Category: Book reviews


I’ve been reading “Cheyenne Summer, The Battle of Beecher Island A History” (Pegasus $27.95 9781643137100) these past few weeks.  I almost put it down and returned it to the public library, but “pressed on”, in the lingo of those U.S. Army Calvary Generals Sheridan, Fetterman, Major Forsythe, Custer (yes that “Custer of “the last stand”) and Beecher who Terry  quotes often. The complete and teasing Introduction sets the table and is why I kept reading through the 270 enlightening hardcover pages!

Depending upon how you feel about the conquest or resettlement of native Americans (“Indians” when I was growing up), or as is fashionable to say nowadays, “indigenous peoples” (not bad, I kinda like it), this book is either historically neutral and exciting, uncomfortable, sad, disturbing or adventurous.

Civil War, U.S. post civil war Calvary buffs and early American expansionist railroad enthusiasts will love the accurate descriptions of weapons, injuries, attire and the politics of those days.  The read reminded me of, and brought to mind the many “Cowboy and Indian” movies I watched as a young man growing up in the 1960s through the 1980s, and in-particular, 1964’s “Cheyenne Autumn”, starring Richard Widmark, James Stewart, Sal Mineo Ricardo Montaban and Carroll Baker, which is why it caught my eye on the library’s “new” shelf; but I digress… This book is a precise read and even gives credit to the freed slave men or “Buffalo” soldiers (so named by the Indians because they wore coats made of Buffalo hide during the harsh plains winters). Mr. Mort spends most of the pages setting-up the events on the continental plains east of Missouri that lead to a questionably “decisive” battle between the Calvary “Scouts” and the Cheyenne Indian nation with other tribes supporting them.  The battle is rather anti-climatic, except for the demise of one of the apparently greatest and fearless Cheyenne warriors, Roman Nose, who Mort gives graphic descriptions of throughout the book!

You’ll be able to put together the various historical aspects of how our country applied “manifest destiny” – a term I’d not read since high school – to justifying the rapacious [one of several new words I learned from the book] advance from the east coast to the west, including frequent mentions of how the “gold rush” and those 49ers played a huge part in perpetuating it.   

I would have enjoyed more photos of the battle scene in the picture pages, but forgive on that due to available photography in the late 1800s.  With the recently apparent denial of true history by too many people, this is an even more necessarily compelling read and could even be a supporting class assignment on the high school or college level! I learned much by suffering through it.  Therefore, I scalp it with 4.5 tomahawks!!

Remember, history is our reflection and available so that succeeding generations do not repeat past mistakes!

**Pick Hit…”I love ‘Cheyenne Summer’ as a first and middle name for a girl!

Now, my take on the last book from my summertime night table reading stack (see my post of July 11, 2021).  Daniel James Brown’s Facing The Mountain, A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II” (Viking $30.00 9780525557401) recounts the reaction of our country at-large against Japanese Americans, in the wake of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – 80 years ago, next month, as I write this review. As I read the chapters, I couldn’t help but notice, and am awestruck by how much our Black- American and Japanese-American soldier’s World War II experiences have in-common.  You see, I am the son of a career U.S. Army man who fought within the 369th Field Artillery unit out of Harlem, U.S.A.  I remember him alluding to much similar discrimination by segregation within the U.S. Armed forces, even though the enemy’s bullets did not differentiate race when they found their mark. It would be like if Africa was one country and it attacked us, all suspected African Americans would be round-up and sent off to concentration camps.  The misplaced resentment against Japanese Americans also ran so deep, that even after the young Japanese American G.I. proved their patriotism in battle, they were not easily welcomed back home, to the point that one barber shop owner justified it by saying, “They all look alike to me.”  Hell, that’s what I heard said about black Americans back in the 1960s!
Brown’s spotless set-up straps you into your seat-belt for a six-part saga of a people mistrusted, who then excelled against all odds. Reading a chapter or so per night, I only closed the book to sleep and with anticipation of what the next Part would describe and I’m challenged here, to validly convey the accuracy and compassion of his reporting the events which led to the battlefield confrontations with Hitler’s forces in WWII.  What the doughty Nisei soldiers overcame should be read by every American, no matter your ethnic background – especially in these trying times.  One can truly see that, as the saying goes, “It could be a lot worse!” after reading this volume of valiance.
Chapter 19 is a standout exhale and great change of pace.  Brown even fills-in the blanks about what happened to the deep-voiced, late, great U.S. Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, who I noticed once on TV, had only one arm.  He is but one of many real characters we meet by name and family history in this true story. A personal glow came over me when I read page 382, about how one of the 442nd battalion’s assignments took them to Menton,  near the French Riviera, where they saw white zinnias among other beautiful flowers.  I sold zinnia flower seeds door-to-door in my neighborhood as a boy, to earn prizes depicted on the backs of the comic books I read and had forgotten all about that! “Mountain” contains many reminders of why history is as important to study now, more than ever, as he recounts how the inhumanity nationalistic madmen, bent upon world dominance, can inflict needless suffering upon other men, women and children – and which we, collectively, must never let happen again on our planet. Often chilling and painful to reflect upon, but always riveting, educational reading.  5 out-of-five WWII field artillery canons.

In a prior post, I promised to review at least one of the books on my summer 2021 bedside reading stack. There may be another one, but this tome clearly engaged more of my curiosity and summer reading time than the others. One of my favorite aisles at my local public library is the “New Best Sellers”.  So, when “A Boob’s Life – How America’s Obsession Shaped me…And You” (Pegasus $27.95 9781643136226) caught my eyes, I knew it was not another mid-summer night’s walking in my sleep dream, put on the brakes and stepped-back to examine it; soon adding it to my borrows that day.

Upon the early pages, I thought, “Geez, another angry b**** book,  I’m not gonna read much of this for long – take it back to the library…”  I never did so, even though she vituperates several natural and innocent bastions of male comeuppance, like Playboy magazine.  Moving through the chapters, it is so detailed, that she must have been constantly taking notes, or has an incredibly accurate memory of events!

Ms. Lehr writes from a – z about her family life; giving the reader a whole tour, from the time her Princeton grad father baptized her over a swimming pool diving board to be able to do “whatever [she] put her mind to”, to secret family photos , the infatuation with Marilyn Monroe and her dysfunctionally abusive, former U.S. Marine Corps first husband (no surprise there).  That she pulls back the curtain on the fallacies of major beauty pageants, the misogyny of a certain “President” who many recently suffered under and coins phresh phrases like “comparative empathy” and “breasts have the power to feed or kill us…” (Whoa!), kept me turning the pages. I could understand it when she wrote how, “Breast cancer ruined an entire color for me.”

Although I believe that she aimed this autoboobography primarily at the female feminist demographic, I, as a man, learned much about the female experience, including several new words and phrases for my vocabulary; the favorite of which is “de`colletage”! I also learned, “oeuvre”, “hand bra” and about “messy leaking”.  Wow.  I love any work that sends me to my huge, big dictionary!

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Honestly, this read gave me a new respect level for women, who are truly a whole different species (as I’ve always maintained), with very special “plumbing” needs. I’ve adjusted, am “scared straight” and will revisit case-by-case, while remaining a suave bachelor “breast man” (lol) in those flirty situations “in the hunt”, for that extra special one, whose I can tenderly examine and care for:-j

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In a personal ironic twist, a chapter in this book about boobs reminded me of when I sold Christmas cards door-to-door in my boyhood neighborhood for a microscope and other prizes!  OMG  It is during this point in the book where she sounds miffed, as we follow her booby journey from pre-puberty through a tragic adult happenstance.

“A Boob’s Life” is clever, amusing and modestly entertaining initially, uncomfortable for the medically squeamish (like me) in the middle – with a nice photo album section mid-stream – and inclusively optimistic by her last word – “life”.  No matter what shape your gender is in, I recommend it with five (5) out-of-a-possible-five lipsticks –

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(I couldn’t locate any pix of ‘five boobs’ to use).

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If you are an Achilliad frequent-flyer, you know I was an English/Communications (double) Major at the university and that I review or report on books I read, from time-to-time. Its much more pleasurable to read for fun and information than for a grade, by the way! So this season, I have a new reason to try a different angle: letting you VIPs see what is on my bedside bookshelf reading list this summer!

I don’t promise to review or report on all of these, but in any event, they caught my eyes at the library long enough to bring home for a closer look!

Of particular note is “A Boob’s Life”, by Leslie Lehr, which hooked me – maybe because I’m a “breast man” – long enough to tap into my curiosity about how women really feel (no pun intended) about their titties. I am into it already and the author seems kind of angry with historic purpose.

The other hottie at my bedside is Daniel James Brown’s “Facing The Mountain”, which is about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack on us during World War II. Fascinatingly relevant on so many levels to our American circumstances even here in the summer of 2021.

“Little Fires Everywhere”, by Celeste Ng, is a novel that just cannot seem to snag my attention long enough to finish – it drags a bit, despite excellent reviews when it came out. I want to see it through, but may have to purchase it if I run out of library renews.

On the historical tip is Ronald C. White’s “Lincoln In Private”, which are the written etchings of the man who many hold up as our greatest American President, Abraham Lincoln. It is a kind of “behind-the-scenes” look at the notes he wrote in-between crafting and delivering his lectures and speeches about the issues during his times; some of it resonates to our collective current calamities.

So that’s IT! As the public service announcement used to say, “Reading Is FUNdamental!”Have a good reading summer, wherever your travels take you, and maybe we can compare notes and opinions in the Autumn.

During an interview published in  the January 2020 issue of AARP Magazine, Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis was asked if she talks to her 10-year-old daughter about the differences between their childhoods. She ended her thoughtful answer with, “And I’m not trying to say that I’m making her grow up passive or milquetoast. But empathy is in short supply today.”  Empathy; one of the many important bases that veteran CBS news reporter and anchorman, Dan Rather, along with Emmy Award winning filmmaker and journalist, Elliot Kirshner touch in their very timely book,  What Unites Us: Reflections On Patriotism (Algonquin $22.95 9781616207823).  This book came out in 2017, but it could have been written in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 insurrection riot on our Capitol, encouraged by “you-know-who”.

Shining a mirror upon us and our democracy’s nervous times, these reflections are like a Social Studies class refresher course (especially if you went to public school  in a major market, prior to the 1990s). It is where memoir meets history book.

Back in my television watching days, I always made time to tune into Mr. Rather anchoring the CBS Evening News broadcast when I could.  He was the logical successor to Walter Cronkite and ranks among my favorite anchors with Chet Hutley & David Brinkley, Douglas Edwards, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Max Robinson and Connie Chung.

The gentlemen take us on a cautionary journey, with his early 20th century rural Houston, Texas roots the backdrop against which he reminds and teaches how our country, The United States of America has been better; falters and then steps back up when non-partisanship prevails, cementing all of us together, against many odds. I loved when he challenged some who conveniently try to say they are more “patriotic” than others.

I found the chapter, “Steady”, most enlightening.  Especially page 259, where he writes about the Korean War and its effect upon our country, to be the most enlightening and insightful because that is the conflict which is rarely talked about and which was not addressed in-depth during my school days. Maybe because I was to young to have experienced it in real time, in college by the time it was written about in text books and because I had a real close uncle who served there.

At times it seems that he is speaking directly to the 45th “President” and his ilk without naming names, not harping upon them, but giving equal thought to both ends of the political and philosophical spectrum as only a well-traveled professional broadcaster and news reporter can.  His reporting, and that of his colleagues was never “fake”, as some of the privileged characters who he alludes to would have us believe.

If ever our country needed a dose of true history and togetherness encouragement from one of its citizens, it is now.  Rather’s book should be required educational reading across the land in public, voucher, charter and parochial schools (all of which he writes about); churches, cafeterias, coffee shops, colleges and private clubs (with discussions to follow)!  My rating is five-out-of-five American flags.  

This is the autobiographical memoir story of the first half of a life whose backdrop lays bare a dysfunctional family environment which she could not jettison as she grew older, only to rise above all, to superstardom; of talent and belief in self over drama.

I never cared whether Mariah Carey was Caucasian or just a light-skinned black American; in-fact, I figured she was “mixed” the first time I held one of her records in my hot DJ hands, without a second thought – obviously she wrestled with it.  Candid and insightful, Mariah and Michaela Angela Davis write a mix of slang and sesquipedalian words, in The Meaning Of Mariah Carey (Andy Cohen/Henry Holt, $29.99 978125016468), and I must admit that the co-author’s name threw me a bit, being a fan of the activist, philosopher, former Black Panther and professor with a similar moniker.

In describing her life in four parts, she amazingly defies poor decisions to thrive on the world’s greatest musical stages!

Making questionable decisions with some men, which were not in the ilk of her Army veteran father, who she loved, but did not strive to stay with and emulate, her descriptions of affairs saddened me.  I liked how she injected her  various song lyrics into the chapters and you will notice increasing mentions of God as her storied read progresses.

Also, I learned that her father’s trademark linguine dish is also one of my favorites to make!

As a music radio disc jockey at the height of my career during her Tommy Mottola marriage period, knowing what I’d heard about him, I always found it troublesome and curious as to why she married him!  It led to her post-Mottola “melt down”, which she totally could have avoided, in my opinion.  Maybe I like her less as a person – but more than many who I mention her to – as a result of the revelations here, but still will always enjoy her music. She mentions “radio” often and its a wonder our paths never crossed! Maybe cause I’m such a fan (“lamb” as she calls us) and was in that same music business on the radio DJ side during her times of struggle – part of my 40 years on the air – that its so difficult to read about the family hand she was dealt and her not understanding that her mother was emotionally conflicted.  Then when she “made it” was surprised they would try to soak her for endless “loans”, which would never be repaid. Not a totally unfamiliar scenario, but Ms. Carey seemed not to see it coming. Fortunately, her music saved her life.

Unfortunately, the story, with its great middle photo-album section, never speaks about her having higher education, like college, which may have trained her mind to recognize those who would try to use her fame to their advantage. Yes, the recording studio was her solace, as she kept trying to believe, even seeking a therapist, that family would change; they seldom DO.

Mariah also wrote this tome to set the record straight about how she became “the high-priced spread”, to push back against what the tabloid press puts out there about her life and struggles, “In her own words”, as the cliché goes.  I’m surprised she doesn’t mention the great Smokey Robinson in her “Few Words About Great Men” chapter, where she clearly adores fellow Motown hall of famer, Stevie Wonder’s lyrical musicianship and writing genius; I’d love to hear a Smokey & Mariah duet!

I kept this book on my bedside night table and read a chapter per night, since I saw it in the “Bestsellers” section at my local public library; Covid-19 library closures allowed me to keep the volume longer, and so, Mimi got into my dreams a few times – I guess I was concerned about her! For me, ‘the meaning of Mariah Carey’ is, “its in the Mix.”  I recommend this book for both Lambs (her fans) and casual popular music lovers alike, with five stars.


In The Watergate Girl, My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President
[Henry Holt & Co. $28, 9781250244321], Jill Wine-Banks combines vignettes from her inspirational and touching personal memoir with her work as the first Washington, D.C female Assistant Prosecutor, which happened to be during the Watergate Scandal, helping to develop the case against President Richard Nixon and his associates in the early 1970s, into an exciting read.

You’ll not want to put this book down (even though I did so, in order to sleep), as it may remind you of the immorality of the current White House (page 141).

Over 47 years ago, Ms. Wine (as she was known as at that time) dutifully made her way, with educational skills and class without sass, up the sexist boy’s club legal ladder, ultimately to become General Counsel of the US Army during the Carter Administration; but on the way, became an assistant Watergate prosecutor. This refreshing page-turner is far from all dry legalese, as plenty personal spice and feminine reality becomes the mortar between the jurisprudence.

I couldn’t help but compare her description to the current group of “plumbers” , thugs and the GOP criminal wannabees (Senate Majority leader), who are against most of our open society citizens and hell-bent on undoing us better than Nixon tried to do, via narrow loopholes in our eighteenth-century-modeled Constitution.

The parallels of history repeating itself (Epilogue) in a very scary way are very apparent. For example, Mr. Trump assaults challengers to his lies with outrageous stories like Phyllis Schafly did, post, H2Ogate about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for American women!

Additionally, you’ll be able to draw the comparisons between the way both men hate the news media, act in ways that show they think they are above the law, to the similar street protests – excited in the Nixon case by the dismissal of Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox – against their policies and policing; the corruption is the same. We only need another “Jilly Bean” (as one of her K Street colleagues nicknamed her) these days to save us similarly.

If you lived through the Nixon-Watergate scandal years, you already know that “law and order” really translates to a code that suggests police mistreat and incarcerate anybody except angry Caucasian-American men in-general. There are so many names which were the backdrop of my undergraduate university years in this book, like Ehrlichman, Haldeman, John Mitchel, Leon Jaworski and Judge Sirica, plus a neat photo section, that the read was like a reunion! Two other great names that she writes about are the first black American elected to Congress from Texas since emancipation, Congresswomen Barbara Jordan and and Brooklyn’s own, Elizabeth Holtzman!

“The Watergate Girl” could be required reading for a Political Science class these days for anyone under fifty years of age, who wants to understand how history is repeating itself in a very negative way due to the criminality of Donald Trump and his hand-picked gang of (often only “acting”) administration members. You will learn what the “Saturday Night Massacre” was all about. I came away reassured that we cannot, in good conscious, re-elect a man who has openly obstructed justice, soiled the office of the United States Presidency, cavorted with Russia (who would like take us over for many reasons), was impeached and continues to selfishly be a pall on the highest and most respected executive office in our country.

Although I borrowed this volume from my fantastic, new local public library, I plan to purchase a copy for my personal collection. I am not a television watcher, so can only take her word for her MSNBC accolades. Yet, anytime I read a book, cover-to-cover in seven days, it is worth five, compellingly fun, fascinating and readable stars in my “book”!

My summer, 2019 reading list includes this gem I found at the local public library:

Neil Armstrong was one strange dude. It was that quality that allowed him to be the first man on the moon.

Shoot for the Moon, The Space Race and The Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11” [Little Brown, May 2019] is a magnificent chronology of the space race from when the USSR (Russians) were the only participants in 1957. It educates about the history, personalities, characters, successes and failures of America’s quest to put a man on the moon and of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) team leaders with familiar names to me from my boyhood like Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz and Walter Cronkite – because all of this was on television when there were only seven channels and during the beginning of color TV!

This tale is a reality check because it shows what humankind can achieve when inspired to pull together towards the same goal. It reminds also of a saying or lyric that goes, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
I learned terms like “machine systems, CGM, LM training” and about the statuesque stack known as the Saturn V rocket which boosted our men towards the moon.

Its a story of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronaut families; of various contractors doing the unimaginable on a shoestring budget in today’s terms. Of luck and skill at problem solving which began at the end of World War II and how America recruited some former Nazi rocket builders (the movie “Operation Crossbow” comes to mind), led by Wernher Von Braun to help us catch and overtake the Soviets to win the race to the moon (a story in and of itself).

It will take you back to when mathematicians had to really think and solve problems, and the smallest computers were the size of a six-pack beer cooler; ingenious solutions to complex and urgent problems on-the-fly, literally!
The accurate descriptions amazed me like on page 371, when he describes meticulously how they were preparing for the EVA after Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the moon.

If you’re like me, you’ll feel like you’ve been to the moon and back after you’ve read Mr. Conrad’s final word of the Epilogue. The two multi-photo pages are informative (the Soviets attempts) and literally outta this world! Educators! This book should be required reading in every history, social studies and science classroom. It was such an exciting book, I hated to return it to the library! So, I’m gonna have to buy one for my personal atheneum.

The tome wraps with extensive notes, a bibliography such as I’ve not seen since my college days and a complete index. Five moons!

[May, 2019 while hassling a relocation]

Growing up through my mid-teens, my main sports heroes were Roberto Clemente, Roger Maris, Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath. The latter were two of the most controversial athletes of my comeuppance – that’s one of the main reasons I admired them! Back then, controversy was not sleazy or tabloid like the “reality tv” gossip is today – often catty. It was the beginning of the end of the “Ossie and Harriet era” (if you don’t know what that means, it is your first “homework” assignment after you finish reading this blog post).

Had you happened into my college dorm room, you would have seen this life-size poster, sans the text, on our wall next to my top bunk.

I wonder where I got it from and where is it now? Probably was a casualty of one of the floods that happened while I had stuff stored at my parent’s house back in the mid-1980s. Sad. Regardless, I discovered pro football on TV around the time that the NY Titans became the New York Jets; Pops was a Giant fan.

Consequentially, I smiled to myself with anticipation when I learned of Joe’s new book that came out in May, “All The Way, My Life In Four Quarters” [Little Brown and Company, May 2019] ! Having read a couple of other biography-style books about Joe “Willie” Namath, mainly penned by sports writers through the years, I was first impressed that he, himself wrote this one with a little help from his friends Sean Mortimer and Don Yaeger.

The backdrop (or “drop back to pass”) is Mr. Namath reviewing Super Bowl III from his present kitchen table as he scrutinizes his life simultaneously. He writes about his traditional Catholic family, Hungarian roots, upbringing in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and his two main football coaching influences, his high school coach, Larry Bruno and the late Paul “Bear” Bryant of the University of Alabama (“Go TIDE!”,he would say here). While Joe relives the greatest win of his professional football career, he self-analyses his foibles, like drinking too many adult beverages (the Suzy Kolber interview) and how he’s now defeated those foes also. I’m impressed that he tells of still working out regularly on those famous knees, both of which were surgically replaced! Throughout the book he takes you inside the huddle, calling a quarterback sneak (I used to love when he did that!), back when quarterbacks were trusted to call their own plays, and the next moment, he describes events like why he came to wear his trademark white shoes and sport a Fu Manchu mustache for a while.

My favorite quote from the book is by his mother, and was uttered on the heels of one of Namath’s first experiences with racial segregation. The victim of a shopkeeper’s prejudice was his lifelong best friend, Linwood, and his mom explained, “There are some people in this world who are so sad and angry that they find ways (reasons) not to like other people.”

There is a neat little photo album section just about half-way into the tome, which includes his family, sports memories and candid, introspective moments. “First down!”

At 232 pages, “All The Way” is a solid, enjoyable, easy autobiographical read whether you are a Jet fan or not. The only thing missing is an index, so I could quickly refer back to the many highlights of his story (like describing my all-time favorite Jets defensive back, Johnny Sample, who talked smack in competition like Ali did). Joe is aging well, thanks be to St. Jude. I cannot wait to purchase a copy and hopefully have him autograph it for my personal book library. Five-out-of-five footballs is my rating. Way to go, Joe!

A steamy book by a new Author crossed my desk during the recently past holidays. “Brave New Woman (Brave New World)” by Lena Rose [Independent, October 31, 2018; 197 pages] is the kind of book I have never read, afraid it might plant sexy seeds in my mind, which I might not be able to grow when I put it down.

I am admiringly amused by the stalk of Indian corn on the cover as a phallic symbol – a hint of what’s to come (pun intended). Here, Rose combines historical facts with the theme of forbidden love, into an erotic thriller which hooked itself to my bedside table by the third chapter; I read a chapter nightly before I turned the light out to sleep during the past couple of weeks. I don’t want to hint at the story-line, lest I spoil the drama for you, but the twists and turns had me rooting for one of the main characters, who reminded me of the 1973 hit song by Cher, “Half-Breed”.

Its not easy to pen a good novel – or “novella” as she describes it. Lena employs all the right ingredients: the inciting incident, complications, crisis, climax and resolution in the graphically described erotic narrative. Her vividly accurate descriptions show the research she must have done into that period of American history.

The line spacing throughout the pages makes it an easier on the eyes read. Yet, missing is a publisher company name (she can make one up which suits her) on the lower back cover (with logo), and a title page preceding the Table of Contents. Also, maybe a dedication page would be cool there too!

Upon conclusion, she unabashedly asks for reviews on the same last page – before the reader can fully digest the final scenes. That gave me pause, seemed slightly dilettante (I guess because of eagerness for her first self-published book to do well) and therefore, I compliment this story with four-out-of-five fountain pens and recommend you add it to your library bookshelf.

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If you’ve been here before,

*Pickkhitt: which bringz to mind…another classic record from my pre-radio DJ days, listening to “Musicradio77WABC, New York City” You know I always end a post with a song