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California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 2 February 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Political Science Shelf Music Shelf
Activity Shelf Christian Studies Shelf Biography Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Poetry Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Working While Black
Dr. Tana M. Session
Isabella Media
9781735725642, $26.95

Working While Black: A Woman's Guide to Stop Being the Best Kept Secret is highly recommended for business and women's issues collections. It shares the stories of black professional women who have tackled a system that works against them on many different levels.

More than a series of biographical business sketches alone, this collection is especially strong in offering different remedies and insights into these problems, strategies for furthering a career against all odds, and tips into how to get around that system's often-unspoken rules of engagement. Ironically, many of the obstacles that black women face in the corporate world are the very reason why they start their own successful businesses, so there is an upside story about building success in the face of adversity. That said, it shouldn't need to take prejudice to spark the extraordinary effort that entrepreneurship involves.

This candid collection of stories of Black women from different backgrounds and experiences provides specifics on what happens to them when they try to move through the corporate world in the same manner as white employees. From mentors and sponsors to "being the only one" to represent an experience of success, these stories enlighten, educate, and provide solid examples of just how oppression and prejudice operates in the workplace. But, it's the keys to overcoming prejudice and achieving against all odds which make this collection so eye-opening.

As Working While Black moves through executive worlds and workplace encounters, it captures different kinds of interactions, choices, and approaches to educate all readers about typical barriers to success and how to overcome them. These stories expose secrets and routines, presenting lessons on growth. Working While Black should go beyond being added to the shelves of libraries interested in books about prejudice, business success, or women's issues. It should be given to every young Black woman aspiring to succeed.

The Political Science Shelf

Guide to Local Government Finance in California, second edition
Michael Multari, et al.
Solano Press Books
9781938166174, $90.00, PB, 332pp

Synopsis: Now in a an expanded second edition, "Guide to Local Government Finance in California" by the team of Michael\ Multari, Ken Hampian, Michael Multari, and Bill Statler, brings the financial picture for California governments up to date, while making the book even easier to use as an instructive reference. This new edition also provides a solid foundation for those who are interested in better understanding and navigating the complexity of California local public finance.

The first edition, published in 2012, introduced a unique look at local government finance covering not only the vital fundamentals (like budgeting, accounting, and investing) but also lesser known yet equally powerful forces that affect the ability of cities, counties and special districts to deliver essential services. In a constantly changing environment, economic conditions evolve, new laws are enacted, different issues become especially topical to the public and the academy.

This new second edition of Guide to Local Government in California addresses those changes with discussions of: Court decisions related to rate structures and pensions; Fiscal reforms that were emerging in 2012 that have been advanced (or dropped); Increased interest in the early diagnosis of possible fiscal difficulties; How some of the benefits of redevelopment that were lost might be recaptured, including Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts; Other incremental changes to the system.

In addition, much of the statistical information contained in the numerous charts and graphs has been updated with more current data, and the graphics have been improved. The glossary has been significantly expanded to help clarify some of the technical terms used in "Guide to Local Government Finance in California". The primary purpose of this new and updated second edition is to provide a solid foundation for those who are interested in better understanding and navigating the complexity of California local public finance.

Critique: Impressively comprehensive and exceptionally well presented, "Guide to Local Government Finance in California" is an essential resource for public agency managers and other staff, including planners and policy analysts, as well as appointed and elected public officials, teachers, students, and citizens at large who want to understand and improve California's complex. While highly recommended for instructional reference for community, governmental, college, and university library Governmental Finance collections and as a Political Science curriculum textbook, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, governmental policy makers, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Guide to Local Government Finance in California" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $45.00).

Editorial Note: Michael Coleman is an experienced city fiscal officer and a leading expert on California local government revenues, spending and financing. He is the creator of, the California Local Government Finance Almanac, an online resource of data, analyses and articles on California municipal finance and budgeting.

During Ken Hampian's thirty-five year public sector career he served at the county, federal and city levels of government, including twenty years in San Luis Obispo where he retired as city manager in 2010.

Michael Multari was the community development director in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo before co-founding Crawford, Multari & Clark, Associates, a consulting practice that provided planning and fiscal assistance to public agencies throughout California.

Bill Statler served as the director of Finance & Information Technology for the City of San Luis Obispo for twenty-two years and for ten years as finance officer for the City of Simi Valley before that. Under his guidance, San Luis Obispo received national recognition for excellence in its financial planning, budgeting, reporting and management systems.

The Music Shelf

Duke Ellington: Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear
Karen S. Barbera with Randall Keith Horton
Armin Lear Press
9781956450040, $35.00 Hardcover/$16.95 ebook

Jazz music giant Duke Ellington chose Randall Keith Horton as his assistant composer, conductor and pianist in 1973. Horton, the co-author of this book, is thus in the perfect, unique position to contribute information and enlightenment to Karen S. Barbera's survey of four of Ellington's (today) less familiar compositions, part of a controversial show that prompted racist reactions from American society.

While jazz enthusiasts may anticipate the music history and biography in Duke Ellington: Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear, its inspection of race relations in America might come as a surprise. The unexpected connections between social issues and musical choices create a compelling examination of more than just Ellington's influence and experience beyond the jazz world, showing how pioneering thinkers can change the status quo through the arts, and discussing how Horton's changing roles led him to a revised consideration of Ellington's works and their impact. Perhaps this is why, in repressive societies, music and the arts are considered instruments of dangerous change and influence, and are subject to being banned. As Duke Ellington: Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear evolves, it becomes an inspection of the personal, the political, and the artistic mind's intersection.

The story opens as autobiography, tracing how the authors met, by chance, on an Amtrak train. The underlying importance of a seemingly casual encounter is portrayed with a philosophical and social flair. As Horton moved from briefly being Duke Ellington's former assistant composer, conductor and pianist in the early '70s to being hired by Ellington's family after his death, a partnership born of a serendipitous encounter emerged to produce this ground-breaking coverage.

It should be cautioned that Barbera's is no light examination. It's a heavily footnoted, well-researched foray into the world of musical composition, interpretation, and choice that considers not only Ellington's opus productions, but Horton's process of lending them new life and relevance. As Horton interprets these works, conducts orchestras, and refines his vision for translating Ellington's most unique pieces, it's evident that this is as much about Horton's life and professional challenges in the musical world as it is about Ellington's musical legacy. Barbera does justice to both, entwining lives, music, and social challenges and capturing each for audiences who may have relatively little technical musical background, but who will appreciate the many insights on how compositions are interpreted and brought to life.

While jazz music fans will be the obvious target audience for Duke Ellington: Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear, it should prove just as inviting and educational for collections strong in musical biography and American civil rights history: "...imagine the daring and conviction it took for Ellington to write, conduct and produce an even more outspoken musical revue (22 years earlier) that was unapologetically outspoken about America's racial issue and featured an all-black cast."

The Activity Shelf

Jazz Puzzlers
Kyle Branche
Independently Published
9798537835851, $11.99

Readers with a special love of jazz music (or who know jazz followers that seem to already own every history or biography on the subject) now have another fresh approach to jazz knowledge: the challenges presented in Jazz Puzzlers: 70 Word Search Super Challenger Puzzles + 7.

Here lies the perfect opportunity for the jazz genre expert to test his knowledge about the people, trends, and styles of jazz through a series of word search puzzles that pose different levels of difficulty. Readers might anticipate a set of puzzles that are geared to very basic knowledge levels; but Kyle Branche has conducted meticulous, in-depth research into his subject. This goes well beyond a simple approach geared to novices. Indeed, herein lies an opportunity to not only solve puzzles and self-test knowledge, but to learn more about jazz, in a different manner: "What I try to do, with regards to song selection for this series, is to create or weave a story through the history of music based on the artists and bands that I've chosen to be in each book."

The puzzle sections start off with full artist/band discography song selections, then are further arranged by music albums and focus on classics, from single to double and triple albums and live shows. Jazz album titles are included under the names of the puzzle subjects, mixing bands, composers, and artists by instrument. The "super challenge" nature of the puzzles translates to being "...larger in grid size on average, looking up multiple-word song titles with a challenge level of medium to high. Word placement is utilized in all directions - left to right/right to left, top to bottom/bottom to top, bottom left angled to top right and reverse, and top left angled to bottom right and reverse."

Designed to encourage more thinking about jazz music as enthusiasts move through tricky and mind-challenging puzzles, Jazz Puzzlers appeals on many levels: as a leisure pursuit to wile away the hours on public transportation; as a series of brain challenges to keep mind and memory engaged; and as a probe of jazz history and the people who made this musical genre great. Given an overwhelming category of music to cover, cuts were necessary. Kyle Branche did so with an attention to preserving the foundations of both challenging puzzles and information and producing a smooth review of the jazz genre.

From Louis Armstrong to the Dorsey brothers and Duke Ellington, all the powerhouses of jazz receive specific examination through word puzzles that will challenge even the most savvy puzzle-solver and jazz fan. Jazz Puzzlers is a presentation that operates on different levels; but more specifically, a jazz enthusiast can tap into prior knowledge and bring it to the surface as the puzzles encourage visual acuity and mental flexibility. Other books in this series provide different musical focuses, but the specific subject analysis of Jazz Puzzlers is designed to appeal to an audience already well versed in the subject, who want to reconsider and test their perceptions of jazz music, musicians, and history.

The Christian Studies Shelf

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 5
C.M.H. Koenig
C.M.H. Koenig Books
9781956475005, $14.99

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 5 is the fifth addition to a projected 14-volume study of Old and New Testaments and examines portions of second Samuel, first Chronicles, and Psalms. As with its predecessors, the Bible selections are paired with associated devotionals excerpts from Robert Hawker (1753 - 1827), Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), and Octavius Winslow's (1808-1878) works.

The intention is to provide an in-depth chronological review that allows for daily contemplation in digestible segments that even the busiest Christian can readily absorb. Because these devotionals are taken directly from each author's works, spelling and grammar fluctuates - but not so much that the readings aren't smooth. C.M.H. Koenig has tweaked some of the words to make them uniformly simple to read through, while the Scriptures associated with them are either direct quotes or paraphrases from the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

This volume contains some particularly provocative food for thought. Some devotionals provide background and set the stage for the day's reading through introductions, as in Hawker's commentary for Day 33's readings of 1 Chronicles 18: "Reader! while reading the wars of David, do not overlook the spiritual wars in which David's Lord engaged for the salvation of his people. Jesus hath indeed spoiled principalities and powers, and made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Other sections take a single passage and elucidate its value, as in Day 74's reading of Psalm 24, with accompanying commentary by Spurgeon: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not appealed to what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully." Psalm 24:4 Outward practical holiness is a very precious mark of grace. It is to be feared that many professors have perverted the doctrine of justification by faith in such a way as to treat good works with contempt; if so, they will receive everlasting contempt at the last great day."

Footnotes provide additional cross-references to other Biblical associations that further enhance the reader's ability to absorb not just these single passages and commentary, but interrelated Biblical insights. It's hard to properly emphasize the value of having these devotionals in a format and with references that elevate their connections to modern daily experience.

C.M.H. Koenig has done all the footwork and research to bring them into the light. All that's needed is a Christian reader interested in Bible study and contemplation. This audience will find the succinct daily devotional format the ideal method of choice for reading and re-reading the Bible in the manner it should be: with repeated, close attention that eschews speed in favor of better understanding and appreciation for its messages and their underlying meanings.

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 6
C.M.H. Koenig, compiler
C.M.H. Koenig Books
9781956475050, $14.99

The sixth volume of Old Testament Readings & Devotionals continues to expand the series with another segment that allows Christians interested in Bible study to access to the Old Testament in a new way. This book covers portions (or all) of 1 & 2 Chronicles, first Kings, Song of Songs/Solomon, Proverbs, and Psalms. The primary focus is the reign of King Solomon, from 970 BC - 961 BC, and the works often refer to scripture other than the key verse(s) or scripture reading passage. Some are cited in the original works and others are not. Each reading is generally one chapter, accompanied by devotional excerpts from Robert Hawker (1753-1827), Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), or Octavius Winslow's (1808-1878) works.

Newcomers to the series might anticipate a dry, scholarly rendering of philosophical and spiritual inspection, but C.M.H. Koenig continues to delight with a study that blends flowery, enlightening language from the pen of his chosen commentators: "It is hardly possible to read the order of things observed in the days of David, without having our minds led out to consider yet more, the beautiful disposition and order made in the house of our Almighty Spiritual David, the Lord Jesus Christ, after that he had taken to himself his great name, ascended up on high, led captivity captive, and sat down on the throne of his kingdom." The enthusiasm and faith shine in passages which are both revealing and celebratory, providing a lively tone that may prove unexpected to those used to drier Biblical probes.

The meticulous pairing of Scripture passage and commentator analysis will delight readers who look for inspiration as much as enlightenment, as in a pairing of a Bible passage from Kings 4:20-21 ("Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they were eating, drinking, and rejoicing. Solomon ruled all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and as far as the border of Egypt. They offered tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.") with a delightful inspection by Hawker in his Poor Man's Old Testament Commentary: "Perhaps the splendor and greatness of Solomon's person, court, and subjects, were never equaled by any prince. He not only governed his own people, but other nations were tributary to him...But delightful as this relation is, as an history, the glory of it is nothing compared to the spiritual sense, considered with an eye to Jesus and his kingdom. If the Reader will read the 72d Psalm with this chapter, and mark the features of both in reference to the Lord Jesus, he will discover that though in that psalm many things said in it may be applied to Solomon; many more in it cannot be applicable at all to him; and must be applied to the Lord Jesus Christ."

Daily reflections such as these do more than educate. They inspire. And, isn't that one of the underlying foundations of the Bible: to provide stories, proverbs, and inspections that lead readers down the path of understanding and reflecting God? C.M.H. Koenig does all the legwork of making these important connections between Biblical content and Christian belief, choosing passages and supportive analysis that move into daily living with messages and considerations to support the Christian experience and belief system. Bible students are in for a treat with this latest addition to a series that continues to expand heart, mind, and spiritual roots.

The Biography Shelf

Rise Above It, Darling!
Judy White Staber
The Troy Book Makers
9781614686712, $21.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Rise Above It, Darling: The Story Of Joan White, Actor, Director, Teacher, Producer and (Sometimes) Mother provides the biography of a woman who made a name for herself in theater, but was less effective as a mother. It is written by her daughter, who pulls no punches in contrasting the disparities between her mother's theatrical talents and involvements and her role at home as a single working mother.

At the age of four, Judy Staber was placed in what was effectively an orphanage for the children of busy actors. Usually kids stayed at this institution for only a few years. Judy, however, remained there until age 16 because her mother Joan was thoroughly engrossed in her career and had little time to raise her children. This daughter's attempt to understand, define, and forgive her mother provides a thought-provoking story that will resonate with any reader critical of their parents' choices and presence or absence in their lives.

The idea here is not to condemn, but to understand, reconcile, and outline a different kind of parenting style than the usual portrait of a devoted mother figure who always stays at home and chooses children over career. Theater tales, her mother's writings, and Staber's own insights dovetail in a story that captures performances, opening nights, and Joan White's children's involvement in the theater world as they witnessed their mother's successes and failures. Memories of Staber's sibling are added to round out the insights into the theater world and her mother's struggles to succeed.

The synthesis of child's-eye perspective and evolving career challenges is really quite remarkably portrayed: "...when they got to the Comedy Theatre in London, Mother had misgivings, West End first-night audiences were more choosey. She was proved right. The audience just sat there, resplendent in their dinner jackets and jewels, and dared the actors to make them laugh. Worse was the reaction from those seated in the normally friendly 'Gods,' (the cheap seats). They booed and hissed and shouted all manner of unseemly epithets. Mischa Auer was distraught. After a lifetime in Hollywood films, he was unused to dealing with audiences that, although 'live', appeared to be dead or obstreperous."

As Judy White Staber absorbs lessons from her mother's teachings, experiences, and her own role in her mother's life, she imparts insights that document her mother's leading roles in many different worlds. These lively accounts of the acting milieu will delight entertainment and actor readers who will find the bygone years of the 20th Century captured from a fresh bird's eye perspective by one who was both an intimate part of this world by way of her birth, and yet lived outside it.

Joan White's acting roles and impact on the theater world never ended. As her daughter celebrates her mother's achievements, readers receive an uplifting story. Better editing might have made the read smoother, but Staber's words and experiences still shine, and are recommended for anyone interested in what happens to family structures under the rigors of the acting environment. It's a kind tribute to a great lady and kids who turned out all right in the end: "She wanted to be remembered kindly, who doesn't, and to make amends where she could."

In the end, Staber does more than remember her mother kindly, here. She celebrates Joan White's life in a vivid, accepting manner that will, in itself, prove inspirational reading for both career moms and their kids; especially those immersed in and affected by professional acting.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Fourth Wall
Scott Petty
Atmosphere Press
9781639881178, $18.99

Readers of supernatural fiction who enjoy vivid suspense stories of war and monsters with an Afghanistan backdrop will find plenty to relish here. Army reservist Captain Thomas Jett seeks to escape the demons that plagued him in the U.S., only to discover they are even more prevalent in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It'd be easy to pin a mass murder under wartime conditions to the Taliban, but locals insist that something more sinister is going on, and Jett is tasked with listening to them and uncovering the real source of these murders. One would think that a pragmatic military officer would be the last to accept the possibility of supernatural influences, much less devise a method of thwarting them, but Jett is no ordinary man. In fact, he's the perfect person to tackle an impossible scenario that holds ramifications for the rest of the world. Author Scott Petty is a veteran of the Afghanistan war, and is in the perfect position to bring the country, its peoples, and the story to life. The unexpected weave of a murder mystery with supernatural forces is offset by the military environment and inspection which perfectly dovetails two seemingly disparate ways of viewing the world.

To avoid the confusion some military books bring to civilian readers, Petty provides a glossary of military terms that introduces the story. A reading of these terms will assure that no military abbreviations are misunderstood. The story opens with a pull that many in military service will find familiar: "You look like you just got kicked out of fairyland and landed in the real world. Was everything gumdrops and cherry trees for you? One minute you're in fairyland, the next minute... BAM, welcome to Afghanistan." As Jett acknowledges the one-handed observation imparted by a sassy Air Force man, he immediately introduces readers to the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy that will extend beyond military and civilian service to grow into an observation about the supernatural and modern worlds that coexist side by side.

Readers who like military operations, supernatural stories, and magical realism will find just the right touch of all these elements and more in The Fourth Wall. Petty adds different characters and narrative choices to move the story along, capturing diverse points of view and satisfying transformations. Jett writes of his dilemmas ("You know where I am. You know what an important clue this is. It's not just a game. My (incomplete) draft of the CONOPS is attached to this letter. It may look like a game or a description of a dream, but it isn't. It will look strange to you, but if it was complete, and if I was there to explain it, you would understand. Don't send the cavalry after me just yet (or your crazy mother-in-law... is that something you mentioned or my imagination?)."), documenting personal reflections and inspections that are constantly challenged by evolving circumstances. His war turns out to be not against the usual adversaries, but the minions of another reality itself. And that is a big challenge for a military man to handle.

The military command structure and Jett's place in it receive close inspection in a vivid manner that will delight those familiar with military operations in general and Afghanistan in particular. Its unexpected backdrop brings characters and extraordinary circumstances to life, making The Fourth Wall a story of intrigue and action that will appeal beyond the usual military or supernatural reader.

Anyone interested in a thriller/suspense mystery that features exceptionally strong grounding in both real and mystical worlds will find The Fourth Wall unique, compelling reading.

A Long Time Ago in the Future
Robert C. Marsett
Ranges Press
9780984103027, $11.87 Paper/$9.65 ebook

A Long Time Ago in the Future opens in 1974 in North Slope Alaska, where Vietnam veteran Bob Hasett has relocated in hopes of finding peace after his wife's death. What he discovers, instead, is a conundrum revolving around crime, an Inuit woman's involvement, and a challenge to his sense of duty that introduces new problems into his life. Bob faces more than the needs of a woman recovering from her own adversity: he confronts wolves, bears, and some of Alaska's most dangerous hunters. As his involvements in pipeline security and matters of the heart evolve, Bob finds himself part of an unlikely team that operates against all kinds of threats. It's ironic that the woman who got him involved in this mess is also the one to save him from himself.

Robert C. Marsett creates a vivid story of self-discovery, challenge, and a relationship which brings both characters into new arenas of ethical and moral inspection. As skeletons emerge from closets, Marsett inspects different characters' motivations, interactions, and intersections. The result is a vivid story of transformation, adversity, and courage that operates on many different levels.

Readers anticipating the usual story of a Vietnam veteran will find this vivid present-day inspection of Alaskan life creates adventure and revelation as Bob attempts new choices and makes challenging crossings in the river of his life. The Alaskan backdrop is vibrant, providing a brilliant atmosphere for this story of new connections, skills, and survival tactics.

A Long Time Ago in the Future is highly recommended for fiction readers interested in stories that blend adventure with personal discoveries made on many different levels, and should be in any collection strong in Alaskan themes and action stories.

The Love That Frees
Rebecca Leo
Big Table Publishing
9781945917707, $17.00

The Love That Frees is a sequel to The Flaws that Bind and continues the story of Jacqueline, who has fled an abusive marriage in Jamaica and now struggles to make a new life for herself with $350 in hand and three exhausted children in tow.

It's 1979, and the hurricane they face as soon as they arrive in St. Croix is only one outward indication of the storms that continue to shake their lives even after freedom is supposedly achieved. Dependent on friends who are also experiencing their own life transitions, and stuck in a cycle of poverty that keeps their options limited, Jacqueline must forge new dreams and opportunities even as her life appears to be coming full circle to return her to her oppressive situation. In her efforts to flee David and this past, Jacqueline must forge new relationships that test her on many different levels.

While readers ideally should be familiar with the events in The Flaws that Bind to get the fullest flavor and benefit from this sequel, in reality, newcomers need not worry that they will find Jacqueline's history confusing. Rebecca Leo weaves a recap of past events into the story early in the tale so that readers understand not only Jacqueline's history, but the fears and motivations that drive her to recreate her life.

From journaling to creative writing and child-rearing, Jacqueline learns to develop the kinds of insights that not only "get to the heart of things" but provide lessons in how to perceive alternative routes in her life and choices. This process is simply fascinating. Rebecca Leo takes the time to detail the psychological complexity of Jacqueline's endeavors, the life events and forces that both send her reeling and offer new opportunities that she must teach herself to recognize and consider, and the behaviors of family and friends who influence her along the way.

As Jacqueline analyzes her family influences and their impact and learns new routes to love and freedom from different sources in her life, she fosters the courage to make real changes that will alter the course of her future and that of generations to come. Leo's story provides no easy paths or predictable subplots. Much like life, it winds through intricacy, ironies, circumstance, and life influences with an attention to detail that is complex, yet appealingly recognizable. Life goes on - and so does the road to a love that offers truly different options rather than simply repeating patterns of the past.

Readers will welcome the opportunity to understand how a single mother arrives at the point where her life blossoms. They will find that The Love That Frees offers inspirational and realistic scenarios and evolutionary events that mirror much of the unpredictability and resilience of people living life to its fullest. Its reflections about the road to recovery operates on many different levels, providing a warm story of how one family not just survives, but comes to thrive against all odds.

Collections strong in epic stories about love and change will find The Love That Frees a powerful addition.

The Potentials
Kathleen Rapp
Padua Publications
9781735860305, $14.98 Paper/$7.98 ebook

Readers of Christian fiction are in for a treat with The Potentials. It's a story that doesn't open in the usual manner that foretells religious developments: "They emerge from the darkness, these thieves in the night. No words are spoken, no looks exchanged. Yet without hesitation, each assumes his position in order to block any possible escape. Once they have encircled me, they advance. Obviously, they have zeroed in on others like this before. It's too well choreographed to be otherwise. The message is clear: I'm their mission, not a target of opportunity. Barely a foot away, I see final judgment cemented in their cold, indifferent eyes. Their body language screams that punishment is soon to follow. So be it. Nothing I can say will prevent it. One thing I can do: stop their foul breath from polluting my face."

And that's one of the many pleasures to be found in The Potentials. It holds intrigue, psychological suspense, and conundrums that capture reader interest from the start, creating a mystery that then moves into spiritual arenas that invite contemplation through an exploration of new possibilities and other worlds. From the start, The Potentials crafts a series of intriguing conundrums as protagonist Sunbeam moves into memories, dreams, and secrets that test her courage, relationships, and the senses, which slowly return to embrace the world's possibilities.

As she reconciles the horrors of a nightmare with the emerging new realities of her life, Sunbeams faces new realizations that expand her ability to not just survive, but grow.

Kathleen Rapp's story is a powerful, moving tale of adaptation and change. By shrouding Sunbeam's evolution in mystery and following her footsteps through newfound discoveries, connections, and abilities, Rapp creates a memorable character whose life represents an emotional rush of twists, turns, and revelations: "Life just is. Living, now that ain't so simple."

The heartwarming tale of flawed individuals who are each on paths of growth is a thought-provoking, emotional story that touches the heart on many levels. Even readers accustomed to thriller and mystery reads will find much to enjoy in The Potentials, which draws with realistic, alluring characters and situations, fostering many surprises even for savvy readers who won't see this conclusion coming.

Shared Sorrows
Vincent Panettiere
Independently Published
9781667807676, $12.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Shared Sorrows is a story of longevity, thirty years of marriage, and reconsidering life's purpose. After a family history of death and a violent confrontation with a stranger, two characters confront their mortality and life's meaning.

Frank DioGuardia dreads October. It's a month when he's traditionally been depressed because it's the anniversary of his father's death and this coming October, Frank will surpass his father in age. What will he do when his goal to outlive his sire has been reached? Vincent Panettiere explores the ongoing impact of the past's influence on life and death, creating a vivid story that closely examines real and imagined events and their blows: "...while the death of someone racked with terminal cancer is not unexpected, the impact of the actual event is profound." Frank's trajectory changes when a chance encounter with a stranger brings him into the ER and world of physician Laurie McDevitt, who harbors her own form of grief and questions about its resolution. These two disparate individuals interact in a story of heroism and redemption that navigates six months of transformation. From social conflicts and issues surrounding rapists to "living for the right reasons," Frank is forced to reconsider both his objectives and his impact on the world.

Panettiere creates a fine interplay between Frank's growth process, his evolving relationships, and his method of looking at the world and his place in it changes over time. As Shared Sorrows journeys through survivors' memories and perspectives and social issues that bring them together to challenge them both, readers will find the novel replete in inspections that prompt them to analyze and think of their own approaches to adjusting to life and formulating goals.

These elements make for an especially thought-provoking story that lingers in the mind longer after the reading is done. Shared Sorrows is a top recommendation for audiences interested in thought-provoking stories of growth and change.

Still the Night Call
Joshua Senter
Roubidoux Press
9781737585619, $7.99 ebook
9781737585602, $21.99 Hardcover
Audible ASIN: B09L5765JL, $14.95 Audio

Still the Night Call revolves around a staid, calm Missouri dairy farmer named Calem Dewayne Honeycutt, who sees his world and livelihood changing at the hands of social and political forces beyond his control. The Night Call referenced in the book's title is the force of worry and angst that comes, too often, under cover of darkness, "intertwining fact and fiction until they become a mutated gospel of the world around you as well as your place in it."

Calem struggles with his inner demons and their presence in his life as he faces guilt over what could have been, and his role up to this point in his life. Calem makes final decisions about how he will inject truth into this world and change his choices and goals. Readers receive reflective descriptions that capture this simple rural farmer's logic and echo his sense of place and purpose: "...tonight I'll have some fried hogsuckers fresh out of the crick with Miles. And then, before the Night Call begins in earnest, I'll shut it up right quick. I'll get off this damn conveyor belt. I'll escape the herd. Nobody is gonna wrangle me up no more. I'm gon' be free."

Joshua Senter creates an excellent story of family, place, and adversity that reveals disparate connections and struggles. The dialogues he incorporates between these simple folk and their interconnected lives is particularly well done, capturing family interactions as Calem traverses a path that carries him away from all that he loves. Many of his struggles to separate reality from illusion from lies reflect current societal efforts to do the same. Senter's story thus resonates on levels that wouldn't have been possible even several years ago, reaching audiences who will find much to relate to in Calem's world and the ways he chooses to empower himself against its tides of change. From unreliable weather and environmental conditions to the human condition, Still the Night Call reveals matters of the heart, family, and rural living.

In many ways, Still the Night Call is a call to action. The first step is reading this book. The second lies in recommending it for discussions about free will, choice, civil war, and social change.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

FitzDuncan's Alchemy
John J. Spearman
Independently Published
9798480203714, $4.99 ebook

FitzDuncan's Alchemy is the second adventure revolving around Casimir FitzDuncan, exploring the conundrums that evolve when a swindling attempt backfires and the swindler becomes the victim in a similar scheme.

This historical mystery takes place six weeks after his last adventure. That experience involved a plot by the younger of two royal princes, Wim, to usurp his older brother, Albert, in the royal succession. Prior readers who appreciated the setting, characters, and adventures of Casimir in the first book are in a perfect position to appreciate the ongoing dilemmas presented in this follow-up story. Newcomers will find that Fitz recaps his past and his connections to royalty in a succinct, easily accessible manner, while prior readers will find that this review of past events refreshes their memory, setting the stage for what is to come.

From dubious partners and a ruse to confiscate the gold to Caz's creation of a dangerous game that evolves with cat-and-mouse precision, John J. Spearman captures a sense of history and intrigue, adding a touch of humor to Caz's first-person experiences as he develops a "where's the money?" tale of intrigue. Interacting with Caz is the also-loveable character of Freddy (nee Lord Rawlinsford), his "somewhat-intended" Greta Hawkins, and a host of other individuals, including Lucy's father, the Duke of Gulick. A romp evolves that embraces action and adventure, social and political change, and confrontations that result in injury and angst.

As a writer, Spearman is adept at weaving these disparate lives into a story of kidnapping, subterfuge, threats, and power plays that operate on psychological, financial, and political levels. The result is a multifaceted story especially recommended for prior fans of FitzDuncan's exploits, who will find much to relish about his latest adventure as well as a conclusion which leaves the door ajar for more.

Her Flawless Disguise
Barbara Ebel, MD
Independently Published
9781734984736, $3.99 ebook

Her Flawless Disguise is a medical novel that departs from Dr. Ebel's previous medical mysteries. It will reach a wide audience interested not just in mystery stories and medical thrillers, but ethical conundrums at the intersection of medical practice and patient experience.

Molecular Genetic Pathologist Dr. Hook Hookie's mission in life is to search out medical clues to illness through DNA analysis. As perps such as middle-aged Duane Harper and plotter Belinda Sisko are introduced and special interests affect her medical investigations, readers receive a story of intrigue revolving around art theft, schemes, and the efforts of a DNA doctor to put the pieces of a puzzle together: "In the new, modern world of high-tech inventions and crime-solving methods, he believed that nothing was 'virtually impossible' to detect or discover like Kent Wadsworth had said." Will a cancer survivor's second chance at life result in changed outcomes for the medical group and patients around her? Can a detail-oriented lab technician find the missing pieces that careless perps left behind as clues?

Dr. Barbara Ebel's medical background contributes to a realistic backdrop and a probe that reaches from a mystery investigation to embrace ethical issues, as a cured patient embarks on a path that threatens disaster. Her ability to weave disparate characters and special interests into a story filled with medical and moral conundrums contributes to a riveting cat-and-mouse investigation that excels in twists and turns readers won't see coming.

All is not narrated from the perspective of Dr. Hook and his associates, either. By including the perceptions and purposes of Belinda and Duane and considering the impact of their actions, Dr. Ebel creates a complex, involving story that considers patient recovery and choice as much as medical professional responses and reactions. The result is a medical thriller that operates on more than one level, inviting readers into a fine tale of schemes, redemption, and the choices involved in living life and surviving adversity.

John Alvah Barnes, Jr. and Naomi Lynn Barnes
Alvah Arts
9781735094762, $4.99 ebook/$14.99 print

"If you want my opinion, electrocution is a lousy way to try and kill yourself," she said softly. The Kirkwood Medical Center is prestigious -- just the kind of place that might entice an ex-musician into taking on the quieter, more lucrative job of being a biomedical electronic technician. But when Jay's test of a piece of medical equipment lands him in the hospital, it also reveals a series of mysterious malfunctions that lead to a greater mystery involving he and ER nurse Debbie Farrell in both a romance and an investigation.

Readers of medical mystery thrillers will find Kirkwood features strong tension, intricate characterization, and a compelling plot development. The story opens with a bang of recovery from a potentially lethal accident. It keeps a quick pace as readers catch up to Jay's dilemma as he recovers from a terrible shock and tries to avoid the defibrillator that sent him into the ER in the first place. This quickly moves to bigger-picture thinking as Jay investigates what comes to look like deliberate sabotage, navigating both increasing danger and a steadily building romance at the same time.

Readers will enjoy the realistic and action-packed emergencies that permeate Jay's world to keep the story both on track and unpredictable. Tension is delivered in just the right doses, the workplace romance evolves with a realistic approach, and the machines, operations, and atmosphere of the OR and hospital processes are pragmatically portrayed from the first-person insights of a character who has everything to lose and much to gain in the evolution and outcome of his job and life. John Alvah Barnes, Jr. and Naomi Lynn Barnes provide a gripping story of investigations, intrigue, and revenge that takes full advantage of its medical world backdrop to feature a dilemma that involves Jay on more than one level.

Readers looking for a satisfying blend of thriller, mystery, and workplace romance will find all these elements in a story that uses hospital politics and policies to cement an intriguing story of revenge, redemption, and love. Mystery and thriller readers alike, particular libraries that see strong patron interest in Robin Cook-style medical stories, will find Kirkwood a worthy, well-crafted selection.

A River of Lies
John Crossan
DartFrog Books
4697 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
9781956019148, $15.99 Print/$4.99 ebook

Imagine that your girlfriend has been found murdered, washed up on the beach, and that you are the immediate suspect in her death.

In A River of Lies, Carmen Vaughn struggles with both a girl's demise and his uncertain legal position. This moves him to become actively involved in solving her murder and clearing his name. It's a good thing Carmen's college professor, Timothy Pickering, is an ex-prosecutor who's in the perfect position to help him. It's a bad thing that P.I. Adrian Watson and Carmen discover that the current prosecuting attorney is deliberately hiding evidence in order to prove that Carmen is the murderer, protecting the real perp. Pickering must gauge just how truthful Carmen is being, while struggling with evidence and facts that challenge his reputation and skills. As evidence comes to light that Jillian may have been dating more than one person at a time and that she may have become involved in something over her head, Professor Pickering and Carmen find themselves in the crosshairs of a murder investigation that takes many unexpected twists and turns.

John Crossan creates an excellent interplay between victims, perps, and special interests as he unfolds this story. Committed to playing the victim card, attorney Victoria Donovan seeks to mask her real involvement in this special case as readers move through changing scenarios that escalate tension in different ways. Crossan examines the ethics and conundrums of all involved - even professionals who try to play both sides of the law. The result is a fast-paced story of murder and a seemingly cut-and-dried case that embraces a host of threats as the characters interact, struggle to preserve their lives and secrets, and make new discoveries about lies and truth.

Murder mystery readers who want a more complex examination of motivations, influences, and legal processes will find A River of Lies builds exquisite tension as it exposes some unexpected truths.

The Poetry Shelf

Under Her Skin
Lindy Ryan and Tony Miller, editors
Black Spot Books
c/o Vesuvian Media
9781645480440, $14.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

It's rare to see horror and poetry mix, but Under Her Skin represents an unusual meeting of the minds. Contributors provide works that embed the trappings of horror into lyrical description, making for highly recommended reading for horror and poetry readers alike. Tabatha Wood, Mercedes M. Yardley, Cassondra Windwalker, and others provide varied themes, approaches, and poetic structures that create a diverse series of horror inspections.

This diversity is one of the strengths of Under Her Skin, illustrating various definitions of horror, both internal and external, as the poems describe confrontations and revelations alike. Take "The Right Frequency" by Jessica McHugh, for example. Here, the dead awaken: "My body erupts/in a riot of ghostly roots/braving my heart/like a hunt..." This succinct, moving story of a form of awakening and haunting moves from graveside to knock on the front doors of the living. Contrast this with "Shed" by Vivian Kasley, which describes a different form of transformation and horror: "Each month I shed./Skin, thick layers of arid lining, painful blobs of disappointed./blood, and another chance./Each year I shed./Youth, tears that sting, dewy charm and tethered dreams,/friends, more blood, and more chances."

As the shedding of hopes, dreams, and life turns into an unexpected series of changes, readers connect the dots between life shedding its form and the finality of turning into a non-living entity. Each poem captures a different aspect of horror. Each represents a very different countenance of horror. Even their formats diverge in a satisfying manner. Some poems are dialogues, some are self-inspections, and others provide accounts of transformation, danger, and revival. All are hard-hitting pieces, spiced with black and white eerie visuals by Marge Simon that intersperse with written word throughout the collection to bring the atmosphere to life (or, is it death?).

Volume 1 of this collection of women writers of horror poetry is unparalleled in its scope, creativity, and literary strength. It is highly recommended for any collection strong in women's writings, horror, or literary works.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
12424 Mill Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
phone: 1-707-795-4629

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