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Book Review

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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.

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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.

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

Author Thomas M. Cassidy

Setauket resident Thomas M. Cassidy has taken his real-life experiences as an investigator and turned them into a detective thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The book “Damage Control,” set in the early 1980s, travels back to a time when detectives solved crimes without the help of modern technology and had to rely solely on their instincts and wit. Using New York City as a backdrop and an array of characters, Cassidy takes readers on an interesting trip behind the scenes to see how crimes were once solved.

Recently, Cassidy took time out to answer a few questions about writing his first mystery novel.

You were a former senior investigator with the New York State Attorney General’s Office. How did you become interested in writing?

As a reader of crime fiction and a frontline investigator, I challenged myself 25 years ago to take the leap and write a book. I was amazed at how fast I was able to complete my goal. It took me two weeks to write my book. But, it was only 12 pages long! OK, it was a short book, but it changed my life forever. 

I started buying books on how to write novels and get published. Then I read in The Village Times Herald that a professor at Stony Brook University, the late Deborah Hecht, offered a free workshop called Coffee and Conversations for aspiring writers on the third Friday of each month. This program, which is no longer available, included a presentation by an author, publisher or journalist as well as time to interact with other would-be writers. I listened, learned and read. I kept adding pages to my book.

How long did it take you to write this book?

It took me more than 25 years to reach the finish line for “Damage Control.” I thought I had finished it in 1999, 2001 and 2004, but each update resulted in numerous rejection letters from literary agents and publishers. As I continued adding pages to my novel, I felt a big piece of my mystery puzzle was missing: I needed a mentor with hands-on experience in the New York City Police Department. 

I gave my father, Hugh “Joe” Cassidy, a retired NYPD detective commander, my draft manuscript. He rolled up his sleeves at once, and he spent many months working and sharing his expertise with me on every phase of my book until his death in 2011 at age 85. Plus, by this time I was an experienced author of several nonfiction books.

How many books have you written? 

My writing life took a surprising turn when friends and family members started asking me for elder care help because of my experience as a health fraud and patient abuse investigator. I then began writing books about growing old in America, including “Elder Care/What to Look For/What to Look Out For!” from New Horizon Press, “How to Choose Retirement Housing,” from the American Institute for Economic Research, and co-editor of a college textbook, “Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Aging” from Springer Publishing Company.

Is ‘Damage Control’ your first fiction novel?

Yes. I never gave up on my detective mystery. I believed that I chanced upon many fascinating detectives, investigators, FBI agents and investigations in my career, and I wanted to share my experiences in a novel.

 

The cover of Tom Cassidy’s latest book.

How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?

On September 10, 1981, Lieutenant John Patrick Donnellan, Manhattan South Homicide, is in a routine meeting with the medical examiner when he gets an urgent call about a high-profile murder in midtown Manhattan that will change his life forever. In one of the deadliest years in New York City history, this murder stands out among the rest, and with only weeks before the mayoral election, all eyes are on the city’s response.

Donnellan, well known in police, political and media circles as a straight talker with a cynical wit, is warned by the most powerful politician in the city to keep a lid on media leaks — and himself — or he will be off the case. Vintage Donnellan sarcasm, scorn and mockery have to be bottled up. But with all the buffoons, phonies and opportunists mixed up in this case, keeping his big mouth shut may be his most difficult task as he navigates through uncharted emotional media, organized crime and romantic networks in pursuit of the killer.

Tell me more about the main character, Lieutenant John Patrick Donnellan.

John Patrick Donnellan joined the New York Police Department, excelled as an investigator and swiftly rose through the detective ranks. He becomes the youngest lieutenant ever appointed commander of Manhattan South Homicide, the most prestigious command in the NYPD.

Are any of the events or characters based on real-life experiences or people in your life?

Yes, many of the events, characters and investigations mentioned in “Damage Control” are loosely based on real-life experiences, while others are a product of my imagination. In addition, all of the New York City police procedures were provided by myfather, a thirty-year veteran of the NYPD.

How close to reality are the investigations in this novel?

“Damage Control” is set in 1981, which was one of the most violent years in New York City history. The investigations in this book are close to reality because back then there was no internet or smartphones, so investigators relied on street smarts.

Do you feel your experiences as an investigator helped you when writing this book? 

Yes, being an investigator definitely helped me write this book. I knew firsthand that many cases have unexpected twists and turns that could never be anticipated when the first wave of detectives arrive at a crime scene. I was able to call upon my own experiences, as well as those of other detectives I worked with or met along the way, as I wrote “Damage Control.”

Do you have a favorite character in the book?

That’s a tough question. I have many favorites including Donnellan, the chief, who is the first female chief of detectives, the mystery woman and many others. But at my current age, I have more in common with Dugan, the oldest detective in the police department.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

I’m nostalgic for the Windows on the World restaurant at the Twin Towers. I had to include that location in the book as a reminder of life before Sept. 11.

What was it like to work with your dad on a detective mystery?

It was truly a blessing for me to share the last years of his life working together on this project. The first time I held my book in my hands, I felt his spirit with me and saw his fingerprints on every page of “Damage Control.”

Tom Cassidy with his father, Hugh “Joe” Cassidy

What do you think your dad would have thought of the finished product?

I don’t want to give away the ending, but he would have laughed so hard at one critical breakthrough uncovered by Donnellan that I would have had to help him get up off the floor. I’m also very confident that he would have written a five-star review of the book on Amazon, like he did for my book on elder care, that he would be the first person to take “Damage Control” out of the library, and he would be helping me write the sequel, “Grave Danger.”

What advice would you give to first-time fiction writers?

Believe that you have an attention-grabbing story to tell, trust yourself, take the first step and start writing. Recognize that fiction readers select from a wide range of genres, so be selective about sharing your manuscript with people who are not in your niche market. Most importantly, avoid negative people, they can be energy vampires!

When is your next book signing event?

On Sept. 7, I’ll be doing a book signing to support Old Field Farm’s free Summer Film event. The week’s movie is one of my favorites, “Casablanca.” My late brother Hugh was the former owner of Old Field Farm, and I am grateful for the opportunity to honor his legacy.

“Damage Control” is available online at www.seattlebookcompany.com and www.amazon.com. For more information about the Old Field Farm Summer Film event, call 631-246-8983. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the farm is located at 92 West Meadow Road in Setauket.

By Beverly C. Tyler

Telling stories about the men and women of the Culper Spy Ring and portraying Setauket spy leader Abraham Woodhull has been one way for me to bring local history to life for both residents and visitors to this area. Reading about the Culper spies is also important, so I have written a number of articles and recommended books that tell the story. I have recently read and enthusiastically recommend “Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” for children of all ages.

The cover of Dana Lynn Zotter’s first children’s book.

Written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter, this 174-page soft-cover book tells the story of two children, Kayleigh and Connor, who spend their last week of summer vacation visiting their great-grandparents in Stony Brook who live in a historic house that holds all kinds of secrets. 

When the children find a gravestone with the name KING engraved on it in the roots of an old tree, their great-grandfather tells them that there was once a legendary spy dog named King in the area who has appeared as a ghost. The siblings meet a local boy and, as detailed on the back cover, “Three children search for the truth about ghosts, legends, and Long Island’s Culper Spies.”

Zotter has woven a delightful tale of a family and their experiences in the Long Island communities of Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson together with an accurate portrayal of the men and women involved in the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. This well-crafted story vividly transports the reader to the historic hamlet of Stony Brook where the children explore their great-grandparents’ Colonial-era home and the shoreline of this picturesque community.

As Kayleigh and Connor explore, they discover mysteries connected with the house and the community, including an appearing and disappearing black dog named King. Agreeing to become detectives and follow the clues, the children discover how the Culper spies operated and how King the spy dog became an important member of the Culper Spy Ring.

Their travels take them along West Meadow Creek and as far as the Village of Port Jefferson where they meet General Lafayette on a recreated 18th-century French warship, which actually visited Greenport in 2015. At one point the children are mysteriously transported back to the Revolutionary War and join the Culper spies and King the spy dog on a brief spy adventure.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” features 22 illustrations, including a recipe for invisible ink and a spy code, along with a list of historic places to visit. The drawings, including one of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, help bring the story to life without taking away from the writing, allowing readers full use of their imaginations. I enjoyed the story and easily identified with the characters. 

Dana Lynn Zotter, who describes herself as a gardener, poet, artist and finder of four-leaf clovers, has crafted a wonderful story that will delight children and make historians smile.

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” is available at the Three Village Historical Society’s gift shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Author Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and pens a biweekly column in the Village Times Herald titled History Close at Hand. 

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Hi, it’s me – Shellbee!” Thus begins “Shellbee’s Story,” a tale of a dog (no pun intended) as told by the dog and “recorded” by her “Mommy,” Port Jefferson resident Jennifer Flynn-Campbell. “My story,” continues Shellbee in the first lines, “has been put into words so humans see the world through my eyes, hear the sounds of emotions, and come to understand the purpose behind the adventures of my life.”

Related in a series of almost three dozen letters, Shellbee tells her own story from pup to forever home and beyond. It is funny and touching, clever and honest. In this unusual journey, Flynn-Campbell has chosen to endow the black Lab with extraordinary insight; by the end, she has artfully convinced us that it is Shellbee relating her life’s story.

The author with her mom, Jennifer Flynn-Campbell

The book — a hybrid of memoir and fiction and something all its own — is not just for dog lovers but for anyone who has ever been touched by a pet (and, this would most likely encompass just about everyone). Shellbee makes us reflect on ourselves as keepers of these innocent souls — the pleasures and the joys of companionship but also the deeper responsibility. It is about unconditional love on both sides or, in Shellbee’s words, it is “the story of my heartfelt love festival on earth.”

From the get-go, the “Hi, it’s me — Shellbee” that opens each letter captures the voice we imagine our canine companions to have. It celebrates the “it’s-me-it’s-you-I’m-so-glad-your-here” enthusiasm that dogs project.

We are treated to her earliest memories and the routines that root her life. Everything — from parties to pools and canoeing on the lake to staying in hotels — is described in childlike wonderment and appreciation. Shellbee compares country life with city living and ponders with puzzlement her first snow. She vividly relates the terror of getting lost and the relief of being found. 

And, of course, at the heart of her thoughts is food, food and food. Food, needless to say, is the focus and center of Shellbee’s life, but it is presented in a manner both humorous and believable. (Even the success of a wedding is measured by how much food is dropped on the ground.)  

The Labrador retriever details her training (most notably under the person she refers to as “Dogman”). She does have concern that she wants to maintain her individuality and not become a “Stepford Dog” (which she most certainly does not). She frames the “training” as “companion connection” and “obedience” as “comfort connection.” Shellbee (Flynn-Campbell) has clear ideas about how dogs should live and be educated. She even does work as a therapy dog, here described from her appropriately simple perspective.

The cover of Shelbee’s book

Shellbee imparts her responses to all of the creatures she comes across — both human and animal, viewing them as one world — all her “littermates.” She even assigns humans to different dog breeds, categorizing them on looks and personality including a hilarious description of her first visit to Santa: “The first time I saw him I was creeped out: a big, fluffy, hairy-faced human yelping, ‘Ho Ho Ho!’” It is an accurate assessment from an outside point of view.  

Shellbee also likes galleries because she has “plenty of room to wag [her] tail while viewing the artwork.”  

Flynn-Campbell also introduces some interesting references to studies that have been done — most notably about “declarative memories” and how and why dogs remember the people with whom they’ve crossed paths. In addition, she writes about scientist Rupert Sheldrake’s work on “morphic resonance,” which explains how dogs are aware when their people are coming home. These small digressions further enhance an overall perspective on what it is to have these dogs so present in our lives.

The book deals with serious health issues — both of Shellbee’s as well as both of her human parents. How they support each other in these difficult times is related in tender and touching passages, showing the pain and emotional confusion, and the pure happiness of being reunited. Furthermore, the important topic of animal abuse and the responsibility we have to end it, is highlighted briefly but pointedly: “Humans put a lot of work into helping heal animals who have been hurt on earth.” It is a statement, but, more importantly, a reminder.  

There are many photos of Shellbee with her family in various places. They are not portraits but snapshots that capture her in all her day-to-day adventures. Credited to Ariana Boroumand, they make a welcome addition to the narrative.  

Shellbee continually comes back to the fact that love will conquer all. Ultimately, it comes down to family. “Knowing you can trust someone is a wonderful feeling.” The book builds to a powerful and inevitable conclusion. While you know it is coming, you cannot help but be moved. Shades of the Rainbow Bridge and spiritual connections are present but are neither saccharine nor maudlin: They are a celebration of all Shellbee was. The ending is one that transmutes grief to hope, loss to recovery.  

In the final letter, the sole written by the humans, there is genuine expression of complete appreciation: “Your presence in our lives enriched us in ways that only Shellbee Ann Campbell’s unique soul could. You found a way to break through the struggles we face as humans. Somehow, you always knew just the right thing to do to bring smiles and comfort to everyone you met. Your gift to make tears stop flowing and erase fears from hearts seemed to come naturally to you. You faced each day with effortless happiness, excited for any and all possibilities.”

“Shellbee’s Story” gives a true and poignant meaning to “a dog’s life.”

“Shellbee’s Story” has been featured in Modern Dog magazine as one of its picks for Best Reads and is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Shellbee posthumously appears weekly in her own blog: www.doggyletters.com and has a popular Twitter account, Facebook page as well as an Instagram account.

Author Ruth Minsky Sender, center, with her brothers. File photo
‘Surviving one more day in the camps was spiritual resistance.’
Ruth Minsky Sender

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Ruth Minsky Sender’s three memoirs — “The Cage,” “To Life” and “The Holocaust Lady” — are must-reads. The books chronicle the author’s life in Europe, from before World War II, through her inhumane imprisonment in the Nazi concentration camp system, and beyond. Sender is a writer of exceptional ability: vivid, introspective and yet always accessible. I have seen her speak and she is every bit as strong and present in person as she is on the page.

Now, the East Setauket resident has a new and unusual offering, a book of poetry, with the majority of poems written while she was in the Mittelsteine Labor Camp (1944–1945). Translated from the Yiddish by Rebecca Wolpe, the poems are raw and disturbing — as they should be. But underneath many of them is her mother’s motto: “While there’s life … there is hope.”  

Miriam Trinh’s well-thought-out introduction shows the importance of “Jewish poetic creativity during the Holocaust as a reaction to Nazi oppression, persecution, and annihilation,” giving context to the writing as well as insight into Sender’s work. “This poetry,” writes Trinh, “was a direct reaction to her experiences during and after the Holocaust: the loss of her prewar identity, the realization that this loss was permanent and unrecoverable and the need to construct a new, postwar identity.”

In addition to the works written while she was in the camp, there are a handful of poems that were created in the 1950s and later. They are equally as important but are taken from a different perspective. All but two of the poems were written in Yiddish (those two in Polish), first on scraps of brown paper bags stolen from the garbage, later in notebooks.

She writes, “These poems were written in little notebooks while I was incarcerated in the Nazi slave labor camp in Mittelsteine, Germany, as prisoner #55082. I wrote them while hiding in my bunk. Every Sunday, I would read them aloud to the fifty other women living with me in the room. They were my critical and faithful audience. I endeavored both to depict scenes from our life and to give everyone a little courage and the will to continue. This was how we spent our Sundays, and anyone who had bit of talent did her best to bring a little happiness into our tragic lives.”

The notebook was given to her by the Nazi commandant after the girls were forced to perform at Christmas. They were told if they didn’t perform, all 400 Jewish girls would be punished. Sender read two of her poems (“My Work Place” and “A Message for Mama”) and somehow they touched the cold-hearted, pitiless Nazi commandant who presented her with the first book to record her verses.

Each poem is a delicate work of art. Some are a dozen lines, while others run to several pages. Given the cruel nature of the subject, it is difficult to comment. Needless to say, they are all vividly descriptive and fiercely honest.

“My Friend” explains the importance of writing. “Our Day” is a single day in the camp, from dreaming to sundown, and shows, even in the brutality, the glimmer of hope. “Greetings from Afar” addresses the day-to-day evil and sadism the prisoners relentlessly faced every moment. “Separation” expresses the pain of being split from her brothers. In “At Work,” the language depicts the harshness of the factory; in the clipped lines you can hear the merciless grinding of the machines.

“A Ray of Light” is just that: the courage to aspire to liberation in the midst of misery. “The Future,” one of the most complicated, looks at liberation from a different aspect: what will become of them and, even more so, where will their anger go upon being freed? It is a breath-taking piece. 

“We Need Not Their Tears” faces the issue of where to go when returning to your home is a deadly option. “Where Is Justice?” is offered in two versions: one composed in the camp and the other written many years after. Both are the horrific story of a prisoner forced to beat another prisoner, driving the girl mad. In a book of challenging pieces, it is one of the most unsettling and haunting.

A later poem (1955), “Teaching Children Yiddish” is a celebration of the language that still exists, a symbol of persistence, with education being at its heart.

“While There’s Life …” is a volume that should be read and re-read by people of all faiths. It is a portrait not just of survival but of how one woman transformed her pain in humanity’s darkest hour into art … into life.

To order your copy of ‘While There’s Life …’ visit www.yadvashem.org and choose the Shop icon.

The cover of Karol's book

By Donna Newman

One of the certainties of life is that, unless one departs first, sooner or later each of us will have to deal with the death of a loved one.

Among his many duties as a spiritual leader, Stephen Karol, now Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, has ministered to the bereaved. He has officiated at funerals, counseled families and helped people navigate the mourning period that begins upon a death and continues through memorial services throughout the ensuing years.

Rabbi Karol has gathered a series of memorial sermons into a book titled, “Finding Hope and Faith in the Face of Death” and subtitled, “Insights of a Rabbi and Mourner.”

Author Stephen Karol

What motivated you to write this book?

I decided to do it for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve gotten really good feedback on my Yizkor (memorial) sermons. People have asked for copies and that sort of thing. And, throughout my career officiating at funerals, I just think people need comforting, hopeful messages to help them cope with death. That’s what this book provides.

Is this a ‘Jewish’ book, or do you feel it has broader appeal?

The book is written primarily for Jews, but not exclusively. While I speak from a Jewish context, a lot of what I have to say in these messages can be applied to people who are Jewish or not, religious or not, whatever they may be.

Why publish it now?

As a congregational rabbi I was devoted to my congregants — and happily so — and didn’t have the time to write a book. Now, in retirement, I decided to share my words of comfort. And when I submitted my proposal to the publisher (Wipf and Stock), they loved my idea and enthusiastically agreed to publish it under their Cascade Books imprint.

What was the most challenging part of compiling the manuscript?

In creating the introduction to the book, I wanted to be honest. I had to confess that, despite my faith in life after death, I am afraid to die. So, I describe my fear and explain how it materialized at a particularly happy time in my life, shortly after my daughter’s birth. I tell about the ways I’ve learned to cope with it and describe how a combination of hope and faith have helped me not only as an individual but also as a rabbi. That’s why I think my words can be universal, because you don’t have to be a rabbi to believe what I believe, and to feel and think what I feel and think.

How did you choose the sermon that became Chapter 1?

The first chapter in the book was chosen because it dealt with a personal loss. I titled it, “Accompanying the Dead” and it begins: “My uncle Harry died last month.” I talk about the experience of being in my uncle’s hospital room with him when he died, and officiating — along with my brother who is also a rabbi — at his funeral. A good number of the chapters involve personal experiences.

The cover of Karol’s book.

Aside from your own personal losses over the years, did other experiences contribute to your understanding of life and death?

I suffered a heart attack in 1995 that gave me a greater sense of perspective. One of the messages in the book is that we need to value life and make every day count. We need to tell people that we love them whenever we can.

How long was this book in the making?

The book consists of 16 sermons that I have given both at Temple Isaiah and at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, Massachusetts, over the course of my tenures at both synagogues. So, when people ask me how long it took to write the book, tongue in cheek I say: 35 years.

“Finding Hope and Faith in the Face of Death” is currently available for purchase on Amazon, Kindle and Ingram. Meet Rabbi Karol at a book talk and signing on June 24 at Temple Isaiah, 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook from 5 to 7 p.m.; or at a book signing on June 28 at Barnes & Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove from 7 to 9 p.m.

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

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

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

Author Philip F. Palmedo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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