Eugenie Mahhotina Litvinova, aka Jevgenia, 1877-1956. She danced at the Mariinsky Theater from 1895 until 1913 when her husband was assigned to Reval (now called Tallinn). Most of the leading ballet artists during early years of Estonian ballet came from her studio.

Estonia’s Independence Day is celebrated on February 24. Special events are scheduled throughout this centennial year. Photo:

Shurik’s wife Johanna Maria, aka Inna, c. 1944, at their home on Roopa Street, Tallinn. She studied ballet under former Mariinsky Theater ballerina Eugenie Litvinova. Her dream to become a ballerina/choreographer was shattered by her parents’ vehement opposition.

A section of Mariinsky Theater. Photographer: A. Savin, 2012,

Arsonists Charles Smith, aka Charlie Applegate, and Tonya Bundick. Tonya burned her grandmother’s house so that her sister couldn’t have it. Police photos

Jason Chin’s books for youngsters are entertaining and educational. His latest book is Grand Canyon, Roaring Brook Press, for ages 7 to 12.

Mary Rose Tudor, 1496-1533, sister of Henry VIII, oil on panel by Michel Sittow, c. 1514, from Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe by John Oliver Hand and Greta Koppel, Yale University Press, publication date February 20, 2018.


Pick of the Month, February 2018



Death in St. Petersburg by Tasha Alexander, Minotaur Books, $25.99

In January 1900, ballerina Irina Semenova Nemetseva, wearing the costume of Swan Queen, is found stabbed to death in the snow outside of Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Lady Emily Hargreaves, who had joined her husband Colin in Russia where he is on covert assignment for the British government, comes upon the crime scene as she leaves the theater and notices a Fabergé egg belonging to Tsarina Alexandra beneath the body.

Since Lady Emily, aka Kallista, has a reputation as an investigator, Prince Vasilii asks her help to solve the murder. He has little faith in the local police and wants to keep his relationship with Irina a secret since dancers are not considered acceptable companions for aristocrats. Lady Emily’s search for answers leads to the overlapping worlds of ballerinas, revolutionaries, and royalty. She focuses on Ekaterina Petrovna Sokolova, the victim’s best friend and her understudy, who had the most to gain from the death. Her investigation is complicated by sightings of a ballerina believed by many to be Irina’s ghost, another murder, and an assassination plot against Tsar Nikolai II.

This 12th mystery in the Lady Emily series is an immensely enjoyable and extensively researched read with engaging characters. It is told from POV of Lady Emily and Ekaterina.  Alexander’s handling of the split narrative/flashback is excellent. While the major characters are fictional, several minor ones, such as the Tsar and choreographer Marius Petipa, were real. Inspiration for this novel came from Alexander’s years of studying ballet under Marie Buczkowski in South Bend, Indiana. Buczkowski had studied under prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenska whose many famous students included Margot Fonteyn.


American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse, Liveright Publishing, $26.95

The arsonist first struck on November 12, 2012 and over the next five months set 85 more fires. It was the biggest crime wave ever in Accomack County, which is located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Previously graffiti that viciously targeted one couple was the main crime, and it stopped right after the fires started. While most of the damage was done to abandoned buildings, the arsonist also destroyed landmarks, churches, and homes of migrant workers, leaving them no place to stay. One woman lost all of her possessions, and a single father came home in time to put out the fire at his house. People felt terrified and began to suspect their neighbors since the arsonist had to be a local.

Arsonists are usually males with below average IQ. A disproportionally high percentage of them are addicts or schizophrenics. In this case, the profile was partially correct. The mastermind was Tonya Bundick, a single mother with two African-American sons who caused conflict with neighbors. She was an unconventional person whose quirks included addiction to tanning salons, which she used beyond the maximum allowed to obtain her orangey look, and showing up at her favorite bar at least once wearing only a bra, panties, and garter belt. She recruited Charles R. Smith III, aka Charlie Applegate, a former volunteer firefighter with a history of drug abuse, as an accomplice in spray-painting graffiti and setting fires. She was vindictive and remorseless, seeking revenge even for the minor or imagined slights. In contrast, Charlie felt remorse and said his motive was his love for Tonya and his impotence.

Hesse describes the lives of these two losers; the toll the crime spree took on the community that was struggling economically; the extensive investigation to catch them, which involved the FBI and a vigilante group; and the trials that followed. It is a fascinating read for true crime fans. Hesse is a feature writer for The Washington Post and finalist for a Livingston Award and a James Beard Award.


Coral Reefs by Jason Chin, Roaring Brook Press, $16.95, ages 5 to 9

A young girl scans the books in a library and chooses one about coral reefs. Imagining herself exploring the reef, she learns that corals may look like plants but are actually animals. Over hundreds of years they have formed a living mountain called the coral reef that is home to thousands of plants and animals. Myriads of relationships exist between the dwellers of these “cities of the sea,” making the coral reef a complex ecosystem. In the afterword, Chin includes additional information and offers suggestions such as the importance of conserving water and reducing the number of things we buy. Coral Reefs is an wonderful book illustrated with cheerful watercolors that will inspire interests in the reefs and their preservation.


Specialty/Small Press

EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing was established in 2000 in Canada. Their titles include Forbidden Cargo by Rebecca K. Rowe and The Rosetta Man by Claire McCague.


Author submissions: They accept science fiction and fantasy novels from all over the world that are between 75,000 and 100,000 words. No erotica or poetry, and no multiple submissions. For submission guidelines, which are lengthy and differ from most other publishers, see


Winners and Losers


  1. Sgt. Aaron Thompson of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Utah. Sgt. Thompson was the first on the scene when 8-year-old Jason fell through the ice on a pond. Refusing to wait until assistance arrived, he punched through the ice. When he finally found Jason, he was numb and had to struggle to pull the boy out. Jason was unresponsive but survived because of Sgt. Thompson’s quick and heroic action. The incident happened on Christmas Day, and Jason’s father called it a Christmas miracle.

  2. Investigative reporters Mark Alesia, Marisa Kwiatkowski, and Tim Evans, The Indianapolis Star, Indiana. Their piece “Out of Balance” in 2016 started the downfall of Dr. Larry Nassar, inspiring Rachael Denhollander to contact these reporters - the first woman to publicly accuse the doctor of molesting her. The newspaper has continued to investigate Nassar’s decades-long abuse of young female gymnasts and expose his enablers.

  3. Shane Missler, 20, Florida. He won in January the $451 million lotto, the fourth largest jackpot.

  4. Leonardo de Vinci’s painting of Jesus Christ as “Salvator Mundi,” Latin for “Savior of the World,” c. 1500. The painting sold for record $450.3 million in November, by far the highest price ever paid at an auction for a work of art.

  5. The fifth and sixth graders at Community Christian School in Fort Dodge, Iowa. These students started an effective paper recycling program at school and plan to expand it.

  6. Tennis player Roger Federer, 36, Switzerland. He won the Australian Open on January 28 in five sets over Marin Cilic.


  1. Former USA Gymnastics national team osteopathic physician Lawrence “Larry” Nassar, 54, father of three daughters, Michigan. At his sexual assault trial, 156 women and girls gave victim impact statements. His victims included Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Kyle Stephens, and many more, and his actions are blamed for at least one suicide. He was sentenced on January 24 to 40 to 175 years. In a separate case, he was sentenced to 60 years in 2017 on federal child porn charges.

  2. Former Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon, 69. She resigned after criticism grew of her role in the Dr. Larry Nassar case and Michigan House of Representatives approved a resolution asking that she be fired. Allegedly several officials at MSU had covered up for Nassar. Previously Simon made national news regarding the MSU shoelace caper that led to jokes about her and the school. This happened in October when a student reported a noose on the handle of a stairway door in her dorm. Reportedly this caused a “racial uproar.” Police investigation ensued. Simon was quoted calling it a “racial incident,” claiming  she became “distressed,” and praising the student for her “courage.” The investigation, however, revealed that there was no noose, only a packaged shoelace that one student had lost and another had found and hung on the handle.

  3. David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, California. The Turpins’ treatment of their 13 children reads like a horror story. The children were starved, chained, and tormented while the dogs were well-fed. These monsters were arrested after their brave 17-year old daughter escaped, something she and her siblings had planned for two years. They face numerous charges that include torture, false imprisonment, and lewd act on a child.

  4. Christian Michael Garcia, 25, California. He was arrested on January 25 in connection with arson and vandalism, including extensive spray-painting of churches in Los Angeles and surrounding area. He is held on $75,000 bail.

  5. Hawaii State Emergency Management Agency. One of the agency’s employees pushed the wrong button on January 13 and sent out a false alert of a ballistic missile headed for the state, causing panic on the islands. It took 38 minutes to send a correction. The head of the agency, Vern Miyagi, resigned; and the unnamed employee, who had previous performance issues, lost his job.

  6. Mexico and Pakistan. Forbes list of ranking countries by the number of Americans killed puts Mexico at #1 with a whopping 598 killed between 2009 and 2011. When comparing American visitors killed per capita, Pakistan is #1, followed by Thailand, Philippines, Haiti, and Honduras. The State Department has issued warnings regarding travel to these countries.

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