Fantasy & Sci Fi

Born in Salt
T. C. Weber
Freedom Thorn Press
ISBN: 978-1-7369017-1-7      $16.95 paper/$3.99 ebook

Born in Salt is an alternate American history story about a nation vastly changed after a coup replaces President Franklin Roosevelt with a fascist dictatorship. Born into this milieu decades later, Illinois young adult Ben just wants to fish, hunt, and live a quiet life. But when his military brother Jake is murdered, Ben and his brother's fiancée Rachel become caught up in a rebellion neither had planned on being a part of when they begin to piece together the truth of why Jake died: “Did you get a letter about a mission he said he couldn’t get out of his head?” I asked. “Mine was half censored.” She searched the box. “Yeah. Mine had a lot of redactions too, and I’ve wondered why.” She pulled out an envelope. “Here it is.” 

There's more--Rachel is convinced that Jake is communicating with her from beyond the grave, seeking redress for his murder. Jake appears to Ben too, and they decide to rally people against the war. The two fall in the clutches of the dreaded Internal Security Service, and are threatened with lobotomies and imprisonment for life. Their only way out, the agent in charge tells them, is to turn in others--including their friends.  

Meanwhile, the bank is intent on seizing the family farm. Ben's attempts to save Rachel, his family, and his friends appear futile in the face of an all-powerful government, and he falls into drug addiction. Yet despite all this, he perseveres, searching desperately for a hidden way out. Surrounded by informers and pursued by police, private detectives, and fellow rebels, Ben must navigate a maze of factions and treachery, and find a way to save the people he cares about, while avenging his brother and bringing down his enemies.  

T. C. Weber cements the story with two strong characters whose interactions with the outside world clash with their own best interests. His vision of a future in which repression and ingrained belief systems are put to the test is realistic, engrossing, and fueled by astute social and political interactions throughout the story. 

The moral and ethical quandaries Ben faces (is he willing to sacrifice Rachel for a greater good?) power a fine tale that embraces drug abuse, changing political alliances, and social issues alike. 

Readers who enjoy strong alternate history stories where protagonists are challenged to rise above personal concerns to affect the world around them in new ways will find Born in Salt involving and thought-provoking as Ben searches for an elusive solution to impossible personal and political issues alike. 

Born in Salt

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Conduit: The Beginning
James Alexander
J&A Publishing
ASIN: B007CLQIHY                     $2.99 

Conduit: The Beginning is an alien invasion story about the destruction of mankind from within and outside, reflecting the evolution of hope in the birth of a baby who hones extraordinary abilities after his mother is shot in a mall. 

For Marc, placed in foster care after this event and forced to grow up in a challenging social system, these abilities have both plagued and supported him, but they seem pointless until aliens come to town. 

When he learns of these beings' special interest in and deadly purpose for humanity, and the truth about his own origins, Marc comes to believe he may be the only one to save the world, even broken as he is. 

A new day is dawning, for both Marc and humanity. But first, both must accept a revised vision of the world and their place in it, in order to survive the aliens' intentions. 

From a president who becomes involved in the seeming peaceful relationship between races, but who faces treachery from his wife, to Jack and Adrianna Connor's handling of Marc after the shooting and years later, when Marc returns to date their daughter, Conduit: The Beginning excels in many satisfying twists and turns of plot that introduces a host of characters. 

As lives become entwined and threats move from political to personal circles, Conduit: The Beginning builds a different kind of alien story that is as much about alienation and heroism on different levels as it is about a world-changing invasion. 

Marc is an experiment from the past with the sole key to change the present...but only if he can survive the invasion to fulfill his potential. 

James Alexander does an excellent job of depicting Marc's changing life, his uncertain progression through childhood into an adulthood that itself suffers a sea change, and the motivations and psychology of characters around him, who also evolve in different directions as they age. 

Tension is well done and the story's unexpected progression places it above and beyond most (too-predictable) alien invasion scenarios. 

The result is a sci-fi read covering the ends of some worlds and the beginnings of others. Conduit: The Beginning's ability to draw readers with a fine anti-hero flawed by his own mystery and uncertainties, yet able to step up to an unbelievable role, creates a read that's hard to put down. 

Conduit: The Beginning

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The Dreamsinger
Edward Myers
Montemayor Press
978-1-932727-43-2                $16.95 Paper 

In the Realm of Siir, teenage Allu's world, all music is forbidden. It's a power possessed only by the Masters who rule over everyone else. Despite this edict, Allu is by nature musically gifted, and her abilities are recognized by these Masters, who decide to hone her craft for their own purposes. 

As The Dreamsinger unfolds, Allu finds her gift and its perceived value at odds with her innate inclination to employ it for a different purpose. Complicating matters is a romance which presents Allu with additional questions, challenges, and dangerous decisions. 

Allu's unique voice threatens and promises to change everything. This likeable young protagonist is especially compelling and nicely drawn as Allu faces an evil that defies defeat, romance, and her growing powers as a novice musician in a world where music is strictly regulated. Allu feels she's been betrayed by her family. Will she be betrayed by her own emotions and her love, as well? 

As she creates forbidden music with her would-be lover, Ned, she comes to question the Masters and their purposes, as well as her role in exploring her gifts in a different manner than she was raised to believe. Allu uncovers how the power of music can risk the Masters' rage and reign, and she finds out why they are so controlling and so afraid of her music being released into the world. 

Edward Myers embeds The Dreamsinger with lovely, evocative reflections as Allu faces important decisions and finds her loyalties becoming fluid: "The Song Guards started singing the Anthem Against Evil. The tune took Allu by surprise. She forced herself to pay attention, took a deep breath, and joined in. The Guards’ voices rose like startled pigeons. Allu couldn’t help but smile to herself: so much for those traitors!" 

Allu soon finds within herself the courage to identify who is the real traitor, who remains true to music and the harmony of good in her world, and what path she should choose for herself and her community. 

Edward Myers creates a bold and strange new world where a young woman is at the heart of social and artistic transformation--changes that are intrinsically linked in this book. 

The Dreamsinger will appeal to fantasy readers--both young adults and adults--who seek a tale that is evocative, absorbing, and powered by a young woman who comes into her own various talents as a composer and singer. 

The Dreamsinger

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Rob Tucker
Tell-Tale Publishing Group 
978-1-952020-12-4         $35.00 Hardcover/$4.95 Kindle 

Book 2 of the Black Spiral horror/fantasy series returns to the scenario of the first story, portraying Simonetta Vespucci's escape from her creator, Hiram Bean, to inhabit the psyche of Bernadette Garcetti. There, she embarks on a mission that attracts the attention of FBI agent Leon Saffulo, who finds himself working with (of all things) a magician when his usual high-tech approach to problem-solving encounters a force he can't define or control. 

The blending of Bernadette's psyche with Simonetta's is strategically well done, offering benefits that enhance both. As they together (through different facets of reality and beliefs about one another) confront an assassin and Hiram Bean's efforts to destabilize the world social order, Bernadette/Simonetta find that the digital and real realms each resides in are threatened by forces even their combined powers can't match. 

Readers of metaphysical fantasy, horror, and thriller-style intrigue will find Manifestation a genre-busting read that incorporates elements of all these and more. This is also a story that will especially appeal to hard sci-fi readers, offering many in-depth explorations that cement action and the different levels of events with an attention to scientific detail: "On a parallel evolutionary track, the black spiral DNA developed a parasitic existence in the early human forms when stone making tools appeared 2.6 million years ago and the migration of Homo Erectus out of Africa to the Middle-East, European, and Asian regions of the world." 

As efforts coalesce around a black spiral DNA conversion set to change the world, the threat to Bernadette (by forces who would excise Simonetta from her mind by killing her) grows. Visions of a fractured future drive her and others to try to reverse what First World is moving into position through their covert dark energy invasion project. 

The action, premise, and characterization are all exquisitely portrayed. Readers should accept that this is no light read, but a complicated mix of science, social inspection, horror, and intrigue that will demand from them some prior affection for hard science fiction and metaphysical scenarios. 

Those who relish fast action, twists and turns, and challenging entwining psyches will find the story thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down, depicting a spiritual invasion replete with parallel existences, evil purposes, and even the promise of love. 


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Kelsey Josund
All She Wrote Publications
9780996899338 / 9780996899345          
$28.00 Hardcover/$9.99 ebook
Author Website:
Publisher Website:
Ordering link: 

California's Silicon Valley in 2030 is still home to business dreams and wildfire nightmares: not very different from today. In this milieu, Sara loses both her startup company (which has failed) and her home (to the fires that have become a yearly California threat). 

It seemed a solid option to retreat to a utopian community surrounded by water in the now-ocean-drowned Monterey area, but as the events in the near-future story Platformed evolve, Sara finds that societal downfall (which she is supposedly protected from by corporate control in her new community) is simply being mirrored in a different way on the inside. 

Has she moved to the last perfect replica of a functioning society left on Earth, or has she moved into a corporate-run nightmare? 

Perhaps one reason Platformed is so hard-hitting is its element of believability. It's not a stretch of the imagination to envision Sara's world, which holds its roots in present-day real-world affairs. It's not a surprise to find that Sara grasps with both hands the only life preserver thrown to her, only to find that its guise of safety actually masks threatening sharks that attack the freedoms she has signed away for the next five years. 

As Sara's perception of what makes a community livable begins to fall apart much, she embarks on a new and last-ditch attempt to find a better place in a changing world, which requires that she not be as invisible as she'd hoped, in her new life. 

Whether in relationships or approaches to life, Sara and her readers discover that the omnipotent corporation has its tentacles everywhere, even in personal relationships: "It was the right thing to do, even if the conversation it started would inevitably end with them breaking up. The universe—or the company, anyway—had already decided that for them." 

In many ways, this dystopian corporate-run world is a cautionary tale. It feels very real partially because young author Kelsey Josund is a software engineer well used to the approaches and thought processes of tech companies. 

Sara at first accepts much about her new life: "Weekends and weekdays didn't mean much in her new life, but she was used to that: unemployment had taught her to expect a lot of sameness from every day. Perhaps she should be grateful that the disappointments in her life prepared her for this." 

As she begins to perceive that utopia isn't quite what it's made out to be and that the price is too steep, Sara brings readers into a new world of choices and consequences which hold great impact not just for Sara, but for readers struggling with their own assessments of corporate control over ordinary lives. 

Themes include eschewing the familiar to take a risk on something that offers comfort, only to find that comfort comes with a heavy element of control and excess that separates the fortunate from those who have much less. This creates inequities that eventually challenge and influence moral and ethical decisions on every individual's part in this world, making for thought-provoking reading. 

From world hunger to gimmicks and apps designed to mitigate the effects of social injustice and climate change, Sara's social revelations are riveting: "She thought back to their gimmicky breakthrough project, delivering a single french fry to new users of their service. It was admittedly tongue in cheek, but she found it hilarious at the time. Now she found it emblematic of an excess she had once been blind to." 

The language and nuances of Sara's journey towards social and self-realization are particularly evocative: "She had tried to flee that sun, chasing the night out into the waves, but the daylight was so very beautiful. Casting the landscape in a multicolored morning, making the windows of the Community's buildings glitter as if they were something to cherish rather than fear. She could keep swimming away. She could just stay where she was and let the ocean decide what to do with her." 

Platformed is a very highly recommended story that will hit close to home for many sci-fi fans in a dystopian production designed to keep readers thinking and involved to the end.


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Joel E Lorentzen
Independently Published
9798593702081             $$4.99 Ebook/$14.99 Paperback 

Imagine a perfect society where everybody lives in in which scientific models are regularly run to assure that every member lives in equality and peace. That's what the Theites have designed for themselves in Proles: A Novel About 2084. That's what their less enlightened neighbors, the proles, resist. And that is what seems destined to fail when it turns out that their perfect science is flawed. 

Eric Brunson, Junior Brunson, Kelly, and other characters reside in an area that used to be Ohio. Shifting perspectives between different characters in this future society bring various issues to life. One example is the opening lines from twenty-nine-year-old Julianna's life: "Protocol. Nobody touched. The crowded lift was quiet. Julianna-119 was riding from her apartment to the lower floors in the building where she worked. Soap-and-fabric-softener smells filled the space. To Julianna, everything was both familiar and oddly out of place. Seeing her reflection in the spotless, mirror-finish stainless steel of the walls, Julianna forced her face to a mask of obscurity. Doesn’t death matter to anybody but me?" 

Julianna is responsible for manipulating environments in a given game zone to assure that the models they rely on work seamlessly. She, Tim, and others are so heavily invested in the processes and operations of the Best Society that they are in awe of their own prowess, remaining ignorant of its detriments. 

As her father's death and the non-reactions of those around her combine with newly revealed secrets to shake Julianna's world, however, the proles begin to make more sense, in a strange manner, as her vision of the world and her place in supporting it are shaken to the core. 

Can supercomputers really create a utopian networked society? Can technological code implanted into human beings smooth imperfections and result in a better world? What about the proles, who eschew the urban wonders the Theites have embraced, and who desire a different lifestyle outside of computer-controlled culture? 

Science, philosophy, and moral and ethical quandaries coalesce in a satisfying manner in Proles. Some sci-fi readers might consider the constantly changing perspectives and questions that permeate this story a challenge to absorb, but Joel E Lorentzen's read isn't intended for casual action-oriented sci-fi audiences. It will please more intellectual readers of Orwell, H.G. Wells, and others who question the idea of an idyllic, one-size-fits-all social order. 

High Council member Christina states the evolutionary apex of these goals in her speech: “For many years, the progress of the Best Society was constrained by the capacity of this model to assimilate the needs of many of the world’s proles. The scale of the demands required refinements in production and distribution models, and the new version is significantly improved. But the breakthrough innovation is its treatment of behavioral science. In this model, social constructs are no longer just inputs, but outputs – so that happiness itself can be managed and maximized. Higher levels of happiness can be achieved, even with the same goods and services. So far, the evidence is convincing. People have more of everything that makes them happy, and everyone is happier with what they have.” 

Lorentzen excels at leading readers to question the benefits of a happy world if it demands conformity from all in order to define and reflect that feeling of success. 

He also injects a powerful series of events into this allegory that are reflected in modern social struggles. This, much as the classic novel 1984 did upon its first appearance many decades ago, succeeds in engaging modern readers with a social backdrop which is eerily similar to modern scenarios, yet alien at the same time. 

Through Julianna's changing life, the pivot point reflecting the clashing values of Theites and proles, readers receive a powerful intersection and examination of values that offer engaging, thought-provoking considerations of the kind of human society and the image of perfection that humans are striving for today. 

In a world where showing grief is cause for treatment and striving for bigger things outside the norm borders on revolution, where can Julianna find a revised sense of peace that has been unstable since her father's demise? 

Joel E Lorentzen's story asks hard questions about values, control, freedom, and smoothing out differences between people in society. It leads readers to consider their own answers as technology and culture clash in this futuristic story. 

Proles: A Novel About 2084 is highly recommended not just for sci-fi readers, but literature and social issues classes looking for discussion material about managed societies and the outcome of a controlled search for human perfection. 


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Biography & Autobiography

Dawn Downey
Pathless Land Press
978-0-9963240-7-6         $14.00 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room is a highly recommended memoir that uses the essay format to its best advantage. It tackles issues of women's lives and racial divide during the course of Dawn Downey's life, from childhood to adulthood. 

Most of Dawn's friends were white. She subconsciously assumed a mantle of privilege and accessibility from these early relationships that lead black classmates to identify her as "high yellow," and not of their group. 

From a move from Des Moines to Pasadena and a white stepmother, Downey was labeled by classmates and identified as a "a high-potential/low-achiever" by her school, which deemed she needed extra help, and was faced with changes not of her choosing. 

A series of moves led to her being identified as "stuck up" (among other names), while various moves, from changing her hairstyle to both learning about and hiding from the world around her, led her through counterculture worlds of white and black folk that each challenged her path to self-realization and empowerment. 

As her journey evolves, readers receive a fine discussion of privilege, oppression, and the kinds of interactions between whites and blacks at all levels of society, from arts and theater groups to school and new age circles. 

It's rare to receive a memoir that crosses so many social and cultural boundaries; much less one that takes the time to explore how these relationships and perceptions ultimately affect a sense of racial awareness and self. 

Downey takes the time to explore this process and the accompanying stereotypes that permeate both her life and the world that affects it: "A white woman was going to clean my house. Mon and Mama chuckled at the notion. Their white ladies chuckled too, because I had hired help—just as they had. My yoga classmates would chuckle in bemusement that help was anything other than a solution to a problem. What’s the fuss? Dirty house? Call Sarah." 

Downey's story gives readers insights that will lead to self-examination of underlying prejudices, assumptions, stereotypes, and the process of self-realization that can often be sent off course by attitudes inherent in class, race, and economic status. 

Blindsided is more than just one woman's life experiences. It follows the steps of a dance black people face in their lives every day. (White people, too, would face the music if they could recognize the dance is being enacted on racial and social lines.) 

Blindsided offers the first step towards this awareness with a powerful series of snapshots of one woman's journey through racist attitudes on all sides. It is highly recommended reading for anyone concerned about the evolution and processes of racism in America. 


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Clarity: A Memoir
Diane Estill
Corncob Press
978-0990644231            $14.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle  

At age four, author Diane Estill was largely parenting herself, managing the family finances and shopping for groceries while her father chased women and her mother checked out. Clarity: A Memoir mines these early memories for important insights about abuse and its lasting impact on families. 

Clarity is about the process of growing up virtually alone, without guidance, and falling into the trap of manipulation. From having to confront childhood monsters without the comfort of caregivers, to handling frightening adult responses to life, Estill reveals how emotionally abused children navigate their world to survive. When her volatile father drives dangerously, raging at a sputtering auto engine, she intuits his message: Perform or perish. “Never would I disobey my dad, I resolved. When he raged, even his car feared him." That singular thought readies her for a lifetime of people pleasing. 

From coping with her father's sexual fixations, to an abrupt move from an urban to a rural lifestyle, Estill searches for an ever-elusive normalcy. Even after she marries, she’s still trapped with her crazy family and looking for a way out: “ marriage had not extinguished the need to escape home. All I had gained was a cellmate." 

As her story moves into spiritual realms, Estill finds a level of acceptance and a different kind of love that changes her perspective. "Reluctantly I accepted what I'd spent a lifetime denying. I would never have the relationship I craved with my mom or dad. "

Filled with moments of self-discovery that will especially resonate with fans of The Glass Castle and The Liar’s ClubClarity is more than just a memoir. This personal narrative told in a fictional style traces the path from abuse to recovery and forgiveness.  

Readers interested in stories replete with psychological and emotional depth will welcome this engaging read. 

Clarity: A Memoir

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Get Up & Fight
Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi & Jean Kanokogi, PhD
All She Wrote Productions
9781736089040             $9.95 Kindle
Publisher Website:

Martial arts collections and readers who enjoy biographies of notable figures are in for a treat with Get Up & Fight: The Memoir of Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, The Mother of Women’s Judo. This sports autobiography revolves around a woman who promoted the presence of women in martial arts early on, covering the blatant discrimination and prejudice she faced while honing her abilities and making a name for herself. 

Rusty's dreams went beyond individual success. She wanted women's judo to earn a place in the Olympics, and served as a role model to younger women coming up in the martial arts world. 

From her coming of age in beauty school where white girls were a minority and gangs usually involved male participants to her determination to fight on many different levels and make a name for herself, Rusty alternated between "creating chaos" wherever she went and promoting empowerment and physical ability. 

Vivid memories accompanied by color images throughout capture this evolving sense of strength: "My Capone image was surfacing. All the other areas of my life seemed out of my control, but when I acquired that Capone persona, I was the one with the power. One day, I was using the stapler too long for one of the boys in English class. When he came over to me to take the stapler, I got out of my chair and told him to get the hell away from me or I would staple his balls together. After I slapped his head by surprise, he meekly walked away. I was in control, even if just for the moment. This felt surprisingly calming to me." 

The story of how these early encounters led to her involvement in women's martial arts and her determination to strengthen herself by working out makes for an inspirational story that charts the huge steps forward made by women in judo. 

Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi's story also embraces the specter of discrimination in women's sports. It's particularly notable for its insights into how she fought on this level, as well: "I think Miller just got caught up in this mess because he was basically a nice guy. It was a perfect example of passing the buck. With all my reading of the documents on laws, entitlements and rights, I didn’t know where to turn. But not for long. I had already been to Los Angles to give testimony to the American Civil Liberties Union regarding discrimination of women’s judo and would, at a later date, join several other sport groups who were organizing against the International Olympic Committee." 

Get Up & Fight is a book that will appeal beyond martial arts or women's sports memoir circles, making it onto the reading lists of those interested in the history and evolution of women's competitive sports and the discrimination surrounding it. 

Get Up & Fight

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Gray Is the New Black
Dorothy Rice
Otis Books
978-9980-2-4302-7         $12.95

Gray Is the New Black is a memoir drawn from Dorothy Rice's memory of events that took place during her coming of age in the 1960s. It reflects on these events from the vantage point of experience and maturity as it considers her changing relationships with sisters, friends, and other women who influenced her life from youth onwards. 

From changing body image and the perceptions of youth and aging as the years unfold to dealing with a mother's Alzheimer's and her cultivation of a 'heroic resistance' to remain strong in the face of life's adversities and challenges, Rice offers readers a journey through changing life rituals. This process is cemented by a woman's attempts to move through critical self-inspection to self-acceptance and a better appreciation of her strengths. 

Through struggles with aging to realizing dreams and embracing new visions of what makes for an effective, fulfilling life, Rice blends a sense of humor into her examinations of family, friends, and social pressures. 

Her self-consideration pulls no punches: "Mom nailed it, as mothers often do. I hated myself. Sometimes I still do...My parents didn't put the self loathing in me. No man put the hate in men, though most didn't do me any favors, either. 63 might be kind of late in life to go searching for a better way to be, to cope, but better late than never. Half a century of shame is a lot to shed." 

By reviewing the processes, influences, and, most of all, the inner messages that directed her life choices, Rice offers other women of all ages a blueprint of life's ups, downs, and the underlying perceptions that directed it. 

Ultimately, Gray Is the New Black is about finding the life lessons that influence us, then reconsidering and re-envisioning them to more powerful approaches to living. 

For Rice, there's always a new plan. For readers who choose her book, there are many insights into the pitfalls and promises which lead to close relationships that hopefully move beyond shared history and into better levels of acceptance on all sides. 

Gray Is the New Black charts this course. Its review of Rice's life and attitudes towards aging, growth, and change moves from the 1960s generation into modern times. It's a read that ideally will be chosen by all ages; especially women seeking to understand the underlying messages affecting their own identities and growth. Ultimately, it's about learning a new language. 

Gray Is the New Black

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I Am Here: Postcards from My Daughter in Spirit
Judith Jones Togher
Izzard Ink Publishing
9781642280630             $14.95 

I Am Here: Postcards from My Daughter in Spirit is about the after-death communications that mother Judith Jones Togher experienced after the death of her daughter. It provides a story of hope, inspiration, and afterlife possibilities to those who would read about a journey through grief and accept the possibility of a lingering spiritual connection afterwards. 

Togher uses dreams, automatic writing, and mediums to reconnect with her daughter. Her process of journeying to new realms of discovery, grieving, and recovery through them will prove especially inspirational to those facing their own grieving process. 

The succinct, hard-hitting introduction pulls no punches, laying out the course of this journey in the very first paragraph: "I lost a child. My youngest daughter died and I was so overcome with the darkness of grief that I wanted to die too. It was only when I knew she really was not far from me, and we could still communicate in a different way, that the darkness lifted and I began to heal and live the life I needed to live, in peace and in wonderment. I hope to convey ways for you to learn to recognize messages that your loved one may give you in Spirit, and to discover some techniques to help you through grief and loss toward healing and joy in life." 

Togher finds pieces of her daughter in everyday life...postcards, if you will, which serve as healing reminders of past and present connections which last beyond death: "On a day of mixed memories centered on her life and passing, this message was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s an example of my daughter’s sense of humor and love for her friend." 

These serve as reminders of a connection that does not fade, but is living proof of resilience, love, and the lasting power of a faith and opportunities that still exist after the death of a loved one. 

As Togher documents these postcard reminders and the healing process they bring, readers will find many insights throughout. Those open to the work of mediums will also discover that the mother/daughter bond is strengthened through messages and perceptions of their continued applications to everyday people and events: "...she wanted me to tell a good friend in San Francisco that she was always there for her. She expressed that her friends were not open to her clues that she was near, and it caused her much frustration!" 

Ideally, I Am Here will be chosen by those who struggle with grief after the death of a loved one, who are open to the possibilities of their continued presence in and influence on life after their passing. This audience will have set aside skepticism in favor of seeing opportunities to heal and revise their connections to their loved one, and will find I Am Here a golden opportunity to move ahead and onward, bringing not just the memories but the influence of a loved one through them in life. 

Togher explains why this is so important to the recovery process, for her: "Spirit has reassured us of the afterlife. Suzanne has reassured me of her happiness, joy and the fact of her presence when I need her. There is nothing to fear of death, and knowing this, we find our grief from the loss of loved ones here on Earth is eased." 

Through her experiences, readers receive keys on how to find, recognize, and use their own 'postcards' to develop a revised worldview and connections to spirit and deceased loved ones. I Am Here's notes about compassion and the accompanying grieving of those who also experienced loss on different levels are signposts to new opportunities and life perspectives. 

I Am Here should be included on the reading lists of those recovering from grief and those interested in afterlife stories and how they affect the living. 

I Am Here: Postcards from My Daughter in Spirit

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Love for a Deaf Rebel: Schizophrenia on Bowen Island
Derrick King
Provenance Press
ebook: 978-981-18-0575-2, 190 Pages, ePub
Print: 978-981-18-0574-5, 356 Pages, PDF, Illustrated 

Are you deaf?” Derrick said to the young woman in the food court who was intently studying the young banker sitting in the seat opposite her. With this question, his life changed as he slowly fell in love with Pearl, thought he came to understand her, and then found the added challenge of living with a paranoid schizophrenic without knowing what was wrong. She wrote: “I watch lips. If you speak and I ignore you will think I am rude. I don’t want hearing to think that deafies like me are rude.” 

The encounter between strangers living in two worlds is compellingly described. The bond that then develops brings with it revelations about prejudice, acceptance, handicaps, and relationships. As the author begins to see how his perception of a relationship with a handicapped woman is influenced by his vision of equality, he changes … and so will the reader. 

Pearl is deaf, but her struggle is psychological. Derrick must face both his love for her and, later, his growing realization that she needs more help than he can offer. He is especially astute at describing the intersection of his needs and Pearl’s psyche: “I was still so stunned by her accusations that I couldn’t see how much Pearl must have been suffering in order to develop, to live with, and to act upon her bizarre thoughts.” The duality of deafness and schizophrenia is charted through the lens of an intense love and personal growth process that brings a “you are here” feel to the story in a way few other memoirs achieve. 

Derrick’s shift from staid banker to hobby farmer and devoted husband to frustrated partner are exceptional coverages that offer readers in any similar circumstance the opportunity to reconsider not just their relationship, and their prejudices and motivations surrounding it, but obstacles and opportunities for change. This is an important feature in Love for a Deaf Rebel because it embraces not just personal experience, but many thought-provoking insights into the mechanics of identifying, helping, and living with deafness and schizophrenia simultaneously: a one-two punch that would leave many lost. 

The eye-opening contrast between following dreams and building an adventurous life together and the crushing realities of a mental illness which can’t be left behind show what it means to be in love against all odds. This isn’t just a story of relationship discoveries; it’s about building a life together, constructing a home, discovering a swindler and a spoiled house, and Pearl’s challenge of developing enough trust to build the devotion that “glues” a marriage together over the long term, ready to have children. 

As their relationship founders, Derrick questions his love, commitment, and ability to remain a force in her life and in his own. The role of friends and family is examined as closely as Derrick’s own interactions with her and his choices to stand by her while her mental health collapses, nearly bringing him down with it. 

Anyone interested in mental illness in family relationships or in the special interactions between deaf and hearing lovers will find Love for a Deaf Rebel infused with a passion that brings it more than a cut above the normal memoir; it’s a riveting adventure through life and psyche that proves hard to put down. The epilogue is especially touching—but don’t read it until the end. 

Love for a Deaf Rebel is offered in a 350-page print edition and a 190-page ebook edition. The print edition has twelve pages of color photos of their life together while the ebook edition provides readers with a shorter story that can be more easily browsed on a small mobile reader. As a tribute to Pearl, both editions are free to download. 

Love for a Deaf Rebel: Schizophrenia on Bowen Island

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The Rope of Life: A Memoir
Mirinda Kossoff
Lystra Books & Literary Services, LLC
978-1-7336816-7-4         $16.95 Paper/$6.99 Kindle 

The Rope of Life: A Memoir represents a daughter's journey to understand enigmatic father Hugh Kossoff, who died at age fifty-six. He left behind a legacy that involved renouncing his Jewish heritage and becoming a Baptist in staunchly Confederate town Danville, Virginia in an attempt to fit in and raise his family without the stigma of being a 'Yankee Jew'. 

Hugh prospered financially as the town dentist, but he and his family never quite overcame the stigma attached to their Jewish roots, nor did daughter Mirinda Kossoff really begin to understand her father's choices until she embarked on a personal journey to more closely probe her family's roots and the wellsprings of her father's decisions. 

More so than most books about family ties, mysteries, and the lingering impacts of decisions, The Rope of Life represents an investigative process and coming to terms with the past that will appeal beyond Jewish readers to any who wonder about their parents' decisions, psyches, and influences. 

Mirinda once trusted her capable father to bring them back home safely when she flew with him in his small plane, only to find, once they were in the air, that landmarks were all he had available to guide him. It was a one-time event she undertook to prove her loyalty to him; but once he was gone, that loyalty is tested over and over as she uncovers facts about his life and choices, and their lasting consequences. 

At the point of his permanent departure, Mirinda excels at describing the enigma he's become and the distance between them as she became an adult: "He was fifty-three years old then, not old, and I was thirty, not a child, and we were at a crossroads. Debilitating back pain had reduced him to a phantom of his former hyperactive, optimistic self. His confidence was shaky. He worked less and less. He was not the father I knew growing up, the one I looked up to as fearless, strong, funny, protective, and controlling. After college, I fled my hometown to live in Japan, followed a few years later by nine months in England. While my world was expanding, his was shrinking. It frightened me to learn the extent to which he had withered, while I was living my life apart from his." 

As she reviews her own childhood, coming of age, adulthood, and changing relationship with her parents, the story includes many personal insights of coping mechanisms and approaches to life that stemmed from her upbringing: "In situations where others get emotional and break down, I have vast reserves of psychic Novocain. Only an interior adrenaline buzz lets me know something emotional is going on. Much later, the real feelings surface, in private." 

Adult children rediscovering the sources of their own attitudes towards and reactions to life will find The Rope of Life: A Memoir especially significant not just for its psychological inspections, but for its capture of the social and cultural atmosphere of a Southern girl's coming of age in Jim Crow South with a Jewish father who tried his best to fit in, but never could break the racial prejudice barrier. 

Its dual story of family tragedy and social change will engross any reader interested in either family relationships or the circumstances of prejudice in the 1960s Jim Crow era—lessons perhaps holding even more importance in the face of modern attempts to return to some of the life approaches and values of the past. 

The Rope of Life: A Memoir

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Who Do You Think You Are?
Joseph Torra
PFP Publishing
9781736720226             $20.00 

Who Do You Think You Are? Reflections of a Writer's Life... reviews Joseph Torra's thirty-some years as a writer and teacher, examining his life and literary challenges. It's a memoir that shares personal stories about his youth, coming of age, and artistic influences; but most of all, it's a story of perseverance and an evolving dream that will strike a chord with anyone who has aspired towards success. 

The title comes from an encounter with a peer who challenged such a dream coming from a young man who was somewhat of a drifter through life: "One day I told an old corner friend that I wanted to be a writer. He looked at me as if I'd grown a third eye and asked, Who the fuck do you think you are?" 

It's always an extraordinary effort to harbor dreams that are not part of either one's upbringing or support system. Torra went on to publish sixteen books, including works of fiction and poetry, and to become an editor; but this book is about the process of discovering and nurturing a creative spirit against all odds. 

It nicely juxtaposes these growth processes as he taps his job as a waiter in Boston to interact with writers, musicians, and creative folk in "the perfect work environment for me" and hones his craft and vision. 

His experiences of and comments on mentors and their lasting impact is only one critical piece to a story that ultimately outlines not just an individual pathway to literary success, but how kids from disparate environments can follow their own aspirations to achievement, no matter how impossible or far-fetched the dream. 

Within this writer's life are nuggets of wisdom on how to navigate life's obstacles to envision, refine, and reach for something different. 

Who Do You Think You Are? is an inspiring, lively read that not only reveals Torra's world, but invites readers to consider their own processes and goals in the art world, no matter what their origins and experiences seem to dictate as a logical course. 

Who Do You Think You Are?

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Mystery & Thrillers

The Cat in the Window Murders
Frank L. Gertcher
Cardinal Publishers Group
978-1-7351459-3-8         $29.95 

The Cat in the Window Murders is the third in a murder-mystery series and opens with the first-person diary of Caroline Case Jones, a wealthy woman who made her money in the 1920s as 'Madame Caroline' running houses of ill repute in Wabash Valley. 

In this book, Caroline moves from her former world to becoming a sleuth working alongside Hannibal Jones, her business and romantic partner. Their latest adventure involves a trip to Europe in 1929-30, where they encounter further intrigue in a war-torn milieu where murder is the norm, not the exception. Their arrival at the scene of the murder of an American heiress on the luxury ship SS Isle de France leads to a series of dangerous encounters that tests them in many new ways. 

Caroline runs in more expensive circles than the usual P.I. From being a guest of Coco Chanel at an exclusive model session to a broadening case that involves a search for gangsters Paul Carbone, François Spirito and their contacts in the Préfet de Police, this romp through 1930s Europe comes to life through first-person observations.

As she solves cases big and small, the investigative questioning and cases are supplemented by humor that brings not just the mysteries but the European countryside to life: "Hannibal turned to me, grinned and said: “Pierre said the cow’s death will be ruled a suicide. Shall we continue our journey?” “Good idea,” I replied. “Case closed. Would you like to drive?” 

Frank L. Gertcher is adept at capturing the atmosphere of both P.I. work and Europe of the times. He also injects moral and ethical conundrums into his story for more than just a methodical investigative mystery“I have skirted the fringes of gang warfare most of my adult life,” my thoughts continued. “Sometimes justice is served outside the law,” I finally rationalized. I could see no downside to such an outcome." The conscious reflections on choice, consequence and their ultimate impact both on the investigation process and its outcome spices the story and gives it a three-dimensional feel too often lacking in P.I. procedurals. 

This, combined with a winning attention to capturing the social, political, and cultural milieu of Europe as seen from the eyes of two American investigators, creates a warm and compelling story that attracts on many levels. The Cat in the Window Murders will reach newcomers and prior readers alike with a mystery that isn't just a singular production, but a multifaceted journey through bygone times. 

The Cat in the Window Murders

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City of Schemes
Bill Garwin
Independently Published
9798503372403             $9.75 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Thriller readers who enjoy high-octane adventure with nonstop twists and turns will find City of Schemes just the ticket for a thoroughly engrossing read. 

The story is supercharged from its first paragraphs describing Megan Garrity's race through the San Francisco Bay waters at night in a blow-up boat. She's entrusted her survival and that of her shivering thirteen-year-old son Nick beside her to the Yellow Brick Road human smugglers. 

Megan isn't a criminal. She's a concerned mother on a mission to save her son: "Being a mother, Megan came to believe there were two sets of rules. One governed most everything, most every day. The other required you to do whatever you must for your child, which was why she was about to break into Norcal, a place of infinite opportunity." 

The "infinite opportunity" she perceives is about to become an infinite nightmare, opening doors to a breached experiment that began with the government's blessing and is now being run by a monster armed not only with the biggest technological advancements in existence, but the power of an alternate Internet-type system, the Grid. 

Megan didn't go looking for trouble. YBR reached out and found her. She'd never thought of breaking the rules, before. Now she's doing nothing but breaking everything around her. The story that opens with a bang just gets fierier and more absorbing as hacker and leader Walrus assigns an anarchist detective to follow her, only to find that Boty and Bob have intercepted her, first. 

Why is Megan in the crosshairs of so many forces? What does her special son Nick have to do with these plots and ploys? 

Bill Garwin's story is set against the backdrop of San Francisco and embraces its streets, culture, sights, and sounds. San Francisco natives will enjoy this backdrop, which is the perfect choice for the intrigue that revolves around Megan and the disparate special forces that operate under the city's different layers of street culture. 

The action is unrelenting, characterization and intrigue well done and built to attract and maintain attention, and the story line's blend of high-tech threat and human clashes on various levels keeps readers engrossed. 

Most of all, the believable character of a concerned mother who is drawn into affairs far beyond her comfort zone or knowledge keeps the action personal and intriguing. 

As the Norcal projects and intentions unfold, the puzzles intersect and become even more complex and satisfying. Readers are invited to absorb moral and ethical decision-making dilemmas as the line between good and bad guys blurs. 

Garwin's ability to introduce a wide range of special interests and characters, with chases and action moving from San Francisco to beyond the Bay Area, keeps his story edgy and engrossing. It's just the ticket for an escape into a world laced with real places and influential rebels whose intentions to do good become diverted and sometimes corrupted in unexpected ways. 

City of Schemes

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Michael R. French
Moot Point Publications
978-1-7325117-5-0         $14.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

Cliffhanger: Jump Before You Get Pushed is a futuristic genre-busting blend of romance, intrigue, mystery, and sci-fi set in 2030, a near-future world that feels both familiar and frighteningly alien. Self-billed by Michael R. French as an 'existential thriller', Cliffhanger has been rewritten from a young adult story French began three years ago into one for adults, who will find its social and political messages especially powerful in these pandemic times. 

The story opens twenty-nine years in the past, when an under-thirty Senate staffer on break witnesses the attack on the World Trade Center. Stuart moves from D.C. determined to avoid big cities and disillusioned about his pursuit of a political career, as a result. He randomly chooses to make his new home in Hawthorn, Indiana, which he deems "quiet and out of the way, and insulated from the dreams of unpredictable fanatics." 

But Indiana holds its own political ambitions, contestants, and challenges. Fast forward to high school political candidates Matthew and his novice opponent Britain as they run for office. While their campaign would seem to affect little outside of the school, one history teacher believes that the winner is destined to change America. 

As Brit and Matthew struggle both with each other and the future of their high school and nation, the town of Hawthorn becomes a microcosm representing political approaches, ambitions, and threats. 

Michael R. French is adept at capturing the nuances of this process as the candidates cultivate different approaches to the ultimate goal of winning: "Someone can call himself a winner, but does that make him a winner? How much do you really know about my chief competitor? Read his Wiki page carefully. Demand transparency from Team Matthew, because that’s what I’m giving you—the whole truth and nothing but. I’ve just been called a sorcerer. I can prove otherwise. If I were really a sorcerer, I would have made my opponent disappear. Instead, I’ll give him another chance to come clean and reveal who he really is." 

Brit faces intimidation, scare tactics, hackers, and the lure of breaking rules herself, and thus the race to win becomes a mirror image of America's failing moral and ethical systems as the goal becomes more important than the methods used to achieve it. 

Brit's evolutionary process is nicely detailed in a story that follows her influences, decisions, and growth. French is especially astute at depicting the give-and-take of a no-holds-barred competition: "What were the odds of a ceasefire holding? The spoils of winning seemed too grand for anyone to gamble on peace for very long." 

As Team Matthew's mentors, followers, and campaign ramp up, Brit assesses the price tag of buying loyalty and the deep rifts created in the community by a run for student body president that becomes replete with corruption and moral and ethical challenges. 

Manipulation and covert operations permeate the election and influence Brit's growth as she searches for a way to reign in the greed and ruthlessness that threaten future endeavors and the underlying meaning of PTE (Prosperity Through Education, a nonprofit corporation registered for political fundraising which appears to hold powers beyond its stated intentions). 

Realistic, engrossing, and politically intriguing, Cliffhanger is about the kinds of social, political, and interpersonal abysses faced not just by individuals, but institutions and society as a whole. 

Cliffhanger will delight political thriller readers who will find its social and political commentary shrewdly thought-provoking. 


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A Dangerous Freedom
John Ruane
Permuted Press
978-1682619735            $17.00 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Thrillers revolving around terrorism and struggles against it abound; but what places John Ruane's story in a different category than most is its attention to building a character who confronts adversity in a different way. 

Dylan Reilly has only resorted to carrying a gun in the aftermath of three attacks that threaten him and his wife. Dylan has become an expert shooter. This leads to an approach to confronting danger that is reminiscent of old-time Western days as he develops a sixth sense for trouble and protects wife Darleen and himself. 

This story offers realistic focus on the lasting effects of 9/11 on the country. Dylan not only develops a hyper-ability to perceive threats and tackle them more effectively, but those around him acknowledge that this awareness has permeated society: "A smirk grew on the security guard’s face. “Sure, I get it,” said the officer with a strong Brooklyn accent. “You’re at the Freedom Tower for the first time, right?”  “Yes,” said Dylan, looking around, realizing this guard wasn’t taking him seriously.  “You’re overwhelmed by the fact that you’re standing in the place where the worst attack on American soil took place, and you have to keep an eye out for terrorists, who will no doubt attack again, right?” 

While Dylan's instincts are spot on and get him out of many kinds of binds, terrorist threats become part of the cat-and-mouse game he's always fighting: "Ziad felt no remorse about killing innocent civilians, Americans." 

Forced to change his looks and his approach to identifying trouble in the making, Dylan finds that, too often, he remains the only obstacle to terrorist plots that others don't seem to see in advance. 

Can the world's fastest gun outthink them all and prove a hero to a country reeling from violent attacks? 

John Ruane does a particularly fine job of capturing the psychological milieu of modern-day America post-911. As his main protagonist's role and objectives are brought to life, so is the growth process of both an individual tasked with protecting others and the ordinary citizens of a nation tasked with protecting itself. 

Readers who think that the proliferation of guns and those who employ them in the name of justice should be tempered might find the plot and actions of its main protagonist to be counter to their beliefs, but Ruane creates a thought-provoking inspection of the character of a man who turns to firearms to thwart his enemies. 

As Dylan's coveted anonymity is lost, along with many of the things he treasures in life, he reinvents himself in a specific manner that leads him to expose not just himself, but the undercurrents of threat that create the very dangers communities strive to foil. 

The result is a thought-provoking blend of cowboy-style heroism, terrorism inspection, and social commentary that will leave thriller readers thinking long after the final volley is fired. 

A Dangerous Freedom

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A Different Way to Die
Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing

A Different Way to Die is the eighth installment in the Jake Travis series and opens with his investigation of a boat fire that presumably claimed the life of twenty-two-year-old Chris Callaghan twenty-four years earlier. 

Revisiting such an old case is never easy, but Yankee Conrad, an uncle who remains uncomfortable about its unresolved issues, employs Jake to resume the investigation to find out what really happened. 

What Jake uncovers awakens a hornet's nest of present-day trouble that involves close-held secrets by a small town's group of friends, who have a vested interest in never revealing the truth. 

Yankee asks one more thing of Travis. “I ask you to always act in my family’s best interest. To treat all information with utmost confidentiality.” “You have my word.”    Those were easy words to say, but hard words to keep." 

Although this is the eighth story in the series, it's important to note that, at this point, A Different Way to Die holds the rare ability to act as a stand-alone read for those who usually eschew series titles, and a complimentary new adventure for prior Travis fans. 

Both audiences will relish the tension and mystery that surround this latest investigative process, which moves from a local mystery to international waters, politics, and foreign operations. 

From relics of the Cold War to the rise of the Network which challenges Jake and those who have come to believe in him, the story embraces wild cards, risks, secret government operatives and operations, and much more. 

Robert Lane's story embraces so many twists and turns that readers who anticipate a small-town local whodunit will find the thriller unusually expansive and complex as Jake follows the dots that wind through personal lives and government affairs alike. 

The story's ability to move within and between such circles while keeping readers engrossed in the intrigue is exceptional, providing a powerful story of difficult choices and their consequences: "Every day is a deeper well of what I don’t know. We only know the path we take.” 

A Different Way to Die's hard-hitting story will prove hard to put down, unexpected right up to its surprise conclusion. That Lane can create such an expansive story, yet keep the action nonstop and the logic and characterization impeccably realistic, is to his credit and lends to the exceptional read; a 'must' for any thriller and mystery enthusiast. 

A Different Way to Die

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Dying for Dominoes
Jane Elzey
Scorpius Carta Press
$26.99 Hardcover; $13.99 Paper 

Dying for Dominoes is a Cardboard Cottage murder mystery about a group of middle-aged women charged with enjoying the games that draw them together in the Tiddlywinks Players Club, headed by Amy Sparks. 

During the course of the game, a confession about a best friend who is tired of her fourth husband leads to an investigation when he's found murdered, leading Amy to believe that perhaps the game served as a warning of impending disaster, imparting information she was privy to. 

Charged with supporting her friend and uncovering the truth about her husband's death, Amy becomes a sleuth determined to win a very different which tests the boundaries of friendship. 

Jane Elzey's blend of murder mystery and a circle of female friends who get together to play dominoes and talk makes for a cozy, warm story that is as much about evolving interpersonal relationships that change under adversity as it is about whodunit. 

Elzey creates warm moments and thoughtful inspections of middle age, sisterhood, and murder that tests and expands friends' perceptions of their lives, heritage, and approaches to problem-solving: “Amy, listen to me,” Genna continued, her face flushed. “None of us had a reason to run Zack over. Zip. Nada. Nil. That’s the story, no matter who is doing the telling. Or who is doing the asking. Not one of us had a motive nor opportunity to kill Zack. Even if that fat, stinky old copper thinks we did! Got it?” “Except for me.” Zelda’s voice was barely audible. “I doubled Zack’s life insurance policy six months ago. He thought it was a good idea.” “Why did you do that?” Amy asked. “Protection against the odds. Zack was a horrible husband.” 

The blend of sassy, feisty, assertive women who take charge of the situation and a probe that begins to reveal more than a perp wants discovered adds to a story that is replete with strong characters, steeped in the atmosphere of the South and the culture of an Arkansas tourist town. 

Dying for Dominoes is a moving story of discovery that tests the fine line between reality and insanity as the women use their game-playing prowess to tackle a real-life series of cat-and-mouse moves. 

Cozy mystery readers are in for a delightful treat that engages female mystery readers, presenting a circle of savvy friends dedicated to supporting each other with affection while staying candid and realistic about all the possibilities in an evolving conundrum that threatens their lives, their trust in one another, and their ability to cheat the odds. 

Dying for Dominoes

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Family Secret
Tom P. Alberti
Independently Published
ASIN: B091CZ3ZRT             $2.99 Kindle 

In Family Secret, Frank Winslow has only been working in his father's business for a few months as its new accountant before he stumbles upon a secret that results in his murder. 

Charged with discovering the reasons behind Frank's murder, Lieutenant Paul Marconi and Detective Abby Trip find that as quickly as they develop suspects and motives, these are, in turn, murdered. 

Frank was unerringly honest and was conflicted about fingering his father in an embezzlement scheme he must have known about, before his demise. It's up to the two detectives to sift through the mounting clues and bodies to find answers. 

Tom P. Alberti injects a wry sense of humor throughout the process, which is strengthened by first-person observations and experiences: "Poor Francis." His eyes opened wide as he kept shaking his head, staring at the ground. "I can't believe it. Francis was a nice man. So was his woman friend." "Woman?" My trip suddenly became worthwhile. "Can you describe this woman?" "She was a tall woman, I think, had blond hair, or was it red?" He tapped his dirty index finger on his lips. He then remarked, "She had a great ass." Great, I'll just go back to headquarters and look into our databases for a "great ass." 

He also includes a wide range of victim involvements, such as Regina, Frank's fiancée, and the life they were to have before everything went awry for both of them. 

This second book in the Lieutenant Marconi series (the first was The Unexpected Visitor) will especially delight readers of Sherlock Holmes, who will appreciate Alberti's attention to detail as the story pieces together a seemingly impossible murder puzzle. 

As perps are considered and begin to fall like dominos, Paul Marconi and Abby Trip find that the one person not on their radar is the more likely threat; but is in the least suspect position. 

Alberti's characters are as inviting and as involving as the mystery itself. The first-person observations of the investigator, the dialogues between Paul and Abby, and the conundrums that grow to embrace murder and a nefarious plot that holds unintended consequences creates a riveting detective investigation with many satisfying twists and turns. 

The humor that offers comic relief throughout ("I turned, but not quick enough. In that instant, I saw a flash of fire. The figure, behind me, dropped to the floor as the gun he had pointed at my back fell from his hand. I then saw the nozzle of a forty-five that belonged to Abby. "I owe you a day-off," I mused. "More like a month," she quipped.") and the blend of fast-paced action, confrontation, and problem-solving savvy contribute to a police procedural detective story that is engrossing, surprising, and hard to put down. 

Family Secret

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Fatal Infraction
Kevin G. Chapman
Independently Published
B091PNQRQ8                       $2.99 Kindle  

Readers of police procedurals and crime stories will find Fatal Infraction just the ticket for an engrossing whodunit read. It returns NYPD homicide detectives Mike Stoneman and Jason Dickson to center stage as they investigate the strange death of a football quarterback found naked on a park carousel. 

Jimmy Rydell was as controversial in life as he is mysterious in the nature of his death. He was missing for two days before his body was found. And it was well known that he'd crossed the line in sleeping with teammate Nate Bedford's girlfriend before his murder. 

It seems obvious that Nate is the perp; but as Mike and Jason investigate, too many questions and possibilities emerge that lead them into an ever-more convoluted probe of Jimmy's life and the forces working against him. 

The action is swift and the police investigation nicely done, but it's the reader with an interest in football, team politics and processes, and the sport's interplay with other influencers who will find this story particularly compelling. 

Did a racist football fan kill him? Is an unidentified bald giant the killer? Was Jimmy connected to a larger crime operation? Is there a second killer? And does another murder suggest that a bigger picture is involved? The more information they receive, the less the list of suspects narrows. While some facts about a scheme mesh, other questions are unresolved, leading Mike and Jason to realize that they only know a small piece of the puzzle, even after they have a suspect in jail. 

As questions mount, the action is fast-paced, the investigative logic impeccable, and the unexpected twists and turns of story are nicely done. All this brings readers on a roller coaster ride of possibilities and emotions that form the controversies and ultimate outcome of Jimmy's life and death. Along the way, Mike learns some lessons about racism from his Black partner. 

Kevin G. Chapman is adept at creating a fast-paced story that keeps readers thinking, wondering, and on their toes. Sports fans, in particular, will find this murder mystery a special blend of intrigue, sports politics and associations, and unexpected social inspections of the roots of and connections between prejudice, sports, and political involvements. 

Fatal Infraction

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First Cut
J.T. Bishop
Eudoran Press, LLC
978-1732553125            $4.99 (ebook)/$14.95 (paperback)

First Cut is Book One in the 'Family or Foe' series and provides thriller and mystery readers with a psychic adventure that revolves around former Seattle detective Jill Jacobs, who has failed to catch a serial killer despite her best efforts. 

Jill is on a drinking binge in San Diego, far from the scene of a crime she was ultimately unable to solve, when the serial killer turns up in her new life and town to strike once again. 

Why should she become re-involved? Because her hidden ability involves a psychic link to the killer that forces her to view events from his eyes. Her special ability may prove the only key to stopping his relentless bloodbath. 

And so she joins forces with two local detectives, Daniels and Remalla, to augment their probe on quite a different level. There's only one problem. The killer is not only aware of her presence in his mind, but he craves her attention, which may be leading him to kill for a psychic thrill she unwittingly is fostering within him. 

J.T. Bishop excels in providing an inspection that compellingly skirts the boundaries of madness, sanity, and the privacy of thoughts and actions. One especially effective device she employs is a thorough consideration of the psyches of all involved, from the damaged psychic investigator Jill to a detective who has a wife and forthcoming new baby to consider, and a partner willing to risk his personal safety to protect the one witness who may be able to stop the killings. 

It's ironic that the woman who harbors this special skill to see into minds can't reconcile her ability with her own future and heart: "They were quiet for a moment as Elmer chased Bugs through the woods before he spoke. “You ever think about the future?” She tensed, staring at the pillow and playing with its frayed edges. “Not in a long time.” “Why not?”

“What’s to think about?” He shifted to face her. “Oh, I don’t know. Marriage. Kids. You want that?” Her stomach knotted. “I thought I did.” “Not anymore?” “Before the Artist, things were different. Now…well, now I don’t know if I’ll live long enough. It’s hard to see beyond the next day, never mind the next year.” 

As the fates of investigators and killer begin to coalesce, all involved are charged with seeing the world in a different way, which includes futures that once seemed set in stone. 

There is a fair degree of violence, but always in keeping with the story line's progression as Jill becomes threatened. 

From cat-and-mouse games to interactions that become increasingly dangerous on more than one level, Bishop's story is a fine story of intrigue and survival that introduces the first spark of romance and leaves the door well open for more books in the series. 

First Cut

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Haunted River
J. T. Bishop
Eudoran Press, LLC
978-1732553163            $4.99 (ebook)/$14.95 {paperback)

Haunted River, Book One in the 'Detectives Daniels and Remalla' series, is about an unsolved murder, a ghost, and a mystery that rekindles when Detective Gordon Daniels inherits his grandmother's home and a decades-old puzzle. 

His partner, Detective Aaron Remalla, is invited not to open up a new investigation but to clean out the house in preparation for its sale; but what they unearth will spark renewed interest in the outcome and real impact of events that affected not just the house, but the nearby town. 

As Daniels' own family history becomes entwined in a story that embraces too many odd characters and nefarious possibilities, the fate of the murdered nineteen-year-old Scarlet Hokans becomes tied to local residents and events that won't stay buried, arising again to affect present-day people. 

The whole town thinks they know the story—and the perp, identified as Scarlet's boyfriend Big Billy. Also suspect is Daniels' grandfather. 

Can a crystal ball's look into the past revolve the mystery? No; but two savvy detectives can possibly employ unusual devices to get at the heart of this decades-old conundrum. 

From accusations over local drug trade to the real events surrounding now-three dead women (Scarlet, Chelsea, and Annie), the story expands with perp possibilities and a deadly threat. 

Having a phantom be an active part of the problem-solving effort sets this mystery thriller apart from many others. And yet, the detectives must rely not just on supernatural influences, but their own evolving savvy to find a solution to a problem which has eluded every investigator before them. 

A host of characters are created who are realistic, logical, and interesting, with the mystery itself taking several twists and turns readers won't see coming. 

The result is a satisfying blend of investigative procedure and ghost story that provides a haunting tale of detectives who inherit more than a few surprises. Mystery readers who also like a good ghost story will be intrigued by the whodunit and the added spice of a haunting figure. 

Haunted River

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The Seeds of Eden: Privileged Secrets
Harper Woods
Independently Published
979-8636635604            $18.98 Paper/$.99 Kindle 

Book One in the Seeds of Eden series, Privileged Secrets, is a strong political thriller set in a world where a new religious order, The Society of Truth, is taking over. Thousands of people are being brainwashed daily by this cult, which professes to know secrets about achieving immortality. But its members and these secrets are about to be challenged by an underground organization whose sole purpose is to expose and contradict corrupt groups. 

Erica Pfeiffer is the best agent working on this alternate force. She is going undercover as a Society of Truth member to gain access to the mysterious artifacts that have given them this power. While on assignment as a spy, she also discovers a deplorable and sinister practice being conducted in the name of religion.  

As Privileged Secrets evolves into a tense series of encounters that explores social and political challenges, it pairs action-packed scenarios with extraordinary forces reminiscent of Indiana Jones with a dangerous investigation of influences of the past in the manner of The Davinci Code. However, this story also examines the personalities and interests of cult members who have gotten involved and over their heads in the group's secrets and relationships. 

"We have to be prepared for this inevitability. I’m sure God is. He probably inspired us to have this discussion." 

With its premise backed by mystery and religious precedent, the Society seems invincible; its lure impossible to question or break. Erica is charged with gathering her evidence and ammunition from the beginning of time itself. This feels like an impossible situation as she confronts forces beyond even her own vast experience. 

Will a new generation come to the rescue with a special brand of kindness and a secret strength from a Higher Power? 

Readers who enjoy social, political, and spiritual overlays that bring characters and cults to life will appreciate how Harper Woods brings all these facets together in a tense thriller filled with many unexpected twists and turns. 

When values of good and evil are turned upside down and a new cohort rises, can real free will change everything? A new movement within a movement, based on different values, emerges...but, perhaps not in time to save everyone. 

Privileged Secrets proves a powerful force in both its characters and story line. It's thoroughly engrossing, psychologically gripping, and difficult to put down. 

Political thriller readers are in for a treat! 

The Seeds of Eden: Privileged Secrets

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The Sower
Rob Jung
Hawk Hill Literary, LLC, an imprint of Ingram
978-1-7366108-0-0         $15.95 

The Sower is Book Two of the Chimera Chronicles, and continues the story introduced in its prequel, The Reaper. In that first story, Catalan artist Joan Miro's painting, popularly known as 'The Reaper', disappears after the 1937 Paris World Exposition. The last week of that exposition was captured by the experiences of security guard Francois Picard and freight hauler Antoine Lipp in a historical piece that brings the time and the painting's fate to life. 

The Sower continues the saga, and will best be read by those who have enjoyed The Reaper. It carries on the story of what happened after the painting was recovered and a murder mystery investigation begun in 2014, calling into question the recovered art's authenticity and introducing a multifaceted new character in transgender Minnesota P.I. and ex-Marine Veronica "Ronni" Brilliant. 

Ronnie is charged with solving the murder of Lorraine Blethen, Magnolia Kanaranzi’s mother (introduced in the first story), but battles her own trauma and past as she struggles to do her job. At first Magnolia is disturbed about what Ronnie might uncover, but she's admonished that "I have it on good authority that a sex change operation takes their backbone as well as their balls.” 

Aaron Feldman, Kanaranzi’s chief policy adviser, thinks the investigation won't get in the way of Magnolia's political ambitions and plans, but he's wrong. Veronica exhibits tenacity irregardless of her gender, and proves to be a bulldog that can't let go of a lead...even if it threatens her life. 

As conflicts escalate between Kanaranzi and her estranged son and a secret campaign to intimidate Ronni comes to light, Ronni's determination not to become embroiled in a political race is overturned by her increasing involvement in a plot that holds many surprising twists. 

Far more than the usual murder mystery or thriller approach, the historical and psychological elements of The Sower are outstanding.  The true history is so realistically woven into the story line that readers who usually eschew the tendency of historical fiction to impart too many dry facts will find the combination of Ronni's intrigue, problem-solving, and social struggles make for a compelling piece that's hard to put down. 

More than a whodunit mystery, it's a story of redemption, growth, subterfuge, politics, and a determined investigator's pursuit of the truth not only about Magnolia and her family, but her own psyche. 

Set in the political and social milieu of Boston, Minneapolis and St. Paul and including fine details on Ronni's personal relationships and conundrums, The Sower proves every bit as compelling as its predecessor. It will attract an audience of historical mystery readers looking for more psychological depth than the usual murder mystery offers. 

The Sower

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Their Feet Run to Evil
Thomas D. Holland
Independently Published
9798687756235             $14.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook 

Their Feet Run to Evil introduces a new series powered by the figure of Arkansas police chief Big Ray Elmore. It is set in 1957, but contains flashback scenes to a crime committed in the 1930s which seems to be linked to the murder Big Ray is investigating now. 

Historical truths wind into the story to provide realistic, thought-provoking suspense and action, creating a discourse that embraces intrigue while exploring issues of Southern culture, prejudice, and justice. 

The story opens with teen Opal Alice Turner's departure from her uncle's farmhouse. She had left the family's Chicago home in the 1930s to spend the summer with her uncle on his Arkansas delta farm, and her mother warned her at the time about the South's very different culture and her vulnerable place in it. 

But Opal didn't listen to sage advice when she encountered a teenage white boy in the South; and for this, she paid with her life: "She’d made eye contact with him when he surfaced and locked onto her gaze, not averting her amber-colored eyes the way she should have; the way the other Colored girls from the area would have. She was city-bred and anxious to prove it to her cousins and all their country-mouse friends. She didn’t miss an opportunity to remind them that she was from the broad-shouldered city of Chicago." 

Fast forward to 1957, where a rainmaker with a secret to hide uses his knowledge of the Mississippi River to get rid of a bundle of evidence that could land him in big trouble. He feels no regrets because he, after all, is righteous man: "It wasn’t that he had any remorse. Remorse was too much akin to guilt, and he had none of that. What did he have to feel guilty about? He knew that he was a religious man."  It's a perception that will come back to haunt him as Big Ray probes events that bring up a lynching and stir up memories that some have repressed even as others have hidden behind them. 

As Big Ray probes the rainmaker's actions and past, he draws closer to a dangerous truth that holds implications not just for one murder, but the entire town. 

Thomas D. Holland excels in crafting not just a mystery, but the Southern culture and milieu backing it. Under his hand, Big Ray becomes a realistic, likeable, engrossing character whose upbringing and Southern roots come to life as much as his investigation: "When I was young and stupid, I made a wrong turn and got myself and another person into a bad place. It didn’t end well. Ended about as bad as something can end. It did scandalize the town. In some ways, what I did, the wrong turn I took all those years ago, was more natural, but it was every bit as much a taboo as the path that Little Dub stumbled upon a few years back. What I know is that my daddy hardly said a word to me about what I did. He never let me shirk my responsibility for what happened, not for a minute, but he didn’t remind me or lecture me or strive to punish me. He raised me to understand that we each accumulate our own individual pattern of scars, taught me that you can read the smooth hardened tissue like a blind man reads Braille, and that those scars will tell the story of your character. The way my father handled that time in my life changed me probably more than anything short of the war, and I know it sounds funny, me being a policeman and all, but it tempered my willingness to intrude upon people’s lives unnecessarily." 

Readers who look for nonstop action will find plenty to like; but Holland also takes the time to weave solid character development into this story, as well as social and political inspection. 

This sets the police procedural apart from other murder stories, lending it added value with its close inspection of Southern roots and secrets that grow within the context of family relationships, upbringing, and attitudes towards life and other people. The Arkansas backdrop comes to life particularly strongly—perhaps because Holland was born and raised there. 

To call Their Feet Run to Evil a murder mystery alone would be to do the story a grave injustice. Its special blend of social inspection and focus on prejudice and interpersonal interactions sets it in a class of its own. It holds the ability to reach outside the usual genre read to those who like their stories firmly grounded in social dilemmas and changing community perspectives. 

Their Feet Run to Evil

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You Have Your Way
E. Vernon F. Glenn
Cooper River Books
978-1-732906617           $18.95 Paper/$7.99 Kindle 

In You Have Your Way, trial lawyer Eddie Terrell is seeing much professional success, but wants more. He becomes involved in nefarious pursuits involving risky investments and questionable schemes. These, in turn, introduce him to new women and personal challenges that seem to lead him away from his initial successes. 

As Eddie navigates uncertain new worlds, he begins to understand the mechanics of what constitutes real success in life. 

E. Vernon F. Glenn cultivates a chatty series of descriptions that draw readers into Eddie's life with surprising imagery and experiences: "She needed a wingman to legit her, so she had called on Eddie Terrell to be her shade moustache. They had tussled often here and there in the past, always enjoyed the push and shove, always got the claims settled and had plenty of respect for each other. Now they were on the same side and since she had requested Chubb to put Eddie in the game with her, Eddie was getting paid fat by the hour too. It would be fair to say they looked at each other as pros and also knew that they should not dip their quills in the company ink well." 

The character of Gigi Faye Erin, a "crackerjack insurance investigator" that gives Eddie a run for his money, is very nicely portrayed as the story evolves. Glenn cultivates just the right tone of description to lend the story a sultry tone ("He loved her voice that sang and twanged out of her angel lips. She was built like a long, lovely country road he loved cruising up and down with his eyes."). Such descriptions might offend readers...but then, this audience should not be imbibing the special attributes Eddie has to offer. 

Eddie also interacts with a host of other characters that intersect with and change his life and its certain trajectory. These all add depth and surprise to his story as he hones trial skills and interpersonal relationships alike. 

There's a sharp edge to You Have Your Way which defies pat answers, predictable characters and events, and Eddie's own inherent attitudes about his profession and his women. 

As negligence cases, death, payback, and negotiations take place on different levels, Glenn provides readers with a story filled with twists and changes, always powered by candid, revealing characters who interact in surprising ways: “I’m afraid that the Emily Post Miss Manners Good Old Boys Club approach is not going to be helpful here. We are going to find the strike price here pretty soon or the gloves are going to come off. So, now, what is your authority?” 

You Have Your Way is a suspense thriller that revolves not around courtroom proceedings, but matters of the heart, providing a conflict-laden mystery that keeps readers involved to the end. 

You Have Your Way

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Young Blood and Old Paint
William M. Frank
Terra Nova Books 
978-1948749817            $19.95

Young Blood and Old Paint is a mystery revolving around Tommy McNaul, an FBI agent on the Art Crime Team who has an idyllic life until a sting operation gone awry under his watch results in the shooting of a congressman's son. 

His entire life, from family to career, ends that day in Boston; and he leaves the bureau to join his brother in Santa Fe, working in his PI business. Ironically, once again, Tommy finds himself investigating the art world. This time, it's a forgery and a murder that hit too close to his prior experience and failures. 

As Tom and his brother Willie investigate, the forgery, gallery owner, and events back in Boston become frighteningly entwined as bullets fly once again and new facts come to light not only about this case, but the events that destroyed his life. 

From the story's opening lines, William M. Frank captivates: "A wail like a keening banshee pulled Tom McNaul back to consciousness. As the howl of the Boston police cruiser faded into the urban din, he reached across the bed. The tangled sheets were damp, but Colleen was gone." 

His ability to capture events, emotions, and atmosphere using succinct, powerful language with a minimum of wasted words drives a story line packed with twists and turns—satisfyingly more so than the usual mystery. 

The intrigue is nicely done, the thriller component is elevated through relationship and life encounters between perps, good guys, and those who operate in the gray area in-between, and the story line feels compellingly realistic. 

From death threats Willie deems lame to how the brothers work together to formulate intention and identify the true culprits operating behind the scenes, readers remain riveted both by the art world and the evolving probe. 

Powered by atmospheric and realistic moments of contemplation and discovery, the story line crafts a magnetic draw: "Something didn’t add up. Tom’s subconscious had battled the whiskey all through the short night, leaving him groggy and unenlightened. He stared out the window at the only visible frame—the neighborhood fire hydrant, splendidly lit within the cone of a streetlight. Erratic snowflakes spiraled down through the beam of light. The scene lacked only a couple of dogs wearing fedoras and drinking coffee." 

Young Blood and Old Paint will especially delight those with an affection for the art world and the possibilities of criminal activity revolving around and within it. It's a gripping tale that keeps readers guessing and involved to the end. 

Young Blood and Old Paint

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All Things Small
Norman B. Schwartz
Cresting Wave Publishing
978-1-7354135-4-9         $12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

All Things Small is a literary fiction piece that takes place in Rome, where an ordinary American tourist becomes caught up in Italian culture in a strange manner that he hadn't anticipated. This romp through irony and strange encounters leads him to confront opera, the Mafia, gelato, plots, and a film shoot gone awry. A whimsical and eye-opening inspection is created that embraces all the nuances and flavors of Rome while immersing the protagonist and readers in a tour de farce. 

From Nathan's desire to be a film cutter against all odds to his evolving romance and a way of life that seems intrinsic to Europe's slower speed, All Things Small begins with ordinary encounters and embraces the milieu of Italian art and culture: "The waves of the Mare Tirreno, the Tyrrhenian sea, rolled up on to the beach casually, slower than any waves he had ever seen before. Time, Roman time, continued to run at another speed. A seagull and a cormorant strolled side-by-side in slow-motion with no intention of flying. Why bother when you would only have to do it again?" 

Nathan's fall into questionable circles and ambitions begins slowly, but evolves into a story laced with wit and irony as he ignores both common sense and the advice of others and finds himself in more than one kind of pickle: “The beginnings of all things are small,” Nathan replied. “A poet said that.” 

As his immersion in film and European culture grows, Nathan discovers new opportunities that lead him beyond Rome to Hollywood, where his comic misadventures impart a wisdom and approach to the art that lead to success. 

All Things Small makes the most of a European sojourn to explore an American wannabe film novice's adventures and growth process. Norman B. Schwartz excels in considering the rocky road to big bucks, new ideas, revised dreams, and the flexibility that Nathan develops as he navigates unfamiliar terrain to not only make his mark on the industry, but accept new directions as part of his life. 

Schwartz creates a character who enters into unfamiliar territory and excels at not just surviving obstacles, but learning from them. 

Nathan's long search begins with a small story. The surprising conclusion of his efforts gives a satisfying bang to the journey Nathan undertakes, both in a foreign land and in his own personal and professional development. 

Readers interested in Italian culture, film, and interactions between Italians and Americans will find All Things Small a thoroughly engrossing tale that embraces Italian culture and approaches to life. 

All Things Small

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Carolina Road
Dee L. Evans
Independently Published
9781736179505             $13.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook 

Rachel Harris never imagined that she'd be a polygamist. She's just trying to survive the Civil War, which literally leads the two sides to march up the Carolina Road into her own Virginia home. 

But circumstances lead her to discover she's become married to two men on opposite sides of the war. Both are alive. Both love her. And she loves both of them. 

More so than most Civil War stories, the injection of romance and a moral dilemma into this character's life brings alive the divide and issues of battle like few other stories can achieve. 

Dee L. Evans uses the first person to illuminate Rachel's world. Even more importantly, she adds many physical and mental challenges to the battle scenarios and alternates perspectives between Rachel, Caleb, and other major characters to expand the reader's perception of the Civil War's impact on every facet of life. The book can be rated 'PG' for its straightforward narration and lack of profanity. 

Caleb reflects on this physical and mental challenge both on the battlefield and at home as he interacts with Rachel: "Watching that scene between mother and child more than knocked the wind out of me. I felt the pain all over again that enveloped me on the Shiloh battlefield when I was hit by a shell and thrown under my horse and nearly trampled to death. I'll always remember the awful despair that overcame me before everything went black." 

And Rachel hits him with her impossible situation, as well: "You two are forcing me to make an impossible decision—someone is going to get hurt no matter who I choose. You're putting me squarely in the middle of your brotherly competition. Who's the better man? Who can win the hand of the fair damsel? Well I'm not going to play your little game any longer. I've got to think of myself and the welfare of my son." 

Very different brothers "dropped into the same family" who hold surprising bonds as well as big differences lends to a Civil War story like few others. As further controversies and trials evolve against this backdrop, the characters come alive, and readers will find themselves with reasons to like each person despite the impossible conundrum that places them at odds with one another. 

Readers looking for a Civil War book that brings the people of the times to life will find Carolina Road a powerfully compelling saga that's nearly impossible to put down, providing a very thoroughly researched, accurate portrayal of the Civil War in Virginia. 

Carolina Road

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The Collingwood Series 
George Fillis

Note: The Collingwood Series should be read in chronological order; not as individual stand-alone titles. Without the background of events in A Heart to Survive, the special challenges that test Winson's morals, ethics, and goals would hold less impact in An Unexpected Father. Together, the two books support one another, expanding discussions of many of the social issues covered in this Canadian historical romance. From its initial roots in 1949 China's bloody revolution and its aftermath to reverberations of change which echo across the world to Canada, the Collingwood Series brings to life not just a singular struggle, but the psyche and temperament of a nation and the individual choices of various characters who act and react to events under the Canadian flag. 

A Heart To Survive: first novel in the Collingwood Series
978-1-7359372-0-5                         $14.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle 

An Unexpected Father: second novel in the Collingwood Series
978-1735937229     $14.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle 

The Collingwood Series is Canadian historical fiction at its best, reviewing events that took place in 1950s and 1960s Canada, an era when racism was often unacknowledged. 

The main character in the opening book A Heart to Survive (978-1735937205; $14.95) is fourteen-year-old Tao Wen Shun, whose family has been forced to flee China and Chairman Mao's repressive regime. As he observes from the start, "Events that started at home pursued me across the oceans." In this case, repression and prejudice tests the bonds of family and adaptation alike. 

Wen Shun resists the idea that he is to go first, separating from those he loves, whom he might never see again: “I’d rather be together in bondage than free in another country.” 

He no longer feels secure in a predictable vision of his future, or has the foundation of stability in the world. This influences both his journey and his ability to rebuild a life on new soil. 

The voyage to Canada introduces him to new support systems that seem to fracture almost as he sets foot in BC, although it has given him a newfound maturity about the prospects of his future: "Now was the time to be optimistic, focus on being with a new family, and learn a new culture. My experiences on the ship had toughened me. I knew I had to be strong and determined." 

As he experiences and learns about the roots of racism in his new home, which extend beyond anti-Chinese circles and even into those who appear to be white, but have their roots in other cultures and worlds, Wen Shun (who has renamed himself Winson) receives a history that opens his eyes to the pervasive attitudes that dominate not just China or Canada, but the world: " isn’t only your race that’s a target for persecution. Many believe evolution allowed for a creative mistake by which certain races survived. No one is born hating." 

George Fillis does an excellent job of blending a young immigrant's experiences and struggles with the coming of age of a young man just beginning to identify his ambitions and prospects in life. 

Particularly notable is the concurrent evolution of love, heartbreak, and relationships challenged on all sides as Winson falls into a dangerous situation that truly tests not just his heart, but his life: "We fell in love, but this society told us it was wrong." 

Elements of suspense, romance, action, and the evolution of self-determination against all odds weave into real Canadian social and political history to provide a story that is riveting and educational on many levels, offering perfect material for book club or classroom discussion. 

As moral and ethical conundrums arise, Winson begins to see the kinds of choices and their consequences as elements that could challenge and ultimately change not only his world, but society as a whole. 

The fact that Winson is based on an actual person and Collingwood, Ontario is a real place adds to the authentic voice of this introduction to the series, which lays a compelling groundwork for Book 2. 

The second book in the series, An Unexpected Father (978-1-7359372-2-9, $14.95) is a sequel which takes Winson's story in an unexpected direction after he marries. 

An Unexpected Father explores the relationship between Julian LeBlanc and Winson, employer and employee, one that starts out benign and unassuming, and evolves to a depth neither party anticipated, and which transforms both their lives. Catherine, Julian and Caitlin keep Winson grounded as he faces many different kinds of choices that each bring with them implications and consequences for the kind of man he is becoming in this strange new world. 

Tak, a leader of a human trafficking ring who made his appearance in A Heart to Survive, returns to add new chaos and questions to Winson's life, changing its trajectory yet again and posing new challenges Winson must address if he is to ever be happy. 

As he faces new social, political, and legal challenges, Winson questions whether justice and equality will ever be part of his future: "If the government restricted licensed Jewish doctors and attorneys from practicing their profession, then who was I? A man from China was lower than the Jews.  What was I to expect in a country where laws don’t work the same for everyone?" Winson's personal struggles with issues of equality results in changes to the lives of those around him, who are challenged to make and reconsider their own ideals of freedom and equality in the face of his different reality about opportunities in Canada. 

Once again, in this second book, Fillis has added enhancements and expansions of immigrant concerns and experiences that intersect nicely with the broader world's milieu. The two books dovetail nicely, expanding the scope of Winson's growth and entry into a society still replete with prejudices of all kinds, against all kinds of people. 

The result is a series that introduces Canadian history and social issues on many different levels, exploring them through a diverse set of characters who each harbor their own visions of what it means to be successful and independent. 

The Collingwood Series, through its first two books, delivers a one-two punch of reality that brings to life the clash between cultures, ideals, and changing worlds in Canada. 

George Fillis has crafted a remarkably astute, wide-ranging survey that will provide much food for thought and discussion among any with an interest in the foundations of courage, convictions about equality for all, and how a nation handles (or mishandles) its immigrant influx and their absorption in and contributions to society. 

The Collingwood Series

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Cows Can't Jump
Philip Bowne
Neem Tree Press
978-1911107354            $12.99 Paper/$.99 Kindle 

Cows Can't Jump combines a coming-of-age story with a road trip adventure. Eighteen-year-old Billy struggles with a series of dead ends in life, from a dysfunctional family and a grave digging job that holds no opportunity for a social life or advancement to a UK holding its breath for the EU referendum which will change everything. 

When he falls in love with an older girl from Switzerland, there is the temporary promise of positive change, dashed when she returns to her home country. There's only one thing to do. Follow her. 

And so Billy erupts from his comfort zone of angst to embark on a journey that involves a series of escapades and mishaps as he crosses countries in a purported search for love, which turns out to be a more elusive struggle to grasp life's meaning. 

His mission—to make things good between himself and Eva again—evolves as Billy experiences a challenging set of circumstances which leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere in Croatia, among other dilemmas. 

His odyssey, which involves a bit of drinking with strangers and pairs personal revelations with alcoholic adventures, makes for a lively romp through Europe that peppers travel experiences with those of finding better ways to absorb life lessons: “When you travel the real way, Marko, you will know the importance of such things. When you learn to live with nothing, just the shirt on your back, and when you depend on the fruits of your own hands and feet–” 

Fans of Kerouac's On the Road will find that Cows Can't Jump adopts a similar blend of angst, growth, and social observation—but in a European setting. 

This lively story that will appeal to fans of travelogues and adventure as well as personal growth fiction, bringing the world and its meaning to life through Billy's astute observations. 

Cows Can't Jump

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Eleonora and Joseph
Julieta Almeida Rodrigues
New Academia Publishing
978-1-7348659-1-2                $24.00

Eleonora and Joseph: Passion, Tragedy, and Revolution in the Age of Enlightenment is a novel set in 18th century Naples and the fledgling United States, and uses three real-world historical figures to explore a doomed relationship between two of them.  

Julieta Almeida Rodrigues brings these colorful historical figures to life and marries their worlds in a narrative that is vividly written, capturing not just their lives, but an era on the cusp of unprecedented social, political, and cultural change. 

Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel envisioned and fought for a Republic inspired by the French Revolution. Joseph Correia de Serra, the love of her adolescence, became an acclaimed naturalist and diplomat later in life. When imprisoned, Eleonora writes a journal which includes descriptions of her lost love - a journal Joseph discovers in Monticello as a guest of Thomas Jefferson.  

As Thomas Jefferson plays a key role in creating the circumstances which bring Eleonora’s journal - and its revelations - to new life years after its creation, readers receive a satisfying contrast of European and American environments that embraces and explores moral, ethical, and social conundrums alike. 

Readers of 18th century history will be particularly attracted to not just the fictional premise but the attention to authentic historical detail that Rodrigues adds into the story to give it a solid foundation in fact.  

Rodrigues is especially adept at juxtaposing personal decision-making with insights on the social and political pressures that influenced them. Joseph says about his lack of involvement in saving Eleonora’s life:“I regret that I didn’t. Banks and the British ambassador Lord Hamilton were both naturalists and good friends. They were forever exchanging letters on Mount Vesuvius. Had I asked, they might have intervened. But I was only thinking of myself. I was seeking a position at the Portuguese embassy in London and didn’t want to jeopardize my chances.” “Silences are, sometimes, golden. In this case, you wanted to protect yourself,” Jefferson said. I was struck hard by his words. They showed understanding, compassion, and friendship. My heart stirred with gratitude and reverence. As during my previous visit, I had the feeling that Jefferson agreed with my silences because they mirrored his own. “It was a hard choice.” I said. “I feared repercussions if I interfered with Portuguese affairs. As a royal subject in London, I would gain nothing by trying to rescue an insurgent. I might even be considered one, too.” 

While many historical novels require some prior knowledge in the era and environment under discussion, there's no need for such, here. Rodrigues provides all the background information for a seamless read. Readers will find themselves absorbing 18th century history and characters without any confusion over their backgrounds, motivations, or times. 

From issues of slavery in America to contrasts between lower social strata in Europe, Rodrigues brings the themes to life in a manner that history buffs, in particular, will find refreshingly thought-provoking. Eleonora says about her contribution in Il Monitore Napoletano, "I addressed the people directly in my work. I said: “I hope that the plebe (the lowest of the low, the lazzaroni) might, with the help of the people (popolo), get to the cultural and instructional level of the latter.” I knew that the lazzaroni were vulgar and brutish. I knew that they didn’t trust us, the republican literati. I despaired at their wretchedness; ignorant, knowing no better, they worshipped the monarchy and wanted it back. Nevertheless, I remained at their side to the very end. I admired their strength, their vitality, even if misguided. I wrote: “Justice demands that the lazzaroni be educated, more than condemned, and it is never too late to instruct them.” I exercised the most balanced position in page after page. In the last few issues, I addressed the people as Majestas Populi, the people as sovereign. I called for unity: “I have appealed to the courage of all. Because liberty cannot be loved in half…and cannot produce its effects until everyone is free.” Yes, I repeat to this day, liberty is not only for the entitled. The lazzaroni of Naples needed education to understand this." 

The result is a novel that is heavily grounded by and laced with historical fact: a piece that will be welcomed by readers interested in 18th century on both sides of the pond. 

Eleonora and Joseph

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The Essence of Nathan Biddle
J. William Lewis
Greenleaf Book Group Press
978-1626348462            $27.95 

The Essence of Nathan Biddle follows a Southern boy's coming of age and search for meaning, and is recommended for mature teen to adult audiences looking for a powerful blend of mystery, philosophy, and psychological inspection. 

Of these elements, perhaps an appreciation of philosophy will be the biggest prerequisite for readers of this novel. The story is introduced with a reference to Kierkegaard and continues to weave elements of various philosophies into Nathan Biddle's story as it opens, surprisingly, not with a piece of his life, but a reflection about his death: "On the first anniversary of Nathan’s death, we went to the sea. We may have been looking for the ungraspable image that Melville said is visible in all rivers and oceans, but I didn’t see it. Maybe I wouldn’t have recognized it if it were floating like flotsam on the surface of the water. In any case, I didn’t see the image and I didn’t find the key to it all." 

His death is inconceivable to the first-person narrator, the ocean offers comfort, and as Nathan's story unfolds, it's evident that the brooding narrator's foray into Existentialism offers some means of special understanding of these unique matters. 

As Kit reflects on his uncle's demise and tragic life and faces his own confrontation with death, he begins to lose track of a deeper meaning: "I was so intent on finding an explanation of the meaning of existence that I couldn’t understand the point of the discussion. I struggled with it for several hours before giving up. I don’t know how long it took me to figure it out, but I finally realized that existentialism doesn’t give answers; it just gives a person a theory for superimposing meaning on his existence. That wasn’t what I was looking for." 

Readers follow Kit's slow enlightenment process to receive keys to understanding not just philosophy's connection to life, but his family ties with his mother and his 'not quite friends' relationship with Anna, which is mercurial and as puzzling as his uncle's influence. 

J. William Lewis excels at twists of language that lead readers to think about understated meanings and unexpected revelations: “Are you awake, Kit?” my mother asked sweetly. I had opened my eyes and I was looking directly at her, so she had to know perfectly well that I was awake. What she really meant was, “Are you ready for a bomb, Kit?” 

Kit's ability to grasp nuances of these relationships and life's meaning leads readers into the satisfyingly complex story of a young man's proclivity for trouble, getting fired, and skirting on the edge of existential enlightenment. 

Kit questions his identity, relationships, and trajectory, bringing readers a satisfying story steeped in Southern lingo, atmosphere, and a touch of intrigue within the overlay of a coming of age story that keeps readers engaged and guessing to the end. 

His search for a better place, a different reality, and answers to life's meaning make for an engrossing, involving story that's hard to put down as his unique version of reality traverses questions and new insights. 

The Essence of Nathan Biddle

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First Past The Post
SJ Garland
Independently Published
ASIN: B091BZVY4T              $7.99 Kindle 

First Past The Post introduces the American Heiress series with a horse-centered survey of the cream of New York society and a behind-the-scenes examination of the pressures of challenging gender roles in the 1890s. 

The exciting (yet dangerous) world of thoroughbred racing and the women competing in it is explored through the eyes of Eva McKenzie, her friend Lily Randolph, and a cast of characters who become involved in a missing horse mystery that sends Eva halfway around the world in pursuit of answers. 

Francis Wentworth, Duke of Wiltshire, also finds himself drawn into this mystery that crosses oceans and national borders alike; and as he faces a terrible dilemma, he wonders how far he will go to see justice done...and how many innocent people will die because of his decision to pursue a dangerous adversary. 

His resolution to investigate the identities of two women who fall under his influence is captured in descriptions that probe the foundations of aristocratic behaviors on both sides of the pond: "Francis nodded and looked up at the façade of his parent’s grand townhouse. 'The challenge will be to keep Miss McKenzie and Miss Randolph out of the loop.' A thought passed through Francis’s head when he thought of Miss Randolph. Now that they were back in town it was a perfect time to search for more information on Miss Randolph and find out why she was so world weary." 

From a mad dash across London in treacherous weather to dubious horse values that demand sacrifices and threaten lives, SJ Garland is adept at capturing the uncertain forces that motivate different characters to act against their own best interests: "Francis damned the stallion to hell and back before doing the same to Eva. How was he ever going to convince her of the value of her own life over horses?" 

Think thriller author Dick Francis, but with a more aristocratic bent that considers women's changing roles shortly before the turn of the century. Garland crafts a mystery and pursuit that brings the strengths of all characters to the forefront as they not only interact within higher levels of society, but expand the bonds and strengths of their growing interpersonal relationships. 

As a crime syndicate draws all the characters deeper into its nefarious scheme, Francis and Eva find themselves navigating social and political disaster as Lily settles her own debts and faces the consequences of her secret identity. 

Fast-paced, action-packed, and embedded with the flavors of American and British worlds and thoroughbred racing alike, First Past The Post will enthrall its readers with social inspection, mystery and intrigue, and twists and turns throughout. The story is especially recommended for fans of Dick Francis, who will find its political, social, and horse milieus astutely described and simply captivating. 

The story ends with a revelation that leaves the door ajar for more adventures. 

First Past The Post

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The Frontline: Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot Episode
Michael Santino
Independently Published
978-1737063612            $6.99 Paper/$.99 ebook 

The Frontline: Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot Episode represents a modern take on the relatively lost art of serial novel writing, and will appeal to thriller readers who usually don't receive this form of novelette in such a digestible, succinct style. 

In the 1800s and early to mid-1900s, serialization was an immensely popular form of publishing. Publishing works in serialized form gave authors a much wider readership because even poorer readers could afford to buy short volumes, and even busy individuals could afford to read them. 

Today, this form has largely gone by the wayside, but Michael Santino's revival of it in this book demonstrates that its usefulness may be even more appropriate for modern audience attention spans and budgets than in the past. 

The serial is designed to be read in order, and in short, two-hour segments. There are seven episodes in this series, so readers should be prepared to enjoy them all in the order given. 

The Kole County series begins with an FBI investigation into domestic terrorism and the group American Dawn. Agent Christopher Odacio and State Police Senior Investigator. 

Kole County's experiences mirror events across America and prove the frontline in an emerging threat that challenges the face of what it means to be a patriot as the two investigators draw closer to a truth that challenges their personal lives. 

American Dawn's organization and logic are explained by organizer Keith Brown to Odacio: "American Dawn is a peaceful organization, Odacio, but we’re also preparing for what we know is coming. We’ll be on the frontlines when it happens, and we need trained military men to run our operations when the time comes. We’re operating within the bounds of the law, and well within our rights, that is, if we still have any rights.” 

How does an American's initial charge to defend liberty and freedom result in a ragtag army of recruits who represent "...a toxic mix of nationalists, racists, and QANON followers"? 

This and other social and political quandaries are explored as the fundamental beliefs and connections within the terrorist group come to light. 

Michael Santino intersects a host of characters to create a compelling story depicted from both sides of the struggle. He spices the fast pace of the tale with believable characters and supports this with dialogue designed to intrigue and captivate, adding depth to a blend of mystery and political and social inspection. 

Those interested in stories that reflect modern American concerns, who do not have the time or attention span for a full-length thriller, will find this serial format sacrifices nothing in its choice of form and, indeed, will appeal to those who like their action hot, their characters three-dimensional, and their dilemmas firmly rooted in modern questions and times. 

The Frontline: Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot Episode

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Jack of Spades
David Lucero
Your Book Angel
9781735664859      $14.99

When Jack Ruggero was drafted into the army during World War II in Jack of Spades, he had only one priority: his personal survival. 

The story opens not with Jack's entry into combat but in 1942 North Africa, where a siege at the Libyan port of Tobruk, a key acquisition for either side which could win the war, is on the verge of either collapse or stalemate. 

Rommel, South African Major-General Hendrik Balzazar Klopper, Sergeant-Major Binns, and others introduce the background of this particular battle experience and its strategic and political impact as a savvy poker player becomes caught up in a web of conflict that precedes his entry into the war. 

Jack's unusual firsthand knowledge makes him a pawn in this game, but he wants more. His approach to strategic planning, his position, and his abilities hold important keys to changing the outcome of events, as Jack finds himself operating behind the scenes in a manner he'd never predicted from his involuntary military duty. 

Lucero does a fine job of contrasting Rommel's moves and focus with Jack's experiences and struggles. The personal insights and details are part of what makes Jack of Spades more than the dispassionate series of battle encounters that one might expect from the usual World War II piece. This approach sets it apart from others by injecting a level of understanding about the major players in that war, and their motivations and perceptions of the struggle: "Rommel took a cup of soapy water, lifted it over his near-bald head and poured it over himself. How good this feels, he told himself. He relished the relaxation he seldom enjoyed, and believed in experiencing similar privations his men endured. It was another example why his men admired him as a leader. He did not dwell on this moment for he was a military man right down to his socks. No sooner had he poured another cup of water over himself was his mind back on the war. What else will the English do? he wondered." 

World War II novel readers will thus find Jack of Spades a solid study in psychological as well as military and political tension, charting the course of the war through very different perspectives by contrasting characters with very different objectives. 

Fast-paced, involving, and spiced with the kind of interpersonal insights that make the major players feel human and understandable, Jack of Spades is recommended not so much for those seeking vivid battle scenes, but for readers looking for depth and complexity that creates a standout probe of choices, consequences, and ultimate strategic maneuvering. 

Jack of Spades

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Only Angels Gaze Toward Heaven
John Molik
Independently Published
978-0-473-56972-3         $11.95 Paper/$2.95 Kindle
Author website: 

Only Angels Gaze Toward Heaven opens with Jordan Del Cielo's life in a Mexican orphanage, La Casa de Santa Filomena. Replete in poverty and murky family memories, Jordan is rescued by the return of his father, who brings him to America. Armed with Christian faith and a resolution to help others, Jordan becomes involved in Doctors Without Borders and finds his love in Miriam, building a life far from his childhood angst. 

It's all perfect until it's not. As Jordan inadvertently becomes involved in international technology smuggling, fueled by threats to his newfound family happiness and adopted son, he and Miriam face moral, ethical, and spiritual challenges that threaten to tear apart everything they have so methodically built on the foundations of their faith and convictions. 

Readers who choose Only Angels Gaze Toward Heaven thinking it will be a religious novel about family ties will find that John Molik is just as adept at injecting thriller and suspense elements into this story as he is in presenting the evolving portrait of a family challenged both from within and by outside forces. 

His focus on following Jordan from his youth to the promise of his journey to America and the unexpected forces that both bring him a soul mate, then threaten to drive them apart, creates a story line that is filled with satisfyingly unexpected twists and turns. 

As soon as readers begin to identify a specific focus or genre (romance, coming of age story, or inspection of beliefs and morals), the plot injects another surprise to keep them involved and guessing about the outcome, which always seems to skirt the edge of tragedy. 

From the politics of the DEA and Border Patrol and a criminal conspiracy that embraces everything Jordan loves to Saul Darthe and a cast of characters who harbor their own struggles and special interests, Molik crafts a multifaceted story that will especially appeal to thriller readers looking for complex plots and subplots that defy predictable conclusions. 

Keeping all these changing characters and perspectives logical is no light feat, but Molik accomplishes this and more as he embeds a sense of purpose, faith, and conviction into the story lines of many different characters. 

The result is a fast-paced romp through a man's changing world that will especially delight Christian readers looking for an intersection between faith, love, and the influences of a big, bad world. 

Only Angels Gaze Toward Heaven

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OOF: An Online Outrage Fiesta for the Ages
Strobe Witherspoon
Marginal Books
978-0-578-86310-8         $3.99 ebook 

OOF combines satire and serious social inspection in a novel format that will intrigue literary, political, and social issues readers alike, and represents a unique inspection that is both fun and sad at the same time. 

The story opens with a preface by a FLOTUS who remarks on her role and the irony and insults of those who commented on it: "People always ask me how he smelled. It’s an invasive question. And insulting. As if he smelled really bad, and that was evidence I was just with him for the money...Everyone responded to his charm. Even when he was making people do things they didn’t want to do. “It’s gonna be so good for you. So stop with the hemming, the hawing, and approve da project already,” he told people over meals of steak and cake. “Weren’t you just arm candy?” people ask." 

This special brand of the satirical inspection of modern-day events will especially intrigue literary readers who like various representational devices wound into their stories. 

These include Twitter feed comments on social and political ironies and outrageous acts ("Finally!!!!!!! someone took on the important task of representing the struggles of a Slovakian supermodel and her sketchy ass parents as they game the immigration system for their own benefit. That fixes everything. #sarcasm"), articles by followers of the Hellfire Prophecy and the author himself, the certainty that worlds are ending and new ones being re-envisioned, and letters and notes. 

Witherspoon includes his own observations and progressions within the course of a spicy story replete in angst, sales pitches, revelations about the foundations of tyranny, and truth in propaganda. 

Many of the story's contentions are disturbing as well as eye-opening. If one reads closely, the roots of personal and social survival are also embedded in these attacks and ideas: "I can use that sadness to open up new networks of discovery within myself, which will open me up to others and close me off to the negativity that modern society has brought upon us, with the bureaucrats, the plutocrats, and the kleptocrats, all the crats that have been nibbling away at our essences over time, creating a vicious circle of corruption, deception, and despair." 

Readers of social and political satirical literature will appreciate OOF for its full-flavored inspection of social assaults by media and political entities alike. 

The fact that these comments are well couched in the media devices of modern times makes them even harder hitting and more absorbing, both mirroring real life and moving into realms of hope and despair. That the author weaves his own saga into his Book of Strobe adds a delightful tone of inspection and tongue-in-cheek intersection between the personal, the literary, and the political in a story that is not linear, but always entertaining and thought-provoking. 

OOF: An Online Outrage Fiesta for the Ages

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People of Struggles
Tibor Gergely
Independently Published
979-8652903718            $5.63 Paper/$5.65 Kindle

People of Struggles is an epic historical/fiction piece set in 1992 Hungary, where two terrorist groups are at work to instigate chaos and destruction, and in 1552, in a parallel universe. 

The siege of Eger Castle in 1552 was one of the greatest victories in Hungarian history. 

István Dobó, the chief captain of the Eger castle, and barely two thousand men, women and children faced the most powerful army of the greatest empire. Their patriotism, courage and self-sacrifice forced the 100,000 soldiers of the Turkish imperial army to retreat.  This story was born in honor of this two thousand Hungarians, and documents how these ordinary men exhibited a patriotism and courage that could not stave off disaster in other nations. 

First Lieutenant Gregory stands at the heart of these storms, representing the forces that attack and change the face of a nation and its choices, both ancient and modern. 

Tibor Gergely's language reveals that English is not his native tongue, and at times requires some degree of contemplation and interpretation on the part of the reader: "It occurred in the year 1976. I was wearing just my age of ten and thanks for the enthusiastic support from my friends, this wearing has grown to a spectacular extent. Just in those days, cherry was ripening, so we were found on a neighbouring cherry tree in one of the afternoons by the owner of the tree, who didn’t take kindly to our chewing of all his cherries." 

He crafted his novel to include historical events that are are authentically captured. Additional data rounds out the story based on current knowledge of events. 

Mr Pirovich, the interpreter, faced a huge challenge in translating this piece for English speakers without sacrificing the nuances of the Hungarian language in the process. Some names also have special meanings in the novel, which would not have made sense in English, so in the end all the names had to be translated. 

The tone, however, flavors stories that captures past and present experience by capturing a sense of atmosphere and culture that better English, though more polished, might have failed to adequately represent. The translator does a good job of capturing the feelings and history of the events and peoples of the times. 

The descriptions and language even out as the novel progresses (or, perhaps the reader, absorbed in the action that follows, merely becomes more inured to the unfamiliar nuances of usage) and the magic of Gergely's world comes to life: "Reaching the Shrine Bastion, I found men on the wall struck dumb in amazement. At first, I thought that the victims’ sudden death gave rise to this amazement, but seeing what they watch, the magical sight enchanted even me. We gazed in amazement as suddenly, a gap opened in the thick blanket of clouds that spread over the sky and through this opening, unearthly light of golden rays of the sun flooded the hilltop with the nine bodies hanging on stake, as if the light rays would show their tormented souls the way to the kingdom of heaven." 

From interactions with village children to determinations to stave off disaster, the characters interact with one another in a realistic, compelling manner, involving readers in the evolution of not just a story, but a struggle that will ultimately define Hungary and the psyche of its peoples. 

By maintaining the focus on Hungary's disparate forces and the ordinary man's experiences of invasion, confrontation, survival, and courage, Tibor Gergely crafts a story that is compelling and hard to put down: a slice of life and courage from the Hungarian history front. 

People of Struggles

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Chistopher Meerage
Independently Published
978-1-304-25905-9         $2.99 

When Tom and his colleague Kurt move away from their comfort zones into a strange world affected by an unusual drug, everything changes, in Peril. The two are used to business challenges and Tom even finds himself bored and frustrated by some customers and transactions, but when things begin to change, Tom finds that his relationship not just with Kurt but with the world are on the line. 

Chistopher Meerage provides a satisfying romp through business and social worlds. He does a fine job of documenting Tom and Kurt's tour de farce as they navigate new waters with resulting conundrums that challenge their everyday lives: "He had extricated himself for the time being, but as he walked to the bathroom to adjust contacts that didn’t exist he could not deny the fact that he had no second act." 

Tom faces changing relationships with coworkers, his wife Gina, and the careful life he's built for himself over the years.

From anonymous phone calls accusing him of infidelity to unexplained disappearances that get him in trouble on the job and at home, Tom finds his predictable, staid, if not somewhat boring life has become a roller coaster of adventure that brings readers along for the ride. 

Meerage provides all the nuts and bolts for a ribald journey through an awakening mind. Does Tom really care about anything he's built? Does he have the will to fight for it? As his world splits between choices made by Old Tom and New Tom, boundaries continue to shift. 

When choices lead to an unexpected result, Tom is given the kind of reprise he needs to revamp his life into something very different...a form others might deem as unacceptable as Old Tom would have once thought. 

Peril. excels in dark humor, conundrums, and challenges to the status quo. It also stand outs in following Tom's psychological shifts as he re-examines his life, relationships, and choices, too often banging his head against the proverbial wall of change: "He knew that it all had to be related but the frustration of not being able to tie it together left him on the verge of tears. His mind danced fruitlessly around a mosaic held together by an unseen thread that alluded to its presence only by virtue of the fact that the patchwork was joined." 

The result is a story of a journey both gone awry and headed in a better direction—one which offers readers a chance to immerse themselves in the unexpected connections between Kurt, Tom, and the worlds they build and challenge. 

Business fiction readers, in particular, are in for a treat! 


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Joyce Yarrow
D. X. Varos, Ltd.
978-1-955065-00-9                $18.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook 

Sandstorm tells of a train wreck in the making and opens with an encounter with stranger Leon, in which the young narrator lies and tells him she is eighteen. She's really fifteen. As Sandie Donovan fills his mind with more falsehoods about her destination and life and accepts his offer of sex, she finds herself both disappointed on some levels and engaging with him on an unexpectedly honest one: "Honesty was not a habit with me but neither was sharing a narrow bed on a train. Maybe that’s why I gave in and told Leon how my father—who since I was old enough to talk had insisted I call him Frank—was really a child himself." These choices will follow her as she rides into her new life as a makeup artist with a talent for making over her own life as much as the appearances of others. 

Joyce Yarrow paints an engaging portrait of a teen left to her own devices by her mother's death and her father's inability to parent her. When her father leaves her to start a new life, she's effectively abandoned and left to build her own life as she will. 

Readers follow Sandie's evolution from child to adult and come to root for this flawed character, whose early independence didn't include the kind of lessons that would keep her from making bad decisions in life. 

As she cultivates a special brand of appeal and savvy to gain money to stay in a hostel and survive New York City's challenges, Sandie experiences her first grown-up relationship and at times confronts her own broken psyche in unexpected ways: “Do you believe?” he asked. “In what?” “Anything, I guess.” “I don’t think about it. The here and now takes up most of my time, although tonight…” “What?” “Nothing.” “You seem so — self-sufficient, Sandie.” He may have meant this as a compliment, but for the second time since we’d met at the party, tears loomed." 

These glimpses of her growth process and coming of age juxtapose with her survival tactics and tough exterior and lies as the consequences of her actions keep becoming apparent, from her relationship with Ben and a painting that may have been stolen because of her carelessness to her blossoming acknowledgement of responsibility for her choices and their consequences: "I didn’t know what upset me most—that Ben’s troubles had become my own or knowing that I was responsible for them in the first place. That I didn’t set him up on purpose was no excuse. This was my fault." 

When the story opens, Sandie is a train wreck that is taking people around her for a ride. As it progresses, she slowly develops the kinds of insights that lead to mature thinking. As she dabbles in the game of life and finds that it leads to more than a theft, Sandie becomes proactive rather than reactive. 

Yarrow's ability to picture a flawed but likeable young character who is capable of developing her own leaps of faith, self-confidence, and world-wise savvy engages readers with a story that is realistic and evolutionary. Sandie makes the move from child to adult in unexpected ways, bringing readers along for a rollercoaster ride through others' changed lives because of her choices. 

Readers seeking solid urban fiction settings and the spunky but struggling character of a young adult who changes immensely through her experiences and choices will find Sandstorm the worthy and intriguing journey of a daughter who moves beyond subliminally seeking her absent parent's approval, and into the adult world. 


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Starlight in the Dawn
Naveen Sridhar
Independently Published
ASIN : B093QFL75B             $10.99 Print/$.99 ebook

Starlight in the Dawn opens in 2286 BCE, when teen Ninlil leaves her uncle's pottery shop in the city of Ur on the Euphrates River to observe a stranger heading straight for her. Beshi has a gift for Ninlil's employer, High Priestess Enheduanna. It's a gift that will change everything.

Further visits from strangers and those intent on changing their society illustrate the story of a city posed on the edge of spiritual and social change and a high priestess whose literary prowess reflects these moments. 

As city politicians and rivals vie for power, the roles of many are set to change, from the highest levels to a father of four Obares, whose life has long been rooted in the under society of Ur, where "The whole decrepit locality was shunned by the sophisticated citizens of Ur". As events unfold, Obares becomes a force to reckon with: "Obares had to consolidate his position, like repairing and reinforcing a fortress in times of peace. His next move had to be defensive and preventive, discrediting Atrahasis. Given the reputation the old man had, that would be a difficult task and could not be done overnight. As an alternative, well, Atrahasis was old, and anything could happen." 

Beshi evolves to command troops that help foster in a new, independent Ur, though political fallout roots him in one place and keeps him from his former world-hopping routines. Just in time, because he was tiring of his choices, and ready to settle down. 

High Priestess Enheduanna ("Hedu") is a pivot point in this story of political and social overthrows and change. Promises made between herself and Beshi are sorely tested by their changing roles as events unfold. 

Naveen Sridhar provides a powerful story of social change, with several key characters coming together in an effort to change their destinies, relationships, and futures. 

The story of Ur's evolutionary process, the clash between its religious and political forces, and the evolution of characters who operate on both sides is well done and nicely captured in a story that is replete with action, psychological transformation, and challenges to belief systems alike: "God has his own designs. How could man ever understand what all this is meant to be? God’s ways and means are inscrutable for the mortal. A mortal will not know the reason for God’s moves, not at the moment he wants to know, maybe never in his lifetime. All you can do is ask for help. Dengir may grant you the boon precisely as you imagined, immediately, with delay, or in a different fashion… We cannot expect, influence, or demand; we can only pray, trust, and believe—come what may." 

Time is taken to build not just one central character, but men and women who operate in different circles, employing powerful forces in new ways. These discussions contribute to a story that is engrossing and filled with different kinds of insights, with romance added to the backdrop for further impact and human interest. 

Perhaps part of this tale's allure lies in the fact that Sridhar's story is based on the real historical figure of high priestess Enheduanna, the first literary author on record. Her highly popular hymns and poems were widely influential and were read for centuries. The life events she captured in them form the basis for this story. 

Readers of historical fiction who look for engrossing tales with compelling protagonists will find this story of ancient Ur and a high priestess's changing commitments is hard to put down. 

Starlight in the Dawn

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A Time to Forget in East Berlin
C.G. Fewston
Independently Published
979-8731925242            $8.99 Print/$1.99 ebook 

A Time to Forget in East Berlin is the second book in three novels of interrelated characters and themes and focuses on ex-CIA officer John Lockwood, who is living a new life under an assumed name in 1970s East Berlin, when the Ministry for State Security recruits him for another job. 

From this plot outline, newcomers might expect a thriller or political inspection holding the usual outlines of an adventure or intrigue piece, but one of C.G. Fewston's talents is an ability to employ the first person usage and lively inspections to bring the story to life: "Beyond a birch tree in a courtyard, the sun rose in the east to a young woman at a window facing the Wall. When I imagine her there by the window in the morning, it’s as though I conjure her from a dream I once had as a child. Her name is Nina, and her love had a strange Germanic power that held the fulness of hope, as swift and as fair as time. And in that dream, she was my Brunhilda and I her Sigurd. She was my air and I her fire." 

Readers who enjoy poetic prose and descriptions that go beyond an action-oriented or political inspection focus will relish this story—which means that it will reach beyond the usual audience of war fiction epic readers to tug at the hearts of those who may not have anticipated such a compelling blend of descriptive prose and psychological inspection. 

When John opens his story, he's on the cusp of giving up his focus on the Heads of Leonidas — the covert organization he's been tracking since his last mission in Tehran. His life in East Berlin has led him to feel isolated and alone in his pursuits and double life, and he has become stuck in an approach he once felt comfortable in, which analyzes everyone around him as a possible threat or person of interest. 

Nina changes all that. His relationship with her begins with an unexpected connection that he thought long gone from his life: "When she spoke, I saw her. I mean I could see her and all that she was worth. I felt myself stretching into forever. The ice floes of my soul melting beneath the blazing sun of Her. My arms, my legs, my face spread thin across the decades, centuries, millennia. I was gone but not forgotten. I sensed my essence, as thin as a cloud, over all history and time." 

And then everything changes, once more. How can he reconcile the love and life that Nina has introduced to his new persona Jacob, while accepting a job that will draw him back into the situations that had alienated him from that life? 

Nina teaches him more than love. She holds a special key to survival that holds intense ramifications for his dual identities and approaches to life and missions: "‘If you stay in a place long enough, everything changes anyway.’ I knew then, right there among the dead and lost and forgotten — all those anachronisms — that if I ever lost Nina it would be like small deaths for every day without her." 

Through John and Nina's interactions and perspectives, the history and conundrums of East and West Berlin during the 1970s comes to life in a way that few thriller or political explorations can match: "West Berlin was gradually turning into a retirement colony with nearly thirty percent of its citizens being over sixty-five. West Berlin, more a provincial city than what it had been in the fifties and sixties, seemed to Nina to be going backwards because of the city’s growing number of elderly pensioners. Meanwhile, in East Germany, especially in East Berlin, a stunted but determined form of hope — a hope, nonetheless — had swelled and filled the hearts and minds of the younger generation with a firm resolution of upward mobility." 

There is no better way for readers interested in Germany's history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals' love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided. 

As Italian Silvio Amedeo Modigliani observes to John: ‘The world don’t matter when the two of you are together. Politics don’t matter. Culture don’t matter. Borders don’t matter. Even the past don’t matter so much when she looks at you.’ 

John is supposed to be retired. But he can't retire from love, and he can't turn his back on the storm which rises to embrace them both. 

Fewston injects literary, philosophical, psychological, political, and social inspections into the story to add further depth; from references to Faust and Proust to concerns about the Stasi who might quell the one light he's been able to follow in this dark time. 

The story is replete with the phrases and flavors of European culture, which are nicely mixed with the self-inspection John undertakes in the course of his changing relationship with Nina and Germany: "Shame stinks, and the stench is a signal to the world to remind everyone what you’ve done and of who you are. No, you cannot burn memories as easily as burning books. No, you cannot forget because shame won’t allow it. No, you have to accept the shame as part of your own troubling history and pray to the high heavens that one day people will forgive you. But no, people don’t forget. They forgive, sometimes, yes. Other times, they don’t, they cannot. Accountability can be as light as a kiss or as heavy as a guillotine. Shame wasn’t so much a curse as it was a stigmata." 

Readers who seek multifaceted, compelling stories steeped in social and political inspection and grounded by personal growth will find there is no need to have a prior familiarity with either John's experience in his Tehran book or with Germany's history. This stand-alone story is both a powerful compliment to its predecessor and a testimony to the strength of a writer who allows the personal and the political to intersect along the road of life in delightful, refreshingly evocative ways recommended for literary, historical fiction and novel readers alike. 

A Time to Forget in East Berlin

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The View from My Window
Patricia J. Gallegos
Atmosphere Press
978-1637529669            $21.99 Paper 

Shaman Willow is only twenty years old, but the world around her has changed in The View from My Window. Her nomadic clan is broken and scattered, threats and violence limit trade and travel, and her focus on healing and daily dreams has undergone a radical transformation during the summer. 

Patricia J. Gallegos describes this in moving detail in the first few paragraphs of the story: "As a nomad, the view from my window changed daily. My life was governed by my apprenticeship as a shaman. While others in my clan recalled particular villages and hamlets because of the trading they had done and the friends they had made, I remembered the villages for the medicinal plants that grew nearby, the illnesses I had treated and the babies I had helped to deliver." 

The threat to their nomadic existence comes from the fact that their tribe's moving caravan places them in jeopardy as traveling targets of violence and hate. And so, one by one, they are either killed or find villages to settle in—places where they can blend in, feel safer, and weather the storm of prejudice and conflict overtaking their world. 

Willow is tired of loss and change, but as the story progresses and she strikes a root that leads her to become a healer to the Queen in a bargain to save her remaining loved ones, she becomes part of a life that successfully misses all the key pivot points of her growth: "I wept silently. The waves of grief that swept through me shook my body. My breathing was ragged as though someone had torn my chest open and left a jagged wound. I had not realized that I had graduated. I had not realized that I was emancipated. How had I missed it? Did the whole rest of the world see this and I was the only soul who had not? How could I be so bright and miss the thing in front of me? Life had changed for me the night I injured my foot. It was as if when I struck that root, a giant wheel began to turn, setting others in motion." 

Perhaps The View from My Window could have been published at no better time, because readers affected by Covid and overnight changes will readily relate to Willow's too-sudden transformation from a comfortable, familiar lifestyle to one in which the future is frightening, uncertain, and misses the touchstones of life's celebratory moments. 

Thrust into the position of being both a lead healer and the savior of her people, Willow grieves for her lost past and faces an uncertain future. The story's surprises include a romance that also will threaten any hopes of the life she once called her own. 

Patricia J. Gallegos provides a moving first-person saga of a young woman facing not just personal transformation, but vast changes to the fabric of life and her perceived role in it. From her healing abilities to the possibility of love, her choices hold consequences that will further affect everything around her. 

Covid readers who have experienced these world-changing paradigms themselves will even more readily relate to Willow's thoughts and feelings than in the pre-Covid environment this book was likely written in. 

Willow's process of experiencing broken connections, then re-connecting to her powers and new relationships is cemented by an attention to detail and description that is a particularly powerful comment on women's' strengths: "We all sat back and admired the quilt we had just completed together. Every stitch made the quilt stronger. Every story bound us together more securely as a family. Stitch by stitch, we sewed our way through lifetimes of love and relationships." 

The View from My Window's message of coming of age in a fantasy world where instability becomes the norm and new relationships are forged both for survival and under duress makes for a story that is hard-hitting, involving, and hard to put down. 

The View from My Window

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Where No Man Pursueth
Michael E. Jimerson
Atmosphere Press
978-1649218667            $15.77 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Where No Man Pursueth is a novel of Civil Rights struggles, coming of age, and social and political change. It follows the life of Ray Elliott, who grows up to become a Texas Ranger on the side of a law which is influenced by Jim Crow prejudices and attitudes. 

It opens with a child's nightmares and a decision about truth and consequences, then evolves into an adult's perspective on lynching, justice, and the wellsprings of prejudice reflected in a seemingly upstanding community: "Ray Elliott had heard racial slurs yelled out in anger. Although he didn’t use such language, it was commonplace. Why did the words take him aback today? It was the source. The source seemed so unlikely. The offending speaker was a handsome man wearing a blue suit and a high starched collar with a matching tie." 

The plot development, characterization, mystery, and compelling images of East Texas culture and evolution are nicely done. 

Strong juxtapositions between a child's perception and an adult's interpretation of matters also provide satisfying insights into the development of not just individual characters, but the community and environment around and influencing them: "Spring was being heralded by the white flowers of the spindly dogwood trees blooming. He was taught the Cross at Calvary was made of dogwood and ever after the tree was reduced to spindly branches incapable of providing the implement of crucifixion ever again. He stopped long enough to touch the soft pedals. He remembered he was also taught every time he lied it was as if Christ was crucified all over again. The silly things they tell children." 

A murder mystery and investigation fuels the plot and brings character insights and conflicts to life both within the courtroom and in the homes and lives of participants. The fact that the central character and 'hero' of the story is as flawed as many around him lends a realistic, engrossing touch as these characters, each damaged in their own unique ways by life circumstances and social influence, try to evolve beyond their upbringings and environment. 

Should those with moral foundations help those without? Can lies ever be justified for the sake of a greater purpose? 

These and other questions permeate a story that is much more than a murder mystery, social statement, or civil rights inspection. It develops all three facets under the flag of a community and individuals changed and challenged by its own ideals and perceptions as Ray faces an invasion not just of other forces, but an assault on his ideals. 

Readers interested in stories about the South facing internal and external struggles will relish the Texas culture and the impact of social changes presented in this compelling story. 

Where No Man Pursueth

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Reviewer's Choice

Badass Pix with a Cheap-Ass Camera
Annie Mack
Cresting Wave Publishing
978-1735413525            $22.95 Paperback, $19.95 Kindle 

There are many, many photography guides for all levels of aspiring picture-taker, but few adopt the candid tone and perspective of Badass Pix with a Cheap-Ass Camera, which cuts to the chase with a specific discussion of how to produce superior photos on a beer budget. 

The focus of this book is not just on taking pictures; but producing 'badass pix'. In order to understand what this is, it's important to know what it is not. Annie Mack defines these boundaries in a fine introduction: "Photography can be a lot of things. The things it usually is, without splitting the entire discipline down to the molecular level, are photojournalism, scenic photography, and portraiture...Photojournalism is freezing a real moment in time that is a piece of a larger story...Scenic photography means going to an exceptionally gorgeous place with unbelievable natural features or architecture and recording the image to bring it back to the unlucky people who aren’t there...Portraiture is making an image of a person or people who likely has/have paid the camera operator to make him/her/them look handsome or pretty, even if it involves manipulation to the point of being unrecognizable...Then, there are Badass Pix." 

This introduction compels aspiring photographers to continue reading.

The term is not only defined, but heavily illustrated in a book that takes the time to define what makes a badass photographer an artist rather than a mere picture-taker. 

Readers used to a more staid approach to photography will find the language either challenging or refreshing as the chapters unfold. This reviewer finds it a breath of fresh air in the world of one-dimensional photo how-to guides as Annie Mack cultivates a sassy, bright tone to match her goal of teaching the basics of producing badass art: "Badass can be photojournalism, scenery, portraits. It is fun to screw around with all of those and add twists that baffle viewers. Badass is futzing around outside the boundaries of technology, good taste, or conventional artistic theory. Badass uses your tools, skills, and heart to make Art — not just ‘nice’ photos. Badass Pix are squinted at, disqualified from contests, or vaguely labeled “mixed media,” “digital graphics,” or “weird shit.” 

The proof of the pudding of success lies not just in taking outstanding photos, but the choices in interpreting and presenting them. This covers subjects most other photography books omit, such as doing a badass picture justice by displaying it in an attention-getting, supportive manner: "Whether it’s printing, matting, mounting, dangling, projecting, cyber sharing, or putting your work on coffee cups. Presentation can be the difference between enchanting the audience or turning them off with shoddy appearances. Again, you don’t need to buy overpriced genuine-wood-look frames, but maybe you want to respect your work more than to tack a crumpled sheet of posterboard to the bathroom door. Just sayin’." 

The proof of the power photo also lies in its artistry, and Mack uses her own self-defined badass pics as examples throughout to illustrate all the concepts she presents. And, exceptional they truly are. 

From selfies to reflective landscapes and images that push standard boundaries, this guide is simply packed with examples of how to take the generic and standard approach and give it not just a gentle push, but a shove into the extraordinary. 

Plenty of how-to guides teach how to produce acceptable, predictable photos. Many rely on expensive equipment and standard techniques. By introducing the idea that an inexpensive camera and minimum of expertise and equipment can create eye-catching images that pop with creative originality, Mack succeeds in teaching the most important photography lesson of all: that creativity does not need a hefty bank account to prove successful. 

Want to produce images that are outside the box and amazing? All that's needed is a cheap camera and the boundary-busting examples in Badass Pix with a Cheap-Ass Camera, which should be on the radars of any college student or aspiring art photographer. 

Badass Pix with a Cheap-Ass Camera

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Business Basics for Authors
Hank Quense
Strange Worlds Publishing
9780985779153             $4.99 ebook 

Business Basics for Authors emphasizes to authors that they aren't just creative spirits by being writers—they are actually running a business that requires the business sense provided in this how-to guide. 

The purpose of this book is to review the basics in a user-friendly manner that will appeal to writers who have little economic or business backgrounds. 

Hank Quense cultivates a non-technical, almost chatty tone as he explains why so many authors fail to see their books get attention: "I believe a major reason that authors fail to sell books is because they don't think like a business owner. Businesses use highly developed marketing plans to introduce a new product to the public. These businesses do that because it has been proven to work. Many inexperienced authors use a shotgun approach to marketing (when they do any marketing!). Their efforts are without a focus and are piecemeal instead of continuous. In other words, the marketing proceeds without a plan to direct the activities. Most often, the author business, too, will be without a plan." 

The focus is on the business of making a book accessible, gaining publicity for it, and handling the basics of keeping track of business income, expenses, and goals. 

Chapters do more than generalize about these facets. They provide specific references to computer programs, organizational techniques, marketing strategies, and methods of business promotion and management which offer the nuts and bolts of success. 

From identifying customers and competitors and handling both to assessing business resources and even starting one's own publishing company, all the basics are provided for marketing both author and book. 

Another added benefit to this discourse is that it doesn't just stem from Hank Quense's own experiences. Other authors were consulted on how they managed their book business, what were the most important challenges they faced during the process, and their successes and failures at being an author. 

Their answers, combined with Quense's advice, makes for a how-to guide that will help budding authors navigate the process of turning a book into a business pursuit, avoiding many common pitfalls along the way. 

Business Basics for Authors is highly recommended reading for any writer new to the business, or who faces a wall of problems getting their work into print and on the public's radar. 

Business Basics for Authors

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Changing the Game
Craig J. Tomsky
Izzard Ink Publishing
9781642280470             $37.95 Hardcover 

Many who think of 'game' usually add a 'y' to the mental idea of consuming game dishes, but Changing the Game: Your Guide for Transforming Wild Game into Game-Changing Meals fosters the idea that game cookery need not involve flavors that are challenging for everyday eaters. 

Indeed, this cookbook and discussion adds an element of gourmet to the game equation, discussing the basics of how to pair game's unique flavor with embellishments that make it not just palatable, but preferable. 

The key involves 'unlocking flavor' and knowing how to prepare and spice different game meats to make the most of their unique qualities, while making the resulting flavor palatable for all. 

Chapters review this process, discussing spices, herbs, marinades, and other ways of altering or enhancing the underlying qualities of game meat. 

Many recipes, such as that for Savory Breakfast Sausage, are introduced by Craig J. Tomsky's reflections on experiments conducted to arrive at the finished recipe: "I don’t even want to tell you how many times I attempted to get a “traditional” breakfast sausage flavor using mostly wild game meat. Lots of venison went into the multiple gyrations that got this recipe to where I wanted it. You can also substitute 7 pounds wild boar meat and 3 pounds fatty pork shoulder in this recipe." 

Recipes run the gamut from gourmet (Twice-Cooked Goose Jerky, Waterfowler's Gumbo, or Smoked Breast of Wild Turkey made with Sweet Ginger and Mary Ann Rub) to everyday fare, such as a Sweet Italian Sausage made with venison or large game. 

All that's required for success is access to fresh game and a new attitude towards cooking it for optimum crowd-pleasing results. Changing the Game provides the rest...the ingredients and flavors which promise perfection, finished with side dish suggestions and wine pairings for added attraction. 

Changing the Game

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The Classic Orthodox Bible
CJS Hayward, Compiler
CJS Hayward Publications
978-1-0878-6882-0         $99
Translation Website:
Author Website:

The Classic Orthodox Bible is compiled and revised from Sir Lancelot Brenton’s public domain translation of the Greek Old Testament and the public domain King James Version of the New Testament, with the intention of producing a Bible true to the original word, yet accessible to modern audiences via the King James style of interpretative language. 

The front matter is aimed to orient the reader with regard to Bibles, and includes a short story (really an essay in the form of a story) of a man who finds a heavy tome with letters inscribed on its cover: 


 That's not the only thing that might surprise you, in the front matter alone. An introduction to the history of Bibles states: "if you read one version of the Bible, don’t read this version" and recommends, instead, The Orthodox Study Bible. This classic version is a more literal translation that deserves its place as secondary, supportive reading, and is intended for those who already have a cursory knowledge, and who want to dig deeper. 

This version is "is much what the King James Version of the Bible would have been if the translators had been working from the Orthodox Church’s Greek Old Testament." As such, it provides a literal, more demanding version that scholars, particularly, will find thoroughly engrossing, especially when considered side-by-side with some of the other versions of the Bible. 

Here resides the classic translation of the entire authentic Septuagint, plus the classic King James New Testament. There have been comments about the print version's appearance, but this reviewer works from an ebook, and this Bible, at standard letter page size and 1200 expansive, beautiful pages represents a format that would grace a gift to a friend or loved one. The size, additionally, works well to provide readers with a book easily digestible and followed. 

In comparison with other versions, this Bible's language is intriguingly different from the start: "The Creation, Genesis 1. In the beginning God made the Heaven and the earth.  But the earth was unsightly and unfurnished, and darkness was over the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the water.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided between the light and the darkness. And God called the light “Day,” and the darkness he called “Night,” and there was evening and there was morning, the first day." 

References for practically every line allow for further research, while Old and New Testament sections are provided in different font sizes to allow for easy delineation between the different parts of the Bible with an emphatic crescendo rising in sections of the Bible that are closest to the Orthodox heart. 

Anyone who has pursued King James and other versions will find much more content, different references, and expanded Biblical events and descriptions in this Orthodox version. The cultural references, history, religious inspections, and Orthodox belief system are well-presented and will prove a treasure; particularly to the English-speaking Orthodox Christian community, who will find the depth, detail, and presentation lends to study and scholarly interpretation as well as new opportunities for religious insights and inspections.  

The extent of work that went into this version is evident in every single passage. Orthodox Christian readers interested in more than the usual translation and who want to take the next step into understanding Bible version relationships to belief and God's word will find The Classic Orthodox Bible an indispensable volume that deserves a place in any serious Christian's collection. 

Readers who appreciate this work may want to explore some of CJS Hayward's own writing, such as his autobiography Orthodox Theology and Technology ( or, for a deeper dive, The Luddite's Guide to Technology (  

The Classic Orthodox Bible

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A Collection of US Army Unit Crests
SFC William E. Cotter, Ret.
Independently Published
9780578783529             $149 + $20.00 shipping

If one should wonder at the hefty price tag of A Collection of US Army Unit Crests, it should be pointed out that this reference is well worth the cost, and should be considered an essential acquisition for any military library or collectors who have more than casual occasion to look up Army unit crests. 

Over 13,000 unit crests appear in full color and embrace the range of crests, from authorized to unauthorized, beercan, and never-issued crests, as well as those strays that don't fit into any neat category. 

Furthermore, the crests are presented in branch order and pages are marked by branches, allowing researchers to easily locate the appropriate crest by branch and cross-reference that crest to other units that also used it. 

It only takes a comparison between SFC William E. Cotter's approach and the few other competing books on the subject to see the clear difference as to why this reference is so essential. Others are in black and white, or narrow the crest focus to specific branches. Some make it difficult to understand the particular nature of a crest which can be assigned to more than one area. 

The last reference that claimed to be somewhat authoritative only covered 3,200 crests. With over 13,000 here, there is simply no comparison (or competitor) to this manual, which adds ROTC and JROTC unit crests to expand a collection that includes crests from artillery units, military intelligence, schools, ordinance, and others in chapters that make it a snap to locate a specific image. 

The images of each crest are small, allowing for 30 crests to appear on a given page, max; but are large enough to allow for detail. 

While the most likely reader of A Collection of US Army Unit Crests will be the military reference student, it also lends to leisure browsing  by collectors, historians, and anybody who holds a special interest in military crest development. This reference is worth every penny, offering a format and scope unprecedented in military crest references and creating a key compilation that should be in all military libraries and on many a personal collector's reference bookshelf. 

A Collection of US Army Unit Crests

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Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths
Steven Shwartz
Fast Company Press
978-1-7354245-3-8         $19.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths offers a rebuttal to those convinced that AI developments are bad, and that human-built artificial minds will take over the world to eliminate the human race. It's a reasoned argument that considers why this can't happen, making a case for the presence of robots, computers, and higher intelligence developments that can aid humankind. 

In order to refute these fears, AI researcher and investor Dr. Shwartz presents insights into the latest technology and developments, syncing these scientific studies with the myths that have derived from alternate visions of their applications. 

From self-driving cars to computer neural networks and prediction analysis, Dr. Shwartz provides many cautionary notes about AI developments and their pros and cons which are realistic and do not involve dominating or replacing human beings: "We need to educate people about the need to avoid data fundamentalism. Computers are not always right, and their output can be wrong for many opaque reasons. Before we act on an answer or recommendation from a computer system, it is often prudent to investigate how the computer system arrived at the answer. If we are to accept answers and recommendations from deep learning systems that lack interpretability, we at least need guidelines from the vendor on how to evaluate reliability. Another issue is that some predictive algorithms must remain secret." 

We are already seeing some of these problems today, as people turn over tasks to automated systems without fully understanding or assessing their output using human analytical abilities. 

Discussions eschew the hype and drama of the usual AI environment to consider issues of data bias; strategies for imbuing AI systems with thinking and reasoning capabilities akin to but not the same as human common sense; and understanding the limits and possibilities of machine learning. 

Also included are discussions of new legal and social processes that must be put into place to adapt to the presence and possibilities of AI in human society. 

The result is a fine introduction to modern AI potential and research which substitutes common sense, history, and science for the hype and drama which normally is injected into AI discussions. Its survey of both narrow AI and artificial general intelligence (AGI) should be required reading as a basic primer for any science and technology student interested in AI development and history.

Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths

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Exploring Other Lifetimes
Patty Paul
IMdex Publishing
9780964272706             $16.99

Exploring Other Lifetimes: Memoir of a Soul's Journey presents some thirty of Patty Paul's other lifetimes, which she visited in self-guided meditations in order to understand how they connect with her current incarnation. Paul is especially astute at describing what she discovered and experienced and how it impacts her present-day world. 

If this sounds like just another past life or reincarnation approach, be advised that Patty Paul's perspective is very different. It is based on the premise that these other lifetimes are all happening at once, at various levels of consciousness, and have influence on her current life for specific reasons. 

As they simultaneously unfold and intersect, they hold lessons, spiritual relationships, and opportunities for self-discovery that are accessible through meditation and other techniques, which Paul describes at the end of her book. 

Another way in which Paul's book diverges from the new age norm is its ability to provide not just reviews of these other lives, but summations of their impact, like this one in Chapter 6: "This is the bigger picture of Mignon's lifetime: Mignon's is a beautiful and powerful key lifetime. It is another moment in the continuum of spiritual growth that began with Maya's first directional lifetime—the one in which certain primary positive and negative influences were established which are present, to one degree or another, in all my lifetimes." 

From various issues such as trust, leadership, and decision-making to how learning about these lifetimes changed her reality, Paul provides readers with a unique memoir that is as much a path to personal empowerment as it is an exploration of her individual soul's journey. 

Her ability to be specific about these lifetimes and their lessons sets this book apart from others, offering a vivid memoir filled with thought-provoking insights and opportunities for transformation, growth, and a revised purpose in considering life's spiritual roots and choices. 

While new age readers will be the most likely audience willing to pick up and absorb Exploring Other Lifetimes, ideally it will also be found in spirituality and self-help libraries, offering open-minded, growth-oriented self-help readers an unusual blueprint to a realizing a revised, more perceptive and effective life. 

Exploring Other Lifetimes

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Free Will, Do You Have It?
Albertus Kral
Tellwell Talent
$24.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle    

Modern philosophy readers interested in the ongoing debate over free will and determinism receive not only much food for thought, but much fodder for debate in Free Will, Do You Have It? 

Philosophy-minded readers who anticipate the usual discussion will find the first surprise in the introduction, which defines parameters for this consideration which are much broader than the traditional debate over free will and choice. It's about human behavior patterns and influencers; good and bad choices and what drives them; and the rationales used to justify each of these choices. 

Albertus Kral maintains: "No choice is made without a reason, influence or other stimuli, whether it is known or unknown to us, whether it takes place at the conscious or subconscious level." This thought, in turn, ties directly into the free will question by then addressing those influencers which shape choice and the idea of free will. Thus, readers receive a good degree of added psychological insight to flavor their philosophical reflection, which will satisfy those interested in exploring and revealing all the roots of free will. 

This book holds its origins in a simple experience in which the author, having engaged in a lively conversation, had to leave to buy groceries: "Right after I said I had to leave, someone asked whether I knew why. Of course I know that, I thought, Otherwise I would not have said that I had to leave. So I responded, “Yeah, I have to buy some groceries and finish some work at home.” ...He said, “You have to leave because there is nothing else you can do. Do you believe that you have free will?” Ah, I thought, that is too easy and I am not falling for this. So I replied, “OK, I will not leave but stay.” Looking back, I realize now that my reaction was one of ignorance as I had helped prove a point that I will use often in my concept. After I left, that question would not leave me alone. Every time I decided to do something, it would pop up. I began asking myself whether I did have free will. I almost felt embarrassed because it was not imaginable that I couldn’t choose whatever I wanted. For days on end I asked myself, Why do I do what I do? Why do I make the choices I make?" 

Free Will, Do You Have It? considers this question and more, examining the links between choices and reasons, the logic and progression of producing rationales supporting each, and whether or not behavior is a choice or a process, among other questions. It posits a third option in the free will debate, "Procirclism," which embraces the science of human behavior. 

From ego, awareness, and how stimulus is processed and manifested to neuroscience's brain research and its impact on the concept of free will (which may be an impossibility to define or defend), Free Will, Do You Have It? offers modern thinkers an exciting science-based blend of philosophy and psychology that is perfect for classroom discussion: "If we agree that we are subject to influences and agree that we are not always aware of all the factors that influence us, then we understand that we relinquish some control over the consequences. If we agree that those influences—as part of the brain processes—play a role in our brain, then we may also conclude that unless we have control over the working of our brain, we have little control over the outcomes of the processes. Most of us have looked at the pros and cons before making a decision. At that time, we did not feel that we were not in control. We felt we could make any decision we wanted to. No argument here. But that does not mean it happens like that just because it feels that way to us." 

It's rare to find such a mix philosophy and science-based study that intersects on many different levels, yet remains accessible to philosophers and non-philosophers alike. Those interested in the discipline in general and the basic tenants of free will, will find Free Will, Do You Have It? a lively blend of self-inspection and science-based analysis that will spark many a discussion in philosophy circles and other disciplines. 

Free Will, Do You Have It? is very highly recommended for its special attention to making science and philosophy easily accessible to all, relating both to daily experiences and events in a way that is fresh, original, and inviting. 

Free Will, Do You Have It?

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Gaslighting Recovery Workbook
Tara Wilson
Vox Publishing House
979-8730697584            $11.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

The term 'gaslighting' has only relatively recently made its way into modern language and onto the radars of everyday people, but has quickly evolved to become a better-known facet of emotional trauma in interpersonal relationships. 

Still, most books on the subject either embrace this in a larger context of abuse, or focus on defining circumstances of gaslighting without providing the keys to not just identifying, but overcoming it. Because those adept at gaslighting often impart ideas and subtle messages that might not be picked up by those around them, it's especially critical that everyone receive the message in this book about what constitutes gaslighting and, more importantly, how to cultivate a 'gaslight-proof' approach to life, to avoid toxic relationships. 

That's why Gaslighting Recovery Workbook is such an essential publication, highly recommended for any authoritative collection on mental health and self-help. 

It opens with a definition of gaslighting, a review of the type of personality who employs it, and a survey of different strategies that gaslighters use. Many will likely recognize someone in their lives who does these things. 

Next, chapters get to the heart of the matter—what to do about gaslighting. From setting boundaries and rebuilding self-esteem to acknowledging responsibility and being pro-active in the process, Tara Wilson goes beyond 'victim mentality' to explain how those being gaslighted can take charge of their lives and relationships: "You have had your self-confidence and self-esteem shattered and then controlled by your abuser. Those are delicate things for anyone, but they are so important if you are going to be successful in recovery. You have to own who you are, what you are, and what you want moving forward." 

Because this is presented in workbook form, readers need to be prepared to not just absorb new concepts, but review the questions and answers that will help them identify and adjust their own attitudes and relationship approaches. 

Exercises cover the basics of building self-identity and using the day's end to review all relationship interactions for a better, healthier approach. Why? Wilson advises: "Put your ideas into action because it will show those around you that you are assertive and in control of what goes on in your life, especially in your emotions." 

Gaslighting Recovery Workbook isn't just a guide for victims. It's a tool for creating self-empowerment, and should be a part of any self-help, psychology, or general lending collection where self improvement is of interest. It's designed to be a toolkit for everyday life that can be carried not just into a love relationship, but all kinds of social situations. 

Gaslighting Recovery Workbook

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A Handbook for Bullying Victims
Bruce Sherman
Independently Published
979-8672980706            $9.99 

Given all the publicity around bullying, these days, it's notable that of all the strategies designed to address it, the majority fall on the shoulders of adults, gatekeepers, and institutions to enact. Few are addressed to those who are potential victims; much less offer a fresh viewpoint on how to empower and protect them, starting from within. 

A Handbook for Bullying Victims achieves its goal by outlining a program Bruce Sherman names the 'International Bully Patrol', emphasizing its world-wide applicability. 

The book opens with a personal story of the author's childhood experiences with a bully. It's a familiar tale of ongoing abuse and victimization. While his solution resorted to violence to quell the attitude of a bully who terrorized not only him but his entire class, Sherman admonishes that violence, though one option, is indeed a last resort. 

His book covers all the choices for handling bullying in various ways, combining advice and insights with a treasure trove of online references vetted by effectiveness and organized by subjects that range from ethnic bullying and cyberbullying to police misconduct, elder abuse, workplace issues, prejudice, and more. 

The specific chapter headings allow readers to skip through the manual, if they desire, to locate a particular area of interest; while the subjects include overviews and list enough information about each article link to give readers an idea of its appropriateness and content before they clink on the reference. 

Take the 'Muslim Bullying' section, for example. Here, readers will find vetted references addressing such diverse subtopics as 'Supporting Muslim Teens in Face of Islamophobia — in Their Own Schools'; a 2019

Bullying Report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations; a CBS news story 'We're called terrorists:' HWDSB anti-bullying session hears from Muslim community'; and the thought-provoking article, 'Singled Out: Islamophobia in the Classroom and the Impact of Discrimination on Muslims'. 

Each article brings a different focus, study, approach, and real-world statistics and insights to explore the broader nature of the bullying problem. Each provides solutions. More importantly, each has been vetted by Bruce Sherman, in comparison to the multitude of other writings on the subject, bringing the cream of the crop to the top and saving readers many hours of searching. 

With its wide-ranging focus through all age groups (from children to elder adults), all ethnicities, and legal and social platforms of discussion, A Handbook for Bullying Victims lives up to its promise to deliver a powerful tool for resolution to all interested in the subject of bullying and how to identify, understand, and resolve it. 

There's nothing quite like it on the market. Reference libraries, in particular, will find A Handbook for Bullying Victims a top acquisition. 

A Handbook for Bullying Victims

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Love in a Suitcase
Thomas Schwendler
Independently Published
978-1-7368130-0-3         $8.95-print, $1.99 e-book

Love in a Suitcase: Relationship Notes from an Analog Time for Our Digital World is a discourse about faith, family, and relationship-building in modern times. It comes from a reverend whose rediscovery of hundreds of his uncle's love letters in an old suitcase led to better understand his Uncle Bill and Aunt Anne's three-year courtship and wedding. 

The insights unpacked from this suitcase helped Schwendler in his premarital consults with young folk on their own journeys to marriage and, ultimately, led to writing this book, which offers the same nuggets of wisdom to its readers. 

These revolve around the spiritual and cathartic act of using writing to form connections, clarify points, and ultimately reinforce growing relationships. Modern readers who question the old-fashioned art of putting pen to paper receive clear advice on why and how this differs from Tweets or email: "There’s some kind of alchemy going on when your thoughts move from your mind to your hands to a piece of paper. Because it’s slower than a keystroke and takes more effort, your thoughts can be deeper than those expressed in a text message or a social media post." 

The alchemy of relationship-building thus is created by the time and care taken to formulate the right words, revising, editing, and ultimately sending a series of gifts that, when properly done, can serve as reflective guideposts not just for that moment of love, but for the rest of a couple's life. 

Rev. Schwendler didn't expect to uncover the best marriage advice he'd ever heard in that abandoned suitcase. But as he took the time (sparked by Covid's isolation) to read through all these letters, he discovered a treasure trove of practical insights on everything from handling in-laws and conflicts to cultivating honest exchanges replete with not just interpersonal connections, but self-examination: "if all I was thinking of was getting you as a husband, I could tell you all that confusion and what have you didn’t bother me in the least, that I could like to live in the Ross home – just to get you and then after we are married turn the tables with a lot of arguing and fault finding with your family which would eventually lead to a feud. I believe in reasonably talking things over and trying to smooth things out before we get married." 

He's published pieces of this sage advice and added his own insights and reflections to create a book that should be not only an engagement gift for any would-be couple, but a road map for any couple seeking a deeper, more harmonious relationship. 

Replete in life insights usually gained mostly from the School of Hard Knocks, Love in a Suitcase is filled with riches the author chose to share with the world. It deserves a place in any Christian or general-interest collection strong in life lessons. 

Love in a Suitcase

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Mafia International
John Alite (as told to Louis Romano)
Vecchia Publishing
978-1-944906-35-1         $24.99
Author Websites:

Few books chart the journey into the crime world as powerfully John Alite's Mafia International. Perhaps this is because of Alite's high-level involvement in the Mafia. He was also known as Johnny Alletto, an Albanian-American former Gambino crime family associate who made the decision to testify against his 'family' after being charged with murders, international drug dealing, and having learned he had been betrayed by the Gottis and the leadership of captains while Alite was in Brazilian jails, having been captured while on the run. As an Albanian, they thought they could all point at him.  Once released, he publicly denounced organized crime and became a motivational speaker on the subject of how to avoid crime. 

As Alite confesses in the opening paragraphs of his book: "I immersed myself further and further into the matrix of the mafia and beyond. I extended my relationships with other mafia factions across the United States and constructed my own international drug connections. I had associations with drug cartels in over ten countries and a vast network of buyers and sellers across the globe. It was unheard of for one man in the criminal underworld to garner such a complex network, but I did it. And I loved it." 

How he become connected to this world in the first place and found himself digging ever deeper into the quagmire of organized crime makes for a riveting memoir and true crime story that should be on the shelves of any collection strong in Mafia exposés. 

This is no quick overview of this world, as are many books written by journalists and other outsiders on the subject. Author Louis Romano, who chronicled numerous in-person interviews, does an excellent job guiding us through a “day in the life” of a cold-blooded killer. Alite's intimate relationship to not just criminals but the economic and political extent of their activities traces the building blocks of his criminal involvements in explicit detail: "By the early nineties, this very drug ring I established and ran would earn the Gambino family almost a million dollars a month and sometimes more. This type of generated income allowed me not only move in and among higher circles, but I became privy to so much. The fact that I grew up and was friends with many sons whose fathers held high positions within the mafia worked to my advantage as well." 

From his considerations of power plays and deceit that operated both above-board and underlay many of these relationships to his crime partners, friendships, and the perceptions of Mafia members who ran in these circles, his story embraces different people, circumstances, and experiences: "There was a fine line between bravery and stupidity and I knew what side of the line Gene (Gotti) was thinking from. He thought he was untouchable because of his name, but he would be wrong." 

Alite's clashes, realizations, and moves from the crime world to international operations and then prison is especially intriguing because he operates in no singular circle, and holds the ability to not just move into Mafia operations and murder, but to ultimately use his experiences as growth opportunities to change, even as the Mafia embraces overseas operations. 

Those who believe there is no future beyond organized crime once one assumes a high-level Mafia position will find many surprises in a gripping story that reads like a blend of novel, with interpersonal clashes and action, and memoir, which offers insights not to be found in other Mafia and organized crime stories. 

Any collection strong in true crime reads must add Mafia International to their holdings. It is a standout in the literature. 

Mafia International

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The Meal Deal
Lisa Kiersky Schreiber
978-1-61005-974-9         $14.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook 

First, to be clear: The Meal Deal: Blaze Your Own Trail to a Healthier Eating Lifestyle isn't another diet book. It's a success story based on making a lifestyle change which is more wide-ranging and self-supporting than any diet plan, and thus requires of its readers more of a commitment than eliminating or choosing particular foods. 

Readers are required to assess their habits and make changes accordingly...changes meant to be life-lasting; not quick and temporary solutions to achieve a given weight goal. 

Herein lies the difference between The Meal Deal and many other books on the market that incorporate lifestyle change into their nutrition advice, because this book tackles the harder question of how to identify and change the types of habits that lead to ill health and poor nutrition choices. 

The strategies embrace redoing one's kitchen to make it easy to find healthy food and difficult to turn to less health-supporting alternatives. Lisa Kiersky Schreiber advises readers on how to create their own health cookbooks filled with successful new recipes, and she reviews the kinds of food prep and grocery list planning that lend to better choices and make it easy to go for the gold. 

At each step, readers are provided with basic advice that, unlike competing titles, assumes no prior savvy or knowledge about the process. It's easy to advise switching ingredients or recipes, for example; but how, exactly, does one locate and identify a healthier recipe? And what are the parameters for assessing its nutritional value? 

Schreiber leaves nothing to wonder, and that's the glory of her lifestyle change book. Each step is designed to reformulate and support new habits that are easy to understand and follow. Each section in her book includes checklists, habit-reinforcing exercises, and new ideas that streamline every part of the process. 

For example: the section on how to stock a pantry covers 'red light', 'yellow light', 'compromise', and 'green light' coverage of desirable and less desirable choices, and includes a 'warning' on what happens when too much vigorous enthusiasm early on results in an impossible-to-follow approach: "Many of us have an emotional attachment to certain foods in our pantries. For me, that includes chocolate. For my husband, it’s potato chips. If you find you’re hesitant to ditch something, or just not sure you’re ready to do without it yet, it is imperative that you go easy on yourself. Judgment and self-criticism should not be part of this process, because self-condemning thoughts can lead to shame and, ultimately, binging. You can always revisit problematic items later. There’s no point in making yourself feel bad over food. It doesn’t lead to anything productive. The most important thing is that you’re adding more nutritious items. Doing that alone can lead to healthier habits down the line." 

Though readers will likely find The Meal Deal shelved in the diet section of a given library, to call it a 'diet book' alone would be to do it a disservice. It's a cookbook, it's a lifestyle change planning guide, and it's a supportive review of the tricks and traps involved in a lifelong process of achieving and maintaining good health, and should be part of any health-conscious reader's formula for a better life. 

The Meal Deal

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The Prologue
Alexander V. Mirtchev
Post Hill Press
978-1-64293-553-0         $35.00 Hardcover/$9.99 Kindle 

Policymakers, scholars, and students of international business and energy management will find The Prologue: The Alternative Energy Megatrend in the Age of Great Power Competition an in-depth survey of alternative energy's role in what Alexander V. Mirtchev identifies here as The Grand Energy Game. This is highly recommended reading for anyone who would better understand the trends that lead to political, social, economic, and scientific change. 

Alternative energy's rise in the past, its impact on current affairs, and its projected future role is analyzed in far more detail than the usual alternative energy discussion. Added value to the insights are provided by reviews of international security concerns, surveys of the impact and definition of a 'megatrend', and the evolving geopolitical power changes affected by the drive to create and distribute alternative sources of energy. 

From different variables that influence megatrends in general and alternative energy in particular to understanding changing power structures in the face of these developments around the world, The Alternative Energy Megatrend in the Age of Great Power Competition creates and encourages discussion points that go beyond the usual approach to the historic developments of trends around the world. 

As balances change and science intersects with political structures to project and manage power usage, the broadening scope of energy security concerns, management, and development process portend a ripple effect across societies and between different cultures and countries. 

Understanding these influences is no mean feat. It requires a better understanding of not just alternative energy's promises and pitfalls, but the social and political actions and reactions to megatrends, in general. 

The many possibilities are reviewed and analyzed in a survey that especially lends to college-level classroom discussions: "...the megatrend could encourage the creation of new forms of economic cooperation with our allies and partners that alleviate economic instability. Alternative energy developments fuel a growing perception that renewables could help revamp the energy consumers-suppliers equation, resulting in the disappearance of old markets and the formation of new ones. This would mirror the transformational effects of information tech­nologies and add a new impetus for geo-economic cooperation. Thus, the growth of alternative energy as part of the energy portfolio and new grid and distributed storage technologies will prompt changes to the electric utility business model and creation of the new types of energy markets." 

No collection strong in alternative energy discussions will be complete without the broader view taken by and presented in The Alternative Energy Megatrend in the Age of Great Power Competition's consideration of the changing power structures within and between nations. 

The Prologue

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Reed’s Homophones: A Comprehensive Book of Sound-alike Words, 4th Edition
A. D. Reed
Pisgah Press, LLC
$14.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook/$19.95 Hardcover

Reed’s Homophones: A Comprehensive Book of Sound-alike Words should be in any collection strong in English language explorations, literature, and wordsmithing, whether for school-age readers in high school to college, or general-interest collections appealing to writers and authors. 

It provides a quick reference for those who would quickly locate a homophone in a resource that complements a dictionary or thesaurus while imparting a sense of humor about what is included in the homophone collection: "...(including some borrowed from other tongues, and a few that aren’t quite homophonic, but are awfully close) as well as frequent misspellings, mispronunciations, misused word pairs, schizophrenic antonyms, and a few pet peeves." 

The wellspring of a reference designed to thwart common word misuse came from a series of 2007 newspaper articles that sparked "...a short list of common homophones that seem to attract newspaper reporters as honey does flies. Houses are “raised” by fires; actors demonstrate real “flare” on stage; people wait with “baited” breath; the view through the picture window is a “site” to behold; witnesses are rarely “fazed” but often “phased.” Et cetera." 

As the word rebuttal expanded to book length, A. D. Reed crafted a writer's guide to popular word pairs that should ideally be unpaired. An A-Z dictionary identifies such homophones as "access – a way in; axis – line on a grid" and other common follies of language misuse. 

While reading a dictionary might not be everyone's cup of tea, Reed’s Homophones serves as both an at-a-glance desk reference for writers and as a word nerd's browsing delight, offering definitions and insights that tackle and correct too-common instances of misuse, as in "segue – seamless transition" versus "Segway® – one-axled, two-wheeled, gyroscopic self-propelled scooter." 

Reed’s Homophones is an important guide for writers who adhere to literary correctness, who will want to double-check their reports and literary productions with this book. 

Reference collections strong in writer's guides should consider Reed’s Homophones a key acquisition. 

Reed’s Homophones: A Comprehensive Book of Sound-alike Words, 4th Edition

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Sacred Life: Healing from the Virus in Consciousness
Bedri Cag Cetin, Ph.D.
Independently Published
979-8584936259       $9.95 Kindle; $15.00 Paperback
Website link: 

Sacred Life: Healing from the Virus in Consciousness covers the intersection between miracles and science, giving readers the opportunity to heal not just through discussions of spirituality and consciousness, but through an autobiographical journey that follows Dr. Bedri Cag Cetin's own experiences. 

In this case study of consciousness, Cetin juxtaposes notes about the ego and psychological inspection with a spiritual overlay of reflection that has its roots in the pandemic and its threats. 

These connections between world experience and threat and the teachings of a spiritual path which encourage adaptation, healing, and revised insights about the world creates a dialogue that draws readers into the possibilities inherent in this approach: "Contrary to my perception at that time, the first dream suggested that all the valuable things I thought I had lost were actually kept safe for me. And the second dream emphasized the importance of keeping my faith in my inner guidance along the lines of what my spiritual teacher had taught me many times." 

Even readers relatively less informed about enlightenment and spiritual self-analysis will be able to access these concepts via the clear instructions and reflections Cetin provides: "Conflict is a sign that you have chosen the ego as your guide, which then dictates your thoughts, decisions, and actions. On the other hand, peace is a sign that you are in the company and supervision of your Inner Guide." 

His focus on separating ego and spiritual interests and how to make the kinds of choices that lead to and support a sacred life independent of ego provides the specifics lacking in similar-sounding discussions, documenting the promise, process, and pitfalls of learning, using Cetin's experiences and life as a blueprint. 

The blend of autobiography and teacher's wisdom is nicely balanced. It provides a simple spiritual message that will reach everyone willing to listen. 

Powerful, instructional, and healing, Sacred Life: Healing from the Virus in Consciousness uses the pandemic experience as a starting point for effecting a process of inner transformation that is specific. It's grounded not just in new ideas for personal change, but ultimately the opening approach to creating a "new mind era" that ideally will lead to a shift in consciousness. 

Cetin is at the forefront of this movement with a title that outlines a course any open-minded (and especially new age) reader can follow to envision and tap into their own sacred life. 

Sacred Life: Healing from the Virus in Consciousness

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The Way of Miracles
Mark D. Mincolla, PhD
Beyond Words
9781582708287             $21.00 

The Way of Miracles: Accessing Your Superconscious comes from a holistic practitioner who maintains that we create miracles via our super conscious minds, and that developing that mind and its spiritual connections is what generates the miracle itself. 

Documented research into health 'miracles' (including his own self-cure of a life-threatening illness), consciousness-raising exercises to strengthen self-healing capabilities, and discussions of the science and energy of the human brain and mind power a title which will especially appeal to readers interested in health, new age, and self-healing. 

His survey also adds philosophical insights into the mix: "We know that stress triggers emotional tension, which causes dis-ease and ultimately disease. This is a sequence of events evolving from energy to manifest as matter. It is our tendency to see life solely from a matter-based perspective; thus, our current Newtonian understanding of medicine is, for the most part, based on our knowledge of cells, tissues, organs, and organisms. Moreover, here in the West, when it comes to establishing the causal root of disease, the prospect of energy remains curiously absent." 

As Dr. Mincolla shares his experiences, techniques, and insights, practitioners and patients alike receive the rare opportunity to understand how applied self-help and healing techniques alter the body and mind. 

More than many other books about healing energy, self-help, and transcendence, The Way of Miracles combines insights on empowerment and enlightenment with the mental and physical energy that accompanies chosen paths to health. 

It's highly recommended for new age, spirituality, philosophy, and health readers alike, and is strengthened by a blend of science and applied new age thinking that stands out from the crowd. 

The Way of Miracles

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Young Adult/Childrens

The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and
One Promise
Julie Gianelloni Connor
Bayou City Press, LLC
$16.99 Hardcover/$9.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise: An International Adoption Story adds to children's picture book literature about adoption by covering the special challenge of adopting a baby from another country, using the "once upon a time" fable format to draw readers into how Jeanette and Jeff fall in love, marry, finish school, then try to have a child. 

They "wait and wait" for a child, but after two tries in which Jeanette "gets sick" and there is no baby, they are presented with an alternative. 

The story becomes one of three people connected by circumstance. Luz is pregnant and alone in another country and knows she cannot help a child, while Jeanette and Jeff learn that their best option lies in an overseas adoption. 

At this point, it should be noted that Saman Chinthaka Weerasinghe's compelling, large-size, realistic illustrations do an exceptional job of capturing the emotional state of a couple who wants a baby more than anything, and a young woman in another country who wants her baby to have a home. These evocative drawings are above and beyond most other children's book illustrations, successfully depicting the characters' expressions and personalizing the story and their experiences in a realistic, compelling manner. This successfully reinforces Julie Gianelloni Connor's focus on the range of emotions which drives both sides. 

More so than most children's picture books about adoption, The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise takes its time to explain and explore the emotional nuances involved. 

Also notable is the focus on the process of international adoption, from a foreign country's social service agency's efforts and foster care to how baby James has to get his visa for the United States. 

International adoption is a complex topic, but under the dual, in-depth focus of author Julie Gianelloni Connor and illustrator Saman Chinthaka Weerasinghe, the story comes to life to teach all ages about the emotional and organizational process involved in joining a child to new parents. 

The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise is an exceptional stand-out in the literature of children's picture books covering adoption in general and international processes in particular; highly recommended for any collection strong in representing different kinds of family relationships. 

The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and
One Promise

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Bobos Babes Adventures: The Case of the Giggles
Karen M. Bobos
PlayPen Publishing
978-1-7343610-9-4         $17.99 Hardcover; $12.99 Paper 

Bobos Babes Adventures: The Case of the Giggles introduces picture book readers and their read-aloud parents to the magical world of the Bobos Babes: sisters who live in a magical land and share a closeness of love and loyalty despite their differences. Scarlett is a delicate angel; Cora is an enchanted fairy; and middle child Daphne is a beautiful princess. 

They enjoy each others' company and have fun until a sudden and unwelcome case of the giggles plagues Princess Daphne and just won't stop. 

What begins with a sneeze leads to a quest to find a way to stop these unrelenting giggles as the trio journey through the kingdom seeking wisdom and solutions to a problem that won't go away. 

Brittany Roberson's bright, engaging illustrations throughout bring the story to life and capture the colorful kingdom and its inhabitants. 

The two-line rhymes throughout are lilting, fun, and feel fresh and flowing; not forced, like too many rhyming stories that present up to seven rhyming pieces per page.  

As a host of kingdom characters try to help the sisters resolve their problem, a fun tale evolves that parents will find perfect for read-aloud and entertainment. Its original, unexpected dilemma will leave youngsters listening and laughing, as well as learning about relationships, problem-solving approaches, and the best ways of enjoying life to its fullest. 

Bobos Babes Adventures: The Case of the Giggles

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Bobos Babes Adventures: The Missing Egg
Karen M. Bobos
PlayPen Publishing
978-1-954529-07-6                $17.99 

Bobos Babes Adventures: The Missing Egg is a colorful picture book adventure story illustrated by Emily Hercock, who provides engaging drawings to attract young readers to the story of three lovely sisters (an angel, a princess, and a fairy) who lived on a charmed island. 

A kind, helpful swan has a dilemma, and the Bobos Babes want to help despite his protests that nothing can be done. His need for a rest from his egg-sitting duties has resulted in a quandary; especially since a passion for chocolate cake was involved. 

Now the precious egg is missing. How can the Bobos Babes help? 

Two-line rhyming verse captures the problem and lends especially well to read-aloud. Parents who choose this adventure story for the very young will find its colorful drawings a major draw as the feisty young problem-solvers tackle a real mystery and try to help their friend. 

The result is a magical journey that embraces animal friends, people, perplexities, and insights on life, from 'guy codes' of communication to well-meaning guests who would visit the busy parents of newborns. 

The Missing Egg's mystery, lesson in problem-solving, insights into interpersonal relationships, and just plain fun will appeal to read-aloud parents and young readers alike. 

Bobos Babes Adventures: The Missing Egg

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Ecomasters: A Planet in Peril Book One: The Pathfinder
Donna L. Goodman
Isabella Media Inc.
9781735725611             $16.99  

Ecomasters: A Planet in Peril Book One: The Pathfinder gives young adult sci-fi fans a satisfyingly engrossing read and revolves around thirteen-year-old New York City girl Coral, who faces difficulties to her young life on many levels. 

The city's water supply may be contaminated and has caused her best friend Jasper to become ill, her mother has vanished, her father is involved in questionable business activities, and Coral is just tired of it all. 

When she stumbles on an opportunity to travel through time with her dog Peeve with other girls who also hold special abilities, Coral finds herself challenged in a different way. 

One approach which makes this story a standout is Donna L. Goodman's use of the first-person and her attention to reinforcing Coral's character, determination, and observations: "When I get back to the building, Mr. Dobbins eyes me like a puppy who just peed in the house again. I start to lower my head, and then realize I don't care what he thinks. I have important things to do, too important to waste time feeling bad." 

From her goal of getting to Illuminada to interacting with peers and the Ecomasters who will play a big role in the future of humanity, Coral adopts a proactive approach to life that embraces not just successes, but failures as she learns about different cultures, new forms of interaction, and the importance of using role models to learn new skills. 

Under Goodman's hand, climate change issues assume both a fantasy element and a personal connection that places Coral and friend Miriam in surprisingly key roles usually reserved for adults. 

The result is a story that is multifaceted and engrossing. It's as much a tale of assuming responsibility and learning from new life circumstances as it is a tale of one girl's newfound mission to heal both the world and her life in an unusual way. 

Teen readers looking for action, adventure, and a sense of growth and social responsibility will find Ecomasters: A Planet in Peril Book One: The Pathfinder just the ticket for a thought-provoking read that operates on more than one level. 

Ecomasters: A Planet in Peril Book One: The Pathfinder

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Frankenbots: Sunken City of Scraps
Michael Ferrone
Independently Published
978-1734947557            $13.99 

Frankenbots: Sunken City of Scraps is a fun fantasy picture book story that opens with Stu and the Frankenbots reviewing the many different invaders, human and alien, that Earth has experienced over the eons. 

Stu and his force are tired of being the sole defenders of the planet...and so they post a town hall meeting notice to invite other mechanical Frankenbots to "learn the nuts and bolts" of beating galactic invaders. 

The problem with collaborative thinking is that everyone has a different idea of how best to fight; from force fields and dynamite to lasers. All the ideas have pros and cons and cause the Frankenbots to battle among themselves instead of joining together. 

When a rumbling noise leads them to investigate an underground legend, things begin to change. 

Michael Ferrone's whimsical attitude about a tired mechanical army, the power of Sunken City, and revelations about how to work together imparts a fine message embedded in a robot-packed story that kids will find intriguingly different and fun. 

The main message ("They were there to work as one/But disagreeable bots can get nothing done.") is imparted through a quirky, fun exploration that will delight the very young and read-aloud parents alike. 

Adults looking for robot stories that first attract young leisure readers, and then imparts an essential message about tackling life's problems, will find the simple yet powerful story perfect for accomplishing two goals: leisure reading, and understanding the power of cooperative thinking. 

Frankenbots: Sunken City of Scraps

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Good Night Phobos, Good Night Deimos
Tim Baird
Independently Published
9781087948935             $9.99
Author Site:

Good Night Phobos, Good Night Deimos celebrates a child's space-roving imagination with a bedtime story that surveys an astronaut's habitat and the process of bidding goodnight to the devices and atmosphere of a world in which Phobos and Deimos occupy the night sky. 

Lovely illustrations by Jamie Noble Frier accompany a fun survey of these items, from an airlock and 'meat' which is a reconstituted square to a "little tardigrade" under a looking glass, an astronaut who "still measures in feet," and the sprockets and rockets that occupy a bedroom. 

Space-loving children with active imaginations about the planets who would imagine how an astronaut goes to bed in Mars will relish this story, as will read-aloud adults who join them in an exploration that, at times, will require word definitions; but which rewards young nighttime explorers with a very different world of possibilities than the usual bedtime tale offers. 

Its fantasy and science blend proves a very satisfying adjunct to read-aloud bedtime books rooted in Earthbound scenarios. 

Good Night Phobos, Good Night Deimos

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Henry and the Gym Monster
Ben Lancour
Ben Lancour Books
$3.99 ebook; 12.99 Paper; $16.99 Hardback

Kids who enjoy physical education will find much familiar in Henry and the Gym Monster, where young Henry confronts a PE teacher and a monster who have different ideas about the importance of physical education class. 

Good reading skills will lend further appreciation to the story, which receives creative and colorful illustrations by Emily Bennett as it surveys Henry's confrontation with Manny the Monster, who cannot be seen by the strict gym teacher who penalizes Henry for shouting, ignoring directions, and bullying...all ideas that this evil Monster has given him. 

Regulated to the sidelines, Henry struggles with a monster that grows larger the more Henry blames Manny for his choices. How can Henry vanquish an enemy who has grown too large to handle, created through Henry's own choices to do the wrong things? 

Ben Lancour creates a fine story in which the traditional monster does not come from an outside threat, but from within. The monster action takes place not at night, but in broad daylight. And Henry's problem-solving efforts and final solution are unexpected, fun events that are unpredictable and appealing. 

The sense of humor and pleasing action assure that picture book readers receive a lesson that is as inviting a leisure read as it is an educational lesson about following one's heart and vanquishing inner monsters by choosing the right thing (kindness). 

Adults seeking to teach kids about the effects of good and bad choices will find Henry and the Gym Monster offers an excellent lesson on perspective and individual choice. 

Henry and the Gym Monster

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The Journey to Max – An Adoption Story
Christopher & Alejandro Garcia-Halenar

978-1-7326044-3-8                $9.99

Young picture book readers interested in the subject of adoption will find The Journey to Max – An Adoption Story a lovely journey narrated by Xander, whose little brother Max did not arrive to the family via the usual delivery vehicle. 

Max was adopted; and finding him was an arduous affair. Xander and his two dads embark on cross-country road trips to meet potential surrogates and birth mothers who might be willing to add to their family, but are faced with disappointment each time. 

This lively picture book story chronicles that journey from Xander's perspective, charting the course between their family's heart (which "never reached a full beat" without a sibling) to a young woman determined to find a family "who would love Max as much as she did." 

These heartfelt moments inject emotion and caring into the journey and celebrate not only the new bonds created by the adoption, but the expansion of love into their extended family, including Max's birth mother. 

The Journey to Max is a lovely adoption chronicle that stands out from other picture books on the subject. It embraces the journey, the results, and the wider range of love that evolves from the quest, as well as the loving relationship between two men and their children. 

Lovely illustrations by Lea Embeli color the journey and create a memorable, involving tale highly recommended for picture book readers and adults seeking wider-ranging, positive stories of diverse family choices and relationships. 

The Journey to Max – An Adoption Story

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The Legend of Hobart
Heather Mullaly
Favored Oak Press
$16.99 Hardback/$7.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook 

Children's book readers are in for a treat with The Legend of Hobart, which introduces a twelve-year-old's intention to become a hero to earn his place at Knight School. Hobart has the will to succeed, but finds out that he needs much more. 

Among the requirements he doesn't have is an ability to identify a situation in which his actions are meaningful, effective, and even wanted. 

As Hobart narrates the story of his first quest, his first duel, and his first encounters not just with adversity but his own magical abilities, he grows into his desire for bravery as he stumbles into a series of mishaps that test his vision of what it means to be courageous. 

Heather Mullaly's choice of presenting Hobart's trials in the first person is gives this story its humor via quirky self-inspection. Both will be a draw to young fantasy readers who will appreciate not just the action throughout, but Hobart's astute analysis of his position in the world and his thoughts on how to change it: "If I still wanted to make it into knight school after this latest debacle, there was only one possibility left. I was going to have to slay a dragon. It was risky, I know. But I saw no other choice. I was desperate. (When minstrels tell their tales, they always seem to dwell on heroes’ sense of duty. They completely overlook the equally powerful driving force called desperation.)" 

The stuttering young hero encounters damsel Hero in the course of his journey, and is filled with wonder at her name and the slightly unfair association it has with what he is trying so desperately to become. He also builds his own character through these unexpected confrontations with life, which introduce elements of social inspection to blur the lines between good guys, bad guys, and the foundations of good and bad choices alike: “We never meant to be bandits!” the man cried. “We’re respectable men.” “Respectable, my foot,” Hero snapped. “No, really,” he said, as his friend tried to nod and ended up looking dizzy. “We were farmers until the crops failed. We never would have stooped to stealing if there were any other way to feed our families. Our whole village is starving.” 

These inspections of self and world fuel an especially inviting story that embraces humorous mishaps, thought-provoking revelations, and the kinds of choices that truly lead one to be considered courageous. 

Advanced elementary to middle grade readers receive a winning combination of fantasy action and self-inspection. The overlay of humor and social insight keep this quest story vivid through and through. The Legend of Hobart is highly recommended as a standout over competing one-dimensional quest tales for this age group. 

The Legend of Hobart

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Life and Other Complications
Heather Mullaly
Favored Oak Press
$24.99 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle
Author Website:

Mature young adult readers looking for a realistic story of a girl living with HIV and a secret will find Life and Other Complications an involving story. It revolves around truth, lies, and difficult decisions that seem to hold no positive course of action no matter what choice Aly Bennet makes. 

She's been lying to her mother and the boy she loves for a very long time. So long, that she no longer knows how to tell her very best friends the truth, much less her family. It's a devastating truth that is certain to change everything; not the least of which is her love for Luke, which is just entering a newly intense phase. 

But if she doesn't tell the truth, she'll be an accomplice in letting a man go free who changed her life forever. 

Heather Mullaly excels at describing the tidal flow of relationships which move back and forth between layers of friendship and something more, setting these forces against the backdrop of a secret that seems to be growing heavier by the day. Her presentation of Aly's story in the first person cements these emotional currents: "What does HIV matter when you’re already running out of time? I was desperately trying to convince myself that no one could ever want me like that. That I’m too filthy and broken. But that caused a stab of pain to mix in with my panic. Either Luke wants to have sex with me, which is horrifying. Or he doesn’t, because I’m dirty and contaminated, and that’s crushing. I am in so far over my head." 

Aly isn't ready to lose Luke. She's only just begun, even though years have passed. And yet, circumstances are driving them apart in more than one way; both internal and external. 

Mullaly provides an especially powerful, poignant story that feels firmly rooted in the dilemmas many urban teens face in modern times. Accounts of violation, lasting health issues, teen support groups and the firm bonds of friendship that evolve to relationships from them, and trauma and fear accompany life- and psyche-threatening situations that drive Aly and Luke together as much as they threaten to part them. 

The result is a mercurial, satisfyingly complex story that interacts with young readers on many different levels. 

Life and Other Complications is an engrossing embrace of many mature themes which pulls no punches in its descriptions of love, longing, lies, and redemption. It's highly recommended reading for those who like their characters firmly rooted in the realities of modern society. 

Life and Other Complications

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Little Mouse Adventures: Yoga at the Museum
Teresa Anne Power
Stafford House Books
978-1734478655            $16.95 hardcover/$6.99 ebook 

Little Mouse Adventures: Yoga at the Museum is the third title in a picture book series of adventures of a little mouse who likes to draw and daydream. 

As the story opens, he's stuck doing math homework and is doodling when his wise mother finds him and suggests doing some mindful breathing to help him relax and focus. This allows him to finish a difficult task, and to visit his best cat friend Mr. Opus and his human family. 

A visit to the local art museum is being planned by the humans, so Little Mouse and Mr. Opus decide to join them. They view splendid artwork, which serves as an inspiration for Little Mouse to connect his yoga experiences with the pieces on display. 

Young readers receive an inviting introduction to both art and yoga principles as the story evolves, embracing both in a delightful presentation that illustrates different yoga poses and their names through Little Mouse's demonstrations. 

At home, he finds himself once again stuck on math homework. This time, he has a different option for success. 

Emma Allen's inviting, whimsical drawings are wonderful embellishments to a story line parents will chose to help the very young begin to understand the poses and principles of yoga. 

More so than most other titles on the subject of yoga for this age group (and, they are rare indeed), Little Mouse Adventures: Yoga at the Museum gives a fine opportunity to teach balance, methods for achieving calmness, and creative problem-solving skills for a younger age than is usually given yoga teachings. 

The blend of mindfulness training and artistic appreciation offers many opportunities for parent/child read-aloud enjoyment and enlightenment in a picture book story that is also whimsically fun. 

Parents seeking to impart the basics of yoga and art appreciation alike will find Little Mouse Adventures: Yoga at the Museum an exceptionally accessible and attractive presentation. 

Little Mouse Adventures: Yoga at the Museum

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Magical Mia – Kindness is Contagious
Julie Cassetta
Grow Good Publishing
$11.99 Paper; $18.95 Hardback; $4.99 ebook 

Magical Mia – Kindness is Contagious presents a picture book recipe for kindness and joy with the life perspective of Mia, who maintains that magic lies within, and in one's choices about reacting to new things: "Magic isn’t something outside of yourself./Look at that girl sitting all by herself./Sometimes I get scared to meet someone new./But I trust the magic, and she looks scared too." 

When one puts oneself into the world in an enthusiastic, accepting manner by taking risks, "the magic begins." In this case, it revolves around a new friend and Mia's act of kindness, which builds bridges instead of barriers. 

Elena Taranenko's appealing drawing captures this blossoming friendship, illustrating how the magic Mia begins spreads from friend to friend, with new opportunities and positive results. 

However, giving is a two-way street. When Mia encounters difficulty in math, her friend's help adds another building block to this special magic: "Noah’s magic grew bigger that day,/because he cared enough to show me the way." 

Kids and read-aloud adults will delight in an uplifting story of the real magic of kindness and how it spreads, and will appreciate the opportunity to relate this perspective and its lessons to daily life events. Magical Mia – Kindness is Contagious is highly recommended reading as an early formula for success. 

Magical Mia – Kindness is Contagious

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The Starry Labors of Nick
Amy Wolf
Lone Wolf Press Ltd.
979-8201666910            $8.99 

Book 3 of the Mythos Universe series will especially delight prior fans of Nick, who has hated being different without fully realizing that his heritage isn't entirely human. In prior books, his father returned to his life to not only impart an impossible truth, but provide him with a dangerous mission—to complete the 12 Labors of Hercules and save the world of Mythos. 

Nick is attending the strangest wedding of his life when the story opens: one between his dad, the centaur Chiron; and Helen, his new wife. It takes place on Mount Olympus, where he's surrounded by friends who are constellations, mermen, and other creatures. 

Amy Wolf's sense of humor is present from the start as Nick interacts in this environment: "Nick couldn’t believe it! The room, which moments before had been hushed, now looked like . . . a club, with small round tables, nymphs serving drinks, and disco lights blinking above. “OMG!” Nick cried. “It’s so totally retro!” Before he could strike a pose like Travolta, his friend Herc strode over. “Nick!” roared the Hero. “Finally, you do the deed! What took you so long?” “Oh, I don’t know,” Nick said. “Guess it was all the monsters and gods trying to kill me.”  

Young adults who have either experienced Nick's wry observations of his much-changed life and its intersection with fantasy, or who appreciate humor, will find Wolf's ongoing fun powers an adventure that is unique and always unexpected. 

The observations are astute throughout as Nick adopts a jaunty view of this world and its oddities, injecting a whimsical note which keeps the action and dialogue unexpected: "What were they doing? he wondered. Praying for rain? “Yo, Heph,” Nick said, addressing the bronze in the beanie. “You around?” He heard a voice in his head. “Of course!” spat the god. “It’s my temple, isn’t it?” 

From Nick's confrontation with his centaur and human heritage and his changing position on where he draws his strengths to fight the battles that emerge to his determination to follow through on a task that looks impossible, he is supported by Helen and aided by Mythicals who often harbor their own agendas. 

Young adults looking for a fantasy that is sassy, unpredictable, funny, and filled with adventure will find the action and confrontations a cut above the ordinary as Nick continues to grow, accepts his role as a son of Chiron and a hero in his own right, and becomes even more immersed in his father and stepmother's lives in Mythos. 

While newcomers will find this latest adventure accessible, those with prior familiarity with and affection for Nick and his unique challenges will best appreciate this ongoing expansion of the Mythos world and Nick's search for his place and strengths in it. 

The Starry Labors of Nick is refreshingly original and a rollicking good teen read. 

The Starry Labors of Nick

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Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life Changing Stories of Young Heroes
Marianne Larned
Stone Soup Leadership Institute, Inc.
978-0-578-89380-8         $29.95 Book/$2.99 ebook 

Reading the average news coverage of sustainability, it's evident that a number of people are working to change attitudes about the environment and influence its preservation; but too often the individual stories of these successes become buried in overviews of the issues. 

That's why Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life Changing Stories of Young Heroes is so important for young people concerned about the environment and its preservation. It returns the human factor to the cause and effect picture by profiling the efforts of young people who are actively making a difference, serving as an inspiration and role model for others who would take up the reins of enacting positive change in the world. 

This collection of 100 stories demonstrates that young people from around the world are taking action...and are being successful. Each story offers a glimpse into the process of changing lives, minds, and taking action. Each profiles a climate change trailblazer. 

Examples include Seattle's Jamie Margolin, who became a climate justice activist when she observed a beach sign about seal pups and realized she'd never seen a seal pup on that beach; then saw another sign about whales and porpoises...another group of creatures she'd never observed there. Why put up a sign for animals that weren't around? 

As Jamie investigated further, she uncovered a disconnect between what used to be and what exists now. At age 14 she was prompted to research the dilemma, and after the 2016 elections, she decided to become politically active, joining the climate change advocacy group Plant-for-the-Planet and growing her political savvy and mission of promoting environmental justice. 

Growing up in Mumbai, India, Aadya Joshi walked by a garbage dump every day on her way to school. She asked local police if she could organize a drive to plant an urban garden in its place, and in doing so, she learned about the importance of native plants for local wildlife. She realized that most of the trees she saw were non-native and therefore didn’t support local biodiversity. She founded an organization called The Right Green, started educational workshops in a local nature park, and has built a database of local plant species and the insects and birds they support. 

Particular attention is given to telling the stories of marginalized people and their concerns and efforts. This will show young people from a variety of backgrounds that advocacy need not be limited or linked to privileged groups. 

These stories also incorporate advice for fellow would-be environmental activists: "For youth who want to get further involved in a community, Jamie’s message is kind, and encouraging. “Growing up is hard,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard to know your place in the world. So take something you are passionate about–whether that is art, performing, cooking, or robotics – and apply that same passion to a movement.” 

These young people are working at all levels of organizations and communities, organizing workshops, creating databases of information, working with bridge-building groups and mentors, and learning a variety of approaches, techniques, and tools for effecting positive change: Some of the most valuable lessons Vincent Kimura of SmartYields learned along his own journey he learned by getting involved with local civic groups.“Right out of college, I went into Rotary Youth Leadership training. There, I learned how to manage insecurities and ego. Every journey can be fraught with mental health challenges. Burnout. Depression. Countless other things. Entrepreneurs need to understand this early on. When they see the signs of these things, they should take a step back,” he says. “We need to be taught about these things to be able to recognize them.” 

This is one of the most important books that a children's library or environmental leader can pass on to future generations. Stone Soup for a Sustainable World provides a tool kit of inspiration that uses the positive, effective experiences of ordinary young people to provide a message of how making a difference is important, and shows the steps along the way to actually achieving these goals. 

Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life Changing Stories of Young Heroes

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When the Earth Slept
Jillian Arena
Isabella Media Inc.
9781735725697             $16.99 

When the Earth Slept is a children's picture book recommended for youngsters with good reading skills or read-aloud adults. It promotes environmental awareness in the young through the fantasy story of an Earth that becomes ill from the effort to support all forms of life. 

Wildfires are Earth's fever, earthquakes spark from her chills, and coughs become tornadoes. What can the Earth do to heal herself? Really, she needs a timeout from work. 

And so she asks the human race to give her this break, and let her sleep. They do so, but become worried that she will never wake up. How can humanity reawaken (and re-energize) the planet? 

When the Earth Slept features lovely, colorful illustrations by Melissa Wooten that spice this story. Another big plus is Jillian Arena's accompanying, vivid descriptions: "The people, lost in their exhilaration, had stopped thinking about their stores and their bowling alleys and their money and their vacations. She noticed that they were remembering, instead, their deep connection to each other, to her, and to all the ways that she supported them." 

When the Earth Slept is a rich and lovely fable perfect for imparting a sense of environmental consciousness to the very young. The story is highly recommended as a read-aloud and discussion point for adults who would teach kids to celebrate and respect the planet.

When the Earth Slept

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As Breaks the Wave Upon the Sea
Robert Wallace
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
978-1-59948-856-1                $16.95

As Breaks the Wave Upon the Sea gives literary readers short stories featuring characters whose pivot points revolve around moments of heightened self-awareness, exploring relationships, transformation, and the processes which affect both. 

The opening story, 'The Science of Air', outlines a relationship between Adriane and her aging father. She is his best friend...and maybe his only friend. Family ties come to life as she reflects on the two most important relationships in her life and how vastly they differ: "There is a question I often ask myself. How often do I think of my father? I think of him all the time. He moves in my mind and memory like a permanent apology. But where am I in his thoughts? I think my father’s thoughts are not empty. He thinks of brush, apples, plums, cherries, sun, and rain. He thinks of earth. He thinks of enzymes, mold, beetles, worms, diesel fuel. Tractors, tires, sprayers. He thinks of birds, fleeting and raucous, large nests in crooks of trees. Little birds’ nests on the ends of branches. My father’s head is full of these things. It is my mother’s head that I can’t fathom. I don’t know what is in there. Sometimes she just goes missing." 

As the bond between Adriane and her orchard farmer father is explored through vignettes of their interactions, the rest of the family injects their own perspectives: “Where’s my father?” I ask Aunt Mary. “Out in the orchard somewhere I imagine Adriane. You know your father; he communicates with those trees better than he does his own family.” “He talks to me,” I say. “Yes, he talks. Communication isn’t just talk.” 

When the truth emerges about why her mother feels so mentally and physically distant, readers begin to understand the forces affecting her closeness with her father as Adriane almost instinctively learns how to reach her distant mother. 

Each short story embraces a very different viewpoint and life with insights that keep readers emotionally engaged in the characters and their perceptions of change. Each comes embedded in a sense of place, whether it is on a farm, in Ohio, or paddling on an eleven-mile journey in North Carolina. 

Bound by the water and the rhythms of often-spontaneous decisions as routines of life and death change each character, these stories are satisfyingly diverse slices of life that capture the hidden purposes, passions, and personas of those who move through it. 

Each character brings the reader into his world. Robert Wallace opens up moments that transform with words that ebb, flow, and pull like the tides: "Some people felt a pull for the water. Any water would do. The sea especially had its converts. Winsome had never felt that mystery. Except for walking unfamiliar streets, mystery had never mattered to him, and he wondered if that was a failing in him. Kayaking had changed everything he felt about water." 

As Breaks the Wave Upon the Sea is highly recommended reading for literature readers who enjoy psychological inspection thoroughly grounded in the elements and routines of daily living. 

As Breaks the Wave Upon the Sea

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A Child's Bucket of Lives
John P. Boyle
Independently Published
9781693222801             $5.95 Paper/$2.03 ebook 

A Child's Bucket of Lives is an intriguing collection of past life recollections made by a child, and presents short vignettes of disparate experiences/memories made by this youngster. 

Marie's recollection of her previous lives embraces a host of experiences that read like short stories, but are diverse representations of memories. They emerge as Marie interacts with her family and brings forth perceptions she could not have experienced or read about. 

From being a 19-year-old Chinese immigrant doctor to America to the logic behind believing in magical results from a wish, Marie demonstrates a maturity and insights far beyond her years. 

These offer lessons to readers, whether they believe in reincarnation before picking up this book or not. 

Their narration is succinct and compelling as the adults around Marie begin to wonder about the source of this knowledge: "Johnny sat at the computer, wondering if Marie's tale of a lost child who lived near a great pyramid was a childlike fantasy or if she was able to tap into fragments of fleeting knowledge from a previous experience in a far-away land." 

These captured moments of wisdom that stem from past life experiences invites readers to not only contemplate the concept of reincarnation, but enjoy the special brand of appreciation, faith, and knowledge Marie brings to everyone around her. 

It's a thought-provoking collection that is easy on the eye and, in only 56 pages, succeeds in providing words of wisdom that are hard-hitting because of their origin and depth. 

Readers of reincarnation literature will find this little book a gem. 

A Child's Bucket of Lives

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A Collection of Words
Sea Gudinski
Art of Telling Publications
978-1-7348447-0-2         $10.00

A Collection of Words gathers poetry and short prose representing the extent of Sea Gudinski's literary career, and is loosely arranged by the themes of birth, death, and rejuvenation. 

Poetry and prose are presented in separate sections—an excellent way for literary readers to absorb each in their turn, allowing for an immersive experience unsullied by having to move in and out of very different literary forms presented back-to-back. 

Poetry opens this collection with the title poem 'A Collection of Words', which reflects on the intention of the written word and its impact on a reader. Closely following this free verse assessment is 'Words and Their Worth', which considers why word choices and language can be fluid and meaningful between readers, and how they can lend to a "scintillating life." 

As the subjects and poems progress, it's evident that this collection, more so than other poetry books, encourages a literary dance between reader and writer. The stage is set for new doors of perception to open as Gudinski examines the reckless joys of music, love, life, and, eventually, decline and death. 

The prose section incorporates some of the heady rush of the poems, but adds more philosophical introspection and questions. It opens with 'Prometheus', a piece about the rise of man and his place in the universe, reflecting on "...this quaint little Eden and the man who accidentally happened upon a chance to possess the divine..." 

These aren't just philosophical/spiritual/ethereal observations, as is evident in 'A Curt Rant About the Evils of the World'. This piece, in contrast, rails against the waste of the limitless power modern man holds in his hand but ill- considers: "We’re walking around with little Pandora’s Boxes in our pockets and we use them to entertain—and even worse— to control, to manipulate, and to bully one another." 

Each poem and prose piece is a succinct examination of life, man's place in it, and the folly and fancies of changing the world. Embedded with poetic flair (even the prose pieces) and a sense of irony as they examine man's meaning and existence against the backdrop of the universe, A Collection of Words will especially delight philosophy and spirituality readers seeking more than just effervescent words from their literary works. 

A Collection of Words

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The Doctor's Dilemma
Daly Walker
Grand Canyon Press

Short story readers looking for personality-driven works that chart healing and change alike will find The Doctor's Dilemma replete with thought-provoking pieces that go beyond the theme of doctoring to examine the process of healing and recovery. 

Take 'India's Passage', for one example. Here, young college student India Blue is having surgery to remove her gallbladder; a routine operation that goes awry and challenges her doctor when it turns from a "piece of cake" to a tragedy when a mistake is made. 

With India basically existing in a state between life and death, Conner must face the reality that he's made a formerly healthy young woman a vegetable and changed three lives by his actions, however skilled or well-intentioned he began. How can he find redemption under such circumstances? 

Another thought-provoking story is 'Jacob's Wall', in which Walter Roberts, an aging doctor building a wall in Indiana, reflects on his retirement; the fact that he's found, in masonry, "the equal of medicine"; and how a loner's stonebuilding efforts are changed by helper Jacob, Jacob is a kid forced upon him by Becky, a woman he'd like to become closer to, who becomes an unexpected force in his changing life. 

Walter faces aging differently on several levels and questions his newfound passion and its (and his life's) eventual conclusion: "To Walter, like orthopedic surgery, there was something corporeal as well as spiritual about stonework. He wondered what he would do after the wall was built. It seemed as if his life was all memory and devoid of plans." 

Life, death, aging, and everything in between are captured in these short stories of quiet desperation and coming to terms with choices and their consequences. 

This is an exceptional literary collection that will delight anyone interested in the medical profession, in particular, and the routines, habits, and lessons of the healing process, which occurs on many different levels. 

The Doctor's Dilemma

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Kwansabas and Other Poems
Steven C. Thedford
New World Press, Inc.
$14.99 Hardcover; $9.99 Paper; $2.99 ebook 

The Kwansaba style is a fairly new and strict poetry form that uses the number seven to create a poem of seven lines, with seven words in each line, written with no word exceeding seven letters.  It was originally created in 1995 by Eugene B. Redmond, East St. Louis Poet Laureate and professor of English at Southern Illinois-East St. Louis, to celebrate Kwanzaa and African-American life. 

Kwansabas and Other Poems represents Steven C. Thedford's interpretation of this seldom-used form and uses its structure to capture and interpret African-American culture, experience, and challenges. Some pieces adhere to the praise piece of Redmond's creation, while others diverge from it to follow the structural rules sans the praise portion. 

The collection is divided into sections that begin with 'Black Girl Magic' and the poem 'Asya Danielle Branch: Miss Mississippi', one of seven women selected for poetic celebration. 

This poem encourages courage and self-reflection: "Embrace your past, you have no say,/even if your parents are locked away/and your home was quickly deemed gray./Be strong, faithful, humble, and don’t delay." 

The diversity of options within this structure is illustrated as each poem unfolds very differently, as in the later poem in this section, 'Kaliegh Garris: Miss Teen USA': "We are people 1st: young and old./We are people 1st: black and white." 

As different sections continue to celebrate individuals, events, and perceptions intrinsic to African-American history and community, the collection comes into its own through works that capture lives, as in 'Aniah Blanchard: “Shades of Blue”': "On your day azul filled the sky,/Blue, your rescue dog, did not cry./You choose to fight on, not die." 

From 'Driving While Black' to 'We Did Not Come Through Ellis Island', these works transcend their heptastich forms to achieve a sense of history, connection, and black power that is especially highly recommended for literary readers in the black community. 

The pieces are powerful, revealing, celebratory, angry, and uplifting, all at once. They include notes of hope that should be on the radars of all African American readers seeking works of literary empowerment: "I desire little command,/Only a sound destiny/To travel to an unknown land/Ruled by my love and me./We will rule this land as one/Over all the lovers there/Who have likewise come/To this land with us to share." 

Kwansabas and Other Poems

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A Mother's Tale & Other Stories
Khanh Ha
C&R Press
978-1-949540-23-9                $18.00

A Mother's Tale & Other Stories provides tales that embrace the beauty and chaos of Vietnam, and is a highly recommended literary work for those who seek fictional pieces embedded with the spirit and history of the Vietnam War and the nation. 

Take the opening 'Heartbreak Grass', for example. Here, a thirty-one-year-old villager sent South to fight the Americans returns home a blind quadruple amputee. The young narrator is eighteen and about to be drafted and faces following the same fate as the "Uncle" Chung, who returns home to live out his days as a vastly crippled soul. 

"What could he see now but his own memories?" the narrator wonders as he brings medicine to this survivor. He learns that the man, once a machine shop owner, is now controlled by a beautiful woman who oversees his entire life. 

The survivor prompts the young man to consider his own path and life processes: "How would I carry on if I became like him? This man seemed to survive the way a creeper did, by latching on to living things nearby. He wanted to live." 

From surviving pain to a toxic vine called 'heartbreak grass' that both heals and kills, the story moves into the narrator's own journey down the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight the Americans, where the bitter lessons and message of this survivor hit home in a different way. 

Each story concludes with a powerful revelation and punch after taking the time to build an atmosphere and emotional connection with its reader. 

Each takes a microcosm of Vietnamese life and closely examines its foundations. Under Ha's pen, the steamy jungle world of Vietnam comes to life, in all its beauty and pain: "For days the rain came and went. During the lulls the heat beat down on the forest and the forest floor steamed. While we lay the footpaths with wooden planks, the prisoners were taken to a distant grassland to cut buffalo grass and elephant grass, bundle them and carry them back to camp to thatch the roofs. I saw them hauling back large bundles of it. It was a sweltering day and the forest vapors hazed the air." 

Readers seeking atmospheric reads about Vietnam that bring the country and its peoples—survivors, healers, and villagers alike—to life will find the landscapes and culture of a world wrecked by loss and war makes for compelling reading, indeed. This juxtaposition of pain and beauty runs through every story and makes them impossible to put down and hard to forget. 

Literary collections strong in Asian cultural representation should consider A Mother's Tale & Other Stories a key acquisition. 

A Mother's Tale & Other Stories

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Kesha Bakunin
Atmosphere Press
978-1637529379            $23.99 paperback
Author Website:

Readers of political parables and fiction that hold familiar settings and thought-provoking insights into the origins of repression and tyranny will find Stronghold a frightening read. This is even more significant because it was banned in Kesha Bakunin's home country, a Soviet satellite where Bakunin observed firsthand the fall of his homeland into dangerous patterns of authoritarianism, social conformity, and religious orthodoxy. 

In this world, even a cautionary tale can be viewed as seditious and dangerous, and can be banned such as Stronghold was. This fact makes Bakunin's determination to spend years seeing its incarnation in English to warn the wider world even more admirable. 

Stronghold opens with Erik Mortensson's acceptance of an orb that makes him a Keeper doomed to death by his obsessed cousin. The next scene moves to Lord Untu Va’aldek, a man of science in possession of dangerous information.   

Nobody has ever made it into the Stronghold, which has existed as leaders and regimes rose and fell. Keepers and would-be claimants of its mysteries, whether they are learned men or tribal members, tend to die. 

But as the story unfolds in all its complexity, the real truth and meaning of the Stronghold and its promises and challenges come to light. 

It should be noted that despite its political power and ability to disturb, Stronghold holds a mercurial, fluid story line with many changing viewpoints, timelines, and social and political insights. Readers who anticipate a straightforward tale of repression or discovery may often find themselves lost and wondering as the story moves between past and present, different peoples and political systems, and stark contrasts between princesses, judges, astute observers of and participants in clashing political processes, and more. 

The language is often passionate, revealing, and filled with insights that embrace not just political and social strife but family relationships changed by them: "You describe my father as the basest of scum. I’m afraid he is. Not only—and even not mainly—because of what he did to you. In his life, the man I’ve been calling the Seer hurt many people. And the fact that they—we, the Hounds—didn’t realize it, doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been wronged. He saved our lives but in return he took ownership of them. He taught us a lot, but in exchange we paid with our sight, that strangest of powers I’ll never be able to understand which you all take for granted.” 

The result is both a parable and a warning that demands from its readers an ability to be both intellectual and flexible as the fluid story line moves between examples of transformations both personal and political: "How had he arrived to where he was now? He had turned into a sectarian fanatic, falling prey to the same ideology he had intended to use and renounce. He’d lost his dazzling wife and acquired instead a pack of submissive underage slaves who—if he was being honest with himself—aroused in him fewer carnal desires than a writing desk. And finally, he had come to fear—truly and terribly—his ruler, the self-styled caliph. Duke Rur realized that he had become everything he used to despise." 

This process of how systems and people move from ideals to become what they inherently distrust is one of the threads that make this novel so wrenching and idealistically demanding. 

Readers interested in a blend of fantasy and political and social inspection will find Stronghold no light discourse, but a powerful statement that lingers in the mind long after its initial reading, demanding multiple rereads to reveal all the gems layered within its complex tale. 


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These Americans
Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Minerva Rising Press
9781950811069             $17.00 

Readers looking for accessible short stories capturing immigrant experiences and women's' lives will find These Americans a study in contrasting cultures. It exposes the rich vein of differences between Americans and those who arrive here from other countries. Most of the stories take place in the Midwest. 

Take the opening story 'Mirror', for one example. Here, Prema Sridhar is giving birth in an American hospital. She reflects on different experiences since she's come to America from India—how Americans "show teeth every time I appear," which causes her to believe they are laughing at her Indian dress and ways; and how her concepts of wealth and poverty and her position in society are turned upside down by the surprising revelation that her doctor husband is not rich in America: "Before I arrived I thought, my husband is a doctor, and we will be going to the richest country in the world. I will live like a queen. I didn’t know the hospital did not pay residents well. I didn’t know we would have to live in a basement apartment with paint and everything falling off the ceiling. I didn’t know we would not be able to find basic Indian groceries, not even dal or ghee or yogurt. At home we have a cook and I never learned to make my own ghee or yogurt. Here I somehow make something or other using split peas and corn oil and sour cream. My mother sends me spices every so often, sambar powder and rasam powder, but I cannot find fresh chillies or coriander leaves. The only coconut in the store here is dried and sweetened, so I cannot use it. Imagine, eating South Indian food without coriander leaves or coconut!" 

The delivery reflects not only Prema's revised role in her new home, but the fact that she's giving birth to an American. 

The only novella in the collection, 'Hawk', is about a mother and daughter coming to terms with prejudice. 

Daughter Manisha lives in a typical American home, has a family herself, and has become a sixth grade teacher—much to her mother's disappointment, who thinks she should be teaching higher grades or living on her husband's benefits. 

Her mother has honed this vision of her daughter's future since Manisha was a child, reinforcing it in writings and teachings designed to craft her child into all she could be: "I want you to do even better than we have done,” her mother had written. “You must stand on our shoulders and reach higher. You do not have to be bound by tradition. You can do anything you choose. The whole world is open to you. Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.’ You will have the right mental attitude. You were born in the land of freedom. No outdated traditions will stand in your way.” 

Despite her vision, Manisha has made her own, different choices in life. 

As the novella unfolds, readers receive an inkling of how disparate forces have affected and shaped an immigrant mother and her daughter's experiences in America, and the future each has created from these influences. 

Thought-provoking, diverse, yet interconnected by Indian heritage, American experience, and women's' lives and concerns, These Americans offers a rich set of insights especially recommended for women's literature collections in general and Indian immigrant readers in particular. 

These Americans

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Where I Live Some of the Time
Barry Vitcov
Finishing Line Press
978-1-64662-433-1         $19.99 

The poetry in Where I Live Some of the Time is about life connections, aging, and change. It traces the evolution of poet and educator Barry Vitcov's life as he reviews the "predictive surprise" life brings. 

These are evocative free verse pieces often grounded in a sense of place and time, setting the stage for transformative moments as in 'Old Friend Calls': "No ocean view from this sprawling Carmel house/Above the village and below the highway/Situated like a bride’s maid/Waiting for another’s adventures to begin/Surrounded by art and randomness." 

Vitcov seeks to "embrace the uncertainty and the burden/Of cyclical change and expectation" and looks for surprise and insight even in the weather, captured in 'Sousa the March King': "March arrived in late February/Snow softly tiptoeing like a sleepy housecat/The wind roaring like lions." 

Under his observational pen, even a dog walk is cause for reflection, as in 'Poodle Walk': "Poodles never seem to notice/The changes I observe/Empty houses where seniors once lived/Or their own mortality." 

Pets, people, and portraits of angels and man permeate a fine gathering of life reflections highly recommended for poetry readers who look for free verse that captures both the moment, a sense of place, and a timeline of aging. 

Where I Live Some of the Time is a lovely collection that lingers in the mind longer after the last poem is imbibed. 

Where I Live Some of the Time

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