Book Review

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Cynthia Baxter, one of our most prolific and delightful cozy mystery writers, has outdone herself with her most recent offering, a delicious confection titled “Murder with a Cherry On Top.”

Cynthia Baxter

As a longtime fan of Baxter’s work, I have read many of her books, most notably ones in the Reigning Cats & Dogs series (“Dead Canaries Don’t Sing,” “Hare Today, Dead Tomorrow,” “Who’s Kitten Who?” and “Murder Had a Little Lamb”), Murder Packs a Suitcase series (“Murder Packs a Suitcase”), as well as “Temptation,” a fascinating and wicked stand-alone novel (written as Cynthia Blair). They are all truly entertaining works, with fun and engaging heroines who are smart, independent and wholly original.

In her latest outing, “Murder with a Cherry On Top,” the Three Village resident sets us down in the fictional Wolfert’s Roost, a small town nestled in the Hudson Valley. Here, the central character, 33-year-old Kate McCay, has come back to her hometown. Prior to this, Kate had been a public relations director at a large New York City firm. Returning to take care of her beloved grandmother, she has embarked on a new venture, namely being proprietress of the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe:

“After all, there are some things only ice cream can fix.”

Her love for the dessert is rooted in her childhood. She has memories of her father taking her for her third and fourth birthdays for ice cream. By her fifth, he had passed away. When she is 10, her mother dies, leaving Kate and her sisters to live with their loving grandmother:

“Then Mom passed away the summer I turned ten. Grams suddenly found herself playing the role of mother. She knew how devastated my sisters and I were, and to help us all cope with our confusion, our anger, and our intense feelings of loneliness, she did her best to keep our lives as much the same as they had been before. A big part of that was to keep our family ice cream addiction going, since it was one of the easiest and most obvious ways of linking us to the past and moving ahead with our lives.”

In Kate’s world, ice cream is deeply connected to love and caring and she brings this to her new found vocation. She delights in the work, creating the traditional flavors along with signature choices such as Peanut on the Playground (laced with jelly), Honey Lavender and Avocado and Carrot Cake. (The detours describing her frozen sweets add to the fun.)

After being open only a week, her childhood nemesis and unreformed mean girl, bakery owner Ashley Winthrop, announces that her store, Sweet Things, will begin carrying ice cream. As the bakery is directly across from the ice cream parlor, this drives Kate into a public confrontation with Ashley. Soon after, Ashley is discovered murdered and the police see Kate as a possible suspect.

Kate embarks on her own investigation, which has some wonderful twists and turns, building up to a genuinely surprising but nonetheless believable climax. At its height, the mystery becomes something deeper and eventually much more complex.

An element of the book that is particularly effective is that Kate actually uses her business to solve the crime. Unlike in many mysteries where the characters seem to have insights they couldn’t possibly have, here there is logic to her approach. She utilizes her occupation to provide her with insight as well as opportunity. She cleverly uses the collective love of ice cream as a means to certain ends. And, even as she is pursuing leads, she still is thinking about the growth of her new undertaking.

In a light-hearted way, Baxter addresses the issue of not just the difficulty in returning home but also the joys — rare in literature, which tends to fixate on dysfunction. Kate is genuinely glad to be back and wholly embraces the chapter ahead of her. She finds satisfaction in her work, a passion and a drive that help her reacclimate to Wolfert’s Roost.

The fact is Baxter is a strong writer. Throughout, she is able to articulate the modern struggle to communicate with wit and honesty:

“I wondered how any of us managed to not look bored or lonely or even uncomfortable in public places before we all had cell phones. Maybe that was why books had been invented.”

Baxter nimbly fleshes out characters who are (or at least initially seem to be) transitory. They are whole people, often created in a few crisp sentences. This is ideal in a mystery where there is the need for a parade of suspects and supporting characters.

We get to know Willow, her childhood friend, who works for her when she’s not teaching yoga. Emma, Kate’s in-search-of-herself 18-year-old niece, comes to live with her and assists in the investigation. Ashley’s sleazy ex-husband and her most recent amour, an egotistical chef, both get creative page time. Kate’s love interest, blue-eyed broad-shouldered Jake Pratt, has a past with Kate that becomes pivotal in the present — but the thorny history never bogs down the movement of the narrative. A visit to a harried mother of three is particularly vivid.

Baxter finds variety even in the rather reviled murder victim as certain pieces of her backstory are revealed, transitioning from the “she-had-it-coming” to something far more complicated. The fact that Ashley is running an illegal co-op becomes a fascinating detail in the tapestry of the crime.

All of these pieces, like the exotic sundaes Kate fashions, are rich in texture, color and invention and make for a wholly satisfying read.

Two nice little bonuses: Each chapter is headed with a “fun fact” from the history of ice cream, with sources ranging from Guinness to the International Dairy Foods Association. The appendix shares a few interesting recipes that are referenced in the book.

This first entry into The Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series is a great one. Grab yourself a bowl of ice cream, sit down and dig in.

Cynthia Baxter is the author of 54 novels. A Three Village resident for the past 25 years, “Murder with a Cherry On Top” is the first book in her new Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery series with Kensington Publishing Corp. and is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Meet Cynthia at the Emma S. Clark Library’s Author Event on May 6 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and visit her website at www.cynthiabaxter.com.

HISTORY BUFFS From left, Three Village Historical Society President Stephen Healy, author Brian Kilmeade, Historical Society members Art Billadello and Beverly C. Tyler and past TVHS President Steve Hintz gather for a photo after the sold-out evening.

By Heidi Sutton

Art Billadello shows Brian Kilmeade last week’s article in the Times Beacon Record.

Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” morning show co-host and author Brian Kilmeade stopped by the Setauket Neighborhood House on Monday night to take part in the Three Village Historical Society’s monthly lecture series. Kilmeade was there to promote his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny,” and touched on how committed our young country was during the War of 1812.

Reached the following day, Steve Healy, TVHS president, said the sold-out event “was a great success. We were fortunate to get a three-time history writer who’s been on the [New York Times] Best Seller list.” Kilmeade also spoke about his first history-focused book, “George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution.” That book “hits home with us, living in the Three Village area,” said the TVHS president.

A lengthy Q&A and book signing followed. Kilmeade also graciously posed for photos. “History is always a subject we love to discuss and talk about at the Three Village Historical Society,” stated Healy.

“Without history, we don’t understand what makes us special and why so many from around the world risk it all to live and work here,” noted Kilmeade.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Author Brian Kilmeade will make a stop at the Setauket Neighborhood House as part of a tour to promote his latest book ‘Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans.’

By Heidi Sutton

Fox News’ “FOX & Friends” morning show co-host Brian Kilmeade will visit the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket on Monday, Feb. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. to promote his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny.” The event is hosted by the Three Village Historical Society and will include a special book signing, lecture and Q&A.

This is Kilmeade’s fifth book and his third history-focused book with co-author Don Yaeger. The first two, “George Washington’s Secret Six” (2013) and “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” (2015), spent a combined 37 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

“I’ve always found Andrew Jackson interesting, especially the way he led America to victory during the Battle of New Orleans,” said Kilmeade in a recent email when asked why he chose Jackson to be the topic of his new book, adding, “Jackson was a self-taught Militia General who won almost every battle he faced while suffering from bullet wounds and dysentery.”

In summarizing the book, Kilmeade said, “I like to think of the War of 1812 as a rematch of the Revolutionary War — this time without the help of the French. Before Jackson was called on to lead, the British were slaughtering the Americans on the battlefield — and it really looked like we needed a miracle. Notorious for his leadership and tenacity, Jackson led a ragtag team of frontier militiamen, French-speaking Louisianans, Cherokee and Choctaw Indians, freed slaves, and even pirates. On Jan. 8, Jackson’s troops defeated the British in under 45 minutes. In this book, you’ll learn how this oft-forgotten battle shaped America’s destiny.”

The Massapequa resident last visited the area in 2014 to promote his book on George Washington. “It was wall to wall people,” said Steve Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society in a recent interview. “The history topic was a little closer to home. ‘George Washington’s Secret Six’ was about the Culper Spy Ring in Setauket, which always creates local interest.”

Healy said the historical society recently reached out to Kilmeade again and invited him to speak at its monthly lecture series. “We are very excited,” he said. “We love it when history is the main topic. The Battle of New Orleans was an interesting battle that propelled Andrew Jackson into the national spotlight.”

Kilmeade is looking forward to returning to Setauket. “I love the rich history and character that emanate through the unique little town,” he said.

According to the TVHS president, Kilmeade will briefly talk about his first two history-focused books and then delve into his current book. “There is a lot to discuss in the battle of New Orleans,” said Healy, adding that photos may be taken at the book signing portion of the program.

Preregistration is required by visiting www.tvhs.org as space is limited. No tickets will be sold at the door. Entry fee, which includes a copy of Kilmeade’s book to be signed, is $40 per person, $30 members. Entry to the lecture only is $10 per person, free for TVHS members. For further information, please call 631-751-3730.

Update: This event is sold out!

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Pictured from left, author Virginia McCaffrey, Allyson Konczynin, Bob Scollon, Will Konczynin and Brian Ehlers. Photo from Virginia Ehlers

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Virginia McCaffrey, an 11th-grade special education teacher at Ward Melville High School in Setauket, has brought her childhood memories to life with an imaginative new book for kids. “Chased by a Bear,” McCaffrey’s first book, honors the memory of her late grandmother, Jean Scollon, who loved telling her grandchildren vivid bedtime stories. I recently reached out to McCaffrey to ask her about her newest venture.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Ward Melville High School special education teacher Virginia McCaffrey is pictured with the children’s book “Chased by a Bear” she authored. Photo courtesy of Three Village school district

I am one of five children, one girl with four brothers. I was born in Lake Ronkonkoma and our family moved to Setauket when I was in ninth grade. I loved growing up in a big family as there was never a dull moment. As a child, I never really dreamed of becoming a writer, although I did think of it occasionally, not sure what direction I should take. The answer only came to me at the passing of my grandmother, Jean Scollon, three years ago.

Why did you decide to write a children’s book specifically?

My grandmother was such a large part of our lives. My own children knew her well and have always loved hearing stories of the terrific times my brothers, cousins and I had with her as we were growing up.

One night I was telling them about our many sleepovers at Nany and Grandad’s house. The four of us would climb onto the bed in the guest room at the end of the hall, then Nany would squeeze in with us to tell us a story before going to sleep. As I grow older, I fondly remember taking turns adding to the story, but specifically remember thinking that Nany had an incredible imagination. She always seemed to be coming up with great scenes, characters and situations, as well as games for us to play.

After sharing these stories with my own children and sending them off to bed, I decided to sit down and write a “Nany-type” story for them. At first, it was meant to simply be for them, but the more I worked on it, I began to dream of sharing the story of this wonderful grandmother with other children and turning it into a book; I found a way to honor my grandmother and share her with others.

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

I didn’t tell the family about my project until it was complete and I could present it to my grandfather, Bob Scollon, at a family dinner.  The only exception was my mother, who was sworn to secrecy. It was probably the hardest secret I have ever had to keep.

To say my family was surprised is an understatement. They appeared to be completely shocked. All four of my brothers told me how proud they were, my nieces and nephews all asked if they could share it with their classes, and my grandfather was speechless. He immediately sat down and read the book cover to cover while the rest of the family chatted about how surprised they were. Their reactions made keeping it a secret for so long all worth it.   

What is the book about?

The cover of Virginia McCaffrey’s first book.

“Chased by a Bear” is the story of four young children and the magical adventure their grandmother is able to make them a part of through her bedtime stories. No one but the five of them know where Nany’s stories take them each week during their sleepovers, making the adventure so much more special for them. They find themselves in a dangerous situation but use teamwork to resolve the problem.

Why did you choose a story about a bear for your first book?

I chose to use a bear story for the book because so many of Nany’s stories involved a bear in the woods. It was her favorite theme to her stories. Looking back I think those were always my favorite ones to hear.

Are the children in the story based on real-life people?

My younger brother (Brian Ehlers), two cousins (Allyson and William Konczynin) and I are the youngest of seven grandchildren and the characters in the book.

What was the publication process like?

Once I decided to write the children’s book, the process took about 18 months to complete. I decided to self-publish, and ultimately took the advice of my illustrator as to which company to use. The result was a very smooth process.

How did you find an illustrator?

I found the most challenging effort was to find an illustrator to capture the characters in the book: my grandparents, cousins, brother and myself. After a great deal of research online, I found an illustrator whose artwork not only connected with the personalities and descriptions of all of us but was exactly what I would hope for in a children’s book. Robin Bayer’s style is so uplifting and colorful. She made my story come to life. I sent her pictures of the four of us as children, as well as pictures of Nany and Grandad. She totally captured the look I wanted.

What was it like seeing the illustrations and receiving the first copy of the book?

When the first sketches were sent to me, I found it incredible how someone who didn’t know us as children and never had the opportunity to meet Nany was able to read a story I wrote and look at pictures I sent and completely capture my childhood and my vision of how my book should look. The story seemed to come to life more and more as additional illustrations were created and color was added to the pages.

When I received the first copy of the completed book to proof, I was in love with it. Once the book went public, friends sent me pictures of their children reading my book. I’ve saved every picture they’ve sent. I love hearing what their children and grandchildren think of the story.

What is the target age for the book?

The book was written on a second- or third-grade reading level. However, it was intended to appeal to many ages as it can be read aloud. 

What do your students think?

My students have expressed excitement at the idea of their teacher writing and publishing a book. They make me feel proud when they mention it. Recently, I was invited to read to the class of one of my daughters. The students had many questions about the writing process and becoming an author. It was wonderful to see the awe and excitement on their faces.

Do you plan to write any more books?

I would love to see this turn into a series of Nany Bedtime Stories … and maybe even let the rest of my family have some input.

“Chased by a Bear” is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Jeannie Moon’s latest romance novel, “Then Came You,” is a wonderful portrait of love in a small town and gets to the heart of what really makes a family.

The book is cleverly rooted in a legend connected to the history of the fictional town of Compass Cove, founded 1667. The prologue tells the story of a young widow, a compasssmith and a needle that pointed not north but to an individual’s true north (i.e., love). It is a sweet tale and one that sets just the hint of magical realism (and will surface later in the novel).

Above, author Jeannie Moon

At the center of Moon’s novel is 29-year-old Mia DeAngelis “who in another life … would have been a star. In this life, she was doing damage control. Again.” Mia is raising her orphaned nephew, Ben, after her sister’s suicide nine years earlier. Initially, Mia’s rather cold mother was raising Ben with Mia’s father. After the two were hit by a drunk driver, taking the father’s life and injuring Mia’s mother, it was decided that Mia should become guardian.

There is nothing of the Hallmark movie about Moon’s dealing with the dysfunctional pieces of the family; she has created real people in a complex situation. Mia’s desire to adopt Ben is very candid and the complications that ensue feel honest. Mia is faced with the double challenge of being a single mother who is not the biological mother. This desire to adopt Ben is the driving force in her life and in the story.

Ben is now an active 10-year-old boy who Mia has moved from Maryland to raise Ben in Compass Cove where she had summered as a girl. Her grandmother, a vital and free spirit, pitches in and Mia is finding a new life. There is nothing random about the relocation from a city to the Long Island suburb. Mia is doing everything she can to save Ben from himself and the latent anger that is brewing beneath the surface. Gradually, it is revealed that Mia lived in the shadow of her thinner, prettier sister — “the sainted Sara” — and is just now coming into her own. It is clear that the sister’s suicide had been a destructive force in all of the family members’ lives, and they are each dealing with it in a different way.

Mia has taken up the post of librarian at the local university, and it is there she begins to find romance. Prior to Compass Cove, she had been unlucky in dating, not having had a second date in five years or a real relationship in nine. Ben has become her whole life and she has accepted that this is her lot. At this point in her life, Mia has never been in love.

Her immediate chemistry with the college football coach Adam Miller is helped along by Adam’s kindness to Ben and his welcoming the boy to become a sort of mascot to the football team. Adam, a former pro-athlete and past “bad boy,” is smitten with Mia. Adam has a long history of risk-taking that ended his professional career but helped him find himself. A native of Compass Cove, he moved back home to find balance again. Their attraction is natural and believable and electric at the get-go.

The cover of Moon’s latest book

There are struggles from the beginning of their courtship (Mia’s mother, even at long distance, has a real canker about sports in general and athletes in particular) but their attraction is undeniable. The novel addresses real fight-or-flight issues in relationships and the challenges that force people to put up walls and barriers.

Moon shifts effortlessly between the voices of Mia and Adam, changing syntax and diction seamlessly, alternating between the articulate and educated Mia and the slightly rough-hewn Adam.

After Adam stands Mia up for a date, she becomes more involved with Noah, a self-important professor, who is “the right guy” and ticks all of the appropriate boxes — but who is clearly not the right choice. Mia begins seeing Noah seriously but is constantly drawn back to Adam.

It is in a crisis involving Ben that the two suitors true colors come out, and Moon deftly addresses the issue of what makes a hero and, ultimately, what makes a good man.

There is plenty of heat between Mia and Adam and their passion is vividly depicted. Their intense and breathless physical compatibility leads to deeper feelings and the examination of second chances and what defines “the love of your life.” One chapter ends with Adam’s plea to himself: “Love her back. Just love her back.” Likewise, when she looks into Adam’s eyes, she sees the future — their future. In “Then Came You,” passion and intimacy are about trust.

In the background of the burgeoning relationship is a cast of interesting and engaging characters, including both their grandmothers, whose families are longtime Compass Cove residents and are involved without the caricature of meddling.

One of the richest characters is Mia’s mother, Ellen, a distant woman of strong opinions and a judgmental streak who has become acerbated by her daughter’s and husband’s deaths. Living in Charleston, Ellen does not want to give up legal custody of Ben and yet she doesn’t want to take full-time responsibility as it would interfere with the new life she has set for herself. While she is mostly portrayed in phone calls, the depth of her control permeates Mia and Ben’s lives. Moon has well-crafted Ellen’s literal and figurative disconnects and becomes the threat to Mia’s adoption of Ben.

In addition, the surfacing at Thanksgiving of Adam’s ex — the rail-thin, acid-tongued model Pilar — brings up doubts but then strengthens Adam and Mia’s future. This forced confrontation with his past, helps Adam grow yet another step toward what he really wants in the world. There is a late-in-the-game plot twist that enforces Mia’s complicated family history. But rather than feeling contrived, it is brutally honest and raises the final stakes in Mia, creating the family she truly craves.

If anything, “Then Came You” is a tribute to the support of a small town. “Mia had only started to learn it was okay to lean on others since moving to Compass Cove.” She moves from a life of isolation and the illusion of independence to embracing extended family in the form of friends and neighbors.

For both Mia and Adam, making Compass Cove a home brings out the good and the better in them. “Then Came You” is an appealing novel that will delight fans of both the romance and literature genres.

Jeannie Moon is the author of 15 published novels. Born and raised in Huntington, Moon is currently a librarian in the Smithtown school district and the president of the Long Island Romance Writers. “Then Came You” is the first book in her new Compass Cove series, published by Tule Publishing Group, and is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo and iBooks. Meet her at a romance author panel, The Power of Love, at Sachem Public Library in Holbrook on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Books will be available for purchasing and signing. For more information on the author, visit her website at www.jeanniemoon.com.

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By Jeffrey Sanzel

Public radio personality and prolific author David Bouchier has gathered 122 essays in his newest collection, the charming “Out of Thin Air.” Divided into seven loose themes covering such topics as technology, politics and travel, Bouchier covers many of the same ideas but always from a different angle. As they are based on his well-known radio commentaries, each essay is a clever gem, rarely more than two pages, and makes for insightful and entertaining reading.

Author David Bouchier

In the Preface, Bouchier defines an essay as “the writer talking to you, one on one, about something that he or she finds interesting, annoying, bewildering, or funny.” This definitive statement guides the entire work. As we wend our way through his experiences, it is as if he is sitting across from us over a lively coffee. He is articulate and witty and, even when he is at his most hyperbolic, there is a sincerity that comes through.

Bouchier’s first essay, “Waiting for the End” appropriately deals with just that — the end of the world. He clearly gives us a sense of his life’s view and what will come in the ensuing pages: “The future is virgin territory, and any pessimist can claim it.” When writing of a cinematic look at the apocalypse: “The movie was two hours and thirty-eight minutes long. The actual end of the world needs to be snappier than that, or we will lose interest (average adult attention span: twenty minutes).” We now know who Bouchier is and can proceed in the full knowledge that we will laugh and be inspired in turns or, just as often, simultaneously.

Much of the book is taken up with issues of modern technology and the disenfranchisement of people of an earlier generation. What separates Bouchier from the usual curmudgeonly wheezes is that he has — albeit sometimes reluctantly — embraced not just the power of these changes but their necessity. Not that he doesn’t take many pointed and highly amusing shots at our slavish addiction to all things computer centric; he rails against them but still sees their value. “We are never alone unless the battery runs out.” He is not so much technophobic but “techno-wary.” Of cellphones, “I talk, therefore I am” is followed by his taking it a step further that this form of communication brings us closer to each other and yet isolates us from the world.

In his longest essay, “The Ghost in the Machine,” Bouchier makes the valid point that computers have rid us of the need for memory. With instant access, we have disconnected from ourselves and no actually living is done. We have become a society that survives in a virtual existence. While he is going to the extreme to make his point, there is a reality in his argument that demands we look inward.

“From Hardware to Software” is a laugh-out-loud equation of old-fashioned hardware stores with the heroic doctors of television drama with the dramatic of-course-it-can-be-saved. It reflects on a time when problems had solutions and mourns the loss of these kinder bastions of help and support and knowledge. In the same vein, the author writes a paean to the joy of the manual typewriter, gone the same way is these shops.

What helps enrich the pieces is that Bouchier is incredibly well-read and knowledgeable in a wide range of topics — literature (novels in particular), art and science to name a few. He encourages the reader to embrace science — even if you don’t understand it. He praises continuing education but never laments that education is wasted on the young. It gives a vast scope for interpretation and reference that enriches the depth of his exploration.

As stated, many subjects overlap (notably cellphones, computers and other contemporary gadgetry), but he manages to mine a different perspective with each vignette: He finds a singular awareness to highlight.

The topics that are covered are plentiful. The author’s thoughts touch on ideas from “selective forgetting” (a wonderfully accurate concept) to the danger of the smiley face. He pursues the danger of teaching fake history and the repercussions on young (and older) minds. Here, like so many places in his writing, he shifts easily from his acerbic and pithy quips to important concepts such as learning from history, not just ingest it.

Bouchier’s take on the opposite of procrastination — “pre-crastination” — is amusing and not a little disturbing; he finds that people who rush into things are not giving the proper thought. This leads to a siting of truly dangerous things that should give people pause: “double bacon cheeseburgers with fries, international wars, and marriage.” Even when taking aim at easy targets, his perceptions are both fresh and refreshing. Ultimately, in “We’ll Do This Later,” somehow he makes a strong case for procrastination. He is also adept at looking at two sides of a situation.

In “The Way We Were,” the author starts out with a pointedly ambivalent view of reunions but then comes to a much more introspective conclusion, finding the worth in the event. It is not just that he finds the two views but he is able to perceive multiple awarenesses.

“Worth Preserving” is a timely solution for maintaining historical sites. What is fascinating is that at first it seems like he is being tongue-in-cheek — and he might possibly be — but the concepts of preservation and accessibility are sound. It is this blend of humor and understanding that fuel his writing.

And yet, Bouchier’s take on nostalgia comes at the discussion from a different standpoint: “Every nation has its own tales of a glorious past that never existed.” He gives Downton Abbey as a prime example that the truth is much darker below stairs. Basically, the good old days that are glorified by film, television and novels never existed.

He laments the bookless bookstores that have become clothing emporiums — most notably university bookstores where books are screens “to goggle or Google at.” Clever word play is powerful and his succinctness is an arrow to the center, his dissections as swift and accurate as a scalpel.

“Losing stuff, like losing weight, is a lost cause.” We have too many things — we are saturated as “willing prisoners” of our acquisitions. Again, he turns his accusations inward and finds the positive in what has become a negative cliché — he finds the value in “stuff” as a connection to who we are related to from where we’ve come.

The author’s thoughts about wedding extravagance are really an exploration of marriage in the short and long term, calling to task the reality that in the modern age being average and fitting in trumps being Mozart. In the age of driverless cars, perhaps it is not the vehicles that should be recalled but the drivers themselves. In a flip on red-light cameras, he makes the case to reward good drivers for correct behavior.

The selfie as “a sudden plague of pathological vanity” is extreme — but not inaccurate, flying in the face of the cliché of a picture being worth a thousand words. The “Look at me, I’m here, I exist” is no more than a “flicker across the consciousness leaving no trace. They’re not worth a thousand words, they replace a thousand words.”

There is a great deal of strong advice in Bouchier’s writings. In “A Good Long Read,” he meditates on the transition from reading long books to embracing a series of books. This is a healthy and helpful suggestion to readers of desire but limited time.

An extended section on politics in the book should be made required reading in every school (and home, for that matter). The author’s view on the American system can be summed up in his observation that we have hundreds of choices for cereal but only two for president. He writes about the true heroes of our times and times past as well as a fascinating connection between clowns, Halloween and Election Day.

A discussion of a universal draft — men, woman, all ages an socioeconomic backgrounds — ultimately hints at broader ideas. He does the same thing with a darkly comic advocation of making everyone in the world an American. In his section on travel, Bouchier opens up with “Escape Attempts,” which hints at deeper themes — going from trips to war to marriage and children. He makes profound statements about the power of inner life, of reading versus travel. He points out that “to” is often less important than “from.” Style of travel from point of view as well as the unnecessary obsession with souvenirs all encourage us to look not just in the mirror but within ourselves.

The essay “The Business of America” is the smartest and most accurate assessment of the lack of values in our constant pursuit of meetings. In the “Right to Arm Bears,” Bouchier proposes leveling the hunting playing field by providing animals with guns. “Philosophy in the Slow Lane” meditates on life in the Long Island Expressway traffic jams, comparing it to the classic audio novels (Twain, Melville) he listens to when caught in the given congestion of our daily lives. All pithy statements; all with great truths beneath.

The best summation of Bouchier’s work would be in his own words: “What makes us different from bees and lemmings is that we can and do break away from the herd, and think our separate thoughts. We are bees with a perspective on the hive, which allows us to evolve and to create. It also gives us a headache.”

Thank you, Mr. Bouchier for the reminder of all the former. And your tag to this thought reminds us never to take ourselves too seriously.

‘Out of Thin Air’ is available online at www.amazon.com. Meet author David Bouchier at the Third Friday event at the Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook on Friday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. Bouchier will discuss his 25 years on public radio. The event is free.

By Melissa Arnold

Most people have something they dislike about their appearance at one time or another. Diane Melidosian is no exception, struggling with a stubborn cowlick for her entire life. In the spring, she released her first book for children, “Cornelius & the Cowlick,” which recounts a young boy’s efforts to tame his unruly hair. In the end, kindness from his friends and classmates allow Cornelius to embrace the things that make him unique and special.

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in East Northport, but I’ve lived in Stony Brook for more than 30 years. I went to college in Michigan but returned to Long Island when I got married in 1974. I studied special ed, and when I was in undergrad, Eastern Michigan was one of the few schools in the country to offer that program, so off I went. My husband and I were both special ed teachers, but later on I became a reading specialist. We’re both retired now.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I didn’t really want to be a writer when I was a kid — I just had a very active imagination.

What inspired you to write this book?

Above, the cover of Diane Melidosian’s first children’s book

I have a cowlick myself, and it’s always been a problem. All the things that Cornelius does to try to deal with it are things I’ve tried myself. Nothing works! To this day I struggle to keep my hair down, so that’s really where the inspiration came from — having lots of bad hair days. Somewhere along the line I decided to write a story about it.

How did you go about getting the book published?

I did self-publishing through Amazon. One day, I visited the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook, and there was a woman there doing publicity for a book she had written. I don’t remember her name now, but I spoke to her and she told me about publishing through CreateSpace, which is a part of Amazon. I went online and it looked like something I could handle. It was pretty user-friendly, too.

What made you choose the name Cornelius for the main character?

I thought it was a good fit because of the alliteration with the word “cowlick.”

What do you want kids to take away from reading your book?

You know, it’s meant to be a silly book, but my cowlick was something that always troubled me. I figured there’s a kid out there that struggles with hair issues and they might be able to relate and get a laugh out of it. Having his friend and the other kids rally around him helps him to accept himself more. The message I would want them to walk away with is that nothing is insurmountable and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Who did the illustrations for the book? Were you involved in the process?

After I wrote the story, it sat in a drawer for 10 years because finding an illustrator was a big obstacle for me. I don’t have any artistic talent. But then a friend of mine suggested her niece, Kyra Slawski, who ended up doing it for me. She had just graduated from college with an art degree, but she had never done anything like this before. She was very hesitant at first, but I said, “Look, anything you do is going to be fine.” She did a wonderful job. We met a few times in person but did most of our work through the computer. She would send some illustrations to me and I would send them back with comments — sometimes Cornelius’ cowlick wasn’t in the right spot, or I had a different idea. We’d go back and forth until both of us were satisfied.

What was it like seeing Cornelius come to life?

It was so surprising. You can write the story and have an image in your head, but seeing it is different. I can’t say he was exactly as I pictured him — I had pictured a boy a bit more like Dennis the Menace — but when Kyra first sent me her illustrations, I was all for it.

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

Don’t put you book in a drawer for 10 years! Work on it bit by bit and set a time for it to be completed.

“Cornelius & the Cowlick,” recommended for ages 3 to 8, is available on www.Amazon.com for $9.50. The book can also be found in the Local Authors Collection at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main Street in Setauket.

A cornucopia of crime and punishment

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Kerriann Flanagan Brosky

“Historic Crimes of Long Island” by Kerriann Flanagan Brosky is a highly readable journey through “Misdeeds from the 1600s to the 1950s.” The Huntington author has collected 20 tales of local mayhem, ranging from murder to kidnapping, crimes motivated by money, passion and, occasionally, insanity. Brosky’s tight, you-are-there prose propels the reader from one piece to another, covering a wide range of sinister and often heinous actions. As aptly stated in the Preface, the book includes “pirates, witches, jealousy, revenge, tar and feathering, beheadings, drownings, madmen eccentrics, axe murderers and more.”

Brosky never shies away from skin-crawling detail where appropriate; but what separates this work from many others like it is her compassion for the victims. More often than not, books that chronicle the darker side of history tend to celebrate the perpetrators. Brosky instead shows great sensitivity and understanding of the targets. She offers insight into the motivation of the offenders but never excuses or glamorizes their actions. She does not revel in evil but explores it from multiple angles. She is more interested in the “why.”

The book wisely eschews chronology but instead opts for contrast as the accounts venture back and forth throughout time, weaving a rich tapestry, no two stories identical. Incidents in Quogue, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Westhampton Beach and other well-known Long Island towns create an intense backdrop to the range of occurrences.

Brosky focuses on not just a variety of episodes but chooses to spotlight different aspects of the proceedings. The Corn Doctor Murder exams a tangled legal system whereas The Mad Killer of Suffolk County emphasizes a sociopathy that drives a man to thrill killing.

Kidnapping or Murder? The Alice Parsons Case shows the politics that can interfere with an investigation as the conflict between the FBI and local police left the case unsolved. The Murder of Captain James Craft stretches from Glen Cove to the Tenderloin and includes both deception and decapitation. The Samuel Jones Murder addresses capital punishment in light of a botched hanging in 1875. Buried treasure, a violated burial ground and obsessed gardener are examined in astute detail.

One of the most intriguing entries is East Hampton Witch Trial of 1658. Like all sagas of this era, it shows the power of a vindictive nature in a culture of suspicion. It clearly sites the hysteria and danger but what is unusual in this report is the surprising outcome.

Perhaps the strongest and certainly most heartbreaking is Starr Faithful: Drowning, Murder, or Suicide. Here is a devastating sketch of a tragically abused girl, ill-treated from a very young age. This is a detailed commentary, mired in deep unhappiness, promiscuity, alcoholism and blackmail. Above all, it is a dimensional portrait of the victim. (As an interesting side note, Starr Faithful was the inspiration for John O’Hara’s novel, “Butterfield 8,” and the Elizabeth Taylor movie that followed.)

The book is well illustrated with photos, period prints and newspaper clippings, supplemented by Penny Dreadful-style illustrations by author Joan Harrison (who also provided the Foreword). Some stories are solved; others are left open, haunted by doubts and conflicting evidence. A variety of characters sharply presented, flesh out this slender but consistently engaging composition, sure to please a wide range of readers this Halloween season.

“Historic Crimes of Long Island,” published by The History Press, is available online at www.amazon.com and local bookstores. Upcoming lectures and book signings in the area include Port Jefferson Free Library on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., Northport Historical Society on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m, and Half Hollow Hills Community Library in Dix Hills on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.kerriannflanaganbrosky.com.

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

When three cows embark on an adventure to the beach, things can get a bit tricky, but that doesn’t stop Ms. Brown Cow. Children will discover that when one is determined to achieve a goal, even when obstacles are present, one can accomplish almost anything in the delightful children’s book “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?”

Peter Fowkes

Written and illustrated by Port Jefferson native and St. Anthony’s High School graduate Peter Fowkes, the self-published book features witty yet simple rhymes and vibrantly colored funny illustrations. The story is one that will surely provide little ones with plenty of giggles as Ms. Brown Cow finds a solution to any problem.

In addition to the “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” book, Fowkes, who is a producer and director living in Los Angeles with his wife Nancy and two children Benjamin and Charlotte, has also published “Rainbow Sheep” and “Elmer, The Pet Horse.” All three, recommended for ages 4 to 8, are part of the Beyond the Blue Barn book series.

Fowkes recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow” via email.

Do you have a favorite memory from your childhood years?

I grew up in the Port Jefferson area, in the village of Belle Terre. I played village Little League coached by my dad, spent my teenage summers lifeguarding on the Suffolk County shoreline, graduated high school from St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, and even though I have since moved, my mother still lives in the family home that I grew up in on Crooked Oak Road. My most vivid childhood memory is going on a third-grade field trip with Scraggy Hill Elementary School and deciding to ignore my teacher’s warnings about not getting too close to the edge of the stream. I fell in. I was fine, but it was embarrassing to spend the rest of the field trip in my tighty-whitey underpants covered up by Mrs. Christman’s oversized jacket. My life has been very much that way ever since.

Tell me a bit about your career?

I have worked in the television industry for 20 years now. I gave the NBC tour as a page in Rockefeller Center after I graduated from Fordham University and continued on the TV path to work as a producer and TV director on comedy shows. I am proud to note, most of them are even funny, but not all of them. A few highlights would include a few years with the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and a few years with “Impractical Jokers.” I mostly work freelance, which is fancy speak for stressful employment hunting, but it has given me the opportunity to have a very diversified career taking on many projects and some very rewarding experiences.

How did you get involved with writing children’s books?

For starters, I was terrible at math. My math notebooks would be filled with doodles and cartoon characters as I would spend the entire lesson drawing Batman and Charlie Brown instead of learning fractions. I was a bad math student, but I became a pretty good artist. A few times in my TV career I had the opportunity to do some animation, and I thought I came up with a pretty cool style. I would mix cartoon drawings with real photographs, the result was “a poor man’s Roger Rabbit.” I decided to translate that style to children’s books because I thought kids would love it. In TV, the experience of producing a show is very collaborative. That is all well and good, but I wanted to tell a few stories all on my own. I wanted to pair simple funny stories with silly beautiful illustrations, and I wanted my kids to like them.

How would you describe “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” to someone who hasn’t read it?

“How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” is a simple story, with a simple message that isn’t too preachy, with lots of funny pictures. It is a book for kids that I promise parents will enjoy reading with them.

How did you come up with the idea of cows who are determined to make it to the beach?

I liked the idea of characters that did not know their “place” in society. Like, what could you achieve if you never were told, “You can’t do that”? What if you really believed that you could do anything you set your mind to? Well, these cows clearly do not think of themselves as “just farm animals.” They think they can do whatever they try to do and if that means ride a motorcycle, take a cab, fly an airplane or shoot themselves from a cannon to get to the beach, they’re going to get to that beach.

When did you start the Beyond the Blue Barn book series and why?

I purposely wanted to play around with the children’s book clichés of rhyming stories about farm animals at the old barn etc. I thought that would be a fun place to start the stories and then let the characters go nuts. All the Beyond the Blue Barn books start with a family photo of the old farmer and all of his animals.

I was looking at an old school class photo and was wondering whatever happen to this one, and where did that one wind up going and decided to take that approach with all of these farm animals as the books start with the farmer retiring to Fort Myers and the farm being sold.

Each book then follows a farm animal or group of animals on their adventures after they leave the Blue Barn to start their new lives. All of these animals are infected with a blissful sense of unawareness of what is expected of farm animals; therefore, they can do anything and try to do so. They feel no limitations. The cows may dream of being lifeguards, the sheep astronauts and rock stars, a turkey wants to be a professional tennis player. Why not? So, the goal is to keep it simple, silly and fun.

Do you have another children’s book planned or more adventures for Ms. Brown Cow?

Well, the Blue Barn opening page has plenty of animals in the picture and every one of them has a story. So far, we have followed three groups. “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” follows the three cows on a quest of determination to get to the beach. “Elmer, the Pet Horse” follows a horse in his new home where he does not see why he isn’t accepted into the family home like the dog or the cat. “Rainbow Sheep” is a battle for the affections of children at a petting zoo where the sheep continually top each other with more audacious acts thinking it will make them more liked. So, I do plan more adventures for the other animals formally of the Blue Barn.

Tell us about the illustrations.

I think they tell much more of the story than the words do in these books. My books are narrated by the farm animals and the pictures often don’t really match what the animals are saying because they do not know the full story. They are unreliable narrators. I mean in my book “Elmer, The Pet Horse,” before the horse is bought by a new family, he thinks he is getting a corporate job as a foreman at the glue factory. He even imagines himself at some giant corporate office wearing a hard hat being all important.

How do you find the time to write? Any advice for aspiring book writers?

Like everybody else in the world, I really don’t have time to write, but I forced myself. The one piece of advice I would have for aspiring writers is:  just sit down and start your book. I meet people all the time that tell me about an idea they have for a book, but it’s just an idea until you start it. For me it was important to break it down into parts. Doing a whole book is overwhelming, but just trying to finish a page here and a page there is easy and before you know it, it’s done.

For more information on Peter Fowkes and his Beyond the Barn book series, visit his author’s page on www.amazon.com.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Grant Shaffer and Alan Cumming with their current pets, Jerry and Lala. Photo from Jud Newborn

Have you ever wondered what your pets are thinking, or what they’re up to when you’re not around? Actor Alan Cumming and his photographer/illustrator husband, Grant Shaffer, sure have. Constantly entertained by their late beloved dogs, Honey and Leon, the couple decided to share the fun in their new children’s book, “The Adventures of Honey & Leon,” beautifully illustrated with a silly, imaginative story line. Cumming and Shaffer, who have been together for 13 years, recently answered questions about the book via email.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves. Were you always animal lovers?

Alan Cumming: I always had animals around me growing up. I had two little West Highland Terrier dogs when I was a little boy, but as I lived on a country estate there were always sheep and cows and deer and pheasants around.

Grant Shaffer: I’ve always been an animal lover. I grew up with dogs, cats, a rabbit, lizards, snakes, hamsters, fish … I even had a pet rat that I was crazy about.

Is this your first foray into writing/illustrating?

AC: I’ve also written “Tommy’s Tale,” a novel published in 2002; “Not My Father’s Son,” a No. 1 New York Times best-selling memoir; and a book of photographs and stories titled “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams.” GS: I illustrated a children’s book last year called “Three Magic Balloons,” written by Julianna and Paul Margulies.

How did you come up with the story line?

GS: The idea came up when we’d be traveling and missing our dogs. We would spot people at the airport, on the street or at a beach and say, “There’s Honey” (old lady in a bathrobe and a floppy sun hat), or “There’s Leon” (short little guy wearing big sunglasses and a flat cap), and the story just grew from there. The problem with dogs is that they don’t stick around forever. I think this was our way of trying to immortalize them, and we thought kids would like this tale.

AC: It seemed such a good collaboration considering our respective jobs. I love the idea that we have created something together that celebrates the creatures we loved so much.

What was the process like?

GS: Alan wrote the story first, and then I added the drawings. We mulled the idea of doing a children’s book for years, so it took a long time. It was great, and pretty fluid. I’ve heard of some couples who are barely speaking to each other after a joint project like this, but luckily that’s not us!

How did you come to adopt Honey and Leon?

GS: Before we met, Alan had adopted Honey, and I had adopted Leon, so when we got together, so did they. They were pure love and magic to us, but all dog owners think that about their dogs. Leon would sing (howl) along to Radiohead or if a siren went by, and Honey always crossed her paws like a lady, and she’d actually pose for a camera, looking left, then right.

Did you often wonder what the dogs were thinking at home?

GS: All the time. It usually involved food and dog treats I think. One time we rang up a pet psychic, so she could tell us what the dogs were thinking. She was so off, saying that Leon didn’t like my phone’s ringtone (I never used a ringtone) and that Honey wanted Alan to eat more vegetables (as a vegan, that’s all he eats). It was worth a funny phone call though.

Can you share with the readers a favorite story about Honey and Leon?

GS: We used to play a game: If I walked the dogs, Alan would hide somewhere in the house. Alan’s hiding places became more involved, and the chase would become more frantic each time. I would guide them with “hot” and “cold,” and Alan would clue them in with a whistle. When they’d finally find him, it was like a family reuniting that had been separated for decades — lots of whining and licks!

Do you two hope to adopt pets again someday?

GS: We already did! When Honey died (from old age), Leon was so lonely, so we adopted a Chihuahua mix named Jerry. Then Leon died (from old age) and we adopted Lala (a mini-collie mix, but she looks like a black fox). We are in love all over again.

Is there a particular message you hope to pass on to kids with this book?

GS: I like that the story features two gay dads, but that isn’t the story really. It’s just, “Here is our family on a fun adventure together.” I guess that’s a message in itself.

Who is your target audience?

AC: We recommend the book for kids ages 3 to 7.

Are there any other books we can look forward to from you?

GS: “The Further Adventures of Honey & Leon” comes out in 2019. “The Adventures of Honey & Leon” is available online and in stores wherever books are sold.

Cumming and Shaffer will make a special appearance at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington on Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $75, $60 members. The event, hosted by Jud Newborn, includes a rare screening of Cumming’s “The Anniversary Party,” followed by a Q&A and book-signing reception for “The Adventures of Honey & Leon.” Every ticket holder will receive a copy of the book. Call 631-423-7611 for more information.