Biography & Autobiography

Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers, 26 years of OCD, 2nd Edition

David W. Dahlberg

Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers (Twenty-Six Years of OCD) shares David Dahlberg's experience of OCD and what it feels like to live such a life. It is NOT a case study but an autobiography: in this respect, the usual medical descriptions of treatments and options are contained within the realm of personal discovery and revelations rather than self-help advice, and are related within the context of the author's personal experience of OCD. 

OCD is the brain's perception of slings and arrows (sometimes real, too often imagined) paired with a flight-or-flight response mechanism that contributes to an ongoing cycle of anxiety. Because the perceived fears aren't intrinsic to physical reality, often OCD behavior is deemed inappropriate or odd; and because it's relentless and ongoing, the OCD victim is kept in a state of high anxiety over 'little things'. 

While any not suffering from OCD can't really know what it feels like, readers will come close with Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers, which clearly documents the perceptions, emotions and reactions of those with OCD: "The danger is imaginary. But the feeling of danger is absolutely real. Your body’s response is exactly the same as If it were actually happening. You become caught in an endless, inescapable, and debilitating loop. All because your nervous system grossly overreacted to an image that would simply pass through the minds of other, "normal" people." 

Even as a small child, Dahlberg was cognizant the feeling that he had to interact with the world in a specific way, through a series of habits and repetitions, before he felt 'right'. Being able to stop repetitious behaviors was part of what made him feel good. 

As chapters move through the author's life and experiences, readers along for the wild ride that is OCD learn about the perceptions and actions of the OCD individual from an 'insider's' viewpoint: something most other books on the subject don't begin to adequately address. 

From a roommate good at directing and manipulating dysfunctional people to carry out his own hidden agendas, who wins such friends by charm, to how Dahlberg's personal rituals fit into the world (or not), Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers offers up a tumultuous swirl of emotions, experiences, and compensating habits that help Dalhberg fit into his world. 

Even more revealing is how he gains help in the process of moving through life. From getting through college to taking on a teaching job, Dahlberg's rituals and obsessions eventually come to find useful places as he deals with career and life: "Staying calm with students was easy. Having dealt with the anxieties of OCD, I found the reality of a real classroom much less nerve-wracking. As a result, I was always able to maintain an even keel with my students. They knew I wouldn't yell, and I knew they would respect my requests and reactions." 

How does Dahlberg eventually resist these rituals and compulsions to participate in OCD behaviors? Through a combination of recognition, hard work, and adjustment; which readers will find both specifically detailed and applicable to some circumstances in their own lives. 

It's not a medical book and not a self-help guide; but in exploring the progression of one man's OCD from childhood to adulthood, Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers documents the process of seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel of discord, and ultimately paints a picture of hope and understanding for those who live with OCD.

Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers

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Fantasy & Sci Fi

The Healers: Crystal Caverns
Donna Labermeier
$10.99 - paperback                           $2.99 - e-book      

In order for any beginning to be truly new, worlds must be shattered and rebuilt. And in such an endeavor, there's always the risk that no phoenix will arise from such ashes. In Crystal Caverns there is no single phoenix; just three remarkable teens. And, still, the threat of complete destruction. 

The Healers: Crystal Caverns is Book Three of the Healers Trilogy where three teen heroes living in different countries are destined to 'heal the world' - and by this, each is tasked with a separate mission to conquer a piece of a dark force that's spreading like cancer. 

They aren't alone in their quest; they're guided by the venerable old Agostino. Evil doesn't operate without support either, on its side: guided equally expertly by Venceslao, its new goal isn't just to defeat the Healers; it's to capture them to tap their powers for its own evil purposes.

Much of the setting was described in prior books (not seen by this reviewer), but newcomers need little prior familiarity to jump right into the story line, with its liquid, flowing descriptions and ability to pinpoint protagonist interests and psyches. And, it's Donna Labermeier's evocative imagery which proves just one of the strong points that set The Healers: Crystal Caverns apart from other young adult fantasy odysseys: "His mind was quicksilver fast, but his hands were uncoor­dinated, and he approached physical tasks with a toffee-dripping care to be sure his innate clumsiness never got the better of him. He was hardly a great warrior and so trailed his prey with his cus­tomary restraint, patiently padding just out of sight behind the enemy’s circle." 

What appears to be a pure fantasy adventure is, in fact, a satisfying blend of spirituality, philosophical reflection, and a focus on both individual and collective transformation: themes that permeate its action and provide many opportunities for deeper reflection: "…barely a handful of non-Healers had managed to replicate any of their amazing skills. It seemed that confidence was the key. Ultimately, no one could allow themselves to fully believe in humanity’s ability to ascend to the next level of spiritual evolution. As a species, it appeared we were fatally infected with doubt - a tiny gap inside of us, like a broken circuit at the heart of an elaborate electronic array, across which electricity could never flow…Almost never." 

From seemingly-supernatural powers that face down disasters few others could confront to channeling healing energy that plants a seed of hope in an increasingly dysfunctional world, the teen heroes are but a microcosm of wider issues humanity faces both in this fantasy setting and now; an approach that lends to a vigorous read offering subliminal personal connections throughout. 

And that's yet another strength of Book Three: The Healers: Crystal Caverns emphasizes connections that also are fluid: at times they are presented as strengths; at other times, as flaws that will "wreck the world". They can't be both; so are they attributes or dangers? That's up for the Healers to solidify and for readers to ultimately determine. 

Action is swift and centers upon a series of increasingly difficult challenges which each Healer is tasked with facing down. As various truths about the mysterious crystals emerges (they don't seem to be from this planet, for one thing), a virtual maze of possibilities materializes to present both dead-ends and prospects of redemption. 

Yes, it's a good-versus-evil story line; make no doubt about it. And in the course of events there are elements of manipulation, betrayal, power struggles between light and darkness, and a few good warrior heroes who may be all that straddles the line between the two. 

Ultimately, it's human misery and darkness that fuels the greatest darkness of all: can three teens, however talented, defeat mankind's own inner demons? 

Readers should be prepared for any possibility in The Healers: Crystal Caverns. Those who seek a singular action read might find the interwoven spiritual and philosophical perspectives here add more complexity than is desired from a purely entertaining fantasy - but that's what makes this story stand out. 

"You are part of what comes next. Understand that you are on the Earth to help create wonderful and miraculous things…" It's ultimately a tale about endings and beginnings; self-defeating world paradigms and what could replace them. 

In order for any beginning to be truly new, worlds must be shattered and rebuilt. And in such an endeavor, there's always the risk that no phoenix will arise from such ashes. That The Healers: Crystal Caverns leaves all possibilities open right up to the end is a final testimony to its ability to surprise, delight, and involve readers on more than a singular level.

The Healers: Crystal Caverns

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Perilous Land

J.M. Haug
J.M. Haug, Publisher
No ISBN           $2.99
Author's blog:
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 There's magic in the world; and then there's the magic of the written word … when both coalesce, that's when true enchantment begins. Such is the case with Perilous Land: The Fall of Lida Azhad Book 1, a rollicking, world-changing read that falls somewhere between epic romance and pirate saga, with its fantasy bound up in a nautical setting where anything is possible. Magical aromas abound, from flavors of forest and sea to the gritty language of this world's inhabitants. 

It would be all too easy to anticipate a standard fantasy and a straightforward read; but one of the delights of Perilous Land (and, note: it won't be a delight to those who seek a light, unchallenging pursuit: readers be warned!) is its lyrical style and descriptions that pull outsiders into this colorful, demanding setting: "Thunder, like unto the hate-forged tempest what birthed them. Ever had that been their sound, the waves. Serpentine, they slithered from out the east, howling and hungry, an endless blue-gray roil of vengeance mythological. Coiling. Crashing. Failing. Then would come once more the dragon’s roar of retribution…" 

There are ancient storytellers and an exceptionally brave (or, foolhardy: take your pick) protagonist, Lida Azhad, whose struggles and passion forge new paths for herself and those around her. 

All this presented against the backdrop of a land replete with fierce dangers, narrated with a dialogue that takes some getting used to, but which only adds to the satisfying complexity and well-rounded attention to detail that sets Perilous Land apart from a genre standard: "It is good to hear you zay as muzh, because I had begun to wonder if my artifizer knuhs the aczhual duties of her puzt.” Cool curiosity presses her brow higher, a challenging glance o’er the edge of the prop page in the hopes that if the letter itself be not thick enough, the sheer force of pretense will maintain the deception, for at the moment does this sample of a grand duke’s missive sit upside down in her grasp." 

These quoted passages give some idea of J.M. Haug's approach, and should serve as fair warning for the dense, realistic devices employed to make the story line believable and immediate. Through winding descriptions that take their time linking past to present events to extensive slang dialogue that initially is taxing but ultimately spices the story line, Perilous Land doesn't just set its table with light, fragile trappings: it embraces the sights, smells, and textures of a creaking ship and a journey replete with voyages and dangers.

And Lida Azhad? A woman would initially seem to hold no place in a pirate's plundering goals or in a world replete with myths, blasphemies, harsh lands and harsher labors; but Azhad has been forced into the role of a queen and leader, and seeks to win her imprisoned brother's freedom. 

Her assignment takes her into jungles and loses her men. It challenges her until she becomes more than just another captain in a fleet of extraordinary ships, and pits her against dragons and politicians alike. 

So if it's an easy fantasy leisure read that's desired - move along, please.  Perilous Land isn't a tale to be sandwiched into lunch hours, but an epic swashbuckling, saber-rattling fantasy that challenges readers with a meaty plot, pithy slang-laced dialogue, and a woman who puts the sass back in the descriptor 'spunky'. 

Oh, and no neat wrap-ups here…but then, the subtitle should warn that there's more to come, and so the cliffhanger shouldn't be entirely unexpected. 

Magical aromas abound: take a breath, inhale … then become steeped in the sights, sounds, and feel of the strange new world that Perilous Land provides. Few other fantasies come close. 

Perilous Land

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Three Days to Darkness
David Gittlin
978-0-9882635-0-5    $3.99
Barnes And Noble: 

The magic number is three. Three days to save the world. Three people to help Darius McPherson succeed. And three important life lessons to learn in the process.

The setting is a war being planned in Heaven itself by a reluctant warrior too young to be in Heaven in the first place, and the mission involves saving humanity from its own follies: no mean assignment for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting and suddenly tasked with saving the world.

Three Days to Darkness is about magic on many levels: the incongruity of Heaven and its purposes, the absurdities of Mankind, and the passionate concerns of a boy faced with apocalypse on a scale that moves beyond singular death and into the destruction of humanity itself. 

As if this wasn't enough, add demons and a road that literally leads to Hell (albeit paved with good intentions) and you have a fast-paced thriller novel that defies the usual genre definitions of fantasy, thriller or action piece and creeps into the realm of the impossible. 

Three Days to Darkness darkens rapidly as Darius investigates company clinical trials, angel operatives, and deadly courses of action, spicing his approach with a cocky blend of offense and defense that presumes a degree of training he actually lacks: "Crooking his arm, Darius lifted his hand just below chin level with all five fingers splayed. He reminded himself of David Carradine as Caine in a “Kung Fu” TV episode. A more experienced angel operative would certainly prepare to attack with “way more” subtlety, he figured." 

Doses of humor are tossed in for effective comic relief as Darius questions why a Heaven governed by the concept of free will would intervene in the affairs of man - and why it would choose to do so for one event and not another: "Darius sat perfectly still for a while with his hands in his lap before speaking again. “I’m confused,” he said with a solemn expression. “On the one hand, you say everything that happens to a man is the result of free will, and on the other hand, you send me to Earth to stop a pill from going on the market. I don’t get it.” “Good observation, Darius. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s more like a distinction. We have to pick our fights carefully. We try not to interfere with the operation of human free will. We sat by and watched in horror, for example, when Roman soldiers crucified Christ and terrorists flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers. But there are times when we must take action, when a worldwide catastrophe could result from human failure, to put it in a shorthand manner. We intervened during the two world wars and the Cuban Missile crisis, to cite a few recent cases. We have also been involved when the psychological, moral or spiritual evolution of the species is at risk. A literal example of such a case was our influence on the outcome of the famous ‘Scopes Trial.’”

What lessons will Darius learn in his latest incarnation as a new angel? He has only three days to absorb them - or witness the end of all days. 

Three Days to Darkness is a fast-paced, vivid read that incorporates all the elements of a superior mystery, thriller, and fantasy. It's certainly not a portrait of a predictable afterlife, a conventional Heaven, or a banal post-life mission. All these facets merge to create a uniquely involving story blending amusing moments with engrossing encounters between disparate forces; each with their own special interests and agendas. 

And Darius? He's in it for the ride, and takes readers along with him in an unexpected journey through Heaven, Hell, and beyond. 

Three Days to Darkness

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Tomorrow's End
G.R. Morris
Dark Light Publishing
No ISBN, website, $TBA 

In the cleanest of scenarios in novels, thrillers and mysteries alike, the good guy wins. In such a world, free will and choice are God-given rights, and infuse the paths of the righteous with clear direction. Evil eventually is defeated in these paradigms, and good reigns. That's the formula for a traditional story line. 

Now take that formula and mix it up. Assume there are, in fact, no real choices and no free will; but an inevitability that leads the human race inexorably in one, fatal direction. 

Assume that being in charge of one's life is an illusion; that, in reality, others are directing a play called 'life'. Then assume that there's another world influencer about to rise, named Nightstalker, who has been a marionette for many lifetimes - but is now ready to cut the strings and up the ante that is humanity. 

Mix up all these elements and you have the gist of Tomorrow's End, a satisfying dance between sci-fi, mystery, and spiritual reader which posits a new kind of evil force set loose in the world. 

Prophecies usually come packed with accounts of battles, saviors, and clear delineations between good and evil. They are seldom packed with accounts of aliens begging for death, of monsters claiming to be loving gods while in disguise, and of humans tasked with understanding the impossible motives of impossible beings - and whether or not killing, under such conditions, is an act of good or of evil: "What makes something evil is the objective negative outcome that it creates in the universe. It’s how it affects everyone’s lives. Justice and acts of good such as killing in self-defense will gain you power of light because you have dominion over that person. The intruder who breaks into someone’s house in an attempt to murder will have lost so much light that the person who defends himself will be brighter, thus making it justified to kill in self-defense. Humanity’s abundance of light is what gives them dominion over the plants, animals, and insects. Thus it’s not an act of evil to kill them; so it’s certainly not evil to delete a program pretending to be human.” 

It all boils down to what entity has a soul and what doesn't - and what is allowed for those with souls versus what is inhumane: "In many aspects they are just as real as any human being. They can die like humans, have babies like humans, and feel emotions like humans. The only real difference is they don’t have a soul. Instead of being powered and guided by a spiritual essence, they are projected, created by that diamond you saw on the ground.” 

Against this background, teenager Kevin is about to learn the secret of creation itself; only, the truth might not be pretty: "Beyond space and time, there were two fundamental forces. Infinitely dense and infinitely powerful, these forces govern physics, nature, and the laws of the cosmos. One of them was the Darkness; an emptiness, a nothing, but all that is negative…There was a light inside that darkness, a something inside the nothing. It was knowledge, choice, and all that is positive. There came a moment outside of time, where the collective something could choose to be something rather than nothing." He's also about to learn that he may be the true savior not just of humanity, but of the universe itself. 

What, exactly, are the forces of good and evil, and how to do they operate in the world? Is existence itself a choice, and is the 'infinite collective' involves in another world-changing battle similar to time's beginning, when "The con­vergence of choice and existence became one."? 

Tomorrow's End is about demons and battles and about creatures from hell and the tortures they exact on their victims. Readers should be prepared for scenes of entrails-spilling violence as battles rage across the pages of a book replete with religious confrontation and a world ruled by right and wrong choices (which even the evil Nightstalker must bow to). They should also be prepared for time fluxes that place Kevin in another era, battling the Dragon that's linked to Hell itself; and for Kevin's evolution beyond his own humanity with eyes that can peer into atomic structures themselves. 

Expect a virtual conflagration of forces that meet with the atomic smash of a matter/antimatter collision, with humanity's ultimate survival at the heart of world-altering confrontations.  And what do spaceships, aliens, a transitioning teenager, a new kind of Eve, and a President used to (and disgusted by) demons have to do with ultimate salvation and transformation? Aside from the violent struggles that permeate its pages, Tomorrow's End offers no pat plot and no singular purpose on the part of its protagonists. 

Add the unexpected Christian references and alternate viewpoints throughout ("But Adam’s power was limited to change and not creation. Creation of life meant pulling an essence from existence to mold into a physical form. Everyone agreed that this kind of power was to be relegated only to the rep­resentatives, or through the biological choice of each living creature. You know, giving birth.  “Adam chose to exist unnaturally; he was created, and not born. Both means were ultimately made through free will.") and you have a strange attractor that will grip Christian readers of Revelations and secular readers of science fiction alike. 

Tomorrow's End

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The Warren: Severxance Living Legacy Saga - Book One 
Becca Hardy
Rebecca Trelfa, Publisher
No ISBN     $TBA 

Billed as Book One of the 'Severxance Living Legacy Saga', The Warren already states that it's part of a series about some kind of legacy. What is striking from its first paragraph, however, is that this involves an alien stranded on earth, caught in a human torture chamber. And then things get interesting. 

What if you were stranded on another world with no memory and no way home? What if you were left behind with an infant to care for, and what if your species was capable of long life and regeneration? And what if you devoted the centuries to filling in many blanks about your past and keeping your heritage a secret, only to find out that the way home is paved with strange intentions entwined with human affairs? 

That's only the opening salvo of a story that combines the best of alien investigations and human affairs to take hard sci fi to a whole new level. 

Now, a note: it's been decades since hard sci fi was at its heyday. That position has been eroded over the years by a preponderance of sword and sorcery and urban fantasy: two genres that often eschew much of any science in favor of the trappings of magic. So it's especially refreshing and notable to find here not just a throwback to a genre that once rested firmly on hard science, but which holds a treasure trove of new possibilities. 

Some of the reasons why this is possible is Becca Hardy's attention to building believable, winning protagonists, plus an overriding mystery that permeates the story line and truly involves readers with passion and effortless reading. A twist on the traditional Simak-like Way Station setting that has her alien protagonists unwilling (and unknowing) participants in a greater experiment than an accidental stranding doesn't hurt, either. 

Another reason lies in the hard science itself. Attempts to reinvent alien transportation devices, considerations of collective memory's wider place in the universe, and links between memories and the shape of reality itself keep science-minded readers immersed and fascinated; and that's not an easy task in a genre overwhelmed with marginal plots, predictable routines, and (too often) one-dimensional characters. 

For a sci-fi book to be truly engrossing, all of these elements must be present - and rarely are. The Warren thus stands out from the crowd in many ways, and readers who become hooked from its first words will find its action relentless, its overall science believable and sound, and its characters and their motivations exquisitely logical: "Catching a secret government agency in the act of dissecting a fellow alien was no surprise. It was the main reason he’d avoided them so long… Physical pain he could watch—take. What he couldn’t take was being out of the loop. If he hadn’t been so desperate for answers, he wouldn’t have risked chasing down his kind at all. He knew three things about the torture victim. One: He was the only other alien Foster knew of on Earth. Two: They’d arrived together. Three: The guy wanted nothing to do with him. He’d run off so fast after they landed, Foster didn’t even learn his name." 

The basic questions of identity, purpose, and life's meaning are universal ones: their presentation here takes another turn and makes them even more poignant. 

Add several aliens to the mix, stir, give them uncertain (but definite) connections and purpose and add a healthy dose of interspecies interaction and conflict and you have: violence (at times strong), humor (always sharp and unexpected), romance (a surprise ingredient), mystery (all-pervading) and hard science (complex yet easily accessible). 

The Warren proves one of those compelling, can't-put-it-down reads you'll feel sorry to see end. But, wait - there will be more!
The Warren: Severxance Living Legacy Saga - Book One

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Chronicles of a Nation: The Founding Fathers, Families and Patriots
Joan Wheeler LaGrone
0967823028               WIN Publishers of Colorado
Website, $TBA 

"There was a fundamental difference concerning the meaning of the Revolution between the Founding Fathers." The opening introduction outlines this difference between Jefferson, Washington, and the nation's founders and clearly hones the purpose and focus of a hard-hitting American history book that documents a lesser-known aspect of an early political process that continues to this day. 

Chronicles of a Nation could all too easily have proven a dry, unremarkable coverage under another hand, but Joan Wheeler LaGrone's expertise lies in her ability to take a piece of American history and culture and turn it into a remarkable saga of confrontation, change, and evolution. 

Why rehash a subject that has received some degree of analysis in other discussions of the Founding Fathers? LaGrone explains it best: "We must keep our true history alive and teach it to our children. We cannot forget who we are. A nation or a people who do not remember where they came from, or their true foundations, can easily be destroyed from enemies without or within." 

With this perspective in mind, American history readers learn about the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, the Founding Fathers and their interactions with and connections to early patriots, and more. At each step of the way traditional historical observation blends with critical analysis of events and how their interpretations changed over the decades. 

By outlining this process and its results, LaGrone succeeds in probing underlying elements of social and political process, including the interactions within and between major influential families of the times, in a lively story and dialogue that seeks to move beyond the usual facts of events to probe at their underlying psychological, social and political impact. 

Among the devices employed to bring history to life are liberal quotes from source documents and descriptions that read with the vivid immediacy of a novel's drama: "John Hancock was first to sign his name with a large and bold signature. He professed he wanted the King to be able to read it with out his glasses." 

Chronicles of a Nation doesn't just focus on interactions in political and social circles; but also examines relationships between Indian and white man and encounters between key figures in both cultures. Again, source material quotes enliven the text while LaGrone's descriptions bond all together and lend life to a vivid chronicle. 

A number of chapters take a genealogical turn in describing the backgrounds and culture of select major families of the times. While at first this might seem a digression, there's an underlying purpose in mind; one which embraces the notion of differing backgrounds interacting from different perspectives. 

In this regard, the family genealogies work well, providing necessary background on special interests and ethnic makeup and showing how various family members came to emigrate to America and were motivated to participate in the Revolution that ensued. The author's own family is among those profiled. 

Color illustrations from Wikipedia, Ancestry and other sources pepper a lively coverage of the political and social connections between families that cement political events with personal backgrounds and interactions, making for a powerful reminder of exactly where the roots of American political process really lies: in the hearts, minds, and experiences of ordinary people who should not be forgotten. 

Chronicles of a Nation assures they won't be, and is a 'must' for any American history reader, from high school into adult circles. 

Chronicles of a Nation: The Founding Fathers, Families and Patriots

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It's All About Muhammad: A Biography of the World's Most Notorious Prophet
F.W. Burleigh
Zenga Books
978099604909     $16.95

Plenty of titles discuss Muhammad's teachings and works, but too few offer the kind of in-depth, critical approach to Muhammad’s life and influences, which is really necessary for a well-rounded understanding of the roots of Islam. 

It's All About Muhammad remedies this lack, yet this book is not for the casual reader seeking a light review of his life, but for those seeking specific connections between the events of Muhammad's life and the Koran - which, Burleigh maintains, is best viewed as a diary or a blog. 

Ultimately the book is about Muhammad's violent approach to imposing his religion, and it probes that violent life based on a line-by-line study of some 20,000 pages of original source materials. 

Muhammad's violence was fueled at first not so much by religious fervor as it was by a struggle to stay alive in a dangerous world: thus his attacks, murders, and conflicts demonstrated controlled, purposeful violence that was fanned by a delusional belief that God backed his actions.

References to his delusional beliefs abound: "He had constructed a fantasy world peopled with prophets and angels, and he lived inside his head with them as his most intimate companions. They were as real if not more so than his flesh-and-blood companions. The stories of the prophets, or at least his version of their stories, had become points of reference for him and served as a framework for his thinking." 

Key to this historical and biographical review are instances of Muhammad's exploitation of the Arabian religious customs of tolerance: "The Meccans were furious. It was clear Muhammad was using their customs to gain an advantage over them. He was hiding behind the security of the sacred months even though he himself had little respect for the tradition. Neither did he have any respect for their tolerance. He was exploiting their openness…" 

From murderous rampages to peaceful times, he added verse after verse to his Koran in response to life events: "After doing some thinking on the idea of returning a faithful woman to a den of polytheists, Muhammad unilaterally changed the terms of the Hudaybiyya treaty to exclude the forced repatriation of women. He backed it up with a new Koran chapter…" 

Don't expect an admiring portrait of the man. Burleigh maintains and provides ample evidence for the notion that, ultimately, Muhammad was so morally deformed and ruthless that this book and other exposés revealing the truth about him could eventually result in the collapse of Islam. Burleigh admits that such a collapse won't be fostered by one book alone (or even a series of them), but from wide media exposure. 

However, It's All About Muhammad is the beginning: the opening salvo fired in a war against Islamic violence and all of its roots. Heavily footnoted with source material references throughout, this book is the best opening act one could wish for in a discussion of Islam’s historical precedent and how to stop its cycles of violence from reaching ever more deeply into modern times. 

It's All About Muhammad: A Biography of the World's Most Notorious Prophet

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How To

ADVANCE 3-D CHESS: The Longitudinal Star Gate 14 Model , Model III -  Synergistic Fusion of Matrix Logistics Informatics -  EDITION  4  VOL. 1
Siafa B. Neal
Heinz Duthel
1230000245230               $13.59 

Online gamers interested in war gaming or chess will find this fourth edition of Advance 3-D Chess to be a winning explanation of the ongoing, advanced moves of the game offering specific insights on Single, Double, Triple, Quadruple and set-up modes. 

It's recommended that readers gain a progressive benefit from following the prior titles Siafa B. Neal has produced on the topic. His latest follows the same format and is for audiences who have the basics firmly in grasp, and who seek a more challenging game in the 3-D format. 

Coordinates on a conventional chess board are supported by equations and color positionings that set the stage both visually and mathematically by beginning with traditional positionings, then moving the formulas and images to 3D by inviting players to imagine a structure that forms the basis of the Latitudinal Star Gate 14 Model. 

Neal establishes wood and glass chess sets to help newcomers distinguish between the two sets and their set-ups and their strategies, and provides insights on single, double, and unified and non-unified setup modes. 

Contrasts between platforms offer insights on differences, distinguishing characteristics, physical and abstract squares, and the psychological warfare strategies that differ between conventional chess boards and the 3D model options, while The photos and diagrams showing the trapezoidal platform arrangements make it easier to view the strategic organization, the player moves and the progression of plays at the 3-dimensional level. 

From abbreviations for trapezoidal platform organizations that make it easier to view strategic organization and player moves to the progression of plays that operate on a 3D level, this fourth edition continues to go where few chess guides attempt. Diagrams, illustrations and drawings form the foundations of advanced theory explanations which are accessible to any chess player looking for greater challenges.  The coordinates on the non-conventional chess board are amplified by Equations and color positions for added clarification. 

Expect a healthy degree of mathematical formulas, detailed color-coded multi-dimensional game boards, and specific strategies perfect for handling the longitudinal model's particular structure and strengths. 

ADVANCE 3-D CHESS: The Longitudinal Star Gate 14 Model , Model III - Synergistic Fusion of Matrix Logistics Informatics - EDITION 4 VOL. 1

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A Plan for Life
Eric C. Wentworth
Charles Stephen Publishing
978–0–9911983–0–6       $19.95 

A Plan for Life: The 21st Century Guide to Success in Wealth, Health, Career, Education, Love, Place...and You covers a wide range of topics relating to an overall life plan, and provides an excellent motivational title revealing everything from mind/body connections to making better choices that reinforce a good life. 

From why financial planning is challenging to many and why the rich get richer to the physical and emotional fitness necessary for lasting health, developing an 'Over-40 Plan B' career (to thwart the increasingly common ritual of age-related unemployment), and managing living situations for optimum happiness, A Plan for Life eschews singular approaches to any one topic. Instead, it blends seemingly-disparate threads into a unified theory for overall wellness and success that neatly moves beyond typical life planning. 

Here are not only admonitions for leading a better life, but proven approaches and tools that lend to success. Here, too, are keys to understanding the path to fulfillment and the mechanics of making better decisions that lead in this direction. Finally, it's a plan not just for a specific age group, but for a wide audience from recent college grads to Boomers considering retirement. 

Such a plan usually involves an author's singular perspective: not so with A Plan for Life, which represents some of the best critical thinking of great minds combined with the latest scientific research findings and some 500 resources, both on- and off-line. 

Chapters thus are wide-ranging; from 'foods' to avoid at all cost (cupcakes, muffins, cereal and sugars) to how rising medical expenses can erode savings ("Medical costs increase substantially after age 70. Even with Medicare, your entire Social Security income could be consumed by medical costs. Fidelity Investments estimates (as of 2012) that you will need an average of $240,000 just to pay for your medical expenses after age 65."), Wentworth's approach is to combine these latest statistics and research with the latest strategies on how to build a better life. 

Actually, it's really all about reinventing your life - on many levels. So be forewarned: those not interested in doing the work, shouldn't be looking at this wide-ranging approach. 

Wentworth is a marketing veteran, has owned numerous businesses, and has his finger on the pulse of macro trends that are changing lives. His examples are rooted in reality and facts, not ideals - and his solutions include positive and uplifting supportive documentation of those who tried this approach and succeeded: "Re–evaluation and re–invention can come from an honest self–analysis of failure. “Sometimes our old self has to die for complete rebirth,” says Julie Wainwright, former CEO of the now defunct “Remember, the best is yet to come.” In her book ReBoot: My Five Life–Changing Mis­takes and How I Have Moved On, Wainwright describes her own journey from public failure to depression to resurrection. She is now the CEO of a successful new startup The Real Real." 

Don't expect a pat formula here, and don't expect a short coverage of easy routes to follow. Some five hundred pages pack in specifics, and readers should be open-minded about all kinds of approaches to life's re-invention process, from personal health and finances to understanding what creates true happiness. Thus, advice ranges from downsizing and reducing one's 'must have' list to becoming better organized and building a workable plan for the future that embraces all facets of well-being. 

It's ultimately about ridding oneself of negativity and understanding trends and options to make the best choices. In this, A Plan for Life stands out from the crowd of self-help books covering the planning process with its concrete examples backed by real statistics and the life experiences of successful entrepreneurs and achievers who successfully completed their own personal transformations. 

A Plan for Life

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Mystery & Thrillers

Blood Line
John J. Davis
978-0-9903144-1-7               $TBA
Simon & Winter Inc. USA 

A clash of thunder echoes through the house, awakens a man and his wife, and prompts the surprisingly-immediate observation that such an explosion should have set off the house alarm … but didn't. Seconds later, two men are dead. And that's just the opening salvo in a series of explosive encounters that involves Ron Granger and his family in a deadly game. 

Blood Line is a story of retirement gone wrong, of ongoing confrontations and threats, and of one family's struggle in the center of a vortex that becomes increasingly complex and all-encompassing. 

It blurs the line between criminal and entrepreneur and between opportunistic and chance events as the story follows an ex-CIA agent's reluctant return to the fold from a rural retirement when his family is threatened by unknown forces. 

As events progress, Ron and wife Val must choose between an impossible mission and their family; between peace of mind and the larger issues of a power play that could change the world. 

Now, all these elements appear in standard thriller writing in one form or another: Blood Line's exception is that all these facets are packed into a saga that incorporates action, reaction and twists and turns from its very first page. The story represents the difference between a single-shot pistol and an AK-42: pace and events are unrelenting and allow little 'down time' for ennui or reflection. And that's just one of the notable attributes of Blood Line that elevates it from standard genre thriller productions. 

Another 'plus': its attention to building a complex set of interlocked puzzlers that keep readers guessing on motivations, connections, and ultimate results of choices. At every turn Ron and Val are challenged to reassess their personal goals, beliefs and lives in comparison to a larger worldview. At every step they face threats from a variety of unexpected places: threats that successfully involve readers without revealing the entire purposes and forces behind the plot. And at every step, the protagonists feel their control over their lives and future slipping away. 

Blood Line's psychology is exquisitely wrought, its action is elegantly played out against the backdrop of political and criminal forces, and its ultimate results are satisfyingly unpredictable. The aforementioned psychology weaves through the story line in a delicate dance between motivation, anticipation and control: "Moore and company thinks we’ll play it safe because of Leecy. That’s why we’re going to do the exact opposite.” “I like it,” I said, gesturing toward the trunk. “And Julia?” “We need her to play a part. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t involve her. She’s manic.” “Abused?” “If not physically, definitely mentally. We’ll use her, but treat her with kid gloves.” 

Add a surprise conclusion that skillfully ends the saga while leaving the door open for future developments and the end result is a thriller that proves haunting and unique, recommended for even the most seasoned thriller genre reader. 

Blood Line

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Vijay S. Shertukde
9780991392612     $17.99 

Blur is an international thriller that takes terrorist plots to a whole new level as it explores a new weapon: a blast that leaves no destruction, just corpses. 

'The Blur' attack in India, Britain and the U.S. mystify spy agencies and police alike. What force known to man could strike literally out of the blue and leave nothing but death behind? It's a deadly new technology that involves one Kiran Hopkins, a CIA agent, in a new kind of plot that takes her on a death-defying, world-hopping jaunt in search of a new breed of perps. 

Now, thriller novels have (especially in the last decade) come to embrace both high technology and terrorist plots: that's nothing new. 

What is new is the addition of a mystery that's seemingly unsolvable, paired with a feisty, brave woman who will stop at nothing to understand the new force, its motivations and its limitations - if any. 

So don't expect a singular, easy read, here. Though promoted as a story for children and adults alike, it's the quite mature teen (on the cusp of adult thriller reading), and the adult thriller reader used to formula constructions (who seeks something more complex and puzzling in content and outcome) who will be the biggest fans of Blur. 

Now, there's lots of background detail, historical reference, and even the occasional linguistic lesson: Blur holds many such references and sometimes reads with the depth of nonfiction. But, despite its title, 'a quick read' is not what Blur is all about. And it's this depth that lends it an extra dimension not present in competing novels. 

Just as its disaster strikes out of the blue and poses many mysteries, so it's up to the reader (as well as protagonist Kiran) to understand other cultures, politics, power plays and purposes in order to arrive at the final, satisfyingly unexpected truth in Blur. 

For some readers, the best thriller elements lie in a component of predictability paired with solid character development. But for those well steeped in the genre who seek something a cut above the species, Blur offers the kinds of in-depth detail and explanation lacking in most and uses all these disparate rudiments to weave a fine plot replete with challenges for reader and protagonist alike - and that's the mark of a truly superior genre production. 


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The Devil's Crib
Frank Ritter
Trenchcoat Press, a Division of Diverse Publications
9780970635174               $4.99 

Not every thriller writer can claim a career of forty years as a professional investigator and bodyguard, but Frank Ritter's background lends depth and authenticity to the highly-charged events in The Devil's Crib that take place in the Middle East, Moscow and Rome at the time of Operation Desert Storm. Events are thus spiced with action supercharged by sex, violence, and the intricacies of political interests and plots; so be forewarned, this is no casual pursuit. 

Let's back up a step to also mention that The Devil's Crib is as gritty as Frank Ritter's last novel The Killing Games - which means, in a nutshell, that readers offended by sex and violence and who seek milder, more casual international thrillers should look elsewhere lest their sensibilities be affronted by circumstances which demand liberal doses of X-rated action throughout the story. 

That's not to say that The Devil's Crib is unnecessarily laden with sex and violence: more that in the course of its realistic settings and events, these elements are not glossed over nor sugar-coated, but revealed in all their passionate and bloody incarnations. And that's just one of the many devices that sets this novel apart from the usual story of international intrigue. 

Another is its ability to wind an intricate, complex web of details that gets under one's skin and probes the minds and motivations of every protagonist, creating layers of elaborate psychology that emerge only under extreme duress  - all provided in the course of action that unfolds on personal and political arenas alike. 

Proceedings circle around the fabled Crib of Balthasar, a priceless Vatican relic in the hands of a Pope who reveals his plan to use it to fund the integration of Palestinian refugees into Israeli society: a plan fully supported by Israel and rejected by the Palestine Liberation Organization and a crumbling Soviet Union. 

When a high-level kidnapping occurs with a resulting escalation of threats to kill bishops around the world unless PLO leaders are released from prison, it falls upon a Swiss Guard and an Israeli Mossad agent to thwart international tensions that could ultimately lead to a world war. 

The Devil's Crib's writing is lean, mean, and so packed with dramatic scenarios that there's barely time to absorb the twists of one encounter before another rich confrontation is set forth. 

How could a meaningless legendary relic that resurfaces in the chaos of the 1990s serve as the pivot point for nations teetering on the brink of annihilation? As the affairs of popes, cardinals, politicians and professional spies come to light, an intricate dance of detail, motivation and passion evolves that brings KGB myths (such as that of Ivan the Terrible) to life with scenes injected with sometimes-cruel sex and equally brutal violence. 

All the trappings of a solid novel of intrigue are here, from codes locked away in libraries to colonels who cross the line of military protocol in quest of personal revenge. 

Not every thriller writer can lay claim to a background that mirrors much of the realistic approaches of his novel's characters; and not every thriller can deliver the repeated punches of surprise that will engross even the most seasoned genre reader. 

That The Devil's Crib holds the ability to provide a genuinely revealing story of terrorism and redemption is testimony to Ritter's dramatic skills, attention to historical detail, and ability to immerse readers in an intricate story of political and social entanglements involving murderers, failed friendships, and the horrible deaths sparked by an ancient artifact. 

The Devil's Crib

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Empty Shell
Ashley Fontainne
RMSW Press
978-0692291368    $13.99 

One week of revelations, infidelity, a broken heart, and lives changed by romance and murder: that's the fragile shell of circumstances surrounding Melody's life, changed by one simple discovery of a pair of pink silk panties. 

But what seems like an ending (of twenty years of marriage) turns out to be only the beginning of a nightmare when Jack's lover proves to be someone Melody knows. When she is murdered, Jack is arrested - and then events really begin to snowball. 

Thus begins Melody's descent from a calm, ordered, predictable life into one of chaos, which leads her to question the essence of love, commitment, and rage and seems to indicate that the man she has known and trusted is not whom she thought. Or, is he? 

The basic premises of Empty Shell (infidelity and murder) have been done elsewhere. What is unique about this story is its focus on the emotional changes protagonists face as they confront the turmoil of re-ordered lives - a turmoil quietly simmering even before events spiral out of hand: "With a sheepish grin, I held out the noisy thing to him. He didn’t even try to hide his irritation as he yanked the screeching clock from my fumbling hands. His body language made clear his thoughts about my inability to perform such a simple task. His angry hands used to touch me with gentle caresses. God, how I miss them." 

One of the story's more powerful devices is its first-person narration, intimately depicting a character's emotional response to jarring situations. Through Melody's eyes, the reader doesn't just see events, but experiences the storm of emotions ever-present throughout the sometimes-at-odds juxtaposition of wife and legal professional: "There was no way I could ever come up with the bond money. All of our remaining assets were used up in the house renovations. I didn’t own anything worth the one-hundred-fifty thousand dollars it would take to secure a bond, nor did I know anyone who did. The paralegal disappeared at this latest news. The horrified wife emerged." 

Throughout Empty Shell Melody navigates a thin balance between her two personas, with each strength vying for position and lending support for what will prove to be the greatest series of challenges in her life. 

When you take the issue of infidelity and all its emotional conflicts and then add in the specter of murder and the possibility that one has been long married to a dangerous killer, the possibilities ramp up from a singular event to a series of body punches that just keep coming. 

A fateful night, a terrified husband, and a wife (also a legal professional) who nearly overnight comes to doubt everything she's let into her world: these are the elements of superior, racy reading. And when she goes searching for answers, that's when things really get interesting - because nothing is as it first seemed when Melody learned the one truth that was a deal-breaker to her marriage. 

Empty Shell is about what happens when one woman gives up, one man gives in, and another steps in to manipulate lives and hearts. It's about what's left when the love runs out, when death changes everything, and when a woman who leaves faith behind finds lives ruined because of her choices and reactions. 

And the murder? Empty Shell is, most of all, about the outer edge of what some will do to get what they want. Nothing is left untouched in Melody's pursuit of truth.

With its religious overtones, emotional drive, and winding, wondering blend of spirituality and romance, Empty Shell will fill readers with a vivid story line that leads Melody away from her faith, then ultimately comes full circle with a new perspective surprisingly formed by complete strangers and uncertain old friendships. 

And that's perhaps its greatest strength: the ability to shock, amaze, and ultimately bring about a conclusion that represents Melody's return to the familiar, albeit in a very different form. For more, you'll just have to read the book. 

Empty Shell

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The Lupane Legacy
Darby G. Holladay
Manor Minor Press
Clothbound ISBN: 978-1-942024-00-2
Paperback ISBN:978-1-942024-01-9
$6.99 Kindle, $12.99 paperback, $22.99 clothbound

International thriller readers are in for a treat with The Lupane Legacy. For one thing, it comes from the pen of a State Department employee who writes about something he knows intimately: the Gukurahundi massacres in post-independence Zimbabwe. But it's not required that readers have any prior knowledge of either the massacres or Zimbabwe history or politics in order to become fully immersed in the setting and action that is The Lupane Legacy. 

The first thing to note is that The Lupane Legacy is billed as a 'Joshua Denham and Devon Kerr novel'. Neither character is evident in the opening scenes, a prologue set in a small 1983 Zimbabwe village where five-year-old Patrick, the apple of his mother's eye, is about to witness his entire world destroyed in an instant of senseless, unpredictable violence: "The trucks turned off the track close to the village and stopped. The men with their black sticks jumped out and ran toward the village, fanning out into a half-moon, closing in on the cluster of structures. When they reached the edge of the village, the popping sounds began." 

Now fast forward to October 2012, where Joshua Denham makes his home in Washington, D.C. in a scene that neatly contrasts with modern-day Harare, Zimbabwe. Here two very different worlds are depicted: the bustling, modern city where Denham is a diplomat ("When the door opens, you step into a new world. The language you hear is rapid and strange, the air filled with unfamiliar music and singular smells. No world travels are required to incur these sensations. You have merely entered a Washington, DC, taxicab.") and the stifling world of the now-adult Patrick's Harare, Zimbabwe ("If you want to feel alone in the world, almost any government building on a Friday afternoon in Harare will do. The heat is stifling, the electricity works only a few hours per day, water is problematic, and the entire city is in a bad mood. Another week has come and gone, with no end to its inhabitants’ deprivations in sight.") 

Patrick has come a long way from his childhood's sudden end, growing up as an orphan to achieve a certain amount of status and power in Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization - an amazing achievement given his lack of family support and governmental connections. Surprisingly, it's this very lack of special interest supporters, as much as his talents, that have earned him this organizational position. But it's his background that will soon come roaring back to both haunt and spark his directions and choices in life. 

Patrick allegedly is interested in and concerned with records organization; but underneath the veneer of a dedicated records manager lies the steaming heart of a five-year-old who has witnessed his entire village's destruction - and this heart leads Patrick to a second, undercover career that involves intrigue, deception, and political alliances. 

When Joshua Denham meets up again with the lovely Devon Kerr, who is now a lobbyist, an unlikely new partnership forms as political events not only throw them together but send them on one of the most dangerous journeys of their lives. 

What does a woman from his past, a feisty cousin facing sudden disaster, and an overseas assignment have to do with Zimbabwe and Patrick? Plenty, as readers will soon find out. 

And it seems everyone is hiding secrets, from Devon's public image and secret live to Patrick's pursuits. They're all interlinked as protagonists join in unlikely manners and make discoveries about not just each other, but themselves: "Devon could see that Joshua had wanted her to reveal more, but how could she? Her life was a lie. Well, maybe not a lie — but not the truth, either. Perhaps one day, when the moment was right, she could tell Joshua everything, and he would differentiate between her sins of commission and omission." 

Romance, intrigue, international cat-and-mouse games, and ultimate goals: all the facets of a solid novel of international conspiracies are here, paved with the good intentions and special interests of each protagonist as they circle their separate realities. 

As readers journey with the protagonists from Washington, D.C. to Zimbabwe, from South Africa through the hearts and minds of Roger, Constance, Devon and Joshua, they will find themselves faced with a dilemma: each protagonist is well-developed, likable, and involving. Whose side should one be on, in the reign of international tensions that will escalate in the course of The Lupane Legacy? 

The fact that there are no easy answers, no predictable, logical courses of action, and plenty of emotional involvement on the parts of all concerned just makes the intrigue and action all the more engrossing, making The Lupane Legacy a recommendation for even the most seasoned thriller reader. 

And without spilling beans, suffice it to say that what neatly concludes as an ending holds the seeds for possible new beginnings, as well. 

The Lupane Legacy

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Nowhere Out
Vincent J. Sachar
Divont Publishers
9780989813327     Paperback: $12.25   ebook: $2.99 

Conspiracy and murder are nearly everyday themes in mysteries these days: what's less common is the story of recluse Ron Woodruff (alias Kent Taylor), who has lived an isolated life in upstate New York for five years, until an FBI agent on a covert mission and an elusive new killer breaks into his world and threatens to destroy it. 

Assassins, corruption, and even romance suddenly spill into Ron's self-imposed isolation and what opens as a theme of withdrawal from life and conflict becomes steeped in threats brought about by a juxtaposition of past experience and present events. 

As memories turn into nightmares and blossoming romance breaks down even the most rigid of barriers, Ron finds his carefully constructed fortress of solitude crumbling on many levels: "Woodruff could scarcely believe that he would ever be so lacking in self-control, so foolish to open any door even a crack. The extent of relationship he could have with someone like Katie was not something that might be limited, occasional, or even something simply neighborly." 

Still, there are a lot of surprises yet to be explored in Ron's carefully-constructed world, and romance proves the least of his problems as he struggles with past and present threats to remain a survivor on his own terms. 

Nowhere Out is about self-invention and control, the fine lines between murder and justice, and, ultimately, about the inevitability of life's connections and patterns. 

It's a sequel to similar events in Nowhere Man, so one might initially believe a familiarity with the prior book is needed - or, that the events in this one will mirror those of its predecessor. Not so: Nowhere Out needs no prior introduction and stands well on its own (although readers who enjoy this novel will likely want to read its predecessor). Some precedents for Ron's isolation are set in the events of Nowhere Man, but Nowhere Out is a rare beast in that its story line, although connected to prior events, doesn't need any explanation to stand completely on its own - and, that's rare in a sequel. 

Can one completely retire from life with the specter of a ruthless killer at large - a killer that only a few men can stop? Apparently not…and just as Ron can't run from either his past or present, so readers will find its story line gripping enough to feel compelled to read through all of its twists and turns to discover a satisfyingly complex conclusion that leaves no loose ends. 

Nowhere Out

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A Patriot's Act
Kenneth Eade
Times Square Publishing
978-1500284992      $4.99

While readers needn't hold familiarity with Kenneth Eade's prior courtroom thriller A Predatory Kill, be forewarned: such a familiarity will provide background for A Patriot's Act, which continues Brent Marks' globe-trotting international encounters; and newcomers who enjoy this book will turn to its predecessor for another well-grounded, involving legal thriller. 

A courtroom would seem the last place to find Marks when a naturalized American citizen goes missing in Iraq, but it prompts him to battle the U.S. government with its own Constitution in search of justice.Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet. 

And events don't stop in the courtroom's boundaries or jurisdiction, either, as they lead to detention and torture in Guantanamo Bay and involve an American citizen who is being pressed for information he doesn't have. In fact, the story opens with the bang of this detention, torture, and its ultimate result. It doesn't end there - so readers are afforded little opportunity to stop reading before they find themselves immersed in the 'who, what, where and why' of what evolves into an international thriller spiced with legal and business concerns. 

A wife's determination to locate her missing husband in Iraq against all odds fuels the events to follow, which assume a winding progression of political, legal, and personal encounters. 

Be forewarned: there are periods of (and graphic accounts) torture; and while these scenes are in keeping with both the plot and real-world events, that doesn't mean that A Patriot's Act is a recommendation for the light thriller reader. Sometimes the juxtapositions of life at Guantanamo and events back home in the States proves both striking and jarring: "As Ahmed choked and sputtered, the nurse put a mask over his face, and he threw up in the mask, covering his face with his own vomit. Brent placed a luscious bite of Lobster Thermidor in his mouth, savoring the creamy mixture. Debbie, the blonde bombshell, looked on affectionately." 

It's all about delicate balance of power and experience - something gone awry in A Patriot's Act, and something explored through intimate descriptions: "Debbie’s home cooking was great, but the company was even better. As the candles dwindled, they drained the bottle of Pinot Grigio. Brent’s thoughts drifted to Ahmed. It’s true that life is a balance between hardship and joy. Everybody suffers. But in Ahmed’s case the balance was decidedly tipped toward suffering, and the joy was only in his memories." 

As Eade deftly juxtaposes the lives of two very different Americans experiencing two very different circumstances, he delves into the politics and processes of prisoners and military men alike, exposing the wounds of their experience and psyches and the points at which man's inhumanity stems from a worldview that dehumanizes and rips apart systems and people. 

It's a machine-gun staccato of relentless violence, unremitting action, and underlying issues of freedom, sacrifice, and the ultimate results of America's 'war on terror'. 

If Eade's intention is to grab his readers by the collar and shake them up with an exposé of detainees who have no freedoms, rights, or hopes under the Patriot Act, concluding with courtroom activities that define the very nature of freedom itself, then he's more than succeeded in providing such a story under the guise of a legal thriller that probes the foundations of America's belief system against the backdrop of terrorist activities. 

Have the terrorists won their quest for freedom's erosion, exposing its underbelly of inconsistencies and repression - and will Brent Marks win his quest for justice? That's for the reader to learn in a novel that deftly winds its way around the world and through the hearts and minds of its audience as it provides a compelling, thought-provoking (and not an easy) read. 

A Patriot's Act

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Shatter Point
Jeff Altabef
Evolved Publishing LLC
ASIN: B00N56E7ZA           $3.99
Amazon Link:
Paperback: $14.95 

A serial killer is nothing new to the mystery genre. A woman kidnapped by one who has been watching and stalking her for years is nothing special, either. But take these ingredients and add a near-future setting (2041), more than a dose of political intrigue, and the efforts of sons to retrieve their mother (only to uncover a snake's pit of family secrets entwined with deadly political and social conflict) and you have an original, gripping saga in Shatter Point. 

Everything comes together with a bang, here; from decades of a killer's careful plots to a future America vastly changed, but firmly grounded on logical outcomes of actions in modern times. 

One would expect the story to open with its protagonist Maggie, or perhaps her stalker Cooper: instead, it all begins in a lab where scientists are experimenting with a drug that regenerates brain tissue - a drug about to be used on a young patient, which holds the potential to end Alzheimer's and improve cognitive function - or kill. 

From genetic manipulation and twists of fate to cold-blooded murder, scenarios change with a snap but succeed in bringing readers along for what evolves into a wild ride of not just murder and mayhem, but social inspection: "Without extraordinary vines, truly superior wine cannot flourish. The same is true with humans. Only those with the proper genetic code can truly be exceptional.” 

As events evolve from lab to real world and spill over into 2041 interactions and political possibilities, the focus on a dangerous drug's development and use centers Shatter Point and keeps it a turbulent story with a powerful focal point. And one of the points is: the drug has its pros and cons. Like everything else in Shatter Point, nothing is simple or cut-and-dried. 

It's when you add the social issues, however, that the story really gets interesting and departs from anticipated routes: "That’s the best part.” Wickersham laughed. “‘We can brainwash the ghettos and transform them into hard-working citizens at the same time. Some will even work themselves to death without realizing what they’re doing. 

The promise of a cancer vaccine, the secret Project Qing that involves the highest levels of government, a Vice President of the U.S. who believes his superior genes gives him the right to not only manipulate but kill - all this coalesces in a thriller that grabs readers and doesn't let go, skillfully twisting, turning, and manipulating its plot for maximum impact. 

Now, readers of the prior Fourteenth Colony (of which this reviewer is not) will likely be satisfied with a sequel which further adds social and political perspectives to the futuristic setting; but newcomers will find absolutely no prior familiarity is necessary to enjoy Shatter Point as the stand-alone thriller that it is - and that's saying a lot in a publishing world where too many books that should ideally be singular volumes are broken down into cliff-hanging trilogies and beyond. 

The dystopian world posited by Shatter Point, in which wealth and privilege is concentrated in a relatively small pool and everyone else struggles with marginal lives in tightly regulated circles, is more than believable. Issues of poverty are taken to new levels here, while characters share often-cloudy degrees of responsibility to themselves and each other. At the heart of many issues is the ideal of superiority and the 'right' of some individuals to decide for others; even in life-or-death situations. 

In such a scenario, individual actions and responsibility become equally murky, and even the strongest protagonist  (such as Maggie) can find herself confused about the points where a little knowledge translates to social responsibility and when it should be limited to protecting one's turf. 

From the moral and ethical dilemmas posed by drug testing to the control of violence in a society dominated by privilege, Shatter Point reveals much food for thought. Add the overlap of romance, murder mystery, and political thriller and you have a truly multifaceted read that grabs a hold with powerful protagonists and issues and won't let go till its logical, satisfyingly unexpected conclusion: a neat wrap-up perfect for a precisely-evolving thriller. 

Shatter Point

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Surviving the Endgame
Alan L. Moss
Whiskey Creek Press
978-1-63355-625-6 Paperback: $16.99 at and Whiskey Creek Press
978-1-63355-600-3 E-Book: $3.99 at, Barnes & Noble, and Whiskey Creek 
Amazon Paperback
Amazon E-Book
Barnes & Noble Nook
Whiskey Creek Press E-Book and Paperback

Surviving the Endgame moves with the precision of a game of chess.  It opens with the promise of a quiet life for its protagonist, but as additional moves take place, soon it becomes evident that he will continue to be an unwilling pawn in the greater game of international intrigue.  

Rob Taylor is back in Madison, Wisconsin and is ready to begin life anew.   Married to the woman who saved his life and enrolled in medical school, he's put international intrigue and death-defying moves aside.  Soon, a New York Times series of articles will reveal the conspiracy that threatened his life and he will be in the clear. 

Unfortunately, a quiet, drama-free life is not in Rob's cards.  When he finds that the newspaper exposé has been shelved, he also discovers that the conspiracy has re-grouped under new, vicious leadership.  This time the goal is to elect a presidential candidate under their thumb regardless of what might be required. 

When professional killers come after Rob and his wife, they abandon their new life and initiate a wild escape assisted by a friend with a pilot’s license and Piper aircraft.  Once again, Rob must match wits with the international terrorist group with unlimited funding and capabilities usually reserved for national security agencies.  

Surviving the Endgame carefully plots its moves and characters. As the conspiracy seeks control of the national election campaign, those who have suffered at their hands investigate past crimes and plot to defeat the conspirator’s presidential candidate.  Chess usually features willing players, but Rob and his allies have been given no choice but to die or fight back with death-defying close encounters and a bold campaign strategy. 

Entanglements range from the highest levels of political office to the Cloud itself, with circles of conspiracy ever-widening in a satisfyingly complex manner. Rob and an interesting cast of supporting characters battle right down to the last page of the novel.  Especially interesting are Anna Goddard, CEO of Mid-Continent Energy and new leader of the conspiracy; Seymour Rothstein, a dogged reporter for The Sound newspaper; and Larry Knowles, Goddard’s paramour who seeks corporate promotions in return for his silence.  

Surviving the Endgame is recommended for any who enjoy the action of thrillers, especially those that revolve around international intrigue, politics, and presidential campaigns. 

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that events hold many surprises as they unwind, and nothing is guaranteed - not even the survival of favorite characters. It's about loss of life, survival against all odds, and capturing power in a seemingly endless game that perhaps nobody can truly win.  Even the most seasoned thriller reader will find Surviving the Endgame filled with delightfully unexpected moments. 

Surviving the Endgame

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Kennedy Obohwemu
First Edition Design Publishing
9781622876785     $18.95
Ordering link: 

Cover art can be a big determiner of whether or not to pick up a novel; so it's worth mentioning the exceptionally memorable cover image of Twisted, featuring a giant businessman sitting amongst small urban buildings, head in hand, with lightning sparking all around him and a subtitle that compels: "Before things went sour, he needed a minor miracle. Now, he needs the Red Sea to part…" 

And that’s just the opener and draw for Twisted, which is inspired by actual events and which integrates themes of terrorist plots with romance and a man unwittingly caught in a net of intrigue and shocking revelations about his past. 

Don't expect your usual thriller format, however; for protagonist author Mofe Esiri's only starting his impossible journey with these revelations: a trip that includes time travel, family ties, a clever killer with international and mafia ties, and more. 

At times it feels that Mofe is trapped in so many ways that he will never untangle the twisted web he's spun for himself through his actions and investigations. Nigerean culture permeates the story line, from the blossoming film industry that is 'Nollywood' to the pageantry of rising wealth and the country's blossoming tourist industry. Against this backdrop, Mofe's impossible world emerges; one that evolves from his status as an acclaimed Nigerian writer who lives outside of his country and which follows his unwitting entry into danger after having lived a peaceful life filled with rare (for a Nigerian) literary acclaim. 

It seems inevitable that anyone who sits in the hot seat of success will experience a downfall - but not the kind of downfall any could expect from Africa's most successful author, who serves as the role model of achievement for his generation. 

Expect a story line replete with the ups and downs of success and failure, with some of these elements coming from personal achievement and others stemming from romance. Expect, also, a story filled with intrigue and action; a surreal thriller couched not just in the specter of international intrigue, but the daily challenges of infidelity, oppression, court cases and police activities, and one man's unwitting involvement in a criminal outfit more than capable of murder. 

Within such a scenario the seeds of human bonds and relationships are born. Against the threat of violence emerges love. And as the hopes of a man tempted to live out his erotic fantasies becomes inexorably entwined with the world of assassins, he finds himself not just navigating a strange land, but maneuvering through the changes it will introduce to a life seemingly laced with good luck and unprecedented literary success. 

Anyone unfamiliar with Nigerian politics and culture will find Twisted a welcome introduction, while those with a degree of knowledge about Africa will find it replete with truths about the state of affairs affecting not only its citizens in-country but the expats who live outside its borders. 

It holds all the trappings of mystery, suspense and romance without the usually-Western settings and sentiments that permeate these genres, and it offers both believable and absorbing protagonists with a locale steeped in Africa's rich social and political milieu. 

The result will especially please literary-minded readers who enjoy all three genres, but who seek more depth than the usual thriller affords. 


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A Cat Out of Egypt
C. L. Francisco, PhD
978-1500776411       $11.98 

A Cat Out of Egypt is billed as a prequel to Yeshua's Cat (…not seen by this reviewer), and opens with a prologue that deftly sets the first-person character as cat Miw, called 'Daughter of Fire' among her people. Born with the rare ability to communicate with humans, Miw is growing old and thus is motivated to share her story about her encounters with humans she normally eschews and one special human in particular. A Cat Out of Egypt is her story and will attract a range of readers from young adult through adults. 

But if you think you're getting the typical cat's-eye view of a cat's life, think again: this story begins with the birth of a baby in a manger, where the magi aren't the only ones to see a strange star in the sky and wonder. So does the Great Cat Who is Bast, as she gives birth to kittens - and thus begins a journey of transformation and fear: one in which vipers and sacred dancers mingle and portents spark an ancient cat culture to view human events with a new perspective. 

As one special cat interacts with young Yeshua and imparts wisdom on what it means to live in a cat's world, readers are in for a treat that presents Biblical events and times from quite a different (cat-oriented) vantage point wedded to the notion of a Goddess overseeing all, rather than a male God: "The goddess is simply the One who is. And it makes sense. Among cats, mothers feed and care for the young. Fathers go their own ways and care little for their children. If a male cat offers neither love nor sustenance to his kittens, why should a male deity do more?” 

Spiritual revolution is in the air and human and cat worlds alike find their focal points in one child who will grow up to change everything: "Who was this child who held the power of life in his hand? Had he spoken truly when he said all gods but the One Creator were lesser gods, unfit to be called by that name? Was her beloved Bast, Flame of the Morning and Mother of Light, no more than a trembling wraith who thinned and vanished before the brilliance of the god Yeshua called the One?" 

Sons and mothers, friendships between animal and human, the birthing of kittens and new possibilities, and (most of all) the evolution of a new force in the world saturate a striking blend of spiritual history and feline observation that holds many important spiritual conversations and observations: "I know there was a time when people everywhere knew the face of the Creator. Our scriptures tell us so. But scripture doesn’t explain how they could have forgotten the name of the One who formed them from the dust, and confused him with the small spirits of the Earth. Even the beasts are not so blind. “I wonder if the glory of the One was too great? Perhaps the human heart cries out for a god it can see and touch." 

Enchanting, poetic, engrossing, and vivid, A Cat Out of Egypt is simply a delight, and highly recommended for Christian readers who would gain a different, fictional, cat's-eye perspective on Jesus' early experiences and his interactions with the world. 

A Cat Out of Egypt

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Dead Soul Mary: A Novel
M.J. Winn
Janday Publishing
ISBN Kindle Edition:  978-0-9840269-5-1
ISBN ePUB Edition:   978-0-9840269-7-5
ISBN Trade Paperback Edition:  978-0-09840269-4-4
Price: Kindle Edition: $3.95
Price ePUB Edition $3.95
Trade Paperback Edition $14.99
Apple iBooks:
Google Play:

Dead Soul Mary: A Novel begins with a simple premise: that souls can become sick, and that they can die while the host lives on, unaware that anything is missing. This, in itself, is a thought of horror - but it's only the beginning for seventeen-year-old protagonist Megan, who finds the world a bloodbath of horror and wonders why. 

Don't expect a singular story line in Dead Soul Mary, however: it presents many twists of theme that elevate it beyond the usual horror genre production. 

Megan's an adopted Korean-American teen who has her hands full as she battles an infected sociopath bent on spreading the soul-killing disease he carries. It's a disease that masks right from wrong, that leads to killing sprees, and which is likely responsible for much of society's descent into a bloodbath of atrocities.  It's one that infects innocent people with hate - and it's a disease that host Desmond has successfully transmitted to Megan. 

A vast number of horror novels produced today represent genre formula writing at its worst, with shallow characters, predictable plots, and story premises that don't seem very extraordinary, at all. Not so Dead Soul Mary, which begins with the premise of a soul-infecting plague, draws in readers with a multi-dimensional young protagonist who struggles with her own self as well as the wider outside world, and who serves as a focal point for the vast social changes to come. 

Through Megan's eyes events come to life - and through Desmond's eyes, his evolution from a 'marked' but happy child with an impish spirit to a soul consumed by hatred is also well drawn. Because the novel revolves around these two, it spans a number of decades from the late 1960s to modern times, following the different paths and worlds of each protagonist until they ultimately, inevitably, intersect. 

As with any horror story, there are gruesome scenes described; so despite its protagonist's age, Dead Soul Mary is recommended for mature teen to adult readers. This audience will find the plot peppered with so much more than overt horror: i.e. the complex issues of race relations, the seeds of the downtrodden that grow into attitudes, and the determination to survive even at the cost of one's soul ("And it happened. As she pulled the door toward her to greet the bony, grim-faced Mr. Tully, the best part of Delores unceremoniously disappeared from view. Everything was gone."). All these facets entwine in a story line that is rich with psychological insight as well as slowly-building horror. 

Horror readers shouldn't expect nonstop action, here, either.  M.J. Winn takes plenty of time to build up plot and protagonist - and it pays off big time, in a progression of believable events fueled by realistic motivation and protagonist responses. 

In the course of describing events, there are scenes where Megan encounters racism even among friends, and learns that her heritage alone may spark unreasonable hatred: "Hearing him say “these people” stung. Megan had a special fondness for Trisha’s grandfather, and she thought he had felt the same for her; he used to call her Chinadoll and offer coins from his pockets. While growing up, she had liked to pretend he was her grandfather, and now he was treating her like a stranger. But worse than that, he seemed bitter, like he reviled her or perhaps blamed her." 

At the heart of it all is a virus that only Megan can battle; a plague that soon becomes public knowledge despite its impossible progression: “Haven’t you been watching the news? It’s gotten much worse since this morning. People are going berserk from this new Stutterbug Virus. Normal folks attacking strangers for no reason, mothers hurting their babies and shit like that…" 

In real life, true horror often evolves slowly - it doesn't always drop into one's world with a bang, like so many horror writers portray. So it's a real pleasure to find a slowly-building plot where the horror element is tempered by the motivations, influences and history of realistic people just trying to live their lives. 

And perhaps that's Dead Soul Mary's greatest talent: its ability to depict a social breakdown and spreading virus that holds roots in believable possibility. Fueled by a young protagonist who struggles with moral and spiritual faith and makes deadly mistakes despite good intentions, this is a spirited and slowly-evolving horror story made all the more compelling for its links to modern concerns over escalating world violence. 

Dead Soul Mary: A Novel

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Glorious Sunset
Ava Bleu
Urban Christian Books / Kensington Press Distributors
9781601626707         $TBA 

Be careful what you wish for: it can come back in an unexpected form and bite you. That's just one of the messages in the multi-faceted story Glorious Sunset, which toes a fine line between romance and fantasy and injects a healthy dose of humor into the mix for good measure. 

A romance between a four-hundred-year-old genie and a contemporary interior designer with no memory of their past love sounds like an unlikely scenario for humor, much less spiritual reflection; but Glorious Sunset comes steeped in a blend of wry observation and irony (which makes for a satisfyingly unique, edgy style) while spiritual concerns are only one strong thread running through a winding, changing saga. 

The story opens in 1600 A.D. in West Africa, where a king and warrior faces his own death, the fiery destruction of his village and - most importantly - the end of his one love in life. Taka can't handle the reality that his beloved queen is dead, and in his madness he awakens the one force that has saved and counseled him through the eons: Aniweto, a friend and guardian angel. 

Aniweto is the vessel of God, God's messenger, and the means by which Taka perceives meaning and purpose in his constantly-conflicted life. Taka demands that his love be reunited with him; but even if she could, she does not have his warrior personality and it's likely she won't accept being awakened or saved in the aftermath of their entire village's destruction: "She has not years of battle; has never seen this much destruction or dreamed she would have to survive it. She is a strong spirit but this is too much for most of my children to bear. Too much for all but a man weaned, trained and protected by his guardian angel. You are the only one with the strength of mind and spirit to withstand this horror, Taka." 

In defiance, Taka struggles with his messenger and its higher power and makes a decision that will change his life forever: "Two years with Zahara could never be enough. A lifetime could never be enough. “You are a false and cruel Entity to play games such as this. What is the purpose? Are we just toys? Playthings to amuse You?” “Taka, I allow you license to speak because my love for you is great, but it is not your right to question my purpose.” “If I cannot question Your purpose—if Your reply to me is that I have no more right to question my existence than a child should question why he must take his sustenance every day—then it is obvious to me You have no respect for me." 

And so the only logical action is taken by the diety to alter the world of Taka and his eternal love: a course that creates a genie and the path Taka will forever walk in search of the impossible. 

To say that Glorious Sunset opens with a bang is to understate its power. In just one chapter, Ava Bleu captures a timeless dialogue between human and deity and deftly explains how a genie becomes a trapped, wandering soul. In the first chapter Taka's unending journey and limitations are set: it's up to the remainder of the book to play out his eternal search - and Glorious Sunset does so with a deft hand and an attention to detail that perfectly captures spiritual and human objectives alike. 

From this emotionally and spiritually-charged beginning, fast forward to the present to one Violet Jackson, an ambitious interior designer. The last thing she needs - or believes in - is Taka's love; so his task is formidable even after he finds her.

And even when Violet comes to believe in his genie powers, she's fixated not on his love, but on his abilities: "Listen, your concern is much appreciated. You obviously have a lot of time to spend pondering the meaning of life but I really just want you to grant my wish." "To make you like a stick?" "Size eight, no larger." "You are already larger, are you not?" "I can afford to lose a pound or two." "I do not want to grant this wish. Can you not believe me when I tell you you are beautiful as you are?" "Once again, very sweet, but let me explain this in terms you can understand. You …” she pointed at his chest. “…will be gone tomorrow and I'll be stuck in a time where size fourteen is way too fat. I need to be smaller. It’s simple. 

Taka's dilemma is constant: it turns out that his former queen Violet challenges his arrogance as much as his God did when he made Taka a genie, doomed to forever wander through time granting wishes and seeking his lost love. 

Be careful what you wish for. It can come back and bite you, as Glorious Sunset proves time and again. It's about faith and power, arrogance and acceptance, tragedy and salvation, and (above all) different levels of love. It grabs readers with sharp passages of insight and thought-provoking events and cements its hold with humor and reflection. What's not to love? 

Glorious Sunset

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Less Than Nothing
R.E. Blake
Reprobatio Ltd.
978-1-63415-015-6            $2.99 

Coming-of-age romance novels are nothing new: stories of evolving love and maturity ever proliferate against different backdrops, with dissimilar protagonists fueling change. 

What sets Less Than Nothing apart from the crowd are several added facets not typical in your usual love story. For one thing, the main protagonist, Sage, is homeless; a teenage runaway living in the streets of San Francisco. 

Her street savvy, quickly honed from survival instincts, includes just enough skills to evade cops and predators and make money to feed herself; but when she meets a fellow musician (Derek), her carefully polished abilities must expand to meet the unexpected challenge of including a relationship. 

Less Than Nothing is about this expansion process and charts the course of two already-independent teens who have more starry eyes than street savvy, and who handle their unexpected relationship with caution.  The only reliable force in her life prior to Derek has been her Yamaha guitar ("…it’s the one thing in my life that’s a constant, and now that I’m homeless, it’s doing double duty supporting me…"): now it's time for Sage to accept something into her life and heart that's not inanimate - and trust that it will support her equally well. 

How trust develops, how love evolves from that, and how two people living on the streets wind up pursing a dream bigger than each of them makes for a winding series of connections and interconnections that bind the two disparate characters together and capture reader interest. 

Mature teens to adults will find the story holds believable dialogue, themes of major changes and transitions between teens just beginning to realize possibilities in their lives, and a progressive discussion that is involving and tense. 

A coast-to-coast journey undertaken by ambitious teens who have little but one another, their dreams, and musical connections adds spice and a sense of adventure and discovery. As with many young adult novels, adults rarely factor into the interactions and events presented - until Derek makes a deal-killing mistake that causes Sage to question their goals and more closely refine her own, separate dreams. 

Less Than Nothing is a road trip undertaken on the power of dreams and the certainty of youth in meeting the seemingly-impossible head-on. It's about a spunky girl who has her own well-developed psyche and who wants more than immersion in another's dreams - and it's about how two ambitions weave together in this milieu to create something better than either alone could have achieved. 

While young adults will be the likely audience for Less Than Nothing, let's not omit the adult reader who enjoys romances spiced with stories of personal transformation. It doesn't get much more realistic or optimistic than this story of how two lives collide, move apart, and then consider the pros and cons of coming back together, but in a whole new way. 

Less Than Nothing

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The Metronome
D.R. Bell   $3.99

As Book One of a projected trilogy, The Metronome's subtitle warns right away that this will be no light fling and that events will likely be supported and expanded by further books in the series. That said, expect a novel of international intrigue that stands well on its own while providing a prequel to the already-published The Great Game. 

That the 'old country' (in this case, Russia) permeates much of The Metronome is evident from its first paragraph, which sets an atmosphere of intrigue: "I hate when phone rings in the middle of the night. Nobody likes such calls, but for me the feeling is visceral. It must have come from the old country, where a knock in the dark often meant that a black car is waiting downstairs and someone will disappear. Because of my father’s work, we had the luxury of a phone. When it rang at odd hours, I heard my parents whisper. Then my father would quietly dress up and leave." 

Pavel's father was a detective, so Pavel is used to family secrets, even though he's now a physicist on Wall Street far from his Russian homeland and its mysteries.  But the death of his father brings him back to Russia; there to uncover a mystery that will follow him, in turn, back to the U.S. and take over his life. 

The Metronome's theme (one of many) of unwanted memories that spring up to haunt a new life in a different country is just one facet of Pavel's experience that not only rocks his world but brings readers along for what turns out to be a wild ride of international intrigue, family secrets, and mystery. 

So what does an old metronome have to do with the sequence of events? It runs through Pavel's life as a recurring symbol, linking disparate events and memories: "Sometimes my parents would turn the metronome on. Click…click…click. They would do it when they argued, then one would turn on the device and an argument would end. And sometimes the mother would say, “Today is such-and-such date” and start the metronome. My parents would exchange glances and grow silent for a minute." 

It shows up in a journal with missing pages that answers some questions in the course of raising others: "But mostly it’s a “click, click, click” sound of the metronome, heartbeat of the starving, frozen city. We are not living, we are surviving one day at a time." 

And in a world of invisible bonds and struggles for survival in the midst of a brutal World War II siege of Leningrad, sometimes the metronome is the only remaining reminder of life itself: "We try to keep the radio on; Nastya winds it up with whatever little energy she has. There is still a daily reading of poetry or occasional music, but mostly it’s the metronome ticking. I feel a mystical connection to it – as long as the metronome is beating, we are alive. It’s like a tiny beam of light in the midst of darkness." 

The metronome is a play and a heartbeat; it's the sound that reminds of life's vibrant and inevitable ticking progression, and it's a son's legacy linking present and past worlds, even across an ocean of distance: "I turn on the old metronome, the way my parents did when I was a child. I listen to its sound, tuning out the noise of a busy New York street and imagining my parents as teenagers, huddled around a wooden crank radio, hungry and cold, armed only with their will to live." 

Don't expect a simple (or easily-defined) novel, here: The Metronome is a link between Russia and the West, between long-hidden family secrets and a son's new life in this new country, and between a detective's investigation into a killer and his ties to the past. 

Its twists and turns are multifaceted and delicately woven and will delight readers who eschew the usual shallow leisure read for something richer and steeped in other cultures. In this, The Metronome shines, analyzing Pavel's life and the final decision that will set him free, once and for all. 

The Metronome

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Neither Children Nor Gods
Warren Albrecht
Infinity Publishing

Soft Cover 978-1-4958-0399-4 
Ebook 978-1-4958-0401-4

 The first thing to note about Neither Children Nor Gods: A Chronicle Of Humanity And War is that it's powerful military fiction that holds descriptions and references steeped in images of battle right from the start: "The Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom) hovers over the American psyche like a drone on auto-pilot." From rules of engagement to what sets the juggernaut of a great nation on a path to war and leads it to view battle as a lofty drama instead of a bloody vision of reality, opening chapters prove merely the first round in a battering attack on the concepts and presentation of war's justifications. 

It's the soldiers on the field who pick up the political will of government and people and enact these ideals through wider struggle. It's the soldiers on the field who ultimately pay the price of military and political maneuvering and decisions. And, in Neither Children Nor Gods, it's the principles of war, their careful application, and their outcome that is closely examined in a military saga that will prove, on closer inspection, to be a horse of another color. 

From Kabul to a professor's chair in America, events swirl around the life of a disabled veteran and professor of military history who teaches cadets the basics of battle and how they are won - or lost. Struggling with flashbacks that can be sparked by something as simple as liquor or a computer screen, veteran G.D. can see his world change in seconds. Thus, his grasp of reality is tenuous at best, even in peaceful settings. 

Events also swirl around the broken relationships between young officers, the aftermath of trauma which results in alcoholism and PRSD, a battle involving past romance and present-day dangers, and individuals forced to confront the lasting impact of their decisions. 

Thus is the real cost of war chronicled from an everyday life: "…a weary and cynical historian, a cloistered shadow of himself. His presentations on the principles of war layered with doubt, he had become an atheistic military historian. A cloak of defiance and stubbornness draped a ragged and disquieted wraith that drank too much." 

One almost would think this passage portends that the narrative will end with quiet conclusion - but Neither Children Nor Gods won't end with a whimper; these are only the opening salvos setting the stage of world-changing paradigms to come. G.D. faces a new breed of cadet and a military game changing with the rise of Isis and a new breed of terrorist warfare overseas. 

Terrorism slowly embeds itself into military actions that sweep from America to Middle East and embrace misconceptions, ideology, and dangerous assumptions alike: "In the end, Al Malik would see that this officer lost his life in a manner befitting his misinterpretation of history and the Quran." 

Few dare to confront terrorists; but then, Henry is about to die: he figures he has nothing to lose by presenting the truth: "Your lands are not holy. Arab tribes have feuded and fought over them for ages, like dogs fighting over dinner scraps. America does not occupy your land. Nineteen Muslims hijacked four of our airplanes and killed three thousand innocents. Those Muslims were Al Queda. You brought the Americans to your lands through your own hand.” 

A woman held hostage, a man with the savvy to inform American intelligence via hand signal Morse code about where they are being held, turbulent lives and relationships born in the military ("It was all good fun - the laughs at someone else’s expense - the camaraderie developed within the four years of living the same turbulent life – the final days until graduation."): it's unusual to see so many disparate elements under the guise of military fiction - but that's actually the second strength to note about Neither Children Nor Gods. Nothing is set in stone. 

Tension builds with exquisite details, but it's the military insights, firmly grounded in real-world encounters, which are its strength as cadets transition from school to battlefields ("They had learned about character and honor. Now they were going to have to live those ideals. It was one thing to be a cadet officer and give orders to their peers. Now they were going to give orders to NCO’s and Joe’s who did not share the same life and had not been taught in the same rigid value system.") and even the most seasoned of military men find themselves stymied by old routines that no longer work. 

Most military fiction churns out formula writing and a singular focus: one battle, one perspective, one ideal, one inevitable conclusion. Neither Children Nor Gods follows none of this routine - and that's its third notable exception to the rule of tired and battle worn military scenarios: its ability to take stories of officers, cadets, retired personnel and young hearts and minds on the brink of discovery and weave all together with evolving political and military challenges to create a powerful saga of survival and evolution. 

There's nothing singular about this approach; so if it's just entertainment that is desired - or descriptions of military prowess - then, best to look elsewhere. Plenty of military novels offer this brand of leisure reading distraction. Neither Children Nor Gods stands out from the crowd and examines acts of nobility. Its protagonists excel at reaching beyond the call of duty. So does this novel. 

Neither Children Nor Gods

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The Oblate's Confession
William Peak
Secant Publishing
9780990460800    $25.99 

Readers of historical fiction typically value settings and history as much as drama - and that's where some historical stories fall short, focusing on events and adding only the faint trappings of the background that would fully explain their progression. And this point is where The Oblate's Confession departs from many other novels set in England's Dark Ages, standing apart in its approach and depth to make it a superior, recommended historical story. 

The Oblate's Confession is set in seventh century England and revolves around a warrior's son who is given to a monastery that resides on the border between two rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The chaos affecting the land (from warfare and plague) permeates even the monastery's relative isolation and reaches into young Winwaed's life against all efforts of his teachers and a hermit, who lives near the monastery and who serves as his surrogate father. 

It's a holy trinity gone awry when the return of his natural father results in a clash between the child's monastic superior, the hermit, and the warrior stranger who sired him. 

That is the basic overview of a plot replete with politics, conflict, and Middle Ages struggles for survival. Now for the nitty-gritty … The Oblate's Confession also takes readers on a trip through time. This is not to say it's a time-slip story; just that its ability (through use of the first-person and powerful descriptions) to capture the sights, sounds, smells and feel of its time will successfully transport readers to the distant past like few others can achieve: "It was not as bright as I had expected but it was bright.  I blinked and then looked again.  The sun was well up now, mid-morning, and it looked as if it would be a nice day.  It had rained during the night and the air was sweet and fragrant.  I placed my hands on the windowsill and leaned out.  A breeze moved over the surface of the outer wall and the perspiration on my forehead began to dry, the skin there suddenly feeling cool and fresh." 

Few historical novels take the time to create proper atmosphere. Most breeze (or, more likely, charge) through such descriptions in favor of fast-paced action; but it's this approach that truly immerses readers in the era - and that's what superior historical fiction is all about. 

The Oblate's Confession goes beyond narration and a fast-paced story line replete with personal and political struggle to snare readers with a series of exquisite descriptions that do more than create a setting: they inject the present-day follower with a vivid sense of the past. All the senses, in fact. 

Thus, expect passages of action tempered by the slow winding observational views of a young boy growing up and learning from his three very different fathers: "I had to think about it for a while - seeing the raindrops falling on the footprints, seeing other footprints falling on the raindrops - but when it finally came to me the solution seemed so obvious I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before: "You can tell when thins happened!" I cried. "You can tell when he passed through here by the raindrops!" 

Under William Peak's hand (and through a child's eyes) the Dark Ages of England not only begin to make sense - they come alive. Readers hone their sense of time and place as the boy matures into manhood and learns not only about obedience and faith, but about love and revenge. 

A good historical work recreates the times and events that drive motive, action and decisions. A superior work tempers these events with solid characterization, psychological insights, and a sharp sense of place that captures the everyday. 

From the Benedictine monks and their world to a young oblate's struggles to live in different realities, The Oblate's Confession more than succeeds in recreating the Dark Ages in all their facets. Not since Rosemary Sutcliff's historical prowess has such a strong sense of the times succeeded in drawing this reader into a powerful historical saga. 

The Oblate's Confession

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The Paradise Tree
Elena Maria Vidal
MayApple Books
9781500590628       $TBA
No Website 

The Paradise Tree opens in 1887 Ontario, where a clan mourns the death of family patriarch Daniel O'Connor, an Irish immigrant who has lead a tough life peppered with illness, battle and many struggles. Through it all Daniel and his wife have kept their faith and passed it on to a new generation; and now it's up to grandson Fergus to take these family values and move on. 

Readers seeking a spicy immigrant saga replete with Catholic faith and the search for spiritual and social freedom will find The Paradise Tree is just the ticket: it's historical fiction writing at its best, bringing alive not just the events of one man's life, but the underlying motivations, perceptions and struggles it embraces. 

Through Elena Maria Vidal's descriptions, the beliefs and driving force behind a devout Catholic immigrant's experiences comes to life with driving passages of color and passion defining the forces that ultimately compel an immigrant to leave his homeland for the unknown: "During the night, the crash of the waves sounded through the chambers of Daniel’s mind, speaking to him of another place, a faraway place mentioned in one of the old songs. The words urged themselves back into his memory: There is a distant isle/Around which sea-horses glisten;/Let not your intoxication overcome thee; Begin a voyage across a clear sea . . . .Daniel thought of the legends of the western seas and the Blessed Otherworld, which even holy monks like St. Brendan had sought to find. An inexpressible yearning welled in the depths of his being, as if something indefinable called to him from far away." 

Poetic, lyrical passages skillfully capture these motivators, which range from social and political change to failed crops and specter of starvation and a clan's survival. No punches are pulled: this is also a story of addiction and depression: facets that many immigrant stories leave out when recounting struggles. 

In order to appreciate the present-day events, the past needs to be thoroughly explored. The Paradise Tree does an outstanding job of creating this link with its a history of an Irish heritage, passed on from a grandfather's tales to his young grandson: "…so harsh were the laws that many Protestant authorities would not enforce them, and looked the other way. The religious orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Carmelites did not abandon us, but kept the faith of our people alive. They built tiny chapels, but those were few and far between. In my grandparents' day, Catholics went to Mass in private homes, at the back of the pub, or in the open fields at places called scathlans or Mass rocks. My parents went to hedge schools in the countryside, and the brave Presentation sisters taught many Irish children in and around Cork.” “I suppose it would have been easier for the Irish if they had all become Protestants?” Fergie wondered. Now that he was going to school, he was acutely aware that not everyone in the world was Catholic. The grandfather chuckled at the idea, so unthinkable that it was humorous. “Aye, easier to live, Fergie lad. Easier to live, but not easier to die.” 

As the lives of Daniel and his wife Bridget come to life, so are readers steeped in the culture, influences and motivations of a family unified by forces that invade their close-knit world and change the course of their lives. 

The Paradise Tree is a solid example of historical fiction at its best, illustrating the circumstances affecting its protagonists and capturing the drama of lives well lived. The fact that it's all based on the author's own family heritage ("…elements of The Paradise Tree were gleaned from private family papers and unpublished or privately published works, including assorted letters, newspaper clippings, and legal documents."), documenting how the author's family emigrated from Ireland to Canada, just makes it all the more compelling. 

The Paradise Tree

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Pest Control
Sofia Diana Gabel
Escargot Books and Music
ISBN (EPUB) 978-1-908191-99-1
ISBN (Paperback) 978-1-908191-29-8
Prices: $4.99 eBook, $9.99 print
Website :

Readers suffering from arachnophobia will either have their fears confirmed or should stay away from Sofia Diana Gabel's Pest Control, an environmental thriller that revolves around a spider invasion of epic proportions. But it would be a shame for such a phobia to result in avoiding this novel; for its arachnid-based action is exquisitely different from the usual thriller and revolves around an entirely new insect deterrent a professional killer community finds revolutionary and appealing. So begins a story of convoluted horror as the new product, Arach-No-More, is touted as a pest controller's dream (soon to prove a nightmare). 

There's more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek humor, here, as a neurotoxin designed to exclusively attack the DNA of spiders hits the market. With the new product comes not only the promise of ending arachnophobia, but wiping out a new breed of aggressive spiders threatening California. 

But as with any new environmental killer, the "new best friend" soon turns into a nightmare of epic proportions - and that's where Pest Control really comes into its own, offering a believable premise, a variety of involving characters with special interests, and an unexpected twist that ultimately makes even the most dangerous spider more desirable than the product that kills it.  

Greed, environmental battles, an outdoor world made unsafe by human meddling, and the rise of Pest No More as a top stock market company are all about to coalesce in a thunderous crash that will take down spider and human alike. 

This much is predictable from the start; but what isn't predictable is Pest Control's lively twists and turns that keep readers guessing about the outcome. And as Arach-No-More's victims adopt a deadly genetic mutation in an effort to adapt to their newly poisonous environment, schoolgirl Amelia (who harbors a beloved pet tarantula) finds herself in the unlikely role of trying to saving mankind from its own fears - as well as the spiders she loves. 

Has Arach-No-More succeeded in creating its own biggest spider nightmare? And can an ornery teen face down men who are richer, stronger, and nearly as clever as she? 

What sets Pest Control apart from any other Michael Crichton look-alike is its attention to detail. 

Amelia's motivations, background, and sassy savvy are logical and realistic and draw readers in with well-built human interest. And when the murders begin, her objectives lie at the heart of not only a personal struggle against environmental degradation and corporate greed, but a new technology that ultimately migrates into military hands and purposes. 

As a new spin-off product, Insecti-Gone, threatens the world, it's Amelia and her supporter Marvin against the evil Vogorev and special interests that embrace all aspects of what is wrong about environmental management efforts. But how can teenagers win over the tide of insect fear sweeping the nation: one that will result in irreversible decisions to not just control but eradicate anything perceived as a 'pest'? 

Pest Control asks some hard questions in the course of its wild ride through murder, manipulation, and environmental concerns. Its scenarios are not unlikely and in fact border on believable - and that's what makes it a powerful survey of a great scientific discovery, a world-ending decision based on greed, and an even greater experiment to possibly reverse the impossible. 

Anticipate a powerful blend of environmental thriller and murder mystery, all wrapped up in the passion and concerns of a feisty teenager determined to save what she loves. 

Pest Control

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Totem: Book 1: Scars
C. Michael Lorion
CML Publishing
ASIN:  B00JJ4D8NY    $2.99
Author website:
Ordering links: 
Barnes & Noble-

 The year is 1978, and Kimi and Achak are two teens immersed not only in sibling rivalry, but struggles over their Native American heritage. Their bond broke the day Kimi fell from a tree and claimed it saved her. The difference between these teens and others isn't their shared rivalry; it's the fact that they are actually three-hundred-year reincarnated souls with supernatural powers who know how to travel through time.  They have different purposes in mind for using their powers… and that's just the beginning of a story steeped in diverse elements ranging from Native American folklore to threatened twins and supernatural forces. 

Totem will attract not just young adult readers, but adults who will find satisfyingly involving its complex twists of plot and time-travel events. Another plus: this is no formula plot, but elegantly synthesizes fantasy, mystery, Native American cultural insight and teen angst to create a multi-faceted story that doesn't handily fit into any single genre. 

It's shades of Tony Hillerman's Native American mysteries but with the time-travel piece; it's parts of the best teen stories of sibling rivalry set against the backdrop of an epic quest; and it's steeped in local Massachusetts small-town culture. 

Most of all, Totem is about spiritual connections to an evolving new world and the choices that confront four teens as they decide what kind of world they will influence and, ultimately, create. It's an epic story on a far grander scale than the usual coming-of-age saga, blending portions of this feel with the wider ambitious quest of a girl charged with finding the Totem that will heal all - including herself. And this first book in the trilogy focuses on a single day in this quest and battle, so be prepared for more. 

Kimi's connections to the divine are anything but straightforward: "She prayed to The Great Spirit. She waited. Minutes passed. No voice. No vision. Nothing. She raised her head and opened her eye. She was on her own. No. That was not true. She felt as though she was on her own, but she knew that feelings most often were deceiving. This was simply the way it was between her and The Great Spirit. It was as elemental to her life as air was to breathingNo matter how long they were, or what form they took, Kimi’s petitions had never once been answered with any sign or vision or voice. Still, she continued seeking The Great Spirit’s guidance, always knowing that her petitions did not go unheard, always believing that The Great Spirit was there, guiding and sustaining her. She had no other choice but to be sure of that much. " 

Adding a parallel line of scars and conflict in the form of teens Abby and Josh who struggle with both their relationship and family tragedy lends depth to a story line that successfully juxtaposes the concerns of supernaturally-influenced twins with those of a couple on the verge of breaking up (and breaking down). They, too, are unexpectedly given the keys to stopping an ancient evil force in their world, and so they find themselves on a far greater mission than healing their broken families and relationship. 

Four teens, a host of scars carried forward through time, and forces of evil and good that all circle around the Totem, which creates a maelstrom of confusion and possibility in their lives...there's a lot of potential for confusion under a lesser hand, but C. Michael Lorion pulls it all together. 

With rich events, a host of supporting characters, and plenty of drama, Totem succeeds in entertaining and engrossing mature teen (because of its moments of violence that range from disfigurement to suicide) through adult readers, and creates a lively adventure story with many vibrant moments: "Kimi ran. More accurately, she moved as fast as nature would allow her to with a boy slung over her shoulder, a broken wrist in a splint, and a bad ankle that was getting worse now that Kimi had to run for her life. She limped and stumbled and scampered, the branches parted for her, and she was grateful to The Great Spirit for that. Since that time when the tree had saved her life, Kimi had, in times of danger, whether from animal or man, been in similar situations when the forest acted as her friend. Her protector. When the forest acted as if…as if it were alive. And it did not matter which forest it was. Whenever Kimi’s life had been threatened and she was close to a forest—it had never happened with a single tree—the forest acted on her behalf." 

Readers who enjoy trilogies packed with strong characterization and vivid events with more than a touch of supernatural influence will find Totem a powerfully compelling pick. 

Totem: Book 1: Scars

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The Color Symphonies
Wade Stevenson
Blazevox Books
9781609641757      $TBA 

Books on synesthesia are typically nonfiction accounts of the ability to 'feel colors'; but to have a literary, poetic work packed with descriptions integrating colors with characters and life is truly a horse of another color. Perhaps equating The Color Syphonies with Proust's flavorful writings would come closest; but even then, Proust is relatively inaccessible to all but the most literary follower - and The Color Symphonies is eminently accessible. 

Like a delicious ice cream, bits of color flake off in the mouth and leave pleasing impressions with every bite: "In the playful day/jets of light were launched,/the white spaces shuddered,/there was dazzling cobalt blue/fused with windblown yellow./You begin to hear colors/you never thought would speak." 

Biographical accounts have attempted to explain the perceptions and sensations of synesthesia; but few have truly succeeded… until now, it seemed one must be one of those rare individuals to 'feel color' or even understand descriptions of such a feeling. 

The poems in The Color Symphonies are like a blind man learning to see for the first time: they bring with them an extra dimension of perception and, for just a moment, take readers along on the journey that is synesthesia: a heightened sense of color perception that integrates color with sound and movement to create a symphony of extrasensory impressions. 

Wade Stevenson's words are delicately wrought and deftly capture the flavors and sensations of all kinds of light - even that which lies between in the realm of neither darkness or light: "It's not darkness or light,/it's not grey either,/doesn't come close to being/any known form of blue/It lies above the garden and the chairs,/unlike a fog it doesn't obscure/objects or dissolve them from sight." 

It's rare that a poetic work can be recommended for that fellow artist, the painter or capturer of colors. Usually wordsmiths and painters are separate creatures, each striving to capture the color-haunted world in a different manner, with different tools. 

Here the synthesis comes together - once more, a symphony of color - and invites the fellow artist working in another medium to come on in, sit down, and partake. 

The language of colors, their interactions, and their presentation all come to life in a collection where colors are the main characters, assuming the vibrant words of a canvas and interacting with calls and responses in the world that contains them, keeps them from spilling, merges and dissolves them, and simply dances. 

A good poetry collection describes. A better poetry collection captures. But a superior work absorbs, dissolves, recreates, immerses, and then dances … such is The Color Symphonies. There's simply quite nothing like its animated free verse and light-filled perspective, even in today's overloaded poetry genre. 

The Color Symphonies

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Running Down Broken Cement
Nancy Scott
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
978-1-59948-488-4                  $14.00

A number of Nancy Scott's poems have appeared in journals and blogs; but published appearance alone doesn't necessarily mean literary achievement - not if you consider the wealth of opportunities on the market for publishing poetry these days. 

In fact, there are so many, many poetry collections on the market these days that it takes a unique voice to stand out from the crowd. Ideally, something that goes beyond personal revelation and observation to embrace larger worldviews in such a way that the poetic structure itself lends to a different kind of achievement that moves beyond the traditional into the realm of exceptional. Running Down Broken Cement is that kind of achievement, and comes not from an isolated at-home literary writer but from a caseworker for the State of New Jersey who works with abused children and who, herself, has adopted and fostered them. 

Her messages are thus narrated from a unique perspective and purposeful life, and fictionalizes many of the stories she heard and the experiences 'in the trenches' of her work and life. These poems are, in fact, a testimony, to "…bear witness, to give voice to all the children and adults who struggle daily against the odds." 

Take the opener 'Sometimes What We Miss', for example. Against the backdrop of a handicapped mother who responds to the nighttime cries of a baby, the poignancy of her handicap (immediately compared to the newborn's more perfect body) is quickly cemented not by a contrast in physical abilities or limitations, but by what the mother gives to her baby: "She crooned a lullaby of lemon trees/ and goat bells tinkling,/ the music of laughter/ of shoes dancing, hands clapping/to the beat of the tarantella./ In this way Rosalita taught the child/ how to make its body sing." 

Timeless ethnic traditions passed down within a single nighttime lullaby - and all imparted in a succinct 21 lines of precise free verse that wastes not a word. Now, that's talent! 

Don't expect every poem to assume similar proportions, however. Many are vignettes of cases narrated in stanza style. Such is the case with 'The Tweed Jacket', which relates the dilemma of Jenny, whose mother and stepfather abused, then abandoned her. So why is she wearing the tweed jacket of her abuser? " All the kids wear their dad’s jacket/ besides it has a nice tobacco smell./ Jenny clutched her tweed arms/ tight around her budding body." 

There's no singular theme to these sagas; no age group that is immune from the caseworker's inspection. And sometimes trauma comes from within, from aging bodies, minds, and attitudes; as with an 81-year-old Brooklyn woman alone and increasingly precarious: "I find her a clean, sunny apartment/but those pesky upstairs neighbors start/zapping her with laser beams,/and the TV starts speaking directly to her…" 

Precarious people, precarious lives, and hints of rough diamonds and hope beneath thin skins of desperation: these are the urban visions captured in Running Down Broken Cement, which illuminates lives of quiet desperation. 

Any looking for poems cemented in the urban reality of mental illness, personal struggle, and survival will find attention to real-life scenarios powerfully entwined with free verse's accessible experiences; all neatly packaged into meetings that succeed in placing poetry readers at the heart of a caseworker who works with homeless families and abused children and who, herself, has adopted and fostered these children. 

Running Down Broken Cement

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Simple But Deep
Beth Francis Butler
9780991307838      $45.00 

The dawn of a new day brings forth responses in nature as creatures awaken and embark on their pursuits (largely surrounding survival): so such a dawn awakens pursuits in human lives, and the course of a day may mirror the course of a lifetime of journeys. 

Poetry readers who enjoy vivid blends of nature photos and simple free verse celebrating life and emotion will find much to love in Simple But Deep, which creates a progressive series of insights into these human pursuits and connections with nature. 

Simple But Deep opens with several nature pieces; the most striking of which is a photo of sunflowers against the backdrop of a rising (or setting) sun, pairing image with a simple haiku-like, 6-line verse linking morning's unfolding with a flower's awakening. 

The transition from tulips, pines, sunflowers and nature to blood-soaked human battles and huge ships may be jarring after the 'happy chorus' created by the natural observations; but expect these unusual juxtapositions to continue throughout the work, which excels in contrasts. 

From observations of human pursuits and nature to expressions of personal emotions ("I have hurt you/I know I have/Never did I mean to…"), Simple But Deep never leaves readers behind in its jumps between personal and wider worlds. 

Now, the field of poetry is replete with intellectual pursuits, verse constructed in the strictest of rhythmical rules, and 'deep' revelations that often lose readers seeking the simple observational tone of a free verse production. It's also replete with complexity and technically-adept writers who don't write for the general public, but for an audience of literary-minded giants. 

Don't expect this from Simple But Deep: it's constructed with the basic everyday poetry reader in mind, and offers a series of vignettes honed from a combination of life experience, personal observation, and poetic translation. 

Any who seek familiar emotions couched in simple verse and matched with truly striking imagery will find Simple But Deep is the collection of choice. 

Simple But Deep

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Vanilla Milk
Chanel Brenner
Silver Birch Press
978-0692267479    $TBA 

Memoirs and poetry collections flood the market; often to the point that a reviewer or editor's desk can be crowded with genre reads; many of which don't impart distinction or surprise. Such is not the case with Vanilla Milk, which holds both; not the least of which is a surprising blend of formats which melds a memoir to poetry.  And so, the first prerequisite for appreciating Vanilla Milk is affection for poems and memoirs alike. 

Chanel Brenner is not the first to use poems to immortalize and capture the events surrounding a child's death: Stan Rice's Some Lamb is one example of an outstanding synthesis of poem/memoir - and Vanilla Milk deserves to take its place alongside it, on the shelf of exceptional writings. 

The night her son Riley died, Brenner began to write a poem - only the fifth she'd ever written in her life. She began taking her journal everywhere, channeling her grief into something cathartic and concrete. 

Vanilla Milk is the result, sending the pain "somewhere" - and that 'somewhere' proves to be a collection that honors her son, keeps a piece of him alive, and transmits a small bit about him to the wider world. 

A quick glance at the table of contents listing poem titles shows that these pieces adopt unusual perspectives: 'Toy Venom', 'Riley Died Again Yesterday', and 'God as a Waiter' aren't approaches to be found in every poetry collection, but are solid examples of the flood of changing emotions and perceptions death (especially the death of a child) brings to life. 

The verses themselves can best be described as 'free verse tinged with unveiled emotions' - so be prepared for heart-wrenching immersion in the author's experiences: "Nothing belongs to us, not our hair, not our thoughts,/not our sons…. A washing machine outlives a little boy./These are the ruins: hair, eyes, teeth, flesh over bones./What parts of his body do we want to give away?" 

Readers who choose Vanilla Milk will find the purpose here is not to rhyme stanzas nor create poetic works steeped in literary excellence, but to capture the essence of both Riley and the world that all too briefly swirled around him and his death. 

Those looking for total immersion in Brenner's experiences and who want a memoir that tackles all facets of a mother's response to a son's death and the grief process will find Vanilla Milk laced with warmth and pain alike: a satisfying, involving hot drink perfect for a winter's day and an understanding of the process so blithely described as 'grieving'. 

Vanilla Milk

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Short Story

Sharon Erby
Harvard Square Editions  9780989596091     $19.95  

A linked set of short stories revolving around a working-class woman is an unusual approach, but Parallel's collection is a standout with short tales that correspond to American lives and working-class hearts, and is a special recommendation for women's literary collections and general-interest readers looking for realistic stories of an ordinary woman experiencing life's changes.

 The stories are set in the mountains of rural South Central Pennsylvania, focus on a working woman and her family, friends, and neighbors, and offer vignettes that capture their lives, concerns and purposes through deft signature moments and transition points.

 What connects the tales in Parallel isn't just gender and class: it's the gritty niceties and darknesses of everyday life and relationships that provide insights paired with a 'you are there' feel: "If Robbie would've been any kind of man, he'd have gotten the kids up, helped them with their clothes. He would have looked after them. And he did - sometimes.  What did she expect of him, for that matter? Yes; it was safer not to expect anything from anyone. She'd expected Robbie to take care of her and the boys, like her daddy had taken care of Mama, her and her brother. Things changed…Things always changed-there could be enormous changes at the last minute."

 As the same characters appear in different stories (more linking…) and interact with one another, a special feel of the book emerges like a butterfly: its ability to be followed as either a series of linked vignettes or as independent short stories. They're strongest, however, when viewed as a unit; with each story building adding more meaty details of characters, concerns, and lives.

 In the end the web of life becomes well defined and what began as a series of disparate stories connected primarily by a sense of place evolves to a gathering of intermingled experiences shared through the perceptions, hopes and thoughts of the female protagonist. The result is an achievement especially recommended for followers of literary short fiction interested in the mechanics of linking a short story collection's events and characters.


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Collecting Feathers: Tales from the Other Side
Daniela I. Norris
Soul Rocks
978-1782796718    $12.95

Collecting Feathers: Tales from the Other Side is a short story collection presenting works that are spiritual, diminutive, filled with action, and satisfyingly compelling reads; especially for busy readers who prefer to digest their stories as short staccato pieces rather than winding, full-length productions. 

Its focus is on human connections and love, and it imparts these basics using a variety of protagonists, settings and circumstances that reach into everyday lives and flavor them with a dose of spicy reflection; whether those events be as mundane as shopping in a grocery store, as poignant as visiting a child's grave, or as world-changing as a suicide attempt. 

Many universal messages are embedded in these vignettes, from health struggles depicted in 'A Reason to Go On' to portraits of loss, despair, struggle and redemption. Throughout them all, Daniela I. Norris's lyrical, poetic hand adroitly captures the heart and feel of lives at crossroads, even in seemingly-ordinary scenes: "We saw storms in the eyes of the other patients. They stared at us enviously as we walked away on that grey, miserable morning. Could they have seen us both? We were the ones getting out, they were staying behind. Or was it the other way round?" 

Does darkness hide everywhere - or is it the individual who refuses to let it go? Each story is replete with some kind of darkness and some kind of light; whether it be physical, psychological, or spiritual. And each is permeated with Norris's attention to detail, which betrays a poetic hand lurking in the background of vivid description: "I could hear the early summer winds whistling their melancholic tunes, accompanied by the sound of a distant piano. They whistled at me, for me. No one else seemed to hear them. Whoosh, whoosh, they would say, and I whooshed back at them, ignoring the loud protests of the starlings which must have been trying to distract me." 

It would be all too easy to present the trappings of what each short story in this collection is estimably about - but that would be doing the overall collection a grave disservice. Really, it's about reasons to go on living and where (and how) these reasons are found. 

Birth, death, afterbirth and afterlife are all intricately wind together against the backdrop of tragedies happening daily and how people cope, move on, and move outward. 

That's the living, breathing, beating heart of Collecting Feathers, especially recommended not for those who expect entertainment from their short stories, but for readers more interested in reflective pieces spiced with poetic imagery and succinct (but striking) revelations. 

Collecting Feathers: Tales from the Other Side

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Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance
M.D. Hall
ASIN: B00NBA6UUA           $2.99 

It's back - and we're talking about another fine addition to M.D. Hall's works in the form of Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance, a companion to the original Mystery and Misadventure short story collection. And if you think you're in for the usual succinct vignette that entertains, be prepared for something very different: the same exquisite twists of story line that made the original stand out are back, and just as powerful here. Think Twilight Zone with a dose of smoky intrigue and quietly compelling, fluid plots. 

Take the opener, 'The Clock'. The mysterious narrator S.P. best describes his own take: "Have you ever wished that time could have the fluidity of water, or that you could rewind time, not unlike a fishing line? Robert is about to discover things about time he could never have imagined…" When a teacher and amateur clock collector stumbles upon a puzzling ad and its hidden potential, he finds an 18th century marvel in a clock that holds a mirror to time itself. It's just awaiting its keeper… Nobody can own it, for the clock itself is the mechanism for an extraordinary relationship. 

Its silent magic draws Robert into the world of a killer, and he becomes the unwitting wielder of an ultimate power in this story of corruption, evil, and slavery to an inanimate object. 

'The Chamber' is another such read, opening with Brian's awakening in a hyperbaric chamber and revealing the results of what was to be the most exciting dive of the century, investigating a mysterious 'siren circle' area where ships vanish without a trace. 

His is not a scientific investigation; it's a secret salvage operation - but what is uncovered isn't just gold, it's a trail of dangerous crumbs leading to a sunken navy ship that holds a deadly power. 

What happens next is unpredictable, amazing, and unleashes a storm of impossible truths. And much like a good Twilight Zone scene, the everyday and the expected are transformed into the extraordinarily unexpected in an otherworldly twist packed with intrigue. Would that other short story writers wrote this well! 

From a theatre critic to a deep-sea diver searching for treasure, an exceptionally successful (nee: crooked) businessman whose 'failures' are human lives, to characters who just don't survive the impossibilities of their lives, Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance's eminently unpredictable short stories will delight both prior readers of the original book and newcomers. 

And, unlike most introductions and afterwords, the beginning and ending featuring the chatty, surreal voice of 'S.P.' is as compelling as the reads themselves, capturing an eerie sense of irony that permeates all the stories in a very highly recommended, well-polished collection that cuts its sharp teeth on the hidden edge of the impossible. 

Mystery and Misadventure - An Old Acquaintance

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Young Adult/Childrens

Mother's Love Can Conquer Any Fear!
Subhash Kommuru
Kommuru Books
5816 Amy Dr, Edina, MN 554436
978-0-9903178-2-1    $7.99       46 Pages 

Sujata Kommuru provides warm, fun crayoned backgrounds and drawings for the picture book Mother's Love Can Conquer Any Fear!, which requires good reading skills (or parental assistance) and revolves around Anand Nagar, a chicken farm sporting a wise old chicken who oversees a contented flock where everyone is happy. 

But there's always a bad boy in every peaceable kingdom and here it takes the form of Kaalia, a vile crow who is always up to no good and who only seeks to bring dissention and strife into the peaceful world. His insistence on changing happiness introduces a darkness into the barnyard that requires innovative plans to put an end to the evil that infects Anand Nagar. 

As repeated efforts are thwarted by the clever crow, which sees through every plan, the chickens are discouraged as the atmosphere of their home changes from one of freedom and happiness to one of watchful caution. 

It may take a bit of magic to truly find the way to stop Kaalia from infecting the coop - and that magic is born from an unexpected place, right at home. 

The overall theme celebrating motherhood and bravery is accompanied by insights on the threat of evil and how to handle it. 

While the lovely crayon illustrations appear to be directed to an easier reader than the accompanying text, they do lend a bright personality to the overall effort that will delight budding young artists, while the story's gentle moral messages and celebration of mothers successfully evolves in an unexpected way. 

The result is a picture book reader that is a fun, different standout from the fable-oriented stories typically available to young readers, and a special recommendation for any collection strong in multicultural settings, fables, and animal stories. 

Mother's Love Can Conquer Any Fear

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Porter Searches for Santa
Author/Illustrator: Jonathan I. Gonzales
N.B. 498 Press
P.O. Box 709 | Lyford, Texas 78569
Publisher E-mail:
978-0-9960610-0-1        $16.95      36 Pages

Porter, an adventurous little penguin, lives with his family in Antarctica near the South Pole - about the farthest place on Earth you can get from Santa's workshop. Perhaps this is why he's never heard of Santa before, and why his days are occupied more with penguin play than thoughts of seasonal gifts. 

A mis-delivered letter changes all that; and Porter finds himself searching through his penguin world for someone who knows who the mysterious Santa might be. 

Fun penguin illustrations in full color depict a unique (but appealingly different) penguin and his fun world, which is filled with not just snow but multicolored swing sets, books and tables, and the specter of Old Rockhopper, the biggest penguin Porter's ever seen, and a wise but grouchy curmudgeon. 

Good reading skills (or parental assistance) will be required: this isn't a collection of one-liners, but paragraphs of dialogue and information geared for young picture book readers who have some basic skills under their belts. 

Pages consist of 2-3 paragraphs of description as they chronicle the search of a once-happy little penguin who seemingly fails in his mission to locate the elusive Santa. 

And just when all seems lost, something magical happens… 

The strengths of Porter Searches for Santa lie in an unpredictable, different story line and truly engaging, colorful claymation scenes by Jonathan I. Gonzales. The combination offers a refreshing difference for kids looking for seasonal reads that provide something other than the usual, predictable Santa tale. Parents, too, will be delighted to read aloud the story of a tenacious little penguin whose dreams and knowledge of the wider world are fueled by one mis-delivered letter… 

Porter Searches for Santa

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Princess Lizzie and the Time Travelling Magic Cloak
Dr. Van
978-0-9913352-2-0              26 Pages
Hardcover: $23, Paperback: $17.99, Ebook: $3.99 

Princess Lizzie and the Time Travelling Magic Cloak is Book Three of a series, and familiarity with the prior books is recommended for any who would imbibe. This latest opens with an assumption of such prior awareness of Princess Lizzie and the makeup of her court: "King Harry, upon hearing of Hippopotamus's talent for fixing royal items, made him a knight…" 

It also holds some larger words to encourage picture book readers to expand their vocabularies; so don't expect a picture book geared to the very young reader: "…Princess Lizzie and her smart assistant, Monkey, collaborated on a new project." 

Whimsical color drawings accompany the fun story of a royal ball, a princess with a magic cloak and (forbidden) time-traveling capabilities, and her growing realization that resources not distributed fairly result in poverty and suffering. 

Two friends accompany her on a journey to save her friend's life when her hippo friend falls ill. Princess Lizzie is given the gift of magic medicine that could save his life and help others. 

But what about the kingdom's wider problems? It takes a savvy, spunky young princess and a gentle wife to change a king's legacy of an ancient, unfair law that banishes wrongdoers and their families from his kingdom forever. 

The story is a simple one about justice and fairness. It's also about how one individual can move outside their world, return to it with gifts, and change even entrenched beliefs and status quo thinking. 

All this is packaged in a picture book that combines vivid, wordless color images by Juniardi Satyanagara with passages of description, inviting readers who have some basic skills under their belts, but who are not yet ready for long passages or chapter books. 

Its message is clear and the blend of fairy tale and fable with an encouraging conclusion teaches basic concepts of empowerment and choice to young children who ordinarily wouldn't receive such a lesson at the picture book level.

Princess Lizzie and the Time Travelling Magic Cloak

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