Monthly Archives: November 2014

Insider view deepens legal thriller’s insights

Blame, by Linda Rocker. Wheatmark. 286 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

Linda Rocker’s new novel follows Punishment (2012) and precedes Innocence, which will conclude her trilogy. This simply-named novel is also well named. One thing readers learn from the book is that many are blamed but few are guilty. The rush to blame a person or persons for an unpleasant occurrence  comes more out of emotional need than from any reasonable assessment of motive and evidence.  BLAMEFrontCover

When Jeffrey Klauser takes his own life, shortly before his wedding day, the young man is not allowed to be thought accountable for his actions. Something or someone must have driven him to this desperate end. Should we blame the girlfriend who exhibited hesitation about marrying a drug addict? The doctor who may have overprescribed medication for pain? The parents who failed to take his problems seriously?

The actors in the legal system will frame the issue so a verdict allows for the transition from blame to guilt, both a moral and a societal label.

Ms. Rocker, from her many years of trial experience as a litigator and judge, allows us a close-up examination of the system, including the strengths and frailties of those charged with making it work. A trial is many different things to the many people involved.

To prosecutor and State’s Attorney Charlie Graham, it is the step to public adoration that will win him a judgeship, perhaps the held by Janet Kanterman, whom he will try to discredit through his manipulation of the case brought against Dr. Neil Hammer – the pain specialist. To Mrs. Klauser, the suicide’s mother and the driving force behind this case, it is about blame and revenge. Mrs. Klauser’s need is interpreted by the narrator as resulting from her buried guilt over her poor parenting.

Inside of the courtroom drama, which focuses in part on the overreaching of Charlie Graham, are several other story lines. One of these follows the romance between Casey Portman, Judge Kanterman’s bailiff, and the much older but thoroughly attractive Sheriff Luke Anderson. Missed signals in communication and expectation have led to a major rupture in their relationship.

Linda Rocker - photo by Randi Rosen

Linda Rocker – photo by Randi Rosen

Casey is angry and despondent, and things get much worse when she is attacked – raped and severely beaten – by a mob hit man who was just after his twisted kind of fun. The man was actually in the courthouse following a totally separate case from that of the pain doctor trial. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 27, 3014 Naples Florida Weekly, the December 3 Fort Myers edtion, and the December 4 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here  Florida Weekly – Blame

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Retirement home mystery floats laughter in the broth

Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death, by Mark Reutlinger. Alibi / Random House.  Kindle e-book $2.99 and other e-book providers.

Random House has recently developed several new e-book imprints, each focusing on a popular genre. Alibi is the mystery and suspense imprint. It is not likely that these titles will be available in traditional print editions. Mark Reutlinger’s new book is one of the first in the Alibi category. Set in a retirement community for Jewish senior citizens, it introduces novice sleuth Rose Kaplan (the Sherlock) and her second banana Ida Berkowitz (the Watson who tells the story). Both women are in their mid-seventies.  MATZOHBALLcover-hr

For years, Rose Kaplan’s extraordinary matzoh ball soup has been the Seder staple at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors. Though the selected soup is the result of a competition among participating residents, Rose is almost always the winner. This year, however, something puts a damper on this gastronomical event: Bertha Finkelstein, a quiet woman who chose to eat by herself, dies while eating her soup. Was it a bad matzoh ball or tainted chicken broth? No. She choked on a diamond earring that had somehow found its way into her soup. Or so it seems.

The solo diamond earring, it is soon believed, had most likely been stolen from another resident at the home, the elegantly dressed, well done-up and somewhat forgetful Daisy Goldfarb. Since Rose had as much access to the earring as anyone else, and since she had control over the kitchen while making her soup, she is considered a person of particular interest by the first investigators: on-call physician Dr. Arnold Menschyk and surly Mr. Pupik, the general manager of the home.

They grill Rose, clearly thinking she must have had something to do with both the theft and the murder. How she responds to their innuendos delightfully reveals her strong personality and her cleverness. The two policemen who come to investigate also seem to suspect Rose, but she has already begun playing Sherlock Holms – rationally exploring the possibilities of how that earring could have gotten into her soup and using Ida as her sounding board.

The suspense builds and the mystery unwinds with the twists and turns that mystery fans expect. Rose has a good mind for eliminating possible perpetrators and weighing various speculations against one another, deciding what needs to be explored further and what doesn’t. Her mind is a fabulous thing, and she doesn’t waste it.

Some of her methods, like having a professional burglar check out a resident’s apartment for her in a search for the missing earring, may seem questionable. However, she is not getting any information or help from the police.

Reutlinger

Reutlinger

Just as entertaining as the mystery plot is the portrait of the community. The Home for Jewish Seniors has a particular social milieu, and author Reutlinger captures it well. The slightly patronizing yet humorous stereotypes, the Jewish/Yiddish slang terms, the short-cut explanations of Passover and other aspects of Jewish culture, and even the patterns of speech are handled with affectionate accuracy.

Mr. Reutlinger populates the residence home and a few outside locations with a wide range of minor figures, each sharply individualized and efficiently exploited. There is the policeman whose father is a resident of the home, the young Conservative rabbi who abbreviates the service and speeds to the gastronomical centerpiece, various members of the staff (especially servers like Frank who handled the soup), and many of the other ladies and a few of the gentlemen who live there. There is even the owner of a nearby pawn shop who tells the dynamic duo that most pieces of diamond jewelry are quickly stripped of the diamonds – so there is little chance of finding something like a quality diamond earring for sale in such a place. (In fact, why would anyone buy one earring?)

Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death is not only a suspenseful mystery tale, but also a special kind of middle class comedy of manners. It is thoroughly engaging in bringing its challenging setting to life.

 

 

Q & A

PKJ: Did you have a particular Jewish community in mind as the place in which to locate this home for Jewish seniors?

MR: Yes and no. I did not have one specific place in mind, and I deliberately did not set the story in any particular city. I wanted to have the freedom to create the setting as I went along. (This is in contrast, for example, to my book Made in China, which I set in my home area of the greater Seattle region, and in which I therefore had to be careful to describe all of the setting’s features accurately.)

On the other hand, I did have in mind several facilities and communities with which I have been familiar over the years, and the “Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors” and its surroundings reflect those actual places, including San Francisco (where I grew up and where my dad spent his last years in an excellent Jewish retirement home); Tacoma, WA, where I live now and where both of my parents spent several years in a wonderful (but non-Jewish) retirement home; both Oakland, CA and Bellevue, WA, where my mother had somewhat unfortunate experiences as we tried to find the right kind of facility for her; and Vancouver, B.C., where we have lived and where my wife’s parents spent several years in another excellent Jewish retirement home. There is also a Florida connection, in that a good friend’s mother lived in Boca Raton and we heard lots of stories from there.

PKJ: Have you planned a continuing series for Rose and Ida?

MR: Yes. In fact, I am presently in the process of writing the second book, which will focus on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as the current book focused on Passover.

PKJ: How did you come up with this idea?

MR: As I recall, it began at a seder with family and friends, where someone made a joke about a “little old lady” expiring in her matzoh ball soup. (Sorry, I don’t remember the punch line.) For some reason this image stuck with me, and, as a reader of cozy mysteries and a novelist, I thought it would make a wonderful premise for a mystery story. Much of my fiction writing has been on the light, humorous side (Made in China, a political thriller, notwithstanding), so I just plunged into it and found it almost wrote itself.

PKJ: How did you develop it?

MR: I tend to let my stories develop as they go, in that I don’t have a detailed plot or character outline before I begin, just a general idea of where I’m headed. The story has a life of its own and can take some surprising turns. Although sometimes I create wholly fictional characters, in Mrs. Kaplan the characters are amalgams of people I have known well (like my grandmother) and not so well (like many of the residents of retirement homes I have met). I did want to make certain points in the course of the story, such as educating non-Jewish readers a bit about Passover (and Yiddish) and pointing out that life in a retirement home can be dynamic and fulfilling, rather than the grim picture that many people have (although there is, of course, that other side as well). I also wanted to illustrate the difficult, sometimes tragic background that underlies the personalities of many older Jewish people, but without, I hope, detracting from the lightness of the story.

PKJ: What was most/least enjoyable in bringing this title to completion?

MR: I love to write, and I especially love to write creatively, so the writing itself was the most enjoyable part of the process. (As a former law professor, most of my writing was of legal treatises and law review articles, which offer little scope for creativity.) I would sit down at the computer and let my imagination flow into the story, visualizing what Mrs. Kaplan or Ida (or the minor characters) would say, or how they would react, in a given situation. I also enjoyed learning more about Yiddish as I researched the language to be sure I correctly used the terms that I had heard (or used myself) so often over the years. (I don’t speak Yiddish, but I understand and often use the more common words and phrases.)

On the other hand, once I had written the first draft, the “work” part of the process began: I probably wrote ten or more drafts, rewrote several passages more than once, and even changed the title several times (it began as “Mrs. Kaplan in the Soup”). I tend to be a perfectionist, and that can really slow things down. By the time I submitted the final draft to Random House, I was not anxious to read the story yet again (although of course I had to during the copy-editing process).

This review with interview appears in the December 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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Forensic workplace becomes crime scene in dazzling thriller

Close to the Bone, by Lisa Black. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.95.

The seventh title in Ms. Black’s Theresa McLean series of forensic mysteries packs a wallop that will knock you out. Because the pattern of killings reveals a common denominator connecting the victims, we not only have a serial killer on the loose but one whose crimes will bring readers an unusual and fascinating intimacy with the workings of evidence collection and handling. Someone is after Theresa’s colleagues. They have knowledge that he needs, and he will kill to get it. In fact, he has killed to get it. CloseToBoneCover

When Theresa returns to the Medical Examiner’s headquarters late one night, she discovers a blood trail that leads to a dead deskman. Another deskman is missing. The word “Confess,” scribed in blood, is positioned over the corpse.

Don’t feel sorry for me when I claim that this is a difficult book to write about. It is so well-crafted, tightly knit, and intelligently plotted that it is difficult to address its virtues without giving away too much and spoiling it for other readers. However, I will soldier on:

Another victim is soon discovered, leading Theresa to find a link to a yet another murder, this one ten year’s old, of a records secretary. By now it is clear that Theresa’s colleagues are on the killer’s list. How many? When does her number come up?

One thing is becoming clear. People who handle crime evidence – collect it, log it in, examine it, safeguard it, and interpret it – are in big trouble until the killer is apprehended.

What Ms. Black does so very well is take us through all the processes of the evidence journey. It is not the field so glamorously distorted in television drama. We learn about fingerprints, DNA, weapon identification, and changes in analysis and documentation brought about by digital technology. We see the immediate environment: lighting, storage cabinets, gurneys, and the layout of the workplace from deskmen’s desk to the property department to the autopsy suite.

We sense something like moral shadings in the odors of chemicals and decomposition. Throughout, Lisa Black’s descriptive powers are spellbinding. We learn: “The only nightmare-inducing items in the morgue’s basement were the plastic quart containers which looked like take-out soup but which were actually tissue sections of past victims. They would be kept for five years and then destroyed.”

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Theresa, the ultimate professional, is kept busy processing this unique crime scene and waving away the police who keep leaving their own evidence (fingerprints, etc.) all over, complicating her work.

Just at the right time, the killer is revealed – but he is far from apprehended. With this revelation, it becomes clear how he has such an intimate knowledge of the workplace, its personnel, layout, and procedures. He has been after a particular piece of evidence – a piece of custom diamond jewelry. Why he needs it relates to the ten year old murder case that had been solved via a confession. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 20, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the November 26 Fort Myers edition, the November 27 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, and the December 4 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here Florida Weekly – Close to the Bone 1 and here Florida Weekly – Close to the Bone 2

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Miami Bookfair International

 Weekend Authors Sessions

Saturday, Nov. 22 – Sunday, Nov. 23

Weekend Authors Sessions
On Saturday and Sunday, the Festival of Authors continues when more than 600 authors present their works, including the Latin American and Spanish authors who participate in the IberoAmerican Authors Program, and the up-and-coming Florida writers.

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Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned against Israel

 by Joshua Muravchik. Encounter Books. 296 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

At once impassioned and clear-headed, this abundantly researched discussion of Israel’s decline in world public opinion is necessary reading for all who care about this highly vulnerable country. How is it that an innovative, democratic, peace-seeking nation keeps losing the propaganda war? Murovchik shows us how in a series of well-crafted chapters.

The author begins by reminding readers of the high esteem with which Israel was gener­ally regarded in the first decades following its declaration of nationhood. To some measure, that esteem grew out of how the tiny new nation had overcome seemingly insurmount­able odds—and continued to do so.

Over time, however, various forces dimmed the luster of the glorious David. The chapter entitled “The Arab Cause Becomes Palestinian (and ‘Progressive’)” outlines the story well, exploring the psychological warfare in Arab and Muslim politics that slowly repositioned David and Goliath. Israel was positioned not as threatened by the Muslim masses, but as the demonical usurper of Palestinian rights. Losing underdog status in world opinion was a major blow.

Terrorist assaults on Israel did one kind of damage, constantly diverting resources. Assaults on Jewish institutions in Europe weakened the moral fiber of European nations and also released latent anti-Semitism. On top of this, Arab countries were able to use the petroleum weapon to make Europe cower. The message was clear: If you want oil, detach yourself from Israel in every possible way. . . .

To read the entire review, at it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site and in the Winter 2014 issue of Jewish Book World, click here: Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel 

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Eckerd College Writers’ Conference

Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise 2015

4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
(727) 864-7994
E-mail

Join bestselling authors Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins, and a National Book Award Finalist) and Jacquelyn Mitchard (The Deep End of the Ocean, the first Oprah Book Club selection, and What We Lost in the Dark) for the Eleventh Annual Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise, on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, January 17-25, 2015.

This intensive eight-day experience of intimate workshop classes, roundtables, panel discussions, readings, book signings and receptions is designed for those who are passionate about writing. Our award-winning faculty and guest speakers will also include: Bill Contardi (Literary Agent, Brandt & Hochman); Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog and Townie); Patricia Engel (Vida); Lisa Gallagher (Literary Agent, Sandford J. Greenburger Associates); Ann Hood (The Obituary Writer); Meg Kearney (Pine Manor Low-Residency MFA Program Director); Laura Lippman (After I’m Gone); Peter Meinke (Lucky Bones); Les Standiford (Bringing Adam Home); Johnny Temple (Akashic Books); Sterling Watson (Fighting in the Shade); K.C. Wolfe (Professor of Creative Writing at Eckerd College); David Yoo (The Choke Artist); Lori Roy (Until She Comes Home); John Searles (Help for the Haunted) and more.

What Makes Us Different?

The tranquil seaside landscape sets the tone for this informal gathering of writers, teachers, editors, and literary agents. The intimate size and secluded location of the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference allow you the time and opportunity to share your manuscripts, critique one another’s work and discuss the craft of writing with experts and peers who can help guide you to the next level. After eight days of workshopping and engagement with peers and professionals in your field, you will leave this unique opportunity with a new and better understanding of your craft and solid ideas about how to find an agent and get published.

Located on the beautiful waterfront campus of Eckerd College, this writers’ conference features professional writers at the top of their form spending time with motivated and talented participants who seek an intimate, unhurried climate for learning . . . in paradise.

http://writersinparadise.eckerd.edu/

4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
(727) 864-7994
E-mail

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FBI agent challenged by scheming serial killer

Review by Phil Jason

Stranded, by Alex Kava. Anchor Books. 432 pages. Mass market paperback $7.99.

If you missed the Doubleday hardcover original, catch up with the recently issued paperback of this splendid addition to Ms. Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series. Maggie is no stick figure, but rather a complex character – a person whose private and professional lives interact in fascinating ways. Over the many books in this series, readers have become close to her – as involved in her personal story as they are in her bone-chilling assignments. StrandedCover

Have you ever felt ill at ease when making a stop along the interstate? Especially at night when those rest stops and truck stops seem isolated and the people with whom you choose not to make eye contact seem lost, seedy, or just plain threatening? Did you ever worry about getting stranded? About needing help from a stranger? About being asked to give help to a stranger?

FBI agent Maggie’s must investigate what looks like a long run of serial abductions and/or killings for which just such remote and transient places are the crime scenes. One scene is near Manhattan, Kansas. Another is near Sioux City, Iowa. Yet another is along the Florida panhandle.

Accompanied by her FBI partner R. J. Tully, Maggie finds herself in a battle of wits with a killer who has made her his personal challenge. He manipulates the investigation by leaving clues that must be followed. But followed into what?

This madman is a show-off who needs an audience. Early in the novel, we follow Maggie and Tully to a “body dump” adjacent to an Interstate rest stop. Finding this dump site is a victory for Maggie, but it’s also part of the killer’s plan. He is planning to catch Maggie and . . . who knows?

Ms. Kava strings her story along a tight, week-long time line of accelerating tension. She alternates the scenes that follow the investigation by Maggie and Tully with scenes in which other characters are central.  Prominent among these is FBI consulting forensic psychologist Dr. Gwen Patterson. Gwen’s assignment to the Highway Serial Killings Task Force aggravates her private and professional insecurity.

Alex-Kava

The gruesome aspects of the case, as revealed by Maggie and others, rattle Gwen, who is already fearful of having cancer. Although a second string character, she is given all the nuance and shading that befits a primary character. Such is Ms. Kava’s artistry that such elaboration never stops the action or blunts the emotional edge.

The question of Gwen’s ability to effectively interview the hulking misfit Otis P. Dodd, who has information about the killer, raises its own suspense. So does Mr. Dodd, a fascinating freak if there ever was one. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 13, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly,  the November 19 Fort Myers edition, the November 20 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, and the November 27 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Stranded 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Stranded 2

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After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965

by Libby Garland. The University of Chicago Press. 312 pages. Hardcover $45.00.

 

This meticulously researched study provides genuine, if unwelcome, news about the situation of Jews entering—or attempting to enter—the U.S. over a forty-year period. It eviscerates the smug stance of the many Jews and other immigrant groups who have delighted in the assumed legality of their people’s immigration into the U.S. Enough crowing about how much better our group was than today’s “illegals” who are infecting our culture; enough self-congratulation. Tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants were illegals.

Professor Garland’s primary interest, how­ever, is not to issue a comeuppance, but rather to trace the reasons for and the effects of U.S. immigration controls. Her main focus through the early chapters is on the immigration laws of 1921 and 1924 that not only limited total immigration but also, more tragically, limited the number of southern and eastern Europe­ans—and virtually all Asians. The designers of our nation-based quotas blatantly strove to engineer the quality of future U.S. racial and cultural stock. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site and in the upcoming Winter 2014 issue of Jewish Book World, click here: After They Closed the Gates by Libby Garland | Jewish Book Council

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Family history brings wartime France up close and personal

I Was a War Child, by Hélène Gaillet de Neergaard. CreateSpace. 292 pages. Trade paperback $14.95, Kindle e-book $3.99.

This deeply moving and richly informative book traces the journey of the author, her parents, her five siblings, and other relatives as they attempt to survive the Nazi occupation of France. From a northern section of France characterized by large families, the Gaillets could be considered affluent. The author’s father, Émile Pierre Gaillet, headed a major paper manufacturing and distribution enterprise built by his wife’s Avot family. During the war years he was entrusted by other industry leaders to represent their interests and, as much as possible, maintain their independence from the German occupation. frontcover

At this he was quite successful.

His main wartime task, however, was keeping his family safe. The theme of young Hélène’s life (she was born on December 1, 1935), as she recalls it so many decades later, is “moving on.” The narrative proper begins in 1939 as prescient Frenchmen like Monsieur Gaillet sense Germany’s intentions to storm France through its Belgian border. He immediately begins planning for his family’s welfare.

Monsieur Gaillet found it necessary to engage the family in several relocations, both out of necessity and opportunity, seeking the relative safety of places off the beaten track and away from occupation tyranny. They adjusted to a pleasant seaside community; to a monastic institution where they were protected but kept strictly separate from the nuns and others who resided there; and to several other locations for shorter or longer periods.

They also spent some time in Paris, which was a dangerous move motivated in part by the desire to keep the family together, in part by the attraction of Paris even in unplanned dishabille;  and in part by the lure of exceptional accommodations. Here, Madame Gaillet somewhat miraculously built a business as an art gallery owner.

Though the father was a fastidious planner and manager, his wife and children – from whom he was away for long periods – did suffer severe, though survivable, deprivations: prolonged scarcities of food, warmth, clothing, schooling, and medical care. The journeys from one place to another were often quite arduous and dangerous. Being together made these hardships more bearable than if the individuals had been isolated from one another.

de Neergaard-2

For young Hélène, the absence of toys is sometimes as painful as the very empty stomach. For herself, her brother, and her sisters, these years living in fear, often on the run or in overcrowded temporary quarters, are years in which their childhoods were lost.

One of the author’s many achievements is to make this story of her family’s travails representative as well as personal and specific. She does this by keeping in touch with the wider world, setting this story into the larger story of WWII in Europe. On several welcome occasions, when the lens opens up to this wider view, readers are given tools to put the Gallait family story in context. As Madame de Neergaard moves back and forth from the narrower perspective to the broader, each dimension of the story is enhanced. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in November 6, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the November 12 Fort Myers edition, and the November 13 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – War Child 1 and here Florida Weekly – War Child 2

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VETERANS DAY COMMEMORATION

BETH TIKVAH VETERANS DAY COMMEMORATION 

Michael Hirsh

Michael Hirsh

On Tuesday, November 11 at 7:30pm, author Michael Hirsh will participate in a program to honor veterans and especially to remember the people of his book – The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust. This book has been widely praised: “These eyewitness accounts are powerful, detailed and horrifying. Of particular note is the last chapter, in which some of the veterans record what happened to them after the war; decades later, many still struggled with nightmares and rage.” –USA Today. “The survivors of Nazi concentration camps can never forget – and, as Michael Hirsh shows in his spellbinding work, neither can the young soldiers who liberated them.” –The New York Post.

Mr. Hirsh was an Army combat correspondent with the 25th Infantry Division in 1966 at Cu Chi, Vietnam. Liberators Cover

In 2010, the Vietnam Veterans of America presented him with their Excellence in the Arts Award.

Before turning author, Mr. Hirsh produced television documentaries and specials for PBS, CBS, ABC, and HBO. He is the recipient of many awards for this work, including the prestigious Peabody.

His other titles include Pararescue, None Braver, Your Other Left! Punch Lines from the Front Lines, Pirate Alley, and Fly on the Wall (mystery novel). He is also the co-author (with Michael Schiavo) of Terri: The Truth.

Mr. Hirsh will field questions from book columnist Phil Jason and then take questions from the audience. Copies of the book will be available for sale and signing. Refreshments.

No admission charge. Beth Tikvah of Naples, a Conservative synagogue, is located at 1459 Pine Ridge Road just west of Mission Square Plaza.

For review of The Liberators, click: Holocaust Recollections by American Soldiers

For more information call please call Phil Jason at 287-8921. To rsvp, email bethtikvahnaples@aol.com.

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