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California Bookwatch

Volume 16, Number 7 July 2021 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Health/Medicine Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Business Shelf General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Criminology Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

A Child's Bucket of Lives
John P. Boyle
Independently Published
9781693222801, $5.95 Paper/$2.03 ebook

A Child's Bucket of Lives is an intriguing collection of past life recollections made by a child, and presents short vignettes of disparate experiences/memories made by this youngster.

Marie's recollection of her previous lives embraces a host of experiences that read like short stories, but are diverse representations of memories. They emerge as Marie interacts with her family and brings forth perceptions she could not have experienced or read about. From being a 19-year-old Chinese immigrant doctor to America to the logic behind believing in magical results from a wish, Marie demonstrates a maturity and insights far beyond her years.

These offer lessons to readers, whether they believe in reincarnation before picking up this book or not. Their narration is succinct and compelling as the adults around Marie begin to wonder about the source of this knowledge: "Johnny sat at the computer, wondering if Marie's tale of a lost child who lived near a great pyramid was a childlike fantasy or if she was able to tap into fragments of fleeting knowledge from a previous experience in a far-away land."

These captured moments of wisdom that stem from past life experiences invites readers to not only contemplate the concept of reincarnation, but enjoy the special brand of appreciation, faith, and knowledge Marie brings to everyone around her. It's a thought-provoking collection that is easy on the eye and, in only 56 pages, succeeds in providing words of wisdom that are hard-hitting because of their origin and depth.

Readers of reincarnation literature will find this little book a literary gem.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

The Meal Deal
Lisa Kiersky Schreiber
9781610059749, $14.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

First, to be clear: The Meal Deal: Blaze Your Own Trail to a Healthier Eating Lifestyle isn't another diet book. It's a success story based on making a lifestyle change which is more wide-ranging and self-supporting than any diet plan, and thus requires of its readers more of a commitment than eliminating or choosing particular foods. Readers are required to assess their habits and make changes accordingly... changes meant to be life-lasting; not quick and temporary solutions to achieve a given weight goal.

Herein lies the difference between The Meal Deal and many other books on the market that incorporate lifestyle change into their nutrition advice, because this book tackles the harder question of how to identify and change the types of habits that lead to ill health and poor nutrition choices. The strategies embrace redoing one's kitchen to make it easy to find healthy food and difficult to turn to less health-supporting alternatives.

Lisa Kiersky Schreiber also advises readers on how to create their own health cookbooks filled with successful new recipes, and she reviews the kinds of food prep and grocery list planning that lend to better choices and make it easy to go for the gold. At each step, readers are provided with basic advice that, unlike competing titles, assumes no prior savvy or knowledge about the process. It's easy to advise switching ingredients or recipes, for example; but how, exactly, does one locate and identify a healthier recipe? And what are the parameters for assessing its nutritional value? Schreiber leaves nothing to wonder, and that's the glory of her lifestyle change book.

Each step is designed to reformulate and support new habits that are easy to understand and follow. Each section in her book includes checklists, habit-reinforcing exercises, and new ideas that streamline every part of the process. For example: the section on how to stock a pantry covers 'red light', 'yellow light', 'compromise', and 'green light' coverage of desirable and less desirable choices, and includes a 'warning' on what happens when too much vigorous enthusiasm early on results in an impossible-to-follow approach.

Though readers will likely find The Meal Deal shelved in the diet section of a given library, to call it a 'diet book' alone would be to do it a disservice. It's also a cookbook, a lifestyle change planning guide, and a supportive review of the tricks and traps involved in a lifelong process of achieving and maintaining good health, and should be part of any health-conscious reader's formula for a better life.

The Christian Studies Shelf

The Classic Orthodox Bible
CJS Hayward, Compiler
CJS Hayward Publications
9781087868820, $99.00 HC, $19.99 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 1200pp

The Classic Orthodox Bible is compiled and revised from Sir Lancelot Brenton's public domain translation of the Greek Old Testament and the public domain King James Version of the New Testament, with the intention of producing a Bible true to the original word, yet accessible to modern audiences via the King James style of interpretative language. The front matter is aimed to orient the reader with regard to Bibles, and includes a short story (really an essay in the form of a story) of a man who finds a heavy tome with letters inscribed on its cover:


That's not the only thing that might surprise you, in the front matter alone.

An introduction to the history of Bibles states: "if you read one version of the Bible, don't read this version" and recommends, instead, The Orthodox Study Bible. This classic version is a more literal translation that deserves its place as secondary, supportive reading, and is intended for those who already have a cursory knowledge, and who want to dig deeper.

This version is "is much what the King James Version of the Bible would have been if the translators had been working from the Orthodox Church's Greek Old Testament." As such, it provides a literal, more demanding version that scholars, particularly, will find thoroughly engrossing, especially when considered side-by-side with some of the other versions of the Bible.

Here resides the classic translation of the entire authentic Septuagint, plus the classic King James New Testament. There have been comments about the print version's appearance, but this reviewer works from an ebook, and this Bible, at standard letter page size and 1200 expansive, beautiful pages represents a format that would grace a gift to a friend or loved one.

The size, additionally, works well to provide readers with a book easily digestible and followed. In comparison with other versions, this Bible's language is intriguingly different from the start: "The Creation, Genesis 1. In the beginning God made the Heaven and the earth. But the earth was unsightly and unfurnished, and darkness was over the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the water. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided between the light and the darkness. And God called the light "Day," and the darkness he called "Night," and there was evening and there was morning, the first day."

References for practically every line allow for further research, while Old and New Testament sections are provided in different font sizes to allow for easy delineation between the different parts of the Bible with an emphatic crescendo rising in sections of the Bible that are closest to the Orthodox heart. Anyone who has pursued King James and other versions will find much more content, different references, and expanded Biblical events and descriptions in this Orthodox version.

The cultural references, history, religious inspections, and Orthodox belief system are well-presented and will prove a treasure; particularly to the English-speaking Orthodox Christian community, who will find the depth, detail, and presentation lends to study and scholarly interpretation as well as new opportunities for religious insights and inspections.

The extent of work that went into this version is evident in every single passage. Orthodox Christian readers interested in more than the usual translation and who want to take the next step into understanding Bible version relationships to belief and God's word will find The Classic Orthodox Bible an indispensable volume that deserves a place in any serious Christian's collection.

Readers who appreciate this work may want to explore some of CJS Hayward's own writing, such as his autobiography Orthodox Theology and Technology ( or, for a deeper dive, The Luddite's Guide to Technology (

The Business Shelf

The Goal Driven Business
Edward W. Petty
New Insights Press
9781735934433, $18.00, PB, 288pp

"The Goal Driven Business: A New Business-Building Methodology That is Simpler, Faster, More Profitable and Fun than Whatever You Are Doing Now -- Especially for Professional Practices" is an uplifting guide that connects business pursuits to personal satisfaction in a manner few professional or self-help titles achieve, and is highly recommended for practices and small businesses who want a better business-building model. It comes from Edward Petty's 35 years' experience of honing a methodology that streamlines and systemizes a new way of achieving goals that can be customized to apply to a wide variety of practices and has led to the creation of his new venture,

One might ask: aren't all businesses goal-driven? Surprisingly, the answer is no (although it should be a firm 'yes'). That's because too many business managers and owners experience a disconnect between their personal objectives and lives and their business, which seems to take on a life (and goals) of its own simply through the rigors of daily management processes. Chapters re-link the two, beginning with an introduction that helps business managers identify their personal, individual goals within the business framework.

More than an ethereal self-examination, this important section introduces "20 big shifts" in attitude and approach which are expanded upon in later chapters, and which are key to making real game-changing decisions in how a business is run. Follow-up chapters discuss, in depth, the five stages of business development, the definition of a Goal Driven System and how it differs from the typical business structure, and its 23 basic principles (derived from years of research, observation) and real-world business approaches proven to be successful.

At every juncture, Edward W. Petty cements concept to exercises, internal and external processes and procedures, and discussions of how this system diverges from the typical business management approach. The result is a very specific, pragmatic approach that will require an organized, detail-oriented, and committed business leader to fully appreciate its objectives and strategies.

The Goal Driven Business promises rewards for those who make the decision to absorb its principles and apply them to their own goals and business vision. It's an approach that is highly recommended for any collection strong in business management and any business leader committed to change.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Collingwood Series
George Fillis
Bluerock7 LLC

The Collingwood Series is Canadian historical fiction at its best, reviewing events that took place in 1950s and 1960s Canada, an era when racism was often unacknowledged.

The main character in the opening book A Heart to Survive (9781735937205; $14.95) is fourteen-year-old Tao Wen Shun, whose family has been forced to flee China and Chairman Mao's repressive regime. As he observes from the start, "Events that started at home pursued me across the oceans." In this case, repression and prejudice tests the bonds of family and adaptation alike. Wen Shun resists the idea that he is to go first, separating from those he loves, whom he might never see again: "I'd rather be together in bondage than free in another country." He no longer feels secure in a predictable vision of his future, or has the foundation of stability in the world. This influences both his journey and his ability to rebuild a life on new soil.

The voyage to Canada introduces him to new support systems that seem to fracture almost as he sets foot in BC, although it has given him a newfound maturity about the prospects of his future. As he experiences and learns about the roots of racism in his new home, which extend beyond anti-Chinese circles and even into those who appear to be white, but have their roots in other cultures and worlds, Wen Shun (who has renamed himself Winson) receives a history that opens his eyes to the pervasive attitudes that dominate not just China or Canada, but the world.

George Fillis does an excellent job of blending a young immigrant's experiences and struggles with the coming of age of a young man just beginning to identify his ambitions and prospects in life. Particularly notable is the concurrent evolution of love, heartbreak, and relationships challenged on all sides as Winson falls into a dangerous situation that truly tests not just his heart, but his life: "We fell in love, but this society told us it was wrong."

Elements of suspense, romance, action, and the evolution of self-determination against all odds weave into real Canadian social and political history to provide a story that is riveting and educational on many levels, offering perfect material for book club or classroom discussion. As moral and ethical conundrums arise, Winson begins to see the kinds of choices and their consequences as elements that could challenge and ultimately change not only his world, but society as a whole. The fact that Winson is based on an actual person and Collingwood, Ontario is a real place adds to the authentic voice of this introduction to the series, which lays a compelling groundwork for Book 2.

The second book in the series, An Unexpected Father (9781735937229, $14.95) is a sequel which takes Winson's story in an unexpected direction after he marries. An Unexpected Father explores the relationship between Julian LeBlanc and Winson, employer and employee, one that starts out benign and unassuming, and evolves to a depth neither party anticipated, and which transforms both their lives.

Catherine, Julian and Caitlin keep Winson grounded as he faces many different kinds of choices that each bring with them implications and consequences for the kind of man he is becoming in this strange new world. Tak, a leader of a human trafficking ring who made his appearance in A Heart to Survive, returns to add new chaos and questions to Winson's life, changing its trajectory yet again and posing new challenges Winson must address if he is to ever be happy.

As he faces new social, political, and legal challenges, Winson questions whether justice and equality will ever be part of his future. Winson's personal struggles with issues of equality results in changes to the lives of those around him, who are challenged to make and reconsider their own ideals of freedom and equality in the face of his different reality about opportunities in Canada. Once again, in this second book,

Fillis has added enhancements and expansions of immigrant concerns and experiences that intersect nicely with the broader world's milieu. The two books dovetail nicely, expanding the scope of Winson's growth and entry into a society still replete with prejudices of all kinds, against all kinds of people. The result is a series that introduces Canadian history and social issues on many different levels, exploring them through a diverse set of characters who each harbor their own visions of what it means to be successful and independent.

The Collingwood Series, through its first two books, delivers a one-two punch of reality that brings to life the clash between cultures, ideals, and changing worlds in Canada. George Fillis has crafted a remarkably astute, wide-ranging survey that will provide much food for thought and discussion among any with an interest in the foundations of courage, convictions about equality for all, and how a nation handles (or mishandles) its immigrant influx and their absorption in and contributions to society.

Editorial Note: The Collingwood Series should be read in chronological order; not as individual stand-alone titles. Without the background of events in A Heart to Survive, the special challenges that test Winson's morals, ethics, and goals would hold less impact in An Unexpected Father. Together, the two books support one another, expanding discussions of many of the social issues covered in this Canadian historical romance. From its initial roots in 1949 China's bloody revolution and its aftermath to reverberations of change which echo across the world to Canada, the Collingwood Series brings to life not just a singular struggle, but the psyche and temperament of a nation and the individual choices of various characters who act and react to events under the Canadian flag.

Cows Can't Jump
Philip Bowne
Neem Tree Press
9781911107354, $12.99 Paper/$.99 Kindle

Eighteen-year-old Billy struggles with a series of dead ends in life, from a dysfunctional family and a grave digging job that holds no opportunity for a social life or advancement to a UK holding its breath for the EU referendum which will change everything. When he falls in love with an older girl from Switzerland, there is the temporary promise of positive change, dashed when she returns to her home country. There's only one thing to do. Follow her.

And so Billy erupts from his comfort zone of angst to embark on a journey that involves a series of escapades and mishaps as he crosses countries in a purported search for love, which turns out to be a more elusive struggle to grasp life's meaning. His mission (to make things good between himself and Eva again) evolves as Billy experiences a challenging set of circumstances which leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere in Croatia, among other dilemmas. His odyssey, which involves a bit of drinking with strangers and pairs personal revelations with alcoholic adventures, makes for a lively romp through Europe that peppers travel experiences with those of finding better ways to absorb life lessons.

Fans of Kerouac's On the Road will find that Cows Can't Jump adopts a similar blend of angst, growth, and social observation -- but in a European setting. This lively story that will appeal to fans of travelogues and adventure as well as personal growth fiction, bringing the world and its meaning to life through Billy's astute observations. Cows Can't Jump combines a coming-of-age story with a road trip adventure.

People of Struggles
Tibor Gergely
Independently Published
9798652903718, $5.63 Paper/$5.65 Kindle

People of Struggles is an epic historical fiction piece set in 1992 Hungary, where two terrorist groups are at work to instigate chaos and destruction, and in 1552, in a parallel universe. The siege of Eger Castle in 1552 was one of the greatest victories in Hungarian history. István Dobó, the chief captain of the Eger castle, and barely two thousand men, women and children faced the most powerful army of the greatest empire. Their patriotism, courage and self-sacrifice forced the 100,000 soldiers of the Turkish imperial army to retreat. This story was born in honor of this two thousand Hungarians, and documents how these ordinary men exhibited a patriotism and courage that could not stave off disaster in other nations. First Lieutenant Gregory stands at the heart of these storms, representing the forces that attack and change the face of a nation and its choices, both ancient and modern. Tibor Gergely's language reveals that English is not his native tongue, and at times requires some degree of contemplation and interpretation on the part of the reader.

He crafted his novel to include historical events that are authentically captured. Additional data rounds out the story based on current knowledge of events. Mr Pirovich, the interpreter, faced a huge challenge in translating this piece for English speakers without sacrificing the nuances of the Hungarian language in the process. Some names also have special meanings in the novel, which would not have made sense in English, so in the end all the names had to be translated. The tone, however, flavors stories that captures past and present experience by capturing a sense of atmosphere and culture that better English, though more polished, might have failed to adequately represent. The translator does a good job of capturing the feelings and history of the events and peoples of the times.

The descriptions and language even out as the novel progresses (or, perhaps the reader, absorbed in the action that follows, merely becomes more inured to the unfamiliar nuances of usage) and the magic of Gergely's world comes to life: "Reaching the Shrine Bastion, I found men on the wall struck dumb in amazement. At first, I thought that the victims' sudden death gave rise to this amazement, but seeing what they watch, the magical sight enchanted even me. We gazed in amazement as suddenly, a gap opened in the thick blanket of clouds that spread over the sky and through this opening, unearthly light of golden rays of the sun flooded the hilltop with the nine bodies hanging on stake, as if the light rays would show their tormented souls the way to the kingdom of heaven."

From interactions with village children to determinations to stave off disaster, the characters interact with one another in a realistic, compelling manner, involving readers in the evolution of not just a story, but a struggle that will ultimately define Hungary and the psyche of its peoples. By maintaining the focus on Hungary's disparate forces and the ordinary man's experiences of invasion, confrontation, survival, and courage, Tibor Gergely crafts a story that is compelling and hard to put down: a slice of life and courage from the Hungarian history front.

Joyce Yarrow
D. X. Varos, Ltd.
9781955065009, $18.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Sandstorm tells of a train wreck in the making and opens with an encounter with stranger Leon, in which the young narrator lies and tells him she is eighteen. She's really fifteen. As Sandie Donovan fills his mind with more falsehoods about her destination and life and accepts his offer of sex, she finds herself both disappointed on some levels and engaging with him on an unexpectedly honest one: "Honesty was not a habit with me but neither was sharing a narrow bed on a train. Maybe that's why I gave in and told Leon how my father - who since I was old enough to talk had insisted I call him Frank - was really a child himself." These choices will follow her as she rides into her new life as a makeup artist with a talent for making over her own life as much as the appearances of others.

Joyce Yarrow paints an engaging portrait of a teen left to her own devices by her mother's death and her father's inability to parent her. When her father leaves her to start a new life, she's effectively abandoned and left to build her own life as she will. Readers follow Sandie's evolution from child to adult and come to root for this flawed character, whose early independence didn't include the kind of lessons that would keep her from making bad decisions in life. As she cultivates a special brand of appeal and savvy to gain money to stay in a hostel and survive New York City's challenges, Sandie experiences her first grown-up relationship and at times confronts her own broken psyche in unexpected ways. These glimpses of her growth process and coming of age juxtapose with her survival tactics and tough exterior and lies as the consequences of her actions keep becoming apparent, from her relationship with Ben and a painting that may have been stolen because of her carelessness to her blossoming acknowledgement of responsibility for her choices and their consequences.

When the story opens, Sandie is a train wreck that is taking people around her for a ride. As it progresses, she slowly develops the kinds of insights that lead to mature thinking. As she dabbles in the game of life and finds that it leads to more than a theft, Sandie becomes proactive rather than reactive. Yarrow's ability to picture a flawed but likeable young character who is capable of developing her own leaps of faith, self-confidence, and world-wise savvy engages readers with a story that is realistic and evolutionary. Sandie makes the move from child to adult in unexpected ways, bringing readers along for a rollercoaster ride through others' changed lives because of her choices.

Readers seeking solid urban fiction settings and the spunky but struggling character of a young adult who changes immensely through her experiences and choices will find Sandstorm the worthy and intriguing journey of a daughter who moves beyond subliminally seeking her absent parent's approval, and into the adult world.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Starlight in the Dawn
Naveen Sridhar
Independently Published
9798502534246, $10.99 Print/$0.99 ebook

Starlight in the Dawn opens in 2286 BCE, when teen Ninlil leaves her uncle's pottery shop in the city of Ur on the Euphrates River to observe a stranger heading straight for her. Beshi has a gift for Ninlil's employer, High Priestess Enheduanna. It's a gift that will change everything.

Further visits from strangers and those intent on changing their society illustrate the story of a city posed on the edge of spiritual and social change and a high priestess whose literary prowess reflects these moments. As city politicians and rivals vie for power, the roles of many are set to change, from the highest levels to a father of four Obares, whose life has long been rooted in the under society of Ur, where "The whole decrepit locality was shunned by the sophisticated citizens of Ur".

As events unfold, Obares becomes a force to reckon with. Beshi evolves to command troops that help foster in a new, independent Ur, though political fallout roots him in one place and keeps him from his former world-hopping routines. Just in time, because he was tiring of his choices, and ready to settle down.

High Priestess Enheduanna ("Hedu") is a pivot point in this story of political and social overthrows and change. Promises made between herself and Beshi are sorely tested by their changing roles as events unfold.

Naveen Sridhar provides a powerful story of social change, with several key characters coming together in an effort to change their destinies, relationships, and futures. The story of Ur's evolutionary process, the clash between its religious and political forces, and the evolution of characters who operate on both sides is well done and nicely captured in a story that is replete with action, psychological transformation, and challenges to belief systems alike. Time is taken to build not just one central character, but men and women who operate in different circles, employing powerful forces in new ways.

These discussions contribute to a story that is engrossing and filled with different kinds of insights, with romance added to the backdrop for further impact and human interest. Perhaps part of this tale's allure lies in the fact that Sridhar's story is based on the real historical figure of high priestess Enheduanna, the first literary author on record. Her highly popular hymns and poems were widely influential and were read for centuries. The life events she captured in them form the basis for this story.

Readers of historical fiction who look for engrossing tales with compelling protagonists will find this story of ancient Ur and a high priestess's changing commitments is hard to put down.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Family Secret
Tom P. Alberti
Independently Published
B091CZ3ZRT, $2.99 Kindle

In Family Secret, Frank Winslow has only been working in his father's business for a few months as its new accountant before he stumbles upon a secret that results in his murder. Charged with discovering the reasons behind Frank's murder, Lieutenant Paul Marconi and Detective Abby Trip find that as quickly as they develop suspects and motives, these are, in turn, murdered.

Frank was unerringly honest and was conflicted about fingering his father in an embezzlement scheme he must have known about, before his demise. It's up to the two detectives to sift through the mounting clues and bodies to find answers.

Author Tom P. Alberti injects a wry sense of humor throughout the process, which is strengthened by first-person observations and experiences. He also includes a wide range of victim involvements, such as Regina, Frank's fiancee, and the life they were to have before everything went awry for both of them.

This second book in the Lieutenant Marconi series (the first was The Unexpected Visitor) will especially delight readers of Sherlock Holmes, who will appreciate Alberti's attention to detail as the story pieces together a seemingly impossible murder puzzle. As perps are considered and begin to fall like dominos, Paul Marconi and Abby Trip find that the one person not on their radar is the more likely threat; but is in the least suspect position.

Alberti's characters are as inviting and as involving as the mystery itself. The first-person observations of the investigator, the dialogues between Paul and Abby, and the conundrums that grow to embrace murder and a nefarious plot that holds unintended consequences creates a riveting detective investigation with many satisfying twists and turns.

The humor that offers comic relief throughout ("I turned, but not quick enough. In that instant, I saw a flash of fire. The figure, behind me, dropped to the floor as the gun he had pointed at my back fell from his hand. I then saw the nozzle of a forty-five that belonged to Abby. "I owe you a day-off," I mused. "More like a month," she quipped.") and the blend of fast-paced action, confrontation, and problem-solving savvy contribute to a police procedural detective story that is engrossing, surprising, and hard to put down.

First Past The Post
SJ Garland
Independently Published
B091BZVY4T, $7.99 Kindle

First Past The Post introduces the American Heiress series with a horse-centered survey of the cream of New York society and a behind-the-scenes examination of the pressures of challenging gender roles in the 1890s. The exciting (yet dangerous) world of thoroughbred racing and the women competing in it is explored through the eyes of Eva McKenzie, her friend Lily Randolph, and a cast of characters who become involved in a missing horse mystery that sends Eva halfway around the world in pursuit of answers.

Francis Wentworth, Duke of Wiltshire, also finds himself drawn into this mystery that crosses oceans and national borders alike; and as he faces a terrible dilemma, he wonders how far he will go to see justice done...and how many innocent people will die because of his decision to pursue a dangerous adversary. His resolution to investigate the identities of two women who fall under his influence is captured in descriptions that probe the foundations of aristocratic behaviors on both sides of the pond.

From a mad dash across London in treacherous weather to dubious horse values that demand sacrifices and threaten lives, SJ Garland is adept at capturing the uncertain forces that motivate different characters to act against their own best interests. Think thriller author Dick Francis, but with a more aristocratic bent that considers women's changing roles shortly before the turn of the century. Garland crafts a mystery and pursuit that brings the strengths of all characters to the forefront as they not only interact within higher levels of society, but expand the bonds and strengths of their growing interpersonal relationships.

As a crime syndicate draws all the characters deeper into its nefarious scheme, Francis and Eva find themselves navigating social and political disaster as Lily settles her own debts and faces the consequences of her secret identity. Fast-paced, action-packed, and embedded with the flavors of American and British worlds and thoroughbred racing alike, First Past The Post will enthrall its readers with social inspection, mystery and intrigue, and twists and turns throughout. The story is especially recommended for fans of Dick Francis, who will find its political, social, and horse milieus astutely described and simply captivating. The story ends with a revelation that leaves the door ajar for more adventures.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Rob Tucker
Tell-Tale Publishing Group
9781952020124, $35.00 Hardcover/$4.95 Kindle

Book 2 of the Black Spiral horror/fantasy series, "Manifestation" returns to the scenario of the first story, portraying Simonetta Vespucci's escape from her creator, Hiram Bean, to inhabit the psyche of Bernadette Garcetti. There, she embarks on a mission that attracts the attention of FBI agent Leon Saffulo, who finds himself working with (of all things) a magician when his usual high-tech approach to problem-solving encounters a force he can't define or control.

The blending of Bernadette's psyche with Simonetta's is strategically well done, offering benefits that enhance both. As they together (through different facets of reality and beliefs about one another) confront an assassin and Hiram Bean's efforts to destabilize the world social order, Bernadette/Simonetta find that the digital and real realms each resides in are threatened by forces even their combined powers can't match.

Readers of metaphysical fantasy, horror, and thriller-style intrigue will find "Manifestation" a genre-busting read that incorporates elements of all these and more. This is also a story that will especially appeal to hard sci-fi readers, offering many in-depth explorations that cement action and the different levels of events with an attention to scientific detail. As efforts coalesce around a black spiral DNA conversion set to change the world, the threat to Bernadette (by forces who would excise Simonetta from her mind by killing her) grows. Visions of a fractured future drive her and others to try to reverse what First World is moving into position through their covert dark energy invasion project.

The action, premise, and characterization are all exquisitely portrayed. Readers should accept that this is no light read, but a complicated mix of science, social inspection, horror, and intrigue that will demand from them some prior affection for hard science fiction and metaphysical scenarios. Those who relish fast action, twists and turns, and challenging entwining psyches will find the story thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down, depicting a spiritual invasion replete with parallel existences, evil purposes, and even the promise of love.

The Criminology Shelf

Mafia International
John Alite (as told to Louis Romano)
Vecchia Publishing
9781944906351, $24.99

Few books chart the journey into the crime world as powerfully John Alite's "Mafia International: Gotti Enforcer for the Gambino Family". Perhaps this is because of Alite's high-level involvement in the Mafia. He was also known as Johnny Alletto, an Albanian-American former Gambino crime family associate who made the decision to testify against his 'family' after being charged with murders, international drug dealing, and having learned he had been betrayed by the Gottis and the leadership of captains while Alite was in Brazilian jails, having been captured while on the run. As an Albanian, they thought they could all point at him.

Once released, he publicly denounced organized crime and became a motivational speaker on the subject of how to avoid crime. As Alite confesses in the opening paragraphs of his book: "I immersed myself further and further into the matrix of the mafia and beyond. I extended my relationships with other mafia factions across the United States and constructed my own international drug connections. I had associations with drug cartels in over ten countries and a vast network of buyers and sellers across the globe. It was unheard of for one man in the criminal underworld to garner such a complex network, but I did it. And I loved it."

How he become connected to this world in the first place and found himself digging ever deeper into the quagmire of organized crime makes for a riveting memoir and true crime story that should be on the shelves of any collection strong in Mafia exposes. This is no quick overview of this world, as are many books written by journalists and other outsiders on the subject. Author Louis Romano, who chronicled numerous in-person interviews, does an excellent job guiding us through a "day in the life" of a cold-blooded killer. Alite's intimate relationship to not just criminals but the economic and political extent of their activities traces the building blocks of his criminal involvements in explicit detail.

From his considerations of power plays and deceit that operated both above-board and underlay many of these relationships to his crime partners, friendships, and the perceptions of Mafia members who ran in these circles, his story embraces different people, circumstances, and experiences. Alite's clashes, realizations, and moves from the crime world to international operations and then prison is especially intriguing because he operates in no singular circle, and holds the ability to not just move into Mafia operations and murder, but to ultimately use his experiences as growth opportunities to change, even as the Mafia embraces overseas operations.

Those who believe there is no future beyond organized crime once one assumes a high-level Mafia position will find many surprises in a gripping story that reads like a blend of novel, with interpersonal clashes and action, and memoir, which offers insights not to be found in other Mafia and organized crime stories. Any collection strong in true crime reads must add Mafia International to their holdings. It is a standout in the literature.

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

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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