Ellipsis by Kristy McGinnis

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Ellipsis” by Kristy McGinnis is a wonderful piece of fiction that reads like real life. The novel tells the story of a girl becoming a woman. And through this not so out of the ordinary life are presented some of the horrors of ordinary life.

The novel opens up with the blossoming of Nell Sanger, a college student who has all her future mapped out. She took on some side jobs to help support herself, one of which was modeling for art students. That is where she met Narek, a gifted art student from Armenia. The two immediately felt connected by the many things they have in common and were intrigued by each-others cultural and personal differences.

But this is not a simple love story. It is a complex tale about the many forms love can take and the challenges that these bring. The love for and of a boyfriend, former lover, child, mentor, fellow women, the love of self. As you go through the pages of the book, there is an overwhelming sense that tragedy, loss is inescapable. Happiness, on the other hand, is harder to hold on to. Will Nell be able to experience joy, or will all her happiness end up being trapped somewhere in the past?

Forbidden Brownstones by Clifford Browder

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Author Clifford Browder, prolific in both his knowledge of New York history and its people, affords literary enthusiasts with another journey into historic New York with the fifth title in his Metropolis series, Forbidden Brownstones, a work which artfully portrays life from the perspective of its central character, Junius Fox.

As a young black male living in mid 1800s New York City, Junius Fox and his family, although free, faced political, cultural and social constraints of a society stuck in the throes of the system of slavery. Living in a world alive with rampant instances of overt racism and easily provoked violence towards blacks created an overall environment for blacks living in New York at the time a struggle to thrive in and very often dangerous to live in.

However, Junius witnessed something shining in the midst of his limited life sparking a deep desire within him for the seemingly unattainable, a Brownstone. For Junius his longing for owning a Brownstone became an obsession since the age of twelve, when he became initially entranced by the enticing visage and mystery of the buildings, fomenting a desire that continued to burn within him into his adulthood. However, Brownstones were not owned by black people at that time, not even those considered Black gentry. Instead, the sought-after homes were only owned and lived in by the white gentry in the city, who refused to sell to monied blacks. Blacks could only work in the buildings. For Junius to own a Brownstone as a black man was a fantasy that he wanted as a reality.

Meanwhile, determined Junius was not deterred from his desires by his station in life. Alternatively, he sought to be the best, as he makes his way into the world of gainful employment through jobs available at the time. Eventually, fate brings him closer to finally satisfying his Brownstone obsession with finally working and residing in a Brownstone not once but twice.

Twenty: A Jack Swyteck Novel by James Grippando

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Jack Swytek, one of Grippando’s favorite characters, is pulled into quite a tale in this one. Swytek, a defense attorney, gets the call to defend Xavier Khoury, an eighteen-year-old high school student who has been charged with a deadly shooting in a Florida school. Ironically, Jack’s wife, Andie who is an FBI agent was on the scene because she was taking their daughter to school. Neither Andie nor her daughter were hurt but twenty casualties did occur.

Xavier was immediately identified as the shooter because the gun found by his side had his dad’s name on it. Since Andie was friends with his mother, she was brought in to help on the arrest and detainment. Upon arrangement Xavier blurted out, “Mom, it’s ok..I did it”.

Andie stays with the mother to help her and Jack is called in immediately to serve as the defense lawyer for the boy. No one can figure out why he would do it even though his father is a devout Muslim. But the heart of the story now becomes the fact that Xavier refuses to talk to anyone. He won’t even talk with Jack who is trying to defend him. The only reason that Jack gets so tightly involved in the case is that the daughter of a close friend of his was killed in the shooting.

Murder on the Metro by Margaret Truman and Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

“You need to get somewhere safe,” one character tells another late in MURDER ON THE METRO, to which the other responds, “I don’t think there is such a place anymore.”

That should come as no surprise, given that Jon Land has picked up the writing duties in this 31st book in the New York Times bestselling Capital Crimes series originally conceived by Margaret Truman. After all, Land is no stranger to high stakes thrillers in which the country, or entire world, hang in the balance. In MURDER ON THE METRO, those stakes include the United States government which is about to be overthrown.

Yes, you heard that right. Known for tearing his ideas from the headlines, Land actually writes his own this time out, having the prescience to pretty much predict what we all witnessed on January 6 when a mob descended on the Capitol. And the result, from an entertainment standpoint, is one of those rare literary sure things. A can’t-miss, can’t-put-it-down, can’t-believe-I’m-reading-this thriller that clicks on every level.

Overcoming: Lessons in Triumphing Over Adversity and the Power of Our Common Humanity by Dr. Augustus White III (Author), David Chanoff (Author), Jon Land, Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski (Foreword)

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

I wonder when the esteemed African-American orthopedic surgeon Augustus White III conceived the idea for his book OVERCOMING if he had any idea how current events would conspire to make this an absolute must-read. Indeed, the combination of political turmoil (putting it mildly) coupled with a raging pandemic have left all of us with challenges we’ve never faced before. Something to overcome, in other words.

This is a book a man of Dr. White’s background and repute is uniquely suited to write, given his own inspirational and groundbreaking history. Known as “the Jackie Robinson of orthopedics,” he was the first African-American medical student at Stanford, the first black surgical resident at Yale, the first black professor of surgery at Yale, and the first black chief of service at a Harvard teaching hospital. Dr. White has truly lived a life of “firsts,” breaking barriers and overcoming adversity every step of the way. And now he’s sharing the lessons of that journey with all of us, on the occasion of Black History Month no less.

I so enjoyed his own story in OVERCOMING, but this is not a book that focuses on him. Instead, the attention turns to twenty everyday heroes who’ve overcome levels of often incredible adversity, usually with the help of others who may be friends or strangers. That’s where the “Common Humanity” part of the subtitle stems from.

There are athletes in the form of a paralyzed wrestler who recovered to become a champion and a female football player who went on to become the first ever Division One college football position coach. There are doctors in the form of the first African-American orthopedic surgeon and an oncological orthopedist who also served as an astronaut. One of the Lost Boys of the Sudan is featured, along with a transgender young man, a blind psychotherapist, two sets of parents who lost children, a family raising a disabled needs child, a one-armed female champion weightlifter, an advanced stage lung cancer survivor and a whole bunch more who make our everyday problems pale by comparison.

In these turbulent times, they are examples for us all, serving to make OVERCOMING the first must-read book of 2021. Not only do the twenty profiles entertain, they also inform. We come away with a unique appreciation for the strength and power of the human spirit, reinvigorated ourselves by the hope these stories provide. If the subjects of this book can overcome the likes of the examples above, then we can plow through the residue of political strife and a pandemic that won’t let go.

And that’s the whole point of OVERCOMING. The legendary Studs Terkel used a similar approach with both “The Good War” and “American Dreams Lost and Found,” and I haven’t found another comparably themed book that approached the greatness of those until OVERCOMING. Its message will inspire you, its lessons will leave you humbled, and its stories will stay with you long after the final page is flipped. Here is a tour de force of style and substance, a contemporary classic on the human condition that will be read for many years, and crises, to come.

Windfall: A Henry Lysyk Mystery by Byron TD Smith

Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

Windfall: A Henry Lysyk Mystery is a well-researched story interweaving real-world intrigue into a fictional tale full of questions. Windfall is not an over the top mystery thriller where every moment is filled with high suspense and the pressing need for action. Instead, it quietly tells a tale about an unassuming former banker, who is somewhat reluctantly drawn into the maze by a love for puzzles and at the urging of his precocious niece and captivating neighbor. The distraction might be exactly what our protagonist needs to pull him out of a dark period in his life – unless the danger catches up to him.

While the book may move at a more casual pace than many modern mysteries, which feel the need to fill every page with excitement, that does not mean it is lacking in tense moments of suspense. The first chapter of the book will hook you before the following chapters reel you into the world surrounding one of the most infamous unsolved crimes. Author Byron TD Smith does a terrific job of balancing these moments with wonderful character development, that leaves the reader feeling connected to those who live between the pages. All the characters feel real, and their actions are believable, which is not often something you find in the genre.

Mr. Smith’s writing flows smoothly across the pages and can make it difficult to find a place to pause your reading session. This can pose a hazard for late-night readers as they may find a short sleep ahead of them. Smith doesn’t rely on the high-octane world of sex, drugs, and rock & roll to sell the reader on his story, although all three do lurk around the edges. Instead, he relies on the compelling storylines and mildly eccentric characters he has created to keep readers engaged. He doesn’t attempt to write down to the reader to appeal to a larger audience, nor does he alienate readers with overembellished sentences.

After finishing the book, I was surprised to discover that Windfall was Mr. Smith’s first novel. The polished storytelling and literary presence read like an author who has honed his craft for years. I look forward to seeing what he will bring us next, and based on the subtitle am hoping to meet up with Henry and his friends again before too long.

The Friends of Allan Renner by Dave J. Andrae

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Dave J. Andrae’s The Friends of Allan Renner proposes an intelligent exploration of life through a multi-level, multiperspectival narrative which comes by virtue of Allan Renner’s encounters and discourse with his eclectic assortment of friends.

This book is definitively an offering of food for thought, brimming with revelations about life and people in general. This is a narrative that is provocative in its ideals and shines through its characters, their thoughts, actions and personalities during their congregations with central character Allan Renner often giving a story within a story as their backstories are also very revealing about human nature. Moreover, although this work is a fictional story, the subject matter of their encounters and conversations are realistic, important, and quite often thought provoking with topics such as astrophysics, cosmology, modern culture, racism, film making, futurism, sex, dating, technology, as well as artistic endeavors.

Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Playing Soldier” is a raw and masterfully written memoir by F. Scott Service. The book is dedicated to the personal experience of war. The author starts with the motivation that may lead someone to participate, takes us through a fragment of war, and ending his tale with the aftermath.
Our journey along Scott starts at the very beginning with his childhood. He was raised in a loving home, but not a perfect home. An only child, he finds refuge from daily life in fiction and play. One day he finds the old field jacket of his father which sparks a new narrative for him, playing soldier. Dressed up in his father’s jacket and armed with a BB gun, he shares the battlefield with the neighborhood kids. School fails to hold Scott’s attention; he would rather continue to explore the many worlds of fiction. He was dreaming of becoming a literary world-builder himself but was repeatedly pulled toward more practical career alternatives.

The next stage of his life slowly ushers in and Scott marries his college sweetheart, Rita with whom he raises Spazzy, their beloved cat. Hand in hand they were slowly building their future together. But the sparkly surface blinds Scott from a dark truth that lurks in the corner of his consciousness as there is no substance to this projection of life together. The I became lost in us, or just in her. So, when offered the chance to join the National Guard, Scott, with his wife’s blessing, decides to follow his inner child’s call to adventure. The military still has an almost magical hold on him; it is shrouded in romanticism and thrill. What is more, the recruiter also flaunts the perspective of good pay and better employment opportunities.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump

Reviewed by Nancy Eaton

Whenever we read a book like this, we wonder if the work was written just for the money or for a reason like revenge. It would have to take a lot of convincing to make readers believe Mary Trump was not writing the book for either of these reasons.

Mary Trump has written a book about her uncle, Donald Trump. Her father, Fred, was the oldest of the Trump sons but no matter what he did, it just didn’t please his father, Fred Trump, Sr. His father always favored Donald and Fred instilled into Donald that losing was a sign of weakness.

As a child, Mary Trump spent a great amount of time at her grandparents’ house. It is here that she observed Donald and his siblings. Mary tells us of the many holiday get- togethers and some funny things that happened at these events.

We have to agree that Mary Trump does have the professional credentials to write a book to try and explain some of her uncle’s behavior. And she also has first hand knowledge of the family.

This is a well-written book and Mary Trump makes many points that will make the reader ponder her thoughts. The main question is does she do a good job of convincing readers that what she is saying is true? I must admit she convinced me. When you read her words and then look at the way her uncle has acted throughout his presidency, it is my opinion that she has written a credible book.

Bank Shot (The Dortmunder Novels Book 2) by Donald Westlake

Reviewed by Allen Hott

This is a book from the 70s but is well worth reading because it is one of the funniest books that you will read. And it is all clean fun without sex or cussing. Just a great storyline that will keep your interest.

It all begins with Dortmunder (one of Westlake’s best characters) selling encyclopedias door to door. In fact he is just taking deposits and the books will never be delivered). However on this current attempt he manages to discover that the woman he is trying to “bamboozle” has called the cops on him. Out he goes as fast as he can and meets up with Kelp, one of his associates. They get away from the scene quickly and have no problems.

Little does he know that meeting Kelp is about to begin one of the biggest happenings of his life. Kelp introduced Dortmunder to his nephew, Victor, who was a former FBI agent. The two of them take Dortmunder to see a nearby bank that appears to be being torn down. Next to it sat a huge mobile home mounted on some type of foundation.