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This Month's Articles

REVIEWING

We the Animals

by Justin Torres

Reviewed by Sally Cobau

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Hungry for Life

We the Animals by Justin Torres can be difficult to read.  Not because it’s not brilliant and startling—it is, but because the book can be intensely visceral, angry, and violent.  Because the book also has moments of great tenderness, I felt swayed and unmoored, stranded somewhere between excitement and dread.  I realized that surrendering to the characters’ highs would only allow me to feel the lows even more.

To his credit, Torres made me feel the absolute bond and protectiveness of this family.  At the same time I felt what the narrator (he is never named) must have felt—claustrophobic within the suffocating bonds of the family.

Like the title, the male siblings in We the Animals are described as “animal-like”; at once unruly, greedy, and hungry (in a very real sense and hungry for all life has to offer), they spend their days in a tribe of three, doing what they can to survive and .....Read More


REVIEWING

Catherine the Great—Portrait of a Woman

By Robert K. Massie

Reviewed by Jane M McCabe

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What better endorsement can a reviewer give a book than to recount the many hours of pleasure brought in reading it? And so it is with Robert K. Massie’s biography of Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia for 34 years, from 1762 to 1796.

Catherine was the enlightened empress who governed ten million Russian subjects during the last half of the 18th Century, during the time of the Enlightenment leading up to the French Revolution. She was the spiritual heir to Peter the Great, who had wrested Russia from being a primitive, medieval backwater into a modern European nation.

As if the world had not been sufficiently enriched by Robert Massie’s masterful biography of Peter the Great, one of the best biographies I’ve ever read (for which he deservedly won the .....Read More


REVIEWING

The Rebel Wife

By Taylor Polites

Reviewed by Andrea Janov

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Trying Times

The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites explores the struggle of a woman trying to take care of herself in a world full of upheaval, where friends and society shun her, family manipulates her, and those who she always took for granted become her alliances. If the catalyst to this book can be summed up in one line it is, “Our world had changed so much, I guess none of us knew whom to hate and whom to love anymore.”

The story is set in the years following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, where the Union has won the war and the slaves of the South are new free men and women. The aristocrats of the novel are now faced with as much of an upheaval to their way of life as the newly freed men.

Our protagonist, Miss Gus, sets the temperament of the novel for the reader, “And always before the war. They say it again and again. Before the war. Before the war. It is our common currency. The only way we understand things.”

In this society, tensions between colleagues, family, and former friends remain high, as the issue of slavery still remains a dividing issue, years after the war is over.     “Everyone behaves so cordially now…With so much that we all lost, how could there not be anger?”

     It is in this society where we meet Miss Gus, who will soon have to question and challenge all .....Read More


REVIEWING

The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life

By Floyd Skloot

Reviewed by Loretta H. Campbell

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When Memory Serves

In Edgar Allen’s Poe’s terrifying story, “A Premature Burial,” the narrator describes a horrible fantasy about being buried alive. Although it’s just a waking nightmare, the experience could be likened to what happened to poet/fiction writer Floyd Skloot.

In his 40s, he was stricken with a virus that severely impaired his cognitive abilities. For a time, he was trapped inside an illness that decimated his communication skills. Writing brought him back to his life, to himself.

As he outlines in this his third memoir, a collection of essays, he has permanently lost the ability to write poetry and fiction. He describes the loss of his future fiction characters, “The lesions on my brain, holes scattered throughout the cerebral cortex, were where I believed those voices had gone.”

In some respects, something else came in through the holes. That is his memories from his past. He explains in his preface that he can’t remember things in chronological order. Yet, his recollections are rich with detail.

In the title essay of the collection, “The Wink of the Zenith,” Skloot takes us back to the days of black and white television channels. The television set was .....Read More


BOOK NEWS

The Slush Pile

A Column by Sarah Vogelsong


book country logo

Book Country: A New Era for Self-Publishing

All technological or business innovations follow the same cycle after bursting onto the market. First the public frenziedly hails the development as a revolutionary moment. Next comes the inevitable backlash, in which a vocal group loudly proclaims the innovation to be no more than a fad. Finally, the furor dies down and the new tool or approach settles into a groove, becoming itself a foundation for future innovations.

E-books have followed this path—and, despite the occasional diatribe from Jonathan Franzen, few doubt that they are here to stay. Now, in a surprising twist, self-publishing is emerging as the Next Great Thing of 2012. This long-maligned segment of the industry has seen remarkable growth over the past decade—a trend that was first greeted with excitement and then trepidation.

So the industry has uneasily loitered on the sidelines for the past few years, slowly amassing titles and profits. On November 16, 2011, however, it took a big step toward gaining widespread legitimacy when Book Country, an online writing community and subsidiary of Penguin Group, introduced its own self-publishing platform.

As Penguin proudly announced, the launch represented the first entry of a Big Six publisher into self-publishing. Whether other Big Six houses follow .....Read More


PORTFOLIO

Portfolio: Jennifer Diener

by Kara Fox

jennifer diener

We talk about the elusive quality of creativity as though it were some concrete thing. Creativity is the use of the imagination, or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. As I view a painting, a photograph, a piece of sculpture, read words, see a play, watch a movie, listen to a speech or enjoy music—I am aware of the artist bringing a part of themselves into their creation.

Two musicians, sitting at identical pianos, offered the same four notes, will each present a completely unique composition. Two painters sitting at the ocean's edge, a canvass before each, each given four tubes of the same colors of paint and identical brushes, will create two unique paintings. Two photographers given the same cameras, asked to photograph the same scene, at the same time, will produce uniquely different images.

Everyone sees things in their own way. Each artist is affected in their own way. This is why I am happy to share with you the photography of Jennifer Diener, as an illustration of her personal vision, her creativity.

Little did I know when I crossed paths with Jennifer, that this calm, cool and collected woman was also a remarkable photographer whose work is anything but calm and cool! And like a true artist, she brings to her images that part of herself which makes her art unique.

Born to a family of artists, Jennifer spent many .....Read More


REVIEWING

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

by Susan Orlean

Reviewed by Amanda Martin


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Arguably the biggest breakout star of the 2011 film season was Uggie, the canine co-star of The Artist.  Playing “The Dog,” the leading man’s best friend and constant companion, Uggie acted the part of collaborative buddy doing tricks on-stage and on-screen in support of his leading man, adorable empathetic co-conspirator in domestic scenes, and, when the script called for it, heroic dog running to the rescue of his suicidal owner.

Uggie is only the latest in a long line of canine actors. Dogs, as Susan Orlean tells us in her wonderful new book Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend, have been appearing in movies since the beginnings of film.

Orlean’s book tells many stories. There is, of course, the story of the character known as Rin Tin Tin, and, as with many figures of popular culture, there is an origin story. There are also the stories of his creators (i.e. writers), of the many reboots of the character, and of the fans, the true believers, and the merchandisers.  Orlean tells of America’s population moving from country to city to suburbs, which changes its relationship to animals. Dogs are transformed from utilitarian beasts who sleep in the barn to beloved companions who share our beds. Most of all it is the tale of three people who become dedicated to telling the stories of Rin Tin Tin: Lee Morgan who found and trained him; Herbert (Bert) Leonard who introduced Rinty to new generations of children; and Susan Orlean, who found herself .....Read More


REVEWING

Corporal Boskin's Cold Cold  War: A Comical Journey

by Joseph Boskin

Reviewed by Alan Jay Friedman


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As a writer of many musicals and stories, I have not yet tried my hand at memoir writing.   Somewhere down the road, though, I might try to reminisce on the extraordinary confluences of my life, or sum up its various surprises and happenings.  But of one thing I'm certain; memoirs are a tricky form of writing.  They can be mundane, narrow and self-serving.  Or, by offering up a slice of life that isoutside of our own domain and providing insight into a fascinating experience, a memoir can draw us deeply into another time and place.   An historical memoir that came my way, Corporal Boskin's Cold Cold War:  A Comical Journey, so thoroughly engrossed me that I'm now considering giving the form a whirl.

Joseph Boskin is an Emeritus Professor of History and African American Studies at Boston University who has written a slew of academic books.  But an experience he had as a draftee during the Korean War in the 1950s, a major conflict that erupted within the larger context of the Cold War, drew him into writing an historical memoir. 

Intriguingly, Boskin was the sole historian of a top-secret, scientific-expeditionary unit consisting of 275 men of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps who were sent to northern Greenland in 1953.  Operating out of Thule Air Force Base, they were instructed to find a way through the dangerous crevasses that criss-cross the edges of the Ice Cap.  Otherwise it would be impossible to mount large-scale caravans .....Read More


REVIEWING

Greedy Bastards

by Dylan Ratigan

Reviewed by Emily Rosen

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Gordon Gekko, you’re chopped liver, toast, a penny ante has-been!!! Our country is saturated with your clones who have mastered your operative philosophy and indeed have taken it to soaring heights infecting society beyond even your wildest dreams.  Dylan Ratigan has “outed” the lot of them. And I can’t believe the Karma that has enveloped me as I write this review on the very day that an unknown Greg Smith has plastered Ratigan’s thesis smack on the op-ed page of the New York Times, under the headline, ‘Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.”

In a nutshell, he says of his former bosses, they are Greedy Bastards and he wants out-of-there. Making money is no sin, he declares, unless you are not giving value in return.

Ratigan, the host of the 4 p.m. MSNBC Dylan Ratigan  show is probably the least partisan of the anchors in their stable, an equal opportunity political party excoriator. Coming from CNBC’s Fast Money, The  Call, and Closing Bell, and as a managing editor at Bloomberg, he won Journalism’s coveted Gerald Loeb Award for his coverage of the Enron scandal, and is .....Read More


NOVEL

The African Gentleman

…and The Plot to Re-establish The New World Order

A Novel by Fred Beauford

Chapter 43

43

It took Gladys to bring me out of the continuing spell of; this bestselling novel, at least temporary.

The African Gentleman, indeed.

I was sitting up in her large Queen Size bed, which had a firm mattress far better than the one Liz Gant and I had shared for so many years. She was sitting, reading, across from me in a cushy wing chair, one that both faced the great view of The City in all of its magnificent glory, and our bed; also filled with many glorious moments.

I was inward, thinking to myself, and not wanting to share this with Gladys: for some reason, I felt people were following me.

It just seemed that I kept seeing the same people, over and over. I was also aware that this would be Eric’s wet dream come true, if only I had the talent to give him what he so desperately wants.

I stopped smoking grass years ago, because I sensed that it was making me paranoid. I now take an occasional puff or two on a joint, just to please Gladys, who especially loves pot when she wants me to make her.....Read More


REVIEWING

The Royal Wulff Murders

by Keith McCafferty

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Reviewed by Janet Garber


“Montana represents the untamed, the wild, the natural . . . Between the parks lie mountains that don't have names yet, in ranges you've never heard of. Scattered in their valleys, you'll find small towns full of friendly locals sharing the unexpected . . .” [official Montana state travel website]

Keith McCafferty cranks up the volume in his neck of the woods with a little murder, mystery and mayhem. He imports characters to Montana that are stock figures in pulp fiction: Sexier than Bogie is our protagonist, Sean Stranahan, “Stranny,” who’s an artist dabbling in private eye stuff, but really a fisherman.  Then there’s the impossibly curvaceous singer, Velvet Lafayette, with lips "the color of blood . . . not quite fresh. . . Blood and not quite dried." (Would you trust someone like that?)

Well, her half-truths are the catalyst that gets the action in gear.  Good-Girl sheriff, tough on the outside, mush on the inside, Marian Ettinger, flirts with our hero too. Salty characters like Sam the guide, a possibly harebrained deputy, Walt, Harold Little Feather, the Blackfoot tracker who’s good at his job, sexy to boot, and making eyes at our girl sheriff round out the cast. 

We get a handful of scary Bad Guys with big guns and knives, faulty ethics, and very poor housekeeping skills (Why do single men turn feral? asks the sheriff), shootings and stabbings, and the requisite narrow escapes.

McCafferty goes over and sticks his toe in the dark side of the river, gets tangled in the rushes, yet even when he's trying to be menacing, fear and panic are somehow missing. The overall mood is... fun!  This is the outdoorsman’s Maltese Falcon set in Montana along the Madison River.

The heart of the story is quite simply fishing.....Read More


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REVIEWING

Field Gray

By Philip Kerr

Reviewed by James Petcoff

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Cross the tough black and white noir imagery of Dashiel Hammett with the moral ambiguity of John Le Carre’s gray world of duplicity and you may get an idea of the corrupt delusional and desolate landscape that is the beat of Bernie Günter—ex-Berlin police detective, ex-PI, ex-SS security officer, survivor of two years in a Russian POW camp and most recently, in 1954, an enforcer for the mob in Batista’s Cuba.

Field Gray begins with Bernie trying to do the right thing--much against his better judgment--by smuggling a young female revolutionary out of Cuba to the Dominican Republic. Bad idea. He is popped by US Navy ops out of Gitmo, grilled, sent to NYC, grilled again and put on a plane to the US sector of Berlin, where he is to await a possible trial as a Nazi war criminal.

While at the prison that housed.....Read More


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