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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 8 August 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Business Shelf Pets/Wildlife Shelf
Biography Shelf Theatre/Cinema Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Western Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Philosophy Shelf Religion/Spirituality Shelf
Metaphysical Studies Shelf Self-Help Shelf California Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

The Blossoming of Women
Karen Roberts with Dana Jaffe
Gaia & Friends Inc.
9780974644905, $25.00 print/$9.99 ebook

The Blossoming of Women: A Workbook on Growing from Older to Elder is a collection of practices for transformation that considers the practices and contributions of women Karen Roberts considers "elder" (those in their sixties, seventies, and eighties).

It invites women to consider the differences in perception, experience, and opportunity that lies between "old" and "elder," and it provides a hallmark of time and possibility that suggests paths away from the grief and depression that aging can bring. This is achieved via tips, reviews of common traps, and road maps of choices made by other women who have eschewed the Narcissistic views of aging and entered into more giving, world-embracing perspectives.

Roberts's vividly thought-provoking insights will lend especially well to women's book reading groups (and any woman's group, in general). Filled with life-supporting insights about these pathways, what they look like, and how they are achieved, The Blossoming of Women surveys a new age's ripe potentials, cementing them with biographical sketches of women who serve as examples of the fruits of this process.

It concludes each feature with questions women can use for self-inspection, reflection, and discussion, such as: "What aspects of her crisis, the death of so many close to her in a short period, seem similar to your dark place?"

Beautiful nature images throughout support the gentle feel and uplifting spirit of these stories. If only one book on women's aging were to be selected for a library collection, it should be The Blossoming of Women: A Workbook on Growing from Older to Elder. Filled with inspirational and educational opportunities, it promotes a different vision of elder years and retirement that translates not to retiring from life, but entering into another phase of efficiency and meaningful thoughts, actions, and choices.

The Business Shelf

Two Rivers
Shery Roussarie and Kelly Macken-Marble
Warren Publishing
9781960146199, $26.99 Hardcover/$16.99 Paper

Two Rivers: The Power of Collaboration is a book about women in business and in leadership positions who met for the first time in 2018. Their roles as CEOs of competing health care companies would seem to place them in adversarial positions, but their shared vision of creating a managed care network instead resulted in a cooperative effort that surprised their community and those around them.

Ironically, the stage was preset to discourage this type of cooperative venture, from the hospital systems around them to influencing medical organizations designed to support health care systems.

More than a tale of two women who come together for a shared cause, Two Rivers is just as astute in considering the forces and structures that work against cooperative ventures, using the authors' experiences as examples of the power of saying 'yes' and listening to but utilizing disparate forces to better support such pursuits. The second strength of this story stems from its duality as the two women's' very different personalities are contrasted, illustrating how their shared visions and efforts benefit from this seeming disparity.

A wealth of business savvy is imparted during the course of this journey that keeps its lessons on track and specific. This will interest business readers seeking practical advice and enlightenment backed by real-world experience.

From succession and postretirement planning to growing a business structure that answers numerous personality and community needs, Shery Roussarie and Kelly Macken-Marble's story is more than one of the meeting of two strong women's visions. It's about the process of collaboration as it plays out in business and medical communities, and documents promises, pitfalls, and approaches to success that reflect both authors' visions and the greater power to be found from cooperative ventures that resonate with personal ambition and ideals.

Libraries and readers interested in women in business and healthcare roles will find Two Rivers of special interest; but ultimately it's the reader committed to the ideal of cooperative ventures, actions, and thinking who will gain the most from this enthusiastic, visionary story. Ideally, Two Rivers will be profiled in book clubs appealing to women in business who seek concrete lessons blended with memoirs that are lively and revealing.

The Pets/Wildlife Shelf

Eight Bears
Gloria Dickie
W.W. Norton
500 5th Avenue New York, NY 10110
9781324005087, $30.00

Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future is an insightful survey of eight bear species and their history and conservation issues. It comes from an environmental journalist and National Geographic explorer who followed scientists studying these bears around the world, from China to South America.

From observations of the wild/urban interface in the American West that have led to historic changes in bear habits to the impact of human changes to their environment, Eight Bears is an important survey. It goes beyond the usual natural history approach to blend in facets of environmental change that are key to understanding the bears' past and future struggles to remain on this planet.

Eight Bears should be in any natural history or environmental issues collection as a classic story of world changes and their impact on all life.

The Biography Shelf

Lona Cook
Houndstooth Press
9781544520353, $24.99 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

"This book is about bearing witness to your life and reclaiming what we all have at our core: a connection to this divine life that is ready to unfold. A life that is working for us, sometimes in the weirdest situations and ways."

It literally took a gun in the ribs to spark realizations about author Lona Cook's life trajectory, described in her memoir of self-help "Reclamation: The Evolution of a Hot Mess".

Her growth was not a singular event, but a process that actually began long before this pivot point was reached. It involved forward and backward movements as Cook considered the spiritual and psychological ramifications of making or resisting change. "Reclamation" is the story of one door closing and another opening -- that of awareness.

"Do I continue on to where I was going or turn back?" This question, which arises after the life-changing moment in Costa Rica that almost ended all possibilities for change, is inherent throughout a process that Cook explains as being a growth opportunity.

The most intriguing parts of this memoir lie in its contrast between the "old" Lona's reactions to life and the newly aware personality willing to consider that odd events and coincidences might be messages to consider or embrace change and revolutionary thinking. As she progresses through new realizations about God, energy, and her place in the greater scheme of life, Cook begins to absorb the choices and flexibility involved in accepting new opportunities with newly awakened mind and heart.

This is not a linear or clear process. Her memoir candidly describes the back-and-forth process of confronting her ego, her beliefs, and her intentions with new awareness and responsibility. From learning to use her voice more effectively in the world and speaking from the heart to trying to help loved ones who can't hear such messages,

"Reclamation" is both uplifting and gritty. It adopts a poignant honesty that encourages readers to view their lives, beliefs, and driving motivations for relationships and choices in a different light. By couching her advice within a memoir that surveys her awakening and its processes, readers interested in self-help and awareness receive many insights into the pitfalls and possibilities of cultivating a new perspective, than translating that into relationship and life choices.

Libraries and readers interested in self-help and awareness will be the target audience for "Reclamation", but ideally it won't just repose on a library shelf. It should ideally become an active part of book club, psychology, self-help, and growth-oriented discussion groups interested in especially candid revelations about the process of growth and the bigger pictures involved in seeking transformation. "This snapshot we have in our moment right now is just one small sliver of what is unfolding."

When the Rivers Flowed
Marilyn Layman Mascaro
Warren Publishing
9781960146175, $18.95

As a child, Marilyn Layman Mascaro listened to family stories told by her grandmother. When the Rivers Flowed: An Ambitious Hillbilly And A Southern Flapper Discover Knoxville, Tennessee seeps from this foundation wellspring of knowledge to involve biography readers in the story of changing times in America, from the race riots of the 1920s to life in then-smaller-town Knoxville as it experienced sea changes in economics and social condition.

Readers seeking regional histories of cultural and social evolution in America could find no finer mirror of experience than Knoxville. Mascaro demonstrates this with a riveting blend of American history and local influence that brings these times and experiences to life through her family's history and involvements.

Of particular interest are the contrasts in class and social status that influence Earl and Marie's relationship early on. These are reflective of both community sentiments and the morals of the times.

Readers who would better understand the history and culture of the South and the political and economic forces that shaped it should begin with the personal stories narrated and contrasted in When the Rivers Flowed. Its ability to bring these times and influences to life makes for a stroll past newspaper headlines and into the lives of individuals who navigated the Great Depression and the social changes that buffeted their worlds. The resulting tale is compelling, personalizing history with lives that both reflect and defy some of the influences of their times.

Libraries seeking biographies of proactive individuals who both represent and depart from their Southern roots will find When the Rivers Flowed a powerful story that belays any thought that Knoxville's history or lives are staid.

The Theatre/Cinema Shelf

Christopher Irving
TwoMorrows Publishing
10407 Bedfordtown Dr, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27614
9781605491196, $39.95

Cliffhanger! Cinematic Superheroes of the Serials: 1941-1952 is a survey of early film superheroes and comic creators that should be in any media history collection.

It focuses on early characters, stuntmen and directors, comic book creators, and actors who contributed to the notion of a superhero universe, juxtaposing events in the two media histories to build a better understanding of the roots and origins of superhero serial productions.

Packed with color photos and in-depth analysis of famous superhero origins ("Batman was a pulp response to Superman's science fiction roots, created by an ambitious young cartoonist and his uncredited writing partner."), Cliffhanger! is quite simply a 'must' for any film or comic history collection seeking a definitive analyses and solid history, flavored with the vintage images of past superhero incarnations.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Cost of Living
Daisy DeMay
Atmosphere Press
9781639888764, $18.99

The Cost of Living tells of Sara, who faces losing everything. The opening lines of her story reflects the reality of many a reader: "I truly believed I had prepared myself for the inevitable. Unfortunately, I underestimated how I would react when confronted with chaos and deadly destruction."

Such a situation doesn't have to embrace war or natural disaster. It can some from the heart, from a physical storm that love and marriage become when their initial hope turns into despair. That's the situation Sara finds herself in at the opening of this story, as she reflects on the events that have brought her to this place and the transformations experienced by a couple that once "...believed love could conquer anything the world threw at us."

Curveballs come in many guises and unexpected moments of revelation, as Sara reveals during a probe of her abusive past and the possibilities in her present and future relationships. More so than most stories about manipulation, abuse, and recovery, Sara's tale embraces not just the circumstances of her life, but how it got to this point and, perhaps more importantly, what it takes to leave it all behind.

Spectacular comparisons between threats that come with concurrent danger and beauty are presented in the form of perceptions about the world's opportunities and adversities: "Yes, it is spectacular out here, but amongst all the beauty you have found is the sound of the sirens going off to let us know this is dangerous. We have to get to the basement."

Three years of marriage brings the storms outside indoors, taking them to heart in a manner that transforms Sara. All it then takes is realizing connections to past patterns in order to break them -- but this involves total destruction before recreation can take place. The experience will strengthen if it doesn't kill first, and the sea change in attitude that Sara undergoes during this process provides compelling insights readers will appreciate: "I wasn't trying to understand what was left. Instead, I was searching for a way out."

Daisy DeMay creates an evocative, moving story about the costs of past abuse, present-day revelations, and future options. Readers should anticipate not only emotional storms that could trigger emotional responses, but explicit sexual scenes as Sara, Adam, Sam, and others become survivors in different ways. DeMay introduces some surprising twists to anything readers might anticipate as predictable, from literally mindful connections to facing the end of one world and the beginning of another.

Whether she's talking about disaster, survival, or interpersonal conundrums, one thing to be said about The Cost of Living is that it redefines the notion of freedom, escape, captivity and survival on many levels through vivid, thought-provoking scenes that embrace both action and strong characterization.

Libraries and readers seeking stories of transformation and revised purposes will find The Cost of Living a compelling interplay between characters that face their pasts and consider the ultimate price of being a survivor. Each character aims to restart their world and everything around them with newfound insights and visions about their purposes and relationships.

The Alphabet Woods
Jenny Poelman
Warren Publishing
9781960146274, $33.00 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper

The Alphabet Woods follows fifty-seven-year-old Key North's move to rural North Carolina, which represents a sea change from her former ordered, staid lifestyle. The move brings with it a reintroduction to new environments, people, and old acquaintances that change when they enter this world, bringing with them new realizations that Key is forced to absorb from the start.

Her responses to those who eschew her remote choice are pointed and humorous, reflecting much of the tone of her journey of self-discovery: "I'm not technically in Troy. I'm four miles past it, on the edge of civilization. I'll try to get word to you of my well-being now and then when the traveling tinker comes through and can take my ciphered missive."

The story opens not with Key's move, but with little boy Wain's struggles with a monster that lives and is accepted in his own home. It's a monster he can't avoid. The child abuse scenario which evolves may prove a trigger point for sensitive readers, but is an intrinsic part of a story that evolves new connections for Key, Wain, and those who inhabit this community of interconnected lives.

Jenny Poelman ties seemingly disparate threads of threat and opportunity with the psyches of individuals of all ages who at first seem lost, but demonstrate that they are, in fact, survivors of extraordinary circumstances. Key's increasing involvement in Wain's life and a mystery that holds answers to questions that could change everything makes for a moving story of life connection replete with thought-provoking moments of revelation and confrontation:

" doesn't matter whether you were drunk or sober. Your actions toward Wain were the actions of a monster. And he's paying the price."

As magical realism influences too-real lives affected by substance abuse and new connections, readers will appreciate this vivid story of a middle-aged woman who transforms her world, only to find that her new environment introduces conundrums she never anticipated.

A literary work of middle-age transformation and evolving friendships that rest on uncertain and unusual foundations, The Alphabet Woods is highly recommended for libraries and readers seeking memorable stories of struggles to learn and efforts to translate life lessons into real change. It unfolds gifts that arrive from unexpected circumstances and from taking leaps of faith, powered by the music of the soul and the strength and connections involved in taking risks, and is highly recommended for a wide audience of thinking readers.

Fast Fiction Volume 2: Man vs. Machine
Scotty Cornfield
Flagstone Press
B0C3BGX6S5, $10.49 ebook/$15.95 paper

Just how much can be written in 101 words? A lot, as Scotty Cornfield proved in his original Fast Fiction and here, again, in companion volume Fast Fiction Volume 2: Man vs. Machine.

Both books pay tribute to the fact that not only can a story be well-developed in merely 101 words, but that prompts from others can set off a chain reaction of creativity plumbing the wellspring of originality to come up with circumstances and tales well worth reading.

Perhaps at no other time in human history does the fast fiction form feel so compelling and necessary. Given the time (and, often, literary) constraints of modern readers, fast fiction lends particularly well to quick reading and long-term, thought-provoking digestion. The breadth of themes and inspections in this second book expands the novel idea and incarnation of fast fiction, inviting both literary and general-interest audiences to imbibe in a rich, heady brew of diverse experiences.

Cornfield wrote 75 flash fiction stories for this collection, then took the same prompts he used to write his original tales and fed them into AI systems ChatGPT and Google Bard to see what computer-generated stories looked like.

Humans like to have the last word, so he produced a 76th story that departs from the inspirational steam of prompt-generated flash stories to sum up the collection's 'man versus machine' duel.

An introductory explanation not only reveals the birth of this collection's core concept, but cements the idea that, in this gathering, human-authored stories are presented alongside AI-created fast fiction. The separation between man and machine is clarified by a change in font and the AI author in parenthesis, representing a unique collaboration between man and machine that profiles both the strengths and drawbacks to AI-generated literature.

The contrast in approaches opens with the Cornfield-generated "Don't Let the Sweet Name Fool You" and its AI version, "The Minimalist Funeral."

Creative writing courses focusing on the question of what makes writing human will find plenty to digest throughout the collection through such contrasts. In this case, the theme of a "bad-ass" mortician whose jokes about death lead to a stunning revelation in "Sweet Name" take on a different feel in the AI-generated story "Minimalist," in which a deceased's macabre sense of humor spills over from death to educate the living. Both stories were created from the prompt "less is morgue," but the very different threads demonstrate how one prompt can, under different hands (or, in this case, machinery) lead to very different scenarios. Both incorporate ironic humor, but each story contains provocative messages that are driven home in 101 words and the space of virtually a moment or two of reading.

Another intriguing contrast is created in the juxtaposition of "Another Family Teachable Moment" with the AI-created "Perhaps Not the Best Idea," both prompted by a single word: "Perhaps." These very different stories of possibility and vision again excel in the unexpected as they explore possibility in very different ways. As these connected prompts unfold between man and machine, a battle of wits and creative responses to words evolves that will prove especially enlightening discussion material for any classroom (high school on up) interested in exploring the wellsprings of reaction, intuition, and the scenarios and approaches that differentiate human reactions from machine-generated words. Or, is there a difference? You decide. After all, you're the reader ... and you're only human. Or, are you?

In a nutshell, Fast Fiction Volume 2: Man vs. Machine's prompt-generated, word-driven art is flawlessly compelling and highly recommended for a wide audience, from literary and creative writing students to general-interest readers who may have little time, but great interest in inquiring, thought-provoking, surprisingly disparate short fiction scenarios. Libraries and readers searching for powerful examples of what the short form can do, how prompts can tap underlying creative responses, and what differentiates the approaches of man and machine will find much food for thought and discussion in Fast Fiction Volume 2: Man vs. Machine.

Three People, Three Countries, One Path
Cara A'court
Atmosphere Press
9781639888528, $14.99

Three People, Three Countries, One Path is a spiritual novel about three individuals who think their life course is set, until circumstances bring them together in a journey certain to affect their perceptions and lives.

Many novels have featured such revelations, but Three People, Three Countries, One Path holds the special ability to unite the microcosm of individual choice and belief with bigger-picture thinking reflecting the lives and shifts of those who believe their destinies have been set.

One of these is narrator Pinia, a Buddhist monk who has achieved the pinnacle of faith and lifestyle. Or, so he thinks. The monastery he inhabits has survived many changes -- but so far, he has not. Nothing draws him or feels like home like the temple life. Or so he believes. Life has a funny way of transforming even the most staid life, and so his studies of the ways of The Buddha and the path to Nirvana seem to lead him in a singular direction -- until it doesn't.

Pinia's ambition to become a Lama is interrupted by a deadly fire, sending him into a world far from these sacred, tranquil walls. Reconciling purposeful disaster with the ways of Buddha and karma is no light venture: "The fire and rage of the energy did not discriminate. It was fuelled too much by its own pain and hurt. Even now, knowing the complete story I cannot understand the karmic or universal reasons for such an atrocity."

Nor is leaving everything familiar (including beliefs) and heading into the uncharted waters of fostering two children, Lakishma and Loysin. But Pinia is skilled at rising to causes, and so his venture into his father's life and the secrets which have powered his transformation and beliefs leads to revelations that shake his foundations even more than the fire that began his journey.

Cara A'court weaves social, spiritual, and psychological observations into her story to create a powerfully compelling saga of good and bad choices and the influences that both define and direct them. She injects the ongoing spiritual concerns of karma, juxtaposing them with rich social inspection as the threat of slavery and China's authority mingle with personal direction and journeys, injecting social and political issues into Pinia's efforts to survive and foster his young charges against all odds and powers.

These rich intersections of social and spiritual drive create not only much food for thought, but topics suitable for wide-ranging discussion in book groups, Buddhist spiritual circles, and Asian history and culture students. In order for a novel to achieve such broad attraction, it must arrive steeped in a personal touch that introduces topics readers may not be familiar with, such as the political entanglements that touch abutting nations.

Three People, Three Countries, One Path does so with an inviting first-person focus that contrasts the intersection of these disparate lives, creating a story rich in philosophical, spiritual, and social inspection. This requires no background in any of its beliefs or history in order to prove compelling and thoroughly engrossing to a wide audience.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

German Days
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798840621165, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

German Days is a novel of a 1970s tour of duty in Germany that changes GI Patrick Walden's life and perceptions. But, more than a story of romance or cross-cultural encounter, it offers a deeper probe into the German Psyche which revolves around an obsession over a missing work of art and an effort to regain both it and a sense of country and purpose.

Over six hundred pages of detail might initially portend a challenging reading effort, but German Days is in fact a gripping story that carries readers through history, politics, intrigue, and romance with a heady grip of fascinating changes and facts that keeps the story not just well grounded, but hard to put down.

The story opens in 1937 with an encounter with Hitler that sets the stage for its focus on the Tannhauser sculpture and its allure. Clark employs a deft hand to capturing Hitler's psyche as he establishes his power and control in many disparate worlds. The Tannhauser's representation of "A man caught between spiritual fulfillment and worldly temptation" is also representative of the German psyche and entanglements that move from its past to present-day events. The notion that war is eternal and that German strength must be represented above any indicators of weakness permeates the story as events consider transformation, duty, business, and spies who are everywhere through the ages. The rescue and restoration of this work of art is key to healing on many different levels.

As Steven Clark surveys the changing milieu of German's past and present worlds, he brings readers into a thoroughly engrossing story that is more than a treasure hunt, but incorporates the excitement of discovery.

German Days will serve well as a leisure read, but also is highly recommended for book clubs considering contemporary works about the German psyche and its history. Ultimately, libraries will also want to recommend this book for its wide-ranging examination of the Tannhauser legend's rebirth and resurrection under many different hands and special interests.

The Western Fiction Shelf

Tom Sharp: The Man and the Legend
Charlie Steel
Condor Publishing Inc.
9781931079617, $12.99,

Tom Sharp: The Man and the Legend sounds like it will be nonfiction, but is a novel that portrays and embellishes the life of a notable 1800s Western figure whose actions are almost bigger than words.

In true keeping with the factual focus of a historical novel, Charlie Steel bases these stories on real events, but also in keeping with a storyteller's flair for tall tales and drama, he adds the fictional touches that keep them thoroughly engrossing and compelling. These treatments result in a Western legend whose exploits challenge any fictional Western dramas and many a biographical sketch as fictional character developments meets the Wild West frontier of historical research, running head-on into the stereotypes of Indian and White relationships and charging through them like a tornado.

As the tale opens, Private Tom Sharp lies somewhere in a camp of wounded soldiers. General Sterling Price of the Army of the Confederate States of America is searching for him to reward him for his valor. His battle days are over, but his adventure is just beginning in many ways, because Tom is fulfilling a long-held dream by choosing not to go home, injured, but to head West.

Sharp defies his upbringing and training in more than one way as he embarks on his new life after war, encountering Indians and refuting the common notions of their inhumanity and psyches to forge uncommon relationships which earn even their grudging acknowledgement: "'Take the weapons,' said Sharp, 'and protect yourselves and the children.'

'Hard to say thank you to white men,' said the Indian woman."

Charlie Steel builds the reputations of all races and both gender through the perceptions and reactions of Tom and those around him as he forges new pathways to connection and understanding while exploring matters of wilderness and the heart. His gift for storytelling lies in how he paints with a colorful hand heavy to understanding the human reactions and feelings of all characters, no matter their race, color, or gender. This makes for a series of encounters that not only opens eyes on Tom's influences and why he appears so enlightened in the face of so much prejudice around him, but allows readers to absorb that the Wild West contained not unified figures of any race, but a disparate group of individuals who each harbored their own choices and reasons for undertaking journeys and relating to the unfamiliar, changing world around them.

More so than most Western novels, Tom Sharp's ability to build understanding from these contrasts and historical precedent lends to a story that is as educational and thought-provoking as it is adventure-filled and character-driven. From the conjoining of families and cooperative efforts to build lives and connections to the forces that try to drive them apart, Tom's world is buffeted by social and political forces as well as romance and family influences. All these facets keep his life and experiences well rooted in thoroughly absorbing, action-packed scenes that keep shifting even as Tom finds his equilibrium and place in the West.

From the powerful specter of Raine, an Indian woman who becomes a teacher called upon to stand up to a father and wife abuser who enters her classroom to kidnap a child to how bad and good men evolve under the same conditions, Steel creates a host of characters surrounding Tom Sharp who bring their own battles and concerns into his life.

Libraries and readers looking for Western fiction that sparkles with thought-provoking contrasts in belief systems and behaviors, and which defies the usual stereotypes of all kinds of Western figures, will find Tom Sharp: The Man and the Legend not only a powerful addition, but worthy of high recommendation to book club readers examining historical fiction's potential for revitalizing and revising Western history traditions.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Flood of Memories
Bonnie Oldre
Gatekeeper Press
9781662936074, $15.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The second book in the Beth and Evie mystery series, Flood of Memories, presents another mystery that draws Beth Williams and her best friend Evie Hanson into a murder involving a dead elderly woman, a missing will, and a painting that holds secrets.

Beth's astute observational skills mark her as an investigator with the unusual ability to connect the dots even as reality shifts. Evie's research reveals clues that lead Beth and her friend on an unexpected journey through history, special interests, and a secret worth killing for.

Readers who enjoy art-based intrigue will especially appreciate this story's progression through the art world as Beth and Evie find themselves off balance and immersed in artistic realms well outside of their areas of expertise.

Bonnie Oldre steeps her mystery in the culture and aura of 1960s Minnesota, juxtaposing the changing milieu of Davidson City with clues that bring together historical and modern conundrums. Readers thus receive a story nicely steeped in a sense of place, times, and purpose.

All these elements add to the growing tension and intrigue that lead Beth, Evie, and their readers into a mystery replete with dangerous confrontations and eye-opening developments.

Libraries and readers seeking a cozy mystery atmosphere replete with intrigue, powered by amateur female sleuths who employ every deductive reasoning device available to arrive at the truth, will find Flood of Memories a fine expansion of the characters in the prior Silent Winter Solstice, who continue to evolve their skills and solidify their community connections here.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

20 Moon Road: An Angel's Tale
Jody Sharpe
Independently Published
9780988562042, $2.99 ebook

20 Moon Road: An Angel's Tale adds the fifth book to Jody Sharpe's cozy urban fantasy series, continuing the theme of kindness, transformation, and interactions between angels and humans which formed the foundations of prior Mystic Bay stories.

In "20 Moon Road: An Angel's Tale", a wide cast of characters (and their animal companions) explore their relationships, town, and beliefs in a story that opens with the ongoing friendship between Madame Norma, the town's psychic, and the angel narrator, who knows that their friendship ties are enduring and will remain strong even after death.

From angelic community programs and interpersonal relationships to the history of a town that embodies God's promises and reflects a prosperity that comes from spiritual connections, Sharpe creates a compelling story powered by a writer's reflections of his town's characters and world and Madame Norma's thoughtful, ongoing influences on those who reside there.

Do angels come to children with special needs? In Mystic Bay, they do. As the truth emerges about the town's makeup, history, and mission, readers become immersed in a spiritual story of angels and beliefs that drive positive changes and kindness in the world and spread beyond the small town of angels.

Sharpe's Mystic Bay series embodies hope, belief, the power of conviction and angel influences, and the acts of kindness that lead humanity on a better, gentler path. 20 Moon Road's revelations of relationships with Madame Norma that changed lives and transformed beliefs through documented angel sightings by special needs children makes for a warm tale of revelation and discovery that explores guardian angels, lasting legacies, and blessings.

Libraries and readers looking for blends of fantasy and spiritual examination will welcome the Mystic Bay series as a whole and this latest addition in particular, which expands the nature, purposes, and insights of Mystic Bay upon the larger world outside its borders.

Combining Both Worlds
Kim Cousins
Resource Publications
c/o Wipf and Stock Publishers
9781666767780, $33.00

Combining Both Worlds presents the third book in the Clashing Kingdoms series, and is especially recommended for prior followers. This audience will find the events, characters, and Christian themes further developed in a story replete with vivid action from the very beginning. Here, a "tigress-of-a-woman" is giving birth to a daughter when an earthquake of a different nature rips through the fabric of their lives.

As the story evolves, it turns out that the continuing earth tremors aren't the only things affecting the community of families and survivors. Also alive and fluid are movements to leave and bring God's word into the greater world.

Christian readers who have appreciated the presence of miracles and transformation in the previous books in the Clashing Kingdoms series will find that Combining Both Worlds unfolds a greater plan, depicting an ongoing war between Satan and God which plays out not just in communities, but in the hearts and minds of men. Here, the battlefield is not just physical, but mental and spiritual as the characters face struggles presented on different levels connected by an undercurrent of meaning that requires slow absorption of the events.

Cousins is particularly adept at capturing the interplay between physical and mental changes, employing a descriptive voice that both cements environment and connects it to the shifting internal and external worlds the characters face: "The Smoky Mountains seemed more scrunched together, like the folds in a closed accordion. This folding made their course more strenuous because their path became a relentless sequence of steep inclines and descents..." The journey is not conducted on a singular level, but is carried out over a period of time and place that embraces encounters with angels and cements its themes and progression with many footnoted Biblical references.

Christian readers who have both Biblical background and familiarity with the prior books in this series will find the blend of action and contemplative reaction in Combining Both Worlds to be an exquisite study in God's promises and the intersections of humanity and spiritual realms. Operating as a quasi-fantasy and a story of revelation and growth,

Combining Both Worlds is highly recommended for Christian libraries and fans of the previous series titles that will discover in this story of the end of days a promise of new spiritual beginnings.

Town of Angels Christmas
Jody Sharpe
Independently Published
9780988562028, $9.00 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

While the fourth book in Jody Sharpe's Mystic Bay series should ideally be read by those who have enjoyed the prior books, this should not be considered a prerequisite for newcomers, who will find this urban fantasy story of holiday secrets to be compelling and freshly original.

The premise involves a town in California that is inhabited by angels, but opens with the new mission of Angel Kenneth Heart, charged with helping a homeless man in San Francisco. He can do this by transporting Walt to Bay Star Shelter in Mystic Bay, where he volunteers. There's more going on than an angel's do-good mission, however, because Mystic Bay also keeps its secret angels close, but faces changes and threats of exposure even as more need arrives in the form of horses that need rescuing before Christmas.

Jody Sharpe unfolds a wonderful saga that cements its plot with a first-person reflective story that builds the backdrop of Mystic bay in a seamless, compelling manner: "We angels let the humans live their lives and choose their days. We are just here living as humans experiencing friendship, and family life, guiding with the gentleness of persuasions. Once we come down to live as humans, we grow old with the rest of the folk. I guess I'm about forty something in human years, but over four hundred in angel years."

The ways angels move, operate, and help are profiled in a gentle story of secrets that must be kept at all costs, efforts that must be fostered towards man and animal alike, and challenges faced by guardian angels who find their missions more complicated than one would expect. The intersection of mystique and kindness evident throughout angel Ken's moves and the special interests of those who swirl around him creates a moving story that is especially perfect for holiday reading and filled with memorable moments.

It matters not if the reader is new to Jody Sharpe's magic or the allure of previous Mystic Bay books or is a prior fan. Both audiences will become immersed in the missions of angels and men and in the town that is a focal point for harboring kindness, discovery, and revelations of a spiritual and social nature. Libraries and readers looking for cozy urban fantasy reading and inviting stories of kindness, miracles, and God's work will find Town of Angels Christmas a fine invitation to consider the actions and efforts that transform lives, whether they be human or animal.

Baen Books

These new books from Baen are top picks for libraries seeking solid sci-fi writings and plots that draw with a blend of strong characterization and swift action.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Salvage Right (9781982192686, $27.00) is another Laiden Universe novel that is especially recommended for prior readers of this universe-spanning scenario. The story of a malevolent intelligence of Tinsori Light, two Light Keepers who stand between it and its infection of the universe, and the failure of the Light and the keepers makes for a powerful struggle of special interests, new dangers, and forces that clash in an effort to control the universe.

D.J. Butler's Between Princesses and Other Jobs (9781982192693, $25.00) is an Indrajit and Fix tale that tells of the two partners' latest task. How can a failed monk and a poet also prove powerful in matters of the sword and heart? As stolen documents, shipwrecks, and a treasure hunt pits them against sorcerers and criminals, the world of Kish comes to life in a heady blend of intrigue and fantasy.

Both of these new titles from Baen Books are simply outstanding choices for discriminating libraries Science Fiction & Fantasy collections, as well as the personal reading lists of science fiction buffs and fantasy fans.

The Philosophy Shelf

A Theory of Everything including Consciousness and "God"
Bill Harvey
The Human Effectiveness Institute
9780918538192, $8.95

Bill Harvey wrote this book mainly for physicists, but its considerations will attract general-interest audiences of non-scientists as well, as A Theory of Everything including Consciousness and "God" explores not only the 'why' of human effort and existence, but how these considerations can lead readers to "...have the intestinal forti-tude to stand up and do whatever it takes to overcome the new challenges facing civiliza-tion today."

Many books and essays have been written about the nature and purpose of life. Bill Harvey takes the next step in applying these inquiries about the "God" concept to expanded purposes in, and approaches to, living life: "The "inner life" tradition - pondering the ulti-mate questions, studying the self - has continued alongside every step forward we have made in science and technology."

From the history of the popular denial of a higher being among scientific circles to ideas of The One Self as a singularity whose presence is all-encompassing and changing, Harvey creates a thought-provoking dialogue that encourages scientists and readers alike to adopt bigger-picture perceptions of the universe's possibilities.

The breadth and scope of this inquiry is unprecedented. Its major value, aside from individual contemplation, will be to spark equally vivid and unusual discussions in professional circles where such talks typically bow to hard, observable science over ethereal suppositions. The result is more than a theory or a dialogue about possibilities in spirituality, reality, and methodology, but an exciting new way of considering consciousness, God, and universe perceptions that invites all manner of students, whether they be scientists or general readers, to suspend preset beliefs and training in favor of a wider-ranging approach to linking hunches and perceptions to the synchronicities life introduces that too often are discarded with pat rationalization.

There is nothing pat or categorically simple in this approach, which encourages self-experimentation and awakening a form of observation and discourse that may have remained in the backgrounds of many readers' lives. Ideally, A Theory of Everything including Consciousness and "God" will receive equally wide-ranging attention and attraction - from spiritual and scientific circles to book club readers and debaters who come from psychology and philosophy circles, and who seek works that don't just reflect the boundaries of human experience and possibility, but challenges them.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

Hidden Price Tags
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798366654579, $11.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

"Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at Technology's Dark Side and Its Best Use: Volume One: Start Here..." is not only unlike any prior book that C.J.S. Hayward has written about Orthodoxy, but offers a serious piece of wisdom about technology that outlines a problem many authors have addressed, but resolutions few have proffered.

It comes from one who owns and uses this technology, but has successfully reined in its employment and filled the gap created by its absence with strategies for cultivating a more meaningful grip on life, spiritual reflection, and activities far from technology's allure or grasp.

Following "The Luddite's Guide to Technology" and "How Can I Take my Life Back from my Phone?", this new book both embraces and expands the contentions of both as it reflects further and deeper on the hidden price tags of technology, how to limit and alleviate them, and (perhaps most importantly) how to replace them with approaches to life and spiritual thinking that embrace Orthodoxy beliefs and approaches to better living.

Although much of the material is reflected in the prior books and represents typical Hayward theological inspection, this contribution to the series offers a far richer vein of argument that makes the case for reasoned abstinence and a better utilization of the time and space created by the absence of technological devices.

Discussions refer to C.S. Lewis and others and evolve on levels of historical reference, psychological inspection, social issues, and spiritual impact as they invite thought-provoking responses from readers. From the perils and place of social networking to how human connections are made, Hayward offers an all-inclusive grasp on the nature, impact, and methods of technology as they reflect and extend human nature, often creating the very divisions they were meant to alleviate in the human condition.

Hayward's reflections and connections, scholarly and heavily footnoted as they are, offer much food for thought and ideally will be utilized as fodder for debate and discussion in all kinds of groups, from everyday readers to Orthodoxy followers. His insights on technology offer new, powerful grasps on the finer art of its deployment and unexpected impact: "There are many things whose marketing proposition is escape, and they all peter out and leave us coveting more. They are spiritual poison if they are used for escape. There may be other uses and legitimate reasons - iPhones are, besides being "avoid spiritual work" systems, incredibly useful - but the right use of these things is not found in the marketing proposition they offer you."

Hidden Price Tags contributes to a series heralded by "The Luddite's Guide to Technology" and "How Can I Take my Life Back from my Phone?", both containing and expanding on the initial concepts presented in these books to focus on strategies for injecting meaning and spiritual foundations back into life after the vacuum is created by tempering and limiting technology's allure.

Libraries interested in expanded Eastern Orthodoxy's applications to reading groups of all kinds, from philosophy to spiritual thinkers, will find "Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at Technology's Dark Side and Its Best Use: Volume One: Start Here..." encourages many opportunities for debate.

The Metaphysical Studies Shelf

Maximize Your Healing Power
Sharon E. Martin, M.D., PhD
Findhorn Press
c/o Inner Traditions
9781644116609, $18.99

Maximize Your Healing Power: Shamanic Healing Techniques to Overcome Your Health Challenges blends allopathic medicine with shamanic and energy medicine techniques, and will appeal to libraries and readers interested in new age and alternative medicine and spirituality blends.

Scientific and spiritual insights merge in a playing field that proposes new applications for symbolic medicine wheels, intuitive explorations, amplifications, and rituals -- techniques that will prove especially effective for those already involved in visualization and symbols of awareness and mindful thinking. This audience, especially, will appreciate the focus on energy healing which lends a different flavor to the process, considering ways of connecting consciousness to spirit in an effort to boost inherent healing power and overcome conscious and subconscious barriers to physical healing and mental growth.

This duality creates a powerful interplay of healing potentials from internal and disparate resources that are reinforced by case history and personal examples that will sound familiar to many: "For a long time, one of my best friends would start her conversations with why she didn't want to work anymore -- because she was too old. What she meant was she had progressed far enough in her life to deserve retirement, but what she stated was that she was growing old. After a few years of these kind of statements, and of me grumbling that she should stop saying these things, she developed an autoimmune disease that significantly limited her movement and functionality. She acted as if she was old and felt old.

Shifting your perception of disease and limitation so that it is a condition you are living with, not a defining issue that is core to your identity, will go a long way in helping you to shift your health challenge." The exercises and case history examples which support examples of such shifts and processes will prove invaluable to self-help readers interested in applying shamanic healing techniques to support health regimens and efforts.

Maximize Your Healing Power's step-by-step approach to supporting one's health makes it a practical recommendation for new age and alternative health libraries, as well as spiritual collections looking to solidify connections between psychic, spiritual, and physical conditions.

The Self-Help Shelf

Say It Out Loud
Vasavi Kumar
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way #1, Novato, CA 94949
9781608688265, $19.95

Say It Out Loud: Using the Power of Your Voice to Listen to Your Deepest Thoughts and Courageously Pursue Your Dreams comes from an author who tried journaling, but found a better way to address her own voice and its inherent insights.

From using the spoken voice to address underlying belief systems to accepting that talking out loud to oneself creates a cathartic opportunity that writing alone can't match, Vasavi Kumar reveals the triggers and forces that both repress and limit the notion that speaking aloud is a productive process. Her encouragement to defy these life messages to tap into an unprecedented form of enlightenment and growth through vocalizing exercises encourages readers to grow their own intuitive process and strength in a different manner.

Libraries strong in self-help, psychology, and new age studies will find Say It Out Loud a fine opportunity for transformation beyond the usual admonition to use written words alone.

In Search of I
Avi Raa
Independently Published
9798392250196, $32.47 Hardcover/$22.96 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Readers who would better understand the process, history, and foundations of meditation will find Avi's In Search of I a solid starting place for understanding.

It nicely supplements the many books on the market about how to do meditation, opening with the all-essential question of why meditation is a worthy, enlightening venture. This touches upon not only its promise, but its usual approach to transformation: "Meditation affects everything - it touches every single dimension of life, and at the same time, it doesn't change anything ... Meditation transforms our emotional landscape, our self-perception, our inner dialogue, cognitive processes, and the way we relate to the world. Yet, it leaves us absolutely free, for it operates not at the level of thoughts, but someplace deeper."

Avi's exploration is absolutely essential as a start to the process because those who embark on meditative efforts typically are not as well grounded in what to expect from the effort as they should be. Chapters unfold the rich possibilities of meditative approaches, choices, and results, reviewing its mindset, processes and impact with a careful attention to considering both the benefits and challenges of embarking on a meditation routine.

Avi's diversion from the usual "how to" themes running through too many similar meditation guides allows for a far better understanding of not just the routines of meditation, but what to expect from its practice. The real magic and potential of meditation lies not in a goal-oriented approach, but in a celebration of the moments involved and the adventure of self-discovery and growth that evolve not from a set course of action and anticipated results, but from the flexibility of remaining mindful, open, and cognizant of surprises that emerge from the meditative experience.

Avi readily admits the challenges involved in setting aside preconceptions, routines, and expectations of results. The result is a discourse that should ideally come first, putting the 'why' before the 'how' as In Search of I explores the promises and potential pitfalls of embarking on a meditation journey and shows how best to embrace its possibilities.

While new age libraries and readers will be the most likely audience for this discussion, ideally, In Search of I will gain attention from book clubs and groups interested in pursing meditation in its best form, who would better understand both its historical connections and the legacy it passes down to those who imbibe. Its importance in delving into the heart of meditation's processes cannot be overstated, making In Search of I a top recommendation for anyone and any collection interested in self-help, personal transformation, and journeys of enlightenment.

Own Your Work Journey!
Edward D. Hess
Independently Published
9798987442302, $7.95 Paper/$3.95 ebook

Own Your Work Journey! The Path to Meaningful Work and Happiness in the Age of Smart Technology and Radical Change advocates integrating technological savvy into the quest for finding meaningful life work, promoting a sense of independence and accomplishment that comes from the unification of two seemingly disparate approaches to life.

It's unusual to see a book that is part new age insight and yet is inclusive of the technological opportunities that typical new age writings tend to eschew. But the foundations of Edward D. Hess's revised and revitalized approach to satisfaction lay in adopting new survival strategies to mitigate the faster life pace introduced by new technologies, and chapters focus on building self-awareness and insight while working alongside such changes. In this process, becoming your "best self" is key to not only survival, but thriving.

Hess reveals how to take on the perceptions and life strategies that enable such winning roles in life's journey, drawing important connections between the time taken towards self-realization and overcoming negative and limiting attitudes and the success that can stem from adapting one's life journey to a rapidly changing world. The prerequisites for successfully utilizing this title are a willingness to work on self and an acceptance of tools such as mindfulness, meditation, journaling, and practicing the lessons Hess outlines here.

But, then, readers not on this path and unwilling to work on or look at themselves might not be the prime audience for this book. That would be a shame, because likely this kind of reader is exactly who needs the book the most. Hess points out the many business and personal changes that the new era of technology poses, indicating how these necessitate adaptations in the business and personal pursuits of everyone.

Understanding how these changes and choices in responses work to either create greater satisfaction and opportunity or result in less of each is key to adopting the kinds of attitudes that lead towards satisfaction on many levels. That's why the practical observations and psychology of Own Your Work Journey! is so essential. It is an interconnected analysis of what constitutes satisfaction, demonstrating how to maintain equilibrium and upward momentum in times of fast change, and how to tailor one's life to make the most of all of its influences.

There is no better blueprint for such success than Own Your Work Journey! The Path to Meaningful Work and Happiness in the Age of Smart Technology and Radical Change, which should be in any self-help or business library, and utilized in book club discussion groups of all kinds, whether they be holistic, business, or psychological in nature.

The California Shelf

Land Use Planning in California
Thomas Jacobson
Solano Press Books
9781938166419, $75.00, PB, 232pp

Synopsis: "Land Use Planning in California: An Essential Reference" by Emeritus Professor Thomas Jacobson is a comprehensive guide to how land use planning works in the state of California. This edition of "Land Use Planning in California: An Essential Reference" from Solano Press Books features extensive and easy-to-use cross-references that will help professional and non-professional readers find what they need and understand the connections and interrelationships among a wide range of planning topics related to California land use issues and laws.

Critique: Thoroughly up to date and impressively 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Land Use Planning in California: An Essential Reference" must be considered as a core and essential addition to personal, professional, community, California state government real estate and land use commission, college, and university library collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Thomas Jacobson ( directed Sonoma State's Institute for Community Planning Assistance and is the Interim Director of its Sustainable Communities program. He has practiced as a land use and environmental lawyer and as a planner throughout California. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the California Planning Roundtable and was an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
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