Fantasy & Sci Fi
Mystery & Thrillers

Fantasy & Sci Fi

The Final Strain
Brian Gates
Melange Books LLC
978-1680468106            $19.49 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

The Final Strain is set in the near future and provides an apocalyptic story of survival against all odds. The 'D.C. Virus' has taken out most of the population, leaving a relative handful of remaining humans pitted against each other and their vastly changed environment. 

If this premise sounds like too many other apocalyptic stories, be advised that Brian Gates takes matters a step further by delving into the source of the virus, which proves to be a purposeful act perpetuated by an unknown entity. 

It's this added element of intrigue that elevates The Final Strain beyond the usual survivalist or disaster story. Imprisoned murderer Saber Tigan, drug addict Mitch and others in his rehab group, and a family trying to choose between self-defense and murder in cold blood are just some of the many characters struggling to understand the new rules of this strange new world. 

Between violent confrontations and the McGuiness Family's encounters on a dangerous journey, to the revised rules of a new world order, The Final Strain offers a gripping tale that not only documents struggle, but follows the evolution of revised moral, spiritual, and ethical belief systems: "But this wasn’t a battle, and no physical enemy existed whom one could kill and take revenge for the fallen, the slaughtered. The virus came, took its victims like a ghost, and then left those alive to wonder, like the ancient Pharaoh of Egypt, what sin they had committed to enact the horrible and final plague of death. However, when there are no slaves to set free, one has a hard time blaming even God." 

Fast-paced action is juxtaposed with satisfying twists of plot that many readers won't see coming, while the characters and their importance wax and wane as events challenge and change their worlds. 

Brian Gates provides different perspectives from different families who join together. This approach allows for a more multifaceted, engrossing treatment than the typical protagonist-driven disaster novel achieves. 

From the changing and diverse personal perspectives of those who discover a new deadly enemy behind the virus to a story of American survival and evolving values, The Final Strain makes for an epic read which is more complicated and intriguing than most apocalyptic novels—and hard to put down. 

The Final Strain

Return to Index

Great Dieback to Singularity
Daniel R. Scott
Clipper Implants Press
978-1-7340507-1-4                $6.99 Kindle/$15.99 Paper 

Great Dieback to Singularity is a top recommendation for fans of hard science fiction, a sci-fi subgenre which receives less attention these days than it used to, and is set in the near future after 2029, when the Great Dieback changed the world after the ice caps melted and global winter decimates human and nature populations alike. 

This world is inhabited by the remnants of a struggling civilization and the genius Cameron twins Addie and Ainsley, whose skills in cybernetics and bioengineering could be the only thing standing between the rise of a threatening singularity of AI and cyberengineered humans and true survival. 

Presented as a series of stories chronicling the history of this effort, Great Dieback to Singularity is introduced with colorful 'post-Dieback' maps (compliments of National Geographic) depicting the planet's changed geography; a somewhat-daunting cast of characters list; and editorial notes defining technological singularity. 

These introductory features could put off readers unused to hard sci-fi who merely seek an action-packed apocalyptic survival story; but those who persevere will be simply delighted by Daniel R. Scott's approach to creating solid foundations in science and futuristic history before delving into the characters and dilemmas posed by surviving this strange new world. 

What happens when improvements in science create a self-sustaining wave of innovation and change that moves beyond the control of its human creators? When humanity's vision of survival is challenged, will the twins be able to decode cryptic messages, participate in Heal the Planet efforts, or return the light of a different civilized structure to a human world gone dark? 

By now it should be apparent that Great Dieback to Singularity is no casual apocalyptic survival tale. It's a very specific, technical, involving story of how the intersection of technology and humanity becomes unstable and uncertain. This book is the first in a projected trilogy, and focuses on changing events in North America, Europe and China. The second book will cover Africa, South America, Australia, and India; and the third will focus on western Russia. 

From enhanced humans and missions around the world to a dangerous and illegal effort to achieve singularity capability, science stays in the forefront of the story and is an impeccable force behind various characters and their special contributions and efforts. 

While Great Dieback to Singularity will reach sci-fi readers of apocalyptic scenarios, it's a special recommendation and delight for hard sci-fi fans who receive too few in-depth focuses on technological challenges in modern genre reads. This audience will find Great Dieback to Singularity outstanding in its premises and depiction of a humanity posed on the edge of reinventing itself (or, being reinvented by its own creations). 

Great Dieback to Singularity

Return to Index

Jungle Beauty Goddess - Pretty Blue Ball
Cassandra George-Sturges
Independently Published
978-1707064281            $7.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

It's challenging to easily peg the audience for Pretty Blue Ball. At once a fable with philosophical and spiritual overlays, this first volume opens a series that focuses on the coming of age, actions, and conundrums faced by inexperienced young goddesses who are given a blue planet to oversee by their omnipotent parents. 

It's a creation fable with a twist made all the more unusual by the addition of colorful photos of fabric dolls created by author Cassandra George-Sturges. These are posed in fun images throughout this first book. 

African culture runs deep in this story, from the anatomically correct African dolls which are colorful cultural representations to the Jungle Goddess story, which celebrates powerful young women as they journey into their powers of responsibility and oversight. 

One facet which makes for a challenge in neatly identifying an audience for Pretty Blue Ball is the sound and feel of the story. These Jungle Goddesses enjoy play, romp through the colorful, ethereal universe surrounding them, and exhibit many of the expressions of innocence and delight typical of a young child. 

On the other hand, their story embraces many adult themes and philosophical inspections and its later tone, especially, delves into social issues, prejudice, sexual violence, and other topics not suitable for younger readers. 

Religious readers will find that the story embraces the idea of 'godettes' and women as Gods, which may surprise some, while the Nubian cultural overlay and exploration of romance and passion within their world-building endeavors is also a revelation. 

Pretty Blue Ball fits easily into no particular genre or box. At once a fable and a fantasy, rooted in Nubian atmosphere with an overlay of social reflection and philosophical insights, Book 1 of the series is a read recommended for those who like their stories rich in growth, who are unafraid of explicit sexual scenes involving violation and love, and who like imaginative blends of spiritual and social insights into the human condition. 

Told from quite a different perspective, this story of human evolution and ethereal influences makes for intriguing, thought-provoking reading. 

Jungle Beauty Goddess - Pretty Blue Ball

Return to Index

Jungle Beauty Goddess's Aquatic Ball
Cassandra George-Sturges
Independently Published
9781707063659             $7.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Book 2 of the Jungle Beauty series, Jungle Beauty Goddess's Aquatic Ball, offers a twist on the story begun in Pretty Blue Ball as it introduces mermaids and the threat of an ocean takeover changing the makeup, peoples, and realms of Planet Earth. 

Even more so than Book 1, which featured the Jungle Beauty Goddess doll images, this book (which holds no such images) opens with a startling introduction: a graphic sex dream between man and mermaid. 

As paragraphs move from that scene to isolated, formerly acclaimed paleontologist Dr. Peter L. Roy's riverboat dreams and life failures, they neatly set the stage for newcomers to learn of Dr. Roy's involvement with the mysterious alien Jungle Beauty Goddesses who escaped confinement under his watch. 

His downfall and current sad state is nicely portrayed: "I don’t believe in God. In fact I don’t believe in much of anything. Believing is for fools, dreamers, children, and magicians. Of which, I am none of the above. I am going to tell you a story of truth, mystery, fantasy, and destruction…my story… of how I was the most famous and wealthiest paleontologist in the world—and lost it all. Can you even imagine…earning and losing 2.7 billion dollars in one lifetime? It’s easier than you think." 

But, Aquatic Ball isn't just the story of his rise, fall, and ongoing involvement in the Jungle Beauty legend. It's the story of a newfound threat to the entire planet as the mermaid/mermen community rises up to threaten Earth with the specter of becoming an aquatic world devoid of human inhabitants. 

What's a Jungle Beauty overseer to do? The answer seems to be a newfound involvement with their creations. The Goddesses accept the fate of their sister Afar, are additionally challenged with properly handling her remains, and face the destruction or transformation of an experiment gone awry. 

Lively and filled with unexpected moments, Jungle Beauty Goddess's Aquatic Ball is especially recommended for those who appreciated Book 1 and who want a different perspective of evolving life on a planet overseen by goddesses who are spunky, determined, and sometimes out of their league. 

Jungle Beauty Goddess's Aquatic Ball

Return to Index

Jungle Beauty Goddess: Dirty Ball
Cassandra George-Sturges
Independently Published
 B08192Q5HZ              $4.99 Kindle 

Book 3 of the series, Jungle Beauty Goddess: Dirty Ball, represents yet another departure in the story by coming from the perspective of Afar, the goddess who doesn't survive what she has become. 

In adding yet another angle to the Jungle Beauty Goddesses from the vantage point of the one goddess who crosses the line by evoking love from her creation and taking advantage of this relationship, Cassandra George-Sturges creates yet another satisfying twist to the story. 

From the dilemma Afar faces on a timetable of competition with the first woman destined to emerge into existence on Earth to her decision to confront Sumeria and change human lives forever through her selfish act, readers receive a very different perspective of this Jungle Goddess. It isn't all sweetness and light, but captures a dark story of personal involvement and spiritual conundrums. 

As her choices bring her sisters into a further dilemma which may only be resolved if they can locate the missing Dr. Peter Roy, readers of the prior books will find Dirty Ball a satisfyingly complex read that winds through various viewpoints, decisions, and reflections that are quite philosophical and emotional in their presentation: "Everyone in your life is there for a reason. Some people are in your life to provide comfort and support and others are there to push you to your highest and best self—always dangling outside of your comfort zone—to help you evolve and propel your life forward in unimagined ways. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s all love-- one type of love never undermines or replace another. They exist in different realms of reality."

As with the companion stories, this tale is hard to neatly categorize. Replete with social, spiritual, philosophical and psychological insights and questions, it romps through a bright and challenging universe as seen through the eyes of young overseers who find their interests and passions challenged by their creations and their roles. 

By expanding the characters, concepts, and moral and ethical issues of the series as a whole, Dirty Ball creates another fine addition to a series which, like the creations and goddesses it depicts, has its own evolutionary path. 

Prior readers who wondered about the allusions to Afar's personality, choice, and dangers receive plenty of detail and eye-opening insights in this focus on her role in humanity's evolution. They will find Book 3 just as intriguing a read as the others, further expanding the mythology and adventures of young goddesses who evolve alongside and often because of their creations. 

Jungle Beauty Goddess: Dirty Ball

Return to Index

Legend of the Storm Hawks
L.H. Leonard
Each Voice Publishing
978-0-9892105-3-9         $4.99 ebook/$14.99 Print

Legend of the Storm Hawks is the first book in the Rootstock fantasy series and provides a prelude to the saga that helps define the world of Innis. A color map introduces this country and opens with the observation of Aleron bounty hunters searching for Fehan, who has apparently got himself into another mess. 

Fee's father The Pelican has just been murdered, he's on the run, and men are on the lookout to take him to debtor's prison. 

This is just the opening salvo in a story that features a host of characters, political alliances, and the process of changing men and women into Hawks, an effort that reaches out to alter Lady of Glenayre Isobel's life as she embarks on a journey with Sethlyan Callan and leaves her familiar life and world behind. 

From truces violated by a daughter's sanctuary to the Alerons who foreshadow the war and political strife that reaches out to monarchs and commoners alike, Legend of the Storm Hawks is a sweeping epic. It will especially attract fantasy readers who enjoy large casts of characters, the clash of special interests, the choices and dilemmas faced by male and female characters alike, and the quest of three which forms the stuff of legends. 

As Legend of the Storm Hawks evolves, readers receive an absorbing story of individuals and societies under pressure. More and more characters evolve to join in the fray of change, an unusual time when adversity awakens gifts and good times condemn people to lives of mediocrity. 

As old fables about cycles, awakenings, and evolution begin to come true, Nigel, Blackheart, and others must face the underlying purposes of the Joining, the Awakening, and forces which would transform their world. 

Legend of the Storm Hawks is a complex, evolutionary read that will delight those with an affinity for stories of social and political change and personal growth. Readers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, will find Legend of the Storm Hawks satisfyingly well-detailed, holding just the right blend of action, confrontation, and growth to keep the story and the evolution of its characters and their confrontations realistic, involving, and thoroughly riveting. 

Legend of the Storm Hawks

Return to Index

Realm Journey
Ben Schneider
Outskirts Press
978-1-9772-1216-0         $20.95 Paper/$1.99 Kindle 

Realm Journey represents epic fantasy writing at its best and is highly recommended reading for genre fans seeking works steeped in grand battles over political corruption, magic, and a quest for what is right. 

If this initial description sounds like predictable fantasy writing, it should be advised that under the guise of a military-style political clash, Realm Journey is anything but predictable or familiar. Its special blend of humor, irony, hard science, and moral and ethical dilemmas is at once fun, thought-provoking, action-packed, and thoroughly engrossing as a knight's venture turns into a battle for justice. 

Sir Xandar is a white knight who rides the realm accompanied by talented scout/pet cat Quester and sixteen-year-old Evet, who observes actions by Sir Xandar that he doesn't quite understand. 

In this world, science and magic are closely aligned and magic is not deemed an acceptable practice (“Magic? There’s no such thing,” Xandar said, taking the boy’s shoulders. “Don’t ever think like that. These rivals and I did not do magic; it was mere science.” His eyes swept windows in the nearby city and gaps between structures. After finding no curious onlookers, he was relieved to see the inhabitants were too busy and far away to notice. “What you have seen is chemistry-based technology unknown to everyone else. It is not meant for the eyes of ones like you who would mistake it for something supernatural."). 

Humor is a strong undercurrent that runs through many of the story's adventures and descriptions: "With the quatrefoil-studded war axe, Xandar smashed lock after lock while voicing unneeded orders to escape. Gavin stayed in his wake with an armful of axes. Somewhat bored with his repetitive actions, the well-muscled escapee neared the fifteenth cell and broke its rusty padlock. “Everybody ou…” he intoned, and then did a face palm after realizing the cell was already empty." 

Keys that are swapped with daggers, issues of dishonesty and trust, challenges to perceptions of technology and magic, and the recurring image of a strange black owl that could be linked to ships and mysteries are just a few of the subplots that permeate an overall story of heroic proportions. 

It should also be noted and applauded that Realm Journey, unlike so many epic genre fantasies, is a complete story in one book. This means no artificial divisions, no cliffhanger endings, and nothing left to wonder about. Readers receive a complete saga which embraces all the elements of a powerful historical fantasy in a professional, revealing manner. 

With its solid characterization, action-packed plot, whimsical touches of insight tempered with humor, and completely unexpected conclusion, Realm Journey will prove an exceptionally satisfying fantasy read highly recommended for genre readers seeking standout productions. 

Realm Journey

Return to Index

Biography & Autobiography

The Courage To Aspire
Chuks I. Ndukwe

The Courage To Aspire: Thoughts On Moments Of Love, Kindness, Encouragement, And Aspiration is a memoir of how a young African village boy with limited financial resources crafted some big dreams of becoming an electrical engineer and succeeded in making them come true, absorbing some valuable life lessons in the process.

It opens with the reflection of how life is a journey into hope and fulfillment, moves into the 'wonder years' of childhood, and examines village experiences through the lens of nostalgia, detailing the roots of inspiration and the even more important discovery that "...inspiration alone is not sufficient; it has to be accompanied by hope, courage, and aspiration to become real." 

As readers follow Chuks I. Ndukwe through his childhood play, village encounters and culture, and life lessons about facing conflict and developing realistic goals, they receive insights into the cultural and religious influences that helped drive his goals and also led him to hone a realistic perspective about their development: "The stubbornness of my belief disavowed any hostile coexistence between expectation and reality. As in every child's mind, expectation trumps everything. I wanted to be first in the class and expected to be." 

From strong family and community ties to early trips away from home that taught him much about aspiration and achievement, Ndukwe creates a memoir that moves from the ideals and aspirations of childhood to the actual achievement of goals and dreams against all odds. 

As an adult, he faced engineering challenges, war zones, and political and social strife; but the overriding lessons learned early about the importance of kindness and aspirations remained stalwart against all obstacles. They come full circle in the story of how a moment of childhood revelation about bringing light to a dark classroom translates into adult achievements during a terrible war. 

Readers looking for memoirs that offer insights into Nigerian community and culture and a young boy's process of actualizing what seems like an impossible dream will find The Courage To Aspire an inspirational blend of spiritual and psychological accomplishment that documents the rocky road to triumph and success. 

The Courage To Aspire

Return to Index

Mystery & Thrillers

77th and Broadway: A Decade in a World of Crime
Richard Wills
The Dragon Press
978-0-9622822-9-4         $14.99 paperback; $4.99 Kindle 

Readers might anticipate a nonfiction history about Broadway's connections to crime with a title like 77th and Broadway: A Decade in a World of Crime, but in fact, this collection captures noir fiction's strongest elements. As such, it will especially appeal to fans of urban pulp fiction detective investigations. 

Perhaps its realistic and involving scenarios are because author Richard Wills is no outsider to the world of crime. In his capacity as a former Los Angeles bail bondsman with six other books to his name, he's more than familiar with the processes of intrigue, true crimes, and the world of bail bondsmen. Thus, he's in the perfect position to create a series of stories revolving around a LA bondsman who simultaneously confronts a crime wave and his own ethical challenges.

Over twenty true-crime stories revolve around Richie Smooth's actions and encounters. They excel in capturing the sights, sounds, and challenges of Los Angeles from the opening salvo of confrontation: "It’s February 1980. The song, “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer played softly in the background of the office as Richie Smooth was awakened to a loud banging on the iron gated front door, “BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM!” It was a quarter after 3am and he had just closed his eyes to take a quick nap. Groggily, he faltered towards the front of the office. With a .38 tucked in his back waistband, he grabbed the sawed-off shotgun from the back-office desk and proceeded to the door. He yelled from the back room of the once three-bedroom home, now home to Buck’s Bail Bond Agency." 

This paragraph is the perfect example of how Wills uses a minimum of verbiage to create a maximum punch of atmosphere, intrigue, and dilemmas. His ability to impart these elements without overly embellished description and explanation is part of what makes 77th and Broadway a compelling read that stands out from the crowd. 

Another plus is the interlaced encounters between Richie Smooth, owner of Buck's Bail Bonds, and detectives and perps who challenge the bail bond process through their choices and actions. Readers will appreciate the attention to detail, the conundrums posed by different crime scenarios, and Richie's venture into uncharted territory. 

It should be noted that sexual scenes are part of the story. Those who are faint-hearted or who expected a focus on justice and crime alone may be surprised that Richie's forays into sodomy, for one example, are quite graphically explored. These descriptions, however, only serve to make the stories more human and believable as Richie explores both his job and his personal life with a passion that leads to edgy behaviors and decisions. 

77th and Broadway walks a delicate line between a crime noir piece and a roller coaster of cultural and social inspection. Richie's various cases, encounters, and threats to his personal safety and professional judgment are nicely written, compelling, and at times, satisfyingly unexpected. 

77th and Broadway is the perfect read for crime noir enthusiasts who will find it vivid, satisfyingly true to real life, and hard to put down, who like their protagonists edgy and compelling. 

77th and Broadway: A Decade in a World of Crime

Return to Index

The Mendelian Protocol
Raymond Finkle
Independently Published
978-0-9983543-0-9                $5.90 Paper/$0.99 Kindle 

The Mendelian Protocol opens with a brutal murder on the beaches of the Bahamas, but provides the unusual perspective of victim Ronald's last thoughts as he succumbs to an unknown naked assailant. His companion Sarah is the next victim, but not before readers receive a clue that this assailant is not out for money, but revenge. 

Who are these victims, and why the need to attack them on a remote island beach? Chapter 2 gives some answers. They are researchers from Keller’s genetics division, and their deaths involve forensic investigator Dr. Natalie Franklin in a mystery that moves from a probable boating accident to a murder case. 

If The Mendelian Protocol ended here, with this focus, it would have been lively enough; but it's more than a murder story. It's a tale of human experiments, dangerous consequences, and a dilemma steeped and bred in the atmosphere of the Bahamas and the fishermen and scientists who work there, building tension much like a Robin Cook medical thriller. 

From SWAT teams with machine guns to murders committed by 'white-skinned people' who look alike, events involve not only Natalie but fisherman Jack Cabrera, Irishman Liam McGrath, and a host of other characters who come too close to the truth about Keller Corporation's activities and funding, only to find their own lives endangered. 

There's a reason all this is taking place in the Bahamas, and it isn't because of the beaches and tropical ambiance. The islands hold a deadly secret, and unless Natalie can uncover it and change its trajectory, it stands to threaten more than her life. 

Tense, gripping, and filled with satisfying action juxtaposed with just the right mixture of intrigue and psychological depth, The Mendelian Protocol opens with a bang, leads readers through a series of satisfyingly unpredictable encounters as the mystery unfolds, and ends with a thought-provoking surprise that will keep readers thinking long past the story's conclusion. (Is it really over?) 

The Mendelian Protocol

Return to Index

Molls Like It Hot
Darren Dash
Home of the Damned
978-1671444928            $10.99 

Ex-Army man Eyrie Brown has been forced out of the service and now drives a cab in London. His seems like a staid life devoid of adventure until he picks up a wounded gangster and becomes involved in matters beyond his experience. When the recovered gangster offers him the seemingly easy job of assuming care over a young woman, what seems to be a lot of money for a simple job turns into a peck of trouble. 

Molls Like It Hot expertly wields the detective noir atmosphere, weaving it into a backdrop of London and a largely antisocial ex-military man's unusual task. The first-person narration expertly captures Eyrie's thought processes and decisions, as well as his personality and propensity for keeping secrets: "I spent the rest of the day nervously killing time. Fixed the front door myself, putting the receipt for the new lock in my wallet to give to Lewis Brue on Sunday when I returned the girl. Watched a movie, The Devil Thumbs A Ride, a little known gem from the 1940s. Rang Dave to let him know I wouldn’t be working for the next few nights. I could tell he thought I was going on a bender and I didn’t try to convince him otherwise. If this worked out, I’d let him and the others go on thinking of this as one of my lost weekends." 

As two sets of gangsters place him in danger, Eyrie is forced to trust a select group even as he also strives to protect them from the truth: "I licked my lips, working out how much I should tell them. I could trust every one of them but I was determined to be careful. I didn’t want them to get too tangled up. This was my mess, not theirs. I’d wanted to keep them completely out of it. That was no longer possible – well, it was, but not if I wanted to live too – but I could shield them to some extent, tell them no more than was absolutely necessary." 

One reason why Darren Dash's story is so compelling is his ability to juxtapose action with insights that are vividly considered and portrayed ("The glamorous female killer was the mystery on everyone’s tongue. They figured she was a hired assassin, based on how coolly she’d taken out the victims, and the fact that she’d started shooting first."). Readers not only enjoy the noir atmosphere of London's streets and a decidedly odd cast of characters, but delve into Eyrie's logic, intentions, psyche, and desperate struggles. 

Add a touch of humor and an evolving romance for a story that becomes a thoroughly engrossing read especially notable for its journey through one man's bad dreams, notions of revenge and redemption, and efforts to conquer ghosts of the past which are haunting his future. 

Molls Like It Hot is the perfect choice for noir detective readers who like their stories unpredictable, multifaceted, and hard to put down. 

Molls Like It Hot

Return to Index

Murder Bytes
Gayle Carline
Dancing Corgi Press

The fifth Peri Montgomery murder mystery in the series, Murder Bytes, finds PI Peri fed up with her investigative job and quitting in favor of settling into married life. Her plans for a more peaceful existence are tested, however, when her own brother faces murder charges and begs her to help prove his innocence. 

Suddenly Peri is deep into another investigation—this one involving the murder of an engineer who may have been involved in stealing technology from other companies—as she juggles a relationship with a brother she's not close to. 

How far will she go to support and believe in an estranged family member? 

Fiancée Skip tries to distract her with wedding plans, but Peri just becomes more overwhelmed; especially when another murder seems to offer irrefutable evidence that her brother is the perp. 

As Peri experiences car chases, shootings, near misses, and dangerous circumstances, she comes to realize that much more is at stake than her brother's reputation. Hired to do a job, she finds she is actually a participant in one man's dangerous game. 

Murder Bytes is a satisfying, action-packed adventure that takes the time to build realistic, three-dimensional characters as it follows Peri's latest encounters. This doesn't require any prior familiarity with her background or stories, so newcomers will find it just as accessible and engrossing as prior fans, who will welcome the opportunity to see Peri in action both in her job and in making new decisions about the future course of her personal and professional lives. 

Readers who enjoyed Peri's prior escapades will relish the new challenges she faces in Murder Bytes, while newcomers will appreciate that the story and background are complete in one book, holding the rare ability to both compliment prior productions and create a satisfying stand-alone, high-octane mystery. 

Murder Bytes

Return to Index

Salvation Station
Kathryn Schleich
She Writes Press
Paperback: 978-1-63152-892-7  
Ebook: 978-1-63152-893-4  

In a homicide detective's life, there's usually one case that haunts...that can't be solved...whose legacy lives beyond the investigative process long after the file is closed. Salvation Station is about that case and Captain Linda Turner's ongoing probe of a Nebraska family's murder and a wife's disappearance. 

But that isn't the only thing that drives the characters of Salvation Station. It's a multifaceted read that also includes the dilemmas and challenges of disparate people across the country, from a struggling televangelist whose questionable belief and stage approach is tested to Linda's new life and interactions with Ray and Susannah, and the path of fraud and deceit which evolves from their relationship. 

Mystery, murder, faith, and uncertain redemption permeate a story that follows both a clever cat-and-mouse game between killer and investigator and individuals who have honed coping mechanisms to get what they want out of life, only to find these approaches challenged in new ways. 

Linda Turner and Detective Johnson are tenacious. What they uncover about the identity of the perp will surprise readers and investigators alike. Their engrossing experiences winds two very different lives together, connecting them with a grisly murder that is only solved because passion and love gets in the way of cold calculation. 

Salvation Station excels in unexpected twists and turns that keep readers on their toes. It deftly links various attacks and their possible shared roots, probes Linda's professional and private life, and discusses a marriage that isn't made in heaven, but portends a peculiar form of hell. 

The result is a tale steeped in intrigue and changes. Like a particularly challenging murder mystery, it will linger in the mind long after its conclusion. 

Salvation Station

Return to Index

The Six-Week Solution
Paula Darnell
Campbell and Rogers Press
978-1-887402-00-2- e-Book - $4.99
978-1-887402-01-9 - Paperback - $15.95
978-1-887402-02-6 - Hardback (Large Print) - $36.95
Author Website:
Book Link: 

The Six-Week Solution is a murder mystery with a difference, which takes place in Reno, where wealthy women intent on quick divorces establish Nevada residency to do so, by staying at guest ranches. 

It's business as usual until a woman's death leads to local Washoe County Deputy Sheriff Ben Cameron's investigation into the Circle E Ranch and its guests and operators. What Ben discovers leads to further questions about its setup, a possible murder, and a complex series of circumstances revolving around a killer's real target. 

From prospective divorcée Mary's entry into a world of danger at the ranch to Ben's puzzling investigation which turns up a thief selling stolen property, a hit man, ranch prowlers, and murky motives, readers become immersed in a probe that reveals the hidden underside of both the ranch's operations and Nevada law in the 1950s. 

When Mary narrowly survives a second attempt on her life, Ben Cameron finds his skills and perceptions of his community tested in new ways, bringing readers along on a rollicking ride through Washoe County processes and the interactions of residents who have special interests at heart and closely-held secrets in mind. 

The first death Ben investigates eventually changes everything as he forges new relationships and conclusions. This thoroughly engrossing mystery is especially recommended for detective story readers looking for a blend of intrigue set against Nevada historical and cultural backdrops. 

The Six-Week Solution

Return to Index

You Say Goodbye
Keith Steinbaum
Black Opal Books
Paperback: 978-1644370957               $14.99
Hardcover: 978-1644371992               $25.99
Kindle (ASIN) # B07NFWNCW6       $  3.99
Ordering Links:
 Black Opal Books:
Barnes and Noble:

Rock musician Sean Hightower is having a bad day in You Say Goodbye. He's teetering precariously on being a 'has been' musician with only one hit to his name. When he visits his girlfriend Merissa, he finds that she's been murdered, with a mysterious music-related note the only clue to her killer. 

Sean never envisioned having any reason to believe he could help find Merissa’s murderer, but drawn by a combination of personal angst and professional collapse, he's lured into a situation far beyond his familiar world when he’s informed of not just one, but two shocking revelations:  Merissa was not only the latest victim of a renowned serial killer known the "Beatles Song Murderer," but the killer may be someone he already knows. 

You Say Goodbye takes an unusual approach in linking pop music to a serial killer's peculiar modus operandi. Lyrics from The Beatles provide clues, but the reader becomes involved in the murder's actual circumstances from the first chapter, even as the actual identity of the perp remains elusive. 

Sean's own songwriting skills and passion for music collide with his terrible depression over many events in his life, nearly  leading him towards suicide before Detective Ray Maldonado inadvertently provides a new lifeline of purpose: finding his girlfriend's killer. 

Sean's desire to shut himself off from the world is in direct conflict with this mandate, and so he steps back from death to assume a more proactive role in capturing an elusive monster. In so doing, he discovers within himself an uncommon ability to weather storms, problem-solve with his musical knowledge as the wellspring, and play a dangerous game of possibilities about the next victim, who could even be lemonade stand entrepreneur and new child friend Kayleigh's beloved Aunt Jenny. 

As Sean becomes troubled about several possible suspects and his own role as a novice detective, the cat-and-mouse game played by the serial killer spins an engrossing yarn of intrigue that draws Sean and his reader towards an inevitable confrontation. 

Sean's previous close relationships lead to sudden fresh suspicions and dangers alike. The course of his mourning, recovery, and newfound purpose creates an involving story that proves hard to put down. 

Keith Steinbaum doesn't just talk about the method of uncovering one particular serial killer's identity. He weaves this into an overall story of a failing musician's reinvention of his life. This approach creates an involving read that is realistic, more multifaceted than the typical whodunit, and which will delight detective readers looking for depth and characterization that evolves beyond intrigue to tackle the broader topic of finding life purpose and meaning. 

You Say Goodbye

Return to Index


The Advisor
Ken Tentarelli
Independently Published
978-1-7331773-3-7                $3.99

The second book in the series set in 1400s Renaissance Italy, The Advisor, returns Nico Argenti to the spotlight as he waits to enter a new law career. Matters take a different twist, however, when a small mountain town needing his advice leads him to drop his plans and come to their rescue. 

From a dangerous knight who threatens everything to the presence and influence of the Church in daily affairs, Ken Tentarelli captures not just the atmosphere of early Italy, but the entwined political and religious institutions that govern its choices and growth: "Nico was struck by the bishop’s choice of words, ‘punishing evil doers.’ Perhaps the bishop misspoke. Nico recalled hearing members of the Church refer to opponents of its crusaders as infidels, but not as evil doers." 

His journey to do good and make a difference is fraught with not only physical tests and challenges, but struggles with the morals and ethics of the times, and the impact of his life choices: "As he left the farm, Nico thought about Masina’s assertion that a single person could harbor extremes of both good and evil. He was a student of law, not human behavior, yet he wondered if there was a different explanation for the humanitarian acts in Rimini. Might Isolla’s influence eventually change what was happening in Rimini?" 

These reflections on personal psychological growth as Nico moves through Italian society are what gives The Advisor such an extraordinary blend of history, atmospheric re-creation of the times, and social insight. Through legal proceedings which test Nico's recent graduation and knowledge to journeys within and away from Florence, where country towns have their own special challenges, readers journey through the Italian countryside, cities, and society through the eyes of a young lawyer who finds his newfound education sorely tested. 

As Nico realizes that his inadvertent role as a hero must be hidden at all costs, readers receive a thoroughly engrossing story that will benefit from prior acquaintance with Nico's world in The Laureate, but doesn't demand this level of familiarity. Nor is a prior knowledge of Renaissance Italy a prerequisite. 

Historical novel readers with a special interest in the religious, social, and legal structures of the times will find The Advisor holds just the right blend of social inspection, psychological insight, and historical references to keep the story inviting, absorbing, and understandable from beginning to end. B its physical and mental journeys and its ability to recreate Renaissance Italy's ambiance, there's much to love in a story that propels Nico into yet another level of growth and experience. 

The Advisor

Return to Index

All the Danger
David Vigoda
Collioure Books
0-9728250-9-2        $16.95 

Set in the turmoil of an America emerging from the Civil War barely intact and ideologically shattered, All the Danger follows the clash of values and politics that continues the struggle in its aftermath. It embraces the perspectives of a cast of characters who each take leaps into the new unknown in different ways: "How do we know when this is departing?” asked Abigail. “We do not know.” “How do we know where it is going?” “We do not know that either, Abigail, we shall just have to wait and see.”  

It would have perhaps been simpler to follow this story from a single protagonist's viewpoint, but David Vigoda doesn't take the easy way out. His readers will appreciate the resulting impact of a much-changed, almost alien country that is studiously depicted from different perspectives. 

This allows for a greater focus on how the ideals that evolved from the Civil War are immediately tested by the realities of poverty and a class structure that neither side wants to admit. Under the guise of 'Reconstruction' lies a powder keg of social unrest that simmers at all levels of society. This dovetails the experiences of characters ranging from orphans on the run to an army officer, a wandering preacher, three tramps, and others who gingerly traverse a much-changed America. 

Vigoda excels at crafting descriptions that deftly capture the controversies and confrontations of the times, mirroring the country's choices in the microcosm of his characters' interactions: "I believe we share the same attitude toward these idlers.” Burke made no reply. “Would you agree that, so long as they remain in our midst, the shiftless are a constant menace?” Still he made no reply. “Is this not the alien menace we have feared, ever since the communist revolt in Paris six years ago?” After a long pause, Burke replied, “I agree that they present a direct threat to society—but I fail to see what relevance...” “With no end in sight to this economic depression, they will not disappear of their own accord. Something must be done.” 

America will survive, but its internal cultural wars may tear it apart in All the Danger. Lest readers think this just another Civil War story, it should be pointed out that Vigoda creates scenarios with disturbing parallels between those conflicts and ideological clashes in modern America. 

From the perception of industrial workers in this novel's 1877 world who were described as "savages" to today's media depictions of liberals and conservatives as being a danger to America and a threat in need of remedy, All the Danger is aptly named. It's not just about the dangers facing 1877 America's efforts to rebuild. It's about the same kinds of forces at work in American society today. 

For this reason, All the Danger should be viewed as more than just another Civil War novel. It's a blueprint and mirror for events taking place today. 

Same place and methodology/different times. 

Frightening, disturbing, and relevant, All the Danger should be on every American's reading list. 

All the Danger

Return to Index

The Artifacts: A Flint Hills Story
Eric T. Reynolds
Hadley Rille Books
Trade Paperback: 978-0-9971188-9-6        $16.00
Hardcover: 978-0-9971188-8-9                   $26.00
Trade paperback:

Sycamore Falls, Kansas is a languishing town in the Flint Hills area of the state, and has seen better days. When Kayla purchases two ornate old houses, she discovers that the one she didn't really want actually holds the power to bring history to life, immersing her in the town's past, present, and even its future. 

She's in town to study the influence of art on the town's evolutionary process, prompted by her friend's participation in its art community. But she soon finds that her penchant for history and investigation involves her in an inadvertent search for much more than she bargained for. 

Eric T. Reynolds excels at capturing the sights, sounds, smells, and overall atmosphere of this cozy small town and the strange old house Kayla stumbled upon: "She went around to the front porch and headed up through the door into the foyer. She hadn’t been in since inspection and the house smelled stale like before. The wooden staircase along the wall was a look she liked. She went to the living room and opened some windows. At least the windows weren’t stuck. As she walked through the living room with its peeling shell pattern wallpaper, which must have been from the 1940s, she felt impressions of past generations." 

Nobody expected the house to hold a secret that transcends time itself. Readers are asked to absorb a story that goes beyond historical roots and into time shifting experiences that brings the past right into the present, but the premise is presented in such a way that Kayla's discovery provides a satisfying opportunity to solve mysteries and perhaps address circumstances that influenced the course of Sycamore Falls. 

Unlike other timeslip stories, Kayla's experiences not only come to life, but hold the constant backdrop of contrast between past and present: "Kayla couldn’t take her eyes off the old place: an “old” building in 1885, a structure already in decay so long ago. Kayla tried to put that in perspective." 

Using time travel to solve a mystery isn't anything new in the literary world. What is new and thoroughly engrossing, however, is a story that moves smoothly between eras as the protagonist and others investigate a mystery that draws them to pre-1885 Flint Hills, before Sycamore Falls existed. 

Fueled by the artifacts, paintings, and art community of this small town, readers become involved in Kayla's quest and its unique opportunities for change on many levels. The juxtaposition of history, art, and mystery makes for compelling reading indeed. 

Will the farmhouse survive Kayla's quest to remake Sycamore Falls into a destination for history buffs? And what friendships will she have to give up if she follows her heart? 

Billed as a historical novel, The Artifacts is so much more. It's a cozy read, a small town conundrum, a timeslip adventure, and the story of a woman who finds her place and passion outside the norm as she comes to the town as a stranger, only to find an unusual opportunity to call it 'home'.

The Artifacts: A Flint Hills Story

Return to Index

The California Immigrant
Barbara King
Cypress Point Press LLC 
978-1733536905            $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Yugoslavian immigrant Martin Petrovich is only in San Francisco for a few years when disaster leads him to flee to the farming community of Watsonville, where he again points his goals towards his dream of a better life. The community of mixed European, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants seems a perfect match for his ambitions and background until Pearl Harbor changes everything once again. 

While The California Immigrant's message about racial strife, profiling, and hatred explores a repetitive, key issue in American society, perhaps at few times is its story more relevant than to modern audiences. 

Barbara King stumbled upon the background facts while researching her own family's immigrant history, but she's taken the story and run with it, elevating it to another level for historical fiction readers interested in either California in particular or the immigrant experiences of teens coming of age in America. Readers of California history will be delighted to discover that a rural Monterey Peninsula town is profiled which rarely receives attention in the usual California history chronicle. 

From Martin's English classes and life with his uncle in San Francisco in 1904 to his connections to the Slavonic Society which keep him rooted to his heritage, King does more than set the stage for a good read. She educates her readers about immigrant perceptions and experiences, offers contrasts between new and old countries, and discusses how an immigrant maintains old and builds new connections to both worlds. 

One minute, Martin's life is filled with ambition and promise; the next, it's fragmented, with all his dreams crushed. To its credit, The California Immigrant only uses the backdrop of the 1906 earthquake to propel its protagonist forward to Watsonville, where the heart of the story lies. Where other tales rehash familiar ground, King departs for something different. She follows the tracks of a young immigrant who is forced to relocate not only his physical life, but his dreams. There is still a Slavonic Society to provide connections and roots, there's still family to support him, and there's still hope for the future in his new home. 

The California Immigrant is steeped in the Croatian community and documents how world politics invades a quiet town and leads Martin to become politically active to help his fellow countrymen back home. It juxtaposes the culture of California and its mixture of ethnic groups and immigrants with the broader questions of an America posed on the brink of conflict, blending the concerns of rural farmers and local small townspeople into changing worldviews which many of the immigrants foster through their actions and choices. 

In many ways, The California Immigrant represents the quintessential mix that is American culture, which takes the roots and concerns of an array of different peoples and blends them into an evolving society, creating something completely different than its individual units or origins. 

From the San Francisco diplomatic conference that reconnects Martin to his family and San Francisco as it attempts to move the world into a new era before the war is even over to Watsonville's struggles as Japanese-Americans who had been interned during the war return to fragmented and uncertain futures, King captures all the nuances of the times. 

These blend wonderfully into Martin's changing life over the years, acknowledging the passage of time, the healing of hurt, the solidification of new objectives, and how immigrant perspectives change American culture. 

These lessons are embedded in a vivid, realistic story that's hard to put down. Readers seeking a California immigrant tale that weaves discussions of war into rural concerns will relish the delightful juxtaposition of interests and history that makes Martin's story come alive in The California Immigrant

No California collection should be without it. 

The California Immigrant

Return to Index

Celestina's Burnings
Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen
Literary Wanderlust 
978-1942856436            $17.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle 

Set in Italy in 1491, Celestina's Burnings begins at the end of Celestina DiCapria's period of mourning for her murdered father, when Florence rises up against witchcraft—an event which prompts her to join the religious forces to find the witch who destroyed her father. 

Common laborer and would-be artist Rinaldo SanGiorgio, smitten with Celestina, joins her newfound cause. When the religious mob attacks the art he loves, he finds himself reviewing his place in the world, along with his loyalties. 

As love, affairs, suggestions, and danger swirl around Celestina and Rinaldo, affecting their feelings towards each other and the future course of their lives, readers receive a powerful historical novel of the literal burning of two worlds and the fiery passions of romance alike. 

Celestina's Burnings excels in a sense of time, place, and purpose. Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen injects her characters with powerful social and religious sentiments reflective of their times, introduces conundrums that challenge each character's place in the world, and inserts political and social strife into their personal lives. 

In the course of this story and its unfolding events, readers should be prepared for some graphic (yet historically accurate) descriptions of torture and inhumanity. These are tastefully presented and merge nicely with stories of infidelity, rage, salvation, and the burning heat of a friar's sacrifice. 

Pedersen's ability to bring the times and their issues to graphic life crafts a story that is passionate, involving, and hard to put down. Where other historical novels would trade emotion for factual representation, Pedersen achieves a smooth balance between the two. Celestina's Burnings thus holds a rare ability to attract the non-historical novel reader in addition to those who may come into the story with a priority familiarity with and interest in 1400s Italy. 

Celestina's Burnings is a solidly engrossing, compelling read based on the passions, purposes, and politics of not only the times, but two individuals caught up in a social swirl of events beyond their experience. It's a story that will involve, delight, and engross readers in Renaissance Italian culture, politics, and art with its powerful saga of personal and political enlightenment, entwined destinies, and family ties. 

Celestina's Burnings

Return to Index

Dancing on Seaside
Julius James DeAngelus
978-1543981766            $16.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Dancing on Seaside takes place in Atlantic City during the summer of 1977, before legalized gambling changed the nature of the city's culture. It captures a bygone era during which the city was known more for its poverty than for opulent casinos or winning games. 

Readers familiar with Atlantic City's present-day milieu or past history will find delightful this nostalgic, realistic story which brings to life the region's culture from the eyes of son Jamie and his mother. Both experience a magical last summer, many new opportunities and transitions in their lives and relationship, and the changing sands of time. 

To Jamie, it's a summer on the cusp of positive change. It's the summer before high school, when he's required to mature in many ways. For his mother, it's a journey into caretaking and seeing her priorities change from son to mother as she accepts a new and challenging role. And then there's a family history to struggle with, which both impacts their lives and threatens future generations. 

Atlantic City is not the only thing waking up in this story. So are characters whose lives hang in balance and slowly tip into unfamiliar territory. 

The sights, sounds, and smells of the piers, boardwalk, tides, and view of Atlantic City come to life under the astute observational pen of Julius James DeAngelus. There's a bitter wind blowing that challenges innocence, exposing closely-held secrets and changing lives. Mother and son find themselves nearly swept away by its force. Each must loosen their defenses, develop new awareness of one another and themselves, and hone new objectives. 

Dancing on Seaside opens gently as these waves of change lap at a reader's senses, easing into these dilemmas only after taking time to craft an appropriate and especially well-detailed sense of time, place, and perspective. Against this backdrop, guilt, fear, and frightening revelations take their place and reflect some of the social changes affecting the broader picture of Atlantic City and the 1970s era as a whole. 

Readers looking for an atmospheric, engrossing story of evolution in a season that changes everything will find Dancing on Seaside a gently compelling read, perfect for a beach tote and a summer's contemplation. 

Dancing on Seaside

Return to Index

The Godless Good
G.V. Loewen
Austin Macauley Publishers
Paperback: 9781528940658
E-book: 9781528970426 

The Godless Good is the third volume in the Kristen-Seraphim Saga, and is especially recommended for readers of the prior two books, who will find it a suitably engrossing continuation of a saga of grace, God, time-travel, and several other subjects that might test religious readers. 

Kristen assumes the form of God, but discovers that struggle and decision-making don't vanish with her new assignment, but prove just as challenging as in the past. 

Speaking of 'past'—the past, present, and future bump into one another in a romp through time and space as Kristen and her comrades face resurrections, reanimations, and good and evil with a team that defies dissolution even as spirits become trapped in other bodies. 

As in the other books, Kristen continues to evolve. Familiarity with her prior confrontations and dilemmas will enhance enjoyment of this latest expansion of her abilities, responsibilities, and spiritual influences. Also on par with prior adventures are the added insights and actions of a variety of characters, from Michelle and Kylie to a duplicate Mary, and Evelyn's ongoing struggle with feeling worthless. 

The Godless Good explores how legends are made from ordinary people and events, how inter-dimensional influences change everything, and most of all, how individual choice comes into play to change not only the future, but the past and present. Destiny and free will are tackled in thought-provoking moments that lead readers of all ages to reflect: "On the face of it, there was no way in hell that Kristen wanted to go back one moment from where they were now, given all that had transpired, and thus would have to again, with all the potential for failure and thus such ignominious results that might well follow from it." 

Lessons stemming from various encounters pepper the plot with insights that are intriguing and engrossing. 

The two prerequisites for successful appreciation of this addition to a projected 11-volume epic are familiarity with the setting and characters of the prior books, and a willingness to set aside religious convictions to absorb a lively story that will border on sacrilege for some and vital revelations for others. 

The Godless Good is a compelling, fitting addition to the series and continues to expand the roles and choices of not just Kirsten, but her team, continuing the fast pace, blend of action and psychological insight, and engrossing consideration of the future of goodness and the fluidity of time and choice that are the cornerstones of this series. 

The Godless Good

Return to Index

A Leg in Oklahoma City
Greg Hoetker
TRANS(form)ed Press (Boise, ID)
978-1-7341079-1-3                $20.00
Ordering:  (PayPal accepted) 

A Leg in Oklahoma City, a novel written in memory of the 1995 massacre in Oklahoma City, opens as a love story, but quickly becomes something more as narrator Tris captures events that change lives to create a mystery that lasts beyond love: "This is not a complex story. Boy sees girl. Boy meets girl. Girl chooses boy. And vice versa. It all seems so simple, so easy. Yet the story has its own doses of strangeness and absurdity, its own layer of haze. In punctuated bursts there are ruptures of flame, and anger, and pulsing. I feel the need to record it, to share it, before it ebbs or drifts away. I feel a sense of urgency, like another long fuse is burning. This is something she taught me. It’s one of the many things she taught me." 

Fearing that memories might fade and her story become 'wiped' even as she has been, the narrator realizes that "Right now I’m the only one left who knew her, who knows her, who knows her full name, the only person who holds the memory of her entire story." And so he proceeds to tell their story like nobody else can. It grows beyond them to include the story of 'HIM' (the Oklahoma City bomber), his manifestos, and a girl who goes up Amish in Oklahoma and finds herself in Arcata, California living in a tree house, returning to her origins to encounter an evil that ends everything. 

As the bomber's words juxtapose with the growth of love, family, and hopes and dreams of the future, two forms of 'yes' emerge with passion and conviction: one that portends birth and the other which reflects on a different family influence that leads to death and destruction. 

Events follow Tris from the evolution of this love to his ongoing mourning and growth in 2020 Oklahoma City, giving readers a delightful and thought-provoking tale reminiscent of Eric Segel's classic Love Story with its innocent, sparkly, feisty-girl-meets-boy feel. Unlike the lighter classic, however, A Leg in Oklahoma City includes social and political insights into a killer's mind, probes the Amish community's roots and changes, and describes how a young man left behind learns to go on without the light in his life, just as a nation must recover from terrible events. 

The weaving of love and terrorist activity in this story is no light feat. Greg Hoetker does a fine job of exploring various facets of heartland America and matters of the heart, considering grief, rage, and a form of resolution that can never quite be completed. 

This narrative is not just an emotional roller-coaster, but a historically accurate rendition that has been well-researched and includes footnoted references. The juxtaposition of social and political platitudes and responses with personal grief and confusion is especially well transmitted: "I began to tune him out, the common political mantra always heard after great tragedies. Thoughts and prayers. I thought of her, and us, and our baby." 

The result is far more than a love story, a story of personal loss, or a tale of the Oklahoma bombing. A Leg in Oklahoma City has its finger on the pulse of modern American experience, and creates a memorable saga of personal and national loss and shock which proves emotionally gripping and hard to put down. 

The emotional component of the story is enhanced by fuse-line sketches by Brooke Foster which pepper the novel and offer graphic, visual interludes illustrating the story's emotional components. These are artistic, sometimes surreal representations of interactions and events that offer visual plays on the words, and will especially delight readers interested in the intersection between illustrative art and the written word. 

It also should be noted that all profits from book sales are donated to charities, nonprofits, and educational institutions, including 51% to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Thousands of dollars have already been donated.

A Leg in Oklahoma City

Return to Index

The Measure of Ella
Toni Bird Jones
Penmore Press LLC
9781950586158             $19.50 Paper
Amazon Link: 

Nautical chef Ella Morgan dreams of owning a restaurant in The Measure of Ella, an adventure story that follows the turbulent changes confronting a woman who faces both her father's death and unanticipated poverty when she loses her inheritance. Suddenly, Ella is adrift and alone in the world. 

Her decision to leave a modest life and voyage on a ship bound for the Caribbean on an illegal drug-smuggling mission changes everything. Ella's deposit on her wished-for restaurant in the Florida Keys is only one of the objectives she sets on the back burner when she embarks on a one-week run that she hopes will fund her ambitions. The change of course leads her on a perilous journey through an underworld of crime and betrayal that threatens not only her goals and dreams, but her very life. 

Toni Bird Jones excels in creating descriptions of food, atmosphere, and Florida and Caribbean environments. These carry readers into Ella's life and challenges as a sailor facing modern-day pirates, heavy-weather sailing, acts of retaliation and even murder. 

Part of what makes her story so intriguing is the contrast between Ella's past and present as her life links are cut one by one, leading her into dangerous territory. 

Another delight is that The Measure of Ella is not just a murder mystery or the story of a young woman's journey, but a rare breed of seafaring adventure whose nautical roots embrace a young woman's life changes. 

Ultimately, circumstances test not only Ella's ability to adapt and survive, but also the moral compass she's always used to chart her course in life. 

This added focus contributes to a multifaceted story powered by a woman's explorations of matters she’s never confronted before, and leads to a redemptive dénouement in which Ella regains her moral footing. 

Women who look for strong, believable female protagonists and blends of seafaring adventure with personal growth will relish The Measure of Ella for its intrigue, its ethical conundrums, and its realistic protagonist whose life choices propel her into dangerous waters. 

The Measure of Ella

Return to Index

Peter Mehlman
The Sager Group LLC
978-1-950154-09-8         $14.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Arnie Pepper is a sports columnist for the Washington Post and enjoys a prestigious career and much acclaim until an inadvertent joke goes viral and casts a shadow on his reputation. #MeAsWell documents the life-changing impact of a sense of humor gone awry, from its influence on family relationships to his career and friendships, considering the sensitive and dangerous nature of public commentary, humor, and remarks that come back to haunt their creator. 

Arnie, as a respected reporter, is used to moving through life "plotting his defense against the present" and making notes about its ironies for future columns. But when his own life becomes caught up in a whirlwind of controversy sparked by a single inadvertent action and he is 'spray-attacked' by a 'guy feminist Nazi' in an airport, he begins to understand that society, life, and his own role in it have changed. 

More than a casual comedic tone laces this story: "Sushi and rumination mix in Pepper’s digestive system, a case of battery acid reflux floating up to his throat. He’s at a point in life where digestion requires planning, but who could’ve planned for this day? As much as he doesn’t want to, he needs to get home to his bed and what he assumes to be one of the world’s largest private collections of Pepcid." 

The juxtaposition of humor and pointed observation provides novel readers with a satisfying atmosphere that blends irony with thought-provoking observations: "Who could shrug off the end of a sterling career and just move on? What kind of life is being lived without caring about a major change?" 

As Pepper's meandering course introduces him to revised opportunities for living his life, #MeAsWell blends a social inspection with new rules for interaction and moral behaviors that reflects not only his changes, but the shift in American society as a whole. 

#MeAsWell's satirical romp through social values and morals ("...the sheer prudishness of the terminology is enough to make you question your own liberalism. ‘That’s not okay.’ ‘That’s so inappropriate.’ “That’s not funny.’ ‘That’s over the line.’ ‘That’s sooo offensive!’ ‘That makes me uncomfortable!’ I used to have mixed feelings about political correctness, thinking it was stultifying but worth it just to enlighten the masses. Now, the whole PC thing makes my skin crawl. Jesus, you can’t even say ‘PC’ anymore.”) will delight readers who look for lively social inspection in  fictional stories of adaptation, irony, and the impact of 'usable jokes' that not only fall flat, but hold their own underlying messages, repercussions, and ability to change lives. 


Return to Index

Not All of Me is Dust
Frances Maureen Richardson
Independently Published
9781515358824             $15.95 

Three siblings are forever changed when their mother dies in Not All of Me is Dust. But the heart of this novel doesn't lie in grief and recovery so much as in Catholic beliefs, which are thoroughly explored as young Jesuit priest Stephen considers his own faith and the spiritual struggles of his sisters. 

The story is as much a test of faith, love, and devotion as it is a tale of three siblings whose entwined early experiences influence their futures, their relationships with one another, and their perceptions of God. 

Stephen's choices lead him beyond helping his sisters and into a foreign land on a mission to serve God. When genocide threatens everything, he receives a final test of faith and forgiveness. 

Novel readers seeking a spiritual reflection and story of devotion and dedication will find Not All of Me is Dust a powerful read best digested in segments (or through multiple readings) to allow for a thorough understanding of and appreciation for its underlying spiritual message. 

The characters choose different God-driven paths and each, in their own way, is dedicated to their mission surviving beyond adversity and even death. 

Frances Maureen Richardson roots her characters with real-world challenges, yet addresses their psychological, philosophical, and spiritual growth as they consider the course of their lives, the impacts of their choices, and the reasons behind their decisions: "...they were both, at heart, disillusioned people. But Paul Brittain was able to summon greater courage to meet the future than Kathleen, and, for this reason, too, she clung to him." 

What do those who have only spiritual powers do when faced with terrible evil? How does one's spiritual life mission change as it's tested by various struggles? 

Not All of Me is Dust is a thought-provoking journey conducted not by one man, but by everyone around him. His decisions and challenges reflect the greater milieu of societal interactions, atrocities, and struggles with good and evil. His story, and those of supporting characters and siblings, is especially recommended for Catholic readers who look for a saga well grounded in spiritual traditional, revelation, and redemption. 

Not All of Me is Dust

Return to Index

The Persistence of Consciousness
Raymond Shaw
Argive Press
978-1-7923-1019-5         $16.95 

The Persistence of Consciousness: Its Prevention and Cure sounds like nonfiction, but is actually a comic novel set in a Minnesota college where existential arguments and philosophical debates permeate everyday life. 

Raymond Shaw excels at tongue-in-cheek observation and strong dialogue as his characters interact over subjects ranging from University policy and the building of a wall to DNA evaluations, men and women's lives, cognition research, and more. 

He also provides succinct, unusual descriptions that offer some surprises: "Something in Simon gave way, and his self-possession oozed down his pant leg like one of Salvador Dali’s clocks." This and other fun observations of character behaviors, incongruities, and interactions are part of what makes this story so delightful: "Keeping her shoulders square, she slowly swayed herself across the room while giving the junior lecturer a buy-one-get-one-free look. Ford’s mind began scrambling to come up with a reaction. Coming around the side of his desk, she looked down at him sitting in his swivel chair and leisurely pulled her skirt up to her waist. Apparently it was laundry day, and all of her underthings were in the washer." 

Another intriguing facet to this story is Shaw's use of multiple narrators and perspectives, his introduction of each with a black and white photo at the beginning of his novel, and their individual, whimsical voices which capture their lives and times: "The U was happy as an Apalachicola oyster that Ford didn’t want his job back, and that Simon didn’t want to rip their balls off. The U just wanted the whole mess off the national news as much as Stafford and Simon did. The quickest way for that to happen was to avoid normal (spelled L-E-G-A-L) channels, so President Cinchbeldt dipped into the athletic slush fund for fifty grand apiece, which I’m not supposed to talk about or even know about, so please keep it under your hat." 

From neurochemistry PhD Emmilene Suggs and University savant Montgomery Tubercules to middle-aged Detective Aishin, the fun romp incorporates scientific theories about consciousness into a story of characters who explore their worlds in different ways. 

It's hard to easily peg the audience of The Persistence of Consciousness. Literary readers who want surprises, a science-based story, sexual escapades, and strong characters and dialogue will especially appreciate Shaw's attention to these details. He presents a story that captures the fundamental ironies and inconsistencies of life's definitions, cementing the notion that consciousness might be something best prevented. 

The Persistence of Consciousness

Return to Index

The Road to Delano
John DeSimone
Rare Bird Books
978-1644280317            $26.00 

Jack Duncan lives in the small agricultural town of Delano, where he comes of age dreaming of escaping his roots. His father was a grape grower who died under questionable conditions, and his family struggles with poverty and losing the family property. Jack believes that struggle is an inherent part of his life until he stumbles upon evidence that his father was murdered, and that local corruption led to his demise. 

The Road to Delano has solid roots in historical facts and Hispanic experience, but reaches out to readers who may have little prior familiarity with either California's Central Valley or early Hispanic grape worker activism. 

The story opens in the 1930s as Sugar plans both his future as a farmer and his role as a husband to the beautiful Shirley. After setting its foundations in the family farm's origins, it quickly moves to son Jack's world as he investigates a missing combine, the threat to his mother's home, and a longtime process of political and social corruption that reaches into his life and those of everyone around him: "It was a local practice of the sheriff to harass every farmworker they stopped. It took over an hour to answer the questionnaire. The sheriff compiled a cross-referenced, alphabetical card file on every farmworker in the valley—farms they worked, where they lived, cars they owned, family members, and affiliations. If the occasion arose, they roundup any worker, find any union member, or arrest any supervisor or organizer for any purpose they concocted. Information for their machine." 

Under John DeSimone's hand, farm worker rights and history are revealed through the eyes of a non-activist who becomes embroiled in causes and challenges beyond his normal experience. Jack moves from being a high school senior who only wants to escape the politics and process of Delano's culture to someone with a vested interest in social change. John DeSimone crafts a powerful story about farm worker rights and struggles through the eyes of a young man who wants to be anything but politically involved. 

The Road to Delano surveys the evolving politics of Chavez and those on both sides as DeSimone guides a compelling saga that juxtaposes big-stakes gambles (in more than one way) with threats not just to ranching and workers, but American integrity and morals. 

When a plan is hatched between Jack and his activist friend Adrian to save the family farm—one that directly confronts those behind the widespread and powerful corruption—Jack discovers his true passions, commitment, and a form of involvement that he had eschewed in the past. This creates a gripping story of not only how Jack can truly escape Delano, but how he can preserve his integrity and roots in the process. 

The Road to Delano is a compelling story that will leave readers thinking about its surprise ending long after the final confrontation comes to a head. 

The Road to Delano

Return to Index

Sweet Jane
Joanne Kukanza Easley
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-443-8         $19.95 

Sixteen-year-old Jane runs away from an alcoholic mother and hitchhikes to California during the Summer of Love, but something happens along the way—she manages to forge a seemingly solid, conservative life out of chaos. 

Life has a way of coming full circle, however, and in Sweet Jane this happily-ever-after scenario begins to crumble when her mother dies seventeen years later and Jane returns to Odessa for her funeral. 

She's never told her husband about her roots and upbringing, and her silence has created an illusion and a secret that erupts when she confronts both. 

Between a history that includes a brief dip into alcohol and a childhood wakeup call where she barely escapes death to her husband Joshua and their stable but somehow faltering life after only a year of marriage, Jane uses her journey home to relive past, present, and future, finding each lacking in unexpected ways. 

Readers learn about more than the cost of a conflicted childhood and a wavering adult world. As Jane explores old failures and new possibilities, she is finally forced to confront her demons. 

Sweet Jane moves between a story told in the first person and in the third person. This method creates some unexpected moments at times, but holds the benefit of more closely examining both her inner feelings and interactions with others, including her own father and a childhood loss that affects her life long after her mother's demise. 

Do genetics shape life more than environment? If so, how can Jane's already-proactive moves to change her world continue in the face of an overly-analytical personality that questions everything and considers new possibilities? 

Readers who delve into Sweet Jane will appreciate its candid appraisal of a woman who never gives up, confronting her own family history in an effort to find true love and purpose as she fights for dreams that sometimes seem impossible. 

As Jane's evolution is traced, audiences will appreciate the process of survival, abuse, enabling, and discovery that propel Jane and her readers into new revelations. Sweet Jane's ability to take a family mystery and follow its roots and wings makes it an outstandingly warm read that is hard to put down and, like its protagonist, easy to love. 

Sweet Jane

Return to Index

J. P.P. Pofus
OneTwoTreee Publishing
eBook:  9781543914047               $  2.99
Paperback:  9781543914030        $16.19
BookBaby (for POD):

Treee documents the amazing experiences of a broken man, Irish widower and Catholic deacon J. Kerry Logan, who carries on a haunting dialogue with Christ among the remnants of his dying life and faith. It seems like the end, until two strange boys invade his space with the prediction of the end of the world and claim his church as their sanctuary against the coming darkness. 

The last thing Logan needed was a new cause or challenge, but his very identity is at risk as the strangers embark on an unusual passion: destroying the crucifixes of the area as they prepare for 'Sondown' and what will follow. 

Its introductory scenario may lead some to believe that Treee is sci-fi or apocalyptic fiction, but to brand it as such would be to over-simplify its message and unusual approach. It is at once a dark satire, a religious inspection, and the story of a broken man who adopts a new purpose in life. 

The first thing to note about this exploration is that J.P.P. Pofus supercharges his dialogue and descriptions with dark, atmospheric inspections that are compellingly unique: "The glow of the light illuminated a large, uncapped bottle of copper liquid, an empty shotglass, a metallic utensil, and the huge hand and stubbly chin of the man who knelt there. The hand not holding the flashlight took up the bottle, partly filled the shotglass with copper, and set down the bottle. Then it raised the glass into the darkness above the chin and returned it to the marble surface, empty again. The other hand directed the flashlight at the crucified man again. OK, OK, I give up. You always have been able to outwait me, you stupid jesus. But now that you have won, answer my petition: Tell me a story. Yours. Mine. Doesn’t matter.’ The jesus was silent." 

This is no staid, predictable journey. Under his hand, the rich experience and quasi-supernatural encounters of layers of intrigue hidden under the trappings of daily life and depression receive a new vigor which is unexpectedly compelling reading. 

Indeed, the unforeseen lies everywhere, from the troubling, dark theme of a drunk theologian confronting everything in his life to the broader inspection of social woes and crumbling religious ideals embodied by the two new arrivals. 

Readers might anticipate that these portend an era of darkness—and in some ways they do. But they also represent hope, in an unusual manner: "When the day lasts forever, when all the year is a holiday, it is intolerable! This church lags in the eclipse of the ninth hour and yearns for true Night. For there can be no Spirit—hah!—until the Son shines in his glory. We come to proclaim the mercy of Sondown, of sinsdown, and herald the hope of sunrise! of Sonrise!" 

From ordinary things turned awry to a deacon's ongoing ministry in some truly hilarious, thought-provoking scenes (as when he confronts a silent confessional box and embarks on a series of ranting dialogues that come full circle as he answers his own question devoid of any guidance), Treee is a tour de farce that delights in both the style of its confessions and the nature of its confrontations: "A masterstroke, father! I will ignore them, train my mind to ignore them as if they did not ex- —to recognize that they do not exist! I will not think the thought again! I will kill them off like a bad habit! Though the tree fall right in my path, I will not hear it. Let it fall upon me, I will walk through it. I will walk through the woods and ignore the wolf even as it gnaws on my ankle!’ The box was silent. ‘Thank you, father! Thank you for that guidance, which is also a penance!’" 

It should be advised that it includes numerous religious questions that might offend devout Christian readers. Among them: reflections on the femininity of the Christ figure; a condemnation turned beauty pageant; and connections between idiocy and sacrilege. 

This is no light apocalyptic read, as may have been initially anticipated. It's a ribald religious inspection packed with irony, fantasy, theology, and emotional passion and transformation. One needn't be a Christian or a theologian in order to appreciate the spoofs and observations throughout the story. 

Literary, spiritual, and philosophical readers interested in a unique blend of these facets in a story that invites readers to reconsider their beliefs and its ironies and inconsistencies, as well as its promises of redemption and underlying beauty, will find Treee a remarkable piece of spiritual literature. It's wonderfully humorous, dark, and filled with social and religious inspections of life's purpose in a dawning new Age of revelation and salvation. 


Return to Index

Urgent State
Larry Pratt
SMP Press
Paper: 9780996385534         $14.00
Ebook: 9780996385541        $  9.99 

It's hard to easily categorize the approach of Urgent State: One Route to Saving our Species. On one hand, it is based on modern social and political conundrums that hold far-ranging impacts for the future survival of the human race, which sounds like solid nonfiction. On the other, it assumes a fictional guise, from building intrigue to plot and characterization, and so will attract novel readers interested in stories firmly rooted in facts. 

It's set in neutral territory in North America, where a secret group of civil servants and philanthropists begin a project designed to save mankind from climate change. Of necessity, this involves building a large community of scientists and thinkers, structures to house them, and resources to support their mission. 

As businessmen and thinkers foster sustainability and their legacy for future generations, their visionary project redefines society and its goals, reaching from urban to rural locales to influence and change the course of human endeavors. 

When the public learns of these plans and business interests begin to envision profit from adversity, further changes ripple through the characters and society as a whole. 

From the beginning, Urgent State demands that readers sit up and take notice of current dilemmas and their possible alternative, radical solutions. It also focuses on the lives and efforts of various individuals involved in the project from different angles and for varying reasons. 

The impact of knowledge, disparities in income and resources, decision-making processes, and questions of what is and isn't predictable and controllable creates a vivid story of social engineering. This becomes even more thought-provoking as the community and vision of Urgent grows and reaches out to affect all human beings. 

Ultimately, Urgent State is about more than saving mankind. It's about the process of reconsidering its values and evolutionary process, and about the process involved in changing what can be changed and accepting what is inevitable. 

Readers who enjoy visionary fiction steeped in interpersonal social and political relationships will find Urgent State a fine study in morals, values, and the enactment of radical visions and change. 

Urgent State

Return to Index

Wolf: A Novel
Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter  
Skyhorse Publishing
978-1510751088            $27.99 

Wolf: A Novel is a historical novel about Hitler, told from the unusual perspective of 1918 amnesiac soldier Friedrich Richard, who encounters Hitler in a mental hospital ward where Corporal Hitler, once a painter, has been diagnosed as a psychopath. He introduces himself to Richard, using the name 'Wolf.' 

The unusual friendship that forms between these two mentally challenged men will last 15 years and embraces Hitler's move from the mental ward to become the leader of Germany, then the scourge of the world. 

It is fortuitous that Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter chose to couch Hitler's life in an alias name, because readers who may have eschewed yet another novel with Hitler in the title, who picked up Wolf for other reasons, will find it an astute, involving, unusual perspective that considers Hitler's mental facilities in a different way. 

This focus on Hitler's personal life and how he rose to power is based on extensive research, yet the fictional devices elevate these facts to more personal, revealing levels as Hitler hones political power, creates a new ideology for a crippled nation, and involves Frederich in a rise to power that surprises and fulfills them both. 

In addition to its different approach to Hitler's rise to power, Wolf: A Novel excels in many other ways. Its use of the first person makes events and perceptions more immediate; its subplot of the protagonist's dilemma in following Hitler versus his own inherent rejection of Hitler's anti-Semitism creates an involving conflict; and its focus on Hitler's lifelong friendships, which cemented personal connections in his life, all expand the reader's view of Hitler's personality and the roots of his influences. 

The authors studied Hitler's personal connections for this book, so these insights and ideas aren't fiction, but are firmly rooted in new research that lends depth to his persona and story. As additional support for the historical research and accuracy of this story, history buffs have rare access to the authors’ research at the website

There's a basic question that is tackled, here. How did an ordinary man become the world's most famous and feared mass executioner? It's a question and lesson that needs to remain at the forefront of any Hitler examination. It which receives special attention in this story, which captures not only the visions and madness of Hitler's approach to rule, but the methods by which he convinced an entire society to go along with genocide. Most of all, it's a side story of how an ordinary man, Frederich, serves as the microcosm of how a "man without a past and not much of a future" becomes embroiled in and contributes to Hitler's Nazi juggernaut. 

Frightening and eye-opening, Wolf: A Novel will linger in the mind as a prophetic and disturbing story long after Frederich and Hitler's world (and this story) ends. 

Wolf: A Novel

Return to Index

Reviewer's Choice

50 Faces of Happy
Banwari Mittal, PhD
Open Mentis
9780997369656             $19.95 

50 Faces of Happy—Money. Work. Life. Purpose is a coffee table book created by a social scientist and professor who embarked on a road trip to interview some 500 people about what gives them happiness. 

50 of the best interviews are featured in this book, which includes a full-page color photo of each subject; discussions of their work, life, and purpose; and their insights on what they would do if they won a mega-lottery; along with definitions of happiness. 

Many books revolving around the subject of attaining life satisfaction purport to be self-help guides. 50 Faces of Happy offers something different because it relies not on statistics, a blueprint for success, or a formula for achievement; but simply presents the experiences, reflections, and insights - from people from diverse walks of life, people we can all relate to.  

These insights are eloquently expressed (likely as a result of their being part of 50 winning pieces out of 500 interviews), as in the interview with Wren Walker Robbins:  " an ongoing, minute-by-minute experience of being connected to people around me and to my work, and feeling that my work is meaningful. It is being present with this ecosystem, with the hawk and the bear, and the stream that runs by. To be happy it helps to know that I can't change other people, but I can certainly be myself in a way that is authentic and helpful." 

The deliberate absence of an overriding theory, concept, or direction to this pursuit is refreshing, allowing for a focus on different strategies, realizations, coping mechanisms for life's adversity, and perspectives. These make for unique, individual insights into the origins of happiness. 

The result is a powerful shot of positivity in a negative world: an anecdote to pain and feeling stuck that avoids the usual preaching or "one size fits all" definition to happiness by outlining the specific activities and lives of individuals who define and pursue happiness in their own individualistic ways. 

Presenting these interviews in a coffee-table-style book (albeit it is a more convenient 7.5x9.5" format; not an oversized tome) printed in 4 color on glossy paper lends to an inspirational set of authentic experiences that should be prominently displayed in every home. 

50 Faces of Happy

Return to Index

Advance Chess Inferential Analysis Of Distributive Cognitive Logistics: Hybridization of Poly – Plextics, Book 2, Volume 1
Siafa B. Neal
Independently Published
978-1507648018            $36.00 

Book 2, Volume 1 of chess master Saifa B. Neal's Advance Chess Inferential Analysis Of Distributive Cognitive Logistics: Hybridization of Poly – Plextics represents the third book in his professional player's guides, continuing his signature approach of relying heavily on diagrams, drawings, illustrations, and photos of actual games in progress to demonstrate the moves and strategies of this complex, advanced chess board (which Neal also sells). 

Introductory notes about his custom game board and its price are followed by the heart of this book's focus: instructions particular to the Model III Star Gate 14 playing environment for single and double set modes. Equations support the double set game, as well as providing single and double set position examples. 

Step-by-step positioning movements on the boards pair these equations with descriptions to instruct players on all facets of the strategy represented in the advanced example. 

Attack and defense movements and long-range planning are all covered in technical positioning descriptions which advanced players will have no trouble understanding. 

Advance Chess Inferential Analysis Of Distributive Cognitive Logistics: Hybridization of Poly – Plextics should be purchased with all Model III incarnations of this advanced game. It provides seasoned chess players new to the 3D environment with invaluable introductory insights on how to make the most of these special boards and their advanced strategies, providing one of the keys to success for moving into the 3D chess playing environment. 

Advance Chess Inferential Analysis Of Distributive Cognitive Logistics: Hybridization of Poly – Plextics, Book 2, Volume 1

Return to Index

Advance Chess Inferential View Analysis-The Double Set Game Robotic Intelligence, Book 2 Volume 2
Siafa B. Neal
Independently Published
978-1514136171            $48.99

Advanced chess players interested in moving beyond the norm to a 3-D gaming board, who are interested in analysis and strategies geared to top-level playing, will find Book 2, Volume 2 of Advance Chess Inferential View Analysis just the ticket for playing more effectively in the 3-D environment. 

This is not a guide for mass market boards, but features a hardware prototype and electronic applications for a game new to the market. It describes a Double Set game played on the Longitudinal Star Gate 14 Model, Model III, which Neal has covered in previous chess books, and is recommended for master players of advanced 3D chess. It comes from a master player whose design model promises intricate hours of playing, and who sells these game boards himself. 

Color images of boards and plays appear throughout, with text showing possible position scenarios of single and double sets. Color diagrams move from initial set-up positioning to step-by-step double-board photo displays that follow each player's move as they discuss playing options. 

Discussions label each strategy and step (the Direct Abstract single space diagonal attack movement, for example) and leave nothing to wonder as the examples follow player choices and explain each move. 

By using a single game as a step-by-step example and following all the moves and choices between players through diagrams, drawings, illustrations, and photos displaying key information about the board, Neal provides the kinds of detailed descriptions and equations that allow a relative newcomer to 3D to play an entire game from start to finish. 

Advance Chess Inferential View Analysis-The Double Set Game Robotic Intelligence, Book 2 Volume 2 thus serves as the perfect example and study of not just this model, but the moves and logic of advance chess processes. It is highly recommended (along with the physical game) for players who want to operate beyond the normal chess board's parameters. 

Advance Chess Inferential View Analysis-The Double Set Game Robotic Intelligence, Book 2 Volume 2

Return to Index

Ambition: The Missing Attribute in Your Employees
Cheryl Johnson
Cresting Wave Publishing
978-0988904835            $11.95 

Ambition: The Missing Attribute in Your Employees trademarks the Ambition Quotient, identifies it as the missing link in employer self-improvement strategies, and spends many chapters asking and answering a basic question: what do both employers and employees ideally want from their relationship? 

The answers may surprise you. And that's exactly why employers, managers, and leaders should digest the concepts considered in Ambition: The Missing Attribute in Your Employees

From buying into the underlying motivators of ambition to creating work environments that encourage collaborative efforts and shared rewards to building and transmitting team communication principles, encouraging resilience in the face of inevitable failures, and absorbing the pros and cons of various learning processes and their results, Ambition synthesizes the foundations of success into simple messages any employer can absorb and reflect. 

Many reminders along the way encourage managers to understand the effects of these processes on their employees and themselves: "Leading is teaching, and developing ambitious employees is a byproduct of meaningful teaching." 

If some of this sounds like other books, it should be mentioned that Ambition goes beyond supporting the process with admonitions and ideals. It backs up its contentions with real-world scenarios, such as the specter of an early morning business meeting where a leader is charged with getting bored, disinterested attendees to become involved and engaged with problem-solving, for themselves. 

These connections between ideal and reality, and how to bridge the common gaps between the two, is what sets Ambition's lessons and approaches above other motivational business books. Examples come from both real world scenarios and Cheryl Johnson's own life, adding concrete details on exactly how to create the type of 'culture of learning' promoted in Ambition

Examples range from problem-solving strategies to creating custom learning paths for individuals. These provide clear routines any employer can utilize to best advantage. Even more important are Johnson's explorations of workplace coaching methods, which contrast their success with online and classroom learning. 

As chapters cover the basics of promoting resilience, cooperation, and creative problem-solving to support ambition in the workplace, managers receive a key tool to success unparalleled in other business managerial tutorials. 

Any employer interested in taking the next step into employee satisfaction and motivation should consider the impact of Ambition. With its clear directions, links to real-world scenarios of interaction and learning, and case histories with black and white illustrations peppered throughout, it's easy to digest, yet packed with important details managers need to know. 

Ambition: The Missing Attribute in Your Employees

Return to Index

Denied! Failing Cordelia Book 3: Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder
Simon Cambridge
Hardcover 978-1-7960-3706-7             $42.04
Softcover 978-1-7960-3705-0              $32.95
eBook 978-1-7960-3704-3                   $  3.99

The third book in the series Denied! Failing Cordelia: Parental Love and Parental-State Theft in Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court continues Simon Cambridge's story of how he adopted a child with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and ran afoul of child protective services in his efforts to help her. It focuses on the court system of child welfare, appeals processes, and the failures of the juvenile court to properly represent and protect a child's interests. 

This is a book that should not have had to be written. Under ideal circumstances, the controversies and impact of Simon Cambridge's decisions and concern for his child should have resulted in a different outcome. 

However, the purpose of this story is to document exactly how and why the juvenile court fails both parents and children, and in this Cambridge provides an exact, damning, thought-provoking consideration of the processes and methods which work against real justice. 

It's important to note that Cambridge opens this third book with specific advice on how to properly absorb its contents, which include technical briefs, arguments, court processes, appellant replies, procedural background, oral arguments, and more legalese.

By now, it should be more than evident that Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder is far more than a memoir of fighting the court system. It's a procedural guide to the give-and-take of legal methods that documents specific events and relationships between parents, social workers, and various court processes. 

Acts of futility are charted, along with choices that could have made a positive difference to family-reunification prospects, creating a survey strong in its assessment of juvenile court proceeding pros, cons, and the impact on parents struggling with its rules and regulations. 

It should also be noted that this is no light legal read, but holds over a thousand pages of detail. Parents struggling with court processes will find it both useful and weighty reading, containing many invaluable keys to better approaches to working through a system that can be as dysfunctional as any situation surrounding the child and his parents. 

Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder serves its main purpose as an instructional memoir packed with lessons, observations, tips and traps, and insights for those working within and through such a system. Within the story of Cambridge's foster child, who is adopted, then detained, lies a broader consideration of justice that should be on the reading lists of not just parents and potential adoptive parents, but anyone concerned about juvenile rights, justice, and legal systems. 

Under another hand, this trilogy might have been condensed to a single book offering quicker reading—but that would be a shame. Its detailed complexity is exactly what sets it apart from others. Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder is a specific instructional that goes beyond personal outrage and parenting trauma to address many of the main failings of child protective courts and systems in this country. 

No social, legal, or juvenile issues reader should be without this complex, well-detailed examination of child-detention policies, child abuse, and suggestions for the legal reform of California's child welfare system. 

Denied! Failing Cordelia Book 3: Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder

Return to Index

Drain the Marsh
Catherine Baird
Argive Press
978-0-578-45471-9         $16.95 

What does Athens, Greece have to do with an examination of Donald Trump? Catherine Baird's comic spoof Drain the Marsh (Or: “Is It Just Me, or Has Athens Become a Total Sh- -hole?”) juxtaposes a Dionysian marsh in ancient Athens (which was alluded to in Aristophanes’ The Frogs) with a modern-day comic criticism that uses the Constitutional First Amendment right to satirize U.S. federal government officials and quote from the public record even as it disclaims any mention of entities other than Trump. 

Why ancient Athenian culture? As one reads Drain the Marsh, it quickly becomes evident that this early example of flourishing democratic principles holds its scars and follies. This creates the perfect foundation for spoofing the current political and social milieu in the U.S. 

While real history forms the backdrop for this story, there are numerous poetic licenses taken while narrating the tale. Thus, it opens with important historical notes key to understanding Baird's approach and the true underlying literary irony and wit of Drain the Marsh: "The Cleon character is an amalgamation of the historical figure Cleon, the President of the United States, and fantasy. Over 1600 words of dialog spoken in this novel by the 5th century B.C. demagogue are quotes (and/or paraphrases) from our 21st century demagogue." 

It should also be mentioned that Drain the Marsh is not light reading. This is a historical, literary, and satirical masterpiece that demands much of its readers, including familiarity with, and an ability to appreciate, these three forms of scholarship.

Readers who hold such interests and expertise will readily recognize that Drain the Marsh is a solid literary production that juxtaposes past and present with not just a comic hand, but an attention to building characters, history, ironies, and encounters that embrace both realistic detail and the drama usually seen in play formats. 

From the election of Cleon and its underlying impact on society to questions of moral and social skirmishes both within Athens and Sparta and between individuals, the blend of Greek and U.S. dilemmas is both complex and delightfully thought-provoking. 

Drain the Marsh is hard-hitting, allegorical, and hilarious— a highly recommended pick for literary audiences who will find the satire and observational ironies impeccably constructed. 

Drain the Marsh

Return to Index

Find Your Weigh
Shellie Bowdoin
Source Publishing
978-971-503-442-5         $16.99 

Find Your Weigh is more than just another diet book. It's a guide to locating a spiritual lifestyle change that blends dietary adjustment with an individual approach that is easy to maintain beyond the desired target weight. It adds a spiritual component to this process that is lacking in most diet books. 

What does God's Word have to do with weight loss? Plenty! With obsessions with body, appearance, and food comes a distancing from the holy spirit that produces shame and angst rather than a closer connection to God. 

One day, Shellie Bowdoin looked in the mirror and realized that she was not making conscious decisions about what went into her body. In the past, her drive to “get a handle on” weight was all about physical control. In effect, her process "...pushed God to the sideline of my weight struggle. He had been waiting 30 years for me to finally call Him into the game." 

Bowdoin reveals a surprising truth about the lack of religious involvement in weight management: "The issue of weight and food is often taboo in Christian circles. We freely discuss everything else: jealousy, pride, depression, and other addictions, but food issues are conspicuously absent. Could it be that we don’t like to bring attention to our food struggles because they’re just so obvious?" 

By the end of the first chapter it's obvious that Find Your Weigh isn't just about weight loss. It's about the spiritual lack that accompanies a fixation on weight gain or loss, and about how those on a diet and exercise regimen often lose track of the possibilities that stem from adding God into the bigger picture. 

Chapters return God to the forefront by juxtaposing weight loss tips with spiritual reflections and connections: "Christ’s finished work on the cross secured your freedom as an heir to God’s kingdom and a beneficiary of His many promises. Still, you have to make the conscious decision to view your food choices as opportunities to exercise your God-given freedom, rather than as a burden you must bear. Otherwise, you will fall right back to hiding behind your excuses." 

From anticipating bumps in this exploration to journaling and establishing workable habits to resist the lure of desserts and detrimental eating, Find Your Weigh follows through on its satisfying blend of spiritual links to body image, weight management, and quality of life. The result is a practical guide to perceptions about life, food, and Christian belief: "Weight loss is a fine benchmark for fitness, but it should not be the end goal. Fitness is more about your mindset and overall health. Jesus warned His disciples, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” (Luke 12:22-24, NIV) 

Find Your Weigh is just as goal-oriented as any other book on diet and lifestyle management; but by returning God and Jesus to the formula, it gives Christian readers yet another tool in the pursuit of physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual enlightenment. 

This highly recommended read should be in any Christian thinker's collection; especially those interested in self-help, daily living, and better links between physical and mental health and religious purpose. 

Find Your Weigh

Return to Index

Leadership Values: An Introspection
Gary F. Appleby
Independently Published
Paperback:      978-1-7329972-0-2              $19.99
ebook:             978-1-7329972-1-9              $  9.99 

Leadership Values: An Introspection: A Philadelphia Fire Chief’s forty-year Journey to Understanding and Practicing Authentic Leadership opens with a heart-stopping firefighter's acknowledgement that the church fire he battles might claim his life at age 22. 

But his fellow firefighter, older man Ray, has a game plan that saves them both. And this life-threatening event changed Firefighter Gary Appleby's life with two epiphanies: about brotherhood's values and life-changing influence, and how Ray's psychological makeup allowed him to rescue a near-stranger, then never mention it again. These observations and thoughts led to wider-ranging realizations that rippled through Appleby's life and changed his pursuits and the nature of his life focus:  "...many people, like Ray, have deep-rooted values that cause them to consistently act automatically in a certain positive (or negative) fashion. There are specific circumstances when many of us require additional time to think through, evaluate, or deliberate on the personal consequences of actions we are considering. Yet these principled individuals just rely on their internal moral compass and move quickly toward positive action." 

One byproduct of that death-defying rescue is his book, Leadership Values. Another is a focus on how to grow and become a successful leader, cultivate the kinds of values and connections that support this effort, and how to extend the notion of 'family' while revising one's leadership role to reach and interact with them. 

Examples from Appleby's firefighting efforts and leadership role are explicit, holding lessons for managers struggling to adopt and refine their own leadership styles: "I think your preference for delivering orders gently wrapped up in a gift box with a bow on it doesn’t work all the time. You see, Gene (the Academy Operations Officer) and I get you. We know that when you begin a phrase with ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if….’ or ‘Is there any way we could ….’, you’re not really asking a question or bouncing things off us. We know that you’re gently telling us what you want done; you’re giving us firm direction—orders.” Reluctantly, I said, “Tell me more.” Bruce continued, “This frustration you feel when guys don’t pick up on your hints or suggestions is caused by your own doing. Most of us get your style and it creates a nice working atmosphere here. But, some of these guys on our staff need a brick to the forehead. They really believe that you’re just thinking out loud or offering a suggestion." 

Chapters filled with introspection are nicely done, complimenting the examples from Appleby's firefighting experiences with discussions of his evolving leadership role that provide food for thought for fellow leaders willing to examine their underlying life values and their influence in achieving positive or desired outcomes: "In work, what are your leadership priorities? Are they even remotely connected to what is true, what is right, and what is lasting? Are you truly open to any awakening experiences? How do you know that? Can you acknowledge a genuine moment of enlightenment that you’ve had in the last several years—a moment that provided you with a piece of true, everlasting wisdom?" 

By now, it's evident that the 'introspection' piece of this picture doesn't just apply to Appleby's own process, but what he recommends for others. An ability and desire to self-analyze and modify patterns, habits, and belief systems is thus a prerequisite for the successful appreciation and application of the messages in Leadership Values. 

More so than competing leadership discussions, Leadership Values goes beyond strategy alone, asking its readers to consider the cause and effect of one's leadership actions and choices as they relate to values and beliefs. This is what creates an outstanding read—that, and the personal examples from Appleby's own growth process, which serve as a path to enlightenment on more than one level. 

Leadership Values: An Introspection

Return to Index

The NEW Team Habits: A Guide to the New School Rules
Anthony Kim, Keara Mascareñaz, and Kawai Lai
978-1544375038            $28.95

The NEW Team Habits: A Guide to the New School Rules is a step-by-step workbook to building leadership teams and helping them grow. It is recommended for schools that seek concrete strategies and approaches to creating better teams that work together more cohesively. 

Effective school teams need to be unified in their approaches, support, practices, and applications. Organizational leaders looking to take a step down the hierarchy to address team habits in school environments will find The NEW Team Habits the perfect primer to guide the way. 

Chapters use individual team participation and team-building routines as focal points, considering both underlying philosophy and strategies and why team interactions and structure are the foundation of organizational change. 

This book's structure is designed to achieve clarity and buy-in to the process. Therefore, it's recommended that educators and leaders use it as a step-by-step workbook for team-building changes, to be used by a team leader committed to applying the exercises, which can take up to 90 minutes (30 for a leader's independent pursuit, 60 minutes spent with the team itself). 

The specific time structure attached to these activities may stymie those who anticipate a more general, freer form of organization, but they are important keys to achieving these building blocks. 

From clear explanations and enactments of rules for sharing information and understanding and analyzing mistakes to check-in practices covered in rounds supported by charts and fill-in blanks, The NEW Team Habits provides not just admonitions and ideals, but a concrete process that teams can follow to solidify and strengthen their goals. 

It should be noted that the guide is not an ethereal concept. It's based on hundreds of seminars, workshops, and conferences where its principles were put into action in very different environments and tested over and over again. 

Teams have habits that not only shape their group identities, but influence organizations as a whole. Leaders interested in building better teams from the ground up will find The NEW Team Habits a key to better leadership, teams, and ultimately, better communities with stronger interactions. 

Small habit changes lead to bigger revisions, and so The NEW Team Habits should not be considered the end-all to the process, but the first step in a series of evolutionary team growth experiences. 

The NEW Team Habits: A Guide to the New School Rules

Return to Index

The Persistence of Liberty: An American Philosophy
David Ross Netherton
Hermes Editions
$17.00 Paper/$25.00 Hardcover/$17.00 ebook 

The Persistence of Liberty: An American Philosophy deserves a spot in any history or philosophy collection, couching its cultural romp across America in a gathering that captures 20th century themes and conundrums alike. 

No cultural icon is exempt from David Ross Netherton's critical inspection, including popular music, which receives its own chapter of consideration in 'Bebop Doo-Wop' which links doo-wop's development to social influences: "What fueled the tremendous acceptance of doo-wop for ten years of its classical era were the twin magical forces of supply and demand or, in the temper of the times, affluence and indulgence." 

As essays analyze aspects of religious ceremonies women historically were barred from, national optimism, and the progression of patriotism and national glory, they pinpoint both the evolution of latter twentieth-century American philosophical leanings and the ideas of liberty. 

Netherton considers the idea that "...future experiences are shaped by expressions of recent experiences." In capturing the nuances, philosophical impact, and enlightening aspects of popular culture's perceptions and incarnations, The Persistence of Liberty contributes a better understanding of America's unique social and philosophical viewpoints. These insights will prove especially enlightening to students of American history. 

The Persistence of Liberty should be required reading, especially for high school students of history or philosophy. It lends to classroom discussions of the advent of liberty and social introspection over decades of American history and experience. 

The Persistence of Liberty: An American Philosophy

Return to Index

Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing
William Patrick Patterson
Arete Communications, Publishers
978-1-879514-30-0         $28.95

The Fourth Way, an ancient, esoteric teaching of self-development brought to the West by G. I. Gurdjieff, at first glance would seem a nearly impossible discipline for a Westerner to follow. It involves quieting the mind, stopping thought, separating subject and object, and a form of contemplation that would seem an antithesis to modern American life. 

Its leading proponent in this country, William Patrick Patterson, reflects Gurdjieff's legacy in a book that blends these principles with a contemplative program for teaching The Fourth Way as an approach independent and supportive of other spiritual paths. Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing compliments his other writings and films on the subject with a tenth and last book that completes his circle of faith and autobiography by packaging a two-book memoir under one cover. 

Some previous familiarity with the basic philosophy and spirituality of Gurdjieff is recommended in order to appreciate the many facets of Patterson's journey. Recommended, but not required, because Patterson discusses his eye-opening meeting with 90-year-old "rare-born mystic" Sunya Bhai on Alan Watts' houseboat in Sausalito, the evolution of his understanding of Gurdjieff's foundations and what Bhai means by his 'living in Silence', and his ongoing evolution through his encounters with the Gurdjieff Work. 

More so than more scholarly or spiritual explorations of Gurdjieff's approach, this autobiographical format allows for direct connections between the Gurdjieff Way and daily living. 

Self-examination, attending seminars and teachings about the traditions, and attempting to incorporate them within and sometimes against the challenges of life's ebb and flow are facets what makes Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing such an unusually vivid exploration of this personal process, its challenges, and its impacts: "Went to the Work week at St. Elmo. Each day Lord Pentland gave a theme: Saturday — Being open to the movements of energy and manifesting accordingly. Sunday — I wish. But as soon as I face the demands of life I disappear. I am nothing. What is my work?" 

The Work promises revelations, but it doesn't promise an easy way to get there. Patterson sometimes rebels against how studying Gurdjieff's stories assumes "book report" status. He acknowledges the difficulties involved in making such a seemingly esoteric discipline sync with the daily Western world's processes, contemplating his own successes and failures along the way, and considering how they resonate throughout his life: "Have been doing the yoga asanas and breathing exercises and enlarging the sensation. At night I wake to find the energy running in the spine, a strong pulsation in the throat chakra, a gale of wind blowing through my body with me hanging onto the pillow for dear life. The thought is always the same: what the fuck am I doing. I like my life. I love my wife and children. I don’t want to lose them. Then in the morning I realize I’ve blown it again. No courage." 

For an autobiographical spiritual and philosophical examination entitled Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing: Eating the "I" Parts II and III, there's a lot of substance in these interactions. Patterson bridges the gap between two very different worlds, but the "glue" he uses to bridge this chasm often rests as much on personal encounters, experiences, and relationships as it does on inner wisdom and contemplation. 

The autobiographical narrative takes the form of a diary in which Patterson moves from the esoteric and spiritual to the everyday ("Moved Mother from the Petaluma house to an apartment in San Anselmo. A lot closer. Should have done this to begin with rather than buying the house.").

While some may say that some editing could have cut out such passages and resulted in a leaner, more specific exploration of self-examination and waking up to The Fourth Way, in reality these circumstances of simple daily living are what connects average readers to not just Patterson's life, but how The Fourth Way can function in a Western setting intrinsically alien to many of its concepts. 

Followers of Gurdjieff who want more than another consideration of his life and teachings will find Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing refreshingly honest, sometimes brutal its self-analysis, and surprisingly insightful and pointed even when the subject involves dreams: "Dreamed Hoyt and someone I couldn’t see were carrying this enormous snake/dragon in their arms. It was very powerful. Also so very ugly and grey. I cautioned them not to let it get away, because once it was out of their grasp . . . then I realized that the snake was my ego." 

Rich in both everyday, seemingly mundane details and the sharp in the approaches to life and spirituality that stem from these daily encounters, Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing offers a more accessible consideration of The Fourth Way than any scholarly study could have achieved. Readers with some basic grounding in Gurdjieff will find Patterson's life story accessible, insightful, and purposeful in its experiences and message. 

Perhaps Patterson's own words sums it up best: "He is able to speak to them because he knows the language of silence." 

Teachers of No-Thing & Nothing

Return to Index

Where the Caribou Still Roam: In the Barron Lands of Arctic Canada
Guy Mueller
Little Sticks Publishing
978-0-9986042-3-7         $8.62 

Readers might anticipate an adventure travelogue from the title Where the Caribou Still Roam: In the Barron Lands of Arctic Canada, but Guy Mueller's story is as much of an environmental examination as a travel narrative, and in this genre lies its strength. 

Mueller is in a unique position to observe the peoples, animals, and habitats of a place few know about—Arctic Canada. He journeys down rivers, over tundra, meets native peoples and learns about their lives and concerns, and uses elegant, metaphorical, poetic language to create a "you are there" feel: "A sea of tundra lay ahead of us. Tom, Ruth, Mel, and I would navigate it, not in search of the Northwest Passage, but the mouth of the Thlewiaza River, some 200 miles to the east. Each of our two unnamed red canoes would be powered by a pair of paddles and the arms that gave them force. Each paddler had two paddles, a bent-shaft paddle for flat water and a straight paddle for the rapids, although, in a pinch, either was functionally sufficient as a spare for the other. Like a string quartet, there was elegance in the simplicity of our endeavor." 

From navigating rapids with fellow paddlers to experiencing the Hudson Bay, readers journey with Mueller viewing this wild world through his eyes: "With a surface area of 316,000 square miles and an average depth of only 300 feet, Hudson Bay had the geometry of a gigantic puddle. Its flat western shores were so gradual that ebb tides exposed more than a mile of shoreline. Glacial erratics—boulders and rocks lying above and below the water’s surface—littered these tidal flats. They looked like a great line of defensive obstacles capable of deterring enemy landing craft should they ever approach. Threading a boat, even a canoe, through this geological clutter would be tricky, especially at night or in a fog." 

Bigger than either this journey or his encounters is his overall assessment of threats to the environment and the intersection of government concerns, environmental issues, and personal lifestyles. Mueller's ability to interview residents, personalize these environmental changes and challenges, and capture the dilemmas at work on all sides of the question of preserving nature and human societies alike brings human issues and natural wonders to life. 

Mueller's quest to under the personal roots of these lives under siege provide many comparisons between past and present native cultural experiences: "Was he or Jamie born in Arviat? No one, Joe said, is born in Arviat or anywhere in Nunavut anymore. Mothers are flown south to deliver their babies in hospitals in places like Winnipeg. In the early days of the settlements, pregnant, non–English-speaking mothers flew south alone, which must have been a lonely and frightening, if not an occasionally calamitous, experience. Nowadays, nurse escorts accompanied expectant mothers. Whether escorted or unescorted, delivering in the south meant separation from family members. It also meant that traditional Inuit midwifery had disappeared." 

Where the Caribou Still Roam is quite simply a 'must' read not just for armchair travelers curious about the far north, but for those interested in the natural and human worlds that coexist and struggle beyond the boundaries of human civilization. Nowhere does a crisp and immediate assessment of this environment and its special social and natural challenges exist as vividly as in Where the Caribou Still Roam. 

Where the Caribou Still Roam: In the Barron Lands of Arctic Canada

Return to Index

Young Adult/Childrens

Baby Trolls Get a Bad Rap
Justine Avery & Daria Yudina
Suteki Creative
$4.99 ebook/$8.95 paper/$15.95 hardcover 

Horatio, Saul, and Grizelda are baby trolls who are sick of their bad reputation. In Baby Trolls Get a Bad Rap, they're prepared to do something about it, too. 

The opening page begins with their celebration of a petition everyone has signed. (The reality is that nobody has actually even seen it, yet.) There's a process for gaining support which has not been followed, as brother Saul points out, and so they must restart their campaign with a better public relations effort before asking for help. 

A simple dialogue from the trolls introduces them, pointing out that even though they are "hopelessly adorable" babies, nobody seems to like them. They are ignored, nobody believes in them, and they feel they've gotten a bad rap—and proceed to explore that concept. 

Parents who look for picture books with a message about understanding and acceptance will find plenty to talk about with their young ones as they read this picture book aloud and laugh at the little trolls' dilemma. 

The baby trolls only seek acknowledgement and recognition. Parents will find their message unusual, compelling, and fun, with the troll pictures inviting (not frightening as they often can be). The very young will benefit from an early message about the significance of youth and how to be recognized, represented, and respected in this gentle story powered by a strong message and fun, colorful illustrations. 

Baby Trolls Get a Bad Rap

Return to Index

Druids are from Outer Space, Aliens are from England
Len Murphy
Cooper Murphy LLC
978-1087811000            $12.99 

Druids are from Outer Space, Aliens are from England presents a fun middle grade read that will appeal to any child, especially those with an interest in alien abductions, crop circles, and other extraterrestrial mysteries. It tells of young skeptic Natalie's slow realization that there may be some truth in these seemingly-impossible circumstances. 

It takes foreign exchange student Fletcher Jain's fascination with the subject and evidence of his own closely-held secret to move Natalie from a pragmatic worldview to one which embraces the possibility of alien involvements in human affairs. 

Len Murphy creates a story that pushes the boundaries of belief as it follows a young girl's test of her worldview and convictions. While his story is, on the surface, about aliens and human interactions, in reality it embraces a far greater probe of changing perceptions. 

It also does a fine job of capturing the technical abilities and mindsets of this generation, as evidenced early on by Natalie's off-hand reference to computer code: "Chase, your brain’s a 404 error code; did you know that?"  From identifying a note as "adult-onset crazy" to her discovery of material from the Earth Liberation Front, Natalie's investigation uncovers truths, threats, villains and heroes whose existence she hadn't imagined before. 

As Natalie faces her younger brother's kidnapping and a series of confrontations that place everything she loves at risk, including the world around her, she is forced to hone her problem-solving skills beyond anything she's ever done before. 

Druids are from Outer Space, Aliens are from England may initially attract middle graders with its themes of aliens and mysteries, but it ultimately delivers a power-packed adventure that builds nonstop action, surprising revelations, and evidence that connects alien involvement with possible terrorist influences. 

Its surprise conclusion leaves the door open for more adventures, but deftly rounds up this story, creating a powerful read recommended for middle graders seeking stories of intrigue, action, and growth. 

Druids are from Outer Space, Aliens are from England

Return to Index

Francois the Barber!
Dan Raphael
Independently Published
978-1070560236            $29.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

The strange blue figure in Francois the Barber! has an outrageous claim to support: he maintains that he's the "world's greatest barber." And to prove this point, his unique method involves cutting hair from the top of a spiral staircase. 

This means that he actually stands too far above his client to effectively cut their hair, thwarting his purpose and contention. It's a problem he is charged with solving only after bragging of his abilities and method and setting the stage to impress his first customer. What's a superior barber to do? Why, follow through on his promises, of course. 

Pride, problem-solving, and the ability of a cheeky haircutter to convince his clientele of the reality behind his illusion of achievement makes for an intriguing, different kind of story that remarks on the dilemma created by overconfidence and pride as well as the possibilities created by determination and creative thinking. 

At first, Francois has apparently achieved the impossible. But this only sets the bar for even greater, more seemingly unfeasible goals in a whimsical picture book story that will delight youngsters and their read-aloud parents alike. 

There are many important messages in the zany antics of Francois the Barber! Parents will want to use this fun story as an example of all kinds of dilemmas that evolve both from pride and impossible ambitions, and seemingly impossible marketing strategies that result in success as well as literally creating hell in a handbasket. 

As the confident and enthusiastic Francois succeeds in gaining media attention against all odds, attracts unexpected clients who didn't anticipate using his services, and builds a fan base of paparazzi who recognize the newsworthiness of a positive attitude, all ages will find his story exuberant, whimsical, and fun. 

Francois is simply undeterred by the impossible. Even when his creative solutions seem untenable, his ability to see them through and deflect negativity makes him a successful entrepreneur who refuses to give up as he pursues different ways of achieving his dreams and goals. 

But how can Francois continue to top his ever-impressive achievements? Excitement builds as he heads for his crowning achievement: a stupendous event that literally brings his dreams out of the box. 

The message is complex enough to reach adults, but clear enough that young readers will find the picture book adventure intriguingly unexpected, spiced with French flavor throughout. 

Francois the Barber!

Return to Index

George at the Speed of Light
Greg Trine
Malamute Press
$21.99 Hardcover; $9.99 Paper; $3.99 Kindle 

George at the Speed of Light tells of eleven-year-old George Mullin, whose grandfather vanishes. His grandmother maintains he's been abducted by aliens. It's a contention that George dismisses until his own brother goes missing and he stumbles upon a secret that defies belief. 

A grandmother with a secret spaceship and a mission? This seems impossible, but George's discovery is firmly rooted in reality and leads him to revise his image of his family, the world, and himself as he embarks on a space journey much like young adventurer Danny Dunn (of previous generation reads). 

Family relationships and interactions, humor, and alien threats coalesce to create a fun and lively story filled with unexpected twists and turns. 

The interactions between grandson and grandmother include delightful dialogue and amusing conundrums: "I pumped a fist in the air. “Nice flying, Grams. Let’s land this puppy and go find my brother.” “Coming right up.” Grandma stared closely at the computer monitor. She punched a few keys. “Uh-oh.” Uh-oh? Not something you want to hear when you’re heading toward a planet full of alien kidnappers. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Air not breathable or something?”  

From a planet that's anything but peaceful to the evolution of a possible new career and purpose in life that moves beyond the ordinary, George at the Speed of Light creates a lively, irreverent, entertaining story that is highly recommended for advanced elementary to early middle grade readers. 

George's changing relationship with both his grandmother and brother and the world tempers the sci-fi drama and action with a warm overlay of family exchanges. This places George at the Speed of Light a cut above the ordinary space adventure read, and perfect for young readers looking for something both otherworldly and refreshingly original. 

George at the Speed of Light

Return to Index

Gorillas’ Night Out
Faith Goldstein 
Indigo River Publishing 
978-1-948080-60-6         $14.99
Barnes and Noble:

Gorgeous illustrations by Elizabeth Brawley, including stunning backgrounds to colorful characters, make Gorillas’ Night Out a picture book to be reckoned with. It's a standout production that parents will find perfect for read-alouds or young beginning reader pursuit. 

The first attraction is a simple, rollicking rhyme spread out over several pages that sets the tone with an adventurous group of monkeys: "The moment the clock started striking the eight/the mischievous monkeys unlocked every gate." 

Nighttime at the zoo becomes a zany set of escapee experiences as the monkey perps lead the charge not into chaos, but a singing, dancing celebration of freedom which happens every night at the zoo—a secret only the animals are privy to until some enterprising gorillas sneak out for a night on the town. 

Their quest for adventure holds ramifications for the entire operation in this fun story of a night world that is silent and empty, obviously ready for an animal party. Or, is it? 

Faith Goldstein's light-hearted, fun tale is highly recommended for parents seeking a story that is lively and lends to read-aloud vigor. It follows an illicit outing that ultimately tests the knowledge of young zoo attendees, who now have a different explanation for why zoo animals seem so lethargic during daylight hours. 

Gorillas’ Night Out

Return to Index

The Tooth Fairy's Tummy Ache
Lori Orlinsky
Mascot Books
9781643073507             $14.95 

The Tooth Fairy's Tummy Ache receives fun, engaging drawings by Vanessa Alexandre as it follows young tooth loser Ellie's dilemma when she inadvertently swallows her first loose tooth before she can collect money from the Tooth Fairy. 

What's a girl to do? A lie seems in that at first fools the Tooth Fairy herself, until the far-reaching implications of Ellie's wrongdoing threaten the Fairy's world. 

How can a responsible Tooth Fairy correct this dilemma? 

This clever little magical psychologist has the answer, and parents will find in it a powerful message not just about missing teeth and rewards (the usual focus of a picture book story involving a tooth fairy), but the importance of telling the truth and the impact on others when lies are spread. 

These sub-stories make Lori Orlinsky's The Tooth Fairy's Tummy Ache a highly recommended, unexpectedly compelling read with a message unequalled in any other tooth fairy picture book tale. 

Add the large-size, colorful drawings of Vanessa Alexandre to the mix for a story with a message that should be in every youngster's hands and hearts. 

The Tooth Fairy's Tummy Ache

Return to Index

The Wonders of the Peculiar Parasol
Mark M. Even
Cresting Wave Publishing
978-0988904828            $6.99 

The Wonders of the Peculiar Parasol is a children's fantasy story about dragons, wizards, and a powerful parasol that lands three cousins in a strange new world, and will appeal to advanced elementary to early middle school readers with its story of magical empowerment and struggle. 

Mandy is on her way to her grandmother's house. She looks forward to giving her cousin Mickey his belated birthday present and to meeting up with her other cousin Gina. A fun time is planned by all, but when a red flash from a crystal and a family heirloom in the form of a parasol change their lives, they embark on an unexpected journey indeed. 

The Wonders of the Peculiar Parasol is an outstanding fantasy that shows how Mandy 'discovers her magic' under strange circumstances. It focuses on how Mandy will get home and how she'll discover her real purpose in coming to this land, providing the basics of how this new world operates in a manner that elementary-level readers can readily understand: "The parasol and the dragonstone work together to sense the presence, or lack of presence, of the inner magic of the person holding the parasol. The dragonstone uses the infinite power of the sun to tap or channel or access that magic. And one way it does that is to transport an individual to Storyworld.” 

As Mandy harbors a secret, puzzles out how to use the dragonstone, and interacts with her family while battling lizards and building an army, young readers will relish the blend of real-world family dilemmas and fantasy world encounters. 

The Wonders of the Peculiar Parasol is a standout adventure that revolves around saving Storyworld and preserving family ties. As Mandy grows into her abilities and comes to accept the special role that her powers give her, she is immersed in a milieu which includes magical creatures, wands, and witches and wizards that test her ability to be honest with her family. 

Young readers interested in adventure tales of magic that are firmly rooted in family ties will savor The Wonders of the Peculiar Parasol, which covers more than one type of wondrous event as Mandy struggles with some unusual dilemmas and faces her real feelings about her family.

The Wonders of the Peculiar Parasol

Return to Index