Tag Archives: New York

“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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A delightful novella about learning to color outside the lines

Her Fake Engagement, by Gigi Garrett. St. Martin’s Paperback. 157 pages. Kindle e-book $3.99.

It is a pleasure to meet a talented writer entering new territory. Naples resident Gwendolyn Heasley made a reputation for her young adult (YA) novels, including the remarkable Don’t Call Me Baby (2014) reviewed in these pages. Now she fathoms the more complicated depths of women who have extended their single lives for one reason or another. 

In Her Fake Engagement, Lotti Langerman is approaching thirty with questions about her unsatisfying love life. A successful New York real estate agent, she is attractive and yet not sure of herself. She has established a list of rules to help her navigate the stormy seas of romance. Lotti hopes to avoid mistakes; she’d rather be a bit boring that be caught off-guard, too easily impressed, or sending misunderstood signals. Her friends make fun of her rule-bound existence, but Lotti is determined to avoid reckless spontaneity and play it safe. This gambit isn’t quite working.

The events in this delightful, breezy book derive from two situations. One of these is Lotti’s career as an upscale real estate agent. It is her good fortune to meet well-to-do young men on whom she can work her considerable sales skills. Lotti is really good at what she does. She is well prepared, persuasive, good at reading her clients’ personalities, and especially good at minimizing their objections to perceived shortcomings about residences and neighborhoods. Readers receive an enjoyable lesson in salesmanship and in the New York real estate scene.

Gigi Garrett

At the same time, they look into the life of an independent woman trying to build a career in the big city. Her clients include two young men, Andrew and Tyler, whom she explores in her imagination as possible boyfriends — and maybe more. However, one of her rules is to avoid mixing business with pleasure. Lotti wonders what attracts her to Tyler, whose interests and traits would seem to be red flags warning her to back off. His work as a jewelry designer is especially intriguing, as is his appraisal of an engagement ring Lotti wears — or doesn’t wear — depending upon how she wants to present herself: available or not. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 8, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 9  Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Her Fake Engagement

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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

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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 

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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

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Corruption reigns inside a high-powered legal establishment.

Big Law: A Novel, by Ron Liebman, Blue Rider Press. 272 pp. Hardcover $26.00.

Authenticity also resides in the vast amount of information about how big law came into being, how it operates, and how its excesses helped to undermine it.  9781101982990

“Big Law” is the term for those huge multi-office, multi-partner firms that operate more like investment-capital firms than arms of a justice system. They are busy leveraging access to power, borrowing from hedge funds to finance their cases, and destroying or absorbing rivals.

Carney becomes mildly suspicious when his boss tries to stay out of the information and advice loop, keeping a distance from Carney’s handling of the case as if to protect himself from any negative fallout. It is also strange that the firm chooses to represent the plaintiffs — not usually where big law makes its money.

What is Carney’s boss, Carl Smith, up to? Nothing less than taking the firm of Dunn & Sullivan public. He is plotting an IPO that will attract a spectacular amount of cash, and then plans to sell his shares and vanish. But we’ll find out, along with Carney, that Smith has much more to hide than this financial scheme.

As Carney moves more deeply into the case, he discovers a complex, nasty plot driven by greed and the desire for retribution. Clients, colleagues, victims, and the justice system itself can be sacrificed for personal gain.

Liebman rounds out Carney’s character in several ways. He sets Carney into a fully dysfunctional family for whom he feels ultimately responsible. His father is an abusive drunk and his druggy brother is a desperate loser. Both depend on Carney to straighten out their sorry lives, and he takes serious risks for them even while knowing there is little hope of them escaping such dependency.

Rob Liebman

Rob Liebman

Carney’s love relationship with a caring and talented African-American woman — also a lawyer — shows other sides of him, not all of them attractive. Liebman knows his character only too well. In fact, the editorial label for the book’s genre is roman à clef. Thus, we may read the novel as a disguised version of actual happenings and even actual people. Veiled memoir?

Liebman’s handling of dialogue is strong and well-pointed. Especially captivating is his reproduction of courtroom sparring, with its blend of accusation, innuendo, sarcasm, indirection, feigned outrage, and other verbal and performance gambits.

A high-energy legal thriller that exudes insider perspectives, Ron Liebman’s Big Law earns its authenticity in two ways. His main character and narrator, Carney Blake, is a former innocent whose need to secure his position as full-partner leads him to accept an assignment designed to put him in a vulnerable position. Carney’s transition from naïve flunky to wised-up player is accompanied by an emotional-rollercoaster ride that Liebman handles with authority. . . .

To read the entire review , please click here: Big Law: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Immigrant life, assimilation, and conversion issues flavor unique murder mystery

Forgiving Mariela Camacho, by A. J. Sidransky. Berwick Court Publishing Company. 316 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

Review by Philip K. Jason

This book has a highly original focus that was first developed in Sidransky’s earlier Forgiving Maximo Rothman. Sidransky is able to intertwine the experiences of various cultural communities: the Dominican Republic, the Dominican section of Washington Heights (upper Manhattan), the neighboring population of Jews, and Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. It highlights the improbable story of Sosúa, a story of desperate Jewish refugees who were given sanctuary in the Dominican Republic beginning in 1938. And, for good measure, there are excursions to Germany and Israel.  FMCfrontcover-HiRes

The author handles these largely unfamiliar relationships by building his plot around a case handled by two New York City police detectives, Anatoly Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez, who are not only partners on the force but also best friends. Their names will immediately signal their ethnic backgrounds.

Anatoly (“Tolya”) was an orphan who somehow made his way to the U. S. His Russian background is presented much more sketchily than Pete’s life in the Dominican Republic (it is detailed in Forgiving Maximo Rothman as is the wartime history of Sosúa). Tolya remembers well his maternal grandfather, whom he had visited in the Ukraine as a boy. That grandfather was the last in the family to be given a Hebrew name.

Tolya identifies himself as Jewish, though the rabbi who is preparing Tolya’s wife Karin for conversion and the conversion of their two sons wishes that Tolya would take action to strengthen his Jewish credentials. Perhaps a rededication. Karin is a former detective who now, on the brink of bringing another child into the world, has found work as the planner of a tribute to Sosúa at a Jewish museum.

Pete has been married for many years to Glynnis, but his heart’s memory brings him over and over again to his thwarted passion for Mariela Camacho, a Dominican beauty whom he courted but who wouldn’t allow him to abandon his commitments.

The novel explodes when a corpse is discovered attached to a diabolical killing contraption – a suicide machine. Pete and Tolya are assigned to investigate; shockingly, the corpse turns out to be that of Mariela. Pete is sick with grief and guilt. Both men agree that there is much about this death that does not look like suicide, and they get their captain to label the case a homicide investigation.

Sidransky

Sidransky

As the novel progresses, the chapters detailing the partners’ investigation play out in counterpoint to chapters that develop the personality and background of a mad genius who turns out to be a serial killer, having used that death machine on numerous occasions. Sidransky skillfully builds an understanding of his mad momentum and his targeting, indirectly, of Tolya – who represents for him (ironically) the good fortune of the Jews who could get out of the USSR. This man, who has taken many names during his depraved life, and whose family had immigrated to Israel by forging Jewish identities, goes so far as to become a patron of Karin’s exhibit. Can you guess where this is going?

This novel, dark in so many ways, is relieved by the “odd couple” humor in the relationship between Pete and Tolya. Their banter is infectious, as is the interplay between their contrasting personal styles as detectives, immigrants, and husbands.

Indeed, the large cast of characters is well-imaged, and each of the many settings is handled with vividness and authority.

For many readers, the lessons in Judaism that Karin receives from Rabbi Rothman and transmits to her sons will be an inspiring highlight – a moving example of the conversion process at work.

Aside from all of its local color, insights regarding immigrant communities, police work, and ethnic/religious identity, Forgiving Mariela Camacho is a riveting thriller with distinctive dialogue and sure-fire pacing.

Sidransky’s reputation is growing fast. The National Jewish Book Awards selected his first novel, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, as a finalist in Outstanding Debut Fiction for 2013. Next Generation Indie Book Awards selected his next book, Stealing a Summer’s Afternoon, as a finalist for Best Second Novel for 2015. His third “Forgiving” novel is slated for 2017.

This review appears in the February 2016 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Charlotte and Lee Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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A stunning debut novel about loyalty, honor, and identity

A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman. HarperCollins. 336 pages. $25.99.

A generation of Jewish immigrants from former Soviet Union countries is coming into its own as a special breed of Jewish American writer. The balance of ethnic identity spans a significant range. Some of these writers seem more Eastern European than Jewish, as might be expected when growing up under a regime that had little tolerance for religious communities. Others seem to treasure their Judaism as a kind of heirloom, but still arrive in the U. S. lacking significant Jewish learning or worship experience. In fact, their American lives often make possible the process of Jewish education and acculturation (as Gary Shteyngart recalls his American Jewish day school years in his recent memoir Little Failure).

In 1979, Minsk-born Boris Fishman came to the U. S. from Belarus at the age of nine. After well-placed work as an accomplished journalist, Fishman’s first novel is putting him on the map in a big way. ReplacementLifeHCc

Slava Gelman, Fishman’s surrogate, works for a prestigious New York based magazine called Century. However, whatever his tasks, he has not yet broken through with an article bearing his by-line. He needs to break through, to prove to his skeptical grandfather – the family patriarch – that his choice of a career was neither foolish nor unmanly. Stava needs, as well, a fulfilling relationship with a woman. The pursuit of these needs springs the action of this unique and brilliant novel, along with the effect of Slava’s grandmother’s death on the family.

The Gelman family and their relatives have become part of a Russian-Jewish enclave in Brooklyn. Inside their community, they are – of course – insiders. Still, they remain outsiders in the larger community of New York City. They admire the abundance of choices that America offers, but they are not able to partake of this abundance on a large scale.

An almost totally Americanized Slava has become marginally connected to his family and his roots. To a significant extent, he is an outsider among them. He is also an outsider, for a complex of reasons, in his workplace community. What good are his writerly aspirations doing him or anyone else?

His grandfather, the ultimate schemer and scammer, has made a reputation as the guy who can get his hands on things that others cannot. His well-played false innocence leads him to hatch a devious scheme to benefit himself, his neighbors, and perhaps even his grandson. What’s wrong with lying for a good purpose?

He comes up with a plan for Slava to fabricate letters requesting war reparations from the German government. While many of the aging Jews in the Gelmans’ Brooklyn community were disadvantaged because of the Nazi regime’s actions during World War II, they had survived the Nazis to lose even more under Soviet repression in the years following the war.

First reluctant and then fascinated with the idea, Slava finds himself going along with it. He is now a creative writer, making up biographies with key incidents that qualify that alleged victims for reparations. His underground fame spreads. Money is offered for his services. His grandfather is, finally, proud of him.

Boris Fishman

Boris Fishman

All goes well until an odd, shrewd inspector corners Slava and starts asking questions.

Just as Slava is lured into one part of his destiny, he is lured into another as well. This time, there is far more upside to it. His co-worker, the quirkily independent Arianna Bock, finds something in Slava to arouse her sympathy and then her passion. She leads him into a romance and also wises him up about the ways of a writing career at Century and beyond.

Perhaps Fishman’s greatest gift is his talent for writing group scenes made out of conversations that couldn’t possibly be real but are totally convincing and revealing. There are several such scenes in A Replacement Life that could be expanded into plays. They are filled with social nuance, familiar pettiness, and (from the perspective of the participants) unintentional wit and humor.

Fishman’s narrative shines with bright metaphors and similes. Describing a woman who has been assigned by a social service agency to assist his grandfather, he writes: “Like a Soviet high-rise, each floor of Berta was stuffed beyond capacity.”

How do things work out with the family, with Arianna, with Slava’s career creating fraudulent lives on paper? Well, that’s a long story. Do yourself a favor and read it for yourself.

This review appears in the November 2014 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).

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Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947

Edited and with a Preface by Paul Herron. Introduction by Kim Krizan. Swallow Press/Ohio University Press. 440 pages. Hardcover $34.95.

A new, unexpurgated volume of Anaïs Nin’s diaries.

Anaïs, Anaïs, my darling. We’ve waited so long to hear your full voice as you confront the threshold of early middle age. Finally, 17 years after the last section of your unexpurgated diary appeared, we are able to savor not only that transition, but also the progression from your sometimes exotic, often erotic life in and around Paris to your life in New York.

 

New York: the place where you matured from a girl to a young wife. The place you escaped on a grand adventure in pursuit of the artistic climate that you sought.New York: the place that now seems coarse and unwelcoming. The cultural headquarters of barbarian America is not the ground best suited for your continued personal and artistic growth.

 

Something is missing.Something is always missing. In your journal, which you devote largely to your love affairs, what’s often missing is the ideal, transcendent union that you always, perhaps foolishly, seek.

 

Your longtime lover Henry Miller follows you here. His coldness and rationality are quite at home in the U. S., but he is no longer the inspiration, soul mate, and passion center of your life. He has served his purpose, helping to verify your identity as a creative artist and an alluring woman. And he is growing old.

 

Hugo, your supportive husband whom you love without passion – whom you betray on an almost daily basis – has been noble in his selflessness. Still, he has been only a bank employee. What kind of mate is that? You encourage him to explore his artistic and passionate side – and he does. You steer him toward overcoming his inhibitions – and he makes progress. The reinvented Hugo becomes assertive, even demanding. He is no longer so malleable and obsequious.

 

Anaïs, sorceress, what have you created?

To read the entire “review,” as it was posted on August 12, 2014 in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947 |

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Debut novel explores martial arts discipline in coming of age story

Taichi: The Story of a Chinese Master in America, by Marc Meyer. BookLocker. 196 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. Kindle e-book, $3.99.

Enlightening and filled with captivating characters, this novel is strong on atmosphere and setting but somewhat weak on plot. Set in the 1960s, it takes us into the bi-cultural world of a young Chinese American boy named Paulie whose adult self is the narrator of the tale. He lives in New York’s Chinatown with his younger brother, Fa, their mother, Mei, and stepfather, Harry Chen. The family has a spacious apartment over its successful dry goods store, where Paulie and Fa work after school.  taichi

Everyone’s life is drastically changed with Mei’s older brother, Uncle Kuo, comes from China to live near his sister and his nephews. Though a man of status and influence during Chiang Kai-Sheck’s reign, the Cultural Revolution that followed triggered Kuo’s departure. He entered an America going through ist own very different cultural revolution.

Kuo’s ambition, quickly and effectively realized, was to open a school of T’ai Chi Chuan, a T’ai Chi form of which he was a legendary master. He connects with an old friend, Jimmy Chow, who assists him in opening bank accounts, choosing a place to live, and finding a closed dance studio that is perfect for the school.

Naturally, Paulie and Fa become students, and other young and not-so-young aspirants sign up. At this point, the story becomes, to a large degree, an ongoing description of the philosophy and skills required to rise up the ladder of T’ai Chi mastery. Mr. Meyer is able to make this material quite fascinating through precise description and through connecting it to the endeavors and achievements of Kuo’s students, who are sharply individualized. Indeed, members of the core group are given special names: Fire, Metal, Water, Earth, Wood. Each student has a trait that connects to his or her element.

Author and pianist Marc Meyer

Author and pianist Marc Meyer

Meet Ba Ling, a seventeen year old transfer student from Beijing who had immigrated via Ellis Island. Already a stellar martial arts performer, the troubled young woman becomes a teacher in the school while she continues her own development. Alcohol and drug addiction plague her progress, and her setbacks plague the school. Paulie is overwhelmed by the slender beauty, only a few years older than he is. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 10, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Meyer 1 and here Florida Weekly – Meyer 2

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