Category Archives: Authors and Books

Local setting stars in tale of love, loss, forgiveness, and sharks

The Shark Club, by Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

Maeve Donnelly is the thirty-year-old protagonist of this elegantly written first novel. She is part of the shark club triumvirate, the other two being her long-time boyfriend Daniel and Daniel’s daughter, six-year-old Hazel. This informal mutual interest group was put together to help Hazel find stability in a young life that has been – and still is –filled with uncertainty. 

Maeve and Daniel have decided to see if their long-severed relationship, once seen as strong and vibrant, can be restored. Hazel is the unplanned child of a woman with whom Daniel had a quick affair. That misstep cost him Maeve’s trust. Hazel’s mother died. Now the question is whether these three individuals – the only members of the shark club – can form normative family bonds. Maeve and Hazel are bonding in beautifully, but there is still something keeping some distance between Daniel and Maeve.

The matriarch of the family is Maeve’s grandmother, Perri. She is the owner of a famous hotel, the Hotel of the Muses, on an island off the Southwest Florida coast. Nearby landmarks of Naples, Florida help orient readers who know the area. When she is not on a research trip, marine biologist Maeve lives there, as does her twin brother Robin. Daniel, chef at Hotel of the Muses, lives nearby.

Taylor photo by Vanessa A. Rogers

Relationships are complicated on many levels, and with them Maeve’s destiny. Because Robin and Daniel are friends, Robin knows too much about the state of things between Daniel and Maeve. And Robin is something of a wild one, a trouble-maker who lived in the shadows of the bright lights that her steadiness and success had shown on Maeve, who had long ago grown tired of cleaning up Robin’s messes.

Working as the hotel’s manager, Robin has literary ambitions, hates the regimentation of his job, and yearns to capitalize on his one true talent. However, the book he has managed to sell exploits what he knows about the Daniel-Maeve story. Maeve is hurt and bewildered by what she finds when Robin shares his manuscript with her.

On the research journey to Bimini from which she has only just returned, her working partnership with an attractive young man named Nicholas – her dive partner – has turned into something more serious than she had expected. Her imagined future is fluttering back and forth between these two men. . . .

To read the full review, as well as an interview with the author, as they appear in the June 21, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shark Club

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Teacher turned sleuth stirs up suspects in feel-good murder mystery

Murder is Chartered, by Diane Weiner. Cozy Cat Press. 180 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. E-book $2.99.

This Coral Springs writer has at least one thing in common with her protagonist in the Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mystery series. They are both veteran public school teachers who keep busy. Susan, now retired, keeps occupied by volunteering in a new charter school. She also has a nose for mysteries, much to the chagrin of her daughter Lynette, who is a bona fide police detective. Driving home after a long stint at the Westbrook Charter School’s open house, she slams into a woman’s body, snaps to full wakefulness, and calls Lynette.  

Diane, who teaches at Millennium Middle School in Tamarac,  keeps extra busy by writing novels about Susan. This is #8.

Susan thinks she is guilty of vehicular homicide, but it turns out that the deceased was strangled to death and then dropped off a bridge onto the road below. The victim is neighbor Melissa Chadwick, the how has been determined, the why and the identity of the murderer are the mysteries that Susan will not be able to leave alone.

The fall – winter holiday season is moving into rural New York, but the town of Westbrook is not yet ready to be jolly. Mr. Weiner uses settings involving holiday preparation on both the family and community level to introduce a surprising large cast of characters (given the brevity of the novel) and to establish a normal atmosphere of good will against which this exceptional crime looms large.

Weiner

Visiting relatives, desired and not, complicates the lives of Susan and her husband Mike.

The town has been unsettled of late in other ways. There are suspicions about the business practices of Agrowmex, an important company headed by the murdered woman’s husband, Matthew. Matthew has pushed into Westbrook in a big way. He managed to get Melissa appointed as assistant principal in the charter school, which he largely funds. Her credentials are shaky. Matthew is bringing in outsider employees to work the factory farming plant. These workers, to some minds, are not the right kind of residents for their town. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the June 14, 2017 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 15 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Murder Is Chartered

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Dahl’s CONVICTION a gripping, worthy addition to her Rebekah Roberts series

 Conviction, by Julia Dahl. Minotaur Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

The latest entry in Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts series is a powerful exploration of how unjustifiable convictions occur and what the consequences are. It also evokes the spiritual overtone of the title word. The storytelling mode is particularly effective, mixing sections told in the main character’s voice with other sections that enter the minds and emotions of other important characters.

It’s all about perspective.

Something horrible happens in Brooklyn during the summer of 1992. A black mother and father, along with one of their foster children, are murdered in their Crown Heights home. Another foster child is convicted of the crime, a false confession wrung from him via despicable police interrogation.

The narrative moves back and forth, alternating between two timelines. One describes the sequence of events as they happened in 1992. The other reveals events of 2014, especially those that follow journalist Rebekah Roberts, who is sparked into action by a letter from fortyish prison inmate DeShawn Perkins. He claims that he has been in jail for 22 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

To explore the background and consequences of this claim, Dahl designs a layered plotline that includes the relationships between the African-American and Jewish communities; the abusive and often criminal practices of city landlords; the unwillingness of police and district attorneys to reopen closed cases; the decline of U.S. newspapers; and the shoddy journalism that arises from the tension between getting the facts straight and being first to break the story.

And that’s not all. Conviction probes the texture and dynamics of parent-child relationships in a remarkably rich way. It’s not all good news. The relationship between Rebekah and her mother, Aviva, for instance, is very rocky. . . .

To read the entire review, click hereConviction: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

A hot-headed villain puts Barrington to the test, as does a fascinating woman

Fast & Loose, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 368 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

This is the 41st Stone Barrington novel, but who’s counting? Mr. Woods is a nonstop thriller writer whose titles spend a lot of time on the best seller lists. This one will probably join the previous 50 best sellers. He has a great formula and a great leading character. He fascinates us with the lifestyle of the wealthy, sometimes beautiful, people. 

When Stone’s exotic cruising yawl is hit by another boat during a fogbound return to his dock in Maine, he ends up in a coming to consciousness on the yacht of the Carlsson family. He is entranced by the stunning Dr. Marisa Carlsson and impressed by her father, Dr. Paul Carlsson, head of the prestigious Carlsson Clinic. This accident springs into a series of opportunities and confrontations that wind through the novel while holding it together.

The romance between Stone and Marisa is one satisfying part of it. Another is Stone’s inevitable involvement in helping the Carlssons overcome an unfriendly takeover that became even less friendly when the man who was orchestrating the takeover died and his authority in St. Clair Enterprises was taken over, illegally, by a ruthless schemer named Erik Macher. Macher, ex-CIA, had bribed the company’s lawyer to create a fraudulent will naming Macher as Christian St. Claire’s successor. And Macher wants to control the Carlsson family’s medical business.

Stuart Woods photo by Jeanmarie Woods

 

The battle of wits and resources makes for a suspenseful series of high-flying episodes filled with action – much of it violent. It takes us to the upper stratosphere of money and influence, a world in which connections are everything and Stone Barrington has all anyone would need. Stone, a retired veteran of the police force, hangs his private law shingle within a larger “big law” firm in which he is partnered, so he controls plenty of legal clout. He is best friends with the always available head of the NYC police force, Dino Bacchetti, which helps to no end. Such connections give Stone instant access to background searches that reveal Macher’s tainted history.

Stone is also a principal in a high-powered security firm, which plays an important part in protecting the Carlssons, among other duties.

Stone has connections everywhere, even the White House. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 7, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlott, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Fast & Loose 

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Searching the Florida past for the beginnings of human life

An Ice Age Mystery: Unearthing the Secrets of the Old Vero Site, by Rody Johnson. University Press of Florida. 224 pages.  Hardcover $24.95.

For 100 years, the human and other remains of Vero, Florida have engaged the skills and imagination of professional and amateur archaeologists. Just what was the region like during the Ice Age? What grew there? What were the geological features? Did animals thrive? Did humans leave their marks — and their bones – somewhere in the layers of sediment washed by intruding waters? Why are these questions important? 

The history of archaeological investigations of “the Old Vero site” is characterized by sporadic periods of accelerated interest and action separated by longer periods of general neglect. Rody Johnson tells the story in a highly accessible style, even making the forays into science understandable and engaging. It’s a story of diehard fanatics, professional rivalries, home town boosters, and local kids with nothing better to do than search for Ice Age tools, fossils, bones, and other evidentiary signs of life – individual and communal.

Yes, before there was today’s Vero Beach, perhaps 10,000 years before, there was Vero Man – or, more likely, Vero Woman.

Johnson

Mr. Johnson’s book is divided into two parts. The first part begins with the 1916 discovery by geologist Elias Sellards of Ice Age human and animal remains. His interpretation, originally challenged by leading authorities, was eventually supported by radiocarbon dating technology. This justification came long after the dismissal of Sellards’s claims had crushed his career and spirit.

The author traces the ebbs and flows of interest in the Old Vero site, sets this pattern in the context of other Ice Age research sites, and ends this section with reference to a long period of research dormancy.  Along the way, we meet the important players in the field, generation by generation, and major findings nearby and far away that rival the Old Vero Site’s claim for attention. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 31, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rody Johnson

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Serial killer mystery features a wise guy PI and a deranged yet crafty villain

Shadow of the Black Womb, By Lawrence J. De Maria. St. Austin’s Press.  204 pages. E-book $2.99.

This is Alton Rhode Mysteries #8, one of three exciting series penned by Mr. De Maria. The title, drawn from the Delmore Schwartz poem “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” sets a minor key note of literary erudition that plays quietly through the novel. It reminds us of how the bodily self undermines the aspirations of our more noble and –  intangible – sense of identity. Alton observes the distance between who he is and who he might be. This awareness flitters through his perceptions. He senses an inescapable twinship between two sides of one person.  

Dark doubles and duality play out in other ways in the course of the novel, one that involves a serial killer addicted to his pleasure of murdering young children. The depraved addict has a score to settle. It is Halloween, and the masked killer has a pistol hidden in his plastic pumpkin. Cormac Levine is his target.

The mystery plot –- who is this murderous madman and what are his motives –- is interrupted so that we can drop in on Alton Rhode, the main narrator. We meet his tomcat, his dog, and his gorgeous, brainy girlfriend Alice Watts –  a philosophy professor at Barnard. The two enjoy New York’s cultural offerings. Their evening is interrupted by a call from Alton’s police force buddies, using a crime family figure as an intermediary because this enforcer would know how to get in touch with Alton quickly. Already we know that Alton is well connected on both sides of the law.

De Maria

A private investigator can handle some issues more readily than the police department or the district attorney’s office can. Alton rushes over to the Richmond Memorial Hospital (Staten Island) where Cormac Levine (“Mac”) is in a coma. We discover that Mac and Alton are old friends. Alton reveals that “I was a rookie cop when he cornered a child molester.” We might wonder if the child molester, now a child killer, is settling the score with someone who sent him to jail. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 24,2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shadow of the Black Womb

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Recent biography of Herzl brings us closer to the man and his times

Herzl’s Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State, by Shlomo Avineri. Trans. Haim Watzman. BlueBridge. 304 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

This gets the “must” award; that is, it’s a “must for every Jewish library.” Private or public. Personal or university. First published in Israel in 2008, it was translated into English for publication in Great Britain in 2013. BlueBridge brought out a hardcover edition three years ago. Now the paperback is here.  

There are many other Herzl biographies, many of them quite fine, but this one has a special value because it comes closer than any of the others to reflecting Herzl’s own perspective. This is because it leans much more heavily on Herzl’s diaries as well as the works he published during his lifetime. We have here Herzl the polemicist, Herzl the novelist, and Herzl the playwright – all looming large in combination many other aspects of an unusually complex Jewish man.

Like much successful biography – and fiction – this study begins with a gripping point of attack. It is the fall of 1898. Herzl and other Zionist leaders have come to interact with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who is touring the Holy Land. The chapter backgrounds the preparations for this trip, the expectations Herzl had, and the unfolding of the group’s ten days – mostly in Jerusalem. Herzl had to fight through a fever, but he was already speculating on how to restore dignity to the ancient, decaying city. Herzl had his audience with the German emperor, but his efforts at diplomacy that would lead to a Jewish State did not bear fruit. Yet seeds to that end were planted in the public arena.

What led up to Herzl making this trip? How had he prepared for it and arranged it? We must step back in time to understand how this journalist and playwright became a voice and a force for an independent Jewish nation. Then we can move forward, pick up his trail in the aftermath of his visit to Jerusalem, and follow him step by step until his untimely death in 1904.

Professor Avineri imbeds Herzl fully in his time and place. The author recreates the upheavals of later 19th century Europe, the ebbs and flows of Jewish hopes of ascendance followed by despair – which is to say the widening and narrowing of Jewish opportunities to live lives untrammeled by anti-Semitism.  He narrows the lens to focus on Herzl’s growing interest in the Jewish question and his growing understanding and rigorous search for the answer while his life and career moved through Budapest, Vienna, and Paris.

Avineri

We see the importance of Herzl’s journalistic eye and curiosity in the fashioning of means to an end. How he realized the necessity of the Jewish question becoming an international question at the highest levels of political power. He sought opportunities to lecture, to organize the unsteady threads of Zionist activity and commitment, to seek the attention and the ears of government functionaries who might in time get him an audience with a major office holder who might just get Herzl an audience with someone at the top of the ladder.

With Avineri, we wind through Herzl’s newspaper pieces, his trial balloon proposal titled The Jewish State, the building of the energy and connections that lead to the First Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland, after which the succeeding annual congresses became benchmarks of progress – or of something less than progress.

The author’s strategic use of materials from his subject’s diaries allows readers to feel something like Herzl’s emotional, ideational, and locomotive pulse. He was a traveling man. It’s not clear how or how well he rested. He mostly faced defeat. How did he keep picking himself up? How did he become a man of the world (or at least the world he had to win over), respected as the leader of a nation not yet born?

Professor Avineri examines Herzl’s several plays, drawing out how the operate to explore conditions and relationships relevant to his overarching concerns. He examines the compromised success of Altneuland, Herzl’s quasi-utopian novel that develops a middle road between collective and individual autonomy.

Avineri stands behind Herzl as the almost-prophet tries out the alternative homeland flavors – from El-Arish through Uganda (in the view of many Herzl’s greatest miscalculation). We feel the exhaustion and pain in Herzl’s need to heal the fractures that often crippled the Zionist movement.

Everywhere, the author blends Herzl the thinker with Herzl the doer – the activist: the man in motion. He does this with a sure hand and an attractive style that keeps readers engaged with the study’s scholarly underpinning.

At his death, Herzl could have been considered a failure. In the following decades, he would be revered, more and more, as the great prophet and leader who, like Moses himself, was not able to enter the Promised Land.

 

SHLOMO AVINERI, Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a graduate of the Hebrew University and the London School of Economics, and served as Director-General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the first government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He held visiting appointments at Yale, Cornel, University of California, Cardozo School of Law, Australian National University, Oxford and Northwestern University; and has been a Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, both in Washington, D.C., the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow, and Collegium Budapest.

He is Recurring Visiting Professor at the Central European University in Budapest.

In 1996 he received the Israel Prize, the country’s highest civilian decoration.

Among his books: The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State, Israel and the Palestinians, Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, The Making of Modern Zionism, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism, and Communitarianism and Individualism.

This review appears in the June 2017  issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of  Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota / Manatee).

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Interview with Yaakov Katz, co-author of “The Weapon Wizards”

Philip K. Jason: In The Weapon Wizards, you observe that Israel’s enemies have not ceased building arsenals of rockets and missiles, even though Israel’s Iron Dome and Arrow systems have rendered such stockpiles ineffective. Is any hope that more elaborate defensive (or offensive) weapons will change the operations of Hezbollah and Hammas?

Yaakov Katz: Originally, when Israel developed its missile defense systems, it hoped that their success would make Israel’s enemies—particularly Hamas and Hezbollah—reconsider their investment in missile systems. The theory was that they would see that their missiles are ineffective and would understand that it is not worth investing in. That has not happened.

This does not mean that the missile defense systems are not effective. They are and they save Israeli lives. They have also given the government what we call “Diplomatic Maneuverability”, the ability to think before responding to rocket attacks, rather than being drawn into a conflict immediately. The systems have taken a weapon that could be of strategic consequences and turned them into a tactical issue that does not necessarily need to evolve into war.

PKJ: If there is no military solution to Israel’s quest for an end to war, can resources be allocated to programs more likely to be successful?

YK: Military means are not an end to conflict but a means to be used to reach a diplomatic resolution. Although this has not yet happened for Israel when it comes to Hamas and Hezbollah, it has worked though with the two countries Israel made peace with, Egypt and Jordan. Both countries understood, after defeat on the battlefield, that war will not overcome Israel. Israel continues to invest in additional defense and offensive programs, which will help keep Israelis safe and ensure that wars are fought quicker. But they will not defeat an enemy’s desire to destroy Israel.

PKJ: What are the benefits to Israel of its astounding success in weapon development, manufacture, and sales?

YK: The first clear benegit is that by developing top-tier weaponry, Israeli ensures its qualitative military edge in a very volatile region and as more potential conflicts loom on the horizon. The second benefit is economic: Israel today is one of the world’s top arms exporters and brings in about $6.5 billion annually to the Israeli economy in arms sales.

PKJ: How did you and your coauthor, Amir Bohbot, “share the load” of creating this book?

Amir and I are both veteran military correspondents who have worked closely together covering Israel’s different wars and operations since the early part of the 2000s. We split up the writing based on chapters: I wrote one chapter and he wrote another. The process was a bit more complicated. First, we would meet before starting to work on a new chapter. We would brainstorm for a while and the draft a chapter outline together—what stories will be there, who needs to be interviewed, etc. After spending one or two months researching and writing, when the chapter was done we’d share it with one another. Each of us would then add what was needed, make other comments, and then meet again to complete it. It was a genuine partnership.

PKJ: In the process of writing this book, did you discover any surprises? Did your research lead you to modify your views on anything, or anyone, connected with this topic? . . .

For the full interview, click here: Interview with Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post

For the book review, click here: The Weapon Wizards: JBC.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

US Congresswoman kidnapped by Shining Path guerillas held for ransom high in the Peruvian Andes

Shining Path, by William Schnorbach. Aristos Press. 295-page hardcover $29.95. 346-page trade paperback $17.00.

Billed as “A Lone Wolf Thriller – Book One,” book is a piece of novelistic history that sets several fascinating characters against the turmoil in Peru born of corrupt government and a brutal revolutionary force named “Shining Path” by its founder, Manuel Ruben Abimael Guzman Reynosa (usually reduced to Abimael Guzman). He considered himself to be the fourth sword of Marxism, inspired by the Maoist third sword (following Marx and Lenin). Mr. Schnorbach focuses his narrative on four months toward the end of a twelve-year nightmare of violence for the Peruvian people. 

The principal characters are U. S. Congresswoman Marta Stone, who plans to grab a Senate seat in a forthcoming election; a Native American undercover CIA operative and “sky walker” who uses the moniker Lone Wolf, super-skilled and dangerous; and Antonio Navarro, co-founder of Shining Path who knows the movement has lost its moral compass. The three form an alliance of necessity in a world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

After Marta is abducted in Lima and held as a prisoner of war, Lone Wolf (whose legal name is Josh Barnes) is assigned to rescue her. Antonio (hereafter “Tony”), also imprisoned, is protecting her.

The novel proceeds by rolling out an unhappy mix of action and exposition. The action scenes are stunning whirlwinds of sensory experience. Over and over, Lone Wolf’s special martial skills, offensive and defensive, are on display along with other brands of physical prowess and mental acumen. He is a great planner as well as a great improvisor. He knows how to beat the odds when his team is overmatched.

Schnorbach

He, along with Marta and Tony, must make their way through difficult terrain with insufficient nourishment and a determined, well-trained enemy. They deal with injuries and exhaustion.

Mr. Schnorbach handles this action scenes with great skill, offering vivid descriptions of the rugged environment and building pulse-racing tension from episode to episode. . . .

To read the review in its entirely, as it appears in the May 17, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shining Path

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

“Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence”

by Paul Robert Magocsi and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. University of Toronto Press. 320 pages. Oversized hardback $44.95.

An amazing exploration of the relationship between two marginalized peoples, Paul Robert Magocsi and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern’s narrative is accompanied by 335 color illustrations and 29 maps in a well-designed oversized page format.

Magosci

After an introduction that focuses on the stereotypes and misperceptions that Jews and Ukrainians have had about either other over the centuries, the authors of this interdisciplinary work lay out twelve chapters, at once accessible and complex, covering a wide range of topics. One explores physical and human geography, another explores history, while others examine economic life, traditional culture, religion, language and publications, material and artistic culture, and diaspora life as defined and experienced by Ukrainians and Jews. Latter chapters focus on the contemporary situation.

Petrovsky-Shtern. Photo by Andrew Collings.

The structure of each chapter is such that the section featuring some aspect of the Jewish situation in Ukraine is framed by the necessarily much larger treatment of the Ukrainian experience and situation. This pattern often becomes complicated by the fact that the Jewish situation is not necessarily uniform throughout Ukraine and because the story of Ukraine is a story of flux. Jews of Galicia, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia require treatment distinct from that of Jews who live—or once lived—elsewhere in Ukraine. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here:  Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes