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California Bookwatch

Volume 15, Number 7 July 2020 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Technology Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Western Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Literary Studies Shelf Theatre/Cinema Shelf California Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Pandemic Aftermath: How the Coronavirus Changes Global Society
Trond Undheim
Atmosphere Press
9781648261909, $19.99, PB, 450pp,

Pandemic Aftermath: How the Coronavirus Changes Global Society is possibly the first book to contrast the history of different global pandemics, the evolution of the coronavirus, how 'superspreader' viruses move between human populations, and likely worldwide social and political transformations that can be anticipated because of it. Its appearance may precede a host of others with similar approaches, but the focus on how societies handle disaster and change because of it is one likely not to receive such an astute investigation in competing approaches.

Many books currently on the market tackle one piece of this puzzle, but Pandemic Aftermath connects the dots with a pursuit of visions of the world after coronavirus changes it. It is essential reading for anyone concerned about what that world will look like in the pandemic's aftermath, and how to operate in today's environment and survive it. Chapters offer different scenarios surrounding these possibilities using a refreshing approach that takes into consideration changing outcomes that depend on human choice, attitude, and efforts. This is an especially notable course because it advocates no one clear path to renewal, but reviews a series of options on the table at this point in time as well as the future.

Readers might anticipate negative, depressing possibilities no matter which course of action is undertaken or how the virus mutates and progresses, but another notable feature of Pandemic Aftermath lies in its takeaways, exercises, and positive perspectives about these choices. One example of such a takeaway in the chapter conclusion is: "Let's imagine the next 10 years will have less physical contact between people than ever before. Let's also assume proximity enhancing technologies will improve drastically (feel free to disagree). What is the most likely balance to be had between safety from outbreak risks v. the two important imperatives of freedom and economic growth on the other hand? We are all wondering about what the "new normal" will be. What's your take?" Space is provided for journaling, encouraging reflection and discussion among readers.

These approaches negate the view that any discussion of this pandamic's aftermath must include negative assessments of revised habits, conditions, or life. While changes in habits, values, and perspectives are a certainty, Pandemic Aftermath offers a positive approach that not only makes sense of chaos, but considers different ways of returning the human race not to where it was, but to possibly a better place. Trond Arne Undheim is a futurist with a vision. Pandemic Aftermath offers a refreshing yet practical breath of fresh air in a sea of dystopian gloom and doom about the post-coronavirus future. It will prove an attitude-changer for those who wish a more encouraging view of life than daily reports provide: "I remain optimistic that with resolve, we can bring COVID-19 and whatever else may be added to our burdens, to merely represent a chapter in a book about our century, not to a lingering, dystopian future we need to constantly be afraid of awaking. I hope this for my children, and I hope this for myself and, lastly, I hope this for the human race."

Pandemic Aftermath is a very highly recommended perspective we all need at this exact point in human history.

The Technology Shelf

Artech House
685 Canton Street, Norwood, MA 02062

Three excellent references for college students and industry professionals are highly recommended picks, each offering solid research, insights, and explanations backed by data, formulas, charts, and references.

Rolf Oppliger's End-to-End Encrypted Messaging (9781630817329, $104.00, HC, 230pp) comes from the author of the books Secure Messaging with PGP and S/MIME and Secure Messaging on the Internet, and expands the topic originally tackled in earlier titles with this focus on both standard and nonstandard developments in messaging protocols. It explores both modern and conventional approaches to the Signal protocol, and represents an entirely new discussion of the subject rather than another revised look at old material. The result is a comprehensive study of changing Signal protocol approaches and industry use and impact that anyone involved in the latest security technology needs to understand.

Xu Zhu, Kainan Zhu and Mohammad Heggo's Hybrid Wireless-Power Line Communication for Indoor IOT Networks (9781630818098, $139.00, HC, 172pp) will prove essential reading for college-level communications students interested in learning the basics of wireless and power line technologies. From models for wireless and PLC approaches to hybrid technologies and differing usage and standardization systems, this book discusses encoding, power consumption, channel control, allocation methods, crosstalk between different communication systems, and more. All the discussions are backed by solid data and system models that lend a practical perspective to hybrid wireless communications.

Mervin C. Budge, Jr. and Shawn R. German's Basic Radar Analysis, 2nd Edition (9781630815554, $189.00 HC, 950pp) is a weighty updated, expanded edition of a best-selling basic treatise covering radar analysis, from theory and applications to analysis. Radar engineers will find it packed with details on signal processor and clutter analyses, discussions of the equations involved in such analysis, the latest integration, design, and analytical best practices, implementation processes, and more, including new chapters of CFAR theory and AESA theory. Anyone actively working in the field or studying radar technology at upper college levels will find this essential reading. All are solid technical desk references especially recommended for students and for those working in the field who want the latest references to best practices and new technology.

The General Fiction Shelf

It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers
Directed by Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers
Print ISBN 9781733917759 $19.99
eBook ISBN 9781733917766 $2.99

It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers is an outstanding horror collection that profiles such authors as Warren Hammond, Stephen Graham Jones, Steve Rasnic Tem, and others. Some will be new names to even the avid horror reader, while others will be familiar; but what unites them all is an attention to detail and chillers that are unpredictable, satisfyingly complex, film-oriented, and always compelling. Orrin Grey's 'Screen Haunt' is one example. It moves from a girl's litany of fears to the safety video of horror which she produced in the 1960s about missing kids at Halloween, then scrolls through her life of involvements with scary movies and a screenplay called The Haunt, which holds an uncommon power. "When you're scared of everything, you learn how to compartmentalize. That's how you get through each day." As the narrator finds her nightmare emerging in both real and film worlds, she is inadvertently immersed in the horror creation she's made as both a tribute and a testimony to herself and her friend.

'Coming Attractions' by Stephen Graham Jones also delves into the movie world's macabre connections to reality as it presents an ancient movie theater's allure to explorers who uncover more than just ghosts watching movies. As the narrator and his friends uncover layers to the old theater that indicate it's far more than a benign relic, the real power of the screen emerges in an exploration that exposes a deadly trap. These movie-centered horror pieces are unique, literary, well-done productions that linger in the mind long after each work is read. Fans of horror and film will find this intersection of literature and horror excellent, and the diversity and talents of the short story contributors to be exceptionally well done.

The Western Fiction Shelf

The Soul Gatherers: Thirteen Western Tales
Charlie Steel
Condor Publishing, Inc.
9781931079266, $12.95 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 188pp,

The Soul Gatherers: Thirteen Western Tales presents thirteen short pieces by storyteller Charlie Steel and infuses Western themes with stories of faith and leading a good life, versus making choices that lead to wrongdoing and Hell.

Each story holds powerful messages wrapped in a succinct adventure or encounter that changes the characters and provides insights into their lives. The opening story, for example, 'The Devil, The Gambler, and The Girl', tells of an intelligent boy who, early on, turns to the dark side of making a living via gambling. "Slicker with cards than the average man," Jack Diamond holds the ability to gamble with luck, shuffle a winning deck, and affect the odds to fall on his side.

As with any gambling situation, his skill eventually runs out, even when it's powered by his own prowess in manipulating the cards. In this case, Jack's aging process affects his acuity and portends disaster and retirement. Also at play is remorse over those lives destroyed by his gaming scams.

When Jack blurts out a pact with the devil that trades recurring nightmares for his soul, the haunting dreams vanish, but he's still left with remorse: "...he had taken the easy path, using his sharp mind to count cards, to cheat his fellow man, to turn to avarice in pursuit of a wastrel's life."

Jack's inadvertent involvement beyond his encounter with the Devil offers redemption in a surprising form...something his entire life's influences could not achieve. Or, take 'Death And The Devil Come For An Old Man'. Xavier P. Horace waits for death and reflects on a 'wasted life', lost in reminisces of regret. He isn't surprised to see the devil arrive, having seen fleeting glimpses of him all his life during his career as a soldier and killer of men. What is surprising is that death doesn't bring resolution, but a confrontation between Angel and Devil that stirs up some uncommon truths about the old man's life...truths that change this last outcome with a surprise most won't see coming.

Each story centers on the evolution of good and evil lives, the forces that influence and change them, and the potentials for final redemption from chosen paths of darkness. It's unusual to see Western themes paired with those of faith and redemption, the stories succeed in capturing powerful elements of both. While traditional Western readers seeking the thrill, action, and daily lives of cowboys in frontier settings may initially be surprised by the underlying spiritual messages and tone of these encounters, The Soul Gatherers: Thirteen Western Tales will delight spiritual readers who enjoy more than cursory considerations of Western experiences. This collection is outstanding.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Hidden Hand of Death
Lawrence J. Epstein
Independently Published
B086T371T7, $.99 Kindle

The Hidden Hand of Death is the first book in a series of Jack Ryder mysteries, and is set in early 1942 as World War II breaks out. Jack Ryder has a reputation for killing mob members who threaten innocent people. His Robin Hood style of justice is about to hit home when a homicide detective hires the PI to locate his sister, only to find himself facing the rise of Nazism in New York and a dangerous undercurrent of death that he hasn't encountered before.

As Jack faces the detective who wants to protect his uncertain reputation, an uncertain thread emerges which becomes a part of Jack's decisions and the reader's perceptions of his personality. Blackmail and threats force Jack to confront his own motivations, personality, and his self-perceived role as a 'fixer' of human affairs, and readers gain a thought-provoking story that goes beyond the usual detective thriller to delve into personal struggles and social change. Readers who enjoy gritty detectives who pursue their own ideals against all odds, confronting forces on both sides of the law in a blend of changing street scenes and challenging social issues, will especially appreciate The Hidden Hand of Death's attention to blending action and personal insights.

Ryder's enemy is not your usual foe, his influences and choices do not take the usual routes in resolving themselves or emerging, and the result is a fine survey filled with twists that turn a hit man into something very different. Jack's involvement in rackets and murders hides his underlying heart, creating a multifaceted story that is a compelling account of different kinds of prisons and the choices that land people in them. Fans of noir detective stories, scenarios set against the backdrop of Nazism's rise and World War II, and stories of bad guys who aren't singular will find The Hidden Hand of Death thrilling, unpredictable, and hard to put down. It's a top recommendation among crime thrillers in part due to its realistic historical backdrop.

Ordinary Suicide
Robert D. Rice II
Writers View Publishing Company
9798609957924, $8.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle, 236pp

Jack Dillon arrested a killer. Then he married her. Now she's fled town, and he faces the consequences of his choices and loss of love in Ordinary Suicide. This story doesn't open with Jack's dilemma. Instead, it surveys the milieu of the 1940s in southern Indochina, where a robbery involves a Frenchman, a child, and a search for riches and murder. Fast forward to Chicago, years later, where ex-cop detective Jack botched a murder case involving the famous Deja', but remains an investigator at heart: "Being a detective was my life. My whole life. It wasn't a vocation. It was an advocation." Jack's journey leads readers full circle to the place introduced in the story's prologue, seasoned with newcomer Chicago investigator Jack's impressions. Robert D. Rice II injects a humorous tone into his tale that blends well with the gritty journey of cross-cultural and social encounters that continually challenge Jack's mission. Readers will find themselves chuckling even as they pursue the combination of serious confrontations, self-inspection, romance, and mystery-solving that keeps Jack on his toes in a pirouette of disaster. Ordinary Suicide is about fate, a clever woman who is trouble, and a dedicated investigator's determination to uncover the truth both for his own sake and in the pursuit of justice. It's a riveting cat-and-mouse romp through right and wrong designed to keep readers immersed and guessing up to its unexpected, satisfying conclusion.

The Book of Revelations
Idelle Kursman
MBK Publishing
9780996592246, $2.99, Ebook
9780996592239, $15.99, Print


In The Book of Revelations, Christine Goldberg has struggled for a large part of her life to get to the successful point she enjoys today, with a family, a good job, and security. All this is threatened by the emergence of an ex-boyfriend who is in search of the apex role in his acting career, the only thing that thus far has remained elusive to him. Ryan Monti is fixated on his goal, shallow, self-centered, and a part of her past that Christine didn't want exposed. He's also successful. His success hasn't led to contentment, but to an obsession which has led him to being considered one of Hollywood's shining stars. When blackmail enters the picture to complicate Ryan's life, his uncertain relationship with girlfriend Megan, and his reconnection with Christine, it throws them both together despite their feelings about the past, and everything begins to change.

Idelle Kursman builds a fine story where the past intersects with the present in two very different lives and personas. She paints a fine portrait of Christine, who faces life with the professional demeanor of a businesswoman with more savvy and independence than her younger self; and Ryan, whose personality hasn't veered much from his obsessions and uncertainties even as he's cultivated uncommon success in his life. Ryan's feelings about reporters mirrors his casual use-them-and-drop-them attitude about everything in his life, from his girlfriends to his colleagues.

At first, it's hard to see the connections between these two disparate individuals aside from their early encounter. The surprise lies in their evolution and shared revelation over a closely-held secret that holds the power to change Ryan's life like nothing else. Ryan grows and changes throughout the story, finally developing into the man he should have been all along. The Book of Revelations explores different kinds of revelations, confrontations, and changes. It considers how one door opens as another is still closing, and explores changed concepts of family connections, trust, and truth.

Readers interested in a chronicle of lies, truths, and revised lives will find The Book of Revelations an emotional ride into the choices and consequences of two disparate individuals who find their lives coming full circle in unexpected ways. It's highly recommended reading for those who like to see their characters evolve later in life, and for readers who know that no story is set in stone until the end of life.

Confronting Religious Fanaticism: An Eye for An Eye
Steve Shear
Catalina Sun Press
9798636065470, $9.00 Paper/$0.99 Kindle, 301pp

Confronting Religious Fanaticism: An Eye for An Eye is Book One in a fictional trilogy. It follows the life of Ira Neebest from childhood to his return after being kidnapped for writing a prize-winning but controversial story about the evils of religious orthodoxy. From his family's Jewish roots and struggles with the religious legacy of their heritage to his wife's Catholic traumas, Ira's world as described in the trilogy is beset upon by religious forces and influences that operate both within and outside of a myriad of belief systems. Ironically, they all share the same roots: religious fanaticism.

By adopting this unified approach to different key religions and following their enactment through the lives and experiences of different characters, Steve Shear crafts a story that offers insights into beliefs, motivations, cultural and family influences, and life stories. As Ira grows up, his interactions with a range of different people, both believers and non-believers, craft an approach to life that is unique. These encounters are fully explored in a story replete with interactions, questions, and revelations at every step of Ira's life. In Book One, Ira's mother Rebecca asks Leonard: "What does an atheist believe in? I mean, how does it feel to be an atheist?" "How does it feel to be...?"

From coping methods for life and religion to changing perspectives on both for Ira (as well has his mother Rebecca and his father Leonard), readers receive a solid example of religious fanaticism and how it affects regular people and regular families. Complicating all this are the religious entanglements of rabbis and other religious leaders who become involved in family dynamics and interactions.

Confronting Religious Fanaticism: An Eye for An Eye sounds like a nonfiction analysis, but its fictional backdrop evolving characters and the attention Shear gives to exploring their foundations of heritage lends the story an accessibility and interest belayed by its analytical-sounding title. The fictional backdrop allows characters to come to life and evolve in unexpected ways, lending a personal touch to the topic that would not have been possible in a nonfiction format. The result is a religious inspection of beliefs, dogma, and the social and political entanglements of faith in family roots that lends much food for thought as issues surrounding God, good and evil, and connections to Jewish heritage are explored throughout a lifetime and beyond. This engrossing saga will especially interest readers of Jewish fiction and religious inspection who will find the story of a mother's life and death to be compelling.

Cut from the Fold
Eric Redmon
Independently Published
9780578645773, $17.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle, 364pp

Frank Sedrick is happy to sail away from his Newport roots, which are laden with generations of poisonous hate. The problem is that Frank isn't just single-handedly setting out for a Caribbean adventure. He's left a trail of carnage in his wake - one which prompts the Coast Guard to pursue him to bring a killer to justice. But is he a killer, or a victim?

Cut from the Fold provides a tightly woven story of intrigue and psychological inspection powered, introduced, and concluded by diary entries that capture the inner mind of the perp. Readers might expect this diary format to continue throughout the story, but it merely serves as a jumping-off point for the action to follow as a cast of characters are introduced, interact with Frank, and influence changing perspectives both between each other and in regards to the murders. Coast Guard ensign Tom Nichols discovers many disparities between facts and reality as his vacation is interrupted, bodies begin piling up in the Caribbean, and his family and life are changed.

As the ensign investigates the missing women, the social and political flavor of the Caribbean islands comes to life and adds atmospheric intrigue as Tom helps puzzled authorities tackle a problem that threatens tourism and health alike. When his own family becomes a possible target, Tom discovers more is at stake than the lives of strangers. Eric Redmon is especially adept at winding family issues into the story, both from the murder's heritage and the potential hero's perspective.

As a search for justice becomes a mission to thwart a predator, readers will find themselves drawn by more than one character and more than one purpose. Readers looking for a compelling story of a murder spree gone awry and the one man who may be able to stop it will find Cut from the Fold a strong production. It's highly recommended for suspense readers who enjoy stories of international intrigue and family relationships.

The Good Family Fitzgerald
Joseph Di Prisco
Rare Bird Books
453 S. Spring Street, Suite 302, Los Angels, CA 90013
9781644280782, $21.50 Hardcover/$14.99 Kindle

The Good Family Fitzgerald is driven by Joseph Di Prisco's lovely descriptions, replete with literary prowess as they link the sights, smells, sounds, and challenges of daily living in a manner that feels especially immediate and compelling: "Francesca resifted memories of what had seemed to be an ordinary day, the day her husband didn't return with the fish as he promised. Sparkling summer had mercifully descended after a pitiless winter. The fat heirloom tomatoes were ripening bright red in their raised beds: the prospect of a bountiful harvest. Honeybees zoomed and hummingbirds darted, peony to sage to goldenrod and beyond...Memory is a funny thing, even if it isn't a thing and there is nothing funny about it." This opening paragraph is especially compelling and revealing given its enhanced relevance for modern plague times, drawing readers into a world that feels ordinary one moment and changed forever the next.

Events swirl around a wealthy family obsessed with privilege and money. Padraic Fitzgerald, the family's aging patriarch, faces troubled business and personal relationships, struggles to maintain everything he's built, and remains uncertain about his role as the head of a family he can't really communicate with. His three sons - Anthony, Philip and Matty - face their own flaws, tragedies, and different visions of the family's special privileges and challenges. His only daughter Colleen proves to be the conscience of the family (no small task with the Fitzgerald clan). And his younger girlfriend, the stunning and intelligent Caitlin, upends almost every assumption of Paddy's complex life.

The women become the driving force of change and challenge as the focal point shifts from a patriarch's habits and rule to revised values and roles influenced by strong women who affect the family. As each character is developed and changes their roles in life, Di Prisco crafts a remarkably compelling interplay of emotions, purposes, and perceptions, using language that is precise and revealing throughout. As readers explore the milieu of this troubled family and the juxtaposition of its wealth and poverty alike, the story evolves into a pointed observational piece about redemption, life purpose, and changing values.

Family history, secrets, loss, and logic are all revealed as each character grows and learns. Business interests, moral choices, emotional ties, and family history intersect in a story filled with different disclosures, keeping reader interest high. The connections made between characters, life, and family and business pursuits are well done and nicely presented. As crisis, spiritual messages and their implications, and changing relationships evolve against the backdrop of a dynasty's rigid issues, readers interested in moving stories of family history and discovery will find The Good Family Fitzgerald evocative and hard to put down as life lessons and the quest for redemption are carried into the family's structure, changing it forever.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Diondray's Discovery
Marion Hill
Red Mango Publishing
9780998761275, $13.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Diondray's Discovery opens The Diondray's Chronicles series with a fantasy quest story introducing a young man who is on a journey that will shake the foundations of not only his life, but his world. He's on his way home despite the family issues that sent him on a quest bringing him into conflict with his uncle, ruler of the city of Charlesville, and his choice to live on the west side of town.

Noble-born Diondray "lives among the ants," much to the chagrin of his family, but things are about to get more interesting as he uncovers more truths about his heritage, history, and position in the world. It's important to note that many themes in this novel reflect current events and debates over immigrants, social change, prejudice and acceptance, and social roles and rules concerning outsiders. Readers receive a flavor of our times and conundrums as they absorb Diondray's initial reactions to his family and his choices in life.

This is not all that happens in the story, however. Diondray's Discovery is an epic fantasy quest that follows the twenty-three-year-old man's journey through various layers of social and psychological change, imparting a feel of different sides involved in a world-changing conflict. From insights into the changing experiences of rich and poor in this world to a book that promises to change everything, Marion Hill paints a powerful portrait of a society divided. Is Diondray the one destined to fulfill Oscar's prophecy? Is a child's strong belief about who he is enough to quell his doubts over his powers and destiny? Diondray's Discovery crafts a powerful introduction to a world divided and a heart that struggles to accept his special destiny in that land's future. It holds messages for current events that provide insights into prayer, obedience, revolution, and the roots of change which often rest upon ordinary people and experiences.

Diondray's Discovery is highly recommended for fantasy readers who will find that it reflects many messages about a world in which one individual and his destiny and issues become linked to the ideals and fate of everyone around him. This crafts a gripping introduction to a personal and psychological dilemma which will evolve over several companion volumes.

Diondray's Journey
Marion Hill
Red Mango Publishing
9780998761282, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Diondray's Journey, the second book in The Diondray's Chronicles series, will appeal to followers of his first trip and continues his sojourn through three cities that have fallen under siege from lies and deception. Diondray, born to a life of privilege, has rejected his roots to travel through these very different social segments in search of the truth, both about his own prophesized role in a new world and the prophecy itself. Struggles over the interpretation of the Book of Kammbi (introduced in the first book) and the ripple effects it has upon these societies are documented in a series of encounters that expand Diondray's perception of his role in the world and the underlying messages of the prediction.

Newcomers to Diondray's Journey will find a wealth of characters swirl around the young man. Familiarity with the first book's premise and foundations will lend to a smoother transition to this story, but Marion Hill does a fine job of integrating background information with the plot so that newcomers aren't entirely lost. Readers receive discussions and encounters between followers of Kammbi and those who live diverse lives based on different perceptions of the world. Much like events in modern society, Diondray must face these divisions and craft an approach to uniting them even when unity feels like an impossible effort.

The root of this story lies in exactly how this accord can come about. Hill provides interactions and dialogues between characters and does an outstanding job of delineating this approach's possibilities. Even as others seek to define and understand Diondray Azur's motivations and intentions, so Diondray himself perseveres in matching his newfound mission to the realities of three very different societies.

This, too, is a powerful addition to the series. It expands Diondray's personality, links to different factions and people, and the guiding forces that keep them evolving and spreading their message among the populace. Diondray's Journey will delight fantasy readers looking for an epic journey through social strata that holds especially significant messages for modern times. It is highly recommended as a series standout in the fantasy genre.

A Door Into Time
Shawn Inmon
Independently Published
ASIN: B084JLKXTV, $3.99 Kindle

A Door Into Time, Book 1 in the Alex Hawk Time Travel adventure series, blends the fast-paced adventure approach of Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, and other master storytellers of the past with the psychological depth of emotion-based sagas. Alex Hawke is an ex-Special Army Forces member trying to readjust to civilian and family life. Charged by his ex with constantly disappointing his daughter, Alex is trying to improve his relationship and follow-through while staying true to his goals. Deployment provided one excuse for his failures as a father, but now that he's away from service, he needs to cultivate choices that do not disappoint his daughter.

However, Alex is about to embark on a time travel adventure that will lead him even further from her world, bringing him into a time and place that offers no clear direction home. It's a world containing dinosaur vultures, giant cockroaches, and the dual legacies of an old prophecy and a prior homeowner who struggles to return to his correct time. Alex's Army experience has given him the ability to survive impossible situations, but can he exist in a world where his very presence is considered to be an act of war, where he is enslaved, and where he is forced to pick sides in a battle that holds no clear opportunities for returning to his family?

Shawn Inmon's ability to juxtapose the special interests of past, present, and future and the struggles one man experiences in the fight to not just survive, but return to his life, creates a gripping story packed with psychological insights, twists of plot, and involving, nonstop action. A peppering of black and white artistic images by Jerry Weible enhances this presentation with intriguing embellishments that bring the story to life. Readers looking for a solid time-travel adventure filled with battles, personal challenge, and action that moves from psychological to physical confrontations will relish A Door Into Time's ability to weave a strong story with many different characters and elements that capture and hold reader interest in more than just the time travel story.

Psi-Wars: Classified Cases of Psychic Phenomena
Joshua Viola,
Hex Publishers
9781733917773, $18.99 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 308pp,

The thirteen short stories in Psi-Wars intersect sci-fi and horror genres with thought-provoking tales of psychic battles, and will delight readers who enjoy exceptional tales of extrasensory intrigue and terror. Psi-Wars: Classified Cases of Psychic Phenomena is about espionage, combat, and the types of battles that usually are only touched upon in psi-related stories and non-military sci-fi. Introductions by the author provide insights on how these tales evolved.

Take 'The Visions of Perry Godwin' by Dean Wyant, for example. Before the story's appearance later in the anthology, author Wyant contributes to a foreword to the book (which is added to by other contributors, as well) which explains that the story originated in an eccentric uncle's World War II story told to a young child. This tale was tempered over the years by Wyant's investigations into family history and battle and his better understanding of these events. This coalesced in a tale which holds a background familiar to him, yet which he twists in an unusual manner. The foreword also holds extensive details on how he became involved with Joshua Viola.

The insights provided in the foreword by each author provide important details on their perspectives, evolution, and contributions to this work both via the unique piece and their perspectives as a whole. Perry Godwin is a Pennsylvania boy whose desire for a special lakeside Christmas is answered in a different way when a geyser erupts from the lake with a dangerous message only he can see. Perry's visions began at the age of nine as an inheritance from his strange uncle, so he is used to being able to see disaster before it arrives. What he doesn't anticipate is a new kind of disaster that will affect not one, but thousands of lives. Sometimes he can stave off tragedy and sometimes not, but this latest vision holds the potential to change everything.

'Bluebird Killing in the Dead of Night' by Gary Jonas is another notable story that opens with an intriguing plea by a woman who begs freelancer performer William Claremont to save her and help her dangerous lover, as well. She needs him to hit the kill switch, but William has problems of his own as a freelance operative, and doesn't want to face a competitor with an active assassination trigger. Famous for his 'Aliens Among Us' treatise, William cultivates a special kind of attention and job exposing UFO involvements that further complicates his moves, making him attractive to killers in his audience...a killer like Eric, who is barely under control. Can the same kill phrase that helped save Carolyn Zimmer work once again? An intriguing story of a very different milieu emerges which joins other wonderful presentations of scenarios in which the mind is the weapon, both internally and externally changing the world.

These are dark, brooding, satisfying stories of confrontation, death, and wonder. Each holds a twist that most readers won't anticipate, making them standouts both individually and as part of this extraordinary collection, which is highly recommended for sci-fi and horror fans alike.

The Breaking
Desserae K. Shepston
Independently Published
9781733407915, $14.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Book 2 of The Undoing trilogy opens with the prologue of a vacant-eyed male identified only by number, who stands in a long line of similar individuals. It segues to the first chapter in the book which introduces Rebecca and her group, who have been in training since a virus hit and began infecting the world. As society falls apart around them, Rebecca and her group's objectives shift from participating in the resistance group Colossus and its objectives to conducting a deeper investigation on the government that seems bent on tearing apart its own society for an unknown purpose. Ironically, their investigation raises questions that threaten their own organization, purpose, and trust in one another as society begins to disintegrate with too many questions unanswered. Desserae K. Shepston creates descriptions, conflicts, and scenarios that link personal struggles for survival to political revelations and insights about government operations and subterfuge. Her ability to pair numerous characters' personal struggles with the bigger picture of uncovering conspiracies and contributing not just to personal wellbeing but the survival of society as a whole creates riveting encounters and revelations. Action is swift, the choices and conundrums of Remy, Rebecca, and others are nicely drawn and astute, and the search for an anti-viral formula is well written. Given the current state of affairs, The Breaking holds even more power than the first book in the series, with its compelling series of adventures and discoveries by a group of young people determined to unearth the truth even if it threatens the trust in their interpersonal relationships. Fast-paced, well drawn, and involving, The Breaking is a dystopian story eerily close to present-day experience. It's highly recommended as a convincing, involving read, whether chosen as a stand-alone or as part of the series as a whole.

Gates of Mars
Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays
Pumpjack Press
9781734519709, $15.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook,

Gates of Mars is Book 1 in the Halo Trilogy and is set in the year 2187. Crucial Larsen is making a living on a decimated Earth as a labor cop, satisfied enough with his lot in life, when his young sister disappears on Mars. Halo is the most advanced AI in human history, overseeing life on two planets and relentlessly gathering and organizing facts to keep everything running seamlessly. But there's a gap in its knowledge and abilities when it comes to locating his missing sister, and Crucial is compelled to conduct his own investigation, with dangerous and unexpected results.

As Gates of Mars evolves, its blend of detective and sci-fi elements moves Crucial from a relatively obedient and apathetic life to one which becomes charged with deadly secrets and discoveries about the truth of his AI-controlled life. As he faces an attack on the person who may hold the truth about his missing sister, Crucial discovers that Halo's seeming omnipresent control has failed in more than one instance. This results in a series of crises that leads him beyond the subject of his sister's whereabouts and into a deeper mystery. Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays cultivate just the right blend of sci-fi and investigative elements to keep readers on their toes and involved. As the personal story becomes a bigger picture of truth, the foundations of this strange future society are shaken and examined. Gates of Mars evolves into an adventure that is hard to put down.

The sci-fi fundamentals are believable, the personal conundrums and confrontations that shake beliefs are well drawn, and the story line is replete with twists and turns true to some of the best noir detective pieces - but with an otherworld setting and futuristic society. Can anything that is anti-Halo exist, much less survive? And why would a man threaten his familiar routines and predictable life to investigate a world-changing scenario? Only personal attachment could lead Crucial away from his comfort zone, and only these kinds of psychological insights and connections could produce the kind of story that is riveting, unexpected, and filled with intrigue and change. Sci-fi and detective story readers alike will find Gates of Mars one of a kind, worthy of avid pursuit.

Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588

Two excellent, involving reads are top picks for avid science fiction fans looking for fast-paced stories and original concepts. Wil McCarthy's The Collapsium (9781982124496, $16.00) offers an intriguing story based on a future solar system community tainted by rivalry between top scientists and struggles for Wellstone, a type of programmer matter, and collapsium, a crystal made of small black holes which can transmit people and information across the galaxy. Bruno dreams of building a mythical device for exploring and expanding the limits of spacetime, while Marlan, his rival, works on an ambitious new telecommunications project. When a saboteur attacks the project, the two scientist rivals must join forces to save the solar system. Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes' Starborn & Godsons (9781982124489, $25.00) concludes the Heorot series and is highly recommended for prior fans of the story which have been waiting for its final resolution. Avalon is thriving, the human colonists from Earth are gaining better understanding of the world and are more convinced they will survive it, and face the degradation of their ability to be a spacefaring people. Something is heading towards them...something from Earth...and what it contains will change their future hopes and dreams for Avalon as well as themselves. The riveting conclusion to this story is hard to put down and will delight followers of the previous books in the series.

The Literary Studies Shelf

On the Way Home
Judith Petres Balogh
Independently Published
9798638880828, $16.50 Paper/$5.50 Kindle

After almost nine decades, a war, and a continental journey comes the memoir of Judith Balogh, woman who writes heartfelt words that draw readers without the need for a team of editors and influencers: "...there I am, spending about a year on a book, sitting long and lonely hours at the computer and as a result my body needs a major tune-up every six months, so it remembers how to move, if possible without pain. I do not have an assistant or a hairdresser and not even a man with a mystery job to assist me. I have no long list of helpers, who could make my work better, or at least acceptable. I have no director to tell me to redo a scene because it does not work; nobody here to make the background unforgettable, no musician with the sensitive ears of Mozart or Bach to tell me when the rhythm and melody of my lines insult the reader. Indeed, writing is one of the most private occupations of a civilized person."

If On the Way Home: Across Two Continents, a War and Almost Nine Decades was considered to be the autobiographical summary of Judith Balogh's writing career, it should be not only applauded but seen as a work worthy of requesting an encore, should one be available. Quite simply, this is a treasure not just because it's written by a woman who lived a long and full life and reflects upon it in a literary fashion, but because it's peppered with spice, vigor, and determination which defies the usual form of autobiography as a survey of events and transition points. Balogh's power lies in her candid words, which consider and reject the usual courses of autobiographical writings while acknowledging the underlying prejudices and detriments of the form. This creates a literary inspection that moves above the usual one-dimensional presentation.

Take her purchase of the first real home since leaving Hungary and how dreams turn into nightmares: "I was so happy with the acquisition of the house, the first real home since we left Hungary, that no shortcoming could have dampened my spirit and I just could not believe our good luck. Moving date was set at early spring. Joy to the world and to the Ewendts! Excitement definitely spilleth over everything that was created by a generous God. Discounting one or two instances, the world has never known such pure and overwhelming happiness as mine was then. The house already had the windows and doors and the bulk of the work almost completed. And then the real estate speculator went bankrupt. I do not know how such companies go bankrupt. I was never a CEO and never went bankrupt. I never, not in all my life did have a bank account of more than five digits. All I knew that we purchased a house and suddenly I was told that it cannot be finished that it is a half-built dream that is not livable now or in the near future. We were stunned. Things like that could not happen, or at the most only to others."

By including her reflections, ideals, thoughts, and life changes against the backdrop of social and political convention, Balogh's story rises above the mundane, ordinary, or individual experience to consider how a synthesis of early and later life and social changes intersect to craft unique experiences. This is lovely, compelling writing that blends the events of decades with their impact on a life's course. It traverses birth, death, relationships, loss, love, and all other facets of life with a literary hand that doesn't shy away from capturing emotional moments and their lasting lessons. It also incorporates a wry sense of humor and observational irony that places these world events in perspective. As readers traverse the reflective highlights and memories of Judith Balogh's long life, they receive poignant moments that hold opportunities for reflection and meaning in their own lives, as in her experience of her mother's death.

On the Way Home defines the idea of autobiography as a personal piece that holds the power to not only connect strangers' lives but bridges the gap between author and reader. It synthesizes a lifetime of experience with a deft hand that is forthright and clear. Readers who look for evocative, compelling autobiographical writings will welcome the opportunity to immerse themselves in On the Way Home, a survey of Hungarian culture, Catholic religion, and Judith Balogh's journey through a changing world.

The Theatre/Cinema Shelf

Juggling - What It Is And How To Do It
Thom Wall
Modern Vaudeville Press
9781733971256, Price: $25.00,

Most juggling books take the same approach to learning basic juggling - that is, whatever method the writer used to learn. Juggling - What It Is And How To Do It, however, combines a variety of approaches, including siteswap notation, to offer the first fully comprehensive manual on juggling. No competing trade books employ siteswap notation, despite it being the primary tool in juggling instruction for the past two decades. There are also no serious books that provide in-depth discussions about posture and mechanics. Thom Wall presents his primer as a "learning" book more than a "doing" book," and this will delight both newcomers to the hobby as well as serious jugglers who want to absorb and perfect the art with a step-by-step survey of the basics.

An overview of juggling history moves to working with three balls, understanding common mistakes and how to overcome them, and absorbing the vocabulary jugglers use to perfect their art, from 'reading' to balance. Specific information about the center of gravity in juggling balls, methods for predicting the way the balls will move, and drills for moving from beginning to more advanced juggling challenges cover both theory and operation in a book designed for jugglers who have the equipment (or are willing to craft their own props using the guide in the back of the book) and desire, but lack technique and basic learning approaches.

Drills not only emphasize this technique, but comment on the emotional overlay involved in juggling efforts and practice: "Work on your five flashes and longer runs while standing on a chair. (Work on the four ball drills this way, too!) Isolating your body in space will make you realize how much you're relying on corrections, rather than perfect throws. It's sobering, but don't beat yourself up about it if you find it frustrating!"

Also included are explorations of more difficult moves and why some may prove impossible, as concepts such as "fusion" are explored in a guest chapter by the legendary Jay Gilligan. Thom Wall's practical guide should be the first step in embarking on a practiced juggling career. It uses illustrations, physics, psychology, and other approaches to explain the approaches, purposes, and achievements of juggling. All this makes for a solid exploration that goes beyond simple tricks to thoroughly explain the science and actions behind juggling success and lays a solid foundation for anyone interested in getting on stage.

The California Shelf

Rockhounding Northern California
Montana Hodges
Falcon Press
c/o Globe Pequot
c/o Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781493037025, $22.95 PB, $12.49 Kindle, 224pp,

Rockhounding Northern California: A Guide to the Region's best Rockhounding Sites comes from a California-born fan of the state who reveals its best rockhounding locations, and is recommended as a basic field guide for budding geologists interested in a combination of field guide and travel guide. Maps accompany site descriptions, recommended tools and rockhounding approaches and techniques, discussions of land use regulations and legal restrictions, camping guides, and tips for the visit, such as bringing bug spray for areas that are wet and humid. From finding recommended sites to accommodations and specific rockhounding notes, Rockhounding Northern California is an excellent survey recommended for all levels of rockhounders.

Highway 101: The History of El Camino Real
Stephen H. Provost
Craven Street Books
c/o Linden Publishing
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721-9875
9781610353526, $20.95 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 233pp,

Highway 101: The History of El Camino Real comes from a historian who surveys the attractions and bygone years of one of California's great highways of the past, adding to his California's Historic Highways series to trace to development of old Highway 101 and its stops and tourist trails. The highway began in 1901 as a project to recreate California's El Camino Real of Spanish colonial times and evolved to the modern highway it is today. This history's focus on not just road development but the cultural and economic times which led to many changes creates a thoroughly engrossing story. Vintage photos and illustrations throughout provide the kind of embellishment and attraction that lends to this book's appeal to leisure audiences with any interest in California history and roads as well as to those with a special interest in studying U.S. highway system developments. Very highly recommended as a thorough, in-depth and lively account that holds potential to reach a wide audience.

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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