Fantasy & Sci Fi

The Alternative History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire
M.D. Missaiel
Ill at Ease Press, LLC
Paperback: 978-1-7349538-0-0
Ebook:        978-1-7349538-2-4 

Saul Brutus has just returned from a trip to an alternate history scenario in The Alternative History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman in which the Roman Empire didn't fall, but survived to change the present world in unexpected ways.

Plenty of alternate history sci-fi stories tackle similar-sounding scenarios and possibilities, but what sets  Missaiel's story apart from the usual focus is the premise that, because of this possibility, human society has advanced some 1,000 years beyond what Saul is familiar with. This segues directly into modern-day choices and events made by leaders, governments, and societies, giving readers philosophical and historical food for thought beyond Saul's adventures alone. 

As the story unfolds, this analogous universe imparts a satisfying sense of familiarity to Americans who will see many parallel similarities between Roman society on the brink of disaster and American society at this point in time. 

The author explicitly states his intention and the basic principle and objective of the book up-front in the introductory Author's Note stating, "The fall of Rome halted democracy, humanism, and science for centuries throughout the civilized world, and the fall of America could likewise end democracy and prosperity throughout the globalized world." However, to avoid bias and starting to cross-compare before the story even begins, I recommend the readers read the Author's note after experiencing the action of the book, thus cementing the conclusion of the premise of the book.

As Saul explores and explains the world he was transported to inside the Mayflower as the politics of the present-day world move along, readers receive a fine juxtaposition of events that make it hard not to instinctively compare the political and social scenarios of the two societies. 

Missaiel takes the time to not only describe these journeys to this parallel universe, but the protagonist's approaches to handling the ironies and challenges of this unexpected form of travel: "I was part compelled by social and personal decorum not to abandon this strange man’s conversation, and I was part curious to discover more of that new world, adventure, and identity, so I decided to keep up the pretense of this new identity and accompany him. Curious as I was, I would proceed with caution because while I was growing comfortable in this hyper-advanced world, it was still unfamiliar, and I still wanted to come home." 

As Saul journeys to other societies in this much-changed world, only mildly interested in returning home at some point, readers receive a series of political encounters that are astute, thought-provoking, and fantastical at the same time. 

As a 7-day exploration and mission to affect these places comes to life, this story will resonate especially strongly with leisure readers who like blends of social inspection, history, and futuristic possibilities. To be clear, The Alternative History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire is more than a sci-fi alternate history, but provides an opportunity to absorb political scenarios, 'what if' possibilities, and a sense of how choice and direction can ultimately change the course of the world's evolution beyond a given society's rise or fall. 

The author's line drawings open each new seven-day chapter with intriguing visual embellishments. 

Readers with a particular and special interest in translating political and social events with an eye to understanding their intrinsic history-making opportunities will appreciate this highly recommended cautionary tale of conversion and newfound passion. The Alternative History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire offers an important message wound into the adventure component: "History is critical, but what is more of note is our present choices that will shape history, and I resolve to rectify my own choices and do my part to fight on the right side of history, and I will start by encouraging the lot of you to do likewise.” 

The Alternative History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth
Christopher Russell
Morgan James Publishing
9781642798876             $19.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth opens as all good epic fantasy should—with black and white maps of the areas under discussion, helping readers orient themselves to this new world. It then moves to a rather extensive prologue which sets the scene for the story, importing much background history about what changed when the world burned and warrior Darmatus Aurelian helped his brother kill their despot older brother, who changed everything. Sarcon's final attempt to destroy the world was only thwarted because his two brothers gave their lives to stop it. 

Fast forward 697 years after this epic battle, where war is still being waged in much the same manner. The seven races of Lozaria have learned to carry on the fight without the gods that created this eternal conflict. 

Imagine a war that goes on for some 700 years, fought by participants who employ high-tech battle devices while forgetting the origins of the struggle. Imagine ironic twists in revised relationships between the sexes; the richness of the Church of Light in contrast with the poverty of Sewertown, where none of the "shared" wealth seems to trickle down; and the rise of a deadly power believed to be vanquished through sacrifice at the Battle of Har'muth. This force threatens a new world bereft of the warriors that once had the savvy to defeat it. 

Even as a lesson from the Void teaches that "...destruction will always be a part of anything that has been and all that will be", with catastrophe the end of result of a divided world, characters who are descendants of past heroes defy their destiny and the past to create new ideals and powerful changes in the world. 

Like Tolkein's classic 'Lord of the Rings' series, Christopher Russell creates a complex, epic fantasy and world which is rich in detail, strong characterization, and a heroic quest that leads a myriad of players into uncharted waters. Though they have a history to follow, each finds their journey and destiny diverges from past paths of resolution, demanding from them many altered reactions and values. Each individual holds a key to changing the world. 

Combat scenes, struggles, and rescue efforts and survival permeate a story that is multifaceted and engrossing. 

Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth presents a traditional phoenix-from-ashes rise with a difference: its juxtaposition of faith and magic, clashes between difference races, fluid gender roles, and crucibles who change those who come through them makes for a story steeped in social, psychological, and religious inspection alike. 

From how pacifists become soldiers to cycles of violence sparked by unusual circumstances, Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth is a true epic. Its complex world and its influences will leave readers intrigued and engaged in mysteries and miracles that leave the door open for further adventures. 

Fans of epic fantasy who look for world-building tales will find Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth a compelling read that begins midway in an already-extensive history, but carries its story with a powerful surge of description, action, and intrigue. 

Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth

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It Gives You Strength 
Philip Raymond Brown
Canoe Tree Press 
Hardcover: 978-1735281209               $24.99
Paperback: 978-1735281216               $15.99
Ebook: 978-1735281223                      $  3.99
Audio:  978-1735281230                      $19.99

It Gives You Strength blends elements of sci-fi, historical fiction about World War I, and mystery as it presents alien anthropologist Tashan Zho, who is sent back in time to 1926 to take over the body of a dying man during a rescue mission. Unfortunately, that man was an alcoholic, and so his memory files are 'corrupted' and Zho's knowledge of his mission becomes murky. 

Zho only remembers one sentence of his mandate: to find one Mike Kelly. But when he does, he discovers that Kelly leads a criminal gang of World War I veterans battling mobster Jack “Legs” Diamond for control of the lucrative Canada/New York rum-running market. And he's forced to become a member of that gang. 

The story opens with a stealth drone's reflections on her mission when she's newly activated after she's waited for centuries in limbo between Venus and Earth. 

Zho's future is linked to the fate of mankind, unbeknownst to the humans who both befriend and use him, and even to himself.  The rescue mission involves saving a young alien who has been sent to the Craig Colony as an epileptic— a colony which the aliens interpret as being a prison camp. As Costello's memory of his true mission returns, he also faces challenges in penetrating the Colony and preventing the invasion of Earth. 

Philip Raymond Brown cultivates a wry sense of humor and social inspection that are unexpected in sci-fi writings. As Zho/Costello faces skeptical doctors in the Colony and finds his own future challenged, readers are given close inspection of a real historical setting and the logic of its purpose: "The doctor looked at his watch. “Look at the time! I have to get to my next appointment. I hope that your current attitude improves over the next ninety days. Otherwise, when I write my report for the judge, you will likely be with us a much longer time,” Harrison cautioned. “But don’t worry. A few of our patients begin to show improvement after two or three years.” “Two or three years?” Costello asked...Zho considered the irony of his situation. Outside the colony, he had lived freely as a bootlegger, regularly committing crimes and consorting with gangsters. Yet he was now effectively incarcerated by a New York State Court for the “crime” of having a seizure in public. He decided that the only actual medical advice that Dr. Harrison had given him was to rest." 

From human rights issues to an alien's widening perception of the strange world he's landed in, and the seeming impossibility of the rescue mission he's charged with undertaking, readers receive a surprising blend of real history and fantasy. These offer unusual inspections of gangster activity in the 1920s, perceptions of miracles when galaxy-class starships are actually involved, and disputes that lead Zho to question the real purpose of his mission. 

The story is a mashup of investigative, social history, and sci-fi genres that will attract readers from all three areas with a highly satisfying, recommended blend of action and confrontation. 

It Gives You Strength 

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Suzy Spitfire and the Snake Eyes of Venus
Joe Canzano
Happy Joe Control
978-0-9906365-8-8         $3.99 ebook/$10.99 Paper

Besides its intriguing title, Suzy Spitfire and the Snake Eyes of Venus offers a different approach to blending sexuality with sci-fi, and will delight readers looking for something different as feisty, edgy Suzy Spitfire travels to Venus in search of a serial murderer. 

As its title implies, this is a ribald romp through life that embraces sex, street language, and an aggressive look at life that pulls no punches. Joe Canzano does a fine job of incorporating all these elements into a story that doesn't just use sex and foul language for shock effect, but blends in just the right amount of both to create a realistic backdrop for this intriguing blend of investigative mystery and sci-fi. 

Suzy Spitfire lives up to her name as she searches for a new start, faces the fact that a guy is screwing up her opportunities, and hops around the universe facing unexpected challenges to her newfound mission. 

Its dialogue is nicely presented and compelling, reinforcing Suzy's brash character and approach to life: "Aren't you going to come out and say hello?" he said. "We're all friends here." "Maybe later. I need to take a shower first." "Don't worry about it. I like a dirty girl." Suzy laughed. "People tend to think I'm dirtier than I am." 

From rapidly changing concepts of friends and enemies and plots and plans, rallies, and shootings to a "good soldier" who commits murder as part of his job, Suzy's encounters swirl in a cloud of fast-paced, involving action designed to keep readers on their toes as Suzy navigates The Snake Eyes gang war, a violent revolution, and dangerous situations. 

Suzy Spitfire and the Snake Eyes of Venus more than lives up to its title's promise of an unusual, compelling adventure. The blend of sci-fi with an investigative crime piece will have readers on edge and wondering about relationships, outcomes, and the motivations of various characters. 

The mix of sarcastic life perspectives, edgy responses to adversity, and Suzy's own style of tender helpfulness and bawdy responses to life creates a highly recommended, fast-paced sci-fi thriller hard to put down and impossible to predict. 

Suzy Spitfire and the Snake Eyes of Venus

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Biography & Autobiography

Beyond Paris
Paul Alexander Casper
Infinity Publishing
Paperback: $29.95; Hardcover: $33.63; Ebook: $9.99 

Just entering into the 1960s, author Paul Casper was experiencing childhood in America. Eleven years later, he is in a jail cell waiting for something to change his trajectory, having avoided catastrophe all those years ago, only to land in prison facing impossible plans for a prison break. 

Beyond Paris is a wild romp through Casper's life as he embarks on world travels he never could have envisioned as a child. From a job in a major city to a vision of entrepreneurship that leads him to Afghanistan via the Orient Express to buy sheepskin coats, to import them to London to make a fortune, Casper keeps on dreaming and lands in challenging, impossible, and amazing circumstances that keep his footloose habits on the run. 

Visiting some 20 counties in a 6-month period, Casper embarks on a road trip powered as much by dreams of opportunity as adversity and possibility. He meets crazy people, takes risks, seizes life with both hands, and provides a winning combination of philosophical reflection and life-changing travel experience in a lively memoir that captures the sights, sounds, and motivations of the road: "I lay awake for some time as I pondered the moment. Maybe not everyone would consider it a moment of life, but I was feeling it. Sleeping in a cave was an archetypal experience that had been shared by many before me, animals and men, whether primitive cave dwellers eons ago or my contemporaries. I was becoming a member of another type of fraternity, a fraternity of travelers. I realized I was changing. This wasn't happening overnight. But I was different." 

As Casper confronts hopes, fears, adversity, and success in the course of an amazing life journey, readers are brought along for a more eye-opening ride through different cultures and experiences than Jack Kerouac's iconic On the Road, but with many of the same freewheeling flavors. 

From Germany, Barcelona, and Paris to unexpected destinations around the world, Casper's ability to form quick friendships, make connections, and get himself in trouble and out again creates engrossing reading about modern exploration during the decades of the recent past. 

His compelling blend of adventure and cultural observation lends to a vivid, fast-paced memory that's especially recommended for armchair travelers interested in escapades and adventure tempered by cultural and social insights, set against the backdrop of a bygone world. 

More so than most travel memoirs, the vivid sense of discovery and edge-of-disastrous encounters is exceptionally well done.

Beyond Paris

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Bittersweet Memories: The Life Story of an Immigrant Daughter
Barbara H. Long
978-1543975871            $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Bittersweet Memories: The Life Story of an Immigrant Daughter will appeal to memoir readers with a particular interest in immigrant family histories. It tells the author's story, who, as the young daughter of a German scientist, immigrated to America only to find the land of opportunity rife with challenges that ranged from isolation, divorce, and mental illness. 

The family left their home after the fall of the Third Reich in 1946, but as they faced prejudice in America, many of the same shadows of threat emerged, as in a law against immigrants owning dogs, which led to their beloved family pet being taken to the pound when neighbors reported them. Her scientist father came to America under the auspices of the US Military Government. He had never joined the Nazi party, but this didn't protect his family from community reactions to the presence of Germans in town, as Germans became suspect and despised. 

From their initial experiences in America to the struggles that evolved as they settled in, experiencing conflicts both within and outside the family, readers will be engrossed by Barbara Long's survey of the challenges of daily life and difficult living situations, as well as social interactions that belayed the promise of a positive life in a new home. The true story relays how she follows her intuitions and their influence, from childhood through adulthood. It is in the way she went on from events that defined the times, to what influenced her attitudes, ideas, and abilities. 

The author's approach is thus wider-ranging than many personal stories, which tend to focus on either childhood or present-day experiences. The result encourages a fuller appreciation of not just social experience, but the mental impact and challenges of war times and immigrant roots. Bittersweet Memories is a powerful memoir that draws readers into not just Long's life, but the lasting impacts of immigrant choices and experience as she traverses her mother's mental illness and the destiny of other family members. Anyone who reads her book will find it both revealing, and well-written. 

Bittersweet Memories: The Life Story of an Immigrant Daughter

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Brenda's Wish
Jackie Haley
Book Press Publishing
978-1-947305-16-8         $24.95 Hardcover 

Brenda's Wish: A True Story of Faith, Family and the Testament of Love is a posthumous memoir of wife and mother Brenda Schmitz, who wrote to a local radio station in the last months of her life, as she was dying of ovarian cancer, and asked a friend to deliver a letter to her husband after he'd found a new wife to help raise their children. The radio station was entreated to help her husband move into this new life. 

What evolved was a wish like none other, explored in a story that surveys the lasting legacy of a spiritual woman who made sure her family was cared for in every way she could, even after her demise. 

Her story reads like fiction, recreating her thoughts, encounters with friends and family, and the purposeful formation of her final wish in a manner that comes to life via use of the third person. 

Although most of the story follows the usual progression through her diagnosis and treatments, it also adds insights into family impact, reactions, and the choices that diagnosis brings: "Brenda saw David look down. She could feel his sadness. He was not ready to tell her goodbye either. It made her feel a twinge of anger. She grabbed his blue collared shirt and pulled him over until he was inches from her face. “Don’t you dare think that I gave up on us and the family. I didn’t quit!” 

The focus is as much on the ravages of cancer on an entire family as it is on Brenda's physical challenges after a Stage 4 ovarian cancer diagnosis, and the many new choices she's forced to make that will affect the course of her family's grief and evolution. 

As husband David reflects on Brenda's approach, his resentments, acceptance, and celebrations are all incorporated into how he chooses to live and raise his family after she's gone: "David was certain he turned out to be a great kid because of her. It made him sad that Max wouldn’t have her guidance growing up. Max was stuck with David’s guidance alone. A little anger boiled up in his head and he quickly shoved the thought away. He couldn’t be mad today. They were celebrating her life and she was very particular about how today should go. She had planned everything herself." 

Brenda's wishes for their continuing life, health, and happiness without her is a gift not just to David, but is thanks to author Jackie Haley, who was tapped by David to tell this family's story. 

Brenda's Wish: A True Story of Faith, Family and the Testament of Love is inspirational reading celebrating not one life, but life itself. Its recommended reading for anyone who would learn yet another strategy for end of life goals and lessons and love's lasting legacy. 

Brenda's Wish

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Everything is a Little Bit Alright
Daniel Hertz
Shanti Arts Publishing
Softcover: 978-1-951651-29-9
Ebook: 978-1-951651-30-5 

Everything Is a Little Bit Alright: Yoga, Meditation, and a Dog Named Roy is spiritual memoir writing at its best, blending a travelogue with a self-assessment that opens in an unexpected place: in Panama, where Daniel Hertz faces a confrontation with authorities. 

Hertz's companion got them out of a potentially dangerous robbery and he attended a meditation session to try to recover from the event. These different approaches to recovering from "the canal event" set the tone for a survey which, more than most, links everyday life challenges and events to spiritual and psychological recovery techniques. 

If Everything Is a Little Bit Alright sounds more wide-ranging than most similar-sounding life stories, that's because Hertz employs a unique voice while capturing these events and linking them to spiritual growth. 

As his story evolves, readers are treated to a special approach that succinctly juxtaposes the practice of meditation with revised perspectives on life: "The robbery is still heavy in my mind and heart. When something like this happens, you feel violated and disappointed in humanity.” I could feel myself holding back a tear. “No matter how long you study and practice, you are always a student with a lot to learn,” I said. “At least now I have some techniques and strategies to use to deal with it. I don’t feel quite as helpless to the whim of whatever the wind blows my way.” 

Perhaps this best captures the crux of the matter. As Hertz hones new techniques for addressing, viewing, and impacting his life and those around him, he shares these evolutionary processes with the reader. Because they also are well grounded in life events, adventures, and experiences, they assume a validity and solidity missing in too many spiritual or autobiographical memoirs. 

Hertz isn't fixated on creating a self-help game plan others can follow so much as exploring what worked for him, and why. Given this perspective, readers can more easily absorb the basics of connections between meditation and mindful practices and their revised effects on reactions to life. 

This is no casual exploration. Hertz delves deeply into meditation, journeying to its wellspring of information (India) to spend a month in a mountain shrine, where he meets a swami who arranges a marriage for him. This juxtaposes with over thirty years as a Minneapolis public school teacher, and nearly as many spent as a student and teacher at the Meditation Center in Minneapolis. 

The result is an outstanding survey of healing, resolution, and a revised approach to life that holds many takeaways for readers also on the journey to explore and expand their possibilities. Everything Is a Little Bit Alright is highly recommended reading for those who would learn the approaches and impact of meditation on building a better life. 

Everything is a Little Bit Alright

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SUB-LEBRITY*: The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote
Leon Acord
Larilee Entertainment, Publisher
9798622243110             $13.99 

SUB-LEBRITY*: The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote will reach readers of LBGTQ memoirs and entertainment industry insider reports alike, presenting a ribald romp through the show-biz industry and the 'very out' queer life of actor Leon Acord: "To this day, my husband Laurence still believes I could someday become famous. I love him for that, even if I have plenty of reasons to disagree with him. I’m on the dark side of my 50s. I’m wildly outspoken politically. I was never the most “fuckable” guy in the room, even when I was younger. I’m super gay and way out. Laurence also swears I am not “obviously” gay. Alas, he may be the only person on this planet who believes this. Because I’ve been told otherwise. A lot." 

From his childhood growing up in rural Indiana as an obviously gay child to his foray into the entertainment industry and his public activism and battles with fellow actors and actresses, there is nothing subtle or coy about SUB-LEBRITY*. Its special brand of wry life observations, insights into queer community and culture, and Acord's own proclivity for trouble means that his accounts can be racy, offensive (to some), forthright, and satisfyingly political in its unique form of social and personal commentary, all in one. 

Those who don't want this kind of exploration and inspection of gay culture should look elsewhere. But for readers who appreciate the juxtaposition of descriptions of strenuous shooting scenes and acting work with links between entertainment's value in connecting audiences with life experiences, Acord captures many challenging moments. One example is his participation in a hard-hitting play after 9/11 broke: "It was a powerful reminder of theatre’s ability to bring us together, to help us heal, in the absolute worst of times. Especially in the absolute worst of times. And how theatre alone, unlike TV or film, can create unique, impossible-to-recreate moments of genuine emotion and connec-tion between audience and actors. We weren’t just crying at Aoise’s beautiful prose or Jayson’s skillful delivery. We were sharing, as one, our shock, our despair, our hope, in that breathtaking moment. I bet nobody in that theatre ever forgot it. I know I won’t." 

The specifics about actor choices and the politics and personalities involved in setting scenes and interpreting scripts will especially delight aspiring playwrights and actors: "Also in season three: we find Ross, sitting dressed in an empty tub on Thanksgiving, crying about the state of his disintegrating marriage. But in camera rehearsal, David played the scene angry instead of sad. “Uh, David – ” “Ross has been moping for two seasons,” David explained. “He’d be pissed off by now.” “You’re absolutely right!” So that’s how we shot it. You want actors to serve as “custodians” of the characters they’re playing, who don’t just “go along to get along.” And when they are as good as Pevs, it’s worth the occasional awkward conversation." 

As SUB-LEBRITY* follows Acord's jobs and evolving career and life, it draws readers into new worlds on more than one level, always spicing its writing with flamboyant descriptions that are notable for their engrossing observations and personal flair. 

The notes on LBGTQ culture are fitting adjuncts to this personal and political exploration of life and the entertainment world. 

"Eventually, we are all just footnotes" to life itself. This concept unfolds newfound rules, options, and guidelines to living life to the fullest, and is described in its myriad of forms in SUB-LEBRITY*. The book is especially highly recommended for aspiring performing arts participants who receive not only specific insights into how the industry operates, but how personalities and politics become part of the process, impacting actors, viewers, and the community as a whole. 

SUB-LEBRITY*: The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote

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Mystery & Thrillers

Bird in Hand
Nikki Stern
Ruthenia Press
Print: 978-0-9995487-4-5              $14.99
Ebook: 978-0-9995487-5-2           $  3.99  

Prior fans of law officer Samantha Tate's adventures will welcome another story with Bird in Hand, while newcomers will find her latest adventure both accessible and absorbing.

Arley Fitchett is a treasure hunter. He envisions himself as "...a mix of Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes with a lot of truffle-sniffing pig thrown in."  Arley's latest discovery would "upend history and rattle the art world." Told to stop the hunt for this particular best treasure of all, Arley resists the notion, even though it's attracted some dangerous people indeed. It's his last and worst decision. 

When Lieutenant Samantha Tate is called to Indian Point Road to a murder scene, she has little idea that it will change her life, challenging her in ways the past has never done before. 

As with Nikki Stern's other explorations of protagonist Sam, there's an emotional undercurrent to her investigations that continues to reveal layers of Sam's psyche, motivations, and approaches to life, which are wound into the daily activities of her job: "Did he have any close friends?” “I couldn’t say. He’s been around for a while, but like I said, he traveled.” He paused. “It’s like everyone knew him, but maybe no one did.” I know that feeling, Sam thought." 

Stern's ability to bring out the depths and life of Sam's background and perspective, injecting them into a murder mystery that thwarts even Sam's savvy abilities to solve problems and gain answers from murky waters, creates a story that is as much about Sam's evolution as it is about finding a killer. 

As Sam faces cartel bosses and questions of trust, a cold case that comes to new life, and complicated homicide cases that challenge her new home and world, readers are given outstanding inspections of her ongoing struggles to rise above her problems: "Everything informs my life. That doesn’t mean I’m suffering from the loss any more than anyone else would. But something about that day bothers me. I mean beyond the trauma. I missed something. A clue, something I registered but can’t recall that would explain, well, everything.” 

Inspections of motivation thus move beyond the crime scene and into Sam's continuing attempts to resolve traumas of the past and the demands of her loved ones in the present and future. 

Stern excels at creating a satisfyingly complex, emotional undercurrent that runs through the greater murder mystery. Bird in Hand will have prior Sam fans and newcomers thoroughly engrossed, all the way to the unexpected end.   

Bird in Hand

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Blood on Their Hands
Bob Brink
TouchPoint Press
978-1-946920-96-6         $17.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle
Barnes and Noble:
Touchpoint Press:
Bob Brink website: 

Hiram Garbuncle is not just any ordinary witness. He's a veteran defense attorney who stumbles into the beating of black man Alec Monceau during a routine traffic stop. It's obvious that the police are racist. Unfortunately, so is Ham. This specter of a racist attorney confronting both himself and the authorities is only one of the juxtapositions of irony that Blood on Their Hands excels in presenting, along with a wry sense of humor that makes the social inspection both involving and unexpected on many levels. 

It's unusual to find a thriller that cultivates a 'hero' who has many issues, from prejudice to drinking. Hiram is forced to rise above his innate perceptions and tendency to be lazy by circumstances and friends that push him to be something better than he usually is. 

From courtroom confrontations to the feelings and attitudes of those who testify and interact with Ham and his client Alec, Bob Brink juggles his story with strong characters with realistic faults; social circumstances that test everyone's beliefs, values, and approaches to life; and the wellsprings of lies and truths that reflect deeper issues both in individual lives and society as a whole. 

Brink produces more than a legal drama as he moves from social issues of police corruption and racism to the efforts of a divorce lawyer forced to play a mostly relinquished criminal law role, which hits too close to his own prejudices, inherent laziness, and singular perceptions of right and wrong. Hiram's psychological and moral perception follows the growth and evolution of a man unlikely to change much of anything in his set life and routines—and that's the meat of what makes Blood on Their Hands a thoroughly engrossing standout from other crime, thriller, or courtroom dramas. 

As Hiram Garbuncle finds himself in the unlikely position of battling police brutality and corruption, he changes. This process of confrontation, realization, and growth drives a story that keeps readers guessing about just how far Ham will go to both realize new abilities and purposes and form a revised vision of life and his place in it. 

Astute, thought-provoking, involving, and growth-oriented, Blood on Their Hands excels in satisfying twists and turns designed to keep readers engaged on many levels, up to its satisfying conclusion. 

Blood on Their Hands

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Cry from an Unknown Grave
Joseph LeValley
Book Press Publishing
978-1-947305-10-6         $29.95 Hardcover 

Cry from an Unknown Grave will reach readers of crime mystery stories with the second novel series about a small-town Iowa newspaper reporter who gets involved in stories almost too big for him to handle.

Tony Harrington delves into the wild world of human trafficking when a late-night call from a desperate teen leads him and his colleague, journalist Madeline Mueller, to probe a dangerous story of enslavement and murder. 

The bodies are indicative of a bigger program in trafficking, with more victims and the perps at large. When the FBI becomes involved, Tony and Madeline find themselves moving beyond their roles as reporters, embarking on an investigation that benefits from their ability to ferret out the truth, however dangerous it may be. 

Joseph LeValley's ability to take the real-life scenarios and challenges of human trafficking operations and turn them into a murder mystery probe translates to an approach that blends real-world social, ethical, and moral issues with a fictional study in problem-solving at a level above and beyond the usual reporter's milieu. 

Tony participates in the rescue of Glenda and Camila, only to learn that their kidnappers represent the tip of the iceberg. The authorities working on the case are less than enthusiastic about the participation of two admitted amateurs who venture into dangerous territory without adequate preparation: "Tony was struggling to placate Davis, who was beyond angry at Tony’s irrational decision to enter the motel before the authorities arrived. Davis pointed out Tony had been unarmed, with no decent intelligence about what he would find inside. “And,” Davis growled, unwilling to let it go, “you dragged your best friend in there with you. You both could have been killed. Christ, Tony, I thought you were smarter than this. I wouldn’t have given you the location if I’d known you’d be this foolish.” 

As Tony stands in the crosshairs of danger between police and perps, his ability to grow, adapt, and perceive and solve dangerous situations blossoms. This growth process is nicely documented in a series of twists and turns that lead readers through the very real issues and scenarios of human sex trafficking that are undercurrents in modern society. 

Cry from an Unknown Grave is a murder mystery with a social message that will keep readers not just guessing, but involved and thinking. Its attention to probing the psychology of different characters and their motivations and approaches creates an especially strong dialogue and series of encounters that will prove not just entertaining, but involving to the end. 

It's highly recommended reading for crime and detective fans who like their stories embedded in social issues and character growth. 

Cry from an Unknown Grave

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Darkness Drops Again
Melissa E. Manning
978-1735049311            $11.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle 

Darkness Drops Again opens with the tenacity of thirty-nine-year-old attorney Maeve Shaw, who has risen above her dysfunctional childhood to build a successful career and fine family. Or, so she thinks. 

When chinks show up in that family structure and challenge the foundations of how she's steadily built her adult life, Maeve feels attacked on two personal areas: home, and a new case at work that requires Maeve to defend a mother accused of killing her opioid-addicted daughter. It's a case that brings up bad memories and childhood experiences. 

Flashbacks to her past juxtapose with her routines as a mother and criminal trial proceedings which blend past and present in challenging new ways. 

Melissa E. Manning uses the first person to provide a sense of immediacy and insight to Maeve's observations, experiences, and reactions. This does a fine job of solidifying her character and exploring the logic of her responses to new challenges in her carefully ordered life. 

Maeve has developed techniques to mitigate the stress and trigger points of daily life, but finds that these pale against the strength of some of new, foundation-shaking events that leave her on edge and in pain. Discussions of these techniques add a realistic, compelling note to the events that demand different reactions and test familiar survival routines. 

Manning's attention to psychological detail elevates the story from its murder mystery/courtroom thriller foundations to add a fuller flavor than most in the genre. It invites women, especially, to explore the depths of Maeve's combined determination and vulnerability. 

From witness strategies to changing relationships with family and coworkers, Maeve's journey provides a satisfying blend of courtroom drama, mystery, and growth. Darkness Drops Again is highly recommended reading for women who like their female protagonists both strong and vulnerable, who are challenged with adapting their lives even when choices of the past seem set in stone and successful. 

Darkness Drops Again

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Death of a Zen Master
Cornelia Feye
Konstellation Press
978-1-7346421-3-1                $12.00 

Death of a Zen Master is a mystery set in a remote Zen monastery and opens with the first-person experiences of protagonist Greg as he begins his regulated day. He is at this Zen retreat as penance for cheating on his wife Vega with a one-night stand, and it's only a two-week stay...a stay about to evolve into something totally unexpected. 

As the early dawn unfolds, however, something disrupts the calm routine of the day. It's a tragedy all too familiar to the narrator: "This is the kind of stuff I have to deal with in my normal life. I just didn’t expect it here." 

Surprises unfold from the beginning, from the identity of the Zen Master whom he hasn't seen until the murder to the identity of a murderer who surely must reside among the residents at the monastery, since it is remote and largely inaccessible to the outside world. 

Readers might expect the protagonist's lesson in peace will segue into a murder probe, but the references to Zen meditation and experience don't end with the killing: "I don’t actually have a feeling, just an awareness of myself in connection with everything around me. It’s crystal clear. I’m the observer of my thoughts, and I’m also the thinker. I’m totally engaged, and simultaneously completely still and receptive. It’s the sweet spot, where I’m in the moment, instead of rushing through it onto the next thought, the next sensation." 

This attention to spiritual detail juxtaposes nicely with the elements of a murder mystery investigation as Greg is forced to evolve on several different levels to handle adversities which feel both familiar and alien at the same time. 

It's intriguing to see his personal evolution in the course of the story, even when a near-confrontation in a forest evolves into an appreciation for nature and quiet: "The sun warms my back. I smell the pine scent of the forest around me.  Freedom. Take this, Abbess Clarita. Freedom is not always in the mind—it is in putting one foot in front of the other on a trail in nature." 

From a murder to a hidden Buddha and the involvement of a ring of perps who all have motivation to kill, Greg faces multiple challenges, from regaining his wife's trust and considering the lasting impact of cause and effect to facing death himself, revising his perception of his impact upon and movements in the world. 

Zen ideas and experiences run side by side with Greg's murder investigation and intrigue, creating a satisfyingly revealing story that operates on more than one level. It will especially intrigue readers with any degree of prior interest in Zen Buddhist perception, who will find the premise of a murder and a peaceful monastery's disruption to be thoroughly engrossing reading. 

Death of a Zen Master is highly recommended reading for murder mystery fans looking for more spiritual and psychological evolution in their main protagonist than is usually proffered in the typical 'whodunnit'. 

Death of a Zen Master

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The Easter Man
Stan Freeman
Hampshire House Publishing Co.
978-1-7344384-3-7         $16.95

The Easter Man is the third John Nolan detective novel in the series, and is set during World War I before America entered the conflict. In it, a German plot to blow up ships in New York Harbor before they can deliver supplies to the enemy blends with a drive to simultaneously blow up major city residences and buildings on Easter Sunday, 1916. 

Though the New York City police department is aware of this plot, they worry that their investigators are already too well known to the Germans. This leads them to tap the special skills of one John Nolan, a recent Irish immigrant and Brooklyn private detective who is an outsider, and not very well known. 

Nolan participates in a dangerous game as he transmits selected information and conducts his own investigation into plots, subplots, and nefarious players: "What Nolan did not tell O’Keefe was this. The train would not be carrying barrels of powder and cannon shells, only police detectives and a crew to repair the blown rail." His actions border on those of a spy and operative agent as he undertakes a dangerous task and finds too many unexpected political and criminal connections. 

One of the approaches that makes The Easter Man exceptionally well-written is Stan Freeman's attention to describing the emotions, motivations, and ethical and moral values of not just Detective Nolan, but all involved. These descriptions lend a personal touch to the story line that makes it emotionally revealing: "Schwegel remained on the roadside. He gazed at the dead man whose face was illuminated by the moonlight, his eyes open, his mouth agape. There was no expression of pain or surprise. It was if the face had frozen a second before the bullet stunned and killed him, when only gold and jewels were on his mind. Schwegel had the reaction then that he had come to know well. The personal assessment. How did this experience make him feel? It was the first time he had ever personally killed a man." 

As Nolan traverses traitors and spies, investigates rumors from the police department itself, and struggles to effectively maintain his role as a relatively anonymous investigator, readers are brought into the action by his thoughts and observations, as much as by his choices and confrontations: "He lay in bed trying to think of what more he could do to avoid detection, but there was not any precaution that he had not already taken. What was it his father used to say? Worry only about what you can change, not what you can’t. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, he told himself. He had done the best he could." 

Prior fans of Detective Nolan will find The Easter Man a satisfying new adventure presenting a special set of investigative and political conundrums, while newcomers need no prior familiarity to find the persona and actions of Detective Nolan involving and compelling. 

The Easter Man is especially recommended for historical mystery readers who will find the wartime era and New York City setting serve as realistic backdrops to a thoroughly engrossing struggle. The clock is ticking, and Nolan may be the only one to diffuse the bombs that are slated to change everything. 

The Easter Man

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Emergency Powers
James McCrone

Hernes Road Books
978-0-99913772-7          $12.99  

Emergency Powers presents another Imogen Trager mystery, and has the FBI agent thwarted by impossible circumstances stemming from her prior snafus. Readers of Imogen's other books (the one preceding Emergency Powers, in particular) will find this story picks up with a bang as a current case which stymies her is overshadowed by President Diane Richmond's death in office. 

Is Imogen's conundrum starting all over? In many ways, it never stopped because it was never resolved, and this death is only one portent of a terrible future that only Imogen can change. 

Imogen once gave up on a conspiracy investigation, but it's evident that the danger still exists. Mistakes of the past looms over her present-day efforts as murder after murder take place while she struggles to follow leads that are mercurial.

To add to the conflict, an adversary needs her protection. And she's still not sure she can trust him. 

From rare friends in the press and offers of help from unexpected places to violent confrontations and gun battles, hidden agendas, and the long-term effects of living in fear for a prolonged period of time, Imogen isn't the only one who makes sacrifices for her job and love of country in this riveting thriller. 

James McCrone excels in crafting the unexpected, not just for Imogen, but in the lives and deaths of those surrounding her. His ability to portray a heroine who makes both good and bad decisions, struggles to get her personal life and professional career back on track, and faces the ultimate sacrifice as a result of her decisions is well-done, providing many action-packed and unexpected moments throughout. 

The injection of social and political ramifications of FBI involvements in both the criminal and political process in America is exceptionally well portrayed, as is Imogen's continuing recovery and adversities, which tend to solve one problem while leading into another puzzle. 

Readers who enjoyed FBI agent Imogen's previous character and adventures will find Emergency Powers a fine conclusion from the prior dilemmas, providing an opportunity for everyone to do the right thing while licking their wounds. It also leaves the door ajar for more. It's a hard-hitting political investigative thriller that is absorbing and thoroughly engrossing. 

Emergency Powers

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The Entitled
Nancy Boyarsky
Light Messages
Paperback: 978-1-61153-324-8    $14.99
Ebook: 978-1-61153-360-6           $  7.49 

The Entitled contributes a fifth book to the Nicole Graves mystery series, but stands alone as a fine example of women's crime fiction problem-solving at its best. When Nicole is assigned to solve the dilemma of a teenager charged with murdering her boyfriend, she becomes involved in an international incident that is thwarted by those who refuse to talk to an American detective, much less a female investigator. 

Nicole faces not only mounting evidence against her young client and reticent people who refuse to help her, but the possibility that she, too, will become the focus of a murder investigation. Further complicating matters is the fact that Abigail herself is defiant and unhelpful. 

Nicole faces many choices on how to handle this turbulent scenario as it expands to involve dangerous perps and their deadly games: "What to do? She’d promised Jerry that if any new threat presented itself, she’d return to L.A. immediately. News of Mohammed’s death was proof of the danger surrounding this case. But Nicole badly wanted to remain in London so she could continue looking for a way to prove Abigail’s innocence." 

Will her first solo case abroad go down in flames, bringing her down with it? 

Nancy Boyarsky creates a clever, feisty, determined investigator who continually challenges her abilities with new cases. Readers who enjoy detective stories powered by women who are astute and well grounded will relish Nicole's character and pursuits, and will find her latest mystery nicely developed and compellingly presented. 

Having the perp also be the victim, and a defiant teenager at that, is the perfect recipe for a story line that is replete with emotional as well as criminal revelations. 

Added value is provided by exploring Abigail's perception and reasons for her choices: "As the flames danced, she thought about her predicament. Was there anywhere she could go to get away from the trial and its possible consequences? With a sinking heart, she realized she had only one choice. The river Thames was somewhere around here. She could throw herself off one of London’s bridges and drown. But she knew she was too much of a coward to go through with it. Even if she could, what would be the point? There was still a chance her solicitor and Nicole would find evidence to prove she was innocent." 

The result is a fine story that is well-developed, filled with intrigue and the unexpected, and presented at a pace that allows for strong character and setting development while maintaining reader interest to the end, making it a highly recommended addition to the Nicole Graves series and the detective fiction genre as a whole. 

The Entitled

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Missing Peace
N. K. Holt
HMG Press
978-0578697314            $16.99 Paper/$4.95 Kindle

Janey McKay never expected to be the target of terrorists...not in her staid life in a small town in Iowa. But when her soldier brother finds a strange rosary during his service in Iraq that sets off a global conflict, she finds her world changed in Missing Peace, a powerful thriller about family life and belief. 

N. K. Holt does an outstanding job of depicting the life of a woman inexperienced in global issues and threats. Centered by her religion, her family, and her love for her brother's best friend, Janey has never experienced personal threat and faith-challenging circumstances on this level. 

She is ill prepared to tackle a world that includes visits by FBI agents, Middle Eastern radical group operations on her home turf, and the unexpected results of a rosary website she was involved in building. As the fatwa against her world continues to change her views and challenges her ability to survive, tests of faith and love stream through the story of a woman whose seemingly innocuous choices change everything. 

Holt's blend of thriller and personal struggles is well balanced. Readers who choose Missing Peace for its global thriller components will be well satisfied with its action and twists and turns; while others who turn to the story because of its insights on faith and family transitions will be equally impressed by the character development and moral and ethical conundrums which are raised in the course of an action-packed scenario. 

Holt takes time to explore family connections and experiences and Janey's newfound mission to fulfill the mysterious rosary's promise of peace as she develops the kinds of strengths that allow her to confront enemies of this process while preserving everything she personally loves. 

This dynamic creates an absorbing, winning story that proves hard to put down. Missing Peace is especially highly recommended for readers of faith-based stories who look for a blend of action and spiritual and emotional enlightenment. 

Missing Peace

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Murder Ballad Blues: A Mystery Novel
Lynda McDaniel
Ebook:  978-1-7346371-3-7          $  4.99
Print:     978-1-7346371-2-0                 $14.95

Abit Bradshaw is running for his life from the man he and the FBI were chasing in the prologue (set in Kentucky in 2005) of Murder Ballad Blues. As his past, present, and future spin before his desperate mind after he stumbles upon his prey and is hunted in turn, Abit's story moves to seven months prior, in North Carolina. Here, a series of mysterious deaths in the mountains involve the FBI and bring him into contact with former crime reporter Della, whose latest fraud investigation turns up some unusual connections she didn't expect. 

Abit has a theory, but the FBI won't listen to him. More are slated to die unless he can not only gain a professional audience, but solve the crime wave that threatens a community. 

The heart of Murder Ballad Blues lies in its connections to bluegrass music, which unexpectedly holds the key to solving the murders. Music is a family affair. Abit's wife Fiona plays fiddle and sings, and their son is also taking up the instrument and joining in. The connections between safety and family, musicians, and musical culture are all explored in the course of a stealthy, steadily-building murder investigation that draws in multiple characters, each with their own special abilities and focus. 

Another plus to the approach of this Appalachian-rooted murder mystery is Lynda McDaniel's choice to alternate perspectives between Della and Abit. These changing experiences and observations are clearly identified in chapter headings, and lend a fine tone of revelation and discovery that highlight both the similarities and the differences between Della and Abit's approaches to problem-solving in general and life itself. 

Their shared mission includes collective danger as Della deals with whistleblower Deep Pocket, plays a dangerous game with his mysterious communiqués (he doesn't know about her FBI connection), and faces a confrontation with Abit before the murderer strikes again. 

The emotional components of each character are thoroughly explored as they fight anger, loneliness, loss, and helpless feelings in the course of their choices. The characters come alive not because of the mystery's overlay, but because McDaniel takes the time to explore the wellsprings of their pasts and their reactions to adversity. What lends faith and encouragement in the face of devastation; and what influences create the type of 'justice' that ties into a killer's logical process and mindset? These and other questions place these events above and beyond a simple 'whodunnit' mystery. 

Readers looking for a murder mystery strongly centered in regional culture, the different lives and focus of two equally powerful investigators, and a puzzle that draws them into far more than a singular investigation will relish this story's superior tension. Its sense of place and people in a cat-and-mouse game that unfolds over the course of a riveting mystery is designed to keep readers on their toes and guessing about the outcome to the end. 

 Murder Ballad Blues: A Mystery Novel

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Not So Done
Charles Levin
Independently Published
978-1735210803            $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Not So Done blends time travel with an international thriller to produce a read attractive to fans of sci-fi and espionage alike. Charles Levin does a fine job of exploring the murky intersection between science and global issues as he portrays Sam Sunborn, Rich Little, Michelle Hadar, and Renata Fermi's struggles to contain disaster. 

From an explosion of victims of the futuristic crime of bodyjacking (stealing bodies and implanting minds in them) to virtual character Sam's involvement in the abuse of technology that has spawned a crime wave of criminal kidnappers, Not So Done opens with a bang of murder, deception, and virtual living. Levin evolves a steady stream of technological chatter to engage and enthrall science-minded readers interested in a blend of hard science and edgy writing. 

The fact that author Levin has a degree in philosophy and 23 years of experience in tech lends to a unique approach that blends these disciplines in a compelling, realistic manner. Indeed, he points out from the beginning that all the technology, science, organizations, and global challenges covered in his fictional story are actually based on today's reality and possibilities. It's a frighteningly realistic scenario that evolves as Sam confronts his role in fostering a form of virtual reality that is literally a killer achievement. 

In this story, Sam faces a deadly force in an international terrorist who joins with American white supremacists to pose a technological threat like no other. Time is literally not on his side as Sam pursues the scientific, social, and political conundrums and dangerous moves that threaten the world he's played a major role in creating. 

From hackers, engineers, and classified information to decoding routines that challenge even the most brilliant minds, Not So Done not only spins a good yarn, but keeps its action fast-paced by moving between character viewpoints. Like a good puzzle, each changing perspective adds a piece to the bigger questions evolving the story line. 

The switches between first and third person narration will keep readers on their toes, but there's seldom any question about whose point of view is being explored. Levin's ability to provide a seamless interface during the course of telling his story makes for a tale that is replete in attention-grabbing detail and changes, yet logical and entirely smooth in its revelations and mercurial viewpoints. 

The dialogue is nicely crafted, and time is taken to provide background details on individual psyches and environmental influences. Thus, Not So Done's forays through software glitches, international threats, and political intrigue are all well done and smoothly engrossing. 

Readers looking for a fast-paced thriller which takes its time to develop multiple characters, a solid science foundation for its action, and a concept that places terrorist attempts on a different level than most non-science stories will relish Not So Done for its well-spun, page-turning roller coaster of action and possibility. It's very highly recommended reading for techno-thriller readers who want their science as solid as the social and political intrigue. 

Not So Done

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Preacher Fakes a Miracle
Gerald Everett Jones
LaPuerta Books and Media
978-1733268448            $15.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle 

Preacher Fakes a Miracle supplies another Evan Jerome Wycliff mystery to engage prior fans and newcomers alike with the story of an amateur sleuth who pairs investigative jobs with a paying position as a guest preacher. 

The opening prologue doesn't begin with Evan, however, but the dilemma faced by a captive girl whose baby goes missing. As references to a convent, mysterious questions, and the threat of retribution from wrong emerge, readers receive a sense of things to come. 

As Evan becomes involved in child welfare issues, a deadly human trafficking endeavor, and the threat from a luxury casino run by a Russian oligarch, he finds himself not only involved in the future of two young people, but much broader questions that are steeped in threats and danger. 

Sometimes his probes even ignite and confront dangers from other clergymen: "It should have been a clue to Evan that the priest did not seem surprised. He cooed, “I can’t imagine who sent you to me or for what purpose, but your line of inquiry is misdirected, misguided, and frankly rude in its dishonesty.”

What does the death of the administrator of Flat Branch Catholic Charities have to do with human trafficking and the dilemma Evan investigates? As church affairs wind into crimes and threats, Evan finds both his roles challenged in new ways as he struggles to find solutions to moral and ethical conundrums and help Melissa, whom some say needs an exorcism in order to keep from inviting the devil himself back into her world. 

As Melissa, her baby, and her sister participate in a dangerous game, Evan finds himself on a mission to help and heal an impossible situation that challenges not only his abilities, but his perceptions of good and evil. 

Once again, Gerald Everett Jones has produced a riveting read in a character whose dual interests collide in unusual ways. He does an outstanding job of slowly evolving the mystery on many levels, which will delight mystery fans seeking more than a simple 'whodunnit' approach. Social and ethical considerations and church and health services processes add to a riveting story that continually challenges Evan and his readers. 

The result is an engrossing tale packed with twists and turns that will keep readers turning pages and wondering at all the connections until the end. Preacher Fakes a Miracle is highly recommended for prior fans of Evan Wycliff, who will see this character continually expanded and explored, as well as newcomers, who will need no prior introduction in order to find the story compelling and hard to put down. 

Preacher Fakes a Miracle

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Sorcerer's Prayer: Sacred Idol
Luigi N. Spring
Independently Published
979-8655997721            $9.99 

Sorcerer's Prayer: Sacred Idol blends a detective's probe of a murder mystery with supernatural overtones in the first book of a series. 

The Judge (Keoni) is an immortal man who was disfigured. He uses his immortality to wreck vengeance on the descendents of the woman who ruined his eternal life. He cultivates a computer hacker's skills to track them down, then murders them in one of the few actions he enjoys, these days. 

The rituals involved in his actions lead homicide detective Joe Adams to tap the skills of Hawaiian anthropology professor  Dr. Kawika Kinimaka-Ka‘ahalewai, a researcher of nearly forty who never expected that his specialty in Hawaiian lore would be of interest in a modern murder case involving ceremonial rituals. 

In true Hawaiian family style, a circle of authors, including his Aunty, become involved and contribute some of the clues to locating this dangerous "judge". But they are missing the biggest clue of all—one which changes the game from a serial murder's pursuits to a dangerous immortal's driving purpose in life. 

The story is steeped in Hawaiian culture and focuses on the professor's inadvertent exploration of a career far from the library or the researcher's desk, after the grief of losing his wife. Detective work leaves him "feeling frazzled" but also attracts him with a new job title. The lure of problem-solving, using his specialty to contribute to something more than a research paper, is a welcome distraction from his grief and gives him unexpected directions that challenge him to apply his knowledge in new ways. 

Luigi N. Spring's story excels in unexpected twists and turns. Although the reader well knows The Judge's background, motivations, and modus operandi, the characters trying to solve this homicide are continually puzzled and thwarted in their inspections. Their usual approaches to life and career are themselves challenged as they draw ever closer to The Judge and the dangerous truth not just about his identity and operations, but the possibilities of life itself. 

The Hawaiian language, atmosphere, and culture are fine backdrops to the murder mystery and will especially appeal to readers with any degree of knowledge about Hawaii, as well as many newcomers who will absorb that culture here. 

Every day is an amazing adventure that leads Kawika further from his grief and staid life, even into the possibilities of romance. An Indiana Jones-style series of encounters keeps the action fast-paced and evolving. 

Readers looking for an engrossing murder mystery with a difference will find the Hawaiian backdrop, circumstances surrounding The Judge's ritual murder spree, and characters of those who would stop him make for thoroughly engrossing reading that's hard to put down. It leaves the door open for further adventures while providing a pause and satisfying conclusion to the action in Sacred Idol. 

Sorcerer's Prayer: Sacred Idol

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All That Lingers
Irene Wittig
Independently Published
979-8623796721            $16.00 Paper/$8.99 Kindle 

All That Lingers captures Viennese history from 1934 through World War II and beyond, and is recommended reading for those who enjoy Jewish and World War II historical fiction and experiences captured from different lives and viewpoints. 

Irene Wittig's family memories of displacement during the war are one of the facets that makes this story compellingly realistic. The juxtaposition of personal experience and political disaster is nicely narrated from the start, and is one of the themes that flows through the story line as each of three characters builds a different life from what is handed to him or her from the outside world: "Unaware that trouble was only days away, Emma was happier than she’d ever been. Once she might have described the early morning emptiness of their street as gloomy. Now she delighted in the dawn dancing silently on the cobblestones. The howling winter wind at the window would have frightened her. Now she greeted its icy arms around her and laughed. Even the scent of steaming bleach filling their small apartment every morning was comforting in its familiarity." 

From the initial signs of trouble in spreading political violence and social unrest that changes the family's world, to individuals caught up in fighting that leads them from a world of comfort to struggling for survival on different levels, Wittig's story captures the Nazi occupation and its aftermath. It cultivates an astute eye in showing how everyday people and families make choices and survive their consequences. 

The characters, their motivations, and their impulses are well developed and designed to draw readers in, from Emma's initial delight with her life and comfort to the unraveling of all that is familiar among family and friends. There is a wide cast of characters, both main and supporting. This lends diverse perspectives and experiences into the mix, to explore Viennese society and culture on many different levels. 

How do three friends and their families survive unthinkable adversity? How do they reassemble the pieces of their world after war ends? As neighbors and friends transform to become something alien and feared; now, more than ever, Americans will readily find much to recognize in this story of the past. There are also many cautions to absorb about choices and their lasting ramifications as they impact not just families, but future political and social structures. 

The attention to detail and strong psychological insights makes All That Lingers persuasive reading even for those who may have relatively little familiarity with Viennese culture or history. The plot provides the historical backdrop necessary to bring those experiences to life, and is highly recommended for readers of Jewish experience, World War II history, and family survival stories. 

All That Lingers

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Caveman's Daughter
Jeffrey W. Tenney
Whistle Creek Press
978-0979633331            $12.95 

Caveman's Daughter, the second book and companion to Caveman, adds to the time-travel story and returns the focus on archaeologist Trent Marshall's daughter Emily Marshall, who successfully rescued her father in the first tale. 

Here, she returns to the cave that leads through time to 40,000 B.C.E. France, the entrance to which she thought was destroyed. She discovers a new time-travel threatening the lives of the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal peoples she came to love and rescue before. 

Could someone have been killed over the cave secret Emily has been so careful to maintain, and could the threat still be on the loose, affecting her present and the past, as well? 

As Emily returns to this bygone world, interacts with young Cro-Magnon leader Wouk (who was partly raised by Trent Marshall and the Neanderthals, holding the ability to speak both the Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthal languages, as well as English), and faces a new threat to her beloved time period, newcomers to the story will find it easy to absorb past events and these newfound threats. 

When her training in cultural anthropology comes into conflict with the realities of these primitive peoples and their interactions, Emily's choices provide fine ethical, moral, and philosophical reflections. These give readers pause for thought beyond the story's action-packed adventures: "Emily didn’t want this conversation, but there was a price to pay for what she did want. “I suppose you could consider it purely a field of knowledge. Kind of like philosophy. Most students these days go into applied anthropology, though. Things like medical or forensic. In many ways, behavior in a complex modern organization is not that different from the Cro-Magnon here.” “I see myself as very different." “So do I. I see you as a regressive. Killing animals with pleasure and viewing people who are different as inferior.”   

Emily becomes a captive of "the strangers" and Wouk is charged with rescuing her and his peoples. Readers are led into a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, adventure, probes of family and community relationships, and the probes of a woman whose professional and personal affinity for a prehistoric world doesn't mean she belongs in it. 

Readers looking for a story steeped in anthropological insights and fast-paced action, combined with a feisty female protagonist, will find Caveman's Daughter compelling time-travel reading with a satisfying survival twist. 

Caveman's Daughter

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The Christmas Spirit
Alexandrea Weis
Rosewind Books
978-1645480419            $14.95 print/$4.99 ebook 

The Christmas Spirit outlines a dubious-sounding relationship between a brooding stranger and a broken-hearted woman searching to fill the emptiness in her life. It tells of Courtney Winston who really needs the spirit of the season.

It's a blend of holiday inspirational and romance that adopts a more detailed story than most novels in either genre as it tells of a writer's choice to ignore Christmas in favor of a remote cabin retreat to both heal from her recent breakup and finish her book. 

Stone Mountain Lodge owner Peter keeps interrupting her self-imposed isolation and mission, as does Mrs. Finn, cook and nosy dispenser of wisdom. Slowly, Courtney opens her heart to new possibilities—including emotional pain. 

The Christmas Spirit is a delicious story of growth and opportunity on all sides. It takes isolation, heartbreak, and a dubious reputation and turns them on end to inspect the wellsprings of influence and loss. 

Cultural inspections of holiday beliefs and traditions add depth to the story, seasonal insights, and a warm series of subtle reflections about belief, prejudice, and being open to new ideas and emotions: "The Yule Cat is a huge and vicious creature who lurks about the snowy countryside during Yuletide and eats people who do not share in the festivity of the season.” Peter stood next to the tree, rubbing the end of one of its branches between his thumb and forefinger. “Many cultures across Europe have similar variations of the Yule Cat, and all are based on the same principle—misfortune befalls those who refuse to carry the joy of the season in their hearts.” 

It's a pleasure to read a Christmas story that doesn't adopt either a singular or formula approach to its subject. Readers who choose this book for its holiday messages will be surprised at the details explored in a evolving relationship which both embraces and moves beyond holiday themes, while those who anticipate a budding romance will find the added value in cultural, social, and psychological inspections to be pleasingly well-detailed. 

From Courtney's risk-taking defiance of her family's ideas for her future to Peter's role in pushing her beyond her comfort zone, this story embraces both holiday spirit and a growth process that begins with pain and prejudice and moves steadily outward into recognizing new opportunities: "His gaze remained fixed on the fire. “Find a way to write what you want. It’s your life and it goes by so quickly. You don’t want to come to the end and have regrets.” He turned to her, the firelight flickering in his eyes. “I never did see you as an accountant.” 

The result is a highly recommended read that embraces more than its title's promise, making The Christmas Spirit an inspirational story of growth that is much needed and highly recommended year-round. 

The Christmas Spirit

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Courting Anna: Women of Destiny
Cate Simon
Prairie Rose Publications
9781081299880             $12.00 Paper/$3.99 ebook 

Courting Anna: Women of Destiny features the educated female lawyer Anna Harrison, who operates in the milieu of 1880s frontier Montana Territory. Her latest case, rejected by the only other lawyer in town, revolves around Jeremiah Brown and Edward Marcus, young men identified as actually being the notorious Tommy Slade and Johnny Nevada—outlaws with a bounty on their heads. 

Anna takes their case and discovers that Jeremiah is trying to dodge the law until the statute of limitations on his crimes runs out. She also discovers an unexpected attraction to him that threatens not just her carefully cultivated and rare (for a woman) career, but her efforts on the side of law and justice. 

Neither anticipated falling in love—much less with the enemy. But their evolving feelings challenges their roles and trajectories in life, and as Anna and her ward Sarah ride out on a strange adventure, these emotions are deftly portrayed as both external and internal challenges loom: "He could conceal that, however, and appear simply charming and glib, when he wanted. Anna wondered if perhaps that was the real man, and if she’d just been reading more into him than was really there. She wondered, but she kept thinking, despite herself, of moments when his insights, his thoughtfulness, came to the fore." 

It's unusual to have a Western story feature a feisty, educated female protagonist with a career of her own and the moxy to confront the male world around her. Cate Simon does a fine job of weaving romance into broader considerations of women's independence, perceptions of changing personalities and perspectives, and courtroom and wilderness dramas alike. 

This approach crafts a tale far more detailed than most Western historical stories. While its complexity may stymie readers who anticipated the usual formula production of either the romance or Western genre, it will delight those looking for strong female characters whose determination, observations, and achievements leave room for growth, challenge, and revised trajectories in life. 

Anna's courtship isn't just a matter of setting aside her abilities or her goals, but involves becoming more open to new possibilities both within herself, as an accomplished frontier lawyer, and in others, who are working to turn their lives onto different paths. 

The underlying story of her relationships and prejudices not just about men and criminals, but her fellow woman, are particularly well-drawn and compelling: "Anna might have passed Nellie dozens of times or even hundreds, but she'd never seen her—all she would have seen is one of those women. And a lady like she was didn't speak to those women. It was the way people looked through her on the street now, and she found herself feeling sympathy for the fallen sisterhood, for the first time. Many a formerly "respectable" woman in her own situation, without the annuity and the property her father had left her, or the too-generous insistence of Jonathan in adhering to the letter of their partnership and continuing to split their fees—now almost exclusively his fees—would have ended up as one of them." 

The result is a highly recommended, unusual Western that will reach an audience that usually doesn't turn to or read the genre: women searching for a frontier story of a different nature, where a woman lawyer is charged with cross-examining her own emotions and prejudices. 

Courting Anna: Women of Destiny

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Chelsea Britain
Bleau Press
Hardcover: 978-1-951796-00-6         Price: $21.99
Paper: 978-1-951796-01-3                 Price: $10.99/ $11.99 Amazon
Large print paper: 978-1-951796-02-0    Price: $13.99
Ebook (mobi) 978-1-951796-03-7     Price: $3.99
Ebook (epub): 978-1-951796-04-4    Price: $3.99

Nora could be anywhere in the world right now—jogging on a beach in the sun, for example. Instead, she's trapped in front of the television watching a football game " a skipjack tuna hooked on a long line."  Dreams, reality, and sea images are captured in only a few short sentences to introduce some of the recurring themes in the poetic, captivating Cuttle, a 'fish story' of another nature. 

Romance, family, obligation and dreams are some of the many threads that emerge as Nora contrasts the life she leads with the one she dreams about, eagerly grasping new opportunities stemming from her research on cuttlefish even as she struggles with patterns that lead to places she's better off avoiding. 

Her tendency to overanalyze and focus contribute to both her success and failure, while her ability to think outside the box and weave delightfully surprising reflections into her story sets Cuttle far apart from any singular production: "What do you mean, separated? When?” “Six months ago,” I tell him. Eight for me. Apparently separation’s subjective; it doesn’t just happen when you make a decision or crawl out of a window." 

As Nora's life evolves and her interplay with three seemingly dissimilar (yet disturbingly familiar) personalities is explored, her feisty observational focus and the juxtaposition of career and personal potentials keeps the tale lively. Fish metaphors and fantasy observations are peppered even into observations about work success and potential academic acclaim: "...academic ecosystems are always shifting, always devolving towards big bang-level chaos. Currently, most any position anyone can afford to take— teaching, researching, camping with the Galapagos tortoises—is a unicorn. “And you deserve a unicorn,” Jarod says. I wonder if this is romance, a statement designed to make me shed my clothes like a freshwater stickleback."

Nora's intuitive thinking and analytical prowess keeps her at the top of her field. It's also what keeps romance at bay. But part of her coping mechanism for over-performance lies in a circle of friends who help keep her grounded. 

Her choices between 'safe' and edgy relationships, the foundations of her personality and life lived on the autism spectrum, and decisions made by Nora and those around her to change and take risks or remain in their comfort zones are nicely delineated and offer no pat or 'right' answers. 

The supporting cast of characters is as complex as Nora, in many ways, and provide depth and contrast to her experiences. 

Readers looking for a romance steeped in a vibrant personality's introspective genius and reflection of the sea world she observes and analyzes will find Cuttle a beautifully evocative work that lingers in the mind long after Nora's story blossoms and unfolds. 


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Robert P. Louden 

Generations opens in 1961, when the hope of a new era is fostered, and views life through the eyes of twenty-something Dan Taggart, who find himself changing politically in a way that departs from his family's established views after the election of John F. Kennedy. 

The world is looking for a change, including that affecting racism and racial relationships. Those on both sides of the issue are anticipating a different world after Kennedy's election. 

As events build to 1963 Birmingham and threaten to explode, a host of characters are introduced who hold different perspectives on the future of America and their changing place in it. 

Robert P. Louden does an outstanding job introducing a myriad of observers of this process. He doesn't rest with a single perspective or even several, but blossoms the story into a number of lives, cultural influences, and political processes. These coalesce to focus on radical events that drive the 60s changes that turn America's values and trajectory on end. 

From the rise of Hollywood and its political prowess to the death of Kennedy and the progression of drug culture from ghettos into mainstream American lives, Louden captures the social, political, and family influences of the times using succinct vignettes of individuals changed from their set courses in life and their perspectives of the future. 

The result is a story that is firmly grounded in real people and events and flavored by ten years of vast changes, from promise and progress to events that stymie positive perceptions of the future. 

All this is strengthened by a variety of characters, viewpoints, and experiences that consider the foundations of historic revolutionary change. 

From Joe Jackson's ideal of equality before Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered and the shooting that will change his life to finding revised ways to live, Generations does more than trace the evolution of an era from 1961 to 1968. It points out the special circumstances which changed America and the world over a period of several decades. 

Its lesson in social and political evolution will prove especially hard-hitting in today's milieu. Generations is highly recommended reading for those who look for accessible lessons on how to survive tumultuous changes. 


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Jenny Goodnight
Killarney Traynor
Original Thirteen Publications
Paperback:  978-1-7351139-0-6             $15.00
Ebook: ASIN: B08DP3FZMR               $  3.99
Ordering Links: Ebook:         Paperback:

Jenny Goodnight tells of a tired missionary woman who becomes drawn into a town conflict between fiery newspaper reporter Uncle Matthew and the powerful founding family of the town of Legacy. 

It doesn't help her case, when murder results, that she's an assertive woman known for packing a pistol and confronting violence, herself. When she becomes a suspect in the murder, Jenny is drawn into the investigation to save herself from hanging. Like her investigative uncle, she discovers even more layers to the town's politics and underlying connections, the more she pulls at the strings of possibilities and strange associations. 

Killarney Traynor creates an involving, clever, assertive protagonist in the character of Jenny Goodnight. The plot  follows her special form of frontier justice and confrontation beyond the confines of the usual Western female protagonist. 

Jenny's uncle wants to reject her inclination to rescue him even as she uncovers truths about his relationship with Underwood and the secret that is being held over his head. More importantly, Jenny herself finds that her own future and capacity to survive and live in this town depends on her ability to unravel a very strange and deadly truth indeed. 

From a missing letter to another act of violence that hits too close to home, Jenny perseveres against all odds, drawing readers into a Western scenario in which her strengths spill over into other lives to create new possibilities not just for Jenny, but those around her. 

Another big plus to the story is the atmospheric descriptions that create strong images of countryside and purposes: "I followed him down the narrow path. The sun was descending, shafts of light gilding the rugged dark pines and bringing out the burnt orange of the landscape. We rode maybe half a mile under the arbor, then the trees gave way and the valley opened up before us. A low, squat building, weather-beaten and in need of work, was situated on the open plain, a barn just behind it. Beyond these, a creek wended its way through a corridor of earth-clutching trees. There were more trees staked out in an irregular pattern on the far side of the house. Cattle lowed from somewhere, and Danaher’s nag whinnied in the paddock. It was a sweet piece of land, capable of supporting a small family, and I wondered if that would have suited the lovely Helen, had she not caught the eye of an Evans." 

Readers who like blends of Western and mystery themes, powered by an exceptionally astute female protagonist, will relish the intrigue, atmosphere, and confrontational changes in Jenny Goodnight, which is highly recommended reading for Western novel fans looking for more than the usual male-centric focus. 

Jenny Goodnight

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Liquid Grace
Lu Clifton
Two Shadows Books
978-0-9985284-8-9    Price: 15.95 

Liquid Grace is a historical mystery that opens in 1940s Oklahoma, at the beginning of World War II, and moves to California as a now-older Jane Guthrie recalls events during her thirteenth summer that have haunted her well into adulthood. 

The story employs the use of past tense and first person to provide a sense of immediacy to Jane's experiences and memories as she reviews her life, an endeavor sparked by two letters. 

Lu Clifton employs an evocative, descriptive hand in this story that is compelling in its voice: "Some days are like that, a splinter you poke at with a blackened needle till your nerves can‘t take it no more, and when all‘s said and done, you find you still hadn‘t rid yourself of the fool thing. Those letters kicked off a summer of just such days. Thorny. Days tainted with temptation and transgression, desertion and death. All these years later I remember them all, every last one. I know well enough that sometimes a splinter‘s just got to work itself out, but as the decades are stacking up on me, I feel compelled to hurry it along."  

Readers are carried into the Oklahoma Dust Bowl experience, a journey to California's very different culture, and Jane's observations of family and roots. Her compelling approach to life drives the human interest in her evolution and coming of age: "Our first day in California was almost gone by the time I got my first look at Sylvie and Louise. Looking back on that day, it plays in my mind like a three-act play. In the first act, we got a good look at Claude‘s hot-blooded disposition. In the second, we got another glimpse of Mama‘s mystifying abilities, for I swear, there was no way a person with normal sight could‘ve told that girl in the gypsy camp was pregnant. And in the third act . . . well, as it turned out, the third act actually started out with a play, one that revealed even more mysteries about that woman I thought I knew so well. Mama." 

As she interacts with Mama, Billy Lee, Sylvie, and others, Jane grows more astute about identifying the underlying forces that govern decisions and relationships in her family's life: "I took the nuts Billy Lee handed me but stuffed them in my pocket, suddenly feeling queasy myself. Louise‘s worries were caused by something happening thousands of miles away at someplace called Midway, while things happening close by caused mine. I really didn‘t care if Shasta Slim was the egg thief, figuring Pig Man had more eggs than he needed, especially if he was feeding them to the wild pig. What worried me was why Mama was being so protective of Slim. It pained me to think of a man other than Daddy in my mother‘s life." 

This quiet observation style drives a powerful story of change, tracing a bygone era in American history and creating a compelling story that slowly reveals mysteries and haunting memories of the past that have reverberated throughout Jane’s life. 

Readers looking for a generational mystery that embraces the 1940s and 50s in America will find Liquid Grace a compelling piece. It embraces a special style of lyrical observation and offers the immediacy of a first-person recollection that identifies the influences that lead people away from their roots and homes and back again. 

Liquid Grace is highly recommended for its unique voice, sense of time and place, and its compellingly realistic survey. 

Liquid Grace

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The Ottoman Excursion
Tim Pelkey
SDP Publishing
9781734240252             $17.95

The Ottoman Excursion laces four modern-day timelines together in a historical story that at first seems a disparate set of very different lives, but quickly evolves to center on the wide-ranging conspiracy that links them. 

An American doctor who participates in a disaster relief team, a Russian major in charge of a program to recover plutonium from old nuclear warheads, a Turkish researcher tasked with finding an impossible cure, and a young jihadist whose goal is to move the caliphate to glory become immersed in political and medical matters. 

Themes of conflict, ideals, and ethical, moral, and spiritual behaviors embed the plot with a thick layer of philosophical and deep considerations of the long-held oaths of warriors passionate about their cause, along with others who stand unknowingly in the crosshairs of death. 

The blend of historical thriller with medical mystery is well done and fast-paced. Tim Pelkey takes the time to develop each of these very different characters, leading them through confrontation, love, danger, and changing minds and hearts. Readers become engrossed not in a single perspective of conflict, but in the entwined destinies and observations of each person and their experience. 

Even research that culminates in a predictable disaster doesn't prove the end of something, but the beginning—as Mehmet discovers when disaster moves him forward. 

Readers need have no prior familiarity with or even interest in Middle Eastern affairs in general or Turkish history in particular in order to find The Ottoman Excursion compelling and easily understandable. 

Tim Pelkey juxtaposes an attention to historical and political detail and a fast-paced series of encounters with death and confrontations with long-held ideals. This approach keeps readers engrossed and guessing throughout the action-packed adventure. 

The result is a captivating dance through danger and mystery that's highly recommended for readers of intrigue, international affairs, political thrillers, and conspiracy stories alike. 

The Ottoman Excursion

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The Penetration
Thomas E. Sawyer, Ph.D., J.D.
PitBull Literary & Publishing Services
Paperback: 978-1-7327371-3-6    $14.88
Hard Cover: 978-1-7327371-4-3  $28.88 

It should be noted from the start that The Penetration, while fictional in content and character, is loosely based upon the real premise: that " is both conceivable and possible that Communist China, Russia, and other foreign powers were and are successful in recruiting Americans; including those individuals who, indeed, may have attained lofty positions of power and influence in the American society." 

The puzzle lies in exactly how such citizens become operatives. This is the subject of the compelling The Penetration, which follows an ordinary American's recruitment and rise to power in a dangerous game. 

Kim Kingston represents the perfect model for becoming a mole. As liberal arts college attendee, Kim is interested in politics, languages, and foreign affairs. While his intellectual knowledge would seem to belay the possibility of conversion, Kim in fact holds the skills and intelligence that lead him to fall prey to Soviet influences. 

Exactly how he does so is revealed in a compelling series of encounters that links Kim's personal skills and interests to the bigger picture of a mole's gradual indoctrination and evolution. His desire to prove himself eventually justifies the actions he takes and the choices he makes which move him deeper into international espionage, to work against his nation of birth: "At the age of thirty-two, Kim felt as though he was on the verge of a most successful and rewarding life. In particular, Kim thought that his experiences in Prague had clearly shown his ability “to handle things.” And they had!" 

As he marries, faces infidelity, and discovers a deeper danger in his wife's savvy knowledge of his secret life, Kim faces even deadlier choices in his reactions and values: "Jim is the only man I have ever loved. I married you for your family name and wealth. I took advantage of you, and you took advantage of me; it was an even ‘swap.’ All you ever wanted in a wife was a ‘prop’ for your career. I know that you never loved me, in the real sense, that is.” Kim could not contest Cora’s statements; they were true. So he turned his back on her and started to leave. “Just a minute, Kim. There is something else I want to say to you. I meant it when I said that there would be no divorce. Would you like to know why? Well, your ‘other life’ has not escaped my attention." His connections to the KGB and his successful infiltration of American society lead to further conundrums as he faces a threat to the President, his wife, and all other elements of his world. 

Thomas E. Sawyer excels at taking the realities of espionage and moles and injecting them into a story where the main hero is not the good guy, but one who has crossed over to the dark side. Kim's choices and efforts are supported by psychological, social, and political inspections which span the globe as he traverses an increasingly dangerous course with new KGB arrangements that pair his personal ambition with political efforts to infiltrate and take over America. 

With its sharp edge of reality-based events, The Penetration is more than just another thriller. It's an astute examination of a society under siege and an individual's motivations, choices, and the consequences of his actions, which contribute to a greater game plan. All these facets come alive in fictional format, making for thoroughly engrossing reading that's hard to put down. 

The Penetration

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Poisoned Jungle
James Ballard
$19.95 Paper/$29.95 Hardcover/$7.99 Kindle     

Andy Parks is a Vietnam War medic who has survived his tour of duty—but not without deep psychological wounds from the death and destruction he's personally been a part of. Returning home to demonstrators after this killing has stolen part of his soul is a process that author James Ballard, himself a former Vietnam War medic, is all too familiar with. 

This personal familiarity lends a somber, realistic tone to Ballard's story of survivor's guilt, which opens in 1969 in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Ballard excels in capturing hard-hitting descriptions of the Vietnam experience, from slogging through impossibly dense, humid, death-filled jungles to making ethical decisions that are anything but straightforward: "Andy had long since grown accustomed to seeing dead bodies in the war zone. Once he had injected a dying Viet Cong soldier with enough morphine to hasten a less painful entry into death, then worried what he would do if one of his platoon members needed it. There were always decisions to be made in the Nam." 

Many Vietnam stories focus on the physical and psychological challenges of surviving such an environment. Too few delve deeply into the contrast between before and after, where the protagonist faces different kinds of struggles and decision-making processes which become lifelong nightmares. 

Andy's experiences serves to emphasize that the return home, for soldiers who survive, is just the beginning of a process that affects not only the soldier, but his family, friends, and generations to come: "It was like saying goodbye to a doomed man. Even if he survived the war, Andy knew young Avery would suffer and bring it home with him." 

From the lasting impact of Agent Orange and the death that awaits them when they are "safe" at home in the U.S. to the effects of poverty, racism, and war on soldiers who find themselves in tough situations with few options and no respect for their term of service, James Ballard's story of psychological and physical survival is riveting, whether it's set in-country or in the USA. 

Andy's final reconciliation of his experience and, most importantly, its cost and aftermath lends a philosophical, reflective tone to this story of adversity and uncertain healing: "...the survivors were like the Mekong itself, branching into ever-changing tributaries and waterways moving towards the expanse of the sea to join with the rest of humanity." 

Poisoned Jungle is a hard-hitting, powerful story not for the faint of heart, but for those who would gain realistic, engrossing insights on how a soldier or medic can reconcile Vietnam experiences with the return home and the psychological, social, and medical challenges that continue to send ripples through the veteran's life. 

It's a thought-provoking read from start to finish as Andy finds his way through more than one jungle and struggles to find renewed meaning in his life as a Vietnam survivor.

Poisoned Jungle is highly recommended for new generations, who will receive a heart-stopping story of adversity, inhumanity, and social reflection. 

Poisoned Jungle

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A Quiet Hero
Dwight Harshbarger
Mascot Books

A Quiet Hero: A Novel of Resistance in WWII France reaches readers of World War II historical fiction with a powerful story of French patriots General René Carmille and his aide Miriam Dupré. They are aware that time is running out to thwart the Nazi plan to use the census of Jewish individuals to locate and eliminate them throughout the European countries they now control. 

This is based on the true story of General René Carmille's efforts and achievements, and thus makes accessible to a wide audience the revealing story of a big business's connections to genocide, clarified in a prologue to the novel: "Throughout WWII, IBM and its subsidiaries maintained an uninterrupted and prosperous business with the Third Reich. The Third Reich’s economic success and the success of the Reich’s Final Solution rested on a foundation of slave labor and IBM technology." 

Documentation supporting this history, including videos and source material, create a fitting introduction to an involving saga that opens with "My name is Miriam Meijer. I am twenty-seven years old. This morning I killed a man. A Gestapo agent put a Luger to my face—screamed he would kill me. I stabbed him. He died immediately. I fled to escape arrest. I killed the agent in self-defense. But it weighs heavily on me." 

Dwight Harshbarger's ability to personalize history through the eyes, minds, and hearts of fictional characters provides an immediacy and compelling tone to this story. It will reach not only seasoned followers of World War II accounts, but those who don't typically pick up such reads. 

Harshbarger's prose is reflective, poetic, and revealing as the story unfolds, injecting philosophical moments with metaphorical description that supports the underlying moral and ethical considerations of events and character choices: "The blade caught, reflected, a beam of light from the reading lamp at the end of the couch. I rotated the blade. It reflected the beam, like an ethereal presence, from wall to chair to ceiling. Like the soldier’s pistol, the beam and the blade did the bidding of the hand that held it. I stared at the blade. What might I ask of it? Today, nothing. Tomorrow?" 

This approach, too, sets the story apart from many other World War II explorations, adding literary embellishments to strengthen the history and social observations. 

The result is a very different perspective on the times that blends ethical considerations with historical events for a full-faceted, involving, and thought-provoking read. 

A Quiet Hero is highly recommended not just for World War II readers, but those who are interested in the interconnected subject of ethics and wartime events. These audiences will find the story, characters, premises, and strong female protagonist to be thoroughly engrossing. 

A Quiet Hero

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Dana McSwain
Webb House Publishing
978-1-7352860-4-4         $29.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

Horror readers will welcome Roseneath for its engrossing story of slowly-building horror surrounding Georgia Pritchard, who discovers a dead child in the attic of her new dream house, but can't confide in her husband...because she's uncertain about what he is turning into. 

The story opens with an archangel who mourns both a death and his inability to build his heart's desire—a family. He knows that Lucifer has conjured a new form of evil, and that the death of this mysterious, beautiful child he holds has altered his destiny, as a result. 

Decades of solitude pass in the deserted house Roseneath before the archangel returns to find that his brother Lucifer has been at work in it once again, leaving behind a malignant, growing force that threatens to re-enact the horror that happened at Roseneath so long ago. 

Fast forward to Georgia's world. She is pregnant, and feels shackled by its connection to an entity she has come to hate in the body of her husband Nathan. Meanwhile, he puzzles over her nightmares and increasing distance: "Their embrace was a cruel mimicry of the casual possession that years of marriage had forged. Instead of the familiar entanglement, their limbs now seemed at war with each other. Each night, he tried desperately to hold her together, all the while her unconscious body seemed determined to fly apart. His hands searched in vain for the latch on the cruel snare that held her, but her pain was a relentless, vicious animal devouring her one small piece at a time. Each night ended as it began—a maddening, Sisyphean endeavor. Nathan didn’t sleep anymore, not in their home, not in their bed." 

As the story unfolds from different perspectives, the horror grows with a satisfyingly slow build that evolves from compellingly different descriptions of the same events. 

One might expect events to come solely from Georgia's viewpoint, but Nathan's perspective is nicely wound into the story line. This is an outstanding approach that adds details into the evolving horror that stems not just from his choices and actions, but his thoughts: "You’re just trying to do what’s best. There’s no harm in that. And it’s not a lie, not really. A lie of omission, not much of a sin at all. And of course she’d understand. This is how you give her everything she ever wanted, isn’t it?" 

The juxtaposition of these two very different experiences creates an exquisite interplay that heightens tension, adds complexity to the horror component, and draws in readers with an approach that proves hard to put down: "I guess when you decide to rule in hell, can’t be too picky about the help.” The horde drew back against the wall, surged up it, cowered on the ceiling like a colony of bats. His name froze in her mouth, a primal, prey instinct warned her to hide it away, tuck it deep inside where the thing across the room couldn’t find it, couldn’t tarnish it. It wasn’t until the moment he turned and caught sight of her, that Georgia realized how gracefully, how consummately Nathan had worn his own skin. How the body without the man was just an unrecognizable shell, that his soul had filled that precious frame to bursting and without it was little more than a stranger." 

As the truth about Roseneath and Nathan and Georgia's different roles in the house develops, readers will be surprised and delighted by the twists and turns Dana McSwain cultivates. These are the hallmarks of a solid literary horror page-turner that makes Roseneath a highly recommended pick for horror story readers looking for exceptional works based on more than just heart-stopping surprises and supernatural encounters. 


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Sargent’s Lady
Judith Fabris
A Vegas Publisher, LLC
978-0996843720            $14.95

Sargent’s Lady provides a satisfying prequel to The Missing Driscoll art mystery story and explores the life of Boston debutante Maud Driscoll, who finds herself alone and pregnant in Paris when her baby's father is murdered. As she cultivates her artistic talents, gives up her baby at birth, returns to America to a failed marriage and dreams, and goes back to Europe to find solace in painting once again, the rudiments of an artist's journey emerge. 

The timeline moves from 1953 to 1889 and between Europe and America in a satisfying manner that is clarified by chapter headings identifying place and time. Readers are never left to wander or wonder, and will appreciate this clear approach to linking present-day affairs with choices of the past which resonate with consequences over time. 

Judith Fabris does an especially notable job of exploring different characters in the story, from Maud's evolutionary process to Peter Wells, who buys a mysterious portrait in an art store, only to discover that its background story is even more surprising than he could ever have suspected. Forced by an art dealer to authenticate the subject of John Singer Sargent's undiscovered masterpiece, his probe into the past reveals an underlying story of sacrifice and survival that holds many astonishing connections to present-day family entanglements and history. 

As the story winds through the years and juxtaposes Peter's search and revelations with his Aunt Maud's life, Paris comes to life in the course of a journey filled with unexpected revelations. Fabris takes time to build this sense of place, which is also a fine embellishment to the story line: "A year later, Peter again found himself in Paris. It was July 14, Bastille Day, and Paris was celebrating on this warm summer day. He was enjoying his lunch at a sidewalk café, reminiscing how similar it was to the one where he had his first job. The pâté was excellent, and he savored the last bit of it spread on the remains of a baguette.  He polished off the last cornichon, and squeezed the lemon rind into his expresso when a young woman stopped at his table." 

From a war which crushes communications between Europe and America and changes investigations and relationships both in families and in the art world, to Maud's winding journey away from art and back again, Sargent’s Lady is a full-flavored story that will especially delight budding artists who like stories about the wellsprings of inspiration and life adversity: "The colors also leapt off the canvasses Maud painted. She had been reborn. The smell of turpentine, and linseed oil were like the finest perfumes to her. Her studio, almost as large as the living room, was filled with easels and paints and paintings." 

The explorations of different generations changed by war and the contrasts between Maud Driscoll and Lillie Doty's experiences and lives is particularly thought-provoking and well crafted as each cultivates different emotional reactions to adversity in their lives. 

The result is a fine stand-alone story and a fitting companion to The Missing Driscoll. It's a tale of family ties, choices and consequences, war, and art that is highly recommended for its ability to live in the mind long after family affairs and artistic revelations are revealed. 

Sargent’s Lady

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Shades of the Deep Blue Sea
Jack Woodville London
Vire Press, LLC
978-0-9821207-0-5         $4.99 ebook, $16.95 paperback

Shades of the Deep Blue Sea is a historical romance set on a Pacific island during World War II. It explores the lives and evolving mystery and connections surrounding two sailors, Bart and Olafson, and a girl, Saya, who navigate the tumultuous waters of change and love. 

One doesn't expect the opening scene of a boat crossing the Pacific to enter the war, harboring a would-be murderer and a potential victim who is equally determined to survive the passage, but Jack Woodville London opens his story with a captivating diary entry of soldiers and sailors, adversity, and combat encounters on more than one level. These descriptions add further layers of confrontation to a saga that holds many flavors of change. 

From a counterfeit order scam and Smith and Gretel's discoveries to war, slavery, the actions of Suzy the spy (which land her in prison) and war heroes who survive Japanese internment camps, Shades of the Deep Blue Sea creates a satisfying blend of military and social engagement that injects moral and ethical dilemmas into its wide-ranging story of confrontation and survival. 

As readers absorb the mystery surrounding Sullivan's disappearance and court proceedings which seek to uncover the truth, they receive an engaging inspection of promises, journeys, and one man's vision of the future, which is realized in unexpected ways. 

Shades of the Deep Blue Sea cultivates many different angles, from war history to romance to prisoner treatment, cannibalism, and survival against all odds. It isn't a singular military or social inspection, but combines elements of each against the backdrop of a love story. 

Shades of the Deep Blue Sea is highly recommended reading for anyone seeking a multifaceted romp through World War II. 

Shades of the Deep Blue Sea

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Sisters of the Moon
Alexandrea Weis
Vesuvian Books 
978-1645480556            $11.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle 

Sisters of the Moon is a novella set on an island in Lake Obersee, where the order of nuns, The Sisters of St. Gertrude, reside. Durra is charged with tending to the nuns and their cats, but spends her spare time researching the island's history in the library, looking for answers surrounding the mysterious forces which seem to cohabitate with them on the island. She was traded into this position by her family, whom she hates. But they never anticipated that her new role in life would embrace a strange secret that portends a very different fate than that of being an indentured servant. 

As she moves from being shunned by her family and being "nothing" to becoming the pivotal force in an ancient struggle between good and evil, Durra challenges everything she's been taught in order to not only face dangerous creatures, but hidden secrets in the hearts in those around her: "The admission was not something she had expected. Emily always seemed like someone only out for herself. That she had wanted to spare her friends reassured Durra. It meant Emily was not as cold and indifferent as she came across. A kind heart hid beneath the covering of a wolf." 

Alexandrea Weis does an outstanding job of painting succinct, hard-hitting scenes that carry Durra from a new role in a convent to a more active position confronting supernatural forces and long-hidden truths that could change not just her life, but the world. 

The characterization is well done, and while the mystery is predictable, at times, it holds some surprises readers will find satisfyingly well described. The pace and action provide a fine blend of mystery and supernatural confrontation that will keep readers engaged and involved. 

Sisters of the Moon represents a fine example of the use of the novella form at its best. It creates a superior blend of action, mystery, and evolving protagonist dilemmas and growth that will keep readers on their toes and involved up to the story's epilogue of unexpected lessons in survival and achievement. 

Sisters of the Moon is highly recommended for those who like their supernatural mystery stories to embrace a sense of character growth where the fine line between good and evil proves more mercurial than most. 

Sisters of the Moon

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T.D. Holt
Independently Published
ISBN: 9798668534784       
Price: $10.99-print (book);  $2.99-ebook (Kindle)
Website/Ordering Link:

The world in turmoil. America teetering after the last presidential election. COVID-19 and racial issues permeate the news. Then, a rumor emerges about a technology that can take down the Internet, permanently.  

Many threads run through the life of Pete (the protagonist), carrying him to new places as he falls in love with a beautiful black woman, Sophie, who helps him root out the conspiracy surrounding the potential Internet-busting discovery of a new sub-atomic particle. 

Pete has many careers to his name, from expertise in Army intelligence to legal and scientific backgrounds. These make him uniquely qualified to embark on a world-hopping effort to locate the source of this new threat to technology. But he meets his match in the lovely Sophie, who introduces a spiritual component into his life that he's long rejected even as she keeps his affections both returned and at a professional distance.  

As the two explore the threat, its secret keepers, and each other, readers receive an adventure that focuses on their evolving abilities and attempts to come to terms with both a threat to society and the obstacles to building a meaningful relationship. 

Readers of thrillers and romances will find threads of each theme, but should know that T.D. Holt devotes equal consideration to exploring both with a depth and attention to detail that places the plot firmly in the realm of those who like relationship-driven tension and intrigue. 

The characterization is well done as Pete is forced by Sophie to examine his prejudices, preconceived notions of love and romance, and spirituality. The action, too, is nicely developed as the world-hopping adventure moves from their evolving relationship to newfound knowledge about the particle's properties and political and terrorist threats that can change the world. 

Threads isn't really just a singular story, but draws together the threads of two disparate lives who join together for a purpose that changes them both through a process of discovery. The real story is not just in the circumstances surrounding the mysterious threat to the Internet, but in the efforts of Sophie and Pete to form a lasting connection and bond that supports the individuality they have each long cultivated. 

Holt creates an exquisite psychological dance between these two characters, as narrated from Pete's perspective. Pete's self-deprecating humor over being a "dork" with ex-Army intel skills but not quite as strong relationship skills and little spiritual inclinations creates a powerful story. 

Readers looking for the trappings of a thriller that are firmly rooted in relationship developments and challenges will find Threads a wonderfully complex story. It follows the underlying influences of history, perspective, and spirituality to reach a satisfying conclusion. 

Threads is highly recommended for readers who want the psychological and romance component of their thriller stories as strong or stronger than the action. 


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The Wars Among the Paines 
John M. Millar
Koehler Books
$26.95 paper/$39.95 Hardcover/$7.99 Kindle 

The Wars Among the Paines is an epic story about the effects of wars on generations of the Paine family, and follows the family's evolution and changes through World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. 

The lasting impact of each of these wars on the Paine clan and its trajectory is covered in a series of letters and first-person insights that start in 1975, with R. Treat Paine II's journey to visit a mother near death and a letter to his estranged sister. The Vietnam War divided them as ideals fractured family relationships, and his letter, sent on the eve of their mother's death, recaps events after 1968, when Vietnam politics drove them apart: "We both were certain of our convictions and our righteous paths to meet those convictions. In the end, you took the higher road and made the greater sacrifice for our country." 

The note of intrigue about the Paine family's close-held secret, kept even from his wife all these years, begins in this letter: "I have never shared with my wife my past life in Menschville and Vietnam. She believes that our mother is dead. I know I want her to go to Mother’s funeral, but that means I will have to tell her our family history, a family that had everything and ended up with nothing. It is something I know I must do to be honest about my past. I am afraid that the fact that I have not told her about our family may imperil our happiness. She will either hate me or love me more. I am afraid to find out which." 

This powerful opener to the story grabs reader attention from the start, but it's not the story's only strength. Equally notable is John M. Millar's ability to satisfyingly juxtapose the different wartime influences on politics and conflict with a family's hierarchy and evolution. 

Buffeted by winds of change and conflict, the Paine family moves from generation to generation with a perspective and focus continually changed and challenged by the specter of each very different, yet somehow interconnected, war. 

It's no easy task to intersect the routines of daily living (courtship, love, family connections) with the broader influence of social change over a period of many decades. Millar achieves this through first-person discussions and descriptions that move from as light a subject as an outline of school grades to the weightier topics of ethical, moral, and familial conundrums. 

Each point and counterpoint brings with it another revelation that changes the epic Paine family's odyssey. Each involves readers in the different long-term impacts of these wars. And all contribute a powerful piece of understanding to the greater whole, slowly revealed in discussions that move through a brother's loss to cultural changes and the narrator's ability to adapt to these transitions: "We had never really discussed what it felt like to be Eurasian in a mostly white world. When we met, I sensed her loneliness here at Cornell. I think I could relate to it because I felt it when I enrolled here. The difference was that I was in the wine cellar with guys that looked like me. Then I joined SAE, where 100 more guys looked like me. I doubt that there was one other Eurasian woman in all of Cornell’s 10,000+ students." 

The result is a sweeping saga rooted not only in war and family history, but social change. Its inspections will appeal to historical novel readers who look for more of a psychological inspection of many lives over a period of time than a singular story of one war's lasting impact on one individual. 

The Wars Among the Paines is highly recommended reading for its long-range forecasts of evolving social and family circles. 

The Wars Among the Paines 

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What’s Not Said
Valerie Taylor
She Writes Press
978-1-63152-745-6                Paperback: $16.95 

What’s Not Said will appeal to urban women who like fun stories of cityscapes and interpersonal relationships. It follows Kassie O’Callaghan’s plan to divorce her abusive husband and move in with a younger man. But his claim of suffering from chronic kidney disease temporarily stymies her until she discovers the truth, making her escape plot all the more important. Or, so it seems. 

What’s Not Said is about deceit and lies in marriage, secret lives and vows of fidelity and loyalty, and the kinds of decisions an older, long-time wife faces during the process of exploring new options and justifying old habits. 

As Kassie takes several unexpected turns, each revelation bringing its own decision and life-changing choice, readers follow the trajectory of a self-admitted perfectionist who is used to doing the right thing even when that approach is unclear. 

Husband Mike, too, is facing changes as he examines the future of his life, both in sickness and in health, and muses on his new options and restrictions: "Did he have a choice? Not a good one anyway. So Mike, outnumbered and defeated, grabbed the TV remote, clicked on Andrea Mitchell, and ate his lunch; one bland spoonful aft er another. Not half bad. Not half good, either. Is this what I have to look forward to the rest of my life? Good grief. Soon, Mike surrendered his mood to sleep. At last." 

Mike has always been immersed in image and success. When Kassie discovers his big stash of hidden money, the marital game changes for both of them. Kassie is a neat freak used to order and control in her life. Can she grasp something that is spiraling out of the zone of familiarity she's built with Mike over the years? 

Things are changing. With aging and new restrictions as new possibilities, Mike and Kassie make their decisions, discoveries, and field the obstacles of health and aging. Readers will find in their story an absorbing tale of mistakes, looming divorce, love, and the kinds of concessions demanded by health changes and a revised form of affection. 

There are ethical conundrums, illicit associations within and outside of the family structure, discussions of organ donor challenges, and a mother and daughter's secrets, which impact across generations. "What if..." is one of the major threads connecting Kassie's life with those around her as she explores these new possibilities and strangely altered realities. 

Female readers who look for "chick-lit" about mature women facing changes in their lives and loves will find What’s Not Said develops good characters and realistic scenarios, creating encounters that keep the action nicely paced and the characters believable and appealing. 

It's a fine marital examination that covers changing scenarios, ideals of loyalty and love, and the drive of each main character to find something more meaningful and important than they've experienced in the past. What’s Not Said is highly recommended for women who look for not just stories of marital relationships, but the unexpected revelations that revolve around life purpose and the immortality of love. 

What’s Not Said

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A Wife in Bangkok
Iris Mitlin Lav
She Writes Press
978-1-63152-707-4         $16.95 Paper/$9.49 Kindle 

A Wife in Bangkok is a novel about a journey made by a wife with traditional values, who moves with her husband from their comfortable Oklahoma home to Thailand when his company sends him overseas. 

Battling culture shock, depression, and the growing realization that her life choices are not what she would have made had she a choice in the matter, Crystal has hardly any options, fewer connections, and feels increasingly trapped. 

Bangkok isn't all about adversity. It holds a special kind of beauty and life lessons she wouldn't have absorbed in the safety of her American home. Still, as she struggles with issues of security and danger in her new environment, deals with servants and help she's expected to manage and interact with, and increasingly sees that her marriage is broken and in trouble, Crystal is forced to make adjustments she never could have imagined years ago. 

The growth process she experiences by being an American wife transplanted to the alien culture and conditions of Bangkok makes for a mesmerizing story that follows the logical progression of her evolution with an astute attention to detail and psychological development. 

Iris Mitlin Lav's story excels in its survey not only of Crystal's emotional condition and growth, but in its portrait of the Thai people and their world. Readers absorb a depth of discussion surprising for the usual novel, which imparts much information about Thai lifestyles and culture. 

Its added focus on Crystal's evolution and the process whereby she heals, makes new decisions, and cultivates new opportunities is icing on the cake of understanding, on many different levels. While this may seem complex, the story is also involving and hard to put down. 

The passionate descriptions of how Crystal and her family interact in their new world, forming revised purposes and ideals for their future, are creatively, evocatively crafted through descriptions that tug at the heart: "The Carrol family launched their kratongs to join the others. Even Brian was taken by the display and helped the children float theirs. Crystal certainly needed the water god to float her own troubles away. She formed a prayer in her heart. Please, may I find a better way to live here. Please, may the problems between Brian and me go away." 

Readers looking for stories about female psyches, development, growth, and change will relish the inroads into independence and positive choices that are cultivated and explored in A Wife in Bangkok. 

A Wife in Bangkok

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Reviewer's Choice

Amazing Stories from the Streets
Dr. Charles Margerison
Amazing People Publications
978-1916372702            $9.80 Paper/$6.22 Kindle

Amazing Stories from the Streets is a collection of everyday peoples' life experiences as narrated by Dr. Charles Margerison, a psychologist, who ventured into local pubs, restaurants, and gathering places, in many countries. He conversed with people in a quest for life stories that never made the newspaper headlines. 

Amazing Stories from the Streets is a celebration of efforts, perspectives, and choices in life that one seldom receives from mainstream media reporting. Here you will meet ‘Lady In Black’, ‘Mizzie From Mississippi’, ‘Stranger My Brother’, and other fascinating characters. 

The stories explore the realities of adversity and survival. These include the author's own childhood memories of surviving World War II bombings in England. He poses the thought-provoking question, "What can you do to prepare for attacks in your life, which could negatively impact your career and family situation?" 

Through these valuable life stories, you can learn how to improve your own life. Fortitude and heroism is demonstrated on many different levels. You can gain pearls of wisdom about life, and society as a whole.  

Each story opens with an overview of setting and place, moves into a poetic structure, and concludes with thought-provoking questions. These invite readers to relate the basic experiences and messages of others to their own life choices. 

Themes of war and peace, choices and judgments, highlight principles that influence better ways of living.  Inspirational lessons are imparted in this blend of free verse. Black and white line drawings provide visual support. 

The blend of philosophical, ethical, and moral issues sets this story collection apart from most others. The book creates solid themes and approaches to living life, that go beyond academic inspection and presentation. 

Readers who appreciate the free verse structure, will appreciate the solid grounding in life experience in these pieces, as well as their opportunity for absorbing basic life lessons. 

Amazing Stories from the Streets is highly recommended for two audiences: those who wish to chart a better life; and readers of social affairs who want applied insights into life's influences and resulting choices in how to live. It is inspirational reading at its best, and is easily accessible. 

Amazing Stories from the Streets

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Becoming Okay (When You're Not Okay)
Bryan Bushman, PhD
978-0692078259            $11.95

Becoming Okay (When You're Not Okay):  A Step-By-Step Guide To Decrease Suffering And Develop Acceptance narrows its self-help focus to the subject of accepting life challenges and pain during the process of overcoming physical and mental anguish. It is a top recommendation for those who want to move past suffering. 

Awareness and acceptance offers ways of making life better. Wallowing in and focusing on pain makes it worse. The steps to moving into awareness are outlined in chapters that examine not only how to cultivate acceptance, but the elements involved in this revised approach to life. 

From metaphors for direction and the principles involved in these choices to understanding common self-imposed barriers to this process, Dr. Bushman is specific both in his admonitions and exercises: "It isn’t that pragmatism or realism are always a problem, but the realism we embraced may have been a delusion in the service of avoiding. If I roll my eyes and think others who are idealistic are “quaint” or “naïve”, then I can spare myself potential pain. Too easily we surrender self-direction because we’re too worried about self-disappointment. Instead, we accept stagnation, and then, strangely enough, become angry and confused when we become adrift and directionless." 

Pain is an inevitable byproduct of life, but it doesn't have to be the primary force directing its progression. Even the title, Becoming Okay (When You're Not Okay), acknowledges that underlying pain is not to be ignored or rejected. Instead, it can be incorporated into the bigger purpose of moving away from being mired in negativity, moving into a life which incorporates pain while adding other approaches to solve problems and achieve a better state of mind. 

These specific steps form a blueprint for success that will be appreciated by any reader who tends to wallow in pain while seeing no clear way out. They excel in exploring and explaining the difference between bigger-picture thinking and becoming bogged down by present-day pain, and crafting approaches that are especially recommended reading for proactive self-help and inspirational book readers who too commonly receive ethereal admonitions not backed up by actual step-by-step processes. 

Dr. Bushman's exploration will be especially appreciated by those who know how limiting and narrow is the vision created by a painful state, and how valuable is a roadmap away from it, adding an extra dimension of possibility to alleviate suffering. 

Becoming Okay (When You're Not Okay)

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Compassion Mandala
Pamela Logan
Hibiscus Books
Paperback: 978-1-7350538-0-6    $28.00
Ebook: 978-1-7350538-1-3           $16.00 

Compassion Mandala: The Odyssey of an American Charity in Contemporary Tibet details fourteen years of the author's experiences in Tibet helping Tibetans overcome extreme poverty. 

Pamela Logan formed a nonprofit group to lend humanitarian assistance to Tibetans under Chinese rule, which gave her a close vantage point from which to observe social change and the Tibetan struggle under Chinese authority. 

Compassion Mandala is a blend of social inspection, memoir, and history. It covers the peoples of Tibet and how they have fared under China’s rapid development, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the region's interactions in general and Tibetan history and culture in particular. 

As chapters survey development challenges and document Logan's travels through the country, readers receive insights from a series of personal encounters that are vividly narrated and socially, psychologically, and spiritually revealing"To me, bushido and Buddhism didn’t seem far apart. As a martial artist, I sought to transcend my ego and face my fears through the practice of simulated combat, passing through a veil of fire into a place of joyous release. Zen practitioners might compare that to satori, imperfectly translated as “enlightenment” or “liberation.” Followers of Tibetan Buddhism seek to overcome mental obscurations, leading to an understanding of emptiness and the true nature of reality, a state of continuous bliss sometimes expressed with the same words: “enlightenment” and “liberation.” In Tibet and other places that practice the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, practitioners seek liberation not for themselves, but for the sake of helping others." 

Logan’s personal observations of daily life in Tibet and revelations about the challenges Tibetans face are particularly insightful and specific"Visiting nine schools in four counties, Griffin found that kids loved our Children’s Fun Science series thanks to the cute pictures on every page, but the rest of the news was not good. Our second series, titled Window to Science, was being read at only two schools. At all the others, the books appeared untouched. When Linda asked why the books weren’t useful, teachers seemed embarrassed and insisted that they were using them, even though the books appeared pristine. Griffin learned that the science books were gathering dust because primary school pupils could not read Tibetan well enough to make heads or tails of them." 

The fundamentals of grassroots organizing, budgeting, providing effective assistance, and the problems of operating programs in other countries all contribute to a full-fledged discussion about the ideals of aid dissemination versus the practicalities experienced by aid workers on the ground. These notions are relevant to a broader discussion of the value of basic literacy and education in communities where  hunger runs rampant. 

Economic progress has a long way to go in Tibet, and Chinese oppression continues. Even though KhamAid’s work has ended, this chronicle of ordinary people’s relentless efforts to improve their lives offers hope and insight that go beyond a factual telling of Tibet's current conditions. Logan’s memoir is a call to readers to become involved in their own compassionate efforts. 

Compassion Mandala is a highly recommended, inspirational survey of how first one woman, then a group of committed individuals, made progress against overwhelming odds in a nation crushed by poverty and oppression. Compassion Mandala exposes Tibetan culture and people in a way that few other books achieve.  

Compassion Mandala

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Coronavirus & COVID-19: What It Is, How to Avoid It, How to Survive It
Peter Kent
Peter Kent Consulting, LLC
ASIN is B08C5K6YYW         $4.69

Undoubtedly, some of the information presented here about COVID-19 will be obsolete as time goes by, requiring an updated edition; but today, in the throes of a pandemic, many a reader will want to consult Coronavirus & COVID-19: What It Is, How to Avoid It, How to Survive It for a specific overview of the subject that puts, in one place, the latest knowledge about the virus. 

Sure, there's been plenty of media coverage on coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19, and pandemics. But they hold so much conflicting information and approaches that the average reader is likely confused. That's why having details in a less dramatic book form is necessarily at this point, and is essential reading for anyone concerned about COVID-19. 

The book opens with a basic definition and history of COVID-19's roots and birth, reviewing facts, refuting misinformation, and discussing the possibilities of illness and how to survive infection. 

The introduction reviews different virus names and defines them in a history of their appearance. Specific mention of distinctions between them that often miss journalistic reporting offer invaluable keys to understanding. Next, comes a review of virus biology in general and their history in affecting the human race, before chapters turn to the heart of the matter—why coronavirus is different, and what readers can do to avoid or survive it. 

Color photos accompany illustrations of the virus, its carriers, and what is known as well (as what remains unknown) about COVID-19. 

From mortality rates and comparisons to the flu to healthcare system limitations, how much virus is needed for infection, using public restrooms and cleaning habits, and homemade hand sanitizers, Coronavirus & COVID-19 covers and assesses all possibilities and dispels many myths. 

Much of the information has already been updated since the book's initial writing began, while website links to research and facts are included, which hopefully will provide further lasting references that will be updated as the situation changes. 

There's a lot of information about COVID-19 in the daily news, but readers who want it all in one place, with a clarifying overlay of information that make it easy to understand, should place Coronavirus & COVID-19: What It Is, How to Avoid It, How to Survive It at the top on their reading list. 

Its clear, information-backed details explain everything from the very simple process of effective hand-washing to how to survive an infection. Essential reading for modern times. 

Coronavirus & COVID-19: What It Is, How to Avoid It, How to Survive It

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Dad’s Little Book of Wisdom
Mark Fennell
Raab & Co. 
978-1-7352490-0-1         $19.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle  

Dad's Little Book of Wisdom: Earn More, Achieve More, and Live a Good Life gathers life advice from a father who passes on the wisdom he wished he had as a young man. It is recommended reading for anyone who would absorb the lessons of yesteryear from those older and wiser. 

Written as a book of advice to the next generation, Dad's Little Book of Wisdom blends a chatty tone with memories and vignettes that embrace topics ranging from financial savvy to cultivating persistence in setting and reaching goals and incorporating long-term planning into short-term experience: "If you dedicate four hours a day toward a vital skill for five days a week, that’s twenty hours a week. If you maintain that for fifty weeks a year, you will reach 10,000 hours in ten years. This is why mastery doesn’t happen overnight but after a sustained effort." 

Parents, grandparents, and adults who regularly interact with young people will find Dad's Little Book of Wisdom not just the perfect gift book, but a point of discussion for many topics that can open up new avenues of wisdom and connection between generations. 

There's a healthy degree of business acumen within the advice—it's not all about ethics, morals, or setting goals; and can be very specific, such as the section about encouraging a collaborative atmosphere: "I’ve found it helps to craft a simple agenda and issue it days in advance of the meeting, ideally as part of the meeting invitation. This helps all attendees know what to be prepared to discuss and what prep work they should do in advance. If there will be new people, I use introductions at the beginning to set the stage for the meeting. At the end, I make sure we determine the next actions. Everyone has put in their valuable time. Make sure something comes from that investment!" 

As far as the ideal age range of the reader, think the thirty-something professional or the twenty-something just getting a handle on adult responsibilities and approaches. The insights in this sage presentation aren't limited to a ten-year age range, but hold potential for educating several generations who are at pivot points in their careers and personal lives. 

From college to finances and entering and excelling in the business world, these examples and tried-and-tested paths from personal experience prove invaluable not just because of their direction, but because they cover potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. 

The sage voice of experience can save a lot of time and trouble. Dad's Little Book of Wisdom is highly recommended for any young person open to learning from the past to forge more efficient success in their present and future. It's motivational reading at its best. 

Dad’s Little Book of Wisdom

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Billy Van Zandt
Van Zandt/Milmore Productions
978-1734401714            $17.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

GET IN THE CAR, JANE! Adventures in the TV Wasteland is a memoir of TV experiences from an Emmy-nominated writer and producer who spent years making sitcoms. It blends a sense of whimsy with insider observation to create a compelling read that is unique and educational, all in one. 

Van Zandt met and worked with some of the great actors, actresses, and entertainers of his times, from Lucille Ball and Brooke Shields to Alan Arkin and other contemporary artists. These encounters depict experiences that are hilarious, pointed, and filled with Hollywood insights. The anecdotes offer testimony to the powerful, sometimes uncertain, relationships between Hollywood writers and industry professionals. 

Descriptions blend this wry humor into stories that are revealing and fun, whether they're talking about people, politics, or methodology : "After six episodes and a weekly firing of perfectly good writers, the writing staff consists of just Jane, Bruce Ferber, and me. We’re allowed to go home only when it looks like rain, because our boss doesn’t want her dog to get wet." 

The nuts and bolts of collaborative writing are also presented in exposés which are filled with not just fun moments, but insights on the process of creative producing: "With Shawn and Marlon in the Writers’ Room, we’re able to try out bits to see if they work before we finish writing them. It saves a lot of time. It’s eye-opening, too. Me: “We need a list of WASPY white guy things for this joke to work.” Shawn suggests: “How about if I call him a martinidrinking, baloney-smelling…” Me: “Baloney what?" Shawn: “Baloney-smelling. All white guys smell like baloney.” A pause, then he adds: “Except you.” 

From the realities of struggling to find a decent premise under deadline and handling actors and actresses to editing shows and enjoying the fruits of making them, GET IN THE CAR, JANE! captures the humor and paths of creative Hollywood writing like no other book on the subject. 

This blend of nuts-and-bolts Hollywood writing experiences and fun industry observations is especially recommended for aspiring writers who want to get a sense not only of Van Zandt's life and encounters with the famous, but the specifics of Hollywood writing and producer relationships. 

It's a fun, inviting way of absorbing this atmosphere through the author's personal journals, creates a fine "you are here" series of encounters, and should be required reading for aspiring students who want a realistic flavor of Hollywood behind the scenes, from a writer's point of view. 


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Healthcare Heroes
Mary Choy, PharmD, BCGP, FASHP and Michele B. Kaufman, PharmD, BCGP
Sigel Press
9781905941315             $27.99 

Healthcare Heroes: The Medical Careers Guide is the first book to gather the experiences of almost thirty different kinds of healthcare professionals, who reveal how to follow in their footsteps in a given career. Unlike more singular productions which focus on one healthcare objective, this offers students a rare opportunity to contrast these different choices for a better fit between skills, work environment, and alternative options that students and parents may not know about. 

Healthcare Heroes is written by two board-certified clinical pharmacists who are academicians that explore the process of adopting academic and internship paths that lead to specialized careers. 

From Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist to Medical Imaging Technologist, Biomedical Engineer, Osteopathic Physician, and Dentist or Vet, Healthcare Heroes covers quite a wide range of career options that fall under the 'healthcare' umbrella. Each profession receives a clear overview, including educational requirements, responsibilities and requirements, career outlook, and a concluding list of similar careers that students can check out to expand their options. 

With its wide-ranging and clear presentation, Healthcare Heroes is highly recommended reading...a 'must have' educational reference for high school career guidance collections, adults who want to help any teen, or for adults looking to enter a healthcare profession. 

Healthcare Heroes

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How to Become Extremely Wealthy
James Elleyby
Lulu Publishing Services
Hardcover: $59.00/Paperback: 24.99/Kindle: $9.99 

How to Become Extremely Wealthy sounds like it will parrot so many other 'how to get rich' books already on the market, but anyone who chooses it will find that James Elleyby cultivates a different interpretation of and approach to wealth that embraces a unique perspective. 

It's a lesson in gratitude and positive attitude, eschewing the usual focus on money matters alone to document the presence of wealth in all kinds of endeavors and approaches to life.

The logic is impeccably explained from the start: it's difficult to accumulate wealth if the correct mindset is lacking. Elleyby maintains that a wealth builder first needs to tackle one of the more challenging, less-addressed jobs on the list: revising one's mindset to "...deliberately readjust your thought process, if you are to order and manage and attract the other dollars unto you." This approach involves appreciating what one has before building financial and personal goals for the future. 

As chapters unfold, Elleyby winds a basic ethical and moral perspective into the effort of gaining more wealth, connecting the pursuit of money to the pursuit of happiness in a richer, more concrete manner than one would expect from a book with this title. 

It's a brilliant move, drawing the financial and business planner in with the promise of 'extreme wealth', then adding insights on life satisfaction, gratitude, giving, and generosity into the mix of advice on making more money. 

Ellerby states that " one owns money. We are only managers of its flow" and he also maintains that "It's very easy to bring in lots of money...It was designed to flow freely and casually. You must cultivate the right mindset regarding money-flow." 

All the tools are here for understanding, cultivating, and living that ideal, which embraces money-making on far more than a singular level. 

While business readers may pick up the book anticipating a guide to investments or financial planning, they'll receive so much more. Its winning promise to not only make more, but do better with what you've got, is highly recommended for those who would accept lessons on more mindful living, along with concrete advice on handling not just money itself, but the concept of making and using it wisely. 

How to Become Extremely Wealthy

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I Know You By Heart
Angie Swetland
Cresting Wave Publishing
978-0988904873            $14.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

I Know You by Heart: Navigating the Dementia Journey is more than just a chronicle of caregiving. It outlines the entire dementia experience, from first diagnosis to progressive challenges. 

Why should there be yet another book about dementia and caregiving? Because Angie Swetland incorporates spiritual and other elements to her story that are rarely found in other caregiver accounts. But, most of all, it's applauded for its underlying tone, which is one of encouragement: "When our cognitive gifts are depleted, and our memories are gone, we are still wholly and substantially the unique creation we have been since the day we were born. Understanding this is the key to communication and respect for those who have dementia." 

The challenge of a caregiver lies in supporting new forms of communication and respect under changed conditions. I Know You by Heart provides a navigator's roadmap to making the kinds of changes that keep life engaging and meaningful throughout the ever-changing challenge of dementia. 

Highlighted sections identify key reflections, feelings, and points for greater understanding throughout the journey, using case histories and discussions: "These feelings may be present not only in Lewy body disease but also in other types of dementia. Frustrated when unable to find possessions they have misplaced, angry at their confusion, irritated by their own ability to remember, patients may lash out at others." 

References to other books and literature holding additional insights link resources together for readers who want to study further: "Those who receive this diagnosis themselves are doubly devastated. How dreadful to know that those who need you daily will someday no longer be able to rely on you. Still Alice, a novel by Lisa Genova, explores young onset thoughtfully and compassionately." 

From differences between physician approaches and patient experiences to changing relationships within families and with loved ones as those diagnosed with dementia must come to grips with the fact that they no longer are support providers, but need help themselves, I Know You by Heart details all the underlying psychological struggles that too many dementia stories miss. 

It weaves these accounts into a larger spiritual overlay and a survey of how a caregiver can draw from overall history with a dementia sufferer to rebuild or create new connections based on past joys: "Ask yourself, what did your mom do
to help you when you were upset? If she sat you on her lap and sang to you, try a hug and music. If she made you a cup of cocoa, make some. These things mean comfort to her."

The specific tools for re-establishing connections that are positive and meaningful are all here, in a guide that addresses common obstacles and specific steps for overcoming them. 

I Know You by Heart is highly recommended reading that should be tops on any caregiver's list. 

I Know You By Heart

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The Last Passenger Train - A Rail Journey Across Canada
Robert M Goldstein
Rivendell Publishing Northwest
Print: 978-0-9763288-5-8              $15.00
Ebook:  978-0-9763288-6-5          $  8.99 

The Last Passenger Train - A Rail Journey Across Canada joins other outdoor odysseys undertaken by Robert M. Goldstein and opens with an iconic 'temple', the Union Train Station in Toronto, Canada, home of the last transcontinental train in the country. 

Goldstein is in the nearly-deserted station an hour before he is to board. This affords him the time to describe its beauty in detail, leading readers into the world of his rail journey before he even gets on the train. 

Part of the compelling pleasure of reading The Last Passenger Train lies in its ability to present a "you are there" feel to the journey, making at-home readers feel like they, too, are undertaking Goldstein's rail excursion. His ability to describe the sights, smells, and sounds of every facet of the trip makes The Last Passenger Train a wonderful armchair read: "At 9:00 p.m., the Great Hall is nearly deserted, seemingly occupied only by our echoing footsteps and the thrum of roller bags from a handful of potential passengers in the vast chamber, now dimly lit and looking more like a mausoleum than a train station." 

The other piece of this equation of attraction lies in the story's personal touches. Goldstein includes the kinds of social and interpersonal interactions which are the hallmarks of a journey. These lend additional emotional draw to his account: "Where are we? I grab the map from the little holder by the side of my bunk. Have we reached Rupert’s Land? Mindy rolls her eyes. After 40 years of friendship and a year of marriage, she knows me well. I need to know where I am. I attribute this to a genetically programmed instinct that clicks in when I am traveling, particularly on a train, though the phenomenon also occurs in cars and, with the advent of seat-back viewing screens, on airplanes. On a train, one must have a timetable and a map. Without these indispensable tools of the control freak, I become merely a Nervous Nellie, furtively glancing about, not sure where I am." 

As he views the passing, changing countryside from the train window and remarks on the sights, sounds, and politics of Canada, readers are drawn into a story that is thought-provoking as much as observational. It's refreshing to read a train journey that begins with the ride and moves into the kinds of reflective changes that take place in the traveler as he moves through his environment. Too many pieces focus on the journey and destination over the inner reflections and changes that travel brings. 

Rail buffs and fans of Canadian subjects will be the most logical readers of this travelogue, but anyone interested in journeys, changes, and relationships alike will find The Last Passenger Train moves beyond documenting a single travel experience to reflect on broader issues. The result is a compelling rail journey that readers are invited to experience along with the author. 

All aboard! 

The Last Passenger Train - A Rail Journey Across Canada

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On With the Butter!
Heidi Herman
Hekla Publishing LLC
978-1-947233-03-4         $16.99 

On With the Butter! Spread More Living onto Everyday Life presents an inspirational admonition to make the most of each day. While this may seem to mirror many, many other motivational books already on the market, Heidi Herman cultivates an ability to do more than provide encouraging words, but includes the tools needed to develop and support this attitude.

The title of this book comes from the author's Icelandic mother and an old Icelandic expression that means “carry on,” “keep doing what you’re doing,” “forge ahead,” or “keep moving.”  Herman absorbed this message and its practical applications at an early age, and pinpoints the crux of the issue, for others less familiar with these teachings: "We’re reminded to take advantage of the days we’re given, but how exactly do we do that?" Exactly how it's done is the focus of her book. 

As chapters survey this philosophical attitude and how to learn its applications, readers receive a remarkably astute probe of methods to living a better life. One example of this process stems from recognizing opportunities in life and "just saying yes" to them. From cultivating the kinds of spontaneity and surprises that translate to added joy in living (because "welcoming unplanned adventures is good therapy for us") to volunteering for work you're passionate about, these offer concrete strategies rather than ethereal ideals alone. 

This means that potential readers of On with the Butter! need to be prepared to do more than absorb the underlying messages in this book. They need to be ready to act on them. 

From locating the life coaches who can help re-inject a playful, spontaneous, creative spirit into one's life ("If you’re out of practice and need some help, spend time with playful people. Children are especially good at playing.") to the inspirational timeline of growth sparked by a year that Herman dubbed "the “Never Too Old” year" (in which her family and her mother purposely embarked on shared new experiences together), On with the Butter! is packed with methods for making the most of life. The message is all the more powerful for the fact that the author's mother formulated it after recovering from a stroke at age 92, documenting some 93 new activities experienced between her 93rd and 94th birthdays. 

It's highly recommended reading for proactive, engaged readers who would grasp these lessons with both hands and apply them to expand their own worlds and opportunities. 

On With the Butter!

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The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.
Julie Gray
Independently Published
978-1735249704            $16.95 Paper/$5.95 Kindle 

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist. takes a different approach to exploring Jewish Holocaust history in following the effects of the Nazi concentration camp Térézin (Theresienstadt, near Prague) on the evolving life of Gidon Lev, who was a child when he was incarcerated. 

Only 100 children survived out of the 15,000 imprisoned in the camp, making Lev one of the very few to emerge from its walls. But his story doesn't end there, because Gidon did more than simply survive his ordeal. He thrived, cultivated an optimistic outlook on the world, and experienced more adventures that involved him in two marriages, a late-life romance, and Israel's birth and meaning to the Jewish people. 

Readers who pick up this story for its satisfying blend of Jewish history and biography will find Gidon Lev's story extraordinary not just because of the tenacity of its subject, but from his involvement in building a new life for himself and the Jewish people around him. 

Author Julie Gray moved to Israel from Los Angeles in 2012, fleeing heartbreak and loss. Two months before her arrival, Gidon had lost his wife of forty years, which was a blow to his entire family. He determined to take the time to write a memoir of his life experiences, as a result, on the eve of his encounter with Gray, who saw this newfound project to fruition in this book. 

Her introduction synthesizes the especially challenging role she assumed in translating Gidon's life for the world, placing it in proper perspective: "The Holocaust has not defined Gidon’s life—he has not allowed it to—yet he found himself feeling responsible for conveying his experiences at the hands of the Nazis. Even so, he didn’t want that terrible experience to be the focal point of his life story. For me, this was sometimes tricky to navigate. I felt responsible as a curator of Gidon’s Holocaust testimony, as well as of his many other sometimes painful life experiences. I did not want to cause him or his family any more pain or grief than they had already endured." 

The driving force of his life story is not your usual Holocaust history or autobiographical reflection, but a solidly positive, life-affirming perspective that is as much a celebration as a tribute. 

Hard to imagine? The language of the story comes to life in unique ways, as in this example of Gidon's encounter in a very different kibbutz than he'd experienced before: "The members of the kibbutz welcomed us very warmly and went out of their way to make us feel at home there. There was not a single area of this kibbutz’s life that did not need help, and we had all come to do just that. Whereas in Ha’Zorea everything was well established, organized, and order ruled supreme, here in Zikim, everything was, to put it mildly, fluid." 

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev is very much a collaborative effort, as author Gray adds historical background, cultural insights, and reflections to support Lev's quotes and memories, so that non-Jewish readers can readily understand the underlying influence and meaning of his experience. 

It's a pleasure to read a Holocaust story that is a standout not just because it serves as another important invitation to remember and understand the atrocities of the past, but a lesson on how to celebrate the present and reform the future. Given the repressive forces at work in these times, we need the lessons cultivated in The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist. now, more than ever. 

This is a highly recommended memoir that rises above and beyond politics, Middle East history, or autobiography alike to reveal the path one man took to move beyond an incredibly difficult childhood of cruelty and oppression. 

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.

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The Well Spouse: My Journey of Love, Resilience, and Alzheimer’s
JoAnn Wingfield
J. Wingfield, LLC 
978-1-7347754–2-6        $18.95 Paper, $3.99 Kindle    

The Well Spouse: My Journey of Love, Resilience, and Alzheimer's is highly recommended reading for both caregivers, friends, and family members of people with Alzheimer’s or other chronicle illness, and adults and seniors in general. It's an intimate, whimsical, and yet powerful story of the author's 9 years of progressively challenging care for a husband diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 

The Well Spouse asks the hard question of how a 'well spouse' survives being a caregiver and partner to someone with such a devastating, deteriorating condition, and it provides a retrospective review of events that especially challenged and changed the author's life. JoAnn Wingfield hopes that families, caregivers, and spouses similarly challenged will find nuggets of wisdom in her story that will help them on their own paths to support a loved one. And she wishes that her story will heighten society’s awareness of the struggles of family caregivers—particularly the spousal caregiver.   

One notable feature to this story is that it alternates between first-person memories and the third person, using poetic, lyrical description to capture the interactions and challenges that Alzheimer's introduces into the relationship: "People are not able to choose their own birth and, for the most part, not able to choose their own death, she thought, but I will choose how to love and how to live, regardless of what’s happening in my life. That is exactly what I will do! She searched for his soul, for a sign of recognition and the assurance of his love. She felt a flicker of it, or did she? But it was hard to catch, it was hard to be certain, and it slipped away into obscurity just as quickly as it sparkled in the darkness, before she could catch it, before she could be certain." 

There are also many cultural revelations, where JoAnn Wingfield's Chinese heritage injects perceptions of solutions and problems that are different from Western thinking. These descriptions offer thought-provoking insights into how methods of problem-solving are influenced by cultural perspective: "After the incident at the luau in Hawaii when the man had yelled at me for allowing Clyde to go into the men’s room because he urinated on the floor, I told Joy, woefully, that although Clyde was still physically healthy and active, I could no longer take him out because of his confusion about using a public restroom. “Why don’t you take him to the women’s room?” she suggested. “Most people wouldn’t mind. I know I wouldn’t.” In the eyes of Chinese people, Westerners are open-minded—maybe too open-minded, in matters of gender propriety. In China, at least during the time I was growing up, there were expectations for how boys and girls should behave according to their clearly defined gender roles: no boys wanted to play rubber band skipping, which was played only by girls, and no girls wanted to play soccer. Clothing should not be too revealing—definitely no cleavage showing, please! My Chinese mind had not allowed me to think in such a deviant way until now: if I didn’t want to give up all normal activities, if I didn’t want to stop going to places with Clyde, if I didn’t want to be confined within the high walls of the big-and-beautiful house, I needed to have the courage to break the gender segregation of public restrooms." 

These elements expand the approach and theme of this story of an Alzheimer's patient, his spouse, and social and cultural encounters beyond most caregiving books. It provides additional dimensions of challenge and understanding that enlarge the special circumstances and considerations of managing an Alzheimer's spouse's care.   

The philosophical and ethical considerations of this process are particularly striking: "This war was so much more personal, with no possibility of winning, and with no prophecy of its ending. As Clyde’s protector, guardian, and well spouse, the one who continued to be in love with him, I wanted to shield him from further sufferings, I wanted to take him away from the world of afflictions, and I wanted to end his misery. Nature, or God, did not let us choose our birth, but it is we human beings who have given away our right to choose our own destiny, the ultimate destiny of death. I wished for an enlightened world where people could be allowed, and afforded the means, to leave this world without prolonged agony and with dignity." 

Black and white photos of the couple enhance a different kind of caregiving story that is highly recommended reading for mixed culture relationships and well spouses who face the challenges of caring for a loved one. 

The Well Spouse: My Journey of Love, Resilience, and Alzheimer’s

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You Got This!
Linda Bjork
Independently Published
9798643592846             $12.95 Paper/$6.99 Kindle 

You Got This!: An Action Plan To Calm Worry, Fear, Anxiety, And Stress provides self-help readers with a concrete course of action based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to reduce stress and anxiety—and in these times, it's a much-needed approach. 

This step-by-step approach divides the day between morning, evening, and daily action steps. Linking the many elements of the action plan to a typical day's encounters melds action to experience, making for a far more accessible, easily digestible method of learning new ways than most. 

The account opens with personal moments of crisis and challenge and then surveys the emotions and reactions associated with each situation. It lists cognitive disorders and questions for self-examination to achieve a more balanced perception of life, advocates absorbing and repeating positive affirmations to change conditioning and destructive patterns of reaction to adversity and stress, and it includes visualization exercises to reinforce these revised approaches to daily life. 

Readers who want to cool down and foster a calmer perspective about life will find these stress-reducing techniques and revised insights on how to handle adversity and worries to be specific, useful, and adaptable to just about any situation, large or small. 

The series of empowering routines, carefully crafted for all-day applications, provides a solution-based plan of action that encourages creativity, adaptation, self-examination, and change. This will ultimately move readers from specific problem-solving approaches to revising one's overall tendency to worry and build stress over life's challenges. 

Readers who tend to be hampered by their own thought processes and reactions will especially welcome this action guide to fostering different attitudes that will serve them better, overall, than the inclination to build stress through worrying. 

Readers don't have to have any prior knowledge of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and philosophy to appreciate and find accessible the specific routines and tools in the highly recommended You Got This! All that's required is the willingness to put changes into place through exercises and reflective work. 

You Got This!

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Young Adult/Childrens

1 for All
Sean McCollum
Brattle Publishing Group
Paperback: 978-0-9905872-3-1
Ebook: 978-0-9972902-4-0 

1 for All: A Basketball Story About the Meaning of Team lives up to its subtitle's promise with a powerful focus on middle-schoolers ages 13-14 whose captain and top player began with high hopes for the season, only to see his team repeatedly fail on the court. 

They face their biggest rival with a chance to get back on track...but only if they can come together to do something different. And star J.J. confronts losing not only his team, but his identity and other potentials for success. 

Young readers of 1 for All who hold a prior affection for basketball will find this story vividly captures the dilemmas, successes, and failures of the game. Even more importantly, it captures the backroom politics, struggles, and approaches of teammates and coaches alike as it outlines J.J.'s dilemma and evolving determination to support his teammates: "J.J. stepped forward. “You should leave now,” J.J. said. He felt confident for the first time in a long time. He knew he was doing the right thing. Big Mark glowered down on J.J. “Who do you think …” J.J. didn’t flinch, his words flowing out in a stream. “Leave, or we’re done, and things get messy real fast. Principal Dell sees that video, and it’ll be online by tomorrow morning. Belcher Motors has a website, yeah?” 

Scoreboard illustrations, tense descriptions of interactions and games, and traps in playing and personality clashes make for a vivid story of how a struggling team finally comes together, with a number of surprising influences spicing the story. 

Sean McCollum pays special attention to interactions and politics between players on and off the court as he draws the tale of winners, losers, and the evolution of the Musketeers’ style and newfound objectives. These realistic, pointed examples of changing directions will enlighten and engross middle schoolers who will find motivation and insight into not just the game, but the special abilities of players who contributes to it, but need a bigger picture vision of roads towards success. 

The result is a middle-grade read that is realistic, vivid, and captures the strategies, challenges, and dilemmas of players, managers, and those involved in building basketball dreams. 

1 for All

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Babies Bond
Phoebe Fox
Mamafox Books
978-0-9967445-4-6         $16.95 

Babies Bond is embellished with colorful watercolor paintings by retired NBA star Jim Fox and line drawings by Rachel Luman. These enhance a gentle, lovely picture book of haiku poems describing various mammal babies and how they bond with their mothers through nursing. 

From an ocean mother's "flippers that stroke the sea" while her calf nurses, to a hungry little hippo that "guzzles milk" underwater, Phoebe Fox provides a fine celebration of creatures that share this special bonding experience. 

The diversity of selected animals, from manatees and hippos to possums, alpaca, giraffes, and kangaroos is to be commended, along with the terminology that helps even the youngest reader identify specific names for different animal babies ( 'joeys', 'crias', and 'calves'). 

'Did You Know?' facts at the end of the book provide added details about each featured animal and how they nurse, while a concluding bibliography of reading resources, for both natural history and breastfeeding, offers parents and children the opportunity to learn more. 

Jim Fox's gorgeous paintings are as powerful as Phoebe Fox's gentle descriptions of each animal pair. Together, the two have created a gorgeous book, perfect for reading aloud to the very young, that encourages gentle contemplation of breastfeeding's special bond between babies and mothers.       

Babies Bond

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The Bone Carver
Monique Snyman
Vesuvian Books
978-1-64548-008-2         $16.95 Paper/$8.99 ebook 

The Bone Carver is a followup to The Night Weaver, expanding the story of Rachel Cleary, who continues to come into her own powers and abilities as she maintains a desire to leave the town which keeps drawing her back into a dangerous mystery. 

She's again on a trajectory for college, which feels threatened by her insecurities and knee-jerk reaction panic attack to taking the SAT, when suddenly her goals are no longer solid, but fluid with possibilities. 

Readers of The Bone Carver ideally will have absorbed Rachel's initial challenge, success, and persona in The Night Weaver, which will add depth and understanding to her reactions in this second book. 

Newfound threats come from both familiar and strange places: "One small setback and you’re ready to push the self-destruct button? Shame on you, Rachel Cleary. She couldn’t, however, overlook the fact that Cameron was always there. He usually lingered in the background, just watching her. Granted, this could’ve been her imagination, some residual paranoia after the Night Weaver had stalked her. Either way, Rachel didn’t know what to make of him." 

More encounters with the Fae both threaten and change her college trajectory as Rachel finds herself confronting both unwanted gifts and a spate of accidents that eventually turn up a body. 

With the protecting Orion Nebulius gone, unlike in her prior encounter, Rachel and her senior high school friends may be helpless to confront what the threat come. Rachel also has her hands full caring for her Mom at home. 

The tone and presentation of this story lends to its pursuit by mature teen to new adult audiences: "Something inside her mind clicks, like rusty cogs being forced to turn after years of immobility, and then gives way. Too fast to fathom, she clashes into another, wholly different mind. How she’s done it, she can’t explain, but she grabs onto a sliver of darkness that doesn’t belong and the intruder jerks back. She digs into the black tendril and doesn’t let go, afraid of missing an opportunity to teach this Fae a lesson in boundaries." 

From violent threats and death to unholy creatures, the mature themes of this engrossing horror fantasy place it in a category that will especially appeal to ages 16 and older. 

Rachel is constantly evolving and coming into her own powers. So is the ongoing threat she faces, along with fellow senior students and the town as a whole. How can she flee the town when it needs her help to survive? 

Readers who enjoy dark fantasy are in for a treat with a heroine who is also finding her way to adulthood through her fears, choices, actions, and evolving goals in life. 

The Bone Carver

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DAWGS: A True Story of Lost Animals and the Kids Who Rescued Them
Diane Trull with Meredith Wargo
Citadel Press (Kensington Publishing Corp.)
978-0-8065-4034-4      $15.95
Websites: and
Barnes & Noble:   

DAWGS: A True Story of Lost Animals and the Kids Who Rescued Them is an inspirational series of first-person stories about lost animals, kids, and building a rescue center. It is recommended reading for dog lovers and young readers alike, who will learn important lessons about how kids can make a difference. 

Elementary-school teacher Diane Trull's fourth-grade reading class saw a photo of a cardboard box containing homeless puppies. The students decided to rescue them—a purpose that blossomed into a mission beyond a single attempt, birthing the Dalhart Animal Wellness Group and Sanctuary (DAWGS). 

As the students and their teacher create a sense of community awareness about stray dogs and face an out-of-control problem as rescue volume escalates, readers are treated to more than a story of kids involved in animal welfare in a saga of a rescue center which faced eviction and many challenges to its existence. 

From ethical issues surrounding animal euthanasia and preservation to the political conundrum of support versus tolerance, this story embraces all kinds of challenges to animal management. The story will reach a wide age range, from middle school grades to adults interested in animal rescue and the daily challenges of maintaining a rescue center. 

Black and white and color photos abound in a tale that is inspirational, heartwarming, and educational. DAWGS is a key acquisition for anyone concerned about animal shelters, rescue operations, and the nuts and bolts of daily challenges to operating them successfully. 

DAWGS: A True Story of Lost Animals and the Kids Who Rescued Them

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Did You Say Pasghetti? Dusty and Danny Tackle Dyslexia
Tammy Fortune
Independently Published
$9.95 Paper/$14.72 Hardcover/$2.99 Kindle

Did You Say Pasghetti? Dusty and Danny Tackle Dyslexia tells young picture book readers that "Everyone needs to find the special way that their brain learns best" and advocates learning, kindness, and different approaches to fostering both. It follows Danny and his best friend Dusty the dog in a humorous examination of not just the process of struggling with learning, but the associated emotional trials that accompany it. 

The story is narrated from dog Dusty's perspective as he tries to help his beloved human. Danny likes school at first, but he faces what seems like many different obstacles to success, from not remembering words and rhyming words to mixing up letters, reading aloud too slowly, and not understanding math problems. 

As Danny's dyslexia problem is revealed, Dusty longs to help his beloved human companion solve his problems. But, how? 

Kids with good reading skills will benefit from parental input and assistance as they absorb a lesson in self-confidence, ability, and different approaches to learning. 

Pieter Els provides colorful drawings of boy and dog which bring these dilemmas and their relationship to life, while discussion questions presented after the story encourage conversations about not just dyslexia and learning abilities, but handling emotions that arise during the process of overcoming adversity. 

Parents who want to teach kids more about learning disabilities, fostering an atmosphere of acceptance, problem-solving, and understanding will find Did You Say Pasghetti? just the ticket for an educational conversation, whether it's with a child newly diagnosed with learning challenges or a peer who needs to develop empathy. 

Did You Say Pasghetti? Dusty and Danny Tackle Dyslexia

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God*s Will
Matthew John Echan
978-1-938480-57-7                $15.99 Paperback/$0.99 ebook 

California teen Sam Snyder has been told he's going to his godfather's house in Missouri for a visit, but he's actually being sent to a Baptist reform school for wayward children, more like a prison camp, complete with fences and abusive overseers. 

As he faces repressive brutality, God-driven admonitions and sermons, newfound love, and threats to his safety and health, Sam joins forces with others hatching a dangerous escape plan and comes to question his own connections with God and the contrast between Biblical teaching and the reality of his situation. 

Matthew John Echan uses the first person to capture Sam's observations, feelings, and experiences. This lends a personal touch to the story (which is based on true experience), involving teen to adult readers in a saga that contrasts questions of faith with issues of brainwashing. 

The inclusion of fellow students on both sides of the equation who either embrace and accept the program or reject its brutality is nicely done: "I wasn’t too happy when I first got here either. All I can tell you is your mom is just trying to help you, and whether you like this place or not, you gotta try to find something good in it.” 

As Sam learns to call his keepers 'Mama' and 'Papa' and accept some of their teachings, he begins to sift through those which are truly God's will versus something different. He maintains his drive for freedom as the rules and structure changes and he cultivates a taste of possibilities: "It hit me as I lifted my hand and waved back why my stomach was all bubbled up in knots and crap. I was actually sitting on a bus, about to leave Mount Zion for the first time since my moms had dropped me off. Victory didn’t really count, cause it was just another campus down the road. This was different. This was out of the SHU and into genpop. The land of the living. The real world. The other side of the rock covering the hole we were living in. Out in the woods, where anything was possible. Freedom was so close I could taste it like a nine volt on my tongue." 

From hard lessons on how to quit cussing to Mount Zion's dangerous environment and possibilities alike, Echan creates a believable character in a rebellious young man who struggles to find his way in a world his "moms" has committed him to. 

Once these methods and results of religious brainwashing are revealed, readers are encouraged to consider the difference between teaching faith and brainwashing efforts. This fosters a deeper consideration of God's will as Sam and his peers make decisions beyond escape that move into tackling repression. 

Author Matthew John Echan is a board-certified behavior analyst and education consultant for emotionally disturbed children and individuals with developmental disabilities. This lends more emotional depth and psychological insights into Sam's story than might be expected, creating a compelling story of survival, faith, and religion used for both good and evil. 

God*s Will is a thought-provoking story of good intentions gone awry and a bad boy's efforts to right some serious wrongs. It will captivate readers with a special consideration of 'bad boy' Sam's ability to perceive and do the right thing under impossible, repressive conditions that operate under the guise of a good approach to a better life. God*s Will is highly recommended for its thought-provoking considerations of morals, ethics, and faith. 

God*s Will

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The Gravity Thief
Nancy Kunhardt Lodge
Wilwahren Press
Softcover: 978-0-9960885-8-9      $14.99
Hardcover: 978-0-9960885-9-6     $21.99
Kindle: 978-1-7352241-0-7             $3.99 

The third book in the Lucy Nightingale series for middle grades is illustrated by Christopher Hilaire, who provides lovely, full-page color drawings complimenting Lucy's latest adventure. 

Lucy hears a ghost child crying behind a wall only by accident, when she lingers behind during a museum field trip gone awry as a class visit dovetails with the aftermath of an art theft. 

Her investigation reveals a form of evidence the police missed, uncovering a mystery that she is charged with solving with her special abilities, along with cohort and best friend Sam, who has joined her in forming S.L.A.R.P (Sam and Lucy’s Anomalies Research Project) to identify and investigate puzzling phenomenon. 

As the two friends contemplate the addition of Tommy, whose father is involved in the latest secret, the investigation becomes one of evolving conundrums. The children are tasked with a mission to identify the evil mastermind who stole the Vermeer painting with the purpose not of making money, but taking secret geometric shapes out of the painting's windows to build a dangerous machine. 

As they confront the idea of gravitons and a plot to suck the universe into a black hole, the children widen their probe to embrace not just the unlikely, but the impossible. Lucy journeys other places to encounter Wilbur in a crescendo of lovely descriptions that keep readers involved and engrossed: "A swarm of tiny, glinting mirrors whirled around her, spinning a blinking web of light. The photons whirled faster and faster, lifting her up and up until finally, they reached the frozen surface of Phorxys. They burned a hole in the ice, lifted Lucy out of the water, and vanished in a trail of glittering light." 

Kids receive a healthy dose of scientific possibilities wound into a thoroughly engrossing plot every bit as involving as the old-time Danny Dunn adventures, and as just investigative as the classic Encyclopedia Brown: "Sam composed himself. “Mycroft Goat invented the Copenhagen Interpretation of particle interaction: Quantum particles exist in all possible states at once.” 

Readers who are prior fans of Lucy's adventures in The Crystal Navigator and Mona Lisa’s Ghost, as well as newcomers to her extraordinary abilities and adventures, will find The Gravity Thief alluring and thoroughly engrossing reading. It's highly recommended for middle graders, who will appreciate the peppering of colorful visual embellishments in a fast-paced blend of intrigue and sci-fi. 

The Gravity Thief

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Harrison Waits
Missy Hagen
Cresting Wave Publishing
978-0988904880            $14.95 

Young Harrison may be waiting from the time he gets up in the morning, in Missy Hagen's fun picture book story, but that doesn't mean he's inactive. 

While he waits, Harrison lives his life, hanging out in a wheelbarrow heaped with hay, watering plants, having breakfast and lunch, and playing. While it's clear that he's waiting for something, Harrison is also interacting with the world. This message about an approach to life holds even more value today than it did only six months ago. 

Although what Harrison waits for has nothing to do with COVID or restrictions, it does illustrate the possibilities involved in building a life not just around anticipation, but meaningful activities undertaken during the process of waiting. 

Missy Hagen's realistic, fun drawings are excellent accents to a story that holds more meaning than she probably intended originally, in a story not just about waiting for something coveted, but how to wait more effectively. 

Harrison Waits

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The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter
Tom Durwood
Empire Studies Press
Ebook: 978-1-952520-00-6                   $12.00
Paperback: 978-1-952520-02-0            $19.00 

The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter features original illustrations by rising young artists Serena Malyon, Niklas Frostgard, Oliver Ryan, and others, bringing to life this young adult historical novella of a feisty Egyptian girl who becomes the pivot point in a whirlwind of political strife and swashbuckling action. 

Readers who enjoy epic stories of adventure and confrontations on many levels will find The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter a vivid story of the Suez Canal, Egyptian culture and history, and a young protagonist who sees her world change and assumes an active role in directing its ultimate outcome. 

Sixteen-year-old Salima is the Boatman's daughter who keeps the barges operating safely while dreaming of an education and a better world for herself. She's saving money for her ultimate goal in life. 

As Egypt and its waters face changes from foreign influences and domestic strife, Salima confronts treachery, kidnapping, and the rising tides of struggle: "It’s the Germans,” said the Tunisian calmly as he reloaded both rifles. “They seek to use their influence with the Turks, and turn Egypt against England. Chavi just wants your business,” he added, with a hard chuckle." 

Young adults receive a solid dose of historical insights on the changing relationships between Egypt and the world and the power of its unique waterways as they follow Salima's efforts to solve a mystery and expose the truth against overwhelming odds. 

Author Fatima Sharafeddine notes in her Foreword: “The richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling … what better way to educate the youth about historical events that shaped our past and cast their influence on our present.” 

Tom Durwood's characterization is superb. He cultivates a compelling, personal touch that encourages young readers to develop concern and care for Salima's courage and struggles as they learn about the politics and social milieu of her world through her eyes. 

This powers a story steeped in action and insight alike, the driving force being a female protagonist who has ambitions beyond her role in her father's business or the circumstances that Egyptian culture has handed her. 

Everything is changing, and Salima is determined to take charge of her own destiny. This compelling story comes to life in a fine blend of written word and lovely, diverse illustrations throughout. 

The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter is a novelette that's highly recommended for young adult readers seeking a strong female protagonist whose heart confronts a whirlwind of changes that will ultimately affect her future and her dreams.

The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter

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The Jellies and the Crunchers
Matt Bell
Covenant Books
978-64670-854-3            $13.95

The Jellies and the Crunchers is a picture book story (illustrations not seen by this reviewer) of a town that holds two very different types of people: 'jellies' (who only eat sticky jelly) and 'crunchers' (who will only consume crunchy crackers). Kids who hold preferences for specific textures and foods will immediately relate to the story before it even gets off the ground...but, there's more to recommend this book than flavor and texture alone. 

Although the jellies and crunchers are a disparate group of people, there's one problem: "The Jellies think that the Crunchers are messy and loud. The Crunchers think the Jellies are messy and gooey. And they don’t get along so well." 

These groups have very different habits, shop in different stores for their different food obsessions, and remain separate: "Throughout the history of the town, a Jelly has never been in a crunchy cracker shop and a Cruncher has never been in a Jelly shop." 

The townspeople do come together in the square to eat...but the two groups remain apart, and this is where a problem evolves, as the jellies create sticky messes and the crunchers contribute crumbles to the problem. Both sides point at the other's habits as being the culprit. 

Even the Mayor, who is supposed to be fair, has chosen a side. How can the town come together? 

Matt Bell creates a fun, winning story with a message that will especially delight read-aloud parents looking for stories about adversity, differences, and unity. The strong social issue and community focus, couched in a delightfully whimsical approach to differences and perceptions, makes The Jellies and the Crunchers a special winner that is widely and highly recommended for parent read-aloud and educator pursuit alike. 

The Jellies and the Crunchers

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Jeremy Austin and Miervaldis
Rod C. Spence
Gallant Press
Ebook: 978-1-952553-02-8           $  4.99
Paperback: 978-1-952553-01-1    $20.95

Jeremy Austin and Miervaldis is the third book in the Jeremy Austin series for teens and young adults interested in survival stories, but requires no prior familiarity to prove accessible to newcomers. A series synopsis recaps past adventures and the basic premise of Jeremy's encounter with a wormhole that transforms his life and his perceptions of the universe. 

Six teens charged with putting their survival skills to the test embark on a quest to locate an ancient sword called Miervaldis and release its magic before they can return to what is familiar and safe in their own world. 

One satisfying device Rod C. Spence employs during the telling of this yarn is that the young 'heroes' are not always heroic figures. Several struggle with being bullies or getting into trouble, while others are at odds with themselves and their personalities. It's a ragtag band of different individuals with very different skills and perceptions of life. 

Joined together when they are stranded on a planet 2.4 million light years away from Earth, they are enslaved, threatened, and have already faced adventure and danger, in the first two books. This volume continues to spin new threats as each individual confronts unique challenges and opportunities to either grow and change, or die. 

Jeremy Austin and Miervaldis does contain violence, so it's recommended reading for mature teens who will find its acceptable level of description and age-appropriate confrontations blend into the greater story of this disparate group's individual and unified prowess. 

As Jeremy finds he is the "hope of nations" to others and searches within himself for strengths he never knew he had, readers follow him through an intriguing world of magic and new possibilities. The fast-paced story's episodes of comic relief and swift action will particularly appeal to fantasy readers who like their plot filled with unexpected twists, and the main characters more nerdy than heroic. 

Fantasy readers will especially appreciate the many trappings of the genre, from elf maidens to gnome armies and the often-whimsical dialogues between characters: "Thy purpose, Elf?" Lord Gareth spluttered, hands spreading out toward the Gnome army. "I hast a duty to fulfill. Save the city, and all that." 

The result is a rollicking good read highly recommended for prior fans of Jeremy, who will find his coming of age and preparations for wider conflict to be thoroughly absorbing. It should be noted that the door is left open for more books in the series. Fans will welcome this opportunity! 

Jeremy Austin and Miervaldis

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The Last Monster Hunter
Luke Romyn
Independently Published
979-8654752475            $15.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The Last Monster Hunter, Book 1 in a series, offers a fantasy adventure story for middle grades and tells of Theo, who is attacked by the wall in his bedroom. Until that point, he knows nothing about magic. After that, he has a vested interest in learning more about not just magic, but the monsters, magicians, and dragons that emerge into his everyday life. 

Luke Romyn provides a vivid, action-packed story that is based as much on confrontation and problem-solving as it is on Theo's evolution and courage. 

Whether he's facing a threatening, grinning wall or exploring an ancient city, Theo embarks on a series of adventures that not only provides a quest and a number of puzzles, but leads him to reexamine his own life, prejudices, and choices: "Theo wondered how you could fight someone one day and then expect to live alongside them the next. He glanced over at Shab. His family had fought against the Inferni, yet now he rode alongside one as a comrade. How many old hatreds lingered beneath the surface of this society? Was this why war had returned now to blacken their lives?" 

It's these moments of personal insights that elevate The Last Monster Hunter to a production beyond the usual middle-grade fantasy read, offering young readers the opportunity to see how Theo grows and matures during the course of his extraordinary adventure.

As he learns he is actually the son of a lost hero who is charged with not only playing a pivotal role in a looming war, but may be the last Hunter of his kind, young readers receive a thoroughly engrossing story of a boy who uncovers his hidden heritage, learns his place in it, and cultivates a newfound purpose in life. 

Think Harry Potter for a younger audience, but with all the trappings of magic and emotional growth that Potter exhibited for older readers. 

Luke Romyn's saga is rich, deep, well-described, and powered by a believable, likeable young protagonist's efforts to not just confront his abilities and the world, but do the right thing for everyone around him. The Last Monster Hunter is thoroughly absorbing, rich in descriptions of growth and change, and leaves the door open for further adventures, which young fans of magic will welcome. 

The Last Monster Hunter

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Casey Rislov
Independently Published
978-0-578-71394-6                $7.95

Love will reach K-2 young picture book readers with a gentle lesson on love, and features lovely animal drawings by Rachael Balsaitis. Parents will want to choose this story as a read-aloud for the very young, recommended for its simple message and heartwarming moments of connection and love. 

It presents very basic, Bible-based definitions of love: "Love is generous. It celebrates the joys of others." These simple admonitions are designed for parent/child interactions and easy lessons, and lend especially well to introductory discussions about love, affection, and giving, and Biblical teachings. 

One of the delights in this particular message is that it takes time to review all the behaviors that demonstrate love, from patience and acceptance to enduring hardships and believing in the best for all. 

This message is critical for helping young learners form ethical and moral foundations of behavior towards others, and goes beyond the ideal of romantic attraction alone. 

The result is a warm, lovely picture book that crafts a delicate life lesson that hopefully will take early root to live in young reader's hearts as they mature. 


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The Night Weaver
Monique Snyman
Vesuvian Books
978-1-64548-006-8         $16.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle 

The Night Weaver will reach mature teen horror readers with a penchant for horror stories. It opens with the small town of Shadow Grove's missing children and an even stranger silence from adults who neither acknowledge nor worry about their absence. 

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Cleary lives on the edge of town near a dark and dank forest, so she's not caught up in the heart of these matters—at first. But when the trees begin whispering and shadows fall in strange new ways upon her home and life, Rachel too is drawn into the Maine town's odd threat. 

More mystery lies in the lack of adult response to vanishing children than in the kids' disappearances themselves: "Where is the outrage? Little kids are going missing and nobody over the age of eighteen seems in the least bit concerned. In fact, the Sheriff’s Department is making it sound like there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the disappearances." 

Rachel thinks she's the only one concerned, but her unusual attendance at a party (which really is a concerned teen planning mission headed by Greg Pearson) drives her investigation into what winds up being a shocking truth not just about the kids, but the town and reality as a whole. Everything she's taken for granted is about to be turned upside down. 

Indeed, the entire Ridge Crest High student body becomes involved when one of their own, Astraea Hayward, literally vanishes into thin air in front of witnesses. 

One satisfying approach to this horror story is the juxtaposition of teens on the cusp of adulthood who are forced into assuming adult roles when those who guide their lives seem indifferent: "Ideas are thrown around the gathering, opinions are voiced, and it’s all very civilized. Too civilized. The anger inside Rachel builds. This nasty business has forced teenagers into adult roles. Barn bashes aren’t supposed to be town meetings. Teenagers aren’t supposed to be talking about instigating an unofficial curfew and finding lost children. “Our purpose in life, at this age, is to get into trouble and enjoy our youth,” Greg says." 

As the local forest is pinpointed as a possible source of the threat, Rachel and her newfound friends find themselves learning about another world, which includes the dangerous Night Weaver and her army. 

As the battleground moves from the small town to Fae territory in the woods, the teens become involved in not only The Night Weaver's threat, but the quest to reclaim the Akrah Cloak, one of the House of Nebulius’ most treasured artifacts. They identify the many adults involved in what can only be described as a dangerous cult. 

Monique Snyman crafts a vivid story worthy not just of mature teen attention, but many an adult horror story reader. The tale excels in strong characterization and mystery, which drives the plot and keeps readers guessing about its outcome. 

As Rachel, Dougal, and her newfound circle of fellow teen investigators arrive at impossible truths, readers will find the story riveting and hard to put down, filled with unexpected twists that keep them thinking. 

The result is an engrossing, involving story that brings relationships and possible love to a relative loner whose former goal was to get out of town as soon as she is of age. 

Its special brand of mystery, horror, and dark fantasy, finished with a touch of romance, will keep mature teens engaged to the end. 

The Night Weaver

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Perfection and Other Illusive Things
J. Mercer
Bare Ink
Print: 978-1-7321332-9-7              $12.99
Ebook: 978-1-7348883-0-0           $  4.99 

Perfection and Other Illusive Things is recommended for young adult girls who look for slice of life stories. In protagonist Eden's case, she awakens one morning to realize that her changed appearance results in revised personality, as well. She's always been strong and independent, but mostly because she's been standing behind her strong and independent best friend. Besides, the crush in her life, Hawk, has always been drawn to his delicate, ethereal best friend. While Eden doesn't want to change just for a boy, the truth is that she's sick of being who she's supposed to be. 

Eden's character, motivations, evolving personality and abilities, and the conundrums her choices bring are clear and appealing: "Girls like me did what they were supposed to, that’s what I’d come to realize. Not what they wanted. Girls like Ivy did what they wanted, and, it seemed to me, seldom what they were supposed to. There had to be a happy medium. There had to be an in-between." 

More so than most, Mercer captures in a nutshell the restless urges of a "good girl" who has achieved many of her goals and leads an admirable life, but still dreams of something more: "I had everything a girl like me should want: stellar grades, early admission to my third-choice college, a solid spot on the volleyball team, the most loyal best friend, the sweetest little brother, a mom who loved me, et cetera. It wasn’t that I didn’t want those things; obviously, they were very nice things. It was just I wanted things outside that box too. Things Billie didn’t understand. Things my mom wouldn’t understand. Or Wes. Obviously, because he thought I should want him. So if I didn’t want the things a girl like me should want, then maybe I wasn’t really that girl anymore." 

As Eden explores who she would be if circumstances changed, and takes a more active role in re-inventing herself when they do, teens who embark on the ride through her life will be pulled into the many possibilities Eden explores in thinking about "...the girl I was supposed to be." 

Imagine waking up one morning to find that everything is changed; demanding new values, reactions, goals, and visions from you. It's a physical change that only she can see, apparently...but it, in turn, transforms everything. 

As Eden explores her new life, readers will relish the possibilities and differences she experiences in her journey. The many ways she considers and changes her approach to life are fascinating: "The whole point of all this magic (that might not really be magic) was that I wanted to try out someone else. If I didn’t actually want to drink, I at least wanted to know what it felt like. I also didn’t want Javi and Nat to keep things from me anymore. They were coming, and we were drinking, and then they’d understand I wasn’t the prissy, judgmental friend they’d assumed me to be." 

From a party in which her friends abandon her to a different kind of relationship with Hawk, newfound conflicts with her mother, and actions which threaten her scholarship opportunities and future, readers receive a thoroughly engrossing story of magic, transformation, and responsibility that will keep them engaged and reading to the end. 

J. Mercer has done more than craft a coming-of-age story. Perfection and Other Illusive Things is a blend of magical realism and self-examination that will prove an entertaining and thought-provoking key to identifying life values and the unexpected results of taking risks. It's highly recommended reading for teens.  

Perfection and Other Illusive Things

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Private Ivy
Steven Cortinas
Independently Published
979-8644811427            $9.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle 

Ivy Virtue is a teen who has been trained by her parents to be a sleuth. She's biracial in 1930s Brooklyn—already a questionable place to be practicing on the side of the law. And she's about to tackle a case that brings her into contact with not just gangsters, but vampires...all at the same time, as a deadly disease strikes her family and challenges its relationships. 

It may sound like Private Ivy is a mishmash of themes, but Steven Cortinas succeeds in creating an original, appealing character in Ivy and her late 1930s milieu, opening with a vivid observation designed to capture reader attention from the first few sentences: "Look, when you've got a double-barreled shotgun grinning two inches from your face, it's usually a good idea to get in a prayer or two. Even if you don't claim God, it doesn't hurt to cover your ass." 

Mature teens used to the twists and turns of an action-packed plot, the spunky observations of a young investigator whose actions move beyond both her biracial heritage and her gender, and who look for extraordinary stories replete in both action and personal growth will find Private Ivy one of the more unexpectedly compelling reads of 2020. 

This 13-year-old, admittedly-amateur, detective harbors a "stupid Brooklyn accent" and faces capture, when the scene opens, by perps wearing Dracula and Frankenstein masks. Her Brooklyn accent worsens under stress. The entire scene is hilarious, unique, and unexpected. 

This sense of surprise, wonder, and adventure permeates a story packed with unexpected twists and turns. 

Under another hand, it would have been all too easy for this tale to turn into a fantasy or a series of silly encounters, but Cortinas has the ability to juxtapose comic relief with believable action, and humor with a serious inspection of life challenges. Placing Ivy and her action in the late 1930s in Brooklyn is a brilliant move because the dialogue reflecting her Brooklyn roots and the milieu reflecting the period are impeccable, fine devices for crafting a unique story. 

As Ivy struggles with mysteries, perps, and family challenges, teens are presented with the perfect mix of action and psychological inspection that keep Ivy's character vivid and her choices and confrontations thoroughly absorbing. 

It may sound like Private Ivy is primarily a teen read, but many an adult who chooses teen stories for leisure and fun will find it surprisingly appealing and complex. 

Private Ivy is a very highly recommended standout in teen detective fiction, far surpassing most of her competitors in a story that is filled with gangsters, battles, and moral and ethical conundrums ("Hey!" I snapped. "If more kids get taken 'cause we didn't step in, what does that make us?"). 

Private Ivy

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Rainbow Land
J.M. Huxley
Author Academy Elite
$26.95 Hardcover/$14.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle 

Truly lovely color nature drawings by Kate Zotova illustrate a Christian inspirational celebration of God and life in Rainbow Land. 

A gentle rhyme captures the presence of color in nature: "Green from pom poms that cheered from tall trees/orange that melted the sea to an end/white sails that moved on a coconut breeze,/blue waves a cheery good friend." 

Young picture book readers and read-aloud parents will enjoy the opportunity to learn about colors and equate them with nature scenes, receiving a gentle lesson on God's paintbox efforts at the same time. 

The story emphasizes concepts of God the Creator as the Painter of all the little girl observes. This serves as a fine starting point for linking ethereal spiritual concepts to daily life and nature observations in a story especially recommended for Christian parents. 

Rainbow Land

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Ruffing It
Greg Trine
Malamute Press
Hardcover: 978-1-7339589-7-4    
Paperback: 978-1-7339589-8-1    $8.99 

Ruffing It will reach readers ages 8-12 and centers on the dilemma of 10-year-old Charlie Fogalman, who is changed into a dog when a magic spell goes awry. How can a $3.00 mail-order magic wand change everything? When its power becomes all too real. 

The first strength to note about this zany story is its sense of humor as Charlie's first-person observations cultivate a wry comedic overlay to events: "Of all the schools in Last Chance Gulch, I got stuck at Anacapa Elementary. And of the four fifth-grade classes at Anacapa, I got stuck with Mr. Crans for a teacher. I was pretty sure he was a Russian spy, or maybe some kind of mafia hitman. He had that look like he was getting ready to inflict pain on someone. And he was always telling us to keep our traps shut.Usually my trap obeyed. But not now. Not when my best friend had a magic wand and wanted to use it and wanted me to tell him how. How often do you get a chance like that?" 

The goal of turning a sister into a frog ("A sister covered with warts was a fabulous idea, I had to admit, but would it work?") turns into a dilemma a little less fun for Charlie, who finds his prior concerns about bullies and dangerous teachers pales in comparison. Or, is it another opportunity to investigate, in dog form, things he could not have uncovered as a human boy? 

Greg Trine's story is whimsical, unexpected in its twists and turns, and thoroughly delightful. It will involve kids in a series of odd and unpredictable episodes as Charlie tests newfound capabilities, eludes a dogcatcher, and somehow falls awry of a bully gang of dogs equal in power to any bullies he ever faced as a human. 

The blend of investigative drama, a boy's life as a dog, a touch of magic, and even social commentary creates a romp through a different kind of life that changes all the rules Charlie knows: "Sure enough, it was dry under that bridge, and there was a man there, sitting in front of a fire, poking at a can of something in the flames. “Hey there, little fella,” he said. I moved forward slowly. After all, this was a stranger. Hadn’t I been taught all my life not to talk to them? The human version of myself had—this was true—but did dogs have to follow the same rules? Here was a guy trying to stay dry, just like me." 

Kids ages 8-12 will appreciate the different paths Charlie is forced to take to survive his new condition as he struggles to return to a life he once took for granted and learns new things about the world. Ruffing It is highly recommended for kids with a sense of humor and an interest in magical stories of canine adventure. 

Ruffing It

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Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights
Jennifer M. Merz
Jennuine Books
9780578679136             $18.99           

Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights features hand-crafted, cut paper illustrations in a moving picture book biography of a woman who witnessed the devastating Triangle Factory Fire of 1911. She made it her life mission to advocate for workers' rights, as a result. 

Frances Perkins became the first woman ever to serve in a U.S. Presidential Cabinet, becoming the Secretary of Labor and creating programs that, even today, help protect worker rights and safety. 

Ages 6-9 with good reading skills will find this book an important blend of American history and social inspection that uses Frances Perkins' life and times to document not only worker suffering in the early 1900s, but the changing role of women in politics and social issues. 

Perkins led the battle on many fronts. Steadfast's inviting study of the times and her actions encourages young people to not just understand her life, but the active role she chose in battling seemingly impossible injustices through the male-dominated government system. 

Readers interested in picture book biographies of strong women who made a difference will find Steadfast an important reference, suitable for reports. 

Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights

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Summer of L.U.C.K.
Laura Segal Stegman
INtense Publications
Hardcover: 978-1-947796-57-7            $28.99
Paperback: 978-1-947796-56-0            $16.99
Ebook: 978-1-947796-58-4                   $  4.99 

Summer of L.U.C.K. presents three unlikely heroes who meet at a summer camp to form an unusual bond. All struggle with different physical incarnations of emotional stress. Darby stutters, Justin is mute as a response to grief, and Naz is just learning English. Isolated by their different responses to life, they are brought together in an unexpected way when a magical calliope allows them to connect via telepathy. 

Suddenly, their barriers to companionship and life fall away. And when they do, they encounter a ghost who presents them with a magical mission that involves embracing and overcoming their limitations in order to develop more powerful voices and control over their lives. 

Summer of L.U.C.K. combines magical adventures reminiscent of Jane Langton's classic A Diamond in the Window with the eerie carnival atmosphere of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes—but for middle-grade readers. 

Like both of these classics, these young protagonists are challenged to overcome the innate restrictions that keep them from experiencing life in favor of accepting themselves and developing supportive friendships that lead to purposeful actions. 

Especially notable is how the lessons they absorb from their magical encounters translate to handling everyday problems in a life that used to stymie them: "Hey," he said, grasping her shoulders. "Think of all that happened at Mr. Usher's. Stuff we never could have imagined. This could work out that way too. Remember how he said to try things we don't think we can do?" 

The evolving fantasy adventure's connections to real-world problem-solving strategies are part of what make these characters and their lives so thoroughly engrossing, realistic, and charming. 

Middle grade readers who appreciate interlinked stories of underdogs who succeed against all odds, with a little help from an unexpected adventure, will relish this blend of camping saga and fantasy, which offers important messages about developing friendship, courage, and perseverance. 

Summer of L.U.C.K. is a compelling read that will attract even reluctant young readers, creating characters whose dilemmas stem from internal conflict as much as external challenges. The blend of fantasy, intrigue, and psychological growth is well done, making Summer of L.U.C.K. highly recommended reading that stands out from the crowd. 

Summer of L.U.C.K.

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Temple of Eternity
R. Scott Boyer
Main Street Reads Publishing

Temple of Eternity is the second book in the Bobby Ether series, and provides teen fantasy readers with another fine adventure. 

Seventeen-year-old Bobby Ether has returned from the Jade Academy, but somehow, home is not the same. For one thing, his parents know the truth about the Core: the secret organization which experimented on the Academy's students in pursuit of increasing human abilities. They also know how Bobby and his friend Jinx thwarted the devious plot, escaped a secret monastery, and were aided by his grandfather's own supernatural powers. 

The adventure is over, and his parents just want everything to go back to normal. But how can it, when Bobby still holds connections to the people who helped him escape? He also has natural abilities that could thwart the ongoing efforts of the Core. And he needs to do something to help. Then he learns about a Mayan temple hidden in the jungle that could provide both the answers to eternal life and pose a threat for those who would use its powers for nefarious purposes. 

Think Indiana Jones, but on a level geared to young adult adventure story readers. Add a dash of cultural intrigue, with warrior descents of the Mayans determined to take action as souls are claimed by evil forces. Mix in a riddle that evokes the Fountain of Youth, yet seems to negate the legend behind it. What results is a fast-paced adventure designed to keep young readers engaged and guessing throughout. 

Bobby Ether and his friends face a series of impossible circumstances and family connections to the Core which place in jeopardy not just the lives, but the minds of those he loves. His grandparents aren't stay-at-home elders, but active participants in the events that swirl around them. This is a refreshingly different perspective on family interactions and the involvements of the savvy, active elders in Bobby's world. 

As betrayals and sacrifices coalesce on multiple levels, young adults are treated to a fast-paced series of confrontations which will keep them engaged and engrossed in Bobby's many dilemmas and challenges. 

Prior fans of Bobby's escapades will easily pick up the action that begins a few months from his previous adventures. Meanwhile, newcomers receive quick access to Bobby's world that requires no familiarity with prior events to prove accessible and inviting. 

The juxtaposition of a search for a beloved grandmother and a mission to save the world is nicely done, and contrasts personal with social objectives. The blend of a circle of strong characters who each contribute to Bobby's strengths and abilities is another fine feature of a story that revolves around relationships, trials, confrontations, and spiritual components of Bobby's growth. 

Temple of Eternity offers an excellent introduction to the underlying social, cultural, and spiritual issues involved in an adventure that changes Bobby's perspective. It is highly recommended. 

Temple of Eternity

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The Trials of Uwe
Steven L. Masia
Dorrance Publishing
9781644261682             $25.00

The Trials of Uwe: Parts I, II, and III will reach young adult sci-fi readers looking for a strong sense of nonstop action in their stories. It follows the adventure of young wizard Uwe, who has spent his short life training for his profession, only to find his efforts lacking. 

At age 18, he's an orphan. His parents were killed fighting the self-proclaimed 'savior of the universe, the Evilore, who uses the magic in the souls of living creatures to destroy and reconstruct the universe time and again. 

Even though his great-great-great-great-grandfather, a wizard named Edam, has successfully thwarted the Evilore, perishing in the process but passing to Uwe the legacy of their wizardly ways, Uwe still finds himself lacking in ability. It takes an evil wizard with his own plans for takeover to help Uwe change. 

There's a deep, satisfying philosophical aspect to the story as it unwinds, which sets it apart from the ordinary action-oriented sci-fi fantasy: "Uwe spoke. "We have done the dragons a great disservice. In trying to protect ourselves from you and potential enslavement by you, we have instead enslaved you. My control over the dragons is more unjust then what you had in store for us." His drive to rectify his mistakes and his ethical conundrums makes for intriguing reading as the wanna-be hero finds himself trying to act in a morally correct manner even as he identifies evil and fights it both in himself and in the world. 

It should be cautioned that there are many subplots and takeaways, here; from an evolving love between Uwe and Amanill to a quest that sometimes mirrors the Evilore's purposes: "He had accomplished what the Evilore had only dreamed of performing. He had gone too far; and there would be a price to pay." 

Young adults used to gaming choices and action-packed twists and turns may find these further injections of ethical dilemmas and subplots a challenge, but these successfully contribute to a story that, like any superior read, is greater than its individual parts and pieces. 

A more singular focus might have made the story more accessible to a wider audience. However, The Trials of Uwe: Parts I, II, and III challenges its young readers to absorb more than just a singular epic adventure. This is one of its strengths...and the reason why The Trials of Uwe: Parts I, II, and III is recommended reading for young adults looking for more than an adventure fantasy story alone.

The Trials of Uwe

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The Culinary Corner

Cooking with Ms. Larthy           
Tom Graves with Larthy Washington
Devault Graves Books
Print:  978-1-942531-38-8      $28.00
eBook:  978-1-942531-39-5   $  9.99 

Cooking With Ms. Larthy: Life Lessons in Soul and Soul Food comes from a Southerner who was frustrated by his inability to cook some of the staples of Southern cuisine, such as catfish. From this failure came a motivating idea: "I sure wish some older black lady would teach me how to cook soul food.  From A to Z." 

As Tom Graves reviews the basic differences of soul food and why he wishes to focus on this specifically ("Soul food and country cooking are two sides of the same Southern coin.  And they are euphemisms.  Soul food means black cooking and country means white cooking."), it becomes apparent that readers are being treated to more than just another cookbook. Graves was determined to improve his kitchen skills at the hands of a master and so discovered Ms. Larthy, whose culinary acuity and soul food expertise not only taught him soul cooking, but a different angle on living. 

He explores his own heritage and kitchen lessons, contrasting them with the cultural background of his new mentor and considering soul cooking's relationship to Southern traditions as a whole. 

Recipes are only part of the attraction to this book. The other appeal lies in evocative descriptions that inject a sense of down-home inspection and cultural revelation to memories associated with food, as in this consideration of the American hamburger and why 'gourmet burger' is not on Graves' personal menu of choice: "Remember in the old Popeye black and white cartoons (the best by far) made by the Fleischer Studios when Wimpy would order a burger and Bluto would slap a blob of burger meat on the grill and swat it down  until it was a thin, burbling patty?  When it was done he would flip it onto the buns, brush it all with a coating of mustard and Wimpy would wolf it down?  That, dear reader, is how a burger should be grilled and eaten.  Fancy is not a word that should ever be used in collaboration with the American hamburger." 

Readers should thus anticipate more than just a recipe collection. Cooking With Ms. Larthy cultivates a relationship...with food, with Southern heritage, and with soul cuisine's evolution and meaning. 

These aren't Ms. Larthy's dishes alone. Recipes and accompanying narratives come from diverse parts of life, from 'My Granny’s “Pink Lady” Strawberry Cake' by former Graves student Jasmine Parks, who provided the recipe in a narrative she wrote for school about her grandmother's how-to dish and perspective on life ("Only the best will do and that only comes with work from you!”  My Granny said those words and made them famous to everyone in our family."), to worldwide culinary influences such as a recipe from former wife Bintou Ndiaye for Authentic African Ginger Beer. 

By now, it should be evident that the 'life' portion of this cookbook's title embraces no singular path to culinary success as Graves gathers recipes and reminiscences from a wide range of people who contribute their own "best" culinary creations, whether handed down from family tradition or invented by the donor. 

The result is a powerful cookbook that is rooted in Southern soul cooking traditions, but which expands into the world to include a wide range of 'best of' dishes. 

Paired with color photos and a personal, revealing set of considerations about cooking and heritage, Cooking With Ms. Larthy takes a compelling look at the making of a cook and follows the author's cooking lessons and evolution with an especially delicious eye to observation: "Wilma is the one who introduced me to the fantastic flavor fireworks of combining fresh pineapple with a good curry powder.  It may not sound appetizing, but I promise your tastebuds will stand up and applaud.  These two wonderful flavors work some sort of magic togetherthe sweet with the spicyand provide a tantalizing appetizer with any meal." 

Cooking With Ms. Larthy is a very highly recommended celebration of cooking, culture and life, especially for those who have some basic kitchen skills but who want to move forward with fresh new dishes proven to be outstanding comfort food. 

Cooking with Ms. Larthy

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FoodSutra: A Memoir of the Foods of India
Shalabh Prasad
Independently Published
Hardback: 978-1-8380651-0-2
Paperback: 978-1-8380651-1-9
eBook: 978-1-8380651-2-6 

Foodsutra: A Memoir of the Foods of India celebrates India's unique regional cuisines and departs from the usual Indian cookbook by profiling India's regional flavors and how they differ. This means that the book's organization is different, featuring destinations, specialties, and a subtitle that connects Indian culture and cuisine, as in the chapter on 'Mumbai: Food That Inspires Bollywood Masala Films' or 'Goa: Konkan and Portuguese Simmered Together.' There are no pages of recipes here, but plenty of discussion about how food is created, paired, and seasoned according to regional influences, differences, and tastes. 

Readers learn a good deal about India's culture and geography; not just the origins of its classic recipes. This helps those relatively unfamiliar with the country gain a basic working knowledge of India's culinary history, an essential ingredient in helping define, utilize, and understand not just recipes, but India's food traditions as a whole, from their history to their modern incarnations. 

Many Indian cookbooks are published each year. Most offer some of this information in only the briefest of introductions to each recipe. Foodsutra presents the opportunity for a deeper understanding and celebration of Indian cuisine than most of its competitors. 

From its color photos throughout to discussions of how dishes are spiced and served, accompanying Shalabh Prasad's travelogue of his journeys through the country and its foods, readers receive much more than a cookbook. Prasad's ability to tackle familiar dishes and deconstruct their culinary and cultural roots is simply outstanding. His approach presumes a basic interest in Indian cuisine, but not an in-depth knowledge—though at least a basic familiarity with some of its classic dishes will add appreciation for Foodsutra's unique approach. 

Foodsutra is an essential guide to understanding how Indian cuisine differs—sometimes radically—from region to region. Its discussions of modern twists, common misconceptions (such as confusing the chilla flatbread with its cousin the dosa), and cultural and food differences makes for a choice that should be required reading before any Indian cookbook is chosen. 

FoodSutra: A Memoir of the Foods of India

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Let Them Eat Pancakes
Craig Carlson
Pegasus Books
978-1-64313-440-6         $27.95 Hardcover/$18.99 Kindle 

Foodies interested in a journey through France that embraces culture and culinary facets alike will relish the armchair read Let Them Eat Pancakes: One Man's Personal Revolution in the City of Light, a memoir of restauranteur Craig Carlson's decision to open an American-style diner in Paris. 

Chefs familiar with the rigors of running a restaurant, and who know the statistics on how many fail, will be surprised to learn that Carlson had no experience running a restaurant anywhere in the world. He'd never even owned his own business, let alone successfully navigated the business, social, and culinary milieu of France. All these elements would seem a recipe for disaster, but one of the joys of Let Them Eat Pancakes lies in its unexpected success story as Carlson navigates this strange new world and turns adversity into achievement. 

Part of the sweet appeal of this narrative lies in Carlson's descriptions of not just his life and perspective, but the approaches of his customers and employees: "Then there was the group of female students from the nearby Sorbonne. 
They met at the diner once a week for their “Pancake Club.” They would film themselves for social media, hamming it up as they drenched their pancakes with maple syrup. Not satisfied with their performance, they would do take after take. By the tenth take, I had to look away as all of my profit margin drip drip dripped out of the now empty syrup container. Lastly, there was Savannah, my waitress from Mississippi. A blond bombshell with a deep Southern drawl, she’d startle French customers half to death with her big, booming voice. “How y’all doin’ today?” she’d say. “Can I get you a dessert? Or are you sweet enough already?”

From surface appearances in the dining room of Breakfast in America to behind-the-scenes probes of relationships and the special challenges of handling French employees, the story is ribald, fun, and culturally intriguing: "...since I was in France, I couldn’t just fire her—even with her guilty-as-hell photos. Instead, I’d have to put a dossier together, which could take months, if not years before a verdict was reached—which 90% of the time ended up favoring the employee. On top of my server woes, I was also on the verge of losing another cook. A couple days earlier, right in the middle of the lunch rush, Fikadu put his spatula down and said, “I want what Kyle has.” It took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about. Kyle, a fellow cook at the diner, had just started a year’s worth of paid leave after siring his second child. “Oh . . . do you mean paternity leave?” I asked, putting two and two together. “Yes, that.” “Well, Fikadu, to get paternity leave, you have to have a child first.” “But doesn’t your girlfriend live in London?” I asked. Fikadu nodded. I chuckled slightly as I stated what I thought was the obvious. “Well, I’m pretty sure to get French paternity leave, your child has to be born in France.” Just to be safe, I called my accountant. She was my first resource when it came to all questions involving France’s complicated labor laws. “Looks like your cook is more on top of the latest developments than we are,” she said. After consulting the government’s website, my accountant discovered that a new law had just been passed with very little fanfare. Not only did Fikadu not have to live in the same country as his baby in order to get paternity leave; he didn’t have to be the biological father, either." 

Readers gain a great deal of information about running a business in France and navigating its many unique cultural, social, and business relationships in the process. This is something most culinary explorations omit in favor of a food focus alone. 

It's one of the many strengths unique to Carlson's story, making it a delicious standout in culinary, travel, or business literature. From Carlson's desire to give his customers American fare to his incorporation of French values and cuisine during the process of running and evolving the diner concept, this is a compelling, fun, and thought-provoking read which is lively and hard to put down. Let Them Eat Pancakes is especially recommended for Francophiles, foodies, and anyone interested in the culture and challenges of fostering a French lifestyle and business pursuit. 

Let Them Eat Pancakes

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Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism
Tom Durwood
Empire Studies Press
Ebook: 978-1-952520-01-3           $19.00
Paperback: 978-1-952520-04-4    $29.00 

Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism comes from a long-time English teacher whose focus is on capturing the narratives of daily life. It is recommended not just for fellow teachers, but for anyone who appreciates the written word and the creative effort involved in bringing it to life. 

Kid Lit surveys the major devices of storytelling—story structure, class, gender, symbolism, trauma and Orientalism—using children’s narratives as a more accessible, familiar structure for understanding how they operate.

Tom Durwood advocates developing a critical literary eye and provides his readers with the toolkit to do so. From underlying messages on class, politics, gender, and race inherent in various children's literary works (from Tarzan to John Christopher's classic alien invasion Tripod series) to creating strong characters and subplots, Durwood covers the basic elements of good writing and effective communication. 

Ideally, Kid Lit will be read by would-be creative writers, because many of its basic critical components are essential reading and reminders to aspiring authors who may have forgotten some of the basics of creating not just acceptable, but compelling writing: "The achievement of great fiction is to create a character which the reader believes in, and wants to know about. What makes for a memorable character in fiction? Why do you remember and want to keep reading about Katniss Everdeen, or Sherlock Holmes, or (in your case, Dawsey) Pikachu? What does a writer do to lend depth and likeability to a character?" 

The foundations of producing memorable, exceptional works—and identifying these qualities in literary and leisure writing alike—forms a series of lessons that help all ages understand the basics of superior language choices. 

As Durwood advances through various children's literary examples, contrasting approaches and passages from both classic and modern works, readers gain an education in not just writing, but reading with a more critical eye to understanding why a story either works or does not. 

Blank pages and questions are provided in this workbook for reader self-analysis, illustrations abound, and references and examples are included in an extensive, impressive index that makes cross-referencing a snap. 

Author and educator Todd Whitaker has written a Foreword to Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism in which he concludes: “This is literary criticism at its least formal and most lively.” 

Critical thinking is a skill best honed at an early age. Durwood provides all the tools necessary for developing this skill, promoting solid children's literature in the process. He has created an appealing, accessible, educational survey in a format all ages can readily enjoy, in the lively, thought-provoking Kid Lit. 

Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism

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Metaphorically Speaking
Steve Shear
Independently Published
979-8655661196            $13.00 

While Steve Shear’s poems are arranged in no particular order, as is common with modern poets who tend to group works by subject or chronological incarnation, each does receive a fitting introduction that outlines the milieu which fostered the inspirational effort. These introductions are essential keys to enjoying the poems' wellsprings in human affairs and events, filling in any blanks about their source and expressions. 

Regarding works themselves, they are poetic reflections of current events, written as the events unfold. For example, the opening poem, 'Agar in a Petri Dish', was initially inspired by the 2008 economic crash. It reflects on the politics of the experience: "All those folks—but not the wealthy,/find themselves trapped/in the solidified agar within a petri dish,/unable to climb out,/unable to cope with life’s demands,/invisible to those outside." 

'The Captain of Destiny' surveys the choice in living and responding to life in its introduction ("We have two choices, it seems: to go with the flow whether in calm water or heavy rapids or fight the waves and drown in our own weightiness."), but it's the poem that carries the weight of personal inspection"Time is the bosom that feeds your flesh/and the soft voice that feeds your soul." 

Free verse isn't the only device Shear employs; nor is modern-day discourse alone his focus. There are literary pieces and approaches, such as sonnets, incorporated into the collection. These will delight readers interested in a poetry gathering that is wide-ranging in its literary and social pursuits, including the  'Oedipus Rex's series of sonnets"Ironies of ironies, the prophesy grows/as the prince, now older, learns something about it./He races away thinking he knows/who his birth father is ― refusing to doubt it."

 There is a reason why these reflections don't appear in set subjects or orders. The freewheeling approach actually incorporates an attention to literary stream-of-thought writing and reading that invites readers to set aside expectations in favor of experiencing the open flow of subjects. These move from life observations to experiences of transformation, charting logical courses all the way. 

The colorful paintings accompanying each poem provide added value, with literary and artistic pairings designed to give readers thought-provoking moments and contemplative insights. 

The collection achieves its goal: to combine prefaces about the wellsprings of poetic expression with fun, and revealing artwork that supports the foundations of accompanying emotion. 

Metaphorically Speaking's blend of literary and philosophical inspection will delight poetry readers looking for a mixed bag of strong presentations. 

Metaphorically Speaking

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Observation of the Moment
Owen Bryan Jr.
Owen Bryan Jr., Publisher
Paperback: 978-1-7345432-2-3            $12.99
Ebook: 978-1-7345432-1-6                   $  2.99 

Observation Of The Moment: Analyzing Moments In Everyday Life Into Poetry comes from a poet and motivational speaker who captures his life experiences in verses that are written reflections of the far and immediate past. As he ponders these moments and their emotional responses, he creates a series of remembrances that traces the lasting results of life experience and their translation to spiritual, moral, ethical and psychological achievement: "Entering the valley of the shadows of death/In this journey, I find myself/Stumbling into the crevices of hopelessness/My mind jaded; drifting into an abyss of misery/I ponder on the brevity of life/I look up… And I speak to God,/“Looking at life, it seems all I know is losing/Will I be able to win one time?/The feeling of winning seems foreign to me”/I hear no answer…/But I continue pushing onward..." 

Poets interested in this special blend of spiritual and psychological growth will appreciate the perspectives captured in these musings. The works move through a typical life's slings and arrows, whether they come from relationship, home, or work environments: "Did I update that excel spreadsheet, LAST WEEK?!”/With little to feed the employee’s yearning/For excitement and adventure, outside of work/This employee seeks it during the working hours/As the day unfolds/Drama, negative energy, and a toxic environment/Can start and end with whom/But instead chooses to instigate and prolong the drama..." 

Readers who like free verse firmly rooted in changing life moments will be the best audience for Owen Bryan Jr.'s writings. This audience will appreciate the poet's intention to capture the moments that serve as pivot points to changed perspectives; they'll find the writing itself to be clear and reflective; and they'll appreciate the attention to detail that translates revelations to revised life purposes. 

The poet's references to literary or cultural inspiration that led to a particular poem's creation helps readers understand their context: "On my visit back to Jamaica in June of 2019, I sat in on a church service being held at my grandparents’ house. In the service, one of the themes the pastor spoke about was remaining faithful to God through the ups and the downs. “Peace be still” was a common phrase used in that discourse." 

The blend of inspiration and poetic prowess is well done and places Owen Bryan Jr.'s works in a category accessible to non-poets and everyday readers, as well as poetry enthusiasts looking for works firmly rooted in life experience and motivational experience. 

Observation of the Moment

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Expert Giver: No Strings Attached
Jason Cazes
Expert Giver LLC 
$27.95 Hardcover/$16.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle/$13.97 Audible 

Expert Giver: No Strings Attached is a spiritual self-help guide to attaining happiness and joy from life by fostering giving and forgiveness, and stems from Jason Cazes's vision of how to create groups of people who support this objective. 

Our beliefs shape our reality, as do our actions. These are often a matter of choice, which can be made from both faith and concrete intention. Rarely are these approaches to better living and spiritual understanding given the specific courses of action and game plans outlined in this book. 

Chapters tackle some lofty ideas and ideals, from explaining God and conscience, to the foundations of truth and common perceptions and misconceptions that lead to conflict between people and within the world. 

There are many intriguing revelations here that refute common notions, such as the contention that happiness is not a choice, but is a "byproduct and the result of actions of giving to others unconditionally." It is an indirect choice, and a consequence of an approach to life that can be cultivated but not self-centered. 

As Cazes explores this and other links between choice, behavior, faith, giving, and end results of changed perceptions of life's meaning and purpose, readers receive a concrete set of insights on how they may achieve this byproduct through something not rigidly controlled, but incorporated into a lifestyle attitude. 

Bliss, joy, and happiness do not come from self-gratification, which seems to be the common idea in modern times, but from the peace and goodwill of unconditional giving. 

As Cazes explores how this approach can be nurtured to fruition, blending spiritual reflection with psychological and philosophical insights, Expert Giver: No Strings Attached becomes a road map to a different worldview that is centered not on self, but on others. 

It's a much-needed paradigm for world change and positive approaches to life, surveying the different ways of identifying lies and excuses and the path forward that moves from healing to effective spiritual living. From the author's experience with miracles to examples of this process throughout different walks of life, Expert Giver creates a benchmark for success that includes the vision and possibilities of interconnected Expert Giver Groups. 

Self-help and spirituality readers looking for a solid course of improvement and contemplative growth will find Expert Giver an uplifting guide that tackles common misperceptions and the process of evolving to become a better person, both socially and spiritually. 

Expert Giver: No Strings Attached

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The Second Coming of Eve, Abraham, Buddha, and Jesus
Robert W. North, PhD
The Way of the Soul Publishing
978-0-9907795-6-8         $19.95 Paperback 

The Second Coming of Eve, Abraham, Buddha, and Jesus: Their Lost Way to Personal and Global Peace blends spirituality with inspirational quotes on how to lead a richer life will reach not just Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist readers, but those of other faiths as it traverses the connections between early religious figures and the social and spiritual challenges of modern times. 

The foundation of the book is an allegorical analysis of the Garden of Eden section of Genesis. North’s insights present us with a story that differs markedly from what we usually understand. 

The book presents an intriguing formula to consider for resolving divisions between both religious and secular belief systems, promoting a synthesis of these approaches to life that outlines the basics of a singular 'way' promoted by Eve, Abraham, Buddha, and Jesus. 

Author Robert North was in a Catholic Jesuit seminary for priests when he developed the idea that Jesus was as much a therapist as a religious leader: "Instead of preaching dogmas, Jesus used sayings and parables to teach people how to live a fulfilled life."  

The Gospel of Thomas, Buddha, and the Bible form the foundation for the discussions that ensue. This interpretive discussion gives many thought-provoking analytical opportunities to people who may not have completely linked  these teachings to everyday opportunities for not just spiritual awareness, but self-awakening. 

But North doesn't stop with Biblical analysis. He connects these underlying messages of Jesus and others to daily life challenges in unusual, specific ways that take the Bible from lofty spiritual realms to everyday life struggles. He uses questions and answers, along with extensive Biblical references, to bring readers along on the journey of exploring this singular path to better understanding and living: "Do you think that our desire for deep, complete intimacy permeates the world’s romantic songs and elaborate marriage ceremonies? My answer: Yes. We seem to soul-know that we are not alone and that someone loves us unconditionally. So, instead of going up on our mountain and empowering our third eye and ear to teach us how to possess intimacy with Spirit, we project our needs on another human who will never fulfill them." 

When people are familiar with a particular, predictable way of religious interpretation, they may balk at considerations that refer to other spiritual approaches (such as acceptance of the third eye and ear common in Buddhist thought). Those whose minds are open to different, wider-ranging allegories and stories that link religious perspectives will find North's survey both challenging and satisfyingly direct.  

The Second Coming of Eve, Abraham, Buddha, and Jesus

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Sincerely Speaking Spiritually
Joseph S. Spence Sr.
WestBow Press
$11.95 Paper; $3.99 Kindle; $28.95 Hardcover 

Sincerely Speaking Spiritually is a discourse blending inspirational poetry with Christian observations of religion and life. These invite readers to achieve breakthroughs in spiritual thinking and enjoy enlightened, heightened perceptions of God's word. 

By using the poetic form to impart these words of wisdom and reflection, Joseph S. Spence Sr., an award-winning poet and professional military veteran, offers insights and experiences that capture the dynamics of spiritual inspection through various poetic devices and powerful descriptions. 

Take the entreaty of 'We Are Still Standing', for one example of this strength. Its free verse admonition is a passionate reminder of the power of faith to believe in the concept and shared beliefs of all who are God's people: "Anchored in His foundation/Standing on a solid landing/Trusting always in His grace." This short piece charts the foundations of faith that unites and solidifies Christians. 

The uplifting 'Merry Christmas Greetings to You' offers a greeting card of seasonal inspiration and hope that solidifies and celebrates the season: "Though some days may be bleak and dark,/Your ship will come for you to embark./We belong to a family with special love./May God's blessings descend on you from above." The added author note at the end, as well as the poem's wide-ranging conclusion, indicates that other faiths are embraced in his celebration, which is directed to "all of God's people." 

As readers enjoy the easily-understandable poems and their messages of hope, inspiration, and solidarity, they will come to realize that their connections move beyond Christian focus and into the worlds of everyone holds faith in God. 

This unifying effort and message is highly recommended for Christians, but reaches out to any with faith, who will find the positive message of shared love and belief to be especially inspirational during times of plague and divisiveness. The literary, spiritual, and social impact of Sincerely Speaking Spiritually makes it a recommendation for any spiritual reader, and collections appealing to them. 

Sincerely Speaking Spiritually

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