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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 10 October 2020 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 Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf
Paul Vogel's Bookshelf Richard Blake's Bookshelf S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items
J. W. Ocker
Quirk Books
215 Church Street, Philadelphia PA 19106
9781683692362, $19.99, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: They are to be found lurking in museums, buried in graveyards, and abiding in private homes. Their often tragic and always bizarre stories have inspired countless horror movies, reality TV shows, novels, and campfire tales. They are cursed objects, and all they need to unleash a wave of misfortune is the naive and unwary!

Many of these unfortunate items have intersected with some of the most notable events and people in history, leaving death and destruction in their wake. But never before have the true stories of these eerie oddities been compiled into a single fascinating and chilling volume titled "Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items" by J. W. Ocker

Here readers will learn about: Annabelle the Doll, a Raggedy Ann doll that featured in the horror franchise The Conjuring; The Unlucky Mummy, which is rumored to have sunk the Titanic and kick-started World War I ; The Dybbuk box, which was sold on eBay and spawned the horror film The Possession; The Conjured Chest, which has been blamed for fifteen deaths within a single family; The Ring of Silvianus, a Roman artifact believed to have inspired J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit -- and so many more!

Critique: An inherently fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Cursed Objects" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Tantor Audio, 9781705254295, $12.99, CD).

Walks With Sam: A Man, a Dog, and a Season of Awakening
David W. Berner
Roundfire Book
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781789044980, $13.95, PB, 176pp

Synopsis: "Walks With Sam: A Man, a Dog, and a Season of Awakening" shows that a man, his dog, and a long walk can lead to unexpected and often delightful discoveries. In the tradition of many literary walkers, David W. Berner sets out on foot hoping to reexamine his life, look back and forward, and most importantly, through the help of his young dog, Sam, try to find harmony in new beginnings and the uncertainties of the present.

In a series of chapters, each dedicated to one walk during a summer of hiking, the author finds that it is his beloved pet that allows him to awaken to a new spirit of mindfulness, finding beauty, wonder, and comfort in the ordinary, and to see a life, a neighborhood, and even a country with brand new eyes.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and unfailingly thoughtful read from beginning to end, "Walks With Sam: A Man, a Dog, and a Season of Awakening" is an extraordinary testament to the value of canine companionship and is a 'must read' selection for anyone who has every gone walking with their dog. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Walks With Sam: A Man, a Dog, and a Season of Awakening" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.49).

Editorial Note: Currently residing outside of Chicago, Illinois, David W. Berner is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist, whose career honors include the position of Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac Project and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation.

The Psychology of Final Fantasy: Surpassing The Limit Break
Anthony Bean
Leyline Publishing
9781734866001, $16.95, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: From its debut in 1987, Final Fantasy has gone on to become one of the most beloved series of role-playing games in history. With narratives revolving around grandiose stories of good versus evil, Final Fantasy has allowed us, as players, to witness heroic battles, experience hard-won victories, and create treasured friendships for almost 40 years.

In "The Psychology of Final Fantasy: Surpassing The Limit Break", Anthony bean guides gamers on a real-world quest of self-discovery so that they can surpass their own limit break. And, as part of this examination, psychologists, clinicians, video game researchers, professors, and enthusiasts who love this franchise ask:

How does the storyline in Final Fantasy grab and keep our attention for so many hours of gameplay?

Why do the symbols in the game, such as crystals, magic, and weapons, hold meaning about our own psychological inner workings?

What are the feminine warrior and archetypes found in the game and how are they living in all of our everyday lives?

How does playing Final Fantasy connect us with a larger sense of spiritual guidance as to who we are?

Why is it that, by creating a group, we become whole more than we do when playing as individuals?

How do the musical interludes affect our psyche and push us to become better versions of ourselves?

"The Psychology of Final Fantasy" deftly explores how the game resonates with a player's psychological drive toward an emotional sense of wholeness, bonding, and completion as they take part in this epic quest.

Critique: An absolute 'must read' for the legions of Final Fantasy fans, "The Psychology of Final Fantasy: Surpassing The Limit Break" is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. An extraordinary and seminal study, "The Psychology of Final Fantasy: Surpassing The Limit Break" is especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Psychology of Gaming collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Psychology of Final Fantasy: Surpassing The Limit Break" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Anthony M. Bean is a licensed psychologist and executive director at The Telos Project, a nonprofit mental health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, and an adjunct professor at Framingham State University in Massachusetts. He specializes in the therapeutic implications of video games and gaming, working with children and adolescents, and the use of video-game character identification as a therapeutic technique.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Veil of Silence
Sharon Shea Bossard
Shea Publications
9780976757917, $19.95

Veil of Silence is an Irish memoir that moves from the 1950s to the late 1980s, following the success of Sharon Shea Bossard's two prior books about Chicago Irish genealogy and roots. This story explores her experiences growing up in an Irish family where "I knew little of our family background except that they lived terribly sad lives. What I did learn at a very young age from arguments, accusations, rumors, and whispers was that to be Irish meant to be defensive and secretive. Heartbreak was a stone's throw away. My mother Helen Healy Shea's only advice to me was, "never marry an Irishman." She believed that if I did, my lot would be my own making, and I deserved all the misery I'd find in it."

Unlike most memoirs of ethnicity or cultural interactions, Veil of Silence holds a specific purpose in telling its story - to break a pattern of silence and suffering and the tendency to pass this secrecy to future generations: "Growing up, I'd witnessed my mother lose herself in the euphoria of alcohol in order to catch a break from her own daily paranoid delusions that grew worse over time. Her solitary journey dumped feelings of powerlessness and helplessness onto her vulnerable children. And we stayed silent, terrified that if we let the veil of silence drop, we'd no longer be cared for, loved, accepted." This purpose is well served in a story that juxtaposes family history with emotional examination.

Chapters reveal cultural connections to Ireland, giving readers a sense of daily life, home atmosphere, and the underlying influences on choices and perspectives that permeated Bossard's home. This encourages readers to consider the kinds of small events and reactions that translate to lasting legacies. This focus creates a spirited story that follows home, school, and community life with equal fervor and revelations, whether it be nuns who attempt to dampen a child's spirit or a brother's sudden disappearance.

Too many memoirs are designed to interest primarily the writer and their family. Veil of Silence reaches into and beyond the Irish community with a story that illustrates the importance of communication and growth.

Signs in the Dark
Susan Miura
Vinspire Publishing
9781734150766, $13.99

Haylie Summers is deaf. Music, thunder, and words are not part of her world. And yet, she acknowledges that her condition gives her abilities the ordinary person might deem a 'sixth sense'. And right now, this sense is sparking warnings and information that lead Haylie on a journey into danger.

It's been two months since her father re-entered her life. She doesn't trust the permanence of his presence, since she's lived much of her life without him: "Ben thinks that's an easy question. He waits for me to say "yes" because my father's been "nice" for the past two months, but there's about fourteen years of radio silence to consider. The occasional birthday or Christmas card only served as painful reminders that he walked out on me and mom when I was three. A girl can't just let that go."

Haylie is a fighter and a survivor. She'll need all these skills when she is kidnapped and a series of events place her in a whirlwind of danger. Is she on the road to human trafficking? When her almost-boyfriend Nathan Bolivia works to uncover the clues, he finds himself in just as much danger and powerless to prevent the inevitable. The perps, meanwhile, have a new problem in their quest for easy money that now feels quite complicated.

Susan Miura does a fine job of moving from Haylie's perspective and insights to Nathan's determination to use all his skills to rescue her, highlight the plight of each as they face a threat not only from the kidnappers, but from Haylie's own uncommon abilities.

She injects philosophical and spiritual reflections at various points in the story to add depth and contemplative insights to the plot: "I guess it's true that God works in mysterious ways. Nothing about this relationship makes sense. Everything about us is different. And yet, we connect in ways that science can't explain, and that the world may not understand. We were given the gift of each other, and that's all we need to know."

As surprises emerge about the real nature of Haylie's reality and life, readers are treated to a moving story of survival, recovery, and revised relationships that reveal the changes two teens experience after facing death.

Young adults who choose Signs in the Dark for either its intrigue or its insights into a deaf girl's world are in for a wild ride in a multifaceted thriller that holds solid action and emotional revelations throughout. It's highly recommended for teens seeking relationship-driven action stories that incorporate a sense of purpose and growth within its drama, especially those who like unexpected stories of love, commitment, and adversity.

Dumpster Dogs
Ann Colberson Schiebert
Andrew Benzie Books
9781950562213, $9.95 Print
9781950562305, $4.99 Ebook

Preteens and young adults in middle to high school grades who enjoy illustrated stories of friendship, adversity, and discovery will welcome both the story in Dumpster Dogs and Jack Varonin's colorful illustrations. These bring to life the tale of dog Riley, who lives under a dumpster and believes himself to be independent and strong when he is actually lonely and lost.

Riley needs canine friends and even humans, but believes he needs nobody and has everything he needs to make him happy. Once, he had humans whom he loved, but they abandoned him. Now he has convinced himself that he doesn't need human love - only the uncertain circle of five fellow Dumpster Dogs who, like himself, know how to live on their own and make their own destiny. They are now his 'family.'

Riley's life changes, though, when he meets Sophie and Emily and forms a bond with them against all the rules he and his friends have made for their lives: "He was amazed over the way his friends had excused his violation of the Dumpster Dog Club Rules! They were really, true friends, and he vowed he would never leave them behind if Emily invited him into her family."

Will Riley risk everything he's built for an uncertain sense of home? Ann Colberson Schiebert injects thought-provoking passages throughout her story that will give dog-centered kids pause for thought about more than family, animal rescue issues, or a sense of place: "He had been a Dumpster Dog for so long he had become accustomed to his lifestyle and his freedom. No one told him what to do, and he liked it that way. He glanced over at Sophie. Would losing all his friends be worth it? As if she could read his mind, Sophie looked over at him. In a whisper she said, "Riley, if you don't take a risk, you will never know if your life could be different, will you? You will be stuck in the past."

As Emily becomes involved with all the dogs and a Hatfields-and-McCoys style of conflict emerges, both Riley and Emily find their friendship tested, their ideas of home challenged, and their safety compromised in different ways.

It's hard to easily peg the attraction of Dumpster Dogs. The illustrations would seem to make it a choice for advanced elementary to early middle grades, but the story line offers a complexity and satisfying insights that lend to its appeal to older readers.

Audiences not too 'mature' for a peppering of lovely illustrations, who are interested in relationships between dogs, people, and family, as well as underlying issues of animal rescue and an avowed animal hater's perceptions of life, will find the subplots and issues of Dumpster Dogs makes for compelling, surprising reading.

More than "just a dog story," this is a survey of life challenges and approaches to conflict resolution. It deserves a place on the reading lists of young people interested in more than just dogs.

Tales Of The Holy Mysticat
Rachel Adler
Banot Press
9780976305019, $15.95

Readers who enter into Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic thinking that this will be a feline philosophy guide will find the emphasis on Jewish wisdom stories and spirituality a satisfying focus. This is a collection of tales that centers on Rabbi Rachel Adler's cat and its unusual connections to mysticism and spiritual reflection, operating much in the manner that the classic The Dalai Lama's Cat did for Buddhist faith.

This book begins the way cat books usually do: as a series of autobiographical stories of Adler's amusing cat's antics and quirky personality. But it becames much more.

It is a testimony to faith and a way of imparting the messages of Jewish texts and practices from an unusual cat's eye view of spirituality. It is a fun observation of how spiritual growth and reflection can exist even in crabby, difficult personalities such as Dagesh.

In taking time to observer her "Holy Mysticat", Adler discovered new questions and answers about her faith and its place in the world, and cultivated discussions and insights that would not have come to light but for her interactions with Dagesh.

Rabbi Alder's method of imparting this wisdom through observations of her cat is appealing and well-written: "The Mysticat believes that in his previous life, he was a human Kabbalist and was rewarded for his piety by being reincarnated as the highest life form made of flesh and blood: a cat. In his present form, he is served by a faithful gabba'it, who, while not a mystic, is at least not a total ignoramus (am-ha-aretz). His simple surroundings are clean and abound in s'farim, holy books, whose holiness the Mysticat takes into himself by lying on them to absorb their textual content. (I myself covet this ability more than any of the Mysticat's other powers, but alas, the only way I can learn Torah is to pound it into my head with multiple repetitions.)"

Connections between cat and Kabbalah are nicely drawn to grasp the attention and perceptions of readers of Jewish mysticism and cat lore alike, while the thought-provoking reflections offer insights and analysis of the Jewish faith that will prove remarkably astute and revealing to anyone with an interest.

Jewish commentary, analytical processes, discussions between Torah scholars, and descriptions of Jewish customs, celebrations, and history are the heart of the story, but by making the Mysticat part of this process, Rabbi Adler creates additional connections and revelations which will attract readers usually adverse to scholarly approaches: "Yesterday the Holy Mysticat celebrated Rosh Chodesh Tammuz with a divided heart. Certainly, any new moon is a blessed occasion. The Mysticat, a mighty singer, loves the Hallel psalms. But he is deeply ambivalent about this month.

Tammuz and the month of Av, which follows it, are articularly pleasing to a creature who luxuriates in warmth and light. In these months, the Mysticat abandons his office chair and meditates at the foot of the floor-to-ceiling window looking out onto the balcony. The text he most often calls to mind is Rav's description of the World to Come - Olam Ha-Ba - in Berakhot 17a."

The result is an exploration of Jewish studies that is more accessible than most, teaching not just the foundations of Jewish faith, but the importance in observing the world around us (which may be as close as one's kitty) and translating its actions and insights into the fabric of Jewish traditions and beliefs.

Jewish readers will find this a much more accessible, lively, and thought-provoking way of learning and relating to Jewish mysticism than many other approaches offer, and will learn to appreciate the Holy Mysticat's wisdom as interpreted by Rabbi Adler.

Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy
Ruthy Ballard
Whipsmart Books
9780997853278, $12.95 Paperback
9780997853285, $4.99 Kindle
9780997853292, Epub

Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy is a middle grade read about a lucky young boy who lives in a lovely house by the sea in California. He lives in his own world of make-believe, frustrating parents who think he should ground himself in reality instead and develop ambitions that will lead him into a successful adulthood.

Despite their admonitions, Frankie persists in his fantasies while skating through life, until a crack in his bedroom ceiling transports him to a two-mooned planet called Urth, where he embarks on an adventure beyond even his wildest dreams.

The first thing to note about Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy is that it draws readers into the action with a personal touch that represents an unusual invitation to participate in Frankie's experiences: "...since he'd never missed a meal, he didn't know what real hunger was like, so he felt sorry for himself, spinning a story that a forest that had felt so wonderfully homey at first had unfairly betrayed him by failing to provide dinner at the expected hour. You can decide at this point whether you want to give Frankie the peanut butter sandwiches you brought with you into this chapter. But I advise against it, because someone else in this story will soon need them much more than well-fed Frankie, and you may wish to give them to her instead."

The second strength to his story is also evident early in the tale. Its Ruthy Ballard's ability to create compelling, unusual, humorous descriptions that provide kids with visual embellishments worth laughing over: "An eerie kind of twilight gradually took the stars away as he sat among the purple fruit, staring at the sky and fantasizing about food. The constellation that had looked like a pile of steaming spaghetti topped with a healthy dose of grated Romano cheese, blinked out. The circle of stars shaped like a gooey pizza faded away. And in the east... well, what was in the east requires its own paragraph to describe."

As Frankie's story unfolds, preteens receive an engrossing adventure that takes Frankie's proclivity for participating in the unbelievable to new levels. In this world, Frankie truly comes into his own strengths.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, his parents are anguished over his disappearance, and an innocent man has been arrested in the matter. Frankie's absence is making as much of an impact on his former life as his presence does in this strange new world.

Kids receive a thoroughly engrossing story powered by these descriptions, dilemmas on all sides, a sense of humor, and an adventure beyond even Frankie's ability to imagine.

Other quest and confrontation stories proceed in predictable manners. Not Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy. This lends it a unique, powerful voice that makes for a standout in the genre of children's fantasy. The epic adventure flushes out Frankie and his family's concerns with the dilemmas of alien peoples who have as much at stake in Frankie's presence or absence as do his family back home.

Unpredictable, fun, and action-packed, Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy is hard to put down. It's highly recommended beyond the advanced elementary to middle grade readers it is likely to reach.

Chant and Crown
Jordan McMakin
Canterwine Press
9780976418443, $15.99 Paperback
9780976418450, $9.99 Ebook

Chant and Crown is a compelling fantasy that revolves around the magical Chants, who have been exiled and feared by The Kingdoms of Trestlewen for centuries. Two estranged princes targeted by the Chants find themselves on the same side, for once. They must join forces against an ancient enemy as the winds of war unite them in an uncertain, tenuous manner.

Teens looking for a fantasy scenario that is focused as much on evolving sibling relationships as it is on world-changing confrontations and the rise of darkness will find Chant and Crown hard to put down, especially because its classic story of sibling interactions, growth, and adversity powers the overall themes of siege and transformation.

Strong dialogue, fiery clashes with opposing forces (as well as those on the same side), and a blend of magic and military might keep readers engaged on several different levels: "Aylan grabbed the papers from Ezrick, still shaken and upset. Then seeing the top page his face fell. Ezrick thought he was going to cry again. "Shit. I was supposed to finish this for Lady Ghent by three. She needs it for the Scribe. But I promised Ghent I'd have the Council agenda organized! Then you woke up, and Driscoll kicked me out . . . I tried to focus, I tried to . . . but I was worried, all I could think about was . . . I think I'm losing my mind!"

Perhaps the most inviting feature of this young adult fantasy, however, lies in the psychological descriptions Jordan McMakin incorporates into his story. These keep readers involved in each of the young princes' perspectives: "Aylan was stalling. Ezrick knew it. But he had to know Ezrick would ask this, otherwise why would Aylan have disclosed it. "I'm involved now, Aylan, and I deserve to know. You're my source, and if you don't tell me now, I'll seek out answers on my own." He spoke dispassionately, every part of him tired. The emotional toll of the last few days had scraped Ezrick hollow."

As Aylan becomes Ezrick's only source of information for survival and effective battle, belaying the threat of a father who surely will kill his sibling if he catches him, the evolving, complex relationships are part of what sets Chant and Crown apart from other fantasy tales of a kingdom threatened.

The dichotomy of its internal and external battles and the politics and processes of family relationships contributes to a thoroughly engrossing saga. Chant and Crown is highly recommended for teen to new adult readers who will absorb not just clashes between magic and political forces, but the turmoil and uncertain connections between very different brothers. The siblings must learn to rely on each others' strengths to survive, only to find that their newly-forged connection instead destroy everything.

The plot is especially recommended for its depth of psychological drama and exploration of entwined relationships, which contribute a sense of purpose and connection to the overall fantasy.

Dragonflies at Night
Anne Marie Bennett
KaleidoSoul Media
9798663865104, $3.99 Kindle

Dragonflies at Night tells of a mother/daughter connection after death, fears of cancer and connection, and the possibilities of love between a thirty-something couple whose secrets and fears have prevented them forming connections, in the past.

Mother Deidre Rose continues to watch over her daughter even after she passes away from inherited cancer in her forties. Her biggest fear is that she's passed this legacy to daughter Savannah. But more has been inherited than physical challenges alone, and Savannah is newly tasked with finding her way through these psychological fears to live a better life.

Anne Marie Bennett's story covers romance and mother/daughter relationships in a gentle, compassionate manner. This draws readers into the perceptions and logic of all involved, from potential suitor and successful artist Ben's mistrust and loneliness to Savannah's drive to create a positive direction for her life even as she eschews the notion of building a family.

All three personalities contribute to a gentle probe of love and the willingness of those set in their ways to let another person become involved in their lives: "He could feel some of the adrenaline from the concert dissipating into the wide openness of the night sky, and into the welcoming presence of this woman. He was deeply touched. Who else had ever asked him how he felt about his own concert? As Savannah began to lightly stroke his face, he closed his eyes, savoring the sensations."

As they meet each other's friends and form new connections, they begin to resolve and overcome some of the barriers that have led to their individual isolation. These range from Ben's ongoing feeling that everyone wants something from him to Savannah's determination not to pass on the health legacy she may have inherited to children who might come later.

As she faces the challenges of others around her, Savannah comes to realize that the close connections in her life are more important than she'd perceived: "What do you mean, you don't see the point? The point is life, the living, the loving! Look at us. We love you. We certainly don't think your time is up."

Dragonflies at Night is an evocative exploration of fears, futures, and connections between family and friends. It will delight readers of women's fiction who look for stories of romantic adversity, growth, and change. It's also highly recommended reading for women who want an exploration health and family issues added into the romantic interplays and evolution of all involved.

Minor Sketches and Reveries
Alberto Balengo
Personville Press
B089GHYB87, $4.00 Kindle

Don't expect the usual trappings of the short story in the pieces that comprise Minor Sketches and Reveries. As the title says, these works eschew the usual focus on progressive plot or character development in favor of a sketchbook method of capturing slices of life. This lends particularly well to writers and readers who want their descriptions succinct and their images and progressions as free-flowing as an internet search engine. The result is impressive and evocative, leaving an unexpected taste in the mouth.

Minor Sketches and Reveries is a diverse collection that holds no unified theme other than its excellence and element of surprise. Take the opening piece, 'Dog Orientation', for example - a primer for the canine on the ironies and incongruities of living in a human world. Its observations are astute and intriguing: "At times humans let down their guard and play, but mostly they seem sullen and reserved. At night (and sometimes during the day), they will stare at large and screens, pondering images and sounds. There is no need for alarm; it just helps humans to relax. Even during meals humans do this same kind of staring, oblivious to the world around them. Humans can disappear for hours - or days. This shouldn't be cause for alarm. Daily foraging for food and junk is a normal part of human behavior and something they prefer to do alone. Actually in the few instances where dogs are invited, they have been bored silly. As fun as an occasional car trip may be, it's never as fun as staying on familiar territory and knowing where the bones are buried."

The sense of whimsy and fun about the dog's-eye view of human affairs and the role of the 'human caretakers of their estates' provides a fine introduction to other pieces which are more reflective and serious in nature, but often embedded with this same sense of ironic observation.

'3 Fake Recommendation Letters', which Alberto Balengo wrote himself and included in an application to a school's creative writing program, are also whimsical in nature, reminiscent of Australian humorist David Thorne. The description of Balengo's life in New Spain and the ironies of its residents are hilarious: "New Spain, he said, was a wondrous place, especially in a settlement along the Gulf of Mexico. The natives spoke in slow thick drawls. Although residents had two healthy feet, instead of walking to places, they preferred traveling inside the bellies of mechanical contraptions they kept as pets. Whenever they went walking, their eyes looked down at small shiny objects they held in their hands. New Spain did have churches, but many people worshiped once a week before a small talking box named Seinfeld. Many New Spaniards in this settlement paid good money for memberships to "health clubs" in which they enjoyed the luxury of being able to lift heavy objects and run exhaustively in a circle at any hour they desired."

Whether he's contemplating an odd form of travel, visiting family, or writing from a different perspective, these pieces are oddly compelling, fun sketches of life. They will engage and delight readers looking for succinct, humorous creative endeavors which fall somewhere between autobiography and life contemplation, but with a layer of added value in the thread of irony which runs through almost all the pieces.

Gorgeous, fun illustrations by Brittany Bethurem represent the icing on the cake of a wonderful production. Whimsical and artistic, these color and black and white drawings are the perfect choice to bring this literary aspect to life.

Minor Sketches and Reveries is a panacea for minds stressed by life's challenges. Anyone who seeks a literary series of sketches that delight with tongue-in-cheek reflections that often linger in the mind long after their initial reading will find it a satisfying choice.

It Doesn't Have to be That Way
Mary Rowen
Evolved Publishing, Ltd.
9781622535842, $15.95 Paper, $4.99 Kindle

Molly Dolan is in her twenties, but still hasn't learned enough about relationships and how to create a healthy one in It Doesn't Have to be That Way.

She begins her discussion of her life, friends, and loves in 2012 in Arlington, Massachusetts, reviewing a relationship which holds all the warning signs for disaster in a summary too many women will recognize from personal experience: "Joe called the shots for us and I didn't mind. I mean, why piss him off? Sure, he wasn't always easy to deal with, but neither was I. And sacrifice is critical to all good relationships. Right?"

As she navigates unexpected job changes, new relationships, and girlfriends and enemies, the perspective moves from her chronicles to those of her 72-year-old neighbor Fred Flaherty's observations and insights, and the trajectory which sends them both on an exploration different from anything in their present or past worlds.

Fred, too, has suffered in his life, but maintains a positive perspective about a future that holds nothing but challenging changes for himself and his young neighbor.

It's rare to find a story that explores an intergenerational friendship and relationship. Mary Rowen does a fine job of exploring hard times and their impact on two very different individuals, probing how proximity and shared experiences connect them in unexpected ways.

Readers will also appreciate the realistic attention to detail that moves Molly from an obsession with her latest possibility, Andy, to a newfound appreciation for a man she took for granted.

It Doesn't Have to be That Way is women's fiction at its best. It's a warm story of mercurial relationships, friendships, life hardships, and unusual connections that defy perspectives, hopes, and dreams at all stages of life.

Whether it's chosen for a beach read or a warm story educating women about relationships, It Doesn't Have to be That Way is a satisfyingly compelling read highly recommended for readers who like their characters realistic, warm, and thoroughly engrossing.

Mountain Heat
Natrelle Long
Yellow City Publishing
9781735411309, $15.99
9781735411316, $4.99 ebook

Charley Anderson is awakened by troubling news from her mother. Her ex-husband Jimmy has been missing for at least three weeks. Given the stormy relationship between parents and daughter, Charley is the last to know of any family troubles.

Charged with finding an ex-husband whom her parents prefer over their own daughter, Charley embarks on a journey from New York to New Mexico in search of answers, falling into more trouble than she expected.

Mountain Heat may be the fourth book in the Charley Anderson Crime Series, but it requires no prior familiarity with Charley or her exploits in order to prove accessible to newcomers. It opens with the bang of a missing person who holds both a personal and an estranged connection to investigator Charley, then evolves to a satisfyingly complex situation which draws in family, friends, and strangers alike.

As she traces Jimmy's steps, she deals with everything from fighting a trained assassin to traveling the back roads of Indian lands and confronting men with assault rifles.

This fast-paced story of a woman who tracks down both a murderer and a mystery is riveting and involving. Charley discovers that an Indian group relied on Jimmy to get their pueblo back, bringing tribal history into play.

Natrelle Long does an excellent job of expanding Charley's abilities, personality, and tenacity in this latest mystery. The exploration of Native American involvements and issues is a satisfying added benefit to a murder mystery that embraces all kinds of issues as Charley strives to uncover the truth.

Murder mystery fans who enjoy strong, spirited female investigators that that tackle problems of their own as well as threats from a myriad of forces will find Mountain Heat a compelling read. It's highly recommended for those who like their heroines imperfect yet strong.

The Day Hal Quit
Jim Christ
Joseph and Associates
9780692498484, $9.95 Paper, $2.99 Kindle

The Day Hal Quit brings us into the life of Hal Mull, who was orphaned at age ten and grew up on a borderlands ranch, following a passive, mild manner that also keeps people at a distance - even the women in his life and those he professes to love.

A Korean War veteran, Hal ekes out a living as a bartender who never anticipated or asked for much of anything out of life. But when his boss' daughter, Tara, talks him into bringing a machine gun to her in the Arizona desert, he becomes involved in the dangerous objectives of an attractive young woman who uses his compliant nature and his desire for her to pursue the kind of life she wants.

Hal's subsequent involvement with dangerous men, desperate women, and underground lifestyles and drugs is anything but what he wanted from life. As Tara drags him into this chaotic world, Hal's secret relationship with her involves him in illegal escapades that drive him far from the calm life and persona he's always cultivated.

Jim Christ's novel is at once a psychological drama, with elements of Western frontier survival and confrontation, and a story of crime, seduction and salvation. It will appeal to and is highly recommended reading for literature fans, as well as readers in the suspense/mystery genre. This audience will find the action well-rendered, the characterization intriguing, and the relationships between disparate individuals eloquently unique.

It's refreshingly different to have an inherently passive individual be the protagonist of a story in which his carefully-cultivated persona is challenged by events instigated by a risk-taking, ambitious young woman.

The Day Hal Quit's exploration of crime, peace, loyalty and adventure will keep readers guessing about Hal's evolutionary process to the end. Its blend of crime, romance, and problem-solving efforts creates an engrossing read.

The Sting of Love
Janet Graber
Wise Ink
9781634893558, $18.00

Georgina's visit to her elderly father in England, a veteran of World War II, becomes one of unexpected travel and trials when he asks her to accompany him to Italy, a country he once said he'd never visit again. The Sting of Love follows father and daughter to a nation which unexpectedly changed them both - and is still changing each in new ways. It blends a World War II aftermath saga with a story of growth and interpersonal relationships.

Part of what makes The Sting of Love so persuasive is its unique blend of fictional characters with non-fiction events and history.

A daughter who senses that her beloved father harbours a mystery, finds that her own secrets and complicated life intersects with his in an unexpectedly revealing way that changes them both. The guilt and family secrets both resonate with her present-day experience and mirror her world in an unforeseen way as each undertakes a journey that holds the potential to change everything.

Captain James Drummond survived the war, but it wasn't just the battlefield experience that changed him, as Georgina comes to find. It was the aftermath and the relationships that evolved during the peacetime mopping-up operations that created pieces of life unknown to loved ones, which return to haunt their old age.

"Some secrets are best kept with the dead." But as they come to light, they hold powers beyond the grave, both for past and present-day generations.

The Sting of Love features many twists and turns that are engagingly unexpected. As families are rejoined and new forces confront them, readers are treated to a blend of history, love story, and psychological probe that proves riveting to the end.

Somewhere in Persia
Dward Lee Greenbird
Surreal Primitive
9781734654417, $14.99

Somewhere in Persia: Memoirs of a War Correspondent is the author's father's story of his experiences as a war correspondent, based in Iran during World War II. It covers a secret mission in which they anticipated a battle that never came to pass, capturing the moments of this waiting game through army correspondence and the articles that Corporal Sam Greenbird published in the United States while stationed in Iran.

It is illustrated with black and white photos he took while in the army, includes handwritten letters and v-mails, and adds newspaper articles that he published about his military experiences.

Sam was a Jewish soldier whose Middle East assignment changed him in many ways. In collecting the extent of his impressions and experiences in a wide range of formats, son Dward Lee Greenbird does an outstanding job of capturing all the social, cultural, military, and psychological nuances of his father's war years.

As the war came to an end and Sam returned to civilian life, this, too, is explored as he contemplates giving up the writing which drove him through the war, to take up carpentry and start a family business.

From personal experiences with the U.S.O. to experiencing the "humanity and heat" of urban areas, and the unexpected side benefits of basic training on how to act in foreign lands, Sam's experiences come to life in an unusual manner reflective of the combined force of not just his words, but the various mediums in which they appeared.

Readers seeking a more wide-ranging, engrossing survey of the World War II experience from a war correspondent's pen should choose Somewhere in Persia, a lively and thought-provoking "you are there" survey of life in the military during war.

Where Are Shayla's Socks?
Natalie McNee & Michael Dotsikas
Porch Time Publishing
9780996145053, $17.99

Where Are Shayla's Socks?, written by Michael Dotsikas and Natalie McNee and illustrated by Morgan Spicer, follows the aftermath of a young girl's restless night, when the socks she goes to bed with unexpectedly vanish.

As she joins her mother in searching for and considering the possibilities of missing socks, young readers and their read-aloud parents are treated to a whimsical, fun romp through fantasy as Shayla and her mother confront a "profound mystery" that will appeal to the very young.

Action words peppered throughout consider the strange possibilities of the missing socks' alternate lives, and teach kids about sounds and fantasy possibilities as the sock hunt continues.

Kids and parents receive a surprising fantasy revolving around the alternate lifestyle choices of socks before yet another twist in the plot is revealed.

Story time and bedtime will become fun experiences for adults and kids alike, as this book provides its satisfying romp through sock antics and possibilities in a very highly recommended visual adventure.

It should be noted that this is the first book in the Shayla series. These books support the Shayla Shares Foundation's purpose to bring literacy and books to disadvantaged and underserved communities around the world through a special gifting program.

The Calling
Ron Terranella
Independently Published
B08BX5PJ7Y, $9.99 Paper, $2.99 Kindle

The Calling offers a narrower focus on the lifelong effects of childhood adversity than most novels provide, is set against the backdrop of World War II, and follows a child's evolution in Manhattan as his experience changes both his life and those around him.

Although Ron Terranella's slow-building story is about this young victim's struggles, molestation is not the only force affecting his life. Paulie matures and experiences the return of his father from service and the many social changes wrought by the war. He also absorbs family secrets about a cruel immigrant grandfather who was jealous, suspicious, and didn't like American ways, a talented grandmother who tried to smooth things over for her kids, and experiences fiery relationships with sibling Joey.

Religious influence, inspection, and dangers are nicely woven into the story line, creating a delicate dance between moral, ethical, and spiritual questions as a Catholic boy takes it upon himself to turn all his experiences into something different.

Terranella provides no pat characters, easy answers, or obvious documentation that falls into cliched areas common to stories of abuse. Instead, he crafts a story that surveys all kinds of influences on Paulie's recovery and evolution. While his experience is central to forming his adult life and perceptions, it's just one driving force directing his mature choices.

This approach makes for a more complex, better balanced read than most, incorporating typical Catholic perceptions of life and values of the 1950s era: "Divorce! Movie stars got divorced, not ordinary people - never Catholics! The idea was foreign and grotesque - like bigamy or homosexuality! It was unthinkable!"

As Paulie and Joey confront the impact of their childhood and how it has led each to view the world with uncompromising black and white rigidity, readers gain a story of how each adult struggles with a lasting legacy that cannot be justified or easily explained by family heritage.

Firmly rooted in religious and social inspection, it should be noted that The Calling is no light read. It offers no easy answers, no predictable formula writing, and creates characters who struggle to live with the past while forging new paths in the present.

The result is a compelling story of abuse, recovery, family and religious ties that will keep readers absorbed in Paulie and Joey's changing world as they foster a feeling that they must journey far from the family to find - hope.

The Calling is very highly recommended. Readers will find it a multifaceted standout novel among coming-of-age literature.

Child of Sorrow
Melinda Clayton
Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC
9781950750320, $12.99 Paperback
9781950750184, $17.99 Hardcover / $3.99 ebook

Although Child of Sorrow is the third book in the Tennessee Delta Series, it is designed to stand alone as a fine mystery that revolves around a teenager suspected of murder. Attorney Brian Stone encounters foster child Johnathan Thomas Woods quite by accident, providing an opening line that grips from the start: "Had my client not tried to kill me that damp April morning, I may have never met Johnathan Thomas Woods."

Stone faces an angry boy. However, he quickly comes to feel that this is not the countenance of a murderer, but a teenager who is innocent...and who offers his lawn mowing money to hire Stone as his defense attorney.

Struck by the boy's mixed sense of hopelessness and courage, Brian accepts his unusual client and case and embarks on a mission to counter the seemingly irrefutable evidence against his young charge. In the process, he stumbles on a greater mystery that defies his legal team's efforts.

Child of Sorrow is narrated from two perspectives: that of Brian and angry teen Johnathan. The contrast between these two very different voices incorporates perspectives that differ due to age, life experience, and approaches to adversity. It's also influenced by the charge of a murder he could have committed:"What got into me, Henry wanted to know. I got busted, is what got into me. Caught in a lie. I'd figured I probably would, sooner or later, but I'd hoped I'd have time to come up with a good story before it happened. Good enough to be believed, anyway, but it's not easy to make up a story to explain why a kid might skip school to buy a switchblade on the very same day his foster mother gets murdered. The obvious answer was because he wanted to hurt someone, maybe even kill someone. And I did want to, but I also didn't...I could be mouthy, for sure - that was all I had - but I wasn't violent unless I wasn't given any other choice."

Melinda Clayton does an exceptional job of contrasting these two personas as the mystery plays out. Each character harbors a resilience, strength, and determination to face life, albeit in different ways. Each is involved in the case from a very different angle and with dissimilar life experiences. And both hold a vested interest in the outcome beyond the determination of innocence or guilt.

Everything is stacked against them. But they might have a chance, as John's youth and inexperience gives Brian an edge in delivering news with shock value for maximum effect. A lifetime of trauma has created many trigger points. Can Brian call up the one response that leads John to reveal a truth that can save him?

Child of Sorrow will appeal to readers of child welfare stories with its strong advocacy message; to readers of court procedurals (who will find Clayton's descriptions of the criminal justice system's prisons and proceedings to be specific and involving); and to anyone who appreciates a solidly engrossing story about justice, redemption, and recovery, presented on many levels.

Friends: Voices On The Gift Of Companionship
Amy Lou Jenkins,
Jack Walker Press
B08DHDVYVC, $3.99 Kindle

Friends: Voices On The Gift Of Companionship collects stories that explore the concept and enactment of friendships of varying types. It is an uplifting celebration of essays about the value of friendships.

Submissions for this theme range from discussions of long-term friendships to short-term relationships and associations that held different values and perspectives for each friend.

The diverse voices and experiences of these writers is nicely juxtaposed in a heartwarming collection that is invitingly filled with revealing personal messages: "...the death of my best friend isn't the topic. I'm here to celebrate her life and to share the life she so graciously shared with me - the life that helped to save me. We became best friends in what felt like an instant. I loved her with my whole heart, and I know full well that she loved me with all of hers. We understood each other in a way no one else could. We were both sick. Hers was physical, and mine, mental, but we were both ill. And when you're so sick and so young, people stray from you. Not because they are bad people, but because it is especially hard to watch a young person you love fade away."

As the stories evolve, readers will relish the personal tones, touches, and explorations that consider the nature of friendship, its gifts and resiliency, and its lasting impact on all.

Most of all, this inspirational read captures those often-fleeting moments of friendship that change and influence lives, even years later: "I can't remember saying goodbye or feeling bad about leaving Carla or even missing her. In fact, I can't remember which of us left Germany first. I recollect that we didn't keep in touch. I don't have a clue what happened to Carla, and writing this, I realize I've never wondered about it before."

Perhaps that's the single most special strength of this series of diary-like descriptions of special relationships remembered - the ability to celebrate their ongoing impact on lives even after they have long passed.

Readers looking for personal vignettes about friendship will find Friends: Voices On The Gift Of Companionship an outstanding key to understanding how relationships evolve, change, pass, and often come full circle to become even more valued as the years go by.

The Weed That Woke Christmas
Alayne Kay Christian
Blue Whale Press/Clear Fork Publishing
9780981493817, $16.99 Hardcover
9780981493824, $10.99 Paperback

The Weed That Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed provides picture book readers ages 4-8 with the fun story of a weed that grows from a seed in the crack of urban pavement. He's unnoticed by the busy city people rushing by, until one little girl takes the time to decorate him for the Christmas season.

For the first time, people begin to notice the weed. As they bring other holiday embellishments for this weedy shrub that celebrate the season, young readers receive a gentle story of a movement that blossoms around need, wealth, and giving and taking.

Kids and their read-aloud parents will delight in this concept of sharing. The act sparks further and greater neighborhood interactions between people who were formerly isolated. Polina Gortman's paintings throughout are beautifully done and nicely compliment the appealing, positive story.

The tale is fiction, but is based on a true story about a family in Toledo, Ohio who found an unusually tall weed in a traffic circle during Christmastime 2018 and decided to decorate it - an act that had unexpected results that rippled through the urban community.

The fine message about holiday spirit makes for a perfect read for parents seeking stories that encourage kids to feel empowered to begin changes that cross age and economic barriers. The Weed That Woke Christmas is a lovely, positive, much-needed story for modern times.

Red River Reunion
John Layne
Labrador Publishing
9780999879672, $17.95

Red River Reunion will attract Western novel readers with its 1877 story of U.S. Deputy Marshal Luxton Danner and Texas Ranger Wes Payne, who represent the combined force of law in the wild, wild West.

The story opens with a bang of confrontation as a job Wes had described to Sheriff Dan Kirby as being an 'easy' confrontation with a tack thief turns into a gunfight with a group determined to shoot their way out of town.

Unlike the typical Western, however, the scenarios Wes and Danner face are sometimes anything but predictable, as when Wes observes a group of nuns in the frontier town of Buffalo Gap, a further indicator of how much the town is changing.

John Layne's attention to rich details craft scenarios that embrace issues of wealth and land ownership; young family fugitives; women who assume roles of unexpected power as they embrace the independence and resilience of a frontier lifestyle; and lives wasted because rescue didn't come in time. All these angles contribute to the rich fabric of Western daily experience.

The descriptions, changing relationships, and Western style of confrontation and legal developments set Red River Reunion aside from many genre reads. Its moral, ethical, and psychological threads provide solid insights into the changing perspectives of all the characters involved in building and preserving lives in this environment.

Gunfire and battles juxtapose nicely with these revelations, which are replete in the kinds of descriptions that flush out the characterization, enhancing their believability and logical growth: "What little faith Danner had managed to keep until now evaporated into the air, replaced by a budding rage that no lawman should possess."

From brave women who become heroines and examples to others to men who confront town trouble as the politics and survival tactics of individuals change, Red River Reunion is a solidly compelling Western. It engages with swift action supported by strong psychological tension and social inspection, and is highly recommended for Western readers looking for in-depth representations of different forms of frontier survival and evolution.

The Trapped Daughter
Jay Kerk
Jay Kerk Books
9781513665276, $11.99 Paper, $2.99 Kindle

"When locked up in my room, I can no longer imagine good things." This opening statement in The Trapped Daughter offers a clue to the young protagonist's strong voice in this "dark and twisted psychological thriller" (as it bills itself) about a young woman wronged by a man and punished by her father, locked in a repressive mansion both of her father's rule and her own making.

First, Jay Kerk draws readers into the psychological tangle of emotions and fears that is narrator Belle Andresson's world. Through first-person observations of her life, readers become attuned to her role as her father's hostage in his home, and her dilemma surrounding Gabe's ethereal presence in her life.

Freedom isn't the only goal she cultivates after eight days of being locked up. Understanding is also high on her list of objectives: "I can only think of escaping to survive, but before escaping, I must know why my father is doing this to me."

Kerk is a master at mingling dreams with reality, both over the presence and figure of the mercurial Gabe and in Belle's own perceptions of what is happening to her. This focus on psychological tension, revelation, and the fine lines between reality and fantasy are the hallmarks of a thriller which questions what is real and what is not.

Readers thus receive an ever-changing scenario of good, evil, purposeful intentions, and survival and danger which is always in flux, keeping them guessing about Belle's situation, the people in her life, and the boundaries of reality.

While this story is a thriller with many tense encounters, struggles, and moments; above all, it is a masterpiece of psychological inspection that hones its focus on the emotional twists and turns Belle experiences as both a victim and a prisoner: "My emotions are conflicted. Part of me wants to leap up and whoop with joy; the other part is scared. I feel like a child suddenly, faced with the wideness and strangeness of a world that has been beyond my reach for weeks. I draw a slow breath and focus on the first feeling. This is what I wanted. I cannot let myself think I did the wrong thing. Selfdoubt will latch its claws in me, and I'll find myself yearning for the safety of Richard's prison."

Belle's self-inspections are sharply exquisite, and the tension is well-drawn. Thriller readers who enjoy complex psychological inspections will be delighted in a story that offers no clear answers and directions, but keeps its audience on its toes until its ending. Its conclusion is unexpected on some levels and predictable on others as it winds through the wellsprings of illness, art, and love.

The Trapped Daughter is especially recommended for readers who enjoy psychological mysteries and the process of coming to terms with special abilities and perceptions.

The One Singularity
RD Palmer
RD Palmer, Publisher
9781732849143, $14.99 Paperback
9781732849136, $4.99 Ebook

It's the 21st century, and Dr. George Adams has given up everything in life to create an artificial intelligence, The One, in The One Singularity. This intelligence will finally, once and for all, solve all of mankind's problems...war, famine, hate. Of course, Nirvana comes with a price. Like the classic computer takeover story Colossus, it's one that mankind is ill prepared to pay.

Multiple viewpoints are employed to trace this AI's development, from the Amish to the military, historians, politicians, and scientists. From action set in Palo Alto, California, where a bot attack and experiments conducted by the Palo Alto Connectome Project take place, to the split special interests in AI development by different forces, RD Palmer crafts an absorbing, gripping story that follows more than the rise of a powerful intelligence, but the influences on its development and use.

This places The One Singularity in a category of its own as it surveys the political, ethical, moral, and psychological influences of mankind's ability to craft a superpower that perhaps will oversee its demise. The contrasts between those who support its specific use to those who shun its creation are satisfyingly presented, involving readers in a story that keeps concepts of 'the enemy' mercurial and thought-provoking.

From questions of what it means to be human and the progeny of a new form of being who 'loves' George and Rebecca, his creators, to contrasts between Amish and English perceptions of the world, the juxtapositions of differing ideals are very nicely presented: "Why is it so difficult for the English to understand what we've always known? Knowledge is the power of the mind, and wisdom is the power of the soul. For if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Instead of wisdom, though, the Outsiders sought knowledge, just like in the beginning with Adam and Eve." His mind raced to a Bible passage from Jeremiah. It was as if he saw a vision. He recalled the ominous words: The destroyer shall come upon every city, and no city shall escape."

As The One Singularity unfolds, far more depth and philosophical, psychological, spiritual, and political inspection is provided than most other high-tech stories about supercomputer takeovers.

The result is a powerful consideration of purpose and intent, soul and spirituality, and science which weaves an unpredictablely multifaceted story that is simply riveting. The changing surprises and perspectives make The One Singularity hard to put down.

Love: A Story
Bill Smoot
Adelaide Books
9781950437818, $19.60

Love: A Story interlaces the philosophical and emotional journey of a man who faces both cancer and love. He's wondering if the former struggle will unfairly affect and negate the presence of the latter, when forty-year-old Michael meets and begins to love a girl in her twenties.

From considerations of what is just and fair in life and love to the dual nature of his evolving relationship with Li-Li and his struggle to remain cancer-free, Love: A Story captures an unexpected slice of life's realities and challenges as Michael develops his relationship.

Hard questions are asked, whether about sexuality after cancer treatment or fairness in the relationship: "Was Michael's love for Li-Li paternalistic? Was there something condescending in his tolerance?"

Michael's journey both before and after his developing love for Li-Li is nicely charted. It's specific in its considerations of pros, cons, and their different life journeys, walking readers through a world where a middle-aged man feels out of control in more than one way, challenged equally by love and health.

Love: A Story may be about romance, but it's also a self-assessment that injects philosophical and psychological considerations into the process of living a meaningful, effective life.

Readers will appreciate Love: A Story for its added, expanded value as a survey of unexpected new directions in life. It's not a romance, per se, but a singular discussion of growth's many facets which winds a love affair into a bigger survival picture. It's highly recommended for readers who like their love stories multifaceted and revealing.

Texas Off-road Racing: A Father-Son Journey to a Side-by-Side Championship
Mike Kowis
Lecture PRO Publishing
9781732863026, $19.99

Texas Off-road Racing: A Father-Son Journey to a Side-by-Side Championship may sound like just a racing story, but it's also a love story between man and machine, as well as a survey of evolving family relationships where the father shares his passion for winning. As such, it offers a flavor likely to reach beyond the racing world audience and into the hearts of readers who enjoy accounts of shared sports passion.

As father Mike Kowis brings his son along for a vigorous ride into the world of off-road racing, readers are treated to a "you are there" feel that captures the excitement and challenges of going for championship status in the sport.

Readers who enjoy visual embellishments will especially appreciate the attention to detail provided by color photos and illustrations throughout. These capture everything from a mud-encrusted 2018 Polaris RZR XP Turbo, which practically buried the vehicle, to the happiness experienced by winning another hard-fought XC race.

The moment-by-moment descriptions are particularly well done and bring readers right into the passenger seat of experience: "As the race went on, I started seeing a disabled UTV here or there, especially in the pasture areas. Then I reached a corner near the back half of the course where I saw an upside down UTV just past the large tree. A few track officials were already on the scene to cautiously wave me around the downed vehicle until they could safely roll the SxS back onto four wheels. Not long after that, I saw another one sitting on its side next to a sharp corner, and then a second one upside down at a different location. Every time I came upon one of these "upside down turtles," it made me straighten up and get hyper-focused on the course ahead. Just remember, rubber side down!"

Between its enthusiastic tone, its riveting competition successes and snafus, and the added value provided by a father and son's side-by-side championship bid in the off-road world, even non-racing readers are promised a thoroughly engrossing story that is the next best thing to being in the driver's seat.

Texas Off-road Racing is highly recommended for racing fans, in particular, who would imbibe of the off-road atmosphere and experience through the eyes and heart of one who used the sport to strengthen the relationship with his son.

Kits and Cubbyholes
Loralee Evans
Independently Published

Twelve-year-old Will leads a good life. He's found work and a home in Mister Wilberforce's house, a friend in eleven-year-old Nellie, who is teaching him to spell words, and leads a fine life, for an orphan, after living alone on the streets of London.

His memories of the day he met Mister Wilberforce, when everything changed, feel murky and incomplete, however. When he encounters strange little animals that appear to be speaking to one another, some pieces of the puzzle of his life begin to fall into place.

As Will stumbles into an adventure that includes a group of disparate children and a fireplace that leads him into another world, young readers are treated to a story that is peppered with observations about social and cultural relationships and different forms of adversity: "Will found himself smiling hesitantly. Jax appeared to be the leader of this group of friends, but he didn't seem domineering. Despite their different races, the children treated each other like equals. Was that how life was in America? But it couldn't be so. America was terribly dependent upon slavery from all that Will understood. This comfortable amity between these children befuddled Will, yet at the same time, it pleased him."

Will's search for the portal that will lead him back home isn't the only purpose of this story. The tale moves from raccoons and time travel to encounters with historical figures and kids charged with finding their way home under impossible circumstances that challenge their perceptions of the world.

Loralee Evans crafts a fine adventure in Kits and Cubbyholes that moves from a boy's singular good fortune in a revised life to his ability to take charge of his own future.

Middle grade readers will find the characterization well-done, the dialogue and dialect particularly convincing and believable, and the adventure portion nicely paced. It's not too fast, but is captivating, as Will participates in an adventure with newfound friends from the 21st century and confronts the mystery of what his future will bring.

The Wall
Tetsuo Ted Takashima
9781940842462, $15.95

Political thriller readers, especially those already knowledgeable about the plights of refugee immigrants, will find much to like about The Wall: The Refugees' Path to a New Republic. One standout feature that sets this story above and beyond others is Tetsuo Takashima's attention to the logic and impressions of both sides of the tale, which revolves around the infamous Wall separating Mexico from the U.S. and what happens when this seemingly impenetrable border is threatened by desperate refugees who are dying under a harsh dictatorship.

Takashima's descriptions of lives on both sides of the wall are vivid and immediate, from the start: "The nervous energy seizing the soldiers grew yet more potent. They once again pointed their guns. "Fingers off your triggers, soldiers," said Jadon. "We're just trying to scare them. Remember, they're not armed. No harm will come to you, so calm down." It did serve to soothe some nerves for the time being, but how long would he be able to keep that up? The crowd, which was dyed as red as the desert, kept closing the distance toward The Wall, planting fear into the young soldiers' hearts. Before they knew it, the refugees who they thought were still asleep had gotten onto their feet too. In a blink, the scarlet sunlight from beyond the dunes had given way, and a great throng was flooding the other side of The Wall."

Captain Jadon Green thought he was doing his duty by defending his country against the refugees who stormed America's defenses. For his harsh response, he was named 'The Border Butcher' - and his life hasn't been the same, since. Shame and honor are sometimes too-close companions and Green's actions have placed him seemingly forever on the wrong side of the wall of moral and ethical behavior.

Now he has a new mission: leading an army into a Central American country to build a new nation from the roots of a revolution. Is his latest assignment an opportunity for final redemption, or further disgrace?

Readers confront the options facing Jadon as he leads attacks. When Jadon and his revolutionary army find themselves on a dangerous trek that tests their physical, emotional, and moral prowess, Jadon slips back into the soldier/leader persona he once claimed so proudly...this time, with a sense of leadership and caution that once again portends disaster: "You get a ten-minute break. The second your break's over, we move. Everyone, I want you to keep walking even if it kills you. All of us will pitch in to help anyone who physically can't walk. US Army soldiers like me never leave anyone behind. We make it back together, or else."

Whether it's describing a jungle trek, challenges to leadership and ethical choices, revolution and death, rebuilding and life, or political and military conundrums, Takashima's settings assume a realistic life of their own as various characters consider options, face consequences, and sometimes find their present choices too eerily connected to past experiences.

However, this story is about more than Jadon's personal redemption. It's about changing or confronting the hearts and minds of others involved, directly or inadvertently, in his mission and ideals: "You're expecting the people to rise up," Arsenio told Bryan heatedly, "but they're not that heroic. People are selfish. All they really care about is themselves and their own families, in that order. They couldn't care less about the nation." It's also a close inspection of the plight of refugees caught in the middle of warring political systems and the daily, impossible struggles faced by those who confront enemies both within their nations and from outside influences in potential new homes.

The blend of military and social and political insights makes for an action-packed story tempered by strategic and moral considerations alike. This imparts a rich flavor to the adventure and suspense components of this political thriller.

Readers who like their stories to embrace wider-ranging facets than singular actions and encounters will appreciate the broader insights into society-building revolutionary forces and the political and social influences that drive them. The primary story revolves around how refugees are created and their struggles to survive, illustrating the special challenges involved in creating and managing humane immigration and refugee systems worldwide.

The Wall is a powerful story of nation-building and changing hearts and minds. It will prove an attractively absorbing saga for any thriller reader who likes politics embedded in the actions and changing purposes of leaders and followers. The close inspection of the roots and minds of refugees creates an added dimension of understanding not present in most other genre reads.

The Bones of Saint Pierre
Steven Knapp
Can't Put It Down Books
9780999462331, $9.99 Paperback, $4.99 e-book

The Bones of Saint Pierre is about art preservation, forgeries and stolen paintings, and Nazi involvements that take place on the cusp of World War II. It opens with Mason Wright's encounter with former beau Collette, who asks for his help in a risky plan to save French art from the threat of a Nazi invasion.

The story takes a museum worker who could have led a safe, quiet life working in his museum in New York and transports him to a world of danger as Mason makes a decision to become involved based not just on Collette's entreaty and past connection, but moral questions: "The only thing needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing."

Mason thus becomes part of a bigger picture of war, fugitives, and art underworld efforts as he finds himself at odds not just with the Germans, but black marketers, as well. The action takes place pre-invasion, providing a satisfying focus on many of the encounters, influences, and prewar threats experienced by savvy individuals on both sides, who saw war coming and held special interests in either preserving or profiting from classic art pieces.

From hidden maps and priests with guns to treks through Paris' underground catacombs and Collette's involvement in an increasingly deadly series of encounters, Steven Knapp builds a powerful saga that takes a spirited, involving approach to outlining the dilemma of European art preservation during World War II.

The added mystery and tension are wonderfully written, engaging readers who may have held little prior interest in World War II, but who choose the story for its elements of intrigue and mystery.

The story also evolves Mason's connections with Collette, Anna, and others as he desperately searches for answers that preserve art and sanity alike.

Add the effort Mason makes to resolve these dilemmas and leave Europe before all hell breaks loose for a thoroughly engrossing, fast-paced, well-developed read which is hard to put down.

Falling Onto Cotton
Matthew E. Wheeler
M.D.R. Publishing
9781734913804, 15.99 Paperback
9781734913811, $7.49 Ebook

Falling Onto Cotton is a literary crime thriller and a coming-of-age story. Combining these facets into one book might seem like a stretch, but Matthew E. Wheeler adds another pleasing facet with chapter headings that come from popular songs, and an opening line that grabs attention from the start: " "I'm dying." Chance thought it was the start of a joke."

Charles "Chance" McQueen always thought his uncle would 'live forever', but stage four lung cancer brings the man to the end of his life and Chance to the beginning of another stage in his own. It's then that he inherits the legacy of being a Milwaukee crime lord and head of the family, along with fatherless 19-year-old Winnie, who is lost and wandering in his life. He finds his hands full as he tackles loss and love simultaneously.

As he offers Winnie words of advice that resonate with his own life situation ("Winnie, sometimes people don't know what they want or what they need, but they definitely know when they aren't getting it."), Chance not only falls into several new roles at once, but hones objectives that propel him into love, danger, and purpose.

Matthew E. Wheeler creates a protagonist who is always tapping his own strengths even as he doubts them. Music is not only embedded in chapter headings, but forms a steady stream of background atmosphere that both illuminates Chance's actions and introduces him to people with kind hearts and open minds.

As Winne's guide, Chance finds himself unexpectedly forming a solid new direction and perspectives in his life. But his path isn't always one of positive solutions as he descends into drinking and finds that some of the death and angst in his life originates from his own responses and choices. These lead into danger as he learns the truth about his uncle's death and the people around him who were involved in betrayal and murder.

It's notable that Matthew E. Wheeler's freewheeling character is human and vulnerable, whether it be in love, making right and wrong decisions, or how he handles the challenges in his life.

From a lover who may be secretly destroying his inheritance to finding his role and place in a criminal empire that he newly heads, Chance's evolution is riveting and hard to put down.

Readers of crime stories involving the mob are in for a special treat with a story that probes a young man's ability to not just adjust to new roles, but accept his place and complicity in an exhausting set of tests that alcohol can't resolve.

Falling Onto Cotton mixes many facets, but does so with a bartender's attention to the perfect drink of action, surprise, evolution, and revised life connections. It's highly recommended reading for crime story fans who like their tales both literary and thought-provoking.

Something in Madness
Ed Protzel
TouchPoint Press
9781952816109, $16.99 Paper, $5.99 Kindle

Something in Madness, Book 3 of the DarkHorse Trilogy, is set in 1865 after the Civil War, when Durksen Hurst, a half-Seminole, and three black soldiers return to their Mississippi home, only to find that the battle for freedom has not yet ended in that region.

Durksen Hurst built a plantation shared with slaves hiding in the swamp on land he swindled from a Chickasaw chief. Eventually forced to flee the town with his silent partners during the war, Durk and his band establish a colored regiment within the Union army, name it DarkHorse (after the bygone plantation), and eventually return home with the hope of resurrecting the plantation after the war.

Their homecoming to Turkle, Mississippi and the newfound conflicts they face there form the foundation of Something in Madness, which illuminates a deadly truth: "The slaughter on the battlefield had come to an end, but a scourge more insidious and enduring now descended upon the shattered land."

Whether he's describing unrequited love or battles, Protzel does a fine job of capturing the underlying nuances of interpersonal relationships against all kinds of backdrops: "So Durk's back in Turkle! Her mood sank, hitting bottom faster than a boulder dropped into a shallow creek. Durk, the man she'd wanted from the first moment she'd seen him, who she'd pursued throughout Missouri, who'd cost her so much, even her freedom. Durk, who she must have but knew she never would - because of Antoinette."

From brutal treatments and relationships between generals, employers, and ordinary men and women to the continuing conflict between those free and others only recently freed, even after the war, Protzel's story follows a delicate dance between personalities, options, and different ways of coping with conflict.

Durk's struggle with rigged systems and the ongoing legacy of slavery pits him against people and systems alike as slavery continues to exert its insidious force against everyone despite the war's outcome and seeming conclusion.

This aspect of ongoing battle and confrontation is a seldom-explored result of the Civil War. The story offers invaluable lessons on the real roots of modern racial strife which never entirely left American soil and not only lay in wait for future generations, but emerges from dormancy like a living legacy of ever-present adversity.

The motivations, lives, perceptions, and challenged social structure of the South is deftly covered through the eyes and experiences of characters who juxtapose personal interests with bigger-picture thinking.

The result is an engrossing story not just for historical fiction readers, but for anyone who would better understand the roots of modern racism and the choices and impact it brings to all sides of the equation.

Highly recommended for civil war fiction readers and those with an interest in modern racial discord in America, Something in Madness stands out as a powerful saga of ongoing strife.

The Blind Pig Murders
Frank L. Gertcher
Wind Grass Hill Books
9780983575467, $29.95 Hardcover

Set in Chicago during the Prohibition era in late 1920s America, The Blind Pig Murders captures the milieu of Chicago's culture and society as it explores a detective's probe into 'blind pig murders' set in illegal speakeasies in Chicago's underworld.
The story's format revolves around the diary of narrator Caroline Case, whose PI expertise leads to her probe the frequent murders fostered by illegal booze trading.

As in her prior River Rat Murders mystery, Caroline works with Hannibal Jones again, pairing her sleuth skills with his special abilities in a relationship which pits the dynamic duo against some of the most dangerous elements of speakeasy society.

As she and Hannibal investigate the monetary motives for murder, a dangerous 'black widow', Widow Nuardi, places Caroline in the crosshairs of her attention as her prey when Caroline moves ever closer to a dangerous truth.

Once again, Frank L. Gertcher crafts an absorbing mystery. It exposes the culture and society of Chicago from decades ago while continuing to expand the personality, investigative skills, and perspectives of Caroline and her sidekick.

Chapters excel in building satisfying tension, both over the mystery and Chicago's atmosphere and the evolving relationship between Caroline and Hannibal. The jazz clubs, booze, and confrontations that are portrayed during Caroline's probe of the murders are wonderfully presented because Gertcher takes the time to build atmosphere and thoroughly connects it to Chicago history.

Perhaps part of the reason Chicago's neighborhoods come alive in such a realistic manner is Gertcher's own travels through the city and his attention to studying architectural drawings, including the Spencer (now the Chicago Hilton) Hotel's decor, parties, and guests of the 1920s. This lends a personal familiarity with and authenticity to the story that brings its backdrop to life.

The Blind Pig Murders is highly recommended reading for mystery fans that hold a special affection for Chicago and American history. This audience will thoroughly appreciate the genuineness and action blend that make The Blind Pig Murders a top attraction for American history and mystery readers alike.

Maddy's Sunflower
Toshi Ikagawa and MJ Brooks
Picket Press
9780978786434, $7.89 Paper. $3.39 Kindle



When Maddy's grandmother gives her the gift of a sunflower seed, something special grows from it in Maddy's Sunflower, a picture book story that will be enjoyed by children who like flowers as well as parents and teachers who wish to introduce the very young to gardening concepts.

Colorful acrylic paintings by Toshi Ikagawa enliven the story of Maddy's first seedling and flower bed project. Maddy delights in her project as her sunflower grows taller than she, but when problems arise, it's her wise grandmother who holds answers. Underlying themes of change and loss also provide read-aloud adults with further discussion material, backed by lovely colorful drawings throughout.

Early readers will appreciate this project-oriented introduction which holds introductory keys to understanding science, nature, and basic gardening. Each page links Maddy's experience and lessons to a celebratory feel of fun, inviting kids to contemplate creating their own flower gardens.

Parents and educators looking for a positive, uplifting story that encourages the very young to undertake an easy project will take pleasure in the story of Maddy's delight in her sunflower and her newfound understanding of plants in general. Maddy's Sunflower is highly recommended as a basic primer on the subject, even though Maddy's experience is presented as an enthusiastic fictional experience. The book is also available in Spanish as El Girasol de Maddy.

Less Ego, More Soul: A Modern Reinvention Guide for Women
Janet Ioli
JI International
9780578702056, $14.99

Less Ego, More Soul: A Modern Reinvention Guide for Women promises a 21-day program of transformation for women who want to revitalize their approaches to life to be more effective in both business and personal pursuits. The only prerequisite to the successful use of this book is a willingness to change and evolve.

The difference between this book and others about personal transformation is that it isn't just directed to the woman who has not made much of herself. Those who are successful in many arenas may still harbor feelings of discontent and restlessness on some levels, and more so than other books, Less Ego, More Soul appeals to this audience of achievers who remain frustrated and lost.

Bigger-picture thinking about one's role and place in life is tackled in chapters which pinpoint the different kinds of 'masks' we all wear and how they can hide actual personas and desires.

Feeling stuck? That's the perfect time to consider re-invention and the lessons in Less Ego, More Soul. Janet Ioli empowers readers by pointing out that "You have a wise self that resides inside of you." Tapping into the power and insights of this 'wise self' are part of the exercises that comprise this guide, which is designed to be pursued alone, without audience or outside guidance.

Developing connections to this wiser persona moves readers away from the need for outside validation and into a world where new methods of self-communication and insight are cultivated.

Women who have already done some of this kind of work receive the advice that: "When you learn to pause, listen, and be patient with yourself without trying to control, you will slowly but surely realize that you can no longer operate the way you have been operating thus far. What worked for you in the past is not what will work to keep you grounded and connected to your inner wise self."

The clear, inviting directions for guided meditations and insights teach not only how to connect with inner self and its messages, but how to apply this newfound wisdom: "The answers to these questions are your result from your second week of Guided Soul Search Sessions. Sit with them. Go inside yourself and really feel the answers. Find that place of inner knowing and let your pen do the rest. Trust that you already know the answers to these questions. You do.

Now, hold fast to these answers. You are ready to define who you are becoming beyond the ego mask in the last week of your guided soul searching."

Women who have been part of this process already well know the value of self-realization and improvement, but Ioli cements details not just about the work, but its lasting impact: "Being true to your wiser self doesn't mean you throw out the practical considerations of making a living. It means that you are conscious of your why. WHY are you doing the things you do? What bigger part of yourself are you honoring as you do what you do? What higher commitments are you operating in service of, beyond your own ego self?"

A large audience, from those already familiar with new age self-help routines to aspiring and successful businesswomen, needs this message and its exceptionally clear steps that promise to lead to success.

The Lethal Legacy
Jeannette de Beauvoir
Homeport Press
9781734053357, $12.95
9781734053364, $4.99 Ebook

The Lethal Legacy adds to the expanding Sydney Riley series set in Provincetown about a wedding planner who inadvertently keeps finding herself involved in mysteries.

Sydney meets singer Jordan Bellefort at a dinner, learns she is descended from a fugitive slave who sheltered in Provincetown during her flight to freedom, and then becomes deeply involved in her life.

Can the history of his slave relative have led to the present-day murder of Reggie? And how can Sydney confront a legacy that holds death for its descendants?

Historical fiction and mystery readers will relish not only the layers of past and present influence which permeate this story, but the captivating first-person observations of a feisty, clever woman who has made Provincetown and its history her turf. Sydney's unique style of reflective problem-solving lends to the evolution of events: "It all started with a disappearance. Two disappearances, in fact, that you'd think were completely unrelated. But I'm starting to think life doesn't work that way. We put ideas and people and situations neatly into boxes, but they're wild, aren't they: they won't stay where we put them, they won't stay separate. There's an undercurrent of connectedness flowing just under the surface of every event, every interaction, just waiting to bubble up and be noticed."

Superior mystery stories take the time to craft atmosphere. Jeannette de Beauvoir's special attention to detail lends a "you are there" feel to the story line, making it especially engrossing: "The sheer size of the Provincetown Inn invites intrigue...Everyone walks through going one way or another; the reception area is tucked off to one side and its staff are generally busy and not paying attention to what is happening in the lobby, noticing who is coming and going - and even if they were paying attention, they wouldn't recognize anyone out of place, simply because no one looks out of place. You wouldn't even have to be brisk or look like you knew where you were going."

As she probes Reggie's death, Sydney keeps returning to a key question: "What was it about research into the Underground Railroad that had proven so deadly?"

When her increasing entanglement in the mystery evolves to threaten a little girl's life, Sydney finds herself facing an adversary who holds all the keys to history, murder, and her future. All she holds is gut instinct and a determination to follow the leads to solve the crime and keep everyone around her safe.

Jeannette de Beauvoir excels in her careful creation of Sydney's personality and efforts. One would think that a series addition to an already-extensive set would preclude the interest or abilities of newcomers to dive right in; but The Lethal Legacy is both a standalone mystery and a fitting contribution to Sydney's past escapades. It does a fine job of appealing to prior fans and new readers alike.

With its proclivity for creating tense scenes, satisfyingly unpredictable twists and turns of plot, and emotional connections between not just characters but historical precedent and revelations, The Lethal Legacy stands out as a powerful, engrossing read that is hard to put down and captivating to the end. Its gripping infusion of local and regional history is a huge plus.

Johan Fundin
Asioni Press
9781999981747, $16.99 Paperback
9781999981754, $.99 ebook

Species tells of a secret biomedical lab experiment connected to Russia, and paleoanthropologist Dr. Maxi Reimer's odd clash with the world of killers and spies, for reasons unknown to him.

Pursued in a way he's never been before, Dr. Reimer is forced to also chase the truth about a dangerous, illegal experiment and the reasons why some would kill to keep it hidden.

Maxi's paleoanthropological find is one of the keys that places him in the crosshairs of dangerous possibilities. But the other is his determination to uncover the truth to save his life and his findings. It's this effort, central to the action and intrigue permeating Species, which makes for a gripping science thriller story that keeps readers fully engaged and on edge.

Johan Fundin excels in capturing the elements of a medical thriller ala Robin Cook and the high-octane adventure action of Indiana Jones and top-notch sci-fi writers.

The science of the specter of bioengineered Neanderthals released to wreck havoc on the world is intriguingly, realistically presented. Because it mirrors active possibilities in modern science, it becomes all the more engrossing for its inclusion of real science pursuits and studies.

Details down to the genetic predisposition of taste are an intrinsic part of the story that keep the science realistic and the plot engaging, while the potentials of neo-Neanderthals are explored with a clever hand to mingling scientific process with the action elements of a solid thriller.

The result is an absorbing, engaging story that is realistic, nicely developed, cemented in believable characters, and hard to put down.

Photographs of October
M.K. Deppner
Magpie Press
9781734560206, $19.99 Paperback
B0878Y7JYV, $5.99 Ebook

Photographs of October: A Historical Thriller from America's Heartland tells of photographer Olivia, who is given a photography assignment in the Midwest and a deadline she's unlikely to meet. This is especially true when she discovers that every photo she takes holds the same mysterious figure in the background...a figure that, it turns out, is not from her time.

Olivia operates in 2003. In 1897, William Monroe's ruthless pursuit of Evelyn Weatherford, despite the presence of her love Austin Hearth in her life, leads two men to clash over her hand in marriage.

M.K. Deppner crafts an engaging story with two different timelines of events which dovetail in an unexpected manner. The resulting ghost story mystery is replete with many elements of Midwestern atmosphere.

Challenged by the big-ticket assignment coupled with a string of disappearances that portends danger, Olivia is assisted by her friend, Dr. Simon Monroe, as she pursues more than career success with her latest assignment.

Olivia's never had a male best friend before. His role becomes more complicated as the mystery embraces them both, leading to weird feelings and more than a photographic challenge from the past.

Readers who like art and intrigue mixed into a story with a firm sense of Midwestern culture will especially relish the atmosphere and efforts of Olivia as she pursues something beyond the craft she knows well.

Evelyn and Austin risk much to pursue their love and Olivia uncovers clues to the past that lead to present-day conundrums and intrigue. Readers interested in haunted histories and mysteries will find themselves especially intrigued by the blend of blossoming romance and danger that permeates both timelines in Photographs of October.

Deppner takes the time to fully develop not just the mystery, but each character's motivations, personality, and individual challenges in pursuing their lives and interests. This takes more time than most reads, but results in a full-bodied experience, as appropriate time is made for rich descriptions, both psychological and environmental.

Twists and turns of plot belay easy prediction of outcomes, while the evolving personalities and pursuits of all the characters make for a story line that is equally absorbing whether the setting is 2003 or in 1897.

Insights into the art and photography world permeate a spooky atmosphere that is delightfully, delicately wrought with a solid attention to detail. All these elements make Photographs of October an outstanding recommendation for audiences interested in a combination of thriller, ghost story, and romance centered on Midwestern experience and artistic circles.

Shira Shiloah, MD
9781735193021, $26.99 Hardback
9781735193007, $15.99 Paperback
9781735193038, $TBA Audiobook
9781735193014, $7.99 Ebook

Emergence is a medical thriller story centered on anesthesiologist Dr. Roxanne Roth, who is recovering from lost love even as she steadily moves towards a relationship with a fellow doctor.

The backdrop of romance is a precursor to the mystery that swirls around a noted neurosurgeon who seems to be racking up too many deaths during his practice. Despite her recognition of danger, Roxanne finds herself working alongside him when another of his patients succumbs on the operating table. This event draws her into an increasingly dangerous situation drawing on both her medical expertise and problem-solving abilities.

It's unusual to find a thriller where the killer is a known entity with the ability to hide behind his profession; the justice-seeker a fellow physician who must confront him on personal and professional levels while protecting herself from his dangerous intentions.

Dr. Shiloah's own background as an anesthesiologist leads to the plot's realistic, compelling atmosphere that blends a serial killer's dangerous modus operandi with a romance story in an especially intriguing, unusual manner.

Descriptions of surgical procedures are precise, as are the inspection of the killer's processes, logic, and actions. As Roxanne faces both a murderer and the ups and downs of a new relationship, the story evolves in a satisfyingly unpredictable manner that leads her straight into danger on more than one level.

Dr. Shiloah's realistic, gripping thriller is highly recommended reading for fans of Robin Cook and similar styles, which look for strong female protagonists who pursue career, romance, and criminals with equally strong ability. It's a page-turner that is nicely described and hard to put down as Roxanne faces loss, revenge, redemption, and confusing matters of the heart.

Divine Consciousness
Reena Kumarasingham
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781789044362, $23.95 Paper, $11.99 ebook

Divine Consciousness - The Secret Story of James The Brother of Jesus, St Paul and The Early Christian Church asks if divine consciousness is in all of us, or just the Son of God. It does so through the early life and experiences of Paul and the evolution of early Christianity, following Paul's enlightenment, teachings, journeys, and impact on the nature and spread of Christianity. Later, the story shifts to James.

As significant events are outlined and discussed, readers also receive contemporary discussions, reactions, and parables that illustrate the messages and impact of Jesus, past and present.

This isn't a biographical sketch of early Biblical figures, nor an analysis of their messages, but a strong series of connections between basic spiritual lessons and modern lives. As such, the approach isn't linear, but is designed to reach into the heart and mind by connecting daily experience and modern perspective to traditional views of Christianity and faith.

It should also be advised, for Christian readers, that the approaches include past life regression and secret stories that are part of the greater mythos of spiritual origins.

Reena Kumarasingham is a regression therapist. This approach is reflected in a study which may be chosen by some for its scholarly-sounding analytical title, but which will soon bring readers into surprising realms as the regression technique is linked to new revelations about spiritual roots and their evolution.

It's been two thousand years since the original teachings that formed the pillars of Christianity were formed. Think about how many changes have been made in the course of just a few decades as history is revised, reinterpreted, and often wrongly assigned values that deviate immensely from original intention.

Now look at Divine Consciousness with this perspective in mind. Regression records and conversations power a new approach to understanding the divine and its incarnation over the centuries: "Mia: I was sent a messenger. A boat came and told of what was happening in Jerusalem. There was fighting. Fighting within the church. Jesus' teachings and efforts are being twisted and convoluted. But even more, those who stayed back can't agree on what to teach. What the principles are.

There is a lot of infighting and a lot of pressure by the Sadducees and the Pharisees to impose their will on our Church. With the threat of the Romans, everyone is scared. There is a lot of chaos and confusion. I have to go. Reena: Who was leading the church in Jerusalem when you were in Britannia? Mia: There are several factions. Many people trying to say, "This is The Way." Reena: So it was all a bit chaotic? Mia: Mmm. Also it is safer there now. From the Romans."

Unlike any other discussion or book, Divine Consciousness is a standout from this perspective alone, providing invaluable spiritual and historical insights that will intrigue open-minded Christians and readers from other disciplines. Scholars who look for supportive notes will appreciate the heavily footnoted references throughout, as well as the extensive bibliography and appendix.

The new age connection lends to a unique and original work: "Two thousand years ago marked the end of the Age of Aries, and the start of the Age of Pisces. It was a time of upheaval as the New Consciousness brought about change and challenged status quo. It was a time where cultural conditioning and belief systems were being challenged. It was during this time that Jesus, his teachings and his followers emerged with their controversial new teachings, which challenged the established powers of both the Roman and Jewish establishments. They challenged both the Jewish Laws and Ways of Being, as well as the rituals of polytheistic worship by the Romans. Those who wanted change were persecuted."

'Open-minded' is a requirement not only due to the regression therapy technique, but to the revision of some Christian perspectives about the early Biblical figures and their movements and motivations. Readers open to moving behind staid traditional interpretations will find a treasure trove of new spiritual meaning in Divine Consciousness that propels a greater understanding and interpretation of spirituality in the modern world and the real origins of their roots.

Mommy, I Need My Wheels
Jeanne Fortune
5Ms Publishing
9781735092805, $17.99 Hardcover (English)
9781735092836, $12.99 Paperback, $3.99 Kindle
9781735092812, $17.99 Hardcover (Haitian Creole)

Mommy, I Need My Wheels, available in both English and Haitian Creole, focuses on a big event in a child's life: when bicycle training wheels are removed. In this case, young Eddy thinks he can't ride his bike without them. His challenge is to learn otherwise.

Illustrations by Blueberry Illustrations add realistic and color-infused life to every page as Jeanne Fortune explores Eddy's reluctance to ride his bike without support.

His wise mother advocates for his independence, but Eddy is worried he'll fall without them, and keeps insisting that their absence may preclude future bike rides.

He's not alone, however. His mother and father are committed to helping. Family scenes, from mealtime to bedtime, supplement these riding efforts to create a warm vision of a supportive family atmosphere.

Despite all their encouragement, Fortune does not provide easy or quick solutions to Eddy's dilemmas. The boy has much to overcome, even with help, before he can call bike riding an unassisted success.

This realistic story of facing obstacles, failing, and trying again and again will delight read-aloud parents and children with its inviting, realistic, educational story. The multicultural family environment and specific story of a struggle many children will readily understand makes this a recommended read-aloud book which uses bright, compelling pictures and a warm story of achievement and adversity to make a point.

Mommy, I Need My Wheels is highly recommended reading for beginning picture book readers and read-aloud parents alike, who look for stories of courage and independence to serve as life lessons for the very young.

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 1
C.M.H. Koenig, Compiler
Dove Christian Publishers
9781734862553, $19.95 PPB, $3.99 eBook

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 1 offers succinct daily devotional readings designed to encourage reflections about God's purpose, Biblical passages, Christian Old Testament readings, and the link between these words and daily life.

The passages are gathered from the early works of several major Christian devotional thinkers: authors Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), an English Particular Baptist preacher; Robert Hawker (1753-1827), an Anglican priest; and Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), a pastor. The meat of their impact lies not only in their perspectives, but in compiler Koenig's attention to arranging their insights in a manner that lends to independent or group study of Biblical concepts using a systematic, chronological structure.

This approach walks readers through Scriptures in a logical manner that lends to clear discussions and understanding of the concepts in Genesis and Job, the focus of this first in a projected fourteen-volume Biblical study program.

C.M.H. Koenig grew up as a missionary kid, with daily devotions lead by her parents. This places her in a unique position to gather devotions to lead others, from the first discussion of Genesis to the end of Job. The reflections from leaders of faith are wonderfully written, thought-provoking, and especially recommended for study purposes. This passage stems from the first devotion on Genesis: "No sooner is there a good thing in the world, than a division is necessary. Light and darkness have no communion; God has divided them, let us not confound them. Sons of light must not have fellowship with deeds, doctrines, or deceits of darkness. Children of the day must be sober, honest, and bold in their Lord's work, leaving the works of darkness to those who shall dwell in it forever."

In providing hard-hitting food for thought in digestible daily passages that lend to discussion and comprehension, Koenig provides Christian readers with a powerful program that advocates taking the time to thoroughly consider major Biblical passages, events, and meaning.

Those engaged in Bible study will find Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 1 an essential key to understanding the Bible in new ways that lead to better comprehension and a richer ability to absorb the true meanings of God and the Bible's stories.

Very highly recommended reading for self-study or Christian group pursuit alike, Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 1 requires only time for careful pursuit and reflection and a Christian audience interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the Bible's connections to human and spiritual affairs and aspirations.

FUR: Zeke Adams Series, Book 2
Ward Parker
Pandamoon Publishing
B08CQ249GF, $5.99

United States:


United Kingdom


What begins as a teen prank of ringing doorbells and running away turns deadly as one is shot and killed by a homeowner who, it appears, is getting away with murder. When the murderer is then found dead, suspicion falls upon the dead teen's father. The task of proving him innocent falls to Zeke Adams, former sleazy tabloid journalist and landlord.

Zeke is in no position to undertake a defense, but finds himself in this position when he vows to save his friend, the father of the dead teen, only to find himself embroiled in the underworld of Florida, including conspiracies, accusations, alligators, militants, and assassins. Who knew Florida could sport such a variety of threats?

As Zeke struggles with a temper issue that thwarts some of his interactions, the atmosphere of both his inner turmoil and Florida's natural and human worlds are brought to life in descriptive moments that enhance the investigative thriller: "I continued to stare at the ocean. A flock of terns stood on the beach, heads down, facing into the wind. It was blowing too hard to allow them to feed. They had nowhere to hide - they had no choice other than standing there huddled against the wind, waiting until this force beyond their control finally abated. I wondered what they were thinking."

One doesn't expect animal rights issues to emerge from a story that begins with teen pranks and a killing, but animals are an intrinsic part of the story line, as is Zeke's involvement with an increasingly odd cast of characters who add elements of irony, humor, and Florida subculture into the overall plot: "I was sitting on my front porch, watching a lone sailboat tacking across the purple expanse of the river, when my phone rang. It was Todd. "Don't tell me," I said. "You ran out of booze and want to break into my house and raid my stash." "I haven't been drinking this morning." "Congratulations. You're making progress. You're just stoned, then?" "Give me a break, Ezekiel, it's Saturday. I'm calling because I was talking to Bear in the laundry shed and, guess what? He's a furry! He was washing his paws in the gentle cycle."

Fur is an intriguing, hilarious romp through lives that coalesce in unusual ways. Ward Parker's ongoing touches of humor appear in unexpected places to add comic relief even during the most serious of situations: "God dang it," McGeeney said. "Ricky Lee, what the hell's going on?" His voice receded. Was I being rescued? Someone shouted, "Use the bolt cutters on the lock." Cows bellowed in protest nearby and then dozens of them trotted by my stall. They kept coming. "Go, go, go! You are being liberated! Get into the truck!" The Captain ran by my stall behind the last cows. "Go, my friends! You will be safe now!" "Help me," I called out. "Captain!" The Captain didn't hear me, didn't even look in my direction. The cows were rescued by ARF. Zeke was not."

As the story escalates from one murder to bombings and more, readers will delight in how Zeke draws upon all his skills, both good and questionable, to not just solve one case, but navigate his way through a minefield of social and criminal challenges.

Natural history comes alive in an unusual, intriguing manner as readers receive a story packed with twists, turns, and unexpected perspectives.

Fans of noir mystery and the Florida-based stories and particular mystery/humour atmospheres of Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich are in for a treat with this compelling, fun survey, highly recommended for prior Zeke fans and newcomers alike.

The Gift Within
Rosemary Baron
Layer Publishing
9781734825138, $15.99

The Gift Within: 10 Lessons of Spiritual Awakening and the End of Life from a Trauma Center Chaplain represents a gift in and of itself. It comes from a woman who serves as chaplain on a palliative care team in a large urban hospital. Her personal reflection on her work gives readers an important understanding about the chaplain's unique role, which is rarely talked about in the literature.

Ten different lessons illustrate the varying styles and approaches of assisting those with life-threatening illness. They open with an overview of chaplain training and perspectives, but move quickly into Rosemary Baron's background and the experiences that gave her a special edge, making her a perfect candidate for the job: "My life's experience and work prepared me for daily chaplain encounters. My faith is integral to my development and life...International living, traveling, and studying enriched my life and prepared me for the cross-cultural experiences of chaplain work."

As she helps patients and families, readers are treated to inspiring portraits of her individual and bigger-picture thinking about the spiritual dimension in their lives, of both the patients and their families.

The author has a keen ability to bring alive the moment-by-moment encounters as she is present at the bedside of each patient. These vividly reveal the chaplain's humanity as a comfort to those in a health crisis. "My last visit with Michael was just after his doctor told him there was nothing more to be done for him except to keep him comfortable. He was crying and I wiped his tears."

The Gift Within is highly recommended for anyone interested health crises that spark spiritual awakening.

Flowing Water, Falling Flowers
X.H. Collins
MWC Press
9781733480239, $15.00 pbk / $6.99 Kindle

Flowing Water, Falling Flowers is an evocative novel that centers on the flowing lives of three family dynasties: the Hans, Wangs, and Fangs. A family tree for each, and a poem written by a Chinese Zen monk in the 10th century, opens a story that opens in 1851 China and moves from there to modern-day Chicago, where Rose Ming is recovering from the breakup of a relationship with a married man and the loss of her job.

Rose journeys first to her mother's California house, but the two then embark on a sojourn to China, where their family roots and heritage draw them into a mystery that has impacted their lives for generations.

Rose's experiences are narrated in the first person. The same poetic style that introduces Flowing Water, Falling Flowers via the monk's reflection is apparent in a voice that observes the nuances of daily living with a compelling synthesis of metaphor and observation: "Women are made of water. So says a Chinese proverb. Water is so soft that it changes itself to fit whatever shape it is allowed to be. But water can also turn an angled and rough rock into a round and smooth pebble, erode the mountain that blocks its flow, and capsize a ship it carries. If I were an ideal woman, by this notion, I would be soft yet persistent enough to turn Harriton, my angled rock into the round pebble that I could hold on to."

The flavorful blend of literary style and personal inspection continues throughout Rose's story, blending disparate themes of family relationships and challenges, intergenerational experiences, and cultural encounters with an astute eye to capturing details and nuances of life in modern China.

Rose's voice is nicely juxtaposed by the third-person experiences of other characters, creating a compelling and alluring story from different viewpoints.

As superstition, legends, and intrigue enter the picture, readers will relish the care taken to impart the social and cultural interchanges between families and experiences: "Ahh, the Dream of the Fang women!" Uncle De-chen said. "I thought your aunt was joking when she said that your mom and she had the same dream, about their grandma Iris asking them to look for somebody in the family. But one day when Hong-mei was in college, I happened to be in Chengdu and was visiting her. She told me a dream she had the night before that bothered her. Hong-mei did not know about her mom and aunt's dreams. I admit that I had a shiver running down my spine when I heard the story. In Hong-mei's dream it was Grandma Pearl who visited, but she asked for the same thing. I have no reason to doubt that the Fang ladies all had the same dream on this matter."

As its title promises, Flowing Water, Falling Flowers gently flows through these disparate lives and experiences, giving voice to the strengths, weaknesses, and choices and consequences of generations of characters. X.H. Collins crafts a masterful tale of intrigue and discovery that traverses lies, truths, spiritual intention, social interaction, and cultural revelation with an equally deft hand.

From banishment to far-away places to husband matchmaking conundrums and the price of decisions made for the future and betterment of generations to come, Flowing Water, Falling Flowers offers a cultural, social, and psychological inspection that is as literary and compelling as its title. It is highly recommended as a journey of discovery and change that will appeal to anyone interested in the lasting impact of Chinese heritage and culture.

Cannabis in Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach
Kenneth Finn, MD, Editor
9783030459673, $99.99 pbk
9783030459680, $79.99 ebook purchase / $16.99 ebook rental

With the advent of marijuana's legalization in many states across America, the discussions of cannabis become more flavored with opinion over facts, on either side. This is why Cannabis in Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach is an essential tool for anyone with a specific interest in medical treatments and cannabis' role in them. It gathers evidence and studies surrounding the herb's uses and provides a reasoned, fact-supported survey that is key to any medical professional as well as consumers interested in the evidence supporting its various applications.

Knowledge of the risks, effects, and short- and long-term influences of cannabis exposure has increased, especially in recent years, but until now, no single synthesis of the studies surrounding its medical use has been available.

Dr. Kenneth Finn considers different medical disciplines, pinpoints areas containing data as well as those which lack information, and contrasts varying uses, effectiveness, and studies on cannabis.

Key to these studies is an acknowledgment that limitations surrounding measurement abilities and data remain a significant issue in the ability to properly assess cannabis's role in treatment programs.

The science surrounding such investigations has changed, thanks to the evolution of neurophysiology and better testing which, in turn, has led to a new wealth of information that needs to be properly examined, synthesized, and applied to refine treatments.

The wide-ranging collection also includes many insights on social stigma, cultural differences between cannabis and other substances, the impacts of intentional and unintentional exposures (such as pediatrics), and studies on dose response effects on all ages.

This is no casual pursuit for those pro or con about the subject, but a heavily footnoted reference and serious college-level medical treatise that seeks to do something few others on the subject achieve. It gathers verified data and places it in perspective of the medical community's different disciplines and approaches to integrating cannabis into their treatment options.

Well-grounded in case studies and meta-analyses, clinicians receive a solid consideration of the latest data and research on cannabis, and can use this book to tailor their own approaches to the herb's possibilities and detriments. Those working in healthcare and legal fields alike can also refer to these studies for support in physician and consumer choices on many levels.

Because much is pinpointed about the unknown or detrimental effects of cannabis, some might claim bias in the wealth of research being presented. But those used to evidence-based empirical studies well know that while bias may be built into some investigations, overall, it is accounted for in medical examinations and studies; especially in this book, which mentions when limited data indicates that a proper decision or conclusion can't be reached.

The result is a solid collection of studies and evidence that will appeal to professionals, college-level students, clinicians, and anyone interested in cannabis applications, research, potentials, and proven detriments.

Nancy Scott
Independently Published
9780578222240, $17.00

Shattered is a historical romance about a Marine veteran's PTSD struggles and his affection for Laine, who faces her own obstacles in life. It opens in 1952 Korea, where 21-year-old Matt is increasingly saddened by the role he is assigned to play in that country's war.

The second chapter introduces Laine's life in Illinois, where she and her younger brother, Eddie, face changes tempered by their mother's death and their father's emotional distance. "If you stay miserable about things you cannot change," Helen, the Czech housekeeper, explains, "you will never find happiness in life."

Alternating chapters contrast these lives and how different perspectives evolve. Matt finds himself in a VA hospital in Southern California recovering from war wounds, feeling that he's left his war duties unfinished. They meet when Laine journeys to visit her cousin, Marcy, in Florida, while Matt makes the trip for different reasons.

Reflections on war's lasting impact permeate their developing relationship: "Once these guys have been in Korea, they grow up fast. Age doesn't mean anything." Marcy tells Laine. "Being smart, staying alive is what counts." How Matt and Laine grow with each other while accepting past influences on their relationship makes for an engrossing romance that follows each individual as well as their combined connections.

As Matt faces his own anger and reactions at home to his experiences overseas and confronts his emotional dislocation, Laine, having had her fling with him, contemplates her high school boyfriend, Peter, and ponders Matt's inexplicable behavior at a New Year's Eve party.

Matt's return into Laine's life brings with it a complexity and depth she's been longing for, along with the promise of a future each has avoided discussing, for different reasons.

Nancy Scott does an outstanding job of depicting two young people whose different influences and lives at first belie the promise of connection and romance. There are no easy answers, no predictable trajectories, and no shallow characterizations in Shattered.

High drama and startling confrontations are anticipated from the book's title, but the true challenges of this relationship lie not in one startling, world-changing event, but a series of reactions and experiences that lead Laine and Matt in different directions, from Florida to Idaho to Illinois, to the Northwoods in Wisconsin, and back again, before they finally join together.

Scott uses the mercurial, fluid status of romance and love to spice a story that is quietly compelling and turbulent. Whether Matt and Laine are in the same place or miles apart, each continues to affect the other's life.

The Korean War changed everything for many young people. Scott does a fine job of depicting these changes both at home and abroad in a romance replete with social, historical, and political changes. This story ably conveys how individuals survive, grow, and love.
While Shattered is highly recommended for romance readers, its strength lies in its documentation of the recovery process and the challenges for individuals working not just on their relationship, but on their own courage and ability to dream, both independently and together.

Tales from an Odd Mind
Nom D. Plume
Nom D. Plume Enterprises
9781734886405, $9.99 Paperback
9781734886429, $3.99 Ebook

Short story mysteries and poems holding elements of the supernatural and odd ironies permeate the anonymous author Nom D. Plume's Tales from an Odd Mind, the item of choice for those who like their reading compellingly eerie and thought-provoking.

There are many unusual facets to this collection. The first section contains uncompleted short stories, for example. The Introduction is written in the first-person, by Death. As for the stories themselves, they run the gamut in subject and atmosphere.

Take 'A Closet Full of Killer Robots', for one example. This uncompleted tale in the first chapter centers on the mental patients of 'Sol Lotus', an institution which harbors a dark secret in the labyrinth of tunnels underneath New York City.

When Silver stumbles upon rows of robots in the depths of a basement, he realizes he's been purposely directed to a secret that could change everything.

The conclusion to this very short piece is both inviting and puzzling, leading readers to speculate about the next steps for both Silver and Sol Lotus.

The second section, 'We Few Old Souls', is described as "A quintet of tales of several young people who find each other, time after time." These pieces hold no titles, and introduce various young characters whose interpersonal relationships and encounters are mercurial and challenging. The piece depicting Rebel and how they (yes, 'they') react to hospital settings, dreams of war and slaughter, and the truth about a body which houses countless souls is engrossing and challenging, all in one: ""We - we're connected somehow. Our souls are bound together and every time the last of us dies we start to be reborn, not all at once but we start. And every time we find each other, across continents and across oceans because we have to."

The third mixed section of poetry and prose comes with the whimsical caution that they hold "No rhymes, some reason". Here, you'll find such works as 'The Night Belongs to Us', a brooding masterpiece celebrating night and dark influences: "Fields rustling in the breeze/Storm clouds lazily rolling/across the endless expanse of sky, stars peek out between them/Are all for us/The day's humidity has stayed but not the ugly heat/For the sun has birthed fireflies/A million stars flickering up from the damp grass to join the clouds and stars above/All for us..."

What unifies this collection is a sense of the macabre, strange wonder, and edgy realizations of the extraordinary living alongside seemingly ordinary life scenarios.

From its uncompleted tales (which, surprisingly, seem complete even given their cliffhanger stops) to its exploration of unique connections between people and its hard-hitting, diverse poetry, each section is cemented by large black and white images that also give food for thought.

This collection of odd tales and poems of imagination, mystery, wonder, and eerie settings is highly recommended for readers who want to be surprised and engaged on a more intellectual, literary level than most eerie works.

It promises a set of experiences that linger in the mind longer after their reading, juxtaposing nightmares with intriguing possibilities and revelations that are anything but predictable.

Catch Handle
Alison O'Mara
Independently Published
9798669499372, $11.99 Paper, $2.99 Kindle

Horse stories and cozy mysteries usually aren't paired genres, but Catch Handle demonstrates that both can come alive to reach these normally-different audiences.

New veterinarian Vivian Anderson is busy working at her aunt's Arabian horse ranch as she searches for a job in her vet profession. The last thing she expected to stumble into is a mystery.

When a murder challenges her perceptions of those closest to her in this horse world, suddenly Vivian adds a third job to the mix - that of uncovering the truth and protecting those she loves as well as her career goals.

Readers who love horses and read many stories about their nature will recognize that Alison O'Mara well knows her subject, capturing the allure and attraction of the horse world with descriptions that embrace and explore that milieu: "Nothing surpasses the beauty of an Arabian horse in motion. As Vivian removed the colt's halter and stepped away, he spun and galloped across the pasture. The early morning light flickered through his mane and tail in his dash toward freedom. Disaster threatened as he raced headlong toward the fence, apparently oblivious of any barrier. In a sudden flurry of long legs and flying dirt, he turned just in time. Wheeling around, he looked back at Vivian accusingly."

In this world, animals aren't an adjunct, but are an integral part of the action and setting: "How about you meet me after you've finished here?" Vivian suggested. She would have liked to have Abby with her, but they could not just drop everything and leave the animals unattended amid the growing pandemonium. Colin had been talking to another Detective, but he overheard the last part of this exchange."

O'Mara's attention to detail creates a solid, unified approach to animal and human interests alike as Vivian finds herself out of her turf and struggling to reconcile her interests in justice and helping animals.

Vivian interacts with the community, family and friends, and those investigating the mystery, and readers become involved in not just problem-solving, but the heartbeat of a horse-centric world.

As options and perps narrow, Vivian finds herself in danger and faces a scenario she'd never imagined would come alive, either in romance or in the horse world.

Cemented by strong characters, a sense of place and community, and a love of animals and mystery alike, Catch Handle is a cozy mystery highly recommended for readers who like their mysteries surprising, their protagonist all too human and vulnerable, and their stories multifaceted and engaging.

The Boy Refugee
Khawaja Azimuddin, MD
Austin Macauley Publishers
9781645361206, $19.09 Hardback
9781645361190, $10.95 Paperback

The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War follows the life and evolution of a young boy who escapes a war-torn Bangladesh internment camp as a civilian prisoner of war to make his way back to his native Pakistan. It is a gripping, absorbing read for anyone interested in the experiences, impact, and aftermath of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin's childhood experiences as a refugee and prisoner of war come alive in discussions which stem from his notes about camp life, written at the time and preserved until they could achieve book form today.

By having a memoir that comes from notes written at the time rather than the limitations of memory decades later, these circumstances, politics, encounters, and lessons hold an immediacy and authenticity that recollection alone could not have matched.

Readers will gain much history and insight about the conflict. Its political origins as well as its personal impact on civilian lives are nicely documented so that they need not have a prior background in or familiarity with the region's history and politics to understand the events: "The violent Operation Searchlight unleashed a reign of terror that lasted two months and resulted in looting and the maiming and slaughter of the Bengali population. From Rajshahi to Chittagong, from Mymensingh to Barisal, and from Sylhet to Jessore, East Pakistan was burning. Pakistani soldiers raided and pillaged villages and towns to forcibly restore government control. Women were raped and children were orphaned...With the situation rapidly deteriorating, my father decided to move our family to safety, and in April 1971, we left East Pakistan and flew over to West Pakistan."

It's the personal insights about these social and political reports, which often reached the world from the pens of outsiders, that make The Boy Refugee a standout in the literature surrounding events of this time period. The story nicely captures the feelings of those who lived through it: "Pappa resented listening to the BBC and Mark Tully. "He is always portraying us and our army like we are criminals." "Is it really possible that our army killed all these innocent people?" Ammi asked one day. "Of course! They did." There was repugnance in Papa's voice, "But not to the extent that has been reported. This is all a propaganda. The figures Mujibur Rahman is giving are preposterous; they are exaggerating it ten times." "I can understand if they fired on looters, hooligans, or terrorists, but if they killed any innocent civilians; that is unacceptable." Ammi sounded angry for the first time, "Why did our Army go that far?" "They were trying to prevent the breakup of our country," Pappa said as he prepared to sleep in our corner of the barrack room, "Frankly, I also wanted our country to remain united but when the entire Bengali nation wanted to go their own way, they should have been granted independence. Sadly, our army went to the extreme trying to impose their will upon the Bengalis."

By including not only his own experiences but the adult discussions, perceptions, and concerns that swirled around him at the time, The Boy Refugee proves educational and enlightening on many levels.

This examination of a civilian family's experiences as prisoners of war should be considered a 'must' for anyone who would understand the evolving nature of conflict and its impact on the social structure of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Boy Refugee's ability to capture conversations, perceptions, and changing experiences on all sides injects understanding and awareness into the history of this conflict as the boy grows to a man and begins to understand the layers of ethnic and social conflict affecting his homeland.

Chandra K. Clarke
Fractal Moose Press
9781777217419$10.99 Paperback, $3.99 ebook

Would-be writer Ian is stuck in a small town with a load of student debt, a writing dream that's going nowhere, and ongoing house repairs and problems that add burdens to his dead-end life.

The last thing he expected was to encounter a dragon that shows up in his bedroom one night and fails to breathe fire, but peppers conversation with literary quotes. The dragon offers him adventure and a way out of his dull and demanding life...if Ian is brave enough to accept the challenge and journey to the land of Connectome.

Dragons aren't the only fantasy that becomes part of this strange new world. There are talking bears and hilarious situations that lend comic relief even in the face of their threat: "How would you feel if I shredded your cute widdle friend here?"Simian just smiled. "As you like it," he said and waited. Crunch. "ARGH! He bit me! Leggo! Leggo!" It took two bears to pry Hutch off the first bear's ankle. He hobbled back to Simian. "That," he seethed, "wasn't very nice." One of the other bears sighed. "He ain't gonna talk, Boss. Can't we just off 'im?"

As Ian's writing proves to be a way of navigating this foreign land, readers become immersed in a fun fantasy romp that follows Ian's process of becoming inspired. As he discovers his writing prowess may be the key to not just surviving but thriving, his self-imposed barriers are unlocked and a powerful creative force is unleashed. But is it enough to win the battle?

Chandra K. Clarke crafts a whimsical, fun blend of intrigue and personal discovery that will delight fantasy readers looking for less weighty reading than most in the genre. The process of Ian's self-growth and evolving powers make for many unexpected moments, pointed observations, and a story filled with satisfyingly ironic twists and turns.

Fantasy readers who enjoy satisfying tales of new and old lives that meld and clash will find Pundragon a delight. Its ability to create unexpected scenarios from life-changing, extraordinary experiences gives it an atmosphere that makes it stand out in the fantasy genre.

Charity Cases
Jane Shoup
Independently Published
9781735164823, $9.99

Charity Cases is set in 1888 and tells of attorney Cecil Lawrence's curious involvement with physician Charity and the dilemma of her former patient, a woman now unjustly assigned to an insane asylum. Cecil pairs up with oddball PI Tom Kassel to investigate his latest case, but as Tom uncovers many surprising connections and dangers, the two discover that their case keeps becoming more complex.

As Tom confronts hospital routines, legal obstacles, and well-hidden secrets that depend on the woman's incarceration to hold together, he discovers that murder and reasonable doubt aren't enough to build the case he's beginning to form.

Jane Shoup builds excellent intrigue through evolving interpersonal relationships that keep the main characters on their toes and growing.

As a beat cop becomes a detective and cultivates a special form of savvy, doctor Charity is challenged to tap the moxie and spunk she had cultivated before a miscarriage knocked her down. A host of characters also examine their own lives and futures: "You wanted it and you sacrificed for it. How many people have you helped? How many lives have you saved? If you choose to walk away tomorrow, all it will mean is that you are leaving one meaningful chapter behind for a different one."

As surprising truths about loss and life emerge from Tom's investigation, everyone is changed by discovery, revelation, and new perceptions.

Charity Cases offers an intriguing story of characters that move from revenge and depression to more active roles in their lives. Each rebounds in a different manner, each facing different and new challenges during the process.

The pairing of a mystery and PI investigation with broader choices and consequences that change many of the characters creates a story that is highly recommended reading for mystery, PI, and psychological fiction readers alike.

More than a standard work of intrigue, Charity Cases uses excellent tension and interpersonal connections and choices to explore how characters evolve and solve life challenges. Its series of intriguing, engrossing twists and turns will delight readers who look for the unexpected in both the mystery and character responses.

It Came From
Jim Nemeth and Bob Madison
Midnight Marquee Press
9781644300916, $30.00

It Came From ... The Stories and Novels Behind Classic Horror, Fantasy And Science Fiction Films is written by two critics who offer close inspection of classic horror and sci-fi films and the books that inspired them. It considers the methods, translations, links, and success and failures of the ability of film to either reflect or supersede its literary origins.

Is the book always really better than the movie? Or are there cases where the translation process results in something greater than the original inspiration? What differentiates a good adaptation from a poor one or a mediocre representation from something truly great?

Readers who have an interest in both literature and film receive a powerful survey of both that considers the connections and methods that differ between them.

Many classics are considered, from the iconic Wizard of Oz to the rise of Flash Gordon-style works. The critical inspections are nicely done, offering much food for thought about the presentation and effects of films as they move from their origins (which may be books or comics) to screen.

From key differences in plot, structure, and focus to how each story is brought to life, readers receive a critic's eye that reveals production challenges and interpretation issues alike.

Subjects range from how screenplays borrow elements from books to special challenges in working with animation and sets.

Readers receive close inspection of all the elements of translating written word to screen, and will find It Came From an essential key to understanding how the film version evolved and the background choices that were made in their interpretation and presentation.

The result is an outstanding survey that not only connects literary with screen inspiration and approaches, but offers readers a foundation for assessing and contrasting different horror and sci-fi cinematic approaches.

It Came From is excellent, highly recommended reading that pairs many black and white film images with astute, specific analysis that ultimately pinpoints why and how a film is effective, connected to its literary origins, or produced differing versions (as in Dracula) that reinterpret the original intentions of the authors. No film collection should be without this classic inspection.

Aaron Nigel Smith & 1 World Chorus: Live in LA
Aaron Nigel Smith & 1 World Chorus
Aya World Productions/Tuff Gong International, Distributor

Fans of reggae music are in for a treat with an album that was recorded during a live performance at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, CA.

First of all, the reggae beat is supported by a children's chorus and vocals by Smith's own son Zion. This multi-voice production lends a depth and dimension to the usual reggae sound that imparts a rich community feel to the effort, one of the contentions and hearts of reggae music.

From 'Reggae Ridmon', a dance party infused with the energy of the children's voices in 1 World Chorus and 'Zion Lion' that encourages all ages, to 'Everyone Loves to Dance' which presents "not a dance contest, but a joyful rhythm' that melds rock influences with driving rhythms, this upbeat, positive presentation is designed to attract a wider audience than most reggae artists appeal to.

By infusing the classic reggae beats and sounds with rock and accessible rhythms, Aaron Nigel Smith creates a winning combination that expands his audience. 1 World Chorus expands the age of this market to younger listeners, juxtaposing dance rhythms with different songs such as 'Natty Dreadlocks', about the big hat and long hair often intrinsic to reggae artists.

"If you really want to know why I let my hair grow/it was a promise I made a long time ago/to live a life of peace and unity..."

One can imagine children gathered around, listening to this gentle explanation. One can imagine adults gathered around, as well, enjoying a diverse and lively disc that departs from often-typical political focus of reggae beats to embrace a wider world, more diverse voices and ages, and a rhythm that will prove compelling to all.

Hola, Amigo: Songs of Friendship
123 Andres
Salsana Records (ASCAP)

The group 123 Andres represents the rollicking songs of Andres Salguero and Christina, who specialize in creating bilingual Spanish/English songs the entire family can enjoy. The catchy music CD Hola, Amigo: Songs of Friendship supports the previously-published children's board book, Hello Friend/Hola Amigo, adding a literary foundation to the Spanish and English songs for the very young.

Hola, Amigo: Songs About Friendship is being released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this book, creating a children's music album of remastered versions of Hola, Amigo in Spanish and English, plus eight more bilingual songs that explore the theme of friendship.

Classic Latin beats, horns, and simple bilingual language marks a presentation that kids and parents can readily enjoy together. That's the power of this album - reaching families with sounds and music that encourage not just friendship and understanding, but shared lively experiences.

While Latin listeners will likely be the first audience for this family-oriented production, any English-speaking child learning Spanish will also find the music a very accessible way of learning not just a foreign language, but the cultural forces that it represents.

From songs of celebration and encouragement to tunes like 'Cooperation', which hold bilingual embellishments against a country music-sounding backdrop, this diverse collection of creations expands the definitions of cross-cultural creations and Latin influences alike. It is very highly recommended listening for the entire family.

The Girl at the Hanging Tree
Mary Gray
Monster Ivy Publishing
1948095645, $14.99

The Girl at the Hanging Tree is a fine psychological thriller that revolves around Gemma Louise Coldiron's very different personalities. Gemma is self-confined to her mansion home, coming out only to shop for necessities every few weeks. Her alter personality Tansy (Gemma has Dissociative Identity Disorder) has imposed upon Gemma the need to stay inside, even as Gemma chafes against her limitations and wishes to travel despite the amnesia she suffers from.

Tansy knows many things...including the fact that Gemma was once married to an oil tycoon who vanished, and that he led a secret society. She also knows too much, and her attempts to keep Gemma in the dark are starting to backfire. Will Gemma develop further alter personalities in an effort to keep her self and life together?

As much a story about the inner mindset of a woman struggling against herself as a thriller about a possible real-world murder, Mary Gray creates a compelling story by juxtaposing two personas who operate in one body: "Consciousness hits me like a swift creek rolling over smooth and jagged boulders. Hand on doorknob, back against door. It appears Tansy's decided it's time for me to take over. Salt and pepper shakers go to war in my arms, so I shake them out. Grasp the nearest pillar. Looks like my alter has left me on the side porch this time."

There's no mystery about Gemma's personality and amnesia condition. The tension is created as much by outside events and conundrums as by the mental struggles of a woman charged with not only handling her selves, but the possibility that she is either innocent or guilty of murder.

Either way, it's up to Gemma to juggle Tansy and a missing man simultaneously. Exquisite tension between the two experiences is well-crafted in a story which delicately walks the line between a psychological exploration and a thriller.

By using the first person and having Gemma more than aware of many facets of her mental condition, Gray crafts a story line that is compellingly realistic. Tansy's perspective is equally well done as she interacts with Gemma, and readers slowly learn the rationale behind her obsession with painting macabre art and her fixation on making sure Gemma stays safely at home: "Bringing a shaky hand to our forehead, Tansy says, "I'm tired of keepin' all this to myself. It's a monumental task, dearest. It's why I have to paint. But I'm tired of harborin' all the secrets, and I am tired of you not trustin' me. I think it will be easier if you understand why I am who I am. You need to truly know exactly why leaving our home isn't safe."

The many secrets that are revealed in the course of Gemma's journey enhance the intrigue and tension over the course of evolving events. As a result, the story solidly rests on psychological insights, and proves hard to put down.

While The Girl at the Hanging Tree will reach thriller readers with its original, engrossing plot, it will especially delight those who enjoy fine psychological buildup and close inspections of mental conditions. Having Gemma be an aware woman who learns survival tactics while dealing with traumas that have split her personality makes for an approach which is wonderfully compelling throughout as it explores how a woman disassociates from trauma in an effort to put the pieces of a dangerous puzzle back together.

The Little Handbook for Navigationally Challenged Cidiots
D.C. Head, G. Head, Ken Head, and S.V. Head
Independently Published
9781312073920, $10.99

Drivers who want a hilarious spoof on driving, cars, and rules of the road should consider The Little Handbook for Navigationally Challenged Cidiots one of the funniest books on the humor market. It provides a close observation of drivers who are less than adept at the art of getting behind the wheel, and causes laughter even before the story is narrated, starting with a 'Table of Complaints' (nee 'Table of Contents') that features such headings as 'The Shoulder: I Mean...the Passing Lane' and 'Lights and Gadgets: Use'm Already!!'

Hundreds of driving offenses are covered with a tongue-and-cheek observation of 'cidiots' who flaunt the rules. There are lists of typical types, alongside personal case history observations of the flagrant offenses: "The In-Your-Face Shoulder Pass: So my friend Johnny and I are sitting in stand-still traffic on a major freeway. All of a sudden we notice the increasing number of shoulder jumpers whizzing by our vehicle just to squeeze in front of the twenty cars ahead of us. So Johnny gets tired of this blatant violation of the law and steps outs, grabs a nearby construction barrel and plants it in the middle of the shoulder to prevent this rudeness from continuing. Just as he hops back in our vehicle, I noticed the most peculiar thing....instead of preventing the shoulder jumpers from carrying out their violation, the barrel placement has only encouraged them to become more creative. So now Johnny and I just sit with our mouths open as we watch the shoulder jumpers drive slightly up the hill and around the barrel so that they can continue to either exit the freeway or bully the drivers ahead of us."

From 'Driving Under the Influence of Dummies' to parking snafus and 'snipers', this collection of driver observations requires only that the reader be an adult driver. This audience will find it easy to recognize the violators and their modus operandi for getting ahead and breaking the rules of the road.

All drivers should read this fun book. It gives food for thought about offenses and approaches to driving while providing laugh-out-loud moments firmly based on driving realities.

The Bubbe Meise and Other Stories
Aaron Zevy
Tumbleweed Press Inc.
9798675126095, $9.99

The Bubbe Meise and Other Stories gathers a collection of short stories, both from the realities of Aaron Zevy's life and imagination, for a winning set of amusing, fun, thought-provoking reads.

Some examples of the highlights include 'Corned Beef', written about "a person who is funnier than me", which opens with a confession that, under another storyteller's approach, the tale might have been very different: "Were anyone else writing this story, it would rightly be one of survival. It would be one of miracle. But that is not my story to tell. I don't write those stories. Had I been at the parting of the Red Sea, my story would have been about finding a shekel on the beach. That would have been my miracle. Or about having to walk a mile down the beach so I could find somewhere to pee in private. So if you are looking for redemption or acts of God, you've come to the wrong place. I'm just here to write this bit."

As the story progresses, readers are treated to a surprising revelation that injects coronavirus into the mix in an unusual way. This doesn't seem funny - it feels like tragedy as a community comes together and tries to cope while in actuality is able to do relatively little to help or affect the deadly progression of a young man's health.

When the prize of a corned beef sandwich enters this picture, the humor moves from macabre to edgy. This kind of laughter isn't for everyone. It's a blend of dig, irony, and life twists that injects humor into situations where it's unexpected and welcome, providing an ending one doesn't see coming.

It should be noted that Aaron Zevy's voice is contemporary and raw. There will be cursing. There will be a gruff attention to life's serious situations and perspectives that turn them around into the arena of comedy. There will be moments that are not for everyone. And there are good-size black and white photos that introduce each new subject.

However, this is a compelling collection that takes incidents and revelations from Zevy's daily life, throws in a handful of fantasy (and, no, readers won't always know which is which), and creates slices of life and irony most will find accessible and hilarious.

Another example is 'Labradoodle', when Zevy makes an impulsive case to a neighbor for a non-breeder dog and finds himself inadvertently bequeathed with what he has expressed a wish for (not). For Zevy, serendipity doesn't lie in inherited circumstances. It lies in...lies.

Each story holds an underlying lesson about life. Most of all, they teach a form of humor and observation that keeps readers engaged, laughing, and considering the slings and arrows of life and one's reaction to it.

'Bubbe meise' is defined as "An "old wives tale". An untrue story." It's also the heart and soul of Zevy's fun tales, which are highly recommended for readers looking for humor and something eloquently different.

My Adversary Came Onto the Windowsill of Another Dream, As A Bluebird
Michele Rozga
Finishing Line Press
9781646622504, $19.99

The very title this poetry collection, My Adversary Came Onto the Windowsill of Another Dream, As A Bluebird, reflects its promise to provide a collection unique in its metaphors and descriptions. It will delight those who like their free verse compelling and unique.

Michele Rozga's voice is beautiful. Her evocative descriptions are refreshingly original: "In the childhood of my language/the trees seemed to walk along/at the side of the road where I/walked. My mouth could barely/move because the blood in my/tongue so often just sang its song/without my help. The gods were/many and they weren't a big deal:/a firefly here and there, a snakeskin..."

As readers move through the poems, it's evident that this is a poetic autobiography that charts people, places, travels, and emotions with an astute eye to detail, as in 'Helicopters over Cabbagetown': "It was a windy fire: the old cotton mill/burning so badly the bricks themselves,/in the heat mirage, seemed to run down/the sides of what they'd once been."

Between its sense of place, self, past and present history, and life observations, My Adversary Came Onto the Windowsill of Another Dream, As A Bluebird assumes a lovely, ethereal stroll that brings to life everything it touches.

Its questions, observations, and journeys will reach into the hearts and minds of poetry readers who like their writers fluid, descriptive, and well centered, making strong connections between observation, emotion, and life events.

The images and language of My Adversary Came Onto the Windowsill of Another Dream, As A Bluebird is simply exquisite, making this a highly recommended piece for free verse readers of autobiography and life experience.

Jiggs, The Beginning
Murray M. Smith
9781647187651, $14.95 Paperback
9781647187651, $24.95 Hardcover

Ordering Information: Ingram, B&N, Amazon

Ages 2 and older will appreciate this picture book story of Jiggs, a cat who lived in the Pigeon Point lighthouse.

Lovely artistic drawings by Jonathon Wilson and hand paintings by Darice Machel McGuire highlight Murray M. Smith's tale of a kitty named Jiggsy who was born with his siblings under the lighthouse porch.

When they become old enough to leave their box, they receive a stern warning from Mom about the dangers of the world and a nearby dark cave. The kittens promise to stay safe, but curiosity dominates, and Jiggsy decides to investigate the dark cave in a safe way that ultimately lands him in trouble.

Kids who like cats, playful drawings, and stories about animals will enjoy this story about caution and curiosity.

Parental read-aloud assistance will be required for youngsters who don't read at the paragraph level yet, but the delightful story will attract all ages.

Lessons about safety, kindness, friendships, and caution create a compelling saga that is playful and serious at the same time: perfect for parents who want to teach their kids a combined sense of wonder and caution about exploring their world.

Genealogy Lesson for the Laity
Cathryn Shea
Unsolicited Press
9781950730520, $16.00 Paper, $5.99 Kindle

Genealogy Lesson for the Laity offers a spiritual-based literary collection that comments on social issues, prejudice, war, and peace with an eye to exploring contrasts in experience and perspective.

Shea's collection opens with personal reflective touches on life, family, and connections, as in the legacy examined in 'Family Tree': "My family tree floats out there/part of so much flotsam,/ branches sheared off in the waves./I was born twenty miles from this/grave of shipwrecks, where gulls eye/ fertile tide pools from the rocks."

Philosophy joins with nature and spiritual insights as the stories progress: "Today I am observing western pond turtles,/many orders beyond the paramecium./Desire for renewal hides beneath a carapace."

From people-driven choices and perspectives while volunteering to a historical review essay, 'Horses in Dust and Ash', these poems and literary works are astute, thought-provoking examinations designed to connect and reflect on history, culture, generational experiences, and social issues alike.

Its contrasts between hope, love, and processes of renewal are nicely done and easy to relate to, making Genealogy Lesson for the Laity a highly recommended contrast in various approaches to life.

Against My Better Judgment
B.T. Polcari
The Wild Rose Press
9781509232772, $4.99 Digital
9781509232765, $16.99 Paperback

Against My Better Judgment tells of freshman Sara Donovan, who has choices to make as her first year of college draws to a close, leaving her to face both finals and new possibilities. She never expected that her impulsive purchase of an Egyptian souvenir funerary mask would add intrigue into her life, but Sara's increasing certainty that her purchase is authentic and illegal leads her into dangerous territory tempered by unexpected romance.

Sara sees herself as being passionate about life, her discoveries, and her future even as others brand her "stubborn and hardheaded." This quality serves her well as she pursues the truth despite her sometimes-clumsy, awkward attempts to confront the world.

Her spunky voice and determination provide the grit and sass in a lively story, narrated in the first person to capture the extent of her experiences and determined nature: "I'm thinking hard about making some changes in my life. Fast. Starting with ditching that fricking independent drumbeat of mine and taking up something else - like the glockenspiel. Otherwise, kiss 'Bama goodbye and say hello to living back home with my parents. And the exciting life of a commuter student."

Sara is an effective snoop until romance thwarts her. And then there's her canine companion Mauzzy, who adds further insights into her life on many different levels.

Readers who enjoy mystery, comedy, and romance will relish the special blend created by B.T. Polcari. Sara's feisty manner and fun view of life keeps her stubborn, yet she also harbors an ability to rethink, recreate, and reformulate her plans of attack. These approaches keep readers on their toes as she consults her family, dog, and friends and revises her game plans accordingly.

Blissfully ignorant of the real devices of being either a spy or a problem-solver, Sara is at her best when confronting the professionals, as in an FBI interview: "I cracked a smile. "Ohhhh, I think she can take care of herself. Pretty sure she owns a very - colorful - past." Grant cocked his head. "Colorful? How colorful?" "I'm not sure, but she told me her walker was part of her - cover? And last Friday while we drove around talking, she made some crazy maneuvers in her truck. She said she had to 'take care of some dry cleaning,' but we never even passed a dry cleaner." The G-men made eye contact. "She specifically used that term?" Agent Walker asked. "Yup. Dry cleaning. Why?" "In certain circles, the term means eluding or evading surveillance," he replied. "Certain circles?" I asked."

Readers who enjoy laugh-out-loud moments and the winning combination of a clumsy but effective amateur investigator who stumbles into unfamiliar territory will find Against My Better Judgment wonderfully entertaining, refreshingly different, and just the ticket for a lively read.

The Blue Collar Blues and Other Stories
Bob Stockton
Gatekeeper Press
9781662902895, $15.00 Paperback, $4.99 E-Book

The Blue Collar Blues and Other Stories is an anthology of forty-six works that Bob Stockton published over the decade, organized by theme.

The first section, 'The Blue Collar Blues', revolves around a young boy's experiences in a working-class neighborhood.

The second section (the most diverse in subject) offers short, independent pieces on a range of subjects, from autobiographical vignettes to comments on life. Young Navy sailors of the past take the stage in the third part, while real-life biographical stories from the Navy comprise the fourth and final section of the collection.

Stockton excels in assembling a potpourri of flavors and perspectives in his stories. 'A Man Who Lost His Wife' is about a man who attends a conference alone, finds himself hosting an inebriated stranger at his table, and learns about how he lost his wife, making a connection through a story that goes beyond historical tours and lectures. The nautical romp 'Captain Tuna', set in Norfolk, Virginia and at sea, depicts a young Navy man who inadvertently goes AWOL, facing charges and problems with his submarine crewmates. These stories blend autobiography with slices of life observations both within and outside the military.

Each tale excels in capturing a distinct, unique personality. Each holds many insights into jobs, psyches, and interpersonal interactions. Readers interested in Navy affairs will find Stockton takes the time to build descriptions of not just people, but the ships and subs that form the fleets: "Throughout the summer of 1960 Barbel stood out as the only "teardrop" hull design at Key West. The local "boats," as submarines were called by their crews, were all converted World War II design "fleet boats" that had been modernized for a more streamlined appearance. These modernized "Guppy" boats made up the entire Submarine Squadron 12 force, along with the submarine tender USS Bushnell and the submarine rescue vessel USS Petrel."

These literary works are reflective, informative, intriguing pieces that will especially delight anyone with a degree of familiarity or experience with the Navy. Together, they form a unit of psychological and career inspection that captures quirky personalities, challenging situations, and the financial, social, and psychological decision-making that changes lives.

Readers of military literature who look for rare blends of personal and professional inspection will find these stories grasp and reveal the pivot points of life both within and outside the Navy. The Blue Collar Blues and Other Stories is highly recommended reading for those who look for ordinary heroes in daily life.

The Firefly Warriors Club
Susan Count
Hastings Creations Group
9780997088397, $3.99 Ebook
9780997088328, $8.99 Paperback

Middle grade readers interested in an ecology story of adventure, adversity, and mystery will find delightful this story of Texas boys who investigate the declining number of fireflies in The Firefly Warriors Club.

The boys know fireflies are disappearing. The sparkling lights they see in the woods are a revelation, both about the fireflies and their natural history and the fact that they have become even more endangered.

Twelve-year-old Davy's guide to this strange world is the Insect Field Guide. His cohort is 10 year old Anderson. And his latest discoveries aren't in the Field Guide, but inject adult challenges into his child's life of observation which, until now, hasn't been linked to action.

In the opening pages, Davy is off to the best insect observation site he knows: his grandfather's Texas farm. Even before he goes, he's well aware that fireflies are vanishing, although his unconcerned father shrugs: "When I was a kid, I used to love catching fireflies." Dad sounded wistful. "I'd love to catch some, but there are hardly any left."

Davy crushed an empty chip bag. "All kinds of insects are disappearing." "I hadn't thought about it, but I guess that's right." "Look at the windshield." Davy pointed. "Looks fine."

"It should be splattered with insects. First insects disappear, then birds starve." "They should eat more roaches. Cockroaches will rule the earth," said Dad."

As Davy contemplates creating a firefly habitat and faces the special challenge of preserving their environment against forces that would decimate it, young readers receive an ecological lesson couched in a story of peers who decide to move from learning and observation to taking charge of a seemingly-impossible project.

Line drawings pepper the story and add visual embellishments to Davy's account.

This fine tale works well on many levels. Characterization is well done, and the natural history is revealing, linking human and natural affairs and interests and Davy's own evolution in a compelling way.

Middle grade readers are in for an informative treat with The Firefly Warriors Club!

Fool's Proof
Eva Sandor
Huszar Books
9781735067902, $13.99 Paperback
9781735067919, $2.99 Kindle

Fool's Proof is a whimsical fantasy that will appeal to adult readers who like their adventures couched in a sense of fun and follows the dilemmas of an ex-Royal Fool, Malfred Murd, whose exploits have landed him in unemployment trouble.

Now that Malfred has lost even his famous Fool's hat, nobody would know that he has a talent for entertainment at all. He's about as low as a Fool can fall: "Keep thinking about machinery, he told himself. About rain. About anything, anything except what the hottest hindmost Hell you're going to do with no license, no money, no hat and no future."

And then everything changes. He hatches a plot which revolves around Dame Elsebet de Whellen, a sweet old woman who isn't quite the ignorant dear she seems to be. Actually, she leads a country that's facing vast changes, and views Malfred's dubious talents as a possible tool in changing the outcome of her struggling kingdom.

From a power-hungry boat captain capable of making his own double deals to subterfuge on all sides and the bawdy language and actions that swirl around the characters, Eva Sandor creates a satisfying blend of fun observation and irony that powers action, tempered with a firm descriptive hand that brings this world to life: "A stevedore scrambled among the cubes, measured them with her striped staff and shouted to the sailors aboard the Big Rat to bring that scabflappin' whip and sling closer, damn it, can't you see these blisterscratchin' bales of greasy fluxin' wool are down here, not flyin' up on the boom like your sweetheart's lousy britches. Four at a time, the stevedore fitted the bales into the sling's pyramid of rope and rode with them, directing the sailors to winch them inboard and lower them down hatches into the Big Rat's hold."

The rhythm of this sense of place and Malfred's changing role in it makes for a fast-paced, revealing tale as characters barrel towards special interests and Fred navigates the uncertain waters been royalty and poverty.

The result is a lively account of villains, plots, tricky politics and uncertain associations that keeps its plot replete with satisfyingly unpredictable twists and turns.

Fantasy readers who like stories of nobility, irony, and confrontation over change will find Fred a likeable character who stumbles into and out of some grave dilemmas, changing not only his life, but those around him. Those who appreciate humor and satirical inspection are in for a treat!

A Dream, An Imagination - Unfolded
Joy Joseph Antony
Joy Joseph Antony, Publisher
9781777324803, $4.58 Kindle, $9.72 Paperback

A Dream, An Imagination - Unfolded collects poems from a Sri Lankan native who emigrated to Canada in 2010. This debut poetry collection reflects acts of perseverance, realizations, and dreams that imbibe daily life with a sense of purpose, history, and love "...a nature/that gave me awe and wow/a girl/who made me write a vow/a walk/that showed me the colors of life/a moment/that pierced my heart by knife..."

These are poems which capture and reveal the delicate unfolding of life experiences, pairing them with perfect moments in which romance evolves and wandering becomes more purposeful: " know where you began/you have a destination in mind/you will be guided along the way/for some, the guide is society/for others, the guide is their heart/i had been the sailor of its many routes until i met you/in one of its crossroads..."

As family, best friends, love, and loss evolve, readers are carried into narrations that ebb and flow like a river of emotional experience.

Line drawings throughout add visual embellishments to capture and solidify these poetic inspections.

Readers of life experience and growth who look for free verse poems firmly rooted in emotional change will find A Dream, An Imagination - Unfolded a lovely collection that charts the course of a dream enhanced by imagination's colorful overlay of possibilities.

Its words and whispers linger in the mind long after the journey is complete.

The Road to Sugar Loaf: A Suffragist's Story
Eric T. Reynolds
Hadley Rille Books
9781735093826, $14.50 Paper, $25.00 Hardcover




The Road to Sugar Loaf: A Suffragist's Story will appeal to readers of historical fiction about women's rights, following the life and politics of Midwest Suffragist Kathryn Wolfe from 1894 to 1920 as she tackles the impossible obstacles women faced at the time, over the right to vote.

The timely release of this book, as American voters face challenges and questions about the system as a whole, should be noted. More than the singular fictional story of a woman's efforts, Eric T. Reynolds takes the time to focus on the local, statewide, and national Suffrage Movement's real-world actions and struggles, building a foundation for understanding the evolution of voter rights and women's efforts to change it.

Published firsthand accounts by suffragists who capture actual events form the foundation for many of the fictionalized confrontations presented in Kathryn's story, which both brings it to life with a realistic overlay and enhances the story's viability as a reflection of the times.

As Kathryn interacts with women around her, the politics of how and why women choose to become involved (or not) are also explored: "After a few minutes, she paused during her browsing. "I'm reconsidering Women's Suffrage," she said. "What is bringing you back around?" Kathryn said. "I am observing some people's behavior against Suffrage, some of it for questionable reasons."

Reynolds also excels at painting bigger pictures of the times, and the place women's suffrage efforts held in the larger scheme of world politics: "We're supposed to be defending democracy," said Kathryn, "but we don't have democracy in our own country." "True," said Claire. "I'm worried the war news is overshadowing the Women's Suffrage Amendment reintroduced in Senate a couple of days ago by Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin of Montana. We must keep up the pressure on the President and Congress."

The result is a fine blend of literary inspection, historical fact, and emotional connections that brings the times and their issues and influences to life. As readers examine Kathryn's world through her eyes, they learn new facts about the underlying motivations affecting choices on all sides.

Historical novel readers who look for the drive of fictionalized action paired with the realistic history of events will find The Road to Sugar Loaf: A Suffragist's Story pragmatic and informative as it spins a compelling story of Kathryn's determination to find and change her place in the world.

Stan's Frightful Halloween
Sandra Sutter
Clear Fork Publishing
9781950169382, $16.99

Stan's Frightful Halloween enjoys vividly colorful Halloween drawings by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne as it presents the unusual dilemma faced by a young werewolf who finds that Halloween frees him to be his authentic scary self on one special day a year.

The problem arises when clumsy Stan injures himself before Halloween, and is forced to stay at home when other friends go out for candy and fun. He knows he can't keep up with the crowd in his usual way - but can he do something different?

He thinks another group may be easier to keep up with, but soon discovers that the trappings of ghosts, mummies, and witches all come with their own special talents which he does not have.

Things go awry and constantly thwart Stan's ability to scare people. And Halloween is almost over.

This fun tale of a child's dilemma offers a different kind of Halloween story perfect for read-aloud and seasonal enjoyment. The unexpected conclusion is hilarious and thought-provoking, reinforcing the feel of friendship and holiday fun.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Robert B. Parker's Fool's Paradise
Mike Lupica
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780525542087, $27.99,

Mike Lupica who took over the Sunny Randall series now does the same with Jesse Stone in "Fool's Paradise" Lupica conveys the feel of Parker with the snappy dialogue and a fast-moving storyline that is a welcome addition to the popular Stone books. Part of the appeal of Jesse is, he is a flawed individual who works hard to correct his weakness, unlike most characters in mystery fiction. "Fools Paradise" opens with the death of a man whose mystifying background has Jesse racing across the country pursing the many levels of this baffling person "Fool's Paradise" is Jesse Stone at his very best with all the familiar officers of the police force of Paradise, there to assist him in solving this bewildering case

The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural
Agatha Christie
William Morrow
c/o HarperCollins
9780062959140, $16.99,

Its nice to see "The Last Seance" because it keeps one of the world's foremost mystery writers works still in print to appeal to a whole new legion of readers. Christie deftly tells tales that deal with all kinds of unexplained phenomena. "The Last Seance" reinforces why Christie is still a great author no matter what genre she wrote about.

The Master of Dreams
Mike Resnick
9780756413859, $7.99,

Mike Resnick has always been a delight to read and "The Master of Dreams" is the first of three novels that are probably his last works. He died in January of 2020. Eddie Raven knows something is happening to him but has no idea why he is in the middle of many different scenarios including Casablanca and Camelot. "The Master of Dreams" is Resnick at his best that is sure to please any of his loyal fans and is a pleasurable conclusion to his long career.

Finding Jacob
Chris Coad Taylor
JoHazel Publishing
9780997564556, $13.95

"Finding Jacob" the second title in the Havenridge series is a standalone mystery. Stephanie Oliver has secured a contract with a publisher to document the darkest secrets of the Brewer family of Havenridge Georgia. Her research takes her to New Orleans where she hooks up with some interesting professional people who have revealing information. Someone though does not want her to finish the project as several attempts on her life are carried out. "Finding Jacob" is a multi-layered suspenseful page turning read that concludes with a satisfying ending that will have readers begging for more tales of Havenridge Georgia.

Always Young And Restless: My Life On and Off America's #1 Daytime Drama
Melody Thomas Scott with Dana L. Davis
Foreword by Camille Paglia
Diversion Books
9781635766943, $26.99

Melody Thomas Scott for the first time delves into her own life to tell of the many different famous individuals including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock she has worked with throughout her entire life. For the fans of Y&R she reveals many stories that are fun reading while also very telling about the number 1 daytime drama she has been so fortunate to be a part of for forty plus years. "Always Young And Restless" is for anyone who would like to know more about the show, the characters and Melody Thomas Scott herself.

Darkness to Dawning
Michele Cooke
Barnes & Noble Press
9781078789936, $8.99

Books come in all shapes and sizes but "Darkness to Dawning" has to be one of the most unique ever published in all the years of the business. The first aspect that sets it apart from all others is the front and back covers are photos with no print to be found anywhere. No hint of the title only on the binding and nothing inside to let people know what its about. A reader has only to pick up "Darkness to Dawning" that opens with Michele Cooke's dedication to know this is a different kind of journey. Cooke's prose is an excursion into her own life that has been nothing short of remarkable. Along the way she delves into different negatives but contains messages of hope like "when a door closes another opens" to showing that we all control our destiny in this world. She unflinchingly lays bare secrets of her family that so many of us can relate to. Though only 88 pages, "Darkness to Dawning" is a very comforting jaunt through her own experiences that others can profit from by her optimistic outlook even through adversity. For readers who love, sadly I could not find a listing for it there but there are other resources to go to. That said "Darkness to Dawning" is a fascinating read for anyone who wants something different to add to their reading list.

A Never Forgotten Journey: An Immigrant Story
Lilly Storm
Book Writing Inc
978952263880, $19.99,

A Never Forgotten Journey is a personal memoir of one woman's path to citizenship in the United States but it is also a multi layered story including the relationship of a mother and daughter. Storm has led a remarkable life coming from a very poor environment in the country of Guinea to exemplify the very best qualities of the immigration system of this country. The only negative I can say is that Storm should have let "A Never Forgotten Journey" speak for itself and not include all of her thoughts and the history of immigration of this country because it took away for the positive expose of her own story

How Trump Stole 2020
Greg Palast
With comics by Ted Rall
Seven Stories Press
9781644210567, $16.95

"How Trump Stole 2020" is a prime example of how important the cover is to the book in question. At first glance of the artwork, "How Trump Stole 2020" appears to be a collection of comic strips making fun of the current president. Once inside, it's a totally different presentation, of the terrible things that have been done through different elections to win that the Trump campaign and certain republicans are doing this year to tip the balance in their favor. There are so many tricks that are tried and true that have nothing at all to do with hackers. That is a separate issue. There so many different ways that directly effect voters that are beyond belief. Palast concentrates on many elections in the past few years and how the plans were carried out that are still being done today. One of the ways is a letter addressed to a resident stating that someone in the household is not registered. To ensure that person can vote, fill out the document contained and send it back in the prepaid envelope to your supervisor of elections. People have and found election day they are not registered. Its because they sent this in that disqualified them. I am so glad I read "How Trump Stole 2020" before an envelope came in that prepared me to not fall for it. "How Trump Stole 2020" is a resource tool every voter should use to prepare for the next election

Ramadi Declassified: A Roadmap To Peace In The Most Dangerous City In Iraq
Colonel Anthony E. Deane, Retired with Douglas Niles
Praetorian Books
c/o Cleveland Writers Press Inc
9781943052073, $28.99,

Colonel Deane takes readers behind the scenes of the war in Iraq in "Ramadi Declassified" like no other author on the topic. The work begins with descriptive contact with the enemy unmatched by any other writer of the war. Colonel Deane details the history of the region as well as firsthand accounts of his many tours of duty in the military. Another aspect is the effect on the lives of the soldiers and their families by the many deployments of our service members. The only negative of "Ramadi Declassified" is that it is a bit hard to follow as it goes back and forth through the years. Regardless "Ramadi Declassified" should be a resource to all branches of the military.

Anxiety I'm So Done with You: A Teen's Guide to Ditching Toxic Stress and Hardwiring Your Brain for Happiness
Jodi Aman, LCSW
Skyhorse Publishing
9781510761347, $15.99

With the problems we face in the world of Covid19 it can for many be very depressing, any age but especially overwhelming for teenagers Author Jodi Aman has a prescription to cope with it all in Anxiety I'm So Dun with You that is based on logical premises to help younger people cope with all the stresses being thrown at them. From personal experience she guides minors with positive ways to deal with the negative situations they are being constantly bombarded with. "Anxiety I'm So Done with You" is a valuable resource to overcome the stresses we are faced with in these uncertain times.

The Making of An Entrepreneur: Giving Birth to the Entrepreneur in You
Erika T. Moore
MEP Publishing
978090794653, $19.99

There are many tips in The Making of An Entrepreneur" for anyone to get ahead by following them throughout their lives. Author Moore compares the behaviors of a bear to an ant to have people decide which they would like to be in life. Throughout the work there are many scenarios laid out, as well as the importance in faith in many different ways to help people achieve all they want to in life.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Braziliada: A journey of discovery and adventure
Sheridan West
Wicked West Publishing Ltd
9781777318017, $8.00, PB, 306pp

Synopsis: What can you do when an unknown enemy is threatening you, your friend seems to be in league with them and the only person you can trust is yourself?

Amelia del Atore, eighteen years old daughter of high-powered businessman graduates the high school when she becomes a target of his unknown enemy. She decides that she's not going to be an easy victim and makes a dramatic decision.

She leaves her parents' home to test herself against the challenges of adult life and starts her own investigation with assistance of her school friend Marcelu to discover a clandestine organization operating on the national level.

Critique: A deftly scripted and impressively original action/adventure novel from a women's perspective, "Braziliada: A journey of discovery and adventure" is a compelling and entertaining read from first page to last and fully showcases author Sheridan West's genuine flair for narrative driven storytelling. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collection, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Braziliada: A journey of discovery and adventure" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Conscious Change Today
Kashonia Carnegie
Independently Published
9780648761617, $15.97, PB, 300pp

Synopsis: Both COVID-19 and Climate Change have a common source based on outdated, unethical "Me" attitudes. The solution can be found in the current rise in a caring feminine-energy-based "We" culture that's just as important in men as in women.

"Conscious Change Today: From Me to We ~ COVID, Climate Change, and the Rise of Feminine-Energy" by ethicist, philosopher, and author Kashonia Carnegie is about moving from Me to We. And the Conscious Change Movement is growing every day leading to greater happiness, success, and a meaningful life, plus a more peaceful, loving, and sustainable world.

Kashonia Carnegie draws upon reported world news events, personal stories, activities, diagrams, and pictures to explain the links between our changing world, the current rise in the status of women, COVID-19, and Climate Change. By discussing both sides to the most significant issues affecting us all today, you're offered a path to a positive future.

In "Conscious Change Today" the reader will discover: What the buzz-word "conscious" actually means and how to live a conscious life in our new conscious world; The links at different levels between COVID-19, Climate Change, and the Rise of Feminine-Energy; An introduction to what a conscious economy could look like and how it would benefit our post-COVID world; How future global trends proposed 35+ years ago are now playing out today, exactly as indicated; Evidence of the energy that's empowering Women and Gen Zs like Greta Thunberg today, based on the quantum theory of Global Consciousness; How the term "conscious" can be applied to a 21st century ethics-based form of feminism (Conscious Feminism) and what that entails and why it's important if you want to go out and make a difference in your own life, or change the world -- even if you're not a feminist.

"Conscious Change Today" also covers the question: Has #MeToo gone too far?. The chapter, "Conscious Masculinity" identifies some very positive and ethical steps for transforming our current patriarchal culture into a culture of genuine equality for all. Also presented is a blueprint for becoming a Conscious Leader of Change and living in harmony with our new millennium leading to a more conscious world of peace, love, and sustainability at home, at work, or within the world at large, whether you're a woman, a man, or identify as LGBTQ+.

Critique: Impressively informative, exceptionally thoughtful and thought-provoking, remarkably 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Conscious Change Today: From Me to We ~ COVID, Climate Change, and the Rise of Feminine-Energy" is an extraordinary and timely study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Contemporary Philosophy collections in general, and Feminism supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, feminists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Conscious Change Today: From Me to We ~ COVID, Climate Change, and the Rise of Feminine-Energy" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Editorial Note: Kashonia is a Moral Philosopher with a PhD in the Ethics of Conscious Change and the Author of the Conscious Change series of books. Kashonia was Australia's first female oil company representative during which time she used Conscious Business and Conscious Leadership coaching skills long before the "conscious" label was ever thought of. Then using her Conscious Communication skills she spent 14 years as an award-winning talk-radio broadcaster. Next she taught these Conscious Intelligence Competencies to her MBA Leadership students at universities in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

The Feasting Virgin
Georgia Kolias
Bywater Books
P.O. Box 3671, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106-3671
9781612941738, $17.95, PB, 380pp

Synopsis: Xeni is a first-generation Greek American, raised in the Greek Orthodox faith, and trained in all the essential skills of a traditional Greek housewife. She knows how to make any Greek dish scrumptious, but the one recipe she hasn't mastered is how to make a baby -- by a virgin birth. Xeni is a lesbian and struggles daily to resolve what she wants with what doesn't by praying for a miracle.

Meanwhile, free-spirited Callie, who ended up with a baby conceived during a boozy one-night stand, is trying to bridge a cultural divide with Gus, her Greek American baby daddy, by learning to cook just like his mother.

When Xeni spots Callie in the produce aisle selecting limp spinach and tofu for spanakopita, she's compelled to offer her assistance. After all, food can create miracles, and they both need one. With undeniable chemistry from their first cooking lesson, Xeni and Callie sublimate their intense attraction to one another by creating mouthwatering meals.

But their good intentions are blown to shreds when Gus's mother arrives from Greece and decides that Xeni, not Callie, would make the perfect Greek wife for Gus. Now Xeni must once and for all reconcile her religious beliefs with her sexuality -- and decide which love is ultimately the higher power.

Critique: With "The Feasting Virgin", author Georgia Kolias has deftly created a delectable and original novel that showcases the dilemmas of the human heart with great humor, elements of magical realism, while offering her fully engaged readers a literary feast that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Contemporary Literary Fiction and LGBTQ collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Feasting Virgin" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).

Editorial Note: Georgia Kolias holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Masters in English. Her personal essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Advocate, Everyday Feminism, Role Reboot, The Manifest-Station, and various anthologies. Georgia works in publishing as an Acquisitions Editor but has previously worked in nearly every other aspect of the book world, including literary management, publicity, bookselling, the public library system, and teaching creative writing.

Flying With Dad
Yvonne Caputo
Ingenium Book
9781989059319, $28.87, HC, 294pp

Synopsis: At 10, Yvonne Caputo thought her Dad's bite was worse than his bark. At 20, they fought about race. At 60, she struggled to talk with him about what mattered.

In "Flying With Dad", Caputo charts her journey to her father through the re-telling of why he went from repairing to flying planes, how heavy German flak led to post-war nightmares, and why he suffered guilt over one particular bombing run.

As she learned to meet him where he was, instead of where she wanted him to be, the result was an intimacy, a deep abiding respect, and a no-regrets final goodbye.

Even after his death, Yvonne's relationship with this ordinary and extraordinary man continues to blossom: in the milky vapor trails in the sky, the blooms of the Christmas Cactus, and the Blue Jay that appears just as she thinks of another question she'd like to ask her dad.

Critique: Essentially, "Flying with Dad" is the deeply moving and intensely personal (yet unexpectedly universal) story of a daughter striving to understand her father and him sharing his harrowing experiences with her as a B-24 navigator in WWII. An inherently engaging and thought-provoking read from beginning to end, "Flying with Dad" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and college/university library American Biography collections and one that will be of special interest to readers who come from military families. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Flying with Dad" is also available in a paperback edition (9781989059296, $19.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $1.99).

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

What Love Feels Like: The Dawn of Human 2.0
Dave Cunningham & C. K. Tyler
Roundfirst Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.
9781789043716, $16.95, PB, 272pp

Synopsis: Told through their letters, "What Love Feels Like: The Dawn of Human 2.0" is the storybook romance of Lucas and Dawn that uniquely unfolds as it begins as a simple post on a dating website, and evolves into an extraordinary relationship that extends beyond Lucas' death.

Given a second chance through a secret government agency, Luke's consciousness is preserved, and the lovers embark on a journey of discovery as they explore the meaning of life, hope, courage and, above all, What Love Feels Like.

Critique: A deftly crafted blend of romance and science fiction, "What Love Feels Like: The Dawn of Human 2.0" is an original, entertaining, and highly recommended addition to community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "What Love Feels Like: The Dawn of Human 2.0" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.49).

Sweet Lunacy: Divine Intoxication in Sufi Literature
Vraje Abramian
Hohm Press
9781942493570, $15.95, PB, 120pp

Synopsis: "Divine Intoxication" is a common theme in Middle Eastern poetry. The "wine" on which the seeker becomes "drunk" is nothing less than the nectar of love. Such "inebriation," however, often produces unconventional behavior, even hints of madness, marking the lover as one apparently lost to the ordinary world.

"Sweet Lunacy: Divine Intoxication in Sufi Literature" by Vraje Abramian contains works by some of the most well-known mystical Sufi poets from the 11th through the 14th century, including Rumi, Attar, and Jami. But the reader will also meet lesser-known authors here whose messages, both unique and fresh, are equally inspiring. The poets in this collection are those who, for reasons which might not seem altogether reasonable to our everyday mind and logic, were willing and able to question this mystery called life and, unwilling to accept ready made answers.

Following the Introduction, the book is divided into three parts: The Obstacle (Mind); The Battleground (Heart); and Deliverance (The Journey). Abramian has included poems and stories within each section that bring the reader's attention to these key distinctions in the mystical process.

While the subject matter is rare and refined, the author is clear that every human being nurses within his or her heart a nostalgia, remote and nameless, a longing for something they cannot express. This fine collection is valuable not only for the refinement of poetic content but also for the spiritual guidance of the great mystics whose voices are made available herein. Sweet Lunacy is a must-have for lovers, seekers of truth, and connoisseurs of beauty alike.

Critique: An inherently thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "Sweet Lunacy: Divine Intoxication in Sufi Literature" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library Sufi Studies collections and supplemental curriculum lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in Sufi beliefs and traditions that "Sweet Lunacy" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Vraje Abramian, born in Iran and a native speaker of Farsi, has worked to keep his translations as close to the meaning and cultural flavor of the originals as possible. He has researched "Wise Fools" in various cultures/religions in the Near, and Middle East, Central Asia and India. While anecdotes, folk-tales and stories about spiritual ecstatics are abundantly present in Sufi literature particularly, no other single work focuses essentially on such profound lunacy and intoxication as this one does.

The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin
Irving Warner, author
Jack Estes, editor
Pleasure Boat Studio
9780912887975, $35.00, HC, 432pp

Synopsis: Written by Irving Warner and edited by Jack Estes, "The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin" is a literary time machine that takes the reader back to 11th century England at the time of Saxon domination before and after the disastrous Battle of Hastings in 1066. In this inherently fascinating novel the reader will step directly into the footsteps of Cuthwin of Alnwick and be entertained by the story of an ordinary man and his wife who work to survive.

Cuthwin, who dictates his story around his 85th year of life, scrupulously avoided people of great power and standing. As he told his wife, the fiery Cwenburh, such folk as we, are pebbles and dirt under heavy merciless wheels of great men and women.

So, follow the real medieval life, and not that of fantasy and privilege and through the combination of conscientious research and robust storytelling, Cuthwin is accurate with respect to historical details and deals respectfully with the time period and people of that time.

Of special note, and for more researched, accurate historical information of the time, as well as for 'the making/creation of Cuthwin', and about the author's influences in becoming a writer during a bygone era, the readers can visit the author's informative website at:

Critique: With impressive attention to detail, combined with the kind of narrative storytelling that attracts and holds the reader's truly rapt attention from beginning to end, Irving Warner's "The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to the personal reading lists of dedicated historical fiction fans, as well as both community and college/university library Historical Fiction collections.

Editorial Note: Irving Warner is the author of five other books from Pleasure Boat Studio, including "In Memory of Hawks and Other Stories of Alaska" and "The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith".

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life
Brigitte Benkemoun
Getty Publications
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1682
9781606066591, $24.95, PB, 216pp

Synopsis: In search of a replacement for his lost Hermes agenda, Brigitte Benkemoun's husband buys a vintage diary on eBay. When it arrives, she opens it and finds inside private notes dating back to 1951, along with twenty pages of phone numbers and addresses for Balthus, Brassai, Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Eluard, Leonor Fini, Jacqueline Lamba, and other artistic luminaries of the European avant-garde.

After realizing that the address book belonged to Dora Maar (Picasso's famous "Weeping Woman" and a brilliant artist in her own right) Benkemoun embarks on a two-year voyage of discovery to learn more about this provocative, passionate, and enigmatic woman, and the role that each of these figures played in her life.

Longlisted for the prestigious literary award Prix Renaudot, "Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life" is a fascinating and breathtaking portrait of the artist.

Critique: Henriette Theodora Markovitch (22 November 1907 - 16 July 1997), known as Dora Maar, was a French photographer, painter, and poet. Unique, original, and a truly engaging read, "Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life" received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing assistance program and is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Art History collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.15).

Fighting Chance
Alicia Doyle
Alicia Doyle Journalist, Inc.
9781734508512, $29.95, HC, 220pp

Synopsis: "Fighting Chance" is written by Alicia Doyle, an award-winning journalist who discovered boxing at age twenty-eight in the late 1990s when she went on assignment at a boxing gym for at-risk youth called Kid Gloves. For two years, she simultaneously worked as a newspaper reporter while training and competing as a boxer, making her one of only a few hundred women in America who infiltrated this male-dominated sport. During her boxing career, she won two Golden Gloves championship titles and earned three wins by knockout - and her pro debut at age thirty in the year 2000 was named The California Female Fight of the Year. Fighting Chance offers an inside look at what's considered the toughest sport known to man.

Critique: A unique and unreservedly recommended addition to community and college/university library Contemporary American Women Biography collections in general, and American Boxing History supplemental studies lists in particular "Fighting Chance" is exceptionally well written, organization and presented. It should be noted that "Fighting Change" is also available for personal reading lists in a paperback edition (9781734508529, $19.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99).

Editorial Note: A journalist for more than two decades, Alicia has earned a reputation as "The Writer Specializing in Good News" for authoring thousands of stories about inspirational people and efforts that have a positive impact.

Embrace Your Vibrance: Practices for Vibrancy Activation
Martha Langer
Balboa Press
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781982246587, $35.45, PB, 90pp

Synopsis: For twenty years, Martha Langer has been passionately guiding students toward health and vitality through yoga, meditation, healing and counseling. Through her fierce commitment to dedicated studies and practice, she formed a body of work called Vibrancy Activation, the experience of complete body aliveness.

In the illustrated pages of "Embrace Your Vibrance: Practices for Vibrancy Activation", Martha offers the ABCs of living a sacred and embodied life-an education in being that simply is not taught in schools. Like recipes that create a delicious feast, "Embrace Your Vibrance: Practices for Vibrancy Activation" offers 26 DIY practices that create aliveness, meaning and fulfillment.

Critique: Informatively instructional and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Embrace Your Vibrance: Practices for Vibrancy Activation" deftly blends sexuality and occultism for maximal sexual health -- making it an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to personal and professional sexual health and well being instructional reference collections.

The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy
Jade Shutes & Amy Galper
Fair Winds Press
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9781631598975, $26.99, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile (easily evaporated at normal temperatures) chemical compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils, aetherolea, or simply as the oil of the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An essential oil is "essential" in the sense that it contains the "essence of" the plant's fragrance -- that is, the characteristic fragrance of the plant from which it is derived.

Essentials oils have been used across all world cultures for thousands of years. While the popularity of aromatherapy has endured, the methods and applications of the craft have evolved. An Illustrated guide to blending essential oils and crafting remedies for body, mind, and spirit, "The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy" is the modern practitioner's guide to working with aromatherapy and essential oils.

Using techniques developed over decades of teaching, you will learn the science of aromatherapy and how essentials oils interact with our sense of smell, brain pathways, and skin. The guide also includes over 50 plant profiles, plus recipes and blends for health and beauty. Included are remedies for digestive health, immunity, women's health concerns, and more, such as Hand & Body Wash for Flu Recovery, Self-Love Botanical Perfume, and Tummy Massage Oil for Indigestion.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated throughout, "The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy" is the ideal introduction for the novice and has a great deal of informational value for even the more experienced essential oils practitioner, making it especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Jade Shutes, is a herbalist who has been practicing and studying forms of natural healing for nearly three decades. She was one of the vanguard of professionals who helped introduce aromatherapy to the US in the early 1990s. A prolific writer, Jade has influenced a generation of aromatherapy practitioners and home users with her balanced and progressive approach to the use of essential oils. She is the former President of National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Her course Aromatic Medicine was a landmark course providing worldwide education on the internal use of essential oils.

Amy Galper has been a Certified Aromatherapist since 2001, as well as a passionate advocate, entrepreneur, formulator, and consultant in clean beauty and wellness. She is the co-author of Plant Powered Beauty and endorsed by beauty industry visionary Bobbi Brown, Credo Beauty's Annie Jackson, Sophie Uliano, and Tata Harper. Amy is a member of Credo Beauty's Clean Beauty Council, celebrating, advocating and educating for Clean Beauty and Wellness, along with other influencers and thought leaders in the field.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity
Alan Watts
New American Library
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
9781608686865, $17.95, PB, 304pp

Synopsis: Alan Watts (6 January 1915 - 16 November 1973) is today remembered as a trailblazing interpreter of Eastern philosophy, but his book, "The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity", reveals a different side of his multifaceted genius.

In this ambitious work which was originally published in 1963, Watts takes readers on a fascinating journey through the mythology of China, Egypt, India, the Middle East, and medieval Europe. His theme is the human experience of polarity, a condition in which opposing qualities define and complement each other. Light cannot exist without darkness, good cannot exist without evil, and male cannot exist without female.

Chinese philosophy expresses this idea of universal polarity with the concepts of yin and yang, while other cultures express it through the symbolic language of myth, literature, and art. In "The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity" Watts illustrates the way great sages and artists across time have seen beyond the apparent duality of the universe to find a deeper unity that transcends and embraces everything.

Critique: Brought back into print for a new generation of appreciative readers by the New World Library, "The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity" is a critically important and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and college/university library collections. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Through his books and lectures, Alan Watts introduced millions of Westerners to Eastern philosophies such as Vedanta, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism. Born in England, Watts immigrated to the United States in his twenties, worked as a chaplain and teacher, and wrote more than twenty books, including "The Way of Zen" and "The Wisdom of Insecurity".

Evolution: Secular or Sacred?
Bradford McCall
Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401-2960
9781725267657, $28.00, PB, 228pp

Synopsis: Should we attempt to understand (macro-)evolutionary biology, in the twenty-first century, as secular or sacred? In "Evolution: Secular or Sacred?", Bradford McCall attempts to answer this question by exploring the secular evolutionary worldview, which combines his view of kenotic-causation, with Whitehead's views on chance, Derrida's views on non-human animals, a statement upon the God of chance and purpose, Augustine's various theologies of creation, a decidedly non-dualistic (macro-)evolution, a provocative thesis regarding evolutionary Christology, the connection between kenosis and emergence, and an explication of both Anders Nygren and Thomas Jay Oord's views of love in the contemporary environ.

"Evolutioin: Secular or Sacred?" also develops McCall's personal view regarding necessary, kenotically-donated, and self-giving love, and argues that kenosis and emergence can add to the discussion of understanding the theology-science-love symbiosis. It advocates and explicates herein a monistic process-based view of the overlapping relationship between theology and science.

Critique: Erudite, elegant, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Evolution: Secular or Sacred?" is an extraordinary study and an impressive work of original and meticulous scholarship, making it especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and academic library Christology collections in general, and Religion & Philosophy supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular.

Editorial Note: Bradford McCall is currently writing his dissertation, under Philip Clayton, at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. He has previously published two books: A Modern Relation of Theology & Science Assisted by Emergence & Kenosis (Wipf & Stock, 2018); and, as editor, God & Gravity: A Philip Clayton Reader on Science and Theology (Cascade, 2018).

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Green, Fair, and Prosperous: Paths to Sustainable Iowa
Charles E. Connerly
University of Iowa Press
119 West Park Road, Iowa City, IA 52242-1000
9781609387204, $15.00, PB, 230pp

Synopsis: At the center of what was once the tallgrass prairie, Iowa has stood out for clearing the land and becoming one of the most productive agricultural states in the nation. But its success is challenged by multiple issues including but not limited to a decline in union representation of meatpacking workers; lack of demographic diversity; the advent of job-replacing mechanization; growing income inequality; negative contributions to and effects of climate change and environmental hazards.

To become green, fair, and prosperous, Charles E. Connerly (Professor and Director of the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning) argues in this descriptive and meticulously documented study that Iowa must reckon with its past and the fact that its farm economy continues to pollute waterways, while remaining utterly unprepared for climate change. Iowa must recognize ways in which it can bolster its residents' standard of living and move away from its demographic tradition of whiteness. For development to be sustainable, society must balance it with environmental protection and social justice.

Connerly provides just such a crucial roadmap for how Iowans can move forward and achieve this balance.

Critique: In a study that could be an effective template for similar studies for other Midwestern states, "Green, Fair, and Prosperous: Paths to Sustainable Iowa" should be considered an essential and core addition to every community and college/university library collection throughout the state of Iowa. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Green, Fair, and Prosperous: Paths to Sustainable Iowa" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.00).

Everything Is Terrible
Matthew DiBenedetti
Adams Media
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
9781507213629, $12.99, PB, 400pp

Synopsis: Today everything is the worse than it has every been. Too many politicians are crazy, lying or corrupt. The world (especially California!) is on fire. And everyone is busy exchanging insults in the street and crappy recipes online. But, it's no use buying a bunker and swearing off all human contact for good (yet).

To take the edge off of life's horribleness, Matthew DiBenedetti has written "Everything Is Terrible", an inherently entertaining and insightful guide for dealing with all the rage that comes with modern life. By the time the reader has browsed through all 400 pages of this compact compendium of relatable complaints and activities, anger will have retreated and some tolerance for the stresses, strains, and ironies of modern life will have abated down to a manageable condition!

Critique: Inherently entertaining, laced with through and through with humor based on real-world experiences we are all heir to, "Everything Is Terrible" can make everything not quite so terrible after all. While especially and highly recommended for community and college/university library Contemporary Humor collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Everything Is Terrible" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Matthew DiBenedetti is an equal-opportunity hater. After working in the advertising industry for over twenty years, how could he not be? Matthew has worked on corporate marketing campaigns for everything from major sporting good brands and financial institutions to bookstore chains and fine china. He is also the author of "I Hate Everything". He lives and loathes in New Jersey.

Green Communication and China
Jingfang Liu & Phaedra C. Pezzullo, editors
Michigan State University Press
1405 South Harrison Road, Suite 25, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245
9781611863673, $44.95, PB, 310pp

Synopsis: How does China speak for nature? How are the pollution and climate change crises being addressed? What are the possibilities and limitations of mobilizing publics to care about the environment through new media, tourism, and government policy?

Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Jingfang Liu (Associate Professor at the School of Journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, as well as a Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar from 2019 to 2020) and Phaedra C. Pezzullo (Associate Professor at University of Colorado Boulder), "Green Communication and China: On Crisis, Care, and Global Futures" is the first volume to identify the importance of studying environmental communication in, about, and with China, a rising global environmental leader whose ecological and political controversies often make international headlines.

Deftly organized into three sections on communicating crisis, communicating care, and environmental futurity, this compilation of essays span multimodal communication practices and methods in green public culture and address topics ranging from The North Face advertisements to NGO advocacy to global governmental policy. The volume also showcases the work of leading scholars, all of them deeply intimate with China, in disciplines ranging from cultural studies and rhetoric to public opinion polling, discourse analysis, ethnic studies, and sociology.

These complex projects engage transnational and national politics, ecological and economic challenges, media saturation, and government control. Holding these tensions together without glossing over differences, "Green Communication and China" will inform new agendas for environmental communication in China, the United States, and beyond.

Critique: An impressively informative and thought-provoking collection of erudite and insightful essays, Green Communication and China: On Crisis, Care, and Global Futures" is a seminal body of outstanding scholarship and one that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Contemporary and Global Environmental Studies collections and supplemental curriculum lists. It should be noted for students, academia, environmentalists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Green Communication and China: On Crisis, Care, and Global Futures" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $42.70).

Michael Dunford

Nancy Lorraine's Bookshelf

Mindful Thoughts At Home: Finding Heart in the Home
Kate Peers, author
Lehel Kovacs, illustrator
Leaping Hare Press
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9780711253445, $9.99, HC 159pp

"Mindful Thoughts" is described as a "lovingly gathered collection of reflections appreciating the often un-noticed details of what makes a house a home." In fact it presents 25 inspiring chapters that contain reflections on the here and now qualities that can help make a house a true home. Mindfulness is defined as the art of being fully present and engaged in the now, letting go of judgment or thoughts pertaining to past or future, but simply paying attention to being here now.

What things in your home can invite a sense of health, peace, and contentment? Here are some topics or thoughts about using mindfulness to enhance your home or living space: The introduction presents the mantra stay rooted in the present for a touchstone. It is followed by What Turns a House into a Home?, Making Time for Solitude, Harnessing Energy in the Home, Spiritual upkeep of the Home, Cleaning is Good for You, Accepting Change, The Benefits of Unfinished Projects, Minimalist Living, Time for Nothing, Embrace the Imperfect, Letting the Light In, Creativity at Home, Each Night We Sleep, and Bring Beauty into Your Space, plus more.

Gentle pastel illustrations underline a sense of calmness, and the quietly intriguing narrative helps promote a gentle focus on being involved in mindfulness and the now. "Mindful Thoughts" explores our internal and external home spaces and senses and gently encourages a return to calmness and readiness to take on the doings of living. "The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will be to ride out the inevitable troubles at home that life throws at you, and the richer and more vivid will be the happy moments that you cherish. Observe the transformation that takes place withing; you may find that you can navigate life more skillfully, with more love and kindness, and choose to see things in a more positive light. (page 159)."

From the use of feng shui, to living with pets and opening doors to open our hearts, "Mindful Thoughts" is a tranquil exploration of ways we can enhance our homes and ourselves by using mindfulness techniques.

Also highly recommended is the companion title, "Mindful Thoughts for Artists: Finding Flow & Creating Calm (9780711252875, $9.99, HC, 160pp)," by Georgina Hooper (a visual artist, painter, and lecturer based in Australia), and which is also illustrated by Lehel Kovacs.

Nancy Lorraine
Senior Reviewer

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Seven Shoes
Mark Davis
Stark House Press
1315 H Street, Eureka, CA 95501
9781944520977, $15.95, PB, 340pp

Synopsis: On a summer's morning, seven healthy and successful people hike in darkness to the summit of Norway's Pulpit Rock, a cliff outthrust 2,000 feet above the scenic Lysefjord. As the rising sun inflames cliffs on the opposite side of the fjord, they join hands, walk to the edge and leap together into the void.

Dr. Elizabeth Barrett Browne, world-renowned expert in suicide, follows the digital breadcrumbs to the mastermind behind these deaths -- the goddess Freyja, a wickedly clever woman or man who hides behind a convincing, full-motion digital persona on the dark web to lure people into conversation, winnow out the vulnerable, and prey on their psyches with a deadly mixture of hallucinogens and perverted psychotherapy. The closer Elizabeth gets to unmasking Freyja, the deeper Freyja gets into Elizabeth's own life and secrets as a woman haunted by family suicide, desperately worried about the well-being of her college-age son, and fearful that one day she, too, might succumb to the ledge.

Critique: Deftly combining elements of crime fiction with fantasy, "Seven Shoes" by novelist Mark Davis showcases the author's genuine flair for originality and the kind of narrative storytelling that fully engages the reader from beginning to end. While highly recommended for both community and college/university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Seven Shoes" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Risk Taker, Spy Maker: Tales of a CIA Case Officer
Barry Michael Broman
Casemate Publishers
1940 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083
9781612008967, $34.95, HC, 312pp

Synopsis: Joining the CIA after fighting in Vietnam as a Marine, Barry Broman's first posting was war-torn Cambodia. He was present at the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, escaping just before the Khmer Rouge took power. During his career, he was twice chief of station, once a deputy chief of station, and supervised an international paramilitary project in support of the Cambodian resistance to Vietnamese invaders. He was actively involved in several assignments in counter-narcotics operations in Southeast Asia including a major "bust" that yielded 551 kilograms of high-grade heroin from a major drug trafficker. His "favorite agent" against a variety of "hard targets" was a fellow whose only demand was that his assignments be "life threatening". Somehow he survived them all.

As amazing as the characters Broman has met are the places he has been, with visits to little-known and rarely seen places like the Naga Hills on the India - Burma border, the world-famous but off-limits jade and ruby mines of Burma, and the isolated Banda Islands of Indonesia, the home of nutmeg.

Broman's engaging tone is perfectly complemented by photographs taken throughout his career, many of them his own, made using the skills he learned as a teenager when working for the Associated Press in Southeast Asia. They include Marines in action in Vietnam, the ravages of war in Cambodia, and opium buyers forcing growers to sell in Burma.

Critique: A simply riveting read from beginning to end, "Risk Taker, Spy Maker: Tales of a CIA Case Officer" is the stuff from which block-buster movies are made and will prove to be a welcome and popular addition to both community and college/university library 20th Century American Military History collections in general, and Vietnam War supplemental curriculum studies in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and military history buffs that "Risk Taker, Spy Maker: Tales of a CIA Case Officer" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Wine Trails - Europe
Lonely Planet Food
Lonely Planet Publications
150 Linden Street, Oakland CA 94607
9781788689465, $20.00, HC, 272pp

Synopsis: Lonely Planet's new "Wine Trails - Europe" is an ideal travel guide to creating and experiencing the perfect European wine getaway. Featuring Europe's most exciting and up-and-coming wine destinations, discover cult favourites and secret gems, with "Wine Trails - Europe" the aspiring traveler can journey through 40 trails, ranging from Vienna's urban vineyards to Portugal's Alentejo region -- all with the help of our regional wine experts who introduce them to each old world destination.

In every region, expert writers (including Masters of Wine Caroline Gilby and Anne Krebiehl and critics and columnists Sarah Ahmed, Tara Q. Thomas and John Brunton) review the most rewarding wineries to visit and the most memorable and quaffable wines to taste. Whether it be a chilled glass of wine in picturesque Provence or a savoury, dry Fino sherry in Andalucia, all bases are covered in this comprehensive guide to Europe's best wine-making regions.

Critique: Ideal for planning on-site itineraries, "Wine Trails - Europe" is especially recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Travel Guide collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists (and for all armchair travelers!) that "Wine Trails - Europe" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.46).

Paul T. Vogel

Richard Blake's Bookshelf

Receiving From Heaven
Kevin L. Azdai
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768454048, $16.99, 240 pages

Prayer, Spiritual Growth, Receiving from Heaven

Kevin L. Azadi's story of "Receiving from Heaven" is a powerful testimony of miracle, faith, hope, and revelation. Kevin guides the reader into how to understand, access, and how to receive the truths and privileges and entitlements of an emissary or messenger of God.

I found the step by step instructions especial helpful in areas of:

The pages are filled with Scripture promises that replace discouragement and disappointment with encouragement and promised Holy Spirit empowerment, confirmation, and trust.

Through the prayer of impartation, Kevin helped me understand the importance of claiming the importance of:

Walking in Your Authority

Receiving Your Spiritual Breakthrough

Kingdom Ambassadorship, and

Partnering with God

"Receiving from Heaven" challenges the reader to actively walk in every biblical blessing and promise, and the resulting deliverance, freedom, and giftedness and impact of communication, and conveying this message to others in these last days.

The Scribe - Receiving and Retaining Revelation through Journaling
James W. Goll
Destiny Image Publishing, Inc.
P.O Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9780768450484, $17.99, 312 pages

Prophecy, Charismatic, Journaling

I am excited about James Goll's book, "The Scribe - Receiving and Retaining revelation through Journaling. I have gotten a whole new perspective on journaling as a "strategic tool" for recording personal unique: moments, thoughts, prayers', and special revelations.

The first four sections provide the reader with instruction, information, and tips which provide the essential, keys to receiving and retaining revelation, Section five gives the reader the opportunity to personally apply these principles with practical models, life-changing insights, and applications. A substantial glossary and a list of recommended reading rounds out the book.

The new insight I gained from my reading has opened up the possibility of challenging inroads and exciting new vistas into my spiritual journey. I am eager to see what the Lord has in store for me as I incorporate these principles into my personal life through journal writing.

James Gall is highly recognized and respected for his leadership and impact on over Fifty nations in areas of spiritual growth, prophecy, and Charismatic teaching.

The Gift of Giving - Living Your Legacy
Jim Stovall & Don Green
Sound Wisdom
P. O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257
9781640951990, $15.99, 174 pages

Motivational and Inspirational.

Jim Stovall and Don Green share their giving journeys and highlight the success stories of others. Stories that stress the principles outlined in Napoleon Hill's book "Think and Grow Rich."

Each chapter is filled with challenge, promise, and principles, which demonstrate the rewards of a "Living Legacy." through the gift of giving.

The book is divided into three parts.

The Ultimate Giving Goal

The Living Legacy of the Napoleon Hill Foundation

An InterActive Appendix with Step by Step Guidelines for the reader to establish a personal giving plan

I found the guidelines for establishing a personal giving plan invaluable. I am revisiting my philosophy of giving in light of the impact and excitement generated by the living examples highlighted throughout the book.

Jim Stovall is recognized for his award-winning film. "The Ultimate Gift." He is also a successful author of 40 books.

Don Green has a background in banking and finance. He is the Executive Director of the Napoleon Hill Foundation.

Richard R. Blake
Senior Reviewer

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Polar Bear Dawn: A Detective Bernadette Callahan Mystery
Lyle Nicholson
Red Cuillin Publishing Services LLC
B00GK3FNN0, $0.00 ebook, 332 pages, 2013
9780988154810, paper

Polar Bear Dawn is marketed as a detective novel but it reads more like an action/thriller with Detective Bernadette Callahan of the RCMP a key protagonist within a terrorist/corruption suspense thriller. Callahan is a central figure trying to make sense out of a conspiracy between wealthy people trying to control oil production by the use of murder and sabotage.

In Prudhoe Bay an oil worker is found being eaten by a polar bear and another is found killed in her bunk. In Fort McMurray near the Athabasca Oil Sands two more workers are found murdered. Detective Bernadette Callahan is called upon to investigate the Canadian murders. As more killings occur, she discovers that the two major North American oil fields are threatened and that there is a conspiracy to control the oil flow. The perpetrators are willing to kill for the slightest reason and the political bureaucracies in Canada and US are more interested in their own petty powers than finding the truth.

Polar Bear Dawn is a smooth suspense thriller that doesn't fit the usual detective or thriller genres. It is an easy recommendation for a weekend read with just enough thrills to keep you turning the pages while still being able to put the book down to finish it in the morning. There are technical and logistical holes in the thriller but they are minor and easy to ignore. The story is a surprising easy read for an action/thriller with detailed characters and convoluted storyline.

A Perfect Eye
Stephanie Kane
Cold Hard Press Services LLC
B07ST4KKRB, $4.99 ebook, 151 pages, 2019

A Perfect Eye is an average mystery thriller with a good hook in the art world. There is a good cast of characters with flaws but the flaws feel more pasted to the characters and not part of the characters. The narration is slightly rough in places and there is an annoying formatting problem with the translation of the text to the e-reading format. These minor flaws standout because the rest of the book is good.

Lily Sparks is a conservator at the Denver Art Museum and a former lawyer. She has a near perfect eye for details. When George Kurtz, a billionaire benefactor to the museum is horrifically murdered, she is asked to examine the scene for details. She sees a relationship between the murder scene and a Caillebotte painting that Kurtz had donated to the museum. The more she looks the more she realizes that the Caillebotte had been forged by the same person who killed Kurtz. No one fully believes her analysis except the murderer.

A Perfect Eye is good adult mystery thriller that is easy to recommend. It has flaws but, if you are also interested in the art world and women leads, you should seriously consider the book.

S.A. Gorden, Senior Reviewer

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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