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Book Review

Johnny Cuomo

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Johnny Cuomo has worn a lot of hats over the years. He’s a musician, storyteller, nature lover, teacher, husband, father, and each role has had a profound impact on his life. The 46-year-old Mount Sinai resident is full of stories and lessons he’s learned while working with all kinds of children.

Most recently, he’s been focused on how important it is to treat others with compassion in his new book, Katy Didn’t. When a new bug arrives at school, the other bugs won’t accept him — that is, except for Katy the katydid, whose kindness makes all the difference. The book shares a powerful message within an easy-to-grasp and vividly illustrated story. It’s also a great read for young bug lovers, who will be thrilled with the variety of insect characters.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cuomo about his latest venture.

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

Yes, I grew up in Stony Brook. Interestingly, when I was a kid I was more interested in sports, like skateboarding, wrestling, and martial arts. I was also very interested in making music, which is a major part of my life today. My artistic interests were focused mainly on singing and playing instruments.

Did you always dream of being a writer?

Not quite. I’ve been able to do a lot of traveling throughout my life, and one of my favorite things is to learn about the folk tales of different places and cultures. I also got to work closely with Native American children on a reservation in California for two summers when I was in my early twenties, and that was very formative for me. Working with those children was what led me to go back to school.

What did you choose to study?

I got my undergraduate degree in education from Dowling College, and then I went on to do a Master’s in history at Stony Brook University.

So how did you start writing?

As a songwriter, I tend to write a tune and then think about lyrics that could go with it. That process forces me to write mini stories. Many years ago, I actually wrote a short story called Moonglow, something I’m still proud of. It gave me a foray into the publishing world. I also put together a CD sharing some original folk tales that I had written, based on the stories and cultures of the people I’d lived with.

Where did the idea for ‘Katy Didn’t’ come from?

Even after I began teaching, I was still really grounded in nature. I’m an avid birdwatcher and the natural world is a daily part of my life. If you’ve ever seen or heard a katydid during the summers here on Long Island, you know they have a very rhythmic chirping. Some people even say it sounds like a repetition of, “katy-did, katy-didn’t, katy-did, katy-didn’t.” I always thought that was clever, and one day I started to wonder if I could work that into a story for kids — that Katy didn’t do something hurtful, even when everyone else was doing it. I ended up having a dream about some of the characters and storyline. I created about 95% of the framework for the story within a week of that dream.

Tell me a bit about the illustrator. How did you find one another?

A good friend of mine has a brother named Benjamin Lowery who is an artist. We became friendly about 10 years ago. I got lucky — it turned out that Ben was working on his portfolio and was looking for stories to illustrate. He heard that I was putting this new story together and asked if he could be a part of it. It was really exciting that we both found something we needed in each other and the timing was perfect. I gave him general themes, and then he sent me sketches. He had an amazing sense of knowing what we needed. When I saw the first full-color picture he created, I said, “This is fantastic — just go for it!” We’ve really enjoyed this process and looking out for each other.

How did you publish the book? Did you pursue self-publishing or find an agent?

It was a touch-and-go process. We had an agent for a while, but it didn’t work out, and we sent it to some publishers, but that didn’t work out either. They gave great feedback, but it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Finally, we connected with Peter Pauper Press, and they said they were going to share the book at their board meeting because they had a great feeling about it. A few days later, they sent us an email that said, “Katy did it!” It was great. They’ve been a really wonderful, straightforward company to work with. The deadline was just before all the pandemic shutdowns began, so we were very fortunate to get it published when we did.

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

I want kids to know that whenever they go somewhere new, there will always be a person out there ready to welcome them. You may face struggles and tough times, but there will always be at least one person willing to help you through it and support you with a positive outlook, even if everyone else is ignoring or teasing you. It’s also an encouragement to be that person for others, whether you’re visiting the park, at someone’s house or meeting someone from a different town.

Is there a recommended age group?

Kids from age 3 to age 8 will get different things from the book, whether that’s their interest in bugs, early reading, or the message about how to treat people. It’s worth noting that the bugs in the book are drawn in a cute, but scientifically correct way, so there are so many things you can teach and do with it.

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Katy Didn’t is available at many online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. For more about the book, visit www.facebook.com/katydidntbook or www.johnnycuomo.com. Teachers and librarians are welcome to contact Cuomo for information about online or in-person educational events by emailing [email protected]

Book Revue in Huntington will welcome Johnny Cuomo and Benjamin Lowery at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 for a free, online event featuring readings, music, conversation and more. Registration is required by visiting www.bookrevue.com or by calling 631-271-1442.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

At the outset, I must confess that I am allergic to self-discovery. I break out in hives of disinterest. Mostly when I read these accounts, they make me want to be a less successful, unhappier person. Call it the Self-Enlightenment Repellent Effect.  And yet …

Author Stephanie Hayman

Who would think that a book entitled Surviving My First Decade in Corporate America, written by a thirty-year-old marketing strategist, would be one of the most engaging and enlightening books of the last year?

Stephanie Hayman’s slender tome is a clever, informative, and beautifully written account of her twenties in the workplace. Her prose is crisp, laugh-out-loud funny, and smart. The book is flawlessly constructed and her advice is logical and practical; her point-of-view is personal, which makes it all the more valuable. She never speaks in generalities and backs up her ideas with personal experiences and well-placed anecdotes. Her style is breezy and conversational but never feels flippant or dismissive.

This is a tremendous book.

Her target audience is young people entering the professional world for the first time. Upon graduation, the book should be required reading, perhaps handed out with diplomas if necessary. While she deals predominantly with corporate, office, and business workplaces, there is a universality to her perspective that applies to most jobs and careers.

The book is composed of about two dozen quick chapters, with some shrewd interludes. She actually opens the book with “An Ode to Change,” composed of eight comical haikus, reflecting her shift from college to the world beyond. A personal favorite: “Met for two hours today/This could have been an e-mail/What a waste of time.”

Her prologue sets the tone for what is to come: When I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 22-year-old college senior, I wish I had some insight into what to expect as I entered the business world. I imagined that I’d pop out of bed with a smile on my face, shut the alarm on the first ding, and brush my teeth with such gusto, feverishly anticipating the exciting work day ahead. LOL, clearly my young self had quite the active imagination and didn’t quite grasp the concepts of commuting, 9 a.m. meetings, and overall exhaustion.

And so it began and so it begins.

The first chapter is titled “Social Paparazzi vs. Background Checks.” Right out of the starting gate, she tackles the dangers and pitfalls of social media and how it effects how one is perceived in the greater world. She strikes home with the reality that those bar pictures might have been fun at the time, but they will do you no good (and possible ill). 

In “Trading College for a Cubicle,” she gives an overview of some of the unexpected challenges in her first job. An amusing story about a difficult bad weather commute is followed by an honest, self-revelatory conclusion: “As much as everyone tells you their stories, and you feel like you know what to expect, you will never truly understand or grasp the transition to professional life until you experience it yourself.” 

“Friends, Foes and Corporate Beaus” deals with romance in the workplace. It can be done as long as you are open and honest. It worked for her but she cautions “the personal and professional not only intersect, but become emotionally entangled with one another.” This segues into “Spoiler Alert: Work/Life Balance Doesn’t Exist.” After years of hearing how important it is to separate work and life, she makes the point that it is more myth than method. “Working doesn’t stop and life doesn’t stop” — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It is about sensible integration.

One of the most pointed chapters — “Sorry Doesn’t Cut It!” — addresses the mis- and over-use of “I’m sorry.” (This was an ah-hah moment for me and will resonate with any reader.) In an age of responsibility deflection, this is a reminder to choose the words that address what is actually happening, rather than resort to meaningless clichés and social dodges. Her advice on networking is succinct and pragmatic; anyone wondering how to begin developing the necessary skills are given a sensible and accessible approach.

Hayman pulls no punches. “Asking for a raise without proper justification just straight up makes you look dumb. As a millennial asking for a raise without anything to back up your claim, just makes you look like … well, a millennial.”

She takes on challenging topics with the same clear-headed, no-nonsense tactic: organizational culture, the importance of personal days, interaction in a multigenerational workforce, gender disparity, graduate degrees, and, ultimately, the pandemic. No matter how difficult the situation, she is neither self-aggrandizing or self-pitying.

One of the interludes compares reactions of her age twenty-two self to her age twenty-nine self. She covers cold calls, meetings, traveling, high heels, getting ready, bosses, emails, and availability, all with wicked accuracy and a sense of how we grow. It is also a reflection of how priorities mature with experience.

Throughout, there is a refrain of learning to trust your gut and speaking up and speaking out: “In the workplace if you don’t speak up, you’re forgotten. You become the friend that shows up to every family gathering without bringing an app, dessert or bottle of wine. Quickly everyone begins to wonder: why are you here and what do you actually contribute?”

At the end of each chapter, she has “What I knew then, but know now.” It is composed of three points summing up the material addressed in the previous pages. They are as witty and well-crafted as the body of the chapter and offer an excellent way for the book to be used as an ongoing source. After the reader has gone through the entire book, he or she can use those points as a constant refresher. Once again, the book is highly entertaining and completely practical. 

“This is not high school and you are not defined by a ‘label.’ Every day you have a new chance to reinvent or grow your existing persona. Who you are at 22 will not be who you are at 30. Don’t lump yourself in a box, and celebrate all of the differentiated parts of you.”  Wise words and good advice.

It would be easy to quote the entire book in this review. Instead, go out and get a stack of copies for the young people in your life who are graduating college (or even high school). Along with the card and the check, give them Stephanie Hayman’s Surviving My First Decade in Corporate America. And while you’re buying a copy for them, pick up a copy for yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Author Stephanie Hayman is a marketing strategist with 8+ years industry experience at Fortune 500 companies and boutique businesses. A graduate of Stony Brook University, the Hauppauge resident frequently publishes her thoughts on her blog, www.bystephaniehayman.com and will host a virtual and in-person event at SBU for current students and alumni this coming fall.

Surviving My First Decade in Corporate America is available online at Amazon, iBooks, Google Books and Barnes & Noble.

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'Eight Paths of Purpose'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“We are internally wired to make the world a better place for ourselves and our children.  Every time we take a step along this path, we feel an inner sense of accomplishment.  Even if we have but a very small part in this process, we feel connected to the larger goal.”

Author Rabbi Tuvia Teldon

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon explores the nature and power of purpose in his inspirational Eight Paths of Purpose [Outskirts Press]

His journey began in 1977 with the birth of his son, Boruch: “What happens when you thought you boarded the plane for Paris, but you land in Timbuktu?” Within five hours of the birth, the boy was diagnosed with a form of cystic fibrosis (CF) and required immediate life-saving surgery. Instantly, he and his wife faced a reversal of expectation. Dark questions crowded his mind — “How could this happen to us?” and “What did we do to deserve this?”  They were presented with a difficult challenge to the family’s projected road.

Teldon worked to accept and embrace this seismic shift. Over the years, Teldon’s family grew, gaining four more children. Boruch’s health was relatively stable until he was nine, where things became worse. In June 1991, at age twelve, Boruch received a double lung transplant, giving the family greater hope.  Sadly, the boy’s body rejected the transplant, and he died.

The devastation was unfathomable. “My burning question was what purpose could this Higher Power possibly have for bringing such suffering into the world, and specifically to my family?” In his quest for understanding, he began writing this book during the seven-day mourning period. He proceeded to work on it over the ensuing twenty-eight years.

For a piece of work that was born in such deep pain, it is an uplifting treatise on finding our way into the light of purpose. At the outset, Teldon delves into this concept, defining and clarifying purpose before exploring it in detail throughout the next hundred pages.

The book’s central concept is that human beings inherently desire to make a difference and that this driving force, whether active or passive, is at our core. It is about embracing this idea and mining the possibilities it presents. Teldon also readily acknowledges that people are unique and have different things to offer.

It is this notion — what we have to offer — that is paramount. Tikan olam — fixing the world — should become our primary focus. (In the Japanese culture, it is known as Ikigai.) How we do this is an individual journey. Teldon lays out ways to delve within ourselves. He recognizes that people face different challenges — financial, emotional, etc. — and that often through accepting adversity, life experiences can guide us. Reframing negatives as positives and “turning tragedy into something good, even if only in some small way” are possible in our personal odyssey. Also, it can be the small things that have as much value as the large. Only we restrict our choices:

It is not limited to accomplishing some great feat or reaching a lofty goal. Purpose in life should be felt on Main Street and in our kitchen, just as much as in a place of worship, in the halls of Washington, or during an inspiring personal experience […] At one moment, purpose may be expressed through our attendance at a PTA meeting; at another moment, how we handle a difficult situation or fix a broken appliance at home; at yet another it could be our decision to donate to an environmental cause in South America.

He reminds that goals are not the endgame but that they will help us to fulfill our larger purposes. “A life of purpose inspires us to see all imperfections as opportunities for us to go beyond our limits and, one hopes, create meaningful personal growth while making the world a better place.”

Teldon breaks down his eight paths and also introduces a vocabulary to flesh them out. He discusses elements of life, personality, relationships, ethics, and happiness. Fate, faith, and God are all strong components. It is a book to be read carefully and — appropriately — with purpose. These are big concepts and demand to be taken in, thought through, reviewed, reflected upon, and returned to.

(On a personal note, even after a single reading, I found an immediate application; I found myself sharing the thrust of the book in a discussion with colleagues on a current project. The clarity of his terms and vision are invaluable.)

Rabbi Teldons family

Many of the chapters end with a series of pointed questions followed by exercises to implement the precepts. Cumulatively, this gives Eight Paths a strong mix of the practical and the philosophical, alternating between explanation and narrative examples. Interspersed throughout the book are anecdotal and statistical insertions that liven Teldon’s discussion. Many of these enhance his central concepts with views on the history and evolutionary progress of the world. He quotes an interesting range of people from Thomas Carlyle and Helen Keller to Maria Shriver and Marla Gibbs.

Tuvia Teldon’s Eight Paths of Purpose is small only its length; it is huge in its scope. It is formidable in its insight and inciting the bridging meaningful acts into a purposeful existence. It is a both a primer and an advanced text on living a life of greater value and satisfaction. Ultimately, it can be summed-up in his choice of quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is … to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

A resident of Commack, author Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the Senior Rabbi on Long Island and  oversees a staff of over 50 rabbis in 38 centers. Eight Paths of Purpose is available at Book Revue in Huntington, www.outskirtspress.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com.

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Arcadia Publishing Co.’s Images of America Series’ latest offering is Charles Denson’s illuminating and handsomely constructed Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel Park. The book doesn’t just explore the area’s oldest and most famous attraction, the Wonder Wheel, but honors Brooklyn’s Coney Island as a vibrant neighborhood of variety and independence. It also celebrates the importance of our country as a melting pot:

The story of the Wonder Wheel is the story of immigration in America.  The century-old landmark comes with a narrative:  this incredibly complex machine was designed, built, owned, operated, and ultimately saved by immigrants with little formal education who came to the United States penniless and wound up realizing the American Dream.

In 1907, 17-year-old Romanian-born Charles Hermann immigrated to the United States. While working in San Francisco, he saw the Aeroscope at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It was this device that most likely inspired him to design his “perpetual motion machine.” (His early concept bore a resemblance to one of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches for a similar invention. The book smartly shows the drawings together.)

Above, the Wonder Wheel viewed from the Bowery and West 12th St. in Brooklyn during the 1940s.
Image courtesy of the Coney Island History Project

In New York, Hermann teamed with the more business savvy Herman Garms (born Rosenfeld) to form the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company. (Coincidentally, Garms and Hermann both arrived in the U.S. in the same year; the latter from Germany). It was realist Garms who suggested that it become a wheel and be used for an amusement ride. The pair were joined by businessman William J. Ward who was instrumental in the development of Coney Island. It was Ward who enabled the erection of the Wheel on the site of the torn-down Roosevelt’s Rough Riders roller coaster.

The book succinctly traces the building and opening of the Wonder Wheel in 1920 and notes that once built, Hermann walked away from it to pursue other projects. Typical of Hermann, he was more interested in creation and innovation than he was in financial gain. His life was a series of sometimes brilliant inventions for which he received little financial renumeration. In contrast, Garms stayed with the Wheel and his descendants would operate it for the next sixty years.

Throughout the 1920’s Coney Island flourished. Between 1917 and 1923, the City bought back the beachfront property from private holders to create a wide beach and public boardwalk. Rollercoasters — the Thunderbolt, Tornado, and Cyclone — were joined by two luxurious theaters: the RKO Tilyou and the Loew’s Coney Island. The Half Moon Hotel, fourteen stories high, opened in 1927.  Ward was the driving force behind much of the renaissance.

The book continues by briskly tracing the events of the ensuing decades, highlighting the ups and downs with interesting and informative anecdotes. It shows the shifts in the attractions (changes in the businesses, various fires, etc.) and leads up to the purchase of the Wonder Wheel by Greek immigrant Denos Vourderis, in 1983.

Vourderis (born Constantinos Dionysios Vourderis in 1920) joined Greece’s merchant marine at the age of fourteen and then fought for the Americans in World War II. He began with a hotdog pushcart before growing his business to restaurants and food concessions. Fulfilling a life-long dream, he bought the Wonder Wheel and its environs, creating Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, a family business that endures today. Vourderis is another wonderful example of the fulfillment of the American Dream.

One of the great joys of the Images of America series is, of course, the pictures. There are literally hundreds of photos spanning a century, each telling its own story. There are fascinating sketches and blueprints that show Hermann’s process and progress. There are maps and admission tickets, promotional stills, and candids. There is artwork from the popular Spook-A-Rama and behind the scenes photos revealing many of the innerworkings. There are also publicity pictures from films that have used the area as a location juxtaposed with the myriad visitors and employees. And, of course, dozens of pictures of the families that have been integral to its upkeep, survival, and improvement.

One particularly fun photo is an advertisement that includes the Wheel’s statistics (Height:  150 feet; Weight:  150 tons; Cars: 24—8 “dip” cars; Capacity: 132 riders) with “THRILLS” emblazoned across the Wheel along with  “CONEY’S COLOSSUS!” and “STUPENDOUS!  AWESOME! THRILLING!” in the text. The Wonder Wheel did not come with an operating manual; there is a photo of the only existent instructions, jotted down on the inside of a cigarette carton. At the end of the two columns is “Good Luck.”

The Wheel is more than an amusement ride. It’s a work of art and the ultimate survivor in an ephemeral world — a link to Coney’s remarkable past.

Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel Park is an the ideal tribute to a ride, a place, and a way of life.

The executive director of the nonprofit Coney Island History Project, author Charles Denson grew up in Coney Island and began documenting his neighborhood as a boy, a passion that continues to this day. Pick up a copy of Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel Park at Book Revue in Huntington, www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.

Photo from Christine Pendergast

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

The name of the book is Blink Spoken Here. It is written by Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast of Miller Place.

That’s really all you need to know.

That, and please buy the book.

Blink Spoke Here. Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast.  Buy the book.

You don’t need to finish reading this review.

You just need to buy the book.

Blink Spoke Here. Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast.  Please buy the book. Now.

For those who want to know more …

It is easy to say that this is an important book — because it is. It is about exceptional bravery in the face of unfathomable adversity.  It is about a man who has defied the odds and lived with one of the single most difficult and devastating diseases:  ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Emphasis on lived with. It is told in his words, with the assistance of his wife.

Authors Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast

The title refers to how he wrote the book, with an eye-controlled device, as he does not have the use of his hands or his voice. His journey began with the diagnosis in 1993 and continues to this very day — to the very moment that you are reading this sentence. The average lifespan with ALS is two to five years; Dr. Pendergast has survived for twenty-seven. There is no medical answer as to why. But perhaps the Universe has chosen him for bigger reasons. Two of them? First: his bringing awareness to this monstrous affliction through his inspirational Ride For Life. Second: He has written this book.

In 1993, Dr. Pendergast had been a teacher for twenty-three years, married to his childhood sweetheart, Christine.  At the time of his diagnosis, he was in the Northport school district, and he continued to teach in the classroom for as long as possible. When that was no longer an option, he continued as a teacher for the world. Blink Spoken Here is a portrait of a teacher in the best sense of the word.  His passion to impart knowledge has infused his entire life.

Beginning with a description of the disease’s arc, he brings us into his world:

“It was not a dramatic event like a building collapse but a more steady deterioration similar to a bridge failure. I was imploding. In 1993, my physical presence began shrinking before my very eyes. My contact with the world was severing, one function at a time.  Angry, scared and saddened I was like a stubborn mule fighting with tenacity for each inch I surrendered. First it was dressing, followed by grooming, driving, toileting, walking, feeding, and breathing. Now I cling to my last vestiges of talking. It forced me retreat towards within. The exterior husband, father, and friend was left behind.”

Dr. Pendergast is unflinching in his brutal honesty about the pains and the challenges. He shares some of the darkest moments in his life. But, just as often, he speaks of hope and appreciation and deep faith. Many of the simplest things that we take for granted have been taken from Dr. Pendergast.  And yet, in all of this, he manages to find not just the good in life but the lessons that are offered every day. 

If these are not good enough reasons to read this book (and they should be), it is also a beautiful piece of writing. Dr. Pendergast writes with extraordinary eloquence and sincerity, with humor and insight. His prose is exquisite. He shares anecdotes and parables, free verse and personal accounts. The craft is equal to the art and both are worthy of the humanity that created it.

The memoir is split into two sections.  The first focuses on his coming to terms with the disease and its myriad challenges. (The first half even concludes with a wicked send-up of Dr. Seuss.)

The second half of the book focuses on the Ride for Life, which began in 1998 as the Ride to Congress. It follows his goals of bringing national awareness to ALS as well as an increase in services, knowledge, and fundraising. Taking his cue from the activism of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, he finds his inspiration:

“For me, the remarkable results of these movements underscored the power of choosing to make a difference. The activists of those movements did more than complain about these wrongs; rather they opted to fight for change.  This activism formed a model in my subconscious. I followed this model 40 years later.” 

The initial support of his home school in Northport proves that it takes a village — or at least a district. Over the years, the Ride has evolved and has focused its activities in New York and Long Island.

From the “weight of secrecy” to his global advocacy, this is an odyssey that is both far-reaching and personal. His love for his wife and family and for his community comes through at every turn. This is a man who does not curse the darkness but moves towards the light. 

“Life is too short to spend wishing things were not so. Things are what they are. Some occurrences are not our choice. However, we do choose how to respond. We decide how to live the life we get.”      

There are too many incredible moments to enumerate. Even the description of the challenge of opening an envelope is a revelation. There is a particularly telling incident with his son and church. It is a lesson in forgiveness and perspective, and its reverberations reflect his own continuing journey.

The final chapter, entitled “The First Amendment,” is a crushing account of his loss of the ability to speak: “To the educator, the voice is a powerful tool. It commands respect, informs and on occasion, inspires. The voice becomes our signature for the world. Losing it is catastrophic.” 

Dr. Pendergast describes the gradual decline in his vocal power and the various methods of communication. His frustration is honest and palpable just as his deep belief that his and all voices should be heard in one form or another.  He advocates for those who are desperately ill with ALS and that this basic human right should not terminate at the hospital door.

“Speech is freedom. Communication is the connection to the outside world. We all have a right to be heard … I want to be able to speak, even if it is only one blink at a time.” 

This chapter brilliantly closes the book. Because while he may have lost the physical voice, his spiritual voice continues. It is powerful. It commands respect. It informs. And, truly and always, it inspires.

Once again.

Blink Spoken Here. Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast.

Don’t wait. Please buy this book. Now.

Blink Spoken Here: Tales From a Journey Within (Apprentice House Press) is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Suzanne McKenna Link with her third novel, 'Finding Edward'

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Looking for a life-affirming summer romance? Finding Edward, Suzanne McKenna Link’s third novel in her Save Me Series, is a first-rate diversion.

Author Suzanne McKenna Link

The stand-alone story follows Eddie Ruddack, a Long Island boy of twenty-six, in a time of challenge and transition.  The novel opens with him reluctantly leaving his family home. His brother, Ray, is moving in with his fiancée, so Eddie is going to live with his boss, Toby, his pregnant wife, Claire, and their two daughters. And while he lives in the basement, it is clear he is a welcomed addition to the household.

Toby is a benevolent and involved employer; Claire is the ideal confidant and surrogate mother; both are things that Eddie desperately needs. In the meantime, Eddie, Ray, and their mother are awaiting news of the maternal grandmother’s will and their shared inheritance. 

Eddie is a nice “getting-by” guy in search of answers but isn’t sure of the questions.  And while he claims to want the perfect relationship (i.e., family, children), he just hasn’t found himself. He’s not so much a slacker as he is floater, much due to a spotty and inconsistent upbringing. His interests are clothes and art, without ever committing to a passion or landing on who he is or what he wants to be.

Even when taking a look at his room for the last time, there is a sense of disconnect: “A trash bag of dried up dreams filled with old tubes of paint, brittle paintbrushes, sketchbooks with yellowed pages, and several near-finished canvases. Bulky with squared edges that threatened to poke through the plastic, the bag was heavier than all the others. I dropped it off at the curb for waste pickup.” 

His beloved grandmother’s bequeathal brings forward some life-altering truths, the most important of which is that Tom Ruddack, the father who walked out his family years before, is actually not Eddie’s biological father. His mother had a brief affair with a man named Giovanni Lo Duca, an Italian who was on a short-term work visa.

According to his grandmother’s wishes, Eddie needs to travel to Positano, on the Amalfi Coast. After the trip, he will receive money that she hopes will go towards tuition for art school, the interest that had bonded them in his childhood.

Eddie departs bruised — both figuratively and literally:  the former from the news of his unknown paternity, the latter courtesy of her mother’s boyfriend, Mike. He arrives feeling “like a randomly placed pushpin on a wall map.” Immediately, the situation becomes fraught with problems, including the loss of his wallet with his debit card.

His disastrous first day in this idyllic setting is an excellent juxtaposition of a contradictory adventure. However, a chance act of bravery in the hotel lobby makes him a local hero, changing the course of his visit.

Through this he earns first the respect and then the friendship of the beautiful doctor, Ivayla, and ends up as her guest, staying in the house she shares with her two fathers, the gregarious Mario and the taciturn, reclusive, but gifted artist, Paolo. Ivayla becomes his guide as well as the object of his ardor. Their growing attraction fuels the book’s more personal and eventually intimate moments.

The cover of ‘Finding Edward’

The book is full of rich detail, painting a vibrant Italian countryside, along with celebrating its people, its culture, and, of course, its food. Link is an engaging storyteller and shows us this magical foreign country through Eddie’s eyes. The descriptions reflect Eddie’s artistic bent and enhance the sense of a potentially bright and welcoming new world.

“Sun-bleached pastel houses, in gold, peach, white, and red, stacked high like a seawall. Precariously perched, they appeared ready to tumble into the sea at any moment. I imagined the people who lived in such a vertically challenged geography would be mentally tenacious and squat, physical powerhouses.” It is this artistic whimsy through which Link gives us a glimpse of Eddie’s creative potential.

Eddie experiences a reluctant but powerful awakening. He realizes that prior to Italy he had been living but not alive. “If I’d been home, I probably would have been in my basement apartment on the computer. I was here in an Italian city sharing wine and olives on a warm sunny evening with a local man and a mature, beautiful woman. Heightened by the foreign sights, sounds, and smells, my senses were becoming acutely discriminating, picking up scents and flavors I hadn’t known I was capable of.”

Ultimately, art and love become deeply intertwined. Eddie needs both to take the next step in his growth. The tale comes to a satisfying conclusion:  Scritto nelle stelle … “It is written in the stars.” It is the incomplete Eddie who leaves for Italy but it is the maturing Edward who returns home. Finding Edward is a charming journey with just enough Italian sun to warm the heart.

A resident of Sayville, Suzanne McKenna Link (suzannemckennalink.com) is also the author of Saving Toby and Keeping Claudia. Pick up a copy of Finding Edward at bookrevue.com, Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Mike Domino’s seventh novel, Camp Hero, is a vigorous thriller with hints of noir around the edges.

Author Mike Domino

Private investigator Bobby Fallon takes on a case in Montauk that becomes more complicated the deeper he goes. Fallon, a former Manhattan detective, was accused of killing the man who murdered his brother, another New York City cop.  He was tried and acquitted but has been branded the Vigilante Cop. While it cost him his position on the force, it cuts a strong swathe with the townsmen of Montauk, an important fact as he enters the world of eastern Long Island.

Fallon has been dispatched from the City by the high end law firm for which he works to help clear the Montauk sheriff of an accusation that is most likely a set-up. Sheriff Kemp has been accused of sleeping with an underaged prostitute, which he flatly denies. Kemp, who cares for his two adult special needs children, is a tight-lipped fellow who gives Fallon little information to go on. Fallon trusts his instincts and realizes there is much more to the investigation. 

In the midst of this, Senator Vance Hildreth is in league with multi-millionaire Matilda Wong, a Wall Street demagogue whose fortune was in pharmaceuticals, specifically a wonder drug called Zioxyn, a painkiller used for late stage cancer.

Fallon stays in a group of nearly deserted bungalows called The Beehives. There he meets and teams up with successful mystery writer Jennifer Connery, who becomes not just his assistant but an astute set of eyes on the case. They quickly become romantically involved as well.

At the center of the story is Camp Hero.  Hildreth and Wong want to turn the old army base into a national park. But their motives are clearly not as pure as they sound. Hildreth is connected to organized crime and has no problem engaging help from the wrong side of the law. This he does to the tune of twenty-five million dollars.

There is a great deal about Camp Hero’s use during and after World War II. Top-secret experiments, the CIA, SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) radar, and Operation Paperclip (that covertly brought top Nazi scientists to the United States to work on rocket missile propulsion technologies) have all swirled around the site’s history.

In addition, alleged drums of nuclear waste dating back to 1958 are rumored to be beneath the empty facility. These speculations are important both to the building mystery and the final outcome. Domino knows how to lead the reader down one path and then swiftly alter to a separate course.

There is a nice peripheral piece introduced about Bonackers. These are the descendants of the original European settlers of Scottish and German lineage; much of the Bonacker lore is centered around the Hamptons and its environs. The early Bonackers were fisherman, cattlemen, and farmers. In later years, those still active are fisherman. Again, what seems like randomly introduced trivia and character background becomes germane to action later in the book.

Domino writes in an easy style, moving quickly from scene to scene and event to event. It has the right energy and pace for a thriller, and it is dialogue-rich, allowing the characters to speak for themselves, avoiding lengthy descriptions. One of the few places Domino goes for detailed narrative is a disturbing incident during a demolition. Both the accident and the reaction of those involved are well presented and have the complete ring of truth.

Mike Domino’s Camp Hero is a swift and entertaining thriller — and it takes place right in our own backyard.

A resident of Port Jefferson, author Mike Domino is also a feature filmmaker (“Mott Haven: Cash for Keys”) and the owner of Domino Plastics Company. Pick up a copy of his latest novel in paperback or on kindle at www.amazon.com. For more information, visit www.campheromontauk.com.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Tara Drouin

For the past several weeks, a national conversation about racism and discrimination has reached a fever pitch. Protests are happening from coast to coast, social media is buzzing, and statues are being taken down.

As a musician, teacher and parent, Tara Drouin has always tried to instill young people with good values, among them respect, inclusivity, and celebrating the things that make us different and unique. Several years ago, Drouin’s band iRideSense (pronounced “iridescence”) wrote a song called “One Heart” that shares those messages. Not long after, she published a book for children, also titled One Heart.

Now more than ever, the message of “One Heart” — both on the page and in the fun, upbeat tune — is needed in our world. The book is easy enough for young readers to try alone, and can be used as a lighthearted, positive conversation starter about these important issues. Tara Drouin is also available to lead 45-minute lessons on diversity for students either in-person or virtually. Teachers can hire her via the Nassau County BOCES system. 

Are you from Long Island?

When I was very young, I lived in Far Rockaway, and then we moved to Merrick when I was about 12.

Were you a musical child? Do you come from a musical family?

Yes! My mom would play guitar around the house. She was really into Joni Mitchell and a lot of classic rock — The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin — all of those were played at home. I took guitar lessons when I was around 12, but it didn’t really stick in the beginning. My younger brother really took to it, though, and he was writing songs at 16 years old. It wasn’t until I started playing bass that I really found my instrument. 

What did you pursue in school, and what did you end up doing for a career?

When I first started college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I got a degree in liberal arts from Nassau County Community College. I was taking a music class, as well as a lot of English and poetry classes. 

I worked in the fashion industry for many years, but music was always a serious pursuit. Songwriting came easily to me. I would use music as an outlet for my feelings and expressing the way I live life. It’s my therapy. A lot of the songs I write are the things I need to tell myself. 

Tara Drouin

Tell me a bit about your band, iRideSense. 

I’ve been playing in iRideSense since my early 20s — we’ve been together since 1993. I’m now married to the drummer, and my brother is a part of the band as well. When I first started school at Nassau County Community College, I met Rob Viccari, who became our guitar player, and my husband Rich auditioned for us. He was the last piece of the puzzle. Some of our songs ended up being licensed to Nickelodeon, which was really cool. We released a couple albums and got to do a cross-country tour, so it’s been a crazy ride. 

You’re also a teacher, correct?

I am. I went back to school to become a teacher when I was in my 30s. I had always thought about teaching and I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world with music. The band was moderately successful, but I did want another career, and my husband encouraged me to go back to school. I got a bachelor’s in English and my master’s in education for grades 1 through 6 from Queens College. I’ve been teaching for 12 years now in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. 

What came first, the idea for the book One Heart or the song?

The song came first. I’ve had a diverse population in all my classrooms  my students have been Dominican, Haitian, Asian, Jewish, and from many other backgrounds. I saw a need for children to learn that while, yes, we might all look different and have different experiences, on the inside, we have the same heart. We’re all human. 

I wanted to write an upbeat song that would bring people together and share that message of unity. It’s a bit of a departure from our normal pop-rock sound — “One Heart” is more folk-based, and I had my daughter and nephew sing on the chorus. We released the song on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, in 2016.

What inspired you to write this story?

I could always picture images to go along with the lyrics of the song. I really saw it turning into a book. 

How did you go about publishing the book?

I self-published. At first I didn’t know that was possible, and I put a lot of time into researching and sending query letters to publishers. I read that the process was competitive. But then a friend said to me, “You know you can self-publish, right?” I had no idea. I ended up going with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where each book is printed on demand instead of in mass quantities. It works really well for me. 

Is there a target age group?

I think it would be a good fit for kids in pre-K through 5th grade

Who is the illustrator and how did you find her?

I met a really nice art teacher working in the Bethpage School District named Nancy Noskewicz, and she also loved the idea of the book, so she offered to illustrate it for me and we began to collaborate. She had never illustrated a book before, and it had been a long time since she’d done artwork for herself, outside of the school setting, so she was really excited. I loved the creativity she brought to the illustrations.

Have you gotten feedback on the book since it was written?

Yes, I got some great feedback and sold a bunch of copies. A friend of mine put the book images together with the song track on YouTube, which went over really well, too. I also got to do an interview on The Donna Drake Show. 

What message do you hope kids will come away with after reading your book?

This book teaches kids about unity and kindness in a way that’s easy to understand. No one should be judged by the color of their skin, but rather the kind of person that they are. In light of everything that has happened with race relations in America, most recently with George Floyd, I feel a responsibility as a mom, a teacher and a musician to speak out against this systemic racism. 

We cannot change the past but we must change our future. Our children need to be taught that acceptance, kindness, unity and love are all important to making this work. Our lives are all intertwined. As the book says, “When voices come together there’s nothing better! Inside everybody’s got One Heart!” I do believe we are all alike more than we are different. 

What’s next for you? Have you written any other books?

Before the pandemic started, we were getting ready to go back into the studio to record some new songs with the band. We haven’t put out an album since 2015. We just got the green light to come in whenever we’re ready, so that’s exciting. I also have two children’s book ideas in the works — one is about my parent’s house in the Catskills, called Red Rock Road, and the other is based on a lullaby.

“One Heart” is available to purchase at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To keep up on what’s new with One Heart, follow @1heartofficial on Instagram. The song “One Heart” is available wherever you stream music, and a free download is available at www.iridesense.com.

 

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

We saw from a distance the open truck with children. Marta was standing next to me with her twin girls, who were five years old. The Gestapo was looking for more children. The girls screamed to Marta, “Mama, the takeaway men are coming, they’re going to take us away!” And they scooped up my little nieces, and the truck — loaded with children — drove off, and we never saw them again.

Author Meryl Ain

This vivid and disturbing description will come back to haunt Aron, a Holocaust survivor, in a very different way.  

Meryl Ain’s The Takeaway Men (SparkPress) is an exceptional and vibrant first novel. It is the story of Aron and Edyta Lubinsky and their twin daughters Bronka and Johanna. It is a tale of painful secrets and complicated histories. It shows the shift in the United States and in the free world from the desire to find justice for the victims of the Nazi’s genocide to the paranoia surrounding the Red Scare during the Cold War. But The Takeaway Men is also a portrait of the power of love and the ability of family to embrace and heal.

The prologue takes place in Poland, 1942, at the threshold of the Holocaust’s darkest hours. It then briefly jumps to the displaced persons camp outside of Munich, where the twins are born on July 4, 1947. Finally, the main portion of the book begins in 1951, settling into Bellerose, Queens, where it plays out for the next eleven years. Here the Lubinski family is taken in by their only living relatives, Izzy and Faye. In 1908, at age twenty, Izzy had left Poland to escape an arranged marriage and a religious life. In America, he found a new path, opening up two bakeries, and enjoying both a more relaxed existence than he would have found as an orthodox rabbi.

And while the issues of fascism versus communism are part of the book’s political core, The Takeaway Men is truly a celebration of America. There is a deep appreciation of the United States as a country that welcomes refugees and it shares the message without preaching. It embraces the wonder of a free democracy to give hope to those fleeing tyranny and seeking a new life:

“You know,” [Aron] told Izzy, “in Europe, people think the streets are paved with gold.”

“Yes, I heard that rumor before I came here too,” Izzy said with a laugh. “America accepts people like us and gives us the chance to get ahead on our own merit — that’s what’s golden about it …”

But even here in America, Aron continues to be haunted by his past. When the neighbor Lenore is arrested by men in suits, he sees the shadow of the Gestapo. Lenore’s daughter cries: “The take-away men took Mommy away.  When is she coming back?”

What is revealed is Lenore had a vague connection to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were arrested, convicted, and then executed for espionage. The plight of the Rosenbergs is one of the many historical elements that are subtly introduced throughout the story’s arc.

The Lubinskis remain with Izzy and Faye as the girls grow up. Aron has actively chosen not to reveal his nor Edyta’s history to the girls.  But several incidents, including a fascinating scene in which a Hebrew school teacher shares what she feels is necessary knowledge, the publication of The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as a suspected Nazi working in the neighborhood, force some painful and startling revelations.  

In addition to the central characters, the book is populated by characters richly drawn in all their human complexity. Izzy and Faye’s mentally troubled daughter, Becky, returns to the fold, introducing someone who has a capacity for great love but is chased by demons of her own. 

Jakob Zilberman, a gregarious friend, survived as a member of the Sonderkommando, the prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and the crematorium. Unlike Aron, he is compelled to speak out on his experience. He is another man plagued by not only what he witnessed but by his own actions: “I would prefer to tell you another story, one in which I look brave and fearless. I would prefer a story where I was a hero and saved people. But that wasn’t possible in those circumstances, and I wouldn’t be honest if I embellished what really happened to make myself look better.” Ain gives us more than a hero:  she gives us a human being.   

And, at the novel’s heart are the twins, Bronka and Johanna, as they grow up and grow apart but never lose their bond in this every changing world.

Many of the characters struggle with their religious and ethnic identities. Izzy and Faye’s son has married outside the faith and it is a fascinating study of conflict to see the parents try to find a way to accept this without losing their own cultural commitment. The issue of what it is to straddle the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds is addressed without judgment. The question of how to belong and yet not lose one’s sense of self is raised in all its contradictions.   “It was easier to be a Jew in America than in Poland, but it still wasn’t easy … when you’re a Jewish immigrant in Bellerose, you don’t quite fit in, no matter how many Christmas carols you know.”

There is a refrain in the book that references the biblical Ruth. Ruth, who was not Jewish but married an Israelite, in widowhood remains with her mother-in-law. The idea that “whither thou goest, I will go” resonates throughout.

Ultimately, The Takeaway Men is not just about family — it is about a neighborhood and a community. It is about the choice to survive even if you must make great sacrifices in the process. But finally, it is about finding that acceptance comes from understanding and understanding is what can make one whole. 

Available Aug. 4, The Takeaway Men may be pre-ordered at BookRevue.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com.

Author Kristin McGlothlin. Photo by Ron White
Novel for kids 8 to 12 explores art, growing pains, and Long Island native Walt Whitman

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Kristin McGlothlin. Photo by Ron White

Kristin McGlothlin’s greatest passions are art and writing, and as a longtime art historian, she was able to enjoy the best of both worlds. But the desire for something more continued to tug on McGlothlin’s heart, and she ultimately left museum work behind to pursue a writing career.

Her debut novel for middle-schoolers, Drawing with Whitman, is the first in a collection called Sourland Mountain Books. Inspired by a rural, mountainous region in central New Jersey, the books explore art, music, family dynamics and coming of age through the eyes of the neighborhood kids.  

Drawing with Whitman finds 13-year-old Catalynd Jewett Hamilton on a journey of recovery after a car accident leaves her badly injured and her mother battling depression. She finds solace in art and literature, encouraged along the way by the kind neighborhood painter, Benton Whitman — a descendant of Huntington native Walt Whitman. 

What was your childhood like? Were you interested in writing early on?

I was born in Detroit, and then we moved to Toledo, Ohio — we stayed there until I was in high school, and then we ended up in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m an only child, so I’ve always enjoyed being by myself. 

I loved both art and writing from a young age. Art was a huge part of my life — Detroit has an incredible art museum — and I loved to write letters to pen pals and friends. As a preteen, I got to take art classes in Toledo and spend time at their art museum as well. I grew up in a standard suburban neighborhood, but we also had a cottage near Lake George in Michigan. I loved to explore in the woods and go swimming in the lake.

It was around the age of 13 that I really felt that writing was what I wanted to do. I even came up with two of the characters from a later book in the Sourland Mountain series at that time. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Did you go to college? What did you end up doing for work?

I did my undergrad at the University of Delaware. They have an amazing art history program there, and my mom suggested I would enjoy it because it combined both writing and art. I learned so much from the Northeast, getting to visit museums in D.C., Philadelphia, and New York.  

After graduation in 1992, I moved back down to Florida and got a job as the assistant curator of education at the Norton Museum of Art. I learned a lot, and I’m so glad I went on that journey, but after a while I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be. The desire to pursue writing was still there. I ended up going back to school at Florida Atlantic University and got my master’s in English literature in 2013.

How did you start writing professionally? Was it hard to take that step? 

I had a strong belief in myself, and I really wanted to introduce kids to art through writing, so I left the museum and began writing full-time. I went to a lot of writers’ conferences to learn everything I could about the profession.

Why did you decide to write a middle- grade novel? 

When I first started working on the book, I actually wrote for a general audience. But as I began to formulate Cat’s character, and the ins and outs of being 13, I was really drawn to that age. You’re not in high school yet, and a lot of people that age still have a more childlike curiosity. It’s an interesting time. The stories I want to tell don’t have any violence or sex, so that also fits in well with middle-grade readers. 

When did you first come up with the idea for the Sourland Mountain series? What inspired it?

Sourland Mountain is a real place in central New Jersey — my parents moved there around the time I went to college. It started with the idea of incorporating art lessons into a narrative. I

In graduate school, I took a class on Walt Whitman and read a lot of his work. There’s a book of his called “The Wound Dresser,” a collection of journal entries and incredible letters written to his family that I really enjoyed, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate him into the book somehow. 

He was a great patriot and his work is still relevant today, and I want to share that with kids to hopefully inspire them. So that’s how I developed Benton Whitman, a landscape painter who is a descendant of Walt Whitman.

Your characters have very unique names. How did you decide on them? 

It’s funny, because Cat’s name is Catalynd Jewett Hamilton, but then her brother is named Buddy! I sat down and started playing with names, and for Cat it started with the name Caitin, and the word “catalyst.” Jewett comes from a favorite author of mine from the late 1800s, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Hamilton is honestly for the Broadway musical. I saw a commercial on TV and it just fit!

As for Benton, he gets his name from the American painter Thomas Hart Benton, and of course his ancestor, Walt Whitman.

This book deals with a lot of tough issues. Why did you decide to write about injury, depression, and loneliness? 

It feels like an act of service to address the tough things that kids can go through. When I was researching the kind of books that were out there for middle grades, I had trouble finding books that featured a parent living with depression. It can be hard for kids to understand what’s going on when someone they love has a mental health issue, and I wanted to write something that made them feel understood and supported. For Cat, who is in casts and a wheelchair after an accident, she finds that art is an outlet for her to figure things out and make sense of her experiences.

Is this your first book? 

I wrote a picture book called “Andy’s Snowball Story” about the contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy. But this is my first chapter book, and my first book for middle grades. 

How did you go about getting published? 

It’s incredibly difficult to get an agent, especially as an unknown author who’s never been published before. Self-publishing has gained a lot of respect in recent years, and I knew I wanted to publish my first book quickly, in time for Walt Whitman’s 100th birthday. I found an amazing self-publishing company called Girl Friday, and they helped me put the book together and connected me with the cover illustrator, Kristina Swarner, who did a beautiful job.

Working with Kristina was such a cool experience. I had an idea of what I wanted — to have a mountain and a barn in the background, and for Cat to look a certain way. Even the most basic pencil sketch she sent me was so sweet and detailed. There were very few changes in the final version. I was really happy.

What message do you hope kids take away from the book? 

I want them to know that, sometimes, there’s a lot that can happen to a family unit, and that they don’t have to go through difficult times alone. It’s important to express what you’re going through in a healthy way, whether that’s through therapy or talking to a trusted adult.  

What’s next for you? 

I’m working on the next book in the Sourland Mountain series, called “Listen.” The main character is Cat’s next-door neighbor, Gwilym Duckworthy, a 13-year-old boy who loves jazz music and plays the trumpet. His mother left the family behind to pursue a career in music when he was very small, and now she’s returned. There will eventually be a total of four books in the series.

The recipient of the 2019 Moonbeam Silver Medal Award for Pre-Teen Fiction, Drawing with Whitman is available online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Target.com. Keep up with Kristin McGlothlin at her website, www.sourlandmountainbooks.com, and on Instagram @McGlothlinKristin for updates and live readings.