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California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 8 August 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Health/Medicine Shelf Science Shelf
Philosophy Shelf General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf
Literary Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Poetry Shelf Biography Shelf Christian Studies Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide
Nancie Wiseman Attwater
Atmosphere Press
9781639883288, $17.99

Many books have been written about disability and life changes, but there's still room for many more on the subject of caregiving a loved one. A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide differs from most in that it fills its story with practical references that fellow caregivers can use as their own guide to resources and options.

Nancie Wiseman Attwater found herself caregiving her husband as he battled terminal cancer. As she moved from a partner to nursing a disabled charge, both her love and her special challenges emerge in chapters labeled by each crisis: kidney stones, heart issues, cognitive decline, and more. The widely varying nature of these ongoing medical issues and the different caregiving challenges each posed makes for an especially astute examination to show that many caregivers tackle not a singular condition, but a myriad of changing health challenges.

Each chapter includes a subtitle emphasizing the lesson learned from the evolving conditions. For example: "Surgery and the Fall in the Hall" holds as its lesson and subtitle:"You Never Know How Strong You Are Until it is Your Only Choice." As chapters review these lessons, injecting practical considerations into the emotional and physical trials that buffet husband and wife, they reveal the core of the caretaker's mandate -- to respond in flexible, loving, and effective ways to changing events that seldom hold clear resolution.

When offered the option of a skilled nursing facility, the author refused and chose to lovingly care for her husband at home. Attwater's determination and perseverance are at the forefront of her efforts from the start. From anticipatory grief and different stages of grieving to interacting with family, medical personnel, and making all kinds of decisions on the fly, Attwater chronicles the demanding life of a spouse-turned-caregiver, creating a powerful saga that many in this position will find more than familiar.

The lessons she learns and portrays during this long battle through ongoing ailments represent a portrait in resilience and positivity, and gives fellow caregivers a blueprint for adaptation and powerful responses during all kinds of health issues.

Many books have been written about caregiving. Most are memoirs. A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide stands out from the crowd with its important life lessons and practical insights on navigating healthcare, family, and personal crises during this time. It should be in the collections of any health and general-interest library (and, more importantly) on the reading lists of caregiver group members who will find its experiences familiar and its lessons important food for thought. "Remember when your life seems like it is surrounded by suffering, assess the situation, learn to live with it, and then embrace it."

Embrace this book. Its message is unique.

A Collection of Tiny Stories: Diminutive Tales from the Tip of My Imagination
CK Sobey
Inner Harvesting
9781737506133, $27.95 Hardcover/$17.95 Paper

A Collection of Tiny Stories (Diminutive Tales from the Tip of My Imagination) presents prose and art that represent an inspirational celebration of the spirit, gathering "tiny" works "born out of moments of whimsy, mystery, and longing." Add "and magic" to that list, because CK Sobey's works employ a magical element as he arranges tales both fantastic and reflective into three sections: "Inspiring Odysseys," "From the Heart," and "Fanciful." These short works don't require linear reading. Readers can skip through the sections and still find them succinct, stand-alone pieces that delight no matter their arrangement or the wellsprings of their wonder.

Take "The Bookstore" for one example. Here, Sobey reflects that "I always love going to the bookstore. I go when I'm drained, or my inner animal needs its fur stroked." The piece goes on to explore the magic of a particular used book that calls his name with intrigue, providing passages that fuel his days: "I knew we would eventually meet." It was hand- written in a beautiful, fluid script. Intrigue and enchantment came over me. I touched those written words with my fingers, stroking the words." The conclusion is a thought-provoking book image presented in full color that lingers in the mind, reinforcing the magic of books.

"The Art Class" is another blend of autobiography and philosophy that muses on Sobey's participation in a portrait class, presenting memories of the past that are reflected in this present-day endeavor: "I have come to love that younger me more through the years, realizing I had just received a gift from this memory." While many of these short pieces have the look of poetry one-liners, in fact, these vignettes are presented using a minimum of words and an attention to making every one count.

The color illustrations which accompany them are simply gorgeous in their own right, accenting the story and creating visual embellishments of their own artistic high quality. Think Proust, but without the wordy descriptions of place that thwarted some of his readers. In effect, A Collection of Tiny Stories is an exploration of in-the-moment experiences that, like Proust, connect past and present with a simple touch, taste, observation, or experience.

Readers who want the feel of a journey through life via its smallest moments, which hold the time-traveling power to connect past and present, will find A Collection of Tiny Stories more accessible than most short collections. It makes the most of the short form to demonstrate the power of the moment and the art of capturing and preserving it. This will prove an especially useful selection for literature libraries and teachers looking for contemporary examples of rich prose reflections.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

Who Should We Let Die?
Koye Oyerinde
Atmosphere Press
9781639882625, $18.99

"Let's look at healthcare funding in the US. I call it the GoFundMe healthcare system, a system in which ill people and their relatives have to subject themselves to the humiliation of online panhandling to pay medical bills...It is unacceptable in the world's most prosperous country."

Who Should We Let Die? How Health For All Failed, and How Not to Fail Again is a hard-hitting examination of the healthcare system's biggest ethical and health issue. It comes from a physician who states that the current state of affairs in the U.S. holds only a facade of equality. In fact, it represents a treatment system dominated by profit-orientated healthcare insurers, hospital corporations, medical device companies, and pharmaceutical corporations that don't work in the interests of their patients, but in the interest of profit. In this milieu, patient best practices and treatment do not assume top priority on the list of managing healthcare costs and deciding who will get treatment, and how much.

It's not like these allegations represent new or revolutionary thinking. What sets Dr. Koye Oyerinde's discussion apart from others is its dual attention to making the headline an ethical question of which patients are receiving lesser standards of care, and how to transition such a system to a patient-centric one.

When equal health services are not available to all, the question becomes one of who should be allowed to die through unavailability of treatments or third-party assessments of their financial or social status. As abhorrent as this thought might be to any healthcare provider, Dr. Oyerinde accurately condemns the modern state of affairs in the U.S. His survey, however, is designed to do more than point an accusatory finger at the results of a broken system. It tackles the bigger question of what to do about it. And herein lays the real value of this book over other exposes on the subject.

Yes, this is a promotion for universal health care for all. But within this guiding light is the critical probe of a physician who is also a health policy expert, with some thirty years of practical experience backing his contentions. These include stints as a medical officer, pediatrician, health policy researcher, and teacher. From his insights on health care in other countries and how they succeed or fail to the laser beam of his examination of this nation's overt and subconscious policies, Dr. Oyerinde considers the types of changes that need to take place in order to assure this system works. His analysis is packed with case studies, references to other approaches, and contrasts with other governments that earmark funding for healthcare programs.

By placing the issue of healthcare for all in the moral and ethical framework of who should be allowed to die because the current structure doesn't work equally for all, Dr. Oyerinde makes important points. He also considers some of the fundamental reasons why this is allowed to happen: "One of the challenges to surveillance of quality in health services is the weakness of measuring tools." From the quantitative approaches to measuring and determining healthcare delivery efficiency to issues of who is assessing results, the failure of transparency in the current system is documented at many different levels, as are the solutions Dr. Oyerinde recommends to help heal the sick system.

Who should be allowed to die for lack of funding? Nobody. That's not only the point of this book, but the starting place for a discussion which leads the way to a solution. Yes, Who Should We Let Die? should be in health and social issues library collections, but it shouldn't be allowed to repose on bookshelves. Ideally, it will be used as a foundation for discussion at all levels of the healthcare profession and any entity with a vested interest in positive change.

The Science Shelf

For Want of Wings
Jill Hunting
University of Oklahoma Press
2800 Venture Dr., Norman, OK 73069
9780806176611, $21.95

For Want of Wings: A Bird with Teeth and a Dinosaur in the Family is both a scientific exploration and a memoir that delves into the author's great-grandfather, who in 1872 unearthed the bones of an ancient avian dinosaur in Kansas.

Today, his expedition and findings have all but been forgotten, but Jill Hunting's search for both family history and a piece of scientific insight carries her not just into her own past, but into science mysteries that connected her relatives with dinosaurs in a series of circumstances that seem too frequent to be deemed coincidence.

Readers of memoirs and science history alike will find the lively format and journey presented in For Want of Wings makes for an engrossing story suitable for leisure readers of science and family history alike.

The Philosophy Shelf

Forgiveness Almanack
Krys Call
Independently Published
9798508167004, $3.80 Paper

Forgiveness Almanack tackles the daunting subject of forgiveness from historical, philosophical, cognitive scientific and psychological levels, choosing examples from historical and social contexts in which the tradition and culture of cultivating forgiveness are valued. From this description, readers might think the discussion will be weighty and perhaps challenging, but Krys Call creates a dialogue that invites readers to absorb a large quantity of information without the requirement of a scholarly background.

This, and its unassuming size (a little over a hundreds pages), invites readers who might not ordinary pick up such a discourse, rewarding the effort with a wide-ranging treatise that moves from an examination of the conscious and unconscious minds and current NIH research into cognitive functions to consider the foundations of forgiveness in heart and body alike. Readers might not expect a synthesis of experience which draws powerful connections between theoretical and intellectual inspection and the very real incarnation of forgiveness in daily affairs.

But Call is adept at juxtaposing experience with theory and reflection, and it is this special blend of intellectual and emotional inspection that sets Forgiveness Almanack apart from anything similar in philosophical, psychological, or historical literature.

Forgiveness Almanack is highly recommended for libraries strong in contemporary philosophical and psychological inspection. They will find its special blend of neuroscientific research, historical inspections of forgiveness, and traditional theories of psychology and popular culture to be noteworthy and inviting.

The General Fiction Shelf

Whiskers Abroad
Carrie Carter
Bayou City Press
9781951331092, $9.99 Kindle

Whiskers Abroad: Ashi and Audrey's Adventures in Japan is travel fiction at its best. It's a delightfully whimsical novelette that focuses on Audrey and her cat Ashi, who journey together after Audrey wins the chance to write about a trip to Japan.

The story comes steeped in the atmosphere and culture of Japan, and this blends with a philosophical, reflective eye as Audrey reviews her influences and experiences: "...sometimes the universe won't let go of an idea. Maybe the stars and planets were right. It was time to let myself dream again and to try to make those dreams happen."

Its chronological arrangement pairs dates with astrological quotes on Virgo's progression and the events that lead Audrey to Japan. Even before her journey, "Japan was seeping into my subconscious." The "you are here" feel is heightened by color snapshots throughout which accompany evocative observations of this newcomer's experience with Japan.

Readers are in for a delightful armchair journey as they follow Audrey and Ashi's many adventures in urban and rural areas, made all the more vivid not just by single snapshots, but by colorful illustrations on every page that capture the Japanese culture and experience. More so than most travelogues, this story of a woman and her cat will appeal to anyone with a basic interest in Japan, cats, or travel.

Its lively tone and engrossing story is made all the more vivid for the observations that also come from the cat's viewpoint: "How can someone feel sad about leaving a place they just visited? It's not like I had been living there the past few years, snacking at the fish market and hanging out with my buddy cats at the park." The result is a capricious, delightful, revealing, educational, exceptional armchair read that deserves a place in any library interested in kitties and journeys in general or Japanese culture in particular.

Whiskers Abroad is simply a delight, offering respite and reflections that bring readers into Japan from different perspectives, capturing a writer's journey through new foods, a different culture, and a cat's eyes. It's very highly recommended for its ability to reach beyond the usual travelogue audiences to immerse all ages in its fun adventure.

All Strings Attached
Joseph Colicchio
Cedarwood Publishing
9781667820552, $14.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

Contemporary fiction collections strong in coming-of-age stories and treks involving siblings who are on different trajectories to exploring their roles and revised places in America will find All Strings Attached just the ticket for a warm, buoyant, rich read of growth and summer transformations.

Tommy is seventeen and is beginning an internship at a continuing care facility. Twenty-two-year-old Alex, in contrast, embarks on a physical journey across America that moves from Weehawken, New Jersey to lead him to an unexpected place: Utah.

Joseph Colicchio adds social, political, and medical inspections to his story, explaining terms such as dysphasia alongside the mental and physical challenges each brother experiences in very different ways. It's hard to imagine a greater contrast in experience than that of "geezerville" versus the open road, yet Colicchio's ability to contrast similar outcomes from very different influences makes for a multifaceted story replete in growth and revelations that link the brothers, however distant, in unexpected ways.

Life's journeys aren't linear, but involve a good deal of adjustment, change, and forward-and-backwards movement. As Colicchio takes readers on a rollicking ride through life, one might anticipate some of these progressions, but the ways in which they evolve and are linked by the brothers' backgrounds makes for an especially thought-provoking read.

At once a coming-of-age story about different generations facing new life challenges, and a story of pursuing happiness and meaning in life, All Strings Attached is ultimately about letting go, moving ahead, and coming back to new connections made possible because of the process of leaving behind everything that's valuable and familiar.

Libraries looking for road trip and coming of age sagas cemented by the changing psyches of two brothers who make very different choices will find this work of contemporary literature inviting and thought-provoking.

Looking for a Weegie to Love
Simon Smith
Independently Published
9798784634665, $9.99 Paper/$1.99 Kindle

Looking for a Weegie to Love offers a series of short stories about a guy seeking love online, and will find a special place in the hearts of readers who have embarked on similar journeys to find widely ranging options presented via the relative autonomy of the internet.

Often whimsical, sexually graphic, and socially thought-provoking, the 11-story collection opens with a bang with "What Do You Identify As?", where the 33-year-old single narrator finds himself in a Scottish swingers club during the height of a global pandemic. As his friends pair up and marry, he finds himself increasingly alone and adrift. While candidly realistic about his chances of finding romance online ("Speaking as a male, dating apps are a chamber of lost hopes and broken dreams - where the advice 'manage your expectations' should be on the T&Cs. For women, the chance of finding a match is apparently somewhere around 10 per cent. For men, it's 0.6."), he acknowledges that the search for a true life partner may be as simple as downloading the right app and crafting the perfect profile.

His candid assessment of the possibilities and pitfalls make for a read both amusing and startlingly realistic: "After two hours of Googling I came to the conclusion that if you were to follow all the advice from the top-ranking articles, I would be a mess of a caring fuckboy that was sociable but didn't stand too close to friends to go unnoticed but also touched them to show friendliness, who had a unique but attractive hobby, was down-to-earth but successful and popular with professional athletic headshots while looking straight at the camera." The result is a study on filling out online surveys that attempt to match similarities, but too often identify opposites in life. This contrast between past and present dating approaches and the process of capturing the identifiers that make for a winning match is very nicely done, and sets the stage for the other dating encounters.

As the collection unfolds, readers are sent down the rabbit hole (sometimes literally) of ironies and inconsistencies in relationships and lives. Simon Smith's ability to create a study in contrasts in loves and life contrasts graphic sexual encounters with stories that leave their readers feeling "a bit off kilter" much in the way the characters evolve...and, satisfyingly so. The aura of unpredictability that permeates these stories and experiences creates both a literary and a social inspection of the dating milieu that is at once entertaining and thought-provoking.

Libraries and readers looking for contemporary short stories that illustrate social issues, dilemmas, and anxiety will find these UK-based tales amusing. They are anything but the expected treatise on the search for romance in odd places: "I perched on the edge of what I thought was a cushion but when I put my weight down there was a yelp of pain from my arse. A giant white rabbit burst from under the cushion, onto the floor then bolted out of the living room."

Audrey Taylor Gonzalez
Stube Books
9798985831405, $16.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Bones is a love story set in a surreal land where magical realism intersects with social issues of prejudice and racism. It moves from the Deep South to Africa as Missy meets a tribal chief who tasks her with carrying her friend and mentor Old Thomas's bones back to Africa, to be buried in a particular place. Tanganyika calls her and educates her about more than America as Missy encounters spiritual and social concepts beyond her experience. Raised by African American servants in the Deep South, Missy discovers the foundations of a history and culture that moves far beyond the U.S. as her task of devotion becomes one of discovery and new revelations about different realities and possibilities.

Audrey Taylor Gonzalez's story and descriptions come from a seasoned hand that includes some of her own personal familiarity with Africa. She lived on a coffee plantation in a remote area of then-Tanganyika when she fell in love and married into another world. Her experience lends to vivid, realistic descriptions that set Bones more than a step above other novels that profile African roots.

Her imagery is vivid, as well as her capture of the storytelling traditions and mysticism that Missy encounters: "Beechos and dog wafers grew on the lolololo tree. Dog wafers Old Thomas picked and dried and used for his church communions. Beechos were little red buds that grew on the tree trunk that we could scrape off at certain times of the year. They gave a punch to barbecue cooking that only the Bozo sisters and I were allowed to experience. When old Miss Lula stirred in the beechos, it caused me to lift up off the floor and float through the air, and I could do somersaults and all sorts of flips and flops through space. We had to be careful no one saw this."

As Missy is tasked with ultimately giving up Old Thomas's bones, she steps into a new world that holds possibilities she once could never have imagined. When Missy's initial task expands and she assumes an active role in this new land, readers are treated to a series of social, political, cultural, and psychological insights that create a powerful saga as Missy finds new purposes in life: "It is a blessing because you are here and you care about them."

Bones is a novel highly recommended not just for libraries strong in African-American heritage and magical realism, but for book discussion groups that might choose this above others for its wide-ranging and astute observations of racism, upheaval, and personal choice. Its vivid story is hard to put down and impossible to neatly categorize. Just call it an exceptional read that should appeal to a wide audience.

Breath and Mercy
Mark Anthony Powers
Hawksbill Press
9781737032922, $16.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

In 1983 in the novel Breath and Mercy, Phineas Mann is on course to become a successful physician in New Orleans after years of medical school training. His momentum is stymied by two life-altering events: the rise of AIDS and Hurricane Jezebel, both of which introduce challenges to his career on different levels. Either of these events could sink him.

Mark Anthony Powers first told Mann's story in A Swarm in May, which covered some of his dilemmas in choosing patient treatments; but this prequel sets the stage for that book by returning to the past to cover his influences and the evolution of his dedication to healthcare. The story traces his move from Boston, contrasting cultural milieus and Dr. Mann's personal life with the professional challenges he faces on a daily basis as he grapples with cases needing miracles and those which hold little hope for successful treatment.

As an ethical challenge emerges to test Dr. Mann's training and convictions, Powers creates a compelling story. Breath and Mercy is about rescue and redemption processes that challenge this good doctor and his readers alike with thought-provoking passages following medical processes and accompanying ethical dilemmas.

The medical community's activities and sketches of life-saving and life-altering experiences permeate a story that is both captivating and educational. What kind of supportive care should be given to those who are dying? As legal processes blend into personal predicaments, Powers crafts a tale that ventures into questions of murder and survival tactics as Dr. Mann faces many career-changing moments and epiphanies.

Readers seeking a compelling story solidly rooted in both medical procedures and accompanying moral and ethical concerns will find Breath and Mercy a vivid tale.

Holding Superman's Hand
Amy Katherine
Atmosphere Press
9781639883431, $18.99

Holding Superman's Hand: Under the Bar Lights is a study in romance and contrasts as seventeen-year-old Amy is on the cusp of achieving all her dreams. Granted a scholarship and juggling college with her new job in a bar, romance is not on her mind when bouncer Matthew Abernathy enters her world.

At first Amy felt distaste for Matthew's rigid ideas of the world and his concept of right and wrong, but he's starting to grow on her. That growth will change not only her trajectory, but lead her to reassess her values and goals in an environment filled with change. Matt makes even ordinary life fun, injecting his observations with a quirky and wry sense of humor that invites Amy to open up in new ways. But, is this really romance? What place does Matt hold in her life, heart, and future?

Amy Katherine crafts a realistic, thoroughly engrossing story of new life and new adults as readers follow Amy through the challenge of trying to navigate adulthood. Katherine is especially adept at portraying the logic, emotional conflicts, warning signals and compelling draw of a relationship: "Boys are such problem solvers. It was kind of endearing. Sadly, at this point, knowing all the weird primal courting rituals associated with humans in a bar, she had likely broken it herself just to talk to him. How strange we all are as human beings, I thought to myself."

This maturity process, even more than the blossoming romance, takes center stage as readers absorb the basics of Amy's changing worldview and the dance that evolves between herself, Matt, and the opportunities around them.

Readers of coming-of-age novels who look for this special blend of romantic development and personal growth will find Holding Superman's Hand a satisfying story that tracks these changing perspectives in an intimate, heartfelt manner. The process by which Amy develops, admits, and confronts her feelings and adult milieus is compelling, leads in unexpected directions, and results in a satisfying story especially recommended for libraries seeking positive, evolutionary discussions about college-age romance and expectations of life.

I Buried Paul
Bruce Ferber
The Story Plant
9781611883282, $16.95 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

I Buried Paul is a humorous novel reflecting on life. It follows the evolution of a Beatles tribute band called Help and the conundrums it faces in trying to recreate a magical and large-than-life musical entity.

At once a coming-of-age story, a musical tribute, and a work of irony and social inspection, I Buried Paul is replete in musical notes as it follows Jimmy Kozlowski, who plays Paul McCartney in the band that strives to match the success and talents of its inspiration. Jimmy, like many musicians, also leads a double life.

His day gig that pays the bills is a far cry from the mimicry his tribute band cultivates. He works in a nursing home, writes his own music (which has little to do with the Beatles), and dreams of success separate from his band. He knows his dream can come true ... his older brother is an example. As he moves towards his goals, then seemingly away from them, Jimmy reflects on the emotional costs of his choices: "I spend the better part of the drive rehashing how I'm responsible for my own loneliness, having closed myself off from relationships to create the life I thought I wanted."

Bruce Ferber's inspections and the underlying wry wit that often accompanies them makes for a riveting story of bonding exercises and inspections of genius and insanity as Jimmy reconsiders his life trajectory, its promises, and its costs. These inspections often juxtapose the wit with the serious in a manner that is inviting and surprising.

A coming-of-age story flavored with musical and cultural inspections and iced with the growth processes of a young man finding his life purpose, I Buried Paul captures many themes in its compelling story of a young man who explores love, life, and everything it holds. "I leave here with no assurances other than the truths that have already been shared."

Readers who choose I Buried Paul for its musical and psychological inspections won't be disappointed. The depth of self-inspection, romp through nursing homes and music venues alike, and a romance in which everything changes makes for a vivid story that's hard to put down, highly recommended for those who like their stories steeped in discovery and growth.

Nathalie Guilbeault
Firenze Books Publishing
9781777281069, $20.99

Like too many women, Isabelle finds her seemingly solid marriage falling apart: "I knew I was not the only woman who had had the safety of her world destroyed, the structure of her life disjointed, the foundation of her union blasted. Countless stories depicting evidence of marital crumbling are readily available to the insecure voyeur like me, seeking reassurance in futile comparisons. I wanted to share my story, not as a premise for revenge, but rather, to unburden myself from the encompassing guilt that had woven its way into my stomach."

But, unlike many, this event brings with it a new foray into sexual freedom that begins with an online encounter and blossoms into something much more than liberation attempts as Isabelle's ventures introduce her to a dangerous world filled with traps as well as new possibilities.

These (and her adventure) will especially attract women who look for contemporary backgrounds, novels about sexual enlightenment, and insights about relationships that move into the territory of a rollicking good thriller read.

As Isabelle's life and family become entangled with the special interests of a sociopathic personality, she, too, evolves a special brand of survival skills that pits her naivety and growing savvy with an attempt to not just survive her choices, but grow from them. The lies, illusions, and hard realities that surround her evolving relationship with Nicaraguan man Patrick are related in a series of encounters designed to keep readers thoroughly involved.

Nathalie Guilbeault cultivates a special sense of interconnected lives and lessons as she follows Isabelle's world and the choices she makes to eschew the input of friends and maintain the new status quo with her new romantic interest. From secret liaisons to withdrawal symptoms that force Isabelle to adopt a different tempo that causes her to lose herself in another ("My heart had diluted itself. It had lost its center."), women who tend to immerse themselves in relationships will find much familiar ground covered in a riveting story of growth and realization.

Guilbeault's choice of the first person allows readers to delve into Isabelle's self-analysis and realization with an intimacy and savvy that is revealing in an up close and personal manner: "We both had let our respective voids collide, enabled by a strong desire to quench the loneliness, whatever the price."

This is not your typical story of a relationship gone awry, but follows a woman struggling to find herself in the midst of a compelling new passion that both awakens her sexuality and dampens her innate feelings of self and self-preservation.

Libraries strong in women's fiction will find Inhaled a fine addition, while discussion groups about sex, romance, and relationships will find in Isabelle's experiences much fodder for contemplation and lively debates.

Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond
Lis Anna-Langston
Mapleton Press
9781793081322, $14.99 Paper/$8.99 Kindle

"In my family, as far back as I can tell, there was no such thing as communication, only secrets."

Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond gets readers up to speed with an overview of a quirky family structure in a prologue that captures different family member oddities, then moves into a vivid story narrated by Cotton Ann, who was "named after a honeybee because I'm sweet with a sting."
The tale begins with a precocious three-year-old's venture into the world of library books. It moves forward into her life to embrace her entry into the world beyond family. Cotton's pursuit of magical powers that will solve her problems with Uncle Therman leads her in new directions as she grows and comes to grips with her family's unique heritage. Left with the results of this event, Cotton develops a sassy, precocious outlook as she candidly and critically examines life and its myths and illusions. Her observations are often packed with wry humor that indicates she's a force that operates beyond her years: "Santa had always been a little shady. I mean, he came and went without a sound, supposedly thumping on the roof in a sleigh driven by cheerful reindeer."

Lis Anna-Langston creates an engaging character, surrounds her by family members who don't quite fit the image of a supportive and staid group, then follows the girl's growth as she tackles unusual problems with imagination and whimsy. One example is the child's plot, at age seven, to make an entire house vanish. Her feisty character's first-person observations and strength flavor the story line with humor and unexpected twists and turns that keep readers engaged and laughing.

The undercurrent of serious life inspections that pepper this story are just one reason why Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond holds a special appeal. It will delight novel readers seeking extraordinary characters and stories of growth, adversity, and creative problem-solving. Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond is highly recommended for fiction readers looking for coming-of-age and family narratives that are anything but ordinary and predictable. Its lively tone packs a punch.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

David Kruh
DX Varos Publishing
9781955065405, $18.95 (paperback) $4.99 (ebook)

"San Francisco was the cruelest trick ever played on the prisoners of Alcatraz Island." That's because prisoners are close enough to San Francisco to get a daily sense of the freedoms they are missing, but are isolated on an island which holds no hope of a different life.

Inseparable takes the story of three men who escaped from Alcatraz prison in June 1962 and adds the fictional character of Tommy, a boy in search of adventure who helps them escape from an island prison that is supposed to represent the ultimate confinement security system.

Tommy O'Conner is a loner who dreams of leading an adventurous life. He never imagined that such adventure could land in his lap in the form of becoming involved in a famous prison break and escape to South America, but when he stumbles upon escapees John and Clarence Anglin, the brothers lure him with both connections and the exciting life that has thus far eluded him.

Tommy looks for acceptance, encouragement, and new possibilities as he helps John and Clarence. This gives him the feel of siblings he never had. Ironically, it's this search for connection which ultimately leads Tommy on a path not just into adventure and newfound connections, but danger.

David Kruh provides an intriguing character in a precocious young boy who falls into the strange situation of helping escaped prisoners elude captivity. Tommy's encounters help him grow in different ways, providing new forms of understanding about himself and his place in life that lead him full circle when he returns to ordinary life. "What did you do on your summer vacation?" Can he ever claim to having played a role in helping two Alcatraz escapees make their way to freedom?

This fictional story firmly rests on the foundations of real history, but takes unexpected diversions in exploring a nautical mystery centered on Alcatraz Island events. Kruh explores some of the actual people who had roles before, during, and after the escape, but adds the fictional overlay of a boy who finds himself pulled into not just adventure, but the bond of two brothers sworn to never separate.

Even as Alcatraz fails to fulfill its promise of being the ultimate prison, so Tommy grows into his own sense of self and the adventure that pulls him in different directions of growth. The changes experienced by prisoners, free citizens, and investigators alike create a compelling story that holds many thought-provoking moments of discovery and action.

Library collections strong in historical fiction will find Inseparable more than just a story of Alcatraz or prison escape. It's a coming of age tale that tests the bonds of human connection and creates conundrums and growth opportunities for characters and readers alike, and is highly recommended for historical novel enthusiasts.

On Bur Oak Ridge
Jenny Knipfer
Independently Published
9781737957508, $2.99 Kindle/$15.95 Paper

On Bur Oak Ridge is Christian historical fiction at its finest and opens in 1919 with Molly's perspective about her life: "We're better at looking back than forward. Since such is the case, our eyes would be better placed at the base of our heads. I see nothing when I gaze into the future. It appears like the purple haze of the distant hills -- without definition, lacking firm, clean, and distinctive lines. In a word -- smudged."

It's Book 3 of the Sheltering Trees series, but requires no prior familiarity with the different characters and perspectives in the prior books in order for newcomers to quickly bond to the dilemma of a deformed young woman who has sheltered in an asylum while nurturing her recovery and grief, but now is ready to re-enter the world (albeit much changed).

From inheritances, grief, and murder to Molly's marriage to Jacob and a secret that could affect their future, Jenny Knipfer spins a fine story of interconnected lives, complicated relationships, and the kinds of struggles that hold their origins in the asylum. Knipfer doesn't limit her story to Molly's perspective, but considers the impact of different connections, from Samuel to Mabel and others who introduce friendship and romance into Molly's life. As Molly and Samuel begin a dangerous dance on an emotional level that leads each to make hard choices, Knipfer provides readers with a set of moral and ethical conundrums that blend past into present to test the heart while leading Molly to new possibilities on Bur Oak Ridge.

Knipfer is especially skilled at injecting the forces of past choices and how they evolve as Jacob Lund faces his own demons and Molly comes to understand what it really means to be married to someone she really doesn't know. The tension, characterization, and heartfelt changes are realistically depicted and contribute to a story that both enhances the series and stands alone as a poignant saga of one woman's determination to make her world a better place.

Firmly rooted in a sense of place and moral dilemmas that send each character on a separate journey, On Bur Oak Ridge is a fine choice for readers interested in women's fiction, historical novels, and heartfelt journeys that tug at the emotions.

Jeanette Baker
Top Reads Publishing, LLC
9781970107296, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Jeanette Birthright's historical romance story opens in San Juan Capistrano, California, where Claire faces moving on from heartache. Thank goodness her mother is dead and won't know of her pain. Thank goodness her story continues, explaining the source of her alienation and frustration, because it's a compelling saga of birth mothers, decisions gone awry, and their impact generations later.

As events move between Ireland and the U.S., readers receive cultural history and observation that creates a disparate backdrop for the two main characters. Against this scenario, decisions play out that hold consequences far beyond good intentions gone awry. Norah's Irish world is captured in the first person, and her own family connections and relationships explored to provide a solid foundation for understanding the choices she makes for her own child: "We were never close, my mother and me, not for any particular reason I can remember, we just didn't get on."

Claire's determination to find answers fifty years after events have separated mother and daughter and led to building very different lives creates ripples and exposes long-held secrets that also change and challenge Norah in unexpected ways. Especially intriguing are the community connections and heritage Jeanette Baker explores as the two reconnect, then part again. The knowledge and history surrounding their relationship becomes more than one of typical mothers and daughters, probing heritage and culture in a way that creates a complex and interesting, unexpected probe.

From a Catholic priest's dilemma to the reasons why a mother doesn't welcome the opportunity of reunion, Baker presents a multifaceted story that rings with authenticity and revelation. While the family inspection will interest any reader looking for an evocative and thought-provoking story of connections both cemented and torn by cultural influence and expectation, those who hold a special interest in birth parents and adult adoptive children who seek the truth will find Birthright especially evocative. Does an adult have the right to know why they were given up, as children?

Claire's investigation and dogged persistence leads to more questions and, ultimately, answers which will prove fodder for book club and adoptive families alike. Birthright will find a welcome place in any library strong in stories of mother/daughter relationships, Irish culture, and the special conundrums faced by adult children who seek answers to the decisions their birth parents made.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

In Love With Spring, Volume 1
Robin Stratton
Big Table Publishing
9781945917721, $17.99

In Love With Spring bills itself as a "A pop culture retelling of Louisa May Alcott's classic coming of age story of four sisters learning about life and love in the decade of AIDS, MTV, big hair, and big dreams."

Volume 1 introduces this milieu by presenting four sisters whose contemporary lives and interpersonal relationships mirror the close relationship of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March in Little Women. It's refreshing to see a contemporary slant on the Little Women theme. This approach will prove especially appealing and enlightening to those who have read (or re-read) the classic recently, who will more readily identify the connections between In Love With Spring and Alcott's story.

Alcott used her real family interactions as a foundation for her story. In a similar vein, In Love With Spring creates a realistic, contemporary setting that weaves the trials and culture of the times with four sisters' evolving relationship.

Robin Stratton captures this modern feel from the start, creating interplays between these modern little women whose backdrops are not books and sewing, but television sets. As the story evolves, modern sources of angst and division affect not only their lives, but their unity as sisters.

Each faces school problems, friendship challenges, and sexual awakening that create a very different environment from Little Women's staid social representations...but remains familiar in its inspections of how these sisters evolve together and ultimately support one another. As romance and desire change their lives and relationships with one another, Jules struggles with an eye-opening relationship with Michael, whom she both desires and recognizes as being ultimately the wrong choice for her. "Michael is all about Michael." As Jules comes to realize the difference between physical attraction and mental fitness and each sister ventures into the quagmire of relationships, sex, and love, readers receive a fine contemporary examination of a season which poses many transformations for each sister.

Some surprises unfold in the course of their journey, from a bounce-back reaction to an unconventional but empowering experience by Mandy to Allie's evolving friendship with the alluring but very different Mr. Guillen. Stratton follows the ebbs and tides of each girl's growth and romantic lessons.

The result is a fond tribute to Little Women's atmosphere, but with decidedly modern twists that place four sisters in different challenging roles as they move away from home and reach into the world with revised goals for themselves.

It's a milieu in which even Mom gets an unexpected second chance at love. In Love With Spring's sassy, classy forms of sexual and social relationship-building will appeal to romance readers, fans of the classic Little Women, and women who just enjoy romps through love and life changes.

In Love With Spring, Volume 2
Robin Stratton
Big Table Publishing
9781945917738, $17.99

Ideally, readers will already be well versed in the concepts and approaches of the first volume of In Love With Spring before choosing this second volume, which sets the stage for an expansion of experiences by the four sisters, who embark on new lives further changed by love.

Mandy April is now Mandy Jenkins, having married her love Tim. She has left her mother and sisters to enter her new life as a wife. Jules, Lisbeth, and Allie may have been left behind, but they are not far from Mandy's heart as she revels in new experiences and thinks about the different ways her choices and observations will affect her sisters.

Robin Stratton's character reflects on the ideals of her vision of marriage. The irony of her choice and position comes back to haunt her in different ways as events unfold. Each sister faces different options as they mature, but love and relationships aren't the only focus, here. Lisbeth decides not to go to college, Mandy faces the realities of a choice which may not be as ideal as she'd thought, and Allie becomes mixed up in bad company and faces the police in a drug incident that is not her fault.

The sisters' lives entwine even over distance and differing ages and experiences, much in the manner that Alcott's classic provided as her characters evolved aged. Stratton is adept at keeping the sisters' relationship at the center of their individual changes. This succeeds in presenting a series of dilemmas that change their connections to one another as well as to the beaus each has chosen.

From heartbreak to success and achievement, Stratton creates a warm story that flows between family affairs and the broader world at large. This second volume represents a story that is not only a worthy follow-up to the first, but in keeping with the evolutionary process of young women entering the world beyond their immediate family. Women's fiction readers, particularly those who enjoyed the closeness of Alcott's little women, will find their contemporary parallels just as inviting.

Three Sister Stories: Volume 3
Robin Stratton
Big Table Publishing Company
9781945917745, $15.00

Three Sister Stories completes a trilogy of interconnected books especially recommended for prior fans who found their stories amazing, in Robin Stratton's other books.

It's been over two years, now, but Mandy still isn't over her grief. As school principal, she's charged with helping youngsters while navigating a broken world both personally and at large. From struggles with her adopted (now-adult) son Grayson, who is moving back home for a while, to Constance's bombshell news that further changes their family, Mandy finds that her son's conundrum calls forth memories of their own experiences as parents. The four chapters to "The Dragon Inside" probe Mandy's process of coming to terms not only with her son's life, but her own.

"Love Letter Island," the second story, introduces second sister Allie's changed life, which goes in a direction seemingly opposite of Mandy's circle of connections. Allie lacks love in her life even as she becomes financially well-off. She reflects on this gaping omission in her world: "She pours herself a glass of wine and considers inviting her nephew Grayson, but he's busy with his new business, a traveling art gallery, and she thinks it's best that he stick with that. That's when it hits her how alone she is in this world. She used to say that Simon was her whole life, but wow, she sees it's true, he was her whole life, and without him... not living, just surviving each day. Some days just barely; some days she calculates how many years she has to endure before she can gracefully die of old age."

A journey undertaken without her familiar support systems leads Allie to new realizations, as well as fresh opportunities she never could have envisioned for herself. As she moves on with Denny, family ties remain at the heart of her trajectory, even stretched as they become. "The Book Deal" completes the saga with an inspection of Jules, contrasting her world nicely with the newly-well-off Allie. Julies is struggling financially and emotionally, her small book business undercut by Covid's impact and her changing relationship with wife Danni.

Dnni and Jules, too have experienced financial changes; but where Jules doesn't see that as a threat, Danni chafes at the revised circumstances and their impact. Both are counting on a new book deal to save their business and marriage; but when Milton's book is done, it comes with an unwelcome surprise that challenges and changes their hopes and dreams.

Robin Stratton does a fine job of intersecting each sister's evolving, ongoing connections within these three stories. Each sister's family, relationships with the other sisters, and outward trajectory in life comes to life. Each harbors hope for a different future, and each faces these possibilities and outcomes with a brave heart.

Three Sister Stories adds to a trilogy, but the door of their expanding worlds and relationships is left ajar for possibly more revelations. Whether this happens or not, it's an enlightening, expansive inspection of family life and change that will delight women who look for thought-provoking stories about family connections and changing times. Collections strong in contemporary women's literature and family life will find this novel a powerful, attractive read.

Accountable Religious Polygamists
Anoop Chandola
Independently Published
9798807734808, $5.60 Paper/$1.99 Kindle

Accountable Religious Polygamists: A Comedy of Polygamy is a literary story of American investigative journalist Arnold, who goes to India to explore and expose the practice of Hindu polygamy and its undercurrents of abuse and violence. As he journeys through Indian culture, society, and circles where polygamy is buffeted by not only abusers but those who defy their power, the story becomes one of religious and social irony and satire as Arnold, polygamous family member Vajraang, and his wife Chandni join him in an expose that will ultimately test their own beliefs and connections.

Under another hand, this story could have taken a predictable route of social analysis, but Anoop Chandola injects cultural revelations, religious insights, and varied issues such as animal rights into the inspection of polygamist culture and lifestyles. This gives added value by expanding the subject and dimension of the story into unexpected realms that are both complex and quite accessible, even to those with a mediocre familiarity with either Indian society or polygamy.

As an investigative journalist, Arnold is not only used to controversy, but thrives on its presence. However, as he investigates Buddhism, international political influences and scenarios, and the miracles and realities of yogis and leaders of all ilk, he becomes mired in a set of observations that move beyond simple explanations into more complicated realms of the mind and heart.

From science to discrimination against the untouchables in Indian society to Hindu tradition and perceptions of polygamy, Chandola provides a multifaceted story that traverses so many topics, it might at first seem to prove a complex read. Chandola's ability to cement all these topics within the perceptions of Arnold as he navigates not just unfamiliar realms, but his own expectations and investigative prowess in uncovering underlying truths, makes for a series of revelations nicely steeped in social, religious, philosophical, and psychological studies in contrasts.

Hoaxes and delusions, atheists and true believers, and wry tongue-in-cheek irony ("Sanjaya shows that an investigative journalist's intelligence is higher than God's intelligence.") are the highlights of a literary story especially highly recommended for students of Indian culture and social inspection. Its hard-hitting stories weave an interconnected series of events and revelations that should ideally serve as discussion points for literature groups strong in Indian social observations and comic representations of life.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

A Sickening Storm
David E. Feldman
Eface Media
9780578297538, $11.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

A Sickening Storm places investigator Dora Ellison and her companion and love, librarian Missy Winters, in a precarious position when a sudden string of deaths at a medical center baffle the physicians who should be experts. That's because they are experts in medicine, but not murder. Robin Cook has been the most visible proponent of medical thriller writing, but he faces a formidable challenger with David E. Feldman's latest story, because Dora Ellison is more than proficient at navigating stormy waters of illness, employing her special talent for problem-solving in unexpected ways.

An intriguing prologue cultivates a special observational voice that draws readers into the perp's vision: "How appropriate that during a worldwide pandemic, you are spreading your own brand of pandemic in the name of justice, in the name of redress. In the name of love." This is an especially interesting preface to the third-person story that opens in the first chapter with a review of Beach City, its medical center, and its residents.

Dora doesn't just operate in P.I. circles. She baby-sits, she dog-sits, and she interacts with children and adults even as she is drawn into the special dilemma of a medical center that faces ruin if the cause of its mysterious deaths from a variety of pathogens is not uncovered and resolved quickly.

Feldman's ability to draw together personal lives, ambitions, and conundrums makes for an especially realistic scenario in which Dora's life is explored and shaken as much as the political and medical world of her latest client. The possibilities of this human-manipulated local epidemic are especially timely, given the world's experience with COVID, linking into emotional concerns in a special way that draws readers into an environment they may have only viewed from a safe distance pre-COVID.

The intrigue, the possibilities, the medical challenges, and the efforts of Dora and Missy to not just compliment traditional investigative processes, but top their best players make for a thoroughly engrossing story that operates on different levels of complexity. The result is a gripping, tense mystery thriller that brings Dora and Missy's world to life, testing their courage and tenacity in a story highly recommended for libraries seeing special interest in medical mysteries.

Kill Romeo
Andrew Diamond
Stolen Time Press
9781734139266, $4.99 Kindle

Kill Romeo is the second thriller in the Freddy Ferguson series, and opens with an intriguing mystery: Freddy's dog has found, in the muddy woods, an unsullied white satin shoe. When Freddy locates the body of its owner, more incongruities arise: "Who dresses like this in summer? Not someone who's going into the woods. Not someone who's planning on being outside in the muggy August heat."

Freddy's discovery opens up a can of worms as he investigates the woman's life, the circumstances that led to her being in the woods, and the clues that indicate a love affair gone awry. He didn't expect the trail to wind through international special interests, intrigue, and circumstances which move from the possibility of a one-man cult to operations the CIA and FBI are involved in that don't always make it to court.

From coded messages in a notebook to Freddy's efforts to suppress an attraction that challenges his professionalism, the story provides a riveting blend of personal and investigative conundrums that keep Freddy and his readers on their toes.

The atmosphere of noir detective stories of the past blends nicely with the modern high-tech scenarios Andrew Diamond incorporates into Kill Romeo. These elements create a satisfying juxtaposition of past and present as Freddy practices a difficult form of restraint even as he's called upon to win a fight he's barely capable of entering.

The emotional interactions between Freddy, Claire, and a host of other characters keep readers guessing and the psychological tension high, as what begins as a puzzling murder turns into something unexpectedly even more complex on many levels. The result is an investigation into murder, international and technological influences, and matters of the heart as Freddy's progression leads him to promise things he may not ultimately be able to deliver.

Libraries who like the mix of noir detective investigation with thriller components will find Kill Romeo an excellent, special blend of action and psychological insights.

Fire & Ice
B.T. Polcari
The Wild Rose Press
9781509242955, $18.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Fire & Ice is the second book in the Mauzzy & Me mystery series, and returns Sara Donovan and Mauzzy to the limelight a year after the last story's setting. No prior familiarity with Sara and her sidekick is necessary in order for newcomers to seamlessly enter her world and its latest exploits.

Twenty-year-old college student Sara has a temporary summer job in Washington, D.C. and the desire to hone her superpower of observation skills, even if it means that her novice status gets in the way of her ability to successfully address adversity.

B.T. Polcari injects the same sense of humor about life's ironies and events as in the prior book. This approach will especially attract readers who like their mysteries replete in unexpected moments of fun as well as discovery.

As Sara faces a heist myth and its reality and navigates a milieu in which she is charged with personal decisions over clues as seemingly innocuous as a candy bar (with hazelnuts), readers embark on a fun romp through professional and novice investigator circles as she considers the importance of journals that may lead to treasure.

As ciphers, messages, a brother's involvement, and Mauz, a master manipulator, evolve; readers will appreciate the heady romp through amazing circumstances powered by a headstrong young woman and her stubborn pursuit of an elusive truth. Polcari's ability to craft a mystery that will leave readers laughing and thinking nearly simultaneously adds another delightful chapter to Sara and Mauzzy's world.

Fire & Ice is especially highly recommended for prior fans and libraries interested in mysteries that are driven as much by powerful personalities and life ironies as they are by the promise of a treasure hunt and reward.

Death in a Pale Hue
Susan Van Kirk
Level Best Books
9781685121266, $16.95 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Guilt never dies. Particularly when it draws you back to hometown situations of the past which sully present-day opportunities and reputations.

Fans of the arts and community art centers that also happen to relish good mysteries will especially appreciate the artistic focus of Death in a Pale Hue, a mystery that colors its world with the backdrop of painting endeavors.

Jill Madison has returned to her hometown to reset her life as manager of a new community art center. The last thing she expected to encounter in her new position is a puzzling murder; but a burglary and an uninvited corpse in the basement bring her into personal contact with murder in a way that makes her both involved and a target.

Susan Van Kirk's wry sense of humor adds an extra layer of inviting atmosphere to the story right from its opening lines: "In the heartless cruelty of my sixth-grade year, I sat behind Ned Fisher in English class, joining in the snickers of my friends. Ned had ears that stuck out from his head like Dumbo the elephant, and he probably wished he could fly away. Now, decades later, I found myself once again occupying a seat behind Ned Fisher. But this time I was in the back of his police car. I wasn't laughing."

It's lucky that Jill has a detective brother. And fortunate that some of this has rubbed off on her, adding a surprising skill set to her artistic interests. But, will providence and savvy be enough to vindicate her and keep her safe?

Van Kirk offers a mystery that is especially strong in its first-person characterization. The reflections that motivate Jill and those around her often take on succinct philosophical connections to the art world that are especially pleasing summaries of events. As Jill, her detective brother Tom, and her friend Angie become more and more committed to uncovering the truth, readers receive a cozy story in which an amateur sleuth uses her artistic powers of observation to notice clues that others may pass by. The result is an intriguing story filled with art and community references -- a story of small town affection, love, and loyalty where a murder is augmented by family and hometown connections and new beginnings.

Readers seeking a feel-good mystery will find this atmosphere permeates a highly recommended story that profiles unusual characters and the unexpected, creating a story of friendship and an evolving new universe of possibilities that comes not just from problem-solving, but from revitalizing connections.

Dangerous Waters
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing
9781988437828, $24.95

Fans of Mike Martin's ongoing Sgt. Windflower mystery series will find another captivating adventure in Dangerous Waters. The tale heads into uncharted territory as Windflower attempts to move away from his calling as a Canadian Mountie, only to find himself drawn into yet another conundrum. Three men are missing in Grand Bank, challenging Windflower's friend Eddie Tizzard, acting head of the Grand Bank detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His old boss, Windflower, has suddenly resigned, leaving him to grapple with conundrums as Windflower tackles revitalizing a beautiful b&b business he co-owns and manages.

Despite Windflower's attempts to distance himself from the Mounties and their investigations, problems there reach out to impact his new civilian life as he finds himself drawn back into a situation which gives Tizzard dreams, nightmares, and promises that confound them both.

Mike Martin's contrast between retirement's lure and the excitement of a case which stymies two professionals is very nicely done. Windflower's ongoing dilemma between his personal and professional lives forces him to think hard and fast about solutions that he shouldn't be called upon to give.

As in the previous Windflower adventures, his family life is portrayed in a realistic, compelling manner that gives readers a full flavor of the two very different worlds. This, in turn, contributes to a plot that draws readers on various levels as Windflower fields one of the greatest mysteries of his career while struggling with the idea that he should be retired and away from such conundrums. Windflower is forced to think about his future as the mystery evolves. A different kind of happy medium may be the result of his involvement, but only if he can muster the strength and savvy to stay true to himself while assisting Tizzard's investigation.

Readers who look for multifaceted mysteries set in and steeped with Canadian small-town atmosphere and culture and spiced with the dilemmas faced by one who's trying to be a family man rather than a professional Mountie will find Dangerous Waters another satisfying Windflower story of intrigue and change.

More so than most mysteries, it is filled with psychological twists and turns and lifestyle concerns that keep readers engaged on more than one level. It both expands Sgt. Windflower's life and adventures as a whole, yet can stand alone as a satisfying foray into dreams, realities, and what happens when they clash.

Libraries strong in cozy-style mysteries with the added value of bigger-picture questions will find Dangerous Waters a fine addition.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The Magical Librarian of Tulsa, Oklahoma
Nancy Coiner
Independently Published
9798985800807, $14.99 Print/$2.99 ebook

To understand the flavor and attraction of The Magical Librarian of Tulsa, Oklahoma, think Harry Potter combined with romance - an intersection of magic and love not often crossed. Here is a work of art...the fine art of mixing love and fantasy. It's a production which crosses genres to offer both audiences a taste of something different, and is an enchanting story of mischief and mayhem which opens with a witch's spell-casting cleverness at the College of Magic. Her hex on a book is meant to disrupt, but the problem is that a savvy magical librarian is on duty.

Nancy Coiner injects a sense of wry humor into the events to unfold a satisfying feeling of connection and comic relief as librarian narrator Kate LaFon enters into some of her greatest challenges, including representing her college. Coiner's combination of magic, humor, and romance represent the perfect blend of action and strong characterization to create an unexpectedly delightful set of conundrums in a story that's hard to put down.

Kate's explorations into rare books and magical challenges that test her abilities also reflect her professional prowess and ability to enter the fray which emerges from the witch's unleashing of strange new possibilities (even for the magical world). The tension is delightfully tempered with this humor and first-person reflections. From magical shields to French thugs and a collection of dragon photos which Kate is suddenly in the perfect position to acquire, readers embark on a romp that tests Kate's abilities to handle the unexpected -- including falling in love with a professor poised to take over her beloved Rare Book Room.

The Magical Librarian of Tulsa, Oklahoma is most decidedly a powerful romance. It will appeal to romance readers who want action and adventure to spice the developing relationship. But, it also holds the surprising ability to reach beyond the romance genre into the hearts of fantasy readers who enjoy magical stories of evolution and matters of the heart. Its personality-driven adventure is engaging, delightful, and a noteworthy addition to both fantasy and romance literature; highly recommended for libraries looking for genre-bending standouts.

Promise of the Visitor
David Gittlin
Entelligent Entertainment, LLC
9780988263589, $2.79 Kindle

The third novella in the Silver Sphere sequence, Promise of the Visitor, provides prior series readers with an ongoing saga that revolves around mystery writer Jacob and extraterrestrial AI Arcon. It's a situation that reads like one of Jacob's books, with intrigue and impossible scenarios drawing Jacob and his readers into another escapade.

David Gittlin employs the present tense to capture the drama with a "you are there" feel to Jacob's adventures: "No one besides me and Amy knows that inside the golden sphere lives an artificial intelligence originating from the other side of the Milky Way. Said sphere rests on top of a beige granite counter beside a nickel-plated sink in Jeffrey's ultra-modern kitchen. Except the kitchen belongs to a guy named Jack. I keep thinking "Jeffrey" because that's the alter ego Jack uses as a front for his real name, Jack Markham. I thought Jeffrey Mortenson was my friend. Instead, he turns out to be an international criminal named Jack."

It's unusual to find that the third book in a series so neatly sets and explains its premises and past history that newcomers receive easy access, while prior fans only have to absorb a few paragraphs of old information before the new adventure begins. That Gittlin does so with a minimum of words that paint a precise picture of this complex situation represents one of the strengths of both the novella form and Gittlin's approach as he says the most with the greatest impact in a minimal amount of time.

From a visitor from space who is supposed to arrive with gifts but instead brings disturbing news about the future of humanity to Arcon's reconnaissance mission to the Moon in search of answers and solutions, Gittlin's fast-paced story is packed with drama, tension, and fine characterization spiced with a sense of wry humor.

Color photos add visual embellishment to the vivid story, bringing to life Arcon's adventures, which challenge Jacob to shed his old life "like an old suit of clothes." A major decision needs to be made... one that will change Jacob and Silenna's life (and possibly their love).

Promise of the Visitor both expands the Silver Sphere series and stands alone as an inviting story of extraterrestrial and human relationships alike. While it ends with a definitive bang, it leaves the door ajar for possibly more adventures.

The encounters promise a rollicking good read that makes the most of the novella format in a book highly recommended for libraries strong in short sci-fi works, whether or not they have acquired the prior Silver Sphere titles.

The Refuge
N. Ford
Atmosphere Press
9781639883363, $17.99

The Refuge is Book 1 of a trilogy by the same name, and is a political fantasy that will especially appeal to readers looking for something different and more detailed via its examinations of war, peace, and authority. The prologue introduces Jude, who is aboard an old ship sailing the Physis Sea. It's been a long voyage on the Refuge: "It felt as if he'd lived lifetimes in the two years they'd been away. Proof of it etched permanently into the creases around his eyes. It was nothing like he'd thought it would be. Thoughts badgered him about what it would have been like if they'd never left, mocking his reach for a life that might somehow matter..."

The next chapter comes from the unusual perspective of two mothers - friends who have long awaited the return of their children from seafaring adventures. As it moves back and forth in time and experience, the contrast between war, civilian life, and managing the boatloads of orphans who are a casualty of conflict represents an intriguing glimpse into Jude's origins and the foundations of a war that changes everything it touches.

Ford does not let the issues rest with either leaders or fighters alone. The contrast between perspectives of both brings the roots of conflict and the choices involved to life. What happens when conflict becomes an intrinsic part of daily life, but its roots have been forgotten over a vast expanse of battles and time? One forgets the 'why' of the battle, and so it becomes habit without justification.

The Refuge raises many questions about conflict, heritage, life goals, and the meaning of life. It contrasts fantasies, realities, and the process of rebuilding and tearing apart nations and hearts. Ford's astute hand to detail injects a disparate group of characters with realistic historical and emotion-driven purposes as women strive to be queens and men become "tired of the way it tempted [him] to feel." Where is home? "He felt paralyzed. No king. No isles. No home. The devastation he sat in was the very picture of his life."

The social and political dilemma each character faces requires them to change from over a century of status quo, creating a vivid read that returns personal impact into political decision-making processes. Yes, The Refuge is a vivid survey set in a fantasy realm that will, of course, attract fantasy readers. But the heart of many of its social and political inspections should not escape notice by discussion groups surveying long-term conflict and its habits, rituals, and psychological impact, either.

Libraries strong in fantasy and political inspection will find The Refuge an inviting standout from the usual fantasy kingdom story.

Stone Souls
James Rourke
Canoe Tree Press
c/o DartFrog Books
PO Box 867, Manchester, VT 05254
9781956019742, $14.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Followers of dystopian sci-fi well know that many genre reads assume similar-sounding approaches. That's why James Rourke's Stone Souls will prove a breath of fresh air to any who regularly follow these books.

It paints a future in which the Common States of America are inhabited by many like Raymond and Karen Butler, who live in an enviable country where crime and illness have been abolished, and where many technological wonders make life easy. It's an easy life for the privileged. Not so much for others. The driving forces of these lives do hold a's soul. It's a price too many are willing to pay, but as the cost rises, social and political justifications and analysis become flawed.

James Rourke creates an intriguing story replete with many moral and ethical questions as the characters evolve. The depth of such conversations and examinations is one of the strengths of a story which endeavors to move beyond the usual dystopian scenario of the haves and have-nots and into a world where power plays, complacency, and the vanity and vigor of a nation lay under the microscope of hard-hitting realities.

More so than most, Rourke embeds his characters and their lives with these moral and ethical questions, leading readers to think about their own status and its assumptions and costs. Is achieving Utopia at all costs worth the price? Ultimately, Stone Souls demands of its readers a hard inspection of wealth, privilege, and the foundations of humanity itself.

Not only is it highly recommended for readers of dystopian sci-fi, but ideally will gain attention from book clubs discussion social issues and the dilemma of humanity's survival at all costs.

The Poetry Shelf

Rosebud: A Poetry Collection
Nick Jameson
Infinite of One Publishing
c/o Atmosphere Press
9780578375151, $19.99

Rosebud: A Poetry Collection is a powerful gathering of spirited insights that opens with a surprising prose introduction, "The Seafarer's Folly": "Directing himself towards his destination unknown leagues over the looming horizon, the seafarer falls in love with the stars...They come and go, these great blinking beauties of the night, illuminating and guiding him, saving him from being lost at sea...never may he learn, for in the obfuscation of the sun-starved night he needs them, especially as his beleaguered craft is being mercilessly struck by storms. So, holding fast, he points his craft at the horizon, open to every spell."

The metaphorical promise of a starry night's spell sets the stage for the allure that follows in works that reach for literary, philosophical, and spiritual heights. The subjects of these poetic presentations embrace rebirth, awareness, and awakening in various ways, as in "Rekindle the Core," which asks pointed questions: "Of what you are to me, it cannot be said/Of saying any of not, for filling of dread/When thought of you here, of love once more/Of decomposition not, rekindle the core."

Nick Jameson is as adept at wielding free verse as he is rhyme. This is evident in a myriad of poems that employ both devices as they wind through love, loss, nature, and matters of the heart and soul: "There's no greatest strength without greatest weakness/No most empowering force of teeming heart/without it forever being about to burst/No greatest future not fueled by this/over-pressured, fissuring, fracturing force."

As in its evocative starry night introduction, these pinpoints of light set the darkness of life afire with astute observations and links between the human condition and the natural world. Literary readers will especially appreciate the references to other works of literature peppered within and reinterpreted with a modern vision, as in "Siren's Serenade," which portrays a modern-day Odysseus: "I am Odysseus/Destined to drown in the deep/Never finding my way back to love."

Poetry enthusiasts who look for thought-provoking explorations of life and love, rooted in nature and literary allusion and backed by the power of free verse and rhyme alike, will appreciate the journeys undertaken in Rosebud, a psychological and spiritual series of discoveries that tug at the heart and soul.

Around and Around
Krys Call
Independently Published
9781974533459, $5.38 Paperback

Around and Around: Poems About Walking About is about exploration, perseverance, and encounters both past and present. It embraces the intersection of human affairs and nature, rooting its poems in the author's walks around Santa Cruz County and the internal and external discoveries made there. These are also circular creations whose patterns of inspection will please poetry readers looking for philosophical and psychological flavors in their nature inspections.

The first thing to note about this collection is its circular path of discovery, which is rooted in evocative metaphors and visually powerful descriptions: "Every stem of clover,/when speaking of the sump,/rendered thanks/for warm and standing water./And each also gave thanks/in a Victorian way/by crocheting an arc/of figured white/on each of its leaflets,/the lace circle/banding each trifoliate leaf/sung as one whole note/sustained..."

As the poems draw important connections between different pivot points in life and nature, they represent the quintessential Green Man caught up in a pattern of walking about and reflecting as well as absorbing life's circles and passion. Whether Call is inspecting past, present, or future, each poem is compelling.

Libraries seeking contemporary poetry that reflects on worldviews and human presence in and beyond nature will find Around and Around: Poems About Walking About traverses paths seldom taken, creating evocative interconnections of emotion and atmosphere to invite readers to imbibe and consider their own walkabouts through life.

The Biography Shelf

Making It Up: The Vassar Class of '65 on the Cusp of Change
Selby McPhee
Atmosphere Press
9781639883776, $18.00

Making It Up: The Vassar Class of '65 on the Cusp of Change is a memoir of coming of age in the 1950s and 60s that offers a different, socially intriguing perspective. It focuses on the lives of graduating women who were also on the cusp of seeing more opportunities than ever before. Accordingly, they were called upon to enter strange new waters with no role models or mentors for what they would become.

Selby McPhee's story captures a generation of women caught up in the throes of social evolution in America. More than a singular memoir alone, it adds much commentary about the history and evolution of women's rights and changing roles in society. Her powerful words are just one thing that elevates Making It Up from a singular experience to a social history of a generation of women that forged new roles and pathways.

She also documents the lives of other women who struggled with choices between career and family, often facing battles of wills against fathers, husbands, and other male figures who resisted these new opportunities for women. These additional biographical sketches of ordinary women called upon to achieve extraordinary things make for a collection of stories that is unified and strengthened by the experiences of a diverse population of women who forged careers and realized their talents and potentials.

Many of these unsung heroes deserve to be recognized for not just their achievements, but for the contrast between their lives and their mothers'. The result is a personal, political, and social history that charts the progress of a revolution in the hearts and minds of America's women from the 1950s through the 1960s.

This memoir personalizes these experiences in such a way that future generations will readily relate to, and deserves top billing in any library strong in women's issues, American women's history, and memoirs.

On Becoming Me
Kirsten Hegberg Pursell
Independently Published
9781737770503, $12.99

"Much of what we remember is often how we choose to remember it. But when you write it all down, it is like going back in that moment, reliving it as the 1980's all over again; reminding us how powerful the mind can be in changing the memory's narrative." On Becoming Me: Memoir of an 80's Teenager is a memoir that captures the "you are here" moments of a lively young girl who became a shy teen struggling to find herself. Unlike most memoirs which are written with the gift of hindsight, On Becoming Me acknowledges the fallacies of this retrospective look-back form and instead draws from diaries and writings produced by Kirsten Hegberg Pursell at key moments in her journey.

This creates a unique look back whose approach and format is a true gift of time-travel. It doesn't just recreate the experiences, emotions, and the process of coming of age, but presents these "live," as they happen. One reason why this is so powerful is the gift of consistency. Pursell kept these diaries and writings from fourth grade onwards, and this provides a uniformity of evolutionary growth as it depicts its timeline of change.

The juxtaposition of these in-the-moment writings with what Pursell recalls now makes for particularly intriguing contrasts that also demonstrates the importance of keeping such writings to document life's big and small moments for future reflection. Another notable feature relatively unique to this compilation is that it also includes conversations written down between friends, as in the "Dee and Deb" friendship journal entries that share observations and insights.

D: I want to go to college... The ultimate dream (right now in my life) is for me to go away to college and he goes with me... I really like this guy. Why is he such a nobody? He has no ambition. So why?

K: ...As for him having no ambition, who cares if he does, as long as you love him and are happy?

D: Sorry dude, it matters a lot if he has no ambition. I can't have some immature, insecure asshole in my life. Someone who doesn't want to achieve anything in life.

Purcell adds side notes that explain milieus, clarifies backgrounds, and expands the impact of these reflections. With such a smorgasbord of experience under one cover, libraries might question who will be the audience for On Becoming Me. This is easy to answer. It will attract those interested in the culture and milieu of the 1980s and others who came of age during these times. Its fans will be readers who look for in-the-moment writings: those rare chronicles of experience that don't come from the revised wisdom of hindsight. And it will engross the creative writer and the self-help reader who receives a vivid story not just of one person's growth, but a lesson in why journaling and writing is so important for future reflection.

These letters, journals, and diaries consider many questions about everything from relationships to moral development and social evolution. On Becoming Me is the perfect acquisition for any library interested in stories of growth and examples of creative writing supporting it.

The Christian Studies Shelf

The Good Parts
C.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9781088031131, $73.88 Hardcover/$59.99 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

"Out of all the works you have written, which ones would you most recommend to an Orthodox reader now?" "The Good Parts:" Hand-Picked "Verbal Icons" for Orthodox and Others is a study in reading recommendations for literary Orthodox scholars, hand-picking from the numerous works written by C.S. Hayward to provide a synthesis of the most powerful passages across a myriad of works.

Hayward chose some one out of four works for this collection, but it still features over a thousand pages of material. This will prove both daunting and attractive to those who hold more than a casual interest in Orthodoxy in general and Hayward's works in particular. Here are the nutshells of wisdom that stem from the author's studies and experience, presenting his writings and reflections in a survey that is both personal and scholarly: "...when I began to repent, I wondered if repenting would leave anything left in my writing. And after I had let go of that, I found that there was still something left to write...When we are repenting, or trying to, or trying not to, repentance is the ultimate terror. It seems unconditional surrender - and it is. But when we do repent, we realize, "I was holding on to a piece of Hell," and we realize that repentance is also a waking up, a coming to our senses, and a coming to joy."

The essays tackle a wide range of issues affecting Orthodoxy and religious studies, from conflicts, miscommunication, and misinterpretation of Biblical intention and the Word of God to reflections on modern conditions and pursuits that impact belief systems: "You cannot kill time," the saying goes, "without injuring eternity."

At least one breakdown of mobile users has said that they fall into three groups: "Urgent now," people who have some degree of emergency and need directions, advice, contingency plans, and the like, "Repeat now," people who are monitoring information like whether or how their stocks are doing, and "Bored now," people who are caught and have some time to kill, and look for a diversion. "Bored now" use of cell phones is simply not constructive spiritually; it offers a virtual escape for the here and now God has given us, and it is the exact opposite of the saying, "Your cell [as a monk] will teach you everything you need to know."

Readers might find these connections between social conditions, political beliefs, and God's intentions surprising, but that's one of the pleasures of The Good Parts -- its ability to study not just Orthodoxy of the past, but Orthodoxy in action today. Readers will also be delighted by the wide-ranging nature of these articles, from food choices and health to spiritual matters connecting modern choices with God's intention and guidance.

Ponderings include reflections on science, diet and health, philosophy, technology, and historical interpretation. The wide-ranging subjects and approaches of these pieces lend not to methodical chapter-by-chapter pursuits, but to skipping around to fully absorb the subjects that capture the mind and eye. This pursuit is reinforced by the author's link, at the end of each work, that returns to the table of contents. This creates a sense of random access akin to an Internet browser: instead of reading each piece in (alphabetical) order, people can move around and selectively read what they want, in any order.

Hayward has read the Bible in seven ancient, medieval, and modern languages. C.S. Lewis formed him, as a writer, but the student has moved beyond his influence and surpassed his muse in all the works Hayward has produced that rival his mentor and inspiration. The Good Parts represents a powerful synthesis of Hayward's life work and writings. It should be considered a foundation guide not only to his many volumes of writing, but as a stand-alone read representing the best of his analyses. Orthodoxy students, in particular, will appreciate the wide-ranging nature of these social, theological, philosophical, and multifaceted inspections.

It should be noted that while paperback and hard copy are usually preferable for long-term lending and libraries, in this case, due to a brittle spine, readers should buy this title in Kindle, or view it on the web.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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phone: 1-608-835-7937

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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phone: 1-707-795-4629

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