Book Review

'The Vision Experiments'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Videre cras ante alli vivere: being able to see tomorrow before others live it.

Author John P. Cardone

John P. Cardone’s The Vision Experiments (Waterview Arts) is an entertaining thriller with a unique premise: What if the great minds and movers in history could see into the future? Speculation about figures such as Alexander the Great, Leif Erikson, Oliver Cromwell, Jonas Salk, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Madam C.J. Walker form the hypothetical core of this unusual thesis. Explorers, inventors, and financiers—even the Oracle at Delphi—are part of the theoretical nucleus. 

And while these individuals are referenced, the center of the novel focuses on the present-day work of the shadowy Fisher Research Institute, located in Los Angeles. Founded by Southampton billionaire Lawrence Fisher III, the medical lab uses homeless men to perform experiments to understand the phenomenon, all connected to various eye treatments. When the procedures fail, the clinic dispatches the men by making them seem victims of a satanic cult.

The Institute has employed Professor William Clarkson to recover documents throughout the world to prove and  further the ideas. Clarkson began his work at the Penn Museum before taking a position at Stony Brook’s Southampton’s campus. From here, he was recruited by the Institute with “what was, in his mind, the possibility of altering the world in every possible way.” As an archaeologist and an expert in parapsychology, he presents the ideal “modern day Indiana Jones.”

Dr. Melissa Speyer, a speech-language pathologist, is dealing with her mother’s passing, a marriage ended by her husband’s departure, and both her father’s deterioration and refusal to go into much-needed care. While dealing with a possible eye infection, a pharmaceutical error provides her with eye drops that enable her to have visions of the future. This fluke comes to the attention of the Institute, resulting in Clarkson’s assignment to find out more. He approaches her, unaware that they will become emotionally involved. 

Here the story kicks into high gear as Los Angeles detectives, as well as the FBI, begin an investigation of the Los Angeles laboratory. From Oxford, England, to Los Angeles to New York City to Long Island, the book zooms across the world in brisk, succinct chapters, intercutting the action in a cinematic fashion. There is a sizeable roster of well-developed characters revolving through the action, with Speyer and Clarkson’s burgeoning romance at the center.

Cardone has done his research, cleverly integrating the ideas behind the all-seeing eye symbol (best known for its placement on the dollar bill). In addition, there are connections to the Eye of Horus and the Staff of Asclepius, associated with the medical profession. Whether Cardone is imparting the background of symbols such as these or explaining forensic examination, he keeps the narrative moving briskly forward.

Elevating the novel is the ethical considerations in the use of knowledge: whether used for gain or good. Because there is the ability, does it justify the action? The Institute does its work in the name of science but in complete denial of any sense of humanity. Cardone addresses the moral dilemma of power, the individual, and society as a whole.

Those who enjoy speculative fiction and a solid, quick summer read will enjoy John P. Cardone’s The Vision Experiments.

Author John P. Cardone is the founder of the Long Island Authors Group, a nature photographer, a wildlife photography instructor, and a lecturer on nature topics. The Vision Experiments is his fifth book and is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Author Yakov Saacks

“The Kabbalah of Life,” a new book by Dix Hills Rabbi Yakov Saacks, is a look at current events as seen through the eyes of a Rabbi and working man. This unique blend of his Chassidic background and a commonsense approach gives way to unique and bold compositions. One part spiritual, one part constructive, this is one man’s pensive search for insight in all that he encounters.

This introspective journey examines common sense, relationships, spirituality, and wisdom. Topics are current and relatable to those of all faiths and backgrounds.

“The world has felt so chaotic over the past few years… an unlikely pandemic followed by US elections and so many crises around the world,” RabbiSaacks says after a few moments in thought. “Our minds are confronted by so much information on social media on a daily basis, we barely have time to decide what we think about a matter before we are bombarded by even more opinions. And these are important topics that require much thought and care.”

He began writing what is now his first book as weekly articles to help encourage his community, and as a way to process what was going on all around him. Rabbi Saacks concluded, “My hope is that this book will help people take a step back from all of the noise and be able to see the heart of each matter, which in turn will help us all have a more honest, compassionate approach to everything we encounter.”

The new release was awarded a five-star review by K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite, one of the largest book review and award contest sites on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.
Read the complete five star review of “The Kabbalah of Life.”

Rabbi Saacks is the founder, director, and senior Rabbi of the Lubavitch Chai Center in Dix Hills, Long Island, NY. In late 1993, Rabbi Saacks, together with his wife Zoey, moved to Dix Hills from Brooklyn to initiate what is today a vibrant organization and institution affectionately known as The Chai Center.

The book is now available online at BookBaby.com, Amazon.com, and many other online retailers.

 

By Jeffrey Sanzel

There’s no real way to prove this, of course, but the Man of Steel’s image — the muscular body wrapped in skintight primary colors, a cape billowing behind him and a large S splayed across his chest — is universally recognized … From the very young to the very old, from Australia to Algeria to Alaska, it’s a pretty safe bet that almost everyone knows Superman. 

excerpt from Is Superman Circumcised?

In Is Superman Circumcised? (McFarland Publishing), Roy Schwartz investigates the creators behind the most iconic superhero and his symbolic connection to Judaism and his place in the general cultural pantheon. It is a fascinating work that mines the historical and sociological place of the Man of Steel.

Author Roy Schwartz

Author Schwartz was born and raised in Tel Aviv and began reading comics at age nine. It was through this medium that he learned English. (Comics allowed him to be comfortable with using the word “swell.”) In his freshman year of college, Schwartz wrote an essay entitled “World’s Finest: Superman and Batman as Didactic Utopian and Dystopian Figures.” Throughout his New York college career, he continued to study the power and place of comic lore, building to his senior thesis, which was the launching source of this book.

Part of Schwartz’s connection to Superman was rooted in their mutual connection of being immigrants, sharing Superman’s sense of alienation, loneliness, and sense of mission. As a result, Schwartz continually surveys the concepts in the Superman oeuvre. 

Jewish influence in the comic book industry is easily traced to its roots. The majority of the original writers and artists were children of immigrants. Superman’s creators — writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster — are very much part of this. They “freely borrowed elements from their cultural environment, including the extensive Jewish tradition of heroic stories about men and women given special abilities to defend the helpless, from biblical to rabbinical.”

The book explains in detail how Superman’s origins and adventures reflect the Jewish experience, both biblical and historical, as a prophetic figure and modern hero:

Their Man of Tomorrow reimagined a mythology is old as civilization, capturing the imagination of America and the world. From Krypton’s destruction echoing the biblical flood in Genesis, to his origin as a baby rocketed to safety paralleling that of Moses and Exodus, to the Clark Kent persona as a metaphor for Jewish immigrant assimilation, to Kryptonite symbolizing remnants of the Jewish civilization destroyed by the Holocaust, to this role as a modern Golem advocating the New Deal, open immigration and intervention in World War II, Superman’s legend is consistent as Jewish allegory.

Schwartz gives a detailed account of Siegel and Shuster’s upbringing, inspirations, and odyssey. He traces them from their teen years, when they conceived of the hero, their attempts to sell it, their breakthrough and rise, and ultimately, both its loss and legacy. On March 1, 1938, they sold the first Superman story to DC for $10 a page, totaling $130. Unfortunately, the contract cost them millions of dollars as they sold the story and the rights to the character as well. This would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Moreover, the impact of this sale would continue beyond their deaths, entangling issues of ownership that the estates would wage.

The earliest part of the book focuses on the biblical connections. Superman is most closely associated with Moses and Samson, but Schwartz also explores Superman as a Jesus figure. While the early Superman reflects an Old Testament figure, in film, television, and later incarnations, the Christ symbolism became strongest.

In the second section of the book, Schwartz expands to the general world of comic books and the influence of the exodus of Eastern European Jewry to the lower East Side of Manhattan. He traces the history of comic books, noting that it was at the bottom of the artistic industry, but one in which Jews could participate, having been blocked out of legitimate magazines and newspapers. 

He discusses both the religious and secular influences on this particular art and its manifestations in various titles. There is an emphasis on the bridging of the foreign culture integrating into American life. “Whatever his metaphorical foundation, the Man of Tomorrow is, and was always intended to be, a symbol of cultural collaboration, exemplified by his origin story as an alien refugee taken in by loving Americans and his life’s mission of bringing to bear the gifts of his heritage for the benefit of all.”

There is no question that the rise of anti-Semitism at home (the KKK and the Bund) and abroad (the ascent of the Nazis) strongly influenced the comic. Amid this rise in anti-Jewish sentiment, Action Comics #1 debuted Superman in June 1938. A year later, Superman #1 appeared, which coincided with the St. Louis — known as “the Voyage of the Damned” — being refused entry and sent back to Germany. Thus, Superman’s origin of a “refugee from a destroyed home when traveling to safe harbor in a vessel granted asylum by kindly Americans” could not have been more germane.

Schwartz gives both context and perspective. He points out that the idea of Superman was so original, there was no true point of reference. “How utterly ridiculous Superman must have seemed to editors then. A strongman from outer space, dressed in long johns, wellingtons and a cape. What a mashugana idea.”

Schwartz demonstrates extraordinary insight in his overview of the intersection of comics, the history of heroes and heroines, theological knowledge, and pop culture. He easily communicates how time and place and the personal history of the creators manifested in the character’s launch. Schwartz imparts the information with humor, focus, a range of examples, and an uncanny ability to join the concepts in an accessible, entertaining, and enlightening way. He easily debunks esoteric theories and interpretations that are rooted in extreme scholarship but have no factual basis. He draws on a wide range of sources, including Siegel’s unpublished memoir.

Schwartz addresses Superman as the ultimate wish-fulfillment: “He’s neurotic catharsis in a cape.” He spends time dissecting the question of who Superman’s true self: the caped hero or Clark Kent. Schwartz delves into the philosophical and cultural aspects, touching on everything from Nietzsche and religion to the accusation of comic books as a corrupting influence. He discusses the many incarnations and traces the constant reinvention of Superman in print and celluloid. He notes the contradiction both the liberal and conservative claim on Superman.

In all of this, the final takeaway, and perhaps the heart of this exploration, is one of identity. The message is a powerful one and valuable as much now as it was in 1938. “For all their glory and symbolism of American might and rectitude, superheroes were created by a band of Jewish kids from the ghetto, and they reflected their fears, fantasies and faith — if not religious, then in the promise of the nation that took them or their parents in.” Superman, as an immigrant, “showed the refugees weren’t, and some insisted, dangerous strangers from the hinterlands, ungrateful, clannish and treacherous. They were thankful and faithful contributors to the American collective.”

Is Superman Circumcised?: The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero  is available online at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. Visit the author’s website at www.royschwartz.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

What happens after “The End?” After the villain is vanquished and order is restored? When the heroes go on to the rest of their lives? The gifted, prolific fantasy author Sarah Beth Durst explores this concept in her enthralling new adult novel, The Bone Maker (published by Harper Voyager).

Twenty-five years before, five extraordinary heroes saved Vos from the destructive forces of the evil Eklor, “a man who dealt death the way a card player dealt cards.” While Eklor was slain and his animated minions destroyed, one of the quintet died in battle. With this, the remaining four went their separate ways.

Author Sarah Beth Durst

The book opens a quarter of a century after the war, with a crime of body snatching. Kreya, the leader of the good forces, has been on a mission to resurrect her husband, Jentt, who was the fallen warrior. Kreya has used Eklor’s notebooks to bring him back, justifying the use of her enemy’s research. “Knowledge itself isn’t evil. It’s how you use it.”  But the decision haunts her.

In this society, the bone makers and their ilk are permitted to use animal bones for their magic. Kreya’s dilapidated tower home is populated by a host of benign creatures. But utilizing human bones is forbidden, adding to Kreya’s moral dilemma. Until now, she had been collecting bones from unlit pyres. Now, she wants to revisit the field of battle to acquire what she needs once and for all. 

All of this is part of the exceptional world-building for which Durst is known and so adept. She creates a detailed, accessible universe and accompanying mythology that are always true onto themselves. At the center are the people who deal in these enchantments:

As far as the guild was concerned, there were only three types of bone workers: bone readers, who used animal bones to reveal the future, understand the present, and glimpse the past; bone wizards, who created talismans out of animal bones that imbued their users with speed, stealth, and other attributes; and bone makers, like Kreya, who used animal bones to animate the inanimate. Ships, weaving machines, cable cars … all the advances of the past few centuries had been fueled by bone makers.

In addition to the human bones, Kreya must offer part of her own life force to bring Jentt back. The resurrection spell is one of inverse power: Every day Jentt lives again, she will have one day fewer. She has revived him for short periods, but the suspense in the first part of the book builds to his complete restoration. 

When she decides that she must visit his death site to acquire the bones from Vos’s fallen soldiers, she recruits Zera, the bone wizard from her team, who now lives in lavish and hedonistic excess. Zera, a master of talisman creation seems shallow and petty, having parlayed her victory into extraordinary wealth and position. She is engagingly sly, quick with a quip, and outwardly narcissistic. “I require pie before I desecrate a mass grave.” Gradually, her depths are revealed, but she never loses her wicked charm and turn of phrase. 

Kreya and Zera venture to the site, returning with the bones and a suspicion that Eklor either never died or has been brought back. Kreya fully restores Jentt to life. Then, along with Zera, gather the two remaining members of their troupe: Marso, the bone reader, whose skill “far exceeded the skills of other bone readers,” and Stran, “a warrior with the experience in using bone talismans to enhance his already prodigious strength.” However, Marso, plagued by doubt and perhaps a touch of madness, sleeps naked on the streets of the least savory of Vos’s cities. Stran has entered a life of contented domesticity, living happily with his wife and three children on a farm. Kreya must reunite this disparate group to bring order once again.

Paramount is that then, and now, Kreya is their leader. As Zera states: “Ahh, but what not everyone knows is this: the legend says that the guild master tasked five, but he did not. He tasked only one. Kreya. She chose the rest of us. All that befell us is her fault. All the glory, and all the pain.” Kreya carried this responsibility during the first war and will do so again.

The Bone Maker refreshingly lacks preciousness. The characters struggle with darkness, inner demons, and attitude. The core team shares common bonds: fear and love, blended with resentments and guilt. The reluctance to take on this new adventure comes from a place of maturity. But once called, they embrace their fates and understand the need — and risk — of sacrifice for the greater good. But even then, they question their actions.

There is no generic nobility. Fallible human beings inhabit this world of fantasy. Kreya is a portrait of loneliness, living like a hermit with her creations, who she calls “my little ones,” monomaniacally focused on raising her husband. Jentt, alive, reflects that “Every time I wake, all I remember is life.” He has lost all the time in between. Stran yearns to return to his fulfilling family life. And Marso, the most fragile and tormented, desires nothing more than peace of mind.

Even with exploring ethical issues, there are plenty of thrills with a host of unusual and dangerous monsters, including venom-laced stonefish and croco-raptors who hunt in deadly packs. There are rousing battles and daring escapes. Eklor’s formally dormant army of the reanimated is poised for invasion. The guild-led government struggles with shadows of self-interest that tip towards corruption. The citizens of Vos do not want to accept the possibility of another war: “There aren’t many who will believe the dangers of the past have anything to do with them and their lives … they want to believe it’s over.” The plot twists and turns, building to a revelation midway through the book, shifting the story’s entire course to a gripping confrontation and satisfying denouement.

Sometimes labeling a book fantasy can be reductive — that it is “good for that genre.” But whether it is confronting issues of sacrifice, delving into a highly original and unique world of magic, or reveling in the banter of old friends facing new quest, The Bone Maker is a rich and complex tapestry — and a great novel on any terms.  

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Award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. The Bone Maker is her 22nd novel and is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. For more information, visit sarahbethdurst.com.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Whenever a new president arrives at the gates of the White House, much attention is given to all the members of the First Family, pets included. This year, all eyes have been on President Biden’s two German shepherds, Champ and Major. Major holds the special honor of being the first presidential pet rescued from an animal shelter.

Co-author Jamie Silberhartz

Jamie Silberhartz has had dogs her whole life, from her childhood on Long Island to her busy life now as a California actor and mom. She also has a passion for helping dogs get out of shelters and into their forever homes. Silberhartz and her longtime friend Erica Lee were touched by Major’s story, and set out to write a tale of their own for kids. 

In Major: Presidential Pup, the dog tells his rags-to-riches story in his own words, sharing the adoption process and a message of kindness. Coupled with realistic, sweet illustrations by Tran Dang, this book should be well-liked by young animal fans.  

I recently had the opportunity to interview Silberhartz about her new children’s book.

What was your childhood like? Did you grow up on Long Island?

I lived on Long Island for my entire childhood! I was born and raised in Stony Brook and graduated from Ward Melville High School in 2000. Long Island is the most beautiful place in the world. I have so much love for it.

What did you want to do when you grew up, and what did you end up doing for work?

I always really enjoyed writing as a child — I loved writing stories and poetry. I went to Emerson College in Boston, where I studied writing and acting, but I mostly focused on screenwriting for TV and movies. Emerson has a Los Angeles program, so I was able to move out to California right after I graduated. Acting has been my main profession since college, mostly doing commercials and television shows. I’ve been on shows like “Dexter,” “Without a Trace,” “Private Practice” and “Criminal Minds.” I also did one of the first ever Web-based series for the show “Lost” on ABC. The writing side really took a back seat until recently. 

I imagine the pandemic has been tough on you as an actor.

Yes, it’s been interesting. Fortunately, it did give me time to write a lot more, which wouldn’t have happened if not for the pandemic. Hollywood shut down briefly, but they were considered essential workers in this area. I’ve been home writing and spending time with my two girls, who are 7 and 3. It’s so lovely. We were doing “Zoom school” for a long time — bless all of our teachers! It was also great to have my older daughter around to bounce ideas off of in real time while we were writing this book. Some things you write might not make sense to a child, so that feedback was really great.

Have you always been an animal lover? Have you had pets of your own?

I grew up with Labs. My parents were big lovers of animals and they shared that love with me from an early age. A close friend of our family had a pit bull rescue when I was younger, and they were just big, lovable babies. But it wasn’t until I moved to LA that I actually set foot in an animal shelter. The shelters here are always full, and many of the dogs are owner surrendered. The pandemic has brought out both sides of that situation — some people lost their jobs and felt they could no longer support their dogs, while others saw being home more often as the right time to adopt a dog. 

Is this your first book? What inspired you to write this book?

Yes, it’s our first book! At the heart of it is dog rescue … I’ve been involved with dog rescues here in LA for a long time now, helping to get dogs out of shelters and raising awareness that you can adopt any kind of dog you want. We have a huge population of homeless dogs out here that end up in shelters and in bad situations. 

I had read about Joe Biden fostering and adopting a dog, and then when he won the presidency, that this dog who was brought off the streets as a sick puppy was going to the White House. I thought it was such a cool story with  a great message about how you can rescue any dog. It’s also a metaphor for being able to accomplish anything. I thought it would be great for more people to hear Major’s story. 

Co-author Erica Lee

Tell us about your co-writer, Erica Lee.

Erica is a movie producer that has also never written a book before. She’s produced all the “John Wick” movies along with many others. She and my husband grew up together in Florida, and we’re very close. We both have rescues of our own and loved hearing about Major. 

We are constantly brainstorming together, and we thought it would be great to show his story from the beginning, along with the whole process of fostering and adopting from start to finish. Our president had to take all of the same, normal steps that anyone else has to take when they decide to adopt a dog, and that’s pretty cool.

Many presidents have had dogs or other pets. Was there something particular that drew you to Major?

There have certainly been a lot of presidential pets, and I’ve known and loved them all! They are my own favorite “celebrities.” But there was something about Biden having these big, delicious puppies living a pretty normal life in Delaware.

It was easy to picture them just hanging out, and when Biden was vice president, he would give out little German shepherd stuffed animals. I feel like we know more about Major and Biden’s other dog, Champ. We’ve seen so many pictures of them through the explosion of social media in the last decade.

What was the writing process like for you? Did it take a long time?

When we first started the book, it was totally different from the finished product that’s out now. None of it rhymed. I love reading things that rhyme, and my kids really enjoy that. As someone that oversees stories as they’re being written, Erica was great about identifying lines that weren’t necessary and we each had a part to play.

It was a pretty fast process. We started writing at the end of November 2020 and the book was published on Feb. 10. We self-published because we wanted to keep costs down in order to donate the profits. We also wanted to move quickly to capitalize on the recent inauguration — traditional publishing can take quite a while. Our hardcover publisher was IngramSpark, and we used Amazon for paperback. 

Who illustrated this book? How did you connect?

Our illustrator, Tran Dang, lives overseas. We found her online through the website Fiverr, where we were able to look at some of her other work. It was important for us to work with another woman and for this project to be an all-girl crew, and we just loved her stuff — she’s done a lot of projects with animals that were so sweet. She did an amazing job.

What was it like for you to see the finished product?

It was incredible. Seeing our story come alive exactly how I pictured it was the coolest feeling, and so exciting,

What is the target age group for this book?

I would say that it’s best for kids ages 4 to 8.

What do you hope kids will get out of reading Major’s story?

One of the main themes is that Major isn’t like anybody else; he’s just himself, and his family loves and accepts him just as he is. He leads with kindness. I hope kids read this and know that they don’t have to be someone they’re not, as long as they are kind and try to make the world better.

How are you using your book to support animal welfare?

All of the proceeds from this book are going to benefit dog rescues in Los Angeles, including Dogs Without Borders. I have two dogs of my own from there. We’re not making any profits for ourselves at all. Depending on how the sales go, we would be interested in supporting rescues in other parts of the country, including the wonderful organizations on Long Island. Our main goal is to see more dogs getting out of shelters and into homes. We use the social media pages for the book to promote local dogs in need of homes as well — that’s actually led to a few adoptions already, which is exciting.

How can people get involved with helping dogs in their area?

Aside from adopting and volunteering with local groups, many places are always looking for dog beds and food. I like to donate old comforters. That’s a great way to help out.

Are you thinking about writing more books in the future?

For sure. I’m finishing up a screenplay right now, and looking forward to writing more books about dogs and supporting more shelters and rescues!

Major: Presidential Pup is available at Book Revue in Huntington and online retailers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To keep up with Jamie and Erica, their book and animals in need, visit http://linktr.ee/MajorPresidentialPup.

Katy Didn't Cover

Join Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown for music, reading, and meeting lots of critters big and small on May 23 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Johnny Cuomo will do some storytelling, read his book, Katy Didn’t, and sing some tunes. Then enjoy some animal programs featuring some 6 and 8 legged friends as well as some other ambassador animals that live at the center. Best for ages 3 to 8. $10 per child. To register, visit www.sweetbriarnc.org.

A photograph included in the book of the 350th anniversary reenactment, in 2005, of the meeting between Setalcott indigenous people and agents for the English settlers of Setauket-Brookhaven in 1655. Photo by Beverly Tyler

This Friday, May 14, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. the Three Village Historical Society will hold, as part of the grand opening of the Three Village Artisan Farmers Market, a book signing by author Beverly C. Tyler in front of the Society Headquarters building at 93 N. Country Road in Setauket.

The cover of Bev Tyler’s latest book

Tyler will be signing copies of his latest book, Setauket and Brookhaven History — Through the Murals of Vance Locke which was published on November 1, 2020. A celebration of the people and events of Setauket, Stony Brook and Brookhaven Town history, it tells the stories of the indigenous people called Setalcotts, and the farmers, shipbuilders, blacksmiths and millers whose lives created our communities.

The inspiration for this colorful book is the murals in 1951 in the Setauket Elementary School auditorium. The murals were a gift of philanthropist Ward Melville who wanted this new school, especially the auditorium, to be a place to celebrate community and to encourage residents to explore the area’s history and culture. The book contains the author’s photographs as well as images from the Society’s SPIES! exhibit and historical images from the Society’s archival collection.

Setauket and Brookhaven History was designed to be read by elementary and secondary students, as well as by parents and members of the wider community. The book is a joint effort by members of the Founders Day Committee which conducts local walking tours of the Setauket-Town of Brookhaven original settlement area and is an outgrowth of the writings of local historian William B. Minuse who interviewed artist Vance Locke and wrote the initial stories about the murals.

Due to the pandemic, this marks the Society’s first public book signing and sale. Additional books and items from the Three Village Historical Society gift shop will also be available for purchase.

For more information, visit www.tvhs.org.

'Captain Sedition'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author K.C. Fusaro

K.C. Fusaro offers a compelling work of historical fiction with Captain Sedition: The Death of the Age of Reason. It opens in England, 1774. Joethan Wolfe barely survives a duel due to the duplicity of the woman who caused it. While he recovers, the narrative reveals Wolfe as an American ex-pat, working as a courier throughout Europe. Fourteen years earlier, his father had exiled him to England, resulting in their complete estrangement. Wolfe is a for-hire, with no particular scruples, a lothario, a charmer, and a bit of a profligate. Now, he lives in a house with none other than Benjamin Franklin — referred to with sly affection as “The Doctor.” 

Fusaro establishes his approach in the portrait of Franklin, one of the most famous and beloved Americans. He removes Franklin’s halo: “Benjamin Franklin was concurrently the most selfish and the most generous man Wolfe had ever known.” Franklin is miserly with lighting candles due to his difficult upbringing and a candlemaker father. Franklin is calculating, with a fondness for living that is contagious, but he is also Machiavellian. He is present only in the earliest chapters but the portrait establishes Fusaro’s adeptness with even minor characters’ backgrounds and motivations, heralding the rich, engaging tapestry that follows.

When Wolfe learns of his father’s arrest, he spends his last eight year’s earnings acquiring a royal pardon. He sets off on a harrowing trip from Portsmouth to Nova Scotia to the colonies. He intends to deliver various missives to the Tory government in the states. Included is an important document to be placed directly into Governor-General Thomas Gage’s hands, the highest-ranking British official in North America. But Wolfe’s real motive is to seek out and aid his parent. 

Wolfe is an interesting case. As an American abroad, he has found his sympathies lie with the British. But he is truly a man without a country. His ambivalence is unusual in this genre, which usually leans towards the rebels. His objectivity makes him a reliable and intriguing narrator;  each interaction embroils him in a country amid monumental and violent change.

The adventure takes Wolfe from Canada to Boston and then onto Connecticut and Long Island. As he searches for his father, he encounters the best and the worst of both sides. Wolfe’s goal is to stay neutral. However, by saving a man on the road, he lands in the two-sided conflict. While Wolfe makes choices based on his better instincts, the result is that every action becomes political.

One of the most powerful takeaways is the reminder that the Revolutionary War was the first Civil War. Though perceived as the British versus the Americans, the truth is that it encompassed neighbor against neighbor, citizen against citizen. Many had fought side-by-side with the Redcoats against the French. But in 1775, these allegiances are history. This constant state of unrest manifests in both ferocious loyalty and questionable actions.

The British Government doesn’t respect the Americans: “‘They conceive to govern these colonies from across the ocean with no say from we who actually live here. They could not show us more contempt did they spit on us.” Wolfe accepts the reality that “in his experience, all Englishmen viewed Americans as lesser creatures and the British aristocracy’s disdain for Americans was the worst. By their lights, disturbances in far-flung colonies were to be expected and dealt with, quickly and decisively. The better sort of Britons had no more tolerance for rebellious slaves in the Indies.”

Also revealed is the eagerness to fight. “‘You can’t wait for the fighting to start, can you?’ Wolfe said. Tim did him the honor of not pretending otherwise. He backed his ardor with a concise argument based on the English Constitution and especially the Massachusetts Colony Charter, but in the end, Tim wanted to fight.” The world of 1775 is dangerous and roiling, a powder keg in every sense.

The shadow of slavery pervades. Wolfe regards the ability to own slaves and yet fight for one’s own freedom as a gross stroke of hypocrisy. Says one militia commander, “‘… the people are entitled to life, liberty, and the means of sustenance by the Grace of God and without leave of the King.’ In Wolfe’s estimation, the appearance of a slave immediately after rendered the words hollow.”

The book is peopled with an extraordinary cast of characters, expertly blending the historical with the fictional: All seem real, fallible, and wholly dimensional, enforcing Fusaro’s premise that no side is completely right or wrong. Wolfe plays Devil’s Advocate with “‘… how long can Government suppress a population on the other side of the ocean against its will?’” followed by “‘We live in an age of reason. To not consider both sides would be unreasonable.’”

Fusaro’s research is extraordinary. His knowledge of everything from clothing to customs, from mercantile to mercenaries, is exceptional. Whether describing a ragamuffin tailing Wolfe, a difficult voyage, or a simple meal, he paints vivid and detailed pictures. He breathes life into the story with details that elevate the narrative. He has also found a syntax in language that honors the period but avoids sounding stilted or contrived. He also calls attention to the complicated religious landscape and the intolerance it bred within the communities.

The book’s climax is April 19, 1775: The Battle of Lexington and Concord. He unflinchingly describes the carnage —“the raw savagery.” It is in this clash that Wolfe must choose sides —“to declare.” It is a hard lesson for Wolfe, but he has reached the point of no return. He is torn but accepts the reality. 

It is a powerful ending to the first volume of a proposed three-book series. One year from the beginning of Wolfe’s journey, he has returned to his place of birth, witnessed and experienced the change in his homeland, and accepted his fate. We, like Wolfe, will await what comes next.

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Author K.C. Fusaro grew up in Setauket, and after many years away, recently returned to take up residence in Rocky Point. Best known for plying the rock and roll trade with the band Body Politics, along the way to writing fiction there were excursions into film, theater and television, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

Pick up a copy of Captain Sedition at Book Revue in Huntington, barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com. 

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

‘So many people ask why I photograph abandonment. To me, it’s more than the decay or what people leave behind. Rather, it is the why … It’s the when. It’s the how. Sometimes we can research it. And other times we have to imagine it.’   from the Preface of exploring HOME by Holly Hunt

Author Holly Hunt

Reviewing any book of art is the epitome of subjectivity, especially one that showcases the work and not the process or biography. The millions of words that have been written about painting, sculpture, and photography do not approach seeing the work itself. 

That said, I will try to find words to describe the visceral, sometimes disturbing, but always extraordinary photographic work of Holly Hunt, presented in her collection exploring HOME. 

The locations range from outside houses to inside churches, against brick walls or open to the heavens; the subjects are as varied as the images. Each one speaks for itself, but together create a breathless whole. It also helps that she is a strong writer, and the accompanying text only enhances the pictures. Her prose is both lyrical and raw, exposing her soul every bit as much as the visuals she has captured. Sometimes the narrative directly references the photo; other times it is a more elusive reflection of the tone. And, in perhaps the richest complementary pieces, they somehow stand apart and yet together.

All artists are adventurers of one sort or  another; they embark on journeys into the mind’s eye and soul. These are dangerous waters. Hunt takes this one step further. “… fear is a strange thing. It can hold you in its embrace and prevent you from flying, or it can propel you forward and set you free. Exploring set me free. And my camera was my security blanket.” Her camera was also a  key, a window, and wings. 

Whether sharing her mother’s struggle with cancer as well as her own illness, tales of bullying, or details of her love life, her efforts are ferociously, unapologetically personal. These are not bowls of fruit, sunsets, and landscapes. They are her heartaches and triumphs laid bare — fearless and challenging.

She is part alchemist, part phoenix. Ache and absence become imagery; art rises from the ashes. And occasionally, wry humor winks out in unusual places (“The Skirt,” “The Princess,” “The Prayer,” “The Gifts,” “The Cake”). 

There are intriguing juxtapositions. Discussion of an unconsummated soulmate shows against a house whose façade doesn’t quite mask the deconstruction behind. The sense of loss on this bright day creates a contrast with her prone figure on the front walk. In the curve of a back, she captures anguish. Each picture represents an event and a life lesson: in pain, in loss, in epiphany. 

Each will speak differently to the individual viewer. On a personal level, these moments demand attention:

The muted colors and forced perspective of “The Umbrella” perfectly evoking the intersection of dream and reality.

The peeling paint, subtly unsettling, above the fireplace mantel in “The Demon.”

The embodiment of the word “seems” as her figure hangs over a bathtub in “The Bath.”

“The Some Bunny” engulfed in a chair, almost obscured, passively peeking around the door frame.

The coldness of the steps in “The Letter.”

The prideful blank verse of “The Haters” versus the horror of disappearance.

The contrast of the light from without and the darkness within in “The Stained Glass.”

A ceiling that is celestially damaged in “The Voiceless.”

The whimsy of the story versus the terror in the image of “The Shadow Puppets.”

The harshness against sparseness in “The Grief.”

A sky both blue and icy in “The Farewell.”

The play of light through the window of “The Drive Home.”

The nostalgia of intimate chaos in “The Crafter.”

The absolute pain of isolation in “The Game.”

The weight of the “The Anger.”

The barren loss of “The Records.”

The sun bleaching the emptiness of “The Theater.”

The starkness of “The Monster.”

“The Diner” echoes pastoral into pain.

Or that which is indescribable in “The Memory.”

In the many self-portraits, she obscures part of or even her entire face. And yet, she is in no way less present or unseen. The directness makes itself known. She is not hiding; she is revealing. 

From sadness and grief — and the act of grieving — Hunt faces the shadows that looms. She also embraces the light that emerges from that darkness. It is not so much about resilience or survival; it is more than that. Time and again, she finds hope. Her final words: “This is only the beginning. I promise.”

These photos will haunt you. But, in the best sense. You won’t be able to look away.

Pick up your copy of exploring HOME at www.hollyhuntphotography.com and check out Holly Hunt’s current exhibition, “Abandoned Beauties,” at The Cheese Patch, 20 East Main Street, Patchogue, through May 30. Island Kava, 73 North Ocean Ave., Patchogue will also present a photography exhibit by Hunt this summer.

Reviewed by John Turner

Ecologists (scientists who study the interactions between wild things and their environment) many decades ago coined the term “keystone species.” The term is derived from the fact that like the keystone in the middle of the top of a doorway’s arch, being the stone which supports the entire arch, keystone species in natural communities have disproportional ecological importance in maintaining the stability and integrity of the communities in which they live. Lose a “keystone” species and the community or ecosystem is adversely changed.  

If we were to search the breadth and width of Long Island, might we find a keystone species? Doug Tallamy would certainly suggest oak trees as we learn in his recently released book, The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees.  

Author Doug Tallamy

Being important members of various types of forests, a dozen species of oak are native to Long Island including white oak; swamp white oak; black oak; red oak; scarlet oak (most common in the Pine Barrens); pin oak; the exceedingly rare willow oak; post oak (a coastal species); blackjack oak; chestnut oak found in rocky and gravelly soils; and scrub oak and dwarf chestnut oak, both common species forming an almost impenetrable thicket in the understory of the Pine Barrens.   

What might be the elements of the oaks’ “keystoneness”?  Well, there’s both their intact and fallen leaves, a resource for wildlife; those nuggets of nutrition called acorns; the nooks and crannies of the bark that provide hiding places for small moths and spiders; and the tree wood itself which, as it rots, forms cavities, creating roosting and nesting sites (think raccoons, woodpeckers, screech owls and chickadees). All of these attributes support wildlife, many species of wildlife. Not to mention, as Tallamy explains, the numerous “ecosystem services” oak trees and oak-dominated forests provide free of charge. 

As but a few examples we learn that the canopy of each mature oak tree intercepts about 3,000 gallons of water annually, preventing it from running off and causing erosion, thereby helping to protect streams and rivers. And there’s the locking away of carbon that oak trees do really well, as a means to combat climate change.    

Let’s take a closer look at an obvious attribute: acorns. This unique nut, high in fat, protein, and minerals is a vital food to more than just the obvious species like squirrels and chipmunks. These nuggets of nutrition sustain a surprisingly large variety of animals  including mice and voles, flying squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, opossum, grey fox, white-tailed deer, and black bear. 

As for birds, blue jays love them (and are thought to have been the main dispersal agent allowing for the oak forests of the northern United States to become reestablished after the glaciers scoured the continent) as do crows, some other songbirds, several species of ducks, turkeys, and woodpeckers, including the acorn woodpecker which really likes them.    

We learn from the book that several butterflies (as caterpillar larvae) and more than 70 moth species gain required nutrition by feeding on the fallen leaves of oaks.  Further, many insects seek protection in the fallen leaf layer that accumulates each autumn to overwinter safely (think of Mourning Cloak butterflies as one species that benefits), providing a rationale to leave your leaves in flower beds, beneath oak trees, and other parts of your yard.    

But it’s live oak leaves, Tallamy explains, where the value of oaks come into full focus. More than 500 species of butterflies and moths feed on oak leaves, including many geometrid caterpillars (or inchworms as we learned in our childhoods). Many hundred more other insect species eat oak leaves (or tap into the sap of oaks too), including leafhoppers, treehoppers, and cicadas, among others. These leaf-eating species, in turn, sustain many dozens of songbird species we love to watch — warblers, orioles, thrushes, wrens, chickadees, grosbeaks and more.    

This book is a logical and more specific extension of Tallamy’s decade long argument, laid out in detail in two previous works: Bringing Nature Back Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants and Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard.  

In these prior works he makes a compelling argument for eliminating the “biological deserts” we’ve created around our homes, due to regularly choosing non-native plants that don’t sustain local wildlife, and replacing them with native species that are part of the local food web. 

In “Oaks,” Tallamy backs up this recommendation with good science. For example, working with graduate students he found that non-native plants supported 75% less caterpillar biomass than native plants. Less caterpillars means less things that feed upon them, such as the aforementioned beloved songbirds.  Another graduate student determined that chickadees trying to raise young in a habitat with too many non-native species are 60% less likely to succeed due to the dearth of insects to feed their nestlings.  

Tallamy weaves a clear story documenting the ecological importance of oaks for wildlife while illustrating this significance through fascinating life history details of some of these many oak-dependent species. As with his other books, Tallamy’s latest publication provides strong motivation and rationale to “go native.” Perhaps most central to the thesis of the book is that he wants you to include oak trees as a key part of this effort! What better way to celebrate Earth Day 2021 than by planting an oak and watch as it sustains life for decades to come? 

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Author Doug Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has taught insect-related courses for 40 years. The Nature of Oaks is available at Book Revue in Huntington and online at www.timberpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.bringingnaturehome.net.