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Book Review

The cover of Kim Marino's first book.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cover of Kim Marino’s first book.

What inspired you to write a children’s book?

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

Did you have any reservations about writing the book?

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

Why sloths?

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

What was the publishing process like for you?

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

What is the target age for this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you? 

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

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

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

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

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

The cover of Gus Franza’s latest book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author: 

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

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

Author Christopher McKittrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

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

Author Ralph F. Brady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Erika Swyler
Time, space and the heart of family

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

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

Author Erika Swyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reviewed by Leah Chiappino

Long Island beaches have become the Island’s internationally known trademark attraction. Long days surfing at Atlantic Ocean beaches, relaxing at the gentle waters of South Bay beaches coupled with gazing at what seems like meticulously painted sunsets at the rocky North Shore beaches have provided storybook summer memories for Long Islanders for generations.

Yet, how many of us have had the opportunity to understand how the beaches have come to be what they are today, and the stories of past residents and visitors who enjoyed them so long ago?

Kristen Nyitray, the director of Special Collections and University Archives, as well as a university archivist at Stony Brook University, takes readers along for the story of the history of beaches in Nassau and Suffolk counties in her book, “Long Island Beaches” or what she describes as “a facet of Long Island’s social and cultural history and lure of picturesque beaches.”

Published by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Postcard History Series, the 128-page paperback book details coastal Long Island history beginning with the Native Americans, who had respect for its beauty and used it to live off the vast resources of the coast, often engaging in whaling and fishing. Beach areas became desirable for land ownership in the 16th and 17th centuries and were an asset during the 18th century with lighthouses and stations opening up to combat shipwrecks.

Long Island beach destinations became commercialized during the mid- to late 1800s, with hotels, restaurants and attractions popping up in response to increases in transportation efficiency, even becoming a major source of illegal prohibition transfers. Environmental activism took hold by 1924 when Robert Moses worked with the New York State Council of Parks and Long Island State Park Commission to build beaches and parks throughout the island, along with bridges to link the barrier islands of Jones Beach Island and Fire Island to the South Shore coast.

Nyitray organizes her book by county, then shore and community. Black and white photographs, along with vintage postcards, gleaned from local libraries, historical societies, museums and private collections are sprinkled throughout, beautifully display the coastal culture so ingrained on the island.

Above, a real-photo postcard, c. 1907, depicts summer boarders of Pine View House in Stony Brook enjoying Sand Street Beach; right, the cover of Nyitray’s book. Images courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

It begins with a survey of Nassau County North Shore beaches, showcasing historic hotels and the wealth of those who resided on the coast. For example, Nyitray tells the story of John Pierpoint Morgan Jr., the benefactor of Morgan Memorial Park in Glen Cove in honor of his late wife. It featured seven miles of coast, and as reported by the New York Times in 1926, was one of the first breaks in elitist private estates and chances for the public to access the sound.

Nassau’s South Shore was also populated by hotels and home to the Long Beach Boardwalk and Jones Beach State Park. The Moses-led endeavor at Jones Beach was made accessible to the disabled in 1883 when Strandkorbs, rolling beach chairs, became available. Made of wicker, people were pushed along the boardwalk in them, a major stride in accessibility.

Suffolk’s central beaches consisted of Lake Ronkonkoma and Shelter Island, with the latter being home to the Prospect House Hotel, consisting of a two-story bathing pavilion and a relaxation haven for guests in what is today the Shelter Island Heights Beach Club. The North Shore beaches were home to exclusive communities such as Belle Terre and Greenport.

Albert Einstein even vacationed with his friend David Rothman in Cutchogue, after Einstein visited Mattituck to lease a home for sailing, later renting a home in Nassau Point.

Suffolk South Shore beach history consists largely of Montauk and Fire Island. Nyitray speaks of journalist Margaret Fuller, who tragically drowned with family near Point O’Woods after the ship she was sailing on, The Elizabeth, sank after hitting a sandbar. At the request of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau traveled there to search for her, but to no avail.

These stories are just a sampling of the anecdotes that Nyitray lays out, and by the end of the book has the reader walk away with an immense sense of pride in being a Long Islander, along with better appreciation for being able to live in a place of such indisputable beauty, history and culture.

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

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.

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