November 2019 Review Issue
- Savakerrva, Vol 1
978-1096469919 $19.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle
David - Savakerrva, Vol 1 is an intriguing sci-fi story that weaves together the stories of an extraordinary boy from Detroit, an extraterrestrial invasion that leads a king to flee to Earth, and the prophecy of a son who will save the world with mystery, heroes and legends. As it treads lightly between the story of an alien savior and a boy's coming of age, it creates an epic, visionary read that is remarkable and notable for its ability to take ordinary scenarios and craft them into extraordinary challenges and opportunities.
Take the opening, where Ana faces a home invasion with feisty determination: "Ana felt her fear boil into frustration, then into rage, then she just didn’t care. She should have called the police and sheltered in place, but sheltering sounded like surrender, and who gives up in their very own house? This porch-banger had no right, and more to the point, Ana had her gun." Not the kind of introduction one expects from a world-sweeping saga.
But this is just the kind of setting that Lawrence Brown loves to play with, because Ana Redhawk's encounter with an injured stranger on her front porch leads to extraordinary events surrounding the visitors, their origins, and their intentions. Eighteen months later, her life has changed in ways she never could have predicted.
The visitors have left her with a legacy and a warning ("Not just a child, he’d left her an alarm. But an alarm for what? She never asked. Didn’t want to ask, because by his stories, those ale-oiled tales on her couch, she already knew."), and her love and decisions have unwittingly brought her into close contact with a kind of war and enemy that her planet has never seen before.
Brown does an exquisite job of creating a memorable character in the feisty Ana and her life-changing moments. This approach drives the story from its introduction to events that unwind with an equally astute attention to detail, psychological growth, and wider-ranging dilemmas that aren't always predictable. The blend of intrigue and mystery elevates thriller and sci-fi elements to new levels, spicing action with descriptions designed to pull readers into these fast-paced encounters: "No longer bleak, Michigan Central Station stood transformed. Bright light streamed from every window and so did the sound, some inexpressible melody from the million voices within. Garth grabbed a tall train station door and pulled. Too heavy. He pulled harder, strained with all he had left. The door yielded, started to give. I’m not alone, his glorious thought, but the door slammed shut in a blinding white blast."
From the searing image of Garth as a phoenix-like boy arising from what seems like death ("Garth shot from the river afar in a convulsion of flash. His mind electric and muscles afire, he screamed from a billion lit nerves and waves of pummeling rush.") to his ongoing, increasing confrontation with impossible forces, truths, and challenges, readers will quickly find themselves drawn into a world that is vividly portrayed with a fine balance between evocative description and psychological insight.
From generals who battle the Beast to caves of fog, battlegrounds, and Garth's learning curve as he faces impossible circumstances ("Do you know nothing of their tribal god? Where that unholy bug breeds?” “I don’t care about bugs, I’m talking about the cliffs!” “And so am I, Odd Boy, do you not see?” Torgen tossed the souvenir cliffs to Garth. “Are you blind to color, the blush on its face?” Painted orange flecks glimmered the souvenir cliffs. “The spots?” asked Garth. “The spots,” said Torgen, “mark the barbed-wing nimaj. And when they breed on Elka’s cliffs, they turn the color of the Greater Sand.” Garth eyed the orange flecks. “There’s—a lot?” “There’s millions, it’s their home!” said Torgen. “And if anyone kills just one?” “They Walk?” “They Walk,” Torgen replied. “But instead of killing just one nimaj? Oh, no, not you, you’d bomb the cliffs and kill them all! Now, is this your plan, what you’ll propose to the Sykah of Nimaj?” Garth wondered how a plan so right went so wrong. “But—” “Some advice, Odd Boy.” Torgen grabbed a cushion off the adjoining throne. “Next time you want to save a world? Start with yours.”), David - Savakerrva, Vol 1 paints his world with colorful details and believable characters both alien and human, cementing all with a special purpose that makes the story nearly impossible to put down.
The mark of a good sci-fi adventure lies in both its premise and how it fills out characters and backgrounds to support the setting and dilemmas of its worlds.
David - Savakerrva, Vol 1 demonstrates an almost uncanny ability to reach into the minds and hearts of its readers to craft a story that is mercurial and action-packed, yet populated with compellingly realistic characters and situations that keep readers guessing and involved. In another book, this level of complexity might prove a challenge for a reader to absorb, but in David - Savakerrva, Vol 1, the background and worlds are seamlessly explored within the context of each character's perceptions and special interests.
The result is a gripping, imaginative, emotional rush that grasps mind and heart and keeps pumping action up to an unsettled ending that nicely completes this story of madness and strife while keeping the door open for further adventures.
It should be noted that this Volume 1 encompasses the first two books of the Savakerrva series. The series will be 4 books in total, and books 3 and 4 will be released in early/mid 2020, respectively.
Sci-fi readers looking for stories of invasion, aliens, romance, and war will find everything here—and more! It's a sweeping epic in the true sense of the word, and a worthy standout from the crowd.
- Savakerrva, Vol 1
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Jane Conner has suppressed her paranormal abilities since a terrible accident in her childhood, and has committed to living a life without them until a new threat forces her to not only accept them, but learn how to use them. In doing so, she accepts the help of Max, a supernatural entity from her past, and faces the fact that she's in danger whether she accepts her destiny and powers or not.
Set in the near future of 2028, The Ethereal Vision tells of Jane and her mother Nora, who have both coped with impossible powers and their legacy. The story then moves into the now-adult Jane's struggles to recall the past, confront her fears and powers, and accept the help of those who would help her awaken her long-dormant talents.
With Max at her side guiding her, Jane has a chance to regain memories from when she was young which could hold the key to her survival now. Max's ethereal presence in her life, combined with the story's near-future setting, contributes to a surreal feel to events which makes their progression at once logical and fantastic.
It should be noted that while this begins as a paranormal adventure with a hint of romance, The Ethereal Vision widens its vision and approach to embrace sci-fi as it turns out that Jane represents much more than just one individual with extraordinary talents.
As Jane's desire for a peaceful life gives way to bigger purposes and struggles, readers are carried into a greater war where Jane serves as a pivot point of danger until and unless she can control what lurks in her mind.
Her ethereal vision is a problem for those who oppose her because she (and it) cannot be controlled. And that poses a danger to society unless Lucas Johnson, charged with capturing and testing her, can change her abilities and mind.
Elements of sci-fi, paranormal mystery, thriller, and romance contribute to a multifaceted, engrossing story powered by Jane's powerful personality and determination.
Liam Donnelly does a fine job of depicting Jane's dilemmas, thoughts, and emotions. This contributes to a compelling saga of capture, escape, special interests, and radical threats as the nature and purpose of Ethereals is revealed.
Sci-fi readers seeking a satisfyingly engrossing story of mind control and paranormal abilities will find The Ethereal Vision hard to put down, filled with unexpected moments designed to keep readers engaged and on their toes.
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Black Rose Writing
(Use code PREORDER2019 to receive a 15% discount before publication
Genesis Rising returns Book 2 of The Glass Star Trilogy with a satisfying sequel to the prior Dark Touch that features Sloan and other characters in new adventures.
Sloan awakens in an unlikely place: a timeshare on an island, on a planet Cato has long protected. In keeping with his charge to protect her, he's brought her to this isolated place while they await reinforcements and Aleo's return.
As with Dark Touch, supernatural elements are woven into the fantasy story along with accounts of warriors, confrontations, and vivid struggles, all powered by the struggles between the Warriors of the Guild, the Dark Ones, and rising armies which portend dangerous clashes in the future. And Sloan stands in the middle of this struggle as her story opens, awaiting...what?
Given the Genesis Energy at birth, Sloan struggles with Darrow's Dark Energy and a legacy that at times seems impossible to ignore. These events, covered in the first book, form the background for her ongoing struggles as she confronts not only outside forces, but those within herself.
In many ways, Genesis Rising is a story of destiny. In other ways, it's a tale of fate, redemption, and growth as Sloan continues to confront unwanted inheritances she cannot change and dire circumstances she holds the power to affect.
The story of her growth and self-discovery is intricately wound into a battle that threatens everything she knows. This is part of what makes Genesis Rising so compelling: the human story behind these social and political struggles.
The force inside Sloan and the potential for its explosive disaster concerns everyone around her—even her allies. Their mission to change the events that threaten all of creation test those charged with defending the universe as they struggle against all odds to locate the Dark One and try to protect Sloan at the same time.
While Genesis Rising doesn't absolutely rely on familiarity with its predecessor, those who have read and enjoyed Dark Touch will find it easier to segue into Sloan's ongoing journey. However, newcomers do receive enough background detail to find their entry-level position into the story relatively smooth, since the first few chapters review the background, scene, and prior events.
From Aleo's terrible powers of destruction and Sloan's struggle with her destiny to the rising tides of war and unexpected romance, Genesis Rising crafts an engrossing, action-packed story that ultimately rests firmly on the shoulders of Sloan's own growth process. This is what makes Genesis Rising among the most notable fantasy series titles of 2019, in for a compelling read that tests not only Sloan's rising abilities, but her values.
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978-0-473-48982-3 (paperback) $15.95
978-0-473-48984-7 (ebook) $ 3.99
Collective, global intelligence overseen by an artificial life form combines two common sci-fi themes in the powerful Victoria. Think Colossus and the Borg of Star Trek, add a dose of social and spiritual inspection, then imagine the far future of 2430, when a near-extinction solar event has evolved a model of perfection governed by the authoritarian Victoria, a genetically engineered woman implanted with an AI interface who directs the networked survivors with her artificial love and high technology.
It's an approach which eschews religion. When a band of religious zealots launch a terrorist attack against their genetically enhanced, superior overseers, Victoria struggles to keep her perfect society, and her role as its leader, intact.
The moral, ethical, and spiritual issues raised by these events is part of what makes Victoria so inviting as it moves beyond the realm of an AI's benevolent control and into issues of freedom, purpose, religious struggles, and different perceptions of how survivors should live: "I just don’t get it. These Luds and the metal nuts. What are they so afraid of ? Knowledge? Evolution? Using educated skepticism?” Pierre paused. “Themselves?”
Molik does a fine job of creating memorable characters who struggle for different aspects of their future, from Conan and other ESP members (viewed as 'electronic beasts' by Boniface and his people) to the challenges of synthetic love's capacity to really care, and the nature of different kinds of control that clash with religious perspectives even in prison: "It was considered a sin for a MH member to use the substance, as it reflected poorly on the requisite pure faith and belief in Rodolpho whose texts clearly instructed that God is to provide these feelings naturally. To the Luds, and especially the MHs, drugs were artificial ways to provoke rebellion of all that had been provided by God through Rodolpho."
Is Victoria a demon, an evil ghost, and the bane of humanity itself? Is she a god, or a mixed-breed electronic beast? And will her purpose and method ultimately prove the downfall of humanity?
Readers receive many thought-provoking themes to consider during the struggle between Victoria and her ilk and the rebellious remnants of humanity, who make the point that humanity's savior might actually be a devil in disguise.
What does it mean to be human? And are Victoria's purpose, evolution, and interests in sync with either divinity or nature itself?
A surprise conclusion about salvation, evolution, and human and artificial life's boundaries lingers in the mind long after the story is complete, making Victoria a powerful commentary on the core of humanity's guiding lights.
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of the Child
9781691385690 $12.27 Paper/$6.99 Kindle
Year of the Child is the second book in the Harmony series and takes place two months after the destruction of the Harmony dome.
Ganymede serves as the focal point of several disparate characters: Misaki Iriyama, who destroyed the dome and flees her guilt; former detective Tetsuya Takahashi, who has been reassigned but keeps searching for Misaki; Alexandria, who is somehow connected to a new discovery beneath the ice fields on Ganymede; and others who find their lives unexpectedly entwined.
From privateers and plans for a better future to different interplanetary landscapes and human attempts to create new, different, better homes on them ("The Martian landscape as much a home to him was also ... alien. No, not alien, he corrected himself immediately. That's not the right word. It was something else, yet he couldn't deny the primal part of his brain that said the craters and odd rock formations were somehow wrong. He wanted, needed, to see green hills and blue lakes. Mars wasn't alien, it was new. New in a way that had nothing to do with geological age or cosmology. It was mankind's second chance ... a chance to do things right. And Shultz was going to be the man to make that happen. Well, I'll start the ball rolling, but I won't live to see it. If he and Jung could pull the colony from Modi's grip."), Year of the Child romps through social and political concerns, military training, revised perceptions of humanity's place in the universe, and more. All this is cemented by the different perceptions of strong personalities who each confront their destinies and future on Ganymede.
In many ways, Year of the Child represents the quintessential coming of age story not of a teen or child, but of the human race as it struggles for control, direction, and new meanings for its endeavors.
Played against the backdrop of a stellar chessboard of cat-and-mouse moves, this story of power struggles and the clash between a civilian science mission and a military undertaking will delight not only prior fans of the first book, but sci-fi buffs who enjoy military sci-fi and political struggle blends.
Year of the Child does a fine job of adding onto the characters, atmosphere, and efforts of the crew of the Sadie and the Harmony milieu. It's recommended both for readers who enjoyed The Rhine and newcomers alike.
Year of the Child
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Deliciously Holistic - Inspired Favorites
A Bad Hair Day Cookbook
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9997932-4-4 $ 4.99
Print ISBN: 978-0-9997932-5-1 $15.99
Fans of Nancy Cohen's prior books already know that her Bad Hair Day series of cozy mysteries are compelling reads, but A Bad Hair Day Cookbook offers something different in presenting recipes by 'Marla Vail', the fictional Florida hairstylist and salon owner whose exploits powered Cohen's Bad Hair Day series.
These recipes are anything but fictional, however. They not only supplement the series with a fun nonfiction twist, but emphasize Nancy J. Cohen's original creations (along with recipes from friends and family), designed for busy cooks who may not be out solving crimes, but whose time is equally challenged.
This focus on saving time means that sometimes 'from scratch' efforts are set aside in favor of quick cake mixes, for example. An introductory section covers basic cooking tips for novices, leading to recipes for quick appetizers, one-dish wonders such as Chicken Eggplant or Chicken Orzo, and side dishes such as a Potato Onion Bake.
Jewish flavors, international influences, and fare that has been updated to be quick and easy are hallmarks of a cookbook that defines 'simple' and 'quick'.
Marla's notes preface each dish and add a dash of appeal, history, and enticement to the recipe, as in the Spinach Mushroom Casserole: "Would you like to serve a side dish for company that isn’t the same standard fare? Whip up this recipe and surprise everyone. I had it at a pot-luck dinner at a friend’s house one night when I was still married to Stan. It’s not something I make often, but my guests are pleased when I do. The curry gives it an unexpected flavor."
If it's a quick and easy, tested cookbook that is desired, A Bad Hair Day Cookbook should be the item of choice. And if you're already a cozy mystery reader of Cohen's books, this cookbook makes for a delightful complementary volume to the series, and possible gift for any fan of the series.
A Bad Hair Day Cookbook
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Shellback Publishing, LLC
9781733335805 (paperback) $21.95 plus tax (where applicable) & S/H
Deliciously Holistic - Inspired Favorites is written by a nutritional therapist who debunks the myths that eating well involves expense, time, or the need to consume unappetizing fare for the sake of healthy eating.
While there are no processed ingredients here (nor gluten, dairy, corn, or refined sugars), that doesn't translate to dull food, strange flavors, or time-consuming preparations. Deliciously Holistic is all about making healthier foods accessible to the ordinary, busy cook and family, and the recipes chosen for this book are especially crafted to please all.
An introductory pantry list reveals some special staples the cook may need to acquire. Nutritional yeast, liquid aminos, and raw coconut oil may not be in every kitchen, but they are essential for the successful pursuit of this cookbook.
Next comes the recipes, accompanied by bright color photos of completed dishes. These will prove inviting and easy, as in a Pleasing Pea Salad which contains fresh basil, peppers, peas and garbanzo beans, lemon, onion and tomatoes, among other ingredients.
As cooks move from salads and side dishes to dishes such as a Please Eat Pot Roast (note: this cookbook doesn't eschew red meat: only the typical methods used to consume it) with sweet potatoes and veggies or a Truly Tasty Turkey Meatloaf that acknowledges the usual problems with turkey being too dry or tasteless (overcoming these obstacles with added oats, balsamic vinegar, garlic and onion), it's evident that Valerie Penz does more than gather recipes. She addresses common obstacles to their use, modifies approaches that have resulted in negative experiences in the past, and puts together a deliciously holistic cookbook of flavor-rich dishes designed to appeal to the entire family's tastes.
There are many healthy, natural, holistic cookbooks on the market these days; but Deliciously Holistic - Inspired Favorites stands out from most with its tested, flavor-filled dishes, mouth-watering color photos of completed dishes, ease of preparation, and an approach that combines healthier eating goals with flavors that can't be beat.
Anyone looking to make the transition into better eating should start with Deliciously Holistic - Inspired Favorites. It's a foolproof way of engaging cook and diner over a delicious culinary experience.
Deliciously Holistic - Inspired Favorites
Deliciously Holistic - Inspired Favorites
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Ottawa Press and Publishing
Epub: 978-1-988437-27-9 $2.99
Christmas in Newfoundland adds another book to the Sgt. Windflower mystery series for a special seasonal treat not only directed to prior fans of Canadian Mountie Windflower, but those who harbor affection for Christmas, snow, and small-town seasonal atmospheres.
Stroll through the snow-packed winter of Grand Bank, Newfoundland in a series of short reflections and memories born of Mike Martin's background and of the other series titles, then imbibe of characters who thrive against a "...bitter and hard season in old-time Grand Bank", whose lives and pleasures are built around Christmas and its anticipation.
Sip from the cup of atmosphere that brews heady holiday pleasures and traditions, provides first-person observations of the expectations of Christmas, and tempers these pieces with Wildflower investigations that sprinkle a seasonal love of Christmas color with an overlay of intrigue and affection.
While mystery readers expecting a traditional whodunit may be surprised by the atmospheric reads and holiday celebrations throughout, it's important to note that Christmas in Newfoundland is about just that—small town ambiance—and is not solely about the mystery.
If it's an atmospheric river of celebration and relationship connections that is desired, with a meditation on winter in a small town juxtaposing first and third person styles, then Christmas in Newfoundland is the perfect choice for a cold night by a hot fire.
Christmas in Newfoundland
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in the O.R.
Barbara Ebel, M.D.
Barbara Mary Ebel, Publisher
Paperback: 978-1-7324466-6-3 $11.95
eBook: 978-1-7324466-7-0 $ 3.99
Anesthesiologist Viktoria Thorsdottir's first day on a new job is fraught with difficult patients and situations as she assesses and interacts with those who would use her services and the medical systems and personnel that support them. However, matters are about to go from bad to worse when her first day on the job takes on an ominous tinge of future disaster. And the fact that she's only signed on for a 4-week stint in her temporary position doesn't belay the fact that she's about to delve into some hospital secrets that set this facility apart from any she's experienced in the past.
Corruption in the O.R. is the first book in Dr. Ebel's 'Outlander Physician' series, and is highly recommended for medical mystery and thriller fans who will find it just as riveting as not only Dr. Ebel's past medical novels, but any Robin Cook thriller.
The first thing to note is that Dr. Ebel takes the time to capture the political and social atmosphere of the O.R. and its personnel's interactions through the experiences of the feisty newcomer: "Viktoria immediately regretted speaking her private thoughts aloud. It was not her style to chastise the few less diligent anesthesia care providers. Dr. Berry gasped. “I harbor a love-hate relationship with anesthesia personnel and you just confirmed my thoughts about their diversions at the head of the table. And just like you were out of line, my love-hate comment can stay in this room.” He pointed his bird-like nose at the tech and then the RN. They both looked the other way like they didn’t hear a thing."
Viktoria loves her career choice, but looks forward to a change. Masonville General Hospital and its surrounding Long Island culture isn't what she'd aimed for. As she finds an abused, abandoned dog and begins to get a better sense of O.R. interactions, she begins to sense that something is wrong. When a search of a doctor's office's reference library for information about a patient's rare form of epilepsy leads to an unusual discovery, she begins to realize the dangers underlying this hospital's interactions and secrets.
Dr. Ebel takes the time to build her story carefully, from Viktoria's Icelandic roots and exotic presence as part of a temporary support staff to her slow realization that something is wrong. Readers anticipating the nonstop action of a Cook thriller's cliffhangers may find the pace of Corruption in the O.R. slower, but the time taken to build characters, motives, and social and political insights results in a wealth of rich description and detail which ultimately elevates this story above many other medical mysteries.
As relationships are explored between physicians, medical personnel, and patients, readers are treated to realistic and insightful scenarios that juxtapose Viktoria's medical techniques and O.R. experiences with issues ranging from illicit dealings and substance abuse to hidden motives.
As the seemingly disparate threads of her new dog and the hospital's processes begin to come together, readers who enjoy well-developed medical mysteries will find the story excels in subplots and connections that reveal pleasing surprises.
The result is a medical mystery that tempers its thriller component with a fine attention to building detail, atmosphere, and the character of a temp worker who stumbles into more than she'd expected from her new assignment.
These touches make Corruption in the O.R. an excellent story that delves into moral and ethical conundrums and the choices of a young woman whose job and life are changed by her new assignment: a read designed to keep readers thinking long after its well-done conclusion.
Corruption in the O.R.
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Patricia V. Davis
HD Media Press
Hardcover Special Edition: 978-1-7320649-1-1 $34.95
Trade Paper: 978-1-7320649-6-6 $15.95
Kindle: 978-1-7320649-7-3 $5.99
Demons, Well-Seasoned is the third and last book in the Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy which began with Cooking for Ghosts, and contains the same momentum and formula for success as its predecessors. While newcomers to the series could conceivably enter into this story without prior knowledge of the other books, it is highly recommended that these tales be absorbed in chronological order because the background events enhance and complete this final book's strength and the series as a whole.
It should be noted that, like its predecessors, Demons, Well-Seasoned stands apart from mystery, novel, or strict literary genre definitions. It and its fellow series titles are in a category of their own, making them a delightful recommendation for readers seeking something different.
Demons, Well-Seasoned incorporates mystery and problem-solving, but also adds a dash of spice. The prologue introduces an era just before Hitler has just been made the ruler of Germany, when Queen Mary of Teck christens her ship of the same name, and where a baby born in Louisiana faces an uncertain future without her mother.
Now fast forward (in the first chapter) to 2020, some hours before a predicted apocalypse, when kindergartener Alana Miceli falls into a trance for the first time. The Queen Mary is docked some thirty miles from her, but in her mind's eye it's right there—and it feels scary and out of place in her schoolyard setting.
Perhaps this is because, in her vision, the ship seems to be bleeding, and also because she's wrenched out of her familiar school and into the ship's Secret Spice Café (her grandmother's restaurant), which now seems gloomy and threatening rather than the cheerful place she remembers. There is also the presence of the mysterious Marisol, whom her father says was a hero.
As the literal spirits of the Queen Mary draw connections between past and present events and season them with new possibilities, readers are treated to a compelling story that is especially powerful when considered in light of the prior books in the trilogy.
Historical events provide a realistic backdrop. They have been well-researched and come to life as Patricia V. Davis lends the same attention to detail that made her other books so powerful, expanding the story into spiritual realms in unexpected, satisfyingly persuasive ways.
Fabrications made in the interest of creating a more intriguing story are juxtaposed by well-researched facts that lend authenticity to the Queen Mary environment and characters, many of which are based on actual places and people.
It should also be noted that characters from prior books (such as Avi, who made only a cameo appearance in Book II, but becomes a primary figurehead for good causes) are expanded upon, here. Thus further strengthens the contention that the biggest fans of Demons, Well-Seasoned will be prior readers who will find this concluding volume satisfying, complex, and strongly rooted in prior events.
To call Demons, Well-Seasoned a work of mystery, romance, historical fiction or intrigue would be to do it an injustice. It's all these things and more: quite simply, a lovely literary romp through time, place, and interconnected lives and spirits that draws in readers and proves riveting to the end.
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Ottawa Press and Publishing
Paperback: 978-1-988437-28-6 $14.99
Epub: 978-1-988437-30-9 $ 2.99
MOBI: 978-1-988437-29-3 $ 2.99
Canadian Mountie Sergeant Winston Windflower faces not one but three mysteries in Fire, Fog and Water, a dilemma that tests his normal good nature as much as the weather and his new boss (both have become challenging).
Grand Bank may seem a relatively tranquil outpost for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but it appears that fire and homicide have come to town in a big way and these pressures lead him to fight with his beloved wife, yell at his co-workers, and turn to his Uncle Herb for wisdom.
Sgt. Windflower's dilemmas, which begin at home and blossom into everything he touches at work, are one of the strong driving points of a story that rests firmly on psychological inspection and self-examination: "It’s like I’ve lost my voice. I don’t even know who I am anymore. I’ve turned into a husband and a father and a Mountie. But who am I, really? I feel overworked and under-appreciated.”
These revelations and the growing discord on both the home and business front create a backdrop of angst and struggle that is heightened by a puzzling, challenging investigative process. Windflower's self-doubt and questions keep his probe on a very human level ("He thought about what he knew, which was a little, and what he didn’t, which unfortunately was a lot."), and when his integrity is called into question, he finds himself defending more than his uncommon responses to work and home situations ("Windflower spent the next 20 minutes running through his relationship with Raymond and detailing as many incidents as he could remember. “I felt undermined and disrespected,” said Windflower as he started to wrap up.").
Most murder mysteries create a cat-and-mouse interplay between perp and investigator, but the fact that Sgt. Windflower is also probing his own motives, reactions, and life adds an extra dimension of interest to the story that makes for rich and absorbing reading indeed.
From fires to drug operations, co-worker struggles and even attacks, and Windflower's confrontation with the results of pride and difficult decisions that stem from it, readers receive a solid backdrop of Newfoundland, a small town's struggle with a series of challenging events, and a loyal, determined cop's difficult choices.
Set these topics against the sizzle of steaks on the grill and interpersonal relationships on and off the job for a mystery that probes more than criminal intentions, involving readers in Sgt. Windflower's ultimate quest for personal satisfaction and happiness. Readers seeking a fine story steeped in psychological inspection will relish both the character of Mountie Windflower and his ability to navigate the murky waters of self, community, and home.
Fire, Fog and Water
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I Eat Men
ASIN: B07VBPFPYB $24.47
The scenario is familiar for a murder mystery: as
snow isolates the New
Hampshire countryside, a group of seven gather to celebrate a
forthcoming wedding, only to find that the past catches up to them and
leads to a grisly murder.
Podcast reporter Tyler, who found Alex's body before he was officially declared dead, has just an inkling of the past connections within this group that could have led to such a disaster, but he's determined to use his investigative skills to probe deeper. After all, his podcast Crime and Question has solved such mysteries in the past.
As tension ramps up and matters unfold in a classic Agatha Christie-style approach, Tyler at first isn't sure what there is to investigate and what there isn't. As he probes the lives of the rich, their relationships, and their entwined interests and pasts, a different kind of mystery evolves.
Under a different hand, I Eat Men Like Air could have become a predictable, staid Christie-like story of intrigue, but Alice Berman takes the time to explore the relationships between not just Alex Sable but Maxie, Lulu, Freddie, and the others, winding these stories into a compelling probe of all bridal party members and their friendships.
The dual timelines and changing focuses on different members is well done and easy to understand, but especially notable is Alice Berman's evocative descriptions of the characters' perceptions of their lives: "He walked into the building he didn’t like and took the elevator up to the apartment he hadn’t picked. She was awake, scrolling through Instagram in long john pajamas that it was too warm for. The lights were very bright, very bright and very white in the living room full of shiny things. She didn’t say anything and he didn’t say anything and for a moment, while he stood there with the door open and her pretending she hadn’t noticed him come in, he had the urge to walk right back out of it and keep walking and walking and walking until he was completely gone. Why hadn’t modern life created an application for an easy out from the life you didn’t like? An automatic service that completed your break up and found you a new apartment and quit your job and sent you listings of new positions, that changed your name and your phone number and your email so no one from your past could ever find you again, that fed you the potent drugs of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and let you rise from the ashes of the disaster you’d stumbled into, and begin again."
These reflective moments, peppered throughout, enhance the psychological interplays between characters and spice the events, narrated from different angles, which led up to a disaster affecting all.
Loss and love, wedding promises nearly broken by tragedy before they even begin, and little cruelties and love assume different forms both before and after the event, creating a multifaceted, absorbing read that contrasts different lives and values.
I Eat Men Like Air's ability to grasp and twist the same event from different perspectives results in a gripping story of invisible justice, changing love, and a revealing mystery surrounding not only what really happened, but why.
Murder mystery fans will find it astute, compellingly complex, powerful in its psychological depictions, and hard to put down.
I Eat Men Like Air
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Bruce M. Perrin
Mind Sleuth Publications
978-1-7320835-2-3 (paperback) $10.99
eBook Amazon ASIN: B07XQHRRS9 $ 3.99
Mind in Chains is the third book in The Mind Sleuth series. This installment revolves around terrorists and medical politics that affect health access for all (versus only for a few).
The efforts of Dr. James Conroy, Jr., who leads a movement to improve medical access in America, directly oppose those of the Crusaders for Common Sense, who maintain that medicine is dominated by self-interest and edging too close to impinging on God's judgment.
As violence increases and Sam “Doc” Price, Nicole Veles, and FBI agent Rebecca Marte face the Crusaders in a series of escalating confrontations, readers receive a medical thriller that takes place over one month in May where everything changes.
The story begins seven years earlier, when a baby goes missing from a hospital. There are no clues, and Martha Wilson, who was in charge of the newborn, feels that she has failed in her duty.
Fast forward to May 3rd, when Sam and biomedical engineer Nicole announce wedding news to the family. Only a few days later, Reverend Micah Eastin leads his flock in a dangerous direction as he maintains they are "surrounded by evil" and outlines a threat not just from opioid addition, but the medical community he views as inherently greedy and evil: "Is change in this epidemic before us, you may ask? I say, it is not. Nothing will change because despite all the evidence—the addiction, the betrayals, the deaths—the men of medicine will not allow it. They continue to foist their false beliefs upon us. In fact, if the group assembled in this house of worship represents the norm for our state, we will be told over 215 times in the coming year, ‘here, take this drug, it’ll fix everything.’ And under their breath, the men of medicine will whisper, ‘and it will make you its slave.’ Two hundred and fifteen times! That’s the number of prescriptions for opioids the 300 of us could expect if we represent the state’s norm. Thankfully, we’re not average.”
As the Crusaders become synonymous with serial killers and domestic terrorism, medical community and American values both fall under siege in a manner that challenges everyone, from religious circles and FBI investigators to a couple in love. As their relationship changes based on threats and new pursuits, Bruce M. Perrin creates an absorbing interplay between social issues and struggles and the couple's changed focus: "My throat tightened as I realized the possible implications of her question. “Have I been ignoring you?” “Oh, no,” Nicole replied, sitting forward to look back at me. “You’ve been a bit preoccupied, but I understand that entirely. And even in the midst of everything that’s been happening, you’ve been very sweet, letting me crash at your place on Thursday. And now, staying here. Having you around has really helped get things back to normal. Better than normal actually. Thanks, Sam.”
The best medical thrillers juxtapose the personal and the political, crafting conundrums that affect both. Mind in Chains moves deftly between church matters and perceptions, misconceptions about technology fostered by the Council for the Right and other influencers, and interplays between the medical community, believers, individuals with other motivations, and Sam and Nicole.
As Mind in Chains examines different beliefs and motivations, readers are treated to a fast-paced thriller that grows intrigue, crafts delusions, and moves back into the introduction's events with new perceptions of its significance. The premise which evolves is riveting, original, and thought-provoking.
Readers seeking a well-developed medical thriller that injects a substantial dose of moral, ethical, and social considerations into its story, tempering all with strong psychological growth in its characters, will find Mind in Chains just the ticket. It's a multifaceted, absorbing read that lingers in the mind long after the final revelation which examines issues of justice and humanity, as it crafts a growing story of horror.
Mind in Chains
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978-1-988025-43-8 $0.99 Kindle
Odell's Fall is a story set against the background of racism in modern day Alabama, involving love, jealousy and deceit, culminating in a murder in a rich lawyer's apartment. But who did it?
Odell Moore leads his diverse team of hardworking lawyers in midtown Manhattan, based on trust. His moves come carefully calculated. He is the master of legally preying on adversaries; but in the game of romance, politics, and dangerous associations, who is the cat and who is the mouse? In order to have Dee, the woman of his dreams, Odell, a successful African American, must break the ethical and social rules still governing southern life in order to have her. He has risen from a troubled past to become a leader. Can he and his new bride make a life in a big city with the past still haunting his choices?
This question, asked early on in the story, becomes one of its central pivot points as Odell faces challenges and changes that redirect the course of his career and life.
Readers anticipating a staid mystery, courtroom drama, or legal office political discussion will quickly discover that the tone, setting, and most of all, the ethical conundrums presented in Odell's Fall make it a little bit of all the above, but none of these, exclusively.
Dee's father, a racist Alabama senator, who opposes the marriage, joins forces with Odells's protege, Jackson Sherman, to unsettle this marriage and change its course, and the entwining of political ambitions, wealth, devious plotting and murder create a complex, absorbing read that relies on no familiar genre atmosphere, but challenges its readers with delightful twists and thought-provoking confrontations.
As Odell's Fall unfolds, Odell is revealed to be a strategist, perfectionist, and clever man whose remorse changes everything in his life.
Revelations are presented in chapters which capture almost moment-by-moment changes as Odell traverses an uncertain course into disaster, faces an internal rational response system which hits the wall over Dee's fate, and questions his own role in what really happened. Between his lack of memory, an unbelievable story and premise, and losing battles of credibility among his colleagues and mother-in-law, Odell faces not just a personal and professional downfall, but one of the biggest puzzles of his life.
From political deals to corporate takeovers, to detective investigations, clues about motivations and entwined lives, and the history of Odell's reactions to adversity ("He hesitated, then heard the heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. He took off to his room and ran to his closet. The safe room. The only room in the house where life made any sense. He pushed his back up against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest. Then he opened the box. He didn’t need any light to feel around for the Union general. His favourite tin soldier. He reached in and pulled out a couple of lower rank Confederate soldiers. After a minute or two his eyes adjusted. In short order the entire battlefield was set. He knew what was about to happen because he controlled the outcome. Odell felt a growing sense of calm."), Odell's Fall does more than play cat-and-mouse games with the protagonist's psyche: it translates these matches into challenges for readers pulled into the complex interactions and motives of everyone around Odell.
Odell's Fall covers romance, partnerships, lives lost and won, the legacy of Odell's heritage and its influences, and the mystery surrounding his actions with a deft attention to detail.
Under another hand, these multifaceted subplots might have proved confusing; but Norman Bacal excels in seamlessly entwining different perspectives, motivations, and personal, political and legal affairs. His ability to capture the personal and professional conundrums of a man with a secret to hide not only from the world, but from himself, makes for a riveting production from beginning to end: a story that will leave readers thinking long after the final revelations come to light.
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Hilliard & Harris
Ready for the People is a Hank Fisher mystery that continues the private detective's career's rocky changes as, reeling from his past challenges, he uses his legal prowess to investigate white collar crimes. He teams up with a former police officer who has also struggled with his career due to some poor choices, but this doesn't mean that success will follow either man.
Their efforts flounder and place Hank in the precarious position of applying for a loan to keep his practice afloat. It's a move that leads to bigger, even more dangerous choices as Hank finds himself accepting an offer that leads him from investigating white collar issues to probing a terrorist network's operations.
Hank Fisher isn't your ordinary aspiring legal beagle. He has a checkered past, and those who are offering him this new challenge well know it: "Put someone else on trial so I wouldn’t be put on trial? I started to stand but Aaron put a hand over mine. He said, “Of course we’d have to make sure his bar status is still active.” I sat back down and gave Aaron a look of suppressed alarm. They were talking about me actually prosecuting someone for a capital offense. Me, the guy who changes jobs every few years, bends the law for a living and takes meds for fainting spells. My bar status was the least of my concerns."
But it's an offer Hank just can't refuse, and his venture into uncharted waters leads him to legal and political investigations that test him in new ways.
Mike Langan's prior background as a Washington, D.C. litigator lends authenticity and authority to his fast-paced legal story of Hank's downfall, rise, and challenges. Each step, choice, and consideration is backed by realistic scenarios and encounters that contrast career challenges with conundrums affecting Hank's personal life: "What was I doing? I was about to destroy the guy. I didn’t have a choice. Forget about bankruptcy. Forget about prison. I would be accused of killing Amelia’s step-uncle, my own client."
It should be noted that while this story is steeped in legal and political dilemmas, it also holds a literary accent that is refreshingly unexpected in a legal mystery: "I walked to the end of a pier and stared out onto Lake Erie. The sky was clear, the moon and stars shining. Waves emerged from the darkness and crashed into the shore beneath me. I closed my eyes and tried to picture myself surrounded by water, an island in a peaceful ocean. But all I could hear were pages of federal regulations falling around me, rising up to bury me. For the first time I felt I really understood the last line of a short story by James Joyce that I used to teach, about a young woman who was too afraid to leave home—All the seas of the world tumbled upon her heart."
Langan excels not only in crafting a sense of purpose, but a sense of place, winding Hank's career and personal dilemmas into an atmospheric production that is compellingly realistic and which blends moments of comic relief and observation with high-octane action and confrontation.
These elements keep the story on track, fast-paced but realistic, and thoroughly absorbing not just for prior fans of Hank Fisher, but newcomers.
The result is a legal mystery that nicely blends a struggling protagonist's life with a touch of romance and ambition to keep readers guessing about many outcomes, both personal and professional, right up to the end, which highlights the ultimate consequences of Hank's choices.
Ready for the People
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Paper: 978-1-9999817-2-3 $15.99
e-book: 978-1-9999817-3-0 $ 2.99
Imagine an eccentric scientist who fancies becoming a writer, but discovers that the murder mystery he is crafting, still in manuscript format, is actually mirroring real-world events.
Consider the schizoid personality's potential for turning into a serial murderer. Then add a bizarre chemical signature that the murderer employs to brand his victims, a cat, and a girlfriend into the mix to get a sense of this multifaceted story that blends romance with a medical murder mystery.
The best murder mysteries do more than tell a story. They get into the mind of the perp and others to impart a "you are there" feel to the events, creating a deeper understanding than is typically gained from observing a killer's modus operandi. Schizoid achieves this atmosphere as it probes the killer's fantasies, nightmares, life history and influences, and relationships.
From crystal chemistry to strings pulled and favors called in to make a potentially career-busting psychological diagnosis go away, Schizoid provides the kind of gripping tension that keeps readers on their toes and involved.
Johan Fundin is at his best when capturing small, succinct moments of observation and insight that connect different worlds: "You could use the telescope for other purposes than studies of the sky. He mounted the equipment. The telescope caught images from Rebecka’s bedroom. From one world to another. From Saturn’s rings to Sara’s eyelashes. It took only a fraction of a second to shift the telescope’s angle of incidence. Via the telescopic eye, multiple worlds were in continuous juxtaposition with one another."
Readers may not expect references to nanotechnology to evolve, nor Kenneth's dubious position as either a killer or an innocent schizoid caught up in a nefarious plot. Fundin weaves in many elements that make his story's outcome delightfully elusive.
Schizoid is a thriller worthy of high praise: a medical mystery that combines psychology, science, and the quirks of interpersonal relationships with an edge that keeps readers guessing to the end, as a writer's dreams become his worst nightmare.
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The Tao of
Ebook: 978-1-944815-10-3 $4.99
The Tao of the Viper is the second book in the Dr. Kate Pomeroy mystery series and is set some time after the events of the first book, from which Kate is still struggling to recover.
She still dreams of the dead and has nightmares, but thinks her life is finally getting back on track until an old man appears to introduce new threats into her half-stabilized world. As secrets are exposed and new revelations come to light, Kate discovers she's in a pivotal role that requires her to take charge of not only her trauma over the deaths of her father and relatives at Stormview and her ongoing conflicted emotions, but her ongoing responsibility to Steve, Jeremy, and other island community members.
Medical mysteries, unnatural threats, a diary filled with superstitions that may not be all myths, and the involvements of Russian mafia and other forces make for a riveting mystery that goes beyond a medical thriller to delve into political, paranormal, and romantic influences on events.
Unlike many mystery genre reads, Linda Watkins cultivates a unique voice and an ability to weave disparate themes into her story of a doctor recovering from her own life's blows.
Contrasts between character traits and underlying motivations and influences are well done, while Watkins injects fine, thought-provoking moments into Kate's discoveries that continually challenge reader anticipation and presumptions: "I felt confused. How could that evil old man have made a home like that? It didn’t make sense. But, then, what did I expect? A dark, dreary old house, full of cobwebs, roaches, and bats? No, Morrison thought he was privileged and liked the better things in life. It made sense that his home would reflect that taste."
This device allows readers to not only follow the plot, but the winding and ever-changing reactions, growth, and insights which Kate hones as she moves through her world and looks at bigger goals than lasting recovery.
Perhaps this mystery is just what Kate needs. Or, it could be the straw that broke the camel's back. Either way, The Tao of the Viper a satisfying series of questions, conundrums, and revelations that keep mystery readers, prior fans, and newcomers alike involved in not only Kate's investigations, but the changing course of her life.
It's a top pick for mystery readers who look for more than the usual whodunit. And, it should be cautioned that this story ends in a cliffhanger. By the time it does, readers will be thoroughly hooked. And that's not a bad thing.
The Tao of the Viper
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Calumet Editions, 2019
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1950743100 $16.99
Kindle: ASIN: B07WSXR5PM $2.99
Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2kkmxfc
Novel website: www.tinyurl.com/toxicspirits
It's rare to see an international thriller that captures the intricacies of a complex story so succinctly. Toxic Spirits achieves this and more, adding dashes of humor, social inspection, and insights into multiculturalism. These keep readers engaged throughout this fascinating story of a retired, widowed African-American intelligence analyst's romp across Thailand. The novel also offers thrilling back-stories set in the US and India.
Benton Sims did not come to Thailand for romance or intrigue. But his intelligence background and nose for trouble is awakened when he's first enchanted by a beautiful bar singer from a hill tribe, then dismayed by her abrupt disappearance. As his investigations uncover secret drug trials and a genetically engineered drug that could change the world, his own transformation begins on more than one level.
Multicultural insights are woven into the plot so deftly that these casual injections become part of the intrigue: "He remembered then what Little John had told him. One should never make a Thai lose face. Especially a woman. She was now muttering under her breath as her fingers clenched the knife."
Benton is still recovering from the death of Sylvia and the guilt he harbors over his choices: "Let me be me. He hadn’t, had he? He had screwed up that last segment of her life, the part when he should have made everything as beautiful as she wanted so she could cry and rage and tear things up and go blazing like a meteor into the night." He never expected to fall in love again. Now he has new choices to make, and their impact will go far beyond individual lives.
Mani's attention to detail is nicely done, and his descriptions are just complex enough to intrigue and add atmosphere while contributing to the story's fast pace. It should be cautioned that graphic descriptions of torture are part of the story line, and not for the faint-hearted. As hate, shame, and revenge evolve into a tale of hacking and intrigue, readers are drawn into Benton's investigations and dilemmas against the backdrop of a country where anything can happen.
Moody and atmospheric, compellingly swift and surprising, and steeped in intrigue and Thai culture, Toxic Spirits is an engrossing read on many levels, juxtaposing personal conundrums with issues of greater good and high-tech experiments conducted in the jungles of another world. It's a puzzle piece with a surprise bang to its ending that will not only keep readers on their toes, but leaves the door open for another book even as it deftly concludes a powerful, stand-alone story.
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After Olympus blends magical realism and science in a hard-hitting, fast-paced story representing a genre blender of humor, fantasy, philosophy, mythology, and more. Perhaps this is why Santiago Xaman chooses to label his production 'quasi-fiction', because its wide-ranging scenarios incorporate so many elements of fiction, nonfiction, and sci-fi that it fits into no particular box.
With so many formula genre reads these days, it's satisfying to see an unexpected, category-defying story like After Olympus. Original themes and approaches are both unique and rare in the book world. One reason is the challenge of branding, marketing and filing such a creation.
How do you define and describe a book with so many facets? Xaman opens by defining his own creation, 'quasi-fiction': "1. A narrative combining fictional characters with published facts of minor historical significance. 2. The form of realism evoked by quasi-fictional content."
But this definition is only the tip of the iceberg, because After Olympus touches upon so many reading nerves that it's actually impossible to adequately describe. Mystery? There's plenty of intrigue in the plot, as Ephraim Martz faces death on a stormy Santa Cruz mountain road before the story segues into Aliya Hathaway's prologue, in which she reviews a lost and found manuscript by Santiago Xaman which comes with a faded photo of the reader's mother, and an odd puzzle.
The crux of the story opens in 1978, when Xaman confronts evidence of Olympus' fall to earth in the remote mountains, receives a rare visit from strangers who have observed a falling star and who are investigating, and faces many possibilities, including the crash of a Soviet craft in his own backyard (that, or aliens).
From magicians and prophecies to the evolving anguish of life, Xaman employs poetic and metaphorical descriptions that are compellingly vivid: "There’s a mystery that binds us in this quiet space via some invisible umbilical cord — in spite of Luca, in spite of my curse, in spite of my ever-present mission to steal the magicians’ wings; yes, in spite of everything, there’s a constant rebalancing of expectations in our mixing of sweat. That is the yin-yang of our lives: she anchors on the very thing that drives me like a rhinoceros through the wild. That is the seduction of our common existence. I dream sometimes of a child, a daughter perhaps, who might capture this splendid dance of opposites in her spirit. But it is only a dream."
By now it should be more than evident that Xaman's After Olympus isn't some genre-bending fluff adventure, but a literary achievement that is compelling not just for its strong plot and characterization (not to mention its unique twists and turns), but for its literary prowess. Whether it's futuristic designer drugs to alleviate generational inheritances of medical conditions or the financial frustrations of a would-be miracle drug inventor ("For Holmes, imagining new molecules with new functions was an exquisite delight. He enjoyed building function into a minimal sequence of amino acids that would be cheap to make, sit on a shelf for years without spoiling, be clever enough to penetrate, say, the skin, enter a nearby nerve, travel to (say) the nucleus accumbens in the brain, and trigger such traits as boldness. Or go somewhere else and reverse pain signals, depression, or apathy. He was certain that some of the future of medicine was his to invent. The insane part was figuring out how to do it on just a few hundred dollars a month."), After Olympus traverses pitfalls, conundrums, miracles and madness with a relentless march through irony, possibility, and the magic and reality of transformational processes.
Is this a manuscript of imagination or new possibilities? Does it arrive at an end, or promise a new beginning?
The real pleasure in After Olympus lies in its ability to inject magic into realism. Readers seeking a wide-ranging, original, creatively compelling read will find this literary work presses all the buttons of a solidly engrossing, superior masterpiece.
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Greenleaf Book Group Press
Print: 978-1-62634-655-0 $23.95
In many ways, Paddy Moran is approaching the end of his best game at age thirty-six, as an ex-cop. In other ways, in The Best People: A Tale of Trials and Errors, he is posed at the beginning of new opportunities as a new Houston divorce attorney who finds himself quickly rising in his new career after some public acclaim elevates his name and career. He sees himself not just as one of the good people, but one of the best.
The time seems ripe for change to enter into his world in the form of the beautiful but flawed Pilar Galt, a single mother from the barrios who struggles in a different way.
In many ways, Paddy has gotten a late start while Pilar has gotten the short end of the stick. As their lives collide and entwine against the bigger picture of corporate corruption and dirty politics, they find that what looks like disparate, very different purposes and experiences actually dovetail in an unusual manner.
As court proceedings and litigation efforts, Paddy's big day in court, and Pilar's efforts to redeem herself coalesce, readers receive a story peppered by Paddy's temper and sometimes-crude reactions to crime and the consequences of running up against the Internal Revenue Service.
When disaster strikes and Paddy and his partner Will face a terrible dilemma that threatens to repeat destructive patterns of the past, it's Pilar who, despite her own desperation, may be the one to save them all.
From an aggressive divorce push and its political impact to legal obstacles to success, The Best People pushes the buttons of legal process and personal lives in a way that will delight fans of courtroom procedurals.
Money, power, and corruption currents in a smaller city are captured in an engrossing story contrasting the elite and downtrodden of Houston, creating a milieu that promises either riches and redemption or the biggest downfall in Paddy's life.
The fine line Paddy walks between these promises and pitfalls will keep readers thoroughly engrossed and guessing about Pilar and Patty's future and the consequences of their choices, right up to the end.
The Best People
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Pete KJ, Publisher
ISBN: 9781541102620 $12.95
ASIN: B07XJZ8F2L $ 2.99
Author website: https://www.petekj.com/WP2/
Order link: https://www.amazon.com/Black-Volta-Pete-KJ-ebook/dp/B07XJZ8F2L/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=pete+kj&qid=1570229125&sr=8-2
Carlos Mario committed many crimes as a young man, but now it's time for him to go back to Ghana and make amends.
Liz left Ghana to create a very different, successful life; but now finds herself supporting her poverty-stricken family back home. She has her own new family in America, but cheap fares to Ghana prompt a long journey in hopes that her presence will make a difference in her needy siblings and mothers' lives, which are always in economic crisis.
Each feels compelled to return to Africa, and in Black Volta, both find that going backwards to revisit something familiar is an effort tainted by the circumstances that birthed their new lives.
Liz and Carlos face difficult decisions in Ghana, wondering if its pull will let them leave Africa unchanged. The difference between them? Carlos is actually fine with the way things are. And Liz needs her family to change if she's to ever find lasting peace. Their destinies entwine as the Black Volta River becomes a backdrop for further confrontations and change (although Ghana is still a familiar home, in many ways).
One notable feature of Black Volta is its ability to add insights that contrast with traditional views of African culture and ways of navigating the country. This thought-provoking conclusion to Liz's attempt to get around a rule that could thwart her journey before it begins is one example of a very different way of viewing these third world processes: "Along with all the insidious and damaging drawbacks, the Ghanaian system of corruption had a silver lining. It gave a person an option in a situation such as this. What if it had been the other way around, and she was trying to enter the United States without valid documentation? She looked with gratitude at the Port Health woman’s face, and watched it brighten."
As she travels near her father's village where her life began and unearths memories of the past, Liz discovers that her present and future are not only tied to it, but will be changed by current decisions made in Ghana.
Bound for Wa and determined to see the country, enjoy his journey, and keep his memories and concerns repressed, Carlos faces an uncanny reunion with a town at once familiar and much-changed. He also encounters stranger Liz, who feels the same about her Ghana roots and new experiences.
As Carlos muses about the possibilities of elusive love ("What about love? Carlos Mario asked himself a few days later, as he sat in his room at the Konatey Lodge. He wondered if true love existed in this Wa society, just like he wondered if it existed anywhere else in the world. No matter where he went, everything always seemed to be based on some type of exchange. As for love, he sensed the people of Wa probably strove for it, or for their concept of it anyway, just like people did in Puerto Rico including himself. Puerto Ricans seemed to be yearning for love. But at the same time, they treated it like it was something superfluous. Other things were always more important: success, money, power, prestige. These were everyone’s daily priorities. Despite being starved for love, they treated it like it was a luxury, not a necessity."), he compares his revised expectations of life between his former 19-year-old self to his present-day perspective twenty-six years later.
As their Ghana experiences change both their lives, readers receive a warm, vibrant story steeped in African culture and society—one which lingers in the mind long after the reading. Liz's real journey is just beginning. And Carlos is about to embark on the greatest transformation of all.
Readers interested in literary psychological explorations of African cultural roots will find Black Volta as compelling for its social inspections and atmospheric descriptions of the country as it is an absorbing story of two very different individuals who dare to go backwards in time; there to rediscover their roots and wings.
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Neem Tree Press
978-1-911107-08-8 (hardback) $22.45
978-1-911107-09-5 (paperback) $12.99
978-1-911107-16-3 (e-book) $ 9.99
Distant Signs opens in an unnamed city in East Germany in the mid-1960s, when two students, Hans, a villager, and Margret, a girl from the city, meet and marry despite their different backgrounds. Against the backdrop of the rise and fall of the East German state and the exposure of family secrets, the couple forges new lives for themselves and faces a set of circumstances that nobody could have predicted.
Readers of novels set in modern Germany will find that, more so than most, Distant Signs offers an astute and lyrical examination of changing personal relationships and values affected by political and social strife.
This story is also presented on a multigenerational level, which means that the resounding impact of many choices affect not just the present-day, but future generations who move ever more distantly from their roots.
One reason why the atmosphere and events in Distant Signs seems so real is that Anne Richter's portrait of family life behind the Iron Curtain is partially based on her personal and family experiences. She was 16 years old at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and her memories combine with considerable research to provide the background for a story that closely considers how family patterns evolve, change, and are transmitted.
This focus makes for more than a political investigative piece, incorporating observations not just of East Germany, but a changing Europe as a whole: "How the city must have changed! I mean Prague, with its wonderful lanes and bridges, its unique history. How well the people will now be faring in their warm apartments, in newly built, unostentatious buildings that perhaps look a little odd next to the houses from the turn of the century. But beauty is something we will think about as soon as no one needs to watch their pennies anymore."
Richter's ability to capture the sights, sounds, and effects of social and political changes as they reverberate throughout Germany and the world makes for a perceptive observational piece that is thought-provoking and revealing. Late in the novel, Hans, a man who has conformed with state socialism, reflects with ambivalence upon German reunification: "At the third stop, through the window Hans watched some petite women, barely older than him, one of whom was holding out her open shopping bag to the others. The women were bent over the bag in rapture. Hans pressed his worn briefcase tighter to his stomach. Here, on the other hand, was a clear correspondence: between the greed with which people now carried home their wares in oversized plastic bags, filled their apartments with them, discarded their old things, tried to forget; and the disconcerting call for a united Fatherland, which had first rung out two years ago in streets across the country and which had unsettled even Margret who, unlike him, came back at first from every pro-reform demonstration with a gleam of hope in her eyes."
The result is a hard-hitting examination that takes East German society and politics and places it squarely in the personal worlds of not only those who lived through the times, but generations to follow.
Anyone who would understand the East German experience and psyche will relish Distant Signs for its ability to pick up the pieces of a shattered nation and era and recreate them in all their complexity, as a legacy for future generations.
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Total Recall Press
978-1-59095-828-5 $6.93 Kindle/$14.89 Paper
Tara is leading an unhappy but safe life, stuck in a career and marriage she doesn't like, until her best friend vanishes. Finding Lisa is about having everything, losing something important, and re-evaluating life, love, and purpose as a result.
It stands out from other stories of disappearance and searching because of its focus on a variety of themes beyond the event itself. These include women's connections and friendships, the kinds of shared interactions that keep such connections alive, and underlying issues of spousal abuse, midlife changes, and new possibilities.
The first step to making meaningful changes is to confront evidence that one's values, perceptions, and patterns are no longer serving their purpose. As long as Lisa is part of her life, Tara isn't compelled to take this step or make these realizations; but Lisa's disappearance prompts a cascade of grief, self-examination, and determination in ways than one, and this in turn fosters new experiences and choices.
Set against the backdrop of Canadian culture, Finding Lisa follows Tara's journey as she learns to trust strangers, runs into danger and even possible romance, and navigates strange new worlds in which her usual responses need revision: "Alain had been sincere in his offer to locate Lisa. I was impressed but couldn't picture myself in a pool hall drinking with Alain. It seemed surreal, like I had walked through a portal into a parallel universe."
Her shortcomings and failures are reassessed ("Lisa had always wanted me to go with her to a meeting, but I’d never gotten around to it. Never made her addiction a priority in my life.") as her search leads to not only dead ends, but a passage of time that gives her the feeling that Lisa is being left behind as life moves forward without her: "The Steve Miller band was singing, "Time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future." I had a sense of motion. The car was moving forward, and with every traffic light I passed, I was moving farther away from Lisa and our routine evenings at the ByTowne Theatre. The rest of us were going ahead, and Lisa had been left behind. I wanted to go back, not just to last Thursday night, but to my university days, so I could live my life all over again."
As she faces questions about whether Lisa lost her sobriety and whether her boyfriend Ryan was involved, Tara confronts her own life decisions. Ultimately, Finding Lisa is about Tara finding herself, her place in the world, and her own willingness to accept pat answers and appearances that defy easy explanations.
The emotionally charged conclusion that takes an unexpected twist will delight readers who anticipated a very different ending from Tara's thought processes, making Finding Lisa a delightful study in surprises that holds the power to thoroughly engross right up to its stormy conclusion.
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The Hanging Doll
978-1086963137 $7.70 Paper/$2.99 Kindle
The Hanging Doll crafts a literary search for meaning steeped with atmosphere and opens with a first-person review of the progress of the 'silent generation' of war babies who lived through the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan. It comes from the pen of a fictional 75-year-old noir horror writer whose literary errors haunt his potential legacy, and who faces a slow death tempered only by the determination to craft a literary work of art inspired by best friend Fallon's experiences in Asia: a goal which sparks to life after Fallon's suicide.
The first thing to note is Robert Rubenstein's talent at weaving his character's first-person autobiographical survey with life-changing events around him. He creates a surreal and evocative set of descriptions that linger in the mind: "I was not ready in the now to accept his death. I thought I could live in the past, or at least join the dig of archeologists that roamed the grassy hillside for artifacts. Woodstock was more myth less mellow. A savage muddy landscape of rain and willing girls. Yeah, we saw Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and fixed our bayonets on the loudspeakers. We told time by the fence that led to the stage. But we were no hippie wildflowers from Frisco. The tie-dyed phony crystal maharishis or cupcake selling gray haired hippies were actually businessmen and women. Modern Woodstock was only about making a groovy buck."
The psychological insights of the relationship between these two are astute and thought-provoking: "Life was only a gateway to the monster god of death. Horror willed out. Our ego was not our strength but our weakness. His gave him no exit...If I had a succulent slice of brick oven pizza could I have stopped him then? If only for a moment to talk and change that trajectory that brought him to that end. Later, I realized that it was not the conversation that I could have had if I had been awake that night that mattered, but the conversations we already had that I might have changed what was, in hindsight, his inevitable behavior. But I didn’t pay enough attention. Only after, when it was too late, did I mull over his words—certain inflections—the grim silences—what he was trying to say between the walks, his love of plants, of dogs, of life in a thousand conversations."
The horror lies in the questions of what choices would have created different outcomes, in the juxtaposition of past and present angst, and in the protagonist's journey, which brings him into contact with Buddhist monks, atheists and worshippers, and the Asian 'dolls' who come along for this anguished writer's ride.
The mercurial presence of Hiroshima's events and their resounding impact on everything in the world winds through The Hanging Doll and lends a surreal vision to its juxtaposition between a generation's horrors and an aging man's reflections. Throughout it all, a potent hanging doll puppet offers power and an opportunity to develop a different voice and perspective.
Compelling, atmospheric, and revealing on both a personal and cultural level, The Hanging Doll is a powerful literary story of achievement, failure, life and death, and one man's ultimate search for redemption. Readers of literature, mystery, historical and cultural pieces, and philosophy alike will find The Hanging Doll comes packed with many intriguing twists and turns and memorable moments.
The Hanging Doll
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The Other Gloria
L A Villafane
978-0-9989496-7-3 $15.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle
Barnes and Noble: www.barnesandnoble.com/the-other-Gloria-l-a-Villafane/1132970639
Imagine coming to consciousness while driving a car down a dark, lonely road at night. The terrain is only vaguely familiar. The destination is unknown, the past a blur. A road sign reminds Gloria that she lives in Bakersfield and she senses that this drive is one she's often done; but a blinding headache obscures any details. All she knows is that she's in pain and driving on a road to nowhere.
Is this just a dream, or a living nightmare?
The opening paragraphs of The Other Gloria set the stage for the story of a wife's abuse and manipulation, conflicts between mothers and daughters, and the kinds of impossible choices that lead to disaster.
Various relationships fold into one another with the precision of origami. Each weaves a tale of tumultuous interactions, the emotional devastation of separation and violence, and the kinds of abuse that often remain secret even within close-knit families.
As Gloria escapes the dead ends of her life and begins to experience many hopeful 'firsts' (the first Christmas without her abusing husband; the first tentative friendship with another man), she revels in her own growth and the sense of freedom which comes from knowing that Charles can't reach her (at least, temporarily). Thus, she moves forward slowly in a relationship that could require her to open up fully for the first time since her escape. A justifiable fear lies at the heart of her reluctance to file for divorce and finally completely distance herself from the past in order to fully embrace this new connection.
If she overcomes her fear, will she pay for her courage with her life?
Villafane does a remarkable job of depicting not just Gloria's personality and experience, but the logic, reactions, and reasons behind her choices both with and after Charles.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Gloria's new beau faces his own conundrums about how he should react when he learns the reason why Gloria's been waffling about making the final move: "A large part of me wants to be your knight in shining armor, but I must admit, I am concerned. I can’t encourage you to file for divorce if it would be unsafe for you or Sarah. Obviously, I understand your fear.” After a moment, he said, “Honestly, I’m beginning to have strong feelings for you. Where do we go from here?” He asked, sounding confused."
It's this solid attention to psychological inspection (and, especially, the rationale behind decision-making processes) that makes The Other Gloria a standout in the world of fiction that explores the lives of abused women and how they confront their abusers and change their futures.
Readers looking for a memorable story that delves deeper into these conundrums will find The Other Gloria both engrossingly realistic and thought-provokingly astute.
The Other Gloria
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Panicles opens with a literal bang. Emerson Murnane has just had a car accident after some light drinking, calls driver and caretaker Mike for help, and wonders if this is the end of his goal of running for office. But Mike has connections, cleans up and hides the event, and Emerson is back on track with his political aspirations. Or, is he?
Two powerful families are changed during the course of Panicles. The Murnane family and the Wax family both experience the challenge of playing by the rules (or not), building a comfortable life for themselves and future generations, and dealing with high level political power plays that challenge their ideals and decisions.
Richard Robbins creates a compelling series of events where the juxtaposition of personal and political interests sparks conflict, but is careful to inject family dynamics and legal considerations into his saga of election processes and ethical decisions.
As readers move from Emerson's challenge and eventual fall to the processes, politics, and meaning of leading a privileged life with all of its underlying perks ("That’s one of the privileges of wealth: the ability to hide things."), they receive a story fueled not just by social and political aspirations, but the interrelationships of very different families and individuals.
Readers who enjoy novels steeped in a sense of purpose and psychological insight and inspection will relish this story because it doesn't take the easy way out by following predictable social climbs, but includes plenty of serious inspection of purpose and personal responsibility as the characters hone their goals and test their values against life's ups and downs.
Fame, fortune, and achievement leave each family in the story considering the ultimate impact, costs, and effects of wealth and power, and their considerations of these challenges and the extent of their duty to self and country create involving scenarios and revelations that make for a fast-paced, purposeful, well-written production.
Novel readers who like their social and political insights steeped in psychological revelation will relish Panicles, which places history-changing events firmly in the realm of generational aspirations, experiences, influences, and choices.
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The Poker Players
Edward A. Dreyfus
Enchanted Villa Press
978-1080589647 $14.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle
A group of men in their 70s gathers weekly for their beloved poker game in The Poker Players, but their game is just that: an emotions-barred affair that involves beer, gambling, and little more, until George's divorce is revealed. It's an event six months in the making that he's been unable to talk about to the men he's known for thirty years.
This revelation shakes the group and leads each player to confront his own emotional failings and lack of connections to men, crafting story that quickly evolves from poker to the game of hiding one's true persona and life events even from those who are supposedly friends.
In many ways, The Poker Players feels like a throwback to the 1970s, when men's groups and discussions of men's consciousness-raising became part of a perfect storm of demand by women for men to be more emotionally engaged. However, in this story, women are only peripherally involved and it's the men who come to demand honesty and transparency from one another. This is a different approach that Edward A. Dreyfus employs with great precision and power to explore how a disparate group of friends both hold each other at emotional arm's length and learn how to dissolve the emotional barriers that create distance between them.
Each poker game and each chapter brings a new revelation. It turns out that each player holds a close emotional secret that shocks the group and further reinforces the fact that these men's interactions have been anything but close despite the decades of familiarity and a shared gaming interest.
As readers traverse these life changes and confessions, the poker players become more than gamers, finding themselves drawing closer in emotionally frightening ways that they never anticipated from a men's circle. Conversely, their discoveries about each other and their revised reactions to these revelations begin to spill into their personal lives.
As readers absorb this progression of events, they receive much information about self-discovery, intimacy, sharing, and men's emotional make-ups. It turns out that The Poker Players isn't about poker, but the larger challenge of forming meaningful relationships in life.
The main premise of the story revolves around revealing close-held secrets to achieve greater intimacy ("I’ll bet we all have secrets. More than one, I imagine. Things we’ve never told our wives or even our best friends.” “I’m sure that’s true for most of us,” said Dave. “As Richie said, the bigger issue is whether holding those secrets creates distance in our closest relationships.”). As the men begin to let go of shameful or life-altering experiences and share them with others, trust builds—and so do changes based on group input and revised moral and ethical goals.
Readers interested in psychological connections between men and the impact of honesty on all kinds of relationships and life choices will find The Poker Players a vivid, exciting exploration of what happens when risks are taken in safe environments and the Pandora's Box of intimacy is opened.
The Poker Players
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The Poor and the Haunted
Black Rose Writing
978-1-68433-364-6 $15.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle
Jimmy Lansford and his sister suffered abuse and trauma during their childhoods. It's a legacy that carries into his future even as a successful man, when purchasing his new home awakens dreams and threats he'd thought were long-buried.
The Poor and the Haunted builds its horror story from events of the past which meld with a supernatural force to return to life. This involves not just Jimmy but his prodigy, who have some important questions to ask: "Why,” Jessica asked, “do hauntings only happen to poor people?”
As this and other questions begin to affect the plush life Jimmy has created for his children, the hauntings begin to affect their lives in strange ways.
The first thing to note about this story is Dustin McKissen's strength in crafting atmospheric descriptions: "Jimmy thought of those storms, the way the sky darkened his father’s face, the burst vessels of his nose made redder by the weird shade of daylight that preceded the sound of tornado sirens." This sets the stage for further revelations that move between past trauma and present threat as Jimmy faces overwhelming memories and moments: "With tears leaking from one eye and his little girl’s head on his shoulder, Jimmy Lansford watched the story of a man whose life was forever haunted by one unexplainable, horrific event."
As the story progresses, the bond between siblings who confront impossible dangers in their lives, and the efforts of Jimmy to shield his little sister from these horrors, is explored in vivid scenes of confrontation and the violence that affects the family. Each member survives through a different way of coping, and each carries the scars forward.
Jimmy senses that something deadly travels with him, but his acknowledgement of this malevolent presence goes unspoken as he finds that nobody around him is capable of processing his degree of knowledge about the threat.
Once again, it's up to Jimmy to confront and protect. Only, this time, what are at stake are another family and a legacy of mental illness and addiction which may be only part of the bigger picture.
Readers expecting a typical story of ghosts and haunting will find The Poor and the Haunted takes forays into social issues, suicide, and the psychology of Jimmy's search for light and truth, a process which even includes a powerful out-of-body experience: "Jimmy floated up and up. Though he could not see any of it, he felt the storage unit, his home, his adopted city, his family, the hand towels and fresh organic soaps of his bathroom, his daily run, his beautiful carefully constructed storefront of ordinary disappear in the miles and then planets and then universes beneath him. Jimmy rose and rose and rose and rose until even a father with a rusty knife for an eye and an Oklahoma possum carcass for a heart became less than the speck of dust Carl Sagan spoke of. He floated out past the light of the last star, out past the edge of God’s creation where the only thing left to see are memories careening off the interior edges of your skull, a mad pinball game that requires no quarters and never ends."
As the story focuses on his brutal conflicts with both father and mother and his efforts to protect his young sister and identify the force that threatens them all, readers receive a story not just of ghosts, but of psychological growth and revelation that power a study in violence. Readers anticipating a traditional ghost story may be disappointed by these added dimensions, but those who look beyond the trappings of supernatural influence to consider the roots of struggle will find McKissen's story both thought-provoking and vivid. It's a pragmatic survey of PTSD, suicide, family legacies, the consequences of choices, and the raw wound of childhood trauma that Jimmy has kept a secret for far too long.
During the process of learning about the particular devil that has invaded Jimmy's life, readers receive a powerful story that's ultimately as much about love as it is about anguish. Real love and connections never end, even with distance, and so Jimmy and Kelly forge their own, different stories from the foundations of disaster.
All these components keep The Poor and the Haunted unexpected, unpredictable, and fast-paced. It's an emotional tear that grips the heart and proves difficult to put down, even for those who thought that the horror factor would come from a different direction.
The Poor and the Haunted
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Rude Cat, LLC
978-0-578-56245-2 $6.99 Kindle
The Raffle is a futuristic story in four parts and is set in 2027, when the New United States has survived a deadly biological, nuclear and electromagnetic pulse attack that has changed not only the landscape of California, but the politics of the nation.
In this world, The Raffle offers hope and challenge to M-V-16 Virus-stricken New Angelinos, who are segregated from the virus-free New United States. Their only hope for normalcy, if they become virus-free, is to hold a winning raffle ticket to rejoin this world and any loved ones they may have been separated from when disaster struck in 2016.
The price? A letter—nearly a forgotten art—written to any family living in the New United States. After a ten-year effort, Raffle contestant Ramsey Arami is finally at the point where he only needs to write this letter to contemplate how close he is to achieving his goal.
His letter to his family is a vital part of what explains this scenario, segregation, and its costs, because Ramsey was an eyewitness to the biological attack on Los Angeles. He paints these events in vivid detail that will prove especially satisfying to readers of EMP attacks and other end-of-world disaster scenarios.
The dilemma presented in the first pages (Ramsey's decades-long separation from the loved ones who flew to the East Coast shortly before everything changed) provides the glue that cements the story of not just survival and recovery efforts, as most dystopian novels emphasize, but an individual's personal stake in how society changes, afterwards.
His determination to head east to his family, even via bicycle, leads him straight into the other segment of the multifaceted terrorist attack, the virus: "M-V-16 was an emotional nuclear bomb. My guess now is that the terrorists studied the inherent weakness of LA: its historical problems with race and its unintended racial segregation, and then they lit the powder keg with M-V-16."
By now, it's apparent that The Raffle is more than another dystopian survival tale. Randy Smith's ability to take current political and social events, construct a frighteningly realistic story of an attack that holds its foundations in a clever enemy's ability to understand the enemy's vulnerability and underlying prejudices and conflicts, and weave them into a virus that affects the mind creates a riveting dilemma for victims and survivors charged with carving out a new world from the destruction of the old.
What better time to employ the help of an AI (artificial intelligence)? And what a dangerous move: to rely on an AI's benevolence with no ability to thwart its power.
The social and political dimensions narrated from this witness are not just action-packed, but riveting, as Smith explores the foundations, effects, and perceptions of prejudice and division. Smith's ability to uncover roots of relationships and ethnic connections right down to DNA traces makes for compelling reading: "I still think that the half/partial-Asian/half/partial-other races actually chose to be among us because of their mental feelings of safety. I think they were primarily driven by what their dominant ethnic identity had triggered in their minds as their safety group, whether it be white, African American, Latino or Asian. And that their Virus-plagued minds exposed the dominant DNA within them."
Randy's introduction to the other side of the barrier that purports to lead to freedom, virtual reality, and a better life forms the second chapter to his four-part exploration. By now, readers are thoroughly hooked by the combination of realistic dilemmas, a determined protagonist, and a much-changed, yet still familiar, United States. Randy's determination to rejoin his family drives his journey through this world and creates many revelations along the way, which include revised decisions and knowledge of his place in it.
With its roots in modern-day reality and conflicts and its sci-fi grounded in a survivor's transformative experiences, The Raffle is more than another dystopian tale. It probes how social and political strife can lead to disaster both from without and from within.
Smith's survey of many different facets of a newly-controlled freedom raises many questions about everything from racial awareness and prejudice to social convention, political intervention, and individual freedom.
The Raffle's premise is unique and refreshingly original, the protagonist and characters hold depth and attraction on more than a surface level, and the result is a powerful read that's very, very highly recommended above most others in this genre. It's a story that will leave readers thinking about the roots of our fractured nation long after Ramsey's sojourn is complete.
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Izzard Ink Publishing
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-64228-032-6 $34.95
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-64228-031-9 $27.95
eBook ISBN: 978-1-64228-030-2 $ 9.99
Reunion: Abuse Has No Limits . . . But Neither Does Love is about a devastating cycle of childhood abuse and how this translates to a desire for revenge upon reaching adulthood.
Owen Crowley is only too familiar with sexually abusive adults, from his family of origin to a seemingly loving relationship with an adoptive family which also turns bad. His refuge in books and gathering intelligence leads him to become an educated, attractive young man, but his passions and positive life trajectory crumble too easily in the face of adversity, and he finds himself repeating patterns and confronting dark impulses.
As new beginnings, new enemies, and new ways of dealing with them rest on old patterns, defense mechanisms, and impulses, Owen begins the slow slide into the deprivation he suffered and rejected in his childhood, and followers of his story are drawn into this course, which pulls the reader in as steadily and inextricably as quicksand.
It's fascinating to observe the different levels Owen experiences through first-person revelations based on his past, present, and future. Even as he acknowledges his past and his efforts to move forward ("It was time that I, too, went on my way. Life goes on. It has to."), Owen discovers that changing his psyche and moving on is easier said than done.
The foundations and feelings of sexual confusion are explored ("I couldn’t help but gaze at the girls in the room. I drank them in as one would marvel at a crimson sunset or a kaleidoscopic painting. The sight of them stirred me feverishly. They were such magnificent creatures; what a tragedy they weren’t as exquisite internally as they were externally. I didn’t want to desire them…yet I did. I so wanted to have command over my venereal hunger, but I could not resist it. Its strength was pythonic and its roots fathomless. And it seemed the older I got, the more intense my appetite became."), as is his almost hypnotic progression towards the very things he's rejected from his past.
Readers gain an astute, even frightening, vision of the evolution and inheritance of depravity and its potential for disaster.
Themes of homosexuality, school violence, adult/children relationships, depravity, and the formation of a logic system that moves into twisted views of the world create a story that juxtaposes violent encounters with reflections on evolving new value systems: "Nice guys end up desperate…like you. And me. Besides, true niceness doesn’t even exist. Every act of kindness is merely a pretty skin over an ugly skeleton. How did Isaiah put it: And all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.”
From paradoxes to life purposes, Reunion is no light read, but toes the line between Stephen King's Carrie and a novel of psychological suspense as Owen confronts the kinds of decisions that build, warp, and direct his character towards an almost inevitable (yet unpredictable, in many ways) outcome.
Reunion is about finding love, facing loss, and ultimately learning how to view life on different terms. Owen's character is nicely drawn. His dilemmas and their ultimate resolution will keep readers thinking long after the final, passionate moments which press together broken hearts in an outstanding, surprise conclusion to Owen's intense, gritty life journey.
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Shirley F'N Lyle: VIVA the REVOLUTION
9781686889608 $14.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle
Rarely does chic lit get so raunchy, outrageous, or fun as in Shirley F'N Lyle: VIVA the REVOLUTION, a novel of big urban girl Shirley, who is a successful hooker until she runs awry of a drug lord. Soon she finds herself involved in a mystery that revolves around a Russian stripper friend who has vanished under suspicious circumstances.
The opening paragraphs of her story are designed (much as Shirley) to hook—and they do, representing the aftermath of yet another brush with death: "Hands on the steering wheel, Shirley noticed a dark smear on her arm. Blood. Should have checked yourself before leaving the warehouse. Did it come from the meth zombies? Or from where she cut open her chin on the cement?"
From the beginning it's just one ribald romp after another as the sassy, large Shirley confronts her size, her world, danger, and her choices with equal skill and always seems to land on the winning side while falling into another conundrum that challenges her abilities. Shirley has a good heart in a bad world, but her drive to help her friend isn't the only thing that propels her to the wrong side.
Think 'urban fiction' but with a flair for words and situations that keep challenging protagonist and reader with new revelations and escape scenarios. Pepper it with Shirley's defiant new brand, VIVA the REVOLUTION, and inject her underlying goodwill and desires with an unexpected touch of philosophical reflection: "Maddix Heregger didn’t have a plan. Or security. He was just a guy designated to be the bully in any room he entered. Wouldn’t that be something? You reach heaven and find out, some people don’t have a choice... Like, at birth, we’re all actors, and some people are assigned the bad roles. Good, talented people. They could have been anybody. Gandhi. The Dali Buddha. But they draw the card that says, Hitler, so they have to spend their lives providing the disasters that give everybody else the chance to grow. “You’re just full of ideas, aren’t you, Old Shirley? Well riddle me this. What about all the people they kill along the way? They don’t get to grow, do they? Your cosmic good-will crap is just crap. Maddix Heregger—and everyone like him—is an asshole. And nobody has the right to be an asshole.”
Add big doses of high-octane confrontations and a story peppered with nontraditional heroines, an aging woman's desire to do better, and a series of snafus that keep readers engaged. Then finish the recipe with a formula for success that ultimately pits Shirley against her own inclinations and nature as she uses unconventional approaches to achieve her goals.
The story is always spiced with bawdy comedy that borders on serious observation, leaving readers thinking and laughing even during serious pursuit such as gun-shopping: "That’s a Flash Bang holster. It has a solid design. The firearm fits in the slot here. You gain access by lifting the shirt. Then pull and shoot. Slick concept.” “Flash him, then bang. I want.” “Might be a problem with the uh, they don’t make a plus size.” “Story of my life. What about this one over here? What they call this, the Side Boob Holster? Not in my size either, I bet. Which is ridiculous. They make bra holsters for the iddie biddie titties, but not these.” She swung herself to face him. “Check it out. Rack like this? I’m the one that needs protection. But the Side Boob Holster Company has no interest.”
Ribald, sometimes rude, rollicking, and risqué: that's Shirley and her world, and this is the power and impact of a story that's a standout whether you want to label it chic lit, women's literature, or urban mystery. No matter what it's called, the out-of-the-box read that is Shirley F'N Lyle: VIVA the REVOLUTION is highly recommended for readers of contemporary women's fiction who like their characters urban, rough, and outrageously hilarious.
Shirley F'N Lyle: VIVA the REVOLUTION
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So Far from Paradise
Alter Ego Press
So Far from Paradise is a Western ranching novel with several differences: it takes place in North Texas, and it focuses on the efforts and challenges of a rancher woman who tackles frontier life and grows not only her ranch, but new approaches to ranching in Texas.
So Far from Paradise was first written in serial form in 1986 in response to a call for stories celebrating the 150th anniversary of the state. After its publication and the historic date's passing, Judy Alter focused on other writings until she decided to resurrect So Far from Paradise as an ebook.
The first-person observations and experiences of Cassie Belden come alive in this tale, which opens in the form of recollections that Cassie knows should be put down on paper rather than lost to future generations. And so she begins with a contrast of past and present Texas: "It’s hard to call up the past. Sitting here at my desk, a slight Texas breeze blowing in through the open window, the joys and trials of my younger years seem almost unreal. The breeze doesn’t smell like the prairie but of city smells, and my view is not of wide-open spaces but carefully manicured lawns, bushes and trees trimmed into shapes that God never intended, gracefully curved paths. How can I sit here and call back the vision of the prairie, where trees grew only sparsely and then in wild shapes and paths were worn over the years by buffalo and cattle? Dust, drouth, Indians and, yes, death, all seem part of another, earlier life. Yet that past is a legacy to pass on, one that must not die with Colin and me or even with our children who have moved so far from those origins..."
As Cassie reviews her life and the experience of pioneer days in Texas, readers are treated to a bit of history, some fiction, and an overlay of drama in encounters that built the state, whether they were confrontations with Indians or the rise of power plays and ranching politics in the struggling frontier community of Paradise.
Descriptions of women's work and seasonal daily chores ("It was spring, and we planted not only the field of corn, but a vegetable plot for Mama with squash and beans, onions and potatoes. There was corn meal to grind daily, and laundry to do weekly, soap to make in the great kettle over the open fire, and a milk cow to care for and two mules to be tended to.") contrast nicely with Cassie's fear of the prairie's threats and her efforts to protect the family around her ("All through the Christmas season, the weather was balmy. Shirtsleeve weather we called it. Victoria rode her horse from dawn to dusk or so it seemed to me. I had insisted on some fairly strict rules and limits. She was not, for instance, to ride beyond the edge of town nor be gone at dusk or later. She chafed at these, and I know she secretly ventured out on the prairie a time or two. Once I saw her racing like the wind across a rise in the direction of the old cabin, but I lacked the energy to confront her about it, and I knew talking to Colin would do no good. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend ignorance."). This is an evocative story that captures all facets of frontier life as seen through the eyes of a woman who confronts many changes.
As life moves from rural to urban and Cassie finds that her familiar world is changing yet again, readers are carried into her family's journey with a passionate observational tone that will resonate even with those who may have relatively little familiarity with Texas or its history: "It was all right, Cassie, for us to grow up free on the prairie. It was a different world then. Victoria doesn’t need to know the same things we did to survive. She needs a whole new kind of knowledge, and she won’t get it in Paradise. I guess I’ve been more convinced of that since I’ve been spending more time in the city. Like Pa said that time we were all there, ranching is going to be done as much in the city as it is on the prairie.”
The result is a thoroughly engrossing read that stays true to much of Texas history, adds drama when and where needed, is candid and blunt about perceptions and conflicts between white settlers, Indians, and power plays between ranchers and others, and creates a rollicking good read for all.
So Far from Paradise
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The Trouble With Becoming a Witch
She Writes Press
Paperback: 978-1631524059 $16.00
Ebook: B0788QXV53 $ 9.95
Veronica's life initially seems happy in The Trouble With Becoming a Witch. She has a lovely daughter and lives in a fine suburban house. Dabbling in witchcraft should be the last thing on her mind, but as trouble ramps up with her husband, Veronica takes just such a course to find that magic is changing her world and her relationship with her husband.
The trouble with becoming a witch is that the effort involves empowerment, and when that happens, all hell can break loose. Veronica's trouble didn't begin with her newfound passion. It is present from the story's beginning: "You know,” he spouted with a finger pointed my direction, lockstep behind me, “I can’t ever say anything to you about your weight.” He didn’t used to be like this. It used to be fun and sweet and easy. Now it’s pointy and accusatory and weird. It makes me want to run away. I want to see my friend and have someone be nice to me, someone to have fun with."
Veronica has always lived up to others' expectations, but at the same time, she maintains a feisty, defiant nature and is willing to reconsider and repurpose her life. This serves her well, as a miscarriage results in many changes and new challenges. What also works in her favor is a determination that propels her into new possibilities.
Amy Edwards is not above adding dashes of humor throughout, even to such a serious subject as a first prayer to the Goddess: "Oh Goddess, God, powers that listen and powers of nature and sky, please hear me tonight. I don’t know you yet, but I want to. I ask for you to listen, and I ask for help. I honor the spirits all around us, all the time, and I honor nature, that natural, deep beauty that so often gets ignored through the bustle of daily life.” I’m kind of impressed with myself. I keep going."
Edwards does a fine job of juxtaposing Veronica's forays into a new life with her dread of rocking a familiar boat, adding insights and reflections that are compellingly familiar and realistic: "I know that when I get home, I can use my little built-in buffer to avoid anything I need to, at least until she goes to bed. I feel exhausted even imagining what I may have to go through with him. There is nothing I want to say anymore. I just want to be let go. I want it to be easy. I just want him to know that I am no longer happy and I don’t think I ever will be, not with you, Pete, and not in this marriage. Not here in suburbia, not on a boat, not with a goat, not anywhere with you. I know, deep down, that I have just started the beginning of the end, that I have set in motion something that cannot be undone, and I wonder if I was ready."
Readers receive insights into her feelings and the many avenues facing her as well-meaning friends and relatives try to help ("I would be in my car driving and just want to keep driving and never go home,” she confides in a near whisper.
She tugs on the edge of her cardigan, which is peppered with multicolored polka dots the size of ping-pong balls. “Then, we came out the other side—we made it through. Now, he is my soul mate. I can’t imagine life without him. It can get so much better, I promise you."), but witchcraft pulls them apart even as it's gives Veronica the power to confront her life's course.
Readers expecting a fantasy story about spells may be disappointed to discover the story is really more about self-empowerment and realization than the birth of a witch. Veronica's abilities lead her to become a strong woman able to survive anything. This is actually the central theme in a quirky, fun story of friendships, love, change, and tapping one's inner strength to speak and live a more truthful life.
Chic lit and women's fiction fans will find The Trouble With Becoming a Witch a gripping story that lends not only to a beach take-along or leisure choice, but to thought-provoking insights about the sources of growth and achievement.
The Trouble With Becoming a Witch
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978-1696252041 $14.95 Paper/$3.99 ebook
Undercover continues the story of Jason's movements through a post-EMP world. This time, he's left his newfound home and family in Hillsboro to journey to a nearby town of survivors which, he finds, is run by a mob. They are getting back some semblance of civilization, but it's built on a fragile foundation indeed, on the backs of laborers who are not willing participants in this rebuild process.
Jason goes undercover in this city, seeking to gauge its threat to himself and those that he loves. As he assumes his own position of authority in this new world, his bravado and certainty power his actions to the point that he seems almost superhuman and nearly emotionless in his precise reactions to threats to both his own survival and that of his home.
Prior fans of Jason and his world will find that he takes another step forward in his emotional growth as well as his physical confrontations in Undercover. In his desire to be proactive about his information-seeking and threat to his loved ones, he comes across as less than human. But as the cost of his actions and approaches becomes apparent, readers will be surprised to find that Jason's nearly superhuman abilities mask a vulnerability and fallacy in thinking.
If Jason doesn't confront who he has become, and the cost of survival, he may very well turn into the type of survivor who eschews humanity.
This dilemma and others are set against a backdrop of action-packed encounters and dilemmas that keep readers engaged and thinking. The story is fast-paced, yet takes time to build characters on both a social and political level. Especially strong is Jason's evolutionary process, which prior readers will note from his past experiences as compared to his present role here, as an undercover individual charged with protecting his community and family.
More so than most post-apocalyptic survivor stories, Jason's story is one of personal evolution and the difficult return of morals and ethics to a world that has descended into chaos and madness. Nees does a fine job of incorporating this psychological growth into the overall action in a post-EMP scenario; especially as compared to other books in this genre.
Readers well steeped in Jason's prior adventures will find Undercover a solid addition to the series that retains the tone and objectives of prior books while moving Jason into areas of growth and change that reflect society's struggle to regain its sense of humanity.
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Bright Hart Books
Buddha at Work: Finding Balance, Purpose and Happiness at Your Workplace comes from an HR professional whose Buddhist perspective gives an unusual twist to the usual workplace advice guide.
Personal and professional breakthroughs are outlined in a book that doesn't require readers to have any prior knowledge of or affinity with Buddhism. All that's needed is an interest in creating and participating in a better work environment.
As chapters apply Buddhist principles to such topics as reducing job stress, finding happiness in work, linking profit goals with respect, and making money equate with making better life connections and choices, business readers receive admonitions backed by workplace realities: "I was beginning to realize that making good money, achieving professional success, and earning credibility in the workplace were not the be-all and end-all of existence. Suddenly, the satisfaction I had hoped to enjoy wasn’t there any longer. When I looked around at my peers and colleagues, I could sense I was not alone in my predicament. I could see my fatigue and stress reflected in others."
Geetanjali Pandit's own life experiences along with those of co-workers combine with these lessons to create a set of admonitions as grounded in real life experience as they are in spiritual ideals, and this is one of the strengths of this approach.
As business readers delve into topics of work performance, intentions, leadership issues and strife, Buddhist beliefs and principles are applied in a manner that helps all readers think about choices, consequences, and ultimate goals based on these teachings: "The Buddha’s life holds valuable lessons in deflecting criticism and negativity as you progress toward the fulfillment of your purpose. The idea is to remain undeterred.
There are plenty of books about workplace success, and plenty about Buddhist ideals and principles. Having both under one cover translates to an inspirational read firmly grounded in workplace experience and filled with thought-provoking insights especially recommended for readers who would adopt different, more positive approaches to work goals and life.
Buddha at Work
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Print: 9781620559550 $16.99
Ebook: 9781620559567 $11.99
Conscious Confidence: Use the Wisdom of Sanskrit to Find Clarity and Success comes from a motivational confidence coach and Sanskrit scholar whose practice involves apply Sanskrit to life experiences.
This is more than a review of Sanskrit practices: she takes these lessons and weaves them into larger life goals and a confidence-boosting program designed to apply to all walks of people in different stages of their spiritual or life journeys. This creates an environment of positive thinking and reflection which forms the foundation of a treatise that is flexible enough to be applied to many situations on many different levels.
Take the boxed parable 'Well, Let’s Just See How Things Turn Out'. A kindly farmer lets his aging horse free to live out the rest of his life without work or restraints. Kind neighbors mourn the loss of his helper horse, but the wise old man takes the position that life will turn out—and his kindness is returned in unexpectedly rich ways.
The lesson of his ability to remain calm and flexible as this and other potential disasters buffet his life is just one of the strong lessons Sarah Mane profiles as she gently guides readers on how to view the glass of life as being perpetually half-full when it often feels half-empty: "You are not being encouraged to settle for passivity or a lack of feeling but rather a detachment from the highs and lows of emotions you associate with events and circumstances."
Because life delivers many blows and challenges to such positive thinking, Conscious Confidence delivers an especially powerful message that encourages readers to constantly examine their perceptions and impulses to adopt a calmer countenance and make choices based not on reaction, but on maintaining better balance.
Sanskrit may be an ancient practice, but it's filled with invaluable applications to modern life. As Mane defines the terminology and basic concepts of Sanskrit, her program applies these ideals to better choices in thinking and reactions; all of which develop confidence in a more reasoned, methodical approach that advocates responsible behavior and thinking patterns: "To be a conqueror and victor in life, is to take ownership of our own experience, to be accountable for our own decisions and to take responsibility for the outcomes."
The result is a handbook on far more than conscious confidence. It's a program that can apply to the most simple and complex approaches to life, and one which empowers readers to "live each day with enthusiasm, creativity, and vitality." What self-help or inspirational reader wouldn't want to achieve this ultimate goal? The key is placed in the reader's hand through the parables and clear admonitions of Conscious Confidence.
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Light and Sound Press
Readers interested in farming and agricultural challenges will find Deep Agroecology an important examination of a different approach to growing food: one that views the farm as an ecosystem rather than just a resource to be exploited for better productivity.
Steven McFadden is neither a farmer nor a researcher, but a journalist. He reports on the changing face of farming and agricultural management, with a focus on the overall importance of agriculture beyond human concerns.
His focus on "deep agroecology" is more than the promotion of another growing system. It represents a fundamental change in the perceptions of humans about the choices they make in planting, harvesting, and eating food, incorporating an ecological perspective that has its foundations in the long history of agrarian idealism.
McFadden's journalist roots are reflected in an approach based on reports from media coverage as well as research. As he examines the vast, fragile, increasingly fragmented agricultural pursuits and systems of communities and nations around the world, he pursues the historic roots of the present-day agroecology movement: "Agroecology recognizes farms as ecosystems embedded in broader landscapes and social settings, with which they interact continually and significantly."
From interviews with Native Americans about concepts of natural law and resource considerations that move into spiritual realms ("Native people know already that the spirit lives not only in the land, but also within in their relationships with it and with one another. As part of their way, for thousands of years they have had the understanding of spirit life on a practical level.”) to paradoxical conflicts between economic and ecological interests, Deep Agroecology goes beyond farming systems to probe the philosophical, spiritual, and moral roots of human relationships with the land.
The result is a hard-hitting, powerful survey that takes the food system ideal a step further by interrelating it to pursuits of justice, freedom, and health for the entire plant.
Agricultural to new age readers will find Deep Agroecology filled with food for thought, backed by different perspectives that join forces to support the ideal of agricultural practices. All this is linked to a deeper understanding of the importance of supporting ecological systems for the greater good of the planet.
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Love is the Law
Marieta Oslanec, Esq.
Hardcover: 9781733305419 $18.19
Love is the Law: 21 Universal Laws to Activate Your Inner Genius & Uplift Humanity is motivational success writing at its best. Author Marieta Oslanec moved to the U.S. with only $700 to her name and no English in her skill set, put herself through law school and became a licensed New York attorney, then began her own practice. During this process, she gathered and cultivated 'laws' to follow that range from self-love and balance to self-healing and loving others.
While Love is the Law stems from her determination and experiences, it also holds a spiritual component that will especially attract readers who search for the intersection between love, success, and bettering the world.
Chapters discuss these foundations of love with an eye to not just describing the journey to achieve them, but to defining what they actually mean: "Loving myself means respecting who I am by setting healthier boundaries, saying no to others, while saying yes to myself. Loving myself means following my desires, no matter what people think. Loving myself means doing what feels right for me when my mind tells me otherwise."
Love is the Law is not a passive instructional, but is filled with challenges and admonitions that invite and direct readers to commit to tackling fears, defining (or redefining) success, and taking the steps needed to both direct the future and "...collaborate with the Universe by simply letting go."
The blends of admonition, insight, exercise, and reinforcing insights on how to envision, then hone, a new life are quite specific and best used by readers open to applying these 'laws' to their own self-examination process: "Write down the wrong limiting beliefs and then scratch every limiting belief and next to it write the new belief. Make sure to use present tense all the time."
Where other motivational guides would use generalities and ideals, Oslanec focuses on specifics from small steps to large, creating a foundation that serves as a series of stepping-stones to change.
The result is a motivational guide that takes readers by the hand and leaves nothing to wonder: a purpose-driven series of insights and applications that will prompt thinking readers to redirect their purposes and aspirations with a key goal in mind: "Your life purpose is to become your true self that is love." Spiritual and inspirational readers, especially, will find that this message resonates.
Love is the Law
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Near and Far
Garden Oak Press
Near and Far features 91 poems peppered with comets, planets, and observations of life close and distant, and captures and grasps succinct moments of life, juxtaposing them with small celebrations of bigger pictures.
Examining the poems of Near and Far is like training a far-reaching telescope on the microscopic world. One might think that a lens that can be focussed so sharply on distant objects would become blurry or questionable when narrowing inspections to matters closer to home, but one of the compelling aspects of the poems comprising Near and Far is their ability to draw new connections between the two.
Take the title poem 'Near and Far', which considers a lunar event's impact on observers on Earth. As the poem moves from observation to irony, the writer/observer using not a telescope but a smartphone camera to capture a rare lunar eclipse, readers are treated first to a macrocosmic effort of trying to pinpoint a moment in time and then the impact of irony as the results, viewed the next morning, prove to be something quite different.
The surprise factor enters into a number of these poems, as in 'Phosphenes and Mother Light', in which both mysteries of the universe and obvious answers remain elusive on many levels. Perhaps the greatest influence on the observer is not the disparate objects being observed nor traditional methods of analyzing their logic and meaning, but the observer's own reactions: "When you're startled from darkness into light,/or when you rub your eyes,/those lights you see are your own pattern."
There are also visionary dreams—flights of fancy that bring readers into realms of possible and impossible, as in the jaunty 'When Pigs Fly', which presents a fun dream adventure on the subject: "As he turns the handle,/something begins to slide/out of the wall—a huge, pink, plastic pig,/looking like one of those old-time merry-go-round creatures./The pig, too, sports little hand-holds/here and there on its surface with neatly/printed signs, ―Grab me/and ―Hang on tight/...they spiral down, the dreamer and his dream pig, until the ground/finally appears clearly. With one more graceful quarter arc,/the pig lands with a squishing slide just/as the morning sun slants in and lights up/the familiar pig-pen world/with its rollicking and terrible life..."
The metaphors and descriptions are exquisite, whether Al Zolynas is speaking of the stuff of dreams, the solidity of reality...or something in between.
From lucid dreaming to mall visions and café observations, each poem holds the power to grasp heart and soul, inject philosophical reflection, pinpoint moments of self-absorption and the irony of self-importance, and couch all in a reflective, fun voice that will leave readers thinking long past the final verse.
Is Near and Far a collection of the stuff of dreams, or a celebration of bigger pictures? Readers will find these pieces compellingly revealing.
Near and Far
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Why Can't We Trust God?
Tom P. Wise
Zion Press/Crosslink Publishing
His Way: Trust in the Father is recommended reading for Christian adult believers and thinkers, and focuses on the latest scientific evidence supporting belief and the Word of God. Tom P. Wise's purpose and focus is clearly presented in introductory paragraphs that combine science, news, and affairs of belief and the heart: "In this book we are going to explore what it means to trust in Jesus, and to trust in our God––who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we broach this subject, we will dig into concepts of suffering as they are presented in the Bible and in issues of trust as they are described in current academic research. Combining the two elements of academia and faith may provide for us a picture by which we may choose to trust in Jesus, God’s only son."
This blend of perspectives from both scientific and faith-based examinations allows readers to contemplate not just the meaning of God's Word and Biblical promises, but the scientific evidence that supports them. Additionally, Wise creates a blueprint for this progressive examination and follows it religiously: "As we progress through this discussion, we will learn together how the three bases of trust form our ability to choose to trust. These bases are personality, cognition, and institutional trust."
Chapters stick to Wise's plan as they document God's consistency in His message, advocating a form of attention and listening which encourages not only introspection and belief, but cultivating time to truly listen and perceive this message in daily life: "God does not need us in order to carry out his plans. He provides us with opportunities to participate in his plans so that we are blessed by doing his work, and that others can see God in us and in our lives. By listening carefully, God will tell us what he is doing and then we can do his will."
One doesn't anticipate the injection of autobiography into such a treatise, but Wise adds observations of life that includes his own, juxtaposing Biblical passages and quotes with his own experiences to pinpoint moments of enlightenment and realization. This creates a multifaceted, human approach to spiritual understanding that encourages his readers to adopt their own reflective process from a combination of reasoned examination and Biblical study, daily life experiences, and scientific knowledge.
The result is a survey recommended for any thinking Christian who would better understand the nature of God's actions in the world, the process of both watching and acting, and how to link personal objectives and goals with God-driven belief.
Christians will find His Way: Trust in the Father empowering, enlightening, and rooted in personal, political, religious and scientific experience.
Why Can't We Trust God?
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Cami Murdock Jensen
164570792X $4.99 ebook, $34.99 hardback; $15.99 Paper
First Earth, Book One in the Arch Mage series, provides many compelling surprises in the course of its fantasy adventure, from the more familiar wizards to an interplanetary journey made by a victim who is not a wannabe female wizard, but who suffers from physical ailments and many uncertainties.
Agnes, a scarred burn victim, seems the least likely candidate for such an extraordinary task, but her drive and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds is what makes her a heroine even before she becomes involved with mages and other worlds.
Teen readers who like their characters spunky and determined with their actions powered by extraordinary scenarios will relish the pace of First Earth, but it's important to note that Cami Murdock Jensen takes the time to portray evocative scenes through descriptions that are alluring and precise: "The sun does chase me,” I insisted. “Scientists say light travels in straight lines, but I can’t accept that when the sun dodges buildings just to find me.”
In her drive to be normal, Agnes faces the possibility of a magical cure, but finds that even magical solutions are not that easy.
Second Earth is unremarkable. First Earth tests Agnes even when assessments of her abilities would seem to indicate she holds no special powers—not even the rudimentary skills of an entry-level candidate. But what she does possess is equally extraordinary and different. First Earth explores this special brand of magic that brings her into a war she'd never opted into.
Good fantasies focus on adventures and quests. Extraordinary reads, however, inject into the mix a blend of emotional uncertainty, growth, and confrontations with self as well as the outside world(s). The characters' reactions to extraordinary situations drive change and make for a vivid read.
As Agnes learns that the best part of her adventures doesn't lie in the discovery of her abilities but in her connections to others, readers enjoy a vivid and fast-paced story powered not just by action, but by Agnes' personality and self-discovery.
First Earth is highly recommended for teens seeking not just the usual fantasy trappings or quest story, but a powerful character in a spunky young protagonist who has already found her survival skills tested long before mages, wizards, and war transported her to another realm.
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Into the Fairy Forest
D. X. Varos, Ltd.
978-1-941072-58-5 $18.95 (paperback) $6.99 (ebook)
Into the Fairy Forest is Book 1 in the Chronicles of Pan series and gives young adult readers the engrossing fantasy story of ordinary girl Pippa, who finds her life turned upside down after her mother dies and she is attacked by a mysterious fire that seems both sentient and intent on her death, too.
Fleeing this threat brings her into the arms of the mysterious boy Pan, who introduces her to a whole new world far from familiar Irvine, California or her upstate New York home with her Aunt Catty. The Catskill Mountains surrounding her new abode are beautiful, but Pippa feels at home and safe primarily in the house's garden, where she senses that an inexplicable loving, protective presence is watching out for her.
So when things go horribly awry in her life once again, she is able to step away from a place that has become familiar and into the world of this blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who is both a stranger and yet feels familiar.
As Pan explains monsters of legend and the presence of two worlds and how they were nearly destroyed, Pippa gets to meet Queen Mab, ruler of the fairies, and discovers not only another reality underlying everything she's known, but a new purpose and threat to her life.
Teens who enjoy atmospheric descriptions will appreciate J.M. Stephen's close attention to detail, which creates a "you are here" feel to the story: "Queen Mab opened her door and walked, or more like glided, out of her tree. She looked fully rested, her long black hair was plaited in gold, shining in the waning sunlight. A whisper of the moon flickered in the darkening sky and the stars were peaking their shining heads out, the day and night were in the midst of a shift change and this was the only moment that all heavenly features were visible. Pippa looked up at the sky as Queen Mab appeared to float toward her, two glasses in her hand, followed by a flood of shimmering fairies."
When a threat evolves which indicates forces are against Pan himself, Pippa finds herself in the middle of a conflict she never could have imagined, serving as the pivot point to life or death.
Teens in middle to high school grades who appreciate fantasy quest stories will relish this tale, thoroughly infused with fairies, hidden relatives and family plots, legends, and an adventure that turns the roots of good and evil upside down as Pippa uncovers who the enemies really are.
Everything she's held true about her life and world has changed. Teens, too, will find their concepts of fantasy altered by a fast-paced, emotionally charged story that places Pippa in a whirlwind of action, hard decisions, and nonstop revelations tinged with newfound love.
Although Into the Fairy Forest is the first in a projected series, it stands well alone and concludes nicely, setting the stage for more without relying on a frustrating cliffhanger.
The result is a compelling read that draws readers in, works its magic with strong characters and a story filled with surprises, and then concludes nicely while leaving the door open for more experiences.
It deserves a place in any teen fantasy collection and is especially highly recommended for young readers looking for an added touch of romance to their fantasy adventures.
Into the Fairy Forest
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Neffatira’s First Challenge
Softcover: 9781633938403 $17.95
Hardcover: 9781633938427 $25.95
Neffatira’s First Challenge provides the setting and action for Book One in The Light Guardian series, a teen story featuring a protagonist who struggles with being of mixed race in a small town Iowa high school. Neffie faces ridicule but risks much to hang out with the 'cool gang' in school, even when her best interests aren't being served.
Neffie also keeps an embarrassing secret that only her parents know, so she's in a doubly challenging position trying to fit into Windmere's small-town atmosphere. When a daring stunt led by the 'cool clique' turns into their introduction of just how odd Neffie is, her life gets more complicated just as a solution to her dilemmas lands in her lap.
Teen fantasy readers who enjoy stories that open with realistic portraits of protagonists challenged by their backgrounds and differences will find the fast-paced introduction to Neffie's life in Neffatira’s First Challenge surveys different forms of life and interpersonal relationship challenges.
As Neffie embarks on a search for her grandfather and uncovers some surprising truths in the process, readers receive an engrossing story of a teen's new life in an alternate world where she is not as uncertain. Indeed, here she is a powerful, moving force in a scenario where civil war demands her loyalty to one side and her death from another.
Friends and enemies, an almost supernatural athletic talent that sets her apart in both worlds, and a journey undertaken with Jessica that tests both their evolving friendship and their different abilities makes for an absorbing read which pairs an alternate world fantasy with an exploration of Neffie's place in it.
When human Jessica becomes a prisoner in the world of Fastness, Neffie is charged with working miracles even while resisting the forces that would possess her.
Risks, battles, and the evolving powers of a teen who is at once human and light guardian creates the riveting story fueled by Neffie's strong personality and lessons. The blend of action, quest, and personal growth encounters makes Neffie an appealing, believable character.
Teen fantasy readers are in for a treat with Neffatira’s First Challenge as Neffie's world moves from a quest for popularity to a pursuit of much bigger goals.
Neffatira’s First Challenge
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Picco Puppy Loves Soccer
978-1-925973-01-3 $0.99 Kindle
Picco Puppy Loves Soccer is based on the true story of a little boy who wanted to play soccer despite his inability to run or score a goal.
His dilemmas over the game are presented in rhymes that outline his troubles with hot days and running, coordination, and all the other components that make up a successful soccer effort.
As Picco Puppy sees peers scoring goals, running, and effectively playing the game, he becomes discouraged, but his parents and both sides of the team encourage him to keep trying, and things slowly change.
Picco Puppy Loves Soccer is about more than persevering against all odds. It adds a story of encouragement that provides a gentle lesson not just to those who want to achieve against all odds, but friends and family, who should be gently supportive.
This picture book is an excellent choice for read-aloud and for boosting fragile egos that face failure from activities they would otherwise love.
Arkhan Studio's big, bright pictures enhance the encouraging tale of a little dog who perseveres, is supported in his goals, and eventually achieves his dream in a surprising way.
Picco Puppy Loves Soccer
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Porcupette and Moppet
Blue Whale Press
978-0-9814938-3-1 (hardcover) $16.99
978-0-9814938-4-8 (paperback) $10.99
Porcupette and Moppet is a lovely picture book featuring bright, vivid drawings by Alicia Young, and will reach ages 4-8 with the fun story of a bookworm and a predator who have very different views of life and leisure.
Porcupette considers his forest a quiet sanctuary and loves to spend his time reading alone, but Moppet, a fisher, is a chatty weasel-like character who just can't stop talking. Porcupette reads up on him, but still can’t understand him and resents the intrusion in his quiet life, while Moppet just can't comprehend why the shy, subdued bookworm isn't interested in him or the world outside of his books.
Facts about fishers are inserted into the fun encounters between these two very different creatures, which come to life with the lovely colorful, whimsical drawings. A surprise ending gives both characters the opportunity to reflect on their choices and encounter.
Parents who choose Porcupette and Moppet for its read-aloud pleasure will find this a thoroughly engaging, refreshingly original story, while youngsters with rudimentary reading skills receive a fine lesson in differences, predators and prey, and the value of information.
Highly recommended both for its leisure value and its pointed insights about different personalities and creatures, Porcupette and Moppet is a lovely picture book that promises lasting attraction and interest to parents and library collections alike.
Porcupette and Moppet
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Health and Self-Help
How to Suffer...in 10 Easy Steps
William H. Arntz
How to Suffer...in 10 Easy Steps: Discover, Embrace, and Own the Mechanics of Misery is a startling exposé that takes a different approach to misery. Rather than adopting the usual approach of taking steps to mitigate misery, this book promotes embracing, owning, and using it as a stepping-stone to success.
Everyone suffers, but the usual approach to misery is to develop strategies to alleviate it. William Arntz maintains that embracing suffering leads to better harmony and understanding—but there's a big difference between wallowing in pain and using it as a growth opportunity. He provides ten steps on how to suffer, lessons to be gained from it, and then tells how to end misery properly, on an up note of positive learning.
Alleviating suffering is the underlying premise of the majority of self-help guides and programs, but the inherent desire to not suffer at all is simply a fallacy. Arntz points to those who seemingly have everything, but are still miserable. The point is not that everyone suffers, but that they can do it better and more purposefully. In order to do that, suffering must be "invited in" and not denied.
As chapters cover different kinds of suffering, outcomes, and processes, readers gain many insights about moving more effectively through suffering to gain peace and better understanding.
Humor is a constant thread throughout How to Suffer...in 10 Easy Steps, providing comic relief which juxtaposes nicely with the serious "self-hurt" wide-ranging messages that run the gamut from spirituality and desire to good and bad, past and present, sex, reality, and philosophy (among others).
The goal is not to alleviate suffering, but to embrace and direct it. Perhaps the greatest message of this powerful survey is that suffering is not just here to stay, but improves lives in unexpected ways, if approached properly (and more differently than the norm).
The message is thought-provoking, backed by studies and considerations of different schools of thought, and is a powerful revelation for readers who think that a peaceful, pain-free life should be their goal. It's highly recommended for self-help and psychology readers looking for different ways to grow and evolve.
How to Suffer...in 10 Easy Steps
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Your Vivid Life
Your Vivid Life: An Invitation to Live a Radically Authentic Life follows Shayne Traviss's personal journey after he left the corporate world, claimed bankruptcy, and began his journey to freedom far from a challenging job and demanding life structure. This journey offers keys for readers who would lead a more engaged, meaningful existence.
Inspired by his revelations and self-examination, Traviss created and promoted VividLife.me, a personal development movement and program. His website and personal media assets were followed by Oprah Winfrey. Here he shares not just his revelations, but more importantly, the specific choices and paths that led to them.
Unlike other self-help books about self-examination, Your Vivid Life narrows its focus to delve into the process of beginning the journey. Its chapters cover such basics as how to identify and break free from preconceived notions; how to identify long-held tenets; and addressing rigid systems both within and reinforced by one's life experiences and training.
There are many pitfalls during this process, which Traviss illustrates with his own experiences: "I had set out on a journey to find myself, only to return to the same role that was familiar to me. I thought I had set myself free but I was still really a slave to the conditioning of what success looked like, and still tied to the chains of resistance."
Other books may advocate changing one's life, but fail to properly address the 'how' (or these obstacles). Traviss is not afraid to closely examine these common barriers to creating a vivid life. The result is an important, thought-provoking survey that promotes meditation and stillness in order to identify and dismantle old patterns, conditioning, and barriers to self-awareness.
This focus sets Your Vivid Life apart from similar-sounding competitors advocating self-discovery, creating an inspirational read of not just theory, but applications and revelations. Your Vivid Life is not just highly recommended, but is a 'must have' acquisition for anyone beginning the process of a radical life change.
Your Vivid Life
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Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9888392-4-3 $9.99
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9888392-5-0 $21.95
The Adventurer's Guide to Mexico's Yucatán: Fifteen Adventures to Discover Lost Cities, Deserted Beaches, and the Soul of the Yucatán serves as both an advance planner's guide and a take-along tote, and is important reading for adventure-oriented travelers who want to plan their own escapes. With its many color photographs and evocative descriptions, even armchair travelers will enjoy the read.
Why another travel guide to Mexico? Deanna Keahey says: "Millions of tourists each year arrive in Cancún. They come for the gorgeous beaches, turquoise seas, balmy weather, and luxurious resorts. ..[Yet] many people have no idea what they’re missing! The vast majority of visitors barely scratch the surface of what this amazing land has to offer."
Rather than a comprehensive guide to everything in the region, Keahey has created a specialty guide of fifteen specific, personally selected adventurous destinations stemming from her extensive drives throughout the Yucatán.
From pristine beaches to ancient ruins, tropical wildlife, small towns, and byways still off the traditional tourist paths, this book takes you to places most visitors never see. Its focus on 'off the beaten path' eschews popular tourist traps for the more authentic, lesser-known areas where English may not be spoken and tourism is not a primary industry.
Each of the 15 adventures in the book includes vivid color photos and descriptive text that immerses you in the scene. It then provides the nuts and bolts information you need to experience this yourself with details about where it is, how to get there, when to go, where to stay, special preparation notes, and more.
The Adventurer's Guide to Mexico's Yucatán covers everything from general travel tips to specific insights about selected, recommended areas. No prior knowledge of the region is needed. Keahey provides maps, color photos, basic history, geography, travel tips, and everything needed for the newcomer to Mexico.
From site details to camping information and special tips for planning for gas, water, and the basics, The Adventurer's Guide to Mexico's Yucatán provides a wealth of practical insights that are essential for planning an excellent getaway without professional guides or advice.
The book's charts are particularly notable, as in the early introduction that lists specific recommended areas, ideal number of days to spend there, main attractions (beaches, ruins), and whether or not a car is needed.
In addition, The Adventurer's Guide to Mexico's Yucatán shows that females can drive solo throughout "Mexico's safest state." All that's required is the physical fitness to undertake an adventure-oriented trip and an interest in independent travel far from the maddening crowds.
The Adventurer's Guide to Mexico's Yucatán is not a guide for those who like big hotels, guided tours, and familiar places. It's a highly recommended standout for the destination-bound visitor who wants family-oriented accommodations and food, an independent travel itinerary, and solid, practical tips on not just where to go, but how to get there.
The blend of lively discussions, extensive photographs, and enthusiastic observations sets The Adventurer's Guide to Mexico's Yucatán apart from other Mexican holiday guides, making it a top pick for those who want a Yucatán vacation that's more exotic, exciting and adventurous than the norm.
Adventurer's Guide to
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Cruising the Mississippi
Al & Sunny Lockwood
Front Porch Publishing
Paper: 9781642370782 $12.99
ebook: B07XVPTNGR $ 3.99
Cruising the Mississippi:
From New Orleans to Memphis on a Genuine Paddlewheeler joins other
books from the Lockwoods and provides travel memoir enthusiasts with a
paddlewheeler guide that doesn't need a destination-oriented reader to
Al and Sunny were bitten by the travel bug when they were kids. As adults, they traveled extensively both before and after they got together. Cruising the Mississippi follows their journey upriver, employing a "you are there" tone to capture the steam powered paddlewheeler experience and documenting the authors' first river journey, from their pre-board ideas of what it would be like to the realties of life aboard the American Queen, a riverboat holding some 400 passengers.
From descriptions of the cabin to explorations of the culture and organization of a paddlewheeler, readers are given the opportunity to take a virtual trip, following the Lockwoods as they survey the ship and its various stops.
Anticipate a step-by-step coverage of these experiences, from the local history of each area and insights about Southern culture and Mississippi's regional attractions to onboard conversations and connections such as one with Fred Bishop, a long-time singer who has performed on the American Queen since 1995. The author was shocked to uncover a "family" connection with the professional performer.
If it's a "you are there" experiential survey of the paddlewheeler environment that is desired, along with a heavy dose of Mississippi history and culture from a tourist's viewpoint, then there could be no better virtual tour than Cruising the Mississippi. This travel memoir brings its readers right down to the water line and into the destinations explored by the Mississippi paddlewheeler.
Cruising the Mississippi
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