Book Reviews

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Reviews of NLAPW members’ books

Our Heart Psalms

Author: Joyce Ellis, Minnesota Branch
Reviewed by Mary Halverson Schofield, Minnesota Branch

Our-Heart-cover“Our Heart Psalms” is a devotional book that offers tools to those who are on a journey, or want to start a journey, to form a closer relationship with God. Joyce Ellis, an inspirational speaker, has spoken throughout the USA and Central America, has written 16 books, and serves as a missionary in Guatemala.

Ellis chooses her life stories, excerpts from other soul-searchers’ perspectives, and passages from “The Book of Psalms” to show how she has written her own psalms. She then teaches the reader how to write tailor-made psalms in their own life’s situations, stressing pouring out one’s heart to God as the psalmists of old.

In the main body of the book, chapters are crafted around feelings such as pain, anger, and depression. Each chapter begins with a quote backed up with a psalm from the Bible. Ellis relates her own life stories coping with the emotion and shares a psalm she or someone else has written for that feeling. Readers are invited to write their own reaction to that emotion. Each chapter follows the same pattern. One can find the emotion he or she is dealing with and get to work writing the psalm.

This book is for seekers striving to find deeper meaning with God by getting closer to Him through praying and listening to his guidance. “Our Heart Psalms” can be used when needed and not as a forced or a stone-skipping-on-water book.

“Our Heart Psalms” is a toolbox you will be grateful to have while finding the fires that burn in your heart and by communing with God through writing your experiences down in psalm. It offers a fresh start anyone for feeling adrift from their relationship with God, or for those who are taking a fresh look at themselves and their bond with Him.

You will use this book in peace, angst, joy, pain, and in every other emotion you can conjure to talk and write with God about.

2020, SonRise Devotionals, $12.99
ISBN: 978-1645262701


Author:  Karen McAferty Morris, Pensacola Branch
Reviewed by Andrea Walker, Pensacola Branch

Confluence-cover“Confluence,” Karen McAferty Morris’ second, award-winning chapbook, is a small book of thought-provoking poems that will keep you returning to reread and pause to contemplate. Often nostalgic, sometimes melancholic, her poetry contains themes of seasons and aging and tells stories of people, incidents, and moments that flow together with the poet’s pensive musings.

Her title poem, “Confluence,” pays tribute to her father and shows the past flowing into the present. The language is poignant as she “smiled until a pinch of sorrow behind my eyes took it away.”

A master of form, Morris opens her book with “Not as Seasons in Turn,” a Sapphic stanza. Its melancholy tone emphasizes memories of losses that happen unexpectedly, unlike the orderly seasons. “Radiance: To My New Love,” written in the more familiar form of sonnet, reveals the flowing together of dark into light and back again.

Readers will find perfect haiku, true to nature, true to form, true to portraying a snapshot with a revelation or another perspective. Always seeing something new in nature, the poet interspersed these seemingly simple poems, like a cool breeze, throughout the pages.

People populate the poetry, and Morris carefully observes people and circumstances. The most intriguing poem is “After a Miracle,” written after reading a newspaper article about a young girl in Ethiopia who had been kidnapped, beaten, and left to die. Relatives found her being guarded by lions, seemingly a miracle, indeed. The brutal and sad event flows into something mystical. The poet then speculates on the effect, asking, “What is life like after a marvel, can it return to the ordinary — or do those touched often pause to search the skies, or watch the pieces of the world just beyond the corners of their wary eyes?”

Although the poems speak for themselves, painting unmistakable images, Morris includes photographs that enhance the work, places that will invite you to slow down and contemplate. Such is the effect of the concluding poem, “Channeling Thoreau in a Time of Coronavirus.” This poem speaks lovingly to us about the unknowns we are currently facing and suggesting we “live more bravely, if need be, by ourselves in a small cabin near a pond.” “Confluence” offers readers an insightful view of living life more deliberately.

2020, Independently published, $9
ISBN: 979-8633131192

River Country: A Poem-Play

Author: Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda (& Robert P. Arthur), Chesapeake Bay Branch
Reviewed by: Susan Camp, Chesapeake Bay Branch

river-country-book-cover“What is it about the Bay that startles the heart?” asks Amber, the protagonist in “River Country: A Poem-Play,” a new publication from poet and artist Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda and Virginia poet and playwright Robert P. Arthur.

Arthur selected poems from two of Kreiter-Foronda’s poetry collections, “Death Comes Riding” and “River Country,” and developed them into the story of Amber and her alter ego Suzanne, both representations of Kreiter-Foronda herself, who relive the memory of a near-death experience as a young girl and the anguish of their mother’s final illness and death.

When we meet Amber, she has found love with Patricio, her “Bolivian Indian,” a man who belongs to a land and culture far removed from Amber’s home beside a quiet river flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. He encourages Amber to speak of her grief. In the final scene, Amber achieves a sense of peace as she speaks of the valley in Bolivia, where she first met Patricio.

“I am told if I pray, a deity
will carry me again to the Andes’ heights.
Today it is enough to send
my spirit there to rest…”

Kreiter-Foronda’s luminous, lyrical poetry casts a magic spell as Amber reunites with the ghosts of her mother and father, finally releasing them to their rest. The haunting imagery of her descriptions of the creatures and plants that inhabit the river and its banks provides us with a feast for the senses. “What is it about the Bay that startles the heart?”

Several folk songs, some traditional and others with new lyrics, are woven into the action of the play. The songs are accompanied by flute, guitar, and humble tin whistle, complementing the pastoral imagery and the atmosphere of plaintive longing for the mother’s love that has been lost and can never be regained on earth.

Read “River Country: A Poem-Play” aloud with your friends, your book club, or your writing group. Let Kreiter-Foronda’s words fill you with renewed awe for the glorious mysteries of life, death, and love both old and new.

Virginia Poet Laureate Emerita Dr. Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda has co-edited three anthologies and published nine books of poetry, including “The Embrace: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo,” winner of the Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz. She has also won the Ellen Anderson Award, a Virginia Cultural Laureate Award, and a resolution of appreciation from the Virginia Board of Education for her service as poet laureate, an Edgar Allan Poe Poetry Award, among others. Her poems have been published widely throughout the United States and abroad.

Unicorn Bay Press, 2019, $17.95
ISBN 9781943416479


In the Beginning

Author: Mary Lou Taylor, Santa Clara Branch
Reviewed by: Kathie Isaac-Luke, Modesto Branch

In-the-Beginning-coverMary Lou Taylor’s third poetry collection, “In the Beginning,” is an extraordinary blending of art and poetry. Each carefully crafted poem, using the Bible as a reference, is accompanied by a beautiful stencil print from the late artist David Park’s, “Genesis Suite.”

The story of how the book came together is as fascinating as the work itself. David Park was an American painter who was very influential in the Figurative Movement, which in the 1950s represented a departure from Abstract Impressionism. Taylor discovered Park’s artwork on an art tour and was captivated by his striking and delicate images. Then, a series of synchronistic events came together to make the project possible.

Taylor fortuitously learned that the artist’s daughter was in her book club and gave permission to publish the prints. She also contributed a moving memoir of her father, which is included in the book. Taylor then learned that a fellow poet’s daughter was photographing Park’s paintings for a retrospective planned by three museums. From that concurrence came the 14 beautifully photographed illustrations that inspired the poems.

Other memorable poems include retellings of the “Tower of Babel,” “Joseph and the Pharaoh,” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” In concert, these poems and pictures both augment and clarify each other.

Together, the poems and visuals are powerful and evocative. The poem “Lost,” told in Eve’s voice, speaks of the loss of Eden and is enhanced by a resonant image depicting the moment the earliest couple pluck the apple. A solitary image of a woman looking over her shoulder is accompanied by the poem “Lot’s Wife,” which recounts the feelings and emotions of a woman forced to leave her home.

This volume of ekphrastic poetry is a pleasure on many levels. It can be appreciated for the sheer enjoyment of the poems and the art, as well as for a glimpse into the creative process, shared by this talented and generous poet.

2019, Frog on the Moon Press, $20
ISBN: 978-1-5323-8089-1



More Winds
A Second Collection of Poems

Author: Carol H. Ehrlich, Denver Branch
Reviewer: Ann Klaiman, Denver Branch

More-Winds-cover“I travel the back nine,” says Carol Ehrlich, speaking as both golfer and 93-year-old. Throughout “More Winds,” she speaks with many additional voices.

Some of us read books of poetry neatly, front to back; others read in chunks and random flippings. The poems of “More Winds” reveal themselves comfortably with either method. Be sure to appreciate the cover graced with Willem Wils’ gorgeous watercolor before diving in.

Ehrlich’s poems are relatively short, with only half a dozen going onto a second page. Some poems fall into stanzas. Most lay down uneven lines, a hallmark of her chosen form: free verse. These are not overly dense poems. They are from the heart, honest, sometimes with humor, and often with the impact of understatement.

One seven-poem sequence takes readers through scenes of love and life with Max, her husband of nearly 70 years. First there’s “My Gift for You” with “my steady alwaysness you can count on like the dear mountains,” next into “Love transcends the noise,” then “Just when I thought we were too old for romance,” on through “as the alpenglow follows the sunset I know you haven’t gone,” and in “Solitude — Thoughts of a New Widow,” ending the sequence, there is “comfort in the echoes of my heart.”

After writing factual, objective material for years, Ehrlich became a poet and says, “The charge in both is truth.” She chooses to see the good in people and the glory in nature, and that’s a legacy she will leave to her family, including 12 great grandchildren.

In the poem “On Becoming 86 Years Old,” after recapping the joys of a full life, Ehrlich concludes, like a climber taking in the view: “I catch my breath at the top of the stairs — I know all this is still mine to live.” And for readers to enjoy.

2020, iUniverse, $10.99
ISBN: 978-1-5320-9411-8



The Missing Driscoll

Author: Judith Fabris, Palm Springs Branch
Reviewed by: Donna Weeks, Palm Springs Branch

The-Missing-Driscoll-coverIt’s 1966 and two young cousins from opposite sides of the Atlantic make contact by mail. Thus continues the sweeping story of two interwoven families, connected through generations of shared experiences, both exhilarating and tragic. This is the second book in what will become a trilogy by author Judith Fabris.

Set primarily in the 1970s, the plot revolves around the loving friendship between two cousins, Penny and Lavinia, and the theft of a priceless painting. Penny is the curator of a Washington, D.C., museum dedicated to the work of her grandmother, Maud Driscoll. Penny’s British cousin, Lavinia, who lives in New York with her family, has just suffered a horrific loss.

When Penny is invited to co-curate a retrospective of Maud’s paintings at Paris’ Jeu de Paume museum, it offers the young women a new beginning and a thrilling adventure. En route to Paris, disaster strikes when a featured painting is stolen. A dangerous stranger stalks the two women, putting their lives and Penny’s reputation in peril.

Fabris does a masterful job of hooking our attention and guiding us to fabulous locations — Paris, New York, East Berlin, and Southern California’s fabled beach communities, which she describes in lush detail.

She introduces fascinating characters, like Vie Lee, a determined private detective hired to investigate the theft. Lavinia’s German neighbor, Trudy, takes Penny to East Berlin to enlist the services of Ernst Weber, a collector of art recovered from the Nazis. Gerard Troyer, curator of the Jeu de Paume, and his two handsome sons, Michel and Jean-Luc, become family to the two cousins. The sinister Bill Tennent adds an element of danger to the plot.

Mystery, romance, friendship and family, with a lovely glimpse of life among the privileged are present in this novel. Anyone seeking a compelling story, beautifully told, will enjoy reading this book.

A Vegas Publisher, LLC, 2020, $14.99
ISBN: 978-0-9968437-6-8


The Sugarplum Tree

Author: Andrea Antico, Denver Branch
Illustrator: Virginia L. Small, Denver Branch
Reviewed by: Carol Ehrlich, Denver Branch

Capturing the magic of the classic children’s story about a sugarplum fairy, Andrea Antico sets the stage for an imaginative winter narrative about a barren deciduous tree living in the middle of an evergreen forest.

Sugarplum-tree-coverNeglected and even abused by children who come to play and picnic in the forest, the tree rues the loss of its vibrant summer self. The legendary fairy discovers it drooping amidst the forest greenery and voila! with her wand, transforms it into a sugarplum tree.

Charming illustrations make vivid the elements of Antico’s story: initial disdain for ugliness (the poor tree), recognition of hidden value (discovering beauty in the tree once it was decorated), and the heartwarming benefits of kindness (the ultimate fun around the tree, then its spillover goodness to family and friends).   

Young readers see without being told in so many words the rewards of inclusion. It’s a skillfully executed lesson in humanity, one created by an elementary school teacher and librarian who knows kids — and whose grasp of young children’s capacities is obvious.   

She has added the bonus of concrete suggestions for teachers (and presumably parents) to enhance the reading or telling of the book. And Virginia Small’s delightful, sometimes surprising illustrations add fillip to the work. 

“The Sugarplum Tree” would be a worthy addition to offerings in libraries and schools, as well as a fun hold for families with young children where bedtime stories and quiet-time story hour would welcome this addition. 

2020, Kindereads, $16.99
ISBN# 978-0-09893064-47


These Flecks of Color: New and Select Poems

Author: Carolyn Kreither-Foronda, Chesapeake Bay Branch
Reviewed by:  Ann Falcone Shalaski, Chesapeake Bay Branch

Carolyn Kreither-Foronda’s masterful poems go outside the box in her recent book, “These Flecks of Color: New and Selected Poems.” A lush gem, her collection is dazzling, fluid, moving, and good for the soul.

Always on the lookout for the presence of wonder, Foronda masterfully created poems that explore individual responsibility in relation to what is natural.

In the words of Hollins University professor Cathryn Hankla, Foronda’s poems “strike the ear along with the intelligence, evoking the natural world, visual art, questions of self, transcendence, and responsibility in relation to what is natural.”

The poems in “These Flecks of Color” create a cohesive whole that mirrors her personally: honesty, generosity, and truth in her writings.

Not only will the readers see the things in life that are worthwhile, but they see further and deeper because of this poet’s brilliant, keen observations.

San Francisco Bay Press, 2018, $14.99
ISBN: 978-0996835039


Ash on the Wind

Author: Sandra Berris, Greenwich Branch
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

Sandra Berris presents a collection of powerfully moving poems that are not for the faint of heart. Her unflinching, yet delicate, poetry confronts the human condition with carefully chosen language that drives her images straight to the reader’s soul.

The works are arranged in five sections. Section  I begins with an arresting poem titled “If Lights Dim.” Berris begins with the memory of President Kennedy’s assassination, a topic familiar to everyone who was older than toddlerhood in 1963. From this shared memory of shock and horror, she moves to a personal one, when a mass murderer was executed by electrocution and lights dimmed across the community from the enormous drain on the current. The poem becomes even more personal as the narration continues to the memory of a classmate’s family being murdered, and the resulting fear.

Calamity, death, and fear edge ever closer in this poem, which ends with the line, “What makes you remember?” We are off, our armor of distance stripped from us, vulnerable and ready to journey through the collection and feel the poet’s art as she means it to be felt. 

The four ensuing sections hang together as separate units, yet all harmonize in the single volume. Several poems are prefaced with quotations from other literary works, providing the reader with clues to the resonance of ideas within the lines that follow.

Berris is also skilled in the placement of words on the page, as evidenced in “Mating Dance,” and in her use of enjambment in lines such as these from “Postcard from Harbour Island, Bahamas”:

       “a noisy farewell and unexpected hello

        from those traveling to town, and I

        imagine the clouds of mauve dust rising

        with each thrum of the engine as I watch.”

Leaving the pronoun at the end of the line gives it weight, as of a foot raised and ready to step forward, potential energy that translates as poetic energy. Berris maintains this energy throughout, ending with the brief, pregnant lines of “High Coo-Coo.” Poetry lovers will want this book in their collections.

2017, Muse Ink Press, $26
ISBN: 978-0-9859915-2-4


Born during WWII. One era. Two lives.

Author: Margaret “Peg” Hanna, Central Ohio Branch

Reviewed by: Rosemary Barkes, Central Ohio Branch

The first paragraph of “While…” sets the tone for the rest of the book: “While Britain and allies bombed Germany to end Hitler’s intent to control Europe and Britain, Brunhilde Maria Maurer was born and raised in southern Germany.” 

Hilde and Margaret’s lives are recounted in this interesting book of comparisons. Over a cup of coffee and a long period of time, they spun their tales. Peg was the American homemaker, Hilde her cleaning lady. 

While coverWhile both women were born in the ‘40s and had fathers who served their countries—Margaret’s in the United States as an air raid warden and Hilde’s fighting for his country, Germany—the rest of their lives were as different as night and day.

Peggy was born into a middle class mid-Western family whose educated parents were lovingly devoted to her. They saw to it that her needs were met and opportunities were given. Although she was an only child, she did not lack for friends. In high school she had girlfriends (and, yes, sleepovers), caring teachers, and cousins galore. It was years later, after the birth of her six children, that Peggy and her husband found their marriage stressed and in havoc. Yet, her life held promise.

Hilde’s life did not.

When she was 3 years old, she witnessed a young boy on the ground writhing in pain after an exploded bomb had sprayed him. No one dared touch him, not even his screaming mother, because the silver substance was fatal. Hilde watched the burning agent spread throughout his body as his blackened flesh began to curl. The scene would forever haunt her. 

Hilde was born into poverty. Her mother was an alcoholic with mental problems. Household chores fell onto Hilde’s shoulders, as did looking out for her younger brother. Her father did not return home after the war and when he did, he was verbally and physically abusive. No regular schooling, few friends, fewer enrichment opportunities. 

Is it any wonder, then, that Hilde chose unstable young men as husbands? She bore four girls and tried her best to raise them in a safe and healthy environment, but the stain of poverty, fear, and heartache remained. She turned her pain and sorrow into an energy and determination that sustained her and the girls throughout her life, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. 

Both Peggy and Hilde were survivors. Their individual personalities, family life, and everyday struggles were not only a study in contrasts, but an educational tool for those interested in life during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.

2011, Author House, $14.95
ISBN: 978-1456715212


Poems of Wind, Earth, and Fire

Author: Karen McAferty Morris, Pensacola Branch

Reviewed by: Claire Massey, Pensacola Branch

“Elemental,” Karen McAferty Morris’ chapbook, won second place in the 2017 Vinnie Ream Letters Competition. Pen Women continue to reap the benefits of her talents: She is the national poetry editor.

The collection is subtitled “Poems of Wind, Earth, and Fire,” and indeed, they are. She poignantly and memorably explores the changing seasons of earth, the winds that blow through our minds, and the fires that burn in our hearts.

Elemental coverIn this volume, Morris creates paths that beckon us to move through woods, water, and fields to arrive at tender places where we can remember our dead and acknowledge our losses. She gazes without flinching at the realities of aging, and we feel her dismay, her undisguised longing for what was and will not be again.

Her diversity and range are such that the poems celebrate winter’s destruction with the “rebel beauty” of the first harbingers of spring, evoke the eroticism of making love by the sea, spur us to action with her portraits of oppressed women in pain.

These poems are about seekers of beauty, poetry, freedom, legacies unexplored, and second chances. This is not a collection that will end up in a trunk or be left on a shelf in the book exchange. You will revisit these poems when you revisit your own sacred places, when you meditate and muse upon your own private mindscapes of earth, wind and fire.

2018, CreateSpace, $9
ISBN: 978-1985727724

The Private War of William Styron

Author: Mary Wakefield Buxton, Tidewater Branch
Reviewed by: Susanna-Judith Rae, Indianapolis Branch

“The Private War of William Styron” is Mary Wakefield Buxton’s 12th published book and first novel. Buxton knew novelist and essayist Styron (1925-2006) well — he was her cousin and writing mentor. 

The volume presents the future Nobel Prize winner’s views on writers’ challenges in general, as well as specifics of his agonizing struggles with his harsh, passive-aggressive stepmother, Elizabeth, whom his father married when “Billy” was 14 and still grieving his mother’s death. Elizabeth often shames young Styron: “Elbows off the table! … And look at the position of your fork! Hold it like this. …  You’re eating like an animal.” 

Styron, frequently lonely and despairing, quickly embraces the nickname “Sty,” as suggested by his friend, Tom. Sty’s favorite subject was English; he knew early in life that he would be a writer, not a doctor, or, at least, a lawyer or engineer, as Elizabeth insisted. Buxton summarizes the book’s thesis this way: “He … engaged in a fight for the survival of his very own soul.”

Buxton skillfully adds humor to this serious work.  When their headmaster drives Tom and Sty to Elizabeth and Sty’s father’s wedding, the author writes, “Sty looked like he was on his way to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, rather than traveling to a gala event. … He had visions of three ushers carrying him kicking and screaming to the front pew, and then tying him down.” 

Buxton adroitly weaves back and forth from Styron’s memories of his mother’s death and, 35 years later, of Elizabeth’s death. How ironic and disconcerting for Styron that the mother he loved dearly and the stepmother he hated intensely both died from cancer.

Perhaps Buxton’s greatest strengths are her use of imagery and finely tuned word usage, including “rambunctious,” “rapscallion,” and “a pair of tottering scribblers.” Undoubtedly readers never get enough of Buxton’s picturesque imagery: “…He liked to watch a storm form in the west and come tearing downriver, with an armada of black clouds and wind so strong, it turned the mirrored water into whitecaps in seconds and sent the pine trees leaning hard over, as if in prayer.” 

She employs these proficiencies throughout the book as readers ponder whether Sty will be able to be his own person in the midst of frequent disgust and condemnation from Elizabeth, as well as pressure at school, where a nonathletic student feels ashamed as classmates, teachers, and administrators repeatedly celebrate excellence in sports.

Long after finishing this intriguing book, readers will surely ponder Buxton’s insights about the trials and remarkable achievements of one of our nation’s beloved writers.

2014, Brandylane Publishers, $15 
ISBN:  978-1939930019

Aspirations of the Heart

Author: Katie Hart Smith, Atlanta Chapter
Reviewed by: Barbara Clarke, Atlanta Branch

“Aspirations of the Heart,” Smith’s first novel in the Sacred Heart series, was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year in the First Novel category in 2017. The Sacred Heart series is historical fiction focusing on the emerging medical community in Atlanta in the early 1900s.

Aspirations of the Heart bookAddie Engel is a small-town girl who wants nothing more than to leave her family farm, venture out in the wider world of 1913 Georgia, and become a successful nurse. But the times aren’t so friendly to a young woman determined to buck society’s expectations and do more than marry, have children, and keep house. If society has its way, she will never leave Hope, Georgia, nor the boy who desires to be more than just her friend.

Tragedy strikes and with it comes an opportunity Addie can’t refuse. Thrust into the rapidly growing city of Atlanta, she’s soon immersed in a world of powerful people intent upon their own plans and schemes, including Lester Schwinn, a conniving man hell-bent on making his mysterious cure-all tonic a household name at any cost.

“Aspirations of the Heart” was placed in the Governor’s Mansion Library by Georgia’s First Lady, Sandra Deal, who wrote, “I found it very engaging and informative. You wove a good story from absolute desperation to inspired achievement through the kindness and caring of the characters of good influence. Sinister evil struggled to undo the dreams and hopes of early Atlanta visionaries but good won out, which is always my hope. I enjoy historical fiction because I can learn factual material while enjoying the writer’s creative webbing and development of characters, settings and interactions toward an evasive or happy ending.”

“Aspirations of the Heart” is the passionate tale of Addie’s self-discovery, but also the city of Atlanta and the growing pains the 20th century brought. Filled with vivid and memorable characters, and replete with historically and socially accurate details, it is a panoramic novel ideal for lovers of Southern fiction and for anyone who enjoys a well-spun, exciting, colorful tale.

2016, Deeds Publishing, $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-944193-33-1

Entangled with a Sociopath

Author: Florence St. John, penname for Janet Sierzant, Vero Beach Branch
Reviewed by: Barbara Routen, Tampa Branch

In the #MeToo culture, in which women give voice to their abuse, Florence St. John’s book, “Entangled with a Sociopath,” is a must-read. She tells a painful truth: Narcissistic sociopaths, devoid of moral responsibility and conscience, dominate trusting, empathetic women by sweeping them off their feet. They keep women off balance via random verbal attacks, manipulation, moments of affection, and emotional withdrawal.

Entangled with a Sociopath bookSt. John’s story shares her own journey with a charming, domineering sociopath. At first, sexual intimacy is great, but then nonexistent. He crosses boundaries. He doesn’t let her eat. He guilts her into bankrolling grandiose schemes. If he repays her, it covers but a fraction of his debt. Sometimes he re-borrows the repayment the same day. If she refuses to cooperate, he threatens to leave her.

The author quotes psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg: “The selfish and controlling narcissist effortlessly leads the dance while the codependent intuitively and reflexively predicts and follows his moves. Clearly, one was ‘born’ to lead while the other to follow.”

From the start, such quotes and the unfolding story show the reader the trouble Florence is in, but she doesn’t see it. Family members warn her about the relationship, but she doesn’t listen. The suspense comes from not knowing if she can — or will —untangle herself.

St. John’s narrative is absorbing and sheds insight into how women get caught up with sociopaths and addicts and cannot walk away — and explains how some eventually do.

“The man I first met was an actor and I’m left with the true man behind the mask,” she writes. “My heart remembers the love I once felt for him and the plans we made for a glistening future. … Obsessed with the picture-perfect life, I pushed forward, grasping for hope and getting thin air. The hardest part of letting go is accepting that nothing had been real.”

“Entangled with a Sociopath” is a good book for adults, especially women, and anyone in an abusive situation. It is not a diagnostic tool or a self-help book — it is one woman’s story.

2012, revised 2016, La Maison Publishing Inc., $19.95
ISBN: 978-0982711415

In the Company of Women: An Anthology Commemorating the 90th Anniversary of the CNY Branch of the NLAPW

Authors: Central New York Branch Pen Women
Reviewed by: Patricia Setser, Jacksonville Branch

In the Company of Women bookThe title of this book is most appropriate. When you read “In the Company of Women,” you will feel as though you have met with and had the privilege of being personally acquainted with these writers and artists. This book should inspire other Pen Women branches to create their own anthologies.

The project was accomplished very successfully in this lovely, full-color, softbound book. As I read it from cover to cover, I felt connected to each of these Pen Women. I learned about their early history and how they are associated as writers and artists with their community.

Each chapter opened the door to new experiences, some painful and some hopeful. I felt the strength of the women as they met and faced what life brought to them.

As the pages were turned, I took the time to appreciate the beautiful and inspiring art. The poetry will educate and illuminate your minds. The depth of the thoughts will draw you into another time and space. You will see pictures in your own minds and feel linked to their stories.

Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this book.

Book available through Mary Gardner via email to mlgardner37@ $18 plus $2 for shipping and handling.

Sister of Saidnaya: A Syrian Immigrant’s Tale

Author: Rose Ann Kalister, Central Ohio Branch
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

Twelve-year-old Nadra wishes with all her heart to accompany her parents to America, the place her father describes as “that rich, beautiful land where everything is possible.” When her wish is granted, she can hardly believe her good fortune. Her two older sisters are left behind in the village of Saidnaya, Syria, while Nadra, her parents, and her younger siblings journey to their new home. They settle in a community of Christian Syrians in Hedley, West Virginia, and open a confectionery shop. Nadra’s hopes of education and opportunity are dashed as she realizes that her role in the new country is to care for the younger children and help her parents with cooking, cleaning, and minding the store. Nadra is a gifted cook, and the descriptions of Syrian foods and cooking are rich and sensual. At the tender age of 16, Nadra is forced to marry the man her parents have chosen for her and become a wife and soon, a mother.

“Sister of Saidnaya” is the story of an immigrant woman caught between the expectations of the old country and the possibilities of a new one. The years pass. Nadra’s younger siblings and her children find their places among the “Amerikan,” while Nadra faces challenge after challenge, responsibility upon responsibility, but she never gives up her dream of pursuing her own happiness.

This book is a love story as well. John, Nadra’s husband, is a good man. Older than Nadra by several years, he adores his wife, even as she challenges him. Their relationship is strained by family, economic depression, war, and burdens from the past. Nadra wonders if their marriage can survive.

The author, Rose Ann Kalister, is a friend and colleague of mine. Over the past several years, I have listened as she read portions of her work and watched as she meticulously conducted research and included accurate details of early 20th-century Hedley, West Virginia. I expected the book to be good, but my expectations have been exceeded. “Sister of Saidnaya” is authentic, touching, thoughtful, humorous, and eloquent. It is the story of an immigrant’s struggle to participate in the offerings of a land of opportunity. In our nation of immigrants, it is a story that speaks to us all.

2017, Boyle & Dalton, $14.95
ISBN: 9781633371811

Life After Darkness

Author: Cathy Wield, Denver Branch, CO
Reviewed by: Kelly Ann Compton, Denver Branch (with input from Virginia Campbell, NLAPW president, Pikes Peak Branch)

Life After Darkness book cover“Light After Darkness” shares the enormously powerful journey of Cathy Wield, a woman struggling with severe clinical depression. Wield, a wife and the mother of four children, was working as a physician in a hospital in England when depression first invaded her life. What followed would be seven years of self-injury that included burning herself, head banging, and cutting — always with the goal of ending her misery. She was hospitalized frequently and for months at a time, with home visits made possible at times when she appeared more stable.

Cathy Wield shares her remarkable story of triumph over depression via narrative and diary entries. Also included are writings from her doctors and her husband, verifying Wield’s story. Her husband’s “In Sickness and in Health” explains how he thinks he and the children survived.

After years of therapy and many, many medications, all seemed hopeless. Even the medical professionals were considering giving up hope of recovery. Then, after seven years, a specialized neurosurgery was performed on Wield’s brain; the result was a miracle.

This incredible story of struggle, pain, and anguish addresses the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the humiliation of being a doctor who is ill. Because of this book, changes to mental health care began happening in England. Due to its content, Wield’s book is often a difficult read. But know this: “Light After Darkness” is a very worthwhile book telling an amazing story.

2006, Radcliffe Publishing Ltd, $28.95
ISBN: 978-1-85775-729-3

Dear Myra, Dear Max: A Conversation About Aging

Authors: Myra F. Levick, Boca Raton Branch, and Maxine Borowsky Junge
Reviewed by: Louise Mirkin, Boca Raton Branch, FL

Dear Myra Dear Max cover“Dear Myra, Dear Max: A Conversation about Aging” is a thoughtful and thought-provoking, first-of-its-kind book. Neither a textbook nor a handbook, it is an exchange of emails between two women (ages 93 and 80) describing their experiences and expressing their thoughts and opinions on the concerns and challenges they confronted in the process of aging. Their observations and insights contradict and disprove many myths and assumptions widely believed about the aging population.

Representing the first generation of seniors living into their 80s and 90s, whom they call “social pioneers trekking along a path with few landmarks or touchstones to guide the way,” they are making their own decisions, actively living their lives as they wish.

The book would be useful not only to seniors as they age, but to their families and friends, to psychologists and other therapists who work with older adults, to administrators and professional staff in independent and assisted living facilities, and to those contemplating their own futures after traditional retirement age. I strongly recommend this very readable and highly enlightening book!

2017, CreateSpace, $20
ISBN #978-1974444427

Just Two Girls

Author: Rachael Ikins, Central New York Branch
Reviewed by: Treanor Baring, Bayou City II Branch, TX

Just Two Girls coverHow do you read poetry? In the author’s or editor’s order, treating the body of work as a whole? Or do you open the book at random, letting serendipity guide you? I ask because I recommend that before you read Rachael Ikins’ latest collection of poems, “Just Two Girls,” you throw away your usual playbook of expectations.

This book is its own special journey. Whether you take a linear path or fling about in Brownian motion across Ikins’ poetic universe, be prepared for burned dinners, unanswered texts, and unseen sunsets. Once you have started, you won’t put it down. I also recommend you shelve it at eye level so you can pull it out often to enjoy Ikins’ lyric breath of life over and over.

The title of the first poem, “Pondering Life, I Lean Toward Rhyme,” sums up Ikins’ voice in this collection precisely. The life pondered in this particular poem is a deer fly, its sting and the seeming futility of an insect’s life. Deceptively naturalistic. Until the poem’s final stanza zooms out to the author’s own mortality, and asks, “Who will consider my wing’s beat, their sacred patterns, my quirks? Will the itch linger?”

Throughout the collection, life is pondered with the same wonderment. Ikins searches for meaning and finds it, not only in her signature visual images, but in the simplicity (and therefore complexity) of everyday experiences. Her poems pull no punches. You will find no artifice or sugar coating here. You will find “[e]ndurance, resilience, toughness, patience,” as in her description of an elder Scrabble shark.

Unforgettable characters populate these poems, from the “Scrabble Maven” and “Pioneer Woman,” to an irascible rooster or a blinking tree toad. Ikins draws beauty as well as hard truths from unexpected places: a deer fly, a chipped tooth, or an old truck. Grounded, but not earth-bound, her images bring “joy, like helium” to raise us “to wakefulness.” Beware, her vision of the aesthetic splendor in ordinary things is addictive. You have been forewarned: Turn off the stove before you embark.

2017, Clare Songbirds Publishing House, $16
ISBN: 978-1-947653-05-4

The Swift Seasons

Author: Mollee Kruger, Bethesda Branch
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

“Real life people keep too much frozen inside themselves,” muses Willa Warsaw, a recently widowed, 80-something resident in an assisted living facility for aging Jewish folks. The place is known only by the expressionless name, SVM. Willa, the central character in Mollee Kruger’s novel, suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, an affliction that makes it difficult for her to speak. Inside Willa, however, is a poet who spends her time reading the works of Oliver Wendell Holmes and writing eloquent, insightful journal entries that record her journey through mourning to her entry into a new phase of life.

Other characters abound, so many that it is difficult at first for the reader to recognize them all when they appear, but soon each of them emerges as a distinct personality. These characters are drawn with broad strokes that, at first, present them as mere types. However, as the story progresses, glimpses of these characters as they once were and still are within themselves emerge, and Kruger’s tale deepens.

When a new man arrives at SVM, widowed, childless Willa, ever a romantic, falls in love.  Parkinson’s Disease renders him increasingly frail, imprisoning him in a body that is less and less able to function. Willa, however, sees with her heart, and they connect immediately. She imagines a glorious romance that might have been, and wonders if that is enough to build a strong relationship between them. Reality forces her to consider whether there simply is not enough time left for them to make a life together.

Kruger’s well-written story is gloriously tender in its depiction of aging and loss. One by one and bit by bit, the characters relinquish their strength, their car keys, and control of their lives, but they never relinquish their dreams. Those who read “The Swift Seasons” will, ever after, see more than anonymous old age in the faces of the elderly.

2016, Maryben Books, $10.95
ISBN: 978-0991228904

Simply Sanibel Poems

Author: Lorraine Walker Williams,
Reviewed by: Ariel Smart, Santa Clara Branch

Lorraine Walker William’s book, “Simply Sanibel Poems,” captures the poet’s call to nature and evokes the sense of place — Sanibel, Florida. The poems respect the distances between nature in the wild and civilized man, the observer, often with photographic equipment. The mechanics of that equipment paradoxically distances him from the object observed though bringing it closer in view. The poet, and I paraphrase her words, gathers “from bud,” folds close, and holds tight. In so doing, the poet enjoins the natural world and is of it and a part of its essence.

In the poem “Osprey,” about a fish-eating hawk whose plume was once used to trim women’s hats, she pictures the bird with a “jeweled eye.” The image is evocative. Is Williams imagining a red ruby glittering dear and enigmatic? She fancies the movement “of his black-tipped wings” as she catches him in the lens of her camera and then moves to a poetic frame of reference. Her sense of a double view is remarkable.

“The Alligator” is jagged, rhymed, playful, and catchy:     “Behold the alligator,
teeth and jaw,
bellow and maw.”

In “Asbury Park,” Williams shows a poignant empathy in her tribute to a willful, misguided Jersey girl who has lost her way:
“O boardwalk baby, you bring out the mama
in me, pushing my first born in a stroller,
his eyes wide as fireworks flare. No one
knew they were close to your last hurrah.”

Lorraine Walker Williams undoubtedly has talent. Her poems demonstrate a skillful use of language and meaningful observations of the natural world and the inhabitants in it. The reader will appreciate these virtues.

2016, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $14
ISBN 978- 1539496113

Shadow Dancing: $elling $urvival in China

Author: Kathryn Waddell Takara, PhD, Honolulu Branch
Reviewed by: Barbara Routen, Tampa Branch

Kathryn Waddell Takara’s free-verse poetry collection, “Shadow Dancing: $elling $urvival in China,” is an intriguing look at China’s awakening.
Poetically is how Takara sees the world, so, when she chronicled her 1995-2011 travels to China, she wrote lyrically and included a prose introduction and glossary.

This award-winning African-American poet was raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, educated at a Quaker boarding school and recently retired as a University of Hawaii at Mànoa associate professor. She traveled to China to find an African connection, but her fascination grew beyond that. Full-color photos and verse in Shadow Dancing depict her intimate friendships with Chinese citizens and African students.

Takara — scholarly, professional, friendly — immersed herself in the culture and was welcomed enthusiastically. Chinese people invited her into their homes, allowing her an inside look at their daily lives. She researched and referenced their cultural traditions, politics and historical poets throughout her book.

“The Party voice preempts tranquility,” said one political poem. “Deafeningly loud news broadcasts awaken city dwellers/The leaders dare the public to ignore the governmental transmissions.”

A poem about modernization before the 2008 Olympics alluded to a tradition of cranes (birds) bringing prosperity, saying, “1,000 cranes in Beijing today/Perched precariously/Turning slowly/Deliberately lifting and placing/Heavy loads/24 hours a day/7 days a week/On 1,000 buildings….”

In another poem, an airport trip became a high-speed chase when police noticed Takara’s driver was smoking. People may not smoke while driving on Chinese toll roads. After recklessly weaving around cars and swerving into oncoming traffic, her driver eluded the police and insisted she take a taxi. Otherwise, the corrupt police would recognize his car and take her “belongings and passport for a bribe. …  Was doubting Chinese police like Blacks fearing white cops in Alabama?” she wondered.

“Shadow Dancing” takes the reader on an unforgettable and timely journey of cultural differences and similarities, answers and questions.

2017, Pacific Raven Press LLC, $34.95
ISBN: 978-0-9860755-5-1

HAIKU for an Artist

Author: Elizabeth Yahn Williams, MAL
Art by: Marion Wong
Spanish translation by: Edith Jonsson-Devillers
Reviewed by: Jody Glittenberg, Denver Branch

To open this small treasure of haiku poetry with imaginative art done by the author’s gifted sister brings a fresh awakening to nature and the importance of living in the moment. The lyrical beauty of the Spanish language translations awakens harmonies in the reader.

I read and reread each poem with the accompanying artistic paintings with such joy that I wore out the pages. An illustrative painting is found on page 20 of vivid reflections of shimmering violets, dots of blues, sun-bursting yellows, and haunting dark greens.

The example haiku poem is:

Ice queen at New Year’s
Skates away from Vulcan’s fire
On butterfly wings

la reina de heilo en el Ano nuevo
se aleja patinando del fuego de Vulcano
con alas de mariposa

Several poems are tranquil and tender while others are funny and cheeky. Such diversity in the interpretive paintings is watercolor, oils, and acrylic. Each can stand alone as a gift to the reader.

The ancient Japanese structure form of haiku of the 5-7-5 syllables in three lines has evolved into a less structured but still delightful poetic pattern of imagination of nature as caught in the moment. Author Williams states in the Foreword that haiku “is mostly inspired by nature, but this little book goes in another direction and gets its inventiveness from looking at works of art, where shapes and colors fill the imagination with objects and creatures that surround our everyday life.”

This book makes a great gift for any lover of poetry and art. I believe it represents the epitome of work by members of the Pen Women.

2017, Guidelights Productions, $9.95
ISBN: 978-0996717014

Jubilee: Poems and Artwork of the National League of American Pen Women Portland Branch

Authors: Portland Pen Women
Editor:  Anne Price Yates, with Doreen Gandy Wiley as assistant
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

The image on the cover of “Jubilee” is member Anne Price Yates’ painting, “Summer Reunion.”

“Jubilee, Poems and Artwork of the National League of American Pen Women Portland Branch,” published in 2016 by the NLAPW Portland Branch, is a remarkable collection of poetry, prose, and art. Fourteen contributors, with fourteen different styles and artistic visions, come together to produce an anthology that is expansive, yet coherent.

Contributors explore themes of nostalgia, friendship, grief, beauty, and wonder. Natural images, especially those involving birds and the sea, emerge again and again throughout the collection and serve to tie the works together into a cohesive whole. The cover design, “Summer Reunion,” by Anne Price Yates, sets the tone with an illustration of women enjoying a visit together. Reading “Jubilee” is an experience much like enjoying a leisurely afternoon with a group of talented, creative women.

Each writer’s work portrays her unique perspective, and each artist’s illustration reveals her strong, individual style. The black and white format, though, does not do justice to the beauty of the works. Other branches considering publishing similar collections would be well advised to print the art images in full color, if possible. However, even in black and white, composition and subject matter of the selections are strong and the art is lovely.

The poetry and prose range from traditional, rhyming poems, to free verse, to essays, to fables. Readers will be sure to enjoy the vast range of imagination and experience that informs the selections. These are the writings of women with both talent and skill for deep expression. Many of the written works focus on the passage of time. In her poem, “Four Seasons,” Barbara Affleck writes, “It seems to me there is a time allotted for everything we do in life.” Poet Myrna Tabino Perkins writes in “A Life Well Lived,” “Days, weeks, months and years, one by one/She lived.” Annette White-Parks’ essay, “In the Owl’s Care,” examines the mature writer’s response to visiting a childhood home.

See more examples of the well-crafted offerings in “Jubilee” in the full review: Jubilee

With this collection, the Portland Pen Women have demonstrated that diverse artists and writers can collaborate on a work that is both inclusive and graceful. “Jubilee” beautifully illustrates the energy of NLAPW, where women artists, writers, musicians, and other creatives come together to share ideas, inspiration, and support.

2016,, $11
ISBN: 978-1541040519

A Winter Mirage

Author:  Val Weaver, Des Moines Branch, Iowa
Illustrations by:  Val Weaver and Avery Liell-Kok
Reviewed by: Shelly Reed Thieman, Des Moines Branch, Iowa

“A Winter Mirage” is a sweetly and vibrantly illustrated book for children of all ages. It is the story of a kindly grandfather with a twinkle in his eye who loves the winter season. Grandfather Walter hands down three pearls of wisdom to his granddaughter, Bratt, about how to deal with bullies then shares an adventure from his childhood with all four of his grandchildren.

The story is introduced with a poem, “The Woman Winter,” which is equally rich in rhyme and imagery. In the most unpredictable, yet beautiful way, Val skillfully reintroduces “The Woman Winter” at the story’s conclusion.

Between the book’s covers we find the history of Grandfather Walter’s family, a snow fort, expertly-crafted snowballs, two wonderful meals and the familiar magic of a story retold of a sledding adventure in Grandpa Walter’s childhood that went alarmingly awry. Val’s mastery of storytelling lures her readers into a mirage and through an adventure in Ne-ve, the land of eternal winter, where Ne-vians battle their traditional enemies, the Thermals.

In the next to last chapter, the reader is guest at two celebrations: one at Queen Iceandrea’s palace as Ne-vians jubilate following their victory over the Thermals. Next, Walter’s mother prepares a family feast to welcome him home following his brush with death after the sledding accident that caused him to fall through the ice in a pond on the family farm.

Val’s winter tale lures both adults and children alike with its charming characters, descriptive adventures and the poetic introduction that stitches the book’s chapters together in a beautiful, yet surprising conclusion.

2017, Lulu Press, Inc., $15
ISBN: 978-1-4834-3406-3


Author: Pat Underwood, Des Moines Branch
Reviewed by: Shelly Reed, Des Moines Branch

“Portraits” is Pat Underwood’s second poetry collection, a reverently assembled treasury of 30 poems begging to be read aloud. She writes with a serene yet very relevant depth of observation while maintaining a level of accessibility critical to reading, understanding, and enjoying poetry.

The author is a mistress of communion, both in the relationships she honors and with the natural world she has had such close affinity with since childhood.

While reading “Portraits,” I was reminded of an undeveloped roll of film I found on a walk one morning. I left it at the local drugstore to be developed; when I picked it up and leafed through the color photos later that afternoon, I discovered an artistic and beautifully composed narrative about someone else’s life, one frame at a time. These poems are just that — artisanal, lyrical vignettes debuting on the same roll of poetic film.

Between the covers of “Portraits,” a round of thunderstorms offers better music than Elton John; a tall, slim, dark woman showers on a deck in the rain during an Iowa flood; a funeral director fantasizes about embalming a guest; and a widow cuts too deeply with the mower’s blade while grieving her husband.

“Each bruise a wallflower waiting so long to dance.” “She listens to rain pummel earth’s skin like drumbeats.” “To see the fur of hoarfrost” and “the lonely shade of wounding that sent so many here” certainly demonstrate Pat Underwood’s command of poetic portraiture.

“Portraits” is a gift of poems that shares the delight of encounter with the natural world and exquisitely illuminates the territory of human relationship and emotion.

2017, Finishing Line Press, $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-63534-091-4

Finding Angel

Author: Kat Heckenbach, Tampa Branch
Reviewed by: Barbara Routen, Tampa Branch

“Angel doesn’t remember her magical heritage…but it remembers her” is how author Kat Heckenbach summarizes “Finding Angel,” the first book in her “Toch Island Chronicles.”

That phrase captured my imagination and made me want to read her breakout novel to learn how Angel’s heritage recalls her and whether she rediscovers magic.

Thirteen-year-old Angel Mason is a smart, impulsive, likable character who combines intellect, emotion, and instinct to solve her problems. She meets Gregor, a 17-year-old visitor who brings news of her parents and whom she doesn’t remember and hasn’t seen in seven years.

Angel leaves her nonmagic, foster family’s home in Florida to go with Gregor to the hidden Toch Island, somewhere off the coast of Ireland, to look for her parents and her past. Once on the island, Angel uncovers answers to puzzling questions about magic, a prophecy, and her folks’ long absence — all while being hunted by a madman.

The book’s captivating plot, well-designed setting, and the multidimensional people who inhabit it drew me into the story and took me to an interesting, new reality, reminding me of my favorite novels by Madeleine L’Engle, Garth Nix, and C.S. Lewis.

Kat Heckenbach, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a National League of American Pen Women dual membership in letters and art, has created a believable world that includes a veiled, mystical island on Earth. It’s a place where magic operates within certain scientific boundaries. Matter cannot be created; it merely changes form, but magical talents in this new world allow an artist to paint pictures that become real. Magic lets an Elven rock musician bring the songs of the stars to Earth and gives a magical teenager the ability to “gate” to other places by touching wood.

This award-winning book is well-suited for teens and any reader who likes fantasy, magic, adventure, and mystery.

2011, Splashdown Books, $10.99
ISBN: 978-1927154137

Poking Chocolates and Other Rude Habits (en route to the Sweet Life)

Authors: Cia Chester McKoy, Sarasota Branch, and Nancy Winters Unsworth
Reviewed by: Bobbie Dumas Panek, Central New York Branch

What an amazing story of a burgeoning faith where seeds were dropped onto barren soil — a wealthy family of power and prestige. Daughter Cia — a brat, uncaring, disrespectful, rebellious, and rarely held responsible. She went against the grain — always. Hid her body in baggy clothes; tinkered with drugs, sex, rock ‘n roll. Went to numerous colleges, broke the rules, couldn’t focus, fell into the arms of the wrong men, despised her parents, was persuaded to merely try Christianity. What the heck? She’d tried everything else.

Cia, born into privilege, was diabetic, which contributed to doting from her well-meaning though somewhat maligned parents. Her sexuality confused her. She wanted autonomy.

Sex without commitment became her mantra. Breaking rules, returning home to its grandiose facade, she slowly began to notice cause and effect. She realized she was too often let off the hook because of her last name. She noticed poverty. She observed injustice and it haunted her.

She began a quest to understand the universe at its most basic level — the mind and soul of humans. How, why we act the way we do.

Cia leaned into truth and found it at L’Abri, French for shelter. Every person did chores. She made real friends and learned that truly caring about someone was more important than she’d ever realized.

She learned to give of herself. Her first out-loud-spoken prayer to Jesus was, “Please come inside me and clean me up.”

It’s rare to read a memoir of someone who had it all then realized that having it all really meant nothing.

2015, Archway Publishing, $17.99
ISBN: 978-1480812000

Midnight in Broad Daylight : A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds

Author: Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, Honolulu Branch
Reviewed by: Bobbie Dumas Panek, Central New York Branch

Book cover, "Midnight in Broad Daylight" by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto“Midnight in Broad Daylight” will introduce you to people from Hiroshima, Japan. A family you will get to know well, and you will like them, especially Kinu, the mother — she’s a mom through and through. She loves her daughter and her sons and worries about them, their individuality, their needs, their strengths, and their desires.

Kinu and her sister, Kiyo, are close and remain best friends through shared joy and much strife. Japanese culture has taught them resilience. Many sayings are sprinkled throughout the book: “If someone says something, there are three people listening.” “Extravagance is the enemy.” “To thy parents be truly respectful and to thy country be utterly loyal.”

The book opens windows into Japan’s homes, families, loves, and life’s dilemmas. You will like and respect Harry, a regular guy who doesn’t take schooling seriously, likes girls, and is faced with a decision no one would want to make: country or family?

There is no doubt in my mind that this story will eventually be made into a movie or a television series. If you look on, you will see that “Midnight in Broad Daylight” has over 200 positive reviews.

I am proud knowing that the author, Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, is a Pen Woman. Her writing is amazing. She will get you grounded in this family. You will tremble when the atomic bomb hits Hiroshima. Sakamoto’s writing, even though heavily researched, tumbles onto the pages as though she is pouring words from her heart.

This is now my all-time favorite book. It had been “The Diary of Anne Frank” because that story was so intimate and real. The people in “Midnight in Broad Daylight,” are real and their stories are intimate and heart breaking.

Words on pages will affect you. History needs to be told. War is hell. Life is sacred.

2016, Harper Collins, $29.99
ISBN: 9780062351937

In a Heartbeat: The Ups and Downs of a Life with Atrial Fib

Author: Rosalie Linver Ungar, Central Ohio Branch
Reviewed by: Rosemary Barkes, Central Ohio Branch

Atrial fibrillation is a force to behold. Make no mistake, so is Rosalie Linver Ungar, the author of “In A Heartbeat: The Ups and Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.” Both are tenacious; both are relentless in their pursuit of victory.

I was hooked by the time I finished reading the first paragraph, as Ungar described her terrifying symptoms of a heart attack while addressing 25 men and women from the podium at a conference many miles from home.

The symptoms were more intense and painful than any of her many bouts of atrial fibrillation, which she had endured for nearly 20 years. The earlier bouts were not life threatening, but this one surely could be.

The heart attack was a wake-up call for the 67-year-old, savvy senior. Simply listening to and following recommendations from her doctors would no longer fly. She wanted more.

What exactly did her current medications do for her? Should they be changed? What was on the horizon for new and improved measures to conquer this condition? No longer a passive patient, Ungar became her own advocate.

In addition to doing research on changes in technology and pharmacology, she began to watch her diet more closely and set up a vigorous exercise program with a personal trainer. Ungar takes her readers along every step of the way.

Through all the turmoil and uncertainty, Ungar kept a stiff upper lip, a trait handed down from her mother, who had no sympathy for whiners or those with self-absorption. I suspect this attitude, coupled with continuing her personal life and career with gusto, may have kept her grounded until a “cure” was found.

The reader sympathizes with and roots for Rosalie Ungar all along the way. In her forward, she writes, “For me, this story is happy and meant to be inspiring.”

For me, it was also educational. Do yourself a favor and read “In a Heartbeat.” You’ll be glad you did.

2016, Boyle & Dalton, $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-63337-112-5

Hats and Headwear around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia

Author: Beverly Chico, Denver Branch, Colorado
Reviewed by: Andrea Antico, Denver Branch

Professor, historian, and traveling author Beverly Chico has thoroughly researched the history and culture of headwear throughout the world, including wigs, crowns, caps, and veils. Her personal love and fascination for hats is evident in this wonder-filled journey of “Hats and Headwear around the World.”

The colorful cover invites the reader to enter the interesting and readable world of headwear. Once inside this one-volume encyclopedia, the reader will find 200 alphabetically listed entries, interesting sidebar facts, and black-and-white illustrations.

This cultural encyclopedia includes “see also” notes, a comprehensive index, and an extensive bibliography. The book is an excellent resource and reference book for high school, academic, and public libraries.

Filled with interesting information, “Hats and Headwear around the World” would sit proudly on the shelf of a home library or atop a coffee table.

2013, ABC/CLIO, $100
ISBN: 978-1-61069-062-1

Totems: Tales from the Edge of the Woods

Author: Rachael Ikins, Central New York Branch
Reviewed by:  Treanor Baring, Bayou City Branch II, Texas

If Rachael Ikins’ writing were music, it would be a cross between Debussy and the Rolling Stones. Like her poetry, “Totems: Tales from the Edge of the Woods” — the opening novel in a trilogy — contains impressionistic, flowing images interspersed with sonic boom. In her Debussy mode, Ikins’ words seem to swirl like stardust off a fairy’s wand until, well, the electric bass kicks in. Then they pack an emotional punch to the gut.

The prose is lyrical and heartrending. A cloud of dust swirls between a wizard’s feet. Seasons shift for a childless couple: “Springs rose from the ashes of winter and year after year, they waited for a baby.” Winter pulls “his blankets off the lazy land.” The gut-punches reverberate, softened by the progression of the novel form.

Ikins creates a unique world, fantastical but accessible, that outlives the plot’s ebb and flow. She expertly moves us through this world, the passage of time, and several interweaving tales. At the center of the tales is Moti, a human girl turned elf. Through her, the reader comes to understand that this make-believe world is deeply rooted in reality.

Ikins channels J.K. Rowling’s ability to frame the magical in recognizable contexts. Rather than a boarding school, her backdrop is nature itself. Dragon flight is described in Gerald Durrellian detail; there are descriptions of how to make keepsake pillows from dried petals for a “last goodbye ceremony,” and a recipe for bottled summer sauce. There’s a farmers market. This is also a dreamy, unpredictable place as nature becomes a metaphor for our truer, freer selves.

With this freedom comes peril. The forest isn’t an Enid Blyton-like world of cute fairies and acorn folk; there is real pain, loss, and regret here. But the shadows are overwhelmed by the melodic regeneration of nature itself. The characters are deeply connected to the natural world’s life-affirming processes and, most importantly, to its redemptive empathy. For those of us on the human side of the divide, recognizing the hope of recovery is the greatest gift this brush with the wild side can bestow.

2016, Log Cabin Books

ISBN: 978-0-69272-286-2

Bringing Home the Moon

Author: Mary Lou Taylor, Santa Clara Branch, California
Reviewed by: Kathie Isaac-Luke, Modesto Branch, California

Mary Lou Taylor’s second poetry collection, “Bringing Home the Moon,” begins with a poem about a childhood wish for flight. It is an apt beginning for a book rich in experience and memory that glides gracefully across varied landscapes.

Her Chicago childhood is vividly recalled in the poems “Sunday in the Windy City” and “Winter Nights.” In “From the Penny Candy Store Behind the El,” she describes a child’s wonder. There are other reflective poems that touch on her relationship with her parents.

Taylor’s life included many moves, first when her father packed up and moved the family to California, and later, as a young bride, when her husband’s career required relocation. Each of these transitions is keenly observed and absorbed into her cache of memories. She and her family eventually settled in Silicon Valley and witnessed the many changes that took place there.

In “Heart’s Delight Turns Silicon,” we learn that whole orchards disappeared at night to make way for the burgeoning computer industry. In “The Valley of Heart’s Delight,” she references the transformations that led to the digital revolution.

This volume also contains gentle humor and generosity of spirit. “Drinks after Dinner, Osaka” and “Covering Bases” capture the revelations that often occur when visiting other cultures. Many gems illustrating Taylor’s travel experiences are sprinkled throughout the book.

Other poems, including “Wilbur to Orville” and “Endeavour, You’ve Arrived,” continue the motif of flight and exploration and provide the framework of this book. “Paper Bird,” a lovely poem celebrating the buoyancy of the wind, appears on the page in the shape of a kite. The final poem, “Boy with a Flute,” is a poignant meditation on loss and passage.

“Bringing Home the Moon” is filled with accessible poems written from the heart, teaching us the joys of discovery. By sharing with us her memories accumulated through an era of changing times, Taylor illuminates our shared histories and the many ways we adapt as the world around us transmutes again and again.

2015, Aldrich Press, $17

ISBN: 978-0692474402

Never Really One of the Guys: The story of Minnesota’s first female Conservation Officer

Author: Capt. Cathy Hamm
Reviewed by: Bobbie Dumas Panek, Central New York Branch

Cathy Hamm grew up feeling empowered and capable. She was fortunate to have parents who filled her with unconditional love. Hamm enjoyed being a tomboy and doing outside chores.

It was while working at a movie theater that Hamm decided she never wanted to feel vulnerable again. “[I] remembered quite vividly the snub nose stainless steel .38 Smith and Wesson revolver that had been held on me for several minutes,” she wrote. That’s when she became interested in law enforcement.

Her first official job in the field of conservation came about by default. In high school, she was late to the table to pick up job placement opportunities and the only job left was working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This turned out to be serendipitous.

After four and a half years of working at the DNR Southern Service Station, Hamm took the written test to become a conservation officer. Out of the 3,000 people who took the written test, she scored in the top 50. She moved forward with strength, agility, medical, and psychological tests. On July 2, 1980, Hamm, another woman, and 15 men were sworn in as Minnesota conservation officers.

Hamm knew she was in a field dominated by men; however, she believed her abilities would quickly prove how capable she was. Sadly, quite a few men had a difficult time working with a capable woman. Some wives of male officers felt insecure about their husbands working with a female partner all day. So many hurdles.

Fortunately, Hamm also found many great male co-workers who were not intimidated by her abilities. These guys were encouraging, thoughtful, and respectful — all qualities you’d hope for in co-workers.

Many times when Hamm’s partners weren’t sure how to deal with a situation (a deer trapped in a church, an illegally possessed cougar, a beaver in a shopping area, a bear in a suburban back yard, a horned owl in a residence, or a snake under a bathroom sink), she figured out a way to quickly solve the problem.

Though some supervisors and partners created unnecessary struggles for Hamm, she continued to do the best job she could. Unfortunately, bias against women continues to exist.

Hamm was truly a trailblazer for women in the field of conservation. I’m hopeful my granddaughters and grandsons will live in a time of equality where everyone is judged solely by character and qualifications.

“Never Really One of the Guys” is a story of discrimination. It is also about keeping your chin up, knowing which battles are worth it, working hard, staying the course, and proving your worth. Sadly, inequality does exist, yet women like Capt. Cathy Hamm who are willing to share their stories do affect change.

2015 Cathy Hamm/Amazon, $15.99

ISBN 13: 9781515009245

See, I Can Do It!

Authors: Gloria Koehler and Donna Eastman, Daytona Beach Branch, Florida
Reviewed by: Kelly Ann Compton, Denver Branch, Colorado

“See, I Can Do It!” shares a universal message for children in elementary school and younger. Nature has given everyone their own gifts and skills and in “See, I Can Do It!” kids will delight in learning that success is theirs when they use their very own skill set.

Brenna, an almost-grown bluebird, gets knocked from her nest by Mr. Wind while her mother is out getting breakfast. Fearing the big yellow cat her mother had warned her about, Brenna cries out for help. Many creatures, from an ant to a cricket to a frog, hear her cries and show her how they can get to the nest.

The animals encourage Brenna to try out these skills, but with each attempt, she fails. Finally, just as Brenna is about to give up, Sally MacSquirrel excitedly tells her that she knows who can help — Belinda Butterflyer. With the butterfly’s help, Brenna learns to use her wings and makes it safely back to her nest.

With a fun story and colorful illustrations, “See, I Can Do It!” is sure to bring smiles to young readers.

2014, Taylor & Seale Publishing, $16.95

ISBN: 978-1940224954


My Rise To The Stars: How A Sharecropper’s Daughter Became An Army General

Author: Brig. Gen. Clara Adams-Ender, MAL
Reviewed by: Bobbie Dumas-Panek, Central New York Branch

My Rise To The Stars book cover
I highly recommend “My Rise To The Stars: How A Sharecropper’s Daughter Became An Army General” by Pen Woman and Brigadier General Clara Adams-Ender. After reading about Clara’s 34-year career in the United States Army, I feel as though I know her. I have never met her, but I know I like her. I believe in her goodness, her truth, and her abilities.

Her memoir is honest and forthright, the portrayal of a girl taught values by her parents. Clara always believed in her abilities, her mind, and her personal power. She took her mother’s advice because it was simple, direct, and encouraging. Her parents told her that she was Somebody. That statement is beautiful in its simplicity. They let her know that she could achieve anything with hard work and perseverance.

At the age of 4, Clara learned to read. At that same age, she was given the daily chore to milk the family cow. Clara loved to learn. Her sharecropper father directed her to go to nursing college when she graduated from high school at the age of 16. She’d wanted to pursue law, but her father was footing the bill so she followed his directions. Nursing turned out to be her love. She later learned that joining the Army would pay for college, give her a monthly stipend, and allow her to travel. The decision for her was a no-brainer.

Adams-Ender writes honestly about her love life, her first sexual encounter, her friendships, the importance of loyalty, and the ability to discern. You don’t engage in every battle you’re invited to. For her, learning was an Olympic sport. She was determined to learn as much as possible.

Adams-Ender wrote,  “Overcoming obstacles had been the story of my personal life and career. Obstacles had really been opportunities to excel.”

If you want to stay focused on your goals, while staying calm and working hard, plus learn more about the armed services, “My Rise To The Stars” is for you. I recommend it for students, book clubs, nurses, women, men, teenagers, teachers, and managers. This woman will motivate you while lifting you up.

2001, Cape Associates, $19.95
ISBN: 0-9709401-6

For Love of Country: Il. Risorgimento! A Patriot’s Passion

Author: Elizabeth Lenci-Downs, Scottsdale Branch,  Arizona
Reviewed by:  Andrea Antico, Denver Branch, Colorado

For Love of Country book cover

Elizabeth Lenci-Downs has written a suspenseful historic novel that depicts life in Italy in 1848-1860. It is the time when three foreign armies were fighting for control of the country: the French of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Austrian Hapsburgs, and the Spanish Bourbon. The Papacy, with the blessing of the Council of Vienna, continued to fight greedily and violently to reclaim its previously stolen Italian lands.

“The Love of Country: Il. Risorgimento!” is an extremely well-written story that retells the legend that was handed down to Lenci-Downs by the townspeople of Sassoferrato in the Apennines Mountains, where her father was born. She has woven an exciting tale that focuses on the passionate struggle between Italy’s red-shirted patriots and foreign despots.

The subtitle, “Risorgimento,” was the patriots’ cry for freedom as they struggled to liberate their people from 15 years of bloody battles. Rough and romantic, at times relentless, “For Love of Country” tells an unsettling tale of betrayal through the eyes, mouths, and tears of Italy’s countrymen and women, both civilian and military.

The skillful author sprinkles Italian words and phrases, “danato, Dannazionee, soldi” and descriptions and expressions in italics, “for sure he sensed danger,” “sweet Holy Mother…for how long?” throughout the story to instill fear and create tension and interest. The reader will meet a cast of savory and unsavory characters: Mazzini, Garibaldi, Camillo, Marsilio, Andreanna, and others.

The reader will join the courageous, disobedient Domenico on horseback and then on foot as he desperately searches for his father over hostile, uncharted territory. “For Love of Country” is fictional history at its finest. Both adults and young adults will be entertained and informed.

2015, Lenci Studios, $28
ISBN: 978-09711905-3-5

Dry Creek: Summer Song

Author: Linda Marie Prather, Modesto Branch, California
Reviewed by: Calder Lowe, Modesto Branch, California

Dry Creek Summer Song book coverIn stepping over the threshold into Linda Prather’s poetic universe, we enter into the Mystic’s realm of Blake’s, “world in a grain of sand,” and Rumi’s “an early morning eye.” She knows the importance of observing the smallest creatures that animate our landscape and thereby make our own seemingly mundane lives, extraordinary.

More often than not, her poems are meditations on the cosmic mysteries of nature, particularly evidenced in “Summer, Ghosts, and Apparitions,” or prayers prompting us to practice mindfulness, to abandon our chaotic rush into the maelstrom that constitutes life in the day-to-day. Having happened upon her phrase “solitudinal synapse” in “Just Kicking Around,” I saw her wish to cultivate that state of calm more routinely. As a consequence of her insight, I embrace Prather’s necessity for quietude when she notes, “Silence might render something,/ cause information or an entity to squeeze past/ a tiny aperture to the other side.”

I also resonate with her poem “Under a Summer Moon,” where she states, “wish I had titles for the birds, could give names to each voice…/my need, like Adam’s to know the word.” As poets, we long to categorize,to “own” what our eyes light upon. Perhaps that is a reflection of our “divine, creative synapse”?

Prather references God with some frequency and acknowledges His desire for someone to meet His gaze, though we typically attempt to hide from it. That said, Prather decisively declares she “baptizes” her thoughts in water, co-exists “with dryness, heat, and thorn,” going so far as to take pleasure in it because she serves Yaweh, a desert God.

In “Values,” my favorite poem of the “Summer Song” collection, I clearly see the way in which Linda Prather’s work bestows upon us her steadfast search for purposefulness and wisdom reverently tended as well as her astute perceptions of the transitoriness of our collective journey.

2016, Pen Women Press, $15
ISBN: 978-0-9815693-5-2

Cat Tales: Kitty Capers And More

Author: LaVera Edick, Member-at-Large
Reviewed by: Kelly Ann Compton, Denver Branch, Colorado

"Cat Tales" book cover

“Charming” is the word that best describes LaVera Edick’s “Cat Tales: Kitty Capers And More.” Vignettes about pets and their humans are accompanied by artwork created by the author herself.

Written from the heart, “Kitty Capers” shares the delightful story of Ruth, a senior citizen who comes to adopt a family of cats — or  did they adopt her? How the cats came into Ruth’s life is a sweet story that keeps the reader smiling. While Ruth may have saved the lives of these cats, she receives companionship and renewed purpose in return.

The “And More” section turns the focus to the many pets Edick and her family have had, including dogs, horses, a turtle, and a pig named Leadbelly. She shares the important role these animals had in the lives of her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.

Included within the stories are the author’s insights and statistics on the positive effects pet ownership can have, both physical and mental. For example, having a pet can lower cortisol levels, which might reduce stress or ease pain.

Edick’s colorful and detailed paintings and photos add dimension to the tales shared. They allow the reader to see the personalities of the animals and the love shared between pets and their humans.

“Cat Tales: Kitty Capers And More” gives the reader much to enjoy and contemplate.

2016, Trafford Publishing, $26.22
ISBN: 78-1-4907-6651-5

Apple of Sodom

AUTHOR: Mary Hoffman
Central Ohio Branch

Reviewed by: Rosemary Barkes, Central Ohio Branch

Apple of Sodom_Mary Hoffman_Central OhioTime marches on. Except when you are reading Mary Hoffman’s delicious book, “Apple of Sodom.” Then, time stands still. The book is an educational, eye-opening, heart-wrenching and exciting peek into the lives of those who deviate from the norm.

“Apple of Sodom” opens with American Emily Crawford and her three young children disembarking an aging Italian vessel in Beirut as they head to Jordan, where her husband, Philip, has lived for three months as a project engineer for a U.S. firm.

With trepidation, Emily braces herself for an encounter with a man who is a brilliant engineer, but an emotionally vacant, sometimes verbally abusive husband and father. With a different environment, she is hoping he will change.

The reader tags along with Emily as she adjusts, encountering drastic change and unsettling danger for herself and her children while living in Amman. She soon learns that few — Philip’s colleagues and servants among them — can be trusted. She wonders how she will survive.

The marital riffs are exquisitely balanced by numerous explorations of ancient cities in the Holy Land and beyond. Emily cherishes these lengthy excursions with friends and family and sees them as opportunities to minimize the differences between herself and Philip. With copious details and descriptions of each exploration, the readers feel as if they are part of the team.

When Philip’s job eventually takes a curious turn, the couple must face the agonizing decision of what to do with their lives. Emily believes she can hold her marriage together — especially for the sake of the children. But Philip’s dysfunctional past, loss of a high-profile job, impatience with Emily and the children, and lack of sensitivity to the needs of others take a toll.

An unbelievable set of circumstances brings this page turner to its uncanny conclusion. It is a must-read.
2015, Brick House Books, Inc., $20
ISBN: 978-1-938144-28-8

A Cruel Calm: Paris Between The Wars

AUTHOR: Patricia Daly-Lipe
Washington, D.C., Branch

Reviewed by: Lynne Eve Grossman, Washington, D.C., Branch

A Cruel Calm_Patricia Daly-Lipe_DC_bookPatricia Daly-Lipe, prolific author of several acclaimed books, captivated me from the onset with “A Cruel Calm: Paris Between The Wars.” This is prime historical fiction from a highly personal viewpoint.

Patricia Daly-Lipe weaves quite a tale, which is based on the life of her mother. She cleverly uses first-person narrative to draw the reader further into the thoughts and feelings of the female protagonist, Elisabeth, known as Libby. DalyLipe’s writing is skillful and spellbinding.

The author deftly employs the beautiful French language in prose and poetry, as well as detailed cultural descriptions and inner thoughts of the main characters, for an enjoyable, romantic story. She spins a passionate adventure rich with accurate historical figures and believable characters so fully fleshed out that they become alive. Lush visual description and flowing dialogue all work to immerse the reader in the mysterious and engrossing tale of Libby’s life.

Intrigue mounts as the novel progresses. Each chapter is prefaced by an appropriate and authentic quote from a well-known historical figure. This adds further allure to an already well-crafted novel. That subtle philosophical format heightens plot and character development while drawing the reader further into this engrossing story of love.

As the book unfolds, each quote sets the mood for life at that time. What might transpire next in this delightful romance of forbidden loves? “Read A Cruel Calm Paris: Between The Wars” to find out.
2014, Rockit Press, $14.95 ISBN: 978-0-9908011-4-6


AUTHOR: Fay Picardi
Cape Canaveral Branch, Florida

Reviewed by: Carolyn Cain, Cape Canaveral Branch, Florida

Simonetta_Fay Picardi, Cape Canaveral Branch, FL_bookSimonetta. Who was she? Daughter of a nobleman, wife of a Vespucci, object of desire of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici and possibly of Botticelli, she was known as the most beautiful woman of the Renaissance. A woman of such beauty that she is said to be the face of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Dead at age 22, she was mourned, it is said, by the entire city of Florence; thousands followed her coffin to its burial.

Fay Picardi’s “Simonetta” is the first book written in English to tell the story of Simonetta Vespucci, Botticelli’s muse and the great love of both Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano. This work of historical fiction traces Simonetta’s life from her childhood in Portovenere and Piombino, Italy, through her years in Florence as the wife of Marco Vespucci. Political intrigue, sexual innuendos, and cultural events provide the background for Simonetta’s life and for her rise to the position of the most beloved woman in Florence.

Divided into five parts, with passages from the works of Lorenzo de Medici and letters written to him by Simonetta’s father-in-law providing introduction to each part, this is a captivating narrative portrait of this fascinating woman and of Florence during the extraordinarily contradictory nature of the period of the Medici family, a time when cultural refinement resulting from a love of learning and beauty overlay unimaginable violence motivated by political ambition.

Though no documents remain to reveal Simonetta Vespucci’s life except her betrothal contract, the annotation of her death and the writings of her contemporaries, this is a compelling and accurate story, thanks to Picardi’s research, done both in Florence and in the U.S. Using her own translations of letters and manuscripts of the time as well as histories of the life and paintings of Botticelli, the author has created letters, dreams, reminiscences, and conversations to paint her own stunning portrait of a woman almost lost to history.
2015, Burnt Umber Press through CreateSpace, $12.99
ISBN-13: 978-1514758984

A Movable Marriage: a memoir

AUTHOR: Patricia Pimental
Bayou City Branch, TX

Reviewed by: Treanor Baring, Bayou City Branch

A Movable Marriage_Patricia Pimental_Bayou City Branch TXImagine yourself on the longest flight in the world–a full 17 hours non-stop across the Pacific. You eat dinner, you watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s twice, you sleep well for a sardine at 39,000 feet. You wake up with 8 hours to go. You reach for your e-reader and scroll through your “must read when time allows” book list: Anna Karenina, the new Donna Tartt novel, Steinbeck’s canon. If you’re lucky, also waiting in your library is a gem, A Movable Marriage: a memoir by Bayou City Branch Pen Woman Tricia Pimental.

A Movable Marriage is a pleasurable, if dizzying excursion across a first marriage and then a more lasting second one. Ms. Pimental passes through Beverley Hills, the elevations of Park City, Utah, back east to Florida, into “fly over country,” up to New Hampshire, then to Europe on the Orient Express, and eventually to her landing place, Portugal. Along the way, we’re treated to charming illustrations of her inimitable spirit. She hilariously recounts her “woman of a certain age” preparations to wear the Mrs. Park City sash in the Mrs. America competition and her nerve-racking stint on the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show. The photographs of the various houses Ms. Pimental turned into homes are a treat.

The author herself modestly describes her writing style as “conversational.” And more than once, I found myself longing to have lunch with her. But this book is more astute than a quick chat over pomegranate-laced micro-greens. To label Ms. Pimental’s newest book merely a great summer (or winter) read is to underestimate its intelligence and insight. Ms. Pimental talks frankly of her struggles with being uprooted by her husband’s wanderlust, working and living at the mercy of bosses, world events, childrens’ lives and even pet care. More than anything, these are stories women can relate to. Ms. Pimental deftly quotes Virginia Woolf, Beryl Markham, and other trailblazing women all while clutching Frampton, the teddy bear her daughter gave her. A Movable Marriage is an honest, sweet and sharp look at what it means to love others. Don’t wait until your next trans-Pacific flight to share the journey.
2016, TAP Publications, ISBN 978-0-9856383-3-7, available on

Also by Ms. Pimental:
Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way, and
Slippery Slopes A Libby Landis Novel, available on Amazon.

The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies

AUTHOR: Connie Spittler
EBC front Cove plain Final small

To buy, click here to visit

NLAPW Omaha Branch member Connie Spitler’s literary cozy mystery/women’s fiction, released last May, 2015 by RJP thru IPG has the tongue-in-cheek title “The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies.” The erotica used within the book is classic authors like Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning! The plot concerns a stolen, ancient book of herbal cures. The women’s fiction involves loneliness, grief, job loss, fear of breast cancer.

Omaha Branch Author Connie Spittler

Omaha Branch Author Connie Spittler

Czech foreign rights have been sold to Albatros Media, largest publisher in the Czech Republic. Blackstone Audio has purchased rights for the audiobook. Ms. Spittler signed over 100 books for librarians at the American Library Association Conference in San Francisco, CA in June, and signed/read at Denver’s Tattered Cover, appeared on a literary panel in Texas with best selling mystery author Susan Wittig Albert, and was featured author at Dies Labrorum, Day of the Book in Salida, CO.
Ms. Spittler’s work appears in 20 anthologies with notables such as The Dalai Lama, Michael Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra, Barbara Kingsolver, Mario Vargas Llosa. Her videos on women are in Harvard University’s Library on the History of Women in America.

REVIEWED BY: Margaret Lukas

In her tongue-in-cheek title, Connie Spittler, puts the accent on “Nice Ladies”, with quotes of “erotica” taken from classic authors like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte, Christina Rosetti, and other such notables. Names and fragments written by familiar poets and novelists create a unifying literary theme throughout the work. My first surprise was Wild Nights! Wild Nights! from prim and proper Emily Dickinson. Who’d have thought?
The author crosses the genre boundaries of mystery with women’s fiction to create an intriguing page-turner about an ancient book of herbal cures hidden away for centuries. Herbalists and pharmaceutical companies believe the book’s secret gypsy remedies might be used to successfully treat heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. When the old volume disappears from the wine cave of a French chateau, the worldwide search is on, with strands that reach out to a small California town.
Lily, a librarian arrives in this village with her own bookmobile and is asked by two women curious about the subject of erotica to start a secret book club. The three nice ladies of different ages and backgrounds, each face their own personal problems, even as they attempt to find a suitable book to read. Not as easy as they thought.
The mystery heats up. One by one, quirky antagonists from town creep into the storyline and the club members sink deeper and deeper into danger, as they’re entangled in criminal events playing out on the streets of a once quiet village.
Following her magical intention, the author paints vivid pictures, places, and memorable characters, to bring light-hearted elements, as well as serious ones to the writing. All through the book, the author lets elements of nature, science, and magic dance across the pages, from poisonous plants, from migrating butterflies to the Chaos Theory. Even an odd tea infused with herbs from a gypsy garden.
It’s been called “a dizzying and delightful tale of mystery and literature” by Sally Deskins, editor of Les Femmes Folles. Also, “an homage to female friendship and classic writers” by Di Saggau, book reviewer of The River, Ft. Meyers, FL.
After reading this inventive, nontraditional work, I’ll end my review with, “I love these ladies.” And apparently, so do librarians. Connie Spittler signed her book for 100 of them in two hours at the 2015 American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco.

To buy, click here to visit

This I Remember
(A Tomboy Grows Up)

Author: Mary Woodward Priest, Napa Valley Branch, CA
Reviewed by: Annie Laura Smith, Huntsville Branch, AL
The author explains her reason for writing this memoir: “Although a memoir is a highly personal story, it was my desire to portray a lifestyle which no longer exists, that of an Illinois farm family during the 1930’s and 1940’s, The Great Depression and World War II. I hope to provide the flavor of family farm life in an earlier era, for no matter where I live, my heart will remain on that Illinois Prairie, a few acres of which I still own!”
The Table of Contents of the respective topics allows easy navigation through the text. Extensive black and white vintage and current photographs and line drawings complement the information. An Ancestor Chart provides relevant family information. Her poetry gives insight into farm life in a very lyrical manner. The topics and illustrations presented in the memoir give a comprehensive history of this time period in America.
In the “About the Author” section, she includes relevant quotes about writing memoirs. The final quote describes her memoir appropriately: “Prairie Stories – History is not the past. It is a story about the past, told in the present and designed to be useful in constructing the future.” Henry Glassie. The memoir ends with a portrait photograph of Mary Woodward Priest at age 88. 2014, Clone Digital Print and Copy.

Can This Be Heaven?

Can This Be Heaven Cover ImageAUTHOR: Margaret J. Vann, Huntsville Branch, AL
REVIEWED BY: Marilyn Lewis-Alim, Huntsville Branch, AL

Rendered stories lie in Margaret Vann’s collection of poems, Can This Be heaven? This book of free verse moves through the milestones of womanhood with the imagery of particular wildflowers, birds, skies, and quiet places. Yet the poems are not always as quiet as they first appear. Looking at the self and nature intertwined, Margaret sees into life and nature and finds ways to accept and embrace the fullness of change from the lost days of flower children to the mundaneness of LED screens, from the changes of the seasons to the seasons of love.

In Beach thoughts the poet walks along the beach wondering where all the sea shells and hippies have gone and surmises that they have gone to “giant beach houses drinking gin and tonics wondering about their Roths.” Then her beach wondering leads her to ask:

where are you my lovely flower child
are you in that corporate office starring at an LED display
are your love beads in the drawer beside your power ties

Some of the poems examine distance and closeness between woman and man. The poem Signs speaks of how a woman, being taken for granted, makes changes which are as unnoticed as the dawn sky or a cardinal at the feeder. The poem’s second verse says:

yes the signs were all there
not brilliant cardinals preening at the feeder
not that certain blue at dawn
perhaps the new lingerie
the shorter skirt & high heels
maybe the whispered talk on the telephone

Winter Daydreams is a poem that opens with “Cool sun warms the tan leaves” and paints a
picture of closeness between man and woman near “tumbled boulders at the edge of the sliding stream.” That closeness is gone at the end of the poem where the last verse says:

It was so long ago that cool season
the water still runs green
The stream still slides
The space has grown to worlds apart

The poem Drought begins and ends with the line: “I have been watering for some days now.” I really like a verse in this poem which reads:

The grass is maintaining.
The shrubs are holding up
but will I? Will I?

In Careless Keeping the poet finds, among particular wildflowers, “Catbsy trillium hanging its head” and
then asks:

Will I ever find you again among the leaves
As I search the April woods for lady slippers
Beneath the dappled shade and my heart
Misplaced by careless keeping?

Poets often write about nature with no purpose other than to describe its magnificence but this poet steps back and observes her own response to nature whether it moves her to memories of significant relationships or to the urge to daydream about what could have been.2013, Finishing Line Press, $12.00, ISBN 978-1-62229-379-7

Hats and Headwear Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia

Hats and Headwear Around the World Cover image
Author: Beverly Chico, Denver Branch, CO
Reviewed by: Jody Hinrichs, Denver Branch, CO

Dr. Chico, historian with a national reputation as an expert in the history of headwear, brings her scholarship and witty writing to this 531-paged encyclopedia. The book covers headwear from A-Z (Academic Headwear to Zucchetto) with further Readings for each of the 195 entries. I found myself eagerly delving into one subject after the other, uncovering a fascinating world of culture, history, and economics. Did you know the first flat, round cap was used in the Bronze Age? And that it is known as the ‘universal’ cap. Its multiple uses have been to designate Basque shepherds—to the Green Berets Special Forces—to the guerrillas of Che Guevara—to the baby blue-colored UN-peacekeeping units, and even was part of the Girl Scout national uniform from 1936 to 1994. This simple cap has been a symbol of defiance as well as unity.
As the cultural value of a headwear piece lessens, production of it diminishes and leads to financial loss for its producers. Such an event followed JF Kennedy’s lack of interest in wearing hats. This, coupled with the Civil Rights Movement that challenged middle-class social-status etiquette, led to a vast reduction in the use of formal hats for males. In contrast, today’s baseball cap has produced a new global industry for supplying an immense army of users.
Dr. Chico’s scholarship is extraordinary and is matched by clarity of writing. I recommend highly this outstanding work; it’s a powerful read and unique reference.
2013, ABC-CLIO, $95.00, 978-1-61069-062-1

The Alchemy of Desire

AUTHOR: Dianalee Velie, Southern Vermont Branch, VT
REVIEWED BY: Annie Laura Smith, Huntsville Branch, AL
This book is the poet’s fourth poetry collection. The poems remind us to treasure the people and places in our lives. This compilation shows a path to self-discovery and healing, and covers a wide range of experiences and emotions. These include heartache, loss, humor, and wisdom. The opening poem is aptly titled “In the Beginning”, and ends with the couplet: ‘It will be my Masterpiece. It will my Genesis. Everyone will know my name.” The poet’s spirit rises above immeasurable grief as shown in her poem, “Unchained”Alchemy-of-Desire cover image

Like the unchained performer,
my soul twists like a snake
around memories of Eden,
a time before the disappearance
of happiness. For the moment,
I am unfettered, free of grief,
crowing, like the rooster,

for a new dawn, faithful

I will find my way in the dark.

It is a poem of hope for all who are grieving a loss and healing from the emotional pain. It shows the power of poetry to heal, as does the entire collection. The final poem echoes the title of the book, “The Alchemy of Desire”. Her other poetry books include Glass House, First Edition, and The Many Roads to Paradise. She also published a collection of short stories titled Soul Proprietorship: Women in Search of Their Souls. 2013, Plain View Press, $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-935514-05-3

The Light On His Feet

AUTHOR: Calder Lowe, Modesto Branch, CA
REVIEWED BY: Kathie Isaac-Luke, Modesto Branch, CA

Calder Lowe is an award-winning poet, editor and short fiction writer. In her new, vibrant collection she combines these and other genres to delightful effect. The Light On His Feet encompasses flash fiction, short stories, prose poems, and even a novella in progress. With a poet’s ear for language and a storyteller’s knack for narrative, she has crafted stories in which the voices of independent women of all ages predominate. Lowe’s characters often find themselves in difficult circumstances, often through no fault of their own. Intrepidly, they view these situations as obstacles to overcome, whether through faith or sheer determination. Take Ashley, a discouraged woman who is plotting her own demise, until a sliver of grace presents itself, giving her life renewed purpose. Another character, Mary figures a way to navigate out of an abusive relationship. And, Anna Marie, an older, long widowed woman gets a new lease on life when Jesus materializes in the living room of her small home.TLOHF mockup3-CS6
There are a number of stories exploring family dynamics framed with keen observation and wit. Interwoven throughout this collection are prose poems and flash fiction pieces which are all thought-provoking and often ironic.
Included are several stories related from a man’s point of view, most notably the title story in which a young male escort has an epiphany while on assignment with an elderly woman. But even in the stories told in men’s voices, wise and resourceful women are never far away.
The protagonists in this volume are uncompromising, refusing to countenance any affront to their dignity or self-esteem. Part of the pleasure of reading this prose collection is finding out the inventive, sometimes dark, but always surprising approaches they take to triumph over whatever life throws their way. 2014, Dragonfly Press, $15.00, ISBN: 978-0-692-21873-0

Through Pelican Eyes Book Cover

Through Pelican Eyes: The First Jesse Murphy Mystery

AUTHOR: jd daniels, Southwest Florida Branch, Cape Coral, FL
REVIEWED BY: Ariel Smart, Santa Clara Branch, CA
I have never found the time to read a cozy mystery before, so, apart from serious novels like The Brothers Karamazov, jd daniels’ Through Pelican Eyes is my first. It is a stylish mystery story set in the “funky” Pine Island Florida village, Matlacha, as the author herself describes it, although the more quirky because Jesse Murphy, the first person narrator, carried on her person a Gargoyle named “Gar”.
To fully appreciate the chapters, the reader needs to look up the Abstract American artists alluded to in the quotations cited. Thus, this novel required a certain academic study. Note Lawrence Calcagno, Robert Longo, and Grace Hartigan, for example.
The death of Will, a main character in the mystery, requires that you contemplate a serious question, namely, “Why does one chose suicide and another life?” The answer to that question, says a character: “I couldn’t imagine having kids and not being able to see them.” 2014, SAVVY Press, $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-939113-24-5

On the Museum steps

On The Museum Steps: Poems by Roberta Bearden

AUTHOR: Roberta Bearden, Modesto Branch, CA
REVIEWED BY: Lynn M. Hanson, Modesto Branch, CA

Artist and poet Roberta Bearden offers the reader an intimate look at life in the Central Valley of California where Fog is a lightly stepping stalker, a yard sale signals that next month the bank will own the house and the valley on edge (is) tilting back toward desert sand. She is grateful to be turning 70, rejoicing that she refuses to give anger and reminds to remember love and give it. Using simple and direct language like her childhood meals of fried potatoes, pinto beans and cornbread, her observations are poignant and heart-felt as she buried her love in the corner of her heart for the estranged stepdaughter. She makes real the fear of dying alone in her poem The Death Floor where the fear is that you might wake and find yourself alone saying goodbye to an empty room, or in A Thousand Miles Away her communication with an invalid woman is broken when the hurricane silenced the connection – waters crept silently through her doors and windows. In her poem On The Museum Steps (her painting pictured on the cover of her book), she reflects on the 4th of July celebration – the day her father died – that sometimes traditions are made without our consent. Her words bring forth the truths of love, friendship, death and loss, a chronicle of the human condition. 2014, Black Pan Press, $12.00, ISBN: 978-0-9960546-0-7

Seasons of Sharing

Seasons of Sharing
A Kasen Renku Collaboration

Authors: Joyce Brinkman, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Chesapeake Bay Branch, VA,
with Catherine Aubelle, Flor Aguilera García, Gabriele Glang snf Kae Morii

Reviewed by: Ann Falcone Shalaski, Chesapeake Bay Branch, VA

The voices of six global women come together as one in Seasons of Sharing, a carefully crafted collaboration of poetry created through the world’s newest means of communication: the internet.
This contemporary collection, rooted in haiku tradition, captures a timeless quality that is rich, precise, and meaningful. From shore to shore, season to season, these gifted women poets present poetry that is both poignant and joyful. Each verse plays off the preceding verse as in “Summer Wind”:

. . . while tanned girls sway their wet braids
splashing rivers of laughter.

White caps swirl, frolic
on Chesapeake Bay’s sandy
shores – midsummer pearls.

To read Seasons of Sharing is to experience a kaleidoscope of seamless voices in a collaboration of love. Global friends gift the reader with a treasure one will read again and again. Leapfrog Press LLC, $14.00/Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935248-63-7

Ain's Song Book cover

Ain’s Song

Author: Alice M. Moerk, Sarasota Branch, FL
Reviewed by: Ariel Smart, Santa Clara Branch, CA
Ain’s Song is a swift and lively account of the legendary and often maligned queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Ms. Moerk’s book is well designed and concise. Even the putative accounts are documented as certain fact. It is by far shorter than Amy Kelly’s scholarly book with its chapter by chapter footnotes, yet if contains vital information without scrimping. It is a worthy read for an eleven-year-old reader and up to adulthood.
Ms. Moerk’s coverage of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s reign and her daring allegiance with her son, Richard the Lionhearted, and their campaign and pilgrimage to the Holy Land on the Second Crusade are well documented.
I think what I missed in this history were the personal anecdotes remembered by common folk who waited for a glimpse of the great queen as she travelled the countryside. For example, the monks of Ely Cathedral cultivated dove eggs in the dovecotes. They knew that she liked fresh eggs for her breakfast. Alice A. Moerk’s Ain’s Song is recommended reading. 2011, Peppertree Press, $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61493-025-9

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