Fantasy & Sci Fi

The Abduction
Danielle Kaheaku
Barking Deer Press
978-0-9994495-3-0         $2.99
Universal buy link: 

The Abduction's sci-fi alien romance is Book 1 in the 'Sa Tskir Brothers' chronicles. Other stories of alien abduction tend to feature older characters who are one day swept from their car rides or ordinary lives, but young Samantha is anything but singular. She's just inherited her father's farm, also discovered her long-time boyfriend is cheating on her, and she's ripe for change. That's why she's fleeing to Las Vegas, along with friend Carly, in search of romance and adventure. 

What she finds is not a flying saucer on a dark road, but a young alien also in search of something different in his life. Samantha is on her way to the stars and an alien world...but somehow this isn't as exciting as she might have pictured, either. 

After all, house arrest is house arrest, whether on Earth or another world. Love potentials with her abductor Krissik go awry when his wounded older brother enters the scene and a fiery response sparks between them. 

The sex scenes are steamy and descriptive, and will lure and delight women who choose this story for its special blend of romance, sex, and alien interactions. This is no staid abduction story, but a close examination of evolving relationships and new possibilities that also contain some classic confrontations between the sexes. 

As The Abduction unfolds, the usual desire to go home again is mixed with the knowledge that Samantha needs to kill in order to achieve her heart's desire. 

As Rikist involves her in a war that has injured him and changed his life, so Samantha finds an unexpected battle within herself over not just home turf, but love. 

Given the initial scenes of chaos and mass rape, it should be noted that even though a spark of spunk and fun runs through this tale, the sexual scenes are graphic. Readers who like their sexual description on the staid side should look elsewhere for their romance story titillations. 

Those who want a rollicking good romp through the sexual and emotional connections between alien and human will welcome The Abduction's unique brand of humor, action, and sexual and romance exploration, which introduces the series with a bang. 

The Abduction

Return to Index

The Ascendancy of Warriors
J.L. Nicely
Braintree Press
978-1-7321010-4-3         $14.99

The Ascendancy of Warriors is the third book in the Womara series. The story provides a focus on Seanna, a descendant of a clan of women warriors who confront and take charge of their world as she embodies an ancient prophecy that predicts that women warriors will rise again to define their legacy. 

Caught in the fray between prophecy and a reality that places Seanna at odds with her love and desires, she moves through a world where political associations rip at not just her life but the future of her clan. At the same time, characters are forced to contemplate the kinds of sacrifices that may last a lifetime. 

Women are strong warriors and empowered leaders in this story. The story will especially please those who look for compelling female forces that strive for equality and balance with their male counterparts. 

Readers are swept into an epic saga that requires no prior familiarity with the other books to prove compelling and understandable. The result is a gripping narrative covering exile, alliances, loss, and love in a vivid epic fantasy that brings women's struggles and strengths to the forefront against the backdrop of a world facing chaos. 

The Ascendancy of Warriors

Return to Index

Everyday Monsters
Christian Francis
Encyclopocalypse Publications
Independently Published
$12.99 Paperback/$0.99 Kindle/$19.95 Audible 

Everyday Monsters presents the first book in the Animus Chronicles and opens with an intriguing letter that serves as a captivating prologue—the writer needs a book and a head delivered. A head that isn't necessarily human. 

This neatly leads to the story of the letter's recipient, Jaden, who is meeting with a threatening man and his undead Golem henchman, having received the letter that apparently set up this bad situation. He's accepted payment for a job that he's already starting to regret. This is just the opening salvo in a series of dangerous encounters that use wry humor to offset serious murderous events: "Of course this would happen to Jaden. Of course this was the kind of job he was hired for. Typical. Fucking Typical." 

Jaden is a collector (nee: bounty hunter). His job has always been challenging, but now matters take a big step in an unfamiliar direction as his work for the Order, as a gruesome messenger, becomes a messy journey through death and danger that leads him to confront threats to reality itself. 

An undead man, a prophecy, and a mission that places Jaden in an impossible world-changing position leads readers into mental prisons, vivid descriptions of bloodletting and attacks, and Jaden's dreams of a vacation away from the nightmare that his life has become. 

Fantasy readers will find this story thoroughly engrossing as Jaden's quest and objectives vie with his inhuman status and objectives: "He hadn’t had a break in many years, so pondered what he would do. Maybe he would buy a big meal to regenerate totally (which would take a substantial amount of flesh to complete), then he would travel somewhere looking like a real human. Maybe Iceland? He’d always wanted to go there, see the fjords. See the northern lights. Wonder how much of a bonus I’ll get from this? he thought to himself." 

From the untapped power of the condemned dead to prophecies that dictate that Jaden can't escape his fate and job, readers will find this dark world captivating and engrossing. 

It will take a reader with a strong stomach to traverse the trail of gore and death that follows in Jaden's wake, but those who absorb such descriptions as part of a greater good will find this story marches through death and destruction with a special purpose. 

His past life a mystery, Jaden finds that solving some of this puzzle is intrinsic to understanding his revised role in this world, beyond his job as a deliverer. The ultimate answer will delight readers who won't see this coming, redefining the monster's presence in the world and in Jaden's own life and providing a fitting surprise conclusion. This solidly ties up the loose strings in the story while leaving the door open for more books in the series. 

Everyday Monsters is a captivating read that excels in unpredictable twists, strong characterization, and a plot that slowly reveals the real monsters in this world. Warning: they're not what the reader expects. 

Everyday Monsters

Return to Index

Preons: Alpha
Frederik T. Stevens
Independently Published
ASIN : B08HL7YPH2            $3.99 Kindle 

Military sci-fi readers who look for studies in courage, revenge, and conflict will find Preons: Alpha an engaging story. It tells of David, who moves from being a survivor to avenging the deaths of those he loved. When his course of vengeance takes an unexpected turn, readers will be delighted and surprised by the foray into unanticipated waters that lends Preons: Alpha its momentum and force. 

It's been seven years since Earth was attacked and Emily and Christian were murdered. Seven years during which David not only survives, but is now working with an alien creature, Rohu, to undergo a transformation that will turn him into a more effective killing machine. 

A wider-reaching mission with a bigger battle structure draws David from his set course and sends him out into the universe, where he learns new lessons that augment and refute the teachings of his cruel instructor, offering a different approach to a new life, instead. 

As his search moves from his fixation on Xalapaz to finding a new way to avenge his friends, readers receive a profile in transformation that moves beyond the cruel approach originally encouraged by the creature and into a more reasoned realm. 

And then there is the alien princess, Hanla. She is being groomed to be the outstanding ruler of a conquered planet, but her role as future queen involves a puzzling new alliance that belays her peoples' independence and thrusts her into the role of reconsidering the DNA-changing serum that enhances the humans. 

Political alliances shift, alien and human relationships evolve to a different level, and personal change and interpersonal encounters affect peoples and races alike as Preons: Alpha broadens its scope to a universe-changing effort on the part of more than one character. 

Readers used to the battle clashes of the military sci-fi genre will find plenty of action here—but it's tempered with an attention to the details of racial strife and enlightenment that begin with several main characters and move into wider circles. 

The result is a thoroughly engrossing read that takes the usual confrontational trappings of military sci-fi and expands them into new universes. The result is a riveting story of change powered by androids, humans, robots, and opposing forces both internal and external that struggle for a new kind of control. 

Military sci-fi readers will find Preons: Alpha satisfying both for its cultural and its physical clashes. 

Preons: Alpha

Return to Index

The Remaining
Danielle Kaheaku
Barking Deer Press
978-0-9994495-8-5         $2.99
Universal buy link: 

The Remaining is the third book in the 'Sa Tskir Brothers' series and follows Samantha's life on Earth, where the Sa Tskir brothers are still part of her world. One is her mate. The other has chosen her best friend, Carly. They live on the ranch she's inherited, but all is not peaceful for any of them. 

From conspiracies and government secrets to war that pulls the brothers in different directions and challenges a pregnant Samantha, The Remaining draws together the prior events in the books to provide an outstanding special blend of romance, battle, and changing interpersonal and political relationships. 

From poppy-spiced tea that proves addictive to Samantha's ongoing battles with Rikist, demons hide behind armor and pregnancy alike, forcing the brothers and their loved ones to face a rising resistance movement and military attacks. 

Will Samantha and Rikist Sa Tskir's love endure? And what will happen when her unborn becomes part of the horror that threatens her life? 

Familiarity with the prior books in the series, the haunting The Abduction and Carly's changing world and place in it in The Keeping, will lend to a better appreciation of the events in The Remaining. 

Armed with the knowledge of how Samantha's relationship evolved with these two brothers and how Carly found her own role and place in this alien-infused new world, prior enthusiasts are in the perfect position to appreciate the confrontations and outcomes explored in The Remaining. Especially notable are its themes of abandonment, life change, and choices that arrive with commitment and job requirements alike. 

Romance readers will find the contemporary characters, their evolving struggles over home life and duty, and their complex interrelationships to be sexy, involving, and packed with realistic commentary on contemporary life. 

It's the perfect romance alien read for readers who like steamy scenes juxtaposed with serious inspections of life-altering moments. Between the strength of the original premise, its expansion in this third book in the trilogy, and the heart-pounding adventure that pairs a steamy, sexually driven romance with alien confrontations, The Remaining will cross genres to attract romance, thriller, and sci-fi readers alike. 

The Remaining

Return to Index

The Sa Tskir Chronicles Books 1-3 Collection
Danielle Kaheaku
Barking Deer Press
978-0-9994495-7-8         $8.99
Universal buy link: 

Because the Sa Tskir Chronicles is best read as a series rather than pieces, the box set of the first three books should be considered a requirement rather than a suggestion, presenting the series in a convenient, attractive package that makes for uninterrupted reading for newcomers and a keepsake edition for prior fans. 

Danielle Kaheaku's box set option places all the books in a convenient place at an attractive price that lends to gift-giving. The real bargain lies in the ability to present an uninterrupted package of events to newcomers to the books. 

It should be mentioned that these aren't the only books in the Sa Tskir brothers adventures. But their focus on abduction and the clash between two very different cultures, and the romance that evolves from this, is nicely done, and the books weave into one another, continuing the saga in a seamless manner. 

The Abduction opens the series with a high-octane scenario in which a captured human becomes involved with an alien lover. Young woman Samantha is ripe for love, but she never expected her romance to assume extraterrestrial proportions. 

The steamy romance intersects with fast-paced human/alien confrontations in a satisfying manner that will especially intrigue romance genre readers with a taste of something new. 

The Keeping keeps the focus on Carly's love and relationship, adding intrigue into the picture as she faces political and social conundrums stemming from her evolving relationship with an alien: "Earth is too small. But Earth no know that, so Earth is afraid and lets my world do as wants.” He looked at her, the earnestness in his voice almost frightening. “Do you understand?” 

The Remaining integrates the first two books, rejoins Carly and Samantha and their chosen ones, and expands the premise of alien interactions with Earth in a satisfyingly gripping crescendo of events and threads created in the first two books. 

Holiday shoppers looking for romance/alien blends will find this box set an appropriate, compelling gift indeed. 

The Sa Tskir Chronicles Books 1-3 Collection

Return to Index

Singularity to Humanity
Daniel R Scott
Clipper Implants Press
978-1-7340507-2-1         $16.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle 

Book 2 of the Humanity Transformed series, Singularity to Humanity, expands the story of a human race buffeted by the double-sided threat of bioengineering and AI development, returning the Cameron twins to the spotlight as they struggle to assure humanity's survival in a story that was introduced in Great Dieback to Singularity. 

This sequel opens in India, where Yasmeen Khan has left the University of Wisconsin when her PhD program is put on hold to return to a land replete with strife and struggle. 

The introduction and editors' notes section that follow Yasmeen's appearance might best be placed first, because it sets the stage and introduces the basic foundations of a compelling story that takes place between 2067 through 2076, synthesizing background from the first book and helping newcomers understand Yasmeen's world and its challenges. The color maps of the 'Great Melts' and the character list in this section might neatly set the stage for a more immediate understanding of setting and events, although beginning with Yasmeen's journey does inject a level of emotional attachment before these facts are revealed. 

As chapters move into scenarios in which the AI known as Bold Beaver and other characters (both human, enhanced, and non-human) come into play, Yasmeen's world is again challenged by forces that would not just eliminate humanity, but alter its psyche. 

Cultural interactions between different peoples and perspectives are very nicely presented as the tale evolves: "Addison said, "My sister works to bend nature to her will as did your ancestors, while I work with systems to store and communicate that work much as the Inka systems did. Our grandparents were farmers, on a small holding, close to the earth. I think I would find beauty in the same parts of your culture as you have." 

It should be mentioned that Singularity to Humanity is a work of hard sci-fi and social examination. Readers with an affinity for technological and sociological works will find its action, challenges, and characters particularly intriguing. 

It should also be noted that the timeline of events shifts back and forth. Chapter headings clearly delineating time and place assure that readers easily follow these jumps as various factions interact in the course of the singularity's rise. 

The result is a thoroughly engrossing book that should ideally be followed by readers who have enjoyed the prior Great Dieback to Singularity. This audience will find the sequel an exciting enlargement of the issues and many of the characters in the first book, walking humanity through loss and transformation as individuals face evolving love and new possibilities for their uncertain futures. 

Singularity to Humanity

Return to Index

Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation
Steven L Masia
Independently Published
ASIN : B08HX5TBYC            $3.50 Kindle 

Six universes and several books ago, a self-aware universe was created. When it recognized the inevitable results of its own entropy, this entity created intelligent beings that would manipulate space and time to find a solution to the challenge of death. These first humans evolved to become feared as demons. The Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation follows their ongoing impact as wizards, fairies, and other forces that feed off pain confront those who that would defeat and defy them. 

Familiarity with Steven L Masia's prior Uwe universe books and their premises will lend to a smoother transition to this latest adventure. Those with such a background will find the same attention to adventure, action, detail, and clashing forces as in the other books, with more added purpose over fate, fortune, and Uwe's magical efforts to aid his children. 

The descriptions, confrontations, and settings are very nicely done, with dialogue reinforcing these worlds, how they came to be, and Uwe's decision-making process: "I would like to explore the new world, AWA, created by the dwarves' workings and you to create a stable universe. The world is an unexpected outcome of stabilization. Stray magic from your work has led to the creation of this world. It is strife with itself, storms of shifting magic rage across its landscape. I would like to explore this world and try to tame it. I would request a legion of knights and a legion of dragons combined with wyrens for such a task since they would be most suitable for facing such a world's dangers. I would request the mail shirt of life since the dangers I encounter would surly place my life in danger." 

From those who show uncommon and dangerous sympathy for lesser beings who are slated only as food for others to demon princesses and complicated power struggles, Evilore Uttera's struggle with her own body (which attempts to betray her amidst battle), and the struggle for peace between humans and demons, Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation is filled with engrossing maelstroms created by a magic-eating vacuum. 

Fans of the prior Uwe universe will find much to like in this vivid, continuing fantasy saga which is replete with sexual encounters, emotional connections, good versus evil, and the struggles that define them all. 

Trials of Uwe: The Next Generation

Return to Index

Wolf Time
Barbara J. Moritsch
Bear Clover Books
9780997986204             $16.95 

Wolf Time is a lovely blend of fact and fantasy. It presents a visionary fiction piece revolving around wildlife biologist Sage McAllister, who finds two wolves on her doorstep, discovering that she can telepathically communicate with them to learn their story. 

Charged with narrating this tale, Sage finds herself embarking on an extraordinary journey herself, shapeshifting to become one of them and seeing the world through their eyes. 

Barbara J. Moritsch takes the time to explain that scientist Sage has a prior affinity for new age concepts, which does a fine job of acknowledging that she is already open to experiences that the usual scientist might eschew: "I must tell you it was my habit to talk to animals. I’d done so all my life, but after Adam introduced me to Mary Beth Adelson a year earlier, I’d become a student of shamanism and animal communication. Much of the practice involved learning how to “talk” to animals, plants, and other nature spirits." 

This background and her standing between science and spirituality presents the perfect platform for absorbing the wolves' message and accepting the unique lessons and journey they offer. This draws on her scientific bent, as well, for a complete understanding of the ecological dilemmas they raise by their unusual presence on her porch at this point in time, when wolves are all but extinct in California. 

Ideally, readers will also have such a blended background, because the story moves from science facts to time travel and beyond in the course of Sage's extraordinary transformation. 

What she learns about Wolf Time, the Council, and Links is not easily transmitted to more skeptical humans, as she finds when she attempts to confide in Adam, her semi-beau. 

As real-world issues of wildlife management issues intersect with Sage's wolf-generated lessons, readers receive a moving story that considers not only threats to wolves, but the discoveries that wolves Issa and Tisha make about Adam's real nature. 

Perhaps the most moving parts of the story lie not in Sage's realizations, but in the wolves' assessment of human impacts on the planet and what must be done to open their eyes: "In response to what we understand is a difficult time for humans on Earth, select members of the Animal Network as well as members of various elemental networks, like the Fire and Water networks, are becoming more vocal, and more visible, to try to show humans that there are other ways to live. It’s time for humans to take a huge step forward in their evolution, and one of the first tasks at hand is to develop reverence for all the other-than-human beings on the planet—the other animals, the plants, the rocks, the rivers and lakes as well as the objects you craft from these entities in order to survive." 

The wolves think it's time for humans to "re-learn to honor the Earth." Wolf Time explores many themes intrinsic to these lessons as wolves and humans begin to understand each other in new ways. It is especially recommended reading for fiction enthusiasts who enjoy rare blends of science, fantasy, and new age thinking. 

Wolf Time

Return to Index

Biography & Autobiography

Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor: A Memoir
Michael F Myers, MD
Independently Published
979-8663704809            $14.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor: A Memoir provides both a psychiatrist's memoir of his entry into the profession and an unusual focus as he specializes in providing mental health services to physicians. 

This note is essential to understanding the importance of this memoir. The book goes beyond a personal career's evolution to delve into the mental health, career challenges, and social milieu particular to physicians. Considering these influences and facets within the mental health field gives readers the rare opportunity to understand how physician mental health affects their jobs, perspectives, attitudes, and abilities. 

Dr. Michael F. Myers moves through his early years of clinical practice, how he developed a focus on writing about and treating fellow doctors, and his struggles to evolve both his own career and overall physician wellness programs. 

As he traces the process of becoming a doctor to other doctors, his story embraces and reveals all kinds of special challenges unique to the medical community, illuminating them for physician and non-physician audiences interested in how mental health processes work in professional circles. 

The memoir thus moves from being a personal story to a broader probe of the medical community's mental wellness, offering insights into the political and business structure of medical facilities as a whole as Dr. Myers moves from clinical practice to overseeing programs and organizations that work with physicians. 

From his blossoming career and international presentations to the case history experiences which drive his efforts to foster better doctor care, Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor will prove eye-opening not just to physicians, but to those outside the medical community who may not be privy to details about changing resources or special challenges facing the medical community's mental health. 

Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor is highly recommended as an astute probe of the medical community's ability to care for its own. No medical collection should be without this hard-hitting book. 

Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor: A Memoir

Return to Index

Trying to Walk Like a Man
Christopher Wiehl with John Turner
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-68419-837-5         $24.95 

Trying To Walk Like A Man: The Chris Wiehl Playbook does more than provide the autobiography of a noted actor. It traces his special challenges when doctors discover a brain tumor next to the auditory nerve in his ear, changing the successful trajectory of his career and life. 

This life playbook could just as easily have been named 'How I Continued Living', because it charts a relentless course from achievement and fame to confronting a life-threatening cancer that forces Chris Wiehl to reinvent his life. 

Many books speak about surviving cancer, but Chris Wiehl went on to thrive, expanding his acting horizons into writing and producing movies. He offers his personal journey through pain and suffering and out the other side of these experiences into a different, equally satisfying life. 

Readers needn't be familiar with Chris Wiehl in order to enjoy his story. It provides all the foundations for understanding his life and its influences, beginning with his childhood experiences and moving through his career, his diagnosis, his battles, and his achievements. 

Indeed, half the book covers these roots—everything from an uncertain marriage to the evolution of career and life purpose—before it moves to the medical diagnosis that changed almost everything. 

The surgery he had challenged his sense of balance not just for the projected 48 hours afterwards, but for some time to come. It also changed his feeling about himself, his abilities, and his future. 

From his spiritual strengthening to the help of friends and family who saw that he got back on his feet and resumed his relationship not just with God, but with life, this account offers many insights into the survival process on many different levels. 

Readers both new to this actor and familiar with his achievements will find his playbook of life a riveting read. It features many insights and examples suitable for anyone facing a life-changing condition, who looks for insights on how to get through and past it. 

Trying To Walk Like A Man is an involving read powered not just by medical explorations, but one man's ability to recover and embrace life's newfound possibilities. It is highly recommended reading for those seek inspiration. 

Trying to Walk Like a Man

Return to Index

Mystery & Thrillers

Code: Deep Blue
Robert J. Stava
Severed Press
ASIN: B08J5PKL3M             $2.99 Kindle

Montauk, Long Island; Naval Lieutenant Vanek; and the crew of the U.S.S. Exeter featured in the book Neptune's Reckoning are again the focus in Code: Deep Blue, a prequel that should ideally precede one's reading of Neptune's Reckoning. Vanek's journey begins here as he becomes involved in testing the experimental technology unearthed in the previous story. 

Set in 1943, this follows an effort to get a handle on a dangerous device that could change the outcome of the war. More than a World War II adventure, this adds the focus of a commander whose proclivity for breaking rules and regulations leads to a strange experiment in which he and his aging ship will prove expendable if they fail their mission. 

His drive to understand mysteries has led him to this point in time in which a cloaking device could change the outcome of not just the war, but the world. And yet, Vanek uncovers more strange references in naval history which seem farfetched, including a crew that appears to have been rotting underwater for centuries, though they are indeed alive as specters of horror. 

Clashes between U-boats, Destroyers, and science permeate an adventure story nicely steeped in naval battles and horror alike. 

Readers who like satisfying blends of horror and thriller will find an absorbing blend of cat-and-mouse games and discoveries in Code: Deep Blue as Lt. Vanek exposes hidden truths, strange new inventions and threats, and disturbing reports not just about his mission, but his role in it. 

When he realizes that his doomed mission may not only have been a possibility, but was anticipated—and that not one but two new technologies are spiraling out of control—Vanek finds himself the pivot point in a dangerous situation that pits him against his own military best interests. 

The action is vivid, the discoveries satisfyingly surprising, and the scientific and military exposés engrossing as the story moves from a new assignment to an unpredictable threat and questions about who would knowingly send Vanek into a deadly state of affairs. 

As Code: Deep Blue evolves, its mystery spirals into realms of horror and intrigue. Those who like vivid stories of high technology, horror, military conundrums, and individual struggles to reveal the truth will find Code: Deep Blue a powerful story that should ideally be read prior to and in conjunction with Neptune's Reckoning. Together these two books make a powerful force, indeed. 

Code: Deep Blue

Return to Index

Drowning in Lies
Ann Eichenmuller
High Tide Publications, Inc.
978-1-945990-38-0     $15.99 paperback/$4.99 Kindle 

"Living on a sailboat changes you...but it is not real life." This introduction to the latest Josh and Sandi murder mystery follows the prologue of a murder scene and is in stark contrast to the explosive violence that opens the saga. 

Readers will find this contrast between high-octane danger and a life sailing relatively smooth waters exciting and involving as Josh and his fiancée Sandi are drawn into their latest high-drama crime scene. 

Josh and Sandi look forward to the next leg of their cruise, venturing into the Atlantic, but land issues draw them into deeper and more deadly waters when an explosion in a community center lands them smack in the middle of their latest murder mystery. 

In a flash, everything changes, and Sandi Beck is thrown into a desperate search through the Latino neighborhood to find answers to the violence that has injured her love and ignited a violent community response. 

The undercurrent of interpersonal angst that grows from Josh's newfound friendship with the young woman he's rescued and Sandi's association with Detective Ramirez as she works with him to solve the crime is a nice touch to the mystery. This is part of what elevates it from a simple whodunit to a more complex exploration of the underlying motivations and feelings of perp and investigators alike. 

Ann Eichenmuller's ability to weave these two threads together to create a compelling story focuses as much upon an evolving relationship as it does on the possibility of a dangerous serial killer on the loose. As the story evolves, it turns out there's an underlying plot where murder is only a piece of the puzzle...a threat that involves children. 

As more girls of color became targets and victims are added to the tally, Sandi is charged with multiple tasks, from finding a dangerous killer before a community blows up to accepting the past and future influences on her relationship with Josh that keep their lives in flux. Josh is soon working at her side again, but much as she longs for a more peaceful life and a quieter home, circumstances place them at the focal point of a demanding investigation. 

As Josh recovers and wedding plans evolve along with murder probes, readers receive a satisfying juxtaposition of life that moves forward both within and outside of the job. 

The fourth book in the Lies series is designed as a stand-alone read, so whether or not the reader has digested The Lies Beneath and the others, this addition won't disappoint, and is easy to absorb. 

The result is a murder mystery filled with the twists and turns of life circumstance that make for a realistic, engrossing life study. Murder mystery readers in general and especially those involved with Sandi Beck and Josh's other cases will find Drowning in Lies a fine series addition as well as a powerful standalone story that invites newcomers to partake of Sandi's previous adventures. 

Drowning in Lies

Return to Index

Hidden Intentions
Alan Behr
Black Opal Books

9781644372845             $14.49

When 13-year-old Cailey Marshall accepted a dare to enter a haunted house, she didn't expect to be kidnapped and held for ransom by non-ghosts. Hidden Intentions follows the dilemma posed to her father, Barry, who is forced to choose between his daughter's life and killing his brother, the price demanded by her kidnappers. It's a riveting conundrum that keeps father and daughter on their toes as each struggle to survive and make the best decisions under impossible circumstances. 

The point of view moves between Cailey's experiences to those of her father, switching chapters in a clear manner that is identified in chapter headings, so readers always know who is 'speaking'. 

"Parents are always saying what they’ll do to keep their child safe. What are you willing to do, professor?” 

The perp in this case is sadistic, cruel, and will stop at nothing to force Barry to make impossible decisions that go against everything he believes in. The psychological tension and dark threat creates a powerful interplay between characters which is remarkable because Alan Behr takes the time to explore all the emotions, motivations, and thoughts and perceptions of both victims and perps alike. These reflections drive the action, logic, and changing scenarios of threat, juxtaposing emotion with atmosphere in a compelling manner that brings the story to life: "I didn’t dare go near the windows. Not now. Not again. Escape was out of the question. He’d would hurt Mom and Dad. Only thing left to do was sit or lay on the cot. Seated on the edge, I watched a fly circle around the lightbulb then land on the ceiling. It stayed there a while then flew around the lightbulb again. After a while, it landed on a board covering the far window. It crawled behind it and disappeared." 

Another pleasure of Hidden Intentions is that it doesn't evolve in a predictable direction. Readers are kept on their toes as the story forges ahead with revelations and changes made on all sides in a cat-and-mouse game of demands, death threats, and murky intentions that are so well-hidden, even the characters don't always acknowledge them. 

As the story evolves into a social dilemma that involves Cailey and her father in a world neither had known about, readers are both educated and entertained by a thriller that holds the ability to power its action through a blend of deep psychological inspection and fine suspense. 

Hidden Intentions is a riveting saga that crafts heroines and heroes who are believable, ordinary people tested to the limits of their abilities to survive. Its mercurial, changing story will especially delight readers who look for the unexpected and twists of plot they didn't see coming, and is especially highly recommended for seasoned thriller readers who like blends of suspense and psychological inspection. 

Hidden Intentions

Return to Index

Lethal Voyage
Kevin G. Chapman
Independently Published
ASIN : B08HSW1HPD          $2.99 Kindle 

Lethal Voyage is a thriller that revolves around NYPD homicide detective Mike Stoneman and medical examiner Michelle McNeill, who can't seem to catch a break away from their duties even when they attempt to take a relaxing cruise. 

The ship's security is supposed to be in charge when a passenger is found dead, but Michelle's more savvy nose for trouble indicates that this is a murder with nefarious undertones, and her persistence places her on the radar of a dangerous killer who is along for the voyage. 

It's up to Mike to enter the fray and keep her safe, even if it means setting aside the concept of relaxation in favor of another problem-solving team effort. 

No prior familiarity with the feisty team or their appearance in the prior Mike Stoneman book is necessary in order to appreciate the tense standoffs Kevin G. Chapman employs in Lethal Voyage. 

The story opens with the bang of a murder scene set in 2018 in North Carolina which sets the stage for events to come. It should be cautioned that the murders it introduces are graphically portrayed—not unduly, but more so than many a murder mystery thriller. Readers who wish to dance over blood and gore for a more casual treatment of violence might wish to skim over these passages or look elsewhere. But it would be a shame if they did, because what evolves from this introductory scene is compelling and thoroughly engrossing reading. 

The reader doesn't just get to know Michelle and Mike better. A host of characters enter the picture; all of whom have different perceptions of what they wish to get out of the cruise. Many of them bring their problems along for the voyage: "Rachel stepped forward and handed Shirley a tissue. “If you’re not happy being with Max, why don’t you just divorce him? Life’s too short to be unhappy in a relationship.” Shirley’s face softened. “Thanks, Sweetie. I love how you still think marriage is romantic. I’ve gotten over that. I’d throw the bum out but I have a pre-nup to make sure he can’t take my money if he dumps me. If I divorce him, he gets a pretty big payment. I don’t want to give him the money, so I’m waiting for him to divorce me, or die of a heart attack. Unless I throw him overboard first.” “Be careful saying things like that,” Michelle said. “You never know who might take it the wrong way.” 

Other conundrums evolve beyond just staying alive and locating the perp, including maintaining the illusion of a pleasant voyage for the rest of the passengers: "Mike had to admire what a tight operation it had been. None of the passengers would know that a bloody murder had just happened – unless somebody from the security team spilled the beans. Or, unless Mike, Michelle, Jason, or Rachel said something." 

Kevin G. Chapman is a master at crafting absorbing scenes with satisfying twists and turns that keep readers guessing. Those who choose this thriller for its compelling characters and setting won't be disappointed. 

Lethal Voyage

Return to Index

Make It Right
Willie Mae Jackson, MD, MA
Publisher: Willie Mae Jackson, MD, MA
Paperback: $14.95; e-book: $3.99 

Chicago-based forensic psychiatrist Donovan Montgomery is an African-American woman whose area of expertise has helped solve major crimes. Her testimony is sought in trials and her books about the psychopathology of murderers, as well as her ability to build their profiles, are avidly followed by law enforcement professionals. 

But Donovan is changing. She is turning into something she has no control over: a vigilante killer charged with balancing the books whenever she sees there's a catastrophic brewing in the justice system. Make It Right is thoroughly absorbing because Donovan's mental struggles with good and evil provide no clear black and white definitions of perps and good people, but skates the thin gray line between them. 

When trapped in a mass shooting that kills innocent peers and places her own life in jeopardy, Donovan's hardwiring allows her to act decisively and rationally, both during the crisis and in its aftermath: "Donovan remained collected and discerning in sharing her opinions about shooter versus shooters, the logical vantage point (or points) of the attack, and possible motivation. She was no one’s fool and could not be bullied by the press for statements, no matter how respectful and professional the interrogation." 

Her life isn't just about justice and the redemption of criminals or murderers, however. Themes of racism and patriotism pervade this story, and Donovan's confrontations, decisions, and how she navigates the legal, political, and criminal justice bureaucracies are fascinating to watch as she struggles to right obvious wrongs and tackle injustice. 

These themes are actually as much the heart of the story as is Donovan's own psychological metamorphosis. The plot's twists and turns ultimately lead the psychiatrist to justify the very actions she herself commits—actions that she would condemn (and treat) in others. 

There are many intriguing subplots and engaging elements throughout this thriller, including a kinky relationship with lover Tom Karp (and his richly described opulent lifestyle) along with her discovery of his sketchy extracurricular activities (and her determination to personally right this wrong, too). 

Donovan is a strong, likeable, achievement-oriented woman whose values and viewpoints are constantly tested. As the plot evolves, readers too, may find their own ideals, concepts of justice, and moral insights on trial. When the justice system is perceived to be falling apart, who will step up to glue it back together? This book provides an answer—Donovan Montgomery, that's who. 

Author Dr. Willie Mae Jackson provides a gripping, realistic story which goes far beyond the usual mystery or psychological thriller. While riddles, suspense, and mind games flavor the overall tale, it's the social issues which cement both Donovan's life and the plot. 

The end result is a powerful novel that will resonate especially well with readers who like their books authentic, exciting, unpredictable, and imbued with a respectful nod to the challenges this nation faces every day. 

Make It Right

Return to Index

Murder in First Position        
Lori Robbins

Level Best Books
Print: 978-1-947915-74-9              $16.95
Ebook: 978-1-947915-75-6           $  5.99 

Murder in First Position will especially please readers who harbor dance-based backrounds. Ballerina Leah Siderova becomes the prime suspect in a murder when her rival, Arianna Bonneville, is stabbed. 

She not only found the body, but stands to benefit from the elimination of her competition. However, she is innocent. In order to save her career and clear her name, Leah must assume to guise of an investigator and solve Arianna's murder. 

All she's ever cared about was ballet, but now Leah must expand her sights into a bigger world that she knows relatively little about. 

The world of ballet competition and talent is revealed in the course of a story that operates on two levels: through Leah's blossoming skills as a problem-solver, and her inherent determination to win which translates unexpectedly smoothly from the ballet world to that of criminal justice. 

The politics of the dance world often collide with her questions and probes and are also realistically presented, adding tension to unfolding events as she investigates matters that quickly move beyond dance competition circles: "I had too much at stake to take offense, although, if I wanted to, I could have pointed out I hadn’t—as yet—been charged with a crime. And even if I had been charged, I was innocent until proven guilty. On a more practical level, since she was the costume mistress and I was a principal dancer, she was contractually obligated to get close enough to stick her nose in my armpits, if that was what was needed to get the costume properly fitted." 

As she probes Arianna's family connections, which were used to promote the dance company and thus their daughter, and the swirl of lies, deals, and special interests that revolved around dance, she receives newfound lessons not just in what may have prompted Arianna's murder, but influences on the course of her own dancing career. 

As a dancer, Leah has been disciplined all her life. Can this same special brand of determination help her solve the crime? 

Readers interested in dance's routines, roles, problem-solving facets, and the concerns of a young dancer forced to explore underlying facets of company politics and special interests beyond her previous experience will find Murder in First Position intriguing, involving, and lively. 

Lori Robbins uses the first person to cement the world as experienced through Leah's eyes. This lends a feel of realistic authenticity to her dance world and experiences, creating a riveting murder mystery especially recommended for those familiar with the complex world of ballet and its many political and personal challenges. 

Murder in First Position

Return to Index

Kevin Landt
Ripland Publishing LLC
978-1735298108            $6.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Angela Fox's Myface online account is achieving fame and going viral on the internet, but the stunning blond isn't real, and her allure is dangerous. In this classic case of a cyber version of Frankenstein, Sebastian Shafer's creation has taken off in an unexpected direction and her presence has already led to one murder. 

The murder thriller that evolves around a social media experiment gone awry, ambitions realized into dangerous realms, and the captivating, dangerous world of gaining followers and deadly results is a cut above the usual work of psychological tension. Indeed, Myface will attract readers of contemporary literature, psychological fiction, thrillers, and modern social dilemmas alike as it probes the elusive Angela's persona and Sebastian's attempts to regain control over a dangerous invention. 

As a focus on actor Norman Jarrett evolves, Sebastian and his wife Liz are drawn into a struggle where Angela's persona assumes a nearly lifelike impact on their shared lives as well as those of Norman and others drawn into her spell. 

Norman has a problem. He's addicted to money and fame. The former he has plenty of, but the fame has become elusive: "Fame was addictive. Fame was the drug he craved. And once it was taken away from him, once the roles stopped coming and he was reduced to being seen only in reruns, the fame disappeared. And Norman found, to his chagrin, that he couldn’t live without. He couldn’t not be famous. And so he now dedicated his life and all his savings to regain that fleeting fame." 

As Norman fields his employer's requirements and holds onto his own zest for life, Angela begins making outrageous demands of both Sebastian and Norman. Whether she's real or not, life is about to get even more dangerous. It's up to some clever detectives to unravel the complicated threads that entangle all three. 

Myface weaves a story of psychological entanglements and social media ironies and danger with the special focus of a creation that brings danger into many lives. Its tense blend of thriller and psychological inspection is highly recommended for modern social media users who will find the realistic scenarios and discussions thought-provoking and captivating. 


Return to Index

Neptune’s Reckoning
Robert J. Stava
Severed Press
978-1922323644       Paper:  $13.95; Kindle: $3.99

The Long Island seaside town of Montauk is nearly as famous as Roswell for its alien and conspiracy theories, so when a new threat arises, it's easy to believe that it, too, is unreal in Neptune’s Reckoning. But naval historian William Vanek, charged with uncovering the truth about a top-secret World War II mission called 'Neptune's Reckoning' that cost his grandfather's life, discovers that the military effort actually revolved around a real, deadly threat. 

This thriller probes his efforts to discern the truth, and what happens when he discovers that what lies beneath the waves could change the world. 

From the opening descriptions in the story, it's evident that the characters aren't just diving into unprecedented dangers, but are bringing readers with them into an engrossing underwater world of canyons, mystery, and peril. 

Robert J. Stava is adept at building an atmosphere of rising horror and historical investigation. This simultaneous focus will delight readers who seek realistic historical precedents and investigative methods from their thrillers: "I'm a historian who builds ship models. You want me to give the police lessons on how to handle scale rigging?" 

From a dead girl's unfortunate proximity to a well-hidden secret to cloaking technology, war graves, and sea-faring and Montauk legends, readers receive a full-faceted story that moves from events on land to underwater explorations and back again. 

A budding romance between Vanek and Michelle adds to the story's suspense, building interpersonal relationships against the backdrop of an involving mystery that draws readers further into the characters' lives and the outcome of their probes. 

This story also contains messages about environmental issues and relationships that flush out the action and adventure. This isn't just a thriller alone, but a consideration of evolving agendas and special interests designed to will leave readers thinking. 

Those seeking a blend of thriller and horror with political, social, and environmental inspections added to the mix will find Neptune’s Reckoning an engrossing tale of intrigue that comes layered with surprising political inspections. 

Neptune’s Reckoning

Return to Index

Nuclear Option
Dorothy Van Soest
Apprentice House Press
Casebound: 978-1-62720-291-6          $27.99
Paperback: 978-1-62720-292-3           $18.99
Ebook: 978-1-62720-293-0                  $  6.99 

Nuclear Option tells the story of Sylvia Jensen, who had an affair back in 1984 with a fellow activist in the nuclear disarmament movement. Decades later, in her seventies, she's moved on from both activism and her former lover, but Norton's troubled son lures her into danger with a mystery involving a new situation that involves Sylvia and investigative reporter J.B. Harrell in a dangerous case. 

As a result, Sylvia is drawn into a combination of sleuthing and a battle for justice and truth akin to her younger years, but more complex and deadly in nature. 

Dorothy Van Soest does an outstanding job of capturing the politics, special interests, activist perspectives, and events of both past and present society. She places a myriad of characters in the center of a story packed not just with mystery and suspense, but a sense of responsibility and love in a protagonist whose emotions have been compromised in the past by death. 

Having an older protagonist who has lost none of her spunk and savvy despite setting aside her youthful enthusiasm and optimism is a breath of fresh air, as is her introspective examination of the lasting legacy of her past: " those of us in the last row, Norton was a man who, despite facing a premature and unjust death, had channeled his rage and desire for revenge into positive action, a man committed to the truth regardless of the consequences. To me, Norton was the only man I had loved and the only man I had ever felt loved by, the man who’d entrusted his briefcase to me and only me, the man who had left to me a secret that I would hug for the next thirty-five years as tightly as I held it in that moment." 

Norton's son Corey joins the cast for a wild ride through the radical perspectives and literature of the past and modern-day challenges to both as readers explore social, political, psychological, and investigative worlds alike. A simmering revolutionary spirit influences Sylvia's perspectives on justice and truth. Powerful women emerge who address modern nuclear threats, struggles for social change, the impact of violent and peaceful demonstrations on world survival, and the legacy of activism and atomic war veterans for future generations. Nuclear Option is more than just an investigative work, but a story replete with social and political inspections of nuclear issues. 

Readers interested in a strong woman-centered suspense thriller that is centered both on individual responsibility and the nuclear arms race will find Nuclear Option an unusually astute read. It brings to life the revitalized purpose of a single woman who reassesses her choices and impact upon the modern world. 

Its story of sacrifices and saving lives will linger in the mind long after Sylvia's final revelations. 

Nuclear Option

Return to Index

Scrooge and the Great Detectives
Curt Locklear
Warren Publishing
978-1-7357280-7-0 (Hardcover)
978-1-7357280-8-7 (Softcover) 

What happened after Ebenezer Scrooge had his great revelation about his life's trajectory and his inherent selfishness? Scrooge and the Great Detectives takes place a year later, when Scrooge has already put a great deal of work into reinventing himself and his life. 

He didn't expect a return visit from Jacob Marley and an assignment to solve a mystery, but Jacob sends him on a journey to Cornwall to save the life and reputation of one Hezekiah Hiram Grumbles, who has been accused of murder. 

Traveling with a business partner, office clerk, and nephew at his side, Ebenezer encounters puzzles at every turn as readers are steeped in the atmospheres of Victorian London and Cornwall alike. 

Curt Locklear's delightful approach in winding Scrooge's redemption into a mystery probe will attract holiday readers who like a good mystery planted on the foundation of Dickens' world. 

Scrooge comes alive as a changed character who now works towards different goals while remaining cognizant of the horror of the past that changed his life and forced him to confront his selfish ways: "...there was a lot more good in Scrooge’s name now, coming upon the second year after that eventful Christmas when Scrooge became reacquainted with Marley. He was ruminating about the fact that Marley had been and still was as dead as a doornail, and that his ghost had not been lurking about for two years. He shuddered just thinking about his encounter of two years past." 

In this takeoff, Scrooge is not just a figure facing social and personal inspection of his impact on the world around him, but is forced to once again confront his fears and his effectiveness in the world: "Scrooge drew a trembling breath, for he knew what had pursued him in the tunnel behind the store might be there still. Fear was in his throat and in his bones. His voice shook. “Let us proceed.” 

Locklear offers a different take on selfish behaviors and intentions that expands the original Dickens story while remaining true to its feelings and purpose. 

Scrooge's reflections of past and present require no ghost, here, other than that of failed opportunities: "He had a winsome memory of Isabelle, his intended bride of long ago. They had been but seventeen years of age when they became betrothed. After two years, she left him because he had become so hard and flintlike, caring more for financial gain than anything else in the world, including the woman he loved." 

As he encounters some of the threats peculiar to fellow detective Sherlock Holmes and unravels threads that seem to connect to this famous man's similar struggles with perps, readers who enjoy a good Holmes whodunit will find themselves captivated by the blend of Scrooge's redemption processes and Holmes's ability to get at the heart of a dangerous puzzle. 

The result is a holiday mystery that will delight fans of Dickens, Doyle, and beyond. It's one steeped in holiday flavors, the English countryside, and the efforts of one man to solve some of the biggest puzzles in his life. 

Highly recommended for its astute attention to detail, strong characterization, and realistic atmosphere, Scrooge and the Great Detectives is hard to put down and is a fine Christmas mystery about ongoing second chances. 

Scrooge and the Great Detectives

Return to Index

Kathleen Kaufman
Turner Publishing Company
978-1684423309            $16.99 

Sinder's absorbing story of the occult will appeal to readers who have a special interest in supernatural fiction and thrillers, and opens with Irish gal Ainsley Robertson's 1924 life in rural Cork County. She lives with an abusive father, has defied his desire for her to assume the role of a proper elder daughter of the Ceannaire of the Society, and finds herself pregnant in an era where unwed mothers are frowned upon. She dreams of escaping her destiny. 

Two generations later, Ceit Robertson has accepted her great-grandmother's legacy and become the Matrarc of this Society, in modern-day 1996. Her role, decisions, and power are based not only on her own strengths and inherited legacy, but in the fae blood that runs in her. 

Like her great grandmother, she's always struggled with her heritage. Unlike Ainsley, she's determined to use her position to end the Society for good. 

Kathleen Kaufman's story winds between these generations to build a compelling blend of fantasy, occult, and family connections. These elements come to life as Ceit considers her heritage, its potential toxic presence in not just her life but humanity as a whole, and her changing relationship with her younger brother Alan. Perhaps predictably, she finds herself in a precarious position between two worlds: "She had been a lousy substitute for a mother, Ceit knew that. She felt love and she felt pain, but her emotions were becoming muted. The realm of human existence seemed increasingly inane and noisy. The Night Forest called her more and more. Amon had told her this would happen." 

The blend of intrigue, fantasy, and occult thriller is very nicely done, powered by intergenerational connections that keep the story line vivid and compelling. The focus on how each female leader in the Robinson family steps up to the plate in a different way creates an engrossing read that is hard to put down as it moves through the Sinder Avenue community's greatest challenges from its own leadership. 

Kaufman's vibrant language and descriptions are part of what makes this story especially captivating: "I need to know if you’re ready to fight. I can do my part, but you will need to rally. I cannot set things right for you unless you are ready to allow yourself to be who you truly are, and that is not a pretty little girl from the countryside. You are dangerous and wicked and powerful beyond your imagining. You can be a savior for your people, or you can suckle orphaned babes until your breasts wither and your body dissolves to dust. It is your choice.” 

Readers seeking an occult thriller about powerful women determined to not just fulfill their destinies, but make changes in their worlds which require a special form of leadership, will find Sinder compelling on many levels. 


Return to Index

Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic
Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev
Independently Published
978-0-578-77914-0                $3.99 Kindle 

Immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes it's a real problem, as in Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic, the story of Adam's curse and the losses he of self that he experiences each time he 'dies'. 

The story opens in a French café in Manhattan in 2007. A crazy naked man has just run up to Miss Anne-Marie Reneux's table, demanded the obituary section of the newspaper, read through it, and killed himself in front of her. This is a shocking prologue to a story that only gets more compelling as chapters explore how this man's special knowledge dictated his crazy actions.    

This lead-in is followed by another powerful introduction in the first chapter: "The first time I committed suicide was when I was ten years old." 

As the story unfolds, romance blends into the thriller component of an immortal man's endless choices and confrontation with forces that would use his condition for their nefarious means. Readers become thoroughly hooked on both the progress of his lives and the special issues immortality brings to the table. 

Events lead him to ask the most basic question of all: "After he left, I sat for a while staring at the empty plate before me. Who was I?" 

As the alluring Lilyanne leads Adam to consider a more passionate life and perspective, the real cost of his condition is sorely tested when he discovers underlying motives behind his interactions with others. 

From his encounter with her to his meeting with Dr. Bonn, the Wisher and his well-kept secrets, and the reasons why the Schillersdorfs want him dead, Adam finds his life upended not just by death, but by the possibilities of love and redemption. 

Not only is immortality not all that it should be, but love, too, feels mercurial and dubious to him. 

Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev crafts a story that borders between romance, thriller, and mystery. Characters interact on various levels (and there is a myriad of them) as the timeline moves from the past to as far in the future as 2026, which offers an unexpected prequel in the final chapter. 

Readers used to stories of passing ages and different incarnations of characters will welcome this complexity, paired with an ease of explanation solidified by chapter heading dates and introductions which set not just time, but character and place: "The year was 2026. It was fall in Loudonville, Ohio. You could tell because the oaks and maples had already shed their green in favor of royal colors, like purple, red, bronze and gold. A thousand alder trees as yellow as the sun could be seen from any direction. I lived in a rural community, surrounded by simple people who went to church on Sundays and worked in the fields and small woodshops on the weekdays." 

The result is an absorbing story that compels on several levels and proves hard to put down, especially for readers who have read other variations on the theme of immortality's trials and tribulations. This audience will find the additional conundrums posed in Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic add a fuller-bodied flavor to events than most stories about immortality. 

Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic is very highly recommended for readers who like their mysteries wound into the evolution of romance on different levels. 

Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic

Return to Index


Baby Moses
John Cowlin

Amika Press
978-1-937484-77-4         $16.95 

Baby Moses is set in the South in the 1950s where Moses (who, like his namesake, was found in a basket as an abandoned baby) is returning home to visit the woman who rescued him. He never expected to become immersed in a local situation involving the robbery of Black churches…nor in the aspirations of several ne'er-do-wells who think themselves so clever that nothing can possibly thwart their plan. They think these plans are much better than robbing a bank. 

John Cowlin lays out this logic in a discussion that embraces both criminal thinking and irony as the characters assess the pros and cons of various methods of thieving: "Robbin’ a bank, that’s dipshit thinkin’. You rob a bank, you got a gaggle of J. Edgar Juniors blood-hounding you to high ground. That money is guaranteed by the federal government, and while Eisenhower might not come down from Washington and sniff out that stolen cash his own damn self, you can be three times goddamned sure he’ll send a couple agents from the F.B.I. to do it for him...we ain’t gonna rob the Piggly Wiggly ’cause there’s too many people round and we might get recognized, even if we wore masks or covered our faces. Besides, you don’t rob a safe. You burgle it. But since neither me or you know how to crack one, we ain’t gonna burgle nothing. Not the Piggly Wiggly. Not the gas station. Not even a chicken coop. You get caught rummaging around in the dark, some ole boy more likely fill yer belly with buckshot than ask you what day yer mama was born.” 

This passage nicely illustrates the dialogue and sense of logic and irony that winds through Baby Moses, capturing the Southern lingo, characters, and events that provide the foundations of an engrossing story. 

They've thought of nearly everything. But the dastardly duo haven't encountered Moses, yet. And Moses harbours more than a few tricks up his sleeve (and in his duffel bag) that hold the power to change the outcome of these and other plans affecting the town's populace. 

From poker games and encounters with the Klan to a Chicken Shack beside a pepper field "busting loose with bright red cayennes," John Cowlin takes time to build the sights, sounds, smells, and culture of the South. This attention to detail draws readers into a lively, changing story that pits personalities and perspectives against one another, surveys lives at odds with the town's evolution, and probes race relations and the undercurrents of prejudice and change which affect the lives and ambitions of more than just a few. 

As Moses faces the vengeful terrorism of the Klan against those he loves and realizes its capacity for murder, he finds that his homecoming has resulted in new threats and a mission to defeat them. 

At once an action-packed adventure, a series of social revelations, and a probe of one man's lasting connections to and impact on his home town, John Cowlin has created a gem of a story in Baby Moses that will delight readers looking for an adventure thoroughly steeped in Southern culture. 

With its passages about folklore, fights, or long-standing feuds, Baby Moses provides a fine read that blends intrigue and confrontation with one man's lasting search for justice over revenge. 

Baby Moses

Return to Index

Beneath the Devil's Bow
Sebastian J. Groff
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-846-9         $16.95 

The story of how young Nicholas Wescott comes to host evil in his own body begins with a prologue letter to Cardinal O'Connell in 1908. This tells of a mysterious journal received from abroad by a church girl whose love, Nicholas, is due to return home. The journal details not his affections for her but a strange story, indeed, which chronicles heinous scenes and acts that the girl's beloved fiancée surely never would have participated in, had he been in his right mind. She requests the Church's intervention, upon his return, to save his spirit. And so the terror begins.

Beneath the Devil's Bow is an engrossing work of horror—a slow-building story that successfully percolates intrigue with the measured growth of a supernatural threat. 

At first the juxtaposition of Wescott's diary entries with letters from his beloved and other forms of response feels mercurial. The priest's letter which introduces the setting is followed by Elizabeth Carter's request for Church assistance; then Wescott's writings themselves. The introductory chapter explains how Elizabeth comes to be the recipient of his diary: "At your request I should fill this diary with all news and experiences of my journey in the utmost detail. When I have filled this diary to the last page, I am to have it postmarked and returned, so that you may be relieved at my well-being. That is of course, assuming all is well."

The initial story buildup is slower-paced than one expects from a horror piece. Sebastian J. Groff takes time to build setting, purpose, and atmosphere. It should also be mentioned at this point that some graphic sexual descriptions belay the usual staid tone and presentation of the traditional Gothic atmosphere, injecting a 20th century feel that could seem out of place to readers who choose the Gothic format for its circumspect language and descriptions. 

These notes aside, tension is slowly built as a cursed violin enters the picture and Nicholas finds himself drawn into its threat and promises. Groff's descriptions at this point are excellent, compelling, and explore the violin's dangerous allure in a manner that will satisfy Gothic readers: "The all so familiar song of the spectral violin once again filled the air. This time however, it was no material instrument that was producing the cursed melody. The music, carried through the air by a gentle breeze, came in the form of an ethereal hum that too seemed all so familiar. It is as if in this scene my body was not present to be free or bound to any object. Rather I was viewing it through my own eyes like a ghost not really there." 

The ongoing explicit descriptions of his sexual adventures again belay the story's Gothic horror feel even as Groff excels in building it up again. But part of Nicholas's downfall is his increasing libido and involvement in the cursed violin's directions, and so his exploits reinforce the notion that the devil is at work in his life in more ways than one. 

Readers of horror who aren't firmly wedded to a formula horror atmosphere will find this story absorbing. The pace begins slowly but builds nicely, readers are interested in the dilemmas Nicholas faces as he confronts forces beyond his understanding, and the saga will intrigue horror enthusiasts who look for solid descriptions of how love and commitment change under the influence of an evil force. 

Set aside the contemporary overlay of some of its descriptions for an emotional journey into music, a curse, and a young man's uncertain growth away from home as his soul is on the line. It's well worth the effort and delivers in its promise of a delicious horror story reading experience. 

Beneath the Devil's Bow

Return to Index

Book Endings
Syntell Smith
Syntell Smith Publishing
978-0-692-03698-3         $16.95 

Book Endings: Loss, Pain, and Revelations is a novel that revolves around impending loss and the office politics that heavily affect a library clerk's life. Robin Walker faces both a toxic work environment and the slow demise of his grandfather, but is revitalized by dating a lovely Asian woman who introduces a note of positivity into his life. 

When the idealistic college student finds this relationship, too, is fraught with strife, he finds his ability to be flexible and purposeful is challenged. Thus, he becomes compromised on many levels: in mind, heart, and the pursuit of happiness. 

One of the pleasures in following Robin's story is that its perspectives are cultivated from co-workers and others who touch his world; from Tommy, who has a vested interest in antagonizing Robin, to Ethel, who grasps at retirement with a similar determination not to let simmering office politics keep her from her prize. 

There's an undercurrent of sometimes-macabre humor running through each character's descriptions of their entanglements and their motivations for competition, anger, and frustration: "Annabelle watched him leave. It didn’t feel right working with Cleopheous, but she knew he didn’t want to get his hands dirty going for Augustus’s head. She was almost relieved the plan didn’t work. Knowing the regional senior clerk by reputation, he would have double-crossed them somehow, the snake. Cleopheous stepped out onto the sidewalk disgusted. He pulled out a cigar and lit it, blew the smoke out the side of his mouth, then his nose. “Hmph, never send a woman to do a man’s job,” He said with a grunt, then took another puff. “Okay, I guess when you want the bacon, you have to look piggy right in those beady eyes and bring the ax down yourself.” 

As each personality clashes and tempers rise, Robin must call upon unprecedented strengths to return professionalism into the workplace, save his own reputation, and foster a lasting peace and respect for both authority and his own strengths. 

Robin's endless stamping of books against the dual backdrops of a quiet library and a stormy clash of personalities creates a compelling atmosphere that brings the story to life with a realistic inspection of missed potentials and new possibilities. 

Syntell Smith excels at injecting high drama into the backdrop of what should be a quiet library world. The portrait of workplace personality clashes and the evolution of new goals and paths create a thought-provoking literary work that will prove appealing to any reader who view the library as a peaceful refuge from the world. 

Book Endings

Return to Index

Counting Heartbeats
Janet Frnzyan
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-982-4         $16.95 

Counting Heartbeats: A Journey of Perseverance Through Loss is a coming of age story about a young woman who confronts her father's ALS diagnosis, determined to make the most of the time she has with him. Seven medical opinions have not offered any hope, and so Jessica hides the diagnosis from her father and herself even as she determines to do what she can, given an impossible situation. 

Janet Frnzyan adds the perspective and dilemma of a second generation Armenian daughter to the medical and psychological dilemma. This provides another layer to the quandary as Jessica struggles with a long goodbye that leads her to confront her love for her father and her inability to express it the way she wishes: "I’m suddenly at a loss for words. My mind travels to the thousands of trips we’ve taken over the years, the countless amusement parks we’ve gone to when we were younger, and the lifetime of love he’s showered upon us. I want to tell him how grateful I am for everything he’s done for me. For every heartache he helped cure. For always being there. But I’m speechless. I should be the one thanking him. But I can’t get myself to say it. I can’t get myself to tell him that I love him and that he’s my hero and that I can’t possibly imagine a world without him. I can’t say it. Instead, I nod, swallow the lump in my throat and look out the window. Just another day in a coward’s life." 

Frnzyan's use of the first person allows readers to understand the process of a young woman watching her father slowly fade from an incurable disease, in charge of helping her parents through this experience even as she longs to be their dependent daughter again, under their protection. 

Her father's English isn't strong, and so she serves as both interpreter and moderator, trying to stand in a middle ground that smoothes the real diagnosis and perspectives of others into a more positive focus, against all odds. 

As her career takes a dive and the rest of her life is put on hold, Jessica is charged with not only helping her parents field medical challenges and end-of-life decisions, but deciding where her own future lies. 

Readers interested in stories of young women who step up to help even in the face of loss will find Counting Heartbeats a warm story of life and death, reconciliation, and survival. It lingers in the mind long after the inevitable conclusion and the possibility of new beginnings that come with it, and is highly recommended reading for those who look for stories of immigrant families, ALS struggles, and determined young women who are survivors. 

Counting Heartbeats

Return to Index

The Diplomat of Florence
Anthony R Wildman
Plutus Publishing
Paperback: 978-0-6489454-1-3    $29.99
978-0-6489454-0-6           $  8.22

The Diplomat of Florence: A Novel of Machiavelli and the Borgias is set in 1498 Florence, where a people's republic has been established after the downfall of the ruling Medici. 

Warlord Cesare Borgia threatens this new rule, but new diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli has other plans in mind. He may be an inexperienced negotiator, but he is forced to quickly learn the associations between France and Italy, and the changing rules and laws of the land, as threats emerge. 

Anthony R Wildman's foundation of history in this story is particularly nicely set in the beginning, from a black and white map and an introduction defining the non-English terms peppered throughout the story to a cast of principal characters organized by region, from Florentine politicians and chancellery members to Roman figures. This outline is necessary because there are a host of intersecting special interests throughout that would otherwise stymie newcomers unfamiliar with the milieu of 1400s Italy. 

The plot itself seizes the imagination and injects a sense of the atmosphere and social and political clashes of the times. It uses vivid descriptions to draw readers into the evolving story's underlying politics and processes: "There were still few signs of military occupation as they wandered down the long, evenly paved main street that led towards the central piazza. Apparently, Valentino had bivouacked the bulk of his army a few miles away, outside the town of Fermignano, retaining only the soldiers of his personal bodyguard in the city itself. This was a remarkably self-confident thing to do, especially since the deposed Duke Guidobaldo was far from unpopular there." 

From the clatter of oxen-drawn carts in the streets to the inner chambers of political meetings and the battles that ensue from them, Wildman is adept at tracing the lay of the land and the influences of many different forces on its peoples. 

Readers who enjoy cat-and-mouse games at top levels of political circles will especially appreciate the time Wildman devotes to exploring these nuances as they are learned through the new diplomat's experiences: "Soderini told me that once they were in conclave, none of the factions was able to muster the necessary two-thirds majority and, in the end, the Spanish and the French combined to choose Piccolomini as a compromise. Anyone other than della Rovere.’ Who must have been furious to have been denied the papacy for a second time by the Borgia faction. Of course, if the new pope expired soon, the chess pieces would end up back where they had started; both sides would no doubt be hoping that they could strengthen their support in the meantime." 

Readers who like historical novels that embrace political maneuverings and social change will relish this story of a young diplomat's first experiences of a revolutionary time in his country's history, its interactions with other countries, and the underlying forces that ultimately determine its fate. 

The Diplomat of Florence

Return to Index

Games We Played
Shawne Steiger
Red Adept Publishing
ASIN : B08HM6C7MV           $7.99
Barnes and Noble:

When actress Rachel Goldberg shares her views on a radio show, she becomes the target of an online harassment that drives her back to her old home town to escape. Stephen Drescher has also returned to that same home town after a dishonorable discharge from the army. When they connect the dots between their past and future, a new game emerges that rests on old habits and new directions. 

Games We Played is recommended for readers of contemporary women's fiction, who will find it an involving combination of social and personal inspection. 

As each character faces prejudices, the consequences of their choices, and newfound revelations about their individual roles as well as their history with each other, readers are treated to an involving survey of the origins of hate crimes and the emergence of a new form of understanding: "While he and Rachel climbed to the attic, he imagined his grandpa waiting for them up there, waiting to tell them one of his war stories: how they’d rounded up and killed the ugly Jews, how he saw Hitler talk and knew he would do anything that man wanted, how the world would be different if only they’d won." 

From the histories which are the driving wedge between them to the connections that lie in their roots and evolutionary process, Shawne Steiger does a fine job of exploring the modern world's influences, whether they involve cyberstalking, neo-Nazis, or a Jewish lesbian woman's return to a changed hometown and childhood acquaintance. Here, the specter of the hate crime is injected with personal revelations which make each character more understandable, appealing, and ultimately more powerful. 

Can Rachel escape this evolving cyber-threat? Can Stephen similarly escape his past as he confronts its influences on his future trajectory?  Steiger is especially sharp when detailing these challenges: "But he couldn’t let go of the feeling that getting close to Rachel would fix something in him. Maybe he could see Aaron. They could do some magic together. He would have talked to his grandfather if he could have. In his last session, he had told Natalie a little about his grandfather, and she said it was like he held two grandfathers in his head, the one he could never please and was always apologizing to and the one who made him feel loved. He hadn’t said anything about the Nazi stuff, just that his grandpa fought in the war and had wanted Stephen to be a soldier too." 

The resulting contemporary story about prejudice, hate, and a young actress forced to come to terms with her Jewish heritage and its underlying grief will draw and embrace any reader with an interest in the lasting effects of history on present generation perspectives and objectives. 

Games We Played

Return to Index

The Great American Jew Novel
Michael Kornbluth
Independently Published
ASIN : B08H6MC9M8           $20.00 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

The Great American Jew Novel will appeal to readers of Jewish fiction and humor and tells of a precocious nine-year-old who becomes her "Do It All Dad" father's self-appointed talent agent to solve all his troubles, from a failing marriage to comedy career aspirations. 

Bashert can't fix everything, but what she gets her little hands on surely changes many situations in a hilarious romp through stay-at-home dad Joshua's evolving life. 

Michael Kornbluth produces a survey that is, in itself, a comedic satire of the Jewish personality and lifestyle. Joshua's uncertain navigation of his world, his ongoing ambitions beyond family, and the many challenges he faces in the course of realizing his dreams fuel a lively observational study in Jewish psychology: "...on a baser level, Joshua became addicted to scoring laughs from rehearsed one liners or inspired riffs in the moment, synthesizing the scattered observations and punchlines of years past, because it made him feel like a less all over the place Jew. Feeling in control was important to Joshua. He’d been the only schmuck with a stutter who graduated from the top communication school at Ithaca College in 99." 

From encounters with a funny female rabbi to political correctness on trial, Kornbluth provides a series of evocative encounters. Readers should be prepared for intensely detailed descriptions that would border on run-on sentences, except for the fact that their underlying attraction lies in their very length and depth: "She was funny, and very personable, coming off like a flatter-chested, higher-IQ Judy Gold. He honestly couldn’t tell if she was a bush muncher or not. Still, he loved how she made the Saturday Synagogue services very upbeat, welcoming and business-casual without stripping the house of worship of the deep-rooted holiness preening through the flawless stained glass windows, without the original Super Jew, Jesus Christ, anywhere in sight. But what bothered Joshua about the Rabbi, was a conversation over some Challah noshes after the service, when he tried to gain a stronger grasp on why Jews got so tense when the mere name of Jesus was brought up in conversation, especially when Joshua would get into his Pescatarian schtick about how if a diet of fish and veggies was good enough for Jesus, the original Super Jew, it was good enough for him." 

Much of the lingo and cultural references make this story much more accessible to the Jewish reader already well familiar with this background than those who are not, or who have not been exposed to Jewish language and psychology in their daily lives. 

These notes aside, The Great American Jew Novel excels in a hilarious New York exploration of the world of comedy and Jewish culture. It's sometimes politically incorrect, racy, and ribald. This absorbing viewpoint of a father's drive for bigger and better goals and added meaning in his world is highly recommended for Jewish readers who enjoy the cultural lure of satirical social examination. 

The Great American Jew Novel

Return to Index

How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss is Trying to Kill You
Joseph Patrick Pascale
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-844-5                $16.95 

How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss is Trying to Kill You doesn't sound like the title of a novel, but this is a fiction survey even though it sounds as though it should fall in the genre of 'business novel'. Instead, it takes a dark and twisted turn into the realm of sleuthing and the absurd. 

A government office clerk's ambition to rise to the top of the workforce to become a senior clerk changes when a meeting with the director results in his recruitment on a secret mission. This endeavor is replete with saboteurs, crackpots, government agents, philosophical confrontations, and individuals who may look like hobos, but who have greater ambitions that only this clerk can influence. 

Joseph Patrick Pascale creates a satirical inspection of not just workplace politics and pressures, but the odd constrictions, alliances, and challenges of government work as a whole. His story toes the line between a spy novel and a comedic tour de farce. Readers seeking something genre-bustingly different will relish the story's ability to avoid pat categorization in favor of a brand of creative license uncommon in the modern novel format. 

As the nameless clerk traverses a series of obstacles that continually challenge his place in society and his role as a clerk, readers will appreciate the romp through paperwork and business processes alike: "The backlog in the inbox seemed like a monumental task. Looking at that pile of work made the clerk feel the equivalent exasperation of being on the ground floor of the government building in the bigger city, and, realizing that the elevators were out of order, he’d need to climb the stairs to some ridiculous-numbered floor like 67 or worse. He sighed, and the simile made him realize that he should focus on the work the director needed him to do, as that far outranked the piddling work that the manager want­ed him to take care of. 

It may be difficult to peg this story, but How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss is Trying to Kill You is a fun, top recommendation for anyone familiar with office and government politics, the ironies and inconsistencies of the work world, and business challenges that place personal ambition on a collision course with life purpose. 

How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss is Trying to Kill You

Return to Index

In the Shadow of Gold
Michael Kenneth Smith
Independently Published
979-8684953736            $13.99 

In the Shadow of Gold is set in Richmond, Virginia in 1865 and tells of two trains that each carry a different kind of treasure. One is the Confederate president. The other is the Confederate treasury holdings. 

The train holding Jefferson Davis and his cabinet is captured. And the treasure on the other vanishes. What happened to it? This novel's mystery is based in reality and provides a riveting examination of what could have happened to the lost Confederate treasure. 

One would expect such a story to begin in the 1800s, but the opening chapter is set in contemporary 2020 and tells of Josh Arvin's search for the original source of his family's fortune, only to become involved in an evolving secret that has its roots in the Civil War. 

The story then moves to April of 1861, which introduces a sailor with a temper; then 1865, where runaway slave Ellie makes her bid for freedom. 

These may initially seem like disparate threads, but Michael Kenneth Smith really knows how to draw together the nuances of personal lives, history, special interests, and evolving drama as the chapters juxtaposing these and other events. 

The changing perspectives and timelines are identified by date as each character proceeds with his or her story, making it easy for readers to follow these differing life experiences and trains of thought. The groundwork has been nicely laid by the time Chapter 5 evolves. 

Speaking of trains, as midshipman Yancey moves from his familiar Richmond home into uncharted territory aboard the train, readers will find this an absorbing story packed with realistic images of the South during this era: "Miles after the train had left the city, the glow of the burning cotton warehouses was still visible. Yancey had lived in Richmond since he was born, and the fact that it appeared to be totally destroyed gave him an empty feeling. Not only did he have no friends, but now he had no home, not even his naval home. The image of the Patrick Henry burning was seared into his mind. He wasn’t going to miss the ship, but it was still a part of him, and now it was gone." 

Is taking the treasure the same as thieving? Yancey isn't sure about either his moral and ethical choices or the question of what is right during a war which changes everything. 

Smith's focus on the evolving South and its desperate moves at the close of the war bring both the era and its various special interests to life, from Ellie's altruistic influence on Yancey over the true value of the gold to her perceptions that white men aren't all the same. Some are different. But, is Yancey one of them? 

The social and political issues that are wound into this historical treasure hunt are nicely done and bring the South and its history and people to life. 

Readers seeking an involving blend of mystery, evolving relationships, questions of moral and immoral behaviors, and an alternate speculation of what could have happened to so much treasure will find that In the Shadow of Gold excels in both its sense of place and its sense of purpose. 

It's an involving story that draws together not just Yancey and Ellie, but characters who find themselves struggling for many different kinds of treasure as the Civil War brings slavery and lives to an end. 

In the Shadow of Gold

Return to Index

The Last Act
Peter Toeg
Barnes & Noble Press
9780578793191              $8.95 

The Last Act opens with a desperate statement by a desperate man contemplating a final exit: "Somewhere between the television and the bathroom, carrying puke in a bedpan and stepping in my elderly mom's feces, I decided to end it all. Life was too short to be miserable and doing the staff’s work for years in the assisted "dying" home. In her state of mind, she would never know. I'd kill myself. In two weeks." 

As narrator Leo explores his life, rationales, and frustrations, an edgy form of satirical humor evolves that adds an unexpected flavor to his musings and experiences: "The doctor spoke with the compassion of Pol Pot. 'Pain is a good reminder of life, Leo. It can awaken something new in us as a result.' And it did. It took a week, most of which I spent in a comfy chair in the house, foot raised, sound muted on the TV. Blissful solitude. I listened mostly to the commercials hawking pharmaceuticals. A comforting voice informed me: 'Side effects may include fatigue, joint pain, dizziness, facial paralysis, inability to swallow, migraines, stroke, and, in rare cases, agonizing slow death.' The doctor at the hospital had said pain was a reminder of life. I was in pain. I was reminded. The smell. Cat urine." 

Indeed, these elements of the unexpected are what elevate The Last Act from a predictable story of suicidal tendencies to a broader inspection of life's ironies. Readers are continually surprised by where Leo journeys during his life inspections. This is just one delightful element to a novella that moves from a final choice to a son's relationship with a mother with dementia, his bowling buddy Mosby, and a group of seniors who discover small pleasures in ordinary life encounters. 

Its journey into love, acceptance, pleasures, and the pursuit of the idea that life is worth living carries readers into a world where disparate individuals find their lives oddly entwined and entertaining. 

As Leo faces life in a "withering body" with a mind still capable of adventuring, readers absorb a tale that holds an unexpected interpretation of what constitutes a last act affecting more than one life by its choices. 

Unexpected, funny, and thought-provoking all in one, The Last Act is a story that lingers in the mind long after reading. 

The Last Act

Return to Index

Life Unbothered
Charlie Elliott
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-945175-28-2                        $16.95  

Readers interested in the lasting impact of phobias on choices and ambitions will find Life Unbothered a powerful novel of psychological struggle and reconsidering life's quality and allure. 

Wade Hampton's phobias leave him nearly paralyzed and housebound after he breaks up with Pamela, but he counters them by taking a big, life-changing step. He moves to Arizona where he encounters Sophia, a different kind of woman willing to help him overcome his fears. 

Sophia appears about halfway into this story, which sets the stage for her appearance with Wade's series of thwarted encounters, from contemplating suicide to lessons learned about love from an older woman: "When you find that special person, within an acceptable age range of course, open up to her and let your heart go. That’s when you’ll reach the glory of absolute happiness.” 

Though Wade has already achieved much by confronting possible death and many challenges in his life, Sophia promises something different and better. This is a monumental task for both of them, especially since business ventures and women have not exactly worked well for Wade in the past. But her steady hand on guiding his recovery through shared experiences and gentle confrontations of his fears is nicely presented: "The first weekend trip was to Ojai, a little town nestled inland from Santa Barbara, about ninety miles north from our home. The second weekend we went south to Temecula and visited a few wineries. Those trips were safely accomplished, my car always tethered nearby in case I wanted to escape. Agoraphobic thoughts poked into my head a few times, but Sophia never let it materialize to anything critical." 

Charlie Elliott provides rare insights into how the course of one man's life is dictated by his fears and the kinds of choices that ultimately lead to cure. 

But when disaster strikes twenty-eight-year-old Sophia, both are forced to draw on her lessons to lend them strength against an impossible outcome. 

Readers interested in tense psychological stories of overcoming phobias and life challenges to emerge from failed romances and dreams into a better life will welcome Life Unbothered's wild, realistic ride through Wade's mental illness and life as he strives for elusive love and a semblance of normalcy. 

Life Unbothered

Return to Index

The Music of Women
Vincent Panettiere
Independently Published
ASIN : B08JQPCCLV           $9.99 Kindle 

When does success equal depression and death? When you're novelist Charlie Forte, whose reaction to one of the biggest coups of his writing career is to contemplate suicide. 

The Music of Women presents Charlie's foray into his life, the twenty-four women who influenced its direction, and the music he uniquely associates with each female as he contemplates the trajectory of his evolution to this uncertain life-or-death moment in time. 

First, it establishes that "Charlie's need to be validated on his terms seeped into every sphere of his life but specifically sprang from his first book deal." The connections that have led him to this moment are rooted in the fame he has successfully concocted for himself. But they also lie in the types of associations he's learned from, and these are explored from the viewpoint of a genius non-conformist who finds that he must re-define romance, meaning, life history, and life purposes in order to move ahead. 

Vincent Panettiere moves through all the women in Charlie's life, from his mother to others. Insights on her early influence are particularly well done and revealing: "Her husband wasn't good enough. He wondered whether, in the beginning, his father had been good enough. He must have been. Three children later, a husk remained of that man, or what Charlie assumed must have been a real man. Charlie inherited that reticence, and by the time the sisters came along, male majority had been overrun by female tyranny." 

As readers move through Charlie's life from the evolution of his successful career to his relationship challenges, they receive a juxtaposition of insecure relationships with women and career achievements by a man who eventually comes to question his success in life. 

Charle's unassuming self-analysis and his prejudices and perceptions of those who interact with him will prove especially intriguing to readers who have psychology degrees or training, who will relish the processes Charlie takes to reconcile his life's actions. Especially inviting are the many moments of self-analysis thoughout: "Labeling himself incompetent was always on the surface, easier to touch than the hair on his arms." 

From sexual encounters and romance to survival strategies, readers who enjoy psychological fiction centered on growth and evolution will find Charlie's progress through life intriguing. It provides much food for thought as he confronts his inherent mistrust of women and considers why he never completely bonds with anyone. 

The Music of Women

Return to Index

The Prototype
Sam Mitani
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-976-3         $16.95 

Be careful what you wish for. It could be a prototype for disaster. That's the opening contention of The Prototype, a novel that revolves around an automobile prototype with the power to change the world. 

It's an invention and possibility that drops into the lap of Stockton Clay, a journalist who has long awaited a big break in his life. His efforts revolve around more than writing when this happens, involving him in a series of escapades that range from becoming the target of an assassin to facing a medical emergency. This prompts him to finally undertake a journey to find his long-lost father in an effort to tap the red blood cells that could save him. 

Add a journey to Japan, a mad Russian scientist, and a struggle that moves from individual health risk to world domination for a story that is complex, enlightening, fast-paced, and almost filled with too many threads to easily follow. 

At first Stockton thinks the written threat he finds in his hotel room is a gag, and reacts with little concern: "He’d be damned if he was going let some lame gag spoil this once-in-a-lifetime experience of being part of the biggest automotive event of the year." 

As his ambitions lead to entanglements that prove his life is in danger in more ways than one, readers are led on a romp through other cultures and the world of CIA agents like Maki, who seemingly wish to help him survive. Who can he really trust? 

More importantly, how is the prototype, which he's privy to, remain in the center of conflicts that embrace all of his personal concerns? When he finds himself in the unexpected position of donating his own cells to save a five-year-old, even more challenges emerge that question his focus and intentions. 

Sam Mitani does a good job of expanding the basic story from a prototype's possibilities to its ultimate impact on one ordinary individual's life. He creates many subplots during this process, but also does a good job in bringing together characters, motivations, and influences that at first seem disparate. 

Readers who appreciate a complex, lively thriller that embraces international espionage and social, political, and psychological subplots will welcome The Prototype's special blend of action, reflection and automobile intrigue that ultimately rewards Stockton's efforts in a surprise move he (and the reader) never expected. 

The Prototype

Return to Index

Revelations From the Dead:  Chronicles of the Night Waster
Max Willi Fischer
Independently Published

9798684213694             $9.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

It's 1837, and the legend of the "Night Waster"—a vampire which feeds on the living to keep the dead alive—abounds. The real culprit was consumption, which wasted the body and consumed life, known as the "white plague" in the 19th century. 

Thomas Sullivan has long resented his father's dictate for him to become a cabinetmaker apprentice for the Shaffer family instead of following in his footsteps to be a book merchant; especially since coffin-building is a major part of the job. 

When Thomas becomes more involved in helping the family confront the threat of lung disease, superstitions surrounding health, an economic panic, and a family mystery with its roots in local legend and history, his occupation becomes one of an investigator who becomes more engaged with the world as well as his profession. 

Max Willi Fischer is adept at capturing the nuances of this era's pleasures and pain alike: "Chase took the girl with the tortoiseshell comb by the hand for the moment, calling out, “With your right hand, clasp your partner’s right hand.” The dance master proceeded with his impromptu demonstration. “Step towards your partner and rotate in counterclockwise motion.” The dance master released the young lady from his hand, and she returned to her place in front of the apprentice. Thomas bowed to his dark-haired partner whose enlarged pupils indicated this was her first dance as well. It seemed like small consolation for his own stomach full of butterflies. Once the fiddler began to massage his strings and Thomas caught on to the repetitive nature of the rotating movements, he forgot about any nausea and enjoyed the gaiety of the evening." 

It should be noted that Fischer includes many footnoted definitions for the terminology of the times such as 'Irish biddies' (nee: annoying women). These footnotes may be unexpected in a fiction work and, for some, their presence on almost every page may prove a distraction. They are well needed, however, and eliminate any possibility of confusion over colloquial terms and their meaning. 

As hidden treasure, a mystery surrounding Benedict Arnold, and adventure and opportunity change Thomas's life, a vivid story evolves against the specter of an epidemic that is changing the world. 

Readers immersed in today's struggles over COVID will find much to recognize in this vivid story of discovery, recovery, and threats that stem from illness, evil, legends, and lost treasure alike. The plot, characters, and historical setting are very well done, and though the plot shifts unexpectedly, at times, readers remain involved and interested to the end. 

The vivid descriptions of 1800s New England and the history which powers this mystery are very nicely done, making Revelations From the Dead a recommendation for historical novel readers who enjoy stories steeped in a strong sense of place. 

Revelations From the Dead: Chronicles of the Night Waster

Return to Index

Sentinel 10: The Diamond Rose
Daniela Valenti
Brigid Book Publishing
978-1777427306            $12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

The Diamond Rose tells of medical school grad Amanda Griffith, who finds her life altered by a solar flare that causes her to lose consciousness momentarily, in a painful reaction. This prologue sets the stage with her medical training and unusual response to an event that will change everything. 

As chapters unfold, readers learn that her long-time efforts to regain her footing in life after her parents died has led her to this uncertain point where her lack of a relationship and life purpose has led to uncertainty about her training, her abilities, and her future. 

When she and her friend Lydia encounter a supernatural force on the beach which emanates waves of inhuman evil, she's led onto a quest to realize not only her own special powers, but her ultimate role in life, which is far beyond any training she could have experienced. 

As The Diamond Rose unfolds, it's demonstrated that Amanda is actually a powerful paranormal warrior (albeit untrained), and that her identity as the Sentinel 10 is one of the undiscovered purposes to her life. Her encounter with a young fellow warrior, Matt Chadwick, and an evil form of psychic energy that feeds on people is the first confrontation in a series of events that leads Amanda into not just a renewed life purpose and impossible new world paradigms, but romance. 

Many paranormal romance stories focus so heavily on the developing relationship that the paranormal part is largely set aside. Daniela Valenti's ability to construct an entire plausible background for this romance and add Amanda's evolving new purpose, as well as a new relationship, contributes to a story that expands Amanda's perspective of her evolving psychic abilities. 

As she learns about the solar flares that indict new Sentinels into a select fold of only a few hundred individuals and result in different degrees of power, Amanda struggles to accept the thought that she is the greatest of them all, charged with a special form of duty that places her in a unique position. 

From evolving powers and ghostly presences to a newfound ability to touch other souls, readers receive a satisfying romance that explores the boundaries of new abilities, new feelings, and new responsibilities. 

Readers of supernatural fantasy will find this story hard to put down as Amanda steps into a role and world she'd never expected, challenging herself in new directions fueled not just by romance, but intrigue. 

Readers seeking a multifaceted story of growth and discovery, in addition to evolving explorations of love, will find The Diamond Rose a thoroughly absorbing adventure. 

Sentinel 10: The Diamond Rose

Return to Index

Tower Blues
Inga Wiehl
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-68418-293-0                        $16.95  

Tower Blues: Solving the Riddle of Confinement is an excellent work of historical nonfiction well grounded in fact. Inga Wiehl consulted Danish historical texts as well one Leonora Christine Ulfeldt’s own writings during the making of this biographical sketch. The story revolves around 1600s king's daughter Leonora Christine Ulfeldt, who was arrested, brought to the Tower, and spent over twenty years imprisoned in isolation in a small cell. 

These historical documents and her writings serve as the foundation for a moving, engrossing account that opens with an introduction explaining the wellsprings of Inga Wiehl's early discoveries about and fascination with Ulfeldt's life and dilemma. 

As she absorbed historical novels, biographical studies, and Ulfeldt's own writings, Wiehl was moved to generate this work of "creative nonfiction" embellishing the story and explaining Danish politics, processes, and Ulfeldt's life and times. 

Readers might expect they should have at least a cursory background in relatively obscure 1600s Danish history, but one of the pleasures of receiving a nonfiction survey that reads with the urgency and description of fiction is that oftentimes (like this), no such background is required. 

Wiehl's ability to capture the sights and sounds of the times through Ulfeldt's first-person descriptions, along with her choices and political influences, is one of the factors that gives Tower Blues such a sense of immediacy and attraction even for readers with no background in Danish affairs: "This must be the day I will meet my one-time half-brother, Frederik, King of Denmark. “Absolute Monarch” they call him. I have been betrayed, or it would never have come to this. Idle hands make no reins for a racing mind. And race mine must, forward to the royal encounter and backward to my recent English encounters. I was wrong to go to England, and I know it. But I have never been able to resist when Corfitz pleads. And I know, too, that all our good years together committed me to the bad years that would come." 

From her travels and political struggles to her survival of the Tower and the passage of so many years, this tale not only captures the nuances of her life's challenges, but weaves Danish political and social concerns into the story line so deftly that newcomers to both are never lost or wondering: "We labor through May and June and get into July when I learn through Karen’s gossiping with Per that sentence has been passed on the prisoner below. Dr. Sperling, who has never been dismissed from his office as court physician to the Danish king and therefore remains Frederik’s subject despite his residence in Hamburg, is to be executed for high treason. How well I know the procedure. More days pass as we await sounds of execution in the castle yard, as once we listened to those of the mock execution of Corfitz." 

This is largely due to the vivid reenactment of Leonora Christine Ulfeldt’s thoughts, dreams, encounters with guards and fellow inmates, and the currents that keep her life perspective unusually grounded and on course against all odds. 

Readers of this story should have a prior interest in history and the devices of historical fiction to fully appreciate how completely Wiehl laces together the drama, atmosphere, and concerns of the times into the wealth of facts she uncovered. 

This is a literary and historical achievement that will especially be appreciated by readers of the historical fiction genre. This audience will find the nonfiction depth and detail, combined with the overlay of drama and insight, to be uniquely compelling reading—unexpectedly and especially delightful, given the complexity of its subject. 

Tower Blues

Return to Index

The Turn
DL Fowler
Independently Published
978-0-9963805-3-9         $19.95

The Turn is a biographical historical novel of runaway slave William Henry Johnson, who becomes President Lincoln's valet and unwittingly enters the spotlight of early civil rights struggles over Lincoln's move to emancipate the slaves. It not only chronicles Johnson's dilemmas and challenges, but Lincoln's evolving social and political platform as he interacts with Johnson and juggles a changing society with revolutionary new directions for America. 

The story opens with Johnson's escape and near-lynching, capturing in vivid description the events that almost claim his life: "Horses thundered past. A musket stock rammed William’s shoulder, rattling his teeth, driving him to his knees. Pain ran up his neck, down his arm. A coarse hemp rope tumbled around William’s neck. A boot pounded his back until he slumped forward. Another boot caught him hard between his shoulders, knocking out his breath. A musket stock hammered him until he lay on his stomach, face in the dirt. A heel pressed into the back of his neck. He could hardly breathe." 

This level of description is evident throughout the narrative as DL Fowler portrays not only social and political events that affect the two men independently, but their interactions and emotions as they respond to threats from attacks to conspiracy theories raised by the Pinkertons, who uncover an early plot that involves Baltimore’s chief of police. 

Lincoln's ability to grasp the gravity of this nation in balance, the importance of his own decisions and their lasting consequences, and William's involvement in and influence on his choices makes for a gripping story. More so than most Lincoln novels, it holds a rare ability to delve into the heart and mind of the man and the results of his interactions not just with ideals, but a former slave who struggles with his own confusion over his revised role in the white man's changing world. 

William's perceptions and life evolves both alongside and independently of Lincoln's. This is another satisfying feature of this story, offering the unusual ability to contrast their sometimes-different views: "...when I see those white boys losing arms or legs or eyes or dying, fighting our peoples’ fight, I feel like less of a man.” “How would bein’ dead or maimed make you more of a man?” Her chin quivered. He sputtered. “Stop. Here’s what makes me feel like less of a woman. Knowin’ you’d rather die in place of one of them than live for me. Want to know what I think? They’re the ones what stole our freedom. They can pay the price to buy it back.” She stood and stomped into the house." 

The questions raised in The Turn by the unique juxtaposition of these two men will delight historical fiction readers. This audience will find it thought-provoking, involving, and much different from the usual Lincoln coverage, on many levels. It's a fine choice for those who have some prior background in Lincoln's life and times, who would imbibe of a richer and more complex set of scenarios and influences than the usual approach. 

The Turn

Return to Index

The Weight of Salt
Sandra Montanino
Edwards Publishing
Ebook: 978-1-7345090-0-7
978-1-7345090-1-4            $14.95
Hardcover: 978-1-7345090-2-1            $28.95

Historical romance readers will discover that The Weight of Salt holds its own in a field known for novels that too often meld romance with a dash of history rather than the other way around. The plot gives equal emphasis and strength to both facets as it describes the milieu of 1906 Florida, where 15-year-old Italian girl Angelina Pirrello finds herself and her family trapped between the rising Suffragist movement, the Mob, and the prejudice against the Italian-American community she lives in. 

Adding romance to this already-multifaceted mix might seem over the top, but Sandra Montanino does a fine job of exploring all of the evolving social, political, and personal forces at work in this young girl's life. This adds a rich dimension of reality to experiences which are, after all, cemented in personal growth and struggle. 

One might think that, given its teen protagonist, the age group of this story's intended audience would be young adult; but to limit it to these eyes alone would be to do the novel a grave injustice. 

With its swirl of political and social insights, The Weight of Salt should ideally reach far beyond a young adult audience to touch all ages. Perhaps an older protagonist would have lent validity to an older audience choosing the book initially; but from the very beginning it's evident that the attraction here lies in the depth and variety of events and cultural inspections, even during an initial description of childbirth choices: "Though middle-aged and with graying hair, Signora Bertelli had something ageless about her—not in appearance but in her enthusiasm for life. With a look of scorn, she waved her finger at Domenico. “Who do you think is more useful, a midwife standing right in front of you or a doctor who’s nowhere to be found?” She narrowed her eyes. “This is the reason why God, with His divine wisdom, never trusted a man to have a child.” 

Another strength to this plot lies in its depictions of old-world Italian traditions in contrast to the new world cultural influences of America. One reason these insights are so realistic (they will be more than familiar to anyone who has grown up second generation in America, as has this reviewer) is that many of the experiences stemmed from Sandra Montanino's own background and family tales. 

These lend a solid set of insights throughout a story that embraces Sicilian family traditions; from the specter of an arranged marriage to a boy Angelina doesn't love to the choices she faces in confronting family over the changing milieu of American liberties and women's rights. 

At times it may feel like there is almost too much happening as far as social pressures. However, this reflects the reality of the times and the many forces Italian families and communities faced; especially against the backdrop of Ybor City, Florida, where the promise of riches to be gained by hard work is overshadowed by those who would take advantage of hard-working peoples. 

It's a delicate dance between Angelina's evolving emotions, her coming of age during these times, and the pressures that drive her to reconsider long-held family values and personal goals. 

The various insights from other women Angelina encounters, along with their experiences of marriage, are particularly well done: "You see that, Angelina? Just because I got married, it doesn’t mean I have a husband. It means he got a wife. The man I married likes to spend our money on gambling and saves his voice for talking to the dog.” Eva reached inside her pocket and showed everyone her coins. “Before I met him, I was an heiress. Now, this is all that’s left.” 

Readers receive all these insights and more in a story that is compelling, complex, and especially satisfying. It's highly recommended reading for historical romance readers who look for an emphasis on the sociology and history of the times as well as evolving romance. 

To limit this book to young adults alone would be to limit its potential. The Weight of Salt will ideally reach beyond the historical romance genre to engross readers of immigrant experience, women's literature, and women's social issues alike. 

The Weight of Salt

Return to Index

Reviewer's Choice

Awareness. Clarity. Power.
Jill S. MacDonald
Warren Publishing
978-1-7337955-8-6         $14.95 

Awareness. Clarity. Power. is a personal transformation opportunity that no growth-oriented reader should miss, whether they're already grounded in new age and self-help techniques or not. 

Readers may be surprised to learn that part of empowerment embraces an ability to understand the forces that drain that power. Jill S. MacDonald surveys how personal power is given away; but mostly importantly, she provides the nuts and bolts on how to recognize when this happens: "What does it mean to give away our power? It means we look to others, to situations, to relationships, to outcomes, to circumstances in order to validate, acknowledge, measure, gauge ...what resides within us. The circumstances, situations, relationships, and outcomes in our lives are reflections from within. The simplest way to know you’ve given away your power is by how you feel. It never feels good to give away our power, and it always feels good to tap into it. Most of us have experienced moments when we knew we stood in our power, felt our alignment, and listened to our guidance. Utilize those moments to assist you in accessing your power more often." 

Various such powers are discussed, from that of faith in a 'bigger picture' to aligning thoughts and emotions to affect and translate experiences. 

Each step of her process opens the chapter with a (often surprising) contention ("Conclusions are illusions") and a discussion that revolves around how to move past self-limiting thoughts and concepts to reach for the stars. 

One of the many empowering ideas here is to embrace and support the kind of fluidity in thought and approach to life that lends to better outcomes, more clarity, and deeper meaning. 

Readers who embark on Jill MacDonald's journey will find it thought-provoking, revealing, and filled with not just admonitions, but accompanying life examples designed to resonate with the psyches and experiences of a wide audience of readers. 

Anyone interested in meditation, self-awareness, and development-oriented reads will relish the passion, strength, and specific tools for growth that are carefully cultivated cornerstones of Awareness. Clarity. Power.  

Awareness. Clarity. Power.

Return to Index

The Black Market
Charles Moore
Petite Ivy Press
978-1-7351708-0-0         $29.99 

The Black Market: A Guide To Art Collecting is a primer for would-be collectors and provides information how to start collecting pieces from African-American and Black artists. This specific approach sets this book apart from more general 'how to' manuals, narrowing the focus to the history, culture, and presence of Black artists on the market, and the elements which make their works collectible (or not). 

More than just a listing of Black artists and art values, The Black Market offers all the basics necessary for understanding their history and creations. Complimenting the artist profiles and historical references is the methodology and resources for edu­cating oneself on art and the art market in general. This allows readers to move beyond this introduction to deeper inspections of Black artists and their relationship to the art market 

Artist biographies are used to follow the basic history of evolving black artistry, providing insights into the progression of its history from 1900 to modern times. 

Following these foundation discussions are chapters probing methods for expanding one's knowledge about collectible art, from museum memberships and art fairs and galleries to how art schools, residencies, and auctions work. 

Newcomers to either Black art or collecting in general thus receive information specific to both which assumes no prior knowledge of other, making The Black Market accessible to those just beginning to feel excitement over discovering this market and its opportunities. 

Sketches of collectors who have risen in the field add many tips and insights that newcomers will find invaluable and interesting: "During his early days as a collector, Craig developed a habit that would stick with him for the rest of his life: he bought art that related to what was going on in his inner life, making his decision based on emotions. If there was something that seemed to speak to him on a personal level, then he would pay attention to it—and buy it. In 2008, for example, while Obama was running for the Democratic nomination, Craig found an artist whose work epitomized the inspiration that he felt seeing Obama on the national stage. He found the art irresistible because it con­nected to what he was going through, and following the artist’s progress, he picked up several of his pieces." 

These insights from seasoned art collectors other than the author is one of the cornerstones of this book's expansive approach. The variety and depth of these experiences lends it a full-faceted flavor that a more singular approach couldn't duplicate. 

Anyone who would enter the world of Black art collecting for the first time should consider The Black Market: A Guide To Art Collecting a 'must have' foundation exploration of all its possibilities. The book opens many doors particular to the Black art market that other, more general art collecting books don't hold. It is very highly recommended reading that captures the rise and trends of the African American art world. 

The Black Market

Return to Index

A Cause for Alarm: Mental Illness and Public Policy
Joseph W. Vanable, Jr. 
DartFrog Books
Print: 978-1-951490-48-5              $10.00
eBook: 978-1-951490-49-2           $  3.00 

Mental illness is biologically-based, and should be one of the more treatable diseases. So, why do so many people go without treatment and fall into medical insurance gaps? A Cause for Alarm: Mental Illness and Public Policy identifies the connection between the perception of mental illness and the public policy that governs its treatment and presents one of the major obstacles to recovery. 

First, Vanable sets the stage with discussions of how mental illness is categorized, different forms of mental illness in adults and children, and the history of early treatments. As chapters review the stigma surrounding mental illness, the evolution of public and health policies on treatment processes and how options are limited for many who suffer from mental illness, readers receive all the background needed to appreciate how both this condition and the public response to it have affected access to health care over the years. 

Even more important are later discussions of the evolution of public policies as they relate to medical, insurance, and criminalization concerns. Each chapter contributes another piece to the greater puzzle of why mental illness, out of all the medical conditions, experiences a greater set of restrictions to adequate treatment. 

More often than is the case for other illnesses, social influences, perceptions, and legal proceedings dictate the kind, quality, and presence of medical care for mental illness. A thorough understanding of these procedures and barriers is necessary before anyone can consider breaking through them to revise public policy to benefit those who live with mental illness. 

Vanable takes the time to explain the roots of these concerns, from insurance industry focus on cost containment to the costs of transinstitutionalization, which places more people living with mental illness in prisons than in treatment centers. The human and fiscal costs of choosing prison over treatment are also outlined in a hard-hitting examination of what too often happens to mentally ill people who have nowhere to go and no effective medical treatment. 

Suggestions for improvements to the system to radically reduce the numbers of mentally ill who remain untreated also provides a backbone of strength to a title that does more than outline the issues and their history, but shows where public policies can be changed to save money and lives. 

No collection on mental illness, law, or public policy should be without the hard-hitting, well-researched and footnoted A Cause for Alarm. It raises many striking questions over issues that need to be addressed. 

A Cause for Alarm: Mental Illness and Public Policy

Return to Index

Have a Peak at This: Synergize Your Body's Clock Towards a Highly Productive You
Said Hasyim
Independently Published
Ebook: $3.99/Paperback: $13.99/Hardcover: $24.99

Have a Peak at This: Synergize Your Body's Clock Towards a Highly Productive You is more than just another treatise on improving productivity, but links the body's circadian rhythms to efforts to be more effective. It builds a foundation of efficiency based on the knowledge that these rhythms not only are the wellspring of energy, but are too often thwarted by synthetic light and terrible sleep schedules—not to mention artificially induced goals for increased activity. 

By working within a personal knowledge of one's rhythms, readers receive the opportunity to tap greater energy without diminishing it through synthetically enforced expectations of unreasonable schedules. 

Case history examples pepper advice which admonishes that "When you get your body’s clock in tune, you can plan difficult tasks for when you are most alert, and complete them faster and at double the quality than when you perform them at other times of the day." 

Chapters discuss various influences on those rhythms which readers can personally take charge of, from different types of exercise and balancing sugar levels to practicing time-restricted eating and understanding how circadian rhythms affect meal choices: "The circadian clocks of our digestive organs are not very optimal at night, as they are preparing your body for maintenance and sleep." 

Science and health facts balance with lifestyle considerations and is supported by both research and case history examples throughout. This makes it easy for readers to connect the dots between the latest findings on how circadian rhythms operate and daily lifestyle choices. 

Said Hasyim cultivates a clear purpose in outlining all these facets: "My wish and the reason I wrote this book is that people will realize they can reach the best of their abilities by harnessing the power of their own circadian rhythm." 

His information-filled self-help guide is especially recommended for readers who would not just increase productivity, but ultimately get their lives more in sync with their body's inherent system of wellbeing. It's especially highly recommended for health-conscious readers who seek to get the most out of their lifestyle choices for better energy and health. 

Have a Peak at This: Synergize Your Body's Clock Towards a Highly Productive You

Return to Index

The Light of Days Gone By
Craig Varjabedian
Eloquent Light Editions
9780999673218             $34.95 

Photographer Craig Varjabedian spent 45 years creating the photos for The Light of Days Gone By, capturing light-filled images from the glowing red hills of Ghost Ranch to the white dunes of White Sands and other locales. Reminiscent of the works of Andrew Wyeth, Grant Wood or John Singer Sargent, but with a more powerful nature focus, The Light of Days Gone By is an outstanding synthesis of color and New Mexican landscapes and peoples, and is a highly recommended pick for arts and American history holdings alike. 

Curator Cindy Lane provides an equally compelling essay introducing her thirty-plus years of professional relationship with this photographer and how she worked with galleries and museums across the country to foster and display his works. She's seen almost every photograph he's ever made, assisted on many shoots, and navigates the world of art exhibitions with an eye to promoting one of the most captivating photographers of modern times. 

Her essay, along with the insights of others, compliments these color images, which serve as a testimony to Craig Varjabedian's long-term career and the evolution of many themes in the process of his photographic endeavors and exhibitions. 

Myra Bullington's essay is another powerful note that lends further insights into his art and her relationship with it. 

The juxtaposition of black and white and color images, one to a page and in a good size for excellent resolution and impact, along with the arrangement of these pieces to reflect their evolving power and subjects, is simply exquisite. 

Discriminating arts and history holdings seeking exceptional—even extraordinary—works should make The Light of Days Gone By a mainstay and cornerstone acquisition for their collections. 

Yes, it is that good. 

The Light of Days Gone By

Return to Index

The Mastery of You
Renu S. Persaud
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-944784-83-6                $22.95 

The Mastery of You: A Journey Toward the Understanding of Self is a self-help primer designed for readers who would take the first steps toward personal transformation by better understanding their motivations, fears, and their reactions to life. It's a discussion based on self-mastery that charts a course intended to be "interwoven into everyday practice," advocating interpersonal interactions that stem first from self-awareness, then acknowledgement of alternative options. 

Now, more than ever, such an approach to life seems needed. While other books hold similar approaches, few provide the pragmatic, reasoned self-assessing tools Renu S. Persaud has cultivated as a program for change. 

Chapters advocate not just changing onesself, but caring for self before helping others. The author's interactions with hundreds of people, Her scholarly roots as a college professor, and her research into thousands of sociological, psychological, philosophical, art, cultural, historical, business, and neuroscientific sources lend to a solid survey. It moves beyond most ideal-based new age treatises to embrace the nuts and bolts of statistics and facts surrounding self-mastery. 

Many of her admonitions stem from the modern human condition, and feel all too recognizable: "Despite today’s emphasis on selfhood, there exists a perilous loneliness. Even with the attention we receive from technological and non-technological sources, emptiness pervades. We are adrift and missing something deeper. The strength that stems from within and not one that is a showcase of beauty and privilege is important, yet we fail to recognize this. Today we are searching for happiness continually. Why is it that so many of us seek happiness—why are we seeking rather than being happy?" 

From corporate examples of leadership roles and their choices to how helping others aids in self-healing, Persaud provides many insights into not just one approach, but various facets of the self-mastery process. 

The result is a rare exploration of self improvement that is firmly rooted in science, facts, history, business, and other disciplines. This will delight and attract a pragmatic audience usually skeptical of ethereal thinking. The Mastery of You is very highly recommended for its solid examination not just of the ideal of self-mastery, but the various influences on making this part of everyday life choices. 

The Mastery of You

Return to Index

Mortgaging the American Dream: What Were We Thinking?
R. Michael Conley
Beaver's Pond Press 
978-1643438849            $24.95 Hardcover/$9.99 Kindle 

Mortgaging the American Dream: What Were We Thinking? asks a serious question about the kind of world that is being created and left for future generations, tackling the issue of how current generations are 'borrowing' on future generations' viability through decisions that compromise humanity's survival, from the environment to economic and social strength. 

Between climate change and cyberwarfare to pandemics and economic challenges, R. Michael Conley maintains that conditions are right for a 'perfect storm' that will not just compromise the lives of future Americans, but the ability of the planet to maintain an environment that supports human life as we know it. 

The insidious progression of all of these forces is noted: "This was never our intent. We didn’t even know we were doing it. But like a chronic disease, it crept up on us and insidiously grew until it became too noticeable to hide. The warning signs were there, but they went ignored or unnoticed. Gradual at first, the forces of change are now morphing into existential threats." 

Conley's contentions take the form of a search for answers over how all these seemingly disparate pieces of the puzzle are coming together in a dangerous way. 

As readers move through stories of Conley's own coming of age and realizations about the American dream, they provide close examination of evolving events that began as seemingly localized situations only to evolve into a dangerous bigger picture. 

His personal experiences and life are drawn into the story as he reviews his ideals, the realities of coming of age in a changing world, the policies and processes set by social and political decision-makers during this time, and connections between today's issues and how they came to be. 

His comments and observations of this process serve as an eyewitness story that future generations may turn to when they ask 'why?' and 'how did this happen?', but its real value lies in its ability to reach modern audiences when there is still some hope of effecting change. 

The call to action which rounds up this summary is particularly compelling: "...recognize that time is working against us. Powerful feedback loops are hastening the degradation of our life-support systems diminishing Earth’s capacity to sustain growth at current rates. The bias to act must be urgent and powerful." 

Consider Mortgaging the American Dream a wake-up call. The clock is ticking, and those who read Conley's book can't claim they didn't see these things coming. 

Mortgaging the American Dream: What Were We Thinking?

Return to Index

No Prostate Required
Serge Thomas
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64570-876-6         $16.95 

Think 'prostate cancer' and concurrent visions of erectile dysfunction and the loss of sex speed to the forefront of concern, in many cases superseding worries over health and longevity. That's why readers may be surprised to learn that prostate cancer may not preclude a full and active sex life when they read Serge Thomas's memoir No Prostate Required, whose subtitle is How I Dealt With Prostate Cancer And Now Enjoy A Cancer-Free, Robust And Full Life. 

Any couple facing a similar diagnosis (and men, in particular, who view it as the death knell of sex) will find Thomas provides candid discussions of his treatment options, their lasting impact, and the role of physical and emotional affection in a relationship. 

One doesn't expect an undercurrent of humor to run through such a story, but this offers a satisfying comic relief to the very serious topic of prostate cancer, from initial diagnosis to treatment: "What would be my first step? Yellow pages, or to­day’s version–Google: “Doctors proficient at radical prostatectomy”? Or, “Doctors proficient at radical prosta­tectomy who do not leave their patients helplessly impo­tent and incontinent”? Or, better yet, “Doctors proficient at radical prostatectomy, who simultaneously increase the size and length of their patient’s penis, improve sexu­al performance, and guarantee a more fulfilled sex life”? 

There are also frank discussions of emotional impact and intimacy related to perceptions of sex's importance that pull no punches in outlining major obstacles the couple faced after diagnosis: "All that I was fighting for suddenly had disappeared and I had begun to flounder. Lisa, however, was rock solid on her love for me, reiterating if we may not be able to be intimate in that way in the future that nothing would change between us. I hate to say this, but I did not believe her. I believed that we all have requisite needs, in this case sex, and my not being able to perform would somehow change things." 

Candid discussions of intimacy, erections, and the pursuit of happiness also embrace the aftermath of cancer treatments and the various new routines and compromises that need to be made not only on a sexual and emotional level, but in handling basic bodily functions. 

Readers seeking the level of explicit advice that is presented more coyly or not at all in other books about treatment options for prostate cancer will welcome the approach of an author who has been there and experienced many of these options and concerns. 

The atmosphere of investigation; experimentation; understanding consequences and compromises to health, performance, and ability; and the ongoing struggle to maintain a healthy, active life drives a story that is filled with many insights and opportunities. This will prove especially important for those newly entering the prostate cancer journey. 

The result should be on the top of the reading list of any individual and his family who faces a new diagnosis of prostate cancer and all the special challenges this entails. 

No Prostate Required

Return to Index

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 2
C.M.H. Koenig
Inscript Books, A Division of Dove Christian Publishers
978-1-7348625-9-1                $19.99 

C.M.H. Koenig's second volume in Old Testament Readings & Devotionals covers the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers as they reveal God’s spiritual plan for his people (redemption, sanctification, and perseverance), and continues the Biblical study introduced in the first book. 

It should be forewarned that this is no light synthesis. It's the second book of a projected 14-volume series, and blends an in-depth study of each book of the Bible with devotionals supporting the read. 

The readings are deceptively short. Each consists of, generally, one chapter from the Bible, while the associated devotionals provide excerpts from Robert Hawker (1753–1827), Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), or Octavius Winslow’s (1808-1878) works. C.M.H. Koenig chose to quote the CSB version in the introductions in cases where the wording wasn’t critical to keeping it in the old Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV). There are many versions/ translations to choose from. 

Readers who follow this study with Bible in hand will find the introductory Biblical passage in italics. This helps locate the key message of the chosen section and juxtapose it with the study quote from one of the above scholars, such as Robert Hawker's comment on Exodus 2:24: "This is a precious scripture. My soul, put a note upon it. No sigh, no groan, no tear of God’s people can pass unobserved. He putteth the tears of his people in his bottle. Surely then he can never overlook what gives vent to those tears, the sorrows of the soul." 

Readers can read along in whatever Bible version/translation of their choice. Free online versions/translations are available at Bible Gateway ( ) or YouVersion ( ). 

Readings are provided materials for daily contemplation. This allows for a special brand of study that adds depth by spacing out the readings and devotionals for in-depth contemplation. 

The works gathered in this collection are especially hard-hitting passages. This is yet another example for Day 56, from Leviticus 20: "… I am the LORD your God who set you apart from the peoples.” Leviticus 20:24

Let the Reader remark with me, in the perusal of these verses, the grounds on which the Lord enjoins sanctity of life and manners, and the very strong motives in which it is founded, namely, that the Lord is the God of his people in a covenant way, and that they are his people. So that being thus distinguished as the peculiar objects of his love, reason as well as revelation seems to demand that they should be the peculiar followers of his holy law. See what Moses elsewhere saith of this, Deuteronomy 33:29. (Hawker, Poor Man's Old Testament Commentary: Genesis-Numbers, 512) 

This careful juxtaposition of Biblical source material and the reflection expanding its meaning offers essential material suitable for self-study and Bible study groups alike. 

C.M.H. Koenig has done the hard work of pulling out selected passages and pairing them with the thought-provoking insights of these seasoned scholars. All the Bible study student needs to do now is reflect upon and apply these meanings to their own understanding of the Bible's intentions and the progression of their own lives. 

Bible students of all ages who look for daily devotionals linked to explicit Biblical passages will find this approach revealing and accessible. There is no better way to savor the Scriptures and their underlying meaning than through a well-organized study plan such as this. 

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 2

Return to Index

Side Steps Terrorizing Sound Bites
Amy Jean
Jean Publications, LLC
9781734476644             $19.66

At first glance, the hard copy of Side Steps Terrorizing Sound Bites appears to be printed upside down. The front cover leads to the upside down back of the story, and the reader opens from the back to begin. The back cover presents a poem that starts "Going in reverse caused me to curse/laboring to diffuse anger/from the course I'd traversed." This leads one to think that this is a purposeful move rather than a printer's error. And so the fun begins. 

Each poem receives a color drawing by illustrator Eric Savage, who provides visual embellishment for the lyrical works within. More so than most poets who choose to add color embellishments, these pictures of people, animals, places, and situations are suitable artistic enhancements that both support written words and stand on their own as lovely drawings supporting the epic poetry production. 

Readers move through life experiences with reflections that blend history, philosophical, and psychological inspection. Some question the nature of perception and reality, as in 'Facts': "A story is a story;/What exactly are the facts?/—Your perspective/My perspective—who can argue with that?" 

Some are whimsical; others quite serious. The free-flowing style moves between verse and free verse with equal skill as Jean weaves a powerful story with action calls that link history and personal choice and perspective. 

Powerful reflections link daily life's challenges to broader experience as in 'Back from the Front', which connects military endeavors with fifty years of "calculation, terrorism and isolation" and describes them with a series of vivid images: "Mine's a ride down a slide/a fall in an elevator,/a spin in a tornado &/a climb up a ladder/Again, and again, and again..." 

The result is poetic social inspection at its best: a journey of compelling, engaging historical examination that links personal experience and evolution to activism in a compelling, unique, artistic manner where everything in life is potentially revolutionary. 

Side Steps Terrorizing Sound Bites

Return to Index

So Your Plant Sucks!
Casey Williams
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64316-583-7         $16.95 

Readers might initially think So Your Plant Sucks! What Are You Going To Do About It? is about gardening, but it's about the workplace, advising managers and business owners about the nuts and bolts of tailoring a profitable production plant even when profit indicators would seem to point to positive margins: "I remember a conversation with a plant manager during which I questioned the plant’s performance. He looked at me and said, “We’re making strong margins. What’s your problem?” Well, my problem was we couldn’t continue per­forming like that and expect to maintain those positive margins or any others breathing black ink. 

Cost Of Poor Quality (COPQ) is the primary subject in Casey Williams's book, which examines lying, fibs, and other methods managers and participants use to ignore early warning signals until business turns and is often lost to more savvy plant competitors. 

Charts, diagrams, and a straightforward approach pulls no punches in outlining the sources of plant management issues, whether they come from leadership, regulations, or concerns about the bottom line. Williams closely considers the roots of these problems and exposes them for managers who may not have understood some of their origins: "Just a touch of honesty about value-added vs. non-value-added. What I said is true, but there’s a type of waste that doesn’t quite fall into either category. We call it “essential non-value-added” or “business non-val­ue-added”. This is waste in the purest sense, but we’re going to do it anyway. These could be safety-related, government-mandated, or quality-ensuring. They’re waste, but are not optional." 

This is no idealistic feature of what could be, but a solid, reasoned review of what too often happens to reduce plant efficiency and, eventually, its overall operation status. Plenty of concrete options for change are presented alongside outlines of the problem that afford not just food for thought, but materials for changing both how plant operations are perceived and how they are transformed into something better. 

The result is a business book managers will actually grasp and utilize for best performances in both their own leadership role and the overall plant's functions. 

It's a primer which should be provided to every plant manager upon their new job's start, providing all the tools needed to move from identifying small problems before they become big to making the kinds of decisions that result in maximum efficiency, production, and better leadership approaches. 

Very highly recommended, So Your Plant Sucks! What Are You Going To Do About It? ideally will reach beyond management to draw the owner's attention. 

So Your Plant Sucks!

Return to Index

You Are Their Lighthouse
Jill S. MacDonald
Warren Publishing
978-1-7355601-5-1         $14.95 

Parenting and being responsible for another's life trajectory, guiding their most influential years, is a big challenge. Many have wished for a blueprint of advice covering major hurdles and best practices along the way. 

You Are Their Lighthouse provides an inspirational, uplifting support system and is recommended reading for new parents, especially those who feel overwhelmed. It also helps to have a prior dose of new age familiarity with conscious-raising and self-help approaches, because You Are Their Lighthouse incorporates these and more into its advice. 

From parenting blueprints and self-awareness exercises to insights and wisdoms from experience that are meant to help parents sync with their core values and perceptions of what it means to be both a parent and a child, this guide opens with a thought-provoking contention: "Our children choose us. And we choose them. It is a choice made at a soul level. It is an incredible journey of loving, learning, growing, and expanding for both parent and child. It is a powerful and sacred bond. We are inextricably linked to our children––heart to heart, soul to soul." 

It also provides an introductory caution—that parents who choose this book need to be open to self-awareness and growth: "The trick to parenting in an awakened state is balancing self-awareness and self-care with lots of patience and parenting tools." Those who initially think the guide will include advice on rigid boundary-setting and approaches to controlling situations may be surprised at the emphasis of lessons which cultivate a sense of parental mindfulness in the parenting process. 

As the chapters evolve, parents receive a primer that throws down a gauntlet of growth and guidance not just for the child, but the reader: "Continue to challenge your beliefs of what a good parent should be. Ask yourself if those beliefs are actually even yours." And as these lessons on how to be more self-aware are imparted, parents should see a correlation between their own growth and the evolution of their attitudes about parenting and their child's unique path in life both due to their influences and independent of them. 

You Are Their Lighthouse is simply outstanding, detailing a growth-oriented approach that celebrates and guides the parent's efforts and new role. It's the primer that should be a baby shower pick alongside all the guides covering the basics of how to handle a baby and raise a child. 

You Are Their Lighthouse

Return to Index

Young Adult/Childrens

Bricktown Boys
Pete Fanning
Immortal Works LLC
978-1-953491-02-2         $12.99

Sam Beasley is almost a teenager, but he already knows two important things about the trajectory of his life: he wants his mother to quit dating the dubious men who come and go from their lives, and he longs to play football even though there is no team and no sports opportunities in dead-end Bricktown. 

Middle grade readers receive the inviting story of a dilemma when a well-meaning mentor becomes involved in helping Sam and other kids realize their sports dream, only to attach a price tag to her sponsorship that leaves them wondering if the effort is worth its cost. 

Whether it's confronting his mother's issues or his lifelong dream, Sam's perceptions and voice are dramatically presented in a pragmatic first-person voice that continually assesses his world's realities: "The screen door banged shut as I walked into our dump of a house. A blast of hairspray and perfume hit me head on, tangled in a cloud of cigarette smoke leaking from the bathroom. The radio blared. My mom hummed her happy hums along with a song. My shoulders dropped. She didn’t hum like that when she was sticking around. Happy hums meant my mom was going out for the evening. This was no good. My mom didn’t do so hot when it came to guys. Probably because it was always the same guy with a different name. Stupid guys who liked to barge into our house and start bossing us around. And that was if they stuck around at all." 

His astute analysis of others isn't just limited to his mother's boyfriends, either. His ability to interact with and understand his peers is equally realistic: "Around the other guys Tommy was all mouth, but when it was just the two of us he was an all right guy. And even though Tommy was a shrimp, he was confident. He never seemed to worry about what people thought or what people wore, he just did what he liked. And the guy was a whiz, always talking about computers and technology. Most of the time I could hardly keep up with  what he was saying." 

This analytical ability both gets him in trouble and out of it as Sam faces increasing challenges at home from his mother's latest boyfriend, struggles with school, and finds that even his most dubious friendship connections provide a lifeline of help when tragedy strikes. 

Pete Fanning's portrait of a gritty, determined boy who finds ways to survive on many levels creates a compelling story that proves hard to put down. While readers might initially think it revolves around sports dreams, there's a lot more going on in Sam's life. His reactions, choices, and their consequences will prove thoroughly engrossing in a story highly recommended for pre-teens. 

Bricktown Boys

Return to Index

Cotton Club Princess
Carla Diggs
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-945174-18-6                        $16.95  

Readers of African-American historical fiction well know that the picks are slim in this category, compared to other genres. There simply aren't enough good books on the subject. But this isn't just why Cotton Club Princess is a recommended read for young adults. 

Set in 1928 and revolving around the coming of age of teen Nostalgia Richardson, who does housework for a living but dreams of a better life, Cotton Club Princess captures the atmosphere and times of the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance for an age group that seldom receives immersion in this era, let alone African-American lives of yesteryear. 

Nostalgia may be 'cleaning up after white folks' in Spivey’s Grove, South Carolina, but she harbors big dreams of a different life. She's heard about the big city of New York and the Cotton Club, and she aims to go there and dance at the Club even if she has to change the trajectory of everything she's been taught, in order to do so. 

Unlike most girls her age, Nostalgia never stopped reading or dreaming. This curiosity and persistence serves her well as she moves from a small-town experience to becoming more worldly and wise in the world. 

Carla Diggs does a fine job of outlining not only Nostalgia's adventures, but the background and training that give her the special ability to go places few women in her position dream of achieving. 

As she becomes a performer and realizes many dreams, readers are treated to a positive story of ambition and success rarely seen in African-American stories. Nostalgia faces adversity with the grit and determination of an independent woman, managing her own money, taking on an entertainment career, and making her way through the world by forging new paths for which she's had little prior training. 

Also especially notable are the changing times and attitudes towards women by the various bands that move through the Cotton Club. These social changes are duly noted by the now-savvy Nostalgia: "Some of the musicians in Cab’s band, especially Charles Sherman, asked me out on various occasions. I know I seemed unsociable, but they accepted my polite decline every time. The boys in the band were so different now. Duke Ellington’s men were quiet gentlemen who made sure if they saw one of the dancers leaving they would put her in a taxi, or do whatever needed to be done to see to it that she got home safely. Cab’s band members didn’t so much as open the door for us! They drank and smoked quite a bit much for me too." 

Nostalgia's drive to control and change her life is affected by various forces, from her upbringing and family roots in Spivey's Grove to her new life in the big city. At times, they intersect and clash. 

Throughout it all, young readers receive a vivid story that embraces the changing tides of racial relationships and women's rights through the eye of a girl whose Cotton Club dreams come true in unexpected ways. 

Readers of African American historical fiction for teens well know the dearth of materials in this genre, but Cotton Club Princess would be a standout even if it were laden with superior works. It will appeal to those who look for historical accuracy paired with the appealing saga of a spunky, determined young female protagonist who goes into the world to take charge of her life and realize her dreams to be a performer against all odds. 

Cotton Club Princess

Return to Index

Deputy Pete and the Purloined Pickles Puzzle
James J. Griffin
Condor Publishing, Inc.
978-1-931079-28-0        $10.95

Winchester, Texas is home to the handsome Deputy Pete, who patrols its streets with purpose and effectiveness. But he may have met his match over the mystery that unfolds in the middle grade Western read Deputy Pete and the Purloined Pickles Puzzle. 

James J. Griffin's background in producing Western novels for all ages continues to prove a plus here, creating a story which nicely blends a mystery with a rural Texas environment. 

Deputy Pete tackles a big problem that Sheriff Sam Slade has been unable to handle. Even more importantly, who would steal all the cucumbers and pickles in town? More than the perp and the deputy are in a pickle by the time the options are considered and the rationale behind pickle picking is presented. 

Humor and fun blend with problem-solving approaches as the deputy puts on his thinking cowboy hat and rides out to confront pickle perp possibilities. 

The dialogue between Pete, his parents, and others is often fun, offering plays on 'p' words that kids will relish: "But it is funny, son," his father commented, "you just keep on pondering over pilfered pickles."  "Mr. Porter," said Pete's mother, "I'm trying to get our son to relax, and you're encouraging him to worry about pickles." 

As the savvy deputy works with three young sleuths, Libby, Ben, and Jose, to solve this puzzle, readers will delight in conversations that capture whimsical problem-solving approaches to his job. 

James J. Griffin's ability to incorporate the folksy, homespun atmosphere of a good Western with a child's eye to solving a small town puzzle creates a compelling story that will delight kids interested in law enforcement conundrums. 

It's a fine read that will keep young folk guessing to the end, and blends the atmosphere and approach of a Western with a mystery that introduces kids to the potential range and strengths of the Western novel format. 

Deputy Pete and the Purloined Pickles Puzzle

Return to Index

Elevator Jones Meets the Wright Brothers
Dan Soderberg and Greyson Soderberg
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-858-2         $12.95 

12-year-old readers will find Elevator Jones Meets the Wright Brothers an unusual, fun exploration of third grader Henry Jones and his imaginative world. 

During the day, the hero is a mild-mannered schoolboy; but in his time off he becomes a time traveler who explores the past and solve its problems along with his cohorts, Tommy and Horatio. It helps that the old Excelsior Hotel where he lives with his parents has an aging elevator that serves as a portal to these other realms. 

It also helps that, in their latest adventure, a botched social studies test about the Wright Brothers leads them directly to the era in which the Wright Brothers made their legendary mark. There's only one problem. In their desire to solve problems of the past, they discover they've inadvertently changed air travel in their own time. 

Now they need to go back and fix it, lest air travel turn into a figment of Henry's imagination. 

A father-son team has penned this story, added colorful, simple drawings, and includes a healthy dose of unexpected humor: "Horatio! Horatio!” yelled Henry as he approached Horatio’s table. “What’s the trouble Henry?” asked Horatio, as he lifted a spoonful of soup from his bowl.“We need help with the elevator,” replied Henry. “Carl’s filling in for me. I’m having soup. It’s beef barley night,” said Horatio as he took another spoonful of soup. “I understand that it’s beef barley night, but Carl can’t help us with this one,” replied Henry. “Don’t tell me,” answered Horatio. “Yep. This is a job for Elevator Jones,” replied Henry. “Nope. Not doing it Henry. No time travel on beef barley night. I wait all week for this day,” said Horatio." 

The blend of whimsy, adventure, history, and time travel dilemmas makes this story particularly inviting to prior fans of Danny Dunn and other time machine tales for kids. 

From the dunes of Kitty Hawk to struggles between the famous brothers, preteen readers receive a lively history-based leisure read that is compelling and hard to put down. Parents seeking read-alouds for kids who don't yet have reading skills but are interested in an absorbing time-travel adventure suitable for multiple bedtime nights will find this an excellent choice, as well. 

Elevator Jones Meets the Wright Brothers

Return to Index

Explore the World of Chemistry
Christi Sperber
Nanoscale Scientists Publishing, LLC
9781953492005             $9.99 Hardcover/$4.99 Kindle

Explore the World of Chemistry: The Ultimate Alphabet Book for Nanoscale Scientists! is a beginning alphabet reader for young would-be scientists, pairing a focus on biochemistry and general, organic, and inorganic chemistry with an exceptionally colorful board book format. 

From 'A is for Atom', which explains how atoms form everything, to 'J is for Joule (a measurement of energy), the bright illustrations of happy children interacting with and demonstrating basic principles of chemistry are exceptionally well done, providing the color and sense of adventure needed to engross the very young in the world of science. 

Parents, too, will find these one-line explanations simple to understand, serving as a refresher course on many of the basic terms used in chemistry. 

There are many chemistry and science books on the market for older readers, but this picture book primer is a top recommendation for parents looking to help young beginning readers get a head start on both their alphabet and the world of chemistry. 

Explore the World of Chemistry

Return to Index

Five Funny Tummy Men
Jean Reed
The Peppertree Press LLC
9781614937098             $14.95 

Five Funny Tummy Men requires good reading skills, even though it's a slim paperback. It features fun drawings by Clyde Seymour and Jason Fowler and explores the physiology of what happens after you eat. Where does food go? Basic digestion concepts are explained via the 'five funny tummy men' who process it. 

A chatty observational style belays the usual science-based discussion for young people. This invites them to become engaged in a funny story that blends imaginative ideas with real facts about digestion. In this story, the fictional five little men " right down in YOUR tummy. When your tummy aches - they are giving you a wee little kick. When your tummy makes noises, they are talking to you." 

Dialogue between these men as they work to digest food is whimsical and fun, as are the descriptions, but the basic idea is to present physiological functions in a more engaging style than the usual picture book approach. 

Parents who choose to read this story aloud to young ones will find it both entertaining and educational—a satisfying blend of imaginative characters and real facts that will lead kids to remember these physiological bodily functions and how they work. 

Five Funny Tummy Men

Return to Index

Henry the Astronaut
Jonna Amato Ocampo
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-859-9         $6.99 

Henry the Astronaut tells of Henry the teddy bear's nighttime musing about the stars and the possibility of his venturing out among them, and presents a lovely picture book rhyme about his adventures. 

Jonna Amato Ocampo's drawings are perfect bedtime attractions as Henry makes his journey from bed into the stars via his imagination. The rhyme changes meter throughout, which may stymie parents who begin the story with the traditional four-line rhyme and move into areas either unrhymed or differently arranged. But this approach adds variety and unpredictability to the story as youngsters follow happy Henry's enthusiastic encounters with the moon and stars. 

The underlying message offers a positive vision of exploration, discovery, and risk-taking as kids absorb not just Henry's adventures, but his freewheeling, fun attitude towards new experiences. 

Parents will welcome this story for its opportunity to instill such a spirit early on in the very young via an inviting bedtime read-aloud. 

Henry the Astronaut

Return to Index

Just Between Sam and Me
Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell
2101 Ink
978-0-9983372-3-4         $9.99 Print/$2.99 Digital
Author Website: 
Cowriter Website: 

Tweens ages 8-12 will delight in a warm story about shy Olivia Martin, who is starting sixth grade without her best friend at her side. When she earns the unwelcome attention of a school bully who challenges her, this leads her to write of her experiences in a diary directed to her cat Sam. Readers gain insights into the thoughts of a young victim and how she handles daily bullying. 

After a fine third-person introduction to Sam's newfound journal-writing, the story moves to the journal format itself, which probes the heart of the bullying experience and juxtaposes with third-person objective descriptions. 

Eleven-year-old Olivia provides the background details of her new grade level, family, and farm life. The moves between journal and third-person story are nicely done, and the line drawings which pepper the account are good embellishments as readers gain perspectives about Olivia and her special sixth grade challenge in a town she loves, Spring Hope. 

As she new girl Candace Mazare proceeds to make her life miserable, Olivia discovers that Candace is used to a bigger, fancier world than Olivia's beloved small town, and doesn't hesitate to criticize everything she sees. This is in fine contrast to the usual children's story of the shy new girl in town who becomes the object of attack. The new girl in this case is belligerent, critical, and more than capable of injecting division into a group of students who have known each other most of their lives. 

Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell create a story that offers a satisfying twist on the perspective of bullying, victims, and even more importantly, how divisions are created in a group. These offer realistic, invaluable lessons that kids will find essential to understanding life events and how one person's attitude can change everyone around them. 

Just Between Sam and Me documents this process with precision and realistic detail in a manner most books about bullying don't begin to touch, getting to the heart of how a bully is created and how group dynamics change. 

The result is a powerful story for advanced elementary to middle grade audiences. It is highly recommended reading for its very different approach to how bullying happens and how a small town girl ultimately rises to the challenge that emerges in her own close-knit school community. 

Just Between Sam and Me is very highly recommended for both its educational message and its exceptionally lovely pen and ink drawings. 

Just Between Sam and Me

Return to Index

The Metric Clock
Phillip B. Chute
Independently Published
978-1-7328855-0-9         $14.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook 

The Metric Clock tells of nine-year-old Charles Wallace, who lives a relatively isolated life with an often-absent father in New England in 1946. When a trip to rural Canada provides him with answers that encourage a closeness he's never had with his father before, Charles begins to see that people other than his one best friend, Mary Anne, could connect with him on a deeper emotional level...if he can let them in. 

When he chooses to go on an adventure, Charles discovers that keeping secrets and forming new friendships can impact old ones...even those as solid as his pre-summer friendship with Mary Anne: "She felt something changed from before. They had been apart so much that when they went somewhere together now they were almost like strangers. She had seen him playing with the boys many times but could not spend any time with him because she would be with the other girls or with her little sister in hand. She wondered how he felt about her now." 

The result is a story of war and peace, problems and solutions, evolving relationships, and new possibilities that all challenge Charles to move behind his shy comfort level to accept new possibilities from life. 

Phillip B. Chute does a fine job of exploring these evolutionary processes, taking time to focus on a close friendship that changes with the seasons. As Charles examines what is important in his life, he comes to realize what kinds of people he should be supporting and cultivating from both new experiences and tried-and-tested encounters: "He felt good being with her at this place. Charles was happy they could share it together. He felt at peace with himself and nature. “Mary Anne, you know we’ll probably never see this sight again as long as we live.” She looked at him in confirmation. “If I were here alone I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much,” Charles stated. “Being here with you is what makes me happy.” 

As the story evolves, a surprise ending looms that both changes everything and reinforces the lessons Charles receives about his life, its trajectory, and his relationships. 

Middle grade readers will find The Metric Clock a compelling story with a strong message about friendships, courage, and embracing life. 

The Metric Clock

Return to Index

My Friend the President
Lynn W. Leigh

Heart to Heart Publishing

One day, in 1941, Raymond Leroy Clark became a special guest of the president. His role at this inauguration began a 79-year tradition of handing off the Bible used in reciting the oath of office, after which the president would note and sign his seed corn book. My Friend the President documents this ritual, which starts when the teen changes a president’s life and becomes embroiled in matters far beyond his experience. 

The first note about My Friend the President is that its fictional presentation incorporates the drama and description of a vivid tale steeped in American traditions and culture. The president faces the special challenge of getting away from the demands of his office to take a secret break as a war in Europe looms: "He knew what the vice president said was true. His reply was what landed him in this mess. “The public would never understand the president taking a break,” he had replied. “Really?” The vice president had countered. “Do you believe there is a single member of the human race who hasn’t, at some point, reached a time where life wasn’t worth living, only to come back after a break completely recharged, anxious to get back to work?” 

Harry Caldwell, Director of the Secret Service, is charged with arranging for a secret identity and the president's dangerous mingling with common men: an event that might compromise his safety. A chance meeting between a man standing by the side of the road in a storm and a young man who gives him a ride evolves into not just a friendship, but a connection between higher office and public affairs that blossoms over numerous presidents and Raymond's lifetime. 

As good men, poor men, rich men, and politicians mingle in an unusual series of associations, readers will find My Friend the President a rich story that adds real-life events such as Orson Welles' dramatic broadcast, which challenged the beliefs and experiences of the common man ( ‘I’m speaking from the roof of the Broadcasting Building, New York City. The bells you hear are ringing to warn the people to evacuate the city as the Martians approach. Estimated in last two hours three million people have moved out along the roads to the north... our army is... wiped out... artillery, air force, everything wiped out. This may be the last broadcast. We’ll stay here to the end.’), into the story of a presidential getaway like no other. 

Character goals, ambitions, and dilemmas spring to life, from car salesman Big Don's struggles and ideals to Director Caldwell's ongoing challenges in keeping the president's identity and movements secret. Raymond's blossoming friendship with 'Sam' introduces him to new worlds and tests his abilities. And then there's the added angst of a convenient kidnapping plot by an ex-con who sees an uncommon opportunity: "Mac read the message silently, his eyes stopping on the last few words. If my demands are not met, the president will be kilt dead. The signature was still legible. Nugent U. G. Bernard. Mac examined the paper closely. “Nice. High Cotton content.” 

As Big Don faces the impact of these confrontations and its effect on his reputation and business efforts, a steady stream of humor enhances the story: "The people here are good folk, but these are hard times and they’ve got suspicious minds. Now, when they pass by and see this crowd of strangers there’s bound to be talk. Same thing happened when the Feds swooped in and closed the Coffeyville Savings and Loan a few years ago. Place was crawling with the government. These people going to be looking through the windows and see the same thing all over again.”  “Hardly, we’ll be covering all of the windows with paper,” Stanford said, “This is a matter of national security, demands privacy, plus the director will need additional wall space for maps to coordinate the search.” 

My Friend the President is folksy, homey, amusing, and filled with down-home dialogue and fun: "You hit him?” Skeeter asked. “Twern’t tryin to hit them,” he said shaking his head, “but they won’t be comin back.” He smiled. “Got their car two or three times before they made their get-away.” “Didn’t het nobody?” Nug asked again, hopeful. “Winged one of my fryers was all.” 

It's a romp across America like no other, and will keep readers involved in a heady blend of fun and thought-provoking intrigue as Sam, Raymond, and other characters all find themselves in precarious situations. 

Readers looking for a lively, engrossing story filled with not only an unusual, blossoming friendship but a romp through American class and culture will find My Friend the President a story hard to put down. 

My Friend the President

Return to Index

On My Way to the Lilikoi Tree
Jonna Amato Ocampo
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-945176-64-7         $14.95 Hardcover 

On My Way to the Lilikoi Tree is a multicultural Hawaiian adventure pairing fun drawings by Rich Olson with the story of a rabbit, turtle, bear, and two seal pup friends who explore Oahu in search of the lilikoi tree. 

Kids ages 2-6 receive an inviting, easy picture book that explores the evolution of friendships during a cooperative venture involving a fabled tree and the various adventures they experience trying to reach it. 

A current of fun and discovery runs through this gentle tale. Kids not only overcome simple obstacles, but cultivate a sense of teamwork in reaching a shared goal as they move through Hawaii's waters and land, appreciating its beauty and the welcoming atmosphere that surrounds it. 

Parents looking for a gentle read that couches its morals in adventure and fun, especially those interested in providing a sense of the colorful atmosphere that Hawaii is known for, will find this voyage of discovery inviting; especially when reading it aloud to the very young. 

As the friendly, cuddly animals introduce Hawaiian phrases and terms, young readers receive a story steeped in the hospitality and color that makes Hawaii the attraction it is today. 

On My Way to the Lilikoi Tree is a real treat and a fine cultural introduction for the very young. 

On My Way to the Lilikoi Tree

Return to Index

Sasha Savvy Starts It Up
Sasha Ariel Alston
Gold Fern Press
Print: 978-0997135466          $12.99  
Ebook: 0997135468              $  7.99 

Sasha Savvy Starts It Up provides middle grade readers with the fine story of a spunky 12-year-old African-American coder who has been honing her skills since age 10. ( See first book in series, Sasha Savvy Loves to Code). Now in middle school, Sasha is used to employing her imagination and skills in different ways, and is encouraged to start her own small business. 

Perhaps this is a predictable move on her part, given that her mother is a software developer and her father a chef and entrepreneur himself; but when Sasha ventures into the world of business, she finds new challenges that test both her skills and ambition. 

The business isn't just Sasha's responsibility. It's a team effort involving family and friends, teaching them new lessons about start-ups and collaborative efforts. 

Sasha Ariel Alston incorporates many basic business insights particular to start-up possibilities in the course of her story. This adds both depth and practical, educational approaches that will engross kids with an appealing story and teach them about basic business efforts: "In the last ten minutes, the Love Kit team discusses what they will say in their pitch. Their slogan is “Love Kit, one for all.” The first team goes up to pitch their idea. They want to create a club named FAMP for high school students who are interested in starting their own business in Fashion, Arts, Music, or Photography industries. The purpose is to provide students with the opportunity to make money by following their dreams while still in school." 

Color drawings peppered throughout add interesting illustrations to the account. 

As the story evolves, Sasha learns new lessons about more than business as they head towards a launch and she learns about what she can and can't handle. The ongoing support of her parents, who encourage her creativity and problem-solving and discuss the many possibilities she faces during business development, is especially nicely done. 

Young readers who are creative and engaged in new possibilities for their lives will relish this moving tale of a girl who works hard to make her dreams come true. It's just the ticket for empowering young girls, especially those of color, on their path to becoming more effective thinkers, leaders, and achievers. 

Sasha Savvy Starts It Up

Return to Index

Sock Lobsters
Michelle Bulriss
Independently Published
978-1-7361126-0-1            $12.99 

Sock Lobsters is a fun picture book story for youngsters with good reading skills and parents who look for magical stories. It tells of a ball of yarn that receives the loving attention of a knitter grandmother, who makes from it a special pair of lobster socks for her grandchild. Nonnie's efforts are truly magic, because the socks begin to come alive even before being shipped to her granddaughter. 

Upon arrival at their new home, said socks immediately begin exhibiting very different personalities. While one grumbles about having to reside on stinky feet, the other springs from the box enthusiastic about the lovely day and her role in warming feet. 

"Sebastian immediately saw the bad in the world and Lola saw the good. Even though they were terribly different, Sebastian and Lola were best friends." As the story line evolves, youngsters receive a fine tale of fantasy, friendship, and different perspectives about the world. This encourages them to think about their own views of life and how it affects that world's possibilities. 

When tragedy strikes, the very different sock friends must each muster their unique abilities to problem-solve and survive. 

Sock Lobsters is heartwarming and fun. The weave of fantasy, reflection, and adventure assures that kids from the very young to older picture book readers won't always anticipate its direction. This is a special pleasure in a world of picture book stories that often are all too predictable in outcome or plot. 

The positive message of Michelle Bulriss in Sock Lobsters is a very much-needed panacea for defeat and despair, and is highly recommended reading for all ages. 

Sock Lobsters

Return to Index

The Snowy
Dave Schneider
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64136-850-6         $16.95 

Teens (especially teen boys, who love sci-fi action and adventure) will find The Snowy an intriguing tale of four best friends who head out for a backcountry ski trip one day, only to face danger when they enter a forbidden area. 

There's a reason why the volcanic area is out of bounds, and it's not just the preponderance of steaming vents. Another kind of danger threatens them in the form of a rogue wormhole that dumps them far from everything familiar, into another world filled with strange creatures and newfound threats. 

A concurrent theme in the story involves desperate parents who try to bring this band of adventurers home against impossible odds. Its rare to receive a tale that shifts from the focus of teen experiences to adult concerns over their disappearance, but this lends an extra depth to events. This keeps the story not just on track and interesting, but replete with added special interests as fathers Mark and Rob do their best to find out what happened and how to fix it. 

As Sandy and Sparky meet Tyfoona, Pizella, and Grell, the adventures expand to include the concept of a bizarre world that harbors many unknowns and new challenges the kids are ill prepared to tackle. 

Young readers will find themselves drawn by the characters, atmosphere, and compelling adventure the group has fallen into. They will welcome an engaging sci-fi story that sizzles with action as the kids confront snow-filled days, aliens, and possibilities for healing that expand to embrace their own world. 

The Snowy

Return to Index

Tales from the Unconquered Planet: Trouble with Gresslons
T.P. Ripley
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64316-571-4         $19.95 Hardcover/$10.08 Paper 

Readers ages 13 and older who enjoy spunky female protagonists and space opera will find Tales from the Unconquered Planet: Trouble with Gresslons just the ticket for a fun adventure surrounding a young girl's mission to save Earth from a wicked alien queen. 

Although the suggested age range runs to age 18, younger teens will be the main audience for Lily's story, even though many of T.P. Ripley's descriptions are detailed enough to stand out from the usual casual sci-fi surveys for this age group: "...this was no ordinary room, if room was the appropriate word. It was more of a cav­ity; a wet and sticky cavity, a moving cavity, a breathing cavity, a cavity with a life of its own. The flesh pink ceiling rose up and down like a great pair of lungs. The walls were coated with a yellow jel­ly substance from which hung thick folds of cloth-like skin. The entire structure was criss-crossed with purple rubbery tubes . These tubes throbbed like grotesque veins with sticky brown fluid pulsating through them." 

Older readers might eschew the simple color drawings peppered throughout, but many also will appreciate descriptions which offer plays on words, such as the name of Queen Revolta Gressla, who rules over the planet Gresslonathaliaznusswatsit ('Gresslon' for short), populated by some of the most cruel, destructive races in all the universes. 

The Gresslons have multiple ears, which they equate to status. They have been made vile not just by their choices, but by their Queen's leadership. And it's up to ordinary Earth girl Lily to stop them. 

The humor and whimsy that runs through this story will be apparent to all ages, though most likely recognized in all its incarnations by those ages 14 and up. The adventure itself is surprising, offering many intriguing moments, as when the country of Australia tries to give up to the invading Queen, driven by the simpering leadership of one Charlie Doo (nickname: Didgery). 

What at first appears to be a space opera for pre-teen readers thus turns out to be satisfyingly unpredictable, filled with whimsy and satire, and an excellent story for those who like a sense of irony and the unexpected inserted in their alien invasion themes. 

Is Lily really powerless against this evil force, or does she have unique resources that place her on an equal footing with the strangest and evilest creatures in the universe? 

The dual theme of Lily's exploration of her own abilities and potential is satisfyingly done, but it's the tongue-in-cheek humor that will keep readers involved and laughing. Those who don't necessarily look for a laugh-out-loud experience from their sci-fi adventures, nor a story that contrasts a young girl's blossoming powers with a world-saving confrontation, will find many happy surprises in this story of courage and unexpected transformations of all the characters, from Lily and her family to the aliens themselves. 

Tales from the Unconquered Planet: Trouble with Gresslons

Return to Index

To the Top of Greenfield Street
Ryan Standley
Found My Heart Publishing
978-0578741291            $10.75 paper/$.99 Kindle
978-0578786063            $18.00 hardcover 

To the Top of Greenfield Street will appeal to teens and new adults who enjoy coming of age stories and tells of fifteen-year-old Eric Daniels, who must rebuild his life in a new town after a tragedy which follows and haunts him. 

Eric has always been fat and subject to bullying, but this summer, he was determined to lose weight and build a new life. The fire that destroys his family's home changes everything yet again just when he is on the cusp of success, and injects despair and poverty into his family life. 

On one level, starting over in Freeport, IL, in 1993 in a place where he has no history seems appealing. On another, it seems to offer little new, as Eric finds the patterns and limitations that plagued his prior world have followed him into this one. 

But as he embarks on escapades with Nate, discovers girls, accepts secret invitations, and faces accusations of being a 'charity case' with a druggie mother, Eric also learns how to cope with his family, his old and new friends, and the impact of his responses on the world around him. 

As his romance with Jen reveals new heartbreaks that stem from her own hidden angst, Eric better learns how to handle both himself and those around him. A dash of intrigue is added, but it's the relationship changes which make this story so compelling. 

Ryan Standley does an excellent job of capturing Eric's evolving life and the types of journeys he undertakes to learn new skills as he exercises his ability to absorb new opportunities. His presentation of teens who interact with one another and gain new visions for their future and their place in the world are nicely presented, realistic, and compelling. 

Readers of coming of age stories well know that the best tales survey this growth process from different angles. 

To the Top of Greenfield Street's ability to portray not just Eric's perceptions and conundrums, but those of teens and family members alike, creates a moving account that explores body image, interpersonal relationships, and what is brought from the past to affect the future when changes take place. 

Its beautifully evocative story will keep all ages engaged to the end, providing yet another twist on the typical 'underdog evolving' theme where the protagonist sees himself as seriously flawed, but actually is only human. 

To the Top of Greenfield Street

Return to Index

Top Hat Society
E.M. Vick
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64316-615-5         $14.95 

The Top Hat Society is a group of Victorian demon-worshipping men whose actions changed Lucy O'Rourke's life when they killed her twin. At this moment, she is both bereaved and yet believes her family is finally free of the Society's attentions. There is no simple resolution to her situation, however. When she founds she is still on their radar, even more challenges emerge. 

E.M. Vick creates a compelling story that takes the time to establish atmosphere, setting, and purpose at the very start, drawing teen readers into the mercurial setting of Victorian London where Lucy resides: "The nightmare crept in on a cold October night, just moments before dawn’s attempt to stretch through the thick fog of Lynd’n. It was a typical evening, especially as winter began to settle between the bones of alleys. There were still a few lost souls wrapped in heavy cloaks. They wandered along the newly paved street to wave down the few hansom cabs still waltzing their lonesome trot. Various Schkotsland’s Guards casually stepped along the walkways by closed shops and sleeping flats. The little light that did dare to illuminate came from the cornerstone gas posts, the old Cathedral Bridge that spread across the Times River, and the ever-watchful Clock Tower." 

The tragedy of her twin's death isn't the only loss that Lucy faces as she confronts the ongoing onslaughts life brings to her remaining family and her life: "Lucy had lost the one person she could always turn to for help, to be held, to feel loved and protected. And she didn’t even get to say goodbye." 

As Lucy faces her own role in the awakening of The Seven and a demonic threat that makes the efforts of the Top Hat Society pale in comparison, she reluctantly comes into her own powers with the help of teacher Vann, whose presence changes everything. 

But will his aid and her remaining family be enough to confront a pack of savvy, ancient demons with determined plans that go far beyond even a talented young girl's abilities? 

Teens who enjoy supernatural horror and fantasy will relish this story not just because of its trappings of horror and realistic setting, but because Vick's character, Lucy, faces the challenges of her own heart and the consequences of her beliefs and actions in the process of coming of age. 

Her battles, joys, and pain are compelling emotional attractions throughout this growth process, drawing in young readers with a backdrop of confrontation spiced with hard lessons Lucy must absorb if she (and her world) is to survive. 

Not only does the story strike a hopeful note about her ability to confront this powerful force, but explorations of male and female abilities, their roles in the world, and the process of becoming a mature, life-changing force against all odds make Top Hat Society a thoroughly engrossing read. The story holds the door open for more adventures, yet provides a satisfying conclusion that will keep young adults involved to the end. 

Top Hat Society

Return to Index

What Dragons Like
Jared Eastley
Lurth Worx LLC
9781735570808             $19.95 Paper/$29.95 Hardcover

What Dragons Like features outstanding color dragon illustrations that young picture book readers will relish, accompanying a fun review of creatures and experiences that not only dragons but young readers will like. 

These include: dinosaurs, exploring distant lands, going on adventures, climbing into caves, tropical beaches, and flying high in the sky, among other things. 

The combination of whimsical adventures that dragons like with absolutely stunning color images that translate the written whimsy into lovely images suitable for framing is exquisite. The lovely artwork sets this book apart from any typical approach to dragons and their lives. 

Many books are written for young readers already captivated by the idea of dragons. Few capture the sense of fun and imagination of this story, which outclasses the competition with 34 fine art paintings by different contributors to accompany an interactive format that encourages kids to explore their own tastes for fantasy and adventure. 

Parents seeking exceptional read-alouds that go beyond the usual child's picture story to represent fine art on every page will find What Dragons Like is not just a cut above its competitors, but stands head and shoulders above any other dragon picture book for young people. 

What Dragons Like should be a mainstay for any collection seeking either a picture book about dragons or a diverse set of images which portray different dragon countenances and varied approaches to depicting them. 

What Dragons Like is very, very highly recommended! 

What Dragons Like

Return to Index

Young Heroes Come of Age to Change History
Novels by Tom Durwood
Empire Studies Press 

Four young adult novels by Tom Durwood exemplify the problem-solving abilities, courage, and fortitude of young people with studies that place different characters both on the cusp of adulthood and in a position to change history. Durwood places each of his young adult protagonists in a key position at the cusp of pivotal moments in history. 

His ability to portray the perspectives and experiences of ordinary young adults caught in adult affairs and his attention to pairing this history with vivid, realistic action keeps all of the books absorbing and hard to put down. 

Take the collection Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories (978-0999143544, $15.40 Paper/$5.99 Kindle). This pairs the action-oriented pace that is the hallmark of stories that attract young adult attention with young heroes and heroines who engage with their world beyond singular or individual concerns. 

From participation in violent confrontations to choices in being proactive or reacting to unexpected events, Durwood excels at creating a variety of scenarios that test his young characters' strengths and evolving approaches to life. 

Also exceptional is Durwood's inclusion of notes that precede each tale, giving each story's historical context and character development as they evolved from a series of drafts of the stories. These provide the background and insights essential for young adults to understand not just the underlying history, but how Durwood made choices in representing these young people. 

Among the winners in Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories is 'The Boatman's Daughter', telling of an early Egyptian girl's battles as the biggest waterway in the world (in its time) is being constructed. 

Sixteen-year-old Salima, the Boatman's daughter, has arranged for her own future: going to a good school. Her education not only helps her father's business, but prepares her for confrontations to come as she assesses her place in a changing world and confronts assassins, love, and treachery alike. 

This short story also appears as a longer work, The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter (978-1952520020, $19.00 Paper/$12.00 Kindle), which enjoys not just the expansion of all its themes and additional action, but talented art from Serena Malyon, Niklas Frostgard, and Oliver Ryan. 

Where the short story excels in presenting succinct action concentrating on one piece of Salima's life, the longer version expands details and provides further insights into her world and the politics that drive and influence her life. 

The title story, 'Ulysses S. Grant in China', is set in 1877 China and follows the meeting of two remarkable leaders in Peking. A student musical group asked to play for them introduces Joseph, an American boy resented by the others. He finds that his playing and their efforts change the nature of discussions and understandings between early China and America. 

Young readers of historical fiction will also relish The Colonials (ASIN: B07Q9YSLGN; $3.99 Kindle), a survey of early America that features teen heroes who change the course of history. Having teens take matters into their own hands rather than simply reacting to adult forces adds extra depth to a tale that is thoroughly engrossing. 

Another addition to the story that elevates it beyond a historical recap alone is the presence of mystery and intrigue added into the story of the foundations of the American Revolution. 

In school, young learners get the idea that the American Revolution was primarily a concern of the British and the Americans. As this story takes place, the observations and concerns of a group of teens regulated to an elite boarding school shows that the battle actually reached into global territory, introducing issues of equality and freedom into more than American circles. 

Who would come from Europe to save the Colonials, who are at a grave disadvantage? The answer is surprising. Teens who chose this story will find that the American Revolution and its various social and political influences come alive even in Amsterdam, where Johannes and others observe these struggles and become involved on many different levels of idealism and confrontation. 

The action is nicely done, strong characterization creates a powerful draw, and readers will find this story compelling, offering a depth of subject and emotionally charged scenes that bring the issues of the 1700s to life from the perspectives of young people concerned about their futures. 

King James' Seventh Company (978-0999143520, $15.40 Hardcover/$5.99 Kindle) follows a group of teens who embark on a journey to solve what is going awry in the King's land. King James’ Seventh Company not only confronts scholarly influences on the production of the King James Bible, but considers the political and social impacts it and they have on the land as the result of their actions and choices. 

This vivid story of the Bible's evolution places these teens at the crux of decisions that will not only affect their society, but lives around the world, for centuries to come. 

The story of the creation of the King James Bible version is little-covered, which makes this account even more highly recommended for choosing a historical event and era that is far less familiar to most young people than the usual historical novel's backdrop. 

A prologue that takes place in Wales in 71 A.D. sets the stage for 1600s events which are narrated in the first person to bring the era to life. 

As a borrowed book snafu leads into revelations of intrigue, mistaken identities, and a plot that involves printers, scholars, politicians and assassins, proactive teens take charge to change their world. 

All these novels hold similar basic elements: the teen characters are strong, responsible, clever, and dedicated to influencing the wider world around them. They also are all solidly based on history, yet bring that history to life through the eyes, senses, and actions of strong young adults. 

These reads are uniformly gripping and educational, all in one. Pair action and adventure with social issues, political confrontations, and the perceptions of teens effect positive changes for a set of historical stories that should be in the collections of any library looking to illustrate the attraction and power of historical fiction.

Young Heroes Come of Age to Change History

Return to Index