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Book Review

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Dave Dircks

Dave Dircks of Stony Brook loved sharing bedtime stories with his children when they were small. But the stories his kids liked the most were the ones Dircks dreamed up himself, with zany characters and subtle lessons.

As a professional illustrator and advertiser, Dircks, 56, has spent his career painting and drawing for other people. But in April, he published his own book for children, “Astronaut Arnie.” The timing is perfect as it ties in with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The story follows Arnie as he sets out to visit Mars, only to fall asleep in his spaceship. When he wakes up, he’s shocked to learn he traveled farther than he planned — a lot farther. Paired with Dircks’ vibrant and detailed illustrations, the story is both educational and entertaining.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dircks about his latest venture.

Did you always want to be an illustrator and writer?

It developed. There were seven kids in my family growing up, and our parents were so busy caring for us that we were responsible for our own entertainment. Many of us sought our own creative outlets, and I was often in the basement building things or drawing. I seemed to excel in math, music and art, so from a very young age I made friends and impressed teachers by drawing for them. That was the thing I did really well, and it was what made me come alive. I studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, which honed my skills in illustration.

Did you work in the field right away?

When I graduated college, I worked as a commercial illustrator doing book covers for Scholastic and other companies, as well as magazine illustrations. When I got married, we got pregnant right away and I needed to find a way to make enough money to support my family. I went into accounting for a while and made a good living, but eventually ended up in advertising and marketing. For 24 years I’ve owned my own agency, Dircks Associates in St. James, that’s more of a creative boutique.

When did you start to think about storytelling?

When my kids were young, my wife would always read to them and encourage me to do the same. But what I preferred to do was come up with my own stories, to turn out the lights and open up their imaginations.

Is that where Astronaut Arnie came from?

At the time, he didn’t have a name, but I had a story about an astronaut that kept oversleeping on his journey to Mars. It was a way for me to teach them a bit about the solar system while still being funny and goofy, which my kids liked. Arnie has great ambition, but he’s also imperfect, and they really responded to that.

Would you say that’s the message in this book?

Sure. It’s about having flaws, but learning to make the most of it instead of getting angry or upset. It also shares some basic facts about the planets and space in a way that’s engaging.

What made you want to develop this story into a book?

My brother, Rob Dircks, has written and published his own books. I illustrated a book of his called “Release the Sloth” which did pretty well, and then a children’s book called “Alphabert! An A-B-C Bedtime Adventure.” After that, my daughter Sam reminded me of the astronaut story and encouraged me to illustrate it.  It was probably the most developed of all the stories I told my kids, and it was a favorite.

Rob ended up starting his own publishing company, called Goldfinch Publishing, and “Astronaut Arnie” was published through that.

Where did Arnie get his name?

I have a house in Vermont, and the guy who shovels the snow for me is named Arnie. He’s kind of bulky, with a big mustache and a very calm personality. He seemed to have a real peace within himself, and it inspired me. So the name and some elements of Arnie’s character come from a real person.

What’s the recommended age range for this book?

I’d say anywhere from 2 to 8 years old. I’ve enjoyed getting feedback from preschool classes. One school in Andover, Massachusetts, was read the book by their teacher, Mrs. Bagge. The students drew pictures of their favorite pages, and I sent them a video about the publishing process. It’s nice to have a little back-and-forth with my target audience.

How can we purchase your book?

“Astronaut Arnie” can be purchased at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

What next for you?

My daughters have been lobbying for me to publish their second-favorite story, which is informally titled “The Princess and the White Carnation.” It’s about a princess who has no friends because her parents won’t let her leave the castle. But every morning, she wakes up to find a white carnation on the window sill. She saves them all, and then one day sneaks out with the flowers and gives them to children in the village. It should take about a year to make it into a book.

Dave Dircks is an author, illustrator and creative entrepreneur whose work has been featured in books, magazines, album art and advertising for over 30 years. In addition to commercial art, his paintings have been exhibited in New York City and his native Long Island. Visit his website at www.goldfinchpublishing.com/authors/dave-dircks.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Sarah Durst

In “The Deepest Blue,” author Sarah Durst has fashioned an enthralling fantasy in a striking and brutal world, rife with dangers that are deadly and ever present. The magic that is part of its existence only defends so much; it is strength and intelligence that become the greatest protections.

Durst outlines with quick, intense strokes the history. Originally, Renthia was four countries and the queens tamed the spirits of earth, tree, air, water, fire and ice. When the wild, unclaimed spirits that lived in the sea attacked the land, the queens repelled them — destroying many and compelling the others into a deep slumber in “the Deepest Blue.” These powerful spirits existed before the time of mankind, and they ache with an ancient hunger.

These spirits have an unquenchable urge to create and destroy.  A wind spirit is described:  “Screaming as it came, it flew across the seas and onto the shore. It bent the trees until they bowed, their tips touching the sand. It tore at the houses, ripping the shutters from their windows and the clay tiles from the roofs.” A water spirit is shown: “Rising up in massive swells, the waves slammed into the island, flooding the homes that were closest to the shore, destroying gardens and drowning livestock.” Ultimately, “all were deadly.”

In the matriarchal mythology, there are select women who have the power to thwart and even annihilate the attackers. When they show their powers, they are taken away and given two choices: to be taken to the Island of Testing, Akena, to train to be an heir, or to forsake family and identity and become one of The Silent Ones, the queen’s white-masked and gray-robed enforcers. The chances of actually surviving to become an heir are slim; so many choose the latter and join the disturbing Silent Ones — standing “as if they were stone” — who come when it is sensed that someone has revealed her power.

Heirs “… were, in many ways, above the law. They were trained to fight threats to the islands. Trained to fight spirits …” It is the strongest women who need to become heirs, to fight the wildest and most dangerous of spirits. Whenever wild spirits are going to attack the islands, the queen becomes aware of their encroaching presence and sends the heirs to subdue them.

At the center of the story is Mayara. The book opens on the day of her wedding to childhood sweetheart, Kelo, an artisan who makes charms that repel the spirits.  Mayara’s parents are in mourning for Elorna, Mayara’s older sister, who was selected to fight the spirits but lost that battle. Like the others so endowed, the power is as much a gift as a curse.

Mayara’s intuits the malevolent forces: “She sensed the wild spirits swirling around them … She felt their unbridled hatred and rage pour into her until she thought she’d choke on it.”  She perceives their existence: “… they weren’t thoughts, precisely.  It was a whirlwind of need and want. They wanted blood, death, and pain.”  Mayara can feel the spirits and the “bottomless hunger and rage.”

Like so many, Mayara, had hidden her powers and only unleashed them when her island is under siege. Thus begins Mayara’s journey.  Confronted, she makes the choice to train to be an heir. From there, the book opens up to her training then the court beyond. It is a wild, fascinating adventure, with honest, inventive individuals and sharp plot twists, building to a thrilling conclusion.

The characters are extremely well drawn.  When we finally meet the Queen, Asana, she is portrayed not as villainous but as conflicted and dimensional, struggling against terrible choices and political intrigue. Her confidante, Lady Garnah, is a wonderful, wicked creation, offering the book’s humorous edge. An often impenetrable anti-hero of fascinating depth, she is deeply devoted and yet amoral, making her all the more terrifying. In one of the most original sequences, Lady Garnah manipulates from behind the scenes, engineering life-and-death revelations.

Themes of sacrifices — both large and small and made for the greater good — play out against the strength of the third choice — that actions do not necessarily come down to one or the other but something that is “more than.” “The Deepest Blue” is a wholly satisfying read. It is a tale of fantasy rooted in human truths.

Here, Durst eloquently and simply sums up our complex existence: “Red spots stained the sand. A drop of blood hit Roe’s forehead.  It dripped in a streak down her temple and then mixed with her tears.”

Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of 18 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 adults, “The Deepest Blue,” Book 4 of four in the Queens of Renthia Series, is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. For more information, visit www.sarahbethdurst.com.

Lauren Auerbach’s ‘Keeta Kangaroo’ teaches kindness in rhyme
Above, author Lauren Auerbach and Leg. Tom Muratore

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

 

For nearly 10 years, Lauren Auerbach of Port Jefferson has been hard at work as a legislative aide for Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma). She’s always dreamed of writing her own children’s book; however, and after two decades of nurturing the idea, she’s proud to share her first story with the world. “Keeta Kangaroo Learns a Lesson (or Two)” follows young Keeta, who has just learned how to rhyme, as she shows off her new skill with the animals in her neighborhood. But Keeta quickly discovers that using the wrong words can be hurtful to others.

Auerbach’s book is a sweet and funny tale of making mistakes, saying you’re sorry and learning to be kind.

Tell me a bit about your background. Have you always been a writer?

I went about my education the nontraditional way. I had an associate’s degree from Suffolk County Community College, then married young and had children. I went back to school later to get my bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the New York Institute of Technology. I always had an interest in advertising. I was a stay-at-home mom for the better part of 20 years, until my children were grown and went off to college. Since 2010, I’ve been working in marketing for Legislator Tom Muratore, planning his events and writing press releases.

How did this book come about?

I’ve always had a dream of having a book published, and writing was always my strong point in my school years. Believe it or not, I actually wrote “Keeta Kangaroo” about 25 years ago. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I did take a few noncredit courses in children’s literature writing. That was always interesting to me. I learned some really valuable information not only about writing, but how to submit a story for publication. 

At that time, it was common to print out hard copies and send them to publishers with cover letters, so that was what I did. I got some lovely rejection letters, and as life got busy I tucked the book away. A little over a year ago, I was cleaning out some old files and found a copy of the book, which sparked my interest again. Since we’re in the age of self-publishing now, I figured I would give it another shot.

Who is the illustrator for the book? How did you connect?

Erin Bonner is my adult niece and an amazing illustrator. She has a background in photography and teaches art at a local library. I told her about the book and she loved the idea of doing the illustrations. 

What drew you to children’s literature as opposed to other kinds of writing?

To be honest, I would love to write the Great American Novel, but I know that involves a lot of research and time — you have to have the resolve for it, and I’ve never been in a place in my life where I’ve had the time to devote to a project of that size. Beyond that, I’ve just always loved children, and I felt drawn to writing a children’s book. We’ll see what the future holds after my retirement.

Was there any particular reason you chose to make the main character a kangaroo?

The name Keeta Kangaroo rolled off my tongue, and it was a simple decision after that. I wanted to choose animals for the book that kids would find interesting, and I think kangaroos are one of them.

What is the target age for this book?

Ideally, it would be best for children ages 4 to 7. We all know that there’s a lot of negativity out there. In this internet age, it’s all too easy for kids to learn to be unkind and treat one another poorly. It’s important to show them that using kind words goes a long way. Sometimes people can be mean without even realizing it, and we have to think hard about what we say before we say it. All of those messages are wrapped up in a sweet story. 

What has the experience been like for you now that the book is published?

It’s pretty awesome. It’s one thing to have an idea and a vision in your head, but to hold the tangible evidence of that and see your name on it is an incredible feeling. I may never get rich because of this book, but the sense of accomplishment goes so much deeper than any monetary gain could. 

I haven’t had as much time to market the book as I would like, but I have been going around to some of the local elementary schools and reading in classrooms. The feedback I’m getting from the children is very positive because the overall message is about kindness. They really seem to be responding to its message, and in this age of anti-bullying efforts the timing really couldn’t be better. It’s been a lot of fun to share with people, and accomplishing a goal I dreamed up a long time ago.

“Keeta Kangaroo Learns a Lesson (or Two)” is available in paperback and digital formats at Amazon.com. To order a copy from the author directly or to schedule a classroom or library reading, send an email to auerbach.lauren@gmail.com.

Reviewed by Kevin Redding

L.L. Cartin

Ever since she was a young girl, L.L. Cartin has dreamed of living in a haunted, three-story Victorian house.  The specificity and macabre nature of her ideal living arrangement was perhaps shaped by early family trips from West Hempstead to the North Shore for realtor-guided roams through abandoned waterfront mansions. She recalls walking down the long hallways and into empty rooms and being suddenly overcome with lingering feelings from former owners. She could feel parties and celebration, fights and anger and sadness in the child’s bedroom.

“I think it was the beginning of awakening that side of me,” recalled Cartin, a former instructor at St. Joseph’s College who is ordained in metaphysical studies and for many years has taught the subject from inside her gothic-style, 1890s-built, Victorian home in Port Jefferson. “I was always very intuitive and never really shut that part of me down.”

Her house, which she moved into in the early 2000s, is filled with paranormal entities and has been the site of a few major investigations from local professional ghost-hunting groups.

“My very first night here was a very strange and frightening experience — I ran out of this house so fast I didn’t even know my legs could move that fast,” she says with a laugh, speaking of her ghostly visitors with the calm, matter-of-fact tone one might use to talk about a leaky faucet.

But for Cartin, the supernatural energy that fills her home is not only the basis of her teachings and studies, it’s also the inspiration behind her first published book, entitled “Daphne’s Web,” a “paranormal romance” fiction from Divertir Publishing.

Tell us about the plot of the book.

A woman raises her two young children in the house, but the actual story takes place once the children grow up and move out. Once the woman is alone in this house, she is met with some kind of being, a male energy she has no control over. He can foist his will upon her and she can do nothing about it. This ghost has an agenda and he has to weave through her and more people to accomplish his agenda. The various characters center around a school, which is not too terribly far-fetched from how I use the house and how the house is haunted. So that’s the melding of the history of the house, the energy in the house, the work that I do — which is metaphysical, and my passion for writing. I’ve always loved writing, so it all came together like that.

What prompted you to want to write it?

During classes I was holding at the house we were seeing paranormal activity. It became fascinating enough to actually write about. The ultimate purpose of the book is for us to see ourselves in some of the characters’ behaviors and realize we can change. The intention was that this “Law of Attraction” information, this metaphysical information, is so powerful and so peaceful and helpful — how do we get more people to study this? So I said, let’s put it in parable. Let’s make a story.

Then we ended up getting two paranormal companies, Babylon Paranormal and Katonah Paranormal, at the house to document things. Not only were things found related to the previous people who lived here, but they were validating content that was already written in the story.

Who is the best audience for this book?

I do think it’s very good for young adults because it’s a very clean book. I think on Twitter it’s called a “clean romance.” The setting is in the 1960s so there are no cellphones, no computers … From what I read of people’s comments, young people sometimes want a break from the fast-paced, in-your-face technology world and many have even said they love the music and books of the 1950s and 1960s. If they can escape this current world, teleport for a little while, through this book, they can go back to a gentler time.

What do your metaphysics students think of the book?

They’re enjoying it and relate to the imagery in the house, and are certainly aware of the teachings. By studying metaphysical science, I have made myself a better person. And I’m so much happier and have more peace, and my desire to share that is so strong. So how do I share it? I have classes here. Anyone is welcome, but on any given night, there’s just a handful of people. I don’t advertise, it’s just word of mouth; they’ve been coming for 20 years to these classes, but I wanted to reach a bigger population. I’m hoping the book will help. I hope to start speaking and doing readings in local libraries.  My goal is to bring this wisdom, the universal wisdom, outside of the four walls of my house and into a larger community.

Did you encounter any paranormal interferences during your writing process?

The previous owner was deceased from the time we purchased the house and I kept getting mail from him and kept going to the post office and telling them this person was deceased. Long deceased. But I kept getting their mail. It didn’t just come at a regular basis, it came at a random basis, and it came with strange messages on the envelope like “WATCH FOR MARCH 21st” and, lo and behold, on or around those specific dates, I would get a call from the publisher or got the book with corrections needed. We were being led to just keep going. I thought that was very paranormal. And since it was published, I haven’t gotten a thing.

In my heart of hearts, I feel that the energy in my house did have unfinished business. That’s what the book is about. The ghost began to use the live beings living in the house to finish his business, which he does complete in this book.

And I felt like the previous owner of my house must’ve had some unfinished business in some nature and that in a way I was being used to write this. I felt very inspired throughout the whole time.

‘Daphne’s Web’ by L.L. Cartin is available online at Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Book Depository.

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Cynthia Baxter

In her sophomore outing of the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe mysteries, author Cynthia Baxter once again returns to the fictional Wolfert’s Roost, a small town nestled in the Hudson Valley where Kate McKay has opened up an artisan ice cream parlor. A former public relations director and transplanted New Yorker, she has returned to her hometown to help care for her feisty grandmother, the woman who raised her.

Picking up immediately after the end of the delightful “Murder With a Cherry on Top,” Kate becomes embroiled in the murder of a beloved fashion designer, Omar DeVane. The page-turner focuses on a quartet of suspects that orbit Omar’s world. Secrets and deception intersect with the world of high fashion. Kay, along with her “Three Musketeers”— childhood friend, Willow; niece Emma; and Emma’s boyfriend, Ethan — embark on an inquiry.

What is unique is Kay’s motivation? She’s not just another amateur sleuth involved where she shouldn’t be; instead, her concern is that the murder has made the area notorious and has negatively affected the town’s businesses. Her drive is to solve the crime to put Wolfert Roost back on track.

There’s also a nice romantic triangle that plays out in the background, creating additional conflict for Kay, but never interfering with the rapid progress of the mystery. In addition, Baxter shows her literary skill in a portrait of Omar’s brother, Arthur. Touching and dimensional, it provides a whole different shade in the fast-paced narrative. It is a sympathetic and unusual portrait of a man who has found satisfaction in the simplicity of his life.

With appropriate tension and intrigue, the story builds to a satisfying resolution. And, of course, like in the premiere outing, the entire tale is told against the world of the ice cream parlor, complete with the traditional flavors (Classic Tahitian Vanilla) as well as a host of unusual confections Kay dreams up (Honey Lavender, the sorbet Peach Basil Bliss!). 

“Hot Fudge Murder” is a great second helping of cozy mystery. Looking forward to a third.

Cynthia Baxter is the author of 55 novels.“Hot Fudge Murder” is the second book in her new Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series with Kensington Publishing Corp. and is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit her website at www.cynthiabaxter.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Not to brag (well, this is my story, so I guess if I’m going to brag, this is the place to do it, right?) but my house is the most beautiful, most magical, most jaw-droppingly fabulous place in the world …”

So begins Jenna Gavigan’s charming young adult novel “Lulu the Broadway Mouse,” appropriately subtitled “Tiny Dreamer. Big Dream.” And what is the protagonist’s house? It is the Shubert Theatre, located at 225 West 44th Street in New York City. Here is where the sassy young mouse and her family work and reside.

Jenna Gavigan

Gavigan made her Broadway debut as a teenager in the 2003 “Gypsy” revival, which starred Bernadette Peters. It is clear that Lulu is both a celebration of the author’s experience as well as a peek behind the curtain. “Show business is an uncertain path full of highs and lows, hills and valleys, sunshine and clouds … but still …” The tale (tail?) paints a picture of a theater world that is both exciting and challenging, full of rewards and disappointments — but, most of all—lessons in life.

Lulu works with her mother in the wardrobe department and has one goal:to perform on a Broadway stage. While it’s a daunting proposition, she is a wonderful role model of inspiration and drive:

“Here’s the thing, though. In case you’d forgotten. I know I’m eloquent and funny and it’s easy to forget … I’m a mouse. A darn cute and talented one, but, well mice can’t be on Broadway. At least, none of us ever have been. I know it’s not fair. It’s just the way it is. True, plenty of things never happened until they did. No one had ever walked on the moon until that Neil Armstrong guy did it.”

Lulu we learn (like all mice) can talk. “We can talk everywhere … but so far, only theatre people listen.” Gavigan creates a mythology with the story of a seamstress, Bet, who befriends Poppy, the first mouse ever to work in the building. It is a wonderful story in the narrative’s rich tapestry. “These mice are here to help us,” says Bet. “They’re our coworkers, not our enemies.” 

Lulu’s world is populated with a winning variety of characters including the stage manager, the child wrangler, the dance captain, backstage staff, actors and, of course, the show’s star, the regal-yet-kind Stella James. “What’s important is to remember that it takes a team, a village, a family to put on a Broadway show and take care of the theatre.” Here is the bustle of theater life, the demands of rehearsals and the excitement of performance. And we are appropriately reminded that it is not just the performers but everyone from box office to backstage who make the magic.

Driving the story is the arrival of young and diminutive Jayne, the new understudy for the show’s child star, Amanda. Amanda is the epitome of selfish and self-absorbed; she is a bully and a manipulator.  “Sometimes dreams come with terms and conditions. Sometimes dreams come with Amanda.” But Gavigan ultimately presents a dimensional character, whose harshness is rooted in a deep-seated insecurity.

What ensues in this enchanting work and how Lulu pursues her dream make for an eventful and engaging journey: “Because everyone — no matter what size or species — deserves to live their dream.”

While the book will be embraced by children (and adults) with a passion for theater, the lessons that are offered are universal and told in a way that all readers will embrace the joy that is both the heart of Lulu and Lulu the Broadway Mouse.

Recommended for middle school readers, “Lulu the Broadway Mouse” is available at your local Barnes & Noble bookstore; can be ordered at Book Revue in Huntington; and is online at Running Press Kids, Hatchette Book Group; Barnes & Noble; and Amazon. For more information on the author, visit iamjennagavigan.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Jenna_Gavigan.

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The cover of Dineen's novel

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In his novel, “Suburban Gangsters,” Michael P. Dineen paints a bleak picture of the drug dealing/criminal culture on Long Island, spanning the 1980s right through the War on Drugs of the 2000s. And while Dineen is dealing with a difficult and often ugly story, he has managed to create an engaging and occasionally darkly humorous chronicle.  

Clearly, the book is a fictional account of his own life, told first person through Huntington resident Patrick Hunter. While Hunter was born in New York City, he was raised on Long Island. And while his experience focuses mainly on the drug dealing issues that were faced locally, he tells a universal story.

Hunter is the son of a cold and demanding Army vet and New York City firefighter. He starts off as an athlete but strays from the path. He can trace the turning point to his father refusing to co-sign a car loan for him. “Had my conversation gone differently with my father in the spring of 1985, I may have never become a criminal.” By his junior year, it is this deep-seated anger with his father that turns this jock into a burnout and juvenile delinquent.  

The cover of Dineen’s novel

A combination of intense training and steroids also fuel his rage and anti-social behavior. He and his friends “trained like animals” in this hybrid martial art called American Combat Karate. His change in personality draws him to like-minded and like-feeling young people. He begins using cocaine and then successfully selling it. “I had no clue that we had just opened Pandora’s box.” This metaphor points to the perils that follow. 

Dealing out of his home, Hunter could clear $5,000 to $10,000 a week. “For being average kids from the suburbs, that was serious dough. And we were just starting to scratch the surface of this modern-day gold rush.”

It’s not long before the enterprise begins to grow: “Settling into a nice routine, we began expanding the scope of our business. In addition to selling cocaine, we were now selling steroids, pain pills, other pharmaceuticals, and even small amounts of marijuana. And we also began some small loan sharking.”

Hunter gives an unflinching description of the toll that cocaine and crack cocaine have taken on the community. Throughout the book, there are devastating reports of destruction — both of people and property. (A wilding incident secures his gang’s creed but also called them to the police’s attention.) It is a brutal world where the anger and danger manifest in violent and senseless brawling. The only loyalty in this cutthroat existence is to money. There are many stories here of drug users that involve beatings and worse.  

His life is populated with equally damaged souls. When he falls in love, drugs predictably complicate his life. His girlfriend (and later wife), Vanessa, is a cocaine user and later addicted to pain pills. He shows that there is no emotional security when dealing with an addict. Love may blur the problems but it won’t make them go away. His partner, Jake, is a study in contrast. Jake is a high risk-taker and that causes a much earlier fall than Hunter. Even those who are committed to him in their own way are a liability in this hard society.  

The first shift is when dealers begin making deals with the police and FBI. As they begin to roll over, it becomes an era defined by survival. The narrative refrain is to “trust no one” as the likelihood is betrayal. His life alternates between dealing and partying and hiding and running.

Throughout the narrative, Hunter addresses issues of karma. The fact that he is the one who hooks Vanessa on Percodan (and eventually she goes back to cocaine) is just as much his fault as hers. There is the overall ruin that visits all who are involved. “When you are caught up in the hustle game making easy money, it’s almost impossible to voluntarily stop. It’s just as hard to stop dealing drugs, as it is to stop using drugs. Making that money becomes just as addictive.”

In addition to the drug world, there is theft. A gang called the Crash and Carry Gang are featured throughout. A highly dangerous crew that steals and fences, the intersection of Hunter and these men only furthers his twisted existence.

After a number of years, Hunter shifts his dealing to only selling marijuana and becoming a police informant. This gives both security and the ability to rat out the competition. He and his second partner, Big Ray, make a fortune while serving as police informants:

“We just finished a two-year run of basically being able to deal drugs with police protection. Our involvement with them and setting up that huge bust allowed us to operate while they looked the other way. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. Had you told me back in 1985 that seven years later I would still be dealing, only acting as a double agent by being a federal informant, I would have said you were nuts. But that is the insanity of this lifestyle. If you weren’t smart enough to roll with the changing times, you would have the life expectancy of a housefly.”

The fact is, by this time, everyone was either being caught or flipping. Everyone with whom Hunter had been involved was either cooperating or in jail.

Through all of this, glimmers of Hunter’s humanity come through. There is a poignant account of the death of a friend to heroin overdose (one of many in his journey).  

His love for the daughter he has by Vanessa and his fear for her safety is also very honest. The devastating loss of his karate mentor coincides with the dissolution of his marriage.

And in 1998, Hunter gets hooked on painkillers. The final portion of the book, entitled “To Hell and Back,” is the ultimate karmic payback. He begins the section with an unflinching assessment of the opioid and heroin crises: 

“The painful truth is no one seemed to care when heroin was devastating the inner city minority neighborhoods. Now that Little Johnny and Suzy from the bourgeoisie started dying, people finally started taking notice. That is politics for you. … For years, my fellow criminals and I cashed in on the suffering and unquenchable desire of a population that demanded drugs. It was almost like taking candy from a baby, it was so easy. But now the universe was about to flip the script and teach me a punishing lesson, you reap what you sow.”

While he began with a pill addiction, like so many, Hunter shifted to heroin because it was both cheaper and more accessible. His own downfall is inevitable:

“[H]eroin became the new love of my life. It was a total obsession for me. My habit became enormous overnight. Within a few weeks, I was sniffing twenty bags or two bundles a day. This continued for about three months until [his dealer] just up and disappeared. Now unable to get it, I began to panic. Withdrawal began creeping in and I was miserable.”

What ensues is a circle of detox, followed by relapse, methadone clinics, jail, homelessness … There is a harrowing observation that after 9/11, dopers thoughts were only how would they get their fix? And, of course, the question of how did he get here haunts him: He went from a million dollar drug business to being a junkie with nothing to his name. It is not until 2008 that Hunter is finally drug free and has his life on track.

In the beginning, Dineen writes with wonder at his often good luck … and later is accepting of his ultimate fate. In the end, he reaches both a sense of self and responsibility. His final thought is an important warning:

“So let this be a cautionary tale to anyone who is thinking about embarking on a life of crime or being involved with narcotics. There is no riding off into the sunset, no Hollywood endings when it comes to drug and crime. You will be lucky to escape with your freedom, and most importantly, your life!”

“Suburban Gangsters” by Michael P. Dineen is available online at Amazon.com or from its distributor AT www.dorrancepublishing.com.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Roy Schwartz

Roy Schwartz has had a deep passion for storytelling since he was a young boy growing up in Israel. While he’s written for a variety of audiences since arriving in America, the 38-year-old particularly enjoys writing for children because of their incredible imaginations and willingness to learn. 

His first published novel, “The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There,” tells the story of a 10-year-old girl seeking to bring her father back to life following a fatal heart attack. The horror-fantasy story is geared toward school-age readers, but Schwartz hopes people of all ages will connect with its message of courage, friendship, love and perseverance.

What was your upbringing like? Did you always want to be a writer?

I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, and then in 2004 I came to New York City as an unapologetic believer in the American Dream. I got a BA in English with a concentration in writing for children and young adults from the New School.

I used to want to be a comic book artist, but I didn’t have the artistic talent. I used to fill whole notebooks with stories during classes, to the endless frustration of my teachers. So it made sense to go on and study it in college. It seemed like something I couldn’t help but do. I got through college without having to work very hard just because I was naturally good at it.

After college, I was a freelance writer, but I was hit very hard by the economic collapse that began around 2008. I then went to grad school at NYU, taught for three years at CUNY, and eventually found myself in legal marketing. I found that I really enjoyed it. I’m now the communications director for a regional law firm.

What drew you to children’s literature?

I felt that to really make a difference in the world, I needed to write for children. The best children’s lit isn’t just for children — adults can also enjoy them, and they have merit and value for any age. But there’s no comparison to having a child come up to me and say a book of mine inspired them and gave them new ideas.

Is there a target audience for the book?

It’s for 8- to 12-year-olds, but a 6-year-old might enjoy it, and an adult can also appreciate it. I worked very hard to add those layers so that anyone can enjoy it.

What inspires you?

I’ve always been interested in classic fairy tales like “Aesop’s Fables” or “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” I wanted to give that wheel a new spin. The things we experience are sometimes scary or unfair, and there aren’t always happy endings at every turn in life, but everything can be endured with friends, family and having faith in yourself. There are always good people to go through life with, and at the end of the day it’s all about love. Those are the ideas I hoped to capture in this book.

Can you tell us about the book? Was it based on a personal experience?

This story is about a 10-year-old girl who loses her father to a heart attack. She learns that at night, she can travel to the afterlife, so she decides to try to bring him back. But traveling to the afterlife can be very scary and even dangerous. Along the way, she encounters people in the afterlife from a variety of different backgrounds and points in history that support her. I don’t have a dramatic personal story that inspired the book. If you look at a lot of children’s literature, the main character is either alone or has lost one parent, and that sets them off on an adventure.

What do you like about the main character, Lee?

Lee is an artist. She’s very much a “real person” — she’s not a perfect 10-year-old. She’s thrown into a very surreal situation and has to develop the courage to navi- gate that. I wanted to have a protagonist that was fully realized. Lee doesn’t start out wise beyond her years or have perfect knowledge of what she needs to do.

What message do you hope  readers will come away with?

I hope the book isn’t preachy but I hope that it can help create empathy for different experiences and perspectives. Lee could not have succeeded in her journey without the support of the people she meets along the way

Did you self-publish this book or pursue traditional publishing?

I went with the traditional publishing. The publisher for this book, Aelurus Publishing, is a UK-based, independent company.  An author friend of my wife’s went on to become an editor and sent it to her publisher. That’s how they found me.

What are you working on next?

I have a nonfiction book for adults about the superhero industry called “Is Superman Circumcised? How Jewish Culture Informed the World’s Greatest Hero” (working title) coming out in the spring of 2019 through McFarland Publishing.

Where can we learn more about you?

My website is www.royschwartz.com, and you can find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as RealRoySchwartz. 

“The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There” may be purchased online at www.aeluruspublishing.com, Amazon.com and the Google Play Store. 

Meet Roy Schwartz at the following reading and book-signing events: Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine, 110 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre on Oct. 27 at 3 p.m.; The Dolphin Bookshop, 299 Main St., Port Washington (multiauthor event) on Nov. 10 at noon; and the Suffok Y JCC, 74 Hauppauge Road, Commack on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.

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The cover of Pielmeier's latest book

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Everything you think you know about me is a lie.”

This bold claim is made by the author, one James Cook, born Feb. 23, 1860 — the Man Who Will Be Hook. It is an appropriately provocative statement as what follows is an extraordinary account that is so beautifully crafted it rings true. It is an epic, engaging and profound journey.

Taking a famous story and its characters and presenting them from a different perspective is a delicate and difficult task. More often than not, these attempts miss the mark. The exceptions (Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked,” Tom Mula’s “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”) are few. We can joyously welcome to this short list John Leonard Pielmeier’s remarkably entertaining “Hook’s Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself.”

While honoring J.M. Barrie’s source, “Peter Pan,” this is an entirely unique universe, told eloquently with candor and avoiding the pitfalls of preciousness. The book is both humorous and heart-breaking in turns and results in a portrait of the titular character that is memorably dimensional.

The novel explains how both the captain’s hook and Captain Hook came to be. The narrator begins with a detailed account of his emotionally dark and complicated childhood (shades of David Copperfield), a boy living in the shadow of an absent father and whose mother’s complicated history is gradually brought to light. An unfair expulsion from Eton sets his course, being drugged and impressed into naval service at 14 years old. Cook’s odyssey to Hook begins here.

At the center of the tale is the contrast of the man (Hook) and the child (Pan). It is a sharp account of the consequences of actions and the repercussions of retaliation:

My enemy. I refused to write his name, though it is a name well known, oft-illuminated by the gaudy lights of money-raking theatrical houses, where it is exploited for glamour and gain. Wherever his name is lauded mine is hissed. We are forever linked. The same audiences who pretend to save a supercilious fairy’s life by applause either laugh at me as a piratical clown or sneer at me as the Devil incarnate. Children cast the least popular child to play me in the nursery, while their professional counterparts hire histrionic overachievers to portray me. Heavens, what villainy! And all because of a lying tale told by a dour Scotsman that casts him as Hero and me as the Dastardly Villain who would stop at nothing to see him dead.

And yet, Hook makes clear that before they were enemies, they were friends as devoted as brothers. He knows that Peter is what he is: “I forgave him his childish behavior. He was, after all, my first and closest friend, the very best part of myself.”

The cover of Pielmeier’s latest book

Peter is both so innocent as to not understand what a pocket is and how it works, yet, like a child, capable of terrible cruelty. He is doomed to live in the “now.” This is a very different take on “Peter Pan,” finding the reality of what it means to never grow up: “In deifying youth, the Never-Archipelago frees us from the unknown — how marvelous! ‘You will never grow old’ promises delight; ‘You will never be different’ sounds like a punishment.”

What passes between James and Peter is the driving force of their story leading to Hook’s desire for revenge:

The remarkable thing about revenge is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it really is. There’s no false altruism involved, no lessons to be taught, no fortune to be gained, and more often than not, it has terrible consequences for those who seek it out. It’s a complete mystery to me why it is so attractive. Yet it is. I admit it. I was drawn to it as if it were a lovely lady (and it sometimes is).

This extraordinary understanding infuses Cook/Hook with a profundity that further shows how complex and yet accessible Pielmeier’s protagonist is. Hook, the narrator, is bravura and melancholy, struggle and hope.

In this world, there is birth and death and yet the laws of physics, geography, astronomy and even time itself are broken and twisted. “Yesterday” and “tomorrow” have different meanings. It is mind-bending and yet completely logical onto itself.  

In the midst of this, many of the images, ideas and characters inhabiting Barrie’s world are threaded in Pielmeier’s distinctively rich tapestry. Here is the fairy dust (flying sand); shadows lost, found and stolen; and “second star to the right.” Tink the fairy and the Darling family take their places in new and innovative ways. A cast of buccaneers, headed by the kindly Smee (the boy’s first and true shipboard friend and the one who dubs him “Captain”), populate a world that is shared with the mermaid lagoon (signaling the boy’s burgeoning sexuality), wrestling bears and other marvels.  

The young James’ great romance is Tiger Lily, beautiful and brave, noble from a noble tribe, whom he tries to describe but stops short with the simple yet telling “please picture the first love of your life. She was as beautiful as that.” Pielmeier lands gently on these divine truths.

 Like any great pirate yarn, there is a great deal of adventure. A hidden treasure map leads to mutiny “with buckets of sea water mixed with oceans of blood.” There is a secret monster living in a Deep Well and a sea battle that ends with a Viking Burial.

The crocodile (named “Daisy” for Hook’s mother), well-known in the Peter Pan oeuvre, is so much more, her place in the story revealed in one of the most innovative and creative strokes in a novel full of imaginative flights.

There is a clever and delightful exchange between young James Cook and Peter when they first meet. It is a hilarious dialogue about baptism and the end of time. It is wide-eyed and innocent and yet pointed and shrewd. These charming moments are interspersed in a driving and thrilling narrative that weaves a mystery intertwining the entire company.

The book not only encompasses Barrie’s world but there are nods to history and literature, ranging from explorer James Cook, the murders in Whitechapel and Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” The references are subtle and enrich the chronicle as no shared incident is without value.

Pielmeier’s writing is visceral. A journey through an underground cave is thrilling and breathtaking in the tradition of great adventure novels. In addition, he has created individuals of great authenticity in a fantastical world. Almost no one is wholly good or bad, but shades of both, often alternating within the same beings.

The conclusion joins all of the pieces in a satisfying, cathartic and touching resolution. 

While this marks Pielmeier’s debut novel, he is a gifted playwright, author of one of the most important and powerful plays of the last 40 years: “Agnes of God.” It is no surprise that he should prove equally successful in this genre. This will certainly be the first of many such works and let us hope for another visit to his unique vision of Neverland and its environs.

“Hook’s Tale” is a remarkable book, one that will sit proudly on the shelf occupied by the original “Peter Pan” itself. “I am stuck with the Truth,” writes Hook, “and the Truth is neither nice, clean, nor simple.” But, in Pielmeier’s hands Hook’s “Truth” is unflinching in its heart and inspiring in its humanity.

‘A Hook’s Tale’ is available online at Simon & Schuster, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. For more information on the author, visit www.johnpielmeier.com.

Reviewed by Sabrina Petroski

Beth Rosiello

Have you ever wondered what it was like inside the womb before you were born? In Beth Rosiello’s first children’s book, “Inside Mommy’s Tummy” (Dorrance Publishing), you can find out! With fun anecdotes from the point of view of the baby, and colorful photographs and animations, this book is a wonderfully creative way to get the inside scoop.

“Inside Mommy’s Tummy,” meant for children ages 3 to 8, transports the reader into the world of the baby before they are born; what they hear and who talks to them. Since the story is based on her family, Rosiello includes pictures of the parents, siblings, grandparents and even the family dog! We follow the pregnancy from start to finish, finding out the gender of the baby, what the nursery looks like and the experience of birth.

In a recent interview, the Centereach author gave some insight on how the book came about and the process of getting it published.

Tell me about yourself. 

I’ve been married to my husband Frank for 32 years. We have two boys, Matt and Steven, and two grandchildren, Sean and Brianna. I’m into a lot of different things creatively speaking — crocheting, crafting, sewing, reading and writing and I love spending time with my family and friends. Currently I am semiretired.

What were your favorite books growing up? 

I would sit for hours reading all kinds of books but my favorite were the Nancy Drew mystery series.

Why did you write this children’s book?

I have always wanted to write children’s books but just never had the time. I wanted to do something special for my granddaughter and that’s how this came about.

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

My family was very supportive of my book. I actually wrote it first and then told them about it. They all loved the idea and were very proud of me.

Why did you choose to write a story from the point of view of a baby ?

I didn’t so much choose this as it just came to me. I woke up in the middle of the night with the idea and thought it would make a great book from the baby’s point of view.

Are the people in the story based on real people? 

Yes, it was written around my granddaughter, Brianna, but it incorporates my whole family.

How did you go about getting the book published? 

I sent the book to a couple of different publishers — I never realized there were self-publishers as well as regular book publishers. I should have done more research. I apparently went with a self-publisher, so it did cost me a lot to get it published, but I’m still glad it’s out there.

What was it like working with a publisher? 

The process was easy; they helped me every step of the way, answered my questions and were there if I needed them.

How did you come up with idea to use real pictures? 

The drawings just weren’t working out. I even tried using an app to convert the pictures to drawings, but they weren’t working. 

What was it like receiving your first copy of the book?

It was totally amazing. I was in heaven and so proud of the book. 

Where is the book available?  

The book is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book?  

I would say go for it if you have a bucket list and writing is on it. I did and I couldn’t be happier. It is very satisfying to do something like this even if you only do it once. At least you can say you did it and got it published. Not everyone can say that.

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