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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 1 January 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Health/Medicine Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf
Biography Shelf Money/Finance Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Metaphysical Studies Shelf Travel Shelf California Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Viila and the Doomsday Affair
Roger Danchik
Atmosphere Press
9781639886203, $18.99

At first glance, Viila and the Doomsday Affair would seem to fit in the fantasy category. Where else would a rollicking ride to save the universe appear? But then, there's the odd cast of characters, from a vampire and a cat to a rabbi and his son and a demon. And a chapter which opens with the title "An Erotic Scene! - And Wild Monkey Sex." And a mystery that is wound into compelling scenarios which defy any attempt at pat categorization. So evolves a story that would rival Douglas Adams for its world-hopping foray into characters and settings which are anything but predictable in their countenances or actions.

As the story opens, Rabbi Benjamin is having a mild erotic fantasy prompted by his wife's cooking. His planned marriage was not of his choosing, but produced satisfaction beyond his wildest dreams. Especially since he'd been prepared for a life without marriage and sex. At this point it should be emphasized that eroticism plays an intrinsic part in the story that evolves. The humor that overlays many of these interactions relies on it. An ancient gong rouses the Master, then contemplates a "long infinity" when its job is complete; Queen Pharaoh sports the ability to pose and glare so that her reputation means she never has to actually fight; and interactions between the Teraphim, Rabbi Benjamin, Viila and the merry band of misfits makes for a plot replete with humor and thought-provoking confrontations.

The dynamics of this unlikely group are as intriguing as their confrontations as rules of engagement fade and cease to exist, challenging each character to assimilate different relationships and survival tactics than in their pasts. Roger Danchik's romp involves a quest and revelations that accompany the effort. His audience will appreciate both the ribald characters and their changing perspectives about their place in the world and their mission. Think Douglas Adams, but with far more sexual humor. Libraries that choose Viila and the Doomsday Affair will find its special combination of fantasy, intrigue, and adventure will attract audiences capable of absorbing a healthy degree of erotica in the overall yarn that evolves a rollicking good tale with the undercurrent of a Greek comedy and the contemporary feel of irony.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

Patients in Peril
Gregg Coodley
Atmosphere Press
9781639886265, $18.99

Once upon a time, the family doctor was the central force in medical treatment. 'Specialists' were only for very specific ailments, and the family physician was a bigger gateway to medical care than anything we experience today in America.

Patients in Peril: The Demise of Primary Care in America pinpoints the history and peril of healthcare changes which have increasingly picked apart the role of the traditional family physician. It's a study that needs to be in the hands of anyone interested in modern healthcare, whether they are doctors or patients. The demise of the primary care physician is evident not just in the current services provided (or not), but in the majority of medical school graduates who choose specialization over generalization. Primary care is becoming an industry shortage and a rarity as primary care physicians retire and are replaced not by new generations of doctors, but by medical processing centers designed to reduce cost, eliminate wasteful approaches, and devote a minimum of or limited amount of time to the patient.

Gregg Coodley charts the history of this trend, identifying economic, social, political, and medical influences on its incarnation and, more importantly, investigating the problems created by the demise of the primary care doctor in America. When insurers take over doctoring, real healthcare wanes -- including the compassion of the physician for his patients, home visits, and ultimately the quality of care. Replacing and second-guessing physicians are administrative processes that tax healthcare efforts instead of enhancing or improving them.

As Coodley tackles the subjects of prior authorizations, medical training dysfunction, the rise of fee-for-service arrangements, and the disparities created between physician and patient by systems put in place to oversee both, readers gain a solid insight into the problem, its history, and, in conclusion, some possible solutions.

The latter is not the focus of this book. Its attention to the details of how this demise happened and is incarnated in modern medical services and patient/physician relationships provides an invaluable look at a bigger picture of problems than most realize. This makes Patients in Peril a top recommendation for health libraries, whether in public library or medical school settings.

Ideally, Patients in Peril will be assigned reading to medical school students and would-be healthcare professionals in present and future generations. Its food for thought should ideally spark debates, discussions, and active changes and considerations beyond individual enlightenment.

The General Fiction Shelf

Ginger Star
Diana McDonough
Independently Published
9781733731911, $19.99

Ginger Star opens in Ghana in 1719, where Amari and Kwasi are enjoying a friendly hunting competition when they run into a Fante warrior who works with the slave ships, capturing souls for servitude. Their capture and journey to Jamaica is fraught with battles between ships and crews. Their introduction to various forms of privilege and prejudice will keep readers thinking about the incarnations of both as the story unfolds against the backdrop of pirates, settlers, and those who consider other human beings as fodder for trade and abuse.

While Amari and Kwasi open the story, a host of other characters are introduced to add a full-bodied flavor to the tale from different perspectives. Cabin boy Ronnie Shepherd and Marshall Fergusson of Ramble House Plantation are juxtaposed against Adria's life of advantage in Jamaica and the secret she harbors against all odds. The hopes, dreams, and heirs to the Ginger Star plantation intersect on various social and cultural levels to evoke change in not just one other, but the world around them.

Guilt and the reality of closely-held secrets that will ultimately prove impossible to keep dog Amari's increasing involvement with the Maroons, a tribe of escaped slaves and Taino Indians. The Maroon's type warfare threatens not just freedom and the status quo of plantation life, but the fabric of colonial society whose expectations and perceptions keeps the story riveting and multifaceted.

Diana McDonough crafts a novel replete in Jamaican history, the atmosphere of the piracy that swirls around disparate lives and changes them, and the follies of men and women.

Ginger Star's story of prejudice, redemption, time and love is highly recommended for libraries interested in thought-provoking tales of the Caribbean and lives that evolve into new possibilities. Ginger Star is a story of struggle, strife, and the rejuvenation of a stowaway's life who finds a home and hope against all odds. Ginger Star is the powerful story of grief, courage, and optimism.

The Journey of Karoline Olsen
Ann Hanigan Kotz
BookPress Publishing
9781947305519, $24.95 Hardcover/$7.95 ebook

The Journey of Karoline Olsen is a novel about an extraordinary undertaking made by a woman whose husband dies in 1905, prompting her to bring his body on a long journey via wagon as she recalls their marriage and move from Norway.

At this point, it should be noted that Karoline Olsen's fictional journey is based on the author's family stories and experiences. This lends the account an aura of authenticity created by the author's personal connection to her story. It should be read as fiction, but this foundation lends to an immersive experience that comes to life for Karoline's readers.

From the beginning, one of the striking notes of this story is the sense of time's slow passage which is reflected in journeys by wagon across prairies and wilderness. Descriptions of these processes are solidified by insights into the trials produced by even the simple process of bringing a body home for burial: "The frozen blocks were packed around the body, which was wrapped in a heavy canvas tarp to keep it from deteriorating until she could put him into the ground. Karoline had traveled more than two weeks to make the trip from Soldier to Cedar Falls to retrieve him. Now, she needed make the journey home."

From solo trips cross-state to acts of kindness and support which enable Karoline to achieve her goals, Ann Hanigan Kotz cultivates a personal perspective to the character's actions that embraces her thoughts and experiences about love, marriage, and survival. As her life unfolds, Kotz is especially attentive to creating passages that describe Karoline's expanding world both within and outside her marriage: "Their conversations always started with something less personal but then evolved into their questions about men and marriage as well as their own pains and scars as wives and mothers."

Whether speaking of the process of an immigrant journeying to a new country and home, making friends, raising family, or surviving marriage and death, Kotz captures this world of changing lives. She profiles Karoline's cleverness in trying to protect daughter Betsi's reputation and life as well as the progression of 22 years of Karoline's often-stormy marriage to Kristopher. Kotz winds history, love, and survival issues into a thoroughly moving story that will especially appeal to women who look for history-based novels that come alive with the quickening of both relationships and survival tactics. The result is a story that winds through early 1900s America and the trajectory of a woman's heart.

Libraries looking for solid representations of these lives and their struggles, whether from choices and circumstances or changing interpersonal relationships tested by the rigors of new worlds and opportunities, will find The Journey of Karoline Olsen a compelling recommendation.

The Lighthouse
Karin Ciholas
Atmosphere Press
9781639885930, $19.99

The Lighthouse is a historical novel and Book 1 in The Cyrenian series, and is set in first-century Egypt, which resides under Roman rule. Physician Simon's life as a Jew is increasingly tenuous in this world; but when his sister is kidnapped, Simon embarks on a journey into the slave markets in Alexandria and to Jerusalem to find her. Ironically, he is tapped by Roman soldiers to carry a crossbeam for a stranger even as he feels the swell of vengeance rise in him. Determined to track down her kidnapper Meidias and exact justice for his family and people, the good physician finds himself at odds not only with society, but his own edict to heal others -- not kill them.

His personal journey becomes political as the tides of the first pogrom against the Jewish people in Alexandria rise to place him and his choices in the cusp of world-changing events. If The Lighthouse seems unusually well-steeped in a sense of place, that's because Karin Ciholas embarked on a journey to the countries she depicts (Italy and the Middle East) to bring them to life. Of course, she couldn't travel back in time -- that must be left to the imagination. But, backed by solid research into historical fact and insights into social and political currents of the times, Ciholas creates a vivid, memorable story powered as much by strong characters as by the forces that influenced this world's directions.

Her descriptions are memorable and hard-hitting, embracing not just Simon's perspective, but the men and women who circle around him in various ways. Whether she writes of love, death, or travesty, Ciholas creates a memorable saga that rests firmly on the hearts and minds of a diverse group of people moved by changing social and political influences. The beacon served up in The Lighthouse is highly recommended reading for any historical fiction library seeking powerful, memorable explorations of friends, enemies, and the forces that twist the two together.

Man Wanted in Cheyenne
Richard C. McPherson
Unleash Press
9798986274355, $17.99

Readers looking for Western novels with the flair of literature against a Nevada backdrop will find Man Wanted in Cheyenne more than a cut above the ordinary Western production.

Jake enjoys movies almost as much as he enjoys his solitude. So when a Hollywood production team plans on using the ranch he's employed at, Jake is open to "teaching them cowboying" and participating in their filming efforts. What he was not expecting was the intrusion and changes this effort would bring to his formerly-peaceful life, which has evolved slowly in the fifteen years since his beloved Sarah died. It feels more than ironic that the movie actor which Sarah idolized is coming to the ranch to be part of this new production. It's also more than incongruous that Jake's observations of the characters participating in and directing this effort often place him at odds with those who would bully him to take charge of and change his little piece of heaven.

As the movie crew's actions lead to disaster, Jake faces further challenges, from health threats that could devastate the cattle herd and new relationships with the small but growing bison breeding community to journeys to New York, Montana, and places far from the ranch he once called home. Richard C. McPherson juxtaposes filming efforts with this Western backdrop of a cowboy set adrift. These add to the realistic feel of the plot as events evolve to change Jake's life. The author's research into cattle and bison also inject educational notes into the tale as Jake's world expands to embrace new ideas and environmental lessons about living in the modern West.

The result is a full-flavored contemporary Western novel that takes the usual specter of the lone ranch hand cowboy and moves it in unexpected directions. Jake navigates unfamiliar terrain. Readers will find themselves avidly following him wherever he goes.

Libraries looking for appealing Western stories that place the cowboy in the position of reinventing his life in a changing modern world will find Man Wanted in Cheyenne an intriguingly different story that employs the usual backdrops of the West, but with a satisfyingly original eye to introducing contemporary issues affecting the land and those who live on and manage it.

The Two-Headed Lady at the End of the World
Mark Miller
Montage Press
9781957010229, $17.95

The Two-Headed Lady at the End of the World blends romance with ribald adventure and humor in a novel that promises to attract a wide range of readers to its unusual escapades and odd characters. Think conjoined twins who exhibit unusual traits beyond their physical connection, who present an intriguing skill set and connection from the novel's opening lines. Their connection was not forged at birth, but was created by a government snafu involving a particle collider project hidden underneath the family farm. The Morgan twins are on the path to adulthood, facing romantic attractions complicated both by their physical connection and their separate outlooks on life and men.

Mark Miller also injects end-of-the-world drama into this story, which comes with unexpected differences. One example is two men ensconced underground in a survival bunker for 30 years who discover attraction for one another and reasons for not seeking a return to civilization. This is paired with a newly sentient CPU who, lonely for love, seeks a romantic connection with a fax machine at the Pentagon. Singularity never looked like this before. Nor has love.

As events evolve, these disparate characters assume the flavor of Dr. Strangelove mixed with a heady rush of hormones that returns a high-octane romance on steroids. Expect the unexpected, because that's one delightful strength of The Two-Headed Lady at the End of the World. It ultimately examines the end of worlds, the beginnings of new worlds, and the promise and rush of romance under extraordinary conditions.

A heady injection of social inspection with references to cis-gendered white male privilege, American patriotism gone awry, and a shockingly definitive conclusion ices the cake of both fun and serious social and political analysis.

Libraries and readers looking for a mix of romance, sci-fi, and relationship-evolving characters (and machines) will find The Two-Headed Lady at the End of the World's creative blend of humor and conundrums to be involving, unique, and satisfyingly unexpected.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Nature's Bite
Mark Anthony Powers
Hawksbill Press
9781737032946, $16.99 Paper/$6.99 ebook

In Nature's Bite, Dr. Phineas Mann is no ordinary physician, but is assigned to investigate a novel asthma drug treatment developed by the pharmaceutical corporation SynMedical. It's a drug too many will die for in more ways than one, as Phineas and fellow doctor Marie Porter find out the hard way.

Deeply wound into the story are the political struggles and conflicts of a Republican president in his final year in office, the climate change warming that is triggering increases in asthma and other medical issues, and the special forces that have led the FBI to Dr. Mann's doorstep.

In many ways, Phineas is just a country doctor. He's operated away from the political quagmire that has overtaken the country and cultivates a rich home life with wife Iris, a foster beagle, and the more laid-back job a 70-year-old physician should be enjoying as a teacher supervising interns and residents. The last thing he should be doing at this point in his life is tackling a medical conundrum that holds its roots in politics, climate crisis, and subterfuge. But, thankfully for readers, he does.

And Mark Anthony Powers's attention to details of personal and political milieus carries readers into the story with a vigor and attraction that mystery genre formula writing productions too often lack. Phineas may be a senior citizen now, but he's clearly not ready to hang up his medical expertise or investigative skills.

Both are demonstrated in a story replete with exquisite action, solid attention to the details and conundrums of a personal lifestyle that butts heads with an edict to investigate a new drug, and the ethical and moral issues which arise as he uncovers new truths that place him in uncomfortable positions both personally and professionally.

Powers has created a medical mystery that goes above and beyond the usual medical dilemma to add a special focus and flavor surrounding the ironies and inconsistencies of politics. Its special blend of satirical reflection and heart-pounding action makes Nature's Bite not just a cut above the ordinary for mystery libraries seeking medical thrillers, but worthy of recommendation to book club readers. This audience will find much food for thought and discussion, providing opportunities to contrast its world-changing themes with other genre approaches to medical suspense writing.

The Whispering Woman
Trish MacEnulty
Prism Light Press
9781737575177, $17.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Whispering Woman pairs the investigative activities of Louisa Delafield and Ellen Malloy, two young women who never saw themselves as investigators, much less connected to one another by circumstances beyond their control.

Author Trish MacEnulty presents a satisfyingly original take on the mystery and murder thriller genre from the start in creating historical fiction set in New York's Gilded Age and tackling the concurrent themes of class, gender, and economic status. These work alongside puzzling events that reach out to grasp the story's main characters and their readers alike.

The turn of the century world of 1901 opens with a headline reporting the murder of an ex-pillar of society (now financially bankrupt) whose body is discovered in a hotel room. The scene quickly moves to Louisa's consultation with a lawyer who informs her that the family's inheritance money has been exhausted. Louisa readily admits that she hasn't been paying attention ("Too busy with work, she had told herself, but the real reason was that she didn't want to face the truth. She much preferred the illusion that their small well of money would magically refill itself the way it seemed to do in all the wealthy families."). Nor has she been paying attention to the fact that her station in life has been dipping steadily, and that the Delafields are now poor.

Marriage, the usual solution to maintaining one's wealth, is not an option because her father's actions have tarnished the family name, as well. Given all this, the relationship that evolves between Louisa and Ellen, who comes from a different social class herself, is unexpected and unusual, fraught with insights each faces as conundrums force them to work together under extraordinary circumstances.

MacEnulty's ability to contrast these disparate personalities and their experiences to bring forth the underlying strengths and attitudes of each character is one facet that sets this historical mystery apart from many others. The social, political, and investigative story makes for thoroughly engrossing reading, powered by two equally capable young women who find their lives changed by their association, actions, and their consequences.

Also especially thought-provoking is the fact that other opportunities belay the usual mystery's focus on non-investigators who are somehow intrinsically drawn to the life of a P.I. In this case, the women are reluctant participants who also have other choices, as in Louisa's contemplation of her other options: "It seemed that her readers enjoyed hearing about the seamier side of life. She supposed she could find more topics like that, and the raise had improved their financial situation somewhat. She should be satisfied. There was no need to go chasing after doctors and abductors."

The result offers more of a flavor of history and psychology than most stories about women sleuths, injecting realistic and thought-provoking insights about not just their investigative prowess, but the kinds of options they face in re-envisioning their lives.

The Whispering Woman is described as a "Delafield & Malloy Investigation," which also defines not a newfound career path so much as a course of action. It will attract beyond the usual genre of women investigators with its special focus on social status and the struggles turn-of-the-century women faced, and is highly recommended for libraries seeking exceptional acquisitions in not just mysteries, but women's literature.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Baen Books

Two new Science Fiction titles from Baen Books are especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections and the personal reading lists of all dedicates science fiction fans:

Joelle Presby's The Dabare Snake Launcher (9781982192259, $17.00) is a hard sci-fi novel about Earth's attempt to build the first space elevator. Set in Africa and spiced with family drama, political conflict, scientific challenge, and a new futuristic vision of "out of Africa" potentials, The Dabare Snake Launcher excels in unpredictable changes and spicy dialogue that is captivatingly different: "Nice rant." Adamou saluted the comm screen. "But I give you about six months confined in a vilal with your relatives before you steal the silver spoons and start hitchhiking to freedom." Readers seeking something quite different in the realm of hard sci-fi (an endangered species in the genre, these days) will find the story delightfully original.

Dave Bara's Trinity's Children (9781982192112, $16.00) provides a vivid futuristic tale about a hard-drinking former military man whose career was sunk by the Rim rebellion. A new chance to command the first faster-than-light vessel to Trinity, a newly discovered star system, would seem to hold the opportunity for redemption, but a new war is brewing that can lead the good Captain Clement to either finally realize his career, or his future. Both are involving, unique stories recommended for discriminating sci-fi readers.

The Poetry Shelf

Melody in Exile
S.T. Brant
Atmosphere Press
9781639884988, $16.99

Melody in Exile's special brand of poetry pays tribute to the intersection between literary and spiritual reflection, and is recommended reading for audiences who look for such rare entwinings of two often-disparate subjects.

It opens with "The Soul," a consideration of darkness, color, the "cosmology of you" and "...the new melody made when a song/lands in the sea." The perspectives presented in this poetry gathering aren't just those of the author, but represent a chorus of insights, from Adam and Eve to timeless love connections that traverse time, space, and nature: "Her windy song collides my heart. It dusts; it seeds the universe:/Adam up from dust."

Each poem represents a microcosm of world perspectives, visions of love and life, and the presence of literary and spiritual revelations that wind through experiences and observations: "Adam, Eve, light's embassies, and I/Talked our visions, our limits. In Eden I was happy but for the/loose bee in my heart."

With these selected quotes, which but graze the surface of the metaphysical and metaphorical prowess demonstrated by S.T. Brant, readers gain a sense of the depth of examination promised and delivered in free verse explorations.

Libraries seeking contemporary poetry collections that sing and ring with thought-provoking links between history, spiritual, and emotional forays into the world will find Melody in Exile's lyrical, philosophical examinations a compelling representation of modern contemporary free verse poetry at its strongest.

The Biography Shelf

Dancing in Their Light
Debbie Chinn
Strange Fate Publications
9780578355993, $30.00

Dancing in Their Light: A Daughter's Unfinished Memoir chronicles the as-yet-unconcluded life of a daughter of Chinese immigrants who was born and raised on Long Island, New York. Her family's successful restaurant was a family effort as the House of Mah Jong proved both her playground and her training arena, leading her to perform as a Polynesian dancer through her teen years as she evolved dreams and goals which moved far from the successful nightclub/restaurant world.

Under another hand, Dancing in Their Light might have ended at this point, with furthering her parents' dream; but Debbie Chinn had other goals, and eventually become the CEO of a non-profit arts group. Her family's journey that led her to this point is chronicled in a memoir that celebrates her heritage through history and explorations of the expanded Mah Jong family circle. Black and white and color photos of family and the restaurant/nightclub business liberally pepper the story to add visual attraction to her chronicle.

Along the way, readers also absorb circumstances of Chinese and American interactions, cultures, and perceptions that lend the memoir the added value of a cultural education as the family's fascination with Hawaii translates to an endeavor most Chinese immigrant families did not undertake.

While the blossoming restaurant business takes center role in this story, of equal interest is her family's background history and transformations as they moved between and within very different cultures, assimilating some of the best of both to present new opportunities to their inner circle and the community around them. In a nutshell, Dancing in Their Light is about how values, experiences, and perceptions translate between generations to affect and change outcomes and birth a legendary cultural icon.

Whether readers come to the story for its Chinese roots and heritage; its restaurant business insights; or for the evolution of a young woman who followed family tradition in following an unexpected path, Dancing in Their Light will reach a wide audience of followers with its engrossing juxtapositions of past, present, and future worlds.

Ideally, it will find a place not only in libraries strong in business and Chinese family memoirs, but in book club discussion circles looking for titles about immigrant experience, Chinese family history, and a daughter's lessons that led her to her own successes. Inspirational and enlightening, Dancing in Their Light is a memoir that is hard to put down.

The Money/Finance Shelf

The Science of Getting Rich for Women
Sara Connell
Muse Literary
9781958714232, $29.99 Hardcover; $18.99 Paperback; $9.99 ebook

The Science of Getting Rich for Women points out that not only have women traditionally earned less than their male counterparts, but they've lost more money during times of financial crisis and have too often opted for choices that garnered less financial rewards than their male counterparts.

Sara Connell points out that the bulk of money advice and management books assume a decidedly male overtone that embraces white male privilege over the experiences, attitudes towards and special concerns of women. She seeks to rectify this in an advice guide specifically tailored to female readers. One might wonder about how such financial advice would differ, but Connell's own motivation for writing this book (which isn't the first to offer money advice to women) sets the stage via her own experiences.

Her hard-hitting messages open with an acknowledgement that conscious and subconscious social messages create patterns of expectation and judgment that often direct a woman's drive for financial success: "I was living out old family messages and cultural programming that said pursuing money or having abundance was bad, that it was unspiritual to care about material things, that caring about money meant I was greedy or a "bad" person, superficial, wrong. The truth was, I was broke and disempowered with money, because I'd guzzled cultural, religious, familial, ancestral societal and gender "Kool-Aid" from my earliest cell development that said I was not allowed, that I shouldn't, that I wasn't worthy, wasn't capable, didn't deserve and wasn't good enough to have it."

By now, it should be evident that The Science of Getting Rich for Women isn't just another "one size fits all" set of money-making or financial management strategies. Nor does it represent Connell's singular success (though that is intrinsic to the story). It's a key to a personal makeover that flavors insights about the process with case histories and experiences of other women who have faced their inner dollar demons and come out richer for the effort on not just financial, but psychological levels.

As readers learn about these diverse successes, they will be prompted to examine their own approaches to business, money, and independence. This requires of readers the willingness to do so and the flexibility to absorb statements and messages that defy the common picture of women's financial worlds and motivations. Women who choose The Science of Getting Rich for Women will find "rich" defined as more than monetary wealth. It documents attitudes, misconceptions, influences, and approaches to money and success that ideally will receive book club and women's group attention and discussion. Its biographical profiles should also spark lively debates among such circles.

The Science of Getting Rich for Women is highly recommended not just for libraries catering to women who look to improve their financial or business status, but for collections interested in powerful women's issues for discussions and bigger-picture thinking that expands the notion of wealth and riches to psychological understanding and social and business transformations.

The Christian Studies Shelf

How Can I Take My Life Back From My Phone?
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798354818877, $19.99 Hardcover/$11.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

"We have created a situation where it is possible for ordinary people to casually and without malice kill innocent lives. If we return to the three ethical questions, namely how ships can avoid bumping into each other, how they can internally stay shipshape, and what destination they are meant to reach, we are seeing terrible collisions that sink ships because unrestrained and trusting use of cell phones has devastated what little was left of their being shipshape."

How Can I Take My Life Back From My Phone? A Guidebook for Orthodox and Others is about pursuing life outside of technology. It is highly recommended reading for any modern person who would link theological thinking to the dilemmas of managing modern devices that both distract and offer a form of engagement that's often the antithesis of spiritual reflection. What do ethical and religious questions have to do with technological use? They translate more reasoned purpose into device usage, creating a dialogue that stems from Hayward's exploration of "What kind of guidance would someone like St. John Chrysostom offer in using technology, if our technology were around in his day?"

From philosophical and historical citation and reflection to guidelines for employing technology in a more positive, purposeful manner that doesn't put it in the driver's seat of decision-making, Hayward provides a thought-provoking discourse that will especially lend to book club and discussion group pursuit. Chapters tackle everything from Internet porn to missed connections and the altered states of mind and soul created by addiction to all kinds of screens: C.S.J. Hayward has produced many a thought-provoking work, but How Can I Take My Life Back From My Phone? may arguably be one of his best. This is because he links a modern social, psychological, and spiritual issue to guidelines on how better to take charge of that technological lure that too often creates in its user an emotional and spiritual void.

These topics wind neatly into Biblical passages, analytical reflections on the Scriptures, and notes and footnoted references to a wide range of religious thinking that contrasts nicely with the ethical and spiritual topics under consideration. Hayward also adds autobiographical notes into the inspection. This personalizes his citations and the experiences of loosening technology's allure and distractions. The result is both a how-to guide and a spiritual work of Christian Orthodoxy which holds the rare power to reach beyond Orthodox audiences alone and into the general public.

This topic should hold widespread interest, and ideally will be debated and discussed among many circles. Christian libraries, in particular, will find How Can I Take My Life Back From My Phone? a thought-provoking reflection and a "must have" addition.

The Metaphysical Studies Shelf

Extraterrestrial Alien Visitations and Other Unworldly Phenomena
Thomas Sawyer
Living History Publishing House
9781732737198, $11.11 3

Thomas Sawyer began investigating aliens in the 1950s when, after doing a two-year stint in the military in the UK, he returned to school at UC Berkeley; there to experience a late-night encounter at a diner. Thus began his belief in alien visitations and the decades-long research that would expand concepts of alien visitations and clarify otherwise-inexplicable phenomena.

In Extraterrestrial Alien Visitations And Other Unworldly Phenomena, Sawyer explains the feeling that he was being contacted by these aliens, visiting Berkeley's "Observatory Hill" at a little past midnight to follow a compulsion that led to further communiques. As he discovers that his friend Frank and others have had similar experiences, his worldview expands about the realities of aliens and their influence on human affairs -- represented here in a discussion of phenomena that broadens to embrace the notion of a guardian angel and other influences on the course of his life.

Sawyer blends autobiography with these close encounters, juxtaposing foreign posting experiences with incidents of "unexpected happenings." This is not what one might expect from a military man's life, and provides a satisfying contrast in experience from those who adopt more staid approaches to UFOs and life experiences.

Throughout his domestic and foreign military assignments, Sawyer explored military and civilian experiences. Given the latest news about military documentation of UFO experiences, those who question some of the conclusions will find this military man's experiences especially enlightening, and much more thought-provoking than "official" studies. Speaking of this, it should be noted that, stylistically, Sawyer employs quote marks liberally, and with words readers might not ordinarily associate with needing such punctuation: "My wife and I soon relocated to the "West Coast". (Our "relocation" had nothing to do with the "Death Threats," but rather with a preferred "change of scenery" and "lifestyle.") We subsequently retired in the "Southwestern Region" of the United States." While this often gives pause for thought, the meat of the book (a CIA agent's close encounters with alien thoughts and guidance) provides a satisfying alternative to the typical military take on UFOs, aliens, and extraordinary phenomenon.

The otherworldly encounters that result in Sawyer's revised mindset about the world will appeal to readers of extraterrestrial events, who will find the combination of a CIA agent's experiences and a memoir about his life to be engaging on many levels. Readers of extraterrestrial nonfiction will find much to like in this survey of close encounters that shows how otherworldly encounters have been documented, but continue to stymie logical investigative processes.

The Travel Shelf

Experience California
Lonely Planet
9781838695613, $24.99, PB, 258pp

Synopsis: "Experience California" from Lonely Planet Publications is a travel guide comprised of unique experiences that when brought together for a truly enjoyable and memorable trip. Enhanced with inspiring full-color travel photography and maps throughout, of special note are that highlights and trip builders tips to help tailor a trip to the personal needs and interests of the traveler.

Offering fresh perspectives to surprise the visitor with things they hadn't thought of, as well as fresh takes on the well-known sights, there is a wealth of insider tips help with discovering hidden gems and get around like a local. Expert insights includes California wine culture, San Francisco souvenirs, stunning hikes, outdoor splendour, Mexican cuisine, getting the most out of Yosemite, famous drives and desert escapes, the magic of Hollywood, and more!

Practical information and tips on money, getting around, unique and local ways to stay, and responsible travel make "Experience California" an invaluable resource for itinerary planning.

"Experience California" covers: San Francisco & the Bay Area, Napa Valley & Sonoma, Northern California & the Redwood Coast, Northern Mountains, Central Coast, Highway 1, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Palm Springs & the Deserts, Yosemite & the Sierra Nevada.

Critique: Thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Experience California" is nicely illustrated throughout in full color, compact and portable in size (5.45 x 0.63 x 7.1 inches), and an invaluable resource for planning everything from a day tript to a full fledged vacation, "Experience California" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and community library California Travel Guide collections.

Editorial Note: With over 150 million guidebooks in print, Lonely Planet is a trusted source for any traveler. Since their inception in 1973, they have inspired generations of travelers to discover amazing places and enabled curious travelers to get off the beaten paths to appreciate different cultures and become agents of positive change.

The California Shelf

Rancho Sisquoc: Enduring Legacy of an Historic Land Grant Ranch
Chase Reynolds Ewald, author
ORO Editions
31 Commerical Blvd., Suite F, Novato, CA 94949
9781954081246, $40.00, HC, 160pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Rancho Sisquoc: Enduring Legacy on an Historic Land Grant Ranch" Chase Reynolds Ewald and four major contributors celebrates the spectacular landscape, fascinating history, colorful characters, and timeless traditions of one of California's last intact Mexican land grant ranches.

The ranch's 37,000 acres extend from the edge of the Los Padres National Forest to the lush vineyards on the mesas to fertile farmland in the bottomland, and range almost the entire length of the Sisquoc River valley in northern Santa Barbara County. Engaging text, maps, and archival documents are paired with both vintage and contemporary photographs to bring the landscape and its history to life, from prehistory to the days of the vaqueros, from turn-of-the-century homesteading to the realities of a contemporary cattle ranch, farming operation, vineyard and winery with a passionate wine club membership numbering 1,500.

Of special note is the inclusion of informative Forewords by former Governor Edmund Gerald Brown, Jr. (a long time California history enthusiast) and Stephan T. Hearst, whose interest in preservation extends to his oversight of the vast ranch lands surrounding Hearst Castle, help give readers a sense of this special place and its unique role on California history. An additional introduction by co-owner Judith Flood Wilbur, and preface by author Elizabeth Clair Flood speak to the role the ranch has played in the lives of one family for seven decades, and their hopes for preserving it for future generations.

"Rancho Sisquoc: Enduring Legacy on an Historic Land Grant Ranch" will give readers a sense of this special place and its unique role in California history.

Critique: Richly and beautifully illustrated throughout, "Rancho Sisquoc: Enduring Legacy on an Historic Land Grant Ranch" is an extraordinary, impressively informative, inherently fascinating, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library California Landmark/Monuments, California Regional/Historical Architecture, and California History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Judith Flood Wilbur is co-owner of Rancho Sisquoc with her sister, Elizabeth Flood Stevenson, and is Chairman of the Board. She is also an owner of the Flood Building in San Francisco and serves as its Chairman. In 1976 San Francisco Mayor Moscone appointed her to the Asian Art Commission. She has since served on and chaired both the Boards of the Asian Art Commission and the Asian Art Museum Foundation, during which time she co-chaired the $125 million campaign and ran two bond measures for the relocation of the Asian Art Museum from Golden Gate Park to San Francisco's Civic Center. Judy was elected to Hillsborough City School District in 1976; she subsequently served as Board Chairman and founded the Hillsborough School Foundation. A former President and Trustee of the Commonwealth Club and the recipient of numerous social service awards, she has served on many other boards, including Wilbur-Ellis Company and the Asia Foundation.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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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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