Monthly Archives: November 2015

Valiant artist struggles to open U. S. doors for Hitler’s prey

The Muralist, by B. A. Shapiro. Algonquin Books. 352 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

This book dazzles and excites with its penetrating look at the New York art scene during the Depression; the situation in Europe for Jews seeking to flee Nazi persecution and murder; and the present-time life of a young woman working for a major art auction house. The plot is carefully managed through two alternating time lines: one begins in 1939 and is focused on an obscure Jewish artist, Alizée Benoit; the other follows today’s Danielle Abrams, Alizée’s great niece. It becomes Danielle’s obsession to discover Alizée’s fate.  Shapiro_Muralist_Jkt_HR

Alizée is an American citizen who lived for many years in France, returning to the United States in 1937 at the age of 19 already a well-schooled artist. When readers meet her in 1939, she is part of a circle of young artists who are creating a great new American art form – Abstract Expressionism. The others include Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko, and on occasion Dutch-born Willem de Kooning. They challenge and inspire one another while living in dire poverty.

These and other artists survive on commissions received from a special branch of the Works Progress Administration that buys paintings for display in public buildings. This Federal Art Project favored representational rather than abstract art, handicapping the chances for this group’s experimentation being accepted.

When sporadic messages from her relatives describe their deteriorating situation in France and urge her to help, Alizée, who feels a deep and constant responsibility for saving them, becomes a political activist. Her target is Breckinridge Long, the man in charge of administering immigration controls, whose personal mission was to block oppressed Europeans (and especially Jews) from getting the necessary visas. He was only too successful. Alizée tries to engage Eleanor Roosevelt to assist in this effort, an effort that includes politically-charged art that Alizée develops to raise public awareness of the Jewish plight.

Impressed by the power of Picasso’s “Guernica,” she decides to create a mural for a forthcoming exhibition. With time running out, she enlists her artist cohorts to help her with the project.



Facing many frustrations and with her physical and mental health severely declining, Alizée disappears in 1940.

The 2015 timeline follows Danielle’s curiosity about her vanished great aunt. This curiosity is spurred into action by some mysterious paintings, fragments of a larger work, that she finds hidden in envelopes pasted to the back of paintings transmitted to Christie’s, the famous and influential auction house where Danielle works.

Interviews, data-base searches, and other research slowly reveal an impression of Alizée’s life and artistic mission. Still, Danielle’s struggle to establish the “historical” Alizée and to discover if she is alive is frustrated until she makes a last-ditch effort that takes her to France. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 25, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editons, click here: Florida Weekly – Shapiro

Note: there is a typo at the end of the printed article. The internet address for the Collier County Jewish Book Festival is

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Diamonds and dames rough and smooth anchor PI’s kidnapping case

Facets, by Lawrence De Maria. St. Austin’s Press. 201 pages (equivalent). Kindle E-book $2.99.

Jake Scarne Thriller #6 is a steamroller of action and calculation. It begins with pieces of background, the first of which is set in 1990 at Catholic school for troublesome girls in mountainous Chamonix, France. A beautiful, self-assured blonde named Maura Dallas is characterized by her quick wit and aversion to discipline or conformity. For two years, she has roomed with her best friend, black-haired Argentinian Alana Loeb, another beneficiary of the school’s dependence on wealthy parents without whom it wouldn’t survive. Maverick daughters of such parents must be tolerated. The wealthy Dallassio family, deep into criminal activity, can make sure their daughter Maura graduates. FACETS(September2015)forphil

A scene in 1995 takes us to Boston where Maura is found flourishing on the Harvard Law Review and bedding down with Lucas Brandeford, one of the junior law professors and a rising star. Maura is a shrewd seducer and manipulator. Her brains are enough to get her through, but she hedges her bets with her body. As she is throughout her life, Maura is protected by Victor Anastasia, a senior enforcer and family bodyguard in the Dallassio criminal empire. When Maura dumps Brandeford, he sounds threatening. Anastasia rigs his arrest for cocaine possession, and the enraged suitor is forced to resign.

The main story, set primarily in New York, unfolds in 2015. It involves Maura’s rebellious and somewhat estranged daughter, Alana, a twenty year old Barnard student taking some of her classes at Columbia University. She is having an affair with an adjunct teacher, Luke Willet. Agreeing to take Alana to the airport, Willet drugs and abducts her. He has a very well thought out plan for a huge ransom, to be paid out in a mix of cut and uncut diamonds. Mr. De Maria describes the ingenious scheme in meticulous detail, hooking his readers for the rest of the journey.

De Maria

De Maria

Jake Scarne enters the story when he is hired by Maura Dallas , still a beauty in her mid-to-late forties. She is accompanied by Victor Anastasia, who knows Scarne’s agency partner, Noah Sealth. (Where does De Maria get these names?) Maura hires Jake’s team to find her daughter. She insists that there be no police involvement, and she explains how she’s received convincing evidence from the kidnapper that Alana is alive. Jake’s follow-up questions reveal what a pro he is and how much Anastasia and others have tried to do on their own. Maura explains that she has raised Alana as a single mother.

Jake is concerned that the ransom demand has not yet been made. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in November 18, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 19 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Facets

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“The Sea Beach Line,” by Ben Nadler

Fig Tree Books. 385 pp. Trade paperback $15.95.

A young man with an uncertain future seeks answers about his past.

Ben Nadler’s new novel, The Sea Beach Line, is astonishingly powerful, thoughtful, and more than a bit troubling, but it is not to be missed. In it, Isaac (“Izzy”) Edel, cast out of Oberlin College for drug use, determines to clean up his act and discover whether his father is dead or alive. The-Sea-Beach-Line

Izzy has some pleasant childhood memories of his father, but since his parents’ divorce and his mother’s remarriage, he has had little contact with his father. Polish-born Alojzy (“Al”), who had fought in the Israel Defense Forces, made little effort to have Izzy in his life, perhaps for his son’s own good.

Izzy cannot move forward without finding out about Al and, if possible, getting in touch with him. His actions are triggered by a mysterious card from his father and a note to his mother that arrive at the home of his mother and stepfather in New Mexico, where Izzy has been living following his university disgrace. Returning to neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Izzy begins an arduous journey, both physical and spiritual, to find his father, or traces of his father, in order to find himself.

Following the few leads he has, mostly from suspicious characters who knew Al, he finds the storage locker out of which his father ran his Manhattan bookselling business. Soon enough, Izzy steps into his father’s footprint, taking over the business, making the storage space his home, and continuing his investigation.

Izzy works hard, networks, develops friendships on the street, and soon becomes a familiar presence among the Fourth Street tribe of book vendors. He takes every opportunity to find information about Al, and he becomes absorbed in the nature of his father’s life as remembered by others and both fantasized about and echoed by himself.



He discovers a collection of sketches drawn by his father. He meets an artist named Goldov, who had written the note to Izzy’s mother. Goldov runs a gallery/museum specializing in the works of another artist, R. Galuth.

One of the paintings by Galuth is of a woman who bears a strong likeness to a shy, young Jewish woman named Rayna whom Izzy meets on the street. She seems disoriented, and it turns out she is a runaway. Rayna cautiously allows Izzy to befriend her and shelter her. A strong relationship grows. They live and work together in the storage locker. It is clear Rayna has been abused in some way, but she won’t talk about it — or about her family.

The glory of this book is in its allusive texture. Izzy, our narrator, is widely read in Jewish scriptures and midrash. His language is filled with references to such reading, and this technique sets his adventures and decisions into a rich context of religious lore and values. Similarly, stories Rayna shares, especially a version of the Purim story, work to the same end. We are all hidden within and revealed by the tales we tell — and retell. . . .

To read the full review, click here: The Sea Beach Line | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Past and present intersect in stunning archaeological thriller

The Oracle, by D. J. Niko. Medallion Press. 362 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

The third installment of the Sarah Weston Chronicles finds Sarah, a British archaeologist, in Thebes. She and anthropologist Daniel Madigan, her professional partner and love interest, are working together (and also apart) helping to investigate the theft of Greek antiquities from a local museum. This theft, however, is not merely the usual pillage for profit. It is more like pillage for prophet! TheOracle

This highly original mystery has several layers and dimensions. Ms. Niko makes it difficult to discern, and for her characters to discern, which actions pose a serious threat and which ones are well-planned distractions to disguise the threat.

Neo-paganism is on the rise in Greece and elsewhere. There is a growing cult threatening to undermine monotheistic culture and religion. The ancient shrines where oracles once uttered the wishes of the deities are being taken over to fuel this resurgence of pagan power.

Or is this activity a complex feint – a way of gaining access to the sacred places of antiquity – places from which an incredible terrorist force can threaten the modern Western world? Certain artifacts and a long-hidden map are the necessary keys that pit the forces of light, represented of course by Daniel and Sarah, against the dark forces – an array of strange bedfellows twisted by raging resentments and driven toward revenge.

Stresses in the relationship between Daniel and Sarah are aggravated by the plotting of those who wish to use them or get them out of the way. Their love for one another is leveraged as a tool to control them, as each fears for the other’s safety and is manipulated by that fear. How can they reunite and lead those who would uncover and stop the greatest, most destructive terrorist effort ever set in motion? One that would literally rattle the world by generating earthquakes?

D. J Niko, photography by Lauren Lieberman / LILA PHOTO

D. J Niko, photography by Lauren Lieberman / LILA PHOTO

Ms. Niko deepens reader involvement by creating a second time line covering a slice of ancient history – 393 CE. Here the forces at work are the Christian suppression of pagan culture and the courageous resistance of the priestess Aristea of Delphi. These chapters are artfully composed, especially the descriptions of place and of Aristea’s state of mind. However, they do not match the highly suspenseful drama of the chapters set in the present. . . .

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

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February 18 – March 14 2016

11 events – 23 authors

Coming this winter, the first annual Collier County Jewish Book Festival will add a spectacular new ingredient to the cultural life of our community. A project of the Jewish Federation of Collier County in cooperation with the Jewish Book Council, the Festival will have an unusual format, multiple venues, and a total of 23 authors visiting through the winter season. With two exceptions, each Festival event will feature two authors paired by a related theme.
One exception is Chef Rossi, who will regale her audience at the Hilton Naples on Tuesday, February 23 during a breakfast meeting, when she will discuss her book The Raging Skillet.

The other exception is the Wednesday, February 24 “local authors” session with four presenters.

At all the other events, the two authors sharing the bill will not co-present or share the stage, but provide back-to-back presentations. Each speaker will give a 30- to 45-minute talk  followed by 15-20 minutes of Q&A plus book-signing time. There will be a short break between presentations.

Click on the logo below to see the Festival website with full schedule, profiles of authors, list of venues and sponsors, and how to get tickets to one or multiple events.

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Beautifully paced and structured mystery thriller reveals ugly truths

The Cardinal’s Sin, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 368 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

The third “Jake Travis” novel meets and beats any expectations that Mr.Lane’s readers developed from enjoying “The Second Letter” and “Cooler Than Blood,” both reviewed in these pages. It starts with a bang and never lets up. The bang is Jake’s assignment: he is tasked with killing an assassin who targets the relatives and other loved ones of special operations agents. Yes, this is exactly it. He must assassinate an assassin.



As they must in order to have a story line, things go wrong. Jake seriously compromises his relationship with Kathleen, the love of his life, with whom he has been enjoying a European vacation when the assignment reaches him. Understandably, he keeps his assignment from her, but this turns out to be a mistake. Meaning to protect her, he inevitably belittles her. Much of this fine novel provides a moving and sophisticated exploration of the relationship between Kathleen and Jake, one in which the killing power of words vies with the powerful finality of the assassin’s craft.

And there is this other mistake. Jake has been informed that his target is a man who uses the disguise of a Cardinal’s garb. At the proper time and at the proper place, he shoots the faux Cardinal; however, he shoots an actual Cardinal – a man who might have had a death wish.

The Cardinal is a man named Giovanni Antinori, a popular and progressive prelate known as the People’s Cardinal.  Somehow, he had replaced Jake’s intended Kensington Gardens target, a man known as Alexander Paretsky, whose recent work against U. S. interests had followed a major security breach revealing the names of U. S. clandestine agents.


A photograph in his victim’s hand eventually becomes an important item in the investigation that Jake and his cohorts conduct, along with assistance from an FBI connection. Mr. Lane’s readers know these carefully etched characters. One is Garrett, a co-worker on Jake’s assignments directed by Colonel Janssen. Another is Morgan, Jake’s neighbor on paradisiacal St. Pete’s Island. FBI special agent Natalie Binelli seems a reluctant contributor of information, but a most useful one.

The colonel tells Jake that Paretsky has been seen with a beautiful woman named René Lambert, whose father Donald just happens to live an island away from Jake, and she becomes a key figure in Jake’s effort to uncover Paretsky and put an end to his killing spree. But she proves hard to find. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 4, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 5 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cardinal’s Sin

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