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California Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 11 November 2022 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Botany Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf
Western Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
Poetry Shelf Relationship Shelf California Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

Mexican Rhapsody
Shogo Onoe
Independently Published
9798842241873, $20.00 Hardcover/$13.25 Paper/$3.50 Kindle

Mexican Rhapsody: Having a Second Chance is at once a travelogue and a biography, and deserves a place on either shelf as it follows Shogo Onoe's move from native Japan to Mexico.
Faith, growth, and spiritual revelations flow in this story as Onoe reveals what he loves about Mexico, what he hates about his country of origin, and the revelations that marked his journey between them.

It's an autobiographical novel approach that injects drama into the adventure, and which incorporates cross-cultural observations in a manner few travelogues, memoirs, or novels can match: "You know, we're very open. We don't care where you hail from, for we know in our hearts that we're all brothers. We welcome everyone who wants to enjoy what our fatherland can offer. But alas, goddamn Japanese have discriminated against us in the right our faces. I still don't fathom and will never be okay with such a godawful assailment!"

From the evolving realization that Onoe has always loved writing, feeling that it is his passion, to his foray into being a prankster, his obsession with self-improvement, and his ribald enjoyment of life, Mexican Rhapsody's adventures translate to a thirst for not just the written world, but new experiences and growth. This, in turn, provides readers with a hearty blend of entertainment and revelation as philosophy, adventure, travel, cross-cultural experiences, and religious beliefs dovetail and evolve into the odyssey of the author's lifetime.

Mexican Rhapsody turns the traditional travelogue on end as it incorporates all these facets into a lively survey of relationships and experiences. While some would be surprised at its description as a 'novel' despite its reality-driven basis, this serves to reflect Onoe's ability to represent the drama and changes inherent in everyday experiences and interconnected lives. The result takes pieces of different genres to incorporate their strongest qualities into a story of discovery, change, and faith.

It's a winning biographical novel of exploration and enlightenment that lingers in the mind long after reading, and deserves a place in libraries strong in cross-cultural and faith-based revelations alike.

The Botany Shelf

California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora
Matt Ritter, author
Pacific Street Publishing
9780999896006, $27.50, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora", Matt Ritter has created an essential resource for California's outdoor enthusiasts. With his vibrant photographs and lively writing, Matt takes the reader on an amazing and memorable journey through the Golden State's iconic landscapes and abundant plant life.

A definitive guide featuring more than 500 species, along with detailed descriptions, fascinating natural history stories, and handy tree and wildflower color identification charts, "California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora" also features a Foreword by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Critique: Beautifully and profusely illustrated throughout with full color photographs, "California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora" is informatively enhanced with the inclusion of statements from The Wildlife Conservancy and the California Native Plant Society, Maps, a twenty-seven page section on Non-Native Plants, a seven page Glossary, a one bibliographic listing of References & Furth Reading, a one page listing of Online Resources & Botanical Gardens, a two-page California Tree Identification Flowchart, a one-page Wildflower Identification Color Guide, a two page Index to Genera, and a ten page Index. Impressively organized and presented, "California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community and academic library California Flora Field Guide collections.

Editorial Note: Matt Ritter ( is a botany professor in the biology department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He has authored numerous scientific papers and a natural history guide to San Luis Obispo's native plants. He is also the author of "A Californian's Guide to the Trees among Us" (Heyday, 2011), a popular natural history guide to the urban forest.

The General Fiction Shelf

Waiting 'Round To Die
Chris Grant
Atmosphere Press
9781639884513, $17.99

Waiting 'Round To Die tells of a nameless man who takes to the road in an effort to uncover answers about his past. The story opens with the first-person narrator reflecting on this escape: "I had not felt this disconnected from my myriad responsibilities in years. No one, save the person who checked me into the hotel, knew where I was. I kind of wondered if my wife cared. I suspected she didn't. She told me to leave. I was just taking her advice." He has a vague idea of where he is going, but no real concept of where he will wind up.

At once a middle-age crisis point and a discussion of existential life inspection, Waiting 'Round To Die contains a sense of irony because its character is making the choice to do anything but wait for the end of his story. Readers who look for stories of middle-agers in crisis about their lives and choices, who embark on a road trip of self-discovery that results in odd answers to questions that drive meetingups with disparate individuals along the way, will find Waiting 'Round To Die a fine study in opposites.

Chris Grant does an excellent job of juxtaposing social, political, historical, and literary references during the course of this novel. The journey details a road trip of the heart and mind, as much as it covers the physical encounters with disparate individuals that each lend a sense of revelation to the narrator's world. Astute dialogue often synthesizes this process and its meaning:

"Tell me this then," Morty continued. "What are you doing? Why are you driving around the country with your degenerate uncle?"

"I am trying to find myself."

"You're almost fifty years old. You should have found yourself thirty years ago,"

"Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I never knew who I was."

As events unfold, readers will be prompted to consider their own life-changing moments and meanings, and will find the narrator's journey thought-provoking and moving on different levels. Blend a travelogue, a disparate set of personalities, and contrasting life visions with philosophical reflection to receive a novel that proves enlightening and entertaining on more than one level: "I did not need to spend another twenty or thirty years just waiting around to die. This was not what I'd signed up for. This was, in no way, what I wanted. No muse, no point, nobody needs me... what the hell was I going to do next?"

Libraries seeking novels about middle-age journeys will find Waiting 'Round To Die one of the best, while book clubs reviewing this topic will find the story holds plenty of fodder for discussion.

Paula Dail
Warren Publishing
9781957723402, $32.00 Hardcover/$19.95 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Fearless is a novel based on true facts. It comes from a "cradle Catholic" who spent several years in a Catholic girls' boarding school, and who holds a personal, in-depth familiarity with the Catholic Church's schools, convents, and processes.

Viewing with horror the Church's moral failings and persistent subjugation of women and other disenfranchised groups, she is no longer Catholic. Nevertheless, she highly respects the heroic work of countless nuns who work tirelessly on the front lines of social justice for women and other marginalized groups.

This powers the fictional story of seventeen-year-old Maggie Corrigan, who has experienced a tough life as the oldest child of seven, growing up motherless (her mother died in childbirth) and impoverished in a Southside Chicago Irish-Catholic family. Her choices seem clear: either follow her mother's path into marriage and too many children, or enter the convent to dedicate her life to God and chastity. The option feels like a no-brainer as Maggie chooses the latter, but finds her devotion to God anything but a singular, predictable path. These sentiments play a key role in a story in which Maggie comes to represent not just piety, but a special brand of woman whose purpose seems clear: to both support and rebel against the Church she so loves.

Maggie became tough and devious as she survived her family situation and remained true to her spiritual calling. These traits continue to serve her well as she hones a challenge to the Church that includes a fight for women's reproductive rights. Tensions evident in charity work, in clashes between personalities, and in moral and ethical conundrums evolve in a story replete with many thought-provoking experiences and passages. The result is a powerhouse of a story especially recommended for readers steeped in and supportive of Catholic faith, but critical of some of its social interactions. This audience will find much food for thought in Maggie's struggles to reconcile her beliefs with her moral and ethical values.

While libraries strong in fiction that represents strong female characters and interests will want to include Fearless in their holdings, ideally it will reach beyond library shelves to assume a major and interactive role in book clubs and reading groups interested in representations of women's dilemmas with the Catholic Church. This audience will find many discussion points in Maggie's experiences and changing world, which will fuel debates and provide opportunities for deeper-level thinking.

A Home for the Stars
Laura Kemp
Ramirez & Clark Publishers LLC
9781955171168, $21.95 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

A Home for the Stars is the third, concluding volume in the Lantern Creek trilogy, and ideally will be chosen by prior fans, who will find this concluding story of a magical experience picks up where the last book left off. The story opens with a mysterious Ojibwa petroglyph which has carried Justine Cook back in time to the moment her unseen enemy is born, separating her from what is familiar and introducing her to a world that she's only dreamed of. Justine's encounter with magic and danger is countered by her determination to find Dylan, who has apparently left her alone in this strange place where a "great wind" has deposited her. Her top mission is to stop Henry Younts before he harms those she loves. The only way to save them is to find what she came to this world to uncover. The introductory setting marking Justine's awakening and sense of purpose leads nicely into the first chapter, where Calvert Cook is tending to a girl that was discovered lying in his field.

Laura Kemp weaves a fine story of the shaman, Butler, and the characters that surrounding Justine, as well as capturing their confusion over Justine's strange clothing and ways. As Adam, Henry, Cal, Butler and Odessa find their lives entwined, the action unfolds on different levels, moving between a magical odyssey and a mission to save very different worlds. Kemp creates a host of fine characters who each hold special interests in the outcome of Justine's efforts. She spices her story with the flavor of magical realism, creates action-packed scenes of rescue and confrontation, and reveals "Injun magic" and forces of religious fervor that don't always follow logical paths of good and evil's progression. The result is a powerful novel that nicely completes the prior books in the Lantern Creek trilogy.

While newcomers would find the tale involving, ideally readers of A Home for the Stars will be prior fans, This audience will gain the most from its continuing revelations of this world and its people. Libraries seeing popularity with the other books in the series will find A Home for the Stars a satisfying conclusion that includes reflections on when a search should end and peace be accepted.

Banks of the River
Melvin Litton
Gordian Knot Books
c/o Crossroads Press
9781637897812, $17.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Banks of the River, the second book adding to the Kansas Murder Trilogy, is as much about a small Kansas town in the 1960s as it is about the murder that changes it. In the opening scene, protagonist Jack Marshal is no saint. In fact, he's incarcerated in an old jail to cool off for 48 hours. Even the town priest finds Jack a cut above the ordinary: "In the proverbial phrase he was "Full of it!" Possessed of a joyous hunger to grasp each pleasure offered and take it in. Full of it -- the devil. He simply loved too deeply for faith to cure, loved too deeply the marrow of life."

Invited to confess his sins, Jack imparts a ribald story that involves Jack's implication in a murder surrounding his teen daughter's pregnancy by Jack's old buddy. His trial immerses the town in many conundrums because more is at stake than Jack standing trial. Also on the line and under examination are the beliefs, actions, and undercurrents of the town's secrets, which stand trial alongside him and become exposed one by one. The heart of these follies lies in deception, decisions, and perceptions that shake the town to its roots, both individually and as a community.

As a host of characters swirl around Jack's mistakes and life, readers receive a powerful story of redemption and town complexities, tempered with a wry, ironic underlying stream of humor that keeps readers involved and walking a fine line between criminals and citizens. Immersed in murky legal and social waters, the good citizens of this small town find their parties and lives in
full swing as they cope with the changing tides of legal, political, and social connections.

Powered by exceptional characters with the ability to represent both the ironic, zany facets of life and everyday milestones of achievement, Melvin Litton creates another winning story (begun in King Harvest) that captures the characters and sentiments of this small Kansas town. Readers of historical fiction who look for a satisfying blend of mystery and a broader sense of place and purpose than most murder novels embrace will find that Banks of the River appeals beyond the murder mystery genre to attract readers interested in communities and the crimes that rock them.

Libraries looking for books that operate either as an integral addition to a trilogy or on their own as solid examinations of guilt, innocence, and mercurial legal waters will find Banks of the River a fine novel. It's recommended for anyone who enjoys tales of small-town residents and their rage, redemption, and resolve.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

Destiny of Determination
Cathy Burnham Martin
Quiet Thunder Publishing
9781939220608, $15.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Historical fiction readers who like tales of coming of age, survival, and revised destinies will find Destiny of Determination: Faith and Family a fine second book, enhancing a trilogy about World War II and the Armenian genocide survivors who come to the U.S. in search of new possibilities. While it's recommended that the first book, Destiny of Dreams, be consulted before this continuing story, this is not absolutely required in order for newcomers to become immersed in the events that carry Hrant Gulumian and his family to a new life in America. Despite their dreams of respite and safety, the realities of being an immigrant in a strange land where language, culture, and prejudice affect their safety and choices become central to their story and adaptation.

The focus on faith and family by author Cathy Burnham Martin is the guiding themes of a literary history survey that holds its roots in mother Glenna Burnham's immigrant experiences. Martin's mother's influence lends historical integrity to her efforts, bringing the past to life with rich descriptions that both continue her family's true story and introduce fictional embellishments to capture the action and feelings of her characters. The introductory review of primary characters from Book 1 gives newcomers an easy opportunity to slide right into the lives and people in Book 2, while modern experiences contrast with family interactions and past memories through inviting dialogue and interpersonal relationships.

Set in the 20th century, the events trace the impact and roots of bigotry and prejudice on multiple generations as their lives grow to embrace both family precedent and modern-day challenges. Of particular interest and note is the ways in which Martin interjects and contrasts these stories, experiences, and lives. As "Days of Love and Tears" unfolds, complete with family recipes and reviews of better days and strong reactions to life's adversity and promise, readers receive an immigrant experience that captures and contrasts the nature of immigrant family worlds.

While the result is highly recommended for historical novel readers, Destiny of Determination should also serve, along with its predecessor, as a starting point for book club and family discussions about Armenian history, family relationships, faith, and perseverance against the changing backdrop of American lives, prejudices, and ideals.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

The Sparkzgott Anthology
T.D. Holt
Independently Published
9798840745304, $12.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook

The Sparkzgott Anthology is a metaphysical, philosophical, and social inspection that comes from an unusual point of view: a yet-to-be-conceived child that considers, in slices of "zime time," the facets of what makes us human. This examination takes the form of short vignettes of couples around the world who are in the process of creating life via their couplings, perspectives, and impulses. Sparkzgott is defined as "the spark at the instant of ignition - of union." What precedes this spark and the recognitions that accompany it are the subject of a wide-ranging set of examinations designed to titillate, educate, and spark reflections beyond the usual literary format.

Intellectual readers who look for stories that are not quite religious, not quite philosophical, and not entirely cultural examinations, but which embrace elements of all these and more, will find The Sparkzgott Anthology a journey that is thought-provoking, while book clubs, especially, will want to debate many of its presentations.

Unlike the usual anthology which features writings from various contributors, the sole contributor to this is author T.D. Holt and the narrator he creates to examine the foundations of humanity itself. The anthology itself can be said to reflect the essence of Sparkzgott under consideration here: "What takes place during this combination - exactly at the time of fusion - is the substance of this story: that void of time within which I become "I am." Spark and zygote? Sparkzgott: the briefest burst of time, yet infinite in significance." As the time slice countdowns evolve, readers can expect works steeped in diverse human and cultural experiences and perspectives. While each couple is united by the very spark they cultivate in their relationship, they also are affected by the cultural milieu which births them and that impulse to embrace "risk, adventure, and reward."

These themes blossom a series of touchstones which both explain and explore Sparkzgott, the ironies and inconsistencies of human thought and action, and the motivating forces which lead up to the creation of another thinking human. If these descriptions sound intellectual and thought-provoking, they only reflect the special context of The Sparkzgott Anthology. It's one of those collections which holds as great a potential as the ethereal being who narrates these inspections of life and creation, but also challenges readers in religious and philosophical ways that belay most traditional thoughts about entertainment value.

Each slice of "Zime time" in these series of countdowns offers another potential for discussion, revelation, and realization. Each takes on a different perspective and challenge while uniting with the other "slices" in the anthology to contribute to an overall perspective about what makes us human. In the end, The Sparkzgott Anthology proves mercurial, thoroughly absorbing, and nearly impossible to put down.

Its unique brand of social, spiritual, and philosophical reflections are especially recommended for readers who harbor a special interest in literary works of social inspection who would use The Sparkzgott Anthology as a touch point for lively debate and discussion about all the qualities that make humanity distinctive.

Darkness: A Collection of Stories: Volume 2
Dubhghlas Kraus
Graymalkin Publishing
9798807067807, $12.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

The second volume of Darkness: A Collection of Stories continues the focus of Book 1 in probing different kinds of darknesses of heart and soul. It will be of special interest to readers of psychological horror and revelation who look for literary stories of murder, justice, revenge, and redemption that feature a special blend of angst and understanding.

Unlike the first collection, the stories here take another step into the definition and realms of darkness, creating works that represent a deeper probe into psychology, with the supernatural forces often taking a back seat to the emotional revelations. This approach emphasizes that the roots of horror lie in the mind and heart as much as in outside events that influence the course of beliefs, choices, and actions.

Take the opening short story "Vanity," for example. Here, struggling writer Josh Brannon faces the onslaught of editorial rejections that assault his initial optimism and confidence about the power of his words. His stories "aren't cookie-cutter enough." And neither is his life. As events unfold, Dubhghlas Kraus crafts a portrait of horror that rests not on this one life's vision, but the dovetailed experiences of frustrated writer and blue-collar worker Josh, the early influences shaping serial killer Billy Baumgardner, and a savvy, enthusiastic cop who pursues justice with a vengeance. The days unfold with an eye to showing exactly how this coalescence of disparate lives happened, and how each individual was crafted by his life experiences and influences.

The psychological inspections are particularly astute. The day-by-day exploration is intricate and unhurried, giving readers time to absorb these characters and their motivations for skirting, navigating, or immersing themselves in the darkness. Compare this delicate dance with "Cara," about a lonely man whose rescue of a dog from a violent abuser leads him onto roads of both redemption and revenge. His former dog Bear was his best friend for thirteen years, so after the beloved dog's demise, months pass without canine companionship augmenting this loner's life. Searching ads for dogs for sale results in Jeff rescuing an abused canine, but matters don't end there, because abuser Stephenson lives in the same town and they keep running into one another. When a dilemma arises, Jeff must think hard about what kind of man he will be: one who pursues revenge or one able to affect a rescue even if it means sacrificing the thing he loves most in his life.

Each story presents thought-provoking moments where characters need to self-assess and change. Some do, some don't. Some simmer, and some forgive. "Funny thing about forgiveness. No matter how well justified a grudge is, holdin' it is like pulling a wagon full of heavy stones. And for every slight forgiven, the cargo is lightened, and your journey that much easier." The unifying theme connecting these disparate lives, experiences, and choices is a progressive one of darkness, revelation, change, and eventual realization.

Readers receive a fine set of thought-provoking literary and psychological inspections that display both the power of the mind and the power of the short story format. Libraries looking for fine examples of psychological suspense and growth in this genre will find Darkness: A Collection of Stories: Volume 2 a fine choice, while book clubs looking for powerful psychological pieces that invite discussion will find more than enough fodder for debate and insights in these succinct, powerful works.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

When Stars Align
E.K. McCoy
Atmosphere Press
9781639885084, $17.99

Dr. Augustus Owens is used to the challenging world of a trauma ER environment, but he isn't used to finding out that one of his critically ill new patients is a former lover. Armed with such a summary of events, readers might anticipate that this story will be told through Dr. Owens's eyes, but it's Elsie McCormick who opens the tale with her growing awareness that she's fighting for her life. How did she end up in this condition, and will she survive?

When Stars Align considers love, destiny, and fate as Elsie reviews her life and the only man she's ever loved, Auggie ("Gus"). Her third-person reflection is complimented by the first-person observations of Dr. Augustus Owens as he treats her and, against all odds, falls back in love, despite having dedicated his life to medicine. Most doctors would have quit trying to bring the dead to life. Not Gus. As soon as he realizes who he is treating, he fights against all odds - and seemingly wins. However, this is just the first step in a battle not only to save her life, but to return to what they once had: "In an earlier chapter of my life - during a time when I was happy and actually liked myself - this Jane Doe had been my other half, the only girl I'd ever loved, my everything." It's more than evident from the start that Gus remains fond of this woman, which lends to his determination to save her.

Readers might think, from this beginning, that the story will revolve around recovery processes. These are incorporated into a bigger picture of a blossoming relationship that receives an unusual supplemental experience: E.K. McCoy has compiled a When Stars Align soundtrack, available on Spotify, which is linked to events in specific chapters. Readers can use this to set the mood and relive the music that inspired McCoy, helping her to bring her characters to life. It's as close to a movie as you can get within the written word, and brings alive the story of aligning stars between past and present which allow the star-crossed lovers to carry onward towards the future.

Readers of romance stories will find much to like about the evolving relationship described here. Those who believe in destiny, especially, will find When Stars Align a riveting tale of new connections and opportunities for transformation. Romance libraries looking for stories about second chances will find When Stars Align a compelling tale.

Lyrical Bliss in Tuscany
Cindy Irish
Enoch Publications, LLC
9781942627043, $14.99 Print/$2.99 ebook

Lyrical Bliss in Tuscany is Book 3 in the Bel Homme Quartet. It will best be enjoyed by prior enthusiasts of the series, who will find the story of Italian opera singer Nico Biviano to be compelling as he pursues the classical crossover group Bel Homme in a new venture that introduces unexpected romance along with its different notes. Italian culture, romance, and music weave a solid story of achievement, pursuit, and new journeys as Nico's world tour turns into a relationship with the very different Gina, who also didn't anticipate falling in love. Both pursue success in different ways. Each has dealt with the distractions of previous relationships in manners that eschewed lasting connections. And they discover, within one another, a mirror of their expectations and ambitions that promise to produce results greater than the sum of their individual efforts.

Cindy Irish does an exceptional job of following Nico and Gina as they step out of their comfort zones, both with each other and in their individual ambitions and pursuits. Nico is constantly surprising Gina (and she often surprises herself) as they contemplate an attachment that could require an exorcist to untangle. Irish adds family interactions on both sides to introduce more surprises requiring flexibility on both characters' parts. This, in turn, creates a fine tension that moves beyond romantic and sexual encounters to embrace the growing affair's potential for changing family interactions and relationships, as well. The music-driven, Italian-backed culture of love and growth emphasized in Lyrical Bliss in Tuscany forms the backdrop for a powerful story that ends with a surprising revelation.

Readers who look for multifaceted romances touched as much by evolutionary processes as by a couple's growing attraction will find Lyrical Bliss in Tuscany a haunting story that's nicely steeped in musical culture and romantic surprises. It also follows several characters who circle around Nico and Gina with their own changing involvements. Lyrical Bliss in Tuscany deserves a place on the shelves of libraries strong in novels that spin a fine yarn of the psychological transformations love can bring.

The Western Fiction Shelf

Rawhide Jake: Lone Star Fame
JD Arnold
Five Star Publishing
9781432895877, $25.95 Hardcover

Fans of Western novels, historical fiction, and prior readers of Rawhide Jake in Learning the Ropes will each find a compelling new saga to appreciate in Rawhide Jake: Lone Star Fame, which centers on Jake's ongoing encounters that take place after he splits from Wes Wilson in the first book.

Jake is now working undercover, arresting cattle rustlers and gaining a reputation for frontier justice. But riding the range looking for criminals isn't his only pursuit. Also a part of his life is a romance he's cultivated with a married woman, whom he marries after her husband dies. There are also unresolved issues with Wes, who returns, in this book, to join Jake in a dangerous undertaking that almost kills Jake and changes his life. Now the owner of a new company that places him and his Chinese workers in different jeopardy, Jake's battles are only beginning. JD Arnold crafts a powerful saga set in the late 1800s, which incorporates the political, social, and psychological challenges of these times.

Jake Brighton represents not only a force of strength and change in a world beset upon by those who would skirt justice systems, but a business figure, as he ventures into unusual investments and absorbs financial interests and matters that belay his work in other areas. His actions are detailed with logical analysis and realistic insight: "His original intent was to ride out to the crew and deliver the payroll. But now his intent changed because money-in is always more important to develop than money-out. Both were needed of course in business, but there were priorities."

As Jake, his wife Mary Jane, and Wes come to terms with new opportunities that test their lives, readers receive a powerful Western backdrop that both educates and entertains. There are disparities in the historical record concerning the real Rawhide Jake. Jonas V. Brighton was not ever known as Rawhide Jake; however, many western historians believe he was. Same goes for his role as a stock detective. The author came to realize these disparities after the publication of Learning the Ropes, and segued the part fiction/part fact contents of its predecessor into a full fictional format in Lone Star Fame.

Libraries and readers looking for Westerns that incorporate historical backdrops with a realistic attention to descriptive detail and the lives of those faced with numerous changing choices will find Rawhide Jake: Lone Star Fame a fine survey of life challenges in 1800s Texas. It concludes with the promise of another Jake adventure in another Western territory. The blend of history and adventure works seamlessly to create a vivid account that is enlightening and hard to put down.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Beijing Blunder
Jay Perrin
East River Books
9781736468067, $4.99 ebook

Book 4 of the One Hundred Years of War series represents another powerful display of historical mystery, suspense, and Middle East intrigue that pulls readers into the story of former president Temple, who has built an oil empire and a network of companies which fall under threat from a criminal.

Temple has manipulated his daughter to build this empire. Now Lilah is on the run, Steven Kingsley has assumed her role and cultivated a subterfuge that threatens more than a singular interest or operation, and the elderly Temple finds himself mired in a situation that threatens all the work he's done to assure success for himself and his family. International politics, pressures, and espionage mark a heady group of characters and mercurial situations that keep readers on their toes as the story progresses.

Ripe with the threat of assassination, power plays, and world-hopping action that moves the story from domestic to international playing fields, readers should cultivate an ability to absorb a myriad of satisfyingly complex scenarios as the cat-and-mouse game constantly evolves unexpected twists. The old-money families from New York are still contending for control, but injected into this mix are social and political changes that buffet all the families who vye for control and power. While newcomers can easily delve into the story, it's the prior readers of the One Hundred Years of War series who will best appreciate the way this story so neatly dovetails with and expands the special interests and focus of many of the characters in the prior books.

The Beijing Blunder creates yet another chapter in a family saga that expands and ripples changes through disparate lives. Its strength lies in the process of changing these interconnected relationships, which is why prior readers will find the new events particularly enlightening and compelling, and why newcomers will want to turn to the other series titles for a fuller flavor of the impact of these suspenseful twists and turns. New gambits, power plays, and obstacles are presented here which build on characters and intentions, creating conundrums that are steeped in political, legal, and social transformation.

Thriller enthusiasts who like their stories firmly rooted in history, mystery, and suspense will relish the solid development of all three facets in The Beijing Blunder. Ripe with connections between interpersonal relationships, individual decision-making, and political intrigue, The Beijing Blunder is highly recommended for historical fiction and thriller readers who look for espionage and power struggles tempered by strong psychological developments and characters that represent different forces in life and political choices.

Bloody Soil
S. Lee Manning
Encircle Publications, LLC
9781645994046, $19.99

Bloody Soil is thriller set in Germany that tells of American Michael Hall, who arrives in the country on a mission to join the far-right political group Germany Now. The requirement for joining is stiff: he must kill a prominent Jewish anti-Nazi activist. Less evident (but equally formidable) is the leader's girlfriend Lisette, who opens the story and demonstrates capabilities and deadly intentions beyond her seemingly-innocent countenance. For Lisette is on a mission of revenge for her father's death years ago, has infiltrated the group intent on completing her mission, and has Michael in her sights as the next murder victim.

S. Lee Manning's special brand of political and criminal prowess creates a murder within a murder scenario, set in Germany where an alt-right world is rocked by violence within its own ranks. Her portrait of Lisette incorporates many insights that lead readers to understand her motivations for continued killing and subterfuge. As she, Russian Jew Nikolai Ivanovich Petrov (a.k.a. Kolya), and elaborate schemes powered by hatred on all sides evolve against a political and social examination of European sentiment, readers are treated to an engrossing story that embraces some of the major themes of modern movements and the peoples and forces behind them. The psyches of various groups, from the Mossad to rich American boys playing spy, are examined, contrasted, and play out against an international backdrop of special forces and underlying influences.

Backed by strong characterization, the action proves gripping as readers receive a cat-and-mouse game in a playing field where individual special interests collide with forces that aim to take advantage of and redirect them. The result is a spy thriller that represents the third book in the Kolya Petrov series, but requires no prior familiarity in order to prove an intensely compelling stand-alone powerhouse of a read. Libraries and readers looking for thrillers that probe the motivations and influences of realistic characters will find Bloody Soil's ability to incorporate the political milieus and groups of modern times lends a special flavor to the evolving dilemmas.

The Book of Jobs
M.L. Grider
Thursday Night Press
c/o DX Varos Publishing
9781955065542, $18.95 (paperback) $4.99 (ebook)

The Book of Jobs is a prequel to Bitter Vintage but requires no prior introduction to prove inviting to newcomers and prior fans alike. It gathers stories about Helen Wu and Amy Dresden before their appearance in Bitter Vintage, building a series of formative events in their lives designed to enhance their backgrounds and believability. All nine stories take place before they met, cementing a foundation of their lives and careers before they became a crime-busting team in 1995.

Readers who look for stand-alone crime stories of lives interconnected by circumstance and experience will find The Book of Jobs a compelling read. It opens in 1982, where fourteen year old Helen is being babysat by her older sister Lynn. There is something different about their dark house, that evening -- something that portends change to the quiet October night. Helen moves from being the younger, protected sister to a potential crime-buster in charge of figuring out the moves of a potential predator as the story introduces her early proclivity to solve problems and take charge of situations.

As each short story builds new insights into the evolving psyches of Helen and Amy, the stage is set for better understanding the nature of their future relationship and the strengths each bring to the table of crime-fighting.

As the chronological stories move from 1982 to 1990 and beyond, readers receive a series of interrelated events that feature strong characters, unusual situations that challenge them, and dose many of the explorations with an unexpected sense of humorous description: "Amy Dresden slammed the door of her baby-shit-green '72 Vista Cruiser so hard that the sun visor fell open. The jolt was too much for the brittle old rubber band holding all the business cards, receipts, snapshots and other miscellaneous junk. They fluttered down on her like confetti. She pounded her fists against the steering wheel and made a sound not unlike a cat stuck in a washing machine. How could she have been so stupid?" The result is an evolutionary series of life-changing events that draw together to connect two powerful young women who find their skills, natures, and abilities tested in different ways.

While fans of Bitter Vintage will be a good audience for this prequel, it's also highly recommended for newcomers interested in short stories that explore how crime fighters learn, evolve, and employ their special and newfound strengths to further both their careers and their prospects for personal growth. M.L. Grider's ability to connect the dots of these seemingly disparate life experiences in unusual ways makes The Book of Jobs a fine recommendation for libraries strong in crime stories that take the time to craft intriguing, impossible circumstances.

W. A. Pepper
Hustle Valley Press, LLC
9781958011041, $6.99

Readers of the thriller genre who like a taste of eroticism added into the action will find DoGoodR nicely seasoned with a combination of suspense and sexual fire. It should be cautioned that the story also embraces a number of potential reader triggers, from physical and mental violence and assault to social issues ranging from drug abuse to neglect.

Those of faint heart will want to look elsewhere for their thrillers; but audiences who relish vivid tales that bring social issues, psychological challenges, and terrible choices to vibrant life will find DoGoodR the item of choice for a thoroughly engrossing, thought-provokingly realistic saga.

The story opens with Tanto, the hacker who was the subject of a prior book. It covers the dilemma which evolves when he and his group try to protect a determined young computer genius who hacks into NASA, only to find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and in trouble. Tanto may have been introduced in You Will Know Vengeance, but this story serves as its prequel, setting forth his origins, motivations, personality and influences in far more detail that leads readers to a better understanding of Tanto's world and psyche.

From the start, it is evident that W. A. Pepper writes to involve, from the unusual chapter titles (Chapter 1 is 'My Damn Life', for example) to the candid, first-person revelations from the start that go beyond creating a 'you are here' feel for readers, virtually compelling them to move into this world and its major players. The story evolves a sharp social, political, and crime inspections that have the ability to draw all kinds of readers into Tanto's choices and dilemmas.

From the unusual nature of characters (whose names run from Mane-Eac and Squirrel_Lord) to smuggling, hostage situations, and clients who move dangerously close to babysitting roles that are resented, Pepper keeps the action fast-paced, high-tech, and thoroughly unpredictable. The desire for revenge, redemption, and renewal underlies many character choices and actions, but embeds the thriller in a realistic milieu that keeps readers on edge and guessing.

The result is an especially compelling example of just how diverse and involving a solid contemporary thriller can be. Based in a familiar world replete with violence and social dilemmas that cross boundaries to challenge very different worlds, DoGoodR will ideally be read before and in tandem with Tanto's previous exploits in the first You Will Know Vengeance. It is a top recommendation for libraries seeking exceptional thriller writings that operate on the cutting edge of urban reality.

Gallery of Gangsters
William J. Cook
Independently Published
9798841126331, $13.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Gallery of Gangsters is the final Driftwood Mystery in the series, expanding its five predecessor titles with a new and final battle between Native American detective Charley Whitehorse and Russian crime czar Vasily Volkov. It's a confrontation that will rock prior readers, and is introduced by an Author's Note about currency security and counterfeiting that features some key facts to lend better understanding to this mystery's subject and progression.

This information in hand, readers embark on a vivid romp that opens in the art auction world of 2019. Here, a meteoric bidding war is taking place, with prices hitting the millions for a work of art that two contenders have no intention of losing.

As the bloodless combat between the contenders evolves a chess-like game of strategy and countermoves, readers will be thoroughly engrossed in the story's mystery and outcome by the time the purchase of Hurricane is complete. This is just the first chapter of a complex story that moves into the mysterious death of an art gallery owner in Driftwood, who specialized in high-end paintings. It reveals not just the game being played by Whitehorse and Volkov, but a strong woman caught in the middle (Michelle Garrison), whose auction house work has placed her in the crosshairs of a powerful female assassin. As Michelle asks hard questions about who killed McKinley Striker and Dashiel Owen and becomes immersed in the identity and subterfuge of Odesa (nee Kseniya, whose job is murder), all characters dance into an arena of threat that reaches out to embrace the innocent and guilty alike.

Mystery readers who enjoy stories centered on the art world will find Gallery of Gangsters satisfying for its insights into that community's activities and the works of art that drive passions and pocketbooks alike. These motivate characters to move outside their comfort zones and into the unfamiliar territory of murder, investigations, and nefarious connections. Powered by strong personalities whose special interests create different perspectives and representations of moral and ethical behavior, William J. Cook's story assumes a provocative tone of surprises that embrace unexpected romance and adversity alike.

As events unfold, this final Driftwood mystery comes to life in ways even seasoned genre readers won't see coming. As a stand-alone mystery, it will also nicely attract newcomers who have and need no prior experience with the exploits of Charley Whitehorse and Vasily Volkov to prove understandable and engrossing; especially since Michelle's character powers many of the scenes and insights. In the end, love wins. But, via a circuitous route that keeps readers guessing right up to the mystery's satisfying conclusion.

Libraries and readers who look for outstanding characters, an art world backdrop, and intrigue and subterfuge that moves from a small town into international waters will find Gallery of Gangsters the perfect crescendo of a conclusion that explores what is unique and fragile not just in the art world, but in matters of love, power, and the pursuit of profit.

The Immortal Target
Jonas Saul
Vesuvian Books
B0B7NBQH37, $5.99 Kindle

The Immortal Target is a sci-fi thriller reviewed in the Mystery/Suspense category because its thriller components are so strong that mystery genre readers won't want to miss it.

As Book 2 of a series, it can be read alone by newcomers, who will find that Jake Wood's special dilemmas are a draw from the opening lines: "Jake Wood should have killed the man when he had the chance. That man, Adam, claimed to be immortal, but once his head was removed, Jake would be able to test that theory. But because he hadn't killed Adam, people he cared about were in grave danger." Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Because Jake didn't murder this man, he has now condemned those he loves. It's an untenable position to be in, and Jake responds by fleeing both the authorities and the pharmaceutical company, Fortech Industries, who are both after him. How can he preserve his freedom while simultaneously working to expose and bring down the dangerous intentions of a company committed to genetic manipulation?

Jake has to kill Adam and dismantle his company -- that seems to be the only solution. As he becomes more deeply mired in a conundrum which tests not only his morals and ethics, but his personal survival and those he loves, his problems continue to multiply. Jonas Saul crafts a heart-pounding read from the start.

While it requires no prior familiarity with its predecessor The Immortal Gene, it successfully augments and expands the motives, personality, and challenges to Jake on different levels that will fill in gaps for prior readers while attracting newcomers into this dangerous game. The tension is nicely crafted, the high-tech components of the story add a realistic sci-fi backdrop to the futuristic tale, and many of the usual detective/intrigue devices are turned on end, such as when Jake finds himself capturing a detective via the neurotoxins in his teeth, which make his bite lethal. Jake is immortal. But immortality doesn't guarantee a peaceful, long life.

As readers absorb Jake's latest dilemma, they will find the thriller and sci-fi components finely tuned and so thoroughly bound to one another that fans of either genre will find much to enjoy in The Immortal Target. It's rare to find a thriller that incorporates sci-fi atmosphere, yet remains true to the buildup of suspense, tension, and conflict that the thriller genre embraces. The Immortal Target is such a rare mix, and deserves a prominent place in any library strong in either sci-fi or thrillers.

The Ridders
Lisa Towles
Indies United Publishing House, LLC
9781644564387, $16.99

The Ridders represents political action thriller writing at its finest, following PI Brock "BJ" Janoff into a dilemma that begins when he is offered a million dollars to bring an envelope to the front desk of a luxury hotel. Sounds like simple money. Feels like a simple mission. But it turns out to be anything but easy as BJ is drawn into a time-sensitive job that prepays the million dollars, but places him in jeopardy no matter what he does.

It's a social experiment that seems designed to test BJ's mettle and ethics; but once a PI, always an investigator. BJ's curiosity, combined with an increasing conviction that his seemingly innocuous job is involving him in a high-level scam, leads him straight into danger. Curiosity killed the cat, and it more than threatens BJ's life, ethics, and career as he pursues intangible trails of deceit, only to see his friends and family come under the gun of his decision-making processes.

Novelist Lisa Towles brings her story to life, employing the first-person to bring home reflections that BJ makes as he feels increasingly lost by the twists and turns his case makes, challenging his professional abilities and his life. From decoys and Russian operatives to unregulated international freeports, a group of Ridders involved in environmental conservation at all costs, and a family sword that's been stolen, readers receive a romp through political and personal worlds that carry them on an international investigation with no clear outcomes or perps.

As BJ finds himself confronting not just the Bilderberg Group, but his own missing father's role in unfolding affairs, he comes full circle to realize that his family is, after all, at the heart of some nefarious events. Towles cultivates an action-packed plot that is offset by thought-provoking revelations both political and personal. The result is a captivating tale that engrosses on many levels, offers satisfyingly unpredictable twists and turns, and creates a political thriller that's hard to put down.

Libraries seeking superior works strongly rooted in political, psychological, and social dilemmas will find The Ridders a PI investigation a la mode. It's a powerful tale of father/son relationships and good intentions gone awry that considers the heart of deception and how well-meaning objectives become corrupted by dangerous choices.

Russian Assault
John Ruane
Roswell Press
9798986637808, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Fans of the Dylan Reilly debut thriller novel, A Dangerous Freedom, have the opportunity to further delve into Reilly's world and the threats to it in the sequel, Russian Assault, which opens with the power of an incoming missile at the White House, resulting in an Oval Office in flames and under fire. Marine Corps sniper and Secret Service Director, Ken Hack, has earned a medal for his courage. But nothing could have prepared him for this type of action as he stands atop the White House defending the President and represents the opening salvo of an assault that commands the reader's attention in the unfolding political and military suspense that is Russian Assault.

After seeing the news of the devastating attack, Dylan Reilly feels compelled and called to action, joining authorities in a search for justice that leads him into danger from unexpected sources. His suspicion that the assault is far deeper and broader than is being depicted is correct, but the real truth will challenge even his own capacity to address the perps and get to the bottom of their actions and organization. Are activist groups destroying the country, or does their command center go above and beyond citizen protests to delve into international waters?

Once again, John Ruane has crafted a compelling story that edges between familiar-sounding real-world possibilities and events and extrapolations that move the intrigue into unexpected realms. Dylan's character again takes center stage. This will prove compelling for both his prior fans and newcomers, who will find Russian Assault stands nicely on its own, as well as being a powerful expanded feature of Dylan's efforts.

From comments on hope-driven leadership and historical precedent to peaceful and violent demonstrations and their effects on democratic process and American issues, Ruane provides a probe that incorporates present-day, familiar-feeling scenarios with a futuristic examination of a disaster that simmers under the surface of current events.

The tension is well crafted, the story's twists and turns are unexpected, and the overall attention to juxtaposing historical precedent with issues involved in defending freedom is thought-provoking, as well as action-packed. Libraries looking for powerful political suspense thrillers that inject insights about democratic processes and the forces that struggle for and against them will find that Russian Assault goes beyond the story of an attack to examine the foundations of how a democracy (and its individuals and defenders) respond to adversity.

Supernatural P.I.
Courtney Davis
DX Varos Publishing
9781955065627, $18.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Supernatural P.I. welcomes mystery and paranormal action readers with a Fawn Malero story of the P.I.'s alliance with a werewolf. Its P.I. components are just as strong as its portrait supernatural events, and opens with Fawn's newfound success as a self-appointed Supernatural P.I. for the Seattle area. She's on her way to interview a serial-killer-in-training (who was also her bad first date), on a mission to extract information from the perp she'd personally brought to justice.

Courtney Davis adds a touch of ironic humor into the situation from the start, which is one of protagonist Fawn's trademark responses: "Hopefully, he didn't hold his arrest and incarceration against me." Fawn's secondary mission is to prove her career value to her family, validating her dubious choice of partners-in-solving-crimes with an effective first mission. She has all the trappings of success - with one tiny problem: "...soon I would have a belt with handcuffs, stun gun and whatever else a P.I. might need, like maybe a notepad or some mints? A camera would be good, something small and very spy like. What else did a supernatural private investigator need? Probably a client..."

Her quest for personal validation from her family of Magicians evolves into a case that proves a worthy challenge to her abilities and even her supernatural connections and influences. Fawn soon finds herself in over her head, vying with a powerful force that is both tapping the power of the ocean and trapping an equally formidable vampire within its depths.

Supernatural P.I. employs the first person to get into the mind, logic, and heart of Fawn's world, exploring volatile family relationships and connections as well as the underlying mystery that she's motivated to solve: "I didn't really want to involve my father, I would rather just tell him after it was over that I had solved it."

The forces that give her an edge in the P.I. world also cast a critical eye on these efforts and their results. This involves readers in a series of encounters that test Fawn's problem-solving as well as her emotional stability and connections. Davis winds the supernatural creatures and humor into a story that is surprising and compelling on many levels, replete with comic relief at unexpected junctions of discovery, and even romance: "What the hell is wrong with me?" "Where should I start?" Evie said popping in. I threw a pillow at her, and she disappeared."

Supernatural P.I. is a P.I. story that is just as strong in its investigative components as it is in describing the evolution of a professional problem-solver who hones her own unique abilities. Readers of mysteries that are thoroughly embedded in crime and supernatural worlds alike will find Supernatural P.I. an outstanding read, from its strong character development and nicely paced action to the surprising twists of mystery that keeps readers involved to the end.

The Killer Half
JB Blake
Atmosphere Press
9781639885046, $18.99

The Killer Half: The Legend of Blackhawk 6-Deuce is a novel about combat at home and abroad. It follows Hawk, who has become disillusioned with the war in the Middle East and has walked away from one battle, only to find himself in unexpected combat territory at home. He feels sadness and remorse, and as though he's been used. But he's not used up, because he returns to full-on combat mode when he uncovers a scheme for an armed invasion of America and makes a stand on his own country's soil.

Readers who look for action-packed stories that also retain a good degree of reflective insights about the nature of military combat and civilian efforts to sustain democracy will find The Killer Half replete with thought-provoking passages as Hawk considers the political influences affecting his task of protecting his country. JB Blake is a student of military history and behavioral science (among other research interests), and these lend a fine foundation of reality to a story steeped in unexpected encounters and a relatively unique form of dialogue between characters which eschews the usual quotation-mark usage. At times, the story feels more like a film script or play because of this, but the format supports the action and interactions, highlighting the plot's impact.

The tension is well done and the changing settings and clashes are particularly compelling and realistic in their portrayal. A cast of supplemental characters bring Hawk's actions to life, as well. The "you are here" descriptive moments are especially well detailed: "The pilots flew back and forth once over the valley where nothing was moving. If anyone had moved, they would have shot them. These helicopters were violent, deadly weapons, and the men flying them knew exactly how to use them to maximize death on the ground. They were made for assault and for close air support of infantry, and they had done their job with destructive efficiency. Snakes flew over the volcanic tube and fired into it, but they couldn't get an angle to be effective. They hovered for a time away from the wash to see if anyone would come out. No one did. The enemy could still hear the helicopters because of the distinct sound their rotors made."

Libraries seeking thrillers that take a character's military service history to evolve it beyond the usual formula writing approach will appreciate the evocative originality of The Killer Half which brings to life not only battles, but unexpected romance and characters whose hearts shine with love and conflict alike.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Sasquatch Love Call
A.M. Jordan
Thursday Night Press
c/o DX Varos Publishing
9781955065641, $19.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Supernatural novel readers typically don't receive humor mixed into dark descriptions, but Sasquatch Love Call represents a satisfying foray into the unexpected, both in its romance component and in its array of supernatural forces, from sasquatch interference with weddings to a little fire problem.

The story opens with a bang that captures this juxtaposition of action and fun: "The explosion shook the entire house throwing me out of my bed. Paperbacks were knocked off shelves. My heavy, carved, oak wardrobe moved a full foot along the wall. I was lucky it was bottom heavy since it didn't fall over on top of me. My bookshelf, desk, and bed, had joined it in a short dance across the floor. I was not amused. Before being blown up, I had been in the midst of a delightful dream involving Anna. The music had stopped, she was about to kiss me, and boom."

The contrast between monster hunts, supernatural encounters, and everyday life keeps the story intriguing on more than one level: "Tell you what, we'll go monster hunting tonight and then you guys can go ghost hunting tomorrow night." She sighed.

"All right, I guess that'll do."

"Good," Mike said. "Let me get the cornbread."

The cornbread was fantastic.

As events unfold, a circus of characters in colorful garb enter the picture to build a fun portrait of a strange summer in Weir Canyon, Colorado, as Danny Jael's mountain resort job becomes tainted by acts of heroism and murder. There is no easy way to define the rollicking romp that is Sasquatch Love Call. Suffice to call it a mystery, a foray into the supernatural, and a love story with a decidedly different tone and characters.

Readers and libraries seeking humor with a satisfyingly fun supernatural backdrop will find Sasquatch Love Call impossible to either categorize or put down.

Moon Dragon Falling
GS Carline
Dancing Corgi Press
9781943654239, $19.95 Paper/$6.99 Kindle

Moon Dragon Falling is the genre-busting Book 2 of the Dragon Shadows series and picks up the story of Lisette de Lille, who is now pregnant and looking forward to marriage in the aftermath of a battle. Readers of the first book will recall that she is now a moon dragon, but she faces ongoing challenges from this transformation and her uncertainty about how to use her new abilities. The learning curve isn't easy, especially when she's with child and recovering from the events in Blood Dragon Rising. To make matters worse, her love Tristan has fallen victim to a potion that has made him forget Lisette and her child. She must win him all over again (and apparently re-fight a too-familiar battle) to win back control over her life, future, and the life of her unborn child, the result of two blood dragons' union.

Many elements of fantasy would seem to make Moon Dragon Falling appropriate for the fantasy genre reader. But, wait: is that a pirate injected into the story? And, how can Lisette embark on an effort to save her love and herself if she can turn from dragon back to a vulnerable human being at any given moment? As the romance, confrontations, and unusual milieu coalesce, readers will find Moon Dragon Falling a powerful saga whose characterization and setting continually place it outside any pat definition. Replete with the action of a thriller, the fantasy elements of a dragon dilemma, and the romantic concerns of a new mother-to-be who must battle herself and the world around her bereft of her life's love, the story is designed to attract novel readers as well as fantasy genre followers and fans of a rollicking good read.

From dukes and kidnaping plans to firebrand Lisette's determination to once again quell the forces that threaten her happiness and world, GS Carline has created another compelling story that could stand alone, but more readily adds another chapter to the tale that prior fans will relish. Libraries looking for strong examples of action-centered books that feature powerful female protagonists on the cusp of many changes will find Moon Dragon Falling recommendable to patrons who look for non-formula writing that steps out of its own definition as a 'fantasy' to reach out to and immerse other audiences.

Denver Moon: The Thirteen of Mars
Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers, LLC
9781736596463, $32.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper

Mars is alive. Although this was established in Denver Moon's prior adventure, here, it assumes a new degree of threat that demands a different response from her. Denver Moon: The Thirteen of Mars is the third book in the Denver Moon series, and opens with an attack on Mars that places the red planet on new alert two years after Denver Moon discovered that alien shape shifters had invaded Mars Colony. Now the aliens' purposes come to life in a discovery which leads Denver to realize that Mars holds more surprises than once imagined.

As the story progresses, it moves through repeated conundrums as the concept of 'home' becomes mercurial, as well as the question of who the aliens really are, in the story. Denver Moon faces firefights, returns to Earth's orbit, and receives lessons in loyalty and beings that connect via a hive mind and harbor a type of devotion that operates on a biological level. From a bounty hunter hired to track down a doctor to aspects of the shape shifter community which result in revised perspectives and objectives, Denver's discoveries impact humans and aliens alike.

Once again, Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola have crafted an action-packed sci-fi story that profiles a proactive female hero able to think outside the box of her training and experiences, placing her a setting that charges her with pulling off a miracle to save Mars. The strong character of Denver Moon, which was outlined previously, comes to life here for old fans and newcomers alike, resulting in an adventure that works as either a stand-alone read or (best) in conjunction with Denver Moon's other exploits.

The focus on individual versus collective decision-making processes that embrace when to follow and when to break the rules, whether in alien or human circles, is particularly well-done and thought-provoking, dovetailing nicely with the action-packed events that move from Mars to space and Earth. The result is cyberpunk sci-fi action at its best, making Denver Moon: The Thirteen of Mars especially recommended for libraries and readers who found the prior Denver Moon adventures compelling, and who won't be disappointed by the continuing strength of her persona and actions in her latest story.

Time Terminus
David Gittlin
Entelligent Entertainment, LLC
9798985860504, $2.79 Kindle

Blend a crime story with time travel elements, mystery, and sci-fi for a sense of the genre-busting backdrop of the novella Time Terminus, which lives up to its subtitle and promise, Expect the Unexpected.

The first unexpected note of the story sounds when a pregnant ewe is hit and killed by a meteor. Luckily, the farmer who discovered it and the rock is a retired college physics professor who recognizes its value, but not its evolving threat. Can a rock spark the impetus to build a time machine? It can if you're a savvy professor with a science-based mindset and the ability to see future potential. But, this project can't happen without investors; and who else will believe in a rock that can instigate time travel?

The second note of difference arrives with the introduction of successful Florida attorney Issac Templeton, who finds his nightmares edging into real life. A bold business proposition lands in his office and lap to potentially change his future, which syncs perfectly with his life perspective: "He had read that a person makes their future with their every thought and action. It appeared that Peter Alastair subscribed to the philosophy, and so did Issac."

As events swing between seemingly disparate special interests and concerns, the foundations of Time Terminus at first feel mercurial and shaky; as though too many subplots are injected into the story. But wait, there's more. Each thread results in an interconnected opportunity to appreciate the conundrums involved in developing time travel for profit.

The characters defy their own special interests, ethics, and life experiences as they move outside of comfort zones and into a venture that would defy any horror nightmare. David Gittlin's novella is the perfect example of how, under the right pen, the short form can prove hard-hitting and well-developed.

The twists and turns will please mystery and crime story readers with its probe into special interests; the sci-fi element reaches hard science enthusiasts with an attention to detail and science that embeds reality with new possibilities; and business novel readers will appreciate a surprising story of a profitable venture gone awry when it trickles from the roots of achievement into the horror of misuse. These elements, solidified by strong, disparate characters whose special interests get in the way of their new ambitions, create an absorbing story that is a standout in many ways.

Sci-Fi readers who enjoy explorations of time travel's potential profits and pitfalls, mystery readers who appreciate evolving conundrums, and business readers interested in cooperative ventures gone awry will all appreciate Time Terminus. Libraries should consider Time Terminus the perfect example of efficient use of the novella form to create a multifaceted read with the ability to appeal to a diverse audience.

The Singing Shore II: Sky & Stone
E.P. Clark
Helia Press
9781952723254, $4.99 ebook

The Singing Shore II: Sky & Stone is the second book in the trilogy about Darya (a.k.a. Dasha) Krasnoslavovna, Tsarinovna of Zem', and her peacekeeping mission to the Rutsi, her country's war-like neighbors. E.P. Clark provides a satisfying introduction that summarizes the setting, characters, and action of the first Singing Shore book, Sea & Song, so both newcomers and those who read the first saga can enter into the action more easily. Ideally, though, its readers will be the prior fans of Sea & Stone because the complexity of events, characters, and atmosphere were so richly drawn there.

Sky & Stone also picks up neatly where Sea & Song left off, forming a seamless continuation for those who look to continue Dasha's journey without interruption. Dasha has used forbidden blood magic to preserve the soul of the man she had an affair with when he was killed protecting her. She now carries that soul within her body, which becomes even more complicated a matter because she is now betrothed to a Rutsi prince. However, Dasha is not lucky in love, because that, too, falls apart in an epic manner that leaves her on the run from two different forces, struggling to both harness and avoid tapping the forbidden blood magic once again.

With Alik talking in her head and helping her walk through places of the dead, Dasha embarks on a dangerous journey both through her own abilities and the choices of wielding them, and on routes that attract danger to her path.

E.P. Clark's engaging story incorporates Nordic myth and metaphysical flavors as it follows Dasha's struggles to tap her strengths without draining those around her. Just the right touches of drama and thought-provoking inspections, as well as tangled relationships of love and adversity, are injected to keep the fantasy fast-paced and unpredictable.

Clark draws inspiration from Finland's national epic story. This will be of special interest to those studying Finnish mythology and legends. Dasha's journey is loosely based on The Kalevala, while her encounters with the animals and environment around her are inspired by the actual flora and fauna of Finland and Russia. Steeped in mythology, Finnish traditional legends, and a sense of place heightened by Clark's personal familiarity with and travels in the region, fantasy enthusiasts seeking an evocative, literary, involving tale will find Sky & Stone a rollicking good fantasy worthy of both leisure reading and study.

It should also be noted that Sky & Stone ends with a cliffhanger, to be continued in a third concluding volume. Readers and libraries seeking epic, Nordic-based fantasy will find the literary and cultural roots of this trilogy to be appealing on many levels.

Doom's Daze
Eva Sandor
Huszar Books
B0B6W87C4W, $3.99 Kindle

Readers of madcap fantasy (particularly those who have absorbed the atmosphere and mayhem of the previous Heart of Stone Adventures books) will find this third and latest book, Doom's Daze, to be just as engrossing and unpredictable as its predecessors. Against all odds, Agent Malfred ("Fred") Murd is still alive. And he's facing an enemy that tests his ability to remain so as he rejoins his magpie advisor and the woman who is an expert at breaking his heart for a foray into the uncharted waters of a new enemy from a hidden world, and the weapon that could change everything. A host of characters enter the fray, from Agent Corvinalias (a Count in his other life) to Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa and a zany series of adventurers and figureheads.

Eva Sandor packs such lively description into her story that some of the sentences are deliberately labyrinthine in their length and disparate observations: "Agent Corvinalias, who outside The Bureau was the dashing young Count of a blueneedle tree known as Upper Cloudyblue, had been born - or perhaps born is not the right word; magpies recognize two phases of emergence, one in which a chick hatches from its egg and a second, whereby a fledgling gains functional plumage - at any rate he, like the rest of his moderately large and mildly intellectual family, was from the Isle of Gold, as were the royalty of the Umans."

That noted, the wry sense of humor and minute examination of language, perceptions, and choices that is woven into the story will offer a high degree of delight to literature readers looking for something different and well steeped in literary allusion and tongue-in-cheek observation. The result is another rollicking wild ride through a vivid fantasy universe that nicely represents absurdist forms and an imaginative fictional universe that is remarkably whimsical in its presentation.

Fred's ability to persevere against all odds to turn his role as an outcast Royal Fool into something more meaningful will especially delight prior fans, who will find his latest exploits and the new adventure setting to be just as enthralling as in previous books. Libraries looking for strong examples of humorous fantasy need look no further than Doom's Daze for high entertainment value.

Assassination of Hope
Justin Doyle
Independently Published
9798986029900, $16.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 415pp

On the planet Yiptae lie the final pieces of a puzzle introduced in Embargo on Hope, requiring Darynn and Fyra to travel to the frozen planet in search of answers. What they find is a series of deadly situations stemming from the throes of a violent revolution which leads from an assassination to the mysterious Kaylaa.

The story blends sci-fi with murder mystery investigation and social and political commentary as Darynn and Frya navigate not only a dangerous planet's simmering, volatile conflicts, but challenges to their own hearts.

The opening lines of Chapter One portend a tension and attention to detail that maintains a riveting atmosphere from the start: "A disembodied head floated in front of me, surrounded by endless black. It screamed through purple lips, "Butcher! War criminal!" before the sound devolved into ghastly shrieks. Blood droplets the size of my fist swirled like crimson oil mixed in onyx water as my paralyzed body drifted in empty space." This is a prime example of Justin Doyle's ability to mix compelling description with staccato action that keeps readers on their toes and wanting to learn more.

As the story evolves, a secret involving the fate of not just two individuals, but two worlds and many forces powers a plot that maintains a fast pace and strong characterization. Insights grow not only via action and dialogue, but the interjection of transcripts and other observer influences that keep readers engaged in this chronicle of war and love.

Darynn would do anything to assure the freedom and safety of Kaylaa and Frya. Even give his life for the cause. As missiles tear through churches and lives, the fast-paced story proves hard to put down. The mix of fantasy, interpersonal relationship developments, and social and political evolution makes for an engrossing struggle that invites attention on different levels.

As a leisure read, Assassination of Hope is a captivating adventure; but under its surface of entertainment value beats the heart of social, psychological, and political inspections that will have readers thinking about all three topics and a variety of issues. It should be noted that the tale concludes by leaving the door wide open for more to come.

The Fourth Erodian Conflict promises additional changes. Libraries and readers looking for powerful sci-fi tales of revolution and change will find Assassination of Hope a compelling saga that adds elements of intrigue and mystery into the mix of changing relationships.

After the Fall
Luke Romyn
Independently Published
9798838302281, $16.99 Paper/$5.99 Kindle

Adult readers of fantasy and mythology-based stories will welcome After the Fall: A Tale of Wes the Olympian, a tale of discovery and adventure. It incorporates intrigue and mystery into its account of an amnesiac who discovers he's actually a world-saving hero facing immortal foes. The fact that Wes has somehow materialized in President Elizabeth Clarke's Oval Office is daunting in and of itself; but even more deadly is the knowledge that he's actually Ares, the God of War, reincarnated in human form. As he joins with sorceress and child of gods Hecate and Special Agent Suzanna Morrison, he comes to realize the purpose of his appearance on Earth in a war which involves stolen souls and deadly forces, from god-driven warriors to the Pentagon.

A wry sense of humor is apparent amid the serious confrontations and interactions. It is evident in the dialogue between Suzanna and Wes and in the types of relationships that evolve throughout the story. This balances a serious blend of suspense and fantasy that leads readers through fantasy tinged with real-world flavors with an invigorating, action-packed story in which Wes discovers his real powers and the purpose behind his amnesia. Luke Romyn has crafted an unusual narrative that is especially potent for its ability to walk a fine line between familiar, real-world settings and mythology-influenced characters. The clashing special interests of each world and the revelations others hold about Wes's role in them create a satisfying mystery that holds many enlightening moments that readers won't see coming.

After the Fall is a compelling work steeped in folklore and thriller components alike. It's highly recommended for readers seeking well-done characters, a fast pace, and a story that assumes no prior familiarity with folk legends in order to prove accessible and engrossing. Libraries catering to fantasy and thriller readers will find After the Fall an outstanding choice.

The Poetry Shelf

Death Throes of the Broken Clockwork Universe
Wayne David Hubbard
Atmosphere Press
9781639884759, $14.99

Death Throes of the Broken Clockwork Universe is a debut collection of poetry by Wayne David Hubbard that represents his observations of time, change, and love. The passion and creativity reflected in this poetry collection's unusual title continues to shine in the works within, which are separated into two themed sections: "The Time Studies," and "The Love Studies." Each section is filled with explorations that define and support its chapter's title.

"Nightwatch" opens the first section with a juxtaposition of personal and political revolution as the first-person narrator reflects on how "the capitols of the world are burning" even as he awaits one who never comes and considers the special blindness introduced by love, revolution, and change: "...yet in and in/we were perpetual/the blindness of dawn/the road at our feet/now that our assassins/have fallen asleep." This introduction contrasts nicely with such evocative bigger-picture-thinking works as "The Rebellion of Sisyphus," which examines death and perseverance against all odds: "at first/the stones/would not/speak to me/on my last push/they wept/that i would stay."

Each poem is a microcosm of self that expands outward to connect with the universe. Each is like a nova that becomes a black hole, reaching out with explosive force and then collapsing into a quieter form of contemplation from which all emotion (and the sense of self) cannot escape. Readers drawn into such event horizons will find that each piece dovetails nicely with those surrounding it and the collection as a whole, introducing a life inspection unique in its quiet force and powerful voice.

Poetry libraries that seek exceptional contemporary works for their collections will find Death Throes of the Broken Clockwork Universe a fitting acquisition, while creative writing classes and book clubs analyzing methods of injecting the most force into a few words will want to use these examples as keys to understanding the power and possibilities of the poetic form.

The Relationship Shelf

Women Are Superior to Men
Ricky Arenson, MD
New Insights Press
9798986016313, $14.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

The title doesn't include the question 'why', but it makes a statement that holds a promise in its subtitle: Women Are Superior to Men: The REAL Secret to a Fantastic Marriage, Joyful Parenting & Better Sex! This promise is fulfilled in a lively, delightfully surprising manner that advises self-help readers to survive their relationships, marital distress, and the "World War III" scenario caused by introducing children into the mix.

The tongue-in-cheek humor supplements solid tips and advice on building better relationships. This means that the self-help reader who resists outright admonitions will find the concepts of Women Are Superior to Men infinitely more digestible thanks to their humorous overtones, which eschew the typical chiding tone of a self-help treatise in favor of a more whimsical approach.

Readers receive candid advice based on the author's studies and personal experience, which led him to a basic premise: "Writing this book became my chance to explore this captivating debate about who really is superior - men or women. And after about a year of thinking and researching, my conclusion is that, hands down, women are superior to men. I am proclaiming this based on various pieces of scientific evidence I've collected, my personal experiences at work, and as a man married to a woman far superior to me."

As he explores this concept as it enacts in the bedroom, in society, and in the home, readers will enjoy a romp through male/female approaches to life that juxtapose whimsical wit with truly thought-provoking insights about the nature and incarnation of relationships. The advice outlines the differences between men and women in many different circumstances. As he highlights gender differences in a manner that is enlightening and humorous, Dr. Arenson makes accessible and understandable the actions and reactions of both sexes. The result may have begun as an emphasis of women's superiority, but it ultimately demonstrates how both sexes can interact more positively and effectively.

Readers will find Women Are Superior to Men absorbing, revealing, and downright fun to read.

The California Shelf

Guide to California Planning: 6th Edition
William Fulton
Solano Press Books
9781938166372, $70.00, PB, 427pp

Synopsis: Since it was first published in 1991, "Guide to California Planning" by William Fulton has served as the authoritative textbook on city and county planning practice throughout the state. The first book ever written that covers all aspects of planning in a single state, "Guide to California Planning" is used as a textbook in virtually every college- and graduate-level planning program in California.

Now in a fully revised and expanded sixth edition, "Guide to California Planning" continues to lay out planning laws and processes in detail and describe how planning really works in California -- how cities and counties and developers and citizen groups all interact with each other on a daily basis to shape California communities and the California landscape, for better and for worse.

Significant new topics addressed in this edition include the state's increasing focus on housing production and planning for climate adaptation; The history of urban planning and land use regulation in California; The structure of planning decision-making and the players at the local, regional, state, and federal levels; The basic tools, including General Plans, zoning ordinances, development codes, the Subdivision Map Act, and the California Environmental Quality Act; Advance techniques, including exactions, growth management, Specific Plans, and development agreements; Important urban development topics such as economic development, climate change, sustainability, infill development, and property rights; Infrastructure and infrastructure finance; Natural resource protection.

Critique: Comprehensive, up-to-date, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, this new sixth edition of "Guide to California Planning" is an ideal textbook and ideal tool for planning professionals, members of allied professions in the planning and development fields, and citizen activists. While also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $35.00), this new sixth edition of the "Guide to California Planning" is an essential and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, governmental, college, and university library California Land Use and Urban Planning collections.

Editorial Note: William Fulton is an American author, urban planner, and politician. He served as mayor of Ventura, California, from 2009 to 2011, and later as the Planning Director for the City of San Diego. From 2014 to 2022, he was the head of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He is considered an advocate of the "Smart Growth" movement in urban planning. In 2009, he was named to Planetizen's list of "Top 100 Urban Thinkers".He is also the founder and publisher of the California Planning & Development Report.

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