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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 6 June 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Money/Finance Shelf Parenting Shelf
Gardening Shelf Botany Shelf Folktale/Fairytale Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Theatre/Cinema Shelf
Christian Studies Shelf Self-Help Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

The Kitchen and the Studio: A Memoir of Food and Art
Mallory M. O'Connor and John A. O'Connor
Atmosphere Press
9781639887965, $56.95 Hardcover/$45.95 paper

The Kitchen and the Studio: A Memoir of Food and Art is a rare combination of art book, memoir, and culinary exploration highly recommended for readers interested in successful intersections of the arts.

Co-authors Mallory M. O'Connor and John A. O'Connor chronicle their lives together, their community involvements, and their shared passion for art and food in a love story about many subjects. Their effort is illustrated with John's original paintings that accompany photographs of celebrations. The celebration of love, food, and nature assumes an uplifting tone from the start, rich in the color images that liberally accent the authors' memories, insights, and even historical reflections on the history of classic culinary dishes such as Beef Wellington.

It's rare to see all these elements under one cover, but the O'Connors achieve this special blend through shared memories, reflections, and artistic eyes. These are transmitted to readers via visual and written vehicles that supersede the linear approaches of most recipe books, memoirs, or culinary histories.

The food illustrations often include a touch of whimsy, as in the pastel for 'Country-Style Green Beans' which features an uncommon observer in the background of the dish. Think of the richness of James Beard's classic Delights and Prejudices, which surveys food and life from more than a singular vision, for a sense of the multifaceted attraction that is The Kitchen and the Studio.

Libraries, cooks, and readers who love uplifting blends of life experience will find the art and culinary insights equally powerful and attractive here, and well worthy of repeat reading.

Execution Island
Janice Boekhoff
Lost Canyon Press LLC
9781948003117, $16.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Fans of Jurassic Park and Janice Boekhoff's 'Jurassic Judgment' series receive a dinosaur/genetic engineering adventure firmly ensconced in the trappings of surprise and thriller tension. Although Execution Island is the third book in the series, it stands nicely alone for newcomers, including a basic introduction that sets the premise of a futuristic justice system involving an island of dinosaurs where "...death row inmates are given a choice: immediate execution or exile to Extinction Island." When reptile expert Oakley Laveau is wrongly convicted of a murder and sent to said island, her story appears to be at an end. In fact, it's only beginning as she discovers the truth about her own genetic manipulation and situations which evolve new mysteries in Execution Island. Oakley may be trapped on the island, but the truth isn't about to set her free anytime soon.

Acknowledging what she is and what she was created for is just part of the challenge of employing her enhanced genetics in a venture that goes above and beyond her assassin skills. As she faces an adversary accomplished in 'undetectable murder' and realizes that there are no good choices in her quest, Oakley discovers that her fight to live free is only one motivation for solving the mysteries of her life purpose and origins. Fated to team up with her sibling (who is also genetically enhanced and has been her adversary) Oakley discovers that her quest for the truth and her pursuit of who she really is powers an underlying horror that will not only change her life and cement its likely demise, but will alter the game plans of those connected to her. Janice Boekhoff's satisfyingly complex cat-and-mouse game features major players who must delve into their own psyches and origins in order to emerge victorious on a playing field controlled by forces they are ill equipped to handle.

The characters of Oakley, Lumas, Auburn, and others come to life, swirling and dancing around each other as unexpected events keep outcomes mercurial and characters guessing about their next moves. This salsa creates a thriller that is heavy in surprises (including a glimpse of faith), thought-provoking in its considerations of power plays and their abuses, and thoroughly involving. Thriller libraries and readers will find Execution Island rich in action-packed confrontations designed to keep them guessing to the end.

The Money/Finance Shelf

Don't Feed the Clowns
Dale Wannen
Precocity Press
9798987350188, $7.95 Kindle

Don't Feed the Clowns: Sustainable Investing for Everyday Life holds an important message: if sustainable living is an individual's ultimate ideal, one can't then choose investment vehicles that include companies unsupportive of this effort.

Sustainable living choices do not always neatly translate into sustainable investing approaches, however - and that's where money manager Dale Wannen comes in. His book covers all the possibilities and pitfalls of tailoring one's investments to match one's ideals. It opens with a key insight: "...every penny you invest in a 401k, 403b, IRA, etc., is literally changing the way the world works. Yes, you are that special. Think about it. That decision you made by checking some boxes because "Big Daddy Large Cap Dividend Sucker Growth Fund" sounded appealing after you chatted with Kathy from HR. You know Kathy. She drives that fancy Infinity GHBG720. Kathy too is changing the world."

Wannen also points out the ongoing disparity between envisioning sustainability and actually living it: "People are walking around like zombies. But their 401k balances are way up. This is the path we have been on for decades." Linking individual decision-making to sustainable accountability, Wannen refuses to let the individual reader off the hook of responsibility for higher-level decision-making in the economic world. This is an important lesson, indeed.

Some of his advice is basic Investing 101, such as setting up a sound asset allocation unique to a risk profile. The meat of his approach lies in advice that takes the time and additional steps that led more solidly into sustainable thinking and action. Yes, investors as a whole are already adopting this mindset. What differentiates Don't Feed the Clowns from most other surveys of sustainability is Wannen's attention to drawing further connections between money management and investor influences and impact on business behaviors and choices. Whether investors are interested in IRAs, mutual funds, or active investing (which involves a more hands-on approach), Wannen links typical financial vehicles, choices, and investments to bigger-picture thinking about impact, responsibility, and sustainable ideals.

As a result, Don't Feed the Clowns is very highly recommended for readers seeking to live more sustainable lifestyles, investors looking to move their choices into financial vehicles which better support the world's health and diversity, and libraries that would add a more lively discussion of investing that incorporates social and conscious ideals into their business book collections. Book clubs (either reader groups or those addressing sustainable living choices) will find plenty of information for not just solid investment approaches, but discussions about the intersection of investment objectives and sustainable ideals.

The Parenting Shelf

The Power of PR Parenting
Marjie Hadad
Muse Literary
9781958714652, $24.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The Power of PR Parenting: How to Raise Confident, Resilient, and Successful Children Using Public Relations Strategies connects two seemingly-disparate subjects in a survey that working parents, in particular, will appreciate. This audience might initially question how strategic public relations techniques can apply to basic childrearing, but Marjie Hadad's connections between the two are astute, entertaining, and realistic; from managing chaos with grace to instilling self-confidence in children and encouraging them to be their best.

Hadad's admonitions are passionate and lively. Many different aspects of a parent's reactions to life events and the process of supporting their child come to life. These include addressing issues of safety in public (whether it be on the streets or handling altercations and strangers on a bus), being laid off from work, and other circumstances which influence family dynamics, parenting, and raising kids to be strong individuals.

Hadad's public relations rules, lessons, and guidelines come into play in virtually every aspect of life, while her candid examination of her own world and the hard lessons learned from life events reinforces these concepts and how they play out in the real world. Perhaps in no other parenting guide is the message of positivity so strongly profiled. Perhaps nowhere else are the public relations guidelines to success so powerfully connected to parenting approaches and choices.

Perhaps (no, make that definitely) The Power of PR Parenting should be made a foundation acquisition for any library strong in parenting books, parents interested in building relationships and approaches cemented by the real-world applications of business principles, and any book club or parenting group interested in lively discussions of what it means to be a powerful leader and teacher to one's children.

The Gardening Shelf

A Northern Gardner's Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators
Lorraine Johnson and Sheila Colla
Island Press
9781642832990, $32.00

A Northern Gardner's Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators Is a valuable resource that no Northern California gardener should be without. Its synthesis of gardening basics with its specific approach to identifying and using beneficial native plants of the northern states creates a series of specific regional insights on planting, using pollinators, understanding how native plants nourish them, and supporting the ecosystem through native plant choices. Lovely color illustrations by Ann Sanderson enhance the growing strategy instructions and opportunities presented in this book, which covers everything from planning a garden to choosing native plants with its pollinators in mind.

The Botany Shelf

Plants of Northern California
Eva Begley
Falcon Guides
c/o Globe Pequot
c/o Rowman & Littlefield
9781483067183, $34.95

Libraries and readers in California seeking a field guide packed with clear color photos suitable for identifying plants located west of the Sierra Nevada will find Plants of Northern California the perfect item of choice. With accompanying text identifying blooming periods, elevation, and habitats, the guide, organized by color and family, makes it easy for anyone to identify species and look-alike plants, enabling both amateurs and professionals to accurately identify over 560 plants. No California reference library strong in local nature history and botany should be without this guide.

The Folktale/Fairytale Shelf

The Regal Pink
Jenny Knipfer
Independently Published
9781737957522, $2.99 Kindle

The Regal Pink is the first book in a series of retold fairy tales, and tackles a Grimm classic in a story that will especially appeal to females, from young adults through adults. The opening prologue comes from Diana, who expresses the pain of being a fairy "betwixt and between" human and fae worlds. Charged with being human for a period of time, Diana feels trapped. The first chapter opens in 1451 with Daniel, who has just had a terrible dream about Diana (the magical friend he loves) killing him. Is it a premonition of the future? He has created Diana from his dreams and his power, so why would she hurt him?

As time passes, Daniel and Diana grow up to adulthood, but retain their powers and their mysteries. Daniel's biggest wish is to move into a different life. Be careful what you wish for - especially when your power is to grant wishes for others. Daniel learns this when the future introduces more transformations that lie beyond his control: "Daniel discerned a change coming and with it freedom from the slavery of wishing." Jenny Knipfer crafts a compelling story of lives undone and redone in The Regal Pink. It is a story with a lesson, much like the Grimm's original 'The Pink' (upon which it is based); but it also brings with it the magic of evolving relationships, transformative processes, and the currents of friendships and love that drive its characters to make extraordinary decisions, diverging from lives that already reside a touch beyond the commonplace.

It's unusual to note that God does appear in what seems to be a fairy tale retold, but is represented as The Light. This makes the story accessible to a broader audience than myth-seekers alone. A host of characters entwine in Diana and Daniel's world, from spies who breach castle walls to Roderick, whose father teaches him that "...the power of the natural realm, along with the spiritual, was The Light's to command and that mankind were mere stewards of that power." And yet, he and his wife Rosalind are assured of a child and an heir through magical dreams and heavenly processes that he accepts on some level and rejects on others.

The story shifts between the first-person perspective of Diana and the third-person narration of events that entangle the lives of Diana, Daniel, Roderick, Marcus, and others in the kingdom. The result is a heady blend of magical realism, myth, and references to God's force in the world that involves readers in a complex, appealing new version of Grimm's original 'The Pink'. The Regal Pink is recommended as a stand-alone choice for fantasy readers, but, ideally, it will be read in conjunction with the original tale and utilized in creative writing courses interesting in highlighting various techniques for recrafting traditional fairy tales in new ways. This audience, as well as libraries looking for revised fairy stories, will find Jenny Knipfer's first book in a projected series to be thoroughly engrossing, stretching the hallmarks and boundaries of the fairy tale in new and satisfyingly unexpected ways.

The General Fiction Shelf

At the Seams
Pamela Gwyn Kripke
Open Books
9781948598644, $17.95

At the Seams is a novel of family loss that contains elements of pain and recovery that could prove triggers to readers who have experienced similar tragedy in their lives. This warning aside, At the Seams cultivates a winning sense of discovery and revival. It's presented from the perspective of a precocious eight-year-old who discovers that a baby brother of her mother died in the hospital before she could begin to know or remember him. Kate's discovery leads to a series of investigations and revelations that follow her into adulthood as she navigates her own life and a generational loss that returns to haunt her decisions and perceptions.

How does a newborn, healthy baby suddenly die in the hospital? It's a mystery that emerges out of the blue when a conversation with her mother reveals part of the truth. The tale is narrated by Kate, a grandchild whose legacy is presented in a more forthright manner by her mother, but which still comes shrouded in a mystery that requires further explanation. As her investigation unravels family secrets, motivations for keeping them, and reveals the truth, readers become immersed in a vivid saga spiced with the intergenerational experiences of a family motivated to resist reality.

Pamela Gwyn Kripke does a fine job of exploring the evolving circumstances from the perspectives of a child who grows into the ability to pursue answers to these questions. The strength of this story lies not so much in the original loss, but the long-term impact it has on the entire family structure as secrets are agreed to, kept, and passed down between generations. Kate's pursuit strengthens when, as a single mother, she finds these patterns unexpectedly repeating in her own life and choices. The impulse to hide, disguise, and modify reality is one that has been handed down quite inadvertently on some levels and more purposely on others, and it prompts Kate to grow and pursue where other family members have settled into quiet complacence.

Her revelations aren't always welcomed by her family. In fact, they think she's gone overboard in her focus: "Was it possible that Grandma Lilly wasn't just homesick? Had she forced the baby's death into oblivion in order to survive all these years, only to have it destroy her now? Or was I too obsessed to see straight? Everyone said I was obsessed." Is there such a thing as too much information? Not to Kate's mind. Readers who follow her pursuit will find much food for thought in her story, between her sparking of family resistance and reactions and the links between her own patterns and those mirrored in her grandparents' choices. Libraries and book clubs looking for vivid stories of loss and its resounding impact on generational connections and life patterns will find much food for thought and discussion in At the Seams, a novel which unravels not just the truth, but the hidden costs of accepting or rejecting it.

Dessert with Buddha
Roland Merullo
PFP Publishing
9798986626635, $17.85 Paper/$9.85 Kindle

Dessert with Buddha blends spirituality with self-actualization growth in a novel that follows Dinner with Buddha's spiritual road trip and completes the fourth and final book in the series. Its special flavor of spiritual and social examination will leave readers hungry for more, yet sated by considerations which pique the mind with new flavors of inspection and realization. The introductory paragraphs explore the fine art of letting go in 2022; from a long-held, beloved family house to a sense of power and control over self and world affairs alike. Buffeted by the winds of chance, the protagonist embarks on a journey filled with insights and explorations. As eccentric monk Volya Rinpoche and his brother-in-law Otto enter into new paths and conversations about spirituality, readers are invited into a milieu in which the narrator explores his expectations and underlying convictions about life. Inevitably, this leads a thinking reader to consider similar perspectives about life's meaning as the road trip results in confrontations with uncomfortable truths and new realizations about life.

Roland Merullo is especially adept at exploring the intersections between belief systems, contrasting Rinpoche's unshakable encounters with Christians and others, with the psyches of believers who act and react in different ways. The contrasts are often delightfully revealing and thought-provoking. Ideally, readers of Dessert with Buddha will already have a basic knowledge of Buddhism and a questioning mind. Those ready to embark on an armchair road trip with two characters whose journey and encounters offer enlightenment and revelations will find much food for thought here, which book clubs, in particular, can use in discussions of novels that incorporate powerful spiritual and growth components. Libraries and readers looking for a lively series of dialogues and encounters between belief systems and those holding them close will find Dessert with Buddha a deliciously attractive story.

Dreams of Arcadia
Brian Porter
Legacy Book Press LLC
9798986787480, $15.99

Readers who want to get closer to the psyche, history, and currents of the American family should take a hard look at the novel Dreams of Arcadia. It embraces these facets and more as it follows the life of city veterinarian Nate Holub, who moves to his dead father's Texas home town to become a rural vet and learn more about his father's life. What he uncovers both proves and tests his ability to adapt, adjust what he's been raised with, face a different truth, and reinforce his ties with both nature and family.

Nate's quest comes with a heavy price tag, but it also brings newfound revelations about his family ties and his own legacy as he uncovers local and family secrets and begins to understand the undercurrents influencing his own life choices. His encounters with locals, the dialogues between them, and Brian Porter's well spent time in building Texas culture and atmosphere brings readers right into this milieu, however foreign it might first seem. This is an achievement, considering that use of the third person tends to accompany an inherent observational distance that first-person descriptions cultivate, in contrast.

The novel's opening lines describe limited veterinary services and why Nate's pursuit will make him valuable to the community, while descriptions of the places he visits builds the all-important backdrops and people supporting his pursuits. Porter's descriptions connect a sense of place and purpose with bigger-picture reflections on Nate's role and efforts. This entwining of place, purpose, and discovery makes Dreams of Arcadia a compelling read. Readers walk alongside Nate in all of his efforts, understand their motivations and ramifications, and find these descriptions of secluded lives and worlds juxtaposes vet work. These are the experiences which make characters and readers feel "totally alive" as haunting truths emerge to inform Nate about deeper levels of living and thinking, which will often surprise his followers, as well.

Dreams of Arcadia's compelling portrait of lives in flux and tangible connections to the past bring this Texas world to life. Libraries and readers seeking fiction rooted in a sense of community and growth will find that Dreams of Arcadia examines and captures the values that bring families together, making difficult secrets and their logic and choices easier to understand and handle for present and future generations.

Growing Down
Michael J. Tuberdyke
Five Senses Publishing
9798218155278, $15.00

Growing Down is subtitled "A Comedy of Life." It lives up to its promise with a series of revelations about life as experienced by two male buddies who embark on a romp around town after attending their friend's wedding. The novella represents a study and contrast between maturity and immaturity as Sam and Kevin lose control, revisit the past, and reconsider present-day opportunities and losses shifted by the changing lives of their friends. Michael J. Tuberdyke perfectly captures the perceptions of those changed by the evolution of their peers while they remain in a milieu that is both familiar and stagnant.

There is an existential flavor to the ironic inspection and comedy that evolves as the two spend a day together and enter the evening both carousing and contemplating. The duo's explorations of new possibilities are equally fun and thought-provoking. What are individuals newly changed by another's wedding supposed to do in life when they "don't care about anything?" Michael J. Tuberdyke's succinct novella juxtaposes comedy with bigger-picture thinking in a manner that portends both fun and deeper life inspection. Libraries and readers looking for novels about aging and the revelations of life choices will find Sam and Kevin's explorations to be thought-provoking as they reflect on society and their place in it. It's a read that redefines 'comedy', contrasting it with a contemplative atmosphere that can only take place in the bars and kitchens of life.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Lockett and the Devil's Path
T.J. Johnston
Vivus Historical Press
9798218066765, $13.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

The Lockett Civil War series of novels continues to expand with the latest volume, Lockett and the Devil's Path, which moves through battles in Tennessee as it presents a historical reenactment of Civil War events. A historical background section at book's end (and a shorter introduction which places this volume in perspective) details the dramatic events and twists of the Tullahoma Campaign of 1863 in Tennessee. Captain Lockett is in charge of a ragtag band of men who face impossible challenges during the war. He commands an odd but effective group that has a reputation for a kind of diversity neither North nor South has seen in military companies. Intrigue, involvements between conscripted men and civilians of both sexes, and traps and treason affect these mercurial relationships as battles shift balances of power and impact lives.

Lockett walks a dangerous path with little chance of success, yet he refuses to give up. His perseverance creates both a legend and a conundrum as he sticks his neck out for others and defends those who seem undeniably guilty for their trespasses. From secret meetings with Confederate officers to facing the life and death moments of battle, Lockett's world comes alive ... as does Anna Tucker, who finds herself in the strange position of being a Confederate spy enamored with a Yankee soldier a year after she is saved from a Union trap by his efforts. T.J. Johnston builds his story on the firm foundations of historical fact, adding the emotional connections and relationships that give history a realistic, compelling flavor. These connections allow even non-historical fiction readers to access and enjoy the scenarios and conundrums that test men and women attempting to survive and engage with each other during Civil War times.

Clashes of belief and heart set the stage for another drama in which Anna, James, and others find their convictions and attractions tested. Libraries and readers seeking Civil War novels firmly rooted in history and spiced with vivid events will find Lockett and the Devil's Path both enhances the series as a whole and stands nicely alone for newcomers to Lockett's adventures.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

One More Seat at the Round Table
Susan Dormady Eisenberg
Atmosphere Press
9781639888023, $17.99

It's unusual to see a blend of Broadway music history and romance, but One More Seat at the Round Table offers both, icing its story with an attractive tone and drama that bring to life the creation of the stage production Camelot. One More Seat at the Round Table surveys the history of the American musical's development as it follows two characters whose growth and romance develop in conjunction with the advent of a special form of musical theater that cements their connections and advances their professional careers. Susan Dormady Eisenberg creates interplay between real-world facts and scenarios, from the streets of New York City to actors Julie Andrews and others, whose efforts contributed to the play's creation.

At the heart of these events are Jane and Bryce, who face their own separate challenges in overcoming expectation and precedent to make their marks on life in ways nobody before them has achieved. Eisenberg's dance between romance and full-flavored life challenge not only gives this story its realistic edge, but provides a satisfyingly complex evolutionary structure that departs from any notion of formula romance writing. This creates a saga that is as strong in its artistic, historical, and cultural influences as it is in the psychological developments that motivate and drive the main characters. Readers familiar with actor prompts, challenges in getting into character, and the special charge of bigger-picture thinking in translating script to stage will be especially delighted by the time Eisenberg takes to recreate the process of bringing a play to life.

Between its detailed pursuit of a production that will change the face of American stage and Jane's first-person revelations about her choices and what she stands to lose by making a name for herself, the story excels in both historical and psychological revelations: "I couldn't predict when I'd find the courage, but my darkest fear was that I'd already lost him. And if this was the case, I thought, trudging back up to stage left, I might never recover. Worst of all, I'd have no one to blame but myself." These concurrent struggles of the heart, art, and career make for a memorable, involving story that teaches much about stage efforts and living the show and life "moment by moment." Libraries and readers seeking a story that gives equal strength to performances that lead to growth and new realizations both on and off stage will welcome One More Seat at the Round Table, recognizing it as both a romance story and an exploration of the foundations and processes of a pivotal point in Broadway history.

Reluctant Hearts
Linda Griffin
Wild Rose Press
9781509248827, $16.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Reluctant Hearts is a romance story that arrives with the added twist of coming from not the usual singular perspective; nor even a couple's insights, but from four different viewpoints. Four couples represent different facets of love under challenging, seemingly impossible situations. Their disparities and attractions receive satisfying descriptions that contrast their lives and choices in a story that evolves to follow the growth of very different people. As the characters interact, so readers will find that "all the pieces fit together perfectly." This contrast in lives and hearts works because Linda Griffin takes the time to trace the fears, reluctance, and possibilities each person brings to the table of love.

From women's friendships that evolve against the backdrop of shifting lives and new connections to gender disparities revealed during realistic conversations, Griffin's attention to detail produces discussions that will lend to book club debates as well as individual enlightenment. Romance evolves in different ways under different circumstances and perceptions. Reluctant Hearts is as much a story of awakening and discovery as it is a psychological profile of very different people brought together by circumstance, chance, and their own visions of what love looks like. Romance readers receive deep psychological inspection, interludes of sexual exploration, and love stories that are thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Stranger on the Shore
William J. Borak
Atmosphere Press
9781639888177, $14.00

Stranger on the Shore opens on a twilight evening at the Jersey shore, Chris's favorite time of day. A year ago, he was reaching the pinnacle of his career at the same time as his love for Theresa was cresting. All vanished in the blink of an eye. Little does he know, now, that he stands at another crossroad - that of restarting his life anew. William J. Borak presents a series of entwining personalities and lives in a story that rises from the ashes of death and addiction to assume quite a different countenance than readers might expect from its opening lines. Indeed, the strength of this mystery lies in its evolving interactions between disparate lives and the forces that drive them in unexpected directions. This approach creates an entwined series of stories that flow between characters' lives like the threads of a Google search.

Chris's encounter with a mysterious woman (who leads him to another woman who not only looks a lot like Theresa, but apparently has many of her memories) evolves into his growing revelations about a dangerous threat that immerses Chris and fellow investigators in a deadly world where romance and destiny entwine. The mysterious Arielle introduces him not just to Theresa's look-alike, but to new realizations he never could have imagined. As he contemplates her influence and meaning, incorporating Marisa into his business world while pursuing her true identity, readers embark on a series of inquiries that delve into alternate realms of possibility as well as mystery.

William J. Borak creates a story that is not your usual mystery. It's more than a romance, too, and is more grounded in alternate and conflicting possibilities than the usual genre production. Libraries and readers looking for stories of love, growth, recovery, and discovery will find all these facets and more as Chris grows into his new life with more than one question about its people and purposes.

Summer of Angels
Jody Sharpe
Independently Published
9798987697108, $9.00 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Summer of Angels introduces a different twist on the usual murder mystery by placing the murderous event in the future and the problem-solver in the past. Gayle Force lives up to her name in more ways than one. She's a psychic meteorologist about to face a storm of a very different nature when she experiences a nighttime vision about the future and an old man's demise. Alex Knight also lives up to his name. As an intuitive attorney, he's also committed to helping others (sometimes in unusual ways). His flexibility of belief allows him to realize that Gayle's vision could represent an opportunity for them both to solve a problem that hasn't even occurred yet. But it will, without their involvement. Jody Sharpe builds tension in just the right way. Gayle's dream awakens her and injects purpose into her life as she realizes she has been uniquely tapped to both assist an old man and live up to the dream's opportunity for her to do good in the world. Her "slightly psychic" traits have afforded her enough flexibility in belief that she can recognize this opportunity for what it is, while her ability to follow "signs from heaven" leads her in the right direction.

These backgrounds and explanations lend a believable flavor to the unfolding story as Gayle and Alex step into their talents in a very different way. Sharpe's focus on developing tension within characters that embrace proactive new roles as they problem-solve outside their usual environments lends a delicate reality to the puzzles they encounter both within and outside themselves. Intrigue entwines with loves in perhaps predictable paths, but with enough twists and turns that even savvy mystery fans won't foresee some of these events until they unfold.

When her parents become involved and Gayle comes to realize that Alex may have been "sent from above," the plot thickens. So does the reader's interest, due to exquisite revelations that embed the mystery component with spiritual and psychological depth: "He was calling you in the dream, Gayle. But your angel was helping too. It was meant to be. It's really extraordinary. You have to do this work. You have a team now to help." Libraries and readers looking for mysteries that incorporate spiritual components and many surprises about past, present, and future life connections will find Summer of Angels attractive and thoroughly engrossing. Gayle's mission is a force to reckon with. So is Summer of Angels, which juxtaposes secrets with surprises about belief right up to its unexpected conclusion.

Judgment Day
Rob Jung
Hawk Hill Literary
9781736610831, $4.99 ebook/$15.99 Print

Judgment Day is not a novel about the end of the world, but the story of the end of one woman's world. Magnolia Kanaranzi has just been elected to the US Senate when a probe of her past reveals that she once conspired to murder her mother. Even her powerful lawyer seemingly admits defeat when he seeks to have her declared unfit to stand trial, much less serve her country. Forensic psychologist Bishop Pollock uncovers the truth - but instead of redeeming her and restoring her good name, it only mires her in further conundrums that force her to go into hiding to avoid prosecution and a mental institution. On the run, she is lured back by the prospect of reconciliation with her now-adult estranged son Hamilton Blethen, whom she abandoned when he was four years old.

Hamilton, too, is at a crossroads. His grandmother's murderer has been identified, and his estranged mother is back in his life. Sadly, they appear to be one and the same. Ham needs answers to his questions. Only his mother can provide them. He will have to confront her, and his past, to get them. Rob Jung creates a powerful interplay between issues of justice, family connections, and psychological undercurrents that shake not just a family, but the nation. One of the threads of the thriller (and key to understanding the deeper meaning of its title) is the forged art piece of Joan Miro's 'The Reaper.' From the mechanics of a prison system which threatens Magnolia's life to psychological session notes that illustrate the truth, Jung crafts a fine tension between legal and psychological issues. Who is really the victim and who is the villain, in such matters?

Judgment Day makes you think. Its deep inspections of motive and perception and its insights into the criminal law system's successes and failures creates a story that is especially highly recommended for thriller readers interested in justice, redemption, and political entanglements. Libraries and readers seeking solid tension development, good characterization, and twists and turns they won't see coming will find Judgment Day an astute examination of escape, liberation, and the inexorable cost of revealing the truth.

A.N.D.: Acute Nepali Disorder
Mike Beetlestone
Independently Published
9781739658915, $15.99 Hardcover/$10.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

A.N.D.: Acute Nepali Disorder provides another Ben Molina thriller, exploring Ben's shifting perception of his place in yet another world as new events test his mettle and approach to life. The challenge begins when an elegant Indian woman unexpectedly sits at his table in a near-empty restaurant and issues a challenge: "I will pay you one million euro if you can prove that my uncle murdered my father - the King of Nepal." No sooner is this offer extended than a spray of bullets causes everyone to dive for cover. When he emerges, his mysterious companion has vanished, leaving only her tantalizing offer in his thoughts and driving him to take on a case that is as elusive as its instigator.

India's culture and social stratas come to life as Ben hurdles down the streets of Mumbai, probes the slums of Kathmandu, and traverses the countryside in search of answers. Accompanying his journey is a mental process that draws readers on more than just an action-packed level as Ben moves from his initial freelance assignment to cover a terrorist attack in Mumbai to assume an active role influencing unfolding events. Unexpected enemies and allies coalesce with circumstances that drive Ben further into danger as interrogations, mercenaries, and kidnappings emerge. Mike Beetlestone develops an excellent interplay between action and psychological revelations.

At no time does the reader find their attention wandering as Ben moves from one confrontation to another, handling situations that demand he adjust his usual ways of viewing the world and interacting with others: "Maybe I haven't just saved her life, but I was here to protect her whether she liked it or not, even though she has been lying ever since we first met. I deserved some respect." As his curiosity leads him to the truth, Ben discovers that his journalistic skills have also involved him in a well-fabricated tissue of lies that unfolds to reveal surprising conclusions and connections based on historically accurate circumstances and Nepalese cultural inspections. The story is a work of fiction, but blends real events into the plot to gain a level of believability that reflects the country's poverty and struggles as well as Ben's emotional challenges in handling these issues. Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that go above and beyond action-packed will find the social, political, and psychological undercurrents supporting A.N.D.: Acute Nepali Disorder produce a thoroughly engrossing, reflective read.

The Beating Heart of a Mind
Bruce M. Perrin
Mind Sleuth Publications
B0BWWYFV8Y, $3.99 ebook

The Beating Heart of a Mind adds to the blossoming Mind Sleuth series with a vivid story of corporate pressures, marital discord, suicide, and a mystery. These lead P.I. Rebecca Marte on a complicated journey to uncover the motivations behind the bullying in the boardroom that ultimately leads to the company president's death.

Rebecca's new client (a friend of the dead man's wife, Nicole Veles) paints a vivid picture of the influences that led to the president's demise and the succession of his most virulent opponent. Once Rebecca accepts the job, however, she comes to perceive that her new client's psychological history may have contributed to the woman's suspicions more than the facts of the case. As Rebecca delves into a series of events that expose the underbelly of interpersonal and business relationships, she comes to believe that the truth lies hidden among the fabrications truly believed and those constructed solely to deceive. As with his previous mysteries, Bruce M. Perrin excels in an investigative profile that is as much a psychological analysis as a detective's deductions. The business components of decisions are nicely presented during the course of Rebecca's discoveries.

The story unfolds a sense of discovery and insights about business processes, interpersonal relationships, and professional and personal defamation, introducing moral and ethical conundrums on all sides. Tension is well-developed, whether it's psychological revelations that involve Rebecca more deeply in her client's life than she'd imagined, the wedge between client and investigator driven home by the victim's wife, or the probe of a business structure that supports dangerous undercurrents. The Beating Heart of a Mind is highly recommended for mystery libraries and readers, but its strength goes beyond the usual whodunit. Ideally, it will also be enjoyed by business readers and used as discussion material in book clubs devoted to novels of psychological, business, and social inspection, as well.

The Burden of Memory
Rick Christman
Atmosphere Press
9781639888139, $17.99

In The Burden of Memory, retired college professor Robert Russell is just looking for a peaceful place to pen his first novel. The Low Country of Beaufort, South Carolina seems the perfect place to settle into his inherent shyness and hermit tendencies (and into his final craft in life), but when he witnesses a brutal murder, everything shifts in an instant. As he finds himself living a drama that he never could have developed from fiction writing, Robert finds that his lifelong ambitions (which seem to always have been thwarted) come full circle into realization in not just unusual, but terrible ways. These circumstances thwart both his tendency towards isolation and his ennui in creating his masterpiece. The story that "could have happened to him but didn't" becomes one that is all too real and did.

As Robert navigates unfamiliar territory that tests both his ability to survive and his creative craft, readers become immersed in a murder scenario that forces a literary recluse to emerge from his chrysalis of self-imposed isolation. Rick Christman crafts a literary thriller that is powerfully rendered in both psychological and action arenas. He unfolds the revelations and discoveries that prompt growth in Robert, testing this Vietnam vet's already-vetted ability to survive under extraordinary conditions. As he falls into an unexpected romance as well as a struggle for literary achievement and survival, Russell probes the underworld of human trafficking and finds himself bending with the wind, both in his investigation and his own psyche: "Everything had changed now. The murder of the boy had opened him up, somehow, but he had no real idea why. He had seen plenty of boys killed. Well, now it seemed he had no discipline, no control. He just took what came his way." Readers receive not only a powerful story of intrigue, but an equally potent story about creating a novel and a new life. Russell's writing will just have to wait. Ironically, it's also rebuilding itself from the foundations of new experiences as Robert sets aside his lifelong ambition to pursue a very different course of action.

Between its touch of romance, the murder scenario, and newfound connections between past and present events and responses, The Burden of Memory proves a far more challenging, realistic, and thought-provoking read than the usual genre thriller. Its literary touches and insights into a would-be writer's psyche as he moves from isolation to immersion makes for a compelling tale filled with not just unusual twists and turns, but psychological depth and social insights. Is Robert a hero, an achiever, a survivor - or dangerously flawed? Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that operate on several levels of value will find The Burden of Memory a powerful story of one man's walk out of his world and into his purpose, promise, and alter ego.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Rhiannon's Circle
Emily Bex
Foundations Book Publishing
B0BTC99CQF, $2.99

Followers of occult fiction who look for stories steeped in paranormal romance and Wiccan power plays will find Rhiannon's Circle the perfect ticket for a moonless night of intriguing reading. A power play within the Bohannon family, which has long led a centuries-old witch's coven with its roots in Ireland, makes for a thoroughly engrossing story that evolves paranormal struggle themes to new levels. Eilish is supposed to lead the coven, but her murderous older sister has other ideas about her legacy. Middle sister Anya finds herself in the middle of a family power struggle set to not only tear them apart, but threaten the coven's rituals and rules. Vampire Ian Cross never thought he'd land in the middle of a witch's conflict, but he finds himself "walking into a minefield of unknowns" as he unwittingly makes choices that lead him into love and danger that hold equal opportunities.

As the characters engage with one another and consider their legacies, prejudices, and interactions with humans and extraordinary beings, Emily Bex brings to life this world and its ability to coexist with everyday humans over the centuries. Intrigue, traditions, and coven politics play out against the backdrop of an evolving romance that not only entertains readers, but leads them to think about family power plays and the special pressures of leadership and heritage. Rhiannon's Circle also grows a mystery which concludes in a satisfying manner for this book, but leaves the door more than ajar for the finale. Libraries and readers seeking occult fiction that excels in mystery, romance, and family struggle will welcome Rhiannon's Circle's powerful, compelling saga.

A Measure of Rhyme
Lloyd Jeffries
Buckminster Publishing
9798985526950, $20.99 Hardcover/$13.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Readers familiar with the first book in the Ages of Malice series, A Portion of Malice, may well recall the potent blend of thriller and fantasy that powered the story of a writer assigned to write a billionaire's biography, only to find that Thaddeus Drake is the leader of a secret society determined to bring on the apocalyptic end of mankind. It might seem unlikely that a suicidal writer would be the savior of the planet, much less in the position to play a major role in the timeless battle between good and evil, but Emery Merrick plays a part akin to no other as he confronts both inner and outer demons.

This measure of courage continues in A Measure of Rhyme, which will best be appreciated by those who found A Portion of Malice unforgettable, and who will find its sequel an equally powerful force of wonder. The prologue reintroduces Emery and presents the very different task he's assigned, but it also captures an underlying sense of wry observation humor that comes forth especially strongly in this book. As readers then receive a surprising truth about Emery's condition and foray into spiritual realms usually limited to angels and the dead, they move into a story replete with twists and turns that keep them guessing, wondering, and thoroughly engrossed. Some of this surprise factor lies in the continual challenges Lloyd Jeffries injects into any preconceived notions of Emery's ongoing journey.

The blend of spirituality, myth, and history both confronts and confounds any prejudices or inherent beliefs about these facets in a story that is especially adept at not just confronting illusions, but ripping them apart. Emery's ongoing journey is that of Everyman, reflecting humanity's relentless progression towards destruction, but also its hopeful possibilities of redemption that go hand-in-hand with salvation and damnation. Drake's ability to shut down the place and people involved in his deadly ritual is not quite complete. Remnants remain to evolve new possibilities, while Emery's self-destructive routes receive continual challenge from God, Cain, and others mirroring new beginnings that rise like phoenixes from the possibilities of endings and total destruction.

Lloyd Jeffries cements these journeys of God and man with dialogues and reflections that will serve book clubs and readers with thought-provoking opportunities for discussions of spiritual and psychological revelation. Power blossoms not just in Emery but in Cain, Igneus, Sebastian, and a host of other characters whose strengths, weaknesses, and observations contribute to a greater good and realizations that continue to rock the worlds of those who populate this novel and their readers. Chaos is both called for and realized, and denied, as events emerge with fiery repercussions to portend new directions as well as the inevitable results of humankind's social, political, and spiritual entanglements. The backlash is inevitable. It's also unexpected, diverging from anything readers could anticipate to forge new avenues of spiritual and historical inspection.

The gift of love and the notion that evil can be timeless make A Measure of Rhyme a thought-provoking blend of fantasy, thriller, and philosophical inspection well on the level of Dan Brown's spiritual bent, with a little Robert McCammon thrown in for good measure. Libraries and readers who relished A Portion of Malice will find A Measure of Rhyme equally powerful in its synthesis of fantasy, history, and religious inspection. It drops a bomb on any notion of predictability, leading into experiences and outcomes that wind up feeling almost inevitable despite their many surprises.

The Singing Shore III: Spirit and Flame
E.P. Clark
Helia Press
9781952723391, $25.00 Hardcover/$15.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

The epic fantasy trilogy The Singing Shore opens with a puzzle for newcomers: while Spirit and Flame is clearly the third book, it's also the seventh book in The Zemnian Series and the fifth in Dasha's Story. This translates to the fact that Spirit and Flame will best be enjoyed not just by prior readers of the series in general and this trilogy in particular, but by followers of epic fantasy who enjoy a wide array of characters and ongoing quests that keep their missions both lively and unpredictable. Dasha is heir to the throne on a mission of peace to the Rutsi, the warlike tribes of her kingdom. Her life is complicated by the promise of a magical power she has yet to command, Dasha is accompanied by escorts who struggle to keep her safe against the attention of a murderous magical wolf who covets her power to add to his own. The adventures haven't ended with Dasha's prior discovery of her abilities, but continue here as she wields them on behalf of her kingdom, which is falling increasingly into war.

The second book ended with a fleet of Rutsi intent on invading. This book picks up where that moment left off, continuing to follow Dasha as she comes into her power and makes decisions about how best to unite her divided world. A spirit cannot be separated from its body for long, or it will die. Dasha's rare gifts translate to uncommon and hard decisions as she faces special challenges both within and outside. As in the other books, E.P. Clark embeds the story with action and reflective moments, exploring the motivations and psyche of Dasha and those around her and adding components of intrigue and discovery. These power a hard-hitting quest that operates on different levels, from considerations of honor and pride to visions that introduce portents of danger and demand responses from Dasha that are well out of her comfort zone.

The strength lies not only in this book's expanded connections with its predecessors and the series as a whole, but in the psychological and magical conundrums faced by Dasha as she steps up and into her own abilities and the hard decisions they exact. Why are facets of her world alive and yet not alive? Dasha's pursuit of final answers in her journey provides just the right amount of intrigue, purpose, and uncertainty to attract fans of epic fantasy and magical transformations, romance and action; particularly prior readers and libraries that have seen patron interest in the other books.

The Theatre/Cinema Shelf

A Lie Called the Present
Jim van de Erve
Atmosphere Press
9781639887521, $17.99

The play in verse A Lie Called the Present revolves around a cast of elderly and middle-aged characters who represent a family in chaos. Each member is hiding some aspect of their lives and personas. As the story unfolds, these truths come to light in unexpected ways to test the family's past, present, and future connections. Jim van de Erve presents the drama with a military edge of reflection: "Who is a daughter but a spy/with a matron's cloak and assassin's dagger?/And who are parents but generals/raising their off to be divided/by the stars into their separate zealots." As intellectually reflective as its introduction demands, the heart of this story lies in relationships tested by time and the advancement of years as dementia and disparate special interests both challenge the family and threatens its foundations.

Intriguing connections are made via seemingly-ordinary conversations that ring with authenticity. The truths that are revealed within each family member's particular vision, limitation, and objective come to light as the play moves through time and experiences. The resulting tale of lives tested by aging, the betrayal of self and loved ones, and revelations made by a family already connected in unusual ways contributes to a play that ideally will be both read and considered for stage production. Libraries and readers seeking contemporary scenarios and literary dramas that employ poetic, psychological, and dramatic embellishments will welcome the hard-hitting issues and structure of A Lie Called the Present, which may also be chosen for drama classes as an example of modern issues brought to life using new literary approaches to broaden both its message and potential audience.

The Christian Studies Shelf

The Orthodox Martial Art is Living the Sermon on the Mount
CJS Hayward
CJS Hayward Publications
9798374612257, $19.99 Hardcover/$11.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

The Orthodox Martial Art is Living the Sermon on the Mount departs from CJS Hayward's other works, linking the Sermon on the Mount to Orthodoxy in a manner that promotes and links the Sermon to martial arts mastery. Hayward opens with many thought-provoking statements, not the least of which is a discourse on the belief that Christians need to be more cognizant of catch phrases and words that describe their mission.

His attack on the vague "lay down your life for your neighbor" and his consideration of the violence underlying this concept invites further discourse and reflection on the notion of Christians killing and fighting. As always, Hayward's ability to both analyze and pull no punches in analyzing the belief systems and underlying psychological and spirituality which are part of Orthodoxy comes to the forefront in discussions which are as passionate as they are studious.

From his analysis and consideration of "slippery words in Orthodoxy" to deeper reflections on the gifts of the Sermon on the Mount which appear in disparate ways ("It was by the Sermon on the Mount not following protocol that an Orthodox elder responded to a subordinate who had let loose a torrent of toxic words against him by giving him a small gift and saying, 'Always talk to me that way!'"),

CJS Hayward creates discussion points and insights that lend particularly well to debate in Orthodox circles. From what translates to successful and ultimate mastery to how intention and spiritual reflection are employed both internally and externally, Hayward creates discussions that are passionate, vivid, and filled with life. Given how martial arts is reflected in credentials, teachings, and instances in Hayward's life when he was granted extraordinary realizations and experiences that reinforced Orthodoxy beliefs and underlying messages, this book is a synthesis of his life work and revelations. It invites thinking Orthodoxy readers and Christians alike to reconsider some of the basic tenets of belief in a new way.

Libraries seeking a contemporary discourse on Orthodoxy's presence in and ongoing relevance to current daily living will find The Orthodox Martial Art is Living the Sermon on the Mount spirited, wide-ranging, and thought-provoking. It's essential reading for those who would link the underlying foundations of Orthodoxy to modern times.

The Self-Help Shelf

Who You Are Is How You Lead
Rachel L. Rider
Muse Literary
9781958714720, $24.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Who You Are Is How You Lead is for any leader who has felt exhausted by the effort, and who seeks insights on how to better guide others without impacting personal survival mechanisms or sacrificing personal life outside the company. As Rachel L. Rider says, this book is a tapestry of experiences reflected not just by the author, but those around her.

It echoes her years of working with executives frustrated by their successes as much as their failures and surveys the patterns of achievement that demand a more complex skill set from business leaders.

The premise of her guide is clearly stated from the start: "No one tells you that there is an unwritten part of your job description as a leader. At the highest levels of the organization, there is an implicit list of skills required to succeed, skills that you've likely spent little time developing. It was most likely your ability to execute that drove your progress and promotions until now." These undiscussed skills can lead to success conundrums that stymie leaders unless this book is employed as a guideline for identifying, understanding, and ultimately disrupting the patterns that can stymie upward-bound leaders in many different ways.

Examples abound, from survival mechanisms that translate to superpowers to handling company acquisitions challenges and considering the lessons of adaptation that lie in seeming untenable situations. All these issues are cemented by real-world experiences from Rider's life and those around her, bringing a grounded sense of life experience to the table that reflects not just one, but a range of business and personal adaptation processes.

Libraries and readers from business circles would seem the likely audience for Who You Are Is How You Lead, but ideally the concept of leadership patterns and lessons won't be limited to this audience alone. Many a collection and book reading group devoted to empowerment and pattern-breaking choices will find much fodder for discussion in this book's premises on how to "dream bigger" rather than just being known as an "anchor in the storm."

How to Love Yourself: In Less Than a Week & Also for the Rest of Your Life
Rachel Madorsky, LCSW
Muse Literary
9781958714119, $10.99 Hardcover/$4.86 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

How to Love Yourself: In Less Than a Week & Also for the Rest of Your Life provides readers with permission to love themselves more fully, which translates to a less judgmental attitude and more acceptance and love for others, in turn. Self-love does not usually come as an inherent part of nature, but is a practice that needs honing and exercise like any other routine. How to Love Yourself provides short, simple, but powerful admonitions designed to teach readers this process of greater self-love throughout the day.

These hard-hitting insights are useful whether contemplated individually to help drive the day's decisions and experiences, or utilized in a group setting either by book club discussions interested in self-improvement routines or in psychological circles: "In any given moment we can love ourselves more by reminding ourselves to let it be easy." As easy as it should be to self-love, many similar-sounding titles make such a production out of the effort that ordinary readers may be stymied by the process. How to Love Yourself creates quick, inspirational, digestible insights in how to incorporate these practices into daily routines and the busiest of lives. Its messages make How to Love Yourself a strong recommendation for any self-help, self-improvement, or group effort.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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phone: 1-608-835-7937

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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phone: 1-707-795-4629

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