Return to home
page Book Reviews, Book Lover Resources, Advice for Writers and Publishers
Home / California Bookwatch

California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 3 March 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Philosophy Shelf Relationship Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Christian Studies Shelf Biography Shelf
Poetry Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Bars for Days
Mic Nickels
Independently Published
9798756328882, $17.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle

Bars for Days could have been featured in our memoir section... but to limit its audience to the usual reader of autobiography would be to do it a disservice. The mercurial, interactive format offers many more opportunities for engagement, making Bars for Days a Reviewer's Choice that defies pat categorization and a recommendation that offers an unusual opportunity for social, familial, and interpersonal inspections. An associated album with a scanable code precedes Mic Nickels's story and emphasizes the fact that this book ideally won't be pursued in a singular media style. The music features songs by Nickels and is produced and augmented by various rappers and musicians, providing a full-bodied auditory experience to those who listen along with the story.

A friend of his actually sparked this creation: "I want to make an app where people can tell stories, make music playlists, and upload photos periodically throughout their lives. So, it's like a time capsule for their loved ones when they are gone. Not like regular social media, which is fleeting, or anything geared towards celebrities, just something for regular people to document their own stories. You know? I just think every single person has a story that's special..." Nickels notes that this piece was done not because he thinks he is particularly extraordinary; but because the effort to capture life's journey, unique to us all, is worthy of chronicling. Thus evolves a vivid chronicle of the hip hop world, a life that blossoms in the Information Age, the friends, music managers, and homies that interact with him, and the heart of his musical and family commitments.

Unlike many memoirs, dialogue and personalities are vividly captured, as well as the confrontations, raw emotions, and influences on changes that direct the author's upward momentum in the hip hop music milieu. As promised, not just the events of Nickels' life, but the momentum and atmosphere of the world he moves in provides a vibrant interactive experience; especially when backed by the music from the link he provided. His language and descriptions more than equal the power of his music: "From downbeat on, the entire band locked in and poured their hearts out, executing with the precision of a well-seasoned veteran ensemble. The reciprocal result was an abundance of love and electric energy in the room, as I convinced hip hop heads and jazz enthusiasts to wave their hands from side to side in synchrony. "This is hip hop one oh one!" I announced jokingly."

The result is very, very highly recommended. It will especially appeal to and surprise normally-reluctant younger generations who usually eschew the written word and descriptions any longer than a Tweet. Bars for Days stands out in a class of its own. Whether you peg it as a memoir, a musical expose, a social inspection, or a family saga, it resonates in mind and heart with refreshingly original, upbeat language that pulls no punches, and delivers quite a few. Readers from young adult to new adult and adult audiences will find it beautifully rendered and packed with passion.

The Philosophy Shelf

Sophie Thomas
DartFrog Books
4697 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
9781956019254, $15.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The concept of Fitlosophy evolved from the intersection of philosophy and despair and originated with the psychologist author's struggle with fitness and basic life questions. As she surveys her life challenges, drawing new connections between revised purposes and an overall philosophical inspection, she presents these lessons to readers. In essence, Fitlosophy is applied philosophy: "From the processing of how I felt by taking charge of my lifestyle and making small, beneficial differences to the way I live and how I wanted to improve myself, I saw a correlation with philosophy and the way many great thinkers, past and present, saw the need to cultivate one's own inner garden as a way to pursue a fortuitous, fruitful life."

Discourses link the basics of daily living to different philosophical inquiries to create a vivid set of connections readers can use to apply philosophical wisdom to everyday living. Different approaches to life intersect as Thomas links the basic premises of diverse philosopher minds to moral, ethical, social and psychological choices in viewing and living modern life. It's unusual to find a book that covers so many seemingly disparate subjects (mental health, physical fitness, and a range of philosophical thoughts). That Fitlosophy can do so adeptly and with a flair that will appeal to philosophy students, fitness and self-help readers, and anyone interested in inquiry conducted on a deeper level makes it highly recommended not just for a singular audience, but for a wider group of all ages. Basically, anyone interested in the pursuit of happiness and the moral and ethical quandaries that are often part of this effort. Library collections strong in self-help, philosophy, fitness, and mental improvement will find enthusiastic patrons for Fitlosophy.

The Relationship Shelf

Ghosted: Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences
Jana Eisenstein
Atmosphere Press
9781639881529, $17.99

Ghosted: Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences blends a memoir with a guidebook on dating and matters of the heart. It explores Jana Eisenstein's forays into meeting men and searching for a meaningful relationship in her thirties, adding references to ghosts and humor to create a story that is refreshingly, compellingly different from other dating books.

For example: the chapter headings pertain to dating experiences, from 'Equal Opportunity to Exploiter' to 'Hardball' and 'Wishful Thinking'. Any woman who has played the dating game with losers will readily relate to many of Eisenstein's objectives, perceptions, and experiences. Her sense of humor brings these stories to life with hard-hitting, succinct descriptions: "Dating is exhausting. I had just ended things with The Face Licker and was in desperate need of a vacation." Family and friends circle around, both supportive and curious about her trials. As her relationships unfold and often explode, readers will find her revelations familiar and thought-provoking as friends and family serve as sounding boards of experience and advice themselves. Is it possible to learn from dating mistakes made in one's twenties to find a lasting relationship in one's thirties? Readers also navigating the treacherous waters of dating will find much to laugh at, cry over, and understand in Ghosted: Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences. It takes a hard look at expectations, experiences, and the uncertain psychological impacts of dating men who may or may not prove a good fit.

Any library collection strong in women's issues or self-help, as well as those attracted to humorous memoirs, will find Ghosted: Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences a fun and thought-provoking read, all in one.

The General Fiction Shelf

Dying to Live
Barbara Reyelts
Atmosphere Press
9781639881598, $17.99

Imagine awakening to learn you're a baby after almost a century of life. Imagine starting all over...this time, with a timeline to beat for the survival of humanity. Imagine becoming the youngest scientist in history, tasked with using the skills of her past life to rescue the human race in the future. Readers who enjoy stories about reincarnation will find Dying to Live the powerful saga of a 92-year-old doctor, Nobel Laureate winner Dr. Esther Windom, who awakens, paralyzed, in a hospital. She hasn't had a stroke. She's died and been reborn with her skills and memories intact, albeit in an infant's body. And she faces another lifetime to tap these skills to find a cure that will change the world.

The story opens with Esther's awakening and slow realization that she's no longer in the assisted living facility, but is in quite a different situation. Many reincarnation stories cover the special challenges of restarting life. Barbara Reyelts adds an extra dimension of intrigue and medical thriller components to highlight the story of Esme Montgomery's quest to save the world. Further elements of intrigue appear, from the FBI's involvement in a case involving missing children to addressing a viral outbreak in Africa and its connections to political power struggles for control. The addition of these pressures and influences heightens the tension in a satisfying manner, making Dying to Live a special attraction for medical thriller readers, who receive quite a different premise and progression than the normal reincarnation story.

Charged with research to cure and change the abilities of humanity and a wedding which introduces conflict between her personal and professional priorities, Esme's story is firmly rooted in personal lives, military and political special interests, and medical conundrums. All this challenge her to think outside the box of both her present-day and past life experiences. Dying to Live is satisfyingly different from the usual reincarnation or medical thriller saga, incorporating elements of both in a manner that keeps the story unpredictable, engrossing, and vivid, on many different levels.

Centurion Witness
Ed Mitchell
California Coast Publishing
B09MR1H76S, $4.99 ebook

Centurion Witness: A Tale of Resurrection and Redemption represents Christian Biblical fiction at its best. Think the action of Ben Hur, combined with the political quandaries of a centurion in ancient Rome who finds himself caught between his duty to protect Rome's governor in Judea and the forces that want to kill Jesus of Galilee and quash his followers. Ed Mitchell's background producing thriller stories is evident in how he captures the drama and conflicts of the times. He presents social and political observations through the eyes of a seasoned centurion army officer whose charge to serve as a bodyguard brings him into direct conflict with forces on both sides. Battle-worn and weighed down by poor decisions of the past, Centurion Calix decides to make better choices: "Better to die doing the right thing than live with what I did in the desert." Unfortunately, these choices come with a price.

Under Mitchell's hand (and from the viewpoint of the centurion), the atmosphere and politics of the time of Jesus come to life. From bathhouses and bribes to Jewish law, questions of crime and punishment, simmering calls to war, and how Jesus's message reaches beyond the Jewish community, Mitchell provides a thought-provoking story that captures the appeal of this new message. The story will resonate nicely with Christian readers and secular audiences alike as it reviews the principles, history, and spiritual forces of the times.

Perhaps more so than most novels about Jesus, the thriller elements drive a divided community and the centurion's conflicted heart to bring an element of action and philosophical and social inspection into what is ordinarily a spiritual story, with a history that brings the times to life. The result is a study in miracles, forgiveness, enlightenment, and transformation that grips with strong psychological inspections and characters whose dilemmas will resonate with modern-day readers. Centurion Witness belongs in any library collection strong in Jewish literature, historical fiction, and Biblical narratives. Its powerful insights into forgiveness and personal choice also provide rich fodder for book club discussion.

New Beginnings
Deborah King
Liberation Publishing
9781733588850, $10.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

"Anyone can have a change of heart or a new dream, can't they?" New Beginnings is the first romance story in the Inspiration In Misty Valley series and introduces Sophie Tucker, an aspiring chef in Colorado who lives on a family homestead that's under new ownership - by her best friend.

The fictional town of Misty Valley on the shore of Mika Lake in the Colorado Rockies serves as the setting to a moving story of Wapiti Ranch and altered visions of success. Sophie is on the cusp of blending her passion for cooking with a proposal that will extend these talents into new areas when she meets a potential romantic partner and confronts the truth about a heritage she once thought rock-solid. The theme of new beginnings resonates throughout this story as Sophie begins to understand the kinds of changes that translate to life-altering situations against all odds. Deborah King creates a feisty, extroverted character centered on her abilities, the foundations of her family and past, and future opportunities. She follows the unexpected trajectory of a woman who initially holds "no desire to uproot my life," only to find it uprooted despite her best efforts.

The ongoing culinary descriptions will delight readers who like to cook (or eat), whether it's a secret broth for elk stew or chocolate-covered cherries. The backdrop of the Colorado Mountains is injected into the story to provide a winning, compellingly snowy atmosphere as Sophie re-examines her goals, her heart, and her expectations of life and her abilities and heritage. Especially compelling are the love scenes in which Sophie follows her heart and rediscovers her connections to her ancestors. The steamy romance blends nicely with her revelations, capturing and providing unexpected moments of revelation to readers already enchanted by Sophie's humor, determination, and world. New Beginnings is a sweet romance story that's highly recommended for women who like strong female first-person tales of discovery that go beyond falling in love to enter into the realms of finding new purpose in career and life trajectories.

What Feeds the Heart
Daryl Glinn-Tanner
Atmosphere Press
9781639880997, $18.99

What Feeds the Heart opens predawn, when an emergency call leads Jean Marie Stark to her mother's deathbed after another suicide attempt. Constant adrenaline rushes have been part of her life since childhood. As Jean Marie falls into recollecting that childhood and her experiences as a neglected child in a hippie commune, readers receive a journey of contrasts between a young girl's struggles to grow up in a chaotic environment without rules and an adult daughter's efforts to reconcile love with her mother's choices and impact. Daryl Glinn-Tanner crafts a story vivid in imagery, recollection, and the intersection of past and present lives: "Viktor screams up the canyon, "I'll hurt you for making a fool of me." I twitch. I stay put until the sunset casts gold on Camelback Mountain. Thunderheads gather. The lack of sun turns the day dim. The clouds, The Artist paints with effortless mastery, wild abandon - colors speak of love: peach, lavender, freedom. Viktor yells far away in the canyon of my mind. "I'll find you. Don't worry. I'll find you." The answers to recovery from her heart lie in Jean Marie's body and mind as she reconsiders these early traumas, the clan's processes, and the lessons absorbed from those around her and how they treat her.

Bodhi, from an East Indian Ashram in La Crescenta, offers her a different perspective. As she finds a way of absorbing and reconciling the past to speak her truth and change her future, readers embark on a journey steeped in emotional revelations and growth. More than the usual coming-of-age scenario, What Feeds the Heart documents the trials and struggles of surviving an environment where a parent is not just a leader, but a follower struggling with their own questions about life and their role in the world. Daryl Glinn-Tanner captures this world in a story packed with realistic encounters of living in a hippie household. Part of the reason she's able to bring this milieu to life so vibrantly is that it's loosely based on her own experience growing up in such an environment. The realistic portrait of the different kinds of struggles this poses to a child come to life in a story that will appeal to a wide audience; especially parents interested in both coming of age sagas and stories of how adults reconcile their parents' choices with their own life values and experiences.

The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories
Charles Levin
Munn Avenue Press
9781735210872, $9.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories crosses genres to provide mysteries, suspense stories, and nonfiction essays that each reveal entertaining, thought-provoking characters and inspections. These are especially attractive recommendations for those short of attention or time, who appreciate works that contain depth, packed into a short piece. Many of these works have appeared on Charles Levin's blog, with "The Last Appointment" being the one new, unpublished piece that adds something satisfyingly different to the mix. The title piece centers on a writer who discovers that her works have the power to predict the future. Susan Lark thinks that she may be losing her mind over patient and writer Angela Auger. As soon as Angela enters her practice, Susan loses her dispassionate therapist persona and becomes aware that Angela is posing not just a different problem than schizoaffective disorder, but that her writings may be creating, rather than predicting, the future.

In contrast, "Heaven+" will especially appeal to those familiar with Roku and streaming devices, who will readily relate to the dilemma of a user faced with a new choice that can change his world. Supplementing these fictional inquiries into changing lives is the section of essays which includes "Do-It-Yourself Gene Hacking - Good, Bad, Ugly, and Scary", which reviews and considers the question of genetic manipulation that may be accessible by ordinary people: "The problem with DIY gene hacking, like recent advances in artificial intelligence, is that the developments and abuses are coming much faster than our ability to cope with the changes or threats they present."

Each story and essay offers astute, compelling scenarios that ultimately question the possibilities and potentials of choices and their consequences. Insights into Levin's thriller writing will especially delight prior readers with pieces such as "What's in a Name?," which considers the author's fascination with name choices and their underlying impact. The result is a literary blend of fiction and nonfiction highly recommended not just for prior fans of Charles Levin's works, but for newcomers, who will find each discussion thought-provoking and easy to digest. Library collections strong in diverse literary inspections will find The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories a fine selection.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

The People Eaters
Neil Bockoven
Rare Bird Books
9781644282243, $26.00

When Neil Bockoven opened his Ice Age series with Moctu and the Mammoth People, it presented a vivid story of ancient times that captured the psychology, sociology, and dilemmas of people who came alive under his pen. That story, set in Paleolithic Italy 45,000 years ago, excelled and had a realistic feel as it followed Cro-Magnon boy Moctu's coming of age and his tribe's confrontation with the "Pale Ones," cannibalistic Neanderthals known as The People Eaters who take center stage in this follow-up. Readers who enjoyed Moctu's saga will find The People Eaters just as vigorous and engrossing as its predecessor as it more closely examines the confrontation and intersection of four different tribes, including Neanderthals who are uniformly perceived as dangerous enemies, but who also hold their differences, as Moctu discovers in this story.

The first note about The People Eaters is that much of this early history is based on scientific findings and theories, which lends an authoritative backdrop to the fictional spin on Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon encounters and the cannibalistic label attached to Neanderthals. Moctu's unexpected close proximity to them after his capture by the Pale Ones allows him to realize that there are differences between Neanderthal tribes and peoples. This opens the door for not only his better understanding of these differences, but creates a dilemma when he leaves them to return to his own tribe; there to face a tribal leader who has a vested interest in portraying all Pale Ones as dangerous adversaries to cement his own cruel leadership of Moctu's tribe. Science often operates at a fast pace, and thus the science that underpinned Moctu and the Mammoth People both changed and contributed to the differences explored in this latest story.

From revised perceptions of friends, enemies, and inherent differences between Ice Age peoples to Moctu's unique dilemmas in an awkward position standing between Pale One friends and enemies, Bockoven crafts an outstanding "you are here" feel to his story that relies on both scientific facts and fictional high drama to bring Moctu's world and people to life. Bockoven's two books are every bit as involving and educational as Jean Auel's celebrated Cave of the Clan Bear series, and deserves the same degree of acclaim and recognition for their blend of science-based insights and strong characterization and drama. These elements keep Moctu's people and world both realistic and powerfully involving in a book especially recommended for prior Moctu readers and for anyone who enjoys stories of early human history and tribal struggle.

Sunflowers Beneath the Snow
Teri M. Brown
Atmosphere Press
9781639881420, $18.99

Decisions hold consequences beyond those who make them, sometimes resonating through generations. That's one of the messages in Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, a historical novel which follows the interconnected lives of three generations of women changed by Ukraine's downfall under the Soviets and an act of betrayal. Simple people can be transformed by political strife and events that reach into their homes and lives: "How had he gone from a simple man - Lyaksandro Hadeon Rosomakha - a university employee, a son, a father, and a husband - to a man facing a decision at the end of a gun? What had pulled him into a life littered with secret meetings, men with no names, and information passed in the hours between darkness and dawn?"

What is worth living and dying for when everything changes and personal survival takes precedence over moral and ethical foundations? Ukrainian rebel Lyaksandro's choice resonates through the psyches of Ivanna, Ionna, and Yevtsye. Vivid passages capture these characters and the conundrums they face as political influence and rebellion change their lives and loves forever: "He regarded his hands, realizing they were capable of both stroking his wife's cheek and effectively signing her death certificate." While readers receive a good deal of history about the Soviet takeover of Ukraine and events that happen afterwards, there is no need for prior familiarity with any of these events.

Teri M. Brown crafts a story that operates on emotional levels. It uses history and politics as a backdrop for closely considering love, hate, betrayal, and redemption. This allows the story to be solidly cemented in interpersonal relationships and the concurrent choices of three women affected by circumstance, those around them, and their own hearts. As Yevt summons the courage to share family secrets with her prodigy, who will carry their consequences to future generations, readers receive a powerful story that excels in its examination of the long-term, wide-ranging effects of these choices. The result is a compelling novel of different generations changed by events both within and beyond their control.

Sunflowers Beneath the Snow represents an intersection of facts and fiction that proved challenging for Brown to capture ("Sunflowers Beneath the Snow...did not start with a spark, but rather a red-hot took me three years to figure out how to stay true to her experiences, while at the same time, staying true to the craft of fiction writing. Although names have been changed and circumstances are of my own creation, the basic premise of the story is true. This is, without a doubt, a case where truth is far more powerful than fiction.")

Readers will depart with both a thoroughly absorbing read that teaches them about Ukraine at a key, pivotal point in its history just when people best need to understand these past events in order to absorb the present-day challenges that nation faces. Historical fiction collections will find Sunflowers Beneath the Snow an enlightening, compelling read.

Tholocco's Wake
W.W. Van Overbeke
Atmosphere Press
9781639882113, $18.99

It's unusual to see either a historical novel or a love story that opens with the reflection that "I should have divorced that son of a bitch years ago!" Book one of the historical novel Legacy series, Tholocco's Wake, is a love story set in World War II. It tells of small town student Emma Dickinson's dreams of becoming a physician and the wife of handsome quarterback star Patrick McCarthy. Until Pearl Harbor, love and career were on the horizon, her life course seemingly set to realize her dreams. After that event, everything changes. Fast forward to 1968, where Emma's life still isn't what she'd planned. Emma has been separated from Patrick for fifteen years, now. Somehow, she hasn't the heart to finalize their divorce, despite her traumas and the trails of angst, injury, and separation.

Twenty-eight years later, he's still an integral part of her life...which is set to change radically yet again. W.W. Van Overbeke presents a compelling story partially based on the realities of both war and peace and their impact on marriage and a long-term couple's lives. The events of the 1960s come to life from a personal perspective as Emma faces a shooting and trips down memory lane which juxtapose past and present emotions. As Emma journeys towards her stricken husband in both past and present worlds, she reassesses her connection to Patrick, his meaning in and influence on her life, and the events which have brought them both to this juncture.

The emotion- and experience-driven contrast between World War II and the 1960s, the choices and consequences which affected the family, and the insights about good and bad times during war and peace alike create comparisons which are involving as well as educational and often surprisingly revealing. The result is a romance couched in a social history of the U.S. that draws readers with a family's experiences and keeps alive these connections between personal lives and political encounters. Historical novel, romance, and psychological fiction readers alike will find Tholocco's Wake inviting, illuminating, and intriguing, all in one.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Dancing Plague
Jeremy Bates
Ghillinnein Books
B0977TB5QW, $4.99

The fifth book in the World's Scariest Legends series, The Dancing Plague, opens with narrator Ben Graves, who was twelve years old in 1988 when the Dancing Plague came to his town to change life forever. The introduction acknowledges that some would deem the story that follows a form of fiction. But, the narrator contends that his memories are factual. As the horror story unfolds, readers receive a tale where the plague is not the end experience, but only the beginning of a strange new threat that young Ben and his friends must navigate if they are to reach adulthood. A stranger who visits the small Cape Cod town is found violently murdered, closely followed by the plague that quickly takes over. Are the two events connected?

Much in the manner of a good Stephen King story, this tale moves from childhood play to trappings of horror that involve the entire town, from young adults to adults, in a series of threats. These include a gypsy woman, curses, violence, and surreal encounters from over thirty years ago that still hold impact today. As the story moves from childhood to the present and back again, the narrator reflects on the events that changed all their lives with outbreaks of Dancing Plague that break out throughout the world, over the course of human history. Can a gypsy's hypnotic power have something to do with the compulsion to dance until the dancer drops dead? What would be the motivation for imparting such a curse?

As events unfold and revelations are investigated, readers receive an engrossing supernatural horror tale that builds its tension from the changing viewpoint and memory of a young and adult narrator, who traces the plague's history and investigates the truth about its appearances. As much as the narrator determines to exact revenge based on this new knowledge, he also realizes that it's more that likely his ambition will be thwarted. Readers will enjoy the tension that moves from childhood to adult years, and the mystery that follows the human race as the characters face impossible circumstances that test their mettle and beliefs. Jeremy Bates crafts a story that incorporates many twists and turns to keep readers guessing and engaged. Those who enjoy Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other masters of supernatural suspense will relish The Dancing Plague's ability to move through time, relationships, and intrigue to question the roots of mass hysteria and paranormal experiences.

King Harvest
Melvin Litton
Gordian Knot Books
9781637898758, $22.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

King Harvest is the first book in the Kansas Murder Trilogy, and opens the can of worms with a group of young men who, in 1975, decide to make their money harvesting wild hemp on the Kansas plains. The blend of 'wild West' feel to the story (which bodes the clash of rival gangs) and the mystery which evolves when murder rears its head makes for a vivid account that will appeal on different levels to attract readers with a saga that revolves around cat-and-mouse games and hemp. During the struggle to be on top, some characters contemplate making a devil's bargain. Others embark on a firefight that embraces not only controversy and mystery, but the possibility of a changed relationship brought about by a haunting the entire family witnesses, which looms more and more as the controversies in Lee and Diana's marriage unfold. From songwriting to staking claims in different ways, King Harvest juxtaposes a number of themes, escapades, and encounters as the murder investigation and marijuana harvest evolve.

One especially notable feature to this multifaceted story is its shift through different motivations, lives, and reflections about life. These are delivered through straightforward, thought-provoking observations: "What does a man want in his final breath? One more chance at having all again? CC held up his empty hands and chuckled at the thought of all the money and pussy they'd grasped. He lit a fresh cigar and poured a glass of bourbon, sipping slow, by now relaxed, at ease. Yessir, and meaning, he supposed... a man wants meaning." The added dimension of candid self-inspection and the clash of individual and group motivations and events make for a spirited romp through the West, psychological changes and challenges, and groups that hold disparate insights and perspectives on leading contemplative and successful lives. Readers interested in a Western-style atmosphere of confrontation and change that blends nicely with a mystery will find King Harvest packed with intrigue and interest. Library collections strong in mystery and social issues will find that this multifaceted story of faith, love, and growth offers a something for everyone.

Throw Me to the Wolves
Lindy Ryan & Christopher Brooks
Black Spot Books
9781645481171, $17.95

Throw Me to the Wolves combines supernatural intrigue with a murder mystery to capture reader attention from the start: "If I blinked I might tear out his throat.... "I am glad that the witch is dead," I told him, without letting the smile part my lips, "but I did not kill her." The suspect is immortal, with all the time in the world. But that doesn't mean that this time should be spent behind bars: "...what fun would immortality be if I had to waste it caged up in shitty interrogation rooms like this? Things that go bump in the night have little use for the niceties of the living."

Britta Orchid is a werewolf with a new mission in the world. Prompted by Officer Aaron Labaye to help solve a cold case, Britta must search through her own family history, digging into its dark secrets in an effort to defy pack mentality and solve not one, but a series of murders that have their roots in one night's terrible events. Can she find redemption for herself and her family? Readers are drawn into a mystery that operates on two levels: as a supernatural story, and as a tale of intrigue that draws together disparate worlds and personalities. As Britta searches through spells, new opportunities, and threats from the past, she finds that the most difficult one to replicate is that which brings love.

Readers will find that the blend of psychological tension, investigative drama, and supernatural clashes does a fine job of moving between each layer of influence to build an unpredictable story. Neither fish nor fowl, Throw Me to the Wolves operates on different levels to provide mystery and thriller and supernatural story fans alike in a powerfully immersive tale that will keep them on their toes as they follow Britta, Selena, and other interconnected lives. The descriptions are especially well done ("I chomped down on my temper, but Labaye, he dove at her leg, knocking the bucket away.") and capture both high-octane action and battles between disparate special interests, injecting a light dose of wry ironic humor into the mix. The result is a vivid story that defies easy categorization, but is highly recommended reading for thriller, mystery, and supernatural story audiences alike.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Balance of Fortune
Mel Lee Newmin
Out of This World
c/o Devil's Party Press
9781957224015, $16.99

In Balance of Fortune, three worlds stand on the brink of war. The story opens with a dispatch (dated 2521) which outlines the destruction of the ship Devil's Festival in a terse memo informing Nick Severin that war may be imminent.

Nick is in a special position. He's one of the few humans who can read Gunera, so is in a position to receive communiques not normally meant for human eyes. This means that he's the first to know they have lost a ship...and the first to understand what this implies for the future. Mel Lee Newmin creates a vivid story of a man who is elevated to a position he is actually ill-equipped to handle, on some levels. The descriptions of Nick's emotional entanglements and how he chooses to address them lend psychological depth to the story which is unexpected in what seems to begin as a tale of military engagements between humans and aliens. From implants which both give him an edge and guarantee disaster and discovery to his resistance of the torture process that is the Gunera's specialty as they try to force him to sign a document, readers navigate the worlds of aliens and humans that are on the cusp of change, solely depending upon one man's abilities and choices. There's a fortune to be made in farming human slaves.

As Nick navigates the dangers of his new position, readers receive the full flavor of an alien society which holds different visions for the future of humanity. Newmin includes many special words for alien names and species (eh'Nicodemus, vuh', gy'Gravinda). These serve to emphasize the odd relationships and characters that revolve around Nick as spies and plots come to life. The story operates on several levels: as an action-packed saga of clashing cultures; as the story of one powerful individual's key role in preventing interplanetary disaster; and as a compelling tale of alien and human relationships that presents many satisfying, surprising twists and turns. It can take a while to absorb all these complex details, but the result is a potent story of survival and cat-and-mouse games between humans and aliens which will keep even savvy, avid sci-fi readers guessing to the end. Any library collection strong in sci-fi military works will find Balance of Fortune a gripping, well-balanced read.

City of Locked Doors
Keegan and Tristen Kozinski
Crooked House Publishing
B075329HZ8, $3.99 ebook

Readers of dark fantasy will find City of Locked Doors adds horror into its mix as it surveys a world that exists four hundred years after a plague has altered man and beast alike. As mankind fell, so arose in its place the Tyrants who ruled over the last vestiges of humanity. They are both a terror and a blessing, restoring some semblance of order to a world buffeted by chaos. The city Umbras, the domain of Lock-And-Key, represents a model of survival: its residents are locked down at night, but are otherwise relatively free to pursue their lives. It's inevitable that this fragile order will crumble, and in City of Locked Doors the adversity comes from two places: one who aspires to rule the world, and a stranger from outside the city's walls who seeks revenge for his brother's murder. These two forces introduce new terror and disruption into a world already made fragile by its organization and past.

The Kozinskis do a fine job of creating a dark atmosphere and solid sense of place as the story evolves: "He paused on its perimeter, observing the space before venturing forward. The skyscrapers here all appeared new, the locks untwisted, the walls and doors bereft of dent or scar. Even the surroundings lacked their usual displays of life either in refuse, decorations, or cadavers. Yet it was a sham, a gaudy repair attempt that itched at Noir like the wrong-colored patch on a dress. To everyone else, however, it would appear as an untouched and uninhabited portion of Umbras." The realities that lie under the thin veneer of hope and order, and the disparate challenges faced by all as this structure crumbles, makes for a vivid inspection of the social and psychological choices that motivate all characters to step outside their comfort zones. As Lieutenant Noir becomes involved in a war against Grim, who is labeled a traitor for his actions, the gray line between right and wrong begins to blur. Readers are treated to a story that delves into these choices and their consequences as Noir, Adrian, and others are buffeted by forces beyond their understanding (or, ultimately, their control).

As uncertain friendships and new alliances emerge, readers are led on a journey that gives thought-provoking insights into a world which "...gets stranger the farther from civilization you get." The very definition of that civilization is examined as the story unfolds and the tenuous connections between characters come to light. Tension is well developed, twists and turns of plot and character connections keep readers on their toes, and the fine line between living and dead is crossed as Noir and Adrian face impossible decisions holding unpredictable outcomes. The result is a dark fantasy that both entertains and offers much food for thought on psychological, social, and political levels. Readers who like their stories steeped in a different form of post-apocalyptic flavor will find City of Locked Doors nicely developed in this compelling blend of horror, fantasy, and survival story.

Dragon Emperor
Dawn Ross
Independently Published
9798709702233, $12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Book 2 of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles, Dragon Emperor, provides readers of space opera and fantasy with a sequel that also serves as a stand-alone read for newcomers who like plenty of battle action and adventure. Its 23 days into year 3791. Jori Mizuki is a soldier who employs high technology in battles against enemy soldiers. Jori is ten years old. He's learning new skills as he embarks on virtual warfare routines that train him for real world confrontations.

As he faces blackmail, threats, challenges to loyalty and trust, and changing family connections, Jori risks his family's life by involving them in his growing dilemmas. The Dragon Emperor is a leader in battles. His son Jori may prove even greater. But what commitment is stronger: moral values or familial duty and loyalty? Dawn Ross creates a thoroughly engrossing story based on family interactions, legacies, and intergenerational conflicts that operate on both personal and political levels. While familiarity with Starfire Dragons will offer a foundation for readily understanding the universe in which Jori comes of age, newcomers will find Dragon Emperor thoroughly accessible.

It should be cautioned that Dragon Emperor, while compelling, is also complex. There are many characters and settings (explained in a glossary at the book's end), and the ordeals of the emperor's son and the uncertainty surrounding his ability to lead and survive creates a multifaceted, powerful saga. There will be a follow-up to Dragon Emperor, as well, as some conflicts resolve but the ultimate fate of the main character is left in limbo. Readers who enjoy space operas that focus on more than battle engagements, probing the foundations of loyalty, commitment, and coming of age as the son of a conqueror, will find Dragon Emperor thoroughly involving and hard to put down.

Mars Adrift
Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays
Pumpjack Press
9781734519761, $15.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

If there's one thing that can be said about the third book in the Halo trilogy (and the trio as a whole), it's that the story crosses genres in a manner designed to satisfy both sci-fi readers and those who look for hard-boiled detective investigations. While this designation may challenge libraries looking for pat categorizes to shelve books by subject, it also holds the benefit of reaching a wider audience than a more singular approach could have done. Mars Adrift concludes the trilogy, adding extra dimensions of thought-provoking insights into the politics and trials of life in 2188, when the AI that directs and controls both Earth and Mars is knocked offline by meteors. This seemingly random event turns out to be an insidious portent of trouble as Crucial Larsen becomes involved in locating a missing scientist and ex-lover who holds the key to returning Halo to functionality against all odds.

Crucial's first-person observations about events, and his emotional responses at being drawn back to an environment he actually dislikes, drive a story which is thoroughly engrossing. As history begins to repeat itself to offer new challenges, readers receive many social, psychological, and political insights that continue to expand the Halo environment and challenge its major players. These elements, in conjunction with a developing mystery that injects a detective's probe into the issues of a colony trying to survive, create a powerful a sci-fi story that is a fitting conclusion to the Halo stories that began with The Gates of Mars. Prior fans will find the unpredictable action and interrelated destinies of two worlds, spiced by a "whodunit and why?" story that spins many satisfying twists, make Mars Adrift a powerful conclusion, worthy of addition to any library's sci-fi or detective story collection.

Greg Rode
Warren Publishing
9781954614376, $14.95

As One opens, the first-person narrator is ready and waiting on his porch, whiskey in hand. For what? This becomes evident as the story unfolds to embrace zombies, a world brought to its knees by an apocalyptic event, and a road trip through hell during winter. The search for sanctuary brings three characters to New York City, where vestiges of horror remain alive (or dead) and well. Greg Rode cultivates a gritty form of inspection in this story that is delightfully refreshing in comparison to other zombie novels. The protagonist's observations and choices are often surprising: "I struggle some with the idea that I have contributed to the death of one of the few remaining humans, but it isn't like there had been any ambiguity about Jack's character - he was a conniving, selfish asshole." As trappings of normalcy emerge from "...the deep quiet of a world that has been shushed," readers receive a contemplative dystopian piece that blends action with a wry overlay of humor and social inspection. Rode provides a delightful story that operates on several levels, juxtaposing a survival story with one that inspects ghosts, memories, and struggles to reclaim an ordinary life.

Perhaps at no other time in history would Rode's words resonate so strongly as in these COVID years: "Over the course of my entire life, I've reached into the past for comfort during difficult times, and more often than not, I've found myself here in my mind, touching these pieces of my history. Now there is little solace to be found as the poison of the present takes charge." Fans of zombie stories, dystopian survival pieces, and literature astute in psychological inspections will relish One's powerful messages, and how they are framed by wry irony and social inspections.

The Christian Studies Shelf

Happiness in an Age of Crisis
CJS Hayward
CJS Hayward Publications
9798502272698, $19.99 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Happiness in an Age of Crisis: Ancient Wisdom from the Eastern Orthodox Church joins others in the Orthodox 'Best Works' series to provide theology readers with keys to better living in modern times. It is particularly accessible and applicable to the rigors of these COVID years. Happiness in an Age of Crisis opens with a series of life admonitions, old and new, that conclude that "Our social program is the Trinity. The Orthodox martial art is living the Sermon on the Mount." Then it reviews some core principles of Scripture, drawing important connections between Orthodox thinkers and the interpretations of God's word that lead to better living choices.

CJS Hayward's enlightening inspections address everything from worry ("...Do not worry for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!") to finding joy during hard times (this quote is from the Classic Orthodox Bible). Happiness in an Age of Crisis, as his other books, reflects Hayward's trademark lucid and profound depth. Insights from the lives and choices of St.Philaret and others, examples from the Sermon on the Mount and other spiritual guidelines, and Christian reflections that encourage self-help and understanding all lend to insights and uplifting reflections that spiritual thinkers need to reflect upon.

Among the potentially large readership likely to find Happiness in an Age of Crisis an attraction, there are three major audiences for this work. First (and primary) is Eastern Orthodox in particular; the second is Christians as a whole, and third is non-Christian spirituality readers interested in what the Eastern Orthodox Church has to offer, including many types of the "not religious but spiritual" camps. It's intended to be lucid to inquirers and people interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and those wishing to better understand it, but all the more from someone who understands the tradition deeply and well.

Suitable for theology discussion groups as well as individual contemplation, Happiness in an Age of Crisis applies many principles of Christian thinking to modern controversies in a manner readily accessible to lay readers as well as scholarly audiences involved in Bible or Orthodox study. Its words of wisdom and insight on how to handle crisis and find happiness in every circumstance of life offers important contemporary reflections that should be a part of any thinking Christian reader's collection. Its deep knowledge of a topic many people are very interested in makes it accessible to both a specific spiritual and a wider audience of lay readers across spiritual disciplines.

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 7
C.M.H. Koenig, compiler
C.M.H. Koenig Books
9781956475081, $14.99

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 7 continues C.M.H. Koenig's multi-volume focus on the Bible, providing discussions centered on the books of Kings, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, 2 Chronicles, Joel, Jonah, Amos, and Hosea. Portions of Psalms are peppered into these readings, as well. Followers of the prior volumes will want to pursue this addition to the series as it continues a methodical analysis of selected passages. As in the prior books, the enlightening discussions come from the writings of Robert Hawker, Charles H. Spurgeon, and Octavius Winslow. Footnoted references refer back to the Bible for those who would embark on further reading, while the accompanying insights from Hawker, Spurgeon and Winslow more closely examine Bible characters, their intentions and interpretations of their lives, and the actions and responses of God to these disparate lives. Each reading and analytical passage provides food for thought. This will delight readers seeking a reasoned analysis that links to their own daily lives, conflicts, and ideas of salvation, sin, and spiritual strength.

This volume, in particular, outlines the successive history of Biblical figures, the presence of God in the hearts and minds of his people, and the daily events that affect them. The close inspection linking Biblical events and verses to considerations of how God operates within the soul and in the world allows readers to approach Biblical interpretation from three distinct viewpoints. The result may all have been written centuries ago, but is here synthesized and presented in a form designed to appeal to busy readers interested in spirituality, Bible interpretation, and inspections that consider the foundations of faith and inspiration. Herein lay rich keys to making these associations between God's word and its enactment in daily living. Volume 7 joins a formidable and inviting, scholarly discourse that is highly recommended for Christian readers and discussion groups alike.

Old Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 8
C.M.H. Koenig, compiler
C.M.H. Koenig Books
9781956475111, $14.99

The 8th volume of Old Testament Readings & Devotionals continues C.M.H. Koenig's survey of the Bible and includes 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Micah, Isaiah, and Psalms. The invasion of Israel by Assyria provides the historical backdrop, while prophecies by Micah and Isaiah drive the spiritual component of this segment of time. As in his other devotionals and readings, besides quotes from Biblical passages, the commentary and reflections of Robert Hawker, Charles H. Spurgeon, and Octavius Winslow reflect on God's words, linking them to modern trials of faith and daily living to help Christian readers savor the Bible's meaning in a revised manner. The key verses selected for each day are from the Christian Standard Bible, and are italicized for quick reference and differentiation from the accompanying commentary. This makes it easy on the eyes of students who want to quickly move between the Bible and insights on its passages. Some scripture references are cited in the original works and others are not. Those passages quoted within the devotionals come from the King James Version of the Bible. The historical review and spiritual commentary is very nicely juxtaposed.

This is especially useful for Bible students who, when consulting these volumes back-to-back in an organized study, will find much food for thought as well as group discussion. Footnotes clearly credit the specific Bible references as needed, while the devotionals range from short commentary to lengthy passages of analysis. Like its predecessors, Volume 8 expands the knowledge of the times and the Word of God that directed, influenced, and enlightened the people of that era. It also holds important reflections for modern man, making this contribution to the series another highly recommended addition to a foundation of knowledge that expands understanding of Biblical times and God's directions. No Christian collection, especially those where group readings are a mainstay, should be without this and its predecessors.

Even the Monsters
Daryl Potter
Paper Stone Press
9781777557867, $17.95

Even the Monsters: Living with Grief, Loss, and Depression: A Journey Through the Book of Job offers a powerful spiritual journey through loss, and searches for understanding in the face of tragedy. The memoir opens with a particularly captivating introduction: "In the rugged and beautiful land of British Columbia, in the year 2000, I began a journey through the book of Job. It is a journey that has lasted for over two decades now. I did not sign up for it. Not explicitly. I volunteered for a simple, short assignment. That was all. I did not intend to change the rest of my life." At the time, the author was religious; but he was also the manager of a securities brokerage office. Called upon to deliver a three-part sermon series based on a book of the Bible, Daryl Potter began a journey that changed everything, despite his initial feeling that "I did not volunteer to study Job for twenty years and counting. I did not sign up to have my life turned upside down and my comfortable happiness torn apart."

What was introduced as a short-term challenge became a lifelong transformative experience as Potter came to realize that God had chosen him to play a unique role above and beyond his everyday life, presenting both adversity and the opportunity to more deeply connect with Biblical studies and His presence. While this may initially sound like a familiar story, Even the Monsters is anything but ordinary. Potter observes that "...too often I find that, when it comes to books about the Bible and personal spiritual growth, the scholarly and the practical are separated by an unacceptable divide." His story is meant to both bridge that gap and provide extended, different examples of the presence of and acts of God in daily living. As quotes from the Book of Job inspire and direct Potter, they illustrate redemption, how to face darkness, and how to understand the messages of and voice of God. The story of health challenges and terrible struggles blends with Potter's search for answers.

Scholarly attention to interpretation and detail is translated for the average reader in a way that makes the Biblical passages and their analysis easier to comprehend. Even the Monsters belongs in any Christian book collection where Biblical study is of key interest. It adds personal revelations to encourage understanding and deeper inspection of God's word and intentions, and is also highly recommended for discussion groups about grief, Job, or Biblical studies in general. These audiences will find plenty of specific links and revelations that are perfect for encouraging further inspection, discussion, and enlightenment.

The Biography Shelf

Inside The "Mickey Mouse Factory"
Thomas E. Sawyer, Ph.D., J.D.
Living History Publishing House
9781732737174, $18.88

"My Years In The Clandestine Service Of The Central Intelligence Agency" comes from a veteran of twenty-seven years of U.S. government service in various agencies such as the CIA, and combines an insider's life with a memoir that reveals his experiences serving as a CIA Operations Officer. From the title, readers might anticipate a critical viewpoint; but Sawyer explains its origin from the start: "That reference, instead, concerns a depiction commonly used by CIA operations officers, at least during the 1950's, about the sometimes chaotic operational situations they encountered and also to what initially appeared to be outlandish operational proposals that became outstanding operational successes." What unfolds is a candid look back at processes, decisions, encounters, and the specifics of intelligence work which are not revealed to anyone outside the organization...even close family members.

Readers should thus view Inside The "Mickey Mouse Factory" as much more than a memoir, as Sawyer moves behind the scenes of daily life within the CIA to expose its thought processes and operations. This approach represents the story's greatest strength. It offers readers the opportunity to go beyond actions and reports to understand the motivations, influences, and daily challenges of intelligence community operations and interactions. Sawyer injects his own experiences into that process: "On later reflection, I was really disturbed by this operational effort. The "chewing out" aside, I had trouble comprehending why a division chief, a high ranking official, personally, would be carrying out this operation; a "cold approach," at that."

From training courses designed to reflect operational realities to various incidents that presented special diplomatic and political challenges as operations were carried out in other countries, Sawyer's ability to reveal the nuts and bolts of intelligence goals and conundrums alike creates a fast-paced book packed with information the general public usually isn't privy to. As Sawyer encounters those who change his perspective on life as well as his concept of his duties and their impact, the juxtaposition of memoir, expose, and intelligence history come life. Readers who want to know more about what it's like to work in intelligence; the moral, ethical, and political conundrums which challenge this community; and the ongoing dangers and threats that move from professional to personal lives because of it will find Inside The "Mickey Mouse Factory" absolutely riveting reading. It deserves a place in a wide variety of collections; from general-interest libraries to those that hold strengths in history, political issues, international relations, and military subjects.

The Invisible Girl
Yvonne Sandomir
Legacy Book Press LLC
9781737592617, $14.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Memoir readers will find The Invisible Girl a study in exploitation, childhood trauma, and recovery, which occurs only after self-destructive patterns of response to childhood abuse are repeated in adulthood. Yvonne Sandomir's escape from a confusing, disordered environment at age fifteen would seem to portend a success story of survival; but in fact it was only the starting point for adult choices which mirrored the powerful repressive forces of codependency and mental abuse. As Sandomir describes a family in chaos, a mother who bounces from relationship to relationship, and the ongoing promise of a new life that is betrayed over and over, readers will come to understand the elusive lure of a stability that never seemed to happen in either the family's choices or, after Yvonne flees home, in her life.

Yvonne's adult decisions continue to be affected even as she struggles for an elusive, different result: "My entire life consisted of controlling men and their demands on me, and I couldn't escape." When she leaves home, grasping a dubious job offer that no fifteen-year-old should have received, her own mother supports her flight. It's only after years of therapy and wisdom that Sandomir comes to a better understanding of her mother. Any reader who comes from a home fraught with childhood abuse or neglect, a parent's mercurial and ineffective parenting style, and mixed messages of love, independence, and repression will readily recognize the course of Sandomir's life through her memoir.

More importantly, she outlines a path forward and shows how she overcame all these influences to make better choices...but only after adult experiences led to repeated disasters that mirrored her childhood chaos. Readers who look for memoirs that outline recovery processes and relationship complexities that stem from damaging family experiences will relish a story that nails the psychology of family legacy and the process breaking the patterns of abuse. Sandomir's ability to pinpoint and document the moments and influences in her childhood that led to dubious choices and patterns in adulthood make The Invisible Girl highly recommended not just for memoir collections, but any library holding or individual reading list about families, abuse, recovery process, self-help, and identifying destructive patterns of self-sabotage, distorted thinking, and repetition compulsion.

Sit-Ins, Drive-Ins and Uncle Sam
Bill Slawter
Atmosphere Press
9781639881857, $18.99

Want to take a trip back in time? The memoir format offers no better way to revisit other eras, and Sit-Ins, Drive-Ins and Uncle Sam: Coming of Age in the Era of Civil Rights and the Vietnam Draft captures youthful impressions of the 1960s through the hindsight of experience. Unlike most memoirs, even though this is memory-based, Bill Slawter doesn't intend Sit-Ins, Drive-Ins and Uncle Sam to be just about his personal growth. He writes with an eye towards capturing the flavors and feel of a bygone era. In this regard, Slawter does a fine job of producing a captivating blend of personal memories and changing race relations as the U.S. saw a sea of change in its young people and the world.

Black and white photos from museums and other collections provide visual embellishment throughout as Slawter brings these times to life. His insights are specific and reflective of his generation: "I never gave much thought to what folks in my neighborhood had in relation to folks living in other parts of town. I seldom went anywhere in Greensboro outside of Glenwood, except to go downtown from time to time, either by city bus or in our family car. Neither bus rides nor trips by car passed through other residential areas so as to shed any light on how other folks lived. Glenwood was my world."

As he moves from childhood into college frat years, political assessments and growing awareness of other nations, and social interactions, dialogue between characters is introduced to capture the sentiments of these times and the people who lived them. This further pulls readers into the feel of a time travel piece, versus a singular life, as the 1960s come alive. Younger readers who wish to know 'what it was like' should turn to Sit-Ins, Drive-Ins and Uncle Sam. More so than most other books on the subject, it provides observations blended with social and political examinations to consider these issues with a compelling, immediate flavor.

One could ask nothing more of a time travel journey into the past, making Sit-Ins, Drive-Ins and Uncle Sam a strong recommendation for any reader or library collection looking for an evocative "you are there" journey into America's volatile 1960s.

The Poetry Shelf

Enne Zale
Atmosphere Press
9781639881796, $17.99

Poetry readers who look for works about relationships, self-inspection, and recovery from trauma will find all these elements of wisdom and more in Convalesce, a collection that both heals and questions. Readers who expect a chronological order to this inspection are advised, from the first poem, that such is not the case. Much like life, its ebbs and flows are meant to mirror the contrasting back-to-back experiences the world often presents in no particular order: "My poetry has no chronological order,/The bitter moments intertwine with the sweet ones/Because like life/You do not solely have good periods and bad ones."This choice lends to both an atmosphere of the unexpected and a progression that moves through loss, struggle, acceptance, and longing in equal measure: "I thought about it/And I don't hate you./I could never hate someone who made me happy./I thought about it/And we no longer click./ I can't stand by someone who makes me feel empty."

The search for comfort, resolution, and wisdom moves through choices and consequences with a resounding gathering of pain and examination that will particularly pull at readers in the throes of their own relationship struggles and self-analysis: "My soul's engulfed in fire./My heart beats in a frenzy/Wishing to be liberated from the flames." Some of these works are free verse. Others hold rhyme, structure, and a progression that indicates that Enne Zale well knows when to adhere to poetic form and when to bend (or break) the rules for the sake of impact and message. Another rule-breaker: these poems have no titles. This means that readers enter into each work without the plot (so to speak) being set in their minds. With no chronological guidelines, works that can change form mid-poem, and no clues via titles, one might think confusion will emerge. But, the delight of this collection is that, although it breaks from many conventions, the result is an unbending, high-impact series of poetic observations that shine more brightly than most.

Poetry readers who enjoy blended forms of free verse and structured rhyme accompanying works of psychological inspection and revelation will find Convalesce an influential package worthy of inclusion not just in poetry collections, but in psychology and self-help libraries where creative expression is linked to resolution, recovery, and healing processes.

Charles Crittenden
Atmosphere Press
9781639880492, $16.99

Poetry readers who choose Inhabitant will find that it represents a fine blend of poetry and storytelling as it surveys the thoughts and experiences of the Inhabitant, who has been expelled from Earth for mistreating the planet, and who searches the universe for a new home. When the narrator opens the story, it's with the hopes that his new condition is but a dream, in 'The Drop': "...turns out the only thing you can count on isn't death or taxes./all my life i've taken gravity for granted./always held that attraction between my body and my world,/stuck together spinning around the sun/day by day..." As his journey continues, poetry readers receive a pointed story of travel, home, a changing sense of place, and a sense of introspection as the narrator's connection to Earth fades and the universe widens: " one to take the wheel,/days and days through endless black./moonstops where i float without realizing where i am or where i'm headed./a mint collection of dust from the planets i've seen./count all the stars,/and again in case i missed one./stuck in perpetual motion,/the route will never end,/my proving ground/to appreciate a home when i finally arrive."

The exploration proves at once frightening and enlightening. Readers are drawn by a form of free verse that moves from the microcosm of past familiar territory to the macrocosm of the universe, yet still affords opportunity for inspecting Earthly connections and personal choice. An example lies in 'A Profound Realization Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Spider Who Lives In My Ship,' in which the narrator saves a stowaway and learns a lesson about thinking about others outside his immediate world. As hope, home, and repeated failures become emergent themes, poetry readers will enjoy an inspection that celebrates the basics of human life: gravity, atmosphere, and checklists of the physical elements that define 'home.' Its special, creative journey will prove thought-provoking for any poetry enthusiast interested in the sense of place and purpose in the life of a newly-created nomad.

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

Copyright ©2001

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design