Biography & Autobiography
Managing Bubbie
Russel Lazega

The author's grandmother was a "true Miami Beach Jewish bubbie" who admonished the new college student author to write about her life story: something that he ignored at the time, but which would come back to haunt him ten years later. 

Managing Bubbie may be the result of a direct order, but there's nothing compelling readers to pick it up - nothing but the promise of a hilarious, fun read about a cantankerous, determined, warm achiever who brought her children to a new world and raised them well. 

Her name was once Lea, not 'bubbie'. Once, she came to a country her Polish parents had visited and left. Once, she changed worlds. And in Lazega's world, family interactions swirl around her outrageous statements and their equally ribald results: "Family brunch can be an exercise in comparative misery. Distant relatives twelve times removed travel from far up the street to relive old wrongs and resurrect fights long forgotten. They stop for fish and a few short words, quibble over quiz shows and return to their worlds full from the day and the morning’s quarrels. I guess it’s a brief break from the South’s summer heat, which blisters and boils, festering new waves of old complaints." 

Family memoirs permeate the biography and autobiography markets. There are Jewish brunches galore; there are much-celebrated, fun family characters who enjoy the limelight on the written page as much as they did at the head of the family table. They will live forever in the former position - as does Bubbie, here, in Managing Bubbie

Conversations between Bubbie and family members are juxtaposed with biographical reviews of her life events and create an especially satisfying story line that moves neatly between the two approaches and rounds out events with personal perspective: something many stories fail to achieve in their drive to choose one approach (third-person story-telling) over another (first-person experience). 

From imprisonment to freedom, the rise of fascism in Europe and a great escape, Bubbie's life is always the center of action and activity, offering trials, challenges, hope, and keen, penetrating observations. 

In the end it's the personal voices of not just Bubbie but the author which blend to create a powerful tribute to a powerful woman: one whom readers, too, will come to care for: "So many people—even strangers—opened their homes for us, brought us food vhen ve vere hungry. Today you don’t open your door for nobody—they kill you. I don’t know. Maybe—ve needed each other more back then. Ya, it vas different then." 

The author's response captures, exactly, which this story reaches out so much more powerfully than one might expect from a biography of one's grandmother: "If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’s nostalgic for the bad old days—like she longs for a simpler time when everybody knew exactly why they were all killing each other. Or maybe, it’s just as plain as the notion that shared struggle is still something shared." 

Any who want to be moved by their biographical reading; to feel part of a family circle and part of past and present Jewish worlds abroad and in America, will find Managing Bubbie a powerful experience.

Managing Bubbie

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While God Slept
Emily Kemp
9781311536747     $9.99
From Amazon as hardcopy or for Kindle for $14.99 
ISBN-13: 978-1506165875
Note: Also available from Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble (for Nook), Flipkart, Kobo, OverDrive, Oyster, and Scribd.

While God slept, a little girl grew up in a chaotic family environment. While he slept, she became a whore. And as he continued sleeping, she somehow kept on growing. This book is Emily Kemp's memoir of that process, and its appearance at a time when a virtual storm of similar memoirs are hitting the market only serves to show how wide-ranging and familiar is the story of a child surviving a badly broken home.

It's the movement from 'broken' to 'mostly happy' which is the draw, here - this, and Kemp's astute observations of life. While God Slept is all about movement, circumstance, and choice; and while it's a difficult read in many ways, the author's vision is unique, realistic and penetrating even when she's handling her 'clients': "
It was hard for me to imagine Floyd being sensitive to his wife’s feelings. He’d aggressively insulted me and didn’t appear to give a shit. I had pretended his sick perversion was normal, and as a successful sex worker I was a decent actress, but I couldn’t believe he thought I was sincere. My background was in therapy; I had a master’s degree in counseling. All of my former training had apparently turned me into a person who could hear just about anything and maintain a pleasant smile. My single act of interpersonal rebellion was that I stopped nodding in encouragement while he spoke. I wanted to win karmic points for being compassionate but I wanted Floyd to hate himself…" 

More so than most such memoirs, it's more about the adult navigating an equally-chaotic world than the child surviving to reach adulthood - and this sets While God Slept apart from so many similar-sounding stories. 

On the face of it, the memoir centers on Kemp's job as a sex worker and her observations of clientele and herself. Drugs, sex, and perversions are part of the process, so if it's a memoir focusing on the child's experience which is desired - look elsewhere. There's swearing, ribald circumstances, sordid details - and an attention to exploring the underbelly of the sex industry. 

Sometimes that hits frighteningly close to home. Sometimes the reader feels the author's pain and never-ending violations are just too much. 

But that's the point: while god slept, things happened. They continue to happen. Such is Kemp's life and the world she lives in. This read will drag you in, walk the streets with you, and presents a world relatively few know about. In the end, you'll feel like that's a blessing - especially as the author seems to emerge a stronger woman than she began. Is there hope after all? Read While God Slept to find out…but don't expect sugar and spice or even happy endings. It's more like salsa and sorrow. 

While God Slept

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Willows Weeping
Ella Reigns
Publication Date: April 2015 

What usually takes chapters to tell is narrated quickly in a few swift, poignant paragraphs in the opening of Willows Weeping: a father betrayed, a mother abused, the kids in foster care. So it's evident that the crux of this story doesn't assume the usual path of focusing just on these very early events, but chooses to place its focus over an entire timeline of experience. 

As the confusion of foster care and the specter of several caregivers emerges, family relationships and interactions are explored - and always with a first-person emphasis on the effects and perceptions of this confusion on the child/protagonist. Events unfold in a whirlwind of fast-forward action: new neighbors, a sexually abusive (female) neighbor and her stepfather, a return to an alcoholic household, and further confusion. 

In many ways the author's early years, as narrated here, reflect this whirlwind of angst as she absorbs what she can, makes uncertain sense of questionable situations, and sets her psychological timer on 'survival' mode. It's autobiography in its true sense of the form because it's evident that as she narrates the memories of her youth and its ups and downs, so are experiences relived for reader and writer alike. 

Juxtaposed with the abusive situations are a loving grandmother who lives next door and whose warm, bakery-filled kitchen offers comfort and "a safe place to escape to when things got hectic in our home". 

As Reigns faces her mother's hospitalization and the challenge of keeping up appearances to the outside world while surviving an unsupportive, often dangerous home life, she finds herself longing for more: "They never cared about the stresses I had to face every day, on top of taking care of things at home. I didn't want to be the oldest any more. I just wanted to be a normal kidmy parents were a nightmare, my brother was a pain, and I was a hormonal teenage girl stuck in a family that I couldn't believe was really mine." 

With a mother good at 'making big scenes' and a failed family counseling session that pinpoints the source of the problems as the parents and not the author, things go from bad to worse. 

The evolutionary nature of abuse is a strong thread that links the scenes and struggles presented in Willows Weeping. Situations don't magically resolve as the author ages: they become more complex as she begins to understand the psychology of blame, abuse, and the cycles of responses it presents between generations. 'Unsupportive' doesn't begin to describe the levels of pain the author experiences not just from extended family, but from her own father and mother.

And the sexual abuse continues: it's as though she's a magnet for predators, as her own father becomes involved. Even as she realizes "My parents were great at enabling each other." (an epiphany many books on the subject don't clearly outline), Reigns also comes to acknowledge other truths about her life. 

And the image of the weeping willow? That, too, is passed down between generations as the family moves to a duplex with her mother's favorite tree in its front yard, and Reigns acknowledges "Since my mother was always weeping, I guess it only made sense that the tree represented what was inside of our home. I had grown up with my very own Weeping Willow, my mother.  The tree went through the four seasons of change, just as my mother's mental instability went through the cycles of her illness.

Half the book focuses on this soul-stifling childhood. The other half sparkles with hope as Reigns comes into her own: "Just because my mother couldn't survive on her own, didn't mean that I couldn't. I was going to prove it could be done." 

The end result is a wrenching, powerful personal reflection of past, present and future, documenting the survival process in a manner that will be familiar and inspiring to any who come from a stifling, unsupportive family in search of achievement and success. 
The essence of a life well lived against all odds is what makes Willows Weeping an ultimate success story.
Willows Weeping

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Playing to Win in Business
Shirley A. Weis
Towanda LLC
11445 E. Via Linda, Suite 2492, Scottsdale, AZ 85259-2638
9780986306600    $17.95 

It's rare to see a business book from a woman who moved into corporate circles from the lower rungs of the ladder and built a successful career; much less in an organization that became one of the most famous in the world: the Mayo Clinic. But Shirley A. Weis did just that, moving from a nursing job to the boardroom and then to a respected senior leader role in one of the most politically-changed atmospheres in the country. Her principles for winning business games to move up the ladder thus come not from ideals, but from tested principles developed 'in the field', and offer concrete experiences that teach women how to thrive in the cutthroat business world. 

There are many unwritten rules in this environment: actions and interplays that typically lock women out of higher echelons and reserve big-stakes rewards for men. While some books would maintain that higher levels are unobtainable, Weis is proof that this can be done - and done well, while managing a family. 

Speaking of 'management', the book also tells how to interact with males on the same playing ground as a manager, and how to gain respect during the process even while being part of a dual-career couple. 

This is not to say that Playing to Win is filled with professional detachment: far from it. Weis adds an element of personal experience and autobiography throughout, teaching how to reassess skills to improve one's game, how to confront common challenges in a manner that lends to positive change and results, and how to understand not just the rules of the business game, but the nature of how it's played. 

The goal is increased success, to be sure - but it's also respect. Thus, Playing to Win in Business represents Book One of the 'Just Respect for Women' series, and serves up powerful tools for change. No aspiring female business leader should be without this!

Playing to Win in Business

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Fantasy & Sci Fi

Daemon Seer
Mary Maddox
Cantraip Press

2317 Saratoga Place, Charleston, IL 61920
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9844281-7-5    $13.99
E-book ISBN: 978-0-9844281-8-2          $2.99
Purchase link:
Author website: 

It seemed like a miracle when two teens escaped the clutches of a sadistic killer, but 'miracle' was only partially involved: so, too, was the daemon who saved their lives. 

Fast forward ten years and not only is the threat back (in the form of another killer -what are the chances of that?), but a flurry of supernatural beings have arrived: daemons who want to claim Lu as their own. The problem is, Lu is already 'owned' by the daemon Talion - and now it's time for the ceremony that will make that relationship official, even if Lu is totally against it, cognizant of the misery the women in her family have suffered in daemon relationships over the years: "I stopped a sarcastic comeback from forming in my mind, but he knew it anyway. Darkness twisted in his molten eyes. Pain flowered inside me. Its roots clutched my guts and unfurled until they claimed every muscle, bone, and nerve. My body exploded in agony. I knelt in the grass, bent over, my mouth gaping. The pain stopped as suddenly as it came but left me weak. I stayed on my knees." 

Horror and fantasy blend in a story line that includes supernatural daemons, evil humans, a complex female relationship forged in strife and bound by mutual support and respect, and more. 

Here is the stuff that superior horror is made of, with more than a dose of fantasy thrown in to capture audiences outside of the usual horror circles. They are stories of bonds forged and broken, heritage challenged, human killers encountered and fought, and the costs of love, marriage, and bondage. 

Here, also, are gifts that come with consequences, ribald language (be forewarned), psychos and killers (both human and not), attempted rape, and scenarios where the perceived good guys become bad. So, if it's an engrossing saga of ownership, possession, and change that is desired in a fantasy that fuels its passions with overtones of horror, then Daemon Seer is the item of choice. 

Daemon Seer is anything but predictable, and holding a dash of violence, it's compelling. And if prior fans of Mary Maddox recognize the characters from Talion (which followed the two girls' original encounters with demons and psychos alike), be advised that this is not so much a sequel as the beginning of a new adventure, and thus is presented as Book One of a projected series. 

Daemon Seer

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Mission Veritas
John Murphy
Booktrope Editions
978-1620156957            $18.95 Paperback    $4.99 Kindle 

How do you take control of a planet without violence? By advocating peace. The only problem is: when you kill in the name of peace, someone will know. And even if that person is only a teenager, he holds the potential for bringing the whole system down. 

Vaughn is such a teen and harbors such a personal knowledge: his parents were killed by the Carthenogens; the very aliens who came in peace. He's been a rebel in Thailand ever since. And now things are about to change yet again as their real intentions are revealed and mass murders take place. 

Too bad that they now control the media, so no reports are getting through. Too bad that they now control the military, so there's no resistance. Too bad they missed Vaughn and other survivors, who embark on what amounts to Earth's last attempt at freedom. 

Mission Veritas is a riveting blend of military fiction and space invader drama, and while the main protagonist is a teenager, to call this 'young adult' reading or limit its audience to teens would be wrong on so many levels. Adults will find it equally captivating; especially as action involves Vaughn's entry into an elite group of resisters known as Black Saber, who train their members on a rugged planet, Veritas, where secrets are hard to keep. 

Action swirls around interpersonal relationships and conflict as Vaughn finds himself just one more teen candidate in a world where rebellion is a given and talents are vigorously tested. 

Despite the introductory facts of aliens consuming Earth, all the action takes place on Veritas. It's a combat mission with a purpose, and does not disappoint in either its pace, plot, or character development. 

Purposes are clearly stated and a somewhat unusual training ground off-Earth becomes a logical choice clearly explained and explored: "Veritas—the Roman goddess of truth. The planet on which you are about to carry out your qualifying mission is earthlike, spectacularly beautiful, rugged—and deadly. The atmosphere is breathable. However, it will make you light-headed and sleepy, and it will lower your inhibitions. You will speak what’s on your mind. You will reveal the truth.” 

Most 'military science fiction' is fairly one-dimensional when it comes to characterization: the fact that the protagonists in Mission Veritas are realistically presented makes its story line more absorbing than the majority of military sci-fi genre reads. 

How does a participant with a vested interest in hiding undertake a mission purported to reveal all? That's one of the central themes of Mission Veritas, and one that fuels the action as candidates discover the real truth behind Veritas during a mission that will provide readers with many action-packed and unexpected moments. 

Mission Veritas

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Rick Johnson
Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B00T0V3ZPM                 $3.99 

Book covers aren't typically mentioned in a book review unless they're outstanding, but Silversion's deserves this note. It's a standout illustration, portraying a city tucked beneath towering buttes, looking as though it floats on water. As if this picture for the third appearance of 'Wood Cow Chronicles' weren't draw enough, consider the plot, which involves dragons, Helga's ongoing rebellion, a mysterious new city that offers its own unique dangers, and the dilemma of a High One faced with impossible odds and foes. 

Now, Helga's a force to be reckoned with, and just one cog in the wheel of rebellion that is hard at work to overcome centuries of slavery and embedded patterns and attitudes. She never intended to be a revolutionary, never intended to be the spearhead of a juggernaut of revolt, and most of all, never intended to undertake an epic journey in the process. 

Sci-fi and fantasy readers who enjoy characters who fall into their roles instead of marching in will find much to appreciate as Helga makes her way through a world that not only is changed, but desperately needs changing. Sci-fi readers should also be advised that all the characters here are animals. Those who don't appreciate animal protagonists should simply look elsewhere for their entertainment. 

And, being Book Three, Silversion holds only a one-line mention of prior events. In order to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the setting that's been built, it's highly recommended that readers consult the prior books to get a thorough sense of the many, many protagonists who move through the Wood Cow world. 

Those with such affections and familiarity will find this latest book gripping: there's the usual attention to detail that paints an evocative image of the world of the Cows: "When bugles blew the call for the evening’s Roast Mess, sounding over the cliffs and crags surrounding the ancient fortress, the echoes seemed to die away faster than usual. It seemed as if the sound fled over the strange wilderness of great precipices and pinnacles, broken and split by long-ago earthquakes." 

That Johnson takes the time to portray these settings lends depth to the complexity that is Silversion, creating a rich atmosphere through which readers move as if on an epic quest alongside Helga, whose concerns become larger than her personal circle of interests. That the story is anything but predictable - and actually, quite complex in nature - is a tribute to using this time carefully, even adding in subtle doses of humor to some of the animal encounters: "I’ll decide what’s possible or not possible!” the Skull Buzzard scowled. “We can’t be too careful, you see—Frinnets are always a pack of trouble. Ever since that Weasel riled them all up some years back, it’s never been the same up there.” 

The stakes are truly high for every player here, from the High One to Helga's group. Lead by lunatics, rebels, and game-players, the battles are hard fought and feature unpredictable, uncommon heroes and villains - and that is yet another strength of the series. 

Legends are made under such conditions. Surely, the legend shaping Helga's Wood Cow world is one that fantasy readers will relish for its unusual flavors, atmosphere, and winding, well-detailed story line that compliment a beast of a story that creates an evocative 'you are there' world to immerse its readers: "There was merry-making that evening, such as the lonely river had never seen. Smoke from many fires, as beasts roasted Sweet Milk Honey Bread on sticks, and crunched baked crawdad. " 

In a genre replete with formula writing, it's difficult to say that a new arrival feels truly original; but Silversion is all this and more, and will delight fantasy fans looking for something different - beasts and all. 


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Zombies of Chronos
Tom Ciolli
Tom Ciolli, Publisher
978-1-4951-3424-1        $3.99
Ordering links:

 Zombies of Chronos is set in 2135, when inhabitants of the planet Chronos (described in previous adventures) have successfully closed the worm hole connecting their galaxy with another and thus liberated their world from the tyrannical Mining Syndicate, leaving them self-sufficient and isolated. 

But even though they're rebuilding their world, they're not free from threats elsewhere; including aliens of the future whose bodies, flash frozen during space battle, are reanimating with unusual modifications and dangerous abilities, forcing Zach's crew into yet another impossible series of confrontations. 

Familiarity with the prior Chronos books is recommended (but not absolutely essential) to absorbing the fast-paced  events in Zombies as the colony faces its greatest challenge yet: the specter of a seemingly-endless supply of reanimated soldiers with high-tech abilities. 

It also should be mentioned that readers should cultivate a sense of humor and an ability to pick up the tongue-in-cheek dances between protagonists along the way: an unexpected facet in a story that centers on a new breed of human telepaths on a planet riddled with problems. 

Ciolli's approach can best be categorized as 'military science fiction with a side dish of humor' - an unusual pairing in any sense of a genre read - and will appeal to followers of military science fiction who enjoy a dash of levity injected into scenes that would otherwise likely become overly steeped in serious confrontations and angst. 

Here is a military sci-fi plot that is satisfyingly unpredictable, punctuated with moments of levity and fun, and replete with witty descriptions of alien/human encounters, special abilities newly recognized, and time-traveling fiascos between telepaths who are facing a new breed of zombies sporting special abilities and a passion for biting off more than they can chew. 

Can Zack and his soldiers shut down the zombie invaders? There are costs in any impossible endeavor, and readers familiar with Zack's prior approaches and sacrifices will find Zombies a satisfying new adventure building upon further challenges and alien encounters.

Zombies of Chronos

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Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster: A My Guide
Rebecca Richmond
Richmond Pickering Ltd
RRP $19/£12

Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster: A My Guide offers a discussion of the pros and cons of stress (and, yes, ‘con’ is part of the process – which may prove a surprise to readers familiar with the numerous books on the market that advocate ‘banishing stress’ from one's life). 

Here, stress is regarded as something to recognize and manage; not something to eliminate – and that’s an important distinction between the approach of Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster and many of its competitors. 

The first prerequisite for successfully using this guide is (as with any self-help guide) a willingness to listen and learn. You’d think this would be self-explanatory and that any potential student of the subject would already have this part firmly in mind. But it’s amazing how many self-help readers are, in fact, looking for miracles on a platter in the form of a step-by-step program that requires a minimum of thought. Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster is not about quick pop psychology but lasting change. 

Chapters address issues of beliefs, values, and self-limiting processes that lead to feelings of entrapment and stalled objectives. They focus on how stress is created, examining the intersection between attitude, belief, and life events and pointing out common places where the process tends to stall. 

Visualization techniques, meditation, and self-inspection: all these tools are provided to novices who may not have considered applying them to stress management before: again, the prerequisite here is a willingness to venture beyond familiar territory. An added bonus is a chapter on ‘What You Can Expect to Experience’ – something most books assume prior familiarity with (and therefore leave out.) 

This isn’t just a general coverage. Common sources of stress –from breaking up a relationship to managing one’s time and money, recognizing one’s power to say ‘no’, and understanding the consequences and choices involved in taking action – are reviewed in chapters that document the process of assessment, prioritizing, and taking control. 

The all-encompassing chapters in Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster are quite wide-ranging, and so readers focused on emotional adjustment or recovery alone may be surprised to see such topics as personal money management in the mix. But keep in mind that these are common stress factors and, as such, are included to illustrate how diverse sources of stress can be mastered. 

From successful goal-setting to giving some reign to one’s unconscious mind and understanding the elements of success, Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster isn’t just about alleviating stressful conditions: it’s about creating techniques that utilize stress to better advantage. Its approach will delight any who want hands-on self-help insights. 

Master Stress: Tame Your Inner Monster: A My Guide

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Straight from the Gut: Battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Vivek Sardana
$14.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1497457003
Ordering link: 

Straight from the Gut: Battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease is not a 'how-to' book; nor is it pure autobiography. Instead, it straddles the line between the two as it chronicles the author's struggles with IBD, the many treatment options considered and tried, and their impact on his life. 

Other books on the subject of IBS or IBD provide one approach or another: they either are purely autobiographical and focus on one person's experience or path, or they adopt the tone of an informal medical guide as they survey traditional versus alternative treatment options fellow sufferers can consider. 

Vivek Sardana had a different purpose in mind: to use the progression of his disease and the choices it presented at each juncture as a pivot point for explaining anatomy, physiology, procedures, and the psychological challenges posed by each decision. 

From his disease's impact on his family, pleasures, work life and freedom to the involvement of his physicians in all aspect of his evolving health challenges, Straight from the Gut pulls no punches and makes no attempt to soften the blows of the progression of a chronic disease, but ultimately offers readers hope as Sardana repeatedly navigates the pros and cons of painful procedures and uncertain recoveries. 

Expect a series of powerful, explicit descriptions of bowel struggles that reach into daily life and demand adjustments, responses and life-changing decisions at every turn. Also expect a personal story that tempers its medical crises with the author's interest in his native India and his journeys there for personal connections and alternative treatments alike. Also, anticipate the author's respect for all of his medical providers, which blends with graphic accounts of surgical procedures and recovery processes. 

How does one live with a progressive, life-altering disease that constantly offers new twists and turns? How does one assess all medical possibilities and work with physicians to choose the best options? And how does one still maintain hope and a love of life against all the daily odds of a body-wracking illness? 

Straight from the Gut promises neither pat answers nor even a pain-free future for its author or readers, but simply holds out Sardana's experiences as an example of handling life's daily slings and arrows - even at their most extreme. It tenders hope and even a glimpse of attitude adjustment… and this, perhaps, is Sardana's greatest strength and the foundation of a work that stands out from the crowd as a reference recommended for any fighting IBS or IBD. 

Straight from the Gut: Battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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The Catacombs
Jeremy Bates
Ghillinnein Books
978-0-9937646-7-7    $13.95

Some books use different approaches to characterization as their 'hook' and others have a twist to their plot, but few sport the attraction of The Catacombs, a novel in 'The World's Scariest Places' series, set in the catacombs of Paris. Why should the setting be such a draw? Because in creating a story that revolves strongly upon a sense of place (and an unusual place, at that), it succeeds in making a horror story like none other. 

There really could be no better place for horror than the Catacombs, when you think about it: an ancient burial place for the dead, they hold antique mysteries and a foreboding reputation as "the world's largest grave". What better place to discover something rotten? What better locale in which to expose a video camera with mysterious footage; and what other option is there than to investigate? 

A group of lighthearted friends with a thirst for uncommon adventure decide to embark on some personal problem-solving of their own and find themselves (predictably) buried in more than they bargained for in The Catacombs

Up until now, everything's somewhat predictable. The horror stage is set: so what else is new? Plenty, even if you're a horror genre enthusiast. 

For one thing, the Catacombs are almost an initiation rite among this group: a place where former identities are set aside and new possibilities emerge: "In the catacombs, the above world does not exist. We do not speak of it. You are free of your old life, free to reinvent yourself any way you like. With that new identity comes a new name.” It's ritual at its best, it thrives on unpredictability and challenges, and it's about to get a lot more deadly than anyone in the group anticipated. 

The first-person story of growth and challenge fuels the underlying horror in The Catacombs: readers live every footstep, every decision, and every uncertainty in a gripping story that is hard to put down. The protagonist, a feisty female whose new moniker is 'Stork Girl', is anything but staid and retiring and drives a story replete with as many twists and turns as the Catacombs themselves hold. 

It's the 'you are there' feel that creates compelling tension throughout: "Look? she thought. Look where? It was permanent night, black everywhere…only it wasn't, not anymore. From an indeterminable distance away, a faint light appeared. Someone was coming." Readers don't just follow the story line; they are in the Catacombs right there with the protagonists, reliving the decisions and choices that come with exploring the unknown. 

It should be mentioned that action moves between the first-person and the more observational third-person tone: this could be confusing to readers used to a straightforward plot that features one or the other; but under Bates' hand, it makes sense. 

There's a fine line between the living and the dead, as this story evolves. With most horror reads, there's also a fine line between acceptance and plots that are too predictable. If it's one thing that can be said about The Catacombs, it's that the combination of a back-and-forth perspective that enhances overall events and a focus on action that is less than anticipated makes for a read that will delight horror fans who want their novels steeped in psychological suspense as well as action.

The Catacombs

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How To

Plot Fiction Like the Masters: Ian Fleming, Jane

Austen, Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Story-building

Terry Richard Bazes

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Publishers

259 Bear Ridge Road, Pleasantville NY 10570

ASIN: B00U6EC800   ISBN: 978-0-692-39956-9

The opening of Plot Fiction Like the Masters, a foreword written by Benjamin Cheever, holds both a surprise and a pointed observation of what is wrong with many a self-help writer's guide: "If many of the other How-To-Write-A-Book books were entitled How Not To Write A Book, we’d have a better world and better books as well." Instead of exploring the possibilities inherent in writing fiction, too many books focus on what not to do - to the point that the would-be author is left with a series of admonitions about common pitfalls and failings and not with the tools needed to actually produce viable writing. 

Plot Fiction Like the Masters is more of a nuts-and-bolts kind of approach to the process and focuses on what to do and how best to do it, offering a satisfyingly positive contrast to this approach and providing a toolkit of possibilities to authors who are just getting started in the fiction genre. 

So, what do Ian Fleming, Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh have in common (aside from being famous and acclaimed fiction writers)? Their styles and plots are quite different, but are here used as three specific, diverse examples of what can be done within the fictional framework to produce an exceptional piece. And it's through these pointers that budding authors really get a sense of what works, and why. 

What follows analyses the works and methods of these three writers and considers how they translate to effective devices and approaches a fiction writer might apply to their own works: "Those of us who make up stories might benefit by pausing to consider the dramatic purpose served by this moment of pain and uncertainty just before the lovers finally come to understand one another in the last pages of the novel." 

Part of the willingness to absorb the important messages herein will include an ability to see the value in an analytical approach that contrasts three very different authors' successful methods and considers how these, in turn, translate to one's own writing. Thus, readers who want a 'quick and dirty' toolset without any accompanying literary analysis might want to look elsewhere … but, that would be a shame. 

The power and persuasive approach presented in Plot Fiction Like the Masters can't really be transmitted without actually examining the work of said masters - and Terry Richard Bazes does so with a literary outlook that defines what makes a work of fiction a masterful standout in the realm of literary accomplishment: "The pyramidal pattern in each of these novels (the way their plots have been designed as a consecutive series of incidents that introduce a conflict, build it to a crisis and finally bring it to closure) should not be confused with the logical order of construction – the sequence of steps their creators took as they went about the process of improvising incidents and characters before assembling them in their final form. In other words, the order of incidents in a completed plot – arranged from the beginning to the end of the story -- is not necessarily the same as the order of their creation." 

So, would-be fiction writers should expect a guide far more detailed and complex than the usual 'how to' title - and far more valuable, as a result. It analyzes and contrasts its authors with a solid eye to considering what devices work in literary fiction, and why - and this makes it an invaluable resource indeed.

Plot Fiction Like the Masters: Ian Fleming, Jane Austen,Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Story-building

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Mystery & Thrillers

Booker - Streets of Mayhem
John W. Mefford
Sugar Hill Press
ASIN: B00R9W3SJM   $3.99

The setting is Texas, again, where a white supremacist group is wrecking mayhem on the city of Dallas, exploding a bus containing mostly children. 

Booker is a cop turned P.I. and has long been committed to solving the city's crimes, so this particularly heinous act of terrorism has him involved on a personal as well as a professional level - and the price to pay, if he can't track down the criminals, will change his world. 

There are many novels about terrorism these days, and many more about P.I. investigations. Combining the two approaches in a mystery/thriller format is nothing new either. What is new here, however, is the additional facet of a biracial cop in Dallas facing down bomb scares that threaten his family, decisions that lead to his getting bounced off the police force, and a series of questionable options that have him searching for the right path and the right thing to do at nearly every turn: and these facets are nearly as engrossing as the thriller itself. 

Issues of racism face him at every turn. Threats to his family escalate. And by presenting these scenes through Booker's eyes, a delicate, artistic approach evolves that perfectly captures his observations and psyche while delivering punches of surprise throughout: "Taking in a deep breath, I knew that drama could bring people closer or tear them apart. For the second time this week, I could feel myself drawn to my daughter’s gorgeous mama. The same woman who swore she never wanted to see my face again. The same woman I left at the altar." 

It's too rare to see the personal so deeply embedded in the political, and too rare that a P.I. or thriller format reaches out to embrace the life and motivations of the investigator himself. Many may make the effort. Few succeed. 

Booker - Streets of Mayhem stands out from the crowd primarily because of its approach to juxtaposing Booker's life with outside events and influences. Add scenes from the perp's perspective and psyche and you truly have a heady mix of viewpoints and clashing purposes. 

This first book in the new Booker investigative series does more than set the scene: it provides just the kind of spirited interplay of characters that leaves readers wanting more at the end. And, thankfully, there is more to come in the Booker stories. 

Booker - Streets of Mayhem

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Booker - Tap That
John W. Mefford
Sugar Hill Press
ASIN: B00TC1W24U     $4.97

 It's not terrorism; but it is murder. One moment Courtney wowed the public with her performance; the next moment, she's dead. 

And Booker is finally starting to relax and enjoy a relationship with Britney (a former fifth grade school teacher with an eye for style and culture) too, and is finally starting to relax after the series of events (described in Streets of Mayhem) that nearly led to the loss of his beloved daughter. 

In the community chaos that follows (and especially in the aftermath of another performer's murder, which proves that the first wasn't just about jilted love, or a one-time event) Booker finds himself hot on the trail of another perp: a very different beast who leads him out of town and into the heart of more personal confrontations where closely-held secrets and relationship challenges rock his world. 

One wonderful aspect of the Booker series is its gritty first-person observations which are candid, real, and absorbing: "I understood Britney’s intent, wanting to peel apart all of my layers, maybe work through some type of healing process on the ones that still touched sensitive nerves. But at age thirty-one, and seemingly in a good place in my life, I had no reason or desire to walk down a path of self-actualization.

A caveat: readers of crime fiction who seek pure entertainment will find this in droves in the Booker series; but it's psychological depth that sets it apart from competitors, and John W. Mefford takes time to create these psyches, weaving them into the course of events. If you're seeking one-dimensional thrillers or P.I. stories that focus more on the process of deduction than the interplay of characters, you're missing something in these books. 

The Booker series is about the perp, the investigation, and about the investigator: how he grows through the process, and his choices in both public and private life. It's the latter facet that keeps the story line not just moving, but barreling forward with involving action. 

Add in departmental politics which keep rearing ugly heads and facts and choices Booker must make for the greater good and you have a story line that sizzles not just with action, but with insight on underlying motivations of all its characters: "From my perspective, Sims was a walking red flag. How no one at Internal Affairs had caught on to his game was the greatest mystery of the twenty-first century. Months ago, when word spread about the internal investigation into drugs being stolen from the evidence room, relief hit me like a muscle relaxer. But in the end, they focused on just one cop—Felix. It was obvious Felix felt compelled to cover for Sims for a multitude of possible reasons. Who knows? Regardless, my newest tool and I were poised to capture this drug deal on a memory card. Then, I could finally take it to Henry in the DA’s office and watch that son of a bitch, Sims, roast like a gluttonous pig." 

Booker - Tap That isn't for the casual adventure reader. It's for the thriller/P.I. reader who wants more than a vivid plot, but expects the characters to match up with their action. Tap That does more than match plot with psychological tension: it excels in it, making it one of the top recommendations in the genre. 

Booker - Tap That

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Fatal Greed
John W. Mefford
Sugar Hill Press
ASIN: B00KP3TUQW     $3.99

Fatal Greed represents Book One of the 'Greed Series', a set of interconnected stories about an employee who primarily worries about the usual job-related threats of unemployment or handling corporate politics, until murder and subterfuge enter the picture and force him into assuming the role of a detective. 

Michael never wanted to turn investigator; never wanted a job that rocked his world: all he wanted to do was go to work and do his job well. That goal is about to be transformed by circumstances beyond his control - but, curiously, the story doesn't open with Michael or his job, but with the s/m sexual encounter of a girl who dreams of freedom even while trapped in a twisted partnership. 

The third-person story turns personal with usage of the first person fairly quickly as Michael faces the usual pressures of a fast-paced tech firm on the verge of moving to a higher level of productivity, only to discover that everything has changed virtually overnight when the company is bought out. So far, so predictable: but when Michael discovers a woman murdered and then goes home to find his neighbor arrested for her death, his life begins to change. 

Suddenly death is not only hitting too close to home; it's involving and changing everything familiar to him - and so Michael moves from being an IT expert to a detective, donning an unexpected (and unwelcome) mantle of danger as he probes corporate politics and greed. 

Now, because 'fatal' and 'greed' are part of the book's title, one does anticipate these elements in the plot. What is less expected is the level to which John W. Mefford takes his theme as real business pursuits and political pressures are juxtaposed with evolving connections between professional and personal life. 

In the process of making his discoveries, Michael finds that even his closest friends are no longer comfortably predictable: "I replayed my friend’s comments, even his slight movements, and I couldn’t understand it all. None of it made sense. There was a story there, buried inside, and only he knew what had transpired. He seemed troubled, tormented even—the exact cause I couldn’t discern. But seeing Reinaldo’s every movement dictated like he was subhuman, was most disturbing. It showed me how fragile life as we know it can be." 

Speaking of 'comfortably predictable' - don't expect this facet in Fatal Greed: its special skill lies in taking inevitability and turning it on end; and so even the most seasoned murder mystery or thriller reader will find this a cut above the usual, capturing the twists and turns of a IT employee who finds himself not on the cutting edge of business change, but the cutting edge of murder and greed. 

That's the mark of a real winner as Fatal Greed follows this transformation process and draws its audience in for an unexpected result that holds (be forewarned) a cliffhanger of an ending, bespeaking of more to come.
Fatal Greed

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Greed Manifesto
John W. Mefford
Sugar Hill Press
ASIN: B00OAC62JM    $3.99

 These three 'Greed' titles were read back-to-back, so while it's possible that this reviewer has become prejudiced about their draw, it's not likely that this is the case. Each book stands well alone but builds on its prior characters and plot in such a way that their interconnected stories become nearly a unified production with the rare ability to also be independent. 

Take the beginning of Greed Manifesto (which is Book Four in the series): its opening is entirely different than its predecessors and sets the scene by promising more changing action: "I'm conscious...I think. A brisk, cutting wind slapped my left side, churning in my ear like I'd been engulfed by a giant wave. Thumping heartbeats hammered my chest cavity. Sticky eyes peeled apart, unsure what I'd see, where I was. Shooting a glance left and right, I leaned against a wrought-iron railing, my back wedged against a massive stone building, my butt planted on a city sidewalk, legs splayed out like I'd been taking a nap." 

The setting moves to San Francisco in this story, where Michael is once again involved in changing his life; having embarked on a new direction that, surprisingly, returns him full circle to the specter of murder. He just can't get away - even when he's suffering from amnesia from a beating that left him for dead. 

Drugs, a brutal murder, international intrigue, and a San Francisco setting: it's all here, wound into the psyche of a man who finds himself on the right side of justice and the wrong side of a greedy world that doesn't just run in corporate circles. 

What makes Greed Manifesto stand out from a crowd of thriller/mysteries on the market? Quite simply the fact that it takes time to develop its character and plot and doesn't just rely on the power of previously-developed characters and books; and the fact that its protagonist Michael is always looking to change not just his career, but his life, with unexpected results. Now, this may mean that some thriller readers who expect nonstop staccato action will find it too 'slow' for their sensibilities, but it's not the intention of Mefford to create a 'quick and dirty' production here - and that's to his credit. 

Unlike most series titles which assume a 'same old' sense, each book retains sparkling originality and preserves its unpredictable path, which makes all of them winners in their own right. 

Greed Manifesto

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HOA Wire
Kenneth Eade
Times Square Publishing
97815078622885      $14.00 Paperback   $2.99 Kindle

There is big a difference between crime and detective novels and courtroom dramas. In one, the action takes place on the streets; and in the other, the main story takes place in the courtroom.  HOA Wire represents the latter, and will appeal to fans of Grisham and any other writer who spins a solid yarn based on courtroom drama and realistic experiences. 

While it's Book Three in the Brent Marks legal thriller series, newcomers will find it quickly accessible. It revolves around the murder of a homeowner's association president, where lawyer Brent Marks finds himself standing square in the center of a maelstrom of puzzles in which every town resident is a potential suspect and no easy answers are apparent. 

Readers aren't bludgeoned over the head with clues that are obvious leads, and they aren't teased by the presence of a protagonist who might know the answers, either. Brent Marks is well-educated and trained, but is just as puzzled as readers - and it's his process of discovery that succeeds in creating an involving story of just how a crime is solved. 

Key to an unusually successful approach are the tidbits of information about courtroom proceedings which are added not just to embellish a tale, but to provide realistic atmosphere and lend clues on how decisions are made: "Brent was sure that the jury had no doubt that the urine sample tested positive for ricin, but the judge instructed them that no urine test was in evidence, and that they could not consider the testimony about it. It was a good win for Brent, but not enough to win the case. You could be sure that the jury would be thinking about the positive urine test when they deliberated, whether or not they discussed it amongst themselves." 

Witnesses, cross examinations, and instances where even the professional lawyer makes errors are all brought out and considered in the bigger picture of crime and punishment processes, where judges can influence outcomes and approaches: "Sorry’s not good enough. When something’s broken, sorry can never bring it back. Now I know your case is important, and that you’re zealous in your defense of your client, but I don’t want to declare a mistrial in this case. So please, don’t make any more inappropriate comments.”  

The obvious prerequisite for enjoying this approach is affection for courtroom dramas, because this is the centerpiece, here. Readers with such an interest will find HOA Wire successfully weaves crime and courtroom to such a degree that the unexpected conclusion comes as both a successful, logical outcome and as a real surprise. With its real insights on HOA processes and neighbor disputes, HOA Wire is a deft exploration of attorney-client ethics on the line, and is crime/courtroom writing at its best. 

HOA Wire

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Louis Romano
Vecchia Publishing
41 Grand Avenue Suite 401, River Edge, NJ 07661

Intercession is the first book in a Detective Vic Gonnella crime series and opens with a bang - or, rather, a rap on the door of a rectory where a late visitor intent on making a confession turns out to be something quite different … something from his past that the good Father Deegan can no longer escape. 

What evolves from this encounter is a serial killer who leads Detective Gonnella and his sidekick and romantic partner Raquel on a trip out of the country to hunt down a murderer with connections to the church, and a deadly plan that promises to elude even their combined force. 

One important note about Intercession is that everything is not as it seems: it's a twisting plot that at first leads in one direction; then in another. Another note is that it tackles some of the most venerable institutions in the world and winds them into a killer's mind and purposes, introducing a (somewhat predictable) element of pedophilia and church connections into the mix. 

There's nothing new about this approach, but what is captivating is Louis Romano's focus on the lasting effects of violence on all involved, and how intolerance and sadism in religious structures create social monsters that, decades later, live out and address this brutality through their own heinous acts. 

Fake belief, false love of god and man, and disturbing reflections on social structures designed to protect and shelter - all these are unexpectedly wound into the overall murder mystery/detective thriller format to create something just a little different; and while some of the story line is predictable from the outset, there are still enough surprises and superior characterization to keep the reading riveting and the action swift. 

As Vic wonders if Raquel is "another fantasy he can't have" and both become mentally drained by their pursuit of an elusive killer, romance seems far in the side wings of deadly story. All this leads to a sum greater than its parts, ultimately making Intercession a multi-faceted, absorbing mystery. 


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Lethal Greed
John W. Mefford
Sugar Hill Press
ASIN: B00LFNC5T0      $3.99

Following closely in the footsteps of Fatal Greed is Book Two of the 'Greed' series, Lethal Greed, which follows protagonist Michael's ongoing evolution as he moves away from the job in Book One and successfully re-careers as a result of his confrontation with and investigation into corporate greed. 

But the greed factor doesn't end with Book One: it continues in Lethal Greed, which focuses on an onslaught of urban drug-related deaths and Michael's investigation of killers who are involved in a woman's kidnapping and teen overdoses. 

It's rare to see a series addition which can be read either as a stand-alone story or as a logical extension of Book One: usually series titles are interconnected enough that the follow-ups don’t do well on their own. Not so with Lethal Greed, a Cheshire cat of a read that can go either way: gaining power as an expansion of the original story line, or holding its own with a brand new audience who may not have read Fatal Greed. (However, it must be said that the characters are really flushed out in Fatal Greed, so once one has absorbed Lethal, enthusiasts will want to consult Fatal Greed for the additional details.) 

It's hard to easily categorize these stories because they don't fit neatly into the box of either 'mystery' or 'thriller' reading - and, therefore, hold the potential of attracting either audience. International intrigue, urban affairs, an investigative reporter who has his hands full, and characters re-introduced from the previous book provide a backdrop of color and action that succeeds in not only capturing action, but takes the time to create a uniquely engrossing setting, as well: "Many of the women gathered around the oval coffee table with a glass inlay. Emilia momentarily thought of the irony. She'd received the Mexican antique coffee table as an extra appreciation gift from her employer a couple of years back. She wondered how many lines of coke had been snorted on it before it had entered her home. She blinked her eyes to dismiss the momentary sting of guilt.

"Emilia, you must tell me what you put in these snacks," said one lady, who had traveled from Nacogdoches for this party.

"The frozen snack is a paleta—looks like a popsicle. I've made it in a couple of flavors. You have the cappuccino flavor. The other one is made from orchata, a cinnamon-based Mexican rice drink." 

While thriller readers used to less detail may chafe at the bit of setting and landscape, those who always look for more depth will simply love these tidbits of detail that enhance the story line and lend a realistic feel to events. 

As a result, Lethal Greed stands out from the crowd and once again paints a powerful story of one man's continuing foray into dangerous new territory: this one driven by addiction. 

Lethal Greed

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The Street Rod Mystery
Judy Iverson
1508436541             $8.95

In any given murder mystery, setting is nearly as important as character development. After all: place a murder in an uninspiring setting and it's a dull read from page one. Perhaps that's why so many murder mysteries are set in scenarios that are vivid and alive - such as The Street Rod Mystery, which opens at the State Fair Grounds where a twisted killer searches out his victims among the attendees and builds an unusual focus on bygone eras, old times, and a vanished girl. 

When a 'Back to the Fifties' theme goes horribly awry, the investigation doesn't just surround a fair or a theme; it goes back in time to an era when murder was still shocking and crime didn't pay, bringing with it an investigator who has his hands full of puzzles and a killer with a penchant for the past. 

But, we're jumping ahead, here. The Street Rod Mystery offers a killer's fantasy with its roots in past and present worlds, and as mother Delia and killer Tim find their lives entwined, the deadly story emerges. 

Some better editing might have made the story smoother ("Tim hung-up the phone, satisfied he had the right person.") but while intermittent grammatical snafus should be noted, they don't significantly detract from the overall strength of the mystery's theme and changing perspectives as protagonists interact and worlds collide. 

And when Delia falls prey to danger, it's only her ability to think quickly and artfully which can make her outcome different than those who went before her. 

As she comes to know her own survival instincts and strengths, which go beyond being the mother of twins and adopting a degree of versatility in her attitude towards life and death, Delia finds herself facing an ordeal with no single logical outcome. 

Involving, psychologically well-drawn, and with strong roots in past and present, The Street Rod Mystery is a story that holds many insights on how a 'new normal' can develop in one's secure, predictable world, and is a pick for murder mystery readers looking for more than your usual 'whodunnit' approach. 

The Street Rod Mystery

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You Think I'm Dead
Louis Romano
Vecchia Publishing
Publication Date: June 1, 2015

Detective Vic Gonnella's decision to retire from the police force isn't a hard one for him: he's received more fame than he ever wanted in his last case, and the media attention has more than supplemented his pension. It's time for him to leave the world of high-profile investigations. 

There's even talk of baby-making, marriage, and a new life. 

Not so fast. Just when everything seems settled (including his long-time girlfriend's decision to leave the force with him), things take a turn in another direction with a little boy's spirit and an old, unsolved murder that rises up to haunt the living despite their dreams for a life far from death and angst. 

As Vic and Raquel join forces to probe one of the deepest mysteries of their lives, they find their chosen course of romance and love is altered; and as they stumble upon the mind games of a truly cunning perp, they return to the NYPD to form new relationships in light of fresh information. 

Hidden truths, FBI involvements, the ghost of a child first sad, then terrified, a woman who has visions and two cops who believe in her … all this supercharges a story that blends a touch of the supernatural with a 'whodunnit' investigation that bonds two lovers into the most challenging case of their lives: a case that winds up receiving aid from an unlikely source - a serial killer. 

You Think I'm Dead posits what happens when the living can't let go - and when the dead can't stay dead. The characterization is well-done, neatly juxtaposing action-packed scenes. Even more compelling is the realization that the case is actually based on a real, unsolved Philadelphia murder from 1957. 

Is a wedding in the picture, along with a proper burial? And is a killer the perfect problem-solver in a puzzling story of a child's death? Question everything: certainly the story line of You Think I'm Dead does this, itself, and proves a satisfying and engrossing read for detective fans who like more than a dash of romance between their investigators and some unlikely alliances between killers and cops.

You Think I'm Dead

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All the Roads
J. Cotter
Paperback: ISBN: 9781505398687      $13.99
Ebook: ASIN: B00QR01C40                 $2.99 

It's been 18 months since Jay has spoken to her: 18 months during which the conflicts (and the love) between Jay and Elle have made a distant possibility of a reunion between two introverts moving on different trajectories away from one another. More importantly, it's been a time of growth and change for a writer who chooses long hauls on the road over love and the girl who has embarked upon her course in life, away from him. This is about to change when Jay enters a random coffee shop and runs into Elle. 

In a way, little has changed. The initial attraction between them sparks immediately even in the discomfort zone, and even though it's been a year and a half since they last spoke. In another way, everything has changed: enough so that she can let their chance encounter slide away, seemingly easily, while his inclination is to either hang on to the moment or try to return to what was. 

It's shaky ground indeed; and as readers move forward through the interconnected (yet stand-alone stories) that comprise Jay and Elle's lives and relationship, they gain a sense of not only the passage of time and its accompanying transformations, but why Jay and Elle continue to dance around one another, not quite able to let go completely. 

Sure, it's about loss and change - but it's also about reunion, second chances, and the uncertainties of life. And that's the path All the Roads takes with gusto, moving protagonists and readers forward from the point where things fell apart to where they ultimately join again. 

To call this process a 'romance' would be partially correct because Jay and Elle haven't let go of one another completely: and, perhaps, they never will. But to call it a passionate reunion using the traditional sense and formula of the romance genre would be to do this book a grave disservice. All the Roads is as much about choices, circumstance, bonding and separation, and the waxing and waning of life, as it is about love. 

If this comment sounds confusing, consider the fact that Jay and Elle aren't quite bonded. Consider the forces behind their breakup, which are slowly revealed in all their complexity. Then consider the many forks in the road which are outlined here. If it all sounds like a journey - well, it is. All the Roads considers their relationships not only with one another, but with the wider world at large in its relentless drive towards friendship and reconciliation. 

It's hard to reveal the gist of such a complicated matter without spoilers entering the picture. Suffice it to say that in the process of this self-discovery and change, Elle and Jay make some decisions not just about each other, but about their overall, independent courses in life. It's not only love that shines from such a process: it's understanding - and, ultimately, that's the journey that All the Roads presents. 

It's recommended for readers of thought-provoking life stories who like their sagas best delivered as interconnected segments of experience. 

All the Roads

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And the Wind Whispered
Dan Jorgensen
Bygone Era Books, Ltd.
Price: $21.95 (trade paperback) $6.99 (ebook)
Release Date: June 1, 2015 

Some of the best reads on the market aren't genre reads per say: that is, they incorporate elements of two or more genres and straddle their lines so neatly that it's hard to assign them a 'box' to live in. Such is the case with And the Wind Whispered: does one define it as a historical western, a mystery, or a novel? In reality it should be marketed to all three reader groups; because its genre-busting attitude produces a powerful read that defies easy categorization but lends it a vibrant immediacy not readily part of other stories that attend to stricter definition. 

It should be noted that as murder mysteries go, there's the usual wide net of characters. It should also be mentioned that unlike the majority, the mystery begins with two aspiring reporters in the old West who stumble on a murder that proves the tip of the iceberg. 

While this Western setting is an intrinsic part of the story, it doesn't 'take over'. Don't expect And the Wind Whispered to ride off into the sunset of neat formula writing and quick conclusions: it tackles its action slowly and relentlessly, ambling down the main boardwalks of a Western setting with spurs clinking and enough attitude to draw in even readers who usually eschew the Western novel for its trite and too-predictable settings. 

The combination of these two disparate scenarios not only works: it works well. Take the scenes and impressions: they sparkle with life and unexpected encounters with some of the Wild West's most famous figures, further illustrating that murder investigation is not the end-all of the story: "Lil shrieked and jumped to her feet nearly knocking William off his seat in the process. “Annie?” she gasped, pointing at the woman, before rushing  toward her. “You mean like in Oakley?” She waved her arms wildly. “It’s Annie Oakley!”  She half-pushed Buffalo Bill out of the way and threw her arms around the diminutive woman. Lil looked around excitedly and then back at Annie. “My name’s Lil Marr and I want to be a sharpshooter just like you!” The words were tumbling from her mouth in rapid fire. Not letting go of Annie, she looked back over her shoulder at the others. “Annie Oakley! She’s my hero!”  “No kidding,” Nellie said drily. “Who would’ve guessed?” 

And, yes, humor is a big part of the mix - but once again: to describe this story as a 'humor piece' would limit its scope and presentation to a particular audience anticipating particular devices - and And the Wind Whispered is anything but staid. 

Buffalo Bill. Bat Masterson. Nellie Bly. A minstrel show with an attitude. Big crowds, hard drinking, and powerful female personalities that do far more than swoon and simper. There's trouble in Hot Springs - and it's about to get a lot hotter before some of the protagonists achieve resolution. 

It's rare to find a work that is a real delight in its uniformly feisty, believable protagonists who work within a plot that holds no boundaries. And the Wind Whispered is a remarkable achievement, no matter what genre you're partial to. 

And the Wind Whispered

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The Boy from the Woods
Jen Minkman
Storm Publishers
ASIN: B00S8UIL9G   $3.99

Julia's love for Michael can best be described as unrequited: he's the hottest guy in school, so after just a few dates (and after they have sex) he can afford to dump her and move on; but for Julia, this is one of the most crushing events of her life. To have loved and lost is truly worse, for her, than just watching the golden boy from afar; especially since it's obvious he used her. 

One would think this would be the end of a story; but it's just the beginning when Julia rescues Michael during a storm after a motorcycle accident, only to find he professes to a changed personality due to a blow on the head. 

At this point it becomes a matter of trust as he pursues her with romance in mind once again, and as the now-savvy Julia distrusts his intentions and the 'miracle' of his emotional turn-around. It turns out there's something more to the story - and here's where it gets delicious. 

Have you ever wanted to believe the leopard could change his spots so badly that you've contemplated repeating past, predictable patterns of defeat against all odds and logic? Have you ever wanted to 'believe' so much that anything that gets in the way of that belief is rejected? And have you ever seen a total transformation that required proof to be believed? 

All this and more is faced by a spunky female protagonist who finds herself on the wrong wide of romance with seemingly a second chance for success … but, is it real? That's Julia's dilemma - and one not easily resolved. There are no pat answers available, and that's one satisfyingly realistic aspect of the story: "She didn’t want to avoid Michael. She wanted to know what was up with him, what had changed him, but at the same time, her inner voice of reason agreed whole-heartedly with Gaby." 

As Julia probes events, more dangers and challenges come to light - and the fact that she doubts both circumstances and herself, at times, lends to the strength and believability of the plot: "Julia indecisively stopped behind a big tree next to the boy’s residence, her eyes fixed on the front door. Now what? Was she absolutely sure this guy had done something wrong – or was she about to saddle another innocent person with a bunch of sinister motivations and make a fool of herself for the second time today?" 

Especially notable is the presentation of how Julia grows and evolves (relatively quickly, too!): "This place had stayed the same – it was she who had changed from the inside out. And that was a pity. After all, Michael had told her to keep dreaming. He didn’t need her to change or turn into a down-to-earth, responsible grown-up anytime soon." 

Well-written and presented with a few surprises, The Boy from the Woods is leisure reading teens will appreciate. 

But, be forewarned - this isn't strictly a romance - it includes a dose of the paranormal. Just how does this happen? Therein lies the heart of The Boy From the Woods

The Boy from the Woods

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For Their Own Good
Bradette Michel
Harvard Square Editions
978-1-941861-04-2    $22.95
Publication Date: June 15, 2015   

There's plenty of evil conducted in the world in the name of goodwill and good intentions, and this is a key emphasis in For Their Own Good, a novel which revolves around 19th century insane asylums. But the power here lies not just in its theme, but in its perspective; which opens with a bang as an asylum worker comes to realize that their intentions are not being served by the institution: "Dr. McFarland told us we were the only ones who could cure the unfortunates under our care. Our benevolent kindness would lead them to sanity. Our Christian love would break through their irrational actions.  At first I believed him, but it was not long before I learned of unspeakable acts committed on those lost souls. Many nights I returned to my quarters shaking, my skin covered in sweat at the evil I had witnessed in the name of treatment. My time in the asylum overflowed with events I could not have foreseen, events so momentous I was changed forever." 

In 1857, who is going to believe that the insane are being abused by the institution designed to help them? Who is going to consider their rights? And who is going to save them? 

Four women patients and protagonist Dr. Adam Fletcher are alone in their world, and it's a dangerous, abusive one; so readers need to anticipate a good degree of angst and violence in the process of exploring this underbelly of society. 

Embedded in these stories of condoned violence against patients are intriguing social observations of women and their role in society: patterns of the 1800s which are brought to life in vivid, wrenching dialogue and detail: "Now, Adam, we do not want our patients to experience lasting injuries, but sometimes we are forced to break entrenched patterns of behavior with dramatic techniques. After some time, Angelique will begin to tolerate and accept union with a man. Her lunacy is quite severe. And you say her attitude was one of quiet submission? More feminine?” 

Harsh reality comes to light as Adam explores the rationale of society and institution alike in defining and 'managing' women's 'insanity'. As Adam explores the women in his world, so he takes readers' hands and hearts and leads them through very different personalities and how they navigate a system of oppression: "Pearl was pretty in a slight, insubstantial way. She had acquired the manners and mien of those in my class, but she was nothing like the women I knew. Her desperation at having no shelter had led to a plan for survival, not defeat: “I walked into Miss Maude’s and did what I had to do.” Pearl’s instincts were her weathervane. She never hesitated to heed the direction to which her heart pointed." 

In the end what is presented isn't your usual one-dimensional portrait of abuse, but a social commentary that use the asylum environment to pinpoint attitudes, beliefs, and rationales behind mental illness treatments and socially acceptable behaviors: a powerful survey that brings physician and patient perspectives to life and leads Adam on a journey into strange worlds. 

Gripping and heart-wrenching, For Their Own Good is a pick for any who want both a social and psychological observational piece about asylum life and women's subjugation. 

For Their Own Good

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P. J. O'Dwyer
Black Siren Books
P. O. Box 186, Lisbon, MD  21765
978-0-9848997-5-3 (e-book) 

Forsaken is the third book in the 'Fallon Sisters' trilogy, and while it stands well on its own, when taken in conjunction with the other characters and settings in the trilogy it promises to provide yet another perspective on the vision of love and freedom that unifies the themes of all three books. 

Those with such a background will find, here, a story that centers around Dani Flynn, who has become entangled in an Irish pimp's escort service in Ireland, and who flees for her life when a money deal turns bad. She's spent her life surviving on very little - but she wants more. And so a journey to America, land of opportunity, seems in order. 

You would think another country an ocean away would be enough to keep Dani safe from the transgressions of her past. You would think nobody would know these facts. But a savvy American sheriff with a nose for trouble and a sixth sense for liars sees Dani as a problem right away, and things only get worse as she navigates the stormy waters of Washington County in search of a home where her sordid past can't catch her. 

Old habits die hard, though; and even ghosts buried some distance away can have occasion to rise up and haunt. And so Dani's newfound job with horses involves a certain degree of illicit actions and intrigue. As her past threatens to catch up with her, so romance also catches her unawares. 

When horses and love entwine, Dani slowly comes to find her new home holds more than safety or salvation: it comes with new opportunities and new passions that bring her, unexpectedly, full circle to a homeland she had fled. 

Money, privilege, the luck of the Irish, and horses: all are bound up in a saga of high stakes played on many levels; emotionally, economically, and politically. From issues of trust to building new lives on the ruins of the old, Forsaken completes a horse-and-romance-oriented journey begun in Relentless

The result is a succinct story line that crafts a events swirling around a compelling protagonist whose life evolves in new directions. Can one truly change the course of one's destiny? Is a long journey to a foreign land enough to evoke lasting changes? Forsaken probes these transitions and is a powerful analysis of what it takes to truly get ahead: a lesson in life and love that we all need, to not just survive, but thrive. 


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Home Is Where Your Boots Are 
Kalan Chapman Lloyd 
Lloyd Words LLC 

5906 S Knoxville Ave, Tulsa, OK 74135 
ISBN number 978-1-312-88828-9       $6.99
Ebook ISBN 978-1-312-88830-2         $3.99 
Available on; Amazon, iBooks 

Lilly is a lawyer, with all the legal savvy and sass a Southern-born professional belle can muster. She's left her small town for Dallas, only to return home to the Oklahoma fold, heart in hand, in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Only one thing helps keep her boots on the ground; and those are her girlfriends. 

Home Is Where Your Boots Are is a 'chic lit' story with Southern spice. It's about a woman successful in law but not in love, a small town that harbors its own share of oddities and personalities, and it's about leaving and returning home to the South. 

Be forewarned: as with many, many novels these days, this is the first in a projected series ('The MisAdventures of Miss Lilly, Volume One'): something that won't prove a sad fact to any who enjoy reading this story of the vim and vigor of a life in flux. 

From dalliances with married men to creepy happenings at the local hospital, Home Is Where Your Boots Are is entertainment reading at its best, with the friendship factor keeping everything warm and well-connected: "…that’s the kind of friends we are. We just wait each other out. Same as how you knew I was hell-bent on screwing up my life with that loser in high school and instead of getting mad at me, you just held me and prayed for me. I’ve been praying for you, sister. I knew you’d come out of it, the same way I knew you’d be home eventually.” 

It should be mentioned that dialogue is an intrinsic part of the action and story line; and that it's exceptionally well done. 

A dash of intrigue, a dose of romance, the flavors of small-town Oklahoma Southern sentiment, and stir: now, here's a story line simmering with goodness, that women partial to Southern belles and life's mishaps will find a fun and entertaining read!

Home Is Where Your Boots Are

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My Mother's Journals
Suzanne Whitfield Vince
Prepublication Manuscript. Publication Date: March 16, 2015 

Olivia Hunter's life once went according to plan: in a set trajectory with few surprises. But that was before her mother's deathbed confession, her father's stroke, and before her many miscarriages - all of which have left Olivia uncertain about her future. It's not all disaster: she has a good job, and love. It's just, also, not a set course in life - and nothing she can take for granted. 

Olivia's revelations aren't new and they aren't necessarily surprising to the reader; but when a stranger delivers a box of her mother's writings after her mother's death, the truth is about to become even stranger as Olivia delves into her secret life and uncovers some surprising parallels to her own experiences. 

Part of what family connections are all about is making these kinds of connections which identify common threads, patterns, and the places where belief systems either intersect or stray. As Olivia's journey through her own life begins to parallel to her mother's world, so she begins to reassess her on/off again relationship with Jonathan and her choices in life. 

As strange journeys overtake her, her probe into biological roots, foreign family connections, and her own psyche becomes more insistent. Will she have the courage to change her world and life? My Mother's Journals provides her with just that impetus; and in the course of understanding her mother's choices, she comes to more clearly see her own. 

A warm, winning 'chic lit' story provides readers with a saga from the eyes of a woman who finds her perceptions are upside down, and who is tasked with putting them right again (but, in a new way)…and that's a fine odyssey, indeed; one that takes readers along for a rollicking psychological ride. 

My Mother's Journals

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D.J. Adamson
Horatio Press
978-0-9903078-2-2                     $9.99
Publication Date: 4/1/2015 

Because Eagle's Park was once home to Indians, it's the perfect place to look for arrowheads. Perhaps due to a young boy's early impressions of the Native American culture surrounding him, Outre also reflects lovely metaphorical descriptions of Native culture, Iowa lands, and its evocative environment ("This story started with a young Indian girl walking down to the lake before the area was called Eagles Park. Max said she came to smell the flowers and wash off the long winter."), delivering a saga of a young boy who dreams of becoming a hero. 

Dreams have a way of assuming reality; and so Outre's young protagonist embarks on a trajectory to achieve his goals. Seven years later, as death begins to strike, stories turn into frightening realities and a small community is hit with a series of demises that begin with the end of a storyteller and move out from there: "Max Lamott was a storyteller when I was a kid. He became a legend after he died." 

The first inkling that one is about to receive a saga not of a young boy's coming of age but of a grown man's challenges evolves from this point onward, seven years later, when teen Jake faces the mystery in a dying man's last legacy. 

The entire town's talking about it - and during the evolution of events and Jake's discoveries, the underbelly of small town interactions and sentiments are presented in a series of subtle insights slipped in almost as side thoughts rich in perspective: "Diddleman's dad drank his breakfast and his mom gave most of her money to the church, praying for a miracle she'd wake up to the life as she dreamed it." Taken individually, these kinds of observations may seem mild; but woven neatly into the plot, they become lovely metaphorical descriptions that support a greater good. 

At times the story line breaks up a little with minor editorial flaws ("As the trees thinned out telling us we were getting closer to the lake. It’s when I started hearing the hum Diddleman had mentioned. It was a low buzz, like when you stand under power lines."); but this is a work-in-progress and it is hoped an outside editor will clear out the inconsistencies, because the rest of the description is powerfully written. 

As a small town faces possibilities ranging from murderers to aliens, the boys find themselves participating in the cutting edge of what could be a criminal investigation or a confrontation with unusual forces. A storm of contention assumes both physical and psychological proportions as Jake's family becomes mired in the evolving conflict, leaving him alone to settle scores and investigate possibilities: "I was tired. The type of tired where every movement seems like an effort. But not sleepy. My mind was running like a horse once the gate had open. Nest? Nest? Then it came to me. My dad was telling me where he’d seen my mom and sister. A place where only I would know." 

Though the protagonist is young, Outre isn't recommended as a young adult read so much as an adult mystery that centers around bloodshed and intrigue and dances lightly around the usual mystery devices to keep its story line unpredictable. 

Although this is, ultimately, a mystery, don't rule out the alien involvements, either. They may be all around us: it remains to be seen whether they are in Jake's small town (i.e. you'll just have to read Outre to find out!). 


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Ride Your Heart 'Til It Breaks
Deborah Hawkins
ISBN 978-0-9889347-3-3 (ebook)     $2.99
ISBN 978-0-9889347-4-0 (paperback)

Carrie Moon has loved before, and the result was devastating - and so she's wound up her love in a neat ball of 'the past' and hidden it well away as she pursues her successful legal career and marriage to one of the partners in the firm. She's through with her ex, Stan - and finished with the uncertainties of his brand of love - but all this is about to change when she runs into him once again. 

It's not too often that a professional woman can say she skirted the ethical line of the law for the sake of love. Not everyone can recover from such a blunder. Having barely extracted herself from a career-crusher and a romance that left her bruised and broken, Carrie would seem the last person to return to the scene of such a crime. 

But love rarely is logical and matters of the heart exist more from a wellspring of passion than sensibility, so when Stan returns to threaten her carefully-reconstructed world, staid lawyer Karen once more turns into Carrie, the girl who loved, lost, and swore she would never love in that fashion again. 

The first thing to note about Ride Your Heart 'Til It Breaks is that it comes from an author who is, herself, well versed in the legal profession. The inner sanctum of the legal community, its ties, its encounters, and its special challenges thus all come to life under the hand of experience, not just research; and the result adds an extra dimension to the saga and elevates it beyond the usual singular romance. 

Another important note: Carrie has loved, lost (at great cost to herself and her career), and redirected her life - so why would she want to return to a crime scene that seemingly holds little reward? In the process of such consideration it becomes evident that affairs of the heart are anything but logical and anything but predictable: elements which translate to a good read in Ride Your Heart 'Til It Breaks

The third thing to note about this story: it's about passion about rediscovery. That Carrie moves through her loveless marriage and the legal worlds methodically, with an underlying need for something more, makes for a protagonist who questions her carefully-construed world and is, however reluctantly, willing to consider new opportunities despite experiences of the past. 

The result, more than most romances, is complex and truly indicative of changing matters of the heart and the intersection of social and political worlds in a legal community replete with strict perspectives and associations born more of convenience than of love. 

In short: there's nothing 'formula' about the character, romance, or interactions in Ride Your Heart: only a simmering set of choices and consequences that will keep readers guessing until its satisfying conclusion. 

Ride Your Heart 'Til It Breaks

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Swim a Crooked Line
Al X. Griz
Cray Cray Bird Publishing/Level 3
26500 W. Agoura Rd., 102 Suite 413, Calabasas, CA 91302
978-0-692-28653-1      $2.99

There's a lot of football in Swim a Crooked Line; so readers who are not at least somewhat interested in the sport might not take kindly to Swim a Crooked Line's sports focus. That said, football is not the only thing taking place, here; so to say it's a 'sports novel' would be doing it an injustice. 

The story line opens with a grizzly nightmare: the protagonist's arm is caught in a mechanical machine and is being ground away, threatening his life. Only it's not just a nightmare: it really happened. Thirteen years later John's flashback dreams still force him to relive the experience. 

So what does this have to do a football prodigy and a family's journey? Plenty; because all this is woven into an overall story line that may have begun with tragedy, but which evolves to show how farming, family, football, war and emotions entwine. 

If this all sounds like a lot to pack into one story - it is. Be forewarned: this is no light creation. It takes time to create realistic protagonists and probe their lives and thoughts, it is replete with college football references throughout, and it captures the spark and drive of competitive sports. 

From how new recruits are turned into fighting men on the American front lines to farm boy dreams of football, Swim a Crooked Line is raw Americana ideals, dreams, and experience at its best, providing a well-developed and inspirational read that successfully charts a family's evolution and involvements. 

As their world expands to include the new football jockey, so does the family come to embrace new goals and additions to its flock - and so its members also grow and change as social situations affect their perspectives. 

It's refreshing to find a multi-faceted, complex story that is both well-detailed and inviting. It's a winning combination to pair the story of an expanding family with such wider concerns as the effects of war on troubled soldiers come home from conflict. Passages capture the psychological perspectives of those who leave home to return changed: "Chad looked up at the moon, suddenly feeling the killing urge again. He couldn’t figure out what it was he needed to kill. The young man didn’t want his sister to know what he was thinking. Chad knew he’d be a lot better off if he had some of his juice. The nurse, doctor, and certainly Dee D. didn’t know it, but there was a former Marine down the hall at his dorm who’d been slipping him thirty extra milligrams of methadone every night to help him sleep." 

Sports, family troubles, romance and recovery all successfully entwine in a saga unified by football and forgiveness alike. Best of all, it's solidified by an author who takes his time building plot, action, and realistic psyches so that readers become not just involved, but immersed. Even those with limited interest in football (and such is a preferred prerequisite for fully appreciating this story's progression) will find Swim a Crooked Line an absorbing read. 

Swim a Crooked Line

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What Makes It Worthy
David Paul Kuhn
Publisher: CLM
Paperback Price: $14.95    eBook Price: $9.95
Prepublication Review: Publication Date May 6, 2015 

This novel about the American political process, What Makes It Worthy, could not come at a better time. At a point in American history where houses are divided, sentiments run high, and alliances between press and political figures are at an unprecedented peak, along comes a novel to nail all these actions and place them in perspective. 

What Makes It Worthy uses fiction to probe what's wrong in Washington; but more importantly, it reveals how these interplays of politics and business actually work, using believable protagonists and the fictional form to drive home points that would, in nonfiction, prove weighty and challenging to average readers. 

What's it like to live in such a world, move in such circles, and to negotiate alignments and pacts in the name of public interest? What Makes It Worthy offers an inside look at the social and political maelstrom of action swirling through the corridors of D.C. politics. 

One device employed by Kuhn to make all this come alive (and make sense) is the building of powerful protagonists, both male and female - and this, in itself, reflects some of the modern changes D.C. has seen as female political figureheads come into their own to influence a traditionally-male pursuit of holding office. 

The character that opens the saga thinks it's "time for a grand gesture", and he's not far from the truth: everyone thinks the same in What Makes It Worthy, and these gestures and efforts are being already made in many circles. In a world where politics takes place in bars and at parties as much as in chambers and meeting rooms, the characters become more three-dimensional and substantial than if the author chose to portray Democrats and Republicans solely in their 'native business world' of the White House. 

As readers move through a vivid, personal story, it's the people interactions that are striking. One would expect the novel to be replete with political exchanges (and it is), but not necessarily the depth of personal relationships explored here - which, after all, are the foundation of any decision or belief system's evolution. 

Under Kuhn's hand, the realities of conflicts that become landslides, relationships that become matters of political convenience or manipulation, and cultural and social settings that separate D.C. from the rest of America make sense. Under his pen, politics lives and breathes in the form of human interaction as much as political process. And as differences surface, so they are explored in both personal and political circles: "…it's not like D.C.'s an intellectual's ideal," Cait continues. "People there really do live politics. It even permeates bar talk." (Even?? It's in such settings that the real 'work' is done!) 

Race. Abortion. Political elitism. Sensationalized news reports. Fickle media, and fickle images of heroism. All this and more represents the feel and process of the American political system. 

Wrap it all up in a novel that delves into these circles and reveals their underlying motivations and influences and you have a story that truly explores the American system not just from an insider's viewpoint, but from the very real experiences of human beings just like you and me: people that tend to ask too little or too much of life, but rarely get it right - even in love. And yes, add a dose of romance to the political cocktail: it's just what this drink needs to make it perfect!

What Makes It Worthy

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Beauty and Chaos
Michael Pronko
Raked Gravel Press

Anyone with an interest in Tokyo will want to consider the fifteen years of experience that's gone into Michael Pronko's Beauty and Chaos, an essay collection that comes from a professor with much experience in the city, who can bring it to life through flowery written descriptions. 

Just what is so special about Beauty and Chaos, and what sets it apart from your usual Japanese cultural observation or travelogue? Plenty! For one thing, many of the essays center on the ironies and inconsistencies of Tokyo. Readers thus gain a much clearer vision of the city's incongruities and attractions than your usual where-to-stay and what-to-see one-dimensional survey. Take train platforms, for example: "Such adrenaline-charged situations are rare, though. Typically, platforms most often offer space for solitude. Like Giacometti statues, thin and crinkly, surrounded by vast open space, the platforms are filled with people standing utterly alone. The occasional crowd around them makes no difference, they are framed by a huge open area that creates an anonymity and loneliness like no other place in the city." 

Under Pronko's hand, something as simple as eating with chopsticks becomes not just a cultural observation but a dance of understanding and insight: "The chopsticks enact the food, display it, and energize it. Everything wiggles in the air. This re-created motion is clearest especially when eating uncooked foods, which are so common in Japan, and complement chopsticks well. Pieces of fish, especially fish, become re-animated by the motion towards the mouth. The sashimi lives swimmingly again for a moment before being tucked away." 

Just with these few passages, lifted laboriously from a plethora of wealthy, full-bodied writings, one can see that to truly know Tokyo and plan for a visit there, Beauty and Chaos should be right there at the top of the travel guides and trip planners. Without it, it would be all too easy to miss the city's unique attractions and unique cultural attributes - and that would be a shame. 

Beauty and Chaos is a rare gem of exploration that holds the ability to sweep observer/readers into a series of vignettes that penetrate the heart of Tokyo's fast-paced world. Anyone planning a trip to the city (and many an armchair reader who holds a special affection for Japan) must have this in hand - and, in mind. Very highly recommended.

Beauty and Chaos

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Ukrainian Phrasebook, Dictionary, Menu Guide & Interactive Factbook
Masha Drach & Olga Kravtsova
Rodnik Publishing Co.  
ISBN: Kindle: 9781929482955       EPUB: 9781929482948
Price: $4.79

Publication dates: Kindle: May 1, 2015
                                  EPUB: August 1, 2015 

The Ukrainian Phrasebook, Dictionary, Menu Guide & Interactive Factbook is something different in the world of phrasebooks; so if you're expecting something static and stationary (i.e. something that involves mere look-up), then think again: it's interactive, which lends the process and results a completely different (and more effective) feel. 

First of all - how many stand-alone Ukranian phrasebooks are on the market? Virtually none. How many include facts about the country? None. And how many offer a format that lends to interconnected learning? None. 

The opportunity for users to search for phrases and vocabulary with quick mouse clicks and movements, plus the inclusion of a wide range of facts (many clickable links) about Ukraine, makes this phrasebook a standout approach in the relatively flat world of phrasebook references.

But that's not all to like about The Ukrainian Phrasebook. In addition to its Ukraine-centered focus and its organization and multifaceted presentation, the phrasebook holds the additional advantage of being arranged like a dictionary of clickable key words and clear definitions. This lends to more than phrase lookup: it becomes a learning tool in addition to an interpretation device, and features the rare ability to do more than parrot needed phrases in a pinch. 

The letters of the alphabet are divided into subsections, search results include the ability to include an 'x' in the string to limit one's search to specific results, and the inclusion of Ukrainian lettering, standard English phrases, and short facts about Ukrainian culture and life (accompanied by website links) makes for a title that is, in reality, more than just a phrasebook. 

The result might startle those who expect a singular production, but that's the beauty of this extended approach: it's a production that moves neatly from mere definition to higher-level learning and delves into the area of cultural education. Readers who want JUST a phrase book will find it a handy approach; but, really, it's especially recommended for those who want more - particularly since information on the Ukraine tends to be scattered and relatively hard to find.

Ukrainian Phrasebook, Dictionary, Menu Guide & Interactive Factbook

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Young Adult/Childrens

Escape in Time
Ronit Lowenstein-Malz
MB Publishing
9722 Whitley Park Place, Bethesda, MD 20814
Publisher’s Email:
ISBN, softcover: 978-0-9908430-3-0
ISBN, e-book (epub): 978-0-9908430-4-7
ISBN, e-book (mobi): 978-0-9908430-5-4
Paperback: $9.99     ebook: $6.99      176 pages 

Leora Frankel translated this novel from the Hebrew and Laurie McGaw added fine duotone illustrations throughout, so it's evident that Escape in Time, Miri's Riveting Tale of Her Family's Survival During World War II is not a singular endeavor, but a long cooperative effort to bring this story to English audiences. And, as young readers ages 12 and older will discover, it's one well worth reading. 

Miri Malz was in the Holocaust, and a survivor, and is now a cheerful grandmother who has kept the secret of her past from her grandchild. But when Nessya overhears school officials talking about inviting her grandmother to speak as a Holocaust survivor, a whole hidden world opens up - and when she confronts her grandmother, the answers she receives are difficult and strain their relationship. 

One might wonder at the need for yet another YA read about a Holocaust survivor - but given the unprecedented nature of genocide and its lasting aftermath, it would seem that new stories should appear every few years as fresh reminders of the lasting impact of events, lest future generations forget, or the classic, widely-distributed writings of such as Anne Frank become overly familiar. 

A packet of wartime letters, a young girl's curiosity about her heritage, a grandmother's experiences of ghetto routines, and a child's perspective of the war are supplemented by the gorgeous works of Laurie McGaw throughout (it cannot be emphasized too much that these images are realistic, lovely, and striking embellishments to the story line). 

More so than most Holocaust accounts, this presentation examines the concepts of anti-Semitism from a preteen's perspective as she learns about the past's effects on her present world and family's future; and it draws important connections between family relationships and world politics, exposing an atmosphere where even a relationship with a doorman can become important. 

How does an entire family survive in a world gone mad? How do they stay together, and how to they weather an increasing climate of hatred? From interacting with peers who develop into advocates of Hitler's anti-Semitic viewpoints to becoming survivors who must swallow their pride and heritage to emerge from Nazi control intact, events are relayed through letters, diary entries, and the perspective of youth. 

Little miracles, sadness and delights, and the changing atmosphere of a world at war make for vivid scenes, all enhanced by a personal tone and feel that provide a 'you are there' feel to political and social changes. 

In the end, that's what makes Escape in Time such a standout: a blending of the Anne Frank diary format of personal experience with observation of the changing, wider social and political world holds an ability to involve not just characters, but the reader. 

Escape in Time is truly riveting, is recommended for ages 12 and older, and is especially recommended as a classroom assignment to pair off quite nicely with Anne Frank's classic Diary. There are miracles here for everyone: the miracle of survival, the lasting impact of change, and lessons for the future that make such accounts not just stories but outlines of inhumanity, hope, and survival. 

Escape in Time

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Gadget Geeks
Cara Brookins
Goldminds Publishing, LLC
1050 Glenbrook Way, Suite 480, Hendersonville, TN 37075
ISBN (print): 978-1-942905-03-5 - $14.99   168 pages
ISBN (eBook): 978-1-942905-16-5    $6.99!gadget-geeks/c1bi5 

Drew is a builder: a geek who loves making things from junk - which is why he can commonly be found dumpster diving for spare parts and new ideas. Free parts is the reason why he can afford to build a robot. It's also part of the reason why he's friends with Hope, a Hispanic girl with busy, wealthy parents who like Drew for his unique interests. 

It's unusual enough to find a friendship between two people from distinctly different economic circles, much less different cultures - but their mutual attraction and friendship is further solidified by a dilemma when an evil scientist gets wind of Drew's amazing robot and decides to robotnap it. 

In the course of their organized resistance and battles, the two bond and learn valuable lessons about friendship, adversity, and sticking together. 

Speaking of 'sticking' - the robot's name is Sticky, and there are many insights into not only the protagonists' personalities and motivations, but the world around them - even including animals and robots: "He gets confused when Sticky moves. He really hates him – especially when the bot’s eyes are glowing,” Drew said. “I guess a fake humanoid just doesn’t smell right to him. To a dog, things are either alive or not alive. Sticky fits into an in-between world that Hershey might someday get used to, but will never really understand.” 

As a spy mission evolves and danger quickens, so advanced elementary to middle-school readers receive a story line that also incorporates many details designed to aid in understanding interpersonal relationships, families, and even outside political purposes: "Drew, be careful. There are people out there who would do anything to get their hands on an invention like this. Can you imagine how much money would be involved if you really find a way to use solar power more efficiently for travel? A robot like Sticky could be a threat to the oil industry and a golden egg to people looking to make a fast buck.” 

Intrigue, adventure, conflict, and evolving relationships: add a healthy dose of skunk scent (…and you'll just have to read the story to find out why) and what you have here is an outstanding story of robots and intrigue, with more psychological depth than either the classic young investigators Encyclopedia Brown or Danny Dunn can offer.
Gadget Geeks

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Nickerbacher: The Funniest Dragon
Terry John Barto
Author House LLC
Paper: 9781496954541      $15.15      34 pages
ebook: 9781496954565      $3.99 

There's plenty to recommend in Nickerbacher: The Funniest Dragon, a comical dragon story that sports exceptionally colorful pages, fun drawings throughout by Kim Sponaugle, and a tale that lends particularly well to parental read-aloud for kids looking for stories about dragons. 

It's a 34-page saga of a sweet-tempered (but fierce-looking) dragon who is charged with guarding a princess - but his dreams are quite different than his task; for he longs to be a stand-up comic instead: something that clearly doesn't lend to his dragon stature and his allotted task in life. 

Nickerbacher only wants to make everyone laugh, and his princess charge is supportive of his dreams; but he still believes them impossible, until a prince appears who harbors his own impossible dream. 

"It doesn't matter what I think. It's what you know in your heart that matters." This is the underlying lesson in a whimsical, fun story that is simply delightful to read and supported by vibrant, fun illustrations: everything a parent could wish for in an entertaining picture book with an inspirational message. 

Nickerbacher: The Funniest Dragon

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Open the Doors to You
Casey Rislov
Casey Rislov Books
P.O. Box 4008, Casper, WY 82604
978-0-692-36967-8     32 pages     $15.95 

It's rare to see a picture book about love that begins with easy admonitions that focuses on how to identify acts of love in the world and how to 'pay it forward' - but Open the Doors to You is such a read, and is so well done that it lends to both parental read-aloud and pursuit by picture book readers who already have basic reading skills under their belts, and the maturity to understand the wider concept of understanding generosity and giving. 

It wouldn't be an exceptional picture book without superior illustrations, and Open the Doors to You packs its pages with watercolor works that are realistic, colorful, and welcoming throughout; capturing the young reader's eye with a delightful visual embellishment to a story that emphasizes giving love and finding success in the world. 

At times the story line becomes more of a series of admonitions, teaching young readers about the basic elements of happiness and success which, after all, are the foundations of love: "Most things in life take time to learn. So walk through the door and take your time to get it right. Persistence means try, try again! You might excel in math but need to try harder in something else. You might prefer to learn as you go. Games are fun to play in gym class. Art is a blast when messes become part of the creation." 

Every open door (whether it be sports, art, or exploring the outdoors) becomes an opportunity for fun, growth, and success under Rislov's hand: "The door to outside opens to fun in every season." Every door leads to other doors. 

A positive attitude and enthusiasm towards life is best cultivated early: start with Open the Doors to You. Despite its propensity for admonishments, the total result of this picture book is a positive, upbeat tone that encourages kids to explore the world with positive results in mind. The colorful format enhances the message and assures it will be delivered to an interested audience.

Open the Doors to You

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Rupert's Parchment: The Story of the Magna Carta
Eileen Cameron
Mascot Publishing
560 Herndon Pkwy, Suite 120, Herndon, VA 20170
Publisher email:
978-1-62086-984-0       38 pages     $17.95  

Rupert's Parchment: The Story of the Magna Carta tells the story of the historic Magna Carta from the viewpoint of young Rupert, who enjoys a ringside seat at the historic event at Runnymede in the year 1215. 

Illustrator Doris Ettlinger adds colorful visual embellishments to this picture book saga, which requires good reading skills (or parental assistance) but will appeal to kids who have the reading basics well in hand and who are interested in lively stories based on real facts. 

It's unusual to see a picture book treatment of a subject usually broached in middle school and older history courses as a dry fact. In contrast, this presentation adds life, color, and personality to events, emphasizing to a younger audience why the historic Magna Carta signing was so important. 

From the fine art of papermaking (which twelve-year-old Rupert is learning from his father) to politics between royalty, land barons, and the populace,  Rupert's Parchment deftly captures the tone and timber of its times: "We heard news of the King’s soldiers riding to fight the noble barons,” said Father. “Will there be war? The King’s sheriffs have even seized horses of townsfolk.” “Uncle’s carts were taken,” said Rupert. “This year of 1215 has seen much trouble,” said the clerk." 

The result does require both good picture book reading skills (there are sometimes numerous paragraphs of text per page) and an interest in historical events; but those with such abilities will find here a lively treatment of historical fact - fictionalized, to be sure; but filled with the background information to make for an accurate, lively read. 

Add a concluding discussion of principles, casts of characters, a glossary, and an overview of the basic principles of the Magna Carta and its amendments and you have a unique treatment that grades 3-6 will relish.
Rupert's Parchment: The Story of the Magna Carta

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Shoulderdice and the No Trespassing Woods
Lauri Tibbits Nelson
Prepublication Manuscript
Lauri Nelson
2625 Smithfield Drive #16, Fitchburg, WI 53719

It's always been called the 'No Trespassing Woods', but Barnaby didn't believe that was a serious label, until the barbed wire fence sprung up to surround his former wild woods playground after the land was sold to developers. His family has been enjoying the woods for five years and his earliest nature memories were formed there; so the prospects of no access and paved-over nature are daunting. 

But this is the tip of the iceberg in exploring the changes affecting Barnaby's entire world in Shoulderdice and the No Trespassing Woods, an odd-sounding title that invites middle school readers to want to investigate further. 

Barnaby's plight is one that affects so many kids who find that their favorite vacant lots, woods, or wild places succumb to development. He finds it difficult to stay away from a place which once seemed like an extension of home: "He didn’t mean to disobey his mom and dad, but the woods were the one place in the world where everything felt just right.  He went there when he was happy and he felt even better.  He went there when he was sad, and it cheered him up.

But there are other wild places to investigate and other places Barnaby can adopt, as he comes to realize when he enters a unique flower shop in search of a gift for his mother and discovers a wizened little old man and a sense of magic permeating one of the few places in town that's not in a modern building or shopping center. 

It takes a sassy, talking plant named Shoulderdice, a newfound affection for reading (thanks to the plant's obsession), and a strange discovery in a cave to lead Barnaby on an incredible journey that might just change the course of what seems inevitable. 

From its odd-sounding title to an unusual association between a boy, a dog, and a sentient plant, Shoulderdice and the No Trespassing Woods holds the rare ability to stand out in a crowd of middle school fiction. Young readers looking for something different, magical, and engrossing won't be disappointed. 

The only prerequisite is a willingness to accept magical circumstances. The rest of the story's strength is firmly embedded in strong protagonists, believable conflicts, and cemented in a healthy dose of magic. 

Shoulderdice and the No Trespassing Woods

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"Trash to Treasure" series
Tom Noll
Green Kids Press, LLC
23 'I' Street, N.W., Washington DC 20001-1008
$17.99 each 

The "Trash to Treasure" series - Recycling Creatively With L.T. features a recycling hero whose efforts to save the environment result in not only creative thinking, but adventure - and two children's picture books featuring this young protagonist require only good reading skills from kids (or parental read-aloud assistance) to set forth the basic concepts of recycling and one boy's unique vision of saving his world. 

The fun begins with The Bicycle Fence (9781939377500, 32 pages), illustrated by Brandon Fall with large-sized colorful drawings, and it presents the start of L.T.'s entry into the concept of recycling when he outgrows his bicycle and his father builds him a replacement from recycled parts which are not the spiffy new wheels he'd envisioned. 

He's embarrassed to ride it to school and initially views his 'new' bike as a liability to be replaced by something shinier someday, but his father's teachings kick in and he finds a way to be proud of his recycled bike without having it look like 'trash' - and even expands upon the concept of recycling a bicycle! 

This story is based on the author's real-life experiences and addresses concerns of recycling, public appearances, and a young boy's pride (although, depending on the child, the angst over 'used materials' could be greater than L.T. experiences!)

That The Bicycle Fence comes from an artist with an eye to creative problem-solving makes it even stronger. Another note: all the protagonists are smiling widely. A positive perspective on the recycling experience is thus reinforced on every page. 

The adventures continue in Noll's Selling Eggs (9781939377576, 40 pages), also recommended for readers ages 3-8, which further explores the recycling adventures of L.T. 

This time L.T. is excited about his family's venture into small-scale chicken farming, envisioning all the pocket money he'll gain from selling eggs. When troublesome, needy chicks arrive, L.T. begins to understand just what is involved in caring for them - and how to use recycling concepts in the process. Brandon Fall works with illustrator Kimiyo Nishio in this production, which also features big grins on all its protagonists and chicks sporting funny, winning expressions on their faces. 

There are some nearly unbelievable points (as when his chicks outgrow their recycled homes and L.T. teaches them to ride on the handlebars of his bike); but this just lends whimsy to the overall story of how recycling fits into daily life challenges and even into animal management. 

These two titles are fun reads, reinforcing recycling's benefits. More importantly, they show how creative thinking about 'junk' results in problem-solving and new ideas of art and practical recycling applications. 

Young readers attracted to large-sized drawings, cheerful faces, and realistic insights about recycling will find these winning reads serve up much food for thought on the process of not just repurposing 'junk', but finding attractive, unique ways of living with such products. 

Trash to Treasure" series

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Wildlife Heroes
Jack Roberts
Curious Kids Press
ASIN: B00MD0884U      $4.95       50 pages

 Joy and George Adamson were two of the most famous early wildlife conservationists in the world; but today their names are less likely to come to mind than that of Elsa the Lion in Born Free. But if you remember Elsa, you're remembering the Adamsons: she was their 'baby' and it's pleasing to see that Wildlife Heroes: The Story of Joy and George Adamson finally acknowledges the Adamsons' overall importance in conservation for a younger audience. 

The Adamsons raised a lion cub and they trained her to survive in her native African bush (something most said couldn't be done), and Elsa succeeded in returning to her wild roots and raising cubs in the wilderness. But Born Free was about something more than Elsa herself: it alerted the world to the threat from poachers and their devastating effects on Africa's wildlife, and with this the Adamsons truly made their mark on the world. 

In much the manner that Born Free brought Elsa to the world's attention, so Wildlife Heroes brings the Adamsons some much-deserved limelight. In much the way that Elsa's plight and activities became part of homes across America, so Wildlife Heroes offers kids an opportunity to finally get to know the Adamsons and their work. And with much of the importance of Born Free, so Wildlife Heroes fills in many gaps for a young audience that too rarely receives accounts of wildlife heroes over stories of animals. 

Vintage black and white photos throughout, 'Think About It' notes concluding each biographical chapter sketch, and sidebars of facts about African wildlife make this more than a biography alone: it's a multi-faceted saga of Africa's challenges in wildlife management, concluding with a timeline of events that begins with George Adamson's birth in India and concludes with the separate murders of both Joy and George. 

Source notes, a list of works consulted, and a glossary keyed to bolded words throughout the text make Wildlife Heroes a special recommendation for sparking the interest a young conservationist in the advanced elementary to early middle school grades.

Wildlife Heroes

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