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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 11 November 2022 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf Diane Donovan's Bookshelf Gary Roen's Bookshelf
Helen Dumont's Bookshelf John Taylor's Bookshelf Mary Cowper's Bookshelf
Micah Andrew's Bookshelf Michael Dunford's Bookshelf Paul Vogel's Bookshelf
S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf    

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

The Brainphone Prophecy
Scott Snair, PhD
Adventures Unlimited Press
9781948803489, $19.95, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Do you think your smartphone might be controlling too much of your life these days? Wait till they insert it in your brain! Due to a perfect storm among powerful corporations, powerful governments, and futuristic, mesmerizing phone technology, you soon will be asked to have a next generation of smartphone physically inserted in your brain. Many of your friends will say yes, buying into the wonders the device promises.

The reality, however, will be much more nightmarish. Don't want the implant? Too bad -- the government will want you to get one. Will controlling entities monitor your thoughts? You bet. Will Artificial Intelligence take over the network? It's likely. Will the brainphone eventually ruin humankind as we know it? Yes, it will.

Does this scenario sound like the End of Days? Maybe -- the brainphone is very similar to a device described in The Holy Bible. From humans-and-technology expert Scott Snair, Ph.D., "The Brainphone Prophecy: Stop Corporations and the Government from Inserting a Smartphone in Your Brain" makes the compelling argument that you are about to enter a new phase of human existence, as people are merged with a technology that alters them, monitors them, and, in many ways, commands them.

Fortunately, there are ways you can resist this fusion, if you choose to push back. "The Brainphone Prophecy" explains how with chapters that include: Why Are You About to Have a Smartphone Inserted in Your Skull?; How Will Your Brainphone Work? How Will Corporations and Governments Monitor Your Thoughts?; How Will the Brainphone Bring Us Down?; How Might the Brainphone Signify the End of Times?; How Might You Revolt Against the Prophecy?; and more!

Critique: A clarion call of warning about the next step in an ever evolving technology to impact the human race for good or ill, "The Brainphone Prophecy: Stop Corporations and the Government from Inserting a Smartphone in Your Brain" by Scott Snair must be considered essential reading for anyone with an interest in Artificial Intelligence and the erosion of privacy through the use of microelectroncs. While "The Brainphone Prophecy" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Brainphone Prophecy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.95).

Editorial Note: Scott Snair ( is a data analyst and author in Washington D.C. He has nearly twenty years of experience working with and teaching about technology, analysis, research, and writing. His books have been published in 10 languages throughout the world. Scott maintains his certification as a data-privacy engineer with the IT professional association ISACA. He holds a Ph.D. in higher education management from Seton Hall University and a B.S. in management from West Point, where he was president of his class. He has testified before the U.S. Senate on military veteran employment issues. His professional presentations have included lectures before the School Safety Advocacy Council, the New Jersey Health Officers Association, and the Centre for the Study of Leadership in Education.

Subterranean Realms
Karen Mutton
Adventures Unlimited Press
9781948803434, $19.95, PB, 336pp

Synopsis: "Subterranean Realms: Subterranean & Rock Cut Structures in Ancient & Medieval Times" by Karent Mutton is a unique and seminal study that surveys underground and rock cut structures created in the past. It is the third book in Mutton's Subterranean trilogy on mysterious realms, the others being "Sunken Realms" and "Water Realms".

We know who built some of these astonishing and mysterious structures, but others were built by unknown civilizations in prehistory for reasons that are debated among researchers. Some subterranean structures may have been built for initiation ceremonies or perhaps for acoustic reasons, or both.

Mutton discusses such interesting sites as: Derinkuyu, an underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey that housed 20,000 people; Roman catacombs of Domitilla; Palermo Capuchin catacombs; Alexandria catacombs; Paris catacombs; Maltese hypogeum; Rock-cut structures of Petra; Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae; Elephanta Caves, India; Lalibela, Ethiopia; Tarquinia Etruscan necropolis; Hallstatt salt mine; Beijing air raid shelters; Japanese high command Okinawa tunnels; more. There are tons of illustrations in this fascinating book!

Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout with black/white images, "Subterranean Realms: Subterranean & Rock Cut Structures in Ancient & Medieval Times" will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in Mesolithic to Medieval underground architecture and archaeology. Informative, iconoclastic, detailed, impressively well written, organized and presented, "Subterranean Realms: Subterranean & Rock Cut Structures in Ancient & Medieval Times" is highly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Subterranean Realms: Subterranean & Rock Cut Structures in Ancient & Medieval Times" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.95).

Editorial Note: Karen Mutton ( is a retired ancient history teacher, author, lecturer, and world traveler. She has written five books on ancient history and finance. Subterranean Realms is part of her "Realms" series, after Sunken Realms and Water Realms.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

When Universes Bleed
DJ Whipple and LA Whipple
Piroska Publishing LLC
9798986362700, $16.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

When Universes Bleed is a young adult sci-fi story that opens in Redbird, Kentucky in 2033. Young Amaya Atlas's "unremarkable life" changes in a literal flash when lightning transports her to a corn field, bereft of memories and naked.

She's taken to an orphanage, where she spends the next eleven years of her life searching for clues about her past. Answers to her questions seem more possible as she teeters on the edge of adulthood. Her friendship with Spike provides an uncertain form of support for the journey she embarks on to uncover the truth.

Other characters are introduced in chapters that move into different arenas. Gaia is the "mother of Titans," tasked with helping Amaya fulfill her fate. Yunosho's proclivity for wandering the world, having fulfilled his own destiny, leads him on a journey that intersects with danger and the sudden death of his mother. He, too, is an orphan, starting out as a frightened 11-year-old. Six years later, his journey as a teen brings him in contact with a bear, a girl who looks like a Hindu princess, and a world steeped in possibilities he'd never envisioned.

As Amaya questions whether she is putting everyone around her in danger through her choices and determination, young adults receive a riveting fantasy that does an especially good job of creating powerful, engaging characters that learn to interact not just with each other, but with the world.

These questions and self-examinations help readers identify with Amaya's choices and the inner turmoil they represent: "Was she putting everyone she cared about in danger? Sessy's plight was surely her fault - the kidnapping wouldn't have happened if she hadn't gone off in search of her parents. Maybe she should have ignored the dark disturbance. Maybe she should never have left the orphanage. Maybe she should forget about finding her parents. Maybe she wasn't cut out for her abilities. Maybe, maybe, maybe."

There are bad guys and good guys, flawed heroes and struggles that hold no simple resolutions, and sleuthing that considers the messages and possibilities embedded in the characters' personalities and lives.

This lends a gripping atmosphere to the story, which moves through these disparate individuals to craft a tale of the Random World and those who dare move between it and nightmares where they become stuck in dreams.

The father/daughter writing team of DJ and LA Whipple creates a fantasy that will be a magnet for readers looking for action-packed scenes and an interactive give-and-take between very different characters.

When Universes Bleed is a fantasy highly recommended for young adults looking for well-crafted action and thought-provoking scenarios of friendship and authority. It holds no simple or predictable plot, but goes the extra mile in creating a satisfyingly complex dilemma powered by characters who each walk out of their familiar world and into their strengths.

The Fundamentals
Lydia Gordon
Wells Street Press
97809988890619, $15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

The Fundamentals opens in 2019, where a mother and daughter barely avoid a car accident during a move that daughter Lucy never wanted, and has resisted.

When Alexa accepts help from kindly young man Ben Miller, she opens the door for a series of changes that stem from new environments and new people.

Lydia Gordon captures this milieu in a story that also includes references to different relationships and the expectations and prejudices that drive them: "'You gals could have been killed,' he insisted, 'traveling alone like that.'

Gals. Alone. When Alexa didn't reply, he shrugged and turned up the volume on his country radio station."

Alexa lost her job because of being confrontational and not acquiescent to the responsibilities of motherhood (or so her mother, Sheila, maintains). She has failed as a wife and in her career - will she also fail her daughter by introducing changes neither of them are prepared to handle?

Lydia Gordon builds a compelling story of unexpected encounters and transformation upon an initial foundation of unrest and change, tapping into the logic, motivations, and community of Esctasy, where Alexa hopes for a different outcome and positive new opportunities.

As Alexa Moss runs for the school board and becomes involved in a battle over intelligent design and educational paths, she finds herself confronting not just traditional thinking and new opportunities, but a new set of obstacles that have their roots in her past choices. Her self-inspection and determination permeate an account which reflects many modern scenarios, capturing Alexa's weary determination to overcome all: "Every limb ached, yet it was time to climb this mountain of rubble and see what could be salvaged."

Gordon injects many perspectives on the community issues that reach out to involve Alexa and her peers. Another overlay of angst and change that affects stances and encounters is the introduction of COVID and disparate social and political reactions to the spreading virus.

All this makes for an absorbing probe into lives transformed not just by stances on community issues, but by forces from the outside which affect choices in education, belief systems, and interactions.

Gordon is as astute at showing how these processes connect people as she is at charting how they divide.

The result is a novel steeped in a realistic backdrop of growth as it surveys a community whose school board lies in the eye of a storm shaking the nation.

Readers who look for realistic, absorbing stories of social issues and personal revelations will find The Fundamentals a believable, eye-opening novel that deserves a place in any library's contemporary fiction collection; particularly those strong in social issues.

Gridiron Gypsies
Tom Benjey
Tuxedo Press
9781936161065, $21.99

Gridiron Gypsies: How the Carlisle Indians Shaped Modern Football is a study of Carlisle's team that begins in the late 1800s and delves into tradition and development in the team to 1918, when it ended.

Much research into archival history, politics and social issues, and football went into Gridiron Gypsies to create a much fuller-faceted flavor than what readers might anticipate from the subject of football.

Indeed, it would be a shame to relegate Gridiron Gypsies to sports collections alone, or limit its audience to sports history enthusiasts, because its accompanying insights into a small town Pennsylvania school whose football team become known nationwide against all odds offers rare glimpses into the politics of the sport.

It's especially notable because the only other study of Carlisle's extraordinary achievements was made in the 1950s, prior to the advent of modern research tools.

School founder Richard Henry Pratt well knew the popular 1890s admonition "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." One would think that his background as a cavalry officer in the Indian wars would have led him to support this idea, but Pratt was convinced that Indians could be educated, established a school (Carlisle) for them, and fostered a liberal and far-sighted attitude towards their place in white society that helped belay some of the prejudice against them: "In great demand, the school's popular band marched in several inaugural parades and played at world fairs and other major events to show the general populace what Indians could do if given the chances whites had. So, even though he abhorred the violence in the game, it was totally in character for him to demand that, if Carlisle boys were to play football, they must soon play and beat the best college elevens."

As Gridiron Gypsies evolves, readers learn about the making of the school and its famous team, and will find the history of both to be fascinating and thought-provoking.

Lively descriptions of team developments, major players and leaders, changing times and challenges, and the politics governing the Indian School and its competitive abilities reveal stories that ideally will see the light of classroom discussions.

If there was ever a book that should be a mainstay in collections strong in Native American history, culture, and issues, or early civil rights efforts, it should be Gridiron Gypsies. The story is about far more than sports, tackling the subject of integration and Native American rights in an era when most would rather have killed than educate them.

High Crimes
Montana Kane
Bird On A Head
9798986807423, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

High Crimes is a Brandy Martini novel that introduces the character of a private investigator from Chicago who finds herself in a small town facing big problems.

Brandy's story opens with a bang of a prologue that captures a threatening atmosphere and poses many questions designed to immediately pull readers into her puzzling dilemma: "I think I just heard something. I close my eyes and concentrate and I put my respiratory system on pause so I can listen. Yes, there is definitely a sound. The sound of something brushing past a branch or a bush. Then, that rustling sound stops, and now I can hear breathing. There is a presence. Out there in the darkness, there lurks something that probably wants to get closer to my tree. I know it can't be human. All the humans left after the carnage. It's just me and my tree now."

The blend of "you are here" feel and the immediate dramatic threat, spiced with Brandy's first-person observations, creates a gripping draw. It's like being suddenly immersed in freezing cold water and feeling compelled to swim to safety.

As powerful as the depiction of threat is in these opening lines, so is the underlying mystery that leads readers to want to know more about Brandy and her peril; especially since this scenario also comes tinged with humor: " someone who left the big city hoping to enjoy some peaceful small town living, I certainly never imagined that a community of 2,656 souls surrounded by glistening snowy peaks would turn out to be the breeding ground for so much wickedness and brutality."

The smell of weed wafts over this small town; so perhaps it's not totally unexpected that Brandy's first job involves delving into the marijuana community. And, again, wry humor peeks out to add a fun flavor of irony to unfolding events, such as when Brandy is arrested at the local Laundromat while trying to buy detergent:

"Drop the Tide!"

All my years on the force, I swear, I never once belted out such an order.

"Drop the Tide? Seriously? I gotta say, the whole small-town thing - "

As amusing descriptions permeate the story to augment serious situations, readers will find themselves doing something uncommon in a mystery read: simultaneously laughing while being drawn by the unfolding drama and threats.

The special flavor of High Crimes makes it a particular delight for readers who would laugh as well as follow the trail of an extraordinary situation. From its Colorado mountain setting to a small community filled with in various characters both nefarious and zany, Montana Kane crafts an exceptional character and circumstances that demand attention on different levels.

As readers pursue the intriguing discoveries Brandy makes about the undercurrents of her new community, they will find themselves thoroughly engaged and delighted by twists and turns that evolve within a rollicking adventure replete with wry observations.

The result is a suspenseful read that goes above and beyond the usual scenario to attract readers who look for humor as well as thought-provoking mysteries.

Libraries looking for examples of genre reads that stand out from the crowd, as well as book club discussion groups that would consider how humor can be injected even into the direst of situations, will find High Crimes a real winner. It's highly recommended as a refreshingly original, witty mystery.

Junkyard Girl: A Memoir of Ancestry, Family Secrets, and Second Chances
Carlyn Montes De Oca
Goose Hill Press
9780999781227, $18.95 Print/$6.99 ebook

Junkyard Girl: A Memoir of Ancestry, Family Secrets, and Second Chances represents an imagination and life ablaze with dreams of escape and renewal: "Like ice water, the aircraft jars me from my reverie, reminding me that the only way I can get a ticket on board that flight, or any vehicle that might take me away from here, is to grow up. Something that, at eleven years old, feels as unattainable as the plane above, already disappearing into the horizon."

The first thing to note about this memoir (and its greatest strength) is that, under Carlyn Montes De Oca's hand, the tastes, smells, and sense of her past come vividly to life against the logic of her actions and choices: "Two large beehives stood on either end of the dirt path that ran parallel to the back fence of our property. My father collected the honey, and we enjoyed it over peanut butter on toast or pancakes on Sunday mornings. Except in the early hours and at night, the winged inhabitants of these white crates flew in and out of the hive entrance, swarming across the path. There was only one of me and an army of bees, so I always gave them their space and walked the long way around. "The bees?" Dad asked, surprised by my response "Why don't you just walk through them?" I couldn't answer him because I didn't know why. Countless times I'd watched my parents, siblings, and even my dogs trot through the swarm as though it was invisible. It had never dawned on me I could do the same thing. Walking through a cluster of bees was a superpower I hadn't been born with."

Too many memoirs simply narrate a life story. Montes De Oca invites readers to live in her world and experience memories alongside her, capturing the passionate overlay of the past with an attention to detail that is the hallmark of excellence.

From forays into delinquency to the fallacies of youth in not realizing opportunities for escape and meaningful change, her life is narrated via a series of vignettes which are both thought-provoking and entertaining. These stories often culminate in realizations that keep her readers thinking: "I didn't consider then that my grades would one day be my golden ticket out of Escondido Road - toward a future I'd never even imagined, and far away from my mother's rule."

Coming-of-age stories typically are studies in contrasts and evolutionary processes, but Junkyard Girl's ability to candidly inspect the narrator's family's life and her own heart as she grows into adulthood to repeat many of the patterns of the past she's escaped from makes for especially thought-provoking reading.

Memoirs are usually singular and often relatively staid. Not this one. From a search for a birth mother to the author's rebuild of her own life, readers are thoroughly engaged, and walk in the footsteps of the author from youth to adulthood.

Junkyard Girl is a cut above the ordinary. It is very highly recommended for memoir readers and libraries that seek not just an exploration of past links to present-day choices, but a vivid inspection of life that constantly presents solid reflections and captivating scenarios of change.

Richter the Mighty
J.B. Manning
Encircle Publications
9781645994329, $19.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

J.B. Manning's debut novel Richter the Mighty is a study in irony, politics, and personal lives. It features humor from the start, even as it portrays the dilemma Cody Richter faces when she awakens in an operating room: "Her migraine exploded again - the telephone! What the hell kind of ringtone - The Star-Spangled Banner, with violins and tubas."

The move from a medical scenario to the Oval Office occurs quickly, creating further mystery about Cody, Russians in the White House, and a reelection that threatens to turn up the long-buried skeleton of a prior wife's death (or, was it a disappearance?).

The Richter legacy involves thirteen-year-old Billy, who is concerned about his sister Cody. She rescued him from his father's rampages, but now needs his help.

As a cast of characters surround Billy, Cody, and a Presidential figurehead steeped in corruption, a dangerous game plays out which threatens them all.

Intrigue, mishaps, and even biting snakes permeate the tale with unexpected encounters and challenges that test each of the characters in different ways.

J.B. Manning creates an excellent romp through politics, individual lives, and the ironies of holding office and wielding power, moving through a host of influences from insider trading to Russian intrigue and warped family relationships.

Richter the Mighty cultivates a fast pace and a host of supportive characters who each enter the story with their own special interests at heart. But it's the winningly wry inspections and interactions that will keep readers involved, offering whimsical, thought-provoking scenarios that test the mighty Richter and his entourage.

These cultivate many unexpected moments as the action heats up and moves between seemingly disparate lives: "When they got down to the patio, Udolf's big corpse was laid out on his back, his foamy mouth gaping open, his left hand still clutching the carcass of a lobster.

"I'm not sure why he got those braces," Rayanne said. "Looks like a lot of his teeth were rotten."

"Lot of pain for nothing," Georgina said.

"What happened?" Richter asked.

"I don't know," Rayanne said. "Peanut allergy?"

"Maybe gluten," Georgina said

Richter burped in grief, and then said, "Get him out of here. We don't want any trouble."

The result is a unique, multifaceted story of friendships, family, and politics that engages readers on different levels.

It's not a singular story, and might stymie readers seeking a logical progression of events. But, therein lies its strength - in the unexpected; whether it be relationships, motives, or political ambitions.

Richter the Mighty deserves a spot in any library strong in original, creative contemporary novels that aim to both please and engross on different levels.

Visions of Johanna
Peter Sarno
PFP Publishing
9798986626604, $17.85 Paper

Visions of Johanna is a novel of a relationship between two creative spirits - an artist and a music critic, whose chance meeting at a concert evolves into a relationship that changes them both.

Johanna and Matt hold similar artistic desires for success and creativity that serve as strange attractors to offset the forces of disparity that disrupt their lives.

The story opens with a narrator who knew both Johanna and her daughter Faith. He puts pen to paper to help Faith better know her mother's strengths and the changing milieu of the 1980s, during which feminism's rise created both opportunities and despair.

Matt's first-person viewpoint opens Chapter One with a discussion of changes and social issues which coalesce to create both new opportunities and revised perceptions of life.

As relics from the past contrast with present-day experiences, readers are led to the Dylan concert which introduces him to Johanna and changes everything for them both.

Peter Sarno writes with a fine descriptive hand that explores and processes the emotions of Matt and his increasing, unexpected involvement with Johanna: "I wasn't sure why I'd raised the subject. It could've been because Johanna had been facing elsewhere and sketching - fully engaged in an activity she loved - and no one was around. Perhaps it was because of a momentary sense of security - although the wrath from the incoming tide had brought forth splashing waves with an ever-increasing fury, causing the seagulls to abandon their competition and take off. Still, amid that turmoil, being with Johanna allowed a sort of calm to sneak its way inside me - a sensation I hadn't experienced in some time, and certainly not whenever I stood near the shore."

Akin to life's ebbs and flows, the culture and feel of past and present East Coast experiences merge with each character's perspective to create a medley of roller-coaster days that succinctly create a 'you are here' feel: "Comfortable" wasn't the correct term. "Contented" or "at ease" made us sound like old fogies. But with Johanna - in between her roller coaster detours - I had encountered a type of stillness, a serenity I guess I hadn't known I was capable of, and if I ever had been, it had been too long ago to remember."

As Wisconsin renegade Johanna successfully draws Matt from his comfortable, familiar milieu into a world in which outside forces intercede to change them both, readers receive a thought-provoking, evocative love story. Its roots in a sense of place and time lend to explorations of each character's ability to both reflect upon and depart from their foundations and experiences.

Social issues reveal and change past traumas and events as each character grows into a new force to be reckoned with that doesn't quite go the mile in revealing the closely-held secrets of their lives that could result in better connections and understanding.

Visions of Johanna is a powerful story of a place, time, and characters who find their staid lives and trajectories challenged by their relationship and changing times.

While Visions of Johanna deserves a place in any library strong in novels about relationship evolution, it also ideally will be selected as a foundation guide for book clubs interested in discussions about feminism, relationships, and life-changing events and choices that bring unexpected growth to those who navigate their stormy waters.

Embarrassing George
Kimber Morgan
Creative, Simple Wonder Press
9781737038658, $15.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

In Embarrassing George, young George finds his family a complete embarrassment. His mother can't cook. His brother is fixated by costumes and wants to go out in public wearing them. At the opposite end of the attire snafu is his father, who often goes outdoors wearing only his underwear.

Family Night at school is certain to reveal to others just how quirky and embarrassing his family really is. How can George keep his family under wraps and normal?

While acknowledging that other families likely have their quirks, too, George is certain that his is exceptionally embarrassing. So he's not feeling good at all about Family Night, when certainly all will be revealed to the world.

It is revealed ... and the truth is far from George's expectations.

Kimber Morgan creates an appealing story about family ties, individuality, and definitions of normalcy. The revelations George gains from comparing his family to others and seeing them all wearing their public personas will create a fine opportunity for adults to interact with kids about family differences and attractions.

Adults looking for family-friendly reading to engage the young will find Kimber Morgan's Embarrassing George an especially attractive read, nicely paired with Jessica Kwan's evocative and funny, colorful portraits of family interactions and snafus.

The Search: Adventures of a Restless Soul
George Biondic
Independently Published
9781777903909, $12.95 Paper/$3.95 Kindle

The Search: Adventures of a Restless Soul charts the making of an ultrarunner in a memoir that opens with a backache (diagnosed as the result of an 'overloaded life') and evolves to explore the influences upon and formation of an athlete.

In order to explain the present, the past needs to be understood; and so the introduction rewinds to 1957 Croatia, adopting a third-person exploration of family history to explore this immigrant family's heritage and journey to Canada.

Black and white family photos and European history peppers the account to help modern-day readers absorb the sense of place, purpose, and social and political influences that buffet this family.

As George Biondic moves into the world of marathons and relationships, his heart, mind, and body blossom. Readers receive a concurrent examination of immigrant roots, changing aspirations, and the increasing importance of physical sports in the author's life. These elements are tempered by a rugged outdoors personality's forays into love and life which are rich in dreams, and a 'once in a lifetime' trip that changes everything.

Part of the attraction of this story lies in its past influences and how they dovetail with Biondic's present-day choices and experiences. The contrast provides many thought-provoking moments about the origins of a desire to run, compete, and live a high-octane life of heady experiences and risk-taking choices.

This provides a satisfying "can do" atmosphere as the humor-dotted memoir explores the depths of despair and the heights of hope.

Biondic could not possibly have imagined a future such as he literally ran into. As he tackles prejudices (others', as well as his own), anxiety and depression, and the kinds of approaches and solutions that lead to a better life, readers facing their own life-altering circumstances will find inspiration, hope, and revelation in The Search.

More than a search for peace and meaning, the memoir chronicles Biondic's quest for self-satisfaction and achievement versus cultivating a busy life for the purpose of tamping down depression and angst.

The blend of memoir, psychological insights, and examination of the evolution of a marathon runner create a compelling story. The Search will appeal to a diverse audience, and to libraries building collections strong in immigrant experience, psychological self-help, and sports stories.

Eddie the Elephant's Magical Ear
Suzanne Picerno
Pen & Publish, LLC
9781956897128, $12.95 Paper/$5.95 Kindle

Eddie the Elephant's Magical Ear tells of a regular, unextraordinary elephant who has a secret: his ear fell off, and now he cannot hear.

As he searches for his missing ear, Eddie clearly needs a little help from his friends.

That help comes from an unexpected place as he finds his broken ear, but also discovers that this still hasn't resolved his problems. He still can't hear.

Suzanne Picerno's story embraces the idea of a hearing aid's benefit and teaches young children about friendship, hearing loss, and the magic of finding a hearing device (and a friend) that helps sound come to life once again.

Picerno has also struggled with hearing loss and hearing aids. She now has cochlear implants and advocates for others.

Her story provides the perfect opportunity for young readers and read-aloud parents to absorb the basics about hearing loss, remedies, the impact of concerned friends dedicated to improving the world through their actions, and use of hearing solutions.

Libraries looking for simple stories about hearing loss and helpful solutions will find that Picerno's Eddie the Elephant's Magical Ear opens the door for discussions about the deaf, the hearing, and friendships. It is spiced by simple, bright illustrations by the author and her assistant M. Waseem that add colorful visual attraction to the tale.

The bilingual version of Eddie will be released late November 2022.

Deadly Repercussions
Karen Black
Independently Published
9798725019353, $17.99 Print/$2.99 ebook

Trouble is coming.

That's the opening portent of Deadly Repercussions, a suspense/mystery story that introduces brothers who are dual citizens of the United States and Mexico.

Alejandro and Manuel have chosen different paths in their lives, but their loyalty and family ties to one another remain consistent until death breaks them and leads one brother to exact revenge while a son left behind is indoctrinated into a street gang.

The fight for justice continues into new generations and a conflict as the story evolves, following Juan into adulthood. A daughter's safety is left to New Jersey boy Jerod Ventura, who moves from his initial burglary as a young man to become one of Juan's trusted friends.

The repercussions of murder resonate through different generations, relationships, and experiences. Karen Black weaves a powerful saga of disparate special interests, kidnappings and threats, and forces that clash as times change.

Black is particularly adept at following children into adulthood, from Elaina and Juan to Jarod, showing how family and friendships evolve against the threat and backdrop of violence and change.

Deadly Repercussions moves deftly between and among these disparate lives in a dance with death that keeps altering the characters in unexpected ways.

The mercurial timeline of shifting experiences and interests keeps readers thoroughly immersed in events that challenge relationships with heartache, love, adversity, and wasted lives changed by destructive impulses.

"Life is a masquerade with repercussions that can be deadly."

Libraries that choose Deadly Repercussions for its special brand of suspense paired with inspections of generations that grow and change under the influence of violence and bad choices will find this story replete in not just suspense and mystery, but murder, loss, and the resonance of events that change future generations.

Book clubs, too, will find its winding progression through choices and consequences sparks lively discussion over the pursuit of justice and its end results.

Raise Your Hand
Robert A. Belle
Simply You Publishing
9789914742213, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Raise Your Hand: A Millennial's Guide on How to Ask for Help with Courage and Defeat the Weeds of Regret with Power is a study in millennial response and life challenges. It focuses on this generation's proclivity for eschewing support, resulting in a higher degree of burnout than other generations exhibit.

Why is asking for help so difficult for this particular group?

Robert A. Belle offers answers both to this question and to the process involved in asking for and obtaining the right kind of assistance.

From an analysis of barriers to asking for help and reasons for accepting assistance to the basics of how to ask for and apply that help, Robert A. Belle's title enlightens not only millennials, but anyone who experiences difficulty in accepting a helping hand.

Different kinds of relationships are tackled, from romance to work and dealing with authority figures. Each example provides a different lesson about the helping relationship. Belle uses case history examples from his own relationships and life to consider an array of points in the helper dynamic: "During our regular check in conversations, we would talk through what she was dealing with and going through and how I, as her boss, could support her. She decided to register and sit for one of her professional accountancy exam papers. In hindsight, she not only wanted to progress her career (a commendable step in the midst of a pandemic) but she also wanted to do something in which she could have a strong sense of control."

These serve to not only illustrate important points, but provide road maps to achievement through goal-based discussions and examples that provide concrete information on the entire process, from different perspectives.

The result is a self-help title that can apply equally to work, romance, and interpersonal relationships of all types. It addresses the power structure and psychological connections involved in asking for and receiving help, creating a thought-provoking book that ideally will be used as a discussion point in all kinds of groups.

Libraries seeking a work that moves beyond the self-help category to address common issues in working relationships of all kinds will find Raise Your Hand a compelling analysis that holds many opportunities for self-evaluation, discussion, and transformation.

The New Art of Ideas
Robin Landa
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
1333 Broadway, Suite 1000, Oakland CA, 94612
9781523002078, $19.95 Paper/$18.95 Kindle

The New Art of Ideas: Unlock Your Creative Potential is about tapping into the fine art of not just creating, but observation and action. While entrepreneurs interested in igniting goals with creative impulses will be the likely audience for Robin Landa's exploration, it is recommended across the board to a wide audience of thinkers, creators, and would-be creative individuals who find themselves either stuck or unable to quite grasp a solution that leads to an ongoing approach to life, problem-solving, and innovation.

The survey opens with examples of success from the business world, from a Microsoft engineer's epiphany to the intersection between business and community interests which both benefited from this creative idea: "This is a case where the return on corporate investment is not simply financial - it is a gain for a community of people."

These kinds of examples and links between individual and corporate interests are just one feature in a title that explores different creative opportunities and the forces that "trigger a goal" to spark innovative action. This discussion is especially important because too many leaders lack the ability to formulate and direct truly innovative thinking.

Landa maintains that the nugget of creativity often lies in an observer's ability to see and identify a gap that needs to be filled: "Stay open to any enlightening bit of information that points to a solution you hadn't anticipated. I can't overstate the importance of finding an insight into a behavior that leads to noticing a gap." The challenge lies in honing attitudes and abilities that can readily identify such gaps and create strategies to address them.

Therein lies the heart of business innovation - but it's a process that is too rarely explored in business guides that maintain that business creativity originates from other basics of this process that are explored in depth, here.

Here, the observer and observation is a central starting point to the creative process. Landa provides many keys to success, from tackling self-doubt and developing focus to changing typical thinking routines: "Ask yourself, How can I look at this in a different way? Can I look at this scenario, situation, object, setting, or relationship through a different lens? Or, can you obtain someone else's vantage point, someone quite different from yourself? When you're with colleagues or team members, obtain multiple perspectives on your research or findings."

More so than most books about innovation and creativity, The New Art of Ideas offers entrepreneurs at all levels (whether part of a company team or an independent owner) the opportunity to identify and cultivate the kinds of mental leaps that connect products and services with truly unique ways of seeing and delivering them.

Filled with checklists and footnoted references for further reading, The New Art of Ideas's key to creative thinking should be on any manager's shelf, as well as on the reading lists and under discussion by book clubs and business leaders seeking enlightenment on expanding the creative process to link new ideas to better ways of thinking.

Casualties & Survivors
Len Joy
Independently Published
9798839788343, $9.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Short story readers who look for literary pieces about individuals who lose and find their paths in life will find the overall impact of Casualties & Survivors to be thoroughly engrossing.

Its diverse representations of lives in flux is presented with an astute, literary eye that captures fragments of world experience and lives and juxtaposes them to create powerful examples of casualties and survivors in life - especially when taken as a whole, in this collection.

Take "Good Neighbors" for one example. Here, an unemployed at-home neighbor observes his neighbor's tipped trash bin, decides to help, and stumbles upon a scene that provides him with more information about them than he'd wanted.

As Pete's good intentions take an unexpected turn, readers will delight in the unexpected connections made in two disparate lives.

"Dancer, 14 Hours Later" moves into quite a different world of southern Missouri and Dancer Stonemason, who is attempting to manage his grief over losing his son. Their relationship represented an odd dance of disparity: "Clayton was struggling with his new business and Dancer was desperate for work. They needed each other. Dancer returned to the town where he had achieved his greatest success and then thrown it all away."

Now that Clayton is gone, Dancer finds minor comfort in the changes time has brought: "In their ten years working together, Dancer, to his great surprise, discovered he not only loved his son, but liked him, too. Against all odds they had become best friends." But the real changes come from others who have been left behind, too.

Len Joy weaves the themes of casualties and survivors so intricately that readers will find it hard to define which element drives each story. The characters evolve to embrace some of both qualities, representing contrasting slices of life that sport different countenances, personalities, and ways of absorbing the slings and arrows of the world around them.

This lends both a uniformity and disparity to the collection as a whole, giving it a fine flavor of enlightenment and surprise as the short works evolve.

Libraries looking for literary short stories that represent vignettes of hope, struggle, and lives of quiet desperation will find Casualties & Survivors a fine choice, while reading groups studying the fine art of representing psychological twists in fiction will find these modern pieces excellent examples of creative writing's art.

I'll Be Seeing You
Joanne Kukanza Easley
Red Boots Press
9798986713311, $4.99 Kindle

I'll Be Seeing You is a novel that spans five decades of a young woman's life. It opens with her life at age 14 on a Texas cattle ranch, as the only girl and the middle child in a family of four brothers.

Lauren doesn't want to grow into the cattle industry by marrying a fellow rancher. Her ambitions to become more seem to be fulfilled when she is discovered by a modeling scout at the 1940 Fort Worth Stock Show Parade and moves to Manhattan to begin a glamorous big-city life far from her family's ranching heritage.

Mama had told her to "face up to reality," but she rejected that future, only to find its replacement leads her into heartache, alcoholism, and a downward spiral.

As she burns bridges, moves back and forth between despair and opportunity, and searches for an elusive happiness that never quite lies within her grasp, readers receive a vivid story of a young woman who grows into a misguided life and career never quite certain that the path she is on is the one she really wants.

Readers will find her first-person story and reflections inviting and thought-provoking - especially the passages which review her trajectory and choices: "During the long, tedious trip, my history played to an audience of one, like a failed B movie. Alcohol had a starring role in each of my personal disasters. Determined to learn from my missteps with men and alcohol, I promised myself I'd exercise restraint in both areas. How hard could it be to have a social life without booze and sex?"

These lend especially well to book club discussion as well as psychology circles where individuals reflect on life's influences and their responses. The latter will find Lauren's self-inspection process intriguing and worthy of debate: "Until you can love yourself. Was self-hatred my problem?"

As loss, love, and angst coalesce, readers will appreciate the realistic turns Lauren's life takes as a ghost from the past emerges, presenting newfound opportunities.
Joanne Kukanza Easley cultivates a special air of self-discovery and enlightenment in Lauren's life, tackling hard questions and equally challenging courses of action as she appears to come full circle, then moves away from new choices that would change her life.

The psychological survey of an alcoholic woman who finds ways to make amends to others and to herself is particularly well-done, reinforced by a first-person examination that captures important contrasts between ideals and reality.

Libraries looking for powerful stories of alcoholism, recovery, and revised destinies will find the powerful protagonist's realistic life experiences make I'll Be Seeing You a winning example of past influences and future possibilities in love and life.

Life Support
Sarah McKnight
Independently Published
9798430929589, $12.99 paperback, $3.99 ebook, $19.95 audiobook

Life Support is a coming-of-age novel recommended for young adult to adult audiences. Its characters (five high-schoolers who each struggle with different issues) represent some of the primary angst and concerns of teens, from depression and body image to facing bullying from without and eating disorders and self-harm from within.

The vivid emotional inspections of this story are evident from its opening lines, in which Kendra recognizes a fellow sufferer in a student who does not hide the evidence of his self-harm: "I see you. Two rows to the left and one ahead of me, I see you, resting your cheek against your palm, the sleeve of your jacket drooping tiredly down from your wrist. I see you, Alec - or is it Alex? - with the red lines that start at your wrist and disappear beneath the sleeve. I spot them easily. I have had them too, and I am sure those angry red lines do not stop until they reach the milky white curve of your elbow. Mine, unlike yours, were brought on by a blade, but I can see that yours were not. Your lines are too thick, too broken, too red. Your lines are caused by a fingernail, dragged slowly up from the wrist to the inner arm. The burning sensation from a fingernail lasts for days, unlike the sweet, sharp pain of a blade. There is no blood when scratched with a nail, but the mark left behind is a constant reminder of what has been done."

This example is one reason why Life Support makes such a powerful impact ... and is recommended, with caution, to mature teens able to handle graphic portraits of such subjects. Whether the observer is Kendra (who struggles with an eating disorder) or Ricky (whose rage is uncontrollable), each teen has cultivated a dubious method of survival and control that ultimately injures themselves and those around them.

Readers might expect that shifting viewpoints between five disparate lives would result in confusion, but Sarah McKnight identifies each speaker via changing headings which clarify the different voices and experiences being represented.

The angst is shared, but the experiences and approaches to resolving it is diverse. Take Ricky, for example. His response to life and his world comes from the force of angry defenses: "People are tossing their lunch trays away and leaving the cafeteria, and here I am stuck in the gym with Coach Brennan, watching everyone through the ugly barred window on the door. He's still talking to me, using that fake persuasive voice he's been using on me since sophomore year. It's been two years. When is he going to get the fucking hint?"

As the stories evolve and lives dovetail in unexpected ways, young adults receive thought-provoking inspections of good guys, bad guys, and those who reside in-between, in a gray area that embraces both, yet creates its own safe place in unique individuality.

This joining of disparate lives results in new ways to resolve and interact ("We'll find a way to see the better side of Ricky," Alex promises.") that makes the sum greater than its parts.

At once a story of endings, new beginnings, and questionable solutions to life issues, Life Support builds its story on the shoulders of characters who are at once strong and flawed. The story opens with five disasters and teeters on the edge of resolution or tragedy, drawing these characters and readers into an account which will serve especially well as fodder for book club or group discussion.

Recommended for mature teens able to tackle candid portraits of lives in flux, Life Support is a powerful story that deserves to be included in young adult collections and assigned for discussion groups that can engage on disparate and controversial real-world issues and responses such as self-harm.

Friendships can change (and save) lives. The important central message of this exploration should not be overlooked, and deserves to be profiled in a variety of discussions with teens.

Place of Cool Waters
Ndirangu Githaiga
Bon Esprit Books
978173504172, $13.99 pbk, $4.99 ebook

Sojourns begun from small towns such as Clarksville to Nairobi, Kenya offer opportunities for new realizations and revitalized perspectives. Both facets are captured in Place of Cool Waters, where Jude Wilson makes a pilgrimage to visit the graves of his childhood heroes. There, he finds answers to questions he'd never really considered before.

Place of Cool Waters opens not with Jude's perspective, but with an abandoned baby brought to a hospital by discoverers who want nothing to do with their find. It then segues seven years into the future, where Jude has been adopted into and raised by a family that enjoys camping and cultivates a circle of faith and conviction that lends to a stable home.

Neither of these circumstances would seem to give Jude the inclination to immerse himself in another culture, but both give him strength of character that serves him well when he searches for truths about his scouting heroes, only to uncover facts that challenge his mindset and perceptions.

The events lead Jude to become a wanted man in a foreign country, embedding the story with hard-hitting revelations that make Jude a suspect in a dangerous plot.

Readers receive a fine story that moves from U.S. upbringing, convictions, and roots across the seas to an environment which tests the mindset and perceptions of a young man who finds himself in a strange position.

The culture, politics, and atmosphere of Nairobi create a realistic backdrop upon which Jude finds himself considered a criminal rather than the victim of unfortunate circumstance.

Tension is well crafted, the adventure component is nicely done, and readers will find Jude's character and dilemmas maintain a satisfyingly fast pace without moving too quickly for complete understanding.

The result is a literary story steeped in cultural interaction and revelations. Place of Cool Waters is highly recommended for libraries seeking a novel written by a native Kenyan who makes his story the crossroads between two very different cultures. Understanding intersects in unexpected environments and manners as Jude finds a revised place in a foreign land and his own heart.

What's Wrong with This Picture? 12 Days Before Christmas Too
DJ and Roni Robbins
Mommy and Me Publishing
9781736653647, $14.99 Hardcover/$5.99 ebook

Picture book readers interested in lively holiday tales, and read-aloud adults looking for interactive opportunities with the very young, will both appreciate What's Wrong with This Picture? 12 Days Before Christmas Too, a "read and seek" tale that invites attention and discovery.

Illustrations by Nisansala Alwis are accompanied by Holber J. Visconti Montero. They capture the family scene of a night before Christmas and embed ten things awry into each of the holiday scenes. Adults and kids can work together to review the Christmas holiday scenarios and the likely mishaps and mistakes presented in each of them, reinforcing visual acuity and mental analysis. Answers for each scene are in the back of the book, accompanied by added hidden object and word search games.

Unexpected scenarios are profiled in a story that is whimsically fun, capturing both the spirit of Christmas and the opportunity to cooperatively identify disparities in its representation.

The result is a fun survey of holiday events that invites kids with scenes that hold an invitation: "...something is wrong. It's just not right. Do you see what I see? Or is it my eyesight?"

Colorful, fun images permeate a story that represents a whimsical countdown of the twelve days of Christmas and the oddities that can flavor its experiences.

Read-aloud adults seeking a fun, interactive holiday experience will find this opportunity in What's Wrong with This Picture? 12 Days Before Christmas Too, a lively teaching tool that offers a different take on familiar holiday trappings.

The Journey
Mark T. Rasmussen
By The Pure Sea
B0B8B426VJ, $7.99 e-book

"Today I am breaking the heart of the woman I love." It's a choice that threatens to haunt the first-person narrator for the rest of his life.

The Journey represents an unusual novel form, in that it is "semi-interactive." Song references sprinkled throughout are linked (in the ebook) to music, allowing for an instant backdrop of audio enhancement that adds to and enhances the reading experience.

It's a rollicking road adventure made not by the usual teen or new adult, but 40-something father-to-be Raiden, who looks to escape fatherhood by embracing new life experiences far from his familiar routines or his previous life.

Raiden's journey is difficult from the start because he's not only choosing to leave a relationship, but to escape the fatherhood which has been thrust upon him, and life in a "frigid city" which holds no lasting attraction.

He's certain that his choice to vagabond will not only break others' hearts (and his own), but will lead him on an uncertain path to better know himself.

Raiden leaves this past behind, his journey carrying him through familiar forms of musical interludes that capture new worlds like sound bites of cultural revelation.

The characters he encounters, some memorable and others bordering on appalling, influence his changing perspective of life and the character traits he admires: " much I am shocked and disgusted by his behaviour, I am also completely captivated by it. I have to profess; I actually admire his nonchalance. While it won't win him many friends, if any, Lou is a man who plays by nobody's rules. You have to give kudos to a man who lives like that in this day and age."

Physically and psychologically, Raiden finds himself in unexpected milieus that constantly challenge his notions of people, life, and his place in the world ("Little Rock, Arkansas, now there's a place I thought I'd never wind up.").

The 22-song play list that accompanies this journey includes references to and cuts by a wide variety of popular musicians and groups, from Moby and Jeff Buckley to Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie.

Ultimately, the story comes full circle; in the process helping Raiden and his readers better understand life options, choices and consequences, and the one facet that keeps them in flux: change.

Libraries seeking novels about middle-age revelations that incorporate the flavor of a coming-of-age saga with the maturity of a character who undertakes a life-changing journey will find The Journey epic on a psychological level that draws all ages.

Namwayut - We Are All One
Chief Robert Joseph
Page Two
9781774580059, $24.95 Hardcover/$9.99 Kindle

Namwayut - We Are All One: A Pathway to Reconciliation blends Indigenous autobiography with social inspection as it considers the life and words of peacemaker and Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk People, Chief Robert Joseph.

It opens with a memory of the 2013 Walk for Reconciliation in Canada, introducing the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools and the path that led Chief Robert Joseph to this point in time.

It's unusual to find an Indigenous memoir that embraces both personal experience and bigger-picture thinking about the changing status and role of Indigenous Peoples and their outlooks on world events and peacekeeping efforts, but Namwayut represents such an intersection of subjects. Its specific and unique focus drives a story that flows between Kwakwaka'wakw traditions and experiences and ways of cementing values, methods of viewing the universe, and maintaining cultural and world connections.

As Chief Joseph becomes "more aligned with his purpose," readers learn about the ceremonies, rituals, and growth processes that lead him to write and speak about his peoples' hearts, minds, and spirits as a force of positive influence on the broader world.

Philosophical, spiritual, and social issues coalesce in this memoir to bring his nation's narrative and connections to life.

His evocative words cement these experiences, bringing various pivot points to life: "What has allowed me to find my way, and to heal, is that I remembered the magic. I remembered seeing the universe open up to me through the eyes of the dancers behind their beautiful masks. I remembered who I was, as a Kwakwaka'waku man. But I did not know myself, my strength, and how to find my way back home until I truly learned how to love myself."

The lyrical language, psychological and social inspections, satisfying blend of collective and personal history, and broader perspectives about life purpose, peace, and intercultural relationship-building proves a powerful testimony to the ability of one man to create and revise connections in the world.

Like ripples in a pond, these spread outward from a central point to transform relationships on an individual and society-wide level.

Libraries looking for Indigenous ways of viewing and embracing the world will find Namwayut - We Are All One an inspirational choice. But it will truly find a home and will shine in various discussion groups that can debate social activism and change based on Chief Joseph's revelations and their ability to trigger challenging new perspectives leading to positive personal and social change.

Transgression: Hitler, Mirka, Mireille and Me
Ben Stoltzfus
Atmosphere Press
9781639885176, $15.99

"We are all exiles..."

Transgression: Hitler, Mirka, Mireille and Me is a novel about coming-of-age and a family's escape from the Nazi-occupied Balkans during World War II. Its harrowing account of survival blends with social inspection from the eyes of a boy whose family faces repeated dangers from the Nazis in the course of their journey.

Ben Stoltzfus presents this account using the first person to bring the experiences to life: "I hear the roar of another airplane coming in low. There is a swastika on the tail and a black cross on the fuselage. I pick up the rifle, aim at the cross and pull the trigger. Click. There is no bullet in the chamber but it pleases me to pretend."

This lends the novel a sense of growth and perspective that captures not only adversity, but what this young boy perceives about his world (and what escapes him): "We know that Germany has invaded Poland, and later, that France has fallen. We hear about the British humiliation at Dunkirk, but know nothing about the Vichy government's collaboration with the German authorities, rounding up Jews and deporting them to death camps."

This lends perspective and insights into the experiences which explain points of realization and ignorance as the populace adapts to political changes and the entry of war into their lives.

"We are all exiles..." that's the shared language, experience, and role of different peoples as they attempt to flee what their lives have become, only to find that some of the angst and challenge lies in their own hearts and minds. Especially this young man: "Fear is evil. Evil is hell. Therefore, if I get rid of fear, I will be rid of hell. I have work to do! It's time to tear up old tracks and lay down new ones. If I can make the idea of sin disappear, I will be cured."

As the family moves through a much-changed Europe and contemplates spending Christmas in Jerusalem, readers receive a journey that is spiritual, psychological, and social, all in one.

The inspections are nicely wound into the elements of growth and realization that both challenge this boy and his family and lead them to become survivors.

"Some things are not acceptable. Hitler's actions prove it."

Can Mireille Dantec save him and save "love from the hell into which I had fallen"? As relationships grow and change, so do the forces of good and evil which influence the young narrator's perspective about his role in life.

Libraries and readers looking for coming-of-age stories that embrace the sweeping changes Nazis brought to Europe and the refugees who stormed across the continent in search of freedom and new ways of thinking about the world will find Transgression: Hitler, Mirka, Mireille and Me a literary, multifaceted examination that moves beyond definition of either a coming-of-age story alone or a historical re-enactment of World War II's impact.

It's a vivid inspection of lives under revision and tumult that offers many thought-provoking moments to readers, and is highly recommended for book discussion groups that look for stories about maturity achieved during times of social, political, and personal chaos.

Baking is Messy and So Is Life
Steven Roberts
WmJoy Press
c/o Alma Pistis, LLC
9780989673167, $7.95 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

"JJ loved her big farmhouse home that was so filled with love and laughter."

Middle-grade readers interested in a lively story of a family cemented by a bakery will find Baking is Messy and So Is Life an appealing story of warmth and insight.

When she tackles the mystery of the "muffin house" structure on their property, JJ uncovers facts that both answer her questions and introduce new possibilities for the entire family.

As the Baking House story is revealed, so are family ties and ambitions that JJ had never known about. A little bakery's origins and growth, powered by an old oven embedded with a special magic, comes to light as the listener and her readers absorb a whimsical tale of a single effort that spawns a host of bakeries and attractions in Bakerstown.

So, when did the magic die; and why has JJ been forbidden to explore this history?

As the story unfolds, readers receive a fine tale of discovery, growth, and family and community ties.

JJ's efforts to bring back the magic result in unexpected events that both mirror the past and introduce new possibilities for the future.

Baking is Messy and So Is Life's lovely story of family, community, and cooperative ventures will attract advanced elementary to early middle grade readers with a spicy blend of mystery and revelation that is lined by the warmth of interconnected lives.

Adults seeking uplifting stories for kids will find Baking is Messy and So Is Life an excellent choice that rests on both the unexpected and a special mother/daughter relationship that creates warmth with a powerful message: 'Sometimes good people do mean things and sometimes mean people do good things. Forgiveness is like rain - it falls on all of us the same, the good and the bad.'

Where the Sun Rises
Anna Gomez and Kristoffer Polaha
Rosewind Books
9781645480808, $14.95 Paper/$7.99 ebook

Where the Sun Rises (From Kona With Love) is the story of an unlikely romance between spoiled rich boy Adam Yates and upcoming Hawaiian surfer extraordinaire Maele Moana. Were it not for their pairing at a wedding event, these worlds might never have come together.

But they do, for a time - until Adam's draw to fame leads him to Los Angeles while Maele struggles to reclaim her life in Hawaii after a surfing accident.

Set against the backdrop of Oahu, their stormy relationship evolves as they come together and then move apart in seemingly impossibly disparate directions. Maele's heart is broken when she realizes that Adam's drive to success leads him on a path she won't follow.

Anna Gomez and Kristoffer Polaha capture the flawed character of Adam and the reasons for the unlikely attraction between the two. But, to their credit, the story doesn't center on recovery so much as independent growth experienced by the two characters as each struggles to overcome their inner fears.

"The sunrise had always been a symbol of birth and reawakening. It was also a symbol of Maele's old life."

Readers who look for clean romances steeped in the atmosphere and culture of Hawaii will be attracted to Where the Sun Rises even though some of its outcomes are more than predictable.

The focus on self-discovery over recovery is of particular note as the novel progresses, as is the strong character of Maele, who harbors her own goals in life apart from any possibility that a "bad boy" might divert her from her achievements and inner strengths.

The result is a gentle leisure read that draws with flawed individuals who cultivate their own strengths both separately and as a couple, and whose time apart proves as interesting as their attraction and time together.

Libraries seeking easy reads, clean romances, and strong female characters will find Where the Sun Rises interesting for its Hawaiian backdrop and incorporation of not just love, but the process of catch and release.

Like Fire & Ice
Atmosphere Press
9781639884339, $16.99

Poetry readers interested in candid (sometimes stark) representations of modern American women's working lives will find that Like Fire & Ice comes with a special flavor of inspection that translates to a sometimes-uncomfortable, raw honesty.

Themes include trauma, suicide, "happy pills," and remarkable and unremarkable truths that lead readers through sections entitled "Fire," "Ice," and "Ash," reliving the pain Eli feels as vignettes move between anguish and angst, embracing fire, flame, and feelings with equal abandon. These leave marks on those around her (trigger warning: including the reader): "I am sorry you lived through hell,/but like fire and ice/trauma left a mark on me."

As poetry readers move through fire and ice into the aftermath of ashes alongside the poet, the emotional journey both stokes and soothes the flames of discord and self-inspection via works that enlighten as much as they transmit pain: "I came back from hell/and the first thing you ask of me/is to allow you to enter a body/that has been repeatedly violated/and expect me not to bite back."

As the poems move between inner anguish and outer adaptation, they represent both discovery and recovery, carrying their readers on journeys that reflect the revitalization of self: "Merry Christmas,/to me/because I'm finally deciding to stay alive --/not for you or anyone else./But because I deserve this right."

Literary readers looking for a tough, candid, raw inspection of the synthesis between poetry and psychological turmoil will find Like Fire & Ice a powerful representation of a life growing up in and mirroring a broken America.

How does one heal from trauma and actively choose life?

The journey begins by working through the pain. Like Fire & Ice captures the first step of this process for readers who would follow in Eli's footsteps and better understand the choice to live, and its origins.

Libraries and book reader groups seeking the intersection of literary works and self-analysis will find much to discuss by making Like Fire & Ice an active discussion point about the process of discovery and emotional growth.

Henry Hoffman
Melange Books
9798886530513, $10.99 paper/$4.99 ebook

Solitaire is mystery that opens in 1997 with a middle-aged financial investor's decision to move off-grid and away from the successes and failures that have dominated his life. Lured by mysterious lights and promises of better choices far from the rat race, Jeb Lanigan drops out, and then vanishes completely.

Enter PI Adam Fraley, tasked with locating Jeb and his hideaway in the remote Sierra Nevada foothills. But more is hiding in the wilderness than Jeb, as Adam discovers when he becomes the target of a sniper, having unwittingly stepped into a secret that the shooter is determined to keep against all odds.

Henry Hoffman employs the image of solitaire on many levels: as a cat-and-mouse game of chance in which cards are unfolded and surprises emerge; as an effort to stay hidden or expose underlying purposes and intentions whether good and bad; and as a comment on solitary choices and actions that dovetail into impossible secrets and situations. It also just so happens to be the name of the town and area under inspection, which is a haven for refugees of all kinds.

Adam's foray into this new case lands him in a dangerous position as another's solitary ways lead to closely-held mysteries that draw him in and threaten his life.

Hoffman cultivates a fast pace that leads readers through nonstop twists and turns as Adam explores this strange new world and finds help from an unexpected source that emerges from the past to assist him in his time of need.

Readers will find themselves engrossed by not just Adam's evolving conundrums and realizations, but the choices of Jeb and those who eschew modern life to live on the margins of a different world.

With its sniper fire and murder as well as a wounded dog and the involvement of FBI agent Lauren Staley, readers will appreciate both the engaging suspense and the fast pace of the story, which create intrigue that holds attention through a well-developed sense of place and mercurial cross-purposes.

"When are things ever normal with Adam Fraley Private Investigations?"

Certainly not in this mystery, which provides a satisfying Nevada backdrop, realistic characters, and mercurial events to keep readers both guessing and engaged.

Libraries looking for strong, action-packed, quick mystery reads will want to add Solitaire to their collections and recommended reading lists.

Lab Spill
Robert Rife
Deep Portal Publishing
9798986280608, $24.95 Hardcover/$18.95 Paper/$4.95 Kindle

Lab Spill: A Dark Comedy. Maybe. is part of The Cool Thing series and represents an uncommon and attractive blend of sci-fi and humor rarely seen in the genre. At this point, it's appropriate to note that Lab Spill is not exactly a sci-fi read. It embraces mystery, horror, science, and psychology alike as it romps through a world of monsters, accidents, and unexpected dark humor that evolves from these circumstances.

Robert Rife is a master at developing a special brand of tension based on uncertain outcomes and struggles that change all involved in them, from the story's opening lines: "Hector has been in the old Roaton house too long. Far too long. He was to steal something quick, to prove he'd gotten in. Amy waits, shivering on the moonlit porch, clutching her car keys. Night breezes mutter darkly of evil, whispering through the vine covered fence... where an impaled body has been found. Hector will come out. But he will not be the same. Neither will Amy."

Fast-paced switches of scene and characters and dark scenarios of a buried starship and a strange couple lost in the Waydowns and facing a deadly Coiler are tempered by a special brand of humor that permeates and offsets the horror and sci-fi components: "Listening as the two bicker and sneak about in her home, Shadow turns to Proby. As her smile creates grey, ghost dimples, she says, "I have listened to those two who are now exploring. They have been in love for the longest of time, but I don't think the man knows it."

And one of these two strange beings is also in love but doesn't know it. How typical of life and love; they're always a big pain in the butt."

As the strange environments reveal structures whose walls and realities expand, and monsters whose threats change everything, readers will appreciate the story's fast pace, powerful atmospheric descriptions, and the wry sense of irony that permeates the story's satisfying twists and turns.

Sometimes the best reads are neither fish nor fowl, but adopt a unique countenance as they incorporate elements of disparate action to explore strange new worlds.

Readers who look for the uniquely creative entertainment and thought-provoking work, and libraries able to eschew the usual genre shelving approach in favor of a creative presentation that defies pat categorization, will both appreciate the unique and unpredictable action in Lab Spill, which carries readers and characters into milieus that test their definitions of monsters, romance, and humor: "Being in love and proposing doesn't mean the afflicted has had a lobotomy. Just almost."

Emma's Army
Dan Chabot
Independently Published
9798439874866, $2.99 Kindle, $16.99 paperback

Readers seeking a satirical, wry examination of American politics and society set in a futuristic (but familiar-feeling) setting will relish Emma's Army: How Millions of Angry, Marching Seniors Saved Their Vanishing America.

This study in ironic social inspection creates a riveting read that depicts an angry 86-year-old grandmother who decides to rebel against the currents of modern society.

Her dismay lands her in the hands of authorities, charged with assault, and creates a revolution of elders that is packed with both enlightening and humorous scenarios: "Emma supposed she probably shouldn't have pushed that picketing, clueless kid into the Tidal Basin with the tip of her umbrella, especially right in front of the Jefferson Memorial with all those cops and tourists around, but he was asking for it, the way he was shoving that "Geezers Go Home" sign in her face."

Feisty Emma strews comments about society throughout her account, which creates inspections and insights at once funny and thought-provoking. This dual ability to pair social and political examination and angst with a determined grandmother's critical view of the country's progression offers many points suitable for book club or group debate as the story unfolds.
There are no sacred cows here. Emma addresses everything from voter's rights and immigrant participation in democracy to Christianity and other religions, and the ironic trends of future sports competitions ("Most sports now had two divisions - Men and "Other" - and negotiations were underway to just merge the two.").

The social commentary that permeates these observations and Emma's struggle for a different society emerge as fellow elders reflect on their own changed lives: "He just makes us feel so special, so attractive, so desirable," one of them told Emma. "We know he's lying, but they're such delicious lies."

The result is a journey into a revised future where millions of angry elders march to protect their voices and rights, egged on by a militant Emma who cultivates a different perspective with "Graystock" and the battle to unite a much-divided America.

While sci-fi and futuristic novel readers and libraries will find Emma's Army of interest, it is especially recommended for book clubs and social issues discussion groups who will find the juxtaposition of elder rights and perceptions and the efforts to revise America's trajectory to be thought-provoking and debate-worthy.

Polaris Coyote
E.M. William
New Street Publishing
9780965411882, $2.99 Kindle

Polaris Coyote is a novel about loss, recovery, and transformation. It follows the romantic and personal trials of law student Annie Alsonado after the deaths of her parents, but opens with a cosmic pre-history surrounding the Native American trickster legend Coyote.

Readers receive a fine introduction to his pranks and the blow-back he receives from torturing his fellow creatures on planet Earth. The legend then neatly moves to present-day events and the meaning of this entity's reintroduction as a foundation-building part of Annie's story: "He awoke to find the world completely changed, with roads, machines, and modern-day buildings pushing up everywhere against the beautiful natural world that he had helped create. Moreover, he found that during his long sleep he had lost his special powers. He decided that the Earth was no longer a place for him, and that he would soon leave. First, though, Coyote wanted to make amends after treating people so badly. He went out in search of ways to set things right - and at the same time, to have a little fun."

The gritty streets and feel of 1991 Manhattan that follows this introduction may feel disparate, but a strong contrast in life stories and experiences is created between Coyote and Annie, which comes to life as Annie's romantic entanglements evolve.

Annie's boyfriend Jon is replete with an adventurous spirit that attracts her. In comparison, classmate Dave is much more staid and ordinary. Or so she thinks, until he involves her in a legal struggle that tests both their legal studies and their relationship.

What does a legendary coyote spirit have to do with modern-day conundrums? The figure steps into lives to touch and influence them, creating changes as Annie, Dave, and those who become embroiled in the legal struggle of a defendant tied to the crack cocaine epidemic find their causes and perceptions under siege.

E.M. William does a particularly notable job of juxtaposing the trickster coyote figure's actions with the impact they ripple into human lives, as well as following the changing mindset of a young woman who comes to perceive the dangers in certain types of attraction: "He called her several times after that, trying to win her back, wanting to know what had happened. Annie couldn't help sensing, as guilty as she would feel for thinking it, that he was as much drawn by the visceral intensity of what he was experiencing, almost like the thrill had by some degenerate gamblers in losing money rather then winning it at a card table, than by whatever stake he'd had in the relationship."

Readers attracted to stories of diverse and dovetailing relationships affected by circumstance, chance, professional aspiration, and growth will find Annie's stormy path through life to be thought-provoking and engrossing. But Annie is not the only focus, here. Jon continues his trajectory in life, drawn to Katherine and continuing the pursuit of the adrenaline rushes that marked his relationship with Annie.

William also connects the dots between celestial observation and these evolving lives: "Polaris is the only star that doesn't move during the night," said Katherine. "The other stars constantly shift around. The North Star burns brightly at a single point in the sky. That's why it has been a beacon to night-time travelers throughout the centuries."

As Annie's efforts to help Fernando Garcia win his case begin to change her, the years pass. Dave, Annie, and other characters find themselves coming full circle. Readers who follow the North Star and these individuals' changing aspects will find the story evolves a satisfying moral, ethical, romantic and philosophical perspective that attracts on different levels.

William is truly adept at crafting a story of growth and discovery.

Readers who choose Polaris Coyote for either its romantic realizations or its elements of self-realization will find in the characters of Annie, Dave, Coyote and Jon a fine set of experiences that dovetail, clash, and create new possibilities.

Libraries looking for novels grounded in both romance and interpersonal evolution will find Polaris Coyote replete with the kinds of revelations and changes that also will charge book reading groups to discuss relationship-building and the influences of time and social inspection on individual choices.

Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss
Rita Baker,
Paul Stream Press, LLC
9781735929231, $2.99 Kindle

Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss is an anthology circling the experiences of characters that stand at a crossroads in their lives due to loss and change. Its fictional representations of this pivot point offer diverse inspections that juxtapose the raw emotions of those emotionally flayed with the distant flicker or spark that emerges to create new beginnings from endings.

Take, for example, "The Coveting" by Carol LaHines. Here, Francesca has "wanted always what was not hers," from childhood into adulthood. Her crossroads takes place when she is driven to support the lies which have closed in on her only to find that, via an extraordinary journey and circumstances, she is even more deeply entangled in lies that hold increasingly disastrous results.

The beating heart that ends this story provides an unexpected revelation from a different direction than readers might have anticipated.

Joyce Yarrow's "Idaho Dreams," in contrast, is about a different kind of flicker of realization which emerges in a contemporary Idaho world when a move to a farm leads Seattle girl Cora to surrender to dreams that "become more a prison than a refuge."

As sacrifices, gifts, and family paranoia rise to the surface to bring readers the hearty sense of a reset button that introduces isolation into the process of survival, an engrossing story of subterfuge and a "constricted life" emerges that examines the promise of dreams and the presence of nightmares.

Each one of these ten diverse stories tackles a different choice, consequence, and promises gone awry.

Each is laden with emotional draw as the tales move between past to present-day settings, presenting life through the eyes and hearts of characters that struggle to find the flicker of new possibility and hope in their lives and realizations.

Dark, brooding, enlightening, and emotionally compelling, Distant Flickers sports the rare countenance of an anthology that comes together on different platforms of experience and realizations to create a powerful literary anthology of life inspection.

Libraries strong in short stories cemented by emotional ties will find Distant Flickers a powerful collection and a solid acquisition. But its primary draw will be to book reading groups interested in stories of pivot points of choice and the consequences stemming from these moments in time. The wealth of discussion opportunities offered by Distant Flickers is endless.

The Happy Valley
Benjamin Harnett
Serpent Key Press
9798986744544, $19.95 Paper/$9.95 Kindle

The Happy Valley is a true coming-of-age story that spans the ages, from the 1990s in Harmony Valley, where a group of role-playing teens stumble upon mysterious girl June and a secret society, to a 2034 mystery surrounding June's disappearance, sparking a return to "The Happy Valley" of the past.

While this complicated-sounding milieu would seem to indicate the story's appropriateness for older readers, the tale actually will reach from high school grades into adult audiences who will find the complex story offers fine intrigue, sci-fi elements, historical backdrops, and mystery.

With such a heady mix of elements, it becomes impossible to neatly categorize the audience or genre of The Happy Valley. If one were to try, the first comment would be that the story opens with a heady blend of philosophical life inspection and reflections on connections between past, present, and future life that drives all ages to think about their own life connections: "Every story is the story of who we are bound to, the web of past and future relationships that constitute a life. It may be unbelievable for us now, this story of how everything that has been going wrong in the world goes right - a fantasy. But it's a mystery, too, I mean how we relate to it, how it can come to be: how our little peregrinations around the local space-time of this cockeyed, rocky orb can resonate together to leave great change in their wake."

Benjamin Harnett suggests approaching this story like a gothic tale. The atmosphere of mystery and suspense are certain prevalent, as is Harnett's caution that "real life is more gothic: more grotesque, mysterious, and desolate, but it doesn't have to be."

The story doesn't just open. It grabs: "It was when the Sioux were dynamiting Mt. Rushmore that I heard from her again after so long a time. They hosted livestreams every Friday afternoon, detonating one president at a time. Even those who affected moral outrage at the destruction - I was not one - would replay over and over on their personal screens slo-mo videos of half of Washington's face sliding away from the other, or watch Teddy's pince-nez shoot out in a cloud of dust over his bully mustache and shiteating grin."

The out-of-the-blue message from June, who disappeared long ago, creates a cascade of events that draws readers into a lively yarn that unlocks a mystery and an adventure the twelve-year-old narrator never saw coming.

At this point, it's important to note that while advanced middle school readers will gain much from this story, its depiction of different levels of social, philosophical, and historical inspection, combined with its language, would seem to indicate better accessibility by an older audience.

From cards containing great power to the ironies of disparate forces that find themselves unexpectedly on the same side, Harnett's juxtaposition of social discord and angst are nicely done: "Here we were, a socialist and an anarchist ginning up a social media blitz with a guerrilla marketing campaign for a drug to fx the problem of "you piss too much." Or was it "you can't piss enough"? I could never remember."

The profound realizations experienced by the characters in this story will attract and captivate mature teens and audiences interested in the concurrence of past, present, and future: "Slavery had been a fact of New York, had been wrapped up in its founding. We whitewashed it, with our triumphal abolitionism, our participation on the right side of history in America's Civil War. Nothing was simply good or bad, except for slavery, which was a universal evil. And it had lived, in a small way, right here in this house. I couldn't look away. What were the shackles? They were me. And I would never quite be free."

The multifaceted tale is reminiscent of the power and allure of the classic Cloud Atlas, also a story that intersects lives through the centuries and exposes basic connections in humanity.

It's unusual to see this intellectual depth tailored for such a wide age range, yet The Happy Valley is such a creation. It should be included in school libraries into adult leisure reading collections, and ideally will be chosen by the kinds of book discussion groups that found many of the philosophical, social, and political components of Cloud Atlas worthy of debate.

Powerful, gripping, and tempered by mystery and intrigue, The Happy Valley resides in a category of its own - that of a unique and compelling work of art that blends social and historical inspection with the trajectories of everyday young lives.

Building High-Trust CommUNITY
Pamela Shockley-Zalabak and Sherwyn Morreale
Atmosphere Press
9781639883509, $17.95

Building High-Trust CommUNITY: Lessons Learned from the Past and the Year 2020 is a powerful focus on trust and the forces which have influenced a much-divided America in the last few years.

Unlike other surveys of the roots of this divide, Pamela Shockley-Zalabak and Sherwyn Morreale analyze how basic trust is developed, promoted, or disassembled with an eye to showing how communities not only build, but are broken.

Trust begins at home, and so do the authors, analyzing the values, teachings, and influences that move from personal circles to societal incarnations.

From building high-trust relationships at home to moving into the workplace and beyond, the authors consider various forces that both support the goal of openness and honesty or work against it.

Perhaps most significant of all is an attention to accountability and behaviors involved in trust-building which support notable contributions in society and encourage new contributors to the process.

Lest readers think this involves idealistic, unrealistic thinking, the authors offer portraits of success stories and individual action to support these ideals: "The first question is, what really needs to change around us? Large or small, what is stuck? Where would we like to make a difference in our community? Can we commit to becoming a part of even one small effort in our neighborhood, place of worship, school, civic organization, or entire community? What type of trust-building would it take to bring about change? We want to provide an illustration of a couple who had an idea that has grown over the years and has made a tremendous impact, not only in the community where your authors live, but in other communities throughout the nation."

The call to action provided in this book's examples, stories, and words of wisdom empower individuals to work with and for the process of positive change, asking: "Have we held ourselves accountable to make even small change?"

In an ideal situation, there would not be "try." There would be "do or don't do." Do read Building High-Trust CommUNITY. It offers the examples key to rebuilding community-based strengths, and is especially highly recommended for libraries looking for solid activist reading that link ideals to action to concretely address real community issues.

Dark Refuge
Charles Beadle
Edited with Annotations by Rob Couteau
Dominantstar LLC
9781736004937, $17.95

Dark Refuge appears in print for the first time since its original publication in 1938, presenting a world traveler's experiences with bohemian life in Paris in a novel that also serves (thanks to Rob Couteau) as a biography of Beadle's life.

Extensive annotated references link Beadle's experiences to his fictional representations, offering a literary backdrop for understanding both the atmosphere and progression of his fiction and its roots in reality.

Readers should be prepared for a sexual romp that is ribald, explicit, and thoroughly steeped in Beadle's personal experiences of the times.

Beadle's language is evocative, poetic, and dramatic: "I simply slip through the other room of the cafe and out into the other boulevard, laughing to twist my guts. Nobody knows that I have a rendezvous. The coat and hat annoy me. How silly! I throw them away as I run, for I know it is late and I'm frightened that my beloved will not wait. God is crying harder than ever, and I suck in his tears. How funny it must be to [weep]!"

Whether exploring drug experiments and the revelations that follow them or descending into the sordid and colorful world of bohemian Paris, Beadle flavors all of his impressions with the same attention to flowery detail that makes his writing so timeless: "Inexorably I was borne along up this staircase of Time as an express lift passes floors, glimpsing worlds where the highest form of life was apes chattering futilely in leagues of simian nations of their own; where vast beasts resembling tanks plunged through swamp and over prairie; where the sky was of steam and gas, and volcanoes burst like firecrackers on a Chinese New Year amid a seething sea; and on and on until there were no more worlds and naught seemingly but incandescent void."

Pair this with the extensive notes and annotated references Couteau injects to not just explain but expand the story, for a sense of the unique literary and historical importance of this reappearance of Beadle's rare classic, which has been out of print for far too long.

Libraries seeking literary representations of the marriage between fiction and nonfiction will find Dark Refuge a fine example. The almost 200 annotated notes come from previously unpublished letters and documents, combining with photos and historical reviews to represent a hallmark of not only literary fiction, but biographical research.

Dark Refuge deserves a place in any library strong in works of literature that represent the intersection between fictional devices and biographical inspection, whether or not there is prior knowledge of or interest in Beadle's works and importance.

The Guardians of Truth
Barry Finlay
Keep On Climbing Publishing
9781777139544, $15.95

The Guardians of Truth is a Jake Scott mystery that adds a second book to the series. It opens with an intriguing vision of doomsday and an underground bunker that promises survival of the fittest (or the smartest).

Cassie Wright is determined to confront Julian's fraudulent claims of building a refuge, but she's made a big mistake by confiding her suspicions and intentions to Robert Weatherby, the new man in her life. It's a mistake that will cost her dearly, because his membership in the organization The Guardians of Truth allows no room for disbelievers, much less those who would thwart its mission to preserve humanity.

As Jake's investigation carries him into the wild world of online dating in an effort to catch a perp who eludes conventional P.I. methods, readers receive an involving mystery as he probes Julian's community, life, and contentions.

Jake's world and Julian's collide in different ways as Julian's allure and promise reaches out, along with his threat: "All these people have similar issues. They have trouble living in a material world without truth. These people are the cream of the crop, handpicked by Julian and me. You will be compatible with them, and we already have a relationship. I knew you would want to be a part of the awakening. This is the first time Julian has been specific about the coming doomsday, but there have been hints. We have the chance to be saved."

As he pretends to go along with the Guardian of Truth's sales pitch in an effort to get at the real truth behind the group and their leader, Jake finds himself embroiled in the mystery of Cassie's disappearance that challenges his growing involvement with Dani Perez, who also finds herself drawn into the investigation.

The result blends romance, special interests, and cult processes in a story replete with broken promises and new possibilities.

Barry Finlay crafts a dual story of Jake's increasing involvements in matters over his head. This expands Jake's personality and leads readers to find him even more likeable and appealing as the mystery component dovetails nicely with his personal relationships and changing life.

Readers who look for engrossing mysteries that are rich in a sense of place and divided purposes will relish the solid pairing of action, tension, and disparate characters which make this mystery especially intriguing and compelling.

Libraries looking for a good stand-alone mystery that also serves to expand the setting and character of the first book will find The Guardians of Truth rich in intrigue, romance, and social inspection.

Veronique's Journey
Patti Flinn
Gilded Orange Books
9798986060019, $5.99 Print/$0.99 ebook

Veronique's Journey opens in France in 1788, where talented black seamstress Veronique Clair longs for a career that supports her talents, but finds herself in an arranged marriage designed to elevate her social status.

It's rare to find a story set in the history of 1800s France that embraces the life and dilemmas of a young black woman who envisions more for herself than her station in life would offer. But another strong attribute of Patti Flinn's story lies in the powerful depiction of a fictional character whose experiences represent the trials faced by women of color during these times.

The novella covers much in a short period of time. This translates to a powerful saga as Veronique comes to defy both her parents and her heart, moving away from her preset status only to come full circle to many realizations about her world and place in it.

Her mother cautions her that "no one comes to our small town and no one ever leaves." The process of being the first to move away from tradition is never easy, but as Veronique forges new paths and makes difficult choices, readers learn the real impact of her talents and radical views of her role in life.

Is Veronique really in charge of her destiny? Her encounter with her future husband assures her that those who have planned her future security don't really understand what they have done: "How dare you?" I said. "Who do you think you are to come here and speak to me like this?"

"I am your betrothed. I asked your father for your hand and he has given it to me. And he has promised you will come to your senses and be a good wife to me. So get in line, Mademoiselle, and don't embarrass your poor parents, further. They, if not you, understand what is at stake here. You are twenty-three years old and still living in their home, you are a burden to them. I am doing them a favor taking you off their hands. Don't forget that. Please give them my regards."

Collections strong in African-American women's writings, early French history featuring the rare character of color, and studies in women's roles that explore and defy their assignment will find Veronique's Journey not only compelling, but thought-provoking.

Discussion groups interested in exploring social status, work, and real-world issues faced by women of color in the 1800s will find much food for thought and debate in this novella, which introduces a vivid world populated by realistic, absorbing characters that promises further exploration in future novels.

Paper Targets
Steve S. Saroff
Flooding Island Press
9798985703818, $15.99 Hardcover/$9.99 paper/$4.99 Kindle

Mystery and thriller readers who look for psychological tension and technothriller elements will find Paper Targets: Art Can Be Murder a solid work of noir art. It marries a realistic, compelling protagonist with scenarios that challenge both his abilities and the reader's ideas as an intrinsically flawed character who becomes a criminal computer hacker and falls in love with an artist.

Steve S. Saroff's literary prowess is demonstrated in haunting descriptions from the opening lines of the novel: "I grew up with the soft sounds of words and the metal hardness of tools. But as I grew, letters kept flipping, reversing, and tormenting me. When I tried to explain, I st-stuttered. But looking at trees, the clouds, or the cracks on the sidewalks, I saw patterns that did not have to be deciphered or explained. And those patterns flowed into each other. Looking up, through the branching limbs of an oak, into the turbulence of a storming sky, then looking down at the rain splashing at my feet as I walked home from school, I felt connected to what I then had no words for."

The story of evolving romance and "pretend love" winds through this world with powerful descriptors designed to immerse readers in lovely words and challenging moral and ethical questions. The narrator faces and captures these dilemmas in succinct, powerful lines: "I did take the cash, and I did bury it. So, I must say, true and clear as starlight, "I did it. I stole."And I caused death by doing so. But this writing, this tense changing back and forth - past and future - hurts and cramps my hand, which holds this pencil. Difficult stories have more tense changes and points of view than the bright stars in a studied night sky. But those truest of points have no shame and no regrets. In my real tense, at this moment as I'm writing, I wonder if these words will become the coordinates, and the bearings, to a history of what went wrong."

The changing scenarios of characters using one another in different ways; of imprisonment and freedom; and of choices gone awry that hold consequences that make life and love difficult creates a gripping story that is nearly impossible to put down.

Saroff's power of the pen drives the plot, building extraordinary characters and circumstances that flow from one dilemma to another much like life.

It's rare to find a thriller and crime story that also embraces such literary foundations; but Paper Targets represents art in and of itself. It ideally will be used in creative writing classes as an example of how literature can evolve even in genres usually associated with entertainment value alone.

Paper Targets holds the rare ability to become much more than another genre read, making it a highly recommended choice for thriller, psychological suspense, and literature readers and students alike.

Libraries seeking a standout in all three areas will find Paper Targets fits the bill, and should be profiled as an exceptional read.

Lou Earle
PHiR Publishing
B0B92KRRWZ, $7.49 Kindle

Apogee is a Mac Sisco novel opening a trilogy about a worldwide conspiracy. It sets the stage for a social and political inspection by introducing the efforts of Ex-Navy Seal and NSA intelligence agent Mac Sisco, who finds himself in over his head when Team Apogee is called upon to thwart an evil government-busting conspiracy.

The story opens with an acknowledgement that will feel familiar to modern Americans: "Something was wrong in America. Very wrong. As the ISIS/ISIL rampage was becoming a distant memory, tensions across the globe were elevating in other ways."

This leads to the first note that makes Apogee exceptional: its grounding not just in modern-day political and social turmoil, but the kinds of perceptions and atmosphere that feel familiar to Americans no matter their political ilk.

As Lou Earle creates this story of a shadowy cabal's underlying threats to democracy and world order, readers will be even more attracted to Mac Sisco's character, efforts, and importance as he enters the arena of world struggle and tries to get at the heart of why so many governments seem to be poised on the brink of chaos.

As events unfold, the probe widens to embrace further involvements that take place not overseas, but within the very institutions that are in place to oversee and protect the nation: "In the last several weeks we've spoken with credible sources. They revealed to us that certain three-letter agencies stood up compartmented operations to manage certain elements of widespread aberrant public behavior. The rioting, for example. By itself, that would not be news, except that our sources are telling us that instead of trying to investigate and arrest the perpetrators, they are possibly encouraging it. Maybe even funding it. While these assumptions are somewhat speculative, they are based on specific human intel and these sources are historically credible, so we have high confidence their reports are accurate."

Sisco's efforts aren't entirely political in nature. His personal life lends both a tone of familiarity and insights that support his character and life experiences, as in his invitation to Jasmine for a date, which holds additional subterfuge because he knows who she really is and what she stands for.

As loyalties and liabilities are tested in a series of events, other characters step in to expand the scenarios and nature of the evolving conflicts.

Lou Earle does an excellent job of crafting a cat-and-mouse game that plays out on a mercurial arena both at home and abroad.

The intrigue and suspense are well done, represented by characters whose purposes and objectives are brought to life and supported by current events.

The result is a thriller that takes on not a new threat, but one which has been simmering for over half a century.

Patterns of government actions and interactions, special interests and influences, and questions about who is really in charge and overseeing events create pleasing moments of discovery and revelation that invite readers to entertain bigger-picture thinking.

Libraries and book groups interested in the ability of such a thriller to spark debates over underlying issues in modern society and government will find Apogee a fitting introduction that holds the opportunity for important discussions

Family Matters
Lance Lee
LWL Books
9798218025397, $34.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Kindle

Family Matters: Dreams I Couldn't Share - And How A Dysfunctional Family Became America's Darling, The Addams Family covers several generations of family dysfunction and ties from 1865 to 1971, surveying interlaced dreams, failures, and transformations. This allows for a focus that departs from the usual family memoir by considering the myths handed down between generations and how these perceptions were not only transmitted, but broken.

More so than most, Lance Lee pinpoints how myth and falsifications "found a permanent place in our collective psyche" and transmitted damage from past to future until its grasp was finally identified and the pattern altered.

Many words of philosophical and psychological wisdom permeate this account: "Truth can't be taken for granted; it can be overexposed. It can require nurturing. Yet at other times it can strike with the force of revelation and we realize it was always there, only waiting for the right time. But there aren't any guarantees about there being a right time, are there?"

The appearance of Family Matters proves there is a right time, represented by its very incarnation beyond family boundaries and into book form for the reading public to absorb and learn from.

What begins as a singular family experience evolves into precise descriptions of dysfunction, myths, and magical thinking that centers on the author's parents and siblings. Events reveal how these traits and perceptions were handed down and incarnated between generations.

Illustrative material that might have made the book too weighty or expensive are provided through an online link to further enhance the story's impact.

As readers absorb Lee's family dreams and disparate myths, they will be prompted to consider broader questions about public and private personas, the promise and lure of new beginnings, and opportunities tainted by past experience.

Lee takes the time to produce bright, flowing descriptions to attract readers to this world and its evolutionary process: "I'd stepped out of a nightmare of stone, strangeness, impersonality, strife, deceit bordering on weirdness, and alienations into a sunny reality."

From emotional black holes of disconnection and their involvement in the popular TV show The Adams Family to how the show reflected some of the family's dysfunctional operations ("The Addams Family was the perfect vehicle by which my father could at last pour his long festering emotional reality into characters waiting for names and relationships to be created but metamorphosized by the magic wand of creativity into the "enchantment" of comedy frequently running to farce, with the denials of reality we saw that are essential elements of these genres."), the connections between private anguish and public representation are especially well represented.

Of particular fascination to psychology readers who are interested in both family dynamics and media representations are the astute comments and connections Lee makes in this area: "The superficially fictional nature of The Addams Family not only allowed him to project his real, festering family experiences freely that normally he did his best to repress, deny, or portray as the opposite of what they were, but freed his imagination as well to embroider these projections and take advantage of others' contributions, like bear rugs that growl..."

While the result will attract libraries interested in psychological profiles of family dysfunction, it also is very highly recommended for media studies students and libraries interested in the psychological entanglements between creative representation and dysfunction.

It took a traumatic break to shake the roots of this family tree. Family Matters will ideally garner debate and discussion in book clubs and psychology groups devoted to family issues and popular culture movie and film analysis alike.

The Smallest War
Mark Sheehan
Independently Published
9780645490114, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The Smallest War is a legal techno-thriller featuring powerful characters, political subterfuge, military engagements, and ruthless skirmishes that center on a big oil discovery and nations vying for its control.

On the surface, The Smallest War represents a classic battle between ideals and realities; but look beneath the obvious to discern the undercurrents of social and political snafus that drive the characters to participate in a special form of cat-and-mouse games on an unusual and dangerous playing field.

As the Small War plays out with political special interests vying for ultimate control, readers receive a fast-paced story that offers an intriguing alternative to conventional warfare: "Your Honor, the process reflects the importance of the indigenous nations to the United States. It was used by the Hawk tribe of the Lakota People and is called Khuwa. It translates to 'hunt' or 'chase' and requires one party to pursue the other party. If a combatant is caught within time, the pursuers win. If time runs, the pursuers lose."

A dangerous game becomes a serious contest in which the players fight for their lives, with exquisite tension permeating a story filled with checkpoints and countermoves, rough terrain, and a collision course with the Russians.

Readers who look for thrillers that move back and forth across a playing field of individual competition and national tensions will find all these elements and more in The Smallest War, which describes interactions both physical and mental.

As Danny "The Beef" Wellington navigates drugs, Russians, and unexpected endgames set against a futuristic backdrop, readers will appreciate the contrasts between Danny's opening life and Irish heritage and the challenging scenes which evolve later. He's carrying on the legacy passed down from his father (also Danny Wellington - a.k.a. "Chuckles"), whose own life reflects both dedication, pride, and poverty: "Danny Wellington. The man who worked tirelessly each weekend at Trinity Church. The man who danced a jig on the drop of a hat and would give you the shirt off his back. The God-fearing teetotaler who sipped lemonade at the East End Bar, before heading home to his small house: three-kids-to-a-room small. Danny's house was freshly painted, and well maintained, unlike the neighboring houses, which had sprung weatherboards and broken windows, but the neighbors topped Danny when it came to decor. Church mice all, love was their only expense, whereas Danny would have none of it. And that's why his kids called him Chuckles: because there was nothing fucking funny about Chuckles."

Danny's father's influence as "referee and judge rolled into one" continues into the broader world as events unfold between and beyond father and son, and as a budding romance between Danny and Native Amerian girl extraordinaire Kimimela Thunderhawk evolves into a world-hopping adventure.

Readers receive a lively, action-packed discourse that navigates social and political worlds which rely on an international marathon game to settle life issues.

Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that circle around fiery confrontations and nanotechnology threats will welcome the multifaceted and swift action that makes The Smallest War almost impossible to put down, injecting a warm atmosphere based on present-day events and futuristic possibilities alike.

Carter McNamara
Authenticity Consulting, LLC
9781933719405, $15.99 Paper/$0.99 Kindle

"Before we can talk about getting your family back, we need to start with you."

Wolf: A Memoir of Love and Atonement is a study in dysfunction, recovery, and relationships that pulls no punches as it presents a powerful example of how love can overcome trauma.

Carter McNamara begins by acknowledging that the very act of writing this book was a "soul-ripping experience" because he grew up in a culture and time when "people rarely talked about their personal problems."

The crisis that prompted his recovery process and acknowledgement of the damage he'd inadvertently inflicted upon his own family, and his process of atoning for it, makes for riveting reading that will prompt many members of his audience to better understand their own impact on their loved ones.

As Wolf unfolds, the threads of dysfunction are traced between generations and their presence and impact are studied through the personal lens of experience. Why read this book if you have also either experienced such trauma or meted it out? McNamara offers a solid example of not only how to face personal demons, but how to build a loving, healthy relationship.

Victims of such a heritage receive hope and examples of how to move through trauma into a better life, while those who have spread trauma through their own responses and choices can learn how to "gain forgiveness from them - and perhaps from yourself."

The story comes steeped in much personal reflection that in fact follows the processes of questioning and healing - an intrinsic part of recovery.

The step-by-step portraits of McNamara's pivot points and life are studies in meticulous behaviors and analysis which translate to minute descriptions of people, conversations, and places that all hold nuggets of wisdom.

The logic behind his choices is brought to life through these close inspections: "Nothing to gain if I go in, but something to lose if I don't. Teri would be disappointed. She'd wish I'd done what I promised. I'd better stay in her good graces."

Wolf is a solid example of good storytelling that takes a step-by-step walk through the process of relationship-building, reconstruction, and lasting "cure."

Readers who have or have not faced their own trauma and recovery will find many of these paths familiar, yet here they come reinforced by the wisdom of self-examination and experience that outline pitfalls and possibilities for others still on the road to healthy life interactions.

The result is a memoir that offers much beyond one man's experience. Those who walk a similar path of struggling to reconcile their past and build a better life by acknowledging and atoning for their actions and choices will find Wolf a blueprint for identifying and following a better road.

Libraries strong in memoirs and self-help will be attracted to Wolf, but ideally it will also assume a prominent role in book club discussions and perhaps even twelve-step programs as a candid, raw example of healing and recovery.

The Relict
DM Gritzmacher
Piqued Publishing
9798986638713, $14.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Occult horror readers will find The Relict (book 1 of the Skulldiggery series) an intriguing story. It opens with Ethan's GPR sweep of the forest floor, part of the fieldwork he's involved in with his professor, in search of Native American artifacts. Predictably, what he unearths is something far more than an artifact. He's found something totally unexpected.

Retired state detective Tom Secrist is not one to admit defeat, but his condition seems to belay his effectiveness until Sherry's body is discovered. Secrist finds himself back on the job with a case that not only delivers bad news to Sherry's brother Russell, but involves him in a long-buried series of events that once shook the Midwestern small town to its roots and threaten to arise again.

Thousands of years earlier, Norse settler Gunnar faced this same force, embarking on a journey that led him to escape a monster. Gunnar, too, has lost much; but he still has much to lose unless he can confront the evil force that sends him far from comfort and family.

DM Gritzmacher creates rich descriptions that capture Gunnar's world and others: "His father was everywhere but no longer here at all. The enormity of the loss threatened to overcome Gunnar once again. He felt the tears and sobs climbing up his throat and clamoring to escape. Gunnar pressed the cup to his lips in hopes of washing these things back down."

As Secrist, Russell, and Gunnar's lives unexpectedly entwine, readers receive a powerful occult thriller that is especially adept at capturing the atmosphere of an evolving investigation, a strange truth, and the specter of a threat that has never been vanquished.

The blend of century-hopping experiences and responses to these events keeps readers guessing, whether it be about the geologic incongruity of finding obsidian in Michigan, where volcanoes don't exist, to the presence of a force that increasingly cannot be denied.

The result is a gripping blend of occult horror, thriller, and investigative mystery designed to keep readers on edge and guessing even when some of its events are predictable. Their outcomes are not, making The Relict an appealing and attractive read not just for occult horror fans, but whose who look for investigative twists and turns in their stories.

Libraries can easily recommend it to horror and mystery genre readers alike; especially for those who like crossover stories that embrace the best elements of both.

Only Half Human
Nathaniel Wright
Battle Crow Books
9798986709826, $3.99 ebook

Few teenagers want to be different. It's an age where even a zit is cause for alarm, much less suddenly sprouting wings, a tail, and devil horns. Such is the dilemma once-ordinary teen Lesley Robinson faces on a day which changes everything.

Only Half Human introduces the mythology-based fantasy series for teens ("The Cambion Tales") with the first-person confession of a young half-demon who moves from average high school sophomore concerns to tackling bigger-picture issues.

Forced to flee to an enclave of mystical creatures with her witch mother, Lesley still stands out at her new school, where she's the only half-demon amongst the likes of elves, fairies, and centaurs.

All she wants to do is become human again.

This is achievable with magic, too: but it comes with a steep price tag - her soul. Is Lesley willing to give up her basic humanity to become human?

Nathaniel Wright creates a compelling story about a girl who is "sick of being a loser." The path towards becoming more human, and a winner, is fraught with conundrums and special challenges that draw young readers into Lesley's story through her eyes and experiences.

This creates a fine tension and psychological insights throughout as Lesley moves from wanting to be more popular to simply longing to become more human.

Wright also gives good attention to the changing mother/daughter relationship that comes from Lesley's evolutionary process: "My mom shook her head in disbelief. 'I've never seen you act this way before. What has gotten into you?'

My tail lashed. 'What has gotten into me? Oh, I don't know... maybe it has something to do with how I'm fed up with the way everyone looks at me - ' I drew in a ragged breath, 'Mom, why didn't you tell me I can do magic? I felt its presence in your workshop and in the woods. It's magic! I know it is!' "

From issues of bullying that stem from being different (and threatening) to the addiction issues caused by magic and an obsession with its power, Wright injects many real-world issues into this fantasy milieu.

These all serve to attract and maintain reader interest as Lesley struggles with unexpected dilemmas in her new life and vastly revised perceptions of her place in it.

The result combines a winning fantasy, a coming-of-age saga, and a story of power and inner strength to create both a compelling leisure read and much food for thought and discussion.

Libraries and book clubs looking for appealing fantasies that circle around real-world issues will find much entertainment and educational value in Only Half Human. It ideally will attract the attention of teen book clubs and classes looking for fantasy-based action stories filled with discussion opportunities about handling life.

Irene Cooper
Atmosphere Press
9781639885497, $17.99

Found is a novel about crime, recovery, and redemption. It tells of Eleanor Clay, who makes her living finding bodies for the police in the Colorado River ten years after her own daughter drowned.

Eleanor is still grieving, and the success of her grisly talent doesn't quite mitigate its impact on her psyche - until she discovers one of the missing still alive: three-year-old Lizzie.

This sparks a sea change in Eleanor's work and involvements as she becomes increasingly drawn into a strange circle of violence that holds the potential of resolution by her very involvements.

Irene Cooper creates a powerful story that moves beyond its origins as a crime/detective tale and into psychological examination and recovery processes: "Eleanor didn't search so much as make herself available, put her body and its senses in the way of the lost article until a glint or break in the pattern of the landscape drew her attention. Every recovery felt like a conclusion. Restored to the one who suffered the loss, the object fell without a trace from her consciousness, as if it had never held it."

The psyches of first responders, detectives, and those who find grizzly indicators of violence are all presented in the course of a story that weaves a tight psychological tension into its crime backdrop: "Around her she could sense the hard hum of the men and women who had arrived at the scene to help, whose job it was to arrive at these scenes. Never business as usual, this business of responding; with chilling regularity, people were caught up in and mangled by the machinations of the world. More incomprehensible when it is a child, least so when that child is a target."

As the tale unfolds, so Eleanor's personal life and world expand to embrace both hopeful and soul-destroying outcomes as a result of her unique talent and job.

As she moves from identification and recovery to prevention, she assumes a more active role. Readers will appreciate the many ways Eleanor quietly changes and moves into being a more powerful force in others' lives.

A trigger alert might be issued to those who struggle with murders involving children. But, the story holds so many more insights than just this scenario that many readers will find the venture into uncomfortable waters to be more than worthwhile, for the gems it returns on the subjects of healing, adaptation, and change.

Readers of crime stories seeking psychological depth and evolution as well as a solid, intriguing mystery will find Found involves more than finding bodies and identifying perps. It revolves around finding self and renewed purpose in adversity, and is highly recommended for libraries seeking crime thrillers thoroughly grounded in psychological discovery and growth.

Crow Country
Emily Sullivan
J.A. Publications, Ltd.
9780979412448, $15.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Post-apocalyptic fiction and Western genres typically don't intersect, but that doesn't mean the two shall never meet. Crow Country illustrates this in providing a genre-busting read that holds elements of Western drama and sci-fi alike, attracting both audiences with a heady form of action that re-envisions a different Western milieu that emerges some thirty years after everything goes dark.

Readers used to thinking that the Old West is set in a particular time will find this futuristic backdrop alluring and surprising. The surprises begin with the story's opening lines: "The end of the world . . . now that was a beautiful thing. Those lights drew eyes to the starry sky. Swaths of pink, glows of green, wild golds kissing violets. So lovely, so gentle. In the cold people stood, to watch that mural in wonderment, too awed to see the earth was black. In that moment, the auroras were everything."

The prologue captures the event that instigated this societal transformation, creating a philosophical overlay of survival that is evocatively and compelling translated to human endeavors and experience to draw readers into the evolving dilemma caused by a lasting blackout: "Shorter days made for longer nights, when the wind came biting and the desperate prowled. To steal was to survive, to hoard became wise. There was no sharing while stomachs growled and no laws without the power to enforce them. How free man became, free but untaught in his freedom. And so, independence was frightening."

As waves of death emulate from this single event, the compellingly unique language continues to capture hearts and minds: "Everyone was, in one night, made basic again. For when the Lord snapped his fingers, the Devil took the stage. What tremendous music he made."

Emily Sullivan's attention to world-building is just as astute as her introductory passages about world-destroying experiences. Readers find the evolution of Judge, who walks a West which has reverted to being untamed and prey even to the vicious crows that feed on the remnants of humanity, a thought-provoking character whose actions and choices influence the rise of law in the face of chaos.

Judge's personal vendetta with the Crows, his perception of Crow Country as a threatening plague, and his vision of Law as a way of returning a semblance of order to the world takes center stage as Judge's vision of the Devil's influence and his role in thwarting it lends to his personal and philosophical strength.

Committed to fighting to protect his enclave town of Genesis, Judge journeys towards promises of something better, while Sullivan maintains the threads of evocative description that bring the story to life: "Westward, a sky rich with golds and greens stretched behind the range, which donned a blanket of shadowy gray. Afore it all stood blocks of white and brick no larger than flies from where Judge watched. Longmont. The land of the Harpies. The tallest tower was a cluster of silos, four clumped together like a slim but crowded castle. It wasn't leaning last Judge saw it. Now it threatened to make dust no different than Denver's."

Readers who choose Crow Country for its dual promise of post-apocalyptic survival story and Western frontier justice, flavored with accounts of the Devil incarnate and the Crows which have assumed a position of power, won't be disappointed. The powerful juxtaposition of all these forces creates an outstanding saga as moving in its sense of place as it is in its sense of purpose.

The promise of a train comes at a cost, as does most technology: "Think it'll be worth it?" Their train was a hellish trade. Souls for steam, people for power, sanity for something rumored."
Crow Country's powerful sense of place, purpose, and post-apocalyptic Colorado backdrop makes it a top recommendation for a wide range of readers who will find it a literary powerhouse of a read.

Book club groups will find Crow Country replete with many possible topics for debate and discussions which can range from creative writing illustrations to the content and character of the story's evolving conundrums.

Crow Country
Emily Sullivan, author
Will Hahn, narrator
J.A. Publications, Ltd.
9780979412448 $15.99 pbk / Audiobook: CD, $21.83

"Those lights drew eyes to the starry sky swaths of pink, glows of green, wild golds, kissing the cold, people stopped to watch that mural in wonderment, too awed to see the Earth was black."

The print version of Crow Country represents a powerful study in survival and wonder; but an audiobook's strength rests on its narrator. In this, Crow Country also shines, powered by a reader whose clear and dramatic voice does justice to the power of the written word by bringing it alive.

Audiobooks can be good or bad depending on the presence and abilities of their narrators. Too many fall into the sea of obscurity either through murky readings, staid presentations, or a toneless attention to accuracy over embellishment. There's a fine line between these two, but narrator Will Hahn is adept at walking this line with a powerful, rich voice that lends just the right touch of drama to the story.

Readers of this apocalyptic Western novel may think they already know Emily Sullivan's powerful work, but listening to it in audio imparts another layer of depth by adding the atmospheric embellishments that bring the story alive, from Judge's cracking bones that "beg to sit" to the evolution of a confrontation that makes him a key figure of survival, control, and confrontation.

Hahn loses no power as the novel progresses. This is especially notable because Crow Country is no light or short read, but a narrative that takes the time to build the atmosphere and motivations driving this dark Colorado future.

Each chapter is another study in revelation and discovery that is especially recommended for readers of the written word who can sit back and let Hahn's warm, passionate, descriptive voice flow over them.

This represents the perfect pairing between word and audio: a compelling voice punctuated by sound effects that bring the story to vivid life. Readers will feel the train coming; the whistle blow of the fate it brings; and the promise of new opportunities and dangers that roll along the tracks.

A good audio will bring to life all the underlying facets of the written word. A superior audio will be immersive.

The audio version of Crow Country is such an experience, not to be missed by either prior print readers or newcomers who look for extraordinary audio presentations rich in drama and timbre.

Essential Advice For Buying Your First Home And Navigating Through The Mortgage Loan Process
Diana Donnelly
Independently Published
9798986572505, $5.99 Kindle/$12.29 paperback

Essential Advice For Buying Your First Home And Navigating Through The Mortgage Loan Process should be gifted to any first-time home buyer who needs not just essential advice, but a format that lends to its quick absorption. Of added value and note is an accompanying booklet, The Strategies To Win Your House If You Are In A Bidding War, deliverable upon request to the author.

Diana Donnelly advises that would-be buyers need to do more than save up their down payment and identify their needs. They need a thorough understanding of the entire homebuying process in order to gain the best value for their money. That's where her book enters the picture..

The basics of homebuying which are presented here include understanding the realtor's advice and motivations, asking for a comparative market analysis and understanding its contents, considering the pros and cons of condos, co-ops, and other housing alternatives, and understanding the essential differences between buyer and seller agencies.

From finding the right agent to identifying market trends that affect pricing and negotiations and understanding homeowners insurance policies and protections, Donnelly covers all the basics which new buyers need to know.

She navigates potentially confusing topics with ease, laying out all a buyer's options with clear analysis that leads to a sense of not just understanding, but confidence.

The aftermath of closing, from moving in to maintenance, concludes the review, offering new buyers everything they need to know to make the best decisions.

If only one book were gifted to a new adult looking to buy their first home, it should be Essential Advice For Buying Your First Home And Navigating Through The Mortgage Loan Process. It provides essential advice, doing so in an organized, logical manner that successfully touches upon all the potential pitfalls and promises that home buying and ownership involves.

Don't Look Back
Stephen Winn
Atmosphere Press
9781639885558, $18.99

In the opening stages of Don't Look Back, Mackenzie ("Mack") Sampson's life is in shambles. His fiancee is dead. He's lost his job at Boston Homicide. He's addicted to alcohol and Xanax and his life appears to be over.

But, that's just life as he knew it. Something else simmers on the horizon of purpose, driven by his need for money, and so Mack starts a private P.I. business, only to find that easy money isn't so easy after all. A lucrative investigation of a wealthy businessman in downtown Boston leads him into another series of conundrums that test both his tenacity and his ability to set aside the traumas of his own life to enter those of another's.

Stephen Winn powers his investigative mystery with insights into Mack's thought processes and experiences:

"I was up most of the night - hardly had any sleep since Friday. My mouth feels like I ate mud, and I probably look even worse than I sound. I'm afraid to go near a mirror - even my dog won't look at me. Hey, it was John F. who said life is unfair, wasn't it?"

"Kennedy? I think so..."

"His damn quote has been bouncing around in my head lately - I can't seem to shake it. Lewis said something like that when he fired me."

Time is not on his side in this new venture with his partner: it's working against them. Also working against them is Mack's own psyche, his struggles with past trauma, and a present-day case that rises up to haunt him, testing his abilities to stay sane in different ways.

This depth of psychological tension and introspection is part of what makes Winn's story so accessible and compelling. Readers receive more than a murder mystery whodunit - they are immersed in Boston's underworld as Mack navigates street hookers, the Boston Marathon, thefts, and the consequences of a high-tech trap he sets.

"There is no way in hell they could afford to lose this case." But there may be no way to win it, either.

With its broad cast of characters supporting and accenting Mack's efforts, Winn has created an intriguing story that will attract readers interested in more than just a tale of discovery.

As the Whiting case plays out with some unexpected developments, murder mystery fans will appreciate the reality of Mack's world, which is injected into his moves and perceptions.

Libraries and readers seeking a psychologically powerful murder mystery investigative story will appreciate Don't Look Back's ability to follow Mack into not just looking back, but using the strength of his trials to power him into a different future.

Rainbow Weather
John Curl
9780988502390, $16.00 Paper

Rainbow Weather: Poems for Environmental Healing represents an unusual marriage between conservation message and poetic reflection, surveying the intersection between these two worlds with an inspection of climate change and its impact on the planet.

If this sounds like exhilarating reading, it is. These are "songs for the road ahead" and represent the poet's interest in using the deconstructive threat to segue into constructive thinking.

Take the opening poem "Conjuring Realignment," for example. Here, John Curl poses the astute question "who cares/about a poem in a time of civilization/collapse?" His own answer to this query represents a call to action that evolves from what is perhaps a last gasp for life on Earth: "Now is the ancient boiling point, now/the ancient breaking point, now/the ancient flash point of rebellion!"

The vanquishing of negative energy in all its forms, whether in thought or action, is one theme that This may feel surprising, given the usual dark inspections of climate change and human actions.

The poems move from the initial creation of life to the sonnets of "meaningful vibrations" that carried the world to this point in time. They pinpoint the tenacity of the human spirit as evidence of the kinds of determination and survival instinct that can turn around virtually any given situation: " the thick of it all, you/and I, direct descendants of/the long stream of life back through/the first pre-humans, and/before that to whatever form we/took way back when, you and I/have somehow made it/through all this chaos and murder..."

The frightening countenance of failure and despair permeate many of these visions of transformation: "...time is short and death/lurks everywhere, they look longingly/toward the burnt-out paradise that once/was home, take a quick glance over/their shoulder, then sigh, and carry on."

As Curl traverses the opportunities for transformation and the power of defeat and despair, readers receive a psychic journey tinged with both possibility and devastation that elicit an emotional draw in their call to action and acknowledgment of possible futures.

The process of transforming the world and its trajectory begins with an acknowledgement of human connections and roles in the process. Curl's poems survey the undercurrents of hope and adversity that permeate this process, creating a study rich in psychic examination and social evaluation, as well as environmental awareness.

The result will attract libraries strong in contemporary poetry, but most of all should gain an audience from environmental issues and climate change readers interested in a literary, poetic inspection that pulls no punches in assigning blame, guilt, or opportunity for change and healing when reviewing toxic conditions and their origins.

The wellsprings of hope stem from these inspections. Ideally, book clubs will find much fodder for discussion in Rainbow Weather.

Icarus Never Flew 'Round Here
Matt Edwards
Atmosphere Press
9781639885527, $15.99

Icarus Never Flew 'Round Here is a novel about Dale, whose isolated life ranching in the Oregon High Desert has resulted in a psychic and theological dilemma that increasingly immerses him in questions about his choices and lifestyle.

From the opening lines of the story, readers receive powerful philosophical and theological inspection couched in moving metaphors that indicate just how far-ranging this isolated life's inspection will bring them:

"Dale thrusts the posthole digger into the shallow soil. The impact of hitting yet another rock reverberates through his hands, arms, and shoulders. He pulls the handles apart, and the blades scrape together more of the earth. Looking up through parted hands, he notices the sky salted with clouds stretching all the way to the horizon. He pauses, focusing on a fixed point between land and sky. The inconstant, white forms float by in a languid current; Earth's rotation appears momentarily tangible.

"Whatta ya want from me?" Dale asks. "I know yur out there." He lifts the dirt out and dumps it in a pile. "Ya got nothin' better ta do?"

As Dale moves from the mechanics of daily chores (digging and fence-building) to following well-honed instincts when a heifer miscarries, readers receive interactions and inspections loaded with life observation that connect this high and dry life to bigger-picture thinking.

On the surface, Icarus Never Flew 'Round Here is a staid life. However, it's one that experiences a sea change as Dale descends into erratic behaviors and the specter of bodies and bad decisions emerge to change his world.

Matt Edwards moves readers from the expected into the unexpected as he follows Dale into the descent of a man who looks for God within and outside himself, only to unearth tragedy and death.

A gritty form of irony permeates this exploration and carries readers through startling psychic realms in a story that sets its foundations in the earth, then returns various characters to the loam of the unforeseen.

Atmospheric claps of thunder and descriptions of nature and place set the scenes for Dale's own simmering insanity.

The result is a literary reflection of the effects of isolation, theological examination, and one soul's descent that offers a thought-provoking read that surprises on many different levels.

Libraries looking for novels replete in psychological revelation will find Icarus Never Flew 'Round Here an intriguing study in insanity and wonder that will hopefully find its way into book clubs and psychological readers' circles with its intriguing portraits of discovery and downfall.

The Insignificant Girl
Tom Fitzgerald
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781645438526, $19.95

The Insignificant Girl is a social and political thriller about an Iranian girl left motherless after car bomb. Raised by her stern father in a culture that demands female conformity, Raji's rebellion carries her into a stormy adulthood.

When her beloved son Yasser is killed in San Francisco by a bullet meant for Jewish American agent Myk, the two find their lives connected by tragedy and rebellion as they uncover a deeper meaning to the event that involves each on a desperate mission to save the world.

Events alter between Iran, Lebanon, and various locales in the U.S. as the action plays out. Tom Fitzgerald also shifts the perspectives of the main characters and their changing lives as he follows their convoluted connections and moves between world-changing forces and the individuals who would stop them.

A virus threat keeps emerging in different places and is barely contained, and so the clock ticks with action and shifting alliances and intentions, swirling around the characters to create a tense atmosphere packed with many possibilities and not enough time.

Great sacrifices are made by each character as the action and interactions unfold with heart-stopping scenarios: "Jamal gripped Raji's neck tighter. Jaafar was only making him angrier. Jamal yelled at Jaafar, 'Step forward right now, traitor, or she dies! It's time for you to answer to Allah!'"

Aside from its action-packed thriller components, The Insignificant Girl maintains a gripping atmosphere of social and political inspection. This offers insights into the choices and consequences of individuals and societies that find themselves boxed in by their own belief systems and perspectives.

The characters are constantly reinventing themselves and their purposes, carrying readers into an atmosphere of both proactive choices and self-examination that set plans in motion and invite both violence and redemption.

These inspections supplement the action with higher-level thinking worthy of book club and group discussion as the events play out against an international backdrop of threat and conflict.

The result is a gripping thriller that is also a study in human emotion, intention, and response to extraordinary circumstances.

The Insignificant Girl's ability to draw readers with an action/thriller plot, then lead them into circles of interpersonal and political inspection, makes for a notable achievement that's highly recommended for libraries seeking thriller stories with added value.

Keeping Up With God
Donnetta Wilhelm with Connie Zimmerman
Capture Books
9781732445741, $19.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Keeping Up With God: Thirty Years and Running with Colorado Homeless Families is a memoir about keeping up to God's activity to rescue people experiencing extraordinary need in dire circumstances. It will reach Christian readers interested in the intersection between fellowship and personal involvement as a representative of God's will.

Each step of this process is outlined in chapter titles that highlight what happens "when God" channels the river, has a plan, stirs the heart, and more.

This step-by-step coverage allows readers to draw more direct connections between God's will and the response it can generate in followers to make a difference in the world.

Moving through adversity and loss to growing positive seeds of change in daily life, Donnetta Wilhelm and Connie Zimmerman provide case histories that capture the psychological and spiritual insights at work in different lives in substantive ways.

Vignettes include the creation and revitalization of the Colorado Homeless Families' Education and Resource Center and action-oriented programs designed to change peoples' lives.

These case histories explore how different people came to the center, experiencing homelessness from very different circumstances, and how they often lived up to their potential and to make greater contributions to the community at large.

Keeping Up With God provides uplifting accounts of social change blended with spiritual introspection that gives it a special flavor making it recommended beyond Christian circles. Readers interested in stories of individual struggles to grow beyond their life influences or circumstances will find the collection replete with examples of how this process translates in the real world.

While Keeping Up With God will earn the attention of religious libraries, ideally it should also serve as a basic instructional manual as an example of how God's word and God's will can be reflected in the community to change the world.

Discussion groups interested in issues of homelessness, recovery, and spiritual enlightenment will find Keeping Up With God an inspirational blend of memoir, social inspection, and religious reflection.

The Fearless Moral Inventory of Elsie Finch
Lynn Byk
Capture Books
9781951084493, $18.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Fearless Moral Inventory of Elsie Finch is a highly recommended work not just for religious collections, but for readers of literary suspense stories. The tale revolves around the carefully-arranged legacy of parents who threaten to inject chaos into the next generation.

Some families leave legacies of positivity and gifts. Others leave behind angst and confusion.

As Elsie navigates her particular family maze, a series of consecutive vignettes emerge to capture the family's psyche.

Lynn Byk writes with a lyrical hand that captures passion and emotion with equal aplomb: "She didn't shed a tear into this river. Instead, she began to breathe. It was time to figure out what had happened, and when. To finally begin to live her own life without guilt or compunction, she needed the timing of things. Timing was the only way to get a feel for each family member's motives and to answer this: how had her warm, vibrant father died a broken stick of a man washed to the riverbank by the runoff? Her aim was to learn how to get past these wretched years since she first fled the nest and later, when she tumbled headlong into the rushing waters."

From her childhood's evolution and her early passion for reading books, to her church connections, her experiences with youth leaders and guideposts of faith, touchstones of building a connection with her higher power, Elsie's journey and coming of age details her psychological family dynamics and community influences.

Byk builds her story with the passionate search for God's will and mounting tensions in the story of evolving personality disorders that ripple across the landscape of America.

As grief, redemption, and human follies weave through the life of this faith-rooted protagonist, readers will appreciate the persona and challenges Elsie navigates as she tries to change her family's catastrophic legacy.

Christian fiction collectors looking for literary novels will find The Fearless Moral Inventory of Elsie Finch replete with thought-provoking moments. Certain to spark a variety of soul-searching conversations about faith, family, and the evolution of both, Christian fiction collectors looking for literary novels will find The Fearless Moral Inventory of Elsie Finch replete with thought-provoking moments, but it's the book club interested in discussing and exploring these special revelations that will find The Fearless Moral Inventory of Elsie Finch of special interest.

Face Up
Suzanne Nielsen
Oleb Books
9781732312753, $3.99 ebook

Face Up: A Collection of Outlaw Poems is highly recommended reading for fans of poetry and, perhaps especially, those who believe themselves adverse to this format. The latter audience would seem an unusual choice for recommending a poetry volume, but Face Up's promise of passion and fire refutes the typical perception of poetry as either staid or too literary to be readily understood by the general populace.

It tackles the angst and abuses of modern society, from illness and addiction to rebellion and confrontation, taking on these causes with a scorching charge that belays any notion that poetry is too complicated for the average reader to grasp: "You hear the river; life ebbs and flows; you knew all along/your DNA was a crapshoot."

The poems don't speak to the heart. They roar with fiery reflections that admonish readers to rebel, take charge, and defy the mundane: "You can't keep deformities hidden behind stockings,/closed closets,/and lonely laundry lists forever. Plant your feet firmly on/the ground,/and do not hesitate to sink into the dark, cool mud,/spreading/your toes across relationships and looking for love on/solid ground."

Replete with nature observations, social inspection, and descriptions of individual lives touched by anguish and violence, these poems soar, defying any notion of staid free verse inspections: "She lights another cigarette while the phone rings in the/background./The cloud of smoke she exhales forms the shape of a/grenade. A grenade/powerful enough to leave behind shadows of memory/that soon evaporates./She gets up, turns off the television and vows to see her/son's body as whole..."

Face Up: A Collection of Outlaw Poems is a powerful testimony of survival.

It's a force to reckon with, deserves to be in any library strong in contemporary poetry and women's writings, and ideally will assume its place of power in book club discussion circles. There, poetry can take on a new role as a major influence in and focus on living a passionate, rebellious life that eschews the mundane:

"I see snapshots of defeat as I rewind the decades,/a true bricoleur with a lifeguard certification who stood/stoic/at the water's edge as a man fled into the frigid waters/one early/March afternoon, the sun starting its descent, his bobbing/head/hallowed, his words reassuring me that this is his/moment of/glory as he goes under the third and final time."

The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch
Julia Brewer Daily
Admission Press, Inc.
9781955836111, $29.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch is a contemporary Western that revolves around mothers, daughters, and a woman who inherits the largest ranch in Texas, a million acres called The Thorn.

It's rare to read a story centered on powerful women who, for generations, have passed down a legacy of authority and capability, much less in the traditionally-male-oriented Western; so it's a special pleasure to absorb the opening lines of a narrative that embraces such a heritage: "Three mornings before, she had lifted her great-grandmother's saddle from its post, yearning for a connection to her long-gone Abuelita. The leather, hand-tooled by a master artisan, was exquisite, but the worn seat verified someone used it for more than horse shows or parades. Emma imagined her tiny great-grandmother herding cattle from this same perch and shouting commands to the vaqueros. She now fidgeted in her relative's saddle. Will I ever have her instincts? Emma often questioned her mother about what they required of her."

As the real impact and promise of this weighty legacy unfold, women receive the draw of family and interpersonal connections that place Emma and her clan at the forefront of modern-day changes happening in the Southwest in general and in Texas in particular.

A special flavor of past and present times winds through the story to bind generations with secrets, revelations, and conundrums that challenge their values and ability to adapt. Emma finds herself cut off from her people and involved in a culture and relationship that tests her resolve, mettle, and everything she's been taught about her role in life and how to best grasp its power.

As family and friends search for the now-missing Emma, they also face their own failures and potentials and are forced to re-examine their cultural perceptions and relationships.

Julia Brewer Daily spices these life-changing events with colorful descriptions of the Southwest and ranch life: "Josie introduced the woman carrying the food as Flora. She brought mammoth-sized dishes to the table, far more than four people could eat. Warm corn tortillas piled high, steaming chopped brisket, pico de gallo in bowls, sour cream, cheese, fresh tomatoes, and a pot of pinto beans dotted the table. Tall glasses of iced tea with limes completed the meal."

Daily's ability to capture a "you are here" feel throughout lends to a story that doesn't just tell - it immerses. This process leads to a fascinating education about the cultures and influences of Texas and its high-stakes ranching world, with realistic, memorable characters and atmosphere bringing this milieu to life.

Different viewpoints are explored to expand the range of possibilities and perspectives, while family influences on choices and heritage receive central attraction as thought-provoking revelations unfold over Emma's choices and their consequences.

The result is a work blending women's literature, cultural inspection, and a contemporary Western backdrop in a manner that places female characters at the forefront of change and adversity.

Libraries looking for women's literature and Westerns of a very different ilk will find The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch a standout, while book club discussion groups can choose it as a solid example of a well-done representation of women who stand in both powerful and vulnerable positions as they manage their heritage, wealth, and future.

Illustrated English-Ga Alphabet
Flora A. Trebi-Ollennu
Amerley Treb Books
9781894718318, $19.99 Hardcover/$9.99 ebook

There is relatively little on the market about Ghana's Ga language, which makes the Illustrated English-Ga Alphabet of special note.

Illustrations by Ljupka Stojkova provide colorful, attractive embellishments to this basic primer, which begins with 'A is for apple' (A k aplo) and follows up the A-B-C with phrases in English and Ga that help reinforce the language.

As the alphabet progresses, learners of all ages receive descriptions that reflect the flavors and culture of Ghana.

Each letter is presented in both upper and lower case. The exuberance of the descriptions help capture young learner imaginations, teaching them about Ghana's rituals, environment, and peoples.

More than a simple A-B-C guide, the Illustrated English-Ga Alphabet embraces the cultural lessons that come with learning a new language, making it a recommendation for collections looking for primers not just about Ga, but about those people who speak the language.

Bagpipes and Basil
Zoe Tasia
Independently Published
9781735068916, $14.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

The second book in The Shrouded Isle series provides another satisfying blend of romance and intrigue with a Scottish flair that will leave readers with more than a light taste of the fair isles.

In the opening scene, a mother hosting a daughter's party is shaken from her hostess role by a scream: "I had just put the appetizers on the table when the unmistakable, high-pitched scream of a teenage girl pierced my skull like an icepick. "Please, let no one be hurt," I prayed as I raced outside."

American widow Rebecca and her new boyfriend Greg, charged with duties designed to keep the fae from attacking mankind, find their lives tested by with clues and conundrums that indicate more involvements in matters of fairies, the forest of the Shrouded Isle which is Greg and Rebecca's home, and their love for one another.

Zoe Tasia's Scottish-infused fantasy is rich in atmospheric description and changing mysteries that draw Greg, Becca, and their readers into a world flavored by both reality and fantasy elements.

Fast-paced action keeps the tale immersive, while a recap of past history neatly sets this stage for readers unfamiliar with the prior book (Kilts and Catnip).

Fine insights into the psychological impact of the paranormal are also wound into dialogues that reveal more about the characters and the extraordinary world they inhabit: "I don't know Conall well, but I feel sorry for him. Turning into a wolf and being at the mercy of the moon is a hard life. He really can't travel very far away or for very long. I spoke to him briefly when I first moved in with Kay. He wanted to know about all the places I have visited. He confided he was afraid to even be on the mainland for very long. Though the change is tied to the moon, if he is upset enough, the change can happen. He's afraid he will change and hurt someone. Also, I think that the nature of the wolf has affected his temperament."

"You mean, if Conall and Lundy weren't Wulvers, they may be a little more congenial?"

From spells and spies to strange things happening in the village and on the farm, Rebecca and Greg follow the clues which lead increasingly into danger, testing their relationship and survival skills alike.

The rich blend of Scottish atmosphere, romance, and paranormal intrigue makes for a fine leisure read choice that thoroughly steeps readers in a sense of place and the evolving magic that embraces this shrouded world.

Libraries on the lookout for involving stories that promise to be attention-grabbing and fun will find Bagpipes and Basil offers fine adventure paired with emotional connections. These keep readers on their toes and involved in a clash between two very different worlds that barely understand one another.

Richard P. Gleason
Bird With Fry Corp.
9781737183006, $24.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

Sprout is a contemporary philosophical fairy tale that, on the surface, appears to be written for elementary to middle grade readers. In reality, its gentle message will reach all ages (well into adult audiences) with a compelling tale. Sprout was out of print for years before a niece who had loved her uncle's book forty-three years earlier decided it needed to be reprinted after he passed.

Sporting new, creative illustrations by Taylor Suzenski, Sprout returns to the fold of timeless classics that outlive their creators to promise added impact to generations of future readers with its evocative story of a coming-of-age gift that prompts a young boy to record life lessons and observations.

The fact that this republication was a family effort that involved non-writers in the process of revising and producing a work that holds all the trappings of a creative writer's best effort is only one facet that lends to Sprout's appeal. Widows, daughters, friends, sisters, and nieces all joined together to put their best into this revised edition. And, it shows.

Central to Sprout's appeal is a series of messages about life, the world, and adventures that impart basic insights into the nature of goodness, courage, acceptance, and self-discovery.

Thus, readers receive a series of enlightening passages that also inject unexpected humor into the story: "At first, Sprout thought some mistake had been made, that this could not possibly be a dragon-slaying knight. But above and behind the Knight's head, on a wooden plaque fastened to the wall, carved in large bold letters was the title Dragon Slayer. Beneath that, someone had scrawled on the wall with a piece of charcoal, "And slayer of many a flagon."

In some ways, the irony of flawed heroes and good intentions brings to mind The Wizard of Oz, in which the heroic adventurers each discover that the thing they think they lack and want most from their journey already resides in their hearts and actions.

Sprout offers similar revelations, albeit in a very different story that embraces both appearances and the messages of underlying countenances beneath them. Richard P. Gleason's storytelling assumes a chatty revelation that embraces his readers as these insights evolve: "If you haven't guessed by now, the old woman wasn't exactly as kind as she tried to appear. It is an unfortunate fact of life that some people are far less than what they appear to be. For whatever reason, some people grow up all twisted and turned in upon themselves so that they act badly, or are "bad acts," depending on how you arrange your words. Bad-acting people are those who do bad things. They are people whose lives are ruled by verbs like lying, cheating, stealing, tricking, and many others. Which, I'm sure you and I know, are things not to do."

No matter the age of the reader, Sprout will spark debates and thought-provoking inspections of self and life. Ideally, it will be chosen for read-aloud by parents who enjoy interacting with their kids through fantasy adventures that hold more than light references to real life dilemmas, and will be picked up by book clubs interested in philosophical stories with lessons that appeal to all ages.

At the least, Sprout needs to return to a place of prominence on library shelves, and displayed and highlighted for its timeless messages and relevance.

Paws in Paris
Elizabeth M. Grieco
Independently Published
9798218024031, $7.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Paws in Paris: The Adventures of Tenny and Bella is a children's adventure story of two traveling cats who find themselves lost in Paris shortly after landing in that city from America.

How can they find their way home when Atlanta is so far away and their new abode is a mystery?

The story opens with a Parisian museum event, a reporter, and a flavor of Paris that steeps young readers in an alluring atmosphere of artistic wonder and surprising revelations.

Can a painter's muse help these wayward cats find their way home?

Action blends with cultural insights as well as feline allure as the story unfolds. Elizabeth M. Grieco displays a literary prowess in creating a compelling scenario of a fantasy cat's life, then dovetailing it into real-world Parisian scenes and backdrops that educate young readers about France.

Catnapping, accidents, dubious feline associations with fellow cats of a different ilk (more streetwise than themselves) add to the mystery and drama that unfolds as cats Tenny and Bella explore their new environment and figure out how to navigate its pitfalls and promises.

A "you are here" feel helps young readers explore the city's vivid life and people through the eyes of both humans and cats, while the story captivates with questions and revelations that meld fantasy with reality.

The result is a winning tale that draws young cat lovers with the promise of adventure, but then thoroughly steeps them in the magic and wonder of Parisian and French culture.

Libraries looking for stories that lure with magic and entertainment and spice the story with a backdrop of real-world experience will find Paws in Paris an acquisition that will attract a wide audience of cat-loving readers of all ages.

The Body in the Barrel
Richard G. Opper
Konstellation Press
9781734642193, $14.99 paperback, $3.99 ebook

"Sticks" and "Stones" open this crime novel with a 1943 setting. They are gang members in the Navy town of San Diego in The Body in the Barrel, and participate in money-making scams, thanks to Sticks' being 'born to be a businessman.'

Fast forward from this prologue to 1973, where veteran Gary is back home from Vietnam with a few scars to show for his sojourn there, working for the Harbor Police. He's 28 years old and feels he has little to show for his life in the way of achievements. His feeling of going nowhere in his life is mitigated by a crime that challenges him to tap his survival skills and his analytical abilities alike.

Gary never imagined joining forces with a producer of porno films in order to solve a mystery. He never imagined moving ashore from his comfort zone of nautical investigations to enter a world replete with gang activity, Chinese Tong influences, and conservative businessmens' secrets, either.

But crime has a way of reaching out into ordinary or staid lives, and Gary is changed by these circumstances and the consequences of an investigation that goes awry in too many ways.

Gary is not the only character whose perspective is explored and challenged. Bar owner Mona Oakheart, real estate tycoon Frank Reines, and other business interests find their lives and purposes entwined in events that range from a body's theft from a morgue to evidence that winds up in a monk's graveyard as testimony to nightmares that came true.

Readers familiar with crime scenarios will find a different kind of inspection in The Body in the Barrel. It weaves a compelling saga of interlaced jigsaw puzzles through changing perspectives which are clearly identified and carefully developed.

Under Richard G. Opper's hand, each character's feelings of success and failure, their nightmares and ambitions, and the different ways they reconcile their pasts and presents come to satisfying life.

As equally powerful as the fine character development is the attention to details that successfully entwine to create a surprising bigger picture than solving crime alone.

These elements contribute an excellent tension and overall atmosphere to a San Diego-based story that builds not just individual perspectives, but communities that operate both above-ground and underground.

The result is a crime story especially recommended for readers seeking memorable female leads whose lives and abilities equal their male counterparts, atmospheric settings firmly centered in a sense of place, and purposes that develop not just from monetary ambitions, but from the heart.

Libraries will find The Body in the Barrel rich in all these features, and attractive for its thought-provoking probe into how people lie to themselves, then live with and build upon these illusions.

Mary Ann Horton
Red Ace Press
9798986520513, $16.99 paper/$9.99 ebook

Trailblazer: Lighting the Path for Transgender Equality in Corporate America may sound like a how-to lesson in civil rights and equality, but it is a memoir of author Mary Ann Horton's life and efforts.

It opens with the stormy confrontation of a marriage on the rocks as the then-cross-dressing author faces an emotionally withdrawn wife who fears that her husband's habit will threaten their children.

As events unfold, Mary Ann narrates the process of transformation from man to woman that allowed her the freedom to match what she felt inside with her outside appearance.

For many transgendered individuals, the story would end here. But thankfully, for Mary Ann's readers, this is only the beginning, setting the stage for the struggles she would experience at home and in the business world as she navigated and faced a new glass ceiling already more than familiar to women and which is applied to transgender workers, as well.

As Mary Ann moves into activism and became involved in LGBT legal rights, she also moves from undercover and part-time living as a woman to full-time presenting as female, coming out to her family and explaining her views to foster understanding and acceptance.

In some of these efforts, she succeeded in forging new opportunities and paths of understanding. Other times (as in the case of her mother), tolerance was the best that could be achieved. Candor is a hallmark of this memoir, which explores a crumbling marriage and the costs of living full-time as a woman, as well as the pleasures of finally choosing to live as who she really is inside.

Mary Ann's focus on being a working woman forms the backbone of her memoir, offering insights not just into trans obstacles, rights, and conundrums, but many of the challenges all women face in the corporate workplace and in stepping into their power and identities.

Readers who would better understand the challenges and promises of coming out and embracing their true selves will find the transitioning process explored in full in Trailblazer, providing illuminating, enlightening reading highly recommended for memoir audiences.

Seeking Forgiveness
Lea Rachel
Writer's Design Press
9780990861621, $9.99

Seeking Forgiveness is about interracial adoption and winds a memoir of experience into a novel with insights into racial relations that not only hit home, but wound up becoming Lea Rachel's world.

It opens with a candid bang: "I want him to know how sorry I am. I want to beg his forgiveness. For all I didn't understand, for all I never knew, for all I still have to learn. But the police have him and I can't reach him. My baby. My child. My son. Why am I hesitating to say it? To use the most obvious description? Because I generally gloss it over, try to act like it doesn't matter - why make everyone uncomfortable and bring it up? But it does matter. It is important. So here it is: My beautiful Black boy."

Rachel's story offers readers a sometimes-uncomfortable journey through racial awareness from the perspective of a biracial family, surveying parenting challenges that represented many racial divides and challenges in modern America. Her narrative might prove uncomfortable to readers who may not have previously considered the extent to which bias infiltrates every segment of American society: "Miles was only six years old at the time and Black Panther hadn't yet made it to the movie screen. When my son mentioned the concept of a Black superhero, I'd literally been struck dumb by the notion. I'd stood in the middle of the kitchen with my hand on the refrigerator door and my mind spinning, trying to both picture the novel idea of a Black superhero for the first time, while also deriving a reasonable explanation for why my son hadn't yet seen one."

While the truth can set you free, it's also often one people in positions of inherent privilege don't want to hear. And so her stories of experience too often earned her rejection among colleagues and friends: "...most of my co-workers turned away at my stories, changed the subject, or most remarkably of all, got angry with me for bringing up irrelevant parenting stories."

Racial considerations aside, the adoption process is often fraught with influences of the past and their incarnation in present-day events. History can be a challenge to overcome. Combine that history with racial disparities, and the parenting process becomes even more an experience of walking on eggshells.

As Seeking Forgiveness unfolds, readers will find themselves confronting engrained prejudices, perceptions, and underlying myths through in this memoir/novel that reflects Rachel's experiences and realizations. Its characters are well done, but the discussions and confrontations between them over racial issues form the compelling meat of an engaging read.

By blending autobiography with the drama of a novel revolving around an adoptive mother's realizations about racial issues engrained in her life and America as a whole, readers receive an engrossing story that encourages thought and debate.

Libraries looking for memorable accounts of biracial experience and issues will find Seeking Forgiveness a persuasive story that ideally will invite biracial debate on all kinds of issues, from parenting to justice and biracial relations in America.

Bethlehem Barn
Debra Westgate-Silva
Stillwater River Press
9781955123563, $19.95

Debra Westgate-Silva's Bethlehem Barn is a picture book survey that enjoys engaging illustrations by Marcin Piwowarski as it surveys the story of Jesus's birth from the perspective of the barn animals that surround him.

Picture a cold winter's night. The animals all have the usual agendas when they enter the barn: "Cow wanted to eat her hay. Chicken wanted to check her eggs. Sheep wished for peace and quiet, but Donkey had just returned from a long journey and wanted to play. And no one - not a single animal, not even a mouse - noticed Bird up in the rafters puffing her chest preparing to make an announcement. Everything was as it always was - until Cow reached her food trough."

It is then that they discover their disparate animal voices have all changed into English. And there is something puzzling in Cow's food trough.

A hilarious story of revelation emerges as the animals try to figure out what humans are doing in their barn.

Can the baby be the holy one that the humans anticipate? Impossible. "'Such a great one would not be in our simple barn,' Cow said."

As the mystery unfolds, young readers and parents receive an engaging and very different perspective on the spiritual events surrounding this special birth.

With so many picture books covering Christ's birth, it's unusual to see such a perspective presented in a winning story that feels original and light-hearted.

Parents looking for read-aloud Christmas stories that are inviting, engaging, and whimsically different will find Debra Westgate-Silva and Marcin Piwowarski create the perfect blend of fun and serious inspection that adds a different, satisfying twist to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

I Made a Place for You
Damian White
Atmosphere Press
9781639885701, $17.99

I Made a Place for You is a poetry collection that resides firmly in a sense of place, embracing readers with an invitation to explore psychic and physical connections to the world.

Its free verse is emotionally charged with powerful description and metaphor from the start: "We abracadabra our flaws/into a mausoleum of deceit/for a semblance of redemption/in shelling our leprosy aside."

Damian White's inspections of these places which reside betwixt nature and the follies of man create intersections of faith, fate, and freedom that move from earthly to celestial inspection and from outer to inner worlds.

The variety of themes tackled in this story pay tribute to emotional, philosophical, and psychic senses of place and purpose ("Depression is gluttonous./A ravenous sin/with startling gusto.").

Readers can navigate White's terrain with a sense of unfolding lies, secrets, and revelations that coexist under the veneer of truth, understanding, and reality both within and outside self, in the greater world.

Lovely color images throughout by Francesco Orazzini add intriguing, artistic embellishments to the poems that reinforce their underlying meaning, yet add another layer of expanded perception to the written word.

"Never dare the devil to sing," White warns as he cautions "no war is won in worry."

White not only describes and transmits a sense of place for his readers. His reflections represent a unique and formidable blend of psychological tension and free verse that capture special moments in the hearts and minds of poetry readers who would find their perceptions of self and the world tested, torn, and reassembled thanks to the compelling lure of these observations.

Libraries seeking contemporary poetry that arrives emotionally and descriptively supercharged will find I Made a Place for You an excellent study in contrasts, addressing a fractured world and the healing and survival processes that take place within it.

The Backpack Years
Stefanie Wilson and James Wilson
Tucky Buddy Books
9780578386232, $8.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Backpack Years: Two Memoirs, One Story is a chronicle of travel, romance, and experience that combines two life stories in a joint journey of mishaps and magic.

Stephanie and James were both driven by the same passion: to travel and experience new things. So, their coming together felt logical and purposeful despite their very different upbringings and life perspectives.

The story opens with James in a bar, ordering more drinks that get him further in debt. Angry and rigid, he leads a life far from his dreams, and seemingly far from the flexibility travel demands from its adventurers: "I always stood in this exact spot, at this exact time, surrounded by these exact people. At work, I liked the rules, regulations and boundaries of accounting, but its rigidity had infiltrated my social life."

His life feels like one of a preordained inevitability not necessarily of his choosing: "As I stumbled under a decrepit railway bridge, I envisioned a future I had no control over. I'd pass my exams and become a fully qualified Chartered Accountant at age twenty-two. Next up, a pay rise. I'd spend it on a new car, clothes and flat to reflect a professional life I was already disillusioned with. Debt repayment would devour the rest. Many kids from my neighbourhood ended up either addicted to drugs or selling them. I escaped an inevitable path, just to replace it with another one."

This would seem an unlikely beginning for an adventure. Surprisingly, the wellsprings of discovery often hold their roots not just in mundane lives, but frustrations and unrequited dreams. That is just the point James is at when his life really unravels (or begins, depending on the point of view).

Stef, too, is introduced in a bar, but her frustrations are different. She wants to make her parents happy, but there is also a stark difference between her reality and its motivation for continuing, and her dreams: "As a nurse and mechanic, they worked long hours to provide me and my sister Cassie with a safe and stable life in Pittsburgh, and I owed it to them to be good and work hard, too. For as responsible as I was, I'd also craved adventure for as long as I could remember."

The Backpack Years is as much about the process of joining dreams and forging new, more meaningful paths in life and relationships as it is about the journey that carries Stef and James into foreign realms.

Readers interested in how relationships evolve over shared dreams that also change by the very nature of interpersonal interactions will especially appreciate that The Backpack Years represents more than just another travelogue of foreign encounters.

These do drive the adventure component of their story, but within the outward challenges and excitement is an inner journey of growth and new ways of interacting, loving, and living which proves just as vibrant as the backdrop of exploration that will attract travel readers to this memoir.

The result is a candid saga of drinking, loving, laughing, and everything that lies between. It's a heart-pounding road trip through life that is delivered in a gritty, revealing tone: "Though we were broke, and our future uncertain, James and I carpe diemed the shit out of London."

Libraries looking for travel stories that embrace interpersonal relationships as much as new places and perspectives will welcome both in The Backpack Years. Its journey through alcohol, angst, love, and learning carries readers, via a streetwise voice and experiences, far from the beaten path of tired travelogues.

Discussion groups interested in stories of growth and the pursuit of happiness will find The Backpack Years holds plenty of insights and topics suitable for broader life inspections.

Daisy and The Missing Mona Lisa
J.T. Allen
Sumus Press
9780998680538, $10.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Daisy and The Missing Mona Lisa is a Daisy Tannenbaum Misadventure that revolves around nearly-13-year-old Daisy, who takes a break from dreaded math homework to become immersed in mystery and history.

The gift of an art piece representing the Mona Lisa pops open a can of worms as Daisy becomes involved in the world of art forgery, Nazi efforts to find the real Mona Lisa during World War II, and a gift that turns into adversity when its benefactor dies and Daisy is accused of thievery.

From a ghost in a chÉteau mirror who appears at her dead friend's funeral to Daisy's exploration of Paris's underworld and the forces that influence the art world and efforts to monetize it that are worth dying for, young readers will relish the uncommon blend of a spunky pre-teen whose adventure embraces Parisian culture and intrigue.

J.T. Allen does a fine job of entwining the mystery and history in such a way that readers won't realize they are also absorbing a healthy degree of French culture and insights.

As Daisy faces accusations of theft with more proactive thinking and action, readers will appreciate how she never gives up, even when she finds herself deeply immersed in a disturbing situation that is way over her head and experience.

Filled with action-packed moments, insights and revelations, and powered by a girl determined to clear her name and solve a mystery, Daisy and The Missing Mona Lisa is replete with atmospheric and emotional connection that makes for a story hard to put down.

Advanced elementary to middle grade readers who choose this book for its promise of intrigue will find its powerful protagonist and action-packed adventure a winner. Libraries will want to not only include it in their collections, but recommend it for leisure reading and book group discussions.

Megan Stratford
Crystal Publishing, LLC
9781942624769, $15.95

Poetry readers seeking poems connecting human understanding and emotion to the earth will find Berth a study in transformative experience and perception. Its links between the two use evocative free verse imagery to cement observations that are striking in nature: "Water spills from canyon's crevice/snow spitting her first freeze in October/an early shower of silver cells."

From back country coyotes to volcanic landscapes seemingly barren but teaming with life, Megan Stratford displays a powerful voice that captures these visions of nature and her place within this backdrop: "Any moment now the dark/will divide the firs in two/sun setting her flame in the riffles/where the water plies and swashes into bedrock."

Seasonal observations are just as deep-seated in nature as Stratford's sense of place, as in the poem "Summer:" "new life unfolds on the bodies of cacti/while the sun's/orange-red heat crawls alongside the wild's floor."

As the collection evolves, the focus moves from a nature-centric observational piece to a human-centric heart driven by emotion and considerations of cities, angels, and a different sense of place and purpose.

Line drawings accompany these works to bring their descriptions to visual life, but it's the power of the pen that moves these pieces, creating a collection highly recommended for libraries looking for contemporary poetry firmly rooted in a sense of nature and connection.

Ideally, the collection will also appeal to non-poetry readers interested in literary descriptions of the natural world. This audience will find a special flavor to the word paintings offered in Berth that dance on tongue and mind.

Wizard's Masquerade
Jay Pellegrin
Pellegrin Books
9780645441307, $19.50 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

New adults interested in the intersection of fantasy and romance will find Wizard's Masquerade a delightful study in both. The saga opens with Leyna, "the last one left," who is trying to escape a monster pursuing her through a hedge maze of death.

She's a young wizard newly in her twenties who dreams of glory and achievement in her forthcoming career with the Royal Guard, but she finds her dreams in shambles when the king and his court are attacked on one of their journeys.

Shorn of her ambitions and determined to uncover the truth behind the attack, Leyna becomes privy to royal secrets and court conflicts which not only challenge her powers and perceptions of the world, but test her newfound attraction to the court jester (who may be something other than he seems).

As Leyna pursues the truth about the attackers, the reality of rule and domination emerge to test her moral and ethical mettle, as well as her magical powers.

Jay Pellegrin creates a powerful saga that plays on the idea of the masquerade on many different levels. The story of sexual and social awakening, deadly attractions, and the Jester's mercurial personality which ripples between flamboyant and deadly serious makes for an intriguing contrast between personalities and purposes.

The magic of this story lies just as much in the shifting relationships of love and anguish as it does in the magic that also shifts in purpose and strength.

As Leyna, the jester, and others around them adapt to much-changed circumstances, readers receive an evocative story that moves from a love story to a study in deception.

Fantasy readers looking for stories of kingdoms and hearts rocked by changing circumstances, special interests, and interpersonal growth will find Wizard's Masquerade an outstanding choice.

Firmly rooted in the realistic, compelling personalities of Leyna and the jester, the story evolves a firm sense of place, purpose, and changed lives in a world where magic is only the icing on the deeper cake of growth and the evolution of moral and ethical decisions based on new knowledge.

Finding Us
Kristin Rohman Rehkamp
Atmosphere Press
9781639885251, $16.99

Finding Us: A Mother's Memoir of Braving Mental Illness with her Young Daughter is a chronicle that intersects mental illness struggles and parenting issues. It neatly dovetails the two concerns in a chronicle of options and anguish that will enfold any parent who also struggles with their child's health and changing perceptions about it.

The memoir embraces challenges and responses from mental health systems and citizen perceptions of mental illness alike as it follows Kristin Rohman Rehkamp's efforts, beginning with her young daughter's panic attacks.

The idea here is to capture the look, feel, and daily challenges of parenting a mentally ill child. From the start, Rehkamp focuses on the emotional impact this has on the entire family structure. This approach sets her memoir apart from the already-numerous treatises about mental illness already on the market (often written by those facing mental illness themselves).

The idea is that this personal journey will help normalize and educate audiences about family and parenting experiences with mental illness. In this, Finding Us achieves its goal by detailing a sudden shift in family circumstances brought about by a panic attack that arrived out of the blue at an 11-year-old daughter's well child visit.

Before that occasion, Rehkamp's daughter had exhibited no signs of mental illness. The sudden, drastic change careened the entire family into new areas of challenge in uncharted waters nobody could navigate well.

Lessons were learned, efforts were made, and the parenting process was adjusted and challenged time and again by frantic parents who observed their formerly-healthy daughter spiraling into a dark place where every life experience threatened to set off a panic attack response.

Mental illness affects the entire family. Yet, too many memoirs focus on the individual alone and not the process by which families adjust to impossible new circumstances.

In reviewing the family unit as a whole and the special issues that buffeted them from all directions, from community to mental health systems, Finding Us does fellow parents in similar circumstances a big favor. It both validates emotional experiences and charts a way through the morass of emotional, legal, and social paperwork and responses that arise in response to a child's mental illness.

These incidences, descriptions, and adjusted family relationships are described in detail: "...mental illness does not just impact one person. It impacts a family...a community. There were times my husband and I had to ask our nine-year-old son to take his five-year-old sister into her bedroom. He knew to grab a movie and headphones and to close the door to avoid the unwelcome sounds and sights of the panic attacks that plagued our oldest. I cannot begin to describe how that felt as a parent recognizing the insanity of the ask and the horrible reason for the ask."

Finding Us is a memoir about finding the entire family a revised place of safety in the storm. While libraries can choose the book to compliment others in biography sections that address mental illness issues, ideally it also will be chosen for parenting collections and psychology groups, to become part of any group discussion about the nature, impact, and processes of parenting a child and growing a family when mental illness strikes.

Its multifaceted approach moves it beyond singular experience, making Finding Us highly recommended for a wide audience.

The Lone Leopard
Sharifullah Dorani
S&M Publishing House
9781739606909, $23.99 Hardcover/$13.99 Paper/$.99 Kindle

The Lone Leopard is a literary work of historical fiction exploring Afghanistan's culture in the 1990s. More so than most novels about the country, which tend to focus on broader political confrontations alone, Sharifullah Dorani's story takes the readers into the neighborhoods, streets, and psyche of the nation's residents by focusing on the world and perceptions of 15-year-old Ahmad.

Part 1 begins in March 1992 and the second part ends in the summer of 2013. Betwixt the two is a world of difference, evolution, and social and political turmoil, reflected in the life of Ahmad as he faces tumult both in his own heart and in the world around him.

From an introductory edict to "follow Sharia law and stay away from lundabazi," the first time the young narrator experiences an adult speaking openly in school about using religion to punish immoral behaviors, to another first - an imam who heads the school instead of a pro-Communist - the personal impact of the rise of new forces in Afghanistan receives front-row feature in this compelling saga.

No prior knowledge of Afghanistan is required in order to appreciate the winds of change which buffet Ahmad as his story unfolds. That's the beauty of this particular coverage, which adds history so subtly that readers won't realize the attention to education and explanation that accompanies the "you are here" feel of these experiences.

As Ahmad struggles with new lessons, the notion that Kabul is now perceived as "the capital of corrupt behavior" (with the school considered a microcosm of that evolutionary process), and his own feelings and attitudes, readers receive an exact blueprint of the process of changing the psyche of a nation.

The departure of the Russians has left a moral vacancy the new rulers have deemed it their job to rectify, starting with the young. As Ahmad reconciles his perceptions with these altered visions of the future, he grapples with a range of influences that collide with his personal growth and interactions with the opposite sex.

More so than most novels about Afghanistan, The Lone Leopard represents an uncanny ability to represent the political influences of competing outside nations that operate on the stage of Afghani experience. The social effects of these political special interests come home to roost in unusual ways which are represented in Ahmad's life, choices, and family and friendships.

Ahmad's initial disinterest in politics reflects an attitude which also shifts as discussions around him swirl around invaders and their influences, national identity, and the end result of forces that trickle down into daily life.

Sharifullah Dorani is especially adept at displaying the interactions and influences of different levels of Afghan society, presenting these through the first-person eyes of a young character who still has much growing to do. Readers who may have very little prior familiarity with Afghanistan thus receive an eye-opening story that saturates the mind and heart on many different levels.

The result is a compelling blend of history, social and political examination, and coming-of-age saga that reflect the growth processes of a nation.

Libraries looking for literary fiction that can reach an exceptionally wide audience will find The Lone Leopard hard-hitting, attractive, and educational, all in one. Ideally, it also will reach into book club discussions with its special brand of personal and political reflection.

Klippe the Viking
Bjorn Fyrre
9780648816034, $16.99 Paper/$19.99 Hardcover

Young Klippe is identified as a Viking, but she certainly doesn't feel like one. She struggles with her school scrolls, doesn't understand the jokes her peers share, and feels like a loner and a failure.

When classmate Kanin reaches out to her and learns of her frustrations, her friendship makes a difference as Klippe finds acceptance in shared experiences - including ignorance and the process of uncovering facts.

Ankitha Kini provides colorful, moving embellishments to Klippe's world, bringing Bjorn Fyrre's picture book story to life as Klippe discovers that being a Viking involves more than intrinsic knowledge.

The female-centric world of the Vikings that is presented here is a satisfying change to the typically-male presentation, even presenting clan chieftain Wild Oak as a powerful, effective female leader.

Dialogues that emphasize social integration, shared learning, and experiences that connect friends are encouraged both through the story and by questions in the back which direct read-aloud adults to begin the kinds of dialogues that further enlighten the young.

Together, these vignettes form not only the basis of Kippe's world, but her education on perseverance, problem-solving, community involvement, and friendships. Klippe does not need to have all the answers in order to be strong. She just needs to learn how to ask questions and connect the dots.

Adults who choose Klippe the Viking for its Viking adventure will welcome its action, its strong female characters, and its focus on the evolution of strength and leadership as young people make their ways through life.

Above the Ground
Matthew Medney & Robert Greenberger
Heavy Metal Entertainment
9781955537308, $19.99 paper/$0.99 ebook

Native American culture, post-apocalyptic settings, and alien invasions usually don't appear under one cover, whether the book be fiction or nonfiction; but Above the Ground's unusual subject and ability to synthesize all three seemingly disparate topics into a compelling story makes it a standout that succeeds in telling stories that are hard to neatly peg and just as absorbing to read.

The story's opening presents a Nebraska summer and a school teacher who reflects on the emerging adolescence of her students. At first, the introductory setting feels much like modern times, but as reference to the Vanishing is made, readers quickly come to learn that the story is anything but contemporary in nature.

From a changing and challenging climate to skirmishes with Canada and a force that took all Native Americans from the planet 100 years prior, events unfold that captivate with the touch of personal observation and a setting that feels quasi-familiar, but overlaid with an impossible history.

As schoolteacher Betty reviews these events for her class, readers also receive a lesson in transformation that embraces loss and cultural revelations alike.

Part of Above the Ground's allure lies in its very solid roots in modern-day concerns that range from climate challenges to political turmoil.

Matthew Medney and Robert Greenberger do an outstanding job of integrating this contemporary feel into a futuristic tale based on a different form of apocalypse that changed the world. Their technique of embedding these changes into the perceptions, emotions, and purposes of an ordinary school teacher allows readers a deeper flavor of familiarity and understanding that leads to a compelling story able to tug on emotional strings.

As a nuclear holocaust emerges, Betty and her husband David are charged with carrying a new legacy to future which is loaded not with the aftermath of missiles, but with knowledge of how an overriding mystery of the past, the Vanishings, may at last lead to new knowledge of survival in this unstable future, a pivot point in humanity's evolution.

Medney and Greenberger create a survival story steeped in mystery, revelation, and discovery. Readers who look for accounts of nuclear holocaust and its aftermath will find Above the Ground a cut above the ordinary, both in its integration of a Native American mystery and in its representation of disaster: "A bright array of beautifully coordinated destruction penetrated the defenses of the United World. It started that night, a war that would define humanity ignited like the fireworks on the Fourth of July."

The attention to world-building detail, the revised purposes and perceptions of the main characters, and the integration of a past mystery with a futuristic story of survival and the coming together of different remnants of humanity is exceptionally well done.

By building characters who feel contemporary in nature but reside in extraordinary future times, Medney and Greenberger increase not only the appeal of the story, but offer opportunities to book club and reader discussion groups interested in bigger-picture thinking about survival, race relations, influences on transformative experiences, and the processes by which societies come together or fall apart.

The integration of alien influence, cultural expression, and social and political change creates a heady and thoroughly engrossing story that defies easy categorization, but offers the sci-fi and dystopian fiction reader an absolutely original, compelling read.

Libraries will find Above the Ground holds the ability to interest a wide audience of readers looking for something refreshingly vivid and thought-provokingly different.

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan's Literary Services

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Robert Parker's Fallout
Mike Lupica
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593540275, $29.00 HC / $14.99 Kindle

"Fallout" the newest installment of the Jesse Stone series opens with the death of a respected high school baseball player after a big game. This one is personal for Jesse because one of his deputies is a nephew. A short time later the body of a former chief of police of Paradise is found in his home. Jesse is hands on finding to find out what happened. Lupica has written another fast-paced mystery with the trademark standards of Robert Parker of snappy dialogue, offbeat characters and a twisting and turning plot that is a welcome addition the popular novels. "Fallout" is fun reading for fans of Parker and Jesse Stone.

Distant Thunder: A Stone Barrington Novel
Stuart Woods
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593540039, $29.00 HC / $14.99 Kindle

Stone Barrington is back in another new mystery in "Distant Thunder." Once again there is involvement of the CIA while Stone is surrounded with familiar characters as well as some new ones that move the story along with tight writing and tense situations that have made the Barrington books so much fun to read. "Distant Thunder" is a page turner suspenseful read to the very end.

Mind, Body, Kitchen: Transform You and Your Kitchen For A Healthier Lifestyle
Stacey Crew
Koehler Books
www.koehlerbooks com
9781646634484, $18.95 pbk / $2.70 Kindle

Many people look for things to do differently with food? "Mind, Body, Kitchen Transform You and Your Kitchen For A Healthier Lifestyle" perfectly hits the spot. Crew discusses meal planning, good foods and why they are, recipes, and much more in a fun easy to follow for enjoyable meals morning noon and night. "Mind Body, Kitchen Transform You and Your Kitchen For A Healthier Lifestyle" is a delightful excursion into moth watering treats for all of us to enjoy.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever
John "Chick" Donohue & J.T. Molloy
William Morrow
c/o Harper Collins
9780063082465, $17.99 pbk / $8.99 Kindle

When Jane Fonda was cavorting with the enemy North Vietnamese troops and the United States was filled with so much protest against the Vietnam war, Marine veteran John "Chick Donohue decided to do something positive for our troops in Vietnam. "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" is how and what he did. Told in his own words with J. T. Molloy he recreates how he to beer from his and other friends' hometown in NY state to the battlefront. He was able to carry out his mission as a civilian rooted to his cause to help his friends and others all over the country of Vietnam with amazing results. "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" like "Mash" by Richard Hooker is a major motion picture that is sure to gain new insight into the effects of combat.

Zara's Rules For Finding Hidden Treasure
Hena Khan, author
Wastana Haikai, illustrator
Salaam Reads
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534497627, $17.99 HC / $6.99 Kindle

"Zara's Rules For Finding Hidden Treasure" is the newest tale in the world of teenager Zara. After hanging out with a group of friends she finds her new bicycle completely gone that she did not lock. She was so used to the older shabby one she never had to because it was of no interest to anyone else but her. Now she has to tell her parents and learn to do things without a way to ride around. Not wanting to accept the situation Zara comes up with ways to resolve the situation for everyone to be happy that makes "Zara's Rules For Finding Hidden Treasure" fun reading for all ages.

If You Read This
Kereen Getten
Delacorte Press
c/o Penguin Random House Children's Books
9780593174005, $16.99 HC / $9.99 Kindle

"If You Read This "is filled with many positive messages to all ages about simple things in life. Brie is ready to celebrate her twelfth birthday with family and friends when she finds a series of letters from her mom who died a number of years ago, that will change her feelings about someone close to her and change her life forever. "If You Read This" is a beautifully told story with interesting characters and a flow of prose that captivates to the very last page.

Dressing Up The Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head
Jeanne Walker Harvey, author
Diana Toledano, illustrator
Beach Lane Books
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534451056, $18.99 HC / $10.99 Kindle

For so long credits of movies and TV shows credits had Edith Head in common for the costumes worn by so many actors. But what have we ever known about her. "Dressing Up The Stars" tells her life story for all of us to lean and enjoy about one of the most famous and well respected people in film. From an early age Head was meant to be involved in some capacity dealing with clothing. From a shy childhood where she play acted with animals to her courses in college we learn about a woman who had so much influence on the entire industry of movies and TV like no other person. "Dressing Up The Stars" is and enjoyable excursion into Edith Head's life that continues to dominate the industry she was so much a part of for so long.

Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams
Andrea J. Loney, author
Keith Mallett, illustrator
Alfred A. Knopf
c/o Penguin Random House Children's Books
9780593564509, $18.99 HC / $10.99 Kindle

I love books like "Curve & Flow" that expose the life of someone most of us have never even heard of but seen their influence on whatever they did. Paul R. Williams is a man who overcame so much including racism to be one of the most influential architects to ever design buildings all over the world. From an early age Paul loved to draw and continued to learn his craft in courses in college to later find work that took him to the highest levels a designer can ever go. "Curve& Flow" moves along one of the most gifted designers the world has ever known that celebrates so many of his long-lasting accomplishments that is educational fare for everyone to enjoy.

Will We Always Hold Hands?
Christopher Cheng, author
Stephen Michael King, illustrator
Random House Studio
c/o Penguin Random House Children's Books
9780593564509, $18.99 HC / $10.99 Kindle

"Will We Always Hold Hands?" seems like a very simple premise about a bear and a rat and their friendship that is so much more. Hidden messages like even though two individuals are very different that they can still be good friends there for each other all the time. Told in an upbeat tone "Will We Always Hold Hands?" moves along to its conclusion with positive reinforcement so needed, in this very negative society we live in today.

If You Laugh, I'm Starting This Book Over
Chris Harris, author
Serge Bloch, illustrator
Little Brown and Company Books For Young Readers
c/o Hachette
9780316424882, $18.99 HC No Kindle

When you begin reading "If You Laugh, I'm Starting This Book Over" you believe its all about the negativity of laughter. A bit later it becomes obvious, it's something a lot more that is for all of us to enjoy and follow. Serge Bloch's artwork adds to enjoyment of "If You Laugh, I'm Starting This Book Over" an entertaining kids book that has a lot of hidden messages that add so much to this great children's title.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

The Equality Machine
Orly Lobel
Public Affairs Books
9781541774759, $30.00, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: Much has been written about the challenges technology presents to equality and democracy. But we can either criticize big data and automation or steer it to do better. With the publication of "The Equality Machine: Harnessing Digital Technology for a Brighter, More Inclusive Future" Professor Orly Lobel makes a compelling argument that while we cannot stop technological development, we can direct its course according to our most fundamental values.

With provocative insights in every chapter, Professor Lobel masterfully shows that digital technology frequently has a comparative advantage over humans in detecting discrimination, correcting historical exclusions, subverting long-standing stereotypes, and addressing the world's thorniest problems: climate, poverty, injustice, literacy, accessibility, speech, health, and safety.

Professor Lobel's vivid examples (ranging from labor markets to dating markets) provide powerful evidence for how we can harness technology for good. "The Equality Machine" presents incisive analysis and elegant storytelling that will impact the on-going debate about technology and restore human agency over our values.

Critique: Timely and thematically appropriate given the current national discourse over the impact social media technologies have had on the public, the impact computer driven automation has had on industrial workers, and the looming impact robotics will have on hundreds (if not thousands) of employment/job/career categories, "The Equality Machine: Harnessing Digital Technology for a Brighter, More Inclusive Future" is essential reading for personal reading lists as well as professional, govenmental, community, and academic library Science & Technology collections. It should be noted for students, academia, governmental policy makers, corporate executives, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Equality Machine: Harnessing Digital Technology for a Brighter, More Inclusive Future" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note: Orly Lobel ( is the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego. She is also the Director of the Program of Employment and Labor Law as well as the founding faculty of the Center for Intellectual Property and Markets. She is the author of two previous books, "You Don't Own Me: How Mattel Vs. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side" and Talent Wants to Be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding".

My Cat Hates Me
Bai Cha
Brown Books Publishing Group
16250 Knoll Trail, Suite 205, Dallas, Texas 75248
9781612545844, $14.99, PB, 181pp

Synopsis: Some pets adore their owners -- and then there is a feline named Your Highness. This haughty housecat expects nothing short of the royal treatment, and delights in reminding his "kiddo" who's really in charge.

The kiddo in question does his best to accommodate his cat's whims, but is only promoted to "General of Poop-Scooping" for his efforts. Even the addition of Bubba Boo the pug fails to shift the hierarchy of Your Highness's domain.

Illustrated in a composite style of simple comics and classic Chinese art, "My Cat Hates Me" by author/illustrator Bai Cha follows the daily exploits of a petulant "purr-sonality", his canine sidekick, and their long-suffering artist owner.

Critique: Having a very special appeal for readers who have a feline companion of their own, "My Cat Hates Me" is award- winning author/illustrator Bai Cha debut graphic novel for an American readership and will introduce a style of humor that has made him famous overseas. Fun, funny, and oh-so-familiar to anyone who has ever been in service to their house cat, "My Cat Hates Me" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists and community library collections.

Editorial Note: Bai Cha ( is one of China's most important comic self-publishers and winner of the Golden Dragon Award, the Galaxy Award, the Nebula Award, and more, as well as being Asia Bookstore Forum's hottest comic author of 2018, and sporting over 15 million fans on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat,

Flower Philosophy: Seasonal Projects To Inspire & Restore
Anna Potter
White Lion Publishing
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9780711268579, $29.99, HC, 208pp

Synopsis: Flowers are not perfect, and flower arranging shouldn't be either. With the publication of "Flower Philosophy: Seasonal Projects To Inspire & Restore" Anna Potter teaches us how to listen and learn from nature to create something truly original with 25 combinations of stems and foliage. The primary message is one of freeing ourselves from a prescriptive, one- size-fits-all approach and letting each unique bloom inspire us with refreshingly honest and liberating florist's guide.

"Flower Philosophy" features: A new perspective start with nature and letting this inform flower arranging; A wealth of practical advice that includes all the basic, essential information on flora, seasons, colour and arranging; Budget conscious choices fFrom small humble buds to large luxe flowers eg weed arrangements -- plus foliage, fruit, vegetables, sea shells and anything grown out of the ground; 25 flexible step-by-step flower projects with options/prompts to encourage autonomy, originality, creativity; Personal touches with author's stories, poems, thoughts, experiences and musings; Floral therapy in the form of tips to improve wellbeing with nature; tap into its mindful benefits throughout the arranging process.

Of special note is the inclusion of a Flower Thesaurus in the form of an unorthodox flower index of favorite and too-often-forgotten flowers, ideas for pairings, benefits to the senses and mood, meanings etc.

Arranged by season, "Flower Philosophy" guides the reader through the process of creating their own wreathes, bouquets and installations, all using flowers that can be bought, found and foraged from your neighbourhood. Accompanied by stunning photography from India Hobson, "Flower Philosophy" provides the basic foundations to pick, choose and assemble with unlimited possibilities.

Critique: Beautifully, profusely, and informatively illustrated with full color photography throughout, "Flower Philosophy: Seasonal Projects To Inspire & Restore" offers a complete course of instruction that will enable even the most novice of floral arrangers to provide professional quality flower arrangements for all occasions. Instructive, inspiring, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Flower Philosophy" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and community library collections.

Editorial Note: Anna Potter is the florist behind the flower shop Swallows and Damsons and the author of Flower Fix ( is. Her style of arranging has a luxe and wild feel that uses containers of all sorts and moves beyond the confines of blooms in her decoration - incorporating foliage, fruit and vegetables, sea shells and most things that grow out of the ground. She can be followed online on Instagram and at @swallowsanddamsons

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Fish, Milk, Tamarind: A Book of Egyptian Arabic Food Expressions
Dalal Abo El Seoud, author
Frarah Shafie, illustrator
American University in Cairo Press
200 Park Avenue, Suite 1700, New York, NY 10166
9781649031907, $18.95, HC, 172pp

Synopsis: Can you guess what Egyptians mean when they say that something is "a peeled banana" or that someone is "sleeping in honey" or has "turned the sea to tahini"? You may find the answers quite unexpected when you open the pages of "Fish, Milk, Tamarind: A Book of Egyptian Arabic Food Expressions" delightful and illustrated book featuring some one hundred popular food-inflected phrases and sayings used by native speakers of Egyptian Arabic.

Idiomatic expressions lend color, dynamism, and humor to everyday speech, and convey complex ideas and beliefs with an economy of words that also tell us something about the culture from which they spring. Each expression in "Fish, Milk, Tamarind" is given in Arabic script and English transliteration followed by its literal and intended meanings, while humorous color illustrations throughout help readers visualize and remember the expressions. Learners and native speakers of Arabic, as well as Egypt enthusiasts and language lovers will find much in this book to teach, entertain, and enthrall them.

Critique: Thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Fish, Milk, Tamarind: A Book of Egyptian Arabic Food Expressions" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Arabic Language collections.

Editorial Note #1: Dalal Abo El Seoud ( is chair of, and senior instructor in, the Department of Arabic Language Instruction at the American University in Cairo, where she has been teaching since 1997. She is also the co-author of the three-volume series Uktub al-'arabiya: Writing Skills in Modern Standard Arabic (AUC Press, 2012 - 2014) and The Concise Arabic - English Lexicon of Verbs in Context (AUC Press, 2011).

Editorial Note #2: Farah Shafie ( is an illustrator based in Cairo, Egypt.

Changing with Aging: Little Stories, Big Lessons
Don Kuhl
Health Communications, Inc.
3201 S.W. 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442-8190
9780757324444, $22.95, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: Every man, woman and child have one thing in common. We are all getting older -- and that's a good thing! With the publication of "Changing with Aging: Little Stories, Big Lessons", Don Kuhl, founder of The Change Companies, shares 10 big lessons he has learned through a lifetime of love, courage and misadventures.

Kuhl has brought inspiration and transformation to millions by creating Interactive Journals that help people reflect on where they've been, where they are, and where they wish to go. Now it's his turn to share his stories of growing older and the wisdom he has gained along the way.

Before he founded The Change Companies, Kuhl managed motel properties, started several sports publications, worked in college and health care administrations, and launched about a dozen corporations. Some of them failed miserably, a few of them flourished.

From his unique perspective, Kuhl touches upon themes of gratitude, taking risks, appreciating the ordinary, and remaining open to all possibilities, giving readers a glimpse of living life to its fullest at every age.

Critique: Profusely illustrated with both b/w and color photography throughout, "Changing with Aging: Little Stories, Big Lessons" will have a special and particular appeal to readers with an interest in how people deal with issues of love, loss, and self-esteem. A remarkable and memorable life story, "Changing with Aging: Little Stories, Big Lessons" is unreservedly recommended for community and academic library American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Changing with Aging: Little Stories, Big Lessons" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Don Kuhl ( founded The Change Companies in 1988. Since founding this company, Don has worked with approximately 150 agencies and corporations to tailor Interactive Journals to serve unique populations. His collaborative efforts in Substance Use, Justice Services, Impaired Driving, Healthcare and Education have consistently focused on helping individuals begin the process of positive personal change.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Local Voices, Local Choices
Jane Goodall Institute
ESRI Press
380 New York Street, Redlands, CA 92378-8100
9781589486461, $36.99, HC, 280pp

Synopsis: Jane Goodall's work with wild chimpanzees and her lifelong career advocating for environmental justice is very well known. But just as transformative is her work empowering local communities that live on the edge of human settlement to act to protect their natural resources -- or to risk losing them forever.

"Local Voices, Local Choices: The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation" is the story of the Jane Goodall Institute's holistic approach to conservation, which puts the local people in charge of preserving their surrounding ecosystems. Rather than conservationists leading the effort and imposing their solutions, local communities that live in the affected regions make their own decisions. Working with science and technology and with the support of conservationists, these communities grow to understand their human impact on the environment. By choosing to adopt sustainable livelihoods, they decide their own path into the future, finding ways to balance their environmental impact with their communities' needs.

Story by story, "Local Voices, Local Choices" brings readers into the diverse perspectives behind this approach to community-driven conservation -- not only those of Jane Goodall Institute staff and program partners but also, and equally, those of the local people who lead these initiatives.

Critique: Deserving of as wide a readership as possible in view of the decimation of wildlife populations and the resultant extinction level events that have been occurring with increasing frequency and now including indigenous peoples in heretofore remote areas of the world, "Local Voices, Local Choices: The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation" will have a special appeal for readers with an interest in Wildlife Conservation, Indigenous People's Rights, Environmental Climate Change, Human Geography/Demographics, and Scientific Research. Simply stated, "Local Voices, Local Choices: The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation" is unreservedly recommend for community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Local Voices, Local Choices: The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $27.99).

Editorial Note: The Jane Goodall Institute ( is a global, community-centered conservation organization founded in 1977 that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall in over 30 countries around the world. Their aim is to understand and protect chimpanzees, other apes and their habitats, and empower people to be compassionate citizens in order to inspire conservation of the natural world we all share. JGI uses research, collaboration with local communities, best-in-class animal welfare standards, and the innovative use of science and technology to inspire hope and transform it into action for the common good. Through their Roots & Shoots program for young people of all ages (now active in over 50 countries around the world), JGI is creating an informed and compassionate critical mass of people who will help to create a better world for people, other animals and our shared environment.

After The Flowers Die
Renee Leonard Kennedy
End Game Press
9781637970478, $22.99, HC, 160pp

Synopsis: There's a 100% chance you will lose a loved one. There's a 100% chance you will inherit. Money isn't the only thing.

Forbes' magazine states we are living in the greatest wealth transfer in history. Baby Boomers are leaving upwards of $30 trillion in money and assets to its second and third generations (Forbes, 11.11.2019).

Estate planning is vital, yet critical elements of post-funeral information are missing. "After the Flowers Die: Encouragement for Walking through Life After Loss" by Renee Leonard Kennedy focuses on the quandaries, frustrations and expectations that occur months after the event.

Once we're left in the aftermath, we're not sure how to move forward -- let alone, figure out what to do with our parents' legacies, their estates, what they've left behind. "After the Flowers Die" focuses on the quandaries, frustrations and expectations that occur months after the event.

Enhanced throughout with the inclusion of quotes and questions, "After the Flowers Die" focuses on the nuts and bolts essentials of losing a loved one while also offering hope and help from someone who's been there.

Critique: Eloquent, compassionate, insightful, memorable, consoling, informative, exceptional in both organization and presentation, "After the Flowers Die: Encouragement for Walking through Life After Loss" is essential reading for anyone having lost a friend or family member. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "After the Flowers Die: Encouragement for Walking through Life After Loss" is a very special and unreservedly recommended addition to family, community, and academic library Grief/Bereavement and Christian Loss Coping & Self- Help collections.

Editorial Note: Renee Leonard Kennedy ( is a member of the Serious Writer Club and Word Weavers International as well as a Founding Member of Building Platform 101. Her devotion, The Wait, appeared in Inkspirations Online, December 9, 2019.

Every Night Is Saturday Night
Wanda Jackson, author
Scott B. Bomar, author
BMG Books
9781947026926, $19.99, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Wanda LaVonne Jackson ( is an American singer and songwriter. Since the 1950s, she has recorded and released music in the genres of rock, country and gospel. She was among the first women to have a career in rock and roll, recording a series of 1950s singles that helped give her the nickname "The Queen of Rockabilly". She is also counted among the first female stars in the genre of country music.

Wanda Jackson's debut single, "You Can't Have My Love," reached the Top 10 while she was still a sixteen-year-old high school student. She hit the road after graduation, playing package shows with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, who gave Wanda his ring and asked her to be "his girl."

With Presley's encouragement, the Oklahoma native began recording rock music, often releasing singles with country on one side and rock on the other during her decade-and-a-half tenure on Capitol Records.

Known for her energetic stage shows and pioneering presence as a female artist, Wanda stormed the charts with a series of hit singles, including "Let's Have a Party," "Right or Wrong," and "In the Middle of a Heartache." With more than 40 albums to her credit, Wanda has proven to be an enduring and genre-defying legend of American music.

In "Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl's Journey To The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame", Wanda (with the assistance of Scott B. Bomar) tells her own story of getting discovered by Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Thompson; why she refused to return to The Grand Ole Opry for more than fifty years; the challenges she and her integrated band, The Party Timers, faced in the early 1960s; finding the love of her life; her recent work with rock luminaries Jack White and Joan Jett; and how her deep faith has sustained her over more than seven decades of rocking, shocking, and thrilling audiences around the globe.

Critique: Originally published in 2017, this new paperback edition from BMG Books is a 'must' for the legions of Wanda Jackson fans. While also now available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl's Journey To The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Country/Rock Music History & Biography collections.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

The Entrepreneurial Solution to Poverty and the Science of What is Possible
James O. Fiet
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781803924380, $120.00, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Entrepreneurial Solution to Poverty and the Science of What is Possible", Professor James O. Fiet examines the systematic practice of poverty alleviation. Using the science of informational economics (IE), based on leveraging specific information, as well as decades' worth of experimental evidence, Professor Fiet demonstrates how poverty may be mitigated through entrepreneurial practices.

A truly visionary study, "The Entrepreneurial Solution to Poverty and the Science of What is Possible" suggests a number of key practical methods by which poverty can be alleviated, even without resources or personal connections. Classifying IE as 'the science of what is possible', Professor Fiet demonstrates how to substitute information (the lowest common denominator of what individuals already possess or can acquire) for resources.

"The Entrepreneurial Solution to Poverty and the Science of What is Possible" draws from 30 years of experimental results as the basis for its entrepreneurial approach to poverty alleviation, inviting its readers to extend the science of what is possible and succeed regardless of their circumstances.

Holding the potential to alter how work is approached and carried out in the area of poverty alleviation, the innovative ideas explored in the pages of "The Entrepreneurial Solution to Poverty and the Science of What is Possible" will be of significant interest and inspiration to researchers and students, but also beyond academia to government agencies, foundations, and charities, as well as individuals and organizations invested in solving the problem of poverty.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of Tables, Info Boxes, eighteen pages of References, a ten page Glossary, and a three page Index, "The Entrepreneurial Solution to Poverty and the Science of What is Possible" is a seminal work of meticulous and documented scholarship that is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, library Entrepreneurship, Poverty, and Income Inequality collections.

Editorial Note: James O. Fioet ( holds the Brown Forman Chair in Entrepreneurship and is Professor of Management, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Louisville.

Toward Happier Choices: A Coffee Conspiracy
Michael Oborn
Independently Published
9781793809193, $10.18, PB, 217pp

Synopsis: Everything we do is a choice. With the publication of "Toward Happier Choices: A Coffee Conspiracy", and drawing from his own life experiences, Michael Oborn offers a collection of challenges met, failures overcome, paths developed, and as a result happier choices.

An eclectic memoir "Toward Happier Choices: A Coffee Conspiracy" is about Michael's leaving Mormonism and finding/owning his own voice. It a deeply personal account of how Michael managed to shake off the cultural thinking he was born into (the accident of birth) in order to re-invent his life and appreciate women as equals rather than as property under a theologically based patriarchy.

"Toward Happier Choices: A Coffee Conspiracy" illustrates rather than simply relate how Michael changed his life and invented the person he truly wanted to be.

Critique: Candid, honest, insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Toward Happier Choices: A Coffee Conspiracy" will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in near mainstream cults on the order of Mormonism or Seventh Day Adventists and what it takes to leave what you are born into and rasied up with. While highly recommended for personal, professional, and community library collections, it should be noted that "Toward Happier Choices: A Coffee Conspiracy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Editorial Note: Some of the characters, names, incidents, locations, and events have been fictionalized for dramatization purposes. Any similarity to names, characterizations, or persons is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

The Befana Is Returning: The Story of a Tuscan Festival
Steve Siporin
University of Wisconsin Press
728 State Street, Suite 443, Madison, WI 53706-1418
9780299337308, $79.95, HC, 312pp

Synopsis: On the night of January 5, in certain areas of southern Tuscany, a costumed, singing troupe of characters visits residents' homes, expecting to be fed and feted in a folk custom that has recurred in the region for centuries. This is the Befanata, a mumming tradition centered in Tuscany, whose main character (the Befana) is a kindly old woman or grandmotherly witch who delivers toys, candies, and gifts. Part of the Christmas season, the Befana is familiar in some form in much of Italy, but very little has been written about her, despite sustained interest in European mumming traditions in general.

The Pigitliano Befanata is distinct in its emphasis on song and strong in its richly symbolic use of food, which is not only consumed at each home but is also carried away as a gift. The characters who make up the squad are unique to the Italian practice. They always include the Befana and her husband, the Befano, but other members of the befanotti vary from place to place over time. Siporin combines fieldwork and archival evidence to introduce the Befanata and its historical and social contexts: what it is, what it means, and how it feels.

"The Befana Is Returning: The Story of a Tuscan Festival" by Professor Steve Siporin is a deeply researched, deftly insightful presentation of this living tradition that adds a large missing piece to the array of contemporary ethnographic scholarship on mumming.

Critique: A seminal work of meticulously detailed scholarship that is informatively enhanced with the inclusion of illustrations, notes, bibliography, and an index, "The Befana Is Returning: The Story of a Tuscan Festival" will have a special and particular appeal to readers with an interest in Italian folklore, history and mythology. "The Befana Is Returning: The Story of a Tuscan Festival" is particularly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note: Steve Siporin ( is Professor Emeritus in English and History at Utah State University, where he additionally served as the director of the folklore program and coordinator for public folklore studies. He is also the author, co-editor, and translator of several books including Stories of Jewish Life: Casale Monferato-Rome-Jerusalem, 1876 - 1985 by Augusto Sergre.

Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World
Stefan Aust, author
Adrian Geiges, author
c/o John Wiley and Sons
9781509555147, $29.95, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: If modern China seems unstoppable, so too does its leader Xi Jinping. As General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of China, he commands over 1.4 billion people, in a vast country that spans the prosperous megacities of Beijing and Shanghai and desperately poor rural regions where families still struggle with malnutrition.

Today, Xi Jinping faces a series of monumental challenges that would make other global leaders tremble: a trade war with the USA, political unrest in Hong Kong, accusations of genocide in Xinjiang, a stuttering economic growth, and a devastating global pandemic that originated inside China.

But who is Xi Jinping and what does he really want? To rejuvenate China and bring economic prosperity to all its people? To challenge American supremacy and turn China into the world's dominant power? To regain Taiwan as a part of China proper? Avoiding both sycophantic flattery and outright condemnation, with the publication of "Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World", the biographical team of Stefan Aust and Adrian Geiges gets inside the head of one of the world's most mysterious leaders. Skillfully unraveling the hidden story of Xi Jinping's life and career, from his early childhood to his rise to the pinnacles of the Party and the State, they flesh out his views and uncover how he became the most powerful man in the world.

Critique: Ably translated into English by Daniel Steuer, "Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World" is a compelling and informative biography of China's leader that will prove to be indispensable reading for anyone interested in China and where it is heading as a global power. Informatively enhanced with the inclusion of a three page Bibliography, twenty-one pages of Notes, a three page listing of Sources, and a fourteen page Index, "Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $24.00).

Editorial Note #1: Stefan Aust () is the former editor-in-chief of Germany's leading news magazine Der Spiegel and the author of numerous bestselling books including The Baader-Meinhof Complex.

Editorial Note #2: Adrian Geiges ( is the long-standing Beijing correspondent of the weekly news magazine Stern. Previously he worked as a television reporter for Spiegel TV and RTL in Moscow and New York.

Michael Dunford

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe
John C. Wathey
Prometheus Books
c/o The Globe Pequot Press
9781633888067, $29.95, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: Does neuroscience have anything to say about religious belief or the existence of God? Some have tried to answer this question, but, in doing so, most have strayed from the scientific method.

With the publication of "The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe", computational biologist and neuroscientist John C. Wathey, Ph.D., tackles this problem head-on, exploring religious feelings not as the direct perception by the brain of some supernatural realm, nor as the pathological misfiring of neurons, but as a natural consequence of how our brains are wired.

Unlike other neurobiological studies of religion and spirituality, "The Phantom God" treats mysticism not as something uniquely human and possibly supernatural in origin, but as a completely natural phenomenon that has behavioral and evolutionary roots that can be traced far back into our vertebrate ancestry. Grounded in evolutionary and behavioral biology, this highly original and compelling book takes the reader on a journey through the neural circuitry of crying, innate knowledge, reinforcement learning, emotional bonding, embodiment, interpersonal perception, and the ineffable feeling of certainty that characterizes faith.

Wathey argues that the feeling of God's presence is spawned by innate neural circuitry, similar to the mechanism that compels an infant to cry out for its mother. In an adult, this circuitry can be activated under conditions that mimic the extreme desperation and helplessness of infancy, generating the compelling illusion of the presence of a loving, powerful, and all-knowing savior. When seen from this perspective, the illusion also appears remarkably like one that has long been familiar to neurologists: the phantom limb of the amputee, spawned by the expectation of the patient's brain that the missing limb should still be there.

Including a primer on the basic concepts and terminology of neuroscience, "The Phantom God: details the neural mechanisms behind the illusions and emotions of spiritual experience.

Critique: A seminal and ground-breaking work, "The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe" is organized into three major sections (Behavioral Foundations; Circuitry of the Sensed Presence; Neuroetheology Meets Neuroethology), and is informatively enhance for the reader with the inclusion of a four page Epilogue (So What?), a two page listing of Acknowledgments; two Appendices (Getting Oriented in the Brain; Measuring Religiousness), sixty- eight pages of Notes, and an eight page Index. Inherently fascinating, impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Science & Religion collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of those with an interest in the History, Biology and Philosophy of Science and Religion that "The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.49).

Editorial Note: John C. Wathey ( is a computational biologist whose research interests include evolutionary algorithms, protein folding, and the biology of nervous systems. Previously, he was a senior applications scientist at Biosym Technologies (now named Biovia), a company that develops molecular modeling software for the pharmaceutical industry. He then founded his own business, Wathey Research, and since that time most of his scientific research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Wathey has published his peer-reviewed research results in distinguished scientific journals, including Biophysical Journal, Journal of Neuroscience; Brain, Behavior and Evolution, and Neuroscience Letters, among others. He is also the author of The Illusion of God's Presence: The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing and has published popular articles in the Huffington Post,Skeptic Magazine, and The Jonestown Report.

The Abolitionist's Journal
James D. Richardson
High Road Books
c/o University of New Mexico Press
1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM 87131-0001
9780826364036, $29.95, 272pp

Synopsis: Over the course of more than twenty years, James D. Richardson and his wife, Lori, retraced the steps of his ancestor, George Richardson (1824-1911), across nine states, uncovering letters, diaries, and more memoirs hidden away. Their journey brought them to the brink of the racial divide in America, revealing how his great-great-grandfather Richardson played a role in the Underground Railroad, served as a chaplain to a Black Union regiment in the Civil War, and founded a college in Texas for the formerly enslaved.

In narrating this compelling life, "The Abolitionist's Journal: Memories of an American Antislavery Family" explores the weight of the past as well as the pull of one's ancestral history. The author raises questions about why this fervent commitment to the emancipation of African Americans was nearly forgotten by his family, exploring the racial attitudes in the author's upbringing and the ingrained racism that still plagues our nation today.

With the publication of "The Abolitionist's Journal: Memories of an American Antislavery Family", an American confronts a generational reckoning on race, offering important perspectives that add a informative layer to our larger national story.

Critique: A unique and invaluable contribution our 19th Century American history from the perspective of a dedicated abolitionist opponent to the institution of slavery, "The Abolitionist's Journal: Memories of an American Antislavery Family" is exceptionally informative and impressively presented, making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library African American Biography/Memoir collections and supplemental curriculum African American Demographic Studies lists.

Editorial Note: James D. Richardson is a former senior writer with The Sacramento Bee and a retired Episcopal priest. He is the author of Willie Brown: A Biography. His articles on state politics have appeared in numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Mercury Blade (Valyien Far Future Space Opera Book 1)
James David Victor
Fairfield Publishing
9781982945497 $7.99 pbk
B07D63BQPF $0.00, ebook, 168 pages

Mercury Blade is an introductory to a space opera series. Mercury has a well developed fictional world with a cast of unusual and different characters. The drawback with the tale is that it is an introduction. The characters are just lightly developed and the space civilization is just hinted at and not fully fleshed out. The story also feels a little rushed.

Eliard Martin is captain of the Mercury Blade, one of the faster ships in the galaxy. His work is transporting cargo between the underworld elements of the galaxy. After trying to cheat one of the more dangerous underworld traders, Eliard tries to raid an archeological dig for priceless artifacts. Instead, he stumbles into a powerful galactic corporation which is scavenging the site. Soon multiple forces are trying to the capture the ship and take what Eliard's crew has found.

If you enjoy detailed space operas and are interested in starting a series of stories, you will be interested in reading Mercury Blade. It is obviously an introductory story even if it is a standalone tale. Consider the book when you need your next space opera fix.

Blood Water Falls (DCI Bone Scottish Crime Thrillers Book 2)
TG Reid
Glass Work Press
B098JYHLW6, $3.99 ebook, 394 pages

Blood Water Falls is a typical high action detective tale that tries too hard. There is a solid British style procedural base to the story but the author tries way too hard to push action and use unusual and quirky characters. The detectives in the tale have extreme personal issues that pull the reader out of the narration more than develop the characters. There are plot holes that are built just to increase the violent action sequences in the book. I am a jaded reviewer who has read many novels that do a much better job with quirky characterizations and action sequences so readers who haven't yet explored this subgenre may enjoy this story and not notice the flaws.

A local teacher is found murdered and nailed to the rock wall behind Blood Water Falls. DCI Duncan Bone and his team of detectives are assigned the case. The remote recreational area, where the Falls is located in, has some poachers who might have murdered the man but DCI Bone's team has to also investigate the possibility that someone who personally knows the teacher might be the killer.

As the team is sorting through all of the possible clues and suspects, threats are made against Bone and his team. The threats soon turn into physical violence disrupting both the investigation and the personal lives of the detectives.

Blood Water Falls is recommended for new readers in the action detective subgenre or those who can push aside the flaws and enjoy the detective story hidden underneath the quirky characters and forced violence. The underlying detective tale with the various clues is pretty good.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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