Return to home
page Book Reviews, Book Lover Resources, Advice for Writers and Publishers
Home / California Bookwatch

California Bookwatch

Volume 15, Number 4 April 2020 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Needlecraft Shelf Technology Shelf
Cookbook Shelf General Fiction Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Audiobook Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House
Darwin Porter & Danforth Prince
Blood Moon Productions
9781936003730, $32.99

Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House comes from a small publishing company on Staten Island which is located in Magnolia House, the setting for iconic Hollywood and Broadway personalities who visited over the years. These actors and actresses, writers, athletes and opera divas left their impression on Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, who here capture some of the gossip, outrageous incidents, and iconic myths and realities about them. Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House is high celebrity gossip at its best. From scandals and rumors to unfulfilled love, illicit romance, theatrical productions both successful and disastrous, and Darwin Porter's encounters with these outrageous and fun personalities, this book represents the highlight of celebrity gossip and secrets. Strengthened by interview quotes, personal connections, and a personal familiarity with the industry that no outsider could have adequately conveyed, Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House excels in an approach that incorporates familiarity over hearsay. The stories are personalized by their Magnolia House connections. This touch would have made for a superior expose alone, but the authors add numerous black and white images throughout to cement the visual portion of the production. These photos, accompanied by descriptive notes, embellish the stories and create a satisfying blend of show business insights and overviews of the entertainment industry that blend autobiography with industry history. Especially recommended for enthusiasts of vintage Hollywood and Broadway social and cultural history, Glamour, Glitz, & Gossip at Historic Magnolia House is a treasure trove of impressions and artistry that captures the lives of those who visited this historic home over the decades. Fans of celebrity gossip will relish the atmosphere, detail, and in-depth insights on personalities captured in this lively romp.

The Needlecraft Shelf

Martingale & Company

Lissa Alexander's Sisterhood of Scraps: 12 Brilliant Quilts from 7 Fantastic Designers (9781683560463, $27.99) comes from a quilt designer who invited her friends to create scrap quilts with her. The results of these six fellow quilters who worked with her to create new designs is presented here, in 12 inspirations based on a shared effort to produce some truly stunning new projects. Quilting bees are encouraged through this process as Alexander explores not just these projects and their creation, but tips on using scraps in a new, creative manner. Patterns, large and small sized photos of pieces and results, and step-by-step instructions leave nothing to wonder. Linda Collins and Leah Zieber's Treasure Hunt: 13 Quilts Inspired by Antique Finds (9781683560470, $27.99) comes from antique quilt experts who share how to look for and translate the qualities of these quilts to modern efforts. Patterns for 13 such quilts inspired by antiques from their collections accompany tips on fabrics and vintage textiles, what to buy and what to avoid, how to work with them, and how to handle antique fabrics. The patterns, photos, and instructions are solid, but it's the details on antique fabrics and designs that make this a real treasure trove of detail.

The Technology Shelf

Artech House

Two new reference titles will appeal to college-level students of engineering and information security with in-depth detailed studies suitable for classroom text or supplemental reading. Students of biomedical engineering will appreciate the updated second edition of Sundararajan V. Madihally's Principles of Biomedical Engineering (1630817112, $199.00), updating a classic text with new information. From new therapeutics and modeling approaches to numerical problems used as examples and exercises to support concepts of biomedical applications, this surveys the basics and draws important links between engineering and medicine. Isaac R. Porche III's Cyberwarfare: An Introduction to Information-Age Conflict (1630815764, $159.00) explains the technologies and applications of cyberwarfare approaches, examining cyber security tools, risk analysis, understanding different approaches and techniques by cyber criminal enterprises and activities, and examining offensive cyber operations and different methods of attack. From mobile wireless communication vulnerabilities to how the Ethernet works and the processes of encryption in transport layers, this surveys systems operations, vulnerabilities, and different cyberwarfare approaches key to understanding conflicts and troubleshooting for penetration and safety. Both are references that deserve a spot in engineering and information security collections.

The Cookbook Shelf

One Pot Feeds All
Darina Allen
Kyle Books
c/o Octopus Books
9780857837134, $24.99

One Pot Feeds All: 100 New One-Dish Recipes from Roasts to Desserts promotes cooking in one pot, dish, or pan, as well as dishes which are light alongside the heartier fare one usually associates with one-dish productions. Recipes can be easily adjusted for quantity, the use of a single pot translates to less cleanup, and the international influences assure a wide range of flavors. All that's needed is a few quality baking pieces and an interest in trying new flavors, such as a Venison & Parsnip Stew with a wine and brandy-based marinade or a Thai Beef Curry with Peanut Sauce and sticky rice that lends to quick cooking. With flavors from Morocco to South India and Kenya, this wide-ranging cookbook invites with the promise of ease, the visuals of full-page color photos throughout, and an attention to recipes which are eye-catching yet easy to produce.

The General Fiction Shelf

Determined Dreamer
Deborah King
Liberation Publishing
9781733588836, $10.99

Determined Dreamer is Book Three in the Inspiration in Cologne series, and will appeal to readers of women's fiction who look for stories featuring determined, proactive women taking charge of their lives and directions. Narrator' Kalie's vision of her life and its strengths are summarized in the very first sentence of this continuation of her story: "I'm determined, ecstatic, yet completely out of my element." Her new business venture is based on her vision that her home town of Cologne, Missouri will become a tourist destination and that her long-time association with its iconic local coffee shop, The Coffee Palace, will propel it to new heights, powered by the innovative crepe recipes she plans on introducing. Her brother Shane and best friend Shelby have given up much to help her realize her dreams, but Kalie faces more than challenges to her culinary skills and idealism as she tackles the problems of making business decisions different from her investors and faces professional problems couched within family dynamics. Shane's secret (the fact that he's been supporting others' dreams while ignoring his own) and Kalie's secret decision, which involves him in business ownership more than he realized or wanted, makes for an absorbing story as Kalie and her friends try to resolve the complexity of interpersonal and business relationships alike. While Deborah King's novel represents the third book in the series, prior familiarity with its predecessors is not necessary in order to smoothly enter Kalie's world and absorb its dilemmas. Women who look for inspirational novels of determination, struggle, and success will find much to appreciate in Determined Dreamer, which supports Kalie's drive to be successful both at her dream venture and in matters of the heart. King's injection of romance into this bigger picture of success, dreams, traumatizing nightmares, and social forces that challenge Kalie's psyche creates a multifaceted story that is realistic, absorbing, and emotionally compelling. Readers of women's fiction who look for stories of success and growth will find Kalie and her Cologne roots very nicely presented, indeed. This stand-alone story needs no introduction, crafting an enthusiastic and convincing read that is hard to put down.

If She Had Stayed
Diane Byington
Red Adept Publishing, LLC
9781948051477, $9.99

Kaley Kline is the new Tesla Museum director in Colorado Springs, charged with locating unusual and rare items to exhibit. When she stumbles on a mystery involving a Tesla relic, she also walks into danger when she accepts the blueprint for a time machine which could not only change the world, but the course of her own life. Time travel stories and accounts of women forging new lives are commonplace; but in If She Had Stayed, the moral and ethical dilemmas Kaley faces are much more upfront, personal, and intriguing.

What would you do if you found a time machine and used it to change your life? What if the secrets uncovered during this journey proved threatening and deadly? Would you give up your memories and life to travel into the past and rewrite everything? Diane Byington's story moves from an unusual search by a museum curator for an undiscovered Tesla invention to personal struggles with flaky boyfriends, an inability to properly read people, and mercurial commitments. Readers receive a fine juxtaposition of chic lit woman's story and bigger-picture thinking about the future, past, and prospects for real change. Kaley struggles over more than one purpose, but when she finds herself sharing a mind with Anna in her trip through time, she finds the conflict requires her to step up, step in, and take charge in circumstances which defy logic. Powered by Kaley's strong character and the absorbing dilemmas she faces from her risk-taking choices over time travel, career, and romance, the story evolves a compelling plot. It holds unexpected twists and turns even for seasoned readers of time travel stories, and proves hard to put down. Women who like their characters clever, ambitious, yet human in their abilities, reactions, and choices will relish Kaley's dilemmas and attempts to resolve the incongruities in her life. If She Had Stayed proves an excellent blend of intrigue and personal revelation that keeps the reader involved and thinking long past the methods Kaley employs to resolve her life in an unexpectedly effective manner.

Suzanne Falter
New Heights Publishing
9780996998161, $12.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Oakland, California's lesbian community came alive in Suzanne Falter's previous novels, and Revealed continues the process of exploring lives challenged by changing times and aging processes. Here, Tenika Cummins, co-owner of the Driven garage, wants to become a parent; Asian-American lesbian Rosalind faces the challenge of coming out to her very traditional family to pursue her romance openly; and non-binary Monroe also faces a family battle to defend her identity and dreams. Her/their fight will take place in court. The lives, loves, and identity concerns of these three create a solid inspection of gay rights, lifestyles, and California dreams challenged by awkward relationships both within and outside of the lesbian community. Suzanne Falter well knows the nuances and culture of not just the Bay Area, but locales beyond, and builds these environments into her story. From the clothing-optional getaway resort of Harbin Hot Springs north of the Bay Area in Lake County to Oakland's gay community, this intimate knowledge is embedded into the story line and will delight Bay Area residents with its reality base while educating outsiders about the culture and geography of Northern California.

Psychological depth is as astute as in the previous Oaktown Girls stories, following realistic characters that face obstacles in their lives with very individual choices and methods of coping with tragedy and strife. Especially notable in Revealed is Monroe's struggle as she seeks to redefine her gender status and faces her friends' support and her family's inability to accept her revised identity and her intention to solidify it. While Revealed will certainly attract readers throughout the gay community, it would be a shame to have its messages and stories limited to this audience alone. Readers should choose it for its astute social and psychological inspection, its realistic characters and scenarios, and, most of all, its contrasts of different processes of realizing one's true identity and living a life supporting that dream. Starkly realistic and involving, Revealed excels in contrasting the forward momentum of three very different women who share the same journey, but from very different perspectives. Monroe's experience sums it up, for the characters in this story: "This was all about Monroe rising up, seizing the day, and taking what they wanted and needed once and for all." Carpe diem!

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Path of the Spirit Runner
L.H. Leonard
Each Voice Publishing
9780989210553, $17.99
9780989210560, $5.99, eBook

Book 2 of the epic fantasy series Rootstock Saga presents several primary characters who struggle with their powers, secrets, and destinies in different ways. All are connected to healer and empath Isobel, who is called upon to help the clan who took her in. Few know the truth about the source of her abilities. The Hawks gave Isobel new life, but now they are in need. As she faces the oppressive John Deighton, charged with rooting out and imprisoning threats like Isobel, she is forced to acknowledge that the enemy knows more about her than those who love her. This is a dangerous realization complicating a struggle that grows to involve not just Isobel and the Hawks, but those who also fight oppression and who are determined to provide the Hawks with a safe haven. Compassion lends strength to struggles, but oppression holds its own power. Isobel and other characters consider family ties, revised approaches to survival, and journeys far from the familiar home they've always known. As Isobel finds that healing is not enough to quell her sadistic adversary and that her own powers of empathy may not be able to save her or those she loves, readers are treated to an epic struggle that outlines a world under siege, In it, individuals are forced to reassess their life purposes, their powers, and their ideals: "Empathy is a balm, not a weapon." Far from Isobel and the Hawks is Tobias, who has long cemented his own destiny and who has not bothered to dwell on philosophical matters since. He, too, is charged with becoming something beyond his mission and abilities as he confronts his desire to take his place with the Este, prove his loyalty and strengths, and deal with rising currents of physical waters, spiritual transformation, and social change. Under another hand, embracing all these elements in a fantasy story might feel overwhelming and disparate. But, like a talented weaver, L.H. Leonard ties together not just subplots and a host of characters, but different social structures, individual purposes, and disparate strengths on all sides. Her attention to detail and intrigue as each character evolves towards a greater purpose and understanding adds depth to Path of the Spirit Runner and creates an epic fantasy that is hard to put down, primarily because each of these characters become three-dimensional and compelling. While Path of the Spirit Runner is accessible to newcomers, it's an integral addition to the series and should ideally be chosen by prior enthusiasts of Legend of the Storm Hawks, which introduced a world which even then teetered on the edge of destruction and rebirth as it introduced Isobel's roots.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Easter Hair Hunt
Nancy Cohen
Orange Grove Press
9780999793268, $4.99, Digital
9780999793275, $14.99

Amazon Kindle:

BN Nook:

Easter Hair Hunt is the 16th book in Nancy Cohen's 'Bad Hair Day' cozy mystery series set in Florida, and opens with a strange, ornate egg found near a dead human Easter bunny just before the Easter celebration. Marla thinks she's found her missing friend, but instead she's just stumbled into a new murder mystery at a time when she's pregnant and ill prepared to take on anything other than family obligations.

Marla is drawn into an investigation that involves a missing friend who is possibly a victim herself and a stolen Faberge egg. In her third trimester of pregnancy, she uncovers clues that lead to several possible perps, including unfriendly security chief Rick Eaton and future heir Daniel, who is viewed as someone who dislikes history and will likely squander his special inheritance. As the story evolves, Marla discovers many undercurrents to her interviews with possible perps. These only introduce further confusion, rather than bringing resolution to the case. As Marla and husband Dalton proceed, she finds her family life and pregnancy challenged in more ways than one, with everything overshadowed by Easter and a mystery steeped in South Florida history and culture. Nancy Cohen excels at capturing Florida's atmosphere, injecting it into Marla's life and choices with a series of seasonal egg-related revelations and surprises that keep readers immersed in town affairs, personalities and politics, and a Easter egg hunt like no other. Easter Hair Hunt's evolution will attract and delight cozy mystery readers who look for the backdrop of a small, interconnected community in a murder probe that offers a number of satisfying twists, turns, and insights into social psychology and group interactions as well as the ultimate motives of a puzzling perp.

The Audiobook Shelf

Hachette Audio

Three new audiobooks are highly recommended picks for collections and listeners seeking superior blends of writer and narrator. Cecilia Ahern's Postscript (9781549102080, $30.00) receives a vivid reading by Amy Huberman, who brings to life the sequel to POS, I Love You, and takes place seven years after Holly's husband's death. Called upon to explain the story of the love letters, Holly finds strangers captivated by her story, many of whom are struggling with health conditions and desire to leave behind their own stories for loved ones. Holly's return to a world she thought she'd left brings healing to all, on many levels. Amy Shira Teitel's Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight (9781549121005, $35.00) is narrated by the author, who makes the most of her public speaking background and brings to life the history of female pilots who dreamed of being the first American woman in space, and who struggled to make their dreams a reality. Deemed 'shocking' and quite controversial in the 1950s, Jackie Cochran and younger Jerrie Cobb, both experienced pilots who defied their times, each turned their obsession with flight and space into a drive to allow women equal opportunities in the space program. This dual biography captures their lives, influences, and efforts in an exciting, dramatic story that brings the 1950s space program to life. Preston and Child's Crooked River (9781549142260, $40.00) is narrated by Jefferson Mays, who brings to life another vivid Agent Pendergast crime story; this one set in a small Florida resort town which reels from the shock of dozens of ordinary-shoes washing ashore, each containing a severed human foot. Pendergast faces not only the conundrum of their owners and purpose, but the mystery of whether their owners are still alive. This complex, engrossing whodunit mystery keeps readers guessing and engaged to the end.

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

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
12424 Mill Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
phone: 1-707-795-4629

Copyright ©2001

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design