Monthly Archives: October 2014

BOOK NOTES: ‘The 52 New Foods Challenge’: Make Healthy Eating into a Family Game

I was not surprised to see praise from TV chef Rachael Ray in the publicity material for Jennifer Tyler Lee’s “The 52 New Foods Challenge: A Family Cooking Adventure for Each Week of the Year, with 150 Recipes” (Penguin Random House/Avery, large-format paperback, 336 pages, index, profusely illustrated, $20.00) but I was a little disappointed that First Lady Michelle Obama wasn’t represented!

Ray: “A simple, fun and playful way to get kids to eat healthy and try new foods.” —Rachael Ray’s Yum-O!

52 new foods challengeI’m guessing the First Lady would approve Ray’s comment — and the overarching message of Jennifer Tyler Lee that sometimes you have to get creative to lead children — and adults, too! — into the world of healthy eating.

Like many parents, Jennifer Tyler Lee struggled to get her kids to eat healthy, balanced meals. The answer, she discovered, was making it a game. “We’ll try one new food each week,” she told her kids. “You pick!” She called it the 52 New Foods Challenge.

In this week-by-week guide, Lee gives parents practical tips to dramatically change the way their families eat. Her helpful advice and the simple rules that her family followed will show parents how to start eating healthy every week of the year. Each week offers a healthy new food to try, from artichokes to zucchini, and includes easy recipes and fun activities to work on as a family—from learning to cook together to enjoying the farmers’ market to even experimenting with growing your own food.

With more than 150 simple, healthy recipes and advice from nationally acclaimed nutrition experts, The 52 New Foods Challenge shows parents how to enjoy mealtimes, plant the seeds of change at their family table, and easily incorporate healthy habits every day of the year. Guaranteed to inspire a child’s creativity and confidence in the kitchen and beyond, “The 52 New Foods Challenge” is the perfect companion for any busy parent who wants to stop stressing over mealtime and find a creative, playful solution to make this family ritual relaxing and fun.

About the Author

Jennifer Tyler Lee

Jennifer Tyler Lee

A mother of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the author of “The 52 New Foods Challenge” (Penguin/Avery 2014) and the creator of the award-winning healthy eating game, Crunch a Color®. Her family culinary adventures have been featured at Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Rachael Ray’s Yum-O!, Pottery Barn Kids, and Laurie David’s Family Dinner. She is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Lodger’: Debut Novel Explores Life of Ground-breaking Author Dorothy Richardson in Two Unconventional Love Affairs

Four years before the publication of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” the term “stream of consciousness” was first applied in a literary context in The Egoist, April 1918, by May Sinclair to the early volumes of Dorothy Richardson’s novel sequence “Pilgrimage.”

The Lodger jacketIn a review of “Pointed Roofs” Sinclair used the term “stream of consciousness” in her discussion of Richardson’s stylistic innovations. Richardson, however, preferred the term interior monologue. “Pointed Roofs” was the first volume in a sequence of 13 novels titled “Pilgrimage”. Miriam Henderson, the central character in “Pilgrimage”, is based on Richardson’s  own life between 1891 and 1915.

Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) is the central figure in a wonderful debut novel by Louisa Treger titled “The Lodger” (Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 272 pages, $24.99).

Much of the novel centers on the real-life love affair between Richardson and the writer H.G. “Bertie” Wells, but Treger shows how the experiences of a woman from the provinces — she was born in Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire but by the age of 10 she was living in London — changed her life in the hothouse literary scene of cosmopolitan London.

Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, working for low pay as a secretary at a dentist’s office in Harley Street and living in a boarding house in Bloomsbury, when she is invited to spend the weekend with a childhood friend. Jane recently married a writer, who is hovering on the brink of fame. His name is H.G. Wells, or “Bertie”, as he is known to friends. (His full name: Herbert George Wells).

Bertie appears unremarkable at first. But then Dorothy notices his grey-blue eyes taking her in, openly signalling approval. He tells her he and Jane have an agreement which allows them the freedom to take lovers, although Dorothy is not convinced her friend is happy with this arrangement.

Reluctant to betray Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy begins an affair with Bertie. (It occurs quickly in the novel; in real life, the affair developed over a period of years).

Dorothy’s life gets more complicated when a new boarder arrives at the house — beaufiful unconventional Veronica Leslie-Jones, determined to live life on her own terms (I picture her as the youthful Claire Bloom in the Robert Wise film “The Haunting) and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. This event, along with the violence of the militant suffragette movement, with Veronica imprisoned, helps Dorothy discover her literary gift and she begins writing.

“The Lodger” is a very readable work that is both an introduction to one of the most important writers of the 20th Century and the story of one woman tormented — and energized, at the same time — by unconventional desires.

Louisa Treger

Louisa Treger






About the Author

Louisa Treger, a classical violinist, studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. She subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a Ph.D. in English at University College London, where she focused on early-twentieth-century women’s writing and was awarded the West Scholarship and the Rosa Morison Scholarship “for distinguished work in the study of English Language and Literature.” Her website:

For more about H.G. Wells, author of “The Time Machine,” “War of the Worlds,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Outline of History” and many more works:

For my Jan. 20, 2014 review of “Under the Wide and Starry Sky”, another novel/biography:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Glimpses of a Global Life’: Longest Serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Survived a Helicopter Trip with Idi Amin as Pilot


Credit it to the idiosyncrasies of a book reviewer, but one of the passages in Sir Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal’s memoirs, “Glimpses of a Global Life” (Hansib Publications Ltd., Hertford, UK, 624 pages, photos, appendixes, index, $18.60 from; Kindle edition, $9.99) that got my immediate attention was his visit to Idi Amin’s Uganda with his English-born wife Lois.

Ramphal coverIt occurred during Guyana-born Ramphal’s tenure as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth, and commonly called the “Commonwealth”) during an official visit to the African nation. He and his wife were treated to a helicopter ride with none other than the brutal dictator in the pilot’s seat. (I hope there was a co-pilot, but there’s no mention of one!). Lois Ramphal was chosen by Amin to preside over the dedication of a paint factory. Ramphal later learned that the factory had already been dedicated. (Amin, 1925-2003, was a former British colonial soldier, who was the third president of independent Uganda, ruling from 1971-1979. He died in exile in Saudi Arabia).

Not long after the visit to the east African former British colony, Uganda was removed from the Commonwealth. (It has since been reinstated as a member, in spite of the fact that the country is ruled by another dictator, Yoweri Kaguta Musevenim who came to power in a coup in 1986.) One of the reasons was the forcible ejection of Uganda’s Asian community that consisted of productive people from India. To me, that proves that blacks — Amin was a black, also a Muslim — can be as racist as whites.

Ramphal was born in what was then the British colony of British Guiana in 1928. His antecedents came from India as indentured workers, replacing the black slaves who labored in the sugar cane fields of the future Guyana, enriching the white plantation owners who lived very comfortable lives in “England’s green & pleasant land,” to borrow a phrase from the poem “Jerusalem” by William Blake (1757-1827).

A lawyer and international diplomat, he rose from humble origins to become a key Advisor to Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth. Leaders from every continent engaged with him as the longest serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (1975–1990) and as the only person who served on all the Independent International Commissions that grappled with the world’s major issues.

Having been a key player in bringing an end to Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence and institutional racism in Southern Rhodesia, he spent much of his last five years as Secretary-General, until 1990, in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. He had the satisfaction of playing a part in Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990, and Namibia’s independence the following month. Zimbabwe, formerly called Southern Rhodesia, is of course problematical, as it continues to be ruled by Robert Mugabe, who practices his own form of racism against the whites of the country and has turned the country into an economic basket case. Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth about a decade ago, although Ramphal puts it a different way: “One day, Zimbabwe will return to the Commonwealth — when it is recognized by all sides that Zimbabwe did not leave the Commonwealth, Mugabe did.” (Page 392).

Ramphal — just about everybody who knows him calls him “Sonny” — left the Commonwealth Secretariat as a still youthful 61. He was Chancellor of the Universities of Guyana and Warwick, and the University of the West Indies, and he went on to chair the West Indian Commission which charted a future for the Caribbean region in the 21st century, and he headed the regional negotiating machinery which sought a unified Caribbean trading response to the European Community, the United States and the World Trade Organization. At the age of 79, he successfully led Guyana’s legal team before a United Nations Law of the Sea Tribunal that peacefully settled the maritime boundary with Suriname.

In many ways, the oft-derided Commonwealth was more successful than the United Nations in bringing about majority rule in Africa, as evidenced by the instances of the former Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the former Southwest Africa, now called Namibia, and, of course in the nation of South Africa itself. At least that’s my take after reading “Glimpses of a Global Life.” I also saw some quite negative views of Ramphal by reader commentators on the Stabroek News site based in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, in the news service’s announcement of the book launch of “Glimpses of a Global Life.” Any memoir, as I’ve pointed out in my past reviews of the genre, is by its very nature subjective and subject to review by historians.

Toward the end of Ramphal’s tenure as Commonwealth Secretary-General, his name came up as a possible secretary-general of the U.N. I think he would have made a much better secretary-general than the fourth man to serve in that position, Kurt J. Waldheim (1918-2007) an Austrian who served as an intelligence officer in Hitler’s army during WW II, when Austria was part of the Third Reich. Waldheim served in the UN post from 1972 to 1981 and was the recipient of a telegram from Idi Amin praising the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in 1972. Waldheim protested that, despite being an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht, he knew nothing about the Third Reich’s crimes against humanity.

Summing up, “Glimpses of a Global Life” offers the reader a cast of the world’s leading characters and the central role Ramphal played alongside them in issues such as ending Apartheid in South Africa; laying the foundations for global concerns about the environment; the reform of global governance, and the resolution of conflicts. It is an analysis of major problems and challenges that dominated the twentieth century and which continue to shape the contours of the twenty-first. Since the major news media rarely cover events in the Commonwealth — except in the cases of terrorist acts like the recent events in Canada, “Glimpses of a Global Life” will serve to educate readers interested — like the present reviewer — in history.

About the Author

Sir Shridath Ramphal, born Oct. 3, 1928 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), is a lawyer and international diplomat. He rose from humble origins to become a key advisor to Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, and he is also the longest serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (1975–1990). Ramphal lives in Barbados. His daughter Susan is the wife of Huntington News Network contributor Sir Ronald Sanders, also a native of Guyana.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Leaving Time’: A Good Introduction to Jodi Picoult’s Works If You’ve Never Read Her; Fulfills Expectations If You’re a Fan

When I sat down to write my review of the new novel by best-selling author Jodi Picoult, I thought (reviewer thinking: This is the first Jodi Picoult novel I’ve encountered)…I can hear the cries now: “And you call yourself a book reviewer???” Then, I checked my memory with the search engine and discovered that, yes, I had reviewed a Jodi Picoult novel, “The Storyteller” from 2013. A senior moment? I hope not! My review:

leaving time jacketPicoult’s newest novel, “Leaving Time” (Ballantine Books, 416 pages, $28.00) will satisfy fans of authors like Stephen King. (King contributes praise on the back of the dust jacket: “Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance.”). And, of course, it will meet or exceed the expectations of Picoult’s fans worldwide.
Told in Rashomon form (“The Rashomon effect is contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. The phrase derives from the movie Rashomon, where four witnesses’ accounts of a rape and murder are all different” –Wikipedia) by Alice Metcalf; her 13-year-old daughter, Jenna; former police officer Virgil Stanhope, and psychic Serenity Jones, “Leaving Time” is a love story, a murder mystery and an account of elephant behavior that will remind you that we’re all basically alike as animals.

Don’t, dear reader, skip to the end to find out what happens in “Leaving Time.” I’ll make an exception, though: You might want to read the author’s note beginning on Page 399 to find out about elephant poaching and the efforts of people to save these magnificent animals. Picoult’s novel centers on a fictional elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire, but, in the author’s note, she describes the real-life elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. and other efforts to protect the animals from poachers, who kill elephants for their ivory, which is shipped to China.

Jenna, who lives with her grandmother, has devoted her life to find her missing mother, Alice, an expert in elephant behavior. Alice is married to fellow elephant expert, Thomas Metcalf, who operates an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire — and shares her views about elephant behavior, especially their grieving rituals.

In succession, Jenna contacts a psychic, Serenity Jones, and Virgil Stanhope, the police officer who investigated the incidents at the Metcalf elephant sanctuary that included the disappearance of Alice Metcalf. Jenna has studied the journals of her mother, a scientist who investigated grief among elephants. Jenna hopes that the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

I won’t say anything more about the plot of “Leaving Time.” Read it yourself and prepare to be surprised at the ending.
About the author

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers “The Storyteller,” “Lone Wolf,” “Between the Lines,” “Sing You Home,” “House Rules,” “Handle with Care,” “Change of Heart,” “Nineteen Minutes,” and “My Sister’s Keeper.” She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

For an Oct. 17, 2014 video of her being interviewed on CBS:

Her website:

* * *

Reviewer’s Note: Elephant preservation was the subject of a novel, “The Roots of Heaven,” by French author Romain Gary, made into a movie in 1958, starring Errol Flynn (in his last major role), Juliette Greco and Trevor Howard. I’m going to see if I can find the movie, which I saw many years ago. Along with another movie that I love, one made in the 1970s, “Save the Tiger,” it’s far ahead of its time.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Even This I Get to Experience’: Norman Lear Spills His Guts in Page-Turner Memoir


Let me say it flat out at the beginning: Norman Lear’s memoir “Even This I Get to Experience” (The Penguin Press, a member of the Penguin Group USA, 464 pages, glossy photo insert, no index, $32.95) is the best show-business memoir I’ve read since I read and reviewed the late James Garner’s “The Garner Files.” (My Nov. 5, 2011 review, which ‘garnered” more comments than any review I’ve written: Garner died on July 19, 2014.

Norman Lear book jacketThere are some similarities between the Connecticut-born (in 1922) Jew, Lear, and the Oklahoma-born (in 1928) Gentile: Both had parents who were troubled: ‘Garner’s father had a drinking problem and Garner’s stepmother liked to beat him with a spatula, until, at the age of 14 he decked her.’ (from my review).

Lear, whose creations — “All In The Family”, “Maude”, “The Jeffersons, ” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” “Fernwood 2 Night” — changed TV sitcoms forever — had a distant father, Herman King Lear, who always had a get-rich-quick scheme up his sleeve and served time in prison for attempting to sell phony bonds. During Herman’s absence, his mother left her son to live with relatives. All her life she remained oddly distant from her successful son — the very opposite of the classic Jewish mother.

Both Lear and Garner served their country in the military: Lear enlisting in the Army Air Corps and flying 52 missions in a B-17 bomber squad based in Foggia, Italy during World War II; Garner serving in combat with the army during the Korean War, being awarded a Purple Heart.

Lear, on his life so far:

In my ninety-plus years I’ve lived a multitude of lives. In the course of all these lives, I had a front-row seat at the birth of television; wrote, produced, created, or developed more than a hundred shows; had nine on the air at the same time; founded the 300,000-member liberal advocacy group People For the American Way; was labeled the “no. 1 enemy of the American family” by Jerry Falwell; made it onto Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List”; was presented with the National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton; purchased an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and toured it for ten years in all fifty states; blew a fortune in a series of bad investments in failing businesses; and reached a point where I was informed we might even have to sell our home. Having heard that we’d fallen into such dire straits, my son-in-law phoned me and asked how I was feeling. My answer was, “Terrible, of course,” but then I added, “but I must be crazy, because despite all that’s happened, I keep hearing this inner voice saying, ‘Even this I get to experience.’”

* * *

We learn in this memoir that the character Lear considers closest to his own persona is Maude Findlay, played by Bea Arthur. “Maude” ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978. The show was a spin-off from Lear’s most successful show, “All In The Family.” Maude first appeared on AITF, as Edith Bunker’s upscale, much-married and outspoken cousin.

Lear is very outspoken about his three marriages and the problems he had with the first two. He’s justifiably proud of his six children, aged 68 to 19. He writes that he incorporated events from his life and marriages, appropriately disguised, in his TV shows and feature films. This is only fitting: Writing teachers tell their students to write about what they know!

At their peak, his programs were viewed by 120 million people a week, with stories that dealt with the most serious issues of the day—racism, poverty, abortion —yet still left audiences howling with laughter.

But TV and politics are only a fraction of the tale. Lear’s early years were grounded in the harshness of the Great Depression, and further complicated by his parents’ vivid personalities. The imprisonment of Lear’s father, a believer in the get-rich-quick scheme, colored his son’s childhood. Lear writes that much of Archie Bunker is derived from his dad.

After the war, instead of finishing the last two years of college at Emerson College in Boston, he worked as a publicist in New York City. His show business career built steadily when he arrived in Los Angeles, especially after a powerful agent was in the audience the night Danny Thomas performed a nightclub routine written by Lear.

Not long after, he and writing partner Ed Simmons wrote for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis — and later Martha Raye and George Gobel — making him the highest paid comedy writer in the country. Cult movie fans should be grateful to him: When Rob Reiner, who considers Lear a second father, was looking for financing for his mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” Lear personally financed the movie and helped director Reiner find a distributor.

Lear’s memoirs are a treasure trove of stories…I just wish he and Penguin had included an INDEX! (There goes my rant! And there it ends!)

About the author

Norman Milton Lear, born in New Haven, CT, July 27, 1922, is the television producer of such groundbreaking sitcoms as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. He has received four Emmy awards, a Peabody, and the National Medal of Arts. As an advocate, Lear founded People For the American Way and supports First Amendment rights and other progressive causes.

His website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Down Size’: Laughter May be Best Medicine for People Seeking the Right Weight, Shape

Downsize jacketIf the Reader’s Digest category “Laughter is the Best Medicine” is still true, perhaps Ted Spiker’s weight-loss wisdom that he delivers with abundant humor in “Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success” (Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, foreword by Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., 288 pages, $25.95) may be the solution to your weight problem.

Or maybe not; Spiker’s pear-shaped body can’t be changed, he tells us in a book that could be shelved in the humor section of a bookstore just as easily as it could be in the health and fitness section.

About that pear-shaped body: Men’s pants aren’t designed for pear-shaped people, whose weight is concentrated in the butt, Spiker reminds us. So it will surprise absolutely no one that his wife’s post-pregnancy “Mom Jeans” turned out to be the best fitting pants he ever wore (Page 86).

When I observe the weird world of human size and shape, hardly anything surprises me these days. So I wasn’t shocked to find that Swedish advertising executives interviewed potential models outside an eating disorder clinic. (Page 97). Considering the gaunt look of the the mostly Eastern European women who are fashion models these days, I’m not surprised at Spiker’s revelation.

The twelve truths each have a chapter and are herded into three parts of four chapters each: Up Size: Getting Stuck; Down Size: Getting Going; and Your Best Size: Getting the Body You Want — for Good.

I don’t know what there is about the magic of 12-step programs, but we’re stuck with them, so we might as well get used to thinking in those terms. Among the twelve truths about successful weight loss, Spiker discusses such areas as temptation, frustration, nutrition, and inspiration. Some truths:

• Redefine the Definition of Data

• Leave Behind Your Extra Gland

• Think Process, Not Outcome

• Train Shorter, Train Harder

Not long after I finished the book a week or so ago, I heard “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor sing about males suffering from bleeding nipples on long-distance runs. I’m a dedicated walker, not a runner, and — if anything convinced me to stay away from joint-jarring running — those bleeding nipples did it! Does Spiker discuss this tender subject in his book? Of course he does! How could he resist the topic? And he not only participates in marathons and shorter runs, he also partakes of Iron Man competitions! One such race is detailed in the final chapter.

About that pear-shaped body that’s dogged Spiker all his life. He was asked by his own childhood doctor if his “feminine shape” embarrassed him at the beach. What a ridiculous question! Of course he was embarrassed by his girly shape: What guy wouldn’t be?

In the course of his writing numerous bestselling diet and health books, he’s consumed numerous burritos and other forms of no-no foots for those concerned with keeping in shape. He’s also eaten a 76-ounce steak (he doesn’t say where, but J&R’s on Long Island specializes in such gastronomical excesses (youtube: There’s also a place in Amarillo, TX that specializes in 72-ounce steaks: If you can eat one in a certain time period, it’s on the house.

Spiker combines science, personal stories, expert interviews, and advice in “Down Size”, making it an entertaining, field-tested, and research-based look at how men and women can finally find the body they want.







Ted Spiker

About the Author

Ted Spiker is co-author of the bestselling “You: The Owner’s Manual” series with Drs. Mehmet C. Oz and Michael Roizen and the bestselling “Abs Diet” series with David Zinczenko. An associate professor of journalism at the University of Florida, Spiker has worked as an editor at Men’s Health magazine, writes for many magazines, and is the author of Big Guy Blog for He lives in Gainesville, Florida.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson’: The Truth is Even Stranger Than the Legend


One of my favorite quotations — one that I’ve used before as a book review epigraph — comes from the 1962 movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” It’s probably my favorite Western, with a marvelous cast, including the luminous Vera Miles. (I had a crush on Ms. Miles, who played Marion Crane’s sister in “Psycho”).

Rebel Yell jacketThe quotation comes at the end of the John Ford-helmed film, starring John Wayne and James Stewart: Stewart plays idealistic lawyer Ransom Stoddard, who is credited with killing bully and all-round bad guy Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin. (Spoiler) Valance was actually killed by rancher Tom Doniphon, played to perfection by Wayne, firing at the same time as the novice shooter Ranse Stoddard. The exchange occurs decades later, at the funeral of Doniphon, where newspaper editor Maxwell Scott, learning who killed Valance, decides to stick with the original story — that Stoddard killed Valance:

Ransome Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

In the case of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (1824-1863) so much of the legend has become fact that it was with delight that I read S.C. Gwynne’s “Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson” (Scribner, 688 pages, illustrations, notes, appendixes, bibliography, $35.00).

I’ve reviewed many books on the Civil War, and this is far and away the best biography of a Civil War general that I’ve read. Gwynne’s book represents research on a monumental scale — befitting a man who is immortalized on an actual monument, the Stone Mountain (GA) one, along with Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.

“Rebel Yell” is about transformation, Austin, TX, resident Gwynne said in an interview published in his hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. Gwynne was particularly struck by how Thomas J. Jackson went from being an eccentric and unsuccessful science professor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to becoming the skilled general leading the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley campaign — in a mere 14 months.

If I had to pick any place in Virginia to live, I’d probably pick Lexington. I’ve been there and, along with Blacksburg, it’s one of my favorite towns in the Old Dominion. In addition to Washington and Lee University, the town of only 7,000 is also home to VMI. Both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried in Lexington.

Born in Clarksburg, VA, (later West Virginia), Jackson lacked the aristocratic lineage of Robert E. Lee, but he ended up being the general Lee trusted the most.

One of the legends of the Civil War is that all of the Confederate generals were outstanding — exemplifying what today could be called the “Lake Woebegone Effect.” Gwynne explodes that myth by describing incompetent Rebel generals who were almost as bad as Union commander George B. McClellan (1826-1885). Many of the colleagues — and opponents — of Jackson like him served in the Mexican War.

I knew that Jackson came from what later (June 20, 1863) became West Virginia, the only state that seceded from an existing state, but I wasn’t aware of all the details of his upbringing and family. I didn’t know that his sister, Laura Jackson Arnold, was loyal to the Union. In the appendix entry on what became of the characters in the book after the war, Gwynne notes that Laura became one of two women awarded membership in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Union veterans association. She died at age 80 in Buckhannon, WV in 1911.

Gwynne’s portraits of the generals who fought with and against Jackson are worth the price of the book. I kept thinking that if Lincoln had picked fellow Illinoisan U.S. Grant from the start, the war would have been over in a few months. (Yes, I know that Grant was an Ohio native and Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but it was in Illinois that that both men achieved their fame).

Displayed in the campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley and later at both battles of Bull Run (Manassas to the Confederates); Antietam (Sharpsburg to the Confederates}; Fredricksburg, and his final battle, Chancellorsville, Jackson’s tactics struck fear into the hearts of the Union generals who opposed him, often to the point where they considered him almost supernatural. Jackson also impressed foreign visitors and military observers, especially those from England. If you extrapolate enough, Stonewall Jackson was a big influence on Union generals as diverse as George H. Thomas and William T. Sherman.

Stonewall Jackson was shot on May 2, 1863, during the battle of Chancellorsville, by Confederate pickets. His left arm was amputated and he had injuries in his right arm. At first he appeared to be on the road to recovery, but his condition worsened and he died of pneumonia on May 10, 1863. He was only 39 years old. His last words were: “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Gwynne doesn’t indulge in hagiography; Jackson’s faults are covered. He was a deeply religious Presbyterian, a deacon even, but often his faith made him judgmental, blowing up incidents to the point where they seemed to be coming from a madman. His 1851 altercation with a fellow army officer named French in a military post in central Florida (today’s Polk County) named, ironically after Union general George Meade, the hero of Gettysburg, is a case in point. He saw French walking one day with a young female servant and jumped to the conclusion that his fellow officer was an adulterer.

Gwynne devotes considerable space to this and other incidents showing the judgmental beyond belief Jackson. Stonewall Jackson was quick to censure officers under his command, often ruining their careers for reasons that seem to be trivial. On the other hand, this enigmatic man was a loving husband to his first wife, Elinor “Ellie” Junkin Jackson — who died in childbirth — and later to his second wife, Anna, the mother of his only surviving child, Julia.

If you’re a Civil War buff — as I am — or if you’re just interested in wonderful biographies –as I am — “Rebel Yell” is a must-read book. It reads like a novel, but it’s based on extensive beyond belief research.

S.C. Gwynne




S.C. Gwynne
About the Author

S.C. “Sam” Gwynne is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared extensively in Time, for which he worked as bureau chief, national correspondent and senior editor from 1988 to 2000, and in Texas Monthly, where he was executive editor. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, and California Magazine. His previous book “Outlaw Bank” (co-authored with Jonathan Beaty) detailed the rise and fall of the corrupt global bank BCCI. He’s also the author of the best-seller “Empire of the Summer Moon.” He attended Princeton and Johns Hopkins and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Katie and daughter Maisie.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ava’s Adventure’: Children’s Picture Book Teaches Valuable Lesson


Disappointed that she can’t go on a snowboarding trip with her friend Lucas, Ava escapes to her room, where she finds that the power of imagination and her own creativity take her farther than any snowboard could.

Ava's Adventure coverThat scenario in “Ava’s Adventure” (Tilbury House Publishers, Thomaston, Maine, 32 pages, $16.95, ISBN-10: 0884483886 ISBN-13: 978-0884483885; available from and other sources) delivers a powerful and important message to young people — and their parents — in an excellent read-aloud or read individually book by Laura Pedersen, beautifully illustrated by Penny Weber.
One picture at the beginning of the book, spanning two pages (a “double truck” in newspaper lingo), shows Lucas and Ava saying good-bye on a snowy suburban street. There’s a foreclosure sign in front of one of the houses.

The message (at least as I read it): that the so-called “recovery” from the 2008 recession hasn’t helped everyone. Many people — perhaps Ava’s parents? — owe more on their houses than the house is worth. Ava’s mom and dad are doing their best, but they can’t afford everything on top of the art lessons for Ava and the violin lessons for her sister.

“Ava’s Adventure” is at once entertaining and educational. I loved this picture book and the message it delivers to today’s so often over-pampered children and recommend it to everybody.

About the Author and Illustrator

Author Laura Pedersen writes for The New York Times and is the author of Play Money, Going Away Party, Beginner’s Luck (chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection), Last Call, Heart’s Desire, The Sweetest Hours, and The Big Shuffle. In 1994, President Clinton honored her as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, Primetime Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman, and she writes for several well known comedians. Pedersen lives in New York City.

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Illustrator Penny Weber has worked on several books for Tilbury House, most recently Always Mom, Forever Dad by Joanna Rowland. She lives on Long Island.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Empire of Night’: Continuing the Saga of Kit Cobb, Newspaperman, Secret Agent in WWI England, Germany


The Empire of Night jacketIt’s appropriate, given that this year is the centennial of the start of the Great War — later World War I — that newspaperman Christopher Marlowe Cobb continues to be a larger than life figure in the third entry in the Kit Marlowe historical novel series by Robert Olen Butler: “The Empire of Night” (Mysterious Press, 384 pages, $26.00).

In the first entry, “The Hot Country” Cobb is battling German agents and Mexican bandits early in 1914 to get the story for his Chicago newspaper. (For my Oct. 1, 2012 review of “The Hot Country”:

In the second installment, “The Star of Istanbul” (For my oct. 11, 2013 review Cobb survives the 1915 sinking of the British ocean liner, Lusitania, to continue his spying and news reporting. He packs a mean Corona 3 typewriter — not to mention his Mauser pocket pistol.

In “The Empire of Night” it’s well into 1915 and Kit is now more spy than newspaper correspondent (his cover) as he’s delegated by President Woodrow Wilson’s spymaster Trask to see what the British and the Germans are up to.

He’s working undercover in a castle on the coast of Kent, not far from the White Cliffs of Dover, trying to determine what the castle’s owner, Sir Albert Stockman is up to. Stockman, originally of German descent, may be a secret agent of the Kaiser. To his surprise, Kit discovers that his beautiful, 50-something mother, world renowned actress Isabel Cobb, has made another amorous conquest: Stockman.

Starring in a touring production of Hamlet — dressed as a man, playing Hamlet — Isabel’s offstage role is to keep tabs on the supposed mole, who’s not only an ardent fan of Shakespeare but a man in love. We have the intriguing spectacle of a mother-son spy team.

One evening, Isabel Cobb and Stockman leave the seaside castle, heading for Germany. The Germans are using zeppelins — like the LZ 129 Hindenburg (Luftschiff Zeppelin #129) that exploded in New Jersey on May 6, 1937 — to bomb London.

I won’t give away any more of the plot of this elegant thriller, other than to say that Kit Cobb, using the alias of Joseph Hunter, is using his foreign correspondent cover to spy on Stockman and the Germans. This means that Kit Cobb will have to follow Isabel and Albert to the German capital, Berlin.

Like the previous two Kit Cobb entries, “The Empire of Night” is a meticulously researched page-turner that will appeal to spy novel buffs and lovers of historical novels, as well as any general reader intrigued with the power struggles of World War I. If you’ve never read a novel by Butler — one of the great stylists writing today — you’re in for a treat with “The Empire of Night.”
About the Author

Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of over a dozen novels, including Hell, A Small Hotel, and two previous installments of the Christopher Marlowe Cobb series, The Hot Country and The Star of Istanbul. He is also the author of six short collections and a book on the creative process, From Where You Dream. He has twice won a National Magazine Award in Fiction and received the 2013 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.

His website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 2’: Bod’s Story Concluded


Nobody Owens — AKA “Bod” — is a live boy being raised by dead people in a graveyard in the two-book graphic novel series adaptation based on the popular Neil Gaiman book, “The Graveyard Book”. The 2008 book won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 2009.

Graveyard vol2The second volume of the series resolves the story, containing Chapter Six to the end. It’s “The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Volume 2” (Harper, 176 pages, $19.99).
For my review of Vol. 1:

From the publisher:

It Takes a Graveyard to Raise a Child.

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead.

There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

Each chapter in this adaptation by P. Craig Russell is illustrated by a different luminary from the comic book world, showcasing a variety of styles from a breadth of talent. Together, they bring Neil Gaiman’s award-winning, nationally bestselling novel The Graveyard Book to new life in this gorgeously illustrated two-volume graphic novel adaptation.

Volume One contains Chapter One through the Interlude, while Volume Two includes Chapter Six to the end.

As I said in my review of Volume 1, the book is for children but can and will be enjoyed by young adults — and older ones, too!

Adapted by P. Craig Russell, the “Graveyard Book” Volume 2, like the first volume, is illustrated by an extraordinary team of renowned artists. Artists Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Galen Showman, Scott Hampton, and David Lafuente lend their own signature styles to create an imaginatively diverse and yet cohesive interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s luminous novel.

Neil Gaiman



Neil Gaiman
About Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s work has been honored with many awards internationally, including the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. His books and stories have also been honoured with 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, 6 Locus Awards, 2 British SF Awards, 1 British Fantasy Award, 3 Geffens, 1 International Horror Guild Award and 2 Mythopoeic Awards. Gaiman was born Nov. 10, 1960 in Portchester, England.