Monthly Archives: February 2017

Her Year of Living Jewishly

My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. By Abigail Pogrebin. Foreword by A. J. Jacobs. Fig Tree Books. 336 pages. Hardcover $22.99.

What a joy it is to be able to share vicariously this talented and energetic author’s journey, a journey self-designed to deepen her Jewish knowledge and identity. At first glance a sure-fire, gimmicky publishing venture, it turns out to be much more than that. It’s a kind of Jewish makeover. It has soul and determination and great sensitivity.  myjewishyearcover_border_

As the subtitle makes clear. Pogrebin organizes her book around the calendar of Jewish holidays, including an unexpected number of fast days. Each chapter is part embellished journal entry, part citations of relevant observations – short teachings – by rabbis whom the author interviewed along the way. Abby Progrebin as character in her own book is presented as a somewhat rebellious family member who feels her Jewish life has not been as rich as it might have been. She has set out to see what, if anything, she has missed – and to decide what to do about it.

What new understandings will she turn into changed behavior? This question not only generates suspense, but also deepens our interest in the implicit question that lies behind it: what new understandings will she gain? How will she react to them? How will her readers react?

Readers are encouraged to let Pogrebin be their guide, to imagine themselves in her place. To measure their reactions against hers. To trust her certainties and her uncertainties.

Pogrebin wrestles with the fact that Judaism provides a range of templates. Her search leads her to encompass more than the Reform Judaism that is her home territory. She questions authorities from other worship traditions within the Jewish family. She visits a variety of temples and synagogues. They contrast not only in worship style, but in many other ways as well: size, prominence, formality, secular setting (major urban center, suburb, etc.).  Pogrebin crisscrosses the country to touch as many bases as she can, though of necessity the book remains a bit New York centric.



The author’s quest brings a payoff that might not have been expected. Yes, she gains insight and appreciation for the individual holy days and rituals, especially the most holy of all – the Sabbath. Beyond this, however, she comes to feel the genius of the sacramental and liturgical Jewish year as an overarching structure both in time and beyond time. There is a rhythm to the changing emotional seasons of grief and joy, defeat and victory, scarcity and plentitude.

During this experimental year, she realizes more strongly than ever that the hold and power of the holidays depends upon one’s preparation and intention.

Helping Pogrebin and her readers are quotations from rabbis that she has met or read along her journey. These quotations are selected to underscore key issues connected with the holidays and the ways in which the calendar structures Jewish life. Some of the quotations introduce a theme or a chapter, while others simply arise when they are needed to lend clarity and authority.

Other useful tools are the special appendices: “A Jewish Year in Bullet Points,” a list of rabbi’s and other authorities interviewed as part of Pogrebin’s research, a bibliography, and a glossary.

Throughout her travels, inquiries, and meditations, Pogrebin continues to underscore her experiences as a Jewish child and woman, as wife and mother, and as an accomplished professional and unsatisfied seeker. These are parts of the tapestry. Now one of its threads, the thread of her Jewish selfhood and spirituality, is a much more prominent part of the design.

This remarkable book accomplishes its ends with great vitality and generous, inspiring openness.

A note on the author

Abigail Pogrebin worked for Mike Wallace as a producer on 60 Minutes. Her other books are Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish and One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin. Her work appears in such periodicals as Newsweek, New York magazine, The Daily Beast, the Forward, and Tablet.

This review appears in the March 2017 issues 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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A panoramic novel about how America began its global ascent to power

An Honorable War, by Robert N. Macomber. Pineapple Press. 392 pages. Hardcover $26.95. Trade paperback $16.95.

How does Mr. Macomber keep doing this? The thirteenth installment of his splendid Honor Series, like the earlier titles in the series, once again transforms a pile of historical fact into a colorful, well-imagined, and highly suspenseful entertainment. Captain Peter Wake, assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence, is no desk-jockey, but a man of action – in this case leading the action plan that he designed to satisfy the ambitious and often outlandish Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The author’s subtitle sets the historical scene: “The Spanish-American War Begins.”  honorablewar

This episode, cast as another segment of the memoirs of Peter Wake, launches a three-part trilogy within the burgeoning series.

It is immensely impressive, though it sometimes walks on the edge of too much detail and too many voices. As is so often the case in historical fiction, we must accept the awkward convention of a narrator remembering conversations verbatim. It’s a small price pay for the explosive results.

Roosevelt is a warrior wannabe who has just enough clout and cunning to engage his country in the destiny of Cuba.

The story Mr. Macomber tells so engagingly begins with the explosion of the USS Maine, one of the first U. S. battleships, in Havana Harbor. It was a deadly catastrophe that killed hundreds helped fire anti-Spanish sentiment and rally U. S. support for an independent Cuba. Indeed, the ship had been sent to protect American interests following Spain’s cruel suppression of the Cuban revolution.


Wake finds himself charged with two missions. The first is a to gather information about Spanish intentions and military capacities as well as the situation of Cuban rebels.  He and his longtime friend and associate Rork barely escape this clandestine operation with their lives.

The second mission, based on the information gathered in the first, involves maneuvers against Spanish forces conducted from the port of Isabela. Wake puts together a fleet of converted yachts whose agility makes them unusually effective against the larger Spanish ships. He also masterminds all kinds of tactical tricks that surprise the enemy sailors and throw them off guard. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 15, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the February 16 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, and  the February 23 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – An Honorable War

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Civil War relics fuel latest “Garage Sale Mystery”

Garage Sale Riddle, by Suzi Weinert. BluewaterPress LLC. 325 pages. Trade paperback $21.95.

Winter Naples resident Suzi Weinert has now published the third title in her Garage Sale Mystery Series. It follows Garage Sale Stalker and Garage Sale Diamonds. Does the series sound familiar? Ms. Weinert’s work is the inspiration for the powerhouse series of films that is run religiously on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. The seventh premiered in January, and there are others in the pipeline. gsrfinalcover

The new novel has several intertwined plots, some more engaging than others. The primary story line, and the one most likely to be of interest to Southwest Florida readers, is Jennifer Shannon’s need to deal with her aging mother’s future. Frances Ryerson, now in her later eighties, must be steered into giving up her independent habits after having lived in Naples, Florida for many years. This concern leads to a practical roadmap for making and carrying out such decisions, a roadmap that involves scaling down, arranging for estate sales, choosing the next home for Frances, taking stock of assets, and many other matters.

Because the author has these issues arise and gain shape in the credible conversations involving mother, daughter, granddaughter, friends, and experienced professionals, she avoids overt preachiness and penetrates the emotions involved in such stressful changes.

The catalyst for the redirection of Frances’s life is that she has been victimized by a skillful criminal who preys on seniors. The escape from and apprehension of this abusive man and his female accomplice (also a victim, though she doesn’t know it) forms a second and more suspenseful plot line within the broader concern of the kind of life adjustments that seniors need to make – and often need help making.

Suzi Weinert and actress Lori Loughlin

Suzi Weinert & actress Lori Loughlin

Then there’s the Civil War relics plot.

Garage sale wizard that she is, Jennifer comes across two special items, and they fire her imagination in unexpected ways. One is a statue of a dragon. Jennifer’s fascination with it introduces reveries about dragon lore and about how so many cultures share the dragon motif in their art and in their ancient stories. It’s as if the dragon comes alive for her and guides her in some way. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 16, 2017 Naples and Bonita Springs Florida Weekly, and the February 22 Fort Myers and February 23 Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Garage Sale Riddle


Ms. Weinert will be talking about her new book at the following locations:


 February 17 –  at Collier County South Regional Library from 1-2:30pm at 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples.
March 6 –     Luncheon speaker at Riverwood Plantation at 11am at 4600 Robt. E. Lee Blvd, Estero. For more info call Janeen Dulaney at 239-947-1052.

March 9 –     Luncheon speaker at Sea Stars of Naples at noon at Countryside Country Club, 600 Countryside Drive, Naple. For more info contact Linda Earle at 239-514-0773.

March 14 –  Luncheon speaker at Hideaway Beach Club at noon at 250 S. Beach Drive, Marco Island. For more info, contact Maxine Shapiro at 239-394-5555.

April 3 –  Luncheon speaker at Vasari Country Club at noon, 11250 Via Del Vasari Dr., Bonita Springs. For more info contact Marianne Lavalle at 516-816-5454.


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Corruption reigns inside a high-powered legal establishment.

Big Law: A Novel, by Ron Liebman, Blue Rider Press. 272 pp. Hardcover $26.00.

Authenticity also resides in the vast amount of information about how big law came into being, how it operates, and how its excesses helped to undermine it.  9781101982990

“Big Law” is the term for those huge multi-office, multi-partner firms that operate more like investment-capital firms than arms of a justice system. They are busy leveraging access to power, borrowing from hedge funds to finance their cases, and destroying or absorbing rivals.

Carney becomes mildly suspicious when his boss tries to stay out of the information and advice loop, keeping a distance from Carney’s handling of the case as if to protect himself from any negative fallout. It is also strange that the firm chooses to represent the plaintiffs — not usually where big law makes its money.

What is Carney’s boss, Carl Smith, up to? Nothing less than taking the firm of Dunn & Sullivan public. He is plotting an IPO that will attract a spectacular amount of cash, and then plans to sell his shares and vanish. But we’ll find out, along with Carney, that Smith has much more to hide than this financial scheme.

As Carney moves more deeply into the case, he discovers a complex, nasty plot driven by greed and the desire for retribution. Clients, colleagues, victims, and the justice system itself can be sacrificed for personal gain.

Liebman rounds out Carney’s character in several ways. He sets Carney into a fully dysfunctional family for whom he feels ultimately responsible. His father is an abusive drunk and his druggy brother is a desperate loser. Both depend on Carney to straighten out their sorry lives, and he takes serious risks for them even while knowing there is little hope of them escaping such dependency.

Rob Liebman

Rob Liebman

Carney’s love relationship with a caring and talented African-American woman — also a lawyer — shows other sides of him, not all of them attractive. Liebman knows his character only too well. In fact, the editorial label for the book’s genre is roman à clef. Thus, we may read the novel as a disguised version of actual happenings and even actual people. Veiled memoir?

Liebman’s handling of dialogue is strong and well-pointed. Especially captivating is his reproduction of courtroom sparring, with its blend of accusation, innuendo, sarcasm, indirection, feigned outrage, and other verbal and performance gambits.

A high-energy legal thriller that exudes insider perspectives, Ron Liebman’s Big Law earns its authenticity in two ways. His main character and narrator, Carney Blake, is a former innocent whose need to secure his position as full-partner leads him to accept an assignment designed to put him in a vulnerable position. Carney’s transition from naïve flunky to wised-up player is accompanied by an emotional-rollercoaster ride that Liebman handles with authority. . . .

To read the entire review , please click here: Big Law: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Naples writer-photographer follows up on award-winning travel book

A (mostly) Kids’ Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands and the Fort Myers Coast, by Karen T. Bartlett. Mostly Kids Guides LLC. 80 pages. Oversized paperback $19.95.

Wow is the word for this second entry in Karen T. Bartlett’s Mostly Kids Guides series. And while these dazzling, humorous, and information-packed books are aimed at kids, even a 75-year-old like yours truly can enjoy them. What’s not to like? sancapcovernov2016

An intense color palette, high-energy graphics, and the friendly voice of a caring story-teller combine with a treasure trove of data and plenty of kid friendly attitude.

This book is as thorough as 80 oversized pages can be while keeping the focus on children, their parents, and grandparents. Excitement is everywhere, as are helpful hints. Ms. Bartlett also includes quirky quiz questions to keep readers engaged.

Maps help set the scene, and abundant photographs detail it and stimulate our appetites for exploration.

Manatees, roseate spoonbills, iguanas, loggerhead turtles, bald eagles, and all kinds of regional animal life parade through the books. All the places that offer environmental education (and there are far more than you’d think) are lovingly described. Places that are just plain fun are enumerated with fondness and precision.


Annual festivals, pirate lore, the distinctions of the various beaches, local transportation, Indian mounds, fishing guides, miniature golf, picnic spots – it’s all here.

And there’s more than just what’s indicated in the title. The other barrier islands that protect the Fort Myers coast also receive attention: Cabbage Key, Gasparilla Island, Pine Island, and Cayo Costa are on the itinerary of the imagination. So is the “sand castle capital of the universe,” better known as Fort Myers Beach, with all its vacation attractions. It takes up Estero Island. On another Island is Lovers Key State Park, whose joys Ms. Bartlett sings.

There’s plenty here, as well, about “mainland” Fort Myers.

Can you overuse works like ”fantastic?” Just in case, Karen Bartlett indulges her penchant for coinages such as “sand-sational” and “ginormous.” She’s got a gazillion of them! A kind of laugh-out-loud, raucous music for a child’s ear. Hey, if the kids are laughing, then the adults who are taking them through the wonders of this stretch of Southwest Florida are going to be happy too. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 8, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 9 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Kids’ Guide to Sanibel & Captiva

You can buy this book online and at many area shops, including: Barnes & Noble – all three stores: Naples, Estero & Fort Myers.


Cottontails Children’s Boutique, Collier County Museum (main)


 Sunshine Booksellers

Lee County

Annette’s Book Nook – Fort Myers Beach, Bailey’s General Store – Sanibel, Edison and Ford Winter Estates – Fort Myers, Gene’s Books – Sanibel, MacIntosh Books & Paper – Sanibel, Nanny’s Childrens Shoppe – Sanibel, The Shell Factory – North Fort Myers, Traders Gulf Coast Grill & Gifts – Sanibel, Tween Waters Inn Island Resort – Captiva, South Seas Island Resort – Captiva



Naples-based publishing company Mostly Kids Guides, LLC took top honors in Salt Lake City this past spring in the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) Benjamin Franklin Awards. The winning book, earning the Silver award for travel, was “A (mostly) Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades.” It was the only travel book among the top three winners featuring a U.S. destination. The other two winning books featured Paris and Naples, Italy. sticker art interior for mockup

With over 3,000 members, IBPA is the largest publishing trade association in the U.S. The Benjamin Franklin Awards are among the highest honors in the industry.”

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Keep believing, keep pretending, keep practicing

I am Jim Henson, by Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Dial Books for Young Readers. 40 pages. Hardcover $14.99.

I often realize that it is more difficult to review a short book than a long book. Such is the case with a fine children’s book like the latest in Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series. Earlier titles in the series have include child-friendly biographies of Amelia Earhart, Jackie Robinson, Lucille Ball, and Martin Luther King. These inspirational narratives written for children from 5-8 years old invite youngsters to dream bigger and to pursue their dreams energetically. hensoncover

Florida author Meltzer gives a voice to Jim Henson as if Henson was writing a memoir. He offers characterizing details of Henson’s youth: drawing birds, enjoying family jokes and the laughter they provoked, going to the movies with friends and then re-enacting the movies with their own props and costumes. His grandmother got him involved in art projects.

Early on, Henson had a propensity for creating monsters who were sort of laughable.

He loved performance and a degree of disguise.

What may have seemed like frivolous indulgences were encouraged, allowing Henson to find his way to a notable career in television and movies. One influence was Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist whose invention Charlie McCarthy seemed human to young Henson.



As a teenager and young adult, Henson had early experiences in local television that set him on the road to universal acclaim. This show was “Sam and Friends,” in which his highly expressive Muppets first came alive. Jim Henson’s imagination was the great gift he continued to develop.

The full flourishing of the Muppets, through “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street,” required teamwork: writers, actors, puppet builders, and more. But the key ingredient that allowed imagination to become fully realized was practice.

It’s not enough, Mr. Meltzer tells his readers, to be a dreamer. The practice – the hard work – is as important as the dream. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the February 1, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 2 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly -I am Jim Henson

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