Monday, November 28, 2011

Murder New York Style-Fresh Slices

The New York/Tri State Chapter of Sisters in Crime published this second Murder New York Style anthology, gathering 22 stories set in the five boroughs for FRESH SLICES. The flavor is delightfully unsavory--from Lina Zeldovich's tough action story, The Brighton Beach Mermaid, about a sex slave who uses her brains, Triss Stein's poignantly enigmatic The Greenmarket Violinist, Leigh Neely's shockingly satirical A Vampire in Brooklyn, to the gritty East Village saga The Understudy, where two lookalike good time girls, lost in addiction, trade places. My favorites were a study in contrasts, Tear Down by Anita Page and Susan Chalfin's Remember You Will Die. In Page's story, an octogenerian in a lower middle class neighborhood,relives the crisis of her youth and a horrific secret. I loved the cranky character and her irony-laced wisdom, a bit like Flannery O'Connor. In a similar way, I was surprised how the voice of Susan Chalfin's moneyed mogul had a touch of Roald Dahl. The dying Mogul gathers family and friends in the Rubin Museum, among the Buddhist art depicting levels of enlightenment, charnel houses and saints, for a champagne toast honoring an existence with a surprising exit. These stories are extraordinary in their quality and variety, a passport to a New York City of the unexpected no tourist--and few natives--has seen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Pakistan Cauldron:Conspiracy, Assassination, and Instability

THE PAKISTAN CAULDRON: Conspiracy, Assassination & Instability (Potomac Books, Inc., Oct. 2011) explains Pakistan in the post-bin Laden era by examining its Pakistan’s leaders: A.O. Kahn, the “rock star” popular engineer of Pakistan’s nuclear program; Pervez Musharraf, the general turned politician, who skillfully deflected criticism from the secretive military in regard to nuclear proliferation; and Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic politician, whose promise for a stable enlightened country was cut short by assassination.

These leaders, despite their differences, put Pakistan first, a fact often misjudged by the American perception of Pakistan as a strategic ally. Farwell shows the dynamic of the U.S. Pakistani relationship, within the context of a political culture that breeds conspiracy theory, assassination, and a sense of betrayal. And he shows how that relationship has fared in fighting terrorism, al Qaeda and the Taliban. He also shows how our objectives would be met or not, depending on the results of Pakistan’s volatile political process.

PAKISTAN CAULDRON is the first book to assess the historical legacy of Benazir Bhutto as a champion for democratic pluralism and religious tolerance. It also looks at how Musharraf, her competitor, mishandled the aftermath of her assassinationcreating an autocrat’s “playbook” for blunders in a time of crisis—destroying his government’s credibility.

Like many people who are uninitiated into the reality of Pakistan, I have thought of the country as a confusing hypocritical place, the country that provided a haven for bin Laden then aided in his capture. The place that had a feminist star in the independent Moslem politiican Benazir Bhutto then assassinated her in a murky conspiracy, and a place supposed to be fighting the Taliban, while giving them support. Reading Jim Farwell's book, I came to understand why the US is viewed as hypocritical by Pakistan, why domestic Taliban are viewed differently than "foreign" Taliban, and why this country is an important ally to the U.S.

This book is dramatic, the personalities vivid and complex, the plot an exotic adventure, the more gripping because it's true and happening now. I now actually understand what I'm reading in the news. Disclosure for my readers--I am doing pr for this book and don't often review nonfiction. Full disclosure, I only do pr for books I enjoy that are worth the paper they are printed on, or the electrons.


Monday, June 13, 2011

The Hole

I don't usually review books that aren't fiction, but this Fable, THE HOLE, is about reality, like the best of fiction. It's by a psychologist, Bruce Derman, who spent almost a decade meditating on the root cause of man's unhappiness--The rejection of emptiness. Derman specializes in combative couples and people struggling with all kinds of addiction and sees facing the Void as a root cause of many problems. And confession-time, though I know it's a bit of Quixotian task, I'm working with this book (p.r for authors doesn't quite make the rent) because I was touched by this modern fable. It's a story as familiar as childhood nightmares and as old as human existence. And like Alan Watts, or the Buddha, Derman may be right. Are we all avoiding the Void, the emptiness we fear? Is all our running around and texting about not dealing with reality --that this is part of life? Derman says loneliness if felt in direct proportion to not accepting emptiness. I've been thinking about that.
Derman's everymen are Dirk and Dawn, a young couple who have achieved the life they believe they deserve. They are attractive, well employed, and live in a home perfectly attuned to their status and good taste, with beautifully polished wooden floors. Their relationship is about mutual admiration. Then one day Dawn sees a hole in the floor and worries that it will upset Dir, but hiding it from him becomes impossible as their distaste for thehole results in it becoming bigger. She Dawn is a Pleaser, she covers it up but it continues to widen. Dirk is perturbed as the crack in their perfection widens. When it can't be covered up any more with rugs or rearranging furniture, theyhire contractors and try to fill the hole but it's bottomless. Then with the pressure of living with it, there's a crack in Dirk and Dawn's personal facades and their images of pleasing and perfection become a distant memory. They begin to argue and bicker, until they hurt each other and ask for help. Like all the best fables, a strange little man comes to the door and seeks to guide them in the wisdom of holes, if they will enter it and learn to accept it. This triggers all their distrust and terror and the descent begins. They face many dilemmas, eternal darkness, a place without form, the dread of powerlessness. Ultimately, they come to accept the nature of the bottomless pit. Going through the fear, says Derman, to acceptance, means you find out who you are inside--you get love, passion, power. And you stop wearing yourself out trying to fill that hole from the outside. So all the possibilties of life are accessible. I liked this. Now if I can get my son to read it, instead of watching horror movies, that would be useful. But he's 13, so running from text to text fills up a lot of emptiness...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Travelling Light by J.L. Morin, Harvard Square Editions

TRAVELLING LIGHT manages to combine a tense thriller with a serious shocking truth-the reality of slavery in our time. The story is told by Mackenize, an archaeologist with two kids and a diplomat husband. When he is recalled to his native island of Styxos in the Mediterranean, she leaves her old life and employment behind and gains her long-held romantic fantasy of life on a beautiful Mediterranean island. Problem is her husband Charon is increasingly withdrawn and emotionally removed from her. Thinking it's due to his father's recent death, she vows to bring back the warm earthy man she fell in love with-who bridged the west and his own ancient "collectivist" culture.

But there are scary portents when they arrive. On a visit to the beach, she is suddenly surrounded by three threatening men, until they realize she is with Charon. Her uneasy feeling grows, as Charon installs his family in his run-down boyhood home with his mother, a supposed temporary situation that becomes permanent. And he further withdraws, relating to her only as the caretaker of his children. But pragmatic and resourceful, Mac volunteers at a local site, paints the house and learns the Styxian language and culture. Despite wanting to put a positive light on her marriage, she becomes increasingly concerned about protecting her children from Charon's irrational temper.

With no income, living with a secretive angry amn, Mac's isolate is almost complete. So with relief, she accepts an invitation to an Investor's Gala, since Styxos is an aspiring EU accession state. The evening is full of intriguing people, the gorgeous talented Niovi and her fiancee the magnetic Farouk. Then a woman's body is disocovered in the hotel's swimming pool. She is identified as a Russian prostitute and Farouk is under suspicion of the murder.

On the way to the Gala, Mac had seen the same woman in the abusive company of one of the men who cornered her on the beach. And he seemed to recognize Charon, though that idea is put aside. With her trained instinct for uncovering history, Mac quietly researches the Russian woman, who haunts her imagination. Eventually, she unearths the reality of sex slaves on Styxos, how they come to the island and are traded for moeny. This dark business, intersects with the sexual tourism on the island. It is an underbelly of the traditional culture that could derail it's efforts to attract investment and enter the EU.

Mac sees it as the dark side of a traditional culture where men are taught to disregard women--except for how they serve them as wives and mothers. When she is offered a job at a TV station, which of course comes through a call to her husband, Mac becomes friendly with Niovi. Then she learns about the deep mystical aspects of Styxos and the underlying power of women. With employement comes more freedom to investigate the murder and the roots of the slave trade. Along the way, Mack comes to believe Farouk is not the murderer and together they begin to unravel the truth.

What she discovers threatens not just the future of Styxos but her life and that of her children. Because she is educated and has friends, she is able to fight back against the criminal forces that would enslave her. And realize how she had enabled them through her marriage.

TRUE FACT: Slavery has endured into modern times. There are now at least twice as many real slaves on earth as there were in the 1700's. The UN has set up a Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Slave Trafficking in Persons to combat this hell on earth. Free the Slaves estimated there are 27 million slaves worldwide in the year 2010--men, women and children captured violently forced into unpaid labour who cannot walk away.

The author admirably dramatizes this, using an intelligent everywoman, who sees the origins in the jealousy and depersonalization of her own marriage.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky

Sometimes I dip into a YA book and synch with teen yearnings for a different better life--and realize I'm an adult, a fact I can easily forget in an imaginative treasure like The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky (Little Brown and Co.) I have collected vintage clothes for decades and given them on to owners they better suit, so this is a book for me. And for girls and moms who love adventure, the mysteries of time and timeless design. Louise is a skinny 7th grader with braces on her teeth, frizzy hair, and weird parents--a Brit mom who boils food in vinegar a "Stepford" lawyer dad. Her life in Connecticut is made okay by her best friend, Brook, with whom she carefully navigates the awful indignities of Middle School. These include the inept boy, who somehow can't figure out how to ask her to the dance. The last time, she scurried away, embarrassed, wishing he'd get some social skills. But she's more interested in shoping for the perfect dress and fantasizes about a fantastic one of a kind vintage dress by one of the old masters, like Luceil, whose dresses she studies and draws, along with her own creations. A discerning devotee of thriftshops, Louise is thrilled when she receives an intriguing invite to a vintage sale. She dreams of rare finds and gets her friend, Brook to come with her, though she's more a devotee of whatever's new at the mall. Louise at first is put off by the rummage sale atmosphere, lack of price tags, and the two witch-like women running it. They practically refuse to let her try on a pink gown with a long draped skirt, an empire waist detailled with shimmery gold thread and a tiny silver beads. I'm giving details because the dresses illustrated in this book by Sandra Suy, are like characters. As Louise tries on the pink dress in the dark dressingroom, she soon finds herself on the moving floor of a cruise ship. Outside waits Ann, her maid. Louise is in the year5 1912 on the White Star Line, inhabiting the body of a glamours teen actress, Miss Baxter. She loves the amazing gowns she gets to wear as Baxter, but not so much the claustrophobic life of a celebrity who is dressed, waited on, and escorted. But she meets the handsome Mr. Guggenheim and the real Luceil, the pivotal fashion designer, and enjoys the extraordinary luxury of the ocean liner, until she discovers it's the Titanic! Then her time-travelling takes on a nightmarish cast. Louise and Ann try to convince Captain Smtih to change his course and get branded as hysterics. Realizing she can't change history, Louise has a visitation by the vintage witches who explain she needs the dress to go home. After the ship hits the ice, Louise undergoes a crazy race against the rising water to find the dress in the ship's laundry. Ann decides to stay with a handsome officer and save people, so Louise uses the dress to return to the 21st century. She finds the life she has is one she can appreciate, where women can speak their minds and vote and she has a comfortable wardrobe of jeans. But her love and appreciate for the history carried in Vintage clothes intensifies. And while she's recovering from her ordeal, she sees another invitation to the time-travelling vintage store. This is the first in a series that combines history and magic with a knowledge of the grace and purpose of fashionable clothes--which may retain the souls of the wearer. The story of a teen becoming more comfortable with herself, is familiar, but the route to that end is unexpected and charming.

Advance look! The King's Arms by Sonia Taitz

In The King's Arms is published by McWitty Press and won't be out until October. It's a fun read. This book manages to be light and funny, serious and passionate and yet is wise, witty and deep. Class and identity, Oxford intellectuals and the Holocaust, theater, tradition and assimiliation are all probed here in a tale of love at first sight that actually has a satisfying happy ending. Here goes. Lily Taub is a marvel. She's academically gifted, the beautiful and articulate daughter of Holocaust survivors. She grows up in NY and is raised never to take safety or her status in life for granted. But Lily, who grew up with the devastating stories of her parents' life in the death camps, yearns for great romance, fun and frivolity, as well as respect in the world beyond the insular community of survivors. When Oxford offers her a scholarship to study, she happily escapes, savoring her new status, while fearing it will somehow be taken away, because she is a Jew. At first, Oxford proves a lonely place, where she is an outsider less because of religion, than her status as an American foreigner. Instead of a glorious time in the hallowed halls, she's in a depressing room or roaming gray rainy streets, while the entitled ones, whose families have belonged here for generations, go their merry way to pubs, parties and theater. She was taught religious piety, but London in the 70's is about youth reinventing the world. Unlike the Europe of the 1940's, the horrific present of her parents, Lily wants to join the privileged youth around her but finds she is an interloper, a voyeur to grand tradition. Then she meets Peter Aiken, a talented student and aspiring actor with an intellectual's biting wit and a kind heart underneath. Stunned by her intelligence, her repartee in what he thinks of as a NY "gangster" accent, and appreciative of her looks, Peter introduces her to his group and becomes her best friend. Then one night she is struck by the most handsome boy she has ever seen and follows him into The King's Arms, a pub, staring mesmerized. She learns his name, Julian, before fleeing the pub and her intense reaction to him. Later, she finds he's Peter's younger brother, the "black sheep" of his aristocratic family, who didn't get into Oxford. When Peter invites her to stay at the family mansion over break, Lily finds her welcome tepid, but then Julian arrives. And she can't resist his sweetly insistent desire. His mother, however, views Lily as the evil "other," taking advantage of her son. And she communicates her distrust to the young son of her second marriage, who views Lily as a threat. The situation comes to a climax when the family goes to a New Year's Eve party, leaving Lily home to babysit. Julian sneaks home to be with her, but there's an acccident. Lily is blamed, even by Peter, and undefended by Julian. She has to leave but at Oxford, finds her room is occupied. Homeless and friendless, she learns she is pregnant and decides to go back to New York. Her memory goes back to her namesake, the Lily of the camps, raped by an officer and abandoned, when she was carrying his child--a half Nazi/Jew. Lily compares that world and herself at Oxford. And she yearns for Julian, because her dual vision is something she has shared with him. With his poetic sensitivity, he understands her conflict and loves her for it. But he's unreachable and she is set to sail for him, when Peter intercepts her and convinces her to come to his parents' house. Julian arrives and finally comes to accept the reality of becoming a father. He declares his desire to make her people his and join her in New York. And for Lily, assimilation is not a fearful loss of identity but bravely forging ahead with a combined heritage for the new life she is carrying...Love does conquer all.

The King's Arms by Sonia Taitz (McWitty Press)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tell me about a book you would like reviewed

If you would like to suggest a book, tell me about it and I'll reply. Leave it on the Facebook page for Tales of the Mer Family Onyx. Thanks. Susan Weinstein

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tales of the Mer Family Onyx

confession goes with this post. Tales of the Mer Family Onyx is my book. It's got some great reviews on Amazon. And people who have read it like it, though it's a far cry from E. Nesbitt (my ideal) the Brit author who inspired Lewis' Narnia series and Frank Baum's Oz books. While this book is certainly not in that class. It is, readers say, fun.

These are stories I told my son for years, as he was infatuated with his own private mermaid cult.
I reconstructed them from years of car trips to the ocean. It's got his drawing on the cover and it's fun to have this book, now that he's in the nasty tween years, quickly becoming a teen.
Mermaids have been replaced by shrunken heads in his fantasy world, a darker land. But for a while
the Onyx family of mermaids was our place, parents Glendora and Neptune, two sets of twins, the boy and girl tweens Rainbow and Bowrain, mer twins Emerald and Saphire, Baby Ruby and Pink of the race of mini-mermaids. Reviews on Amazon describe it better than I can. One person called it a new classic. I'd like that...

And am I doing this to sell books? Well since I get about 2.00 for every 10 on Amazon, probably not, but I would like this book to get read and enjoyed by children from 8 to 11, adults of a certain age, and read to 5 and 6 year olds. It is an "all in the family" mermaid book. And of course any agents or publishers that would like this serious--send me an e-mail! Thanks. Susan W

Tales of the Mer Family Onyx

A full confession goes with this posting. This is my own