Fantasy & Sci Fi

MF Thomas
978-1543989069            $15.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

There are many kinds of darkness. Some are external forces; other internal. Arcade explores both in a cat-and-mouse game that pits personalities and evolutionary experiences with survival conundrums that reach beyond most post-Apocalyptic scenes. 

California residents in particular will relish the Silicon Valley setting in a world after the Change has rendered most electronics useless. A certain irony exists in this story of failed electronics taking place in one of the largest technology centers on the planet. There is no warning of the event. One day there is a flash, and everything stops working. 

Retired FBI agent Walter Jackson arrived in Sunnyvale from Memphis just before the blast that changed the world, but after his wife and daughter vanished from his life months ago (also with no explanation or warning). He's on a mission to find them—one which doesn't change with the newfound apocalypse, but only gets more complicated in a world without power. 

He was prepared because his world was already set adrift by their exit and he's used to finding himself at a loss, but also because he holds the skills from his prior job to make an investigation his mission until it's resolved. Until then, he works for the local police in a position that dovetails his experiences and purpose. 

Meeting Silicon Valley high-tech mogul Sean Holt and learning of his similar mission to locate a missing person leads him into new avenues of discovery as they face prospects even more threatening to mankind, from human greed to alien invasion. 

Arcade cultivates an atmosphere of on-edge activity that keeps readers both guessing about the next twist or outcome and satisfied with the psychological development and evolution of Jackson, Holt, and the other characters in the story. Its action is breathtakingly nonstop, at times, but ebbs and flows like the tide. MF Thomas takes the time to build subplots, characters, and intrigue between these confrontations and struggles. 

Most of all, Arcade excels in taking the trappings of sci-fi and turning them upside down. Time travel? Try a time travel experience that pits faith with a rebuild of the world. Aliens? Consider an invasion that takes a far different form than H.G. Wells could have envisioned. Investigative piece? Arcade excels in adding detective overtones into its sci-fi drama. 

With all these subplots held together by the glue of psychological depth and revelation, it's no wonder that Arcade represents a standout in the genre of post-Apocalyptic survival stories. It incorporates elements that hold wide-ranging possibilities beyond the usual tale of survival or recovery, layering these with a satisfying unpredictability to keep readers guessing to the end. 


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Even Goblins Get The Blues
Patrick Rodgers
Dancing Ferret Press
978-1-7342797-0-2         $17.99 

Even Goblins Get The Blues comes from a fantasy author who melds the real-world backdrop of a psychological practice with his fantasy interests in a whimsical, fun manner. 

Abernathy The Clear is a therapist catering to goblins, mermaids, and other creatures (plus, the occasional human client). He treats the usual range of psychological ailments (depression, PTSD, phobias) in his clients, using his insight and healing abilities to help them navigate rocky situations and reactions to life. 

Renowned for his abilities, Albernathy nonetheless meets his match when called upon to solve an odd crime involving one of his clients, only to find that the psychology of the situation is not only puzzling, but out of control. 

Sex, intrigue, and conundrums permeate the story, but best of all, there's a wry sense of humor that emerges from the very start: "The ogre's breath was hot and stank of death. He had eaten a turkey not long ago, and some of its bones and feathers were still lodged in his massive, rotten yellow teeth. His nose was pierced by the wrist bone of a well-known knight who had attempted to kill him in his lair. His left hand, pocked with warts and scars, was clenched into a fist. His right hand, missing one finger, rested on the bone-inlaid pommel of his sword, sheathed in a scabbard made of troll hide which hung from his neck by a thick iron chain. Both of his red eyes blazed with anger as he stared at the scrawny human in front of him. The blade made a horrible rasping sound as he began to draw it from its sheath. One swing would cleave the pathetic pale creature in twain. "Glarb, where's that anger coming from?" The human's voice was even and calm." 

This fun observational tone takes the usual psychologist protagonist/patient relationship and turns it upside down, incorporating the basic approaches and strategies of therapy but adding twists and turns that are often hilarious simply because they so accurately and realistically play on the therapist's milieu and approach. 

From orc development projects, politics and manipulation, Abernathy's looming unemployment and quest, and a host of helpers who bring their own strengths and puzzles into the picture to odd new business proposals based on warped fashion, the story line delves into whimsy in many different ways as its characters evolve their own purposes: "I just had the most inspired idea.” Helgi's eyes narrowed slightly. “This whole business of the building being raised on pillars to avoid the floodwaters, you see how it's reflected in what we've seen of local design so far? Well, what about a line of high-heeled shoes for women that has a stone or wooden pillar as the heel? I'll bet I could make a fortune here. What do you think?” “Well...for me, they'd have to be thin,” said Lucinda. “I wouldn't want a big, clunky looking heel. And obviously color is always a concern, so it would depend on the type of stone or wood.” “I only wear heels on special occasions,” said Helgi, “so I'm not the right person to ask. But I'd remind you that we're still in The Wheat Kingdom. Fashion doesn't seem to be a high priority here.” 

Readers who come steeped in the usual clichéd presentations of psychologists in fiction will find Rodgers crafts a fantasy that is delightfully original and unexpected. Mind you, there are sex scenes, battles, scandals, and ethical concerns within the story—it's not all fun and games.

But the real delight of Even Goblins Get The Blues lies in its unique blend of psychological introspections and vivid description, which pair well with its unique method of injecting unexpected humor even into confrontational situations: "If you think to ambush us from the brush, you might kill two of us, three if you're very lucky,” he called out loudly. “But then the rest of us will slice you up slowly like a Granadinian ham.” 

Readers who enjoy fantasy, comedy, and solid psychological processes (albeit tied in with monsters and clients who are a cut above the usual) will relish the lively progression, realistic therapeutic progressions, and adventure quest that places Even Goblins Get The Blues in a category of its own. 

Even Goblins Get The Blues

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Where Madmen Rule: A Coup on Sunworld
Eugene Hayman
Independently Published
978-1506107585            $15.88 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Resisting evil can be a thankless job unless the reward is a life you value (which may not even be your own). Narrator Mike Hayden discovers this fact when he stumbles into the life of Theresa Seyboldt, rescuing her from an alleyway mugging. 

In some stories, passion would then evolve, but Where Madmen Rule adopts a broader reach as it surveys the social challenges of a disintegrating society under siege, a psychotic madman's influence on Mike and Theresa's lives, and a newfound determination between the two to battle social and political disintegration. 

This story beats from the heart of madness and sanity alike, with its main characters traversing an uncertain border between the two which reaches out from their lives and experiences into society as a whole. 

Sunworld is a primitive planet with a somewhat civil society. Theresa is an idealist whose job involves advocating for women and children. It turns out that her most effective stand comes not at social events, but emerges from struggle after an ambush, involving long-distance political influences and the one man who may be able to help her change everything. 

Readers receive a dark and involving probe of a flawed hero who emerges from Project Poker which consumes him, who is ready to confront (with Theresa's help) the reason why he's been on the run from his life and heart for so long. 

As the two join forces and their journey takes them beyond Sunworld, readers are treated to a riveting series of encounters, from coup leaders who threaten them to the twisted Quartho, who dogs their lives with a tenacity that extends beyond physical force. 

High technology, daring rescues and confrontations, Theresa's ongoing efforts to protect her children, and Mike's confrontation with Xandro when the kids rise to the challenge and the rescue make for riveting moments spiced with assassination, confrontation, and change. 

Readers seeking a blend of intrigue, social and political confrontation, otherworld journeys and psychological drama will relish Where Madmen Rule for its astute and involving story line that keeps the drama and action supercharged with twists, turns, and solid energy. 

Where Madmen Rule: A Coup on Sunworld

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Biography & Autobiography

Invisible Scars of War: A Veteran’s Struggle with Moral Injury
Dick Hattan
Independently Published
978-1-7327410-1-0         $7.95 

As a young man, author Dick Hattan went to war in Vietnam. Forty years later, he investigates the roots of survival, moral beliefs, and his actions in Invisible Scars of War: A Veteran’s Struggle with Moral Injury, a memoir not just about his tour of duty, but war's underlying challenge to his moral belief system. 

Plenty of other memoirs cover Vietnam experiences, but few approach the subject from a moral values perspective. The challenges Dick Hattan faced were as much about testing these values as they were about physical survival. Invisible Scars of War thus documents an important struggle that too many Vietnam discussions leave out, identifying the effects and presence of moral injuries. 

As Hattan considers other writings and teachings about morality, he weaves these into his memoir and self-examination: "I feel dishonest, playing both sides, unable to reconcile the two positions. What complicates this is the morality that wraps itself around participating in war and about war itself. I studied war and consulted contemporary theologians like Stanley Hauerwaus and Walter Wink who influenced my thinking on nonviolence and "just war." Their writings expanded my thoughts, challenging long-held belief systems that formed me as a young man. Instead of providing clarity, I felt more conflicted as I tried to reconcile these new thoughts with the role that religion had played in my life, guiding my moral compass, showing me the path to truth." 

Hattan "stepped forward and was a soldier," but fought an internal battle that began in Vietnam and continued when he came home and resumed his former life as a civilian. These are chronicled in chapters that move from childhood to his term of service and beyond, considering the evolution of his moral belief system and how it was changed forever. 

Hattan, like many soldiers, came to believe that God was AWOL in Vietnam. He struggled daily with being an active participant in something he didn't believe in , an immoral war. He didn't worry about being killed. He worried about killing. And he worried about breaking the fifth commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill.  

His thoughts, prayers, and insights make for an exceptionally powerful memoir in which he survives on many levels, but requires much healing upon return. His wounds are not physical or visible, but just as deadly. 

Any veteran of any war (and those who love or work with them) will find Hattan's account of his survival and moral evolution compellingly different from other Vietnam memoirs. It's filled with insights on how a man with a strong moral upbringing finds his way home at last. 

Invisible Scars of War: A Veteran’s Struggle with Moral Injury

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The People We Wanted to Forget
Michael G. Harpold
Book Publishers Network
Print: 978-1-945271-68-7      $15.95
eBook: B07D7KFMSS          $  9.99 

Assigned to prepare a report for U.S. Congress on the status of the boat people refugees in Thailand in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, author Mike Harpold didn't realize he stood exactly at a crossroads in policy-making and humanitarian efforts. His impromptu effort to save a boatload slated for disposal holds an unexpected result as it affects U.S. policy and turns the American public's spotlight on a hitherto-underreported crisis. 

The People We Wanted to Forget is a memoir of his experiences, but most of all, it serves as a lesson for those who believe individual efforts don't count for much in the greater arena of world events. And this is, perhaps, its greatest lesson—not just the events Harpold participated in (which are now part of history, thanks to his reporting), but the lasting impact of moral and ethical decisions he made within 10 minutes of confronting a life-or-death situation. 

Black and white photos and maps pepper a story filled with firsthand impressions and insights to create a "you are there" feel, moving between his life in America and his assignment in Vietnam to contrast two lives and cultures from an intriguing perspective. 

From his encounters with Viet Cong snipers and the National Police Field Force he led during his stay in Vietnam to its aftermath, readers receive a much more personal, close inspection of Vietnam's cultural and struggles, both during and after the war, than most other accounts offer. Perhaps this is because Harpold's participation in events comes from a different position: that of a civilian advisor and observer, not a single soldier's perspective. It thus straddles the line between civilian and military experience. 

Harpold didn't enter into his job intending to change or even influence U.S. policy. But his actions and choices made a difference, saved more than the lives of the thirty-plus boat people whom Thailand had deemed expendable undesirables, and resulted in an enlightening worldwide broadcast of Vietnam's postwar plight and struggles. 

The People We Wanted to Forget thus serves as more than a document of either Harpold's experiences and actions or Vietnam post-war. It's an inspirational reminder that individuals can (and should) stand up and make a difference, and hold the responsibility and ability to do so.

The challenge of this mission lies in the 'how', and Harpold provides just one example of his process of choosing the best option to make for a positive, lasting difference in the world. 

The People We Wanted to Forget

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Playing Dead: A Memoir of Terror and Survival
Monique Faison Ross with Gary M. Krebs
WildBlue Press
Paperback: 987-1-948239-33-2            $12.99
Ebook: 987-1-948239-32-5                   $  5.99 

Audio: ASIN: B0816ZPZ32                 $18.37
 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books 

Playing Dead: A Memoir of Terror and Survival opens with the life of a girl who got pregnant, married her high school sweetheart, and endured his abusive behavior until she finally abandoned her fantasy of an ideal family and gathered what few resources she had to take her children and leave her husband. 

It's at this point that the story in Playing Dead really begins. Rather than starting a new and better life, author Monique Faison Ross endured stalking, attacks, and life-threatening injuries that continued to challenge and impact not just her happiness, but her survival. 

From the process of loving her role as mother and seeing her husband's explosions as "manageable" to winding up in the hospital with major injuries as her husband became a fugitive from the law, only to realize that his threats were never far from her life, Faison Ross paints a desperate picture of how ineffective victim protection plans can be. Her story follows her determination to be creative and proactive while trying to protect her family and herself. 

Victims of spousal abuse will readily recognize the dilemmas posed by a legal system that does little to effectively protect from violence and the dilemmas of a wife and mother who seeks a different kind of life. 

How Monique Faison Ross eventually achieves her goals makes for fascinating, educational reading and provides hope and a blueprint for success to others in her shoes who lack an easy way out. 

The financial challenges of mounting bills as well as psychological, physical, social, and legal dilemmas all coalesce to create more than just a story of abuse. It covers the systems that enable spousal abuse, the patterns and options that sometimes appear mercurial and frustrating in trying to deal with it, and solutions that eventually (albeit too slowly) bring justice to the author and her family. 

Most stories of abuse chart physical and psychological challenges. By going a step further to document social safety programs, ineffective efforts, and many circumstances where the author felt she wouldn't survive, readers receive a thought-provoking probe that goes beyond most to document various levels of survival and recovery—economically, psychologically, physically, legally, and socially. 

Her story is one that needs to be widely disseminated. It's a powerful portrait of manipulation, psychological and physical violence, and the options for moving forward and away from a life of terror. 

Playing Dead: A Memoir of Terror and Survival

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Struggle: No Obstacle Is Too Great
Talla Spaul
Talla Spaul, Publisher
978-0-578-59613-6         $14.95 

Struggle: No Obstacle Is Too Great is a memoir that dispels many myths about immigrants to America being uneducated, or that Middle Eastern immigrants are all Muslims, or that arrival in the Land of Opportunity brings an end to poverty and leads to a problem-free life. 

Talla Spaul points out that these assumptions (and more) are wrong, offering her story of struggle and prejudice that tackles underlying American sentiments about the immigrants that come to this country, using her own life experiences as powerful examples. 

As Spaul recounts her former life in Iran, the many misconceptions Americans harbor about Iranian women and their experiences, and the process of building a challenging new life in this country as a mother and career woman, readers receive an insightful story of not just coming to a new land and navigating its special obstacles, but dealing with career, retirement, and a marriage that is steadily falling apart. 

Her move away from the U.S. and her return, her travels, her involvement in the medical community in the U.S., where she finds ways to use her skills without an American license to practice medicine, and ways of handling health issues highlight her self-reliance and determination to handle her own affairs in her own way. This makes for riveting, inspirational reading. 

There are many journeys undertaken, both psychologically and physically, within the course of Struggle, but none are so revealing as those which lead to spiritual truths and a newfound appreciation for home, family, and roots in and paths to joy. 

Ultimately, Struggle captures the immigrant experience and the blossoming of ideals which lead to a better life, well-lived. This universal goal and the course to it create a vivid read that considers sources of inspiration, discontent, journeys undertaken to locate the wellsprings of happiness and contentment through one woman's determination to find a better way to live. 

While Struggle will initially attract audiences looking for immigrant experiences, its message is much broader and should be welcomed by self-help and psychology readers interested in the intersection between personal growth, sources of renewal, and the end goal of life satisfaction. These readers will find much to appreciate as Spaul navigates her world: "I feel like so much of my life has been about working toward a goal. When I lived in Iran, my goal was to become a doctor and run a medical practice. After the revolution, my goal became getting myself and my sons out of Iran so we could build a better life for ourselves in the United States. Once we were in the United States, my goal was to earn enough money that I could raise my sons and make sure they had every opportunity to be successful and happy. When I found a lump on my breast, my goal had simply been survival. After beating cancer, my goal was to find a better way to live. And once I’d returned from China, my goal became to eliminate those things in my life that no longer brought me joy—that fancy house on the beach and my marriage. Now I had time, money, freedom, and enlightenment. I had everything I needed to pursue my next big goal. So what was left? What was my goal now?" 

Struggle: No Obstacle Is Too Great

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Mystery & Thrillers

Bakersfield Boys Club
Anne Da Vigo
Quill Driver Press
978-0-9745722-2-2         $18.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

Widow Suzanne Ricci is a widow struggling to handle her teenage son in the 1970s in Bakersfield, California. One cold morning she opens her front door to the neighbor's cat with bloody paws, who has come from Reggie's house next door. 

Reggie helped her when Carlo died and has always been kind to her, but she's long suspected he leads another, wilder life from the parties and clues she received about them ("Suzanne has heard it, the deep-throated male laughter through the open window during parties at Reggie’s after the Bakersfield bars close."). 

What she didn't suspect was that her son may have been involved in them. The key ring she had given him (and taken from the crime scene before investigators arrived) is her clue, now holding the ignition key to a Mercedes. 

It would have been bad enough had only one death occurred, but as a murder spree ensues, Suzanne finds herself unwillingly drawn into an affair and deeply-held secrets as she struggles to protect her son while uncovering the truth about his activities and involvements. 

Bakersfield Boys Club is a story of abuse, friendship circles, and a boy's efforts to leave the sordid lure of Bakersfield for something different. Even on probation, Danny and his friend Grace are drawn into memories of parties where sex changed their lives forever: "It’s been a relief to hang out with Grace in the last weeks. He can be innocent with her—not that he doesn’t think about sex all day and dream about it at night—but they know each other’s secrets. They pretend they’re virgins. Laugh at themselves. Be goofy and uncool. They dream that someday Bakersfield will be far behind them, and they’ll live as poor artists in a tiny apartment in Paris." 

As mother Suzanne's investigations delve deeper into official circles and dangerous collusions between cops, politicians, and teenagers who are members of The Club, she treads on increasingly deadly ground that leads to revelations about the sexual exploitation of local young people. 

Intrigue and social issues are nicely woven into a plot which is absorbing and filled with twists and turns. Some of them may be anticipated, while others lead in surprising directions. 

Readers receive a solid education about sex trafficking on American soil as the conspiracy draws the FBI into the bigger picture. The story features many real points about such events beyond the murder mystery and tale of corruption presented in Bakersfield Boys Club

Based on a true story of murder and abuse that affected lives over a period of decades which was exposed in an award-winning newspaper series, “The Lords of Bakersfield,” Bakersfield Boys Club's roots in a realistic event hold much food for thought and many engrossing insights. These are strengthened by Anne Da Vigo's career as a newspaper journalist covering hundreds of stories of murder and court hearings, including a 1978 trial remarkably akin to many of the scenarios in her fictional exploration. 

True crime and murder mystery readers alike will find Bakersfield Boys Club a riveting winner. 

Bakersfield Boys Club

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Girl Out of Darkness
Jim Christ
Joseph & Associates Publishers
9781688799844             $12.00 Paper/$4.99/Kindle 

Girl Out of Darkness is a southern Arizona crime thriller that takes place in the 1980s and revolves around Deputy Pete Caldwell's investigation of a small-town woman's death. Another writer might have narrowed the focus to this puzzle alone, but Jim Christ broadens his horizons to include a wide range of subplots, and these contribute to an overall satisfying complexity and depth that most investigative works fail to achieve. 

Deputy Caldwell is no stranger to strife and murder, but he's less familiar with departmental politics that revolve around issues of minority inclusion and female coworkers who do more than sit at desks or bring coffee and who assume active roles in the field. Deputy Naomi Savage is just one of the women who challenge his decades of routine and experience. She's a savvy, capable woman who equals his abilities in many ways—and she's not about to take a back seat as matters heat up. 

The victim’s stepson Timmy Pyre, a "giant with a baby's face," reeks of both innocence and sly cunning, and may be more than meets the eye. 

The story is as much about young loose woman Sherry's methods of skirting the edge of danger as it is about her struggles to change her image and settle down in the face of murder and threats. 

As Caldwell interacts with the story’s young women, Timmy’s one friend Daniel, and others, he deals with control freaks and mounting suspicions that the town's sons and daughters have more clues about what's going on than he does. 

There's a good amount of social inspection to the story as the Mexican-American heritage of many of Arizona's small-town residents interact with law enforcement and neighbors alike. 

Caldwell, Timmy, Daniel, and others lend different perspectives to events. While the reader is savvier about what's happening than the investigators in this story, a satisfying number of unexpected plot twists keep the intrigue high and the events unpredictable. 

Ultimately, Girl Out of Darkness is about changing lives, social milieus, and challenges to psyche, soul, and body that keep all the characters evolving and human. 

Jim Christ does an outstanding job in crafting a story that moves through the struggles of men and women recreating their lives. This drives a murder mystery investigation just as much as any traditional focus on perp and problem-solver, making Girl Out of Darkness a satisfyingly complex, involving, and unexpectedly heart-tugging drama that's hard to put down. 

Girl Out of Darkness

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The ISIS Gambit
Brad Carlson
Independently Published
978-0998259420            $12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

In The ISIS Gambit, Hezbollah brings conflict home from the Middle East when it launches an attack on the east coast of the US, forcing the American president to respond in a way that inadvertently plays into ISIS's hands and their broader purpose. 

This sequel to The Gambit needs no prior familiarity in order to prove accessible to newcomers. It opens with a fine juxtaposition of the daily concerns of ordinary Americans who find their lives suddenly and disastrously changed by a series of attacks launched from their own waters. 

As subs and warships scramble to respond, readers receive a moment-by-moment, 'you are there' feel to a story that evolves into a tense thriller probing social, military, and political confrontations alike. 

The buildup of tension and cat-and-mouse games are reminiscent of the classic Fail Safe's approach, but cultivates more of an analytical political tone as it considers the underlying motivations of ISIS and various parties involved in the unprecedented attack: "Mr. President,” James Carmichael broke in, “as Stan says, locating these things isn’t the issue. The real question is what is their intent with these weapons?" 

It turns out there's not a singular gambit, but many. As various sides attempt to cultivate the element of surprise and create associations that have wide-ranging impacts, the battle comes to ground in America in a way it never has before. 

Readers are treated to a series of involving strategy sessions as the war moves from America back to the Middle East, always wondering if the ultimate gambit has been revealed, as many surprises evolve along the way. 

The ISIS Gambit is an outstanding thriller. It is especially recommended for fans of Tom Clancy, who will find familiar many of the military and political moment-by-moment, changing events. These juxtapose different personalities, leaders, and objectives with startling precision and force, designed to keep readers engaged and on their toes. 

The ISIS Gambit

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A Killer Secret
Jeff Berney
BAQJAC Entertainment
9780578615424             $7.99 Kindle 

A Killer Secret entwines the lives and closely-held secrets of three disparate individuals: a professor, a jaded psychologist, and a lying patient, enveloping them in increasingly deadly encounters and murder. This approach offers the kinds of twists and turns designed to keep readers on edge and guessing throughout the story. 

The first thing to note about A Killer Secret is that absolutely nothing is predictable. Readers may anticipate a set direction, psyche, or story, only to find that they occupy left base, leaving them to wonder how they got there. (Only upon reflection is the progression is actually quite clear. It's just that the clues aren't overstated and obvious, as in so many murder stories, and thus the outcomes aren't set in stone, which makes for satisfyingly unexpected plot developments.) 

The killer is searching for something different to help make him feel alive. What could be more of a challenge than a beautiful homicide cop? Psychologist Edie is sick of the same tears, the same posturing, and clients who never seem to change. All she seems to offer them is a box of tissues. And deeper meanings are elusive and mercurial for all the characters even as they are drawn together by fate, circumstance, and purposeful plots. 

It's difficult to easily capture the changing story line, here, because the strength of A Killer Secret lies in two areas: powerful characters and their changing motives, and revised approaches to life and its challenges. 

Cornered in her own dialogue by a serial killer confessor who ensnares Edie using her own professional methodology, Edie is as much a pawn in a larger game as those around her. Each prove to be players on a bigger field than just that of a clever killer's creation. 

Jeff Berney knows how to craft a suspense story that is as compelling as any Alfred Hitchcock could have shaped. As events in multiple lives move forward in a chess match-style of intrigue, readers will not only find the story replete with surprises, but should be advised that if it's chosen for late night reading, dawn might arrive before the story's completed. 

A Killer Secret is ultimately about not just death and secrets, but about evolving characters whose psychological profiles have kept them from living the lives they really wanted…up until now. 

The key to A Killer Secret's success lies in the progressive journey taken to get there and in the surprises along the way, which will delight readers seeking truly unpredictible suspense. 

A Killer Secret

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The Last Getaway
Clay Savage
Ocean Park Press
Paperback: 978-7338806-0-2               $9.99
Ebook: 978-7338806-1-9                      $2.99

Two different bank robbers target the same bank at the same time. What are the odds? In The Last Getaway, chance plays a unique role in the lives of clever thieves Calvin Russell and Richie Glass, who move from being adversaries in crime to becoming partners. 

They face not only the usual law enforcement challenges, but the newfound irony of dealing with one another as each learns about the other's life of crime, motivations, and need to make this bank heist a success. 

It's unusual to have a crime story's focus lie on the evolving partnership of perps with disparate interests in life.  Clay Savage builds his engrossing story by contrasting their lives of crime and their motivations. This lends an extra dimension to the story that moves it far beyond the usual heist thriller. 

Readers follow the evolution of each character as Ritchie turns into a getaway driver and Calvin involves them in a million-dollar money detail that includes kidnapping and shady deals with murderers more ruthless than he or Ritchie could ever become. 

The dialogue is realistic and nicely done, dilemmas are logical and compelling, and the two getaway drivers who reluctantly combine forces are at once believable and humorous as they juggle their special interests with a relationship neither anticipated nor wanted. 

Set in Los Angeles, The Last Getaway's gritty, ironic, and involving story will delight thriller readers looking for something different. 

The Last Getaway

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Loud Pipes Save Lives
Jennifer Giacalone
Carnation Books
 B07ZXJ3W3P             $2.99 Kindle

Loud Pipes Save Lives follows NY City detective Lily Sparr's special challenges when she's transferred to a precinct that had handled her father's murder and is tasked with the job of investigating a women's motorcycle club which has been involved in acts of violence throughout New York. Family ties to the precinct and its actions are questioned as Lily discovers unexpected links between an old case, current family members, and her new assignment. 

The first thing to note about Loud Pipes Save Lives is that it embraces the culture and diversity of its setting, from a gay detective who is "married to her job" to Muslim women who find each other against the backdrop of a violent encounter, to different forms of faith and survival that test various characters as the story expands to embrace their lives: "At some point, though, I realized that my faith was the only thing that tied me to myself, the only thing that was a tangible reminder of who I was before all of that. “I needed it, but in a form I could swallow, which means that in some ways, no… I don’t practice the way you’re supposed to. I had to carve things out of it to make it work for who I had become. And they love me no less, and tolerate my queer, motorcycle-riding, pot-smoking, naked-praying self the way I am. I’m lucky that way." 

From cop-on-cop snuggling and warm relationships to the icy challenges of murder, motorcycle clubs, and an investigation which opens up a can of worms, Lily and other characters carry readers along on a vivid ride through personal and professional challenges that bring New York's communities to life. 

By reopening the old case that continues to test her heart, Lily inadvertently becomes a major player in a game that she can't walk away from. This involves many 'gray areas', both professionally and ethically, leading her into unexpected yet unfamiliar places to probe accidents, cover-ups, and romance with equal precision and abandon. 

As Lily finds herself inadvertently protecting what she's supposed to be investigating, complicated questions and relationships ensue. Miri and Lily are a good team in more ways than one, but this investigation could come between them and change everything. 

Jennifer Giacalone specializes in creating a spirited, sassy, interlocking set of characters and puzzling circumstances that are delightful in their complexity and realistic presentation. From struggles with corruption and personal boundaries in handling ethical dilemmas to queer relationships and the challenges of balancing work and home life, the plot excels in mixing detective intrigue with personal growth. 

The result is a story that is compelling on more than one level, replete with the atmosphere and world of New York City's different cultures and peoples, and a solidly engrossing read especially recommended for fans of LBGT mysteries. 

Loud Pipes Save Lives

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Lover Come Back
Tom Preschutti
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-441-4         $17.95 

Lover Come Back is the second book in the Lori Daniels mystery series, but it should be noted that prior familiarity with the first book, Pillow Talk, is not a prerequisite in order to thoroughly enjoy this latest Daniels adventure. 

The heart of the mystery lies in the issue of corruption in city offices and a deadly force that moves beyond graft and payoffs to embrace murder. A crime gang is orchestrating a takeover of the government, witnesses are being silenced, and even Police Sergeant Lori Daniels and her crackerjack team of investigators can't seem to get to the bottom of what is going on. 

One thing is certain: despite Lori's successful gang raids of the past, this group stays a step ahead of her. One clever man orchestrates bold moves that involve using Daniels and her team to eliminate the competition and obstacles to his plans. 

He's a perp who feels 'destined to succeed'. And he just may have the resources—including Lori's own—to do so. 

Lover Come Back excels in a blend of mystery, investigative work, and explorations of the emotional conundrums Lori Daniels faces in the course of her work and private life. Both have been irrevocably changed by her past decisions, and each are about to be additionally challenged by a situation that tests not only her resolve, but her emotional stability. 

From local Mexican crime syndicates and dangerous loyalties to Exeter's moves when Detective Sergeants Carol O’Reilly and George Tate of Precinct 3 get too close for comfort, Lover Come Back creates satisfying juxtapositions between investigative processes, ploys and plots, shifting blame, and interactions between rookies and seasoned cops alike. 

As events revolving around love and death reach an unexpected crescendo in a surprise conclusion, Lover Come Back excels with a standalone story that is riveting and hard to put down. 

Prior fans of Lori Daniels who want a tense, gripping thriller exploring her social, political, and investigative interactions will find her latest story a winner especially notable for its multifaceted exploration of city and departmental politics. 

Lover Come Back

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Sam and James: A Test of Will 
A.A. Freda
iUniverse Inc.
$20.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle
Barnes and Noble:

Sam and James: A Test of Will is the third book in the series, but stands nicely alone and takes place seven years after the last book. Sam and James Coppi are now married, with a new family, a successful business, and a Colorado ranch far from their investigative roots. 

But DC calls them back when the teen son of a close friend is murdered and Sam and James must juggle their own lives with a murder investigation. This becomes not only a conspiracy probe, but a survey of their own closely-held secrets. 

A 911 call about a missing boyfriend opens the story with a shooting that kills a successful man whom everyone liked. Fast forward to a month later, in Colorado, where Sam and James are doing well in a large home with a supportive staff and children they are raising, a house in France, and everything they could want. 

But under the surface of success runs something deeper and darker...something about to be exposed by matters that draw them into not just another investigation, but one which will unravel their flourishing lives. 

As Sam's ongoing instinct to deck men who grope her, no matter how famous they may be, places her in the media spotlight and her new line of fashion clothing takes off, James struggles with missing millions, a vixen that tests his resolve and his marriage, and a mystery that circles the family in a web of intrigue. 

A.A. Freda excels in combining the tension of a thriller with a feisty, strong female protagonist who may now be raising a family, but who hasn't given up her determination to fight—even if it's for her wayward husband. 

As the story juxtaposes challenges to love with professional investigative snafus, readers receive a satisfying, unusual balance between two very different worlds. 

When circumstances immerse James in the threat, it's Sam who is forced to step up both in court and in her personal life, to save him. 

Thriller readers who enjoy blends of political and social challenge and personal angst will relish the approach, determination, and courage of the characters in Sam and James: A Test of Will. The story is filled with surprises and intrigue designed to keep mystery and thriller readers thoroughly engrossed right up to the end. 

Sam and James: A Test of Will 

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Michele Packard
Independently Published
9781655144257             $9.99 

Teller is the final Matti Baker story in the Aesop series, and thriller readers seeking non-stop, high-octane action will find this concluding Matti book (and its predecessors) just the ticket for a winning read. 

Matti isn't wired like everyone else. She has special abilities, a form of spunky sass that supports her drive to get revenge on those who threaten her family, life, and country, and she can survive impossible circumstances. 

Teller opens with Matti's death. And this is not the first time she dies, in Teller. The story lies in the aftermath and in her fight to not only come back, but face devastating losses that turn out to be opportunities in disguise. 

As in the previous Matti books, Michele Packard excels in crafting a feisty female protagonist who is assertive, proactive, creative, defiant, and bent on revenge and retribution. Matti's confrontations with forces of evil are absorbing because they are powered by dialogue and encounters which support personality traits rarely seen in a female protagonist, building a memorable character who is a driving force in her world, actively confronting events around her. 

Unlike most stories involving female operatives, there is no sense of victim or subservience in Matti's world. She's at the top of her game and controls chaos itself, outsmarting the cleverest of adversaries and the political forces behind them. These elements place Matti's adventures above and beyond most thrillers featuring female protagonists. 

Facing the complete loss of all that she loves, Matti chooses to change the world. From girlfriends to children and husband, she's surrounded herself with equally strong forces. But what will she choose to do when all these support systems go away? 

Thoroughly absorbing, consistent with the other series books, yet nicely complete in and of itself, the only downside to Teller is that it appears to be the concluding volume to Matti's adventures. 

One can only hope that, like Matti, resurrection in some form is possible. 

And, knowing Matti, this is not an unreasonable hope, at all. 


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A Thousand Miles to Nowhere
David Curfiss
Gripping Press
978-1734273106            $14.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

A Thousand Miles to Nowhere is an intensely riveting apocalyptic thriller that opens with an immediate bang that blends a sense of place and end days with a vivid struggle: "The banshee-like screams of the newly turned dead combined with the wails of the living they ripped apart echoed throughout Camp Oliver. The once-thriving camp for the survivors of the zombie apocalypse fifteen years prior was tucked away deep in the Laguna Mountains of San Diego, California." 

Matt Tanner is one of the survivors of the zombie virus that destroyed the world over a decade earlier, leaving him and a relative handful of others to forge a new community. Now a stranger has infected everything and leaves him with only two options, which are further affected by the fact that the stranger carried a personal message for him from someone Matt had believed to be long gone. 

This sends him on a mission through zombie-infested wastelands in search of perhaps the last remaining link to his heritage and the only thing that will help him resurrect a new life (again) in this shattered world. 

Readers receive nonstop action from the first page, with David Curfiss adding insights into family and human relationships, different processes of survival, and tests of the deep relationship between brothers which have been changed by the new zombie apocalypse. 

Unlike other zombie stories, Matt traverses not just the countryside and its shambling threats, but the darker byways of his own mind as he absorbs, reacts to, and confronts a changed world after he thought he'd created a safe haven from it. 

Matt's questions his ideology, his own morals, the costs of his leadership, and the impact of those whose lives were affected by his decisions and choices. Tactical decisions made by a team who join him are continually reassessed, challenged, and tested as Matt discovers that some of the things he's been fighting for don't even exist anymore, placing the battle's ultimate purpose in question. 

Matt is used to sacrificing for those he loves. Can he make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of injecting rare hope into a dying world? 

David Curfiss's attention to action, moral and ethical questions, and psychological tension create an apocalyptic story that goes beyond the usual focus on survival and rebuilding. Matt questions many of his own motivations and revised realities as he traverses this strange new world, and thus readers receive an astute, thought-provoking story  steeped with insights about second chances, sacrifices, and motivations for acting for the greater good. 

A Thousand Miles to Nowhere is a powerful story complete under one cover and elevates the zombie apocalypse story to another level entirely. It will delight thriller readers of dystopian fiction who look for more than the cursory trappings of a survival piece, delving into the roots of individual choice, community, and sacrifice and couching all in an action-packed plot that will keep readers thoroughly engrossed to the end. 

A Thousand Miles to Nowhere

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The Burlington Transcript
Stan Freeman
Hampshire House Publishing
978-0-9893333-8-2         $16.95 

Paul MacDonald is a reporter for a small-time Vermont newspaper who faces not only divorce, but the special challenge of having a husband and wife (who work in his office) move into the apartment upstairs. The challenge lies in the fact that he hates the husband and has a crush on the wife, making their proximity dangerous. 

The Burlington Transcript, the newspaper job they share in common, reaches all of northern Vermont. It's the kind of small paper reporters typically use as entry-level positions to better jobs; not something that they tend to cultivate for years. Unfortunately, Paul's desire to make a career out of this small-time paper position didn't sit well with either his wife or his in-laws, and now it's about to wreck havoc in a very different manner, as well. 

Paul's insights into his condition and how it affects his job are revealing and thought-provoking: "I would guess most people at my paper think of me as a fairly happy guy. But I’m not really. What’d Thoreau say? Most men lead lives of quiet desperation? Deep down, that’s what I feel a lot of the time lately; quiet desperation. But like most people, I try to put a good face on things. I joke around, I involve myself in the crazy newsroom banter, and this surface impression, this fabrication, the relatively happy me, has probably become the reality in other people’s eyes. What’s the implication of this? If it’s true most people are doing what I’m doing, putting a good face on things, then our collective reality, what we think the mass of people are feeling and experiencing, is also a total fabrication." 

Always searching for a middle ground in his career, life, aspirations, and feelings, Paul discovers that his impulse to stay distant and safe is being challenged by nearly everyone and everything in his world, forcing changes that he questions (as well as sometimes embraces). Paul comes to feel that everything in his life and choices are being called into question. 

From the basics of producing newsworthy copy and managing the small paper to dealing with his life, Paul finds himself slowly moving beyond his comfort zone as a variety of individuals enter his world to change it. 

Regional news and newspaper headlines intersect with Paul's life for a satisfying juxtaposition of familiar patterns and new beginnings as Paul undertakes a book project with fellow newspaper worker Walter Mears and then faces a big challenge to his carefully honed career. 

Paul's efforts to maintain the status quo in his own heart and mind as well as his home and work life provokes a crisis that is inevitable in some ways, given the struggles of newspapers to survive, and surprising in others, given Paul's penchant for remaining in circumstances which are safe and predictable. 

The process of writing and rewriting delves into prejudice, collaborative efforts, and newspaper routines and history which will delight readers interested in small-town settings and protagonists who resist the inevitable. 

Stan Freeman does an outstanding job of capturing this milieu through the eyes and experiences of not just Paul, but characters whose lives swirl and transform around him. 

The psychological inspections, newspaper reporting atmosphere, and small-town encounters are wonderfully written and quietly engrossing, keeping readers involved in Paul's reluctant forward movement to the end, when news dreams become surprising reality. 

The Burlington Transcript

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Caintuck Lies Within My Soul
C.M. Huddleston
Interpreting Time's Past Press

Jemima Boone's story begins in the mid-1700s and opens with a feisty little girl's determination to hunt ginseng in the Yadkin Valley hills. Her success at uncovering 'sang' without tools or the help of her older brother is somewhat tempered by the realization that she's gotten lost. The roots of her determination and adventures are formed on this night, as well as author C.M. Huddleston's ability to capture not only sights, sounds, and atmosphere, but the culture and language of Kentucky's peoples: "She stopped and turned in a slow circle, observing every direction for familiar landmarks or smoke from a cabin fire, for theirs was not the only cabin along the Yadkin. She listened, but heard only the tree frogs begin their songs, a few crows, and then a whippoorwill. Not close. She knew the will’s loud call carried for miles."

As Jemima grows up in an environment that includes Indian threats, the dangers of settling in 'Caintuck', and the spirited now-young-adult Jemima's handling of two suitors and many changes in her life and family, readers receive an engaging, engrossing story. Part of its strength is because it is narrated from more than one perspective and incorporates the lingo of the region in a readily understandable fashion that lends atmosphere and meaning to the story: "Flanders Callaway, the worst happenin’ a married woman faces is the loss of her husband. While I’ve not suffered it myself, I suffered with her as Daniel’s sister Hannah grieved for John. Today, Jemima stood at that gate watchin’, while her husband acted like a fool, exposin’ himself and his brother to the danger of being shot and scalped. And yet you, young man can’t figure out why Mima is crying?” 

From women who bravely face their man's absence or treachery to meetings between captains, warriors and chiefs and the lasting impact on Native American and white relationships that these moves bring, the pioneering efforts, perceptions, and challenges of early America come to life in a re-enactment of early Kentucky's history and settlement. 

Caintuck Lies Within My Soul is a work of fiction with a strong historical overlay. Almost every event described in the course of the story really happened. Years of research about early Kentucky settlements in general and the Boone family in particular create a strong reality-based focus to the story. 

In profiling the women involved in the nation's first major westward expansion, Huddleston expands upon and adds depth to the Boone family story, which traditionally focuses relatively exclusively on the more famous Daniel Boone. 

Readers interested in American pioneer experience in general and women's perceptions and challenges in particular will find Caintuck Lies Within My Soul does an outstanding job of bringing the times and women's issues to life. 

It's a story hard to put down, not easily forgotten, and packed with facts about Kentucky's evolution. 

Caintuck Lies Within My Soul

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A Dangerous Liberty
Mary Sheeran
Prairie Rose Publications
Paperback:   9781657349650      $18.99
Kindle: ASIN: B083N2MMFB       $   3.99 

A Dangerous Liberty takes place in the 1860s in two cities: Virginia City, Nevada and San Francisco, California. Elisabeth Winters is back in the United States, but realizes that the nation has changed: "Although this was the land of her birth, she both hated and feared what the nation had become. It had stolen her youth and grown corrupt and cynical. The old dream of the forefathers’, and of her father, had died with his murder six years before." 

Despite her anger over her homeland's direction, she returns from her expat status abroad to delve into Virginia City's silver mine opportunities at her uncle's encouragement. It's an investment decision which could propel her musical career and sojourn to Russia. 

This homecoming forces an unexpected resolution and takes away some of her anger and pain as she absorbs the atmosphere of rural Nevada: "The Nevada desert, of all things, forced her to watch what happened outside her window. She had never seen such rich colors of purple and brown and had been startled by the bright green sage, the purple hills circling the desert, and the glittering rock of a land she‘d assumed was dead. The desert was very much alive. How that fascinated her, life where all had been assumed dead. She felt as if she were being healed, whether she wanted that or not." 

It also prepares her for her next journey into career and romance as she moves from healing to growing in new directions, albeit harboring an anger towards men that seems to preclude any close relationship: "With most men, she could put up her famous icy armor: a patina of graciousness that put great distance between her and any one. In most situations, she was chaperoned, but now, her protection would be her own natural and now strengthened cynicism." 

Under Mary Sheeran's hand, the history, culture, and challenges of 1860s America come alive as she explores not only the new possibilities of changing times, but volatile emotions that accompany it. 

Elisabeth never expected to participate in bloody battles, never expected to finally feel safe in the arms of a wounded man after these confrontations, and never stops pursuing the answers to her father's untimely death: "Is that why Papa was murdered? Because he would not compromise for the country’s future?” 

Sheeran does an excellent job of weaving American history with Elisabeth's story and experiences as a woman fording the treacherous and changing undercurrents of a nation at war within itself, and thus her story is both thoroughly engrossing and educational. Elisabeth's determination not only powers the plot, but lends a bright, well-reasoned and strong perspective to a story that achieves much by not equating romance with surrender, but growth. 

Elisabeth will have to leave again before she can call any place home, and any man hers. The reader follows her journeys with baited breath at Elisabeth's determination in the face of physical and mental blows. 

Take one strong woman who has already been through hell and who has formed a furiously jaded vision of America because of it, follow her through challenges to career and self growth, and add a dash of romance for a story that is vividly compelling as it tells of a young woman's comeback in more ways than one. 

A Dangerous Liberty

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The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment
Therese Doucet
D. X. Varos, Ltd.
Paper: 978-1-941072-62-2            $18.95
Ebook: 978-1-941072-63-9           $  6.99 

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment presents the dilemma of a daughter sold to a nobleman by her father. Fearing enslavement or worse, the gentle, studious Violaine instead finds her world studded with mystery and wealth, powered by a mysterious new husband who never reveals himself to her. 

Unlike the classic fable Beauty and the Beast, Therese Doucet's ethereal and surrealistic story embraces the plight of a young woman who is separated from those she loves, given everything she could desire to live a good life behind walls, and who faces an irresistible mystery that begins to take over her life. 

Doucet's descriptions are powerful, atmospheric pieces that compel readers to become immersed in Violaine's dilemmas as well as her puzzling new life: "Some nights I woke to the chiming of the clock at midnight and sensed someone in my room. I always lay fearfully awake until whomever it was left and closed my door.  I ceased to wonder at certain marvels of the manor as time passed. I became used to the silent and invisible hands that helped me with my hair and clothes and served my meals, but each time I explored it the garden inspired awe. I found new species of flowers, birds, and insects with iridescent wings like tiny fairies. There were spiders of many colors and sizes, as well as frogs, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, hares, foxes, and small golden fish that darted through the murky waters of the little pond. Even shy red deer ran through the forested park. In the absence of any visible human presence, I came to think of all these creatures as my companions and friends. At the same time, I never ceased my searching along the garden walls, for an exit." 

Issues of freedom and captivity, wealth and poverty, and love and family connections eventually break free of all constraints, sending Violaine on an unexpected journey from the Château de Boisaulne and carrying her into a world teetering between magic and monarchy. 

Political, social, and psychological insights accompany Violaine's journeys to keep readers immersed in a story that defies easy categorization. From romance and fairy tale allusions to historical and philosophical foundations, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment may best be described as a surreal journey through the changing, challenging world of the European Enlightenment era. This is powered by a feisty young woman who searches for and struggles with a different kind of love that turns out to hold her in thrall just as she finds ways to return the favor. 

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment's gripping story will delight readers seeking both complexity and evocative reading. 

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment

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Shadow of Athena
Elena Douglas
Penmore Press
978-1946409980            $19.50 Paper/$3.19 Kindle
Penmore Press:

In ancient Troy, young maidens from afar are chosen by lot to serve as slaves in Athena’s temple for a year. Such is the unfortunate fate of sixteen-year-old Marpessa of Lokris in Shadow of Athena, who embarks on a journey that challenges her life. Accompanying her is the slave Arion who escorts her to her new life, escapes slavery himself, and lingers to help her when Troy is overcome by barbarians, sparking another journey for the two. 

But with the temple of Athena destroyed, Marpessa, whose life has been sworn to the goddess, is adrift, with no way to return home. And Arion feels his life has devolved into an empty, meaningless struggle to survive. Can two lost souls who want something more and different from their lives become united over a goal that seems to defy their separate destinies? 

Shadow of Athena excels in exploring the social, political, and religious flavors of the times as cruel oligarch Klonios searches for a way of achieving his heart's desire (Marpessa) despite her newfound obligations and her struggles against his power. 

Schemes and dreams swirl around the beautiful girl as she examines her own heart's desires and the course of her life during the course of an arduous journey that changes everything. 

Author Elena Douglas has done a fine job of researching ancient history and mythology surrounding Athena the goddess and events in Troy to blend them into a riveting story line powered by a feisty female protagonist, a strong, resourceful hero, and their struggles against the inimical forces of man and nature. 

From their encounters with the sailing Phoenicians to the evil machinations of a vengeful villain, and in the end a mother charged with protecting them both against all odds and tradition, Douglas crafts a story that weaves Trojan events and atmosphere into a compelling tale replete with nonstop action and intrigue. 

Readers seeking an adventure story nicely grounded in historical research, early Greek history, and the evolving love between two very different young people will find Shadow of Athena compelling, educational, and filled with real notes about what is known about the annual ritual of the Lokrian maidens in a world where goddesses, curses, and fate flourish. 

Shadow of Athena

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Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure
Johnny Armstrong
Guernica World Editions
Paper: 9781771834605         $25.00
Kindle: 9781771834629        $10.99 

Fans of Watership Down and other animal fiction adventure stories for adults will find Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure an intriguing story that winds a classic good-versus-evil battle into the story of animal survival and adjustments as the ice age transitions to a more temperate, very different world. 

The animals that interact in this arena range from bobcats and possums to woodpeckers, raccoons, and other forest folk who confront the possibility and nature of a force they usually don't name: evil. 

Though a caution is given at naming the sans-pelages this way ("...we believe that the word has no validity except as a vehicle of mean-spiritedness by its users.”), it is generally acknowledged that this word (or one like it) is the best identifier of the trouble facing the animal kingdom. 

From 'pearls of truth' in stories told to an evolving universal wisdom in the face of a 'vine revolution' and other challenges, readers receive a solid adventure that is intriguing and hard to put down. 

Readers who enjoy animal fiction stories for adults in the manner of Watership Down will find Shadowshine a strong story that considers the evolving morals, ethics, and worldviews of animals who, like their environment, are in transition. 

From intrigue and 'how things get crosswise' between groups and individuals to an accounting of events to the Canopy Connection that eventually clarifies intentions, evil, good, and everything in between, Johnny Armstrong crafts an absorbing, fun story that will entertain even as it poses food for thought about the animals' relationships, choices, and evolutionary process. 

Adult enthusiasts of animal-based fiction are in for a real treat. 

Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure

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The Soul City Salvation
Jonathan LaPoma
Almendro Arts
Print: 978-0-9988403-8-3        $18.95 
Ebook: 978-0-9988403-9-0    $  4.99

The Soul City Salvation introduces Jay's journey from New York to Soul City, California, where he crashes on a friend's couch and plans on using travel to more closely examine the roots of his ongoing anxiety. Jay wants to conquer his psychological issues so he can move from being a teacher to being an effective actor, songwriter, and poet. Although Soul City is only an hour from Hollywood, sometimes it seems as though these dreams remain more elusive than ever. 

Soul City is an affluent community. Even though he's only a substitute teacher, Jay dreams of entering into this culture of sun and wealth: "I felt uncomfortable around them, but I also felt that I wasn’t so different than they were. Were they smarter than I was? Harder working? I knew that I too could someday shake the misery and exhaustion from my face and wear such an effortless smile. Someday I could enjoy the sun and sand as well." 

This protagonist's grand dreams depend on a combination of luck, ambition, and an ability to overcome his own psychological barriers to success: "But California was the Promised Land. California had saved so many others. It saved Jim Carroll when he went to Bolinas to kick heroin, and I knew it’d help me kick the darkness destroying my life as well. Every day still felt like survival of the fittest, and I wasn’t fit. It physically hurt to talk to people. To stand for long periods of time. I needed saving, but I also knew now that no one would save me. I needed to do this shit myself, and deep down, I knew I could only do this in California. In the place where people practiced yoga and ate organic avocados and where so many of the tunes that had saved me had been written and performed. Where so many of the films that made me want to live for one more day had been shot. I needed to be here and be a part of it all." 

Life has a way of subverting even those most determined to change, however. When a medical diagnosis offers yet another obstacle to the purpose of creating a positive new direction for the future, Jay and his readers are forced to reconsider his goals. Surprisingly, the diagnosis seems to represent a light in the darkness. 

As he confronts his notion that others get to lead lives of their choices while he is unfairly buffeted by physical and psychological challenges, the protagonist slowly grows within the parameters of his job, the interactions he needs to make with students and parents, and the revelations these revised circumstances eventually imparts: "I realized that if I was going to succeed on my healing journey, I was going to have to acknowledge that others deserved to heal as much as I did. That I wasn’t the only one suffering. That help and hope were possible. And that maybe someday I could provide it to others." 

Will Jay ever achieve his dreams to learn the real meaning of freedom and live a life of achievement? As The Soul City Salvation follows the narrator's progression and revelations, readers receive a philosophical story of growth, insight, and discovery that follows the highs and lows of one man's life.

As he searches for safety, recognition, and a well-lived life and appealing future, readers are treated to a coming-of-age story that moves beyond the usual focus on young adults to consider an adult's evolutionary process. 

Only when he moves far from his roots can Jay examine them and his trajectory more closely. And only when the story concludes does the reader realize that Jay's journey of introspection and growth mirrors many of the struggles faced when moving into a new world, examining values, passions, and lives, and making decisions about how to form connections and approaches that will last for the remainder of life. 

Readers looking for an introspective journey will relish The Soul City Salvation for its ever-changing evolutionary realizations which offer rich food for thought long after Jay's story concludes. 

The Soul City Salvation

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The Way to Go Home
Catharine Leggett
Urban Farmhouse Press
Softcover: 978-1-98821-427-6      $24.95 

The Way to Go Home opens with expert horseback rider Buddy Scott's possibly life-ending injury which leaves him helpless in a remote ravine. As he awaits rescue or death, Buddy reviews his life, considers its possibly 'ridiculous ending', and reflects that he could have been a better father, husband, and friend to those around him. 

In many ways, The Way to Go Home offers a sharp inspection of end-of-life reconsiderations of alternate pathways, personal failures, and choices that, if made differently, could have resulted in better options. In others, it's a literary exploration of drifters who move in and out of and affect others' lives until they finally settle down, there to be changed, themselves, by the demands of life and being tied to one place. 

Buddy has often received conflicting messages throughout his life about how he should live, as in his musing over sexual choices which embrace three different perspectives from his mother, father, and uncle: "Why now think of Wes’s rants in the barn as the boys lay on their cots? “The fire that burns in your loins is a sign of weakness: a sin. God condones it only under the sanctity of marriage. God will strike you, punish you, if you indulge in wickedness other than the Godly union between man and wife. Those who are weak and act upon their lusting will be visited by disease that will chew their organs and devour their brains.” His mother put it differently. “Wait for the right girl, Buddy. Share it with her. Honour yourself and your future wife. Save yourself for her. Not everyone does. That’s human. But try. Don’t hate yourself too much if you can’t hold out. No matter what, always be respectful.” What would she say if she knew what he’d just done? With his father out in the barn. “Some have greater drive than others, Buddy. You are the only one who will know how to deal with it. But if you’re going with the ladies of the night, make sure they’re clean. You don’t want to end up with the clap.” 

The contrast between these influential viewpoints and Buddy's own choices are nicely done and create evocative, thought-provoking descriptions about the wellsprings of not just individual choice, but evolving ideas on how to interact with others. 

At each stage of Buddy's life, these early influencers and their admonitions are explored as he absorbs conflicting messages, picks those which resonate with his nomad inclinations, and eventually comes full circle to settle down in a revised fashion. His brother has made a good life for himself...perhaps better than his own. This and other observations provoke him to further reflections about the course of his life: "Ray’s visit would pick away at him. He’d go over and over it and he wouldn’t be able to leave it alone." 

Under Catharine Leggett's observational pen, characters, setting, and options come alive. Buddy now has all the time in the world to reflect, until something changes. He's always thought he deserved what happened to him in his life. In the end, now, he's not so sure. The central event that changes everything is slowly revealed in a series of scenes that build to a satisfying crescendo of self-realization and discovery. 

The Way to Go Home is all about reaching through time to reconsider trauma and its lasting influences. As the story winds through Buddy's world, readers will find it a literary work packed with history, changing perspectives, and characters that live and breathe with a sense of reality that's too rarely seen in fiction but which is more than alive and kicking, here. 

The Way to Go Home

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Reviewer's Choice

The 60-Minute Startup
Ramesh Dontha
The Agile Entrepreneur
Print: 9781733465106   $14.99 Paper/$19.99 Hardcover
Ebook: 9781733465113    $2.99 

The 60-Minute Startup: A Proven System To Start Your Business In 1 Hour A Day And Get Your First Paying Customers In 30 Days (Or Less) provides a different formula for business success than the usual entrepreneurial guide to conducting market research, focusing on how to begin an online business in an hour a day or less. It explains the premise of "agile entrepreneurship" and explores how it applies to any and all business ventures, but it also makes some surprising contentions—such as the idea that one can conduct an online business even with little prior knowledge of the online environment's processes.

How? The first step is not considering 'why', but 'what'. This is illustrated in a case history example of would-be entrepreneurs Sally and Sunder. Sally is a diligent student who researches everything and carefully considers her online business choices. Sunder puts a minimal amount of work and effort into building an online presence. Guess who gets the most customers for the amount of effort expended? What did he do right, and what did she do wrong? 

The 60-Minute Startup is startling in many ways. The first is because it refutes popular business wisdom of how to research, work against learning curves, and progress at a step-by-step snail's pace to build a thoughtful venture.  The agility program illustrated in the Sunder example, in contrast, promotes speed, flexibility, and adaptability. In a nutshell, these features describe the agile business personality and environment. 

What remains are the nuts and bolts of how to create such an environment and how to assure its profitability. Here's where The 60-Minute Startup truly shines. Chapters offer checklists and specific tasks that all lend to lean approaches to business-building, from setting up a payment processing account to building a sales pipeline through cultivating local relationships, joining support and networking groups, and delivering services or products at a profitable price point. 

Using social media to cultivate referrals, adopting a service-oriented approach that sets one's business apart from competitors, and building a business on a limited budget are all pieces of the bigger success story that The 60-Minute Startup tackles in a step-by-step manner. 

No startup manager or owner should be without this book. It not only reveals a strategy proven to work across the board for many different types of businesses, but it confronts and dispels many myths about wheel-spinning efforts along the way, honing in on the lean, agile techniques that result in the most sales for the least amount of effort. 

It's all about working smarter, not harder. The 60-Minute Startup is the epitome of this approach: a blueprint for success, not to be missed. 

The 60-Minute Startup

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Engineering Bridges
Pendred Noyce
Tumblehome, Inc.
978-1-943431-49-6                $22.95 

Engineering and architecture books directed to teen audiences are uncommon. Most engineering titles are either picture books for the young which introduce the topic with a basic focus on structural science, or adult-oriented books suitable for arts and architectural holdings. 

Engineering Bridges is a standout because it bridges the gap between a picture book for younger readers and an adult survey, offering young adults the opportunity to absorb the history and structural processes of bridge building in a lively manner. 

This illustrated guide to bridges of the world combines history with a focus on different bridge construction styles and challenges, from concrete and steel-arch bridges to stone bridges, truss structures, moveable bridges, and selected famous bridges such as the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Engineering Bridges is inspired by Mao Yisheng. This Chinese civil engineer traveled to America after China became a free republic, fell in love with bridges, and made them his passion in life, obtaining his doctorate degree in America before returning to China to build bridges. 

The tone of this exploration is lively and revealing, designed to appeal to a younger audience, but accessible to all ages: "Somewhere, thousands of years ago, a band of our human ancestors came to a stream and looked for a way to cross it without getting swept away. They maneuvered a log into place, made sure the ends of it were stable, and helped their friends and family set one wobbly foot in front of the other above the water. At the time, they didn’t realize they had become the world’s first civil engineers." 

Sidebars of illustrated food for thought add important insights to the text: "The requirements sound impossible. That is what’s awesome about bridges: so often, they require innovation in both materials and design."). Black and white and color photos of bridges, builders, and their designs permeate a discussion that will intrigue even those who may hold little prior interest in engineering or bridges. 

Humanity has, for thousands of years, figured out new ways to bridge gaps. This involving, lively history synthesizes the results of these efforts into an educational, alluring, engrossing volume that brings to life the challenges and efforts of the bridge designer, the unique situations which require innovative bridge construction methods and designs, and the science behind bridge creation. 

Extensively researched and embellished with illustrations and a solid bibliography, Engineering Bridges may be written for younger audiences, but is highly recommended for all ages, including general-interest adult readers who will find it both accessible and surprisingly involving—and not just for youth. 

Engineering Bridges

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Feasible Living
Ken Kroes
1779671 Alberta Inc. 
978-0-9958470-6-4                $17.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle  

Book covers usually aren't mentioned in reviews, but the exceptional cover of Feasible Living: Dealing with Ecological Anxiety While Adapting to Our Changing World both reinforces the title and catches the eye. A sexy, long-haired sunbather sitting in a beach chair receives more than a second glance because she sports a gas mask with a cityscape in flames in the background and parched earth all around her. 

Threats to the ecosystem and books about them abound, but Ken Kroes narrows his focus to a psychological syndrome called 'ecological anxiety' in response to news and research about the disintegrating ecosystem and its immediate and future impact on mankind. 

This emphasis creates a different perspective as Kroes provides chapters on climate change; pollution affecting water, air, and land; the loss of biodiversity; and the social, economic, political, and health challenges these represent which lead to ecological anxiety, another detrimental side-effect of acknowledging impending environmental disasters. 

Unlike other books on ecological degradation, Kroes provides many 'can-do' solutions specific to these conditions in general and this anxiety in particular, from considering ecological anxiety's incarnation in specific age groups to formulating plans for redefining success and applying ecological anxiety to ecological solutions. 

Discussions pinpoint research and add insights into conditions and situations which should be of concern versus those which are 'optional' and require refining thinking and understanding, as with the problems of glyphosates: "The jury on the health impact of glyphosate is still out. Though many studies show that it can be harmful, it has also been used for decades in North America and there have been no dramatic increases in health problems that have been directly attributed to it. The decision is up to you if you want to be concerned about this or not, but my opinion is why take the unnecessary risk? If you are concerned about your current or past exposure to glyphosate and other chemicals, do an internet search for home test kits for your food or other tests that are available for you. One key point to note is that it is not the GMO that is dangerous, but the pesticides that can be applied to the GMO." 

As much as there is a wealth of threats to human health and safety and planetary ecosystems, there are also many tools that individuals can use to understand, assess, and fact-check media representations, lending hope and logic to situations and alleviating some of the ecological anxiety factors: "With fake news being prominent in our world today and with the outlook that it will only get worse, what can you do to protect yourself from it and handle the ecological anxiety that it feeds? To avoid fake news, you must first learn to identify it. Some fact-free broadcasts are very well-done and hard to detect, but most can be easily identified if you know what to look for. A few pointers are given below, but also consider taking one of the many free online classes on how to identify fake news such as one put out by the University of Michigan or the University of Texas. An internet search for “online class fake news identification” will turn up these and several other options." 

As readers survey these problems, the latest research, psychological reactions to ecological threats, and many different solutions, they receive the kinds of tools and information necessary to support critical thinking and more logical, proactive courses of understanding and reaction. 

Herein lies the true value of Feasible Living. It's not another doomsday prediction, but outlines a blueprint for better living in a changing world, documenting concrete strategies readers can take to change their perceptions, reactions, possibilities, and, ultimately, some of the course of nature itself. 

Packed with footnoted research and references, a diverse bibliography, and charts and notes, Feasible Living fills the gap between a call to action and changing one's perceptions, attitudes, and possibilities to build a better life. 

It's a top recommendation for social issues, environmental issues, and psychology or self-help readers alike and is a much-needed offering of hope at a critical time in human and planetary history. 

Feasible Living

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The Haircut Who Would Be King: A Political Fable
Robert Trebor
Palindrome Press
978-0578475684            $14.95 Paper/$8.00 Kindle

Fans of political spoofs who find Donald Trump the best basis for pointed observations will relish the blend of fact and fancy that is The Haircut Who Would Be King: A Political Fable

What makes this story so hilarious is Robert Trebor's cultivation of Trump's possible viewpoints and reflections on his life's progression: "He rarely slept well; his mind was always churning to gain advantage, to game the next play, to trap a possible enemy. Reflection did not occupy much real estate in Donald’s brain. Promotion, instinct, a taste for the jugular, these were his trump cards. But you have to take stock once in a while. How did he get here? How did he defy all the odds, the editorials, and the pundits from both Parties? Some were saying that he was a walking cartoon, nothing more than a haircut atop a small orange hot-air balloon, a self-promoting egomaniacal huckster who was dangerously unfit and unqualified. There were also assessments that could be considered negative. “Yeah, they can all fry ice,” he thought as his mind drifted back sixty years..." 

From Trump's growth and arrival as an outsider in the political arena to his debate with Clinton and his rise to power, Trebor has a fun way of cutting to the chase and creating reality-based descriptions of events which are both hilarious and thought-provoking, as in the description of the aforementioned debate's media coverage: "Ladies and gentlemen, we expect a dirty fight to justify the high cost of commercial time we’re charging. Thirty million people may be watching, so be aware that every word and gesture will be dissected and parsed ad nauseam by pundits from now until doomsday. And now, LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!" "...what affects the American people most is the quality of leadership, the steady hand that can lead this Country into the future, a future the benefits everyone equally.” --applause and cheering-- “First, you are dead wrong, believe me. What affects Americans most, are the crime, the poverty, and the massive unemployment rate that is ravaging the average person’s pocketbook, if you want to know the truth.” “Ok Donnie, let’s take a look at crime, poverty and unemployment. They are at their lowest levels in twenty years. Those are the facts. Period.” “You can take your facts, and shove them up your valise...." 

Whimsy aside, these tongue-in-cheek interpretations of facts provide food for thought as they capture the absurdity and ironies of the political process and media representations. 

As events move into the curious relationship between Trump and Putin and Trump's policies, readers receive an intriguing satirical probe which will surely offend Trump believers and enthuse and entertain those who are not. 

It's too bad that readers who are either enthusiastic about or less than entertained by The Haircut Who Would Be King: A Political Fable will likely divide on partisan lines based not on Robert Trebor's efforts and powerful satirical hand, but on preexisting conditions. 

Trebor's story is entertaining and pinpoints the methods of gaslighting, fake news, alternate facts, and the realities of communications and social and political growth in modern American society. It should ideally be digested and relished by a wide American audience on both sides of the political spectrum. 

The Haircut Who Would Be King: A Political Fable

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Happily Ever After...Right Now
Luann Robinson Hull, MSW, LCSW, D.MIN
Top Reads Publishing, LLC
Paperback: 978-1-970107-14-2            $18.99
Ebook: 978-1-970107-15-9                   $  8.99 

Happily Ever After … Right Now: Stop Searching for Mr. Right and Start Celebrating YOU blends spirituality, science, and practical applications of research in its promotion of happiness, exploring not only individual happiness in the moment but its lasting impact on others. 

In 1999, Luann Robinson Hull experienced a prophetic dream and vision. Before that, she'd believed that life was over. And, she was right. The life she knew, had invested in, and had trapped herself in was over, but a new purpose was just around the corner. 

Hull was in a familiar bind over her former life focus: "I had settled, and settled, and settled again—settled for being a slave to my man, the men who had preceded him, my children, clients, and even my house, yard, and dog. I just wanted to be good. I wanted to be good so that people would stay. Therefore, I would be needed, hopefully invaluable, and less likely to be replaced or abandoned. And regardless of the benevolence I believed myself to be offering, people kept leaving anyway." 

What is the alternative to settling and security? Taking risks and being unsettled. That's exactly what Hull did, and her journey is a reflection of this process and a guide to the definition and achievement of happiness through a renewed purpose in and vision of life. 

From a deep, deep sorrow, separation, and self-examination came new opportunities and, with it, new wisdom about what constitutes happiness. But if this sounds like many other discussions on the subject of happiness, it should be advised that this book is actually much more. 

Scientific research reinforces Hull's self-discoveries and elevates her book beyond a self-help memoir: "Dr. Pert demonstrates that when thoughts and beliefs are no longer supported, the neuro-nets and pathways in the brain that have strengthened them literally fall away. This research explains how it is possible to undo our conditioned responses and reactions. We can retrain our minds." 

With Happily Ever After … Right Now in hand, readers can consider not just the patterns of their lives, ideals of happiness, and good and bad choices leading to or away from it, but they can evaluate the kinds of processes that support better or different decisions. 

As various components of real love, connections, and happiness are examined, readers receive not general ideals but specific approaches: "A significant part of the process involves learning to distinguish the difference between happiness (peace, fulfillment) and pleasure (immediate gratification, or shortlived ecstasy). And, identifying how to experience and then live our lives from a foundation of real love is a critical component of the formula for happily ever after … right now." 

The result is a primer that serves as a guidepost, blueprint, and pattern recognition resource that inspires readers on the road to more closely examine not just their lives, but the possibilities of enacting powerful change. Any self-help reader searching for not just answers but strategies to define, locate, and reinforce happiness factors in their lives will find Happily Ever After … Right Now a precious find, indeed. 

Happily Ever After...Right Now

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The Illustrated Wild Boy
John Du Cane
Du Cane Media
978-1-7341944-0-1         $29.95 

The Illustrated Wild Boy features Judit Tondora's beautiful color drawings which embellish a literary story collection that captures different memories and experiences, from a child's fascination with the power and attraction to setting things on fire to an adult's experience of color and vivid life during a cocaine experiment, causing him to lose track of years of carefully cultivated spirituality in search of bliss, creating a pattern that results in the reflection "We build beauty. We destroy the beauty. We rebuild the beauty. And so it goes…" 

The surprising blends of autobiography, philosophy, spirituality, and cultural investments in wild times, wild feelings, and different forms of horror and growth are wound into a story of media explorations and artistic investments to create a unique graphic novel-style memoir. 

Unlike typical graphic stories, this collection blends a healthy degree of literary writings with colorful visual backgrounds. Where graphic productions typically promote brevity over detailed explorations, John Du Cane centers his adventures firmly in written observations that embrace metaphor and reflection with equal depth and insight. 

From young and new adult pranks and family legacies to Du Cane's independent film investments, associations, and productions which fuel riots and political fervor, one lasting legacy of this collection is its unusual ability to juxtapose spirituality, counterculture, and childhood memories. 

These back-to-back revelations take readers from the mountains of China, where Du Cane reflects on the pan-fried wasps he enjoyed in a serene and surreal holy mountain atmosphere, to the philosophical insights created by misreading a tee shirt affirming the importance of staying awake in life (as opposed to staying away from it). 

Irony, critical observation, artistic expression, counterculture trends, and social and family influences craft a series of thought-provoking, lively, engrossing short works that are not just about Du Cane's world, but about how readers interpret these visions and revelations. 

It's rare to find a multifaceted short story collection of vignettes whose tales are equally well rooted in artistic, personal, and social observation. 

Hungarian illustrator Judit Tondora's lovely backgrounds bring Du Cane's adventures to life. The result is a creative and involving work of art, language, and social inspection that will delight readers looking for literary works strong in spiritual and social revelations. 

The Illustrated Wild Boy

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The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know
Marcelo Brazzi
Independently Published
$19.99 Paper/$29.99 Hardcover/$3.99 Kindle 

The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know reviews and contrasts the political agendas, values, and interactions between the two major parties in America, and should be required reading for any citizen interested in how the country became so politically polarized in recent decades. 

It comes from a spacecraft engineer on NASA’s Apollo program and a computer science instructor at California State University who uses his analytical skills to create a reasoned probe into the methodology and impact of party politics. This background successfully documents how these approaches are decimating the democratic process in this country. 

Marcelo Brazzi assumes no prior knowledge of the history of democratic institutions, opening his survey with a coverage of the democracies of early Greece and Rome and the 'laws of politics' that evolved from them. 

From American exceptions to these processes and how they are mirrored in social issues and interactions through the years to links between social woes and political stalemates, Brazzi surveys not only how discord happens and why it exists, but makes some important arguments for the revision of Democratic perspectives to change their overall impact in the American political arena. 

This analysis is especially strong in its cross-comparison not of party approaches, but uniquely American habits of perception and rules of order as they compare to the rest of the world: "These strange, illogical systems of measurements are good examples of American Exceptionalism and of intransigent conservatives who always oppose anything new or different no matter how sensible."  Statements such as these, backed by tables of researched facts and statistics, go far in removing party politics from the equation of rational thinking processes. 

At times, readers may feel these discussions are almost too wide-ranging. They move from politics to social institutions, cultural differences, and the impacts of social management systems on business, government, and civil sectors alike: "It is an established economic principle that completely unregulated capitalism eventually leads to enormous swings between boom and bust fueled by high speculation. It also leads to extreme differences in wealth and income and to the loss of the middle class. But perhaps the most devastating product of unregulated capitalism is the inevitable emergence of monopolies." 

Brazzi applies his rationale to all facets of American society. This creates a breadth and scope that feels daunting at first, but it successfully considers both long-term problems just showing up now (due to environmental changes and human choices) and features a call to action to liberal Democrats to resist conservative agendas and tendencies to reject change: "...freedom is not free. You cannot stand idly by while Republicans continue to destroy our freedoms, our prosperity, and our lives. You must do whatever you can to stop the conservative plans to take the US back to the days of super rich and super poor that existed before the great liberal movements and revolutions of the past. You must spread the truth to everyone. You must become active in election campaigns. You cannot roll over and surrender to the enemies of the working class. You must standup for your rights or suffer the consequences." 

It should be noted that there are minor but regular grammatical snafus throughout. The Liberal Record would represent an even stronger case where it given a final proofreading. 

That said, it's a hard-hitting, wide-ranging discussion that liberal Democrats, in particular, will want to consider. The opportunity to cross-compare the track records of the two parties using well-researched facts affords invaluable information on and insights about both parties. 

The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know

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The Liberating Birth of Jesus
Lee Van Ham
OneEarth Publishing
978-1-7340299-0-1 (paperback)           $11.95
978-1-7340299-1-8 (eBook)                 $  2.99 

The story of Jesus' birth and impact on the world is so famous that readers might wonder at the need for yet another book on the subject. This alternate viewpoint is a much-needed adjunct to both the story and the efforts of humanity to survive, and thus provides a very different perspective than most. 

The Liberating Birth of Jesus: A Birth Story Able to Reverse Our Planet’s Perils is not a holiday story, but draws important connections between dreams, angel lessons, acts of goodness, and the real meaning of Jesus' creation story. As such, Mary, Jesus, the cosmological and psychic impact of Jesus' arrival on Earth, and underlying messages pre- and post-Jesus are connected to both human affairs and planetary health and systems as a whole. 

Lee Van Ham crafts a blend of new age and religious inspection that old school Christian readers may at first find puzzling or challenging. The difference lies not in the Jesus story itself, which is more than familiar, but in perceptions of its translation and impact. 

The tone of this methodical consideration of political, social, and religious systems is scholarly, yet accessible. It creates solid references between scripture and broader new interpretations of its meaning than most religious inspections offer: "Tamar’s story in Genesis 38 oozes intrigue, family dysfunction, and trickery. It revolves around the levirate law, so named because of its derivation from the Latin levir, which means “brother-in-law.” According to this law, if a woman’s spouse died, the spouse’s brother was required to marry his sister-in-law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). When it operated well in patriarchal cultures, it was better than a modern life insurance policy. While today a husband can buy insurance on his life to assure the economic viability of his wife and family in case of his death, continuing relationships with in-laws and community are not assured. Social vulnerability increases. The levirate law provided both economic and social glue for a community. A brother who refused to follow the law opened himself to public shame for putting his own interests above the wellbeing of his relatives and the community as a whole. Furthermore, this economic and social law was given divine sanction, meaning that to disobey it was to disobey God, so when Judah and his sons disobeyed it, Tamar exposed them socially, economically, and spiritually." 

This food for thought is weighty and compelling, of necessity requiring that readers move slowly through the book. There's simply so much to digest and consider that a quick reading is not recommended. 

Choices in the narration of the birth story in the Bible and the impact of social, political, and religious perceptions in how it was presented provide intriguing insights with wide-ranging messages for any Biblical student: "Matthew is eager to show that the birth story includes wider geographies and ethnicities than Judea and Jews. The magi were from a geography beyond Judea, just like some of the women in his genealogy, and are another example of how Matthew decisively includes foreigners in his transforming story." 

Discussions of patriarchy, matriarchy, the politics of Rome, the "naming of Jesus by an angel," and other circumstances often challenge an average Christian reader's long-held assumptions and viewpoints about Biblical history—and this is a good thing. 

Those who appreciate different approaches to Biblical interpretations and events will find The Liberating Birth of Jesus a significant new approach to Biblical scholarship. It's not just an urgent call to action, but a recreation story of empowerment that pinpoints a major point of diversion and hope between past Biblical perceptions and modern analysis: "...the creativity of people 20 centuries ago connecting the Jesus of Bethlehem and the Christ of the eons and cosmos. Their context, however, differs from ours in thatChrist” was not then assumed to be Jesus’ second name. What is especially important for us today is to rediscover how they are separate.

What is happening in today's world, ecologically and politically, is impacted by misinterpretations about the birth and impact of Jesus. 

This broader cosmological consideration of planetary ecology is a much-needed, empowering read recommended for a new generation of thinkers as well as those who would incorporate the creation story's cosmology into revised approaches to life. 

The Liberating Birth of Jesus

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Sex Positive
Dr. Kelly Neff
9781786782953      $18.95 

Sex Positive: Redefining our Attitudes to Love and Sex comes from a social psychologist whose visions of the future have resulted in a broad fan base of radio and media followers. Her views of how technology is changing psychological patterns and cultural influences, especially in the area of sexual freedom and exploration, are presented in this book, which advocates such explorations and the acceptance and innovations that should ideally come with them. 

Dr. Kelly Neff holds a daunting charge: to refute centuries of religious, political, social and cultural teachings. On her side is her determination to not just disrupt traditional thoughts about sexuality and unions, but paint a positive portrait of the future based on scientific sexology research, a blend of philosophies and spiritual insights from East and West, and social observation of the changing society around her. 

From transforming individual sexual identities to changing community makeup and tolerance for this change, Sex Positive is at once a documentation of this process, an enlightened look at its impact, and a toolkit for those interested in forming new 'Sex Positive' relationships in their lives. This kit demonstrates how they can safely experiment, find a soulmate, and test the waters of sexual and social change. 

Sex Positive takes much of the guesswork and uncertainty out of understanding the new challenges of social and sexual relationships. It fosters an easy understanding of the obstacles, positive solutions to common issues, and underlying influences on sexual behaviors and development and does so in a manner that is accepting, encouraging, educational and easy to absorb. 

Perhaps one of the next steps in the human evolutionary process, Dr. Neff's definition of the nature, presence, and positive force of sexuality embraces many futuristic visions and questions, from robots and sexual involvements to the nature and achievement of orgasms. Sex Positive probes a hot topic of learned and changing behavior patterns in a survey that any young person, Millennials and earlier, will want to consider. 

Sex Positive

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The Storykeeper of Chequamegon
Jean Day Alexander
Day's Eye Press
9780999292808             $16.00
Ordering email: 

The indigenous Anishinaabe people live on the shores of Lake Superior in the 1790s and watch their familiar world change in The Storykeeper of Chequamegon. These changes are not represented by a single experience, but are depicted in a series of some seventeen tales heard by 'storykeeper' Oshauguscodaywayquay, who learns the key stories of connection between generations and peoples of not just her tribe, but those around them. 

Collections strong in Native American experience should know that these tales stem from real experiences and peoples, thus representing more than fictional explorations. 

Seasonal changes are emphasized by chapter headings which move through and are named by Native moon cycles ("Wild Rice Moon As It Wanes" and "Sap Running Moon" for two examples), while the stories themselves consider tribal heritage, interactions with a changing world, and personal and tribal struggles. 

The narrator, who is the daughter of Chief Waubojeeg, is not immune from these changes and acts as not just a story collector, but a participant in many of the efforts to preserve her heritage. Perhaps this is because, as she reflects, "Each storyteller puts something of himself into a story"—and so does this story collector. 

The atmosphere, as well as the experiences of her world, come to life: "I left the lodge and walked down to the shore and looked to the east. My father was better, but how restless I was. I knew the reason. I was not at the sugarbush camp that lay a day's journey away. I was not following the way of the Anishinaabe as the moons came upon the land." 

Jean Day Alexander's attention to capturing the atmospheric details of this environment brings to life not just the tribal experiences, but their surroundings: "The lake glowed red from the sun behind the hills across the bay and the sky matched the dark blue of the water. We sat on two rocks above the sand. The birds sang their night farewells. "The meadow behind us is my place on this earth," I said. "It is the meaning of my name." "And what is that meaning?" he asked. I pointed to the meadow. "Oshauaguscodayway and it holds this meaning: Woman of the Forest Meadow." 

Beautifully descriptive, evocative, educational, and engrossing, each story contributes a powerful lesson and observation that is embellished by black and white illustrations peppered throughout by Roberta Collier-Morales. 

The result is a lovely Native American cultural inspection that lingers in the mind long after the last story is told. 

The Storykeeper of Chequamegon

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Unravel your Hidden Gems
Tolu' A. Akinyemi
T & B Global Concepts Ltd.
978-1999815998            $13.13 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Readers seeking a collection of motivational works will find real gems within the covers of this book, Unravel your Hidden Gems

Sections neatly separate the special challenges of this process, from an introduction discussing preparations for life, death, and making a success of efforts in between the two to parts that follow the processes and special challenges of learning life lessons from encounters with family, friends, and adversity. 

Tolu' A. Akinyemi intends these essays to reach readers who would otherwise be inclined to 'sleepwalk through life or settle for the norm' without growing from its challenges. This audience might not be motivated to pick up Unravel your Hidden Gems without a push from some life-changing event, but those who are gifted this book will benefit from its road map of growth that proposes the notion of building a life mission and purpose and embarking on it with a gusto that defies the criticism or negativity of others. 

"Dream big...the World awaits your Roar" is the introductory message. Where other self-help volumes might fail to identify either the dream or the route to cultivating such a "roar," Akinyemi unravels the process of getting there in specific chapters of life-affirming, uplifting admonitions. 

Succeeding in life, for one example, involves giving motion to a vision and always reaching towards that goal. This involves "looking for new techniques to improve old ways of thinking" and continually investing in that forward momentum: "To be in motion in life, we must continually make ourselves relevant wherever we find ourselves. As much a possible, we must not despise personal development, we must crave education, continuous learning, seeking out new information and enlarging our reference base." 

Examples of individual and organizational endeavors that support this idea of continual, forward-reaching movement follow. This provides readers with specific courses and ways of achieving end goals while viewing them as stepping stones for further improvement and enlightenment. 

Ignorance is a "killer disease" that is part of what must be addressed during this process. So is questioning the idea of God, acknowledging responsibility for choices in directing one's life and experiences, and making the most of God-given talents rather than wasting them. 

A healthy dose of spiritual reflection is part of the growth and direction promoted in Unravel your Hidden Gems. These spiritual observations are not just reflections throughout, but form the foundations for the kind of changes Akinyemi promotes as life-affirming and God-driven. 

As he explores lessons to be learned from mistakes and the need to allocate resources, energy, and time more wisely, readers receive admonitions that follow the course of life's challenges to uncover the new tools that may stem from this learning process. 

Readers seeking a God-based set of affirming admonitions and essays on how to live a more effective, more positive, and more purposeful life will appreciate the clear roadmap to success presented in Unravel your Hidden Gems, an engrossing self-help primer that encourages readers to move away from comfort zones to identify and consider growth-inducing paths in their lives. 

Unravel your Hidden Gems

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Young Adult/Childrens

Bad Love Strikes
Kevin L. Schewe, MD.FACRO
Broken Crow Ridge Publishing
$19.95 paper/$35.95 hardcover/$9.99 ebook 

Bad Love Strikes follows a romp through time and history by teens who discover a time travel machine created by Roosevelt. They decide to use it to change World War II history, to save individuals from the Holocaust. 

There are several unusual facets to this story which would seem to lend to a future audiobook production even more than the hard copy and ebook versions currently available. One is the author's recommendation that a 21-song soundtrack be downloaded and played at appropriate moments in the story (delineated throughout the novel) to reinforce its atmosphere and times (but, possibly copyright challenges prevent this direct translation into audio). 

The story is set in 1974 and 1944, but the soundtrack musical selections are from the 1960s and 70s. They will provide teens with more accessible (albeit retro) sounds than if music from the 1940s had been chosen for some of the background.  

As the 'Bad Love Gang' embarks on their mission to the past, readers also receive an unexpected undercurrent of humor and irony that is embedded in interactions, cultural and historical references, and ironies that come to light in the course of their efforts. Even some of their nicknames are whimsical ("The Pud" and "Meatball"), adding fun into the serious adventure pursuit of cross-time justice. 

Imagine, for example, a B-17 flying fortress named 'Bad Love'. Pair the story with ongoing musical allusions and references, pepper black and white photos throughout, and reinforce real history with surreal possibilities for a sense of the lively escapade that gives a disparate group of time travelers an unusual mission in life. 

While Bad Love Strikes will reach teen audiences, the World War II history and experiment to change it is well-done and nicely detailed, and will attract many an older reader interested in time travel tales. 

It's rare to find a time travel story that goes beyond the usual 'lost in time' focus to add a mission, cultural references reinforced by musical emphasis and interludes, and a fun sense of adventure to its story line. This imparts a satisfyingly complex 'feel-good' result to the experiences of fourteen young time travelers whose complex encounters are anything but Hollywood-style sensationalism. 

Revelations are filled with ongoing implications not just for the past, present and future, but their own relationships. All these facets coalesce to make Bad Love Strikes more than a cut above the ordinary time travel story. It's highly recommended for anyone who enjoys strong historical references, humor, cultural insights, and unexpected twists and turns in their plots. 

Bad Love Strikes

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The Black Alabaster Box
Frances Schoonmaker
Auctus Publishers
Paperback: 7800997 960747      $12.00
Hardcover: 7800997 960744      $18.00
Ebook: ASIN: B07B6FRBYQ   $  7.49
Buy links:
AmazonBarnes & NobleIndie Bound, Walmart Book Depository, the iTunes iBooks app, and local bookstores upon request. 

The Black Alabaster Box is Book 1 in The Last Crystal Trilogy and opens with pioneer girl Grace Willis's journey to the West along the Santa Fe Trail, led by the Stokes Company. She's homesick as they depart, but has no choice about leaving or staying. She also has no choice when she is kidnapped and brought to Oklahoma Territory far from not only her home, but her parents and everything she loves. 

Her parents dreamed of starting medical school. Grace dreams of going home and, later, the seemingly impossible task of locating her parents and returning to them. Between the two pursuits lies the struggle to survive, and Grace comes into her own abilities as she forges new paths in her life and becomes invested in the magic that springs from these efforts. 

Teens expecting a fairytale story or mystery may be surprised at the real facts and history that serve as a backdrop for Grace's adventures. The realities of early days in Oklahoma during the Great Western Migration come to life, as does Grace's involvement with the mysterious Mr. Nichols, a rare alabaster cave that is only one of three places in the world where black alabaster is abundant, and threats to one of the last "wild and free" places on Earth, under siege from human settlements. 

An ecological message is given to Grace which will resonate with teen readers, even though it's couched in fantasy: "You see, Grace, when the Earth was born, Immortals wandered about freely as did the Angels. They delighted in each new living thing, tending the Earth like a garden. But, as the Earth grew older, Mortals came. Immortals watched as people spread over all of the Earth, using it as if there would always be some fresh, new place to spoil. Forests were lost. Mountains cut down, great gashes left in the Earth. The powerful used the meek and lowly as if their lives were of no consequence. Mortal fought against Mortal to own what was never theirs, bringing death and leaving a burned, scarred land. The Immortals who had lovingly tended the earth were distressed to leave it in such hands, yet their time was drawing to an end." 

As the story moves from fantastic caves and stories to social circles in early San Francisco, a 100-year-old dog's return to Grace's life as an adult with children, and her son James' observation of the fluidity of time and the same mercurial qualities of good and evil forces in the world, it cultivates many intriguing messages in a magical adventure story set in pioneer days. 

Kids receive the backdrops of attic treasures, unusual encounters with strange people and powers, and unexpected journeys that challenge Gracie in more ways than one. 

With its wide-ranging themes of adventure and murky lines between good and evil, The Black Alabaster Box will prove satisfyingly complex and thought-provoking. It reflects the depth and multifarious nature of life and encounters in the world as it shows how Gracie builds the courage, knowledge, and grit to survive extraordinary circumstances. 

Young adults, especially those in middle school, will find The Black Alabaster Box a lively, action-filled story. Filled with the promise of magic and cemented by the realities of survival in early pioneer times, it's a solidly engrossing tale that holds lessons about kindness, respecting and caring for the world, and how small choices can hold big consequences for either good or evil. 

The Black Alabaster Box

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Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light
Jaimie Engle
INtense Publications
Paperback: 978-1947796294      $15.99
Hardcover: 978-1947796300      $25.99
Amazon Paperback:
Amazon Hardcover: 

Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light represents the kind of young adult fantasy that many an adult can equally enjoy, and is a top recommendation for both middle school and older readers who will find Clifton's fantasy adventure thoroughly engrossing. 

Jaimie Engle excels at creating a strong protagonist which will have readers readily identifying with Clifton's conundrums, both big and small, from the first paragraph: "The thought that this was a brainless thing to do hadn't crossed his mind until now. He fumbled to fit his bow, his fingers like gelatin, as classmates lined up beside him in Wickham Park. The rest of the seventh graders gathered around to see who would win the bet between Clifton Chase and the new kid, Ryan Rivales. The instructor counted down the seconds from his stopwatch, and Clifton swiveled around to see if a certain pair of green eyes watched him. Yup. Even Ava Harrington had come to see. " 

The sudden appearance of a strange arrow leads Clifton into another world which (being a practical-minded lad) Clifton at first questions: "He leaned back, his head throbbing. It was too much to handle. How could this even be happening? He knew there was no way he could have made up all those details in a dream, especially not with such accuracy. The explanation stared right at him. The information was as clear as a bell." 

Could he have really travelled back in time? Clifton navigates two very different worlds, learns about history and his strange place in it, and comes to realize that his purpose and place in past events are affecting his familiar future. He also finds that the Arrow of Light apparently made a wise selection in choosing him to help resolve problems, out of all the boys in the world who could have been tapped for this extraordinary task. 

Magical creatures from land and sea, political entanglements and family fights, nations on the brink of war, and arrows that offer solutions only if their mysteries are unlocked by a worthy hero all contribute to a thoroughly engrossing plot as readers follow Clifton's efforts to understand these strange realities and his newfound purpose in them. 

Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light represents the kind of fantasy that only comes along every decade or so. It's a winning blend of fantasy adventure and coming of age story that presents the dilemma of an object of power that is coveted by many, but able to be successfully used by only a few. Clifton only wants his life to return to normal again. But, once changed, that may never be possible...and would he really give up his newfound role as the 'truest of friends' to have anything turn out differently? 

Readers receive an absorbing story of Clifton's growth and challenging interactions with the world around him as they enjoy a fantasy adventure that traverses not just time, but the intricacies of friendships, adversity, and courage. 

Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light

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I Know When You’re Going To Die
Michael J. Bowler
Independently Published
Paperback: 978-1-7333290-0-2    $  9.99
eBook: 978-1-7333290-1-9           $  2.99
Audiobook: 978-0-9903063-1-3    $12.95
Barnes and Noble:;jsessionid=ACEF0B8A8DBF47B8C52210F233FF2F1F.prodny_store01-atgap15?ean=2940163679256

Teen Leonardo is terribly shy, but this doesn't prevent him from volunteering at a homeless shelter and helping others. When an old man forces eye contact and passes on the power of being able to see another's death, Leonardo's life changes.

Life changes yet again when he sees his best friend's future murder and the two decide to defy and change what seems like destiny. They are joined by feisty new girl Laura. 

As the friends sift through the few clues offered in the vision to try to locate to stop a future murderer, readers are treated to a fine blend of psychological growth and investigative prowess which tests the abilities of the three teens. 

Laura adds an extra, critical dimension to the investigation by providing insights that test the boys' perceptions and ideas: " one’s gonna purge your house. This is just one guy who’s after you.” Everyone’s quiet for a moment, and then Laura asks, “How do you know that for sure?” “I saw it in his eyes, remember?” She chews her lower lip. “You saw one guy doing the killing,” she reminds me. “Doesn’t mean others aren’t involved.” 

Leo finds his easy camaraderie with his best friend is changed by his new ability, but in the course of shared adversity and purpose, it slowly begins to return; albeit in a different form. 

From secret passages in old houses to new relationships which change old friendships and Leonardo's own vision of himself as an undesirable "town loser" which is changed in the course of their efforts, teens will relish the realistic characters and involving action that keeps readers on their toes with a blend of satisfying action and psychological introspection. 

The characters are well-drawn and nicely balance the intrigue, offering many interpersonal insights and moments that will teach young readers about the undercurrents of relationships and their changes. 

I Know When You’re Going To Die is a riveting story because of this marriage between psychological depth and a pre-murder investigation, featuring engrossing twists and turns right up to its unexpected conclusion which embraces hard decisions and new opportunities. 

I Know When You’re Going To Die

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I'll Lend You My Daddy
Becky King
Starts With Us
978-1-7336630-3-8         $17.99 

Ages 4-8 will be intrigued by the picture book story of a father's deployment in I'll Lend You My Daddy, which holds colorful drawings by artist Valerie Valdivia that bring to life the experiences of military children whose enlisted parents "work for us all." 

Patriotic pictures of fathers with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Army, along with their families supporting their efforts, pepper a warm story of children who 'lend their daddies' to their countries. 

There are very, very few books written from the perspective of military children that acknowledge the underlying sentiment behind a military parent's service (and absence). I'll Lend You My Daddy does so with a grace and positive perspective that lends to its value for military families, substituting the usual discussions of loss and loneliness with those of pride and contribution to a cause. 

The tone of encouragement throughout acknowledges these kids' emotions using a gentle rhyme as it illustrates different families of all ethnic backgrounds who are preparing for a parent's absence: "I’ll lend you my daddy./He serves us, you see./He's going away,/But he'll come back to me." 

I'll Lend You My Daddy creates a dance between patriotism, loss, and achievement that Becky King performs well as she acknowledges a small child's sad feelings, yet injects a tone of encouragement: "I’ll lend you my daddy,/He’s ready to go./I’ll try to be brave,/But I’ll sure miss him so." 

No military family with small children, or collections catering to them, should be without this unique, bright, encouraging picture book that emphasizes pride, reunion, sacrifice, and duty. 

I'll Lend You My Daddy

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I'm a?
Nicole Beil
Independently Published
9781733092906             $11.99 

I'm a? A Book of Rhymes, Riddles, and Choices is a lovely board book for the very young which combines engaging, colorful drawings by Karine Makartichan with a series of questions that read-aloud parents can use to engage and invite kids to hone their visual skills and problem-solving abilities. 

One key to successfully using this book lies in the word 'interactive'. This isn't a book to be handed to a toddler to pursue on their own. Its success lies in its engagement opportunities. Adults will thus find it unexpectedly appealing and inclusive as it presents its queries and facing pages of clues. 

Occasionally, the wordplay seems too sophisticated for the very young, as in the seashell observation ("Life at the beach is going very swell."). That's why parents who work with their child can easily illustrate the fun in these observations and insights, helping kids solve puzzles while identifying links to life as they learn how to connect, enjoy, and appreciate the puzzle solutions in the real world. 

It's rare to see a board book that blends entertainment and interactive opportunities so nicely with educational touches, but I'm a? A Book of Rhymes, Riddles, and Choices cultivates a different approach that parents and childcare providers will appreciate. 

I'm a?

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The Moon Show
Carmen Gloria
Uncommon Grammar
E-Book: 978-1-950767-06-9                 $2.99
Print Paperback: 978-1-950767-07-6   $9.99
Print Hardcover: 978-1-950767-08-3     $19.99

The Moon Show combines a fictional approach with astronomy facts for the very young, and will best be utilized by read-aloud parents interested in introducing a young child to astronomy in a fun manner. 

This isn't a grouping of facts alone. The moon is the narrator, here, offering whimsical observations designed to intrigue kids about what's up in the sky: "Sometimes, I even look like a banana, or a big smile called a crescent." 

With its narrowed focus on only the planets in the solar system that have moons, kids receive a user-friendly, light story that helps them absorb basic moon facts in a story that alternates between moon science and broader observations: "I, Phobos, am slowly moving closer and closer to our planet, Mars, while little Deimos is slowly moving further and further away. One day, millions of years from now, I might crash into Mars, and little Deimos might be far, far, away, but hey, every day is different, and that's what makes life so wonderful!" 

The beautiful illustrations throughout include smiling moons and often reflect humor, as in the renaming of one of Neptune's moons, which is announced to a waiting room of moons at the Moon Approval Office. 

Parents looking for a fun, easy beginner's introduction to astronomy will find the entertainment quality of this story intriguing. It's a recommended parental read-aloud pick for youngsters, designed to cultivate a new appreciation of the night skies and our moon. 

The Moon Show

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This Book Is Alive!
Justine Avery
Suteki Creative
ebook: 978-1-948124-39-3           $  4.99
Softcover: 978-1-948124-41-6      $  8.95
Hardcover: 978-1-948124-42-3     $15.95 

This Book Is Alive! is a picture book that holds two unusual features: its handwritten pages capture the feel of a personal diary, and it's from the perspective of a book (that's right—a book) which comments on not just its odd identity, but its value to others. 

A book can't be a living thing. Or, can it? Justine Avery's unusual premise is embellished with simple but appealing drawings by Daria Yudina, who deftly tackles the difficult task of illustrating an ethereal concept. 

Avery's story assumes a life of its own as it explains that books hold all the trappings of reality, from expressing intangible ideas to being original, artistic productions (for the most part) that "never hide their feelings," but hold secret motives. 

The dual messages in this book, about the liveliness of the written word and the joy of life itself, impart a rare feeling and opportunity for read-aloud parents to discuss the nature of books and ideas with the very young. 

Imaginative, positive, and thought-provoking, there's nothing quite like This Book Is Alive! Its compelling discussion and magic is highly recommended for adults who would capture the allure of life and reading for beginning bookworms.

This Book Is Alive!

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What Wonders Await Outdoors
Justine Avery
Suteki Creative
ebook: 978-1-948124-43-0           $  4.99
Paperback: 978-1-948124-45-4    $  9.95
Hardcover: 978-1-948124-46-1     $16.95 

What Wonders Await Outdoors uses a rollicking rhyme to deliver a message encouraging kids to exchange indoor activities for outdoor pleasures. It pairs these with lovely watercolors by Liuba Syrotiuk that capture the allure of the outdoors. 

In its opening pages, the characters are cuddled up indoors, safe from the elements, warm, cozy...and bored. They’ve played inside all day. Isn't there something new to enjoy? 

The answer lies right outside the door. Time has passed so quickly that adult and children players have almost forgotten the best part of all. 

As the story moves from inside to outside, readers enjoy a lively sense of discovery and action that promotes exploring the whole wide world outside one's door. 

Pioneers explore and make discoveries, and so do the characters in this story. Nature invites them out to enjoy all its glory, no matter what the weather, and they just know "...we'll have fun wherever we may go." 

Adults who want to encourage kids to view indoor and outdoor play differently finally have a picture book that contrasts the two, supporting the notion of moving, discovering, and exploring nature. The focus on listening, looking, and experiencing leaves nothing to wonder and gives adults rudimentary clues for helping youngsters interact with, observe, and appreciate their outdoors world as much as their indoors one. 

What Wonders Await Outdoors is highly recommended for parents, preschool teachers, childcare providers, and anyone who would foster an early appreciation of nature in the very young.

What Wonders Await Outdoors

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Body Language: Short Stories
Marylee MacDonald
Grand Canyon Press
978-1-951479-95-4         $12.99
Author Website: 

Body Language: Short Stories is about individuals facing crossroads in their lives. It uses 12 disparate short pieces to identify these transition points, their choices and dilemmas, and the lasting impact of each character's perspective and decision. 

Each story is different, and each is compellingly unique in its approach and background.

Take elderly Klara Schmidt in 'Year By Year', for example. Klara is content in her home and feels safe and comfortable, but her worried children insist that she move someplace else—not to their houses, but into an old folks' home. 

Klara doesn't want to part with all the possessions that define her life and she doesn't want to move in with strangers. Yet, she's forced to make decisions about every piece of her life, reflecting on the past as she moves through the present.

Marylee MacDonald does a fine job of illustrating Klara's process and the newfound revelations it introduces: "Even if Klara were going to St. Paul’s, which she hopes, God willing, she can find some way to avoid, she wouldn’t want to bring these reminders of time passing year by year. Not that she doesn’t love her kids. They just didn’t turn out the way she’d imagined." 

Klara's at the end of her life, but change is creating new beginnings. 'Year By Year' deftly captures the wellspring of these changes in a poignant story of family interactions and a stalled life "moving forward again" despite the costs of progress. 

'The Memory Palace' similarly surveys a very different life: that of bartender Arlo Pastori, who "thinks too much" and who relies on his memorization technique, 'The Memory Palace', to remember his regulars' names, drinks, and lives. 

Early customer Brian challenges this system and Arlo's carefully organized world from the moment he enters the bar off-hours, alters his habits enough to keep Arlo guessing, and faces temptations that are often irresistible: "It is not a decision, so much as a surrender." 

MacDonald's characters seem so familiar, readers might easily imagine encountering them in daily life themselves. As each confronts what drives them crazy, forces them to accept changes, and considers their lives and the impact of fate, the stories circle the wagon around the passage of time, the impact of memory and struggles with its ongoing reliability, and the lasting effects of actions and reactions. 

Readers seeking a literary, psychologically engrossing series of portraits of individuals who, in different ways, stand at the crossroads of change will appreciate the slice-of-life vignettes about peoples' powers and passions that often represent quiet calls for help and change in Body Language: Short Stories

Body Language: Short Stories

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A Booktiful Love: Poems
Tolu’ A. Akinyemi
The Roaring Lion Newcastle

 B082Z6J531        $2.99 Kindle

A Booktiful Love: Poems celebrates the written word, literacy, and life with equal abandon, traversing a diverse set of themes that range from depression and self-admonishment to the pain and promise of being a Freedom Fighter in the world. 

If one thing can be said about this collection, it is that it celebrates, chastises, and enlightens readers on life and its various processes even as it emphasizes that dreams are valid and worth the price of their pursuit. 

Reader who choose A Booktiful Love will find it borders on a literary self-help and an inspirational collection under one cover, considering the corruption of saints, the ironies of literacy and writers, and how the written word celebrates and reflects life. 

Some poems reflect on this process, as in 'Ignoramus': "I laugh in satire/& choke from the sound of my voice/A writer lives on the clouds/& draws strength from imagination/Say tales by moonlight/Or the world of make believe." 

Others muse on life challenges, such as a marriage gone wrong: "Don’t force him to stay if he wants-away./You uttered, “He promised till death do us part,”/But the fury in your eyes pull him to his grave/every hour."

It will take a blend of appreciation for psychology, philosophy, spirituality, and modern culture to value and absorb the nuances that power the poetry in A Booktiful Love, but those who harbor such interests will find it replete with explorations of life events, themes, and beliefs. 

Poet Tolu’ A. Akinyemi tackles life with a passionate, analytical, observing eye and creates admonitions which pull at emotional strings in the heart. Poetry readers who choose his free verse collection will find it equally powerful whether it's considering divorce and grief or the love language of 'A Booktiful Love'. 

A Booktiful Love: Poems

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In Progress: Stories
Catharine Leggett
Sowilo Press
9780999491515             $23.00 Paper/$8.99 Kindle 

Change comes quickly to neighborhoods and towns— sometimes faster than humans can process, even though time seems to move slowly, for some. In Progress: Stories documents these transition points in the lives of all kinds of ordinary individuals. 

One such story, 'The 401', follows changes experienced by a teen country girl who longs to blend into the sophistication of city girls rather than being a simple farmer's daughter clothed in hand-me-downs (a feel that threatens to follow her through her first job and into adulthood). 

When she is forced to fight for her life one night, then keeps her assault a secret from her parents and the world, her perspective is altered forever. She's worked all summer to afford the pretty clothes she once longed for, but she hasn't bought a thing. All that she's earned is a terrible realization about the dangers of the outside world—and this changes everything. 

In another example, 'Ruthie and the Big Blue Sky', Ruthie is a 'human robot' checkout clerk who, like a bartender, learns much about the 'regulars' who shop at her store. Some reveal nothing and are enigmas, much as she is, herself. When an unusual work opportunity involving a hot air balloon presents itself, Ruthie has the choice of breaking free and flying or remaining in predictable, safe routines. 

All stories see their protagonists through change and revelation, and each excels in deeply inspecting environment, perceptions, transition points, and newfound realizations. 

Catharine Leggett's short stories reflect quiet acts of desperation and realization—the kind that mirror life's progression. Her ability to capture the moments that alter lives and hearts makes these tales special works, indeed, and highly recommended for literary readers who enjoy close psychological inspections of individual lives. 

In Progress: Stories

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Tales Of Old, Stories From the Old Testament
Clive Johnson
Labyrinthe Press
Print: 978-1-9162276-2-0              $9.95
Ebook: 978-1-9162276-3-7           $5.95 

Tales Of Old, Stories From the Old Testament are retold by Clive Johnson and move from Adam and Eve through Noah, Samson, Ruth, and other Old Testament figures. 

Children ages 5-14 years will find these stories accessible, enlightening pieces that lend to read-aloud drama, bringing to life not just the tales but their underlying lessons. It should also be emphasized that these 15 tales lend to enjoyment by all ages, and shouldn't be limited to the young. 

These stories don't just lend to read-aloud, but beg to be performed. Each story is also available as a separate title and as an Audible audiobook, and each emphasizes a call to action or presents a warning. 

Take 'Samson the Strong', for one example. This story illustrates the power of love, vows, and the force of social pressure. It also weaves God's plan into Samson's life: "God had put this incurable love in Samson’s heart for a reason, to enable him to ensnare this great enemy of Israel. So too, God had stirred a great passion within Samson for seeking justice, and filled him with great strength in his body. In fact, Samson was one of the strongest men who have ever lived, and there are many tales told that attest to this." And so the Samson legend assumes its proper place as a story of God's purpose, different kinds of strength, and the destructive force of revenge. 

Clive Johnson does more than embellish stories to make them more accessible to audiences. He adds powerful revelations to the story's progression which helps listeners absorb not just the plots, but the many nuances of Biblical meaning which ordinarily would have been lost to some age groups in the original translation. 

Christians who look for a better way of imparting these complex messages to a younger audience than is typical for these Old Testament stories will find Tales Of Old, Stories From the Old Testament just the ticket for family enjoyment.

They embrace drama and adventure, but add the moral, ethical, and spiritual flourishes necessary to open dialogues about the Bible's underlying lessons, making them far more than just a rehash of the originals. 

Tales Of Old, Stories From the Old Testament

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