Book Review

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The cover of Philip F. Palmedo's latest book, a tribute to his late father

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

“Roland Palmedo: A Life of Adventure and Enterprise” looks behind the extraordinary achievements of a 20th-century pioneer in the development of skiing in this country.

Author Philip F. Palmedo

Several previous books by the author, St. James resident Philip F. Palmedo, delved into the relationship between sculptors’ lives and their work. Turning now to a subject closer to his heart, in this biography Philip explores and illuminates the traits that propelled his father to be “an exemplar of an uncommon adventurous life that has become all too rare.” 

Written 40 years after Roland’s death, Philip provides more than details about his father’s adventures and accomplishments. 

He reveals his father’s deeply held values and the philosophy that propelled him to create lasting institutions of benefit to many. 

Born April 5, 1895, in Brooklyn, Roland was encouraged by his mother to explore Europe after high school. Visiting cousins in the German Alpines, he experienced a life in forests and mountains for the first time. Love of nature underpinned much of what he did afterward and formed a fundamental part of his character. He fell in love with skiing. Upon his return, he chose Williams College in the Berkshires, which had a ski team. He founded the Outing Club to share his love of sports with fellow student enthusiasts. This was a pattern he would follow; organizing clubs as the best way for an amateur to engage in his sport with others. 

Roland was an advocate of amateurism, with separate races for amateurs and professionals in domestic and international competitions. He believed that the structure of amateur sport should give maximum encouragement to participation. College students, business people, doctors and other professionals ought to be able to enter state and national championships. A participant sport offers a great public benefit, rather than an entertainment for spectators. All the sports he loved — skiing, bicycling, kayak racing, mountain climbing — he looked upon as character building.

In the 1920s New England had no plowed roads and few accommodations in winter. Roland led friends from New York City on skiing expeditions to snowy trails and logging roads in the Berkshires and Vermont. Recreational skiing was little known. 

Roland Palmedo on a kayaking trip. Photo from Philip F. Palmedo

Arguing that it could best be encouraged in clubs, he formed the Amateur Ski Club of New York in 1931. Its members supported Roland in organizing and sponsoring the first U.S. Women’s Ski Team at the 1936 Winter Olympics.  The club was behind him in developing two ski areas in Vermont — Stowe during the 1930s, on Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain; and Mad River Glen in the late 1940s.  Roland initiated the Mount Mansfield Ski Lift Company at Stowe to build and operate a single-chair lift that served skiers for half a century after its opening in 1940.

Stowe became the number one ski resort in the East. When the crowds and hotels and night clubs followed, Roland sought virgin terrain in the Mad River Valley of the Green Mountains. With others he created Mad River Glen. He led a trail design team designing interesting, narrow trails that guided a skier to “experience nature’s particularities.” The nature-respecting trails were the reason for Mad River’s reputation as an expert’s mountain; bumper stickers declared, “Ski It If You Can.” Roland was determined to retain the love and joy of the sport. At his insistence, Mad River Glen was designed to keep all but serious skiers away: “No hotels; just a few homey inns; no nightlife, except of the most home-spun country sort.” It is still a favorite of amateur skiers attracted by the untouched nature of the area.  

Without his financial expertise, neither Stowe nor Mad River Glen would have come to be. Similarly, he used his business organizational skills at Lehman Brothers in the 1920s to create aviation companies. Roland served on several aviation company boards, including Pan Am. He remained with Lehman Brothers until the 1960s.

The cover of Philip F. Palmedo’s latest book, a tribute to his late father

The U.S. Naval Air Force was in its infancy when Roland became a member of the first air squadron, in 1917. He flew air patrols with the RAF. Returning to civilian life, he continued flying out of the now-defunct Long Island Aviation Country Club in Hicksville. He compared flying with skiing, for in both you interacted directly with and controlled the forces of nature. He flew open-cockpit planes, including a Stearman biplane, from Manchester, Vermont, to New York in 1939. Four months after Pearl Harbor, he re-enlisted in the U.S. Naval Airforce. Lt. Commander Roland Palmedo served on the aircraft carrier Yorktown near the coast of Japan.

Many sons and daughters of men with distinguished careers and all-consuming personal passions have felt the loss of a warm companion and a strong guiding hand. Not so with Roland Palmedo. He taught his sons to ski and play tennis and provided adventures from white-water kayaking trips to expeditions to Europe and to Chile.

Philip appreciated Roland as a patient and loving grandfather. Roland’s granddaughter, Philip’s niece Bethlin “Scout” Proft, lives in the mountainside house that Roland rebuilt in the 1930s as “the first ski chalet in Vermont.” She created and runs a working farm there, in East Dorset. Scout quotes her granddad when she says, “Leave the world a better place.”

Roland died just before his 82 birthday on March 15, 1977. Philip regrets that he did not ask his father what it was like to fly rickety biplanes, to explore Mount Mansfield before there were lifts and to create aviation companies in the 1920s.

 Perhaps those of us still lucky to have a father with whom we can celebrate this coming Father’s Day may wish to ask a few important, revealing questions. Both of you will profit.

“Roland Palmedo: A Life of Adventure and Entreprise,” Peter E. Randall Publisher, is available online at Amazon.com or from its distributor at www.enfielddistribution.com. For more information on the author, visit his website at www.philippalmedo.com.

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Molly England is a featured author in a new self-improvement book, ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman’ Photo by Annemarie A. Varona

Molly England of Huntington knows that it takes strength, self-confidence and a lot of support to raise a family. A wife and mother to three young children, 35-year-old England has shared the ups and downs of life with other moms through writing articles online. Now, she’s celebrating the release of her first print story, “Welcome to New York,” one of 101 stories featured in the new anthology, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman,” edited by Amy Newmark.

In the book, England tells the story of her family’s turbulent move from Texas to Long Island last summer. As Hurricane Harvey rattled the South, England took matters into her own hands, choosing to drive to New York with her children. That solo road trip ended up being a journey of self-discovery that she’ll never forget. I recently had the opportunity to interview England as she prepares for a book signing at the Book Revue in Huntington.

Tell me a bit about your background. Were you raised in Texas?

I actually grew up in Santa Monica, California — my whole family is over there. My husband is from London, and we met while I was visiting Scotland with friends. I ended up going to graduate school for social work at the University of Edinburgh so we could be together.

Is this your first published story?

No. I’ve also written articles for The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, Babble and several other outlets. But this is my first print story!

Did you always want to be a writer? Did you study writing in school?

I never realized when I was a kid that I was a good writer, but I was always journaling. I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California in Santa Barbara.

My biological father is Dutch and lives in the Netherlands, so while I was living in Scotland I started blogging about my attempt to find him as a way of processing my feelings. It was very compelling to people and there was a lot of support. I loved sharing the ups and downs of that experience through writing in a way that connects me to others. At the same time, I started writing about natural childbirth and parenting as a childbirth educator. That blossomed into freelancing for different publications.

How did you hear about ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman?’

I remember reading the college edition of “Chicken Soup,” and I loved the stories. I identified a lot with the “Chicken Soup” brand. One day, I got an email advertising that they were doing an edition focused on empowered women, and I was so excited. I thought, “This is for me.” I felt so honored when they accepted the piece.

Were you nervous about moving to New York?

We had already moved from California to Texas for my husband’s job, so we were excited and it was a great move for our family. We were looking forward to it. Plus, my family is in LA, and my husband’s family is from London, so we’re halfway between them now.

What was it like going through Hurricane Harvey in Texas when your husband was already in New York?

It was horrible! Luckily, we were safe. I’m a California earthquake girl, but this was my first hurricane. All of the anticipation and warnings made me very anxious, but we were surrounded by a wonderful group of friends and they helped us get through it.

What made you decide to drive from Texas to New York with your kids?

We were working with a relocation company, so the timing wasn’t fully in our control. We were doing a lot of waiting, but I wanted my kids to be able to start the new school year in New York. I decided that I didn’t want to wait anymore, and that we needed to do it on our own.

How did you feel on the trip?

It was a roller coaster of emotions, but we really enjoyed getting to see places we never would have seen and staying in a new hotel every night. The kids were having fun and it was a really positive experience. They were really great.

What did it feel like for you when you arrived on Long Island?

It was the greatest sense of achievement and relief that I was able to deliver our three kids and dog safely to our new home, and to reunite with my husband. It really brought us closer together as a family.

What did that experience teach you about yourself?

Honestly, I underestimated myself. I thought that birthing my children was my biggest achievement. But realizing that in this trip I made the right choices, I could rise to the occasion when things got tough. I learned to trust my choices and have confidence in my abilities.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story for the book?

I write from my heart, and this story had been published elsewhere before with a lot of positive responses. I wanted to share whatever I could with other women about being strong and independent.

Do you feel that there’s a need for more initiatives that empower women?

Absolutely. I think it’s very hard right now for women because we’re trying to do it all and make it look effortless. There’s a saturated market of perfection — we don’t need more of that! We need to be able to share our vulnerability and our struggles, and see that even in difficulty we can manage to find our feet. I love this project because it shows women in real and relatable situations. Women have to be there for each other.

Where can we follow your life and future work?

I love Instagram! You can follow me at @bluebonnetbabies, and at my Facebook page, Bluebonnet Babies by Molly England. My website is www.mollyengland.com.

Join Molly England for a meet-and-greet and book signing at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington on Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman” is available in stores and online wherever books are sold.

Reviewed by Victoria Espinoza

Author Patricia Novak with a copy of her book.

With Patricia J. Novak’s new book, you don’t need a time machine to see what the Town of Huntington was like 100 years ago.

Broken into seven chapters, “Huntington,” part of the Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History Series, looks through the lens at old postcards to get glimpses of what life in Huntington was like back in the day.

“I have been collecting postcards of the towns/hamlets in Huntington township since the 1980s,” said Novak in a recent interview, adding “Before the internet (and eBay), I acquired them by visiting postcard shows and by mail. Dealers would send me their cards for review and I would pick what I wanted. I would return the ones I didn’t want and include a check for the keepers. When Arcadia Publishing introduced their new Postcard History Series, I knew I had a book!”

Novak, who grew up in Huntington, organized her book by different parts of the community. The various chapters, which feature over 220 black-and-white images, span religious structures, schools, businesses and scenes of residents from years past enjoying their lives in the North Shore town. 

The first chapter starts off with a very familiar site, Huntington Town Hall. Initially used as a high school for Huntington students starting in 1910, it eventually changed hands to become the center of government. 

Other school buildings in Huntington and Northport are featured in this chapter as well, along with old mailers detailing and encouraging residents to support school expansion projects due to a population increase in the area after World War II. It’s quite interesting to read a message from Huntington’s school board in 1954 and see the similarities in budget pitches with school boards currently in power.

Aside from school buildings, the first chapter also shows churches in the area, some that look almost identical now as they first did in the early 20th century and some that are no longer standing.

The cover of Novak’s book

Another chapter gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the residents that came before them. Familiar structures like William K. Vanderbilt II’s mansion, Eagles Nest, in Centerport and the Huntington Country Club can be seen in their early starts, but you can also learn about impressive establishments like the Camp Christian Endeavour, located close to where the Huntington train station now stands. This organization worked to provide an opportunity for disadvantaged city boys and girls to enjoy outdoor recreation, three meals, clean surroundings and fresh air for 10 days every summer. Photos show children swinging and enjoying the Huntington scenery. 

Perhaps the most fun aspect of a book like this is comparing the old photos to what everything looks like now, including the chapter that shows the business establishments of the past featured in several postcards. 

Novak said her favorite postcards are ones that tell the greatest stories.“The real-photo postcards are exciting, but any postcard that has writing on it which gives us some insight on events and daily life from that time period are particularly interesting to me.” 

And although she was not phased with the wealth of information she had to work from, Novak said she was surprised with some of the personal stories she got to learn.

“I did extensive research on many of the individuals that I ‘met’ along the way,” she said. “The contributions they made to the social and economic progress of Huntington during the early 1900s should not be overlooked. I even went to visit their graves.”

As for why she thinks people should be interested in learning more about Huntington’s past, Novak said this town has no shortage of fascinating stories.

“Huntington has a rich history dating back to the 1600s,” she said. “It is a perfect, and well-documented microcosm of how communities grew from European settlements to our modern footprints today.”

A lifelong resident of the Town of Huntington, author Patricia J. Novak is a librarian and archivist at the South Huntington Public Library and a member of the Huntington Historical Society. “Huntington” is available online at www.arcadiapublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“No matter what the story is, it’s all under the same sky.” 

Author Sarah Beth Durst

In her new young adult novel, “The Stone Girl’s Story,” Sarah Beth Durst has created a genuinely unique universe where those of flesh and blood (human and animal) coexist with animate stone creatures.  It is a fascinating conceit and she has populated a world where often the creatures of stone have more humanity and self-awareness than their living counterparts.

The book is an original take on the traditional Wizard of Oz-style journey. In this case, Mayka, a stone girl, leaves the mountain to rescue her stone companions. What has shifted in the secure retreat is that Father (the Stone Mason who carved them) has passed away and their markings have begun to fade. The markings are at the center of the story as they are at the heart of their stories: It is these designs that not only give them being but also individuality and purpose.

The carved designs define them. For instance, the cat, Kalgrey, is engraved with “This is Kalgrey the cat. Sharp of tongue and claws, nimble of paws and mind. She climbed the top of the chimney and scolded the sun and then slept when it hid, frightened behind a cloud.” But there is more to Kalgrey: as she “curl[s] up every night by the door to watch over [them] … and keep the rats out of the chicken feed.” Durst captures these simple yet complicated souls in an eloquently poetic prose.

The book opens with a touching scene where Mayka is visiting a stone turtle who is no longer aware, as its marks have faded. The poignant tableau casts the shadow of what is happening and possibly what is to come. Her feelings toward her comrade establish who she is and what she is willing to risk to help this intimate community. Even though she cannot smell the flowers or shed tears (though she ponders what both would be like), she has a heart that is full of truth, honesty and compassion.

The cover jacket of ‘The Stone Girl’s Story’

The stone Badger, now the oldest of the group, gives Mayka a blessing of sorts to send her on: “We are family. No blood binds us, for we have no blood, but we are bound by time and love. You will carry our love and hope with you to the valley, and it will strengthen you.” With this kind benediction, she leaves the protected Eden (where the stone animals feed and care for the real ones) and embarks on an odyssey down the mountain, into the valley, and finally to the town of Skye, where her goal is to find a stonemason to return with her and restore the patterns.  

She is accompanied by two stone birds:  the cautious Risa and the outgoing chatterbox Jacklo, who provides a wholly enjoyable mix of on-the-nose as well as deadpan humor. On their way, they are joined by a whimsical 2-foot-high stone dragon, Siannasi Yondolada Quilasa — called Si-Si—who deeply yearns to find her purpose — her “story.” 

“The Stone Girl’s Story” has a rich and accessible mythology, complete with the lore of how the first Stone Mason brought his work to life as well as a historical Stone War that devastated the society. It is this event that had far-reaching repercussions:  Stone Masons went from revered to feared to something in-between, now sequestered in the Stone Quarter. (The departed Father turns out to have had a very important connection to the war and all that ensued.) 

Mayka and her troupe become embroiled in the events surrounding the annual Stone Festival. It is here that they meet and join forces with a young man, Garit, who is apprenticed to Siorn, the stone mason. Siorn is a fully realized character, not merely an adversary and a villain; he is a dimensional human with his own deep-rooted beliefs (both dangerous and misguided).

Without revealing too much of the tightly woven and engaging plot, it is the challenges the quartet face and how they overcome them that encompasses the latter half of the adventure. Mayka and her mountain friends truly learn what it is to be “other” — both from humans and other stone creations.

While not illustrated, Durst paints in language so vivid that the tale leaps off the page. Her images are visceral. Prior to Mayka’s first experience in the city, her life has been pastoral. Now, she is overwhelmed by Skye’s tumult; the account leaves the reader in the midst of the chaos and is truly breathtaking: “Now that she was within the city, it seemed … too full, too much. This deep in the forest of people, she couldn’t see anything but more people.” Even gazing up, “the sky was only a thin streak of blue. But the roar of the city felt muffled, smothered by the walls.”

She takes in the surroundings and the inhabitants:

“They came in all shapes and sizes, wearing more colors than she knew existed: a boy in a more-orange-than-a-pumpkin hat, a woman wearing a dress of feathers, a man with a bare chest but a many-layered skirt with tassels dangling all around. Between them were stone creatures, plenty of them. Stone rats scurried through the street with rolls of paper strapped to their backs, carrying messages. A stone squirrel with a bucket around its neck was scrambling across the face of a building as it cleaned the windows. Other stone creatures — bears, wolves and bulls, some crudely carved and others exquisitely detailed — blocked the entrances to the fancier houses, acting as guards.”

Durst ponders what it is to be alive and the wonders of the natural universe (epitomized in a memorable depiction of butterfly migration). Time is relative and it is in how you use it, and she presents this in the contrast between mountain and valley worlds.

The book offers several important lessons without every overstating them or sacrificing the engaging narrative: That joy in living is freedom and we must be able to choose our own destinies … and that, ultimately, we have the ability not just to create but to change our own stories. Furthermore, it is not what we ask of others but of ourselves — and that our own untapped resources can be our deliverance. The powerful message is elegantly and honestly presented in a way that young people of all ages can comprehend the significance of this lesson. Like in “The Wizard of Oz,” the heroine seeks help but finally realizes she had the power within herself all along.

And, most of all, the book reminds us that “we make our stories our own.” It is that “everyone [has] a story that matter[s] most to them, that define[s] them.” “The Stone Girl’s Story” is that we are all need and hope — but, above all, we are potential. “I am the hero of my own story.” And that is a wonderful truth in a truly enchanting novel.

Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of 15 fantasy books for kids, teens and adults. The master storyteller lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children and her ill-mannered cat. Recommended for ages 10 to 12, “The Stone Girl’s Story,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books, is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. For more information, visit www.sarahbethdurst.com.

From left, Eliana Sasson, Nicole Freeley, Rebecca Blumenthal, Samuel Kim

On Monday evening, April 23, Emma Clark Library, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, local elected officials, representatives from the Three Village Central School District and guests from the community gathered to honor the winners of the fourth annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award.

At the ceremony in the Vincent R. O’Leary Community Room, Library Director Ted Gutmann, along with the family of Helen Stein Shack, presented all of the winners a bound copy of their book. In addition, the books will be added to the library’s Local Focus Collection.

 A $400 scholarship was awarded to first-prize winner Rebecca Blumenthal of R.C. Murphy Jr. High School for her children’s book, “Racing Star,” and Ward Melville High School student Nicole Freeley for her book titled “Wally’s Wild Ride.” 

A $100 check for second prize was awarded to P.J. Gelinas Jr. High School student Eliana Sasson for her book “This Is How I Can Help! 10 Ways I Can Help My Community!” and Ward Melville High School student Samuel Kim for his informative children’s book, “Freddy the Fish and His First Election Day.” 

Gutmann explained that the event “really helps us to showcase the wonderful talent we have here, and we thank the authors and their parents for encouraging that and being here tonight.”

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), and Carol Nucci [representing Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport)] spoke at the event, and the winners also received certificates from Flanagan, Hahn and Cartright.  

Library Board Treasurer Deborah Blair and Trustee Richard Russell were there to congratulate the winners and Three Village school district BOE President William Connors, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Scanlon, Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum, Ward Melville High School Librarian April Hatcher, Murphy Jr. High School English Department Chair Cathy Duffy and Murphy Jr. High School Librarian Betsy Knox were all in attendance.

The Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Contest called for teens in grades 7 through 12 who live in the Three Village Central School District to create a children’s picture book. Each entry could be the work of a single author/illustrator or a collaborative effort of an author and an illustrator. The award is given in memory of Helen Stein Shack by her family.  

“As Ms. Shack clearly knew, children’s literature does a lot for the community, as well as the young children themselves. It helps to promote brain development, it helps to promote language development, literacy skills, as well as creating an important bonding moment for families,” said Cartright.

Two of the grandsons of the late Helen Stein Shack also spoke at the ceremony. Regan Kelly flew all the way from California for the event. Tamir Taylor grew up in Three Village and attended Murphy Jr. High School and Ward Melville High School.  

“A lot of people thank us a lot for creating this event,” mentioned Taylor. “But we really want to thank you guys because our grandmother, mother, was really important to us and by you guys participating and making this event happen and the library for making this happen, you guys give us the opportunity to remember and honor her, which is really special to us.”

The Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award brings together a large part of the Three Village community — the library, school district, local elected officials, teenagers and their families and all of the children that read these books. As Hahn remarked, “What a great way to encourage teenagers to think about … what’s important to them and how to express that in a way that will resonate with children.”  

 

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Michael Di Leo’s debut novella is a powerful and engaging look at the days leading up to and just following the murder of John Lennon. Focusing on the separate and yet not completely disparate stories of several unrelated people, it creates a vivid chronicle of a time of great sadness and unrest.

Author Michael Di Leo

It is December 1980 and the country is in the advent days before Ronald Reagan is to take office. Three very different people are facing the frustrations of day-to-day life. The story follows this trio as they attempt to tackle a series of emotionally difficult challenges.

Sixteen-year-old Angela is obsessed with the Beatles. She is struggling with the things that are modern and yearns for the ’60s, a time she never experienced but has come to venerate, epitomized by the music of the Beatles. Her friends do not understand her — in particular an insensitive but realistically portrayed boyfriend who has only one desire in their dysfunctional relationship. Angela is reaching back to a past era to try to make sense of her own.

Thirteen-year-old John is inspired to look at the ’60s by former hippie Mr. Watkins, his easygoing and inspiring teacher, who assigns John an extra-credit project to research the period.John is caught between his hard-edged, conservative father and a mother whose heart is connected to the freer time that she never allowed herself to fully experience.

Finally, Tommy, in his 20s, going nowhere, lives in a cramped Manhattan apartment, working a dead-end job selling typewriters, and trying to parse his exact feelings for his girlfriend, Mary, who is pressuring him for both a ring and a change in who he is. Like Angela, he is fixated on the Beatles. Tommy is also haunted by the death of his brother in Vietnam, a milestone that caused the implosion of his family and created his own sense of detachment from the world.  

Tommy makes a point of his dis-ease in the universe. He feels that the ’80s have not yet started because there has been no defining moment to herald an age. He sites the assassination of JFK and the landing of the Beatles for the ’60s and Nixon’s resignation for the ’70s. He does not realize that his worst nightmare will be the signal of this new epoch.

Short, crisp chapters create small fragments that are windows into each of the character’s lives and thoughts. As it progresses, the picture, like a mosaic, becomes clearer.

The first half of this delicate, slender novella follows their day-to-day existences that are then shattered by John Lennon’s tragic murder. The latter part of the book then tracks the repercussions of this terrible event. Both Tommy and Angela are broken by Lennon’s death as is John’s mother. But it is through this loss that they find themselves and, in the grand scheme, are stronger for it.

It is the teacher, Mr. Watkins, who is able to best express this new time: “There were a lot of people in the sixties who influenced my generation. JFK, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King. And yet, John Lennon may have had more of an influence than any of them. And he survived it all and was in a position to possibly influence us again to make things better. Something he always tried to do. And they killed him, too. They’re all gone now.” It is the indicator of both an end and a beginning.

The cover of Michael Di Leo’s latest book

Tommy had lived in hope of a Beatles reunion. For him, “It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” The Sgt. Pepper album had gotten him through the loss of his brother, giving him solace in the worst of times. It is now, through the music and the memory, that he survives this next challenge. A particularly poignant description follows Tommy’s visit to his childhood home. He sees his parents, who have never recovered from the death of their oldest son, in a new light. The scene resonates on many levels. It is in this trip that Tommy realizes that he can make something of himself, and it is John Lennon’s example that inspires him to do so.

John’s mother opens up to her son with pieces of her life and heart that she had kept tamped down to please her husband and his expectations. Lennon’s death releases her true spirit. “You know, I always had a secret thing for the Beatles, and John, he was always my favorite. He was so smart and funny, and he always did or said what he wanted, whatever the consequences, and now after everything, he was back, and he was happy, and now he’s gone. It just doesn’t make any sense. I guess maybe I really was a hippie at heart.” She, like Tommy, eventually finds release in embracing her true feelings.

Di Leo’s compassion for his characters gracefully shows the initial shock turning to profound mourning and, ultimately, to redemption. It is a visceral portrayal. He manages, with great sensitivity, to give us a glimpse into the turmoil of these people’s souls. In addition, Di Leo is not seeking easy answers. Instead, he presents the phenomenon of our attachment to these icons. He sheds light on our personal connection to distant stars (literally and figuratively) and how we take their deaths in a personal way. It is a strange truth but we often suffer these losses deeper than we do of those who are truly close to us. He reveals this fact without judgment but instead with nonjudgmental insight.

A prescient touching upon the discussion of gun control that occurred in the wake of the shooting reminds us that though time has passed, many things have not changed.

A gathering in Central Park of thousands of fans serves as a gentle climax to the book where the characters intersect but don’t truly interact. Di Leo chooses not to give us facile coincidence but instead reflects life as it is. A beautiful and honest coda provides both closure and hope — that out of even the darkest times can come good, and, in this case, light.

Much like the “Imagine” mosaic created in memory of Lennon, “Images of Broken Light” gives us broken figures that create a powerful and memorable whole.

“Images of Broken Light” is available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com, and E-books are also available on Barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and Kobo. This is the Nesconset resident’s second book. The first, titled “The Spy Who Thrilled Us,” covers the first 19 films in the James Bond series. For more information, visit his website at www.michaeldileoauthor.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Cynthia Baxter, one of our most prolific and delightful cozy mystery writers, has outdone herself with her most recent offering, a delicious confection titled “Murder with a Cherry On Top.”

Cynthia Baxter

As a longtime fan of Baxter’s work, I have read many of her books, most notably ones in the Reigning Cats & Dogs series (“Dead Canaries Don’t Sing,” “Hare Today, Dead Tomorrow,” “Who’s Kitten Who?” and “Murder Had a Little Lamb”), Murder Packs a Suitcase series (“Murder Packs a Suitcase”), as well as “Temptation,” a fascinating and wicked stand-alone novel (written as Cynthia Blair). They are all truly entertaining works, with fun and engaging heroines who are smart, independent and wholly original.

In her latest outing, “Murder with a Cherry On Top,” the Three Village resident sets us down in the fictional Wolfert’s Roost, a small town nestled in the Hudson Valley. Here, the central character, 33-year-old Kate McCay, has come back to her hometown. Prior to this, Kate had been a public relations director at a large New York City firm. Returning to take care of her beloved grandmother, she has embarked on a new venture, namely being proprietress of the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe:

“After all, there are some things only ice cream can fix.”

Her love for the dessert is rooted in her childhood. She has memories of her father taking her for her third and fourth birthdays for ice cream. By her fifth, he had passed away. When she is 10, her mother dies, leaving Kate and her sisters to live with their loving grandmother:

“Then Mom passed away the summer I turned ten. Grams suddenly found herself playing the role of mother. She knew how devastated my sisters and I were, and to help us all cope with our confusion, our anger, and our intense feelings of loneliness, she did her best to keep our lives as much the same as they had been before. A big part of that was to keep our family ice cream addiction going, since it was one of the easiest and most obvious ways of linking us to the past and moving ahead with our lives.”

In Kate’s world, ice cream is deeply connected to love and caring and she brings this to her new found vocation. She delights in the work, creating the traditional flavors along with signature choices such as Peanut on the Playground (laced with jelly), Honey Lavender and Avocado and Carrot Cake. (The detours describing her frozen sweets add to the fun.)

After being open only a week, her childhood nemesis and unreformed mean girl, bakery owner Ashley Winthrop, announces that her store, Sweet Things, will begin carrying ice cream. As the bakery is directly across from the ice cream parlor, this drives Kate into a public confrontation with Ashley. Soon after, Ashley is discovered murdered and the police see Kate as a possible suspect.

Kate embarks on her own investigation, which has some wonderful twists and turns, building up to a genuinely surprising but nonetheless believable climax. At its height, the mystery becomes something deeper and eventually much more complex.

An element of the book that is particularly effective is that Kate actually uses her business to solve the crime. Unlike in many mysteries where the characters seem to have insights they couldn’t possibly have, here there is logic to her approach. She utilizes her occupation to provide her with insight as well as opportunity. She cleverly uses the collective love of ice cream as a means to certain ends. And, even as she is pursuing leads, she still is thinking about the growth of her new undertaking.

In a light-hearted way, Baxter addresses the issue of not just the difficulty in returning home but also the joys — rare in literature, which tends to fixate on dysfunction. Kate is genuinely glad to be back and wholly embraces the chapter ahead of her. She finds satisfaction in her work, a passion and a drive that help her reacclimate to Wolfert’s Roost.

The fact is Baxter is a strong writer. Throughout, she is able to articulate the modern struggle to communicate with wit and honesty:

“I wondered how any of us managed to not look bored or lonely or even uncomfortable in public places before we all had cell phones. Maybe that was why books had been invented.”

Baxter nimbly fleshes out characters who are (or at least initially seem to be) transitory. They are whole people, often created in a few crisp sentences. This is ideal in a mystery where there is the need for a parade of suspects and supporting characters.

We get to know Willow, her childhood friend, who works for her when she’s not teaching yoga. Emma, Kate’s in-search-of-herself 18-year-old niece, comes to live with her and assists in the investigation. Ashley’s sleazy ex-husband and her most recent amour, an egotistical chef, both get creative page time. Kate’s love interest, blue-eyed broad-shouldered Jake Pratt, has a past with Kate that becomes pivotal in the present — but the thorny history never bogs down the movement of the narrative. A visit to a harried mother of three is particularly vivid.

Baxter finds variety even in the rather reviled murder victim as certain pieces of her backstory are revealed, transitioning from the “she-had-it-coming” to something far more complicated. The fact that Ashley is running an illegal co-op becomes a fascinating detail in the tapestry of the crime.

All of these pieces, like the exotic sundaes Kate fashions, are rich in texture, color and invention and make for a wholly satisfying read.

Two nice little bonuses: Each chapter is headed with a “fun fact” from the history of ice cream, with sources ranging from Guinness to the International Dairy Foods Association. The appendix shares a few interesting recipes that are referenced in the book.

This first entry into The Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series is a great one. Grab yourself a bowl of ice cream, sit down and dig in.

Cynthia Baxter is the author of 54 novels. A Three Village resident for the past 25 years, “Murder with a Cherry On Top” is the first book in her new Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series with Kensington Publishing Corp. and is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Meet Cynthia at the Emma S. Clark Library’s Author Event on May 6 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and visit her website at www.cynthiabaxter.com.

HISTORY BUFFS From left, Three Village Historical Society President Stephen Healy, author Brian Kilmeade, Historical Society members Art Billadello and Beverly C. Tyler and past TVHS President Steve Hintz gather for a photo after the sold-out evening.

By Heidi Sutton

Art Billadello shows Brian Kilmeade last week’s article in the Times Beacon Record.

Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” morning show co-host and author Brian Kilmeade stopped by the Setauket Neighborhood House on Monday night to take part in the Three Village Historical Society’s monthly lecture series. Kilmeade was there to promote his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny,” and touched on how committed our young country was during the War of 1812.

Reached the following day, Steve Healy, TVHS president, said the sold-out event “was a great success. We were fortunate to get a three-time history writer who’s been on the [New York Times] Best Seller list.” Kilmeade also spoke about his first history-focused book, “George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution.” That book “hits home with us, living in the Three Village area,” said the TVHS president.

A lengthy Q&A and book signing followed. Kilmeade also graciously posed for photos. “History is always a subject we love to discuss and talk about at the Three Village Historical Society,” stated Healy.

“Without history, we don’t understand what makes us special and why so many from around the world risk it all to live and work here,” noted Kilmeade.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Author Brian Kilmeade will make a stop at the Setauket Neighborhood House as part of a tour to promote his latest book ‘Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans.’

By Heidi Sutton

Fox News’ “FOX & Friends” morning show co-host Brian Kilmeade will visit the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket on Monday, Feb. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. to promote his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny.” The event is hosted by the Three Village Historical Society and will include a special book signing, lecture and Q&A.

This is Kilmeade’s fifth book and his third history-focused book with co-author Don Yaeger. The first two, “George Washington’s Secret Six” (2013) and “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” (2015), spent a combined 37 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

“I’ve always found Andrew Jackson interesting, especially the way he led America to victory during the Battle of New Orleans,” said Kilmeade in a recent email when asked why he chose Jackson to be the topic of his new book, adding, “Jackson was a self-taught Militia General who won almost every battle he faced while suffering from bullet wounds and dysentery.”

In summarizing the book, Kilmeade said, “I like to think of the War of 1812 as a rematch of the Revolutionary War — this time without the help of the French. Before Jackson was called on to lead, the British were slaughtering the Americans on the battlefield — and it really looked like we needed a miracle. Notorious for his leadership and tenacity, Jackson led a ragtag team of frontier militiamen, French-speaking Louisianans, Cherokee and Choctaw Indians, freed slaves, and even pirates. On Jan. 8, Jackson’s troops defeated the British in under 45 minutes. In this book, you’ll learn how this oft-forgotten battle shaped America’s destiny.”

The Massapequa resident last visited the area in 2014 to promote his book on George Washington. “It was wall to wall people,” said Steve Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society in a recent interview. “The history topic was a little closer to home. ‘George Washington’s Secret Six’ was about the Culper Spy Ring in Setauket, which always creates local interest.”

Healy said the historical society recently reached out to Kilmeade again and invited him to speak at its monthly lecture series. “We are very excited,” he said. “We love it when history is the main topic. The Battle of New Orleans was an interesting battle that propelled Andrew Jackson into the national spotlight.”

Kilmeade is looking forward to returning to Setauket. “I love the rich history and character that emanate through the unique little town,” he said.

According to the TVHS president, Kilmeade will briefly talk about his first two history-focused books and then delve into his current book. “There is a lot to discuss in the battle of New Orleans,” said Healy, adding that photos may be taken at the book signing portion of the program.

Preregistration is required by visiting www.tvhs.org as space is limited. No tickets will be sold at the door. Entry fee, which includes a copy of Kilmeade’s book to be signed, is $40 per person, $30 members. Entry to the lecture only is $10 per person, free for TVHS members. For further information, please call 631-751-3730.

Update: This event is sold out!

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Pictured from left, author Virginia McCaffrey, Allyson Konczynin, Bob Scollon, Will Konczynin and Brian Ehlers. Photo from Virginia Ehlers

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Virginia McCaffrey, an 11th-grade special education teacher at Ward Melville High School in Setauket, has brought her childhood memories to life with an imaginative new book for kids. “Chased by a Bear,” McCaffrey’s first book, honors the memory of her late grandmother, Jean Scollon, who loved telling her grandchildren vivid bedtime stories. I recently reached out to McCaffrey to ask her about her newest venture.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Ward Melville High School special education teacher Virginia McCaffrey is pictured with the children’s book “Chased by a Bear” she authored. Photo courtesy of Three Village school district

I am one of five children, one girl with four brothers. I was born in Lake Ronkonkoma and our family moved to Setauket when I was in ninth grade. I loved growing up in a big family as there was never a dull moment. As a child, I never really dreamed of becoming a writer, although I did think of it occasionally, not sure what direction I should take. The answer only came to me at the passing of my grandmother, Jean Scollon, three years ago.

Why did you decide to write a children’s book specifically?

My grandmother was such a large part of our lives. My own children knew her well and have always loved hearing stories of the terrific times my brothers, cousins and I had with her as we were growing up.

One night I was telling them about our many sleepovers at Nany and Grandad’s house. The four of us would climb onto the bed in the guest room at the end of the hall, then Nany would squeeze in with us to tell us a story before going to sleep. As I grow older, I fondly remember taking turns adding to the story, but specifically remember thinking that Nany had an incredible imagination. She always seemed to be coming up with great scenes, characters and situations, as well as games for us to play.

After sharing these stories with my own children and sending them off to bed, I decided to sit down and write a “Nany-type” story for them. At first, it was meant to simply be for them, but the more I worked on it, I began to dream of sharing the story of this wonderful grandmother with other children and turning it into a book; I found a way to honor my grandmother and share her with others.

How did your family respond when you told them you had an idea for a book?

I didn’t tell the family about my project until it was complete and I could present it to my grandfather, Bob Scollon, at a family dinner.  The only exception was my mother, who was sworn to secrecy. It was probably the hardest secret I have ever had to keep.

To say my family was surprised is an understatement. They appeared to be completely shocked. All four of my brothers told me how proud they were, my nieces and nephews all asked if they could share it with their classes, and my grandfather was speechless. He immediately sat down and read the book cover to cover while the rest of the family chatted about how surprised they were. Their reactions made keeping it a secret for so long all worth it.   

What is the book about?

The cover of Virginia McCaffrey’s first book.

“Chased by a Bear” is the story of four young children and the magical adventure their grandmother is able to make them a part of through her bedtime stories. No one but the five of them know where Nany’s stories take them each week during their sleepovers, making the adventure so much more special for them. They find themselves in a dangerous situation but use teamwork to resolve the problem.

Why did you choose a story about a bear for your first book?

I chose to use a bear story for the book because so many of Nany’s stories involved a bear in the woods. It was her favorite theme to her stories. Looking back I think those were always my favorite ones to hear.

Are the children in the story based on real-life people?

My younger brother (Brian Ehlers), two cousins (Allyson and William Konczynin) and I are the youngest of seven grandchildren and the characters in the book.

What was the publication process like?

Once I decided to write the children’s book, the process took about 18 months to complete. I decided to self-publish, and ultimately took the advice of my illustrator as to which company to use. The result was a very smooth process.

How did you find an illustrator?

I found the most challenging effort was to find an illustrator to capture the characters in the book: my grandparents, cousins, brother and myself. After a great deal of research online, I found an illustrator whose artwork not only connected with the personalities and descriptions of all of us but was exactly what I would hope for in a children’s book. Robin Bayer’s style is so uplifting and colorful. She made my story come to life. I sent her pictures of the four of us as children, as well as pictures of Nany and Grandad. She totally captured the look I wanted.

What was it like seeing the illustrations and receiving the first copy of the book?

When the first sketches were sent to me, I found it incredible how someone who didn’t know us as children and never had the opportunity to meet Nany was able to read a story I wrote and look at pictures I sent and completely capture my childhood and my vision of how my book should look. The story seemed to come to life more and more as additional illustrations were created and color was added to the pages.

When I received the first copy of the completed book to proof, I was in love with it. Once the book went public, friends sent me pictures of their children reading my book. I’ve saved every picture they’ve sent. I love hearing what their children and grandchildren think of the story.

What is the target age for the book?

The book was written on a second- or third-grade reading level. However, it was intended to appeal to many ages as it can be read aloud. 

What do your students think?

My students have expressed excitement at the idea of their teacher writing and publishing a book. They make me feel proud when they mention it. Recently, I was invited to read to the class of one of my daughters. The students had many questions about the writing process and becoming an author. It was wonderful to see the awe and excitement on their faces.

Do you plan to write any more books?

I would love to see this turn into a series of Nany Bedtime Stories … and maybe even let the rest of my family have some input.

“Chased by a Bear” is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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