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Book Review

'The Snowbaby'

By Melissa Arnold

Author Jonny Hamilton

Jonny Hamilton of Greenlawn has a gift for visual arts and creative work. After becoming a father and reading one too many poorly-written children’s books, he decided to try writing his own. Hamilton’s second book, The Snowbaby, follows a just born snow-pal as he explores the world for the first time. The simple story and sweet characters are enhanced by Hamilton’s captivating and textured illustrations. The book was a hit with his own children, and will surely capture the eyes and imaginations of little ones during this especially snowy winter.

Do you write for a living, or is this a new undertaking for you? 

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as the creative lead for an advertising network, but I’m an animator at heart. I went to school for digital media production and found myself drawn to the graphic design side of things. I started working professionally in Portland right out of school in a few boutique production and animation studios with some truly inspiring talent. On a personal trip to NYC, I decided on a whim to send my reel around. I ended up getting a job offer and moved east two weeks later. 

Writing is a relatively new undertaking — I drew comics for my friends in grade school and wrote absurd short stories in high school (very much inspired by Monty Python sketches and Steve Martin’s short stories), but I never really thought of myself as a writer. I suppose I sort of backed into it more as an illustrator looking for a story.

Did you read a lot when you were younger? What books inspired you? 

I didn’t read a lot as a kid. I was and still am a slow reader, so it’s hard to make time.  I do have very fond memories of the books of my childhood that are probably standard for my generation. Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Arnold Lobel really resonated with me both visually and from a storytelling standpoint. And now that I have kids, I’ve become a big fan of Mo Willems, Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri, and Dav Pilkey. 

What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always been interested in creating children’s media in general. I grew up with Sesame Street, the Muppets, Mister Rogers, etc. I had a deep love for all that stuff, and was a fan well past the age when most kids outgrew it. As an adult I did some freelance work making animated educational shorts for preschoolers and enjoyed it so much I started making some on my own.  

When I became a parent, I was exposed to this whole world of children’s books. The thing is, for every great book you get your kids, you somehow also end up with three terrible books. So after a few years, I thought, ‘I should give writing a kids’ book a try.’

My twin sons were 5 and our youngest was around 1, so we had a new baby around. The twins loved anything that had to do with babies, so I thought that was fertile ground to start with. I wrote my first book, What Babies Do at Night, and then The Snowbaby, and gave them to the twins as Christmas gifts. 

My kids loved the books, partly because they recognized themselves as the characters, but mostly because I nailed their favorite subject. It was the reaction from other family members that got me to publish. Everyone seemed genuinely impressed if not surprised that it was actually a decent little book.

What is the ‘The Snowbaby’ about?

The Snowbaby is the story of a curious and good-natured newborn exploring an entirely new world. He is fascinated by everyone he meets including a fox, rabbit and cardinal, and eventually finds just what he needs: his family. 

How long did it take to write?

My first book took almost three months, and I really struggled to get through it. I think I was trying too hard to get everything in, as if it were the only book I would ever write. With The Snowbaby I allowed it to be much simpler. I started with the illustrations, and the story just emerged.  

Tell us more about the illustrations. 

Each of my books has a different illustrative style, but I’ve received the most positive feedback about the artwork in The Snowbaby. I’m a huge fan of the background artwork in the Peanuts animated holiday specials, so that’s where I started with The Snowbaby. I used watercolor washes throughout to create an atmosphere of winter and then added bright splashes of color here and there with the cardinal, fox, etc. 

Did you publish in the traditional way, or did you self-publish? What company did you choose and why? 

I spent about a year sending out query letters for The Snowbaby, and my latest book The Annual Elf. As expected, I received many “Thank you, but …” responses. I finally decided to google “Self-Publishing Children’s Books” and I found a great video that showed how to do it “in 10 minutes” on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Well, it took quite a bit longer than 10 minutes, but it wasn’t too difficult. There are pros and cons of publishing through this service. There are limited options for sizing, so I had to rework the layout. The color in the printing varies from batch to batch, and paperback is the only option for a book as short as The Snowbaby. The biggest benefit is you don’t have to order a bunch of copies. You just make it available, and they print them as needed per individual order.  

Is there a particular message or lesson you hope to share through this book?

I hope they experience a feeling of love and kindness that everyone deserves.

What is the target age for this book?

From ages 2 to 7 seems to be the sweet spot. One of my sons brought it into his kindergarten class and the class sent me a poster where every student drew their favorite scenes. It was an incredibly touching gift (Thanks, Mrs. Gutheil)!

Jonny Hamilton’s books are available for purchase at www.amazon.com/author/jonnyhamilton. View an animated version of The Snowbaby by searching for “Jonny Hamilton The Snowbaby” on YouTube, and keep up with Hamilton on Instagram @jonny_hamilton_author.

Left, the author with her birth mother, Mireille Comtois, in 2011.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

I’ll Wait for You, subtitled An Adoption Memoir (Red Penguin Books), is Eileen Mary Coyne Resta’s honest and open account of her search for and discovery of her birth mother. Born Marie Monique Comtois, the author presents an account that is both a quest for information and an exploration of the power of family—and families. While many works on the topic focus on “nature vs. nurture,” Resta spotlights her tale’s human aspects and interpersonal events.

Author Eileen Mary Coyne Resta

Resta was born in Montreal on June 6, 1949. She was adopted three months later and brought home to Brooklyn on September 9. The family eventually moved to Long Island, settling in Greenlawn. She grew up in a happy family, along with an adopted brother, Brian. She was surrounded by love and acceptance. However, the siblings were told not to share their origins, as there was often a stigma associated with adoption.

The book traces her childhood through marriage and, eventually, her own children. Her narrative is a well-crafted and informative portrait of life in the 1950s and 60s: bike rides and dancing school, secretarial college, and the Manhattan commute on the 7:07. She describes meeting her husband, Claude, their subsequent courtship, and the life they built together. Resta has lived with an appreciation of every moment, relishing gifts both large and small. At age thirty-seven, she returned to school and embarked on a career as an elementary school teacher and then a reading specialist. 

The matter of her birth family followed her—as it does all children in the same situation. So much comes from a sense of being different: “I think most adoptees miss looking at a family member and seeing a little of themselves looking back.” She is not bitter but ruminative. She found that reflection with the birth of her daughter: “When my daughter was born, it was a new experience.”

But still, questions always lingered:

As I reflect on my life as an adopted child, and its part in my growing up, I remember wondering who my birth parents might have been but then quickly putting it out of my mind. Why dwell on what you cannot know and especially on something that could upset your parents? Adoptees often fantasize about who their birth parents are. I read that most adoptees think they are descended from either royalty or criminals.

It was not until 2010 that she sought her birth mother. By then, both her parents and her brother had passed away. The book thoroughly details her search. Starting with the orphanage where she stayed briefly, she explains each step in the odyssey to being reunited with her birth mother, Mireille Comtois, who had looked for her several times over the years. The fear of rejection is one that haunted Resta. “I think my adoptees may feel as if they didn’t count, knowing the occasion of their birth was not one for celebration.”

‘I’ll Wait for You’

The day of their first meeting was April 14, 2011; Resta was sixty-one, and her birth mother was eighty-one, living in a nursing home, suffering from mild dementia. However, their bond was immediate and beautiful in Resta’s moving description. They were able to share a short but rich relationship. In addition, Resta gained three brothers and their families, developing a lasting connection. 

Family is the overriding theme in I’ll Wait for You. Throughout her life, Resta has put family center. Whether it is the one in which she grew up, her husband’s family, or her newfound Canadian clan, the power of belonging is one that she clearly celebrates with a full heart, finding new pieces of herself. She shares both her idyllic moments as well as her struggles. She does not shy away from doubts. But ultimately, her positivity permeates the entire story. She has lived in gratitude, from the family that chose her to finding the woman who gave her life.

In one of the final chapters, “Reflections,” Resta opens up about many of the more introspective thoughts that arose from her adoption, contrasting her personality with that of her adoptive mother, touching on their “ups and downs.” This led to speculation on the similarities between her and Mireille. Having met Mireille towards the end of her life, many questions remained unanswered. “Reflections” is followed by “Peace,” an appropriate coda and a tribute to a certain amount of acceptance and emotional closure. While she ponders some of the lost opportunities, she embraces her achievement: “The peace I was able to bring to her and the peace she gave to me.”

The book’s dedication best sums up Resta’s goal: “This memoir is dedicated to my two mothers. The one who gave me life and the one who raised me. One from afar and one close and constant. I’m forever grateful to both.”

I’ll Wait For You: An Adoption Memoir is available online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Tanaquil Le Clercq, backstage at City Center, ca. 1954, © Anton Alterman/Harold Roth Photography

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Ballet is an ephemeral art, embedded in the mortal human body.”

Author Orel Protopopescu

Principal ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929-2000) was the fourth and final wife of choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine. Tanaquil—known as “Tanny”—was a muse to Balanchine as well as the genre-crossing Jerome Robbins. Both legendary artists created immortal works for Le Clercq. At twenty-seven, she contracted polio, ending her career as a dancer but not her connection to the art of dance. 

Illustrated by 100 photos, Dancing Past the Light (University Press of Florida) is a fascinating account of Le Clercq—her vocation, her challenges, and the underlying strength and humanity that allowed her to triumph in the face of a devastating illness. Author Orel Protopopescu provides almost a dual biography of Le Clercq and Balanchine, two lives that remained inseparable even after their divorce. 

Le Clercq descended from affluent, educated people: “On both sides, Tammy’s immediate ancestors were adventurous, artistic, worldly, and liberal-minded for their times.” However, her parent’s fiscal situation was tenuous. Her St. Louis debutante mother, Edith, was the driving force behind her early dancing, enrolling her at New York City’s King-Coit School. As a scholarship student in theatre and art, she performed for the first time at five years old. By age seven, she was studying at Mikhail Mordkin’s ballet school. She entered Balanchine’s School of American Ballet at age eleven, awarded one of the school’s first full scholarships. 

Her acceptance to the school coincided with the final dissolution of her parent’s marriage, strained by her father’s excessive drinking. The couple separated in 1946. Her father would remarry; her mother would remain single and a constant if sometimes unwanted presence in Le Clercq’s life. “The umbilical cord had stretched a bit further over the years but was never severed.”

The author provides detailed accounts of the demanding training, the rehearsals, and especially the performances. She conveys Le Clercq as an artist-in-motion, and the descriptions are exceptional. Additionally, Protopopescu traces her rise in the company, balancing the personal and professional particulars with dozens of interviews with friends and colleagues. 

Tanaquil Le Clercq, backstage at City Center, ca. 1954, © Anton Alterman/Harold Roth Photography

At the center is her connection with Balanchine whom she saw as “an old fogey” until she began receiving more personal instruction. Balanchine was a demanding director, influencing every area of his dancers’ lives, particularly the female dancers. 

Balanchine preferred “thin, tall female dancers with long necks and limbs.” Le Clercq epitomized this. While there were hints of Balanchine’s interest, by the time she was twenty, he was no longer hiding it. There were strong possibilities that he sabotaged or at least manipulated elements of her personal and romantic life.

The Le Clercq-Balanchine courtship and marriage are explored with great insight, including the complications rooted in the age difference and Balanchine’s need to seek a younger muse. Balanchine proposed Christmas 1952. She was twenty-three to his forty-eight. Without hesitation, she excepted, and they were married on New Year’s Eve. But, true to form, the work came first. They premiered the ballet Concertino the night before.

Le Clercq worked well and often with the mercurial and demanding Jerome Robbins. As with Balanchine, the complicated professional-personal relationship is surveyed with respect and candor and the complex triangle that existed between the three.

Protopopescu provides a visceral report of the European tour of 1956, during which Le Clercq contracted polio. At that time, her marriage to Balanchine was waning, and she had no desire to go. Following her contraction of the disease, Le Clercq faced a long recovery and the harsh reality of knowing that she would never dance again. “I’m not a dancer anymore. Who am I?” This was the question she faced after over two decades of dancing. 

A brutal, vivid picture of a polio victim follows, showing both the physical and psychological pains and the life limitations. But it also shows Le Clercq transforming by fearlessly facing the problems. As her friend Pat McBride explained: “Her wit and strength never left her nor did she indulge in self-pity. It was always a treat to be in her vivacious company.”

Eventually, she coached and taught at Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem using hand gestures—“a sort of balletic sign language”—to convey the choreography while seated in her wheelchair. The author touches upon the issue of race in the dance world and the lack of diversity and underrepresentation of African-Americans in Balanchine’s company. While not an activist, Le Clercq’s work with the DTH spoke volumes.

Dancing Past the Light will be of particular interest to ballet fans; it is an extraordinary celebration of a life in dance, with its highs and lows, challenges and rewards. It is an honest study of the people with whom one makes art. It is also a beautiful, authentic portrait of an exceptionally strong individual who faced a cataclysmic shift and rose above it.


A resident of Miller Place, Orel Protopopescu is an award-winning author, poet, and translator. Dancing Past the Light: The Life of Tanaquil Le Clercq is her first biography. Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.orelprotopopescu.com.


Erica Cirino with her book, ‘Thicker Than Water.’ Photo from Erica Cirino

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Plastic shapes human identity and speeds up the rate at which we move across the world and through our days, connecting people and allowing us to express who we are to each other. And yet plastic also helps us destroy. Plastic has saved our lives while taking others’ away. Plastic is a miracle. Plastic is a scourge.”

Author Erica Cirino

Erica Cirino’s Thicker Than Water (Island Press) is a frank and pointed examination of one of the most toxic elements of our “throwaway” culture. “Almost every single person alive today uses plastic on a daily basis, most of which is designed for minutes or seconds of use before it no longer serves a designated purpose.” Cirino, a gifted author whose writings have been featured in Scientific American and The Atlantic, has penned a smart, passionate exploration of one of the most troubling and challenging issues. Subtitled “The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis,” the book examines a problem of overwhelming global impact.

The book’s first part focuses on Cirino’s 3,000-mile journey on the S/Y Christianshavn to the Pacific Ocean’s Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Located in the turbulent North Pacific Gyre, this is “the most notoriously plastic polluted stretch of ocean in the world.” And while “the patch” has been described as a “static, floating pile of plastic” (i.e., a “plastic island”), the reality is much graver. “These waters are more akin to a soup to which humanity has added an unknown number of plastic items and pieces. The plastic is commonly suspended right below the surface, pushed just of out sight, constantly and unpredictably stirred by the rolling sea.” Her thesis is clear: While plastic defines our culture, it should not be allowed to determine our future. 

The book features vivid descriptions. Whether depicting a meal or the rescue of a sea turtle from “ghost fishing,” nothing escapes her insight, expressed in often lyrical prose:

“Out at sea, time is not measured in hours or minutes, but by the intensity of the burning sun, the oscillating fade-sparkle-fade of thousands of stars and specks of glowing algae, the size and shape of the moon, the furor or calm of the sea […] The sea can show us what it is in life we need, and what we can live without.”

But the writing never masks the underlying and driving force of the dire situation.

Throughout, Cirino investigates the shift from the historical use of plants and animals to fossil fuels. She traces the involved reliance on the latter and the products created from it. She shares a comprehensive understanding. “Plastic is so permanent because of its structure on the molecular level.” She clarifies both microplastic and the even smaller particles—nanoplastic—and their invasion of the food chain.

The facts are harrowing. “About 40 percent of the plastic used today is actually not even really used by people—instead, as packaging, it covers or holds the foods and goods we purchase and is simply torn off and thrown away so we can access what’s inside.” The flimsy, disposable plastic is tossed, sometimes after a few moments’ use. “In 2015, experts estimated the amount of plastic in the oceans would outweigh fish by the year 2050 […] By 2020, humans had created enough petrochemical-based plastic to outweigh the mass of all marine and land animals combined, by a factor of two.”

And while the material presented is alarming, Cirino is never alarmist, never resorting to sensationalism. Instead, facing such devastating research, she maintains a fair and fairly objective view.

‘Thicker Thank Water’

When on shipboard or in the laboratory, she presents the science to inform and engage the reader. There is a wealth of data from the manufacture of plastics to the associated chemical pollution, from oceans to fresh waters. For example, she depicts the research done on human-ingested plastic with a mannequin that emulates human breathing. Postdoc Alvise Vianello, from Denmark’s Aalborg University, states: “From what we can tell, it’s possible people are breathing in around eleven pieces of microplastic per hour when indoors.”

The third part of the book tackles the frequently ignored environmental racism. Industrial plants are commonly erected in minority communities. Cirino focuses on Welcome, Louisiana, and its environs. The area of Louisiana is home to about one hundred and fifty industrial plants, dubbed Cancer Alley. There is a great deal of corruption surrounding these factories and complexes, with the companies permanently damaging the communities with chemical pollution. Furthermore, often the factories are built on top of presumed burial grounds of enslaved African Americans. This section highlights both environmental and sociological devastation. 

Cirino connects the dots from plastic production to climate change. She has a sense of the irony that the pandemic briefly lowered our carbon footprint. Additionally, as renewable energies rise, fossil fuel corporations—notably big oil and gas—counter the lack of demand by turning ancient carbon stocks into plastic. 

The final section of the book, “Cleaning It Up,” centers on solutions. Technical invention (trash wheels, booms, grates, etc.) and grassroots work (simply picking up garbage) are important. But, ultimately, the solution is a combination of public awareness through education, science, and systemic change of using less, or ideally, no plastic. “You wouldn’t just mop up water off your floor if your bathtub were overflowing,” says Malene Møhl of Plastic Change. “You’d turn off the tap.”

Taxes, bans, and other legislation, combined with the search for biodegradable resources (even using bacteria, fungi, and algae), face pushback from large industries, the complexity of plastic recycling, and our own desire for convenience.

It would be impossible to read this powerful book and not look at the world differently, both in the larger picture and day-to-day life. Contents of Thicker Than Water can be overwhelming—even paralyzing. But, in the end, Erica Cirino’s ideas stimulate thought, raise awareness, and, most importantly, are a call to action.

Thicker Than Water is available at IslandPress.org, Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.ericacirino.com.

Above, Kerriann Flanagan Brosky kicked off her Fall book tour at the Country House Restaurant in Stony Brook hosted by owner Bob Willemstyn on September 30.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

The versatile Kerriann Flanagan Brosky’s works include Historic Crimes of Long Island (reviewed in this paper October 2017), Ghosts of Long Island, The Medal, and Delectable Italian Dishes for Family and Friends, among others. Haunted America (a division of The History Press) presents her latest work, Haunted Long Island Mysteries, a well-crafted overview of various sites of supernatural activity from Sag Harbor to Port Washington. Brosky has once again teamed up with medium and paranormal investigator Joe Giaquinto to explore a range of “spirited” hauntings. 

Author Kerriann Flanagan Brosky

This is Brosky’s fourth ghost book: “The journey of investigating over one hundred presumably haunted locales on Long Island has led me to understand many things, including the importance of these spiritual beings and how they relate to our past and history, to the continuity of life after death and to the ability to communicate with our loved ones after they have passed.” Brosky finds the place where history and the spirit world eloquently intersect with the paranormal.

Both Brosky and Giaquinto come from a grounded and focused point of view. They are not looking for converts. Instead, they ask the reader to keep an open mind. “We are simply putting our research and investigations out there for one to ponder while at the same time teaching you about local history and the importance of preserving it.”

Each chapter focuses on a specific location: a house, an inn, a cemetery, a restaurant, etc. From Setauket to Patchogue, Babylon to Stony Brook — many of these places (18 in all) will be familiar to the readers from reading about or even visiting them. 

First, Brosky provides a meticulously researched background, with detailed notes on the construction and physical elements. Next, she succinctly proceeds to accounts of the occupants’ lives throughout the years—the families, the marriages, the breaks, the affairs. Finally, having established context, she arrives at the present, interviewing caretakers, directors, docents, and board members. She then connects past to present, highlighting any of the unusual occurrences. 

The final section of most chapters is composed of Brosky and Giaquinto’s actual work in the location, including photography, video, and, most interesting, the use of a ghost box. A ghost box (also known as a spirit box) contacts spirits using radio frequency. The result is EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena): human-sounding voices from an unknown source heard on recorded data from an audiotape, radio station noise, or other electronic media. The book contains portions of transcriptions, but readers may listen to the actual recordings by visiting www.ghostsoflongisland.com, then clicking on Haunted Long Island Mysteries.

The book contains accounts of orbs of light, dark silhouettes, footsteps in the middle of the night, and slamming doors. There are rooms where the temperature is exceptionally and inexplicably cold. There are scents with no source. But it is not about things that go bump in the night (though many do, including the voice of a screaming woman). Instead, it is about the energy and the presence (perhaps more blessed than haunted). Most of the encounters are with benign and even welcoming entities. Whether focusing on a member of the Culper Spy Ring, a library custodian, a mother guilty of filicide, or victims of a shipwreck, Brosky shows respect for her mission. 

For believers, the book presents an ideal blend of history and mystery. For others, the exceptional scholarship provides an undeniably detailed examination of a range of Long Island settings. The work celebrates the scientific, not the sensational. This world is not populated by fanatics or conspiracy theories but people who have experienced events and connections for which they cannot find an explanation. 

Brosky offers many perspectives in the dozens of interviews. “People always ask us if we have ghosts,” states Frank Giebfried, a docent and board member at Meadow Croft in Sayville. “I have not really experienced anything, just a little voice here or there, but nothing that I would attribute to anything supernatural. I’m a skeptic, but I’m not going to not believe the things people tell me they experience.”

Brosky honors groups like the Bayport-Bluepoint Heritage Association, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization and the Oyster Bay Historical Society for their work in preserving these historical sites and making them available to the public.

The last two chapters are devoted to the Sundance Stables in Manorville, with the final chapter focusing on Rebecca Weissbard, who died in 2016 at age twenty-two. A gifted equestrian, “Becca” died in a horseback riding incident. Her detailed story is the ideal coda because of the resonance of its deeply personal nature.

Giaquinto best sums up Haunted Long Island Mysteries: “There is something for everyone in this book. If you love history, it’s in the book. If you like to read ghost stories and urban legends, there are many to peruse here. And if you’ve ever been curious how a paranormal researcher does their work, you’ll find it here as well.”

Haunted Long Island Mysteries is available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Learn more about the author at www.kerriannflanaganbrosky.com.

'The Whale's Daughter'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

There is a long tradition of Man vs. Nature in young adult literature. The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, and even Call of the Wild (which straddles the world of adult and young adult fiction) are examples of the genre. These novels reflect how the individual changes when interacting with greater forces. Jerry Mikorenda’s The Whaler’s Daughter (Regal House Publishing) smartly explores the world of whaling in a 1910 New South Whales community.

Author Jerry Mikorenda signs a book for a fan.

In a small Australian station, the whalers have joined forces with orcas to hunt whales. Savannah Dawson, a twelve-year-old living with her widowed father, dreams of working alongside him on the boats, joining the family’s long whaling history. Her gender strongly impedes her desire. In addition, she believes that the orcas caused the death of her two brothers, Eli and Asa.

The book seamlessly weaves Savannah’s two journeys. First, her realization that the orcas were not responsible for her sibling’s death. Second, her struggle for acceptance as a crew member. The author addresses both issues throughout, using detailed research to infuse the book with a vivid portrait of life on ship and shore, the challenges of the sea, and the camaraderie of the men themselves. He touches on superstitions and familial connections. In addition, he contextually integrates both regional dialect and nautical/whaling vocabulary. (There is also a helpful appendix of terms.)

Mikorenda sets the tone and pace with Savannah’s declaration: “I began my day as I always did, lugging those dreaded pots to the fire pit to make a bushman’s stew. Their big iron bellies slogged through the sand as if they were drunken sailors being dragged to Sunday service.” He presents a life of physical toil with a heroine who has a wry sense of observation. She begins as a cook and ends on the boat. 

Savannah’s palpable frustration seats in her knowledge of being a Dawson and the weight the name carries. But being female has relegated her to a second-class citizen. Apart from an unwanted suitor, she is almost unseen. So driven to claim her birthright, she boldly chops off her hair: “If Papa needed a boy for the boats, I’d meet him halfway.” The portrait is a girl coming to terms with maturity. She questions the father-daughter relationship. “How could things go so wrong between us when all I did was grow into who I am?” More telling is her realization that “Having your dreams trampled by someone who could help you realize them is worse than not having them at all.”

Savannah’s father, both distant and damaged, shows sensitivity in a revelation centering around a letter. His opening to Savannah is one of the most touching moments in the book. In addition, Mikorenda has populated the station with a blend of interesting and colorful sailors and their families. The locale is vibrant, with special note of the wonderfully eccentric Old Whalers and Seafarer’s Home, dubbed the Pelican House. 

Certainly, the hyper-articulate Calagun is the book’s unique character. Nicknamed “Figgie,” the aboriginal boy’s eloquence is a marvel: “Your perceptions of my intentions are somewhat askew.” A new oarsman in the Dawson crew, he becomes Savannah’s companion and champion. He serves as the gateway in her shift in perception. Through him, she sees the orcas anew and, subsequently, the world. Their interactions root in genuine respect and affection. “Some people are like empty bowls we can pour all our problems into, and Figgie was that way for me,” muses Savannah. 

There is remarkable enculturation as Savannah learns from Figgie’s life experiences. Their burgeoning closeness hews tightly to the book’s heart. Figgie’s spirituality, acquired from his people, confirms man’s connection to the world: “We don’t own the earth, the earth owns us … This is where we began; this is where our spirits return to be reborn as a rock, bird, or fig tree.” 

Figgie’s explanation of the balance of nature tempers Savannah’s anger with the orcas. Her newfound comprehension leads to an encounter with an orca bringing her to shore. Confusion leads to frustration, to awareness, to acceptance. Later, they witness the birth of an orca, furthering her understanding of the pod’s dynamic.

The novel offers a sense of the hard life in New Wales. It also gives a rich glimpse into aboriginal culture and beliefs. The blend matures Savannah in ways that life solely under her father would not give her.

The Whaler’s Daughter is an engaging novel. The plot is intense and eventful, and the language vivid and resonant. But the true strength lies in the growth of Savannah Dawson, a complex girl with challenging aspirations and the drive to see them fulfilled


A resident of Northport, Jerry Mikorenda’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Herald, The Gotham Center History Blog, and the 2010 Encyclopedia of New York City. His short stories have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, BULL, Cowboy Jamboree, and Gravel Magazine as well as other journals. His biography America’s First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights was published in 2020. His latest, the coming-of-age historical fiction novel The Whaler’s Daughter, is perfect for middle-grade readers and is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For more information, visit www.jerrymikorenda.com. 


John Broven, left, celebrating the book’s launch with Larry Simon in Brooklyn. Image courtesy of John Broven

By John Broven

New York has been at the heart of international musical activity ever since the far-off days of Tin Pan Alley, from Broadway show songs through Brill Building pop to jazz, folk, mambo, doo wop, rock, disco, punk, rap/hip hop and other styles in between.

There was also a neighborhood blues scene. It has remained little known and scantily documented until now, with the publication of New York City Blues: Postwar Portraits From Harlem to the Village and Beyond by Larry Simon (University Press of Mississippi) which I have had the pleasure of editing. The period covered is from the 1940s through the 1990s.

The book’s cover (with guitarist Jimmy Spruill). Image courtesy of John Broven

For too long, New York has been under the shadow of major blues conurbations such as Chicago, Memphis and the West Coast. Many of the local artists made a familiar trek up the Eastern Seaboard, particularly from the Carolinas, as they escaped the segregated South looking for the bright lights of the big city.  

Simon, a Brooklyn-born guitarist, became interested in New York blues musicians in the 1980s after reading articles in Juke Blues, a highly respected British magazine. In search of new material, Paul Harris and Richard Tapp made trips with myself from England to the Big Apple in the mid-1980s through early ‘90s. The people we interviewed were hardly household names, certainly not to the public at large: Bob Gaddy, Larry Dale, Jimmy Spruill, Harlem record man Bobby Robinson, even songwriters Rose Marie McCoy and Doc Pomus — both of whom wrote hits for Elvis Presley.

Yet the Juke Blues stories struck a chord with Simon, so much so that he initiated a New York blues revival movement with Gaddy, Dale and Spruill, also Rosco Gordon (a famous Memphis R&B artist) and Dr. Horse (Al Pittman, who had been singing with the Ink Spots). Besides playing clubs in Manhattan and the Bronx, they even traveled to Europe to ecstatic reaction.

Realizing the importance of these artists and the stories they had to tell, Simon had the idea to write this first-ever book on the subject. “I had the foresight to interview the guys and have my photographer friend, Robert Schaffer, take pictures,” he said. “Thus began a 35-year odyssey that resulted in our just-published book, not to mention all our wonderful years of performing and touring.”

After I agreed to edit the book, which includes my scene-setting introduction, Harris and Tapp were brought on board. Harris contributed many photos mainly taken in the Harlem of the 1980s, while Tapp interviewed Bob Malenky, a guitarist with a fascinating story of New York’s underground blues activity. 

Larry Dale outside the Apollo Theatre, Harlem, 1986. Photo by Paul Harris.

At the last minute, we felt we needed a chapter on Tarheel Slim — another talented but overlooked East Coast blues guitarist. Step forward Val Wilmer, a noted U.K. jazz photographer and writer, who contributed her 1973 interview with Slim and his wife Little Ann, plus photographs. Then Wilmer came up with features on classic blues singer Victoria Spivey and country blues guitarist Larry Johnson.

Simon conducted last-minute interviews with important bluesmen Paul Oscher and John Hammond Jr., and with a location map designed by Debbi Scott Price, of Stony Brook, the book was ready to go.

While much of the New York blues activity was centered on Harlem, flowing out to Greenwich Village, the Bronx and Brooklyn, there was a respectable Long Island contingent. Local interviewees included record men Hy Weiss from Woodbury and Jerry Wexler from East Hampton, ballad heartthrob Arthur Prysock from Searington and Doc Pomus from Lynbrook. 

As a matter of interest, there is a Prysock exhibit on permanent display at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Also featured in the book are no less than three photographs of the Celebrity Club in Freeport, a somewhat forgotten harbor of Black entertainment in the 1950s and ’60s. 

Said Tapp of his Malenky interview, “In the early ‘70s, Bob was a member of blues singer Charles Walker’s band. It was a hand-to-mouth existence with gigs being played in small Black neighborhood clubs in areas like the South Bronx and out onto Long Island where Malenky recalled clubs in Roslyn, Wyandanch and Huntington Station. They were tough times but, looking back, Malenky said he was proud of his association with Walker and I’m pleased that the story has now been told.”

Other people covered include saxophonist Noble “Thin Man” Watts and his wife June Bateman (a supremely soulful singer), the Rev. Gary Davis (the guitar maestro), Billy Bland (hit recorder of “Let The Little Girl Dance”) and Billy Butler (a master guitarist of “Honky Tonk” fame, an instrumental known to almost every working band). 

Sadly, time has caught up with almost every interviewee in the book, except Hammond and Malenky, so New York City Blues champions their memory rather than attempts to revive a long-gone scene. Moreover, Oscher, who once played harmonica with the famed Muddy Waters blues band, and photographer Harris both sadly died in April just prior to the book’s publication.

It is hoped that musicians of all ages will find suitable inspiration from the trendsetting artists who operated in the different and difficult social circumstances that bred the blues. Others can immerse themselves in YouTube to discover yet another stylistic element of the many timeless sounds of New York as they devour the words of pioneering blues people, record men and songwriters.  


New York City Blues by Larry Simon, edited by John Broven, is available from usual book sources including Amazon.com. Broven is a member of the TBR News Media editorial staff and lives in East Setauket.

'Down the Ways' cover

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“The success of Long Island shipbuilding was due in part to its rural location and the three things Long Island had in abundance — water, men and material. Surrounded by water, Long Island was an ideal location for shipbuilding.”

Above, author Beverly C. Tyler at the helm of America’s Cup yacht NZ41 in the Hauraki Gulf, from Auckland, New Zealand in September, 2002. Photo courtesy of NZ 40/41

Last fall, History Close at Hand published Beverly C. Tyler’s informative Setauket and Brookhaven History Through the Murals of Vance Locke. His most recent offering is Down the Ways – The Wooden Ship Era. Subtitled “East Setauket Shipbuilders, Ship Captains, Maritime Trades and Dyer’s Neck Homes,” the book is a celebration of an industry seen through a very local prism. 

As with his earlier work, Tyler leads with the deepest and sincerest respect for the indigenous people of Long Island — and, in particular, the Setalcotts. And while the title suggests a narrow exploration, the introductory pages place the topic in context. Fiscal, political, and agricultural information is presented, including the influence of the Erie Canal and the effects of the War of 1812.

Tyler references a wide range of sources, some dating back to the seventeen century. His research is meticulous, organized, and marvelously well-documented, with facts and figures as well as many dates to give the arc of the shipbuilding experience. Here are shipbuilders and ship workers, captains and crewmen. The rise and fall of the whaling industry and life on the sea give additional scope. Tyler does not shy away from touching on complicated issues, including slavery and the freed descendants whose treatment onboard was little better.

The focus of the book is on one area adjacent to Setauket Harbor. Tyler has cleverly constructed Down the Ways as a tour of the Dyer’s Neck Historic District. There are thirty-two stops, beginning on Bayview Avenue and ending with Scott’s Cove. A history of the place, its relationship to the shipbuilding industry, and the home’s inhabitants are vividly presented with each location. Facts blend with interesting trivia. These include Thomas W. Rowland, who had twelve children — six by each of his two wives; Mary Swift Jones’ voyage to eastern Asia, including Japan and China; Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara M. Russell’s account of Shore Acres boarding house; among other anecdotes. 

In addition, detailed but succinct descriptions of a range of careers and businesses, including blacksmith, ship joiner, carpenter, and ship chandlery, are explained. (A special note of the use of color in the text will make it easier for younger readers to discern the shift in focus and allow for easy location of information. Little doubt that this book will be an excellent resource for both the general reader and the student studying Long Island history.)

A special section focuses on the author’s grandfather, Captain Beverly Swift Tyler, who was a ship captain, boat builder, racing sailor, and boarding house owner. This unique and personal inclusion further brings to life the living history element of the writer’s undertaking.

Visually, this is a striking tome. Down the Ways includes reproductions of maps, paintings, murals, clips of period newspapers, and a wealth of beautiful photos, both historical and current. All of them have been richly integrated into the text. In addition, dozens of pictures juxtaposing the current residence with those from early periods display both the changes and what remains the same. 

Down the Ways is more than just a book. It is an opportunity to explore a Long Island neighborhood in a completely different way. So, pick up a copy of the book, make your way to 41 Bayview Avenue, and let Beverly C. Tyler guide you on a course that will take you on an enlightening journey through time and place


Beverly C. Tyler is a writer, author, photographer and lecturer on local history. He has conducted walking tours and field trips as Revolutionary War farmer and spy Abraham Woodhull and as a 19th-century ship captain. 

Mr. Tyler writes a local history column “History Close at Hand” for the TBR Newspapers’ Village Times Herald. He has written more than 900 local history articles since 1975. His most recent book, Setauket and Brookhaven History through the Murals of Vance Locke was published in November 2020.

Down the Ways — The Wooden Ship Era is available through the Three Village Historical Society online gift shop at www.tvhs.org.


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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Good friends, a hot summer day, on their way to the beach, and not a care in the world.”

Author Robert Lorenzo

It’s never too late for an engaging summer read. Sunday Gravy by Robert Lorenzo is a sincere, brisk novel that is just the right blend of naivete and coming-of-age. Dealing with the day-to-day heartaches of adolescence and greater issues, the book is a page-turning adventure exploring the chasm between childhood and maturity and the burgeoning self-awareness.

Set in the fictional Heatherwood, in the very real Setauket of 1974, the streets sit on what were once potato fields. The setting is Suffolk County, post-pastoral but prior to the siege of condos and developments. 

The story depicts the highs and lows of summer in the height of a heatwave, viscerally painted throughout. Here, boys gather in a fort made from abandoned crates, ride their bicycles to get ice cream, and dream of girls. Lorenzo shares the universal yet is always specific. While the boys’ experiences are easily recognizable, they are uniquely detailed. 

Eastern Long Island is a world of fathers who work in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens and mothers who stay home: 

“Their long days of chugging to work on the train and fulfilling their forty-hour work weeks kept them away from home for too many hours […] Up before dawn and home after dark, the task of disciplining the kids fell onto the sturdy shoulders of their loyal wives. Tired from running their households every day and raising their kids virtually on their own, a lot slid by the moms, who were very willing to ignore minor infractions.”

At the center of the story is thirteen-year-old Eddie Ragusa, who idolizes his brother, Tommy, two years his senior. Good looking and self-assured, Tommy has his first girlfriend, the beautiful and slightly older Maria. “Maria was another puzzle piece, but more like a silky one he’d found unexpectedly on the floor that didn’t quite fit anywhere in the current puzzle. She was unexpected, but welcome. The way he felt about her was new and exciting. This was his first real relationship, and he had real feelings for her.” 

Tommy and Maria are Our Town’s George and Emily for a savvier time. While they are actively intimate, there is still innocence and awakening. Tommy is in the rush and flush of first love, where every moment means something: hours of phone calls, of anticipation. Lorenzo writes with accuracy, of hormones and hope, but also with kindness. His young people wade through their own truths and struggle with hypocrisies. There is sex and drugs, but there is also a genuine connection.

Joining the brothers in the narrative are Eddie’s buddies Darren O’Leary, Michael Dorazio, and K.K. Krause, a ragtag crew of mixed ethnic backgrounds, enjoying the freedom of being young in the suburbs. Whether fantasizing about the divorcée on the corner or sharing an illicitly “borrowed” magazine, their bond is genuine.

Lorenzo introduces a range of characters into the mix, creating a landscape of family and community. The recluse Anne Clarkson is notable in the roster. Dubbed “Old Lady Annie” by the kids, she is a smart blend of bogeyman and tragic figure. Her introduction to the narrative bears interesting fruit.

There are plenty of local references —Smith Point County Park, Carvel’s, the Port Jefferson Firemen’s Carnival, West Meadow Beach, The Dining Car 1890, Mario’s restaurant, Ward Melville High School, Comsewogue High School, etc. — that ground it in its Long Island locale. 

The fort, central to the story, is cleverly shown through three different perspectives: the adolescents who embrace it as a refuge; the young adults as a haven to cut loose; and the adults who regard it warily. Best of all, Lorenzo understands the fine line and great divide between ages thirteen and fifteen.

Ultimately, the Ragusas are the driving force and center. Lorenzo insightfully explores both functional and dysfunctional domestic dynamics with a revelation that separates and reunites the clan. Finally, in the wake of a terrible accident, there is a portrait of the power of neighborhood, where disparate people set aside their differences and come together to help their children recover.

With Sunday Gravy, Robert Lorenzo has fashioned an honest, entertaining tale of the joys and heartaches of youth. He celebrates the untidiness of life and what it means to hurt and heal, to live and forgive.


Author Robert Lorenzo was born in Queens and grew up in East Setauket.  He spent his childhood playing outside, riding bikes, exploring the woods in and around his home, and visiting the beautiful beaches all over the region. He began his first career in the advertising industry in New York City and now teaches high school English in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Lorenzo is currently working on his second novel, inspired by the recent worldwide pandemic. 

Visit his website at www.robertlorenzobooks.com and pick up a copy of Sunday Gravy online at Amazon.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Bruce Stasiuk

Everything you need to know is on the copyright page: “Maybe some of the names have been changed to protect the identities of certain characters. Maybe not.” The “Non-Dedication” follows.

This book defies categorization. It almost—but not quite—defies description. 

With Something to Remember Me. BYE, Bruce Stasiuk has created a work that is edgy, raw, and darkly comic. There is not a word wasted; the writing produces chills because it is, quite simply, brilliant. 

Subtitled “Short Stories about a Long Life,” the over three dozen interconnected pieces find extraordinary depth in even the most everyday topics. His stark prose captures a deeper essence. The stories could be read individually—or perhaps randomly—but the underlying structure gives strength to the whole. And while they are not chronological, the order possesses an indescribable logic.

The book is a memoir—of a sort. It is also a collage, a reflection, and many more things all at once. As a young man, Stasiuk was a first-rate athlete: stickball, baseball, diving, and basketball. He covers them with a keen eye. Girls are discussed in almost pastoral terms. And yet, Stasiuk makes everything “other” and somehow “more than.”

At age seventeen, a devastating trampoline accident changed his life’s trajectory. A long recovery set him on a different path, eventually becoming a teacher. Yet, he is never self-pitying, whether describing the hospital, the rehab, and the many losses that ensued. He has not overcome challenges; he has transformed them. Somehow, his struggles manage to be simultaneously germane and tangential. It is never less than personal and self-revelatory, and yet there is unique and contradictory objectivity that only enriches his account.

“The war ended and new customers were marching home, toting duffle bags over their shoulders, and the Spanish flu in their lungs.” Few authors possess the art and the skill to be both simple and unnerving in the same sentence. Stasiuk possesses a remarkable elegance: “Marie buried her daughter and took her grandchild in.” The synthesis of the rhythmically poetic and the prosaic reality weaves throughout the slender volume.

Succinctness is not just a strength but a gift. In “The Apology,” a picturesque father-son venture to a baseball game builds to a coda, both sad and inspiring. Stasiuk’s family exists within the pages as painted shadows, hovering around the edges, peeking in, sometimes coming into bright focus, but then receding.

One of the finest pieces is “Uncle Jack”:

He spoke fast, compressing conversations, rarely offering the courtesy of a comma. As he flooded the air with words, his eyes scanned the room like an oscillating fan, hunting for a larger audience. Uncle Jack was always trolling to see who wasn’t listening. Since the adults weren’t, he aimed for us, his nieces and nephews; little pairs of ears to be filled.

In a trip to Provincetown, his ruminations on seemingly absolute truths of childhood are revealed to be anything but. He offers nostalgia laced with tension. In “Knuckles,” whimsy and death go hand-in-hand in astonishing ways. The book is rich in dark humor. The final sentences of “Consanguinity” are hilarious and epiphanous. He refers to his colonoscopy as “the age of the medical scavenger hunt.”

In describing his second career, he states: “Nothing spectacular. Nothing extraordinary. No heroics.” The self-effacing statement resonates throughout the entire book. He never touts his accomplishments; he presents them.

He poses the rare direct messages with eloquence and subtlety. The thoughts, ideas, and musings sneak up, land, and then quickly retreat. His one nod towards commentary references the assistance he received: “Sometimes, if the government invests in a person, especially one trapped in a difficult spot, it might be the best investment the government could ever make.”

The report of a close friend, remembered on his death, is not a hagiography but a detailed and heartfelt portrait. A celebrity encounter. An autopsy. Nothing is arbitrary, with seemingly candid narratives turned into almost twisted parables. The piece titled “The Happy Ending” is subtitled, “This is a true story up to the point where it is not.” In some ways, this is the perfect bookend to the copyright page.

Sometimes a piece of writing defies description. Something to Remember Me. BYE does not ask or beg to be read. Instead, it demands to be experienced. And shared. Such is the case with Bruce Stasiuk’s book. Purchase. Read. Repeat.

A resident of Setauket, author Bruce Stasiuk presently teaches a workshop at Stony Brook University’s OLLI  program. Something to Remember Me. BYE: Short Stories about a Long Life is available through the publisher, bookbaby.com, Book Revue in Huntington, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.