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“The German Midwife: A Novel,” by Mandy Robotham

  • Avon. 352 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

This story, narrated from behind Axis lines, captures the enduring strength of women.

Originally published in the U.K. as A Woman of War, the instant bestseller The German Midwife offers astonishing portraits of several women caught up in Hitler’s nightmarish aspirations. The circumstances that threaten the lives of these women (and of countless others) make this story at once an historical novel, a thriller, and a romance.

The narrator, a young nurse and midwife named Anke Hoff, finds herself in a Nazi work camp where she is essentially a prisoner. Though the timeline of the story starts in 1944, italicized flashbacks begin two years earlier, establishing an historical, professional, and familial context for understanding Anke. These sections also illuminate the deteriorating situation for people living under the Reich, whether they be citizens, despised minorities, or resistance sympathizers.

Anke is imprisoned for having provided birthing services for Jewish women despite a Nazi policy to end Jewish reproduction. Inside the camp, she shows leadership, compassion, and disdain for her country’s moral decline.

Robotham

Nonetheless, because she is the most skilled midwife available, she is selected — actually, ordered — to protect the Fuhrer’s child incubating in the womb of Fraulein Eva Braun. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda, will make sure that Anke performs her duties properly, as will the staff attending to Hitler’s mountain estate and headquarters. This child, especially if a boy, will insure the future of Hitler’s genetic line and racial vision.

Anke develops a liking for Eva, whom she considers an innocent young woman slavishly enamored of the devil. She develops much more than a liking for a handsome and considerate Nazi officer, Captain Deiter Stenz, who carries out important duties at the headquarters. She is perplexed by how a man she respects can be part of the Nazi mission. Readers will be similarly puzzled.

Suspense — and there is plenty of it — in this carefully developed narrative arises primarily from the ups and downs in Eva’s high-stakes pregnancy, the risks of Anke’s romantic dalliance, and the shadowy references to the progress of the war. . . .

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

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The moral element shines brightly in this heart-pounding tale of historical nautical adventure

Jacket blurb by Phil Jason blurbing as U.S. Naval Academy Professor Emeritus Philip K. Jason: “Macomber is today’s foremost practitioner of a fascinating subgenre: historical fiction of the nautical variety. Building his series on the imagined autobiography of Peter Wake, he’s given readers a vivid, multi-dimensional hero. Macomber makes the remarkable times he portrays glow. This latest title is no exception. History comes alive.”

Honoring the Enemy, by Robert N. Macomber. Naval Institute Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

This is the 14th installment of Mr. Macomber’s classic “Captain Peter Wake Novel” series. It is the first with his new publisher, and what a wonderful pairing it is to have such a fascinating series under the imprint of the Naval Institute Press. The series is also known as the “Honor” series, as that word appears in each of the titles. Old and new Macomber readers will appreciate the useful “Timeline of Peter Wake’s Life” that sets the protagonist in his historical context and in the parameters of his unique values, skills, and personality.

The author blends international politics, seamanship, strategic planning, and technology into a succulent stew. However, little else is succulent in this wartime drama notable for undependable supply lines and a scarcity of nourishment.

What we’ve got here, folks, is the Spanish-American War as adversaries battle for dominance in Cuba during June and July of 1898.

Wake is a proud patriot, always motivated to serve his country, but these days he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. After long years working up the responsibility ladder, he thought he had proven himself worthy of being given command of his own ship. But that didn’t happen. He had made too many enemies and – as a man who doesn’t mince words – there was little support for this former espionage specialist. No politician, he just didn’t have the right connections. After all, he was one of the few Navy officers who had not graduated from the Naval Academy.

Rather than driving a ship, he heads a small Navy team that is a liaison to the U. S. Army’s effort to free Cuba from Spanish rule. He reports to generals who are orchestrating a joint U. S. and Cuban liberation force. In this effort, he is finding the Spanish forces estimable and discovering that the U. S. effort mixes clever initiatives with large measures of incompetence.

The story Wake tells us involves not only his perspectives and actions, but his remembrance of how effectively his old friend Theodore Roosevelt comported himself during this campaign. Indeed, Mr. Macomber’s portrait of the president-to-be, filtered through Wake’s observations and judgments, is among the book’s many engaging threads, with unexpected comic elements to leaven the blood-soaked, storm-tossed, death-inviting narrative. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 8, 2019 issue of the Naples, Palm Beach, and Venice editions of  Florida Weekly, as well as the August 14 Fort Myers  and August 15 Charlotte County editions, click here:  Honoring the Enemy

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“Paris, 7 A.M.: A Novel,” by Liza Wieland

  • Simon & Schuster.  352 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

A riveting re-imagining of poet Elizabeth Bishop’s WWII-era sojourn in France.

The magnificent Paris, 7 A.M. is clearly announced as a work of fiction, which gives it a different kind of accountability than if marketed as a biography. Still, the idiosyncratic narrative is so compelling in its details, characterizations, and settings that one must wonder what is invented and what, if anything, is misrepresented for convenience.

If it were a biography, readers might ask why the real-life poet Elizabeth Bishop seems to be celebrating her European tour following graduation from Vassar a couple of years later than her actual 1934 graduation. 

Perhaps she awaited the availability of her friends so that they could share the experience.

Friendships, acquaintanceships, and — more generally — useful connections are important in defining Elizabeth, and the namedropping in the book is certainly flavorful. One connection is the already established poet Marianne Moore (“Miss Moore”), whose mother is an influence as well for the waif-like Elizabeth, who hardly knows her own parents.

Elizabeth crosses the Atlantic on a German ship with her friend Hallie, and they await other Vassar girls: notably Margarite Miller, the young painter who lost one hand in an accident and who rebuffed Elizabeth’s overtures of love; and risk-taking Louise Crane, who seems the most outgoing of the group and whose mother co-founded New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Eventually, Paris indoctrinates the friends into the offerings of that city and its surroundings.

If there is a word to capture the essence of Elizabeth’s personality, it is reticence. She manages to distract herself from confronting, let alone expressing, her strongest feelings. She douses expectations. She belittles her fledgling avocation as a poet. She numbs herself, again and again, with alcohol.

Loneliness is her constant state, magnificently explored by author Liza Wieland.

Liza Wieland photo by Donna Kain

Yet, as Wieland reveals in a series of well-timed, powerful scenes, Elizabeth has a great need for physical and emotional intimacy with other women — a need that, in the major sections of this book, is often frustrated. She is especially attracted to Sigrid, one of a trio of young German women working in Paris.

Elizabeth admires and is befriended by Clara Longworth de Chambrun, director of the American Library in Paris. The library, a plaything for this enormously wealthy woman, is a networking center for the vacationing and expatriate American community. Clara has connections with other important Americans, and she introduces Elizabeth to the legends: bookstore owner Sylvia Beach and salon hostess/author Natalie Barney. (At Beach’s store, Elizabeth reads her poem “Paris, 7 A.M.,” but the response is far from overwhelming.)

Clara is also Elizabeth’s guide to important places on the visitor’s tour. She treats Elizabeth like a daughter, a replacement for the daughter who had died some years past. There is an attraction as well as a troublesome tension between them. Clara cannot replace the mother Elizabeth never had. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  Paris, 7 A.M.

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Memoir offers lost souls a viable path to self-respect and renewal

The Burn Zone: A Memoir, by Renee Linnell. She Writes Press. 305 pages. Trade Paperback $16.95.

Heartbreaking as it is, this is a most important book. It is the harrowing journey of an accomplished, multi-talented woman whose need for spiritual enhancement leads her into a trap. Though it took too many years for her to admit it to herself, and even more years for her to extricate herself, the author had become the prey of a cult. In the name of bringing her gift of enlightenment and true peace of mind, her teachers turned her into a psychological slave.

Ms. Linnell, who grew up in Florida, was a vibrant, adventurous seeker who became an abused woman. Sometimes she knew it, sometimes she didn’t. In a way, being the target of abuse gave her some degree of definition, but of course such an identity is not much to build upon.

Renee (will keep it in the first person from now on) was physically slight, but nonetheless she had trained her body as a surfer and a processional dancer. She had the kind of looks that made her a successful surf model.

Renee Linnell

And beside body, she had brains and she put them to good use. She earned an MBA for NYU and she was a successful entrepreneur. Some of these accomplishments took place under the influence of the teachers whose brand of Buddhism denied her worth and attacked what they called her oversized ego; Renee accomplished more once she had freed herself from their destructive, perhaps psychotic, influence.

Though the narrative is mostly chronological, there are times when segments of Renee’s life are set against one another without temporal continuity. Vignettes become linked by thematic overlap or in the simple way that one memory triggers another. Changes of mood can be abrupt. Success and failure, however judged and by whom, knock against one another, sometimes rapid-fire.

It takes a long time for Renee to define herself in a healthy way, to offer herself the respect FROM herself that she deserves.

Readers will find themselves sympathetic to Renee, but they will also find themselves silently foretelling disasters she has set herself up for by trusting her mentors and rewarding their exploitation. “Renee,” one might think, “why didn’t you see this coming?”

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 26, 2019 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 27 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – The Burn Zone 

Renee Linnell is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded five companies. Currently she serves on the board of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and is also working on starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories. Ms. Linnell has an Executive Masters in Business Administration from New York University. She grew up in Florida and visits there frequently while otherwise dividing her time between Colorado and Southern California.

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Storms of the heart bring violence, catharsis

Mine, by Courtney Cole. Gallery Books. 304 pages. Original Trade Paperback $16.00.

This scorching-hot novel of infidelity, its causes, and its consequences is structured as a two-narrator duet in which harmony is unlikely. Accomplished and confident Tessa is taken by surprise when she discovers that there is a rival for her husband’s favor. At forty, and with three children and a booming career, she felt she and Ethan were on a steady path.

Twenty-six-year-old Lindsey, gorgeous but insecure about everything except her good looks, has set her sights on Ethan, whom she met online. She offers him literally everything, using her neediness as a weapon. 

Ms. Cole has clearly distinguished her two combatants. She has pitched their voices perfectly to capture the many contrasts in their personalities.

As a coastal Florida storm intensifies into a hurricane, blocking Ethan’s return home from a business trip. A glance at Ethan’s iPad turns Tessa’s world upside down. Ethan has been having a sex-tinged flirtation with a beautiful younger woman whose seductive photos are a challenge and a threat to his wife.

Courtney Cole photo by Christine Arnold

Alternating chapters reveal the two women’s thoughts, emotions, and words. Readers get to know them, and a clever plot device forces them to get to know one another.

Throughout the novel, the hurricane is effectively used as a metaphor for the darkness and danger of the women’s emotional situation.

There are interesting ironies that affect the relationship between Tessa and Lindsey. Not the least of these is that Lindsey, a nursing student, saves Colt, Tessa and Ethan’s oldest child, when he has what could have been a terminal bout with his serious disease. Not only must Tessa thank Lindsey for saving the young man’s life, but she begins to see Lindsey as a person with more dimensions than husband-snatcher.

Seeing the two women in the context of their families provides for engaging contrasts. Tessa’s accomplished brood of two sons and a daughter (her other children are Connor and Ava) reflects Tessa’s care and expectations. Ethan has been in the picture, but Tessa is the driving force. Reader’s learn little about the older generation – Tessa or Ethan’s parents.

On the other hand, there is a well-turned portrait of Lindsey’s mother, who has become the caretaker for Lindsey’s eight-year-old son, Logan, since Lindsey’s situation does not leave her with the resources or confidence to be raising him. Lindsey’s mother, a practical person, perceives and announces the many flaws that she finds with Lindsey’s decisions and expectations. She scolds her regularly.

There are several large-scale flareups between Tessa and Lindsey . . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 19, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Mine

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The traumas of our individual and collective pasts do not simply vanish

Review by Philip K. Jason

Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Trauma, by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Ph.D. Monkfish Book Publishing / Adam Kadmon Books. 240 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Here is one of the most valuable new books for 2019. Though it seems at first that it is aimed at health professionals and religious leaders, particularly of the Jewish faith, it has a much wider application. Someone in your family needs this book to help come to terms with the residual effects of complex trauma – trauma that is transmitted, sometimes within a particular ethnic group from generation to generation. 

Others need this book to understand the seemingly strange and often self-destructive behavior of loved ones, close friends, co-workers, and other victims of psychological trauma who suffer without even knowing why.

Rabbi Firestone’s book is intellectually challenging, spiritually rich, infinitely patient, and filled with healing optimism. It offers understanding, strategies for overcoming trauma, and accessible case histories of a varied group of trauma survivors whose paths and personalities will encourage all who seek  recovery and renewal.

The peculiar history of Jewish populations – a history weighted with pogroms, genocide, exclusion, and endless epochs of plain old anti-Semitism – receives startling, illuminating attention. Rabbi Firestone knows of what she speaks. Her discussions include slices of her own family history.

Significant here, beyond but yet entangled with the family dynamics, is the author’s withdrawal from Jewish life and identity and – some time later – her reconnection. Her discovery of the wisdom in Judaism’s fundamental texts opened channels of learning that eventually led to her studies and work as a psychotherapist and her emergence as an influential rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement.

Firestone

However, the value of this study is not limited to Jewish sufferers or Jewish families and communities.

One theme of the book is that we have, or can develop, the insights and tools to make our lives whole again if they were fractured by trauma. Another theme is that “intergenerational trauma” is a genuine, verifiable medical condition, and that it even has a significant physical dimension. Yet another theme is that such a condition must be attended to – it will not cure itself.

Rabbi Firestone’s exploration of this condition includes the introduction of recognizable behaviors (warning signs) and the professional vocabulary that assists in the understanding of trauma-induced or trauma-prolonged behaviors.

Other provocative explorations in this book include a productive revisioning of the stigmatizing label that the Jews are a “chosen people.” Similarly refreshing is Rabbi Firestone’s perspective on the troublesome biblical pronouncement about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children for generations. The understandings she suggests are a fine capstone to her tonic presentation exploring “intergenerational trauma.”

Of immense practical value is her construction of the seven “principles of Jewish cultural healing.”

A lively mind, a caring heart, and a love of Judaism’s profound soul make this a must have contribution to the literature of healing.

About the Author:

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Ph.D., is an author, Jungian psychotherapist, and founding rabbi of Congregation Nevei Kodesh in Boulder, Colorado. Ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in 1992, she is a leader in the international Jewish Renewal Movement and has served as co-chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, North America, which is now known as T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She holds a doctorate in depth psychology from the Pacific Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California. She has written several other books, including With Roots in Heaven: One Woman’s Passionate Journey into the Heart of Her Faith.

This review appears in the June 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).

 

 

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Moving ahead requires inventorying ugly truths from the past

Moral Inventory, by Tara Johnson. Austin Macauley. 154 pages. Trade paperback $10.95.

An intervention program named Helping Hands has, with her alcoholic mother’s connivance and permission, yanked young Elizabeth out of her downward spiraling life and provided a structure of rewards, punishments, and self-evaluation that might save her. At seventeen, she had found herself flattered by the attentions, muscles, and rebelliousness of Marcus, an unemployed predator several years too old for her. His controlling nature had become intolerable, though he had ways of making her feel important as well.

Not seeing him is part of her path to staying off drugs and making a meaningful, respectable life for herself.

Ms. Johnson’s portrait of about a half year in Elizabeth’s life is extremely vivid. It is a harrowing emotional ride in which the young woman’s intelligence is at war with her bad habits, including dangerous dependencies.

Elizabeth wavers between taking the lessons and regimen of Helping Hands to heart and merely playing the game of going along while looking for an out. Her life is on hold until she finishes the program – or runs away from it. She meets other young adults working their way through the program and in some cases assisting the director, Mrs. Stein. There is a well -constructed hierarchy of relationships and responsibilities that offers hope.

Readers will grasp the importance of such a “tough love” program, yet also understand Elizabeth’s ambivalent attitude and inconsistent behavior.

While the focus of the novel is Elizabeth’s struggles and successes within the confines of the Helping Hands structure, Ms. Johnson paints Elizabeth’s life and personality with a broader brush through flashbacks. The author clarifies the effects of Elizabeth’s father’s disappearance and her mother’s alcohol problem on Elizabeth’s early years.

Tara Johnson

The flashbacks include Elizabeth’s friendships with other girls and with temporary boyfriends. Her home environment places her in a low socio-economic class without the tools to transcend it. Though Elizabeth has a strong love for her mother, she also feels bitter about the unsought responsibility of dealing with a desperate drunk. At times, she is forced to take over the parent role. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 15, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 16 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here and see lower half of page: Florida Weekly – Moral Inventory

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“Greenhorns,” by Richard Slotkin

Leapfrog Press. 186 pages. Trade Paperback $16.95.

The six sto­ries in this col­lec­tion explore the green­horn expe­ri­ence in the con­text of Jew­ish immi­gra­tion to the Unit­ed States, par­tic­u­lar­ly to New York City, from the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry through the ear­ly years of the Great Depres­sion. Slotkin has based his tales on inter­views he held with fam­i­ly mem­bers who came to the Unit­ed States from Rus­sia and Poland between 1900 and 1921.

Through his fic­tion­al retellings, Slotkin demon­strates how his­tor­i­cal mark­ers shaped and defined the par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence of immi­grants. In 1905, Jews escaped the lat­est out­bursts of vio­lent anti­semitism in Rus­sia and Poland, and made their way to what many believed would be the promised land. The end of World War II brought aware­ness of the Holo­caust, which many new immi­grants had man­aged to escape. The found­ing of the mod­ern Jew­ish State was anoth­er mile­stone: a pin­na­cle of Jew­ish pride.

Slotkin photo by Burkhardt

Slotkin’s col­lec­tion also explores fam­i­ly dynam­ics, and the gen­er­a­tional gaps that com­pli­cate them. While young­sters often adapt and assim­i­late with ease in these sto­ries, old­er immi­grants are more like­ly to have a dif­fi­cult time, some nev­er find­ing true com­fort in the nation or neigh­bor­hood in which they now live — they nev­er stop being green­horns. One man, back in ​the oth­er side” a promi­nent wheat bro­ker, can­not recon­struct his suc­cess in his new envi­ron­ment: he has lost too much sta­tus, too much con­text for the mean­ing of his life. He becomes a recluse. Oth­ers find ways to fit in, grasp­ing when pos­si­ble the help­ing hand of a cousin already estab­lished or a friend­ly neighbor. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: Greenhorns

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ISIS vs the Catholic Church: a Thriller

The Canonical Order, by T. R. Kurtz. 318 pages. Trade paperback $9.99. Kindle E-book $4.99.

This supercharged techno-spy thriller has it all. First of all, it has an intriguing premise. Kurtz imagines that the Catholic Church has developed a first-class intelligence operation with resources comparable to those of the superpowers. The Canonical Order is that impressive force, and it is presented as a late incarnation of the ancient Knights of Malta. Kurtz’s protagonist, Chad Stryker, is a highly experienced and outlandishly skilled former CIA agent who now works with the Canonical Order and has mastered its amazing resources. He is a leader of Black Swan, its covert action arm.

Why would the Vatican need such a warlike entity? Because a radical Islamist supergroup, led by a pair of Chechen brothers loyal to the Islamic State, has plans to destroy the Catholic Church and, by extension, all of Christianity.

Indeed, the Pope has been shot and is severely wounded.

What is amazing is the author’s ability to make his premise seem plausible. He has crafted a dynamic, suspenseful tale in which all of the many and often unexpected details fit together.

Stryker’s mission seems motivated in part by his need to redeem himself for any missteps he might have taken during the later stages of his wife’s death from a rare form of cancer. The portrait of the lovers’ relationship is powerfully drawn, and though Jennifer must always be offstage, she is as well-developed as any of the book’s many important characters.

Kurtz

Novices in the field of espionage and security countermeasures won’t know if Kurtz’s descriptions of the Order’s tools are accurate or not. However, they sure are appetizing. Devices are programmed to guide, respond to, and refine the parameters of the task at hand. Artificial intelligence seems to be blended with human assessments. Stryker is assisted by something called the “e-Mission Manager” that is as important as his Canonical Order human associates: namely, D’Orio, Moldovan, and the brains-and-beauty-blessed Sonia Navarre.  Another resource is curiously named MILEAGE.

However, as the mission progresses, it becomes clear that the outcomes are not what was hoped for or expected. Some tools have been improperly calibrated or otherwise compromised.

Dedicated readers will find out by whom and why.

Chad Stryker’s action tools include weaponized gear of all kinds. He has outfits that disguise and protect him, while hiding an array of immediately accessible, personal armaments. One imagines a world at techno-war in which new kinds of haberdashery adorn the compatible, superbly-trained agent.

Well-chosen bible passages connect chapter titles with the moral and “end-of-world” motifs of the action.

Kurtz is adept at describing intriguing settings and putting readers on the spot of the action. A long sequence set in Dubai engagingly establishes the interplay of character and place. Scenes in Kurdistan and elsewhere are similarly effective.

T. R Kurtz’s first novel has the makings of a best-seller, and its inventive imagery could inspire a movie.

Where did all this potentially history-changing imagining come from? . . . .

The full article, with  capsule profile and interview in the May-June 2019 Ft. Myers Magazine, has the answers.  You can read them by clicking here: CanonicalOrder

 

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“The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek,” by Kim Michele Richardson

Sourcebooks/Landmark. 320 pages. Trade Paperback Original. $15.99. 

Readers are likely to find Ms. Richardson’s fourth novel to be one of the most original and unusual contributions they will encounter in the realm of the current literature of the  American South. Set in the heart of the Great Depression, this engaging story rests on two little-known historical features. One of these is the existence of a shunned community of blue-skinned people who fight racial prejudice on a daily basis. However, they are not racially different from the whites who taunt and disrespect them. The are Caucasian in physical features and in all ways but skin color. Nonetheless, being different dooms them, defining them as misfits.

The other historical feature is the author’s exploration of the “book women,” workers in one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s projects to rebuild the U. S. economy and provide useful employments along the way.

Richardson

The project is essentially educational – an attempt to bring reading materials – and enhanced literacy — to isolated communities. In this case, the communities are in Kentucky’s coal mining belt. The Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project is staffed by dedicated people, mostly women, who not only travel arduous routes to serve their clients, but who bring an unexpected, uplifting enlightenment to those who are brave enough to find value in books other than the bible.

These workers help the children, and even the parents, develop a love of reading along with greater reading skill. They provide reading suggestions, they keep tabs on the books in their charge, and their visits become high points on the calendars of those whom they visit. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the Southern Literary Review, click here: Book Woman

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