Monthly Archives: December 2014

Bringing your best self to the quest for your perfect mate

SoulMating: The Secret to Finding Everlasting Love and Passion, by Basha Kaplan, Psy.D. and Jeffrey S. Kaplan, Ph.D. Collage Books. 352 pages. Trade paperback $19.95.

This highly readable, accessible, and comprehensive guide to life-long romantic friendships is going to bring many people surprising insights and powerful inspiration. Rooted in experience, research, common sense, and compassion, “SoulMating” fights to counter the pitfalls of romantic illusion. For those with a spiritual orientation or longing, it offers steps to something even more profound than successful companionship – it mentors partnerships of the soul. COLB56-51095-CVR N.indd

The Kaplans, once again residents of Naples, are great boosters. Their enthusiasm for assuring their readers and clients that happier, more creative, and more fulfilled lives are possible is contagious. However, they are not dreamers and do not encourage idle daydreaming. Finding a life partner is difficult work. Distrusting the longevity of pairings based in erotic attraction, they over and over again preach that emotional intimacy must precede – and dominate over – physical intimacy. In fact, they insist that emotional intimacy, in a situation of emotional safety, is the factor that gives physical intimacy its meaning.

Much of the book’s early going introduces concepts and a carefully wrought vocabulary in which everyday words take on somewhat specialized meanings. Readers would be wise to review these terms and definitions frequently as they journey through the book. Most of terms are presented as polar opposites – like the what and the who, or doing and being – most often distinguishing between surface attributes (career status, appearance, assets, acquired mannerisms) and essential inner components of selfhood.

The authors insist that one must prepare for a successful mating by performing a rigorous self-assessment and truly getting in touch with one’s actual and potential self. That is, the seeker must bring a whole, completed self to the challenge of seeking and building a relationship. Without true self-knowledge and a willingness to befriend oneself, the likelihood of creating a viable, prolonged romantic friendship is practically nonexistent.

Kaplans Photo

The strength of the couple’s teaching lies, however, not so much in the generalizations and wisdom statements (though these are important), but rather in the specifics that are revealed in a logical, progressive order.

The techniques that the Kaplans offer are concrete, and readers can grasp the issues and the action steps because of the narrative illustrations (informal case studies) that are provided throughout the book. Some of these stories are drawn from the Kaplans’ own lives as individuals, prospective mates, and eventually soulmates. Their openness invites and justifies an openness that they demand from those who would seek blossoming relationships. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 25, 2014  Naples Florida Weekly, the December 31 Fort Myers edition, and the January 1, 2015 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here  Florida Weekly – Kaplans 1 and here Florida Weekly – Kaplans 2.


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A Spellbinding Investigation of a Terrorist Act, Its Causes, Costs, and Consequences

The Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice, by Mike Kelly. Lyons Press. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

When two young American Jews living in Israel, Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld, boarded the Number 18 bus in Jerusalem, their immediate plans to visit Petra in Jordan disappeared. Their likely future as husband and wife vanished, as did the careers they were preparing for. Along with twenty-four other passengers, they were killed by a suicide bomber who got on this bus shortly after they did. The tragic, senseless deaths of Sara and Matthew reshaped the lives of their parents and siblings.

Loss and reshaping are central themes in journalist Mike Kelly’s brilliant telling of the short-term and longer-term story: what led to this horror, what were its consequences, what is its meaning, and what hope regarding the possibilities for peace and healing does it destroy or inspire.

Mike Kelly in Jerusalem

Mike Kelly in Jerusalem

Using his wide range of resources and interviews superbly, Mike Kelly provides us with a strong sense of what exceptional people Sara and Matthew were. Matt was taking courses at the Schechter Institute as part of his rabbinical studies. Sara was busy working in a microbiology lab and planning to do graduate studies in environmental science. They were both high-level achievers with much to contribute.

With fewer, and yet abundant resources, Kelly takes us into the actions and mind of Hassan Salameh, the bombmaker and organizer for this and other suicide bombings. Once arrested, Salameh spoke extensively and matter-of-factly about his activities, and his conversations were recorded. He wished to be sentenced to death – a rarity in Israel – but he had to accept the harsher punishment of a life sentence (technically, many many life sentences).

Salameh always claimed his motive was to thwart Israel’s occupation of Palestine, not to murder individual people. It was just their bad luck to be in the way. He believed his actions to be sanctioned by the Koran and Allah.


A major part of the book closely examines the path toward finding some kind of justice for the bereaved. This pursuit was initiated by Stephen Flatow, father of a young woman who perished in a suicide attack almost a year before the number 18 bus incident that killed Sara and Matthew. This story line covers many years, and ends with a victory of sorts in which the absent defendant – Iran – was fined an astronomical sum in a civil trial that tests a very special piece of legislation that come into being during the Clinton administration.

The concept: make the funders and advocates of such terrorist acts suffer financially as a way of discouraging further such acts. Provide those awarded the judgments resources to take further political action.

The problem: enforcing payment, an objective undermined by other political goals of the Clinton White House.

Sara’s mother Arline (her father had died when Sara was eleven with two younger sisters) and the Eisenfelds were already bonded. Stephen Flatow became part of their emotional family and their mentor and exemplary figure through the years of struggling to shape public opinion and government policy to bring about significant action. After Flatow’s case is successful, Arline Duker and the Eisenfelds initiate a similar one that is also successful

Kelly’s exploration of the legal personalities, especially the presiding judge and the lawyers making the cases against Iran, is finely crafted and suspenseful. So is his portrayal of the emotional roller coaster that the plaintiffs endure.

It is inevitable that readers will encounter famous names in a book that uses its key figures to represent important historical dynamics on the bumpy road toward possible peace. Sketches of Yassar Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, Hassan Salameh’s collaborators, and several high profile Israeli leaders amplify the Bus 18 story. So do the appearances of U. S. government leaders like Senator Frank Lautenberg and multi-task upper echelon Clinton official Stuart Eizenstat.

Mike Kelly’s skill, besides digging into so much material and amplifying our knowledge base through his own interviews, is in mastering it all and weaving such a tight fabric of understanding elegantly expressed. One could say that this is just a great book about a suicide bombing. Or one could say this a great book about everything that is touched by a suicide bombing – by all the suicide bombings.

This review appears in the January 2015 issue of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte County), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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Meet the Authors in January 2015

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Two exciting events promise to benefit both authors and readers in late January. The first of these is the Writers’ Domain program at Norris Home Furnising in Naples, Florida on January 29 from 5:30-7:30pm. No reservations needed to attend. Just show up. Among the many authors selling and signing their books will be Karen Bartlett, Ben Bova, Karen Harper, Lisa Black, James Lilliefors, Jean Harrington, Gwendolyn Heasley, Don Farmer, and Chris Curle. See Writers’ Domain – Norris Home Furnishings for more information.


Two days later, there is a splendid event planned in Sarasota by Avon Books.

Avon Books and Bookstore 1 Sarasota are teaming up to bring Florida romance readers the area’s first-ever multi-author KissCon (an Avon Affair!) on Saturday, January 31, 2015. This special VIP event includes a catered mix & mingle with the authors, followed by a special “Actor’s Studio”-type discussion, audience Q&A, interactive trivia, and an exclusive book signing (there will be tons of books to buy onsite!).

The star-studded author line-up includes: Katharine Ashe, Maya Banks, Lena Diaz, Megan Frampton, Jeaniene Frost, Laura Lee Guhrke, C.J. Kyle, Julia Quinn, Kerrelyn Sparks and C.L. Wilson.  For details, see Avon Romance Presents: KissCon Sarasota- Eventbrite

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Florida writer pens instant sci-fi YA classics

The Infinite Sea, by Rick Yancey. Putnam.  320 pages. Hardcover $18.99.

Gainesville resident Rick Yancey, whose young adult (YA) novels have already won many awards, is truly a phenomenon.

How often is a full-sized hardback title from a major publishing house priced below $20.00? Rarely. Yet here is one from a bestselling author with a first printing of 500,000 copies. A sequel to the extravagantly praised The Fifth Wave, soon to be filming by Sony for January 2016 release, The Infinite Sea continues to explore the essence of humanity and its binding principles. It is an experiment in daring, devastating “what ifs.” TheInfiniteSea

What is the importance of a promise? To the recipient? To the giver? To the social glue that makes civilization possible? Questions like these, many of which have biblical resonance, drive the action of this highly entertaining young adult novel. It is heartwarming to think of excited young readers discussing these issues, given flesh – even enhanced flesh – by the imaginative structure that Mr. Yancey has created.

As someone who has not read The Fifth Wave, I did feel myself at a disadvantage. Too much had transpired in the first book of the trilogy, events that could not be neatly encapsulated in the sequel but on which a full understanding depends. However, even while sensing this limitation, I couldn’t put the book down for long without diving into it gain. It is so compelling and addictive.

The characters we meet are a remnant of the seven billion humans who have perished in the cruel onslaught perpetrated by those known as The Others. Human civilization has collapsed, its values undermined, and its best qualities turned against it. Those who remain are a valiant team of children and young adults – none out of their teens – who hold the key, if there is one, to humanity’s redemption.

Their rat-invested, decaying motel is hardly a stronghold. Someone needs to lead them forward, as stasis is death. While they await the fulfillment of a promise made by Evan Walker, they realize that waiting is not quite enough. A determined young woman nicknamed Ringer takes off not only to find the missing member of their cadre, young Teapot, but also to assess the status of their larger surroundings. The remaining group members, led by Cassie and Ben, strives to forestall further disaster until Ringer can return with Teapot,  information, a plan, and perhaps with allies.



What’s missing in The Infinite Sea (that might be clear in its predecessor) is the nature of The Others, the motives of these usurpers, and their reason for allowing this remnant to survive. One is led to imagine that before humanity is utterly destroyed, the aliens must gain further understanding of the human species to enhance their own chances for survival on this crippled planet. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 18, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly and the December 25 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Yancey

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Phil’s 2014 Top Picks

philjason loves booksThe following titles, which I prefer to list without ranking them, are my top picks among those published in 2013-2014 that I reviewed during 2014. It would be easy to find room for another 5-6 fiction titles, but I’m staying with the top ten selected.

The first three lists (Young Adult now listed as separate category for the first time) reflect my favorites among the trade publications that I reviewed. Separately, I’ve listed four self-published titles that seem to me especially worthy of notice.

FICTION [trade]

Julia Dahl, Invisible City

Lisa Unger, In the Blood

Randy Wayne White, Haunted

Zachary Lazar, I Pity the Poor Immigrant

James Lilliefors, The Psalmist

Boris Fishman, A Replacement Life

Leonard Rosen, The Tenth Witness

Michael Lister, Rivers to Blood

Beverle Graves Myers, Whispers of Vivaldi

Michael Wiley, Blue Avenue


YA FICTION  [trade]

Gwendolyn Heasley, Don’t Call Me Baby

Amber Hart, Before You

Rick Yancey, The Infinite Sea



James Webb, I Heard My Country Calling

Artis Henderson, Unremarried Widow

Libby Garland, After They Closed the Gates

Neville Williams, Sun Power

Andrew Furman, Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair with Florida

Natan Ophir, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy

Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure

Joshua Muravchik, Making David into Goliath

Anais Nin, Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947. Ed. Paul Herron



Robert J. Taylor. Hardship Post

Robert Lane, The Second Letter

Gidi Grinstein, Flexigidity

Hélène Gaillet de Neergaard, I Was a War Child

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Travel the meanest streets in this bold, gut-wrenching mystery

Blue Avenue, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.95.

How noir is it? Very. Black on black. Mayhem and murder prevail. Mr. Wiley’s Jacksonville is a place where one encounters an amazingly high percentage of individuals who mete out or receive abuse, suffering, and death.  BlueAvenueCover

Yet, for all the gore and the gruesome rationalizations for evil deeds, the novel is highly magnetic. Gorgeously written with copious sensory detail, “Blue Avenue” attacks our complacency, makes us wish we could turn away from the novel’s norm of brutality, but has us trapped in our own voyeuristic thrill-seeking, tempting us to condone what deserves condemnation.

This is a very fine piece of imaginative writing about very bad people who, unfortunately, we are given the tools to understand. At some level, we are like them. Thus we accept them. Worse, we feel sorry for them.

William “BB” Byrd inherited from his father four gas stations that keep him economically afloat. His real business – actually more of an avocation – is vigilante justice.

BB and is wife Susan occupy separate bedrooms in the home they share with their teenage son, Thomas. Love has been distorted into a bitter accommodation to BB’s disturbing needs. His wife Susan withholds intimacy while BB withholds honesty, security, and fidelity.

BB dreams of Belinda Mabry, the beautiful black girlfriend of his teens. She was an extravagant risk-taker. Belinda, who moved from Jacksonville to Chicago with her parents and disappeared from BB’s life, never disappeared from his thoughts. Now, twenty-five years later, BB learns from Lieutenant Daniel Turner, police detective and former playground friend, that she is dead. (The series is named for Daniel Turner. I haven’t yet figured out why.)

MIchael Wiley

MIchael Wiley

Belinda was found trussed in a peculiar position, wrapped in cellophane, and tossed in a pile of trash. Daniel asks BB to identify the body. He does so, almost vomiting at the gruesome sight. He learns that Belinda is the third in a series of serial killings with the same M.O. The other two women had frequently been arrested for prostitution.

Early in the novel, we learn that BB is a man with a shady reputation, capable of almost anything. Because of the long-ago connection with the Belinda, he could be considered a suspect. When he phones Charles, a man he hadn’t spoken to in eight years, Charles – who shouldn’t know enough to ask – says: “This about Belinda Mabry?” But Charles is the kind of guy who knows about everything dark and ugly, including BB’s deeply troubled past that includes a homicide charge. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 11, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly,the December 17 Fort Myers edition, and the December 25 Bonita Springs and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Wiley

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The Man Who Asked to Be Killed

by Gary Garth McCann. A Few Good Books Publishing. 302 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

Buddy Smith, a 28-year-old Annapolis lawyer, works for his cousin Mac, who just happens to be the governor of Maryland. Buddy doesn’t work a state government job; he serves as legal counsel to the trust that holds Mac’s business interests.

The governor’s older sister, Thea, runs the highly successful corporation GBC, in which Mac remains a silent partner. It had been built by their late father. When Thea is murdered, Mac is not only rocked with grief, but also seems to feel that he and those around him are in danger. Why he feels this way is not made clear until one quarter through the book.

Until then, author Gary Garth McCann, in The Man Who Asked To Be Killed, provides a detailed history of Buddy’s life, including his lifelong crush on Mac’s second wife, the beautiful but emotionally fragile Kat. Hey, but wait a minute. Buddy is engaged to marry Lynn, whose snooty father thinks Buddy is a low-class loser. Then there’s a guy named Randall, Kat’s first husband, a morally marginal fellow with whom Buddy is still somewhat friendly. These high-school relationships die hard.

Buddy’s life is on hold until the house that he and Lynn are planning to occupy is ready. Meanwhile, Buddy lives with Mac. Their proximity is a mixed blessing, exposing each to the best and worst traits of the other and testing their friendship while compromising their privacy.

The investigation of Thea’s death involves the investigation of similar shootings, at first suggesting a serial killer with a more or less random selection of victims. Soon, however, it looks more like the killer is hiding the motive for shooting Thea by creating the appearance of randomness.



Assuming Thea was a carefully selected target, perhaps her management of GBC needs to be explored. Indeed, we learn that the company had long been infected by a money-laundering operation. Perhaps Thea had learned something that threatened the criminal enterprise behind it.

Now, people close to Thea might be close to information that could get them killed. Mac is not only disconsolate over her death, but also fearful for his own life and the lives of others. He has sent Kat and her son (who is not Mac’s child) away. Their safety is one issue; the likely collapse of their marriage is another.

Buddy, positioned as the narrator, serves as Mac’s confidant and counselor. He observes how Mac feels trapped: He will either be a mob victim like his sister or a prisoner because of his knowledge of — and indirect benefit from — the illegal activities within GBC.

Mac decides to resign from the governorship, and Buddy helps frame the timetable for a meeting with federal agents at which Mac might be able to strike a deal. Off and on, Mac shows and expresses suicidal tendencies.

Is he the title character? It seems so for a while, but there’s another candidate who fits the bill more closely.

Buddy, much to his regret, accompanies Mac on a resort vacation. Buddy proves susceptible to ethical misconduct. He cheats on Lynn, though it seems later that the women luring him into betrayal were part of a set-up.

As the likelihood of arrest or death by assassination looms larger and larger, the suspense thermometer rises higher and higher. However, several other aspects of the novel rival this center of interest. . . .

To read the entire review, as posted on November 4, 2014 to the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  The Man Who Asked to Be Killed | Washington Independent Review of Books.

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Restaurant and critic attacked in well-seasoned whodunnit

Death with All the Trimmings, by Lucy Burdette. Obsidian. 320 pages. Mass Market paperback $7.99.

Want to feed your murder mystery appetite and still get ready for the Christmas season? Ms. Burdette’s latest “Key West Food Critic Mystery” should be on your December reading menu. Though Haley Snow’s love life is not going smoothly, her busybody sleuthing is in high gear. And there is plenty to be sleuthing about.  Death_With_All_the_Trimmings

A big dollop of excitement comes Haley’s way when a notable New York chef decides to open a new restaurant in Key West. Edel Waugh is a very talented woman, a perfectionist and also a nervous wreck about establishing her reputation independent of partnership with her ex-husband. Haley has been assigned by her boss and boyfriend – the editor of “Key Zest” magazine – to cover the restaurant opening.

Curiously, she has also been approached by Edel to be a kind of insider in the project. Edel has heard about Hayley’s sleuthing talents and wants her to, confidentially, investigate what looks like sabotage. Corrupted recipes are part of the problem.

A partner in the “Key Zest” enterprise, Ava Faulkner, has always disliked Hayley, and now she thinks that Hayley’s behavior is unprofessional. How can Hayley be an objective restaurant reviewer when she is helping out the owner-chef?

When Hayley learns that “Key Zest” may be attracting investors who wish to make major changes, she worries that her job is at stake. Wally is not very consoling about this problem.

However, there is worse news in Hayley’s orbit. Edel’s restaurant catches fire and, though it has not burned down and can be repaired, it will be closed until the fire is investigated. Edel is despondent.  So, who has it in for Edel? Who wants the restaurant, if it ever opens, to fail?

Lucy Burdette

Lucy Burdette

Whoops! It’s worse than that. The fire killed someone who had been trapped in the restaurant’s storage shed. Accident? Unintended consequence? Murder? Stay with me, folks.

Much of any novel in this series focuses on Hayley in motion, darting around on her motorbike tracing a map of her life on Key West. Whether she is picking up a coffee, popping in to a favorite place for a snack, going to work in the “Key Zest” office, meeting a friend, going home to the small houseboat she shares with her much older friend Miss Gloria, or checking a restaurant that she plans to review, Hayley is a blur of activity. The reality of the Key West she knows so intimately provides the reader with a vivid, authentic setting. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 4, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the December 10 Fort Myers edition, the December 11 Bonita Springs edition, and the December 18 Palm Beach Garden/Jupiter  and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach edtions, click here Florida Weekly – Trimmings 1 and here Florida Weekly – Trimmings 2.

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