Monthly Archives: March 2015

Naples guidebook geared to kids colors facts with fun

A (Mostly) Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades, by Karen T. Bartlett. Mostly Kids’ Guides LLC. 80 pages. $18.95.

There’s nothing square about this 8 X 8 inch high-energy book. It’s the hip answer to youngsters who visit Naples and say, “I’m bored. What are we going to do?” The book features snappy page design, a full color palette, lively text, plus attractive photographs and other illustrations. Mostly, it just explodes with delicious information about this corner of Southwest Florida with a focus on children’s activities. Feedback from the Naples tourism industry has been exuberant, and the author-publisher already has plans for other regional Kids’ Guide books. KidsGuide2015_Final_FRONT_Cover

The guide begins with a colorful burst of images tied to interesting facts about some of the area’s hallmark critters and plant life. Then we are off on a romp that samples fun at the beaches (all five of them) and continues with an exploration of places that make nature education and preservation fun: the Conservancy, the Naples Zoo, and the Shy Wolf Sanctuary among them.

Everywhere, the text offers a child-friendly voice with good natured wit. Ms. Bartlett bills herself as the “Adventurer in Chief,” and no child, parent, or grandparent will deny the powerful appeal of her upbeat, lighthearted guidance.

What else is on the kids’ tour? Well, there is the Naples Bay / Tin City area, a ride on the Naples Princess, the shops on Fifth Avenue South (with a lingering glance at Regina’s Ice Cream Pavilion), the dog-friendly Third Street Shops, the various city and county parks, the Naples Depot Museum, the Naples Botanical Gardens, the Galisano Children’s Museum, the Florida Sports Park, and many other close-in destinations.

Then the book opens to a wider view, introducing highlights in and near Immokalee, including the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Roberts Ranch. Ms. Bartlett teases her readers with fascinating bits of Native American history along the way.



Marco Island receives attention for its shelling and other beaches, along with tempting descriptions of parasailing, helicopter trips, and waverunner fun. Readers younger and older are invited to visit Keewaydin Island and Cape Romano. Look out for the gopher tortoises and spiny tail iguanas. Don’t miss the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the triangular fish that “looks like a bat with warts, with lipstick-colored lips.” Go on a fishing trip. Visit Mackle Park.

Then get ready for the Everglades.

Airboats on the river of grass, alligators, manatees, Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, hammocks you don’t sleep in, Billie Swamp Safari, Skunk Ape Headquarters, Everglades City and its historical museum, Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier Seminole State Park, Clyde Butscher’s gallery, and countless varieties of beautiful birds – is there no end to this place for family’s to enjoy while they learn?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 25, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here  Florida Weekly – Bartlett 1 and here Florida Weekly – Bartlett 2 

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Lincoln manuscripts illuminate his Jewish connections

Lincoln and the Jews: A History, by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell. Thomas Dunne Books. 288 pages. $40.

At once a fresh perspective on Jewish American life in mid-nineteenth century America and a fresh perspective on President Lincoln, Lincoln and the Jews is also a splendid coffee table attraction. With its high quality reproductions of Lincoln photographs and Lincoln manuscripts (most of them holdings of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the book’s copyright owner), this handsome, oversized volume will be the solution to finding a great gift for friends who are book lovers and especially history fans.  Lincoln_jacketmech_v4_ID5-5.indd

Its main value, however, is the story it tells. Unlike the U. S. presidents who came before him – and most of those who came after him – Lincoln had many Jewish friends. In a country where Anti-Semitism festered, Lincoln showed in his words and actions a full-hearted respect for Jews as a historic people and as fellow citizens. With these perspectives on full display, he stretched the boundaries of political risk-taking. Of course, this attitude toward Jews was thoroughly consistent with the humanism of the man who could craft the Emancipation Proclamation. Talk about bypassing Congress!

When Lincoln was born in 1809, there were only about 3,000 Jews in the entire United States, mostly in the major Atlantic ports. At the end of his life, the number had grown to over 150,000. Lincoln would have met few, if any, Jews during his childhood years. In his professional life as a lawyer and politician, he met many. With some, he developed intimate acquaintanceships and friendships.

As Prof. Jonathan S. Sarna points out in his introduction, “Experience had taught him to trust Jews, even when those around him displayed ugly prejudices against them.”

Among the prominent Jews with whom Lincoln had long and fruitful relationships, Abraham Jonas was perhaps the most important.  They met when Jonas moved to Quincy, Illinois. Jonas, a businessman and lawyer, was a dynamic orator and canny politician who served with Lincoln in the Illinois legislature. Both men made the transition from Whig to Republican, and both praised Henry Clay. Jonas was one of the first to consider Lincoln to be presidential material, and he did much to help Lincoln succeed in reaching the presidency.



Issachar Zacharie was Lincoln’s chiropodist and, at Lincoln’s request, was charged with several important political tasks during the Civil War. Among these was some spy work regarding the movement of supplies to the Confederate Army. He also involved in behind-the-scenes peacemaking efforts.

The authors, Sarna and Shapell, very effectively present the paper trail of Lincoln’s complex relationships with these men and many, many others of the Jewish faith. Names like Charles Bernays (consul to Zurich and Elsinore) and Ferdinand Sarner (first Jewish regimental Jewish chaplain in the Union Army) are only two of many dozens of Jewish citizens whose lives connect with Lincoln’s in important ways. With regard to the chaplaincy, it should be noted that until Lincoln got a law passed eliminating the restriction, only Christians could serve as chaplains. This change was at the urging of Jewish acquaintances.

Though Lincoln received great support from the growing Jewish community, the authors do not skirt the fact that many Southern Jews were hostile towards abolition and strong supporters of the Confederate cause.

Lincoln and the Jews is a well thought out and carefully designed production. The glossy, heavyweight paper gives the book a refined, classy feel. The quality of the color reproduction (done in China, of course) is impressive; the page layout balances text and illustrations with grace and generates a respect for Lincoln’s estimable language skill for both formal and informal occasions. To see the evidence of his own hand building responses to solicitations or requesting a favor on someone’s behalf or asserting a position on an important issue makes the reader/beholder feel the very presence of a great humanitarian. Thanks to uncredited book designer Jason Snyder for a splendid job.



One can feel Lincoln’s comfort with his Jewish friends and acquaintances; one can feel their comfort with him. This is a comfort that stems in part from the president’s pushing against the constant pressure to have the United States defined as a Christian nation in its public declarations. He did this not merely as a response to the interests of his Jewish friends but as a matter of larger principle – perhaps a vision – of a truly inclusive nation whose greatness lay in this inclusiveness.

The book benefits from such features as a two-page graphic presentation of “Lincoln’s Jewish Connections,” concentric circles around the hub of Lincoln’s face organized by the nature of the relationship: friends, associates & supporters, acquaintances, appointments & pardons. A blow-up poster of these pages would make a terrific teaching tool.

The endnotes, keyed to the chapters, are extensive, clear, and engaging; the index performs its difficult task with a quiet confidence.

Do I need say that is a dazzling slice of Jewish history in America by a co-author (Sarna) who has already taken on the larger subject in his authoritative American Judaism: A History (2005)? In this new book, Sarna provides a capsule version of the story about how Lincoln revoked General Grant’s infamous order expelling Jews from jurisdictions under his wartime command. The full treatment is in Sarna’s recent When General Grant Expelled the Jews (2012).

Make sure that someone you care about receives a copy of Lincoln and the Jews.

This review appears in the April 2015 edition of the 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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A classic Florida detective tale with distressed damsels galore

Cooler Than Blood, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 316 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

Jake Travis, Mr. Lane’s multi-skilled private investigator, is at it again. A damsel in distress taps into his needs and self-image. Jake is surprised to run into the very attractive Susan Blake for whom he had formed a quick and strong attraction a while back. He didn’t let it go anywhere, as he knows better. The understanding and accommodating Kathleen is the love of his life, and Jake doesn’t want to undermine their relationship, though he manages to do just that on a regular basis in spite of his good intentions. CoolerThanBloodCover

Though Cooler Than Blood is billed as a standalone novel, the backgrounding of characters who are first presented in The Second Letter seems to me both insufficient and a bit annoying. Yes, it’s enjoyable and riveting in itself, but reading it after The Second Letter will add significant depth and reverberations.

Susan is reluctant to ask Jake for a favor, but she knows that he might be just the guy to find out what has happened to her headstrong niece, Jenny, who had come to live with her but has mysteriously disappeared. Eighteen year old Jenny had been last seen on Fort Myers Beach, where she had left her attacker for dead!

Jake puts his usual team together, stalwarts Morgan and Garrett, and they devise a plan for locating and rescuing Jenny – assuming she is alive and being held against her will.

A series of scenes that focus on Jenny’s predicament show that such is exactly the case. In those scenes, Jenny’s resilience and confidence are tested and important details about her background are revealed. These fascinating passages, in which we follow Jenny’s thought, memories, and emotions, lift Cooler Than Blood into a high realm of gritty achievement.



We follow Jake up and down the Gulf Coast, as he focuses first on the brothers of Jenny’s assailants and then some members of a regional criminal operation with ties to major players. The cast of characters grows, as do the opportunities for Jake to practice his skills. Often enough, he guesses wrong about one or another aspect of the case. Each failure lessens the chance for Jenny’s survival: missing persons not found quickly are often not found alive.

Jake’s attempts to engage local police in the case are met with a tepid response. This is not a case on which they want to waste their resources. Teenagers run away all the time, and they show up when they want to. As the plot progresses, questions are raised about the officer who questioned Jenny before she disappeared. The interview recording just doesn’t seem quite right.

Jenny’s life is at risk because it’s believed she knows that a huge amount money that was in her attacker’s possession is hidden. Others believe she also knows where it is. If this money was stolen, then someone out there wants his money back. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 18, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 19 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Cooler 1 and here Florida Weekly – Cooler 2.

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A psychological thriller with a valiant recovering victim

“Cold Cold Heart,” by Tami Hoag. Dutton. 390 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

Dana Nolan is the ninth victim of a serial killer known as Doc Holiday who had abducted, beaten, and raped her. By strength of wit and will, Dana had managed to murder the man whose intention was to have his ninth victim die like all the other eight. We meet Dana in a Minneapolis hospital where she has spent much time already trying to recuperate from the physical and psychological trauma. Indeed, she almost perished, and her progress is excruciatingly slow. 9780525954545_medium_Cold_Cold_Heart

Her face is a fright mask and her body wears a number 9 inscribed by her torturer. She has had serious wounds attended to, and more operations lie in her future. Brain damage being among her injuries, Dana is far from a smoothly functioning human being. Her memory is greatly impaired, thus her identity needs to be rebuilt. One of the great strengths of the book is Ms. Hoag’s representation of Dana’s initial condition and then her desperate fight to put herself back together.

Once she returns to her mother and stepfather’s care in Indiana, her recovery is compromised by other people’s expectations and judgments. She needs rest, quiet, time with herself, and an effective course of therapy. Her protective mother’s instinctive hovering, suggesting, and reminding is overwhelming rather than nourishing. Her selfish stepfather cannot help but signal that he finds the freaky Dana a burden that his political campaign can’t tolerate.

Dana needs to write herself a set of directions to find her way around the house in which she was raised. Also, her censorship mechanisms are impaired. She will blurt out embarrassing thoughts without having consciously formed them.

Tami Hoag, credit Jan Cobb

Tami Hoag, credit Jan Cobb

What’s the mystery? From one perspective, it is whether and how Dana will recover and what recovery will mean. It’s clear early on that the post-trauma Dana will never be the same person as the accomplished, sunny television reporter she had become.

The primary plot mystery, however, involves relationships among a quartet of high school students going back almost a decade: Dana, her sports hero boyfriend Tim Carver, her best friend Casey, and Casey’s boyfriend John. The four prepared to go their separate ways after graduation, but Casey soon vanished without a trace. She and Dana had a bit of a spat before Dana’s disappearance, though Dana is hard-pressed, unable, or unwilling to remember it.

What happened to Casey? Is she alive? Had she been another Doc Holiday victim or the prey of a similar predator?

Something within Dana needs to get to the bottom of this mystery. In this pursuit, she quickly finds herself reconnected with Tim, who is now a deputy sheriff in town. Upon high school graduation, Tim went off to be a cadet at West Point; it’s not clear why things didn’t work out. She also contacts the retired officer who was once in charge of tracking Casey down. This man, in the late stages of cancer, is a nasty wreck whose questions and demands force Dana to fight for those memories she has not yet be able to retrieve. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 11, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter, and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click  here:   Florida Weekly – Cold Cold Heart

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University of Central Florida Book Festival 2015


April 18, 2015 / 10:00am – 3:30pm

Featuring the James O. Born Workshop

James O. Born

Welcome to the 6th annual UCF Book Festival!

The UCF Book Festival is an annual literary event held in the spring at the University of Central Florida. The purpose of the UCF Book Festival is to bring a literary cultural experience to the Central Florida community from infants to seniors by:

  • Fueling interest and engagement in reading and literature
  • Showcasing accomplished and emerging authors

Each year the UCF Book Festival draws thousands of readers of all ages. The Festival features internationally recognized authors and illustrators, book signings and sales, exhibitors, cooking demonstrations, book appraisals, and literary activities for all ages. The Festival is hosted by UCF’s College of Education and Human Performance, in association with UCF’s Morgridge International Reading Center.

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An aging, weary Harry Bosch still has what it takes

The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. 401 pages. Hardcover $28.00, trade paperback $16.00 (available March 17).

The Los Angeles Police Department has a special, somewhat prestigious Open-Unsolved Unit. Harry Bosch, one of the most skilled and experienced hands in the department, has been assigned to it. His new partner, Lucia (“Lucy”) Soto is a comparative newcomer. This kind of pairing is a new policy for the unit, but Lucy’s selection over far more experienced officers rubs many the wrong way. However, having Harry as a mentor is just what she needs. Connelly_THEBURNINGROOM

Lucy shares some of Harry’s old-school attitudes about police work, an attitude that bonds them, but she has a lot to learn.

Perhaps her youthful spark is just what Harry needs, too, as he recognizes that retirement, by choice or by regulation, is not far away.

The case: nine years before the present action, Orlando Merced, was shot. Over the years, the victim had suffered from many complications caused by that bullet lodged in his spine. Now that bullet has finally led to his death. So, it’s a fresh murder case without a fresh crime scene or corresponding evidence. The bullet, now removed from the corpse, is a beginning.

Investigating the shooting of the mariachi musician opens up a window on past crimes. Two of them happened on the same day, in the same neighborhood, within minutes of each other: the robbery of a check-cashing service called EZBank and a deadly fire in a low-end apartment building that housed an illegal day care business.

The day care fire, a decade earlier than the Merced shooting, has haunted Lucy. At the age of seven, she had lived there and escaped the tragedy. Her decision to become a police officer stems, in part, from this experience.



The arson case is also unsolved. Now, it is Lucy’s pet project, and she and Harry agree that they will split their working time between Lucy’s self-assigned case and the Merced case. They agree that the fire might have been set as a distraction to ensure the success of the simultaneous bank robbery.

The first major insight for the Merced investigation is the strong possibility that someone else was the intended victim – someone in the line of fire standing close to Orlando Merced. Once Harry and Lucy set out to identify and track down this individual, they find themselves involved in the swamp of bureaucracy and political corruption that is the hallmark of many Harry Bosch mysteries.

Getting too close to the truth about the past is likely to blow a hole in the present, especially in an election year – and especially when a former mayor now planning a race for the governorship is depending on money from a potentially compromised source. People who know too much might not live to share their knowledge. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 4, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 5 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Burning Room.

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James G. McDonald; Norman J. W. Goda, Barbara McDonald Stewart, Severin Hochberg, and Richard Breitman, eds.

Indiana University Press, 2014. 320pp. $30.00.


Perhaps no one had a better ringside and inside seat at the deliberations that eventually led to the United Nation’s actions paving the way to Israel’s 1948 declaration of statehood than James G. McDonald. His dogged and dexterous work as a key member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was positioned between two more notable posts: the League of Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees in the 1930s and the first U. S. Ambassador to Israel from 1949-1951. Gates of Jeruslem

The Committee had the double charge of proposing solutions to the enormous problem of Jewish refugees at the close of WWII and to the academically separate but finally inseparable issue of the British Mandate for Palestine’s eventual resolution. McDonald’s diary entries throughout the entire work of the Committee constitute a unique primary source of information about the progress of the Committee on its way to its ultimate recommendations. . . .

To read the entire review, as it was posted to the Jewish Book Council web site on February 24, 2015, click here: To the Gates of Jerusalem: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald

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