Fantasy & Sci Fi

The Eagle and the Sparrow
Claire Youmans
American i
978-1-733-9020-3-8               $14.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle
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The 7th book in the magical realism fantasy series 'The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow Boy' will delight prior enthusiasts of the Japanese-centered story set in the 1800s. Here, bird-humans Toki-Girl Azuki and Eagle-Boy Akira and a host of others who exist on the cusp of two very different worlds continue their search for what it means to be and live in human society as something not entirely human. 

Subject to changing forms, their struggle to stay human or integrate elements of their humanity with their animal side creates barriers and tests of courage as their dual natures vie with matters of the heart. 

Folklore about Japan's Meiji era blends into a compelling saga that requires no prior familiarity with Japanese history, but will best be absorbed by prior series fans with a complete command of the environment in which Sparrow-Boy Shota faces his greatest challenge, which pits his heart against his duty. 

Claire Youmans creates a vivid story of young people of 'dual nature' who struggle with a multitude of responsibilities, ambitions, threats, and puzzles stemming both from their natures and the world around them. This dichotomy and contrast between inner and outer states of being inserts a satisfying moral and ethical dynamic, as well as much psychological tension, into a story that evolves and continues to expand both the abilities and the dilemmas of these special folk. 

Lovely black and white drawings pepper the tale, adding to its atmosphere and reinforcing the feel of Japanese culture with art. 

Can dual-natured children grow up to honor both their heritages? The back and forth struggles as they attempt to achieve this and other impossible goals is depicted in lovely language in many thought provoking scenes such as this: "You want to be a human; you want Irtysh to be a human. I want our children to be dragons first. They must be dragons first and foremost! Sugaar must live with me so he learns that. Renko was almost killed because of your insistence on her humanity.” 

As Akira faces equally powerful changing forces in Japanese society, he revises his vision of his place in it: "We have to take up our rightful positions in society. We're Samurai. We belong in the military. We should lead the military. We can't let the riff-raff simply kick us out, national army or no.” 

While young people are the focus of this and all the Toki stories, this tale is far more complex and multifaceted than a young audience alone could absorb. It's recommended for mature young adult to adult readers of magical realism and fantasy. It offers an adventure that probes the forces of society and those divided by their heritage, special abilities, and uncertain place in the world. 

The numerous references to Japanese history and culture throughout will delight adult readers interested in the forces shaping the politics, society, and psychological nature of the Japanese. The cultural and social clashes in The Eagle and the Sparrow form a highly recommended continuation to a series in which each already-extraordinary individual is forced to revise their paths, dreams, and ultimate strengths in response to a rapidly changing world. 

The Eagle and the Sparrow

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The Illegal
Steven Cortinas
Independently Published
979-8632720298            $9.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook 

The Illegal: The First Mexican Superhero is the first book in the Legacy series. It offers a wry blend of social commentary and sci-fi superhero adventure as it explores a hell-raising hero who tackles the poverty and ghettos of the Latino community. 

Latinos don't have superheroes. They do have poverty, prejudice, and repression that cries out for one, however; and in The Illegal, a powerful individual rises from the pits of ghetto hell to fill the gap and see that justice is achieved. 

Detective Barton was raised in this milieu. He knows there are no such things as miracles, superheroes, and an easy life. His world is one of solving violent crimes, confronting the rage, overdoses, and gang clashes that result in massacres. It's about to get bigger when a mysterious message and eyewitness reveals The Illegal's new presence and influence on a turf Barton thought he knew only too well. 

The Illegal is a product of Mexico’s Latin X Program: a genetically enhanced vigilante monster with a vendetta and a mission. As war builds in the neighborhoods and a "nut in a costume" appears to be at the center of escalating violence, those who live in, control, and patrol the Latino community find themselves facing an adversary who may be either a hero or a deadly psychopath. It's all a matter of perspective. 

The cover of The Illegal and the concept of a caped hero may lead some to believe this is a children's story, but make no doubt about it: the social commentary, wry humor, violence, and clashes between disparate forces place it entirely in the adult sci-fi reader's milieu. Superman himself couldn't thwart the kind of drug cartel that operates within the heart of the town. But The Illegal could. 

Steven Cortinas presents a fast-paced, streetwise story replete with action, violent clashes, bawdy language, and even unexpected romance. His descriptions are astute and compelling: "The sane half of his psyche indeed wanted to go home, lick his wounds, and get back to his life of obscure, nerdy poverty. But there was that other half: the one that hated the way things were before."

 Characters forced to become something more than their heritage, social standing, and dreams struggle not just with the forces influencing their community, but those they have inherited along with their Latino roots. 

As the Illegal faces enemy Safire's clever moves and ten-year-old children become powerful heroes themselves, Cortinas injects a myriad of influences and forces from different age ranges, walks of life, and cultural backgrounds to create an unexpectedly diverse adventure. 

This is no one-dimensional Superman character, but a complicated hero whose actions and reactions spawn a sense of power and purpose in a beaten-down community. As a real-life superhero faces a showdown with an equally clever villain, readers are captivated by a series of events that juxtaposes fast-paced action with surprising comic relief: "Before you die, I have to know: why the Illegal? You could've gone with the Dishwasher, or the Landscaper, or the Orange Picker, or the Border Jumper. Why choose such a silly name?" 

Readers will find the tone, presentation, and action of this superhero story alternates from serious social inspection to encounters both violent and surprisingly fun. They will relish The Illegal: The First Mexican Superhero's special brand of unique social, political, and community inspection. It's an approach that makes this story very highly recommended for sci-fi readers looking for something different, as a superhero and his young protégé confront the destruction of everything they know. 

The Illegal

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Midnight in New California
Lisa Renée Julien   
Rearden Publishing
Ebook: 978-1-7352037-1-3               $  7.95
Paperback: 978-1-7352037-0-6        $12.95
Audiobook: 978-1-7352037-2-0 

Midnight in New California blends LGBT culture with an alternate history set in 2030s New California, where Cora Broussard's new romance with the alluring Ashley Doral brings her on a journey back to her roots in a search for new power and meaning in her life. 

Cora lives in a strictly controlled world where New California's Government Protection Officers have their eyes on everyone. Where other people may be content with the trappings of ordinary society and life—jobs and family—Cora covets the best of everything. This desire gets her in trouble as she eschews normal goals and behaviors in favor of the exciting, edgy, superior experience that always seems to leave her bored and unsatisfied in the end. 

Her appetite for power doesn't always serve her well in life, but it's about to prove the one strength that allows her to move away from her familiar goals into unfamiliar territory and survive the experience as she enters a revised life replete with Ashley's mercurial influence and conviction that Cora can't always get what she wants. 

Does utopia have the fire and passion Cora seeks, or does it contain a dark undercurrent of possibilities that she'd never imagined? 

Lisa Renée Julien excels in crafting the trappings of a near-future San Francisco Bay Area that feels familiar in landscape but unfamiliar in its social and cultural identity. The young characters who reside in New California are both at home in this alien environment and chafe at the restrictions of their lives and directions, and the boundaries of their relationships with one another. 

There is no set progression for the story, a satisfying entwining of the familiar and the outrageous, in a plot that keeps readers guessing about possibilities, outcomes, choices, and consequences. 

Family relationships, intrigue, and an odd phone call that injects confusion and questions into Cora's life power events replete with not just romantic entanglements and change, but social, political, and cultural confrontations. 

The characters are powerful women whose lives, assumptions, experiences, and connections to California and beyond are realistically portrayed, but with a futuristic edge that keeps readers on their toes. 

Fans of alternate history and LGBT romances will find Midnight in New California fosters an eerie sense of familiarity and strange new worlds that keep it thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down as Cora's new girlfriend considers what it takes to be part of her world while Cora herself reconsiders family connections and a sense of place. 

Midnight in New California

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The Perfection of Fish
J.S. Morrison
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-506-0         $21.95
Author’s Website:

Readers of science fiction and fantasy who enjoy humor paired with dystopian experience will find The Perfection of Fish a delightfully wry and unique production that joins an unusual premise with an unexpected form of social commentary. 

It takes the classic battle between the sexes and moves it into the realm of genetic manipulation in a future world where a food supplement lowers testosterone and brings peace to the world. (Or, does it?) 

The best intentions go awry when special interests become involved, as Nadia Holkam becomes an unwitting victim of this social and scientific experiment and her twin sister Diana gets wind of the fact that companies are trying to use the genetic alterations to make women subservient. 

In 2042, an isolated small town holds only two inhabitants: Nadia, and a strange, insane younger overseer, Berky, who thwarts her every small, tired attempt to defy his search for perfection and complete dominance over her life and mind. 

His quest for the perfect woman has resulted in a beaten, trapped soul whose goal is to foster and force in a new era of male domination and female subservience. 

This might initially sound like The Handmaid's Tale, and indeed holds some familiar themes of repression and social commentary, but J.S. Morrison doesn't create a black-and-white world with predictable scenarios and characters. And so her story expands to include an unlikely opposing force consisting of Nadia's sister, a one-eyed Muslim Bible salesman, an African American woman promoting a testosterone-reducing food supplement, and an Indian geneticist fleeing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. 

The dystopian setting means that the usual information channels and options are all disrupted, as Nadia's sister discovers when she tries to handle Nadia's agoraphobia: "Diana puzzled over the problem of sanity. She needed to understand the cause, symptoms, and cure for agoraphobia to help Nadia leave Assurance. There weren’t any books on the subject in their skimpy home library. Her only research option was her sister’s ancient computer and a flaky internet connection. Email didn’t work. Accessible sites weren’t fully functional. The computer seemed connected to a walled garden, planted with a curated set of pages containing unresponsive interactive links." 

Similar to The Handmaid's Tale, The Perfection of Fish takes place in a not-too-distant future when the benefits of past society are unavailable, yet still a memory that prompts the characters to try to replace information systems and technological support systems with the new realities at hand. This creates a believable series of scenarios that are eerie for their combined familiarity and newness. 

Berky and Cantor struggle to destroy the strong women who resist this type of control and deem Nadia irrelevant to their evolving plans and helpless because of the agoraphobia which commands her world. Readers receive a powerful story of intrigue, manipulation, an AI control system that holds its own special interests in manipulating mankind, along with an irreverent sense of humor that permeates the story with a special brand of irony. 

To call The Perfection of Fish a dystopian story of survival and social change would be to overly simplify the various levels of social and technological forces that permeate this involving story. It's made all the more powerful for its explorations of the very different personalities and dilemmas of twins who harbor their own special abilities. 

Sci-fi readers looking for a near-future story replete in original insights, an identity crisis heightened by technological developments and greed, and the particular perceptions of two women who struggle for their own identities and freedom will find The Perfection of Fish compelling, original, fun, and hard to put down. 

The Perfection of Fish

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The Pystead Group
James P. Roby III
The Techner Group
 B088QY31BM             $6.28

The Pystead Group presents a frightening near-future sci-fi story set in 2052, where U.S. citizens fear extremists and corrupt government alike. Cognitive scientist Philip Russell flees his country for a job in the West Indies, where he finds himself in even more hot water with corrupt police and illegal activities that include his new company's brain scanning security technology. 

Targeted by the company's enemies and corrupt police alike, Philip finds his job as a Pystead scientist places him right in the middle of everything he's hoped to avoid. His assessment of the Net and its injection of uncertainty affects his choices, decisions, and views of life: "It's just impossible to know if you've found the crux of any matter via the Net." 

Readers should know that this is no light sci-fi scenario. James Pryor weaves quite a bit of philosophical inspection into the story that offers more than casual food for thought: "In the glow of modernity, an early metaphor may be maligned and waning, yet informative. The reality of the cosmos is not changed by machinations of the human mind; the machinations of the mind are not always changed by the reality of the cosmos. What is absolute in the cosmos may be deemed relative or spurious in the mind." 

This approach gives The Pystead Group added dimensions of complexity and value by interfacing Philip's life and confrontations with greater questions of life purpose as he simultaneously pursues his new role as part of a crew navigating dangerous scientific and political waters and his newfound fiancée's expansion of his journey and life purpose. 

Philip is both challenged and changed by his new job and life. This, in turn, results in a deep inspection of career, purpose, and love as he faces the impact of his own technological connections. 

As Philip adapts to new realities and the possibility of a very different future, readers receive many insights into his world, how it got that way, its divergent paths, as well as Philip's own attempts to reinvent his life, love, and relationships. 

Pryor places all these concerns within a fast-paced adventure story designed to keep readers on edge and thinking throughout Philip's journey. 

As themes of disruptive politics and authoritarian plays for power, dangerous technologies, and individual perception and growth juxtapose with a struggle for an understanding of reality itself, readers will find this near-future world delightfully engrossing and completely accessible. 

Is Philip really alive if he can't embrace the extent of humanity's and his own possibilities? Readers will find themselves alternately engaged and thinking throughout this satisfying, highly recommended social commentary and sci-fi romp through high technology, philosophy, and ethical quandaries alike. 

The Pystead Group

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Shane Boulware
Theorybee, Inc.
$14.95 Paper, $22.67 Hardcover, $4.99 Kindle 

Soulstealer is a series, and this first book, subtitled Nythan, introduces the scenario of a college-bound student on the pinnacle of success and change who discovers he has a demon inside of that threatens everyone around him—even those he loves. 

How can he achieve his goals while struggling with a dangerous force? Should Nythan help a deadly demon escape his soul to free it into the world so this effort can free him, as well? 

This teen fantasy is suggested for mature readers ages 16 and older, who will be able to easily digest some mature themes such as violence, philosophical inspections, and references to abuse. This audience will relish the dark fantasy which evolves as Nythan Dwienz, a cadet in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Central Florida, faces a destiny he never could have imagined as he comes of age. 

As Nythan gets to know his 'other self', Bane, and deals with an entity which has spent lifetimes in hiding waiting for just this moment to emerge, he comes to realize his own hidden abilities and their connections to both the entity within him and the secret order charged with stopping it. 

Fast-paced action, intrigue, newfound connections, and adventure permeate an urban fantasy replete with satisfying twists and turns. The story is spiced with interpersonal interactions that keep Nythan growing and changing on more than one level: "Everything took on a whole new meaning when he accessed another person’s most intimate feelings. He recognized the depths to which she’d go to do whatever he asked." 

The philosophical insights that weave through this story as interactions between Nythan and Bane are nicely presented, thought-provoking interludes to their encounters: "Tell me again what wú wéi means?It means non-action. Another way to say it is non-forcing. It’s knowledge of the tide’s pattern. Sailing, rather than rowing. Your heart beating is wú wéi. Your unconscious breathing is sailing. When you intentionally breathe, you’re rowing. Why’s this important?
Because receiving a gift from thousands of people is much different than hundreds." 

Both must learn new ways of handling issues and relating to all sides if they are to survive. This dilemma adds an extra dimension of tension and growth to a vivid story that mature teens will find compelling. 

Soulstealer is highly recommended for prior fans of urban fantasy, who will find this tale satisfyingly engrossing and hard to put down. 


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Biography & Autobiography

Almost the Truth: Stories and Lies
Aaron Zevy
Tumbleweed Press, Inc.
9798646185571      $9.99 Paper/$3.55 Kindle 

Almost the Truth: Stories and Lies is a humorous memoir that moves into literary fiction as Aaron Zevy presents a blend of fun personal insights, life reflections, and vignettes that tantalize the senses with their sense of joie de vievre and astute observation. Readers looking for a memoir that crosses the line between truth and lie for the sake of entertainment, enlightenment, and fun reflection will find Almost the Truth departs from the normal staid memoir format in favor of a fun observational romp through life. 

Take the hilarious opening line to 'Crossing the Nile', for example. It draws readers in with a family probe that is anything but a usual Jewish holiday gathering scenario: "My nieces and I play a drinking game at our Passover Seder. As I am both wifeless and childless, in addition to lacking the requisite maturity, I sit in the children’s section directly across from my brother who sits at the head of the table with the rest of the adults." 

As it evolves into a piece that considers both serious Seder rituals and Aaron Zevy's zany interpretations, readers receive a fun survey of his ability to celebrate life in unusual, creative ways: "...we are required to drink four glasses of wine—two before dinner and two after. But we decided to supplement the religious rites by adding a twist of our own. We would take a drink when triggered by specific words or actions of our fellow Seder participants. In other words, our family and close friends. I don't really want to throw any of them, or my nieces for that matter, under the bus by divulging any of those triggers but suffice it to say the word “colonoscopy” alone has gotten them drunk long before the pickled brisket is served." 

'Golfing with Toby Zeigler' is another missive that readily admits the embellishments and detriments in the original story, offering tidbits of cultural and social reflection that are hilarious in the retelling: "...this woman, the wife, is at Harbourfront one afternoon and stumbles upon Richard Schiff sitting on a bench eating a pretzel. I don’t know if he was actually eating a pretzel but I include it in the telling. It establishes his New York City bonafides." The essence of a superior story often lies in such details, and as the piece evolves, even readers with no interest in golf and no prior knowledge of who Toby Zeigler is will find Zevy's account compelling: "Richard Schiff replies and says thank you very much, he would love to golf but he is working on the shoot during the week and the only time which works would be Saturday afternoon. At this point Steve should have written back and said, “Amazing, I will send a limo to pick you up. We are playing with my friend Ron, who is a huge fan, and we are both really looking forward to it.” But he didn’t write that." 

There's a surprise twist at the end which proves that despite its title, the essay is more about getting screwed than playing golf. And therein lies the collection's power—its ability to draw readers with an anticipated scenario, only to have the actual subject prove to be something greater than the lure of the piece's title or initial subject. 

This approach translates to great writing. It's entertaining, it's funny, it's culturally revealing, and it's steeped in the unexpected. 

Almost the Truth: Stories and Lies is uniformly one of the more creative, satisfyingly reads of 2020. Readers who enjoy wry humor and life observations that depart from any anticipated pathway will delight in Aaron Zevy's collection, which is often politically or culturally incorrect in delightful ways. 

Almost the Truth: Stories and Lies

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How to Remodel a Life
Hope Anderson
PipeVine Press/Warren Publishing
978-1-7347075-7-1                $16.95 Paper 

How to Remodel a Life comes from an author who was diagnosed as bipolar in her forties, after she became a substance abuser and struggled heavily with abusive relationships and a life fraught with brink-of-death experiences and constant confrontations. 

Hope Anderson was in her sixties when her husband's near-death experience caused her to change drastically. She eschewed the abuse and pain that was part of daily life for a better vision of life purpose and direction that is reflected in How to Remodel a Life. Her special blend of memoir and inspirational guide will offer much food for thought and hope for anyone struggling with a mood disorder and the life-altering challenges it presents. 

Her story doesn't just incorporate, but embraces a personal life of pain. Readers who want the inspirational without their wellspring should look elsewhere, because these descriptions, such an intrinsic part of her growth process, can be difficult to read. 

However, the pain is worth the many candid revelations that serve as guideposts to others struggling with mood swings and substance abuse: "It was never enough just to be me. I lied to myself about my own importance; I was never just one of the girls. I deceived myself and others about everything—my weight, my name, my marital status, my exercise routine, my talent. I did all this in an effort to create a persona that I could live with, one that seemed larger than life, better than I really was. The tragic truth is I spent decades being someone I was not, when my genuine self wasn’t so bad after all." 

For every reader who sees adversity and too much pain in this story, there will be ten who acknowledge that real growth isn't possible without building on failures and earthshaking foundations to achieve something bigger and better. 

The perfect audience for How to Remodel a Life are those who will learn and grow from the author's self-inspection and survey of the "things that make her crazy" and the many truths that emerge from this process: "...sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own denial that we are unable to see the truth about ourselves. The truth is: I need to truly love myself before I can love anyone else." 

The result is a road map that goes straight through pain and into the process of remodeling a broken life. It's one that also demonstrates that a person is never too old to embrace a better route.

Readers on their own journeys through struggle and threat will find How to Remodel a Life a powerfully uplifting journey through angst to serenity, and will welcome the opportunity to follow the insights Hope Anderson cultivated from this process. 

How to Remodel a Life

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Journey of the Self
Ruth Poniarski
Warren Publishing
978-1-7347075-5-7         $15.00 

Journey of the Self: Memoir of an Artist represents a journey not just through personality and ambition, but surveys how Ruth Poniarski's pursuit of her art led her in the direction she'd longed to realize—locating a soul mate and best friend. 

Lovely black and white images in acrylics pepper her memoir. Her story shares life experiences and anecdotes, therapy pros and cons, encounters with various kinds of people, and goals which are challenged and changed by life experiences. 

Poniarski's voice is analytical, strong in its self-assessments, and holds important messages for those in therapy or on their own roads to self-discovery: "The doctor didn’t realize the pattern of psychosis developing when a stressful situation evolved. My illness was difficult to understand and not defined in the same way as diabetes or a heart condition. His Freudian style of therapy was not effective in curtailing my decompensation. I needed him to tell me the basics for my survival within the boundaries of my limitations. I needed to know that I should avoid chaos and too many events happening at once. He should have warned me against reenrolling in an architecture program and making a big move into the city at the same time." 

From how she overcame a poor self-image and recurring episodes of mental anguish to her struggles with a worsening disorder and her relationship to another who struggled with his own different form of mental illness, Poniarski chronicles struggles, successes, challenges, and the progression of not just her disease, but her recovery process. 

Her memoir is an inspirational lesson plan for others who battle mental illness. In the course of a journey to discover who she truly is, Poniarski provides insights not just into self-realization, but assessing and handling doctors and medical systems that can either enhance or thwart the pursuit of peace and happiness.

 Readers interested in personal stories of mental illness and recovery will find much food for thought in Poniarski's survey of her condition, her relationships, and the medical system that she navigates, and will find Journey of the Self a satisfying memoir with a happy ending.

Journey of the Self

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 The Monster Inside
Eva Casey Velasquez
This is Resilience
Paperback: 978-1-7345358-0-8            $19.99
Ebook: 978-1-7345358-1-5                   $  5.99 

It's rare that a book author 'nails' the essence of why a reader should choose their book over many similar-sounding titles on the market, but Eva Casey Velasquez tackles this in the opening paragraphs of The Monster Inside: Surviving Sexual Abuse and Architecting a Life of Resiliency: "What makes my story special? Why should you bother to read it when there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of childhood sexual abuse survivors around us? This story is more about what I did after this early childhood trauma; this book is about how I practiced resilience, relinquished shame, and acknowledged my unlimited potential." 

It's refreshing to see a title that holds its foundations in a memoir about a social issue, but moves beyond singular experience to probe social meanings of abuse, self-help, and finding renewed strength and meaning in life despite a horrific childhood of ongoing sexual and emotional abuse. 

One motivator for writing Velasquez's book was to break the code of silence and secrecy surrounding this abuse, but another was to reveal the nature and impact of adult choices that led away from a life of repression, fear, and denial. 

She wants to keep progressing in her life and healing, and this drive to better her world despite its early influences is part of what sets The Monster Inside apart from other accounts of childhood abuse. 

From opportunities and good and bad decisions in her relationship choices to the insidious signs of an abuser's tactics and approach to life, Velasquez cultivates a sense of upward momentum and understanding about her choices. This offers inspirational inspections and psychological depth about the dynamics and patterns early abuse translates to, in adult lives: "He started reinventing our history by making himself into an unwilling participant in all the choices we made together. He did it with such conviction and regularity that he started to believe his own lies." 

From systemic conflicts between approaches to parenting and life obligations to a developing clarity that allows her to develop a new mission in life (to help others), The Monster Inside excels in creating a vivid blend of memoir and advice guide that will help others on similar paths understand the road map to a new, better life. 

Revealing, inspiring, and filled with insights, The Monster Inside is an opportunity for change offered to those who would recover fully from trauma. It is highly recommended reading for survivors who want more than just a badge of courage, but the keys to building a better future. 

The Monster Inside

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Never Turn Your Back on the Tide
Kergan Edwards-Stout
Circumspect Press
978-0-9839837-5-0 (pbk)              $16.99
978-0-9839837-6-7 (ebk)               $  9.99  

Never Turn Your Back on the Tide (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe-Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell) is a hard-hitting memoir that Kergan Edwards-Stout never thought he'd write. After all—sometimes it's better to "let sleeping dogs lie". Or, is it? In this case, it quickly becomes evident that this is a story that needed to be told not only for the sake of family, survivors, forgiveness and moving on, but as a lesson for others who might recognize themselves in it and learn from its discussion. 

Kergan Edwards-Stout and his mate 'Eyes' are California married gay men with a one-and-a-half-year-old adopted son. When Kergan learns his partner was not only involved with another man, but had introduced their child to him, hell begins...and it doesn't release him for years. Before it does, everything will change. 

Never Turn Your Back on the Tide is about this particular brand of emotional hell, but it's as much about what contributes to naivety and downfall in the victim as about the modus operandi of his partner. This is just one defining, exceptional facet of the story, along with Kergan's lyrical descriptions: "For every lollipop, there is a sucker. And to understand Eyes, and his success in my deception, you need to understand me. The ultimate sucker." 

His search for understanding explores a gay man's evolution, romances, flings, and changing relationship with parents and the world. Graphic sexual encounters pepper this world, along with astute reflections on the search for love and meaning. 

The processes of coupling, uncoupling, sorrow over friends deceased, and forming often-mercurial unions before he becomes infatuated with Eyes is covered, along with the evolving deceptions that he realizes when he learns Eyes is not just having an affair, but is deeply involved with and actually wedded to another. And not just one 'another', either. 

Another powerful facet to Never Turn Your Back on the Tide is its explicit survey of the process of gaslighting and how it works. Kergan's candid explorations of his feelings, reactions, and conundrums during this process is astute and emotionally revealing: "The daily barrage of lies, attempting to make me feel as it were my own issues which were fueling Eyes’ actions, was tearing me up." 

Finally, Kergan goes the extra mile to confront his own personality, needs, and contribution to his situation with a therapist. This adds a further dimension of growth to his story which offers many personal reflections that readers will readily understand: "I used to feel as if I were an alien being, alone in the vast sea of humanity. Wherever I went, I felt this “otherness”, and it wasn’t an easy cloak to wear. I felt alone, even in a large group of people. It seemed that I didn’t laugh as easily as others, or at the same things. I had a different perspective on almost everything, and rarely met anyone with whom I fully connected or felt at ease. I would try my best to fit in, but it never felt genuine. When I was younger, I attributed this other-worldly state to being gay, but as I quickly discovered, I was just as out-of-place in the gay community as in the world at large. And being the odd-man-out is a lonely mantle to carry." 

Compelling and graphically candid, whether it be about gay sexual evolution or emotional journeys, Never Turn Your Back on the Tide surveys a powerful series of lessons that are thought-provoking, involving, and revealing. While its likely audience will be gay readers interested in relationships, both sexes will find Kergan's story holds food for thought for anyone who would cultivate kindness and respect, breaking the silence of shame and secrets to contribute nuggets of wisdom to future generations. 

Never Turn Your Back on the Tide

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Mystery & Thrillers

All Done With It
Maggie Toussaint
Camel Press
Paperback: 9781603818322         $16.95
Digital: 9781603814393 

All Done With It is the 7th book in the cozy mystery Dreamwalker series and tells of Dreamwalker Baxley Powell's challenge to solve the murder of a jogger. Baxley's connection to the spirit world may be the only force able to solve the puzzle of both this and the mysterious infusion of the dead woman's spirit into a deputy's body, rendering him unconscious. 

Leads are few. But when Baxley uncovers a different kind of psychic threat that could affect her unborn child, she is rendered helpless by the decision that she will have to cut off the one unique tool that could solve this crime, dreamwalking, in order to protect her baby. 

This shadowy threat knows about her and invades other bodies, demanding that Baxley ignore her personal safety to use her abilities to confront it against all odds, despite the obvious danger. Can Baxley resist its allure, given that it is intent on engaging her at the expense of other lives? 

Part of the ongoing attraction to this story is the undercurrent of psychic connections Baxley harbors not just with other entities, but with her partner and deputy Native American husband Sam Mayes: "His gaze darted to my mom and back. “Our son will be born here, as your mother wishes.”  I shot him a quick private message. It’s okay. We can make the decision later. Don’t feel trapped by Gentle Dove’s dream." 

The communiqués which take place in this dream/telepathy state are clearly delineated in italics and supplement the outward progression of events with an inward inspection that reveals the hearts and minds of all involved. 

This lends a compelling, involving element to the story that lends it an emotion-based strength in addition to developing a solid mystery that is equally engaging. 

The themes of a soul-stealing adversary, conflicts and conundrums over an unborn child, and a homicide that links Baxley to an evil entity keeps readers on their toes and guessing throughout. 

As with the others in the series, Maggie Toussaint excels at creating a story powered by the interpersonal interactions of all involved. This compliments the paranormal mystery by adding social, psychological, and cultural depth. 

One might think that the 7th book in a series would require prior familiarity with some or most of the others, but that's not the case. All Done With It's ability to build on the prior books, yet remain accessible to newcomers, makes it a highly recommended cozy paranormal mystery pick for both audiences, easily available and compelling. 

All Done With It

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Daniel Hryhorczuk
Golden Bough, LLC
978-1-7352400-0-8         $16.99 

Amerikana follows the life of 24-year-old Ukrainian sculptor Tanya Bereza, who won the Most Promising Young Artist award, Biennale Arte, in Venice for her kinetic peace sculpture honoring the Heavenly Hundred (the heroes who had given their lives during Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity five years before). 

Now she's fallen awry of the Mafia boss who once sponsored her, and elicits the help of journalism student Mark to escape to Miami and beyond. Mark is doing a blog on Americana, searching for the "real" America. And so he unwittingly drags this Ukrainian refugee into a whirlwind tour of artifacts that attest to what it means to be in America, inadvertently involving her in a global mystery involving Dr. Kane, a global Christian media merger, and intrigue that changes their lives and pursuits on many levels. 

Has Tanya's quest taken Mark away from his? As their journeys merge and lead each on a mission to find themselves as well as the heart of America in such unlikely scenarios as the Death Valley desert, readers receive a compelling story replete with social, psychological, and philosophical inspection: "Here I am, Mark thought, in the most forsaken place on Earth, holding hands with a confessed harlot who may be leading us to Armageddon. Yet he could sense no evil in her. Perhaps he was the one who was evil for judging her. The touch of her hand was more than sensual—it was needy. She was a stranger in a strange land—his land, and she had asked him to be her guide." 

As the story thickens with Russian spies and oligarchs, Tanya's dangerous associations that lead her to stay one step ahead of certain death, and Mark's equally dangerous stumble into political conspiracy, readers will appreciate the multifaceted romp through political and social danger that often mirrors the dilemmas of modern times: "The Russians are fracking us. They look for the fault lines in our society and inject propaganda to amplify them. They try and pit us against each other. When you started browsing the white supremacist websites, they probably latched on to you. They post divisive messages on both sides of an issue and then their bots amplify them until they go viral. I just didn’t think that they would infiltrate us with provocateurs on our own soil.” 

Readers who appreciate international intrigue, explorations of American values, an evolving relationship between two disparate personalities who each harbor their own artistic skills and perspectives on Russian and American connections, and a romp across America will relish Amerikana. Its fast-paced action, encounters, and twists create a rich scenario with believable personalities and a whirlwind of close encounters designed to keep readers on their toes. 

The story is complex, exciting, and hard to put down, highly recommended for readers of international intrigue in general and Russian and American social issues, politics, and dark connections, in particular. Can Russia influence America's future by infiltrating the nation's religious system? The adventure is made all the more powerful by its realistic possibilities and relevance to modern-day events. 


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The Bone Hunger
Carrie Rubin
Indigo Dot Press
Hardcover: 978-1-7328541-4-7     $25.99
Paperback: 978-1-7328541-5-4    $13.99
Ebook: 978-1-7328541-6-1           $  4.99 

The Bone Hunger will appeal to medical suspense readers who enjoy mysteries. It returns student Benjamin Oris to the spotlight, though this isn't billed as "book two in a series" and in fact stands nicely alone as well as complimenting its predecessor, The Bone Curse. 

The story takes place three and a half years after Ben's last shocking mystery. Ben seems to have everything going for him, now. He's a second-year orthopedic surgery resident, he has a son, and he is surrounded by loving friends and family...and death. 

When the severed limbs of his former patients begin to appear in a park, Ben suspects that someone close to him may be involved in the killings. Once again drawn into a nightmare that both connects and alienates him from his chosen profession, Ben embarks on yet another quest for justice that relies on his astute medical and investigative insights for resolution. He also tackles his own and his coworkers' psychological traumas in the process, which makes for heady, involving reading as the mystery deepens. 

Newcomers need no prior familiarity with Ben's world, psyche, or approaches to life in order to appreciate his conundrums and challenges in The Bone Hunger. Carrie Rubin does a fine job of incorporating just enough past history to make everything logical without overloading her story with details that prior fans already well know. 

Ben is an emotional man who shows love and affection to his ailing mother, cares for his child, and supports those around him. This aspect of his character also dovetails neatly with his concern for his patients both while they are alive and after death, in this case. 

The struggles of his daily life mingle with mystery to capture moments of family reflection and insight: "At first Ben wasn’t sure about his son seeing his grandmother in a coma, but Sophia had convinced him it was a good way to gently initiate him into the sad realities of life. Had Maxwell shown fear, they would have stopped his visits, but he seemed to enjoy sitting next to his grandma, showing her his trains and books, convinced she was equally enthralled." 

While some might argue that such quiet family moments and personal life insights depart from the tension and thriller components of the plot, they are necessary and excellent additions that fill out Ben's world and help draw readers into the emotional reactions and psychological draw of the protagonist's life. 

Whether he's jogging and forming connections with thirty-six-year-old epidemiology whiz Laurette or making sure the mother of his child, Sophia Diaz, remains safe against mounting threats, Ben's world comes alive in many different ways. It's a life which still holds the potential for miracles even as it traverses death and dismemberment. 

The medical community is well drawn, with all its underlying influences and pressures. Rubin's background as a physician allows her to accurately explore this medical society, portraying its undercurrents with a deft familiarity with its processes and politics. This adds a sense of reality and purpose to the story's backdrop. 

Rubin's ability to blend the investigative and medical thriller components into a wider-ranging exploration of Ben's psyche and his career and family challenges creates a story that is gripping, involving, and hard to put down. 

The Bone Hunger

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Boulder Girl, Remember Me When the Moon Hangs Low
Cynthia L. Clark
Outskirts Press
9781977219206             $24.95 

Boulder Girl, Remember Me When the Moon Hangs Low represents romantic suspense at its best and follows the evolving love life of divorcee Lana Ross, whose life experiences are peppered with a play list of diverse music. These song references are wound into the plot and appears at the end of the story in a listing of songs by chapter, which can be played during the course of the story. 

When Lana inadvertently hires an old fan from high school to change the locks on the house after her divorce, trouble begins as the re-infatuated Leon Alvarez covets what he can't have and both spies on her and plots to win her back. 

This isn't Lana's only obstacle to freedom and success post-husband, however. She meets the handsome, compelling Vincent "Roadking" Romano, falls in love, and hatches her own love affair reflecting the sparks of passion between them as a frustrated Leon looks on, again on the sidelines of her life and love focus. 

The resulting spree of angst leads to murder and danger as the three play separate dangerous games that coalesce—Roadking with his focus on Lana's safety after an attack, Lana with her struggles with life and danger, and Leon with an evolving obsession that turns him into a monster and a major threat. 

Boulder Girl cultivates an atmosphere of suspense within its romantic entanglements that leads readers into the minds, motivations, and influences of each of the three main characters. It follows each character's evolving definition of love and connection, creating an involving tale that changes directions several times as it progresses to an inevitable showdown. 

This is the kind of reading that will keep you up at night. It speculates on outcomes, decisions, consequences, and the evolution of strong feelings that don't always coalesce right away. It takes time for the story's subtler nuances to be explored and play out, and so, of necessity, Cynthia L. Clark's piece is more detailed and longer than one might expect. This is not a quick leisure story, but a contemplative exploration of evolving relationships that requires from its readers a patience to fully explore all the facets of various interpersonal interactions. 

Readers who like their suspense slow-building and steady and their romance equally pragmatic will relish the atmosphere and tension created in Boulder Girl, and will remain riveted until the story's unexpected conclusion, which leaves the door open for another chapter. 

Boulder Girl, Remember Me When the Moon Hangs Low

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The Friday Cage
Andrew Diamond
Stolen Time Press
Paperback: 978-1734139228               $12.99
e-book: 978-1734139211                     $  3.99 

The Friday Cage follows Claire Chastain through a life transformed by a stalker who engages her with a deadly purpose in mind. Claire used to be good at solving others' mysteries, and had rejected the city that once placed her in jeopardy. Now she's on her own in that same town, and seems powerless to stop the stealthy perp who has penetrated her barriers and entered her world. 

Readers follow her moves as she changes from chalking up her perceptions to paranoia to realizing that something is going on that she can't quite identify. 

Claire's discovery process proves to her that she must be on her guard, whether in daily life or in love: "The question Claire kept coming back to was, How could I have walked right into that? Why did I not see it coming?  Your mistake, she told herself, was wanting something in the first place. Desire is need, need is weakness, and the more weakness you show, the more you invite people to walk on you." 

As Claire is forced to analyze her life and her inclinations to flee even something she desires, readers are brought into a world that is filled with more than mystery and confrontation. Psychological growth and confrontations test Claire's many abilities to survive and lead her to question her inclination to run away from some hard truths. 

Intrigue and romance blend in a fast-paced thriller that races through Claire's motivations, inclinations, successes and failures alike. Andrew Diamond's ability to weave the greater mystery into her personal failings, shame, and self-examination process contribute to a believable character whose struggles are moving and action-packed. 

Claire is guilty of always giving the impression and idea that she's ok when really she is not. She thinks she knows herself, at the beginning of the story. Part of the draw to this thriller lies in her process of self-discovery as much as in the cat-and-mouse game that draws her in. 

Readers who enjoy solid thrillers spiced with psychological depth and revelation will find The Friday Cage a compelling saga that moves in satisfyingly unexpected directions, keeping the reader engaged in the evolution of a character who never gives up, on either her pursuit or herself. 

The Friday Cage

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The Harlequin & The Drangùe
Liane Zane
Zephon Romance/Zephon Books
978-1735131801            $14.99 

Book One in the Elioud Legacy series, The Harlequin & The Drangùe, is a satisfyingly complex romantic thriller that revolves around a CIA undercover agent who leads a double life as a superhero at night. 

Olivia Markham didn't expect a confrontation with demons to enter her world of vigilante justice, but when an altercation with a sexual predator goes awry, she uncovers a dangerous world of supernatural warriors who have their own undercover mission and a newfound focus on Olivia's abilities and soul. 

As paranormal confrontations enter the picture of bringing justice to the world, Olivia finds herself caught between two dangerous creatures—predator Asmodeus, who follows a cult that threatens more than a few women; and the drangùe who battles him, who also wants Olivia on his side, but comes to find her allure dangerously compelling and complicated. 

Replete with confrontations, battles, and matters of the heart and soul, The Harlequin & The Drangùe blends urban fantasy and legend with a powerful attention to detail that juxtaposes Olivia's strengths with her femininity, using striking action-packed encounters and images: "Olivia kept her voice confident, shoving aside the knowledge that the evil bastard had killed a woman in response to her goading. Best to keep jabbing at him. “Too bad you didn’t see it, akhi. Bruce Willis takes out all the terrorists by himself, a few at a time.” Hiking her dress up, she eased herself onto the counter." 

Can Olivia temporarily adopt another persona with her new companion despite its allure as a permanent possibility? "Maybe they’d have to adopt their new identities permanently. They could be newlyweds Cat and Aleso by day, harlequin and drangùe by night. Unless otherwise occupied." 

The drangùe also struggles with this newfound challenge to his identity and mission: "He could not change his duty or his destiny. It had indeed been a lifetime since he had learned that adamantine lesson. He was his father’s son. He was a drangùe." 

As each struggle with their mission, their attraction for one another, and forces of evil which would change everything, the harlequin and the drangùe survey the battlefield of Europe from very different perspectives. This international flavor lends a fine James Bond-style atmosphere to the confrontations to keep the plot fast-paced and unpredictable. 

Readers of urban fantasy, paranormal adventure, and edgy romantic thrillers are in for a treat with The Harlequin & The Drangùe, which excels in powerful characters and swift action. It's especially refreshing to note a female protagonist who is every bit as effective, well-developed, and powerful as her supernatural male counterpart and romantic interest. 

The Harlequin & The Drangùe is highly recommended for its ability to create a unique, compelling story based on the interactions, special interests, and clashing perspectives of two already-powerful individuals forced to join forces and change. 

The Harlequin & The Drangùe

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Into the Unbounded Night
Mitchell James Kaplan
Regal House Publishing
Paperback: 9781646030026         $16.95
Ebook:  9781646030293               $  9.49 

Into the Unbounded Night is a historical thriller set during the Roman first century and tells of young Aislin, who becomes a homeless orphan when a Roman general sacks her village in Britannia. Bent on revenge, she journeys to a capital city richer than she could have imagined, moves from being a penniless waif on the streets to being the consort of a Roman official, gives birth to a disabled child, and starts the Great Fire of Rome (or believes she does), which lands her in prison. 

Most stories would end here, but Mitchell James Kaplan doesn't let his young protagonist die on the vine. He creates a further adventure over how encounters with others in prison enlighten her, sending her on a trip to Jerusalem where she again becomes involved in a revolt against the oppressive Romans. 

Into the Unbounded Night is an epic journey that operates on many levels: as a historical story of intrigue; a cultural exploration of Roman relationships and their impacts on different peoples in the regions they inhabited; and a lovely celebration of the building blocks of collective memory and the power of individual effort. 

Aislin is not the only character in the story who wields an uncommon power and determination against impossible odds. Jerusalem scribe Yohanan is also adept at his art, affecting hearts and minds"Yohanan’s correspondents never refer to their spouses, children, or private lives, yet he feels a strong fraternity with them. What matters is communication itself, the flow of concepts across the surface of the world and through generations. For Yohanan, the written word seems the most precious form of love if only because it is mysterious and fragile, yet contains the essence of human experience, and transmits that essence to others, much as a perfume transmits the essence of a flower." 

Both are involved in preserving their heritage and culture against all odds. As the interests of Romans and other populations coalesce, readers receive a combination of powerfully lyrical description and insights that weave intrigue into the bigger picture of survival on many different levels. 

Kaplan takes the time to capture not only the politics and social issues of the era, but the environment and atmosphere in which the people operate: "The springtime month of Nisan sprinkles the Galilean hills with grass and forget-me-nots. The kedem, a hot wind, gusts from the east. Groups of pilgrims dot the roads, trekking across the land of their ancestors with sheep, donkeys, and camels. Most are poor, many destitute, but all imbued with the mad hope that this Passover will bring liberation." 

While this attention to detail contravenes the usual haste and nonstop staccato action of the thriller genre, in this case, it lends a depth, accessibility, and believability to the story that strengthens its historical backdrop to attract readers of historical fiction. 

The result is an outstanding piece that cements action and intrigue with a sense of place, purpose, and perspective. This approach creates a compelling, realistic story hard to put down, strengthened by strong characters who clearly represent both personal interests and broader concerns about their choices and place in the world. 

Into the Unbounded Night

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Ivy is a Weed
Robert M. Roseth
Independently Published
978-0-578-62246-0         $13.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Ivy is a Weed tells of a dead university vice president, a public relations officer who can't quite accept the police's decision that the death is accidental, and his subsequent search for the truth, which relies on his previous talents as a reporter and his ability to ask the right questions of possibly the wrong people. 

Mike Woodsen is initially attracted to the problem because the body was found right outside his office, and because he still harbors an inclination to probe puzzling circumstances. His job as the university liaison is to help the police field media relations on any university business. But his familiarity with the school and its leader causes him to step away from this role and back into an investigative position that leads him straight into danger. 

Ivy is a Weed excels in a first-person narrative that is powerfully presented as Mike probes too many motivations for getting rid of a leader nobody liked: "She coughed right into the receiver. “Well, you’ve got me there. People at universities enjoy displaying their feathers like proud peacocks, but that’s usually where it ends.” “Why did people want him… to disappear?” “I can give you several reasons. He was a disaster as an administrator. His staff mostly hated him. He was disruptive in high-level meetings, when he deigned to attend, which was infrequently. He was an arrogant sonofabitch. He made very expensive wrong decisions, repeatedly. And worst of all, in the eyes of some of the top leadership of the university, he could do no wrong, so he was immune from criticism, not to mention punishment. All this was, however, predictable from his interviews and references. Should I go on?” 

As Mike considers statements for their face value and undercurrents, interacts with other officials on everyday departmental issues, and becomes more entwined with the politics and special interests on campus, he discovers that the murderer may have special knowledge of his actions, placing him at risk. 

The blend of campus politics, procedures, and an individual's search for the truth creates an engrossing investigative piece that draws readers into a campus fractured not by a death so much as Mike's persistence in uncovering the truth. 

As University President Marchand Yarmouth becomes ever more drawn into Mike's pursuits, danger and bureaucracy entwine to a point where Mike must also hide the truth. Aided by officer manager Stella, Mike embarks on a journey that is thoroughly engrossing. 

Robert M. Roseth's focus on recreating campus atmosphere, politics, and bureaucratic processes contributes to an engrossing blend of mystery that centers as much around the interactions of various campus players as it does on the 'whodunit' portion of the story. Then there's the humor, which runs through the interactions of characters with a healthy dose of comic relief throughout as it spoofs the higher education environment and its comedic, often klutzy processes and peoples. 

Roseth excels in slowly building intrigue and tension, with Mike's various motivations and discoveries exposing different facets of a deadly truth. 

Fans of investigative pieces that go beyond the usual probe of murderers and problem solvers will find Ivy is a Weed holds excellent, broader commentary on social institutions and political purposes and interactions. It cultivates characters who each find their worlds challenged not just by the death, but by the process of uncovering hidden secrets. 

Ivy is a Weed is an outstanding romp through the ironies and inconsistencies of campus politics. This places it in a category above and beyond the traditional approach to a murder mystery in a highly recommended read for those who want a fun sense of discovery wound into the very serious topic of a campus official's demise. 

Ivy is a Weed

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The Matinée Murders
Jeannette de Beauvoir
Homeport Press
Paper: 978-1-7340533-3-3            $12.99
Ebook: 978-1-7340533-4-0           $  4.99 

The Matinée Murders is a Provincetown mystery that revolves around an inn owner and wedding planner who, this year, is hosting the marriage of a movie star to a screenwriter. Sydney Riley's inn has never been busier as the town becomes flooded with celebrities and their entourages and events. But there's murder in the making, as well, and Sydney is soon drawn into not just one death, but the method by which it's infected Provincetown and her world. 

Jeannette de Beauvoir does an outstanding job of probing not just motivations, but the lives, undercurrents, and interconnections between disparate groups of professionals, strangers, and townspeople. 

As the murder mystery evolves, readers will especially appreciate de Beauvoir's ability to capture dialogue, personalities, and perspectives that spice the murder event with interpersonal relationships and challenges: "Listen,” I said, as persuasively as I could. “No one’s going to talk to the Staties, or anyone from the DA, not these people, and you know it. They come from a place where they eat attorneys for breakfast. But I’m already here, I’m on the inside, they’ll talk to me.” “You listen to me, Riley.” Her cheeks were slightly flushed; I’d gotten under her skin. “This isn’t a game. You’re not Miss Marple and you’re not Jessica Fletcher. This is a woman’s life, a real woman who had a family, who had friends, who had a career. You can show some respect for it by backing off.” She paused. “I mean it, Sydney.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I flapped my hand at her, knowing it would drive her ballistic. “Scout’s honor, officer.” 

Her sassy, forthright social observations of film society, individuals who move in circles far different than she, and the effects of social and political confrontations that change not just a few, but spread ripples of discord through the community as a whole, makes for a far more complex, engrossing probe than most whodunits provide. 

In this cozy mystery, Sydney is more than an amateur sleuth. She's a businesswoman and community member whose choices in handling this murder and its impact will hold lasting ramifications for herself, her family, and her job. The story is thoroughly steeped in P'town culture and a sense of place—and this is another of its many strengths. 

Set against the backdrop of the Provincetown International Film Festival and injected with engaging characters who face a success story gone awry and impossible situations that evolve from this, The Matinée Murders incorporates the satisfyingly unexpected twists and turns of a superior murder mystery while maintaining a sense of place and personality. These features keep The Matinée Murders emotionally involving and fast-paced to the end. 

Cozy murder mystery fans will find The Matinée Murders a delightful treat that's hard to put down. 

The Matinée Murders

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The Rhythm of Evil
Dennis Koller
Pen Books
978-0-9980808-1-9                $15.99

The Rhythm of Evil is a crime thriller set in San Francisco, steeped in its politics and culture and astute in its analysis of good, evil, and police actions. 

Poppy Garcia, who introduces the story, was murdered in San Francisco. Thirteen years later, SFPD Homicide Inspector Reggie Decker re-opens her closed case's puzzle amid charges of conspiracy, expecting to satisfy critics of San Francisco police procedurals, only to find new evidence that changes everything. 

As the story moves from an account of police discrimination and gender and racial clashes to one of re-opening a can of worms, readers become immersed in an issue of the past that becomes tinged with the politics and social issues of the present-day world. 

While the prologue that set the scene from Poppy's final experiences is provided in the third person, the first chapter onward reverts to the first person. This creates an observational style that will engross crime story readers in the observations, attitudes, perspectives and efforts of Reggie. 

More so than most police procedurals, Dennis Koller takes the time to capture the narrator's underlying opinions about life and his role in it: "Becky had been trying for some time to make me more conscious of my word choices. I rebelled at first, using the go-to excuse that I’m a cop and live in a relatively male-dominant environment. To me, using the F-word, S-word, A-word, C-word or hell, pick-a-letter word was nothing more than normal, everyday male conversation, and, truth be told, increasingly female conversation as well. At least in my world." 

This provides insights into underlying motivations and approaches that go far in explaining how Reggie changes his mind and his investigation, as a result. Admitting that he's anything but perfect, Reggie is willing to change...and this serves him well as the plot unfolds and he finds himself involved in more than justifying his department's past and present actions. 

This depth of social issues, combined with a newfound investigative approach, sets The Rhythm of Evil apart from the typical 'whodunnit' procedural story, injecting more than a light touch of social inspection, contributing depth and complexity to the story line. 

At every point, Reggie is forced to re-examine his own prejudices, assumptions, and investigative processes. This creates a multifaceted story that progresses nicely on both an action and intrigue and psychological growth levels. 

Readers become immersed in this process, its results, and the cat-and-mouse dance between politics and criminal justice. The Rhythm of Evil is an exceptionally intriguing premise and evolutionary process that keeps readers on their toes up to its unexpected conclusion. 

The result of a closely-held secret surrounding Poppy's death could change everything in this a highly recommended story of intrigue and deception that will leave readers thinking long past its final revelation. 

The Rhythm of Evil

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Rico Stays
Ed Duncan
Terminal Velocity, a Next Chapter Imprint
979-8643634027            $8.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Rico Stays is the third book in an African American mystery series featuring a white anti-hero in a prominent role, but requires no prior familiarity with the other books in the Pigeon-Blood Red collection in order to prove engrossing to newcomers to Richard “Rico” Sanders, who is charged with protecting his girlfriend against mob forces. 

In this segment of his ongoing story, Rico is injured and hospitalized when he steps in to confront a bully, but now needs to recover out of hospital, in a safe place. His good deed of the past, in rescuing lawyer Paul Elliott, has resulted in the offer of an isolated cabin where Rico can recover. 

Or, can he? Paul's savvy girlfriend knows that his enemies will find out where Rico is holing up—and that when they do, all hell will break lose. 

Rico is a killer with a conscience: "He was a killer, but not your run-of-the mill killer. He was exceptional at what he did, but he was not only that. He was also a killer with a conscience. He didn’t kill kids, he killed women only as a last resort, and he only killed people who “had it coming.” Or at least that was what he told himself, because sometimes it was a close call. But at least he tried. And that made him unique, as nobody else in his business gave a hit a second thought." 

His ability to engage the bullies and dangerous forces of the world comes with a price tag that has both served him well and challenged him in his role as an independent contractor who is an 'eliminator' in an uncertain form of justice. 

His determination to confront not just one bully but the mob that stands behind him changes Rico's life, sending him on a series of confrontations that tests some of the basic tenets of his belief system and his job: "As far as I’m concerned, this is over,” Rico said. “You had your chance back there and you didn’t take it. I won’t give you another one. I don’t kill kids. But if it’s me or you, it damn sure won’t be me. Understand?” The kid nodded, eyes wide. “I wanna hear you say it,” Rico said. “Are we done?” “Yeah, we’re done.” Rico hoped so." 

From testing the underlying ethics of a professional killer to placing him in the role of being a hero against forces of evil in the world, Ed Duncan crafts a mystery thriller that is especially strong because its protagonist is forced to continually reexamine his motivations, life, and skills in the face of new obstacles and life-threatening confrontations. 

It's surprising to note that a main character who is a seasoned killer can hold such attractions and insights not only about those he confronts, but into his own inherent values systems. Most books about killing machines portray only their skill sets and experiences, not their moral and ethical challenges. 

As the story unfolds with high drama and good psychological and social inspection, readers are treated to a high-octane series of encounters designed to keep them both thinking and wondering about the outcome. This combination results in a powerful story that holds the benefit of being both a series addition and a solid stand-alone organized crime thriller. Its underlying social and psychological inspection and strengths creates scenarios that newcomers to Rico's world will relish as much as prior fans of this of this unusual anti-hero. 

Rico Stays

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The Secret Forgotten
E.J. Andrews
Independently Published
ASIN: B088ZL6Z97               $4.95 

While The Secret Forgotten is billed as a work of American historical fiction, it has its foundations in reality as it presents a romance, explores newly joined forces that tackle the lasting mystery of a grandfather's murder, and combines the best elements of a good suspense and love story. 

The story opens in 1847, where a cruel overseer on a slave plantation has his way with a young girl. It then moves to 2007, where novice attorney Darwin faces his first case with the arrival of Uncle Griffin and his niece Camille, who presents him with a historical secret that seems impossible. 

Chapter 3 again moves in time to 1904, where fourteen-year-old teen George faces a new home and challenges; then returns to 2002, where Camille Griffin faces the death of her uncle and the need for Darwin's services, convinced that the police are not investigating the right things. 

The timeline may feel murky and ever-changing at times, but the basic premise of the story has, by then, hooked readers into the foundations of a murder mystery which also injects a possibility of love into Darwin's probe of the past. 

E.J. Andrews creates an ever-changing interplay between past and present, building characters from different times as the story evolves. Readers who like linear stories may feel initially stymied by a tale that keeps alternating between past and present worlds, but this device is essential for building the mystery. After some initial adjustment, the moves between past and present begin to feel as familiar as the unraveling of a complex story that flows in unexpected directions. 

As the romance evolves between a new, dutiful attorney and a lovely young woman, so does the mystery that they are both tasked with solving. Andrews traverses the boundaries of history and justice with a keen eye for observation, problem-solving, and courage as he uncovers unexpected danger to himself and his newfound love. 

As the mystery revolving around baseball, Babe Ruth, and a closely-held secret grows, readers are treated to a blend of ballgame history, biography, and an uncle's strange connection to Babe Ruth as Camille pursues a truth that could either change everything or take her life. 

It's unusual to see legal process wound into historical mystery with an underlying, developing romance adding to the complexity, but Andrews does a fine job of keeping all these balls in the air, and readers stay on their toes as the story evolves. 

Mystery readers looking for a strong inspection of social and sports history wound into a legal thriller format and an evolving romance will find The Secret Forgotten an outstanding work. It keeps its story compelling and involving through the experiences and growth of Darwin, Camille, Eddy, and a host of characters who are all challenged by the past and their approach to their futures. 

Highly recommended for readers of legal thriller, historical fiction, light romance, and mystery, who will enjoy the intrigue and legal processes of a developing relationship affected by choices past and present. 

The Secret Forgotten

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The Secret Sign of the Lizard People
Kevin E. Buckley
Friesen Press
$15.99; Hardcover: $28.99; eBook: $4.99

The Secret Sign of the Lizard People blends satire, intrigue, and an investigative story with elements of sci-fi, making for a genre-crossing read that will especially delight those who enjoy mystery, comedy, and literary approaches to detective procedurals. 

When two homicide detectives investigate a model's murder, they didn't expect to uncover evidence of a justice-busting conspiracy that changes everything. But the plot they reveal is just one aspect to a story that focuses on the developing mystery and many questions that don't hold clear answers or resolution.

Readers of police procedurals who anticipate cut-and-dried reactions and revelations that all neatly tie together in the end could find some of the subliminal uncertainty frustrating, here. But those who delight in the unexpected and in a story line that often holds no clear path to resolution will find The Secret Sign of the Lizard People a satisfyingly original production indeed. 

The quirky characterization of homicide detectives Leafy and Beefy is well drawn and appealing, their investigative process with its pros and cons is solidly depicted, and the injection of unexpected elements of satirical observation and tongue-in-cheek humor is effective. This witty process even translates to some passive-aggressive behavior between partners who come from very different roots, exploring comic relief and ironic observations and gestures that enhance the reader experience with a sense of humor: "Beefy was originally from Chicago and even after all this time had never quite managed to wrap his mind around the fact that he now lived in an active earthquake zone that was long overdue for a major catastrophe. He had still been living in Illinois when the last substantial seismic event had occurred over two decades ago, but a recent earthquake had registered 7.1 on the Richter scale and it had aroused his latent fears all over again. It had also aroused the latent fears of a whole new generation of Californians. Leafy, on the other hand, was originally from Oakland, and, like most native Californians in his age group, never gave much of a second thought to the occasional rumblings from the ground below. He did, however, experience a perverse joy in fuelling the fires of his Midwestern partner’s well-founded fears." 

The interplays between Leafy, who acts as the voice of reason as matters evolve, and the emotional bomb Beefy, who is in danger of having a stroke as tension mounts, provide comic relief to a serious investigative journey. 

The dialogue between the two also reflects quirky commentary. Again—this approach might not be appreciated by readers who look for straightforward conversations, but will be greatly relished by those who enjoy comedy and plays on words and concepts even amidst a serious situation: "Well . . . I guess we’d better take some pictures of it before it rises like a penis from the ashes.” “Phoenix.” “Say what?” “Rises like a phoenix from the ashes,” clarified Beefy. “You said penis.” “Phoenix? How can the largest city in Arizona rise? That doesn’t even make a lick of sense, Beefy.” “Then you explain to me how a penis makes sense.” “Well, heck, everybody knows that penises rise. That’s what they do. They rise to the occasion. They rise of their own accord. Some penises are late risers, some penises are early risers, but just about all of them eventually rise to the challenge. If they didn’t rise there’d be no human race. The same thing applies to animals. So there you have it, Leafy’s magic philosophical formula: no rising penises equals no people and no animals. I admit, it doesn’t paint much of a pretty picture, but I believe it adequately and eloquently explains my point.”

With its blend of police procedural and social and political reflection; UFO ironies and encounters; clashes between visions and reality; and alien conferences that threaten change the world, readers of The Secret Sign of the Lizard People should ideally be well versed in comedy devices, open to accepting a blend of detective story and alien invasion piece, and prepared to appreciate the ironic twists that tint everything from worldviews to the presence of death. 

Readers looking for a literary story of intrigue and invasion will find this blend the perfect choice for an engrossing story that holds no predictable resolution, but harbours the ability to attract and maintain reader interest up to its unexpected conclusion. 

The Secret Sign of the Lizard People

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Sinai Unhinged
Joanna Evans
Pandamoon Publishing
 B087T4V364               $5.99 Kindle 

Sinai Unhinged tells of therapist Alexandra Kraig, who works on a psychiatric ward at Sinai General, and the conundrum she faces when both patients and a close friend begin exhibiting signs of hysteria and paranoia. With her own life endangered by evolving confrontations, Alex is motivated to probe a secret particle physics experiment hidden within the Complex walls, forced to become involved in her father's research and secrets.

Sinai Unhinged combines elements of intrigue, a psychiatric mystery, and a scientific, ethical conundrum as Alex faces many challenges from her work. These range from patients who become violent and threaten her, prompting extreme responses for her safety and survival, to overcoming her own aversion to her father's science for the sake of her job and the world: "Alex didn’t particularly want to go to the Complex. Her father had cultivated in her a respect for machines, a respect that bled into fear, and her stomach hardened whenever she caught the metallic whiff of science at work." 

From the warped perceptions and drive of one who wants to take the Destabilizer machine and control one of the greatest discoveries of science to Alex's own confrontation with ghosts of the past and their impact on her future, Sinai Unhinged moves from unstable mental patients and peers into a dangerous game where Alex must serve as bait in order to lure a deadly adversary out of hiding. 

Alex might have made a great physicist, but her heart lies in doing therapy with her patients. It's an ambition which is threatened and changed by the presence of a force which holds great power to influence everything in the world. 

Joanna Evans creates a gripping science thriller that moves into metaphysical, ethical, and intellectual realms as Alex faces her own heritage and limitations. Her strong portrait of a dedicated woman whose rejection of her father's course and instructions results in a decided shortfall in her ability to address this danger creates a compelling character filled with both flaws and strengths. 

This strong characterization fuels a story line that is thoroughly engrossing, unpredictable, and centered around a personal and scientific quest that could make the difference between survival and destruction. 

Readers who enjoy intrigue laced with science will find Sinai Unhinged the perfect ticket for a combination of moral and ethical inspection and intrigue. It's a page-turner that grips from the start, moves from action to inspection and back again, and proves hard to put down as extraordinary circumstances take their toll on everyone involved. 

Sinai Unhinged

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Trojan Horse
S. Lee Manning
Encircle Publications
978-1645991021            $17.99 

Thriller readers looking for powerful plots replete with strong characterization and international intrigue are in for a treat with Trojan Horse, a fast-paced action story of American operative Kolya Petrov, who is charged with tracking an evil descendent of Vlad the Impaler. 

Mihai Cuza orchestrates the worldwide meltdown of nuclear plants, but he is clever and cannot be touched. Everyone who gets near him dies in agony, and Cuza shrewdly tracks his adversaries as he hones a devious plot to benefit from disaster: "Ion Georgescu neither knew nor needed to know about the fifteen nuclear power plants that would experience meltdowns or near meltdowns. It was a perfect plan. Georgescu, at Cuza’s direction, opposed expanding nuclear power plants in Romania—the opposition supported it as a way to combat global warming and to earn revenue. Once the accidents occurred, the Romanian public would turn on anyone supporting nuclear power. Ion could properly express his indignation at the folly of the present government. And Cuza, who had invested heavily in companies that cleaned up radiation from spills or accidents and in green technologies, would not only watch his candidate sweep into office but would substantially increase his net worth." 

Cuza is charged with killing. His opponents, Kolya's superiors, hatch a plan to plant a Trojan horse on Cuza’s computer. This requires a sacrificial lamb...and Kolya's boss deems him the perfect choice because he has no family connections, and nobody will look for him. A subtle bias may be involved in this selection, as well. 

Kolya finds himself caught between two opposing forces who both want him dead for different reasons, testing his loyalties and abilities to the extreme. 

S. Lee Manning excels in not just planting a Trojan horse on one side, but creating one which rolls back out to bite the agency intent on stopping the opposition, which is becoming like them in the process, creating an impossible dilemma for agent Kolya. 

The injection of romance into this complicated dance strengthens the story line and adds some human connection into Kolya's life, along with further complications to his decision to save himself or continue his mission to stop a plot that could kill thousands of innocents. 

The tension in the thriller component is exquisite. The cat-and-mouse games between Kolya, Cuza, Alex, and a host of characters is well done, and the interplay between opposing forces who find surprising similarities in their methodology and purposes crafts a fine series of puzzles and confrontations between all involved. 

S. Lee Manning does an excellent job of not only navigating a complicated world of international intrigue, but exploring the underlying connections, motivations, and forces that struggle with one another across the game board of the world. 

Trojan Horse's ability to craft a delicate blend of thriller and romance following Kolya's evolving closeness with another against all odds makes it a highly recommended espionage piece. It will attract audiences who appreciate nonstop action, mercurial loyalties, and the solutions of killers who find that murder may not solve everything confronting them in their different worlds. 

Trojan Horse

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The Ultra Betrayal
Glenn Dyer
eBook: 978-0-9991173-5-4           $  4.99
Paperback: 978-0-9991173-4-7    $15.99
Hardcover: 978-0-9991173-6-1     $27.00 

The Ultra Betrayal is a World War II espionage spy thriller set in 1942 that centers on OSS Agent Conor Thorn, whose Allied support assignment changes when an important Swedish cryptographer goes missing in England. 

Thorn must find him. But when a fellow savvy ally also goes missing during the search, he faces the knowledge that a deadly, clever Nazi enemy is at work whose skills might rival his own abilities. 

What evolves is a cat-and-mouse game that rests not only upon solving a Nazi conspiracy, but preventing even more destruction than the war is currently bringing to the world. 

Readers who enjoy combinations of history, espionage, spy interactions, and surprises throughout as characters mingle and special purposes are revealed will relish the fast-paced, character-driven action in The Ultra Betrayal. It's a story that traverses long-time friendships, challenging political and social interactions, and a host of characters who all face ethical questions and ongoing challenges as their worlds change. 

The emotional interplays between these individuals power the political confrontations at work behind the scenes: "Moments after order had been restored, Minister Kleist asked Stuben if the scene with Thorn was really necessary. She made it clear that if not for her self-control, it would have been much worse. Couldn’t Kleist see that Thorn initiated it with his provocative behavior? She wouldn’t let anyone, including Kleist, make a fool of her. Reichsführer Himmler had taught her that." 

From Nazi ciphers and decoding challenges to narrow windows of opportunity to act that could change the outcome of the war, The Ultra Betrayal crafts a riveting blend of nonstop action and confrontation, evolving realities and character confrontations, and Thorn's struggle to achieve his mission, benefiting from a powerful blend of adventure and description. These elements keep readers thoroughly engrossed in his fight for life and mission success: "He went under again and surfaced fifteen seconds later alongside the gun boat. He could barely hear the boat’s deck guns for the ringing in his ears. Emily tossed a rope down to him. He grabbed it and started to climb, but his arms were weakened by the underwater swim, and halfway up the side, Emily had to reach down and pull him up with both hands. They rushed to find cover from the increasingly sporadic gunfire." 

The Ultra Betrayal will delight audiences who look for solid historical background in their espionage thrillers. They will find Thorn a worthy character who maintains vision, integrity, and grit in the face of impossible mysteries and conditions adverse to survival and success. 

The Ultra Betrayal is highly recommended for thriller audiences who like real history thoroughly embedded in the action. This explosive thriller, steeped in military history that's thoroughly recapped at the story's conclusion, proves hard to put down. 

The Ultra Betrayal

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Alix Jans
Fynbos Pres
Paperback: 978-1-7349368-1-0    $19.95
Ebook: 978-1-7349368-0-3           $  9.99
Audiobook: 978-1-7349368-2-7    $24.95
See author's website at for samples of text and audio 

Amandla is a novel about the struggle for power in South Africa. It begins with a single (true) fact—that Nelson Mandela buried a gun at a secret hideout prior to his betrayal by the CIA and capture by the South African Police. That gun has never been located. 

Three generations of conflict and confrontation between Mandela's family and De Beer's immigrant Afrikaner family explore the politics, social strife, and power plays within that country in a sweeping epic that opens with the gun's discovery before Mandela's death. This sets the stage for the story by outlining the intrinsic struggles between Afrikaners and people of color in South Africa: "We had no choice,” hissed the man [addressing Mandela]. “We faced extinction. But your people had a choice. You were supposed to be the golden key to unlock a future of reconciliation and justice. You promised a rainbow nation would emerge from the storm of apartheid, that together we would rebuild our country and hand the baton to the next generation. “Well, the next generation has taken the baton, Madiba, but it’s running the race in reverse—back across the rainbow bridge—back into the anguish and oppression of our past.” 

By weaving history with social issues and modern struggles in that nation and placing all into a story that rounds out personalities, motivations, and ideals, Alix Jans does an outstanding job of capturing the nuances of South Africa's special atmosphere and conflicts for readers who may hold little prior familiarity with the roots of the nation's struggles and mixed heritage. 

As the story progresses, both families face genocide, threats, and misunderstandings with their opponents which are both frighteningly similar and disparate at the same time. This ability to delineate the irony of shared experiences perceived as being widely divergent creates a moving interplay of forces and personalities made all the more compelling for their realistic roots in South Africa's culture and history. 

Even more revealing are the nuances of relationships between people of all colors in the struggle against apartheid, all resisting the same oppressive regime, but harboring different perceptions of their roles and experiences in this society. Jans does a remarkable job of presenting these dichotomies in thinking: "How do you propose to do that?” asked Kathrada [of Mandela who proposed Africanizing” the struggle against apartheid]. “We Indians have been among your closest friends and allies from the start. Don’t tell me you want to turn your back on us now, shed multiracialism like a snake’s skin after it’s served its purpose and no longer convenient.” The group sat in stunned silence. These were controversial issues that went to the heart of the struggle. “It would be hard to reinvent ourselves now,” interjected Sisulu. “The Indians and Coloureds face many of the same issues as we do. And we have a formal alliance with them through the Congress.” “Ja,” replied Kathrada. “And you can’t just ignore the role Indians played in the conception of the Freedom Charter.” “Or that whites like Joe Slovo are part of the high command of Umkhonto,” added Sisulu. “It’s the spear of the whole nation, not just of one group. Our struggle has never been based on the color of anyone’s skin.” 

Anyone who wants to better understand the many undercurrents affecting justice, freedom, and survival in past and present South Africa needs to read Amandla. It serves as the perfect introduction and summation of the country’s controversial history, personalizing the story with characters who move through generations of conflict in a desperate attempt to win back their worlds and freedom. 

Amandla is very highly recommended for not only its historical roots, but for its ability to inject thriller, romance, and family history components into the bigger picture of South African issues and cultural perspectives. 


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Bluff City: A Novel
William Graham
Independently Published
979-8608360169            $14.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle 

Bluff City is set in the Midwest and offers a sweeping epic story spanning some six generations of a family as it experiences the vast changes of a fictional city that grows along with them. Readers seeking a historical backdrop that personalizes the trans-generational evolution of a family through a town's growth and changes will find this is the perfect item of choice. 

The story opens with a short prologue about the Mesquakie (or Fox) tribe of Native Americans, who experience changes and challenges with the arrival of the white man. It quickly moves to the 1950s, where World War II veteran Joe has moved from farming to driving a milk truck. 

The story then moves though infidelity and shootings, Joe's lack of education and involvement in politics, men who stand in the paths of others and those who live with secrets of infidelity and betrayal, and the forces that motivate individuals to step beyond their lives to assume a greater community role. Bluff City is more about the evolution of a town, but the individuals who live within it and interact with each other in changing ways. 

It should be warned at 326 pages, this is not your usual diminutive Kindle creation, hastily wrought and artificially separated into Book 1 of a series. It's a stand-alone, satisfyingly rich production that links a city's history with the lives of the people within it who aren't born to political or social positions, but work their ways into it. 

The juxtaposition of family, social, and political evolution is particularly well done, as is the backdrop of Midwestern lives and changes affecting everyone. 

Readers looking for a sweeping, involving story that doesn't limit its scope or word count, but makes the most of every life examined within its pages, will find Bluff City a fine read that requires only time and interest in worlds that move from the 1950s to the present time in order to prove satisfying. 

It's highly recommended for its complete vision of how people and societies evolve in general, and a Midwest down's pulse of development in particular, as the initially-narrow community grows to accept all peoples and religions in an unexpected way. 

Bluff City: A Novel

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A Child Left Behind
Phil Hutcheon
Mudville Nine Books/Tokay Press
978-0-9908466-1-1         $18.00 Paper/$9.99 ebook 

A Child Left Behind follows five college students who become involved in the life of an abandoned baby, and tackles humanitarian issues in the course of exploring how this child changes everything for those who become part of a different world. 

Phil Hutcheon cultivates a blend of social inspection and wry humor that permeates this story. His portrait of the "tiny new caramel-colored baby" that changes not one but multiple lives is strengthened by the exploration of events from various character perspectives. These include Alicia, a restaurant worker under cook Clara Birdsong. Clara was born on a reservation, is of mixed heritage, and, to Alicia, "is America" with her mixed heritage and difficult road to small success, and others who become involved in the abandoned baby's future. 

Discussions of white privilege, injustice, and the perspectives of different sides of the story come to life in disparate characters such as Jack, who see matters from entirely different viewpoints: "Affirmative Action, they call it, to make up for white privilege and the injustices of the past. White privilege my ass. The only such bullshit I ever had is I was privileged to see the whites of the eyes of the gooks who came hauling ass out of the bushes to try to gut me with their bayonets when they ran out of bullets. If you ain’t seen that for yourself, up close and personal like I did for three tours, don’t try to tell me about all the advantages I took for granted. Save your liberal bullshit for someone who might be stupid enough to believe it." 

As little Brianna becomes part of the world of struggling college students that barely make their way in the world, Hutcheon cultivates a wild romp through disparities in lifestyles, perceptions, and cultures. This approach will delight readers looking for romance, comedy, and cross-cultural encounters all wound into one ribald story. 

Why step in and help one small life evolve? Because, in this story, little choices translate to big differences not just for the gift recipient, but for the community at large: "If we don’t look out for our neighbors, for our own community, for the babies and the children who will grow up here, who else is going to do it for us? Those kids are the ones who will decide what life will be like for the rest of us when we are older. If we don’t take care of them now, why should we expect them to take care of us later? We should tackle the problems that are right in front of us before we try to solve the world’s. If we can help Brianna, that’s a step in the right direction.” 

These interwoven elements of interpersonal growth and communication, cross-cultural encounters, and lives changed by need provide the heartening meat in a story which holds just enough different elements (humor, romance, social inspection) to prove compelling to a wide audience. 

Readers who like their social adventures steeped in a different sense of political and personal perspectives that fall together in an unlikely manner over the future of one small life will find A Child Left Behind poignant, fun, revealing, and hard to put down. 

A Child Left Behind

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Confronting Religious Fanaticism Book 3: Ira Neebest and The First Coming
Steve Shear
Independently Published
979-8650212935            $12.00 Paper/$3.00 Kindle 

The third book in Steve Shear's 'Confronting Religious Fanaticism' series is best absorbed by prior readers of this trilogy of novels. Each book uses a different perspective to examine the life and times of Ira Neebest, who survived being kidnapped by ISIS for writing a Nobel Prize-winning novel, The First Coming, about the evils of religious orthodoxy, e.g., a book within a book. 

This third book, Ira Neebest and The First Coming, introduces further details of lives entwined with Ira's, from his mother Rebecca (introduced in An Eye for An Eye), who continues to struggle with her Hasidic roots and modern religion's incarnation in an increasingly dangerous world, to Ira's beloved wife Natalie Perrogi (Black Hearts & Hungry Bears), whose psyche is also changed by religious fanatics, rape, and kidnapping. 

As with the other books in the series, Ira's journey in this third book (and Finale to the trilogy) continues, this time exploring his reasons for writing The First Coming which challenges not only his world, but the lives and hearts of everyone around him as it confronts closely-held religious ideals and spawns a whirlwind of violence and controversy.

As a result of a Fatwa against Ira, he becomes lost in the jungle while Natalie is in a coma in Arizona. That represents the culmination of his greatest critical inspection of the most sacred of beliefs in the world and the outpouring of revenge that changes all of their lives forever. 

Prior readers of the series will find this a satisfying culmination that draws together many strings of inspection and circumstance. The journey to a jungle hell replete with ancient gods such as Hermes and Aphrodite, Ira's production of the Great Manifesto that changes the/his world, and his ongoing probe of the backlash and foundations of religious fanaticism makes for a gripping story.  Like its predecessors, Book Three is satisfyingly complex, yet lively in its ever-changing scenarios and challenges. 

Steve Shear's ability to draw together disparate pieces of Ira's life and those around him, and important revelations about his book's impact, makes for engrossing discoveries and changes as Ira navigates both the pinnacles of literary success resulting from his own book and personal challenges that come not just from Fatwa proclamations, but the Catholic Church itself. 

Descriptions of these reactions and their wide reach are intriguing: "The Pulitzer Prize was more than the powers within the Catholic Church could take. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, both the book and the movie, the Church strongly urged its parishioners to boycott both and it conducted its own marketing campaigns to that end. However, those most vocal were relatively low in the ecclesiastic ranks. Indeed, the only high level officials leading the charge were Cardinal Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa and Archbishop Amato of the Vatican. Most of the noise came from lower level officials. In the case of The First Coming, the Pope himself stepped up to the plate. In both a live broadcast and in the official Vatican newspaper, he referred to the book as a blasphemous abomination and its author, a Jew he noted, in league with Satan himself. Then, after again issuing his previous reassertion that the Catholic Church offered the only true path to salvation, he spoke to his flock, to those of the Catholic faith who were on that path. He issued a warning that the path to salvation might also be closed to them should they take in those blasphemous words." 

Ira Neebest and The First Coming is certain to hold a perspective that will offend any deeply religious believer. It also presents an atheist's unusual involvement in the Coming, and his key to unlocking unexpected world mysteries. 

From the perils of orthodoxy to the ironic tests that can either destroy or save Ira's world, readers continue the romp begun in the prior books, reaching a surprise conclusion.

Those seeking a literary and religious commentary of the foundations of fanaticism, passion, and change will find Ira Neebest and The First Coming a fine continuation of a surprising story and a fitting, supportive pillar concluding the series.

Confronting Religious Fanaticism Book 3: Ira Neebest and The First Coming

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Finding Forever
Anthony Sciarratta
Post Hill Press
978-1642934205            $16.00 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Finding Forever: A 1970s Love Story is set in New York City and follows the changes experienced by an Italian-American man who falls in love with a Broadway actress. 

Michael Coniglio is on the rebound from a failed love which changed his self-perception and life when he meets successful actress Elvira Vaughn, who overcame much adversity to achieve her goals. 

Elvira admires many things in Michael despite his current state of affairs, and gives him a sense of wonder and support that helps him regain some of his self-confidence to form a new vision of life's possibilities: "The energy that Elvira gave off was pleasant. She acted like she didn’t have a worry in the world. It almost seemed as if she had life figured out. She was the polar opposite of Michael in this one way. Her easygoing attitude complimented Michael’s anxiousness." 

Elvira's intuition is that Michael is special and different from other men she's known. She also suspects he's a helpless romantic whose gentle inclinations are part of what kept him from success. 

Michael also admires Elvira, and finds himself immersed in her life and the desire to support her talents: "Michael wanted to do anything in his power to take her suffering away. He couldn’t picture Elvira doing anything terrible. To him, she was fragile and gentle. She was this amazing woman who created a life for herself in one of the world’s biggest cities. She was inspiring and talented. She had so much to offer the world. No matter the terrible deed, he would never judge her. When Michael loved, it was true and unconditional." 

As the romance unfolds, readers receive a gentle story of evolution. Romances usually revolve around attractions between disparate individuals who discover in each other some degree of inspiration and connection. These two are nothing special in this regard, discovering in each other some of the qualities they both admire and long for in themselves. 

Where other romances would create clashing, high drama centered on issues, differences, and obstacles to affection, however, Finding Forever's more pragmatic approach eschews contrived action in favor of a slower process of character discoveries both about themselves and each other. 

Though readers seeking high-octane drama and confrontation will undoubtedly find this process slower than some, Anthony Sciarratta paints a simpler picture of developing love and its side effects on both participants. 

This, in turn, offers a more familiar probe of daily life and the changes romance introduces to it: "Michael and Elvira lived the next few months in total happiness. No relationship is perfect, but they made it work. A relationship is like playing tennis. You’re always on your feet, and you need to be ready to flow with the changes. Good chemistry with your partner is important. The game never gets dull and every serve always offers something new." 

Too many romances either assume the guise of thrillers, wildly undulating between clashes and connections, or artificial portraits of perfection. In adopting a more reasoned contrast of two very different lives that interact and change each other, Sciarratta crafts a warm, realistic vision of love that will especially appeal to romance readers looking for slower, heartfelt evolutionary revelations. 

This audience will relish the portrait of urban affairs and the love between talented individuals who find that their relationship changes everything. Finding Forever is recommended for romance readers looking for something less sensational, more compellingly realistic, and truer to life's ups and downs than most. 

Finding Forever

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In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow
Kenneth W. Harmon
Eildeon Publishing
9780578591506             $12.99 

In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow is a literary historical fiction read that adds a spiritual element to the story of bombardier Micah Lund, who dies on a mission over Hiroshima, but finds his spirit trapped in Japan and living with a Japanese war widow who faces the rigors of war. 

His observation of her hard life turns into a connection as he begins to communicate with her in her dreams. This forms an unusual bond that leads to his desire to protect her from the events that will destroy Hiroshima. 

But, how can a ghost impart a warning that will save lives? Even as Micah settles into routines akin to his military service, he is affected by an intuitive child who readily sees his spirit, a mother who is somehow attached to him by more than circumstance, and a newfound charge to save those he was once assigned to destroy. 

Kenneth W. Harmon crafts a story replete in psychological, ethical, and philosophical reflection as not only Micah but Kiyomi and her daughter are changed by war and their strange relationship. Kiyomi's efforts to protect what she loves while struggling with what fate has handed her are beautifully, evocatively portrayed: "Kiyomi thought of what she would do if Ai died. How could she go on? How could she face the rising sun without a reason for living? She remembered Ai standing in the rice field, surrounded by fireflies, her body aglow. The moment had been surreal but the serenity she experienced at that instant was within reach. Their fates balanced on a delicate scale, and her decisions would either maintain the balance or bring them crashing down." 

Can a spirit save the living and prevent the inevitable, and can love overcome hate? 

In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow is gentle, hopeful, and thoroughly engrossing. It offers a very different approach to the Japanese experience and American encounters in World War II in a powerful saga that takes the time to explore the cultures, psyches, and war-torn hearts of the times. 

Historical novel readers who look for a more literary approach to these events will welcome In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow for its ability to craft a strong interpersonal, cross-cultural connection that fosters courage and understanding in lives under siege. 

In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow

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The Kincaids: A Novel
William Graham
Independently Published
979-8654461964            $14.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle 

The Kincaids follows the rise and fall of a wealthy family that experiences hard times, dissolution, financial and social challenges, and changes. It is recommended for novel readers who enjoy sweeping productions, and closely examines the legacy of Irish immigrants who move to the Midwest to experience disputes between faith, economics, and family structure, decades later. 

The devout James Kincaid loves financial success as much as he loves his religion. His sons, scattered around the world, struggle with politics and their own special brands of conflict between beliefs and life experience. Family secrets closely held are threatened as new circumstances evolve, leading James' sister, journalist Catherine, to come into direct conflict between her desire for justice and the realities of her own roots. 

Catherine is looking to shake up the world by reporting injustices. It's ironic that her own family's choices may wind up at the top of her list of exposés if she makes the choice that threatens to reveal them. Her ability to confront and reveal problems gets her into trouble as a portent of the bigger issue she'll confront in the course of this story's evolving political and social problems: "After she had calmed herself, she looked through her notes for possible future stories. She focused on the interviews she had gathered from minority-owned contractors who said they had been shut out of bidding for city construction and road maintenance work. “Those assholes at city hall have another thing coming if they think they can intimidate me,” Catherine said, looking at her cat, who stared and yawned. “I’m going to shake up their world again.” 

By using the Kincaid family as a microcosm of world ills and experiences, William Graham crafts an absorbing tale of change and civil unrest not just in America, but overseas, as the family spreads out to influence other events. 

The combination of strong characters and their individual social and political pursuits, and decisions which begin at home and evolve into different directions, is part of what makes this story so compelling. Its changing perspectives, contrasted with the influence of heritage and modern dilemmas, creates a story that is realistic, absorbing, and psychologically astute. 

Readers seeking novels about multigenerational influences, life choices, and divergent individual paths that change the world and come full circle to affect family relationships and future history will find The Kincaids an engrossing survey of money, influence, and changing times. It lingers in the mind long after the final event is revealed. 

The Kincaids: A Novel

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Lessons in the Wild
Wendy Isaac Bergin
DartFrog Books
978-1-951490-44-7                $16.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Violinist and concertmaster T. Sebastian Morrow decides to move from the big city of Houston to rural Texas in search of peace, but what he finds instead is anything but tranquil in Lessons in the Wild, a survey of life changes, adversity, and the challenges introduced by changing not just one's environment, but one's mindset. 

Sebastian has spent his life in the city, building his career in its urban setting. But when 9/11 strikes, he is forced to reassess the world and his ideals, discovering that they no longer align. If he can't change the world, at least he can change the environment which no longer serves him. The hills to the north and west of the city seem like a good place to move to. 

As he moves from the frying pan into the fire, readers are treated to the results of a life changed and challenged by not just a new environment, but the people it introduces into his life. 

There's young Leo de Graaf, a gifted musician who holds the power to foresee some of his future, and his lovely mother, Silvie, who is equally compelling in a different manner. There is his sad acknowledgment of the impending death of his wife Mary Catherine from a stroke, and his involuntary vision that Silvie is already assuming the kind of importance in his new life that Mary Catherine once held in the old one. 

Sebastian has expected this final blow for decades. Now that it's here, the demons he acknowledged in this life long ago return to haunt him just as surely as life's new possibilities. 

Life and world forces continue to affect all of them even in their remote rural locale. Lessons in the Wild blends a unique style of psychological and spiritual inspection that injects a reflective tone into Sebastian's life connections between past and present. 

Mary Catherine led her life in spiritual denial. The demon in her responded to Sebastian's prayers. As Sebastian explores spirituality in both himself and the gifted, visionary Leo, he explores diverse issues such as racial prejudice in both Texas and himself ("You grade me lower because I am black.") and revises both his spiritual beliefs and his role as a music teacher, friend, and more. 

At each step, he is confronted with challenges to his thinking, his liberal ways, and his spiritual views ("He had never been accused of racism in his life. How could she be so wrong and so convinced she was right at the same time?"). As the story unfolds, it's evident that the wilderness lies not just in his new rural environment, but in matters of the heart. 

These descriptions and Sebastian's evolution keep readers engaged as he moves from one world to another, and as the social issues affecting the nation escalate in the microcosm of his own, more limited world. 

The result is a story replete with various threads of influence, from witchcraft and spirituality to changing social issues that all hold the power to transform Sebastian no matter where he chooses to live. 

Readers seeking a multifaceted story of action, change, and transformation will find this literary piece quietly compelling, holding the ability to reach a wide audience from young adults to adults looking for a powerful story of one man's search for peace in a conflicted, changing world of adversity. 

Lessons in the Wild

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Loyal Son
Wayne Diehl
Independently Published
978-1657172319            $15.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Loyal Son is historical fiction at its best, set in 1846 on the cusp of the Mexican American War and centered upon eighteen-year-old Irish immigrant Patrick Ryan, who has been sent to America by his family to establish new roots. There, he finds himself immersed in a social turmoil when the anti-Catholic Bible Riots break out and destroy everything he's begun to build in America. 

His decision to join the army and fight is based as much on their lure of payment via land grant and the possibility of rebuilding his life and fulfilling his promises to his family both in America and back in Ireland, as in the interest of seeing justice achieved. 

Wayne Diehl does a fine job of capturing not just the politics of unrest on all sides, but the effects of death and loss on the hearts and minds of everyone involved. As Patrick faces this crushing loss and considers the lure of the army in more than one way, readers gain both historical and personal perspective on the conflict's wide-ranging issues and effects. 

Patrick has his family back in Ireland to think of, but his newfound loyalties to another country are sorely tested by its internal conflict and the progression of war between two nations. Diehl follows these dual themes with a solid story that introduces readers to the atmosphere and cultural and political concerns of the times. 

As Diehl moves from the experiences and ideals of a new immigrant to the evolving conflict he faces and the decisions he must make both for his present-day goals and his family's future, a compelling story emerges which uses strong characterization and a sense of place to create an evolving story of internal and external battles. 

Loyal Son's ability to blend adventure and discovery with internal questions of purpose and future objectives, wound within real historical events and facts, makes it a compelling exploration especially recommended for readers of immigrant experience and early America's evolutionary process. This highly recommended story does a fine job of incorporating individual purpose and perspective with the bigger-picture cultural, social, and political concerns of its times. 

Loyal Son

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A New Journey
Samantha Kannan
Independently Published
ASIN: B085D98HDK             $3.99 

A New Journey tells of new graduate Jurnee's journey of discovery when she receives an offer to teach in southern India. She sets off to realize her dream of becoming a teacher in a country foreign to her American upbringing, but in keeping with her Indian roots. 

Samantha Kannan's use of the first person captures Jurnee's observations of this very different culture and the role of a teacher in India: "I always loved an opportunity to get out and see the village, but something different stuck me this time. The father of two students picked them up in a boat. A boat! It was a small fishing boat, and they entered it from a small dock before rowing across the backwaters. I looked around and was the only one amazed. This was their normalcy, but it was my paradise. Well, almost paradise. There was no Wi-Fi and I rarely had cell phone signal." 

In her new position, Jurnee doesn't just teach in classrooms but interacts with the students and their families, absorbing cultural and social lessons about India that teach her about her own life. 

As 'Jurnee Miss' learns tricks of teaching her clever students and absorbs the new cultural milieu, readers embark on their own journey from her perspective, which reveals both India's society and the special challenges of teaching in a foreign country. 

As a seventh grader saves Jurnee's life and she learns further lessons about her viewpoints, ambitions, and role in the world, Jurnee's sense of place and home comes to rest in the relationships she builds in this strange new world. 

Readers interested in India, teaching challenges, and cross-cultural encounters will be enchanted by Jurnee's story of discovery, which evolves on many levels. 

Her first-person perceptions are astute, the sense of India's culture and environment is nicely drawn, and Samantha Kannan has a knack for creating scenarios that are compelling as Jurnee's story refutes the stereotypes of Indian people and reflects Samantha Kannan's own experiences and encounters, albeit with a fictional overlay. 

The new friendships and memories Jurnee forges as she builds her place in a world both unfamiliar yet entwined with her own culture creates a story that is compelling, uplifting, and revealing.  A New Journey is highly recommended for readers interested in Indian culture and teaching challenges alike. 

A New Journey

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No Precedent
John Uttley
Independently Published
979-8648170971            $10.29 Paper/$3.62 Kindle 

No Precedent holds a lively story of two old Lancaster friends, Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton, who face the challenges and ironies of modern politics and times as they navigate a world where truth is stranger than fiction. It's a world facing Brexit and Donald Trump, where these two men, now raising families, find that uncertainty and social and political changes test their vision of who they are as well as their futures. 

This story represents a romp through past and present worlds, injecting humor into its blend of social observations and interactions between friends and family: "Sophie sees my golden time, the early sixties, when for that short season the white working class got a real stake in this country’s culture, as male-focused and at most a useful first step in the real feminist struggles that were to come. She’s read her Betty Friedan about how fifties’ and sixties’ housewives used to pretend to live a domestic dream, needing Valium to take away the dissatisfaction they felt from missing out on a career. She claims, probably rightly I have to admit, that only the contraceptive pill changed that, although I don’t believe that either my Mum or sister were on tranquilisers as a result of their supposed domestic captivity." 

It's lighthearted and serious at different moments as Bob and his best friend Richard contemplate successes, failures, and changing times alike. No Precedent brings readers into a heady series of discussions that range from business success and failures to religious beliefs, changing times, and challenges to set beliefs as events move through 2015 and into 2019, concluding with a 2036 postscript unusual for its roundup and contributing author. 

No Precedent does an outstanding job capturing lives of turmoil and chaos, including a host of characters who affect Bob and Richard's perspectives and choices as the story moves through the ups and downs of this changing world. 

John Uttley is especially powerful in his ability to contrast everyday life's ironies with the evolution of one man's routines and goals, set within the bigger picture of worldwide changes: "Not all is so dismal. It’s summer, the sun is shining in Nether Piddle, and I’ve a nice weekend planned. The apocalypse facing the nation has been put on hold. It’s just a pity it can’t stay like this permanently." 

His wry observational style and whirlwind series of events battering Bob and Richard, their families, and their friends creates a winning story which is thought-provoking and fun all in one. No Precedent is a novel not about the future, but about the near past and present which creates a world pre-plague and the social, political, and economic forces that shape it and set the stage for what is to come. 

It is highly recommended reading for readers who want an entertaining, enlightening glimpse of how we arrived at where the Western world stands today in 2020. 

No Precedent

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Only Our Destiny
A.G. Russo
Red Skye Press
978-0-9907102-5-7         $3.99 Kindle

Only Our Destiny will appeal to readers of historical fiction set in Italy and those who enjoy immigrant experiences firmly rooted in the 'old country'. It opens in southern Italy, where the majority of U.S. Italian American immigrants have their roots. 

The Coriello family, who lives in a small fishing village, is led by powerful matriarch Raffaela, who faces a difficult life with an abusive estranged husband, ten children, and poverty. The resentment of relatives who should be helping but are jealous of any small success she experiences through her survival tactics is mitigated by the loving concern of these children as they age and help their mother. 

The arrival World War II changes everything as her older children go to war and their Jewish friends face increasing prejudice and danger. The kids who immigrate to America harbor dreams of rescuing the entire family, but are thwarted by growing prejudice against Italian immigrants in the land of opportunity. 

Only Our Destiny does an outstanding job of building strong characters in mother and children, following their divided destinies through poverty, war, peace, and confrontations with injustice on many levels. It probes the social and political influences of leaders and peers in both Italy and America, examining the foundations of prejudice and the lasting effects of poverty, crafting the feel of an epic production as it follows the changing lives of the entire family. 

Under another hand, such a wide-ranging discourse might have proven confusing or overly complex. A.G. Russo does an outstanding job of bringing all the characters to life, and their responses and ideals are not just logical, but compellingly presented. 

As the story unfolds, readers are led to anticipate outcomes that sometimes change. This satisfying feel of the unexpected injects a realistic tone to the story, in that not everyone survives and prospers. The observations of prejudice, both within Italy among its peoples (between Northerners and Southerners and Italians and Jews alike) and in America, where Italian American immigrant prejudice rises against the backdrop if war, make for especially important insights. 

Readers come to care about many of the characters and will follow the changing courses of their lives with bated breath. 

The result is a story that vividly captures not just one key point in Italian history, but the immigrant experience and the roots of change and better understanding among all involved. Only Our Destiny will delight those with a special interest in immigrant experience and Italian heritage. It is highly recommended reading for those who want in-depth history-based details paired with believable, moving characters' lives. 

Only Our Destiny

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Silver Moon
Jenny Knipfer
Independently Published
978-1733320245            $15.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Silver Moon is the third book in the By the Light of the Moon series and is set in Ontario, Canada during World War I, where Luis Wilson becomes involved in espionage and moves away from the romance he was offered previously. 

Readers who look for deeper inspections of war and how it changes individuals, purposes, and perceptions will discover a fine philosophical thread of reflection to Silver Moon which is present from the first pages of the story: "The man I used to be haunts me and grieves me with accusations. I am a killer. I am a liar. I am a cheater. I'm worse than my father ever was. Does war really give us a bill of rights to become such things?" 

Hard questions, indeed, for the opening slavo in a powerful saga that needs no prior introduction to prove enlightening, compelling, and accessible to newcomers as well as prior series readers. 

As the story moves from Halifax and Canada to Belgium and the front, a series of brushes with death and the realities of trench warfare permeate a thoroughly engrossing set of inspections that move through war experiences, romance possibilities, and survival tactics alike. 

Jenny Knipfer excels in creating the kind of war story that weaves together the different lives, perspectives, and wartime impacts on its characters in a story both grim and hopeful at the same time. A wide cast of characters provides different perspectives on events. This story moves from Oshki and Jimmy, who face their increasing concern that the romances they left behind will not survive their confrontations in the trenches of the western front, to Lily, who faces her own challenges of prejudice on the home front as she tries to rally support and faces accusations of being a spy, and Rose, who is not an outspoken leader, but fosters her own brand of courage and commitment. 

The result is a story of love, death, hope, and differences that follows how different characters fight the war in their own ways, realize their dreams, and evolve friendships and uncertain love in the face of disaster. 

It's a powerful saga of World War I that, more than most novels of the times, creates a compelling cross-comparison between numerous characters who experience the war in different ways. 

Silver Moon is very highly recommended for readers who want a compelling inspection of love, duty, and battle based on historical fact, but flavored with the struggles of very different characters intent on not just surviving, but creating a better future for themselves. 

Silver Moon

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The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint
Keith Madsen
Adelaide Books
978-1-949180-02-2         $22.40 

The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint uses a historical backdrop to explore the life of Isaac Breda, who seeks to re-spark the revolution of his famous forefather Toussaint Louverture by fostering a new non-violent revolution that he hopes will have more of a lasting impact than his father's attempt. 

Isaac's story embraces his famous father's perspective and political attempts and outlines an alternative approach to achieving his goals. It is told through alternating chapters of history that contrast the story of Toussaint and his compatriots with Isaac's modern attempts to encourage Toussaint’s spirit in his people.  

He also navigates uncertain waters in developing a romantic interest over Marie-Noëlle, who assumes a key role in political developments that belays her original quest for a very different career. 

Keith Madsen injects some unexpected twists and turns into the story, which moves from the kernel of Isaac's idea to its reincarnation in Marie-Noëlle's character, who is forced to assume responsibility for an idea that didn't begin with any relation or connection on her part, other than Isaac. 

Isaac seems to have everything he wants in Haiti, including romance. But, somehow, it all gets away from him in unexpected ways that pit ideals against practical applications: "He never thought it would be this stressful being wanted by two beautiful young women. Isn’t this the kind of situation most young men dream of? He remembered reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and envying Marius, loved as he was by both the beautiful Cossette and the also attractive, but rejected, Eponine." 

As a goal birthed in France moves to New York and Haiti to change the lives of all who revive it, Madsen creates a moving account that focuses not just on the revitalization of a political goal from the past, but how it changes the lives, psyches, and hearts of all who become involved. Marie finds her modeling career changed forever after a tragic outcome from an uprising injects Isaac's ambitious plans into her world. 

Readers looking for a vivid novel of the Haitian struggle for freedom from founding to present day, from its French roots and influences to modern times, will find plenty of solid history within this evolving story of a son's passion to re-enact his father's dreams. 

The historical backdrop is well done, with plenty of family interactions and insights providing logical and easily-understood dilemmas and reactions to past heritage and modern conflicts. The characters who harbor their own different goals affected by events in Haiti are exceptionally well-drawn and believable. 

The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint is a compelling review of not just historical facts, but individual motivations and purpose against the backdrop of revolution. Readers who choose this account for its insights on Haiti will relish Keith Madsen's ability to create a compelling story from real elements in this highly recommended, lively novel of inherited passion and personal and political transformation. 

The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint

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Reviewer's Choice

Before And After The First Earth Day, 1970
David M. Guion
Independently Published
ASIN: B087GXYQ75             $7.99 Kindle 

The second expanded edition of Before And After The First Earth Day, 1970 points out that the first Earth Day celebration did not begin environmental efforts, as is commonly assumed, but in fact made the public more aware of existing environmental issues. Some of the leaders called into question not only the condition of the environment, but social institutions and democratic processes themselves. 

Other surveys of environmentalism have offered a general focus that includes Earth Day, but David M. Guion provides a specific probe of the federal government's role in environmental management well before and after the event. This focus provides a broader understanding to the history of environmentalism in a survey that should be on the reading lists of anyone concerned about the history of environmental regulation and management efforts. 

Chapters outline the state of environmental law, beginning with the Truman administration and how the Eisenhower administration's economic policies encouraged wastefulness. Perhaps even more importantly, it outlines what Earth Day did wrong and how its leaders still omitted or changed some important truths and insights about human relationships with the environment. 

One of the most important (and, likely, controversial) chapters in this book is 'Attacks on Mainstream Society', which offers much food for thought. For example, the issue of overpopulation led some influential authors to question basic democratic principles: "In 1967, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had declared that any decision regarding family size rested with the family alone and no one else could make it for them. Hardin protested vigorously. And he asserted the impossibility of promoting population control by appealing to conscience. It would require coercion. He denied that it would require arbitrary decisions by some distant bureaucracy, but how else would a critical mass of people relinquish their freedom to breed?" 

From the unity that Earth Day brought to the discord that we now experience, and how the event changed the concept of environmentalism from a specialty approach to a mainstream issue, David M. Guion's important history should be required reading for any environmentally-conscious individual. It is also a useful textbook for courses about American democratic and social processes. It moves from national to state codes and changing approaches, incorporating global views and regulations into a picture that evolves from the microcosm of local events and responses to national and international efforts. 

Before And After The First Earth Day, 1970 is very highly recommended. It provides a rare glimpse into history altered by one event's lasting impact on decision-making processes and public and political perceptions of environmental law. It is an important adjunct to environmental literature that provides many social and political connections not made in other environmental history titles. 

Before And After The First Earth Day, 1970

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Building Wealth After The Apo-Collap$E
David Bonn
Age In Place LLC 
978-1735075501            $10.00 Paper/$3.00 ebook 

Readers might believe that this is a nonfiction title, but it's set in 2022, is narrated by a cook in his 70s, and traces the financial changes experienced in a world changed and challenged by a too-realistic apocalypse in Building Wealth After The Apo-Collap$E. 

Most books that hold 'collapse' in their titles are dystopian or apocalyptic explorations, but this is categorized as political or visionary fiction. Once readers delve into the twenty-five-year history narrated by protagonist Nigel Oopscrap, it's easy to see why.

For one thing, it identifies the very different reactions and impacts of those living on day-to-day paychecks from those more privileged, who saw the collapse coming and responded in different ways. 

In choosing the central view of a man who strives to make the world a better place by his participation in it, David Bonn creates a compelling saga. It examines unfolding social issues and conflicts from the perspective of a man who attempts to do the right thing while being a small cog in a system replete with injustice and corruption. 

One of the frightening messages in this story is how easily injustice and oppression emerge and spread. Oopscrap observes that: "All over the country, families who could no longer afford separate dwellings were moving in together. More houses sat empty and apartment vacancies soared. Everybody kept waiting for somebody to help. But in the spring of '10, we knew help wasn't coming. But it was an easy lesson to forget, at least for a while, when things picked back up mid-decade." 

How things fall apart, evolve, or are ignored until the tipping point is reached, and how economies change to profit some while injuring others, are all covered from the personal perspective of a senior who lives through some of the most challenging years in history and narrates them from not just a political but a personal perspective. 

This approach lends a far more in-depth, personal touch to the story of one individual who reflects on how social and political change happens. This creates a compelling blend of realistic scenarios based on present-day events and futuristic insights based on choices, decisions, and personal, political, and social events. 

Unlike most dystopian stories, economic decisions and trends are the major focus in Building Wealth After The Apo-Collap$E. From historical precedent in how America's Native Americans were subjugated and repressed to the impact of coronavirus on special interest groups, this book's uncanny blend of fiction and nonfiction lends it an aura that is compelling partially because its events are so firmly rooted in modern history and historical precedent. 

Like Stephen King's The Stand, it traverses elements of realism and builds on present-day social awareness and observation to create a powerful account. This approach will attract not just political, social science, and visionary fiction readers, but sci-fi fans who look for writings that are standouts not just for their philosophical and social observations, but for their ability to connect individuals to the bigger picture that is social revolution and change. 

Building Wealth After The Apo-Collap$E is highly recommended as a story that feels both familiar and frightening all at once. It's packed with in-depth detail about a possible alternative future and generations seeking wealth, faith, and a sense of purpose to it all after the Apo-Collap$e changes everything. 

Building Wealth After The Apo-Collap$E

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Jay Amberg
Amika Press
978-1937484002            $14.95

Cycle is a book about nature written from an unusual perspective: the different natural forces which describe their lives. 

The story opens with the philosophical perspective of an ancient redwood tree ring whose descriptions of life are astute and inviting: "We do not have individual brains, but we are as a ring mindful. We understand life—just as this forest does, just as the earth itself does. We are cognizant of diurnal rhythms and solar rotations. We stand; we do not stand for something else. We respond to the world each moment. Every moment is integral within the cycles, and every moment is present for us. We are rooted in earth, nourished by air and water, and growing toward light." 

The blend of natural history facts about the redwood ring, the history of its place in a world dominated by man, and its contributions and connections to the cycle of life makes for an engrossing consideration: "Stability doesn’t, however, suggest stagnation. Our ring and this grove always grow, always change. The grove’s canopy is deep and multilayered. Most nearby trees are more than two hundred years old, but each stand adds two or three trees per century. And each stand loses about the same number to wind and fire and flood. Around us, among the woody debris, fallen trunks lie in various stages of decay—an ongoing reformation of matter. The grove, quite simply, exists within a stable cycle of birth, growth, death, decay, and birth again, all the while recycling the same chemicals. And within this cycle, myriad organisms, including us, wheel through our lives." 

One of the pleasures of Cycle is that its perspective is always shifting, from a wise and ancient grove of trees to an alpha wolf mother whose place in the world reflects her ability to survive and confront life: "The world itself is neither predator nor prey. At once always beautiful and always terrible, it does not take sides. Sometimes it gives, and sometimes it takes. It cycles dark and light, cold and warm, as often as not taking more from me than it gives, but it never allows the balance among us to tilt too far toward predator or prey. The world understands life too deeply for that." 

This blend of nature observation and philosophical inspection successfully creates a multifaceted, engrossing series of insights that will delight readers interested in the life cycles of creatures and plants alike. 

Its unique brand of first-person inspection from the plants and animals of the world offers readers a chance to take a deep breath, absorb the sense of wonder, survival, and life cycles from a non-human perspective, and, most of all, to understand the motivations, experiences, history, and interconnected lives of creatures on this planet. 

Cycle is highly recommended reading for natural history fans interested in developing a better understanding of the place and perspective of nature and its cycles in human and non-human affairs alike. 


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The Founding Fathers and the Birth of a Nation State
Thomas E. Sawyer, Esq.
PitBull Literary & Publishing Services
Paperback: 978-1-7327371-5-0        $14.88
Hard Cover: 978-1-7327371-6-7      $28.88 

With the 2020 election year getting ever closer (and, indeed, for any election year), it feels important to review the history and politics of this nation. The problem is that many such histories either assume preexisting background knowledge, or are designed for students with little understanding of the political process. 

That's why readers of all ages who seek a basic primer to be used as a refresher course in American history will find The Founding Fathers and the Birth of a Nation State a solid account of the instigation, ideals, and political nature of exactly what constitutes a 'republic'. 

The basic contention here is that political power should originate with the people and flow upward in a reflection of popular interests. It shouldn't originate at the top and move downward, which would indicate a monarchy or dictatorship. 

Thomas E. Sawyer cements these notions in a historical and political examination that includes social, political, and philosophical reflections about the intentions of the Founding Fathers. He then probes how these have been translated over the years, under different presidencies, from early to modern times. 

Doctrines such as the separation of powers and how they enacted in American political circles and events are reviewed with more than an attention to historical precedent. They identify points of confusion or challenge in carrying out the Founding Fathers' written edicts: "... the “Doctrine of the Separation of Powers,” standing alone as a theory of government, has uniformly failed to provide an adequate basis for an effective, stable political system. Consequently, the practicalities of government have necessitated the combining of this doctrine with other political ideas—the theory of “mixed government,” the idea of “balanced government,” and the concept of “checks and balances”—to form the complex constitutional theories that provide the basis of modern Western political systems. Nevertheless, when all the necessary qualifications have been made, the essential ideas behind the doctrine remain as vital ingredients of Western political thought and practice today. This particularly true in the American political experience; where the principle of the “Separation of Powers” constitutes one of the fundamental foundations of good government." 

Footnoted references point to source materials supporting different examinations of various plans, enactment challenges, conventions and legislations, speeches, and political processes. 

These form a solid foundation of argument that pinpoints the underlying intentions and meaning of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, leading to astute analysis about their incarnations and challenges today: "Although the founding Fathers did not foresee the present day, rampant diffusion of bureaucratic functions among the three national branches, the “Doctrine of the Separation of Powers” and the correlative “Principle of Checks And Balances” still represent the essence of the American political experiment; as initially conceived in the Federal Convention in Philadelphia and as evolved in the present day transformation." 

The Founding Fathers and the Birth of a Nation State is highly recommended as a primer on democratic processes. It's especially valuable and well-documented reading for modern audiences who may already have a cursory interest in the subject, but who want deeper explorations of the history and intentions supporting basic American democratic principles. 

The Founding Fathers and the Birth of a Nation State

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Love in the Time of Corona
Diana Wiley, Ph.D.
978-0-932898-99-9         $14.95 

Love in the Time of Corona: Advice from a Sex Therapist for Couples in Quarantine is an advice guide that blends sex therapist Dr. Diana Wiley's tips for better relationships and sexual experiences with the new realities of physical intimacy in the time of coronavirus. It promotes reigniting relationships and sexual intimacy between partners who are sheltering in place. 

New approaches fostered by the age of intimacy can benefit from quarantine proximity. Restrictions can lead to actively working on and revising one's approaches. This will result in lifelong benefits beyond quarantine. 

As a licensed family therapist, Dr. Wiley well knows the types of stress and discord that can stem from long-term isolation and prolonged periods of being cooped up together. But while she acknowledges these challenges, she also poses thoughts, routines, exercises, and ideas that lead to better communication, understanding, and sexual experiences between couples. The foundation message in this book is: "Enjoyable sexual activity between partners can distinctly benefit a couple’s mental and physical health." 

Chapters explore how this activity can be revitalized, offering couples new avenues for understanding and pleasure. They discuss feedback, creating boundaries, and approaches that go beyond survival strategies and into the realm of actively working on improving one's relationship while sheltering at home. 

This approach is every bit as inviting and important for long-term connections as adopting a hobby or expanding one's leisure life. 

Many different lessons are introduced in the course of this exploration, from mindfulness meditation to unlocking deeper states of consciousness through mindful breathing, leading to better sexual satisfaction. 

Couples sheltering in place have more to work on than cleaning the house. This book places an emphasis on sexual and psychological relationship strategies that take time, but which have been proven to work. Sheltering in place gives couples unprecedented time together and unprecedented opportunities for revising their relationship and sexual encounters. 

Love in the Time of Corona is the perfect starting point for this kind of self-improvement. It is highly recommended reading for those sheltering in place, offering a series of guidelines for better interactions. 

Love in the Time of Corona

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Minivan Mogul
Alex Perry
Warren Publishing
978-1-7341262-8-0         $23.95 Hardcover 

Minivan Mogul: A Crash Course in Confidence for Women is a motivational exploration of how women can build self-confidence based on their inherent instincts and strengths. It comes from a Midwest mom who also happens to be a noted motivational speaker and successful business owner, as well as a speech pathologist. 

Her admonitions and revelations are couched in both humor and practical experiences. As she weaves her own personal anecdotes of being a minivan-driving mom into broader questions of exactly how to build self-confidence, women receive a treatise that is specific and revealing. 

Plenty of motivational books talk about building confidence. This, after all, is the cornerstone of almost any endeavor in life. After delivering the admonition, however, too few follow up with a game plan for doing so—especially one based on the reader's prior life skills and experiences. 

Minivan Mogul's ability to deliver these connections, reinforce them, and show women exactly how to drive from point "a" to point "b" makes for an accessible, lively, pointed survey on how to take the next steps into self-confidence and a better life. 

Chapter titles imbed humor in their subjects: 'P.S.-ing my way out of the box', 'Ever tried to skype in Arabic?' and 'Teenager+Shopping=Angst'. Each chapter concludes with a 'rearview reflection' section that sums up the lessons to be learned in each of the fun, life-pertinent examples. 

As motivational titles go, this reviewer places Minivan Mogul towards the top of the vast list of inspirational reads for women. It stays true to women's experiences while helping translate familiar routines and talents into unfamiliar confidence-building territory and goals. It also provides clear admonitions based on Alex Perry's personal experiences, cultivating a tone that is lively, chatty, and packed with a satisfying blend of concrete information backed by personal reflection: "Have you looked back and wondered what would’ve happened if you’d just told the other person the truth? Or have you ever had one of those moments where you were brave enough to tell the other person the truth? Have you ever acknowledged the awkward truth of a situation and had it work out for the better? It can happen, you know; you just have to be brave enough to skip the white lie and own what’s really happening in the moment. Here’s a good example of when I really, really didn’t want to own up to the awkwardness that was going on in my life because I didn’t want to admit I was struggling with technology …" 

Too many women's motivational titles are weighty and translate the onus of change in a daunting manner. Perry's Minivan Mogul is just the ticket for women who want more accessibility, a strong dash of humor, observations of life, and instructions tied not just to daily experience, but their own inherent talents and abilities. It's a highly recommended read for women seeking clear directions paired with appealing stories of transformation and new possibilities. 

Minivan Mogul

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My Travels With a Dead Man
Steve Searls
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-512-1         $19.95 Paper/$6.99 ebook 

My Travels With a Dead Man offers a paranormal story of magical realism as it tells of Jane Takako Wolfsheim, who discovers she suddenly can alter time and space after meeting a man calling himself Jorge Luis Borges, the famous literary figure, with whom she falls in love. 

The story opens with Jane suffering seizures in a park where she first meets the helpful but enigmatic stranger Borges, who sees that she receives medical attention. Borges returns to figure more heavily in her life, but in a less positive manner. When her parents are murdered and Jane flees for an elusive safety, danger follows her and Borges, leading her to question her sanity, her purpose, and her future. 

My Travels With a Dead Man is satisfyingly original and riveting from the start. It follows Jane's struggles with her Japanese and American roots, her uncertain love and relationship with Borges, and her confrontation with both inner and outer forces that keep her future uncertain: "And I should trust you because you can quote–someone famous? Well, why the hell not? It’s sure done wonders for me with Borges.” But then I regretted my words, not because I didn’t believe them, and not to spare Bashō’s feelings, but because I still loved Borges, loved him blindly, without reason. Uttering his name was the worst pain of all..." 

Many surprises await Jane as she traverses the boundaries of a world she'd never quite acknowledged in her life, and as she comes to accept her special role as a 'traveler' in space and time who holds the power to change what feels like an inevitable world disaster. 

Readers will become immersed in literary explorations of time travel, prophecies, tests of faith and determination, and Jane's drive to assure that events turn out in her favor for the sake of herself and her unborn child. They will find these flavors wind nicely into a complex, moving story of an effort to reshape the Borges legend into something that rejects the evil that is slowly penetrating Jane's world. 

The fantasy and adventure components are nicely woven into a story driven by Jane's personality, passions, and love. They satisfactorily depict how a fairly ordinary woman falls into an extraordinary world and considers and uses her powers to change it. Fantasy readers, especially those with some familiarity with Borges, who are interested in a fast-paced, engrossing story of belief, faith, and changing relationships between men and women will appreciate the full-faceted flavors and complexity of My Travels With a Dead Man. 

Its ability to keep readers on their toes with new insights into Jane's relationship with herself, her companion, and her spirituality are all exquisite flavors in an unexpected time travel journey. 

My Travels With a Dead Man

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Search: A Guide for College and Life
Barbara Roquemore EdD & Jeff Duffey MD
Cairde, Karuna & Hedd Publishing, LLC
978-0-9862583-2-9         $14.95 

Search: A Guide for College and Life is a recommended college guide for teens and those who would council them, covering many basics of adjusting to college and the adult world that other college handbooks neglect. 

The inclusion of emotional strategies, changes, and life challenges into the college prep scenario is a welcome one in a survey based on and encouraging self-inspection and analysis. Search teaches teens how to blend their life experiences before college with a focus on what can be expected to challenge or change those skills and focuses. It expands its coverage to include general life skills assessments and how to handle common pitfalls: "Remember that every phone is a camera. There could be hidden cameras as well. Never allow yourself to be blindfolded. You don’t want your picture to show up on a porn-site or social media. Don’t set yourself up to be blackmailed. People can take screenshots and video clips of you using Skype. Your webcam can be hacked, so don’t undress in front of it. Never allow yourself to be tied up or taken away from the group to “be alone.” You should seriously consider planning never being alone when you’re far away from home. You should consider never trusting a stranger and always being on your guard." 

Too often, guides for the college-bound teen newly away from home and adult supervision focus on the practicalities of classes, studies, and college demands. The inclusion of overall life focuses and adjustments that stem from newfound independence adds value that expands the bigger picture to life itself. 

Subjects are as wide-ranging as handling a peer's suicide, surveying diversity resources, coping with stalkers and unwanted attention, and developing a supportive circle of friends while navigating the social pressures and problems of peer groups. 

An extensive index, bibliography, references, and further resources makes for an essential guide for the college-bound new adult. Search: A Guide for College and Life should be a graduation gift for any teen heading for independence and the start of building a positive, happy life. 

Search: A Guide for College and Life

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Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories
Chris Williams
Sunbury Press
1620063832                   $14.95
Sunbury Press:

Baseball fans who enjoy memoirs, history, and sports reflections are in for a treat with Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories. It captures the ironies, adventures, and often-zany stories of players and baseball moments that may not have achieved broader exploration, using language and description that adopt a 'you are there' feel for readers who would use their home easy chair as a bandstand seat. 

These statistical baseball essays pair numbers with nostalgia to bring the sport and its notable moments to life. It does so by employing captivating language to draw in readers, who will feel as though they are not just observing a game's action, but reveling in the lives, personalities, and perspectives of its players: "You'd have to be a real grump not to like Germany Schaefer. Even grouchy web trolls might have cracked a smile watching this guy play baseball. If anyone who ever played major league baseball processed a sense of humor, it was William Herman Schaefer. Nicknamed 'Germany' because of his heritage, Schaefer was quite the clown..." 

Baseball memoirs, histories, and explorations typically don't appeal to those not already thoroughly immersed in the sport because they tend to belay the personalities and emotions of players in favor of technical observations of the sport itself. Chris Williams cultivates a unique ability to inject excitement and personality into each story, and this in turn offers lessons that embrace both statistical descriptions of events and the players who contributed to historic successes or failures. 

Quotes from baseball classic writings and interviews, recreations of personalities and events, and summaries that offer bigger-picture thinking about the sport and its players craft essays that often will prove inviting even to those with minimal interest in baseball statistics or history—although it's the avid fan who will best appreciate these numerical surveys of baseball history. 

This collection also incorporates photos, a sense of humor, and affection for the sport. For some, the many statistical supporting details may prove overbearing, especially given the allure of the personality-based observations made in the introductory tale. 

But, again: this is primarily a recommendation for avid baseball fans who enjoy historical explorations backed by statistical representation. The blend of amusing anecdotes and baseball statistics supporting key moments in the sport's history will attract and delight those who hold a passion for the sport. 

Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories

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Greg Hoetker
TRANS(form)ed Press
978-1-7341079-7-5         $20.00 

Transcendcorona is autobiography and social inspection writing at its best, documenting the new age of living with coronavirus's threats with an attention to daily detail that future generations will find exact and engrossing: "I am The Doctor of all things in print, the MJ of syllables and sky. I read, pre-read, re-read, release. The galloping numbers fail to compute. I smell the slightest whiff and hear the gentlest whisper of something harsh and snarling; so I pull my two teens from school to quarantine. Their wrath cuts deep. “No one else is _____.” And “Why are we even _____?” Unspoken profanities simmering beneath the surface of our family soup. By evening, after the microphone spittle of Rudy Gobert tests positive for COVID-19, the NBA closes the doors on its entire season. Followed by More Breaking News: Tom Hanks has tested positive, too. If Forrest Gump can get it . . . ? A box of chocolates now tastes bitter." 

Greg Hoetker writes of transformations and change with a keen attention to capturing the nuances and details of daily living. His inspections come with dates and follow the timeline of tragedy that absorbs daily news as he awaits better options: "Clouds billow across the rolling flats of Oklahoma City. As morning becomes afternoon, the uptick of a fifteen-mile-hour wind. It is the same weather on the same date at the same time that I envisioned at the end of my first novel...Tomorrow, the twenty-five-year anniversary of the event, now to-be-forgotten in the COVID-news shuffle. So many bodies. It’s 40,000 now, 168 then. It took us six years to study-blame-execute. But how to kill a submicron murderer without a vaccine. Then we used a cocktail of chemicals and needles; now we need much of the same. They say twelve to eighteen months. But they do not truly know, how long it will take to find it, and how much longer to manufacture enough for all. In the meantime we click stories. Sew masks. Plant gardens. And wait. Wait. Wait." 

Hoetker's ability to capture the nuances of these strange times, weaving social inspection, past experience, history, and the ironies and inconsistencies of life during COVID in a rapidly changing era, makes for a special blend of literary inspection and social critique. The social and political commentary is thought-provoking and impeccable. 

An example of this is the 2020 recognition of Memorial Day weekend, when Hoetker examines his past celebrations and connections, contrasting them with present-day events: "On Memorial Day the flags wave at half-mast. The former vice-president in a Delaware cemetery wears black mask and aviators, looking Top Gun postapocalyptic. My grandfather is at Union Cemetery east of town. How I loved him when he was here. You can’t love dirt and headstones...What was, what is. A golden eagle with a wingspan like Kawhi floats and swoops between stray snags. Around 6:25 p.m. local time a man elsewhere is choked then dispatched. 3rdBorn, KenCryce, drop a heartbeat, run it back: One man’s loss is my loss / One man’s loss is your loss / One man’s loss is our loss / One man’s loss is God’s loss. Back to the Valley, derricks moaning. That chasm between 100 and 109 degrees. That’s Thursday, mercury rising, risen, a flag waving America onwards, In Memoriam, for our Departed, lowered to the very bottom of the pole." 

His ethereal, descriptive blends of past and present help delineate just what is different about this era and point in time, in contrast to the past. His literary inspections and unique voice move beyond singular experience to expressions that will resonate universally with those living during these times. 

Transcendcorona's compelling blend of autobiography, social and cultural inspection, and the politics and processes of world-changing events is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in an astute document of our times for present-day acknowledgement and future generations alike. 

As with Hoetker's prior works A Leg in Oklahoma City and BLACK CYANIDE/white pill, all profits from book sales of Transcendcorona will be donated to charities, nonprofits, and educational institutions aligned with a common vision of dispersing peace. 


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When Your Child Has Cancer
Dr. John Poothullil, MD, FRCP
New Insights Press

When Your Child Has Cancer: Insights and Information to Empower Parents surveys the basic facts about childhood cancer with the purpose of "giving parents and professionals new insights into childhood cancers, particularly how and why they are occurring among more and more children." 

From how children can have cancer without gene mutations occurring to a section of three illustrated stories parents can use to talk to a young child about cancer, When Your Child Has Cancer covers many different aspects of the disease and its causes and impact. 

35 years of medical practice expertise lends to this discussion of why, how, and when children come down with cancer. From insights into controlling cancer with food choices to organizing activities for the child undergoing cancer treatment, When Your Child Has Cancer blends assessments of various options with a focus on how to explain facts and handle the child in treatment. 

Its wide-ranging approach elevates it beyond a singular production, offering recipes, picture book stories, medical advice, and insights on alternatives to make for an all-in-one guide for recovery. 

When parents face a cancer diagnosis for their child, it's often not possible to consult multiple references to get all the information needed to handle their questions as well as address their child's needs. 

When Your Child Has Cancer resolves this problem by having everything under one cover, and should be the starting place for any parent facing a new diagnosis and cancer's challenges. 

When Your Child Has Cancer

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Young Adult/Childrens

7th Grade Revolution
Liana Gardner
Vesuvian Books

$12.95 Paper/$6.99 ebook/Hardcover $15.95 (Nov 24, 2020) 

Combine a detective mystery for children ages 9-12, blend in history from Colonial America, and include the usual 7th grade school angst and what do you have? 7th Grade Revolution, a genre-defying children's story that revolves around 7th graders who stage a successful school revolt that ejects adult guidance, only to stumble into a treasure hunt that pits them against the FBI. 

At first this whirlwind of a middle-grade book feels too wide-ranging. There is a lot going on. But, powered by the characters of troublemaker Dennis Alexander and the reclusive Rhonda Snodgrass, 7th Grade Revolution quickly becomes a compelling survey of not just a student revolt, but its unexpected aftermath. 

It's unusual to have an adventure mystery wound into actual history based on real-world events. Its premise originated with a charter school's classroom experiences with a bloodless 'revolt' scenario that encouraged students to learn about and emulate the challenges faced in early America. This story evolves a scenario in which the 7th Grade wins, but now has to form a student government, determine policies, and run the school. Gardner imagined what would happen if this fictional task were true...and 7th Grade Revolution was born. 

To further support the real roots of the tale, the complete Twitter stream from the actual classroom experience at Exploris Middle School appears at the end of the book. 

As young readers pursue this exciting story, they will find it far different than the usual historical approach, more challenging and wide-ranging than the typical mystery, and more exciting than either genre. 

Decades ago, Henry Winterfield wrote Trouble at Timpetill, about a group of spoiled kids whose parents disappear and leave them to run the town. The students in Gardner's story, in contrast, have taken a more proactive hand in their future, rather than having adults force their independence and decision-making process. But now they have to support their decisions and struggle with some very adult processes: "We can’t agree on how to run the school, how can we fight the FBI?” Brooke’s voice trailed up to a squeak." 

Lovely color illustrations by Luke Spooner pepper this adventure, adding visual strength to an already-formidable story that proves hard to put down. 

Young readers interested in a problem-solving adventure story strengthened by evolving interpersonal relationships and student connections will find 7th Grade Revolution an outstanding read. It offers delightful action paired with thought-provoking insights not just on leadership and decision-making, but how a group of disparate students bands together for a greater purpose and ultimately reaches their goals, with an unexpected lesson for all. 

7th Grade Revolution is very highly recommended for middle graders looking for lively adventure leisure reading. 

7th Grade Revolution

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Call for Independence
R.D. Crist
ShoRic Publishing
Paperback: 978-0-9998822-3-8   
Ebook: 978-0-999-8822-2-1          $3.99 

Call for Independence is Book 2 in the Scarlet Reign series for young adults interested in strong action stories of independent, proactive teen heroines facing adversity. 

Natalie once saved the Sisterhood from disaster, but its new requirements of commitment leave her contemplating an exit even as it once again requires the strength of her abilities to combat a new threat: independence. 

Pulled in different directions by her evolving powers and her connections to both the Sisterhood and the friendships and forces in her own life, Natalie finds herself in a whirlwind of choices good and bad as she tries to steer a course both within and away from the Sisterhood's control. 

Revenge, justice, a new quest, and a struggle against the darkness both within the world and in herself permeates a fast-paced story. It builds on the prior book Malice of the Dark Witch, but requires no prior familiarity in order for newcomers to quickly become involved in this dark tale of sacrifice, faith, spells, and power struggles. 

Strong descriptions of violent struggle make this a recommendation for mature teen to adult readers, who will find Natalie's story compelling and thoroughly engrossing. 

R.D. Crist excels in outlining a dilemma in which Natalie faces her own moral and ethical decisions over betraying trust and heritage or forging new paths in the world. From battles with witches and spells cast on both sides to the lures of order, protection, and growing powers, Call for Independence is equally strong in confrontation and battle and inner inspection. 

Natalie is an appealing character who courageously faces the forces and conflicts within her evolving self as well as from the witches and those around her. Some support her quest for a different kind of life: "I’m sorry to intrude into your matters, but you’ve been there for the Order many times: a savior twice, guiding their youth, and all as a child yourself. You have a life too. Have you not been selfless enough for their causes? You deserve to be happy, and this order’s direction is in contrast to that happiness.” “But I can’t leave the Order—” “When you can save it again,” finished the seer. “It’s been a pleasure for me to know you. You are indeed a unique and beautiful individual, but Parker is right, you are too naïve to be involved. I hope you see me as a friend, and as a friend, I believe we can handle this one without you. You have grown too much, too fast. It’s okay to take some time for yourself.” 

Teens will readily relate to Natalie's moments of self-discovery and choices, and will find this story, like its predecessor, offers a solid blend of action, confrontation, and self-realization. It's more than a notch above most other fantasies or young adult quest stories, highly recommended for mature teens who will absorb Natalie's changes and dilemmas as familiar facets of their own lives. 

Call for Independence

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Getting By
Jaire Sims
Paperback: 978-1-73486-080-1            $12.90
eBook: 978-1-73486-081-8                   $4.99 

Getting By is a fine young adult coming of age story centered on Carver Goodman, an African American student who has just turned seventeen, and dreams of becoming a photographer. 

In addition to the usual challenges of school, bullies, and his ability to appreciate the pleasures of local nature, Carver acknowledges that he’s at a crossroads in his life where everything is poised to change: “...lunch was where I could spend precious time with friends, something I valued because I knew our time together in high school would not last forever.” 

His ability to accept life’s inevitable twists and turns and his changing role in it is one of the facets that keeps readers engaged in Getting By. 

Another draw is Jaire Sims’s ability to accept new beginnings that include a blossoming relationship with his good friend Jocelynn, questions about sexuality and life direction, and the choices he faces in honing his abilities in more than one way. More so than most accounts of African American young people, Sims cultivates the ability to present a multifaceted young personality on the cusp of various types of changes and confrontations in life. 

This approach creates a character that has ambition, searches for his life purpose and connections, and who moves in a world where getting by is not the only choice. In his case, getting by would be falling into an easy relationship with his good friend. But opting for something more brings Carver into dangerous territory: “Donnell looked sexy not only in khakis but in jeans as well. I know it didn’t count as cheating, but the way I looked at Donnell and some of the other boys at school almost made me feel like I was cheating on Jocelynn. When Donnell saw me after getting on the bus, he greeted me with a nod before sitting in the back. I was lucky enough to smell a hint of his cologne when he walked past me.” 

Too many young adult stories of African Americans also adopt relatively singular approaches, placing their characters in ghettos where influences are different. In creating a talented, aspiring young man who is facing both the pinnacle of success and some of his greatest personal challenges for building a different future goal, Jaire Sims goes far beyond getting by with stereotypical scenarios and approaches.  

Who is Carver honoring when he makes decisions based on the expectations of others, and how can he stay true to himself and his loved ones while staying on an upward trajectory towards success and personal life satisfaction?

Carver Goodman’s decisions and options on the cusp of adulthood create a compelling, uplifting, realistic story of a potentially successful young man and introvert who faces pressures and influences beyond those usually wound into African American coming of age stories. Getting By is an exceptional, thought-provoking read. 

Getting By

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Jack and the Lean Stalk
Raven Howell
Atmosphere Press
1647646677           $12.99 

Jack and the Lean Stalk is illustrated by Sarah Gledhill and cultivates tongue-in-cheek humor as it tells of Jack, who lives with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Garbanzo, on a farm in the little town of Pinto. 

His parents are good farmers, but Jack is not. He has a different talent in his community: mending things. 

When there is a threat to the magical bean crop, can Jack's talent help? 

To add to the problems, a Giant child appears, who doesn't look like anyone else in the community. He hides in the Garbanzo family's fields, miserably isolated. Jack's talent may be mending things, but now he has two problems he can't solve. Or, can he? 

Good reading skills will lend to easy enjoyment of this 'fractured fairy tale' which offers lessons about prejudice, cultivating one's talents, redirecting abilities and perspectives about life, and handling the fallout from grief. 

Kids receive a story about the interconnected consequences of actions and choices, the unexpected side effects of prejudice, grief, and isolation, and how one individual with talents that are different can change the world. 

An inspirational story evolves; highly recommend for parents seeking lessons for young readers about tolerance, wisdom, understanding, and problem-solving. 

Jack and the Lean Stalk

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The Lake Never Tells
Alex Tully
Independently Published
979-8632617598            $8.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Zoe is a trailer park resident who well knows the routines of her home and the snobby reactions of vacationers who visit the area on holiday. But when she encounters Ethan, a visitor from a nearby wealthy community, an unexpected relationship develops to counter much of what she's come to believe in her life, in The Lake Never Tells. 

Young adults who choose this story for its blossoming friendship between peers and siblings will find it holds a darker, more inspective undertone when a body washes up on the beach to bring the children not just new relationships and possible young love, but a clash of worlds that threatens Zoe's home and future. 

Readers delve into a story that surveys privilege, politics, social differences, and connections between very different individuals who learn to not just tolerate one another, but love each another's unique perspective on life and their special abilities. 

There's a lot more going on in The Lake Never Tells than a simple story of an evolving relationship. The other thing that is changing is a clash of cultures and perspectives that brings Zoe and Ethan to the brink of misunderstanding and danger. 

Alex Tully provides a summer story of change in a manner that toes the line between a sweet tale of growth and understanding and the changes life brings to each character's perception of their world and social standing. 

As Detective Zeller moves closer to the truth about the dead body and Ethan and Parker's involvement, readers find themselves thoroughly engrossed in a mystery and a secret that could change everything not just for Zoe, but all who are involved in her life. 

Tully's ability to provide a story that touches upon many different points lends to a multifaceted read that maintains reader interest with strong characterization and a shifting plot that continually introduces new elements into the story. 

The author's move from romance to intrigue will keep young adults guessing until the unexpected conclusion. This approach crafts a riveting story that's more than a simple summer beach tale, but the engrossing saga of worlds colliding and extraordinary friendships forged from adversity and new dreams. 

The Lake Never Tells's unique blend of mystery, romance, and discovery is highly recommended for teens who want a story replete with relationship challenges and change. 

The Lake Never Tells

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The Quarantine Bears
Jay & Meg Sutherland
The Booth of Us
978-0-578-72239-9         $$29.99 (coupons available)

The Quarantine Bears pairs a rollicking two-line-per-page rhyming picture book with the story of a family of bears who awaken from hibernation expecting to enjoy another season in the sun. But something is different this they go for a family run, they observe that everything is closed, and people are wearing masks outside: "The stores were all closed, the streets were all bare/and a few folks in masks almost gave us a scare!" 

They turn on the television to find that they have woken up to a nightmare. What's a bear to do? Lay in supplies, of course. 

As they develop new habits indoors and under new rules, the bears discover there is actually "plenty to do", and forge new habits and lives for themselves as they await safety and recovery. 

The Quarantine Bears's realistic yet friendly tone makes it the perfect item of choice to help the very young adapt to new realities. "This can't last forever" is one of the messages in a lively story that does a terrific job of pointing out new realities and how to live a good life under them. 

Parents will find this appealing family of bears and their observations and decisions provide easy lessons for kids on how to live under COVID restrictions, yet anticipate a positive new day in the future. 

It's highly recommended for parents looking for an introduction to COVID rules and their rationale, for the very young. 

The Quarantine Bears

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Tales of Nash
Ann Worthington
DartFrog Books
978-1-951490-52-2         $11.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

Tales of Nash is a young adult coming of age story that revolves around the summer experience of seventeen-year-old Nash, who leaves his friends in Portland to live in the woods with his grandfather. Much like Jean George's classic My Side of the Mountain a decades ago, Ann Worthington creates a saga that begins with a desire to run away from something, but evolves into a story of running into one's strengths and individuality. 

Nash already likes "being outdoors, unconfined by four walls." His affinity for solitude lends to his ability to make an unusual choice for his life when everything changes and he is accused of murder. 

Unlike My Side of the Mountain, this isn't just a story about outward survival skills. It speaks of family relationships, inner resilience, and adapting to the world's influences and struggles. 

From escalating debt and his mercurial relationship with his grandfather to his personal involvement in investigating a crime to clear his name and more, Nash's ability to navigate death when it comes home to hit personally, combined with his changing relationships with the world, makes for absorbing reading. 

One might wonder at the appropriateness of the murder's injection into the overall coming-of-age theme, but Ann Worthington does a tasteful job of exploring Nash's evolutionary process as he considers difficult decisions, new adjustments to life and the revelations of a family secret, and the kinds of inquiries that lead to devastating revelations that change everything. Worthington creates a powerful tale that is embedded both in nature and family and social adversity. 

Mature teen to new adult readers will find Tales of Nash a poignant story of family ties and growth which introduces an evolving dilemma and Nash's revised place in the world. It's highly recommended for audiences looking for intriguing blends of mystery, social and family issues, and the kinds of decisions and bigger-picture revelations maturity brings, to usher adulthood into place. 

Tales of Nash

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Those Who Watch from Afar
Zach Hacker
Anywhere Press
Paperback: 978-1-7335049-4-2
E-book: 978-1-7335049-3-5 

Those Who Watch from Afar is the first book in the 'Magic's Erosion' series, providing young adult readers with a coming of age fantasy that revolves around Leah's walk out of the world into an Earth that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It's another realm that exists on an alternate plane and holds hope for magical partnerships and resolution for the dying Earth's dilemmas. 

Petra narrates her story as a special gift and lesson to Leah, but as she interweaves a complex series of encounters and insights, Leah is tasked with confronting the magical legacy she's inherited and the impact of Petra's decisions to change the course and presence of magic on Earth. 

As Leah and readers absorb Petra's story, mission, and its unexpected impact, a fine story evolves of both vigorous attempts to right old wrongs and a passive watch that has affected the world through inactivity as much as action: "Earlier, you raised a question about my complicated relationship with my mother. Well, one reason I find it so difficult is that I have now become her. The movement I led has been coopted by those who do not wish to continue the slow march of equality on this planet, and have instead used the last few hundred years to seize and debase the bondstones, circumventing what we accomplished through new magic. They’ve erected magical borders to pose limits on usage, and they’ve restricted the knowledge of magic to only themselves. It’s been disheartening, as I’ve only been able to watch from afar.” 

Young adults will become absorbed by Petra's dilemmas and history, Leah's inadvertent discoveries and newfound realizations about the realities of her life and world, and her latest task to accept newfound power and responsibility in much the way Petra did, but with different results. 

Those Who Watch from Afar builds a fine interplay between the characters of these two worlds and reviews the lasting impact of their decisions. It's especially powerful in exploring the psychological and social connections that influence Petra and Leah's decisions and approaches to life and this latest challenge: "Leah continued, “Look, I guess I thought if I came here you could give me some power or some weapon that would just fix everything and I could go back to my life. I can’t even hold down a job—there’s no way I can live up to this.” 

In a way, Those Who Watch from Afar is like an entire prologue that sets the stage for books to follow by crafting a believable human protagonist who just wants an easy way of solving huge problems both in her own life and for Earth. 

The compelling emotional developments, the interplays between characters, their heritage, and their future responsibilities, and the focus on how world-changing events are introduced and explored makes Those Who Watch from Afar an excellent choice for young adult fantasy readers who like their quest tales firmly grounded in strong, believable characters. 

Book 1 is the setup. Book 2 should be eagerly anticipated by the fans of Those Who Watch from Afar. 

Those Who Watch from Afar

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Through the Woods
Maly Kiendl
Independently Published
978-1679012112            $15.00 Paper/$5.99 Kindle 

Through the Woods is an appealing, simple picture book story that focuses on a very basic concept: the fine art of giving to others. 

Good reading skills (or, ideally, adult read-aloud assistance) will lend appreciation to this story of Loxalillya, who encounters a Dreammaker elf in the woods. Their interactions assume a surreal quality when he introduces her to a brother she never knew she had. 

As Loxalillya encounters the little boy and others who all seem to need some form of assistance, she learns important lessons, including how to receive without question or doubts. 

Adults will be able to tailor the lessons of this story to the very young, while kids with good reading skills who pursue the themes themselves will find it holds many pointed lessons: "If you don't understand something right away it doesn't matter...gain confidence by it. Don't stand in the middle of the road and worry about the good that came your way." 

Better editing, even for this short piece, would have corrected peppered grammatical issues such as mild punctuation and word choices. Adults seeking a perfectly written message might look elsewhere...but the message about giving that this book contains in a series of adventures is thought-provoking enough that they won't be easily found in competing picture book stories for this age group, while the full-page color illustrations are exceptionally lovely. 

Adults who look for stories for kids that embed values lessons and perspectives about life choices will relish the kindness and focus of this story of giving and better understanding. 

Through the Woods

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Tina Shepardson
Clear Fork Publishing
978-1-950169-27-6         $16.99
Ordering:, Clear Fork Publishing, and
Barnes and Noble: 

Walkout is a fine picture book story illustrated by cartoonist and artist Terry Sirrell, who creates appealing drawings to highlight the story of young people who decide to show support for their school by staging an anti-violence walkout. 

It's a dual story about political involvement and friendship which not only advocates calls to action, but shows how young people can get involved in social change. 

Stella is afraid to go to the walkout, given that the school principal has stated that only older kids can participate. But her best friend Maddie is determined that they be involved in some way. But, how can younger kids join their elders? 

As Stella worries, Maddie maintains that "This walk should be for all, including the small." But Stella just wants everyone to be safe, even if she's the only one holding that line and testing their friendship in the process. 

A concluding note about school violence and demonstrations completes the realistic story of two best friends who face a political choice that divides them when they should stand united. 

Adults looking to explain activism and social participation to the very young, as well as friendship's boundaries and challenges, will find this story of a determined girl and her too-cautious best friend to be engrossing and educational. It's perfect for initiating beginning conversations about political involvement, school violence issues, and risk-taking.


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Where Shadows Lie
Allegra Pescatore
Ao Collective Publishing
Paperback: 978-1-952348-00-6        $17.99
Hardcover: 978-1-952348-01-3        $26.99 

Where Shadows Lie is the first book of The Last Gift series and follows royal headaches and challenges when Princess Elenor's brother dies, leaving her next in line to inherit the Throne of Lirin. 

On the opposite side of her reign is rebel Gabriel, who has spent his life fighting oppression, and who believes that eliminating the royal family is one of the keys to liberation. 

He never expected to find his latest task challenged by a close developing relationship with the institution that is the wellspring of his country's tyranny, while Elenor discovers that her love for her people and kingdom can be mirrored in an alternate reality that holds truths every bit as powerful as her own convictions. 

The unlikely meeting and alliance of these two disparate individuals, and the rise of ancient forces initially released by their clash, creates a fantasy story that is about more than the rise of magic. 

Allegra Pescatore holds a powerful ability to set a scene and relationships, then give them unexpected twists so that Elenor is not only uncertain of her supporters, but comes to see that loyalty presents itself in strange ways: "You still haven’t told me who it is we’re meeting,” Elenor noted, rocking nervously on the balls of her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a shape move in the shadows. She leaned into Fedrik, breath coming faster. “An old friend of mine.” Instead of reaching for the door, he turned towards her. Taking both of Elenor’s hands in his, Fedrik looked down into her eyes. “Whatever happens tonight, know that before all else, my loyalty is yours.” 

These juxtapositions of faith, life perceptions, clashing forces, and values which unexpectedly come full circle to align those on opposing sides drives a fantasy replete in action, confrontation, surprising truths, and reexaminations of everything from alliances to puzzling events. 

The undercurrent of ethical, moral, and life examination will delight fantasy readers looking for philosophical reflections within character interactions in the course of a vivid series of events: "Are you speaking of the Tellens? Why do you take their deaths on your shoulders?” “Because they are!” If he knew what had happened, how could he not see that? Yet Robin shook his head. “Did you tell them to rebel? Did you tell your father to forgo due process? There were thousands of choices that brought them to that end, and you were only a small piece of that web, but more important than all of that is the question that you are not asking: what if this was their best path? What if they did exactly what they were meant to do, and that their Passing will help the world by opening your eyes?” 

As the story builds by adding two gods out for vengeance, powerful being Daemon's realization that Elenor's love changes everything, and a host of sub characters from mock dragons to Mark Lirion's stranglehold on the country, sending Gabriel on a murderous mission that changes its course, readers will be delighted by an epic presentation that keeps alliances shifting and life purposes in flux. 

Perhaps the greatest strength to Where Shadows Lie is in its many well-developed characters. Readers will care not just about Elenor and Gabriel and their motivations and lives, but those who surround them. This is the hallmark of superior writing. 

Compared to other books in the epic fantasy genre, Where Shadows Lie is somewhat longer than most. This is because its characters and action are nicely developed and thoroughly compelling, giving the story a rich flavor that makes it hard to put down, as evocative as the best epic fantasies in the genre. 

Where Shadows Lie is very highly recommended for mature teens on up—anyone who wants their action-packed story firmly grounded in the hearts and minds of not just the main characters, but everything that surrounds them.

Where Shadows Lie

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Angels of Stockholm
Neil D. Desmond
Adelaide Books
978-1949180541            $19.60 Paper/$7.99 Kindle 

Each story in Angels of Stockholm paints a very different portrait of decisions, lives changed, and different cultural and social connections between disparate peoples around the world, from Asia to Europe and America. There is a sense of wonder and achievement in all these tales, which consider revised purposes to life and the circumstances which both separate and draw people together. 

These literary short stories offer social and personal inspections filled with quiet tension, depth, and moments of despair tempered by revelation and change. 

Believable characters face all kinds of circumstances, from a 1917 encounter in 'We May Be On Our Own' which follows a mother and daughter facing an explosive disaster in Halifax in the absence of a fisherman husband to an art reflection in 'The Masterpiece' in which a part-time student of art history finds this world connects to life's meanings in unexpected ways beyond and within art. These make Angels of Stockholm: Short Stories a compelling read which employs a variety of times, settings, and cultures to depict the struggles of ordinary individuals facing changed lives and adversity. 

Angels of Stockholm: Short Stories opens with 'Stockholm', a piece that traverses Scripture, belief, war, and a contrast in very different lives between a spiritual, kind child in Stockholm and the experiences of Marina in Austria, who believes she will die in the prison camp of Mauthausen in 1945. 

The connections between these disparate lives begins when father Hans encounters Marina and her belief that Christians are responsible for the inhumanity and her plight. As he takes risks to help her, from the perspective that being a father to one child is to hold affection for all children, he makes decisions that have long-term effects on them both. 

Decades later, as a bus driver, he reflects on his life and how he and the world continue to be changed by the Holocaust and decisions made during those years. He has always stepped up to the responsibilities life has given him, but acknowledges that he has been changed by them all even as others drift through life without the will to affect anyone else. 

As living, breathing vignettes of life's challenges, Angels of Stockholm: Short Stories will linger in the mind long after the final story is absorbed. It is a highly recommended collection for readers who like their short works literary, diverse, and well grounded in the human spirit of resilience and growth. 

Angels of Stockholm

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Dreams of a Viking Wedding
John David Muth
Kelsay Books
9781952326110             $18.50 

Dreams of a Viking Wedding presents the poems of a son-turned-caregiver to his aging father, who faces the special challenges of living his life while handling an adult who once was his leader and rock. 

John David Muth's own impending first wedding at middle age and his navigations through life create a satisfyingly reflective juxtaposition of events past and present. Muth captures ordinary tasks with the astute observational style of a philosopher, often presenting double meanings in his free verse. 

The poem 'Ode to My 2-XL', about an attic treasure find, is one of the best examples of this device: "I plug the power cord into an outlet/hoping to see the red glow of its eyes/hear the high-pitched voice/ready to teach me once again/but nothing happens./It must have been the heat up here." Placed where it is, after introductory poems outlining his father's condition and his newfound role in his father's life, the poem packs power with a multifaceted conclusion. 

Many poems weave surprises into their dialogues and discussions, as in the surprising conclusion offered through the words of wisdom of an inebriated grandfather in 'Talking with Grandpa after He's Had Ten Beers (circa 1987)', which includes the reflection that "Sex is a crucifix to their vampire./Truthfully, they’re all vampires."   

Irony and humor also penetrates many of these life experiences, as in 'She Didn’t Seem to Mind', where Muth mistakes a woman's restroom for a men's room and finds himself in an uncomfortable position. 

Wit and wisdom coalesce as these poems build a foundation for understanding not just Muth's life and experiences, but the typical man's walk through middle age. 

Dreams, daily trials, fantasies and truths move through poems with an ability to pair the ordinary experience with astute observations: "It’s hard being inconsequential:/a machine that works, eats, excretes./For a day, I want to be a warrior/passionate and fierce/not a white-collared geek/born a thousand years too late." 

Poetry enthusiasts seeking a free verse walk through a man's life and the rigors of middle-age challenges will find Dreams of a Viking Wedding well-written, hard-hitting, thought-provoking reading. 

Dreams of a Viking Wedding

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The First Lady
Pete Ballard
Bluefield Books
978-0-578-69607-2                $5.99 Paper/$0.99 Kindle 

The First Lady of the United States, Doris Ann Westleigh, attended the funeral of husband President Adam Westleigh in 1940s America. Her grief was carefully publicly staged, hiding an alternate feel that his presidency has benefited herself as much as her husband and successfully masked the truth about the role she's played as the wife of Adam John Harmon. 

With his death, things are about to change for the first lady and the family that has proudly displayed their success as a reflection of the American dream. 

As Doris puts the past fifty years of a lifetime of choices into perspective, readers receive a novella replete in contemplation of life-changing decisions, including changing her name and persona. Harold invented her name and everything about her. Indeed, as the foundling child of sharecroppers, everything about her past has been fiction. 

Pete Ballard's short work is a strong historical and psychological romance that begins with death and works backwards to an identity invented for special purposes. It slowly reveals Doris's evolution with Harold always in attendance over these changes, and creates a quiet inspection of a revised identity that has always been impeccable and impossible, at once. 

As Doris now seeks to get on with her life, she comes to question what that new life involves, its purpose, and its presentation. 

The First Lady is a quiet inspection of transitions, life identity, and change. Indeed, it's so circumspect that readers who expect more action may be stymied by its slow psychological inspections and probe of relationships which rest on social image and carefully contrived public presentations that build a specific persona. 

From depictions of changing family relationships and White House image revisions and challenges to the aftermath of Doris's service as a wife and political ally, Ballard weaves a quiet story of evolving family connections, relationships, and intersections between high-level political figures and down home environments. 

The result is a poignant story of high society, identity decisions, and a close-held secret that won't be passed on to future generations or the public eye: "Our stories will end when the four of us are gone. There will be no stigma for the children.” 

Evocative and revealing, The First Lady is especially recommended for women who enjoy tales of social interactions, family change, and the trials, demands, and secrets of high society in America. 

The First Lady

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The Potion Peddler’s Almanac
Colin R. James
Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC
Paperback: 978-0988904859               $9.99
ASIN: B089Q11HFH                          $4.99 

The Potion Peddler’s Almanac is a literary collection of short stories that move through time and place, capturing succinct moments of experience that ride the wave of the unexpected. 

Take the title story 'The Potion Peddler's Alamanc', for example, which introduces the anthology and represents some of its key strengths. Set in 1755 England, the piece moves through an ancient route traversed by a common potion peddler who moves through the wilderness undeterred by either the elements or the lure of connections to mankind. 

His sojourn is based upon peddler potions he knows are worthless, on some level. On other levels, he is actually peddling hope: "The art of potions wasn’t in the mixture, nor in the voluminous recipes laid down by generations past; secrets divulged by father to son, from mother to daughter; forgotten knowledge retained by travelling folk and distributed frugally among those outside the inner circle. Although an initiate of the ancient rite of healers, the peddler knew that it took more than colored glass and powdered opiate to heal the body and excite the imagination." 

Readers who anticipate a literary device that includes the usual predicable progression of events will find, in this opening act and others, that the meat of the story lies in Colin R. James's ability to capture not the nuances of a trade or a perspective, but the ultimate underlying motivations and results of this pursuit. 

The stories often feel open-ended because it is left to the reader's inclinations and experience to produce the final interpretation. Yet, just enough guidance is provided to tailor the possibilities in that final unsaid punch line. This is one delight that all the stories share—a strength that allows for an open-ended result based not on the obvious, but upon the impact each story has on its individual reader. 

Take 'Femme Fatale', for a very different atmosphere and example. Set in London in the 1980s, this piece revolves around a new dance club, the promise of sexy dancers, and the scene being set by a dancer who prepares for the first audience of an opening act designed to take London by storm. 

The punch line is unexpected and invites readers to think about their perceptions and assumptions. 

This sense of surprise is cultivated in each and every story. James proves he is no stranger to powerful dialogue with 'Blighty', set in a Somme trench in 1916 France. It pursues the Army's interactions and experiences in the town of Blighty and the evolving relationships between fighters who find themselves mitigating the terrible events of the present with memories of the past. 

Each piece is a complete, succinct snapshot of time and place. Each offers a literary delve into hearts, minds, and misperceptions. Each will delight readers who look for diverse, wide-ranging short works that are powerfully rendered, thought-provoking, and unexpected in their progression. 

The Potion Peddler’s Almanac is highly recommended reading for literary audiences who look for journeys through life captured from various angles and gathered into a series of vignettes made more powerful for their unified assembly under one cover. 

The Potion Peddler’s Almanac

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The Torch of Hope and Inspirations
Annalyn J. Rasul
Christian Faith Publishing, Inc.
Paperback: 978-1-64515-799-1            $15.95
Hardcover: 978-1-64515-981-0            $22.95
Digital: 978-1-64515-800-4                  $  9.99 

The poems and inspirational pieces in The Torch of Hope and Inspirations are testimonies to faith and perseverance in the world. They represent Annalyn J. Rasul's blend of personal writing and selected quotes that have moved her during her quest for spiritual enlightenment. 

The first section contains her poems, which are both motivating admonitions and discussions of finding strength and comfort in faith. 

The free and rhyming verses sometimes struggle to present their message within their structure, as in 'Sorrow', about illness, recovery, and faith: "Not quite sure if I am physically ill,/or is it my soul that needs a heal?/I writhed with pain and guzzled some pill,/but nothing can heal a soul that is ill." 

The strongest pieces are free verse creations such as 'Soft Voice', which flow unfettered by the boundaries of rhyme and rhythm: "I hear him/in a distance,/miles away./His soft voice fading/in the stillness/against the silence/of the trees./It comes and goes,/like the wind/from the shore./Years gone…/there it is again." 

These gentle reminders of love, loss, spiritual questioning, and life's different journeys will especially please poetry readers who look for simple, clear reflections on life that they can easily relate to. 

The second section of the book represents a lifetime of quote collecting and runs the gamut from proverbs and philosophical sayings to literary reflections. Some of the writers and quotes are well known, while others are pleasing surprises. 

The uniform result of this collection is a gentle reminder of what it means to live a life tempered by storms, shadows, sunshine, and a belief in God. 

Readers looking for alluring words and stirring writing will find them in abundance, here. 

The Torch of Hope and Inspirations

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