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California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 4 April 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Health/Medicine Shelf Environmental Studies Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Midnight Dancer
Robert Rubenstein
Independently Published
9798776037061, $17.76 Hardcover/$10.97 Paper

Midnight Dancer is a dystopian thriller that blends several genre approaches (the futuristic sitting of a world gone awry with a detective story). It tells of the physically and mentally altered Jack Justice, whose very evident wires cross in more than one way to keep his fellow inspectors at a distance.

As the dystopian satire evolves, readers are treated to a tale that is sexually graphic, intellectually thought-provoking, and socially intriguing as Jack Justice grows tentacles and wires that defy removal as he grows up. Is he a monster, or a man? Are his connections a curse or a blessing in disguise?

Jack operates in a milieu made for his talents, yet he is uncertain about his abilities. Robert Rubenstein takes the time to describe this crime-busting entity of the future: "Crimes were many and divided into categories. Each had its own offices in the one hundred units housed inside nuclear bomb proof facilities. From within, detectors could sense poisons, terrorist acts from artists, civics groups, and the environmentalists. A never-ending campaign infiltrated the ugly slabs thought to have marred the neighborhood and made property values almost worthless. The building angered the Chinese because it ignored a thoroughfare to Chinatown, and although the city agreed to have more greenery where the machine guns and other security bunkers were placed, 1Police Plaza remained a blot on the memory trace; an ugly piece-of-shit landscape that loomed large in the swirling black rain."

Descriptions of violence, death, disasters, and sexuality are graphic, making Midnight Dancer a cautionary tale for those who are easily emotionally triggered by blunt, candid descriptions that pull no punches. Even as some audiences will find this futuristic dystopian world challenging, others will delight in the powerful descriptions which capture Jack's purpose and movements: "The scent of twenty young women, though, brought him into a cold sweat. He could bed them altogether. And not be satisfied by any of them. They would be too hot, too cold, too strong. For what he wanted and craved above all else had nothing to do with sex."

Can passion and love kill, or can it awaken a new form of destiny to lift the blinders from Jack's eyes? And, what does it mean to be male or female, in love or fighting invisible boundaries, both physical and mental? As Dr. Rico Starks and Jack Justice question the nature of love, lust, and demons within, each presents different perspectives on the nature of devils and angels which are disturbing and thought-provoking alike.

Rubenstein presents a complex, stark portrait of a man loose in a world which feels at once unfamiliar and all too familiar. The overlays of a detective story, a sexual exploration, and a social commentary evolve to create a darkly introspective dystopian saga that is particularly recommended for readers who like their futuristic literature multifaceted and filled with graphic depictions of cultural norms gone awry.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

Your Health Is At Risk
Dr. John Poothullil, MD, FRCP
New Insights Press
9781735934471, $12.95

Your Health Is at Risk: How to Navigate Information Chaos to Prevent Lifestyle Diseases is about understanding and critically analyzing health information. It is as much about the methods and dangers of disinformation and misinformation in the health industry as it is about how to maintain health and prevent 'lifestyle diseases' such as diabetes.

Each chapter deals with an example of disinformation, misinformation, or even missing information about a specific condition that, when people are misled, can become a serious lifestyle disease. In one chapter, for example, it discusses how intentional disinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines has led to resurgence after resurgence of the pandemic. In another chapter, it contains new insights and thinking that will prove especially intriguing to diabetics, as diabetes is one major example of disinformation that is reconsidered here by Dr. Poothullil's approach. Common medical perspectives hold that Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, with medical treatments revolving around this premise.

In fact, Dr. Poothullil maintains that this fallacy has resulted in popular drug regimens and treatments which worsen the problem because they are based on illogical premises and conclusions. In this case, his "fatty acid burn theory" addresses better the common puzzles of diabetes than the insulin resistance theory, such as the fact that even in-control diabetics with good blood sugars still often experience long-term effects. This is just one example of how health misinformation has guided treatments and resulted in conclusions and approaches to health that have long-term detrimental impacts on patients.

All is not lost, however. Dr. Poothullil maintains that savvy diabetics (and others) can take control of their own health. From missing information on the promotion of whole grains to the lack of information about cholesterol management, Dr. Poothullil draws clear connections between misinformation and conclusions that lead to more drug use as a solution, when good health could lie just as easily in a patient's hands through changes in diet and lifestyle.

The book does not limit itself to diabetes alone. It also explains disinformation and misinformation about the pandemic, as well as about obesity, cancer, and heart disease. In each case, disinformation and misinformation cause people to make poor choices that can lead to these lifestyle diseases.

Dr. Poothullil also provides recommendations for how the government and media companies can prevent disinformation and misinformation.

Yes, Your Health Is at Risk offers intriguing food for thought for individuals and professionals concerned about health, but it should be included in any collection strong in critical thinking about self-care choices. Health is often at risk not just because of illness, but due to the ways in which the medical community defines, analyzes, and offers solutions.

The Environmental Studies Shelf

California Land Use & Planning Law
Cecily Talbert Barclay, author
Matthew S. Gray, author
Solano Press
PO Box 773, Point Arena, CA 95468
9781938166334, $110.00, PB, 676pp

Synopsis: For over three decades, "California Land Use & Planning Law" has provided a succinct and definitive summary of the major provisions of California's land use and planning laws. It has been cited by the California Supreme Court and numerous appellate courts as an authoritative source.

This 37th edition summarizes two years of published decisions, statutory revisions and other agency policies and guidance, including: Analysis of the multiple legislative changes designed to promote housing development and further constrain local agency authority to disapprove housing projects that are consistent with the General Plan and zoning (chapter 15) Discussion of changes to the Elections Code removing the ability of initiative proponents to compel consideration of a measure at a special election (chapter 13) Discussion of numerous cases decided under CEQA addressing when the requirement to comply with CEQA is triggered, the types of impacts required to be evaluated under CEQA, application of exemptions and exceptions thereto, evaluation of climate change and energy impacts, and the scope of alternatives to be identified (chapter 6) Analysis of the continued uncertainty over the definition of the "waters of the United States" for determining federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act and the ongoing regulatory efforts to formulate a new definition (chapter 7)

Analysis of new case law on the listing and delisting of species under the federal and California Endangered Species Acts, and new federal policies and regulations on the protection of critical habitat (chapter 8) Analysis of toughened statewide goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and indications from the California Supreme Court that more stringent regulations and evolving science will affect the analysis of climate change impacts under CEQA (chapter 16) Discussion of case law upholding use of Mello-Roos tax imposed as a condition of approval of new residential development to finance a range of governmental services and facilities (chapter 12) Analysis of case law confirming there is no "discovery rule" that delays CEQA statutory deadlines until the plaintiff knows of the existence of a claim (chapter 19) Discussion of the Pfeiffer-McDougal rule and the circumstances when proceeding with development authorized with a permit results in waiver of objections to permit conditions (chapter 19) For 27 years,

Critique: Authoritative, comprehensive, expertly organized and presented, this new 37th edition of "California Land Use & Planning Law" continues to be a welcome, essential, and core addition to professional, governmental, community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading and reference lists that "California Land Use & Planning Law" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $55.00).

Editorial Note: Dan Curtin authored 37th edition of "California Land Use & Planning Law" as a desk reference for those interested in California land use and planning law. Cecily Barclay joined Dan as a co-author in 2000 and worked with him to continually update the book based on their own and their partners' decades of experience representing both public agencies and private developers. Following Dan's passing in November 2006, Matt joined Cecily (first as Managing Editor and later as co-author) in preserving and expanding upon the legacy Dan started with this book. Like all editions published since his passing, 37th edition is once again dedicated to Dan.

Natural Resource Regulation in California
Clark Morrison, author
Scott B. Birkey, author
Solano Press
PO Box 773, Point Arena, CA 95468
9781938166310, $135.00, PB, 634pp

Synopsis: "Natural Resource Regulation in California: A Practical Guide to Agency Permitting and Procedures" is a primary resource for lawyers, students, teachers, planners, biologists, resource managers, local government officials, consultants, members of the public seeking an understanding of the complexities of state and federal wetlands and endangered species permitting in California.

"Natural Resource Regulation in California" is useful guide that offers both a broad perspective and detailed information on the agencies, laws, regulations, and policies that govern the permitting process.

The topics comprising "Natural Resource Regulation in California" include: Threatened and endangered species (state and federal); Avian, plant, and fish protections (state and federal); California fully protected and other special status species; Wetlands and other waters of the United States; California's new wetlands definition and dredge and fill procedures for waters of the State; Rivers, streams, and lakes under the California Fish and Game Code; Conservation easements, mitigation banks and other mitigation structures; Conservation planning (HCPs, NCCPs, RCISs); Cultural resources under the National Historic Preservation Act and other statutes; California bay and coastal resource protection; and the public trust doctrine.

Critique: Impressively comprehensive, organized and presented, "Natural Resource Regulation in California: A Practical Guide to Agency Permitting and Procedures" is recommended as an essential and core addition to California governmental, community, college and university library Environmental Law collections.

The General Fiction Shelf

Pasta Mike
Andrew Cotto
Black Rose Writing
9781684338658, $16.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Pasta Mike is a novella about male friendship, loss, and mental illness, and follows Andrew Cotto's survey of his 40-year friendship with another man, which ends suddenly when Mike dies. This prompts a spiral into depression which holds no easy resolution as Andrew struggles with the loss of a friendship that can never be replaced. It's also a review of a somewhat idyllic New York childhood, the close bonds of boys who differed in ethnicity but shared so much that it felt like they were brothers, and a survey of how that bond began, evolved, was broken, and continued unexpectedly. As adulthood brings girlfriends and wives, teaching jobs, and new experiences, the two remain firmly bonded by roots and interactions that keep their friendship alive on a different level.

Abruptly changed and challenged by death, Andrew seeks to avoid the memories that once gave him strength. As his trajectory spirals downward, readers receive a solid examination of this process: "The routines, so to speak, both good (writing every day) or bad (getting shit-faced each night and taking cigarette walks) kept me occupied somewhat as each day became an exercise in avoidance. Memories of Mike interrupted me throughout the day, and especially when my guard was down during times of either not being immersed in creativity or succored by liquor. The experience was relentless as it was jarring, just a normal moment alone or in front of a class or talking to someone else, when a thought of Mike would arrive and ruin everything. I assumed this was a temporary condition, a phase of grief that I was entitled to because we had so many memories, and that, eventually, this "new normal" I kept hearing about from people who spoke of grief would arrive like a new day and the life I previously enjoyed would return, minus a key figure, of course, but livable nonetheless."

At once a journey through friendship's bonds, their disintegration, and Andrew's process of moving beyond the pain, Pasta Mike represents a study in emotional growth from beginning to end that holds its roots in connections and love.

Biographical fiction seldom emerges as poignantly and powerfully as in Pasta Mike. Blend a first-person memoir format with the embellishing drama of fiction and the psychology of interpersonal relationships and self-examination for a winning story that men and women alike will find compelling, revealing, and hard to put down. While its novella format translates to library interest for fiction collections, ideally Pasta Mike will be included in discussion groups about men's friendships and mental health during grief. It's a powerful saga that grabs and doesn't let go.

Beauty Abides
Robert Albo
Independently Published
9798784246547, $14.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Book 2 in the series Her Dark Matter Necklace is just as evocative a work of metaphysical, visionary fiction as its predecessor, and continues the saga of a teenage orphan destined to become humanity's savior. Or, is she? Alice holds doubts about her self, her destiny, and her future. It's been three months since events placed her in a position of fame, and since she survived what happened to her father.

Newcomers to this story will find that Robert Albo succinctly recaps these past events, winding them into the story's opening lines a manner that will remind prior readers of the past while educating newcomers about Alice's background.

This approach to building the present plot on the foundations of past experiences makes Beauty Abides accessible to all and neatly dovetails with a story that evolves as Alice confronts her deepest fears, more metaphysical events, and the evolution of her changed position among her peers, new friends, and more.

One feature to note as the story moved forward is that Alice isn't your typical spunky character filled with self-confidence. Indeed, her doubts power this story of her pursuit of an uncertain destiny. She questions everything around her -- most of all, her changed role and evolving position of power.

As the government's Project Dark Knight (a fifth force electromagnetic beam that breaks the matter/dark matter bond, effectively dissolving any matter it touches) proceeds, Alice finds herself in the center of a tumultuous struggle that calls upon her newfound strengths, powers, and yet-new sense of self and purpose. Her efforts to make the blossoming Community of Beauty successful against all odds places her in increasing positions of self-awareness and connection that hold important lessons for the rest of the world.

Albo's attention to psychological development and detail create just as compelling a story as its predecessor. The direction, purpose, and consequences of failure are clearly outlined to Alice: "Humanity has two futures. One is love, compassion, and the arts. The other is unenlightened self-interest that results in human misery for the majority, abundant worldly pleasures for the few, and the destruction of natural beauty. The conditions for success have never been better and the repercussions for failure have never been worse...You and your world, society, and technology are at a crossroads. Either come together around a common purpose or remain fragmented in selfishness. This is your last shot for change."

The tension, action, metaphysical encounters, and social and political descriptions are very nicely done, creating a story that will appeal to a wide age range, from teenagers to adult readers, and across genres, from fantasy to fiction. Its multifaceted approach makes Beauty Abides a winning read that operates both as a stand-alone story and as a fitting addition to the series, ending in a cliffhanger to be continued in the next story.

Death, the Pharmacist
D. Ike Horst
Atmosphere Press
9781639882274, $16.99

Death takes many forms in different stories, but in Death, the Pharmacist, Death runs the "ever-white way station that was his pharmacy" and caters to beings who "...appeared day after day to pick up their daily dose of life essence, and it was a single-minded pursuit that required nothing but the innate desire to continue one's existence."

If you are not just taking but distributing life, your perspective about those around you is different. It takes a miracle to change that certainty about life and death. It takes Robinette, a human who breaks into Death's worldview and purposes, to change him. She sees through him with a clarity that astonishes even the seasoned Death, who has presumably seen and heard everything in life and death. As he embarks on a journey to explore unnatural alterations, nature, and his other self, readers move through Death and a life that revises his view of mortals as relatively mindless beings. Perhaps he owes more to them than doling out demises.

As readers emerge from the sheltered and set world of Death's pharmacy into the greater world with Death and Robinette, they receive a delightful blend of philosophical inspection and insights that traverse immortal and mortal concerns alike. Readers will enjoy the special brand of psychological and philosophical inspection that may assume the form of Death, but ultimately rises to become something very different.

D. Ike Horst creates a fine story of a paradigm changing series of events to show that even a centuries-old perspective set in stone can be changed. His is a thought-provoking read that injects contemplative, novel circumstances with a sense of fun and self-inspection to create a delightful interplay between fictional exploration and spiritual and social inspection. Death, the Pharmacist simply delights. It is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in an uncommon opportunity for a figurehead of demise to "be a better vision of himself" against all odds and definitions.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Between Fortitude and Folly
K. Partridge
Argive Press
9780578577364, $16.95

Historical fiction readers with a special interest in nautical history in general and the USS Pope in particular will find Between Fortitude and Folly just the ticket for an engaging blend of fiction and nonfiction. It's the story of a good but ordinary man who, because of a moment of moral weakness, is swept up in global warfare.

The book opens with a diagram of the USS Pope and a comparison of vessel types, facts about ocean-going warships of the Asiatic fleet, and notes about navigation technicalities and the historical roots of the story that follows.

An expanded "Historicity of Between Fortitude and Folly" appears on the publisher's website, but an additional overview of the fictional and nonfiction elements in this book is also featured, making the prefaces somewhat lengthy before the action begins in Part 1: Cavite. With a few more real-world black and white photos to navigate, fiction readers embark on a journey of discovery about the men, women, history, and events that surrounded the Pope.

Given all the attention to nonfiction detail provided in the opening salvo, readers might expect the fictional representations will be more fact-filled and less dramatic. Not so. K. Partridge demonstrates an ability to move from fact to high drama as dialogue and encounters between Jack De Vries and others move from weapons specs and nautical description to action and relationship-building efforts.

The Far East is heating up, and with it come new challenges, obstacles, and opportunities as the men and women participating in the war come to life. In particular, the events change the nature of the relationships between Jack, Australian signal woman Margaret Martin and younger signal woman Dorothy Walker, and Jack's newborn baby Jacqueline, which turns out to be a surprise part of his mission and life.

The dialogue is particularly realistic: "I wanted to tell you," said the captain - "and please pass it on - what a wonderful job you men did. You scared the bee-Jesus out of those Jap dive bombers. They took to releasing their bombs so high, they only came near us once; and if I hadn't guessed wrong on that eleventh bomb and had steered to starboard instead of port, we might have gotten away - " With no segue, he shifted the metatarsal where it should be, making Seaman Botsky yelp. "Ahh! Jesus, Mary, and friggin' Joseph, that hurt!"

As the characters experience crazy encounters that threaten the Pope's survival, the engagements and concerns of these military figures come to life. Although in their early twenties, signal women Walker and Martin prove key participants in a story that revolves around missions of mercy and lessons in survival and love.

Nobody plans on becoming part of history. As these characters become caught up in a whirlwind of action beyond their experience and abilities to easily navigate, the "good old ship Pope" serves as a backdrop for not just evolving military struggles, but changing hearts and minds.

Partridge gives close attention to describing the military engagements of the times, contrasting these with the concerns, lives, and choices of a crew determined to preserve their ship and their lives against all odds. He provides equally solid inspections of these men and women who find themselves ensnared and boxed in by circumstances beyond their control. Although the fictional component brings high drama to life, the many nonfiction elements that form the story's foundation makes Between Fortitude and Folly highly recommended not just for military novel or history readers, but for nonfiction audiences who would pursue true-life accounts of naval history in general and the USS Pope's personnel and experiences in particular.

Library collections strong in World War II stories should consider Between Fortitude and Folly a "must have" acquisition.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

One Day at a Time
A.K. Frailey
Independently Published
9798494792242, $14.00 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

One Day at a Time And Other Stories is a collection of short works about modern life that speak about letting go, stepping up, and dealing with family and friends alike. It's a study in relationships that pinpoints moments of discovery, revelation, and understanding which are undercurrents running through life events.

Take "Welfare and Well Being," for example. Here, an Assistant Dean, husband, and father faces an up-and-coming award and recognition that suddenly changes, on his glory day, to utter loss. Five years later, in an unexpected twist, this portent of doom is transformed by a simple decision. "Your Prayer," in contrast, presents another wonderful day gone awry as Kelog decides to come home early to help his wife prepare for a big family gathering, only to find disaster awaiting him. He should be praying. He should be doing something different than simply absorbing the stunning moment with strangers in attendance. But, would prayers really make a difference?

The surprising outcome of Kelog's horrible day provides gentle food for thought. Indeed, these are the nuggets of each story: wisdom and food for thought that take succinct moments of discovery and trials and turns them into opportunities for transformation on different levels.

One Day at a Time And Other Stories is about the kinds of revelations and awakenings that lie in love, to quietly change relationships and individuals alike. The collection creates an evocative set of separate yet somehow psychologically interconnected life scenarios that explore good intentions, real-world situations, and acts of quiet love, desperation, and redemption.

Readers interested in solid psychological inspections of intention, purpose, and changing perspectives presented as succinct, hard-hitting slices of life will relish the literary and psychological attractions of One Day at a Time And Other Stories.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Wind Out of Time
Rhema Sayers
Atmosphere Press
9781639881413, $19.99

Wind Out of Time provides a blend of historical mystery and thriller that winds a time travel experience into an adventure that's hard to put down. When FBI Special Agent Andrea Schilling began her pursuit of a terrorist, she had no idea the trail would lead them both through a portal in time; there to embark on a journey that leads her through the kitchens of King Arthur's court in the 5th century.

Finding a way home is only one of the new challenges that await her there. Equally difficult is navigating the lecherous knights of the times in a court that proves a far cry from the Camelot of legend. Can one woman from the future remake not only a fading castle and king, but the legacy they are destined to leave for generations to come?

Author Rhema Sayers writes vivid descriptions and includes humor in many of the events: "He went down on one knee, and there was a collective gasp from the crowds. "My lady Andrea of Merica, will you consent to be my wife and queen, and take me as your husband and king?" Then he searched around in his tunic for a time, almost looking like he had an itch. He brought out a brilliant gold ring with a ruby that looked to be the size of a baseball and offered it to her." The last thing Andrea expected was to be engaged. The last thing she wanted was to embark on a new quest with Ardur, Merlin, and other characters similar to the classic King Arthur story, but presented in a different way.

As romance, action, quests, and discoveries evolve, Sayers creates a satisfying blend of history, mystery, and interpersonal relationship interactions that are affected by Andrea's futuristic worldviews. When does a queen carry a Glock in 5th Century England? When she is not just trapped in the past, but stands at the center of a whirlwind of action and controversy that sweeps her and her readers into a storm of unexpected new conundrums.

Most time travel stories focus on an effort to return home or resolve a past puzzle that affects the future. Having a time travel historical novel where the protagonist is charged with building a new life and recreating the world to be a better place makes for an involving, different story. Wind Out of Time will appeal to a larger audience than either historical novel, mystery, or time-travel sci-fi readers alone, and is highly recommended for library collections seeing patron traffic in any of these subjects.

The Long Way Home
Betta Ferrendelli
Independently Published
9798798115525, $11.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Fans of reporter Samantha Church and her prior mystery-solving style will relish her return in The Long Way Home, while newcomers to her world will find quite accessible this story of a reporter haunted by her co-worker and friend's death, who embarks on a journey of healing and self-discovery.

Sam becomes even more involved in Hunter's world as she decides to track down his missing younger sister, whom he never got to know. Her guilt over his death, constant preoccupation over a different outcome had she made better choices during their last investigation, and her grief all motivate her to embark on an impossible search that Hunter himself was not successful in undertaking. Sam is well aware of the ramifications of her ongoing grief and the difficulty in resolving it with a new case, however personal.

Hunter often told her how much he wanted to reunite with his sibling, the only family he had left. As Sam embarks on her quest for resolution, she unwittingly opens a can of worms that lead full circle from romance and loss back to her own life, where another love connection waits in the wings. Betta Ferrendelli does an outstanding job of seamlessly weaving past and present with future choices, impacts, and new possibilities.

While prior fans will have a sense of what could await Sam during the course of her journey, newcomers will find her character delightful, the evolving mystery thought-provoking, and the possibility of redemption intriguing. The story adopts just the right pace: involving, without sacrificing attention to solid characterization and details that keep readers thoroughly immersed in Sam's life and conundrums.

Libraries strong in mysteries which center on character growth and interpersonal relationships will find The Long Way Home a study in both self-realization and suspense that lingers in the mind long after Sam has touched her own truths and possibilities about a revised life.

The Sentinels: Requital
Cassandra Davis
D&S Publishing
9798985168617, $13.50 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The Sentinels: Requital tells of a college student on the road to success before her parents' murders leave her alone and broke.

Reed Investments is run by a rich family that has more than money-making on their minds. Their pursuit of Vivian and offer of her employment as a systems administrator was fostered by career match-maker and goodwill giver Father John -- but even he doesn't know what he's done when he unknowingly matches Vivian with questionable Nicholas.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, because Vivian's entry into a position that brings her into contact with one of Seattle's most rich and notorious families evolves into an encounter with secrets that threaten to change not just her life, but the world.

The Sentinels: Requital blends elements of dystopian fiction, murder mystery, and suspense thriller as it follows Vivian's evolution from a sheltered student to a potential power player in a game she is ill equipped to handle.

Author Cassandra Davis provides a riveting account that moves through corporate circles, crime scenes, and Vivian's changing world. As Vivian becomes a pawn in more than one high-stakes game, Nicholas Reed finds himself involved in Vivian's future in more than one way, participating in a cat-and-mouse game that hangs her life and his family secrets in the balance.

The characterization is well done, but it's the juxtaposition of action and intrigue that will keep readers thoroughly immersed and guessing at the outcome of Vivian's experiences. The Sentinels: Requital is not presented as a romance story per se, but there's also evolving romance injected into the plot to give it yet another compelling twist.

The result is a thriller recommended for suspense story readers who enjoy action and insights into complicated individuals and special interests. The story keeps Vivian and her readers on their toes and thoroughly engaged in the unexpected outcome of her choices.

Who, Me?
Charlotte Stuart
Taylor and Seale Publishing
9781950613700, $16.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Who, Me? Fog Bows, Fraud and Aphrodite is a "Macavity and Me" mystery set in a Seattle boating community and revolves around cat Macavity and her owner Bryn. They live on a sailboat in the marina where all seems sedate, but they face a new challenge when their neighbor becomes the suspect in a murder investigation.

Just because Bryn and Macavity don't like him doesn't mean that he's automatically guilty. And so they set out to investigate a complex life that leads to threats, betrayal, and the truth about Sabrina's unexpected demise. Sabrina was investigating a fraud case. Apparently, curiosity doesn't just drive the cat alone, because Bryn can't help tracing Sabrina's footsteps, even though they lead straight into danger.

Author Charlotte Stuart crafts an engaging mystery powered by the purrs and personality of a woman and her cat. She brings the cat's participation to life in a winning manner that even non-cat-fanciers will find appealing: "Macavity sensed something was up, and he was letting me know that he was pretty sure he wasn't going to like it by making noises deep down in his throat, not quite growling, but not exactly joyful burbling either. If he had known exactly what was going to happen the next day, he would have been furious. As it was, he was only at the pouting stage. Tomorrow he would rage."

As the two edge closer to the truth, readers will be thoroughly engaged not just by the mystery or the gal and her cat, but by evolving events that place Bryn in the position of assuming some small degree of responsibility for Sabrina's death. "Real life is full of loose ends. You just have to try your best to establish as much certainty as possible." Stuart neatly concludes her story while acknowledging that not all circumstances can be tidily tucked away.

Mystery fans who enjoy feline assistants will find Who, Me? a compelling story filled with satisfying twists and turns, changing interpersonal relationships, and a sense of discovery and charm which accents the usual sedate cozy mystery formula with the flavor of an animal story. Who, Me? is highly recommended for library mystery collections strong in cozy mysteries, for those who have already seen interest in other authors' cat-based adventures, and for readers who just want a fine, intriguing story that is quirky and fun.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The Sterling Gospel
Atticus Mullon
DartFrog Books
4697 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
9781956019100, $16.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

While one could call The Sterling Gospel a work of Christian fiction or history, it's featured here as an unusual, powerful work of sci-fi set in 2085 because it revolves around the conviction of a billionaire that the miracles performed by Jesus were actually demonstrations of high technology by a being from the future. Specifically, the billionaire's future is one in which he finances those famous miracles.

From this description, one might expect the story to open with a high-tech jolt; but The Sterling Gospel provides an initial surprise in following the actions of a petty thief who has made crime his new vocation. He lives with his mother, who believes he's still working daily at the valve factory. He's the last person on Earth who would seem to be the candidate for giving new hope to the world. And that's why twenty-seven-year-old Amir Saleh seems the perfect choice for billionaire William Sterling to introduce miracles to the ailing world of Jesus's times.

Author Atticus Mullon builds a powerful saga replete with not just spiritual but social inspection and considerations as it views a man rooted in poverty who receives the opportunity of a lifetime. Christians might find the premise a challenge, as it follows not just God's purpose in creating a Messiah, but a near-madman's intentions of injecting the past with an icon representing the source of these miracles, based on a technologically-rich future. Moral and ethical dilemmas arise as the story unfolds that will particularly enrich reader group discussions, secular or religious.

The dialogue between Amir and those in this distant past world bring its events and perceptions to life: "We are here to bring glory to the Most High. We Nazarenes serve the Father and have avoided His wrath by shunning sin. Yet, in our grass, we find you. A viper waiting with tools of hubris to bring sin to our ranks and wrath upon our people. Accordingly, you will be raised up, positioned in the sky so all can see that sin has no place here."

As Amir meets Jesus and comes to realize his strength and radical message, readers receive a powerful saga that juxtaposes faith, past and future world perceptions, and the origins of beliefs and possibilities that influence Jesus, Amir, and those around them.

As an author, Mullon provides a powerful, rich story that holds much food for thought and many discussion points about miracles, technology, the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, and historical events of the past. Much more than a sci-fi story but vastly different from the usual Christian fiction approach, The Sterling Gospel is highly recommended as a thought-provoking inspection of human and godly affairs that includes a dialogue between the deity and Amir that questions the foundations of power, influence, and faith: "In fact, there are some truths woven to the very fabric of being that are not a question of might, but rather of being."

Jestin Kase and the Masters of Dragon Metal
J. Michael White
Teer Publishing
9798985221305, $14.99 paper/$4.99 ebook

How can one individual make a difference in the world? Jestin Kase and the Masters of Dragon Metal presents an unlikely young hero in the battle between good and evil. He is Jestin Kase, a Chicago foster kid who finds himself drawn into a world of monsters, corruption, and the lure of Dragon Metal, an ancient magic that holds the key to mankind's future.

Young adult to adult fantasy readers may anticipate some of the trappings in this classic good/evil confrontation, but the proof of an exceptional story lies in how the author spins it. J. Michael White produces a vivid, creative tale that excels in both a spunky streetwise neo-hero and a wry sense of humor that permeates the action: "Apparently, the cops didn't like it when you burned down your foster home. Who knew? Police lights flashed across the dark streets as Jestin ran through the back alleys of Chicago. He pumped his legs as fast as he could, hopping over fences, dashing up and down fire escapes, and cutting across rooftops. His legs burned with fatigue, and his chest ached as his heart pounded. Christ, I need to get back into shape."

As compatriots Colt and Zadie lead Jestin into a demon-killing mission and they all face magical struggles that spill into human neighborhoods and realms, White creates a fast-paced story of confrontation and action that mirrors Jestin's roots as a foster child buffeted by events beyond his control.

The process of empowerment is revealed as Jestin learns new rules and possibilities and finds himself in a revised role that introduces new challenges ("He had to learn how to handle himself alone."). Part of the lure of this magical adventure lies in Jestin's growth process and realizations not just of revised realities, but his own strengths in confronting beings not of his familiar world. As demon powers, cursed auras, distracting friendships, and altered perceptions come to light, White crafts a fantasy adventure replete with both action and interpersonal connections. These grow insights on the parts of a wide range of characters that compliment Jestin's growth experience and newfound abilities.

These elements are flavored by the humor that runs throughout serious encounters to strengthen a story that rests on more than magical adventure alone. How can one individual make a difference in the world? Jestin and his readers learn about this process in a compelling saga that is both gripping and thought-provoking. Take a magical adventure and wind it into a story of evolving courage and revised perceptions for a taste of how Jestin Kase and the Masters of Dragon Metal helps foster a feeling of empowerment and ability in readers.

It's a story highly recommended for teenage to adult fantasy audiences who want their tales cemented by action, unexpected encounters, and thought-provoking emotional growth.

Baen Books
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471

Four new sci-fi books are top recommendations for discriminating readers looking for something new.

Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon's Generation Warriors (9781982125851, $16.00) tells of a starship captain and her grandmother who battle slavers with the help of a few friends who push against pirates and those who would benefit from the pain of others. The duo seems an unlikely force in a battle against injustice, but they are joined by exiles and would-be heroes who, together, present a formidable obstacle to the status quo.

Michael Mersault's The Deep Man (9781982125844, $16.00) tells of an intergalactic milieu which has enjoyed centuries of peace due to advanced technology from mysterious "Shapers." Few of the great Families have experienced battles and are ready to defend their kingdoms against threat. Luckily, Saef Sinclair-Maru clings to the old Honor Code and maintains a frigate that may prove the only key to successfully completing his efforts to restore his Family to honor and prevent disaster.

David Boop edits Gunfight on Europa Station (9781982125721, $16.00), a lively mix of space opera, weird West, and frontier stories presented by a range of notable authors such as Elizabeth Moon, Cat Rambo, Alan Dean Foster, and many more. Each story in this anthology adds another dimension to the frontier milieu that embeds tales with adventure, mystery, and even romance.

Tim Powers knocks it out of the dark with Stolen Skies (9781982125837, $26.00), and is especially recommended for fans of UFO stories. Here, the flying saucers are in Los Angeles and visitations indicate an invasion. Former secret service agent Sebastian Vickery might be the only man to thwart the threat, but the new knowledge he's learned about the UFOs pits him against his own people, who employ his old partner to work against him. Both are in the middle of an invasion controversy as they struggle to uncover the truth before it's too late.

These four new titles from Baen Books are all powerful collections that should be in any discriminating science fiction library.

The Poetry Shelf

Echo Ridge
Charles Dowling Williams
Independently Published
9781737639527, $15.95

Echo Ridge comes from Charles Dowling Williams, a Kentucky native son and poet who has mastered the fine art of haiku, presenting journal entries that reflect on nature, the seasons, and life in Kentucky. It's the perfect example of a sense of place combined with the haiku form's traditional inspection of the natural world, and captures intense imagery that is compellingly steeped in rural Kentucky: "donkeys flicking manes/switching their tails for blue flies/next, a fine "dust bath"."

Haiku that captures a geographic sense of place is not unusual for Japanese forms and readers, but having this applied to a different world in America offers a rare opportunity to appreciate this poetic form's ability to capture home atmosphere: "Easter pink and white/redbuds and dogwoods blooming/tired hummingbirds feast." From forests to farms, Charles Dowling Williams creates and captures evocative landscapes that are rich in Kentucky's lands and nature.

While Echo Ridge certainly belongs in any library collection strong in contemporary haiku or poetry, it's especially recommended for those which seek American-specific haiku written by native sons more than capable of employing the specific structure of haiku at its best.

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

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