Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Please click on on the link to learn more about this novel.

THE AMBASSADOR, by Yehuda Avner and Matt Rees

Anyone who is familiar with Matt's fiction and nonfiction books knows that he writes with rare elegance. THE AMBASSADOR, the counterhistoric thriller he wrote  with the late Yehuda Avner, reaffirms these qualitiesMatt Rees talks about THE AMBASSADOR in The Huffington Post, once again,  Matt's  refreshingly innovative  plots, graceful style and abundant creative energy shine through in this book. I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


I could not get past page five in J.R. Ward's THE BOURBON KINGS without wanting to toss it  into a shredder. Clearly, I am in the minority. Some of her novels have made the bestseller list of The New York Times. According to her bio-blurb, there are more than fifteen million copies of her books in twenty-five countries. Be that as it may, my reaction to every page of this bloated saga was, “I like it not.” Then I thought of all the time and effort it took to write four hundred and some pages. Never mind that I found them dreadful. Should I honor every published writer's work? Should I plod on in hopes of finding something nice to say? I don't think so. Subjective as book reviewing is, the only honorable thing for a reviewer to do is to express her opinion clear and honestly.

So here is my take on THE BOURBON KINGS—the writing is pedestrian, the story is mediocre.
Whether it is a commercial success or not, is not the issue. The issue is the quality of the work and sadly, that quality is low. To praise it be an insult to good writers. That is not to say that you should not buy and form your own opinion of it. You might like reading gardeners with master degrees from Cornell University, people who have Gucci luggage, and who own property that includes.”twelve retainer's cottages...as well as ten outbuildings, a fully functioning farm of over a hundred acres, a twenty-horse stable that had been converted into a business center, and a golf course.

That was lighted.

In case you wanted to work on your chip shot at one a.m.”

No, no, no.

I like it not.

Sunday, August 9, 2015



Sue Margolis unfurls a broad canvas in LOSING ME. She does it with elegantly and with bravado. Much as Pieter Bruegel the Elder's paintings of peasant life in Renaissance Europe, her novel compels the reader to look at beyond the sunny spaces and joyful feasts to find the dark corners most of us would prefer to ignore. In this, she is as fearless as her main character, 58 year-old special needs teacher Barbara Srirling—a telling name, that--who never misses an opportunity to do battle for a good cause, unless it is to save her own life.
Margolis bestows upon Barbara Sthe gift of illuminating numerous aspects of today's human experience—a war veteran's post-traumatic syndrome and its affect on his family, the terrors of approaching old age, the question of professional identity, the struggle of the economic underclasses, the dual burden of ageing adults who care for boomerang children and fragile elderly parents, the pitfalls of long term relationships, the matter of fidelity. The global environment, the class system, the callous attitude of politicians, violence against children and women. As abstractions, these make up an incongruous mix. In real life, which Margolis portrays deftly, it is all in a day's work.
LOSING ME is about more than travails and causes. It is about a woman whois trying to find her way through a complex world. Barbara is feisty and wimpy, caring and full of anger, clear eyed and obtuse, agentle and savage at the same time. So are real people.
Humor is an important element in LOSING ME. It can be tongue in cheek, such as Barbara's responses the social media, “Barbara's Facebook sidebar contained another 'fifty-nine next birthday' ad for 'cheap, no fuss funeral plan. Underneath was an invitation to take part in a medical trial aimed at detecting early-onset Alzheimer's. Then there were the plus-size clothing outlets pushing New Year's discounts. Zuckerberg knew she was a size fourteen because he had elves….peering over her shoulder as she typed.” She segues with an acerbic comment on another Facebook ad, “Cruises no matter why they were taken, were the first sign of the dying of the light and to be fought at all costs. (Elasticized waistbands, on the oter hand, had, since the arrival of her ample post-menopausal belly, become her secret pleasure.) “
Determined as she is to mock Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg—she eventually reaches the point where she replaces the Z in his surname with an F—Barbara is rather slow at directing her bile at those who really desrve it, such as horrible husband Frank. the typical humanitarian who is willing to risk life and limb to bring attention to so-called plight of the Palestinians, but who is incapable of engaging with individuals. He can make movies that show the suffering of poor people in the Third World, but close up, his self-absorption is staggering, his indifference to his wife's ill health and concerns is staggering. The best he can do when Barbara asks for his support during a crisis is to say,
“You are such a drama queen.”
Unlike her best friend Jean, Barbara does not seek solace in the embraces of paid escorts. No, she soldiers on, helping her narcissistic mother whose all encompassing love of her damaged husbnd, war veteran Stan, leaves no room for the needs of wee little Barbara, thus shaping her into a dual-personality fighter for rights of neglected children abused women even as she herself endures her husband's neglect and the bad behavior of her supremely entitled son. Her relationship with her daughter Jess is only marginally better. It involve self-sacrifice of the sort her own mother, Rose, refused to make for her. There, is one of the flaws in LOSING ME, in this not-subtle shades, no gradations the cliché mom who “never needed to work.”
To make Rose, who is as much a victim of the horrors of war as her PSTD afflicted husband, the cause of Barbara's inadequacies, is an error of judgment. It leads the reader to ask Margolis from whom Barbara got her love of social causes and her strength. Surely it was not her teacher, Mrs. Emmett, who saw her for a few hours during the day. To attribute it to a reaction to her mother's perceived neglect and alleged narcissism is way too facile and convenient.
A story that has so much realism fails when it lapses into the usual “mommie made me do it” mode. It fails when it does not provide a source for the main character's ferocious criticism of “hummusy mummies” who own Kegel balls, exchange air kisses, babble about their Christmas trips to Tuvalu, feed their kids breast milk parfaits, name their kids Atticus and Bryony and use—I will not go there—family cloth. The reader wonders to know why such a sterling characters compassion and understanding only extends to those materially poorer than she.

The imperfections in LOOSING ME are no reason to dismiss the excellent writing in most of of it. There are moments when Margolis makes excessive demands on plausibility—Rose, who “only loved Stan,” Barbara's lightning fast bonding with an abused, low-income woman and children, and her swift insertion into the deliberations of a wealthy family all have a fairytale air. But all in all, this is a story told honestly and with brio.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The simplest way to review Kate Quinn's WOMAN OF THE ETERNAL CITY is to say that it is marvelous. But it is more than that. It is an engrossing, beautifully crafted story that includes romance, geopolitics and the question of ethno-religious identity. The deftly handled plot encompasses a shift in Rome's imperialistic policy,  efforts to impose Roman values and ideals on conquered nations and to define the borders of territories annexed in war. These,  as Quinn's impeccable research shows, are Roman Emperor Hadrian's documented contributions to history. But it is the imagined details of his relationship with his wife Sabina and  his lover Antinous,  as well  her relationship with the warrior Vercingetorix (Vix) that grab and hold  the reader's attention .

Vix is a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile his Jewish identity--technically, he  is a Jew though his enslaved mother has been cut off from normative Judaism--and his allegiance to Rome.  He also struggles to reconcile his work as  a tribune in the Praetorian Guard and his love for Mirah, the  religious Jewish woman whom he married and who gave him two daughters. Additionally, he strives to contain his emotional attachment to his former lover, Sabina, a woman whose great intelligence, beauty and kindness make a brilliant contrast to the darkness of Hadrian's violent moods.

Enter Vix's adopted son, Antinous, who is supremely handsome and gentle. He and Hadrian meet and what follows is a heartbreaking love story told enormous sensitivity and grace. The first heart to break is Vix's. His  dislike of Hadrian is  as strong as his loyalty to fray  destroy his ties with his son.  Next heart to crack it is Mirah's. Her  narrow view of  good love  is shaped by religious prejudice. As for Antinous, life becomes a series of  painful encounters with hypocritical Romans who pattern their  view of homosexuality on that of the Greeks--it is OK if one of the partners is a young boy.

There are, in this story,  two young boys  and a remarkable young girl whose reaction to Antinous have great  significance for the empire--Marcus Aurelius, his remarkable  cousin Annia Galeria Faustina the Younger and their sworn enemy. Gneus Pedanius Fuscus Salinator, whose lust for power and Annia' virginity might have earned the cognomen of Salivator. How the  love of the first two and the hatred of the third change the shape of  history is a tale that  will captivate students of philosophy, feminists, and admirers of a well written romance.
 Romances in this novels are as complex, as they are in real life.  Vix and Mirah's meets with a formidable obstacle when they move to Judea where her uncle, Simon Bar Kochba leads the resistance against Rome. Much has been written about Hadrian's response to Jewish aspirations. I will leave it to you to discover the choice Vix made in this fight between Roman imperialism and Jthe Jews' ardent desire to free Judea. The Bar Kochba war against Roman invaders lasted three years at the end of which approximately 580, 000 Jews lay dead and Judea was left in ruins. Countless Jewish survivors were enslaved and the very name of the  Jewish homeland was replaced by that of   Syria Palestina. Quinn's novel reminds us of how history repeats itself; Although it it is set in 128nB.C.E.. the history of imperialistic nations,  the ways in which humans love or hate each other have changed very little,  It is to her credit that there is no sense of deja vu in a tale as old Christianity itself. Bar Kochba,  Hadrian, Sabina, Titus, Marcus Aurelius,  Roman legionnaires. the defeated and the victors emerge from page with such clarity they might be one's next door neighbor.. This is a book I am glad to have read. I would hesitate to recommend it to the most fastidious reader.


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