Category Archives: Authors and Books

By land or by sea, commit to your big adventure before it’s too late

The Adventures of Three Old Geezers: The Bright Idea, by Richard Perron. Amazon CreateSpace. 129 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

This heartwarming and entertaining book, a fictionalized memoir, is the first of two by a conflicted Naples, Florida resident. Both have the same main title. The extended title for the second book is “Up, Up, and Away.” What’s the conflict? On one page the author tells as what’s wrong with the wealthier classes who enjoy this resort town and what’s silly about those in the gated communities who foolishly think they have purchased security. Elsewhere, readers learn how much Mr. Perron truly enjoys Naples and all the delights that it has to offer. 

He presents himself as a man ready to work through his bucket list, which would mean taking some chances and breaking his routines. Curmudgeon? Maybe, but finally a perceptive and good-humored one. Richard (AKA Captain Richard) has the “bright idea” of “borrowing” a luxury sailboat from a gone-north snowbird and, with his buddies Frank and Bill, going on an adventure trip to the Caribbean. These aging gentlemen want to wake themselves up, and that’s exactly what they do. No more stagnation.

Richard has enough boat savvy, and enough self-confidence, to take the captain’s role, parceling out subordinate tasks to his buddies. He also is willing to risk getting caught by the yacht club’s security – but of course this doesn’t happen.

After gaining some understanding of the boat’s technology and figuring out what provisions they need, the three adventurers are on their way.

They enjoy the beauty of the night skies, and they face the danger of storms. But they find out, if they didn’t know it before, what Jean Paul Sartre pointed out: “Hell is other people.” Yes, they meet some of those hellish people.

First stop, a psychologically necessary one, is Key West. After all, this unconventional “party town” will help them loosen up their lifestyles. Richard notes the contrast between Key West and “the anal-retentive city of Naples.” The three adventurers visit Richard’s friend Harry, a Key West resident who shows them around. They also make a stop at nearby Stock Island where they purchase fuel and other provisions. The Key West section has wonderful, engaging scenes of relatively harmless, hedonistic pleasure. It’s a good starting point for what’s to come.

Richard Perron

Their next destination is the Turks and Caicos Islands, but they are stopped by a government vessel, either Coast Guard or DEA. Richard easily answers a few questions and receives the admonition to “have a good day and stay safe.” They have a great onboard party that night and take turns keeping watch. A near-brush with an oil tanker rattles them a bit.

Now cruising the Atlantic, they put up the sails (saving fuel) and land a huge tuna, which they turn into a feast. Then they head into the Caribbean Sea. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 28, 2019 Bonita Springs and Venice editions of Florida Weekly, as well as the December 4 Fort Myers edition and the December 5 Naples and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Three Old Geezers

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Author of Thrilling WWII novel about a cadre of 12 young female spies speaks at Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival

Review by Philip K. Jason, Jewish Book Festival Co-Chair

The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff. Park Row Books. 368 pages. Trade Paperback $16.99.

A dazzling, deliciously complicated novel based on historical events and seasoned by Jenoff’s spectacular imagination, The Lost Girls of Paris is likely to be on book club reading lists for a long time. Once Jenoff discovered the startling fact that a group of female secret agents played a prominent role in aiding resistance to Nazi occupation toward the end of World War Two, she couldn’t help but meet the challenge of bringing this dangerous operation to life.

The narrative moves back and forth between the events of 1944, when the clandestine mission was set in motion, and 1946, when it began to be revealed. It also oscillates between Europe and the United States and is developed, smoothly and boldly, through the rotation of three points of view.

Readers first meet Grace Healey, a recent widow who has settled in New York. She works for Frankie, a lawyer specializing in war refugee issues. She has had a recent, unexpected dalliance with her late husband’s best friend, Mark, which is causing her uncertainty and dismay.

The novel’s action starts with Grace discovering a suitcase in Grand Central Station that contains photos of a dozen young women. She takes the photos, soon after regrets this action, and attempts to return them, but the suitcase is gone.

The scene shifts to London where the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) is located. This special agency, headed by Director Gregory Winslow, is charged with supporting French partisans and creating chaos in the hope of dismantling Nazi plans by spreading misinformation.  The agency, while hoping that sabotage and subversion will win the day, is itself is in a state of chaos, but Eleanor Trigg, a Polish national who also happens to be Jewish, has an idea: the program needs to train a special team of women to help accomplish its ends. She lobbies the director until she is promised an opportunity to move from being a secretary to running the program she has invented: recruiting and training the women and putting a detailed plan into action.

The photos that Grace had found happen to be photos of the twelve women Eleanor had trained, now considered dead.

One of these women is Marie, mother of a five-year-old daughter, who is highly motivated to become a secret agent, worrying only about the necessary separation from her child, Tess. Marie’s language skills make her an attractive recruit. Through Marie’s perspective, Jenoff presents the severity of the training program and the relationships among the chosen dozen. Of course, Eleanor’s perspectives on the young women’s progress overlaps with Marie’s observations. The spy ring women work primarily as couriers and radio operators.

Pam Jenoff / photo by Mindy Schwartz Sorasky

In the final stages of the war, they seem to vanish simultaneously. What happened to them is one of the mysteries that gradually unfolds, in part through Grace’s determination to keep searching for missing details about the photos in the suitcase. She wished to bring what she finds to light in order to honor these women.

One theme that takes hold, dominating much of the novel, is that of possible betrayal. Too many things are going wrong, and they can’t all be attributed to the youth and inexperience of the young women agents. Jenoff teases us with the possibility that someone on the team, perhaps someone at a high level of trust and access, is a double agent.

There is some likelihood, as well, that the German’s have somehow mastered the technology and coding of the radio communication system that is crucial to the group’s task. Indeed, the complication of the system is at once an assurance and a potential detriment.

While the author’s descriptions of administrative and technological matters become an important and fascinating part of the story, her splendidly nuanced portraits of the three key “point of view” characters are what will most fully engage readers, set their imaginations soaring, and tap into their emotions. However, beyond Grace, Eleanor, and Marie, readers will find a large cast of well-drawn and sharply individualized subordinate characters, interacting with each other and with the central trio, who help define the period and places in which the novel is set. Jenoff’s descriptions of the various settings are masterful.

Like her recent New York Times best-selling The Orphan’s Tale, Jenoff’s Lost Girls is strikingly cinematic. Let’s hope her agent can get the studios bidding.

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels of historical fiction. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master’s degree in history from Cambridge University. In addition, she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff’s novels are inspired by her experiences working in the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Historical novel fans can hear Jenoff discuss this unusual thriller – which traces the creation and exploits of the team – at 1:00 p.m. at Temple Shalom on Wednesday, January 8. Also speaking at that event will be Melanie Benjamin, author of Mistress of the Ritz. The books will be available for sale and signing. Find details about the complete Festival series of events, along with an order form, author bios, and contact information, at http://www.jewishbookfestival.org. Need an answer fast? Send an email to fedstar18@gmail.com or call the Federation office at 239.263.4205.

 This review appears in the December 2019 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples)

 

 

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A passionate look at the world of cruising

The Joy of Cruising: Passionate Cruising, Fascinating Stories, by Paul C. Thornton. BookBaby. 363 pages.  Trade paperback $16.99.

Fort Myers resident Thornton has provided a most tasty smorgasbord of information, cruise world personalities, and stories in this high-energy, encyclopedic presentation. Seasoned cruisers will remember their experience and be fire up for more. Newcomers and cruise wannabes will gasp at the variety of cruise possibilities and use the author as their friendly, knowledgeable, and fully addicted guide to decision-making. 

This book is truly a labor of love, but it is also a collection of good sense, acute observations, colorful vignettes about colorful cruisers, cruise entrepreneurs, and widely followed cruise journalists. You can call your travel agent or visit a cruise line website to book a cruise vacation that meets your needs, but you need Thornton’s book to get a more rounded picture of cruise life in all its glory.

 

Many capsule biographies of dedicated cruisers, people who have traveled afloat over and over again for decades and still have news sailings awaiting, demonstrate how large and rewarding a part of one’s life (alone or with friends and family) the cruising dimension can become. These are “ordinary” people who have found a special, rewarding richness in shipboard travel and its access to other parts of the world that they would otherwise not get to know. On a ship, however, getting there is at least half the fun. Today’s ships more and more are destinations in themselves. One can have a fine time with no itinerary to follow.

Paul Thornton’s experiences make it clear that cruising can enlarge your life by enlarging your circle of friends and acquaintances. Cruises provide great opportunities to get extended families in touch without anyone needing to wait on the others. Trips bringing three or more generations together provide deeper bonding and numerous stories for future retelling.

Do you suspect that cruisers are an unacknowledged cult? What puts that gleam in their eyes?

The answer is: sub-cults!

The latter sections of the book clarify this concept. One of these has to do with the burgeoning careers, status, and utility of cruise bloggers. These journalists use the internet to spread cruise news, tips, and visions of the directions that the cruise industry is taking. Many have a large audience, devoted followers, and even ways of making some money for their journalistic enterprise.  . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 13, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 14  Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Joy of Cruising

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Jewish recipes and food lore featured at 5th Annual Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival luncheon

Review by Philip K. Jason

The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List, by Alana Newhouse. Artisan Books. 256 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

The alphabet never tasted so good.

A huge and dazzling array of contributors brings to life what would seem to be an impossible task: a plausible gathering of what’s “most Jewish” in the palates of Jews across time, space and memory. The contributors are at once erudite and down to earth. Author Alana Newhouse gives them brief but impressive identification at the end of the book so that readers can connect their perspectives to their credentials.

Readers will chuckle at the book’s table of contents. It provides a delightful visual image as an identifier for each selection, in which these same images reappear. They exist to make us hungry. 

The format is basically a mini-essay followed by a recipe. So, we travel and gorge from adafina (a Sabbath stew) to Yemenite soup, with the expected and plenty of surprises along the way.

Just where it needs to be is the apple, given a personality by Dan Barber, who plays the part well, complaining about being blamed for Eve’s lack of discipline but then boasting about having flourished all over the world. The apple’s journey is a guilt trip. Apple cake becomes the choice for instruction.

The recipes share a professionally structured style that readers will find efficient without being overly formal. Measurements are given in the vernaculars, so the reader will always know such things as: a half cup of sugar is 65 grams. Chocolate Babka immediately caught my attention, but I plan to get my babka by giving a copy of the book, properly bookmarked, to a good friend who bakes.

Okay, so you’d expect a section on bagels, but don’t tell me you anticipated Bazooka gum. Bialys are another must, as are black-and-white cookies, blintzes and maybe bokser. And borscht is inevitable, with this section offering a brief essay on “The secrets of Soviet cuisine.”

The section on brisket is best read overnight.

“C” is for carciofi all giudia (artichoke Jewish-style). “C” is also for challah, charoset and cheesecake – AND chicken. Yes, there is a section on Chinese food that explains in detail “Why Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas.” The mysteries of cholent and chopped liver come next, laced with both wisdom and humor. Chopped liver? Of course. And there is a lot more to the (pardon the pun) c-section.

I have to speed up now: dates, deli, dill; eggplant, Entenmann’s, eyerleckh; flanken; gefilte fish, goose and the wished-for gribenes; halva, hamantaschen, haminados and Hebrew National hot dogs.

Alana Newhouse credit Michelle Ishay

 

Let me depart from the alphabet now and address some other charms of this “most Jewish” book.

Many of the contributors are notable writers, or at least darn good ones. Often, they take the opportunity to personalize their entries with memories of family gatherings, holidays and lifecycle events at which Jewish food is not the theme, but somehow the bonding agent. We can trace how a recipe was introduced, passed along to others, sometimes modified, but always linking the generations – just like Hebrew school, but usually with greater impact.

These personal stories that link the food with the occasion and the family are sometimes humorous, but always moving and inviting.

There is a surprising and welcome inclusiveness in the scope of the recipes. A favorite of Tunisian Jews, Pkaila, is one of the surprises. Adafina is from the Iberian world, and Haminados are among the Sephardic tastes readers are lured to sample. Jews from the Republic of Georgia indulged themselves with Labda, which also has a connection with Persian cuisine. Jews in India enjoy Malida at the Seder table. Treatments of matzo are manifold. One of these is the Sephardic Mina de Matzo. And you don’t want to miss trying Mufleta, Persian rice and Ptcha – foods with various origins across the Jewish world. Tsimmes, of course, is universally familiar.

Well, the person who put all this together, New Yorker Alana Newhouse, is the editor-in-chief of Tablet, a daily online magazine with a huge following. Founded in 2009, it features Jewish news, ideas and culture. A graduate of Barnard Collage and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Newhouse has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and Slate.

On Monday, December 2 at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Naples, Alana Newhouse will be speaking at a Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival luncheon. The book will be available for sale and signing. Find details about the complete festival series of events, along with a ticket order form, author bios, book descriptions and sponsor information in section B of this issue or at http://www.jewishbookfestival.org. Need an answer fast? Send an email to fedstar18@gmail.com or call the Federation office at 239.263.4205.

This article appears in the November 2019 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples)

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Another Look at Year 5 – Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival

FLORIDA WEEKLY SUPPORTS THE

GREATER NAPLES JEWISH BOOK FESTIVAL

FOR FULL FLORIDA WEEKLY OVERVIEW, CLICK HERE

 


 

Beginning in November and concluding in March, the 2019-20 Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival offers a dazzling series of author events, building upon the highly regarded and jam-packed 2018-19 season. A project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples in cooperation with the Jewish Book Council, the festival comprises 12 events at several venues, covering 19 books with 22 visiting authors.

Many of the events will feature two authors who share a theme or genre; others will have a dynamic solo presenter. One program will showcase a book created jointly by three authors, all of whom will be on hand.

For ticket information, author bios and book synopses, visit www.jewishbookfestival.org. For questions and general information, call 239-263-4205 or email fedstar18@gmail.com.

 

It’s all here:  https://naples.floridaweekly.com/articles/greater-naples-jewish-book-festival-3/

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New crime thriller offers a dead senator, dirty election politics, and pending environmental disaster

Let Justice Descend, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

Cape Coral resident Lisa Black’s fifth Gardiner and Renner novel only leaves one waiting for the next one. You can’t have too much of a good thing. Do you like mystery plots to start off with a bang? Well, here goes. It’s election time in Ohio and U. S. Senator Diane Cragin has been busy campaigning for re-election, doing whatever else she can to influence the power brokers and the voters. With three days to go, she is about to enter her home when she steps on a device designed to electrocute her. And it works perfectly.

Senator Cragin has plenty of enemies, but could it be that the person running against her would have the most incentive to get her out of the way? Now her party has to choose a substitute candidate immediately. Hmm, a self-created opening for a prepared opportunist? 

Cragin’s chief of staff, the estimable Kelly Henessey, shows the proper degree of sadness at the loss of her mentor, but she seems even more worried about possibly being out of a job. Henessey is a great minor character, with all kinds of psychological quirks.

The investigating team includes not only Maggie Gardiner as crime scene investigator (CSI), but also someone from the medical examiner’s office and two police force detectives. The latter are partners Tom Riley and Jack Renner – whose penchant for vigilante justice is like a chain around Maggie’s neck. She knows about his propensities, and her own career is likely to blow up if anyone finds out what she is hiding from the department. Otherwise, Jack is a darn good detective.

Another motive for knocking off the senator is what’s discovered in her safe: a huge fortune in cash. Was Cragin planning a lavish retirement? How did she accumulate this money? Who knew about it?

Readers soon learn that the senator may have been instrumental, and was no doubt at least an influential force, in a highly competitive game underway in the city: repurposing out of use properties in downtown areas. Author Black gives us a close-up view of the wars that go on among speculative investors, government regulators, and political grifters. Exploring these forces at work leads Black to populate her scenes with well -drawn secondary characters.

These include Joe Green – a powerful, seasoned administrator and politician about to become the Democratic candidate running for the senate position and David Carlyle – a young, dedicated EPA inspector in charge of overseeing plans for a water intake facility (crib) on Lake Erie. In addition, there is investigative reporter Lori Russo, who is not only on top of the political shenanigans in Cleveland, but has also been sniffing for any information about the vigilante murders (Jack Renner’s crimes). She knows that police officer Rick Gardiner, Maggie’s ex, is working on that case. . . .

To read the full review, as well as an interview with the author (photo at left), click on Florida Weekly – Let Justice Descend  The review appears in the October 30, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the October 31 Bonita Springs, Palm Beach, and Venice editions; and the November 7 Naples and Charlotte County editions. The interview is on the following page in the Fort Myers edition, after the review.

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“Old Bones: A Novel,” by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

  • Grand Central Publishing.  384 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

An historical thriller about skeletons in the snow — and the closet.

Partners in crime-writing Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have had an amazing career, both as collaborators and as solo scribes. They are best known for the Pendergast series that reached its 18th installment with the universally praised Verses for the Dead.

In their latest supercharged thriller, Old Bones, they are shifting gears by standing behind a new protagonist, a curator/archaeologist named Nora Kelly. At once youthful and experienced, Nora is strongly attracted by the shocking request of a handsome historian.

Clive Benton needs a team to help him prepare for and execute a startling expedition into rough western wilderness. He believes he has some clues to investigate the fabled Donner Party, a legendary group of seekers who perished via starvation, impossible weather, and violence in 1847.

Benton approaches the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute with his reasonably convincing story about having the key to locating a great treasure of gold coins, a find somehow connected to the Donner misadventure. What he has is the diary of a young woman named Tamzene, who was one of the Donner Party family.

A deal with the institute is made, and personnel from that organization, along with a support team, is set in motion. The authors paint the logistics of the venture in eloquent detail, and they manage to make those plans and details fascinating. The team’s work must be done on a carefully created schedule that considers climate, weather, and just how much horseback riding, mountain climbing, meal-making, and walking can be done in the available time.

The topography holds dangers, as well. Because their search area is federal property, it comes under the jurisdiction of the FBI. And, as readers will find out, that’s a very good thing.

Why? Because it allows for the introduction of another major female character just as engaging as Nora. FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, a self-confessed former “foulmouthed, purple-haired goth,” who is anxiously awaiting the end of her probationary period under the tutelage of Special Agent Hale Morwood.

Preston and Child

She yearns to be assigned a real case. Suddenly, she has one, and it brings her into contact with Nora, Nora’s team, and a series of ongoing problems with the Archaeological Institute’s venture.

Not only does it become necessary to understand the long-ago crimes of the Donner Party catastrophe, but it also involves crimes of greed during the troubled present expedition. Given their different personalities and responsibilities, there is a running friction between Nora and Corrie that softens in the late stages of the novel — hinting, perhaps, at some future Preston & Child thriller that will bring them together again.

Meanwhile, Corrie has the death of one of the expedition’s participants to investigate. And there will be more to come. Too bad she must spend so much of her time on horseback, a mode of transportation that gives Nora no trouble at all.

Corrie’s confrontation with Dr. Fugit, president of the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute and Nora’s boss, is a scene that shows Corrie maturing on the job — holding her own against the offensive woman’s fear-mongering manipulation — and not losing her temper. . . .

To see the full review as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Old Bones

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Inspired by actual events, this novel for all readers should become a young adult classic

My Real Name is Hanna, by Tara Lynn Masih. Mandel Vilar Press. 208 pages. Trade paperback with flap $16.95.

In her brilliant, poetic novel that reads like Holocaust testimony, Tara Masih presents a family’s horrifying journey to escape ultimate victimhood. In her early teens as the narrative begins, Hanna Slivka, as if keeping a diary, takes her future readers through the steps of her family’s struggle with Nazi oppression. 

In important ways a coming-of-age story, this novel begins by describing the situation for Jews in the small town (shtetele) of Kwasova as Nazi forces cross the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Kwasova is a community that had been Austrian and Polish; its residents can’t be sure of what it will become next. This is especially true of its Jewish community, which before Hitler’s tyranny could at least get along with its non-Jewish neighbors.

The attempt to relocate and/or annihilate the Jews begins with orders to brand them. Hannah’s father tells the family: “The SS issued orders to the Ukrainian police and the Jewish Council. Jews are now being ordered to register and to make their own armbands, a blue Mogen Dovid, our Jewish star, sewn on to a white background.”

As the status of even substantial Jewish families falls, the father, Abram, realizes that maintaining housing and obtaining food will soon become impossible. It is also clear that hiding in barns, which worked for a while, won’t work anymore: their fellow townspeople will betray them.

Money and cherished valuables are disappearing. Now the Jewish families of the town must somehow disappear as well. The victims, in public opinion and via effective propaganda, have been transformed into the cause of the war that is threatening all of Europe.

Through her teenage narrator, Ms. Masih shows the material and psychological effects of these circumstance on the members of this family and another family with which they make joint plans for survival. They need to act quickly before that are marched into ghettos or simply murdered “in plain sight” to underscore SS power.

There is a feature of their lives that is especially moving. Facing disaster, these Jewish families manage to observe their religion’s precepts and holy days. They hide the synagogues torah and other important items. Such dedication becomes a source of strength.

How does a family hide in a forest? After walking a great distance from Kwasova, the come across a run-down isolated forestry station that will become their home. It is built from logs, and the gaps are filled with moss. They had carried with them as much as they could; now her father Uncle Levi make a round trip to and from the town for much-needed tools and other supplies. Now they can modify the cabin to fit their needs. They clean, discover a small stream with clear water that will serve their need for hygiene and food preparation.

They must arrange their days to avoid detection of their lantern light and smoke from the fire, and of course they must find the wood to feed the fire.

In constant fear, the family members support one another and search for sustenance. They obtain nutrition from the wild vegetation. Sometimes they can scrounge a chicken, yet most of the time they are starving.

Tara Lynn Masih

Abram risks occasional trips to the shtetele for flour and kerosene. The snow drifts are a big obstacle, and he must avoid leaving tracks in the snow. Networking with others, he establishes a coded way of leaving messages on a tree. It’s a silent, secret language. It helps with a much-needed commodity – news about what’s going on in the world around and beyond them. News of Hitler’s war.

The people in this nomadic entourage of relatives represent a spectrum of age groups, but it is Hanna who holds our attention as she helps take care of her younger siblings and as she muses about building her relationship with Leon Stadnick, who is two years her senior. They pray to make it to their next birthdays. These children are growing up fast and taking on adult tasks and risks.

Fearing that the Germans will eventually find them in the forest, Abram decides to take advantage of news about habitable caves, the gypsum caves of Kwasova, where darkness is even “darker than dark.” Making a safe haven out of the caves is even more difficult and dangerous than living in the forest cabin, but it serves the group’s purposes as a place to survive the Holocaust, which in this case means until the Russians return to Kwasova and drive the Germans out. However, the eventual allied victory does not promote, politically or psychologically, a vision of return to the once familiar home territory. The Slivka family and some of those who hid out with them in the forest and the caves decide to build new identities and lives in the United States.

From beginning to end, the story told is one of a cooperative effort. The family is aided in many ways by some members of their Kwasova community. Among these people are the Cohan twins, Pavel and Jacob, who are always showing up with the news or goods that the Slivka’s need. Both early and late in the story, their dearest neighbor, Alla Petrovich, is of great support and encouragement to the family. She carries the “righteous Christian” role in the story, and her colored eggs seem to make miracles possible. On the other hand, few of the townspeople show any desire for the possible return of their former neighbors.

St. Augustine writer Tara Lynn Masih blends diligent research, blazing imagination, and sophisticated literary technique in this transformational narrative. Marketed as a Young Adult novel, it can engage and educate readers all across the age spectrum.

 

This novel can be richly explored with the help of an easily available Reader’s and Teachers Guide. Go to: http://taramasih.com/my-real-name-is-hanna-readers-guide.pdf

Here are some of the accolades that this superb novel has received:

Julia Ward Howe Award

Florida Book Award~Gold Medal

Foreword INDIES Award~Gold Medal

Skipping Stones Honor Award

Litsy Award Nominee

A Goodreads’ Best Book of the Month~YA

 

This review appears in the November 2019 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). It was reprinted in several editions of Florida Weekly on November 20 and 21, 2019. Here is a link: Florida Weekly – My Real Name is Hanna

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Journalist pokes some fun at Florida’s official symbols

Roaring Reptiles, Bountiful Citrus, and Neon Pies, by Mark Lane. University Press of Florida. 152 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

What do you hope to get from your reading materials, information or laughs?  If you want both, and you are curious about Florida, this is the book for you. Writing as an amused and sometimes perplexed Florida partisan, Mr. Lane zeros in on the symbols that define the state and the legislative process of how they come into being. In nineteen hilarious and often wacky vignettes, the author presents a wealth of information.

With something often approaching a straight face, he keeps his tongue in his cheek. It’s a winning performance. 

Many of the chapters benefit from Mr. Lane’s decision to surround or imbed the story of how a symbol became the Official Florida this-or-that with bits and pieces of his own personal story. His long-developed sense of Florida culture and his knowledge of state and local politics affords many opportunities for him go embellish the bare bones facts about how the selection for officialdom occurred. The story-telling is always pleasant, even when the facts themselves often are not.

Here are some of Mr. Lane’s chapter subtitles that give a taste of what readers are in for:

“Welcome to the Sunshine – Not the Alligator – State,” “Welcome to the Land of the Manatee Mailboxes,” “Ponce de Leon Schlepped Here,” “The Mockingbird Will Not Be Mocked, Tree Huggers,” and “In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash).”

Mark Lane photo by Cindi Lane

The chapters are usually headed by the official language of incarnation. Some are straightforward, following the pattern of “Key lime pie is designated as the official Florida state pie – Florida Statute 15.052.” The elevation of the orange to reign as the state fruit is easy to anticipate, but the ways in which Mr. Lane embroiders and personalizes the story will surprise you. Elsewhere one learns about Myakka fine sand, credentialed as the official Florida state soil. (Is this the kind of exercise we want state legislators to spend time on?)

You get the idea.

Each one of Mark Lane’s chapters is a little gem, a kind of inspired dose of the ridiculous. The actual statute that elevates the sabal poem (aka the sabal palmetto palm and/or cabbage palm) as the state tree of Florida (even though it’s actually a tree-like plant) is just the kind of discovery for which Mr. Lane cannot resist witty remarks and satiric story-telling. He includes some laughs at the expense of the sabal palms post-hurricane trimmings. “It’s the poodle-cut of palms.”

. . . .

For the rest of the review in October 17, 2019 Bonita Springs Florida Weekly,  info about Mark Lane, and an interview click here:  Florida Weekly – Roaring Reptiles. Then continue to review’s second page. Also appears in Palm Beach and Venice editions, on October 23 in Fort Myers edition, and on October 24 in  Naples and Charlotte County editions. 

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“The Ventriloquists: a Novel,” by E. R. Ramzipoor

  • Park Row Books. 544 pages. Hardcover $26.99

A zany crew pulls a fast one on the Third Reich in this surprising tale based on actual events.

This astonishingly original debut novel draws upon a little-known piece of WWII history and the text of a journalistic hoax. It pays homage to the human spirit that can thrive in the midst of the cruelest oppression.

“The Ventriloquist” begins with, and often returns to, the need for someone to ask and answer questions. The questioner, a woman named Eliza, has heard something about this historical event and, fascinated, has spent 12 years tracking down a witness or participant. Now she has found one, an old lady named Helen.

While author E.R. Ramzipoor often returns to the present-time conversation between Eliza and Helen, Helen’s story (or Eliza’s transcription thereof) reaches into a past in which the hoax was hatched and executed.

We are introduced to the main players: Their names, nicknames, personalities, and experiences are slowly, vividly revealed. For the most part, the narrative is set in occupied Brussels, with some scenes in the small Belgian town of Enghien. The principal character is the main instigator of the grand charade, a journalist with a comic flair named Marc Aubrion (nicknamed “The Jester”). He is an intuitive planner and improviser.

Among the other six key characters are prostitute/smuggler Lada Tarcovich; David Spiegelman, who can write in the voice and persona of others; and Gamin, a girl disguised as a boy, who sets fires, creates confusion, picks pockets, and carries out risky tasks in service to Aubrion’s scheme.

Ramzipoor author photo by Sherry Zaks

They and others form part of the resistance movement that wants to block the omnivorous Reich, as well as Russian expansion. It is late 1943, and resistance forces are stalling until the Allies arrive.

To implement their plan for replacing an edition of the Nazi-propaganda-filled Le Soir with their own send-up version, Faux Soir, the conspirators need paper, ink, typewriters, typesetting machinery, a distribution system, money, hiding places, and storage space.

They must also fool, among others, August Wolff, the regional Nazi paramilitary officer. Working under Himmler, Gruppenführer Wolff is somehow fooled by this motley crew, whose members agree to aid the Axis with their journalistic and other talents. Their skill at deceiving him is another kind of ventriloquism.

The novel explodes with released suspense every few pages as the chapters and their subdivisions shift from character to character, setting to setting, and obstacle to obstacle. Eventually, the critical needs of the Faux Soir scheme are met, but not without close calls and tragic losses. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  Ventriloquists

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