telling, nor is there a mastery of the language. Truthfully, the prose is rough in some places and needed more editing. But the telling of the story by him is engaging, and at several points the action or the circumstances make it almost impossible to put down the book. And, for the telling of a tale like this one, the writer's imperfections can be virtuous. The same can be said for Ray Eliot.

Where No Man Pursueth will not be embraced by the reader who wants a quick plot, slick language, and an easy to understand conclusion. A lover of the honest tale with an imperfect protagonist, who stumbles as much as he runs, will enjoy the story. Ray Eliot is a flawed but genuine hero, and his life is lived in a fashion that will wiggle around in your memory and your heart for some time to come.

Self-Portrait With Russian Piano
Wolf Wondratschek
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
9780374260491, $23.40 HB, September 8, 2020

In Self-Portrait With Russian Piano the visible conceals the invisible.

Who's talking? That's a big mystery in Self-Portrait With Russian Piano, although the novel isn't a mystery. Only the narrator is mysterious, because it is difficult to determine when he is narrating or when his protagonist, Suvorin, is reminiscing about his career as a pianist. The narrator presents himself as an ancillary character in the story. It's a disguise, and with careful observation you will see that, on account of the empathy in his sly commentary, the narrator is a second protagonist who has most likely also suffered from old age and loss. Suvorin's life is not so much quoted by the narrator as it is lamented.

A reader of this novel must be patient with the prose and work to disregard all the conventional reading techniques normally used to follow a story. One cannot be lazy. There is not the usual punctuation, and no quotation marks, to let one know who is talking or who is observing. And pronouns do not help. It is context only that tells you who the "I" and the "he" are, and then it is easy to lose track. A setting can with the turn of the page soar away like a helium balloon, the string to which you had not a firm grasp. And the narrator sometimes photobombs.

To some extent, reading this novel is similar to learning a new language. It is helpful to read and reread the first chapter to figure out the cadence. Halfway through the first paragraph a sentence starts with an "I." On account of the sentences before it, you may think it is the narrator continuing his opening scene. It isn't. The "I" is Suvorin. And then, only two pages later, the narrator leaps into the narrative with his own "I," saying, "I hear a man talking." Only two paragraphs later Suvorin's "I" returns: "I look forward to it." This complexity exists on almost every page of the novel, and you must train your ear to hear it.

Generally, when you come across a third person pronoun, the "I" that follows it will be Suvorin. But not always. This is the author's genius at work, for his use of first and third person pronouns allows him to create multiple dimensions in the relationship between the protagonist and the narrator. Here is an example: "He looked past my head at something on the wall. The blessing of a long life? I don't know. Just more unfulfillable dreams." Who is the "I" in this passage? One must think about colors without shapes. And then, just when you think you have it, Suvorin talks about friends from his past, first Zagursky, and later Schiff. Before you know it, Suvorin becomes a narrator himself, and then another dimension is added to the story when our original narrator speaks from Schiff's point of view.

In Chapter V the reader gets a clear view of the narrator's subtle digressions. He reports observations about Suvorin by a waiter, who tells that Suvorin was once captivated by the eyes of the waiter's wife. The narrator comments later that he doesn't think that the waiter understood "that the old gentleman, as he called him, had fallen outside of time. Nowadays people like him only exist in novels. They're a sorry lot." And then, before you can say, "Schubert," Suvorin is speaking again, this time about his distaste of applause. Chapter IX is aptly titled, "Who Knows Who It Is You're Talking To?" The chapter is the novel's allegro. The answers Suvorin gives make the narrator furious. Suvorin, he says, "plays with his answers like children play with putty."

Is it worth it? To exercise careful observance on every page turn? Hell, yes! The beauty one experiences from reading this novel is priceless. Think about sitting on a bench at the Metropolitan Museum. In front of you is a Van Gogh. Do you just give it a glance or do you work at looking at its complexity? Think about a Schumann symphony. Do you fast forward between movements? Now, if you were expecting a Lee Child novel, you may be in the wrong place.

The novel's settings include Vienna and Russia. The narrator's interviews take place in Vienna, a city Wondratschek uses to illustrate Suvorin's struggles with aging. Suvorin "was making his way through a maze, that of his apartment, that of the city, that of his wandering course through a life that would have driven so many others to surrender, if not to suicide." He goes to cafes, often to La Gondola with the narrator, to graveyards, to secondhand bookshops, and to a Russian Orthodox Church where he encounters a priest coming down an aisle with a toolbox, to whom he says, "Here I am, a little man in need of help." As a child in Russia, Suvorin's relatives brought him postcards. They are lost when his grandmother dies. His life in Russia appears when he slips "into a gap in memory, no shoes, no dream." Wondratschek's imagery is beautiful in these Russian passages, even if distressing. Chickens bleed to death in Suvorin's hands. The Germans take their soap and matches. "People who went to bed didn't get up again." And then came the Stalin men, the ones who wanted to rid Suvorin of his "political errors." They took his piano, and then, worse, he became a state-sponsored pianist, always with one foot in a labor camp.

When finished reading Self-Portrait With Russian Piano, the reader must stand back and ingest the music that has been played. It's sometimes hard to find a tune amongst the novels absurd dimensions. When your mind wants to assign a rigid meaning to the passages in Wondratschek's brilliantly layered narrative, do not let it do so. Some passages change from refrain to interlude, depending on how your read them. In Suvorin's words, "Music isn't a room you repaint." And, finally, the novel's characters may not be who they appear to be. In fact, Suvorin may be a ghost, a figment of the narrator's imagination. One of them observes at one point that "(t)he visible conceals the invisible." Instead of feeling lost, read a paragraph twice and let yourself be surprised!

The Moroccan Girl
(Published in England as The Man Between)
Charles Cumming
St. Martins Griffin; Reprint Edition
9781250129963, $14.60 PB, February 4, 2020

A simple thing that became complicated.

Literary spy novels often involve a protagonist who has a profession other than an undercover career in intelligence. Novelists didn't make this stuff up. A recent example is Valerie Plame, who worked as a private energy consultant when she wasn't working at CIA. Most often, a real world spy works on a specific caper with a one-time alias, but novelists love the idea of the "nonofficial cover," and so it is fitting that a common alter ego for a spy is the writer, mainly in the pages of fiction, but sometimes in real life. Somerset Maugham is the poster child for that. In The Moroccan Girl, Charles Cumming's protagonist, Kit Carradine, who is a writer of spy fiction, is approached by a man claiming to be a British MI6 Agent and asked if he would do one "simple" mission for MI6 during a trip Kit is taking to a writers conference in Morocco. How could any self-respecting writer of spy fiction refuse such an offer? Kit accepts, of course, and goes off to his conference in Morocco with cash and a secret envelop.

The plot has many twists and turns, all of which heighten a peculiar tension in the story based on reveals that heap mystery upon mystery. Since the build-up of tension in this way is integral to the novel, any more detail of the novel's plot development would in effect be a spoiler. One could say that the starts and stops in the plot line are convoluted. A reader wanting to move steadily toward a climax will be disappointed with this pace, and the fact that there is not one but several conclusory moments in the story. But a search for the big finale misses the point. The Moroccan Girl is more a literary novel than a spy thriller. Kit is a troubled character, disappointed with parts of his life, bored, regretful, and unsure whether he wants to continue to slog through writing his required minimum words on a daily basis. And the novel is all about him. So it is appropriate that he is a part of a story line that speeds up, decelerates, stops and accelerates on a random time line. For Kit, the events make his pathos all the worse. His character is brilliantly crafted. He bumbles his way through the plot, far more mistaken and confused than he is prescient. His instincts are uncertain in dangerous situations, and his successes owe as much to luck as they do to the vague sense of intelligence work he brings with him from his novels. And he fails at romance, his love for the Moroccan (really Hungarian) girl being unrequited. These diversions from the plot are what distinguishes Cumming from many other spy novelists. The pace of his storytelling is on a path paved with the progress of an awkward man toward a personal self-revelation (or not). The plot is not a superhighway leading to the foiling of a Russian threat.

Kit would like to make himself into a Frederick Forsyth. Cummings has himself said this in an interview with The Chiswick Calendar. The Moroccan Girl is certainly a worthy addition to the great spy novels written by Forsyth, Graham Greene, and John le Carre. It probably doesn't compare to Julia Child's work, but that's another matter. And finally, it is perhaps ironic that Charles Cumming before he became a spy novelist was himself approached by MI6 but didn't go forward. Or is it?

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia
Matthew Algeo
Chicago Review Press
9781641600590, $28.99, 2020, 264 pp.

The 1960s were a tumultuous time in America. There were changes that seemed to be happening virtually everyday. The war in Vietnam was an issue that seemed to touch every American family, rioting consumed many American cities, and in the mountains of Appalachia coal was beginning to lose its' place as the main piece of the economic foundation of a region already beset with poverty and inequality. This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2020, xv, 264 pgs., $28.99, $38.99), by Matthew Algeo, chronicles Senator Robert F. Kennedy's whirlwind tour through the heart of the Appalachian region in the early spring of 1968. Kennedy's tour would shed light on unbelievable poverty and economic inequality in a region that had been hijacked for the amazing amount of natural and mineral resources that were located there.

The Eastern Kentucky counties of Letcher, Harlan, Pike, Lesiie, Knott, Hazard, Clay, and Magoffin are home to large amounts of coal deposits as well as stands of timber that are worth millions of dollars. In the early 1900s, businessmen and investors from such faraway places as Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, sent agents into these counties to buy the rights to mine these coal deposits through what were called "broad-form" deeds, which allowed them access to the coal deposits without having to maintain the land. This would leave the native citizens with unsafe air and water, as well as ensuring that the locals' main access to employment would be through mining jobs in underground as well as strip-mining operations. As these deposits dried up jobs were eliminated, leaving the mountaineers in a state of generational poverty.

Kennedy's tour in 1968 gave a voice to this generational poverty and the news reports and pictures spreading across America gave credence to the idea that change was needed. This Marvelous Potential is a true chronicle of Kennedy's efforts and a great read. This reviewer, having grown up in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia, just over the mountain from Eastern Kentucky, really enjoyed author Matthew Algeo's recreation of two days filled with so much hope and potential. This Marvelous Potential is a recommended read for anyone considering social change, fighting inequality, or simply understanding how important a sense of community can be.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Firearms of the Texas Rangers
Doug Dukes
University of North Texas Press
1155 Union Circle #311336, Denton, TX 76203-5017
9781574418101, $45.00, HC, 640pp

Synopsis: Enhanced with the inclusion of more than 180 photographs, "Firearms of the Texas Rangers: From the Frontier Era to the Modern Age" by Doug Dukes tells the history of the Texas Rangers primarily through the use of their firearms as it narrates famous episodes in Ranger history, including Jack Hays and the Paterson, the Walker Colt, the McCulloch Colt Revolver (smuggled through the Union blockade during the Civil War), and the Frontier Battalion and their use of the Colt Peacemaker and Winchester and Sharps carbines.

Readers will delight in learning of Frank Hamer's marksmanship with his Colt Single Action Army and his Remington, along with Captain J. W. McCormick and his two .45 Colt pistols, complete with photos.

Whether it was a Ranger in 1844 with his Paterson on patrol for Indians north of San Antonio, or a Ranger in 2016 with his LaRue 7.62 rifle working the Rio Grande looking for smugglers and terrorists, the technology may have changed, but the gritty job of the Rangers has not.

Critique: A simply fascinating and impressively detailed history, "Firearms of the Texas Rangers: From the Frontier Era to the Modern Age" is an extraordinary and seminal work of meticulous historical scholarship and an especially, unreservedly recommended addition to community and college/university library American Firearms History in general, and Texas Ranger History supplemental curriculum studies in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Firearms of the Texas Rangers: From the Frontier Era to the Modern Age" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.49).

Editorial Note: A native Texan, Doug Dukes retired after a lengthy law enforcement career with the Austin Police Department. He has written articles for Wild West History Association Journal, Wild West, and True West magazines, and also the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum's online chronicle, The Texas Ranger Dispatch.

Bullitt: The Cars and People Behind Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen
CarTech Inc.
838 Lake Street South, Forest Lake, MN 55025
9781613255292, $42.95, HC, 19200

Synopsis: Ask any automotive enthusiast what his or her favorite chase scene to appear in a movie is, and the majority will respond with "Bullitt". It has made the top 5 in every list covering the best automotive chase scenes in history. But the appeal isn't just about the chase scene.

Shot entirely on location in picturesque San Francisco in 1968, the movie not only features the historic chase scene but also many outdoor scenes filled with cars and architecture of the period that are filmed in crisp clear color. The movie was the fifth-highest-grossing film for 1968, it was well received by critics, and the chase scene won Franks P. Keller an Oscar for editing.

In "Bullitt: The Cars and People Behind Steve McQueen" by Matt Stone, you will get the complete behind the scenes picture of how all the action was coordinated and filmed. Included are the ideas behind the making of the movie, an interview with Director Peter Yates, production stills, and the planning for the scene. Also covered is the cast, the building of the cars used in the film, and the how and why the stunts were choreographed and filmed. To round out the story, an examination of what happened to the cars is included as well as coverage of the multiple Bullitt Edition cars released by Ford after the film, including the latest 2019 edition.

Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout, "Bullitt: The Cars and People Behind Steve McQueen" is a fun and informative 'must read' for the legions of Steve McQueen fans, as well as anyone with an interest cars and the movies, as well as proving to be a very welcome addition to both community and college/university library collections.

Editorial Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of "Bullitt: The Cars and People Behind Steve McQueen" will benefit Boys Republic, the 501c3 non-profit educational institution in Chino Hills, California that was attended by Steve McQueen, and is currently and actively supported by the McQueen families and the Steve McQueen estate.

Snapshots and Short Notes
Kenneth Wilson
University of North Texas Press
1155 Union Circle #311336, Denton, TX 76203-5017
9781574417951, $45.00, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: "Snapshots and Short Notes: Images and Messages of Early Twentieth-Century Photo Postcards" by Kenneth Wilson examines the photographic postcards exchanged during the first half of the twentieth century as illustrated, first-hand accounts of American life. Almost immediately after the introduction of the generic postcard at the turn of the century, innovations in small, accessible cameras added black and white photographs to the cards. The resulting combination of image and text emerged as a communication device tantamount to social media today.

Postcard messages and photographs tell the stories of ordinary lives during a time of far-reaching technological, demographic, and social changes: a family's new combine harvester that could cut 40 acres a day; a young woman trying to find work in a man's world; the sight of an airplane in flight. However, postcards also chronicled and shared hardship and tragedy - the glaring reality of homesteading on the High Plains, natural disasters, preparations for war, and the struggles for racial and gender equality.

With a meticulous eye for detail, painstaking research, and astute commentary, Wilson surveys more than 160 photographic postcards, reproduced in full color, that provide insights into every aspect of life in a time not far removed from our own.

Critique: A unique, seminal, and extraordinary study, "Snapshots and Short Notes: Images and Messages of Early Twentieth-Century Photo Postcards" is an inherently interesting perspective upon which to view elements of 20th century American history. Impressively informative, exceptionally well organized and presented, "Snapshots and Short Notes: Images and Messages of Early Twentieth-Century Photo Postcards" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both community and college/university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists for anyone with an interest in photography, collectable postcards, and 20th Century American popular culture, that "Snapshots and Short Notes: Images and Messages of Early Twentieth-Century Photo Postcards" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $36.00).

Editorial note: A retired silversmith, artist, and craftsman with a life-long interest in American history, Kenneth Wilson has collected, catalogued, and researched real photo postcards for more than twenty years.

Michael J. Carson

Mollie Wright's Bookshelf

A Discerning Eye
Carol Orange
Cavan Bridge Press
9780998749365, $16.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 281 pages

Art dealer Portia Malatesta is devastated when she learns that 13 works of art were robbed from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. To help uncover the whereabouts of the artwork, she sets out to construct a psychological profile of the thief. By analyzing the common theme linking the stolen pieces, she suspects the mastermind behind the heist is obsessed with the interplay of dark & light-not only in art, but also in life. The FBI enlists Portia's help in a high-stakes sting operation to recover the stolen works of art-a dangerous proposition that will take her to Colombia, where she'll have to earn the trust of a notorious drug lord's married daughter. Risking everything, Portia must navigate the underworld of Medellín-a complicated web of politics, pride, & ugly crimes-where a single misstep could have deadly consequences. (cover)

Carol Orange's historical fiction novel is inspired by history's largest art heist on March 18, 1990 in Boston, when thieves stole 13 pieces, collectively worth $300 million, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I really enjoyed the description of numerous pieces of art & understanding the symbolism within each painting. Every page of A Discerning Eye is exciting-discussing how art affects us & the passion art brings to make one go to great lengths to have it. The reader will explore the beautiful family layer of the novel. How loved ones won't always be on the same page with our passions or what is important to us but learning to understand their reasons & know they want what is best because they care.

I hope for a sequel because I think Portia has more art adventures with the FBI & a possible revenge from those brought to justice. Such a perfect read this fall! You will be swept away to art galleries & filled with delightful dishes that are just as artistic!

On Traighlar Beach: Stories
Dianne Ebertt Beeaff
SheWrites Press
9781631527715, $16.95 PB, $9.95 Kindle, 248 pages

How many times do we walk along a beach & see miscellaneous items washed ashore-with this novel, we read a story about each of these random objects-with a much deeper meaning.
Uniquely written with each character (chapter) being part of a name of a wildflower that grows on the machair of Traigh Lar in Scotland.

Erica Winchat, a young writer overwhelmed by the stress of her first book contract, discovers thirteen curious items tangled in the flotsam on the Scottish beach of Traigh Lar. Inspired by objects, she tells the intriguing story of the owner of each one, uncovering a series of dramatic events-from a Chicago widow's inspiring visit to Quebec City to a shrimper's daughter facing Tropical Storm Ruby in North Carolina. The thirteenth item, a concert laminate badge, gives rise to a novella Erica calls Fun Girls, in which the separate stories of four fans of the Scottish rock band Datha unfold in first person, culminating in their reunion at a concert in Chicago-a show where a shooting takes place.

Not only is each story creatively interesting, but you also finish each with a lot to ponder. I loved how the thirteenth item turned into a novella that was full of twists that I never saw coming-I didn't want Fan Girls to end. On Traigh Lar Beach is refreshing and full of mystique to pique every reader's interest!

Mollie Wright

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861 -- 1865
Neil P. Chatelain
Savas Beatie
9781611215106 $32.95

The Confederacy In The Mississippi River Valley

Neil Chatelain's book "Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861 -- 1865" (2020) offers a detailed study of the Civil War on the Mississippi River and its tributaries from the perspective of the Confederate war effort. Students of the Civil War will likely have a broad familiarity with actions on the Mississippi, including the Union capture of New Orleans in 1862 and its successful capture of Vicksburg in July, 1863, Chatelain's book is valuable and fresh because it takes an integrated view of the history of Mississippi River operations from the beginning of the Civil War to the end and because it focuses on Confederate operations. Chatelain is an adjunct professor of history at Lone Star College, North Harris, Texas and the author of an earlier, related study, "Fought Like Devils: The Confederate Gunboat McRae." (2014).

The book is carefully written and organized with thorough research and use of source material. Chatelain explores the centrality of the Mississippi River to the Civil War and the manner in which the Confederacy tried to defend the River in the face of many obstacles, most crucially its initial lack of a navy. The Confederacy also faced a lack of manufacturing capacity and of workers together with a lack of railroads.

The book explores the Confederacy's efforts, initially centering in New Orleans, to build a fleet of ironclads to hold the Mississippi River. The work moves between efforts and building and manning a fleet and military operations at different parts of the Mississippi. Chatelain integrates, for example, the falls of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in 1862 on the upper Mississippi River Valley with the Union capture of New Orleans in April 1862 and stresses how the length and breadth of river operations worked against the Confederacy.

Chatelain explores actions on the Mississippi and its tributaries that are important and often overlooked. He examines some crucial actions involving Ship Island, for example, that were pivotal to the later larger campaigns. He also discusses naval actions in Louisiana after the fall of New Orleans that are not often studied.

The book is somewhat brief on the fall of Vicksburg, largely because Grant's overland campaign has been extensively studied. But it examines in detail the Union's unsuccessful first campaign against Vicksburg following the fall of New Orleans. Chatelain studies extensively Confederate operations on the tributaries of the Mississippi, including the White, Yazoo, and Red Rivers. Much of Chatelain's discussion helped me understand the Union's success in running past large fortifications, particularly at Vicksburg, New Orleans, and elsewhere.

The book develops and assesses the way in which the Confederacy worked to defend the Mississippi River Valley. Chatelain finds that in many ways the Confederacy tried valiantly to do much with little while in other ways it did poorly, especially in matters involving the use of resources, organization and command structure.

The book includes several maps together with historical photographs of Confederate ships and leaders that enhance the text. The book includes a useful glossary of terms important to naval vessels and weapons. Chatelain also offers a good overview of earlier historical writing on his subject. An important recent predecessor study is James McPherson's "War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861 -- 1865" (2012).

Chatelain has written a solid study of the Confederate war effort on the Mississippi River which enhanced my knowledge of the Civil War. The book will be of most interest to readers with a passion for studying the Civil War and with some basic knowledge of the conflict, including actions on the Mississippi River. The publisher of this book, Savas Beatie, kindly provided me with a review copy.

Another white Man's Burden: Josiah Royce's Quest for a Philosophy of white Racial Empire
Tommy J. Curry
SUNY Press
9781438470726 $32.95

A Study Of Josiah Royce's View Of Race

Professor Tommy J. Curry's book "Another white Man's Burden: Josiah Royce's Quest for a Philosophy of white Racial Empire" (2018) examines various writings of the American philosopher Josiah Royce (1855 -- 1916) and argues that Royce's thought suffers heavily from anti-black racism and from colonialism. Curry is an American philosopher who currently serves as Professor of Africana Philosophy and Black Male Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

A few background words about Royce may be appropriate. Royce was raised in California and came to serve as a Professor of Philosophy at Harvard during what is sometimes called the "Golden Age of American Philosophy". William James was a friend and colleague. Royce taught what is generally regarded as a form of Absolute Idealism, holding that reality was spiritual in character and part of an all-inclusive whole, the Absolute. This form of thought has gone distinctly out of fashion.

In recent years there has been a small revival of interest in Royce as philosophers explore what may be of value in his work separable to a degree from what have been viewed as his idealistic commitments. Attempts to revive interest in Royce have generally focused upon his teachings about community and loyalty and have downplayed his metaphysics or have found his early metaphysics superseded in his latter writings. A small scholarly organization, the Josiah Royce Society, encourages the study of Royce. Both Professor Curry and I have participated at different times in the activities of the Royce Society. In 2020, the Society awarded Professor Curry the "Josiah Royce Prize in American Idealist Thought", awarded not more than once every five years, for "Another white Man's Burden". In addition to scholarly attention, Royce has achieved some attention in broader media, including an article by Civil War historian Allen Guelzo and a "New York Times" article by David Brooks.

Philosophers studying Royce have engaged with his views of race and his view of the African American in the United States. Royce discussed these matters in basically three articles of public (as opposed to work intended for academics) philosophy written in the early 20th century. Opinions vary on these works, with some scholars seeing Royce as progressive at least for his time and others seeing Royce as infected by the prevalent racism of his day. Professor Curry is of the latter opinion.

In 2009, Fordham University Press published an expanded version of Royce's 1908 book "Race Questions, Provincialism, & Other American Problems" edited and introduced by two contemporary scholars, Scott Pratt and Shannon Sullivan. Readers of Professor Curry's study would do well to acquire this book, if possible, and to read for themselves at least three of the essays which are central to the discussion: "Some Characteristic Tendencies of American Civilization", "Race Questions and Prejudices", and "Provincialism". Professor Curry discusses other works of Royce as well, including his early history of California and his 1908 book "The Philosophy of Loyalty". These books and articles have all been digitalized in a "Royce Critical Edition" and are accessible online.

Professor Curry's book consists of four chapters in which he examines Royce's texts in detail. He also provides historical context for Royce's texts by discussing the work of other late 19th and early 20th century scholars including African American scholars. He discusses the works of anthropologists, scientists and philosophers contemporary with Royce, including the works of those who commented upon or reviewed Royce's writings. He discusses the work of people mentioned and criticized by Royce, including the notorious Thomas Nelson Page ("Birth of a Nation") He concludes unequivocally that Royce was a racist, imperialistic thinker. In addition to offering his reading of the primary texts, Professor Curry analyzes and rejects the work of contemporary Royce scholars who have treated Royce's texts more favorably.

In addition to the four chapters analyzing Royce's writings, Professor Curry's book includes a lengthy Preface, Introduction, and Epilogue which broadens the scope of the book. Professor Curry objects to what he sees as the efforts of contemporary students of American philosophy to praise the work of their predecessors by taking it out of historical context. Not only Royce, but also John Dewey and Jane Addams had distinct racist threads in their thought, Professor Curry argues. American philosophers try to sanitize the past of their profession, resulting in a "valorization" (13) of early 20th century white thought. Conversely, African American thinkers such as Du Bois are sometimes called "pragmatists", a term which masks the distinctiveness of their thought and their critique of white racism. Royce's thought and the thought of other white philosophers is compared unfavorably to the thought of Du Bois, William Ferris, and other African American thinkers of roughly the same time.

The tone of the book is harsh and polemical throughout. In the Preface, Professor Curry wanders off the subject of Royce and discusses at some length how many white women supporters of feminism and woman's suffrage piggy-backed their position on anti-black racism. This of course is not a new position, but Professor Curry presses it vigorously. Curry indicates that he has no love for the history of American philosophy due to its racism, a position echoed in a quotation from Du Bois (195 -- 96) at the end of the book.

Professor Curry makes some strong points in this book in the reading of Royce. In particular he points out the tendency of contemporary thinkers to extrapolate the sources of their own thinking onto favored historical sources. This tendency may cause some scholars to downplay some of the historical context of Royce's thought and to downplay its racial character. This condition and use of philosophy's past, however, is not limited to current white philosophers where race is involved but is part of the way thinking works and progresses, as philosophers try to understand and work with their predecessors. The term "racism" was not widely used in Royce's day, and it is possible that Professor Curry himself is engrafting a latter day concept onto his critique of Royce.

I learned a great deal from Professor Curry's study while also finding it troublesome. To simplify, there were two understandings of American society that gained currency late in the 19th century with the end of the Civil War and the rise of immigration. One was the assimilationist model, sometimes described by the term "melting pot" attributed to an immigrant playwright, Israel Zangwill. The philosopher Horace Kallen rejected the "melting pot" metaphor in favor of a position more respectful of cultural pluralism. He saw the United States more in the nature of a symphony with each instrument in the orchestra having its own separate part and voice. The two approaches seem to me reconciliable. Royce was not so much a racist, as I read him, as an assimilationist who recognized diversity but gave greater weight to unity. Professor Curry, as I read him, is neither an assimilationist nor a pluralist in that he is unwilling to give much if any weight to national unity and purpose. I think we should work to combine today the best insights of the assimilationist and pluralist positions. We need both. I think Josiah Royce and American philosophy are unduly diminished in Professor Curry's book.

The Philosophy of Paul Weiss
Lewis Edwin Hahn, editor
Open Court Publishing Company
9780812692990, $59.95

Paul Weiss In The Library Of Living Philosophers

I remember the then-famous philosopher Paul Weiss (1901 -- 2002) coming to the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee during my undergraduate years (c. 1967 --68) and giving a lecture. After Weiss' lecture, one of the members of the philosophy department remarked that "I didn't think anyone like that was still around". I was fascinated by Weiss at the time and by his commitment to a broad, systematic, metaphysical philosophy. Unfortunately, I didn't much purse my interest in Weiss, even during the years we both lived in Washington, D.C. while he taught at the Catholic University of America. Unfortunately, Weiss is almost forgotten and unread today. Weiss founded an influential philosophy journal, the "Review of Metaphysics" together with a scholarly society, "The Metaphysical Society of America". I was fortunate to present a paper at the 2019 annual meeting of the society. Weiss is also known for his early work with Charles Hartshorne in producing an edition of the papers of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. He taught philosophy for sixty years and was revered as a stimulating, provocative teacher.

I recently took the opportunity to read this large volume, both by and about Weiss, "The Philosophy of Paul Weiss" (1999), the 23d book in the ongoing Library Of Living Philosophers (LLP) Series. This series was founded in 1938 by Professor Paul Arthur Schlipp to promote critical discussion and analysis of the works of great philosophers while they were still alive. The publisher aptly describes the LLP as "an unparalleled series that has made an advancement to the understanding of philosophy through rational debate." There currently are thirty-six bulging volumes in the series beginning with John Dewey and concluding with Julia Kristeva. The volume on Weiss is the first I have read from cover to cover.

The format for the LLP and for this volume on Weiss includes a lengthy autobiographical essay followed by a series of essays by scholars discussing important aspects of the thought of the subject of the volume. The subject then responds to each of the individual essays. The format allows for discussion and debate, an increased appreciation for philosophical questions and for the work of the subject of the volume, and for civility and rationality.

Weiss' intellectual autobiography which opens the volume is titled "Lost in Thought: Alone with Others." The first part of the autobiography gives a brief sketch of Weiss' early life, growing up as a child of immigrants in a Jewish neighborhood in the Lower East Side of New York City. Weiss dropped out of high school and for a short time was learning to be a boxer. He found his way to the City College of New York where he studied with Morris Raphael Cohen and earned a PhD in philosophy at Harvard under Alfred North Whitehead.

In the larger part of "Lost in Thought", Weiss describes his understanding of the nature of philosophy as set forth in his voluminous writings. Weiss is usually and accurately described as a systematic metaphysician in the grand manner whose goal is to achieve an understanding of the nature of reality. Weiss' understanding of philosophy sets him immediately apart from the analytical, scientific and language-centered philosophy that became prevalent during his lifetime. Weiss is a metaphysical pluralist, substance-based (as opposed to the process philosophy of his teacher Whitehead) with a complex elaborate philosophical system that developed and changed in emphasis over the years. Weiss describes it as rooted in common sense and in everyday experience and in passing through it to ultimates. Weiss wrote many works of abstract metaphysics and also wrote books expanding his though to specific areas of human endeavor, including the arts, sports, and history. Weiss' Autobiographical Essay is difficult to read but helped me understand both the person and his thought.

Part Two of the book "Descriptive and Critical Essays on the Philosophy of Paul Weiss, with Replies" consists of twenty-eight essays each by a different scholar followed by Weiss' response. The essays are grouped into seven sections moving roughly from the most general to the more specific. Thus the essays are presented under the headings "Metaphysics" (7 essays): "Experience, Pragmatism, and Method" (7 essays); "Religion and Theology" (3 essays): "Logic" (2 essays);"Ethics, Morality, and Politics" (3 essays); "Creativity and Art" (4 essays); and "Sport" (2 essays)

The essays differ substantially in approach and content and thus offer the opportunity to see different philosophical perspectives in addition to the perspective of Paul Weiss. Some of the essays are lucidly and simply written, making them easy enough to follow by readers with no particular background in Weiss' work. Other essays are difficult and more technical in character. The essays are worth reading for themselves. I enjoyed learning about many of the writers who participated in the volume, including John Laks, Nathan Rotenstreich, Jay Schulkin, Abner Shimony, Eugenio Benitez, and William Desmond, among others. Two of the contributors, Jackquelyn Kegley and Daniel Dombrowski, I have come to know from participation on panels.

Weiss' reply to each essay almost always opens with a complimentary, perceptive observation about the writer. His comments point out areas of agreement and disagreement with the writer of the essay, frequently dwelling on differences in philosophical perspective and approach. The format of essay and response clarifies Weiss' own approach to philosophy. More importantly, it allows the reader to engage with a variety of philosophical approaches and to become a reading participant in the discussion. Reading the volume offers a sustained experience with philosophy and the life of the mind. It also teaches lessons of how to disagree with courtesy and civility.

I was moved in reading through this volume and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Weiss and with his distinguished interlocutors. There has been something of a revival of interest in metaphysics in philosophy of late which perhaps will lead to a renewed interest in Weiss. However, his thought is highly individual and deliberately idiosyncratic and probably will never have many followers. He and his work are still worth knowing. The book brought back memories of my own efforts in life with philosophy and with the value I have found in the philosophic quest.

Robin Friedman

Ross Pittman's Bookshelf

The Law of Creation: The Science Behind Manifesting Your Desires
Steve & Tracy Webster
Expert Insights Publishing
9780578661018, $9.99 PB, $7.99 Kindle, 146pp

Synopsis: The Law of Creation: The Science Behind Manifesting Your Desires is a unique, comprehensive book that demonstrates the Physics and Science behind the power of Manifestation. Based on 18 Universal Laws, The Law of Creation clearly and methodically explains how moving from negative thoughts to affirmative living, removes any limits and 'reboots the mind' for greater success, joy and happiness.

Manifestation is the ability to bring into our lives both material possessions (house, car, money) and emotional comfort (peace, joy, bliss). In a sense, it is also a measurement of our self-belief - you cannot manifest something if you believe you are not worthy of it.

Each and every one of us aspires to the happiest life possible. Intuitively we know that we have the power to create within our life sphere, yet we seem to be massively disconnected from the ability. With the forward momentum of consciousness more people are becoming aware of this and are seeking to re-connect to our inherent powers.

Critique: I really love the new book by Steve and Tracy Webster titled "The Law of Creation: The Science Behind Manifesting Your Dreams." It is the most complete book on manifestation that I have ever read. "The Law of Creation" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Ross Pittman, Reviewer
Editor, Conscious Life News

S. M. Heacock's Bookshelf

Twisted Cross
Anita Perez Ferguson, author
Adrienne Kaplan, illustrator
Luz Publications
9780967330006, $12.99 PB, 257pp

This is a fast-paced novel keeps high school students reading. Young adult discussion themes throughout the book including, friendship, betrayal by community and family members, and the desire for adventure and wealth could each be amplified by a good teacher. There are several references to actual historic persons and events throughout the novel. The chapters are brief and there are immediate translations of any Spanish used. This could be used in an English or Social Studies setting. I would encourage the author to consider adding a Reader's Guide to assist teachers and readers. I write this as a former English teacher.

S. M. Heacock LAUSD

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

The Sun Down Motel
Simone St. James
9780440000204, $16.00, October 20, 2020

The Sun Down Motel blends suspense and serial killers with a ghost story involving multiple ghosts. It is told in two points of view, Viv in 1982, and her niece, Carly in 2017. Vivian is a twenty-year-old who, just to get away from home, takes off for New York City to become an actress. She's hitch-hiking when she's picked up by a creep in a truck who wants more that she is willing to give. She gets off in Fell, NY and ends up working as the night clerk in the Sun Down Motel - until she disappears. Carly, in 2017, whose mother has just died, decides to investigate the disappearance of her mother's sister, Carly's only relative other than her brother. With what little information she can find, Carly sets off for Fell, NY and coincidentally ends up as a night clerk in the same hotel. Viv's niece Carly goes on what little information she has to Fell, New York, to find out what happened to her mother's sister thirty-five years earlier. Carly is also able to land a job at the Sun Down Motel as the night clerk. She learns that her aunt Viv wasn't the only girl to disappear, so she spends her days investigating these disappearances.

This was a page-turner that kept me reading well into the night, despite its creepiness.

Valentine: A Novel
Elizabeth Wetmore
9780062913265, $26.99, March 31, 2020

Valentine begins on February 14, 1976 when a fourteen-year-old Mexican girl, Gloria, is picked up at a drive-in by an oil field worker, Dale Strickland. He carries her off to an oil field and brutally rapes and beats her.

This is a dark look at an oil boom in a town only twenty-two miles from where I grew up. Valentine is told in multiple points of view, all women, who are affected directly or indirectly by the aftermath of this rape. The premise is heavy. The seventies are times of change in the United States and in Texas with the Vietnam war, draft dodgers, women's lib, and the ever-present misogyny against women and bigotry against persons of color, particularly Mexicans. Valentine looks at the short-term impact of this crime on the women of Odessa, Texas.

Odessa is a white man's town. Men die in accidents: in the oil field accidents, ranching, or in one instance, a suicide listed on the death certificate as a "hunting accident." Women, though, die at men's hands. My own ancestors, the women in particular, had an inner strength and endured despite deep misogyny. While dwelling on wide-open plains, their lives were limited to becoming wives and mothers, not necessarily in that order. Lucky women escaped to the big cities of Texas such as Dallas or even the worlds beyond. Though I count myself lucky to be one of those who escaped, the austere beauty of the Texas plains still calls to me.

The writing is poetic and authentic. The writer does an incredible job capturing the "lingo" without relying on what John Dufresne, In The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction call "eye dialect," those bizarre spellings and dropped g's as in tellin' a story. The dialogue is rendered by syntax, diction, idioms, and figures of speech, and by what Dufresne calls "the vocabulary indigenous to the locale" rather than in aberrant spellings. Being from the area, I can attest to that. The images of the flat plains of the Llano Estacado and the whistle of the wind through tumbleweeds are breath-taking. The characters are all well-developed and represent a broad cross-section of Odessa's population.

Valentine is a character-drive, heartbreaking exploration of injustice written in poignant, beautiful, rich prose.

Madeline Miller
Back Bay Books
c/o Little, Brown and Company
9780316556347, $23.99, April 10, 2018

I finally pulled Circe off my to-be-read pile and, Wow! I loved it, even more than I did Miller's The Song of Achilles. As much of mythology is male-centric, it comes as a delight and a surprise that author Madeline Miller riffs on the myth of Circe and creates a modern myth of her own, told from the female point of view, that of Circe.

Circe, a minor deity (the daughter of the sun Titan, Helios, and a sea nymph, Perse) is exiled to the island of Aeaea. Tormented by her own family and with few godly powers, Circe develops her own power and becomes a "witch." There, though she lives somewhat in isolation, she develops an inner strength and self-awareness grows through the course of the novel, eventually becoming a fierce, independent woman, a woman with a definite attitude.

As in The Song of Achilles, the prose is masterful and lyrical, its tone quite in keeping with its mythological setting and characters. Each sentence polished until it shines as brilliantly as the Helios's light. The first half of the story includes well-known mythological characters such as Prometheus, Icarus and Daedalus, Jason and Medea. In the second half of the book, Odysseus appears, charismatic, cunning, and driven. As a main character, Circe is complex, sympathetic, and fascinating.

Camille Claudel: A Life
Odile Ayral-Clause
Harry N. Abrams; 1st Edition
9780810940772, $TBA, May 1, 2002

A very well-researched book, yet not entirely dispassionate. I read this book after reading Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb. Camille Claudel: A Life is told in a more distant point of view and gives more of a balanced view as to Rodin's influence on Claudel's sculpture, that he helped her rather than taking advantage of her. This book seems to promote Rodin at times rather than taking Claudel's part. I liked the photographs of the artwork and the family photos that were included. Ayral-Clause writes well about art, passion, regret, love, and Claudel's dysfunctional family and her love-to-hate relationship with Rodin. However, the distant point of view keeps her from seeing into the depths of Claudel's mental illness and self-isolation. We're never in her home experiencing her delusions and paranoia.

The Library of Legends
Janie Chang
William Morrow Paperbacks
9780062851505, $16.99, May 12, 2020

The Library of Legends is a gorgeous novel, a unique blend of historical fiction - based on Ms. Chang's family stories about the second-Sino Japanese war - mysticism, and folklore. The storytelling is enchanting. The book, due to its broad scope, is told in an omniscient point of view with multiple POVs.

Other than reading Pearl S. Buck as a youngster, going into the story, I knew very little about this particular war but gained greater insight into Chinese history. The novel begins in Nanjing, China 1937. As Japanese bombs fall on the city, students and faculty at various schools are evacuated 1000 miles west to the city of Chengdu. The students of Minghua University, including Hu Lian (the protagonist), are led to safety by their revered teacher Professor Kang. In addition to supervising the students, Kang must ensure the safety of one of China's national treasures, a set of encyclopedias known as the Library of Legends which contains ancient myths and folklore. The transport of the encyclopedia awakens various immortals and guardian spirits who have a year to return to the world of the immortals.

Couched against the traumatic background is a romantic love triangle between Hu Lian, the hero Liu Shaoming, and the other "woman," an immortal named Sparrow Chen.

As I enjoy reading myths and legends, I liked Chang's incorporation of actual Chinese folktales and the one she invented, "The Willow Star and the Prince," which runs through the narrative and which is indistinguishable from real ones. The genre-bending adds a distinctive flare.

The Cambodian Book of the Dead: A Detective Maier Mystery (The Detective Maier Mystery Series 1)
Tom Water
Crime Wave Press Ltd.
B008GDT8QU, $2.99, June 29, 2012

Author Tom Vater has a fascination with Cambodian history and peppers authentic bits of the culture into this novel. I have never been to Cambodia nor read anything set in Cambodia before, but I have lived in Singapore and traveled to Malaysia and Thailand. So I found the aspects of being an expatriate in another Far Eastern country credible.

Cambodia has been war-torn for many years as the Khmer Rouge fought King Norodom Sihanouk. Then Cambodia was immediately plunged into another conflict with Vietnam. Cambodia is the home of the gorgeous temples of Angkor Wat, which like the Buddhas of Bamyan about 80 miles outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, are being destroyed rather than treated as cultural heritage sites.

The protagonist, Maier thinks he's escaped death enough times as a war reporter, so he goes home from the Far East and becomes a private detective. He is sent to retrieve a coffee heir and return him to his German family, but falls into a real estate scheme run by a former Khmer general and a long-time German ex-pat.

The book gets off to a bit of a slow start, but in the second half, things pick up rapidly as people chase Maier, and he winds up drugged several times with everything from paralytics to amphetamines to hallucinogenics.

The minor characters are excellent, especially Clarissa, Maier's off/on girlfriend. Les, an American Vietnam vet who runs a bar, and Kaley, a young woman who was taken to serve as a prostitute after her family was killed by the Khmer. There is also a cadre of twelve-year-old little girl assassins. The White Spider, the above mentioned long-time German ex-pat is reminiscent of Colonel Kurtz in the movie Apocalypse Now.

Overall, I had a bit of trouble getting into The Cambodian Book of the Dead at first, but I stuck with it, and it became quite a page turner. If you're looking for something a bit off the beaten path in the way of crime novels, then read The Cambodian Book of the Dead.

Pont Neuf
Max Byrd
Permuted Press
9781682619216, $16.99, July 7, 2020

Pont Neuf is a bit of a strange book. It's not really a military or a historical romance. It has a basic storyline of one woman torn between two men, but a true romance never evolves. More time is spent describing battles than the love sequences.

A twenty-something year old female war correspondent (Annabella "Annie" March) arrives in Paris, riding on the shirttails of Martha Gelhorn, Ernest Hemingway's soon-to-be ex-wife, both of whom are also war correspondents. I read the book looking for more insights into these two people, but was to be disappointed as both are essentially caricatures of what themselves.

The two men are Harvard roommates known as the "twins," though one is from the East Coast and the other from the Midwest. One becomes a captain on the front lines while the other becomes an intelligence staff officer. Annie has thoughts of both but gradually settles on one of the twins.

The idea of twins continues with Gelhorn mentioning Thanatos and Eros, Death and Love, "stalking the fields of war." Death there is aplenty; love comes in many forms here: love of self, love of country, love of a woman, love of fellow man, etc.

There was almost no character development as the book. It is hardly more than a novella and is not long enough to encompass a romance with World War II settings in Europe (Paris, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany) and the Battle of the Bulge. That said, the research seems to be impeccable. The point of view was also so distant it was difficult to feel much for any of the characters.

The President's Dossier
James A. Scott
Oceanview Publishing
9781608094134, $26.95, July 7th 2020

Author James A. Scott is a former Army officer, paratrooper and combat veteran with experience in Pentagon Army intelligence operations. As such, he uses his background to write a story pulled directly from the headlines regarding the Steele dossier. This is a work of fiction based on fact, and that must be kept in mind while reading this novel. That said, Scott is clearly in touch with the world of spooks and the "tradecraft" required in the field. Scott seems to be familiar with the locales he mentions in Europe.

The story is about a career CIA agent, Max Geller, who is framed, then fired, for being biased against the current US president. He is then hired by a go-between to prove a dossier on the president is true. Max pulls together a crew and, from there, the story moves quickly from the US to Britain to Russia to Panama and back to the U S. He is able to move from country to country relatively easily, seeming magically avoiding hassles with customs everywhere he goes.

The characters in The President's Dossier are fully formed, but somehow lack the depth found in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. I enjoyed the book, though, and read it in one sitting.

The Last Days of Dogtown: A Novel
Anita Diamant
Scribner; Reprint Edition (July 18, 2006)
9780743225748, $17.00

I read this book because I adored Diamant's novel, The Red Tent. Dogtown, a real community on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, was populated by the downtrodden in early 1800s. When its industry moved elsewhere, those who remained included widows, orphans, freed slaves, spinsters, drunks, whores, a witch or two, and, of course, dogs. Their lives are defined by poverty and alienation of various forms.

Like A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan's contemporary novel in stories), the chapters are much like short stories. Though each focuses on a different character in Dogtown, the chapters are interrelated. The characters' names are derived from historical records and many of the novel's happenings are inspired by legends which surround the real Dogtown

The prose is sparse yet exquisite and elegaic, in keeping with its subject matter. Yet the words give a real sense of the heat in the summer, the cold in the winter, and the smell of the salty ocean in the air. Diamant captures the haunting sense of loss as the village becomes a ghost town. There's a long list of characters, each fully-realized and well-developed.

After Elias
Eddy Boudel Tan
9781459746428, $17.99, October 6, 2020

This is one of the most beautifully-written books I've read recently. It's also a genre-breaker, gracefully combining a fractured romance with elements of a thriller and psychological drama. Coen Caraway loses the man he loves and the illusion of happiness he has worked so hard to create one week before his wedding to Elias Santos. The only thing Elias leaves behind is a recording of his cryptic final words. Coen decides to stay on the Mexican island where he's gone to supervise the final details of their special day. Rather than cancel the event, he decides to turn the occasion into a celebration of his lover's life.

Interestingly, there is little physical description of the characters or the setting, but the narrative is so richly atmospheric that those details aren't missed. The prose is rich, poetic, lyrical, and evocative. Eddy Boudel Tan's characters are authentic emotionally and thoroughly flawed, particularly the protagonist, Coen, and his lover, Elias, who seen only in retrospect. Coen's grief is genuine and complicated, brimming with his fears of never again attaining love or the proverbial white picket fence. Equally conflicted are his views of Elias as Coen comes to terms with Elias's death. The novel is sad, beautiful, and haunting.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Potty Train with Pinky Bear
Toni Roberts
Brand: Potty Train with Pinky Bear
Box Set, $37.99, (book, bear, potty training kit)

"Potty Train with Pinky Bear" is a beautifully illustrated board book about a happy, resourceful little bear. The book generates fun, excitement and potty training results based on the happy anticipation of Pinky Bear's surprise visit. "Potty Train with Pinky Bear" was written by author Toni Roberts as if Pinky Bear is speaking directly to the child and includes a catchy sing along song. Pinky Bear's arrival brings even more excitement as parents have the option of hiding Pinky Bear prizes or stashing a reward in Pinky Bear's tummy pouch for their child to find after successful potty time efforts.

A unique and inherently entertaining potty training kit, "Potty Train with Pinky Bear" is comprised of an interactive board book, plus a plush Pinky Bear, and focuses on rewarding positive behavior with engaging story, plush animal & treats. The combination is a great teaching tool or parenting helper for children learning to use a potty training seat or toilet to make potty training fun for children and stress-free for their parents.

Thoroughly 'user friendly' and impressively effective, the "Potty Train with Pinky Bear" kit is ideal for interacting and bonding with your child, while reading along and taking the stress out of potty training with the help of Pinky Bear! An ideal gift for any parent engaged in potty training a young child, "Potty Train with Pinky Bear" is unreservedly recommended.

Tell Her She's Lovely: An Anthology
Dhara Singh
Independently Published
9781650835600, $24.99, PB, 107pp

Synopsis: "Tell Her She's Lovely" by journalist Dhara Singh is a transformative anthology that deftly traces a South Asian millennial woman's journey from inner conflict and confrontation to ultimately peace. Laced with minimal illustrations and refreshing poetry, "Tell Her She's Lovely" explores and demonstrates just what it means to find self-love in adversity.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, compelling, thoughtful and thought-provoking read throughout, "Tell Her She's Lovely: An Anthology" showcases author and journalist Dhara Singh's genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling and communication skills that will thoroughly engage the reader's interest and attention from beginning to end. Original, insightful, informative, entertaining, "Tell Her She's Lovely: An Anthology" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, community library collections, and college/university library Asian American supplemental literary curriculum studies.

Healing Death
Christopher Levan
Cascade Books
c/o Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401-2960
9781532695254, $37.00, HC, 128pp

Synopsis: The apostle Paul said, "Oh death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) And yet when faced with their own end, most believers are very anxious. We know death is a fact of living, but we are not too keen to go through the pain and anguish associated with it. And it is how we address death's anguish that is the subject of "Healing Death" by Christopher Levan.

Through a close examination of the recently legalized "medical assistance in dying (MAID)", Levan suggests that Canadians can now face their own end with a different spirit. While death is the disease that will get us all, he points out that dying is a process that can be "healed" if we are given the time and permission to face it.

Taking insights that arise from the Abrahamic religious traditions, Levan shows how palliative care can be enhanced by MAID, a new tool in the repertoire of end-of-life therapies. For newcomers to the subject, Levan outlines the facts on MAID -- what is allowed and who is excluded. He studies the many taboos surrounding the taking of one's own life and points a way forward for believers. Healing Death is a fresh and inspiring perspective on a very old and anxiety-ridden subject.

Critique: A seminal and impressively thoughtful study, "Healing Death" will be especially relevant reading for anyone having to deal with end-of-life issues for themselves or a loved one. Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, "Healing Death" is unreservedly recommended for community, college and university library Health/Medicine collections in general, and Death & Dying supplemental curriculum reading lists in particular. It should be noted for personal reading lists of clergy, counselors, medical professionals, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Healing Death" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781532695254, $17.99).

Editorial Note: Christopher Levan is a pastor, professor, and prophet within the United Church of Canada and the author of numerous books including his most recent, The Prayer: 68 Words that Changed the World. Chris lives on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, with his wife, Ellen, and regularly preaches and teaches in Cuba.

The Sensory Processing Diet
Chynna Laird
Loving Healing Press
5145 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
9781615995226, $33.95, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: As a mom of a newly diagnosed child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Chynna Laird relentlessly sought experts in SPD, as well as top nutritionists, biopsychologists, and neurologists. She thought that if she could understand the major functions of the brain, and how it's supposed to take in, process and respond to stimulation, she could discover how SPD interferes with these functions. Understanding the whole picture (the combination of body, brain and nutritional health) led Chynna to embrace the "Sensory Diet."

In the pages of "The Sensory Processing Diet: One Mom's Path of Creating Brain, Body and Nutritional Health for Children with SPD", Chunna share the keys of a well-balanced nutritional diet and the activities and exercises that truly work. "The Sensory Processing Diet" is specifically designed for parents to utilize the resources in this study to create a whole picture of their own child's conditions and create a customize Sensory Diet for him or her.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented for the benefit of the non-specialist general reader with no previous background on the subject, "The Sensory Processing Diet: One Mom's Path of Creating Brain, Body and Nutritional Health for Children with SPD" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community and college/university library Parenting collections in general, and SPD supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of concerned parents that "The Sensory Processing Diet" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781615995219, $21.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.95).

The Fangirl's Guide to the Universe
Sam Maggs
Quirk Books
9781683692317 $15.99

Synopsis: Fandom, pop culture, feminism, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more - there's never been a better time to be a fangirl, or a better guide to navigate the wide universe of fandoms. This handbook is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes, including:

How to make nerdy friends
How to rock cosplay
How to write fanfic with feels
How to defeat internet trolls
How to attend your first con

And more! Featuring wisdom from Sam and insightful interviews with fangirl faves like Danielle Paige, Rainbow Rowell, and Preeti Chhibber, The Fangirl's Guide to the Universe highlights the joys of fandom community and offers a fun, feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom. This refreshed edition updates The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy including new interviews.

Critique: The Fangirl's Guide to the Universe is a delight especially for female pop culture fans. From recommendations for traveling to conventions, to cosplay tips, to dealing with the many different types of internet trolls, to what it means to be a feminist in an often male-dominated fandom and more, The Fangirl's Guide to the Universe is an insightful and fun celebration. Also highly recommended is the companion journal, "The Fangirl's Journal for Leveling Up: Conquer Your Life Through Fandoms" (9781683692195, $14.99), a consumable guide perfect for jotting down galaxy-brain self-improvement ideas!

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

The Long Game
Ian Conner
Independently Published
B08J5BHTTJ, $15.00, 602 Pages

This exceptional political thriller is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seats. Now retired, Ian Conner's experiences as a Marine and Army Infantry Sergeant give his writing real depth of detail. Set in California, the environmental pollution element, political intrigue, and suspense makes this a story which will appeal to many readers.

The story opens at Oceanside's harbor, San Diego. Deep enough for a small fishing fleet, yet small enough to be friendly, it is truly The Jewel of the North. However, in this story danger lurks, as friends Doctor Chris Rogers and James Quinn discover when they take their normal water quality samples for Scripps Oceanography. With the San Onefre Nuclear Generating System the coast water quality control is important…

Meanwhile, at the helm of the country President Colin Rockwell has his own agenda; a serial philanderer, his bad judgment, personal decisions, and backhanded dealings are causing problems on a national and international scale. However, at the San Diego Times, newly appointed keen young reporter Amy Radigan has her teeth into her assignment, and her discoveries, and the subsequent revelations are set to rock the world in more ways than one.
Face paced and exciting, this intense thriller takes its readers across continents, through a myriad of emotions, and plays out a potential life and threatening environmental scenario. The characters are very believable, and their stories reveal political dealings, murder, espionage, and more, yet somehow the author has also managed to weave love and compassion into this story.
From his home in San Diego with his wife Bonnie, this retired military man now enjoys his animals, gardening, crafting beautiful stained glass, and writing. This is his second novel, the first, which drew me to this talented author, is the incredible fantasy epic Griffins Perch.
If you want to read a story which will pull you in from the first page, packed with excitement and intrigue. I can recommend this unforgettable political thriller; you will not be disappointed!

On The Trail of Delusion: Jim Garrison: The Great Accuser
Fred Litwin
NorthernBlues Books
9780994863041, $17.99, 466 Pages

Sometimes childhood events can trigger a fascination which lasts a lifetime, and this was certainly the case for Fred Litwin, the author of this intriguing book. He remembers the day President J. F. Kennedy was assassinated clearly, however as a seven-year-old child he would never have imagined that the assassination would evolve into a lifelong obsession to discover the truth behind who the killer was if there were indeed more than one, the motives, and the shooter's location.

Fred Litwin has had a very successful business career, then in 2000 he founded NorthernBlues Music, and in 2007 he started the Free Thinking Film Society which showcases films on liberty freedom, and democracy. He has written articles, and in 2015 he published his first book, Conservative Confidential: Inside the Fabulous Blue Tent. Then in 2018, he published his second book, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak, in which he told the story of Clay Shaw a well-respected gay gentleman who was relentlessly hounded by the New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison.

In "On the Trail of Delusion," the author exposes in great detail the truth about Jim Garrison and the conspiracy theories he has expounded over the years. But firstly let's find out about the man himself. Jim Garrison was born in Iowa in 1921, and served commendably in WWII and became a Master of Law in 1950. However in 1951 when he was called to duty in Korea he had difficulties, was treated for exhaustion, and was discharged for physical disability, the psychiatric report stated he had "a severe and disabling psychoneurosis of long duration. It has interfered with his social and professional adjustment to a marked degree."

When Garrison assumed office as the New Orleans District Attorney in 1962 he wanted to expand his political power base and be an instrument of reform. In August that year, he decided to clean up vice in the city, and the D.A.'s office and the police issued a joint statement that "targets will be police characters, homosexuals, B-drinkers, prostitutes and narcotics violators."

It is then that he takes an interest in the J F Kennedy assassination and accused homosexual Clay Shaw along with Lee Harvey Oswald, David W. Ferrie, Jack Ruby, and others of plotting to assassinate John F. Kennedy. The link being that Lee Harvey Oswald had spent five months prior to the assassination in New Orleans. The cruel, relentless persecution of this innocent man makes hard reading. It is heart-breaking to read transcripts of interviews of Clay where he tells of the social stigma and prejudices which he had to endure, simply because of all the fabricated lies. What is even more tragic is that Clay, as time went on suffered terribly with lung cancer, and even after he was buried the persecution continued.

Fred Litwin must be given great credit in exposing Jim Garrison's terrible behavior against Clay Shaw, and the injustices he carried out against him, in his last book, and also in this one. However, in addition to this, after examining even more documentation, the world can now read, through transcripts of interviews and tapes, letters, memorandums, and more, the stories of the other people Jim Garrison went after, and the unorthodox methods he used to gain evidence against them.

As Fred Litwin says "Several recurring themes colored Jim Garrison's investigation - his mental illness; his bizarre investigative beliefs; his attraction to conspiracy theory; his irrational leftist politics, and his endless paranoias." Within these pages, the truths are exposed, and all the information you need is laid before you.

I highly recommend this fascinating book as the definitive guide to the truth behind the conspiracy theories concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Highly recommended!

Darko: The Sacred Heart of One Johanee Darko
Kenny G. Down
New Thought Life
9781735662800, $14.95, 408 Pages

This incredible story is narrated by King Martin, Johanee Darko's lifelong friend. The moment she was born, he became her protector and carer, on the poverty-ridden streets of Desire, New Orleans.

Johanee's childhood was hard; the youngest of three children, born to a mother who did what she had to, to survive. Her only real bed was found occasionally in a mother and children shelter, abused, she was a street kid, and probably anyone seeing her would have predicted her future as bleak. However, she was different, preordained to shine the light of hope on mankind, a voice from the Gods of all peoples, and the saints.

She was just seven when the Mother of God spoke to her, assuring her she was loved and was the chosen one, the one who it is written will rise above others and save the lost souls of the world. Reassured by Mary that she will be with her; she is told that she needs to be strong, and that she should keep her love and kindness as her strength.

Despite her childhood and teenage years, Johanee is enveloped in the love of God, taught by sages, wise men, and saints, and protected by those who love her. Wherever she is people are drawn to her, touched by her words' they love her and become her followers. She gives empowering talks, awakens spiritual awareness, and no subject is taboo. Many clamor for the chance to be with her, and her words inspire and affect the lives of her followers.

Then Michael the Archangel comes to her and explains her role as the Sacred Heart, the leader of the Sacred Hearted Movement and its followers, the Sacred Hearters. Her dedication to her beliefs, and pureness of heart, spread throughout the world, and her followers grow in numbers. Even when persecuted, she sees good in her accusers, and following her example, her devotees refuse to react to negative forces with violence and ill will, instead; the true message grows. Her heart is pure, and her thoughts only for those who need her, she is the head of a family and is there for all who need her; in her words, "This is not about me, this is about the message. Of myself, I am nothing."

The narrator remembers that they were guided by her, and she, in turn, was guided by the Voices. She is truly the chosen one, and without question, she, living in the grace of God, follows her destiny.

Beautifully written, with powerful illustrations, this book is inspiring! The author has skilfully empowered his readers with hope, encouraging them to embrace and use spiritual principals to make us and our planet better.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Tyra White's Bookshelf

And It Begins Like This
LaTanya McQueen
Black Lawrence Press
9781625577030 $17.95 pbk / $9.95 Kindle

Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: 5 stars

In an interview with John King from The Drunken Odyssey, McQueen states, "I struggled a lot with issues relating to my black identity. I had a lot of self-hatred over that. Part of the book was me trying to figure out where it came from."

As a black woman writing about her identity, as a black body living in a country built from hate, there has never been a better time for you to read this book. And It Begins like this by Latanya McQueen. Why are we the way we are? How can a set of circumstances contribute to the hate we build within us? In this book, McQueen tackles the concept of genealogy in a whole new way. She studies her family's past, specifically her great grandmother who was potentially raped by a slave owner and tries to piece together how oppression of black folk emboldens itself in body and spirit. McQueen reflects on a number of experiences in her life, specifically her time as a grad student at the University of Missouri during the Michael Brown protests. She further examines her history with not knowing how to swim, and institutional powers that prevent Black folks from developing survival skills. Thus, the way history is examined in the book takes on a number of facets: History as a Means of Identity, History as a Means of Remembrance, History as means of Survival, and History as Means of Repetition or Perpetuation.

You're going to want to read this book. You're going to want to think about how internalized anti blackness can run so deep and take so much. This is a lesson that McQueen learns sincerely. In her dating life, beyond forming friendships and communication, to her own evaluation on whiteness as part of her own genealogy, you can't help but to ask yourself how can healing come from such a place of hurt, such a place of misunderstanding. When McQueen loses her mother and reflects on some of the problematic ways of that upbringing, she is left to grapple with her mother's decision, particularly the narrative of blackness taught in the household, or lack thereof. After reading this story, McQueen wants us to know that the ultimate goal, here, is to realize that through these explorations, some truths about our identity will begin to unravel, and a broader understanding to racial relations and identity will shines through.

If you're lost. Lost and black like me, like McQueen. This is the book for you. This is the book where you find yourself.

How to Break Up with Your Phone
Catherine Price
Ten Speed Press
c/o The Crown Publishing Group
9780399581120 $12.99 pbk / $10.99 Kindle

Genre: Scientific Nonfiction/ Life Advice
Rating: 5 stars

In the age of social media, we've been offered more than enough reasons to want out: Facebook's constant leakage of personal data. Instagram's role in mental health deterioration with generation z. Not to mention, when's the last time you and your family had a quality meal at the dinner table without someone checking their phone? When's the last time you held a conversation with a friend without her constantly checking her phone for messages and Tik Tok updates?

Face it: Your phone controls you. Not the other way around. Catherine Price's How to Break Up with Your Phone offers refreshing insight on how phone addiction is a modern-day normalcy, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to take control from these tiny devices without a fight. Price wants you to take your life back, and it all starts with treading book.

This book is broken down into two parts: The Wake Up and The Break-Up. The Wake Up is meant to, quite literally, aid the reader in understanding why a break-up with their small device is necessary for their neuro system. In fact, Price begins the book with a heartfelt breakup later to her own cell phone. The letter is funny, witty. The personification of this device really sharpens Price's Message: I love you…. I do…but that's exactly why we need a break. Now. The following chapters after the letter begins with an evaluation of why our relationships with our devices are alarmingly unhealthy. I should say, as Price said, the point of this book isn't to "get you to throw your phone under a bus" (Price 1). That's unrealistic. The point of this book is to help us realize how our devices can make us act like tools, and Price accompanies this stance through a series of chapters that expose the dark side of social media and user engagement to specific ways in which the brain can suffer from prolonged screen time, such as memory loss and horrid attention span, along with the literal product design of the device and it's correlation to our addiction. Yikes! Listen, Price isn't theat aunt nagging you to put down your device and talk with your cousin at her birthday party. There's logic here; there's a real method to her madness. By the time you reach the Breakup section of the book, you're intentionally meant to feel disgusted. It all becomes a question of how: how could I continue to let this tiny little thing hold so much control over me, my brain, and my body? How can I get rid of this issue today? Remember, Big Brother is watching, so make sure you watch how you answer that question.

The when we arrive at the Breakup Section. This section, by far, is what makes this book so unique, so valuable. We've all heard, especially if you've already read this first half, a-z in which a breakup with your phone is necessary as of yesterday. Great….so how exactly do I do that? In the Breakup portion, Price offers refreshing and meditative solutions that will not only have you leaving your device in the dust, but have you practicing mindful choices that allow you to put yourself first, always. There are a handful of writing exercises in which Price gets you to evaluate your life in accordance with your phone: how does your phone make you feel now? How do you feel without it? Then she has the reader set goals of where they would like to envision their lives post phone break up: how would you like to see your relationship with your family thrive post break up? We're also offered solutions that actually work! I first read this book during the beginning of year: new year, new me, no more phone. Price suggested I delete all social media apps on my phone and only visit them via an internet browser for now. She also suggested I buy an actual alarm (I know, a real one!) and put that beside my pillow, so I wouldn't have to sleep with my phone next to me in bed. From journaling my daily adjustments to the breakup, to switching my phone to a display that is less appealing to the human eye, therefore decreasing my chances of using my phone, I started to notice me picking up my phone less and less. I now, on average, spend a total of three hours on my phone when I receive my weekly screen report! I spent a total of four minutes on social media for the totality of all of last week. I do have to say that a caveat is the guilt I feel for not getting back to people as quickly through SMS, and missing a handful of other important things going on, but I no longer feel that FOMO when I'm out having lunch with my mom or playing with my cat or drawing with my niece. I'm living in the moment, and I wouldn't have been able to achieve that without reading this book.

Transcendent Kingdom
Yaa Gyassi
c/o Penguin Random House
9780525658184 $27.95 hc / $13.99 Kindle

Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5 stars

Sometimes when we're stuck in the past, moving forward can bring about an immense amount of trouble. This is when a homegoing to us is necessary, and that's the message that Yaa Gyasi would like for Black women reading her book to realize.

This fictional tail follows the life of 26-year-old Gifty, a grad student coping with a myriad of things beyond Medical exams. Her brother had died from a drug overdose, and her mother who hasn't coped with that death well has moved in with her in her own. Grappling with her own insecurities, Gifty realizes that in order to search for the answers she's looking for, she needs to use the power of science and self-reflection to search for clarity in faith, religion, and salvation.

This book is described as "a deeply moving portrait of a family of immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief…" I think this book is a wonderful guide for many young black women, especially women who are immigrants and relate to the idea of family pressures in one way or form. The narrative of a Nigerian woman struggling with racism and sexism in a different country is one that is not often told, so Gyasi is bringing life to a narrative that remains unspoken. Faith is a grounding promise that has bought Black people from many walks of life together through triumph and struggle, so the fact that religion is being evaluated from a point of accountability is a story that many of us need to here, and this works well for the story.

As a black woman, I read this book and I consider this idea of me as her, of me being in medical school and figuring out my life aside from the oppression that's attempted to direct it. The journey in this book feels personal and so real in that way. I think of my own experience with Christianity and this feeling of being put in a restricted box. The language in the book is amazing, her play with word structure is remarkable. If you haven't considered reading this book, I would soon.

Tyra White

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Douglas Fir: The Story of the West's Most Remarkable Tree
Stephen F. Arno, author
Carl E. Fiedler, author
Zoe Keller, illustrator
Mountaineers Books
1001 SW Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134-1161
9781680511994, $21.95, HC, 192pp

Synopsis: Douglas firs are found in the continental northwest from British Columbia to as far south as Oaxaca, Mexico. They flourish in the Cascades, Rocky Mountains, Sierra, and other mountain ranges, as well as in desert valleys. Westerners familiar with their forests may think they know the Douglas fir -- but how well do they?

Incredibly hardy, this particular tree adopts various strategies to occupy more kinds of habitats than any other native tree, even becoming an uncontrollable invader in some regions, crowding out ponderosa pines, western larch, aspen groves, and mountain grasslands. Yet the utility of this valuable species is immense. Simply stated, Douglas firs yield more high-quality construction lumber than any other tree in the world.

Most intriguing of all, perhaps, is that the story of the Douglas fir has gone untold until now with the publication of "Douglas Fir: The Story of the West's Most Remarkable Tree" by the team of Stephen F. Arno and Carl E. Fiedler. This new combination of history and forestry fills a literary gap as it presents an engaging profile of the Douglas fir and its relationship to people, commerce, culture, and wilderness.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively informative read, "Douglas Fir: The Story of the West's Most Remarkable Tree" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented -- making it a welcome and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Douglas Fir: The Story of the West's Most Remarkable Tree" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.17).

Editorial Note: Stephen F. Arno holds a PhD in forestry and plant science and is retired from a career as a research forester with the US Forest Service. Since 1973, he has authored or co-authored six books about forests and trees, including two Mountaineers Books titles, Northwest Trees and Timberline.

Carl E. Fiedler has a PhD in forestry and ecology and is a retired professor from the University of Montana. Steve and Carl have coauthored two previous books together.

Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days
Larry Alex Taunton
Fidelis Books
9781642935929, $27.00, HC, 336pp

Synopsis: A battle rages for the heart and soul of America. For one group, the idea of "American Exceptionalism" is dead. Some never tire of lecturing us about how out-of-step America is with the rest of the world and how she needs to get with it. Worse, America, they say, is bad for the world. Her freedom and prosperity are merely historical accidents.

Of course, this narrative presupposes there are better places in the world to live. Are there? Were Alec Baldwin to leave the country permanently as he once promised, where would he go?

Critique: "Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days: Discovering What Makes America Great and Why We Must Fight to Save It" freelance columnist Larry Alex Taunton is a particularly timely and welcome contribution to our present national dialogue with an American populace so deeply (and vehemently) divided over the kind of nation we currently live in.

Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days: Discovering What Makes America Great and Why We Must Fight to Save It" is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking -- making it an exceptional and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Contemporary Political Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies reading lists.

It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days: Discovering What Makes America Great and Why We Must Fight to Save It" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Willis M. Buhle

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

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