BOOK REVIEW ~ Shakespeare’s Gardens

by Jackie Bennett and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Photographs by Andrew Lawson

Shakespeare’s Gardens is a highly illustrated, informative book about the gardens that William Shakespeare knew as a boy and tended as a man, published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 2016. This anniversary will be the focus of literary celebration of the man’s life and work throughout the English speaking world and beyond. The book will focus on the gardens that Shakespeare knew, including the five gardens in Stratford upon Avon in which he gardened and explored. From his birthplace in Henley Street, to his childhood playground at Mary Arden’s Farm, to his courting days at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and his final home at New Place – where he created a garden to reflect his fame and wealth. Cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, these gardens are continually evolving to reflect our ongoing knowledge of his life. The book will also explore the plants that Shakespeare knew and wrote about in 17th century England: their use in his work and the meanings that his audiences would have picked up on – including mulberries, roses, daffodils, pansies, herbs and a host of other flowers. More than four centuries after the playwright lived, whenever we think of thyme, violets or roses, we more often than not still remember a quote from the 39 plays and 154 sonnets written by him.

My thoughts: Originally published March 3, 2016, this book is a biography using gardens that Shakespeare was very familiar with at different times in his life. It’s just bursting with beautifully done photos and information on the bard and many of the flowers and plants that he often worked into his writings. It’s a great look at the various types of gardens that were around in Shakespeare’s time, and how they’ve evolved. This is put together for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death for those that are interested in him and gardening. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Jackie Bennett, and the publisher.

Shakespeare’s Gardens

Publisher: Frances Lincoln – 192 pages
Publication: May 11th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the authorJackie Bennett is a former editor of The Garden Design Journal, the English Garden Magazine and Gardening with the National Trust. She began her career in television, producing gardening and natural history programmes before become a full time writer. In 1990, she won an award for nature writing in the BBC Wildlife Magazine Awards and her books include The Wildlife Garden Month by Month (David & Charles 1990 — reissued in 2011), The Cottage Garden and Wild About the Garden (1997 a Channel 4 tie-in book for the TV series presented by Carol Klein). She won the Garden Writer’s Guild Gardening Column of the Year 2009 for a series about her own Norfolk garden. Jackie has studied garden design and landscape history. She runs writing workshops for the Society of Garden Designers and for the Cambridge and Oxford Botanic Gardens.

Andrew Lawson is widely regarded as England’s leading garden photographer. He has provided the photographs for many books, including Good Planting by Rosemary Verey, Penelope Hobhouse on Gardening, Designing Gardens by Arabella Lennox Boyd, Little Sparta (9780711220850) by Jessie Sheeler, The Garden at Highgrove by HRH Prince of Wales, and The English Garden by Ursula Buchan and The New English Garden also by Tim Richardson. He holds the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal for Photography and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Garden Writer’s Guild. His garden in Oxfordshire is open under the National Gardens Scheme.

BOOK REVIEW ~ The Queen and Prince Philip

The Queen and Prince Philip: The Early Years

by Helen Cathcart


A celebration of the love story between Britain’s longest reigning monarch and her royal consort. 

If I am asked today what I think about family life after 25 years of marriage, I can reply with simplicity and conviction. I am for it.’ – The Queen, 20th November 1972

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip enjoyed seventy-three years of happy married life together – the longest marriage of any royal British couple in history.

But how did they meet? What did their families think of their burgeoning relationship? What obstacles did the young couple face before and after their marriage? And how did a childhood friendship grow into the love story of the century?

In The Queen and Prince Philip royal biographer Helen Cathcart superbly reconstructs the early years of Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship, tracing their growing affection from the summer of 1939, when ‘Lilibet’ was a teenager and Philip a dashing navy cadet, through their wartime courtship and magnificent wedding in 1947 at Westminster Abbey. She skillfully narrates their adjustment to new parenthood in Clarence House and how, shortly afterwards, both their lives changed forever when Elizabeth ascended the throne as Queen in 1952 and Philip became Prince Consort.

Set against a revealing background of family and wider social events, this is the first full story of their early years together as husband and wife documented from family letters, royal journals and the personal recollections of those close to the royal couple.

My Thoughts: With Prince Philip’s passing a week ago, I was very interested in reading this new book about his and Queen Elizabeth’s lives together. I found this book on their early years and its just perfect for what I wanted. A love story for the ages. Its part of The Royal House of Windsor, which has 2 books, this one and The Queen Mother. Prince Philip is being laid to rest today and is certainly on the minds of millions. He was 99 years old, and they had a very long and happy marriage of 73 years, which I believe I read is a royal record. It’s an amazingly long time for a couple to be together and it highlights the love story and good match between these two.

I found the book to be an enjoyable relating of their early years together, taken from family letters, royal journals, and personal memories of those who knew them best. Recommended. I will be reading the other book in this set next when it comes out on April 28th, since I liked this one so well. I found an article in the New York Times/SunSentinel from November 1997 which claims that Helen Cathcart is actually the pen name for one Harold Albert who died on October 20th, 1997 at the age of 88. So I’m very puzzled who the real author of this new book is. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Helen Cathcart, and the publisher.

The Queen and Prince Philip
Back cover

Publisher: Sapere Books – 229 pages
Published: Apr 14th, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS

About the Author– I found an article in the New York Times/SunSentinel from November 1997 which claims that Helen Cathcart is actually the pen name for one Harold Albert who died on October 20th, 1997 at the age of 88. So who wrote this book?


A Taste For Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them

by Neil Bradbury

“A fascinating tale of poisons and poisonous deeds which both educates and entertains.” –Kathy Reichs

As any reader of murder mysteries can tell you, poison is one of the most enduring—and popular—weapons of choice for a scheming murderer. It can be slipped into a drink, smeared onto the tip of an arrow or the handle of a door, even filtered through the air we breathe. But how exactly do these poisons work to break our bodies down, and what can we learn from the damage they inflict?

In a fascinating blend of popular science, medical history, and true crime, Dr. Neil Bradbury explores this most morbidly captivating method of murder from a cellular level. Alongside real-life accounts of murderers and their crimes—some notorious, some forgotten, some still unsolved—are the equally compelling stories of the poisons involved: eleven molecules of death that work their way through the human body and, paradoxically, illuminate the way in which our bodies function.

Drawn from historical records and current news headlines, A Taste for Poison weaves together the tales of spurned lovers, shady scientists, medical professionals and political assassins to show how the precise systems of the body can be impaired to lethal effect through the use of poison. From the deadly origins of the gin & tonic cocktail to the arsenic-laced wallpaper in Napoleon’s bedroom, A Taste for Poison leads readers on a fascinating tour of the intricate, complex systems that keep us alive—or don’t.

My thoughts: This book is filled with some fascinating stories about past poisoners and the various substances they used. It also goes deep into detail about how the substances work and affect the body which, while interesting, became a little tedious at times. I was amazed by how one such substance was able to be used to try and kill someone in one instance, and to try to hide the use of poison in another. And then it was used as an antidote to a poison in the 3rd situation! You can’t get more versatile than that. It always amazes me how people come up with so many ways to try and kill one another, and poison is one of the most sneaky and sinister. It’s a good thing that science has gotten so much better at detecting it in recent years, but it still takes someone who thinks to look for it first, in most cases. A satisfying read, overall. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Neil Bradbury, and the publisher.





Publisher: St Martin’s Press – 304 pages
Publication: Oct 19th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS


About the author– NEIL BRADBURY, Ph.D. is Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, where he teaches and conducts research on genetic diseases. A full-time scientist and educator, Bradbury has won numerous awards for his unique approach to teaching physiology. He has presented his research around the world and authored more than 80 scientific articles and book chapters. He currently lives in Illinois with his wife and two border collies. A TASTE FOR POISON is his first book.



Vulnerable AF

by Tarriona Ball

The debut poetry collection from Grammy-nominated recording artist and slam poet Tarriona “Tank” Ball about infatuation, love, and heartbreak.

The real-life story of a relationship in the author’s past told in verse and short prose pieces. Relatable and honest, with Tank’s signature mix of whimsy and realness, Vulnerable AF is about the difference between love and infatuation, the danger and confusion of losing yourself in the idea of someone else, and coming out on the other side of heartbreak with your sense of self-worth—and your sense of humor—stronger for it.

My thoughts: I liked this first experience with slam poetry written by Tarriona Ball. I was looking for something different from my usual reads, and this fit the bill. It came through for me as a heartfelt sharing of the author’s previous relationship. Now I’m curious to read more of this type of poetry to see other examples of it. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Tarriona Ball, and the publisher.

Vulnerable AF

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing – 112 pages
Publication: Jun 8th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Tarriona “Tank” Ball is New Orleans-based slam poet and Grammy-nominated recording artist with her band, Tank and the Bangas. This is her first book of poetry.


In the Shadow of Mt. Diablo: The Shocking True Identity of the Zodiac Killer

by Mike Rodelli

“It is no exaggeration to call the identity of the Zodiac Killer the most maddening unsolved crime in American history…But it is also no exaggeration to say that Mike Rodelli’s case stands above them all” – Tom Zoellner, Author and Former Reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

In June 1999, Mike Rodelli had an idea that had never occurred to a generation of detectives in the San Francisco Bay Area. This led him to a new suspect in the Zodiac case and began a twenty-year odyssey to prove that this man was the Zodiac Killer. In the Shadow of Mt. Diablo: The Shocking True Identity of the Zodiac Killer is filled with original information about the mystery, including DNA and behavioral profiling that resulted directly from his twenty years of intensive research. Rodelli provides the reader with an objectively researched, fully documented book that is meticulously footnoted, and which shows that, against all odds, he has solved a case many said would never yield its dark secrets.

My thoughts: Having read books about the Zodiac Killer, and watched various things on TV as well, I’ve wondered who this elusive killer is during the years. So I was eager to dive into this newest, possibly revealing, book on Zodiac with a new suspect. I recently read how some of the Zodiac’s impossibly difficult codes from his letters had recently been cracked after all these years. So is it possible that his identity has been figured out as well? That is why I read the book. You will have to decide for yourself if you think Rodelli got it correct or not. Its certainly well-researched, with about 20 years spent chasing an answer. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Mike Rodelli, and the publisher.

In the Shadow of Mt. Diablo

Publisher: Indigo River Publishing – 496 pages
Publication: May 11th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Mike Rodelli was born in Woodside, Queens, New York. In the 1960s he spent a good part of his youth playing sports in schoolyards. When Mike was a teenager, he saw a TV show about Jack the Ripper, which prompted a lifelong interest in puzzling over unsolved mysteries. Little did he know that, some thirty years later, his interest in serial killers would reshape his life and send him on a quest to bring the Zodiac Killer to justice. Mike holds a BA in biology from Montclair State University and a master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Rhode Island. When a controversial DNA sample in the Zodiac case appeared to rule out his suspect in 2002, his background in natural science proved to be critical in assessing and eventually overcoming that decision. His interest in thoroughbred horse racing likewise would serve him well in both understanding and gathering evidence on his suspect, an entrepreneur and a wealthy horse owner. Since 2000, Mike’s research on the Zodiac has been covered in several articles in the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2002 he appeared on the ABC News program Primetime Thursday. In May 2018 his book, The Hunt for Zodiac: The Inconceivable Double Life of a Notorious Serial Killer, was the subject of an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Tom Zoellner, The Serial Killer as a Marketing Genius. In addition, Mike was a contributor with screen credit on the acclaimed 2007 feature film, Zodiac, by David Fincher/Warner Brothers, which starred Robert Downey, Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. Mike currently lives in Atlantic City, NJ. When not chasing serial killers, he is an avid New York Mets and Rangers fan. He enjoys tackling the Sunday New York Times crossword and occasionally declares victory over it. Mike also reads voraciously and eclectically and is working on two new true-crime books.

Book Review ~ MY NAME IS SELMA

My Name is Selma: The Remarkable Memoir of a Jewish Resistance Fighter and Ravensbruck Survivor

by Selma van de Perre

An international bestseller, this powerful memoir by a ninety-eight-year-old Jewish Resistance fighter and Ravensbrück concentration camp survivor “shows us how to find hope in hopelessness and light in the darkness” (Edith Eger, author of The Choice and The Gift).

Selma van de Perre was seventeen when World War II began. She lived with her parents, two older brothers, and a younger sister in Amsterdam, and until then, being Jewish in the Netherlands had not presented much of an issue. But by 1941 it had become a matter of life or death. On several occasions, Selma barely avoided being rounded up by the Nazis. While her father was summoned to a work camp and eventually hospitalized in a Dutch transition camp, her mother and sister went into hiding—until they were betrayed in June 1943 and sent to Auschwitz. In an act of defiance and with nowhere else to turn, Selma took on an assumed identity, dyed her hair blond, and joined the Resistance movement, using the pseudonym Margareta van der Kuit. For two years “Marga” risked it all. Using a fake ID, and passing as non-Jewish, she traveled around the country and even to Nazi headquarters in Paris, sharing information and delivering papers—doing, as she later explained, what “had to be done.”

But in July 1944 her luck ran out. She was transported to Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp as a political prisoner. Without knowing the fate of her family—her father died in Auschwitz, and her mother and sister were killed in Sobibor—Selma survived by using her alias, pretending to be someone else. It was only after the war ended that she could reclaim her identity and dared to say once again: My name is Selma.

“We were ordinary people plunged into extraordinary circumstances,” Selma writes. Full of hope and courage, this is her story in her own words.

My thoughts: I feel this book is well written and engaging. It tells the story of Selma van de Perre and her experiences during the 2nd World War living in the Netherlands with her family. When they all end up in different directions, leaving Selma the last one, she has to figure out the best way to avoid being picked up by the Nazis. She changes her name and her look to seem non-Jewish, becoming Margareta van der Kuit, and blonde too.

If you are a reader of this type of book, as I am, you may want to check this one out. This book comes out May 11th. This is my second book about women resistance fighters in the last few months. They sure are some very brave ladies with some harrowing stories to tell. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Selma van de Perre, and the publisher.

My Name is Selma

Publisher: Scribner – 224 pages
Publication: May 11th, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS

About the author– Selma van de Perre was a member of the Dutch resistance organization TD Group during World War II. Shortly after the war she moved to London, where she worked for the BBC and met her future husband, the Belgian journalist Hugo van de Perre. For a number of years she also worked as foreign correspondent for a Dutch television station. In 1983 Selma van de Perre received the Dutch Resistance Commemoration Cross. She lives in London and has a son.

Mini Book Review ~ CRIME TIME

Crime Time: Twenty True Tales of Murder, Madness and Mayhem

by J. North Conway

CRIME TIME is a collection of 20 riveting, page-turning historic true crime stories from 1724 to 1913 covering a host of monstrous American and English criminals, their crimes and their punishment. It includes stories of criminals— men, women and children, whose gruesome tales have been obscured by the passage of time.

My Thoughts: This is collection of true crime stories about American and English lawbreakers this time. There is a short story about each one, telling about what their crime was and what their punishment consisted of. This is my first book by this author, and I found it to be decently written for this type of subject. I’ll be checking out some of his other titles in the future. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author J. North Conway, and the publisher.

Crime Time

Publisher: Lyons Press – 240 pages
Publication: Apr 23rd, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Jack Conway (J. North Conway) is the author of a dozen nonfiction books from a variety of publishers including, William Morrow, Lyons Press, Globe Pequot, History Press, Arcadia and Skyhorse. Queen of Thieves, published by Skyhorse in 2014 has been optioned as a television series by Gaumont Pictures, USA. The Big Policeman, published by Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, in 2010 was optioned by Carl Beverly at CBS television for a series. And King of Heists, also published by Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, in 2009, was chosen as one of the top five books of the summer of 2009 by Readers’ Digest and it has been optioned four times, twice by Black Bear and twice by Jeremy Renner’s Combine. Although these are all still under option agreements, no principal photography has taken place on any of the projects.

Conway is also the author of, New England Rocks, by History Press (2017); Attack of the HMS Nimrod: Wareham and the War of 1812, History Press, (2014); The Cape Cod Canal: Breaking Through the Bared and Bended Arm, by History Press (2008); Shipwrecks of New England (2000), New England Visionaries (1998) and New England Women of Substance (1996) all published by Covered Bridge Press; American Literacy: Fifty Books That Define Our Culture and Ourselves published in 1994 by William Morrow and From Coup to Nuts: A Revolutionary Cookbook published in 1987 by Quinlan Press.
He lives in Assonet, MA.


The Child in the Electric Chair: The Execution of George Junius Stinney Jr and the making of a Tragedy in the American South

by Eli Faber and Carol Berkitt

At 7:30 a.m. on June 16, 1944, George Junius Stinney Jr. was escorted by four guards to the death chamber. Wearing socks but no shoes, the 14-year-old Black boy walked with his Bible tucked under his arm. The guards strapped his slight, five-foot-one-inch frame into the electric chair. His small size made it difficult to affix the electrode to his right leg and the face mask, which was clearly too large, fell to the floor when the executioner flipped the switch. That day, George Stinney became, and today remains, the youngest person executed in the United States during the twentieth century.

How was it possible, even in Jim Crow South Carolina, for a child to be convicted, sentenced to death, and executed based on circumstantial evidence in a trial that lasted only a few hours? Through extensive archival research and interviews with Stinney’s contemporaries—men and women alive today who still carry distinctive memories of the events that rocked the small town of Alcolu and the entire state—Eli Faber pieces together the chain of events that led to this tragic injustice.

The first book to fully explore the events leading to Stinney’s death, The Child in the Electric Chair offers a compelling narrative with a meticulously researched analysis of the world in which Stinney lived—the era of lynching, segregation, and racist assumptions about Black Americans. Faber explains how a systemically racist system, paired with the personal ambitions of powerful individuals, turned a blind eye to human decency and one of the basic enets of the American legal system that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.

As society continues to grapple with the legacies of racial injustice, the story of George Stinney remains one that can teach us lessons about our collective past and present. By ably placing the Stinney case into a larger context, Faber reveals how this case is not just a travesty of justice locked in the era of the Jim Crow South but rather one that continues to resonate in our own time.

A foreword is provided by Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History Emerita at Baruch College at the City University of New York and author of several books including Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant.

My thoughts: This is a very good book on this subject, which is rather timely at the moment, with a trial for former policeman Derek Chauvin just beginning in the killing of George Floyd. Sadly, its a very hot topic in our country, and has been for several years now, with many other killings of young black men by police officers that have happened.

The author gives a thorough recounting of the event, the times, and what was going on by interviewing people connected with the incident. There were just no newspaper stories on the killing at the time to get information from. Advance electronic review copy was provided by Edelweiss, authors Eli Faber and Carol Berkitt, and the publisher.

The Child in the Electric Chair

Publisher: University of South Carolina Press – 176 pages
Publication: Jun 25th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Eli Faber (1943–2020) was professor of history and dean of undergraduate studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York when he retired in 2010. He was the author of A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654–1820 and Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight.

Book Review ~ SHE KILLS ME

She Kills Me: True Stories of History’s Deadliest Women

by Jennifer Wright

A powerful collection of stories about women who murdered—for revenge, for love, and even for pleasure—rife with historical details that will have any true crime junkie on the edge of their seat

In every tragic story, men are expected to be the killers. There are countless studies and works of art made about male violence. However, when women are featured in stories about murder, they are rarely portrayed as predators. They’re the prey. This common dynamic is one of the reasons that women are so enthralled by female murderers. They do the things that women aren’t supposed to do and live the lives that women aren’t supposed to want: lives that are impulsive and angry and messy and inconvenient. Maybe we feel bad about loving them, but we eat it up just the same. Residing squarely in the middle of a Venn diagram of feminism and true crime, She Kills Me tells the story of 40 women who murdered out of necessity, fear, revenge, and even for pleasure.

My thoughts: This is an interesting collection of short stories about women who killed throughout history. I’ve read similar books like this, but this has more women I’d never heard of, along with those that are more common. I enjoyed reading about the women who are new to me, along with those I’ve read about previously. This book seemed less dry to me than similar types of books as I got into it. There are some really evil psychopaths among these women, and they kill in a multitude of methods. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Jennifer Wright, and the publisher.

She Kills Me

Publisher: Abrams Image – 176 pages
Publication: Sep 14th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Jennifer Wright is the political editor at large for, as well as a regular contributor to the New York Post, reporting on millennial issues. She has written for many publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post,McSweeny’s, The New Yorker, and Glamour.


We Share the Same Sky: A Memoir of Memory & Migration

by Rachael Cerrotti

In 2009, Rachael Cerrotti, a college student pursuing a career in photojournalism, asked her grandmother, Hana, if she could record her story. Rachael knew that her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and the only one in her family alive at the end of the war. Rachael also knew that she survived because of the kindness of strangers. It wasn’t a secret. Hana spoke about her history publicly and regularly. But, Rachael wanted to document it as only a granddaughter could. So, that’s what they did: Hana talked and Rachael wrote.

Upon Hana’s passing in 2010, Rachael discovered an incredible archive of her life. There were preserved albums and hundreds of photographs dating back to the 1920s. There were letters waiting to be translated, journals, diaries, deportation and immigration papers as well as creative writings from various stages of Hana’s life.

Rachael digitized and organized it all, plucking it from the past and placing it into her present. Then, she began retracing her grandmother’s story, following her through Central Europe, Scandinavia, and across the United States. She tracked down the descendants of those who helped save her grandmother’s life during the war. Rachael went in pursuit of her grandmother’s memory to explore how the retelling of family stories becomes the history itself.

We Share the Same Sky weaves together the stories of these two young women — Hana as a refugee who remains one step ahead of the Nazis at every turn, and Rachael, whose insatiable curiosity to touch the past guides her into the lives of countless strangers, bringing her love and tragic loss. Throughout the course of her twenties, Hana’s history becomes a guidebook for Rachael in how to live a life empowered by grief.

My thoughts: This is a well written story about the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who decides to write her grandmother’s story. But she also goes one better and retraces her footsteps by going to Europe and visiting all of the same places her grandmother went during and after the war. It;s such a touching thing to do in her grandmother’s memory, and really makes the whole thing come together. I couldn’t get enough of this book, it shared so much of Hana’s original journey. The author even looked up the families of the people who had helped Hana during the war, to keep her safe and well. I think it’s a wonderful book, very readable. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Rachael Cerrotti, and the publisher.

We Share The Same Sky

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing – 250 pages
Publication: Aug 17th , 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS

About the Author– Rachael Cerrotti is an award-winning photographer, writer, educator and producer whose work has been featured on NPR, PRIs The World, WBUR, WGBH, as well as taught in classrooms worldwide. In 2019, she produced a podcast (also titled We Share the Same Sky) about her grandmother’s war story for USC Shoah Foundation, which was listed as one of the best podcasts of 2019 by HuffPost and as a Show We Love by Apple Podcasts. Rachael is currently based in her hometown of Boston. Learn more at and