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California Bookwatch

Volume 16, Number 2 February 2021 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Environmental Studies Shelf Health/Medicine Shelf
Self-Help Shelf General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf
Romantic Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Biography Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Incubus: The Descent
Christian Francis
Encyclopocalypse Publications
9798684305627, $11.99 Paperback, $0.99 Kindle, $19.95 Audible, 314pp

Incubus: The Descent is Book 2 in the Animus Chronicles and paints a series of horror snapshots that, together, coalesce into a unified and surprising bigger picture. This collection begins with 'The Offer', in which King Ferenc knows he has to stop Elizabeth, his wife and queen ruler of the land, who has turned into a monster. He's long avoided this possibility by traveling and getting away from her, but his strategy allows her to become even more evil and stronger in his absence. Now he's called off the battlefield to return home to deal with what she has become when children go missing from the village, only to find that what she is now is a powerful force that defies subjugation. Ferenc struggles with his own complicity in his wife's condition and newfound powers. But his battle with an evil force that murders, tortures, and relishes blood is only beginning. As his plan moves beyond dealing with the creature that his wife has become, changing everything tainted by her bloodlust, Ferenc must consider himself part of the long-term solution to destroy not just her particular brand of evil, but all evil. The conclusion segues into 'Toil and Trouble', set in a very different place but also revolving around characters who confront a persistent horror in themselves and the world.

Each story adds a piece to the greater jigsaw puzzle of literary horror to build an interconnected world. Each explores witches, evil, destruction, and Ferenc's evolving mission as he travels the countryside learning new languages, cultures, and the results of his life choices. As changing weather, threats, and darkness evolve, the King's daughter Hanna, the imposing figure of witch Rebecca Hopkins, and others join together in an epic struggle between monsters and a darkness that threatens reality itself. Readers not put off by graphic descriptions of violence and brutality, who look for the solid feel of horror paired with a complex dance between forces that vie for control, will find Incubus: The Descent both a powerful series addition and a readily accessible stand-alone read that draws readers into a king's mission and spins it into a story of rebirth, atonement, and redemption. Fans of literary horror will find Incubus: The Descent a worthy, involving read.

The Environmental Studies Shelf

Practical CEQA
Antero Rivasplata & Greta Brownlow
Solano Press Books
9781938166358, $80.00, PB, 200pp

Synopsis: The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a California statute passed in 1970 and signed in to law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, shortly after the United States federal government passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to institute a statewide policy of environmental protection. CEQA does not directly regulate land uses, but instead requires state and local agencies within California to follow a protocol of analysis and public disclosure of environmental impacts of proposed projects and, in a departure from NEPA, adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts. CEQA makes environmental protection a mandatory part of every California state and local (public) agency's decision making process. It has also become the basis for numerous lawsuits concerning public and private projects. (Wikipedia)

"Practical CEQA: A Stepwise Guide to California Environmental Quality Act Compliance" was published and intended to be a step-by-step reference for public agency staff, consultants, attorneys, developers, and interested citizens to help them understand the environmental review process. It will explain CEQA from start to finish in plain language. Additionally, it includes practical advice to help CEQA practitioners make their way through the process.

Critique: Comprehensive and exceptionally well organized and presented, "Practical CEQA: A Stepwise Guide to California Environmental Quality Act Compliance" is especially and unreservedly recommended for California's community, governmental, and academic library Contemporary Environmental Policy collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, governmental policy makers, environmental activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Practical CEQA" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $40.00).

The Health/Medicine Shelf

So You Have a Disease: Devotions and Stories to Restore Hope
Beth Praed
CrossLink Publishing
9781633573208, Paper: $9.95; $2.99 Kindle, 127pp

Multiple sclerosis is slowly killing author Beth Praed. How does one live life under such circumstances? With faith, as demonstrated in So You Have a Disease: Devotions and Stories to Restore Hope, which is as much about hope and cultivating positivity than it is about disease and despair.

The devotions cultivated by Praed in this book. Her spiritual orientation and focus will appeal to anyone struggling with disability, disease, depression, or life's meaning. Her discussions offer hope and enlightenment that encourage acknowledging the 'small gifts' that lead to coping and life-affirming moments, often floating in a sea of adversity.

Praed pairs these invitations for spiritual understanding with her own life story and fight against multiple sclerosis. More so than most books, this pairing of life-threatening adversity and appreciation of God's gifts and inner strength provides readers with new coping methods for understanding and identifying God's hand in daily life. For disabled readers who live each day as a challenge, this is a powerful realization that provides fuel for their life-affirming struggle. Beth Praed's book is about hope, courage, and living with a debilitating disease. It is highly recommended reading for anyone facing their own 'impossible' struggles, blending autobiography and spiritual reflection into a positive formula for daily living.

The Self-Help Shelf

Happiness Power
Robert Gill Jr.
Teaching Press
9780578718323, $12.49 Paperback
9780578780443, $7.49 Kindle

Happiness Power: How To Unleash Your Powers And Live A More Joyful Life promotes happiness, well-being, and a more powerful life by offering methods of cultivating happiness in life and in the lives of others. In an era where depression is rampant, this is more important a goal than ever, making Happiness Power an especially powerful tool for success.

From understanding the neurochemistry of happiness and how success is achieved and perceived to cultivating mindful behaviors in physical and mental health and employing acts of self-kindness, Happiness Power offers all kinds of avenues to success and achieving the goal of contentment and joy.

Many discussions would have stopped at this point, but Robert Gill Jr. goes on to trace and analyze the power of happiness in the wider world, considering how to better connect to friends, improve relationships, and how to use the power of giving as another way of cultivating happiness.

Readers might think this an ethereal goodwill analysis, but Gill backs all these intentions with solid research that enhance insights with science and study. This validates his contentions, elevating the entire production to explore proven approaches, techniques, and ideas that are backed by not just philosophy, but psychology, experience, and science.

Happiness may seem especially elusive in 2020 and possibly beyond, but with Happiness Power's strategies and insights in hand, attempts may be made by readers of all ages to thwart the pull of depression and ennui. Its panacea for stagnation was never more needed than now, making Happiness Power an essential recommendation for all ages and all kinds of self-help and sociology collections.

The General Fiction Shelf

Mothers of Pine Way
Corrine Ardoin
Black Rose Writing
PO Box 1540, Castroville, TX 78009
9781684336838, $18.95

Mothers of Pine Way is a sequel to Fathers of Edenville and flushes out the characters and circumstances of the prior novel, which revolved around the love, legacy, and tragedy that swirled through a small town's families and lives.

A funeral and a tribute that Candelaria Hart has written to her mother opens this story of adversity and change, immediately moving to the spectacle of a home post-fire and the pioneer history of the family that grew up in it. Young girls with dreams grow up to be mothers who impart valuable lessons to their daughters.

Mothers of Pine Way does a fine job of delineating the heritage, multicultural encounters and lifestyles, and purposes of this small town's peoples and the survivors and descendants of those who built their lives there. As in the previous story, the characters are vividly portrayed. Their special interests, unique influences and heritage, and present-day conundrums coalesce, treating readers to a tale that embraces the foundations of fear, guilt, and transformation alike.

The characters live, breathe, and grow in the course of Mothers of Pine Way. This creates a desire in the reader to thoroughly absorb the circumstances and influences of their lives and interpersonal connections. Through friendships and small town evolution to the kinds of intergenerational encounters that build close connections within and outside of the town's families, Mothers of Pine Way does an outstanding job of cementing the lives and interests of all its characters.

Corrine Ardoin takes time to build atmosphere into these interactions. This, too, contributes a realistic, compelling backdrop for unfolding events. Candelaria ages and grieves for many lost opportunities and past experiences, allowing readers to follow her into a world of generations that learn how to survive and build new lives of purpose and opportunity in Pine Way. Mothers of Pine Way is a highly recommended literary inspection of small town life and connections which, like its predecessor, draws its readers into the unfolding drama of mystery, revised purposes, and love.

Editorial Note: Use the promo code: PREORDER2020 to receive a 15% discount, if purchased prior to the publication date of May 13, 2021. Mothers of Pine Way will then be available for sale online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more.

The Narrows
Mark Zvonkovic
Dos Perro Press
9781735275123, $12.99 Paperback
9781735275130, $2.99 Ebook

Readers who appreciate literary thrillers (those a cut above the norm in character development and plot) will find The Narrows just the ticket for a read that goes beyond entertainment value alone. The Narrows is the second book in the 'Raymond Hatcher Stories' series, both complimenting A Lion in the Grass and standing alone as a continuation of the family's story.

Set on Cape Cod, it explores first cousins Bradley Wright and Larry Brown as they navigate life. Larry Brown is on a mission to rescue his cousin from a religious cult group. He's working with Black Lightning, who is intent on not just rescue but deprogramming cult members from their training and influences. There's much more happening in this story than an effort to rescue a family member, however. In the course of embarking on this journey far from his comfort zone as a book nerd and teacher, Larry finds that he, too, is reassessing life, his role in it, his dreams, and his influences.

Mark Zvonkovic's focus on Larry's growth process and revelations is wonderful. His laser eye captures nuances of Larry's introspection and evolution in a thought-provoking, literary manner designed to both provide psychological inspection and high drama. It should be advised that this story comes with many in-depth reflections. Those who look for succinct writing might think that some editing could have better shortened these sections, but part of the power of this tale lies in its interconnected thoughts.

As Larry's perspective changes, readers receive a story that juxtaposes dreams, memories, and schemes with a winning story of transformation and changing relationships on many levels. Presenting Larry's dilemmas in the first person also allows for a level of understanding that emphasizes the movement he makes in accepting himself, his place in the social and political world, and his motivations and influences.

Readers who look for novels replete in psychological and social inspection, as well as prior readers of the Raymond Hatcher family's evolution, will find The Narrows powerfully employs dialogue, philosophical and psychological reflection, and a slice-of-life feel so expansive that it's hard to believe the timeline embraces only ten pivotal days in the narrator's life. The changes that affect an ordinary teacher's goals are remarkably astute in their scope and presentation. Its special blend of psychological inspection with components of thriller reading will delight literary seekers of quality fiction.

Sylvie Denied
Deborah Clark Vance
Flower Press
9781662902925, $19.95 Paperback
9781662902932, $8.99 Ebook

Sylvie Denied is the coming-of-age story of a young woman of the 1970s who decides to influence the world around her by cultivating a peaceful response to adversity. She sets aside her inheritance of being a victim during the course of a journey through various communities on two continents. During this process, Sylvie sees how the bigger patterns of masculine aggression and social hierarchies repeat themselves in these microcosms, and grows to find her place in the world. Despite her best efforts, her childhood trauma leads her into a relationship with the wrong man, whom she eventually marries. Thus continues a pattern of violence which moves from her childhood experiences to adult patterns, mimicking those she is already too familiar with.

How many times has it been theorized that violence can be conquered by peaceful intentions? And yet, here Sylvie struggles with the best of intentions gone awry. Any woman who has faced abuse or trauma will empathize with Sylvie's determination to be different and beat the odds, only to fail to recognize the warning signs that she is falling into a similar life also filled with conflict and threat.

Deborah Clark Vance takes the time to capture Sylvie's childhood perceptions of her actions and those of the adults around her. Time is also devoted to exploring her blossoming relationship with the more worldly Enzo, who cultivates tricks for gaining what he wants from others, no matter the cost.

When Sylvie finally works a way out of her dilemma, she finds social and financial barriers thwart the mother of a small child who wants to forge a new pathway, who holds little experience in a world as unforgiving and uncaring as the one she's built for herself. This hard-hitting story of how Sylvie finally learns to put herself first and find a place in the world for herself and her daughter will appeal to any woman who has found that almost everything is easier to get into than get out of.

Women's fiction and literature readers will find Sylvie Denied a hard-hitting, familiar-feeling story of growth and new directions.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Lockett's Betrayal
T. J. Johnston
Vivus Historical Press
9780578688374, $13.99 PB

Lockett's Betrayal is a prequel to Lockett's Crucible, and is a solid work of historical fiction that rests solidly on T.J. Johnston's research into Civil War era events surrounding the Battle of Shiloh and clashes in Tennessee. Set in 1861-1862, it traces the origins of the Boys From Kalamazoo as an addition to the series, contrasting the fictional characters of James Lockett and Blair's Independent Regiment with real historical facts in a swirl of action. From its opening lines covering 1862 Tennessee, readers are drawn into the sights, smells, and sounds of the rural area.

Lieutenant James Lockett is at the scene of a cataclysmic destruction that is the aftermath of two days of heavy battle at Shiloh. The devastation is the result of his mismatched troop's actions. As he surveys the aftermath of war and the results of his promotion by General Grant, he questions the effort and its heavy costs.

While readers might expect (and receive) a hefty focus on battles won and people lost, the pleasure in Lockett's Betrayal lies in its close inspection of the political and military processes which affect strategies, decisions, and outcomes, both in conflict and within the ranks. This focus on the changing ethical and moral dilemmas of leaders and soldiers blends with other concerns such as relationship challenges between Katherine and Lockett and others, lending a fuller flavor to events than military encounters and dilemmas alone.

As history unfolds, the characters are forced to examine each other under a different light. From dishonorable deeds and poor choices to courage, slander, and dangerous plots, Lockett's influence extends beyond his intentions to affect the lives and motivations of others in unexpected ways.

As the real layers of Lockett's betrayal and actions unfold among various circles, readers receive a powerful story of the South and its tribulations. This both sets the stage for Lockett's Crucible and stands alone as a powerful saga of Confederate actions, reactions, and confusion over loyalties and motivations during the American Civil War.

Readers of this era's history are in for a treat in this multifaceted historical piece, which personalizes the battle experience, exposes underlying plots and mystery as undercurrents to the war, and adds fictional embellishments and relationships that bring this era to life. Lockett's Betrayal is a fine read recommended for anyone with an interest in Civil War events and conundrums.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

From Rome With Love
Kate Lloyd
Union Bay Publishing
9781735241128, $12.99 Paper, $3.99 Kindle, 320pp

When Lucy Goff accepted a job as a nanny for a Seattle couple, she didn't anticipate that it would involve Christmas in a foreign country, much less the possibility of romance. From Rome With Love follows her journey from America to Europe and beyond, adding a healthy dose of intrigue when teen Tabatha's parents vanish, leaving her alone and confused. As if this weren't enough tension, Kate Lloyd adds into the mix a handsome possible Italian rescuer (or, is he?), an ex-boyfriend, and family secrets. All this might seem surprising in a Christmas story, but one of the pleasures of From Rome With Love lies in not just its unexpected twists and turns, but its ability to inject a realistic, logical atmosphere into its evolving tale of Lucy and Tabatha's relationship conundrums.

The story is narrated in the first person by Lucy. One of her first chilling threats is that she might be fired by her new employer. But employer Gretchen hasn't exactly been forthright with Lucy, either, about Tabatha's personality and problems. And so Lucy has a double challenge in the beginning, both in proving herself and uncovering what is wrong with Tabatha. Her ability to bond with the girl helps her make connections based on her own experiences as a teen.

Kate Lloyd's ability to build her story as much on evolving relationships as on building intrigue are part of what give From Rome With Love a lovely flavor of complexity beyond the usual holiday story. Another fine element is Lucy's struggles with her own family makeup and her typical reaction to strife, which comes to light when she introduces Tabatha into the mix of her mother and beau Tom Baker.

As the story evolves and Lucy's struggle with narcotics addiction and recovery takes center stage, readers receive an unforgettable story of a new life challenged by different possibilities and struggles. The intrigue surrounding a missing painting and a nanny's struggles with her employer over a daughter's trajectory in life crafts an absorbing story of growth, change, and even a touch of romance. These facets belay the usual pat scenarios and solutions of a holiday novel and provide a taste of something different.

Readers who want their stories realistic, compelling, and multifaceted will find From Rome With Love a real winner, perfect for holiday reading.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Rock & Roll Murders
Phillip B. Chute
Independently Published
9781732885516, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 221pp

Fans of legal thrillers and historical mysteries will relish this fact-based exploration, heavily based on a true, little-known story that took place in the Inland Empire region of Southern California in the 1970s-1990s. Everything in this story is factual except the names and locations. Author Phillip B. Chute was the accountant for the KOLA Rock & Roll radio station 99.9 in Riverside, California for many years. He personally knew police detectives involved in the case, all the lawyers, other people involved, all the employees. The only person who let him down during the making of Rock & Roll Murders was the District Attorney, former prosecutor of this trial, who wouldn't release the police trial evidence.

Raymond McDade's purchase of a radio station brought him wealth and earned him the attention of a beautiful younger woman whom he married. Now he's focused on keeping both of these successes for the rest of his life, obsessed with owning everything, even if he must resort to deadly means to retain his riches. The prelude to murder is drawn out and occupies almost half the story, but the success of the tale lies in its details as Phillip B. Chute draws important connections that will have a major impact on the outcome of decisions made not just by Ray, but all the characters in his orbit.

Readers used to nonstop staccato action that glosses over details for a faster pace may find Rock & Roll Murders lies more in the arena of a good, slow buildup. It takes the time to create strong characters, compelling dialogue, and a series of motivations and circumstances that draw characters into dangerous choices and consequences and towards a courtroom scenario that questions ultimate guilt or innocence. Perhaps this also is because this essentially is not fiction, but resides in the realm of true crime with a light hand to changing some names.

This is one of the strengths of the story, which will appeal to those who like complex details and plots that aren't self-evident from the beginning, but which take the appropriate amount of time to evolve towards a conclusion that is remarkably complex and mercurial. Even the court proceedings are anything but straightforward, as subtle nuances of motivation and murder come to light.

The story slowly evolves its delightful complexity in a manner that makes it especially recommended for readers who want their murder mystery true crime coverages as multifarious as life itself. Its delightful review of circumstances will leave readers thinking long after the uncertain resolution of the tale.

Satan's Gold
Michael Ray Ewing
Grand Canyon Press
9781951479367, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 306pp

Crime thriller readers are in for a treat with Satan's Gold, which in 2014 won first prize in the Emerging Writer's Gateway Contest for new crime fiction. Its vivid story of bankers, computer hackers, people, and financial systems is gripping, from its opening image of storms and offshore money transactions to Tyler Jackson's goal of getting his life back on track after a disaster.

Tyler's journey involves an obsession with hacker Daemon. This leads him on an international globe-trotting journey with Dixie at his side as he confronts a case that turned his home into a war zone and nearly cost him his life and his career. He's not a good listener, he's not patient, and he may not be up for another fight that holds a dubious outcome.

Readers embark on this journey alongside Tyler as author Michael Ray Ewing excels in drawing out a tense, moment-by-moment series of choices, episodes, and consequences that continually test Tyler's skills, objectives, and abilities. Tyler's not the only one under the gun, here. Former partner FBI Agent Lambert (once assigned to the case with Tyler to track down and confront Daemon) also confronts the evidence of financial fraud. This leads to Russian involvement, intrigue at the highest levels, and a plot which evolves a life of its own beyond genius Daemon's manipulations and flight.

As Tyler and Dixie's nightmares come true, hard questions arise not only about the perps and their apprehension, but the wider-ranging motive behind their actions. The result is an international crime romp that carries readers on a wave of emotion, confrontation, and revelations.

Fans of crime fiction will be kept guessing to the end, which neatly wraps up an involving, compelling saga that appeals on many different levels. Readers looking for a complex, rich story of international plots and gambles that ultimately challenge and pay off will find Satan's Gold well deserving of its prize-winning status. It's an intricate, well-detailed, compelling, action-packed story that grips from the first page and doesn't let go.

G. P. Gottlieb
D.X. Varos, Ltd.
9781941072875, $18.95 Paperback
9781941072882, $4.99 Ebook

A delicious-sounding cafe sporting the name 'Whipped and Sipped' doesn't sound like its owner would be into solving a murder, but its neighboring gym owner is highly disliked in town, and his murder somehow comes as no surprise in Smothered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery.

Alene Baron is not a professional, but she has had prior experience solving a murder (explored in the first book in the series). This case literally drops into her own alleyway. And so she is as drawn to the possibilities involving the deceased's fighting family as she is the cooking and recipes which drive her own business, relationships, and interests.

The first note to make about this book is that more than its title is delicious. Mouth-watering descriptions of foods and their preparation permeate this engrossing story, giving it the culinary edge that will attract audiences not usually engaged with mysteries.

Another note that will attract both cozy mystery fans and those who typically read outside the genre is that G.P. Gottlieb uses this food focus to draw together family and friends as the story unfolds, cementing relationships with a delicious frosting of caring and love.

As Alene faces post-death wills and financial planning and obstacles to her investigations, readers receive a delightful juxtaposition of food and detective work that bring Alene, her friends and family, and a city's interests to center on the rippling effects of a murder. These relationship explorations drive the story line as much as the intrigue, making Smothered particularly wide-ranging and recommended not just for the usual audience of cozy mystery readers, but those who want a story laced with intrigue, love, and insights into interpersonal relationships.

All these elements place Smothered in a class of its own, both in the mystery genre and beyond.

The Pipeline
Louis Romano
9781944906320, $29.99 Hardcover, $8.99 Kindle, 358pp

The Pipeline: Terror for New York is a story of terrorism that stems from President Trump's order to kill Quds Force Major General, Qasem Soleimani at the Baghdad Airport in 2020.

This story depicts an aftermath of attacks on US soil that exact revenge for this action and bring the battle to American soil. David Seymour is the first victim - a civil servant and the Chief of Police of the Town of Olive, New York who lives with his large family and practices a holistic, organic lifestyle. He was the last person who would seem to be involved in a terrorist threat - but he won't be the first to fall.

A deadly plot evolves and spreads. Individuals remain at the center of the story because Louis Romano doesn't just abandon the Seymour family, but keeps the focus on Debbie and the kids and the legacy of David's death. This juxtaposes nicely with evolving political, social, and terrorism conundrums as New York City's water supply takes center stage and Debbie Seymour faces additional threats that test all her survival skills. The undercurrent of conflict between rural and big-city special interests is one of the forces that drive this story: "You are a typical New Yorker. You come up here and you think you own the place, just like what was done to my family when our property was taken away for that damn reservoir."

As the murder mystery evolves into a terrorism thriller, readers will find the close connections between individual lives and bigger issues nicely drawn, swinging the plot from that of a woman's terrible loss to the threat facing New York state and America as a whole. Action and confrontations, as well as escalating violence, is well done. The attention to these details (as well as individual pursuits, whether they be unrequited love from the past, surviving a stalker, or facing a family's disruption and terrible loss) keeps the story fast-paced and focused on the personal as well as the political.

The result is a captivating read cemented by solid psychological and social profiles and personalities that will thoroughly engross readers until the end. Thriller readers looking for this blend of personal conundrums, murder mystery, and broader political implications will find The Pipeline: Terror for New York a solidly compelling choice.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The Valkyrie Protocol
David Weber and Jacob Holo
Baen Books
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471
9781982124908, $27.00 HC, $8.99 Kindle, 592pp

The Valkyrie Protocol tells of Agent Raibert Kaminski and his crew who come across a temporal implosion that has already consumed two other universes and is spreading fast. Fans of hard sci-fi will relish both this scenario and the alternate history time-travel focus of a story that poses battles on multiple dimensions, testing Railbert and his team to solve the dilemma before reality itself winks out. The intriguing series of desperate measures makes the story hard to put down, completely unpredictable, and highly recommended reading.

The Gotten
Rob Tucker
Tell-Tale Publishing Group, LLC
9781952020087, $30.00 HC, $5.95 Kindle, 256pp

Urban fantasy readers are in for a treat with The Gotten, a story that embraces horror, urban fantasy, sci-fi, and a teen adventure. The tale opens with a focus on thirteen-year-old new girl in school Astrid. Undaunted by cliques or rejection, Astrid impresses four boys who become the objects of her attention. Little do they know that they also will follow her into extraordinary dangers and encounters that will change their perception of reality. Rob Tucker excels at depicting the unusual scenario of a powerful, unique female and how she confronts evolving relationships and new challenges. He also moves events between England and the U.S. with a deft attention to cultural and social detail that makes not only the milieu of teens but their environments and backgrounds come to life, as influencers on their perspectives and attitudes unfold. The doorbell that can grant wishes whisks the children to another realm and also becomes its own myth in adult circles as investigators search for the now-missing kids and probe the improbable circumstances surrounding their disappearance. While the story opens as a read for teens, it incorporates language and perspectives that places it more in the realm of mature teens than new adolescents, with its focus on adult concerns and teen adventures alike.

The underlying story is steeped in a complex proposition which is slowly absorbed. Ivor and Inge Borg are tracking Astrid Sims, who has escaped from the ancient Norse myth as Skuld, weaver of the future, fate, and destiny of humankind. They need her return so they can decide the fate of humanity. Skuld/Astrid was reborn, and escaped into a new childhood existence. The boys' realization of this truth has led to the need to make them vanish from the world. What circumstance can make them return home? From Clement's interest in a magical house and reviews of legends which may have something to do with the missing teens to evil influences on bad humans, Tucker crafts a mercurial, changing story that embraces elements of fantasy, coming of age, alien encounters, and adult investigative results alike. The Gotten's special blend of intrigue, fantasy, mythology, and evolving relationships between children and adults places it in a category of its own. Impossible to neatly categorize or predict, it's a riveting story that is recommended for young adult to adult audiences.

Leaf and Flame
Veronica Dale
Nika Press LLC
9780996952163, $14.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 462pp

The fourth book in the Coin of Rulve fantasy series for young adults and older readers, Leaf and Flame, presents a crescendo of action that takes the setting, characters, and intrigue of preceding stories in the series and runs with them.

When Leaf and Flame opens, Teller and Sheft have experienced many losses. They continue to be torn not only about their destiny, but also its cost. The twin brothers must come to terms with their past, present, and future. But the right path often remains elusive and fraught with danger as they journey through a world where the land and the Creator Rulve all suffer. Stricken with guilt, Teller confesses to his twin the role he played in the wrenching fate of Sheft's beloved wife and the dark forces which had overtaken him. Teller must then confront a brand of forgiveness that leaves him not only with the greatest punishment of all, but also with newfound realizations of what really happened to him in Oknu Shuld. This forces Teller to face its lasting impact on not just his life and psyche, but on everyone around him.

As Vol Cinc, he has performed unspeakable acts. As Teller, can he travel a different path? While newcomers to the series can access this story, prior fans of the previous books will be the best audience for the twins' continuing evolution. So much background has been set in previous stories that it's nearly impossible to enter Leaf and Flame with enough appreciation for the journey's past events and the changing effects it has had on Teller's life and purposes.

Audiences with this prior background will relish the ongoing evolutionary process of the brothers' world as they struggle toward redemption. Readers will recognize the full force of Teller's progression through the darkness even as Sheft's focus on healing turns into a nightmare. As with the other books in the series, Veronica Dale provides a complex, winding, ever-changing story designed to keep readers thoroughly engaged. Those who look for simple scenarios should turn elsewhere, because this series is anything but lightweight and predictable.

Dale weaves the atmosphere of this world into every step of her story, creating a thoroughly engrossing journey that follows Sheft, Teller and other characters through darkness and light. As the love interest between Taisa and Teller evolves and tension comes to a head, readers are treated to climax that neatly ties together events and plots from prior books into a fine culmination. Leaf and Flame definitively answers the question posed by the entire series: How can a dark spiritual journey lead to the providential grace of dawn? Dale's concluding story offers many surprises that will delight prior fans, making it an essential addition that cleverly sums up the power of all three previous books in to breakthrough action and revised fates.

The Biography Shelf

Strawberry Roan
Judy Beil Vaughan
Irie Books
9781515417309, $21.99 PB, $4.69 Kindle, 274pp

Judy Beil Vaughan grew up in 1950s New Mexico, where she came into her own as a horsewoman. She also honed a career outside the world of equine competition to become a neurologist, where she faced different kinds of pressures and challenges. Strawberry Roan follows all her life changes, but is particularly strong in its focus on her formative horse-loving years. Her descriptions of ranch life in New Mexico and the kinds of social and community pressures that augmented her upbringing to lead her to become an independent achiever makes for a fine contrast between satisfying autobiographical inspection and insights on how girls with passion evolve into women of purpose.

Black and white family photos of riding and New Mexico experiences pepper the story. These lead readers into a time and place that feels familiar and intriguing through Vaughan's moving images and descriptions. Minor grammatical errors consistently sprinkled throughout the account may stymie English majors who would chafe at the presence of inappropriate punctuation. Better editing would have made this story even more compelling. This note aside, the tone, atmosphere, and focus on a young woman's growth and transitions are vividly presented, and will attract readers with an initial interest in horse stories. This audience will find the actual underlying account goes far beyond a love of equines to probe the wider world of a woman's discovery of strength and self-purpose in life.

The Seductive Sapphic Exploits of Mercedes de Acosta
Darwin Porter & Danforth Prince
Blood Moon Productions Ltd.
9781936003754, $35.99, PB, 494pp

The Seductive Sapphic Exploits of Mercedes de Acosta: Hollywood's Greatest Lover contains all the draw of a gossip piece paired with the seductive lure of sexual exploits among the rich and famous. It reviews the life of Mercedes de Acosta, a celebrity whose passions rivaled the most notorious lovers in early 20th century history. It's also a preview of the empowerment of women in an era when America and Europe produced legions of cultural giants, many of them women, rising in every manifestation of the arts, especially theater, filmmaking, and literature. Mercedes, a Spanish beauty, confessed stories about these world-romping exploits to film historian Darwin Porter in the last years of her life, but this biography explores the stories behind these confessions, using firsthand accounts to explore circumstances before and after these affairs.

For those not in the know about Mercedes de Acosta, she was a lesbian activist born in 1892, descended from Spanish aristocracy to a life of wealth and privilege. She became notorious for seducing socialites. Her lovers included some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from silent film actresses to the new 'talkie' stars. More than just a survey of her sexual exploits, Porter and Prince embrace the extent of Hollywood's politics and social scene, from actors and actresses to producers, filmmakers, and Darwin's own relationship with Mercedes. Black and white photos and illustrations abound, as do sidebars of Hollywood news events, giving the biography the drama and feel of real life events.

It moves through how Mercedes's role as a translator and 'tour guide' introduced others to the world of "Old Spain" pre-war to her involvement in New York stage productions and the personal lives of actresses who flocked to her Manhattan townhouse. While readers might anticipate the spotlight will always shine on Mercedes, much background information is included about many other famous figures who operated during that time, from American stage and film actress (and former Ziegfeld Girl) Jeanne Eagels to the ravishing part-time lesbian lover Natacha Rambova, who entered Mercedes' life steeped in the allure and mystery of Old Russia. Also reviewed in rich detail is the saga of Mercedes' decade-long affair with Greta Garbo (later exposed in her memoirs, published in 1960), her (shorter) liaison with Marlene Dietrich, her interchanges with Gertrude Stein, and lengthy insights into such then-stellar stage and film luminaries as Katharine Cornell, Tallulah Bankhead, and Nazimova.

The events, personalities, politics, and social milieu are fully explored with a sassy and lively inspection that takes Mercedes de Acosta's exploits and elevates them into a rich social and cinematic commentary on Hollywood's relationships and evolving sexual female figures. Any reader interested in more than a staid survey of Hollywood history (one which delves into the interrelationships and sexual exploits of its major participants) will find The Seductive Sapphic Exploits of Mercedes de Acosta: Hollywood's Greatest Lover much more than a singular production. It holds the power to attract a wide audience; especially those who relish the high drama and social commentary of gossip, the struggle for self-expression, and eye-popping truths.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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