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California Bookwatch

Volume 16, Number 4 April 2021 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Self-Help Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Religion/Spirituality Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Luke Adam Hawker
Kyle Books
c/o Octopus Publishing
236 Park Avenue, New York NY 10017
9780857839442, $19.99 HC, $9.99 Kindle, 64pp

Together's black and white line drawings and graphic visuals may make it seem a title for children alone, but it's reviewed here because its theme and opportunities for family discussion should be considered for adults as well as children, blending gentle philosophical reflection with observation of psychology and social issues on the anniversary of the first Covid lockdown. A man and his dog face the problems of being apart from the world, observing the many changes that have affected not just daily lives, but values. Images and words created during collaborative Zoom efforts contribute to a powerful survey of emotions, survival tactics, and reassessment of life's value that is highly recommended for all ages.

The Self-Help Shelf

Self Belonging
Luann Robinson Hull, MSW, LCSW, D.MIN
Top Reads Publishing, LLC
9781970107043, $18.99 PB, $7.99 ebook, 200pp

Self Belonging: Embrace The Wisdom Of Soul And Science And Live Your Best Life considers the foundations of happiness and how it gets hijacked by relationship expectations and life challenges, and is highly recommended reading for self-help audiences. It's based not just on admonitions and life wisdom, but Luann Robinson Hull's own experiences, from an emotional rollercoaster reunion in a rekindled romance to questions of how individuals twist each other into knots and why they allow this to take place.

Becoming a conscious game changer by examining old patterns of interaction and attraction is not an easy move, but Hull demonstrates how this can happen. Her approach combines examples with poetry, philosophy, and spiritual reflections from others, from Rumi to Meister Eckhart and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. Hull closely examines the history and methods of women's subjugation and juxtaposes reflections on courage and resilience with examinations of adaptation and self-actualization programming routines.

Readers receive a well-balanced blend of autobiography, psychology, philosophy, and spiritual insight into women's issues and power. Her years of research led to breakthrough insights on brain functions and how to reprogram them by applying a mix of science and spiritual insight. Women committed to personal growth who look for the foundations of neuropsychology tempered by new age and spiritual examination will find much to like in Self Belonging, which empowers readers to process their own patterns, paths, and options to embark on a better course in life.

The General Fiction Shelf

Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon
Andy V. Ambrose
Nine Star Press
9781951057343, $15.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 301pp

Fifty-year-old Viktor is trying to get back on his feet after the breakup of a 12-year relationship. A lot has happened in the gay dating world during those years, and Viktor feels ill-equipped to navigate not only these new opportunities but the new physical barriers of aging and the psychological obstacles to entering into another relationship. Told by his shrink to write down his feelings about this process, the journal in Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon is the result -- a lively self-inspection of candid honesty that explores fading sexuality and thwarted dreams alike.

Readers should be prepared for sexually explicit language. Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon pulls no punches and doesn't beat around the bush as the grouchy Viktor admits his personal failures and limitations and inspects the revised world of gay dating during his advancing years. As group sessions for "getting in touch with anal feelings" and insights from others begin to change his perspective, this gay curmudgeon adapts to a revised form of openness that involves inspecting and letting in feelings he'd never quite considered before. These involve not only his sexuality and relationships, but his immigrant family roots and influence and the lack of appealing partners in his age group.

Readers interested in a graphic discussion of middle-age sexuality and obstacles to re-forming lasting relationships during this period of life will find Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon is as hard-hitting as its narrator is grouchy. Those looking for candid, realistic-feeling inspections of mid-life crisis and changing sexuality will find this story absorbing, thought-provoking, nicely steeped in contrasts between the elderly, the middle-aged, and the young.

Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon should be in every LGBTQ collection interested an absorbing story of late-life change.

Welcome to Brookville
Kelly Ennis
DartFrog Books
9781951490782, $11.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 166pp

Welcome to Brookville's unique brand of Gothic stories provides a series of horror encounters which are linked, yet stand alone as intriguing reads for those who especially enjoy unsettling scenarios. From a man taken prisoner in a secret lab that forces him to confront his darkest fears to an actress who discovers that her role mirrors life in a frightening manner, Welcome to Brookville is about capturing and releasing the underlying ironies and horror in everyday life.

It creates a feeling of fascinating horror in readers who will find themselves as attracted to the macabre events as spectators to a car wreck. While this might sound less than desirable for leisure reading, the horror genre holds a special brand of fascination with dangerous life circumstances and eerie possibilities that readers find especially appealing. This production is no exception and, indeed, mirrors this focus on life's uncanny twists and turns.

Take Sarah's singular life in 'Glass', for one example of this flavor. Sarah accepts her limited one-room life, living in the moment and memories of a very different world. Fascinated by a bathtub full of turtles, her only pastime, Sarah has made a refuge for them (and herself) in the bathroom. How can she escape a world where someone else (an unseen observer) knows what is best for her...a place she has come to view as a safe haven? After all, "Punishment was all that mattered in life, and this was hers."

Kelly Ennis excels in weaving psychological inspections into the background of horror. Observations of disparate personalities who exist in the town of Brookville's quiet version of horror spark each story with a tension and series of revelations that bring both the protagonist and the town to life. Often, the act of observing changes everything, as when Maria scans the whole town through the different lens of a powerful telescope and discovers more beneath Brookville's surface than it appears. Still waters run deep. So do the undercurrents of horror that permeate many of the residents of Brookville... a special brand of reflection that translates to a disturbingly good read where the extraordinary that flows beneath the surface of everyday life is closer than readers might think.

Welcome to Brookville is the perfect choice for horror readers who like their stories steeped in strong psychological profiles of town and residents alike. It's especially recommended to those who can't resist looking over their shoulder for the sense that something may lay in wait just behind them (in this case, a frighteningly good read).

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Kings and Killers
EJ Liston
Independently Published
ASIN: B08TJ5FW2C, $2.99 Kindle

Kings and Killers is a novel about Leatherneck Marines, a troop of friends, colleagues, and fighters, and is a tale of vengeance and confrontation that hooks readers with a military opener before moving into civilian life. The timeline of events moves back and forth and is clearly defined by chapter headings, so readers receive a fine interplay between past events and present-day concerns. As characters become involved with the Mayan Kings gang headed by Nero (son of the Bravo Cartel leader known as El Rey), connections evolve between closely-held secrets, murderers, and a military brotherhood of comrades who embark on dangerous confrontations that hold life-changing ramifications for each group member. As bodies pile up and the Kings wreck their own special brand of havoc, romance and kidnapping challenge each character's perspective and struggles. As the Devils embark on raids in LA's slums, the battle becomes personal in a way that military service as Raider platoon members has well prepared them for. Thriller readers who enjoy the changing milieu of a military brotherhood recast in urban American streets will relish the confrontations, adversity, and challenges of Devils and Killers alike. Their streetwise exploits come to life in action-packed, gritty chapters. From the narrator's sibling codependence to his evolving powerful group and their confrontations with a deadly gang of seasoned killers, Kings and Killers excels in presenting a fast-paced story and especially in its descriptions of the challenges of a brotherhood fostered abroad, brought home to continue evolving on the streets of LA. Its powerful series of escapades are especially recommended reading for those with a prior affinity for the Marine oath of fealty to lasting brotherhood and loyalty.

A. A. Freda
9781663212207, $31.99 HC, $20.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 328pp

Qisas adds to the adventures of Sam and James, and will appeal to thriller audiences - especially those who have appreciated the approaches and interactions of the duo in prior books in the series. Armed terrorists have staked out a Texas church, but James Coppi has arrived ahead of them. The Middle Eastern terrorists' efforts is only the beginning of the struggle in Qisas as James and Sam continue to face encounters with princes, terrorists, and a personal vendetta from an adversary who, defeated twice, has become even more determined to place the duo in his murderous crosshairs. Where is the justice for the victims of the church shooting? Can James overcome his neophyte status in this strange milieu of domestic and international terrorism in time to thwart another planned bloodbath? While newcomers to Sam and James will find Qisas accessible, it's the prior reader familiar with their initial encounters in the Middle East with princes and this particular adversary who will find Qisas an excellent, logical follow-up to events that offers the ongoing saga's next chapter. As in the past, the action is tense and nicely depicted. The evolving relationships, confrontations, and tension is as strong as the psychological pulls and plays between the characters. This creates a compelling story filled with twists, turns, and unexpected surprises that even seasoned thriller enthusiasts won't see coming. As a Russian plot in Afghanistan plays out, James finds himself at a pivot point not only in his own life, but in the broader world arena. And he has no plans to back off, even if it means that a president is disgruntled by his choices. The blend of political and social intrigue is satisfying and absorbing, making this story not just a riveting expansion of the Sam and James milieu, but a compelling addition to adventures that continue to challenge James' most valuable asset of all...Sam. Prior fans are in for another treat!

Standing on a Whale
B.J. Tiernan
Independently Published
9781499296600, $14.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 414pp

Standing on a Whale is a psychological mystery that opens with an intriguing epiphany: "My life had been in danger before, so I was used to it. I stood perfectly still and waited."

Dr. Lance Stavros is not yet fifty, but is contemplating suicide when he received a mysterious invitation to become the personal physician to a strange spiritual teacher who resides in Greece. He never expected to fall not only under the spell of this mystical leader, but into the bad graces of authorities who dislike the message and the group's evolution, and who seek to neutralize it. Long used to cultivating a superficial perspective about life and others that keeps him at a safe distance, Lance finds himself unusually immersed in a situation that calls upon his skills both as a physician and as a survivor. Even newfound friends remark on the influence Hadden has had upon his attitude towards life. Lance used to believe in a personal god. Now he views spirituality as more of an energy force in life - one that has brought him into a novel world and demanded of him new approaches to handling adversity and adventure. With this comes a different kind of fear not for himself, but for his mentor. To call B.J. Tiernan's work a mystery alone would be to do this story's depth an injustice. It's a spiritual and psychological thriller that moves into realms of transformation and discovery, juxtaposing its intrigue with evolving relationships and new ways of approaching life. The result is a multi-faceted thriller that blends New Age philosophy and spiritual concepts into the story of a physician who not only finds himself, but heals himself and those around him in an intriguing, often dangerously different manner. Thriller readers as well as those who enjoy New Age intrigue will find Standing on a Whale an engrossing story of standing on the precipice of change and danger alike.

A Time for Monsters
Gareth Worthington
Vesuvian Books
9781645480693, $17.95 PB; $9.99 Kindle, 332pp

A Time for Monsters provides a tense serial killer thriller that centers on two powerful components: an emotionless female murderer who only experiences feelings when she hears music; and a detective who is at a low point in his career, who is tasked with finding her before she kills again. The interplay between these characters and the depth of psychological inspection Gareth Worthington employs in the course of their cat-and-mouse game creates a story that excels in a gripping 'you are there' atmosphere as killer Reyna Blackburn carries out her deadly revenge. Powerful connections between music and murder are drawn through an internal play list of songs Rey reviews as she is driven to her deadly purposes. Readers who find their lives similarly spiced with song will relate to Rey's music-driven world on many levels, and will find compelling the link between her past, her present-day choices, and the music that drives her actions. Arne Huakaas seems the least likely investigator to get at the heart of this perp savant. Arne has lost everything, from his family to his career. This last mission is about the only goal he has left - to redeem himself. And Rey knows too much about it. Set on a particular form of vengeance and a special brand of redemption, Rey and Arne's purposes clash in a last dangerous game that tests both of their life perceptions and resolves. Thriller readers will find the interplay between two disparate, deadly, pitiful forces to be psychologically astute and thoroughly engrossing. Who is the monster and who is the hero? Both characters are driven by the horrors they have perpetuated in their lives, and by the consequences of choices that continue to resonate in the lives of others. As Worthington builds his story towards an unpredictable conclusion, the emotional strings of heartbreak, heartache, loneliness, and the driving forces behind serial killers and those who would stop them contributes to a powerful account. Can either character find peace or redemption through their actions and interactions with one another? This international crime story is simply riveting as it edges towards its unexpected conclusion and an unlikely semi-heroic final action from the ultimate anti-hero.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Bob Jenkins
Independently Published
9781733865340, $17.99 PB, $7.99 Kindle, 443pp

This third book in the Daughters of Kali Yuga fantasy series is set fifty years after the cataclysm that has decimated the planet and tells of Leatherfoot, a nomad girl whose life revolves around eluding her demon father Kali as she explores what's left of Western America. Kali's attempt at total destruction has not been successful, as people remain who could resurrect civilization once again, and Leatherfoot is an active part of this world's efforts.

Set in 52 A.K. (After Kali) in Oregon, in the Shiva Puri village featured in previous series titles, the story opens with a powerful scene of a woman creeping, camouflaged, and an internal dialogue that reflects an altered language which has changed over the years ("Could it be done? Perhaps, by someone with astonishing speed and baffling sneakery. Don't matter if I get ketched, do it? My village, ain't it? But being ketched would spoil the prank."). She's regarded as a roughneck and more, but as she falls from the sky into the village where her mother Janabai Shepherd lives, readers realize that any preconceptions about Leatherfoot's place in the world is not as simple as they might have expected from her introductory observations.

At this point, given the changing perspectives and scenarios, it's evident that Leatherfoot is not your usual staid dystopian scenario. From the village of Shiva Puri and its powerful women and survivors to the long-term effects of a demon who has changed the world (but not quite succeeded in his ambitions to destroy it), there are many subplots and personalities wound into this survival saga that set it apart from other dystopian tales.

Changing points of view are an intrinsic device Bob Jenkins employs to fully explore the motivations, personalities, and attitudes of all the characters. These range from mother Janabai's relationship to her strange daughter Leatherfoot to Kali's ongoing presence in and influence on the world. Much as Janabai wants to assure her daughter that her father is dead, she knows this is not true, and that dangerous challenges remain.

As Kali builds a new Corps with Marine gunnery sergeant Lucia Guererro ("Gunny"), a host of powerful new characters are introduced that ultimately challenge Leatherfoot's relationships and future. Leatherfoot's personal recitations, as well as the reflections and descriptions of those around her, are identified in chapter headings which make it easy to move between characters and events. It's especially refreshing to have these different perspectives because they not only lend alternating viewpoints about unfolding events, but serve to neatly frame Leatherfoot's colloquial language, which would have been harder to digest had the entire story been presented in her words alone.

Profiled as they are, these observations become an intrinsic, interesting part of a story that presents its changing scenarios through a diverse set of voices. Leatherfoot's courage, abilities, and journey will entrance a wide audience - especially prior readers of the Shiva Puri village's struggles to survive. As the story of love, courage, survival, and transformation evolves, fantasy readers will relish the unique post-apocalyptic scenarios and lives that move through the seasons and ultimately celebrate humanity ("In this hard world, you take comfort when it's offered.") as Leatherfoot faces a journey that takes her away from her life purpose and into unexpected territory.

Fantasy readers are in for another treat as Bob Jenkins expands his original, compelling world with an unforgettable, powerful character who finds and confronts her place in it.

Let There be Dragons
Janet Post
Tell-Tale Publishing Group
9781952020063, $25.00 PB, $4.95 Kindle, 406pp

In the post-apocalyptic world of Let There Be Dragons, dragons, elves, vampires and demons are in a war over control of the Earth. In this world, dragon rider Annabelle (Belle) is on a mission to rescue her sister from the demon Slygon. Saving the world is actually the second task on her list. The first-person protagonist who opens this story is Jackal, the half-breed elf progeny of an orc rape who has been sent away for safety (elves are racists, and don't believe in mixing blood) to a small mountain village in what was once Arkansas, to be raised in relatively safety (if any safe havens exist).

As Janet Post walks readers through this world, many familiar names of former human abodes are presented, such as New Orleans - but with different landscapes and new reputations for danger. This lends to a story that feels both familiar and unfamiliar, in many ways, creating a backdrop that keeps readers on their toes as this revised society comes to life. A host of characters evolve; from Belle, who holds the threatening ability to draw evil to her and thus is treated differently by nuns and hated by her peers until she's ready to enter the world as a warrior, to fairies and mythical creatures who join in her rescue mission.

The changing viewpoints and first-person inspections of this universe bring it to life and create a fast-paced adventure story. In it, Belle comes to learn new truths about Jackal and her newfound friends, as well as her widening mission beyond her sister's well-being. Replete with battles, identity crises and self-examination, and stories of courage and adaptation, Let There Be Dragons captures the imagination. Scenarios develop that embraces prejudices, cultural differences, city Magic and Gifts, and Belle's fierce anger, which drives her mission and leads her to confront elf games and prejudice alike.

As this disparate group of heroes interacts with and changes the world around them, readers will enjoy bracing clashes and adventures that drive each character to grow beyond their original vision of their purpose in life. Can loving a half-orc place the entire elf kingdom in disarray? How can prejudices be set aside if values are intrinsically tied to their existence and, thus, to the attitudes and lives of entire races?

Janet Post creates a compelling story that holds not just nonstop action and clashes, but interpersonal transformations that hold powerful implications for the continued existence of the world. Fantasy fans will find the many underlying themes of confrontation and adaptation in Let There Be Dragons makes for a compelling, thought-provoking story that takes action and adventure into realms of psychological, philosophical, and ethical examination.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

The Silver Thread of Life
Phillip Bruce Chute, EA
Independently Published
9781732885523, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 183pp

The Silver Thread of Life: True Accounts of Spiritual Interventions collects true stories contributed by those who experienced spiritual events that changed their lives. It covers a wide range of topics, from spiritual intervention and communication with spirits to evidences of spiritual forces in daily life. These experiences traverse various belief systems, from karma and reincarnation to spirit connections between family members, soulmates, and friends.

Such a wide range of spiritual topics are touched upon here that some might think the collection too wide-ranging. It opens, for example, with an introductory example about the miracle of the transmission of pain from one person to another and moves into broader topics, with individual experiences fueling discussions of their spiritual components. Evidence is reviewed about how each encounter represents spiritual forces at work and what this means for better understanding the spiritual foundations underlying daily life.

While the variety and scope of these case histories create a diverse inspection, Philip Chute weaves together these seemingly disparate experiences into a unified observation of diverse spiritual directions and their evidence in life. This approach reinforces the notion that there is more than one way that God injects his presence into peoples' worlds. As readers absorb both Chute's experiences and the process of collecting these connected spiritual encounters, they receive a powerful testimony to how spiritual forces appear in life, in many different ways.

The lives affected by these revelations and interventions are compellingly presented, enhanced by Chute's attention to their interpretation. The result will cross new age and traditional spiritual boundaries alike, revealing the processes by which God and spirit influence everyday life circumstances to effect change, contemplation, and support.

Religious collections will find The Silver Thread of Life a powerful testimony to this process.

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phone: 1-707-795-4629

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