Monthly Archives: January 2016

Grit, gusto and spiritual grace animate a vibrant memoir

Still Pedaling, by Pauline Hayton. PH Publishing. 296 pages. Trade paperback $11.99. Available on

It is not often that one encounters an autobiography written by a non-celebrity that has the likelihood of reaching a wide audience. Pauline Hayton has written such a book, revealing a life lived with immense challenges, plenty of setbacks, risky decisions, and an evolution of goals and values.  As the title suggests, determination has been a major factor in Mrs. Hayton’s journey.  So have curiosity, the desire to help others, and spiritual strength.  StillPedaling

Born and raised in a small town in the northeast of England, Pauline had a rebellious streak that got out of hand, landing her in trouble and with unplanned-for motherhood  at an early age.  She had to scramble, as a marginally employed single mother, to keep her head above water. She had to give her second daughter up for adoption for that child’s well-being. So often, it seemed as if there was no hope for her to realize a bright future.

Dealing with the trauma of being gang-raped, finding herself either too trusting or unable to trust through many episodes of her life, Pauline slowly found a path by discovering a faith and a gift, which she nourished. Though she was never a traditionally religious person, she did become a committed spiritualist healer. She took this opportunity as a personal mission, and her studies led to a vocation that helped many people. In this way, she also helped herself.

Her main occupation, in her early adulthood, was as a probation officer, where her healing gifts and knowledge were put to good use. Pauline’s portraits of her probation assignments are among the memoirs many high points, providing insights on how this system works in England that are in contrast in many ways to probation officer duties in the U. S. Or perhaps the contrast is in how Pauline perceived her roll and fulfilled it.


Pauline Hayton

Though never trained as a writer, Pauline has a gift for it. She honored her father’s WWII service by writing a book about it titled A Corporal’s War. The research for this book led Pauline to look more closely into Myanmar (Burma) where her father served. Two additional books – Myanmar: In My Father’s Footsteps and Naga Queen  — grew out of that fascination. Indeed, Pauline and Peter Hayton’s support for the education of children in remote parts of Myanmar is one of those miracles of how people who are not well-to-do, like the Haytons, can greatly improve the lives of those who would otherwise have no path out of abject poverty.

What else? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 27, 2016 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Still Pedaling

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Immigrant life, assimilation, and conversion issues flavor unique murder mystery

Forgiving Mariela Camacho, by A. J. Sidransky. Berwick Court Publishing Company. 316 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

Review by Philip K. Jason

This book has a highly original focus that was first developed in Sidransky’s earlier Forgiving Maximo Rothman. Sidransky is able to intertwine the experiences of various cultural communities: the Dominican Republic, the Dominican section of Washington Heights (upper Manhattan), the neighboring population of Jews, and Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. It highlights the improbable story of Sosúa, a story of desperate Jewish refugees who were given sanctuary in the Dominican Republic beginning in 1938. And, for good measure, there are excursions to Germany and Israel.  FMCfrontcover-HiRes

The author handles these largely unfamiliar relationships by building his plot around a case handled by two New York City police detectives, Anatoly Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez, who are not only partners on the force but also best friends. Their names will immediately signal their ethnic backgrounds.

Anatoly (“Tolya”) was an orphan who somehow made his way to the U. S. His Russian background is presented much more sketchily than Pete’s life in the Dominican Republic (it is detailed in Forgiving Maximo Rothman as is the wartime history of Sosúa). Tolya remembers well his maternal grandfather, whom he had visited in the Ukraine as a boy. That grandfather was the last in the family to be given a Hebrew name.

Tolya identifies himself as Jewish, though the rabbi who is preparing Tolya’s wife Karin for conversion and the conversion of their two sons wishes that Tolya would take action to strengthen his Jewish credentials. Perhaps a rededication. Karin is a former detective who now, on the brink of bringing another child into the world, has found work as the planner of a tribute to Sosúa at a Jewish museum.

Pete has been married for many years to Glynnis, but his heart’s memory brings him over and over again to his thwarted passion for Mariela Camacho, a Dominican beauty whom he courted but who wouldn’t allow him to abandon his commitments.

The novel explodes when a corpse is discovered attached to a diabolical killing contraption – a suicide machine. Pete and Tolya are assigned to investigate; shockingly, the corpse turns out to be that of Mariela. Pete is sick with grief and guilt. Both men agree that there is much about this death that does not look like suicide, and they get their captain to label the case a homicide investigation.



As the novel progresses, the chapters detailing the partners’ investigation play out in counterpoint to chapters that develop the personality and background of a mad genius who turns out to be a serial killer, having used that death machine on numerous occasions. Sidransky skillfully builds an understanding of his mad momentum and his targeting, indirectly, of Tolya – who represents for him (ironically) the good fortune of the Jews who could get out of the USSR. This man, who has taken many names during his depraved life, and whose family had immigrated to Israel by forging Jewish identities, goes so far as to become a patron of Karin’s exhibit. Can you guess where this is going?

This novel, dark in so many ways, is relieved by the “odd couple” humor in the relationship between Pete and Tolya. Their banter is infectious, as is the interplay between their contrasting personal styles as detectives, immigrants, and husbands.

Indeed, the large cast of characters is well-imaged, and each of the many settings is handled with vividness and authority.

For many readers, the lessons in Judaism that Karin receives from Rabbi Rothman and transmits to her sons will be an inspiring highlight – a moving example of the conversion process at work.

Aside from all of its local color, insights regarding immigrant communities, police work, and ethnic/religious identity, Forgiving Mariela Camacho is a riveting thriller with distinctive dialogue and sure-fire pacing.

Sidransky’s reputation is growing fast. The National Jewish Book Awards selected his first novel, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, as a finalist in Outstanding Debut Fiction for 2013. Next Generation Indie Book Awards selected his next book, Stealing a Summer’s Afternoon, as a finalist for Best Second Novel for 2015. His third “Forgiving” novel is slated for 2017.

This review appears in the February 2016 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Charlotte and Lee Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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Iconic monument raises brooding teenager’s fragile hopes

Ascent, by William Welsch. Book Broker Publishers. 324 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

This delightful and disturbing novel, set in St. Louis in the autumn of 1965, is essentially a coming of age tale focused on David Miles, a high school junior who defines himself as something of an outsider. The year is significant, as the Civil Rights Act had gone into effect only one year earlier, marking a kind of coming of age – though a tortured one – for the United States. It was also the time of a symbolic coming of age for the city of St. Louis, symbolized by the completion of the famous Gateway Arch, itself a symbol of a continent-wide nation.  ascentcover

The book, which takes its title (and cover art) from viewing the arch as a symbol of ascent and inspiration, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the arch. However, the crisis of race relations that is portrayed in the narrative has only amplified in this special anniversary year. One wonders: perhaps David Miles has grown up a bit, but has St. Louis and the country really matured?

When Douglas Findley, a new English teacher at Glendale Prep, challenges his students to widen their horizons by exploring beyond their comfortable neighborhoods, David is awakened to the sorry state of race relations and the enormous wealth and opportunity disparities in St. Louis. When his family’s Afro-American housekeeper and cook Dorothea, felt to be a second mother, is not invited to the wedding of David’s older brother Chip, the hardened barriers between White and Black St. Louis are potently underscored.


The portrait of David as a shy, sensitive, academically weak high school student is amplified and rounded by his many other rolls: neighborhood baby sitter, stumbling seeker of young female companionship, dreamer, follower to nonconformist risk taker Jim, occasional assistant in his father’s furniture store, driver of Dorothea (the housekeeper) from and to her home in the “colored” district, brother in the shadow of the “perfect son” Chip, comforter to his cancer-plagued mother, and aspiring writer. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Ascent

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“Holocaust Icons: Symbolizing the Shoah in History and Memory,” by Oren Baruch Stier

Rutgers University Press. 239 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

How is individual and collective memory and understanding of a significant historical event shaped, especially for those who have no first-hand experience of the event? Stier_final_cover

Professor Stier explains how memorialization depends significantly upon icons, charged symbols that capture and express formative meanings, judgements, and even emotions, beginning his study with erudite definitions of his key term and a patient explanation of his methodology. Building upon the work of previous scholars, he reaches across disciplines to analyze four highly distinctive icons of the Holocaust. These items, like other icons, do the work of “simplifying, condensing, and distilling . . . [Holocaust] narratives and producing meanings for cultural consumption.”

Railway cars of the Holocaust period, especially those that resemble the specific vehicles that brought people to their deaths, may be thought of as “artifact” or “relic” icons. They are authentic either historically or by association. Stier compares and contrasts the ways in which these material icons are used in the displays and strategies of various Holocaust museums, explaining how they compress and release a part of the Holocaust ur-narrative.

Stier’s other selections mix materiality with other expressive dimensions. He explores the phrase “Arbeit macht frei,” found as signage on the gates of several concentration, work, and death camps, though his main focus is Auschwitz. Stier elaborates upon how the phrase and its placement play off the stereotype of Jews as people who do not value work. The invitation to become laborers that they are ostensibly accepting will lead (with a sick irony) to their freedom. The icon’s history has turned it into an invitation to annihilation. . . .



To read the full review, as found on the Jewish Book Council site, click here: Holocaust Icons: Symbolizing the Shoah in History and Memory 

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King of hearts a calling card for murder in latest “John Jordan” mystery

Blood Money, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 280 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The eighth entry in the “John Jordan Mystery” series shows this incredibly talented and prolific author at the top of his form. No one gives us Panhandle Florida like Mr. Lister, and no one handles the prison microcosm with the degree of physical, social, and moral authenticity that he is able to convey. In this story, local politics rears its more than ugly heads, serial suicides – or homicides in disguise – flare up in the Potterville Correction Institution, and a prostitute who had serviced a political event is found dead – then the corpse is mysteriously stolen.  BloodMoney3d

Chaplain-investigator Jordan, son of the police chief, is once again in the middle of several messes. The new warden wants to get rid of him, Jordan himself wonders if the ugliness of his job is overwhelming him, and his lover’s ex-husband is threatening Anna – the single most important and redeeming relationship in Jordan’s life.

That ugliness at the job includes that fact that a group of inmates have dubbed themselves the Suicide Kings. Take a look: is the king of hearts wielding a weapon toward himself? Or is he fending off or recovering from an attack? However you read the standard image of this card, its discovery as a signature to several deaths in the prison, slipped into each victim/practitioner’s pocket, is eerie and shudder-producing. In an environment where boredom is in itself deadly, incarcerated men need something to do with their dreams of power and their dreams of ending it all. Mostly, the members of the suicide club manage a series of failed attempts.

They have created a situation in which those inside the club or knowledgeable about it can commit a murder and stage it as a suicide. You’ll marvel at how Michael Lister plays out the hand he has dealt to himself in this morbid but magnetic plot line.

Part of the suicide club members’ pact is to buy insurance on each other’s lives; this adds fascinating dimensions to the investigation and a special overtone to the book’s title.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

Indeed, the novel is a trove of facts about suicide in general and its epidemic growth in the prison community. Fortunately, author Lister does not break stride as he slides in this astounding information, which is central to the action and themes. We learn, for example, that failed suicides are sometimes failure of will, but often planned as ways of improving the inmate’s benefits: more time out of his cell, more counseling and medication, etc.

Because health care professionals at the prison are experimenting with hypnotherapy to deal with the inmate’s various problems, they fall under suspicion. Perhaps they hypnotizing susceptible men into self-murder – or just plain murder. But to what advantage? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 13, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 14 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Money

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Saturday, February 13 / 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Port Charlotte Family Book Fair is a direct descendant of the former Dearborn Street Literary Festival. Our committee has come up with a fun-filled day designed to attract optimum book buyers. We’ll have children’s activities, readings, workshops, and contests. The festival will take place along winding lanes graced by stately oaks overlooking the beautiful Peace River. To be more precise: Bayshore Park near the Sunset Grill, 23241 Bayshore Road in Port Charlotte.

The keynote speaker will be Phil Jason, book critic for the Florida Weekly newspaper. His theme: IT’S NICE TO GET PUBLISHED, BUT THEN WHAT? Some tips on promoting your book.

Phil Loves Books

Phil Loves Books

Exhibit spaces go for $35. Vendors will get a $5 meal ticket good toward food or drink at our sponsoring restaurant, the Sunset Grill.
Proceeds will benefit the Charlotte Local Education Foundation, a worthy organization that supports teachers and students.
For more information or to sign up, visit, call 941-258-2968, or e-mail Debra Paradise, administrative assistant, at


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“Casey’s Last Chance,” by Joseph B. Atkins

“Last chance for what?” the eager reader might ask. To make it to the majors? To score big at anything? In this debut novel, it’s this sorry fellow’s last chance to get out from under the debts incurred over a decade or two of minor league hustling and losing. Not talking about sports here, just life. Casey Eubanks has made mistakes – bad choices, really – over and over again. Hey, he may have killed his girlfriend, Orella, or someone else. Or somehow got her killed. He has been on the run.  Casey'sLastChancefinal1-05

Like most fumbling criminals, he thinks that he can change his dismal life by staking it all on one more crime for the payoff he needs to survive – even flourish. His supposed good friend, Clyde Point, puts him onto something . . . truly horrible. Clyde is ready to vouch for Casey to the big crime boss who needs someone assassinated. $500 now, $500 later. Death of you don’t come through. What a deal.

This big Memphis operator, a whole-hearted Nazi named (of late) Max Duren, is involved with illegal everything and even a business, garment manufacture, that could be legal but would make less profit if it followed the rules. And now there might be more rules, and even a union shop, to protect the workers who are viciously exploited. There’s a good-looking young Polish woman, Ala Gadomska, who is stirring things up at Bengal Britches. She’s a courageous, fast-talking labor organizer who must be stopped. Such is Casey’s assignment.

Readers follow Casey through an off-the-highways tour of the American South, circa 1960. It’s time for President Kennedy to turn America into Camelot – but that’s not happening along the routes Casey travels: a network of despairing, grimy small towns with their failed businesses and failed history rooted in slavery’s aftermath.



Atkins’ eye for unpleasant physical details and their cultural resonance is penetrating. His prose is tonally perfect. His dialogue is uncanny, accurate, and revealing on more than one level.

This is noir country with grits gone cold; sad, confused Casey is its exemplary figure. His one skill – marksmanship. His fatal flaw – some vestigial sense of right and wrong mixed with guilt that wiggles beneath his fear and greed. When the time comes, he can’t pull the trigger.

Having screwed up his last chance, he gets a last, last chance. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: Southern Literary Review — January Read of the Month: “Casey’s Last Chance” 

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Plane crash investigation in Colombian rainforest finds shocking surprises

Passenger 19, by Ward Larsen. Oceanview Publishing. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Mr. Larsen’s latest is now labeled as “A Jammer Davis Thriller,” linking it with two of the author’s previous novels. I, for one, am happy to approve the plan. I’m just thrilled to imagine more such techno-thrillers. In this one, not only is Jammer assigned to investigate a plane crash, he is also out to save his daughter Jen. She was on that flight but not accounted for after the crash, nor is another college girl, Kristin Stewart, with whom she had boarded the plane.  Passenger19high-res

The investigation, performed officially by Colombian authorities with Jammer constantly overstepping his role in the matter, reveals that the crash was not survivable. It also reveals that the pilot and co-pilot were shot before the crash, along with one other person who turns out to be a Secret Service agent.

Figuring out the who, the how, and the why of this off-the-charts event takes Jammer and others on a dangerous journey. The examination of physical evidence and the exploration of countless “what ifs” leads to an unusual theory: the plane must have landed and taken off again – and not because of an emergency, but rather according to plan.

“Passenger 19” is not only a study in detection, it’s also a study in Colombia, its capital Bogotá, and the dense rain forests. In a country in which mob crime is among the largest businesses, those who wear official uniforms and hold government positions may or may not be trustworthy. Those who wear the uniforms or emblems of various paramilitary forces are likely to be private entrepreneurs who can be trusted to run illegal enterprises. The biggest, of course, are the drug cartels. Gaining ground are those in the kidnap-for-ransom business.

Ward Larsen

Ward Larsen

When it’s discovered that one of the dead men in a pilot’s uniform is not the pilot who had handled the original take-off (the uniform is too big), Jammer concludes that the first set-down of the plane was part of a hijacking. The later wreck would have been designed to get rid of witnesses.

Eventually, Jammer’s grudging Colombian counterpart, a military officer who oversees air transportation issues, is found murdered. Looks like he was getting too close to something.

The plot – with all of its carefully managed twists and turns of information, deduction, and action – keeps the pages flying. Even more impressive is Mr. Larsen’s handling of the technical material: the intricacies of aircraft design, handling characteristics, and controls. As Jammer and others discuss these matters, examine the tortured parts of the downed plane, and explore the crash landing’s impact on the terrain, readers are brought close to the analytical, scientific mind making its way through a myriad of facts to reach conclusions and determine actions. . . .

To read the full review, as published in the January 6, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 7 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Passenger 19

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