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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 10 October 2022 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

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

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Wiring Complete, fourth edition
Michael McAlister, author
Michael Litchfield, author
The Taunton Press
63 South Main Street, Newtown, CT 06470
9781641551687, $29.99, PB, 288pp

Synopsis: Now in new fourth edition, "Taunton's Wiring Complete" is co-authored by Michael McAlister and Michael Litchfield, two well-known experts in the field. who have updated this DIY instruction manual to the latest electrical codes, And there's more detailed coverage of today's hot topics, including: Expanded sections on receptacles, switches, and lighting; The latest information on remote thermostats; Home-charging electric vehicles; Details on the changing world of multimedia wiring.

Providing a unique, do-it-yourself approach., What separates "Taunton's Wiring Complete" from other guides is its straightforward approach and accessible design that allows you to: Quickly look up a project; Gather all the information on how to tackle it; Easily access advice from a licensed electrician; And identify what to do should something go wrong.

This compendium of reliable information and how-to instructions features over 875 photos and 60 illustrations. This fourth edition of "Taunton's Wiring Complete" provides highly visual instruction on wiring projects that homeowners want to do themselves, such as: switches and receptacles, wall sconces, phone jacks, fans, kitchen appliances, vehicle chargers and more.

Critique: Informatively and profusely illustrated throughout, This fourth edition of "Taunton's Wiring Complete" is an essential DIY instruction guide and 'how to' manual for every homeowner. So much more than a how-to reference, "Taunton Wiring Complete" is the next best thing to having your own personal electrician on call, 24/7. Simply stated, "Taunton Wiring Complete: 4th Edition" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community library Electric Home Improvement & Repair collection.

Editorial Note #1: Michael Litchfield has been renovating houses or writing about them for more than 40 years. During that time he has been a founding editor of Fine Homebuilding magazine, the author of 12 acclaimed books on home design and renovation, and editor of a CNET/Yahoo! Gold Star home improvement site. He is also a certified green building professional.

Editorial Note: Michael McAlister is a licensed electrician, C-10 Electrical Contractor, and B General Building Contractor in California and is currently Division Manager-San Francisco for Sprig Electric. He has worked in a design/build capacity in single family residential, multi-family high density residential, commercial TI, biotech, high tech, manufacturing, and alternative energy.

Capturing Eichmann: The Memoirs of a Mossad Spymaster
Rafi Eitan
Greenhill Books
c/o Casemate Publishers
1940 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083
9781784387570, $34.95, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: Argentina, 1960. A car speeds through the streets of Buenos Aires. Inside are four Israeli secret agents and their prisoner: one of the most notorious war criminals of Nazi Germany. The Mossad operatives need to get this man, Adolf Eichmann, back to Israel to be tried for his crimes. Holding Eichmann's head in his lap is the leader of this ambitious mission, Rafi Eitan, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later described as 'one of the heroes of Israeli intelligence'.

With the publication of "Capturing Eichmann: The Memoirs of a Mossad Spymaster ", a fast-paced and detailed memoir, Rafi Eitan tells the story of his remarkable life and career as an elite soldier and spymaster. He describes how as a teenager, he smuggled Jewish refugees into Palestine as part of the Palmach unit and how, as a spy in the newly established Mossad, he swam through sewers to blow up a British radar station, earning the name 'Rafi the Stinker'. He goes on to describe in detail his involvement in the extraordinary hunt for the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Eitan's espionage career eventually ended over his involvement in the controversial Jonathan Pollard espionage affair, which sparked intense debate over Israel's relations with the US.

Packed with new insights into Eitan's role at the heart of Israeli military and intelligence organizations, "Capturing Eichmann: The Memoirs of a Mossad Spymaster" is a gripping read and essential reading for anyone interested in espionage history and the daring operation to capture Adolf Eichmann.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Capturing Eichmann: The Memoirs of a Mossad Spymaster" by Rafi Eitan is ably translated and abridged for an American readership by Galina Vromen. Enhanced with color photography and an informative Introduction by Anshell Pfeffer, "Capturing Eichmann: The Memoirs of a Mossad Spymaster" is an inherently fascinating read from cover to cover. While especially recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Biography and Israeli History/Political Intelligence collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Capturing Eichmann: The Memoirs of a Mossad Spymaster" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $1.99).

Editorial Note: Anshel Pfeffer ( is an award winning British-born Israeli journalist. He is a senior correspondent and columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, covering military, Jewish and international affairs, and is the Israel correspondent for The Economist.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

Funnel Theory: How to Build an Online Sales Machine
Jonathon Kendell
Fables and Facts
9798985994605, $19.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Funnel Theory: How to Build an Online Sales Machine comes from the CEO of Sonic Funnels who maintains that traditional sales websites are dead, while promoting the better idea of funnels as online vehicles driving profits and people.

New ideas require not just new methods of delivery, but new mindsets. That's where Funnel Theory shines, with its contrast between past and present approaches and how to enter and make the most of a new sales paradigm.

Faded Glimpses of Time
Nyah Nichol
Common Deer Press
9781988761718, $15.95 Paper/$9.95 Kindle

Faded Glimpses of Time focuses on the aftermath of a time-travel adventure with something different than most timeslip novels offer.

The story opens in 2059, where Wren Derecho has succeeded in burying a dangerous orb in time. Or, has she? The threatening orb actually still looms, making her perception of success an illusion and forcing her to reconsider her actions, choices, and approach to saving her world.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that things have been altered in her own timeline, requiring Wren to acknowledge that time is not back on the right course, but has taken a wrong turn for the worst.

It's a special challenge for her to face a world that is not in flux and changing, but which has changed in many ways while she was away.

Wren uncovers plots, a dangerous enemy who wields high-tech threats (in the form of Cyril Elton-Blackwood), and circumstances which indicate that far more may be involved than the single orb's powers.

Wren is the only one who can enter time and make alterations, but as this second volume of The Tempus Trilogy shows, time machines, orbs, and altered reality indicate that fixing the future is a complex endeavor, indeed.

The orb's last words haunt her: "You can't fight me. . .I won't leave you. . .you'll regret this moment for eternity. . .you are nothing without me!"

Even more haunting to her and her friends is the idea that she may never return to her familiar reality. And it's all her fault: "I messed things up, and you can't fix it this time. You can't fix me."

Besides Wren's realizations of her role in her altered future, Nyah Nichol provides additional, unusual plot developments which range from Wren's robotically enhanced form after an accident to her guardian Rob's inability to help her, this time. Rob is also the security director at a top-secret government organization named DAIR (Department of Advanced Innovation and Research).

As a countdown to 'Terminus Terra' begins, it seems that the one person who could again make a difference is stymied by forces beyond her control or ken.

Nichol creates a fast-paced story by injecting thriller elements into the usual time-travel tale. This provides a compelling additional flavor that will attract young adult to adult fans of timeslip fiction with elements of discovery and confrontation that take many satisfying twists and turns.

Resolution is not guaranteed or predictable in this story, which gives it even more attraction.

As secrets and special interests become the focus of a bigger picture, prior fans and newcomers alike will find the story thoroughly absorbing, powered by a futuristic scenario and characters that grow in different directions even as their familiar worlds change.

Libraries looking for suspense stories for young adult to adult audiences which go beyond the usual timeslip focus of getting back home will find Faded Glimpses of Time a winner.

The Math Kids: A Knotty Problem
David Cole
Common Deer Press
9781988761732, $12.95 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

The Math Kids: A Knotty Problem is the seventh book in the Math Kids series, offering young readers ages 9-12 a new dilemma that juxtaposes math problem-solving with other kinds of relationship and life issues.

This time, Stephanie finds that her favorite interests are on a collision course as her soccer tournament falls on the same date as the district math competition. Should she leave Math Kids?

But that isn't the only change in the Math Kids' lives, as other members of the club face forces that divide them and threaten their friendships and club connections.

From forces that led to near-war between the former friends to dilemmas that invite each kid to step up with new problem-solving and social skills, The Math Kids: A Knotty Problem reviews evolving relationships and dilemmas that threaten team efforts.

Young readers receive insights on these changing friendships and the conflict which begins with a scheduling issue and then blossoms to other problems.

Kids familiar with the other books in this series will find this focus on life changes and events that test friendships to be engrossing and realistic, while newcomers will appreciate the connections between math and real-world problem-solving: "It's important to really understand what it is we're trying to solve. The question didn't ask what the odd numbers or the even numbers added up to, just which one was bigger and by how much."

"And that's what we figured out," Stephanie said.

"We got there, but did we do it the easiest way?" Justin asked.

The result is an enlightening connection between math and daily living which educates and entertains on different levels, from solving relationship problems to thinking outside the box of a singular math problem to consider the process of understanding life changes and challenges.

Libraries seeing popularity with the prior Math Kids adventures, as well as newcomers looking for vivid fictional stories embedded with math problem-solving concepts, will find The Math Kids: A Knotty Problem a fine tale that educates as it entertains.

All Votes Matter
Jerry Spriggs
The Ewings Publishing
9798886400373, $20.99 Hardcover/$15.55 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

All Votes Matter pinpoints issues inherent in the setup of the American republic and the Electoral College in particular, making a powerful argument against the College's participation in the voter process. It's a discussion that ideally will become an active part of any high school, college, or adult group debating voter rights and politics in modern America, and is highly recommended for this purpose.

Author Jerry Spriggs is neither a politician nor a political scientist. His background is in instructional design, and his interest lay in gaming before he became intrigued by the electoral process and presidential elections.

His research, studies, and debates grew to become this book, published at a key time in American history, where voters and citizens have come to question nearly every facet of the democratic process.

With these questions, ideally, should come a thorough knowledge of historical and political precedents, and that's where All Votes Matter enters the picture. It offers readers a foundation for understanding the Electoral College's premise, operations, and involvement in the voting process.

More importantly, it analyzes the concept and operations of checks and balances built into a system designed to be fair and reflective of voter rights.

Finally, not content with criticism alone, All Votes Matter then tackles the subject of how to do better, making a case for EVV action: "If we want our Electoral College results to be similar to the popular vote, EVV (Equal Voice Voting) provides a much better result. Remember, too, that these results can be achieved without the need for a U.S. Constitutional amendment."

As with any democratic process, debate is the first order of business. All Votes Matter offers plenty of fodder for discussions, using charts, graphs, history, and data to back its analysis.

Students of political science as well as citizens more engaged in voter rights and change will find this alternate voting approach, with its state-by-state enactment potential and its ability to prove flexible yet strong, an intriguing component of a solution-based approach to resolving present-day political problems.

Any library strong in democratic rights and social and political issues needs this discussion. Ideally, All Votes Matter won't just repose on a bookshelf, but will assume a more active role in the search for solutions to build a better democracy.

Voter rights and processes are key to preserving liberty itself because, as Spriggs maintains: "How citizens decide poses a tremendous challenge, especially in our federalist republic, a nation as large as the United States is, inclusive of its diverse ethnicities, religions, cultures, values, or priorities. The process must be transparent as it adheres to the principles put forth in the U.S. Constitution. The voting steps we take must be fair, equal, inclusive, and engaging. We must do the best we can to meet these expectations."

Countdown to a Killing: The Selected Correspondence
Tom Vaughan MacAulay
Red Door Press
9781915194084, $10.66

Wen Li worries that, under her OCD impulses, she may be a killer. Co-worker Lomax Clipper has different challenges in unrequited love and career ambitions. Both share a hatred of their boss, Julian. The two together are dynamite waiting to go off.

Of Several Key Characters charts the process of an explosion that changes both their lives. Unlike most murder stories, its main events predate the demise, starting in August 2016 and ending on the night of the murder. This is the first indicator that this murder story departs from the usual formula approach for a refreshing taste of something different.

The second indicator lies in its subtitle, which presents the story via the correspondence of mixed characters that each hold a key to the events that lead up to the murder.

Another special flavor comes with the experiences, perceptions, and approaches of millennial works familiar with such social applications as WhatsApp, and interjections of explanations into these correspondences by a third-party narrator: "A brief editorial intervention. This is a reminder to the reader that the Selected Correspondence does not end lightly. Things will begin to take shape soon enough. The characters do not yet know it, but an accident will lead to a good part of the action shifting to Palermo."

These shifting viewpoints and objective informational injections give the story an especially pleasing, diverse feel to successfully create a smooth story that's presented through unique voices, eyes, and experiences.

As the countdown events continue, readers will find themselves much more engaged with these disparate characters' lives and perceptions than the usual murder mystery format offers.

The result is an original, compelling story that transcends the usual methods of murder mystery writing with its interconnected correspondence, WhatsApp messaging, and the looming specter of disaster.

Libraries looking for a refreshingly different, contemporary voice will find it in Tom Vaughan MacAulay and in Countdown to a Killing, which holds attraction even to those readers who usually eschew the genre's formula approach.

The juxtaposition of humor, heartache, and mercurial motivations creates a gripping narrative that's hard to put down and delightful in both its changing perspectives and in its characters' evolutionary growth.

The Dawning: 31,000 BC
Richard W. Wise
Brunswick House Press
9798986420813, $17.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

Fans of Jean Auel's fictional stories set in prehistoric Europe will be just one of the audiences interested in The Dawning: 31,000 BC, which is set in the Ice Age world of Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals.

Young adult Cro-Magnons Ejil and Lada are just beginning to explore their feelings for one another when an attack by the pale-skinned Neanderthals tears their tribe apart. Lada is missing, and Ejil finds himself on an unexpected journey to regain tribal connections and love.

Richard W. Wise captures the vivid setting, confrontations between very different peoples, and the ancient world of Southwest France in an adventure that immediately grasps reader attention, introducing the atmosphere and adversity of these times.

He takes the time to build a "you are here" feel with a sense of place that embraces the characters' observations and world: "As the sun climbed the sky ladder and the day warmed, the two girls made their way deeper into the thick forest and, probing with their digging sticks, searched for edible roots and tubers. The forest was quiet. Cave Bears still slept, and lions, cave lions and other big scary animals avoided the thick woods. Lada paused and sniffed the air. She loved the sharp smell of pine."

He also features the painted caves and the spiritual nature of these early beings as they interact and venture into lands and places that challenge both their survival and perceptions of their world and what lies beyond it: "Pico stays by himself. He has a hut below the mouth of the sacred cave. It is high up in the cliffs, almost a half day's walk. There is a large chamber - paintings by Pico line its walls. That is where the tribal council meets. There are some, deeper in the cave that have been there for as long as anyone can remember."

"A sacred cave," Ejil said, his excitement rising. "Is it very deep, then?"

"It is the womb of the earth, sacred to The Mother. No one has ever found its end. None have gone so far in as Pico, but even he had to turn back when he grew faint and his torch refused to burn.

"His torch wouldn't burn? How strange."

"Yes, perhaps it is the fetid breath of the spirits that dwell deep in the earth. Pico believes the doorway to the Shadowlands lies in its depths. Powerful spirits protect it."

This attention to the physical world and its interpretation by various peoples and tribes gives a realistic tone to the story, which is driven by emotional connections, trials and tribulations, and two young lovers who find their world changed and in jeopardy.

The Dawning: 31,000 BC is as much a story of war and peace as it is of individual lovers and changed destinies.

Wise's attention to capturing the physical and emotional components of land and peoples makes for a realistic, involving drama that unfolds new possibilities and opportunities between disparate tribes and peoples.

Readers of Jean Auel and libraries seeing interest in this genre of prehistoric fictional settings are in for a treat.

Sun City: A Hilariously Addictive Story of Rebellion
Matthew Minson
9798985471748, $14.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Sun City: A Hilariously Addictive Story of Rebellion is a humorous coming-of-age novel that incorporates many elements in its romp through Irving Mills' life, from a mother who likes to set his alarm clock for an ungodly hour to clog-dancer Wiccans, genetically engineered government pot seeds, and genius baker Betty Crocker.

Matthew Minson whips up a formula for disaster, irony, and fun as teen involvements segue into various disparate elements both nefarious and innocent.

As the lives of sixty-year-old farmer Cal (whose beloved farm has been sold out from under him by well-meaning adult children intent on seeing him safe in a Sun City enclave for the elderly), Irving, and Betty (a "genius with a spice rack") coalesce, readers receive a hilarious story that charts the process of rebellion in disparate lives.

Minson's ability to create not just one or two, but a cast of characters who each harbor a zany sense of rebellion contributes to a multifaceted story that attracts on many different levels.

At the same time, it's a tale that lives up to its subtitle and defies pat categorization. Coming-of-age readers will find far more involved than a boy and a girl's shenanigans. Readers of stories about elderly rebellion will find much to appreciate in Cal Yarbough's madcap encounters with Betty Crocker, Wild Bill, and other unexpectedly lively characters in his new home.

Looking for intrigue? It's here, in the form of a mob boss in the witness protection program and a former CIA operative who sports a new passion for counterculture ideals.

Any semblance of familiar traits, routines, and progression are turned on end because the lively tale excels in unexpected routes. Its characters could, under another hand, have represented staid stereotypes, but here they assume whimsical and engaging countenances that defy the norm.

The result is a novel that is compellingly, unexpectedly vivid in its contrasts between youth, old age, and disparate choices that have unexpected results.

Libraries looking for novels that successfully work outside the formulas of suspense, humor, coming-of-age, or end-of-life scenarios will relish the fresh, original countenance ofs Sun City's special, creatively powerful form of rebellion against convention.

The Cannibal's Guide to Fasting
Dana Hammer
Cinnabar Moth Publishing LLC
9781953971500, $31.99 Hardcover/$4.99 Kindle

The Cannibal's Guide to Fasting is a literary horror/humor work that titillates the mind with a juxtaposition of serious (potentially triggering) topics such as murder, addiction, and violence, then turns these subjects on end for a refreshingly original inspection.

Igor is a huge, ugly, scary-looking man who breaks rules because nobody has the courage to confront him. These can be as simple as not picking flowers in a park: "He carries an old-fashioned woven basket, which is filled with bluebells, daisies, and a few shy violets he managed to find hiding behind a rotten stump. He picks wildflowers regularly. It is zen as fuck."

As if his countenance weren't enough to warn people away, he's also been infected with Pestis Manducans (viral cannibalism), and just can't help a human nibble once in a while, even if it is already dead.

He's not all bad. In fact, he eschews mosquitoes not because of their bite and pain, but because he dreads the possibility he can spread his condition: "Infecting another person is his worst nightmare."

His life in a government Containment Center nullifies his threat on many levels, but the same is not true for also-contaminated brother Karl, who resides outside the Center and fosters rebellion to the government's 'solution' via a cannibal rights group that stirs up trouble.

Those infected apparently have other possibilities, as Esteban Zappa reveals through his experiments.

As botany, social issues, eccentric science, and Igor's innate tendency to do good despite his physical urge to eat humans evolves, readers receive a delightful inspection that considers the nature of good and evil and the circumstances which encourage one or the other choice.

Sometimes it's not a choice. Sometimes it's an urge that cannot be resisted.

Readers who choose The Cannibal's Guide to Fasting will find it difficult to define or put down.

From its romp through good intentions gone awry, puzzling codes and the unexpected characters who can (or can't) solve them, and the specter of vengeance only Igor can wreak, this rollicking good story is packed with both action and thought-provoking moments tempered by ironic inspection.

The result is a story that should attract literature readers, fans of horror and satire, and novel readers looking for a fast-paced saga of flesh eaters gone awry and on a rampage.

Libraries that choose The Cannibal's Guide to Fasting will find it can appeal to a wide circle of readers looking for something different. Book club discussion groups receive plenty of fodder for lively discussion about cannibalism, good intentions gone awry, and eerie atmospheres that take problem-solving to a new level by mixing horror with social inspection.

South of Heaven
Patti Frye Meredith
Mint Hill Books
c/o Main Street Rag Publishing Company
9781599489056, $17.95 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

South of Heaven is set in 1998 in North Carolina. It tells of two middle-aged, estranged sisters who find their lives unexpectedly entwined when they are forced to live together and reveal the lies of the past to not just one another, but the world.

This changes everything, from the source of their love and estrangement to their relationships with their families and others in their separate lives.

The atmosphere, culture, and relationships of the town of Carthage, North Carolina come to life to form an evocative backdrop as the drama plays out.

Patti Frye Meredith is especially adept at introducing characters from Fern's past and her process of recalling this past and contrasting it with present-day incarnations and experiences: "Fern searched Doyle's features for the boy she'd known. The sharp angles of his jaw had softened. She recognized the flush of spider veins that too much alcohol wrote across a face, but overall, time had been kind. She doubted he thought the same about her."

Fern's encounters awaken newfound feelings in her which embrace revelation, forgiveness, and different emotions that influence the winds of change, both external and internal: "For a moment she remembered the girl she used to be, one worthy of kindness."

Does Fern "have a life she doesn't deserve"? As she and sister Leona's lives become entangled and their personal affairs turn into headline news for all to read and judge, Meredith weaves a compelling story of human nature and faith. The story ultimately reveals the nature of second changes, new opportunities, and revised viewpoints in life.

Readers interested in novels about estrangement, reconciliation, and stormy redemption will find South of Heaven a little piece of heaven in itself: a story that pulls at the heart and presents two strong sisters whose shared experiences take on different meaning and impact in their lives.

Book clubs seeking discussion points about changing family connections in mid-life will find much to talk about in a novel that captures the life lessons of siblings who become caught up in bigger-picture events and thinking.

A Feast for Pleasant Beasts
J.T. Bird
Independently Published
9781838047986, $17.99 Hardcover/$8.99 paper/$3.99 Kindle

Picture book readers ages 4-8 will find A Feast for Pleasant Beasts a delight. It assembles a winning cast of characters who gather for a July picnic, from a cook in a cave to Ingrid the troll, who is often the first to get an invitation for the annual woods event.

J.T. Bird presents the story in a series of chatty descriptions of characters and fantasy settings that even read-aloud adults will find whimsical and fun: "So, do be on the lookout next time you take a stroll. She's often to be found down by the riverside catching fish to share with her chums. Cuthbert always gobbles the pufferfish pizza, but there's banana and piranha pie if that's more to your liking?"

These characters receive engaging, full-color, large illustrations by Andy Catling, who captures the nuances and delightful creations J.T. Bird fosters in the lively tale.

It's a "recipe for something quite marvelous" as Cuthbert's culinary delights contribute to a day peppered with pleasant beasts and action. The boy is a "magical master of picnics" and everyone has fun (even though they are all quite different from each another).

Silliness, catchy original ballads, and a glorious feast spice a read that promises not one, but many nights of exploration by young and older readers alike.

Adults looking for a fun bedtime read filled with delight will find A Feast for Pleasant Beasts whimsically entertaining and a cut above most bedtime picture book choices. It features an underlying message: that creatures diverse in age and appearance can join together to create an exceptional experience and friendships.

Cael's Shadow (Book 2, The Sky Seekers)
Larissa N.N. Davila
Stone Raven Press
9798985126020, $23.95 paper/$9.95 ebook

Cael's Shadow, Book 2 of four-part The Sky Seekers series, continues the epic fantasy story of Jhared, a soldier shorn of his wings, and Nemiah, a priestess whose inclinations go against the grain of her teachings and society.

Ideally, readers will already be familiar with Shorn, which introduced these characters and setting. The continuing story adds depth and background that leads to further attraction to and appreciation of the events that unfold in Cael's Shadow.

A (somewhat long) list identifying principal characters is provided to help newcomers transition into this ongoing saga, but prior background familiarity will enhance appreciation of the social madness and personal angst faced by many of the characters.

A previous interest in the confluence of political and magical worlds will also enhance reader attraction to this vivid story, which injects wider-ranging social and political reflections into disparate personal lives and perceptions.

At the heart of these conflicts are the demon Cael, a soldier's efforts to remain effective in changing the destructive course of his world, and a priestess who has a vested interest in helping her people survive, but loses her own identity in the pursuit.

Once again, Larissa N. N. Davila crafts a complex story whose premises and progression are enhanced by two powerful central figures whose personal challenges entwine with social and political issues.

Powering these scenarios is a close attention to psychological development and discoveries that involve readers on a deeper level of inspection than most epic fantasies offer: "It shamed him that the mere thought of going over the edge set his heart racing and a cold sweat running between his scarred shoulders. He had faced much worse than mountain heights in the past weeks: his body still bore the marks of the Legacy's hatred and Alende's fury. It shamed him that even now, after twelve years of the Teaching and more than half that many years under the training of General Nadel, a part of him still longed to fling himself off the cliff just to experience the precious seconds of ecstasy the sky would offer before the rocks at the bottom crushed him."

The ironies of unprecedented alliances are not lost on either characters or readers: "A Forest Guard and the bane of Avelos fighting together," she said with a weak laugh. "Irony exists in that I've not the wit to express just now."

These uncommon and surprising unions, which juxtapose quite different experiences and inclinations, make Cael's Shadow thoroughly engrossing on many different levels.

As Davila unwinds yet another series of escalating personal and political challenges affecting the survival of individuals and societies in this world, fantasy readers who look for swift action tempered by an attention to strong characterization and a solid sense of place and purpose will find Cael's Shadow hard to put down.

While Cael's Shadow can be chosen as a stand-alone read, ideally it will join its predecessor in libraries looking for well-written epic fantasies that stand out from the crowd.

Mona R. Semerau
Atmosphere Press
9781639884278, $18.99

Young adult fiction readers who seek evocative stories of life and death quests will find Forces is just the ticket for thoroughly engrossing reading.

Thorn is a scribe who translates oral puzzles into written revelations. Drawn to problem-solving and questions which give insights into the nature of the universe, Thorn is more likely to see logic and opportunity in magic than mysticism and mysterious forces.

Forces assumes an unusual countenance because the adventures within flow from Thorn's pen, adopting an unusual flowing font to represent the writings Thorn creates as she moves through her world.

The language is evocative and captures a sense of place as much as a sense of purpose in this wintery world: "A great blast separated the trees and drove the snow sweeping wet upon them, nothing could be seen, and night's obscurity had returned. They could only guess, and try to listen. Perhaps this one had turned aside, then suddenly was sweeping past them --- a bare shadow, a muffled sound, a single rider whose mount had been given his head to take the road as he would, the rider bent low peering desperately into the storm."

As Mistress Thorn conveys news to those around her, describing the changing world and her new realizations about it, young adult readers will be drawn into the language and descriptions Thorn chooses to illustrate and interpret her adventures and revelations: "Very far from here, way west of here, --- Thorn began, but before you come to the empires of the Western Sea, as you know there are many smaller kingdoms and provincial powers who are constantly at war. Nonetheless, one must maintain relations, and so i was with a party that was caught in the aftermath of some skirmish and all was lost, save my life alone. hoo! do not ask me the details of that awful afternoon, for the thought of it fills me with dismay and makes me tremble. No no no! do not ask!

Were there bears?


Were there --- oh, bears? yes! bears! many bears!

lots of bears. bears, bears, and bears! so many bears!"

The unusually vibrant written and verbal dialogues spark an especially evocative sense of place, capturing the realizations Thorn encounters in the course of her journey. This creates an exploration of differences, surprises, magic, and other peoples that blossom under Thorn's pen and eyes.

From dreams that "emerged drunken seeming from a tarry blackness" to events that shift Thorn in her sense of place and interpretations of the world, readers receive a lively, vivid, and thought-provoking novel that takes an unusual approach to dragons, dialogue, and dilemmas.

The result is more demanding in its intellectual and worldview inspections than most adventure fantasies for young adults, but rewards the reading effort with a far livelier sense of magic than the usual genre production.

Libraries and teachers seeking something compellingly and satisfyingly different that illustrates the diverse ways in which a magical quest can come to life will find Forces a powerful example of original literary writing and the power of the pen in altering worldviews and political milieus alike.

Iphigenia In Aulis
Adapted by Edward Einhorn
Image Comics, Inc.
9781534322158, $16.99 Paper/$13.99 ebook

Iphigenia In Aulis is an Age of Bronze graphic novel joining a series. The "play on paper" has been adapted for this format by Edward Einhorn, but those who would translate this effort to the stage or public performance in any media are forewarned that royalties may apply.

The original Euripides effort is steeped in historical accuracy. While one might argue whether it is an actual translation versus an adaptation, that point is moot. What is more important is that Iphigenia In Aulis receives the kind of interpretation that lends to its accessibility for modern audiences of all ages. This makes it a standout both in the world of drama and in classic literature, recommended for young adult study and understanding.

As the ancient Greek play evolves, covering the dilemma King Agamemnon faces over either killing his beloved daughter or allowing his kingdom to fall into chaos during the Trojan War, readers receive an interpretation that employs literary license in revising certain key segments of the original to improve dramatic results.

Thus, the prologue, epilogue, and dialogue have all been streamlined and adjusted for dramatic flair and better modern audience understanding of the history and interpersonal relationships of the times.

Eric Shanower provides the graphic illustrations that accompany this translation, adding to his Age of Bronze works of art that create key interpretive moments in the story.

Will daughter Iphigenia be sacrificed to the god Artemis to bless the King's side of the war?

As Agamemmnon, Klytemnestra, and others of the times come to life, all ages will appreciate this interpretation's ability to wind a history of the times into a dilemma worthy of Shakespearian drama reader attention.

Einhorn's ability to smooth the way to understanding the influences, events, and choices of these classic characters combines well with the black and white illustrations of Shanower, creating a powerful story of gods, men, conflict, and sacrifice.

The result is especially recommended for assignment to aspiring young actors who would better understand either the works of Euripides or the process of creating historical interpretations accessible to modern audiences.

Students of drama, literature, and history will find Einhorn's study rich in description and action, belaying any thought that these ancient events require intense scholarship in history and culture in order to prove captivating and understandable.

Libraries looking for graphic novels that are powerful literary representations in and of themselves will find Einhorn's adaptation of Iphigenia In Aulis a fine addition.

Iora and the Quest of Five
Arefa Tehsin
Crimson Dragon Publishing
9781944644291, $22.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Iora and the Quest of Five reaches middle grade to high school readers of fantasy with its story of Iora, who is attacked by a strange creature in a well and comes to realize that her missing father is in a danger only she can perceive.

She sets out on a personal quest to the enchanted Wacky Wilderness to search for him, encountering strange denizens which at times aid her and, at other moments, hinder her goals.

As if the search for a missing father weren't enough, Iora finds herself drawn into a bigger picture and a mission to save not just her father, but the jungle world itself.

The real enchantment of this story lies not just in its action and adventure (which abound), but in its underlying ecological message about the importance of environmental preservation and the environment's connections to human health and well-being.

Arefa Tehsin employs the fantasy quest story to its greatest advantage to bring these elements to life, exploring the animals and humans of the rainforest. Mystic premonitions and forces blend with special interests on both sides, expanding Iora's initial focus on her personal dilemma into world-saving issues.

In this world, angels and animals appear, speak, and demonstrate equal abilities and concerns as Iora is buffeted by the winds of adversity and a desire to preserve what she knows of her world.

Young readers able to absorb not just a powerful fantasy adventure story but its underlying concepts of relationships and bigger-picture thinking will find Iora and the Quest of Five a compelling story, while libraries and teachers will want to choose and feature it for its exploration of real issues that exist under its fantasy overlay.

Strategic Creativity
Robin Landa
9781032137797, $39.99 print/$29.99 ebook/$160.00 library binding

Business professionals and entrepreneurs who look for ways to stand out in the crowd will find Strategic Creativity: A Business Field Guide to Advertising, Branding, and Design the key to creating ad and design concepts and campaigns that work.

Readers might think that business school training would have embraced these paths, but as Robin Landa points out, creativity is often lost in the nuts and bolts of facts and figures. This lends not just to dull, repetitive marketing strategies, but a mercurial vision of what makes one's product or service unique.

Without the guiding vision of 'why' and a creative approach to representing and imparting this message, businesses blend in and too often fall short, mired in a failure to effectively communicate what makes their endeavor unique and desirable.

Landa focuses on realizing, embracing, and cultivating the uniqueness of each business endeavor.

Chapters in Strategic Creativity are steeped in marketing, design, and communication processes designed to promote and support not just the special selling points of a business operation, but how to creatively and compellingly represent them.

Take the section on "Building a Culture for Results," for one example. The nuts and bolts of what compels people to share, cross-promote, and embrace a given business and its message offers particularly relevant opportunities for business managers who seek to design and promote a brand's story. It all begins with listening to feedback and potential customer needs, desires, and underlying interests.

Sidebars of highlighted messages synthesize the examples and lessons gleaned from real-world experiences: "If the core purpose and strategic rationale is authentic, collaboration can be a powerful tool."

Strategic creativity is built into every admonition in this book, whether it is graphic design or copywriting. The pros, cons, and tips for avoiding common problems are also outlined: "Co-opting pop culture is often one of the best ways for a brand to experience a real earned media moment that can get more attention than traditional media or a whole original creative concept. But if it comes across as borrowed interest or opportunistic, it can backfire."

The result synthesizes real-world experiences and examples with admonitions on how to integrate creative problem-solving with strategic positioning methods that embrace and represent a brand's uniqueness.

Business managers, entrepreneurs in different professions, and anyone who would better understand the link between business success and creative strategic positioning must add Strategic Creativity: A Business Field Guide to Advertising, Branding, and Design to their reading lists.

Libraries will find it a key addition, but ideally Strategic Creativity's message will gain wider attention in classrooms and reading groups, where budding entrepreneurs and seasoned professionals alike can absorb the book's specific, important focus.

Following Your North Star
Michelle Donice
Atmosphere Press
9781639883769, $16.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Readers of self-help books that incorporate a spiritual flavor into their mix will find Following Your North Star a fine synthesis of both. It teaches self-improvement routines on a bigger backdrop than most competing titles attempt in either the self-help or spiritual genres.

Michelle Donice envisioned herself a novelist, but each time she sat down to write, this book would emerge. The motivation and purpose of her writing talents soon crystallized: "It soon became apparent that I wasn't being called to write a book that helped people escape their lives, but to write one that helped them transform their lives into something abundantly extraordinary! God had a message to download to me if I would only get still long enough to receive it. I soon began to realize that the message was not just for me but for others, too, who have allowed the busyness of life to overwhelm them. It was a message for such a time as this when the world seems to be a scary place, and people have forgotten how to interact with one another...How do we find our way to lives of peace and joy in the midst of all the negativity and learn to hear from God when life is too noisy? Most importantly, how can we begin to live authentically if we don't have clarity about what that even looks like?"

The answers Donice uncovered in her heart during the process of writing this guide will also resonate with readers who feel buffeted with the winds of change, negativity, and adversity, yet feel powerless to change or address them.

Perhaps the most valuable purpose of this book is to add 'empowerment' back into the picture of better understanding and making more powerful choices.

Her analysis provides striking moments of revelation throughout as she considers other lives and their impacts: "...every spiritual leader from Jesus to Mohammed was never too busy to attend to the needs of others, and they took time for themselves and their own spiritual growth. The miracles happened in the margins, in those spaces in between where they were and where they were trying to be. Consider that when we write, type, or frame a picture, we leave space along the edges of the page or the picture. This margin, in contrast to the rest of the page or canvas, serves as a contrast and makes it more beautiful. This concept applies to our lives as well. When we refuse to live right up to the edge of our lives - when we learn not to over-commit ourselves - we are free to respond to the possibilities that arise. We're better able to pivot should the need arise, and our lives become richer, fuller, and more abundant because of it."

Each chapter focuses on a way out of negativity, depression, inaction, and powerlessness, and each is embedded with Biblical references that Christian readers will find particularly thought-provoking.

Donice is no angel. Her voice comes from experiences with others from all walks of life and candidly reviews both successes and failures, remarking on the revelations that come with them to provide additional upward-bound understanding: "This man would often tell me that he didn't want to have a relationship with me. He saw me only as something to use for his pleasure, and he couldn't understand why that arrangement wasn't good enough for me. It surprised me that there were women who were willing to allow him to use and discard them. It soon became obvious to me that some of them had very little self-worth. They seemed to be willing to settle for a piece of a man without understanding that they deserved a committed partner who was completely present. Even in the midst of the pain this man caused me, I knew that I had value, even if he couldn't see it."

The result is a life guide firmly rooted in Christian beliefs and self improvement options alike.

Libraries looking for a synthesis that promises enlightenment and new realizations will want to include Following Your North Star on their bookshelves, but ideally it won't be limited to individual readers alone.

Christian study groups and women's faith-based self-help book clubs will find Following Your North Star worthy of group review because it cultivates a lively, involving tone while revealing strategies women can easily adopt into their own spiritual and psychological growth processes.

Death in a Time of Spanish Flu
Frances McNamara
Rudiyat Press
9781956978186, $14.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Historical mystery readers who enjoy female sleuths and action firmly centered in realistic portraits of the past will find Death in a Time of Spanish Flu a compelling story. It's set in 1918 and opens with a premonition of disaster and madness.

Husband Stephen's worries about the emergent Spanish flu are only the beginning of the story. His wife Emily finds her world in turmoil as Stephen fights the virus in a hospital while the world falls apart in war, and her family follows.

The already-complex scenario is further complicated by a murder that motivates Emily to become involved when her children are implicated in the death.

With so many facets and conflicts emerging from the start, it takes a deft writer to draw readers into a scenario which juxtaposes social issues, political strife, home life, and solving murders. Frances McNamara is such a writer, capturing the personal observations, lives, and approaches of believable (and likeable) characters who find themselves caught up in situations beyond their ken or control.

Emily's first-person observations of her world and those around her feature her astute eye for trouble as she probes a murder which proves to be deeply routed in community and chaos. All this is set against the backdrop of a plague and war that represent ongoing explosions in her life.

The action is nicely paced, the premise and mystery are unpredictable, and the historical backdrop of the times is so realistically integrated into the plot that readers will find it a snap to absorb its atmosphere, principles, and the sense of changing times.

There is also the added value of familiarity that has been provided by current pandemic years, which makes the publication of Death in a Time of Spanish Flu especially timely and attractive.

Although it's the 9th book in the Emily Cabot series, newcomers to Emily and her times will find Death in a Time of Spanish Flu stands nicely alone as a solid introduction to her life, world, and approach to problem-solving.

Libraries looking for powerful blends of history and mystery which present a sense of place that feels familiar and is engrossing to modern readers (even those who normally don't read books from either genre) will relish the realistic and personal portrait that makes Death in a Time of Spanish Flu hard to put down.

Better Gnomes & Gardens
Casey Cardel
Mentha Press LLC
9781937629625, $12.99

Better Gnomes & Gardens introduces a genre which will be new to some: the paranormal cozy mystery. Here, this translates to a setting which is familiar to cozy mystery readers (typically a small town atmosphere) which is a safe haven to paranormal beings (such as garden gnomes). Well, it was a safe haven, until journalist Bob McLarney moved to town in search of the mythical Bigfoot, only to unearth a peck of trouble in the process of confirming a legend.

Objecting to the first article he's produced on the subject, the Mysty Haven Weekender lets him go. Unemployment proves to be the least of his worries, as Bob then becomes immersed in a dilemma that goes beyond identifying fake news reporting and into supernatural realms.

Casey Cardel injects a healthy dose of humor into the story from the start. This blends with a lively attention to dialogues, interpersonal interactions, and a first-person observation of oddities and small town life in Mysty Haven that continue to challenge Bob on different levels: "Barksdale's hard pretentious stare and flexed jaw muscles almost intimidated me. "Maybe the thief is right under my nose. Maybe it's you, Mr. McLarney." I chuckled, not in a nervous way - no. I wasn't a person who liked to be threatened. I met his cold stare without blinking. "Maybe you're barking up the wrong tree, Sheriff."

As the mystery unfolds, readers will be drawn both by the small town's atmosphere and odd residents and an outsider's struggles to understand, arrive at the truth, and publicize it for all to read.

A missing gnome introduces Bob to all kinds of dilemmas and examples of good intentions gone awry as a series of escapades and encounters keeps him on his toes - and readers guessing about the outcome.

Above all, there's a delightful, sparkling originality to the story's setting and plot development that should especially appeal to seasoned cozy mystery readers looking for something refreshingly new, as well as paranormal readers who want a greater element of suspense.

The dialogues and discoveries between Bob and the magical town's intriguing residents keep revelations at the forefront: "You were drawn to this place because we are a part of you, just as you are a part of us. This is your home, Bob. The answers you seek, you will find here in Mysty Haven."

Replete with wry humor and its winning combination of paranormal influence and intrigue, Better Gnomes & Gardens is highly recommended reading for fans of either genre and anyone who looks for compelling reading.

Libraries can acquire and recommend it for a wider audience than the normal mystery, while book clubs focusing on magic, intrigue, and mayhem will find the combination wonderfully flavorful and revealing here, with just the right elements of all contributing to an unpredictable, warmly enlightening read.

Libby Sternberg
Bancroft Press
PO Box 65360, Baltimore, MD 21209
9781610885874, $26.95 Hardcover/$9.49 Kindle

There's a reason why many readers who absorbed F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as assigned reading in high school should take another look at that classic decades later, in adulthood. Daisy is that reason.

Based on the classic Fitzgerald characters, but assuming a life of its own, Daisy is an exceptional example of a sequel to a classic story. It should be profiled alongside Gatsby as a fitting and memorable adjunct to the tale.

Those far from having read the classic may recall that the character of Daisy Buchanan appeared in The Great Gatsby to capture millionaire Gatsby's heart, creating in him an obsession which broke when she chose to marry another.

Her story comes to life under Libby Sternberg's hand, which brings Daisy into the world as a three-dimensional character worthy of her own probe into matters of life and love.

Sternberg uses the first person to capture Daisy's version of her relationship with Gatsby and others, starting with her cousin Nick, who was the narrator in the original story: "Nick made a lot of money off my story. I penned the first words, and we exchanged more through letters after it was all over - a sort of game we played that helped us massage away the hurt of that wild summer and its consequences. We compared memories, filling in what each of us didn't know or had forgotten. So if you've read his version of this tale, you'll find differences in mine, some small and some significant."

When read alongside Fitzgerald's classic, the importance, character, and underlying influences of Gatsby come to life from Daisy's perspective in a manner that continues to define and expand Gatsby's role, while placing this female central to the unfolding of his (and her) dilemmas and choices.

Daisy grows and changes, flitting from love to love with a savvy perspective on her opportunities in life and how best to grasp them: "I did love Tom. Not in the same open-hearted way I'd loved Jay, but more than I'd felt for Rupert or Andrew, and by then I'd heard that Rupert, too, was dead. He, of the poor eyesight and cartography skills, had been in a headquarters building in France when a German mortar hit it."

As an adjunct expanding The Great Gatsby's era and atmosphere, Daisy plays a fitting role. Read for its own independent strengths as the story of a woman who forges a life for herself based on realizations about love and loss, Daisy is even more compelling.

While it deserves its own limelight in libraries profiling women's fiction, literature, and experiences, Daisy is at its best when read along with The Great Gatsby. Its complimentary and alternative views of those lives and times make it recommended for classroom assignment and book club reading where Gatsby is of special interest, and women of the times, the focus.

Miracle Times Two
Mazzy Moore
Independently Published
9781667838724, $9.99 Kindle

Miracle Times Two is a lovely rhyming picture book story that follows a mother's reflections about her twin boys. Designed for read-aloud and sharing, it tells of a young woman and her pop who wander the world and have adventures.

Despite their vibrant lives, there is a gap in her heart: two places that await love's incarnation.

One day, those gaps are filled by twins, and the mother finds her world and adventurous spirit changed by a different experience that portends just as much wonder and enjoyment.

The story of a mother's love for her children and her satisfaction in building a home filled with that love makes for an engaging read that parents will want to choose for its celebratory tone.

The contrast between the young mother's prior life and her new family circle is very nicely done, portraying the rich values of both in a manner that young picture book readers and read-aloud adults will both relish.

Ndalla's World
Beth Franz
Atmosphere Press
9781639884674, $19.99

Speculative fiction readers that look for standouts in the genre will find Ndalla's World one of them. It's literally an out-of-this-world love story in which Julia finds herself traveling through time and space to Ndalla's world. Ndalla is a woman she's just starting to know, but this extraordinary event brings her into a milieu that is at once alien and welcoming.

35-year-old Julia is living in Iowa when everything changes in her life. On that pivotal day of change, she is feeling stuck, merely existing more than moving forward in her life.

The solitude she has cultivated now translates to feeling lonely, and the goals she'd once envisioned have either been met or have fallen by the wayside of routine.

On the cusp of change, Julia never imagined the kind of adventure she finds herself embarking on - nor the kind of vibrant relationship that redefines her vision of reality and herself.

The next morning, she awakens to discover a naked man lying in her bedroom. Closing the door and blinking doesn't help - and now a naked woman is on the other side of her bed. Two intruders ... can she take them on, or should she call the police?

Most people would head for the phone. But Julia is not most people, and the house phone resides on the other side of these strangers.

And so she opens the door into discovery, love, a new relationship, and a new world.

Beth Franz weaves the speculative fiction element into a love story quite seamlessly - so much so, that readers won't find they are actually in the midst of a world-changing paradigm until they've followed Julia into unknown, unpredictable realms.

Ndalla introduces Julia to her world by teaching her to listen to trees, environment, and her own heart: "I feel a sense of ... possibilities," I said at last. It was the closest I could come. And then I surprised myself by finding more words available to me. "I feel a sense of movement and gracefulness and acceptance and ...." My voice trailed off.

"Yes," she said. "That is the message of the trees that you feel."

Then I opened my eyes. "But I feel the same kinds of things when I am with you." And I was serious. It was not an empty compliment, and she seemed to understand me.

"Perhaps because I try to live my life as the trees teach me to live it."

As Julia comes to terms with many unexpected aspects of a seemingly staid life up to this transformational point, readers receive thought-provoking moments of reflection, inspection, and philosophical analysis that contribute an added layer of intellectual value to Ndalla's World.

Can Ndalla birth a new being forged in violence and sadness, and can Julia aid her on her journey through sacrifice and realization?

Readers anticipating an adventure or a work of fantasy will find that Beth Franz creates so much more in Ndalla's World. Herein lays the opportunity for revelations of the heart that probe avenues of not just love and adventure, but forgiveness and higher-level spiritual and social thinking.

These elements coalesce into a moving story that involves readers on many different levels, creating a speculative work that revolves around political, social, and personal transformation.

Readers and libraries that look for works embracing these elements will find them in droves in a contest between Ndalla, the Forces that challenge them all, and Julia's growth, which make this story richly contemplative and hard to put down.

The Mother I Never Had
Gary Goldstein
Hadleigh House Publishing
9798985057614, $16.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

The Mother I Never Had opens with an ordinary morning in protagonist Nate's life. It's one that is destined to change in the blink of an eye when an old skeleton from 30 years ago comes rattling out of his closet to change his world.

Nate was unexpectedly made an orphan when his father died, but even more surprising is the appearance of Amy in his life soon after, who brings with her information and a mystery that involves him in a journey to find the truth about his heritage.

On the line is his relationship with girlfriend Jennifer, his sense of self, and a family secret that challenges everything he's known about his past.

Gary Goldstein creates an outstanding story of family flaws and connections that ripples new revelations into a staid life.

His attention to strong characters, motivations, and believable events that lead to astonishing situations makes for a tale replete with considerations of what changes make individuals human, influence their lives and psyches, and why betrayal evolves and how it can be justified.

These underlying psychological currents contribute to a story that poses unexpected twists and turns as Nate reconsiders every belief he's fostered about his heritage and his life's trajectory. His dual choice to be angry with Amy and sad about his father's own duplicity and decisions sets off a chain reaction which resonates in his own life options.

As Nate goes through therapy and considers the pros and cons of such an intense probe of his life, readers will find much to like about the man and his dilemmas. His experiences change not only his love liaison, but his business relationship with friend and partner Danny and virtually every facet of his life.

At the heart of this story is an evolving affiliation to and realizations about the mother Nate never knew, and the effects of family secrets on future generations.

Those who look for novels replete in revelations and change, with a character who reconsiders his own motivations for pursuing marriage and family ties, will find that The Mother I Never Had opens new doors of insight that leads them to think about their own choices and the consequences of their decisions and beliefs about the world.

Book clubs reviewing family ties and impacts receive a fine list of discussion points at the book's end which will encourage lively debates, both in reading groups and in psychological group circles.

The Legend of Black Jack
A. R. Witham
Independently Published
9780578354361, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Young adult horror story readers who enjoy tales steeped in Nordic mythology will find The Legend of Black Jack a compelling tale that operates as a fantasy, a horror story, and a wry work of ironic satire.

Jack Swift never expected he'd be kidnapped into another realm and charged with saving a life. He's anything but adventurous and holds neither medical ability nor, seemingly, the courage to step out of his world to become a legend in someone else's mythology.

Life has a way of exacting changes and a toll for them, because Jack finds himself in a situation filled with action and the unexpected. A fantasy twist leads him to be kidnapped on his 14th birthday and transported by a monstrous rhino into another realm, Keymark.

As he steps into the shoes of the legend of Black Jack (a being that walks between worlds, kills gods, beats the devil, and heals a thousand people in a day), Jack finds himself tasked with not just believing in the impossible, but believing in himself.

Color illustrations pepper the story as Jack walks through this world and fulfills his destiny in ways he never could have imagined.

As teens follow his epic encounters with monsters in a world he quickly grows to love, they will find much to like about the growth process and realizations that Jack faces. These may mirror many underlying questions about their own lives.

From friendly trolls and a sense of growing belief in Jack's own powers to epic battles with samurais and dark forces, teens receive plenty of action couched with self-discovery as Jack moves through Keymark and its traitors, kingdoms, and combatants.

His rite of passage is not without violent confrontations. Their descriptive prowess is tempered by revelations that spring from sword and mind alike.

The Legend of Black Jack's fast-paced action and encounters will keep teens reading, while its higher-level thinking encourages young adults to consider the facets that make for legendary examples of courage and achievement.

The result is a fast-paced leisure fantasy as steeped in myths and legends as it is in the coming-of-age saga of a boy just beginning to understand his strengths.

Libraries looking for compelling, epic fantasy will find The Legend of Black Jack's action and adventure particularly potent and engrossing.

Along Came a Stroke
Eileen Haas
Bold Story Press
9781954805187, $9.99 Kindle

Along Came a Stroke: My Story of Survival and Recovery is a memoir about healing that comes with a message: there is life after stroke. This message serves as a beacon to others as Eileen Haas recounts her stroke and the recovery process that changed her life.

Where other stories of recovery chart singular processes and events, Haas maintains that healing is actually a lifetime endeavor. As she recounts this experience through the years before and during COVID, an added flavor of extraordinary times overlays the personal memoir of recovery. This documents the special challenges of having a life-threatening experience and recovering from it during a worldwide pandemic.

Unlike many, Haas was already well-read about strokes when she experienced hers. This allowed her a speedy response many wouldn't have thought of: "Even now, I'm amazed at my presence of mind. I could have just fallen apart. I could have just died. But I sprang into action instead."

The life-or-death decision she made occurred in nearly an instant, but its results helped her return from the brink of death to a changed life: "They say your life flashes before your eyes when you're dying. Mine didn't flash before me, but I did contemplate death. And I decided not to die (obviously, or I wouldn't be writing this). Eventually I would die, of course, but I wasn't ready. I wasn't done having adventures, that was for sure. That was right, because I'm having quite an adventure re-covering."

Anyone who wants to know what it feels like to experience a stroke and a life-altering condition must consult Along Came a Stroke. It's as much a memoir of the recovery and rebuilding process as it is about the stroke experience, charting the course of a woman who would never be the same.

From stages of grief revolving around her stroke's experience and its aftermath to lessons she learned about recovery and choices in facing disability, readers gain much wisdom on subjects ranging from wheelchairs and non-limb use to adaptations that can create Catch-22s and hinder the full recovery process.

These honest revelations also set Along Came a Stroke apart from other stories of strokes and recovery. They need to be heard and absorbed by readers, ideally well before a stroke or life-altering medical condition is experienced.

This book also excels in exploring the falsehoods and illusions that permeate and affect recovery choices, making it a standout of wise advice that readers from all walks of life would do well to consider, because "In life, you can get away with this. I'm sorry to say, when you've had a stroke, you often can't. There's that moment when nobody is around and you have to climb that ladder. Some people just wait until someone is available. I'm too impatient for that. Normally, that's not such a good trait. But when it comes to getting over a stroke, it is."

This candor sets the book head and shoulders above most stories of strokes, recovery, disability, and survival: "I don't know about you, but my goal has been to be normal. A therapist (not a good one) told me, several years ago, that "normality is overrated"; she will be forever remem-bered for that remark. By normal, I mean that no one can tell I've had a stroke. Until I tell them, which is at my discretion. This has been my goal. But now I'm beginning to wonder, do I really want that? Do I want to give up the privileges (yes, privileges!) that come with being somewhat disabled?"

Any library strong in health and healing guides, as well as a wide range of readers (to include not just stroke survivors, but anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of returning to normalcy after a life-altering experience), must place Along Came a Stroke at the top of their reading list.

Ideally it won't just repose on a library lending shelf, but will become an active part of book clubs and reading groups devoted to recovery, healing, and better understanding the processes and options of survival.

Killing the Butterfly
Dale Ward
Black Rose Writing
9781684339518, $18.95 Paper/$4.95 Kindle

Subtitles are usually mere definitions of genre to avoid reader confusion and help library shelvers; but finally, here is a book subtitle that lives up to its potential of capturing reader attention from the start: Killing the Butterfly: A Thriller So Abusive, It's Criminal.

The story's opening paragraphs are equally alluring as nineteen-year-old Patty relives the nightmares/visions of her youth and struggles to escape them - by involving herself and her boyfriend in a crime spree that lands her in trouble.

On the run from her past and on the lam from authorities and her own psyche, Patty can't escape her boyfriend Roy, or the consequences of her choices and actions, which keep haunting her every step.

When the two stumble upon a lone man at a lake cabin who seems to offer a way out of their dilemma, even more trouble looms as evil enters the picture to warp any possibility of safety or redemption.

Dale Ward cultivates a fast-paced novel that swings back and forth between Patty's past and present, infusing the plot with rationales for her perceptions, behaviors, and the patterns which continue to hold her in thrall.

Just as captivating as the plot's unexpected twists and turns is the presence of angst that permeates a lonely life, buffeted by her stormy relationship with Roy and a road trip gone awry.

Although the positive influence of her Aunt Meredith offers some respite and a refuge, Patty can't help but long for different possibilities for her future: "She rested, her eyes wide, in a different bed. This one in Aunt Meredith's place. The house was quiet. She was at work. Patty was alone again. There had to be a better life out there for her. She wanted a normal life. She really did. Whatever that was. Patty had never known one. Will I ever know one? Her one escape was her poetry."

Ward steeps this suspense thriller in elements of coming-of-age that increases its appeal to mature teen and new adult readers, but its adult themes and the nature of Patty's evolution really places it in the adult crime novel genre.

This audience will appreciate Ward's attention to captivating descriptions and unexpected events that help grow Patty's psyche and realizations about her options and future.

As unhappy lives evolve, dovetail with, and feed one another, leading to new possibilities, readers receive a powerful saga that journeys through disparate lives touched by evil, angst, and determination.

Killing the Butterfly is a thriller that holds the potential to reach beyond the usual crime story readership and into the hearts of those interested in how bad results come from well-intentioned efforts. Book clubs and therapy groups focused on this process will find plenty of food for thought and discussion here, while libraries looking for thrillers that embrace a healthy degree of growth and psychological insights will relish the special nature and descriptive prowess of Killing the Butterfly.

It's About Time
Mickey Bridges
Independently Published
9781667837529, $14.99 Paperback/$9.99 ebook

It's About Time is a memoir about a boy coming of age in Compton, California in the 1950s and 60s. Readers who expect the usual blend of family experiences and social integration will find that Mickey Bridges provides an unusually harrowing and detailed story. It follows a boy who finds himself on the wrong side of the tracks, heading for disaster as he impregnates a girl, drops out of school, moves in and out of prison, and eventually lands in a federal penitentiary.

For most, this would be the end of the story (and the end of the line). Mickey doesn't know how to forge a better life for himself, and every choice he makes just lands him deeper into crime and trouble.

Readers will find that the meat of this memoir lies not in how this life goes off-rails, but in the process through which he grows into a better life for himself, against all odds.

He wants to do his time and gain freedom, but this goal is fraught with setbacks, even in prison. As he finds a way out, Bridges documents his character's progress based on real-world events, his own background, and his own work with disadvantaged students.

Bridges found more than a way out. He found God and a meaningful life work that allowed him to help others in similar situations. This occurred even in a prison environment because Bridges took advantage of a program and approach that created a foundation for achievement both within and beyond the prison's walls: "After my mother passed away, I knew it was time for me to get down to business. I wanted to get out of prison in the shortest amount of time possible. I needed to prepare myself to be able to deal with the rest of my life without my mother's help, guidance, or support. I vowed to do the best program I could. I worked every day on the trade line and when I was off, I would read the Bible or practice on my saxophone or study. I didn't spend a great deal of time associating with the other inmates, as I was preoccupied with doing my own program."

The result is an inspiring memoir that shows how even a life in dire straits can recover and blossom into a giving, meaningful experience.

Libraries seeking memoirs of personal and spiritual transformation will find It's About Time an excellent selection. But its real value lies in insights that lend to book club discussions both within and outside the prison system. A classroom assignment of this memoir at the high school level would also provide much food for thought and debate.

Janet McNulty
MMP Publishing
9781941488928, $38.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

Ensnared presents the second book in the Enchained trilogy. It depicts Arel, a city on the edge of unrest and rebellion.

Noni has been trained to resolve conflicts, but the ones in her heart prove the most difficult to control as she faces an exploding city and conflicts that pull her in two different directions.

Janet McNulty excels in descriptions that capture not just the outward battle affecting this world, but the inner compulsions that drive its characters to make difficult, divergent decisions.

The story opens with the aftermath of the prior book's adventure. This makes Ensnared especially recommended for previous fans, who will find that the sequel charts a seamless progression of events that further expands and tests its characters.

Vivid descriptions and action drive a story with tension that keeps the first-person narrator and her readers on their toes: "Smoke spews from the vents as an ominous rumble builds, intensifying with each passing second, causing my chest to vibrate in tune to its thunder. A wall of fire erupts behind me just as I slide into the second safe zone."

However, the story's real strength lies in its ability to explore the courage and convictions of narrator Noni, who thoroughly explores her rationales for trying to be a hero who acts alone: "You're not alone, Noni. You don't need to do any of this alone."

"I have to," I say. "I don't want to endanger any of you."

Her revelation (that she does need others, and must allow them to act as their convictions dictate) is nicely presented and integrated into the fast-paced story: "This is my choice, and I choose to be here for you. If this is what you want to do, if you are going to continue helping people leave the city, then I am going to be with you, by your side." I manage a weak smile, unsure of what to say. I have never had anyone willing to risk their life just for me, or willing to help me break the law, knowing full well what the punishment is if we are caught, but Chase is; and the resolve in his voice gives me strength."

As she struggles with questions about why people are being manipulated to destroy themselves and what her influence brings to the table of political and psychological rebellion, readers will appreciate a thought-provoking story that attracts on many different levels.

Leisure readers of dystopian fiction who enjoyed Noni's first adventures will find this continuation of her saga just as engrossing as the first book, while newcomers (or those looking for thriller and suspense components) will welcome the opportunity to enter this world and understand its forces and the web of lies which have created its characters' perceptions.

What happens when a leader incites a mob, and can a woman charged with protecting her city and enforcing the laws become someone who saves not just others, but herself?

Fine tension, character development, and moral and ethical questions mark a nicely-paced story in Ensnared that is recommended for suspense and dystopian sci-fi readers and libraries catering to them.

Through New York's Golden Door
H. Claude Shostal
Mascot Books
620 Herndon Parkway, #320, Herndon, VA 20170
9781637551677, $21.95

Through New York's Golden Door: An American Journey is a biography of a Jewish family's escape from Europe in 1941, their survival as penniless immigrants in America, and the journey that led H. Claude Shostal to become a civil leader and world traveler.

If any book were to define and represent the American immigrant experience and the fulfillment of the promise of opportunity, it would be Through New York's Golden Door. Through Shostal's eyes, readers become immersed in a story of one Jewish family's history and struggle that follows them through their escape from Europe and their experiences in America.

References to his father's memoir and the influential people that affected the family's lives are accompanied by black and white photos peppered throughout, which bring these people to visual life.

As Shostal develops an early craving to visit far-away lands, attends Harvard, and forms close bonds and friendships that carry him into adulthood, readers receive an engrossing inspection of a life that unfolds under many political and social changes in America.

Returning to Europe, Shostal discovers new attractions and connections between family experience and the revised atmosphere of the place his family once escaped from, entering into new ventures in America that solidify his own success.

Shostal brings his family, his times, and his trajectory to life, examining many facets of social, psychological, and political change that affected his choices and movements in the world.

Of particular note are the changing social and business milieus that help those who would better understand the influences that change the world and communities alike: "Our unrestricted giving had been shrinking slowly but inexorably for some time. We were caught up in a broader trend: corporate philanthropy was undergoing a seismic change. In the years following World War II, local business leaders - the heads of the banks, utilities, insurance companies, newspapers, etc. - tended to have a direct stake in the health and well-being of their communities. In those days it was part of a CEO's basic job to serve on the boards of nonprofit organizations such as RPA. Now most of those companies were becoming global enterprises, and global competition was relentless. It was partly for that reason that boards of directors increasingly looked to CEOs to focus exclusively on stock price, which meant concentrating on next-quarter earnings projections rather than on long-term commitments to stakeholders including workers and their communities."

The result is a biography that certainly belongs in libraries strong in Jewish memoirs. It also which will reach out to any who would better understand an immigrant family's experiences, the process of building life connections, and the mercurial flow of success and achievement that forges strong relationships.

Readers looking for memoirs that are steeped in a review of American values and opportunities will especially value the intention and heart of Through New York's Golden Door, which serves as both a memoir and a reminder of America's promise: "I hope that my experience as an immigrant to this country makes me better able to appreciate the extraordinary importance - and fragility - of America's institutions devoted to equal opportunity, and our historic - though imperfect - commitment to the value of the individual. As I wrote in the preface, my story could only have happened in the United States, and for that I am profoundly grateful to this country."

Divine Vintage
Sandra L. Young
The Wild Rose Press
9781509238231, $16.99 paperback; $4.99 ebook

Divine Vintage blends romance and suspense in a novel designed to attract historical fiction readers looking for strong female protagonists and a sense of adventure.

The story opens with Tess's puzzling confession to another: "My husband didn't kill me!"

As this gripping opening scene moves to more revelations and mystery, readers will find this story of a 1913 puzzle that draws a contemporary woman into the past to be thoroughly absorbing and hard to put down.

A sea change happens between the story's powerful introductory scenario, the peppering of quotes in between from other fans of Divine Vintage, and Chapter One, which appears to open in May 2013 with Tess Burton's new adventure, attending auctions for her new business.

She's used to taking massive risks - but not with her inheritance. Divine Vintage represents a business risk, but promises many rewards and much adventure; both of which attract her and lure her into a situation far from the traditional world of navigating estate sales and reselling goods.

Past and present flow into one another as Tess's venture into 1913 (ala the clothing of the era) contrast with her contemporary shop in the modern world.

As a murder draws Tess into a scenario of romance, sordid mystery, and danger, readers move into a story steeped in historical references and modern dilemmas alike. These contrasts in time and place enhance both the romantic components and the intrigue as readers come to appreciate Tess's ability to navigate both worlds.

As Tess handles her visions of a murdered bride and joins with Trey Dunmore in exploring his family history and secrets, the couple finds their own potential romance at risk - along with the business and their own lives.

Sandra L. Young crafts a divine story of contrasts in time, place, and purposes. Readers who enjoy engaging mystery spiced with sultry romantic overtones will especially appreciate the powerful presence of both in a story designed to simultaneously titillate and intrigue.

Libraries strong in either romance or mystery that look for strong characters whose lives are changed by their abilities and revelations will find Divine Vintage an attractive acquisition. It acquires its heat not just from kisses, but from high drama and unexpected twists and turns as Tess finds herself caught between two determined men.

The Gray Bird of Baghdad
Stephen Phillip Monteiro
9781684631513 $17.95 paperback/$8.99 ebook

The Gray Bird of Baghdad: An Ex-Secret Service Agent's Desperate Mission to Save an Iraqi Scientist offers a true story that reads with the drama of fiction, but represents a powerful memoir whose experiences are gained from real-world encounters.

The events described here took place over an eight-year period, from 2001-2008, in Iraq, Syria, New York City, Virginia, Florida, and Washington, DC. The dialogue recreates these events to enhance the story, creating a powerful "you are here" feel as the opening salvo of the Iraq War is brought to life in the first few paragraphs: "For a moment Thamer Imran cursed himself - he could have sent his family north to Erbil where it was safer. But no, he really couldn't have. Splitting up the family wasn't an option. If death was coming, they would die together. Earlier that day, in the wee hours of March 20, 2003, Thamer Abdul Rahman Imran woke to the undeniable blasting sounds of his country, his city, his home under attack. It was the first day of the Iraq War."

Ex - Secret Service agent Steve Monteiro and his team were on a mission to locate missing Iraqi Microbiologist Thamer Abdul Rahman Imran, who may have important information about a planned biological attack on the U.S.

Surprisingly, they find themselves also battling Washington bureaucracy, which seems to throw up barriers to success and has an interest in the mission's failure.

As Monteiro and his team fight to locate Thamer and understand his role in the affairs and future of two nations, readers embark on a gripping journey that brings the sights, smells, and politics of the times to life.

The points of view and observations shift between third-person descriptions of Thamer and the first-person reflections of Monteiro, together bringing the story and major players to life.

Readers interested in memoirs, personal interest stories and stories of overcoming great odds as well as those interested in Iraq and chemical and biological warfare histories and possibilities will find this true story reads like a thriller, but is made all the more compelling for its solid roots in real events and intrigue.

Those who would better understand the politics and processes of the times and libraries strong in Middle East and Iraqi history and culture will find The Gray Bird of Baghdad a powerful story that's hard to put down. It holds significant revelations that correct historical presumption and presents equally important reflections on the future of Iraq and its position in the world.

The insights on chemical and biological warfare also will interest military readers who look for historical analysis and contemporary inspections of the social and political forces at work in events of the past.

Daughter of Belial
Jennifer Juvenelle
By the Pure Sea Books
9798986723112, $9.99 Kindle ebook/$16.99 Paperback/$27.99 Hardcover

Daughter of Belial is a thriller that revolves around a family legacy and the secret Order of Belial, which involves Sophie Greer in betrayal, kidnapping, and the realization of a heritage that tests her vision of herself, her family, and her future.

Its graphic and thought-provoking scenarios also earn it a note of caution for sensitive readers who eschew trigger subjects such as sexual abuse or graphic portraits of death. However, these descriptions are well in keeping with the plot, adding a realistic tone to the story rather than the flavor of over-the-top drama.

The first-person story opens with a bang of description that presents a compelling dilemma to draw reader attention: "I'm running as fast as I can, but my legs feel like marble - weighty, cumbersome, and laden with grief. Each stride is an agony of locomotion. Every attempt forward is met with a shove in the opposite direction. He is behind me. Chasing me. Hunting me."

As Jennifer Juvenelle follows this gripping opener with further descriptions via the character's first-person viewpoint of herself and her world, she injects an atmosphere that is revealing: "I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and do a double take. Who is that train wreck? Hot mess would be an accurate description - if I looked hot. The girl staring back at me is just a mess."

Sophie's growing understanding of the Order and its impact and history twines her life and purposes with bigger-picture thinking: "Secretive to the death, if the Sons of Belial are known at all, it is for protecting their own. There is no such thing as incriminating evidence when the full might of The Order is behind you. For them, people, places, and things are mere pieces in The Great Game. A life-sized game of chess. A Shakespearean psychodrama. A Machiavellian masterpiece. The ordained Masters move their pieces on the board with clear, unified, and decisive action. Bishops, kings, queens, knights, rooks, pawns - none are free."

These vivid impressions and experiences keep the plot fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing as Sophie moves through many revised revelations about the world and her place in it.

As Greer finds her purposes and perspectives shaken, readers will also find their ideas receive constant revision of how this story will evolve, which is satisfyingly unexpected: "With every gift I accept from these people, I feel myself growing more entrenched in their world. The only way out is through, I suppose. Or some such nonsense. I'm beginning to lose the thread of what I'm actually doing."

Secrets, curiosity, and Sophie's own role in evolving mysteries will keep readers on edge and engaged as she moves to a place of judgment and redemption, herself.

Juvenelle's ability to stay on track with a deep psychological inspection of one woman's move from victim to living an empowered life makes for a thriller that operates on different levels of attraction.

Libraries and readers who seek to be engaged by the suspense of a thriller, enlightened by one woman's revelations and the choices surrounding them, and entranced by her ability to survive, adapt, and influence her future will find Daughter of Belial the perfect ticket for a blend of entertainment that comes with added thought-provoking value.

It should also be noted that this is the first book in a projected series. Sophie's story of survival is just beginning, so readers should be prepared for more - and a cliffhanger ending.

The Mango Family: Thinking Differently
Anthony Cherubin
Fineness World Inc.
9798985929201, $24.99 Hardcover/$18.99 ebook

Picture book readers and adults who choose The Mango Family: Thinking Differently for read-aloud will find these short stories provide plenty of food for thought and fodder for discussion about positivity and how to foster it in different ways.

This adventure takes place in Fruitiville, located within the country of Nourish on the virtual Achievements Island. It focuses on cultivating gratitude, acknowledging achievement, and developing positive solutions to problems.

Exceptionally bright cartoon panels of the fruit family will prove both accessible and highly attractive to adults and their young listeners, incorporating such insights as "we can become whatever we like" and "we must celebrate all our victories."

The Mango Family bows to past precedent by showing how these opportunities evolved for the current generation, but also presents short stories that embrace contemporary issues such as dealing with a tattletale, understanding lessons in responsibility that underlie adult approaches to teaching children, and empowering children who need money by showing how they can earn it in various ways.

Each lesson incorporates strategies for life that offer opportunities for bigger picture thinking, all couched in the interactions and entertainment value of the Mango Family's interactions.

Adults won't anticipate the contemporary issues such as school shootings which are incorporated into the mix of lessons, but another fine strength of The Mango Family: Thinking Differently lies in its focus on examples that kids are likely to encounter in their everyday lives (which unfortunately include violence).

Sometimes the character expressions on the lovely illustrations don't seem to match the situations under discussion. Character facial expressions aside, The Mango Family: Thinking Differently excels in its emotional lessons on not just coping with life, but viewing it from a more positive perspective of empowerment, change, and emotional connection.

Read-aloud adults looking for inviting discussion material that promotes attitude changes and revised views of life will find The Mango Family: Thinking Differently a fine tool for introducing these concepts to the very young, fostering the overall feel of positivity about the world.

Fragile Minds: An Advocate's Story
Diane Lane Chambers
Ellexa Press LLC
9780976096788, $17.99 Paper/$8.99 Kindle

Fragile Minds: An Advocate's Story is a memoir that journeys through bipolar disorder and mental illness. It tells of a family history of mental illness that affects Diane Lane Chambers in her fifties.

She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer, finished treatment, and become involved with fellow survivors, only to experience repeated deaths as her new friends lose their battles with cancer.

The road from repeated grief and loss creates a downward slide into mental instability: "They say there's a link between stressful events and susceptibility to illness. The death of a loved one is one of the top 10 stressors. I hadn't realized it, but the death of my father shortly after my cancer diagnosis, coupled with the loss of two friends from breast cancer, and then my beloved Bert, had taken a huge toll on me. I began spiraling downhill, aware that something was very wrong with me, but I had no idea what it was."

Her condition belayed her perceptions of what depression was and how it presented in life, and so Chambers missed many of the early signs that something was very wrong, until her illness could no longer be denied.

As she became more aware and knowledgeable about not only her own condition, but medical and government responses within the mental health system, Chambers came to realize the need to write about her experiences and revelations. And so Fragile Minds was born to tackle the issues not just from a patient's perspective, but from an advocate's mindset.

This approach sets Fragile Minds apart from many memoirs about mental illness. From her work on psych wards and the encounters with staff and patients that led to a startling revelation that many with severe mental illnesses were not being helped, but harmed, to her evolving fight for reforms and change, Fragile Minds juxtaposes personal and community thinking in a thought-provoking manner.

Readers who anticipate another memoir steeped in self-analysis will find that Fragile Minds differs from most. It juxtaposes discussions of mental illness, self-revelation and analysis, and greater involvement in community-building efforts.

Chambers takes the needed next step in moving beyond her experiences to address mental health system failures and how to address and correct them. Portraits of other sufferers contrast different experiences with the types of changes Chambers seeks to make through her own efforts and those of advocacy programs.

The result is a wide-ranging memoir that deserves not only placement in any library strong in mental health memoirs, but those interested in community issues and health community challenges.

Ideally, it will not repose on such shelves, but will become a flash point of conversation for book clubs, advocacy groups, and mental illness treatment professionals who will see in its stories and examples the roots of positive change.

My Friend Richard: A True Ghost Story
William Hart
Verdugo Mountain Press
B0B6S7FXMW, $2.99 Kindle

It's unusual to see a ghost story presented as a memoir, but My Friend Richard: A True Ghost Story is such a study in friendship and reality. A teen who dies in a fire returns to haunt author William Hart with a special request - the result of which is this book, which is recommended for those who hold the belief that ghosts do exist.

Audiences consisting of quasi-believers and ghost story scholars will find the premise and circumstances of this particular ghost story unique, in that the ghostly encounter occurred years after death and involved an initial friendship between ghost and hauntee.

The story is further enhanced by other encounters with ghost believers, skeptics, and those who provided insights into the overall nature of the spirit world.

As William Hart traverses unfamiliar territory and comes to find that Richard displays the same young personality as he held at the point of his death, while William has evolved on many levels, the contrasts are well done and intriguing.

Equally absorbing are the reflections on a lifelong friendship that may have ended prematurely, but lingered on in both minds: "I was probably Richard Johnson's closest male friend during the last eight or nine years of his life. I've never had another friend anything like him. He was the most intellectually sharp of my friends and also the most artistically gifted. In the years we were closest he was my most adventurous friend and least wise. Nobody has ever challenged my thinking more than he did. Often, with a cutting comment followed by loud sarcastic laughter, he slapped the Pollyanna out of my dreamy head."

Also intriguing is the malevolence described by Hart as he tries to help his deceased friend, only to experience pain and revised visions of Richard's impact on his life.

Can Richard see the future? Is his shape shifting form in William's life a portent of disaster, or promise?

Readers who expect a series of "I saw a ghost" discussions will be surprised (and delighted) to find there's much more going on here than an exploration of ghosts and reality. Equally forceful are the descriptions of an evolving friendship that moves from life to death and back again, creating new connections, influences, and revelations that will prove as thought-provoking to readers as they did to the author.

The prerequisite for thoroughly appreciating this title's unique features is at least a quasi-openness to ghosts. Audiences who hold such a belief will find the added value of friendship and interpersonal inspection elevates My Friend Richard: A True Ghost Story to levels not present in the majority of ghost story experiences and descriptions.

Libraries seeking to augment their ghostly collections with something different will find much food for thought in My Friend Richard: A True Ghost Story, while discussion groups of paranormal and friendship themes will want to include it as an engrossing, unique presentation. It captures not just one man's ghostly encounters, but the essence of a complete relationship that changes the nature of belief in the afterlife and the meaning and presence of ghosts in everyday living.

Steven Cristol
Strategic Harmony Books
9798985929003, $14.95

NO BOSS! The Real Truth about Working Independently: 12 Lessons from 30 Years of Bossing Myself Around should be on the reading lists of any entrepreneur and those of any age who are contemplating self-employment. It focuses on the creation, demands, and potential successes and failures of the one-person business venture, addressing these from the vantage point of one who has learned from three decades of experience.

There is perhaps no better time for this book to appear. With the advent of the COVID pandemic and the business changes it's created, more people than ever are contemplating or venturing into self-employment circles. If only one book on the subject were to be consulted, it should be NO BOSS!, because it goes where few others venture as Steven Cristol considers the pros, cons, and special challenges involved in becoming one's own boss.

While the planning of this book began shortly before COVID, its many relevant lessons expanded and will reach beyond the pandemic years. Key among them are considerations of what it really means to work from home, handle the isolation and loneliness that comes from independent ventures, and the nature of working independently rather than in a group environment.

With these considerations, Cristol really shines, because his approach goes beyond the usual self-employment account to examine the psychological challenges that come with independence and self-driven action.

What does it really mean to be your own boss? Self-employment may not be the type of freedom anticipated by those who initially view such a venture as being replete with flexibility and make-your-own-hours opportunities.

Essential to such self-examination is the willingness to self-analyze expectations and needs. Cristol helps readers understand what their basic psychological inclinations translate to in the business world: "...control-freak fear can often also be related to both perceived and real cost. In Lesson 1 I warned that your new boss (you) might be even stingier than your old boss. Let's take a closer look at how this dynamic plays out in failure to delegate when appropriate."

Equally astute are discussions of objectivity, the author's own Strategic Harmony intellectual property, and the effects of business ideals, serial rejections, and fundamental flaws in pursuing independent ventures.

NO BOSS! takes the mystique and glory away from the idea of self-employment. It tackles real-world issues, psychological self-barriers to success, and the types of business dilemmas which commonly arise to change or quash dreams.

The result is a solid survey of expectations for success or failure which gathers the stories of others on the same road, creating the value of real-world insights that can help would-be entrepreneurs better understand not just their dreams, but their hearts.

Serious business or economics libraries should consider NO BOSS! The Real Truth about Working Independently: 12 Lessons from 30 Years of Bossing Myself Around an attractive acquisition. It deserves not just recommendation, but to be an active part of business and entrepreneur book clubs and discussion groups.

Old Sins
Lynne Handy
Independently Published
9798839003903, $12.00 Kindle/$4.99 ebook

Old Sins is the third book in the Maria Pell mystery series, opening with a prologue set in 1988, when the 10-year-old narrator found a dead baby in the stream on her parents' property.

This early discovery sets the stage for a story that then moves to Chapter One in 2016 Ireland, where little Bridget Vale has been selected May Queen for her small village's celebration. Her mother's employer, Maria Pell, senses trouble and loss, from reading Bridget's aura.

Auras? Maria holds a power she never asked for, but which aids in her problem-solving ability: "The ability to visualize auras was both a blessing and a curse; it was invasive: perhaps people minded having someone privy to the secrets of their well-being. I had not worked to develop the skill; it had come to me early, perhaps, a result of my self-imposed isolation as a child. Most of the time, my mind was focused on the routines that comprised my life, and especially, my work. I could go days without consciously seeing haloes around people's heads - either that or I did see them as a natural occurrence and did not notice, as one becomes used to floaters in the eye."

As her premonition of trouble leads herself and the village into danger, Old Sins presents a remarkably inviting, complex story connecting Maria's childhood trauma with present-day events.

The story adds background history, which means that no prior familiarity with poet Maria Pell's prior life is necessary in order to read her latest adventure as a stand-alone mystery.

Maria is drawn into not just two events, past and present, but a plethora of tragedy that immerses her in the watery graves of young people in a town that may be a target for sex traffickers ... or something else.

Lynne Handy creates a tale replete with satisfyingly complex twists and turns, peppering Maria's adventure with finely-wrought tension and description that brings her world and its threats to life: "I wrote a note to Elizabeth and went outside to get into the garda car, which had just pulled to the curb. As I hurried down the steps, my muscles tensed. Birds stopped chirping, moisture hung heavy in the air. From the corner of my eye, I saw a black car crawling down the street, a glint of metal - "

As kidnappings, too many close calls, and Maria's own motivation for resolving not just these cases, but events from her own past, coalesce, readers receive a powerful mystery steeped in Irish culture and psychological challenges.

Maria finds her life and perceptions on the line in new ways as she struggles to reconcile the facts with their underlying meaning.

The result is a fine mystery that's exceptional in its sense of place. It builds the foundations of a fine foray into writer's blocks, murder, and high drama surrounding characters whose sense of "wild justice" threatens their lives.

Libraries looking for mysteries strongly rooted in a sense of place and culture will find Old Sins an excellent contrast of angst and forgiveness.

Queen of Babylon: Book 2 in Babylon Twins Series
Michael Ferris Gibson and Imani Josey
Girl Friday Books
9781954854710, $16.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

Book 2 of the Babylon Twins series, set in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by machines, presents thirteen-year-old Josephine, who guards the old city of San Francisco and has survived thanks to both a psychic connection with her deceased twin and to being a member of Project Chimera, which made her into a biomechanical robot able to survive the end times.

The story opens with her birth into a strange new condition, which happened after she met a scientist. As Josephine and her readers piece together the events which have made her into a more-than-human 'unit', the story is steeped in personality and purpose which lends it riveting life.

Even more complex is the fact that there is more than one Josephine in this strange new world, and the task of protecting her city is not a single-handed venture. The seventh incarnation of Josephine has lost her way, in this story. In order to preserve her sense of self and purpose, she needs to re-access her secret language in order to fight a language virus that threatens what remains of the world.

Young adult and adult readers who choose Queen of Babylon will find its powerful, character-based experiences drive a futuristic story which also is embedded in mystery, discovery, and confrontations.

Readers will be surprised to learn that the urban culture of Oakland, California is alive and well in this futuristic scenario. Michael Ferris Gibson and Imani Josey steep their story in a solid sense of place that will especially delight and attract readers familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area.

From transitional spiritual ceremonies that allow Josephine to pass between worlds to the gritty remains of the world she once knew (which is inhabited by Aunt Connie, a host of 'frenemies', and others who both aid and impede her journey), readers will find Queen of Babylon refreshingly original, unpredictable, and unique in its dystopian portrait of a bleak future in which machine minds meld with the human psyche.

Gibson and Josey inject just the right blend of intrigue, hard-science, and social and ethical examinations into their story of an unusual band of survivors whose interrelated selves are tasked with a mission beyond their combined experience.

Is Josephine truly alone? Will she fail her mission to protect the world?

Young adults who choose Queen of Babylon as either a stand-alone read or an expansion of the first book will find the layers of psychological insights, intrigue, and futuristic spiritual and social conundrums to be completely enthralling.

Libraries looking for sci-fi that is a cut above most, and which demands a level of intellect from its young adult readers, but draws them with emotional connections, will find Queen of Babylon a fine acquisition.

Bomb Cyclone
J.A. Adams
Atmosphere Press
9781639885022, $17.99

It's not often that a Soviet spy purposely fails her mission because she's fallen in love with her target, but in Bomb Cyclone, such is the case. Ukrainian spy Oksana is forced to defect to the U.S. to escape retribution for her choices.

She is not safe even there, because Russian operatives pursue her, and her heart also remains connected to Ukrainian issues and the nation's plight. Both serve to add conflict and life-threatening scenarios to Oksana's torment.

J.A. Adams opens the story with a briefing that reviews real-world political relationships between Russia, Ukraine, and its satellite states, as well as the U.S. This neatly sets the stage in reality, paving the way for Chapter One, which opens with the question of how anyone could lose a nuke.

Ukraine has done so, and this in turn invites a special form of corruption that affects generals, leaders, and operatives at different levels.

The history of Ukraine's changing relationship with Russia and the world is one thread that flows through a story firmly rooted in real-world events, yet is enhanced by fictional extrapolations that keep thriller readers involved and on their toes.

Between Mykola, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who traveled to Crimea to locate the bomb, and Oksana, who finds herself a traitor to her own heart, ideals of political connections and personal involvements change to the point that the intersection between mission and reality become obscured: "She realized she had a mission to fulfill, but at the same time, she couldn't help this attraction she was feeling. After all, her mission was to seduce him."

Even when she has a new life and name, prior connections (and the old threats) remain.

Adams roots his story firmly in the history of Ukraine, creating a powerful story of transformation within the greater story of shifting political and social alliances.

This touch of realism gives the tale a powerful "you are here" feel that sets the premise, scenarios, and characters on a higher level than most thriller reads rooted in espionage and Russian encounters.

The result will prove especially relevant to today's reader, who receives cultural and political insights while entering the playing field of political forces that struggle for control, and individuals who find that the elusive prize actually resides in their own backyards and hearts.

A Deadly Covenant
Michael Stanley
White Sun Books
9780997968989, $8.99 Kindle

A Deadly Covenant is the eighth Detective Kubu investigative mystery set in Africa. It opens when a pipeline project near the Okavango Delta unearths a number of skeletons that then lead to more local murders.

Detective Kubu, Assistant Superintendent Balopi, and a cast of characters find their lives and investigations entwine with the history of Bushmen in Africa, local forces, and a Bushman massacre whose impact resonates through numerous communities.

As charges of corruption assail political and investigative figures alike and the body count clocks upward, Detective Kubu has his hands full, both quelling community response and getting to the heart of who (or what entity) is to blame for all the deaths.

Michael Stanley's mystery is rooted in African peoples, special interests, and local flavor. This will draw readers who look for strong investigative procedurals that reveal community and political special interests as they unfold.

The water project that has revealed so much before it's even begun, and which lies at the heart of many of these local controversies, is one central influence on events that keep Detective Kubu, Assistant Superintendent Mabaku, and others guessing about not just perps and outcomes, but the complicated interrelationships of local special interests.

As mythology, cultural forces, police work, and personal perspectives entwine, the mystery deepens - as does the attention to detail that reveals underlying motives and relationships between the Bushman and other tribes.

The result is a mystery which also comes steeped in the culture and history of Africa. Its force relies as much on understanding these complicated social relationships as on identifying perps and murderers.

Libraries looking for police procedurals which go the extra mile in creating powerful scenarios based on political and social insights will find A Deadly Covenant a compelling story of Botswana, Southern Africa, and a surprising romance that evolves in the midst of conflict.

Alfred B. DelBello: His Life and Times
John A. Lipman
Atmosphere Press
9781639884803, $18.95

Alfred B. DelBello: His Life and Times is not only a portrait of an effective politician, but an examination of the underlying concept of a style of bipartisan politics that creates a cooperative rather than a contentious atmosphere.

While this examination is both a tribute and a throwback to past values and processes, it also holds an important message for America's future. This is why Alfred B. DelBello: His Life and Times deserves a prominent place not only in library biography collections, but as discussion material for political debate groups and government worker circles.

Forty years ago, DelBello's accomplishments were driven not by special interests and the ebbs and flows of political influence, but a personal conviction of right, wrong, and the individuals who supported these beliefs no matter their political party of choice.

DelBello's concerns embraced modern-day issues. He was ahead of his time in tackling climate change, affordable housing, race relations, and prison reform - all headlines in today's news. But, of particular interest here is his methodology and the underlying convictions which contributed to his accomplishments.

No effective leader operates without a guiding light; but in modern times, that light too often appears fleeting and mercurial. Not so for DelBello, whose convictions made him a standout Democrat able to work with members of both parties and their diverse ideals.

John A. Lipman discusses not only the (many) milestones of DelBello's life, but the reasons why he was able to attract and work with political members from different walks of life. He "had the ability to attract Republican voters. He was a principled fighter. He had stood up against conventional thinking in his own party. As a Democratic mayor in Republican-leaning Yonkers, he had always worked across the aisle, especially during the tumultu-ous confidence vote for City Manager Scher. But Yonkers was merely a training ring. The county executive seat was the middleweight battle. The position controlled a 6,200-person bureaucracy with a budget of $245 million. His victory would place him in the national limelight."

Many a modern politician today should take note of this, because DelBello's special brand of politics fostered many achievements, from new medical centers and infrastructure improvements to efforts to reduce jail overcrowding and improve government effectiveness.

Of particular note is the way Lipman dovetails the personal perspective and life of DelBello with strategies that sent politics in different directions, often defying the set perceptions and courses of DelBello's own party: "Some Democratic Party regulars were annoyed by DelBello's out-of-region picks, but Luddy and Berking had accepted that non-negotiable condition when they asked Del-Bello to run. Matrone established an "encumbrance system" that removed all expected future expenditures from the budget and placed them in an interest-bearing account. When the bill was paid months later, the interest would be returned to the general fund. It replaced the county's antiquated cash-disbursement system with strategic investments. In a period of runaway inflation, this kind of fiscal juggling was revolutionary, especially for government."

Al DelBello was an amazing person. Even more commendable is the way in which his achievements are both celebrated here, reviewed for their contributions to more effective democratic political processes.

It doesn't matter what party the reader identifies with - or even if they've heard of DelBello before. What is most important about Alfred B. DelBello: His Life and Times isn't just his life, but his example of a methodology that sparked the kinds of changes all Americans benefitted from.

These qualities make Alfred B. DelBello: His Life and Times a top recommendation that ideally won't just repose in a library's biography section, but will assume just as active a role in discussions about political and social change as it takes in this biography of DelBello's life and times.

Tell, or the Adventures in Themiddle
L.N. Mayer
Oslo & Bangs Publishing
9782956946335, $12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Tell, or the Adventures in Themiddle presents kids ages 8-12 with the first book in a trilogy about William Teller ("Tell"), who is expelled from Theffects School for Troubled Boys and returns home to an empty house and a goodbye letter from his father.

Tell thinks this is another of his father's jokes, until representatives from the local orphanage show up, forcing him to flee his home to preserve his freedom. He runs straight into a changing world of trouble, instead, where imaginative figures from his mind become too real and threaten the world.

This is not just a figment of Tell's imagination. Others, too, encounter the strange figures that spill from his mind: " the time he entered the house and followed her up the stairs, there was no need to ask for there was no way of explaining what he then saw: a monster in the middle of the room. Now some people swear it was a black bear and others say it resembled an elephant, so huge the beast was, but all who've heard this nonsense know that the creature had no business being in that little boy's room."

Lively adventure blends with whimsical encounters with creatures and equally compelling dialogue that draws readers with an action-driven flavor: "Tell opened his mouth to reply, when suddenly Thebackspacer lunged at Stu, who dropped his mallet and dove out of the way. The creature crushed the cart he was pushing with its stocky footless leg as Herman and the others ran for cover. Taking their cue, Tell ran after them. As he reached the tunnel, he keeled over, trying to catch his breath. His heart beat in his throat."

As Tell navigates an alien world created in part by his own mind, he encounters a host of strange characters. Kids will find their names unusual and delightfully quirky ("Weekday," "Thepeacekeeper," "Weekend"), while humor permeates many of the encounters to keep young readers laughing and thinking as the adventure unfolds.

As Tell faces the aftereffects of a place where belief isn't tolerated and powerful forces not only change the world, but send its king on the run, he also confronts his own legacy and the truth about his missing father.

Combine a coming-of-age adventure story with fantasy and philosophical roots, spice it with humor and action, then add a host of zany character names for the feel of Tell, or the Adventures in Themiddle, which is particularly adept at cementing the absurd with the compelling.

Children's libraries looking for fantasies and action stories that operate outside of the usual genre definitions will find Tell, or the Adventures in Themiddle a winner.

America's Early Women Celebrities
Angela Firkus
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476680231, $39.95 PB, $23.99 Kindle, 220pp

America's Early Women Celebrities: The Famous and Scorned from Martha Washington to Silent Film Star Mary Fuller began as an effort to define the presence and actions of female heroes in American history. Ironically, that definition evolved to include a consideration of the element of selfishness that prompted these women to live up to their full potentials, whether this led them to fame or scorn. The original concept envisioned by Angela Firkus for this book, that "celebrity is a status negotiated between someone famous and her fans," proved to be more complicated and wider-reaching than she'd envisioned.

As Firkus began the process of selecting biographical sketches for inclusion, it became evident that the general definition of "fame" also needed to include the notorious as well as the favorably acclaimed.

Therein lies the attraction and unusual direction of this book, which focuses on women who took big risks in order to not just live their lives, but thrive within their abilities and circles of interest.

Readers receive a host of symbols of perseverance, with the book's structure designed to contrast the different approaches of women who often moved in separate but familiar circles.

One such example is in the third chapter juxtaposing Lydia Maria Child and Frances Wright who, in the 1820s and 30s, promoted messages of equality and social justice for all. The choice to contrast these seemingly disparate lives offers a rare opportunity for readers to absorb not only these individuals, but their pursuit of celebrity to achieve similar goals in different ways: "The two crusaders pursued celebrity to break through and be heard. They believed in many of the same causes but presented their ideas and tried to persuade their audiences very differently. Wright cared little for subtlety and prompted intense reaction. Child tread lightly until she was compelled by her conscience to speak more plainly. The two women won admirers but possibly an equal number of Americans denounced them. Child and Wright did not back down and promoted equality as long as they were in the public eye."

More so than any singular coverage of women's history and biography could have achieved, contrast of these lives to identify their influences, drives, and different methodologies in achieving their goals creates a rare opportunity to better understand how celebrity status fosters goals and beliefs.

The women tackle a range of social issues, from censorship to social improvement. Whether driven by a sense of justice, the pursuit of adventure, or an attraction to fame, they made a difference not only in their lives, but in the lives of those around them.

Firkus also adds insights into their personal objectives and reactions to fame, presenting important details about the public pursuit of entertainment: "Women and men wanted their celebrities to be even more active than they were. Lecturers and writers continued to attract attention, but Americans admired more those who performed feats of courage or skill like they read about in the extremely popular dime novels. Calamity Jane became one of the most famous daring women in America but she probably led a much less outrageous (though maybe equally dangerous) life than the one attributed to her in books and articles."

Scholars who look for footnoted references will find plenty of supportive material here, which also points the way for additional reading about each woman and her times.

The result is more than a highlight of early female celebrities.

America's Early Women Celebrities adds the underlying social and political analysis of their eras to provide readers with an in-depth analysis of the act of becoming a celebrity and its impact on the world: "Without a doubt, celebrity is a phenomenon that cannot be avoided in the twenty-first century but it had its origins long ago."

Libraries strong in women's history and biography will find America's Early Women Celebrities a powerful choice supported by extensive notes and references. But it's also a top recommendation for book club and discussion groups who would better understand the changing roles of women in the world, and the individuals who fostered these changes via achieving and employing their celebrity status.

Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes
Andrea Yarbough
Alexandrite Publishing, LLC
9798986014609, $32.50, PB, 202pp

Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes is a study in the finer art of writing which returns 'creative' into the writing mix for secondary ELA teachers who are tired of using the usual formula approaches to writing.

It promotes the concept of 'Writing Wednesdays', providing teachers with lesson plans that target key ELA skills while building student attraction to the writing process itself.

ELA teachers are already too aware of the formula-driven focus on writing and ELA achievements which challenges not only students, but instructors. Those leaders who would approach writing and reading in a different way receive 20 lesson plans which are flexible and can be adapted to a range of classrooms and student interests.

Chapters are broken down into quarters, with each quarter reflecting a writing goal. Exercises supporting these efforts are clearly explained: "This activity highlights to students the clear connection between visual and written art through a common concept - color. Color Your World challenges students to develop their abstract thinking skills by requiring them to consider how best to convey a sense of color without literally employing that color in their narrative. What mood is created by a particular color or color combination? How can mood evolve through the pairing and progression of the (metaphoric) incorporation of various colors into a narrative?"

Extension activities are designed to build upon the initial foundations of success, featuring routines for helping students build and expand vocabulary lists and anticipatory activities that build impetus for expression through student Writer's Notebooks and different approaches to adding to them.

Artfulness creates a series of lessons so inspiring and lively that instructors may wonder why formula approaches ever became the standard for teaching the fundamentals of effective writing and reading.

The focus on activities that lend to both group and individual pursuit, which return 'lively' and 'compelling' into the task of teaching writing and reading, makes for a top recommendation for secondary ELA teachers who want to achieve their goals in a different, more effective manner.

Libraries catering to educators who would take a step in a different direction to enhance the learning experience for their students and the teaching process for themselves will find Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes packed with strategies for success. Each has been tested in the real world and found to be a concrete route to engagement and learning.

The Long Surrender
Brian Rush McDonald
Wisdom Editions
9781950743803, $16.99

The Long Surrender: A Memoir of Losing My Religion will appeal to those interested in faith and wisdom. It is the story of a "Jesus freak" who lived most of his life immersed in the dogmatism of Christian fundamentalism.

Brian Rush McDonald became a minister, a father, and a missionary, bringing his faith and his family to Taiwan, where they all broadened their faith and its definition.

It was only after 30 years of preaching that McDonald walked away from some of his engrained concepts of spirituality and Christianity to discover a new brand of wisdom and faith that taught him yet another new language.

The Long Surrender is a memoir that explores faith within the larger contexts of life experiences, encounters, and blossoming interests, such as being a musician.

As McDonald came to embrace a more flexible and supportive view of Christianity in his work with Chinese communities, he translated his prior dogmatic viewpoints into work that could better resonate not only within himself, but his followers: "The stories of Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Joshua and others offer accounts of the journey of a people of faith. Indeed, some say these were myths created to give people a sense of identity and to carry on the lessons of their faith. I began to take this approach to preaching and felt a certain freedom. I emphasized the lessons we could learn in our modern times. I did not say that I did not accept the Bible as literally true. I just did not emphasize the teachings that such a view necessitated."

The special challenges of faith, cultural precedent and transformation, and maintaining a revised presence (and message) within the Chinese community are outlined in passages that offer much food for not only thought, but discussion: "The challenge came from members of my congregation whose families had observed the Christian faith for generations and did not accept this metaphorical approach. When they embraced Christianity, they rejected the cultural perspectives of their families and countries of origin. In some cases, they had been rejected by their family for their decision. By and large, the Chinese preachers they heard at conferences and other churches emphasized that the Bible is to be understood in a straightforward, literal manner, not symbolically or metaphorically."

The result is much more than a memoir of spiritual realizations alone, as readers might expect. The Long Surrender is a probe of Christianity in action in changing communities that explores a life in the ministry and the newfound connections created by McDonald's quest to solidify his own beliefs.

Spiritual libraries and readers looking for multifaceted stories of transformation and discovery will find McDonald's journey intriguing, as he no longer identifies himself as a Christian, but states: "I consider myself a follower of the teachings of Jesus, whose teachings did impact my life greatly. Jesus's teaching of the value of each human has defined my life outlook."

Ideally, The Long Surrender will become central to readers of all faiths, discussed in groups of thinkers and spiritual followers who want to reconsider the impact and underlying beliefs of the Bible and its translation in modern times.

FastFight 540: Bump in the Night
M. M. Mesldorf
Star Toaster, LLC & SBA Books
9781956408195, $11.99

FastFight 540: Bump in the Night is Book 1 of the FastFlight 540 fantasy adventure series for middle grade readers and older. It features an especially fast pace and compelling atmosphere designed to bring even the most reluctant reader into the world of leisure reading for pleasure.

Tucker Sullivan is a miserable orphan. Anslie Dawn switches places with him to give him a break and finds herself protecting her secret identity as an orphan boy when she is sent to an ancient orphanage, Nocturnan. There, she finds herself involved in some dangerous games.

M.M. Mesldorf opens the story with compelling intrigue and action that draws attention immediately: "I'll find him! And when I do, I'll wring his scrawny little neck like a chicken for Sunday dinner!" Headmaster Grimsly muttered as he passed the closet door. Anslie, who had never tasted chicken for Sunday dinner or any other meal, edged backward deeper into the corner of the dark closet. She stepped on Tucker's foot. Hard. She clapped her hand over his mouth to keep him quiet."

As Anslie faces the formidable Mr. Strickman at Nocturnam and receives a lecture about the looseness of Whippoorwill Home in comparison to her new quasi-prison, she is drawn into the mystery of the Ninth Garden, makes a new friend in Xander, and finds herself feeling oddly at home and connected to life, at last.

Armed with a new purpose, new friendships, and a new perspective, Anslie's journey, which includes a meeting with Bump in the night, is replete with humor and growth.

Mesldorf creates a vivid tale that excels in nonstop action and twists of plot to keep events unpredictable and character-based. It cultivates the mystery and feel of the classic children's book Tom's Midnight Garden, but adds a contemporary flavor of adventure that will attract modern readers looking for a fantasy replete with action.

The secret identity Anslie assumes forces her into some unusual situations, such as cheering for herself as a heroine who escaped her prior circumstances when her new posse of friends reviews the situation and admires the escapee's spunk.

The ironies added to the intrigue make for many humor-driven moments as Anslie becomes privy to information about the Shadow Wars and those who fight them.

Black and white illustrations by Rebecca Lemoine are peppered throughout and add further attraction and insight into the story. Armed with these visuals, young readers will find the tale fairly leaps to life in a manner that creates a 'can't-put-it-down' read.

The result is an uplifting, inviting story of evolving friendships, loss, and battles, both within and in the world.

The character-driven nature of this fantasy allows young readers to become thoroughly immersed in Anslie's secrets and revelations, creating a story that is especially powerful and highly recommended for advanced elementary grades and older.

Libraries and adults who look for vigorous fantasies firmly rooted in not just action, but strong protagonists whose insights form magnetic attractions to a wide age range will find FastFight 540: Bump in the Night a unique and commendable choice.

One Last Song For My Father
Edwin Fontanez
Exit Studio Publishing
9780983189145, $22.99

One Last Song For My Father: A Son's Memoir represents a son's effort to present a "fair portrait of the man" to both honor and explain his father's life.

As his regular yearly visits to his family in Puerto Rico evolves into witnessing his father's decline into dementia, Edwin Fontanez captures not just these observations, but their impact on his family: "The ripple effect of his turn of health dramatically impacted the family dynamic, leading me into unknown territory as my father's affliction followed a devastating cycle that lasted over sixteen years."

The copious notes he took during this period of time results in this tribute and expose, which contemplates the unfinished relationship between his father and himself and the impact of how matters began and ended between them.

Sixteen years ago, Fontanez mourned the loss of a man who while, still technically living, had moved into a realm that denied his family his personality, memories, and connections: "Heartbroken, I had to accept that I had lost the opportunity to strengthen our emotional bond. His disease had robbed me of all those years I had looked forward to spending with him."

This memoir celebrates these elements posthumously, documenting a process many readers follow as they pursue their own loved ones into the shadowy realms of dementia.

Black and white family photos and artwork throughout supplement these personal reflections of father and son, providing visual reinforcement about who these people were and how they once lived their lives.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of this memoir, which sets it apart from other celebrations of parents' lives, is the author's attention to documenting the ripples of change that affected family connections, as when his father temporarily rescued a little girl cousin from a bad situation, only to find his new family member had to be returned to her home: "Though it was only for a few weeks, at least my mother, sisters, and I had witnessed this renewed side of my father which had come to life with the presence of this little girl. As great as his enthusiasm was for giving our cousin a better life, so was his grief at losing her. Suddenly, the house seemed emptier. I realized how we had underestimated the light and energy she had brought into our lives. Perhaps to conceal his heartache, Papa never mentioned her again. Understanding his deep hurt and disappointment, neither did we."

These insights create the foundation of who the man was and his intense connections with family before everything changed. The progress of his dementia is made all the more poignant by the time taken to fully capture this life, while the moments of loss are highlighted by intimate glimpses into how a son reacts to these vast relationship changes: "So it happened that on my arrival on that afternoon back in July 2014, hoping for a pleasant revelation I asked him, "Papa, do you recognize me?" He looked at me smiling but his simple "No" broke my heart. Yet as disheartening as his answer was, I insisted on asking him the same question in every exchange we had, knowing quite well what his answer would be. It was a harsh awakening into a surreal reality."

Many memoirs discuss the ravages of dementia, but too few take the time to probe deeply into the nature of family relationships and interactions which took place before the downhill slide.

Edwin Fontanez's intention is to provide a full-faceted reflection of his father's life and times. He achieves his goal with love and insights gleaned from his ability to self-analyze, observe, and document the highs and lows of his father's life and his own relationship with him.

The result is a memoir that embraces essays, poetry, and journal writing to capture the extent of not only Puerto Rican roots and heritage, but the nature and impact of a father who often proved a challenge to connect with, given the inherent machismo of the Hispanic culture and the fact that his son is gay.

One Last Song For My Father is more than a celebration of one man's life. It's a cultural and psychological expose that represents an aria of understanding, love, and cultural identity that traverses two very different, yet strongly interconnected, worlds.

It deserves a prominent place in any library strong in LGBTQ literature, father/son relationships, and intimate inspections of Puerto Rican heritage.

Enzo Isn't There
Thomas M. Ellis with Lily Coyle
Beaver's Pond Press
939 Seventh Street West, St. Paul, MN 55102
9781643438078, $16.95

Enzo Isn't There is a children's picture book about death and dying, presenting the aftermath of a lonely child who wants to talk with Enzo about all kinds of life experiences, but feels lost and alone.

The first-person revelations offer candid discussion points that read-aloud parents will want to pursue with their kids ("I wish I was where Enzo is and Enzo could be here.").

The explorations of all who grieve the loss of Enzo is another facet that sets this picture book story of death apart from others on the subject: "I hate it the most when Dad cries.

Dad hates it the most when I cry. I hate this. Dad hates this. We hate this."

Enzo's wisdom and reflections about life and what he's observed are threads that augment the grief experienced and expressed by the young narrator.

A storm of emotions is revealed as the youngster processes his sibling's demise: "I got so mad today I ripped up all of Enzo's cards because Enzo wasn't there. Then I felt bad and taped them together because Enzo isn't here."

Paired with evocative and beautiful, colorful landscapes by illustrator Brian Schmidt, Thomas M. Ellis and Lily Coyle's Enzo Isn't There is simply gorgeous. It's a fitting adjunct to other stories about death for the very young, created in a format and presented in a manner that encourages discussion of different reactions to death.

Read-aloud parents will find it stands head and shoulders above similar books, while libraries will find Enzo Isn't There deserves not just a prominent place, but display and discussion in any collection catering to the young.

Psychological groups for all ages tackling the subject of death, loss and dying will find Enzo Isn't There simple, yet especially effective for pinpointing feelings surrounding loss and dying, offering excellent fodder for discussion.

Always Yours
AJ Ranney
Rudy House Publishing
9798985948516, $4.99 ebook/$16.00 Paperback

"If we could get through what was bound to be one of the worst days of my life, surely we could handle anything... right?"

Always Yours is a romance story that opens not with love, but loss. Narrator Bella Buchanan has just lost her mother. Her best friend Rhett is trying to help her. They live in the small town of Half Moon Lake in the North Carolina mountains and have shared many things, but this is the first summer that Bella has thought of Rhett as anything more but a good friend.

Fast forward twelve years. Young mother Bella has a child of her own (Brendan). She and Rhett broke up three years earlier. Rhett is still in her life, but everything has changed. And yet, some things never change.

Emotions run high as the duo continues to struggle with their feelings about one another: "He glanced away and wouldn't meet my gaze. What the hell was wrong with him? We weren't super close anymore, not since he'd moved out of his parents' guest house last fall and into his own small place, but we'd learned to coexist and be friendly with each other. And yet, tonight, for whatever reason, he seemed almost annoyed with me. I had half a mind to ask him what I did to piss him off."

The conflicted love/hate of their relationship continually gets in the way, clouding what each of them really want.

Another difference between this romance's progression and others is that the points of view shift between Rhett and Bella. This is clearly identified in chapter headings, making it easy for readers to understand these changing voices and perspectives that lead to a better understanding of events and emotional responses.

Always Yours thus builds its own vortex of swirling feelings as the confusion and love between these two star-crossed lovers continues to resonate over the years. Heartfelt passages abound as each explains and explores their emotions: "I didn't want to fight with him, not tonight. But this was something I had to do for myself. Frankly, if he couldn't understand that, then maybe this wasn't meant to work out. But I prayed he would understand once I explained it."

The psychological insights are astute and revealing, driving a story replete with life changes and interpersonal conflicts.

The result is a solid romance firmly centered in small-town life and ambitions. Always Yours will prove an attractive and compelling read for romance followers who look for emotional growth amid contentious love/hate relationships and changing friendships.

Libraries strong in romance stories will welcome Always Yours, while romance book reader groups will find the contrasting male/female perspectives offers excellent food for thought and discussion.

Rock Gods & Messy Monsters
Diane Hatz
Whole Healthy Group LLC
9798986282329, $14.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Rock Gods & Messy Monsters is both a gory experimental piece and a powerful illustration of dreams that move into the arena of nightmares.

It also, surprisingly, is a story of empowerment, placing the onus on creating these dreams on their maker's perceptions of the world.

Set in the 1990s and revolving around the entertainment industry, Rock Gods & Messy Monsters opens with a messy job description: "The blood didn't bother Alex but cleaning it up made her angry."

Alex longs for escape, but rampant unemployment makes her one of the lucky ones. Maybe. Because certain aspects of this alternate world belay any thoughts of fortune: "Alex put her backpack on the floor and unzipped the side of her head. She reached in and pulled out her brain, placing the throbbing gray matter in the customized, faux crystal cerebrum urn Acht Records had supplied her with her first day at the company. She had fought the procedure at first, refused to sign the Cerebrum Extraction Release form, but with times being as hard as they were, and with the knowledge that she had spent over six months unemployed before being offered this job, Alex knew she had no choice."

One prerequisite for successfully appreciating this story is the reader's ability to move deftly through gory descriptions and scenarios. Another is an appreciation of the satire and parody which is embedded in descriptions of Alex's working world: "The shock brought her to her feet. Langley had embedded neurological electric shock chips in Alex's body when she first started working for him, so with the push of a button, he could get her attention anywhere in the building. The second jolt ripped through Alex's ankles and nearly toppled her. If she didn't carry out her duty quickly, he would start shocking her all over."

This wry sense of dark humor permeates the story as its characters evolve: "I was just admiring your gold and platinum record collection," said Bret Horowitz, e.l., as he pointed to the wall. "Nice to see so many of them are my clients." With lightning speed, Horowitz reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his box of smiles, rapidly throwing on his proud, fatherly smile. He held out his hairy hand."

The well-done literary devices of humor, ironic social inspections, and atmospheric psychological descriptions also lend to Rock Gods & Messy Monsters's consideration as a sterling example of modern absurdist observation and writing. A host of rollicking, crazy characters permeate a story replete with cultural observations of the entertainment industry's follies.

The result is a literary work that holds the ability to reach into many reader circles with its powerful tale of mutant sea creatures, alternative music, and the injection of money and power interests into a profitable milieu which changes art and economics equally powerfully.

Modern creative writing classes looking for discussion points in experimental literary styles will find Rock Gods & Messy Monsters promises many lively debates about the elements of social examination and the impact of truly creative writing.

Cowboy from Prague
Charles Ota Heller
Atmosphere Press
9781639883547, $18.00

"Goddamn immigrant!"

Charles Ota Heller heard these words of hate in high school ... in the land of the free, after he and his parents narrowly escaped the brutal Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. It was an endeavor that moved them from living a life of wealth to arriving in a strange new land nearly penniless. They were words that would plague his life and seem to thwart any ideal of success. And yet, he persisted.

Charged by his father with adapting to his new home by speaking English without an accent and becoming "100% American," Heller struggled with his past and present prejudice to achieve success against all odds and under any definition of the word.

Cowboy from Prague: An Immigrant's Pursuit of the American Dream records that process. It adds to the literature about immigrant experience and contributions to American history and culture by offering both familiar examples of struggle and prejudice and extraordinary efforts that link perseverance to the ultimate American dream of achievement and success for all.

In many ways, Cowboy from Prague documents concepts, ideals, and processes similar to the wealth of immigrant experience already in print. In others, it represents a departure, in its focus on different types of prejudice and how they affected the narrator's perceptions of life in the land of opportunity.

These passages are marked by specific examples and memories: "The football coach looked at me, turned back to Smith and launched a wad of saliva onto the green grass.

"This is pure bullshit!" he snarled. "Only goddamn immigrant freaks kick the ball from the side. This is America, and that's not football." With that, he walked off in the direction of his office. I felt as if the squat little man had kicked me in the groin as hard as I had kicked the football. I stared at Smith quizzically in search of an explanation. Cap was watching the football coach wobble up the hill toward the school building. Finally, he turned to me, and I could see that his eyes were moist. "I'm sorry, Charlie. Apparently, Coach Flynn is not very fond of immigrants. I'm afraid you're going to meet a few people like him in your life."

The strength of such examples (and in this narrative) lies in "what happened next," because Heller is the perfect example of gaining wisdom, strength, and positive pathways from adversity.

Cowboy from Prague is full of such examples as it documents how this immigrant changes not only his history, but those around him, by his attitudes and drive.

Unexpected humor is one thread that keeps Heller's story engrossing. It appears at points where one would least expect it, demonstrating the versatility of thought and approaches to life that would serve him well in America.

As readers pursue Heller's story, they will come to realize that his book represents more than a singular life or experience. It's the voice of a nation with a history of taking in those less fortunate and providing avenues of success unavailable in any other country, and it follows the successes and failures of America's own dreams and promises.

In the end, it reinforces those very American principles that draw immigrants in the first place: "I wrote Cowboy from Prague in support of enlightened Americans - those who not only understand the economic benefits of immigration, but who believe that taking in human beings in distress is what this country has always done - whose voices will drown out the insults and bravado of the haters. That is the America about which I dreamed as a 12-year-old in a refugee camp. That is the nation which allowed me to pursue, and realize, the American Dream. That is the America about which I decided to write."

While libraries strong in immigrant stories will want to consider Cowboy from Prague, it's also a powerful analysis of the qualities that make America accessible, the ideals of it being the land of opportunity for all, and the types of people that either represent or belay this ideal by their attitudes and actions towards immigrants.

Heller's story will ideally be pursued in discussion groups not just devoted to memoirs of immigrant experiences, but surveys of the American dream and how it is translated in real life.

Saigon Spring
Phillip Derrick
Sunnyslope Press
978099912024, $14.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Saigon Spring spices war fiction with mystery and thriller components to expand the story's potential audience, making it a recommendation not just for the usual historical Vietnam experience readers, but for those seeking a solid novel of intrigue.

It opens in 1971 at the San Francisco Airport, where the first-person narrator is set to embark on a journey dressed in full green army uniform and paratrooper boots. Post-Vietnam, returning vets were not treated with respect, but distain. Despite this atmosphere, the narrator retains pride in his military service and accomplishments. It's a pride that will be tested both at home and abroad as events unfold.

Phillip Derrick captures the sentiments of the times as well as the unfolding mystery surrounding Sergeant Travis Nickels as he returns home convinced his tour of duty is finished forever, only to find himself re-enlisting, drawn back to a Vietnam which is now in complete chaos after the war.

The secrets he keeps about his service, Vietnamese relationships, and choices made during this time have come full circle to haunt any semblance of him moving on, forcing him back into the past to confront not just the consequences of his decisions, but a lingering mystery that infuses his life with angst and uncertainty.

It's a process that mirrors the wider issues of America's involvements in that region.

Even his name has been changed, because he's assumed a dead soldier's identity to get back to Vietnam to find his family's killer.

So opens a creative thriller that includes many of the trappings of a traditional Vietnam novel and then departs from the norm to bring its readers on an unexpected journey through a war-torn region of anguished hearts and minds.

Much of the story focuses on his new civilian status at home - how Travis reluctantly learns to hide the fact that he's a vet and how he deals with those who think that military service only attracted suckers while others (more intelligent) found ways to reject the call to go fight in Vietnam.

As he gets married, experiences life at Ranger school, and seemingly moves forward even while constrained by events from his past, he finds his trajectory moves full circle as the secrets he's kept even from his wife draw him back into the military.

Derrick also explores the social and political experiences and divides that keep changing the bigger picture, employing powerful "you are here' imagery to capture Travis's observations and conclusions: "That means only one thing," said Tam. "Victory or death. There's not going to be a peaceful negotiation to this offensive despite what your Ambassador or my government hopes. It's all or nothing this time."

What makes for a good man, what constitutes bravery in environments replete with atrocities, and how can Travis make better decisions?

Military history blends with mystery, intrigue, and psychological self-inspection to give Saigon Spring a full-bodied flavor of discovery and revelation that is rare in either mysteries or thrillers.

Its story comes to life in different ways, and is especially recommended for readers of military fiction, who will find in this story far more depth, linking personal with cultural and political experience, than most.

Like Vietnam, the events that drive Travis are mercurial and unpredictable. How he finds love against all odds and reconciles past with future opportunities makes for a story that is not only recommended for libraries looking for powerful Vietnam-based accounts, but book club discussion groups interested in military novels and growth-inducing stories about personal transformation.

Involuntary Reroute!!!
Robert Laney
Independently Published
9781733524902, $5.99

Involuntary Reroute!!! is a business biography that follows Robert Laney's realizations about the airline industry and how it really works.

It takes early lessons learned about fares, first class seating, and the logic of flying and moves from flying the friendly skies to moving through business logic: "An involuntary reroute took place, teaching me the basics of airline deception, and inventing new fare-savings tools. Most travelers have no idea that airfares are a game or even how to play. Overvalued fares are only real if you pay them. In the twenty-first century, most won't overpay, and neither should you."

Readers who expect to receive a plethora of tips about saving money and flying better won't be disappointed, but to consider Involuntary Reroute!!! a how-to guide about flights and fares alone would be to do it a disservice.

Laney's book is as much about business decision-making, processes and the finer art of creating a bargain mentality as it is about the airline industry and his experiences with it.

From a rogue affiliate's plan to steal a business to how industry discounts really work and legal cases that evolved over trademark infringement, sabotage, and competitive branding processes, Laney's story is replete with the cat-and-mouse games of a thriller, yet cultivates an inspection of real-life business processes and events.

These circumstances provide a far deeper probe into the business practices of the airline industry as a whole and the actions of Laney and others who operated within its circles. It offers business readers many historical references and insider insights about everything from promotion and sales to ethical and moral decision-making within and outside a business structure.

Controversy and litigation stories abound in a lively blend of expose and business processes that reads like fiction, but is thoroughly steeped in real-world experiences within the airline business.

The result is a fun and enlightening inspection of airline follies and business practices that will appeal on many levels. It works as both an entertainment piece and a story of subterfuges and deception, illustrating business processes that have largely taken place under the radar. Until now.

Libraries looking for a lively expose in the form of a business professional's memoir will find that Involuntary Reroute!!! is the perfect blend of drama and probe into airline tricks and traps, designed to attract a wide audience beyond business professionals alone.

The Uniform
G. Gruen
Writers Bureau
9781737333425, $17.99 Hardcover/$8.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

The Uniform represents a military historical thriller at its finest. Perhaps this is because it's based on true events, and that tone of real drama is captured from the start.

The story opens in 1944, when a young doctor on his way to a Nazi death camp stumbles on the body of a murdered Gestapo officer and takes his uniform in an effort to survive.

Initially trained as a medic in Prague, David Korda has spent his confinement trying to ingratiate himself to his captors.

Now he can be one of them. Or, can he?

The dead man's uniform is gashed and bloodied. Before the tunic can be any use to David, he has to repair it and drain the blood stains, all the time facing discovery by SS officer Liebig, Hausler's 'wife', Petra, and Oberführer Hausler's family as well as his fellow Gestapo members - and the attendant risks to his life. These and a growing relationship with a horse all affect his choices and decisions surrounding not just the uniform, but the world it represents.

The uniform changes everything, but it also places him in a position of added danger from unexpected events that involve him in different and deeper mysteries than those of survival and adaptation alone.

From preserving the fabric of his disguise (literally and figuratively) to navigating the strange new world the uniform has introduced him to, David finds himself at different odds with his world and draws, once again, on his latent medical skills to save himself and those around him.

G. Gruen provides an exacting, step-by-step drama that follows David through concentration camps and beyond.

A host of characters interact with him as he attempts to repair more than the uniform, only to find he's become mired in new dilemmas that test his abilities, courage, and determination to survive.

The thriller components are just as deeply steeped into the story as its historical and mystery-laced encounters, creating a captivating tale replete with treachery and danger.

Readers looking for a World War II scenario of a very different ilk than most, and libraries seeking thriller-style novels embedded with unpredictable drama and action, will find The Uniform defies pat categorization, but assumes a life of its own that makes it hard to put down. Its outcome is satisfyingly difficult to predict as David navigates the two choices of being a prisoner or a representative of the oppressor he fights against.

Louise Jane Watson
Foundations Book Publishing Company
B0B7CSWFM9, $3.99 Kindle

Marooned is a shipwreck story of a different ilk, surrounding a couple and a cat.

The family in the classic Swiss Family Robinson banded together to create a new home and life while awaiting rescue. In Louise Jane Watson's contemporary take on becoming marooned, there is no supportive nuclear family. Just a cat. And, as Book 1 of the Lost and Found series explores, the process of being marooned demands more than survival tactics and physical innovations.

The day began with the promise of sunshine, relaxation, and new connections. So, why is Pinky out of bounds and beyond her control, now? She finds her past strengths stymied, under these conditions: "There had never been a situation she couldn't run, jump, or fight her way out of. But out here, her modus operandi was useless." And this is just the cat's experience as she rides a human survivor on the waves into the aftermath of shipwreck.

Sunny also shares these qualities, and a vacation in Fiji seems like just the opportunity to profile the beauty and danger not just of the island, but in life in general. Especially since the first stranger she encounters is drop-dead gorgeous.

But, unlike Pinky, Sunny is not vacationing. She's there to work as an illustrator on a research station, and duty calls. Sunny, too, cultivates "a resourceful mind that saw a problem, then found a solution." She excels in embracing and working with adversity.

Nothing in life could have prepared her for her Fijian adventure, however, as she embarks on a journey of survival and exploration that ultimately tests not just her physical skills, but her mental acuity.

Watson creates an emotional roller coaster of a ride in Marooned which carries readers beyond the usual shores of romance as Kit and Sunny struggle with one another and themselves.

Independent and proactive at age twenty-five, Sunny has never had the opportunity to cultivate such a relationship, so Kit thinks she's naive and much younger. It's simply that Sunny has not been made bitter and jaded by life experience, unlike so many of her contemporaries. And that lends to her attraction which, in isolation, has the opportunity to blossom.

Readers who pick up Marooned anticipating a survival story alone may be surprised at the depths the novel plumbs.

Unlikely as a relationship between a sexy, world-wise Hollywood star and a nature artist might be, the shipwreck throws them (and the ship's cat) together in an endeavor that changes them both.

Readers receive a story of evolutionary growth both between and within the characters as perspectives shift between Kit and Sunny. This allows for psychological growth and revelations to be brought to the forefront as their situation forces new efforts and realizations neither has ever attempted in their lives. Watson's psychological probe is nicely done, juxtaposing the simmering romantic potential of an island made for two (three, counting the cat) with the explorations and secrets each individual makes to move forward with their lives.

As new perspectives blossom under adverse conditions, romance readers will especially appreciate that a precarious situation evolves, both mentally and physically, between all three characters.

The result is a love story, a survival piece, and a fictional revelation of growth and connection. Marooned is highly recommended for romance libraries and readers, but also should attract women who seek strong female role models (and cats) who tackle their pasts and futures with equal ability.

Halfway From Home
Sarah Fawn Montgomery
Split/Lip Press
97819528972552, $16.00

Halfway From Home is an essay collection that imparts grief over the past and the hope for a better future. Capturing nostalgia and the lingering lessons of life events, it considers a diverse array of topics related to the richness of discovery, offering readers their own special brand of enlightenment and hope for the future in these pandemic times.

The first thing to note about Sarah Fawn Montgomery's collection is that it comes firmly rooted in the kind of imagery that brings these moments to life irregardless of their place in the timeline of experience: "Graduation is coming. Soon we'll scatter, moving to places where we can't park - or at least not for free. Where we won't be able to look up and see moss drip from the trees, where we won't be able to drive out to the eucalyptus grove in winter and see ten thousand monarchs nestling for warmth, the whole forest rustling and alive."

No matter where you are, in reading through these works - you are here, in the moments and pivot points that represent transition and change.

The second thing to highlight is Montgomery's special brand of autobiographical inspection that juxtaposes these timelines with wisdom gained from experience and living through them: "There is magic here, I know. I am full of missing what is right in front of me. But I am already wanting something that isn't there. This is only home because it will be gone one day. Because I will go somewhere else, in search of nostalgia, a lifelong habit of saying goodbye."

The third note? The poetic, lyrical lilt of these essays is like the kiss of love, deeply connected and involving: "Whale tooth the size of a palm held open for offerings, for help. Surface blade-slick, oiled with fat flayed and boiled. How your tooth shines when you are stripped of your flesh, rubbed down with your own disappearance. Taste sea, salt and regret, seep of sex. A ship is carved on your whale tooth, a dozen billowing masts, taut lines wrestling with the wind. You know those ropes, the ways they choke, capturing the body and holding it like an embrace."

This is how language sings. This is the song of place, time, connection, hope, and life. Ideally, this is why the essay form can be so expressive and haunting - under the right hand.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery's hands are such: tools of insights, discovery, longing and revelation that is rooted in archaeology, geology, and the world of nature, connecting the observational to personal experience: "We crack the geode with a hammer to split it open. It reminds me of the book on my mother's shelf, the one about babies sliding from the wide legs of women, wonders that require pain."

It is hoped that, from these quoted passages, the sense of strength and superior literary reflection that comprises Halfway From Home will invite readers of all ilk to partake. It deserves not just a place in literature libraries, but prominent feature in creative writing classes as an example of the powerful possibilities of intersecting essay and lyrical description.

Certainly, Halfway From Home is one of the most compelling collections this reviewer has seen this year, with 2022 more than halfway over.

You Are Your Healer
Yol Swan
Sri Devi Press
9780986365454, $18.95 Paper/$7.99 ebook/$24.95 Hardcover

You Are Your Healer: The Ultimate Guide to Heal Your Past, Transform Your Life & Awaken to Your True Self points out that one key to changing one's experience of the present is letting go of the past. This is a goal easy to contemplate and much harder to achieve.
Yol Swan's book focuses on this process, providing insights on healing emotional and spiritual wounds to experience a better present and future life. It draws important connections between one's divine nature and self-knowledge, making a case for spiritual seekers to realize the former through self-awareness, while dissolving codependent patterns that limit or block one's access to spiritual enlightenment.

It's unusual to see discussions of codependent patterns and the power dynamics of ego in a book that essentially is spiritual in its nature and goals. Swan's approach synthesizes the best of self-help psychology and spiritual objectives to strengthen both aspects, showing how this particular process is key to achieving the goal of spiritual freedom.

As Swan explores this process and presents The Swan Method to heal the past, readers can move through the exercises and meditations confident that the end result will be an ultimate, lasting embrace of life as a reflection of one's true Self or 'Pure Awareness.'

It is equally rare to see a self-help spiritual lesson plan embrace such broader concepts as the pitfalls of enlightenment, which include falling into the trap of becoming a self-serving guru or falling prey to one and identifying the power dynamics which dominate relationships as a result of the egoism and spiritual ignorance inherent in the ego-mind.

Swan's dance between psychological and spiritual inspection entwines both into a richer, more understandable, goal-oriented reflection that offers much food for not only thought, but, ideally, discussion: "Owing to the egoism and spiritual ignorance of the ego-mind, however, you expect people to behave according to your needs, while everyone else is trying to figure out their own life-movie and expecting you to behave according to their needs as well. This sets the typical power dynamics that dominate most relationships, in overt and subtle ways. If you perceive yourself and engage with the world through your sense of otherness, you will seek love and validation through other people rather than recognizing that you are the love you have been looking for."

From various meditation exercises and how to assure their success to deliberations of individuality and self-perception, Swan at times delves into philosophical as well as spiritual and psychological realms. No matter the topic, Swan provides insights geared towards a better understanding of onesself and one's place in physical and spiritual realms alike: "You identify with your mind, which is a collection of mental impressions and memories, and with your body, the vehicle through which those memories are experienced and expressed. Since your life emerges when the light of Consciousness is projected onto your mind, and your experience is filtered through the sensory perception of your subtle and causal bodies, it is clear that your experience of reality is a mental projection of the past. But it is also a portal into your subconscious offering ongoing opportunities for awareness and healing, so that you may leave the past behind, where it belongs, and be fully present, anchored in the moment."

The result is much more than a game plan for healing. It's an in-depth journey through life's meaning, intention, and impact that moves beyond drawing connections between these facets to encourage and guide readers on the concepts of self-healing growth, self-awareness, and, ultimately, nonduality or Oneness.

Libraries strong in spiritual guides will be the logical target audience for You Are Your Healer, but it ideally will reach psychology self-help collections to become a bigger part of reading and discussion by book groups, spiritual classes, and seekers that look for concrete examples of how to choose more enlightened paths.

Killer Flip
M.E. Bakos
M. E. Books
9798985077094, $14.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Meet Katelyn Baxter, a home rehab specialist whose work lies not in solving mysteries, but fixing and selling distressed houses. Katelyn is a master at restoring homes to their former elegance and reputation ... even if her latest challenge, a Tudor mansion, comes tinged with the history of a murder.

Fans of amateur sleuths and powerful female investigators will find Killer Flip, Book 4 in a Home Renovator mystery series, to be just the ticket for a different, more compelling first-person mystery read.

As Katelyn finds her renovation complicated by the discovery of a cache of valuables and a twenty-year-old mystery that involves the local sheriff and undercurrents of romance and treachery, she finds her fourth mystery evolving to embrace all kinds of small town personalities and undercurrents. It's another adventure that expands the Home Renovator series and solidifies Katelyn's personality and charm.

Cozy mystery readers are in for a treat as Katelyn faces newlyweds, romance, historical threats, and present-day opportunities and angst. From nightmares about intruders to insights that spark more creative juices in both renovation and crime-busting worlds, Katelyn is again in the thick of mystery and threat as events unfold. Cozy mystery readers can expect more than a few surprises as these relationships are probed and reveal unexpected gems of connection and intrigue.

M.E. Bakos is especially skilled at juxtaposing small-town atmosphere with intrigue: the hallmarks of the cozy mystery genre. The characterization is especially well done, with the first-person narrator cementing reader interest not just in events, but the people in the story: "It was late, but not too late for friends and food. While I puttered around, getting ready for her visit, there was a knock. Checking the peephole, I sighed. It was Eddy. Trust Eddy to show up when there's food on the way."

The result is a compelling read that holds just the right ingredients of intrigue and attractive characters, married to a mystery that will turn many heads with revelations even dedicated cozy mystery fans won't see coming.

Cozy mystery library collections need to place Killer Flip at the top of their acquisition list. It deserves a prominent place and recommendation in such circles whether or not readers have familiarity with Katelyn's prior house renovation and murder-solving adventures.

Becky Chalmers Beautified
Diane Campbell Green
DCG Books
9798986589909, $12.99

What would you give to be beautiful? Ten-year-old Becky has her perceptions of beauty -- and they don't include her looks.

That's why she wishes for something different on her birthday: the type of beauty that turns heads. Including her own.

As advanced elementary-grade readers absorb these eight short stories about Becky Chalmers, they will be called upon to think about their own definitions of beauty and how these can change over time.

Diane Campbell Green introduces a discussion of the subject for readers of a much younger age than the usual beauty-oriented audience. But, Becky Chalmers Beautified isn't about physical, outward beauty alone.

As Becky investigates cosmetics and other approaches to enhancing her outward beauty, she receives lessons in beauty that help her understand what the real goal is: to appeal to herself rather than just to others.

Becky does more than contemplate. As she interacts with psychiatrist Mr. O-Angel, her family, and her friends, Becky receives gentle lessons about the elements which make her royalty in her own mind as well as in the eyes of others.

Green cultivates a soft, appealing atmosphere in these lessons, using interpersonal interactions and revelations to introduce these life-changing moments of realization.

Life revolves around more than beauty. Becky learns about adaptation, as well; from a challenging new move to Massachusetts to a return to Yardley and being able to perceive when others around her are unhappy.

As lessons about faith, kindness, and friendship unfold, young readers receive a compelling story about growth that ideally will be discussed in reading groups and with adult assistance to be sure the book's valuable messages are completely understood.

The result is an excitingly original probe into everyday life, growth, and perception of self and others that opens with the story of Becky's desires to change and takes transformation and self-improvement to new levels of understanding for elementary grade readers.

Libraries and parents seeking materials that lend to young reader enlightenment about emotional and physical beauty will find Becky Chalmers Beautified provides the rare opportunity to better understand the world and one's place in it.

The Brooch: A Magic Within
Sandeep Kumar Mishra
Independently Published
9798842684960, $9.99 Paper/$1.99 Kindle

Read-aloud parents and picture book readers alike will find The Brooch: A Magic Within the perfect item of choice for an adventure that pairs well with lessons about good deeds and helping others.

Adults can use this story to open discussions about concepts such as paying it forward and helping those in need, while kids will appreciate the touch of magic involved in this feel-good story about cultivating kindness and compassion in the world.

Inspired by author Sandeep Kumar Mishra's daughter's request for such a tale, The Brooch tells of a child's generosity and a stranger's unexpected reward.

The story is simple but powerful. At times, its language creates some confusion. A final polish could help smooth these passages which inject some degree of grammatical confusion, but the strength of this story lies in its illustrations of how to foster good in the world.

Paired with very colorful illustrations that bring the tale home,

The Brooch provides concrete examples of the ripple of generosity that begins with a boy and a brooch and moves into the world as the magic changes hands.

Read-aloud adults who use this picture book story as a starting point for illustrating the personal power of individual choice and action will find the diverse examples of all ages involved in the brooch's magic to be thought-provoking.

Its fine lesson of positivity in the world will best be employed via interactions between adults and the young, via discussions which will augment the story's important messages and examples.

Footprints Across the Planet
Jennifer Swanson
Reycraft Books
9781478876045, $17.95 Hardcover/$8.95 Paper

Every footprint in the world leaves its mark. What kind of footprint will you make? Young readers who choose Footprints Across the Planet for its ecological message and bright, attractive cover receive a story filled with vivid color photos and answers to the question of one's personal impact on the world.

These answers take the form of close-up examples of all kinds of animal feet, paired with lovely close-up shots of the creatures (including humans) making them.

Jennifer Swanson's simple, enlightening words are just as vivid as the photos: "Footprints come in all shapes and sizes, colors and species. Some are large and deep, strong and purposeful. Others are small and shallow, barely leaving any imprint at all ... Footprints are also as diverse as the people on the planet."

The lovely visuals, including slices and cutaways of mountains, people, and animals, reinforce the observations with a particularly powerful hand to representing the interconnectivity of world environments and creatures.

The result begins small, with the notion of a single footprint's impact, but expands into a blossoming story showing how each individual can make a big difference.

The picture book concludes with biographical sketches of humans who successfully changed the world through their actions and choices.

More so than most books about intention, personal impact, choice, and consequences, Footprints Across the Planet presents a powerful display that will reach a wide age group (including adults) with a strong message of empowerment and positivity.

If only one children's book were to be chosen on these topics, Footprints Across the Planet should be at the very top of such a list. Its opportunities for not only personal enlightenment but discussion between youths and adults who read along are boundless, as is the enthusiasm with which it is written and the obvious care taken to choose only the most powerful striking imagery to highlight its important message.

Libraries and individuals who choose Footprints Across the Planet will find it rich in thought-provoking opportunities and rich rewards for the effort of imbibing.

The Hawk Enigma
J.L. Hancock
Class Five Press
9781737150114, $19.99 Paperback

Rarely does a recurring nightmare come to real life as sharply as in military technician Voodoo's experiences in The Hawk Enigma, an action-packed techno-thriller that steeps its reader in compelling scenarios from its opening lines: "Bam! Bam! Bam! A fist pounded on the door, punctuated by the repeating jingle of the apartment doorbell. The cacophony ripped Dr. "Taka" Hawkins from her computer game - induced trance. She yanked her gaming headset off her head and rubbed her eyes as they readjusted to reality. Her mind, however, had no desire to readjust."

Tom Clancy fans, move over. Tom faces a formidable contender for the title of a top thriller writer in J.L. Hancock, whose special brand of nonstop action and adventure is based on satisfying twists and turns that keep readers involved and guessing on many levels.

The early morning (1AM) knock on the door is just the opening salvo in a series of confrontations that involves vivid bad dreams, hard realities, and good intentions gone awry.

From cryptic prophecies that warn of disaster to the possibility that scientists working in Japan have uncovered a "God algorithm" that could transform the world, research blends with an arms race, AI involvement, and individual tests of resolve and moral and ethical behaviors as a host of characters find their work and perspectives clashing on a dangerous playing field of science and international special interests.

The science-based drama will especially intrigue readers who enjoy more 'techno' in their thriller formats, while the focus on nonstop action keeps the pace heady and high for suspense-oriented readers who look for high-octane action.

The character development is well done, cementing the intersection of science, military, political, and social inspection with a special brand of psychological draw that only comes from characters whose own special interests are logical and realistic.

Scenes are precisely depicted, melding action with a sense of culture and place in Asia and other environs: "Large armored vehicles are rare in Japan. Tight streets and heavy traffic make motorcycles and light trucks the transportation of choice for police trying to move with agility through the city. None of this applies at nearly 3 a.m. With the streets cleared, the heavily armored SAT vehicle rumbled down the narrow streets of Tokyo toward the target location. A tip regarding human trafficking potentially associated with North Korean operatives piqued Captain Tanaka's interest. The superintendent general placed anything regarding kidnapping as his highest priority, and the Special Assault Team led the charge."

The result is a powerful, action-packed story that is mercurial in its development. Like a shape-shifter, its form and insights are always changing, incorporating military, political, and financial influences into its broad spectrum. The story keeps thriller readers on board for the ride through changing hearts and minds with a dexterity that probably stems from author J.L. Hancock's background as a tactical cryptologist working in the military for special operations.

Libraries looking for standout thrillers that are powerfully written and backed with the authenticity of a writer whose experiences undoubtedly dovetail with many of the techno elements in this story will find The Hawk Enigma an inviting acquisition.

Joint Venture
Carol Rhees
Independently Published
9798986520605, $14.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Readers of contemporary women's fiction will enjoy Joint Venture's foray into the wild, wild world of a business venture that brings together two disparate "frenemies" who traditionally are at odds with one another, but find their lives entwined in expected ways.

Cemented by the business pursuit that surprisingly serves each of their newfound interests particularly well, Alice and Helen both find themselves in the advancing years of their 60s, cast adrift after their partners exit stage left. Whether from betrayal or demise, each flounders and grasps the other in a lifesaving move that will prove much more to each, opening new doors of opportunity that rest atop past adversity.

Carol Rhees incorporates a wry sense of humor about the personalities and events that dovetail in an unexpectedly odd journey, starting with childhood encounters between the two which set the stage for future interactions steeped in controversy and competition.

Fifty years is a long time to maintain even a tenuous connection, however bittersweet. Helen Newbold had fled the small town of Poplar Point right after graduation with her beau. Alice thought this was the end of the story (and their tumultuous relationship) until she comes upon Helen in a state of disarray, drunk on the sidewalk. It's an event that tests even her newfound meditative peace: "As Alice helped Helen to her feet, she felt a small vindictive flare of pleasure. She tried to suppress it, remembering the silent commitment to kindness and compassion she had made at the meditation meeting just moments earlier. Well, this was definitely a test of her commitment."

As the active dislike between these women rekindles into a shared purpose in later life, readers receive an engrossing exploration of how opposites not only attract, but can combine forces to achieve formidable goals.

Carol Rhees takes the time to portray these disparate personalities, the reasons why they clash, and the values that drive their lives: "She couldn't resist a closer examination of Alice, whom she had not spent any real time with in years. Yup, not much had changed except for the 20 or 30 extra pounds. Same hippie - dippy clothes. Same dangling earrings and jangling bracelets. Same long thick braid down her back - only now it was gray instead of brown. Unconsciously, Helen brushed her palm over her own recently colored hair."

As perspectives shift from Helen to Alice, these character-driven experiences come to life to provide thought-provoking and often funny passages driven by these different perspectives about life and values. Other characters, such as Helen's daughter Kim, also add perspective from other vantage points to round out the interactions between the two women.

Kim's viewpoint also incorporates wry humor as her opinions of her mother are revised, challenging her to adopt a new story of family connections to her young charges and her husband: "Where was she going? Home to tell Kevin what had happened? To tell her children that the grandmother they had come to love was now the town champion of marijuana?"

As the two women evolve, so does a town struggling with the latest social issue affecting its laws and outlook; and so does Kim, who finds her mother's presence not just embarrassing, but socially and psychological challenging: "Why was her mother, of all people, speaking up for the Safe Access side? Was this what her mother had been secretly working on up in her room all this time? She knew about Kim's position as chair of the Board and principal of the high school; she knew about the public stance Kim and the rest of the Board had taken. Didn't she care that Kim now looked like a fool?"

The result is a tale replete in transformations that operate on different levels, from familial to interpersonal and community-wide. The ripples of controversy threaten to tear the new relationship apart, leading it back to old foundations of contention even as it holds out the promise of something different.

Readers will find this dual focus on community and interpersonal change to be thoroughly involving.

The wry humor and satirical inspections create a nice interplay between characters and social issues, while the family relationships affected by the duo's new joint venture are strongly depicted.

Joint Venture evolves to be more than about business or a friendship revitalized. Its astute probe of social issues that affect community ties makes for a small-town portrait of personalities and purposes that is highly recommended for libraries and book clubs seeking novels about women's relationships, growth, and family changes alike.

A Time of Innocence
Quirina Vasquez de Bond & Robert J Bond Jr.
Palmetto Publishing
9798986279725, $14.99

A Time of Innocence: Memoir of a Childhood in the High Sierra Madre provides a focus on childhood innocence that captures the nature and effects of this milieu both past and present. It represents a foray into the innocence of the child that holds important ramifications for adult perspective and life outlook, and draws readers with experiences that, ironically, left the author both well prepared for life and struggling to find her place in the world.

The memoir opens with the family's roots in Mexico, exploring a father's move to Arizona to work in the mines at a time when there were no borders to navigate. He would become a rancher in San Antonio and he and his wife would raise fifteen children at the San Antonio Ranch that would both shelter them from the world and provide them with a powerful sense of self suitable for navigating any alien terrain.

As Quirina seeks to define the term and impact of innocence, she reflects on the experiences and values her family upbringing gave to her which affected her choices and perspectives about life: "She would fill the shawl with dry coffee leaves and straw and wrap herself with goat and deer hides to ward off the cold. It was not pretty to look at, but back then, no one knew any better. We were blessed and innocent, protected from the pressures of the outside world. Now, people worry about what they're wearing and are afraid of being judged anywhere they go. Some won't go out in public unless they are wearing the latest fashion. Some spend a fortune to buy a fur coat that they only wear once a year, and that's only to show it off to their so-called friends."

Her transition from growing up with much freedom to realizing that other families and communities operated much differently is captured in candid passages of self-examination that reflect both her upbringing and her encounters with the world: "I was used to having so much freedom growing up and was having a very difficult time abiding by all the rules laid out before me."

As Quirina defines innocence and a form of poverty that may be physical, but does not dampen the spirit, readers receive a forward thrust into adulthood realizations that stems from the foundations of her upbringing: "I was told later in life that love is a choice. I have learned to disagree with this statement because I can reflect to the point I felt my father's love. After eighty-two years, I believe people choose to accept another person, choose to forgive him or her, and choose to move forward out of necessity or for a common mutual benefit. I believe you either feel love for someone, or you don't. Love is a gift from God. Some are lucky to have enough softness in their heart to experience love. Some hearts are just too hard to feel it. They justify their lack of love and call it choice. This makes them feel normal. Love is joy, excitement, compassion, trust, explosive energy, selflessness, and a deep sense of affection rolled up into one big package. This is my belief."

From outward adventure and experience to inner contemplation, Bond's memoir, more than most, builds a foundation for its values and life perspective that create a powerful survey of the evolution of both.

Libraries strong in memoirs of childhood, Mexican heritage, and families poor in goods but rich in connections will find A Time of Innocence a compelling story that promises book clubs much fodder for discussion, from immigrant experiences and cross-cultural connections to family ties, values, and the evolution of child to woman.

A sales funnel automates not just the ordering and delivering, but the marketing approach itself. The book opens with a practical, yet startling assessment: "The money spent on website development rarely translates into actual revenue and real customers buying your product." It then identifies common obstacles to sales which, ironically, tend to lie in the website form and presentation itself ("We all have a short attention span, especially online. Your customers have become accustomed to scrolling down and clicking away. They've also become less patient. If they don't see what they want at a glance, they'll look elsewhere. A complicated website structure puts a giant cognitive load on visitors because it gives them too many choices.")

Jonathon Kendell then moves into identifying the alternative (a sales funnel), demonstrating how it can promote rather than thwart online sales activity, providing potential customers an easy way to buy that embraces both impulse and accessibility.

There are many new buzzwords here that are worth memorizing, from "tripwires" to "referral marketing." Each receives in-depth coverage as Kendell moves through the sales funnel concepts that can drive better customer experience, motivating them to not just buy, but refer others to a sales channel.

"...the real key to getting your customers' support is to give them a great product and a greater customer experience. Unless your product is worthy, all your marketing efforts won't matter."

Kendell's approach is designed to cover all the usually-untapped potentials of an online business. Real-world examples and an attention to detail come with discussions of better audience targeting for improved results from social media and other interconnected sites; choosing, assessing, and cultivating promotional partners and professional affiliates; and understanding what is involved in creating a sales funnel.

These discussions of what it takes to build a better brand and promotion and delivery services make for a book that should be on the shelf of any business library - and in the hands of discussion group leaders interested in building better online business presences.

Penelope's Passion
Maggie Sims
The Wild Rose Press
9781509245956, $17.99 paperback/$5.99 ebook

The School of Enlightenment series expands with the addition of Penelope's Passion, a study in love and legacy that follows eighteen-year-old Penelope Wood's first journey to London and the new adventure and job she faces there.

The School of Enlightenment has prepared her for this big step, but it couldn't predict or tackle matters of the heart as Penelope finds her new position brings her challenges that lie far outside the school's instructions.

Beyond sending money back to the family, Penelope has a career aspiration - to start a bakery. Her job as a courtesan is the first step towards realizing a dream that threatens to be waylaid by unpredictable events beyond her goals and experiences.

The world of the early 1800s and London society are nicely captured as Penelope pursues her ambition and finds her concepts of the world rocked by what she encounters in London.

It should be noted that explicit sexual descriptions accompany the story of Penelope's blossoming, which will attract readers who look for more real-world descriptions and scenarios that embrace sexual explorations, but may preclude enjoyment by readers seeking more staid romances.

Penelope's strategic approach to her life embraces all possibilities as she moves forward in different ways, and the detailed sexual experiences are part of the many ways she grows as she fosters a relationship with Lord Michael Slade, who is set to be married to another and faces the need to gain distance and perspective despite being thoroughly enchanted.

As Penelope's childhood and lifelong friend Sophia, subject of Book 1 in this series, enters the picture after a hiatus, Michael's close-knit family faces changes not only from the patriach's health issues, but from a son's choices.

Maggie Sims takes the time to explore these connections and relationships: "My parents allowed my sister and I free rein out of the limelight of London Society so we could enjoy our childhoods. Even learning my responsibilities as heir was fun with my father." Her characters thus are steeped not just in the trappings of privilege, but in a changing world where past legacy and present-day inclinations are tested in new ways.

Her careful crafting of the social, sexual, and psychological connections between kin and potential loves creates a thoroughly realistic, engrossing story that Regency romance readers, in particular, will find familiar and exciting.

At stake are not only Michael and Penelope's growing connections, but Penelope's own dreams about family and career.

Sims creates a satisfyingly intricate dance between all the characters against the backdrop of 1800s England, creating a compelling interplay of emotional and physical attraction that will draw not only prior fans of Sophia's Schooling, but newcomers who will be enticed by the promise of blossoming relationships and goals.

Libraries looking for Regency romances with sultry descriptions and characters that individually come into their powers and grow both separately and with one another will find Penelope's Passion rich and attractive reading.

Crew of Exiles
Neal Holtschulte
Haste Publishing
9798985894806, $13.99

Crew of Exiles is set in 2500 A.D., when an Immortal's life ends via suicide and his assistant in the endeavor, fellow transcendent being Beryl, is sentenced to 1,000 years in corporeal form on an abandoned Earth.

The last thing Beryl expected was to become part of a ragtag band of Earth's remaining people. This includes a frustrated virtual reality gamer who just wants to explore the world and the lone survivor of a crashed starship who, ironically, turns out to represent the collateral damage of Beryl's flawed decision.

As an immortal being not of Earth, he's never had to interact with humanity in this way. But humanity's problems have just become personal as Beryl discovers a greater mission than survival, friendships, serving a sentence, or personal growth.

As Fife explains her survival of the zombie hordes who drew her away from virtual reality gaming and into a real world eerily akin to her fantasy life, Beryl experiences levels of emotion he'd never expected to witness or understand.

Nesh is a different kind of survivor, serving as a reminder to Beryl of how he'd once treated ones like him when he was a Transcendent overseer of life.

As the experiences and perspectives of all three characters grow, readers will find Crew of Exiles a powerful examination of what elements make humanity a formidable force that survives not only destroyers, but creators of life.

Will they turn against each other, or will this motley crew find common ground for changing themselves and supporting one another no matter how great their differences?

As Crew of Exiles progresses, readers are drawn to explore this intersection of very different beings, each of whom is charged with evolving beyond their origins and upbringing.

While Neal Holtschulte crafts a fast-paced story that moves through a series of revelations and confrontations, it's the moral and ethical and transformative processes that grasp and hold reader attention. These elements provide a consideration of how humanity lingers on long after its world has ceased to be.

The emotional entanglements and inspections are particularly well done, drawing readers not just into this futuristic and alien world, but into the hearts and minds of characters who each struggle to find the remnants of humanity in their choices and actions.

Combine a fast-paced story with an emotional draw for a read that moves beyond the usual adventure-oriented sci-fi and into a thought-provoking (perhaps even disturbing) world where quests for restoration and survival lead to an afterlife that simmers with new possibilities.

All these facets make Crew of Exiles especially recommended as a cut above the ordinary sci-fi tale.

Libraries seeking extraordinary sci-fi scenarios that evolve on philosophical and psychological levels will appreciate the depth and detail Holtschulte offers in this story of exiles that meet against all odds and come together to transcend their lives in unpredictable ways.

Echo - The Curse of the Blackwood Witches
Yasmine Maher
Fables and Facts
9798985994636, $16.50 Paper/$4.99 ebook

"I grew up a skeptic. I never believed in what I couldn't see nor imagined what dwelled beyond the clouds. Little did I know one day, the glass would shatter, revealing a blood bath behind it, one that traced back a thousand years."

Echo Blackwood has no idea she is a witch. Her hidden magic only comes to light at her sister's wedding, sparked by a confrontation with supernatural beasts. She's got a lot to learn - not the least of which is the fact that tapping her powers also unlocks an equally-well-hidden dark undercurrent that could cost her soul.

There is a price for growing up a skeptic, and that extends into challenging a belief system that creates and influences allies and enemies alike.

Yasmine Maher's story rests firmly on the shoulders of a believable character whose first-person reflections about her vastly changed self-perception drive a story of magic and the responsibilities it introduces to Echo's life.

Her discovery of a family legacy that she has been tasked with continuing embraces engrossing descriptions that are thought-provoking illustrations of choices and consequences, past and present: "The conflict ended, but the bloodshed never stopped. 'There was a young witch, who chased sin and forgot she was a wife and a mother," Maradis continued. "She fell in love with the evil one and helped him fight nature. She gave him eternity.'"

From massive sacrifices and evil spells to the dilemma of evil chosen with the power good intentions, Echo confronts not just a transformed world and her revised place in it, but broader consequences for the moves she makes to embrace what may be a dark magical power.

Is it a curse, or a blessing?

Readers get to decide as they absorb a thoroughly fascinating tale of good, evil, and the mercurial forces that lay between them.

Echo - The Curse of the Blackwood Witches is highly recommended for young adult to adult audiences looking for a story replete in action and reflection. Its vivid portrait of love and adversity brings Echo's dilemma to life: "I shouldn't be feeling this way." But, she does.

Readers who join Echo on her journey will also come to feel the special pull of a plot that conjures the best and worst reactions from its characters. Echo - The Curse of the Blackwood Witches will attract a wide audience, from thriller readers to those who like supernatural tales of action, self-discovery, and adventure.

Find a Place for Me
Deirdre Fagan
Pact Press
c/o Regal House Publishing LLC
9781646032839, $17.95 Paper/$8.99 Kindle

Find a Place for Me: Embracing Love and Life in the Face of Death is a memoir about life, a spouse's death, and the impact of an ALS diagnosis on marriage and a family determined to live life to its fullest.

Readers won't expect humor and laughter to permeate this couple's end-of-life story, but these are integral components of their marriage and their approach to death as well as life, and lend a special flavor to their story.

Deirdre Fagan pulls no punches as she discusses their initial denial and misunderstandings about the nature of Lou Gehrig's disease and the meaning of her forty-three-year-old husband's devastating diagnosis: "I was in the deepest denial I've ever experienced in my life, and raw and painful energy was simmering just beneath the surface. If there are parts of our brains responsible for certain things, I locked away the part that could learn anything about this disease, and I went on with the part that thought what we were talking about was something that is really not a fun diagnosis but isn't something that will kill you."

There are many emotional revelations about the course of their marriage after diagnosis that reveals the crux of their relationship and how this foundation was affected by ALS: "I subscribe to the idea that truth and knowing are always better than ignorance. Bob and I both did. It's part of why we both gravitated toward philosophy. Bob and I agreed we couldn't deal with or grow from what we didn't know. Relationships of all kinds are built on trust. I firmly believe that it is by not outing such information, even in relationships we are committed to maintaining, that we grow more and more distant from our partners. Not telling Bob would have made - in the case of my fortieth-year crush - a mountain out of a molehill. Keeping that crush to myself would have helped those feelings to snowball, instead of Bob and me melting them together. Hiding and not telling never seems to do much good in any situation."

Whether it's attractions to others, rejecting the ultimate results of an ALS diagnosis and its impact on daily living before that point, or the influence of family and friends (and their lack of proximity), Fagan creates a dialogue that gives insights into the caregiver relationship that evolves, in addition to a couple's challenges.

Perhaps most eye-opening of all is the growing isolation the disease and Bob's increasing limitations have on their lives and choices: "While the update letters make it sound as if we were surrounded by love, which clearly we were in so many ways, so much of that love was far, far away. There were many people who did not inhabit our daily lives."

Raw, candid moments of marital change affected by the disease's progression come to life under Fagan's hand: "Words had meant everything to me and to Bob for so much of our marriage. Talking and writing side by side kept us strong and united, which is why we often opted to go to a hotel on a date rather than into the public sphere. Slowly, however, as Bob had predicted, I increasingly took my words elsewhere. As painful as it was for me to tear myself from Bob, like two strips of Velcro adhered to each other, he was too tired, and I needed to say things I didn't want to say to him."

More so than most memoirs about ALS, Find a Place for Me hits home, hits hard, and addresses the special heartache of losing a beloved partner "one degree at a time."

It provides a blueprint for any others who may find themselves in this position, whether from ALS or other degenerative health conditions. It's both a celebration of life and a walk through the progressive changes caused by debilitative disease, providing insights about daily physical and emotional challenges that readers can apply to their own situations.

Libraries strong in memoirs about marriage, love, and ALS will find that Find a Place for Me stands out from the literature with its inspections of life, love, and a husband's ability to still make his wife laugh despite the anguish of their shared, vastly revised lives.

Son of a Basque
Mark B. Arrieta and Deborah Driggs
Crystal Woods Publishing
9781955862042, $16.95

Son of a Basque is introduced by Mark B. Arrieta's daughter, Dorothy Stangle, who explains that this posthumous novel reflects a family legacy, as it is loosely based on her father's experiences and explores his life, prejudices and honors.

Mark B. Arrieta passed in 1998, but his story lives on, both in this book and in its impact on his family's memories and knowledge of family history. It now holds an additional opportunity for readers to absorb the life of a young man who was ten years old in 1928, and whose world evolved to embrace the war that would lead him into the military and uncharted territory.

From an unexpected romance which develops in the midst of his enlistment to a Basque family's determination, love, and special brand of perseverance, family connections are profiled in a story that is outstanding in its exploration of culture, heritage, and connections.

Readers who anticipate a coming-of-age or wartime saga alone will find that while Son of a Basque embraces both of these facets, it's real strength lies in family relationship probes that explore Basque culture and its lasting impact on future generations.

Via the narrator's separation from wife and children as he performs his military duties to the lingering aftermath of threat when the war ends ("Later, a Japanese soldier gave himself up to the American patrol group, telling the intelligence officer during an interview that he and some other surviving Japanese soldiers had been instructed never to surrender. He was unaware that the war had ended and had been living in the jungle and going to the beaches late at night to catch fish to survive. If I'd known that any Japanese soldiers were still alive and living in the jungles, I would never have taken my boys and left them on the deserted beaches at night."), readers learn of a life well lived, centered on family and embracing the impact of a military career on all family members.

Deborah Driggs is the granddaughter of Mark B. Arrieta, who wrote this book in tribute to his father, a famous Basque bullfighter.

Its wide-ranging scope, from World War II to the Vietnam War, explores how families evolve and handle the rigors of life changes.

Son of a Basque is a legacy to his family, but to their credit and publishing efforts, it's now also a legacy for fiction readers who enjoy stories based on true life, accounts of military and civilian experiences, and the efforts of a man who proved a hero to his family in so many different ways.

Libraries seeking novels that explore all these facets, from family ties to Basque heritage and the generations that receive this gift of cultural identity, will find Son of a Basque a solid work of compelling explorations.

Kevin Cox
9798986636818, $13.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Shadowsphere is the second book in the Bewilderness series, and tells of a suicide mission to the surface world of Rootcore to find lightning-filled stones that power the city of Rethia on the planet Isodonia. Rootcore is a mystery to Rethians.

The stones can only be found on the toxic planet's surface, which is why nobody returns alive from this important mission of sacrifice.

Tavarian has long been an outsider among students, is considered weird, and is avoided. Lirah is his only friend, but even she cautions him to try to fit in better.

Tav thinks that things can't get any more difficult when his favorite classes are cut due to shortages, but he's about to be tapped for a mission he never anticipated, his personal goals negated for sake of the greater good: "What's most important is your contribution to the community. None is any more valuable than another."

As Tav is injected into a new student group and charged with a mission that could either end in his demise or change the world, he begins to make the kinds of friendships and connections that he never could in the familiar milieu he grew up in.

With his travels come new understandings, relationships, and challenges that transform not only his vision of reality, but change the world around him.

Kevin Cox's world is engrossing, fueled not just by action and adventure, but the psychological twists and turns of changed relationships and self which explore the world and connections within it with equal depth and skill.

The action is evenly paced, the characters work together to address a variety of survival and enlightenment dilemmas, and the main character, Tav, serves as a focal point for observing and contending with a range of threats, from tentacled monsters and swamp shadows to situations that test his skills and ability to survive.

Teen to adult sci-fi readers will relish a story that moves from a mountaintop community to a quest that leads Tav to constantly question his perception of the world and his place in it. They will find Tav's ongoing dilemmas absorbing and hard to put down, and will also find that no prior familiarity with the first book is required in order to quickly and completely become immersed in the scenario and challenges of this world.

Libraries looking for books that bridge the gap between teen and adult sci-fi reading will find Shadowsphere one of the standouts.

The Easy Way Out
Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing
9781732294554, $23.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Easy Way Out is a Jake Travis thriller that needs no prior introduction to prove captivating to newcomers who choose this story for its engrossing Florida-based intrigue.

Trigger alert: the story opens with a child's unexpected death in a playground. From a watching mother's sudden anguish and confusion, it then moves to Nicky Riggins's encounter with Manuel Castillo, who is looking forward to escaping the dangerous milieu that threatens his life and his family.

The story then takes another quick turn and changes into the first-person reflections of Jake Travis, who muses that "We want to believe life is that monorail. A suspended journey to an enchanted theme park of dizzy happiness, a land of milk and honey. Goofy. Minnie. Mickey. Donald. The gang's waiting for us amid piped-in music, sparkling fountains, postcard palm trees, and flawless green grass laced with walkways cleaner than your kitchen counter. Never mind that a cast member is suffocating inside the costume for union wages to create your glorious illusion. We see and believe what we want to. And in the Sunshine State, we expect to be in a sunshine state of mind."

A family member, his niece, young Brittany, has gone missing. This event opens a long story with a surprisingly happy ending, detailing the transformations that take place when families and children are placed at risk or changed by circumstances beyond their control.

Jake's opportunity to step up and make things right for another embraces many important reflections that come to light in the process of change and struggle: "Brittany needed my help, and I saw an opening. An opportunity to make amends. For as I'd come to build my own family, to author my own life, my anger toward my parents morphed to forgiveness. Empathy. Even compassion. The Latin root of compassion is pati - to suffer. Com means with. Compassion is not empathy. It is not understanding. Compassion is to feel another's pain as your own. Now that I have my own daughter, I feel my parents' hurt. I've come to see their downfall as inspiration to create joy from their sorrow. Joy. That's my daughter's name."

The "opening" he perceives works not just for his own redemption and altruism with his parents, but in an unexpected manner as his probe uncovers deeper undercurrents of moods, truths, and lies which reach out to affect his own family relationships.

From missing DEA agents and the notion that money plays second fiddle to family connections to financial affairs that may be worth a daughter's life, readers move through Jake's dilemmas and the underbelly of Florida's seedier connections and operations with a familiarity reinforced both by Jake's reflective first-person observations and his choices in interacting with perps and police alike.

Action builds slowly as Robert Lane cultivates a fine tension that walks the line between social and psychological inspections, but soon becomes gripping as the cat-and-mouse game between Jake and adversaries grows into something unexpectedly complex.

Lane's move to keep Manuel Castillo and Nicky Riggins as part of the evolving scenario makes for an especially satisfying conundrum as Jake finds his family and choices unexpectedly connected to these disparate individuals and the forces they represent. His increasing involvement with young China, "Who writes like a winter storm," also represents both an opportunity and a departure as Jake finds his life pulled and challenged on different levels.

The Easy Way Out is an engrossing suspense story that joins disparate forces and lives in what proves to be both a deadly and enlightening scenario. It will prove especially attractive to libraries interested in engrossing tales of wonder and revelation, wrapped firmly in the cloak of a powerful thriller.

In the Vanishing Hour
Sarah Beth Martin
Encircle Publications
9781645993926, $28.99 Hardcover/$18.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

In the Vanishing Hour opens in 1951, where a child's drowning changes both a family and a small town shaken by the tragedy.

Eight years later, sister Frances is still buffeted by this event when model Gwen, whom she seeks to emulate, also vanishes into that same river and is presumed dead.

The investigation that follows rocks the town as Frances involves herself in the case to find answers not just to Gwen's disappearance, but her own brother's fate.

Sarah Beth Martin's evocative descriptions are compelling accents building the atmosphere and sense of place surrounding the mystery: "As late summer turned to a sudden, brittle autumn, a ghostly cloud moved in over the town, and all were haunted by Mac Adams."

As Frances, suspect Harris (who has also been enchanted by Gwen), and other lives on various sides coalesce, readers receive an involving story that highlights its mystery with the sense of place, purpose, and people to bring the community and its residents to life.

As Frances pursues a truth which is unearthed decades later and draws connections between her dead brother, Gwen, and Harris, unexpected twists and turns keep her heart and mind challenged, as well as the reader's ability to predict where the story will wind up.

These elements make for an especially compelling read that proves hard to put down, emotionally turbulent on many levels, and filled with revelations that come together in a dark story of unexpected connections.

Libraries looking for literary suspense stories that take the time to probe psyches and underlying motives and experiences will find In the Vanishing Hour an excellent example of a genre read that rises above formula approaches to represent a powerfully chilling saga of redemption and healing.

Are there ghosts in the darkness? If so, what is their purpose?

Readers who appreciate thought-provoking scenarios and encounters will relish the ability of In the Vanishing Hour to immerse its readers not just in a deadly mystery, but in altered states of consciousness and realization.

The Hotchkiss
Pierre Lawrence
Independently Published
B09WN5MHJ2, $2.99 Kindle

The Hotchkiss is not human, in this sci-fi novella. It's a GPS unit designed to be helpful ... even if that help involves advising berated husband Charles Crenshaw on how to handle his nagging wife Alice.

It's rare to find contemporary satirical sci-fi that works well, much less offers a quick read of less than two hours, yet still builds a memorable plot and a compelling, thought-provoking set of circumstances in a short amount of time.

Friend Ed Grimsby was just hoping to defuse another husband/wife spat in a restaurant when he suggested they purchase a GPS. Wife Alice is entirely on board, especially since a planned trip to Lake Placid is being threatened by the specter of them getting lost en route.

Charles is not convinced that this technological wonder will be helpful, until the "godsend" arrives and proves to sport more abilities than simply navigating the roadways. It is equally adept at navigating a long-term marriage gone awry; and with this knowledge in hand, readers embark on a road trip like none other.

Pierre Lawrence excels in depicting the next generation of technology, the Hotchkiss, which is "as easy to use as a microwave" and hard to find in a store.

A furtive note given by an employee who directs Pierre to the competition is accompanied by the mention "you can't miss it." But if it can be missed, Charles will miss it. Three wrong turns later, he's in sight of his dream and goal. But, will it turn out to be a nightmare?

Pierre Lawrence captures the dilemma, whimsy, and issues of aging adults who face new technology in a story that also introduces the specter of a nightmare embedded into the promises, chips, and choices that it represents.

The Hotchkiss is everything Charles wanted - and more. With it, he may never be lost again. And that includes navigating his aging relationship with his wife.

The novella is compelling, fun, and somewhat unpredictable as Charles finds both new opportunity and new problems in high technology. As for his wife Alice, she goes from encouraging this new venture to realizing that her husband is being "aided and abetted by the Hotchkiss."

Sci-fi readers who want a sense of just how wrong technology can be will relish the lively dilemmas and serious inspection of ethical values gone awry in The Hotchkiss.

It's not just the perfect entertainment for those who exist on the edge of technological wonders, but the perfect warning for others who would embrace them.

Readers looking for short sci-fi novellas embedded with fun and a witty message of caution will find The Hotchkiss an attractive choice that packs a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Asha and Baz Meet Mary Sherman Morgan
Caroline Fernandez
Common Deer Press
9781988761671, $7.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Asha and Baz Meet Mary Sherman Morgan will reach kindergarten to Grade 3 readers with a biography that can be read aloud for lower grades and independently consulted by youngsters able to absorb a 97-page chapter book.

Asha and Baz are best friends tasked with a science project: to launch a paper rocket. The Great Rocket Challenge is also a competition, with the prize for the winner being a meetup with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

How can two friends who know little about the science of rockets combine forces to win?

As the partner enter the competition and bounce ideas off one another, black and white drawings by Dharmali Patel illustrate the process of tackling a project that requires cooperation, savvy, and research from its young participants.

Caroline Fernandez creates a multifaceted problem-solving adventure where the kids learn more than physics.

Lessons on competition range from space race insights ("Why does it have to be a race?" Asha asked. "Because the winner of a race is the best. And we want to be the best," said Roger.") to the dilemma faced by Mary Sherman Morgan when her Hydyne design is not credited to her efforts, giving the fame for her achievement to someone else.

As the kids explore this 1957 world and its politics and women's issues, readers receive a broad inspection of scientific and social issues that will help adults enter into discussions based on the time-traveling adventure presented here.

Asha and Baz Meet Mary Sherman Morgan's engaging, engrossing story is rooted in science, but explores far more than theory alone. Its action-packed scenes and encounters are highly recommended for leisure readers as well as students of women's biography and science, introducing auxiliary topics of teamwork, achievement, and women's rights that will lend to discussions and debates.

Robert Preston: Forever the Music Man
Debra Warren
Independently Published
9798986311005, $28.00 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper/$19.99 ebook

Robert Preston: Forever the Music Man follows the private and public life of an actor who achieved fame, but kept his life tightly under wraps. Debra Warren interviewed family members as well as fellow actors and conducted extensive research to bring Preston's life to light, resulting in a biographical sketch that offers not just enlightenment about his personality and career, but a sense of the times that influenced his vocational trajectory.

Preston's acting career was affected by his rejection of the typical Hollywood culture of the era and the interactions between special interests that directed much of the film culture's choices both on and off stage.

Always striving for perfection, he eschewed ventures that assumed political influences on actor choices in favor of preserving a very private life against the pressures of fame and Hollywood community influences.

Warren creates the kind of in-depth inspection that lends to a thorough understanding, including footnoted references that lead back to interviews and sources that support her portrait of Preston's outlook and experiences: "Preston was eager to be featured in a comedy film and had honed his comedic skills by watching old Carol Lombard movies. He acknowledged that the secret to an actor's success in a comedy role "is to play every situation with tremendous seriousness, no matter how funny the circumstances;" noting an actor must be able to "lose his own sense of humor to make a scene play hilariously."

Of particular interest to fellow aspiring actors are the ways in which Preston continually challenged himself to seek out, accept, and participate in roles that would expand and further his acting career.

His successes in performing in a wider variety of genres than most actors and his pursuit of perfection that led him to fame outside the usual social connections of Hollywood create a biography that is as firmly rooted in the history and methods of the film industry as it is in Preston's life and movements within it.

The result is a powerful survey recommended not just for prior fans of Robert Preston's films, but for would-be actors who can use his proven routes to success to hone their own paths forward in the competitive industry.

Readers outside of acting who choose Robert Preston: Forever the Music Man for its scholarly probe into Preston's life and achievements will find the close attention to the variety of productions to be enlightening and absorbing.

Libraries strong in film and stage biographies must have this delightful, in-depth profile of Robert Preston's world and how he approached and furthered his career within it.

Taking Flight With Captain Mama
Graciela Tiscareno-Sato
Gracefully Global Group
9780997309096, $26.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Picture book readers interested in aviation and bilingual Spanish/English books featuring women involved in the industry will find Taking Flight With Captain Mama an inviting look at the job of captaining an aircraft.

The story incorporates many aviation terms which are defined in a glossary in the back of the book, from boom operator and flight deck to crew chiefs. Other terms, such as egress and navigation, are included to assure young readers and listeners to the read-aloud story thoroughly understand the routines involved in flying an Air Force aircraft.

Linda Lens provides inviting mixed-media color drawings that capture this experience, recreating the feel of being on a jet and the excitement of a class field trip that moves from the anticipated observation to a surprise experience.

Graciela Tiscareno-Sato provides an engaging aviation story of military operations and basic flight that covers aerial refueling, Nighthawk jets, flying in turbulent weather, and more. It's a tale inspired by her decade of active-duty service on this unusual aircraft.

The "you are there" feel is heightened by action-packed experiences, aircraft communications and explanations, and discussions of military deployment that help the young narrator better understand his mother's service, duties, and the special role she holds as a Captain on a military aircrew.

Details about the stealth fighter jet educate kids about different types of military planes, while the adventure component keeps children both involved and educated.

The result is an important and unique survey of women, including Latinas, in aviation and military service that showcases several womens' important work, reflective of other women who have earned command and aeronautical positions in our armed forces.

These facets, and the bilingual approach of the story, make for an outstanding opportunity to learn more about women in service and in active military roles, making Taking Flight With Captain Mama the perfect picture book of choice for assignments during Hispanic Heritage Month, Veterans Day, Women's History Month, and general-interest reading year-round.

Its information, delivery, and action-oriented story are compellingly presented and unequalled in the picture book world.

Dad Died, Then Mom
Malia Arries
Trilogy Christian Publishers
978168556685, $17.99 Paper/$8.49 Kindle

Dad Died, Then Mom: Siblings' Spiritual & Inspirational Memoir as Caregivers is a memoir about love, spirituality, and caregiving that chronicles the adversity, struggles, and rewards of children raised to believe in loyalty to the family above all.

Over six years had passed since her parents died, but Malia Arries felt compelled to take pen in hand and chronicle her family's experiences. Caregivers who are in the position of helping their loved ones will be glad she did, because this is as much a chronicle of love in service and assistance as it is a story of aiding parents in their final passage from life.

As the story opens, Dad is about to die. This process receives in-depth coverage that brings not just events but emotions and atmosphere to life: "A lingering smell of rhubarb custard pies Mom had made over the years now competed with odors of medicines, cleaning supplies, and body wipes. Fresh lilacs I had picked earlier that day and placed by Dad's hospital bed offered a glimpse and scent of spring."

The minutiae of the moment is captured with an immediacy that creates a "you are here" feeling in the reader: "I had always loved hearing their grandfather clock, musically announcing the quarter hours and then banging out the full hours. But on that night, I was consciously and unconsciously focused only on the sound of Dad's breathing."

As uncharted territory is experienced in different ways and navigated with the uncertainty of familiarity combined with the certainty of spiritual reflections and love, readers receive important guideposts to connecting the end-of-life experience with their own ability to laugh and create memorable moments right up to the end.

Each parent has different end-of-life experiences which both challenge and embrace the life left. As the siblings learn how to navigate these changes and maintain the sense of love and loyalty that lets them help each parent in different ways, readers receive thought-provoking, moving insights into the caregiver's mercurial role and adjustments needed to make them work.

Arries acknowledges the difficulties but tempers them with insight and affection: "There were some challenging times caring for Mom which became endearing and amusing as we thought back."

The result is a moving memoir. Readers usually receive poignant, angst-driven caregiver experiences, but it's refreshing to note and experience the underlying love, faith, and joy that permeate this account of caring for two parents on their different end-of-life journeys.

This makes Dad Died, Then Mom a standout in caregiving literature, especially recommended for Christian libraries and discussion groups interested in books that document shifting family experiences and relationships and the honor that comes with celebrating the life that Malia's parents shared.

After the Blue, Blue Rain
A.D. Price
Glore House Books
9798986893013, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Mystery readers who look for evocative stories that work next to but more than slightly outside of the 'cozy mystery' genre will find After the Blue, Blue Rain a study in contrasts that opens with a first-person confession by an escapee who writes of his last days in America.

As events unfold, readers come to realize that the narrator's introductory story is but one journal entry in a series of observations that embrace different perspectives, including soldier Private Stanley Comfort. What does his military life have to do with Comfort and Company, Private Investigators or his sister Kit's venture?

As different threads are developed, the roots of this story in historical facts come to light to attract readers of historical mysteries interested in the backdrop of the 1940s and events that reach overseas to involve a soldier in his sister's actions.

Amnesia is a funny thing. As Stanley rebuilds his life with his sister's help, his vague memories come flooding back - and, with them, a dilemma that the formerly-MIA soldier must face, along with the past.

A.D. Price builds an absorbing story of intrigue, recovery, discovery, and family ties as Kit employs her investigative prowess in a new direction that tests her loyalties and connections.
As cases involving missing veterans multiply, Kit finds her family involvements growing to become more than any investigation she's ever tackled before - more personal; more challenging; more dangerous.

Fine tension is developed between the opening letters that capture the desperate efforts of disparate individuals and the events which grow to explain their actions.

Characters are finely developed, finely tuned to their environments and expectations, and inject many surprises into the story as it winds through veteran and civilian affairs with an overlay of investigative mystery and history that readers will find realistic and satisfying.

Time is taken to follow both Stanley and Kit's evolution under these revised circumstances, and it's time well spent by readers who receive an evocative, thought-provoking story that embraces many issues as it explores family relationships changed by war and adversity both within and outside of its circles.

Libraries strong in historical mysteries that incorporate veteran issues will find After the Blue, Blue Rain attractive to readers of both genres; but ideally it also will attract book clubs seeking edgy novels that operate both within and outside the confines of genre reads. This audience will find After the Blue, Blue Rain presents underlying issues of interest to readers of veteran experiences, offering food for thought and discussion that augment the mystery and history components with powerful reflective insights about survival, adaptation, and change.

"Going home would be the easy course. It takes courage to know when you're not quite there yet."

The Handler
Jeffrey S. Stephens
Post Hill Press
9781637585825, $26.09 Hardcover/$9.99 Kindle

The Handler follows CIA operatives Nicholas Reagan and his partner, Carol Gellos, across the country and into strange new worlds as they struggle to thwart a plot to ignite a series of deadly assaults across the U.S.

The story doesn't open with their involvement, however, but the undercover actions of two terrorists, Mustafa and Roshan, who each believe they are operating independently in New York City.

What do these disparate forces have to do with Russian operatives, a rumored Ghost Chip that makes cell phones completely untraceable, and secret business innovations?

Plenty, because these forces coalesce in such a way that the hunter becomes the hunted and the prey proves to harbor deadly connections above and beyond singular interests or purposes.

As the plot thickens and events move into political circles, embracing missing scientists and frightening new ways to commit mass murder, readers become engrossed in a quicksand of revelations and realizations that challenge conventional thinking about threats and attacks.

As Jeffrey S. Stephens leads his story into unexpected areas of cross-connections and cross-purposes, he creates characters that have honed special strengths in response to careers made by facing adversity: "After all the time he spent in the field, all the battles he fought, all the life and death moments he endured, Reagan had an intuition that could neither be learned nor taught, it could only be earned."

Thought-provoking passages invite readers to examine their own concepts of right and wrong, belief systems, and the injection of conviction into the bigger picture of grasping opportunities for enlightenment and change: "My parents are Muslims, born and raised in Lebanon, moved to the United States soon after they were married. I was born there, and they raised me as a Muslim-American. As I think you'll recall, I'm married to a Lebanese man, who is also Muslim. I think it's fair to say I'm very familiar with the Koran." Before Reagan could reply, she sat forward and added, "I'm also familiar with your views about my faith. I know you believe that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim."

Reagan was surprised at the challenge. "The Koran teaches that the Muslim faith is the only way to heaven. It also encourages hate, violence, and death to anyone not practicing your religion. So yes, I have doubts about anyone claiming they have a moderate view of those teachings."

The intrigue and suspense are well-developed and grab reader interest and attention; but also noteworthy is the contrasting belief systems and motivations that keep both sides convinced that their actions support a higher purpose.

"Organized hate is a powerful adversary," Reagan said. "All that's left for us is to keep fighting it."

Just as deadly are forms of belief that keep opponents on different sides fighting for, ironically, the same things.

The Handler uses three attacks as pivot points for a social, religious, and political examination suitable for thriller libraries and discussion groups interested in examining the foundations of societal violence. It's especially recommended as a 'wolf in sheep's clothing' read for those who anticipate a well-delivered entertainment value in a thriller, but who will find that the issues raised between characters and ideals provide satisfying bigger-picture thinking about the origins and enactment of division.

How the West Brought War to Ukraine
Benjamin Abelow
Siland Press
9780991076703, $10.00

To say that How the West Brought War to Ukraine provides a controversial, thought-provoking study is to identify only part of its attraction and scholarship. The meat of its revelations and realizations lies in an astute probe of the roots of the Ukraine crisis which places the onus on Western actions and political forces as much as Putin's moves from Moscow.

Readers may not want to consider uncomfortable points that vie with popular Western media representations of Ukrainian political strife - but these are points that need to be debated, understood, and considered by anyone interested in more than a cursory examination of the history that has led to the current conflict.

Western policies, choices, and perspectives play as much a part in Moscow's instigation of war as Putin's military decision-making circles.

Benjamin Abelow doesn't just make this point: he proves it through assessments of U.S. and NATO strategic decisions and actions that repeatedly placed Russia in an increasingly untenable position.

The challenge posed by Abelow's effort is that it will require the reader to keep an open mind to reconsider a war that has to date been pinned entirely on actions said to be Hitler-like and intent on world domination. There's more to this story; and that added layer of value is provided here, in a survey that picks apart the façades and the lies to expose uncomfortable truths.

Abelow does what few others have done: he gets into the mind of strategic military thinking to analyze the concerns of Moscow in response to a series of chess-like moves that placed Russia at a perceived disadvantage.

He writes: "Russia had been deeply concerned that new U.S. missiles, placed close to its borders, could increase the chance that, in a crisis, the United States might believe it could carry out a preemptive first strike, decapitating Russian command and control systems and degrading Russia's ability to retaliate. When coordinated with even a partially effective ABM network, intermediate-range weapons thus stimulate Russian concerns that the United States would no longer be deterred. These fears are not merely Russian paranoia. As two members of the German Council on Foreign Relations quoted by Deveraux explained, these missiles 'could threaten Moscow's command facilities and limit Russia's military ability to act.' Russia thus had much to gain by saving the intermediate-range missile treaty. But the United States stood firm and withdrew."

These examples serve to demonstrate how noose-tightening measures also narrowed the perceived responses Russia could make to assure its own survival and military effectiveness.

Abelow tapers the history from world-wide events to Ukraine in particular as he strives for an analysis of why Putin felt the time was ripe to act: "Although it is impossible to know the specific motivations that led Mr. Putin to invade Ukraine, a combination of factors was likely at play: (1) the ongoing arming, training to NATO standards, and integration of the military structures of Ukraine, the United States, and other Western powers through non-NATO arrangements; (2) the ongoing threat that Ukraine would be admitted to NATO; and (3) concern about possible new intermediate-range missile deployments, exacerbated by a concern that the U.S. might deploy Aegis, offensive-capable ABM launchers in Ukraine regardless whether Ukraine was yet a member of NATO."

Abelow is particularly adept at clearly identifying and separating speculation from historical fact:

"Regarding this last point, it is possible, given ongoing and progressive military coordination between the United States and Ukraine, that Mr. Putin felt the window to prevent the deployment of offensive-capable Aegis launchers in Ukraine was closing and that, if he were to obviate that threat, he would have to act now. This is all speculative, but it is plausible and consistent with previously stated Russian concerns. But regardless of what specifically led to the invasion, it is clear that the threat of new Aegis deployments added another cup of sand to a sand castle that was already near the point of collapse."

Uncomfortable truths rarely make for acclaimed reading; but in this case, any thinking reader who would better understand the myriad of influences on the Ukraine situation needs to read this book. To avoid these truths is to buy into a simplistic view that makes accusations and media images more important than actual influences and results set in reality.

Ideally, How the West Brought War to Ukraine will serve as debate material, sparking discussions not just about Ukraine, but about Western special interests and actions in the world, and how unexpected results arise from strategic decision-making that backs individuals and nations into corners.

Terror's Sword
Kevin Kuhens
Kuhens Publishing
9798985447309 $17.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

"There is no paradise for cowards." Perhaps that is one motivation for destroying the world: to prove courage and thus gain entry into heaven. Ali bin al-Dosari, (aka Terror's Sword) does everything for Allah.

Thriller readers who look for blends of high-octane action tempered by attention to psychological interplays and acts of political desperation will be attracted to the terrorist encounter that plays out in Terror's Sword.

Here, the sword of death and destruction is wielded by an attacker who sports a deadly bioweapon and is headed for the U.S. to wreak havoc.

A desperate president taps the only resource that might be able to match this clever and elusive opponent: Kyle McEwan, a counterterrorism mastermind whose weapons prove as formidable as his deadly enemy.

Once unleashed, Kyle is a force to be reckoned with, as murder and kidnappings surround his efforts to eliminate the danger. He's not alone, because all facets of science and government are united in not just locating Terror's Sword, but finding a cure for the deadly force he is set to unleash.

When all fail, Kyle is the last left standing.

Unlike many thrillers about terrorist threats, Kevin Kuhens injects added value into his plot: the inner workings of bureaucratic and political processes which serve to work against themselves and each other as desperate men and entities struggle against an impossible weapon and timeline.

This allows readers to more closely inspect not just a bioterror threat, but the mechanisms on both sides which unwittingly create an environment in which it can flourish independent of original intentions or the best efforts of terrorists and anti-terrorists to affect the outcome.

As the terrorist sends messages to the world that circumvent the best efforts of authorities to stifle them, readers receive engrossing, realistic scenarios that provide thought-provoking glimpses into the logic and nature of terrorists who believe their actions are firmly rooted in faith ... and desperation.

Time is taken to fully develop the characters on both sides of events, which gives readers satisfying opportunities to better understand the underlying motivations of actions. This adds to the story's depth and gives it more of a social and psychological perspective than action alone, creating a standout that tempers tension with understanding.

As McEwan tracks his killer across three continents and awaits an enemy's final error that will give him the upper hand, events are not set in stone, but hold some surprising twists. These keep the reader not only on edge, but thinking about various possible outcomes.

The result is a powerful saga that probes Presidential actions, traps, moves and countermoves, and special ops processes that embrace various government departments, different methods of handling adversity, and ultimately places the onus for American security squarely on the heads and shoulders of the men and women who serve in the armed forces, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies.

The juxtaposition of all these agencies and elements affects the final outcome, tailors Kyle McEwan's responses, and ultimately outlines a bigger political struggle that goes beyond clashing special interests to examine the religious and political machines that create them.

Libraries and thriller readers looking for the chess-like moves of worthy opponents who are each backed by a conviction and belief that their actions are of paramount importance to the world will find Terror's Sword replete in satisfying confrontations both idealistic and political.

Given its contemporary and thought-provoking moments, Terror's Sword is also recommended for book clubs and groups interested in social and political probes who will find much fodder for discussion in a fictional story that could, on many levels and under the right conditions, come true.

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

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

Sandra's Wine Life Find Your Wine Identity
Sandra Guibord
Wild River Press
9781935052852, $36.00 HC, 9780316705301, $24.00 pbk No Kindle

I've seen many books about wine but never one as thorough as "Sandra's Wine Life Find Your Wine Identity" The author tells where each wine comes from, type of grape grown, time of year to enjoy and foods that go well with each kind. There are recipes to include each while celebrating meals to savor with the right wine. There are also beautiful pictures of the author with others enjoying types as well as items to savor. "Sandra's Wine Life Find Your Wine Identity" celebrates a lot of things that includes the four seasons of wine satisfaction that is the perfect resource for all of us to relish each sip.

"Let's Roll, Kato" A Guide To Tv's The Green Hornet
Billie Rae Bates
Independently Published
9781543067279, $17.50 pbk / $0.00 Kindle

I am amazed how many "Green Hornet TV show books there are to come out in the last few years. "Let's Roll, Kato" that takes its title from when the Honet in the Black Beauty is checking all devices at his command to take on criminals as he says to his side kick Kato. Unlike Batman and other crime fighters the Hornet is perceived to be one himself. Author Billie Rae Bates details the history of the character and locks in on the one season TV show now, a classic that can be found on many channels like H&I and streaming systems like UTube that show full episodes. She has interviews with many of the people who made the series so much fun and goes into each episode. There are storylines, who the guest stars were and many other aspects like bits and pieces of trivia. "Let's Roll Kato" is a great study of the series that remains a classic that should not be missed by fans.

101 + Tips On Writing Fiction
Prudy Taylor Board and Ruth Harman Berge
Create Space
9781547174638, $16.95 No Kindle

"101 + Tips On Writing Fiction" combines the talents of two experts to help writers clear the way to get published. Topics of interest are writers block and how to solve it, the many stages of editing, characters and how to create great ones, conflicts to be resolved, learning where and how to promote your works and yourself are just a few discussed. "101 + Tips On Writing Fiction" combines solid established techniques with more recent that are sound, logical, and easy to follow, to achieve the goals of publishing without having to go to class.

The Best New True Crime Stories Unsolved Crimes & Mysteries
Mitzi Szereto
c/o Mango Publishing
978164250941o, $18.99 pbk/$8.69 Kindle

"The Best New True Crime Stories Unsolved Crimes & Mysteries" is the seventh in the long running series presented by master editor Mitzi Szereto. Of the ones I have reviewed in the past this is the first to include other crimes than murder. Here there is a story about an unsolved art theft from a gallery in Canada with little to catch the criminals even today, several are about people who mysteriously disappeared with no trace and lots of confusion including one that involves the Vatican police in Italy. All except one are fast paced easy reading. The one exception "A Murder in Beverlywood" is confusing because, of the present tense the writer wrote it in even though we the reader know who the victim is. She more importantly breaks a rule in True Crime writing, to not put herself in the telling of events unless, there is a direct connection. At times she shows up with first person accounts that add nothing to the details of the gruesome murder case reportage. Overall, "The Best New True Crime Stories Unsolved Crimes & Mysteries is for those of us who love this genre.

American Desi
Jyoti Rajan Gopal
Illustrated by Supriya Kelkar
Little Brown and Company Books For Young Readers
c/o Hachette
978935052852, $18.99 HC No Kindle

"American Desi" is a timely book for all ages to enjoy as it celebrates diversity in this country. A little girl looks at the world of two cultures to applaud both for many different things they offer. There are things like football games, dancing, friends of different types, and food from both. In this time of so much hate so many should read "American Desi" and rethink how they feel about different types of people that share this country with them.

Dr. Fauci: How A Boy From Brooklyn Became America's Doctor
Kate Messner
Illustrated by Alexandra Bye
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
9781665902434, $17.99 HC, $10.99 Kindle

Because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), we have come to know as a familiar face Dr. Anthony Fauci, but what if anything do, we really know about him? "Dr. Fauci: How A Boy From Brooklyn Became America's Doctor" presents a man who has always turned negatives into positives. He learned while playing basketball for school teams to face a challenge head on and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. He worked in construction when he got to desire to excel in the medical field by working his way up through college and in the field. "Dr. Fauci: How A Boy From Brooklyn Became America's Doctor" is a beacon hope for all of us to believe in ourselves to achieve what we want in life

My Rainy Day Rocket Ship
Markette Sheppard, author
Illustrated by Charly Palmer
A Denene Millner Book
c/o Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
97815344611772, $17.99 HC / $10.99 Kindle

"My Rainy Day Rocket Ship" is a charming story of a little boy who has to stay inside the house because it is raining outside. Instead of getting on the computer, utilizing a phone or watching tv he uses his imagination to create a world where he does many innovative things to pass the time. "My Rainy Day Rocket Ship" masterfully shows there is much more to life than technology and that not enough of us utilize other ways to pass the time.

Leslie Loves The Law
Glen Riser
Legacy Book Publishing
9781947718524, $19.95 pbk, No Kindle

Attorney Glen Riser takes young readers through different aspects of the court system in his novel "Leslie Loves The Law." Leslie is a girl who adores the legal profession, so much so that she patterns her life to a possible career. She prepares by researching the law to help others with problems they are having. Among them are a neighbor who can't get her landlord to do repairs to her home, another resident is injured in the grocery store and a fellow classmate is being bullied. The situations are interesting as Leslie assists others and moves along to her goal of a future occupation. That said there are some problems with this novel. The first is the authors artsy use of the letter L for first and last name of characters that at times is confusing of which character is which. Two other problems are Mr. Lincoln an attorney has an office in the courthouse, but we have no idea if he is the County, City, Attorney, a Public Defender or a Prosecutor. Mrs. Landry is the Clerk of the Court but readers have no clue of the importance of that office. Even with its faults "Leslie Loved The Law" does highlight some of the positive aspects that litigators play in society to prompt kids to learn more about it.

There is GOOD in my HOOD: A Story about a Day in the Life of a New Image Youth Center Student
Dr. Shanta Barton-Stubbs & The New Image Youth Center Family
Illustrations by Cristina Movileanu
Under Construction Empowerment Services, LLC
9780997329711, $13.00 pbk / $3.99 Kindle

Cities like Philadelphia PA, where 7 minors killed an elderly man, around 2 am on the sidewalk, should have required reading for parents and children of "There is GOOD in My HOOD" "There is GOOD in my HOOD," shows kids there is another avenue to pursue in life from the one they possibly face that will only lead to trouble. A teenage male walks the streets not far from the amusement attractions in Orlando on a possible course of destructive behavior, until he locates the New Image Youth Center While there he is among new acquaintances on a similar course. The Center presents many different aspects to help kids turn their lives around to be productive citizens in the future. "There is GOOD in my HOOD" is a unique presentation that can help many kids work their way out of the inner city to a brighter future. With the onslaught of violence, we are seeing more and more each day "There is GOOD in my HOOD" is an important way to begin to offset the growing trend to lead to a better society.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Anne Braden Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches, 1947-1999
Ann Braden, author
Ben Wilkins, editor
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583679715, $89.00, HC, 216pp

Synopsis: Anne Braden was raised to be a southern belle. Instead she became a revolutionary who helped to shape the self-understanding of the entire civil rights movement. From her earliest days as a trade unionist in the radical wing of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, she had been one of a small handful of white Southerners willing to take a stand against Jim Crow in the 1950s.

As a journalist throughout the 1960s, she offered a penetrating, historically-grounded analysis of events which was widely read by civil rights activists. She was an informal advisor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; a close associate of key leaders such as Ella Baker, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Myles Horton; and a mentor to countless young revolutionaries until her death in 2006.

At a time when the North American ruling class went to great lengths to prevent any semblance of continuity between movements, Braden forged direct links between the radical left of the 1930s and 40s, and that of the 1960s. Beginning with her trial for sedition in 1954, she endured constant attacks at the hands of the U.S. government, largely due to her association with Communism. And yet, as deeply as she influenced the development of the early civil rights movement, the scale of Braden's contributions and insights have either been redacted to meet the needs of the official version of civil rights movement history, or been made palatable to the very same power structure she spent her entire life working to overturn.

Deftly edited by Ben Wilkins, with the publication of "Anne Braden Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches, 1947-1999" the distorted narrative of the government is corrected because, finally, and for the first time, we now have full access to a representative collection of Braden's writings, speeches, and letters, and the full spectrum of their subject matter: from the relationship between race and capitalism, to the role of the South in American society, to the function of anti-communism.

Critique: Rescuing from an undeserved obscurity, "Anne Braden Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches, 1947-1999" is a critically important contribution to our understanding of women's rights and the politics of the Civil Rights movement -- and the indispensable role of Anne Braden is the struggle for racial equality and personal liberty. While available for personal reading lists in both a paperback edition (9781583679708, $18.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) from the Monthly Review Press, "Anne Braden Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches, 1947-1999" unreservedly recommended as a core addition to community, college, and university library American Civil Rights History/Memoir collections.

Editorial Note #1: Anne Braden (July 28, 1924 - March 6, 2006) was a critically acclaimed author and renowned freedom fighter who had a hand in the formation of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign, and the Rainbow Coalition. Fundamental to Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), she also co-founded the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice (SOC), and the National Anti-Klan Network (NAKN). There is a web page dedicated to her on the University of Louisville website at

Editorial Note #2: Ben Wilkins ( has been an activist in labor and civil rights struggles from the start. As an organizer with a healthcare workers union local in Michigan, he led campaigns among hospital and nursing home workers. Currently, as part of the Fight for $15 movement, he organizes low wage workers across the U.S. South from his home base in North Carolina.

The Joy Choice
Dr. Michelle Segar
Hachette Go
c/o Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104
9780306826078, $29.99, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: What if you could easily and joyfully resolve the in-the-moment conflicts that often derail your eating and exercise goals? Much of what we've been taught about creating change in eating and exercise is simplistic, outdated, and for many, misguided.

Sustainable-behavior-change researcher and lifestyle coach Michelle Segar has devoted decades to the study of how to achieve lasting changes in eating and exercise and other self-care behaviors. With the publication of "The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise" Segar explains the surprising reasons why our eating and exercise plans so often crash when they come up against real life. She calls these conflicts "choice points," and shows that they are the real place of power for achieving lasting changes in eating and exercise.

"The Joy Choice" offers a fresh, brain-based solution that turns the old behavior-change paradigm on its head. This groundbreaking study liberates you from the self-defeating obligations and rigid requirements of past diet and workout regimens and reveals what emerging research suggests really drives the consistent choices that power sustainable change.

Designed from cutting-edge decision science and real-world experience coaching clients, you will discover the easy, flexible, and three-step joy-infused decision tool that works with the chaos of daily life, guiding you to finally achieve and maintain your eating and exercise goals once and for all -- and enjoy doing it!

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise" will have a very special relevance to readers with an interest in dieting and the social psychology of effective weight control and management, While this 'real world practical' self-help book is available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99), "The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Health & Self-Help collections.

Editorial Note: Michelle Segar ( is an award-winning, NIH funded sustainable behavior change researcher at the University of Michigan and a lifestyle coach. For nearly three decades, she has pioneered methods to create sustainable healthy behavior change that are being used to boost patient health, employee well-being, and gym membership retention. The inaugural chair of the United States National Physical Activity Plan's Communication Committee, former director of the University of Michigan's SHARP Center, and consultant to companies like Kaiser Permanente, Walmart, and Anytime Fitness, Dr. Segar is frequently interviewed in major media outlets like The New York Times, NPR, Prevention, Real Simple, and The Wall Street Journal.

The Answers Are There
Libby Hoffman
Blue Chair Press
c/o Greenleaf Book Group Press
9798986203010, $18.95, PB, 312pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "The Answers Are There: Building Peace From the Inside Out", author Libby Hoffman tells the story of when she was political science professor she inherited $20 million in the early 2000s, and how her first thought was: "How can I use these resources to help create a better world?"

Feeling called to help people and communities to fulfill their own potential and make their own decisions rather than rely on outside aid (which often fails to address communities' genuine priorities and needs) she established the foundation Catalyst for Peace. Its mission: to create space for communities to lead in their own development and peace after war or crisis

"The Answers Are There" eloquently weaves the story of Libby's personal journey (in partnership with Sierra Leonean human rights advocate John Caulker) and taking this approach in Sierra Leone. There, alongside local leaders and citizens, Catalyst for Peace (CFP) helped the West African nation's communities heal and repair after 11 years of civil war.

From the crucial starting point of asking local communities what they wanted (a nearly unprecedented step in international aid work) to the formation and growth of the programs that have become a major presence in Sierra Leone and source of inspiration around the world, "The Answers Are There" chronicles the steps Hoffman and Caulker took over nearly two decades of work and countless sessions of planning and soul-searching. It also looks at the challenges and lessons of Hoffman's unique dual role as a funder and a practitioner.

Critique: "The Answers Are There: Building Peace From the Inside Out" includes forewords by the Honorable Francess Piagie Alghali, Minister of State in Sierra Leone's Office of the Vice President, and Clare Lockhart, Director of the Institute for State Effectiveness. Inspired and inspiring, exceptionally well organized and presented, "The Answers Are There: Building Peace From the Inside Out" is especially recommended to the attention of anyone who seeks to bring a new approach to reconciliation and unification of opposing and once hostile factions within a population or a nation.

While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format for political activists, social reformers, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject, "The Answers Are There: Building Peace From the Inside Out" is especially and unreservedly recommended for professional, community, governmental, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note: Libby Hoffman ( is the founder and president of Catalyst for Peace (CFP), a private foundation that creates space for communities impacted by violence to lead their own path to peace and development. For more than 15 years, she has worked in Sierra Leone, alongside local leaders and citizens, helping the West African nation's communities heal and repair after 11 years of civil war. CFP's programs helped Sierra Leoneans reconcile after war, recover from the devastation of conflict, and respond to an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola. Today, its approach has been adopted as national policy in Sierra Leone and as a global model of better approaches to international aid. Hoffman also produced the award-winning documentary film Fambul Tok and co-authored a companion book by the same name. A former academic, she was the first female political science professor at Principia College and holds degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Williams College.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles
Jerome Charyn
c/o W. W. Norton & Company
9781324091332, $28.00, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his "blunt, brilliantly crafted prose" (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France.

With the publication of "Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles", author Jerome Charyn reimagines the life of one of America's most enduring icons, "Gilda" herself, Rita Hayworth, whose fiery red tresses and hypnotic dancing graced the silver screen over sixty times in her nearly forty-year career. The quintessential movie star of the 1940s, Hayworth has long been objectified as a sex symbol, pin-up girl, and so-called Love Goddess. Here Charyn, channeling the ghosts of a buried past, finally lifts the veils that have long enshrouded Hayworth, evoking her emotional complexity - her passions, her pain, and her inner turmoil.

Charyn's reimagining of Hayworth's story begins in 1943, in a roomette at the Hollywood Hotel, where narrator Rusty Redburn (an impetuous, second-string gossip columnist from Kalamazoo, Michigan) bides her time between working as a gofer in the publicity offices of Columbia Pictures, volunteering at an indie movie house, and pursuing dalliances with young women on the Sunset Strip. Called upon by the manipulative Columbia movie mogul Harry "The Janitor" Cohn to spy on Hayworth (who was then, the Dream Factory's most alluring "dame," and Cohn's biggest movie star) Rusty becomes Rita's confidante, accompanying her on a series of madcap adventures with her indomitable husband, the "boy genius" Orson Welles.

But Rusty, an outlaw who can see beyond the prejudices of Hollywood's male-dominated hierarchy, quickly becomes disgusted with the way actresses, and particularly Rita, are exploited by men. As she struggles to balance the dangerous politics of Tinseltown with her desire to protect Rita from ruffians and journalists alike, Rusty has her own encounters (some sweet, some bruising) with characters real and imagined, from Julie Tanaka, an interned Japanese-American friend, to superstars like Clark Gable and Tallulah Bankhead, as well as notorious Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

Reanimating such classic films as Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai, "Big Red" is a bittersweet paean to Hollywood's Golden Age, a tender yet honest portrait of a time before blockbusters and film franchises -- one that promises to consume both Hollywood cinephiles and neophytes alike.

Critique: A deftly crafted work of fiction that showcases stars from a now long gone Hollywood era of film studios and larger than life celebrities, "Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles" by Jerome Charyn will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library literary fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.16).

Editorial Note Jerome Charyn ( is the award-winning author of more than fifty works, including The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. A renowned scholar of twentieth-century Hollywood, he currently resides in Manhattan.

House Gods: Sustainable Buildings and Renegade Builders
Jim Kristofic
University of New Mexico Press
1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM 87131-0001
9780826363657, $27.95, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: That our buildings are making us sick was first revealed by the medical science involving asbestos and now has expanded to include dozens and dozens of other chemicals, building materials, and architectural designs.

Our homes, offices, factories, and dormitories are, in some sense, fresh parasites on the sacred Earth, Nahasdzaan. In search of a better way, author Jim Kristofic journeys across the Southwest to apprentice with architects and builders who know how to make buildings that will take care of us and with the publication of "House Gods: Sustainable Buildings and Renegade Builders", Kristofic pursues the techniques of sustainable building and the philosophies of its practitioners. What emerges is a strange and haunting quest through adobe mud and mayhem, encounters with shamans and stray dogs, solar panels, tragedy, and true believers.

"House Gods" is also a story about doing something meaningful, and about the kinds of things that grow out of deep pain. One of these things is compassion -- from which may come solace. We build our buildings, we make our lives -- we are the House Gods.

Critique: A seminal and timely examination of the role human buildings have upon human health and the environment, "House Gods: Sustainable Buildings and Renegade Builders" is impressively informative, exceptionally well written, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation. Of special appeal and relevance to readers with an interest in Sustainable Living, Green Design Architecture, and Natural Conservation, "House Gods: Sustainable Buildings and Renegade Builders" is recommended as a core addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Architecture/Home Improvement Design collections. It should be noted that "House Gods: Sustainable Buildings and Renegade Builders" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Editorial Note: Currently residing in Taos, New Mexico, Jim Kristofic grew up on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. He has written for The Navajo Times, Arizona Highways, Native Peoples Magazine, High Country News, and Parabola. He is the author of Medicine Women: The Story of the First Native American Nursing School and Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life and the coauthor of Send a Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk (all from UNM Press).

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

The Innovator's Handbook
Hussain Almossawi
Mossawi Studios LLC
9781737850809, $17.00, PB, 242pp

Synopsis: What does it take to transform creativity into sustained innovation? Why does it seem so hard to continually come up with something new, beautiful, and earth-moving? How can we overcome our limiting beliefs as creatives?

With the publication of "The Innovator's Handbook: A Short Guide to Unleashing Your Creative Mindset", award-winning designer and author Hussain Almossawi helps aspiring designers and creatives harness their fire, flex their courage, and supercharge their ideas to create remarkable products, services, and experiences. The simple lessons comprising "The Innovator's Handbook" will empower you to develop the types of ideas and products that continually change the world.

Drawing on Almossawi's experiences working with and designing for companies like Adidas, Nike, Intel, Apple, Ford, and Pepsi, the lessons in these pages are focused on helping creatives in any industry uncover methods to generate new ideas and avoid common traps. You'll learn to start small to create big. You'll learn to stay open to the world around you and draw on wonder. You'll learn to funnel failure into inspiration. You'll learn the importance of diversity in seeing your world from outside its everyday box and growing a bigger vision. And you'll discover some of the most important aspects of design thinking to unlock greater innovation in the stages of ideation, sketching, prototyping, testing, business strategy, and more.

Critique: Informed and informative, inspired and inspiring, thoughtful and thought-provoking, 'real world practical' and motivationally aspirational, "The Innovator's Handbook: A Short Guide to Unleashing Your Creative Mindset" is exceptionally well organized and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation. While also available for personal reading lists to anyone with an interest in Innovative Creativity & Industrial/Product Design in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.00), "The Innovator's Handbook: A Short Guide to Unleashing Your Creative Mindset" is especially and unreservedly recommended for corporate, community, college, and university library collections.

Editorial Note: Hussain Almossawi ( is a product designer and visual effects artist who has worked across industries and around the world consulting for companies such as Nike, Apple, Adidas, EA Sports, Intel, and Ford Motor Company, among others. He is a regular keynote speaker on innovation and design and has taught at several universities. In 2019, Hussain founded Mossawi Studios, a multi-disciplinary design studio specializing in creating memorable, iconic, and bold experiences. He enjoys blurring the lines between product design, visual effects, and storytelling.

Shadows and Light: A Physician's Lens on COVID
Heather Patterson, MD
Goose Lane Editions
9781773102740, $40.00, HC, 176pp

Synopsis: When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Calgary emergency physician Heather Patterson was already feeling burnt out. Photography had always been a way of unwinding for her, and as the pandemic gathered speed, Patterson decided to begin chronicling it.

"Shadows and Light: A Physician's Lens on COVID" presents a selection of Patterson's images, taking readers to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and giving them an illuminating, behind-the-scenes view of the real impact of the virus and the heroic front-line workers who have been fighting it for over two years.

Patterson's expert lens gives incredible insight into the life of healthcare workers (physicians, nurses, and hospital support staff) during the pandemic, and what patients experience when hospitalized with COVID. Yet, amid the isolation of lockdowns and a seemingly never-ending cycle of new restrictions associated with new variants, Patterson finds hope and a renewed sense of purpose in the resilience of the human spirit and the inspiring fortitude of Canada's often invisible pandemic heroes.

Critique: Of particular relevance to readers with an interest in photography, medicine, and the dedication of nurses, physicians, and hospital staff having to deal with the overwhelming impact of a pandemic the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 1918 Spanish Flu, "Shadows and Light: A Physician's Lens on COVID" is a unique and inherently interesting coffee-table style volume that deftly blends full page black/white photographic images with insightful and compelling commentary - making it unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Contemporary Photography and Pandemic Medical History collections.

Editorial Note: Heather Patterson ( is an emergency physician at Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary. Her photographs of the pandemic have been featured in Macleans and the Calgary Herald and on CBC, CityNews, Global News, and CTV.

Tap Dance for All
Victoria Moore, author
Joan Gerrard, author
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476688084, $39.95, PB, 249pp

Synopsis: The first of its kind, "Tap Dance for All: Adapting Instruction for Disability and Mobility Impairment" by professional dance instructors Victoria Moore and Joan Gerrard focuses on the value of inclusivity in the tap dance studio, instructing on how to bring the rhythmic world of tap dance into the lives of individuals living with disabilities or mobility issues. No longer should those with mobility challenges be denied the opportunity to enjoy the unique delight, challenge and excitement of tap dancing.

Based on the authors' inclusive program called Tap for All, this unique book is part inspirational memoir and part instructional manual, detailing how tap dance's enormous cognitive benefits can benefit those living with Alzheimer's, dementia, cerebral palsy, arthritis, traumatic brain injuries and more. The author outlines her experience opening the hearts and minds of other dance instructors and studio owners, showing that shifting their perspective about dance is beneficial to both client and studio.

Of special note are the chapters that instruct on the physiological effects of music and dance, guide the development of dance routines, and outline the author's tap programs for various student skill levels and experiences.

Practicing ability inclusion can ensure that everyone, not just those fortunate enough to have a fully functioning physique, can learn and enjoy tap dance.

Critique: A seminal, ground-breaking work that is enhanced with the inclusion of black/white photos, and Appendix (Tab Glove / Miten and Tap Board Instructions), a five page Glossary, a two page Bibliography, and a three page Index, "Tap Dance for All: Adapting Instruction for Disability and Mobility Impairment" is an extraordinary, unique, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library Tap Dance and Physical/Psychology Disabilities Exercise collections. It should be noted for students, academia, nursing home caregivers, physical therapists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Tap Dance for All: Adapting Instruction for Disability and Mobility Impairment" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note #1: Victoria Moore ( is a master tap instructor, choreographer, dance competition judge, writer, and producer, with over 40 years of experience being a national expert in the field of tap dance. Her training and professional career are extensive; performing in the Broadway shows 42nd Street and Sugar Babies. She is co-owner of Triple Threat Dolls Productions, Inc., a production company focusing on developing and producing projects in a variety of theatrical formats.

Editorial Note #2: The late Joan Gerrard's professional dance career spanned more than three decades as a performer, tap dance specialist, prolific choreographer, and one of tap dances greatest tap masters of all time. She was the tap director for dance studios and park districts throughout Chicago, and was founder and executive director of Dance-Plus Productions, Inc., a unique company that provided a staff of highly qualified instructors to teach a wide variety of performing and cultural arts programs.

Reclaiming Calliope
Fides Krucker
North Atlantic Books
2526 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704-2607
9781623177065, $19.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: For centuries, opera has used women's voices to convey male stories. Within an art form dominated by men, the female voice is a means to an end: controlled, denatured, and crafted to carry words and intentions that belie the true depth and complexity of the female experience.

With the publication of "Reclaiming Calliope: Freeing the Female Voice through Undomesticated Singing", author and opera singer Fides Krucker shows her readers what it means to find (and use) our authentic voice, to sing wildly and uninhibited from the depths of our bodies and spirits.

Part memoir, part radical vocal guide, and part feminist call to action, "Reclaiming Calliope" offers an intriguing look at the rarified world of opera, with fascinating behind-the-scenes details to which outsiders don't typically have access. Through incisive critique, personal stories, and intriguing expose, Krucker razes the male gaze that packaged characters like Carmen, Tosca, and La traviata's Violetta for viewer consumption -- and radically envisions an empowered, new way of finding and fueling the authentic female voice.

Through a series of breathing and vocal prompts that anyone (not just singers!) can do, Krucker helps readers reconnect to their authentic primal voices: she takes the reader inside her vocal studio to learn new methods of breath, voicework, and embodiment to uncover and access personal and social truths. Each chapter includes a theme-related exercise in the form of an act of expression, of release, of self-discovery, or of resistance that guides readers to develop voices unbound from anyone else's storytelling, boldly and without apology.

Critique: An absolutely fascinating, extraordinarily informative, and memorably impressive read from cover to cover, "Reclaiming Calliope: Freeing the Female Voice through Undomesticated Singing" while prove of immense and ground-breaking interest for readers on the subject of the female voice engaged in operatic singing styles and activities. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99), "Reclaiming Calliope: Freeing the Female Voice through Undomesticated Singing" is a seminal and recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Music History & Criticism collections and curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Fides Krucker has sung, produced and created contemporary opera and interdisciplinary work in Canada and abroad for over thirty-five years. Her unconventional vocal techniques have been used by theatre and dance professionals and students, singers of jazz and pop, choir members who lose their voice in practice, as well as classical singers too rigid in their former technique to take on contemporary work, or to feel happy within traditional opera.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

Street People: Invisible New York Made Visible
David J. Bookbinder
Transformations Press
9781736984734, $16.99, PB, 446pp

Synopsis: 1970s New York was a mecca for artists, writers, and musicians drawn to its vibrant energy and creative possibilities. It was also a place of grinding poverty and urban decay, where crime and violence were everyday realities and hope danced with despair.

In the pages of "Street People: Invisible New York Made Visible", readers will prowl the nighttime streets with Margie (the drag queen who inspired more than fifty works by Andy Warhol) and Romeo (a part-time mugger, full-time philosopher, and king of the corner of West 98th Street and Broadway), set up shop at the crack of dawn with Morris as he assembles New York's oldest newsstand, then spend the day with the denizens of his street corner society. Slip downtown and ride shotgun with amateur pimp and prostitute Frankie and Cookie on their first night out. Cross the bridge into Brooklyn to bear witness to Edward, the self-appointed Second Coming of Christ, here to bring down destruction on the human race.

These extraordinary stories present a timeless portrayal of life on the margins in New York City and are accompanied by stark black-and-white images that expose the grit and beauty of a city at its most raw and real. Readers will experience this strikingly illustrated account of this turbulent time and its forgotten people, as well as witness invisible New York being made visible.

Critique: With the publication of "Street People: Invisible New York Made Visible", author David J. Bookbinder presents a collection of spellbinding short stories and iconic images which combine to create a rare glimpse into a world hiding in plain sight. An impressive compendium of deftly crafted characters and original storylines, "Street People: Invisible New York Made Visible" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library American Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Street People: Invisible New York Made Visible" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99).

Editorial Note: David J. Bookbinder ( is a writer, photographer, and life coach. He is also the author of "The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World, Paths to Wholeness", "Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas", "What Folk Music is All About", two coloring books for adults, and three books about computer software. He is the recipient of teaching fellowships from Boston University and the University at Albany, and of writing residencies from the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His Flower Mandala images were awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant in photography.

Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey
Joe Weber
University of Nevada Press
Mail Stop 0166, Reno, NV, 89557-0166
9781948908405, $45.00, PB, 336pp

Synopsis: Las Vegas has a long and rich history that extends far beyond the cliches of 'sin city', the Mafia, Elvis, or mindless urban sprawl. With the publication of "Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey", Joe Weber provides a series of maps with accompanying text that goes beyond the usual tales of the city and illustrates the history of the city and surrounding region from the time of the ancient Anasazi farmers to the present.

"Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey" also provides a geographic perspective on the city's growth, showing the influence of water, public land surveys, transportation routes, and casinos on the city's evolution. The atlas also shows the development of the surrounding region, including public lands, military bases, and also reconstructs the settlement and geography of the canyons and valleys of the Colorado River before Hoover Dam created Lake Mead. Dams, highways, railroads, and other projects planned but never built are also covered.

The maps comprising "Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey" were constructed using Geographic Information Systems making use of cartographic data from a range of public sources as well as extensive mapping by the author, drawing on decades of experience in the Las Vegas region.

Critique: An informatively and profusely illustrated atlas, "Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey" is exceptionally well organized and presented so as to be a truly comprehensive and inherently interesting reference and history of one of the more unique American cities in the country. While also recommended as a template for similar cartographical studies of other cities, towns and villages, "Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey" is an especially recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Cartography, Historic Maps/Atlas, City Planning, and Urban Development collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Joe Weber grew up in the Las Vegas area, with fond memories of the city during the 1970s and 1980s, including the Meadows Mall, Food Factory restaurant, and driving by the Aku Aku statues on the Strip. He left the area to attend college at the University of Arizona and is now Professor of Geography at the University of Alabama, but often returns to Las Vegas. His academic work is focused on the changing geography of both national parks and the American highway system.

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

The Disenchanted Earth: Reflections on Ecosocialism and Barbarism
Richard Seymour
The Indigo Press
9781911648413, $16.95, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: A planetary fever-dream. An environmental awakening that is also a sleep-walking, unsteadily weaving between history, earth science, psychoanalysis, evolution, biology, art and politics. A search for transcendence, beyond the illusory eternal present. The essays by Richard Seymour comprising "The Disenchanted Earth: Reflections on Ecosocialism and Barbarism" chronicle the kindling of ecological consciousness in a confessed ignoramus. They track the first enchantment of Seymour, include his striving to comprehend the coming catastrophe, and his attempt to formulate a new global sensibility in which we value anew what unconditionally matters.

Critique: Richard Seymour is one of the UK's most noted and contemporary public intellectuals, who writes with a distinctive and characteristic blend of forensic insight and analysis, personal journey, and a vivid respect for the natural world. With a particular appeal to readers with an interest in nature writing, earth science, and the art of the essay, "The Disenchanted Earth: Reflections on Ecosocialism and Barbarism" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Disenchanted Earth: Reflections on Ecosocialism and Barbarism" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.57).

Editorial Note: An editor at Salvage magazine, Richard Seymour is a writer and broadcaster from Northern Ireland and the author of numerous books about politics including Against Austerity and Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. His writing appears in The New York Times, the London Review of Books, the Guardian, Prospect, Jacobin, and innumerable other places including his own Patreon. He is listed on Wikipedia at

Manhattan Cult Story
Spencer Schneider
Arcade Publishing
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
9781950994557, $26.99, HC, 264pp

Synopsis: Right under the noses of neighbors, clients, spouses, children, and friends, a secret society, simply called School (a cult of snared Manhattan professionals) has been led by the charismatic, sociopathic and dangerous leader Sharon Gans for decades. Spencer Schneider was recruited in the eighties and he stayed for more than twenty-three years as his life disintegrated, his self-esteem eroded, and he lined the pockets of Gans and her cult.

Cult members met twice weekly, though they never acknowledged one another outside of meetings or gatherings. In the name of inner development, they endured the horrors of mental, sexual, and physical abuse, forced labor, arranged marriages, swindled inheritances and savings, and systematic terrorizing. Some of them broke the law. All for Gans.

"During those years," Schneider writes in "Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos, and Survival" -- "my world was School. That's what it's like when you're in a cult, even one that preys on and caters to New York's educated elite. This is my story of how I got entangled in School and how I got out."

At its core, "Manhattan Cult Story" is a cautionary tale of how hundreds of well-educated, savvy, and prosperous New Yorkers became fervent followers of a brilliant but demented cult leader who posed as a teacher of ancient knowledge. It's about double-lives, the power of group psychology, and how easy it is to be radicalized -- all too relevant in today's atmosphere of QANON conspiracies, political cult of personality, and ideologue based worship.

Critique: Timely and timeless, "Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos, and Survival" is a clarion call for awareness that is particularly (and unfortunately) all to relevant to the culture and society controversies of today. Offering a blue print for how educated and rational men and women can be seduced into a world of lies, deception, exploitation, and self-destruction, "Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos, and Survival" should be in every public library in every American village, town and city. It should be noted for personal reading lists that it is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape Media, 9781666612325, $22.99, CD).

Michael Dunford

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

Legal Interpreting: Teaching, Research, and Practice
Jeremy L. Brunson, editor
Gallaudet University Press
800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002-3695
c/o The University of Chicago Press (dist.)
9781944838980, $75.00, HC, 333pp

Synopsis: Linguistic minorities are often severely disadvantaged in legal events, with consequences that could impact one's very liberty. Training for interpreters to provide full access in legal settings is paramount.

With the publication of "Legal Interpreting: Teaching, Research, and Practice", Jeremy L. Brunson has gathered deaf and hearing scholars and practitioners from both signed and spoken language interpreting communities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Their contributions include research-driven, experience-driven, and theoretical discussions on how to teach and assess legal interpreting.

The topics covered by the contributors in "Legal Interpreting" include: Teaming in a courtroom; Introducing students to legal interpreting; Being an expert witness; Discourses used by deaf lawyers; designing assessment tools for legal settings, and working with deaf jurors. In addition, "Legal Interpreting" also interrogates the various ways power, privilege, and oppression appear in legal interpreting.

Each individual chapter comprising "Legal Interpreting" features discussion questions and prompts that interpreter educators can use in the classroom. While intended as a foundational text for use in courses, this body of work also provides insight into the current state of the legal interpreting field and will be a valuable resource for scholars, practitioners, and consumers.

Critique: Volume 12 in the Interpreter Education Series from Gallaudet University Press, "Legal Interpreting: Teaching, Research, and Practice" compiled and edited by Jeremy L. Brunsson will have a special relevance to readers with an interest in Linguistics, Sign Language, and Translation within a judicial setting. While very highly recommended for personal, professional, academic, and judicial library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, lawyers, political/social activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Legal Interpreting: Teaching, Research, and Practice" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $71.25).

Editorial Note: Jeremy L. Brunson ( is the Executive Director of the Division of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Gallaudet University. He is also an American Sign Language - English interpreter specializing in legal interpreting. Brunson's research interests are in the broad area of the sociology of interpreting and live at the intersection of sociology work and the profession, sociology of disability, and critical theory. He has published and presented about video relay service, educational interpreting, the invisible labor deaf people perform, the professionalization of sign language interpreting, and ethics.

Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land
Sandra Matthews, photographer
David Brule & Suzanne Gardinier, essays
George F Thompson Publishing
c/o Casemate Publishers
1940 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083
9781938086892, $40.00, HC, 100pp

Synopsis: "Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land" is essentially an art book that engages with history. Featuring photographs of dwellings and vernacular structures found in rural Massachusetts, this coffee-table style volume is a meditation on the human occupation of land, with an emphasis on the long presence of Indigenous people and the waves of settlement by people from other countries that began during the early 1600s and continues today.

Utilizing a muted color palette, Sandra Matthews's photographs of both structures and historical markers are subtle and haunting. They suggest the presence of histories, embedded in the landscape but often invisible. Although it is focused on Massachusetts, "Occupying Massachusetts" implicitly raises larger issues of settlement and nationhood. How did the United States of America come to occupy its land? How is this story told? As a longtime occupant and occupier of Massachusetts herself, Matthews aims to understand more deeply the land on which she lives.

The main text of "Occupying Massachusetts" comes from photographs of historic markers, which were installed around the state at different times by different interest groups. The words on these markers describe early relations between Indigenous people and largely English settlers, from diverse points of view. In this way, "Occupying Massachusetts" explores how difficult histories are written and how they change over time. Concluding essays by Indigenous activist David Brule and poet Suzanne Gardinier provide important perspectives as well, connecting the past and future.

Critique: A beautiful volume to browse through on fascinating and informative page at a time, "Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land" is a moving story whose message will be appreciated for years to come -- and could well served as a template for similar historical studies of other American states. Simply stated, "Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library American History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: Sandra Matthews ( is a photographer who, from 1982 to 2016, was a faculty member at Hampshire College. Her previous books are Present Moments (self-published, 2020) and Pregnant Pictures, co-authored with Laura Wexler (Routledge, 2000). In 2010, she founded The Trans Asia Photography Review, which she edited until 2020. Matthews's photographs are in numerous collections, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Henry Art Gallery, Portland [Oregon] Art Museum, Smith College Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Women in Photography International Archive at Yale.

Editorial Note #2: David Brule was born and raised in Montague, Massachusetts, and is of Nehantic, Narragansett, and Huron/Wendat descent. He is President of the Nolumbeka Project, Inc., whose mission in part is "to promote a deeper, broader, and more accurate depiction of the history of the Native Americans/American Indians of the Northeast before and during European contact and colonization". Their website is

Editorial Note #3: Suzanne Gardinier was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and grew up in Scituate. An American poet and essayist, she teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of The New World (Pittsburgh, 1993), which won the 1992 Associated Writing Program's Award Series in Poetry. She is also the recipient of the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. She is on Wikipedia at

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

Junkyard: (a Fractured Stars novella)
Lindsay Buroker
Independently Published
B07MJ41P1W, $0.00 Kindle, 63pages

Junkyard: (a Fractured Stars novella) is a fun light read. It is a standalone introduction to the Fractured Stars series. The short tale is perfect for an evening or afternoon relaxation.

McCall Richter is a skip tracer, comfortable with tracking down people but, when her new android employee takes a job tracking down tons of missing maple syrup, she is unsure how to handle the job.

She starts by searching the massive syrup warehouse and doing background checks of the employees. One thing in her investigation stands out -- the junkyard next door to the warehouse and the large dog living there. The sugar thief decides that she is getting to close and tries to eliminate her.

Junkyard: (a Fractured Stars novella) is a fun light SF mystery that is enjoyable to the mystery reader or SF buff. It is an easy recommendation for an evening read and as an introduction to the Fracture Stars series.

NightShade Forensic FBI Files: The Atlas Defect (Book 3)
A.J. Scudiere
Griffyn Ink
9781948059855 $14.95
B01N19L5QD, $4.99 Kindle, 446 pages

The Atlas Defect is a Mulder and Scully X-files type investigative tale. If you like the creatures and the weirdness from the X-Files, you will love this procedural detective mystery story.

Agents Heath and Eames are sent to investigate human bones found in in Michigan's Manistee-Huron National Forest. The bones are not quite right so Nightshade investigators Heath and Eames are sent.

The original bones are missing from the local FBI offices but Heath and Eames head for the national forest and find more. A thief is following them and a decades old coverup of what happened to the people whose bones they have discovered is activated without regards to who might die in the coverup.

The Atlas Defect is an easy story to recommend for those who like a bit of weirdness in their procedural mystery. The story covers one complete investigation but leaves the final resolution unresolved. The story is left hanging with the end of the agent's investigation.

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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