Reviewer's Choice
Young Adult/Childrens

Fantasy & Sci Fi

Birth Right: Galak's Rising
Christina Goebel
Christina Goebel, Publisher
Print: 978-1-7338449-7-0 $19.99
Ebook: 978-1-7338449-9-4 $  3.99  

Birth Right: Galak's Rising represents such a blend of approaches that it's hard to describe. Think of an epic fantasy, but with dystopian elements. Add a coming-of-age story and romance. Pepper this with a time travel story and it's easy to see that this story defies pat categorization. 

The tale opens with a summary of events recapping and leading up to the Great Technological War in 2071 AD, where Mark Ward has long expected rebellion against his role in the increased interconnections between genetics and automation by those who perceive its potential for disaster. 

Galak is the culminating representative of the problem: a half-automation monster capable of evil whose goal is to alter his genetic makeup so he can reproduce, making his new race the most superior on Earth. 

Lovely blue and black line drawings pepper the story with vivid comic art panels as Galak turns on his creators and becomes the proverbial monster in the story, exerting his technological prowess over the lesser humans who try to oppose him. 

As Galak presses forward unopposed by any who might have controlled him, readers receive a fast-paced adventure that moves swiftly from the events leading up to the war (including the last moments before its onset) to the world in 2203 AD, over a hundred years later. This is where the meat of the story takes place and, armed with proper background details, readers are well prepared to absorb the specter of a barren human world under a new feudal system bent on surviving attacks from marauders and Galak's warriors. 

Into this world enters an unlikely hero in the form of Prince Henry, who knows (among other things) that unethical tactics are the only advantage that he has over his larger opponents. The human history that created this world has largely been forgotten, but its legacy lives on and survival and alliances, including romance, still move the human race to endure against vastly revised odds and environments. 

Christina Goebel does a fine job of capturing the human elements left in this futuristic society, from the politics of survival to the psychology of love: "This woman must be in his future, if not in the stars, then in a destiny he will carve from hewn rock." 

As young adult to new adult readers absorb an engrossing tale of survival, they receive a vivid story of wandering hearts, resolute minds, and a leader who thinks himself too old to rule until he becomes a prisoner and sparks a revolution in hearts and minds. 

Sci-fi and fantasy readers seeking a story that bridges several subgenres and fills its pages with impossible challenges and hope against all odds will find Birth Right: Galak's Rising an excellent story that stands well on its own, but sets the stage for more stories in the series. It's a vivid, memorable tale of choices, consequences, and their lasting impact on the future of humanity that will linger in the mind long after the final struggle's outcome. 

Birth Right: Galak's Rising

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The Keepers of the Black Cave
Pahima Hanit
Zameret Publishing
978-1096489238            $7.99 Paper 

The Keepers of the Black Cave charts the course of a band of siblings charged with keeping history on a liner, unchanged track. They are keepers of tradition and history charged with making sure the progression of events stays the same. But what happens when they confront a force dedicated to altering that timeline? 

Many time travel stories address the effects of an alternate, changed history; but few focus on the responsibility of keeping the entire world safe, a charge that rests squarely on the shoulders of the characters in this story. Nicole, the narrator, is not young anymore, and is fully aware of this responsibility: "I do what needs to be done, right or wrong. Following orders would make me rather predictable, if not for my personal interpretation of what is really needed. The inclination to change what I came to do, or how I am to do it, is common in my aims." 

As she encounters knights and castles, challenging options and circumstances, and choices that demand she assume different personas to blend with the era she's interacting with ("As I saw it, I had three options: be mad, be submissive, or be blond. I had just a few seconds to make the decision. I went for the fourth option: be a lady."), the best-laid plans go awry for everyone involved. What promises to be another time management adventure becomes a potential disaster. 

More so than most time travel adventures, The Keepers of the Black Cave probes the individual Keepers' motivations and responses as much as the backdrop of the era in which they operate. Atmospheric descriptions of past and present are tempered with intriguing reflections on the personal impact of being a Keeper outside of the usual constraints of time: "I had told Richard about Terry who died of old age and lived a good life, but he had aged while I stayed the same, and it was hard on him. It had been hard on all of us to say goodbye to him. We had very few relationships and so we didn’t say goodbye often and were not used to it." 

Nicole is a mature protagonist, not your usual teenager, and so adult themes are included as logical pieces of a story that is compelling and unexpected. 

Perhaps the strongest attribute of The Keepers of the Black Cave lies in its ability to capture this sense of surprise in a genre which all too often features predictable plots and outcomes. Readers are continually kept on their toes, here, anticipating a direction which changes in delightful ways. This, plus an attention to strong characters and an unusual version of time travel dilemmas, makes The Keepers of the Black Cave a highly recommended standout for time travel fans seeking fresh and original approaches. 

The Keepers of the Black Cave

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Knightmare Arcanist
Shami Stovall
Capital Station Books
978-0-9980452-2-1                $14.99 Print/$2.99 ebook
Ordering Links: 

Knightmare Arcanist is the first book in the Frith Chronicles and tells of lowly gravedigger Volke Savan, who dreams of emulating the life and adventure of his hero, legendary magical swashbuckler Gregory Ruma. First, however, he must learn magic; and in order to do so, he must bond with a mythical creature. Any kind of creature will do. Even a knightmare, which is admittedly not the best of choices. 

It turns out that Volke has made a wise choice, however, for the knightmare knows a terrible secret about Ruma that changes everything. This secret involves Volke in a heroic quest of his own—one which goes against his own long-held admiration for a legend. 

But, how can a lowly newcomer to magic confront the powers of one who is perhaps the greatest arcanist in the world? 

Shami Stovall has a winning way with words and description that brings Volke's world to life and lends both passion and purpose to his efforts. There's also a touch of humor embedded in many of the observations ("Did Tyms have to shout everything he said? The trumpet he had for a windpipe never rested."). 

As Volke misses an opportunity to train under Ruma and fellow magical apprentice Illia faces a decision between Ruma and Volke, a powerful magical confrontation evolves which involves swordplay, shadows, and a knightmare's deadly knowledge. 

From false memories created by his own magic, which are used against him, to form-changing mystical creatures and a foray into a kind of swashbuckling adventure he'd dreamed of (only to find its reality quite different), Volke carries readers into a darkly engrossing world with a passion that makes Knightmare Arcanist satisfyingly unique and hard to put down. 

Readers looking for a magic-based quest fantasy will find this story compelling and nicely written, with strong characters propelling action which is often unexpected and revealing. 

Knightmare Arcanist is highly recommended for both young adults reading coming of age fantasy sagas and adult fantasy readers who like stories of sword and sorcery paired with self-discovery. 

Knightmare Arcanist

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Our Great Escape Part 2: Return to the Tunnel People
Donald Hricik
Independently Published
9781074765712  Paperback $9.99; e-book $4.89 

Is it the end of the world, or a new beginning? The first book in 'Our Great Escape', Dumbers, presented the far-future world of 2360 when a small group of human survivors affected by longevity is changed by the awakening of potential leader Henry Shannon, who finds himself considering a world without these drugs and their deadly effects. 

Return to the Tunnel People extends the story into new realms, but is actually a stand-alone read which doesn't require prior familiarity with Dumbers in order to prove accessible and enlightening. Previous events are reviewed quickly in the first chapter, 'Snakes', and provide a recap which segues smoothly into the ongoing dilemma Henry faces as he steps into his role as the Orchestrator of an expedition of survivor refugees on their way to Jupiter and a new life. 

It's a three-year nightmare which leads to new questions about a return to Earth under changed (but still similar) conditions, a master plan which has reached a dead end, Henry's own failure as a leader and hero, and a series of baffling puzzles about a new world which hardly replaces Earth. 

Humor is a constant string that runs through Return to the Tunnel People as the colonizers confront the Tunnel People, who are also survivors of catastrophe, and who hold historic insights on the progression of events which fill in many blanks for Henry. 

What has caused the Tunnel People's population to blossom, and how will this change the human race? 

As events move from Earth to the stars and back again, readers receive a lively, astute consideration of the future of the human race which builds nicely upon the setting the protagonists of Dumbers, but adds an extra dimension of insight and thought-provoking passages about human endeavors and growth.

The result is a compelling story that vastly expands the initial dilemmas and scenarios in Dumbers, but remains true to its own story as Henry comes to consider his role in the evolution of humanity itself, beyond its mere survival. 

Sci-fi fans interested in a uniquely different saga of change will find Return to the Tunnel People a delight. 

Our Great Escape Part 2: Return to the Tunnel People

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Biography & Autobiography

Never Sit If You Can Dance
Jo Giese
She Writes Press
9781631525339             $16.95 

Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons From My Mother is a memoir that should be shared between all mothers and daughters because it puts a smile on one's face, gets the feet tapping, and belays the notion that mother/daughter relationships should be staid. 

It's a tribute to award-winning reporter Jo Giese's mother, but it's also a raucous celebration of personalities that often clashed with seemingly dissimilar values and very different life perspectives. Surprisingly, daughter Jo was the one who tended towards the serious as an adult, while her mother Babe enjoyed drinking, dancing, and partying, as well as sewing and dressing up. 

As an adult, the author became closer to her mother and began to better understand the roots of values that somehow had become intrinsically entwined with her own life choices: "The beauty of learning and lesson and incorporating it so fully that it becomes a part of you, as if it were your own chromosomal material, is that you can casually pass it on without even noticing." 

One day, she comes to realize that her closet is filled with the clothing her mother loved and cultivated as mother/daughter outfits before daughter Giese rebelled and chose different styles. The magic of exploring such a relationship from an adult perspective is that life lessons can be gleaned from both rebellion and acceptance. 

As Jo Giese reviews these connections and her mother's life, she becomes more cognizant of the messages she's absorbed both consciously and unconsciously. Her tribute to her mother in Never Sit If You Can Dance reviews not only these ideas, but how they are transmitted and enacted throughout a child's life. 

Lively, introspective, and fun, Never Sit If You Can Dance is more than a tribute: it's a review of the mother/daughter relationship that offers much food for thought about the nature of trust, intimate relationships, and family ties. Readers will find it compelling and entertaining all in one: a simply outstanding piece that grabs attention from its first few lines and never lets go: "One day Babe and I were discussing why some people were so unhappy and cranky. I asked her, "Okay, why do you think I turned out so happy?" "Because you take after me," she said." 

Never Sit If You Can Dance

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Mystery & Thrillers

Aesop: Fable
Michele Packard
Independently Published
9781095797112             $9.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Fable returns counterterrorism operative Matti Baker to the spotlight as she continues her struggle to maintain the appearance of an everyday wife and mother while juggling the demands of a secret identity tied with keeping America safe. 

This time, Matti faces not only new dangers, but her obsession with death ("Being in my line of work, deep in the recess of my mind, I always play out how the end could come. Each day it changes, from some international terrorist blowing up a city block, to another undercover operative like myself who catches me off guard. I visualize being gunned, stabbed, burned, and then get creative with some sick, evil shit; the stuff no one wants to talk about."), her grown childrens' decision to become involved in her line of dangerous work, and challenges to her long-standing relationship with her buddy Freddy. 

Her whole world is rocked when she discovers that a seemingly serendipitous relationship that led her to her husband was in fact a carefully orchestrated affair, a thought which leads her down some dangerous personal and professional roads: "You make mistakes when you assume. I had made too many assumptions. Fareed wasn’t the only Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, orchestrating everyone’s strings and waiting. His patience and commitment were far greater than anyone, including myself, could ever imagine. F’me. Just like in the movie Pelican Brief, I had caught wind of a crazy-ass conspiracy theory and it, on all accounts, appeared to be coming true. There had to be more." 

Vulnerable, exposed, and angry, Matti faces haunting reexaminations about nearly everything in her life as she wonders exactly how many targets she's facing and if she can resolve all the questions about everything she holds dear and trusts. 

The pleasure in the ongoing Aesop series lies in two strengths that set it apart from other thrillers featuring strong female protagonists: Matti's unique, gritty voice and approach to her job and life, which holds the ability to question herself and her assumptions as well as the truths she's long considered self-evident; and a story line which juxtaposes thriller elements with psychological inspection and revelation. 

Another big plus is Michele Packard's ability to capture the background and psychology of Matti for newcomers, weaving this into the latest story so deftly that prior fans won't have to plow through recaps of scenarios and relationships they are already well familiar with. Packard expands upon these existing relationships in a way that keeps newcomers and fans equally engaged and involved in Matti's evolutionary process. 

This keeps the story lively and engrossing. Matti continues to grow and change in the course of her courageous confrontations. Added to a thriller story that incorporates cat-and-mouse games and deadly adversaries, it's evident that a superior, completely engrossing read is in store. 

Aesop: Fable proves that the series continues to be a delightful standout as its brash, spunky female protagonist challenges both the world and her abilities, taking neither for granted. 

Aesop: Fable

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G.P. Gottlieb
D.X.Varos, Ltd.
Paper: 9781-941072-52-3             $17.95
Ebook: 978-1-94107253-0            $  6.99
Sales link: 

Fans of mystery stories which pepper recipes and food references into the overall saga will appreciate the focus in Battered, Book One of the 'Whipped and Sipped Mysteries' series which features Alene Baron, owner of the vegetarian café Whipped and Sipped. Forced to turn amateur detective when her friend is murdered, Alene finds herself moving from being the owner of a trendy Chicago neighborhood establishment to being an uncertain sleuth who faces personal danger from her investigation.

The first thing to note is that this story is steeped not just in culinary insights, but in a focus on healthy pursuits, as a young entrepreneur faces her days: "Alene woke up groggy. She wiped her eyes with the corner of her pajama top and dragged herself out of bed at five, as usual. Through the front windows, the sky billowed lighter where the sun was about to rise over the lake. She was somewhat revived by her morning glass of apple-cider-vinegar-and-honey spiked water. After that, she pulled on shorts and a t-shirt and headed down to run on the lake path before her children or father got up. Alene was only responsible for opening the café on Saturdays. Most other days, her employees took turns opening, and she worked out or ran before going in. She could usually count on Jocelyn, who’d served in the military and was used to waking up at the crack of dawn." 

Alene's focus on eating and cooking healthy, working out, and maintaining physical fitness and mental acuity enhances her ability to move beyond her familiar job and into realms of investigative thinking and problem-solving. 

A crazy person is on the loose, and she's personally threatened, but life—and business pursuits—goes on: "He didn’t have to speak to her as if she were a child, she thought glumly. She turned away, instead of admiring Frank’s muscular back and confident stride. She sat down and added him to her speed dial after her father, Ruthie, Lydia, and Brianne. Grabbing an apple from the counter, she headed to her office. It was the end of the month and she had to finish ordering and to work on payroll." 

This juxtaposition of investigative avenues and personal and business objectives creates an excellent, involving read that holds more realistic scenarios than most competing culinary mysteries. Alene attempts to maintain her family and its foundations even during the course of her new tasks, and this makes for excellent added value to a story in which the protagonist is only too human, juggling too much already and hardly needing to embark on a new career, as well. 

Readers looking for mysteries well steeped in both culinary traditions and realistic conflicts between career and family will relish this multifaceted investigative piece, which draws readers in from the start with its realistic balance of intrigue and life challenges. 


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The Cassendre Decree
Sheryl Lynn Rosenstock Marcus

The Cassendre Decree is paranormal romance thriller writing at its best, offering a different kind of story than one might anticipate from the usual genre read. 

Cassidy is the earthly protagonist whose alter-ego Cassendre was born in the afterlife. An unusual progression of black and white illustrations sets the stage for intrigue and interest before the story even begins, which opens with first-person discussion of Cassidy's relief that a company newsletter has once again successfully been put to bed. It's also the anniversary of an illness which began 10 years ago at Thanksgiving: one which challenged her life and sent her on a different trajectory. 

Chapter headings include time stamps to clarify place and time as the story moves between past and present events. They also craft intriguing atmosphere by using odd titles (i.e. 'The number you dialed') that additionally keep readers engaged as Cassidy faces the return of Cassendre and the odd circumstances that affected her life so many years ago. 

As events move between familiar Brooklyn and another world, the importance of the sketches at the beginning of the story become clear. These nightmares have been translated into images, and Cassidy's flashbacks and odd poetic messages from Cassendre are pushing her back into her world. 

Cassidy's artistic talent is one of the ways she connects to another realm which holds another life. It also serves as a bridge to danger as she confronts the possibilities of timing, logic, and rhythm, living her life on the cusp of what some would deem insanity, controlled by medication and married to a man who at times feels like a stranger. Is there really love and happiness beyond what she's already built with Roger? 

As Cassidy and Cassendre juxtapose their lives, their back-and-forth movements are captured in a combination of prose and poem structures that move each into other realms of desire and experience. Cassidy's life of love, success, and friendships is a stark contrast to the passionate desire of Cassendre to "be human for as long as it takes." 

What is the cost of being human and leading a human life, and is it worth it? Both characters are about to find out. 

Sheryl Lynn Rosenstock Marcus crafts a delicate dance between the two lives and very different personas. Readers who come along for this ride will find The Cassendre Decree is not just about paranormal experiences or love. It questions sanity, insanity, and what constitutes normality. 

Under another hand, the back-and-forth worlds of Cassidy and Cassendre might be confusing (and, indeed, they demand attention to detail with their swings between different worlds, purposes and perceptions). Marcus adds just the right flavor of intrigue, romance, and insight to keep the story line vivid while structuring these encounters to keep them intriguing without being confusing. 

The result is a different kind of paranormal romance than most: one designed to keep readers engaged right up to a surprise ending which, on reflection, held its roots from the beginning, but still ends with a shocking bang in a final, satisfying, resolute conclusion that lingers in the mind long after the final crescendo. 

The Cassendre Decree

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Fishermen’s Court
Andrew Wolfendon 
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-285-4                $21.95
Publisher Website:
Author/book website:
Ordering links: Publisher: 

Finn Carroll has failed at his artistic ambitions and is living in his dead parents' home, bereft of goals, family, or connections in life. He should be the last candidate to be picked by a killer interested in framing another person for his actions, but actually, he's the perfect choice: a fact he discovers when a team of killers tries to murder him, leaving behind a note that exposes a secret from his past. 

Fishermen’s Court then takes many unexpected turns as Finn makes new discoveries and confronts numerous puzzles. The killers aren't through with him, his choice of refuge on Musqasset Island, after he flees, leads him to both new connections and further isolation, and he is forced to navigate the deeply disturbing political clashes between Maine's fishing community and the drive for tourist development. 

Finn is caught in the middle of many dilemmas both personal and political as he faces debts that are almost twenty years old, his sister Angie's resistance to his probe into ancient history, mysteriously-disappearing text messages that lead him further into uncharted territory, and increasing questions that lead him to question the motives of the few people he trusts. 

As Finn steadily conducts an increasing bizarre investigation, he discovers not just the source of fishing industry and family connections, but the wellspring of his heart and ties to life. 

Andrew Wolfendon does an exquisite job of bringing together a mystery and personal investigation. From the differences between a close-knit community of islanders and their values to an unexpected romance which evolves against the backdrop of a relentless hit team, Fishermen’s Court successfully draws in readers on more than one level. 

Beginning with one man's alienation from the world and failed dreams and moving to how his life purposes are redefined in the face of life-threatening decisions, the story moves inexorably towards a riveting conclusion that neatly ties up all loose ends while keeping readers on the edge of their seats. 

Fans of psychological thrillers and suspense stories will appreciate this fine balance between personal introspection and mystery, tempered by the added value of a sense of place and a community facing change. All these facets make Fishermen’s Court a solid, involving tale that's hard to put down. 

Fishermen’s Court

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Flies in the Punch Bowl
Erika Simms
Wynkoop Press
9781733529501 (paperback)        $10.95
9781733529518 (ebook)                      $  4.99
Amazon link: 

It's satisfying to see a book subtitle that goes beyond defining the genre of a story to impart an exciting sense of its atmosphere. Flies in the Punch Bowl: Art Theft, Cocktails, and High Society sets the stage for a lively whodunit romp through the art world, attracting readers interested in a blend of social commentary and intrigue. 

Take a rampage of thievery in Seattle's art world, inject an amateur artist/sleuth recovering from the impact of forgery on her own efforts, and add Annabel's motivation for entering an investigative process foreign to her (she wants to restore her reputation in art circles) for a story which neatly balances intrigue with a quest for personal and professional redemption. 

Erika Simms writes with a style talented in spicy description: "From the shelf, the bartender selected a bottle of Pernod absinthe and mixed the emerald antidote. “This should soften the blow,” he said. The pained man sipped from the martini. His posture relaxed. “Ordinarily I’d have my attorney sue the other buyer, but he’s currently hiding out on a nude beach in Aruba bronzing his nether regions.” 

Hot topics and local gossip, intrigue and confrontation, and a well-paced action-packed story that is injected with wry humor at many turns will attract readers interested in stories that are a cut above the usual one-dimensional whodunit. Simms excels in a sense of irony and fun even when situations are tense: "Exasperated, Lyla hurried up behind me toward the abandoned hotel, mouthing the words reckless and beheading. The second of which made no sense, but I didn’t stop to clarify. When she caught up, she yanked my stick away and tossed it to the ground, freeing me of the obvious encumbrance. It was the sort of foolish action typically saved for the movies, where the short-sighted protagonist tosses their only semblance of a weapon as the antagonist nears; a blunder on par with that same protagonist dashing upstairs to hide in the shower from an intruder who’s just smashed in through the kitchen window." 

Annabel is not above fudging ethics and truth during her pursuit, and so there are wonderfully succinct reflections embedded into action scenes that leave readers simultaneously thinking, laughing, and entertained: "Finally aware of my presence, the hobo yanked the cash from my fingers and ambled away, the coat dragging like a ragamuffin doll along the dirty cobblestones behind him. I turned my eyes back to the manila folder resting in the passenger seat of the convertible. I thought, two types of people exist in this world—those who get away with things, and those who do not. With that truism in mind, I lifted the folder from the convertible. It put up little fight as I thumbed through its contents." 

Pair an original voice, realistic characters and motives, and solid descriptions of artistic circles and Seattle society for a superior, engrossing, fun story that is highly recommended not just for mystery fans, but for anyone looking for a rollicking good read. 

Flies in the Punch Bowl

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The Lies Beneath
Ann Eichenmuller
High Tide Publications
9781945990298, $14.99, print, $4.99, ebook

Sandi Beck is an amateur sleuth and liveaboard sailor who can just sail away from her troubles at any moment. But in The Lies Beneath, adversity follows her onto the water and thwarts her plans for a peaceful life. The body of a former CIA agent draws her into the search for a missing scientist and international intrigue that makes the idea of a sailing adventure a duller back-burner affair.

Part of what makes The Lies Beneath so compelling is Ann Eichenmuller's ability to delve into the heart of not just a murder mystery, but the protagonist who seeks to leave her angst-ridden world and profession behind: "It was late afternoon on day one of my resurrected life. The breeze picked up, and I felt Serenity's sails catch the wind, felt the moment when her heavy hull became almost weightless, lifting me up and over the waves. I wanted to make Norfolk before sunset. It had been nine long hours since I untied the lines and left the dock. I had traveled more than fifty miles since morning. My friends, even the ones who knew me well, thought I was crazy. Just when it seemed I was getting past my husband's death, when it looked like I might be ready to live a so-called "normal" life, I suddenly announced I was taking off for the Caribbean in my own boat - me, the woman who had never sailed past Stingray Point alone. I could understand their concern. Sometimes I wondered if I were crazy myself."

What reader has not, at some point in their lives, wanted to hoist sail, throw off the dock lines, and escape into another world far from the familiar? And who has not experienced a compelling situation that drags them back into such a world, against all odds?

As Sandi becomes more and more involved in solving an increasingly complex murder mystery, she finds herself further from her goals than ever before. In many ways, Sandi's journey is one that brings her full circle; but in others, she is venturing into new territory that will challenge not only her abilities, but her values and vision of how she wants to lead her life.

It should be noted, at this point, that this is the third book in The Lies murder mystery series. It also should be mentioned that The Lies Beneath stands well on its own and needs no prior introduction to or familiarity with the protagonist and setting to prove completely satisfying to newcomers.

Is Sandi 'borrowing trouble' she can't give back, or is she increasingly getting pulled in over her head as the waters become murky? Ironically, an FBI investigation threatens her as much as her discoveries.

As Sandi faces the ominous feeling that she's missing something, she also struggles with a revised life not entirely of her making. Her reflections on the differences between past and present experience contribute to a solid psychological inspection of not just her actions, but her motives and how her past experiences fuel her present-day approaches to life: "Perhaps it was the weather, or living on a boat, but the Christmas season had come without my noticing. For the first time I was conscious of green wreaths on doors and lampposts and holiday displays in windows. It felt wrong somehow, to be wearing only a light jacket and hear "Jingle Bells" play on gas station speakers. If I had been in Irvington, there would have been a Christmas party at the museum and a Festival of Trees at the gym. Debbie would have hung lights along the ceiling of the Back Porch Cafe so it looked like a thousand stars were twinkling in the middle of the day. I would have sat on the bow with a mug of hot cider and watched the boats parade along Carter's Creek, each more elaborately decorated than the last. After Ryan's death I tried to ignore the season as much as my mother would let me, but slowly, insidiously, new traditions crept in to replace the old ones. Now, a traveler in a strange place, I found myself craving the rituals of a familiar life."

The result is a powerful exploration of not just murder and motive, but a determined amateur sleuth's increasingly complex dilemmas of being sandwiched between professional investigators and perps alike.

Fans of murder mysteries that hold strong characterization and insights will relish the attention to psychological inspection given in The Lies Beneath, which creates a compelling story not just about the murder event itself, but through the eyes of a protagonist facing her own major life changes. 

The Lies Beneath

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The List: Rico’s Revenge
Larry J. Horn
Independently Published
Hardcover - 978-1-7339526-1-3           $27.85
Paperback - 978-1-7339526-0-6           $19.95
eBook - 978-1-7339526-2-0                  $  7.99   

Dr. Stevens meets Rico in a bar in Dubai just after he's performed a successful kidney transplant on the sheik's son. Their first meeting doesn't go well because Rico insinuates that one of the greatest transplant doctors in the world is only in it for the money, rather than performing a life-giving service that should be available to rich and poor alike. 

But Rico isn't done with his admonitions to the good doctor. He's determined to locate the man's weakness and exploit it, and thus the groundwork is laid for Rico's revenge in a prologue that sets the stage for confrontations and ethical conundrums. 

The first thing to note about The List: Rico’s Revenge is that the main event takes place a year later, when the good doctor is even more famous and even more apt to be in the right place at the right time to gain further fame and fortune. Despite the fact that he's saving people's lives, LAPD detectives Beth Harper and John Ramos sense that something is wrong–something likely connected to their investigation. 

How are transplant recipients chosen? What are the opportunities for schemes involving pedaling organs to the wealthy? And how could the famous Dr. Stevens get rich off a system replete with underlying criminal influences? 

An accident with possible widespread repercussions, a newfound focus on a secret list of names kept by Dr. Stevens, and increased transplant opportunities for the rich and famous keeps the detectives on their toes and Dr. Stevens and Rico dodging the bullets of discovery and ethical exposure in a fast-paced thriller reminiscent of the medical novels of Robin Cook. 

The difference between a Cook production and L.J. Horn's riveting novel, however, lies in the details. Horn focuses not on medical science but on the social and ethical conundrums faced by a range of characters as they navigate the uncertain grounds of medical treatments and opportunistic choices. This focus creates a novel that holds many thriller elements, but is just as satisfyingly filled with psychological tension and ethical insights as it outlines connections between crooks and curers. 

Facing increasing threats of discovery, Rico reluctantly finds himself willing to kill a mother and her child to keep the lid on his deals. This and other choices lead to a possible rupture in his carefully-wrought control over Dr. Stevens in a story packed with twists and turns and satisfying developments on all sides. 

Readers who seek medical stories embracing ethical challenges and relationships between talented physicians and those who would exploit inherent special interests will find The List: Rico’s Revenge an engrossing, different kind of murder mystery that even holds a taste of romance at the heart of its evolving story. It's unexpected on many levels, and will delight readers interested in a solid production that operates on the cusp between mystery and thriller. 

The List: Rico’s Revenge

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Geoffrey M Cooper
Captain Thomas Publishing
Paperback: 978-1-7337714-0-5            $12.95
eBook: 978-1-7337714-1-2                   $  0.99
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When sexual harassment escalates into rape and murder at a premier university, with one professor accusing his colleague of misconduct, it's up to not just a university detective but department chair Brad Parker to investigate matters in Nondisclosure. 

An intriguing difference to this story over similar-sounding mysteries is that the assault took place first and resulted in amnesia. The victim is murdered only after her memories begin to return to lend a few clues as to what happened. 

Readers should also anticipate a medical thriller approach that delves into student and faculty relationships, departmental politics and conflicts over technology and equipment acquisition, and the dilemma faced by a department head who never imagined his job description would include crime-fighting ("You’re going to have to work with Karen as her guide and coinvestigator while she plows her way through this. Given the stature of the accused—one of your top faculty members—the investigation has to be airtight and leave no room for any complaints afterward."). 

It turns out that his background in research and different kinds of investigations and methods lend a unique talent to the process, allowing him to see possibilities that professional detectives could miss: "I had the same feeling in my gut that I sometimes got about a research project in the lab. Something just didn’t seem right about the obvious answer." 

Detective Karen Richmond and her assigned partner Brad Parker make a good team, as it turns out. But it will take a great team to follow all the trails this murder creates before disaster strikes again. 

Geoffrey M Cooper crafts a riveting saga of mystery, discovery, and redemption. Nondisclosure opens as a singular pursuit of the truth about a young woman's murder, but rapidly moves into areas of science, education, and special interests to keep readers guessing and on their toes. 

As Karen sets herself up to be attractive bait and Brad moves perilously close to the truth, tension mounts in a story line that delivers a one-two punch and doesn't disappoint. 

Murder mystery readers interested in medical thrillers will relish the turns taken in Nondisclosure, an engrossing story that's hard to put down. 


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Publisher Services
978-1532391323            $14.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

There is no perfect world: J'ne is confident of that. But if there were one, she's not sure that the choices she's making would enhance it. 

Choices winds a ghost story into a time travel adventure, employing an unusual twist on the typical alternate history approach. Readers who follow such stories will discover that time travel is only one surprising adventure that trial lawyer J’ne Wilcox undertakes after her ghostly encounter. 

The last person J'ne expected to encounter on her early morning jog is a specter of herself. She's too busy confronting basic questions at a crossroads in her own life ("More important, who am I? What do I really want out of life? Most would think I have a great life, but if I do, why am I so unsettled? So empty?"). 

Perhaps this is why she doesn't recognize the runner immediately, and why she is able to set aside any mystery about her appearance and disappearance to focus on questions that swirl around her own future. 

Matters take quite a different turn when she encounters a talented young man able to open portals to the past and begins to realize the impact on the future made by individuals generations ago. All this leads to a newfound recognition of her own life choices and their lasting impact. 

This realization dovetails with a puzzling case of government abduction of a genius child. As events reinforce the nature and impact of J'ne's life, she is forced to reassess her role in a bigger picture scheme affecting the future. 

Dhtreichler excels in taking the typical time travel scenario a step further, adding elements of intrigue via government involvement, professional quandary. J'ne stands at a crossroads in her career's objectives, and must regain control of her present and future by examining both through a different lens of reality. 

Where other time travel adventures would focus on changing history, J'ne's self-assessments and realization of how she can change herself remain central to the story, involving readers in more than just a confrontation with forces that would control the timeline of events. 

When Elijah offers her respite from her world ("Welcome to a different time, a time when no one will ask us to do as they please, but a time when we can do as we please."), J'ne is forced to reconsider everything from her ambitions and focus to the choices that lend meaning to her life. 

Minor grammatical errors are peppered throughout, and a final proofreading could have contributed to a more polished read. This caution aside, the premise, progression, and characters in Choices are nicely presented. The plot is a notch above competing time travel tales, and the focus on J'ne's process of validating herself makes for a winning combination that will keep readers immersed to the end.  


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High Flying
Kaylin McFarren
Creative Edge Publishing LLC
9781091374799                     $3.99 Kindle/$12.99 Paper 

High Flying combines a time travel odyssey with the aviation story of an angst-ridden pilot, Skylar, who narrowly escapes death during an air show, but finds herself mysteriously transported to the past. This isn't just any confrontation with the distant past, however. Skylar arrives eight months before she was born and a week before her father was murdered, and has the rare opportunity to change everything—if she dares. 

An engrossing saga, combining flight with confrontations with the personalities of her family past and present, makes for many insights filled with psychological revelation and insights: "This situation was ridiculous and most of what he said was too, but that was who Jessop Haines was. A self-serving, self-absorbed man." 

One strength to High Flying is this psychological inspection process, evident from the first chapter and increasing as the story evolves and Skylar begins to learn family secrets, dangerous truths, and the ultimate consequences of good and bad choices. 

As Skylar confronts drug money, efforts to keep Jake's business afloat and her in the cockpit of what she loves to do most in life, and finds herself keeping secrets that have their price in losing credibility with others, she faces many conundrums and scenarios that threaten not only her heritage and life, but her love of flight. 

During her efforts to make a difference and use money wisely, Skylar also confronts the possibility of love. Will she make wise choices taking that route, as well? 

An engrossing story filled with satisfying aviation and romantic references will especially please readers looking for more than a simple time-travel saga. 

With Kaylin McFarren's hand on the joystick, the story becomes much more multifaceted than anticipated, providing a satisfyingly engrossing read to female audiences who like stories of confrontation, change, family legacy, and present-day choices. 

High Flying

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Publisher Services
978-1532391293            $14.95 Paper/$4.95 Kindle 

Hope translates to despair quite easily as a blogger experiences a sensual night of bliss with a celebrity chef who appeals to her senses on more than one level, then jetsets out of her life as quickly as he entered. 

J's job was to " tell the world his secrets, among those of all the other chefs I cover for my blog site." Chef Xavier ("X")'s job is to create and explore sensuality on many levels. But he lives in and for the moment, and she is well aware of his motivations in becoming a media kitchen celebrity: "...when you’re no longer running the kitchen of a famous New York restaurant not many get to sample what you’ve prepared anyway. The fun is contemplating different food combinations than you find in most cookbooks or even websites. That’s why he goes to such remote places. And then there are those in between episodes where he makes something that is vaguely familiar. Something you’ve either tried or heard of, but is made using ingredients you’d never have thought of. How that all tastes remains a mystery unless you go find those ingredients and try it yourself. X tries it and gives a verdict on air, but no one really knows if he’s telling you the truth about how it tastes." 

One night is the only taste she gets of his world, but when one door closes, another opens. When he leaves for new worlds, the rich and handsome Ace replaces him, offering to take her on the trip of a lifetime. 

These two men who enter her life back to back shake J's world. Which one should she wait for? Does she even have a choice? 

dhtreichler writes with a rich, sensual style that captures J's dilemma, world, and the men who hold the power to change it. All the ingredients of a fine romance are here, but to peg Hope as a 'romance read' alone would be to do this literary novel a grave disservice. 

Hope is about exploration, growth, imagination, and making physical and emotional connections; but most of all, it's about choice and consequences. As J navigates the new terrain of opposing options that test her own course in life and some of her resolves for independence, readers receive a thought-provoking, literary production that excels in depicting J's dilemmas as she considers making some big changes in her life. 

It offers an astute consideration of what wealth really means and how it would translate on a physical and ethical level, viewing relationships and the world through the eyes of a woman who has some big decisions to make about how she will live her life: "Now that I’ve committed myself and set the ground rules I need to figure out what are the meanings I want to exchange? What is it I want from Ace, if anything? Until I got his text he had dropped off my radar. That would mean I didn’t expect or want anything from him. So this is bonus time. Kind of like the lottery. What would I do if I had a million dollars? Well, after tax I would only have about $650,000. And after I paid off my college debt I’d have about half a million. Okay, so it’s not so much as it sounds when you’re up to your eyeballs trying to make enough to keep all the bills paid. And that’s exactly where I am. Sweating each and every week that there will be enough in the bank to pay everyone who has a claim on me. Half a million in the bank. Okay, this is where it becomes fun because now I know I’ve got things covered and I still have some to play with. Half a million. Would I move to a bigger place? One where I could actually see the Hudson even on the bad days?" 

With its passionate, contemplative considerations and its astute observations of this process ("People adjust to the people they are with.” I observe. “Do things because the other person likes it or not do things they don’t.”), readers interested literary productions steeped in psychological reflection and relationship insights will be delighted by J's progress, which leads the reader into a world that tests more than recipes and hearts, ultimately inventing the formulas for success and failure. 

Hope is highly recommended reading for audiences who like their protagonists strong, thoughtful, and growth-oriented as J explores the process of both finding and losing hope and understanding the different contributions individuals make to the lives around them. 


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Her Wingless Eyes
Robert Rubenstein
Independently Published
ASIN: 1071100149
$14.00 Paper/$5.00 Kindle 

Her Wingless Eyes is set in 1936 and focuses on Jewish-American athlete Joshua Sellers, who has his eyes set on winning a gold medal in the 11th Olympiad in Berlin. This brings with it not only athletic challenge, but political and social conflict, because Berlin, at the time, is only one place where hatred against Jews has flared. One of the many other places in the world is America. 

The first thing to note about Her Wingless Eyes is that it incorporates elements of Robert Rubenstein's past novels, The White Bridge and Ghost Runners: An Olympic Dream Betrayed. No prior familiarity with either book is needed, however, in order to follow Joshua's progression in this book, which involves a dangerous foray into the prejudices of the world in general and America in particular, though an interwoven story of American racism and sexism told by Ginger Lee as a fledgling reporter for The Chicago Daily News that surveys how they evolved. 

The story follows the Olympians as they sojourn across dangerous waters, but it's especially astute in remarking on how these athletes set aside the rising tide of hatred in favor of a singular pursuit of their dreams: "The recent Nuremberg Laws had stripped German Jews of their citizenship, forbade work in many industries, and caused half to lose their jobs.  The politics of the day, though, didn’t really bother him. He was taught to stand behind in the shadows and wait for a favorable wind.” 

Even as events swirl deeper into threats to life and liberty, it's repeated that: "Joshua was only an athlete and cared little for the news." What will it take to shake his single-minded obsession? 

One of the attributes of Her Wingless Eyes is that, more so than most novels, it cultivates not just an evolving awareness, but captures the dilemma of those in the crosshairs of killers condoned by political forces on all sides: 

"Joshua was in a corner of the stadium split like an ax that had cut him in two. A world apart, he faced the track with heavy eyes and a howling inside his head. It was that little fist, like a child’s, pounding, pounding inside his head. His lonesome gaze always returned to the Chancellor of the host nation. From where he would be handed the baton, and for his start in the one hundred meters around the oval, he’d be able to see the plush place where the monster sat. Hitler would have to watch a Jew beat a Nazi— beat all Germans of the master race." 

The result is more than just a study in personal political awakening. It's an astute observation of how hatred spreads and is sanctioned by some of the very forces that would purport to be on an opposite side, capturing many powerful moments in the conversion and realization process to lead readers down unexpected paths of understanding. 

Pointed and complex, Her Wingless Eyes is no light venture into prejudice, but a hard-hitting, thought-provoking story that will leave readers pondering long after Joshua's ultimate race to "illuminate a future in a darkened land." 

It is the ultimate confrontation of good and evil, the mystery that Ginger Lee uncovers about “those poor wingless eyes, searching through the vagaries of time for American justice.” 

Her Wingless Eyes is very highly recommended for its ability to follow personal journeys with heroic characters and big dreams into the jaws of political and social transformation processes; there to emerge revised and forever changed. 

Her Wingless Eyes

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How Beautiful They Were
Boston Teran
High-Top Publishing
9781567030655             $22.00 

How Beautiful They Were is a historical novel set in 1850s New York's theatre world, where Colonel Tearwood’s American Theatre Company challenges the status quo of its times by bringing daily life to the stage. 

All the elements of high drama are deftly incorporated into a vivid story that comments not only on individual lives and perspectives, but the impact of theatre in everyday American society as a whole: "Theatre is ideas, and ideas change the flow of power, and the flower of power affects who has the money, and everyone has a dog in that fight." 

From operas and high society to criminal acts that challenge actors and viewers alike, characters face their fears, often play dual roles on and off stage, and address plays lacking essential elements, such as a female character. 

When the owner of a theatre troupe is murdered, the investigation moves into private lives made public by circumstance, association, and fate. The American Theatre Company stands at the crossroads of not only changing social mores and political contention, but a deadly game that its key players are ill-equipped to handle. 

Filled with evocative descriptions, compelling drama, and the backdrop of seasons passing through New York City's 1800s culture, How Beautiful They Were is a captivating examination of life and death both on and off stage, and will delight not just general-interest novel readers, but those who hold a special affection for theatre history and New York City. 

How Beautiful They Were

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Jake's Redemption
Jamie Schulz
Jamie Schulz, Publisher
978-0998025711            $16.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Jake's Redemption is a prequel to the Angel Eyes series, holding the unique ability to combine a cowboy romance with a dystopian fantasy insert to create something appealing both to romance and sci-fi readers. 

In the opening scene, Jake and friend Bret are prisoners of a woman who openly mocks her former lover Bret: "How could you think any self-respecting woman would want you for anything more than your gorgeous face and hard body?” she asked, not waiting for a reply. “A decent woman would never accept you as an equal. Any woman who would is worse than the slave you will shortly become.” 

It's a scenario of men stripped of their power and enslaved by women, and one in which Jake Nichols suspects his life will end. Jake endures torture in captivity, but his life is not slated to conclude in this manner. When he's hired out to the beautiful Monica to help her finish building her ranch home, everything changes. 

Unlike most dystopian reads, even those which include romance between characters, Jake's Redemption is firmly rooted in romance and doesn't skirt the edges like most such fantasy novels. This translates to steamy sex scenes, percolating love, and a focus on interpersonal relationships that supersedes the usual focus on survival tactics and conflict. 

This isn't to say that the story is one-dimensional. Indeed, it is filled with psychological depth and insights. Jamie Schulz takes the time to explore each character's growth process, and this is reflected in passages that reveal these changing viewpoints: "There was more to him than the trembling, half-starved, pitiable man who’d first arrived, and definitely more than just his handsome face. All of it made her wonder what else lay beneath his wary, kind, and sometimes curious eyes." 

Love builds predictably, but not without its obstacles, and as Jake and Monica begin to consider forging a brave new world, many things change. 

It's rare to find a prequel that adequately covers the logic and progression of the novels to come. Often, such an attempt feels like an afterthought rather than holding real foresights to dovetail with the foundations of what is to come. 

Jake's Redemption carefully crafts a story that doesn't feel like a manufactured tie-in, nicely pairing the feel of a romance read with the backdrop of a society where power has shifted and resulted in radical redefinitions of not just control, but love itself. 

Forgiveness, trust, and control are hard gifts to give; especially in a world turned upside down. Jake and Monica are challenged on more than one level, finding that their increasing affection for one another redefines not only their perceptions, but how they feel about their potentials both individually and with one another. 

As Jake begins to realize he has work to do to move from being a slave to being a powerful man in love, Monica finds him increasingly compelling. His emotional growth is very nicely portrayed, as is an evolving passion based on a different kind of power structure: "And what are you feeling?” she asked, almost breathless. His throat muscles worked as though he was having trouble swallowing. Then he took a deep breath and gave Monica her second pleasant shock of the morning. “Like I want to try to be the man I used to be. I want to stop being afraid. But I’m not sure how.” 

Romance readers will relish Jake's Redemption's effective, unusual blend of dystopian sci-fi and the trappings of romantic passion, but sci-fi fans looking for something different will also appreciate the story of a world that has changed so much that lovers must find new ways of defining relationships and themselves. 

Jake's Redemption

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The Moonstoners
Barbara J. Dzikowski
Wiara Books
Paperback: 9780984030538         $13.95
Ebook:        9780984030545         $  2.99 

Many novels attempt to capture the turbulent times and social sentiments of 1960s America, but The Moonstoners goes a notch above most in exploring an individual's quest for love in the shadow of changing social relationships. 

As a child of this era, Noël is only too aware of these dangerous forces, from a murder that sparked her family to flee their Louisiana home to her marriage to the man who raped her and made her pregnant. 

Noël's individual tumult mirrors the world around her as everything from racial relationships to Vietnam's impact takes hold, changing her life and everyone she interacts with. 

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener here is Noël's struggle to maintain her identity, which holds a dangerous secret at its core even as love threatens everything, including the stability and interrelationships of two families. 

As Barbara J. Dzikowski's story deftly navigates both matters of the heart and questions of madness and redemption, the 1960s come to life in a manner that integrates romance with life choices and values. 

The Moonstoners excels in marrying a sense of the times with a family's dire circumstances. It should also be noted that this is the first book in a projected trilogy: as such, it crafts the idea of 'moonstoners' and their hidden depths and then sets the stage for more revelations in future books. 

Readers who enjoy blends of romance and social inspection will appreciate this story's realistic atmosphere and thoroughly engrossing approach to capturing not just one girl's dreams, but two family nightmares as they intersect in the arena of social change. 

The Moonstoners

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The Resurrection of Jesus
Yancey Williams
978-0-9860316-9-4 (Paperback)           $6.96
978-0-9860316-4-9 (Ebook)                 $4.99 

The Resurrection of Jesus isn't another religious novel, and readers who automatically think that the title portends such will be disappointed...until they quickly realize that what they are immersed in is actually something compellingly different. 

Yancey Williams excels at weaving a wry sense of humor into a story about an unresolved art world theft. Thirty years have passed since two policemen/thieves stole some $500 million of famous paintings at midnight from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Museum, but the case remains open. Until now. 

Fiction weaves into nonfiction history to create a compelling "what if" exploration of the circumstances, but Williams takes no easy outs during his recreation of events. 

What do two unlikely nere-do-wells, one newly out of prison, and the other a Native American from the reservation who holds a deep suspicion of the world around him, have to do with one of the biggest unresolved heists in the art world? 

As Williams explores these possibilities using a fictional backdrop to add drama to speculation, readers receive a thoroughly engrossing story that grabs attention from the first few paragraphs and never lets go: "It stood out. The Jesus Saves part. The big, bold letters on the side of a weathered, tattered and frayed, dilapidated, old billboard. The message read, The Devil was on my back. He was heavy and riding me hard. But, not no more cause I found Jesus...Framed in a forty-by-sixty-foot crimson, pinewood border, the monstrosity was in the middle of nowhere. By its sheer size, you would have thought that the sign would be speaking to a much larger audience, but not so. Nowhere was a broad field deeper than it was wide, plainly measured between other open fields and long stretches of tattered barbed wire most of which was distressed, grounded, and loose ended, set some distance from a grove of leafless willow trees and scrub oak. The support timbers leaned in separate directions almost like poorly concocted decoration, perhaps interpretative, surely suggestive, even metaphorical, a tangential and bucolic bust of sorts but only if you used your imagination." 

Wry observations of religion, belief, and purpose permeate the story and may offend those who have rigid, politically correct ideas about either religion or gender descriptions ("in the end, in this the final sundown, I am betting that God, the grand caretaker, He is not there. He has checked out. Or, He wasn’t never there in the first place...My squaw, Esther, she can pretend though. And, she can then sprinkle the gray dust into the dark water of the beaver pond up above the coyote den or tip my remains into and along the water’s edge of the clear, still trout stream. It won’t matter none. I am dead. The pure water will wash away all of me in the blink of a stout and strong and bull-necked night owl. I am then little more than a memory in the minds of the people that I have touched for better or for worse."). 

However, the meat of The Resurrection of Jesus lies not in social propriety but in the ribald, candid observations of life, opportunity, and fortune that the two thieves bring to the table. This creates a read that is more about the perps than their heist, crafting a fun series of observations about life that brings to mind the classic A River Runs Through It. 

On the surface, The Resurrection of Jesus is about a major coup in the theft world. But look closer, for a powerful example of satirical reflection that is at once engrossing, thought-provoking, and simply a fun read. 

Novel and literature readers with a special interest in humorous devices will find The Resurrection of Jesus a special production, indeed. 

The Resurrection of Jesus

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Shards of Light
Susan Miura
Vinspire Publishing
978-1-7327112-8-0                $15.99 

Book 2 in the Healer series, Shards of Light, opens where events left off in the first book after teen Shilo discovered she has the spiritual power of healing. That story ended with a sojourn to Italy to visit her great grandmother, who also possessed the power to heal, but lost it. In Shards of Light, Shilo arrives in Sicily and continues her spiritual and physical journey. 

Too many series titles rely heavily upon one another for background and fluidity of plot, but one of the pleasures of Shards of Light is its ability to stand alone as a complete novel unto itself. Knowledge of background events aren't a prerequisite for the complete enjoyment of Shilo's story. 

Another strength lies in its ability to cultivate intrigue right from the start, presenting Ricardo's plot to kidnap the young girls who were stolen from his brothel business by nuns. This would seem a rather mature subject for teen audiences, but Shards of Light will reach advanced teens to new adults and doesn't skimp on either describing deadly power plays or explaining the dark thinking behind them: "Whatever happens next will be their own fault.” He mumbles to the darkness, justified in knowing they’re simply paying the price for their actions. Doing wrong had painful consequences. He learned that childhood lesson all too well, and all too often." 

These elements successfully create a 'crossover' title that will appeal as much to adult as to young adult audiences as Shilo's foray into Italian culture presents a dangerous opportunity for healing in a new fashion. 

Under another hand, Shards of Light could all too easily have become a murder mystery or a novel of intrigue alone; but there's a larger purpose at work here, and romance enters into an already-complex equation to introduce Shilo not just to her newfound abilities, but her heart: "Dark eyes smile at me and they are molto bella, magnifico, so beautiful. Oh, man, my heart should not be beating at this rate. I’ll just say no and help the sisters bake pastries tomorrow. That’s the right thing to do. It’s just a river. We have those back home. That’s it, then. The answer is definitely no. “Okay. Yes. I’d like to go.” Somewhere between my brain and my mouth, the words got lost in translation." 

Broken shards are everywhere: in dreams, shattered trophies and lives, and even in the compassion that hurts as much as it heals. As Shilo learns different facets of healing on many levels, she explores not only her gift and its legacy, but also the darker forces at work in life and learns to field a host of special challenges as she grows not just healing powers, but better understanding. 

Another plus is that this story is narrated through different perspectives: injured ballet dancer Melody whose parents are pursuing financial compensation, and Shilo, who knows her gift is "all God" but doesn't quite understand the role she plays in disseminating it. 

With its different characters and their special focuses and its gentle exploration of a young woman's life and talents in flux, Shards of Light is a beautifully evocative story that stands well alone while enhancing a series. It invites readers to reflect long after Shilo's journey through faith and secrets comes to an end. 

Shards of Light

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A Terrible Loyalty: A World War II Submarine Novel
William Roskey
Independently Published
 B07Q62KS4T             $0.99 

A Terrible Loyalty is World War II military fiction at its best, capturing the struggles and experiences of the months before and after Pearl Harbor in a "you are there" fashion that brings history to life. 

There are over seventy chapters in a book a little over seven hundred pages long, but while some might predict that the weight of this story would limit an enthusiastic tone to its contents, one of the strengths of A Terrible Loyalty is its ability to capture the atmosphere and excitement of its times while staying true to historical facts. 

Of necessity, this approach requires not only a heavy research hand, but an exploration that weaves fact and fiction with many background details. Protagonist Dade Bowie escaped poverty in West Texas by becoming a military man, but his training didn't prepare him for the dilemma he and his fellow submarine commanders in the Pacific face when they discover that their torpedoes are shockingly unreliable, and that military ineptitude extends far beyond equipment and into the guiding leaders of U.S. forces. 

Dade is sworn to obey the orders of these guiding hands, but when loyalty to his crew and oath collide against the backdrop of attack and war, where and when should he make his stand? 

Everyone has a different way of fighting not only the war, but their own hearts. Romance, loyalty, and life itself take a back burner to codebreakers, submarine commanders, and struggles with moral and ethical conundrums as the war permeates every aspect of life in America. 

It might seem unlikely that one novel could reach beyond military descriptions and circles to chart the course of these changes; but A Terrible Loyalty does so with its finger on the pulse of struggle and change, profiling one man's candid assessment of atmosphere and challenges in his submarine world. 

Dade's honesty in response to a casual question at dinner imparts many insights into the physical challenges of living in a sub, but it's the reaction of his female dinner partners which is equally astonishing: "Commander, you have got to be one-in-a-million. What a woman expects to hear from a man who just came off a war patrol is pure braggadocio. Crazy bullshit about his heroics, even though he ‘tries’ to sound modest by giving a few of the other guys at least some credit. But you, sir, well, I’ve not seen one like you, a man given an opportunity to impress two very available women, neither one of them hard to look at, in an atmosphere of moonlight and music and a wonderful meal and cocktails and the lush tropics, who just talks about how he and his crew smell bad. Damn! I’ll bet you’re the real deal. I’ll bet you’re a real hero.”  

These kinds of interpersonal connections and explorations lend an unexpectedly personal tone to the military encounters and focuses that most World War II novels seem to exclusively feature. Amidst the descriptions of war and conflict are social, political, and moral and ethical challenges which are equally well probed; and this is a rare facet in a genre that typically focuses on physical struggle over relatively little else. 

Another powerful attribute of A Terrible Loyalty lies in its ability to delineate the challenges of different kinds of concurrent loyalties which at times clash with one another. Dade, Rachael, and others have choices to make not only about their careers and anti-war efforts, but each other and the oaths and promises they have made. These choices prove as mercurial as the times. The result is a powerful exploration of not just battle or military structure and response, but the perceptions of loyalty and purpose that each character holds dear. 

Readers seeking more than the usual battleground descriptions of World War II will relish the psychological and social depth of A Terrible Loyalty, which closely examines the forces that divide and challenge hearts and minds while recreating and taking the submariner experience to a depth that few competitors can achieve. 

Terrible Loyalty: A World War II Submarine Novel

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Reviewer's Choice

22 Comedy Ten-Minute Plays
Laurie Allen
Meriwether Publishing
9781566082112             $19.95 

Usually, short plays are directed to teen audiences and young drama students whose teachers seek quick, uplifting pieces for this age group; but one of the special attributes of Laurie Allen's 22 Comedy Ten-Minute Plays is that it's directed to ages 15-30, and so its themes are not limited to teenage concerns. 

Take, for example, the short beauty parlor play 'Just A Trim'. Kyle has entered the barber shop with just a trim in mind, but Lola fancies herself an artist committed to more than just cleaning up the edges, and embarks on a campaign to get Kyle to realize the potentials and impact of a complete haircut. But Kyle has a secret, and it has much to do with his hair of choice. Can Lola change his mind? 

It should be noted that each play is complete unto itself, from its evolving plot to its list of characters, setting and property descriptions, roles which are gender-neutral, and cast compositions of 2-8. This makes for easy assignment and flexible scheduling, which will delight drama teachers and coaches. 

A final plus is that these plays not only embrace comedy, but do so in a clean, fresh manner. This makes the works especially appealing because so much humor these days revolves around risqué innuendo or crass language. And yet, these works are seasoned, appealing productions designed for mature audiences and actors alike. 

The result is a unique presentation that should be in every drama collection and on the radar of any director looking for original writings designed to appeal to wide audiences. 

22 Comedy Ten-Minute Plays

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Body Talk–Basic Mime
Mario Diamond
Modern Vaudeville Press 

Body Talk–Basic Mime covers the basics of mime in a workbook format that can easily be accessed by professionals and drama students interested in learning more about body movement and language. It should be required reading for any theater participant looking to incorporate elements of mime into their routines. 

Body Talk–Basic Mime assumes no prior knowledge and covers the basics of silent communication and movement's messages, opening with a quick survey of the history of mime and moving quickly to exercises and demonstrations of movements that translate easily to recognizable emotions. 

Large-size black and white photos give visual embellishment to written descriptions which offer specific insights into how a mime can better feel their body's movements, as in the section devoted to eyebrows: "Put your index over the eyebrow, then lift your eyebrow high enough to feel the movement with your finger. Do not use your finger to push. Only your eyebrow muscles are working." 

From warm-ups to examples of the flow of movements (such as the step-by-step demonstration of the 'spider'), specific exercises are followed by tips on studying the world to reinforce realistic, recognizable gestures: "Public areas are good for mime studies. Just sit somewhere, in a park or a shopping mall, and observe people around you. Look at their hands, how they move, and follow the words they say, or the emotions they show or hide. Hands can tell many things about who you are. On stage they become a very important part of you." 

From discussions of visual effects gained from amplifying an illusion or fixing a point to translating body movements to convincing an audience of silent intentions, there is no more specific primer on mime than Body Talk–Basic Mime. 

Its workbook exercises make for a highly recommended 'must' for any theater or drama reference collection and for producers and actors who want to translate mime's basics to better acting and cognitive results. 

Body Talk–Basic Mime

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For Good of Country: The Plot to Kill an American President
Thomas E. Sawyer, PhD. JD
Living History Publishing House
(Paperback) 978-1-7327371-0-5           $14.97
(Hard Cover) 978-1-7327371-1-2 

For Good of Country: The Plot to Kill an American President adds yet another book to the chronicles of conspiracy surrounding the murder of John F. Kennedy, but focuses heavily on the actions of the U.S. government's role in blocking public access to information about the assassination. This focus pairs a political coverage of Kennedy's rise to presidential status with a survey of the Warren Commission's presumptions, failures, and Oswald's questionable status as a lone assassin acting independently. 

While many of these considerations appear in other books on the subject, of particular note here is Thomas E. Sawyer's survey of apparent attempts made by the U.S. Government, immediately after the assassination, to quash any public notion of the existence of either other assassins or a conspiracy. Why? 

The story begins with Kennedy's coronation day and uses this pivot point to add facts about his political rise to power. It reads almost like a novel, from atmospheric descriptions of weather conditions during the event to contrasts between past and present presidents: "Following his swearing in on the Veranda of the Capitol, the president and Mrs. Kennedy rode down Pennsylvania Avenue toward their new home in the White House in what, by the most conservative standards, can best be described as a triumphal march to glory. Later, on the reviewing stand, the young president stood coat-less, hatless, and apparently oblivious to the extreme cold. What a physical contrast this young man made with the septuagenarian whom he had succeeded as president." 

From intelligence agent recruitment proceedings that enveloped a young Jack Kennedy and the underlying motivations of that community to gain not only his trust but his dependence on them ("The objective of the moment was to get this young American to begin to rely on the intelligence professional, for whatever reason, to seek his guidance, and, hence, to be under his professional control. There would be years to develop the intelligence relationship, and the young man unwittingly would find himself more and more involved.") to examinations of KGB leadership objectives and actions, how a plan was formulated at high levels to assassinate the president, and who was involved, For Good of Country takes many surprising turns that similar JFK conspiracy coverages miss. 

The dramatic embellishments lend to this story's appearance of a novel, including dialogue, which may deter more scholarly readers who prefer their investigations firmly rooted in facts rather than reconstructed possibilities, but readers of true crime and political intrigue will find these touches appealing. It also should be remembered that the basic premise is (as with other Kennedy treatises) hypothetical, so some poetic license in description and reenactments is allowable. 

Sawyer's ability to add political analysis of government entities and their choices at different levels of involvement creates a survey different from many competing Kennedy examinations. 

The result is an unusually lively, dramatically embellished, but thought-provoking read that sheds new light not just on Kennedy's assassination, but the actions, motivations, and role of the American government itself. 

For Good of Country: The Plot to Kill an American President

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Nothing is More
Dolly Gray Landon
Seventh Species Publications
9781795387514                     $12.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Nothing is More: A High Black Comedy in Verse with Music for Six Actors demands much from its readers, who ideally will be drama students with a penchant for satire, verse, and the outrageous. Anyone expecting a staid story or a typical outline of dramatic form is in for both a revelation and a treat, because Nothing is More delights in the unexpected, from blatant and ribald sexual explorations to archaic and whimsical explorations of college courses as odd as Feline Transgender Studies. 

In other words: toss any expectations out the window and settle back for a challenging but unique, rollicking ride as Dolly Gray Landon romps through academia and social inspection with an eye to probing the roots of artistic and social revolution alike. 

Ideally, this play will be performed, but a six-hour production is a lot to commit to, for most theatres. College students and avant garde stages will be more likely to undertake the production of this complex story, knowing that an audience of literary-minded social scientists will be highly appreciative of both the literary achievement of putting together a six-hour production entirely in verse, and the story's focus on personality clashes, cultural and religious references, and sexual and social revelation. 

It should also be mentioned that no group is immune, here. Landon pokes fun at and makes pointed observations of just about everything in this circle, which holds as much potential for offense as it does insight. 

The result is a well-crafted, complex, dramatic work that will gain attention not just from innovative drama students and producers, but from readers of plays, who will find it delightfully quirky and whimsical in its creative, complex inspection of the evolution of dogmas and schemes in the art world. 

Nothing is More

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Sell Your Words
Leila Peltosaari
Tikka Books
Ebook: 978-1-896106-06-9                   $5.99
POD Edition: 978-1-896106-07-6        

Sell Your Words: Write, Self-Publish, and Market Nonfiction Books is for indie authors who have decided to publish their own books rather than seeking an agent or pursuing a publisher, and offers invaluable advice not just on publishing, but on the important task of marketing the book after publication (which could be a book in and of itself).

Why another book on the process of self-publishing? Leila Peltosaari not only sports three decades of success, but points out she has "...made more than a million dollars by self-publishing title after title." And English is not her mother tongue! These facts alone add enough weight to this particular how-to book to make it a worthwhile pursuit. 

Leila Peltosaari begins with the writing process based on her first book, written when she was 34 years old. Perhaps it was serendipity that her first home-produced book, Easy Sewing for Infants, gained the attention of Family Circle, which plugged it to a national audience in their magazine. But chance had no hand in her ongoing success story, as she wrote and marketed numerous well-received books, received much acclaim, and earned much more than the 'pocket money' she had anticipated from her efforts. 

Nonfiction writers, in particular, are admonished to strive for creative originality: "Stand out from the crowd. Make your book different by focusing on one thing that makes your knowledge uncommon. Seize it, research it, and write it down. Explain and clearly illustrate what makes you unique, and your nonfiction book will attract great reviews." 

Peppered with bright visual examples, Sell Your Words provides the right blend of excitement, encouragement, and practical advice to give aspiring, would-be authors a boost at all levels of the process. 

The self-publishing tips are specific and cover everything from POD (print-on-demand) publishing to short runs, handling review copy distribution, making front and back covers which are enticing sales tools, and more. 

Marketing insights include not only recommendations but cautions about pitfalls, offering many alternatives to getting out of the slush pile: "I found the literary critique section in any daily paper to be a dead end for my nonfiction books, but the lifestyle section often needs interesting leads. Some have sections like traveling, business, home, health, food, or pets, and one could be a match for your book. Many dailies have reduced personnel and use freelancers, so one person might write feature articles for several departments or publications—get familiar with those names as potential contacts. Some dailies list emails of their personnel and links to their previous articles or columns so you can see their style."

Packed with basic information provided in a lively, encouraging style, Sell Your Words should be the first book writers consult when they embark on the road to publishing success. It covers all the bases and basics and makes the writing and marketing process both logical and achievable. 

Sell Your Words

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Who's Got Your Back?
David W. Smith
CrossLink Publishing

Who's Got Your Back? Making and Keeping Great Relationships Among Men is a specific focus on how men build friendships and where they fail at this task, and is directed towards Christian men open to receiving a combination of psychological and spiritual insights about the process. 

While it's based on David W. Smith's own experience with relationships, it broadens its perspective and references to tap into Biblical wisdom as well as the approaches of others, creating a more multifaceted production than most men's psychology books offer. 

As chapters review definitions of manliness and traditional male relationship patterns, they examine what builds bridges between not only individuals, but God. It stands to reason that the man who is unable to fully let in human beings will also lack in the area of a personal relationship with God.  Who's Got Your Back? Is, thus, an important consideration for Christian men who might eschew the notion of developing better relationships with others—until they realize that this process can be applied to any effective relationship with their Creator. 

But, how can men make and form such meaningful relationships? The nuts and bolts of the process are covered in depth and detail, assuming no prior knowledge of the definition of what it means to be a friend: "A true friend will come to your aid even if it’s unpopular to do so. When we are concerned with others, we tend to be less aware of ourselves. It’s ironic how happiness eludes those who seek it directly. But the person who takes on the burden of concern for the welfare of another often discovers, surprisingly perhaps, that he has indirectly obtained happiness, but he’s obtained happiness nevertheless." 

This is not to say that Who's Got Your Back? replaces the need for counseling. Smith is quite clear about this: "This is not the Bible’s view of man. We are not a tabula rasa or a mindless lump of clay to be molded by others or by biological genes. How much control do I really have over my own life? Can I change on my own, or do I need counseling to improve my patterns of living? In some cases, we can engage in self-examination on a solo basis. Self-reflection and contemplation can be helpful, but many people need the added insights, understanding, and objectivity that can be provided only by an outsider such as a close friend, wife, minister, or counselor." 

Men seeking to truly change their perceptions, lives, and the depth of their interactions with loved ones and others will find the precise, Bible-supported message here translates neatly to interpersonal and spiritual relationships alike.

Who's Got Your Back? provides an excellent starting point to crafting better relationships with a deeper understanding of what makes them work and the (often self-driven) obstacles to success. 

Who's Got Your Back? is especially highly recommended for thinking men who have already decided to make meaningful changes in their lives and attitudes.

Who's Got Your Back

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Young Adult/Childrens

Big City Magic: Uncover the Secret of the Big Apple
Jeanne Bender
Pina Publishing
978-1-943493-26-5 (paperback)           $10.00
978-1-943493-27-2 (hardcover)           $18.00
978-1-943493-28-9 (eBook)                 $  6.99 

Big City Magic: Uncover the Secret of the Big Apple provides young readers with another Lindie Lou canine adventure. This time, the little dog is on a plane heading for New York City and adventure. 

Lindie Lou loves to meet new people, learn new things, and have adventures, but she also holds an active imagination, as demonstrated by her dreams about being able to fly without mechanical assistance. 

Her ability to learn, adapt, and wonder about the world are challenged, however, when a quest for a big apple tree leads her and a rescue dog onto the streets of New York for some unexpected encounters. 

Parents of children who are past the elementary picture book level and into reading chapter books and longer readers will appreciate the blend of easy language, big print, and illustrations that nudge readers from picture book to longer forms. 

Parents will also appreciate this story's focus on courage, flexibility, and facing life changes with hope and creativity as Lindie Lou imparts some basic insights into dealing with life through her adventurous perspective. 

Her enthusiasm about the wider world, her ability to communicate with humans and fellow animals alike, and her involvement with Kris, who brings her a wonderful gift, creates many unexpected moments that lend to parent and child discussion, especially recommended for adults seeking materials that contain bigger-picture thinking rather than entertainment value alone. 

The result is a winning story about a wise puppy who takes the world's challenges and runs with them. It's a delightful adventure with more than a light dose of messages for kids about how to live better, more emotionally cognizant lives. 

Big City Magic: Uncover the Secret of the Big Apple

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The Healing Star
A. Kidd
Publisher: Quiet Storm Publishing LLC 

978-1-7338992-0-8 (pbk)              $14.99
978-1-7338992-2-2 (ebook)   $  4.99

The Healing Star posits a world in which a dying grandmother, who is protagonist Julia's 'cosmic twin', may be healed by a particular kind of magic if Julia can find an old falling star with special stardust properties. Her goal is in keeping with those in her town who would catch such a star either for resale profit or to make their deepest wishes come true. 

Julia sets out with a plan; but like most plans, it's subject to change and life circumstances. Guided by her ailing grandmother, who she calls Grammu, she must be stronger and braver than she's ever been before to confront the "magic in the sky" that her grandmother has warned her about. 

As advanced elementary to middle school readers traverse Julia's world, they receive a fine combination of a magical journey and a coming-of-age story as Julia evolves to realize her own powers and how she can be more effective in her own life and that of her grandmother. 

During a series of confrontations with a lost girl and other characters who also pursue a different kind of goal for winning, Julia finds herself in a situation where she might be trapped forever as her beloved grandmother fades away. Can she defeat the One-Eyed Thief and develop a rare brand of heroism while staying true to her goals and heart? 

A. Kidd cultivates a special sense of magic  in chronicling Julia's struggles against the odds. To call it a fantasy alone would be to do it an injustice: The Healing Star is as much a story of a young girl's efforts to achieve the impossible as it is the tale of a town steeped in the magic and legend of stardust and the potentials and consequences of seemingly unreachable dreams. 

Ultimately, it's a story about living and dying. Julia's efforts and choices lead to a surprising conclusion that will leave all ages with much food for thought and a warm feeling about the powers of The Healing Star and its true impact. 

The Healing Star

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ResQ and the Baby Orangutan
Eva J. Pell
Tumblehome, Inc.
978-1-943431-48-9                $13.95 

ResQ and the Baby Orangutan reaches ages 9-12 with a vivid story set in Indonesia and centered around animal rescue efforts, adding a dash of added sci-fi to keep the tale especially engrossing. 

Mattias Lanas adds black and white drawings to enhance the story of boy genius Wheaton and his nature-loving cousin Stowe, who embark on their first adventure in their animal rescue organization when they fly their modified space shuttle to Borneo to find a missing baby orangutan, helped by a grandmother equally determined to influence a successful rescue mission. 

Eva J. Pell incorporates the atmosphere of Indonesia's jungles and peoples as she presents this vivid story, adding a realistic feel to events that swirl around people and animals: "We head north, and despite our mature driver, people stop and stare. It’s not every day you see what looks like a pickup truck cab mounted on top of a speedboat on wheels. And then, of course, there’s us. Thanks to my Filipino grandparents, my hair and eyes are dark brown, a lot like the Indonesians, but blonde-haired Stowe, and Ariella with her white braid and pale skin, look nothing like the locals." 

These elements help ground a story that also changes its perspectives to add additional insights from the characters, including notes from Stowe's journal of observations, which are a fine contrast to Wheaton's reasoned first-person narration of events in Borneo and journeys through Indonesia. 

The result is a powerful story that invites preteens to learn more about Indonesia and illegal animal trafficking. Its facts are based on firsthand accounts of those familiar with both orangutans and Borneo, and this reality enhances an adventure that will not only entertain, but educates. 

ResQ and the Baby Orangutan

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Shadow Kid
Jennifer Vaughn
Waldorf Publishing
978-1-64316-000-9         $16.95 

Eight-year-old Gavin faces many changes when family deaths lead to his move from New York to New Hampshire, where he begins to fall in with bullies in order to survive. His experiences and his high-flying evolution is narrated not from the introductory experience of a pre-teen, but from a father who plays with his daughter and assesses his role in her life and the past experiences which led him to this point. 

The first thing to note about Shadow Kid is that it's not a coming-of-age story, per se. Jennifer Vaughn's use of reflective voice and metaphor creates a read recommended for adult as well as mature teen audiences: "I was always a natural assimilator. Like how the waves broke seamlessly along the shore, I absorbed my surroundings and became a part of them. I have done this so entirely—like that constant pulse of water—that no one ever knew we were there. Water was like love in that way, limitless and perpetual. Hayley’s innocence and selflessness proved that while our hearts may tarnish and fracture, they never forget what it felt like to love. I became what I needed to be in that decisive moment: the smooth operator she’d always known me to be. The steady dad who was only on this earth to be her father. The keeper of no secrets. The guardian of my daughter’s truths." 

Indeed, there are many adult realizations here; from a break-in prank where participant Gavin discovers that a corrupt school principal is blaming thieves for his own pilfering of school money (but can't do anything about it) to learning to fly, having this become a driving force in his life, and turning 21 with a pile of cash in the bank and no sense of purpose. 

While these elements (and a candid tone that includes swearing) would seem to indicate the maturity level of a Shadow Kid reader should lie in adult realms, the novel is reviewed here because mature teen to new adult readers will gain much from the story. 

Gavin does more than come of age: he solidifies his passions in life, learns what is behind the façade of persona once deeply-held lies are exposed, and cultivates a life purpose that is both far-reaching and thought-provoking: "It was the deeper connection I’d been searching for, the chance to tell important stories that shocked people, taught them or changed them. I could use television to do it. Was that the reason I was still here? Was this why I’d heard Amy in that field, in the exact spot where someone’s lost heart had found my broken one? What was my unfinished business? If I was here to tell other people’s stories, what would become of my own?" 

This novel reaches out on many levels to explore Gavin's evolution as a young man, a pilot, a reporter, a father, and a journeyman. All ages will find Shadow Kid compelling and nicely presented: a read perfect for those interested in exploring the influences and sources of shadows in their own backgrounds. 

Shadow Kid

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Spoken: A Novel
Melanie Weiss
Rosehip Publishing
978-0988609839            $9.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

Roman Santi is a rich Hollywood high school freshman who materially has everything a young man could desire, but who lacks the guiding hand of a father. 

When his mother one day turns his world upside down, he find himself in the Midwest, living on a sofa bed at his grandparents' house and entering a new high school. Everything is very different from anything he's known before in his privileged life, but the real changes aren't just external. Roman is also forced to delve into his own skill sets and ambitions to take charge of a life which, until now, has just been handed to him on a silver platter. 

His mother has gotten them well-off by living with a rich Hollywood mogul, but her affair with another celebrity has landed her on the cover of a gossip magazine and ruined their plush situation. At first Roman feels like she has destroyed his life through her actions. 

But Chicago offers him a rare opportunity to do more than blame his mother for their revised circumstances. This transition dovetails nicely with the fifteen-year-old's coming of age and entry into a world with more responsibility and choice than he's ever known before. 

As Roman becomes interested in poetry and the Spoken Word literary performance movement, his life changes even more—it becomes one of his own making. 

Spoken is not just another coming-of-age tale. It's about the power and potential of a young man who receives mentoring from adults and peers, and who finds support and purpose in a revised life. 

Melanie Weiss draws readers into Roman's world by using the first person to follow how he cultivates a revised relationship with his visiting mother and the rest of his family as he explores this strange new world. He's disarmingly savvy during this process, as teens often are: "I know the whole messy drama of why we left L.A. has trickled down from parent to child and spread stealthily around the community...Mom and my friends spent the whole dinner talking about boring Hollywood stuff. She does not realize how confusing it is to have all these memories churn up again. It reminds me of when every day was golden and the hardest thing I had to think of was if Alex and I should fire up Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto on my PlayStation." 

Readers will follow his blossoming maturity easily, receiving a solid hand on the joystick of experience as Roman evolves in his own personal growth and relationships with others. 

Young adult readers of coming-of-age, rags-to-riches stories will find Spoken: A Novel holds more growth focus and insights on changing relationships than most. It's written with a compelling vision that has its finger on the pulse of teen concerns and family interactions. 

Spoken: A Novel

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Who Will? Will You?
Sarah Hoppe
Blue Whale Press
978-1-7328935-1-1 (hardcover)    $16.99
978-1-7328935-2-8 (paperback)   $10.99 

Who Will? Will You? is a picture book for ages 4-8 that receives lovely colorful illustrations by Milanka Reardon as it explores a young beachcomber's unusual find at the seashore. 

Lottie never expected to find something bigger than a shell, but a little pup tugs at her heartstrings and poses a problem far greater than locating the perfect shell. 

Many are interested in adopting Lottie's find...until they look into her wagon after initial excitement. The story evolves to question not only who will take charge of a stray, but why nobody will do so. 

A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray. 

Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find Who Will? Will You? engrossing and fun.

Who Will? Will You?

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Health & Self-Help

B.O.P. Cancer: The Fight is Real
April L. Jones, PhD.
Visionary Consulting Services, LLC
978-1986062138            $25.00   

In order to understand the basic premise of B.O.P. Cancer: The Fight is Real, a different approach to cancer management, it is first necessary to receive the definition of 'B.O.P' which Dr. Jones provides in the opening introduction of her book: "B.O.P Cancer is the slang expression for knocking out (K.O.) cancer." Why 'B.O.P'? It also serves as an acronym from the four types of cancer addressed in the book series (breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers). 

B.O.P. Cancer fills many gaps in cancer literature by providing a self-help, psychological inspection of various approaches to cancer's mental and physical challenges and how to overcome cancer's mental effects. 

This strategy is, of necessity, multifaceted. After a brief introduction (which prior patients will already know, but those newly diagnosed might need) of cancer's types, diagnoses, stages, treatments and causes, Jones moves to the meat of her discussion: traversing stages of grief; employing mentally stimulating puzzles and exercises to distract and strengthen mental acuity, resilience, and positive thinking; and covering all aspects of psychological self-help. 

The spiritual is not neglected during this process. Readers receive discussions about spirit animals, mantras, and other exercises and reflections which include plenty of fill-in invitations for self-help, supported by Biblical passages. 

There is no singular approach or focus to B.O.P. Cancer, which uses all tools, from traditional to new age, to address the challenges of dealing with cancer. 

This wider-ranging approach than most gathers a plethora of resources under one cover, offering cancer patients and their caretakers a workbook template for positive emotional and spiritual reinforcement. 

B.O.P. Cancer is a motivational guide that shares stories, compiles routines and approaches that work, and injects comfort and peace into a chaotic situation. 

Cancer patients and their caregivers need to make this toolkit a part of their arsenal for cultivating positive paths away from negativity, overwhelm, and chaos. 

B.O.P. Cancer: The Fight is Real

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Heal Yourself With Journaling Power
Mari L. McCarthy
978-1-5356-1677-5                $6.99 Kindle 

Journaling offers a self-healing method that anybody can use to enrich their lives, and Heal Yourself With Journaling Power provides an introduction to this resource for those who may have heard of it, but who are unaware of its many benefits. 

Is it possible for writers to create a new life story just by putting pen to paper? Mari L. McCarthy demonstrates the wisdom of this approach not just by sharing her own life-changing process, but by interviewing others who used journaling to heal their lives. 

Journaling can be used to funnel emotions such as anger into a 'safe' area of expression for cathartic relief: "Are you angry because you’re struggling with health issues? Pour your raw, honest thoughts into your journal. Remember, Dr. Journal is there to listen to you 24/7, and she doesn’t charge a dime. Everybody gets angry and upset. It’s part of being human. What sets us apart is how we deal with it. We all know it’s never healthy to keep things bottled up, but it can be equally as unhealthy to explode emotionally and verbally rage in front of others. On the other hand, verbally exploding into your journal can be coura­geous, combative, and incredibly cleansing! 

It can act as a thought and emotional organizer, exposing buried solutions to problems which simmer unresolved ("Journaling helps you access and unlock what’s already inside you. And what you unlock can be amazing and really surprise you. In fact, what you’ll discover through journaling is that within you is a treasure chest of answers and solutions."), and most of all, it requires little professional guidance in order to prove an effective self-help method. 

As McCarthy and fellow journalers explore their processes of writing and healing, readers receive a guide to "the cheapest form of therapy", along with specific insights about why it works so well for so many: "Journaling allows you to break from this grind and create a sense of calm, so you can get clear on what you want. Even when you write about something bad that happened during your day, journaling empowers you to release it from your system, so you can focus more energy on good stuff to come!" 

While McCarthy spends a good deal of time outlining just how and why journaling works, she also attends to the nuts and bolts of how to journal: "Just write in a stream of consciousness. You’re not trying to impress any­one, justify your thoughts or emotions, or otherwise get kudos for being  you. You are not writing the final draft of War & Peace. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends doing three pages right as you wake up. We are in this wonderful half-asleep, half-awake state, when the mind has very few of its usual protective walls and logical thinking built up around it for the day. This way, you are more able to access your unfiltered thoughts, not the primped for prime-time thoughts. This unfiltered writing can be very helpful in “dumping” a lot of negative mental chatter. If you can’t see it, you can’t change it." 

No professional can take the place of self-examination and self-knowledge. Journaling offers a method of tapping into these inner resources, and Heal Yourself With Journaling covers the why and how of that process. All that's required from readers is a willingness to put pen to paper more effectively, and to consider enacting the changes that flow from journaling's revelations. 

Readers interested in self-help psychology will find these approach and insights invaluable, making Heal Yourself With Journaling a 'must' for anyone who would use their own inner wisdom to heal and change. 

Heal Yourself With Journaling Power

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The Darkness of PFC Petkoff: and Other Stories
Andrew Ashleigh Kozelka
Independently Published
978-1521862124            $9.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle 

The Darkness of PFC Petkoff: and Other Stories is historical short fiction at its best, offering a literary and revealing examination of individuals from other cultures who face controversies and life-changing moments. This cross-cultural inspection injects a seasoned blend of historical and social insights into every tale, creating an engrossing, involving set of 15 short stories with various settings in a mythologized mid-20th century milieu. 

Take the introductory story 'The Octopus', for example. Take the introductory story 'The Octopus', for example. A spear fisherman faces a rare find in a pool, but it turns out that his increasing obsession with capturing it holds roots in a need to survive. As hunger drives both, a struggle ensues over who will become master of the small space that each wants all for himself. 

'The Man Who Was Ready' tells of Jason, who faces police action in the imaginary country of  Zagastan, retribution for being an American, and cultivates a suffocating paranoia in response to his foreign surroundings. His navigation through what he perceives as a series of dangerous possibilities documents a country which 'hangs in the balance' much as his mental state. However active his imagination, the danger is real, and sets the stage for a final battle and dubious victory. 

Each story gives pause for thought about efforts to survive, change, and relate to one's world. 

Readers looking for a literary, diverse collection of short stories that center on the human condition and its mercurial transition points will relish Andrew Ashleigh Kozelka's probe of the heart of darkness both within the human psyche and stemming from environmental encounters beyond individual control. 

The Darkness of PFC Petkoff: and Other Stories

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Gathered at a Bitter Cup: Short Stories of Trouble at Home
Diane Rosier Miles
Independently Published
 B07HFHY6WC        $.99 

Three short stories in Gathered at a Bitter Cup center upon family life and struggle, offering pointed observations from both parent and child as they traverse lives challenged by family relationships and perspectives. 

'Coldhearted' comes from the perspective of Jake, an adult "child made bold by a tantrum" who faces the challenges of aging parents who continue to ignore Jake's now-sage advice.  Jake's elderly parents are in declining health, and he is a caretaker both considerate and resentful about the changes which have moved him from child to adult in this family. 

A powerful snapshot of aging and angst is created as Jake faces the inevitable without the help of his parents. 

'The Consolation of Barn Swallows' takes quite a different path as it presents the nature-savvy figure of old farmer Fred Stride who, at age 70, has faced storms throughout his life. Having lost his wellspring and much younger wife Linda, Fred is back to facing fields and weather alone. 

It would seem he's faced the biggest challenges and come through them, but when a swallow dies in his hand, he is forced to reconsider the choices which have led him both to this point in time and to the junctures in his life which have created isolation in his later years.

'Veterans of Domestic Wars' follows Captain Patricia Harding as she interacts with her family as a former soldier in the army and as a disabled mother. Her effectiveness and choices also come to the forefront as she interacts with angry children and a drunk handyman who represents yet another battle in her life. 

These are succinct, hard-hitting, well-crafted pieces that excel in vignettes of individuals who have each been isolated by circumstance and attitude alike. 

Readers seeking short stories which read quickly but hold deceptively captivating portraits of powerful moments in time that linger in heart and mind long after the concluding sentence will find Gathered at a Bitter Cup a powerful drink, flavored with the roots of bitter lives and thwarted dreams. 

Gathered at a Bitter Cup: Short Stories of Trouble at Home

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