Book Review

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Barbara Lynn Greif

Barbara Lynn Greif has spent her whole life creating art in varying forms and used her skills to launch an award-winning advertising agency here on Long Island. Greif also earned accolades in 2012 when she wrote and illustrated her first children’s book, “Born From the Heart,” about her journey to adopt her first daughter, Victoria, from China. Since then, the Huntington resident has adopted a second daughter, Gianna, whose kind spirit inspired Greif to write “Gianna’s Magical Bows,” an imaginative and sweet rhyming story about helping others.

Were you always artistic?

Yes, my father, who also had artistic talent, taught me how to paint at age 6, and we discovered that I had a real gift for it. From that point on, all that I could think about was painting and drawing, and I was empowered to excel as an artist.

You have a background in fine art. What did you hope to do for a career?

I had a childhood dream of becoming a cartoonist and painter. I even created my own cartoon strips, which I envisioned would someday appear in newspapers across the country.

I carried all of these artistic aspirations from elementary school through high school. It led me to go to one of the best design colleges in the country, the renowned Parsons School of Design in New York City. At Parsons, I was able to explore all of my options for a career in art and design. I chose to study communication design and earned a bachelor’s of fine arts degree.

I had to face the reality that painting would not be a lucrative career direction to take. My studies in communication design helped me to refine my skills and become a graphic designer in the advertising field.

After graduating college, I had a variety of jobs in Manhattan — a graphic designer, a product and package designer, a toy designer and an art director. After gaining all of this experience, I was ready to pursue my dream of opening my own full-service advertising agency on Long Island, which I called The Sketching Pad.

How did writing fit into your life?

Writing played a big role for me working in advertising. I was the copywriter for all of the ads created for my clients at my agency — I wrote the text for all of the print ads and television commercials.

What inspired you to write for children?

I dabbled in the effort to write a children’s book during my time running The Sketching Pad, but I didn’t actually pursue it until after my husband and I adopted our first child, Victoria, from China in 2003. The experience of traveling back and forth to China and the whole adoption process was so heartwarming, and it inspired me to write and illustrate “Born From the Heart.” The process of telling Victoria’s story created a new passion in me for creating children’s books.

When did you decide to write this book?

I decided to write and illustrate “Gianna’s Magical Bows” a few years after my husband and I adopted our second child, Gianna, from China. We adopted her at age 3 in 2012. When Gianna saw that I wrote and illustrated a book for my older daughter, Victoria, she told me that she wanted me to write and illustrate a book about her, too.

Gianna is a very caring and giving person who loves to wear a bow in her hair every day. She loves to help people in need — her kindhearted nature is magical. I wanted to base the story on Gianna’s desire to help people out of the goodness of her heart. If she had magical powers, I know she would help everyone in the world.

What is your creative process like?

First I write the story, then I illustrate the pictures. “Gianna’s Magical Bows” took me three months to write and two years to illustrate. When writing a children’s book, I only write in rhyme. It comes very naturally to me, and once I start the writing process it seems to flow very easily. When I’m done with writing the story, I picture in my mind what illustrations would look best for each page, then do rough drawings before working on the final illustrations. I like my illustrations to be bold and colorful.

What message do you hope to pass on to the reader?

I hope children who read “Gianna’s Magical Bows” will strive to be helpful to others and to get along with people, no matter what race, color or religion that they may be.

Is there an ideal age for this book?

The book is meant for ages 6 and up, but I hope that adult readers will enjoy it, too.

Do you hope to continue writing?

Yes, I hope to continue writing and illustrating children’s books. It is one of my passions. I look forward to getting started on my next book soon.

Where can this book be purchased?

The book can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Xlibris Publishers. It is available in print and as an e-book.

Reviewed by Leah Chiappino

Many Long Islanders have come to think of the former state psychiatric hospitals as mere eyesores, or frankly nuisances, as they are often sites for horror seekers and rebellious teenagers to trespass. However, as told by Joseph M. Galante, a former state hospital worker, in his new book “Long Island State Hospitals,” the mental health facilities were once practically their own metropolis. The book is a part of the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing.

In the late 1800s, the city of New York transferred a few dozen patients to what was then called the St. Johnland farm colony, in hopes they would benefit from an outdoor experience. Another facility was opened in Central Islip, and in 1931 Pilgrim State was constructed to house the growing population of the mentally ill on Long Island.

Above, common features at all the state hospitals were the ornate stone buildings and neatly manicured grounds. The early 1900s image shows one of the buildings at Kings Park State Hospital in its heyday. 

The intake grew so large that Pilgrim State holds the record for the world’s largest psychiatric facility, with nearly 15,000 patients by 1955. Galante states the hospital’s principles focused on moral therapy, and they are “remembered for their legacy of humility, beneficence and a devotion to the mentally ill.” He assures readers practices like electrotherapy were only used in extreme cases, contrary to the commonly held belief that the patients were treated inhumanely.

This seems to be true from the beginning of its history. The St. Johnland facility had its name changed to Kings Park in 1891 and in 1898 graduated its first class of nurses. By then, each hospital had many independent medical surgical buildings, stores, powerhouses, a full-scale farm and ward buildings. The institutions became so self-sustainable that they produced as much as two-thirds of the food consumed there.

The Kings Park facility even had what they called York Hall, where patients would watch movies, play basketball, perform shows and attend functions. The facility also had its own water tower, railroad station, space for masonry work, independent fire and police force and the Veterans Memorial Hospital, which was a group of 17 buildings used to treat veterans that came home from World War I with mental conditions.

The staff at Kings Park provided 24-hour care to patients and worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week prior to the start of the 20th century. Men earned between $20 and $40 a month, while women earned between $14 and $18. They were granted uniforms, rubber coats and boots, food, laundry services, lodging and “chicken and candy every Sunday.”

Patients were encouraged to work within the facility, but were not forced. When they were not working, they engaged in social and recreational events, as well as attended medical clinics and occupational and psychiatric therapies. Up until the 1940s, there was an emphasis on dance, music, art and cooperative activities as a form of therapy.

Ultimately, the book shows a refreshing portrait of three institutions that were such an instrumental part of Long Island’s history. Pictures range from the 1925 Kings Park Fireman Squad to a heartwarming photo of nurses at Central Islip celebrating the 105th birthday of a woman with no family who received no visitors for decades.

There are also many photos of recreational activities, including a holiday celebration for patients wearing party hats, which masks the ominous bars on the window in the background.

Anyone who has ever driven around the Nissequogue River State Park, and has a feeling of curiosity about what was once there should without fail pick up the book, which provides a productive answer to curiosity, without the reader breaking a trespassing ordinance.

“Long Island State Hospitals” is available locally where books are sold and online at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Images courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

The cover of Kim Marino's first book.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Above, a little girl enjoys reading ‘Sloths Are Slow.’

As a mother of four busy children and a full-time speech pathologist, Kimberly Marino of Miller Place is constantly thinking about kids. In particular, she’s passionate about engaging children in conversation, interaction and learning. In May, she published her first children’s book, “Sloths Are Slow.” 

Marino has crafted an entertaining and accessible rhyming story about a sloth named Lento (which means “slow” in Spanish) and his rain forest friends. Along the way, readers will learn some interesting facts about sloths while practicing counting, gestures, following directions and more. 

The book is visually stunning as well, featuring artwork by Mariya Stoyanova. It is the perfect pick for sneaking some developmental skills into story time.

Were you a creative child? Did you always want to be a writer?

I never really thought much about writing as a kid, but I was always creative. I liked to draw. My mind is always working and I’m always coming up with ideas. My friend and I actually invented a language game for kids that we were able to sell, so there is definitely a creative spark inside of me.

What did you study in college, and where did you end up working?

I went to school for elementary education at a small school in Pennsylvania called Lock Haven University, and then I got a master’s in speech from Hofstra. I now provide speech services through a company called Metro Therapy. I also work with children from birth through age 3 through Suffolk County Early Intervention.

The cover of Kim Marino’s first book.

What inspired you to write a children’s book?

I’ve had the idea in the back of my head for a long time. Being a speech pathologist means I’m always thinking about language and helping kids develop their language acquisition skills. When my kids were little, they loved a Sesame Street book called “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book.” The main character was [the furry blue Muppet] Grover, and it was very interactive. I knew I wanted to do something like that, to teach parents how to read a book with their kids in an interactive, engaging way. You can learn to be interactive not just with this book, but with any book. There really aren’t a lot of tools out there that teach those skills. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from parents who tell me their kids are more excited about listening to the story because of its interactive features.

Did you have any reservations about writing the book?

Honestly, no. Once the idea was in my head, I said to myself, “I’m going to do this.” And that was it.

Why sloths?

My daughter, Katie, has always had a deep passion for all creatures, down to the tiniest bugs. She’s really into sloths, and is always sharing random facts about sloths with me. I thought it was interesting and would make for a fun story.

What was the publishing process like for you?

I started by hiring an illustrator to create the pictures that would go along with the text. My sister-in-law is a graphic artist and editor, basically a jack of all trades, so she was able to help me get the book published on Amazon. It was an easy process for me, but only because I had her help — I wouldn’t have known where to start without her! Getting the first copy was super exciting. I couldn’t believe it. When I started to write the story, I didn’t know what Lento would look like. To see him and the story brought to life in such a beautiful way was amazing to me.

What is the target age for this book?

I would encourage parents to introduce the book when their child is 1 year old by reading it to them and performing the interactive parts themselves. That’s how they learn — by watching you model behavior. But the target audience is for kids ages 3 to 6. 

What is GiGi’s Playhouse of Long Island, and what is your connection to the organization? 

Working as a speech pathologist has put me in touch with a lot of people that have Down syndrome, and you’ll often hear their families refer to themselves as “the lucky few.” There’s nothing down about having Down syndrome, and I wanted to be able to support and give back to the local Down syndrome community with this book. 

A few local moms are in the process of forming a Long Island chapter of GiGi’s Playhouse, a free center that provides speech, language, arts and life skills classes to help people with Down syndrome achieve their goals and function as typically as possible. The centers are run by volunteers who are passionate about the Down’s community, and a portion of the proceeds from “Sloths Are Slow” will go to the national GiGi’s Playhouse organization to support the upcoming Long Island center. They’re looking to open in the spring of 2020.

You dedicate this book to Thomas Scully. Tell us about him.

My friend, Debbie Scully, unfortunately, lost her son Thomas to brain cancer several years ago. I never met him, but the Miller Place community has worked so hard to honor his memory and legacy. Mentioning Thomas and the foundation in the back of the book is just my small way of showing my support for the family. You can learn more about Thomas and the foundation at www.thomasscullyfoundation.org.

What’s next for you? 

I actually have another book in the works called “Cows Don’t Belong in Houses,” inspired by a funny conversation with one of my young clients named Jackson. In his honor, I would want proceeds from that book to benefit cleft palate organizations. I’m also thinking about writing stories based on the other characters you meet in “Sloths Are Slow.”

The graphic novel ‘Twitcha’ was co-written by Smithtown’s Mary Gregorian.

There’s a new superhero entering the comic book world and she’s a teenage girl with Tourette syndrome. “Twitcha” is the brainchild of three teenage girls who illustrated and wrote the book based on their own experiences with the neurological disorder. NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS) published the book this spring.

During the summer of 2017, Sarah Baldwin of Mantua, New Jersey, Mary Gregorian of Smithtown, and Julie Nemerson of Northbrook, Illinois, attended the NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy at Rutgers University. 

The academy is a four-day training for high school students that promotes self-advocacy, self-leadership, resilience and grit — all important skills to succeed while living with TS. As part of the academy, each teen completes a group project. Together the teens dreamed up a superhero that would be living with Tourette syndrome and facing the same struggles that they were, both emotionally and physically. 

“We spent hours each night in the dorms at Rutgers trying to create a character and a story that would empower other kids with TS,” said Gregorian who is a rising junior at Long Island University–Post. “It’s wonderful that our dream was able to take off into a reality.”

Twitcha’s tics are represented by the villain-turned-hero Misfire, who teams up with Dr. Sitstill to destroy anyone who wouldn’t conform to his idea of “normal.” But after their defeat, Misfire sees the error of her ways and teams up with Twitcha. The book will be used by NJCTS during Education Outreach presentations to elementary students, and lesson plans will be created so teachers can add “Twitcha” to their curriculum.

 “When we saw the first rough copy of ‘Twitcha,’ we loved the message,” said Faith Rice, executive director of NJCTS. “It’s truly a labor of love by three young ladies who understand the pain of stigma and isolation that many of our young people with Tourette syndrome face.” 

A digital copy of “Twitcha” is available on Amazon and hard copies are available for classrooms and libraries. Contact NJCTS at info@njcts.org or 908-575-7350 to request copies or visit www.njcts.org/twitcha.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself.”  The Gertrude Stein quote is an epigraph for the novel A Family Failure, August Franza’s story of “an ungrateful son.”

A Family Failure follows Heinz “Hank” Drummer, eldest son of a real estate tycoon.  However, Hank is a perpetual disappointment to his father, “The General,” who preaches one lesson: “Be a killer.”  

Hank has been raised in a world where “The General worked 14 hours a day raising hell and then he’d come home with his pockets filled with gold and raise some more hell and then get on the phone and do the business til midnight, raising more hell.”

The cover of Gus Franza’s latest book.

Hank has no instinct for this life or the drive to find it: “I was number one, ready to take over the business when I was supposed to be ready. But I didn’t want to be ready. I was never ready. I was a dangler.”  

Instead, the empire falls to his aggressively colorful younger brother, Sammy, who becomes the heir apparent. Sammy stumbles into his father’s footsteps and then onto great political heights. Hank has only contempt for “the little squirt.”  

If Sammy resembles a certain person in governmental power, it is by no means a coincidence: “Sammy B. Drummer … turned into Daniel B. Drummer, a disaster of a human being and, following on, through the years and decades, a danger to everyone.”

The book opens with the Village Voice’s announcement of Hank’s death. From there, the majority of the book chronicles Hank’s personal story as he shares it with Gus, bartender at The Purple Mist. 

Forty-three-year-old Hank is many things: an alcoholic whose most reliable friend and “real therapy” is Jim Beam; a self-described failure; a man in search of himself, committing suicide-by-liquor. 

Through his foggy narrative, he shares the fascinatingly ugly family history, beginning with the cutthroat German-born grandfather to his perpetually disappointed parents and finally to his famous sibling.  

A great deal of the narrative focuses on Hank’s banishment to Livonia, a second-rate business college, where he majors in not working, driving a red Corvette and trying to assemble his own niche group: The Fugitives.  

Hank wants to be seen as an outsider and yet find a place to belong. He manages to assemble a handful of disparate souls but the combination is odd and ultimately destructive. Hank attempts to carve out a place as a pseudo-intellectual (knowing The General would despise this) but even fails on this count.

The book is outrageous and crosses many lines. But Franza is a gifted writer who knows how to navigate a strange yet wholly recognizable universe. He is a strong writer with an ear for what is both real and lyrical. When Hank is most inebriated, he is synthesis of poetry and wet brain. It is a unique voice that makes us wonder if these are drunken rants or epiphanous clarity.

The story touches on Hank’s two failed marriages and his current affair with the equally alcoholic Camille. Hank’s relationships, personal and professional, are toxic. There is a gray cloud that has permeated his every choice. His is a brutal story of disconnect that Franza is able to paint in intensely painful shades. 

The final quarter of the book enters the contemporary arena as Hank brings Sammy to the forefront. In an unusual and original shift, the present is seen through the eyes of Hank’s ultra conservative and extremely paranoid dentist. (Dr. Linkoff’s skewed perspective is introduced when Hank is in the chair.)  

It is further explored through the dentist’s posthumous missive that is the close of the book. Here a fascinating take on the current climate. Franza’s wordplay reaches new levels in this bizarre anti-Wonderland.  

With A Family Failure, August Franza has created a postmodern novel bristling with challenging ideas and a wildly insightful core.

About the author: 

August Franza has published 27 novels and is planning to make them an even 30. 

The East Setauket resident has a doctorate in English literature and literary criticism, and his life’s work is held in the archives of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. 

Along with his wife and family, writing is his life’s work. He likes to quote T.S. Eliot who said, “It is necessary for poets to take chances, to go too far and risk complete failure.”

Franza’s latest novel, A Family Failure, is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and through local bookstores. 

Visit the author’s website at www.augustfranza.com.

Candace Bushnell at home in Roxbury, Conn. June 2010

CAC to host Candace Bushnell 

Author and journalist Candace Bushnell heads to the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington on Monday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. for Long Island LitFest. In conversation with author Ellen Meister, Bushnell will discuss her life, the impact of “Sex and the City” and her new novel, “Is There Still Sex in the City?”Tickets are $50 and include a copy of Bushnell’s new book, audience Q&A and book signing reception. Visit www.cinemaartscentre.org to register.

For more information, call 631-423-7610.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Christopher McKittrick’s Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue, subtitled The Rolling Stones and New York City, is an engaging exploration of the connection between the iconic rock band and the city that embraced it like no other.

Author Christopher McKittrick

McKittrick wisely begins by putting into historical context the decaying New York City of the early 1960s to give a clear backdrop of the world into which the band entered. In the early part of the decade, English rock ‘n’ roll bands were rarely globe spanning. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and a small handful of others would change this.

Any chronicle of the Rolling Stones touches upon a comparison with the Beatles both in style and popularity. McKittrick gives an insightful perspective of the more wholesome and instantly popular Beatles with the rawness of the Rolling Stones, whose first journey to America, while successful, was by no means the lighting bolt of the rival group.  

In a short time, the Rolling Stones would become synonymous with some of the most infamous stories of decadence. They would continue to reinvent themselves over the coming decades, become symbols of both extreme behavior and the power of marketing. The band will forever be connected to the “bad boy” image. “If your parents didn’t like the Beatles, they really wouldn’t like the Rolling Stones.”

The book describes raucous early performances, including borderline rioting at Carnegie Hall, heralding the insanity that would follow them. There is a detailed account of the Oct. 25, 1964, appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The word “pandemonium” could easily have been invented to describe the wake that followed the Stones.

McKittrick wends his way through the band’s tours across the country, providing a wealth of details that chronicle its meteoric rise. The book has been meticulous researched: Concerts are dissected, comparing set lists even within the same tour; albums scrutinized; venues described and contrasted; recording sessions reported. Fans will be fascinated by the depth that the author provides in his look at “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.”

The book picks up with the band when it is first establishing itself. We are treated to the intrigue, the late night clubs, the relationships and marriages, the celebrities (everyone from Andy Warhol to Bill Clinton), hotel destructions and, of course, the drugs. The Rolling Stones are almost a history of the changing drug use and drug culture in the 20th century. Wild parties, addictions, police raids and arrests, stints in rehab and recovery were a never-ending cycle.  

At the heart is the conflict between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, a connection that constantly imploded and exploded for 50 years. These two megastars (with equally mega-egos) would battle and make up endlessly over five decades.  

Throughout the book, McKittrick continually returns to New York City. He mines the Rolling Stones’ lyrics, finding dozens of direct references to New York. There are thumbnail histories of Shea Stadium, Carnegie Hall and other stages where the band played as well as multiple appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” the most New York of New York television shows.  

As New York changes, so does the band. The dark and dangerous “Fun City” of the 1970s gives way to the superficial and capitalist ’80s, turning finally into the sanitized, Disney-fied 1990s and beyond. NYC’s fiscal struggles and strikes, its pop culture events, and its shining moments are all presented in the context of the Rolling Stones’ history.

Eventually, like New York City, the band transitioned to survive — they chose a “corporate face-lift.” The Steel Wheels Tour of 1989-90 represented the band as “a cultural product. The rock ‘n’ roll hell raisers had become an institution. Much like the Some Girls song anticipated, the Stones had become ‘Respectable.’”  

After half a century, the long-standing appeal of the Rolling Stones is summed up by Jim Farber in the Daily News: “However corporate the Stones’ sponsorship, domesticated their fans, and predictable their repertoire, the essence of the band still thrives whenever Keith Richard flicks his riffs, Charlie Watts slaps the snare drum, and Mick Jagger swaggers through the blues.”

McKittrick’s book is not so much a dual history but a striking investigation of a cultural phenomenon reflected in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Published through Post Hill Press, Can’t Give It Away is available at www.posthillpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

'Roller Coaster Grandma'

The Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington recently announced it will donate 33 copies of the graphic novel “Roller Coaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth” to school districts and libraries in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The graphic novel was written by author and media personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who visited the Cinema Arts Centre for an event in June.

Dr. Ruth with her graphic novel

The autobiography, for ages 8 to 12, depicts the ups and downs of Dr. Ruth’s life, from her escape from the Nazis at age 10 aboard a Kindertransport, to her training as a sniper with the Hagganah in Israel, through her immigration to the U.S. where she started as a maid, became a college professor, and eventually a television star.

Using a trip to an amusement park with her grandchildren as its framework, the story demonstrates lessons of grit, resilience and strength that young readers can apply to their own lives.

Dr. Jud Newborn, who curated the event An Evening with Dr. Ruth at the Cinema Arts Centre last month, and CAC board member Stephen Fisch arranged for the donation. The Cinema Arts Centre hopes that by sharing Dr. Ruth’s incredible story it may help to inspire and empower the young people of our community.

The institutions receiving the donated books include: South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Public Library, Syosset Public Library, Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library, Cold Spring Harbor Library, South Huntington Union Free School District, Harborfields Central School District, Huntington Union Free School District and Northport-East Northport Union Free School District.

To learn more about the Cinema Arts Centre, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I’m afraid that it’s cancer again, Richard, and this time it’s a bad one.”  

Author Ralph F. Brady

The opening line to Ralph F. Brady’s novel “Borrowed Time” pulls no punches. It establishes the protagonist’s dilemma and sets him on a journey that takes him back over 100 years.  

Forty-year-old Richard Carpenter has an eight-year history with various illnesses, all of which he has overcome. However, in this instance, the odds are against him; he is given a prognosis of one year. He begins to suspect that his difficulties can be traced to damage done by his paternal grandfather, whose alcoholism and work with dangerous chemicals altered the family’s DNA. It is this hypothesis that drives the action.

Coinciding with this news is the closing of the boatyard where he works as a skilled and gifted mechanic, welder and “jack-of-all-trades.” He quickly gets a position working on a secret project at Brookhaven National Lab. This turns out to be a government-sponsored time travel venture that is about to be shut down. Convinced that he can change his health by altering his history, Richard volunteers to be the first human to be sent back in time.

The majority of the novel is taken up with Richard’s experience in the past, spanning the end of 1899 through the beginning of 1900. It is a personal story and not about the science of time. Instead, it is about Richard’s need for answers. He knows that his situation might be unsolvable but he hopes to at least understand how his fate came about.

Brady has meticulously researched turn-of-the-century Long Island and paints both a community and global picture of the time. There is great fun in many local references, both past and present. For example, the train from Brooklyn to Greenport is always on time as there are only four stops.

Richard meets and befriends his paternal grandfather, Francis, and attempts to guide him toward a sober life. He does this in full knowledge that there are any number of repercussions. Richard even visits with Francis’ wife – his grandmother – whom he would meet in his own childhood.

Francis invites Richard to work alongside him in the research and construction of submarines, being built and tested in New Suffolk. Brady brings to life this world, including inventor J.P. Holland, who took this craft to the next step. (There is a particularly harrowing description of a submersion that nearly goes wrong.) 

Of course, with his modern know-how, Richard quickly becomes invaluable. Politics and personalities intersect as Richard guides Francis to better choices. 

Romantic entanglements with his boardinghouse landlady make Richard question his 21st-century commitments. Initially, there are sweet scenes of a pastoral nature. However, Brady is smart enough to know that nothing is simple and the complications mount as Richard weighs his past and present lives, considering the choices he has and the uncertain future he faces. 

The fact is, he becomes not just comfortable with this brave old world but connects with it in ways he didn’t expect.  

Brady has a natural and engaging prose. While it is told third person, it feels as if Richard is speaking, giving the narrative a personal and unaffected voice. Richard raises eyebrows with latter-day idioms (“fifteen minutes of fame,” “go to my head”) and must continually create a detailed, false history. 

In addition, he has skills and insights that he must introduce without arousing too much suspicion. With shades of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” he is a man living out of his time.

Any work that focuses on time travel and the changing of a time line demands a logical and satisfying resolution. The final twist in “Borrowed Time” provides a smart and powerful final stroke in Brady’s debut novel.

Author Ralph Brady is a retired executive from the transportation industry. His latest novel,“Borrowed Time,” is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and through local bookstores. The Mount Sinai resident is also the author of “Landmarks & Historic Sites of Long Island,” “Images of America: Glendale” and “A Maritime History of Long Island.”

Author Erika Swyler
Time, space and the heart of family

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Long Island author Erika Swyler’s debut novel, “The Book of Speculation,” was an international bestseller, can be found on many of the Best Book lists of 2015, and was subsequently translated into multiple languages. It is an intimate and touching book, both sweet and eccentric.

Author Erika Swyler

In her sophomore outing, “Light From Other Stars,” she has created a powerful work that is no less affecting but now she has turned outward — delving into themes of time, space and responsibility. It is both science and speculative fiction of the best kind. The novel follows two threads: The first centers on Jan. 28, 1986, the day of the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger; the second is over 50 years into the future. The two are woven together by the story of Nedda Papas.

In 1986, 11-year-old Nedda lives with her scientist father, whom she idolizes, and scientist-turned-baker mother, with whom she has a dysfunctional relationship. They reside in the fictional Easter, Florida, just on the edge of the launch. She is a young girl obsessed with space exploration. Unbeknownst to Nedda, her father has invented a machine (the Crucible) that alters the fabric of time.  

The father’s motivation is one of the mysteries that is slowly unraveled throughout the course of the narrative. It is a wholly personal impetus that makes the repercussions all the more heart-breaking. The impact of the time alteration is varied, intriguing and truly chilling. It is a world that has been rent. One Easter resident laments, “My pools half froze and the half that’s not is boiling.”

Told alongside this story is adult Nedda on the spacecraft Chawla, journeying into another solar system. The crew has been sent from a dying Earth to colonize a new planet. Nedda and her three shipmates face untold challenges without and within as they journey millions of miles into the universe. 

Small details of the day-to-day struggle, both physical and emotional, are juxtaposed with larger themes and the crisis that they are immediately facing. From the first moments of the book, the stakes are genuinely high.

While epic in scope, Swyler creates characters of depth and dimension. Their pain and hope are painted with the most telling of details. She understands the complicated relationship of parents and children: “[Nedda] forgave him, but added it to the tally of things her parents needed to make up to her.” And conversely: “Part of parenting entailed learning the exact expression your child made when you broke her heart, and knowingly breaking it again and again.”

Swlyer writes with equal authority the details of time and entropy as she does the deep ache of burgeoning childhood romance. Whether clearly explaining complex theories (both in space and baking) or describing a brutal and fatal car accident, she writes with vivid and visceral accuracy. 

The plotting is sharp and her alternating between the two strands is smooth and logical. Her language has grown even more lyrical since her premiere novel. It is elevated prose but never loses its grounding and understanding of humanity:

Sometimes rightness was a feeling. Sometimes you didn’t know something worked until you touched or smelled it and saw where it fit. Denny was oranges, Ivory soap, and moss. Her dad was a hinge creaking, unbent paper clips, and boiling salt water. A launch was rain, ash, and eggs.  Those things weren’t supposed to fit together, but they did.

Ultimately, the complicated themes of family and scientific creation are joined:  

Your children were all your flaws shown to you in a way that made you love them: your worst made good. Inventions were your best attempt at beautiful thought. They were objective; they worked or they did not. They had purpose, whether they achieved it or not. They were yours always, in that they did not leave you, or turn away.

“Light From Other Stars” is a rich and rewarding read, told with tremendous insight and profound resonance. It is a book that will stay with you long after you’ve closed its cover

“Light From Other Stars” is available at Book Revue in Huntington and online through Bloomsbury Publishing (www.bloomsbury.com), Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target. For more information on the author, visit her website at www.erikaswyler.com.