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Book Review

Above, the St. James author with her latest book. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Family through the prism of stained glass

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Claire Nicolas White shares her family’s journey in the art of stained glass in her very engaging Five Generations Painting With Light.  

The book opens with a crisply written introduction followed by a succinct and informative history of stained glass. White’s eloquent prose defines her connection in a sharp parallel to the compositions that are to be explored: “Mine is a strange inheritance, transparent, ablaze with light in all colors, breakable, but precious.”

Above, the St. James author with her latest book. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The history details the materials, construction and sites of the pieces as well as the fact that the creation of stained glass today is much the same as it was over a thousand years ago. The nobility as well as the dangers of the trade are also touched upon. The intersection of necessity, art, folklore and fantasy are at its heart. It should be remembered that the windows often served as a method of ecclesiastical communication, telling biblical stories and imparting scriptural themes.

From there, White traces her family history, beginning with her Dutch great-grandfather, artist François Nicolas. His son Charles Nicolas then focused on the business aspects and managing the Nicolas glass studio. White’s father, Joep Nicolas, first rebelled from the family business, but, after studying philosophy and art history, he found that “painting with light remained irresistible.” Joep married Suzanne, an artist with similar if complementary tastes. Joep was highly successful and his work could be seen not just in churches but in assorted businesses and educational institutions, — “square miles of glass.”  

White and her sister, Sylvia, were born in northern Holland but, with the advent of Hitler, Joep moved his family to the United States. It was here that White and Sylvia learned their father’s skill: “I won’t leave you a fortune, but I will have taught you a profession.” Sylvia continued in the work while White found a career as a writer and art critic, publishing everything from poetry to fiction to biography. After leaving the world of graphic design, Sylvia’s son, Diego Semprun Nicolas, took up the family mantle, completing the five generations.  

Throughout, White paints a clear picture of her family, plentiful in detail and event. She manages to evoke their personalities in quick, vivid strokes. The descriptions are colorful and entertaining, revealing the highs and lows, the conflicts and the triumphs.

In addition, White has wonderful insight into the history of art and the artistic temperament. She discusses her father’s seeing his work in musical terms, a strong and vivid metaphor. She quotes her sister’s approach to art as a whole: “Glass is great … but I need to tell tales, religious tales, but also legends, myths. The iconography is inspiring. Life is like a tapestry. You’re influenced by what you’re exposed to and use what you need.”

The book is beautifully enhanced by the many photos of stained glass. It is a delight to see the evolution of the artists through their works and from generation to generation. As Joep stated: “Whoever has been given the spirit, the will, the talent, let him tackle this art form; glass is a willing substance that God had not for nothing allowed us to discover.” Claire Nicolas White has given us an absorbing glimpse into this world of unusual masterpieces.

Claire Nicolas White is an acclaimed American poet, novelist and translator of Dutch literature. She is the granddaughter-in-law of architect Stanford White. Her sister, Sylvia Nicolas, designed and installed all the stained glass in Sts. Philip and James R.C. Church in St. James.

Meet the author at a Master Class at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook as she discusses her latest book, ‘Five Generations Painting with Light’ on Oct. 23 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The event is free and refreshments will be served. Call 631-689-5888 to reserve a spot.

 

 

 

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Barbara Lynn Greif

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

Were you always artistic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did writing fit into your life?

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

What inspired you to write for children?

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

When did you decide to write this book?

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

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

What is your creative process like?

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

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

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

Is there an ideal age for this book?

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

Do you hope to continue writing?

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

Where can this book be purchased?

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

Reviewed by Leah Chiappino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

The cover of Kim Marino's first book.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cover of Kim Marino’s first book.

What inspired you to write a children’s book?

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

Did you have any reservations about writing the book?

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

Why sloths?

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

What was the publishing process like for you?

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

What is the target age for this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you? 

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

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.