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California Bookwatch

Volume 16, Number 11 November 2021 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Social Issues Shelf Religion/Spirituality Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf
Self-Help Shelf Money/Finance Shelf Parenting Shelf
Biography Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

From Triggered to Tranquil
Susan Campbell, PhD
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781608687404, $16.95

From Triggered to Tranquil: How Self-Compassion and Mindful Presence Can Transform Relationship Conflicts and Heal Childhood Wounds comes from a relationship expert who provides readers with a wide range of tools for mastering various kinds of relationships. Her techniques rely on addressing underlying emotional pain that serves as obstacles to creative problem-solving and conundrums in decision-making. As the book unfolds, five steps that "trigger mastery" are revealed along with templates for self-admonishments, advice for tackling both interpersonal and personal obstacles, and keys to handling and avoiding retraumatizing situations. The result should be in any collection strong in mindfulness, self-help, or interpersonal relationships.

The Social Issues Shelf

Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism
Terri L. Lyon and Trish Lockard
Life At The Intersection Books
9780998032467, $7.99

Many situations in life seem to hold no promise of change; but Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism presents a different view. The book advocates for the personal power of engaging with community to make a real difference in peoples' lives by influencing social issues.

Because America's mental health system is currently a mess doesn't mean that empowerment and change aren't possible. Indeed, in a foreword by journalist and mental health activist Pete Earley, the onus for change is placed squarely on the shoulders of the reader: "There should be no shame in having a mental illness, only shame in not helping someone who does."

Terri L. Lyon and Trish Lockard's audience can be those with mental health conditions themselves, friends and loved ones, or caregivers. Anyone cognizant of the issues involved in mental health treatments and management will find book inspiring and a call to action. The time for change may be now, but the question remains as to how that change can happen. The authors address this central piece by presenting profiles of ordinary people who used their diverse abilities to make a difference in mental health care.

In one example, video producer and comedian Christina Wolfgram used her abilities to transmit messages and empower others while struggling with her own depression.In other cases, a crafter sold products and donated to a cause. The book's point is that anyone - including actors, musicians, and a range of creators can use their skills to contribute to mental health advocacy. You don't have to be a policy wonk.

Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism demonstrates that there is no single route to success. How much can you make a difference? You'd be surprised. From understanding change is achieved from specific actions to analyzing overlooked or under-utilized activism methods for the greatest effectiveness, this is not just an idealistic presentation, but a pragmatic analysis of efforts which can really work, given the right insights, backgrounds, and attention to detail. This presentation is concise, but powerful. It also proves one needn't have a weighty tome of contacts or an advanced degree in order to make a difference. A proverb says, "Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism offers that guiding light of experience, analytical acuity, and positive perspective that encourages readers to take responsibility for transmitting mental health messages to the world, and even includes plans on how to stay motivated, engaged, and empowered during that process. No social or political issues collection (as well, of course, as those strong in psychology) should be without this book, which provides an opportunity to hone personal empowerment in the face of a daunting social and health conundrum in modern America.

The Religion/Spirituality Shelf

Divine Sparks
Starr Regan DiCiurcio
DartFrog Books
PO Box 867. Manchester, VT 05254
9781953910943, $15.99 Print/$5.99 ebook

"Divine Sparks: Interfaith Wisdom for a Postmodern World" gathers wisdom from all the world's faiths to address a wide audience of both spiritual readers and those who lack such foundations. It is designed to be a far-reaching collection that appeals to all seeking to identify what is good and beautiful in the faith community. "Divine Sparks" reaches into these different faiths with an embracing vision of what elements go into creating a welcoming, inclusive community and a blossoming attitude about being part of this world.

While readers expect (and receive) a spiritual education, there are also many connections made to choice, opportunity, and the consequences of living a more aware lifestyle. These pair nicely with Starr Regan DiCiurcio's own experiences as she visits monasteries and religious communities, absorbs teachings and meditations in many different ways, and comes to realize that the wellspring of spiritual thinking and mindful actions stem from new opportunities to "educate, exchange ideas, support, and encourage."

Indeed, "Divine Sparks" represents the pursuit and absorption of these wide-ranging goals of living better and being more connected to the divine spirit, teaching readers, by example, how they can identify their own lessons and connections from daily life events. Whether the goal is bringing your days into greater balance or undertaking a pilgrimage, DiCiurcio paves the way towards enlightenment in a manner designed to prove accessible and familiar to readers from all walks of life and religious belief systems.

"Divine Sparks" will appear in new age collections, certainly, but it would be a shame to think her audience comes from this segment of population alone. Ideally, Divine Sparks will show up in self-help, new age, and all manner of faith collections, even in holdings pursued by agnostics or atheists. Its message is that far-reaching and that effective, closely linking life choices and trajectories to objectives for the greater good.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Allergic Boy Versus the Left-Handed Girl
Michael Kun
The Sager Group, LLC
9781950154517, $28.69 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook

Imagine you began reading a popular novel, only to find that it was something you wrote years ago, in college, and shared with a fellow student. Envision having a severe head injury from Army life that reduces your abilities and credibility. Then, consider pursuing the truth after decades, when nobody will listen to you. The Allergic Boy Versus the Left-Handed Girl is a study in wry humor, ironic losses, and disability and courage. It tells of a war veteran faced with yet another affront to his life as his most creative, potentially successful effort is plagiarized.

The "Publisher's Note" that opens the story provides a fine background and setting for the notes of one Jimmy Nail, who writes at different times between 1982 and 2006, and whose reflections include hilarious footnotes and insights that grab reader attention from the start, as in the introductory title page that includes a controversial subtitle ("A Story of Grace and Mercy (But Also of Theft, Injustice and a Fucking Scar on the Side of My Fucking Head)") and an intriguing footnoted reference to a future publisher: "A note to the editor: I ask kindly that you not remove "fucking" from the fucking title. Except if you need to do so for copies sold through the Book of the Month Club. I understand they can be prickly and may have a distaste for profanities. The same for publications in any countries that have laws forbidding the use of profanities. Israel perhaps? Hong Kong? Nova Scotia? (Although Nova Scotia may not be a country. That is probably worth researching.)"

From this note, the tale moves to an absorbing introduction and chapters which open with a Sunday morning newspaper delivery in June, when the narrator is between junior and senior high schools. Think Catcher in the Rye, with 'wry' being the operative word of the young observer in this piece, as he comes of age. Jimmy may make his point in sometimes-run-on sentences filled with description and verbosity, but his world comes to life under Michael Kun's hand as Jimmy describes everything from bigotry and prejudice to how he views the world: "The first thing a bigot will tell you is that he's not a bigot. And he will preface his comments by saying, "I'm not a bigot, but," followed by something that is undeniably offensive. No one has ever said something innocuous like, "I'm not a bigot, but I like iceberg lettuce." Let me be the first: "I'm not a bigot, but I like iceberg lettuce." There. Done."

It's rare to say that numerous footnoted references in a novel are a big plus to the story line. Authors who have attempted such usually only succeed in cultivating reader annoyance. Not so The Allergic Boy Versus the Left-Handed Girl, which employs these references with such skill that their impact becomes one of literary power rather than just informational asides, and an attraction in themselves. And herein lies the strength of this story. Jimmy Nail's voice is powerful, ironic, thought-provoking, and fun, all in one. Kun's ability to capture the course of his life, his approaches to justice and injustice, and Jimmy's process of navigating everything thrown at him makes for a humorous play not just on words, but on life.

From issues of censorship and critical considerations of The Allergic Girl to the elusive fictional character he created that brings him into court proceedings and conflicts, Jimmy's coming of age, social and literary inspections, and the revolving door of past and present experience makes for a story that is vivid, unexpected in its twists and turns, and effective in its impact. The Allergic Boy Versus the Left-Handed Girl is a literary study in love, growth, social challenges, and achievement. It's a compelling story that holds the ability to attract audiences with a wry observational tone, setting the stage for considerations of reality and illusion that will keep readers involved in the story of Poppy, Jimmy, and everyone around them. Very, very highly recommended; especially for readers who enjoyed Catcher in the Rye, and who want a contemporary growth story that goes above and beyond Holden Caufman's world.

Driving Jesus to Little Rock
Roland Merullo
PFP Publishing
9781736720271, $28.00 Hardcover

Fiction readers open to a quirky travelogue with the atmosphere of Kerouac's classic On the Road paired with a spiritual component will find Driving Jesus to Little Rock just the ticket for a rollicking journey into beliefs and American byways. Author Eddie Valpolicella is on his way from Massachusetts to Arkansas to give a lecture on his book when he picks up a hitchhiker destined to change his perspective and life with a single contention. The stranger claims to be Jesus. And he seems to have the skill sets that proves it. Roland Merullo was raised a devout Roman Catholic. This background and his own questions about the story of Jesus lend to a modern-day tale that begins with a healthy degree of skepticism about this hitchhiker's past: "Nothing, no part of it, made sense."

Eddie's act of generosity and his initial rejection of this modern Jesus leads quickly to self-inspection as he questions not just the truth of his passenger's claim, but his own motivations for accepting or rejecting the man's words. These philosophical and spiritual reflections permeate the road trip and spice the encounters between Eddie and Jesus as various conundrums challenge both. Merullo also injects a nice sense of subtle, wry humor at various points of the encounter: "Jesus seemed slightly uncomfortable with the package. He set it down at his feet, out of my view, and did not make eye contact with me. "You're an angel," he said to Anton." As adventure, intrigue, and a host of unexpected characters evolve and interact (from a deer hunter to a Russian businessman) against backdrops as diverse as an urban massage studio and a rural monastery, readers will especially appreciate the variety of special interests, characters, and unexpected social and cultural inspections that evolve along the way.

Truly, Driving Jesus to Little Rock is a multifaceted journey that doesn't neatly fit into a given fictional category. Blending spiritual with social inspection, flavoring all with an icing of humor, and making the backdrop a road trip to remember, Merullo creates an engaging pendulum swing of action and reflection that holds the power to both entertain and enlighten. Its refreshingly original voice and inspections make Driving Jesus to Little Rock a highly recommended pick for a diverse audience, from those who like physical journeys to readers who especially appreciate social contrasts in spiritual and philosophical inspections.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Destiny of Dreams: Time is Dear
Cathy Burnham Martin
Quiet Thunder Publishing
9781939220578, $15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Historical fiction readers who choose Destiny of Dreams: Time is Dear for its story of family heritage and Armenian experience will find these elements and much more in a story of diaspora that follows an American girl's discoveries about her past. One reason why this account seems particularly realistic is that it's firmly rooted in reality - Cathy Burnham Martin's family legacy. She used the stories and experiences of several generations of her own tale, but filled in the gap with characters and dialogue to expand its interest and attraction to historical fiction readers. Armenian names, however, (despite their challenge to non-Armenian readers) were represented without alteration, lending the story a full flavor of ethnic experience throughout. History and fiction entwine seamlessly in a saga set largely in the early 20th century.

It should be noted, at this point, that a degree of violence is candidly depicted...and forewarned and explained in the preface: "My apologies for both the detailed and suggested acts of inhumanity in some of the scenes, but I cannot change, nor will I sugarcoat actual historic occurrences. No attempt was made to vilify the Ottoman Empire. However, when people live through something, their eyewitness testimonies offer a distinct and memorable perspective." From atrocities and refugee experiences to a weary family's journey through darkness into a better world and life still burdened by their memories, Martin recreates past, present, and feelings about the future using realistic descriptions that bring not just these different time periods to life, but the sentiments and responses of those who lived through them. This feeling of depth and understanding could likely not have been accomplished by a writer who relied on research alone. The family memories that drive this story come alive for readers, lending to a history that is vivid and compellingly related.

The fictional drama and added embellishments make the story accessible in a manner that nonfiction alone could not have achieved. As Destiny of Dreams: Time is Dear unfolds, matters of survival, refugee experience, hearts broken and ruggedly mended, and new opportunities come to life in a compelling history. Events evolve to create some surprising gripping parallel ties with the past. How do you capture and inject the tragedies, perspectives, ethnic heritage, and struggles of past generations for future ones? You write a book like Destiny of Dreams: Time is Dear.

Anyone with Armenian roots (and those who want to learn more about their trials and lives) will find Destiny of Dreams: Time is Dear a thoroughly engrossing story that brings the past to life. This, in turn, transmits newfound responsibility and possibility to future generations: "Cassie brimmed with history and family and emotion." Destiny of Dreams: Time is Dear is especially notable because relatively little detail about Armenia's diaspora and history is accessible to readers, and because Martin's family experience both cements and personalizes the facts and makes them understandable and revealing to modern audiences who may eschew the dry tendency of nonfiction, but will thoroughly absorb its emotional impact, here.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

13 By 11
Vincent Czyz,
Papillon du Pere Publishing
9798451000373, $9.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

13 By 11 is a multi-author literary anthology of short stories revealing "life in diverse places & spaces," and excels in strong images and depictions that provide much food for thought. Take the opening short piece "Chele Kula" by Vincent Czyz. The story revolves around "echoes from a place we can no longer can access" as it explores Serbian patriotism and history: "They looked at each other, fully aware that their son and daughter might grow up without a father. "But not," Milorad often said, "without a fatherland."

A father going off the battle thinks he will likely never see his family again. A section later, in another era of the future, 'This Side,' tourists snap digital photos of Chele Kula ('Tower of Skulls') and draw their own connections to past events.

Czyz moves fluidly between different realities of 'The Other Side', 'In Between', and 'This Side'. These snapshots of different eras and reflections embrace the perspectives of ghosts and historical figures alike in a rare dance between them that draws unexpected connections between different realities. The history, anguish, and impact of a bloody conflict that still resonates in present-day experience comes to life in a story filled with emotional ties and tangles as these different perspectives come together.

Time is also fluid in Harriet James's "Forsaken Path," in which it turns out that a school is much more than the usual prep academy, and in Derek McFadden's "What Eternity Taught Eve." Each of the stories holds the gift of surprise. And there are literary reflections and, in places, extraordinary philosophical and social inspections from Czyz, McFadden, Jeffrey Kahrs, Erol Engin, and Greg Gerke. Each piece takes an unexpected journey and twists it to produce many surprises along the way. The addition of romance, from Caroline Scott, sci-fi from Bradley Harper's possible time-travel tale and Carla Rehse's lovers on the run, and fantasy from Lilla Glass's hunter-turn-hunted and from Will Knight into many of the mixes means that the backgrounds and plot developments are anything but predictable.

Readers seeking a literary anthology filled with satisfying revelations and unexpected forays into other worlds will find 13 By 11 a uniformly powerful collection where each piece shines. Another plus is that one can start anyplace in the book to choose a standout piece...there is no linear progression to stories, allowing for reader flexibility. 13 By 11 is a collection strong in literary and speculative devices, an eclectic, genre-busting gathering that will appeal to a wide audience.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Once Upon a Murderous Delusion
A.G. Russo
Red Skye Press
9780990710264, $3.99

There's a serial killer on the loose who is targeting young mothers and seems about to move on to their babies and toddlers. Also being targeted is the outpatient of a psychiatric hospital who has professed anger towards his mother. Case closed. Or, is it? A.G. Russo spins a fine story of intrigue and delusion not just on the part of a killer on the loose, but a police department charged with resolving the murders quickly as the small community panics. At the center of a vortex of controversy lies a group of nurses who must face the idea that one of their patients is likely to blame. Also pulled into the maelstrom is a young man who professes innocence while all evidence indicates otherwise.

As the nurses interact with one another and begin to move outside their hospital comfort zones to address a rising tide of community anger and fear, solving the case themselves seems the only way they can preserve both the future of their patient and their jobs. By presenting the point of view from a group of nurses who each grapple with their own delusions, backgrounds, and convictions in order to rise above their stations, Russo creates a compelling murder mystery that cultivates a winning atmosphere of moral, ethical, and professional conundrums. The depiction of how these forces evolve elevates the mystery from a simple whodunit to one examining the inherent fears and prejudices over mental health facilities. The notion that a group of nurses untrained in police procedures but more than knowledgeable about mental illness can forge new paths where police fail creates the backdrop to a fine story. Once Upon a Murderous Delusion is as much about the challenges and assumptions of a community and a medical facility as it is about a clever murderer's modus operandi.

Mystery readers will find the added element of psychological inspections and delusions which extend beyond the mentally ill provide just the right touch of intrigue and the unexpected to a appeal to both murder mystery readers and those who enjoy powerful psychological and group dynamic inspections. Collections strong in murder mysteries and fiction revolving around health and healing alike will find Once Upon a Murderous Delusion a worthy addition. It will appeal to a much broader audience than the usual genre read.

Stolen Lives
Joseph Lewis
Black Rose Writing
9781684337682, $19.95 Print/$2.99 ebook

Stolen Lives represents an exciting probe of abduction and unusual connections between fourteen-year-old victims, and is recommended reading for thriller and intrigue fans who enjoy stories that focus as much on rescuers and victims as it does on the perps. Kelliher and his team of FBI agents face multiple challenges in a series of events that have remained unresolved for years. Witnesses tend to be murdered before they can provide further clues, and the four young victims' lives themselves prove mercurial and hard to trace or fathom. At this point, it should be mentioned that this book is first in a projected trilogy. Readers who look for complex stories of murder, kidnapping, and ongoing investigations will be satisfied by a tale that introduces the setting, but holds the power to attract and remain unresolved over multiple scenarios and books.

Navajo boy George Tokay may hold the clue that has eluded Kelliher and his people for years. The only problem is - George has no idea what this special knowledge is. All he knows is that he's witnessed a puzzling execution. And he feels compelled to join forces with the investigators to resolve this case. From family relationships and Navajo ways to Jamie Graff, a policeman working with the FBI who makes new inroads to discovery, only to unearth more puzzles surrounding the kidnappings and police relationships, Joseph Lewis builds a compelling tale filled with satisfying twists and turns. As the boys struggle to survive and the police attempt to find answers and hope in a seemingly impossible situation, readers are treated to a scenario firmly rooted in the author's research into child abduction and real-world events that translate well to thought-provoking fictional milieus.

Human trafficking and murder are difficult issues to tackle, yet Lewis does so with astute social, psychological, and investigative insights that keep his story realistic, involving, and unpredictable. Even though Stolen Lives is part of a trilogy, it ends on a satisfyingly complete note, which makes it highly recommended as a stand-alone story for readers who typically eschew series titles. Collections strong in social issues, mystery and intrigue, and novels of survival tactics will find Stolen Lives a fine addition.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Power's Play
Eva Sandor
Huszar Books
9781735067933, $13.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

Power's Play, the sequel to Fool's Proof, continues the series now known as the Heart of Stone Adventures in another romp through fantasy and parody that takes place during the Month of Peaches - when magpie Corvinalias Elsternom e Rokonoma the Fourth, Count of Upper Cloudyblue, awaits an inheritance from his boring and vocally astute old uncle, the Duke of Lower Cloudyblue.

Four playful storylines with their own powerful protagonists evolve, from intelligent Corvinalias to former Royal Fool Malfred Murd, ruler Dame Elsebet de Whellen, and her loveable cousins the de Brewels. As the magpies investigate what the Umans are up to with their artificial wyrmlight lamps and their machinery, they conspire to hijinks even as they set the stage for new readers of this environment through wry magpie observations. New readers will find this story delightfully accessible, as a result. As a host of characters with engaging names (Butterpat, Hamflesh Fliss, and more) interact, readers receive a fun story where Corvinalias faces puzzles, other creatures, and his own uncertainty about his world. Think Watership Down, but with more fantasy elements that move beyond animal concerns and perceptions alone. Think the survival messages and life-changing confrontations of The Last Unicorn, but with an added dose of comedic flavor that adult readers will find unexpectedly fun.

Each character grows and develops a deeper knowledge of their best qualities and life purposes as they evolve. Eva Sandor writes her fairy tale with a fine attention to irony and parody, as well as tongue-in-cheek social inspection. Other birds acknowledge, by their sometimes illogical activities, that they must "fill the time with something," but Corvinalias is in search of more. And, he's an outsider in many of these worlds. As wisdom and enlightenment come to life, readers of all ages are treated to the specter of an adventure turned into a mission. Human interactions with various creatures, including a wise mother whale, are illustrated in a captivating series of descriptions that bring readers on land, sea, and from the world of clueless Umans into that of various creatures of the wild.

From forgers to healers, the romp through an unusual society and various creatures that inhabit this milieu offers many surprises, both in description and turn of words, to delight literary fantasy readers looking for far more than an adventure tale alone. There's simply not enough literary humor in the fantasy genre; but Eva Sandor fills this gap with another adventure story that should be read closely, so as not to miss any of the tongue-in-cheek humor (both overt and subtle) that graces its characters and lines.

The Poetry Shelf

Last Call
Randall McNair
Bits of Steak Press
9781735108087, $10.99

Last Call is a poetry collection like few others. It offers a view from the barstool that gathers thoughts and experiences from the streetwise, gritty atmosphere of the saloon. Those who tend to view poetry as staid, incomprehensible, or dull will find this vivid collection of life inspections quite the opposite. Take "The Beer at the Swinging Door Saloon (Projacked from The Swan at Edgewater Park by Ruth L. Schwartz)," for example. The poem actually opens with its title, to continue: "isn't one of those warm, half-ass beers/wouldn't be at home in some swanky, uptown joint/chooses the hefty confines/of its frosty 30 oz. mug,/prefers the parched mouths of mechanics/who pour it past their lips like engine oil/into the great tanks of their guts,/swilling it with little bits of pretzel and steak,/fermentation of grain with bouquet of hops,/while churchgoers walk by saying Look/at those giant drunks!"

These pieces are hard-hitting inspections of the writer's life, often incorporating elements of humor into their descriptions, as in "At My Funeral": "I want a girl to sing/Van Morrison's Into the Mystic/while playing the violin/and dancing around/my stiff corpse/in a skimpy white bikini,/stopping from time to time/to sprinkle my cold, dead,/blue lips with whiskey/straight from the bottle.//Not my wife - /I want my wife to sit in the front row/and stew." The surprise concluding lines to this piece explain the writer's impeccable logic in wishing for such a conclusion to and celebration of his life.

Readers seeking circumspect literary pieces should look elsewhere. Last Call's language can be course and flagrant, its descriptions challenging, and the poetic inspections anything but politically correct. Conversely, Last Call is a lesson for those who think poetry is largely inaccessible to the masses. It draws connections that blend vignettes about the writer's life with broader ironies and inspections of the world at large, often couching these poems in a sense of place to cement their themes and meaning, as in "Looking for a Lost Book When I Should Have Been Enjoying Ireland." The purpose behind this book's inexplicable disappearance is presented at the end of an absorbing acknowledgment of the impact of a preoccupation with capturing "nuggets of wisdom" in the margins of a book. Anyone who wants a hard-hitting, sometimes raunchy, vivid poetry collection that defies convention while describing life from the barstool will find Last Call a compelling, thought-provoking read.

The Self-Help Shelf

Kicking Ass in a Corset
Andrea Kayne
University of Iowa Press
119 W. Park Rd. 100 Kuhl House. Iowa City, IA 52242
9781609387600, $18.00

Kicking Ass in a Corset is a leadership guide that stands out from the crowd with a focus that uses the women of Jane Austen's most popular novels as examples of its power principles. It outlines six core personality strengths (confidence, pragmatism, diligence, integrity, playfulness, and humility) demonstrated by Austen's characters and links them to such leadership attributes as choice, determination, perseverance, and flexibility.

Readers might think that a prior familiarity with Jane Austen's books and characters would be a prerequisite for appreciating this approach, but Andrea Kayne assumes no such grounding, revealing the links between leadership and personality traits with a survey that explains everything and leaves nothing to doubt.

The question "What would Jane do?" under various common leadership challenges is steady throughout the book as portraits of her heroines are juxtaposed with portraits of typical leadership issues and leader responses. Even more importantly, women receive a modern vision of the empowerment process that guides them from their innate female responses to life to revised, better approaches to adversity that are grounded in their feminine instincts and the real world.

The process and characteristics of developing resilience and perseverance, and how Austin's characters reflect this in the course of their confrontations, growth, and changing lives, serve as powerful examples of how these evolutionary processes translate to modern mindful approaches to life and leadership alike. Case history examples of these transformations accompany specific, clear instructions on how to incorporate these traits into one's existing lifestyle and problem-solving.

There's also an added bonus for literature readers: Jane Austen's works can be viewed, discussed, and written about in quite a different light than the usual literary analysis offers. The result is recommended for business and leadership self-help readers...and should also be included on the reading lists of anyone studying Jane Austen's works and characters. This different approach to her writings will be thoroughly appreciated, and their link to modern times and dilemmas opens new opportunities for reflection and discussion.

The Money/Finance Shelf

Outgrowing Capitalism
Marco Dondi
Fast Company Press
9781735424576, $26.95

Outgrowing Capitalism: Rethinking Money to Reshape Society and Pursue Purpose draws important connections between the pursuit of money and financial security and the concurrent lack of time to consider bigger-picture thinking such as finding life purpose. It should be included in college-level classroom discussions of economic and social issues.

Capitalism's standards on how money is generated, allocated, and used come under close scrutiny in a book that promotes giving money's power back to the public in different ways that afford more time for addressing societal issues and the challenge of better living for all. Marco Dondi has a startling contention to support, here -- that the capitalistic model has outgrown its usefulness, and needs to be transformed.

While this will challenge and stymie those accustomed to traditional economic arguments supporting capitalism's longevity and meaning, Dondi then undertakes the daunting task of identifying issues ranging from how money flows from programs and banks to move through consumers' hands, to what can be done to streamline and make the process more effective. Dondi illustrates that our current system is simply too cumbersome. He puts forth practical ideas for a more agile and nimble way to allocate money.

Dondi does more than maintain that money is being grossly mismanaged. He provides the tools, concepts, and blueprint for alleviating these problems at many different levels. While general-interest readers, from consumers to high school students, certainly will benefit from Dondi's accessible and easy to follow examination, it's the economics student who stands to gain the most from this book...especially those involved in discussion groups and debates on capitalism's future.

This generation needs Outgrowing Capitalism. It paves the way towards new opportunities based on new ways of thinking about monetary allocation, use, distribution, and systems supporting all levels of society, and does so in a way that blends history, economics, and social issues in an inviting, revealing, refreshing and bold manner.

The Parenting Shelf

Raising Humans With Heart
Sarah MacLaughlin
Isabella Media Inc.
9781735725628, $16.99

Raising Humans With Heart: Not a How-To Manual lives up to its name, providing a book for parents of toddlers to teens which illustrates the concept of having heart and connects it to leading a good life. Many an adult will find this holds surprising lessons for them; not just about past childrearing pros and cons, but in its insights about human development: "Decades later, we still haven't figured out what kind of parenting leads to optimal human development, but we're getting closer and know that connection and attachment are key."

Sarah MacLaughlin explores different parenting styles, their impact on the entire family, and how kids feel and process emotions. Her discussions about creating inclusive communities, subconsciously sabotaging relationships and teachings, and normalizing gender and sexuality differences provide thought-provoking inspections of conscious and unconscious choices that either lend to or detract from building big-hearted kids. From identifying and acknowledging stories of victimization and powerlessness and changing them, to developing a more conscious perspective of what it means to have a heart, MacLaughlin provides the nuts and bolts of embracing diversity and gratitude. This will enhance not only a child's training, but the entire family's interactions.

Perhaps this is the greatest difference between Raising Humans With Heart and other books appealing to parents. It's not a "parenting" book, per se, but an inspection of the intrinsic belief systems and approaches to life that make us better humans. Those seeking an instructional guide to better overall living and social interactions, beginning with kids, will find Raising Humans With Heart the perfect starting point for fostering a better world.

The Biography Shelf

The Bitchographies
Vivienne Vuitton
DartFrog Books
PO Box 867. Manchester, VT 05254
9781953910448, $12.99 Print/$4.99 ebook

Some autobiographies and memoirs are written to change the world or elevate the author's status. And then there are revelations like The Bitchographies: Random Commentaries About Life, Love, and Knock-off Christian Louboutins, which eschew loftier ambitions for a more down-home description of life, embodying humor and a form of rare self-examination that hits the funny bone of wry observation.

This special mix is apparent right from the start, with chapter headings like "Me Thinks I Have the Skills to Write a Quirky and Witty Ditty!" The birth of this memoir against all odds is revealing: "Think about it, though; I could write a book with all my random thoughts and commentaries that normal, everyday people can relate to. Isn't it nice to know that most people are in similar situations? Isn't it great to laugh at our misfortunes from time to time?" Although her best friend wasn't impressed by her idea at the time, thankfully, Vivienne Vuitton followed through on her impulse, birthing the humor and sense of life's irony that comprises The Bitchographies.

Herein lies an example of how self-depreciation merges with Vuitton's innate inclination to rebel against convention...including the very format of the memoir genre: "Since when have I ever done vanilla and pedestrian? Ugh, no thanks..." Thankfully, Vuitton remains true to her unconventional impulse in The Bitchographies, resulting in a close inspection of her life that also critiques and reveals the ironies and challenges of social and business norms. By now, it should be evident that readers who choose this memoir for its humor alone should be prepared for an equally strong dose of social inspection that pulls no punches as it probes the "informational bullshit" of daily living.

Vuitton cultivates a refreshingly original voice as she navigates the murky waters of career, family, relationships, and the "inability of people to grasp the painfully obvious." The result is a delightful surprise as Vuitton traverses her world and brings readers into it for a different, more honest form of inspection than most memoirs cultivate - one which maintains that it's not only okay to be a "bitch," on occasion, but which is also equally fun and eye-opening, romping through a "sassy journey through my petty indifferences and quirky insights."

Dance Like There's No Tomorrow
Evelyn M. Leite, MHR, LPC
Living With Solutions Press
9781733540988, $12.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Dance Like There's No Tomorrow is a personal story of family abuse that asks a key question: How does a loving father turn into a verbal abuser? Addiction, pain, and healing are outlined in a manner that will be more than familiar to those raised under similar conditions; but the difference in this memoir lies in its focus on how Evelyn Leite chooses to survive her circumstances and rise above them. Her evolving perception of both of her parents is one of the highlights presented as Leite grows older: "I just look at them, my parents, so far removed from the reality of my life, so unaware of the aching, agonizing, humiliating pain I live unbelievably ignorant."

As she stumbles into some of the same patterns and pitfalls as her parents, but figures ways out and forward, readers receive more than a story of abuse. It's a chronicle of a search for love and a different kind of life that embraces past, present, and future possibilities; and it acknowledges the choices and consequences of not just flawed parents, but children who grow up with blinders on, who are still able to evolve to see life differently.

Dance Like There's No Tomorrow mirrors many accounts of family alcoholism and abuse, but injects an emphasis on finding joy and a renewed sense of purpose that helps the narrator revise her life story and vision of the future. It's ultimately a celebratory tale of survival that will reach readers on many different levels, and is highly recommended for self-help, memoir, and psychology collections strong on chronicles of family dysfunction, survival, and success.

To Be Somebody
Evelyn M. Leite, MHR, LPC
Living With Solutions Press
9781945333019, $12.95

To Be Somebody: A Tale of Love, Heartbreak and Hope is the second book in the "Blood, Sex and Tears" memoir series following author Evelyn M. Leite's recovery from the influence of alcoholism. It provides a personal story of pain, faith, healing, and questions about marriage, codependency, love, and insanity, but it's a hard-hitting account that requires that readers have the ability to absorb the details of self-destructive choices and behaviors and how they can be transcended.

"The world is changing and you damn well better change with it," Leite acknowledges. The process of that change involves seeing and acknowledging the habits and perceptions that serve as obstacles to successful relationships not just between spouses and friends, but with God. As Leite navigates these life changes and moves towards coping and recovery, readers receive many insights about the process that will help them in their own journeys past dysfunctional behavior patterns, whether they're inherited from family circumstances, prevalent in a marriage, or stem from within. Her ability to present the kinds of scenarios and marital interactions that conflict with healthy perceptions and choices crystallizes that process for anyone in similar circumstances, while those who operate in family or support roles will find many enlightening moments candidly revealed that reflect common pitfalls and ways of avoiding them.

Complimenting her prior book, To Be Somebody is an ongoing probe of the road to recovery that embraces spiritual and psychological transformations alike, rooting both in descriptions of experiences that go beyond one counselor's efforts to teach others by example. Self-help, health, and spirituality collections alike will find To Be Somebody a potent testimony to the power of recovery and faith.

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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