Canine in the Promised Land
Philip J. Kowalski
Atmosphere Press
978-1636495774            $15.99 

Poetry readers who like nature and reflections on the passions of man will find much to admire in Canine in the Promised Land, a discourse on the natural and human worlds, the creatures who inhabit it, and man's place in and influence upon them and himself. 

A wide range of poetic structures observe both individual concerns and the overall changing environment, but there's often a chiding note to works that place much of the responsibility for environmental degradation in the lap of mankind, as in the opening "The Tip of the Iceberg," which laments the fact that "...we struggle to articulate/The ravages of the earth/That we have shamelessly betrayed." 

Added to these observations are spiritual and social reflections on the human condition which explore the rigors of individual transformation, social change, and impacts. The satisfying blend of free verse and structured rhyme demonstrates the variety and extent of Philip J. Kowalski's poetic prowess. 

He often wields the written word like a cudgel of emotion, as in "Narcissus": "You sit in that black-and-white photograph,/Too consciously and retroactively produced, with/All of its pretentiousness, exactly like you./Holding a dog that doesn’t look real—a stuffed/Animal that approximates a semblance of a/Real self, not one you could ever do." 

The sense of history and literary allusions are also powerful threads that run through these poems, from a contrast between Brooksby Village (now Peabody) in 1636 to modern times to a treatise on Ulysses: "Ulysses, or Odysseus,/whatever your name is,/You’re an overrated loser. Know that Hecuba,/Queen of Sorrows, hates you for her concubinage./But that’s your modus operandi, isn’t it, after all?" 

By now, it should be evident that the ideal reader of this complex collection should already be educated in literature, history, natural history, and psychology. This audience, especially, will appreciate the undercurrents of realizations, accusations, and observations that link the poems this collection into a unified consideration of human, nature, and world connections. 

The evocative poem "The Toad" sums up these contrasts in perspective particularly well: "The sun shimmered in the low heat of a humidity-/Less day when I heard a bird above and to the right up in a tree./I knew how Grammy and Grandpa kept birds often in a cage,/And with binoculars and an Audubon guide kept track of/The wild ones by the river’s edge that they occupied./This one whistled and sang, and as I pointed it out/To myself, it rendered itself instantly mute./And then, what did I see? A muddy toad all/Brown in and of itself by nature borne appeared/As I dug the earth. It could not have been impacted/In the density of said ground. I took it as a sign, out of /Nowhere the precious thing appeared." 

Poetry readers who desire a collection that embraces history, self, and nature alike will find Canine in the Promised Land a diverse voice and a powerful read. 

Canine in the Promised Land

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The Ever-Fixed Mark
Thomas Brackshaw
Villaggio Publications
978-1736752203            $19.95 Paper/$9.95 ebook 

The Ever-Fixed Mark: Shakespeare on Love, Women, and Human Nature is recommended for two audiences: readers already familiar with the Bard's classic works and existing critical analyses as well as lay audiences interested in examining the key themes that inform his writings. 

Ten of Shakespeare's major plays provide the meat of this examination, which delves into why Shakespeare has reached so many audiences for more than five centuries. Many critics attribute this to his astute but balanced portrayals of human nature. This uncanny ability is what feeds Dr. Brackshaw’s life-long passion for introducing Shakespeare to contemporary audiences. 

Readers with light or casual familiarity with Shakespeare receive a very accessible and lively survey that relates his works to the Bard's special ability to probe underlying emotions through memorable characters: "Experience teaches that the words used to speak about love can either reveal or hide whatever exists within the heart. It is not easy for people to get these truths. The distinctions Shakespeare makes between artificial and genuine love gradually lead him to an understanding of reason's limitations and the significant value of the emotional connections that bind people to each other. Beginning most clearly with Hamlet, reason is shown to be a morally neutral aptitude that can exercise its sway over situations with either good or evil intention." 

Perhaps the audience aware of Shakespeare's plays on a less critical level stands to gain the most from these considerations. This is the result of Dr. Brackshaw’s ability to not only explain these undercurrents of reason, logic, and emotion but to contrast these ideas with other critical approaches to Shakespeare's works. 

Without making any assumptions about the reader’s familiarity with Shakespeare, Dr. Brackshaw explores the contents of each play, elucidating important connections to history, critical precedent, and other philosophical and psychological approaches. Because great care has been given to making each play and relevant critical perspectives more accessible, the inevitable consequence is a better understanding of Shakespeare's works. 

By focusing on Shakespeare’s evolving perspective on love as the basis for moral behavior, this book leads the attentive reader to an appreciation of Shakespeare's ultimate, lasting impact on the literary world and demonstrates why these works have withstood the test of time. 

Whether a reader of this book is in high school or college or simply an adult who maintains an appreciation for the Bard's major works, any student of Shakespeare will find The Ever-Fixed Mark a worthy social and critical inspection of the man, his views, and his times. This is a book that should appear in any serious literary collection and on the reading lists of every Shakespeare enthusiast. 

The Ever-Fixed Mark

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Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance
Elizabeth Gauffreau
Paul Stream Press, LLC
978-1-7359292-0-0         $12.99 

Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance is not a panacea for pain, but a baptism in the waters of love that allows the author's memories of her beloved father to wash over her and her readers. Immersion in these pieces provides an evocative experience that needs no familiarity with Gauffreau's situation or a family member's death to prove accessible. 

"Poetry has no say in the matter" of death, Gauffreau acknowledges from the beginning. What it can do is capture those moments in time which have become the past—moments of realization, remembrance, and transformation that crystallize and hold experiences suspended, much as a once-living figure in amber is represented for all time (or, in this case, as long as this book remains in print). 

Color and black and white family photos personalize these experiences, emphasizing and capturing the presence of mothers, daughters, and family as they consider the lives and pasts of a mother and father who are now gone. 

As much as grief is embedded in these poems, so are family connections, pivot points in the growth of a child that are captured in family portraits and poetic notes, and interpersonal relationships that remain timeless. 

What is anticipated to be an expression of sorrows and grief thus becomes a celebration, honoring those departed who have shaped the author's life in so many ways. 

The child's-eye viewpoint incorporated into many of these works and the hindsight of wisdom and longing of the present day weave poem stories that are succinct and vivid: "silly school project/cardboard box, green poster paint/George’s time machine/trips through time at his command/if only he had kept it."

Grief Songs is a collection born from grief which ultimately rests firmly on a lifetime of memories and bittersweet blends of recollection and loss. By "indulging childhood foibles," these memories bring home, in free verse recollections, the entire family system of support, love, and experience which the author and her readers can grasp as legacies of the past and touchstones for the present. 

Poetry readers willing to walk the road of grief and family connections will find Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance a psychological treasure trove. Its very accessible poetic tribute brings with it something to hold onto—the memories and foundations of past family joys, large and small. 

Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance

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Simultaneous Revolutions (Poems)
G.H. Mosson and Marcus Colasurdo
PM Press
978-1-62963-867-6         $5.95 Pamphlet/$2.99 ebook 

Simultaneous Revolutions is a poetry pamphlet that, in a little under fifty pages, captures the feel and influences of pop music and culture through social inspections by collaborators G.H. Mosson and Marcus Colasurdo with spirited intensity and diverse range. 

It's an unusual production on many levels. Collaborative poetry, where the poets intersect their talents and perspectives, is fairly rare. Literary and social allusions within works that provide political and cultural inspections are also relatively rare. Poetry collections tend to be emotion-driven observational pieces rather than reflective works resting on the shoulders of poets and musicians who have come before. The spirited intensity of these pieces also adds a flavor of drama and emotion that too often is lacking in modern poetry collections. 

The language sometimes incorporates and embraces capitalization for added impact. Take the opening poem "Thinking Apart," for example. Its powerful capitalized words emphasize connection, reflection, and choice as the narrator blends cultural observation with emotional inspection: "I need to DISCARD logos and icons/of the cool, dressed-up landscape and HUM what’s crude/maybe ethereal UP/above the dark FREE/as air ABOUT us like/loafing in CHILDhood’s favorite chair/rescued from memory’s JUMBLED attic/so (not another “you”) but all our TRUEST names/can be TOUCHED through ONE another." 

The free verses wind through the themes of contemporary musicians and poets, American communities and journeys, and beat poet themes in a manner that will be particularly recognizable and appreciated by fans of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and other beat poets who blend social activism into literary, psychological, and artistic inspections. 

Other poems incorporate a sense of place (often identified in the beginning), offering less dramatic emphasis and more of a quiet examination of place, time, and human effort; as in "Tilling": "Tilling: In short time,/the back grows stronger./It’s that kind of work./These arms bronze over/hard-glossed by the heat./As fields I’ve found/call me further, I dig into Independence." 

From On the Road-style travel experiences to the ceremonies and symbols of social and individual change, these poems are hard-hitting, succinct, and diverse in theme and approach. 

It's rare to find a pamphlet of works where every piece is finely tuned and exact. In this format, more so than book-length ventures, such precision is not a benefit, but a requirement. 

Simultaneous Revolutions reaches into the heart, mind, and literary worlds with images that resonate long after the reading is over. It's highly recommended for not just poetry and literary collections, but anyone interested in social and cultural representations and revolutions that take place on different levels: "What cloth would you choose/to make public and plain/the look of your dreams?/Through what language seen/out of blood and brains/would you stitch/the totem of your settlement?" 

Simultaneous Revolutions (Poems)

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Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel
Alice McVeigh

Warleigh Hall Press
978-1916882317            $12.99 

Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel is a regency-style romance based on the earlier life of one of Jane Austen's characters, is the first in a projected series, and introduces rebellious Lady Susan Smithson, a teen who has just been expelled from an exclusive finishing school in London. 

Susan's ability to attract men and scandal wherever she goes leads to her banishment to Uncle Collins' rectory in Kent, a staid rural town where she presumably will be safe from temptation and trouble. 

Even here, however, Susan hones her abilities to attract attention. But there is more going on than a series of flings alone, because Susan is an intelligent young woman who pursues not just men, but the perceived freedoms and advantages they enjoy: "Mr Oliver would soon be departing to the races, but she had heard nothing of Frank Churchill’s plans. Recollecting this, she could not help thinking, with powerful yearning, ‘If only I were a young man – a young man of means!’… If only she could say, as lightly as Mr Oliver had the previous evening, ‘Miss Richardson, after the races, I plan to return to town, where I hope you will also be.’ If only she possessed the same liberty to choose – her own home or a friend’s, the theatre or the racecourse, the continent or the country! She wondered if such men ever recognised the luxury of their advantages." 

Alice McVeigh captures the tone and language of an Austen classic, but also does a fine job of considering the social positions of women of the times and their opportunities, which Susan considers and longs for. 

Womens' lives are also contrasted—not just by Susan, but by other females who compare their circumstances to others: "Alicia also embraced her cousin, though she could not help feeling a little envious. It seemed to her that Susan had been born fortunate – in looks, in luck, in nerves, in everything!" 

Think Emma and Pride and Prejudice, but with the added value of a sense of humor, mischief, and determination that elevates Susan beyond what normally would be considered appropriate behaviors and responses for her class and position in society. 

Readers of Jane Austen and regency romances will find the period details nicely done and in fine contrast to the spunky Susan's observations of her world and her evolving place in it. Her engagements with different men (some simultaneously) and the emotions she causes in women around her are astutely presented, true to the Jane Austen approach and milieu, and will delight readers looking for contemporary stories that build on these characters and their evolving dilemmas and social challenges. 

Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel

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Women Are Hard To Figure
Peter Obourn
Independently Published
978-1-7363365-0-2         $15.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Women Are Hard To Figure is designed to appeal to a wide audience who may recognize their parents, their friends, their lovers, or perhaps themselves within these short stories of seventeen people who navigate their worlds differently. If these stories sound familiar, that may be because each has been previously published in a literary magazine. Or, maybe it's because each story hits close to home with a recognizable character portrait that comes from everyday walks of life. 

Each story grasps and contains a particular puzzle that invites readers to partake of a piece. 

Take the introductory "An Artist in the Family," for example. A family meeting takes place after fourteen-year-old Sam, an eighth-grader, flunks his class and must repeat a grade. Sam doesn't really care. He's going to be an artist. The art and craft of his passion doesn't need gym or math to succeed, he believes. 

Sam has much to teach everyone around him, from his brother to his father: "As Sam turned the canoe slowly toward home he said, “Pops, this is a song we are in—a song about us, about the pond, about the water, and about what is happening now. Can you feel it? Can you see it?” “I’m trying, Sam,” said Dad. “I’m trying. Honest I am.” “Don’t try,” said Sam. “Just feel it.” And as we slid into the shore he added, “Don’t worry, Pops. It’s okay. The world is a song. You’ll feel it.”  

Women in this story are peripheral to the quiet drama that unfolds within the family and a young artist's unique view of the world as he maintains that "dreams and art come from the same place." 

From a young schoolteacher's influence to a mother portrayed in such a way that "her hands look like claws," the best works of an aspiring young artist with few other talents to his name proves eye-opening to a brother and father who partake of his world on a canoe trip that introduces new perspectives to all. 

In contrast, "The Filmmaker and the Night Watchman" takes a very different kind of artist and provides his interpretation of one individual's world through a cinematic vision reflecting life.  Walter is out of practice in conversing effectively with people. He's more used to documenting events as a drama in his mind. 

As his persona is injected into his fictional characters, readers receive a vivid story of different perspectives in the guise of a filmmaker's notes translating these experiences: "Production note: The dog, of course, is Walter—a stray, a lost soul—a creature of the night—a little afraid, shy. You sense that he needs people but holds himself apart. Human relations are difficult for him. He is gentle, approachable, but when someone does approach him, he backs away." 

Everything depends on points of view. And Walter excels at changing them as he moves through different scenes, from his isolated task as a night watchman to his desire to have his film vision mirror reality: "Notes on Walter: Quiet, nice—night watchman—part of that thin blue line that separates our world from the dark world. I want the film to walk that line." 

As perspectives shift from daylight to night, simple encounters with filmmaker Mary and a bus driver whose routine never varies even when nobody is around, elusive scenes and emotions are driven by a protagonist who "has no history. I'm just here now." The backstory and movie become an unexpected collaborative effort between Mary and Walter. 

Walter's day ends at dawn, so he leads a "backward life," in comparison to most. How he makes a new connection in this dark, isolated world forms the crux of a dilemma and a revelation that both concludes this story and opens the protagonist's door for a revised sequel. 

By now, it should be apparent that Women Are Hard To Figure isn't just about women. It is life that is hard to figure out. Various incarnations of life are captured in vignettes that serve as moments in time that portray small town life, individual trajectories, and the ironies and humor of everyday connections and the dreams that fuel them. 

Literary short story readers are in for a treat with this warm collection of stories that observe, reflect coping methods, and celebrate the moment. 

Women Are Hard To Figure

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Biography & Autobiography

America Calling
Rajika Bhandari
She Writes Press
978-1-64742-183-0                $16.95 paper/$8.99 Kindle 

Anyone who has wondered about the modern immigrant experience and perceptions of coming to this nation to fulfill dreams will find America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility a lesson in adaptation, advantage, and revised futures by those who come to this country as students: "These travelers are foreign or international students who seek an American university degree, the Made in America brand prized by students all over the world. Their burdens are not light. They carry with them not only their two suitcases, but also their personal and professional aspirations, and the hopes and dreams of generations." 

Author Rajika Bhandari didn't always harbor these dreams. She grew up middle-class in India and observed that many who left to fulfill the prized goal of an American education never returned. And so she initially resisted the alluring idea of pursing an education in America, only to find herself on a similar trajectory. 

She did so determined to return home to India afterwards; but when her attempt to move back to India as a foreign-educated woman didn't succeed, she returned to the USA to craft a new life and job, working with international students facing a host of social and political challenges in the course of their drive to receive an American education. 

America Calling combines a memoir of her experiences in this country with a review of other international students' lives. Reviews of various coping mechanisms and experiences expand the focus to more than her life alone: "Most of the international students in Glendale Village shared bed-rooms and were packed into cramped apartments like sardines—the only way to survive on international student teaching or research assistantships. Some, like my neighbor Ravi, just couldn’t deal with it, and sought refuge in other ways. He would speak at length with his long-distance girlfriend in Bombay and ended up squandering all his money on those calls." 

From cultural clashes and homesickness to navigating immigration regulations, the American education system, and social challenges alike, America Calling offers a view of not just international students' lives (and especially Indian experiences), but how they live and what these students choose after achieving their educational goals. 

The impact of living in different countries are included as discussions delve into some of the latest arguments and controversies about international students in this country, backing contentions with statistical research: "One estimate suggests that the projected ripple effect on the US economy of reducing OPT would be dire: a decrease in real US gross domestic product by about a quarter of a percentage point by 2028; a loss of 443,000 jobs over the next decade, including 255,000 jobs held by native-born US workers; and a seventeen-cent decline in the average real hourly wage by 2028. Restricting the ability of individual international students to stay and work in the US would end up penalizing all Americans." 

The result is far more than a singular memoir of one Indian student's experience, but a wider-ranging embrace of the various social, cultural, political, and educational challenges that all readers should know in order to completely understand the choices, processes, and rigors of being an international student in America. 

Any collection strong in educational issues and cultural relationships, as well as Indian/American interactions, should consider America Calling an essential reference. 

Contained within the memoir format is a wealth of well-researched information about international education that is made all the more powerful for the personalized approach to these experiences that is cultivated in America Calling. 

America Calling

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Capable: A Story of Triumph For Children the World has Judged as "Different" 
Deborah Winking, PhD
High Expectations Press
978-0578841625            $18.99 Paper/$8.99 Kindle 

When Deborah Winking's son was born, he was put on a ventilator and eventually diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that marked him as "different" and threatened a life of limitations. 

Winking's memoir reveals her challenges and triumphs in raising her child as capable. It offers not just an autobiography of achievement, but a road map for parents who also face seemingly insurmountable challenges in rearing a child the world has deemed not just "different," but "less than." 

Parents committed to protecting such children may be surprised at Winking's admonition that all kids need to be encouraged to take risks, push their boundaries and perceived abilities, and be challenged by new experiences that lead to opportunities and growth. 

They may have long received the message that these options are not available for their special needs child, and that the best way of handling life is to protect the child, shielding them not just from heartache but from the positive self-image that comes from tackling a problem or new skill and mastering it. 

Even at the start of her journey with Jack, in the limbo before a diagnosis was offered, Winking nurtured hope. Her perceptions and experiences will resonate with other parents who face similar obstacles and fears: "Like any parent with a compromised child, I continued to scan the landscape for the slightest sign that Jack was with us and that he was fighting." 

The contrasts between the usual parenting approaches and concerns and those Winking experiences as she introduces Jack to the world are particularly striking: "Unlike most moms, my greatest fear was not that Jack would get hurt on the playground. In fact, that would be a point of pride, it would mean that he was moving, pushing his limits, joining in. No, my greatest fear was that he would remain contentedly on his bottom in the sand." 

These and other experiences form the crux of a story that engages parents of all kinds of children to understand the shared goals of parenting no matter what a child's abilities. 

Capable is a story of triumph on many different levels. It's messages, grounded in experience and ever shifting challenges as Jack and his mother evolve, provides many moments of understanding and education for all parents. This is, in itself, a triumph of connection against all the social perceptions that tend to stigmatize, limit, or isolate children such as Jack: "Elementary school was a collage of joyful, absurd, unexpectedly tender, challenging and mundane moments. But a theme through it all was that too often Jack was left out, passed over, ignored." 

Parents, educators, and anyone interested in child-rearing will find Capable a compellingly powerful account that deserves a place in a variety of collections, from parenting, health, and educator libraries to general-interest holdings. 

Capable: A Story of Triumph For Children the World has Judged as "Different" 

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Desiree-The Music of My Soul
Peggy Race
Black Rose Writing
978-1684337477            $19.95
Author website: 

Desiree-The Music of My Soul is a memoir and a love story that will especially appeal to dog lovers. It tells of a Hurricane Katrina rescue that sparks a short relationship that earns a special place in author Peggy Race's heart. 

It all begins with Race's early farm experiences and compassion for animals, which evolved from an early age to reach into maturity. As she moves into adulthood and assumes the role of stepparent to a child who challenges her trust level, Peggy finds herself at a crossroads that leads to the realization that "There are storms that cause destruction, leaving behind a path of devastation. Nevertheless, new life can emerge from beneath the rubble." 

This prepares her for the appearance of dog Desiree in her world. This isn't an immediate focus of the story. Indeed, her autobiographical reflections of family, relationships, and challenges take center stage, along with the interspersed letters to Desiree that cement her experiences and changing perspectives about life's meaning: "Life makes no promises. I am certain that both of us have moments when we wish we could reprogram our lives, rewind the hands of the clock and bring back those who shared a special journey with us. Today, only memories stand between the love I feel for Terry and the love I feel for you." 

As the story unfolds with a new family and new possibilities, Peggy faces loss yet again, but hopes her relationship with animals will lead her out of the depression and struggles which have become too familiar patterns in her life. Her work with dogs began long before Desiree, but expanded after meeting this one special pooch. 

As her abilities and connections grow, so does her relationship with Desiree which, at first, feels too familiar, as the dog's conflicting behaviors mirror many of the confusing actions and clashes her human relationships have experienced over the years. 

As Peggy faces this latest challenge, she grows in new directions: "From my perspective, Desiree and I became embattled in a tug of war. She tugged at my heart strings, pulling me away from the comfort of the life I knew. My expectations failed to account for an adjustment period. I needed to gently pull her back towards the middle and settle on common ground." 

Her story of how one special dog succeeded in changing many aspects of her life calls into question who actually rescued whom, creating a warm, appreciative memoir about humans, dogs, and the boundaries which expand when each enters the other's life. 

This riveting story, at once an autobiography and dog celebration, will especially delight canine enthusiasts. This audience receives a heart-warming story of a Good Samaritan who rescues a dog and herself at the same time as Race searches out the truth about Desiree's past and explores the process of their tumultuous bonding and the true impact of Desiree's role in her life. 

Desiree-The Music of My Soul

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Gaining Altitude: Retirement and Beyond
Rebecca Milliken
Atmosphere Press
978-1637528792            $15.99 Paper/7.99 ebook 

At first glance, Gaining Altitude: Retirement and Beyond sounds like another guide to achieving retirement status—but Rebecca Milliken's memoir explores her own process of becoming a retiree and the many psychological changes that affected her trajectory. During that process, she explores the process of recreating oneself not as a worker with a lifetime of experience, but as one embarking on a new series of discoveries about the non-working world of retirement. 

Rebecca Milliken was a typical American, in that she'd not thought too much about how she would retire or what her life would look like afterwards. Until she turned 60, retirement always seemed to be a distant possibility. 

Her story of how her retirement happened unexpectedly early and the choices she faced in re-creating her post-retirement world provides examples and food for thought for any reader, no matter what their age. 

Prompted by a successfully retired friend to think about advancing her own retirement timeline, Milliken first faced not financial concerns, but her own lack of realization about what she would do and who she would be without the psychotherapy job she loved, which defined her daily routine and self. 

Milliken's self-inspection and awareness bring readers on a journey of discovery that offers insights into many of these possibilities as her friend pushes her to think about this radical change: "Now that I thought about it, she was more interesting since she had retired. These days, she was always coming up with unfamiliar, new perspectives on life and following up by trying out things she hadn’t considered before. But still, I just couldn’t see myself doing what she was doing and actually retiring. I’m happy in my work life, I reassured myself. Why would I retire?" 

From facing an identity crisis sans work and choices of moving in various ways, both physically and mentally, to considering what can happen outside of a "work-obsessed, career-oriented city" without the professional identity she spent a lifetime strengthening, Milliken is faced with a series of challenges common to those teetering on the edge of (or newly fallen into) retirement. 

Her processes, growth, and journey goes far beyond most retirement planning guides to embrace the many psychic adjustments and attitude changes needed to become a successful retiree. 

Milliken pulls no punches in showing just how hard this process was: "But it was just these messages and dictates from my past that I was questioning now, along with the general workaholic culture of Washington D.C. Was I okay if I didn’t immediately fill my days with worthwhile, good citizen activity? And what if whatever I ended up doing now didn’t qualify as being purposeful or making a contribution to the world? Could I become more creative about how I spent my time? Could I find a new way to be purposeful without being driven? Questions abounded. Answers were still elusive." 

Gaining Altitude is a powerful memoir that succeeds in tracing not just the author's path to re-envisioning a new life, but the common obstacles to satisfaction that many new or would-be retirees face. 

Plenty of books cover the financial aspects of retirement planning. Gaining Altitude: Retirement and Beyond fills in the gaps of psychological planning, as well. It needs to be on the bookshelves and reading lists of anyone interested in getting a head start on the process of retirement success via the examples and experiences Milliken provides. 

Gaining Altitude: Retirement and Beyond

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I, Tarzan: Against All Odds — An Inspiring Real-Life Story of Courage, Hope, and True Resilience
Jean-Philippe Soulé
Native Planet Adventures
978-0-9843448-3-3                 $8.99
Website/ordering link: 

Readers might not expect an epic life transformation from a thirteen-year-old alcoholic, but I, Tarzan: Against All Odds only goes to show that anything is possible. The memoir traces a childhood dream that moved from abuse and alcoholism to living an adventure-filled, positive life. 

Jean-Philippe Soulé dreamed of exploration and a lifetime of discovery, but initially didn't believe this goal was attainable. It was though, and I, Tarzan: Against All Odds is as strong at following his transformation as it is in exploring the outdoors experiences that gave Soulé's life renewed meaning and purpose. 

How does an individual move from a rough childhood ("By age thirteen, I had taken all the big boys down, and there weren’t many opportunities for me to fight within the confines of the school. So, I took my aggression to the streets. Tall and muscular, I looked two years older than my age and hung out with older teenage delinquents and young adults.") to such an accomplished life? 

Sometimes it takes just a few mentors to change a young man's trajectory: "Cave, wreck, and ice diving, as well as playing with sea life, also reminded me of all the summers I had spent with Uncle Philippe — my mentor for all nature things, my guide to unique spelunking adventures. And I remembered that before being an alcoholic, Uncle Philippe was my Indiana Jones–like role model. He offered me precious months during which I could reignite all my passions about adventure and life. Teaching diving, I was also giving a little bit of this back, by introducing people to new adventures and helping them discover a fascinating underwater world." 

Any reader who believes that early adversity sets a life's course in stone should read I, Tarzan: Against All Odds. One expects adventure from its title and cover art — and in this, the memoir doesn't disappoint. One doesn't expect the concurrent journey from a seemingly dead-end future to a vigorous, giving life that's well lived. 

The journey from A to B is well described, thoroughly engrossing, and makes this book an inspiration as well as an adventure that points the way to how others may achieve their dreams, however out of reach they may appear. 

Sometimes all it takes is survival, inspiration, and big dreams. The dreams that lived in Soulé's young heart eventually transformed his life.  

I hope that I, Tarzan: Against All Odds will reach out to other souls who also hold visions that seem at great odds with their reality, inspiring them to move through adversity and into a life with no boundaries, no limits, and a new reality. 

I, Tarzan: Against All Odds should be in any collection where memoirs about adventure are cultivated, but ideally it will also reach disenfranchised youth who harbor their own “impossible” dreams, serving as an inspiration for self-realization and change. 

I, Tarzan: Against All Odds — An Inspiring Real-Life Story of Courage, Hope, and True Resilience

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Into the Woods…and Beyond
Stephen Altschuler
Sacajawea Press
979-8711945727            $19.95 

Into the Woods…and Beyond is a nature memoir about author Stephen Altschuler, a modern-day Thoreau who eschews the rat race of city living to adopt the lifestyle of a thinker and meditator in a primitive cabin in the woods. 

Stephen Altschuler's journey is recounted in a chronicle that embodies the 1970s spirit of self-discovery in a celebration of self and nature that focuses on his openness to examination and input from the natural world that so many urban dwellers avoid. 

Unlike Thoreau, Altschuler didn't already harbor an all-embracing appreciation for the rigors of primitive living or nature. He chafed against the onslaughts and trials of his chosen lifestyle, and reviews obstacles and challenges that include not just confrontations with nature and self, but financial and social concerns. 

As he attempts to link these experiences to the wider community around him via writing and recording them for a radio station, he achieves the type of writing which was one of his goals; embarking on a process of discovery that taps into the physical world and the psychic wellsprings of inspiration alike. 

His newfound closeness to the land incorporates new worries about its ability to sustain him and itself long-term as he celebrates the simple daily routines and requirements for life in its rawest form: "In these conditions, water seemed more than mere water: it moved, it lived, as life itself." 

As he moves from southern New Hampshire to coastal California to experience different environments and influences, Altschuler learns how to take the tools he cultivated initially and apply them to a way of life that is more effective and heartfelt, whether it takes place in rural or urban environments. 

As the hiker and meditator discovers a renewed sense of self and purpose, his choices come to reflect a close inspection of the kinds of traps life presents and how to escape them: "Everything I did, everywhere I turned, I was reminded of the fall and the monkey trap I’d been caught in. How many more times in this life would I reach into the trap, grab the figurative food, and not let go, incarcerating myself in a prison of my own making?  Why did I do such things?" 

Readers who enjoy philosophical and psychological inspections will find the lyrical voice and fervor of Into the Woods...and Beyond to be evocative and thought-provoking: "In that instant, holding the bent branch I had transformed into a potentially lethal catapult, I was unconscious, and, for all intents and purposes, dead.  An inner wisdom knew I should let go, be at peace.  But a black shroud covered that wisdom as I staggered, intoxicated by 100-proof ego.  I can do it, I thought.  I won’t be hurt.  I am mightier than this tree.  I will have my kindling.  I will.  I will.  I will." 

Readers of Walden who want to translate and contrast this classic of yesterday with a modern-day journey between worlds could not have a better path to follow than Into the Woods...and Beyond, which should be in any collection where nature, philosophy, and memoir intersect. 

Into the Woods…and Beyond

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"Just Fine, Thank You."
Evelyn M. Leite, MHR, LPC
Living With Solutions
9781733540964             $12.95 

"Just Fine, Thank You." Growing Up With Family Secrets is a powerful memoir about a child's growth in a closed family system held together by a 'no talk' rule. It focuses on that rule and its lasting impact. 

Evelyn Leite grew up in a poor rural Midwestern family during the 1940s, in a setting replete with dysfunction and substance abuse. In her case, as with so many others, the 'no talk' rule reinforced the family's boundaries and isolation and helped validate and reinforce an abusive system that should have received closer critical inspection from outside the family as well as within. 

As her story evolves and family secrets are not just exposed, but analyzed for the status quo they maintained, Leite provides a solid set of insights into the process of repression which will resonate with many of her readers who came of age under similar circumstances: "The look on Mama's face is stormy. 'Ladies don't brag or tell all they know.' 'Why are you mad at me? It's true.' Now what did I do wrong? I was just telling the truth. 'It's not nice to brag. And I'm not mad. Ladies don't get mad.' Mama says." 

As family interactions, ideals of right and wrong behavior, and family secrets are considered, Leite reviews the kinds of language and teachings that reinforce dysfunction and challenges from the outside to the family's dynamic. 

Exploring these specific incidents, their lessons, and the angst they created helps readers identify the kinds of messages that translate into adult lessons about marriage, secrets, intimacy, and relationships. These can serve as guideposts for readers who would more closely examine their own family's unspoken dynamics. 

"Just Fine, Thank You." is more than one woman's autobiography. In the story that follows Leite's life from youth to age 13, her experiences serve to illustrate different family messages that get passed down, either purposely or subconsciously, between generations. 

It's a memoir that ideally will appear not just in the biography section, but on the shelves of psychology readers interested in exploring family dynamics in detail. Adults who grew up in alcoholic homes will commiserate with Leite as they relate to the high highs and the low lows that is part of the family system. 

Just Fine, Thank You.

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Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz
Darwin Porter & Danforth Prince
Blood Moon Productions Ltd.
9781936003716             $39.95 

Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz: They Weren't Lucy & Ricky Ricardo is the first volume in a two-part biography, and covers the marriage and stormy relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz between 1911-1960. 

The many facts about both individually, as well as together, will engross and entertain as well as educate. 

Lucille, for example, was a chorus girl in the 1930s before she became involved with Arnaz. She grew from a teen who earned a reputation as a bad girl in Jamestown, New York after she become involved with the local hoodlum to working in show business and as a nude model. 

Her move to Hollywood expanded her activities as a hooker and show girl. These changed when she met Desi, a Cuban whose family lost most of their wealth in the Cuban Revolution before they fled to Miami for a new life. 

Desi and Lucy's Hollywood encounter led to a marriage fraught with stormy conflicts and separations...a relationship that lasted two decades, suriving infidelity on both sides. 

Readers who enjoy Hollywood gossip and stories of stars, starlets, and passion will find all these forces and more in Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz. 

Black and white images pack the story, embellishing it with photos, vintage ads and movie bills, and on- and off-screen shots that capture the personalities and events of Lucy and Desi. 

More than just a biography filled with Hollywood stories, however, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz captures the era which produced Lucy and Desi, from backroom deals and critical successes and failures to the evolution of films, shows, and the two stars as they navigated a changing Hollywood milieu and their relationship. 

The passion, pathos, and personal and career encounters and choices each faced, both individually and as a famous couple, is captured in vivid descriptions of filming and acting that bring the Hollywood of the 1930s to modern times to life in all of its transformations. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of this story lies in its contrast between the dreams and realities of a Hollywood couple whose professional lives impacted their personal ambitions and marriage. 

Filled with insights and moment-by-moment inspections, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz is a definitive biography highly recommended for anyone interested not just in these two, but in Hollywood filming, famous couples, and the changing milieu of movies and television over the decades. 

Biography, film, and media collections alike will find this exploration educational, historically accurate, dramatically intriguing, and revealing. 

Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz

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Return to the Light Within
Dmitria Burby
Luminance Press
978-1-7370486-1-9         $9.99 

Return to the Light Within: How I Woke Up, Rediscovered Who I Am, and Found Happiness is a memoir of transformation that charts the path of Dmitria Burby, who discovered that, despite holding the trappings of happiness in career and family, she remained unfulfilled and disconnected. 

Her spiritual revelations come to life in a story replete in interpretations and considerations of the Divine and how each spirit's desire for growth and connection influence choices and life trajectories. 

Burby does more than outline her life influences. 

She focuses on what circumstances built her belief system, how she lived it, and her feelings about this lifestyle: "I had done everything that I had been taught was how you “made it” and became successful...For years, the building of my life and the world around me was enough to keep me distracted. I was busy, and I was seeing the things I was told were going to make me happy fall nicely into place. But the truth was that things were not perfect. Under the layers of the perfect family and successful career, I was depressed, exhausted, and suffering from extreme anxiety. It seemed that no matter how I tried to solve those underlying issues, nothing seemed to work. In fact, the more years that went by, the more I found that the issues were getting worse. It made no sense to me. I had everything that I wanted in my life. I had everything I should have needed to be happy and joyful at my fingertips. Why couldn’t I engage in the life that I had spent so many years creating for myself? Why couldn’t I relax and enjoy the fruits of all of my labor?" 

Passages like these, which are replete through the memoir, set Return to the Light Within apart from many spiritual reflections or autobiographical stories. 

Burby's continuing focus on her pursuits, their results, and evolving new commitments to self, marriage, and focus on a "divine path" to a different success story drive an account filled with examples of how this process actually operates in the real world. 

Two prerequisites are required for complete satisfaction with this engaging book: an acceptance of basic spiritual influences on life, and an interest in seeing exactly how these influences redirect choices, perceptions, and values to connect with the reader's own interest in awakening and transformation. 

Those who want to capture a sense of how all this works and apply these lessons to their own experiences with newfound insights and wisdom will find Return to the Light Within more than just another memoir of enlightenment. 

It's a blueprint for self-discovery that charts the course through ceremonies, rituals, and change that applies not just to the author, but her readers, as well. 

Return to the Light Within

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Enterprise Architecture Fundamentals
Rémy Fannader
Izzard Ink Publishing
978-1-64228-061-6       $45.95 Hardcover/$39.95 Paper 

Business collections strong in information management guides will find Enterprise Architecture Fundamentals: Using the Pagoda Blueprint a solid technical guide to the opportunities and challenges of creating and managing enterprise architecture. 

Its purpose is to provide a primer about the process that opens with basic definitions and surveys of enterprise architecture systems and frameworks, building upon this introductory knowledge to delve into models and profiles of working systems. The contrasts between business and architecture models and requirements and the roles of architecture-driven approaches to systems creation and modification are nicely presented. 

Rémy Fannader's coverage of models for success and the process of modernization and integration of enterprise-driven and agile approaches creates a technical, yet accessible, discussion: "These connectors can also help to iron out the semantic discrepancies betweenmodeled business domains and the unmodeled or partially modeled (cf. chapter 4) ones. A clear remit of enterprise architects, these modeling transit areas are managed by thesauruses along modeled domains. Whether these representations are meant to remain outside systems architecture concerns (e.g., business intelligence) or to be progressively integrated into descriptive and prescriptive models, they should all rely on a common set of connectors with consistent meaning." 

IT and business managers will find the many business examples contribute a better understanding to the entire process, while those involved in orchestrating the architecture-driven conversion receive many specific guidelines and examples: "Enterprise architects must consequently characterize events according to their nature and impact." 

Color diagrams abound and discussions revolve around problems, solutions, and creative applications of enterprise architecture principles, with the Pagoda Blueprint ("an extension of the Zachman framework, which is used to chart EA’s mix of symbolic, organizational, and systems components") cementing these approaches and explanations. 

From its modeling system (based on the Stanford Symbolic System Program, or SSP) to its integration of Pagoda and graphs and foundations that rest on Agile, Use cases, and Model-based systems engineering concepts, this business guide covers new technologies, business concerns, and integration prospects. 

Considerations even delve into the philosophical realm as they consider the nature of these opportunities: "Things may happen by chance but won’t last without a reason. That could be the twofold motto for both applications and architectures; the former, chasing business opportunities, and the latter, trying to milk perennial assets. But there are two caveats: to keep up with digital environments, enterprises have to change more than their application spots; but too many changes may turn architectures into cluttered shambles. Thus, the challenge for enterprise architects is how to transform a plurality of emerging trends into agile, consistent, and sustainable structures." 

No business collection (especially those already containing some books on enterprise architecture) should be without this satisfying examination of technological and business processes. 

Enterprise Architecture Fundamentals

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Ellen Snee, EdD
‎She Writes Press
978-1647420703            $16.95 paper/$8.95 ebook 

Lead: How Women in Charge Claim Their Authority originated in the university, where the author and her classmates concluded a lesson in leadership principles with real-world engagement and examples. 

This class created the kernels of wisdom for Lead: How Women in Charge Claim Their Authority; because it was here that the leadership approaches of males and females came to light in a manner the guiding professor hadn't quite envisioned. 

Ellen Snee is especially talented at outlining the heart of these differences early on: "Our male colleagues were still eager to identify leadership with accomplishment, and relational work as something to “get out of the way.” I couldn’t believe how quickly the alpha males had reverted to the views and behaviors they had brought with them when the class began. Had they learned noth­ing in the past few months? And yet as I sat there watching it all play out, I recognized that I was feeling the same powerlessness that had driven me to take the course. My behavior was the same as when we had started." 

Her questions about authority's connection to traditional leadership and how this impacts womens' attempts to assume a leadership role in all walks of life led to an examination of the special challenges holding roles of formal authority pose for women who want to guide others. 

Case history examples cover communication styles that inadvertently undermine careers; the types of skills and experiences that lead to senior promotion in businesses which all too often are not part of women's approaches; developmental milestones that are directly connected to career ambitions, and more. 

Businesswomen and leaders in all kinds of organizations will find these very specific discussions a key to not just success, but revising their attitudes about the roots of achievement and its progression. 

More importantly, each chapter in the book is a call for women to lead, using these teachings and the experiences of others to create and support new courses to success that leave behind many engrained assumptions and issues over accountability. 

More than just a discussion of the psychological and structural barriers women face, Lead: How Women in Charge Claim Their Authority is a goldmine of tools that women can use to change their approaches and leadership paradigms. 

Its attention to both individual and collective changes needed to make progress and success happen makes for a highly recommended title for women in all walks of life, and for collections strong in women's issues, self-improvement, and business and career strategies. 


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Master Chinese Business Culture
Qingshun Zou
Independently Published
Author website:
9782970149996             $29.90 paper/$9.99 ebook 

Master Chinese Business Culture: Becoming a China Expert will prove knowledgeable, inspirational, and essential to Western readers. It is a 'must' for Westerners who would embark on a business relationship with Chinese companies and leaders. 

In order to do business with another culture, especially in modern times, it's necessary to thoroughly understand different perceptions, approaches, and etiquette. A number of business-oriented books cover basic business etiquette as though it's a memorizable formula; but Qingshun Zou focuses on conducting business on a deeper level that embraces China's cultural viewpoint. 

Its analysis and recommendations embrace cross-cultural encounters, standards, etiquette, and common points of understanding and misunderstanding. Examples include absorbing the logic and intention behind Chinese brand names and ideograms that have a positive meaning in Chinese culture to absorbing yin/yang concepts that appear in all levels of Chinese society (from cuisine to interactions), the ongoing presence of Confucianism in all walks of life, and the Chinese model of conflict management, which embraces "the search for harmony, the maintenance of the relationship at all costs, the saving of face, and the adoption of mediation." 

As Zou explores the history, culture, and impact of Chinese values and perceptions on business relationships, readers gain a much broader series of insights based not just on standards of behavior, but historical and cultural influences. This deeper level of understanding far outshines competing etiquette-centered books, expanding the horizons of businesspeople who want to do more than parrot appropriate behaviors. 

This is why not only business collections, but any interested in Chinese culture, history, and social norms needs Master Chinese Business Culture: Becoming a China Expert. It offers more than the chance to become a business expert alone, presenting valuable insights that will lend to a better understanding the Chinese people as a whole. 

Master Chinese Business Culture

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Open House!
Joey Sheehan
Canterbury Books 
$19.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook 

Open House!: An Insider’s Tour of the Secret World of Residential Real Estate for Agents, Sellers, and Buyers is a guide to residential real estate designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Therefore, it is set in an affluent community which mirrors the real estate trends of the country, yet keeps the brokerage company nameless while incorporating decades of real estate stories and experiences into its examination. 

Most real estate guides narrow their audience to either sellers or buyers, adopting perspectives that consider one group's interests. By tailoring this insider's guide to agents, sellers, and buyers alike, Sheehan outlines and contrasts the different perspectives of all three, which will provide readers with important information. 

Another note is the chatty tone which makes accessible ideas and experiences that are too commonly couched in technical language or dispassionate description: "My husband believes home sellers are nuts. He also believes home buyers are nuts. As for the real estate agents who make careers out of servicing these folks, he pretty much regards us as nutty too (“damn crazy” were his exact words). I won’t protest Al.’s harsh assessment of all concerned. Via this particular Realtor, he’s been exposed over the years to so many real estate-related contretemps, legal snafus, financing tangles, structural issues, environmental problems, and bizarre emergencies of all kinds (at all hours) that I’m actually relieved he considers my industry “damn crazy” and lets it go at that." 

This level of engagement succeeds in attracting an audience which may not ordinary be drawn to the world of real estate transactions, personalizing experiences and making them not just accessible, but entertaining. 

As chapters cover topics often glossed over or omitted in other residential real estate discussions, from the vulnerability of a female real estate agent to predators who dangle expensive listings and sexual favors to racists and safety challenges agents face during open houses, readers gain much information and advice on how to stay safe and savvy during the home selling and buying process. 

Many of these lessons will apply not just to realtors, but homeowners who would attempt to sell their own homes and women who need to be more cognizant of the risks in handling different situations and people in the course of pursuing real estate professions. 

Buyers, too, receive details about scams and misrepresentations that will educate them about the need to be proactive and careful: "Despite the 2005 seller’s reassuring letter, the eventual buyers for the property at that time had entertained reservations about the man’s claim concerning the integrity of his house’s front wall. To assuage their concern, the seller immediately volunteered to bring in an expert to examine it for them. Why the buyers would agree to this self-interested arrangement rather than investigate the wall with an expert of their own (or their Realtor’s) choosing is unclear. The resultant second “engineering” report that was only a letter appears to have been a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation. Someone, not a structural engineer but writing on the letterhead of a big-time structural engineering firm, states that he did a “visual assessment of the cracks” and found nothing amiss." 

With engaging case histories from real life and a desire to reveal all aspects of residential real estate transactions from all sides, Joey Sheehan succeeds in translating her experiences into invaluable information that should be in the hands of buyers, sellers, and agents alike. 

Any definitive collection that includes real estate guides should include Open House!: An Insider’s Tour of the Secret World of Residential Real Estate for Agents, Sellers, and Buyers as a matter of course. Its tone and details will appeal far beyond the usual buyer/seller focus typical in such books. 

Open House!

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Mystery & Thrillers

The Blood of the Viper
Linda Watkins
Argon Press
978-1-944815-17-2         $4.99
Author website:

The Blood of the Viper places Kate Pomeroy in the limelight as she returns to Storm Island, the scene of prior mystery and adventures. Married with a newborn, she has returned to her clinic and is looking forward to what should be a well-balanced life and career.  

This fifth novel in the Gothic mystery/horror series adds to the rest of Kate's stories and continues to build her life and reactions to it. The novel opens with a threatening vision of supernatural viper's blood which is powered by an ancient evil and a thirst for the human soul. 

Kate and Jeremy's baby, Hamilton Sloane Bradshaw, arrives at the start of this story, marking a new beginning in her life's values and motivating forces. The next chapter moves backwards in time to the Yucatan and an assassination attempt that has left Vlad Sokolov paralyzed and vulnerable. 

These two seemingly disparate events and the viper's threat come together as the story evolves to embrace the ancient sect that threatens lives and impacts events that unfold on Storm Island. 

Linda Watkins takes the necessary time to build her story as the island's most recent newcomer moves into the strange Gothic mansion and proves to be a recluse harboring a dangerous secret. 

Watkins chooses the first person to explore Kate's experiences, reactions, and interactions. This heightens the drama and "you are there" feel of the plot as she struggles to meld her new life and focus with a growing sense of threat to her family and home. 

The care taken to incorporate Kate's past and present and the island's special history does not detract from her latest adventure for prior fans, while gently pairing Kate's exploits with a sense of her past experience, for newcomers. 

An Indiana Jones-style of adventure and supernatural confrontation emerges from the tunnels and mystery Kate faces—but at a more reasoned pace that takes the time to meld interpersonal actions and reactions with discovery and adventure. This will especially please readers of gothic supernatural suspense who want more than a fast pace alone. 

Readers of Kate Pomeroy's prior Storm Island adventures as well as newcomers to her life and times will relish The Blood of the Viper not just for its mystery, but for its attention to detailing the evolving love between Kate and Jeremy as their new life together assumes another layer of complexity and love. 

While serving as a stand-alone story, Blood of the Viper both adds to the series adventures and leaves the door open for more. 

The Blood of the Viper

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Fynn Perry
Page Turner
978-8395926716            $13.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Fans of supernatural thrillers will find Earthbound heady reading indeed, blending a crime thriller with an action-packed mystery that keeps readers guessing and involved from its opening sentence: "He looked down and was half-blinded by the white glare of a huge overhead light. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was as if time had slowed down, and his shock and disbelief were stalling any attempt to understand what was happening. It was simply not possible that the face of the patient on the operating table was his own." 

Eighteen-year-old John Logan believed his life was just beginning, not ending, when he moved from Dublin to New York. As death looms, John experiences an extraordinary dive into a very different which overlays his familiar life. 

Returned to life, John has been changed in fundamental ways. Adding to this change is a layer of angst as he embarks on a search for truth in an investigation that challenges his abilities and his perception of the world and his place in it. 

Supporting him during these transformations is Jennifer Miller, a relative stranger he encountered on the night he was stabbed. He'd already developed a crush on her before the fateful event that was to link their lives in an unexpected manner. Now their recovery is also linked as she wakes up from a concussion to find that everything has changed. 

“Just when I thought my life was starting, it ended.” In reality, it's just taken another turn, which Fynn Perry outlines in a fine blend of supernatural fiction and crime problem-solving story. 

From traitors and medical quandaries to spirits and The Game that is being played out in different realms, Earthbound operates on different levels of suspense that will keep thriller readers and fans of supernatural stories engaged and guessing about the outcome and evolution of these two worlds. 

Can John and Jennifer join extraordinary forces to defeat El Gordito's drug ring, spirit possession threats, the Voids, and a host of others who operate under the radar of reality? 

Readers who like their action fast-paced and tempered by interpersonal relationships and changing threats will find that Earthbound does an excellent job of mixing two genres to create a crime thriller of a different ilk. 

The creative whodunit pairs well with supernatural inspection and otherworldly descriptions to add color, tension, and action to a story nicely cemented by young people who come into their powers and draw new connections with each other and with life. 

Earthbound will delight two audiences: fans of thrillers and crime stories looking for different outcomes and influences, and readers of supernatural experiences who like well-done twists and turns of plot and motive that keep them guessing. 

It keeps you on edge to the end! 


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The Hike
Landon Beach
Landon Beach Books
e-book: $4.99/Paperback: $14.99/Audiobook: $19.95

The Hike is a thriller that follows Brad Cranston's second startling life challenge. When his brother Conrad vanished just before they were to hike the Appalachian Trail, Brad's world turned upside down. Landon Beach opens his story with that event—a missed hike in which Conrad not only doesn't make their appointment, but goes missing. The hike was to test Conrad's resolve about undertaking this challenging physical effort. It turns into a test of Brad's ability to survive his brother's loss and move on. 

Fast forward to the present, six years later. A frantic phone call out of the blue from his brother hastily arranges a meet up on a boat with the promise of a fortune involved—and a warning that the police need to be left out of this venture. 

Nobody mentioned a P.I., however, and so Brad enlists the services of Allison Shannon, a retired diver and investigator. The two embark on a venture that begins to dangerously mirror the events and losses of the past. It's one in which Brad's profession as an illustrator, able to identify and capture precise points of interest, may be the skill that makes the difference between life and death: "As he hiked down the path that split two patches of woods, he felt close to Conrad. His brother had been here and presumably hidden a cell phone in the building he was heading toward. The creative part of his mind that allowed him to illustrate book covers had been burning on the entire trip down.  What had Conrad gotten into? He had been at this park, yes. But where did his brother live? A twig snapped underneath his sandals, and he remembered the failed thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Why had Conrad missed the hike? And did that disappearance have anything to do with this one?" 

Landon Beach cultivates a powerful ability to draw close connections between events, emotions, and approaches from past and present. He melds them into a story replete with satisfying twists and turns that keeps all the characters three-dimensional and compelling. 

As if this dubious reunion weren't enough to power the plot, Beach also adds a subplot revolving around FBI Special Agent Patrick Bruno's investigation of the Detroit Mafia. His entanglement in a plot to assassinate the new young Godfather, Don Ciro Russo, leads him to question what Brad, Shannon, and Conrad have to do with these events as they all wind up on an island that holds the key to an underground battle for Detroit. 

The characters, purposes, and intrigue of the subplot and its close connections to Patrick's family dilemma and independent investigation dovetail nicely with the main saga. This adds heightened tension as Conrad and his girlfriend Stansie Russo (a former Mafia black sheep turned golden girl) explore their new relationship, the outdoors, and revised purposes away from the rehab center experience they'd shared, which began their journey away from each other's comfort zones and into recovery on more than one level. 

From drugs and Mafia money, mob connections, and romance to two family troublemakers who change themselves and their circumstances, Beach creates a fast-paced, vivid story of loss, recovery, revitalization, and renewed challenges. 

It should be noted that the violence occasionally gets graphic. This is completely in keeping with the story's perspective, characters, and evolution, however; and mitigates any impact of violent descriptions with a full-bodied feel of evolutionary processes to keep the story realistic and vivid. 

Embedded with ongoing references to the outdoors efforts that change the characters, The Hike is especially recommended for fans of Mafia thrillers. This audience will receive quite a different perspective and mystery than the usual Mafia encounter, filled with unpredictably satisfying twists and turns from start to finish in a process of discovery that transforms everyone involved. 

The Hike

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The Last Roman Book 1: Exile
B.K. Greenwood
Bat City Press
978-1-7367949-0-6         $12.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

The Last Roman Book 1: Exile opens the historical thriller series with a touch of fantasy, for added value. Imperial fighter Marcus Sempronius Gracchus leads the 9th Roman Legion into a bloody battle against a fierce barbarian rival, and is killed. The catch is: Marcus cannot die, but is reborn again and again. And he's not the only warrior who can change the world without fear of death. 

The story opens with Marcus overseeing crucifixions in Jerusalem.  One man in particular captures his attention because his eyes impart not agony or reproach, but forgiveness and pity. 

Four years later, he still has nightmares about the Galilean who died unlike any other who was tortured on the cross. The Roman is still fighting for the Emperor, but his vision and purpose have been tempered by extraordinary circumstances. 

Readers will not expect a story that seems firmly rooted in the past to embrace events in present-day Paris and other regions. B.K. Greenwood's ability to shift the action within time, as Marcus's children are lost to slavers and Rebecca, Thomas, Nico and Isabella learn the truth about the price he's paid to protect them, leads readers into startling interactions and contrasts between men of past and people of the future. 

Immortality comes with a heavy price. The characters discover this as they contemplate their new fates and places in the world: "Thomas kept thinking that he should be dead. He should have died a long time ago and should never have seen the things he had seen, should never have done the things he had done. He should never have found Rebecca, and God knows he should never have lost her. And if God existed, he should never see the morning sun." 

The attention to detail in presenting past and present worlds, the changing time lines from ancient Rome to modern-day Paris, and the action-packed stories of destiny and confrontation as Marcus, Thomas, and others affect their world makes for an engrossing blend of history and fantasy that is firmly rooted in both. 

Greenwood's story offers the opportunity to view historical events through different eyes and surprising perspectives. This lends the story an intriguing tone and nature that is filled with satisfying twists and turns. All these features make The Last Roman Book 1: Exile a powerful introduction to a series that keeps readers on their toes and involved in a myriad of evolving scenarios and struggles. 

The Last Roman Book 1: Exile

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Jeremy Bates
Ghillinnein Books
ASIN: ‎B08RWP5GV5            $4.99 

Merfolk: World's Scariest Legends 4 is a study in horror thriller experiences that will delight those who like nautical intrigue and tension. It joins other "World's Scariest" collections by Bates, yet stands on its own as a powerful saga of literary terror and intrigue. 

Jeremy Bates's ability to produce a stand-alone read that adds to a series yet requires no prior familiarity with setting, characters, or premise will delight horror fans, who will be immediately immersed in the prologue that tells of Karlo Winkler, a seasoned game fisherman who catches something he can barely handle. The mystery and the final revelation seem to conclude, but set the stage for more as a series of characters make discoveries that lead them to become open to the existence of different forms of life under the waters. 

As oceanographer and shark scientist Dr. Elsa Montero, Dr. Martin (Marty) Murdock, and others navigate Sri Lanka's mysteries and legends, the possibility of something unique and threatening comes to life. 

Bates builds believable characters whose special interests, professions, and fears dovetail with the rising possibility of a previously-unknown underwater milieu that portends a dark and dangerous force.  

Readers who enjoy graphic descriptions of horror will relish these descriptions and the ongoing threat of being eaten alive by denizens that live in a very different world. 

As Jacqueline DeSilva, a reporter for the Daily Mirror, risks her life for the most vivid story of her career, tension heats up and confrontations increase that embrace both horror and adventure as relationships emerge and are challenged and changed by merfolk legends. 

Bates has a particularly delightful way of building suspense, releasing it, then returning for more. Readers will find the tension ongoing and delightful, often unpredictable, and replete with harrowing scenes of survival struggles. 

Fans of horror literature, sea-based intrigue, and changing choices will find Merfolk builds its attractions from the first page, challenging its characters and readers to experience many different levels of horror as the story evolves. 

The evolution and interconnected tension, mystery, horror, and interpersonal relationships form a tango that keeps readers reeling and reading until the story's final moments provide a satisfying, unexpected conclusion. 


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Plane in the Lake
Neil Turner
Neil Turner Books
978-1-775179-3-9           $12.99 

Pair a rookie pilot recovering from last night's party with a loving family who gives their little boy a coveted plane ride over a lake when disaster happens and you have the ingredients for a lawsuit in Plane in the Lake. 

Why involve a famous Chicago legal team in this aviation disaster? Because something doesn't add up, despite the obvious indicators of why the plane crashed. Small-time lawyer Tony Valenti, of the firm Brooks and Valenti, is called upon to defend the accused in a seemingly impossible case. 

Tony once again must become a sleuth as well as legal counsel in a story that opens with a perfect morning to fly and evolves into an investigation of corporate shenanigans, intrigue, and danger. 

What seems a cut-and-dried lawsuit turns into a dangerous probe into business associations and nefarious deals as Tony flies into the face of danger and subterfuge that almost overwhelm even his dual abilities to field the courtroom and the possibility of corporate misconduct. 

Pinning the blame on the two aircraft maintenance mechanics that have only done their jobs feels puzzling to Tony, who harbors a nose for delinquency and a penchant for uncovering the truth. 

As he burrows into the reality of who is behind this lawsuit and their drive to win, he and partner Penelope pull up evidence and follow leads that lead them into dangerous and murky waters of moral and ethical challenges. 

Neil Turner's choice of the first person nicely captures both Penelope and Tony's observations, emotions, and thought processes, along the way: "Penelope nods. “Smells of a set-up, doesn’t it?”Jesus. How many blind alleys are we going to wander into by the time this nightmare ends?" 

From the FBI's involvement to Tony's increasing courting of danger in crossing the wrong people during the course of his probe, readers receive a satisfying blend of tense thriller and whodunit that both calls into question and ultimately strengthens his bonds with friends, family, and peers: "My cop buddies add considerable spice and humor to the proceedings for the next little while as I bask in the camaraderie and, yes, the love that permeates these relationships. In one way or another, everyone here has been through his or her own version of hell over the past few months and understands that we’ve all played a part in seeing one another through. We share a bond that I hope doesn’t diminish as events recede into the rearview mirrors of our lives. Somehow, I just can’t see that happening." 

Plane in the Lake works on many different levels to involve readers in a puzzle that remains murky up to its satisfying surprise conclusion. Its fine story of murder, retribution, and Tony and Penelope's confrontation with gangsters and FBI alike will keep readers (whether newcomers or prior fans of Tony's gritty streetwise style) thoroughly engrossed to the end. 

Plane in the Lake

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Searching for Truth
Barry Finlay
Keep On Climbing Publishing
ASIN: ‎B0999LF8CW             $4.99 ebook
Author Website:

Searching for Truth profiles retired investigative journalist Jake Scott, who is struggling with being a widower and unemployed when a double murder's recent resolution lands on his radar to intrigue him. 

The resolution of the three-year-old case hasn't satisfied Constable Danielle Perez, who remains convinced that the wrong man is in prison and the real murderer is still on the loose. 

Why obsess over a cold case that seemingly is resolved? Danielle's certainty causes Jake to question both her perceptions and his draw to the case: “I still don’t understand. I admire that you’re trying to stick up for someone you think is innocent, but there must be more than gut instinct involved here. My God, this could eat you alive if you let it.” He searched Dani’s dark eyes as she clutched her coffee cup with both hands. He wondered if she was asking herself if she had gone too far." 

His uncertainty soon becomes a conviction as Jake begins to wonder why she's tapping a retired reporter with only minimal investigative skills when she could have the power of a trained police detective who might be better suited for the investigation. 

If its one thing Danielle has learned from her job, it's when to be circumspect about her suspicions: "I’m looking into some things I would prefer to keep to myself. One thing I’ve learned is that evidence doesn’t lie, but sometimes it doesn’t tell the entire story." 

As the victim's discovery of fund discrepancies come to light to inject uncertainty and danger into the mystery, Jake finds his hands full as he struggles with too many nefarious connections that lead to a dangerous truth 

Barry Finlay crafts an intriguing murder mystery that embraces many different facets of personal lives and angst beyond the obvious case's twists and turns. As a widower trying to reconcile his loss with a new life purpose, yet young enough to prove handsome and desirable on a personal level, Jake is a fine contrast to the usual image of a widower as being older and more staid. 

His involvement with Danielle and her surly teen daughter is nicely portrayed and adds further emotional depth to the story line, placing it more than a cut above mysteries which focus on the problem-solving process over the people involved. 

Each character has a history, baggage, and much to overcome. All come across as three-dimensional. 

Set against the backdrop of evolving danger and personal tests, Searching for Truth ultimately questions the moral and ethical integrity of pursuing the truth under impossible circumstances. It's an intriguing whodunit that embraces much more psychological depth than most mysteries, and will have readers both guessing and involved to the end. 

Murder mystery readers are in for a treat! 

Searching for Truth

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Louis Romano
Vecchia Publishing
978-1-944906-36-8                $21.95

Edward Olson has a lot going on. He has Asperger's Syndrome and he's just lost his father Gary, making him an orphan. Both protected by his father and used as a workhorse, Edward knows nothing of life other than working and reading.  

When asked about the terrible smell around him, Edward confesses: "My dad is dead. The Jews killed him." Thus begins a journey in which the workers at Lamonia and Company, his father's business, try to support Edward. 

Against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic which further challenges community action and makeup, Edward's story almost becomes lost in a sea of tragedy, challenge, and death. Perhaps it would have become background noise were it not for the added fact that Edward is a sharpshooter, confused, and resorts to the only action that he's capable of effectively doing to change his world. 

Detective Vic Gonnella is a savvy P.I. used to the rituals of the Jewish community and the processes of perps alike. He and partner Raquel are charged with figuring out Edward's next move before more deadly ramifications play out. 

Their investigation efforts involve moral, ethical, and professional challenges as they find themselves both pursuing a dangerous adversary who's anything but a predictable professional perp and who makes alliances with the devil himself: "I don’t really care who gets the ball over the goal line, as long as we catch this guy,” Vic stated. “I can’t believe it. Deegan was a killer, an international fugitive and we are counting on him to help us. If it ever comes out that we’re working with him we are totally finished,” Raquel added."

As they track down not only Edward but the fruits of his life and actions, they uncover family facts, details about his Asperger's Syndrome, and an adversary who is both clever and compromised in unusual who can be understood even as he proves dangerous and unpredictable. 

Shonda, Louis Romano's latest Detective Vic Gonnella thriller, is as much about the lasting impact of the pandemic on individuals and communities as it is about the twisted choices of a compromised man who is set adrift in a sea of confusion as society and his home fall apart around him. 

The attention to psychological insights and intrigue alike keep this story unique and unpredictable not just because of its setting, but because Edward Olson is not your usual perp with the typical motives for violent reactions. 

Romano's attention to building details of purpose on both sides and his realistic interweaving of Covid concerns into the situation creates a contemporary suspense piece that motivates readers to identify not just with the investigators, but with the gunman at large. 

The result is a multifaceted story steeped in the Orthodox community's social and religious perspectives and standing—a thriller that maintains interest with many satisfying twists and revelations right up to the end. 

Fans of detective stories, social inspection, and suspense will find Shonda a riveting cat-and-mouse story that builds on social and personal stresses to explore how individuals and communities and the Jewish community and compromised individuals react to and come apart under pressure and isolation. 


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The Society of Necessities
Christopher Bowron
Koehler Books
$28.95 Hardcover; $19.95 Paper; $7.99 ebook

The Society of Necessities provides historical fiction that blends with a thriller story's nonstop pace, and opens with Daniel St. Croix's last act of industrial espionage before his death. All he has to do is elude the cleaning staff and make his getaway. Next on the to-do list is his second date with the exotic East Indian girl Devi. Little does he know that this might lead to a new introduction to previously unknown facets controlling his life in a strange resurrection that brings with it a renewed purpose. 

The Society of Necessities adopts an exceptionally fast pace, but takes the time to build relationships, puzzles, and history surrounding a Canadian man's initial underlying desire to exit the rat race of convention and live "a life without pretense."

Be careful what you wish for. Since pretense has driven his life up to this turning point, Daniel is in for many changes. Readers should prepare for many big surprises along the way. 

As shootings, kidnappings, and threats from different directions emerge, Daniel and Devi become lovers on a mission that supersedes romance and enters into a passion for survival and finding answers to difficult questions. 

Christopher Bowron juxtaposes two lives—Daniel and his father, Pierre St. Criox—clarifying these characters' experiences with the use of the third person and first person to outline their differing points of view, making for an easy segue between the two. 

The action moves from a small-time operation to international waters as a mysterious ring and an inheritance of danger come to life. 

Readers who like their puzzles compelling and fueled by a search through history and French heritage will find the action keeps them guessing as Daniel draws ever closer to a strange truth buried in both past and present events. 

The history that supports this story weaves nicely into the thriller components. The action is fast-paced, but well drawn as Bowron takes time to capture changing relationships between all characters as well as past and present lives. 

Who has the ring? Who is immortal, and who is invincible? 

As Daniel and Devi are forced to change, then reconsider their relationship in the face of their new identies, the story becomes as compelling as that of The Di Vinci Code. Fans of this classic will find much to love in The Society of Necessities. 

The Society of Necessities

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Spellbound – The Workings of DrugTech; and Book 2: DrugTech – The Deep State Deepens
Marcel Victor Sahade
9798745575105      $6.00 Kindle, $19.00 Paperback 

Books 1 and 2 of Spellbound combines two legal thrillers under one cover, which will delight readers who look for books that are interconnected, smooth reads. 

Book 1, The Workings of DrugTech, introduces a series of short stories that revolve around a clandestine pharmaceutical company, DrugTech. 

The scenarios and individuals presented in these stories are diverse, from astronaut Dr Helouise Dawson (who heads an Atlantis spaceship mission compromised by the death of one of its engineers) to Maximillian Jones, who is charged with murder based on DNA analysis and a pirate ship's pursuit of treasure without the leadership of their captain. 

While these tales and characters seem diverse, they are all connected by DrugTech's operations and contracts. 

At first these stories seem to hold no universal ground; but as their seemingly disparate scenarios play out, Marcel Victor Sahade excels in drawing together the characters' interlinked fates and purposes through stories that lead back to one common denominator. 

Readers can expect a degree of confusion before the purpose behind all these tales become evident in a surprising manner…and then the action really heats up. Those with the patience to absorb seemingly unrelated situations will find their patience more than rewarded by a slow realization that a surprising central theme is emerging. 

DrugTech – The Deep State Deepens builds upon this introduction in a fully satisfying manner and provides more political and social insights into DrugTech's continuing evolution and power. 

The stories in Book 2 presume a working familiarity with The Workings of DrugTech. This means that the placement of these two collections under one cover is especially relevant and important for readers, who receive uninterrupted and ongoing connections in one place. 

Here, DrugTech exercises the influences it built up in the first book. However, its reach for power and process are stymied by the efforts of three University Students and the Dominican Order of Priests who struggle against its powers and rising threat. 

Marcel Victor Sahade is particularly adept at winding the stories and backgrounds of Jake and other characters into an ongoing series of confrontations and realizations that operate on both personal and political levels. 

Readers who enjoyed the first collection will find these themes expanded and equally gripping here, replete with surprise twists and turns that even the most seasoned suspense reader won't see coming. 

As in the first book, the characterization, tension, and interactions are well done and maintain a satisfying blend of action and psychological, social, political, and legal inspection as DrugTech and those on all sides evolve. 

Sahade's ability to expand the short story format into a series of interconnected vignettes that support one another makes for compelling reading, indeed. 

Spellbound's gripping two-book presentation is highly recommended for short story and suspense novel readers alike. 

Spellbound – The Workings of DrugTech; and Book 2: DrugTech – The Deep State Deepens

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A Swarm in May
Mark Anthony Powers
Hawksbill Press
978-1-7370329-0-8         $16.99 print/$6.99 ebook 

A Swarm in May is a medical thriller that will delight fans of Robin Cook. Dr. Phineas Mann is observing the traumatic sight of a coma patient in an opisthotonus seizure. As he struggles to alleviate these dangerous symptoms, he also faces overt prejudice from the elderly man's racist son, who is furious that a Black intern is part of the team caring for his father. 

As the inevitable happens and treatments don't go as envisioned, these threats become more open and dangerous, challenging the team on several different levels as medical conundrums and intrigue escalate. 

A subplot involves a beekeeping endeavor and the natural history of bees, connecting to the story in unusual ways as it expands the world of a medical intensive care unit team by introducing a concurrent mystery involving the outdoors and nature's connections to human endeavors and concerns. 

Mark Anthony Powers holds the rare ability to build an ICU drama that is connected to events not just outside the ward, but in nature. This juxtaposition of settings, concerns, and lessons about man and nature creates a satisfying mix of scenarios and insights that evolve on more than one level. 

Readers who expect the singular intrigue of a Robin Cook-style production will find this multifaceted approach adds depth and complexity to keep readers guessing about outcomes, influences, and mysteries on different levels. 

The blend of social inspection, natural history, and medical thriller is nicely done and charts the rise of both white supremist attitudes and a son's involvement in baseball as Phineas navigates these different worlds. The family relationships, sports, ICU intrigue, and a rising threat that reaches into the doctor's family life create a multifaceted suspense story that is satisfyingly unpredictable. 

Readers looking for medical thrillers that hold more themes and interpersonal relationship analysis than the usual Cook production, with the added value of subplots revolving around bees and baseball, will relish the special attention Powers gives to all of his characters. His approach places the story a cut above the ordinary medical thriller, embracing social inspection as part of the puzzle. 

A Swarm in May

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Richard Drummer
Independently Published
978-1734667011            $12.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook 

Murder mysteries usually feature a perp, a detective, and a motivation. Thunderbird holds a difference—here, victim Grace Cummings is called upon to solve her own murder, posthumously. It's the second murder she's been tapped to tackle; because two years earlier, her husband Reggie died before her eyes when his experimental aircraft exploded. Her investigation of his death proved it was no accident. Can she achieve the impossible—this time, from beyond the grave? 

Thunderbird holds a surprising difference from most murder mysteries. The investigator's life force bonds with her beloved Thunderbird car that she rested against in her last moments of life. 

The car is sold to a young woman, Allison Chapman, who becomes aware of Grace's presence and is drawn into a probe that leads her far from her own comfort zone. 

Richard Drummer takes the time to thoroughly explore their evolving relationship and Allison's uncertainty about the new role she's accepted by simply buying a car: "The enormity of the situation was frightening. She was Grace's only hope. Hell, she was not even fully responsible for herself yet when you got right down to it. This monumental task seemed comparable to walking a tightrope while blindfolded in a hurricane. Yet, for all of her self doubt and fear of failure, she knew that she was the only one capable of pulling it off." 

The emotional ebb and flow of Allison's vastly changed life tugs at both heartstrings and the reader's affection for intrigue as the story evolves to bring Allison, too, into a circle of danger that started with Reggie's unresolved death. 

From Silverthorn's search for an elusive healing from that terrible night's choices to Grace's determination to change lives as she pursues the truth, a number of people slowly become aware that the Thunderbird has come to life. 

The result is a blend of supernatural experience, murder mystery, and suspense story that edges ever closer to a truth that challenges Grace one last time. 

Drummer provides an exceptional story that brings to mind Stephen King's novel Christine (also about a possessed car), but incorporates a fine investigative tone and attention to the details of lives changed not just by Grace's unusual return, but by her pursuit of truth and justice. Grace and Allison's evolving relationship also holds the feel of the old TV series Knight Rider. 

The rich characterizations of very different personalities who interact and entwine in a variety of ways contributes to a fast-paced story line that holds many surprising twists and turns. 

Readers of Christine who want more of an emphasis on a problem-solving mystery will find Thunderbird just the ticket for a riveting read. 


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Victim Eleven
Tom Chorneau
DartFrog Books
978-1-953910-61-5         $16.99 print/$2.99 ebook

Victim Eleven opens with an old cop who receives a strange text from his prosecutor son-in-law about the capture of the Ransacker perp (also known as California's notorious Golden State Killer of the 1970s). 

Based on real events surrounding this serial killer, but offering a different take on his motives and modus operandi, Victim Eleven takes real-world news and turns it into a gripping 'what-if' story that reviews how the Golden State Killer changed the lives of investigators, victims, and the state of California as a whole. 

Skip was a second year GS special agent at the time, in the early stages of his police career. As the Ransacker's break-ins and games attract attention and then turn more deadly, Skip and his fellow officers are charged with keeping a deadly that investigative reporter James Cole is too close to uncovering. 

His move from being a reporter to consulting with law firms threatens to reveal more than the Golden State Killer's identity as events unfold. 

Tom Chorneau paints an engrossing portrait of a cat-and-mouse game between perps, investigators, and police. He crafts a story of possibilities that blurs the line between good and bad guys and the motives of all involved, creating a scenario that is filled with satisfying twists and turns as moral and ethical questions come to light. 

As Cole's girlfriend Brooke's love is tested and she's drawn into a murder investigation that hits too close to home, readers will enjoy a fast-paced story that entwines the lives of a host of realistic, absorbing characters who all sport their own special interests in and connections to the Golden State Killer case. 

Murder mystery readers, particularly those intrigued by postulations based on real history, will find Victim Eleven thoroughly engrossing, unpredictable, and hard to put down, powered by strong characters who each contribute a piece to the puzzle. 

Victim Eleven

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Aloha With Love
Lindy Miller with Terence Brody
Rosewind Romance (an imprint of Vesuvian Books)
978-1-64548-037-2         $13.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook 

As Aloha With Love opens, Jenna Burke is experiencing the aftermath of two life-changing events: her longtime boyfriend has dumped her, and her beloved Aunt May has passed away in Hawaii. 

Her journey to the island reveals that she and her sister have inherited an old Victorian beach home. They are tasked with renovating it before they can sell it. 

That process brings with it a contractor Jenna can barely stand: Ben Fletcher, whom she is forced to use, due to her aunt's final wishes. Ben drives Jenna crazy. He also, surprisingly, offers the opportunity to lead Jenna in a new direction in her life—which her savvy aunt must have known. 

Lindy Miller and Terence Brody provide a compelling story that is as much about personal growth as it is about relationship building: “The moral of the story is that spending all that time with Dad and Aunt May working on the house helped me grow into who I am, even if I’m still working to achieve my particular dream. Maybe it’s the same way for you—you have so much talent. I think you could make a brick taste like heaven.” 

Jenna and Ben and sister Sarah, too, are charged with rebuilding more than an old house. Their dreams merge and change as a result of their connections to Aunt May's legacy, the currents of their hearts and individual paths in life, and the spirit of Hawaiian aloha which permeates their experiences with newfound connections: “May was a wise woman,” agreed Ben, “maybe a little too wise, actually. She always knew how to help people see their truest selves by living every day in the spirit of Aloha. She truly was a woman of the islands. What was it she used to say—I ka nana no a 'ike.” “By observing, one learns,” translated Jenna. She gave her sister a wistful smile. Yep, that sounded like Aunt May." 

Romance readers with a special affection for Hawaii will especially enjoy the Hawaiian culture and philosophy, an undercurrent that runs through the perhaps-predictable attraction between people who at first seem complete opposites. 

The differences between the aloha spirit of Hawaii and the mainland are brought to life in the course of a story where all the characters are changed by each other, Hawaii, and Aunt May's legacy. 

This clean romance is nicely portrayed, not too pat, and filled with philosophical and cultural connections and reflections that add an extra dimension of attraction to the overall story. 

Aloha With Love is as much about chasing dreams and finding a place to call home as it is about matters of the heart. Romance readers interested in uplifting stories of change and discovery will find it a heartfelt, free-spirited story of dreams recognized and family connections both broken and revitalized. 

It's a spirited story of all kinds of connections that adds depth and attraction beyond the romance's evolution, and will delight romance audiences looking for uplifting stories of personal and interpersonal transformation. 

Aloha With Love

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Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
Boutique of Quality Books Publishing Company
978-1952782046            $18.95 

Bloodroot is set in 1609 and follows the journey of Matthew, a young man who runs away from his oppressive job as a carpenter's apprentice in England to pursue a new life in the British settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. His friend Richard, who joins him on this adventure, has portrayed that blossoming colony as a paradise of opportunity. Matthew never quite believed this flowery picture of perfection, but he also never imagined that conditions in that colony would challenge him more than his difficult life in England. 

From threatening Indians and starvation to elusive promises that turn out to be equally distant and imaginary, Matthew has jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and comes to feel that the only escape from his battered life is death. 

Help comes from a completely unexpected angle and changes not only his downward trajectory, but the wellspring of relationships in the New World in this vivid historical piece, highly recommended for mature high school students and historical novel-reading adults alike. 

Many historical fiction pieces about these times have been written before; but Daniel V. Meier, Jr. holds a special ability to bring the times to life through his use of the first person to capture these dilemmas through Matthew's eyes, adding an extensively researched background that rests solidly on real historical facts. 

The wilderness encounters are particularly well described as Matthew and his fellow colonists struggle to navigate an alien environment with few resources, providing astute contrasts between England and wild America: "The Lieutenant himself went in search for whatever fruits the land would provide. He soon returned with his hat and shirt full of berries which looked similar to English strawberries but with a sweeter, juicer taste. We heard a musket report not too far off and, in less than half an hour, the marksmen returned, bearing a large male deer strung on a carrying pole." 

Even romance is depicted in all its complexities as Matthew struggles with his heart and aspirations: “I thought of it many times, but Richard told me that he wanted to take you for his wife. You know his hopes for the future. His reasons for wanting to marry you are far nobler than mine. You know why he is here. He is a man of learning and vision. I knew that if God would favor anyone, it would be Richard. I came here only to escape the law, and if it becomes safe for me to return to England, that is what I will probably do.” 

Meier's attention to detail and description power the story line and provide realistic, engrossing scenarios that bring these early times to life. 

These elements, combined with an adventure that keeps changing as Matthew adjusts to his environments and hones his real vision of a different future, make Bloodroot an engrossing read. It succeeds in imparting much historical information about early America in a way that makes the story personal, memorable, and hard to put down. The descriptions of settler and Indian encounters and clashes are particularly notable: revealing and engrossing. 

Historical fiction collections and readers interested in a well-done account of early colonial life will find Bloodroot a superior tale that stands out from competing genre reads. 


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Coyote Loop
L.C. Fiore
Adelaide Books
$22.30 paperback / $9.77 e-book 

Coyote Loop is a contemporary literary novel set in Chicago and follows the '08 financial crash and its impact on narrator John Ganzi, who finds his predictable world vastly changed by financial events far beyond his control or imagination. 

The first strength to note about this astute and compelling story is its ability to draw readers into the bullring of stock trading and operations, a highly charged atmosphere that is purposeful, passionate, and rife with struggle and change: "Now that things are going electronic, customers no longer need to trade through a broker—they don’t even need a seat on the Exchange. Yet those of us who own seats still wade into our pits every day, thrashing our arms and crying out until the veins in our necks bulge, knowing that not only are we expendable as human capital, but that the very trading pit we occupy is obsolete in today’s fiber-optic world. Ignoring the empty pits around us, the void encroaching like an unknowable darkness; ceding more and more of our real estate each day to puissant tech-nerds programming tangles of circuitry and wires meant to do one thing and one thing only: outperform us. It’s me against the machines. Fucking John Henry and his silver fucking hammer." 

Ganzi stands on the cusp of many transformations that are personal, financial, and social as his teen daughter comes to live with him and his home life and world of options trading, which has made him wealthy, are suddenly challenged. 

Imagine a man whose life has been fairly predictable, who has long set his course through actions that produce success, who faces changes on more than one level. 

L.C. Fiore is especially astute at capturing the dilemmas of a determined successful businessman facing the end times of his world and kind. 

The quandaries that evolve from this transformation are especially well captured through Ganzi's eyes and experiences as his tried-and-tested tactics begin to fail, and his familiar world changes all around him. 

Another powerful note about the story is that Fiore takes the time to capture not just change and reactions to it, but the smells, tastes, and options experienced by the protagonist in his search for different forms of success. The immediacy of his milieu, his emotions and responses, and this pivot point in the financial world is deftly captured by descriptions that take the time to inject sensations and emotions into the story. The psychological interactions and descriptions are thus especially revealing and powerful: "Sometimes, you start messing with something just to see what happens. A blackhead, say. Or a cat at a friend’s house, when the friend leaves the two of you alone for a moment. Seeing if you can make it bite its own tail, just because it’s there. But this has gone better than I hoped. I’ve wound her up, and now she’s off, like a pull-back toy racecar." 

From the challenges of options trading and its special milieu to the transformation of a man and place "always in the act of becoming," Coyote Loop will delight not only literary fiction readers, but business novel enthusiasts and those interested in a personalized historical backdrop that captures stock market conundrums and connects them directly to changing hearts and minds. 

Coyote Loop

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The Far and the Near
David Lehner
Independently Published
ASIN: B092PL6TKD               $3.99 Kindle
ASIN: ‎B095MS1DZX.             $7.99 Paperback 

Readers of social commentary and politics will find The Far and the Near an intriguing lesson in cause and effect. It employs a fictional format to examine the wellsprings of corruption and lies that filter into society from the top echelons of governments around the world. 

Nashe is a government researcher charged with producing reports. As a dedicated paper-pusher, he's learned not to ask probing questions about the facts he's called upon to synthesize. This attitude changes when he reads about a government that has sent aside 23% of its land for conservation in an unlikely move even the staid Nashe questions. 

As Nashe explores confidential government sources, counter-intelligence reports, and considers the social and political impact of new revelations, he comes to realize how truth and reality has been distorted all around him​. To what extent that distortion is intentional or not is the question. As one of Nashe's supervisors reminds him: “Our staff, as you know, come from all over the world, with different experiences and different backgrounds. But all of them are privileged to be here, working in this agency, where they have the opportunity to use their minds and training to make great changes in the world. But with that privilege comes a great deal of responsibility — an obligation to put aside biases and prejudices and to make decisions based on evidence and reason — to make absolutely certain that the facts really are the facts, to dig down deep and question their sources, and, even more than that, to question themselves, their motives and preconceptions, before they dare to establish what they think is the truth. Only then can they make decisions that could in any way be morally justifiable in the world. The interesting thing, which I admire a lot, is the way you have embodied that process in your report. It is too bad that it has been taken so erroneously, as though you were advancing a dangerous and heretical end product rather than providing an appropriate and useful exercise in consensus formation. That is a shame, since we need more of it." 

The Far and the Near's ability to hold a mirror up to events happening today, on both personal and political levels, lends it an aura of believability and impact that will delight astute readers of current events and political commentary. 

David Lehner firmly embeds this process of examination within the lives of Nashe and those around him, considering not just cause and effect, but the underlying motivations of all sides for promoting their version of reality and truth. 

As Nashe navigates dangerous ground, transforming his familiar approach into something more sinister, readers encounter thought-provoking insights that invite them to reconsider the motivations of the many players in the drama. 

The result is a powerful narrative that is thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down. The focus on Nashe's discoveries, choices, and transformations makes for heady intellectual reading.  The action ranges across several countries, presenting an array of characters with vastly different backgrounds and agendas, from old friends of Nashe to diplomats, scholars, special agents, political refugees, and ordinary citizens.  

The Far and the Near is a powerful survey of social, political and legal processes that uses each individual's experience and perspective to chart the changing ethics, morals, and practices of a world that seems to be trending away from freedom: "Is that, Nashe wondered, where we are heading in this country, too? Where every person fulfills his duty with the immediacy of a machine and not the thought, feeling, and judgment of a human being? Where panic, distrust, and betrayal replace whatever instincts may have survived in us of patience, courage, and trust?" 

Readers of political fiction interested in more than a light inspection of how societies are transformed will find The Far and the Near delightful...and perhaps too realistic for comfort. 

The Far and the Near

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Faron Goss
Diane Lechleitner
Green Place Books
978-1-9505845-1-2         $19.95 

Faron Goss is a novel about Menhaden Island, a close-knit Maine fishing community of a little over five hundred "think-alike" lobstermen and the "peevish women who marry them." They are challenged not only by the death of one of their own, but the dilemma of how to care for her special son, Faron. The story brings new life and meaning to the saying "it takes a village" as well-intentioned people struggle to embrace a boy who is odd beyond their comprehension. 

Faron has always been an enigma to the town from the day of his birth to a thirty-year-old unwed mother who keeps his father's identity secret, causing the town wives to wonder about his paternity: "Whoever fathered the child had to be a local, no doubt about it, and as Faron grew from an infant to a boy, the island wives kept him at a distance, worried that if they looked too closely they might see their husband’s grin flash across his face." 

Faron has never interacted much with others in town, but has a reputation for being quiet, polite, and easygoing. After his mother passes, they come to know his oddities, which include artistic skills and a passion for nature. When his first sexual experience goes awry, Faron is given a reprieve and sent to a place where he faces the possibility of being himself for perhaps the first time: "What he didn’t know was that, at the same time he was being suffocated by shame, a part of him was set free." 

As Faron becomes a cherished part of the small town's life and adopts a path to lobstering, himself, readers receive a tender, expressive story of a very different young man which brings to mind the gentle local color embedded in the best-selling Where the Crawdads Sing.  

Diane Lechleitner's language is evocative as it traces Faron's move into adulthood and new challenges, both artistic and personal: "After supper, they walked to the edge of the moonlit orchard and set the open box on a stump to wait for the moth to fly away. It fluttered frantically for a moment, green wings gleaming in the moonlight, then ignored the star-filled sky and doubled back toward the bright lights of the cider house, and even though Faron knew releasing it was the right thing to do, it was hard letting go." 

Not just Faron, but the community comes of age around him. Lechleitner surrounds the reader with the intricacies of lobster fishing, gritty observations, and lives that are both stark and filled with an appreciation of nature. 

Faron's memories of the past fuel an exploration into the changing Maine community and its members as the story develops during a search for family and meaning. 

Readers looking for a poetic, evocative description of coming of age in a Maine lobstering community will find Faron Goss a lovely literary piece that comes full circle into love. 

In desperate times, this positive outcome is especially appreciated. 

Faron Goss

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For Malice and Mercy
Gary W. Toyn
American Legacy Media
978-0-9818489-7-6         $18.95 

For Malice and Mercy is a World War II novel that focuses on events in the U.S. German immigrants Karl and Marta Meyer are arrested as spies after they visit their homeland and return, only to find that Hitler's threat has brought America into war. 

Perhaps part of this novel's power comes from the fact that it's based on the true story of a German-American family from Utah. The parents were targeted as Nazi sympathizers, sent to an internment camp, then forcefully deported to Germany as pawns in FDR's top-secret prisoner swap with the Third Reich. 

These events and more come to life in a story that embraces the extent of not just prejudice (which is the usual depiction of World War II concentration camp experiences), but the political maneuverings between nations at war which affect the lives and outcomes of citizens and immigrants alike. 

This feature is perhaps the greatest strength of this story as it evolves, setting it apart from the typical World War II milieu and adding an extra dimension of social and political inspection and insight to the drama. 

Gary W. Toyn moves the scenarios from America to German soil, exploring the interactions between fighters, spies, farmers and ordinary people, and those who fight battles on different levels. 

As fighters contemplate the difficulties of going home to confront family and ideals left behind, Toyn reveals many underlying facets to the struggle that come to life in the hearts of not just men, but women who participated in the war: "’ll have plenty of time to get back and still see your folks.” He tilted his head in a gentle, reprimanding way. “Billie. They haven’t seen you in a while.” “Look, I haven’t got a whole bunch of reasons to go back to Utah.” “I thought you had a boyfriend there?” “No. I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said, her eyes glancing at her feet. “I have a close friend who’s somewhere in the Pacific.” 

While these moments may not seem to be the driving force of the story, they each contribute a piece to the bigger picture of what it meant and how it felt to live in rapidly changing times that challenged personal goals and visions. 

For Malice and Mercy is a World War II novel that stands out from the crowd, embracing facets of belief, prejudice, battle, and change in a manner that is multifaceted, complex, and satisfyingly realistic. No World War II fiction collection should be without this wide-ranging story of mystery, struggle, and social and political dilemmas. 

For Malice and Mercy

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Just One Look
Joanne Kukanza Easley
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-726-2         $19.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook 

Thirteen-year-old Dani Marek may be young, but she already knows she's passionately in love with one destined to be her life partner. In 1965 Chicago, the milieu of Just One Look, revolution is in the air and anything seems possible . . . including an event Dani never could have predicted, as six years pass without her passion waning. 

Set in the Chicago neighborhood where Joanne Kukanza Easley grew up, but based on completely fictional characters, the story moves through Dani's young adult realizations, her new adult errors, and changing perspectives and missions that eventually bring her full circle. 

As Dani seeks out self-absorbed, arrogant men on a personal vendetta that embraces fury and dangerous situations, Easley portrays a woman who feels wronged not by her loved one, but life in general and men in particular: "As we walked out of the cafe, two soldiers in uniform walked by. I made eye contact and smiled. They nodded to me. Luke noticed the exchange and said, “Suckers. I got a 330 in the lottery. Call me lucky.” His heartless attitude and smug face enraged me. I stopped cold and swung to face him. “Call you lucky? I’ll call you an arrogant asshole.” Spinning on my heel, I bolted to my car. Luke was lucky, all right. Lucky I didn’t scratch the smugness off his face and gouge his eyes out. “Dani, wait!” Of course, I did not. Opening the door of the 442, I saw Luke striding toward me. I slipped behind the wheel and plunged the key into the ignition. The full-throated sound of the well-tuned engine comforted me and made me feel close to John. Shoving the gearshift into reverse and turning the wheels, I spotted a clear shot to Oak Street, so I found first gear and gunned it. Luke stood in the street gaping after me." 

Dani's social and political transformations are particularly captivating as she changes her perspective time and again. Easley is adept at capturing the ruin and revolution of Dani's times and heart, contrasting external with internal changes and influences as she traces the logic that underlies both her actions and heartbreak. 

When infidelity results in death, Dani blames herself. Employment, status and privilege, and the consequences of poor choices come to roost in a series of realizations about men and identity which will particularly intrigue women also reconsidering their choices. 

Set against the backdrop of already-turbulent times, Just One Look's story of a girl who evolves into a young woman seeking a different path makes for an engrossing story of loss, revenge, redemption, shame, and recovery that many women will readily relate to, in different ways. 

Its astute examination of the processes of love, hate, manipulation, and women's identities apart from men will leave readers satisfied and reflective, with a definitive conclusion tracing how the characters grow and change. 

Just One Look

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Love in a Time of Hate
Matthew Langdon Cost
Encircle Publications
$27.99 Hardcover/$17.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook 

More so than any other state at the time of the Civil War, Louisiana represented a melting pot of cultures in which black residents comprised not just half of the population, but were the largest free-Black population of any state in the South. Mixed marriages were as common as Voodoo's mix with Catholicism, in this state. 

Love in a Time of Hate opens with a review of Louisiana history that sets the stage for the events in the novel, which take place in the summer of 1866 as Black suffrage is coming into its power. 

A murder investigation conducted by eighteen-year-old Emmett Collins, newly arrived from rural Maine after the war ends, evolves against this backdrop as he absorbs the unique culture of New Orleans in all its social, religious, and political complexity. 

Emmett's actions are the spark point for a Black uprising in that city which reaches out to both threaten and attract him with its undercurrents of love, hate, and political struggle. 

Events unfold over four years, bringing Emmett a maturity that comes with many price tags as he reflects on the circumstances which have brought him full circle. 

As recently freed slaves struggle against the brutality of Louisiana's political machine and Southern prejudice, Emmett's life is caught up in a series of events that challenge the education program he's committed to building to help newly freed Black slaves. 

Savvy Voodoo Queen Madame Marie Laveau sees a better future for him, but Emmett can't help but think that his evolving romance with woman of color Manny Lescaut is part of both the problem and the solution. 

Madame Laveau is equally astute at guiding Manny towards different realizations of her own strength as a woman: “Are you saying there can be no bonds, whether in religion or marriage?” “Of course there are elements that bind us in this world. The love between a man and woman is certainly a powerful and tasty dish, but only if it is based upon equality.”

“Equality, yes, but separate strengths certainly.” Madame Laveau returned to her seat, perching herself gingerly on the high wooden chair. “Perhaps you believe that a woman cannot pull the trigger of a gun? Or that our minds are not made for deeper thoughts like politics? I might not be able to vote, but I will tell you right now that not much happens in New Orleans without my opinion being heard, weighed, and considered.” 

The social, spiritual, and political forces of the times come to rest upon and are represented by not just Emmett and Manny's love, but by the military forces and white superiority still at work trying to hold New Orleans together. Readers receive a powerful story that is both a love tale and an intriguing inspection of Black power's rise in Louisiana after the Civil War has divided it. 

How can faith-driven residents come together after such a tumultuous and divided set of beliefs has come to rest among the city's diverse population? 

Love in a Time of Hate's ability to juxtapose different forces, special interests, and perspectives against the backdrop of both endings and new beginnings will intrigue and delight historical fiction readers—especially those with a particular affection for Louisiana culture. 

The characterization is well done, there is no shying away from the sometimes-brutal events that challenged both sides, and Matthew Langdon Cost takes the time to build a saga that is compelling and hard to put down as Emmett finds his way through a morass of social conflict and tries to do what is right for both himself and the greater good. 

Love in a Time of Hate

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Night and Fog
Sebastian Rizzo
Independently Published
Ebook: 978-1-7375621-0-8              $ 3.99
Paperback: 978-1-7375621-1-5       $16.95

Night and Fog is a vivid World War II novel that explores the history of the underground group Comète (Comet), a Resistance organization in occupied Belgium and France. This was a network of volunteers committed to fighting for the cause without using arms. It was the largest of several escape networks that operated behind the lines of occupied Europe. 

Women played a key role in this organization, and it's about time that somebody told their story. The fact that it's presented in a fictionalized format means that more readers will absorb the history through its attention not just to detail, but underlying drama and personal experience. 

From women like Edith Cavell (whose efforts to save Allied soldiers during World War I spark Comet's years-long endeavor to return about 800 airmen to safety) to Franco, who rebuilds the line after sweeping German arrests threaten to destroy it, Sebastian Rizzo's ability to inject real-world history with personal insights lends to a compelling read: "Franco lay curled up in total darkness, his shirt wet from sweat, his knees nearly touching his chin. He hadn’t hidden in such a tight space since he was a child playing games. But this wasn’t a game. He was in the trunk of a black sedan on his way to Gibraltar at the request of British intelligence. They had accepted him as the successor to Dédée, but now he wondered whether it was because they considered him the most capable, or because at only twenty-three years old, they thought he might be easy to manipulate." 

As issues range from the handling of prisoners of war and the methods of escape networks to the moral and ethical issues faced by those conscripted to duty against their better judgment in order to survive, Rizzo captures the dilemmas and challenges of life behind and outside of Allied lines: "...despite the relative benefits of life in Torgau, many of the women could not accept making munitions to kill their people. The camp commander responded to their protests with indifference. “You do not have to work here if you do not want to. But if you do not work, we will simply send you back to Ravensbrück.” 

The attention to detail and intersecting scenarios that Rizzo takes the time to explore in his characters and settings will especially delight historical fiction readers seeking authenticity and facts from their stories. 

Night and Fog is a vivid story of a lesser-covered aspect of World War II that brings people and their wartime dilemmas to life. It's a novel that should be part of any World War II history reading list or collection. 

Night and Fog

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No Names to Be Given
Julia Brewer Daily
Admission Press, Inc.

Paperback: $14.99; Hardcover: $29.99; Ebook: $4.99 

Three young, unwed mothers meet at a maternity home in 1965. They are there to have their babies, give them up, and either start life over or return to their old lives afterwards. But, in No Names to Be Given, their choices don't have a conclusive, happy ending. 

Twenty-five years later, a blackmailer contacts each of them with information that could destroy the lives they've carefully built over a secret. 

Their struggles with terrible decisions of the past does not just change their new lives, but spills over into politics and social circles to make an impact on how unwed mothers are perceived and how various rights are instigated to give them broader choices. 

Julia Brewer Daily provides many contrasts in the perspectives, experiences, and choices in juxtaposing the lives of Sandra Reynolds, Becca Gordon, and Faith Williams. 

Although these three meet in the Magnolia Home Hospital in New Orleans under similar dire straits, their backgrounds are very different, as they are from Illinois, North Carolina, and Tennessee. 

What connects them isn't just their unexpected pregnancies, but the pressure to make decisions that change their lives and place their babies in the hands of strangers. 

Their stories read like television vignettes, with all the pathos and passion of young women who face impossible circumstances and think they've overcome their dilemma, only to find that it returns to haunt them in an entirely unexpected form in adulthood. 

Their relationship with one another in this temporary home becomes akin to sisters, bonded by fate. Their shared circumstances as teens evolves to become at odds with a shared adversary as each woman has transformed her life and infused it with a power that is tested by modern social and political standards. 

The author's own adoption story inspired this novel, which is based on events that happened to young unwed mothers between 1940-1966. A history of maternity homes in the U.S. and a list of well-known people who are adopted provide an important reference concluding this hard-hitting story with real facts to make the main story even more evocative, emphasizing its foundations in real dilemmas. 

Faith's journal entries as she tries to understand the long-lasting impact of her choices is particularly poignant: "How do I understand what happened to three young girls so long ago? Decisions were forced on us by society, our parents, and finally, ourselves. Today’s young women won’t understand how our families made us feel shame so intensely we surrendered our first-born children to strangers.  Only in our dreams could we reconcile happily-ever-afters for our children. We read stories about child abuse, incest, and infant deaths, and they stunned us. We imagined them the children we gave to those situations, to those monsters—our fault. We felt a sense of loss the day we relinquished our children. It followed us for years and follows us still. Our unconscious minds never fully recovered from knowing a part of us was somewhere we could not reach." 

Today's young women, especially, need to absorb No Names to Be Given. Its a firm reminder the lasting impact of the past provides a powerful summary of the circumstances and plights surrounding adoptees and mothers who surrendered their babies in hopes they were giving their child—and themselves—a better life. 

No Names to Be Given

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A Pontiac in the Woods
Fred Misurella
Blue Triangle Press
978-0-578-77568-5         $14.00 Paper/$4.99 ebook

A Pontiac in the Woods will attract modern young adult to new adult women who enjoy first-person stories of spunky females who come of age to embrace success, which Jamie does despite being homeless. 

Jamie Sasso never thought she'd be living in a car and on her own, but when she rejects the foster care system after she loses her adoptive parents and strikes out for independence, she joins the ranks of other young women who choose to be homeless. 

But, Jamie is not alone. She has mentors and support from several places; from an understanding social worker to a school track coach. Both guide her away from disaster and into new possibilities that transcend her living conditions and the choices she's made to create a different life against all odds. 

The first thing to note about A Pontiac in the Woods is that nothing is set in stone—nor entirely predictable. From a cousin who robs Jamie of her inheritance to friendships and support gained from unlikely places and peers who are hostile to her, the plot constantly shifts as Jamie explores different facts of her support systems and considers what she really wants from life when disaster strikes: "Finally, he just took a deep breath, smiled at me faintly, and then reached across the seat to pull me close. It was a weird couple of moments, because my gut told me I shouldn’t be doing this, especially without Mum in the car. I didn’t want to replace her or, God forbid, even think of cheating on her with him—but at the same time I was just past twelve years old, and all I saw was years of days and nights living in the same house with him, cooking, cleaning up the dinner dishes, and watching hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours of crap TV while he slept in the chair next to me. And snored. What kind of fun was that? How romantic was it? I hated my thoughts; I knew that Dad and Mum had saved me as a baby, so how could I abandon them now just because he was alone?" 

Her astute, savvy considerations of her revised role and choices comes under attack in different ways from different people—even those who support her—adding a mature inspection of motivations, end results, and approaches to her life. This focus will lead mature teens and new adults to assess their own influences and support systems. Jamie's task is to accept the kinds of help that will lead her away from tragic outcomes and into a better situation. 

As the story evolves, readers receive a healthy dose of social and psychological analysis that keeps throwing curve balls of growth and self-realization into the mix. 

A Pontiac in the Woods is thoroughly engrossing, primarily because Jamie's inspections of her life and its trajectory are warm, revealing, moving accounts that keep readers guessing about the ultimate outcome. 

It's a winning story that's hard to put down as it redefines family, love, and forgiveness alike. 

A Pontiac in the Woods

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Jimmy Clifton
‎Northport Communications LLC
978-0-578-86745-8         $12.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Anyone who has ever dreamed of winning the lottery and seeing life change as a result will find the premise and experiences of big-time winners Rose and Henry Ball come to life in Powerballs. 

First, it should be noted that author Jimmy Clifton himself is no more. He disappeared from a fishing boat, leaving behind several manuscripts that fell to relative and advertising man Michael Hayes to return to life. 

The prologue explaining these details comes from John Henry Thibodeau, Captain of the Miss Rosie Mae fishing boat that Clifton vanished from, and tells how these books came to be rescued. 

Audiences should be grateful for this rescue, because if Powerballs is any indicator, Clifton wrote with a vivid, seasoned hand that created wild tales and brought characters and conundrums to life. 

As the story opens, Henry Ball wants his boss at PharmaSolutions, Dexter Schmidt, dead. Dex's narcissistic drive for success at the expense of his employees is notorious. 

In contrast, Henry's wife Rose Ball loves her boss too much. Husband and wife are aging and tiring of their routines and oppression when their big win changes everything. 

Sudden wealth makes all their dreams come true...but also, all their nightmares. As their options on how to live spirals out of control, Clifton spins a yarn that embraces caution thrown to the winds, irony, adventure, a wry satirical look at life and personalities, and intrigue. 

Perhaps that's the strongest facet of Powerballs: a whirlwind of action that embraces the tumultuous choices of lives changed virtually overnight, where romance, adventure, and greed intersect in a world-hopping journey of lives gone awry. 

Rose and Henry evolve in unpredictable ways and find that their choices are not always made easier by unprecedented wealth. Instead, new conundrums evolve that test both of them in unexpected ways. 

As Rose and Henry part to face their different challenges, readers are invited on a journey that redefines luck, wealth, and the Powerball fortune's real legacy as the couple faces cartels, politicians, and corruption. 

Readers looking for a rollicking adventure that begins with a world-changing inheritance and evolves into a tale of intrigue and action will love Powerballs. Its ability to keep the couples' connection alive while romping through disparate special interests and influences creates high entertainment value as the characters give opposing forces a run for their money. 


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Shades of Gray
Jessica James
Patriot Press
978-1941020432            $29.99 paper/$9.99 ebook

Shades of Gray: Complete Civil War Serial Trilogy (Vol. 1-3) was previously published as Shades of Gray, later re-released as Noble Cause, and is revised and expanded here, combining three books into one heady read that's highly recommended for Civil War historical fiction audiences. 

Duty Bound (Vol. 1), Honor Bound (Vol. 2), and Glory Bound (Vol. 3) are accompanied by a bonus epilogue that rounds out the 788-page story of stark struggle that opens in 1862 Northern Virginia, where Confederate cavalry Captain Alexander Hunter holds the line against Northern efforts to invade his beloved Virginia home. 

What seems a cut and dried opposition (and a particularly challenging battle against a mysterious boy on horseback who excels at defying his carefully-built barriers) turns into a personal conundrum when the boy's identity is finally revealed, placing Captain Hunter in the untenable position of having to choose between his heart and his family. 

Just as committed to her side of the cause is Andrea Monroe. Like Captain Hunter, she'd do anything for her country. As a Southern-born Union spy, she works for the other side to oppose all the politics Hunter holds dear. When fate brings them together, new quandaries arise about their beliefs, political alliances, and commitment to their causes. 

Jessica James explores the forces at work on both sides of the Civil War conflict, focusing on gray areas of moral and ethical certainty that prove not rigid, but fluctuating in a struggle that pits family members against one another. 

More so than most Civil War novels, she achieves this contrast in ideals, purposes, and special interests by forming unlikely relationships between two committed, opposing forces. As the story unfolds, the personalities and strong clashes between the main characters come to life through dialogue and experiences that are vivid and realistically portrayed: “You? Helpless?” Hunter laughed. “Hell will undoubtedly freeze to the core before that day comes.” He walked over to the bed. “I’m not a doctor, Miss Evans. But were I to guess, I’d say your only ailment now is a rampant infection of self-pity.” 

The contrast between their different approaches to life both embraces their similarities and highlights their differences, again venturing into that gray area between connection and confrontation that keeps this story clean and edgy at the same time: "The hostility in his voice was in utter opposition to the emotions he felt as he looked down at Andrea’s innocent, determined face. Deep shadows shrouded her face, and the expression she wore was somber—yet not despairing." 

Many Civil War stories are driven by battlefield confrontations. However, this war was also fought in hearts and minds that were rigidly set, but had to experience many new options and resolutions in order for the conflict to ever be resolved. 

James brings these insights to life in the course of charting a struggle that holds no pat, easy answers, either in its evolving romance or in the characters' acquiescence to the realities of each others' lives and belief systems. 

“An officer cannot be expected to trust the enemy.  In their case, can exceptions be made when so much is at stake? 

As Andrea struggles to remain strong and both characters fight to remain true to their hearts and ideals, the story moves forward through wartime events and possibilities of resolution that come to light in different ways and changing approaches to life: “But we can begin again.” “We cannot. Too much has happened.” Andrea fought through a haze of feelings and desires that made her unwilling to face him, yet unwilling to turn way. 

Having the three books of the trilogy under one cover makes complete sense. Although the result may appear daunting to readers who prefer to digest their books in smaller doses, the segues between books and events are better in one package than divided into three. 

The result is a vivid examination of how hearts and minds are changed from resolute strengths and certainties during the course of conflict. 

This Civil War story should be on the shelves of any genre reader. It offers a sweeping epic story that features the power and passion of Gone With the Wind, but is more poignant and personal about the inherent struggle between two formidable individuals who must change their lives and paradigms to effect a positive outcome to the war raging within their hearts. 

Shades of Gray

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Traitors for the Sake of Humanity
Helena P. Schrader
Cross Seas Press
ASIN: B095SZG8BM            $9.99 ebook 

Fans of World War II historical fiction will find Traitors for the Sake of Humanity: A Novel of the German Resistance to Hitler an excellent, sweeping historical portrait that begins in 1938 in a town in southern Germany and ends in 1944 Berlin. 

Helena P. Schrader has a PhD in history from the University of Hamburg, and her astute attention to historical detail is reflected both by her expertise and the fact that this novel took over three decades to craft, blending primary and secondary research conducted personally in East and West Germany. Her interviews of over a hundred survivors of Nazi Germany lend authenticity and add real events to a haunting story. 

A somewhat daunting list of characters introduces the novel, giving reader the notion that this will be a weighty—perhaps even demanding—read, for a fictional work. While this is certainly true on some levels, Schrader tempers her fact-based story with atmosphere and inspections that reflect her personal familiarity with and involvement in German life, evident from the first paragraph of description: "Altdorf was a harmonious jumble of half-timbered and plaster façades in medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The occasional modern structure crouched on the outskirts near the tracks. As the local train from Frankfurt pulled into the little station, the single passenger in the first-class compartment — an officer of the German Army — set his cap firmly on his head. He adjusted the peak to sit just above his rimless glasses. He then pulled on his leather gloves and picked up his suitcase by the handle." 

As the story unfolds, the real impact and presence of the Nazi regime in daily German life becomes recognizable, understandable, and engrossing: "Alexandra took a deep breath and again focused on her story. “It was like my whole house of cards had collapsed on top of me. The entire criminal justice system proved to be a sham, nothing but an over-bureaucratic kangaroo court. To be sure, there were still prosecutors and defense attorneys, and all the formalities were carefully observed. But, before the staged show started, the judges conferred with the prosecutor, who advised them on the verdict and sentence they were expected to produce.” “What?” Philip didn’t believe it—and then again, he did. Alix continued. “The worst part was that no one was even a little bit ashamed. I was included right away like it was the most natural thing in the world, as if there was nothing to be embarrassed about. The show was for the gullible public, but ‘between colleagues’ there was nothing to hide. Suddenly there wasn’t any point in being a defender of the downtrodden and the discriminated against. I would only have been tilting windmills." 

It should be noted that if Traitors for the Sake of Humanity sounds familiar, that's because it is a re-release of a book published over a decade ago under a different title. Its appearance now, in a day and age where the lessons, approaches, and presence of Nazis in social, political, and military circles holds more impact and meaning than ever in the struggle to preserve democratic ideals, is invaluable. 

The presence and methods of resistance, how Hitler's power and appeal were opposed in various strata of society, and how the country and its people won small victories at great personal costs is compellingly documented through the eyes, minds, and hearts of characters that come to life under Schrader's hand. 

Anyone who would understand, on more than a factual level, the emotions and motivations of resisters and believers alike will find this powerful history captured in a story that is, yes, complex...but also thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking. 

Traitors for the Sake of Humanity serves as a strong reminder of the price of loyalty and allegiance. It deserves to reach new audiences with a reprint edition that represents new lessons from old history, for modern times.

Traitors for the Sake of Humanity

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The Universe in ¾ Time
Leona Francombe
Merle Books Brussels
$16.95 paperback, $9.99 eBook 

The Universe in ¾ Time uses three struggling European musicians and the mysterious appearance of a World War II piano to consider the impact of fate and war on the arts and individual lives. 

The story opens with a surreal consideration of the discovery of music in southern Germany by nomads, some forty millennia ago. After a quick historical review that shifts from this to Pythagoras and Mozart, centuries later, readers are moved into modern times through the eyes of pianist and orphan Audrey Nightingale, whose habit of walking the streets of Brussels at night, in search of harmony, leads her to a strange upright piano that suddenly appears on the cobblestones. 

It's been years since she played with inspiration after a disaster changed everything. But, somehow, this elegant piano, which makes her own feel more like "a harlot in comparison, with porcelain cameos of nymphs cavorting, clawed feet, and curlicues," brings with its mystery the promise of new life both for itself and her. 

If music really embodies the connection between body and soul and can change everything, how can Audrey refuse a gift that leads her to call friend and violinist Florian Lafève, who believes in cosmic harmony as much as music? 

As the piano prompts journeys, transformations, and growth for all characters, the blend of spiritual, ethereal, and practical daily life coalesce in a story powered by an effort to uncover the piano's owner and its history. 

While readers might expect the mystery to remain in modern times, it actually traverses time to link past and present circumstances. The dance between timelines is an intriguing probe of abandonment, acceptance, and timeless love. 

Readers who enjoy stories of intrigue that reach out to embrace spiritual and philosophical as well as artistic sentiments will be especially pleased by the story's attention to emotional reflections and details: "What I want to impart to you is the importance of the journey itself. This can be a literal one, like my family’s. Or a spiritual one, like the one I’ve embarked on with you. Ideally, we should all experience both, for then we’re more likely to find enlightenment, as well as the state of being we all seek: the unfettering of our physical selves. A piece of music is a journey, isn’t it? It begins with a single note or chord, as a journey begins with a single step. Music (and any artistic expression, really) is also proof that the most profound journeys are more often those taken by the spirit." 

The music of inspiration and muse; the challenges of life and death and paying tribute to the past and those passed; and  Audrey and her fellow musicians' attempts to unravel the truth and meaning behind the mysterious instrument makes for gripping reading that musicians and historical fiction readers will find hard to put down. 

The blend of evocative spiritual and philosophical considerations throughout the narrative provides the perfect balance between mystery and history. The story is cemented by Audrey and her friends' journey between nations, matters of heart and soul, and the influence of music on a changing world. 

The story travels full-circle in a satisfying, evocative manner designed to keep readers thinking and delighted long after events conclude, leading Audrey to realize new possibilities from lost melodies that finally are found. 

The Universe in ¾ Time is a delightful artistic dance that readers will find evocative and lyrical with its light peppering of mystery and profound stories of discovery and transformation that operate from and compel on many different levels. 

The Universe in ¾ Time

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Vacation With a Stranger
Kelly Lyon
Independently Published
979-8589678253        $19.99 Hardcover/$11.99 Paper 

Vacation With a Stranger gives romance readers a fine blend of sexual description and relationship insights as it follows Hollywood television star Leslie Peters, who becomes involved with a fan just after her TV show is cancelled. 

Les isn't used to responding to fan mail, much less cultivating a relationship that begins with a letter. But something about the honesty and approach of this piece sends her on an unexpected journey away from her routines and everything she's known, to enter uncharted romantic territory replete with new possibilities—and danger. 

Readers who expect nothing but love from Vacation With a Stranger will find it especially satisfying that Les's life also revolves around business opportunities and other new directions. 

The partnership she forms with Steve works on many different levels, introducing them both to vast changes as Les probes a molestation charge and why her network show was really cancelled unexpectedly. 

The mix of corporate intrigue, sex, and expanding emotional ties creates a story that is unexpectedly multifaceted for a romance, and a step above most genre reads. 

While this complexity may at first stymie romance followers who expect traditional outcomes and plots, Vacation With a Stranger is not your usual love-driven story, but a creative, pleasing, sexually explicit and fun romp that provides many twists and turns. 

Romance fans looking for something both steamy and edgy will find Vacation With a Stranger more than fits the bill with its three-dimensional characters and satisfying blend of romance, sex, and intrigue that keeps readers guessing to the end. 

Vacation With a Stranger

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What's Not True: A Novel
Valerie Taylor
She Writes Press
978-1-64742-157-1         $16.95 Paper/$9.95 ebook

What's Not True: A Novel will appeal to female readers of contemporary urban fiction with its special inspection of romance, martial relationships, and a divorcing career woman's unexpected discovery that while several doors of opportunity have closed, so many more remain open. 

Is there such a thing has having too much love on one's plate? This can be so if these connections happen simultaneously and provoke not just two proposals, but a scenario in which Kassie O’Callaghan, still technically married, must confront her ex and his sly, scheming new fiancée Karen, who has her sights set on Kassie's assets as well as those of her husband-to-be. 

Even Mike acknowledges that Kassie is a powerhouse: "Whether it was when he started the business or branched out and expanded it, Kassie supported him and didn’t interfere. Smart, savvy, and spunky, Kassie became successful in her own right, right in front of his eyes. An intelligent, independent, ambitious woman. He figured many men would’ve swapped places with him in an instant." 

While Karen, too has sacrificed for him, her intent is to wipe out Kassie's legacy and grip: "By the time Karen was finished, any memory of Kassie would be erased from the brain of her husband and her son. Anything she could do to eliminate Kassie from their lives was priority one." 

As the story unfolds, Kassie is forced to not only consider all her too-many options, but ramp up her inner strength and solidify her purpose: "That morning Kassie needed to be great, not just good, Kassie—new business genius, colleague extraordinaire, mistress of the universe. Well, she had that one covered." 

Kassie is fortunate, brave, and takes risks with Chris in a Parisian world that upends her foundations, leading readers into a relationship journey that is as astute at considering Mike's perspective and his own emotional growth as it is in outlining Kassie's determination and conundrums: "His kidney disease and the divorce forced him to admit he’d been a shit all their years together. He took all that Kassie had done for him for granted and never gave her the credit and attention she deserved. If he had been a better man, perhaps he would’ve happily joined her on that trip to Italy six years ago, and there would’ve been no Chris in the picture." 

What's Not True is an engaging story of love, honesty, tangled family relationships, jealousy and ambition. The changing perspectives of Mike, Kassie, Karen, and Chris nicely contrast shifting attitudes towards not just relationship-building, but their roles in life. It's especially pleasing to see a strong career woman who takes charge of her life and romances via an aware, powerful state of mind. 

As a beach read and satisfying stand-alone sequel to What's Not Said (where Kassie first confronts her emotionally abusive husband and his health crises and infidelity), What's Not True expands upon many themes while staying true to the course of charting Kassie's emotional and romantic growth. 

What's Not True: A Novel

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When We're Thirty
Casey Dembowski
Red Adept Publishing
$5.99 ebook/$14.99 paperback

Romance readers seeking stories of lasting love and evolution will find When We're Thirty a fine story. Jersey girl Hannah's life is altered when she accepts a new online friend request from old flame William Thorne and finds everything changed because of her choice. 

Will was a big part of her college years. From their shared interests in alternative emo band Wilderness Weekend to her current life with a steady relationship and a job that is going nowhere, Hannah faces an old pact, memories, and the opportunity for a new direction even marriage can't predict or direct. 

Her biggest challenges come not just from her relationship with Will and a promise made long ago; but from the family and friends around them. 

No matter the real reasons for marriage, Hannah finds that she and Will are good for one another...a fact that some friends even acknowledge. 

The age of thirty brings with it a different perspective on old relationships and the value of aged promises. It also brings with it different options that Hannah and Will face as their relationship evolves. 

Readers seeking a realistic story not of falling in love, but falling into a convenient relationship that holds perks beyond romance will find When We're Thirty a thought-provoking story. 

While it's not filled with steamy scenes or even passionate falling-in-love scenarios, When We're Thirty offers readers an exceptional probe of issues affecting relationships that range from financial to family influences. 

Both characters are realistic and appealing in their different ways. Each holds concerns that make the old pact they'd created more attractive, years later. The underlying secret and motivations directing Hannah and Will's choices and actions is nicely done; and while readers will see disaster coming, they may not anticipate the twists and turns that get them there. 

Romance readers seeking stories of moral and ethical quandaries, love, and relationships of convenience that evolve beyond their initial rules and boundaries will find When We're Thirty engrossing, fun, and thought-provoking. 

When We're Thirty

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The Winterkeeper
Jo Horne

Bucket Line Books
978-1736346310            $7.31 paper/$2.99 Kindle 

The Winterkeeper takes place in Montana in 1933, where fourteen-year-old Millie Chase has just been orphaned. She resists the idea of living with her stepfather, who already has a replacement wife waiting in the wings. She feels he is "just a man Momma had married." 

She decides to track down her mother's good friend Ginny Baker, who lives in Yellowstone Park with Nate, a winterkeeper for the north end of the park, which is closed for the season; but instead finds that Ginny's husband Nate is holding down the fort while his pregnant wife is in Chicago, struggling to find and maintain control of a fortune her parents left to her and her sister. 

Midlife crisis collides with a coming-of-age experience as Millie and Ginny face impossible, different circumstances. Each struggles to find her path, strength, and purpose in the face of threatening changes. 

Jo Horne adds a host of obstacles into the story. This will require maturity from teen readers, or new adults and adult audiences who will appreciate the different characters, details of how they interact, and what their shared goals ultimately require of them in the way of courage, determination, and moral and ethical behaviors. 

As stepfather Roger's real character comes to light and poses a further predicament affecting Millie's safety and future, readers gain insights into the processes of building family connections, dealing with child advocacy issues, and trust. 

Called upon to reach out and be a part of Millie's life in order to protect and advocate for her, Ginny and Nate find themselves embroiled in something far beyond their quiet life in Yellowstone in winter. Readers will learn much about how people become family and earn places in each others' hearts by their choices, actions, and reactions to adversity. 

Those who like a touch of intrigue added into the mix will appreciate the mystery surrounding Roger Fitzgerald's purposes and actions—especially how it reveals a dark psychological undercurrent that eventually comes to light only due to Millie's determination and Nate and Ginny's pursuit of the truth. 

All characters are charged with doing the right thing, which further strengthens the coming of age story that moves from Millie's fate and future to the impact of choices Ginny and Nate make on her behalf and for the sake of their own futures. 

The Winterkeeper's multifaceted blend of history, mystery, psychological journeys and coming of age story makes for a fast-paced, evocative read. It should reach beyond young adults to attract adult readers interested in stories of justice, truth, and power struggles as characters challenges their assumptions and trajectory in life. 

The Winterkeeper is a vivid story that proves hard to put down. 

The Winterkeeper

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You'll Be Fine
Jen Michalski
NineStar Press
978-1-64890-309-0         $15.99 

Alexandra Maas's mother has always been steady when it comes to the principles like not wasting gas on an air conditioner for the car and not wasting money for replacement tickets to an event. But she's not been as steady about being a positive influence in Alex's life—nor committed to staying off the booze. 

Perhaps this is where Alex got her sense of distance from her family, learning not to answer her phone at odd hours of the night to talk with a wasted mother or engage with a stay-at-home adult brother who never quite grew up. Instead, she chose to hone her own career and her life as a lesbian and a professional woman. 

When her mother passes away suddenly from an accidental drug overdose, Alex takes a leave of absence from her job as a Washington, D.C. magazine writer to come home and help her brother Owen settle affairs. Perhaps with her mother gone, things will be different. 

They aren't different enough to prevent angst, however;  because also in the neighborhood is a married woman Alex once loved and still harbors affection for, whom she is charged with interviewing for her magazine. Also newly arrived is her father's "aunt," a transsexual woman who inserts herself into the broken family's affairs, only to reveal a secret that answers many lingering questions about Alex and Owen's heritage. 

From unspoken words to the "smallest things that fester" and lead to estrangement, Alex's journey to conclude this portion of her life and get things organized turns into a voyage of discovery as she inspects all the things left unsaid, undone, and incomplete in her past. 

Jen Michalski creates a vivid drama that covers many layers of family inspection and interactions. Alex is a savvy, aware woman who well knows her own nature and choices, although she hasn't fully examined their origins. Even as romance is offered and new opportunities emerge, she is cognizant of both revised prospects and unstated emotions: "You came to explore the wreck, she tells herself, not looking back, walking up the broken flagstones to her mother’s house as Carolyn pulls away. Not check out the mermaids." 

The layers of inspection, danger, and love that run under the surface of apparent goals and rationales is nicely presented, with the psychology of an evolving situation cementing the dilemmas Alex struggles with: "She lets herself out of the office and walks through the kitchen. It feels cramped, full of dangerous objects—ways to cut yourself, burn yourself, slip on the floor. Yet Juliette works here every evening and doesn’t even think about it." 

Michalski's ability to bring both overt and covert personas, ideals, angst, and desires to life supercharges a story that is not quite a romance, more than a family drama, and embraces elements of all kinds of diverse challenges that bring Alex full circle, back to the home she left. 

Rich in psychological tension and description, You'll Be Fine is a highly recommended read for lesbian women, women struggling with diverse family makeups and interests, and those who simply want a compelling story of transformation and acceptance. 

You'll Be Fine

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Reviewer's Choice

The ABCs of Public Education
Dr. John J. Pepi Sr.
Mascot Books
978-1-64543-415-3         $24.95 

The ABCs of Public Education: Abuse, Bullying, and Corruption: A Story of Institutionalized Mobbing in Education was written to help others who suffer from abuse and bullying. It blends an educational leader's experience with an autobiography that closely examines the approaches, methods, and impact of bullying on not just kids, but adults. 

Mobbing behaviors encouraged or condoned by the educational system may lie at the heart of this treatise on public education, but Dr. Pepi's survey blends his own experiences with those of youth to provide a wider-ranging consideration of the issue for all ages. 

As he points out, bullies come in all forms, and at all periods of life. Sometimes they are supervisors. When the bullying escalates into 'mobbing' where attacks come from different directions from different people, even more challenges emerge—some of them not just life-impacting, but life-threatening. 

Dr. Pepi documents many different situations, from coaching and sports to administrators, peers and leaders, and those whose political ties are so broad that battles with them are lost before they begin, with mobbing behaviors provoked by any pushback to bullying. 

Although Dr. Pepi's focus is on what he knows best—the structure and organization of an educational system that accepts bullying on different levels—it's evident that The ABCs of Public Education opens in this arena, but holds many lessons that can translate to other social and organizational settings. 

Cemented by experiences that document the psychological toll and the social, political, and business impact of bullying, the author documents how efforts to push back through arbitration only resulted in more mobbing actions: "I started to really feel the heat of mobbing from both the union and the city. The union, during lunch break, surrounded me in one of the offices, and I was getting it from all sides. I had nowhere to turn, and they were treating me with hostility for not taking the settlement. Why? What was so important for them? They were not hiding the fact that they were for the school district and not for me. I started thinking that I needed a lawyer, and fast, before the statute of limitations runs out. The problem was, who, how, and with what money?" 

Many studies on bullying focus on youth, as though this age group almost exclusively features such experiences. In presenting a blend of autobiographical experience and focus on institutional oppression and its impacts, Dr. Pepi provides a rare and important closer look at bullying's adult incarnations. 

The ABCs of Public Education should be selected not just for educator collections, but for any collection strong in bullying and oppression in adult circles. The educational system here is a specific focus, but also serves as a template illustrating what happens in business and organizational settings across the board, and how battles against corruption are fought, won, or lost. 

The ABCs of Public Education

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Can You Sleep Like This? In the Rest of God
Dr. Evonne Thompson
Izzard Ink Publishing
$26.95 Hardcover/$15.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook 

Can You Sleep Like This? In the Rest of God links a discussion of sleep and rest with a spiritual, Biblical perspective that examines the importance and nature of getting a good night's sleep. 

While it may seem unusual to place these two seemingly disparate topics under one cover, Dr. Evonne Thompson provides a different perspective on the power of resting in the presence of God, contradicting the equation of rest with non-Godly sloth or laziness and promoting, instead, the concept of adequate rest as being linked to Biblical ideas of being more spiritually effective. 

The Bible cites many instances in which God rested from his endeavors while recharging for the next task. As readers learn about the support system for adopting better habits that accept rest as a necessity rather than an obstacle to spiritual effectiveness, they gain deeper insights into the concept of rest. 

Dr. Thompson refers to Biblical events, passages, and incongruities in the course of her examination. This will delight those who look for specific supportive Biblical references: "As you continue to read through the covenant framework set out through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, you will see He adds even more time-related boundaries. Leviticus 25 describes how God expands the practice of the Sabbath to not just every seventh day but every seventh year. And if that was not the icing on the cake, after the seventh cycle of the seventh year, year forty-nine, they got a back-to-back siesta in the fiftieth year as well—the year of jubilee. Can you imagine what that would look like today? No—sorry, I cannot come into work today, or for that matter, the entire year. It is my Sabbath year. This would be the law everyone would comply with. It makes me wonder: on every seventh-day Sabbath in the seventh year, did they rest from their rest?" 

Critical inspections that embrace social, business, and psychological milieus encourage readers to think about the underlying messages of the Bible about rest, relaxation, and duty. 

What lessons does God wish to impart through such admonitions, and how have they traditionally been interpreted or misinterpreted? 

From God's purpose of promoting restoration to larger intentions, Dr. Thompson outlines a path to understanding that moves beyond the subject of rest and sleep and into bigger-picture thinking about God's ultimate goals. 

The survey will delight Christian readers, providing a road map to enlightenment and restoration that supports the path to understanding with a wealth of Biblical references. 

Christian readers and collections concerned with connecting everyday life obstacles and choices to bigger pictures of God's intention will find Can You Sleep Like This? In the Rest of God a solid exploration of how to define, understand, and achieve a state of rest in God. 

The applicability of this effort to other Christian principles and processes offers excellent food for thought, fodder for Biblical study, discussion, and interpretation, and an in-depth survey of the nature of what 'rest in God' truly means and how to fully understand and achieve it. 

No Christian collection should be without Can You Sleep Like This? 

Can You Sleep Like This? In the Rest of God

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COVID Lockdown Insanity
Hugh McTavish, Ph.D.
West Fork Press
978-1-7373271-1-0                        $19.99 

COVID Lockdown Insanity: The COVID Deaths It Prevented, the Depression and Suicides It Caused, What We Should Have Done, and What It Shows We Could Do Now To Address Real Crises will be a controversial read for many, but it charts the impact of choices made during the pandemic and the involvement of social, political, psychological, and economic forces in contributing to these decisions. 

If a reader only gains one thing from Hugh McTavish's perspective, it will be a better understanding of how these forces interact to create decisions that affect citizens around the world. 

Whether readers approved of decisions made to lock down the world or opposed them, McTavish's discussion is critical to understanding the process of making, employing, and promoting society-wide perceptions and policy decisions of all kinds. It should ideally be on the reading lists of sociology and political science students, as well as the general-interest, thinking reader. 

Supporters of the lockdowns will be forced to question their position if they read this book with an open mind, and opponents will be armed with the data and evidence to justify their position.  

McTavish pulls no punches in damning the influencers who both made these decisions in the name of public interest or promoted the lockdowns while omitting facts that could have altered the lockdown approach to Covid: "We should ask, and our leaders and experts should have asked also and told us, how many COVID deaths would be prevented by the lockdowns, and now that we are a year into this, how many COVID deaths the lockdowns have prevented." 

Lest one believe this book reflects personal opinion alone, it should be pointed out that McTavish supports his beliefs with authoritative studies and quotes from them: "There is good evidence that hand washing and use of hand sanitizers
reduce the risk and spread of the common cold and influenza and COVID-19. The following are four of the best studies that I find very convincing."

This approach lends validity, authority, and further references for reading to COVID Lockdown Insanity and assures that readers seeking scientific backing receive all the background studies and information available that support McTavish's history and contentions. 

He also points out fallacies in thinking about Covid no matter their source, even at the highest levels of authority: "Despite that paper, Dr. Fauci and CDC leaders continued to recommend school closures and then recommended that if schools opened they should mandate mask wearing by students and social distancing. (No evidence supports either of those interventions in schools.) That is Dr. Fauci’s fault; not the fault of CDC staff or those CDC authors recommending against school closures." 

Is COVID Lockdown Insanity controversial? Yes. But its many contentions and insights should be required reading because they encourage readers to think not just about Covid history, but the science and logic behind epidemic management and social safety approaches as a whole and public policy decisions generally. 

COVID Lockdown Insanity should ideally receive attention in educational circles, where debates over its contents would be not just appropriate, but fruitful. 

COVID Lockdown Insanity

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CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process
Cathy Pickens
ICSC Press
978-1-7348618-0-8         $19.95

CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process helps readers define creativity, consider and strengthen their own process of discovery, and develop new approaches to encouraging the creative process. It stems from the experiences and success stories of a wide range of participants in workshops given by Cathy Pickens, who developed these approaches over the years for artists, business leaders, technical specialists, jail inmates, and others. 

Translating the fruits of these success stories into a book was likely a challenge. Creativity often defies definition and easy access, proving elusive to those who try to constrain its potential with narrow inspections. 

This workshop-in-a-book represents Pickens' own life as she moved from considering herself not especially creative to shifting paths to uncover the creative impulse that lay within her (and which resides unrecognized within many people). 

Her years of studying creativity and the methods used to promote and encourage it resulted in tangible results, a six-step method that can apply to anyone, and this book, which takes readers through the encouraging process of identifying, nurturing, and bringing to life that spark of creativity that can translate to ongoing achievement. 

As chapters reveal this process, readers learn from the experience of not just the author, but others who have found their muse: "One well-kept secret, in discussions about creativity, is that nothing is really new. “All creative individuals,” observed writer Paul Johnson, “build on the works of their predecessors.” More experienced creators and artists recognize they have learned from, built upon, even borrowed from others." 

Admonitions and insights support a program that includes group as well as individual work, and which considers how to make these avenues of opportunity work best: "Before joining or forming a group, ask yourself, “Do I like these people?” My writers group was the first work group of women friends I’d ever had. My work life had been filled with men, and growing up with three sisters seemed to take care of the need for sisterly companionship. But these bright, funny women, each with a different background and life journey, brought perspectives that have made my writing—and my life—better." 

Creativity must be nurtured and encouraged in order to move from a rare spark to a burning fire. 

CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process embraces all kinds of approaches that lend to this newfound strength. It is a 'must' for artists, writers, and creators in all mediums who would better understand the impetus for creativity and how best to assure its ongoing flow. 

CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process

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Defending a Serial Killer: The Right to Counsel
Jim Potts, JD
Vesuvian Books
978-1-64548-035-8         $15.95 Paper/$7.99 ebook 

Many books have been written about serial killers—usually biographical sketches, or accounts by their surviving victims. Defending a Serial Killer: The Right to Counsel takes a very different approach to the subject in considering the moral and ethical challenges lawyers face in fulfilling their duties to defend a client who may ultimately be released (if their efforts are successful) to kill again. 

In 1982, author Jim Potts was a brilliant young law student recruited to craft a death penalty appeal for a convicted serial killer. His research efforts uncovered a loophole that could overturn his client's conviction and lead him out of prison to possibly murder again. 

As his legal duty to his client and the Constitution he's pledged allegiance to clashes with his own values and a pregnant wife who maintains she'll leave him if he follows through on his duties, Potts becomes caught in a dilemma that tests his abilities on many different levels. 

How can he stay true to his profession while assuring he keeps his family together and doesn't unleash evil back into the world, based on a technicality of law? 

Few other legal discussions hold the ability to capture a compelling immediacy in the daily processes of law, as well as the dilemmas these processes bring with them. Readers gain specific details about these approaches, which teach them about how law is interpreted and enforced as the story follows Potts and his associates in and outside of court:  "When Ron returned to his seat, we discussed every other aspect of the case, as well as other potential concerns, in great detail. This was a common approach, as when a case is appealed, every possible issue is submitted with the hope one may be sufficient for a favorable verdict, resulting in a reversal of the lower court’s decision." 

How lawyers absorb the long-term results of their arguments and efforts is also nicely captured as the tale unfolds: "Reading the California Supreme Court’s decision, I was highly satisfied with the results. I had done my job, and I had done it well. The court had focused on several of the key arguments I had personally come up with in making its decision. The fact that Mattson could possibly be free again to prey on new victims entered my mind, but I dismissed those thoughts. I had to. We cannot contemplate what might happen, only what did happen." 

Especially revealing (and often poignant) are his reflections about the ultimate outcome of his legal arguments and its impact on his life and career alike: "My involvement with Mattson’s appeal appeared to be never ending. I had thought I could let it go, but I was having trouble. What was it about this man? Why did my life have to be touched by him? I began to wonder whether or not he was truly sorry for the crimes he had committed against those young girls. Probably not. I wondered how he took the news of the Supreme Court’s ruling. He was probably up at San Quentin celebrating with his fellow inmates, each one asking how he pulled it off in the desperate hope he had some magical answer on how they could also escape death." 

Readers who want to learn more about legal processes, lawyers' moral and ethical considerations, and how killers are treated in the courts and the minds and hearts of those who defend or oppose them will find much food for thought in Defending a Serial Killer. 

It's highly recommended reading; especially for students of law, who will find it contains many vivid considerations of the underlying human impact of defending known killers in court and supporting the right to counsel that is an intrinsic cornerstone of the American justice system. 

Defending a Serial Killer: The Right to Counsel

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Die the Villain
C. P. Serret
Tempest & Gayle
$12.49 Paper/$7.99 Kindle/$8.99 epub/$19.99 Large Print/$16.99 Cypherpunk Edition 

Readers of complex coming-of-age literary fiction who look for a blend of LBGTQ themes and social inspection mixed with intrigue will find the genre-busting Die the Villain impossible to easily categorize or put down, once begun. 

Its compelling story blends mystery and noir atmosphere with a transgender examination of identity that winds through social and political challenges alike. 

The first note about this story is that it requires a literary, astute mind to appreciate its language and descriptions. Those unused to such elements in their suspense stories should keep a dictionary close at hand, because they won't want to miss the depth of language embedded in Die the Villain's ethereal descriptions: "Black pumps, slim heels, despite the wet. Her dark hair was wind-tousled over a black café-racing jacket and red scarf, a violet mididress under her unzipped leather and a matching tote in the crook of one arm; she was Lady Purple in spades – a neoteric Murasaki no Ue. Smileless behind her Jackie O sunglasses, she stood out at the end of the line among the uptown coffee bar’s ambient selection of book-club reads, bibelots, and blonde woods. He was as conspicuous but invisible, the other metal-base plywood tables crowded with backlit apples, patched jeans, and rain gear. Alone among flatline mouths. Tense linéaments." 

As the gritty descriptions capture a Darknet leader's gender-fluid identity and double life and the clash between special interests when a cybercrime goes awry, readers are drawn into a dark underworld and a LBGTQ culture that educates, entertains, and intrigues all at once. 

It should also be noted that, in addition to the language, dialogue between characters is not punctuated as usual. Instead, the separation of dialogue is clearly imparted in a different way which preserves the fluidity of language and lends to understandable interactions: 

"—Thanks for the drink. My brain was about to fry.

She sighed after another sip, eyes closed. Finn drifted nearer, a wavering petal on a winding brook, and debated on where to sit: right beside her on the sofa, or just within arm’s reach; or away on the easy chair – she’s too busy for anything like that – or on the causeuse like bait on a Conibear trap. He remained standing.

—No prob. I was having coffee on campus with Her Most Serene Highness, and she mentioned you were hitting the books. Figured it was the least I could do.

—O? What’s Vik up to?

—She didn’t say, but she was dressed to the nines.

—Mike, I’d guess. What’s this called? It tastes like white chocolate fudge.

An anticipatory grin blew his punchline.

—Liquid Cocaine. I asked the barista for something strong enough for a long study session. It has four shots.

—Four shots after Adderall and a half-tab of Dexedrine. I’ll be ready for lift-off soon.

—ADD? Had no clue.

—No. It helps my grades." 

By now, it should be evident that Die the Villain will not be every reader's cup of tea. However, what it requires of its audience in terms of literary acuity is more than rewarded by a plot loaded with intrigue, psychological, and social inspection and a truly unique, original story filled with satisfying twists and turns. 

More so than most coming of age stories, Die the Villain holds the special ability to capture worlds and perceptions outside the mainstream and the norm while maintaining an atmosphere of suspense and intrigue that keeps readers on their toes. Replete with modern cultural references, the action remains fast-paced and unpredictable throughout. 

Those who imbibe will find the story darkly complex and compelling as it moves from Cris Finn, who has just returned from Japan working undercover as a consultant, to a life-changing encounter with Chloe, who introduces him to new social circles as she explores strong women and characters brought "forth and living in darkness" in a world-traversing romp through "two worlds that can never touch"...but, do. 

Die the Villain

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Get a Move On!
Luisa Coll-Pardo Heymann
Bold Story Press
978-1-954805-00-2         $9.99

Readers who feel flabby, lousy, and hopeless about embarking on an exercise regimen that sticks will find plenty of inspiration, paired with practical approaches to "mini-workouts," in Get a Move On! 

This isn't the first book to advocate more realistic approaches to exercise, but what sets Get a Move On! apart from most competitors in the genre is its attention to linking daily activities to these mini-workouts. 

This will especially appeal to those who feel they already don't get enough "me time," let alone enjoy a schedule that allows for leisurely exercise pursuits. This type of busy reader will appreciate the idea that workouts can apply to every endeavor and room of the house. 

Take the kitchen, for example. Waiting for a pot of water to boil is typically time spent cleaning, but it also can embrace exercise. Luisa Coll-Pardo Heymann points out that "We probably spend more time in the kitchen waiting for something to happen than anywhere else, so why waste all that time? The waiting is usually done in short bursts, but these add up over the course of a week, even if you’re not much of a cook. While you’re waiting, do any freestanding movements (e.g., marching in place, toe-touches) or those where you need a counter for balance (leg lifts); any appropriate arm exercises (overhead reach­es, swimming strokes, isometric hand presses); stretch­ing moves (calf stretch, hand flexes, shoulder rolls); or try some dance moves like the Twist, the Macarena, or…may­be a little Funky Chicken while waiting for your oatmeal? 

Where other workout books for busy people advise taking extra time throughout the day to add these routines, Heymann pinpoints where lag time already happens during the day, and shows how to fill these moments with effective and even fun exercise routines. 

As chapters review different kinds of movements and exercises and discuss their benefits and applicability to the busy would-be exerciser, readers receive a wealth of information about what works, the science and logic behind different exercises, and how side benefits to fighting the battle of the bulge extend to positivity, self-confidence, and a better, healthier lifestyle overall. 

The result goes beyond outline of workout routines, discussing how existing lifestyle can lend to mini-approaches that are surprisingly effective and a snap to incorporate into any schedule. 

Anyone looking to add into their schedules needs to start with Get a Move On! Its outline of an achievable objective is inspirational, educational, and rewarding. All it takes for these routines to be personally attainable is a degree of commitment to reading about and employing them. Get a Move On! makes the effort a snap with its chatty tone, science, and encouraging discussions. 

Get a Move On!

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The Haunting of Potter’s Field
Margaret Shaw Johnson
Ravens Point Press
978-1-7360-3720-1         $21.95 

American history readers will relish The Haunting of Potter’s Field: Mostly True Stories, Unearthed from The Grave, a gathering of life inspections of immigrants and pioneers buried in Woodlawn Cemetery’s potter’s field in Winona, Minnesota. 

These tales of late nineteenth and early twentieth century settlers and native peoples were originally written for the stage, intended as performance pieces. The rhyme scheme and succinct descriptions were preserved for this collection and are married to illustrations by Jared Tuttle for added impact in book format. 

Biographical sketches take the form of poetic examinations of such characters as 1893 figure Mister Foster, who "sold wares in the markets and fairs" and ended his life, "His pain and his sins unconfessed." The mysterious woman who is neither kin nor wife begs that the man be buried with dignity, but "We looked all around, eyes cast guiltily down,/We’d no money to help the poor lass./So she left as she came through the fog-heavy rain,/With her heartbreak, we watched the night pass." 

As each vignette outlines how a person came to end up in the potter's field, readers receive a literary examination that encourages a translation to stage. 

The unusual blend of historical examination, biographical sketches, haunting visual embellishments by Tuttle, and a spirit-laced reflection of ordinary people who have passed makes for evocative reading. 

The inclusion of musical scores at the end completes a unique gathering highly recommended for social history readers who like accounts of early American lives and experiences in a form other than staid prose, as well as drama students looking for literary works that can easily translate to stage productions. 

The Haunting of Potter’s Field

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Heart of a Man
Bill Amatneek, Editor
Vineyard Press
9781828578246             $20.00 

Heart of a Man: Men's Stories for Women gathers writings intended for both sexes that explore men's feelings...a subject sadly neglected or downplayed in too many literary accounts. It's also an invitation to women to understand men's lives, thoughts, struggles, choices, and being a man in the world. 

These accounts appear in many literary forms here, from essays to poetry and fiction, all capturing the essence of the male experience at different stages of life, from childhood to adulthood. 

Eugene Karlin's lovely black and white line drawings pepper the collection, bringing life to selected quotes that emphasize the topics and feelings explored in these writings. 

Some of these authors' names will be familiar, from Shakespeare and Lord Byron to Updike and Michael Chabon. Most will not...but that doesn't diminish this anthology's power or authority. 

Within its covers are suggestive stories from the lives and hearts of men who write about their greatest challenges, longings, and most influential experiences and revelations in life. 

Particularly evocative are works that capture pivot points in life experience (as most of them do). One example is Jed Diamond's powerful reflection on fatherhood in "My Father, My Son, Myself:" "When I became a father, I thought to myself, I'm going to do things differently. The birth of my first child changed my life...The nurse handed him to me, and as I looked into his eyes, I made a vow: 'I will be a different kind of father than my father was to me. I will do everything I can to help bring about a world where fathers are fully engaged with their families throughout their lives.'" 

The concluding section, a Q&A with the editor, offers particularly important insights into how these stories were selected above others, why certain topics were included or excluded, and the main differentiation between male and female perspectives which is so intrinsic to the strength of this collection: "I learned how differently men and women see the same word, sentence, paragraph, story, book cover, and book. I learned that I control the anthology's contents, but not the writing. All the works here reveal men, but I don't endorse every word of every work." 

This anthology offers what every woman has dreamed of... men confident in their male persona, yet unafraid to bare their hearts. Heart of a Man offers a rare opportunity to walk in a diverse range of male shoes and experiences. 

Come along with Bill Amatneek as he collects and shares these jewels of male insight. Heart of a Man will bring the sexes together with newfound understanding and literary revelations that resonate in heart and mind. 

Heart of a Man

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Legend of the New World: Origins
Vern Watkins
DartFrog Books
978-1953910745     $14.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Legend of the New World: Origins is a military dystopian thriller that revolves around an American girl who was tapped and trained by a terrorist organization for a mission that will change and challenge the nation: an attack on the audience watching the Super Bowl LXXXI.. 

While this story is slated for teens, the adult nature of the investigation, terrorist activity, and sci-fi scenario of a technologically enhanced young woman charged with changing the world belays the youth of its characters, imparting a full flavor of adult concerns that will easily reach older readers, as well. 

A satisfying complexity winds into the story as siblings Mega and Aniya assume the identities of Brandon and Tiffany Ames and move to LA on a mission that leads them to probe the new America around them: "Almost no one here has dodged the impact of Massacre 81; almost everyone is experiencing some great loss from the attacks that subdued America a year ago. They probably all knew someone who had died that day, knew kids who were malnourished and left to fend for themselves. This is the new era, the land of the haves and the have-nots. Many were traveling westbound just to be a part of the ever-growing homeless community across California. The homeless epidemic is at an all-time high, to a point where the government had no new ideas left on how to intervene. Mega and Aniya—or, as they are now, Brandon and Tiffany—are heading somewhere that will surely give them a culture shock." 

Mature teen to adult readers will find the combination of thriller, dystopian setting, terrorist inspection, childrens' lives and involvements, and social and political conundrums to be satisfyingly complex and revealing, powered by a military and political revelation of self-inspection and social change. 

More so than most thrillers or sci-fi settings, Legend of the New World: Origins creates a believable, compelling world that is satisfyingly full-faceted, built on the foundations of modern issues, concerns, and angst. 

In an all-too-realistic future, the young characters that drive the special and personal interests of this milieu come alive. 

All ages should consider Legend of the New World: Origins a refreshingly original read, packed with action tempered by bigger-picture revelations and thought-provoking insights. 

Legend of the New World: Origins

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Loud Woman: Good-bye, Inner Good Girl!
Jill Celeste
Highlander Press
978-1-7359333-4-4     $14.99 paperback or $9.99 ebook  

Loud Woman: Good-bye, Inner Good Girl! outlines the type of woman who is often not born, but made from a combination of encouragement, social challenge, and an inner voice that becomes an effective influence on the world. 

Many more women could be 'loud women' than are present and active, and that's where this book comes in. It's a recommendation for any woman who would uncover, encourage, and hone the effectiveness of her voice, and provides a blueprint for enacting this change to be a more effective leader and commentator in a changing world. 

This social awareness is an intrinsic part of developing the kind of voice that acknowledges and respects others, and is present in Jill Celeste's own self-inspections as she opens her book. She acknowledges that she is a white woman of privilege making conscious choices about the language and audience of her book, fully knowing that these choices might have impacted her diverse readers without such a preface explaining her actions, approach, and understanding of gender terminology and the underlying influence and presence of white privilege. 

Conservative and liberal readers alike are encouraged to be "Loud" in an all-embracing account that opens with vignettes of the author's own experiences. The example from a job in which she was supposed to ask questions to gain the information needed...but deferentially, in a politically acceptable manner that supported the status a particularly powerful display of the political and social repression that keeps women from empowerment and effectiveness: "Here’s the thing: I was getting counseled for asking a budget question; however, I knew it was much more than that. What I was really being counseled on was my Loudness—how I spoke up, how I asked for what I wanted, how I had boundaries around my time, and how I did not tolerate being interrupted. What I really was being asked to do was to take up less space, keep my mouth shut, and do my job in the quietest way possible. My employer embodied a classic patriarchal structure." 

As the stories, examples, and insights progress, many women will find eye-opening examples of repression and power in everyday life and business circles. 

Celeste's intention in charting these examples and paths to defying repression is clear: "You will break through your fear mindset and do things scared. You will learn to set up boundaries so people no longer take advantage of you. You will improve your selfworth so you can (finally) get the things you deserve. You will learn to trust yourself, because you are the expert at what’s best for you. And I will illuminate this path so you can join other women who are on the same journey, and we can love and support each other as the Loud Women we are." 

Any woman who has, either overtly or covertly, been told to "be quiet" needs this book—especially since it validates "Loudness" and identifies the many subtle messages and circumstances designed to keep women from being powerful, effective voices of change. 

Loud Woman: Good-bye, Inner Good Girl!'s examples, game plan for lasting, effective change, and blueprint of how to get there is highly recommended for women's issues collections, psychology holdings, and business libraries alike. 

Loud Woman: Good-bye, Inner Good Girl!

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Josh Schlossberg
D&T Publishing
$15.99 Hardcover/$9.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Malinae is a horror story that opens with a husband's sadness over his wife's descent into Alzheimer's. At least, that was the diagnosis that changed their lives as much as arthritis disabled husband Ward Ayers. 

When he views Malina's distorted tongue, however, he comes to realize that her changes are not due to dementia, but a more insidious threat that portends not her descent, but her transformation into something very different. 

As Malina begins to change in ways only Ward can see, he comes into conflict with caregivers and doctors and comes to doubt the evidence of his own eyes and mind. 

Is he insane? Or is something sinister and menacing replacing his beloved wife? 

As Malinae evolves, the questions of sanity, insanity, horror, and reality create a compelling first-person narrative. 

Josh Schlossberg excels in building not just tension but self-doubt as Ward keeps receiving evidence that supports a terrible and impossible truth. 

The psychology of his interactions, his wife's transformation, and his attempts to gain help despite his own handicaps makes for thoroughly engrossing reading that incorporates twists and turns even avid horror readers won't see coming. 

Schlossberg's ability to craft not just a horror scenario, but one in which the heartfelt feelings of a loving husband are tested, contributes to a story that begins at home and broadens to include the wider-ranging implications of Malina's changes. Hope, in this case, comes from strange avenues and choices as Ward struggles with his discovery and his love for his wife. 

The astute descriptions of little daily changes that lead to bigger, life-changing situations will especially resonate with anyone who has lived with a loved one suffering from a degenerative condition that poses new changes and challenges on a daily basis. 

Malinae is especially recommended for fans of Lovecraft-style horror; but it's also a special pick for those interested in supernatural-tinged fictional accounts of living with disability and the ravages of old age. 


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Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits
Arthur Hoyle
Sunbury Press
978-1-620062-41-8                $19.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook 

Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain is a historical biography that covers American history from colonial to modern times, using the experiences of various Americans to chart the nation's evolution, influences, and the lives and contributions of those who defied the norm over the years. 

These profiles range from early explorers and politicians to social activists that represented their times, including many names that readers may not find familiar. 

One such example is Josiah Gregg, whose life perspective mirrored the concept of "Manifest Destiny" that drove America's early expansion west and southwest. 

Parts of his life read with the drama of fiction ("On May 15, 1831, in Independence, Missouri, a sickly young man in failing health was carried onto a wagon bound for New Mexico on the Santa Fé Trail. He was heading out onto the prairie on the advice of his physicians, who had recommended a change of climate and scene as a treatment for the chronic dyspepsia and consumption that had kept him confined to his room for months. So began a twenty-year odyssey that would take Josiah Gregg to the far corners of the American west and produce a unique personal record of America’s relentless expansion to the Pacific Ocean in fulfillment of its “Manifest Destiny.”). The author links these personal experiences to broader American historical events, such as the Mexican-American War. 

Another example of this link between personal and social change lies in the profile of rustic Norwegian farmer’s son from Minnesota Thorstein Veblen, whose social philosophy questioned the prevailing assumptions about the emerging social order after the industrialization and urbanization of America in the second half of the nineteenth century.    

Another important note: these are not biographical sketches, as is usually done in similar approaches to American history, but in-depth reviews of lives and times that juxtapose both in detail. 

Black and white illustrations and photos of each profile open and personalize the chapter, bringing its subject to life. 

Recommended for high school into adult circles, these slices of American history pinpoint essential contributors who made not just world-changing decisions, but challenged the nuts and bolts of America's belief systems. 

Readers who want a thought-provoking inspection of these forces and individuals will find Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits both educational and engrossing. 

Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits

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Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 3
C.M.H. Koenig (compiler)
Inscript Books, a Division of Dove Christian Publishers
978-1-7375177-0-2         $13.95 

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 3 adds a new study to C.M.H. Koenig's series; this covering Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and a portion of First Samuel during the period between 1406 BC – 1025 BC. This third book in an 11-volume series takes the time and energy to pair analysis with a daily devotional designed to encourage a chronological, in-depth study of the Bible. 

Each daily read is marked with a Biblical passage, accompanying devotional with food for thought, and footnoted references that connect Biblical concepts: “The eternal God is thy refuge.” Deuteronomy 33:27 (AKJV)  The word refuge may be translated “mansion,” or “abiding-place,” which gives the thought that God is our abode, our home. There is a fullness and sweetness in the metaphor, for dear to our hearts is our home, although it be the humblest cottage, or the scantiest garret; and dearer far is our blessed God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It is at home that we feel safe: we shut the world out and dwell in quiet security. So, when we are with our God, we “fear no evil.” 

This opportunity to take Biblical study in digestible pieces and apply its teachings to life experiences and spiritual and philosophical enlightenment lends to a self- or group-study program like few others. 

The Bible readings are paired with insights from several scholarly sources, from late 1700s Anglican priest and author Robert Hawker's Poor Man's Old Testament Commentary to the reflections of 1834 English Particular Baptist preacher and author Charles H. Spurgeon, and 1800s pastor and author Octavius Winslow. 

The citations highlight striking features in Biblical figures and messages, present interpretations that will lend not just to individual reflection but group study and debate, and allow for daily connections to Biblical messages that analyze the heart of passages in a succinct, chronological approach. 

While Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 3 will appeal to scholarly and religious students, it's also quite accessible to everyday Christians who want to delve deeper into Biblical meaning and God's word in a manner different than most devotionals offer. 

Those who find the Bible rich in lessons and meaning, but who need guideposts to fully absorb them, will find Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 3 and its series the perfect place to embark upon a well-organized study. 

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 3

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Planning Kids? Why?
Bruce Sherman
Independently Published
978-1796037227            $15.99 paper/$3.99 ebook 

After you have kids, your life will never be the same. This is a well-known, accepted adage of wisdom that receives central attention in Bruce Sherman's book, which ideally should be given to any young couple starting out in life before they make the decision to have children. 

The purpose of Sherman's book is to encourage the discussion of the many ways children will change one's life. Sherman is 90 years old, retired, the father of two sons, and provides a succinct, important review of all the forces that influence the decision to have children, considering the pros, cons, and fallacies of some of this logic. 

His objective is to examine these reasons more closely so that readers can formulate their own game plans based not on ideals or family habits, but with fuller knowledge of what it means to dedicate a lifetime of care to a child. 

From common reasons for wanting children and who is happier—parents or those who chose to remain childless—to how children influence the perception of and journey towards happiness, and problems in parent-child relationships on many different levels, Sherman provides succinct observations into not just traditional family structures, but how new and existing parents can consider and handle major stress forces on their childrearing focus. 

Unlike traditional parenting guides, Sherman's book embraces all kinds of transition points and changes, from divorce and separation to conflicts that stem from adoption and the financial impact of raising a child. He outlines common choices and misconceptions, obstacles to success and happiness, and how young men and women considering adding children to the equation can best prepare for this effort on many different levels. 

Is having kids really worth it? Take the Planning Kids? Why? quizzes, consider its blend of statistical information and psychological and social insights, and then decide. 

Sherman provides all the tools and insights needed to make this decision, creating a thought-provoking analysis that outlines all the pros, cons, and issues involved in taking the leap into being a parent. 

Is he happy with his decision to be a father? You’ll have to get the book to find out! 

Planning Kids? Why?

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Rock n' Roll Puzzlers
Kyle Branche
Independently Published
979-8713964900            $11.99 

Rock n' Roll Puzzlers: 70 Word Search Super Challenger Puzzles +7 is a game book highly recommended for rock and roll music lovers who like solving puzzles that rest on rock music trivia. It presents word search puzzles that will ideally require prior familiarity with the structure of this kind of brainteaser in order to prove accessible. 

The song search puzzles cover various artists/bands, with discographies including both albums and collections, and details the items to be located in a list that makes it easier to use. 

Kyle Branche initially created these music word search puzzles for fun. The balance of British and American music is nicely done and makes for a satisfying blend of major musical influences while utilizing word placement in multiple directions. 

These "super challenger" puzzles incorporate a larger grid size than regular puzzles, allowing for a challenge level of medium to high for those experienced to expert in puzzle formats. Different ways of finding solutions and looking at the bigger picture challenge the mind in a satisfying manner. 

As Branche states in his introduction, the special benefits of undertaking challenging puzzles lends to making these part of one's brain-exercising repertoire for better health, in addition to their entertainment value: "From a medical perspective, word search puzzles are also known to help improve cognitive brain function for many people who have unfortunately suffered from strokes, as doctors give patients these types of puzzles to assist in gaining back their mental strength." 

Rock music fans who like puzzles that are challenging and fun tests of memory and perception will find Rock n' Roll Puzzlers: 70 Word Search Super Challenger Puzzles +7 the perfect choice for leisure pursuit and brain exercise, providing a book that can be taken on a trip, pursued on work breaks, or used to complete or open one's day. 

Rock n' Roll Puzzlers

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Sounds Like Love
Laura Ford
Friesen Press
$18.99 Paper/$31.99 Hardcover/$7.99 ebook

Cat lovers are in for as much of a surprise as Wendy experiences in Sounds Like Love, where her search for romance leads in an unexpected direction. 

Wendy's grandmother has passed away, leaving Wendy with a box of keepsakes and an unexpected charge: a tabby cat with an unusual name. While her parents may think this a fine inheritance, Wendy isn't so sure. Her parents specialize in pedigreed cat shows, and thus Wendy hates cats. Or, so she thinks. And, why wouldn't her parents have taken her grandmother's cat themselves? They say it's because of their fancy show cats, who are picky and pampered beasts. 

There's another reason she doesn't want the cat: "She didn’t like cats and she didn’t want to face being reminded of Grandma and how much it hurt losing her. Seeing Grandma’s cat every day would just make her feel sad." 

As Wendy comes to discover this cat's unique, special qualities and impact on her life, she finds the inheritance far richer than she'd originally envisioned. The cat's dilemma brings with it a new resolve to lead a better life and be more understanding of others: "Suddenly she wasn’t thinking about how she felt anymore; she was wondering how the cat was feeling – she felt compassion for the cat. All through her childhood she had disliked cats because her parents had paraded them in front of her and it had made her feel second best. But now, this cat was looking for a friend. How could Wendy hope for people to understand her when she wasn’t trying to understand this cat? “Empathy,” Wendy said out loud to herself. “That’s what the world needs. More empathy.” 

It's difficult to easily peg an intended age range for the readers of Sounds Like Love. On the one hand, the themes of death, revised purposes in life, and a search for love and connection as a young adult would seem to indicate its appropriateness for an adult audience. However, the colorful drawings peppered throughout and the short length of the story would seem to make it an appropriate read for high school readers and young adults. 

Aside from the question of audience age group, Sounds Like Love offers readers an engaging story of a cat that holds unexpectedly special abilities, a grandchild learning to care for a pet while missing a significant person in her life, and an emotional roller coaster of love, empathy, and revised connections that stem from their relationship. 

Cat lovers, in particular, will find this story of evolving love that comes from different directions to be moving. Wendy is charged with giving the cat a chance...but during the growth process, she also must learn to give herself a chance, as well. 

Sounds Like Love

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Surviving Our Parents' Mistakes, Second Edition
Larry Godwin, Ph.D.
Independently Published
978-0-578-81701-9         $12.95

The second edition of Surviving Our Parents' Mistakes: Healing the Scars from Childhood Mistreatment is both a memoir about the author's recovery from childhood emotional neglect and a testimony to how parents' behavior affects their children for, often, the rest their lives. 

It uses personal journal entries and Larry Godwin's background as a Ph.D. to cement the story of tactics that helped him not just to survive childhood, but to craft a new life for himself as an adult. Overcoming the impact of a single mother who emotionally abused him throughout his childhood was a lifelong pursuit. 

As Godwin faces down depression, anger, and self-esteem and guilt issues to develop special coping mechanisms, those who have endured childhood trauma receive not just a memoir about the author's past, but a blueprint for envisioning a better future and life. 

His primary motivation in producing this book is to "...encourage other abuse victims to acknowledge the crippling disabilities they face as adults, to openly confront what happened, then to heal childhood wounds." 

Having a guide that teaches these approaches by example is invaluable—especially since the discourses and revelations come from recognizable, relatable personal encounters, and are presented as short, readily digestible vignettes designed for easy contemplation through brief bursts of insight. 

Surviving Our Parents' Mistakes goes beyond most books that outline the problem to delve into how effective solutions evolve from childhood adversity. 

It should be given as a gift to any who struggle to overcome parental abuse, and also should appear in any collection strong in self-help and psychological healing. 

Surviving Our Parents' Mistakes, Second Edition

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Dr. Carolyn Vincent
$23.99 hardcover/$13.99 paper/$3.99 ebook 

Unbreakable: Readings That Inspire and Motivate is an uplifting harvest of motivational words that teach how to lead one's best life, and is directed to readers who need not just encouragement, but positive perspectives about the future in an age where negativity and depression are rampant. 

Dr. Vincent's message is that there is always an opportunity to grow from adversity. Her reflections appear in succinct, staccato lines of insight and are accompanied by blank workbook pages that encourage readers to fill in their own feelings in an 'insights and reflections' area corresponding to each piece. 

Some examples of her encouragements include "Chart New Territory," which celebrates new opportunities: "This is your chance to make big bold courageous steps./Make a choice to embrace each obstacle like the warrior you are."

These daily inspirational nuggets of wisdom embrace the ups and downs of living. They are meant to be easily-digested, inspirational pieces that reach even the busiest person with encouraging words that are easy to understand. 

The opportunity to chronicle one's responses in sections set aside just for this endeavor is a nice touch to a book that acts as both a daily reminder of encouraging attitudes and viewpoints and a place to reflect on one's personal insights and revelations.

Unbreakable: Readings That Inspire and Motivate is especially recommended as a gift for those facing new life challenges, providing a welcome dose of positivity in an often-negative world. 


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Why Some Animals Eat Their Young
Dallas Louis
Sandra Jonas Publishing
9781954861930             $14.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook 

Book cover art typically is not a big standout nor mentioned in a review for a given book, but it's worth mentioning here that the colorful and immediately compelling cover of Why Some Animals Eat Their Young: A Survivor's Guide to Motherhood is a huge draw, from the start. 

Struggling parents will both recognize and laugh at the cartoon portrait of three tots standing amid chaos with a disapproving mother looming over them, which invites readers to absorb the stories and solutions presented in the book. 

Anecdotes, humor, and real-world scenarios are also reflected in chapter headings which inject all three elements into their titles. Examples include "You Shoved What Up Your Nose?", "Alien Adventures and Other UFOs," and "Dazed and Diapered." 

Each chapter recounts an experience of managing children with an attention to humor, realistic insights, and capturing the daily challenges of decision-making and being a savvy mother: "I’m convinced that children are really super-cute carrier monkeys. Their job is to pick up and attract the latest and greatest germ, bug, or virus and bring it home to share with the rest of the family. We teach our children to share, but we fail miserably to distinguish between the germs and the good stuff. Having three kids in twenty-six months was pretty close to having twins with a spare, so they passed everything back and forth to one another." 

Mothers will readily recognize themselves in many of these stories, but the inclusion of coping mechanisms and insights into the process provide added value, especially for new mothers. 

All Dallas wanted to do was marry her love and build a family. She did. How she survived her greatest desire is narrated in a style akin to Erma Bombeck: earthy, matter-of-fact, and simply hilarious, as well as thought-provoking. 

Mothers seeking a bit of humor about their childrearing experiences will find it in droves in Why Some Animals Eat Their Young. It's especially important because, without humor, surviving this stage of family life becomes questionable. 

Why Some Animals Eat Their Young

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Young Adult/Children

The Adventures of Amber: Walk in the Woods
Isabell Hayden
Mindstir Media, LLC
$22.48 hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Collections strong in picture book explorations of nature will find The Adventures of Amber: Walk in the Woods a lovely story that holds beautiful illustrations by Bekir Rıza Sahin to pair with nature-loving adventure girl Amber's story. 

Amber visits her grandparents' mountain cottage in summer, where a walk in the woods is one of the draws. 

Young readers receive a "you are there" feel to the story as Amber wonders at tall trees, identifies beautiful birds, and chooses natural materials with her grandmother for a future art project. 

The sights, smells, sounds, and feelings of being in the woods come to life in detail and visual embellishment as kids enjoy a celebration of nature's wonders through Amber and her grandmothers' eyes. 

The Adventures of Amber: Walk in the Woods celebrates not just the outdoors, but a shared experience between young and old. Its winning, involving story is perfect for adults who want to introduce young readers to the outdoors, showing how they can benefit from an older adult's participation in the experience. 

The Adventures of Amber: Walk in the Woods

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Mark Schreiber
Pleasure Boat Studio
978-1-7370520-1-2         $21.95 Hardcover/$16.00 Paper 

Children usually fall down wells—not teenagers. Adults are usually political influencers—rarely ordinary teens without a name. But Amanda911 poses the question of how the ordinary becomes extraordinary when sixteen-year-old Amanda Dizon's fall into a well during the presidential primary campaign leads to media attention that places her in the spotlight of news reporting. 

Suddenly, Amanda is a social media star. Neither she nor her family is prepared for the responsibility and demands of this kind of attention. 

The story opens from the perspective of a grandfather who relates his granddaughter's disaster, but quickly incorporates an irreverent humor into the piece in an exchange that teens and adults alike will find intriguing even as disaster unfolds: "911 Dispatcher: What’s the address of your emergency? Amanda (crying): Don’t you have GPS? 911 Dispatcher: Please give me your address. Amanda: I’m at the bottom of a fucking well! I don’t think they have addresses in wells. 911 Dispatcher: Are you in a safe location? Amanda: Hellooooooo! Bottom of a WELL.911 Dispatcher: Do you have injuries?Amanda: Do you think I could fall down a well and NOT have injuries? I’m not a cat." 

Ironically, it's not the emergency crew who arrive first on the scene. It's a national social media reporter from the new platform PingPong. And so the story evolves. 

Mark Schreiber's ability to capture a sense of whimsy and fun elevates Amanda's story as readers enjoy a wry tale narrated from a grandfather's perspective: "At the hospital they tripped over each other to photobomb her fifteen minutes/seconds/nanoseconds? of fame. Even the president couldn’t resist, Photoshopping himself with Amanda from her knees up with the captions: American wells are safe! And Drill deeper! Meanwhile my granddaughter, her left ankle in a cast and her right ankle in a brace, lay in a hospital room that was private in name only." 

Spoofs on not just political self-interests but social media focuses and self-centered actions that swirl around Amanda and her choices mark a tale that moves from Amanda's moment of fame and the good times it brings her, to new choices and decisions that affect her friendships and life perspectives. 

Schreiber's choice of presenting much of Amanda's experiences from the perspective of grandparents who go along on her journey is involving and especially fun as inter-generational interactions meld with modern-day social media woes and the pitfalls of fame. 

The wild ride through politics, hackers, lovers' quarrels, changing family relationships, and the decision to either fully embrace or lock out the world makes for a romp that is at once hilarious and thought-provoking. 

While directed to a teen audience, Amanda911 will appeal to adult readers, as well. Its rollicking, sassy tone and special brand of family and social engagement is refreshingly original in voice, playful and spunky in life approach, and powered by underlying realistic inspections of society and culture that will leave readers thinking and laughing. 

Amanda911 is highly recommended as a delectably unique read in a sea of the ordinary, standing out for its social inspections and relationship ironies alike. 


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The Amazing Bees
Co- Author: Yoel Silber
Author: The Amazing Bees 
Gatekeeper Press
$19.99 paper/$2.99 ebook 

The Amazing Bees blends a natural history appreciation of bees with the fantasy story of a hive of honey bees committed to rescuing their home with the aid of a little girl named Princess Debbee, princess of the honey bee hive. It uses gorgeous, colorful illustrations to reinforce a blend of fantasy and real bee facts in a lively format designed to engage all ages. 

What makes Princess Debbee different from others is her makeup: "A princess bee is just like any regular human girl, but with a dash of honey, sting and fight in her. The honey makes her sweet, her stinger helps her protect herself and the fight, well, that’s just something all girls seem to be born with, even bee girls." 

The bee facts enhance the engaging fictional interactions: "Princess Debbee shakes her little stinger in the direction of her brother and sticks her tongue out playfully. Prince Bob Bee looks back at his own bee-hind. There’s no stinger there. “Still hasn’t come in?” asks Princess Debbee. Boy bees actually don’t ever grow stingers. It’s because they don’t really need them for the work they do to support the hive." 

Far more depth and detail is imparted than one would expect from a fantasy adventure story: "Girl bees become drone bees in a typical honey bee colony, and it’s their job to help gather nectar, guard the honey, care for the queen and much, much more. Boy bees become drones, and their jobs are a little different. No matter what a bee’s job is, however, there’s a place for every single one in the hive." 

Kids will enjoy the fantasy that evolves, while read-aloud parents will find the action and detail lends to a story time spread out over several nights of interest and fun. 

As King Buzz, son Bob and daughter Debbee, and their hive face the Honeycomb Destroyer and other threats, young readers receive a vivid tale that teaches them about bee natural history in the course of imparting an underlying message about ecology, environmental awareness, and what it takes to keep nature (and bees) safe and functioning. 

Adults will want to use the underlying lessons of this story to teach kids about bees and review valuable insights on how humans interact with nature, and how their choices impact the planet. 

Far more than a fable or a natural history, The Amazing Bees embraces bigger-picture detail and thinking, providing more content and depth than most other children's books on the subject of bees. 

As an environmental awareness primer, the story will reach a wider age range than the usual picture book with its important message, couched in a lively anthropomorphic adventure story. 

1 epic tale + 10 free coloring pages = hours of family fun!  

The Amazing Bees

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A Bike for Buster
Junior and Reba McLaughlin
Blueberry Illustrations
978-0-578-88746-3         $11.95 

Farmer Bob is the ultimate recycler. He repurposes and finds a use for all the old things on his farm. In A Bike for Buster, he is tasked with helping Buster the horse join his beloved human friend Annabelle in her fun activities when she gets a new bike for her birthday and begins to leave him behind. 

But, how can a horse ride a bike? 

Annabelle's farmer father is a clever man, good with his hands. He builds something special, modified for Buster's horsy frame and needs. 

As Annabelle discovers opportunities to renew their connection through a shared effort to be inclusive, young readers receive a story spiced with bright, large-size illustrations throughout that bring Buster and Annabelle to life. 

Nothing is impossible with a little effort, and best friends should not be left behind in the pursuit of new adventures. These are the messages embedded in a whimsical story of a determined horse and his best friend, and are lessons that read-aloud parents and kids will find especially applicable to dilemmas faced during growing up, when new interests affect friendships with different opportunities. 

A Bike for Buster is a fine picture book read that teaches how to go the extra mile to support a friendship connection in the face of change. 

A Bike for Buster

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Black Hole Radio
Ann Birdgenaw
DartFrog Plus
978-1-953910-48-6         $7.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

Many elementary-grade readers love sci-fi tales of space, adventure, and black holes. Black Hole Radio is recommended reading for this audience, and opens with a first-person invitation that kids will find appealing: "Do you ever think about space travel? Alien encounters? Amazing adventures? If not, you should close this book now. OK, so you’re a believer. Then you just might be ready to hear what happened to me on the most intergalactic day of my life." 

Hawk (named after famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking) and his best friend Matt have their own club, the "Uranus is the Butt of the Solar System Club." Their secret space club is all about exploring strange new possibilities, from UFOs to the skies they view through Hawk's grandfather's old telescope. 

When a beeping noise in a box attracts them to what looks like a small radio, they are blasted into an alien place far from Earth. 

But, adventure doesn't feel as satisfying as they had imagined: "I feel like we’ve been transplanted into our favorite TV show. But it’s not as fun as I thought it would be." 

Black and white illustrations by E.M. Roberts pepper the story and add visual embellishments as the dynamic duo face a host of challenges from aliens such as Dweezil, and wormholes that take them on unexpected journeys. 

Kids who enjoy sci-fi adventures will relish the experiences of two boys who find that their heart's desire and fantasies about sci-fi are not just too real, but overly challenging as they face threats from scary, drooling alien monsters. 

Ann Birdgenaw's story offers fun action for 8- to 12-year-olds who dream of outer space, aliens, and being heroes. It's a fine leisure read designed to bring intrigue to all kinds of readers, and excels in capturing interest with a first-person piece that is vividly laced with nonstop action. 

Black Hole Radio

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Brielle's Birthday Ball
Once Upon a Dance
Once Upon a Dance, Publishers

‎978-1955555005            $7.48

Brielle's Birthday Ball presents picture book readers with inspirational stories of dance by ballerina Konora and others. It celebrates dance movements through the experiences of young Brielle, whose anticipation of her seventh birthday is accompanied by an outline of the steps to an "I'm excited" dance that illustrates, through small step-by-step photos of dancer Konora, bodily reactions to happy news and more. 

Each of Brielle's everyday experiences receives a translation into movement. For example, the story illustrates Brielle's unwrapping a special gift of a mysterious advance birthday package that lands outside her door, while Konora's dance translation invites kids to adopt responsive movements: "Pretend to unwrap the ball, then character switch-a-roo and pretend to be the ball. Onto the ground we go, and roll sideways. As the ball stops, find a moment of stillness and rest." 

In effect, Brielle's Birthday Ball is a bilingual presentation presented in two languages: that of a traditional story, and its counterpart in movement and exercise. 

Adults who work with the very young to read Brielle's discovery and adventure will find the link between dance and life experience to be unusual, accessible, and fun. 

Brielle's Birthday Ball is a great way of introducing kids to the world of dance while couching these movements into a broader journey of magic, dreams, and movement responses. 

Written by a mother/daughter team, Brielle's Birthday Ball is based on a grandmother's story and celebrates ballet by making young readers "dance partners" in the celebration of life. It is very highly recommended for anyone seeking to introduce ballet concepts at an earlier age, and more accessibly, than most picture books offer. 

Brielle's Birthday Ball

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The Clearing
Tom Deady
Vesuvian Books
978-1-64548-071-6         $15.95 Paper/$7.99 ebook 

Hannah Green’s dog Scout is the first to make the gruesome discovery of a body in the New Hampshire woods. This sets the stage for Hannah and her best friend Ashley to become sleuths, which they imagine will be intriguingly fun despite the seriousness of a decades-old body. 

Their pursuit of the truth opens the door for deadly consequences as they begin to uncover more mysteries in their small town, and come to realize they've placed themselves in danger. 

Tom Deady's story of growing small-town horror will attract fans who enjoy not just the evolving specter of a surprising threat, but the resourcefulness of two girls who never imagined their inspection of the past could result in a whirlwind of events that changes their present-day lives. 

Hannah's father has always warned her about the forest that surrounds their home and "goes almost to Canada," but he never imagined that when he reveals the truth, it represents only part of the bigger picture. 

As Hannah and Ashley face stories of alters and rituals, victims brought back from the dead with newfound youth, and her grandfather's friend Ezekiel Jacob Mather's revelation from an old woman that he's been "chosen to do good things," The Clearing becomes an entwined story of supernatural influences, courage, and challenged belief systems. 

Jacob's life purpose was altered and led him to work with the homeless. Only he has known the truth about what happened to his friend Sam Nichols (Sammy-Five) all those years ago when an incident in the same clearing changed them both. 

Hannah and Ashley's involvement opens a can of worms with a long history and an equally long life. Mature teens who choose this book will be enthralled by the duo's persistent effort to find lasting answers. 

Tom Deady excels in creating a history and mystery that is engaging, action-packed, yet firmly rooted in different personalities and the sources of their motivations. 

Teens who like the blend of mystery, thriller, and supernatural intrigue will relish a story that holds no clear path and many surprises along the way as the resourceful and determined friends pursue the truth. 

The juxtaposition of tough-girl Hannah and one who is vulnerable and frightened, and her dilemmas of trust as she works with her father and friend to survive and uncover difficult truths, is especially well done and helps drive the story line beyond the evolving horror theme. 

The Clearing's strong protagonists and their realistic concerns, beliefs, and choices creates a memorable and thoroughly engrossing read that is difficult to put down and impossible to predict—just the tickets for a superior horror novel which ends definitively, leaves the door open for more, and should ideally reach into adult horror reader circles, as well as mature teens. 

The Clearing

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Dragons Walk Among Us
Dan Rice
The Wild Rose Press
978-1509236558            $18.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook 

In Dragons Walk Among Us, amateur photographer and high schooler Allison Lee has made a name for herself with her art. But that hasn't helped her face down bully and fellow photographer Leslie, whom everyone seems to love.

Leslie is cruel, jealous, and prejudiced against Allison for many different reasons: “Your photograph is fake.” Leslie snarls. “Just like you. Fake. Fake like your hair. Ugly like your slanted eyes.” I freeze, the lukewarm water cascading over my hands. The words remind me of a fact I try to ignore. The reality that my face is a mixture of Asian and Caucasian features." 

Her defiance and good heart, as well as her talents, help Allison's high school reputation, and her path to success seems all but certain when she wins a big prize for her work. But when an attack by a stalker leaves her blind, Allison's world falls apart. 

Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to try an experimental procedure to restore sight which otherwise would be permanently lost? Even if there are side effects which, Allison discovers, reveal the presence of dragons amongst ordinary people. Dragons nobody else can see. 

Dan Rice's blend of fantasy with a teen's confrontation with many different elements affecting her life and the world makes for riveting reading. 

Even as she is victimized by prejudice and violence (both of which are appropriately described for teen audiences), Allison retains her spunky ability to not just survive, but adjust and thrive in new surroundings and even new realities. 

The focus on how she cultivates friendships, faces down enemies, and stays positive against all odds is exceptionally well done, as are the descriptions of Haji and Dalia, friends who join her in her quest to find out what the dragons are doing in their world. They support her in her efforts to adjust to her prosthetics and their strange powers. 

As Allison begins to interact with the dragons and comes to view them not as the enemy but as entities that hold their own personalities, interests, and objectives, Dragons Walk Among Us imparts further lessons on different kinds of prejudices and assumptions and the process of replacing knee-jerk, judgmental attitudes with understanding. 

As the story grows to embrace a threat to humanity itself, Allison turns out to be the only possible solution to a problem that most humans aren't even aware of. 

Rice's story embraces a very different girl's ultimate transformation as she comes to accept her differences, the gateway to Earth that introduces more changes into her world, and underlying messages of love and threat that keep her human and engaged in affecting the outcomes of everyone around her. 

While fantasy readers, especially those interested in dragon stories, may choose this book for its fantasy promise, it's important to note that the underlying themes that drive the plot make for a richer tale than one of adventure alone. It's an inspection of purpose, self, bullying, and growth surrounding a powerful character whose evolution changes everything around her. 

The story's fast pace, attention to strong characterization, and compelling elements of intrigue that reveal underlying mysteries and realities makes for a young adult read that is hard to put down. 

Dragons Walk Among Us

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Fight Like a Girl
Michael G. Lewis
Regal House Publishing

Fight Like a Girl is inspiring nonfiction reading for middle graders who are interested in histories and biographical sketches of women who have participated in combat over the years. 

Because many of these stories have been obscure and almost lost to history, Michael G. Lewis does a great service in revealing these lives and histories. 

He's selected only twenty-five women for profile here; but in reality, there are many more. Middle graders who delve into the tip of this iceberg will find vivid, revealing stories such as that of 1700s Deborah Sampson, who became a soldier in the Revolutionary War against the British; or female pirate Ching Shih, who commanded the largest pirate fleet in history and whose exploits grew from marrying into a position of power. 

Lewis's stories read with the drama and embellishments of fiction, making them accessible and lively for young audiences: "During negotiations with the Chinese emperor, Ching Shih was bargaining from a position of strength and both she and the emperor knew it. Her demands were extreme, but there wasn’t much the emperor could do about it." 

Intriguing, colorful illustrations by Hila Ronis open each story, with a peppering of black and white images included in each descriptive adventure. 

Fight Like a Girl is a fine survey of relatively unknown women whose efforts changed their world. It deserves to be in any middle grade collection seeking to put the roles and achievements of women in their proper place in history. 

Fight Like a Girl

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The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack
Jack Zarb Adami & David Bush
Independently Published
9798504793733             $21.31 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack is highly recommended for ages 7-10; especially readers who enjoy comics and superheroes. This audience will readily recognize themselves in the story's protagonist Jack, who confronts, chapter by chapter, thirty-five super-villain characters from the distant world of Freakyland who are seeking to integrate into the world, with their first stop off being Jacktown. 

As the stories evolve, it's evident that these aren't evil threats, but immigrants who each hold different abilities and who seek to integrate into their surroundings despite the prejudices of difficult new neighbors. 

How can eight-year-old Jack (a.k.a. Whizzojack, when he wears his superhero costume) make a difference in their lives? 

Colorful illustrations by a variety of contributors pepper the story and bring to life the encounters with such new arrivals as The Brain Man, who is "…too brainy for everyone else. No one could keep up with him. He said one thousand words at the same time. He did one thousand things in one moment. He seemed to be in one thousand places at the same time. Complaints about him were piling up fast." 

His impact on those around him is graphically portrayed, as is the prejudice which deems him a madman and seeks to lock him away: "He’s a tornado and I don’t want to end up in the Land of Oz.” Dorothy said. “He’s worse than that. He’s a hurricane and I must take my sleeping tablets. I don’t want to be swept off my feet,” Katrina the teacher complained. “I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to be pulled into a whirlwind I can’t escape from,” Willie Wong said. The editor of the Daily Speaker wrote, “It’s either him or us.” Mayor Boxall finally gave in to the popular opinion of the Jacktown residents. 

How can Whizzojack help? By undercovering the underlying talents that turn The Brain Man from an adversary into a superhero, himself. 

As each story unfolds, the roots of prejudice and redemption are revealed in delightfully original, compelling ways, driven by a young hero determined to do good by changing perspectives and making discoveries about these new arrivals and their potential contributions to Jacktown.

The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack is no light coverage of obvious prejudices, but delves into social and political pressures: "Mayor Pete was about to reluctantly expel the biscuit man from the city because of legal pressure from Simon S. Screamer. The biscuit man was the cause of this public health problem. The people of Jacktown did not want to lose him. The streets had a lovely smell that no other city had. My whizzo-sense reminded me that an election for the new mayor was coming up. I told my father to present a petition to keep the biscuit man in town." 

Whizzojack is charged with exploring a wide range of scenarios that present different obstacles to each immigrant to town. 

Can he make everyone happy? That is the question. There are no simple answers, but there are superheroes who can make a difference. 

The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack is an outstanding exploration of the roots of prejudice in underlying fears and attitudes. It is highly recommended reading, both as a leisure adventure story and as a deeper probe into how prejudice evolves, how people integrate and learn to get along, and situations which demand extraordinary perceptions and powers to resolve successfully.

Its messages about how to assist the disadvantaged as they integrate into society is well-done, involving, and thought-provoking, and will attract a wide age range. It also will serve as fodder for classroom discussion, demonstrating how 'freaky immigrants' can prove not to be super-villains because of their differences, but super-assets. 

The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack

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The Last Guardians
R.S. Veira
978-1-7369742-6-1         $14.99 Print/$7.99 ebook
Author Website:
Amazon link: 

The second edition of The Last Guardians is a fantasy story of war and peace that introduces Book One of the Tales of Aela series. 

The world of Aela is again facing war after a prolonged peace that has lasted almost a generation. But, this time, her savior Guardians have vanished, leaving the world vulnerable to disaster. 

Teen Reuel Haldane, who belongs to the Windwalker race, seems the least likely to prove a hero under such threat, but his recurring dream of the pale man with the dragon tattoo is one of the portents that he's to play more than a casual role in this latest evolving conflict. 

Reuel has faced loneliness and isolation since his family moved to the Kingdom of Ira, and believes that this and his nightmare are his major challenges in life. But when his recent birthday brings with it new abilities, he taps into his gifts, finding that they come with a price and a newfound mission. 

R.S. Veira pairs a coming of age fantasy with an adventure that teens will find compellingly realistic. Part of why this works especially well in The Last Guardians is that time is taken to explore Reuel's changing connections not just with his abilities, but his world. As he discovers that Eve shares his nightmare, and struggles to maintain the truth about his heritage and legacy even to Elon and new friends, Reuel begins to absorb new lessons about the world and his place in it. 

Veira clearly explains and explores all the facets that influence Reuel's newfound maturity and decision-making abilities: "Reuel couldn’t understand why he was drawn to Elon. They had only formally met moments ago. Yet he wanted to share everything with him. Reuel lacked the wisdom to put what he was feeling into words. The best he could come up with was that it was fate. He and this Grindbler were meant to meet at this moment. There was a bond here, deeper than anything he had ever experienced in his young life. It was more profound than the love he had even for his parents. It was a bond of obligation, of duty, of destiny." 

These lines between truth and lies, myth and reality, and the parallel processes of a Windwalker who is something more than his destiny predicts creates a powerful story that is compelling. The tale expands as Reuel forms many new connections and more characters join him. The Last Guardians evolves to become an excellent, unpredictable tale of evolution on social, political, and personal levels. 

Is the outcome of conflict predetermined even before an effort begins? 

Young adults will find The Last Guardians absorbing, and adults who enjoy solid fantasy tales of evolution, new beginnings, and phoenix-style recoveries from devastation will find the saga equally engrossing. 

The Last Guardians

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Mariposa, Where Did You Get Your Colors?
Virginia Padilla Vigil, PhD
Condor Publishing
978-1-931079-23-5       $24.95 

A lovely story evolves in Mariposa, Where Did You Get Your Colors?, which clearly and simply outlines butterfly Mariposa's challenge and her solution to the problem of feeling different and at odds with her black-and-white world. It imparts deeper messages about overcoming alienation, cultivating giving, and handling the good and bad aspects of being generous. 

Illustrator Nanibah Chacon, a noted muralist, does a superb job of capturing the nuances of a colorful butterfly that flits through her world in the picture book. Her simple, lovely drawings are perfect for a story which focuses on a little butterfly who stands out from the black and white world she flies through. This alienates her from others, and she doesn't feel a part of the world. 

When an astute trout asks about the origins of her colors, her wise grandmother states that they are a gift. How, then, can Mariposa use this gift wisely? 

Parental read-aloud assistance is recommended for the discussions which should follow this evocative story. Any who work with children will find this an absorbing, revealing, and thought-provoking story that holds a bigger message within a simple tale. 

Mariposa, Where Did You Get Your Colors?

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Norm & Ginger Enter the Hidden
Betty Fudge
Koehler Books

Hardcover: $28.95/Softcover: $16.95/Kindle: $7.99
Author website:

Fantasy readers ages 8-12 who look for stories about friendship, alliances, and adversity will find the first book in the series, Norm & Ginger Enter the Hidden, an adventure that grabs hold from the very first line: "When things go wrong, they go way wrong. That didn’t mean sixth-grader Becky Miller had to like it, but she did have to live with it. Later—and there’d be a lot of later, because that was how her life was about to reshape itself—she’d be able to think about all the things that had gone wrong. That wouldn’t make the result any better, wouldn’t even make it understandable. It would only clarify the picture. And her place in it." 

Eleven-year-old Becky and her family move into a remote Vermont farmhouse when her father loses his job. 

But under her bedroom floor lies a secret and a strange alternate world in which artifacts, powerful puppy Ginger, and a strange series of events challenge her already-altered life, filling it with threatening creatures and a new mission. 

Becky faces family changes, the arrival of Great Aunt Fiona from Scotland, and a strange dollhouse which holds the key to a life-changing experience. Readers will find Becky's adventure riveting, filled with many unpredictable twists and turns. 

An evil spell cast long ago involves Becky, Norm, guardian dog Ginger Miller, and others while Beira, the queen of deceit, trickery and confusion, challenges the few who hold the power to oppose her in The Hidden. 

The epic story that evolves is filled with action and excitement, with a dose of wry humor sprinkled in for good measure: "Pan looked stunned and then agitated. “I thought I was in the dollhouse to guard it and the magic it contains. Now I discover I was changed from a warrior king into this . . . this . . . this candyscented cotton ball with giant kangaroo legs. I am going to kill her!” 

Norm & Ginger Enter the Hidden is a vivid fantasy about friendships, alliances, mysteries and problem-solving that will intrigue and delight children looking for mystery and adventure. It's a captivating leisure read that leaves the door open for more. 

Norm & Ginger Enter the Hidden

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PNĔUMÄ – The Celestial Beings Trilogy 
Eli Liszt 
Independently Published
978-0-578-68056-9                $11.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Young adult fantasy readers will find PNĔUMÄ – The Celestial Beings Trilogy a fine story that began as a journal and dream and evolved into this tale. 

Magical realism drives the plot which involves young readers in the lives of Jovianus (a member of a tribe of aliens who coexist secretly alongside humans) and mortal Simone, who inadvertently and unexpectedly captures his heart.   

His charge to observe rather than be involved leads to a conundrum between the races as Jovianus stumbles upon both romance and a plot that could end it. 

Jovi has long acknowledged not just his heritage, but his future role as a leader: "I hate being in this predicament, where I must do what is asked of me, otherwise I risk being labeled as unadaptable. Against my will, I have acquired certain undesirable responsibilities that one day will hold me accountable for leading all five tribes. This prophecy was delivered unto my family by the tribe’s seer the moment I became of age. And once the divination is presented, there is no getting out of it unless the chosen has perished." 

As a blossoming romance brings with it a clash between moral human and immortal celestial beings, Eli Liszt provides a moving saga replete with satisfying revelations powered by the first-person narrator's growing insights about his changing role and unfamiliar emotions: "Her candid response only solidifies that our friendship is no longer harmless as we are drifting onto dangerous ground. I cannot allow myself to entertain these notions because it would be disastrous for us both. She is but a human. A mortal whose life is worthless and insignificant to our kind. And I am a celestial being. An eternal creature who has and continues to live among the human population in secrecy." 

Liszt's focus on these emotional shifts and the visions and prophecies that evolve from dreams to change both species creates a gripping story that presents the idea of how extraordinary beings evolve from unexpected circumstances. 

Attacks on humans are on the rise, a predatory creature is loose, and Freyja, the seer of the Nahanni tribe, is charged with clarifying rumors, addressing conflicts, and helping her community find the nuggets of truth that will guide their actions and choices. 

Is the culprit one of their own? Are formerly-strong alliances and pacts destined to fail, requiring new rules of engagement and connection? 

As these and other moral, ethical, and political issues evolve, young readers are drawn into the interactions between two disparate beings whose changing perceptions of reality and each other seem destined to change the world. 

Strong characterization, the evolution of a threat that at first feels personal and evolves to affect social and political circles, and the intrigue of a plot that challenges two disparate species and their peaceful coexistence contributes to a story that is a powerful examination of love, loyalty, and an infatuation that affects and directs a botched mission. 

Teens interested in fantasy romance and bigger pictures of interspecies history and interactions will find PNĔUMÄ a fine adventure, replete with many satisfying and thought-provoking twists. 

PNĔUMÄ – The Celestial Beings Trilogy 

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Sean Moses Is Martin Luther, The King Jr.
Moses D. Powe
Fatherless Fathers Publishing
$20.95 Hardcover/$17.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook 

Picture book readers ages 7-9 years old will find Sean Moses Is Martin Luther, The King Jr. provides a different take on the topic of Black history and biography. 

Sean Moses is asked to portray Martin Luther King Jr. for his school's Black History Month program. Excited, he rushes home and invites his parents to guess his new role in the school play. 

As they guess Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, or Marcus Garvey, each mention is accompanied by a brief biographical sketch and a quote from one of these great men. 

Black and white drawings illustrate each key figure and personalize their appearance and powerful standing in the community. 

Even when the parents' final guess proves right, young Sean corrects their language and their perception of the man's greatness: “Martin Luther King Jr.,” said his father. “No! Martin Luther, the king.” 

Based on a lively young man's real explanation of why Martin Luther King Jr. was truly royal and the impact he had on Black lives over the years, Sean Moses Is Martin Luther, The King Jr. employs a creative, lively, quirky, thought-provoking method of imparting biography and covering social issues and Black community concerns alike. 

More than just another coverage of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, this story explores, supports, and presents powerful Black figures in young peoples' lives. It is the perfect picture book read for adults looking to capture the excitement and greatness of Black people in history. 

Sean Moses Is Martin Luther, The King Jr.

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Shadows of War
Claire Youmans
American I Publishing
978-1-7339020-5-2         $16.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook 

The 8th book in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series for young adult to adult fantasy readers adds yet another adventure based on Japanese history and culture. Here, Azuki, a 'toki' human girl who is also a crested ibis, lives in 1877 Japan, where she has just fought for and won her biggest dream. Or, has she? 

Rebellion is threatening the Japanese Empire, and her toki-human abilities may be the only thing that holds her world together as Azuki finds new changes and old traditions clashing all around her, from her little brother's close-held and dangerous secret to a princess's desire to help her people despite her past failures. 

Readers who enjoy history, Japanese settings, and an added dash of fantasy and magical realism will find Claire Youmans cultivates a compelling atmosphere of fantasy based on real Japanese history of the Meiji era. No prior familiarity with either that history or the prior series books will be needed to become immersed in Azuki's latest challenges. 

Youmans provides descriptions, action, and conversations which embed setting and history into the unfolding events: “How did I do?” she called to her friend, Renko, an Asian Dragon Princess now in her alternate form as a blonde-haired European girl. Renko rode the Palomino, Kiku. She shivered despite her coat; it was cold. Kiku blew out steamy breath. As the filly had pointed out when the two had met, they matched." 

As Azuki confronts simmering underlying worries that spring to life during the course of yet another journey that charges her to change, various levels of Japanese culture and society are brought to life: "Lady Satsuki settled the musicians and they began to play. Japanese people had taken to Western music with a vengeance, and many had become accomplished musicians more quickly than anyone expected. Lord Eitaro and Lord Toshio came through the garden with another group of guests, including Yuta." 

As in the previous Toki-girl and Sparrow-boy adventures, Youmans crafts a powerful history-based fantasy atmosphere that will attract both fantasy readers and those interested in historical accounts. 

The blend is truly magical as Japan's Meiji Era (1868 to 1912) comes to life through Azuki's eyes and heart. As she finds herself confronting Yuta-sensei, uncle and guardian of the Toki-girl and the Sparrow-boy, and his warped vision of war and opportunity, Azuki finds herself confronting mentors and supporters as well as those forces that would twist their lives. 

It should be noted that this is the longest book of the series, yet. Young adults will find it and the peppering of black and white illustrations throughout a fine addition to the series that also holds the possibility of proving a satisfying, epic stand-alone read to newcomers. 

Shadows of War

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Spin a Circle
Raven Howell
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, Inc.
9781643720562             $17.99 Hardcover/$13.92 Paper 

Raven Howell works with artist/illustrator Ann Pilicer in Spin a Circle, a dyslexic-inclusive picture book rhyme that celebrates toddler play for preschool and elementary-age children. 

Colorful, action-oriented drawings of kids at play pair nicely with illustrations of humans, dogs, pigs, turtles, foxes, rabbits, and a wide range of animals that join together to celebrate movement and fun. 

Activities portrayed here range from reading and jumping to riding in Grandpa's wheelbarrow, finger painting, building with blocks, and more. 

As for the note that this book is 'dyslexic inclusive'—this translates to a format that is printed in a font that everyone can easily read—including people with dyslexia.  

The blend of lively action, positive celebrations of activities and movement, and opportunities for read-aloud adults to interact with the very young makes Spin a Circle an attractive choice for adults looking to work with young readers to connect the written word to fun and play. 

Spin a Circle

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Spooked By a Suspicion
Risa Nyman
Immortal Works LLC

9781953491213                  $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook 

Spooked By a Suspicion sounds like a cozy mystery, but will reach readers in middle grades with the first-person story of thirteen-year-old Rocky, who is shocked by the news that his mother is marrying her boyfriend Ted—a man he instinctively doesn't like. 

It's not like Rocky has had no warning: "...she did give me the talk about how she hoped to remarry someday, but I assumed someday meant four years from now, when I'm away in college. Rocky, you’re so clueless!" 

As Ted moves from being his mother's client to becoming part of their family, Rocky resists yet another change in his life, struggling with the notion that the man actually could be inherently evil. But, how can he prove this? 

Rocky plots with his girlfriend Olive to thwart this marriage idea, but only gets into more trouble when his own reputation is sullied. Now he has two problems: stopping his mother's marriage and clearing his name of unjust accusations. 

While these problems form the meat of the title, Risa Nyman injects insights about Rocky's self-esteem through his expressive frustrations over his ability to analyze, take action, and make the right decisions: "That piece of paper could've helped prove my innocence. Too late now. What a big fat stupid D.U.M.B.J.E.R.K. you are, Rocky." 

Young readers receive insights into both Rocky's struggles and his logic as he views changes in his life, building a growing investigative prowess as he tackles two conundrums simultaneously and manages to resolve them in unexpected ways. 

Any teen who has faced a parent's remarriage and questions about their identity and moral compass will readily relate to Rocky's situation. They will be intrigued by the mystery components as he unravels various truths about his peers and the adults around him, and will find Spooked By a Suspicion an involving story that excels in strong characterization, problem-solving approaches, and insights into clashing personalities as Rocky learns how family and friends are all unique in their own ways. 

Spooked By a Suspicion

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The Strider and the Regulus
Tricia D. Wagner
Independently Published
9798732815061             $2.99 ebook

The Strider and the Regulus pairs a fantasy with a treasure hunt adventure that swirls around thirteen-year-old Devonshire boy Swift, who searches for a famous pirate legend, the Star of Atlantis, with the aid of a map he's uncovered. 

One of the obstacles to locating this treasure is the stormy Celtic Sea he must traverse; but another obstacle lies closer to home in the form of well-meaning father Justus, who obstructs Swift's deepest dreams of adventure and fortune. 

His father just wants his son to hear and absorb his warnings, but Swift is convinced the man does not really hear or acknowledge his son's determined path. 

As it turns out, the son embodies the qualities he's accused his father of (ignoring his guardian's words of caution and their source), and is resolute about the mission that leads him away from home and into the heart of danger: "No Justus Talk was needed to get Swift where he needed to go. No pathway to medical school was necessary to satisfy his father’s ambitions. The moment the Regulus left the dock, Swift would be well on his way, trekking his very own pathway. He was older, taller, and stronger than he’d ever been. Surely, he’d quickly learn all there was to know about sailing." 

As Swift lives up to his name and his family legacy, young adults receive a fast-paced fantasy that will appeal not just on the adventure or fantasy levels, but in matters of the heart as the young struggle for independence and action in the face of parental restrictions. 

The very act of treasure hunting and searching for bigger dreams forces Swift to acknowledge truths that come not just from his father, but life experiences as he learns from others around him: “Treating it like a passing interest, or expecting success immediately isn’t going to cut it.” Caius straightened. “You have to learn to love the struggle itself, not just the win. You have to get really, really good at standing back up after you’ve been punched down.” 
“What are you talking about?” asked Swift. Caius reached down his hand. “Treasure hunting.”

Tricia D. Wagner's attention to pairing psychological struggle with the adventure of finding a promised treasure creates a story that pulls on the emotions of young readers as it satisfies their desire for action and adventure. 

Swift's coming of age begins to incorporate teachings and lessons in new ways specific to his dreams and desires, and young readers will relish the conflicts that sweep both Swift and the Strider into strange waters, indeed. 

Replete with superb action and interactions that lead to growth experiences on many levels, The Strider and the Regulus is recommended for preteens and teens who like their adventure paired with a healthy dose of growth and self-inspection. 

The Strider and the Regulus

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Time and the Tree
Róisín Sorahan
Adelaide Books
978-1-955196-63-5         $19.60 paperback; $7.99 ebook 

Time and the Tree is a novel of awakening and nature and follows a year of passing seasons after a child awakens within the embrace of a Tree, having slept for a very long time. One might think this event introduces the major character driving the story; but the forces that drive this story aren't human, but embrace Time's encounter with the Tree. 

When Time enters the picture, the peaceful world is changed not just by Time, but by Shadow and others who come to partake of the woods. It appears that the boy has been missing out on changes brought by Time's passage, though the offering is dubious: “Tell him what he is missing out on.” Time impatiently pointed at the creature. “Tell him now, Fool.” The Shadow raised its voice, reaching no more than a raspy whisper. “Seconds, minutes fill the hours, always running towards Tomorrow.” “And the rest,” prompted Time, who was nodding in mounting pleasure as the Shadow swayed weakly on its feet and intoned dry words. “A rush of time that kills all thought of can’t and care and clinging ties.” 

As Róisín Sorahan's ethereal novel evolves, Tree, Shadow, Weaver, Wanderer, and others interact to explore their gifts and consequences, with Tree overseeing the journey towards wisdom, redemption, and "mangled opportunities": "The Tree held the Weaver’s gaze, “You have taken your gifts and shaped them into knives with which you stab and peel your tortured mind. You need to heal these wounds before you start to poke at the hearts of others.” 

The world's capacity for beauty and pain alike are explored through the intersection of forces that appear to control it but, in reality, too often blow with the winds of change and opportunity to transform all. 

Readers who enjoy poetic imagery, thought-provoking philosophical and social inspections, and parables and fables will find Sorahan's world evocative and revealing as Tree imparts his wisdom: “It is easy to be a tree in the forest. Supplant it, and the sun may no longer dapple its leaves; electricity wires may rustle through its eaves; its roots may crackle along concrete paths; and noxious fumes may seep into its seams. Yet still it will reach for water and light. Birds will continue to nest in its branches. It will strive to grow and be what it is. Beyond the forest, it is still a tree." 

Time and the Tree explores matters of spirit, intention, kindness and how to live the time that is offered through a series of revelations that will often prompt readers to set aside the tale to consider their own relationships with time and life. 

As the seasons pass and the forest's initial harmony is disturbed, so the reader's heart is shaken and intrigued by the concepts reinforced by an old tree's relationship to a young child and the forces around it. 

Sorahan's story is especially recommended for mature readers who enjoy parable, fable, and wisdom tales. Her ability to bring to life some basic tenets of existence and the existential questions many come to feel during the course of a lifetime creates an insightful read on the level of The Velveteen Rabbit classic, where a seeming fable of nature and time evolves into insights on how to best live a life and accept its limitations and gifts. 

Those who enjoy evocative stories, compelling imagery, and philosophical and psychological insights will welcome the discussion that supports this fable of a child, a tree, time, and the knowledge that affects decisions and perceptions: “The knowledge that time will pass can inspire us to take control of our lives and value each passing moment. We can choose to live in the light, without regrets and without shackles, rulers of our own destinies.” 

Time and the Tree

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Turner Street: Where the Monsters in the Closet are Real
R.S. Veira
978-1-7369742-0-9         $11.99 print/$4.99 ebook
Author Website:
Amazon link:

The second edition of Turner Street: Where the Monsters in the Closet are Real represents the first book the Turner Street Chronicles trilogy and uses the two-hour reading format to craft high-interest tales especially intriguing to teens with short attention spans. 

The short story format is a particularly challenging one, for maintaining reader interest. The characterization, plot, and any elements of suspense or intrigue that are woven into an abbreviated format can easily go awry. The best of such collections don't just fit stories into a shorter form, but employ that structure to build fast-paced interest. 

R.S. Veira takes an additional step in providing a linked short story collection where the pieces share a common sense of place, yet build different scenarios, characters, and elements of surprise. An unusual series of events affecting the fine line between reality and fantasy impact Turner Street's residents and results in tales that are satisfyingly diverse, interlocking like pieces of a puzzle. 

Take "1428 Turner Street: Agent Jericho," for example. Jericho is charged with patrolling the house at 1428 Turner Street, keeping sleeping child Amelia safe. The previous protector, Special Agent Thomas Williams, died the night before, saving the child from a demon. 

Jericho is no ordinary agent of the IWPS. He's assumed the guise of a teddy bear to thwart these otherworldly attacks, and his best defense is a sword that seems unlikely to deter anything: "He continued shifting through the contents of his satchel until he came across his cardboard sword and scabbard. The sword was encrusted with a thick layer of applesauce and melted sugar, which happened to be a devastating combination when fighting the demons that hunted children." 

His last assignment to protect a child resulted in disaster. Can these trappings of fantasy protect his latest charge? 

As the truth about this invisible war emerges, readers receive delightful twists and turns of plot that center around a ordinary child's nightmare and an unusual defense system that is a night-long effort to thwart demons. 

"1632 Turner Street: Gary's Mess," in contrast, takes place over a period of four hours in which Gary, a stocky man with gray hair, is charged by the same IWPS to conduct a "wipe" on 1451 Turner Street. Only a month into the job, this is his third assignment involving cleaning up situations that might alert the human world to its invisible counterpart. 

As a cleaner, he's charged with removing evidence of this world from homes and reality...even if the gore and survivors have created a big mess. 

Humor, intrigue, suspense, and fantasy power each story and provide a different twist and angle on its outcome. 

Readers of all ages will find these tales especially astute in their ability to add another layer of inspection to the reality and fantasy worlds inhabited by Turner Street residents and their protectors. 

As children and adult characters are empowered to change their worlds and confront demons and their own powers, each tale becomes a fine inspection of children's fears, lives, and the undercurrents of possibility that lie close to their realities. 

All ages will find these diverse tales and protagonists to be quick, absorbing reads perfect for limited attention spans, action-oriented readers, and literary enthusiasts of the short story genre. 

Turner Street: Where the Monsters in the Closet are Real

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What's an Abortion, Anyway?
Carly Manes and Emulsify
Independently Published
978-0-578-89924-4                $15.00 

While many books have been written about abortion for teen to adult readers, it's unusual and notable that, finally, a picture book for younger readers explores this subject in a manner that is medically accurate, culturally inclusive, and politically astute. 

This simple reader is for any child who has heard the word or known someone who's had an abortion. It assumes that the young reader already has a working knowledge of basic reproduction and pregnancy. 

It's also gender-inclusive and works to challenge the social assumption that only white cisgender women have abortions. Thus, the illustrations depict people of all races, genders, and forms, mirroring the reality of modern society and those who seek abortions. 

From different methods for abortions, both surgical and pharmaceutical, to discussions of the reasons why people have them, What's an Abortion, Anyway? does a careful job of exploring the influences and perceptions involved in making such a decision. 

The picture book's underlying message is simple: "...everyone should be able to make this decision for themselves." 

The focus on how the community and friends can be supportive is also very nicely presented: "No matter how someone feels about their abortion, they deserve to be treated with love and respect." 

Illustrations by Emulsify support the coverage's messages and provide images that are inclusive, powerful representations of the broad spectrum of individuals affected by abortion decisions. 

No other children's picture book holds such an inclusive message and attention to exploring the emotional and relationship impact of abortion. 

This is a highly recommended acquisition for modern thinkers who want to promote both understanding and supportive relationship-building in young people.

What's an Abortion, Anyway?

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