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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 2 February 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Biography Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Poetry Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Nedwin J.K.
Author Solutions Inc.
9781669809708, $29.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

#ambulancetumblrguy is a study of the human condition, which is examined with short staccato phrases and inspections that represent the most said in the least amount of words. Its special brand of social, political, and psychological examination embeds philosophical reflection with in-the-moment images of the human-centric condition, capturing these minute points in time with a Proust-like tendency to over-examine, yet revel in the moment.

These inspections open powerfully from the start, in chapters which include such insights as: "The camera never lingers long apart from people because little that happens is independent of our influence or far from our gaze." The gaze of this life consideration comprises a novel that flits between subjects as diverse as values, teaching, the complicated life and relationship of Hannah and John, the life of Mark (who is "only inspired by strangers. The better he knew somebody, the more plain and simple they became"), and friendships between characters whose lives come and go like ghosts throughout the story.

Readers looking for linear reading, staid plots and predictable outcomes, and the kinds of relationships that tend to be banal will find none of these elements in this free-flowing discourse. There are over a hundred chapters, but each assume a brevity of subject and impression that belays the initial notion that this exploration will be unduly lengthy or challenging.

#ambulancetumblrguy's study in processes and living life moves between first- and third-person expression, and between characters whose outcomes and lives move on both conventional and unconventional paths. Many of these brief inspections are only a few paragraphs long, but incorporate much food for thought that requires slow digesting rather than the usual fast pace of the typical novel: "When the author reads through the final proof, he feels horror from the deeply troubling and inescapable sentiment that all of his work was a waste. He disagrees with everything he wrote. Mark feels the same about his life."

While #ambulancetumblrguy could have been featured in the 'Literature' category, it would be a shame to limit its audience to college students alone. Ideally, this story will reach a broad spectrum of readers interested in different lives, cultures, and ideas which intersect, break apart, and come together in new ways. Impossible to easily define or categorically pinpoint, #ambulancetumblrguy's elusive countenance makes it a thought-provoking, intriguing, candid examination of life, death, and disappearances alike, couched in a literary overlay of form that will appeal to English majors and general-interest readers alike.

The Biography Shelf

Leaving Faith, Finding Meaning
Lynne Renoir
Lynne Renoir Publishing
9780648304364, $14.95 Paper/$9.95 ebook

"God punishes those who fall below his standard of perfection."

Leaving Faith, Finding Meaning: A Preacher's Daughter's Search for God is a memoir that recounts Lynne Renoir's upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian family, headed by a preacher who also was an abuser. Backed by the Bible, the Word of God, and a belief system that seemed to condone his acts and status as a family man, leader, and a firm Christian believer, Lynne's father ruled his household with an iron hand that mete out justice and love with equal strength. Punishment was engrained in Renoir's identity -- so much so that her isolated world in rural Australia in the 1940s seemed destined never to change. This was as much due to the equation between God, belief, and punishment as to Renoir's father's heavy hand.

In order to realize freedom, she would not only have to break the chains of oppression at home, but would have to entirely reinvent her concept of and relationship to God. This complex journey is the heart of her ultimately uplifting story, which should be in any spiritual reader's collection. Anyone who finds that they are undertaking the momentous task of revising life and belief itself will find much that resonates in Renoir's memoir.

From the legacy of violence that passes between generations to Renoir's ultimate moves away from these engrained patterns, readers will relish the progression of hope and faith. It leads to a powerful story of escape and a return to a more loving belief system that embraces God in a different way. In some ways, her story of escaping abuse is familiar and akin to others raised in turbulent family waters. But the additional challenge of finding meaning outside of the form of faith she was raised in creates a powerful additional layer of complexity that results in a delightfully unexpected journey.

Libraries looking for powerful memoirs that examine the roots of Christian belief, patriarchal family structures, abuse, and redemption will find Leaving Faith, Finding Meaning a potent story holding much fodder for discussion for several kinds of reading groups: faith-based circles, and book clubs looking at memoirs of abuse, escape, and spiritual freedom.

The General Fiction Shelf

Diminishing Veil
Lonz Cook
Elevation Book Publishing, LLC
9781943904174, $15.95

Abuse, recovery, and love stalk Renee Chadwick's life in Diminishing Veil, but even before she met handsome playboy and successful career man Marvin Yarbrough, she struggled with many elements of success that continue to bring her full circle into bad decisions and dubious situations.

If Renee had made the right choice, life could have been different. Can she make the right choices towards true love, this time; or will they always lie in the dubious, gray world of indecision and bad judgment? The veil that surrounds Renee consists of her past choices. As she tries to break through it to a different life, she considers both her mother's teachings ("Love is a fool's journey, and it hurts, but when it is good it's amazing.") and new possibilities.

As chapters fluctuate between past trauma and the PTSD Renee struggles with, as well as patterns of engagement that shroud the difference between a bad choice and a good one, readers receive a powerful saga that moves through different lives and approaches to recovery. Lonz Cook excels at portraying not just a victim, but the stumbling points of true recovery. His story questions how romance is fostered, recognized, and differentiated from efforts to control or victimize others as it builds a new life for Renee from the ashes of extreme abuse.

The psychological components of her interactions with family, friends, and potential beaus are particularly well done because they offer no pat answers, but consider the complexity of living life more fully and differently than with the familiar patterns and reactions of the past.

Diminishing Veil outlines the beliefs, experiences, and scenarios that result in limited options or repeated negative options -- then illustrates a way out. Its ability to capture the differing viewpoints of all involved, crafting a more effective romantic connection than Renee previously fostered, makes for a story that will especially intrigue audiences interested in questions of how recovery is achieved.

Reader and community library collections strong in not just romance but PTSD and abuse recovery will find Diminishing Veil thought-provoking, engrossing reading.

Fan Mail
Joseph Lewis
Black Rose Writing
9781685131685, $23.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

Any popular music group receives fan mail. They also receive hate mail. When such communications assume physical threat, however, the mail turns into more of a trial than a support system. When Randy and Bobby, brothers who enjoy musical success, note that their fan mail has turned threatening, they are inclined to ignore it. After all, every success holds its naysayers and haters. But when it evolves into a violence that threatens their family, they come to question not only the price of their success, but their loyalties.

Adopted brother Brian is drawn into the fray when Bobby and Randy's response threatens to further divide the family. He once nearly died saving his brothers, and bears the physical and emotional scars for life. Can he again inject himself into this new scenario as a hero and savior? What will be the price of that effort?

The thriller components of Fan Mail dovetail nicely with the social and psychological inspections that are wound into the tale. Discussions of integrity, breaking rules, and deadly letters that rock the foundations of everything the boys have built makes for an intriguing story that contains many subplots covering moral and ethical dilemmas.

Book club discussion groups, especially those for young adults, will find numerous topics for discussion here, from artistry and creative projects that define and refine young adult perspectives to evolving circumstances that lead them to question their pasts, present, and possible futures.

Because guns, violence, and some profanity peppers the story, mature teens will be its best audience, especially with discussion groups adding value to the inspections by injecting reflections on love, kindness, and choice: "...we are given moments. Each day. Every day." Fan Mail is hard to easily peg.

At once a coming-of-age story that will appeal to mature teens, a thriller that can reach into adult audiences, and a psychological suspense novel that holds elements of deeper life inspections about sacrifice, redemption, and discovery, its gripping saga will reach a wide audience of readers and age groups.

Libraries looking for a vivid, fast-paced story that moves from LGBTQ+ issues to family ties and beyond will find Fan Mail a fine acquisition.

Bronwen Carson
Unleash Press
9781737519485, $19.99

Childhood evolves best friends who too often grow apart in adult years, moving on and away into very different lives. Thus has been the case for Maggie and her childhood friend Dana. Paths divided by circumstance and life can sometimes cross again, but those linked by memory have since become someone else as time passes -- especially when a death and a disappearance introduced an estrangement that has lasted for decades.

In Magpie, these two now-disparate former friends are thrown back together in an unexpected, unusual manner that introduces past memories and conundrums into present-day experiences. The circumstances involving a mother's death, a Tsalagi woman who also vanished from Maggie's childhood, and a mystery that threatens to raise long-repressed memories about what really happened make for a vivid read that embraces childhood and adult angst.

These memories may be the key to why Maggie has grown into a relatively indifferent adult. She admits that "People don't talk about it. Maybe they don't want to admit it that feeling nothing is peaceful. It's invisible. No attachments, no reasons to linger or prove or uphold. That's the beauty of nothingness. The purity of it." Maggie has built her adult life around choosing the obvious, avoiding surprises, and settling for "the second verse, same as the first." Dana brings with her the demand for a different response, the realization of many truths Maggie successfully buried at great cost, and the possibility of changes Maggie never wanted to consider.

For some readers, this novel will stir unpleasant memories of choices towards peace over adventure; predictability over excitement. As Maggie moves into many revelations, so readers will find their hearts tugged and challenged by her self-discoveries and the truth that lies at the center of her adult choices.

Readers and libraries looking for novels about friendship, mystery, growth, and "Being part of the wild things that surround me...Not separate. Part of something bigger." will find Maggie a powerful story. It ideally will reach a wide audience with its landscapes of seasonal and relationship transformations.

So Hard to Do
Sally Basmajian
Creative James Media
9781956183825, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

So Hard to Do explores a different kind of love triangle that revolves around three adults who are interconnected and challenged in different ways -- not just by love, but life.

Mother Suze Foster has always been devoted to her child Jannie. Now that Jannie is 29 and on the road to career success, Suze can finally relax. Or, can she? As soon as she draws back from her life-long support of her daughter, Jannie flounders in a big way. When she accidentally floods her apartment and older neighbor Aram comes to her rescue, its love at first sight. On her part. Aram, too, experiences love at first sight. For her mother Suze, who is also instantly and unexpectedly attracted to Aram. Therein lays the quandary, the puzzles of relationships and secrets, and the process of discovery whereby Suze and Jannie dance around the same man, each other, and their feelings about life.

During the course of this process, Suze and Jannie's entanglements assume disparate twists as Jannie moves in a different direction in love, career, and her relationship with her doting mother. It's truly a complex salsa to form a novel around a mother and daughter's changing adult worlds and perceptions of one another, much less add romance into the mix.

Sally Basmajian evolves these moves with a steady attention to realistic emotional responses, character growth, and emotional and sexual revelations. Suze may investigate a "boot camp" to rev up her sexuality; but what she really needs is instruction in independence and goals. When advised, in the arena of sexuality, that "you both need to play a part in the experience," the caution gains broader meaning as Suze comes to acknowledge the part she plays in not just her daughter's direction and growth, but her own choices and their consequences.

The process of demystifying life's circumstances will engage readers on both a thought provoking and entertainment level as they follow Suze and Jannie through navigating adult responses and options. Libraries seeking romance stories steeped in the challenges of loving too much (and too much alike) will find So Hard to Do not just a different kind of love triangle, but a different growth experience that will lead patrons to laugh, cry, and ponder.

Women's book groups who choose it for discussion will find many titillating topics within.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

We Are All Together
Richard Fulco
Wampus Multimedia
9798985035322, $17.99 Paper/$8.49 Kindle

We Are All Together is a novel set in the 1960s during the Summer of Love. It doesn't open with love; but with a violent confrontation between musicians in a Topeka, Kansas dive bar in 1963.

Twenty-one-year-old Stephen Crane finds his young life taking a step backward when his band falls apart and he must move back home to live with his Christian mother. Rebelling against the dissolution of his musical ambitions, he decides to go to New York City with his former friend and fellow musician Dylan John, who is spearheading a brand new brand of psychedelic music.

Always on the cutting edge of change, however, Dylan then becomes involved in civil rights issues, handing the baton of potential success to Stephen, who finds that his life's ambition and visions do not deliver as expected.

Richard Fulco creates a story that captures the atmosphere, ideals, challenges, and struggles of not just a young man's growth, but a nation under siege from its own youngsters. His ability to interpret these times for modern minds involves a special brand of description and insight that proves enlightening and engrossing even for readers already well versed in novels set in the 60s.

Fulco's descriptions allow a deeper "you are here" feel than most accounts of the times: "Janis Joplin attacked Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain" as if she had lived every lyric, as if it were the only song she knew, as if her life depended on it, as if she sang it with just the right amount of soul and gusto that when she died Hades himself would welcome her to the underworld and personally dust off her throne next to his.

When Big Brother and the Holding Company's mesmerizing, four-song set had ended, every single hippie on the fairgrounds, which must have been close to eight thousand, experienced a spiritual awakening." Fueled by vivid experiences of the past that challenge Stephen's trajectory and life, We Are All Together's deeper value lies in capturing a sentiment of uniformity and humanity that is essentially a missing ingredient in modern America. The result is a journey, a reminder, and a historical exploration steeped in musical interludes as it pairs a coming-of-age story with the coming-of-age of America.

Book club groups interested in literary works about the 60s will find much food for thought and discussion here, while libraries looking for representative stories of growth and evolving social and political changes will appreciate the opportunity to include We Are All Together in their collections.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Crystal Blue Murder
Saralyn Richard
Palm Circle Press, LLC
9780989625555, $29.00 Hardcover/$18.48 Paper/$4.99 ebook

In Crystal Blue Murder, Detective Oliver Parrott finds the bucolic countryside of Brandywine Valley disrupted by a meth lab's explosion, a corpse, threats, and a circle of danger that begins to embrace the wealthiest segment of society.

The story opens with a literal bang. ("Being awakened at two a.m. was bad enough, but the word explosion yanked Detective Oliver Parrott out of bed in nothing flat. The barn on eighty-two-year-old celebrity hostess, Claire Whitman's fifty-acre farm was burning.") The action becomes non-stop as Parrott's personal life challenges spill over into his professional efforts. Saralyn Richard is adept at painting the contrast between these lives and the mysteries, secrets, and dilemmas that happen within the community and behind closed doors. She explores lies and truths, layer by layer, through events and character interactions.

As Parrott delves into Claire's life and relationships, readers gain a multi-faceted perspective of life in a moneyed community, where relationships affect outcomes. Money usually talks, but it doesn't always deliver answers. As Parrott develops a theory of the explosion and the murder it was supposed to hide, he digs ever deeper into the heart and soul of a community that prides itself on not just its wealth, but its secrets. Parrot finds himself fielding relationship information and dangerous circumstances.

Readers who look for mysteries thoroughly steeped in community interactions and the intersection between intrigue and affairs will find much to like in this third book in the Detective Parrott series. An added plus is that it stands nicely alone and requires no prior familiarity with the other books in order to prove immediately accessible and involving to newcomers.

Libraries that choose Crystal Blue Murder will find its attention to building connections and disconnections in an environment where meth and murder run hand in hand with wealth and secrets to produce a creative, involving story. It offers many twists and turns as it navigates rocky relationships and murder alike.

Murder at Amapas Beach
James Gilbert
Atmosphere Press
9781639886494, $17.99

Murder at Amapas Beach opens in Puerto Vallarta, where Amanda Pennyworth is experiencing a romantic interlude with Romero while on vacation in Mexico when trouble strikes in the form of stranger Danielle Maglin. A chance conversation overheard leads Amanda to realize their connection with Racine, Wisconsin, which is Amanda's childhood home.

The strange coincidence evolves into something more when Danielle is murdered. Amanda feels compelled to take on her case and discover the underlying factors affecting Danielle's death, which belays the intention of both her vacation and the agenda of the Sun and Fun Travel Agency (in this instance, perhaps ironically named).

As events lead to a second demise, Amanda finds not answers, but more questions as a wide-ranging list of suspects evolves, each containing their own complexity. Where should she begin? Everything feels "contradictory and confusing." So much so, that perhaps even the suspects themselves are confused about their roles and choices in various situations.

Murder at Amapas Beach offers the fine scenario of a vacation that segues into a murder mystery. Its atmospheric portrait of Mexico, tourist personalities, the intersection of fun and frightening developments, and underlying simmering resentments on the parts of many creates an engrossing set of possibilities.

"Whodunnit" becomes a laundry list of special interests as Amanda pursues the truth while facing her own mystery over Romero. The intersection of romance and intrigue works well as readers absorb not just Amanda's efforts, but the role of Sergeant Colin McMillan, who appears midway in the story to add the involvement of an investigator far from Mexico who finds a foreign murder case dumped in his lap.

Readers and libraries looking for multifaceted mysteries that take on an international flavor as they evolve too many suspects and possibilities, as well as prior fans of Amanda Pennyworth, will find Murder at Amapas Beach an involving read which is highly recommended.

Murder in Third Position
Lori Robbins
Level Best Books
9781685121969, $5.99 ebook/$16.95 Paper

Murder in Third Position is an On Pointe mystery that combines ballet with a female sleuth's latest case. Readers need not be ballet dancers themselves in order to enjoy the pirouettes and placements this story embraces. A limber attitude towards intrigue goes far, as the story unfolds a different Nutcracker scenario in which intrigue blends with the challenges of being a dancer. Lori Robbins demonstrates a vivid descriptive prowess as lead dancer Leah Siderova finds her starring role fraught with political, artistic, and investigative challenges.

Murder and Christmas do not ordinarily go together. With the abusive overseer Maurice dead and suspicion falling upon Leah's dance partner, she has no choice but to embark on her own investigation of what really happened behind the scenes. When the theater goes dark and allows a predator access to the stage, Leah exits stage left to play the dangerous role of a detective that leads her into more deaths and unexpected territory.

As a novelist, Robbins does an outstanding job of juxtaposing the ballet world with the investigative process that challenges Leah's set roles, forcing her to new heights of realization about the world of dance, her colleagues, and her own ambitions.

When performers go missing and more potential victims emerge, Leah and her sister must walk a dangerous path to get at the truth. Readers who enjoy back stories of the dancing world and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the rigors of a ballet production will find these realistic elements contribute to Leah's foray into an entirely different milieu.

The first-person characterization is very well done as readers become immersed in Leah's artistic and professional efforts, easily understanding how she feels driven to solve this dangerous riddle, even though her sister is supposedly the intelligent one. Leah maintains: "I'm a dancer. I talk with my body." Her efforts to speak through her dance rather than becoming another body on a widening hit list makes for compelling reading. Perhaps this is because the tension is finely drawn and the movements between dance and death assume their own form of masterful entwining that keeps readers involved in a realistic character's moves.

Readers and libraries interested in mysteries that embrace the ballet world and the motivations of a non-P.I. dancer who finds herself pulled into an unexpected romance will find Murder in Third Position exquisitely complex, nicely steeped in both drama and the competitive atmosphere of the dance world.

Lisa Towles
Rebel ePublishers
9781944077174, $12.99

What would happen if everything you believed about yourself and your life history proved to be a lie? Choke reveals just such a dilemma as Certified Nursing Assistant Kerry Stine finds her entire life called into question over a patient that vanishes from the hospital under her watch. As her repressed past pushes into her consciousness and sends her on the run, Kerry finds not only her history, but everything she's presumed about her role in life to be in question. Is she being drugged and manipulated? Is she insane? The questions mount as Kerry keeps finding reasons for mistrusting everyone around her and searches for a way out of a seemingly impossible dilemma, sans memory.

Scientist Adrian Calhoun faces his own problems. Having developed a controversial cure for lung cancer, he is pursued by both the pharmaceutical mafia and those who would get their hands on his world-changing invention. He, too, is a prisoner of his own achievements and their potential to change the world. The two characters find their lives and mysteries entwine in unexpected ways as they share the common desire to escape their captors and take charge of their own destinies, whatever they might be.

Lisa Towles creates a riveting story that attracts on many high levels. One reason why this story feels so realistic and compelling is the power of description, both atmospheric and psychological, that drives a revealing plot. Towles is also adept at crafting a time-sensitive scenario in which the characters work against the clock to arrive at new realizations and freedom. Tick tock. The action is driven as much by a sharp attention to tension and revelation as it is by each character's pursuit of not just answers, but personal freedom.

All these elements give Choke a fine taste of added value as readers become immersed in twists and turns that test their own perceptions of evolving dilemmas and related choices. Choke is a compelling story that's hard to put down: surprising in its many explorations of the unexpected and steeped in thriller elements that will delight genre readers and the libraries catering to them.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Dark Dweller
Gareth Worthington
Dropship Publishing
9781954386006, $44.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

It's not unusual to lose people in space. When Captain Kara Psomas is declared dead after a collision with Jupiter, the world moves on without her. Over a century later, an escape pod is found containing a young woman who holds a universe-changing message in a mission that affects the future of all mankind. She claims to be Kara. It's up to her rescuers to determine if she is insane, or humanity's only hope. It's up to Kara to fulfill her mission, even if it costs the lives of those who have saved her.

Gareth Worthington creates a story nicely steeped in intrigue, vivid descriptions, and action-packed dialogue tempered by an undercurrent of wry humor. These gritty conversations that are part of the first-person story's power bring situations to life, as well as circumstances which lead characters to disbelieve the evidence before them. Worthington does a fine job of shifting these first-person points of view between Kara and other characters.

One example is Dr. Luan Nkosi, who is walking Europa when he's called to become involved in the mystery of a two-hundred-year-old survivor who looks to be fifteen years old. Worthington is equally adept at juxtaposing hard science, mystery, spiritual components, and insights into all kinds of survivors. The nonstop action invites those who relish a fast pace in their stories, while the mystery over this woman's potential impact on civilization is nicely done and captivating.

Readers of sci-fi who enjoy stories that circumnavigate other worlds with a touch of cosmic mystery and prophecy will find Dark Dweller a powerful blend of topics that injects intrigue into extraterrestrial experiences. Libraries that look for intersections of sci-fi and higher-level thinking, dosed with a heady mix of hard science and wry observational humor, will find Dark Dweller a fine acquisition that outlines a strange journey through time and future possibilities.

Greg Rode
Warren Publishing Inc.
9781957723112, $15.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Zombie apocalypse novels tend to sound somewhat alike -- a zombie infection forces human survivors to struggle against them for control of a vastly changed world. What makes such a plot unique is how an author approaches the skeleton of the story, which is why Greg Rode's third book in the Sanctuary series, Gathering, continues to amaze.

Unlike the first two books, Gathering is divided into three parts. The first is narrated in the third person and focuses on Morgan, who has isolated herself from the world when it suddenly changes. At first she doesn't notice anything awry, even though "Like all the other cities in the country, Denver and its suburbs screamed, suffered, and died quickly, with a good few of those who remained standing having nothing in their minds but the classic American dream of the pursuit of happiness -- in the form of eating their (former) fellow man."

When she emerges from her cocoon, it's to find a strange new milieu in which she encounters her first zombie four days after the world has succumbed to their strengths, discovering that critical pieces of her world and life have shifted. The second part is also in third person but focuses on Eve as she finds her way back to the group after separating from them at the beginning of the second book. She picks up a couple of survivors along the way, one of whom may have a hidden agenda. The third part returns to first person as the narrator resumes his accounts of the group and their many adventures together as they work to find true sanctuary. As Rode reviews the group's reactions, pull toward each other, and the elements of strength that give them exceptional abilities to confront this new zombie-controlled environment, readers will appreciate the vivid descriptions and action-packed scenes that create unexpected drama and insights alike.

The result of Rode's approach to his books is a zombie series like no other. Gathering stands both individually strong and as an expanding addition to a series that questions survival, revised life purposes, and the real differences between zombies and humans.

Greg Rode
Warren Publishing Inc.
9781957723525, $15.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Sanctuary is the fourth book of the Sanctuary Chronicles and adds further details about the confrontations between surviving humans and the zombies taking over the world. It also continues to interweave the different voices from a variety of characters, a writing technique Greg Rode uses throughout the rest of the series.

The story opens with a bang as the narrator confesses he has been bitten by a zombie, his greatest fear realized. Is he now doomed to become one of the things his group has fought against and struggled with since the downfall of mankind? The otherwise-safe sanctuary they have created for themselves feels tainted from within as the story opens; but Rode excels at creating twists and turns of plot that take readers into very different directions.

Sanctuary represents another such journey as the narrator muses on past events and concludes that "Every story has an ending, I just didn't think mine was going to end with me being bitten by a zombie." As he awaits the process of losing his mind as his group considers some good fortune and how to help others, planning a rescue that will pit them against fellow humans as well as zombies, the story unfolds many surprises which will delight readers that think all zombie stories are alike.

Sanctuary certainly stands out as the survivors consider and adopt flexible, changing perspectives in reaction to revelations and discoveries about the vastly changed world and the power plays between humans and zombies. The action and adventure develops nicely into the story of how humans have changed in response to this adversity.

Readers receive a vivid account that both stands on its own and contributes to the series as a whole as new characters join the group to expand its purposes and perceptions. The result is another zombie story that is anything but ordinary. Sanctuary is highly recommended both for newcomers and library collections seeing prior patron interest in Rode's series.

The Wall
Greg Rode
Warren Publishing, Inc.
9781957723761, $15.95

The Wall combines a post-apocalyptic zombie survival story with a horror scenario personalized by the first-person, and sometimes third-person, usage. It's a compelling saga that draws readers with an assessment of what it means to be a survivor living through extraordinary times.

Those who consider the Sanctuary Chronicles series might initially have a "not another zombie story!" reaction, but Greg Rode's skill lies in crafting a narrative that is refreshingly different in tone and presentation: "If this were a book, the author would probably spend a number of pages telling the reader about everything that has happened to date, especially if it's a series of books, which could take a while. I let my mind drift in the hazy level of consciousness just after waking and think about what I'd say if I were writing "our" book. Tell all of the history? The stories of the dead? No, not this morning; I'm not in the mood for mourning. Tell about who is still alive and kicking? Seems to make sense."

As much as The Wall is a story of survival, it's also a tale of life under revised conditions, finding joy and peace in a world torn asunder by zombies, and the process of forming new connections and purposes that lead the narrator and his posse to contemplate and create different lives amid chaos. The journey the characters undertake can be as picturesque and delightful as it is challenging, and this is part of what makes The Wall an exceptional read. In any life process, adversity often exists alongside prosperity and richness.

Rode's ability to capture and contrast these moments lends the story a realistic and compelling overtone, moving it beyond survival instincts and challenging adventures and into the moments where the characters search out beauty and peace in a vastly changed world, uncovering the choices and reactions that translate to toxic or healthy relationships both within their group and in the wider world. The result is a thought-provoking tale of revelation and discovery that is highly recommended reading for a wide audience interested in original voices and explorations that embrace physical and psychological battles alike.

Libraries seeking zombie stories with a twist will appreciate The Wall for its many revelations about changing interpersonal connections and the process of rebuilding lives as a rising horde threatens yet another revolution.

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

These four new arrivals from Baen are recommended for readers interested in original, inviting Science Fiction & Fantasy reads.

Simon R. Green's Haunted by the Past (9781982192280, $25.00) is an Ishmael Jones novel that combines the problem-solving strengths of an absorbing mystery with a new weird case involving an old manor house/hotel, a vanished renter, and an organization that employs Ishmael and his sidekick and love Penny. As the two delve into the legends and ghostly stories surrounding the old hotel, readers receive an involving story steeped in intrigue and the trappings of weird fantasy settings alike.

The collection Worlds Long Lost (9781982192303, $16.00) is edited by Christopher Ruocchio and Sean CW Korsgaard and gathers original stories by Orson Scott Card, Jessica Cain, D.J. Butler and others. The diversity of stories skilled in space opera married with magic, mystery, and lost civilizations provides a mix that poses intrigue and inviting plots with twists readers won't see coming.

Jason Cordova edits Chicks in Tank Tops (9781982192358, $18.00), a collection profiling women in military situations who find their proactive fighting skills strengthen both their worlds and their places in them. New stories by Baen authors such as David Drake, Jody Lynn Nye, A.C. Haskins and Sharon Lee, to name just a few, outline a wide variety of military scenarios and deployments in which women not only take the lead, but fight for liberty and their own special interests.

Wil McCarthy's Poor Man's Sky (9781982192341, $25.00) adds to the Rich Man's Sky series with a blend of sci-fi and murder mystery. The setting is a Mars monastery which teaches people how to live in space. It's the last place one would think of being a murder scene, but as homicide detective Raimey Vaught learns, nothing is sacred. As his investigative efforts involve a Benedictine monk, an asteroid miner, and a farmer, this disparate band swirls around a mystery that not only defies resolution, but expands to include labor disputes and social unrest.

All four titles are highly recommended for libraries seeking something different for the Science Fiction & Fantasy collections.

The Poetry Shelf

Telling You Everything
Cindy Hochman
Unleash Press
9798986274331, $8.99

Poetry chapbooks abound, and so it can be difficult to locate those gems that stand out from the crowd, but Cindy Hochman's Telling You Everything is one creation that deserves attention and discussion. It gathers works that avid poetry readers might have seen before from such publications as Brownstone Poets Anthology and Clockwise Cat, presenting both these and previously unpublished works under one cover to explore Hochman's literary mark on free verse.

In lieu of the typical introduction, there is a powerful creation featuring the title piece: "I am all moan and bone and dangling participles. I am all pipes and drums but no voice box. My body is hamstrung and jagged. I am a bellyful of barren. These days I have become nothing but chocolate bars and razor blades." This segues neatly into poems that reflect the fine art of crafting word pictures.

Steeped in autobiographical reflection and life inspection, Hochman's words resonate and delight: "I have hovered between illness and ego, pus and shiver. I've been low girl on the totem pole. I've been something seismic, and cosmic." Unlike most free verse, these poems often comprise a paragraph of observation and description. The fine line between prose and poem is challenged by Hochman's literary forms, which sometimes adopt the challenge of social and political discourse and other times shoot staccato word images that string together in a more associative inspection than what is traditionally viewed as poetry.

She acknowledges these efforts and departures in the piece "An Arbitrary List of Words That Come Up In Just About Every Poem," which gathers the repetitive words to be found in this collection, forming a commentary and uncommon poetic inspection comprised of the pieces of other story poems: "Winter, spring, summer, fall. Home. Kitchen. Closet. Backyard. Cats, cats, meow. Cat's meow. Howl. Pandemic. Death. Rebirth/renewal."

Whether self-inspecting, reflecting life's progression, or examining the intersection between human nature and the natural world, Hochman provides an intriguing collection of word portraits that pull with familiar scenes wound into unfamiliar territory: "...I dreamed I was/Ralph Kramden,/driving a/New York City bus/into the sky."

The result is a thought-provoking, metaphorically rich collection of poems that is highly recommended for contemporary libraries looking for works that both reflect and defy the usual sense of what comprises a poem. Ideally, Telling You Everything will be chosen for illustration in creative writing classes interested in examining the structure and qualities of free verse, poetry, and literary devices.

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