Monthly Archives: October 2016

2nd annual Jewish book festival will delight Greater Naples area

nazititaniccoverThis winter, the second annual Collier County Jewish Book Festival will strive to top its highly successful inaugural edition, continuing this outstanding contribution 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 offer 12 book events at several venues, with a total of 20 authors visiting through the winter season.


With five exceptions, each of the Festival events will feature at least two authors matched by a common theme. Three of those exceptions are food-related events. The others guarantee food for thought. At the multi-author events, the 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.

For a complete schedule of events, ticket information, venue locations, author bios and book synopses, visit For questions and general information, call 239.263.4205 or email


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Deeply moving memoir traces the arc from disaster to revival

White Man’s Disease, by Paul C. Thornton. Book-Broker Publishers. 244 pages. Trade paperback $19.95.

Here is a surprising, inspirational memoir that is at once highly personal and broadly instructive. Paul, the oldest of six children, was raised in Brooklyn and on Long Island. At school, he showed intelligence, though he sometimes bordered on being in trouble. His academic abilities were recognized, often resulting in special educational opportunities. He excelled in situations where expectations of Afro-Americans were unfortunately low.  whitemansdisease

Three years in the Army gave Paul some special skills and a strong work ethic. He was in a program that allowed him to graduate college upon finishing his term in the military. He was able to go on graduate school, and after receiving a master’s degree he was recruited by the DuPont corporation, where he moved up the corporate ladder steadily. Home was now in Wilmington near DuPont headquarters. He and his wife Dorey were on track for a grandly successful life together.

However, their ascent was threatened by an unexpected discovery: Paul had a brain tumor for which delicate, high-risk surgery offered the only possible remedy. In 1985, at the age of twenty-nine, the future did not look so bright at all.

Paul Thorton’s narration regarding the accumulation of information about his condition, the meetings with a series of physicians include the neurosurgeon who would operate, and the long, difficult recovery, is vivid and emotionally powerful. The life-saving operation left Paul with only one good eye, severely reduced hearing, and minimal control over his facial muscles. This is not to mention the long cranial scar. Brain surgery is not for sissies.



Over time, further surgeries and therapies mitigated these consequences of the tumor excision, but they did not disappear. Paul was not pleasant to look at, and he knew it. Not being able control his mouth and lips, he had trouble eating and had to drink with a straw. He strove to maintain a positive attitude, but despair was as much a battle as his medical issues.

DuPont held onto Paul’s job, and he was able to make the adjustments that put him back on the track of gaining new and higher responsibilities. He and his wife had two daughters whom he loved dearly, but sometimes his workaholic ways created barriers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 26, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 27 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Thornton

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Science is sexy in scintillating Hannah Smith thriller

Seduced, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 352 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

Pythons, orange trees of ancient stock, infidelity, madness, and greed. Is that all there is? Well, no. There is Mr. White’s gloriously complicated, totally unglamorous, and fiercely independent Hannah Smith.  seducedjacket

As in much of RWW’s previous work, Florida’s history and natural assets are much in evidence, as is the author’s interest in saving what’s left of the indigenous wildlife and ecosystem. In many of his novels, Mr. White makes science interesting, and “Seduced” is no exception. The extended, plausibly introduced discussions on how orange trees propagate, along with the reasons for finding clones of the original 16th century stock brought by Spanish adventurers, are powerfully addictive.

DNA issues, patents on seed development processes, and the money to be made from disease-resistant strains of citrus take Hannah, her allies, and her adversaries to dangerous cypress swamps, islands that like much of Florida are now denuded of the indigenous animal population by the intrusions of ravenous giant pythons and other exotic predators. Hey, if you’re going to find the ur-orange trees you’re going to have to risk death by python.

True to form in the Randy Wayne White world, the predator most to be feared is the homo sapien.

White author photo by Wendy Webb

White author photo by Wendy Webb

From her cabin cruiser, Hannah sees some disturbance at her mom’s cracker house. Turns out stroke survivor Loretta’s been keeping up her affair with the former lieutenant governor of Florida, a wealthy old philanderer named Harney Chatham. Chatham seems to have died in the love-making, and now it seems wise to move the body in order to disguise the place of death.

This frantic exercise in saving already wounded reputations soon puts Hannah in the company of Reggie (the deceased’s loyal driver) and other Chatham employees.  Among them is Kermit Bigalow, the manager of the Chatham citrus groves – a sizeable enterprise threatened by plant disease.

Bigalow, in a failing marriage and with a young daughter, is quickly enamored with Hannah – and doesn’t hide his attraction. Hannah, off-guard, is first responsive to his advances, but then cools things off and sets limits. She and Bigalow share the interest in saving the threatened orange groves; Bigalow is particularly interested in the financial benefit of controlling breakthroughs in the cure. However, as widow Lonnie Chatham makes clear, she would own those discoveries made by him while in her employ.

Lonnie, a former cheerleader, has long tolerated Harney’s indiscretions (including his affair with Loretta). She is busy protecting her turf now that he’s passed away. She’s locked Kermit out of his job, and she’s worried about land Harney has willed to Hannah. Moreover, there is evidence to keep hidden that threatens her own rights to inheritance. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 19, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Seduced

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Penetrating thriller treats deep-cover spycraft and apocalyptic danger

End Game, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This latest Kirk McGarvey novel is a major tour de force for its prolific and widely-praised author. Sarasota author David Halberg seems to dare himself with the riskiest premise, leaving readers to wonder if he can manage those self-made challenges of plotting, suspense, and characters at the edge of plausible definition. What kind of serial killer leaves his mark by eating through the faces and throats of his victims? Is this a mania or a message? endgamecover_hagbergf16

It’s easy for the top strata of CIA insiders to understand the common denominators that define the victim pool. They are all a certain kind of CIA outside insider; that is, they are (or were) NOCs, agents who work under Non-Official Cover. These are operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to the government. Some, including several in this novel, are somehow repatriated into normal roles within the CIA.

Seven such agents have something else in common: they were all part of or knew about an operation in Kirkuk, the major Iraqi petroleum center. Something was buried above city just before the Second Gulf War, and its discovery and implementation threaten to set off World War Final.

Who’re you gonna call? In a Kirk McGarvey novel you’re going to call Kirk, a former CIA director who is often brought in on special cases. Once you call Kirk, you’re going to hear from his occasional squeeze, Pete Boylan, a brave and beautiful agent who will inevitable get in Kirk’s way – emotionally, that is.



Though this thriller has international sweep, taking readers to Greece, France, Israel, and other locations, many scenes are set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia just outside of Washington, D. C. In these scenes, the authoritative detail is compelling (whether it is truly accurate or not is another matter). Mr. Hagberg puts us right on the spot, whether he is presenting extended vistas of the campus, main buildings or outbuildings, or the interiors of offices and meeting rooms. Security and other technical features are highlighted, and the reality of the CIA characters is enhanced by the way they related to their environment.

In the courtyard at CIA headquarters stands Kryptos, a piece of statuary designed to reveal important secrets of if it can be decoded. Its four engraved copper panels, once deciphered, predict the means and purpose of the serial killings. Re-writing history is part of the agenda. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 12, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – End Game

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“Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland,” by Dave Barry

G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 240 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

a hilarious and insightful tour of the Sunshine State

Dave Barry has long been one of the funniest writers in the United States and one of the shrewdest analysts of the ridiculous in our manners and mores. During and after his two decades as an award-winning columnist for the Miami Herald, Barry has offered snappy prose that just makes one laugh out loud. This new book finds him cracking wise as he poses as a Florida tour guide who makes no apologies, but rather revels in the nonsense found in his beloved state. Laughter is the best defense. beststatecover

Dave Barry’s introduction insists that other states, so often looking down on Florida, have nothing to brag about. While California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York are in a tie with Florida for incompetence and corruption, Florida’s much lower level of taxation provides incompetence and corruption at a bargain rate.

A brief history of Florida follows, as only Barry could conceive it. He argues that Florida emerged during a period called Global Rising and that the first humans crossed land bridges from Asia to and through North America in search of Spring Break. He notes that the Florida Land Boom was curbed by a 1926 hurricane that turned Miami back into a sleepy little village, but one with far more kindling.

And so it goes: “Under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law it is legal to kill anybody for any reason as long as you are standing on your ground.” A recent court ruling: “sitting is also OK.”

Then the tour begins.

Barry provides a fine “on the road” frame around his fresh version of the Skunk Ape story. He compares the Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters to “a tiki bar frequented by motorcycle gangs.” The master of this domain, Dave Shealy, is always looking to add new attractions to his campground and roadside attraction. Barry applauds him as a survivor of changing times, himself “an endangered species.” No skunk apes were spotted during Barry’s visit.

Dave Barry

Dave Barry

A supercharged chapter links visits to Weeki Wachee, with its lovely dancing mermaids, and Spongeorama, with its . . . sponges. Weeki Wachee, born at the beginning of the Florida tourist attraction boom, rocketed when the American Broadcasting Company bought the spring in 1959. Since its heyday, it has continued to struggle along, though Barry admits that it’s “low-key bordering on sleepy” that endures as if “the fifties never ended there.” It’s a kind of time machine to a more pleasant America.

Spongeorama is a highly informative place that needs a facelift. Barry has fun following advice in the educational film on choosing the best sponge for his needs. He settles on the wool sponge – “the Cadillac of sponges.”

Barry lodges at Hotel Cassadaga, his refuge while exploring “The Psychic Capital of the World.” The town of Cassadaga is another Florida landmark set back in time. When a spiritual medium fits Barry into her not-so-crowded schedule, he just can’t resist. When she “sees” canisters and asks if canisters were important in his life, Barry feels he should cooperate, but he ends up letting the medium down.

Nor does the number 76 mean anything special to him, as Judy suggests it might. The Q & A between Judy and her new client is hilarious, though probably not to her. Barry insinuates that there might be some faking going on in this historic, possibly haunted town.

But the place that he considers the height of fake is actually quite new. This is the burgeoning metropolis for seniors called The Villages. Boomtown for boomers and their elders, it is rumored to have a swinging lifestyle hidden under a veneer of act-your-age propriety. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: Best. State. Ever.: | Washington Independendent Review of Books

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“Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” by Daniel Gordis


Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. 576 pages. Hardcover $29.99.

Daniel Gordis’s new history of Israel should become a standard for years to come, perhaps even a classic. At 576 pages, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn can indeed be considered concise, as so much more could be and has been written about each era and associated issues addressed in the book. Clear, forceful, frank, and often inspiring, this mighty tome of both academic and personal writing explores the ups, downs, and turning points in a history that begins with Theodore Herzl’s vision and ends with tomorrow’s challenges.



Gordis is masterful at stepping into the personalities of the key thinkers and doers of the modern Jewish state. His portraits are alive, and his judgments are shrewd. He understands and conveys with authority the ways in which, for the most part, the right leaders arise to encounter the troubles of specific eras, such as Menachem Begin’s fruitful ascendency following a period of relative disgrace and invisibility. Quick to point out the flaws in his parade of Israel’s pre-state and later leaders, Gordis exposes how the times make the leader (and vice versa) with sensitivity and nuance.

As vigorously as he draws the pre-state decades of Zionist immigration, Gordis’s depictions of independent, modern Israel’s remarkable and even miraculous ability to absorb millions of émigrés are truly uplifting; the statistics are staggering, especially those examined from periods when Israel’s economy was relatively weak. Each of Israel’s major and minor wars receives its due in terms of its relative complexity and consequence. Perhaps the most intriguing chapter is “Six Days of War Change a Country Forever” about the 1967 war: the euphoria which followed Israel’s multilayered victory is palpable straight off the page. . . .

To read the entire Jewish Book Council review, click here: Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis |

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Compendium of Florida facts and follies links the loony, lousy and laughable

Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, by Craig Pittman. St. Martin’s Press. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Already a New York Times best-seller, this book belongs in every Florida home. No, it’s not a hurricane survival guide, rather it’s a rambling encyclopedia of Florida freakiness. It reminds us of what we have been surviving while warning others to enter at their own risk. Craig Pittman is the literary entrepreneur of what’s odd – and yet often trendsetting – about our populous state with the seemingly endless coastline. It’s local color with a laugh and a blush.  ohflorida

Mr. Pittman presents his learning, lore, and laughs in eighteen friendly chapters, perhaps to make us think we are strolling along on a Florida golf course. Having established a central focus for each chapter, he generally stays in bounds even while addressing Florida hazards. Every now and then, Craig Pittman does need to take an extra stroke penalty.

There’s something called “school of beauties” criticism, not very well respected, in which the critic simply oohs and aahs and quotes passages. I’m tempted to go there, but then I wouldn’t know how or when to stop. Readers will find their own favorite passages in this delightful romp. So, here are some of the themes and categories:

Florida is, and has been forever, a land of hucksters. Think swampland, think Cape Coral, think rum-running, think of a rainy, often overcast state that named itself the Sunshine State.

Craig Pittman - Photo byCherie Diez

Craig Pittman – Photo by Cherie Diez

Florida is a land of “surface flash” that leads people to overlook truly interesting architecture. Why stand gaga in front of Cinderella’s Castle when you can find ten Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the Lakeland campus of Florida Southern College?

Florida is the land of mermaids and manatees, alligators and armadillos. That’s enough freakiness for one state. But we have more. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the October 5, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 6 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Pittman

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