Category Archives: Authors and Books

“The Stakes of History,” by David N. Myers

The Stakes of History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History for Life, by David N. Myers. Yale University Press. 192 pages. Hardcover $27.99

While this densely-packed volume is aimed primarily at scholars of history and historiography, Professor Myers has kept the non-expert reader in mind by offering just the right amount of thematic repetition and exemplification. Is the author striving to demolish the ostensible conflict between history and memory? Well, the answer depends upon the prejudices and background of the reader. History that moves in the direction of pure fact, he suggests, misses opportunities to generate larger meanings and applications. History in the service of memory is likely to offer suspect compromises, to be overly and pointedly selective, perhaps to be, ultimately, not much more than propaganda.

David N. Myers, photo by Scarlett Freund

The author’s introduction, “History, Memory, and What Lies in Between,” defines the intellectual playing field. Three numbered chapters identity and explore three significant functions of history with scintillating articulation. These are “History as Liberation, “History as Consolation,” and “History as Witness.” Myers microscopically explores just how each function operates, its memorializing potentialities, and – by implication at least, its limitations.

The stream of references within the discussion, the positioning of vivid or at least conveniently enlightening oppositions among scholars of history, sharpens and textures the issues. . . .

To see the entire Jewish Book Council review, click here: The Stakes of History

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Florida series premier focuses on predators who kidnap and sell children

Cooper’s Moon, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 400 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This gripping debut novel is the first in a projected Cooper series. Timely issues, elaborately painted South Florida settings, a strong protagonist, and haunting horrors will keep readers engaged and on edge.  

Cooper is a driven man. Seven years before the story’s point of attack, Cooper and his wife Jillie suffered a marriage-destroying tragedy. Their young son Maxie was inexplicably gone from their lives, probably kidnapped from the neighborhood of their rural Ohio home. Their local searches go nowhere. The marriage collapses under the weight of mutual recriminations.

Seeking a fresh angle on finding his son, Cooper leaves his college teaching job and moves to Miami, where he has connections. He becomes a homicide detective in the Miami Police Department, and he lives in a community called Oceanside.

Readers meet him seven years into his second career, working a case involving the shooting of a twelve- year-old boy. Soon after, he gets involved in a case about a teenage girl, Tamara Thompson, whose corpse was found in a cemetery. It’s easy for Cooper to be sympathetic with Tamara’s parents.

Cooper’s lack of progress on the hunt for his son’s fate and his frustration with police bureaucracy leads him to leave the police department and become a private investigator. He manages to hold onto some of his police friends, including his former partner Detective Tony DeFelice, but they never let him forget that he “copped out” on them.

Conrath

Soon enough, Cooper learns that there are several unsolved child murders in or near his Oceanside community. And other children are missing. Even though leads are scarce, the road to information leads to a seminary whose candidates for priesthood are also trying to save area youths from lives of crime or from other kinds of danger. Cooper’s first case as a PI leads him there. Cooper finds the leaders to be either closed-mouthed or speaking with false, forced sincerity.

Mr. Conrath has taken us into the hideous world of human trafficking. These innocent kids are for sale via an international marketplace where their abductors compete for goods for which there is an insatiable demand. Is the seminary a cover operation? Who’s ultimately pulling the strings?

. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the April 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cooper’s Moon

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Sadness Is a White Bird: A Novel

  • By Moriel Rothman-Zecher. Atria Books. 288 pp. Hardcover $26.00.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes to life in this devastating tale of friendship and tragedy.

Searing in its beauty, devastating in its emotional power, and dazzling in its insights, Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, is, I promise you, like nothing you’ve ever read.

If I’m wrong, you’ve been luckier than I have. His particular vision of today’s Israel, told through a coming-of-age story, will break your heart.

Has this author named himself, or has he grown into his name? After the hyphen, the name translates (from Hebrew) into “memory”; the first name into something like “God is my teacher.” There is something in a name.

The book’s protagonist and narrator, Jonathan, has returned to Israel in his late teens. He looks forward to joining the Israel Defense Force, in part to honor his freedom-fighter grandfather. His life undergoes a radical change after he meets and becomes intimate with Laith and Nimreen — dynamic Arab-Israeli brother-and-sister twins with whom he shares his deepest thoughts.

The three are inseparable. Their closeness offers a hint of hope for the remaking of Jewish-Arab relations. Indeed, for the remaking of Israel, almost by osmosis, as a peaceful, co-national state.

Can you love and admire people so deeply that the barriers between you are conquered? Will the real world even allow it?

The closer Jonathan comes to his military induction date, the more his various strands of identity are stressed. How can he become a soldier who will be at war with his dear friends’ people? How can he become an agent of their disgrace and humiliation?

For all of their ease with the Israeli brand of Western culture, Laith and Nimreen are, at a deep level, strangers. This is true even though they are the children of Jonathan’s mother’s friend.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher

The story, told by Jonathan, is presented as if he is addressing Laith. Sometimes, it seems as if he is rehearsing or imagining the conversation; at other times, it’s as if it’s really happening. Occasionally, it’s as though he’s addressing a dead person.

There is almost nothing of Laith responding, yet there are other scenes in which these friends are engaged in three-way conversations that are amazingly revealing.

Jonathan wavers somewhat before fully committing to his required military duty. And he wavers again when pressed into putting down a potentially dangerous demonstration. In the aftermath of the skirmish, Jonathan is imprisoned by his superiors.

The novel sings out in the distinctive voices of Rothman-Zecher’s characters, in their almost palpable presence, and in their hopes and hesitations. The authenticity of the voices is especially strong in the scenes populated by Jonathan’s friends, all serving in or inevitably bound for the IDF.

Rothman-Zecher shows great skill in portraying different neighborhoods, not only in terms of physical characteristics, but also through capturing the cultural and atmospheric dimensions. As an author/narrator, he seems to be on familiar ground. One wonders to what degree the novel is rooted in direct, if transformed, experience. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Sadness is a White Bird.

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A young, partly Jewish German soldier serves as a member of elite SS unit

The Soul of a Thief, by Steven Hartov. Hanover Square Press. 304 pages. Hardcover $24.99.

“Mischling” is a German term employed in the period of Nazi rule for those with mixed ancestry; that is, less than fully Aryan parentage. Most often it connotes individuals of mixed Aryan and Jewish blood. The narrator of this admirable historical novel, Shtefan Brandt, is one such person.  

Somehow, Shtefan – like approximately 150,000 people of similar ethnic/racial status – came to serve in Germany’s military during WWII. In this case, because the SS leader found something attractive about him, Shtefan became an adjutant to Colonel Erich Himmel and thus attached to the Waffen SS command.

It is not clear if Himmel knew that his young functionary was of tainted blood. What is clear is that Shtefan’s status made him especially vulnerable. His true identity, if known, could lead to all kinds deprivations. It could even lead to his death (as if the risk of death in battle was not enough). If Himmel was aware of the mischling, he would take opportunities to exploit Shtefan’s marginality. For reasons beyond the ladder of command, Shtefan could not question any command, let alone say “no.”

Shtefan, as memoirist-narrator, draws a complex portrait of Himmel. The man is skillful, charismatic, and gregarious. However, he also exhibits cruelty, extreme egocentricity, and unquenchable lust. For the most part, he effectively rallies those in his command. Yet he is frequently unpredictable. He certainly takes every opportunity to abuse women, and he does so monstrously and without remorse.

In a way, Himmel is Shtefan’s benefactor. He insists that his fighting men are real men. No virgins will do. And when Shtefan reveals his sexual innocence, this leader makes the appropriate arrangements. The young man is terrified, though finally successful, oddly appreciative, and indebted.

Hartov

Shtefan adores the colonel and despises him at the same time.

Nazi-occupied Europe during 1943 and 1944 is the novel’s overall setting. Many scenes are set on the Russian front, and many others in occupied France. Hartov’s portraits of the places and the battle actions are magnificent. Through the lens of Shtefan’s processing of Himmel’s decisions and leadership strength, readers witness appalling combat scenes. Sensory detail is abundant: uniforms in repair and disrepair, weapons of all kinds, and the effects of those weapons on combatants, buildings, and vegetation.

And then there is Gabrielle Belmont. This gorgeous young woman lives in the town of Le Pontet, now occupied by Nazi forces. Himmel has discovered her and sends Shtefan to bring her to the colonel’s bed. She resists these second-hand advances, which impresses Shtefan immensely. In fact, the young adjutant has fallen in love with her. Eventually, Himmel finds a way of forcing her to his will. Shtefan is crushed, but he eventually learns that she had no choice.

The stretch of the novel that involves the interplay of these three characters – Shtefan, Gabrielle, and Himmel – includes many of the book’s most memorable scenes. Many other fine scenes take readers through stages of the Allied invasion. Hartov boldly paints the dashed hopes of Nazi leadership and the ensuing chaos leading up to Hitler’s death.

And then, once Himmel comes to see that he will be on the losing side of the war, there is his plan to steal Allied money and “retire” – probably to another continent! Shtefan, privy to the plan and no longer in thrall of Himmel, intends to play along but them take the money and run.

Though I enjoyed this book immensely for its hard-pulsing action, sharply drawn combat scenes, and distinctive characters, I kept waiting for the consequences of raising the mischling issue. Somehow, it’s just not there. Nor is the relevance of Gabrielle eventually being identified as a Jewess. A closing reference to the Jewish Brigade seems forced.

Nonetheless, I heartily recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and combat literature. Also, just for good measure, there is a surprising amount of wit and humor mixed in with the horrors of the Nazi war machine.

STEVEN HARTOV is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller In the Company of Heroes, as well as The Night Stalkers and Afghanistan on the Bounce. For six years he served as Editor-in-Chief of Special Operations Report. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX, and most recently the History Channel’s Secret Armies. A former Merchant Marine sailor, Israeli Defense Forces paratrooper and special operator, he is currently a Task Force Commander in the New York Guard. He lives in New Jersey.

This review appears in the April 2018 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).

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Shedding a Bright New Light on Old Age

The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life, by Dr. Marc E. Agronin.  Da Capo Press. 227 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

This book should be on the desk of every geriatric specialist, senior living facility staff member, and senior citizen caretaker. Most senior citizens will also benefit from its wisdom, compassion, and sensible guidelines for successful living at an advanced age. Carefully organized into four easily digested parts each containing two complementary chapters, Dr. Argonin’s book is nothing less than a manual for moving beyond the negative connotations of aging.  

“We must learn,” he writes, “how to age in a creative manner that is both the antidote to feeling old and the elixir of aging well.” It is a philosophy aimed not at recapturing youth, but rather exploiting the gifts of advanced age. Dr. Agronin is an accomplished writer whose experience and empathy generate positive vibes as well as practical planning advice.

One of Dr. Agronin’s key points concerns the accumulated wisdom of the elderly. He offers many examples, stories of patients and others, of how this wisdom has value not only for others, but as a resource for the person going through the aging process. He articulates five categories of behavior, vividly defined and exemplified, to explore the growth and use of an individual’s wisdom in old age. These are savant, sage, curator, creator, and seer. They are presented as five jewels in a crown.

Agronin

Though the categories overlap somewhat, they are useful concepts. They are not meant to pigeonhole people, but to find the ways in which aging is useful, to counter the customary “dread and denigration” of aging, and to build new habits of identity. Dr. Agronin calls these categories the five jewels in the crown of wisdom.

In a later chapter, Dr. Agronin defines a concept he calls “age points,” which are periods of adversity, struggle, or despondency along the aging journey. Age points threaten our ability to cope. The author guides readers through a series of stages to work through the trauma of an age point. First is recognizing the precipitating event, after which comes a sense of “suspension” – of not being able to respond to a crisis productively. Next comes a multi-faceted evaluation of how to “reconcile the gap between what we have and what we need.” Finally, comes the action of resolution and forward movement, usually attached to an altered perspective and sense of positivism. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 28, 2018 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the March 29  Palm Beach edition, and the April 5 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Agronin

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“Secrets and Shadows” by Roberta Silman

Campden Hill Books, 295 pages. Hardcover $24.00. Trade paperback $12.00

The plot of this intriguing new novel oscillates between a Jewish boy’s life in wartime Berlin and that same person’s life as a temporary returnee in 1989, soon after the Berlin Wall comes down. Author Roberta Silman carefully measures the changed and unchanged conditions in Berlin in these two eras, both for the city at large and for Jewish-German relations. 

Successful lawyer Paul Bertrand, born Paul Berger, was the child and is the man returning to face his past. Paul was divorced by his wife, Eve, five years earlier after twenty-three years of marriage, in part because of his unfaithfulness—yet he has somehow persuaded her to accompany him back to Berlin. The Bertrands have three young adult children: two sons and a daughter. The manner in which Paul and Eve, separately and together, have parented these children is an interesting thread through the novel. The couple’s relationship to their own parents and other relatives also informs the narrative in significant ways.

Silman

 

A prosperous family, the Bergers were secreted during the war in their own home. Silman vividly paints the sharply contrasting characters who protected them. Her astute portrait of the families’ interactions reveals a toxic mixture of indebtedness and resentment. . . .

To read the entire Jewish Book Council review, click here:  Secrets and Shadows.

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Family secrets and separations fuel a darker shade of cozy mystery

Killer Tied, by Lesley A. Diehl. Camel Press. 264 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

Ms. Diehl’s sixth Eve Appel Mystery, like the others, uses her background as a former professor of psychology to deepen readers’ understanding of her characters’ dilemmas, fears, and frustrations. At first, the most unsettled and needy character seems to be Eleanor, a young woman who comes to the rural Florida town of Sabal Bay with the seemingly outlandish claim that she is Eve’s half-sister. But how can this be if the woman is much younger that Eve, who has been led to believe that her parents drowned when she was very young. 

Eleanor’s stepfather, who tried to hire Eve to find his daughter, is found stabbed to death, the weapon turns out to be a very recognizable knife belonging to Lionel Egret, Eve’s mysterious father-in-law, who leads the life of a recluse and resents Eve’s marriage to his son. Eve, just launching her career as a private detective, probably should not take on a case that hits so close to home, but she can’t resist professionalizing her busy-body tendencies.

Maybe the story of Eve’s parents’ death, received from the lips of her loving grandmother (“Grandy”), is not true.

With her part-Miccosukee husband Sammy, Eve now has the responsibility for their adopted sons. How can she perform her motherly duties and deal with the stresses of her pregnancy while tracking down the missing or maimed branches in the family tree?

Diehl

Accompanied by a good friend, the friendly mobster named Nappi (Napolitano), Eve shuttles back and forth, leaving the Lake Okeechobee area for investigatory trips to Connecticut and Upstate New York. The diseased family tree needs to reveal its secrets, and Eve is determined to pry them loose, but others are just as determined to keep them hidden and scare her off the track.

That hospital and other records Eve seeks in order to pin down important pieces of family history are missing suggests that she has adversaries trying to foil her search for the truth. Who are they? What, in particular, are their motives? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 22, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Killer Tied

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Experiment produces a new kind of technologically-augmented human

Cutting Edge, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 332 pages. Hardcover $25.99. 

This futuristic thriller has everything going for it: a great premise, suspenseful plotting, vivid sensory detail, fine characters, and a highly engaging narrative style. The possible future it explores seems just over the horizon of today’s digital and medical technologies. Young, handsome Trey DeBolt works as Coast Guard rescue swimmer in Alaska. He survives a helicopter crash only to find out he has been declared dead. And he is not the man he used to be.

He is much, much more.

Once recovering consciousness, Trey finds himself in a remote cabin along the Maine cost under the supervision of a nurse. Slowly, as he recovers physically, he discovers that he has special abilities that will take him a while to understand and control. It will take him even longer to discover why he has them and what his reincarnation means.

In the meantime, the nurse is assassinated, and her cabin is blown up.

Trey has been part of a clandestine, perhaps illegal, government experiment that wasn’t even supposed to succeed. He has been rewired by a mad genius doctor and put under the direction of a renegade army general. He is now an important component in the wired and wireless world through which data flows. If the title hadn’t been taken some years back for a Michael Crichton novel and the movie based on it, he could be Terminal Man. Indeed, the two novels have more than a little in common regarding new technologies and the battle for control over them.

It’s enough that Trey is Data-man. He can tap into any source of digital information, finding what he needs to solve any problem. He sends out a question, and – sometimes with a bit of delay – he will receive answers. The receiving instrument for Trey’s digital processing is a tiny screen imbedded in his eye that allows him to scan images and text from almost any source. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 14, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly- Cutting Edge

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A high-energy romp from the prolific Randy Wayne White

Caribbean Rim, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

The champ is at it again. It’s number 25 in the Doc Ford series, and he is in high gear. This novel takes us to the Bahamas, especially Andros Island – which is larger than all the other inhabited Bahamian islands put together. For Doc, this trip is part getaway and part “help out a friend”: not always a good way to relax. Doc’s Sanibel hippy-dippy neighbor and part-time genius Tomlinson is not far away, helping Doc engage with Carl Fitzgerald, a friend of both men. Carl is addicted to the potentially enormous payoffs of finding sunken treasure.  

Carl is in trouble. His in trouble for breaking regulations of the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The agency’s director, Leonard Nickelby, is on his case. As it turns out, events fulfill Fitzgerald’s favorite maxim: “The first rule of treasure hunting is to trust no one.” Not even a government agent. As ever, Doc Ford will turn out to be the exception to the rule, even as he realizes he is being manipulated so that others might profit – if they survive.

Somehow, Leonard (alternately Leo and other derivatives) goes off the charts, and along with him is a young boy and a hard-used, admitted ugly, but astoundingly smart woman named Lydia. If there ever was a woman who invited abuse, Lydia is she – but Lydia is a survivor and a shrewd manipulator in her own right.

White – photo by Wendy Webb

What’s at stake? Rare Spanish coins, Fitzgerald’s logbook about uncharted wreck sites, and everyone’s life. There are plenty of beasts out there to contend with, but the human breed is the worst. This includes the once successful movie-maker, Efron Donner, who has captured Leonard and Lydia – the young boy, too. Donner is one of the author’s most despicable villains, though he has a lot of competition in this regard. Watching Lydia play him is a reader’s delight.

Oddly, Lydia has brought out the best in Leonard, who has some unexpectedly heroic moments, as well as the predictable foolish ones. Among other things, he is a “nerd reborn” in the sensory delights of the Caribbean. . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the March  7, 2018 Fort Myers  Florida Weekly, and the March 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions,  click here: Florida Weekly – Caribbean Rim

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Thrilling second installment of Wakefield detective series will leave readers wanting more.

Cut You Down: A Wakeland Novel, by Sam Wiebe. Quercus. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

What a pleasure it is to encounter a new voice, a new kind of edginess, a contemporary formulation of detective fiction that has the heft and distinction of the genre’s classics. Cut You Down is a true puzzler, filled with unusual characters and majestically described places — though many of those places are not at all majestic.

There’s a lot of the seamy side of life here, and much about human behavior that rings true even in its repulsiveness. Is this Canadian noir? Perhaps.

This second title in the Wakeland Novel series presents a sequence of murky challenges for former policeman and youngish private investigator Dave Wakeland. One of them is to redefine his relationship with former girlfriend Sonia, who maintains her career on the Vancouver police force.

Another is to maintain a productive balance with his business partner, Jeff, who is taking their company into the realm of security work while Wakeland continues with the PI effort in the missing-persons arena.

The third is a nightmare of a new case that comes his way, a case that will test his limits.

Sam Wiebe

When Wakeland gets a call from Dana Essex, his world changes. Essex wants him to find a missing college student named Tabitha Sorensen. The caller, a professor, has been a mentor and friend to Tabitha — perhaps even more than that.

Wakeland’s path is rocky and dangerous because Tabitha’s disappearance may be connected to a scandal at the college. She served on a committee that managed a large fund for school programs — a fund that has been stolen. Moreover, it also appears there are connections to local gangs.

In his investigation, Wakeland is aided by his sister, Kay, who works for him, and by Sonia, who is crossing lines that might end her police career. She is entangled with a cop who turns out to be dirty. Wakeland must work with and around unscrupulous characters to make headway, and he does: even wrestlers who moonlight as paid muscle. Even a professional assassin. Even a pair of hardened criminal brothers.

Wakeland moves through a murky world. Everything and everyone he touches has something to offer and something to hide. The investigation takes him to several locations in and around Vancouver and across the border into Washington. Most of the locations of these interrogations are unsavory, depressing places which author Sam Wiebe makes come alive. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: Cut You Down / Washington Independent Review of Books.

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