Book Review: Ivan and Misha, by Michael Alyenikov

[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]

Michael Alyenikov’s Ivan and Misha is a beautiful book of short stories,  seven all told, if the prologue and epilogue are counted, that are loosely centered around the title characters. What really ties them together though are the variety of passionate, intense characters, and the author’s amazing descriptive writing.

Ivan and Misha are two Russian fraternal twins who emigrate to America with lots of emotional baggage. Their beautiful mother died when they were very young, and neither they nor their father—a doctor of amazing charm and personality, and a penchant for big stories, and dreams he never pursues—have got over her. She reappears over and over through the stories, the stuff of dreams and sad memories.

As intensely as they remember their mother, so do Ivan and Misha love–in a very conflicted way—their father. He brought them to America for a better life, and he too appears and reappears. He is the charming big talker of their childhood, he is the old man deteriorating before their eyes, he is the vessel of ashes that they and his best friends reverently scatter from the Staten Island Ferry.

Both gay, early on in the AIDS epidemic, Ivan and Misha maintain the same conflicted yet loving intensity with their romantic partners. Misha, the more stable of the two, seems to have longer relationships, with only two partners mentioned. Ivan, more mercurial, bounces from partner to partner, aching with love for one only to have him slip away and go home without a word. All the relationships though seem transitory: Even Smith, Misha’s current partner, anguishes over staying or going, loving or not loving. He even tries a one-time stand, but halfway through realizes he loves Misha, dresses, and leaves.

Bruce Roberts is a poet and ongoing contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine. Roberts may be reached by at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net.

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Book Review: Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, by Jeremy Cowan

[Reviewed by Dave Douglas]

There is plenty of shmaltz in Jeremy Cohen’s book, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah. Enough so for everyone who is anyone (or not), to go a’round of beer, from the front cover (charge), to the back. The atmosphere in his shtick is fluid throughout. From his seedling of an idea, to hopping from one coast to another, and brewing his dream so we can taste what Cowen delivers as a picture of the bitterness of business to the Jewbelation of success, all with an ongoing buzz of humor.

Not only is his book entertaining, but as Cowen labeled it himself, “… who doesn’t love the story of a small business, a sole proprietor trying to make it happen? And free booze!” And this book is no side-show to be tossed aside or re-gifted to the other end of the bar. There are bold, real-life, hard-to-swallow business lessons which grant his book the entrance into any university library. One big ingredient of his formula is, “… until you’re already a success, nobody else is going to make you a success.” It is that type of shtick which enables Cowen to pour out his transparency about his personal life as well – the part which provides a view into the passion for his beer which comes to a head on the printed page.

As Cowen states, “Remember the three pillars of shmaltz … quality, commitment, shtick.” And, he has them all in this well-balanced, full-flavored read, which will prompt you to ask for a second-coming! Shmaltz Brewing Company is “THE CHOSEN BEER”, and Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is THE CHOSEN BOOK!

You can contact the reviewer, Dave Douglas, at carpevelo@gmail.com.