Monthly Archives: September 2014

Ninth Annual Sanibel Island Writers Conference

Ninth Annual Sanibel Island Writers Conference

November 6-9, 2014

Registration Open. Use link below:

BIG ARTS & the Sanibel Island Public Library, Sanibel Island, Fla.

Richard Russo

Keynote Speaker: Richard Russo

Steve Almond / MK Asante / Lynne Barrett / Derrick C. Brown / Kevin Clark / Dean Davis / John Dufresne / Beth Ann Fennelly / Emily Franklin / Tom Franklin / Artis Henderson / John Hoppenthaler / Gary Louris / Jen McClung / Karen Salyer McElmurray / Kathryn Miles / Dinty W. Moore / Jeff Newberry / Jeff Parker / David James Poissant / Julia Scheeres / Christopher Schelling/ Jennifer Senior / George Singleton / Christine Sneed / Wesley Stace / JL Stermer / Megan Stielstra / Parker Stockman / Darin Strauss / Johnny Temple / Karen Tolchin

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Murder of CEO plagues debut of cancer cure start-up

XC 97: The Quest for the Cure, by Mark Dossey. Book-broker Publishers. 360 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

The debut novel has three interrelated plots. First of all, a start-up company based in Newark, New Jersey has found a cure for cancer and needs to find a partner (financial backer) as soon as possible to support manufacture and marketing. Of course, it will need FDA approval and any suitor will need to verify the test results.  A trade conference in Atlantic City provides the opportunity to break the good news to the medical industry, and one impressive Swiss company is rushing to make an offer that can’t be refused. XC97cover

A second story line has to do with the murder of the company’s founding leader. Integra’s CEO, Victor Allagara, is found shot in his home soon after consecutive visits from two women. One of these, it turns out is his faithful and loving secretary Jennifer. Before Jennifer showed up, young and sensuous Ally Kendall, Integra’s new marketing director, had been there. They are two of several suspects being investigated by the Newark police. Any scandal associated with the firm might hamper its ability to find the deep pockets that it needs.

The third piece of action follows the galloping romance between Ally and the gorgeous hunk who heads the Swiss company. This is a glamorous and exciting romp, though it seems a bit superficial, based almost exclusively on physical attraction. The instant lovers’ feelings for one another are tinged by the leverage Stephan has regarding the future health of Integra. Their frenzied affair takes us to splendid vistas, lavish homes and resorts, and plenty of self indulgence.

Mr. Dossey keeps us moving back and forth through these three centers of interest. Ally is the linchpin character: a principal actor in representing Integra to the medical community and to possible investors, the main suspect in the murder mystery (though readers know that she is innocent), and the love interest of a successful and handsome young businessman.



In spite of her centrality, there are plenty of scenes without her. Many of these focus on the two policemen assigned to the case as they chase down clues, await DNA evidence, interview persons of interest, and discuss their next moves. The author handles the tension of the investigation and the interplay of the detective team members quite ably. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 24, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Mark Dossey

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East Side Story: A Plague on Both Their Houses

Ishmael’s Oranges, by Claire Hajaj. Oneworld Publications. 226 pages. Hardcover $24.99.

Novelists exploring Middle East tension and catastrophe occasionally focus on the possibilities of a loving relationship between an Israeli (or simply a Jew) and a Palestinian (or simply an Arab or Muslim). The couple’s hardships become a microcosm of the region’s perplexity. Rise: A Novel of Contemporary Israel, by Yosef Gotlieb (2011) is one impressive example of such works. Ishmael’s Oranges adds new dimensions to this way of examining recent Middle East history and wraps it in a highly evocative poetic style.  Ishmael'sOranges-9781780744940

Spanning forty years, 1948-1988, Ishmael’s Oranges begins shortly before Israel declares statehood but already has forces on the move, taking over or threatening Arab population centers. A seven year old Arab boy, Salim, is teased by a slightly older neighbor: “The Jews are coming for you! They’re going to kick you out and break your skinny arse like a donkey.” Salim is the middle son of a fairly prosperous farmer. Jaffa oranges are the family’s and the community’s treasure.

Jaffa’s harbor, beaches, orange groves, and downtown square are lavishly described, and we receive an ominous glimpse of Tel Aviv’s skyscrapers. The bully, Mazen, is the son of a local judge. He knows that the Jews will soon be taking over Jaffa.  The only Jew Salim knows is another neighbor and friend, Elia, son of Isak Yashuv – a man who “was nearly an Arab. You could never tell him apart from any other Palestinian.” Elia’s mother was a “white” Jew from outside of Palestine.

Salim’s mother, with her “white forehead and olive green eyes” is also a foreigner; Abu Hassan al Ishmaeli had taken a beautiful, much  younger Lebanese woman as his second wife.

In sketching this population, Hajaj smoothly introduces the complexities of racial and ethnic identities.

Soon, Salim’s family members are refugees, fleeing Jaffa for the relative safety of Nazareth. One thread of their story has to do with their dreams about and attempts to reclaim their Jaffa home and farm.

Salim’s story now begun, Claire Hajaj next introduces Judith’s story. In Sunderland, England (a Luftwaffe industrial target), a young girl is born to Dora Gold. It’s a difficult birth: “There was enough blood and ripped flesh for a battlefield and at the end a tiny, limp girl born of struggling for oxygen just as the new state of Israel was drawing its first breath.” Named Judit, after her mother’s mother who died in wartime Budapest, she adds the “h” when she is five years old and is later nicknamed “Jude” by a bossy school friend. Her other grandmother, Rebecca, is the true maternal force. That harrowing forty-eight hour delivery had chilled Dora’s maternal instincts.

Claire Hajaj

Claire Hajaj

Judith shares a room with Gertie, a Holocaust survivor sixteen years older than Judith who was adopted by Judith’s parents long before when Dora and Jack thought they were unable to have children. Growing up, Judith learns that her Uncle Max had fought in Israel’s War of Independence. Her Jewish identity is formed by these relationships. Although she studies for Bat Mitzvah, Grandma Rebecca’s death drowns her pleasure in reaching that goal.

Hajaj moves back and forth between Salim’s world and Judith’s world, often using important historical markers to focus scenes, until she has plotted a series of events that leads them to meet and fall in love. Judith is now eighteen and Salim is twenty-five.  One of the most brilliantly conceived episodes along the way takes place in 1956 when the Salim’s father attempts to obtain justice in a Tel Aviv governmental office, aided by his son-in-law Tareq. The attempt, a dismal failure, reveals that a Jaffa neighbor had betrayed the family’s interests.

After their mother abandons their Nazareth home to return to Lebanon and rebuild her fortunes, sister Nadia, Tareq, and Abu Hassan hatch a plan to send Salim to his older brother Hassan, who has a small repair business in London. Salim, totally weary of his life as an Israeli Arab, takes the opportunity. He works hard, studies hard, and earns an economics degree at University College, London. He becomes a British citizen and holds a British passport. He has prepared himself for a new life.

At a party, he meets the slight, attractive young woman everyone calls Jude.

Now comes the heart of the book: their courtship and marriage; the painful negotiations with their respective families; and the individual sacrifices and promises made in the hopes of building their life together and starting a family. They have their eyes wide open, or do they?

Though Salim is climbing the ladder of success working for western businesses in Arab countries, there is a ceiling for people with his origins. He is betrayed by the big Satan – Western economic imperialism – that won’t fully acknowledge his worth.

Slowly, the spouses’ loyalties to their families of origin, their cultures, and their national identities make claims that threaten to destroy the marriage. Salim’s guilt over abandoning his Palestinian heritage is played upon by his PLO-influenced younger brother and others. By now the couple has children, a darker twin and a lighter twin, innocents who – through their parents’ personal crises – are victims of the crisis that continues to poison the Middle East.

Emotionally and intellectually powerful, and blessed with gorgeously rendered scenes in Beirut, Bagdad, Kuwait City, and elsewhere, Ishmael’s Oranges imaginatively tests the limits of crossing boundaries in a world in which one’s personhood remains colored – perhaps tainted – by undying prejudices and conflicting loyalties.

This review appears in the October 2014 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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“It’s not what you think” message colors complex mystery

Rollover, by Susan Slater. Poisoned Pen Press. 250 pages. Hardcover $24.95 (available in other editions).

There is good news for Florida mystery readers. Susan Slater has moved to Palm Coast from New Mexico and has brought along her highly praised talent. “Rollover” is her second novel featuring insurance investigator Dan Mahoney. A belated sequel to “Flash Flood” (2002), it is set in the small town of Wagon Mound, New Mexico. Dan, a seasoned pro in his early fifties, is sent to investigate the loss of a valuable necklace, most likely taken during a bank robbery.  However, shortly before he gets there his car overheats and a friendly stranger gives him a ride. A rollover accident (if it was an accident) kills the driver, and Dan ends up in the hospital.

Coincidence – or an unsubtle signal to stay away from Wagon Mound?  Rollovercover

Once on the case, Dan is caught up in a criminal investigation that involves Federal agents as well as local law enforcement. Something just doesn’t add up: here’s a bank that has two million in deposits in the vault left untouched. The thieves had laboriously built a tunnel into the bank that accesses the safe deposit box area. Why all this trouble for a necklace when easy cash is on hand? What else of value was in the other boxes? Why were three boxes, located together, left untouched?

As the case develops, Dan discovers a web of secrets and lies regarding relationships among several of the townspeople.

For one thing, the bank itself is under investigation. The head of the bank is not too popular, having made many changes in his short period of authority that his staff didn’t like and that upset the townspeople. There seemed to be something going on between him and Penelope Kennedy, the daughter of elderly Gertrude whose bracelet is sometimes missing, sometimes not, and eventually found to have had its major gemstones secretly replaced with fakes.

Is the bank manager’s death a suicide – or a murder? In either case, what’s the motive? Is it guilt and fear of being found out – or did he just know too much to be left alive?


Something suspicious lingers in Penelope’s answers about her association with the bank and with a nearby agricultural research project headed by a scientist on a federal grant. She works at this project, which is developing new kinds of grass and other plants, much more often than she admits. Also, why do men in HAZMAT suits make clandestine deliveries of fertilizer to the facility? Or is it fertilizer? . . .


To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the September 17, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Slater 1 and here Florida Weekly – Slater 2.

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Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947

Edited and with a Preface by Paul Herron. Introduction by Kim Krizan. Swallow Press/Ohio University Press. 440 pages. Hardcover $34.95.

A new, unexpurgated volume of Anaïs Nin’s diaries.

Anaïs, Anaïs, my darling. We’ve waited so long to hear your full voice as you confront the threshold of early middle age. Finally, 17 years after the last section of your unexpurgated diary appeared, we are able to savor not only that transition, but also the progression from your sometimes exotic, often erotic life in and around Paris to your life in New York.


New York: the place where you matured from a girl to a young wife. The place you escaped on a grand adventure in pursuit of the artistic climate that you sought.New York: the place that now seems coarse and unwelcoming. The cultural headquarters of barbarian America is not the ground best suited for your continued personal and artistic growth.


Something is missing.Something is always missing. In your journal, which you devote largely to your love affairs, what’s often missing is the ideal, transcendent union that you always, perhaps foolishly, seek.


Your longtime lover Henry Miller follows you here. His coldness and rationality are quite at home in the U. S., but he is no longer the inspiration, soul mate, and passion center of your life. He has served his purpose, helping to verify your identity as a creative artist and an alluring woman. And he is growing old.


Hugo, your supportive husband whom you love without passion – whom you betray on an almost daily basis – has been noble in his selflessness. Still, he has been only a bank employee. What kind of mate is that? You encourage him to explore his artistic and passionate side – and he does. You steer him toward overcoming his inhibitions – and he makes progress. The reinvented Hugo becomes assertive, even demanding. He is no longer so malleable and obsequious.


Anaïs, sorceress, what have you created?

To read the entire “review,” as it was posted on August 12, 2014 in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947 |

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Debut novel explores martial arts discipline in coming of age story

Taichi: The Story of a Chinese Master in America, by Marc Meyer. BookLocker. 196 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. Kindle e-book, $3.99.

Enlightening and filled with captivating characters, this novel is strong on atmosphere and setting but somewhat weak on plot. Set in the 1960s, it takes us into the bi-cultural world of a young Chinese American boy named Paulie whose adult self is the narrator of the tale. He lives in New York’s Chinatown with his younger brother, Fa, their mother, Mei, and stepfather, Harry Chen. The family has a spacious apartment over its successful dry goods store, where Paulie and Fa work after school.  taichi

Everyone’s life is drastically changed with Mei’s older brother, Uncle Kuo, comes from China to live near his sister and his nephews. Though a man of status and influence during Chiang Kai-Sheck’s reign, the Cultural Revolution that followed triggered Kuo’s departure. He entered an America going through ist own very different cultural revolution.

Kuo’s ambition, quickly and effectively realized, was to open a school of T’ai Chi Chuan, a T’ai Chi form of which he was a legendary master. He connects with an old friend, Jimmy Chow, who assists him in opening bank accounts, choosing a place to live, and finding a closed dance studio that is perfect for the school.

Naturally, Paulie and Fa become students, and other young and not-so-young aspirants sign up. At this point, the story becomes, to a large degree, an ongoing description of the philosophy and skills required to rise up the ladder of T’ai Chi mastery. Mr. Meyer is able to make this material quite fascinating through precise description and through connecting it to the endeavors and achievements of Kuo’s students, who are sharply individualized. Indeed, members of the core group are given special names: Fire, Metal, Water, Earth, Wood. Each student has a trait that connects to his or her element.

Author and pianist Marc Meyer

Author and pianist Marc Meyer

Meet Ba Ling, a seventeen year old transfer student from Beijing who had immigrated via Ellis Island. Already a stellar martial arts performer, the troubled young woman becomes a teacher in the school while she continues her own development. Alcohol and drug addiction plague her progress, and her setbacks plague the school. Paulie is overwhelmed by the slender beauty, only a few years older than he is. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 10, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Meyer 1 and here Florida Weekly – Meyer 2

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Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East

This fine, surprising addition to the history of the Jewish people awakens readers from the Eurocentric and Near East visions of Jewish culture and influence. Researched by Rabbi Tokayer over many decades and narrated in his voice, the stories are wonderfully varied. Many focus on the achievements of important individuals while others uncover pockets of Jewish community life in unexpected places. Everywhere, the authors evidence their great passion for their subject. RodmanCover

Not many people know that Polish-born Morris Abraham Cohen, who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in London, was awarded the rank of general by Chiang Kai-shek for his great contributions to China’s nation building during the 1920s. More may have heard of Moe Berg, the Jewish major leaguer who spied in Japan on behalf of the United States. But how many have heard of the once-thriving, influential Jewish community in Burma that had a major synagogue with 126 Torahs? Or of Wolf Ladejinsky’s efforts that helped modernize agriculture across Asia? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council’s web site and will appear in a future issue of the council’s fine journal, Jewish Book World, click here: Pepper, Silk & Ivory by Marvin Tokayer and Ellen Rodman | Jewish Book Council

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The ‘game’ is high-stakes espionage thriller action at its best

Assassin’s Game, by Ward Larsen. Forge. 384 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This sophisticated espionage thriller brings back into print Mossad operative David Slaton, who first appeared in Mr. Larsen’s well-received “The Perfect Assassin” (2008). Slaton is a specialist. He is a “kidon,” an assassin, in Israel’s greatly feared security force. The assignment he receives follows upon two failures by Mossad operatives to assassinate an important target – the man in charge of Iran’s nuclear weapon program. He does not take this assignment willingly. Assassin'sGameCoverFinal_HIRES

The novel opens with David retired and living a new life as Edmund Deadmarch. Married to Dr. Christine Palmer, he seems happy with their quiet life in Northern Virginia where he works (or perhaps exercises) lifting and placing large rocks for a landscape contractor. Suddenly, Deadmarch receives a message on his phone, quits and takes off.

We find Christine at a medical conference in Stockholm, where she is suddenly confronted in a café near her hotel by a man from David’s Mossad past – a man named Anton Bloch. Though supposedly the Mossad was out of their lives, something has changed. Bloch tells Christine that he had been ordered to manipulate a situation to force David back into the game. He points to a nearby threat – foreign operatives ready to abduct her – and gives her instructions for escape. Christine flees for her life.

This threat, perhaps actually the Mossad scheme to make David do its bidding, does bring him back into action. We learn that there is a leak in the Mossad hierarchy that is probably responsible for the failed assassination attempts (with consequent personnel losses). A skilled, savvy outsider is needed to run an independent attack on the Iranian nuclear weapons mastermind, Dr. Hamedi.



So, when David – as Edmund Deadmarch – arrives in Stockholm, he has two concerns: protecting his wife and performing the assassination. When he learns that Mossad has taken Christine, his maneuverings to rescue her involve mayhem in the area near the Strand Hotel where she is staying. This bloody mess, brilliantly described, brings aging Inspector Arne Sanderson into the case.

From here on, “Assassin’s Game” develops with suspense-packed clockwork precision. Mr. Larsen strategically shifts the reader’s perspective by following, alternately, David, Christine, Sanderson, Hamedi, and Behrouz – the Iranian security chief who must protect Hamedi. Their separate activities, thoughts, and connections with sharply drawn function characters are all part of a race to the success or failure of David’s mission and his marriage.

Hamedi will be speaking, under heavy guard, at an important meeting in Geneva. That meeting provides David’s opportunity. Timing is everything. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 3, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 4 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Assassin’s Game

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