Tags Posts tagged with "Book Review"

Book Review

Author Sarah S. Anker at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a copy of her first children's book. Photo by Michael Toscanini

By Melissa Arnold 

Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated. 

“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”

Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well. 

Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.

In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages. 

How did you get interested in writing? 

My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.

Why did you decide to write a book for children?

I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.

What is this book about?

Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution. 

When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?

I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.

Why are these issues so important to you?

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well. 

What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?

Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.

What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark. 

Who is the illustrator for this book? 

The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.

Is there an age recommendation for this book?

Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well. 

What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?

Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.

Do you plan to write more books in the future?

This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well. 


Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing. 

Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at www.ankerbooks.com.

by -
0 430

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Sarah Beth Durst

Like many sisters, Even and Odd shared many things:

            Their bedroom.

            Their closet.

            Six pairs of flip-flops.

            Use of the living-room TV.

            And … magic.

This is the intriguing premise of the gifted, award-winning Sara Beth Durst’s young adult novel, Even and Odd. Sisters Emma and Olivia Berry live in Stony Haven, Connecticut, having moved from the magic land of Firoth. The siblings’ powers manifest on alternate days. Thus, Emma’s nickname is Even, and Oliva’s is Odd.

As they grew, the girls took separate paths. Even has passionately embraced her training and is studying for her level five exams for the Academy of Magic; she wants nothing more than to enter the magic world as a hero. Odd’s interests are grounded in the “real” world; she spends her free time working at an animal shelter and sees her sorcery as a burden.

Durst is a consummate world builder. Her nearly two dozen books contain original mythologies, complete with unique and imaginative rules, histories, and limitations. (Three of her previous, very different novels were reviewed in this paper:  The Stone Girl, in May 2018; The Deepest Blue, in June 2019; and The Bone Maker, in May 2021). With Even and Odd, she has created a universe where the known overlaps with the enchanted. And while books about wizards cannot help but recall a bespectacled boy with a lightning scar, Durst’s current offering—with its wry, contemporary wit and easy charm—echoes Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. She writes with a smart sense of humor, penning characters larger than life but wholly relatable. As in her previous works, her dialogue is crisp and honest and always rings true.

The Berry family runs a border shop, “close to the gateway between worlds,” serving the magical community when its members are in the mundane world. In addition to supplies, it is a source of information. For example, visitors “from Firoth could ask basic questions, such as ‘What is an airplane, and is it going to eat me?” The local gateway is behind Fratelli’s Express Bagel, owned by a wizard who looks like “a carb-and-cream-cheese-bearing Santa Claus.”

A normal day immediately shifts when it appears that “magic [is] on the fritz.” Even is briefly stuck as a skunk when she is not able to reverse a transformation. While investigating the gateway, Even and Odd become trapped in Firoth. Teamed up with an energetic young unicorn traveling under the name Jeremy (real name “Shimmerglow”), they confront the villainous Lady Vell, who is draining the magic for nefarious purposes.

The unleashed turmoil has caused shifting geography, with homes landing in dangerous locations, stalked by creatures displaced from their habitats. The author subtly offers a portrait of refugees seeking haven and even a hint of vigilante justice as the population begins to question the ability of the Academy of Magic to cut through its bureaucracy and deal with the dire situation.

The book contains a wide range of unusual beings: Haughty elves, friendly centaurs conducting research, flower fairies that sting, mermaids that screech, and a curmudgeonly but helpful goblin are among the denizens.

While the action is brisk and the adventure is always engaging, Durst’s ability to balance the magical realm with true family dynamics elevates the novel. Even and Odd are close but clash. “For me to be surprised,” quips Odd, “you need not to be predictable!” They seek their parents’ approval and yet yearn for independence. The author wisely chooses for the children to hope that the adults can fix the situation (so often eschewed in literature for young people).

Durst also delves into the doubts that plague Even. She frets over the upcoming magic test:

I have to be ready [] not taking [the exam] would feel like saying she wasn’t as good as kids her age who had magic every day. Maybe even like saying I’ll never be as good as them […] It would be admitting that the little voice of doubt that nagged at her was right, that practicing every other day wasn’t ever going to be enough, and she’d never be ready to be a hero.

Once in Firoth, Even and Odd learn starling facts about their origins. They face a surprising revelation that gives an understanding of the history of the unheard of split magic. This leads to further introspection but does not deter them from entering danger for the greater good.

Even and Odd is a wonderful book about and filled with enchantment. Durst deals with misguided and false assumptions about self, but also the ability to learn and grow. The story’s heart celebrates inherently different sisters who are bonded by love. Even and Odd embraces the normal and fantastic and weaves a shared magic all its own.

Award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. Pick up a copy of Even and Odd online at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.  For more information, visit sarahbethdurst.com.

'Jewish Noir II'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Pinpointing “noir” is challenging. Generally, explanations include terms such as “tough,” “cynical,” “dangerous” and “bleak.” However, these words could also apply to a range of works. This crime genre, which leans towards the dark and pessimistic, has an alchemical combination that defies a narrow definition. While often associated with hardboiled detective fiction (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane), this is not necessarily an accurate association. Conceptually, “noir” focuses on flawed individuals who are often morally questionable or corrupt. Greed, lust, and jealousy mix with societal alienation resulting in situations from which the characters cannot extricate themselves.  

In any case, defining “noir” is not essential to appreciate the exceptional Jewish Noir II (PM Press), subtitled “Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds.” Edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimée Osman, the collection of twenty-three compelling, sharp, and haunting tales encompasses an eclectic and page-turning mix. 

As indicated by the title, the over-arching element is Judaism. But the editors offer a range of perspectives, from religious to cultural. Some stories feature Jewish identity at their core; in others, the elements remain peripheral. In an age steeped in fear and a global rise in antisemitism, many of these short pieces — subtly and directly — address the toxicity embroiled therein. Osman indicates in the introduction, “What I do know is that this anthology is important. And the stories in this book apply to everyone.”

“Taking Names” (Steven Wishnia) uses the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire as a framing device to highlight “corruption [as] the most truly diverse aspect of New York City politics.” Like many of the stories, the language is rich and distinct: “The spokesperson for the Laborers, a skinny guy who looked like he’d lifted more textbooks than cinderblocks …” Antisemitic backlash from a reporter’s story results in a tragic and violent turn. (Later in the volume, “Triangle” (Rabbi Ilene Schneider) uses the tragedy in a wholly different and perfectly unsettling tale of an Angel of Death nurse.)

“Sanctuary” (Doug Allyn) focuses on the horrifying impact of a newly graduated medical student and the liberation of Buchenwald. A granddaughter inherits a necklace and a packet of blood-covered documents in “The Cost of Something Priceless” (Elizabeth Zelvin). With the traditional noir edge, “Only a fool can expect the cost of acquiring treasure to be paid in full. Blood has a tendency to leak and go on leaking. So do reputation and deceit.” The story of twin generational treachery concludes with a sharp stinger of a final line. The brief but potent “The Black and White Cookie”(Jeff Markowitz) takes on segregation.

The book deals with Jewish people worldwide — even as far as Trinidad and China. Violence is consistently present, both casual and deliberate. Humor flows liberally throughout, often to create an illusion quickly shattered with a deft plot twist. “Wishboned” (Jill D. Block), with its mix of fantasy and Philip Roth, deftly skewers the bar mitzvah sphere: “That was his cue, once again, that paying for a bar mitzvah is like buying a brand new sports car and driving it straight off a cliff.”

“The Shabbes Goy” (Craig Faustus Buck) is one of the book’s truly noir entries. The Jewish elements weave tautly into a narrative of plotting femme fatales and an abusive husband. “To Catch a Ganef” (Lizzie Skurnick) blends Alfred Hitchcock Presents and O. Henry in a smartly multicultural story. “Paying the Ferrymen” (E.J. Wagner), an account of a wronged wife, also feels like an ode to that 1950s series. “Inheritance” (Terry Shames) leans into a Ladies in Retirement tone, with a nursing home setting and vengeful relatives. 

Drawing on biblical sources, “Brother’s Keeper” (Eileen Rendahl) presents a private investigator and a moral dilemma utilizing the Cain and Abel story as both a parallel and mirror image. In contrast, “The Almost Sisters” (Ellen Kirschman) contains a more ethnic reflection: “If there is a gene for pessimism it will be in Jewish blood. I heard it a million times, keynehore, don’t relax, don’t get too happy, something bad is coming.”  

“Crossover” (Zoe Quinton) broods on conversion and a suspicious mikvah death, the permeating darkness in the water giving a sense of unease.

One of the most unusual entries is editor Kenneth Wishnia’s “Bride of Torches,” a bloody account of tribal battles. While the vivid tale reaches back into ancient history, its unique voice helps fit in with this modern anthology. Equally remarkable is “The Just Men of Bennett Avenue” (A.J. Sidransky), a mystical procedural drama.

“The Hanukkah Killer” (Robin Hemley) balances the portrait of a murderer — “eyes that, if they were windows to his soul, you would have wanted nailed shut” — with the vivid portrait of an old neighborhood, with its family illness, dysfunction, and poverty.

The closing story, “Hunter” (Jen Conley), follows a therapist struggling with a threatening and most likely sociopathic patient. The details are striking and disturbing — the eeriness of a burning cigarette suggesting an ominous watcher — and contrast brilliantly with the social issue — a community’s reaction to the encroachment of Orthodox families. The story’s final line is appropriately chilling and the perfect coda to this collection.

While Jewish Noir II takes mild liberties with the definition, this is a minor quibble in this amazing collection of tightly written, powerful, and must-read stories. Pick up a copy online at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. 

In conjunction with the book, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket will host Stories Light and Dark: An Evening of Jewish Noir on Thursday, Oct. 13 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Join Kenneth Wishnia and other contributors for a spirited discussion of the diverse themes in the Jewish Noir II anthology. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event at a discount, plus a bonus story collection offered free with each purchase. To register, call 631-941-4080

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“We can safely assume that one of the greatest threats to existence on the planet is distancing from the natural world.”

Karen Lloyd’s collection Abundance: Nature in Recovery (Bloomsbury Publishing) asks us to “bend closer” in viewing the planet. She wants the reader to see “the holes humans have created” during this current geological age (the Anthropocene). She uses her observations to “work out what [she’s] not been looking at but should have seen.” The book balances a healthy wonder with the perception of the losses incurred during the modern era and the destruction caused by human beings’ willful intent or, at the very least, ignorance.

In fourteen intriguing essays, she addresses a host of issues. She concedes that often problems are “hyperobjects”— concepts, ideas, and things that are so vast as to evade intellectual and emotional grasp. These include the biosphere, climate breakdown, evolution, capitalism, and politics. What makes her writing exceptional is that while she acknowledges this limitation, it has not stopped her from exploring them with insight and depth, offering both simple and breathtaking awareness.

The book is unique in its point of view. It is not a traditional dissection of environmental issues. Instead, it is a mosaic of thoughts and experiences. Lloyd focuses on the ecological but draws on art, photography, poetry, history, and personal anecdotes to build her case. Hers is an unusual, affecting, and effective approach. Her language is vivid and rich, even dealing with the depletion of the landscape and the entanglement resulting from modern encroachment. But, always, her anthem is that the natural world should be the center of our existence.

Her consideration of wildlife drives much of Abundance. She regards animals both as they are and in an anthropomorphized stage. When describing eight American brown pelicans rescued from an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, she sees, “the disposition of the pelicans is that of a Pieta, although without the central protagonist.” For Lloyd, the “act to save birds and other species from ruination caused by humans is not only a profound sense of engagement with our imagination but illustrates that human agency is also the dynamic of repair.”

She cites a range of examples of organizations repairing the damage, like the Wolves in the Netherlands Project, which is about coexistence. Here, Lloyd brings up the issue of doing as opposed to “we can talk about anything as long as we don’t have to live with it.” She details her scrutiny of birds and beavers and the many impacts of the “man-made mess.” Each account, whether pastoral or harrowing, is a visceral reminder to witness: “At what point did it begin to form, this void inside us that caused us to forget how to see?”

Engagement is the cornerstone and foundation, urging people to let their children experience the natural world and not through a screen. She recounts her adventures with a contrast of hard facts and beautiful metaphors, frank observations, and lyrical expression. As indicated, Lloyd highlights the human need for comparison. “To make allegiances between images and ideas. To render the metaphysical, the supra-human in form and word.” Thus, vultures look like Lawrence Olivier got up as Richard the third. Lapwings sport Robin Hood caps. A black-winged stilt summons the image of Audrey Hepburn. A pair of hoopoes flare like Incan gods. Her frustration with misinformation reveals a wit that tips towards gallows humor as in the discussion of Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, followed by hilarious but pointed imaginary discussion between beavers fleeing their home.

Enjoying a plate of olives on a beautiful Friday night, she wants to forget the danger new olive plantations represent to the bird population because of the drying of the land. She learns that wind turbines designed to fight climate change pose are a threat to the avian population. “… Electricity is progress, and green energy is more progress still. Even though there will always be a cost, I’ve chosen to be more upfront with myself about this. I still want electricity. I still want to eat olives.”

She is unusual and unusually brave in her honesty and continues to unpack the big questions. Whether meditating on the extinction of a species in our time, analyzing agribusiness, or pondering predator control, she never loses sight of the contradictions and complexities. There is raw bravery in both her awe and exasperation.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: “Consider the situation from all sides. Keep hold of the bigger picture. Tune out the interference and the white noise. Tune in to the ways and means in which the landscape communicates. Pay attention to what it needs to perform its work efficiently.” Lloyd’s thoughts, hopes, and perspectives are complicated. But they are a valuable reminder to open our eyes and minds to the world we have … while we still have it.

Pick up a copy online at www.Amazon.com or www.BarnesandNoble.comm.

'Chronicles of a Nature Photographer'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In John Hanc’s forward to John P. Cardone’s Chronicles of a Nature Photographer (Waterview Arts), he states the book “reminds us that, just on the other side of the highway, deep in the recesses of, say, one of our magnificent Long Island State Parks, are the streams and brooks, the marshlands and estuaries that still provide a home to birds, animals, plants, flowers.” This beautifully explains Cardone’s celebration of nature in a book that offers his passion in prose and imagery.

Author John P. Cardone

Cardone is a vibrant storyteller with a pastoral bent. He defines “chronicles” as “documenting personal experiences over time in a historical fashion.” But he offers more than just an account, infusing the fifteen chapters with wry observations, wit, and honesty. As a result, his revealing narrative is wholly personal. “Let me start by saying that everything you read here is true and with no exaggeration or embellishment.” 

In the first chapter, Cardone begins with his fascination with the hummingbird. He juxtaposes his struggle with cancer and his journey with stem cell transplant with his desire to photograph these elusive birds. Eventually, with his wife’s help, Cardone builds a hummingbird garden during his recovery (which also coincided with the pandemic). He draws a subtle connection between the opportunity to capture images of these rare creatures and his eventual healing. 

From the very start, Cardone offers a thorough background on his subjects. His knowledge is impressive and seems vast, but he articulates with an accessible and almost conversational tone. He gives enough explanation of his photographic process without overwhelming the reader with technical details. He has ventured out in all weather, in all conditions, capturing a host of animals and settings, fascinated by the range of species, markings, and habitats. 

He makes a strong case for flowers as subjects. “… I can tell you that what photographers generally agree upon is what affects a photograph—and most will say light, color, and composition. With flowers as your subject, you have all of these and more.” Whether the focus or used as a framing border, this chapter contains incredible photographs — all vivid, rich, and colorful.

Of course, the greatest joys of the book are the color photographs, 175 in all, which are elegantly reproduced. A glorious study of an osprey landing on its nest, its wings slightly expanded, sits across from a regal American bald eagle, almost posing for its portrait.

From photographing insects with interesting angles and unusual compositions to vast landscapes and waterscapes, Cardone attains remarkable results. In Chapter 12, “A Bird in the Hand,” he shares personal pictures of his family on a visit to the Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyac. The final chapter has nearly two dozen glorious photos of wild horses.

‘Chronicles of a Nature Photographer’

The author’s sense of humor permeates the entire text. Whether introducing the white-tailed deer (“Love Them or Leave Them”) or expounding on his love of photographing turtles (an exchange with his four-year-old grandson, Noah, who references Raphael and Leonardo), Cardone finds whimsy and delight in his art and his life. The quests — such as his search for the snowy owl — present both small and big joys, along with surprises. (The day he photographed this particular owl as well as a harbor seal.) 

While the book focuses predominantly on his Long Island experiences, Cardone ventures as far as the Rocky Mountains. He first visited the Rocky Mountain National Park during his military service (1969-70) when stationed at Fort Carson, eight miles from Colorado Springs. He then purchased his first camera and learned how to develop black-and-white film and print with an enlarger. Fifty years later, in April 2017, he returned to the Rocky Mountain National Park, photographing elk, moose, bighorn sheep, screech owls, and a range of scenic views.

There is a certain Zen to Cardone’s approach: “Sometimes, as a nature photographer, I will take a long pause and just soak up the beauty of what I’m seeing. Being in the moment is a mindfulness practice that can help calm you.” This crosses over into his pleasure in the planning of excursions. (Currently, he offers two kayaking tours of Carman’s River: one is a photography tour and the other a naturalist tour.)

Cardone is an artist, a fan, but above all, a teacher. The book reflects someone who stands in awe of nature but embraces its possibilities. He seeks deeper understanding and communicates both the encounters and the underlying zeal. His ultimate goal is to inspire the reader to “put [his] hiking boots on and get out in nature. It’s all there, just waiting for you to visit. And if you are a parent or grandparent, to nudge the children in your life toward loving nature as well.”


A resident of Ronkonkoma, author John P. Cardone is the founder of the Long Island Authors Group, a nature photographer, a wildlife photography instructor, and a lecturer on nature topics. Chronicles of a Nature Photographer is his sixth book and is available online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To learn more about John, his books, and his nature work, visit his website at www.WaterviewsBook.com.


Author Lee Miao and her book at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket. Photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

By Jeffrey Sanzel

“Stop. Overthinking. Everything. Ellie. Yeah, I wish.” So states the self-proclaimed “overthinker” Ellie, the resourceful protagonist of Lee Y. Miao’s debut young adult novel Wei to Go! (Clear Fork Publishing). “Every once in a while, grown-ups want to protect you and pretend that everything’s fine. Then they’ll worry their heads off while forcing a smile.” 

After “triple moves” since kindergarten, twelve-year-old Ellie leads a well-adjusted California existence, happily living with her parents and little brother, Kipp. She plays softball, delights in language (an admitted “word-enthusiast”), and circles a crush on Russ, a boy from school. 

But a cloud steals into her happy life when her father is in danger of losing his company to a sinister corporation, the Black Turtle Group. Her Hong Kong trip to save his business and career takes her on a six-day quest. Accompanied by her mother and brother, she encounters a cast of characters who both support and foil her in turn. Among those she encounters is Mr. Han, the wise and slightly whimsical gentleman who may or may not be a benevolent figure.

The author has neatly blended a mystery plot with an honest, unstarry tween portrait of a girl with no sense of direction but a true sense of purpose. Miao understands the mind of a junior high student. Ellie struggles with her feelings for Russ:

He’s a guy from my homeroom who’s also in my math class. I’m going to play it cool and grin, and I don’t care if he’ll see a parade of silvery turquoise tinsel on my teeth.

I do not have a crush on him. Period. 

But I wouldn’t mind getting to know him better. 

The first-person narration reflects a clever, insightful mind with a wry self-awareness: “Everyone says I inherited Dad’s nose but got skipped for his blue eyes and drawing skills. But they’re overrated. I’ve got his smile but nothing to smile about now.”

Separating this from many YA adventures is the cultural element. With a mother of Chinese descent, Ellie questions her mixed identity. In afterschool Chinese heritage class, a nasty student refers to her as half-and-half. Ellie’s odyssey serves a dual purpose: to save her father’s business and connect with pieces of herself that she had either distanced or, ultimately, was unaware. 

While trying to navigate Hong Kong, she faces both enculturation and culture shock. Here, the “word nerd” (again self-admitted) embraces the lesson that the same word with a different tone can have a completely different meaning in Chinese. This epiphany goes to the root of her being and spurs intellectual and emotional growth. The complex concept is one that she applies to how she takes in the world.

Ellie recruits nine-year-old Kipp to aid her quest. And while she makes quips about her Little Brothers for Dummies manual, he shows surprising insight, drawing on his seemingly bottomless sports references. Ellie accepts that all sibling relationships are fraught with annoyance but embraces his uncanny and unmatched ability as a human GPS. “… Big sisters have to take the good with the technical.”

The Black Turtle Group, the “corporation that everyone’s heard of but knows nothing about,” makes for a strong antagonist. Miao surrounds the monolithic organization with a sense of power and danger, a business that casts a long shadow with threats of takeovers and stolen industry secrets. 

Ellie is brave and understands the risks, but she is committed to helping her family: “I read once that sometimes people go to dark places to find answers.” Wei to Go! offers plenty of intrigues: Ellie followed throughout a new and overwhelming place, having to solve cryptic verses and signs, and work her way through various shops and restaurants in the rainy and humid city. “When I found out the world is bigger than my family and me, I didn’t know I’d literally be running around in a new place far from home.”

While Wei to Go! is immersed in Chinese and Chinese American culture, the story’s universality complements an enlightening narrative and makes for an entertaining, engaging, and memorable reading experience.

Author Lee Y. Miao lives in the Three Village community with her family and a tireless dog. After working in financial jobs and writing K-12 educational material, she turned to middle-grade fiction. Her stories are about contemporary characters who discover connections to their cultures and families from the past. Sign up for her email newsletter at www.leeymiao.com to follow her writing journey. Wei To Go! is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Photo courtesy of MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Looking for an entertaining summer read? A lightweight coffee table book? A terrific celebration of Long Island? Written by Stacy Mandel Kaplan, Kimberly Towers, Scott J. Mandel, and Jordan Kaplan, Hey Long Island … Do U Remember? (MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc.) is a fun, informative tome, blending a diverse collection of photos with fascinating anecdotes. The project began in 2008 when the authors started a Facebook group for the sharing of pictures and the history of Long Island. The group has since grown to more than 159,000 members. 

The book opens with a quick Long Island overview — a did you know?: geography, legal status, etc. Following this, the authors present a brief timeline, beginning with Long Island’s formation from a glacier in 19,000 BC and quickly working up to December 14, 2020, when the first vaccine was given in the United States, at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, in New Hyde Park. This thumbnail sketch sites the building of the Long Beach Boardwalk (1914); The Big Duck, off Route 24, in Flanders (1931); Levittown, the first modern American suburb (1947); the invention of the first video game (1958); the Blizzard of 1978; and the founding of the Long Island Ducks baseball team (2000), among other particulars.

On page ten, the book proper begins with Bald Hill in Farmingville. Each one- or two-page spread covers a different place, person, or event. With over 130 black-and-white photos       — many seen here for the first time — Hey Long Island … Do U Remember? is a delightful collective history of the place that over eight million people call home. 

One of the book’s many joys is opening at any point and working in any direction. The book requires no specific course, and the reader can dive in at will. For example, on page 14, one can read about the Bethpage Air Show. On page 75, details are offered on the “Sweet Hollow Creamery and Milk Home Delivery on Long Island.” On page 87 there is the “Riviera Bath Club.” Turn the page to have the author’s take on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Some pieces neatly build on others. “The Fashion Industry on Long Island” segues into “Fashion Trends on Long Island.” The latter starts with a portrait of the patriotic-influenced clothing of the Word War II 1940s. It travels through the media-influenced 1960s, moving onto the bold 1970s and the MTV 1980s. The authors’ crisp prose paints vivid images in a few short strokes.

The creators beautifully shape each entry, knowing when to allow the visuals to take the primary focus. “Charles Lindbergh’s Historic Flight” is dominated by a photo of the Spirit of St. Louis spanning a page and a half. They provide the most basic information (the flight from Roosevelt Field, Garden City, to Paris, the 3,600 mile/thirty-three-hour flight) and let the image carry the power. The prose-centric on “Airfields and Airports” is next, followed naturally by “Cradle of Aviation.” 

Cultural nods range from the band Ninedays, Jones Beach Theater, and the Ray Romano house to Port Washington’s Beacon Theatre and the Long Island Musical Hall of Fame. Oheka Castle warrants three pages with incredible photos, including an aerial view of the castle and another of the gardens and reflecting pool. “Houses of Worship” spans five pages and offers a complete range of religious denominations. There are a plethora of parks and preserves (“Tanner Park,” “Long Island Game Farm Wildlife Park and Children’s Zoo,” “Eisenhower Park,” “Muttontown Preserve,” “Bethpage State Park”) and restaurants (“Nathan’s Famous,” “Wetson’s,” “Pastosa Ravioli,” “Frank’s Steaks” and the “Lincoln Inn”). 

The book celebrates a varied and fascinating cross-section: everything from Grumman, Newsday, Superstorm Sandy, and the LIRR, to the Montauk Lighthouse, Whisper the Smithtown Bull, the Hope Sculpture, and the World’s Fair … Sagamore Hill and Sam Ash … the beaches, the festivals, the parades. And, of course, no book on Long Island is complete without at least a reference to poet Walt Whitman, as writer and icon. 

The authors smartly present enough information to cover each subject and stimulate interest. In addition to casual reading, the book is ideal for the classroom. Students could utilize the book to gain general knowledge on various events, ideas, and themes and then select topics to explore further and in-depth. 

Hey Long Island … Do U Remember? is a wonderful book and terrific addition to the library of works honoring the rich Long Island narrative. Order a copy today  at www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com, or your favorite online retailer.

'Born to Sparkle'

By Melissa Arnold

Megan Bomgaars was born feet first on Thanksgiving Day in 1992, and if you ask her mom Kris, Megan hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since. Bomgaars was born with Down syndrome, and from an early age wanted to spread the word about acceptance and equal opportunities for all kinds of people. 

Author Megan Bomgaars with a copy of her first book, ‘Born to Sparkle.’ Photo courtesy of Flowerpot Press

The 29-year-old Denver native was among seven young adults with Down syndrome who shared their lives with America in the A&E docuseries Born This Way. The show went on to win an Emmy Award in 2016 for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program.

A motivational speaker and self-advocate, Bomgaars is also the owner of the  online fashion company Megology.com and teamed up with Sanrio’s Hello Kitty to create a fashionable clothing line in 2018.

These days, Bomgaars, whose motto is “Don’t Limit Me!’, is focusing on one of her greatest passions: writing. Her first book, “Born to Sparkle: A Story About Achieving Your Dreams,” teaches kids that all of us are unique and have something special to share with the world and if you dream big and work hard, you can achieve anything. 

The uplifting storyline coupled with adorable animal illustrations by Pete Olczyk that sparkle on every page make the book a fun and charming pick for early readers.

TBR News Media recently had the opportunity to speak with Bomgaars about her new venture as an author.

Megan, were you always a creative person? Did you write stories when you were little?  

I was always a creative person with lots of singing and dancing. As I got older and learned to write and type, I began writing in my journal every day. I would write about my dreams and goals. And some of them even come true – like publishing my Born to Sparkle book!

Did you like school? What was your favorite subject? 

I loved going to school with my friends. I was a cheerleader in high school and got to do lots of activities and social stuff with them. I’m still friends with my girls and love them! My favorite subject was science. I also really liked writing in high school too.  

Did you always want to write a book? 

I have wanted to write a book ever since I was at a conference in Nashville and saw one of the other keynote speakers selling and autographing his book after his speech. Since then, it’s been my goal to be able to do the same thing someday, and now I can.

‘Born to Sparkle’

What is the book about? 

Born to Sparkle is about following your dreams, and never giving up, and learning everything you can even when it’s hard. I think that this book is important because it teaches kids to follow their dreams and work hard. I also think it’s inspirational for people of all ages to read.  

How long did it take to publish?

My book took about a year to publish, and the release date was pushed back for a year because of the pandemic.

Did you use a publisher or self-publish?  

I published my book with Flowerpot Press. When I met them, they believed in me, and they were the best in giving my words a meaning that can be passed to others. We are going to continue to work together in the future to spread more positivity.

What did you like about putting the book together?  

My favorite part was being able to work with the illustrator Pete Olczyk and giving him feedback on the final art. He was super in tune with what my message was. I loved the sketches of the artwork from the very first time I saw it. We were the perfect team! 

Did you always want to use animals as characters in the book instead of people?  

I liked the animals because it was a children’s book and I thought it made it more fun. Plus these animals have courage and are fearless!

What was it like when you got the finished book? 

I was very proud of my book and everyone who made it possible. Getting to publish my own story was one of my biggest dreams, and hopefully it will inspire everyone who reads it.

Is the book recommended for a specific age group?  

Born to Sparkle is for young children, but I also think it would be a great replacement for a card or gift for anyone who has worked hard to accomplish anything, like a baby shower or graduation.  

Do you want to write other books in the future?  

I’m going to be working on a book that I hope to title Born to be Brave. I have met so many very brave people in the last several years who have inspired me, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with others.  

I know you are doing a lot of different things for the Down Syndrome community right now. What else are you involved in?  

The organization that I support is called the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. I am committed to helping fund research for people with Down syndrome. This research also helps people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, and so much more. I have also participated in research studies myself that will lead to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome, both for people living today and those babies who haven’t even been born yet.

Stay up to date with Megan Bomgaars at her official website, www.Megology.com, and follow her on Instagram @meganbomgaars. Born to Sparkle is available online at www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.amazon.com.

The Coast Guard standing over some of the cargo from the Thelma Phoebe. Photo courtesy of the Henry L. Ferguson Museum Collection.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“The reality of the rumrunning business is a lot darker than local memory paints it.” In the fascinating book, Rumrunning in Suffolk County: Tales from Liquor Island (The History Press), author Amy Kasuga Folk resists the whimsy and nostalgia often employed when writing about the Prohibition era. Instead, she offers a focused, detailed account, thoroughly researched and rich in detail.

Folk opens with a concise history of nineteenth-century alcohol consumption, the rise of the temperance movement, and how it connected to anti-immigrant sentiment. She points to the bias against immigrants and addresses the “nativist prejudice link[ing] the new arrivals with drunkenness.” Citing this fearmongering tips the book from an exclusively historical perspective to a sociological angle. 

‘Rumrunning in Suffolk County: Tales from Liquor Island’

The creation of the Volstead Act banned the sale of alcohol, with Prohibition coming into force on January 17, 1920. Folk presents an informative overview of the history of drinking and liquor sources during the 1920s. Much of the book focuses on the change in the criminal element. Prohibition transformed street gangs dominating small areas into more dangerous organized crime. The time saw the rise of figures like Arnold Rothstein, Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel. 

Folk has a strong sense of the business elements of rumrunning:

To give you an idea of how a big of a business this was, the gang on average paid $200 a week to one hundred employees when the average store clerk took home $25 a week, and they paid $100,000 a week in graft to police, federal agents and city and court officials. Despite these expenses, the gang still took in an estimated net profit of $12 million a year from the business.

At a time when a consumer could purchase a dozen oranges for twenty-five cents, the figures are astronomical. 

Cargo ships would anchor just outside the territorial line of United States waters; then, small, fast boats would claim the liquor and take it back to shore. Thus, “rumrunning” was born. Shortwave radios were common—quoting coded messages and describing  inventory, orders, sales, and other details. Messages were even broadcast through commercial radio stations.

The book chronicles year-by-year, from 1921 through 1932. Violence on both sides of the law was commonplace. From fisherman hiding bottles in their catches to potato trucks concealing cases of illicit whiskey, Folk shows the intersection of day-to-day life with the precarious, dangerous business that made “Long Island, which is also termed Liquor Island … the wettest spot in the entire country.” (County Review, February 1, 1924)

Glass and liquid weigh a lot. One way police could spot an inexperienced bootlegger was to look for a car that had sagging suspension. Photo from Library of Congress.

In a detailed exploration, Folk mentions judges, attorneys, law enforcement agents, and a full range of transgressors. She has a complete command of the large cast of characters, the hundreds of boats, and other vehicles, along with the events surrounding them. Anecdotes include raids, trials, missteps, and hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of gallons of liquor. There are storms and drownings, shootouts, and collateral damage. From Southold to Huntington Harbor, the accounts tell of the clash of lawmen and gunmen. The author  complements the text with a wide range of period photos. 

The book is not without a touch of humor, as in this account of April 1927:

In an effort to move faster by lightening their load, a rumrunner being chased by the Coast Guard had thrown case after case of scotch overboard. The cases riding the waves were estimated to be fifteen to twenty miles out, but they were floating towards the shore. Guardsmen from the Quogue station spotted the first crate floating inland, and by two o’clock in the afternoon, it had become a race—all the locals turned out determined to get a slice of the bounty floating toward their community before the government swept it all up.

“One of the problems of enforcing Prohibition was the revolving door of justice. The rumrunners and bootleggers had the money and the ability to easily make bail and walk away from the charges against them.” Sometimes, they would move their cargo when agents were testifying in court. In addition, the book addresses widespread government corruption as agents were basically “untouchable.” 

Since 1797, Port Jefferson’s harbor had shipbuilding yards. The busy harbor allowed the ship Dragon to blend in for several weeks. Author’s collection

Case-in-point: the head of the industrial alcohol inspection section of the Prohibition office in New York, Major E.C. Schroeder, went to jail for blackmail. But the flip side was that the government agencies, especially the Coast Guard, were woefully understaffed to take on the mammoth problem. Most actions were based on well-grounded evidence and experience.

Great fear existed among civilians. Getting misidentified as a rumrunner or being caught in the crossfire between bootleggers and the Coast Guard was not uncommon. Hijackings of boats, people held prisoner, low-level criminals turned informants winding up with bullets in their foreheads, all composed elements of the time. The events and incidents were so complicated that even the newspapers gave conflicting reports.

For the casual reader or the historian, Rumrunning in Suffolk County provides an excellent introduction and a detailed account of the Prohibition era in the eastern Long Island community


Author Amy Kasuga Folk is the manager of collections for the Oysterponds Historical Society, as well as the manager of collections for the Southold Historical Society and the town historian for Southold. Folk is also the past president of the Long Island Museum Association and the Region 2 co-chair of the Association of Public Historians. She is the coauthor of several award-winning books focusing on the history of Southold. Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. 


by -
0 850
'Hands of Gold'

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Roni Robbins

At the suggestion of his daughter, nursing home resident Sam Fox records his life story. “Now where to being with this taping for Eliza? I was a decent man, I suppose.” In that “I suppose,” author/journalist Roni Robbins sets in motion the engaging but unreliable narrator in Hands of Gold, subtitled One Man’s Quest to the Find the Silver Lining in Misfortune (Amsterdam Publishers). Sam refers to some of his dormant experiences as “a ravaging tapeworm” that he wanted to purge. What follows is a textured, first-person narrative reflecting turn-of-the-century European life and North American immigration, as well as struggles with money, family, and health. 


Robbins’ novel is based on cassette tapes left by her maternal grandfather. In a decade-spanning journey, Hands of Gold’s sweeping nature never loses its intimacy. 

Sam Fox was born in Jacovo, Hungary, in 1905, the ninth child of a poor Jewish family that would eventually grow to thirteen (with his widowed father marrying his wife’s sister to produce the additional offspring). It is a life of farming and prayer for the family. 

Robbins provides a vivid depiction of poverty, threatened by violence and unrest, both in the form of anti-Semitism and the threat of war. She creates the cramped, cold conditions of the shtetl, a large family where servings of food were almost rations. As Sam’s mother would tell them, “That’s what you have and that’s what you eat.” 

Robbins wisely eschews the easy, idyllic family life for one of constant challenges, exacerbated by Sam’s father’s passing and his elder brother’s return. Always in the background is the hope of America—the land where the streets are paved with gold. At age eighteen, Sam escapes the family (as well as dodge army service), ending up destitute in Prague, only to return home. With his second attempt at liberation, he spends time in Germany before crossing the Atlantic and jumping ship in Montreal. The book is a Brave New World adventure story, a unique take on “Go West, young man.”

In Canada, he falls in love with Hannah Stein. The seamstress-Yiddish theatres’ singer is dynamic, self-assured, and strong with an annulled marriage. From the first date to marriage and beyond, the courtship is beautifully chronicled.

At age twenty-one, Sam snuck over the Canadian border. His first impression is not the idealized United States. “As I stepped off the platform, I noted how closely packed the buildings, how shmutzy the streets were with blackened snow and fetid water …” Four of his brothers and four of his sisters had already made homes in America. But even then, it is not a joyous reunion; his sister, Sophie, greets him with a mixed reception.

He witnesses the conflict between immigrants who have forged uneasy assimilation and those who still cling to their old-world Jewish traditions. Robbins never evokes anything less than an honest picture.

Sam finds work and starts a family. Central to his story is tuberculosis developed at age twenty-six. The repercussions and medical setbacks coupled with the separations from his family plague him for years to come. He is in and out of employment, often spending weeks in the hospital or rest facilities, trying to work his way back to Hannah and his children. As in Europe, his existence was marred by poverty. The book chronicles the organizations that supported people like Sam—both government bureaus and Jewish agencies. The services aided but did not fully alleviate the burdens faced by poor and sick people. 

No book on this subject can avoid the effects of the Holocaust. Much of Sam’s family is lost in Europe. Sam’s oldest son served in the post-World War II army, and his experience going through the Displaced Persons camps is poignant and powerful.

Sam ponders generational gaps and muses on the contrast of his childhood with his children. “My children, like most, didn’t comprehend how good they had it. When I grew up, I didn’t always have shoes to wear […] Only on Friday nights did we have to wear shoes. They didn’t necessarily fit properly, but luckily, we only had to wear them for a few hours […] Children learn more when they have their own families to support …” 

Robbins captures Sam’s voice, with its European cadence and liberal use of Yiddish. (The words are easily understood in context or using the book’s glossary.) Sam questions many of his choices but accepts their eventual outcomes. 

“If there’s something I’ve learned, it’s that some days start out badly and don’t get any better. Other days are quite momentous and you have to hold tight to those. Be thankful for every day you experienced love and blessings because you never know when your faith will be tested again.” 

Hands of Gold explores and celebrates the gratitude of one man’s soul. Pick up a copy online Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.ronirobbins.com.