Monthly Archives: September 2010

Daniel Levin’s thriller keeps the flame alive

This review appears in the October 2010 issue of the [Jewish Federation of Collier County] Federation Star and in the October L’Chayim, published by the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties.

The Last Ember, by Daniel Levin. Riverside. 460 pages. $16.00.

When former classics scholar and disgraced academic Jonathan Marcus shows up in Rome to help his law firm with a case involving ownership of antiquities, little does he know that he is stepping into the brutal world of architectural terrorism. Still less could he anticipate that he will be involved with attempts to recover perhaps the most important artifact in Jewish civilization and along with it a new understanding of the historian Josephus. 

Nor did he anticipate the renewal of his relationship with Emili Travia, with whom he was romantically involved some seven years back when both were fellows at the American Academy in Rome. She is now Dr. Travia, deputy director of a UN agency involved with antiquities preservation issues. 

All this and more happens in Mr. Levin’s fast-moving thriller that compresses thousands of years of history as background to a few days in the present. The 105 bite-sized chapters are packed with information, imagery, and action as the race is on between Jonathan and various Roman and Israeli interests on the one side and Salah ad-Din, the grandson of Hitler’s ally the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, on the other.  Each seeks to find (for very different reasons) the enormous solid gold Temple Menorah of ancient times. 

Perhaps with the complicity of the Waqf authority – an Islamic land trust charged with overseeing Temple Mount antiquities – the Grand Mufti’s heir in villainy is determined to obliterate all traces of Jewish and Christian presence in Jerusalem. His architectural terrorism is in the cause of rewriting history and thereby shaping the future.

Certain passages in an early parchment of Josephus’s history hold the clues to the menorah’s location. More accurately, they hold the clues to other clues that are hidden – mostly in plain sight – beneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and beneath the Coliseum and other locations in Rome. Who will decipher the clues and find the world-changing prize? Will Jonathan make his case that the discredited Flavius Josephus was really a valiant secret agent taking great risks on behalf of the Jewish people?

As Daniel Levin shuttles the action from one intriguing and fully drawn location to another, he develops a cast of intriguing supporting characters, an intensifying romance between Jonathan and Emili, and a magnificent orchestration of major religious and political forces at work as past and present collide in dramatic fashion. Check out his website,, for more information.

Daniel Levin will be in Southwest Florida as part of the Jewish Book Fair, a project of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties. On December 12 at 3:00pm, Mr. Levin will be speaking and signing books next to Godiva Chocolates at Miromar Outlets in Estero. With him will be author Lee Kravitz. For more information about the book fair, which has author events scheduled from November 10 through December 16, check out or email

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Ward Larsen’s techno-thriller flies high

“Fly by Wire,” by Ward Larsen. Oceanview Publishing. 312 pages. $25.95.

Sarasota author Ward Larsen’s Frank “Jammer” Davis is a no-nonsense kind of guy. Like his creator a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Davis is impatient with the bureaucratic molasses that often clogs urgent work. Now employed by the National Transportation Safety Board, Davis is called to an emergency meeting of aviation and security experts to find out why a new C-500 cargo aircraft has plummeted straight down and crashed in Central France, its systems seemingly compromised with no apparent cause. He immediately distrusts the inexperienced French academic who has been chosen to lead the team, especially as the Frenchman pushes too quickly to steer the investigation toward pilot error. Davis pushes for more facts, more action, and less protocol. 

Before long, Davis finds himself partnering with an intelligent and attractive CIA agent, Anna Sorensen, who is having trouble maintaining her cover as a Honeywell Avionics employee. At first distrustful and competitive, both sense that a romance might be building. Davis, a true professional and a two-year widower raising a teenage daughter, has to feel his way into this relationship. A self-confessed “visual guy,” he respects Sorensen’s skills and savvy while becoming more and more attracted to what meets the eye. They gain each other’s trust and make important discoveries, investigatory and otherwise, independently and together.

The initial emergency becomes overshadowed by another one, at first thought to be unrelated. Almost at the same instant, mid-sized oil refiners have been bombed across the world, creating economic upheaval and worldwide panic.    

Mr. Larsen plots his novel along several tracks, one of which brings us into the world of the Islamic terrorists who are involved in the initial suicide bombings, a charismatic leader called Caliph, a furtive and thoroughly unattractive Arab woman who seems to be an important messenger, and a cancer-ridden software genius who engineered CargoAir’s C-500 onboard systems. 

As the pace of the novel accelerates, Davis helps make the connection between the plane crash and the refinery bombings, uncovering a surprising and monumental conspiracy. When higher-ups cannot seem to move on the crisis, Davis bullies them into action, even chewing out the President of the United States along the way. 

The unraveling of the airplane calamity and the refinery conspiracy involves a lot of techno-talk. While one might think this element would slow things down, it doesn’t. Ward Larsen takes readers into the world of technology with clarity, economy, and sure-handedness. He makes it fun to witness Davis putting the pieces together.  Throughout, the author reveals information at just the right pace to keep the suspense building without giving anything away prematurely.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the September 15-21, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 16-22 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Ward Larsen pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Carl Steinhouse’s Holocaust Heroes

This article appears in the September-October, 2010 issue of Fort Myers Magazine. Click to go there: Ft.Myers magazine – Carl Steinhouse

Carl L. Steinhouse, a Naples resident for 14 years, has a dedicated his retirement to educating readers about the Holocaust through a series of near-novels. These books enliven historical issues in the accessible, engaging format of creative non-fiction. Although Steinhouse doesn’t spare the ugly truths of the Holocaust, his focus is most often an uplifting one: he writes about Holocaust heroes.

A recent volume, Wily Fox (2009), presents one of Steinhouse’s more obscure candidates for heroism. Subtitled “How King Boris Saved the Jews of Bulgaria from the Clutches of His Axis Ally Adolf Hitler,” this book stays close to verifiable events while fabricating scenes bursting with dialogue. In creating and presenting so many voices in so much detail, the author has taken the novelist’s license.

As World War II accelerated, King Boris III found himself in a difficult position. On the one hand, he feared the possibility of being taken over the by the Soviet Union and saw Germany as the main bulwark against that menace. On the other hand, he had no sympathy for the Third Reich’s agenda. Economically dependent on Germany, tiny Bulgaria did not want to be forced into a military alliance with the belligerent Nazi power – especially since the king felt that Hitler was building for a war that he could not win.

In many, many compact scenes, Mr. Steinhouse shows the encroachment of Nazi power and influence in vulnerable Bulgaria. Although Bulgaria adopts regulations regarding its Jewish population that echo those of Germany, King Boris finds ways of slowing and blunting the implementation of those policies without enraging the Fuhrer. While his sympathies lie with his Jewish citizens, Boris knows that his first loyalty is to the protection and independence of his country.

A man of great cordiality and intelligence, Boris is well-liked by Hitler and pushes their good relationship to the limit. When Hitler insists that Boris deport his Jews, Boris – who knows that deportation is code for extermination – insists that they are needed for road-building and other quasi-war efforts at home.

Suspense builds with the growing pressures Hitler and his agents place on King Boris. Will Boris be forced to give in? Will he be overthrown? Or will he be able to wait things out, through his wily delaying tactics, and with minimum sacrifice of the Jews, until Hitler is finally thwarted by the Allied Powers?

In fashioning “Wily Fox,” Carl Steinhouse probably relies too heavily on dialogue at the expense of other story-telling ingredients. However, the conversations that he invents for Boris and the large cast of supporting characters reveal the true nature of each while conveying the political circumstances with remarkable clarity.

In his new book – We Shall Be Called Israel! – Steinhouse uses the same techniques to tell the story of how the modern State of Israel came into being. His main concern, captured in the book’s subtitle,  is to contrast the generally supportive role played by President Harry Truman with the obstructionist (read “pro-Arab”) role played by British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin. However, Steinhouse presents readers with a large cast of additional characters, his scenes shifting back and forth from London and other European settings to Palestine, Transjordan, and the United States.

As preamble, the book offers a summary of modern Zionism and the waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine in the early decades of the twentieth century. Also provided is an encapsulation of WWII up to the 1945 situation in Europe, the Mid-East, and especially Palestine. Steinhouse also presents background information on the Balfour Declaration and on the shocking White Paper of 1939. But most important to Jewish statehood dynamics are revelations about the Holocaust’s magnitude.

Steinhouse begins dramatic treatment of his material at war’s end, with American Colonel David Marcus (later the head of the Israel Defense Force) witnessing the horrors of a Nazi death camp and pondering the fate of the survivors, given restrictive U.S. immigration policies. Readers learn of the transformation of the Jewish Brigade, made up of Palestinian Jews who valiantly fought with the British against the Germans, into enemies of the British leaders who regularly favored Arab interests in the administration of the Palestine Mandate. These are the same Arabs who were allied Hitler’s Germany – and thus had been Britain’s mortal enemy.

We eavesdrop as Jewish leaders debate various strategies for bringing about an independent Jewish state. In the process, we meet David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Shamir, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and others who undermined Britain’s one-sided administrative decisions and engineered illegal much-needed Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The story accelerates in 1947 as Steinhouse portrays the mushrooming political battle over the partition of Palestine (already largely transformed into several Arab national entities).  Steinhouse presents many conversations among Truman, Zionist leaders, and U. S. government officials. Truman maintains sympathy with Zionist leaders’ goals even while having little use for their confrontational styles. The dialogue that the author invents to characterize a frustrated Truman rings true.

The contrasting portraits of Truman and Bevin become more firmly etched as the moment of U.N. action regarding partition and the establishment of a Jewish state draws near. However, well ahead of that historic moment, Zionist leaders frantically carry out the clandestine building of a Jewish defensive force with manufacturing capacity as well as an infrastructure of national and local services and institutions. The seeds of nationhood are well-sown before it is declared.

Steinhouse vividly renders the declaration of statehood, the anticipated attack by surrounding Arab nations, the battles, and the establishment of a nation with de facto borders. Until, and even after their withdrawal, the British do all they can to thwart the emergence of the Jewish nation (as does Count Bernadotte, the U. N. mediator). Steinhouse attends to this seeming betrayal by a wartime ally in great and anguished detail

Wily Fox and We Shall Be Called Israel! are sturdy additions to Carl Steinhouse’s series of books about Holocast heroes that includes Wallenberg is Here (2002), Righteous and Courageous (2004), Improbable Heroes (2005), and Barred (2007). The cases made for King Boris and President Truman are informative, colorful and compelling.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors, Jewish Themes

Double trouble in James O’Neal’s forsaken Florida

“The Double Human,” by James O’Neal. Tor. 336 pages. $24.99.

With “The Double Human,” James O’Neal continues to unveil the distinctive dystopian world he first offered readers in his well-received “The Human Disguise” (2009, now in mass market paperback). Though the new book succeeds as a stand-alone sequel, the earlier title develops O’Neal’s futuristic premise more fully. Thus, while any reader can enjoy “The Double Human,” readers familiar with “The Human Disguise” will get more out of the new title than those who aren’t. 

O’Neal’s futuristic setting, a mere twenty years into the future, is also in the aftermath of nuclear devastation, climate change, and widespread disease. It’s a gray world with crumbling roads, abandoned cities, and barely functioning government services. Dade County is now the Miami Quarantine Zone, officially outside of the United States, where lawless predators threaten settlers or detainees who would rebuild and attempt to care for the remaining population.

North of the Zone’s border is the Lawton District often patrolled by combat veteran Tom Wilner, a detective with the severely understaffed United Florida Police. Southwest Florida, from Naples to Sarasota, has been reclaimed by nature and largely depopulated: some diehard holdouts hang on there, along with vagabond settlers who cherish privacy, simplicity, and independence. 

And everywhere there are criminals, not all of whom are human. The population includes two rival humanoid clans with superior strength, miraculous recuperative powers, and  long lives resulting from an extremely slow aging process. Originally from Eastern Europe, these humanoids have birthed offspring who in many cases are ignorant of their genetic differences from the human population.  In “The Human Disguise,” we learn that Tom Wilner had been married to such a humanoid and is raising hybrid children.

Wilner is a thorough dedicated and highly skilled cop who needs to overachieve in the face of diminished law enforcement resources and infrastructure breakdown at every level. In a Florida bereft of sunshine and thus of its traditional economic life, Wilner finds himself in pursuit of a mysterious serial killer whose earliest murder goes back 50 years. Because the victims have puncture wounds on their necks, the killer is called “The Vampire.” He seems unstoppable.

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 1-7, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 2-8 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – James O’Neal pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

An Interview with Jason R. Jones

Naples author Jason R. Jones recently published “The Exodus of Spiders and Falcons,” the first installment of a fantasy series called The Exodus Sagas. It is available from the publisher via and also from major online booksellers. Mr. Jones certainly knows how to put ingredients together, as he is the food and beverage director for the Naples Harbour Yacht Club. 

PKJ: An 18-volume fantasy series is an enormous undertaking. How did you prepare for this marathon literary endeavor?

JRJ: Yes, it is huge. Preparation began over a decade ago with dozens of notebooks that filled “the green laundry basket” up in Wisconsin. Years of writing piled into spirals and pads since my teenage years had accumulated so much that the last few years were a huge organizational effort.  A story of epic size demands character and plot continuity. Preparing the maps, charts that outline character, story, subplot, progression, and all the details planned out with a timeline that keeps the story flowing and connected was a monumental task. I would like to tell you that it just flowed and “poof”! But no. The story and writing yes; however, the record keeping and organization took a lot of work over the last few years. I trained myself by reading out my story, seeing the end of chapters and particular books as I began, and unfolding the events of the series – sometimes almost writing backwards in time. Since the earliest notes go back to when I was 15, it’s been 20 years of fantasy indulgence.

PKJ: How did you determine that it would take 18 books to fulfill your intention?

JRJ: 18 is an odd number, but the story evolves over the first quartet as the heroes get their definitions and direction. The next two quartets develop the underlying storylines and plots that lead up to the last quartet that brings everything together into grand-epic-saga-world-gripping fashion. That would put us at 16, but I have a 1-2 punch at the end. In truth, the story could go on, and I hope my son and my future children will pick it up after book 18.

PKJ: How did you settle on the five characters whose fates interlink them in the first volume?

JRJ: The five that come together (James, Shinayne, Azenairk (Zen), Gwenneth, and Saberrak) are integral to  all 18 volumes. They provide the foundation upon which all is built. The first book’s central figure is James Andellis, and each successive book focuses on another of the five as the story progresses.  Shinayne T’Sarrin is the focal character of the 2nd book—of dragons and crowns—nearly finished. These five embody different aspects of failure, heroism, morals, struggle, and virtue—and as they follow their paths, it is obvious more and more why they have been fated into companionship with one another.

To read the entire interview, as it appears in the August 25-31, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 9-15 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here:  Florida Weekly – Jason R. Jones pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Lesley Frost fashions chilling psycho-drama

“Mother Mary,” by Lesley Frost. Peppertree Press. 340 pages. $28.00.

Now in his sixties, rock star Peter McAllister has known both the glamour and grime of a four-decade career. Ever since the late 1960s, when he made it big with his group, Hazy Dayz, Peter has given far more attention to his career than to the three children he shared with the beautiful and supportive Carla. But with Carla’s death, he is lost. Complicating his grief is a group of letters he now receives from his brother, letters that Stan has been keeping, unread, for more than four decades. 

In these letters, Mary Pierce, with whom Peter he had a brief relationship in Vermont, tries to persuade him to return to her – and to their love-child, Bobby. Peter had disbelieved eccentric stoner Mary’s claim of pregnancy before he left her, thinking it a ploy to hold onto him. Because Mary was freakishly possessive, Peter felt he had to escape from a dangerous relationship. Now the series of letters, the final one quite recent, preys on his conscience.

Indeed, that last letter finds Mary ecstatic. She has reunited with Bobby, whom she had been forced to give up for adoption when he was very young. He is now Dr. Robert Williams, a successful physician in Burlington. Could Peter’s offspring have a brother only slightly older than Veronica, Peter’s oldest acknowledged child? Peter must know the truth and, if necessary, make amends. But he fears what Mary might have become in the intervening years.

As the novel progresses, the reader discovers that Peter has every reason to be apprehensive. Author Frost reveals the abusive upbringing that Mary had received as prisoner to a demented grandmother who forced the young child to give sexual favors to the local banker. Ms. Frost is utterly convincing in presenting the physical and psychological reality of Mary’s upbringing and its horrifying aftermath. She skillfully manipulates her magnetic horror element. We want to turn away from its fearful ugliness, but we can’t!

To read the full review, as it appears in the Naples Florida Weekly for August 19-25, 2010 as well as other editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Lesley Frost pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors