Monthly Archives: April 2016

“The Bowl with Gold Seams,” by Ellen Prentiss Campbell

 Apprentice House Press. 236 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

This brilliant tale of loss and redemption spans four decades, from a WWII-era Japanese detention center to the DC suburbs of the 1980s

This beautifully structured debut novel magnificently conjures two slices of time some 40 years apart. The frame of 1985 embraces the novel’s inner heart, set in 1945. Events in both years are life-changing for Hazel Shaw, a young high-school graduate living in Bedford, Pennsylvania, as World War II ends. Four decades later, she is the pressured head of the Clear Spring Friends School in the Washington, DC, suburbs.

Hazel had recently married when she was employed at the Bedford Springs Hotel during its service as a U.S. government detainment center for Japan’s ambassador to Berlin, his staff, and their families. However, the cessation of communication from her husband, Neal, who had joined the army and been sent overseas, suggested his death or imprisonment. Tracing the significant challenges in Hazel’s life as a child and young woman, the 1945 section of the book is a splendidly woven coming-of-age tale, replete with insights into life in a Quaker community.



Author Ellen Prentiss Campbell explores the situation of the Japanese detainees with great care and imagination, detailing the contours of their confined, isolated, and fearful lives. Their fate is not clarified until Japan capitulates after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Young Hazel, a witness to the detainees’ suffering, does what she can to make their lives easier; for example, arranging for Japanese books to be brought to the hotel. She befriends precocious Charlotte Harada, the 13-year-old daughter of a Japanese father and English mother. Charlotte is twice displaced, as she does not fit comfortably into the Japanese world.

When Hazel learns that her husband — her lifelong friend from the Common School in Bedford — is dead, she feels betrayed and betrays in turn, presenting her body to the proud and conflicted Mr. Harada. The Harada marriage has failed, and his wife wishes to return to England with Charlotte so that they both can be repatriated there.

Harada, hurt and enraged by his wife’s decision, succumbs to Hazel’s sexual provocation — and soon after commits suicide. Harada leaves a gift for Hazel, the valuable bowl whose image provides the book’s title. And he leaves her this thought: “What is broken is also beautiful.”

Though the portrait of young Hazel is compelling, Campbell explores the older version of Hazel first — and last. In 1985, middle-aged Hazel is in charge of a Friends school in the DC suburbs. She is a caring and competent administrator whose budget is fragile.

Soon, a scandal threatens to rock the school. The most promising of Hazel’s young teachers, a black man from the Ivory Coast named Jacques Thibeault, is accused of molesting a female student. The girl’s father, a major contributor to the school, demands that Jacques be fired. However, Hazel and others suspect that the troubled girl is lying. The pressures on Hazel to fire Jacques or accept his resignation are enormous. She wants to take the moral high road, but that stance is likely to put the school in jeopardy. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: The Bowl with Gold Seams: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Cape Coral investigator/crime writer launches a new thriller series

That Darkness, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 336 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

Forensic thriller author Lisa Black has launched a new series with a new lead character and a new publisher. Continuing to work as a crime scene investigator and latent printed examiner for the Cape Coral Police Department, Ms. Black places her new series in Cleveland, the setting for her earlier Teresa MacLean series and another two-part series before it. Billed as “A Gardiner and Renner Novel,” this series launch develops through alternating scenes, the narrator sometimes standing behind (and entering the mind of) forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner and sometimes taking us into police detective Jack Renner’s frightening consciousness.  thatdarkness-FINAL

Both are working the same crimes, but the nature of their work is in sharp contrast. Or is it?

Jack Renner is a vigilante with a badge. He has made it his mission to assassinate psychopaths who can beat the legal system. He is saving lives and, in his own mind, making the world safer by ending the lives of those rapists, killers, child abusers and other criminals who have escaped justice. He will bring the needed justice.

Jack is capable and dedicated. He has developed a system and created the isolated, hidden chambers where he can mete out this justice. Being part of a police department gives him access to information that is invaluable for his goal. In fact, it has been his experience as a policeman – a witness to the routine failures of the system – that has led him to his own personal madness. If that’s what it is.

Maggie is a dedicated, experienced scientist-technician who is very good at her trade and who enjoys her role in the crime-fighting profession. She is motivated by her own curiosity and by the magnitude of the crimes that she is assigned to investigate. Like Jack, her work takes up way too much of her life.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Readers will suspect early on that Maggie’s pursuit of evidence to find and convict a serial killer will lead to suspecting someone on the inside of the law enforcement system. Watching the pieces fall into place that will lead her to suspect Jack is made possible by Ms. Black’s masterful handling of plot, character, and scientific method. Beyond these centers of interest, the author has crafted a work of fascinating psychological depth.

Author Lisa Black is quite self-consciously a debunker of the glamor mythology surrounding CSI-type television dramas. In her books, we encounter a true authenticity of forensic Q & A. – the careful collection, examination, and evaluation of physical evidence. No miracles. No glamor. Just hard work and perhaps a special kind of trained intuition. In this regard, “That Darkness” is one of her best. The work sometimes may be tedious to Maggie, but the process described never becomes tedious to the reader. Rather, it is magnetic. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 27, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – That Darkness

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Two recent books provide valuable perspectives on The Holocaust and its representation

Holocaust Icons: Symbolizing the Shoah in History and Memory, by Oren Baruch Stier. Rutgers University Press. 239 pages. $29.95.

Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books, by Mark Glickman. The Jewish Publication Society. 312 pages. 312 pages. $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? Professor Stier explains how memorialization depends significantly upon icons, charged symbols that capture and express formative meanings, judgements, and even emotions. HolocaustIconsCover

Stier begins 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 don’t value work. The invitation to become workers 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.

The author treats Anne Frank as both a literary and a visual icon. His overview of the various states and editions of Frank’s diary shows how the icon has gone through a series of shadings and shapings, slowly becoming Americanized and then universalized through the successful drama and film based upon it. Stier considers the way in which Frank’s diary has become a sort of sacred Holocaust test. He explores as well the impact of the familiar and less familiar photographs of Anne Frank with equal rigor and creativity.

The final Holocaust icon that Stier discusses at length is the number “six million.” He reviews the historical basis for this powerful iconic figure and its legitimatization, through use in judicial proceedings and other institutional settings, as the grand signifier of “Nazi destruction of European Jewry.” Stier is in top form as he distinguishes between “six million” and “the six million,” the latter formulation an intensifier of the icon’s significance.

Though a bit jargon-heavy, Stier’s work is stimulating in its erudition, especially its critical eclecticism.


Though written in a more playful style than one might expect, Glickman’s study is important for locating in one place a sufficiently thorough and eminently readable treatment of its subject. Glickman begins by setting his immediate subject into a few larger ones. These include the long association of Jewish culture and civilization with the written word, which stresses the primacy of scribed and printed text in shaping Jewish life and identity. The suggestion is that no other people would be as damaged as the Jewish people through the destruction of its literature, both sacred and profane.


Another important context developed by the author is the Nazi plundering of the larger category: all Jewish cultural production, notably including artworks. The annihilation of the Jewish people, under Hitler, required as well the disappearance or appropriation of its creative expression.

Glickman also provides a history of Jewish books and religious scrolls: their making over the centuries of changing materials and technologies, their methods of ownership and distribution, their privileged place in the transmission of peoplehood.

The heart of the book, of course, is the holocaust within The Holocaust. Rabbi Glickman traces the transition from destroying Jewish books to hoarding and hiding them. The raiding of homes, libraries, and Jewish institutions in general led to a dispersed accumulation of enormous numbers. However, even before the war was over, the effort to rescue and reclaim was underway. Jewish leaders recognized the need to rescue and rehouse the treasure of the Jewish mind, spirit and history.

Perhaps the most interesting material in Stolen Words has to do with the role of U. S. military forces and of specially established institutions for the rescue, repatriation, and allotment of Jewish books as part of rebuilding Jewish community life after WWII.

There are several heroes of this effort whose contributions Glickman treats in detail. These include Army Captains Seymour Pomrenze and Isaac Bencowitz; Salo Maron, who oversaw the system-building that would “determine the fate of millions of Europe’s Jewish cultural treasures,” including books, and such instrumental figures as Judah Leon Magnes, Cecil Roth, and Hannah Arendt.

Rabbi Mark Glickman’s vivid and meticulous presentation of these efforts, instrumental to cultural continuity in what he calls the “New Jewish Landscape,” will be a revelation to most readers.

This book is a must-read for every Jewish library and every university library as well.

This article is a modified version of reviews that were originally published on the Jewish Book Council website. They are reprinted with permission. You can find them by searching the website at

Reprinted in the May 2016 editions 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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Doctored credentials do doctor in after decades of effective role play

The Wrong Road Home, by Ian A. O’Connor. Pegasus Publishing & Entertainment Group. 284 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. Kindle e-book $2.99.

The jacket copy describes this book as “A story of treachery and deceit inspired by true events.” Desmond Donahue, the unlicensed “doctor” who is the central character in this story that reads like a memoir, actually existed. Exposés about him were all over the media some decades back. The value of Mr. O’Connor’s novelistic treatment is in its psychological and moral probing of a man who, by living a lie, denies himself a full and truly free life. ianoconnor-300dpi-3125x4167(11)

Early on, readers learn that the time comes when Desmond’s deceit is exposed. Thus, the question for readers is not whether he will get caught and pay the consequences but how did it come to pass that he made decisions that led to infamy and self-loathing. What kind of friendships can a man have who cannot reveal his dark secret? What has he traded for the stature and degree of wealth that reversed the harsh poverty of his early years?

The portrait of those early years in a small Irish town is rich in detail and totally credible. We can see why Desmond is not anxious to stay in a place that is at once remote and lacking in opportunities. As a young man, he is fortunate enough to have a series of jobs with large construction companies. These jobs enable him to travel, and they open his horizons to possible futures. The idea of becoming a doctor becomes an obsession.

He comes to the U. S. following after opportunities in Chicago. Here, he has employments in restaurants and earns a GED (General Equivalency Diploma) which allows him to consider high education as the next step toward fulfilling his ambition. He take necessary science courses and assists with lab work in various medical fields.



Suddenly, receives an opportunity to enter a special medical program in the School of Medicine at University College, Cork. Desmond returns to Ireland ready to push towards his dreams only to discover that the official who authorized his admission had overstepped his authority. Desmond must go through many lower level hurdles and reapply again.

Dealing with this grave and unfair setback sets Desmond on the path of cutting corners and indulging in smaller and then larger deceptions. Though he gains the knowledge and skills that he needs to perform like a skilled, credentialed physician. He never becomes one. He makes a good friend, Roger, who temporarily solves Desmond’s problems by arranging for false documents that allow him to perpetuate his fraud. Indeed, Roger hires Desmond to co-staff a government-run group of medical centers.

But the risk of discovery is always there, and the rest of his life is based on a lie. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appear in the April 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – O’Connor

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Broadcasting Hall-of-Famer reveals almost all

Limping on Water, by Phil Beuth, with K.C. Schulberg. Smart Business Network. 360 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

In a plain, clear style, Mr. Beuth recounts (says the subtitle) “My 40-year adventure with one of America’s outstanding communications companies.” The author’s outlook is consistently one of thankfulness and optimism. He feels blessed by having been in the right place at the right time, and having been trusted with important responsibilities at an early age. His growth as a business executive parallels the growth of this marvelous company, the name of which is less well known today than it was when it swallowed a media giant.

Phil Beuth

Phil Beuth

The company was Capital Cities Communications, often referred to as CapCities. The giant swallowed in 1985 was the American Broadcasting Company. In time, Phil Beuth became the ultimate insider, being among those first hired by CapCities head Tom Murphy in 1955. It was a new company, with plenty of ambition. CapCities brought on many established media professionals, and young Phil Beuth, just twenty-three, was smart enough to learn from them, just as they were smart enough to put challenging opportunities in his way.

Mr. Beuth’s personal narrative has to do with his growing up in New York City, family matters, and learning to live with a physical disability that never became an excuse. His high school years included enjoying the great sportscaster Red Barber, holding afterschool jobs, and meeting Betty Yost, who would become his wife. His scholarship to Union College in Schenectady (followed by a master’s degree from Syracuse) supplied one part of his education; a job at a local radio station initiated another set of learning experiences.

Then came WROW-TV in Albany at the outset of the deals that launched CapCities. Mr. Beuth’s detailed description of Tom Murphy’s tutelage helps readers understand how the CapCities management style groomed beginners for success. By 1957, the young media employee was making purchases of the just-issued CapCities stock.


LimpingIt was in the building called the Nunnery, WROW-TV’s headquarters, that Phil Beuth met one of the many entertainment celebrities he came to know over his long career. This was Ted Knight, known best for his portrayal of the Ted Baxter character on the Mary Tyler Moore show. Limping on Water is filled with many delightful anecdotes about celebrity performers and other prominent individuals including Lowell Thomas, Charles Gibson, Warren Buffett, Burt Reynolds, Barbara Walters, and Paul McCartney. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the April 13, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Limping on Water

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Like its predecessor Liar’s Bench, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field is a powerful coming-of-age story complicated by lingering racial prejudice. The town of Nameless, Kentucky is a place where everyone suffers under the heel of grinding poverty, poor education, and images of a ruthless, punishing God from whom family elders take the cue to carry out ruthless, punishing child-rearing. It seems that when things are tough, teaching children to tough it out is considered a responsibility.



It also teaches them, of course, to be abusers in turn. Or at least quick to talk with their fists.

It’s a place where self-destructive behavior, like drunkenness, is prevalent. Where abuse of women and girls is manliness.

RubyLyn Bishop, approaching her sixteenth birthday during the blazing hot summer of 1969, keeps house and works in the tobacco fields for her Uncle Gunnar, who rescued her from an orphanage when she was five. Her parents had met tragic deaths, but living with Gunnar is something of a tragedy in itself. Out of notion of molding righteousness, he forces RubyLyn to hold a flesh-stinging and tissue swelling potion of bitters in her mouth as punishment for her lapses in behavior – whether talking back or not working hard enough.

And yet she is convinced that on some level Gunnar really cares for her, even though he never offers a compliment.

RubyLyn is enamored of her neighbor Rainey Ford, a handsome, caring, and upright African-American young man whom she would like to marry. Their clandestine interracial romance is not fully hidden, and that’s a problem; small town Kentucky has not evolved into a San Francisco zone of tolerance even by the close of the 1960s.

RubyLyn dreams of escape. Her curiosity needs wider venues. She has artistic abilities that need nourishing, a talent that could bring her an income. She needs to find or make opportunities, and getting to Louisville to display her tobacco plants might win her the prize money with which to stake hers and Rainey’s future.


Though he loves RubyLyn, Rainey – who is realized by the author with great delicacy – sees a future for himself in the army. It’s his way out of the impoverished, cruel town.

Seeing Louisville is a life-changing event for RubyLyn, though she does not win the prize because she missed the required arrival time. The people she sees are animated, friendly, and enjoying life, not stooped over and broken in spirit. She even makes a contact with someone who will help sell her artwork. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: “GodPretty in the Tobacco Field,” by Kim Michele Richardson – SLR

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A missing piece of jewelry sparkles through a gem of a thriller

Family Jewels, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 320 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Readers recalling my early December review of Stuart Woods’ Foreign Affairs might wonder why I’m commenting so soon on another installation in the Stone Barrington series. I exercised some self-control by not reviewing Mr. Woods’ Scandalous Behavior in January, but these novels are just so much fun, I can’t skip this newest offering.  cover_FAMILYJEWELS

Family Jewels opens with Stone channeling Bogie and Bacall when his secretary Joan introduces him to the tall and slim Carrie Fiske, she of low-pitched voice and big money pedigree. She who had the moxie not to make an appointment. She whose ex-husband is stalking her and wishes to enlarge their settlement agreement.

It’s not clear how much trouble Carrie is in or what Stone can do to help her, but they decide he will provide a new will for her immediately so that her ex, the beneficiary of her present will, doesn’t inherit at her death — and that he has less motive for murder. Stone also assigns his associate, Fred Flicker, to protect Carrie.

Soon enough, the ex — Harvey Biggers — shows up, and Fred gets rid of him the old fashioned way, cracking his nose with a head butt.

Then Harvey appears at Stone’s office, trying to hire him and insisting that it’s Carrie who wants to kill him, not the other way around.

Visiting his new client at her ritzy East Hampton home, Stone meets her friends Nicky and Vanessa Chalmers and Derek and Alicia Bedford. It’s all high-society and money talk, some of it focusing on Derek’s business of buying and selling jewelry. He plans to help Carrie turn some of her huge collection of jewelry into cash.

When a bad smell leads to a dead body at the residence where Carrie’s friends are staying, Stone connects with his buddy Dino, the NYC police commissioner, and gets that investigation under way. Soon he’s also lawyering for Jim Carlton, a movie director who owns the house.



Carrie then disappears for a while, leaving Stone in charge of Bob, her friendly dog. He soon finds out the murdered girl was a prostitute who was with Harvey at a New Year’s Eve party at Jim’s house.

While the author’s build-up of characters and creepiness is effective, the novel goes into high gear when the history of a certain rare jewelry item — and the chase to obtain it — takes over.

This thread takes us on a fascinating journey back to Holocaust history, as a key and rarified piece of jewelry that once decorated Herman Goering’s wife had, over the decades, made its way into Carrie’s overabundant collection. As the saying goes, you could die for it. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 6, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter, and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Family Jewels

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