Monthly Archives: July 2016

Extraordinary Jewish family drama explores questions of identity and obligation

Elizabeth Poliner, As Close to Us as Breathing. A Lee Boudreaux Book. 368 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

There is no shortage of books focused on Jewish family life, but Elizabeth Poliner’s novel stands apart as an instant classic. It is an inspired literary exploration of the tension between personal and family identity, between masculine and feminine models of achievement, between tradition as habit and tradition as choice, between love that gives and love that demands.  Poliner_AsClosetoUsasBreathing

Though the novel examines an extended family and its world over three generations, its point of focus is the summer of 1948, immediately following modern Israel’s birth and, for the Leibritsky family, the trauma of its youngest member’s accidental death. Spatially and culturally, its main arena is a place informally named Bagel Beach: the family vacation area on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound that constitutes a summer Jewish beachfront neighborhood in the midst of other ethnic enclaves.

The narrative reaches us through the voice of Molly, middle child and only daughter of Ada and Mort Leibritsky. Mort, the kingpin of the family, owns Leibritsky’s Department Store in Middletown, inherited from his father. His brother, brother-in-law, and, occasionally, his older son work there. A moderately observant Jew, Mort carries on his father’s mantra of responsibility to his God and to the Jewish people. It’s a noose and a blessing.

The men enjoy the beach cottage over weekends; the women live there through the summer months. Beautiful, queen-like Ada reigns over the household: her sisters Vivie and Bec; her children Howard, Molly, and young Davy; and Vivie’s daughter, Nina, who is a few years older than Molly. At the time of her brother’s death, Molly is twelve years old; in her middle age, she delivers the grand Leibritsky saga, passed down to Molly by her parents and aunts.



Poliner treats the summer of 1948 as if it were the hub of a wheel from which extend spokes of increasing significance through the power of this family disaster. Like all families, this one has many challenges, as do its individual members. Molly allows us to see them, feel them, and understand them. Sisters are estranged. Love is frustrated by duty. Marriages fail. A boy dies for no reason. And still, individuals persevere to lead remarkable lives. By opening and closing the aperture, Poliner is able to sweep us through decades of change, growth, accomplishment, and frustration. We witness her characters responding to social changes, their own maturing and aging, their own realized or thwarted sense of destiny.

Poliner handles the texture of Jewish family life with brilliance, authenticity, and a touch of wistfulness. Mort makes Jewish identity and ritual observance a debt always in need of servicing. Why can’t people inconvenience themselves a bit for what others have died for? Howard’s decision to follow Mort’s sense of tribal duty and forsake his Irish-Catholic true love turns him to a life of meeting the expectations of others. He marries a Jewish woman, has children, muddles through as a physician, but passes away at an early age—as if his sacrifices of the heart have shortened his life.

Scenes of men praying and of women preparing—excitedly or grudgingly—for Shabbat dinners create a pronounced background music for the characters’ largely secular lives and concerns. What do you owe your parents, your people, and your creator? What do you owe yourself? When have you paid enough?

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Book Council. Find daily new reviews, reading recommendations, and more at

Reprinted in the August 2016 issues of L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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Money laundering, revenge, and romance drive business-savvy novel

Entangled, by Mark Dossey. CreateSpace. 316 pages. Trade paperback $14.99. Kindle Ebook $3.99.

This new title continues the saga of Ally Kendall that debuted in “XC97” (2014). The two titles now comprise the Ally Kendall Series. Set in the corporate world, these titles provide special interest to those readers interested in business issues. In addition, Entangled gives new life to a murder mystery once thought resolved. entangledcover-ebook-2

In the earlier novel, Prestige Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Zurich, took over the much smaller Newark-based Integra, allowing the Integra-developed cancer drug XC97 to gain wide distribution quickly. A romance between Ally and Stephan Egbert, sole owner of Prestige Pharma, became red hot. Ally is the chief PR officer for the both companies, though originally an Integra executive.

A few years later, what has been going smoothly begins to fall apart on both business and personal levels. Ally questions the depth of her love for Stephan, whose hermitlike commitment to his company signals his lifestyle inflexibility. Sex is great, but Ally wonders if that’s all there is. At thirty-two, she’s contemplating a marriage with children – but this seems unlikely with Stephan. And she’d rather be living full-time in the U. S., not a change that seems possible for Stephan. Planning to cool the relationship, she is frank about this with Stephan, who is crushed by her news.

Stephan is also crushed by an explosion that brings down his huge estate, leaving him seriously injured and suddenly homeless. Shortly before, the dazzling headquarters of Prestige had been demolished by what looked like a terrorist attack.



One mystery has to do with the cause of the attacks and the person or persons behind them. There is no doubt that they are linked. However, at first it’s more of a mystery for the characters; readers witness the commission of the monstrous deeds.

They seem to be acts of revenge committed by someone alert to the shady history of Prestige, once run by Stephan’s father. The elder Egbert kept its balance sheet impressive by running a massive money laundering operation through it. Now the company is impoverished and disgraced – another blow to Stephan, who was entirely innocent of his father’s criminal behavior.

The game is afoot to settle old scores, and much of the plotting has to do with following the schemes and actions of relatively minor characters. The case of who murdered the Integra founder is reopened, and the events in Newark and Zurich become woven together. . . .

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

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Debut novel explores how low a man can go and still right himself

Beachhead, by Jeffery Hess. Down and Out Books. 322 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

In the time-honored tradition of Florida Noir, this new title is more grit than polish. And, by the way, that’s a good thing. We meet the main character, Scotland Ross, trying to escape from hard times and avoid doing hard time. He is a man with moral awareness, but also with a conflict of honorable and dishonorable loyalties. A series of bad choices has made it difficult for him to turn his life around. Scotland’s parole officer is worried about him, and with good reason.  BeachheadCover

His older sister Dana, to whom he owes a lot going back to their childhood days, has married poorly and is in a big financial bind. Though he needs cash to build a new life for himself, she flaunts her desperation to the point that he gives her what he has and takes dangerous employment to enable her husband’s irresponsibility – or is it just hard luck?

Scotland, a superb physical specimen, finds himself working for the man who would be governor of Florida. Allan Kinsey is a ruthless, all-purpose criminal. Drugs and real estate coexist in his growing empire. How he will make the transition from gangster to governor is clear enough in his own mind: buying influence and subservience with the currency of money, promises, and threats. For some readers, the Kinsey character may seem unrealistic; others will be reminded of a certain presidential candidate who interprets an opinion not his own as a hurtful threat that must be put down.



Working for Kinsey is already a violation of Scotland’s parole, but Scotland rationalizes his choice while hoping to find his way out of Kinsey’s snare. When he disappears, attempting to start a new life in an idealized Daytona Beach, he is tracked down by a pair of Kinsey’s henchmen. In a gloriously violent scene, he makes his escape from being captive on a boat.

Mr. Hess is masterful at portraying the criminal types, their outlook on the world, and the peculiar ways in which they justify their actions. Kinsey’s main assistant, a man named Platinum, is an intelligent psychopath, and the twin bookends who almost murdered Scotland are just as crazy but not quite so bright. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Beachhead

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Ecologically informed guidebook for southern Florida is a landmark success

An Ecotourist’s Guide to the Everglades & the Florida Keys, by Robert Silk. Foreword by Clyde Butscher. University Press of Florida. 216 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

Because Robert Silk is both knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, there was a good chance that his book would be a success. Add the long years of experience that Mr. Silk has spent sharpening his craft as a writer, and the result is something like a minor masterpiece. Though written for the breed of tourist recently defined as eco-aware or eco-sensitive, Mr. Silk’s well planned and fact filled guide can be a source of knowledge, entertainment, and inspiration to anyone interested in the wide open spaces of South Florida and Southwest Florida. Together, these coast edged sections of the peninsula and the inlands that connect them are given the encompassing name “southern Florida” by Mr. Silk. ourists_Guide_to_the_Everglades_and_the_Florida_Keys_RGB

As the author helps us imaginatively discover the vast protected areas available for our relaxed exploration, he provides the context of water management and mismanagement that has led to the various restoration projects that are renewing the health of these collaborative ecosystems: the swamplands and forests of the Everglades, and the string of islands collectively known as the Florida Keys. These distinct systems depend on one another and complete one another while maintaining experiential uniqueness for the visitor.



Robert Silk selects for us the optimum times of the year for our ecotourist adventures, while letting us know that any time will do if it’s all that we have: just be ready for the extreme heat, the regular downpours, and the ferocious mosquitos if you explore during the summer months.

He prepares for us the strong points of each public site, covering national and state parks, preserves, and animal refuges, whether large, small, or almost secret. Mr. Silk also attends to the private businesses that live off and accessorize these public natural wonders: restaurants, camps, bike rentals, and rentals of small, arm-powered craft. He offers his favorites and shares which ones others favor, always providing contact information. . . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 13, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Robert Silk

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“City of Secrets,” by Stewart O’Nan

Viking, 208 pages. Hardcover $22.00

City of Secrets is a brilliantly imagined vision of turmoil in 1945 Jerusalem. A Jewish Latvian man who survived the Russians, the Nazis, and then the Russians again has made his way to Palestine, going by the name of Brand. Like many with whom he associates, Brand’s lifeline is a passable identity document. If he is found by any Mandate official—or betrayed by those with whom he is shakily allied—Brand can readily be turned over to the British Mandate authorities. His life, like theirs, is a web of secrets.

Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O’Nan

Brand finds himself indebted to and dedicated to the Zionist revolution, and thus against most policies of the Mandate. He is part of a cell that uses violence to undermine the Mandate and bring about the Jewish State. At this time, the Irgun and the Haganah are working together rather than fighting each other. The members of the cell live in world that blends loyalty and suspicion in an explosive formula. Few know all of the elements of any planned action, and the stated plans are often disguising the real ones for security purposes. No one is fully trusted: no one is considered above cracking under torture. Undercover as an independent taxi driver, Brand may find himself ordered to pick up an accomplice at a certain location, but find another cell member there instead, perhaps with new orders to pick up someone else at another location. The security arrangements assure confusion and frustration.

They also frustrate relationships: Brand is in love with a woman working undercover for the revolution. She is capable and courageous, and she cares for Brand, but her loyalty—like his—is to the movement. His guilt brings painful dreams of Eva, his deceased wife. O’Nan brilliantly presents those dreams and visions, revealing a man haunted by his concentration camp experiences and losses. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: City of Secrets: A Novel by Stewart O’Nan | Jewish Book Council

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Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writer’s Conference 2016


PO Box 4011
St. Augustine, FL 32085-4011

Friday, Sept. 16 offers a day of workshops dedicated to the working writer committed to improving his or her craft through face-to-face guidance by writing professionals. Whether you’re a veteran or an emerging talent looking for that spark of inspiration and feedback on your writing, the FHBF Writers Conference can help you.

Two sessions run concurrently in each time slot.

Friday Writers Conference Schedule

9:00                                                     Michael Morris                        Joe Gisondi

10:00                                                   John Dufresne                         Brad & Darlyn Kuhn

11-12:30                                              Lunch & Keynote by Susanna Daniel

12:30                                                   Susanna Daniel Signing

1:00                                                     Roy Peter Clark                      Jennie Jarvis

2:00                                                     Terry Griffin                           Cecilia Milanes

3:00                                                     Peter Meinke                           John Henry Fleming

4:00                                                     Robin Lippincott

5:00-5:30                                           Book Signings

Lecture Titles & Descriptions

Michael Morris: “Creating Characters Who Stand the Test of Time”

The workshop will focus on character development, capturing oral history and research for fiction, with an emphasis on the historical genre.

Joe Gisondi:Finding Bigfoot & Developing Scenes”

Gisondi, author of Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot and a professor of journalism, traveled to eight locations across the country, trekking into swamps, mountains, state parks, and remote woods with people in search of bigfoot as well as fame, fortune, adventure, and shared camaraderie. In this session, he’ll show you how to develop scenes before, during and after you’ve spent time in a locale through research, interviews and observations.

John Dufresne: “How to let the necessity of plot guide your writing.”

Brad & Darlyn Kuhn: “Bookstores & Beyond: Marketing in the Age of Amazon”

Learn how to brand yourself and sell your work from two writers who make a living at it.

 Susanna Daniel: “My Fictional Floridians: Point of View and Narrative Shape”

An author’s choice of point of view not only helms a narrative, but determines how that narrative will be imagined by the reader and how it will make the reader feel. Susanna Daniel will discuss how point of view shapes character, structure, and language in each of her three novels, and how to access the most vivid, astute, and compelling point of view in your own work.

Roy Peter Clark:  “Writing Tools:  50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer”

Based upon a book by that title, Roy Peter Clark will reveal the secrets of the writing process, from nuts and bolts to special effects to blueprints for stories to useful habits. These tools are proven to spark an immediate improvement in your prose.

 Jennie Jarvis:  “Crafting the Character Arc”

Many writers think that, just because they have their basic structure in place, their stories are destined to succeed. The problem with many narratives, however, can often come in those places between the plot points. While many books on the craft of writing state that characters need to be three dimensional and change, a beginning writer isn’t always sure how to turn these rather conceptual ideas into something a bit more concrete. Join award winning author and professor Jennie Jarvis as she details a step-by-step practical guide for beginning writers to use in order to ensure they create characters both dynamic and engaging.

Terrell Griffin: “From Self-Published Author to Number One National Best Seller: The Art and Craft of Writing a Mystery Novel”

Cecilia Milanes:  “Our American Lives: Fact/Fiction/Film and Craft”

Peter Meinke:  “The Writing Life:  Habits, Attitude, Luck and Poems”

Join Florida Poet Laureate Peter Meinke as he reads various poems “about” writing, talks about his writing habits, and describes his experiences during a long career.

John Henry Fleming: “Storybrain: What Recent Discoveries in Neuroscience Mean for Fiction Writers”

For the first time, thanks to recent scientific developments, we’re getting a real-time look at how the brain responds to stories. The results are fascinating and surprising; what do they mean for fiction writers? How might our new understanding of the brain influence the craft of fiction? In this session, you’ll learn new ways of thinking about your stories and gain craft advice to help you create a vivid and meaningful experience in the minds of your readers.

Robin Lippincott: “A Good Title is Not Hard to Find”

As a teacher of fiction writing for many years, it has been my experience that a lot of writers aren’t very good at titling their work, and yet the significance of a compelling title that fits cannot be underestimated. In this lecture, I’ll examine why titles are so important, and also some guidelines by which to avoid bad titles, as well as how to create effective and meaningful titles. Along the way, we’ll look at some good (and even great) examples, as well as some bad ones.

For Book Festival dimension and registration, click on link given above. 

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This technological thriller is a fun treat not to be missed

Assassin’s Silence, by Ward Larsen. Forge. 400 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

Reading this book was almost too much fun. There is so much pleasure to be had in the appreciation of a piece of writing that reaches such a high peak of control over its many interlocking fragments. Mr. Larsen’s new technological thriller, the third installment of his David Slaton Series, is a masterful piece of plot construction and of balancing what is to be revealed and what withheld. Jammer Davis, the protagonist of another Larsen series, makes a delightful appearance, guiding the decisions of security agency heads who can barely tolerate Jammer’s disdain for protocol. ASSASSIN'SSILENCECOVER

Strange things are happening in Malta. David Slaton, an ex-Mossad assassin thought to be dead in order to protect his wife and son, is finding trouble. He finds himself encountering and eliminating the members of a team put together for the purpose of implementing a world-threatening terrorist action. But some of them find him first!

Meanwhile, in Brazil, a large, long out of use transport plane, an MD-10, has been sought, purchased, and secretly outfitted for a special mission – perhaps a one-time mission. It is holding in its enormous cargo tanks a huge quantity of radioactive material. And it is headed to the Middle East.



Ward Larsen — by shifting perspectives, locations, and expectations – keeps the reader guessing. Each new revelation about the plane’s mission, the terrorists’ motives, the execution plan, the characters’ responsibilities, and the range of technological capabilities ups the suspense while raising new questions.

In Langley, Virginia, a CIA team is trying to put the pieces together so that disaster can be forestalled and U. S. interests protected. Who lives in Virginia? David Slaton’s wife Christine and their young son. Who is involved in the CIA investigation? Jammer Davis’s sometime girlfriend, special agent Sorensen. Jammer’s slow burn through the thick layer of bureaucracy and professional turf-guarding is a treat not to be missed. . . .

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

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