Monthly Archives: October 2013

Tradition and defiance war in culturally insightful novel

The Sisters Weiss, by Naomi Ragen. St. Martin’s Press. 336 pages. Hardback $24.99.

This bestselling novelist has carved an intricate tale out of the lives of two sisters, at one time inseparable, but later living in separate and incompatible worlds. Rose and Pearl Weiss are born into a caring, rule-bound ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn family. Rose, the older by three years, has the kind of curiosity that is dangerous in this kind of community – dangerous because it cannot be satisfied without stepping out of the cocoon and risking ostracism.  SistersWeiss

Befriended by a girl whose French immigrant family is at the margins of acceptance by this community, Rose finds herself captivated by art photography found in a book in the girl’s father’s library. She is allowed to borrow the book, which she knows she must hide. However, she soon aspires to becoming a photographer – which clearly means she aspires to seeing things in her own way. In several seemingly inevitable steps, Rose finds herself at odds with all that has been built to comfort and protect her. At seventeen, she runs away from an arranged marriage, disgracing her family and cutting herself off from the only world she has known. 

Slowly but steadily, she builds a new life, eventually establishing herself as a prominent photographic artist. To her family and community, she is an object of scorn and a source of shame.  Pearl is left to be the model daughter, her behavior fitting the mold of her community. The family scandal severely narrowed Pearl’s matrimonial choices, but she has made the best of her situation.

Forty years after Rose’s self-exile, her daughter Hannah, a fledgling graduate school student, receives a barely literate note from a teenager named Rivka. Rivka is Pearl’s daughter, and she is desperate to escape from a future that affords no hope for her individual happiness or growth. Rivka is seeking temporary shelter with cousin Hannah. Weiss family history seems to be repeating itself. When Hannah reveals the note to her mother, Rose warns her not to get involved. No good can come of it. But then Rivka simply shows up!


Somewhat reluctantly, Hannah offers her temporary shelter. She is impressed by Rivka’s gratitude and how she gives the apartment a thorough cleaning without being asked. Still, Rivka acts like an immigrant. It’s as if the community she left behind is a foreign country. She is unprepared for the new world.

Hannah asks her friend Simon to tutor Hannah toward a GED, but before long that relationship becomes a torrid romance. Hannah’s hidden feelings about Simon are wounded by his succumbing to Rivka’s advances. She feels that Rivka betrayed her, though Rivka had no knowledge of Hannah’s supposed claim on Simon.

Rivka disappears and reappears a couple of times in response to the stresses and strains of her situation.

Before long, the inevitable happens. Imagining what Pearl and her husband must have been going through since Rivka’s disappearance, imagining what her own parents had gone through forty years earlier, Rose works to negotiate some kind of communication, if only so that Rivka’s  parents can stop worrying and know that their child is okay.

 A guarded, fragile rapprochement is set in motion, the distance between the sisters’ lives narrowing and widening as attempts to heal keep running into the decades’ old habits of intolerance and animosity.

Ms. Ragen’s skill at crafting all the emotional nuances of this tentatively wished-for reunification between the sisters, and between child and parents, is convincing and suspenseful. Readers are reminded of the need people have to stand their ground, the ground of values and ingrained behaviors, and how understanding and compassion are always crippled by the need to be the party that is uniquely in the right.

To learn how and to what extent these issues and conflicts are resolved, how Rivka survives the risks she has taken, requires, dear reader, that you take your own journey into this powerful, wise book. I think you will find The Sisters Weiss very much worth your while. You will discover a provocative study of how identity is formed and reformed. You will witness the tug of war between nature and nurture, between loyalty to self and to others, and between sophistry and sincerity. This is a most thoughtful and passionate entertainment.

This review appears in the November 2013 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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Honors Series secret agent works to stop a war before it starts

Honors Rendered, by Robert N. Macomber. Pineapple Press. 376 pages. $21.95.

Though Robert Macomber lives on Southwest Florida’s Pine island, he seems to spend a good part of each year traveling the seas In pursuit of the local color and history that fuel his nautical adventures featuring Commander Peter Wake. All of the Honor Series novels are noted for their meticulous research on the peoples, places, and politics that the author allows his powerful imagination to infuse with high action, suspense and moral weight. “Honors Rendered,” the 11th in the series, is more than “no exception,” it is one of Mr. Macomber’s best.

Honors Rendered jacket

Set in the late 1880s, this adventure sees Peter Wakecovertly attempt defuse a political powder keg in the South Pacific. The U. S. government fears further aggressive actions by Germany against the island nation of Samoa. Samoa is potentially a U. S. ally, but at present both Germany and the U. S. are positioning for influence – and this means positioning their warships for possible confrontation. Germany has already won the favor of a portion of the Samoans and installed a puppet king.  Indeed, the Samoans themselves are near civil war.

Wake, working secretly, must find a way to quiet things down so that all-out war is prevented. Failing that outcome, his mission is to design and orchestrate a quick and complete victory for American forces. He improvises a plan that includes the assistance of an artillery officer who is a member of the Hawaiian royal family; a seaworthy Methodist minister who is fighting slave-traders (“blackbirders”) in the Pacific islands and Australia; and a resourceful, aging femme fatale whom Wake pretty much blackmails into being his spy within Germany’s military and commercial establishment on Samoa.

RNM new author photo 2013

Let’s not forget the late immergence into the tale of one Sean Rork, Wake’s good friend, military subordinate, and partner in many similar situations over the years. Their banter adds a comic element that frequently punctuates the tension.

The glory of this book is the personality of Wake himself. He is at once pragmatic and idealistic; endlessly resourceful while knowing and accepting his limits; skilled in every aspect of espionage, seamanship, and survival. Working as he usually does without proof of his identity or authority, he is a vulnerable shadow figure who has no safety net. Mr. Macomber has built and refined this character masterfully over the years, and now he etches Wake’s aging process with great authenticity. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 23, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly ,the October 24 Charlotte County edition, and the October 31 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Robert N. Macomber

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Comic mystery blends shady mayor, bondage buddies, and bossy mama

Mama Gets Trashed, by Deborah Sharp. Midnight Ink. 341 pages. $14.99.

With her fifth “Mace Bauer Mystery,” Deborah Sharp has raised the bar for her unique blend of suspense and laughter. When readers find Mace and Mama searching for lost jewelry in the town dump, we know that the sparks are going to fly. It’s Mama’s wedding ring that was accidentally dropped into the garbage back home, and now we get a kind of archeological dig of central Florida culture – including “a week’s worth of leftovers from Jimbob’s Seafood Shack.” Mama Gets Trashed

While Mama does happen to find her diamond, Mace finds something else: the corpse of a suggestively clad young woman whose garb includes a black leather dog collar with silver spikes. This bondage fetish fashion is not the usual get-up in Himmarshee, the fictional but familiar small southern town in which the Mace Bauer mystery stories are set.

Ms. Sharp’s fans know that Mace will have a hard time keeping her nose out of the investigation, and that her talented meddling will outrage her fiancé, Carlos Martinez, the hunky homicide detective who will do everything to keep Mace out of trouble and to protect the professionalism of the investigation.

Inevitably, Mace and Mama will be drawn further and further in. Furthermore, Mace will pursue another, possibly related mystery – the disappearance of her brother-in-law, Kenny. The timing is terrible, as Kenny’s wife Maddie is planning a big birthday party for him.

Deborah Sharp

Deborah Sharp

Has sister Maddie’s vanished husband been fooling around with sexy Camilla, the deceased librarian found dead at the dump? Could he possibly be the murderer? There are plenty of hints that Kenny has been unfaithful.

Conversation about these occurrences – let’s call it gossip – soon occupies the town, especially in social settings like the Hair Today Dyed Tomorrow salon where pastel fashion plate Mama is a hair-coloring specialist.  Revealing discussions and activities also take place at the Himmarshee Links Country Club and its bar, The Nineteenth Hole, where characters like golf pro Jason and bartender Angel (both, of course, immensely attractive and immensely self-absorbed) behave somewhat suspiciously.

So, in fact, does the new mayor of Himmarshee and his bossy wife. Not only is it rumored that they are active in the sexual fetish capers, but the mayor also seems to be encouraging outside investors to tie up land for development adjacent to Himmarshee’s idyllic nature park. Is he on the take? Is the park, where Mace works, in jeopardy? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 16, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the October 17 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the November 7 Palm Beach/West Palm Beach edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Sharp

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A powerful emotional journey from victimhood toward forgiveness

The Wooden Chair, by Rayne E. Golay. Untreed Reads. 307 pages (estimated). E-book $4.99.

I can’t remember a book dragging me into such a state of despondency. Paradoxically, that is its strength in the early going. As readers witness the psychological pain visited upon poor Leini Bauman, a young Finnish girl growing up during and after WWII and the simultaneous “Continuation War” between Finland and Russia, they have a lot to process. From the beginning, readers hope for her escape from suffering. Golay Cover

The threat of war leads Leini’s family to move from Helsinki to a rural area until things settle down. This relocation is disorienting, though it offers some positive new experiences for the five year old. When she comes back home, she needs to adapt all over again to the city and to what went on during her absence.

Leini’s troubles, however, are far more deeply rooted in her physical handicap, her odd appearance, and her heart-wrenching relationship with her mother, Mira. For reasons we come to understand, Mira cannot show love to her daughter. She regularly belittles, threatens, and otherwise mistreats Leini, who is clearly an abused child.

Mira makes Leini’s ocular deformity the target of her hostility. She presses the frightened girl into an operation with the promise of loving her once her deformity is corrected so that she is beautiful. The surgery backfires. Leini loses sight in her wandering eye altogether. Odd-looking Leini remains the victim of schoolmates’ taunts, though she does make a few friends.

And she does find love in her relationships with her father, her father’s parents, and her mother’s brother, Uncle Karl. However, none of these parental figures are able to protect her from Mira’s cruelty. Nor can they make any headway in helping Mira control her dependence on alcohol and her body image problems. She habitually refuses food, worrying that she is too fat.

Leini’s teen years are a cold war with Mira. Eventually, her grandfather arranges for her to have an operation in Vienna. Though her eyesight cannot be restored, major cosmetic improvement results. With careful makeup, Leini looks much more normal – certainly no longer freakish.

Rayne E. Golay

Rayne E. Golay

In 1957, a confident Leini graduates from high school. She has already taken her future into her own hands by applying to Geneva University’s psychology program. Her father pleads with her to stay in Helsinki, but Leini makes it clear that life with Mira (she hasn’t called her “mother” for some time) is unbearable. Always, Leini tries to understand why her father stays with Mira. Essentially, he has given up fighting with her, and he cannot break the hideous pattern of their relationship. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 9, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the October 10 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the October 17 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Rayne Golay

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By Seth Lipsky. Schocken. 240 pages. Hardcover $26.00

Although Abraham Cahan strode like a giant across the stages of world Jewry, western journalism, socialist politics, and labor union ascendency through the first half of the twentieth century, author Lipsky makes it quite clear that Cahan was a man first shaped by the circumscribed Jewish life into which he was born in small-town, nineteenth-century Russia.  LipskyCAHAN

The story of his unforeseeable remaking in New York, a story drawn in part from Cahan’s own memoirs and the parallels to the title character in his classic immigrant novel The Rise of David Levinsky, is told with an eye at once critical and warmly respectful.

Seth Lipsky, formerly editor of the English language edition of The Forward ( Forverts) which Cahan brought to prominence in a three-part career filled with both turmoil and amazing success, emphasizes several main aspects of his subject’s achievement.

Seth Lipsky

First and foremost, he details Cahan’s career as a self-educated, ambitious journalist who brought what was at first a neighborhood newspaper to world-wide stature and a daily circulation that peaked at 250,000. That career included staff, freelance, and guest assignments at many other important newspapers and magazines. For decades, Cahan’s name was everywhere, not only in the Yiddish language press but also in the higher reaches of mainstream journalism. . . .

To see the entire review, forthcoming in Jewish Book World, click here: Rise of Abraham Cahan | Seth Lipsky | Jewish Book Council

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Celebrity Author JEFF KLINKENBERG Luncheon and NPC Scholarship Fundraising Event

Back Camera

Tuesday, Oct. 15th at 11:30 am at the Hilton-Naples.

Advance Ticket deadline – Oct. 9 – Proceeds to benefit the NPC Scholarship Fund


Name: _______________________________________________________

E-mail/phone: _______________________________________________________

Advance Tickets paid by check:

NPC Member/Spouse Tickets @$45. Number _______Total $_________

Non-member/Guest Tickets @ $50. Number ________ Total $_________

(Online Tickets available, pay-by-credit card or PayPal:member/spouse tickets @ $47.50,                          

non-member/guest tickets @ $50.00 at -“Naples Press Club Events.”)

Meal choices:

____Baked Tilapia   ____Teriyaki Grilled Flank Steak     ___Vegetarian Salad

Jeff Klinkenberg Advance Book(s)Order:

Pre-order your book(s) now to make certain that you’ll have them for Jeff to autograph.

NPC Pre-order all-inclusive price for each book, tax included = $25.00

Alligators in B-Flat2013 hardcover, list price $24.95.

            No. of books @ $25 _______ Total Amt. $_____________

 “Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators2011 hardcover, list price $24.95.

             No. of books @ $25 ______Total Amt. $____________

Seasons of Real Florida2004 hardcover, list price $24.95.

               No. of books @ $25 _______ Total Amt. $__________

Make checks out to: Naples Press Club and send WITH THIS FORM to:

NPC Treasurer Connie Kindsvater, 445 Dockside Drive #704, Naples, FL 34110

Ticket Total Amount $_______   Book Total Amount     $_______

=TOTAL CHECK amount $ _________

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New author beats the odds with a thoroughbred of a thriller

Secretariat Reborn, by Susan Klaus. Oceanview Publishing. 280 pages. $26.95.

Can another horse as magnificent as Secretariat come along? In the imagination of Susan Klaus, that’s exactly what happens. The complications that follow are artfully developed to create the same kind of suspense one feels when the thundering hoofbeats of thoroughbreds pound toward the finish line.  SecretariatRebornHi-res3-D

Christian Roberts, a handsome blond fellow in his mid-twenties, makes a modest living from renting small sailboats and providing various services to boaters on Sarasota Bay. Long estranged from his father, a down-on-his luck horse trainer in Ocala, Chris enjoys a blistering relationship with his sex-crazed and increasingly possessive girlfriend, Kate.

Learning that his father , Hank, is nearing death, Christian (hereafter, Chris) makes his way to the dilapidated Ocala farm and begins a slow reconciliation with the bossy, judgmental man who always chose the thrill of the horse raising and horse racing world over time with his own son.  He forces a “sure-thing” race horse upon Chris, who reluctantly agrees to play into his father’s dreams of having the big winner. 

Susan Klaus and friend

Susan Klaus and friend

The horse turns out to be a great prospect, but a crooked trainer, Ed Price, hides its talent through falsifying time trials, then puts it in a claiming stakes race assuring Chris that no one would make the offer.  When an Arab sheik, in league with trainer Ed Price, claims the winning  horse, Chris is devastated. He is also broke.Another chance comes when Hank hands over to Chris a marvelous horse whose registration papers obscure the fact that he is a clone of the great Secretariat. Needing to pay off a huge debt on the horse, Chris succumbs to taking a loan from a New York mob kingpin named (of course) Vince. Soon enough, Chris is paying off his debt by participating in drug transfers for Vince in Gulf Coast waters. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 3, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly, the October 30 Fort Myers edition, and the November 14 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition,click here: Florida Weekly – Susan Klaus

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