Against the Current

Against the Current in the Silent Service by R.W. Herman

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Against the Current in the Silent Service is a gripping memoir by R.W. Herman about navigating the uncharted waters of life. Through the pages of the book, the author takes a deep dive into his personal life while in the service of the Navy and his winding road of self-discovery.  Purchase Here.

While this memoir was written as a continuation of the author’s debut book, The Unopened Letter, it is well-rounded enough to stand as an independent read. This first book details the author’s experiences in the Navy during the Vietnam War Era, offering a peek behind the curtain of history from a uniquely personal perspective. Readers already familiar with the author’s life will finally know the answer to what happened next and why the author is called Commander. Those freshly introduced to R.W. Herman’s writing will discover an alluring and thrilling personal universe.

After building a reputation as an exceptional sailor (with an intriguing rebellious streak) R.W. Herman aims to become a commissioned officer. However, career advancement lies at the end of a winding road sprinkled with obstacles. To succeed, Herman must navigate the troubled waters of the system, inner struggles, and family life. At one point – which turns out to be a stepping stone for his dream future – the author is thrown into the foreign universe of submarine service.

Herman’s life story of trials and tribulations is an inspiring illustration of how hidden currents may guide our lives to the shores that we recognize as home. Also, his drive and ingenuity in thriving in adverse conditions keep the reader glued to the pages of his life. What is more, Herman skillfully decodes hostile conditions and uses the data and his knowledge as a world-building kit.

Readers might expect the setting for Against the Current in the Silent Service to be within rigid Navy and Marines confines. However, that is not the case. The story expands from within these systems touching on some of the great literary themes of love, loss, self-discovery, and freedom. The author interprets freedom as self-acceptance and allowing oneself the liberty to pursue the realization of a future self and a future us.

What is truly impressive about the read is the multiple levels of complexity that embrace the core story. The systematic exploration of social dynamics stands out as particularly relevant. Herman captures the fragile and subtle couple dynamics as two individuals jointly venture into a shared future. However, he also peers into the cracks of a seemingly rigid and stern system to uncover shifting and often unpredictable dynamics driven by a complex mixture of self-interest, duty, preservation, and sacrifice.

Against the Current in the Silent Service is an effortless read that can easily entrap readers into its flawless web of writing. While Herman displays an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Navy and communication systems, his life story is not weighed down by technicalities. All that remains is to witness a most captivating life unfold in the pages of this book.

Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism

Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism by Joshua Joseph

Reviewed by Ray Palen

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – The Dark Knight
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That quote from filmmaker Christopher Nolan resonated with me as I read this complex and extremely satisfying novel from Joshua S Joseph. The protagonist in this, a young Indian man with the unique name of Dak Ackerthefifth — a name blamed on the same slip of the entry pen used on Ellis Island while in-taking droves of new American citizens to our country.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM is more of a spiritual journey than a work of fiction and the reader is privileged to go along for the ride. Throughout Dak’s life he seeks to understand the precept of what it means to be a hero. We understand that for one to be a hero you must pick a side — hero or villain — but we also learn that life is not that black and white and often times it is not clear as to which side you are on. The story begins with the death of his parents, Richard and Rudy. Our narrator indicates that the death of parents is the way every good hero story starts — but be mindful, this is no Disney tale.

Richard Ackerthefifth was a ballpoint pen magnate who allegedly died during a business trip to the Congo — or so Dak’s mother told him. Rudy was left to raise 8-year-old Dak and his younger sister, Emily. Regrettably, or in keeping with the hero plan, Rudy passes away when Dak is 14. Her death is blamed solely on Crazy Uncle Ji. He was not an actual ‘Uncle’, but was given that honorific title by their mother. Shortly after Rudy was diagnosed with cancer, Crazy Uncle Ji gave her a cocktail of various supplements which initially helped her but then quickly pushed her into a physical nosedive that she never recovered from.

Now, young Dak is sent to Boarding School while Emily is placed into foster care. It is while attending the Ellsworth School that Dak had his first taste of heroism. Initially, Dak thought this came from the altercation he got into with another student over the death of one of their classmates. Actually, his heroic act took place on a class ski trip. A smaller classmate, Pard, was partnered with Dak on the trip and he slipped from the chairlift while it was climbing up the mountain. Dak grabbed Pard and held on until it was safe to let go, essentially saving Pard’s life.

The next chapter in Dak’s journey involved his moving in with his Aunt Rhoda once he was ‘done’ with Boarding School. She lived in Manhattan, which ended up being the ideal testing ground for Dak’s theories of heroism. The trouble was that Aunt Rhoda was a ‘hideous human being’ who was taking care of Dak more for the benefits she received from the Foundation his father had left behind than out of any sense of familial responsibility. At one point, his sister Emily comes to stay for a short visit. Emily implores her brother not to let her be taken back to foster care again, an experience that has included a number of different families each ending with her being sent back into the system. Unfortunately, Dak is not old enough yet to make such a decision and his Aunt Rhoda explains that foster care is what Emily needs as she suffers from various mental issues that require constant supervision.

As Dak is experiencing the world as a young man he continues to question everything and put all his experiences through various philosophical and ethical filters. He ponders on the concept of Interaction versus Isolation. The philosopher John Paul Sartre stated ‘Hell is other people’. To feel Sartre’s Hell, one must feel isolation while being amongst other people and not feeling saved by any interaction with your fellow man. Dak gets his best opportunity to truly interact with human nature when he takes on his first job. He is hired to do odds and ends at a management office that handled various tenant buildings around the NYC area. His boss was a Jew, Mr. Frank, a fact that allowed Dak to further explore the differences between his own Roman Catholic upbringing and other religious precepts.

Eventually, Dak is utilized by Mr. Frank because he is not one of the ‘Jewish tribe’ to collect back rent from various tenants who are in arrears. It is here where he meets Esther, a young woman who play a pivotal role in Dak’s journey. In his initial meeting, where he is attempting to collect overdue rent, Esther gives Dak quite an earful. She was the tenant from hell and a professional problem for him to solve. Subsequent visits find Esther warming towards the unassuming Dak and she becomes a font of good stories and advice. For instance, she tells Dak how fortunate it is that both his parents died when he was young as he never had to experience taking care of them when they were older and physically/mentally wasting away. It is also with Esther that Dak has his first sexual experience.

Dak focuses on the concept of approval and recognizing that, as a physical being not in isolation, we are ever seeking out the approval of ourselves from other people. This leads him to his next serious interaction with another tenant named Lissa. He will have a physical relationship with her and also spend some time living with her as well. Dak looked at his time living with Lissa as a vacation and understood that even the most satisfying vacations had to eventually end. On the home front, Emily had now graduated from foster care and is taken in by Aunt Rhoda. The three of them are all at a point where they abhor the presence of one another and bounce around the home like solitary electrons failing to make contact with each other.

One day, Dak finds Aunt Rhoda unconscious on the floor of their apartment — a situation that Emily had not even noticed. He rides in the ambulance with her to the hospital. Even though everything is tried to save her, Aunt Rhoda eventually succumbs to her malady and passes away. While in the hospital, Dak ponders that idea that real heroes are practitioners of medicine. However, he cannot truly buy into this idea as so many of those in the medical field do not actually care about the people they are treating. It is not long after Rhoda’s passing that a face from the past returns, Uncle Ji. Ji now is able to speak to Dak, adult to adult, and explains that the facts behind each of his parents deaths were not what Dak had been led to believe. He also provides Dak with some information, a ‘gift’ as he refers to it, that he can use as political leverage against his employer, Mr. Frank. Unfortunately, that gift backfires and Dak is fired from the only job he ever had.

Dak rebounds into his next serious relationship, this time with Esther’s sister, Dina. Now unemployed, Dak moves in with Dina and it is there where he meets with my favorite character in the novel, Abe. Abe is Dina’s brother and he is an extraordinary thinker and debater of concepts, both religious and otherwise. His first interaction with Dak begins with a diatribe on the Jewish and Palestinian conflict and how that arose. Abe likes to hear himself talk and he also likes someone who will question and challenge him, which Dak provides for him. If you have ever seen the Richard Linklater film, Waking Life, in which pairs of characters converse philosophically with each other on a myriad of subjects, you will understand my feelings about the scenes between Dak and Abe. There are a few chapters involving the two of them together and it provides the best dialogue in the novel.

At one point in a Sushi restaurant, Dak, Dina, Abe and his lover Katie are chatting — or, more to the point, listening to Abe speak — when Dina finally calls him out for his cynical banter. She shares with Dak a quote from Tom Robbins that makes him think: ‘We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love’. On another occasion, Abe asks Dak how he would feel if he were able to shut society down. Unhook the world from their wireless devices and disconnect everyone from everything they utilize to get them through their lives. Dak indicates that this would finally make him a hero. It is at this point, towards the end of the story, where Abe provides Dak with just such an opportunity and it opens everything up all at once for Dak, finally providing him with answers he has spent his life searching for.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM was both and exhilarating and exhausting read as it provides so many various concepts that require the reader to disengage from our current culture and seek to find true meaning in our lives. It is a participatory novel requiring the reader to think and dive in deep along with our ‘hero’. Dak is the ideal figure to go on this journey and I was sorry for that ride to come to an end. I give much credit to author Joshua S Joseph, who refers to himself as an author, philosopher and consumer of shadows. He is definitely someone that would be interesting to chat with.

The Boy Refugee

The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin,

Reviewed by Danita Dyess

In The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin, he chronicles the devastating effects of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Back then, Azimuddin, a Pakistani, was only eight years old. His detailed account of the civil unrest chronicles two years of emotional, economical, familial, and political upheaval. About 100,000 Prisoners of War were entangled in a never-ending battle between the Bangladeshis and their quest for independence and the Pakistanis who have assumed total control. Purchase Here.

Azimuddin had two older siblings – his sister, Maliha Apa and brother, Khusro Bhaijan. His mother, Ammi, was the daughter of an influential civil servant. Their spacious home was surrounded by a pond and trees filled with bananas, apples, and coconuts.

His father, Pappa, had been educated in India. Now he was a bishari, upper class group of society. Pappa worked as a plant manager for Adamjee Jute Mills, the world’s largest manufacturer of jute and cotton products. He oversaw the Bengali workers, the poor class residing in shantis. The two classes are about to erupt in a war. Why?

The boy that liked to play cricket, ride his bike, and pet his pigeon, Kabooter, explains. He says the history of the two factions began when the East and West Pakistan were separated by geography. When the British left, two countries formed – Muslims represented Pakistan (Bengalis) and Hindus represented India. Now the Pakistani army killed mill workers. So the mukti bahini murdered Pakistani officers and civilians.

So the story unfolds with Abdul, a loyal servant of Azimuddin’s family suddenly leaves. He had heard about the slaughtering of five Bengali men. Also, Mujibar Rahman was a political leader who won the election but was denied the presidency. The Awami League supported him and protested the conditions. Bengali workers vacated their jobs at the mill.

But this is just the beginning. Other accounts of civic unrest spread rapidly and foreshadowed ominous events. The People’s Party gained 81 parliamentary seats. Rallies and labor strikes were breaking out daily. While riding his bike from work, Pappa was confronted by angry Bengali workers; he started driving to protect himself from danger.

On December 3, 1971, loud sirens and blackouts alert the family of war. They flee for safety to find refuge with a German UN worker and in tent cities, the Kilo Camps.

The author acts as a journalist and teacher. As a reporter, he conveys the facts of the atrocity. But most importantly, he wants you to know that during challenging circumstances, the love of your family can help you summon the courage and sheer determination you never knew you had. You can change your mind and form friends that were enemies previously. Always act with compassion.

The cover picture of a boy sitting on a suitcase with travel-related drawings was apt. The use of foreign terms, e.g., Namack pore and sooji la halwa as well as the historical accounts transported me to faraway places.

The dialogue spoken between Pappa and Ammi showed the quiet power of a devoted mother. The conversation between Mr. Rauf and Mr. Huq were thought provoking. References to Kissinger and Nixon were insightful.

This work of nonfiction conveyed the gamut of human emotions – childlike joy, disappointment, confusion, fear, love, and hate.

The pace for the 160-page book was fast. Photographs of the family and his green suitcase made the story real. The maps illustrated the role of geography.

Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin is a board-certified gastro-intestinal surgeon who specializes in robotic surgery. He has practiced medicine for 20+ years and currently sees patients at Houston Colon and Rectal Surgery. He has written numerous research articles and surgical reference books. His hobby is calligraphy that includes verses from the Quran placed on tiles. His work appears at the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Art.

This memoir is Azimuddin’s first book. I would recommend The Boy Refugee to anyone who wants to be inspired and enjoys history and international politics.

The Secrets of Living a Fantastic Life

The Secrets of Living a Fantastic Life: Two Survivors Reveal the Thirteen Golden Pearls They Discovered by Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life by Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka is a very inspirational and thought-provoking book written by two people who lived through extremely traumatic and trying experiences. The authors learned from those experiences and grew to understand that they did not have to allow what happened to them to influence the rest of their lives negatively. Instead, they both chose to move on and have successful careers and happy lives, and decided to collaborate and write a book to help others also live “fantastic lives.” Purchase Here.

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life is subtitled “Two Survivors Reveal the 13 Golden Pearls They’ve Discovered.” Those “golden pearls,” or life lessons, aided them to get past the traumatic events in their lives and to move on. The self-help book that they wrote, detailing what those 13 golden pearls are, is full of revelations that the authors hope will inspire readers of the book. The negative things that everybody experiences in their lives, to one extent or the other, do not have to define who we are as people.

I really liked it that Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka opened up in The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life and revealed the nature of the traumatic experiences they went through. Dr. Lycka was diagnosed as having Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and he was told he only had six months to live. Harriet Tinka was a fashion model and a Woman of Distinction who lived through the terror of being kidnapped by someone she knew, stabbed by the man, and left for dead. Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka could have let these things embitter them and alter the course of their lives and careers for the worse. Instead, they moved on, grew, and didn’t let the negative things they went through define them.

What are the 13 golden pearls that the authors discovered and relate to their readers in The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life? Being an author myself, I don’t want to reveal too many “spoilers.” I’d rather that potential readers of the book get the pleasure of checking out what the pearls are on their own, by reading Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka’s book. They reveal what the pearls are in a captivating and entertaining manner by both telling stories from their own lives and also by utilizing a myriad of quotes from famous authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney, Christopher Reeve, and Bruce Lee.

I will mention a couple of the pearls that I loved reading about the most, though, and those are the importance of forgiveness and laughter. I will talk more about a few of the other pearls with Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka in an interview that they graciously agreed to do with me, which can be read elsewhere at this same site.

The ability to forgive somebody who has hurt and wronged you can be very difficult to do, but doing so is an important step if one wants to live what the authors refer to as “a fantastic life.” The authors write about this in the book’s seventh chapter, “Forgiveness.” They relate a story called “My Uncle” told by a contributor to the book, Lauren Magliaro. Lauren begins the chapter by telling about the reconciliation that took place between her uncle and her father, when her father was in the hospital due to suffering a brain aneurysm. Her uncle was there with Lauren and the rest of her family there at the hospital by their side, supporting them and his brother during a time Harriet describes as “the hardest days of our lives.”

After Lauren’s dad recovered, whatever the rift was between him and his brother was like a “slate – wiped clean.” From then on, both sides of Lauren’s family were back together, and she writes that “Family gatherings no longer had a dividing line.” Forgiveness is definitely a very powerful pearl we should all treasure in our hearts. Indeed, Lauren describes forgiveness as being “the essence of love.”

Laughter is such an important part of our lives that it has been sometimes called “the best medicine.” In the eleventh chapter of The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life, aptly titled “Laughter,” Dr. Lycka begins the chapter writing about a run-in he had with an obstinate camel he was trying to ride in Egypt. The camel driver, playing a joke on Dr. Lycka, tells him the camel he’s picked out is his “gentlest” one, but the stubborn animal refuses to obey the camel driver’s commands and cajoling.

The camel repeatedly attempts to throw Dr. Lycka, who by now regrets his decision to try riding the animal, off his back. It is only after the ordeal is over, and the camel driver buys a Coke for Dr. Lycka, that the author can see the humor in the situation and have a laugh about it. Both authors relate various ways that laughter, including being able to laugh at oneself, is important. Dr. Lycka writes that: “Laughter, especially at oneself, tempers ego, interrupts narcissism and improves your happiness in the moment.” It is one of the thirteen pearls the two authors write about that can really make a big difference in our lives, make the problems and worries we all have seem a bit less significant, and help people achieve a “fantastic life.”

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life is a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It is a valuable sand appealing self-help book that will have readers engrossed and entertained while also informing and teaching them about the thirteen secrets, or “pearls,” that authors Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka discovered. The knowledge about these pearls might not make us have fantastic lives overnight, but when put into practice on a daily basis, the nuggets of wisdom that the authors write about will definitely improve readers’ overall outlooks on life and will put them on the road to becoming better versions of themselves. This is a book I highly recommend you check out and add to your reading lists!

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Playing Soldier

Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service

Book Reviewed by Timea Barbaras

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. Purchase Here.

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.

But what starts as playing soldier during his training soon spirals into an unrecognizable ouster reality on the edge of existence, as Scott is dropped off in the Iraq war. This is not the military service from his childhood games, nor the image that was blooming in his imagination ever since. It is something beyond scope and reason. War morphs into a black sun that slowly burns away his sense of reality and self. And as Rita decides to file for divorce, Scott’s life from before becomes just another collateral of war.

Disillusioned by war, Scott tries to break his ties with the military and rebuild a new life. But the shadow cast by combat seems unwilling to let him go. The expected social reintegration is severely impeded by an ugly divorce, an existential crisis, and PTSD. The temptation of the final escape triggers a light in Scott and a new journey begins.

Playing Soldier” is a deeply reflexive take on one’s own life and life in general. F. Scott Service skillfully draws in the readers through a series of intimate confessions and gets them hooked on a sweet melancholic note that rings throughout the pages of the book. The effortless and elevated literary language in the book can hook anyone, regardless of his or her interest in the topic of war. After all, this is a memoir dedicated to the human condition at its rawest, walking the line between life and death.

Black, White and Gray All Over

Black, White, and Gray All Over by Frederick Douglass Reynolds

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

If you are looking for an exploratory journey into the many dimensions of gray, look no further than “Black, White, and Gray All Over:  A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement” by Frederick Douglass Reynolds. The author goes beyond the dichotomy of good and evil – from within an individual, institution, or community – to investigate this precarious and uncomfortable in-between state. Purchase Here.

This memoir is not a comfortable read. It is a daring tale that bravely exposes the inner workings of an individual. The book goes even further, piecing together a puzzle of the many faces of humanity painted in blood and gore, but also acceptance, kindness, and love.

Frederick Douglass Reynolds took a circular approach to his life story, starting from his childhood and closing with his golden age, and this embracing fleeting decades of the life of a community. The opening pages provide a closely intimate look into the upbringing of the main protagonist inviting the readers to observe his family life and the community in which he grew up.

While circumstances seem to be pulling a young Reynolds into a life of crime, deeper down into the underbelly of society, counter-acting forces – a fortunate combination of willpower and helping interventions – have led him to a path of serving others and the community. Despite being exposed to gangs at an early age and committing minor crimes, Reynolds successfully defeats a predestined fate looming over him.

It is a difficult battle; one that involves family struggles, several failed relationships, periods of unemployment, and homelessness – all followed by a deep sense of lack of purpose. However, Reynolds relies on resourcefulness and deep determination to find and walk on his life path.

We are invited to follow his professional evolution from recruit to detective. During his vast career with the police department, he uncovers the many faces of evil and crime in Compton. The author shares his in-depth knowledge of the history of local gangs and organized crime. However, he proves to also be somewhat of a rebel scholar in the psychology of human behavior and crime.

From chasing down thugs, solving elusive crimes as a detective, and exposing police and political corruption, Reynolds’ career is filled with vivid depictions of heroics. Yet, the lesson that resonated with me the most was the value of small good deeds. Regardless of the role we play in society, micro-good deeds are within our reach and these often have macro reverberations.

“Black, White, and Gray All Over” is a beautifully weaved narrative of a police officer’s memoir interwoven with raw introspection. As the title suggests, it is the memoir of a black police officer. This is all the more relevant considering the socio-historical background for the book, mainly 1960s’ Detroit and the volatile 1980s’ Compton, California. Yet, as the author underlines, as well, while the story touches on issues of racism, it is about so much more than that.

The Unopened Letter

The Unopened Letter: A Dose of Reality Changes a Young Man’s Life Forever by R.W. Herman #2

Book Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Richard William Herman was dealing with challenging life situations, which led him to drop out of college and reevaluate his life. Not long afterward, he received a draft notice. The year was 1965 during the Vietnam War Era. Rather than serve his time in the Army, he enlisted in the Navy for a four-year stint. The Unopened Letter is about the experiences that RW Herman went through as a young man who made a commitment to the United States Military at the age of nineteen. Herman attended boot camp in San Diego, California, where he demonstrated an aptitude for leadership. He volunteered to be the company yeoman and excelled at the job. After successfully graduating from basic training, Herman received his orders and found out he would be going to school for training as a radioman. At the end of training, Herman attained the rank of Radioman Seaman (RMSN) and was ordered to report for duty on the naval vessel USS Cambria stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. While serving his tour of duty, Herman became a tremendous asset in the communications division and got quick promotions. Although Herman never saw combat, he not only participated in a number of training exercises that prepared Marines for deployment to Vietnam, but he also experienced historical moments and life-changing events. Purchase Here.

Readers will relish this first-rate story about a young man who was at a crossroads in his life when he received a draft notice and how much of an indelible impact the Navy had on him. Herman does not sugar coat anything about his time spent in the military. Anyone who reads this book will gain insight and an appreciation for how much work and dedication and sacrifice is required of the people who are serving a stint in the military. Herman shows the camaraderie and personal relationships that can develop between officers and enlisted members and how this affects their work ethic, with men doing their duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain. Racial bias between whites and blacks was an issue that Herman saw firsthand on the ship, and he employed an instrumental approach in dealing with the racial tension.

The Unopened Letter is written in the style of a fiction novel that includes letters written by Herman to his parents throughout the time that he spent in the Navy. Readers get to see how much of a morale booster it can be for individuals to be able to communicate with family and friends and stay connected with them while spending time away from home. Readers are also given a glimpse into the behavior that was expected to be adhered to by the men on shore leave, and the consequences they faced when protocol was not followed. The commitment and hard work by Herman and the men who served with him is inspiring, and some gnarly situations that Herman finds himself in are not glossed over. The Unopened Letter is an exceptional story of a young man’s military journey from enlistment to honorable discharge.

Lines in the Sand

Lines in the Sand by F. Scott Service

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

F. Scott Service extends an open invitation to step into the mind of a soldier at war. “Lines in the Sand: An American Soldier’s Journey in Iraq” is based on the journal entries kept during the author’s service in Iraq. It offers a unique and very intimate look into the thoughts and emotions brought on by a world falling apart. Purchase Here.

The memoir was triggered by F. Scott Service being deployed with the US Army to the Iraq war. He was stationed at Camp Anaconda, where he served as a specialist in hydraulics mechanic, mainly focusing on repairing helicopters. At camp all daily activities are strictly regimented by the greater power of the US Army. The few days off that soldiers enjoy offer very limited display of freedom. However, in parallel, he followed his calling and passion as a writer, tirelessly documenting the daily life of a soldier.

A recurring theme of the book is the concept of conscientious objector and its repercussions. Scott is faced with this questions once at the beginning of his story and once towards the end. Each time the answer would be a major turning point for future events. However, what is truly intriguing to follow is what happens in the meantime; how his experience of war consolidates his theories and belief system. During his deployment, F. Scott Service faced an internal war of his own. Relentlessly he tried to reason with the seemingly unreasonable Iraq War, hoping to attribute some meaning to complete chaos.

As the world was seemingly falling apart around him, so the life he knew was crumbling. The life he built over years with his soulmate, Rita, began showing cracks that shook the whole structure of marriage. A structure that was solid before, now was dissolving somewhere in the geographical distance between the spouses but also the ever-expanding distance between their souls. Two beings who lived in symbiosis for so long, were faced with two very different realities that they experienced alone.

Finally, “Lines in the Sand: An American Soldier’s Journey in Iraq” also sheds light on the many struggles that veterans face. The shadow of war is long and those who participated in it rarely walk out from under it. The only thing left to do is learn to live with it, to somehow integrate the experience and find light wherever it is possible.

The Gene Rasp

The Gene Rasp by Patrick McConnell

Book Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

A noteworthy excursion into the world of science fiction, Patrick L. McConnell’s The Gene Rasp renders the heart and the mind rapt with its exploration of the heart and humanity through the journey of the inventor of a phenomenal life-altering device offering hope to mankind for a future utopia. Purchase Here.

Fascinating from its outset, the story takes place in the future, with the autobiography of the central character Tom Spoon later known as Dr. Tom Maloof due to be published in the year 2165. However this is no ordinary autobiography because Tom is no ordinary person; as a matter of fact, he becomes the savior of future humanity as he invents a revolutionary medical device called the Gene Rasp which can alter genetics of individuals offering cures for cancer as well as many other diseases thusly making the road to immortality a little clearer.

Easily engaging, the story captivates as Tom Spoon charms readers into his world with a humble and comfortable tone, drawing rich images as he reflects on his life, remembering people, relationships, and experiences which affected his journey from orphan to renowned doctor. He recounts having grown up in an orphanage of which we learn that life for Tom was lonely as a boy, although surrounded by many others, he was different, as he struggled with dyslexia. Believing his brain was broken but determined to overcome his affliction, he yearned to be both understood and connected to something, he began to write poetry, heartfelt masterpieces which appear interspersed throughout the story. Tom grows despite dyslexia going on to accomplish much with his life. He wins a woodworking contest at eighteen, attends college, and later graduate school. Altogether Tom’s journey culminates into a hopeful version of an immortal future.

Entirely a very likable read, The Gene Rasp garners the attention with an intelligent and richly woven journey through a science fiction narrative. I enjoyed author Patrick L. McConnell’s efforts within this work as he successfully brought forth a story that was simultaneously thought-provoking and touching. In particular, I appreciated the refreshing inclusion of intermittent QR code scanning tags and URL links as well as the inclusion of the end of the screenplay for the movie version, all served well to enhance the reading experience by creating deeper interaction with the reader. Also personally, I think this would make a great movie and I look forward to more works by author McConnell. This is a read definitely worth adding to your science fiction collection.

New Yorkers

New Yorkers: A Fiesty People Who Will Unsettle, Madden, Amuse and Astonish You by Clifford Browder

Reviewed by Lisa Brown Gilbert

When it comes to New York City, its dynamic environ and multicultural fusion of distinctive inhabitants, author Clifford Browder focuses his keen literary eye on his life and experiences as a seasoned resident there, as well as providing glimpses of the eclectic history of the city in his recent work, New Yorkers: A Feisty People Who will Unsettle, Madden, Amuse and Astonish You. Moreover, being no stranger to using the backdrop of New York as a setting for his previously published books, including a series set in nineteenth-century New York, titled Metropolis, author Browder once again provides an intriguing exploration of a very culturally distinctive locale. Purchase Here.

Moreover, this is not your typical cut and dry biography, providing dry facts; instead, the read is a heartfelt memoir of a man and the city he lives, loves, survives and works in. The narrative keeps you rapt in its pages with a winning combination of information gleaned from Mr. Browder’s unique standpoint, research, and experiences from his many years as a resident. Consequently, author Browder does well with transfixing the mental eye with descriptions of his life as a longtime resident, including historical glimpses and insider tidbits of the better-known aspects of New York as well as the lesser-known and even the obscure.

Providing a narrative which flows well, as Author Clifford Browder employs a friendly, authentically knowledgeable tone, within which he gives literate life to a multilayered perspective of New York, through his work in this book. In no particular chronological order, the text is divided into five parts with each section bringing into focus an intriguing variety of elements.

Firstly, Part one includes topics covering looks into the many people, languages, the hustlers, scavengers and the rich. Next, Part 2 looks at how New Yorkers live with chapters including Fun, Booze, Smells, and Graffiti just to name a few. However, also included within this section is my favorite chapter #16, Are New Yorkers Rude? I think author Browder explored this question in fine style. Consecutively, Part 4 covers some of the more iconic locales including Broadway, Fifth Avenue, The Bowery, Wall Street and 14th street. Part four continues with a tour of some of the museums, statues as well as an obscure but interest-piquing, whiskey-tasting cemetery. Followed by Part 5 which delves into some of the past history of New York, providing the insightful histories of both the good and the bad.

Overall, I enjoyed reading New Yorkers. Author Clifford Browder gave a fascinating insiders tour of New York. Part biography, part historical dive and part travel guide, this work offers a tantalizing vision of an exciting city overflowing with diversity in all respects. This was a worthwhile read which I do recommend. However, as a fellow New Yorker, I experienced some turbulent emotions while reading this book particularly with the advent of Coronavirus and the current lockdown in NY and all those wonderful people locked inside of their homes because of a virus. My heart and prayers go out to my family and friends as well as the author, his family and all other New Yorkers-God Bless Us All.