Category Archives: Authors and Books

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.

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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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Best-selling novelist Andrew Gross is featured speaker at Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival

Review article by Phil Jason, co-chair of Jewish Book Festival and Florida Weekly book columnist

The Fifth Column: A Novel, by Andrew Gross. Minotaur Books. 336 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

This fast-paced historical thriller has all the ingredients of another best seller for its prolific and popular author. In the late 1930s, the concept of a fifth column, a seditious group forming in the United States in league with this country’s enemies or potential enemies, gained quite a bit of attention. Anti-war sentiment was high, and it raised the possibility of anti-government action. 

Many groups, especially after France fell, admired Hitler and fascism. They admired authoritarian leadership. U. S. security agencies recognized the threat, but agents’ hands were tied without solid proof of law-breaking.

Worst of all, the more sophisticated Fifth Column groups were adept at fitting in, keeping a low profile, and passing for loyalists while planning to undermine the country or its principles.

There were plenty of pro-Nazi rallies, anti-Semitic rants, and New York area neighborhoods in which children wore swastikas.

Andrew Gross describes such an atmosphere, and he finds the perfect premises and plot line to bring it to life in a most horrifying fashion.

We meet the central character and main narrator, Charles Mossman, in a New York bar continuing a pattern of drinking way too much while pondering the political stories of the day. His drinking had brought Charlie low, costing him his job as a history professor at Columbia University. A minimally observant Jew, Charlie is dismayed about the popularity of figures like Father Coughlin and Joseph McWilliams who stirred up trouble and spread hate. He is also grieving over the loss of his twin brother Ben, who died fighting the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Worse yet, Charlie had been unfaithful to his wife Liz, who has become the main breadwinner.

He hopes to regain her trust and to never lose it again. His worst nightmare is failing their six-year old daughter Emma.

This night, even more disaster for Charlie comes to pass. Drunk beyond sense or stability, he manages to get into a fight and accidentally murder a teenager.

Two years later, when a clean Charlie is released from jail, determined to claw his way back to respectability, just about all of Europe is at war. Charlie has a lot to prove to regain the faith of his wife, who has changed the last name on the door from Mossman to Rubin. When he hears his daughter’s voice calling “Daddy,” he knows more than ever how much he has missed.

It’s clear that Liz is a long way from trusting him. She is not willing to have him return to their home. Charlie understands; he is hoping – over time – to make amends and prove himself worthy.

Liz agrees to allow Charlie to visit with Emma twice a week after school, but he must leave before Liz returns home. Liz has Mrs. Shearer helping her out minding Emma, and Liz is working to support the tenuously balanced family. There are also elderly neighbors, the Bauers, who have befriended Liz and Emma.

The novel shifts into a new gear when Charlie begins to feel that something is not quite right about the behavior of Trudi and Willi Bauer, who long ago established themselves as Swiss citizens of German heritage enjoying their senior years in the United States. They seem somehow too close to Emma, and she to them.

Charlie is also perplexed by their furtive-seeming visitors, whom they call “customers,” whom the Bauers invite on a regular basis. While it is no surprise that Emma has been developing something of a German vocabulary from her interaction with the Bauers, Charlie is shocked to hear his daughter use the word lebensraum, the oft-repeated justification for Germany’s military aggression.

When Charlie asks Emma what the word means, she responds, “the future.” Now he is further worried. His concern deepens when he notices, in the Bauer home, a strip of partially burned paper containing numbers that might be a secret code. Charlie is also troubled that nearby German bars hold meetings of groups like the German American Bund at which speakers offer Nazi propaganda.

Without much to go on, Charlie – on his lawyer’s advice and without Liz’s consent – takes his concerns to the local police station. He receives a patronizing response and little satisfaction. Given his background, this down-and-out ex-con doesn’t have a chance of getting a fair listening from the police officer, who at least pays him some attention.

The narrative builds in various ways. Charlie continues to tell his story, including his discovery of more suspicious items, including a hidden radio transmitter, in the Bauer home. Gross sets Charlie’s personal story against the larger story of the German advances in Europe and the growing anti-war sentiment in the United States. Although Charlie thinks he has an FBI-connected ally who can put his findings to good use, progress is iffy.

He gets no support from Liz, who acts like a divorce is forthcoming. In her view, Charlie’s behavior is ruining their chances for a normal family life. Hating to be seen in this light, Charlie is nonetheless driven to find the truth for his daughter’s sake – and for his country’s sake.

Charlie’s desperation makes him an easy mark for those who can read it and maneuver him to their advantage.

Andrew Gross masterfully portrays the details of how Charlie’s quest plays out, including the setbacks along the way, Charlie’s emotional predicament, and the forces arrayed against him. I can’t tell you more without giving too much away!

Book lovers can hear Mr. Gross discuss this blazing thriller – which imagines a carefully planned, deadly threat against the U. S. – on Tuesday, November 11 beginning at 1:00 at the Naples Conference Center. The book will be available for sale and signing. Also speaking at that event will be Steve Israel, author of Big Guns. Find details about the complete Festival series of events, along with an order form, author bios, sponsor news, 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 article first appeared in the October 2019  edition of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples).

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Soon-to-be-classic Holocaust narrative is a gripping tale of reinvention and romance

No Past Tense: Love and Survival in the Shadow of the Holocaust, by D. Z. Stone. Vallentine Mitchell. 288 pages. Hardcover $49.00, Trade paperback $22.95.

D. Z. Stone

This unique and almost accidental biography of two young people, separately, living through horrible events during the Holocaust is bound to be considered a classic telling of the Holocaust experience. How is it accidental? Willi and Kati Salcer spent decades of there lives as Holocaust survivors shunning any and all opportunities to tell their stories. They were not interested in bringing those memories to the surface. Kati, in particular, did not think their horrible experiences could be made shareable. They finally succumbed at the insistence of their son Ron, who came to understand – without knowing any details – that his parents, once two young Jewish Czech teenagers, had been through terrible experiences during WWII.

He managed to have them record their experiences for the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1996. The Foundation is housed at the University of Southern California. Ron felt that more could be drawn out of them, and he also felt that their story to be available in book form. He sought and found the ideal person to build the chronicle for readers, preserving the couple’s voices while adding her own as well as an engaging narrative structure. That person is journalist and cultural anthropology specialist D. Z. Stone. 

Katarina Kellner and William Salcer, both from small Czech villages, met in 1944. Both had been educated in topnotch Budapest schools. After the German’s invaded Hungary, the young people, who had met in a ghetto, found themselves forced into labor camps. Willi survived Mauthausen and Kati survived Auschwitz. Hearing of Willi’s survival after Germany’s defeat, Kati successfully searched for him. Though their personalities and values were not entirely harmonious, they married. In 1946, they smuggled themselves into pre-state Israel, where they flourished until they felt the need to move on.

After leaving Israel, they lived in many places, but most of their several homes were in the United States where they maintained citizenship and where Willi rebuilt and improved upon his remarkable career as an inventor and businessman. He held sixteen patents.

All through the early part of their lives, and even into their later years, the Salcers suffered frequent, and sometimes unspeakable, hardships, as did their Czech relatives. How they faced and fought through those obstacles is illuminated by the dozens of stories synthesized brilliantly by Ms. Stone.

Every reader will have his or her favorite story. Here are some of the:

In April 1944, Hungarian Gendarmes push Kati – along with her mother, brother, and grandmother – from their home. Laughing all the way, the gendarmes direct them to enter the next-door home. Incredibly, this new Jewish ghetto included the home of Kati’s great uncle, Oscar Bing. It was actually a very nice home, well-supplied with food and other necessities. It was the nicest place of confinement one could imagine. Other aspects of the ghetto, however – as stepping stones to labor camps – were not so pleasant. Soon enough, the confiscated homes of the town’s Jews were taken over by their non-Jewish neighbors, few if any of whom showed any sympathy for their plight.

In August of 1945, after Kati’s liberation from Auschwitz and return to her family’s village, she went to the mayor’s office to discuss the return of the family-owned home and pharmacy. She wanted those Christians to be gone and everything restored. After the mayor hemmed and hawed, not ready to take such a step, Kati took matters more fully into her own hands and moved into the adjacent gardener’s shed. She became a grand example of positive chutzpah. In Kati’s own words decades later, she explained: Yes, you can say this was a provocative act. I knew people were watching from the house and there was a small crowd of villagers pointing at me and whispering, “What is she doing?” I was glad I was getting attention; let the entire village be reminded of what they had done.

In February 1946, the recently married young couple, disgusted with conditions in postwar Europe, connected with an organization called Hakshara. This entity provided agricultural training for Jews hoping to emigrate to Palestine. Illegal immigration was the only immigration possible for the Salcers and other Jews. Just as luck would have it, while they were pursuing this aliya hope, Willi received a notice demanding him to report for duty in the Czechoslovakian army! How they finally made their way to a new life in pre-state Israel is one of the most fascinating stories in the book. The ship purchased for the voyage was renamed “The Jewish Soldier.” Willi contributed his skills for what would become the new Jewish State by designing and constructing tanks. Thus, he played his part in the unofficial Israeli army. Soon after, in 1948, he became a member of the newly formed Israeli Air Force.

These vignettes, presented much more elaborately in the book, offer a taste of what No Past Tense has in store for readers. In the domain of their experience, there can only be now and the future. Thus the book’s title. October 16, the book’s publication date, is also the couple’s wedding anniversary. Even though they are gone from this world that tested them so severely, their abiding love and resilient natures come alive on every page.

This review appears in the October 2019 editions of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte County), and the Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota Manatee).

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swain

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

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

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Failure to protect a witness rocks self-esteem of protagonist

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

Lane

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A life of ballet

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

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

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

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

Venice is the first stop.

Marangon

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Jewish Book Festival Launches Fifth Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“MOON WATER,” BY PAM WEBBER

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

Pam Webber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One family’s story of hope and triumph over evil

Resilience, by Judy Stone. MD. Mountainside MD Press. 384 pages. Trade paperback $17.95.

As the number of Holocaust survivors continues to dwindle, only a scant remnant remains to tell their stories and verify the facts. Scholars continue to explore the field, but testimony is so much richer than the results of research. Dr. Judy Stone, the daughter of survivors and, with this book, the voice for both the survivors of a large, extended Jewish-Hungarian family and their memories of those who perished, connects the past with the present in an inspired and chilling way. 

The time came when Judy Stone knew that it was up to her to convey the traumas of her elders, giving meaning to their perseverance and courage, remembering their trials and tribulations, and acknowledging that the dead can tell no tales: whether those who died in the nightmare of the Holocaust or those who survived it either speechless or simply mortal. In the latter case, the author needed to get their stories before it was too late.

It’s all here, the result of committed passion lifting the heavy weight of assumed responsibility.

This is one of the answers to the haunting question “who will tell our story?” that becomes more pressing every year.

Dr. Stone has a second motive for bringing her family’s Holocaust experiences, and the political backgrounds of those experiences, to the attention of readers. She sees, and hopes her readers will see, the parallels between what happened in Europe before and during the Holocaust years and what has been happening once again in Europe as well as in the U. S. and elsewhere. She fears the rise of nationalism and isolationism. She fears the vilification of the mainstream press and the proliferation of hate crimes. For her, the handwriting is on the wall – in blood! She is bringing us her family history, in context, so that such potential atrocities are recognized and snuffed out early so that the hideous mass crimes of the past will not be repeated.

Many aspects of this book are remarkable, among them the simple fact that there were so many survivors. The extended Ehrenfeld and Glattstein families suffered in almost every way one can imagine. They were imprisoned into forced labor inside of and outside of concentration camps, places whose names we know all to well. They were tortured. They suffered from malnutrition, exhaustion, and sheer barbarism. Among them were Judy’s mother and father. She writes of her parents’ siblings – her aunts and uncles. These people have stories now told because Judy drew the stories out, laboriously, and over a long period of time.

Listen to the names: Magdus (the author’s mother), Bözsi, Miklos, Klari, Kati, Pista, Miki (the author’s father), and Sanyi.

Judy Stone

These Hungarian Jews, some more religious than others but generally followers of traditional Jewish customs, established and maintained households, educated themselves, ran businesses, and watched – with growing concern – the beastly takeover of Hungary and the ascendance of Nazi rule. In late 1938, they heard about Kristallnacht and then later (after German occupation) saw it paralleled in their hometown of Sáránd. Soon after, everything was gone. Hungarian Jews were either in hiding or essentially prisoners of the Nazi empire.

Dr. Stone tells their stories, which include their various relationships, in an accessible, colorful style. We get to know them. We see them in full disorientation after the Allies turn the tide of war. We see them attempt (often with success) to rebuild their lives. We see most of them, each in his or her own time, decide that Hungary is not the place to continue their lives. We see them rebuilding lives and having families in the United States. We see their children, Dr. Stone’s generation, participate in the American Dream.

We witness family reunions, temporary returns to Hungary, and – ultimately – the deaths of the Holocaust generation: Dr. Stone’s mother, as well as her aunts, uncles, and cousins. We know there must have been instances and prolonged periods of trauma, yet their lives turned out to be the heartbeat of resilience.

 

 

About the author:

Dr. Judy Stone, with her longstanding interest in genealogy and oral history, has fulfilled the wishes of her mother by researching and writing her survivor family’s memoir.

Professionall, she is an infectious disease physician who is experienced in conducting clinical research. She is the author of Conducting Clinical Research: A Practical Guide for Physicians, Nurses, Study Coordinates, and Investigators, which a text used widely in medical education.

For twenty-five years, she ran a solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and she now cares for patients part-time as a locum tenens (substitute) physician. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, then completed medical school at the University of Maryland, residency at Rochester General Hospital (New York), and a fellowship at West Virginia University.

Dr. Stone is a Forbes Pharma and Healthcare contributor and former columnist for Scientific American.

This review appears in the September 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).

Proceeds from this book are donated by Dr. Stone to organizations that promote Holocaust education.

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