Monthly Archives: September 2019

A first-rate crafting of a tale about a series of heinous crimes

No Good Deed, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 336 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

The second installment of the Jon Lancaster & Beth Daniels Series, following “The King Tides,” is a blessing for crime thriller fans. It continues to build the shaky relationship between the highly engaging and original lead characters while exploring a heinous series of crimes in human trafficking. What’s happening is terrible, but the crafting of the tale is first rate.

What begins as a missing person case turns into a horror story involving the disappearance of twelve young women within the state of Florida. Who is preying on them? Why? How can this serial abduction nightmare be terminated? 

Jon, retired from police work, has long been associated with Team Adam, part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The missing person he is tracking is young Skye Tanner, whose grandmother was murdered by the felons during her attempt to protect her. When he discovers that Skye’s abduction is part of a pattern, Jon puts himself on the case.

Of course, for a crime spree like this one, not only local authorities but also the FBI will be involved. Thus, Agent Beth Daniels will re-enter Jon’s life. Sparks will fly, a consequence of their mutual attraction and their contrasting understanding of the value of rules. Beth is a by-the-book person, Jon can justify breaking rules – and does.

The emotional dimension of the novel is deepened by the fact that Jon’s long estranged and often imprisoned brother, Logan, turns out to be working for the organization doing the human trafficking.

Swain

The mood of No Good Deed is lightened by such touches as Jon’s employment of teenage students, Beth’s niece and some of her classmates, to do computer search work that helps answer some questions about the perpetrators and their location. . . .

To  enjoy the full review, as it appears in the September 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 12 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions, click here:  No Good Deed

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Failure to protect a witness rocks self-esteem of protagonist

A Beautiful Voice, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 404 pages. Trade Paperback $14.95.

Lane

It’s difficult, and not terribly important, to summarize the plot of Robert Lane’s latest novel, the sixth in his “Jake Travis” series. The attraction of this crime thriller is less in the plot line than in the high quality of characterization, physical setting, and moral ambiance. Meeting Jake and his friends, his girlfriend Kathleen, and several other well-drawn characters who are newly developed for this novel is the real pleasure.

 

Here’s the set-up: When a government agency assigns Jake to safeguard a witness who is brought into the U. S. to testify about the head of a major drug syndicate, the idea is that the witness will keep a low profile. Without warning, this man, an accountant with priceless information, arrives with a family – a wife, two young daughters, and an even younger boy. When the family disappears just a few days later, Jake gathers that he has been misinformed, but why? What has happened to Alejandro Vizcarro and his young family?

Lots of surprises follow, including the fact that the gorgeous wife, Martina, is actually the accountant’s first daughter, much older that her siblings. And it’s possible that one of the children is not a sibling to the others.

The Mexican drug cartel leader, Sergio Flores, has a thriving business. His tainted drugs kill thousands of Americans. No wonder the U. S. government wants him brought to justice. In addition, he has murdered two DEA agents. Some of his books are kept by an American, Richard Bannon, and it’s the hope of Jake’s associates that Mr. Vizcarro’s testimony will tumble Bannon and, in turn, Flores.

Well things just don’t work out. Vizcarro’s protection, set in place by Jake, is just not sufficient. A remaining part of the mystery is the to discover and protect Vizcarro’s children. Assuming they are still alive.

As readers follow the plans that Jake puts in place for himself and his comrades, they enter Jake’s world more fully. This is a world of weapons that Jake’s team knows how to use. It is a world of waterways along the western edge of the Florida peninsula (the St. Petersburg area) that is at once the setting for Jake’s home and the action center of the novel. It is a world of magnificent boats and crime-busting accessories that Jake has long mastered. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 4, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the September 5 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, and the September 12 Naples and Key West editions, click here: A Beautiful Voice

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A life of ballet

Ballet dancer/teacher/businesswoman tells the inside story in a captivating memoir

Chasing Castles: Nineteen Years Living & Teaching Ballet in Italy, by Barbara File Marangon. Ogham Books International. 286 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

This marvelous story of nearly two decades of perseverance is filled with colorful vignettes and valuable life lessons. The author takes her readers through a highly creative period of her life running from her early thirties through her early fifties. As a young woman, Ms. Marangon (hereafter Barbara), had prepared for a career in ballet. We meet her during a time when the ex-New Yorker is dancing and training others in Los Angeles.

But something is luring her in another geographic and cultural direction. She has fond memories of friendships made in Europe, of refinement of her skills there, and of European performances in which she participated. Ready to live in a kind of exile, and hardly speaking any Italian, she is determined to live and work there. Another motive is the need to withdraw from her doomed, painful relationship with her father.

Venice is the first stop.

Marangon

What she didn’t realize was that she would be a victim of a deeply-rooted European prejudice against foreigners. This affected where she could live, what amenities she could obtain, work opportunities, and many other areas of life. Her Venice experience of feeling like an outsider was offset someone by the romance that ended in a marriage to her first husband and her gradual, hard-won successes in developing a career as a ballet teacher. Unfortunately, she discovered that her husband was a very childish person. Their unhealthy relationship lingered on for a long time.

More opportunities arose outside of Venice – in small towns in which ballet education was well established and in which she was able to make her mark even while dealing with the resentment of others about making room for an outsider to flourish. Barbara made at least two of those small towns her home.

What is success as a ballet teacher? How does one manage to turn craft and teaching skills into a successful business? Most of the book details Barbara’s struggle to answer these questions. . . .

The full review, along with an interview, was originally published in the September-October 2019 issue of Ft. Myers Magazine. To read the full review, click here:  Chasing Castles

 

For her earlier Detour on an Elephant, click here:   Detour

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Jewish Book Festival Launches Fifth Season

By Phil Jason, Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival Co-Chair

Beginning in November and concluding in March, the 2019-20 Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival will offer a dazzling series of author events, building upon the highly regarded and jam-packed 2018-19 season. The festival, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples in cooperation with the Jewish Book Council, will once again provide an outstanding contribution to the cultural life of our community. The festival will offer 12 events at several venues, covering 19 books with 22 visiting authors. 

Many of the festival events will feature two authors matched by a common theme or genre. Other events will feature a dynamic solo presenter. One event will feature a book created jointly by three talented authors, all of whom will be on hand.

Be at the Hilton Naples on Tuesday, November 5 at 7:00 p.m. for the festival’s lead-off speaker, Elyssa Friedland, who will discuss her novel The Floating Feldmans. Annette Feldman, hoping to inspire family unity, has chosen to celebrate her 70th birthday on a cruise ship with her entire family. It’s a high-risk piece of wishful thinking that troubled relationships will be healed and that proximity will foster togetherness. Pathos and humor blend as rivalries re-emerge, secrets are revealed and surprises abound. This opening event will feature a 15-minute preview of the entire festival. The event features cruise-themed fun, with prizes for the best cruise photos; book and ticket giveaways; music; drinks and light bites; and other surprises.

On Monday, November 11 at 1:00 p.m., enjoy a fiction session at the Naples Conference Center. Best-selling thriller writer Andrew Gross will talk about his terrifying work of historical fiction, The Fifth Column. A huge Nazi rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden eerily suggests Hitler’s popularity in the winter of 1939. Charles Mossman, despondent from losing his job and family, strikes out at a Nazi group. Two years later, still struggling as the threat of war grows, Mossman finds himself in a world in which Nazi spies are everywhere and his daughter Emma’s life is in jeopardy. Former New York Congressman Steve Israel’s novel, Big Guns, takes us behind the scenes into the political mayhem of the gun debate. After the mayor of a small Long Island town passes an ordinance to ban guns, he is countered by an arms manufacturer’s scheme to promote a recall election. As with Gross’s book, the possible future is horrifying and what seems absurd may come to pass.

On Monday, December 2 at 11:30 a.m., a special food-related event comes to town. Alana Newhouse’s book, The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List, becomes the inspiration for lunching at the Hilton. The James Beard Foundation nominee for innovative storytelling is informative, passionate, quirky and rich with layers of tradition and history. Which Jewish foods are the most significant, culturally and historically, to the Jewish people? Find out from this book, brimming with recipes and thoughts from a gallery of important contributors. Newhouse is the founder and editor of Tablet, the daily online magazine of Jewish news, culture and issues.

History lessons continue with the hilarious A Field Guide to the Jewish People by Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel. Return to the Hilton on Monday, December 9 at 7:00 p.m. as the authors let us in on such critical information as why yarmulkes are round and who was the first Jewish comedian. Finally, you can learn why random Jewish holidays keep springing up at unexpected times. Floridians are long familiar with Pulitzer Prize-winning Barry. Mansbach has several bestselling titles and an award-winning novel, The End of the Jews. Zweibel, who wowed us during the 2017-2018 festival, has won five Emmy awards for his work on The Late Show with David Letterman and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

On Thursday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m., come back to the Hilton for a non-fiction duet. Hear Adam Chandler expound on America’s romance with fast food as described in Drive-Thru Dreams. It’s been at least a century since the bond between American life and fast food took hold. The food has been addictive; the operations of the major players have been questionable. Chandler reveals the industry’s history through heartfelt anecdotes and fascinating trivia. From its White Castle beginnings to its international charisma, Chandler provides food for thought and thought for food. Stephen M. Silverman, who has written 13 books, takes readers on the ultimate nostalgia trip with his captivating history of The Amusement Park. He tells the story through tracing the lives of the characters who envisioned and built these parks. Have a reading vacation with him as you visit Sea World, Coney Island, Tivoli Gardens, Six Flags, Dollywood, Riverview and all the rest. Silverman’s work appears in such topnotch periodicals as Harper’s Bazaar, The London Times and Vogue. Enhancing their presentations, both authors will use photos and graphics projected on large screens in the Hilton ballroom.

Jenoff

On Wednesday, January 8 at 1:00 p.m., Temple Shalom will be the venue for a historical fiction session. In Pam Jenoff’s The Lost Girls of Paris, a seemingly abandoned suitcase is found by a woman who discovers that it holds photographs of 12 different women. Through a series of setting and point-of-view shifts, Jenoff reveals that the woman who misplaced the suitcase was the leader of a cadre of women who served as secret agents during World War II. They did their work in Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators. Several of these women are profiled in detail and their fates are revealed. Melanie Benjamin’s Mistress of the Ritz is a fictionalized representation of Blanche Auzello’s amazing life. This Jewish-American woman used forged papers to create a new life as an undercover Resistance worker. Her cover was playing hostess to the invading Germans at the legendary Ritz in Paris. Both authors have several bestselling books. 

Monday, January 13 brings the festival to the Naples Jewish Congregation for a memoir session beginning at 1:00 p.m. Marra B. Gad’s The Color of Love relates the experiences of a mixed-race woman who, after 15 years of estrangement from her racist great-aunt, helps bring her home when Alzheimer’s strikes. This inspirational story probes what people inherit from their families: identity, disease and, in the best case, love. Gad holds an advanced degree in modern Jewish history from Baltimore Hebrew University. Angel Himsel’s A River Could Be a Tree tells of being the seventh of 11 children growing up in southern Indiana in an apocalyptic, doomsday Christian faith. A trip to Israel to learn what’s behind the church’s strict tenets made her question Christianity and ultimately convert to Judaism. Himsel’s writing has appeared in The New York Times and Jewish Week. Her book is listed in 23 Best New Memoirs (bookauthority.org).

On Tuesday, January 28, return to the Hilton at 7:00 p.m. for an exciting non-fiction event showcasing two entertainment media specialists. Ken Sutak’s Cinema Judaica: The Epic Cycle 1950-1972 is the stunning sequel to Cinema Judaica: The War Years 1939-1949. It is illustrated with more than 400 four-color, high-definition images of Jewish heroines, heroes and history (biblical Holocaust and Israel foun­dation) taken from the breathtaking movie poster art of the post-war cycle of spectacular, epic films. Sutak has also produced museum exhibits and is a donor of the Cinema Judaica Collection at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Elizabeth Weitzman’s Renegade Women in Film & TV blends stunning illustrations, fascinating biographical profiles and exclusive interviews with icons like Barbra Streisand, Rita Moreno and Sigourney Weaver to celebrate the accomplishments of 50 extraordinary women. More names? Lucille Ball, Oprah Winfrey and Nora Ephron. Weitzman was named one of the top film critics in New York by The Hollywood Reporter.

This year, the Evy Lipp People of the Book Cultural Event will be part of the Jewish Book Festival. Be at Temple Shalom on Wednesday, February 5 at 7:30 p.m. to hear psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb talk about her book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change. The book is a disarmingly funny and illuminating account of our own mysterious lives and our power to transform them. The author is well known for her many television appearances and contributions to such periodicals as The New York Times and The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” column.

Also at Temple Shalom, on Wednesday, February 26 at 1:00 p.m., is a multifaceted program that begins with Bob Mankoff’s Have I Got a Cartoon for You. The cartoon and humor editor for Esquire and former New Yorker cartoon editor has put together his favorite Jewish cartoons. He explains the importance of the cartoon in the vibrant history of Jewish humor and plumbs Jewish thought, wisdom and shtick for humorous insights. “It might be strange,” says Mankoff, “that the People of the Book became the People of the Joke.” Jewish culture is more broadly explored in The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz and Mark Oppenheimer (Butnick and Oppenheimer will present at the festival). The authors host Tablet magazine’s wildly popular Unorthodox podcast. Their book is an edifying, entertaining and thoroughly modern introduction to Judaism, an alphabetical encyclopedia of short entries featuring an exhibition of divergent voices.

On Wednesday, March 4 at 1:00 p.m., the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island will be the venue for two Holocaust-related non-fiction books. Jack Fairweather, former Baghdad and Persian Gulf bureau chief for the Daily Telegraph and former correspondent for The Washington Post, discusses his book The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz. A Polish resistance fighter infiltrates the camp to sabotage it from within. He attempts to warn the Allies about the Nazis’ plan for a “final solution” before it’s too late. Jack J. Hersch’s Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust tells the story of 18-year-old Dave Hersch’s year in Mauthausen Concentration Camp, his two escapes at the end of the war, and his son Jack’s journey back to Mauthausen decades later. After a year slaving in Mauthausen’s granite mine, Dave was put on a death march. Weighing 80 pounds and suffering from several diseases, he found the strength to escape, but was quickly returned to Mauthausen. Put on another death march, he escaped again.

On Wednesday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m., Temple Shalom hosts the final session of the Jewish Book Festival. Josh Frank’s Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made is a re-creation of the lost-and-found script for the film in the form of a graphic novel. The book honors the would-be film by reflecting its gorgeous, full-color, cinematic, surreal glory. It is the story of two unlikely friends: a Jewish superstar film icon and a Spanish painter – and the movie that could have been. This is Mr. Frank’s fourth book and second illustrated novel. The event will include a multimedia presentation with film clips and photos, live music and songs.

For a complete schedule of events, ticket information, venue locations, contributing sponsors, author bios and book synopses, visit http://www.jewishbookfestival.org. For questions and general information, call 239.263.4205 or email fedstar18@gmail.com.

 

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“MOON WATER,” BY PAM WEBBER

She Writes Press. 280 pages. Trade paperback $16,95.

Pam Webber

This tantalizing and sometimes frightening coming-of-age story centers on a strong-minded girl of sixteen, Nettie, and her battles with faith, sexuality, and a near-apocalyptic storm. Set in mountainous Central Virginia in 1969, the novel vividly captures the time and place with authority and respectful understanding. An intriguing extra ingredient is the influence of a native Monacan Indian leader, the grandmother of Nettie’s friend Win, who is an important force in the cultural and spiritual life of her community. This woman, Nibi, can read changes in the weather and restore health through the use of natural medicines. She is in tune with her environment, both a healer and a seer.

Nettie had been friends with Andy since they were in grade school, and now, in their teens, the relationship is maturing in a troublesome way. It’s not clear if they are ready for deep commitments to one another. Nettie is perplexed about “forever love.” She needs to explore what that means much further. How can she – or Andy – know what forever will bring?

Andy is hurt by Nettie’s inability to speak the familiar words of commitment without knowing herself better. He withdraws to give her the room she needs, but before long she finds him too often in the presence of Anne, who has been Nettie’s nemesis since they were young kids. Nettie cannot fathom what Andy sees in Anne, but it’s clear that Anne wants to lord it over the girl she sees as her rival.

For adult readers, such conflicts and uncertainties are long familiar. However, Ms. Webber probes these matters with sensitivity and nuance. Young Adult readers at the threshold Nettie is reaching (high school graduation and the unfathomable “then what?”) are likely to find Webber’s treatment of this theme particularly engaging and useful.

Commitment is a problem for Nettie in other ways as well. It is time for her to be baptized, but the priest at her church is dismayed by Nettie’s unwillingness to accept and voice traditional religious formulas. She is an independent thinker who wants to make her own decisions, not merely mouth platitudes that she hasn’t tested and explored for herself. When the priest observes that Nettie is not yet ready, Nettie is in agreement. However, she and Pastor Williams don’t mean the same thing. He means subservient, she means convinced.

As with her feelings for Andy, this young woman does not want to testify to feelings and beliefs that she isn’t sure are true to her sense of herself.

Pastor Williams sets up an intermediary, an associate pastor named Danes, to guide Nettie in the right direction. While Mr. Danes is a smooth operator and helpful in some ways, he turns out to be a sexual predator. Pastor Williams has put Nettie in harm’s way. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Southern Literary Review, click here:  Moon Water

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