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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 7 July 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Biography Shelf Theatre/Cinema Shelf
Business Shelf Law/Justice Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf
Christian Studies Shelf Religion/Spirituality Shelf Political Science Shelf
Human Sexuality Shelf Self-Help Shelf California Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

How to Create a Contemporary Circus Show
Eric Bates
Modern Vaudeville Press
9781958604038, $25.00

Students and professional performers interested in the basics of assembling a modern circus show will find no better guide than the new book How to Create a Contemporary Circus Show. It's written by an award-winning contemporary circus artist named Eric Bates who started as a Vermont circus juggler with early roots in Circus Smirkus before going on to study at Montreal's prestigious National Circus School.

Throughout each chapter Bates explores the linear process from conception to creation, and presents his company Cirque Barcode's methods for making a circus production. From budgeting to overseeing team efforts, Bates covers all aspects of organizing a circus, using the experiences of his team and their successes and pitfalls to identify common areas of challenge involved in crafting a successful show. His book gathers all the advice he wished he'd had earlier in the effort, featuring 20 plus interviews that were conducted by Bates of industry professionals sharing their advice, and will save aspiring circus producers a lot of headaches by streamlining the hard work of creating a multifaceted production from scratch.

From using exercises to identify core concepts in a circus show and making the leap between acting and circus performances to honing a perspective and vision that allows the circus ideal to translate easily into promotional efforts, Bates provides industry examples that are compelling and hard-earned lessons from experience: "What you do serves as the proof of what you believe. Rather than telling everyone how great your show or company is, it might even be a better strategy not to, but instead to talk about why you decided to make that show in the first place. What were you trying to accomplish? What is so important to you that drove you to put all this effort in? Then tell them why your show or your company reflects that."

Circus performers and producers receive an extensive nuts and bolts list of what works, what doesn't, and how best to tailor a tour-proof contemporary show for maximum success and ease. Bates takes the whole experience and breaks it down into accessible, manageable chapters in a way that allows a performer/creator, regardless of what stage of their studies or career, access to new information every creator needs to see their project through to fruition.

How to Create a Contemporary Circus Show may focus on the circus's unique environment and requirements, but its wide-ranging production experiences, illustrations, exercises, and formulas for success makes it a top recommendation not just for circus reference libraries, but any performing arts collection, and for those who would put together a winning production.

The Biography Shelf

All the Memories That Remain
E.M. Liddick
Warren Publishing
9781960146090, $29.95 Hardcover/$16.95 Paper

All the Memories That Remain is E.M. Liddick's memoir about returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan to a life in shambles. The realizations about his life that hit him when he returned were there all along when he left, but became unavoidable as absence and return resulted in life inspections he could no longer deny. He no longer loved his wife of eleven years. His father, who suffered from early-onset Alzheimer's, was there only in spirit and history, but lived on. These and other life-changing experiences were brought home, ironically, by his role as a soldier: " involvement in Afghanistan, my participation in administering death, was to be the force that overcame inertia. And when I came back and heard the first ominous whispers of change within me, that ability to breathe without noticing fell away, and I suddenly came face-to-face not only with post-traumatic stress and moral injury but also unresolved grief over the loss of my father.

This is a life story with many threads, wrapped around a skein of hope. A hope found in rediscovered letters and exhumed memories." The raw, emotional quality of Liddick's inspection translates to a fluid form that moves back and forth in time to pursue memories and experiences of grief and healing.

Memories and interactions that cement the experiences of and relationship between father and son create a moving testimony to the power of transformative thinking, adaptation, and life changes: "Dad is everywhere and in me: buried in the memories, the stories, the words - in the love that never dies. I want a return not to the hearthstone of a town but to the hearthstone of the heart. With this observation, I feel Dad close. A warmth slowly spreads through my body, and for a moment, I feel less hollow; the homesickness disappears. Dad can't forget me if I don't forget him. And so long as the moon continues to rise, I won't. Maybe, just maybe, that some thing I've been searching for out there has been in here the entire time."

At stake in these memories are the circumstances of coping with life, love, and loss which juxtapose a military experience and perspective with the lasting impact of emotional storms occurring at home.

As Liddick traverses the field of memories and experiences that brought him to new realizations, readers follow his foray in and out of service, his home life and shifting priorities, and the relationships that experienced tumult and disconnection through many different circumstances.

The memoir could have been labeled 'Metamorphosis' because the hard, gritty blend of recollections and interpersonal encounters and clashes results in a special form of revelation and hard realizations that are not recommended for the faint of heart, but readers who can absorb and appreciate the dual lessons of trauma and emotional containment. Vivid inspections and interactions pull no punches in capturing the milieu of military and civilian life and the long-term impact of observing the results of military actions: "Sometimes the body will twitch. The person is dead, but the body still twitches."

The result is a powerful tribute to veterans, families facing the hurdles and impossible circumstances of aging parents, and those interested in the psychological process and life incarnations of redemption, healing, and change. Its powerful family recollections and interactions will ideally spark interest not just in libraries strong in veteran biographies and family stories of aging, but in reader discussion groups interested in books and stories that guide the heart towards better understanding, resolution, and healing: "I can find my dad's essence in every moment that brings me happiness, peace: his singing in the birdsong; his mystery and hard exterior and hidden emotions in the heavy fog and icy edges and black rock; his playfulness in the otters; his seriousness in the calm lake; his love of rain in the mist; his twinkle in the golden glow on the mountain's slope - his entire life, his entire being, captured in the ups and downs, the mountains and valleys, the light and dark."

On Old 67
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798353357964, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

On Old 67 is a memoir of coming of age in Missouri, and captures the milieu of bygone eras and pathways as Steven Clark traverses the "asphalt river" of Highway 67 and chat dumps of its geography and life.

The first thing to note about On Old 67 is the rich, revealing tone of life's progression that leads readers through unfamiliar territory. Steven Clark does not assume that his audience either knows Missouri in general or these small rural towns in particular. Thus, he lends an explorative and explanative hand to his memoir that blends historical and cultural examination into the story of his life's progression.

Events are channeled through this funnel of first-person experience in an evocative manner to bring the events, the region's culture and politics, and his family to life: "Dad was one of those urging its implementation. He mentioned fair to poor ambulance response from his Highway patrol days. (Once, he told me and Gary, two rival ambulances came to an accident, and the attendants got into a fistfight. Dad had to jerk the fist-swinging attendants loose...while the victims were still moaning and bleeding). It was fun seeing him on TV, in his usual white shirt and dark tie, confident and explaining the need for a new system, his authoritative voice deep and pleasant. I was proud seeing him on the news. Mother and Ebie refused to watch. 'Him trying to be a 'big man' like always,' sneered Mother. Ebie, arms folded, nodded. 'He walked out on his family. That'll never change.' At times, Gary and I wondered...aloud to ourselves, as we did, plinking off rounds ...if Dad had done the right thing after all." On Old 67 represents a road trip through bygone years, influences, and culture.

Readers who take a back seat car ride through Steven Clark's life and times receive vignettes about small-town life that impart a sense of growth and change that sweeps the author and his family into altered lives: "We drove north on highway 67, passing Old 67 on the west side of the new highway; twisted, plugged up with asphalt here and there, cracks of black spread out that I wrote of at the beginning, recalling Rorschach tests. The old road's scraps of habitation are often hidden in high, uncut weeds and wild bush competing with formerly inhabited houses now abandoned with their rotting wood, or single-room sized service stations with broken windows and rusting signs whose brown creep ate away at formerly cheerful or functional lettering." In the end, the remnants of these byroads and choices of the past, captured in memoirs like On Old 67, are all that's left to point out milestones of the past and methods by which it transforms into new environments and perceptions.

Libraries and readers seeking memoirs steeped in stories of survival and change will find that On Old 67 brings these times to life. It will attract memoir readers from all walks of life who are interested in dysfunctional family makeups and the process of integrating and surviving them as time passes and people and places change.

The Theatre/Cinema Shelf

Back to the Body
Jean-Louis Rodrigue and Scott Weintraub
Alexander Techworks
9798218058951, $22.00 Paper/$12.99 ebook

Back to the Body: Infusing Physical Life Into Characters in Theatre and Film explores the Alexander Technique as it relates to performing arts bodywork, drawing spirited, exciting connections between the Alexander approach and the fine art of producing a play that uses movement transitions and transformations to transcend the usual performance effort.

The story of how one play evolved to represent the success of applied Alexander requires no prior familiarity from the reader in order to prove inviting and enlightening. From the start, the authors reveal a draw to learning it that is supported by a vivid representation of its strengths: "It was never about success, for we had no idea that would happen. It was the exquisite experience of creating, working through the play, as each character changed, sometimes in mid-sentence, into someone else. This was accomplished as Pam's weight shifted, as did her arms, torso, head, and posture, along with her voice and accents. This was a class in and of itself, exploring each of the 23 human beings' personal behavior. This experience was the perfect example of the wonder of the Alexander Technique, for without it this play would not have been possible."

Drama students, followers of the Alexander Technique, and newcomers to both will find these instructions and directions compelling as the connections between movement and creative results are fostered. From breath work explorations and exercises that encourage mind/body connections and personal observation of changes to mental, physical, and philosophical reflections on how these techniques can not only lend to creativity, but change lives, Back to the Body comes infused with hope and opportunity for thinking readers who would move both into and beyond the stage of performance and life: "A relationship between two human beings is experienced in space, in time, and in their bodies, through movement. Relationships depend on the exchange of energy between two people, demanding a give-and-take of ideas, thoughts, and, ultimately, emotions. Intimacy can be reached only through personal connection. The chemical synergy between two human beings is what thrills and engages us as an audience because this is what fuels our own lives. We need each other to successfully exist in our world."

These kinds of reflections are rarely seen in either drama or psychology books which don't use Alexander Technique principles, and therefore tend to produce disconnections between mind, body, and interpersonal spatial and mental awareness. Chapters cover working with props, sets, and costumes or stepping into alternative roles and choices in the course of depicting scenes and characters. Each movement description also translates to life encounters and choices in a manner that constantly invites the reader to absorb both the Alexander Technique and its possibilities for new life and art interactions. Exercises motivate readers to hone their own awareness of movement and form.

Jean-Louis Rodrigue and Scott Weintraub have created a winner in Back to the Body that ideally will become a mainstay in performing arts libraries, as well as a book club discussion choice for those interested in acting, movement, or the psychology and physiology of action-based movement choices.

The Business Shelf

Crossing the Swamp
John Shen
Precocity Press
9798987776612, $19.95 Print, $9.95 ebook

"Why miracles happen to some but not others, I cannot explain. I was one of the fortunate. I had been mired in the proverbial swamp of failure when a lifeline was thrown my way."

Crossing the Swamp: My Path to Innovating as a Parallel Entrepreneur is a business memoir about success and failure, and relates John Shen's rapid personal and business transformation back to success after the 2008 financial crisis when his profitable real estate business collapsed. What sets Crossing the Swamp apart from other books on entrepreneurship are its clear strategies for adapting to challenges and change, based on Shen's real-life business experience.

Shen's story shows that drive and resilience and six other talents are critical to entrepreneurial success, as he shares his lessons with business owners and innovators facing their own pivot points in launching a new company. As a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. Shen has come to start and operate four companies successfully, two of them ranking among the "fastest growing companies in America."

Inspired by a last-minute reading of an email that contained a parable called "The Glass of Water," Shen stepped away from an attempted suicide after his real estate business failure and dove back into innovating new startup ventures.

His memoir provides readers with clear advice about how they, too, can confront negativity, depression, and challenging circumstances as they seek to achieve the American Dream in a startup business. Shen explains the specific steps he took to create, realize, and grow new opportunities in a variety of business ventures.

Throughout the book, readers receive inspiring and practical insights into the process of successful entrepreneurship. The specificity Shen provides in each chapter makes his book practical and useful to understanding the nuts and bolts of business operations. He provides detailed information on such topics as how to find new ideas, why revenues matter more than profits, how long-term risk-taking is better than short-term risk-taking, and what are the most effective strategies for hiring, dealing with employee mistakes, and firing.

A key theme of the book is Shen's recommendation that today's smart entrepreneurs consider running several businesses simultaneously, which he refers to as "parallel entrepreneuring." He notes: "I believe parallel entrepreneurship will become the most popular trend among young entrepreneurs. In my view, once you start one company and bring it to a certain level of success, you are ideally positioned to leverage your knowledge, your staff, your customers, or your market dominance to start yet another company.

Frankly, if you have the intelligence and stamina to be a solo entrepreneur, you might as well aim to be a parallel one. The benefits of "going parallel" are enormous..." Crossing the Swamp is not just positive and supportive, but it imparts many keys to creating a successful entrepreneurial vision. Shen's ultimate message? The sky's the limit for a hard-working, ambitious entrepreneur.

Businesses, libraries and entrepreneurs seeking concrete advice on common obstacles to entrepreneuring and how to overcome them must have Crossing the Swamp in their collections, as should business book clubs and entrepreneurial discussion groups. Its candid, revealing assessment of the risks and opportunities in the business world is that important.

The Law/Justice Shelf

Truth Matters Love Wins
Alexandra J. Kuisis
Muse Literary
9781958714782, $23.56 Hardcover, $14.99 Paper, $4.99 Kindle

Truth Matters Love Wins: A Memoir of Choosing Faith over Fear in the Face of False Accusations tells of a happily married woman who seems to have everything until she is accused, out of the blue, of committing numerous felony crimes and comes to realize the depth of betrayal and falsehoods created by someone close to her. Her unwitting foray into a pursuit for justice opens with a doorbell ring in 2016, an accusation which is especially impossible considering her commitment to children and education, and the realization that other seemingly innocent accusations and mistakes have actually been purposeful attempts to sully her name and ruin her life.

Her immediate reaction is in keeping with her innate response to any trouble or challenge: "This is so me, to be immediately searching for a deeper meaning or bigger purpose mere nanoseconds into a confusing or troubling situation." In this case, she quickly comes to realize that the accusation is more than a mistake. It's a set-up that challenges her life ambitions and convictions in the cruelest way possible, miring Alexandra J. Kuisis in a legal and psychological struggle that tests her ability to both survive and regain control over her life. Why would a child with an "overflowing heart," whom she loves, entrap her with a lie that could commit her to prison for life?

As the author challenges the accusation and navigates unfamiliar legal territory, she struggles to maintain an attitude and perspective that will not only free her, but reveal the truth. "There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise." As she pursues justice and contemplates various avenues for achieving it, family and personal relationships fall under the eye of assumptions and suspicion as she arrives at difficult realizations that " turns out not everyone is interested in hearing what I have to say before making me the villain, and that's confusing for a justice-driven person like myself. If only they understood, if only they'd listen, if only they knew... Alas, I remind myself I can only walk my line, tell my truth, and rest assured that karma is keeping very close tabs on what's going on around here. What doesn't align with the truth has no choice but to fall away eventually."

Anyone who has been falsely accused, any who harbor a love of children and family, and readers interested in how the wheels of justice come off and are thwarted by psychological conflicts will find Truth Matters Love Wins a powerful lesson in perseverance, faith, and ultimately, forgiveness. Truth Matters Love Wins is a riveting memoir that deserves a prominent place in libraries interested in issues of family, justice system processes, and psychological entanglements that pose unprecedented challenges to ordinary individuals living their lives and reflecting their values. "Sometimes karmic return takes lifetimes. Sometimes it is instant." The gratification of the lessons presented in this candid memoir is immediate, raw, and thoroughly compelling.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Boys and Girls of America
Christopher Gould
Atmosphere Press
9781639888474, $20.00

In The Boys and Girls of America, only fifteen percent of applicants get into the dream college Edsen. Like so many before him, James Castle has similar big dreams, but fails to make the cut. Six years later, his perseverance pays off when he becomes the college's writer-in-residence, producing a magnum opus that cements his prowess as an author while exposing family secrets and skeletons which should better have been left in the closet.

With opportunity comes adversity, because these newly released secrets which dovetail with his literary success ironically threaten his achievement when a too-savvy stranger tries to expose the real roots of his novel's themes and strength. As James navigates dicey relationships with women and men, he begins to fall into the kinds of adult situations and realizations that are the hallmark of maturity.

Christopher Gould captures the moments of this evolving life with an intimacy and attention to detail that brings James's experiences to life: "I guess I sort of lost myself for a bit. What I did, without realizing it, was start singing along to the music that was playing. It was a song by The Police, called "Message in a Bottle." Anyway, I always liked that song, and I just sat there in the middle of traffic singing along, forgetting entirely that Marnie was even there. Midway through the song, Marnie started laughing. Really laughing -- hysterically even. I mean, it was one of those joyous laughs that are pure and genuine; the kinds of laughs that are a long time in coming, and make everyone within hearing distance break out into uncontrollable laughter too."

Part of the allure of The Boys and Girls of America lies in the moments it captures as James falls hard for Marnie, only to realize that her special brand of strange passion has permitted him entry into an emotional hellscape in which he finds his ambitions and perceptions constantly thwarted. From the "torched heat of East Coast summer" to equally emotionally sizzling encounters James never expected from school or success, Gould paints a compelling portrait of a young man under siege in more than one way. This time is a "furious balancing" of past, present, and possible futures that James navigates with precision and growing uncertainties about his choices.

Libraries and readers looking for a vivid story of a new adult who teeters on the cusp of change when his longed-for recognition produces unexpected (and unwelcome) results will find The Boys and Girls of America rich in its portrait of a dream gone awry and the transformations that emerge from it. Steeped in a sense of culture and the songs of the times, James's terrible summer brings with it a series of evocative, thought-provoking revelations that make The Boys and Girls of America a strong recommendation for book clubs looking for powerful stories of aspirations, successes, failures, and the secrets that can blossom to unfold around them.

Ghost Runners
Robert Rubenstein
Aria Tyger Inc.
9780692534007, $21.95 Hardcover, $15.99 Paper

Ghost Runners is a novel based on real events which give the story the ringing tone of reality as the fictional characters (including well-known Olympic sports figures) face not just sports ambitions, but racism and prejudice which permeates their past, present, and future worlds.

Focusing on the Olympic team's American running competitors in 1936, the story winds through Jewish, German, and American encounters on the playing field of sports and prejudice as athletes, coaches, and observers find their lives and careers challenged by shifting social and political tides.

Author Robert Rubenstein builds a captivating story that swaggers with nationalist sentiments, scintillates with new possibilities for achievement and identity, and explores the perceptions and efforts of men like Adolf Eichmann, who "...wanted only to sweep the Jews away." As the Olympic Games become the tertiary playing field of businessmen, financiers, observers, and major players, readers are immersed in a story of American, German, and Jewish encounters which represent the building blocks of a growing prejudice and hatred. Some characters seem destined to effect changes behind the scenes. Such is Joshua, who is "...going to race invisibly. He was going to move everyone along. He was a ghost runner now."

As the novel provides hard-hitting scenarios of the athletes who represent the "...glory and the dash men who ran like gods down from Olympus," it excels in a powerful voice that contrasts ethnic perceptions, experiences, and the rise of power in all strata of society and competitive circles.

Ghost Runners should be in any library strong in fiction that examines Hitler's Final Solution and its compelling evolution through all levels of life in Europe and America. Ideally, it also will receive discussion and debate in book clubs devoted to stellar works that explore and expose a time when the circles of hate closed around the Jewish people, leaving them with no place to hide and too many reasons to run.

Ghost Runners offers an important lesson for modern times, charting the rise of an era in which "Soon, he'd know all the names of the Jews. 'Yes, it was possible not just in Germany. In a little more time, you can begin cataloging all of Europe.'" Therein follows the world - which is why readers need the reminders and insights featured in Ghost Runners to keep the darkness at bay, now more than ever.

Steve Oskie
Open Books
9781948598651, $21.95 Paper, $9.99 ebook

Mark Glassman is a self-taught twenty-five-year-old whose eclectic educational pursuits have resulted in a generalist's education, a literary jack-of-all-reading knowledge, and various light addictions which mitigate the impact of his intellect. When he falls in love with Teresa Devlin, he finds himself unexpectedly terrified about his lack of sexual savvy, and so he begins to pursue his more accessible, safer roommate Sarah -- only to find himself in a dangerous emotional game as his relationships entangle and become angst-ridden and complicated. There's only one thing to do. Run for it.

In too many ways, Glassman has never really grown up. From his adult interactions with his parents, which mimic the whining self-absorption of childhood, to his insistence that life goes his way or it's the highway, Glassman represents an intellectual and emotional dichotomy. His actions reflect not only his delayed adulthood, but patterns of approaching life and lessons he's absorbed from his divorced parents: "In addition to my refusal to rent a carpet cleaner, the ingrained frugality of my father found its way into the schedule I devised for going to the neighborhood laundromat. This schedule was constructed upon the necessity of making my four or five hand-me-down towels last as long as my two bed sheets."

As readers review Glassman's life through his first-person experiences and reflections, they will realize that they, too, have known many an adult like him. But, here, the psychology explaining his actions, logic, and disparities in dealing with life provides succinct, hard-hitting insights that make Glassman both a character to like and one that also exists on the edge of condemnation.

From tangled family relationships that lead him to procrastinate over important decisions (like finding work) to his naivety in dealing with women and life, Glassman represents a self-inspection form of flawed logic that works to sometimes support and sometimes circumvent Glassman's desires and ambitions.

His tendency to embrace both unemployment and flight lend a realistic feel to the story of a character continually confused about the world around him, the psyches of women and men, and the love and hate that swirls around a divorce he never really accepted.

Author Steve Oskie's ability to view life through the eyes of a character both eminently likeable and deeply flawed leads readers into a whirlwind of a life that always teeters on the brink of breakdown and disaster, yet represents a resiliency that comes from the same disruptive forces of childhood experience.

Glassman is a coming-of-age story (even though the character is well into his twenties) that follows a new adult's journey into full-fledged adulthood, in whatever form that might assume for a damaged soul. Oskie's character comes to life through his inquiries, fears, and realistic methods of both embracing and rejecting set courses in life based on his past. This makes for thought-provoking insights into the maturity process as, now an adult, he reconsiders his motivations and fears.

Libraries and readers seeking stories of evolution and growth will find Glassman a classic in its approach to revealing transition points and influences, whether they reside in family history and current relationships or new, frightening, and ultimately uplifting opportunities for change.

Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798843073480, $12.99 Paper, $5.99 ebook

Guards: A Boston Novel represents a study in humorous fiction and revolves around Karl Augustus Poppel and other Boston personalities at odds with their environment, culture, and life trajectory: "It was morning in America, and as the Amtrak limped into South Station, Karl August Poppel fought the Cro-Magnons. 'It's two dollars.' The surly bartender stared back. 'Two-fifty for the muffin and juice.' Poppel's square jaw firmed. 'As Hooker Academy graduates, we receive a discount. This is the documentation.'" Much has changed about Boston since he was locked up: "...different words slid under the door. New ones had sprouted since he'd last been in the city. He hated them; swaggering towers of Cro-Magnon pride, a tribe of glass and steel bullies pushing their weight around older, smaller brick and stone buildings that squat like trolls."

The dialogues, confrontations, realizations, and culture which swirls around Poppel brings Boston to life with a wry "back East" sense of humor and observation that those familiar with Bostonian attitudes will find all too familiar --and fun: "'This place is falling apart. It's an abortion is what it is.' Howie Leakey was the head maintenance man, and he looked like the eighth dwarf: Bitchy."

Poppel and other characters navigate these mean streets with an eye to moving through familiar and unfamiliar terrain, whether they are skyscrapers, relationships, or shifting life objectives. From men in uniform and inquests to the odd trio of illegal alien bike messenger Fiona, security guard Poppel, and alcoholic security director Mike Gilhooley, the story presents an odd set of relationships that all come steeped in the dark wit and observational style of a true Bostonian.

Will Poppel save himself and stop being a joker? Will Gilhooley get the girl? All three characters find their lives intersected, their special purposes challenged, and the courses of their careers and relationships challenged as the story evolves.

Libraries and readers seeking humorous contemporary fiction that juxtaposes disparate lives with the deft rhythms of a dance into irony and shifting objectives will find Guards rich in laughter, thought-provoking inspections, and Bostonian ironic and sardonic life observations.

Karma Two
Colleen Hollis
Atmosphere Press
9781639888382, $18.99

Karma Two is a story of ideals, addiction, and a childhood that leads to poverty and struggle as Arizona Sunshine Jacksyn (AJ) finds ways to survive his abuse and neglect and strives to create a better future for himself.

This first-person story opens with a violent confrontation between Ember Elizabeth and her pimp Leroy, moving between the first person experience and third-person reflections on Ember's own troubled childhood and struggles. Scenarios of torture and violence are graphically portrayed (in keeping with the story, but which may serve as trigger points for readers who keep their own demons of the past at bay).

The preface and introductory chapters set the stage for a better understanding of the family legacy of foster care cruelty and street influences that impact son AJ as he tries to form a different life.

Author Colleen Hollis takes a candid look at the possibilities of past legacies and changing one's world no matter their influences, crafting the story of a young man who is drawn to kindness and opportunity even as he struggles with studies and new experiences that typically rely on foundations of education and support: "Every day he feels more and more frustrated and ashamed at his slow progress. Isabella tries to offer positive reinforcement, but AJ can't hear it; he's so frustrated with himself. He finds it hard to fit in with the wholesome, loving environment that the Franklin's have cultivated in their home. He just doesn't understand it. He thought for sure he could make the transition from living on the streets to living with the Franklin's with no problem."

The slow simmer of a life in transition which finds no easy answers and much difficulty creates a story that is exceptionally realistic and compelling as AJ cements a relationship with Isabella and new purposes by confronting his past and shaping a different future. His determination to create new opportunities and avenues of success for his family, and his gratitude for having succeeded where most fail, makes for an especially thought-provoking story that holds much book club reading book debate material as AJ defies his legacy and creates different pathways and patterns against all odds.

Libraries and readers seeking novels graphic in their descriptions of past adversity and uplifting new courses of action will find Karma Two an exceptionally realistic novel of love, adversity, and transformation.

A Stillness in the Pines
Neil MacNeill
Independently Published
9798392235841, $12.99

An ordinary stonemason from New Jersey knows nothing about black holes, scientific experiments, and deadly forces. Joe Scarapone experiences all these things and more during an unexpected encounter in the heart of the Pine Barrens, when he and a group of strangers find themselves alone, isolated, and possibly the only survivors of a world-changing catastrophe.

A Stillness in the Pines opens with the confession that this story is only reluctantly being revealed, as the protagonist is encouraged by his daughter to relive these events for her oral history project. This unusual way of opening a portal to the past involves readers in deepening questions from the very start as the narrator's first-person confessional voice reveals that he's managed to survive an extraordinary event.

The intrigue stems as much from the process of this disparate group of strangers interacting on new levels for the shared cause of survival as it does from the circumstances themselves: "Stranded in the Pines, our little group of six souls was like some kind of sociology experiment...about what people will do when the shit hits the fan. We all started the day with our prejudices - some kept in check, some not - our own points of view about what's right and wrong with the world. By the time we got out of the Pines, those of us that did, we were changed. I won't say traumatized, but that fits, too."

This approach diverges from the usual apocalyptic survival story, giving A Stillness in the Pines a special sense of social revelation that comes as much from the characters' interactions with one another as from their growing perceptions about what has happened in the outside world and how they can make the most of their unexpected isolation. Neil MacNeill delves into the stillness that comes from an inhaled breath held through disaster.

As the story progresses from being lost to making new discoveries, each character's detour into the wilderness imparts new insights and truths about trust, humanity, and revised possibilities, both within their group and in the wider outside world's unknown situation. The changing relationships between men and women, the power plays over who holds the gun and who navigates survival, and questions about opportunity and ability that emerge from group dynamics all create an exquisite tension cemented by Joe's first-person observations: "Jimmy and Eve had planted the seeds of paranoia, and they were starting to grow. What if the guy in the woods really did have it in for us? What if the Piney was an evil son-of-a-bitch, and not the benign hermit I'd imagined? Here we were, like cavemen huddled around a fire, trying to keep the monsters at bay. All I could do was stare into the glowing embers, watching a meager flame appear and then just as quickly disappear."

MacNeill's incorporation of shifting ideas of what is right and wrong behavior and choices in these extraordinary circumstances goes beyond survival tactics to probe influences of the past and adaptations each character must make in order to remain strong. Joe's engrossing voice powers these displays of inspection and interpersonal confrontations: "I heard Momma's voice in my head. 'One nail drives out the other, Joey.' Merda! I guess the women had a point. I had almost forgotten about the knife, and Lila could sure use those painkillers. So, give Jimmy what he wants. But it still didn't sit right with me."

Readers well versed in apocalyptic end-of-world scenarios and stories will find A Stillness in the Pines a standout in the literature. This is because its strength lies as much in its characters' individual and group dynamics as it does on the reality of what changed in the outside world they've become isolated from. From issues of belief and moral and ethical conundrums to the group's evolving survival tactics that test faith, attraction, and prejudices alike, the multifaceted themes that emerge are far from predictable - which makes for delightfully thought-provoking reading.

Delivered in a voice steeped in South Jersey culture, A Stillness in the Pines captures an atmosphere of Piney culture that holds its roots in reality and the author's own experiences. Libraries and readers looking for powerful stories of unexpected endings, new beginnings, and ordinary individuals thrust into extraordinary circumstances will find A Stillness in the Pines builds intrigue and creates satisfyingly unexpected twists in the story that even seasoned readers of apocalyptic and survival fiction won't see coming.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

The Snake That Did Not Bite: Nuriye's World
Louis Mitler
Canoe Tree Press
c/o DartFrog Books
9781951490133, $12.99 Paper, $4.19 Kindle

The Snake That Did Not Bite: Nuriye's World offers fictional reflections on about seventy years of Turkish history and change from the perspective of Ottoman aristocrat Nuriye, who speaks into a recording device to capture her memories.

Any anticipation that her voice or this history will be staid is immediately put to rest by the lively opening lines of Louis Mitler's story as the narrator reflects on her motivations for remembering, and the forces that try to thwart her efforts: "It is little closer to daylight than the three o'clock that, I believe Napoleon said, was the hour that frightened even his bravest generals when they awoke. The ghosts in the old house are silent tonight and not likely to contradict me when I talk into this machine. Rats scuttle through the walls while the clap-slap; slap-clap of the boots of the armed patrols has almost died away in the lane. We had another minor military pronouncement about two years ago and were forbidden to go out at night. I know that prohibition is not in force with all this rejouissance over the Bridge but no danger of me gadding about tonight."

From the start, the narrator's deeply personal experiences, her observations of living history in the making, and her reflections on the impact of social and political change on her life and position make for compelling reading - even for those who may know little about Turkish affairs or who lack an intrinsic attraction to the historical fiction genre.

Mitler's ability to capture a wise great aunt's recitations to her great niece introduces the work with the reason why she takes this time to document this point in her life: "Aylin, in far way America, you asked me to tell you about our family. Remember this rule in life: never ask a question if you are not prepared to hear the answer." Readers won't expect that this aristocrat will have encountered, interacted with, and influenced different cultures in the course of her life, from the religious ideas and influences of the Bambara African slave who helped rear her to the contrasting rigidity of her British governess and the restrictions on her role which are dictated by her Ottoman Empire heritage as Turkey enters the modern age. From questions about how an orderly society is to be regulated to the influences that separated the Turkish family and carried her nephew to America to study under a scholarship, these lively reflections are embedded with observation and emotion to attract and educate readers with rich descriptions and richer realizations about this bygone world and the cultural forces that separated families from ideals and status.

The Snake That Did Not Bite is one of the more attractive historical fiction works about this time and place. Steeped in Turkish history and affairs, yet requiring no prior familiarity of the times or region from those who might know little about either, The Snake That Did Not Bite crafts a compelling voice that builds a tale filled with thought-provoking events and fast action. All this is powered by a character able to step outside her status and role to see the end results of extraordinary events.

Libraries and readers seeking an evocative, moving work of historical inspection will find The Snake That Did Not Bite suitable for individual reading and group discussions about Turkish affairs and contrasting cultural influences.

The Rogue and the Jade
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798375041155, $10.99 Paper, $5.99 ebook

The Rogue and the Jade Part 1: A Buried Home opens with Amanda anticipating a rescue from the island she's stranded on, only to realize that the two-masted sloop is there to toss bodies overboard - not exactly the rescue opportunity she'd envisioned. Likewise, readers won't anticipate that a Regency romance could incorporate swashbuckling pirates, a woman survivor who is "an Eve, but one who quickly primed and loaded pistols," or the meeting of two spirited souls who harbor different ideals of their future, both separately and together.

Amanda's encounter with cocky, ambitious sailor Jack Hobb evolves into their alternate personas of "The Rogue and The Jade" as they join forces to forge new pathways of opportunity in their lives, only to find their ambitions thwarted by an opportunistic young lady and her mother, who see Amanda as a threat to their own visions of Jack's role in their lives. Killing another means nothing to Amanda. But can she thwart the dangerous influences of Lady Brayhope and her daughter Lucy, whose plots involve a way of eliminating Amanda for good?

Steven Clark does more than follow a relationship between two headstrong, ambition-seeking individuals. He charts the course of special interests and nautical lives whose disparate paths dovetail in unexpected ways, creating a novel that sings with action and confrontations both physical and mental. The clashes between personalities are compellingly described as these characters find they are often motivated by forces beyond their control: "I see now that Amanda must know why she is hated. To tell her," Claudia steepled her hands, "will complete our enmity. I will tell her when she is helpless and condemned, when all she strove for dashed and obliterated."

It should be noted that this story concludes with a cliffhanger (part of the word is literal). Readers can anticipate further action from a story which is set to end, but likely will live on in future books as Amanda faces the certainty of death and the end of her relationship with Jack. Steven Clark's vivid story of family ties, adversity in love and aspiration, and swashbuckling pirate and social encounters will delight Regency readers seeking novels steeped in the times and women who are powerful characters and adversaries.

Libraries and readers interested in action-packed encounters, emotionally charged romantic relationships, and historical backdrops will find The Rogue and the Jade Part 1: A Buried Home thoroughly involving, marked by satisfying twists and turns Regency novel readers won't see coming.

Paper Dolls
Robert Tucker
Tell-Tale Publishing Group, LLC
Wise Words Publishing
9781952020254, $6.95 ebook, $35.00 Hardcover

The second book in Robert Tucker's Paper Dolls trilogy focuses on the high society lives and loneliness of Gwen and Tess Vanderveer, sisters who live in a Beacon Hill mansion in Boston in the 1930s and 40s, and whose distance from their family is as great as that of friends whose companionship doesn't withstand the test of time. As with the opening book, The Discontent of Mary Wenger, Tucker creates this story with an eye to capturing and exposing both societal pressures and the trials and tribulations of women who rebel against their seemingly set life courses, only to find them again changed by World War II.

Paper Dolls unfolds the drama behind Gwen and Tess's lives and the unexpected directions they take, but it's equally adept at exposing the undercurrents of rebellion and defiance which lie at the heart of each young woman's decisions and flight. The first-person revelations trace how these acts of defiance grow from small choices to bigger decisions, bucking societal and family pressures: "I was never sure how they became friends in the first place, because Tess and I weren't supposed to associate with "the riff raff" down the hill, as our mother called them. But since she almost never paid attention to us, we mingled anyway. Tess said 'Mother didn't tell us we couldn't mingle. So we're not associating. We're mingling.' Although I didn't understand the difference, Tess explained that associating meant going to parties, like Mother did. Mingling meant doing things with friends of our own choosing."

Issues of privilege build the story early on to form the foundation for events which solidify the then-radical nature of each sister's changing choices and progression. The contrast between how women acted and were perceived post-war versus its aftermath is particularly thought-provoking here. This compliments insights into the aristocracy in America, the interactions and motivations of characters who find themselves resisting expectations, and the circumstances which lead the sisters to both admire one another and struggle with envy, dominance, and independence. As these young women break free of the expectations surrounding them and enter into new and unfamiliar territory of personal and social achievement, Tucker's compelling story brings the times and their world to life.

Libraries looking for powerful historical fiction that captures the lives, motivations, and psyches of young women on the cusp of blossoming and transforming against their culture's expectations will find Paper Dolls both an excellent addition to the trilogy and a fine stand-alone story. The questions and issues it raises will attract book clubs interested in historical portraits of women changed by shifting society and personal ambition alike.

The Lost Books
Mo Conlan
Atmosphere Press
9781639888009, $17.99

Historical novel readers attracted to tales set in Tudor times will find the characters, background history, and events that play out in The Lost Books - Romance and Adventure in Tudor Times a draw, but the real surprise of this story lies in its attraction and accessibility to those not well versed in this era. From its opening descriptive paragraph, Mo Conlan sets an atmosphere and history that seamlessly winds into surprises to draw readers gently into the times and the challenges one woman faces in navigating the romantic and political threads of her world: "When the large parcel arrived, Morwenna Goodwin was busy in the barn helping Da repair the sheep pen. She heard a commotion and ran to the front of their cottage, adjusting her kirtle and cap as she ran. This was a fine winter day in north Cornwall, a blessing amidst so many killing freezes that battered England in this reign of the Tudors."

The unexpected humor that immediately follows is just one fine example of a story in which romance does not evolve on expected paths, but fully embraces the devices of irony, wit, and a foray into different choices than is usually portrayed by historical novels depicting this era: "On the doorstep, Morwenna found a pear tree. In its branches sat a fat partridge, giving her a rather cheeky look. A scroll at the base of the tree read. "I would wed ye, dear heart. H. Truelove."

Well, isn't that just like him? she thought. Henry Truelove must think I am going to cook up this partridge into a pie for him and make him a pear posset. Hah!" Delightfully evocative from the start, it's immediately evident that this is no ordinary historical novel or romance, but a romp through Tudor times, culture, and expectations that involves men and women in a dance of discovery and transformation.

Religious figures and nefarious objectives towards wealth-building opportunities are not immune to Conlan's descriptive touches, which lay hands on the special interests that swirl through these times: "As he wound down his thunderous tirade, the Abbot made a small, dismissive gesture of his hand and in a less wrathful tone said, 'We ought, in Christian charity, give a tithe to holy folk turned out and beggared. I will attend to it.' He was thinking in terms of pence, not pounds." From the special trails of navigating "an upturned world in which popes and queens and holy houses did come and go" to Mistress Morwenna's foray into danger and a search for holy books that could change this world, Conlan creates a vivid saga of tumultuous times, political moves, social conundrums, and Henry Tudor's treatment of illuminated manuscripts, which are destroyed when he takes over England's rich monasteries and convents.

Conlan's intersection of personal and political special interests creates a vivid account of the times which is unexpectedly witty, historically enlightening, and a pleasure to read as Tom, Morwenna, Daniel, and others become immersed in the fate of holy books and their own souls. Libraries interested in choosing historical novels for genre readers that hold the rare potential to reach into a wider audience will find The Lost Books - Romance and Adventure in Tudor Times especially attractive for its lively characters and a sense of purpose and humor that makes the times come to life in unexpected ways. Simply delightful!

Enduv Road
Gwen Banta
Next Chapter
9798387368073, $32.99 Hardcover, $10.99 Paper, $4.99 ebook

Enduv Road is a novel that follows the Jackson family's rich, unconventional journey through life, in which a sudden uprooting to Utah is sparked by eccentric Aunt Beaners' Ouija board messages.

Cimarron (Simmy) Jackson's journal begins the story in 1960 with the young teen's account of how her aunt's prediction of another impending holocaust unwittingly drives her family straight to a doomed rural town near Park City where an irrepressible and hilarious ranch hand becomes their life guide. Simmy and her younger brother, Lefty, find the impulsive family decision intriguing without knowing the underlying reason for this sudden move, an act motivated not only by Beaners' capricious predictions but also by the hidden truths behind secret lives.

As rich in Utah history as in its characters, Enduv Road is a generational study in contrasts that juxtaposes perspectives, experiences, honesty and lies. As Simmy and Lefty reach adulthood, this heart-warming saga creates a detailed and engrossing portrait of colorful and disparate family members that draws readers through excellent character development and the surprising twists that emerge from these contrasts in lives and realities.

Gwen Banta holds the uncommon ability to follow the evolution of family relationships in a manner that is at once eye-opening and compassionate. The revelations that rock the younger generations, whose history of their roots proves flawed, makes for thought-provoking introspection as the wise and lovable family members encounter changes in life and in each other: "My father just accepted the craziness because he knew that Arty and Beaners, who was my mom's older sister, had huge hearts, even though he would often wink and refer to them as the 'Hoover Twins' due to the 'big vacuum on their top floors.'"

Underlying themes of tolerance, discovery, and growth accompany this journey through intergenerational experiences as Enduv Road unfolds generous humor in its dialogues and life examinations: "Yeah yeah, I've heard all the tales," Simmy told Lefty in private, "and you really can't make up that kind of stuff. But he amuses me. There are so many people in his head it's always a party."

"Sure, we all get it, Sim. But a person could have a better conversation with fungus." "I know, Lefty, but every now and then, we hit on a topic on which he is surprisingly entertaining - from historical battles to random works of art and literature."

"Rick can read?" The result is a study in unforgettable characters whose lives are touched by love, truth, and a purpose to "squeeze the day" against all odds, shaping and maintaining the family and life connections that bring the characters full circle to present day and into new realities and revised ways of living.

Libraries and readers seeking an evocative, intergenerational story packed with whimsical personalities and fulfilling revelations will find Enduv Road a glorious journey well worth taking.

German Days
Steven Clark
Independently Published
9798840621165, $16.99 Paper, $4.99 ebook

1930s Germany and its lasting legacy on the 1970s and GI Patrick Walden, who does his tour of duty in the country and discovers love and new challenges in his military service and the ongoing impact of the Nazi era, comes to life in German Days as author Steven Clark combines a love story, a coming-of-age tale, winding the account of Germany's history and ongoing impact and legacy into a story that sparkles with depth and insights as Patrick unwittingly enters into personal and political milieus well beyond his experience.

Clark cements these encounters with succinct dialogue that capture the character and nature of this world: "What's it like here?" "It's fucked up." He leads readers through a Germany still divided by both its past and the threat of Russian invasion as he follows Patrick's mission to go behind the Iron Curtain to retrieve a missing work of art that has obsessed his new lover Sieglinde with the possibilities it holds for healing Germany. Patrick's ultimate mission, however, circles around matters of the heart as well as the legacy of a war that has never really left Germany's borders.

As the legend and allure of Tannhauser comes to life and leads each character to step outside their comfort zone to effect return, readers receive a powerful education about German psyche and history that moves from World War II events to present-day angst over unresolved issues. The price of returning Tannhauser to its home may ultimately cost everything Patrick has newly envisioned for building a life in this strange new world.

Readers receive a powerful blend of intrigue, historical fiction, love story, and military observation in German Days, which supplements action with the psychological profiles and developments of characters who are all influenced by the ghosts of World War II -- whether they know it or not. Its literary and historical reflections makes German Days a strong recommendation not just for library acquisition, but for book club and reading group debate over modern German culture and life in the shadow of a war that ended over fifty years ago, but still holds influence today.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

Double Vision: Stories From Home
C.T. Fitzgerald
Emerald Books
9781954779709, $8.99

Double Vision: Stories From Home embraces the childhood and life of author C.T. Fitzgerald, providing prose and poetry that capture his world through a series of candid truths about what he saw, experienced, and heard.

The stories unfold an origami of life impressions that some readers may find gritty in their language, and perhaps even politically or racially biased or derogatory. These images of yesteryear are replete with such representations because Fitzgerald maintains that "...exposing the realities of that world is an important learning tool because, in my opinion, much of what I have presented along objectionable lines still exists throughout our society in this world."

From the five-word opening flash fiction piece 'For Sale: American Dreams' to the more detailed 'Bodies,' which explores an unnamed northern city on the eastern shore of Lake Erie which explodes with racial tension in the 1960s, the backdrop serves as an unusual adjunct to a story about first responders whose actions lead to surprising revelations and end results that depart from normal life progressions: "No mention was made in the paper of the "fucking idiot" Firefighter who almost wasted Officer Mike Conner."

"Locked and loaded" assumes an entirely different prospect as the responder muses, "Would he have to face a whole family of these sneaky cocksuckers?" Readers might not expect humor to intersect with social and political observation, but Fitzgerald's candid vignettes open both cans of worms and hilarity as events unfold with the precise observations of a world replete with police, shotguns, working-class men, the mysteries of women, and jobs on the line.

More so than most memoirs or collections about community and coming of age, Fitzgerald's stories in Double Vision reinforce a sense of time and place that will seem both alien and oddly familiar to his readers. His attention to building the dialogues and interpersonal interactions that come from assumptions about the world and minorities as well as white privilege makes for a collection that is as constantly hard-hitting as trench warfare, and as socially thought-provoking as any history of the times.

Double Vision: Stories From Home would do especially well as a book club selection, powering its insights with controversial subjects that will lend to debate and social inspection among a wide circle of readers. Libraries that choose Double Vision: Stories From Home for their literary collections will find it will appeal to readers of memoirs as well as literature students interested in vignettes that circle around what can and cannot be changed in the community, world, and self.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

Maggie Durst
Atmosphere Press
9781639887859, $16.99

Tranquility is the story of an ordinary woman, Taylor, whose predictable and peaceful life trajectory is altered by co-worker Greg, who is charismatic, successful, and on the fast track to success in his career. Tasked with joining forces to create a luxury resort, Taylor and Greg find their personal attraction nearly impossible to set aside in favor of their jobs as proximity and adversity throws them together to test their dreams.

Author Maggie Durst creates a romantic story that contrasts the different lives and perceptions of characters that are as driven by their work as they are drawn to one another. Taylor's "impending feeling of doom" lends an anticipatory tension to the evolution of these coworkers as each tests the boundaries of propriety in an impossible relationship that should never have come to pass. The chemistry between the two is "exquisite" - but is it enough to change everything in their lives?

Durst's story walks a fine line between a crushing romance and a tale of co-workers who both utilize their attraction to strengthen their business objectives and realize that their fantasies may be creating a new reality that risks their current relationships on many different levels. The psychology of these choices and their impact on existing life trajectories is well done, drawing readers into the scenario of an evolving couple that enters into dangerous territory fully cognizant of both their emotions and what they should and should not be doing with one another.

Libraries and readers seeking romantic interludes in stories that evolve on complex levels of entanglements and business relationships will find Tranquility an absorbing study in revised possibilities and behaviors and choices that evolve from dreams to interrupt reality: "Taylor is wondering why this is happening now, and how this happened in the first place."

Summer People
Corinne Labalme
Wild Rose Press
9781509243273, $11.28 Paper, $3.99 Kindle

The Cape Cod-based romance and atmosphere of Summer People will appeal to a wide range of readers, whether or not they are familiar with Cape Cod's iconic atmosphere.

As the story opens, Rick has his eyes set on married woman Jessica, who has opened an art gallery on Cape Cod and has suddenly set her wedding ring aside, creating an unexpected question in his mind. Jessica has just set aside the negative force that husband Max represents in her life. His rigidity comes from a privileged Boston childhood that no longer works well for Jessica's ambitions and vision of a life on Cape Cod, and she's honing her own powers in the course of forging a new life for herself. However, old habits are hard to break, and as she falls into relationships that test her determination and ability to maintain her independence and focus on her heart's desires, Jessica discovers that Cape Cod may just be the perfect place for either a fulfilling romance or a disaster that repeats patterns of the past.

Rick is adept at casting spells on even the most powerful of women - so, does Jessica have a chance at the kind of romance that can support rather than overwhelm her ambitions? Intrigue enters the picture when an art piece in her collection invites dangerous attention that also portends disaster. Can Jessica navigate matters of love and larceny at the same time?

Not entirely a romance, more than a story of an adult woman's growth, and flavored with the suspense of mystery, Summer People will please readers who come to it from many genres. It may thwart those who seek steamy sex scenes, step-by-step detective whodunits, and readers who anticipate the story will be entirely about love in the art world; but that's the attraction of its multifaceted presence, which defies pat categorization. A warm, rich story replete in growth opportunities and romantic realizations, spiced by the atmosphere, estate sales, and motivations of competing art sellers, Summer People makes for an engrossing story especially recommended as a beach read or for a dark night with a glass of hot chocolate by the fire.

Libraries seeking contemporary romance stories that excel in historical and art world explorations will find Summer People an excellent attraction.

My Goodbye Girl
Anna Gomez
Rosewind Books
c/o Vesuvian Media Group, Inc.
9781645482086, $16.95 Paper, $4.99 ebook

Practical scientist meets romantic. What could possibly go wrong, and what connects them? My Goodbye Girl probes a love that evolves against all odds, despite the fact that Tessa Talman and Simon Fremont are worlds apart, both physically and mentally. Long-distance love doesn't tend to work. It is said that proximity lends to deeper relationships, but in Tessa and Simon's case, perseverance and strange attraction play a part in keeping them linked even though they reside distantly and think very differently.

Perhaps appropriately, these disparate individuals first meet in an airport. Coming and going becomes the routine of their lives, with goodbyes just as common as hellos. Anna Gomez explores a romantic encounter in which the characters are each successful, in pursuit of their own ideals of life, and have cause to resist the attraction that keeps pulling them away from their previously-set goals. Just as Tessa begins to think seriously about setting aside her freedom in favor of the kind of commitment that would eliminate the constant farewells, changes again test the couple's resolve, ideals, and individual strengths. Many "cease to be strangers and turn into friends." Rare are those connections which become deeper when distance is involved.

As readers follow Tessa and Simon's odd journey, they will enjoy the changing perspectives that reinforce each individual's viewpoints and passions. Simon follows Tessa around the world, but comes to resent her globe-trotting ways: "Simon had so much going through his head. He was happy to see her. He wanted her. He couldn't go on like this. She kept her distance. He was an idiot for showing up on impulse.

Another one for the books. The Year That Simon Lost Himself." Gomez's special brand of inspection draws important and compelling connections between independence and love. The jealousies and misunderstandings which arise from the clash between a jet-setting lifestyle and one which values settling down are particularly well depicted through dialogues that pinpoint the chasms between them: "Can you blame me? Can you blame me for always feeling left out? I'm the one who keeps on having to find you!"

She really didn't understand what she had done wrong. She traveled around the world for a living. He should know that. And be okay with it.

"You knew this was my life. You knew this is who I am. I like to disappear. I like to be free to come and go. It has nothing to do with the way I feel about you!" Key questions about disparate lifestyles, commitment, and love drive a plot that eventually embraces a tragedy that further tests Simon and Tessa's values and what they truly want for themselves and in a relationship.

Libraries and readers interested in stories that hold lessons about growth within and outside of passionate relationships will find My Goodbye Girl thought-provoking, while book clubs looking for fiction about creating and anchoring past, present, and future possibilities will find plenty to discuss as Tessa and Simon confront seemingly impossible differences and a love that grows against all odds.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Quarry
DM Gritzmacher
Piqued Publishing
9798986638737, $2.99 Kindle

Occult horror tension comes to life in a satisfyingly unpredictable manner in The Quarry, the second book in the Skulldiggery series. The story opens in 14th century France, where a fledgling longbow soldier dreams of returning to his family, but struggles with his actions and choices in times of war. Fast forward to 1944, where child Jeanne Butte and her family are fleeing war, taking refuge in an old Roman quarry that lies outside of their village. Their experience there will return to haunt her forty years later, when Jeannie finds herself back home looking for answers to a myriad of questions -- all of which seem to stem from the quarry experience and its present-day promise and threat.

Can history repeat itself? Sure it can ... especially if supernatural forces influence events past and present. DM Gritzmacher's special brand of horror needs no prior introduction to the previous Skulldiggery in order to prove immediately accessible and compelling to newcomers. Jeanne's search for answers from her childhood experiences and adult dilemmas carries readers into a frightening milieu in which she encounters the deceptive, nefarious Dr. Criqui, whose lie separated her family and contributed to disparities between her new life in America and her old one in France. Gritzmacher builds a special brand of tension that rests on historical precedent, unanswered questions and surprising revelations, and truths that move from dreams and nightmares of the past to affect present-day events.

Jeanne's character is realistic and moving as she examines the foundations of her beliefs about her family, her past, and the world, discovering new truths that enlighten her about hidden history and long-held secrets. The intrigue and horror components are nicely developed against this historical backdrop, contributing to a story filled with unexpected moments, surprising revelations, and haunting dreams and nightmares that connect seemingly disparate lives.

Libraries and readers seeking occult mysteries that stand well alone, yet contribute to other books, will find this sequel to The Relict a powerful tale that exposes war-time truths, hard decisions, and terrible consequences. The Quarry's well-developed historical and psychological tension will have readers guessing to the end, which creates satisfying connections between generations of family members exposed to skullduggery of the present and shocking truths about the past.

Barnaby Shea
J.E. Delehanty
Independently Published
c/o Atmosphere Press
9798539855741, $14.99

Barnaby Shea opens with an evening walk between husband and wife and a reflection on a peaceful time. In thirty years of marriage, the two have cultivated routines that embrace both. Their quiet life is shaken when lawsuits and accusations from the past embroil ex-priest Barnaby Shea in controversies he'd thought were long laid to rest.

Readers who pursue this novel for its social and legal conundrums or the mystery surrounding Barnaby Shea's actions and choices will find the story replete in thought-provoking insights. As events of the past are reflected upon and their impact on the future considered, readers are prompted to experience and relish not only Barnaby's latest challenges, but the presence and impact of church affairs in small community relationships and settings.

J. E. Delehanty paints a vivid picture that moves from a slowly satisfying life to one beset upon by turbulence and adversity. The specter of self-incrimination that affects Frank Hobson, ex-priest Barnaby, and the legal forces that pursue the truth and resolution creates a story replete with revelations that emerge to both save and tarnish reputations and connections. What is the motivation for causing pain, accusing the innocent, or harboring a secret so dangerous that it's worth killing for? Delehanty surveys the wider landscapes of social connections and issues from the perspectives of those motivated to lie, hide, or repress the truth.

As two couples become embroiled in a mystery that holds well-hidden motivations and secrets, they also reconsider the foundations of the community which supports them. Ultimately, forgiveness is at stake as Barnaby tackles the roots of sin and redemption: "Forgiveness can often be selfish, John. Often we forgive not to help the offender in any way but to help ourselves. Forgiveness is the only way we can move forward. If we are unable to forgive, we live forever with the hurt, with the grief, with hatred in our hearts. The forgiveness is for us."

The result is a thought-provoking consideration of church and community that opens with set paths and concludes with new possibilities.

Libraries and readers seeking novels that embrace mystery and discoveries that impart both surprise and bigger picture realizations will find Barnaby Shea an attractive journey into the pulse and power of past and present lives.

Alaska Deadly
J. L. Askew
Covenant Books
9781685268855, $22.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Alaska Deadly follows Memphis private eye Race Warren out of his comfort zone. His latest case leads him to the rugged wilderness of Alaska on a search for his client's estranged husband, but what he finds in the process of a missing persons search churns up even stormier possibilities. His search lands him in a remote arctic village where a scientist is studying bizarre ancient rites that may have led to local killings.

Mystery readers might anticipate the search will be over when Warren finds missing ex-cop Billings, but in fact this only jumpstarts further mysteries as he discovers that what Billings is looking for poses threats on a level he'd never imagined. Something is wrong, both with Warren's initial assessment of the mission and with the fate of a captive woman headed to the North Slope to confront a nightmare she hadn't foreseen.

There are no easy answers to the paradoxes which emerge as Warren's probe draws him ever deeper into Alaskan heritage, ancient cultures, tribal rituals, and an evil awakened into the contemporary world that threatens far more than a single man, his daughter, or an investigator's case.

J. L. Askew embeds his novel with Alaskan culture and environment to such a degree that readers will shiver at the cold facts that emerge from this frozen tundra of ancient history and contemporary conflict. Excellent characterization and unexpected revelations drive a story line replete with dangerous discoveries well rooted in tribal traditions: "Hartley thought the ritual was animal worship, that the Ankauits believed in a wolf deity. But with further observation, it became more ominous."

Forced to enter into fraudulent situations to get at the truth, Billings find his morals, ethics, and investigative prowess continually challenged. He's forced to reinvent himself for the greater good of solving a puzzle that increasingly embraces a wider group of people than he ever could have imagined. The tension driving his discoveries and the Alaskan native traditions and perspectives that accompany his journey will especially delight readers seeking thrillers that are more than casually steeped in their environments and influences.

Libraries and readers looking for vivid thriller stories that evolve an unexpected set of connections between a singular case and broader world-changing events will find Alaska Deadly especially powerful in its story of an investigator forced to step outside his usual paths of inquiry and discovery. The thought-provoking story is filled with surprises and hard to put down.

All That Glitters
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing
97819908960905, $18.99

All That Glitters is the thirteenth book in the Sgt. Windflower mystery series, but his latest tale represents a diversion for the good Sergeant Winston, because his new role as a Community Safety Officer in his home town of Grand Bank, Newfoundland brings with it a case which literally lands on his doorstep.

A body discovered in the bed and breakfast he co-owns proves to harbor diamonds in its digestive tract - jewels that then involve his good friend Dr. Sanjay, who is given the gems for safekeeping, then vanishes. Diamond smuggling has come to Grand Bank, and its glittery attraction brings a deadly danger that thwarts Windflower's ability to step neatly and effectively into his new job while helping his friend Eddie Tizzard track down the perps.

Local Canadian lore, environment, and politics collide with Windflower's new role outside his familiar Canadian Mountie milieu, challenging him to employ his new position and efforts in unusual ways. One reason why the Windflower series is so compelling is that Mike Martin takes the time to capture the sights, atmosphere, and culture of Newfoundland: "I remember it being busier than this when I was here before. As someone from a land-locked province like Saskatchewan, I loved seeing them all," said Carrie.

"Yeah, the traffic comes and goes," said Windflower. "Part of what's missing is the big cruise boats. They would take up half this side of the harbour. But it's still pretty nice to be by the ocean. Feels peaceful." These scenic interludes also cement emotional connections that build as folklore lessons are imparted while Wildflower is in a dream state, and clues are given that influence not only his investigations, but his approach to life: "Be strong but be gentle and always show respect to others," said Auntie Marie as the moose slowly walked back into the lake. Windflower watched as the moose disappeared into a mist that hovered over the water. He was sad and missed his auntie but felt filled up by her visit."

Windflower's journey also offers rich philosophical and life inspections that mystery readers might not expect. These augment the mystery in a satisfying manner that encourages insights and reflection beyond the usual whodunit: "Did she tell you the moose story?" asked Uncle Frank.

"She did," said Windflower. "Why did she come as a moose, and why did she tell me that story?"

"She seems to like that appearance," said Uncle Frank, chuckling. "I think she finds it funny to imagine the looks on our faces. As for the story, you must have needed to hear that message again."

"About being strong and showing respect to others?" asked Windflower.

"And also being gentle," said his uncle. "It's easy to be a strong man. It's harder to be a gentle man."

These gems are every bit as important as the clues to diamonds, smugglers, and perps that affect Newfoundland's culture and Windflower's newfound role, creating a full-bodied and multifaceted story as astute in its psychological and cultural inspections as it is in its intrigue.

All That Glitters is a satisfying stand-alone mystery that also enhances the Windflower series as a whole, following Sergeant Winston's growth and life progression. Libraries and readers either new to the series or who hold prior affection for Windflower's Canadian milieu will find All That Glitters an involving tale that further reveals Windflower's dreams, reality, and reflections on life's adversity and promise.

Its powerful character drives an equally rich tension that creates a story hard to put down and impressively touched by surprising metaphysical and philosophical reflections.

Big Island, L.A.
Boston Teran
High-Top Publishing LLC
9781567030693, $22.00

Big Island, L.A. provides a complimentary volume to Boston Teran's literary thriller Never Count Out the Dead, but it's important to note that no prior familiarity is needed in order to appreciate this book as a powerful stand-alone crime story.

As is his style, Teran opens this story with a bang and a contemporary twist that doesn't just invite, but grabs readers: "Landshark was the first to report in his "Big Island, L.A." podcast that a Covid mask arted up to mimic the Joker's heinous grin had been left at the scene of the robbery at the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club gun shop." In just one powerful line, the setting, place, and crime are revealed.

This is just the introductory salvo in a series of distinctly hard-hitting revelations that send author and podcast creator William Worth (a.k.a. 'Landshark') on his journey past self-imposed isolation when former combat marine Ana Ride enters his investigation with an irresistible lure to drive him away from his agoraphobic, reclusive lifestyle. In a city where shootings occur daily, Ana's experiences stand out and portend a greater foray into bloodshed, murder, and deadly fighting that mimics the battlefields of war, but takes place on the streets of L.A.

Readers looking for strong senses of place and purpose, cemented by the special interests and shifting objectives of a myriad of characters who each step out of their comfort zones, will find the action tense and the psychology well depicted in Big Island, L.A. Teran's ability to dovetail disparate lives, special interests, and "Olympic grade liars" capable of talking themselves into trouble and deadly situations shapes a tense crime drama packed with twists and turns even seasoned thriller readers won't see coming.

Between battles between tenants' associations and different conspirators who "have more juice than us, so they have more veracity," the story embraces a host of political special interests and interactions that fairly sizzle with hard gravity, gunfire, and actions and reactions outside the norm.

Libraries and readers seeking crime thrillers that embrace literary and social inspections above and beyond the norm will find Big Island, L.A. a powerful foray into L.A. culture and the psyche of Landshark, who comes to admit that "The living world out there had become the embodiment of every paranoid fear he had forever been tormented by. The terror he emotionally suffered more alive in the day to day existence down below than he could have ever imagined. He and the world were about the same."

Death in a Bygone Hue
Susan Van Kirk
Level Best Books
9781685123369, $16.95 Paper, $5.99 ebook

The second book in the Art Center Mysteries, Death in a Bygone Hue, continues the story of artist Jill Madison's return to and new life in her hometown, where she has established a position as executive director of a new art center and cemented a reputation for problem-solving by the mystery she solved in Death in a Pale Hue.

All has not been completely peaceful since then, because 'Ivan the Terrible,' the president of the art center's board, is not just an ongoing thorn in her side, but a professional nemesis whose ongoing (and often petty) concerns constantly thwart her efficiency and attempt to direct her every move. Think the worst of micromanagers -- that would be Ivan. Now pair him with a terrible event that leaves behind a legacy of mystery when her good friend and mentor Judge Ron Spivey is killed, bringing his estranged children into her life with a mandate to circumvent her inheritance from his will.

These developments add a fine tension to the plot that evolves on multiple levels as the story plays out. As in the previous Jill Madison account, Susan Van Kirk creates masterful interactions between all kinds of disparate individuals and special interests, flavoring the murder mystery with evolving community quandaries that keep Jill on her toes and often at odds with the very people she's supposed to serve in her new job. "Who knew I lived in such a colorful town?" Jill is only beginning to scratch the surface of its underlying influences, and readers follow along with her discoveries, which are presented in a thoroughly engrossing and revealing manner that touches upon these emotional and special interest connections to involve them in the heartbeat of a small town's secrets.

Van Kirk's ability to bring Jill and her conundrums to life comes from both her astute observational tone and the revealing events that embrace the feel of a cozy mystery and the revelations of interpersonal strife: "I took several sips of wine, sat back on the sofa, and thumbed through the rest of the newspaper. Summer sports were over for my niece and nephew, Tom's kids, so I glanced through the sports pages in a few seconds. Then I returned to the front section. Hmm. What might Editor Gushman have found to write about? I pulled open the editorial page and gasped at the headline: "Cover-Up is Alive and Well in Murder Investigation." It reminded me I despised the woman. I folded the page back and read her editorial. Dread came over me."

From accusations of cover-ups and special interests to vividly described events that often impart a wry undercurrent of humor, Van Kirk creates many compelling twists and turns cemented by a sense of person, place, and ironic inspection: "I hit my brakes, skidded on the wet pavement, and went careening onto the shoulder and down into a ditch, coming to an abrupt stop. Before I got my wits about me, my airbag deployed, and I felt like I'd been socked in the face by a sumo wrestler. Fortunately, my car called 9-1-1. Gotta love twenty-first century technology."

Death in a Bygone Hue is a breath of fresh air in the mystery series because its focus on evolving and shifting interpersonal relationships powers a whodunit that embraces a small town's prejudices, perceptions, and atmosphere. Libraries and readers seeking a stand-alone mystery that both supports the prior book and crafts new intrigue as Jill settles into her role and navigates the dangerous politics of her hometown will find Death in a Bygone Hue a delight.

Desert Deadline
Michael Craft
Questover Press
9798218138813, $26.99 hardcover, $16.99 paperback, $6.99 Kindle

Desert Deadline delivers another Dante & Jazz mystery that returns the duo of Dante O'Donnell and Jazz Friendly to Palm Springs and the mystery surrounding another conundrum.

Dante is a gay white man whose position as a concierge for Sunny Junket Vacation Rentals in Palm Springs leads him into unfamiliar territory far outside his job description. Jazz is a straight Black female on the rebound from a failed marriage who is struggling to establish her P.I. business. Their association in Book 1, Desert Getaway, (an Edgar Awards nominee for the Lilian Jackson Braun Award), presented an unabashed romp through seeming impossibilities as the
disparate investigators faced unlikely scenarios that tested the talents and different perspectives
of each character.

Desert Deadline opens with the unexpected, as well: the specter of Swedish death cleaning and the "cleaning dervish" Agnetha Berg, who is employed by Dante to help prep a newly listed vacation rental. As events unfold, Dante and Jazz discover that the latest baggage to land in their laps (from a big-name author's last-minute mandate for solitude and secrecy) draws them into another scenario that probes the underbelly of a vacation town's seedier residents.

From the start, Michael Craft embeds his mystery with the quirky personalities of investigators who discover that their presumptions and attitudes are both useful and a hindrance to their latest investigation. As Agnetha's disdain for Dante and Jazz dovetails with inconsistencies in her story, the two narrow their focus on perps and possibilities, but find that their own participation in subterfuge leads them not just to truth, but surprising outcomes. The flash and flamboyance of Palm Springs is revealed, along with its darker nature, and the two investigators find themselves both thoroughly immersed in too many possibilities and searching for the romance and emotional links missing in their own lives.

The moral and ethical conundrums these changing relationships introduce to each are nicely presented, providing subplots that rest firmly on emotional connections and conundrums as big as the murder they're investigating: "I was hoping he'd tell me that something had come up, that we'd have to postpone our rendezvous, our first date. Please, I thought, let it be his decision. Let him spare me the need to tussle with this, the need to juggle him with Isandro in my conflicting notions of loyalty versus desire. I wanted an easy way out. But no."

Strengthened by a myriad of characters who each hold special interests and roles in the community, this mystery is as much about preserving the magic in relationships as it is about preserving life in a gay community when motive, means, and opportunity seem to point to a murderer who resides too close to home for comfort.

Library mystery collections strong in LGBTQ+ stories, with patrons interested in mysteries solidly steeped in a realistic sense of place and the juxtaposition of very different characters, will find the intrigue, emotional connections, and surprising twists and turns of Desert Deadline translate to a solid acquisition choice.

Fault Line
H.N. Hirsch
Pisgah Press, LLC
9781942016762, $22.95

Libraries and readers looking for a classic gay murder mystery steeped in California culture, political subterfuge, and characters that live on the line of lies and danger will find Fault Line a fine study in intrigue that draws from its initial words, when Bob Abramson's first morning in California brings him an earthquake, rain, and murder.

Even though a new lawyer Bob is no stranger to murder. The murder of his roommate four years earlier introduced him to the victim's Harvard professor, Marcus George, leading to a relationship which challenged them to build a new life together in California. In this novel, the two new transplants explore California's gay subculture and continue to evolve their relationship against the backdrop of a different murder that mirrors a "small earthquake" in their changed lives together.

H.N. Hirsch does an excellent job of juxtaposing a murder mystery with a gay couple's continuing evolution. The story is replete with satisfying twists and turns that contrast social and political insights with personal life challenges in unpredictable, realistic, satisfying ways. As the ins and outs of local politics, conventional marriages, and closely held secrets come to light, both Bob and Marcus find their lives transformed. Bob comes to realize that many of his assumptions about lifestyles and age groups prove questionable in California's unique milieu: "Bob thought for a minute. 'And do you have any impression of the marriage?'

'None whatever. I've never really understood straight folk.'

Bob was startled; he hadn't really stopped to consider whether Philip was gay or straight. He felt a pang of guilt; like many people his age, he hardly thought about older people in terms of relationships, or sex." As relationships between mayors, attorney generals, and other public figures come to light, Bob comes to realize there are too many suspects and secrets too close to home for comfort.

Readers who embark on this foray into California culture with Bob and Marcus will find the story packed with social and political as well as psychological and relationship insights. Hirsch brings to life a myriad of characters that swirl around this unique murder case and its accompanying special interests. This creates a memorable, compelling read as suitable for genre readers of murder mysteries as it is for those seeking explorations of gay culture in California. Another surprising strength of the story: it's set in Southern California, where the gay lifestyle is less famous and pronounced than in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has become almost a cliche in gay circles.

Libraries and readers will find Fault Line a powerfully reflective whodunit that adds value with its realistic inspection of gay subculture perceptions and experiences.

French Ghost
Corinne LaBalme
Wild Rose Press
9781509239191, $17.99 Paper, $4.99 Kindle

French Ghost features a ghost writer whose employment becomes literal when her movie star boss suddenly dies in a drowning that leaves her floundering in Paris. Re-hired for the job by a sullen son who obviously resents his father, Melody Layne is puzzled about his motivation and attitude until her biographical journey becomes a foray into crime and threats. Is Melody's biography the product of lies, or truth? As she makes the choice to delve deeper into deceased Charles-Henri Banville's life, she uncovers hidden truths that emerge with powerful threats not only to her writing, but her life and those around her. It doesn't help that she's in a foreign milieu, or that she comes to realize her writing is actually a murder probe -- something she has little experience in pursuing.

Corinne LaBalme's dialogues are intriguing, reflecting a dash of humor as Melody chases clues to facts she has no business knowing about: "Melody, Melody... perhaps, in retrospect, I may have jumped to a conclusion..."

"I'd say you pole vaulted to a conclusion."

"But not without justification," he countered. "You are definitely my father's type." The romance that evolves alongside her duty to chronicle the truth leads to moral and ethical conundrums as Melody comes to realize that what she loves may be ultimately dangerous.

LaBalme walks a fine line between murder story and romance, but it's one nicely steeped in the atmospheres of both as Melody navigates situations she is both ill equipped to manage in terms of experience, and uniquely talented to trail, thanks to her writing and research background.

Other facets of the son's anguished relationship with his father come to light over an inheritance he never wanted, but which lies in question and comes with ironic twists: "Why did this man, who ignored me all his life, make me his heir and executor? Thanks to him, I'm a member of the one percent that I've fought against all my life."

French Ghost's backdrop blends the allure of a Paris romance with the intrigue of a mystery that draws special interests to interact on emotional and investigative levels as police search for a reason to finger son Carlos Ortega and Melody seeks the truth.

Libraries and readers looking for mysteries steeped in first-person revelations and astute considerations of romantic and detective pursuits alike will find French Ghost an appealing study in a writer's quest against all odds and a romance that evolves despite her recognition that "It was getting harder and harder to love that man."

A Gilded Drowning Pool
Cecelia Tichi
Independently Published
9798985121667, $15.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

With its dovetailing of murder mystery and historical fiction, A Gilded Drowning Pool introduces a special brand of captivating action that will attract both types of genre readers with its compelling contrasts between 1899 high society New York and a childhood spent in the Western mining camps.

This backdrop of evolution is cemented by the specter of dangerous threat when a young woman whose name harkens to Val's Gaelic nickname is drowned on family property, embroiling Val and her husband Roddy in a series of events and accusations that threaten everything they've built in their lives and between one another.

Val's first-person contrast between her girlhood in the far West and the position she finds herself in as Mrs. Roderick W. DeVere of New York's Fifth Avenue comes to life as the story moves through an unlikely set of circumstances and challenges to their social status and Val's efforts to rise above adversity.

What does a proposed Health-to-Wealth tent camp venture have to do with murder? As Val and her husband begin to realize that a bogus project is entangling their affairs in a serious and unexpected way, readers join them in a romp through the world of the 1800s and its social and political currents.

Cecelia Tichi develops an exquisite tension fostered by the first-person observations of Val and the interactions between her husband and various strata of society. From issues of financial gain and mutual cooperation to an investigation that exposes the fallacies of boyhood loyalties and the dangers Val and Roddy face in pursuing the truth,

A Gilded Drowning Pool virtually sizzles with unexpected twists. These lead readers to carefully examine the social and political entanglements of the times that lead to murderous decisions. Val and Roddy find themselves falling ever deeper into the quicksand of relationships they thought they knew well, only to discover that the veneer of geniality and decorum overlays a dangerous undercurrent of threat that reaches out to grasp and pull them into ever-deadlier situations.

From tyrants and liars to dark truths revealed, A Gilded Drowning Pool creates an evocative, compellingly rich story that proves hard to put down. It is highly recommended for historical fiction and murder mystery collections alike.

If Only Truman Were Dead
William F. Crandell
Hawkshaw Press
9781957224169, $15.99 Paper, $4.99 ebook

If Only Truman Were Dead is the second book in the Jack Griffith Detective series, continuing the same gritty exploration of a bygone 1940s milieu from the eyes of a streetwise detective newly returned from war.

Jack finds that almost everything has changed -- but some things never do. The Washington, D.C. he knew is seedier, yet will feel familiar to modern audiences: "Washington in 1948 was a different planet. The squalid Southern town I'd left behind to fight in Europe had become a squalid Southern city. Sex, cabs, booze and life were still cheap because Congress ran D.C. as a game preserve."

The trail of corpses that immerse Jack in another series of investigative quandaries and challenges has not yet begun -- but it's on the threshold as his month starts off with an unusual case.

What makes If Only Truman Were Dead stand out from the beginning is an observational first-person style that is candid, revealing, and sometimes startling in its ability to deliver punches via succinct first-person impressions of motivations for actions and hard choices: "Somebody hired Harry to handle the ransom demand for a young boy who'd been abducted. Harry botched it, and nowadays he drank his form of pain medicine neat. The kidnapper got what was coming to him. Luckily for my sanity, I was off shooting Germans at the time."

A second wife's concern that her rich husband is falling prey to alluring and clever young ladies introduces a series of events that lead far from an easy probe into a wife's worries, entering political circles that once again challenge Jack's ability to survive the layers of deceit he uncovers in high-level social and political circles.

The dialogues, atmosphere, and quandaries are spot-on and absorbing, often pairing astute observations with surprising conclusions: "Cissy Patterson held the commanding heights of the marble staircase in a hunter green dress cut injudiciously low. She must have been sixty or so. What had clearly once been engrossing breasts had turned flabby. You could see from her eyes and her nostrils she had too much money and spent some of it on cocaine. If your ears worked, you also knew Cissy drank too much. I liked her right away." Between the noir atmosphere of a sultry mystery, the satisfying questions and twists that keep Jack immersed in a strange new world he once knew well but now is barely familiar with, and the evolving events that portend more threats than he'd anticipated.

If Only Truman Were Dead commands the kind of riveting attention that can only come from powerful writing that extends the story's interest from detective readers to general-interest audiences. As dames, dolls, and the dead coalesce, If Only Truman Were Dead comes alive with dilemmas spiced with descriptions that are supercharged with psychological and mystery surprises: "Maybe part of a siren's allure goes beyond sex appeal - a puzzle loaned bewitchment to Aileen's allure."

If only one mystery were chosen by genre detective readers to try to lure non-mystery-reading friends into the fold, it should be If Only Truman Were Dead. Mystery and history entwine in a backdrop in which politics and motivation are powerfully engaged. Impeccable characterization, atmosphere, and intrigue will prove draws to anyone who appreciates a rollicking good romp through nefarious motivations and suspense, making If Only Truman Were Dead highly recommended for libraries and book clubs seeking solidly appealing stories that conclude with a political bombshell.

No Consent
Teresa Burrell and L.J. Sellers
Silent Thunder Publishing
9781938680403, $14.99 Paper, $4.99 ebook

Thriller genre readers seeking a story that incorporates unusual relationships between forces on either side of justice will find No Consent a satisfying study in contrasts. It unites the forces of District Attorney Clara Hitchens ("Hitch"), who is facing the possibility of a corrupt boss, and newly released jail inmate Nate Conner, whose new focus is locating his missing sister while fending off a bully's demands for money.

Conner taps Hitch to help him, but when he's implicated in a murder case, she has her hands full on more than one front. Hitch also harbors too many doubts about what is really going on, suspecting she might be aiding and abetting what is possibly the wrong side in the pursuit for justice.

Part of the attraction in No Consent lies in its constantly-shifting alliances and situations that test Conner's ability to stay out of trouble and Hitch's ability to identify the real perps in her legal case. Teresa Burrell and L.J. Sellers excel in action-packed scenarios that begin the moment Conner steps out of jail to confront his past and the grave mistake he made in getting involved with a scammer. When he is rescued from this confrontation by his other sister, Conner comes to learn that his baby sister, who has been in and out of trouble for years, has actually been missing for months. This sends him on a mission before he's even stepped into his revised role in society, immersing readers in the specter of a newly released inmate who once again finds himself skirting the edges of the law and society.

Burrell and Sellers navigate a thin line that moves among informants, accusations, social and legal possibilities, and fresh issues with practiced agility. The story excels in the ebbs and flows of a tension that stems not just from discovery, but from social inspection: "She would do her best to make Heather look... more wholesome? Meaning less slutty. Hitch hated society's double standards."

As No Consent evolves its multifaceted plot, readers receive a tale steeped in ironic twists, circumstances that test ideas of political correctness, and setups which reveal to Connor frightening possibilities about his missing sister's life. Trial proceedings mire Conner deeper in legal entanglements and threats as his little sister tunnels into hiding and Hitch is thwarted by a successful corruption effort that turns her trial into a travesty.

The character development, action, and tension are well developed, creating a compelling story that rests as much on the individual challenges to Conner and Hitch as on their conjoined purposes. Light references to a budding friendship that could turn into something else pepper the story for future development, but the foundations of intrigue and proactive thinking that drive each character in No Consent lay a firm foundation of adventure that thriller readers will relish.

Libraries and readers seeking a story that navigates political, social, and legal circles to challenge its two main characters' perceptions and roles will find No Consent action-packed, vivid, and hard to put down.

The Philosophical Detective's Last Case
Bruce Hartman
Swallow Tail Press
9780999756471, $13.95 paper, $2.99 ebook

The Philosophical Detective's Last Case adds to and completes the trilogy of detective experiences of narrator Nick Martin, demonstrating the ability to stand on its own strengths with no prior introduction to the series required for newcomers.

The tale opens with the confession that its narrator resides in a memory care center, where he has "caretakers" who are charged with maintaining him. Nick cultivates a minor form of rebellion against his newly managed life. His keepers " for my memory as the gardener cares for the lawn, by saturating it with poisons and eradicating anything that sprouts up unexpectedly. Their mission is to make me remember what they think I ought to remember." But Nick admits that "My secret revenge is to remember only the things I want to remember." Thus his final story is also a defiant statement as he spends "my endless days and nights sifting through lost time for fragments of what has made my life worth living."

Nick's memorable fictional associations with "great Argentinian poet and fabulist Jorge Luis Borges" provides a rich treasure trove of experiences which fueled prior books and appears early on in this one to cement the presence of mysteries and conundrums that appear in literary and physical milieus alike. "The fundamental mysteries of nature aren't the kind a detective tries to solve," Nick protests to Borges. But as he is drawn to this literary giant's world and finds himself on yet another philosophical mystery adventure, readers will discover that the underlying inquiries that power this story are every bit as intriguing as the detective's foray into unfamiliar territory.

Bruce Hartman continues the concurrent themes of philosophical inspection that consider the roots of investigations and the definition of mysteries as unique to human reasoning: "The detective is to a mystery what the observer was to Schrödinger's cat," Borges said. "Unless he's looking (and asking) there isn't any mystery." Literary readers, especially, who enjoy the intersection of philosophical examination and intrigue will find that both evolve in attractive, engrossing manners as Borges and Nick explore matters of fate, time, and the methods and outcomes of arrogant fools.

The threads of humor that consistently run throughout the story line add a fine dimension of laughter that is unexpectedly delightful as the story progresses. From ironic twists of fate to predictions that lead the characters to consider the underlying impact and presence of what is likely their last case, Hartman creates a thought-provoking series of events and character interactions with their world that transcends the usual approach of a detective piece to enter into the realms of philosophical debates and reflection: "He liked to say that he could see through the veil of appearances into the essence of things. But in this, his last case as a detective, his perception had been spectacularly wrong. His ideal woman's ugliness - invisible to his clouded eyes - was an accurate reflection of her depraved heart."

The result is another powerfully rendered 'Philosophical Detective' story that (perhaps sadly, but efficiently) concludes Borges and Nick's associations, giving the reader much more to think about regarding the hearts and minds of humanity than a simple whodunit alone. Between the story's compelling evolution, its delightful and whimsical character interactions and jokes, and its unexpected connections between philosophy and mystery, the result is quite simply a delight and a standout in the mystery genre's usually-staid world.

Libraries and readers looking for literary blends of philosophy and mystery, cemented by thought-provoking interludes and action that embraces a wide cast of characters and possible outcomes, will find The Philosophical Detective's Last Case a unique and delightful standout.

Protective Instincts
Ann Jeffries
New View Literature
9781941603123, $15.95 Paper/$0.99 Kindle

Protective Instincts is the 24th book in the Family Reunion---Wisdom of the Ancestors series and the fifth episode in the Alex-Mont Kids Saga, and opens with nineteen-year-old Professor Dena Montgomery's involvement in the abduction of two children whom she encounters on her way home from work.

The violent confrontation leaves a dead man and two traumatized young children in her hands, sparking her protective instincts towards the kids even as an investigation of these circumstances reveals political complications and an unexpected air of romance that threaten to change her life.

Dena is already an extraordinary young woman in any definition of the term, but her many abilities are tested as the story unfolds to connect her with young, handsome Greek police investigator Darrius Pappas and the complicated case he has been handed. As he probes Dena's life and discovers that she is even more mysterious than initial circumstances indicate, Darrius becomes immersed in global economic affairs far beyond his experience and calling.

Readers and Darrius learn more about Dena's large family and their connections as the story unfolds, leading into a second murder that brings new revelations into entanglements that result in invasions of privacy and boundaries alike.

Ann Jeffries is skilled at carrying the microcosm of a kidnapping into bigger-picture thinking, powering it with an evolving relationship that doesn't go where readers expect it will and including the examinations and circumstances that bring these extraordinary characters to the stars.

Libraries and readers seeking a focus on mystery, relationship developments, intrigue, and a futuristic mission will find Protective Instincts a powerhouse of a read that specializes in unexpected developments which immerse readers in extraordinary family developments and political entanglements.

The Tree of Life
Daniel G. Miller
Houndstooth Books
9781737646334, $14.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The Tree of Life, the third book in the Tree of Knowledge series, opens with the specter of Eva Fix hiding in a cold, windowless basement, a detonator in hand. This prologue sets the stage for a story laced with intrigue and mystery as Princeton math professor Albert's discovery of the Tree of Knowledge is threatened by an insurgent movement that also knows the secret of changing the future, and desires to get their hands on it for their own nefarious purposes.

One man alone can't stop such a force, so Albert taps the power of a secretive global network dedicated to toppling tyrants around the world -- only to find that his association with a different kind of devil brings with it new challenges to his moral and ethical position. When did Albert's discovery first lead him to become a terrorist, and how can he fight against the forces of a new world order which defy his own integrity and lead him to question whether he's chosen the right side?

Daniel G. Miller creates a steady-paced, action-packed story that juxtaposes moments of spiritual and social revelation with philosophical and ethical examinations to test readers' minds and their affinity for Albert's cause. From Eva's association with the Sword of Eden movement to Albert's journeys that lead him to feel "...he had been transported to an alien planet that was mimicking an American suburb," the story's edgy changes keep readers changing their minds and alliances during a fast-paced technothriller embedded with Christian revelations and examinations.

Libraries and readers seeking stories that operate on different levels of social, political, and spiritual inspection will find that while The Tree of Life can stand nicely on its own, it works best in conjunction with the other books in the trilogy. It develops the characters further, moving the story into different directions to expand its social and political movements with adventurous twists and turns. These make the outcome completely unpredictable and the story hard to put down.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The Coin
Anna M. Elias
Independently Published
B0BY3KFDJJ, $4.99 Kindle

Prior fans of the metaphysical sci-fi saga The Vessels will find the journey continues seamlessly in Book Two, The Coin. It follows new Vessels Tal, Link, and Avani as they fulfill their purposes as hosts for spirits who work through them to correct wrongdoings of the past. Each holds a coin that gives them protection. But it also holds deadly potential to allow dark entities from the other side to get through, and so they face a major challenge from one vengeful spirit determined to wreck havoc.

The story opens with a rogue spirit tapping the life force of a Ugandian woman who feels it within her, but isn't aware of what it means. She only knows she is being overtaken on a deeper level than anything that's happened to her body or soul in her life. Whether that force is one of good or evil, remains to be seen. The rogue's difficulty in controlling non-vessel humans is apparent from the start. He needs something different.

Familiarity with the spirit journeys and setting of The Vessels will allow readers to extend the foundations created in the former book as the struggle evolves. The playing field of good and evil is not always even. These contrasts between the different entities are nicely drawn as future scenes explore the willing vessels that not only acknowledge, but accept their revised missions: "Like every other spirit Link had served, Teddy held no sense of animosity or bitterness. No matter how badly they'd been hurt in human life, the spirits were like bright, flickering torches that never went out."

The metaphysical struggles supplement sci-fi events and interpersonal relationships in a satisfying manner as the story assumes the countenance of a detective-style investigation, a thriller's embrace of nonstop action, and the possibilities of a paranormal environment in which humans and spirits not only interact, but intersect for a greater purpose than individual objectives alone.

Anna M. Elias does an outstanding job of melding the worlds of spirit and human affairs, developing personalities and purposes attuned to the magic of the coins, the efforts of Spirit Guards, and presence of evil powers that spill into human affairs. The result is a powerfully-rendered story that extends the milieu of The Vessels with a mystery and focus that holds the powerful attraction of forces that struggle on both sides of the coin.

Libraries and readers interested in works that dovetail metaphysical and spiritual questions with sci-fi settings and struggles between good and evil spirits will find The Coin essential for any collection seeing popularity with The Vessels and interested in taking the next step into a milieu marked by spiritual healing, forgiveness, and symbiotic relationships.

Anthony Doyle
Out-of-This-World Press/Devil's Party
9781957224053, $TBA, PB, 248pp

Imagine sleeping through winter like a bear, emerging to new possibilities and life when times are better.

Hibernaculum posits a near future in which humans make this choice, entering into a sanctioned deep sleep that appeals to the infirm, the tired, and those who want to make room on the planet for the blossoming tide of humanity. Like other hibernating creatures, much of mankind has adopted the rituals of gorging on food and life before they enter this long sleep period: "By late fall, the feast is over, and heavy, heaving, jelly-fleshy men and women move slowly, think slowly, sit and wonder, slouch and doze, while raising buckets of water to their swollen faces. Lethargy. Twenty hours a day in front of the TV: reruns, reality shows, salmon documentaries, huntsman horror flicks. This is wind-down; counting down the light, as the darkness grows."

Anthony Doyle injects many reflective phrases about this unique time in humanity's life: "Time is chemical...Time is hormones, time is melatonin...Not all winters fall in winter." These contribute a deeper reflective atmosphere about this period in human history where individuals experience the Hibernaculum's dreams and nightmares in different ways. He injects writings that capture these observations, exploring disparate experiences from Jonah's Syndrome and the instability it brings dreamers, to those who reflect that a hibernation-based society may not bring the answers and solutions it promises: "I can't help thinking that this is too little too late. How many of these domes would it take to cut a real chunk out of the human ecological footprint? Is it just an expensive, stubborn act of desperation? Is hibernation, ironically, an attempt at a global wake-up call?"

The ecological, social, and psychological messages embedded in this world and the new choices offered by hibernation are thought-provoking and revealing as those newly awakened admit to different perceptions that were unintended results of the pursuit of new possibilities for humanity: "I don't think I came back out the same person. I'm not sure whether some of me is still unconscious, still down there in the underworld. Or perhaps a new part I didn't know existed followed me back up, like a shadow or a tethered ghost. Maybe I brought it back with me, from oblivion, and I haven't been able to integrate it yet. The result is a glitch. It seems I am on the blink."

Ultimately, readers who enter Hibernaculum with the characters, who come to realize that its promises may be empty and hold consequences they never saw coming, will find the story gripping, revealing, and frightening. The contrast between notes and experiences of those who navigate this world are exceptionally well done, and will lend to book club discussions and sci-fi reader delight.

Libraries and readers seeking a futuristic exploration which examines sleepers of the world and the social and political truths and realities that underlie their motivations will find Hibernaculum replete with a growing horror of realization that awakens, at the end, into a nightmare of manipulation and truth. It will leave readers thinking long after the story's final startling revelations.

Loy: In the Forests of the Mind
Todd David Gross
Sunlit Lane Productions
9781737942603, $17.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

It is said that 'one door opens when another closes.' Such could apply to the events of Loy: In the Forests of the Mind, which opens with the scenario of a humanity of the future stripped of all its technological wonders, with people born blind until they hit puberty. This situation forces the remnants of humanity to build extraordinary senses before they evolve into adulthood and are granted the gift of vision, which serves as another layer augmenting reality rather than being the main sense that perceives and translates the world.

The story opens with an event that changes everything, prompting Daniel's decision to lead his family on an outing to a cave that winds up sheltering them from disaster. An edible plant feeds them, but in fact it does much more. It transforms them into survivors of this apocalypse.

Readers who anticipate the usual progression of apocalyptic events, rebuilding, and struggle will find that Loy operates on a less predictable, more metaphysical level as it follows the growth of a spiritual culture and what happens when it confronts an industrial force that threatens to tear down the physical and spiritual forces driving this new world.

Descriptions of this process of takeover and change provide vivid observations about the horror of change that arrives to once again transform the world: "A nearby meadow was invaded and tented. The muffled sounds sent a new sensation through the land. Garbled voices became prominent. That night, flickering points of firelight burned their way deep into the forest. The following day flat, stabbing sounds pierced the air as trees came under attack. Men with axes moved with unmerciful speed. An area that had stood and sounded together for a millennium vanished within days. In their absence lay an open, desolate sound. Each day this emptiness grew. Each day a dull ache spread further through the land."

As an author, Todd David Gross paints a richer story of endings and beginnings than most dystopian or apocalyptic sci-fi, embedding these scenarios with spiritual and metaphysical components that capture the disparate approaches to life that each sector of humanity represents. As shocking discoveries are made about these invaders and what they truly represent ("They kill their own kind!"), underlying messages about ecology, Spirit, darkness and light lead readers on as much a philosophical and intellectual journey as one of entertainment and discovery.

Different experiences drive characters that represent shifting realizations and realities, from a shaman driven from his home to both discover and lead his people to truth, to a mother struggling to protect her sensitive and extraordinarily blessed child, whose pain evolves into hope and strength. As these disparate lives intersect, questions of connections between nature and humanity and a tunnel that leads to evolution and transformation come to light that brings readers into a milieu filled with new possibilities and discoveries.

Gross is especially adept at contrasting the changing natures of individuals and communities forced outside their comfort zones and into situations that test not just their perceptions of the world, but their choices in either engaging with or altering it.

Libraries and readers interested in apocalyptic sci-fi may at first think that the nature and setting of Loy: In the Forests of the Mind portends the usual read about physical struggles and adaptations, but the greater joy of this story lies in its mental and spiritual explorations. Sci-fi fans seeking higher-level thinking from their futuristic reading will find Loy: In the Forests of the Mind not just thought-provoking, but well suited to book club discussions.

Topics range from the challenges of transformation and risk-taking to the bonds between people and paradigm-changing encounters with contemporary issues the world faces today, from diversity and inclusion to ecological awareness and global exploitation's impacts.

Baen Books

These new Baen Books titles are top recommendations for sci-fi collections looking for lasting library lending choices.

Larry Correia's Tower of Silence (9781982192532, $24.00) charts a spreading war as conflict rages across the land from the Great Extermination, which seeks to eliminate the casteless, who pin their hopes on fallen Protector Ashok Vadal, who is a prisoner seemingly far from helping his people. Chaos, coups, and political struggles involve humans and demons in a war that seemingly has no end or possibility of winning as warrior Vadal taps his inner resources to find strength under impossible conditions. Fans of sword-and-sorcery or military sci-fi will find plenty to love, here.

Les Johnson and Ken Roy edit The Ross 248 Project (9781982192624, $18.00), which contains original stories by D.J. Butler, Patrick Chiles, K.S. Daniels and more. Many sci-fi scenarios cover travel to other stars. Just as many recount the discoveries, over the journey. But, in this book, the real challenge arrives in the process of converting worlds to support humans -- especially when it comes to red dwarf star Ross 248, which presents special mysteries and challenges to those who would reside under a red sun. The diversity of challenges and scenarios depicted in this adventure will appeal to anyone interested in the process of colonization, adaptation, and overcoming obstacles to life.

Simon R. Green's For Love of Magic (9781982192617, $25.00) follows the rise of magic in a world of science and logic, presenting character Jack Daimon as the keeper of secrets, charged with protecting present-world perceptions from the knowledge of a supernatural force operating under them. Here, jack investigates the disappearances in the Tate Museum which are related to a peculiar painting. As he engages in a mystery aided by art expert Amanda Fielding, who has her own agenda, a time-traveling adventure evolves which will appeal to sci-fi enthusiasts of magic, time travel, and alternate realities, which are all fueled by a thought-provoking mystery.

Gregory Frost's Rhymer (9781982192662, $25.00) is a powerful blend of folklore and time-travel adventure that follows multi-named hero True Thomas and his efforts to remain a hero as he battles forces of evil that traverse time and require his ongoing identities as a champion of humanity. As medieval Thomas moves through extraordinary realizations and developing purpose, readers are brought into the first book in a trilogy which portends much action and many revelations. The bow to legendary figures who are reconfigured in this fantasy scenario is original and creatively fun.

All of these Baen Book science fiction titles are top picks that fans and community libraries will find popular and wide-ranging.

The Poetry Shelf

Break in the Field
Ellis Elliott
Old Scratch/Devil's Party Press
9781957224121, $9.99

The poetry featured in Break in the Field contrasts human perceptions and experience, delving into the forces of nature and observational efforts. Each poem is representative slice of these encounters. One example is 'Sweetgrass,' which considers the ghost of one who has "died in the house I moved into": "In the kitchen were her copper/cooking pots, her cracked oyster plates,/her mint green matchbox from Paris,/her baskets on cabinet tops, and her three/lost boys. I search for something sturdy/to contain their grief. And when it can't be found,/I become my own flawed variation."

From laments of absence and the pain of breaking apart to the haunting integration of childhood and adult viewpoints and celebrations of things lost and found, Ellis Elliott's varied poems represent a similar diversity of action and spirit which especially excels in contrasts of past and present, heart and mind, and shifting perspectives.

Libraries and readers who choose this short collection for its evocative free verse inspections of life connections will find its art lies in not just the eye of the beholder, but its ability to connect these disparate lives with the more universal threads of history and chance encounters: "She was a day past presence, riding/the jagged breath below the surface/of consciousness. I was running/to make the next plane to Arkansas,/my frantic airport pace pulled by/a thousand thinning cords to home."

Ellis Elliott's compelling Break in the Field creates associations between humanity, nature, and time that deserve not only individual inspection and appreciation, but spirited discussions about contemporary poetry's ability to attract and react to life's events with bigger-picture reflections about growth, freedom, and life lessons.

The Christian Studies Shelf

Faith Arising
T.I. Frazier, author
Larry Wayne, audiobook narrator
Independently Published
9798985903898, $12.99 Paper, $9.99 ebook, $TBA audiobook

Faith Arising: Finding the Warrior within and the Willingness to Explore, Grow, and Arise explores the process of T.I. Frazier's own faith and its evolution, illustrating this endeavor with a memoir and a blueprint for following one's own path into faith. The close examination identifying limiting beliefs that held the author back from stepping fully into faith provide insights and cautions for others on the spiritual path to self-realization.

Those interested in how faith is defined and incarnated in daily life will find Faith Arising an impetus for reflecting on the Christian teachings and principles which guide both the author and many readers. "The questioning of faith is where faith begins." It is also where this book opens, for those unafraid of reconsidering or probing their rock-solid foundations of belief. As Frazier's journey unfolds, questions pepper the account that prompt readers to reflect on their own faith and the history that supports their beliefs.

From lessons on taking responsibility during and for "rock-bottom moments" to reading objectively about other religions and their beliefs, Frazier charts the course of not just building faith, but testing its foundations through an open mind to other ideas. This process, of necessity, involves a high degree of self-inspection and uncomfortable reflections. It won't be for everyone; particularly those resistant to probing faith's foundations to assess their strength and resiliency.

Readers interested in solidifying these roots by remaining open to other methods of analysis will find Faith Arising's real purpose isn't to shake the foundations of faith, but to chart the process of hardening it so that it is both set and embracing of a wider degree of understanding than rigid belief systems allow. The positive embrace of the abundance of life's lessons keeps faith an upward-growing experience in both this book and in the concepts it promotes for readers of all faiths, making Faith Arising highly recommended for both individual and group spiritual reflection.

Libraries seeking books about faith that encourage discussion, debate, and interest in both reading and spiritual circles will find Faith Arising an inspirational, intellectual journey that links faith development stages with growth.

"Porn?" is a Question of Cosmological Significance
CJS Hayward
CJS Hayward Publications
9798377937807, $6.99 Paper/$.99 Kindle

"Porn?" is a Question of Cosmological Significance is a spiritual focus on pornography that takes a hard-hitting look at what St. John Chrysostom perennially warned "about the obscene theaters in which 'the shared nature of women is insulted.'" The intention of CJS Hayward's book is to encourage thinking readers to "...never look the same way at porn ever again." He achieves his goal by covering the concept of 'sexual sin' and what is actually at stake by viewing and accepting porn.

From the initial trajectory of the world's creation and the evolution of science and technology to the perception of Christ as "...head of the whole Creation, not just the Church. Christ isn't just concerned with his people, but the whole created world," the spiritual discussion mixes history, religious inspection, and routes to lead a more engaged, meaningful life beyond the forces that lead to passive life participation and YouTube inspections.

Hard-hitting discussions of the reality of porn addiction differentiate this pursuit and sin from others: "The reality of porn addiction may be different. It is, with other evils, a pursuit of something that does not exist and cannot create lasting satisfaction. Not that porn is the only evil by any stretch of the imagination. But it is one way of reaching the misery for which the final destination is a Hell that has many, many entrances but not one exit."

In the beginning, Hayward's wide-ranging associations between religious and human history may seem not only broad, but relatively distant from the book's promised focus on porn. Readers who persist through its cosmological and spiritual history will find that salient points connect to other articles to form a unified examination of porn that is solidly intellectual and thought-provoking. Yes, porn holds issues of cosmological import. It also represents the opportunity to hold dialogues in and reconsider life choices, their connection to and impact on religious pursuits, and the meaning underlying seemingly simple options and perceptions that weigh heavily on the soul.

Discussions of porn here are unlike any other book, embracing existential and spiritual matters that are presented in a variety of forms to cement the reader's inner dialogue, as in the section where Porn assumes a countenance of awareness: "We live in interesting times. There is a singularity, or rather has been but keeps growing exponentially, and this singularity may turn in to the end of the world: a strange Ragnarok where the forces of Good resound with apocalyptic triumph. And I, Porn, am part of the singularity, an important part. Did you know that I, Porn, am not the only thing in life? Remember: "Every man who visits a Porn site is looking for God."

Any discussion of porn and its spiritual and social impact would not be complete without the religious inspection and enlightenment it receives in "Porn?" is a Question of Cosmological Significance, which is at once intriguing, challenging, and worthy of discussion in spiritual circles, as well as inclusion in any library interested in applications of religious thought to social conundrums.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

Spirituality for Badasses Book Two
J. Stewart Dixon
PIE Publishing
9780985857974, $16.99 Paper, $9.99 Kindle

Spirituality for Badasses Book Two: How to Find Your Heart and Soul Without Losing Your Cool posits a mind-altering romp through the countryside and spirituality alike. It opens with a chatty tone of confrontation and realization that immediately informs readers that this book represents something more than a lesson in road trips, spirituality or self-realization: "So, you think you're gonna double your spiritual badass just by reading Book Two? Think again. There is no doubling your badass. There is only one amount of spiritual badass and you already (sorta-kinda-you'll see) have it. You've always had it. You never lost it. You can't lose it. But I presume, since you're back for more, something is still nagging you."

If Book One was "just a slow dance at a rural county fair" then "This book - well, it's a stage dive into a slam-dancing mosh pit at a punk concert." The metaphysical journey which evolves represents a romp of mindful and spiritual proportions as first-person admonitions move through new realizations, realities, and acknowledgements of the ironies and inconsistencies of beliefs and spiritual revelation, all cemented by a flavor of humor: "You'd think a guy who writes books with the word "spirituality" in them wouldn't have waited until page 95 of his fourth book to address a pretty damn fundamental - ahem - spiritual topic: Death."

What first appears to be a lesson in spirituality turns out to be a fictional foray into a quest through other worlds as the narrator moves through Kansas City, Vegas, and other milieus to confront Death the Destroyer of Dreams and further challenges to spiritual and life perception. "The New Age thinkers and doers... chant and hope and wish and dream... a neverending dream of finally... one day... arriving."

In Spirituality for Badasses Book Two, the journey towards revised realizations about life, death, and everything in between is as important as the ultimate destination. The rollicking nature of this expedition into consciousness creates a powerful story that operates in the realm of metaphysical fiction and philosophy, but holds so many fiery topics for debates and fun that book clubs and spiritual new age groups will find much fodder for discussion as the tale unfolds.

Libraries and readers looking for a road trip through irony and life inspection will relish the originally creative tone and hard-hitting accusations and realizations of Spirituality for Badasses Book Two.

The Political Science Shelf

Neutering the CIA
John A. Gentry
Armin Lear Press Inc.
9781956450699, $35.95 Hardcover, $24.95 Paper, $9.99 ebook

Neutering the CIA: Why US Intelligence Versus Trump Has Long-Term Consequences is a scholarly analysis that holds the rare ability to attract general-interest readers concerned about intelligence history and America's CIA in particular. It probes the political bias that both dictates operations and too often undermines the agency, considering how this bias affects intelligence operations and efficiency as a whole.

While the key example presented in this study is the impact of such bias on the interaction between the CIA and the Trump Administration, to consider Neutering the CIA a history of Trump's involvement alone would be to do the book an injustice. It holds far wider-ranging realizations and information that affect the overall operations, driving force, and perceptions of CIA and intelligence operations as a whole. Neutering the CIA ideally should be consulted not just by political science students, but anyone actively involved in U.S. intelligence operations and ideals.

John A. Gentry opens his treatise with a preface that explains his background in the CIA as an intelligence analyst and his personal experience of its "politicization" by fellow professionals who overlaid the operations of the agency with an agenda that represented their personal and political sentiments. From the start, his revelations are eye-opening and controversial: "After following the German Democratic Republic for several years, I was under no illusions about the many negative and few good aspects of the country's communist regime ... Yet in 1986 my division chief, Steve K., began to insist that his analysts make the countries we followed look worse than they were, mainly by adding pejorative adjectives in our analytic papers."

This misdirection of information, framed by simple choices in presentation and representation, was mild; but in hindsight it began a dangerous trend that continues to this day. Thankfully, this experience also led to Gentry's newfound awareness of and ongoing interest in the intersection of politics and intelligence work -- and he was in the perfect place and position to observe these changes in action.

Scholarly readers will appreciate Gentry's attention to detail as he delves into such varied topics as diversity politics, other presidential campaigns that reflected the growth of special influences and interests, and the changing approaches of the intelligence community as politicization became a new norm rather than the exception. His attention to exploring moral and ethical dilemmas, his expose of facts (such as the leaking of intelligence information by intelligence officers themselves), and his heavily footnoted references that support many of his contentions with articles, interviews, and research create an authority that goes beyond personal familiarity to reflect the information-based work Gentry was trained to produce.

Having Neutering the CIA at this point in time is key to understanding the influences upon and progress of democracy itself. Far more than an analysis of the inner sanctum of the American intelligence community, Neutering the CIA draws both damning and thought-provoking connections between special interests, personal ambition, and political influence that dictates the focus and direction of intelligence operations in this nation.

Gentry's discussions of anti- and pro-Trump elements within the organization and his notes on the CIA's evolving culture and strengths invite classroom dialogue and discussion that also should spill into general interest circles despite the scholarly nature of this book, which should not be limited to classroom study alone. General-interest as well as scholarly or college-level library collections should see widespread attraction to Neutering the CIA because its history, analysis, and insider information hold great impact for revising perceptions of the democratic process in America as well as its evolving intelligence community.

Suitable for book club discussion, political and social issues debates, and classroom reading alike, Neutering the CIA is an important examination of linguistics, ideology, and purpose of intelligence operations. It holds the ability to reach a wide audience with its insights on how modern America really works, both up front and behind the scenes, and is very highly recommended for its special in-depth examination.

Hollow Gods
Davidson Loehr
Atmosphere Press
9781639888221, $25.99 Hardcover, $17.95 Paper

Hollow Gods: Why Liberalism Became a Destructive Religion is especially appropriate reading for modern times because it embraces the ideas and sentiments connecting religion to political choices - and also because it comes from a liberal forced to reconsider his faith and political connections.

This is not a condemnation of liberals or religion, but operates in the milieu intersecting belief systems that considers the long-time presence of two cultures whose clashes have resulted in a form of arrogance. This has unwittingly created the very monsters and messages liberals accuse others of fostering. Every reader who considers himself liberal should digest these contentions, which are presented with footnoted references reinforcing statistics and contentions throughout.

The treatise closely analyzes the liberal platform "...that I and millions of others have had, and the serious, devastating, possibly permanent harm they have done and are doing to individuals, two generations of college students, our country, its politics, liberal religion, racism, sexism..." Extensive footnotes aside, this survey is not written like an academic paper, but is lively enough that general-interest audiences can easily access its contentions and, hopefully, debate and consider them in group and book club reading circles.

From how views are represented by the media, distorted, and manipulated to the left-wing bias of the media as a whole and its impact on divisions and freedom, chapters offer thought-provoking blends of historical, philosophical, and political reflection that should particularly interest media studies and social issues students.

Hollow Gods will make readers uncomfortable -- especially liberal readers who have long held their contentions close to their hearts (often, so close that they have remained immune to deep inspection).

Libraries and readers that choose Hollow Gods for its hard-hitting examination of belief systems, social activism, media involvements, and clashing cultures will find its words embrace difficult subjects and truths, thus broadening the opportunity for revision and revelation: "Affirmative action doesn't address or solve any of these problems. It is done to treat black people like our token victims, letting liberals feel virtuous for speaking up for them -- while doing virtually nothing to help them. These liberal ideas aren't just stupid. They're also destructive and ungrounded. They're good examples of why these un-realistic Second Culture misunderstandings, like the Scare-crow's Delusion, do so much harm, and why the gatekeepers must come from people in the First Culture who, like Antaeus, have their feet on the ground in the real world.

The problem isn't limited to liberals. The problem is that, for the reasons already shown, we have mostly lost the ability to center ourselves or our culture around healthy ontological values and have degraded ourselves and our world into merely ideological squawkers."

The Human Sexuality Shelf

Wild Monogamy
Mali Apple and Joe Dunn
A Higher Possibility
9780984562282, $16.00 print, $9.99 ebook, $TBA audiobook

Wild Monogamy: Cultivating Erotic Intimacy to Keep Passion and Desire Alive is testimony to the notion that monogamy translates to eventual boredom in the bedroom and other rooms of the relationship house, as well. It provides keys to mitigating the impact of a long-term commitment by reintroducing the spicy elements of surprise that are often the hallmarks of a new sexual relationship, tailoring these to the long-haulers who are committed not only to each other exclusively, but the notion that passion can be maintained, extended, and ignited in any relationship no matter how long its duration.

Readers might anticipate some of these exercises and their focus, but the real surprise lies in a close inspection of underlying barriers to sexuality and relationships. These range from jealousy to negative self-perceptions. Mali Apple and Joe Dunn promote a method of not just transcending these emotions, but taking control of their power and using them to foster new erotic connections in a relationship.

Wild Monogamy directs readers to the process of identifying and working with their responses and emotions to encourage a greater sense of psychological and sexual connection with their partner, rather than looking elsewhere to fill the gaps. With its focus on conditioning, thought patterns, and physical and mental impacts on relationships, Wild Monogamy provides not just ideals, but solutions to common problems.

Stories of others in similar situations who harnessed the power and promise of new relationship approaches form the foundations of an example-driven approach: "In the stories that follow, you'll see examples of how couples have decided together what kinds of encounters might be right for them. In particular, notice how they support each other through any inse-curity or jealousy, as well as how their awareness and intentions help to ensure their experiences are enjoyable for all. And unlike options that are often designed to keep emotional connection to a minimum, such as swinging, sex clubs, or sex parties, notice that these stories involve intimacy on all levels: physical, intellectual/creative, emotional, and even spiritual."

Wild Monogamy's promise to monogamous couples rests on the premise that both participants are interested in considering positive changes designed to promote the longevity and passion of their relationship. Couples willing to do this kind of work, and libraries supporting them with materials that encourage it, will find Wild Monogamy a lesson in better living. It takes the latest research on sex and love and translates it into ideas and experiences any couple can learn from, tapping the healing power of eroticism to transform individuals and couples alike.

The Self-Help Shelf

Mastering Resilience
Lorry Leigh Belhumeur, Ph.D.
Muse Literary
9781958714843, $24.99 Hardcover, $14.99 Paperback, $4.99 ebook

Mastering Resilience: Transforming Into Your Purpose features an 8-step formula for tapping into the underlying strengths of adversity to unfold the growth and resilience that it offers. It is highly recommended for self-help readers interested in building new strengths against all odds. Contrary to popular belief, adversity can prove the impetus to positive change that drives individuals to recognize and utilize their resilience for best benefit - but only if it's used appropriately. That's where Mastering Resilience comes into play, defining and encouraging a recognition of intrinsic values that can create new, positive directions in life choices.

Chapters contrast the author's background and her work with others as they chart a path through this process, revealing how these mindset shifts can ultimately contribute not just to better individual life and relationships, but a better world: "When we respond with compassion, we're driven to make the world a better place. That's why so many resilient individuals who have experienced childhood adversity are often driven toward helping professions and positions: teaching, counseling, youth ministry, coaching, and mentoring. Our ability to be resilient in the face of adversity has a purpose."

Psychological studies, statistics, and revelations about challenges and choices in life come into play as Dr. Leigh Belhumeur crafts a thought-provoking series of insights based on real-world examples and hard data. Powered by discussions that encourage the reassessment of life and one's achievements, Mastering Resilience contains the kinds of admonitions and encouragement that lead to a better understanding of one's place in the world and the potential for improving it: "It's important to note that these small steps may already be well within your comfort zone. To reach your full potential, remember that it's imperative to step out of your comfort zone to reach your true purpose, and to live your life according to your intrinsic values."

Readers need only be already interested in self-realization and change in order to benefit from Mastering Resilience. Whether it's used for individual growth or in group settings to reach participants interested in life values and world improvement, Mastering Resilience represents an opportunity for transformation. This makes it highly recommended for self-help libraries, book club and psychology reading groups, and individuals who would take the next step into versatility and more effective living.

Root, Rise, Roar
Dawn King
Muse Literary
9781958714539, $4.99 Kindle

Root, Rise, Roar: Transforming Trauma into Your Brave and Beautiful Life is a study that rests on Dawn King's career in behavioral psychology, offering an approach to life and recovery that promotes mindfulness, emotional healing, and resilience. Rather than promoting King's own approaches, Root, Rise, Roar represents a collaborative mix of her insights and those of her clients, documenting the varied processes by which survival becomes revival.

King's mother chose alcohol as a salve to hide her pain. She "was injured by a partner who betrayed and pulverized her emotionally and mentally," and her reaction to life created a distance from her family that led to profound emotional wounds on all sides before alcohol was finally set aside.

King acknowledges both the legacy of family patterns and the power available to everyone to break them: "Looking back on my life, I see how my parents' traumas, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours were transferred to me on very unconscious and seductively subtle levels. While genetics are undeniably inherited, I believe the learned behaviours of our parents or caregivers and environments as children have a constructive and destructive effect on us. We can also change them."

Root, Rise, Roar does more than document this path of destruction and rebuilding. It provides a diverse set of keys to better understanding these chains and how best to break them, drawing important connections through seemingly simple approaches to revising life. These evolve on as basic a level as learning how to slow down and what to do with this added time, as well as how best to place a value on it: "Slowing down allows more intentional awareness of making decisions. Impulse control is a problem in our culture, yet slowing down expands creative thinking and provides a space and place within us of making and planning for possibilities. Doing more doesn't always equal doing our best."

As new possibilities evolve from addressing and challenging familiar patterns of behavior and responses to life, the real potential of learning to live not faster, but better, are explored in a self-help inspirational guide especially recommended for high achievers who often approach their goals too measuredly or hastily.

Libraries and readers seeking a guide that introduces the paths to better living will find the clear advice in Root, Rise, Roar an inspirational key to building alternative choices in life. "So many of us have not grown up with any emotional fluency." Here is where the envisioning lessons begin, in a lesson plan that deconstructs the inherent rigidity of family patterns and negative impulses: "As we understand the difference between constructive and destructive behaviors, avoiding leaves our roots rotting in denial. We cannot grow from there. We destructively ROOT and rigidly do not change, causing anxiety, depression, addiction, and other destructive behaviours we have the power to change."

Root, Rise, Roar's ability to illustrate the process of embracing this power makes it a top recommendation for readers and book groups interested in discussing and enacting new rules for living life in a different way.

The California Shelf

Fascinating True Tales from Old California
Colleen Adair Fliedner
9781493063239, $22.95

Fascinating True Tales from Old California is a collection of vivid California stories that documents some adventures and encounters that may not appear in the usual volume of California history. Here are some fifty true stories of con men, spirited women, immigrants who fought for freedom or made their marks on California history through other efforts, and individuals who chose paths that diverted from the norm. Each individual is outrageous, colorful, proactive and admirable in their own right... even the swindlers and the remarkable prospect of an early cross-dressing stagecoach driver. California's history is more colorful than even its modern residents may think. This book proves it, and should be in any collection of California history and culture.

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

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

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