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California Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 11 November 2023 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Social Issues Shelf Cookbook Shelf
Psychology Shelf Biography Shelf General Fiction Shelf
Historical Fiction Shelf Literary Fiction Shelf Romantic Fiction Shelf
Mystery/Suspense Shelf Fantasy/SciFi Shelf Poetry Shelf
Literary Studies Shelf Business Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Metaphysical Studies Shelf Self-Help Shelf  

Reviewer's Choice

All That This House Has to Offer
Betty R. Wall
Atmosphere Press
9781639889877, $16.99 paper/$24.99 hardcover

All That This House Has to Offer comes from the daughter of Russian Mennonite immigrants. It offers essays that charts the family's journey in 1943 from Ukraine to Austria, finally to settle in British Columbia, Canada, where the family expanded and thrived. These stories (which Betty R. Wall identifies as "heritage stories") come from the author's own memories as well as those of her parents and grandparents, with a little embellishment thrown in where memory failed. She has also created scenes around historical events to cement the sights, sounds, and sense of place that is intrinsic to human experience. All That This House Has to Offer could have been featured in the Biography/Autobiography section, but it holds so much more depth and description that it deserves added acclaim for its ability to inject a "you are here" sense into its first-person experiences. These reach out to grab readers to involve them in the experiences and logic of an immigrant family's daily life: "I hovered over the stove. An empty stainless steel stockpot sat on the largest element. 'Is this for Borscht?'

'Ja,' Mom said. 'Have some breakfast. The Omas will be here any minute and then it's time to get to work.'

'Okay.' I grabbed the remaining bun from the bread basket, pulled it apart, and slathered it with cherry jam. I could really smell the yeast working now." From Oma's memories of her husband Jacob to stories of how a loving, supportive family of mixed generations works and plays together, Betty R. Wall does more than simply share her family's immigrant experiences. She invites readers to sit at the table and partake, cultivating a literary, descriptive voice that recreates the times and the daily concerns of a family experiencing changes together.

Libraries and readers interested in accounts of immigrant experience which come steeped in personal and social history will find that All That This House Has to Offer includes many insights and notes on Russian culture and traditions. These lend thought-provoking insights into how one's past is preserved in the face of many transition points. The last bit of seasoning to the borscht and plum dumplings that permeate this atmospheric work lies in a sense of family and purpose that promises every reader a place in front of a warm hearth of family connections and dreams.

The Social Issues Shelf

Lights on Lancaster
John R. Gerdy
TopReads Publishing
9781970107425 $29.99 Paper/$19.99 Hardcover/$9.99 ebook

Lights on Lancaster: How One American City Harnesses the Power of the Arts to Transform its Communities is a study in relationships between small cities and the arts which is represented via the close inspection here of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In addition to the value of having a single-city focus, this examination comes not from one viewpoint, but through essays from various contributors who each hold unique experiences, perspectives, and insights that create a well-rounded discussion. These essays come from those actively involved in the arts, and tackle a satisfyingly diverse range of experiences; from a mayor who promoted art in the community to a teacher who utilized art to augment the core curriculum in her school and practicing artists such as sculptor George Mummert, who reflects on the power of arts for healing and transformation based on his years of both contributing art and teaching it to his community.

Each perspective personalizes the politics and psychology of art in the community. Each expands the dimension of artistic discussion to address far more than individual visions, pursuits, or methodology. And each essay contributes to the wide-ranging analysis as a whole, which expands well beyond Lancaster's borders to address issues of concern and interest to fellow artists and the communities that support them. John R. Gerdy in effect creates a blueprint of experience that other communities and activists can follow in the course of reflecting and promoting art in the world. The essays are well grounded in the personal, but expand this experience and education to broader questions of just how art is valued, perceived, and integrated into the general community. Gerdy's attention to capturing this broader perspective results in contributions to Lights on Lancaster that introduce bigger-picture thinking to artists and their patrons alike, as artist and essayist George Mummert explains: "The arts have pushed me to learn new things and accept new challenges, but it might be less obvious to some how well-suited engaging in the arts is to the healing process. Living in times when society has been exposed to turmoil and crisis, like the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the recent pandemic, I recall how the arts can provide a space to heal, cope, reflect, and grow from tragic events."

Why promote the arts? Few writers capture the reasoning better than violinist and essayist Heather Balay in 'One Violin at a Time': "Imagine the power these students feel when they receive a violin for the first time and instantly make a sound by plucking a single string. None of them expects this. Their small faces fill with looks of awe that they experience success on their very first try. By the end of their first lesson, they can already pluck their first song, open strings played to a short poem. These students now have built a layer of confidence. They will need that confidence when presented with life's challenges. Each challenge presents a new task that takes a level of practice to attain, but each task is tailored to the student as an individual and presented with the scaffolding needed to reach their goal." Lights on Lancaster is a highly recommended collection that is not only revealing, specific, autobiographical and reflective, but which promises many topics for debate and discussion not just among library patrons and book club participants, but in the general community, whether readers are involved in the arts, teaching, politics, or the fostering of community-centered programs.

The Cookbook Shelf

Roast Figs, Sugar Snow
Diana Henry
Aster/Octopus Publishing
9781783255764, $29.99

Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul is a new edition of a winning cookbook that focuses on cold-weather dishes, pairing spices with seasonal fall and winter fare that remains an attraction some 20 years after the book's first appearance. This revision includes seven new recipes, a foreword by Nigel Slater, and attractive full-page color photos of such dishes as Styrian Venison with Chestnuts, Cranberries and Wild Mushrooms, Danish Roast Pork with Pickled Prunes and Sweet Cucumber, and Roasted Shoulder Steaks with Pears, Onions and Melting Gorgonzola. The result is classic Diana Henry, packed with attraction and foolproof results.

Hamlyn/Octopus Publishing

These new vegan cookbooks will expand a vegan cook's possibilities, offering exciting new innovations and approaches not to be found in other vegan cookbooks.

Mildreds Easy Vegan: Exciting Food, Simply Cooked (9780600638056, $32.99) shares dishes from the restaurant that emphasizes the simplicity of vegan cooking, promoting this healthy eating style. Chapters open with brunch ideas such as Cherry Pistachio Porridge or Chocolate Hazelnut Crepes and move to international influences in all kinds of meals, from a Harissa Patatas Bravas and Iranian Shirazi Saladmade with mint, cucumbers, tomatoes, and spices to a baked Leek and Pine Nut Gnocchi Gratin packed with texture and flavors. The result elevates vegan food to the level of comfort food, equating it with an ease of preparation that will prove inviting to all cooks.

Sam Dixon's A Very Vegan Christmas (9780600638032, $19.99) proves that those on a plant-based diet needn't miss the familiar trappings of the holidays in which people gather around food, even if meat, cheese and chocolate aren't part of the vegan diet. Recipes for party foods include cocktails, appetizers, and festive main dishes which excel in both appearance (emphasized by the color photos throughout) and creative embellishment. Here are Mincemeat Pancakes, Mushroom & Chestnut Stuffing, and Cranberry & Lentil Filo Christmas Crackers - all of which promise an inviting, celebratory feel perfect for holidays where vegan and meat-eaters look for bright, colorful, inviting foods. These fine, creative collections should be featured in any library's vegan cookbook holding, and on the shelves of any aspiring vegan cook.

The Psychology Shelf

Dr. Karl T. Muth
Muse Literary
9781958714997, $5.99 ebook

Self-Inflicted: Confronting the Suicide Taboo blends philosophical with historical, ethnographic, and linguistic examination as Dr. Karl T. Muth considers and analyzes the decision to end life, making a strong case for empowering the authority to do so under different conditions. Its candid discussion of suicide comes with a trigger warning for those on the edge - especially since it contains rationales and arguments which promotes the idea of purposely ending life without the legal and social restrictions and taboos currently in place. This notion may seem quite controversial to many, but skeptics, especially, should take note of many of the arguments in Self-Inflicted. These are crucial conversations for many levels of society, but they are also quite difficult ones which receive specific guidance here.

Dr. Muth considers how people think about suicide, how that deliberation translates to either action or inaction, and the circumstances under which logic dictates that suicide may be as concrete a choice as life itself. The many thought-provoking contentions of this survey translate to a treasure trove of discussion material that make Self-Inflicted particularly recommendable to university or graduate classrooms and reading groups (albeit, with the trigger warning caution). "Suicide is a choice of route to a destination where we each and all are headed on our own schedules and at our own paces."

Worthy of debate as well as contemplation, suicide's impact, choice, and ethical and moral foundations is argued on medical, psychological, social, and legal levels in a manner accessible to a wide audience. Libraries and educators seeking material which tackles a highly controversial idea with logic and reasoned assessment will find unparalleled opportunities for conversations and reflection in Self-Inflicted: Confronting the Suicide Taboo, making it a unique and worthy addition for a wide range of collections or syllabi.

The Biography Shelf

Memories of Madhupur
Samarendra Narayan Roy
9781946582010, $14.95

Memories of Madhupur: Mid-Century Vignettes from East of India is a top recommendation for libraries seeking personal accounts of Indian culture and history, cultivating both with a tone of exploration that comes from an author raised by his grandparents in Madhupur in the 1950s and 60s. Although Samarendra Narayan Roy wrote these tales with children in mind, all ages will find these stories of coming of age in India and the adventures and encounters this embraced to be equally compelling.

An introductory story of postal messages Roy read or wrote for local villagers at the age of ten and their place in Indian culture reveals concurrent belief systems and historical precedents which elevates his personal memory with wider-ranging social insights. The rich nature of these memories of youth brings India to life for readers both quasi-familiar and completely unfamiliar with the country, weaving stories of castes, religions, communities, tribes and colorful characters with accompanying insights about India's delightful diversity and cultures.

Vibrant and passionate in its memories and tales of yesteryear, the colorful nature and attraction of Memories of Madhupur: Mid-Century Vignettes from East of India should not be limited to an audience of any particular age, but explored by all as a compelling, attractive story that deserves a place in libraries seeking accessible, lively stories for both enlightenment and entertainment.

Dance to Dreams
Shogo Onoe
Independently Published
9798802245651. $21.00 Hardcover/$14.50 Paper/$6.00 ebook

Few Japanese travelers would dream of embarking on a journey to an English-speaking country such as Canada without being able to at least converse in the language, but Shogo Onoe's memoir Dance to Dreams: Making the Right Choice chronicles Onoe's choice to begin a new life in Vancouver sans the benefits of fluency. Moreover, his passion for the written word led to his aspiration to become a writer. Despite numerous rejections, he pursued his dream of achieving publication, and Dance to Dreams is just one result from a pen that has experienced many forms of rejection, acceptance, and challenge.

The first thing to note about this story is its passion. Readers might not expect the depths of the candid, passionate tone to ripple through a Japanese writer's memoir. Onoe cultivates excitement, translates that energy to the written word, and brings readers along on a rollicking ride of discovery that translates to readers through dialogues with all manner of people that he encounters along the way. Onoe navigates these strange worlds and their inhabitants with an astute eye to examining the kinds of realities that Japanese natives and those supportive of the culture may find uncomfortably enlightening. These confessions could prove painful to some, but can serve as intriguing discussion points in book clubs choosing this memoir for not just its cross-cultural encounters and journey, but for its succinct, hard-hitting points about how the Japanese interact and intersect with other cultures.

Ex-pat Onoe creates a dialogue of examination that forces readers to probe the undercurrents of the Japanese psyche and its underpinnings. Perhaps he is in a relatively unique position to do so, given his independent journeys through other cultures which lead to new insights and critiques of disparate facets of a Japanese culture that tends to pigeonhole and dehumanize those outside Japan. The story of one who spent only four days in Mexico before deciding to move from Japan to Guatemala creates a powerful inspection especially highly recommended for book clubs interested in Japanese cultural explorations that pull no punches in critiquing psyches, powers, and prejudices. Libraries will find Dance to Dreams a unique blend of memoir and cross-cultural encounters that challenges belief systems and assumptions alike.

Balance, Pedal, Breathe
Claire Unis, MD
Warren Publishing
9781957723099, $29.95 Hardcover/$17.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Balance, Pedal, Breathe: A Journey Through Medical School joins a host of other memoirs about medical school experiences, but arrives with a difference - Claire Unis was a young small-town waitress when she received her acceptance to medical school. The paths she would travel there came not from a world of grooming and privilege, but from a calling to medicine which she felt at a young age. This goal was cemented during a painful training process which challenged her ideals of what it meant to become a doctor.

Unis writes with a personal passion that comes across in her memoir of pursing dreams and realizing their illusions and limitations: "In these pages lies the story of a willful, would-be doctor who tried to hold on to the before-self, the not-doctor self, even as she could feel herself changing over the four years of medical education leading up to her degree. In my collection of memories are also the reasons why, if my son must follow this path, I will swallow my misgivings about this career. Though the road itself shudders with ruts and sinkholes, boulders and sand, practicing medicine means living a considered life."

From the realities and downside to training at a private hospital to taking a step back from school to breathe and reconsider, Unis crafts a journey that is not singular and dedicated, but filled with pivot points. The result holds quite a different feel than the usual dogged story of the pursuit of a medical degree against all odds and under nearly impossible residency conditions. It's a more reasoned, mindful account of the process in which one woman achieves her dream - albeit in an unconventional manner which concurrently embraces life events, goals, and challenges.

Anyone with an interest in physician training, personal experience, or professional evolution will find Balance, Pedal, Breathe an inviting, uncommon exploration of a process which often challenges one's perceptions and goals, but here results in a special type of doctor who enters the system with more than technical savvy alone. Libraries seeking a more balanced memoir of an aspiring physician's experiences will find Balance, Pedal, Breathe an especially enlightening and thought-provoking acquisition that not only balances traditional accounts, but expands the possibilities of medical training into more mindful thinking.

The General Fiction Shelf

Wild Asses of the Mojave Desert
Lis Anna-Langston
Mapleton Press
9781957730066, $9.99 ebook

"How does your life just fall apart?" Wild Asses of the Mojave Desert embarks on a journey away from the familiar and into the desert of discovery, where the first-person narrator Skye has been "...tossing off jackets and shoes and bad timing my entire life and there I was, alone and exhausted, but free."

Poor relationship choices have resulted in an ex, baggage, and the desire to start over while confronting the fact that, in reality, part of what has been seemingly left behind has followed Skye into a new life: "Like a smooth second hand rolling around the dial, time passed. It didn't heal or fix things. I didn't have a map of my life, just a feeling that connected to a feeling, that connected to a feeling. I'd gone too far out into that wide-open space that turns back on you and howls." Lis Anna-Langston specializes in employing an thoughtful voice that captures the "Jungian nightmare" the author is emerging from and trying to evade. This translates to a compelling series of descriptions about not just an effort to re-envision and recreate a life, but the environment that surrounds and supports it.

Thus, readers are introduced to a foreign milieu in which years of journeying bring the narrator full circle back into a family that supports a "crazy bunny" who still doesn't know exactly what she wants to do with her life. The imagery adds a rush of color into a narrative that draws on both a visual and emotional level: "Mom and Dad made it look easy. I gawked at my parents, holding hands in front of a perfect sunset. Violet, magenta, apricot melted down onto rooftops. An entire world melting into their gooey love affair." Whether it's filling out applications or considering the extraordinary possibilities of rocks that captivate Dylan as much as reflects his curious personality, Skye is both "just passing through" and finding her place at last. The typical assessment of her life (which comes from her as much as those around her) is that "Skye is broken. Skye can't handle reality." In truth, the kind of reality she navigates is far more honest and revealing than those around her realize.

As relationship quandaries, marriage possibilities, and good and harmful emotional connections emerge against the backdrop of the desert environment, readers receive a multifaceted story that connects via both emotional and landscape twists of perspective. Lis Anna-Langston injects surprises along this journey, including end-of-life to rebirth realizations that lead readers to examine their own life directions and choices. Wild Asses of the Mojave Desert is a novel that pulls at heart and mind alike. Through Skye's journey and process of letting go everything she's held tightly throughout her life, readers receive a compelling saga especially highly recommended for women's book reading groups searching for stories of self-realization, relationship growth, and a sense of place, that offers transformative opportunities.

The Warmer
Patrick Robbins
Pipevine Press/Warren Publishing
9781957723938, $30.99 Hardcover/$18.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Warmer is a novel about new college grad Ned Alderman, whose encounter with the alluring Chase Becker, who promotes and reflects joy, changing his life and those around him. From the start, Chase exhibits a magnetism and connection that leads those around him (including Ned) to fall into his spell. As Chase's uncanny ability to "pay attention" injects added value into others' lives, he also rubs some people the wrong way. When Chase pulls Ned's cousin Nadine into a professional free fall, the three characters find their attractions and lives pulled in different directions.

Patrick Robbins excels in a contrast of personalities, life approaches, and connections that will encourage a satisfyingly thought-provoking response in readers who might anticipate a story of how new adults struggle, but receive an equally involving tale of charisma's complications. From love and taking flight to the ultimate impact of illusion and transformation, Robbins leads readers into a scenario in which the daily interactions of life are revised by a "warmer" personality who has yet to learn how to give to himself what he instinctively bequeaths to others.

The result is a powerful novel of epiphany and attractions that will provoke powerful reflections in those interested in how new adults navigate life's uncertainties and opportunities. Libraries and readers seeking stories that portray characters like Chase, who is adept at "using his positive emotions as a force field, launching them into those he met" will find The Warmer a heartfelt story of growth that ideally will spark interesting book club and psychology group discussions about relationships, growth, and approaches to life and learning.

Never Enough Time
Kimberly McMillan
Warren Publishing
9781957723860, $33.95 Hardcover/$18.95 Paper/$4.95 ebook

In Never Enough Time, Marni was fourteen when she lost her mother and was sent to live with her father and his new family. During this time, truths emerged that not only challenged her with a strange new environment, but tested her loyalty to her mother and father as well as her concept of family. Now over thirty, Marni is once more rocked by the loss of a key person in her life, and again faces a redefinition of family, loyalty, and love as she faces betrayal and the challenge to accept strangers into her life and embrace them as kin.

Kimberly McMillan creates a satisfying juxtaposition between past and present patterns and experiences as Marni seeks different ways of blocking her pain and finds, instead, that she must fully embrace it to move ahead. The raw, candid revelations Marni reveals may prove triggers to readers who struggle with their own devastating life losses. This effect is mitigated by the hope that runs like a stream through Marni's life, from childhood to maturity, as she continues to embrace the thought of a happy life and carries the lessons of her strong single mother into her own choices.

Never Enough Time's rich focus on strong women who tap their inner resources and beliefs to form productive, constructive relationships against all odds makes it a particular attraction to female audiences who will appreciate the powerful portraits of Marni, her mother, and women who, through generations of experience, pass down legacies of trust, love, and courage. In providing a variety of perspectives, exploring the possibilities and strengths of women who harbor deep convictions about the world and their place in it, and delving deeply into the characters that set the stage for Marni's own decisions and courage, McMillan creates a moving and inspirational novel. Never Enough Time is highly recommended for libraries and, especially, for women's book clubs seeking representations of disparate women who are each strong in their own right.

My Two and Only
Carla Malden
Rare Bird Books
9781644283592, $28.00

Some days, you can't take back. A simple admonition or twist of fate leads to inevitable and world-shaking changes. In My Two and Only, Charlotte faces just such a moment in a day that 'wanders off course early' from an initial checklist of possibilities to conclude with a partner's evening jog that changes everything. In some ways Charlotte remains the same person: a mother, a daughter, a career woman. In other ways, as a newly single woman, her opportunities expand - especially when she meets environmental lawyer Brian, who compels her to make a hard decision that forces her to question her identity and trajectory.

Carla Malden examines a woman's transformative process and turns it on end with several twists and turns that provide a realistic assessment of identity for women who face disruptions and changes in their own lives. The dovetailing of opportunity and adversity is woven into everyday affairs from the start, lending a realistic and compelling feel to the story: "Go for a run," she told her husband. "You'll feel better." Past and present and memories and identity meld in a story of growth that deepens these transformative moments with reflections on marriage, its reasons for downfalls, and the well-meaning advice of friends and self-help gurus that don't always work for Charlotte. As she compares Paul and Brian, Charlotte solidifies her personal and professional goals with her interior design and redesign savvy, quietly peppering the story as they highlight impactful moments: "Long term livability was always a goal of hers."

Women readers who have fielded marriages - first, second or third, who are exploring their self-definitions, or are already well grounded in patterns of growth and independence will appreciate the special blend of strong characterization and evolutionary processes that Malden explores as Charlotte's life plays out. Libraries and readers seeking a strong women's novel delving into heartache, joy, and transformation will find plenty of material in My Two and Only. This novel lends itself particularly well to lively book club reading group discussions about the nature of growth and independence, among many other possible topics for debate.

Friends with Issues
Meredith Berlin
Warren Publishing
9781957723730, $32.95 Hardcover/$18.95 Paper/$6.99 ebook

Friends with Issues is set in New York City in 1997. It follows the quandaries and interactions of three successful women who struggle (in different ways) to balance their careers, family lives, and friendships. From this description, readers might expect the story to be told entirely from a female vantage point, but it actually opens with the reflections of Nick Gallagher, Susan's husband, six months before his demise. He reflects on the end of their sex life after the baby is born, the incongruity of living in a lavish house he hates, and the oddity of being in his late forties in a life that alienates him despite its outward appearance of success. His musings are soon to be mote, but contrast in an intriguing manner with the next chapter, which captures Susan's personality.

Susan eschews many popular facets of self-examination, instead opting for a gritty form of honesty others may find grating. As the lives of Susan, Elizabeth, Brooke, and Nick coalesce, readers receive thought-provoking moments of self-discovery and new realizations that prompt each character to take new steps into embracing their disparate choices and passions.

Meredith Berlin creates a strong novel which contrasts women's friendships, lives, and opportunities for self-realization and change. Each character receives inspection for their influences, motivations, and perceptions of life, and each circles around the wagons of love, loyalty, and opportunity with a different set of life experiences and challenges which contrast nicely with one another. The rich details of their interwoven lives are thought-provoking and realistic. Nobody's perfect; but within that ideal of perfection lays the beating heart of attempts to rise above life's slings and arrows to become better, happier, and more empowered. Libraries and readers looking for beach reads about women's friendships and life changes will find Friends with Issues realistic, engaging, and hard to put down.

Captured Angel
Cynthia L. Clark
Outskirts Press
9781977264190, $15.95 Paper/$9.49 ebook

Readers of Cynthia L. Clark's prior novel Dirt Road Main Street will well recall the love lost when handsome Ben "Tano" Montano and Holly Harris meet by chance, lost one another, then reunited under a storm of adversity destined to tear them apart once more. In Captured Angel, Holly is on the rebound from these events, engaged to be married to another, and is on the cusp of having her dreams fulfilled at last, having moved on from Tano. Or, has she? When Tano unexpectedly reappears six months after their breakup, another fiery encounter emerges like a phoenix from the ashes of disaster as Holly again finds her choices and chances challenged by both opportunity and disaster. Unable to set aside the destructive impulses and alluring attraction that led to so much pain in the prior book, Holly and Tano find themselves on a parallel course of involvement dilemmas that both keep the love torch burning and threaten to consume its holders.

Holly returns home only to find she actually has come full circle back into the circumstances and arms of attraction that proved so dangerous the first time. Prior readers of Holly and Tano's escapades will find the same outstanding draw in their evolving relationship conundrums here, with the added value of others characters whose worlds revolve around and are affected by their choices and interactions. Clark cultivates an emotionally tense atmosphere that juxtaposes love, desires for revenge, and challenges of resolution in a story that acknowledges the complexity of motivations for actions and their consequences. Much as she prays for rescue in different ways, Holly discovers that, in the end, words unexpressed may prove just as bitter as those exchanged.

The intersection of romance and suspense is well done as events play out to further the attitudes and life-changing experiences of two characters who dance around one another and search for resolution in themselves. Libraries and readers seeking powerful sagas of holding on, letting go, and discovering what is really worthwhile in life will find Captured Angel a riveting exploration of life, sacrifice, redemption and survival.

Between Two Gates
Neil Perry Gordon
Independently Published
9798987563229, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Between Two Gates is a novel of visionary fiction that opens with a death. This might seem an unlikely starting point for a novel, but this story represents a new beginning as the thirty-two-year-old protagonist's life stops from drug abuse and then experiences a transformation in the afterlife. Samuel's spirit is welcomed by his grandfather, and the two embark on a quest that embraces Samuel's transitioning "...from your life on the Earth to the next stage of your existence." The structure of the plot takes the form of a three-act production (sans the usual drama screenplay of character calls and responses). It features a wide-ranging spiritual flow, from Samuel's calling to traverse Gehenna's five realms to his confrontation with disparate forms of heaven, hell, and purgatory. His wise grandfather calls his current abode a "...good place. A natural place where we continue to exist until that time when we're called upon to make our return."

Samuel's task is to embrace his destiny, rescue his great-great-grandfather from dangerous entity Solomon, and confront his own karmic heritage while fielding angels and fairies alike. The spiritual and ethereal nature of this metaphysical work requires of its readers a mind open to non-traditional concepts of the afterlife. Those harboring such inclinations will find Between Two Gates a wide-ranging, mind-hopping journey that offers tantalizing insights into destiny and life purpose. Readers who also harbor affection for philosophical reflection receive this in droves as Samuel confronts others and self in an afterlife journey that cements his karma and the impact of "doomed desires" that affect and direct his world.

The result is a powerful novel of realization, redemption, and afterlife conundrums that is especially recommended for audiences interested in considering the lasting impact of their choices and the power of love. Samuel's heroic and epic struggles play out on an afterlife stage replete with thought-provoking insights that will prove as suitable for book club and spirituality group debates as for individual contemplation. Libraries and readers seeking a visionary story that juxtaposes adventures with afterlife considerations will find Between Two Gates compelling and hard to put down.

Altar of Ashes
Bruce Westrate
Thousand Acres/Armin Lear Press Inc.
9781956450835, $24.95

Young Ted Polanski is a deer hunter looking for perspective and a last good hunt before his move from rural Indiana to Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, he bags more than he bargained for when he and his companion witness something strange going on in the glade as they pursuit their game. What seems like a hundred people are participating in a strange ceremony that turns into a horror spectacle when Ted and his friend Tim stumble upon a sacrificial rite. Local Indiana prosecutor Allen Southworth is facing personal and professional conflagrations of his own. At a crossroads in his own life and career, Allen discovers that his ability to cut back his workload to embrace a new family is challenged by a spectacular case that sparks many emotions about religious tolerance and intolerance, diversity, and bigotry that place the small community in the national eye of a hurricane.

As political and cultural strife heat up, various community members from farmer Abner Stickle to African-American legal giant Madison Fulbright, find their interests and pursuit of justice intersect with simmering underlying community prejudices and emotions that explode into the open to reflect a broader schism in American politics. Bruce Westrate moves his story from a murder mystery to a legal encounter that embraces some of the undercurrents of adversity and prejudice in America today. Not quite a courtroom procedural (even though court appearances drive a good deal of the story) and not just a story of intrigue, Westrate shatters emotions and preconceptions of what makes for good and bad legal precedents and how the past reaches out to influence present-day decisions.

Firmly based on history and research into the rite of sati and the specter of personally gaining from tragedy and national calamity, the sati trial which evolves brings Allen to the precipice intersecting guilt and success as it forces him to confront moral and ethical influences in his own choices. Libraries and readers interested in a compelling blend of ethical and social examination and intellectual discourses over legal precedent and proceedings will relish the questions and conundrums in Altar of Ashes, which ignites a sense of shame and revelation in the protagonist after the final outcome is revealed. Book clubs interested in debating the foundations of courtroom proceedings that raise intriguing questions about connections between the nation's laws and its moral standing.

The Historical Fiction Shelf

From the Fires Scattered There
Kammeron Polverari
Warren Publishing
9781957723952, $28.95 Hardcover/$15.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Readers of literary World War II fiction will find From the Fires Scattered There to be unusually compelling and revealing in its focus on the devastating Tamiami Champion train wreck in North Carolina in 1943. It took over seventy lives and reflected the diversity of individuals whose lives were either ended or forever changed by the incident.

Kammeron Polverari sifts through these lives with the astute eye of an observer who brings readers along for a rollicking ride on the rails of death and revelation. The passengers on this train of inevitability react differently to their circumstances, which contrast nicely in a riveting story that embraces all manner of lives and perspectives. As the vivid events unfold, readers receive powerful contrasts in attitude, perception, and lives joined in a flash by a terrible accident that tests their values before, during, and even after the fact.

History, havoc, and philosophical and psychological revelations permeate this powerful story's anticipated (and concurrently unexpected) courses as the characters make life-or-death decisions in disparate, unpredictable manners. It is equally time for readers of historical novels, World War II history, and powerful good reading to choose this book. Libraries will find From the Fires Scattered There a powerful, phoenix-like saga of death and rebirth that operates on many levels, thus appealing to a much wider audience than historical fiction usually reaches.

Danish Connection
Keith Thye
Classic Day Publishing
9781598493429, $9.99 ebook

Danish Connection follows the Dansgaard family in a historical saga that embraces an obscure fact of Danish history to vividly recreate eight decades of the twentieth century in Europe and America. Torn asunder by two world wars in Europe that fragment nations and family ties alike, family heads make impossible choices to preserve their lives while severing and reinventing their connections to the past and each other. Novel readers might anticipate that a historical work steeped in Danish and world history and sporting over five hundred pages will be a slog to read, but Keith Thye's talent lies in convincingly and compellingly delving into the hopes, challenges, motivations, and inner and outer forces that drive patriarch Bjorn (and other family members) to engage in confrontations and conversations that change their perspectives.

From the blossoming romance between Bjorn and Frieda to the secret surrounding her roots that draws them ever closer to danger through the subterfuge they propagate to survive changing circumstances, readers become thoroughly immersed in the evolving situation in Europe and the changes it brings to the world. Whether describing struggles with personal depression to POWs, immigration to America and the secrets which continue to drive life choices, and an eventual quest to bring together the fragmented Dansgaard family, Thye's attention to psychological as well as historical developments keeps readers thoroughly engaged in the choices and changes this family experiences as wars and peace buffet them. Bjorn's booming businesses interests and how he keeps his finances afloat even during times of struggle also adds an unusual element of financial inspection and savvy to the story that keeps the family grounded in its financial as well as emotional survival tactics. Hopefully, lost sons will return to the family fold. Hopefully, lost opportunities will blossom again. They do - albeit in different, unexpected ways that keeps characters and readers on their toes.

It's no easy task to create a work steeped in social and cultural inspection, personalizing the history of a group of characters that each find their lives affected not only by uncontrollable past influences, but choices in present-day perspectives and living. Thye's story is highly engaging and well-detailed. His ability to juxtapose history with psychological growth and family connections creates a work accessible not only to the usual audience of historical fiction readers, but to those whose genres usually lie outside that fold. Any who look for engrossing and epic stories that appear complex on their surface will find Danish Connection highly accessible and entertaining.

The Literary Fiction Shelf

Looking for an Address
Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Translated from Bangla by Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra
Parabaas Publishing
9781946582119, $6.95 ebook/$14.95 Paper

Looking for an Address is set in the 1990s in New York City and centers on the lives of several expats from both Bangladesh and India who find their status as immigrants challenged by the political relationship and cultural differences between India and the U.S. "Most Bangladeshis seek political asylum. Like the Punjabis do. And a great many lie about it. Now the government has become much more strict. The F.B.I. inspects each case." American readers need not hold prior familiarity with immigrant policies and politics or Bengali culture in order to appreciate Nabaneeta Dev Sen's disparate characters, which embark on different searches for a sense of place in their revised lives, encountering new ideas and challenges in the process.

Anything needed in cultural or political background is incorporated into the story in a compelling manner as the characters encounter challenges to their dreams and ideals and are forced to make responses and changes that revise their ideas of independence, family relationships, and social status. Some words and ideas are hard to translate in Bengali, as the characters discover when a single description (such as 'innocence', for example) becomes impossible to properly transmit, even in the course of flirting. The free atmosphere of New York releases some who are prisoners of their own perceptions and creates a milieu that encourages not just growth, but taking greater risks for the sake of enlightenment. "You've come to this world. Don't you need an address for your heart?"

Book clubs discussing expat Indian literature and Indian/American cultural experiences will find Looking for an Address a compelling search for meaning and understanding, while libraries considering modern literature that expands the representation of Indian culture will find this book a key acquisition.

Grendel Wept
C. P. Serret
Tempest & Gayle
9781734323474, $24.99 Hardcover/$14.99 Paper

Nemesis is a young woman who has pursued defrocked archaeologist and art curator Julian Corbin past the gates of his personal hell in quest of keys to place an item in storage. So opens a surrealistic scenario in which Julian's nightmares become part of a living death which operates (to him) on many different levels. Readers who begin Grendel Wept will discover that the literary narrative incorporates many unique devices to follow Julian's journey. These include conversations not presented in the usual quotes, explorations which teeter on the edge of insanity to blur the lines of reality and dreams, and observations of modern dilemmas and truths that permeate Julian's attitude and approach to living. The nuances which contribute to Grendel Wept's philosophical, literary, and psychological depth are many, placing this novel's illusions, allusions, and progression on the radars of intellectual readers and book clubs interested in a story which concurrently embraces traditional and unconventional threads in Everyman's interactions with society.

Ideally, readers of Grendel Wept will hold a special form literary and philosophical education that will allow their inspections of this story to fully embrace its most compelling features. From a serial killer's surreal threat to the wild intersection of fantasy and reality that drive Julian's world, readers can anticipate a slow read only because the thought-provoking nature of the passages and their presentation demands and deserves an attention to detail and the knowledge of literary precedent: "-I shall not take it, Father, for it looks to be both fish and man, and I hate fish."

The result is a work of art that both reflects Julian's passions and integrates present-day society with visions of death that are never far behind the living. The ultimate impact is nothing short of sensational: "I was without words, and a remembered sensation passed through me, shivering me: Grendel weeping alone in the darkness, not for his - my - mortal wounds, but for in gaining all, I'd lost it too." Readers and libraries looking for works of modern literature that display depth and challenge on intellectual, philosophical, and psychological scales will find Grendel Wept a powerful study in psyche and art. It deserves a place on literature shelves and assignment in contemporary classrooms studying modern literary achievement.

The Romantic Fiction Shelf

Kitchen Heat
Kathleen McFall & Clark Hays
Pumpjack Press
9781734519792, $16.95 Print/$5.99 ebook

Kitchen Heat is the first book in the Restaurantland Romance series and follows Kassi to Portland, Oregon in a last-ditch effort to save her marriage and create a stable family for her young daughter. After her marriage fails, she finds herself broke, stuck in Portland, and undertaking the only job she can find - waitressing in a cafe, where she meets the charismatic and attractive head chef Clay and contemplates violating her own determination to swear off relationships for a good period of time.

In an effort to stay true to herself and chart a different course for her life, Kassi decides to make Clay the centerpiece of a screen play she's writing for a contest, only to find the play's romance and steam are permeating her own world far too realistically. Despite her best intentions, Kassi finds herself drawn to the hunky Clay, anticipating the passion of a romance which has long eluded her. And yet, Kassi's ex-husband Barry remains a force in her new life, clashing with Clay in various ways that force Kassi to absorb some hard truths about her relationships, choices, and their influences. Kathleen McFall & Clark Hays paint a passionate portrait of a young woman on the cusp of change who redefines the nature of real romance in her life. Clay, too, receives a profile in this story as he considers his "thing for Kassi" and reexamines his goals, attractions, and how much he can or should handle from single mother and damaged Kassi.

There's more heating up than a kitchen romance here, and these elements add spice and vigor to the story to bring both central characters to life, swirling in the opinions and experiences of others for the added value of contrast and insight. The result is a romance which also delves into psychological influences and undercurrents, making Kitchen Heat as thought-provoking as it is attractive. Libraries and readers looking for romances that unfold psychological insights and understanding on the part of their characters will find Kitchen Heat a colorful tale that follows the evolution of a relationship's promise and opportunity.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

The Horror Film Killer
Michael J. Bowler
Independently Published
9781733329033, $18.99 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$3.49 ebook

The Horror Film Killer is the second thriller in the Film Milieu series, and rests upon the premise that a student-made horror film is serving as the impetus for real-world murder scenarios. The kids are literally dying to finish their film even as the murderer is dying to enact and reflect the horrors in daily life. Michael J. Bowler's close inspection of how reality intrudes upon fantasy (or visa versa) creates a satisfying twist on the nature of both as the story opens with a murder scenario that quickly proves to be a film set. (Or, is it?)

From behind-the-scenes drama and the freeze frame of students caught in the headlights of death like deer to the underlying influences and tension of individual lives, Bowler creates satisfying contrasts via disparate forms of horror that include many interpersonal and psychological inspections along the way. Terror and fury assume the form of staccato scenes of action separated by a black and white blood-dripping knife, reading like the evolution of the horror movie the kids have honed and invited into their own lives. As the murders multiply, a cooperative film effort among best friends who are graduating seniors translates to a nightmare in which they are inadvertently providing the killer with inspirational scenarios for real-world events. And yet, the show must go on... partially because the killer has threatened to murder co-filmmaker Donovan's mother if the students pull the plug on their deadly production.

Bowler excels at intersecting horror with daily life challenges that test the aspirations, loves, and lives of all involved, including parents and investigators. His special brand of horror comes from events that can be predicted all to well - but not stopped. Strong characterization, unexpected twists and turns, and a tension that arises from creating scenes that inevitably lead to murder are exquisitely rendered and thought-provokingly absorbing. The result is a powerfully unique brand of murder thriller that will involve its audience (teens) in an uncommon quest to stop the impact of young filmmakers' own creative juices. Libraries and readers looking for young adult thriller/murder mysteries will find the elements of horror, intrigue, and interpersonal revelations just the right mix for an engrossingly unpredictable read.

They Know When the Killer Will Strike
Michael Bowler
Independently Published
9798988611004, $4.99 ebook, $12.99 paperback, $18.99 hardcover

They Know When the Killer Will Strike is the third book in the young adult thriller/mystery Film Milieu series, and is especially recommended for prior followers of the filmmaker murder stories. Here, seventeen-year-old Leo Cantrell (who knows when people will die) and eighteen-year-old Cassie Stewart (now working on her first Hollywood film) return to the limelight in a production that is steeped with a serial killer's threat and teens that are not only creative, but proactive. They may have a clue about when events will happen - but not how and why. That's part of the role Cassie's police officer dad and his detective girlfriend play as they join in to solve a deadly problem that threatens to expand into and change the lives of all involved. Leo's knowledge of the intended victims gives him a one-up in trying to help them form a strategy for defying their death dates, but it's a dangerous knowledge that turns on end when Leo's predictions prove only half effective. The self-defense strategies don't begin to solve the problem. It only provides the potential victims with a dubious edge.

Once again, Michael Bowler creates a scenario replete with action, teen involvement, filmmaking drama, and efforts to thwart a clever killer. His inclusion of a talent that still translates to questionable outcomes makes for an especially thought-provoking story filled with satisfying confrontations, twists and turns, and unexpected outcomes. The backdrop of studio productions, horror filmmaking, and student participation in film processes adds depth and interest to the story, elevating it beyond the usual murder mystery scenario and into realms of interpersonal relationships changed both by creative endeavors and problem-solving efforts. From impressive sets to extraordinary results, Bowler moves his story with thriller elements combined with insights into psyches and motives alike. Good dialogue cements the drama with clues to evolving interpersonal relationships:

"J.C. and I were just wandering around before, checking out all the sets. They're really realistic."

"Too realistic," J.C. mumbled, scowling into the classroom.

Stuart grinned. "Yeah, set designers are artists, that's for sure. Anything I can get for you guys?"

Leo glanced at J.C., who shook his head. "We're good, Stuart. Thanks for asking." The result will attract mature young adults just entering into adult murder mystery and thriller reading and libraries seeking titles that neatly segue into young adult themes with adult scenarios. These move teens into higher-level thinking and problem-solving scenarios more typical of adult than young adult writing.

Judge Not
Nikki Stern
Ruthenia Press
9780999548790, $14.95

"Judge not, that ye not be judged..." is from the Bible. It's also the admonition that opens a new Sam Tate mystery. The story opens with the demise of Jack Frost, the first victim in a killing spree that places Sam Tate in the center of a perfect storm of controversy that will test her career and investigative savvy. At this point, it should be noted that no prior familiarity with Nikki Stern's other Sam Tate mysteries is required in order to appreciate the characters, intrigue, and atmosphere of Judge Not. The perfectly drawn sequence of events pulls newcomers just as readily as prior fans.

Jack Frost was no Everyman, but an experienced murder investigator who seemed the least likely to fall into a predator's trap. But, he made a rookie mistake ... and only one is needed to prove fatal. Lieutenant Sam Tate is no rookie, either. She's come up the ranks through a combination of perseverance and survival instincts, traits that served her well when a wedding event destroyed her family. Having weathered these experiences and become a savvy detective as an adult, she's now thirty-eight and feels as if her investigative career has morphed into a less exciting administrative one. Nothing could be further from the truth. The FBI invites her onto a task force seeking to stop the cop-killing serial killer known only as the Judge. Sam finds herself embroiled in a case only she can solve, even though she has to bend the truth in order to get at a larger truth.

As the case heats up, Sam confronts a wealth of false clues and a fair amount of misdirection. She jeopardizes her steady relationship. She second-guesses herself more than once. But she perseveres. Stern creates a satisfying mix of personal and professional drama as Sam navigates increasingly treacherous waters both physical and emotional to find a way to stop the Judge's escalating murder spree. Anyone can become a serial killer. Not everyone can engage with such a killer in a cat-and-mouse conversation that includes cop-killing discussions and accusations of being a coward. And not everyone can plow through a text conversation to take it to the next level of personal discovery. Sam Tate can. Sam has long been ready for change. Be careful what you wish for. It could be upheaval on a cataclysmic level.

The sense of intrigue combined with personal growth and revelations keeps the writing hot with potential and discovery, in turn captivating readers who look for more than a simple whodunit scenario in their genre reads. Libraries and readers seeking a captivating mystery which incorporates the high-octane drama of a thriller but keeps the investigation centered on both personal and professional challenges will find Judge Not thoroughly compelling.

Finding Fionn
M.J. Evans
Dancing Horse Press
9781737361879, $12.95 Paper/$2.99 ebook

The intersection of fiction and nonfiction works especially well in Finding Fionn: A Mystery Inspired by the Kidnapping of the Irish Racehorse Shergar. Readers ages 13 and older will find that this comes to life because the setting is contemporary (1980s Ireland), the horse theme and kidnapping mystery are appealing, and the involvement of young jockey Patrick McCallin in regaining horse Fionn MacCool is especially compelling. If those familiar with Irish history and culture recognize the name Fionn MacCool, that's because he was a central figure in Irish classic mythology. Young adults need have no prior familiarity with Ireland, myths, or even horses to appreciate the mystery that evolves here, however, because M.J. Evans provides all the background needed to become thoroughly and immediately immersed in intrigue.

The Curragh, the most famous racetrack in Ireland and a training facility, opens the story through young wanna-be jockey Patrick McCallin's eyes. Despite his parents' objections, Patrick has horses in his dreams and covets a vocation they are opposed to because it's too dangerous. The danger that evolves in this story, however, comes from an unexpected direction when Fionn is horsenapped and Patrick unwittingly becomes the chief investigator working on his return. Evans creates a fine appreciation not just of horses, but Irish culture and young adult perceptions of opportunities, mysteries, and the horse-racing world. Think the intrigue of Dick Frances, but tailored to a much younger audience. Then add in a healthy dash of coming-of-age reflection as a young boy grows into his abilities while honing new knowledge of economic and political struggles in bigger-picture thinking. Evans also adds characters that hold their own conflicts over the kidnapping and ransom demands. Each harbors a different special interest and perspective that supplements the story to bring Patrick's efforts to full-bodied life. As Patrick uncovers some unusual co-conspirators who would seem to be on opposing sides but appear to be working together, he uncovers a plot that holds ramifications not just for Fionn's future, but his own ambitions and life trajectory.

Evans brings Ireland's politics and people to life, as well as its horse-racing community and influences. While an affection for horses lies at the heart of these events, also central to the plot is an evolving mystery that brings Patrick into adult concerns and situations he is forced to handle creatively and proactively. The fine juxtaposition of Irish history and culture, horse-racing community interactions, and bigger-picture world affairs combines well with an aspiring jockey's coming of age and the mystery that embraces all these elements, making Finding Fionn a top recommendation for collections catering to young adults who like horses and mysteries.

The Big Shakeup
Nancy Boyarsky
Light Messages
9781611535310, $14.99 paper/$6.49 ebook

P.I. Nicole Graves returns to solve another crime in The Big Shakeup. The story opens not with the usual bang of a body, but the gathering force and shaking of a major earthquake. California native Nicole is no stranger to quakes. But this is more than the usual small warning of the earth's instability, and Nicole finds that more continues to rock her world than the earth under her feet. She expects to find death in the destruction around her. What she doesn't expect to uncover is her boss dying of a gunshot wound which clearly preceded the quake.

Even though they've been at ongoing odds, Nicole never wished him dead. The police beg to differ, and so she finds herself in the unusual position of being both an investigator and a perp-at-large as Los Angeles emerges from a devastating earthquake. She must turn her attention to clearing her name if she's to remain free. Nancy Boyarsky creates a riveting, compelling mystery from the start which opens with the shake of Nicole's world on many levels and continues to follow her dual charge to both clear her name and navigate the destroyed world around her to uncover the truth from its ruins. Nicole is no stranger to being a "person of interest," but she has never before been so close to having her vocation and life shut down by being the sole suspect in her boss's murder.

Boyarsky creates a satisfying juxtaposition between Nicole's personal and professional ambitions, with the backdrop of a destroyed and recovering Los Angeles as realistic and engrossing as the personal dilemmas which force Nicole to consider the many other suspects and the motives of blackmail and revenge that might have played into her boss's demise. Her ongoing dilemma is compellingly revealed: "Now that she was supposed to be free to investigate her case, she still had to hide from everyone so the killer wouldn't find her. But how would she be able to clear herself when she couldn't appear in public? Where would she find the information she needed or the tools essential to her search?" As a suspected perp becomes the mouse in a clever killer's cat-and-mouse game, Boyarsky creates a delightful tension and strong character in Nicole's life and decisions, driving the mystery into unexpected directions from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and beyond. Libraries and readers seeking characters whose dilemmas are multifaceted and unpredictable will find The Big Shakeup thoroughly engrossing and hard to put down.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

The Wormhole in San Carlos
Martin Wilson
Warren Publishing
9781960146120, $31.99 Hardcover/$19.99 Paper

What happens when a dedicated cosmologist becomes involved with a venture capitalist? The Wormhole in San Carlos represents a special brand of satirical investigation that will delight readers who enjoy the intersection of business interests and scientific processes. It explores the opportunity, illusion, and hope which arises when aspiring money-maker Bob Levy challenges gifted mathematician and scientist Donald Plum to commercialize the promise of a wormhole that can reveal secrets from the future that lead to wealth. The unholy alliance between the two men results in a conflagration of special interests on a collision course as All Grains, US Home Products, and other companies struggle to profit from an idea which has millions of dollars in prize money and unprecedented opportunities at its heart.

Martin Wilson injects thought-provoking, astute psychological insights into this riot of understated humor that impart satisfying intersections of ethical and moral considerations. From a demanding wormhole that requires vast changes in alliances and goals to the intersections of men who have their own special interests at heart, Wilson creates a romp that is powerful in its pursuit of financial, scientific, and moral and ethical transformations. Libraries and readers looking for unexpected, influential examples of contemporary satire will find it in droves in this rollicking ride through wormholes, portents of unprecedented wealth, and the conundrums faced by men unable to control either circumstance.

I Need a Hero
Ron Clamp
Warren Publishing
9781957723846, $33.99 Hardcover/$20.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

I Need a Hero is a novel about secret space missions, alien invasion, and unlikely heroes. These move from terrestrial duties to extraordinary assignments that test their abilities on a mission that leads them as far from home as they can get. Called to move from Arizona salvaging work to undermining a space supply line feeding the Obsidian invasion, Commander Charlie Jackson, his wife Maddie, and his brother Jacob find themselves not retiring from conflict, but entering into its heart. Maddie's objection lies not in only her husband's best interests, but also revolves around a secret from her past that threatens to be exposed by his actions.

For Jacob, the mysterious second mission underlying the reason for their deployment and their apparent and secretive new jobs also threatens his carefully construed world - including his relationship with Maddie as the only other person she really trusts. With Charlie so far away and Maddie remaining on Earth stuck in a different form of hell, how can Charlie prove a hero to anyone, much less Maddie? The circumstances and forces that pull them apart seem limitless and all-powerful, but Charlie must find a way to reach her, while Maddie makes a series of impossible decisions that lead her increasingly down the rabbit hole of no return. Ron Clamp crafts a revealing, action-packed military sci-fi read that bases its tension as much on psychological realizations and developments as on physical clashes. This adds a satisfying blend of strong characterization and examinations of motives to add depth and authenticity to its characters as they strive to participate in and create lives that ultimately lead to peace and reconnection.

Clamp bills his story a "novel." It will indeed attract a wider audience than the usual military sci-fi read (which tends to overly focus on physical confrontations), but I Need a Hero is as much about the nature of love, heroism, and decision-making influences as it is about confronting external forces of division and adversity. Libraries and readers seeking a story that transcends its military sci-fi roots to engage readers from other genres will find I Need a Hero thought-provoking and engrossing.

The Pystead Group: Daring to Be
James Pryor
The Techner Group LLC
9798987325711, $15.00

The Pystead Group: Daring to Be is set in 2052, but the America represented here feels frighteningly similar to modern times. Here, citizens are buffeted by both dishonest government figures and special interests. Cognitive scientist Philip Russell takes on a new job at the mysterious Pystead Group in the West Indies. He may have bitten off more than he can chew, because the company has high-level, high-tech enemies - including the U.N., which wishes to thwart the Group's research and goals. Meanwhile, Philip faces his own conundrums in cultivating romances with two very different women and fielding his shifting place in a community whose advanced technologies hold both promise and threat.

James Pryor crafts a vigorous, action-filled story that attracts on many levels of political, psychological, and social observation. As Philip questions whether one dinner date can lead to romance, if new friends-with-benefits can become something greater than their initial attraction, and if his life can evolve concurrently with personal and political forces buffeting it with hidden special interests, readers receive a compelling tale. From a woman who harbors a dual personality to the secrets Philip must overcome if he is to realize his real role and life in The Pystead Group, readers receive satisfyingly philosophical-laced inspections throughout the story. These revelations lead them to consider the true impacts of technology, social planning, and political manipulation. Questions of delusion and reality interplay in a tense survey that proves invitingly complex and just as alluring with its entertainment focus.

Pryor's vivid descriptions capture much food for thought during Philip's process of realization: "It's the many unknowable future variations on life that concern me. Beyond contemplating, imagining, perhaps fraught with perilous variations when vital secrets are involved." The Pystead Group: Daring to Be is a compelling futuristic story of survival on different levels that will prove especially attractive to libraries seeking sci-fi reads that are character-driven social examinations of self and relationships in a world in flux.

Spring's Eternal
Eva Sandor
Huszar Books
9798987772324, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Coastwall is beginning to think of spring. As such, it's time for a story about nullicorns, princes, ladies, and springtime adventure which blossoms from the introductory pages of Spring's Eternal that follow a tall Namesless Lady, Dok, who is hiding in plain sight, eventually to narrow its focus on one Fred. A fable emerges which documents a Grand War's aftermath, how a natural wonder with limitless power attracts those who cultivate and thrive on conflict, and how a series of unlikely twists leaves a peace-loving country in charge of the biggest prize of all. From a hunt for missing persons in disguise to evocative wonders which unfold to challenge and attract a host of characters, Eva Sandor creates a moving saga that furthers the Heart of Stone Adventures and will be especially appreciated by prior readers of the series.

As in her other books, Sandor writes with a compelling attention to juxtaposing adventure with quiet repose as the characters observe, influence, and adapt to their changing world. The same wry sense of ironic humor that permeated Sandor's other romps emerges at unexpected moments of revelation here: "'What Kharl's saying is that Your Highness is not in the line of succession. At all. You are, we find, the Esquire of someplace in the Whellen Country, and possess some holdings on the Isle of Gold, and have a few political functions, but any issue of your loins would have no place in the lineage of Castramars.' Fred was taken aback. Loins? Who said she could talk about those? He sat on the steps and crossed his legs." The pursuit of peace here comes with a hard edge of unexpected encounters as Fred and others come to terms with their legacy, their options, and a tenuous future that tests everything Fred thought he wanted from life.

Fools and failings come to light in the course of his journey and the interactions of a range of characters that are zany, passionate, and sometimes unwillingly enlightened about their revised roles in the kingdom. One thinks of the unexpected moments of Monty Python when reading, but younger audiences that likely won't hold this more advanced familiarity with British humor will still find the unfolding events happily and unexpectedly delightful in their ironic twists, while older readers will celebrate the Pythonesque atmosphere. War and peace issues come to light in different ways and represent more than obvious battles as the disparate characters each find their own revised paths in life often tinged with irony and iconic moments. The result can stand alone, but ideally Spring's Eternal will be digested in a broader context, discussed in reading clubs and groups, and appreciated not just for its fantasy and wonder, but for a sense of fun that romps past high court antics to a brewing operation and expansive process whereby an adopted commoner enters the raucous court of fools and journeymen.

All ages will find the medieval setting thought-provoking, the whimsical encounters unexpected, and the visionary magic compelling, setting quasi-familiar history against the backdrop of new possibilities. Libraries will find the weave of comedy, irony, and adventure to be fresh, original, and attractive to patrons seeking more than singular action from their fantasies.

The Poetry Shelf

The Scent of Sunlight
Jibanananda Das
Translated from Bangla by Clinton B. Seely
Parabaas Publishing
9781946582034, $29.95

The Scent of Sunlight profiles poems by Jibanananda Das that are influenced by one of the finest Bengali poets in Indian history. Typically, the acclaims of such writers are promoted in their books, but Jibanananda's relevance and popularity has been widely acknowledged internationally. A sonnet cycle was performed from his writings to illustrate one Chicago Bengali-American committee's concept of what Bengali culture is all about. His literary acclaim, which began in the 1950s when the poetry-reading Bengali community embraced his works, continues into modern times because his poems examine key facets of attitudes towards life and resurrection that, ironically, breathe new life into his words so that they will resonate in new generations around the world. Few poets can lay claim to such a fete. Even fewer Indian writers can tap international audiences to lay hands upon the communities of expats within them, as well as those who live well outside Bengali borders.

Jibanananda is an extraordinary writer, and the presentation of his works in English and its native Bengla by translator Clinton B. Seely allows an accessibility to his writings, which surely should be included in any definitive class on Indian poetry and artists. 'Sensation' is one example of a piece which begins with personal introspection, only to blossom into the greater world: "Into the half light and shadow go I. Within my head/Not a dream, but some sensation works its will.../Who can go on, like the simple folk?/Who can stop within this light and darkness/Like the simple people? Who can speak/Like them today? Who can know/For certain anymore? Who seeks to understand/The carnal savors anymore? Who apprehends the joys/Of life anymore, like everyman?/And sows seeds anymore like everyman?/Where is that relish? And who, hungry for the harvest,/Has smeared himself with scents of earth,/Is anointed with the scents of water,/Has gazed toward light with rapt attention/And gained a peasant heart - /Who would anymore remain awake upon this earth?"

One reason why Jibanananda's works are so powerfully attractive to international audiences is because they move from personal to full-bodied spiritual and social examination on the wings of a butterfly, widespread in understanding and shared emotions that don't just reside in the poet's heart, but impact and reflect the greater world. Whether he's exploring the jungles of Sundarban or the vultures of Asia's skies, Jibanananda's special brand of power lies in his ability to gather seemingly disparate images and cultural influences, weaving together seamless stories that are highly accessible by all readers no matter their ethnicity. Works from his sonnet cycle 'Bengal the Beautiful' bring the sights, sounds, and feel of his native land to life in a manner that requires no prior familiarity with India, yet presents the opportunity for this connection through a cycle of observations that is creatively embedded in "you are here" imagery: "Again I shall return to the Dhansiri's banks, to this Bengal,/Not as a man, perhaps, but as a shalik bird, or a white hawk./As, perhaps, a crow of dawn in this land of autumn's new rice harvest,/I'll float upon the breast of fog one day in the shade of a jackfruit tree./Or I'll be the pet duck of some teenaged girl - ankle bells upon her reddened feet..."

The result is a powerful, extraordinarily wide-reaching set of portraits and insights which should be made a mainstay of any library purporting to be authoritative in its representation of Indian literature. Poetry book clubs would miss an important collection were they to pass on the opportunity to place The Scent of Sunlight central in their discussions of India's finest.

Escape Velocity
Cate McNider
Atmosphere Press
9781639889419, $17.00 Paper/$8.99 ebook/$9.99 audiobook

Escape Velocity presents a chronological collection of poems from 10/2010 to 1/2023, stringing experiences together to form a trajectory and progression of understanding old paradigms and letting go of assumptions, patterns, and ego. Cate McNider, in her Introduction, reviews her invitation to readers to "enter into the Theater of the Void, to turn on the light within you, to close your two eyes to the illusionary demands of the 'world' and encounter the lush and wondrous being-ness that waits within you. It's never what you think it is, and the discovery of that will lead to moments of those mini-lights being turned on within you." With this, the stage is set for a ride through not just her life and observations, but those which resonate with the reader.

Take the succinct reflection in the opening poem 'Happiness': "I want to be as soft as you,/as solid and as fluid..." Here, the notion of happiness is also linked to being in the present and acknowledging its brief spate of energy in the wider scheme of things. McNider's ability to capture the passage of time and place in a study that introduces a very different definition of happiness then segues neatly into 'Whale's Song,' a poem of transformative longing and sharing: "If only I could insert my self,/angiogram balloon/inside your arteries, open you,/let the moon's tide take the pain/way out to sea..." These examples are but a drop in the literary bucket of psychological, spiritual, and nature observations that provide all types of readers with an art form that blossoms with internal examination and external force. What is the reason for life, time, and evolutionary processes? How do they bloom in heart and mind to take wing into the greater world of human and nature?

Each poem represents a piece of a journey that, when viewed from the broader perspective of this collection, adds to a marked and meaningful path that is accessible not just to literature or psychology readers, but anyone interested in self-growth and introspection. Libraries and readers interested in a hard-hitting collection that encourages and gently drives its readers into higher-level thinking, from ego examination to broader connections, will find the poems in Escape Velocity offer an escape hatch leading to better understanding and life meaning.

The Literary Studies Shelf

Walking with Anne Bronte
Tim Whittome, Editor
9781669878223, $50.99 Hardcover/$30.99 Paper

Walking with Anne Bronte is a literary exploration of reflections about the least known of the three Bronte sister writers. Tim Whittome compiles a literary tribute that cultivates a diverse approach to understanding and celebrating her life and messages, from personal reflections and poetry to academic insights. These are organized into sections so that readers can readily choose the type of biographical or literary inspection that is of particular interest (although the anthology operates as a unit, so to skip through without reading it in its entirety would be to do it a grave disservice).

As Tim Whittome states in his introduction, readers should not expect new revelations surrounding Anne's works, but a celebratory inspection of their ultimate impact. The writers who contribute these insights come from many walks of life and expertise; from Catherine Rayner (who has been involved with the Bronte Society for many years and is well known to Bronte scholars and members) to illustrator Christina Fishburne (who is active across social media sites dedicated to the Brontes, and has become very involved with the Crow Emporium Press in illustrating Bronte novels). The diversity of these perspectives and approaches to the Bronte sisters in general and Anne in particular lend a multifaceted feel to this survey of different themes in her writings.

Take Catherine Rayner's essay "Buried in Paradise," for example. Here, many myths about the family are explored, from descriptions of the times to insights into family dynamics and Anne's place in it: "These few snippets offer a rare glimpse into Anne's characteristics from her sibling's perspective. None of them appear to me as accurately defining Anne but are, instead, somewhat belittling and hurtful. Anne was at the rear of the pecking order and can be viewed, in outward appearance, as someone who could be easily molded into the person her family chose her to be." The footnoted references will please scholars interested in various interpretations of Anne's life and character.

In contrast is "Anne Bronte's Task: Living in a Postlapsarian World" by Anne Talvaz, which offers her personal connections to Anne Bronte's writings and world which influenced her twenties onward, when she was able to discern the difference between Anne's works and those of her more famous sisters Charlotte and Emily: " was not until I was in my early twenties that I began to fully appreciate Anne's tales of disillusionment and regeneration and reach the conclusion that, for all her youth, she was a writer for adults. And it was not until I was asked to write this essay that I realized that of all the Bronte siblings, she was the only one whose writing formed part of an ethical project."

Walking with Anne Bronte should be considered a foundation reference for any literary library including works by and about the Bronte sisters. Its wide-ranging articles, poems, and reflections also will pique the interest of reading groups and book clubs interested in Anne's works and how they resonate and are interpreted in modern times.

The Business Shelf

Write Your OWN Story
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession
Warren Publishing
9781957723013, $26.95 Hardcover/$15.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Write Your OWN Story: Three Keys to Rise and Thrive as a Badass Career Woman embraces the notion of a revised form of "badass career woman" who changes the workplace through a more humanitarian attitude towards work, career, and interacting with others. It confronts and revises many popular notions of work value, ethics, and business processes during the course of advocating a revised role for career women who want something more from their lives. The nuggets of wisdom that form this new approach originated with Rebecca Fleetwood Hession's own realizations about her success and its ultimate cost. Those who follow her admonition to become "badass" receive not only a blueprint for transformation, but the logic behind contemplating such a vast change.

Business titles promising transformation through processes of reformulating and restructuring business goals and methods are nothing new. What is new (and invigorating) about Write Your OWN Story is its focus on adding human objectives and rejecting formerly-accepted notions of dysfunction as part of the business success story. What is prosperity? What human needs can be translated to a goal statement that works on more than one level? These and other questions segue business and humanitarian goals in ways which are unique to this book, yet supported by experiences of revised real-world processes that have been proven to translate to greater success than traditional business methods.

Ideally, Write Your OWN Story will receive widespread attention from businesswomen and women involved in redefining and creating a more positive, empowered work environment. It also will attract leaders and managers with more than a cursory interest in identifying inherently dysfunctional processes and patterns in their operations, who would replace them with more proactive, supportive routines and systems. Libraries that cater to business readers but look for wider-ranging discussions appropriate for book clubs of all kinds will find Write Your OWN Story a vivid, potentially positively explosive acquisition.

Don't Lead By Example
Thom Hayes
Warren Publishing
9781954614901, $24.95 Hardcover/$17.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Don't Lead By Example: Thoughts and Essays on Leadership and Life explores the horizons of leadership in not just the business world, but the broader perspective of life endeavors and interactions with others. It does so by assessing the impact of leaders on teams and outcomes with an analytical eye to exploring not just traits and strategies, but how they are executed, considering their ultimate impact on life. Thom Hayes dispels many myths of leadership often promoted in other books, incorporating some thirty years of leadership experience into the observation that "it's the experience, not the title, that matters." It took many years for him to gather the experience to create this book, but hopefully it won't take that long for his followers to absorb his important insights.

Would-be leaders who eschew linear thinking and long books will delight in the succinct approach represented here, which features a flexibility and ideals which are neither staid nor overly described. Examples from various facets of business and military life can be applied to virtually any life situation and thus prove more translatable than many similar-sounding leadership or management books. Additionally, Hayes cultivates a tone that pairs real-world examples of leadership failures and successes with insights that will give many a leader pause for thought. This is only the opening salvo to a rich compendium of experiences, assessments, and eye-opening insights that encourage readers to act kindly, consciously, and on a level that engages more firmly and productively with those they seek to guide.

From secrets to "spinning gold star performance" that considers basic attitudes towards work, workers, and demonstrating a vested interest in not only results, but personal lives, to the types of dialogues and interactions that, when tweaked, produce better outcomes, Hayes creates a book that, in itself, is as much a dialogue for self-improvement and better engagement as it is a focus on leadership approaches that result in better outcomes for all. Don't Lead By Example is a lively, inviting, thought-provoking book that ideally will spark discussions among book club readers as well as proving an attractive library acquisition - especially for collections seeing interest in leadership books that connects many seemingly disparate dots to close the gap between ideals, actions, and engagement.

The Christian Studies Shelf

Hidden Price Tags V. 3: Socratic Dialogue
C.J.S. Hayward
C.J.S. Hayward Publications
9798376517475, $20.24 Hardcover/$12.24 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Readers who have enjoyed C.J.S. Hayward's prior Hidden Price Tags books will find this third volume in the series, Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark Side of Technology and Its Best Use: Volume Three, Socratic Dialogue, to be especially insightful, philosophical, and spiritual. Any prior experience in absorbing Hayward's introductory volumes lends special appreciation to this succinct but powerful work, which adds to a series designed to break down the original concepts of Hayward's The Luddite's Guide to Technology into more manageable, enlightening, deeper discussions. The first note to make about Socratic Dialogue is its scholarly blend of philosophy and spiritual discourse. This translates to heady, enlightening reading.

Long sentences of observation and celebration tie together many important concepts of life, God, and elements of creation, birth and rebirth, and revelation: "...he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." This newness begins here and now, and it comes when in circumstances we would not choose God works to give us a larger share in the real world. We enter a larger world, or rather we become larger ourselves and more able to take in God's reality. And all of this is like the first Christmas, a new thing and unexpected. We are summoned and do not dare disobey: Sing unto the LORD a new song; sing unto the LORD all the earth. And it is this whole world with angels, butterflies, the Church, dandelions, energetic work, friends, family, and forgiveness, the Gospel, holiness, the I that God has made, jewels, kairos, love, mothers, newborn babes, ostriches, preaching, repentance from sins, singing, technology, unquestioning obedience, variety, wit and wisdom, xylophones, youth and age, and zebras."

Between footnotes, educational references, and long, enthusiastic discourses such as the above, as well as its title, one might expect Socratic Dialogue to be a difficult read. If the definition of "difficult" translates to thought-provoking, it is indeed such. But Hayward also blends a blatant enthusiasm into his reflective examination of technology, spirituality, and life that is remarkable for its tone and revelations, neatly juxtaposing models and concepts for better considering God, the universe, and humanity's place in the greater scheme of intentions. These elements and how they are presented make for a thoroughly engrossing exploration that will both reach and challenge readers. The concepts ideally won't be limited to personal contemplation, but will expand and blossom in spiritual book club reading circles under the heavier inspection of debate and discussion.

Libraries and readers who appreciate Christian Eastern Orthodoxy, inspections of technology and religion, and discussions that link history with personal quests and the holy grail of better understanding will find Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark SIde of Technology and Its Best Use: Volume Three, Socratic Dialogue rich in heady inspections that demand deep contemplation on many different levels.

The Metaphysical Studies Shelf

The Ocean in a Drop
Avi Raa
Nirvana Foundation
9798852311207, $32.96 Hardcover/$21.96 Paper/$9.96 ebook

The Ocean in a Drop - Unravel the Mystery Called You is a new age exploration of consciousness, enlightenment, and the kinds of preconceived notions that prevent transformative growth. In exploring hidden life connections, influences on decision-making, and belief systems that serve to obscure the nature of reality itself, Avi offers a revised approach to life and living that embraces and encourages a different interpretation of purpose. These considerations move beyond inquiry to the actual process of gaining such freedom. Avi also tackles the inherent skepticism in new age ideals that is too often a feature of the scientific mind, making The Ocean in a Drop surprisingly specific and accessible to an audience that might normally eschew new age concepts and thinking. This door is opened by an observation and challenge to the set scientific mind. This, in effect, challenges scientists and logical thinkers to become more open to the types of explorations Avi lays out in The Ocean in a Drop.

Thus, the book reaches beyond predictable audiences to those who might need such guidance even more than the new age readers who would be more likely to choose this book. From new realizations and constructs to understanding and practicing mindfulness, The Ocean in a Drop represents a powerful tool for enlightenment and self-exploration that should ideally be not just in new age collections, but posed to the scientific mind.

The spirited and wide-ranging nature of this discourse sets it apart from the majority of more ethereal new age or spirituality titles, as it links philosophy, psychology, ethics, and new age concepts to promote bigger-picture thinking.

Libraries and readers will also ideally tap the notions in this book to fuel reading groups ranging from spiritual and new age circles to science readers interested in new ideas about life and its connection to true wisdom.

The Self-Help Shelf

Resilience: A Different Kind of Strong
Jenn Henry
Muse Literary
9781960876157, $25.99 Hardcover, $15.99 Paper, $2.99 ebook

Resilience: A Different Kind of Strong is (as author Jenn Henry maintains in her introduction) not a comforting kind of book. It cultivates a series of discussions that can lead to uncomfortable self-examination as they consider the foundations of resilience, differentiating it from typical discussions of its strengths and possibilities. Henry's focus is on how to build a sustainable life and the habit of serving others while supporting spiritual, psychological, financial, and ethical pathways that serve as foundations for these efforts. "Take your power back," Henry admonishes from the start. The rest of this book is about realizing these elements of personal empowerment, understanding how they interact and work in the greater scheme of life purpose, and using a blend of purposeful living and scientific support to achieve these goals.

Take gardening, for one example. Some readers might think that "playing in the dirt" is nothing to write home about, but Henry points out the scientific support for the healing qualities of cultivating a mental and physical garden. Henry's ability to use encounters with others and life lessons gleaned from them covers the basics of newfound possibilities in her life. This, in turn, maps a stronger course for others also searching for greater self-empowerment, translating to a book rich and ripe in tried, tested strategies for revising life pursuits. The discomfort stems from the many candid assessments of self and others that can't help but prompt readers to consider their own life messages, influences, and good intentions gone awry: "I had learned that if you loved someone, you gave them things. You did things for them. You didn't tell them 'no.' My parents always said 'yes' and that meant they loved me, right?"

Of special note is how these early examples and lessons led to takeaways that weren't always healthy, despite their underlying best intentions. As Henry weaves a concurrent self-portrait and a close consideration of the roots and incarnation of resilience, she creates the kinds of pathways that will prove uncomfortably irresistible to readers committed to self-improvement and change. This will prove especially appealing to those unafraid of more closely examining the message and contentions that drive their motives, ideals, and lives. The result is a self-help title that embraces elements of memoir and psychological growth, creating a wider-ranging consideration of intentions and impacts; thus recreating the wheel of empowerment towards a better ride and results. "It still blows me away how the lack of trust in yourself can directly impact the choices you make and the chances you are willing to take."

Libraries and discussion groups from psychology and self-help to book clubs that seek passionate, potentially controversial, and thoroughly absorbing reading will find plenty of food for thought and discussion in Resilience: A Different Kind of Strong. It is highly recommended above most others in the self-help/growth genre.

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

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

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