March 2020 Review Issue
Fantasy & Sci Fi Mystery & Thrillers
Fate of the Saracen
Knight: Bradamante and Ruggiero
Linda C. McCabe
Paperback: 978-0983636243 $17.99
Ebook: 9780983636250 $ 3.99
In Fate of the Saracen Knight: Bradamante and Ruggiero, Volume II, Ruggiero is a dutiful knight for the North African Muslim Army who invaded the Frankish Empire in 802. He's in love with Christian warrior Bradamante and has pledged to convert his faith to marry her, but insists he must first sever his ties to his liege with honor.
Bradamante fears this delay may put the lives of everyone else that she loves at risk, but when she suspects Ruggiero may have fallen in love with another, she embarks on a mission somewhat different from the duties and principles she's sworn to uphold.
Linda C. McCabe crafts a powerful battle set in a fantasy world when warrior queens and women exert just as powerful a sword as men, and where men love just as powerfully as women. Both sexes experience undercurrents of social, political, military and emotional influence that pull them away from their most cherished dreams and peoples, and both are equally powerful in their physical and emotional responses to these scenarios.
Fate of the Saracen Knight is historical fantasy writing at its best, blending romance with overlaying issues of valor and commitment that lead each character to question their hearts.
From family treachery and the political alliances of wives and warriors to prophecies and women's empowerment, McCabe's story melds history with fantasy to create a fine tapestry of perspectives whose insights will especially delight fans of historical devices: "While it is true that Emperor Constantine wears the crown, it is still his mother, Empress Irene, who wields the scepter. She became regent for her son after the death of her husband, and while Constantine has come of age — she refuses to release her grip on power."
Solidifying it all is the fate of Bradamante and Ruggiero's love for one another, which is as mercurial and volatile as the different worlds they inhabit and the values they live by. When struggles and passions gone awry divide them, how can they find their way back to a heartfelt love?
McCabe's story is strengthened with a variety of subplots and characters well-developed enough to keep readers guessing about the ultimate outcomes of not just the two star-crossed lovers, but the clashes between opposing forces in their world. Her attention to detail involves fine-tuning the relationships between many forces that pursue their special interests.
Fate of the Saracen Knight is epic fantasy writing at its best, especially commendable because Book II needs no prior introduction to be enjoyed by newcomers, yet strongly supports the foundations of its predecessor.
History and fantasy fans will find Fate of the Saracen Knight hard to put down, replete with insights on the effects of war, ideals, and duty on love; the ripples of discord created by threats of infidelity and battle; and the fate of two star-crossed lovers who aren't just manipulated by fate, but used to taking destiny into their own hands by force, if necessary.Fate of the Saracen Knight: Bradamante and Ruggiero Volume II
Return to Index
Book 2 of the epic fantasy series Rootstock Saga presents several primary characters who struggle with their powers, secrets, and destinies in different ways. All are connected to healer and empath Isobel, who is called upon to help the clan who took her in. Few know the truth about the source of her abilities.
The Hawks gave Isobel new life, but now they are in need. As she faces the oppressive John Deighton, charged with rooting out and imprisoning threats like Isobel, she is forced to acknowlege that the enemy knows more about her than those who love her. This is a dangerous realization complicating a struggle that grows to involve not just Isobel and the Hawks, but those who also fight oppression and who are determined to provide the Hawks with a safe haven.
Compassion lends strength to struggles, but oppression holds its own power. Isobel and other characters consider family ties, revised approaches to survival, and journeys far from the familiar home they've always known.
As Isobel finds that healing is not enough to quell her sadistic adversary and that her own powers of empathy may not be able to save her or those she loves, readers are treated to an epic struggle that outlines a world under siege, In it, individuals are forced to reassess their life purposes, their powers, and their ideals: "Empathy is a balm, not a weapon."
Far from Isobel and the Hawks is Tobias, who has long cemented his own destiny and who has not bothered to dwell on philosophical matters since. He, too, is charged with becoming something beyond his mission and abilities as he confronts his desire to take his place with the Este, prove his loyalty and strengths, and deal with rising currents of physical waters, spiritual transformation, and social change.
Under another hand, embracing all these elements in a fantasy story might feel overwhelming and disparate. But, like a talented weaver, L.H. Leonard ties together not just subplots and a host of characters, but different social structures, individual purposes, and disparate strengths on all sides.
Her attention to detail and intrigue as each character evolves towards a greater purpose and understanding adds depth to Path of the Spirit Runner and creates an epic fantasy that is hard to put down, primarily because each of these characters become three-dimensional and compelling.
While Path of the Spirit Runner is accessible to newcomers, it's an integral addition to the series and should ideally be chosen by prior enthusiasts of Legend of the Storm Hawks, which introduced a world which even then teetered on the edge of destruction and rebirth as it introduced Isobel's roots.Path of the Spirit Runner
Return to Index
Cami Murdock Jensen
Hardback: 978-1-64764-152-8 $36.99
eBook: 978-1-64764-156-6 $ 4.99
Second Earth is the second book in the Arch Mage series, continuing the story of student Agnes Ann Cavanaugh, who is struggling with her wizard studies and trying to harness talents which seem to defy control.
Empowered by her father's sacrifice and her struggles, which have left physical scars magic can't seem to heal, Agnes finds life challenging when an earthquake changes her set course and sends her back to First Earth to investigate threats to both First and Second Earths.
A journey to the Earth's core reveals the truth: Agnes is perhaps the only one who can stop a magical disaster from decimating both worlds.
Her commitment to her best friend on Second Earth tests her continuing inability to cast an enchantment as Agnes struggles to find a life-saving solution in an increasingly complex scenario.
One of the hearts of this adventure lies in a quest to understand the puzzling nature of truth. Agnes discovers that even with magical support, truth isn't cut and dried: "With so much support, I should’ve felt encouraged. Heck, I should’ve felt invincible. After all, they’d addressed every possible contingency, right? Wrong, buzzed my magic inside my heart. The truth...remained in question."
As the CIA, FBI, and other forces become entwined in her magical worlds, Agnes struggles to discern the real nature of truth. These encounters seem to indicate her freedom will be over no matter what the outcome of her battle.
Action is well-paced and nicely developed, and newcomers to the Arch Mage series will find Second Earth quite accessible, especially powered by the strong character, first-person perceptions and changing purposes of protagonist Agnes. The added value of moral and philosophical questions that enter into the picture of greater good, truth and lies all contribute to a powerful story that goes beyond a good fantasy adventure to challenge the notion of a magical paradise.
Fantasy readers will find Second Earth thoroughly absorbing and hard to put down.Second Earth
Return to Index
978-1671644427 $11.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle
Book 1 of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles, Starfire Dragons, sets the stage for an epic saga, beginning in the far future of 3790 when two young warriors from an enemy race in a far galaxy crash-land on a Cooperative planet and encounter prejudice, confrontation, and danger.
J.D. Hapker is the new vice commander of the Odyssey, the largest and most advanced science and service vessel of the Prontaean Colonial Cooperative. His interaction with two young warriors, his attempts to protect them, and his increasing involvement with forces beyond his comprehension or control risk an interstellar war and lead him to confront his moral and ethical values as his leadership is questioned and challenged by their presence.
Because he's new at his position, relatively unfamiliar with his crew and the ship's processes, and uncertain about his relationship with the boys, Hapker's actions, questioned by his captain, are even more critical not only for the boys' survival, but to his future and, eventually, that of the galaxy.
As murder accusations and plots develop, Hapker faces prejudices, lies, and threats from his own people: "And after hearing some callous remarks from our own people, it wouldn’t be a stretch for others like Captain Fargoza to take their hatred further. I imagine there’s a lot of people out there seeking revenge and children make easy marks.” Loyalties, duty, and moral responsibility clash as Hapker promises to serve both the boys and the Cooperative's interests.
Dawn Ross does an excellent job of exploring the clash between training and real-world experiences as the brothers' special abilities and violence lead them to personal confrontations with death and the tragic outcome of their decisions and their race's inherent violence.
Healing opportunities for all are offered and threatened within these interactions. Ross explores the perceptions and conundrums on all sides with an eye to painting not the black and white of victim and aggressor, but the cultural and social beliefs that influence decisions and color actions.
Jori and Hapker share difficult choices over duty, and this is one of the unexpected ties that bind them to explore some of the few opportunities each race has for real change and empathy.
As Ross creates a world powered by two very unusual adolescent warriors and a leader new to his responsibilities, readers are drawn into their individual struggles and the changes their choices will translate to each of their worlds.
Starfire Dragons is firmly rooted in psychological depth and moral and ethical confrontations. This keeps readers engaged and engrossed as a series of difficult decisions revolve around a sense of duty and broader questions of survival. Fans of epic sci-fi that look for realistic characters and complex yet believable settings will find Starfire Dragons a powerful introductory story that promises more, yet nicely concludes its immediate dilemmas.Starfire Dragons
Return to Index
Tim Tran (Tran Manh Kheim) with Tom Fields-Meyer
Pacific University Press
American Dreamer: How I Escaped Communist Vietnam and Built a Successful Life in America is a thought-provoking memoir of Tim Tran, who spent years in Communist Vietnam trying to forge a life under impossible conditions before he fled to America to make this nation his adopted home.
His life story of how he moved from a poor Vietnamese child caught in a brutal conflict between nationalists and Communists that changed his life and forced his family to flee from North to South Vietnam when he was four to building a successful new life in America should be required reading for anyone interested in immigrant stories of struggle, survival, and rebirth.
(It should be noted that this is not a story about the 'Dreamers' who are caught between two worlds, their lack of legal status and their life as Americans. Despite its title, this is an immigrant's memoir, not a story about a Dreamer's uncertain status and future in this country.)
Besides being a story of personal perseverance, Tran's is a tale of that adoption process and how America's promises ultimately came true for him, imparting a value system based on hard work, achievement, and grasping opportunity.
Tran's life was not destined to end via an old wooden escape boat designed for forty but holding three hundred, that faced Thai sea pirates and shipwreck. (Lest readers believe this event occurred early in his life story, it should be pointed out that it took place after he had earned his degree at an American university, returned to Vietnam and taken an executive-level job at a large petroleum company, and was engaged to be married.)
The decades that bring him to this point are explored in subsequent chapters that follow his early childhood, the change in Vietnam's political and cultural makeup as foreign powers invaded and Communist struggles and occupation took over, and how he honed his dream of escape.
The juxtaposition of social and political observation from the vantage point of youth captures the sentiments of many of Vietnam's younger generation: "In May 1961, the entire city was excited about the news that Lyndon Johnson, the American vice president, would be visiting Saigon to meet with President Diem and tour the city. What I didn’t understand at that early age was the reason for Johnson’s visit: a war was about to begin—a conflict that would change everything. With training and equipment from the American military, President Diem’s South Vietnamese army had been cracking down on the Viet Cong in rural areas. And North Vietnamese troops had begun to travel clandestinely on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to infiltrate the South and smuggle ammunition to the Viet Cong guerillas. Without knowledge of the looming war, my classmates and I found Johnson’s visit simply thrilling."
As Tran journeys to America, absorbs its culture, and returns to Vietnam, he often experiences ongoing challenges with his ties to American interests when his arrival home results in countrymen and family treating him differently: "Phat knew I had worked for Shell and that I had money to spend—the USAID money I had saved for years by living frugally during college and money from my Upward Bound work. Having resources made me a prime target. In this case, I had been successfully targeted by my brother-in-law’s best friend."
As he observes the worsening state of life in Vietnam under Communist rule and acknowledges his newfound vulnerability in the face of its changing social and political milieu, Tran effectively becomes a stranger in his own homeland, at risk and endangered by his position.
Trans's story captures and contrasts life in Vietnam and life in America, emphasizing a sense of gratitude as it follows the journey towards his final goal of settling permanently in the United States.
Readers of immigrant stories will find American Dreamer stands out for its sense of purpose, achievement, and ability to capture the promise and opportunities America represents.American Dreamer
Return to Index
French Like Moi
Scott Dominic Carpenter
Paperback: 978-1609521837 $16.99
Hardcover: 978-1609521851 $29.95
eBook: 978-1609521844 $16.99
French Like Moi: A Midwesterner
in Paris follows
author Scott Dominic Carpenter's move from Minnesota to Paris
he navigates a cultural labyrinth—though not without hilarious
wrong turns. Snafus and faux pas are the order of the day as
deciphers a city far removed from his native habitat.
Whether confronting home repairs, the melodrama of a condo association, or the hell of French bureaucracy, Carpenter faces his adventures with comic wit. In one episode he disentangles himself from a police denunciation, while in another a mere shopping trip turns to absurd drama. The author is at his self-deprecating best whenever he’s trapped between Frenchness and Americanness—forced to play a local for the benefit of tourists, torn between Yankee common sense and Cartesian abstraction, or foiled in his attempts to avoid utter humiliation.
In this literary tango between Paris and the Midwest, Carpenter captures the ironies, oddities, and attractions of the French capital in a way few writers have achieved—which is saying a lot, considering how many have tried their hand at conjuring the City of Light.
From doctor visits to cooking fiascos, from catacombs to the cult of knowledge, Carpenter confronts the challenges of fitting in and forging a life in Paris. French Like Moi is a delightful romp through French life and Midwestern sensibilities, all combined in one compelling story.
Return to Index
Pain, Failure, and
Misery Are the
Stepping Stones to Success
Eric McCoy CATC II
Paper: $21.99 Hardcover: $39.95 Kindle: $3.99
A number of memoirs detail struggles with addiction and recovery, but few address the process with the attention to detail and the process of falling and rising up as in Pain, Failure, and Misery Are the Stepping Stones to Success.
Eric McCoy decided years ago to turn his weaknesses into strengths, using them to build resiliency and success. It's all too easy to create this vision, but far more difficult to enact it in reality. While acknowledging that a "one size fits all" approach doesn't work for all (including the approaches outlined in this book), his purpose isn’t to provide a panacea, but to detail the routes to solutions that may be individually undertaken and adjusted, and which ultimately lead to success.
Chapters thus encourage reader note-taking, reflection, modifications, and insights particular to each person on the same journey. By designing his lessons specifically for those struggling with substance abuse, McCoy creates a purposeful primer that incorporates not just his belief system and personal experiences, but research and lessons learned from his clients.
Politics, suicide, and criminal activities are all covered in the course of a candid survey that is far broader than autobiography, including social and political insights. From how legal systems operate and how substance abusers fit into them to pivotal life-changing moments and survival lessons embedded in counterculture encounters, McCoy follows the course of his addiction and recovery with an attention to how his inherent love of drugs conflicted with the results of their ingestion.
There are startling insights here, from what made the twelve-step program impossible for him, and its misperceptions which are difficult to ignore, to taking proactive measures to remain clean and sober and free from incarceration, programs, or the need for drugs.
At each step, McCoy reassesses his life as it is pulled in different directions by different programs, purposes, and influences.
The result is a memoir that also serves as a blueprint for other addicts looking to reassess their motives, choices, and overall perceptions of life. While it is not a blueprint to be followed step by step, Pain, Failure, and Misery Are the Stepping Stones to Success offers an encouraging perspective and approach that assesses options for overcoming addiction, serving as an inspirational workbook for others on the same journey to a different life.Pain, Failure, and Misery Are the Stepping Stones to Success
Return to Index
Twelve Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child
Cholet Kelly Josué
978-1949642049 $15.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle
"I died that day." That's the opener of a compelling memoir that holds the rare talent to immediately tug at the heartstrings and imagination of the reader, who will want to find out more about narrator Cholet Josué's journey, how he continually stands on the edge of two cultures, and how he survives despite the introduction above.
A survivor of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Josué indeed "died inside", but was reborn, only to continue struggling with his identity as a Bahamian, Haitian, immigrant, and potential American citizen. His key question ("Where do I belong?") forms the foundation of a saga that traverses countries and states of mind with equal analytical prowess as he spends decades confronting the elements of three very different cultures which have left their marks on his approach to life and community alike.
The first strength to note about his story over other immigrant experiences is that he tackles specific issues of regional diversity and ethnic identity in America: "In some ways, Chicago is quite diverse, with Mexican, Polish, Greek and Italian immigrants, but often it seemed only two cultures existed: White American and Black American." Where other immigrant experiences focus on individual life and experiences, Josué's ability to provide wider-ranging inspections of social and cultural institutions lends a depth to his story that will prove particularly inviting to readers interested in sociological and cultural explorations.
Another strength of Twelve Unending Summers lies in its ability to juxtapose a sense of place and community with a state of mind and cultural background. Josué excels in describing not just cultural differences but psychological makeup and life experiences that influence disparate perceptions and choices in interaction resulting in the creation of different cultural identities/personas in order to survive.
From ingrained superstitions and belief systems such as voodoo to changing class structures between cultures and countries which led to reassessments of identity, Twelve Unending Summers constantly creates satisfying contrasts that offer food for thought beyond his individual experience: "People like me from a middle class frowned upon taking a kante (small boat), as it was considered demeaning. Although at that time the so-called middle class were living in Duvalier's crumbling house, the respectable way was still to leave by airplane—not by a forty-foot wooden boat. It has taken me a long while to reconcile myself with this part of my life. It's something I rarely allowed into my consciousness until recently, that I was also part of the Haitian exodus of "boat people," one of the simplistic names given to these riveting, gut-wrenching scenes on the news, images of poor, uneducated, dark-skinned Haitians trying to escape to America."
Between reflections on illegal immigration to life in the Haitian community in the U.S., this survey goes beyond a new beginning to delve into the cultural undercurrents that forms the melting pot of American society, complete with its prejudices and perceptions of immigrants in general and Haitians in particular.
Readers of immigrant experiences and politics will find Twelve Unending Summers to be astute, analytical, and intensely revealing, linking catastrophe with the assimilation process and what it means to not only make the move to America, but to think like an American in the face of one's culture and perceptions.Twelve Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child
Return to Index
Ebook: 978-1-944815-12-7 $ 4.99
Print: 978-1-944815-13-4 $18.47
Dr. Kate Pomeroy returns to town to be fitted for a wedding dress. The last thing on her mind is the possibility of being kidnapped and trapped, taken from everyone she loves. She's getting married to her love, Jeremy, in two days, and that's her only focus. Abducted covers a life-changing event that takes her away from everything familiar, lending yet another twist to Kate's story in the third book in the series.
Newcomers might anticipate that prior familiarity with its predecessors is required, but Abducted provides a satisfying recap of events from previous books, neatly setting the stage for Kate's latest challenge in only a few short paragraphs.
The history neatly blends into Kate's abduction, her fiancée Jeremy's frustration with investigative proceedings, and the involvement of a Russian operative who had tried to murder her, had been deported back to Russia, but somehow returns to make Kate's life a nightmare.
There's no mystery about the perps and their purposes, but the central focus is on Jeremy and Kate's separate struggles to survive kidnapping, torture, and a devious plot to enthrall her forever.
When Kate reaches out to one of her abductors, she slowly uncovers the rationale behind not just their actions, but their psyches. Ripped from her home and everything familiar, she faces many challenges; but perhaps the biggest question of all is whether she can be the same person she was if she were to go home again.
Engrossingly realistic in its stories of physical and mental torture and the puzzling goal of the kidnapping, Abducted is not your typical 'whodunit', but a 'whydoit' that keeps readers involved, guessing, and on edge throughout. As Jeremy tests his own ability to prove an worthy consort to the courageous Dr. Pomeroy, he also questions whether they can ever to return to what they had, even if both survive.
Enthusiasts of international intrigue and women recovering from life-altering events will relish the psychological tensions and intrigue that permeates Abducted right to the end. Prior fans will welcome the opportunity to absorb yet another step in Dr. Kate Pomeroy's personal and professional evolution.Abducted
Return to Index
Easter Hair Hunt
Orange Grove Press
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9997932-6-8 $ 4.99
Print ISBN: 978-0-9997932-7-5 $14.99
Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083TZ78G1
BN Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1136016947?ean=2940162711889
Easter Hair Hunt is the 16th book in Nancy Cohen's 'Bad Hair Day' cozy mystery series set in Florida, and opens with a strange, ornate egg found near a dead human Easter bunny just before the Easter celebration. Marla thinks she's found her missing friend, but instead she's just stumbled into a new murder mystery at a time when she's pregnant and ill prepared to take on anything other than family obligations.
Marla is drawn into an investigation that involves a missing friend who is possibly a victim herself and a stolen Fabergé egg. In her third trimester of pregnancy, she uncovers clues that lead to several possible perps, including unfriendly security chief Rick Eaton and future heir Daniel, who is viewed as someone who dislikes history and will likely squander his special inheritance.
As the story evolves, Marla discovers many undercurrents to her interviews with possible perps. These only introduce further confusion, rather than bringing resolution to the case: "The young man couldn’t confide in his mother, and nobody else had faith in him. Marla’s heart softened until she realized the whole thing could be an act to disarm her. Daniel knew she’d tell her husband about their conversation. This could be a ploy to misdirect his investigation."
As Marla and husband Dalton proceed, she finds her family life and pregnancy challenged in more ways than one, with everything overshadowed by Easter and a mystery steeped in South Florida history and culture.
Nancy Cohen excels at capturing Florida's atmosphere, injecting it into Marla's life and choices with a series of seasonal egg-related revelations and surprises that keep readers immersed in town affairs, personalities and politics, and a Easter egg hunt like no other.
Easter Hair Hunt's evolution will attract and delight cozy mystery readers who look for the backdrop of a small, interconnected community in a murder probe that offers a number of satisfying twists, turns, and insights into social psychology and group interactions as well as the ultimate motives of a puzzling perp.Easter Hair Hunt
Return to Index
A Letter from Munich
Black Rose Writing
A Letter from Munich is a Jack Bailey novel that begins in 1930s Germany, when Ariana Schröder comes of age during the Nazi era and grew up to write a wartime love letter to Bailey's father...a letter that sparked a huge change in not only his father's life, but his legacy.
When Jack's friend invites him to visit Munich, this seems the perfect starting point to investigate the roots of this legacy of abuse, applying his investigative skills as an ex-cop to reveal the unknown influences of his past.
What he uncovers places him in a difficult position with his current family and their future knowledge as Jack struggles to piece together clues that still hold the power to once again change everything.
Author Meg Lelvis also holds the power...the power to capture Jack's conundrums as he struggles with his investigation's impact. As he questions his motivations and what he uncovers, readers readily understand that here is a man who embarks on a life-challenging journey with full knowledge that the results will involve change and challenge: "Did he truly want to find Ariana Schröder? What would he do if he did?"
Lelvis crafts a different kind of investigative mystery that holds the ability to not just uncover facts, but delve into a deeper understanding of Ariana's impact on his family's life. Presenting these conflicts against the backdrop of the rise of the Third Reich and war as seen from the perspective of ordinary German citizens like Ariana and Renate adds an extra dimension of historical accuracy and reflection to the thriller story.
As he circumnavigates a wide circle of interlocking puzzles and history, Jack's quest includes assessing the impact of keeping secrets: "...his mother must never discover the truth. It would send her to an early grave. No easy answer. What is the boundary between a person’s right to the truth and the right to keep painful secrets? Damned if he could tell."
These questions and more make for a story that operates on two levels: that of a personal family quest for heritage and resolution, and one of a savvy investigator who follows the clues to an unexpected truth. The choices made by individuals who promote war and evil and the guilt these decisions impart to an entire nation not necessarily on board with events makes for a gripping saga backed by historical precedent and individual lives alike.
Readers interested in a story steeped in German culture, history, and family interactions will find A Letter from Munich thoroughly engrossing as Jack searches for meaning and a way of gleaning something long-lastingly worthwhile from the collective memories he disturbs.A Letter from Munich
Return to Index
978-0-9914482-3-4 $16.98 Paper/$2.00 Kindle
Author's web page: https://www.jimostby.com
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Mark-corruption-conventional-confronting-organization-ebook/dp/B081S4JPSN/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=james+ostby&qid=1576612308&s=books&sr=1-1
Readers of political thrillers will find Mark IV excels in a style of intrigue that combines issues of social control with an exploration of a secret organization, Ragnarök, which has evolved its own form of policing the world. It is exacting its own revenge for evil and corruption though progressive punishments that go up to Mark IV (death).
Operating within this backdrop of social control is Dereck Bors, who at first supports the idea of a decisive, effective dictatorial group taking the reigns to quash all evil in the world.
Soon, however, he discovers that not only is membership in this secret group irrevocable, but any attempt to leave it results in a controlling punishment that erases memory and returns the straying member to a compliant believer status.
How can anyone fight a group that holds the power to alter personal reality and erase any form of rebellion down to its psychological, philosophical, and ethical roots? Bors might actually be the only individual able to stand up and fight...but is he fighting for good, or evil?
As Bors begins to repeatedly question his role, readers are invited into a world of murder, subterfuge, and domination. All these are conducted in the name of a greater good by individuals who hold their differing rationales for their actions: "...what the hell did it matter what he and his cohorts called it? Justice? An effort to save all of humanity from worldwide self destruction as per the Doomsday Clock? Opposing ultimate moral corruption? Or whatever others in Ragnarök thought they were doing, though he didn't know what they thought because they never met each other, and because he didn't give a tinker's damn what motivated them."
As fellow member and new lover Rhamnusia fills him in on more aspects of the organization and changes in how it treats and punishes agents around the world, twenty-three-year-old Bors faces assignments that not only pair him with her, but require that he met out Mark II, III, and other punishments. He is marching towards the inevitable goal of goal of snagging a higher-up assignment. And his nightmare is just beginning.
Thriller readers are well used to stories embracing tension, international intrigue, and often murder and mayhem. James Ostby embraces all these devices, but adds a philosophical and ethical hand to the plot that results in a much more intriguing story than one of political maneuvering alone.
As other characters, spiritual insights and focuses, and the ideal of noble activities designed to save mankind from itself take center stage from Bors' activities, readers are guided through a world of intrigue and insanity. One is forced to consider not only Ragnarök's clandestine activities and ideals, but how they move into mainstream acceptance in the U.S.
The characters set lines for themselves, then cross them. While Mark IV will be chosen by fans of the political thriller genre, its literary and ethical foundations should not be overlooked. Readers looking for more than just an action-packed read will find Mark IV satisfyingly replete with relationship and ethical conundrums that keep readers thinking beyond the story's conclusion.Mark IV
Return to Index
The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker
Brian James Gage
KDK 12 Press
978-0-578-62713-7 $4.99 Kindle
The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker is the first book in a supernatural thriller series, is set in Russia, and revolves around the drowning of high-level Russian official Rasputin which turns out to be a vicious murder, upon investigation.
Readers might anticipate a historical novel, given the historical roots of the characters and their Russian backdrop, but in fact this is a supernatural story that paints Rasputin as the leader of a vampire cult which is eventually subdued.
Brian James Gage creates a multifaceted read that holds depth, historical references, and thriller elements that, when combined with a paranormal perspective, offers a detailed and engrossing plot. His ability to weave atmospheric descriptions of Russia and European environments is one of the elements that creates an unusually astute, engrossing tale: "The Buzău River stops flowing at the base of the Carpathian Mountains east of Braşov—a paranormal phenomenon known as dead water. It remains inert for the next seventy miles southeast, all the way to the Subcarpathian commune of Berca, where it once again flows with vigor. A sullen understanding hangs over the region, one obeyed by fish, migrating birds, and any superstitious person—that is to say all inhabitants of Wallachia and Transylvania. This dread, this silent decree, is woven into Romanian lore as far back as the thirteenth century. Secret texts recovered from the Teutonic Knights cite building fortifications across the north and south entrances of the Buzău Pass, not to impede Turkish invaders as history speculates; rather to keep people—all people—from an evil lurking deep within the Carpathians’ imperious summits."
Through this example, readers will see that The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker is no light read, but an engrossing story that juxtaposes its paranormal action with historical references designed to rewrite the reader's perception of reality.
The Sleepwalker that plagues the region is a night killer who challenges Constable Petrov, Coroner Rurik Kozlov, and everyone inclined to at first believe a human murderer is at large. But it's also a monster who can seemingly help, at times, as when he prevents two young women from being raped, but exacts a big price for his assistance.
As the bodies mount in Saint Petersburg, from the butchering of a fiancée to other victims, Rasputin is able to convince the Emperor that God is, indeed, working through him, and that the nation can be unified only under his guidance.
1916 Russia comes to life under such an approach. Readers will absorb a good deal of Russian psychology and culture as they pursue this darkly engrossing tale of murder, mayhem, political subterfuge, and a vampire cult that rages across Europe.
Vampire stories are too often singular productions. The addition of social, cultural, political and psychological elements to this Russian-based story sets it apart from any other vampire saga and will especially delight students of history who look for more than light formula writing in the genre.
This literary audience will relish Gage's attention to detail. The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker is delightfully complex and absorbing, holding the perfect combination of thriller action and detailed background to make it an unpredictable, satisfying story about different kinds of monsters who overrun a city and those unique forces that would stop them.
Very highly recommended indeed: a diabolically gripping read!The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker
Return to Index
SOFT COVER: 978-1-63393-886-1 $19.95
HARD COVER: 978-1-63393-888-5 $27.95
EBOOK: 978-1-63393-887-8 $ 7.99
Rinn van Ness, who lives on a remote Alaskan island, commits a minor felony that turns into a conundrum which changes his life and revolves around a murder accusation.
Rinn's Crossing is a thriller steeped in Alaskan environmental issues, politics, and Native tribal struggles for rights and survival. As such, it's story of betrayal, broken promises, and Native heritage that holds far more complexity and social insights than the usual thriller, juxtaposing a murder investigation and personal struggles with the political and social forces tearing at the fabric of Alaska's peoples.
It's interesting to note that many of the questions about the murder are steeped in this Native Alaskan cultural overlay. One of its many characters is Dan Wakefield, a Tlingit Native who carries on the fight of his people for rights they’d been promised a generation ago. Rinn now suspects that Dan’s fight has led him to murder: "What’s Dan protecting? Tlikquan? His dream of making life better for Natives? Himself? Dan was proud. It was a pride fueled, in part, by his bitterness at having to fight for scraps in the land that had once been theirs. Maybe it had been easier for Dan to murder Haecox than to have the world know that he was a thief."
Another fighter is Kit Olinsky, who combats state legislation in a desperate attempt to preserve the Alaska she loves. As she wades through complex political and legal battles, readers receive a healthy dose of insight into the perspectives and objectives of many different sides. They come to realize that the men and women of Alaska are on the frontline of the environmental war between development and preservation and that the forces at play are often beyond their control. Kit's powerful encounters illustrate that women are as passionate about their homes as their male counterparts. In many ways, Kit is as rugged and gritty a survivalist as the male characters, defying the traditional view of Alaska as being largely a man's world.
If the story line seems unexpectedly complex with this kind of background, that's only because Alaska itself is a multifaceted melting pot of often-disparate cultures operating at cross-purposes with one another. Depicting these conflicts and belief systems takes time and an attention to detail not usually seen in the thriller genre. However, the time readers take to absorb this background results in many rewards and insights beyond the murder mystery and political battles depicted in Rinn's Crossing.
The philosophical reflections injected into the action are just as astute and revealing as Russell Heath's attention to political and social description: "Dan and Rinn had been friends, they had fought side by side for better things, and now both were running from crimes neither could have imagined of themselves a few years ago. But the paths that brought them to where they each stood were, to Rinn, as stark and clear as a razor’s cut. Any path that you chose through life had obstacles in it—obstacles which, to overcome, required that you nick some part of yourself. It might be your word, your ideals, your love for another—but to continue on the path, you had to compromise something."
Combine such insights with fast-paced action and intrigue for a thriller that educates on many unexpected levels and remains vivid and engrossing up to its heartfelt conclusion.
Thriller readers and anyone interested in Native American issues in general and Alaskan Native struggles in particular will find Rinn's Crossing thoroughly absorbing and hard to put down.Rinn's Crossing
Return to Index
Merida L. Johns
Coffee Cup Press
Paperback: 978-1-7332790-0-0 $16.99
Eighteen-year-old Luci Bartolini is moving into new adulthood in the 1960s in Blackhorse Road, a story of romance, coming of age, betrayal, and recovery that moves from personal transformation to personal disaster in the blink of an eye.
Luci is the child of immigrants to America, and much of the old country spirit remains in her values, goals, and traditions. All these are challenged by life events that shake her foundations and lead her to question her choices, life, and resilience.
The first strength to note about Blackhorse Road is that Merida L. Johns takes the time to not just present family interactions and scenarios to form a foundation for Luci's roots, but describes interplays between generations with exquisite detail, including insights about the origins of their prejudices, belief systems, and experiences: "Clearing the breakfast dishes from the table, Luci grimaced. When acting spirited, Sam could be frustrating. “Pop, please. No, Barry is not ugly. In fact, he’s very, very cute.” “Ah, I see I’ve hit a chord,” Sam teased. “Come here and tell your pop more about this boy that you’re going to see tonight.” That statement took Luci off guard....In her mother’s mind, as the family knew, the Irish were the salt of the earth. A question no one dared to ask, though, was whether Marie regretted not marrying one of her prosperous Irish cousins rather than Sam."
This attention to detail deftly illustrates relationships, involving readers in family interplays which will prove key to understanding Luci's decision-making process.
through Luci's changing
life experiences, reactions to adversity, and romance, the sights,
smells, and combined physical and mental perspectives of love are
captured to transmit a full-faceted flavor of each character's
evolving feelings: "Barry
his arm around Luci’s shoulder, pulling her closer. He felt like
beating his chest and announcing to the world he had the most
beautiful girl in his arms. The lengths of their bodies touched each
Barry took in Luci’s smell. No girl had such a powerful effect over him like Luci. In the past, emotion and sex had fueled his excitement. Now, those mingled with wanting mutual fulfillment and creating an enduring relationship filled with love, joy, hope, amusement, inspiration, and even awe. This is what he desired more than anything in the world."
When Luci's loss lends to her becoming a more effective and understanding counselor to others, she tackles issues of trauma, control, and unresolved questions which resonate with her own life.
Under another hand, Blackhorse Road could all too easily have been a singular romance. Johns provides more as she follows Luci down the rabbit hole and out the other side of life experience, bringing readers into a world where a mother's transgression changes everything and challenges carefully-constructed foundations of belief and values.
As Luci lets go of her lifesavers and navigates obstacles to happiness, her story becomes a vivid portrait of hope and self-examination which ultimately moves into unexpected territory.
Novel readers seeking a tale that closely considers deception and forgiveness, love gained and lost, and family ties will welcome the multifaceted Blackhorse Road's ability to come full circle in a satisfyingly unexpected way.Blackhorse Road
Return to Index
Comes a Red Horse
Robert C. Marsett
978-0-9841030-1-0 $11.56 Paper/$7.99 Kindle
War costs money, lives, hearts, and souls. In the end, the objective quite often remains mercurial and out of the range of 'winning' on any meaningful level.
Bob Hasett is just out of the army after a two-year stint fighting in Vietnam. He is working for his uncle punching cows while he figures out what to do with the rest of his life. Given a brand new custom saddle by his uncle, Bob finds himself in a familiar job in beautiful sky island country, but soon comes to confront something all too familiar and less desirable in Comes a Red Horse.
From problems in handling livestock and tired bronco cattle to sleepless, sweat soaked, nights and dates with Angelina, Bob finds his familiar world continually challenged by his efforts to reconcile past and present. The last thing he expected was to be involved in a different kind of war holding too-familiar overtones of his military experiences.
The job of being a modern-day cowboy comes to life under Robert C. Marsett's hand, made all the more vivid by the fact that Marsett is a cowboy himself, and well knows the range, the animals, and the work involved.
Blending the story of a returning combat veteran with that of a modern cowboy struggling to find his place in the world results in a read that is thoughtful, involving, and more than a cut above the norm. Marsett's character is multifaceted and as Hasett navigates his job, his past, dating, and the future, readers are drawn into the cowboy's world in general and Bob's confrontations with life and death in particular.
One doesn't anticipate that intrigue will evolve, but Bob becomes involved in a different form of surveillance that brings him into conflict over illicit operations and a dangerous new form of lawless frontier justice.
Comes a Red Horse's ability to add unexpected nuances to the story of a returning veteran who takes up cowboy activities as he decides how to approach his civilian life makes for an involving tale steeped in Southwest landscapes, culture, and modern-day challenges.
It's filled with surprises, murder, and danger and will satisfy readers who choose it for its ex-soldier or cowboy perspectives, only to find that it actually holds much more depth and intrigue than anticipated.Comes a Red Horse
Return to Index
Determined Dreamer is Book Three in the Inspiration in Cologne series, and will appeal to readers of women's fiction who look for stories featuring determined, proactive women taking charge of their lives and directions.
Narrator' Kalie's vision of her life and its strengths are summarized in the very first sentence of this continuation of her story: "I’m determined, ecstatic, yet completely out of my element." Her new business venture is based on her vision that her home town of Cologne, Missouri will become a tourist destination and that her long-time association with its iconic local coffee shop, The Coffee Palace, will propel it to new heights, powered by the innovative crepe recipes she plans on introducing.
Her brother Shane and best friend Shelby have given up much to help her realize her dreams, but Kalie faces more than challenges to her culinary skills and idealism as she tackles the problems of making business decisions different from her investors and faces professional problems couched within family dynamics.
Shane's secret (the fact that he's been supporting others' dreams while ignoring his own) and Kalie's secret decision, which involves him in business ownership more than he realized or wanted, makes for an absorbing story as Kalie and her friends try to resolve the complexity of interpersonal and business relationships alike.
While Deborah King's novel represents the third book in the series, prior familiarity with its predecessors is not necessary in order to smoothly enter Kalie's world and absorb its dilemmas.
Women who look for inspirational novels of determination, struggle, and success will find much to appreciate in Determined Dreamer, which supports Kalie's drive to be successful both at her dream venture and in matters of the heart.
King's injection of romance into this bigger picture of success, dreams, traumatizing nightmares, and social forces that challenge Kalie's psyche creates a multifaceted story that is realistic, absorbing, and emotionally compelling.
Readers of women's fiction who look for stories of success and growth will find Kalie and her Cologne roots very nicely presented, indeed. This stand-alone story needs no introduction, crafting an enthusiastic and convincing read that is hard to put down.Determined Dreamer
Return to Index
Black Rose Writing
Author website: http://corrine.ardoin.us
Forty Sumner has tight control over wife Sylvia Sumner, and given his obsession with detective investigations, it's surprising that she manages to snag a lover under these repressive conditions. But Sylvia is used to getting only what she needs in life and little more, has spent most of her adulthood recovering from trauma and erasing her past, and finds comfort in the man who is "her husband's friend no more."
Corrine Ardoin's writing holds an evocative appeal that captures moods, psychological backdrops, and not just events and motivations, but wide-ranging connections between characters. This skill serves her well in Fathers of Edenville because it successfully paints the portrait of a woman who has a lifetime of struggle that stems from her father's estrangement.
A violent confrontation only serves as the beginning of an odyssey which leads Sylvia full circle to confront not just the deadly complications of her present-day decisions, but their roots in her past and her shadowy relationship with a father who abandoned her.
As readers navigate the treacherous waters of Sylvia's world, they receive an intriguing story of a detective's investigation into her disappearance, the patterns which seem to repeat between past and present decisions, and a town that becomes embroiled in the tangled relationships between husband and wife and father and child.
Death's visit to this "beloved little town" becomes the focal point for redemption, revenge, forgiveness, and reconciliation on many levels.
Ardoin captures these nuances through reflective, philosophical moments that bring the characters and their concerns to life: "Searching the sky for a message, he listened carefully for what he hoped would soon come his way, and it did. Sometimes lessons come late in life, too late it seems, at times, but through the pain such important lessons strive to teach, one learns and grows as well. He knew this to be true, dwelling so on the past, knowing something profound awaited him, something he almost saw arising from out of his pain."
Tucker has been fortunate in his life, but his love obsession has prevented him from connecting with others and held him in thrall to his heart. It's ironic that his connection to Sylvia would lead him into an odd friendship which defies both his own tragedy and his heart.
As Ardoin explores these connections, missed opportunities, family and love patterns, and the evolution of forgiveness, readers are treated to a story that winds through many lives, offering a compassionate look at characters who each face both their inner demons and lives which turn out quite differently than they'd dreamed.
Each character must confront their fears. In doing so, each discovers the opportunity for not just redemption, but rebirth. The philosophical touches and observations peppered throughout this story lend it a depth and compelling touch that tugs at the reader's heart.
Their struggles to be better people against all odds, the dilemmas posed by parental and love decisions that go awry to create long-term crises, and a murder investigation that rocks the heart of small town relationships creates a story that is multifaceted, gripping, and hard to put down.Fathers of Edenville
Return to Index
Girl in the Sky, and Other Lies Told
J. A. Hailey
ASIN: B081W65V6X $2.99
Achmet has a meeting in front of the Eiffel Tower in Girl in the Sky, and Other Lies Told. Advised to return to the Caliphate to meet the Caliph, Achmet, a member of the Jihadi Army, is invited to participate in something "very very big" and becomes involved in a brainwashing mission that contributes to the greater cause of he and his fellow patriots.
Genocide is discussed as being the latest ultimate goal in a series of battles, but Girl in the Sky is as much about the process of conversion and belief as it is about physical terrorism—and therein lies its strength.
J. A. Hailey does an outstanding job of exploring Achmet's world and its religious and social logic. Where another approach might have focused on terrorist activities, Hailey delves into the psyche of the jihadist movement and its participants. This affords insights not only into individual and group motivations, but the social and cultural influences which lead to conversion and violence.
As these elements are revealed, readers receive a more in-depth understanding of these groups and their interactions, from the roles of teachers who have other purposes and motivations in mind to the actual making of a "puppet creature" who does the Jihad's bidding without fully understanding its purposes.
As Achmet assumes the role of teacher to Khalil and imparts some mysterious instructions in the process, readers learn much about French and Middle Eastern cultural interactions, barriers to understanding, the underlying presumptions and approaches of terrorism, and how murder comes to be condoned as a necessary action for the greater good. Moral and ethical conundrums come into play as the characters assume their roles and sometimes supersede expectations.
Anyone interested in the making of a terrorist and the metamorphosis involved will find Girl in the Sky involving, astute, and hard to put down. It offers no pat answers about terrorism, but reveals processes that will leave readers pondering long after Khalil absorbs his lessons with an unexpected conclusion to the mission that simultaneously changes nothing...and everything.Girl in the Sky, and Other Lies Told
Return to Index
If She Had Stayed
Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Kaley Kline is the new Tesla Museum director in Colorado Springs, charged with locating unusual and rare items to exhibit. When she stumbles on a mystery involving a Tesla relic, she also walks into danger when she accepts the blueprint for a time machine which could not only change the world, but the course of her own life.
Time travel stories and accounts of women forging new lives are commonplace; but in If She Had Stayed, the moral and ethical dilemmas Kaley faces are much more upfront, personal, and intriguing.
What would you do if you found a time machine and used it to change your life? What if the secrets uncovered during this journey proved threatening and deadly? Would you give up your memories and life to travel into the past and rewrite everything?
Diane Byington's story moves from an unusual search by a museum curator for an undiscovered Tesla invention to personal struggles with flaky boyfriends, an inability to properly read people, and mercurial commitments. Readers receive a fine juxtaposition of chic lit woman's story and bigger-picture thinking about the future, past, and prospects for real change.
Kaley struggles over more than one purpose, but when she finds herself sharing a mind with Anna in her trip through time, she finds the conflict requires her to step up, step in, and take charge in circumstances which defy logic: "His words told her she must be dealing with the older Scott at that moment. The young Scott would have had no idea that Anna planned on going anywhere. Anna hadn’t known about it herself until after they’d parted for the night. Kaley would have to watch herself. Scott didn’t have any idea which—Anna-slash-Kaley—he was dealing with. She needed to keep it that way. Knowing something that he didn’t might give her an advantage somehow, though she couldn’t say how. He was up to something, though, or else he wouldn’t have said words that only her older self would understand. Damn, it was a confusing situation."
Powered by Kaley's strong character and the absorbing dilemmas she faces from her risk-taking choices over time travel, career, and romance, the story evolves a compelling plot. It holds unexpected twists and turns even for seasoned readers of time travel stories, and proves hard to put down.
Women who like their characters clever, ambitious, yet human in their abilities, reactions, and choices will relish Kaley's dilemmas and attempts to resolve the incongruities in her life. If She Had Stayed proves an excellent blend of intrigue and personal revelation that keeps the reader involved and thinking long past the methods Kaley employs to resolve her life in an unexpectedly effective manner.If She Had Stayed
Return to Index
When twenty-one-year-old Arthur Crockett receives his draft notice in Islander's War, he isn't prepared for either the rigors of war in general or the milieu of World War I. As the oldest in a large family, he expected to be helping his father support them...not be conscripted into service to face battle in 1917 Europe.
What evolves is not only training for trench warfare in France, but an inadvertent battle on the home front that develops when he unexpectedly falls in love during a training respite before battle, brings his chosen home to his mother, and faces a fiery confrontation between the two people he loves most.
Buffeted on all sides by change and confrontation, Arthur finds himself in the middle of many struggles, inexperienced and forced to grow up quickly both psychologically and in terms of his ability to navigate life, death, love, and family.
It's surprising to note that Islander's War is a first novel by Don Parks because its astute observations, logical progression, strong characterization, and ability to juxtapose personal growth with social change as America faces a major war is as compelling as any work from a seasoned multi-book writer.
Parks takes the time necessary to build descriptions of psyche, environment, influences, and the era of America and Europe under siege. This translates to an effective, powerful novel that proves hard to put down, which is realistic in its approach and events.
Arthur's acts of heroism contribute to military success, but will they then translate to personal success on the home front? Readers who navigate the treacherous waters of his relationships with bated breath will enjoy this story of honor, military duty, medical crises, and an assault charge that tears the family apart as surely as any military action could have achieved.
Engrossing, multi-dimensional in its approach to Arthur's entire life experiences and growth, and impossible to predict, Islander's War excels in unexpected twists and turns that keep it from being a singular story, embracing a young man's coming of age with realizations about passion and love that change his life forever.Islander's War
Return to Index
My Uncle's New Eyes
Black Rose Writing
Michael Reeves has been suspended from his boarding school/rehab facility for the wealthy, and his mother is at her wits' end. What can she do with him now? The solution lies in tapping a relative for help, and so Michael is sent to live with his elderly uncle.
But this is no ordinary aging relative. Uncle Jimmy is part of an experiment designed to help recover lost memories. The problem is—if the experiment works, everyone is in danger. Some memories are better left untapped, and the repercussions of their revitalization will change everything not just in Uncle Jimmy's life and others who suffer from memory impairment, but for Michael, as well.
My Uncle's New Eyes represents a satisfying blend of science fiction, mystery, horror, and the coming of age of a nephew who finds his new home offers greater challenges than anything he's experienced before—including drugs.
Joseph Hirsch does a fine job of exploring the feelings of Michael, his mother Debbie, and everyone around him. He uses the first-person perspective of Michael's observations to cultivate a tone and approach that is personal and captures family dynamics and social interactions alike: "Why did you do something this stupid?” She asked. “You had a problem with hard drugs. I could understand a relapse, but this…” She shook her head. I hung mine. She had a point. The anger was subsiding, and the pain was coming, the realization that she was human and I was hurting her, that even if she was a gold digger, I didn’t blame her for that. It was a cold world, and she was just trying to survive, and a lot of the pain she’d absorbed had been to shield me."
From Michael's hallucinogenic experiences with weed to his growing social awareness and usual teen angst, Hirsch captures the backdrops of Michael's experiences and influences with a descriptive, revealing attention to psychological and cultural detail: "I looked at the gas station, coated in whitewash, the black Studebakers and green Packard’s and cherry-red Comets all cruising through traffic down a Main Street in Anytown, America, with its storefront diners and hardware shops and bowling alleys. I wondered if it had ever been real, any of it, I mean, the world in that painting. Men beat their wives back then, just like now; they didn’t let black people share space with them in restaurants. Wars had come before and they’d come again. Even the dumbest kids at school who couldn’t keep awake for a single class knew that much."
How to become a man? This is just one of Michael's conundrums as he faces many adult concerns and hones his purpose and personality in life.
As ghosts, spirits, loss, and a clever doctor intersect, intrigue and action are added into the mix, making for a satisfyingly complex saga that moves far beyond the usual coming-of-age story and into the realms of moral and ethical issues in high technology.
Underneath the story of how Michael learns to kick drug dependency and tackle loss lies a set of issues that will keep readers engaged and on the edges of their seats until the story's unexpected conclusion.My Uncle's New Eyes
Return to Index
New Heights Publishing
978-0-9969981-6-1 $12.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook
Oakland, California's lesbian community came alive in Suzanne Falter's previous novels, and Revealed continues the process of exploring lives challenged by changing times and aging processes.
Here, Tenika Cummins, co-owner of the Driven garage, wants to become a parent; Asian-American lesbian Rosalind faces the challenge of coming out to her very traditional family to pursue her romance openly; and non-binary Monroe also faces a family battle to defend her identity and dreams. Her/their fight will take place in court.
The lives, loves, and identity concerns of these three create a solid inspection of gay rights, lifestyles, and California dreams challenged by awkward relationships both within and outside of the lesbian community.
Suzanne Falter well knows the nuances and culture of not just the Bay Area, but locales beyond, and builds these environments into her story. From the clothing-optional getaway resort of Harbin Hot Springs north of the Bay Area in Lake County to Oakland's gay community, this intimate knowledge is embedded into the story line and will delight Bay Area residents with its reality base while educating outsiders about the culture and geography of Northern California.
Psychological depth is as astute as in the previous Oaktown Girls stories, following realistic characters that face obstacles in their lives with very individual choices and methods of coping with tragedy and strife: "Tenika would have to work it out for herself. There would be no request for consolation, nor would there be any talking it through or processing it together. Her wife wouldn’t reach out for Delilah in the night, or ever admit she needed any kind of help. Tenika was an enigma, pure and simple. A very self-contained enigma with unlimited depths."
Especially notable in Revealed is Monroe's struggle as she seeks to redefine her gender status and faces her friends' support and her family's inability to accept her revised identity and her intention to solidify it: "What do you think it is? You’ve obviously lost your mind. What makes you think this gender business is a good idea? Honey—this isn’t like a tattoo. You can’t just get rid of it if you change your mind. Once you’ve gone male, or whatever it is you’re doing, you’re over. Sarah no longer exists.” “Exactly,” Monroe said calmly. Unexpectedly, her mother let out a little sob on the phone. “But why?” she asked in anguish. “You were always such a good little girl. What did I do wrong?” Monroe shut their eyes. Why in God’s name had they even answered their phone? They knew this was coming."
While Revealed will certainly attract readers throughout the gay community, it would be a shame to have its messages and stories limited to this audience alone. Readers should choose it for its astute social and psychological inspection, its realistic characters and scenarios, and, most of all, its contrasts of different processes of realizing one's true identity and living a life supporting that dream.
Starkly realistic and involving, Revealed excels in contrasting the forward momentum of three very different women who share the same journey, but from very different perspectives. Monroe's experience sums it up, for the characters in this story: "This was all about Monroe rising up, seizing the day, and taking what they wanted and needed once and for all."
Return to Index
A Woman of the Road and Sea
Book one of the Honest Thieves Trilogy, A Woman of the Road, told of a 17th century female highwayman who, tiring of her traditional role, became a swashbuckling companion to Captain Jeffries, there to experience adventures under the guise of a man.
Margaret's return adds action and romance to this second book about her encounters, A Woman of the Road and Sea, which opens with a bang and a dash of humorous observation: "Stand and deliver!” I cried, and this time, unlike the last, I did not speak the words in jest. Wheeling my mount to a halt, I made sure to block a black coach which jolted down the Great Western. By my standards, it was not grand (not even a seal on the door), but I was so eager to ply my trade that to me it mattered little."
This thread of humor runs throughout the story and lends the tale a series of wry tongue-in-cheek observations: "Lowly footpads and thieves!” cried Monmouth, stomping a booted foot. “Cannot one frequent the roads of England without being accosted?” “Of course not,” I told him. “Good God, sir, how long have you been away?”
As journeys over land and water evolve, sweeping the characters from England to Paris and beyond, readers are treated to a blend of romance, swashbuckling thievery, and friendship permeated by political confrontations, social interactions, and moral dilemmas that lead Margaret to question her motivations and processes.
As she faces treachery, beheading, rescue, and the unexpected lure and associations of the Côte d’Azur, Margaret makes some unexpected new friends and forms some unexpected new alliances along the way.
A Woman of the Road and Sea is the rich saga of a feisty, determined female fighter who becomes embroiled in a series of political confrontations. Romance would seem an unexpected result of such clashes, but A Woman of the Road and Sea excels in the unexpected, from its mercurial plot with its satisfying revelations to a life steeped in confrontation and change.
Readers looking for a strong female protagonist who rips through her world's social expectations with purpose and courage will welcome A Woman of the Road and Sea as a swashbuckling adventure of another sort which stands alone as well as complimenting its predecessor, A Woman of the Road.A Woman of the Road and Sea
Return to Index
The Art of Good Enough
Dr. Ivy Ge
Author Academy Elite
Paperback 978-1-64085-951-7 $14.99
Hardcover : 978-1-64085-952-4 $22.99
Kindle: 978-1-64085-953-1 $ 0.99
The Art of Good Enough: The Working Mom’s Guilt-Free Guide to Thriving While Being Perfectly Imperfect is directed to working mothers who struggle with home and work responsibilities, but will reach anyone who feels torn between their responsibilities and choices on how to handle them.
Simpler living, battling guilt, shame, and underlying or overt messages from self and others about priorities, and understanding the mechanics of raising resilient and joyful children requires not just self-determination, but the vision of a path and a method for following it.
Many self-help books provide keys to half of this equation, but The Art of Good Enough's ability to provide a blueprint for building self-determination and achieving a better lifestyle is built first on shared emotions and experiences, then on a concrete game plan for success.
Its opening lines will resonate with most busy mothers: "Have you ever lain awake wondering if you’re a bad mother? If you’ve done everything you could to keep your children happy, healthy, and to maximize their chances of success? From your in-laws to the women in the park, everyone has a firm grip on what a good mother does, except you. As you listen to your partner snoring away blissfully in the dark, you wonder why you feel like a failure even though you’ve done a million things from dawn to dusk with never a moment of peace."
Dr. Ivy Ge reflects on her own child-rearing and the process of not just being a good mother, but accepting and feeling good about her approaches. She discusses the kinds of values systems and teachings that reinforce positive lifestyles and choices for the entire family: "One mom told me that her son at college in Hawaii called to ask her how to unclog his toilet with a plunger. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t funny. Basic life skills such as cleaning up after oneself, doing laundry, making simple repairs at home teach kids responsibility, discipline, and independence."
From helping readers identify what is missing in their lives and how to fill in the blanks to optimizing time and then using the benefits in a more positive manner, The Art of Good Enough excels in building avenues of success that nurture not just kids, but mothers who often pass too much judgment upon their actions, imparting negativity as a result.
Better uses of time involve developing more effective systems of prioritizing, time management, and relaxation. Dr. Ge covers all these methods and more, using her own experiences and those of other mothers who have also revised their parental and personal trajectories to add more flexibility, acceptance, and less worry into their lives.
The result worked for her and others. Mothers who pick up this supportive, specific road map to personal transformation with an eye to making lasting changes will find The Art of Good Enough creates the perfect path for embracing life beyond survival mode and transmitting that feeling to the entire family.
Every mother, working or not, needs The Art of Good Enough. It's a primer not for perfection, but for ultimate satisfaction and a healthier approach to life.The Art of Good Enough
Return to Index
The Easy-Going Plant-Based Cookbook
Quixotic Books/Cardinal Publishers Group
The Easy-Going Plant-Based Cookbook: Simple Whole-Food Recipes for Non-Chefs, With No Added Sugar, Salt, or Fat emphasizes the ease of producing meals based on these healthy premises. It features ingredients that are basic and easy to find, simple recipes that require a minimum of preparation, and photos to reinforce the appearance of finished results.
Beginners new to these concepts might think that such cooking would be laborious, expensive, and unappealing in comparison to the usual American fare. But those who wish to delve into vegan fare will find this survey from "a regular guy making easy, healthy meals practical for the real world" provides the perfect introduction.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare is introduced with a fun flair that assumes not only no prior familiarity with vegan dishes, but little prior cooking experience. The means that the recipes are introduced with basic discussions of portion sizes, tips on shopping for whole foods while keeping expenses down, and insights about nutrition.
There are a few unexpected topics covered in a lively manner, as well, featuring appealing attention-grabbing titles such as "With Beans-To Cook or Crank Open a Can" and "When I Do Open My Big Mouth", which reviews food and health discussions that often arise when 'vegan' is mentioned.
Recipes range from a Cashew Rice (the streamlining tip here involves buying frozen, ready-to-eat brown rice for the recipe) to Creamed Veggies, Rice, and Pasta made with tofu, cashews, miso and lemon juice. The latter includes notes about how to substitute silken with regular tofu, why the sauce is extra-thick, and how to adapt cooking variations for maximum enjoyment.
The Easy-Going Plant-Based Cookbook's versatility, chatty tone, and easy dishes are simply outstanding. Any regular non-cook looking to eat healthier without confusing instructions, the expense of too many exotic ingredients, or assumptions about prior culinary expertise will welcome The Easy-Going Plant-Based Cookbook's down-home, basic, simple primer, which eschews the typical vegan complexity for comfort food anyone can easily reproduce with a minimum of effort.The Easy-Going Plant-Based Cookbook
Return to Index
Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness
Paperback: 9781732991200 $18.00
The opening pages of Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness introduces a journey to new revelations and a revised life as a visit to a therapist offers author Keri Mangis several choices: to deflect questions with pat answers, leave therapy, or open the door to wholeness by working through past pain.
Mangis considers these options and discovers a rare opportunity in not just staying, but in being honest and self-examining about her past and its ongoing influences on her anxiety issues: "I could simply stop making appointments and move on with my life. What I didn’t see at the time was how certain family behaviors would turn out to be red flags, revealing internal barriers I would need to surmount before forging an inclusive and loving relationship with my emotions and myself—the very definition of embodying one’s soul and a potent beginning for a return to wholeness."
The ethereal spirit journey of Keri Mangis and "alter-soul" Serene Voyager (known as "Sëri" in the soul realm) immerses readers in illuminating probes that move from solid North Dakota family roots into metaphysical realms replete with life messages, revised purposes, and new perceptions of wholeness.
Readers should understand that although this journey is memoir-based, the book is not a memoir; per se. As Mangis explores the "risks of staying unseen," drinks from the cup of fear and finds it lacking, and faces messages from society about the ambitions of girls and the guilt used to limit them, she enters realms of healing that carry into her role as a mother giving nurture and messages to her daughters.
Mangis's reflections on how her children have influenced her growth—because of who they are and the values they represent—make for astute and compelling: "My girls, seemingly still connected to their Source of life, would only accept a genuine love. Maybe because of their colicky beginnings my love for my children then and now is not the instinctual love I had once imagined mothers had but more of a cultivated love that engulfs me every day. Ultimately, my girls saved me from a lifetime of believing that conditional love is all I deserve or all I’m capable of giving."
The result is an unusual coalescence of spiritual guidance, psychological growth, and memoir that uses the author's life as a wellspring for reflecting on life influences, processes of change, and the spiritual and emotional impacts of choosing a new direction.
As readers follow Keri Mangis through her revised self-image and acceptance of the idea of the soul's return, they receive a series of thought-provoking revelations packed with insights for their own reflections: "Regarding the yoga business, what I had been blind to but now could see was that to believe my dream of having a center of mindfulness grounded in a shared purpose had been stolen was to give my power away. Very little in this world is within our control, particularly outcomes, but whether we speak out or acquiesce along the way, whether we create or mimic, whether we question or accept are well within our control. A path of awareness is not an easy path or one likely to be accompanied by lights and bliss, but it is an authentic path."
Readers looking for a spiritually and psychologically enlightening memoir will find Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness a powerful, engrossing survey that leaves them reflecting long after the story's conclusion.Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness
Return to Index
Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia
Darwin Porter & Danforth Prince
Blood Moon Productions
Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House comes from a small publishing company on Staten Island which is located in Magnolia House, the setting for iconic Hollywood and Broadway personalities who visited over the years. These actors and actresses, writers, athletes and opera divas left their impression on Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, who here capture some of the gossip, outrageous incidents, and iconic myths and realities about them.
Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House is high celebrity gossip at its best. From scandals and rumors to unfulfilled love, illicit romance, theatrical productions both successful and disastrous, and Darwin Porter's encounters with these outrageous and fun personalities, this book represents the highlight of celebrity gossip and secrets.
Strengthened by interview quotes, personal connections, and a personal familiarity with the industry that no outsider could have adequately conveyed, Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House excels in an approach that incorporates familiarity over hearsay. The stories are personalized by their Magnolia House connections: "One November night at Magnolia House, as the cold winds blew outside, Tamara Geva sat with Darwin beside one of the fireplaces and spoke lovingly of her on-again, off-again affair with matinee idol Robert Taylor. It had endured for more than fifteen years."
This touch would have made for a superior exposé alone, but the authors add numerous black and white images throughout to cement the visual portion of the production. These photos, accompanied by descriptive notes, embellish the stories and create a satisfying blend of show business insights and overviews of the entertainment industry that blend autobiography with industry history.
Especially recommended for enthusiasts of vintage Hollywood and Broadway social and cultural history, Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House is a treasure trove of impressions and artistry that captures the lives of those who visited this historic home over the decades.
Fans of celebrity gossip will relish the atmosphere, detail, and in-depth insights on personalities captured in this lively romp.Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House
Return to Index
High Crimes: The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Former Congressman Alan Grayson
Print: 978-1-941768-67-9 $16.95
eBook: 978-1-941768-95-2 $ 9.95
There are so many partisan books on the market arguing pro/con scenarios for President Trump's impeachment that it's satisfying to read a treatise from a former Congressman who offers some different perspectives from his side of the political debate.
High Crimes: The Impeachment of Donald Trump is a candid assessment that, from the start, maintains that Trump should be impeached not because of his morals, ethics, or values, but because he has committed numerous high crimes and misdemeanors, chronicled in this book. It goes beyond generalities to connect the letter of impeachment laws with Trump's actions: "Donald Trump is impeachable because the Constitution of the United States says that he is, for the reasons stated therein. The U.S. Constitution says that the impeachable offenses are: (1) treason, (2) bribery, (3) “high crimes,” and (4) “misdemeanors.”
The book's devotion to this connection means that it holds the opportunity for bipartisan debate and absorption, discussing the nature of an impeachable offense and why the process seems so mercurial to ordinary citizens: "...consider that Donald Trump should be impeached, convicted and removed from office even if you accept the realpolitik perspective offered by Alexis de Tocqueville and others. They suggest that it doesn’t matter what you think is an impeachable offense, because impeachment really isn’t about legal standards at all, but rather about the separations of powers, and the exercise of power by the legislature."
Each impeachable offense is broken down in different ways, from a legal and political analysis of the process to a 'rogue's gallery' of past presidents, vice presidents, and officials who faced similar accusations and circumstances.
This historical legal and political examination offers what other books miss: the opportunity to not only understand current events and processes, but to place them in proper perspective to contrast modern events with historical precedent. This is invaluable if a non-partisan view of impeachment is ever to be developed, either in this situation or in the future.
Former Congressman Alan Grayson goes beyond providing a historical overview, delving into the give-and-take of questions and answers during other impeachment hearings of government officials and using these case histories to understand the current situation.
Extensive footnotes throughout document these enquiries and provide a concrete reference background suitable for completely understanding precedent and rules of process as they apply to current events.
This is not to say that Grayson is dispassionate about his subject. His perspective is clear and is often emotionally charged: "On the more general subject of whether Donald Trump is guilty of conduct unbecoming a President, that subject cannot be covered in any single missive, but only, perhaps, in a 12-volume set. The pathological lies, the insults, the bullying, the incessant factual errors, the terminal narcissism, the bigotry, the gross incompetence, the pettiness, the attention deficit (treated or untreated), the buffoonery, the callousness (tossing paper towels at hurricane victims!!!), the egomaniacal sociopathy, they all shriek for themselves. I wasn’t alive at the time to witness it myself, but I sincerely doubt that Judge Pickering or Judge Delahay was any worse."
But in moving beyond his passions into a discourse that embraces the entirety of American political and legal checks and balances, Grayson provides the kind of analysis that is not just appropriate, but which is much-needed in general circles.
From the question of whether judges should be impeached to chapter conclusions to each historical example that reinforce the specifics of why Trump's actions fall in the arena of impeachable offenses, readers will find High Crimes specific, informational, revealing, and a solid discussion of the process which links Presidential decisions to a key political stopgate essential to preserving our American democracy.
All concerned citizens should read High Crimes. It holds fact-backed arguments and analysis that supports a case for impeachment while providing concrete insights into the process.High Crimes: The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Return to Index
A Game with Cooper is a fun picture book story illustrated by Kate Fallahee and tells of little black dog Cooper, who is as excited about the forthcoming game as his human 'daddy'.
Cooper isn't envisioning sports, however, but a game with his beloved human which involves a unique set of rules, hidden treats, and an effort which evoke Cooper's 'hidden detective'.
As alter ego Inspector Cooper puts together visual and sensory clues that lead to hidden delights, young readers are treated to a lively tale. Parents will relish the opportunity, embedded within the plot, to emulate sound effects such as sniffing, gobbling, and investigating.
The lively energy and tone of a very simple yet involving dog story will attract parents and children with a fun set of interactions. Each test Cooper's resolve and problem-solving abilities during the course of a fun game that introduces many new adventures and experiences with an ultimate goal in mind.
Kids who love dogs, detective stories, and action will find A Game with Cooper a delight.A Game with Cooper
Return to Index
Kwanzaa Gets An A
Steven C. Thedford
New World Press Inc.
Kwanzaa Gets An A provides fun color illustrations by LaSquizzie Kern and adopts a rollicking rhyme format that lends to adult read-aloud as it follows the story of Kwanzaa and explains some of its seemingly odd facets, such as why Kwanzaa has two A's when it's a holiday mention, but only one in Swahili.
Each page of rhyming story receives a full facing page of colorful drawings of children gathering around to learn the Kwanzaa story from a griot dressed in an African gown.
Kids learn Swahili terms and African culture as they receive diverse stories, from the 1965 Watts riot in Los Angeles and how it affected the African American community to how teacher Dr. Maulana Karenga decided to restore a community "destroyed by racist horseplay" by returning to African roots.
His influence on making Kwanzaa part of American culture is revealed as his creation of a harvest festival patterned on the Egyptian and Zulu cultural holiday turns into a wider-ranging story of Kwanzaa's evolution through American culture from the 1960s to modern times.
This picture book story nicely compliments other Kwanzaa books on the market today by providing a clear, engaging, and lively overview of its history and evolution.
Picture book readers will relish its tone, spirited history, and the easy way in which it pairs an exploration of Kwanzaa's African roots with how the holiday became an integral part of the African American community.
No multicultural picture book collection should be without this fun, informative survey.Kwanzaa Gets An A
Return to Index
Microplastics and Me
Tumblehome Learning, Inc.
Microplastics and Me may sound like nonfiction (indeed, it embraces many nonfiction elements, educating readers about microplastics and conservation), but it reads with the lively inspection of fiction and will reach grades 3-6 with its story of middle grader/author Anna Du's discovery of how she translated her environmental concerns into award-winning solutions.
More than just another educational survey of conservation issues, this proactive, 'can do' model for conservation activism is essential reading for elementary to middle grade learners also concerned about environmental degradation.
The first thing to note about Microplastics and Me is that it's narrated in the first person by the young author and includes a wealth of colorful photographs capturing not just issues, but her love of collecting sea glass on the beach in the lovely environment of the New England shoreline.
These personal touches reflecting her fascination with the seaside's beauty adds a personal touch to the adventure, where a factual nonfiction account alone couldn't have translated this science personal connections with nature: "Every week, I came here to pick up sea glass and relax for a few hours. The sea gulls squawked, the waves lapped slowly on the sand, and the warm sea breeze drifted around. I loved how doing absolutely nothing allowed my thoughts to drift and calmed me down as I slowly dried off."
By documenting the process of how she becomes personally involved in and committed to conservation and plastics recycling, Anna Du creates a winning, involving discussion that kids will readily understand because every conservation consideration is backed by personal experience and thoughts: "Walking briskly along the shore with Andy at my side, I picked up piece after piece of what looked like sea glass but was actually plastic. Even back at my pile of sea glass, I realized that some of the materials that I’d thought were sea glass… suddenly didn’t look a lot like sea glass. Instead, they looked like even more pieces of plastic. I remembered a video on plastics that my school had shown us weeks before. The video displayed the life cycle of a piece of plastic—from its start in a factory to its end, either in a garbage can or in the ocean. We learned that the amount of plastics that have accumulated in the ocean is so great that there is a floating plastic island called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is larger than Texas. When I watched the school video about this problem, it had seemed so distant. After all, the Pacific Ocean was thousands of miles away. But now, all of a sudden, I could truly see how plastic waste affected me personally."
It's the reinforcement of both this connection and Du's personal commitment to not just observing and learning, but problem-solving, that makes Microplastics and Me so extraordinary. The large-size, compelling color photos enhance a story that more than captures attention, injecting a wave of hope and activist opportunities into a subject that is typically approached via factual review, imparting a broad sense of hopelessness.
Microplastics and Me is a highly recommended, unique standout in the world of children's conservation writing. Its young author's enthusiasm, research, and concrete science fair tips are extraordinarily helpful and hopeful for fellow would-be young conservationists.Microplastics and Me
Return to Index
Teen Matt Mitchell's life is nothing but pain and suffering. After his mother died in a car accident, his grieving father moved the family far from their beloved seaside home to the small town of Hawthorne, Indiana, where Matt and his family struggle to start over despite school bullies adding to the problems.
As Matt learns the woman next door is rumored to be a witch, The Secrets of Hawthorne House heats up with a supernatural element, as well...but readers of all ages who anticipate a ghost story may be surprised to find that Matt's story is far more than one of investigating spirits or struggling with loss holding magic beyond supernatural realms.
The story begins with the family's loss and changes, and moves quickly to the Indiana setting, which at first promises nothing than more experiencing pain in an unfamiliar environment. Matt never expected to get familiar with neighbor and suspected husband-murderer 'Old Lady Hawthorne', but this evolves along with a mystery surrounding their family and home.
As Matt confronts various forms of magic and his own abilities, he begins to change. From spells and blackmail to family secrets, accusations, and damaged reputations, The Secrets of Hawthorne House is especially strong in its dialect and depiction of small-town interactions, politics, and history.
Contrasting newcomer Matt's struggles are those of Gerallt, of druid ancestry whose people were driven into hiding, and who has inherited a cultural and religious legacy of isolation and suspicion towards outsiders. As their friendship blossoms, so do the conundrums it brings to not just themselves, but their peoples and heritage. The learning process between them holds the promise of breaking down centuries of barriers carefully constructed in the name of survival.
Their story of finding family in the unlikeliest of places just when each feels the most isolated from their roots creates a powerful interplay of mystery and intrigue and healing that will keep all ages thoroughly engrossed.
All these make for far more than a story of ghosts, magic, secrets, and grief, weaving all these elements into a tale greater than its subplots and themes. Some readers who resist dialect may balk at Donald Firesmith's heavy hand on representing a Maine dialect that only the Hawthornes have, but this adds a realistic element that captures individual speech patterns yet is completely understandable, adding atmosphere to the characters: "I’d like tah introduce you tah my niece Gwendolyn, Gerallt’s mothah."
It should also be noted (and applauded) that the story is a standalone creation that concludes its events with an opportunity for more adventures, yet is concluded under one cover. Its lessons about different cultures and backgrounds, the process of grief and recovery, and the acceptance of ideas and realities a bit different from the norm are all solidly presented and in keeping with character and plot developments.
The complexity and depth of The Secrets of Hawthorne House, as well as its incorporation of magical elements with realistic struggles and confrontations creates a captivating story that is hard to put down, original, and satisfyingly unique. Its lessons about different cultures and backgrounds, the process of grief and recovery, and the acceptance of ideas and realities a bit different from the norm creates a powerful interplay of mystery and intrigue and healing that will keep all ages thoroughly engrossed.The Secrets of Hawthorne House
Return to Index
Acts of Faith
978-1658684811 $7.49 Paper/$.99 Kindle
Acts of Faith is Part 1 of The Inquisition Trilogy and will reach readers of Christian and Jewish historical literary fiction with its survey of events surrounding the Portuguese Inquisition in the 16th century.
Real-life historical accounts of the contrasting perceptions and role of Diego/Diogo Lopes form the foundation of this fictional exploration of the man's life, politics, religion, and influence.
In many ways, Acts of Faith is a consideration of divine intervention, social and political inspection, and contrasts between the interpretive approaches of Christians and Jews. It includes a healthy degree of historical precedent, but moves into fictional territory by exploring facets of character psychology that go beyond historical record and into the arena of cultural differences and interactions.
This element drives the story with an unusual focus on heroes, martyrs, tyranny, and religious justifications for persecution and division.
The characters and their observations and prejudices come alive during the course of a story that winds its way through Portuguese culture and history, breathing life into its peoples and their confrontations with society and self.
It should be cautioned that graphic torture session descriptions are part of this story. Readers who want less realistic sagas may wish to look elsewhere; but nothing is unduly or unrealistically emphasized beyond historical precedent, and these descriptions are necessary reflections of the horror and helplessness of the times.
As Ari, who once worked for the Inquisition, becomes involved in the personal lives of those challenged by its processes, readers will become thoroughly engrossed by a realistic saga that proves hard to put down.
Any reader of Portuguese history, Inquisition-era processes, or historical fiction will find Acts of Faith astoundingly astute in its representations, psychological depth, and religious inspections; especially in chapters that contrast Christian and Jewish experience and ideals as miracles and blasphemy share a fine line and tenuous positions, defining what it means to stand with God or against him in Inquisition-era society.Acts of Faith
Return to Index
Eavesdropping on Lucifer
Donald B. Stenberg
Carpenter's Son Publishing
9781949572889 $12.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook
Eavesdropping on Lucifer: A Story Every Christian Should Hear comes from a practicing lawyer and public official who here produces a fictional story about the devil and his ways.
The story opens with a meeting between Lucifer and his potential new apprentice, Jonathan. Readers would ordinarily anticipate entertainment rather than enlightenment from this kind of effort, but the meat of Eavesdropping on Lucifer lies its thorough review of the contemporary methods Lucifer employs to inject evil into the world and divide Christians. These methods of division and corruption deserve consideration beyond Christian audiences because they are succinctly and pointedly presented and because they offer windows into the kinds of interactions that create chaos and moral and ethical division among peoples.
From the differences between the U.S. being a secular nation or a Christian entity to The Devil's frustration over the Son's work that thwarts his success, readers receive insights into what evil is, how it actively operates in society and cultures, and how it can be confronted and changed.
These aspects of the story go beyond fictional drama to invite Christian readers to consider the heart of many ideas, from the concept that there really is no devil or evil in the world to how clergymen themselves don't follow the Bible, but stray into Lucifer's realm and become, themselves, his inadvertent and unaware representatives.
From divorce and political interactions to pulpit approaches, Donald B. Stenberg provides a different approach to assessing evil in the modern world that, like C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, is all the more accessible to ordinary readers because of its fictional, conversation-based overlay.
Christians who want an accessible, chatty blend of pointed observation, reflective insights, and fun will find Eavesdropping on Lucifer excels in the kinds of insights and lessons that keep readers engaged, thinking, and entertained, all in one.Eavesdropping on Lucifer
Return to Index
The Trumpet Lesson
She Writes Press
The Trumpet Lesson is literary women's fiction writing at its strongest and tells of a shy expat woman whose fascination with a trumpet solo by another woman in a Mexican town plaza leads her to pursue trumpet lessons and more.
Readers anticipating a musical exploration will be surprised by the addition of family stories and lost connections which surface to become the primary themes in a hard-hitting story of decisions, redemption, and struggle.
Issues of teen pregnancy, adoption, homosexuality, and family conflict evolve as Callie explores the lasting impact of a decision to give up her biracial child decades earlier. She's kept her secret for all these years. Even when confronted with the possibility of revealing it to forge closer connections in her life, she still clings to its powerful rationale and the lasting impact of her actions.
Trumpeter extraordinaire Pamela is teaching Callie as much about matters of the heart as about music: "She thought of Pamela talking about breathing from the core, about expressing your truest self." As Callie absorbs these lessons and struggles with the suspicions of her best friend Armando and his own closely-held secret, she slowly begins to confront the issues of keeping her past a secret.
Dianne Romain takes the time to build Callie's personality, the rationales for her early and later decisions, and their impact, structuring her novel as a series of growth-inducing encounters that lead Callie to the potential of not just redemption, but transformation.
The atmosphere of Guanajuato, Mexico comes to life and serves as a reinforcing backdrop to Callie's personal and interpersonal explorations, providing a sense of place and depth of detail that lends to an astute psychological, social, and cultural exploration.
The literary aspect of Romain's story is strong and compelling and will lend to not just reader pursuit, but classroom inspection by contemporary women's literature courses.
Readers seeking insightful works about motivation, ethical and moral dilemmas, and the lasting impact of decisions made for justifiable reasons will find The Trumpet Lesson an excellent exploration of friendship and connections. The story leaves readers thinking long past Callie's ultimate realizations about social attitudes, changing times, and the bonds of family and friendships.The Trumpet Lesson
Return to Index
Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree
Simi K. Rao
Written Dreams Publishing
Paperback: 978-1-951375-07-2 $11.99
Ebook: 978-1-951375-08-9 $ 3.99
Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree gathers short stories and succinct poetry about different phases of womanhood, capturing the feel of life encounters and impressions gleaned from exotic lands: "Along ancient streets/and by-lanes,/alien sounds ebb and flow/With familiar inflections/passions don’t simmer,/they explode..."
Simi K. Rao's poetic style excels in capturing vignettes not only from women's lives, but through their changing experiences, as in White Room, a poem about dementia: "They sit around me,/these strangers with familiar voices./I think we are waiting for something/or someone./These strangers, they look at me./They mutter words I don’t understand."
Often, these revelations include notes on how to lead life (or, how not), as in 'In Moderation', which reflects on a range of actions that should be conducted in moderation, from enjoying foods to giving one's heart: "Help/But don’t go bankrupt,/be generous in moderation."
The short stories also capture slices of life as in 'The Witching Hour', which follows long-time neighbors and best friends as they navigate Halloween with a ritual of their own making, wearing the same costumes as they did long ago, on one fateful night that changed everything.
Rao's ability to capture the seeming innocence of young adulthood until a deadly truth emerges will surprise and delight readers with a story of quiet desperation and community impact.
Beasts are among us. Some emerge from the heart; others are physical threats.
As these poems and stories wind through different forces and influences, black and white line drawings pepper and separate the accounts to add atmospheric embellishments to Rao's tales.
Having a literary collection which moves from short story to poetry and back again creates an opportunity for capturing these life-changing moments in more than one fashion, making both formats accessible to audiences who might usually prefer or choose one format over the other.
Steeped in the cultural observations of a woman whose heritage includes American culture blended with Indian customs, each piece captures women's struggles with ethnicity, prejudice, ambition, gender, and cultural norms.
Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree's compelling literary works are highly recommended for readers of women's literature in general and multicultural works in particular. Their sense of place, character, and purpose are simply exquisite and shine in every carefully-honed piece.Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree
Return to Index