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MBR Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 12 December 2022 Home | MBW Index

Table of Contents

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf Diane Donovan's Bookshelf Gary Roen's Bookshelf
Helen Dumont's Bookshelf John Taylor's Bookshelf Mary Cowper's Bookshelf
Micah Andrew's Bookshelf Michael Dunford's Bookshelf Paul Vogel's Bookshelf
S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf    

Able Greenspan's Bookshelf

Nature of Enclosure
Jeffrey S. Nesbit, editor
Actar D
c/o Actar Publishers
440 Park Avenue S, 17th FL, New York, NY 10016
9781638409731, $34.95, PB, 160pp

Synopsis: From Crystal Palace in 1851 to Buckminster Fuller's Spaceship Earth in 1969, nature became enclosed. Claimed to be a reaction of Norbert Wiener's cybernetics, Fuller's geodesic domes became symbols of American counterculture. Yet, from Fuller's description of Spaceship Earth "sea masters," the dome seems to prioritize an environment of occupation inside the dome, over those residing outside - a world of civilized control on its interior and wilderness, war, and wasteland on the other side. Overlapped by cultural consumption and politics, planetary imagination stimulates a useful framework for interrogating the human impact on environmental limitations over a technological foreground. The blurry lines between the engineered logic and cultural imagination are continually embedded and influenced by intuition in the cultural practices of capital enclosure. Theories, design practices, and the forms of imagination, including science fiction, open up critical questions on the status of our environment here on Earth.

Nature of Enclosure is a series of conversations to gather experts from a range of disciplines, including architects, landscape architects, architectural historians, design theory scholars, geographers, historians of science and technology, and professionals at the intersection of architecture and the environment. Organized in three parts, (1) Nature of the Synthetic Environment, (2) Air, Capital and the Planetary Imaginary, and (3) Enclosed Boundaries of Political Geographies, this book continues the conversation with a collection of essays as both reflections from the provocative discussions and expanding the discourse of enclosed environments in architecture and design fields.

Critique: With a very special appeal and relevance to readers with an interest in Architecture, Urban & Land Use Planning, Design and the Decorative Arts, and Nature themed essays, "Nature of Enclosure" is an especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note #1: "Nature of Enclosure" is comprised of contributions from Daisy Ames, Rachel Armstrong, Daniel Barber, Jordan Bimm, Galo Canizares, Mishuana Goeman, Mariano Gomez Luque, Aleksandra Jaeschke, Lydia Kallipoliti, Ersela Kripa, Mae-ling Lokko, Stephen Mueller, Joshua Nason, Antoine Picon, Shawn Rickenbacker, David Salomon, Fred Scharmen, Julia Smachylo, Geoffrey Thun, Joel Vacheron, and Kathy Velikov.

Editorial Note #2: Jeffrey S Nesbit ( is an architect, urban theorist, and founding director of the research group Grounding Design. Nesbit has written several journal articles and book chapters on infrastructure, urbanization, and the history of technology. He is the editor of New Geographies 11 Extraterrestrial (Actar, 2019), Chasing the City: Models for Extra-Urban Investigations (Routledge, 2018), and Rio de Janeiro: Urban Expansion and Environment (Routledge, 2019). He holds a Doctor of Design from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Texas Tech University.

Adoration and Pilgrimage: James Dean and Fairmount
James F. Hopgood
Luminare Press
9798886790115, $27.99, HC, 282pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Adoration and Pilgrimage: James Dean and Fairmount", author and anthropologist James F. Hopgood provides a hands-on study of the James Dean phenomenon that began after his tragic death in 1955 and continues to play out today.

The focus is on Deans fans and particularly the "Deaners" who are his most devoted followers. For them, Dean is much more than a celebrity actor, rather a person of inspiration, introspection, desire, and devotion. Extensively researched through personal interviews and examination of the creative works by fans and Deaners, letters, and fan publications, Adoration and Pilgrimage looks closely at Dean's lasting appeal, inspiration, and significance.

Related topics comprising "Adoration and Pilgrimage: James Dean and Fairmount" include: James Dean as a figure of interest, study, and inspiration among intellectuals, historians, and artists; Brief coverage of the history of his fame, its origins, and impact on American culture; His contested image among fans, Deaners, and the people of Fairmount as demonstrated by perceived competition between the local history museum and the Dean gallery; A close examination of the nature and meaning of being a Deaner; The role of artists and photographers in the creation of Dean's image and, in some cases, his immortalization; The role of pilgrimage, particularly in the small Indiana farm town of Fairmount; The Dean phenomenon as adoration, a quasi-religious movement, a "cult," or simply a liminal manifestation; The nature of community among serious fans and Deaners.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of numerous Figures, a twelve page listing of References Cited, eight pages of Endnotes, and a thirty page Index, "Adoration and Pilgrimage: James Dean and Fairmount" is an impressively written work that will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in the life, work, and legend of James Dean, the impact of posthumous icon on popular, and celebrity biographies. While highly recommended for personal, community, and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Adoration and Pilgrimage: James Dean and Fairmount" is also available in a paperback edition (9798886790108, $18.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: James F. Hopgood, (, is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Founding Director of the Museum of Anthropology, and former department chair at Northern Kentucky University. His publications include The Making of Saints: Contesting Sacred Ground (2005) as editor and contributor, "Monterrey, Mexico" in Encyclopedia of Urban Cultures (2002), Settlers of Bajavista: Social and Economic Adaptation in a Mexican Squatter Settlement (1979), and numerous articles and book chapters. He is a recipient of a Sasakawa Fellowship, Japan Studies Institute, San Diego. He is also the former president of the Central States Anthropological Society and a former editor of the society's CSAS Bulletin.

Able Greenspan

Diane Donovan's Bookshelf

The Shepherd of the Stars
Tricia D. Wagner
Independently Published
9798358818583, $3.99 ebook; $11.99 paperback

The Shepherd of the Stars is a young adult story about the aftermath of an accident that stymies healing and recovery.

Fourteen-year-old Swift Kingsley's world has changed. Forced to assume adult roles (and thinking) while still a teen, Swift is injured in more than body. His family is coming apart, his dreams of a medical career are in jeopardy, and Swift feels that he's lost so much, he wonders if he'll ever have a meaningful life.

That's why a respite trip to the rugged Welsh Pembrokeshire coast seems particularly appealing: it's a chance to get away, recover and heal, and move far from reminders of what could have been but for one devastating moment.

Swift didn't expect the mystery and intrigue that develops from this move - and neither will the reader. This is one of the strengths in a story that opens with a seemingly set theme, then moves into unexpected realms much in the way life offers major twists, opportunities, and challenges.

The story opens with this changed life as Swift contemplates the location of The Shepherd of the Stars, a book of sea shanties and power that has been hidden by his brother.

Swift needs "warmth and quiet" to stay well. But, just as essential for healing is the sense of purpose and excitement that this book offers. The effort to find it carries him into realms where he is newly empowered and must make decisions that hold wide-ranging impacts on his future.

At odds with his brother over this mysterious book's meaning, Swift makes choices based as much on its possibilities for redemption as the reality of its impact: "What insights might it keep that could help him understand the Star of Atlantis, and his place in its mystery?" The book's secrets may be the only path back to Swift's ultimate goal of building a future in medicine.

Tricia D. Wagner creates a fine young adult read that builds on her Star of Atlantis story, yet will prove accessible to newcomers, as well.

The book's secrets offer numerous puzzles as Swift probes its impossibilities: "Mendeleev created his tables in the late 1800s; tables that included gaps that anticipated new elements, then still undiscovered. And yet in The Shepherd of the Stars, those elements were included - the noble gasses, argon, helium, and others. "How could this be?"

Octavian had concluded by surveying the ink and paper that the Star of Atlantis was older than the late 1800's."

With its juxtaposition of supernatural intrigue, mystery, and personal evolution, The Shepherd of the Stars represents a heavy draw for young adults who look for all these elements in their stories.

Swift's discovery of a legacy that can empower him to reach for newly impossible dreams creates a dialogue that is compelling, rich in friendship and family probes and revised destinies that all receive warm and detailed inspection.

Libraries that choose this story for its powerful adventure components will find so much more in a tale that spins off additional insights into friendships, trust, healing, and self-empowerment: "How wondrously Cynfael and Chance spoke of destiny, how closely they appeared to know Swift by what they claimed to have foreseen. They were all at once the most profound enigma Swift had ever encountered, and the closest and most trusted friends he could imagine. Why their paths had interconnected with Swift's and what destiny awaited them all - these questions, he was anxious to explore."

Questioning Spirituality
Eldon Taylor, PhD
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781803413013, 13.99 British pounds / $17.95 USD

Considerations of faith and science and the connections and disparities between them form the foundation of Questioning Spirituality: Is It Irrational to Believe in God?, which ideally should be made part of any secular or religious discussion group on the subject.

Eldon Taylor provides an astute, thought-provoking consideration of the question that embraces tenets on both sides as he probes the different ways in which spirituality is questioned, and the foundations of belief.

Anyone who struggles with such questions will find much food for thought in this book, which surveys two contrasting views of the world and the points at which they intersect.

It matters not whether the reader is a believer or an agnostic. Questioning Spirituality's method of analysis offers the opportunity to consider (or reconsider) the foundations which can support or deny religious convictions. Chapters range from considerations of free will and indoctrination processes to examining notions of truth, belief, and ways of living.

Quotes from other thinkers (both religious and secular) support many of this book's contentions: "It would seem that many believers are intentionally alienated from reasoning about their beliefs by some of their leaders. In the words of the sixteenth-century German priest Martin Luther, "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason." Or in the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, "We should always be disposed to believe that which appears to us to be white is really black, if the hierarchy of the church so decides." Religious insistence on abandoning reason is possibly the number-one cause of religious rebellion. It's akin to insisting on magical beings whether they are creatures such as the Easter Bunny or the Unicorn. By arguing that reason has no place in our enquiry, religion disqualifies itself from the world of the rational. That said, not all spiritual systems or practices share the denial of reason. Even among the more classical systems such as Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and more, there are those who ignore the edict insisting on the denial of rational processes. For these people, there is a more mystical meaning to the so-called literal teachings found in their doctrinal literature."

These passages offer related food for thought and the opportunity to reflect on the back-and-forth dialogue between believers and non-believers.

By presenting both sides of various arguments, Eldon Taylor cultivates bigger-picture thinking about the diverse issues involved in defining the spiritual domain and the rationality of its possibilities.

Taylor also injects personal feelings and reflections into this mix of intellectual debate, creating a warm, revealing tone of acceptance that encourages readers to think, rather than judge from knee-jerk precedents or reactions.

The result is more than just another analysis of whether or not there is a God. It's a survey of the process of belief, validity, and reality itself that helps thinking readers consider the foundations of their own life experiences, religion, and philosophy.

While spirituality and philosophy libraries will, of course, be the logical recipients of this debate, Questioning Spirituality should ideally take a more active role in book clubs and discussion groups where science and spiritual subjects intersect.

Its use as a source guide for such debates is even more important than its recommendation to libraries seeking appealing materials suitable to different audiences of questioning thinkers on both sides of the discussion.

Ameera's Song
Hareena Kaur
Little Blue Peacock
9781737608608, $13.99

Ameera's Song is an Indian story designed for read-aloud and discussion between parents and young listeners, and captures the dilemma of a king and his three daughters.

The youngest, Ameera, is nothing like her sisters. She eschews being a princess in favor of outdoors adventures and active play, until one day a plan to journey through a forest to visit their grandmother leads to an adventure none of them can resist.

Aided by Bear, Monkey, and other forest denizens, the three sisters locate their grandmother, only to find her home and habits puzzlingly indicative of a hard-working life.

The sisters pitch in, with one of them going with Grandmother to help her at work. When she doesn't return, a sense of disaster looms which only increases when a second sister also vanishes. What is young Ameera to think about her family ties and these disappearances?

As the story reveals further surprises, parents and young listeners receive a fable steeped in Indian culture with interactions between all ages and creatures.

Lessons about kindness and paying it forward come to light as the story progresses, making for an involving tale filled with surprising twists and turns that keep kids and adult readers engaged and reflective.

With its bright, colorful illustrations and thought-provoking adventure, Ameera's Song will provide many nights of listening pleasure and the opportunity for interactive dialogue between parents and kids. The words of wisdom and enlightenment evolve into a fine adventure containing an important underlying message.

Libraries seeking picture book fables representing Indian folklore roots and attractive messages alike will find Ameera's Song a winner.

Tell Anyone You Want That I Was Here
Gordon MacKinney
Trailmark Media
9798985736823, $14.99

"In the newspaper business, it's better to be annoying than forgettable."

Nikki Hightower is determined to make an impression to land the job of features reporter at the Chicago Tribune, moving up from being a crime reporter. The lunch date which is part of this interview seems to portend her success, which she's about to cement by making an unforgettable impression.

However, when offered the opportunity, Nikki realizes it's a Catch-22, as the crusty newspaperman serves her an edict: "I want one idea that you're willing to bet your career on."

The events that unfold are more than Nikki bets her career on. She ups the ante by betting her life.

Readers of suspense and thriller stories who look for plots powered by a proactive young woman's relationship with her father, loss, and investigation into circumstances which test her reporter's tenacity will find Tell Anyone You Want That I Was Here a study in psychological suspense and intrigue. The story firmly rests on Nikki's opposing emotions as her life careens away from its set course and goals, thrusting her into mercurial, dangerous waters.

As she moves away from success and back to the questions that lie in the small town of Willigsville and in her past, Nikki ventures into territory at once familiar and alien as she tackles "perfectly flawed" people to arrive at buried truths that shake her world and its convictions.

As an ex-military woman, Nikki harbors the regimented response to adversity that keeps her courage and initiative high. As a controversial reporter, she's honed a sharp eye to uncovering uncomfortable and hidden truths, exposing them to the public eye with a finesse that led to her success in the newspaper world.

As a daughter, she's now tasked with moving outside her comfort zone and into crime scenes that involve dangerous risks and life-threatening encounters.

Readers receive a constant barrage of satisfyingly unexpected twists as the story evolves. Gordon MacKinney excels in crafting just the right degree of tension, paired with psychological inspections, to keep readers immersed in a changing mystery and deeply involved in the quagmire Nikki keeps sinking into as she pursues different goals and difficult answers.

The psychological connections between Nikki and other characters bolster the action to keep readers thoroughly engrossed in dilemmas that range from professional ethical and moral challenges to personal heartache.

As Sheriff Joe and others become part of the equation (and, sometimes, the problem), readers receive an engrossing story that spins a fine yarn of intrigue and new possibilities.

Libraries that look for powerfully-written thrillers which excel in both suspense and psychological connections will find Tell Anyone You Want That I Was Here a solid read that explores the revelations shaping an aspiring reporter's life.

He Deserved to Die
Anna Ruth Worten-Fritz
Fulton Books, Inc.
9781638608776, $13.95 Paper/$9.99 Kindle

He Deserved to Die blends racial inspection with a mystery designed to capture young adult interest, with its eye-catching cover attracting initial interest through an engaging photo and a title not usually directed to this age group.

Mature teens who choose this book receive an immediate graphic portrait of a morning killing in a driveway which comes with the victim's thought that "Someone finally got the moxy to follow through with one of the many threats I've received over the years."

Indicating (on Amazon) that this book is for teens and young adults does the story a disfavor, in that its broader inspections of murder, racism, and neighborhood connections and disconnects would best be absorbed by mature teen into adult audiences. These readers will especially appreciate Anna Ruth Worten-Fritz's attention to dovetailing a whodunit with broader inspections of life.

The juxtaposition between the interactions of adults and young adults, friends and neighbors and newcomers, and different segments of society and belief systems is presented in such a way that the story assumes the special form of a police procedural as events play out before, during, and after the murder.

A deadly game that turns into a nightmare to implicate neighborhood residents creates a different kind of plot and story line that young adults typically don't receive.

As adults guide young adult readers through the detective work that surrounds evidence, motivation, and entangled lives, the task of identifying the perp and understanding circumstances of irony and mystery join together with clues to keep young audiences engaged and wondering until the end.

Worten-Fritz's survey of witnesses, victims, preconceptions, and hatred should ideally garner attention and lively discussions from mature young adult book club and reader groups.

Adults who choose to lead such inspections, and libraries that include He Deserved to Die for its blend of detective work and social inspection, will find its higher-level thinking a plus.

A Pixie's Transformation
Faith D. Eilertson
Beaver's Pond Press
939 Seventh Street West, St. Paul, MN 55102
9781643439105, $19.95

A Pixie's Transformation will reach ages 7 and older with a fantasy tale of mystery and magic, weaving an alluring story surrounding a new home and a pixie's atonement.

Pixies are typically naughty. But some cross the line of mischief and must make amends for their annoying jokes.

Evelyn and Reed's journey of learning about this process and the magical world of pixies, fairies, and others who inhabit their new home is embedded with life messages that young readers will absorb in the course of the fantasy.

Faith D. Eilertson's depiction of this learning process is nicely woven into the adventure component of the plot: "While fairies view life with positive thoughts and energy, pixies have chosen to contribute to mischief."

Human siblings Evelyn and Reed Gunderson add their own growth and reflections to the process of realization, healing, discovery, and transformation: "I guess jealousy is common to all forms of life. I just wish people could find happiness in themselves with whatever gifts they have to offer."

Black and white line drawings by Kari Vick introduce each chapter with a simple yet plot-reinforcing image that adds to the story's attraction.

Kids drawn to stories of fairies and magic will discover much more going on than action alone. Woven into the mystery are thought-provoking, growth-inducing moments that give pause for thought about friendships, self-image, good and bad choices, and the transformations that accompany them.

Libraries and adults looking for attractive stories that sport deeper reflective life lessons will find A Pixie's Transformation supplements its guise of a fantasy adventure with an equally compelling story of growth. This makes for a top recommendation and a standout above other genre or children's reads.

Objective Prosperity
Roger D. Blackwell and Roger A. Bailey
Rothstein Publishing
9781944480776, $31.99 Paper/$21.99 ebook

Objective Prosperity: How Behavioral Economics Can Improve Outcomes for You, Your Business, and Your Nation is a study in contrasts between wealth management processes and business and individual pursuits of prosperity.

It poses some hard questions that encourage readers to analyze not just their business and wealth objectives, but the wellsprings of their perception of and drive towards prosperity and success.

This book comes with a caution. It will make even the determined or successful businessperson think about wealth and strategy in new ways that can also be uncomfortable. Those on track to achievement rarely take the time to consider the underlying meaning and influences of that word's definition, but Objective Prosperity doesn't just encourage this extra layer of thought - it demands this of its readers.

The analysis embraces the notion of prosperity for everyone rather than just a few, supporting this vision with a series of real-world examples that receive enlightenment through research studies, analysis, and models of the kinds of business activities that lead to and redefine success.

During this process, Blackwell and Bailey provide insights that support these revised business and personal visions of achievement: "The way to think of your product is the total utility of the bundle of attributes designed to solve a problem. The more pressing a problem, the greater the opportunity to sell a product solving that problem. Your product must scratch where people itch! To prosper as an entrepreneur, you must truly deliver the utility from solving their problem and do it repeatedly and consistently. That is why some people (both entrepreneurs and their employees) prosper - because their products continue to sell, grow revenues, and expand segments served. Selling a product is not the same as fulfilling a need."

The studies of individuals and businesses acknowledge that the process of attaining success is not equally available to all. Many contrasts are provided to illustrate diverse paths to prosperity: "The reality is that even people born poor, values such as knowledge and discipline in their life can help them rise from the bottom to the top. Of course, this requires the opportunity to acquire knowledge, which data clearly shows is not equally accessible to all people at birth. While this is certainly something to discuss as a barrier to prosperity, it is worth noting that there are sometimes ways to overcome these barriers. Reading books from local libraries was the way out of poverty for famed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson as he describes in several of his books including Gifted Hands. Moreover, not everyone has the desire to attend a university to obtain the knowledge from a university degree, but there are many other paths to prosperity."

By now, it should be evident that Objective Prosperity operates on different levels: as a personal examination of the strategies and values involved in defining and reaching for prosperity; as a business consideration of consumer needs and how growth and success may be obtained by matching products and services to their visions; and as a social analysis that considers issues of equality, poverty, wage equity, and more associated issues.

Objective Prosperity is not intended to provide a set of simple answers. It lays the foundation for individual reader analysis no matter what path they walk in life, improving the reader's critical thinking capabilities by expanding the limits and definition of prosperity in all kinds of situations.

Business libraries looking for wealth strategy and entrepreneurial advice books will find so much more in Objective Prosperity. Its vision of defining and analyzing the elements that constitute success needs to be part of a range of book club discussion groups, whether they are focused on business, personal achievement, or social inspection.

Feathers at My Feet
Barbara Pearson
Indigo River Publishing
9781954676305, $16.95

Feathers at My Feet: A Memoir of Enduring Friendship belongs in libraries strong in women's literature, biographies, and artist relationships. It describes the meeting and evolution of a lifelong friendship between art teacher Barbara Pearson and fellow teacher and artist Phyllis Bosco, whose drive and passion led her to be both an influential Florida artist and an activist.

Serendipity may have brought Phyllis and Barbara together, but it was mutual shared interests and growth that sparked a friendship that not only endured, but changed them both.

The foundations of this relationship and, in particular, the growth process it created with accompanying new revelations and opportunities constitute the heart of Feathers at my Feet.

Their encounter portended magic from the start: "...somehow, I had crossed a threshold from my ordinary life into something spectacular."

As readers follow Barbara into the evolving relationship which grows, results in a shared house (complete with a resident ghost), then dissolves again, the swings of women's friendships and connections are displayed in a memoir that includes insights into the Florida art scene, activist pursuits, and a tragedy that changes everything.

Their story represents a road trip through many worlds and shared growth experiences that spark transformations as the world ebbs and flows around them and time passes.

Readers will find their story nearly impossible to put down, painted with the loving hand of recollection and connection steeped in cherished memories and adventures that conclude with no regrets.

Libraries that look for standout literature in the fields of artistic and women's biographies should place Feathers at My Feet at the top of their acquisition lists. Not only will it attract a wide audience, but its subjects of women's friendships and shared connections makes it choice for book club discussion groups interested in themes ranging from women's relationships to the process of not just surviving, but thriving amid life's adversity and challenges.

Dear Joey: Letters From Prison
Michael A. DiVicino
Independently Published
9798437376690, $9.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Book 1 of Dear Joey: Letters From Prison recounts the experiences of inmates in the prison system, and comes from a fellow inmate who turned his life around while in New Folsom Prison, then decided to help others.

Dear Joey gathers evidence of this effort, compiling letters written by inmates who describe their experiences and the events that landed them in state prison.

In an ideal world, Dear Joey would be assigned reading in middle and high school classes studying social issues, justice systems, and creative writing. It can be featured as examples of all three of these topics, as the compilation chronicles the gritty consequences of crime, being caught, and doing time.

Descriptions go above and beyond the norm, providing insights into how each inmate fell into a life of crime and landed in prison. They chronicle the missed opportunities created by these choices, informing readers of all ages about the impact of criminal behavior and the choices and circumstances that evolved these choices.

The candid revelations are exceptionally hard-hitting: "When you read this letter all you can think is this isn't me. This guy is just some loser in and out of jail but I shared all the bad stuff first on purpose so I could show you all the things I lost in the end."

But for chance, circumstance, and choice, the narrators of these letters could too easily be the young readers of this collection.

The result is a passionate set of diverse stories that explain not just how the writers got to this point, but what they lost in doing so, and which moves could have prevented them from being in prison.

Any library collection strong in accounts of social issues, prison experience, youth conflicts over gangs, drugs, or life direction, and the consequences of bad choices needs Dear Joey to hold up a mirror of possibilities.

Its hard-hitting revelations provide the important message that many a young adult reader could ultimately become a letter-writer from prison, themselves, and reinforces the message of making better choices in life no matter what one's influences, abuses, or struggles.

Spiritual Constipation
Stephen Ladd
Apocryphile Press
9781955821872, $20.00 Paper/$6.99 ebook

Spiritual Constipation: Discover Your True Nature & Get Shift Moving pairs two words typically not seen together ('spiritual' and 'constipation') to illuminate readers about the process of being stuck, getting unstuck, and moving ahead both in life and in spiritual circles.

Readers should prepare to be surprised, informed, and perhaps sometimes lightly offended by the references to bodily functions, from the start: "Do you smell that? Just to be safe, let's clear the air.

I don't know shit.

Rest assured, this is not my lame attempt to feign humility. On the contrary, I suppose it may be closer to a false bravado. For let there be no doubt, I forget daily that I'm still quite full of it; and by "it" I mean knowledge. For the better part of four decades, I was a collector, perhaps borderline hoarder, of seemingly pertinent information."

Being a self-confessed "information junkie" meant that Stephen Ladd pursued spiritual considerations with as much enthusiasm for the quest and acquisition of different concepts as he did with life trivia. The result mired him in confusion rather than enlightening him - but perhaps that was for the best, because the process of becoming unstuck and finding a way through the contrasting, often conflicting, paradigms and spiritual pathways forms the foundation of his powerful Spiritual Constipation.

When too much information has been amassed, the result can overwhelm rather than enlighten. In such circumstances, a course of 'unlearning' may be pursued to move aside the morass of confusion and arrive at nuggets of insights to form a foundation of belief, revelation, and progression.

As Ladd navigates this process without a road map, readers will benefit from his ability to create such a blueprint for others. He synthesizes the process of letting go in order to achieve psychic and spiritual balance, but his book applies to more than those already on the road to spiritual understanding.

Surprisingly, this process led him to become a corporate speaker, offering seminars that applied his technique to business as well as life pursuits.

Whether the reader's purpose is one of improving business teamwork and collaborative efforts, or self-examination, Spiritual Constipation's principles and discoveries apply equally, across the board, to life.

Readers may choose this book for its spiritual promise, but will find it delightfully applicable to much broader topics. It also comes flavored with a dash of ironic humor that enhances some of its more serious contentions.

The result is a discourse in self-discovery that requires of its readers only the ability to self-inspect and analyze, and the flexibility to learn about, process, and admit new avenues of growth and understanding. This is a key prerequisite because some of Ladd's contentions defy the conventional routes of understanding, and ideally will be recognized for their promise of deeper realizations and growth:

"Project Mayhem's goal, at least ostensibly, is to alleviate the suffering of their fellow human beings. Their modus operandi is vandalism and the eventual destruction of the symbolic structures of corporations and consumerism that keep people trapped in the illusion. I would suggest this is a misunderstanding of how change happens. Tyler is preaching destructive action to wake people up and set them free. This is a popular stance today and throughout history, but I would put forth that it has had marginal longterm success. I've not found destructive environments the most conducive to awakening and don't buy into the perspective that anything need change in the external world for people to become free. Freedom is an inside job."

Libraries looking for spiritual, self-help, and motivational titles to add to their collections will find an unusual flare of candid life inspection in Spiritual Constipation. Its title prompts readers to take a second look, then choose a book that stands out from the crowd.

The Unmooring
Ken Fireman
Black Rose Writing
9781685130589, $24.94 Paper, $7.99 Kindle

The Unmooring is a novel of political and historical fiction that examines a war within a war during the Vietnam era. It's a conflict that literally comes home to roost as the McMaster family finds the battlegrounds of dissent in their own home with the traditional divide between elder wisdom and youth's impulses becoming one of revised notions of conviction, ideals, and strength.

Michael McMaster is young and glowing with enthusiasm, as the story opens. He has worked on John F. Kennedy's campaign and seen the young man become president, he holds a taste for adventure and new possibilities, and he's increasingly convinced that the attitudes and political involvements of his staid parents are too conservative.

His taste for life leads him to become involved in civil rights and a relationship with a young black actress, and he becomes a journalist as passionate about truth as he is about the world around him.

As Vietnam politics further change his family connections and challenge relationships new and old, Michael finds himself on the front lines of a battle he never saw coming - one that reaches into not just his relationship with his parents, but his new home and world.

More so than most stories about the 1960s, Ken Fireman's The Unmooring captures the ideals, promise, energy, and tumultuous social, political, and psychological transformations of the times.

This is evident in passionate passages that capture Michael's moves from civilian to Army life and back, and the nature of a milieu which continues to prompt massive life changes.

Of particular note are the descriptions of racial divide and changing relationships between civilians, military men, and those who operate in auxiliary positions as the social conflict in America rises, such as this passage about the National Guardsmen sent to Detroit during the 1967 unrest:

"Every one was white. Some were Vietnam vets, but at least half had done their overseas Army duty in Korea or Germany and had never seen combat. They were suburban or small-town guys who worked at civilian jobs during the week and gathered on weekends to fulfill their Guard obligation. When Detroit erupted, they were taking part in an annual drill in rural Camp Grayling, hundreds of miles from inner-city Detroit in physical distance and light years away in social experience. Between Michael's Army service and his time in Vietnam, he had an idea of what military professionalism looked like - and these guys looked nothing like it."

More so than most books about these times, Fireman's book adds a depth of social inspection that expands the feel and nature of the characters and the perceptions that buffet their world.

The result is a powerful novel of social and political transformation.

Ideally, The Unmooring will be chosen not just by libraries interested in political fiction about the 1960s era, but by book clubs discussing the unique dovetailing of civil rights and social issues that prompted extraordinary behaviors and responses from the American public during these times, dividing generations and evolving a revised set of values that resonated over the decades to come.

When We Lost Touch
Susan Kraus
Flint Hills Publishing
9781953583369, $16.99 Paperback; $2.99 Kindle

Since the advent of COVID, many books have attempted to capture the sense and experience of the pandemic years. Few hold the power and ability to immerse the reader in this experience as strongly as When We Lost Touch, a novel that comes from the perspective of therapist Grace McDonald, who returns home from a cruise to find life vastly changed.

Zoom and online meetings have replaced college and in-person encounters. Life is locked down. Grace's best friend Katrina has contracted COVID, but isn't recovering. Nobody knows why, nobody knows what will happen, and life is at a standstill.

The fact that Grace is a therapist helps reinforce the vast psychological changes buffeting the world during this pandemic, adding to a story that serves as both a history of these times and a reflection of the experiences of those living through them.

Through the pandemic creates the overlay of a revised life, life goes on. Issues of prejudice and racism, social discord, psychological trauma, and the ethics of narcissistic, self-serving actions are profiled against this pandemic backdrop to lend a sense of evolutionary process to the characters' lives.

Susan Kraus doesn't shy away from political inspection, either. The policies and decisions of the Trump administration and the perceptions and interpretations of these political choices by the general public are included as a myriad of characters confront COVID on many different levels.

More so than most novels about these times, When We Lost Touch captures the chaotic nature of fast-paced events that take over ordinary lives.

Historical context notes are injected throughout to lend a sense of reality to the timeline of events in the story. This helps ground the experiences and changes that occur over the years, serving as good reminders of the novel's foundations in real experiences and lives.

The insights from various characters as they await a cure, a solution, and the return of their old lives are particularly well written:

"What are your ages again?" Grace asked. "And what are the breakdowns by age for the tiers?" She was trying to back away from going down the Trump rabbit hole. Or was it Trump quicksand? It was a harsh moment when they did the numbers. For some it would be a few months. For Kayla, the youngest in the group, it could be as late as summer. They knew that every damn day until then, any one of them could get infected, suffer, and even die while protection was almost within reach, almost, just around the corner. Like drowning when you could see the Coast Guard coming. Just not soon enough."

The result is an authoritative fictional documentary of the COVID years that will both resonate with those living them now and educate future readers about the psychological, political, and social turmoil the pandemic introduced into nearly every facet of life around the world.

Libraries looking for potent fictional representations of these times need look no further than When We Lost Touch for a powerful saga grounded in the reality of shifting lives.

The Man Who Screams at Nightfall and Other Stories
Rush Leaming
9780999745670, $12.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Man Who Screams at Nightfall and Other Stories presents interconnected short stories of travel, self-discovery, and mental illness. Rush Leaming explains, in his introduction, that these stories originated as independent short writings produced during the 1990s to early 2000s. Only when he looked back at their sum result did he realize that they actually served as a cathartic examination of self-discovery, mental illness, and life.

Think Herman Hesse's classic Siddhartha, if it appeared as a series of interconnected life inspections in short stories that followed a mental journey. That's the flavor of this collection, which piques reader minds and hearts with powerful inspections. At this point, it is appropriate to caution that some of these inspections arrive with graphic violence and angst. This is not a collection for the faint-hearted, but a flowing river of examination that prompts anguish and understanding alike.

Take the opening title story "The Man Who Screams At Nightfall." The story takes place in Zaire, where the first-person narrator daily passes local fix-it man Kachamba.

"Bring me something to fix," he said.
I said I couldn't think of anything I had at the moment that was broken."

By day, Kachamba fixes things. At night, he attacks himself, screaming with the effort. The vivid portrait of a man who both repairs others and finds a way to heal himself is striking:

"Spinning, swirling, shouting, and screaming - Kachamba's face, so calm and happy as I had seen it earlier that day, was now knotted and twisted like a grotesque carnival mask, like some gargoyle sprung from the lowest depths of hell. The glow of the fire cut fierce shadows and gorges in his face, adding to the haunting vision that I saw.

For a long while, Pumbu and I hid behind the honeysuckle bushes and watched Kachamba shriek and wail and try to push back the night, until suddenly, all at once, he just stopped. Suddenly, he just stood still and quiet and stared at the sky. I followed his gaze and saw another shooting star."

As the narrator tries to reconcile these dual visions of a placid man with a knack for fixing life with the insanity of the beast spinning before the night fire, screaming, readers receive a vivid saga of the dichotomy of a gentle soul who is also a madman.

As the tales evolve, so do world travels and life connections. "Agora Dogs," for example, is a story of life, love, and death that takes place in Greece. Is the narrator just a romantic loser, or a murderer? The story provides evocative visions of growth and change that mirror those tales that come before and after, following the narrator on world journeys and matters of the heart.

The result is a short story collection that excels in its sense of literary psychological growth and discovery.

Libraries looking for interconnected short stories that represent life journeys and revelations will find The Man Who Screams at Nightfall and Other Stories an appealing acquisition that promises much fodder for discussion to book club readers interested in fictional blends of psychological and social revelation.

Particles in the Air
Jenna Podjasek, MD
Bancroft Press
PO Box 65360, Baltimore, MD 21209
9781610885386, $25.00

Readers of medical thrillers who look for powerful female protagonists will find Particles in the Air the strong story of Dr. Mallory Hayes, a CDC investigator who tackles the sudden spread of a puzzling disease after a tsunami hits the coast of Southern California.

Mallory's discovery of a strange new virus and its properties are only the beginning of the story, because soon she is tasked with understanding not just its incarnation, but its origins. And these involve a strange series of uncommon associations between scientists and madmen which portend doom to the world if the virus is not contained.

Dr. Jenna Podjasek employs medical knowledge, processes, and her knowledge of disease progression to create a winning combination of authoritative real-world knowledge and fictional drama.

Medical facts interspersed with the plot create a realistic backdrop that define and educate readers about the parameters of the problem: "Bartonella causes a rare type of local bacterial infection associated with lymph node swelling. It is known in the medical community as "Cat Scratch Disease" and is usually treated easily with antibiotics. In comparison to patients with a normal, functioning immune system, immuno-deficient patients exposed to certain strains of the bacteria experience a more widespread, potentially serious infection."

Pair this with an attention to creating strong, authoritative characters and women in positions of power who must translate their problem-solving abilities to an unprecedented medical threat, for a gripping story of subterfuge, intrigue, and drama that holds twists and turns many won't see coming.

One of the special strengths of Particles in the Air lies in its concurrent subplots of a professional woman considering a relationship in the midst of what evolves to be a terrorist threat.

As the nation unites, so does her heart. New possibilities expand plot and person to create a vivid, memorable read backed by a professional immunologist's consideration of disease and health processes and possibilities.

Libraries looking for medical thrillers with powerful social and psychological backdrops will find Particles in the Air an outstanding choice.

All is Fair
Michael Kenneth Smith
Independently Published
9798353656456, $14.99

All is Fair opens in Poland in 1938, setting the stage for the history and experiences affecting trainee fighter pilot Jan Orlinski, who witnesses the invasion of his country by German forces in 1939. He finds himself far from both his home and his love when he is shot down in England and captured by Germans.

From Jon's initial passion to become a fighter pilot and his training to his graduation as an airman, his blossoming relationship with Sophie, and the interjection of war which changes everything, Michael Kenneth Smith creates a moving, memorable account of World War II which personalizes the times and military experiences through Jon's eyes and his growth as both a pilot and an individual.

Whether actively fighting or in captivity (twice!), Jon maintains his sense of purpose, person, and survival instincts which serve him well under many changing conditions.

Jon's encounter with all manner of people and ethnic backgrounds introduces him to various situations and perspectives which hone his own ethical and moral outlook on life and its inhabitants: "We are very much alike, you and I," the little man continued. "You are wanted by the German police, and I soon will be too. You see, I am a Jew. Any day will come a knock on the door from the Gestapo. They will take me and my wife away, never to be seen again."

As Jon struggles to survive his concentration camp experience and envisions a normal life in a world that has been ravaged and changed by war, readers gain a more personal perspective of life during these times than most stories offer. Strong characterization and an attention to details of place and communities bring these milieus to life in a manner most military fiction can't match.

While its focus on military engagements and war make it highly recommended for libraries strong in military historical fiction, All is Fair's concurrent examination of not just survival and conflict, but matters of the heart open this world to non-military-fiction readers, as well.

This audience will gain a full-faceted perspective of the war's effects on all kinds of people and ethic groups, and will better understand the European arena that changed, on so many levels, from the war's experiences and participants.

Susan Fleet
Music & Mayhem Press
9781732130135, $15.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Fans of Susan Fleet's prior Frank Renzi crime thrillers will welcome the latest addition to the series, Guilty, which tells of a sadistic serial killer specializing in kidnapping and murdering women who are unfaithful to their husbands.

From its opening lines, Guilty captures the essence of a man who metes out his own special brand of warped justice: "He couldn't decide what he liked best. The delicious anticipation or the magnificent feeling of power. He was in control and she wasn't. A bit like watching a movie for the second or third time."

Homicide Detective Frank Renzi finds clues scarce in his desperate search for the killer that is terrorizing New Orleans. All he has to go on is photographs sent by the killer to loved ones of his deceased victims. Were they taken before or after the murders? Because the latest photo brag to land on his desk is of his boss's daughter, saving her becomes the last desperate push by the police to rescue one of their own against increasingly impossible odds.

Guilty is about more than a murder mystery and investigation. Ultimately, it considers matters of fidelity and honor, both by the victims and the criminal mastermind who has appointed himself judge and jury over their choices and actions.

Fleet does an excellent job of capturing the myriad dynamics of all kinds of personalities as they become entwined in the killings.

It turns out that the New Orleans murders weren't the perp's first ones, but add to a pattern of "Guilty photographs" that mark his modus operandi in other places. This makes Renzi's job even more complex as he unravels the clues to follow the killer's path and purposes.

Fleet crafts her story in a manner designed to appeal to both past Renzi readers and newcomers to his New Orleans world.

The cat-and-mouse game is exceptionally well done, taking time to portray the psychology motivating all characters. The New Orleans backdrop comes steeped in local culture that brings the events to life, while tension is exquisitely honed and nicely developed: "He edged forward. Still no sounds. Flickering light coming through an open doorway to his left. Silently, he inched toward the doorway, arms extended, his finger on the trigger. No one visible from this angle. He chanced a quick peek around the doorjamb. Saw no one, alive or dead. The flickering light came from a big-screen television set opposite a sofa, the sound muted."

Guilty is an excellent addition to the Frank Renzi crime series, yet stands nicely alone as a fine police procedural that comes with the added value of a moral and ethical quandary.

Libraries looking for suspenseful police procedurals that go above and beyond in portraying both sides of the story will find Guilty a fine acquisition.

White Wolf
Cary Allen Stone
Independently Published
9798843277468, $9.99 Paper/$0.99 ebook

White Wolf is a political thriller that pits a SEAL team against forces that would take over the U.S. government. More is at stake than a singular terrorist operation - democracy itself is teetering on the edge of civil war.

Sound familiar? White Wolf mirrors the atmosphere, concerns, and clashing forces of modern times in America, embedding the political component with action-packed scenarios that will feel eerily familiar as forces on both sides square off.

"The White House was the symbol of the power and majesty of America." It also represents the promise of freedom - but not its definition, which is also under attack by forces that would change this definition of the notion of "freedom for all."

From a president who would return "by any means" to the office to create 'Thorneland' to abolish the Constitution, Congress, and all symbols of a democracy to accusations of a stolen election which features dangerous undercurrents, White Wolf represents a thriller that has roots in real possibility.

And that's what makes it so powerful. That, and the attention of Cary Allen Stone to incorporating present-day events into fictional backdrops that then extrapolate a future seething with confrontation, power plays, and unusual twists from different directions.

Both liberal and conservative readers will find White Wolf scorchingly action-packed and hard to put down. It contrasts the diverse perspectives of all sides concerned with not just democratic processes, but their own special interests.

The assaults and battles on American soil are reminiscent of events in war-torn nations around the world, but they're taking place here, in an arena challenged not just by modern visions and interests, but past precedent and ideals.

Through these vivid scenes, readers receive a barely-disguised fictional survey that prompts them to think further about bigger pictures, underlying forces at work, and the motivations and actions of individuals who affect and direct the course of a much-revised nation.

The depiction of the actions and conundrums of the Delta Team that finds itself tasked with not only saving the President, but the nation, makes for a particularly involving set of scenarios that simmer with vitality and social and political examination.

Libraries and readers seeking thrillers that mirror modern events but take an extra step into futuristic confrontations will find White Wolf a thoroughly engrossing scenario of a future America in which nobody is safe. -- Not even the President.

Yves, or the Man Who Wasn't
L.N. Mayer
Oslo & Bangs Publishing
9782956946342, $11.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

"The only constant is change and the only thing that changes is how much you hate something."

Yves, or the Man Who Wasn't presents young adults with Book 2 of The Tell Trilogy, following the coming-of-age of a young man who becomes involved in forces beyond his youth or control.

The reasons for people coming together over something they hate forms the foundation of examination in a story which maintains that "struggle is a fool's chore," supporting that introduction with the further adventures of William Teller, whose legend involves a propensity for getting into trouble.

Tell is an outcast who just won't go away. And that's part of the problem.

L.N. Mayer crafts a follow-up story best appreciated by prior fans of Tell, or the Adventures in Themiddle. This audience will fall easily into the atmosphere and story which takes place almost a hundred years from "right now."

Tell thinks he knows his place in Themiddle, but his power sets him apart in a way no other resident has ever experienced. As he receives lessons on his abilities, how tyrants are formed and come to power, and the power of imagination, he better grows to understand his choices.

Young adults who choose this adventure expecting a fantasy or action story alone will find much philosophical reflection underlying the vivid scenes of Tell's evolution and blossoming abilities.

They will be prompted to think deeper and harder about finding one's place in the world and affecting its changes and judgments, and will also discover much fodder for discussion that will lend to young adult book club reader engagements on a variety of growth-inducing topics.

The result is a study in belief and self-empowerment that blends fantasy and adventure with an overlay of personal involvement and discovery. This will attract libraries catering to young adults that look for exceptional stories of magic and social and psychological insights.

There's More Bodies Out There
Rick Porrello
Next Hat Press
9780966250817, $16.95

A fine line separates true crime fact from fiction. Few authors or investigative researchers walk this line as carefully as Rick Porrello.

There's More Bodies Out There: The True Story of a Mafia Associate and a Cop Who Emerge as Suspected Serial Killers is a study in strange attractors. It presents a true story based on written correspondence with Richard Henkel; government reports; newspaper articles; books; and personal interviews, leaving no stone unturned in the process of revealing the truth.

While some of Porrello's conclusions are based on conjecture, their roots in facts presented here also lend to a feel of authentic research and postulations backed by evidence.

Porrello, a former police chief, is a master at synthesizing research into the drama of daily life, capturing the incarnation, growth, and associations of a sociopath and his progressive actions. Porrello's attention to specifically pinpointing places in the story where conjecture was made (included in a reference section of Endnotes) creates an unusually specific attention to the fine line between fact and possible fiction that researchers will find especially important.

The truth about Henkel's associations is starkly portrayed from the story's opening lines: "Under a convincing veneer of normalcy lurks the real Richard Henkel. Federal parole authorities deemed the incarcerated bank robber psychologically stable and ready to make positive contributions to society. They got it wrong. Henkel operated within the underworld of the 1970s - the well-entrenched Mafia with their interstate connections and a loose network of drug dealers, burglars, and pimps."

Rick Porrello traces these associations with the dogged and determined processes of a good researcher. He brings readers along on the research ride, foraying into little-charted territory as he surveys Henkel's con artistry, victims, and the lawmen who pursued justice and this dangerous killer.

An unexpected whimsical feel is provided in the first chapter, which chooses "lead characters" to provide a short list of major players and their connections. This creates a user-friendly atmosphere which reduces any confusion about these relationships while outlining the milieu of Pittsburgh, the Gemini lounge girls and their upscale clientele, and the makeup of the Henkel family as their children come of age and move into Pittsburgh society.

Richard Henkel's early arrests for petty crimes set off a lifetime of surfing the underworld with ever-darker intentions. His story and those of the victims reads with the drama of fiction, yet firmly rests on a foundation of facts that are gripping and methodical in their progression and presentation.

As Henkel moved from bank heists to darker exploits, readers receive a story that also outlines disparities between his criminal activities, concerns about his home life, and his seeming good behavior: "While Richard Henkel was in Marion Penitentiary, he often expressed concern for his son. Some administrators found him to be intelligent and polite. He participated in various educational courses. He joined the prison's historical society and the Jaycees (United States Junior Chamber of Commerce), a civic organization that provided training in business skills and leadership." But, he wasn't turning over a new leaf. He was plotting his next move.

As the action and investigation moves beyond Pittsburgh, a methodical drama emerges that is even more riveting than fiction for its factual yet emotionally alluring presentation.

Libraries looking for vivid true crime stories that take the extra step beyond research to present their stories in a thoroughly compelling manner will find There's More Bodies Out There a solid acquisition.

Its insights into investigative procedures, crime revelations, and the cat-and-mouse games that connect investigators and criminals provide "you are here" moments that prove impossible to put down, and vividly frightening.

Jane Kay
Atmosphere Press
9781639885312, $18.99

Umbilical opens in modern-day Namibia, where a small chartered plane's crash involves an undocumented baby and a nun hiding the child.

Thirty years is a long time to percolate the mystery surrounding this event, but it ripples forward to enfold future generations in a surprising manner, and that is one of the hallmarks of strength of Jane Kay's Umbilical.

Seasoned mystery readers will quickly come to find that Umbilical is not your tradition whodunit. It's a literary suspense story of actions, consequences, and inheritance that drives a powerful series of interactions and revelations between seemingly disparate characters that are somehow linked by a singular event that cannot be readily explained.

As the ripples through time continue to unfold, readers are treated to a suspenseful story that embraces love, rage, and circumstances which reveal each character's simmering years of secrets: "Ella breathed fast, anger boiling up from the deep places where she'd stored it for decades. How she detested his entitled authoritarian manner, which made him the only one who was above reproach and everyone else somehow less worthy and therefore fair game for judgements and criticisms purely because they weren't born the mighty Jack Moore. She felt as if she was about to choke on her anger."

Kay's attention to contrasting cultural and social differences as the story unfolds creates an especially thought-provoking milieu. "African sentiments are not Western sentiments..." it is cautioned as special interests and cultural influences clash.

The result is a mystery steeped in Southern Africa which embraces family angst, generations of behaviors and codes of ethics, and choices that lead to attempts to make peace with the past in order to move ahead in the present.

Readers and libraries looking for suspenseful mysteries that supersede genre definitions will find Umbilical as powerful in its story of revelation as it is in its exploration of close-held secrets and answers to ongoing shame and questions.

The Adventures of Max and Maude
John Losee
Independently Published
9781736838709, $9.45 Paper/$4.95 ebook

The Adventures of Max and Maude is recommended for animal lovers who enjoy dog and cat escapades. It tells of golden-haired Persian cat Maude's experiences with brown and black shepherd-terrier-boxer mix Max, who comes to live with the family.

Unbeknownst to him, the new house comes with house rules created by the cat, which are not always to his liking:

"Maude sought to impose some house rules:

1. My food bowl is off limits, likewise my water dish.
2. All horizontal surfaces above the floor are mine.
3. No barking is permitted at any mice found on the premises. These prey are mine.
4. Barking during my morning or afternoon naps is expressly forbidden.
5. Any disturbance of my litter box will be dealt with severely.

Max was unimpressed. "For a creature whose behavior shows no respect for rules, you sure seem keen to invent and apply them. Be advised. I am a dog. Dogs do not recognize rules invented by cats."

And so Max begins to form his own rules, and a funny set of interactions between the two pets is created which will attract all ages with its blend of fun color drawings of cat and dog and entertaining encounters between the two.

From the start, John Losee adopts a light-hearted tone that enhances a portrait in relationship-building achieved by both the animals' interactions with one another and the house humans that present sometimes-puzzling challenges.

One example of a hilarious and fun encounter is a cuckoo clock that poses numerous problems. Losee anthropomorphizes the animals' dialogues and perceptions of their world's puzzles and the process by which they join forces to confront them:

"Every hour the cuckoo emerged. It made a noise no bird would recognize. The situation was made worse by the fact that the cuckoo performed on the half-hour as well. Maude found that, after being assaulted by one cuckoo cry, she came fully awake waiting for the next. She was unable to sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time. Maude shared her frustration with Max. "Max," she said, "you know how grouchy I get when I don't get enough sleep. This clock has thoroughly disrupted my rhythms."

The result is an engaging dog/cat story that the whole family can appreciate, whether it's chosen for family read-aloud or pursued by all ages.

Losee's ability to bring Max and Maude to life creates a vivid story nicely steeped in diverse adventures and fun.

Living the Practice: The Way of Love
Rohini Ralby
Bancroft Press
PO Box 65360, Baltimore, MD 21209
9781610885768, $17.95 Paper/$9.95 ebook

Living the Practice, Volume One: The Way of Love, comes from a writer, artist, and spiritual teacher who dismantled her worldly life in 1975 to find what she calls "the bottom line of existence."

Rohini Ralby learned spiritual practice one-on-one from her Guru, Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa (informally known as Baba), of whom she was a close personal disciple until his passing in 1982. In this book, the first of two volumes (the second is to be published in 2023, also by Bancroft Books), Ralby takes the unusual and effective approach of using multiple media to convey for readers what it means, in practical terms, to pursue spiritual practice. Readers will encounter not only essays but also poems and paintings, all of which serve to communicate what Ralby wants to share: the experience of a living, authentic spirituality.

The intentions of this book are nicely summarized in the introduction that gives readers both background history and a sense of what The Way of Love has to offer: "The Guru turns the ignition key, and is also the one who adds fuel as needed and guides you - the student driver - in what direction to go and what hazards to avoid. Baba continues to do this for me. This book and its sequel will convey much of what Baba taught me, and continues to teach me, about breaking the mirror of delusion and re-cognizing the true Self."

While Ralby's first book with Bancroft Press, Walking Home with Baba: The Heart of Spiritual Practice (2012) included more biographical as well as instructive elements, Living the Practice is, as its title suggests, pointedly about the continuing work of spiritual practice itself. This first volume covers the guru-disciple relationship and the special circumstances which foster spiritual awakening, transformation, and deeper connectedness.

Ralby provides a clear conceptual framework for spiritual practice, but, importantly, goes beyond concepts to convey the actual process of developing both discrimination and non-attachment. She also provides tools she has developed to facilitate readers' understanding of how their own unacknowledged attachments and illusions actually operate in their lives.

These discussions revolve around important fundamentals, such as that revealed and discussed here:

"Ultimately, we have to surrender our shrunken self; no one else, no matter how powerful and loving, can do that for us. The Guru will guide us, God will guide us, but in the end we have to remove the final veil by conscious, active surrender to God, the Self of All. We must break the cup and merge back into the ocean. Our individuality that was formed with the Fall has to be consciously let go."

What emerges is a powerful exploration of not just Ralby's own spiritual awakening and influences, but also the teachings that led her from being a disciple to serving as a guru herself; and to writing books about how we as individuals can work to clear away the "obstacles" within us that keep us from being who we truly are (for Ralby, the one Self of All).

This powerfully-rendered account provides readers with a clear and panoramic entry onto the path of spiritual practice. Its exploration of the guru-disciple relationship, as well as the actual methods and tools of practice, creates a guide that can speak to different kinds of seekers. It also interrogates the notions of self and enlightenment that tend to hold sway in the current spiritual marketplace.

Spiritual libraries looking for powerful presentations of these journeys will welcome the voice of experience and advice that makes The Way of Love both accessible and enlightening.

Jophiel's Secret
Johanna Frank
Marrow Publishing
9781777731762, $5.99 ebook

Jophiel's Secret is the second book in the Lifeline fantasy series, but serves as a standalone read for newcomers that requires neither prior familiarity nor interest in becoming involved in an entire series in order to appreciate the strengths of this story.

It tells of angel Jophiel, who falls to earth and is born as Joppha. Joppha's disappearance results in a struggle between two forces (Kingdom Authoritarians and the Rebel), with Joppha's immortality the crux of the issue.

The Kingdom holds many pleasures and possibilities, but as Joppha's fate becomes entwined with the Kingdom's business and strife, a host of characters find their worlds colliding in an arena that embraces dark forests, imprisonment, and transformation.

One note to the story lies in the strength of Johanna Frank's descriptions, which toe the line between a jaunty contemporary tone and a world-building fantasy. She embeds her story with the atmosphere of a world that comes to life through various eyes and actions:

"Matthew ducked his head forward, tunneled his way through slush and waved his way through the mosquito cloud. He had entered the dark forest. Trudging several more steps, his arms were out wide to feel the way through trunks of trees, some brittle, some slimy. All with an eerie lust for the living yet hanging onto a mother called death. Still spring, budding growth hadn't overgrown yet, and Matthew wondered, does anything green even grow in here? Ugh. He shivered and affirmed quietly that he was a fresh, open-air kinda guy. This was not his scene."

This juxtaposition between contemporary tone and extraordinary setting is unusual in a fantasy that is directed by the desire to regain home and the forces set on preventing that effort for various reasons.

Joppha/Jophiel's growing up, coming of age, and influences on the wider world makes for an engrossing tale that moves beyond the usual trappings of vying forces and into a milieu that embraces both spiritual and psychological growth.

The characters are well done, from Pipiera's dilemma to the moments that define transition points in relationships: "At one point, Aivy had to console Pipiera, reminding her that weeping on Earth may last for a night, sometimes even a season, but will inevitably be followed by joy. There were appointed times for every matter, and she assured her that she hadn't left her family and friends to be alone."

The result is a compelling fantasy about revised connections, hope, and transformation that contains a rollicking good read about good and bad intentions and life impacts, but expands its fantasy scope with moving family interconnections.

Libraries looking for fantasy stand-alone stories that can appeal to a wide age range will find Jophiel's Secret a solid pick; especially since it can stand alone as well as dovetailing with its series.

The Angel of Santo Tomas - The Story of Fe del Mundo
Tammy Yee
Tumblehome, Inc.
9781943431748, $16.95

The Angel of Santo Tomas - The Story of Fe del Mundo is a picture book story that takes place in Manila in the Philippines. It opens with the funeral of young Fe's older sister, who wanted to be a doctor.

Fe decides to fulfill her dead sister's ambitions by stepping into that dream herself, finding a mentor in her physician uncle after her mother passes away.

As the picture book story tells of how she achieves her dream and then moves beyond its initial boundaries to become not just a doctor, but the first person of Asian descent to attend Harvard Medical School, young readers receive an involving tale of how an ambitious young woman who cared for others created a lifesaving institution, Santo Tomas, to provide a sanctuary for children.

Tammy Yee's inviting, full-page color illustrations power this plot, adding visual attraction and emphasis as Fe del Mundo moves beyond her initial vision of helping others to become an influential force in children's' lives.

It's a biography that will not only lend to student papers for assigned reading, but gives enthusiastic support to the notion that a child can grow up to make a difference in the world through thinking of a bigger picture for helping others.

Adults who choose The Angel of Santo Tomas for read-aloud will find plenty of topics to discuss beyond the book's initial and powerful biographical sketch.

Libraries that feature it will fulfill their mission of providing early readers with stories that emphasize Asian women's strengths and ability to achieve their dreams.

Cosmic Trap
Matt Cost
Encircle Publications
9781645994251, $17.99

Cosmic Trap explores a UAP (Unexplained Aerial Phenomena) experience, the concurrent mystery of a missing woman who may be connected to this sighting, and the involvement of Seagull Aviation, a governmental defense contractor.

When local agents Clay Wolfe and Baylee Baker are tapped to investigate these dual puzzles, they find not only unexplained connections between them, but equally inexplicable human threats. Targeted by assassins, they come to realize that every person who has witnessed a UAP has vanished.

The story opens with a lobsterman witnessing what appears to be a translucent aerial lobster trap. When he tells his story at the bar, predictable scoffing ensues:

"I know what I saw. You can all fuck off." Warren tossed back his beer, got up, and walked off.
"I'll put it on your tab," the bartender called to his disappearing back.
"Best have him pay now before the aliens whisk him away," another onlooker added with a chuckle.
"Pluck him from his boat with one huge lobster claw and take him back down under the ocean to make a stew of him," greasy hair said.
Warren went down the stairs followed by raucous laughter at his expense."

Clay just so happens to be in the bar when this story is told. It's unusual to find a professional investigator throwing back whiskeys at the local watering hole, but there is much about Cosmic Trap that lends it an aura of more realistic believability than most mysteries.

Baylee, his business partner and possible romantic interest, also becomes involved. The realistic dilemma of the dynamics between them add to and enhance the story as both find their lives on the line and their concern over their latest case (and each other) growing.

Matt Cost's prior mysteries Wolfe Trap, Mind Trap, and Mouse Trap introduced Clay's P.I. skills, and this standalone follow-up adds further tension and deeper understanding as Clay and Baylee become involved in yet another dangerous puzzle.

The draw of a typical mystery lies in unfolding the layers of a puzzle. The true lure of a superior mystery lies in an equal attention to understanding the layers of relationships that unfold in response to adversity, and the choices and actions of the characters.

Cosmic Trap creates the dynamics for a series of personal, interpersonal, and social revelations. These entwine with the mystery component to create a wonderful tension based on characters who exhibit realistic flaws as well as compelling attributes.

From conspiracy theories and misplaced files to attacks that seem random (but which Clay knows are somehow connected), readers receive a rollicking good read that careens through situations that are truly unexpected and challenging.

Libraries looking for mysteries that are solidly cemented in realistic scenarios and characters who live and breathe to problem-solve in creative new ways will find Cosmic Trap serves equally well whether purchased in conjunction or after Wolfe Trap, Mind Trap, and Mouse Trap, or as a stand-alone story. Either way, the tale shines and proves entertaining, intriguing, and vividly compelling from start to finish.

Ask Uncle Neil: Why Is My Hair Curly?
Neil Thompson
Teach the Geek Kids
9780692157275, $11.99 Paper; $4.99 ebook

Picture book readers and read-aloud parents who look for stories that embrace self-acceptance, the possibilities in changing appearances, and Black pride will find Ask Uncle Neil: Why Is My Hair Curly? the perfect item of choice for discussing appearances and science alike.

The latter proves an unexpected accent to the story, which opens with a young boy's conversations with his mother about possible new hair styles and evolves into the question of why his hair is curly in the first place.

The solution is to consult scientist Uncle Neil, who often knows the answers to intriguing puzzles.

As mother and son embark on a shared journey for answers, readers receive a warm story spiced with nice drawings as the story surveys Black heritage, genes, and their influences on physical developments and attributes (such as curly hair and its properties).

The result is a discourse that works on many levels: as a lesson in Black pride; as an example of scientific inquiry applied to basic life puzzles; and as an example of how science can explain everyday life.

Libraries looking for different picture book explorations of any of these topics will find a lively, positive, welcoming tone to Ask Uncle Neil: Why Is My Hair Curly? It ideally will be used by adults to open conversations about a myriad of subjects with young picture book audiences of all races.

The Best I Can Do
John Branning
Pusillanimous Books
9780997077391, $14.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

The Best I Can Do: A Panoply of Humorous Essays and Light Verse is a lighthearted presentation of satirical writing that does justice to the underlying script, talents, and ideals of humorous expression.

Prepare to be entertained; whether by black and white visual photos of snafus and ironies of life, verses, or essays. The attention to detail even extends to the hilarious self-portrait of the author that precedes the written words, the acknowledgement that includes "the cats that own us," and the perfunctory quote that is accompanied by a wry side note from the author: "Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face." - Victor Hugo

If that's true, then please apply sunscreen before reading any further."

Its whimsical table of contents even includes such chapter headings as "To Sleep, Perchance to Snore" to the self-effacing chapter "Pooh Pooh Pulitzers" which opens with the observation that "I've just completed a quick scan of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners and did not notice my name so immortalized. Bummer. There are fourteen journalism categories and I didn't even make it to the finalist stage in any of them. Of course, the fact that I'm not a journalist may have played a part there. My chances were perhaps better under "Letters, Drama & Music," which includes a number of brackets that are right in my wheelhouse:

Fiction: When my wife comes home from work and asks me what I've been up to all day, I spin elaborate fictions to rival the greatest found in literature.

Drama: Once I admit how I actually spent my day, drama ensues.

History: The pathological need to camouflage and embellish my daily routine goes back decades."

John Branning's special blend of satire is remarkably astute and always hilarious. It gives much cause for thought and laughter, whether it arrives in essay form or in free verse.

Subjects are as wide-ranging as husband/wife relationships, bathroom innovations, and ironic commentaries on life experiences, platitudes, and reporters.

The result is side-splitting from start to finish and delivers what it promises: a wry inspection of the satirical form as it relates to modern life and relationships within it, whether internal or external.

The Best I Can Do is very highly recommended for any collection strong in satirical writings and humor. It's by far the most hilarious read undertaken in 2022. If not 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Dirty Dealing
Jeffrey Allan Grosso
Permuted Press
9781637582978, $28.00 Hardcover/$9.99 ebook

Dirty Dealing: Grosso v. Miramax - Waging War with Harvey Weinstein, and the Screenplay that Changed Hollywood explores screenwriting and copyright law via a memoir that chronicles Jeffrey Allan Grosso's landmark suit he waged against the Hollywood giant Miramax. In it, he accused the company of stealing his screenplay, using it as a foundation for a best-selling movie which gave him no credit for the idea.

Grosso unfolds a case that is tinged with the flare and drama of fiction, but is all the more compelling for its solid roots in reality.

The twists and turns of cat-and-mouse games between creative artists and industry influencers are captivating as they wind through courtroom proceedings and issues that embrace social, political, financial, and ethical concerns.

The variety of subjects Grosso tackles within the scope of his lawsuit will spark lively debate among any performing arts or creative writing groups that make Dealing a subject of discussion.

In true David vs. Goliath form, Grosso tackled the impossible by taking on not just one company, but the entire Hollywood system.

Anyone interested in issues of creative rights, writing protection, and Hollywood production needs to place Dirty Dealing at the top of their reading list. It combines a memoir with industry insights and contrasts legal processes with poker-like precision.

Readers receive a passionate account that pulls no punches right from the start: "...I believe that, without my Shell Game script, there never would have been a Rounders or any of the dozens of poker movies and shows that limped along in its wake. And if you'll give me half a chance, I promise that I can prove it to you well beyond any reasonable doubt."

Readers might anticipate that the meat of the title lies in a series of legal moves; but actually, the event's aftermath is just as chilling and riveting as the way it plays out. It presents a bigger-picture survey of corruption and greed that embraces subjects well beyond Hollywood culture and experiences. This is why Dirty Dealing should move beyond performing arts audiences and into the hands and minds of the general reader interested in corporate shenanigans and graft.

The Key to Circus-Mom Highway
Allyson Rice
The Total Human Publications
9780982185544, $17.99 Paper/$9.99 ebook/$19.99 Audiobook

Imagine being forced to confront and interact with an estranged sister over a family inheritance and a newly-found brother. The Key to Circus-Mom Highway presents a road trip prompted by a posthumous edict by a birth mother to renew broken family connections.

Sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon find themselves embarking on a prearranged journey across America to touch base with their mother's friends. The conflicted interactions between these disparate individuals who have been thrown together for the sake of finding a lost key to the past makes for an engrossing story. It contains shades of Kerouac's On the Road, but brings the adventure home with interpersonal revelations about family and life connections.

As the trio encounter a series of odd characters who each played a part in their mother's life, they unravel answers to questions they didn't even know they had. These answers, in turn, affect both their individual psyches and their relationships to one another and the world.

Allyson Rice creates a rollicking good read that is filled with humor, wry life observations, and odd family interrelationships as these shared experiences evolve. She is especially astute at presenting contrasts in perspective and perception within these encounters.

Each of her three characters experience life-altering circumstances and changes that prompt growth as well as angst. Their adventures are as much psychic as they are physical reminders that lives can dovetail and entwine in unexpected ways, especially if one can walk out of one's routine and into new areas of experience and realization.

The result is a fictional portrait of sibling drama and life events which excels in the unexpected, teaches (by way of example) how disparate personalities can come together; and offers thought-provoking scenes of disconnection and connection.

This will attract not just libraries seeking good leisure reads about sibling relationships, but book discussion groups focused on family trauma and drama.

Requiem for a Queen
Kaylin Mcfarren
Creative Edge Publishing LLC
9798434809993, $13.95 Paper/$3.99 ebook

The third book in the Gehenna series, Requiem for a Queen, expands the occult dystopian world presented in the previous books in the series, and is especially recommended for prior fans who can anticipate another story of eroticism, supernatural influences, and horror and suspense.

Kaylin Mcfarren's ability to traverse all these subjects with a dexterity that brings readers into newly evolving conflicts is evident in this continuation of the saga of newly-crowned Queen of Hell Samara Daemonium and her powers as a half-angel, half-demon.

From the opening scenes that depict an unusual friendship between a Shapeshifter and a Changeling to Lucinda's determination to gain control of her father's throne by kidnapping the heir who might replace her, Mcfarren creates a series of interlocking lives. Each life opens to reveal pieces of a puzzle already well-steeped in the prior series titles' events.

Samara's struggle for survival forces her into an unholy relationship with Lucifer and places her in the middle of conflicts that rock preset notions of these worlds. This leads her to confront a closely held secret, to reconsider her origins and purposes between two disparate worlds, and to walk a fine line between self-preservation and bigger-picture thinking.

Mcfarren's ability to add just the right doses of complexity, tension, and character evolution to her story results in a fine study in contrasts and changing purposes as each character finds their preset notions changed by circumstances beyond their control.

Expect the unexpected as a series of tests evolve, whether it's events directing Samara's search for her son, which prove shockingly enlightening, or in her survival of a witches' inquiry that provides her with keys to her future choices: "Trust your instincts and intuition, Samara. They are far stronger and more powerful than you might believe."

The result is a gripping fantasy best absorbed by prior fans of the intriguing Gehenna series. It straddles the lines between fantasy, horror, and paranormal occult fiction while providing a rollicking good read steeped in strong character development and evolutionary processes.

Libraries looking for something different will welcome all these books as examples of superior characterization, fine tension, and action that rely as much on psychological transformation as it does revised worldviews and paradigms.

The Lonely Toadstool
Kristin Addington Culpepper
Weave Sunshine Publishing
9798985777215, $18.99 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$3.99 ebook

The Lonely Toadstool: A Children's Books About New Friends That Come as We Find Our Voice is a celebration of growth that begins with Kristin Addington Culpepper's depiction of isolation ("One toadstool stood all alone

On the forest floor."). This grows to embrace the world when a lonely toadstool's cry of despair reaches a host of forest creatures that all put down their busy tasks to answer his call.

Anyone who has been lonely or isolated, and any child who has felt the pain of such, will find The Lonely Toadstool a study in how to be a friend as well as how to accept and interact with others.

Gorgeous illustrations by Ruthie Arthur illustrate how a myriad of fanciful creatures and forest animals embark on a search for the source of that lonely whimper, determined to help.

Through the lonely toadstool's feelings and reactions, children learn the importance of expressing emotion, asking for help, setting boundaries, and being more inclusive in their friendships. They also learn how to be givers via the example of these disparate forest friends who come together to answer a call of need.

The importance of this lovely message, well-paired with the equally lovely forest illustrations which represent whimsy with a colorful flair, makes The Lonely Toadstool a top pick for discriminating read-aloud parents and elementary-level libraries looking for explorations of emotions for the very young.

The top-notch combination of simple subject and supportive reflections on friendships makes for a tale that all ages (including adults) can learn from. Ideally, The Lonely Toadstool will also be used in discussion groups with kids to explore themes of isolation, friendship, giving, and cooperative efforts.

Tales of Political Infidels: Trump's Lickspittles and Lackeys
Rainer Link
9798218064921, $13.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

Tales of Political Infidels: Trump's Lickspittles and Lackeys may sound like nonfiction, but its satirical novel of absurdity eschews many of the trappings of political reporting in favor of identifying the ironies and inconsistencies of the Trump phenomenon.

Its focus is on how people are duped, reality manipulated, and insanity propagated in populations that remain acquiescent about a special form of exploitation that comes from higher-up ineptitude and control.

Yes, Trump's presidency is at the heart of the title; but the extrapolations which evolve are both fictional in circumstance and thought-provoking. Whimsical events identify underlying truths and ironies in the Trump administration.

The narrator's tales of these years pinpoint these obsessions and fallacies with unerring wry wit. Scenarios develop as Copper, The Whistler, Dave, and others intersect with the narrator to add their two cents to the story of how outcasts and heroes become part of the public eye - and the political game.

The atmosphere and formation of Trumpian Washington DC comes to life in a collection of stories that dovetail disparate interests and romp into a degenerate world of facts and fancies that mirrors events of real history - but in an oddly twisted way that forces readers to inspect their own motivations, perceptions, and ideals.

The result excels in political inspection and satirical re-creations of these years. The novel is highly recommended for libraries seeking a literary overview of political ironies and inconsistencies inherent in the Trump years.

Halo around the Moon
Matt Ritter
Pacific Street Publishing
9780999896051, $24.99

Halo around the Moon may sound like sci-fi, but it's a novel that blends a murder mystery with a wider-ranging story of nature, history, and the bizarre circumstances connecting two disparate men's lives.

The first thing to note about Matt Ritter's story is that it comes steeped in atmosphere and absorbing description from the start. This gives it a literary flavor that will elevate its appeal beyond genre readers to attract audiences looking for solid contemporary literature: "The mutilated bodies of dead trees smell nothing like the mutilated bodies of dead humans. When a tree is torn apart and begins to rot, the air fills with the melancholy perfume of molasses and soil - the tangy smells of an old violin or a wet forest. By comparison, the human body is a disgusting thing. In the days shortly after death, the atrocious odors of a lifetime of accumulated sulfur and nitrogen bubble out in morbid flatulence."

A gruesome murder connects Professor Marcus and detective Jack to events which move quickly beyond either's area of expertise, embracing facets of life and death that challenge each character's trajectory and beliefs.

Ritter's ability to place science and observation at the heart of this story lends it an attractive atmosphere of discovery, whether it's probing history, circumstantial interactions, science, or psychology.

As other characters swirl their lives and special interests around the professor and detective, readers receive a compelling series of social and scientific examinations that tangles history with old family secrets against a Los Angeles backdrop, resulting in thought-provoking passages and intriguing developments.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Ritter's novel lies in its mercurial aspect, which doesn't conform strictly to the usual murder mystery progression, but adds elements of other disciplines to both heighten tension and educate readers in areas they won't be expecting.

The result is a powerful story which has the uncommon ability to reach out to mystery, novel, historical, and scientific literary readers alike.

Libraries seeking exceptional works for their collections which defy either pat categorization or light entertainment value alone will find Halo around the Moon a top-notch acquisition.

Eye of the Stormlord
Laurel Colless
Peter Blue Press
9789529460588, $18.99 Paper/$7.99 ebook

Eye of the Stormlord's eco-sci-fi story offers an adventure that young adults will appreciate as they absorb the dilemma of eleven-year-old Peter Blue, who attends an exclusive school for eco-talented, gifted children. His father was part of an organization that tackled big-scale world eco-problems, but he's gone missing. With him goes family connections, but as Peter comes to realize the real source of the world's storms and the concurrent turbulence in his heart, he also comes to understand the real nature of the world and his place in it.

Laurel Colless creates a compelling saga that rests in the arms of fantasy, but incorporates many messages about family, life connections, and good and evil.

It also incorporates social and political messages, often delivered with a wry wit that young readers will find unexpected and compelling: "At Big Garbage, we've expanded across England up to the north. Thanks to a big idea from yours truly, we bought a bunch of old collieries. Unbelievable space they have for garbage dumping, especially chemicals from our big company clients. Garbage is the gift that keeps on giving, eh, Peter? And between you and me and the gatepost, it pays very well. Wink wink, say no more."

If Peter can't thwart the "baddies," then everyone he cares about is going to die.

Colless spins a powerful yarn that, on its surface, appears pure fantasy adventure, replete with good/evil clashes and characters that learn more about a surprising world:

"Are you still there, light boy? Let me hear your voice."
"Yes," said Peter.
"That's good. We have an understanding, you and I."
In his outer vision, Peter saw the demon's shoulder twitch.
"Watch out!" It was Roly, arriving behind him. Too late, the
demon had Peter's neck in his grip. Squeezing his throat.
It was like a fierce hug, but the Stormlord's purpose was not from a place of love."

Within its overlay of action, however, lie many lessons about ecology and interconnectedness that educate young people about the forces in communities and outside them that let Trojan Horses in, to disrupt life.

As warriors, demons, and stormlords clash, readers receive a delightful blend of adventure and education that will lend to group discussion as well as individual reading.

Elementary-level libraries looking for rollicking good fantasy adventures that offer a dose of something more serious in the way of life and ecological inspections will find Eye of the Stormlord an attractive recommendation for pre-teen to teen readers. It stands alone nicely, but also adds to The Sleeping King, a prequel which introduced Peter, Spiral Hall, and the special milieu in which he operates.

The American Outsider
Homa Pourasgari
Linbrook Press
9780977978038, Hardcover: $22.00, Trade paperback: $15.95, ebook: $7.59

The American Outsider is a novel about Tessa Walker, a forty-year-old vet who has long been concerned about animal welfare.

Her charge to help animals was instigated by her witnessing the slaughter of dolphins when she was sixteen, but lately that incident has been replaying in her mind, sparked by modern events that portend the same violence. And so she journeys to Japan on a mission of activism to prevent something she was helpless to stymie as a teenager.

Tessa is passionate about her calling, even as others try to dissuade her from her purpose. She still suffers from panic attacks and nightmares from that long-ago experience, carrying the scars of it into her adult life as new visions of slaughter buffet her world. Events in Japan lend to this future possibility, supercharging her determination to become a more effective protector of animals: "She covered her ears to block out the cries of dolphins. In her head, she saw images of Japanese fishermen driving them into a cove to slaughter them. She heard their screams when she woke up; she heard their screams when she went to bed."

As readers explore Tessa's vivid nightmares and rationale for injecting herself into another country's culture and affairs, the novel spins a compelling voice of protest and change during which one woman learns she can make a difference - but only if she takes a big step into unknown waters.

In some ways, Tessa has been preparing for this moment all her life. In others, she is making moves to become even more active, because the protests she's a part of are no longer changing reality: "...not much had changed in Taiji to the chagrin of activists around the world. All their demonstrations had not produced the result they had hoped for."

Readers interested in novels about political awakening, animal welfare issues, international relationships in general, and Japanese culture in particular will relish Tessa's journey as she steps into a role she'd never imagined being in.

Libraries that look for stories replete in examples of activism and involvement will find The American Outsider as well-steeped in Japanese-American relationships and perceptions as it is about evolving animal welfare issues. The result is a vibrant story highly recommended for its review of obsessions, relationships, and struggles with panic attacks and love.

Once There Was a Child
Darlene Pscheidell Kwarta
Atmosphere Press
9781639885404, $12.99

Once There Was a Child is a memoir of a teacher and a child that opens with a child's death and the special challenges faced by working with severely handicapped, abused, and dying children. Inspired by the Helen Keller story, Darlene Pscheidell Kwarta sought to work with and change the lives of "forgotten children" who struggled with emotional and physical trauma.

Readers who enjoy stories about aspiring teachers succeeding against all odds will relish Kwart's memoir for its poignant portraits of needy students and the efforts she makes to bring them new possibilities in life.

These challenges are outlined in specific scenarios that move the heart, educating readers about the special situations that develop from working with special needs kids. One example is a field trip that poses some unusual problems:

"Group three kids were hysterical when they saw the escalator and yelled and signed, "Stairs are moving, stairs are moving"! David and Joey looked at the fast-moving stairs and stared at me like I was crazy. Both had had no training for stepping on the first step without falling all the way down. "No problem, gentlemen, we'll take the elevator," I said.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" It seems that most of them had seen movies where the cable breaks, the elevator drops, and the people plunge to their deaths."

These experiences offer unexpected moments of comic relief as well as important insights into not just the teacher's efforts, but the child's thoughts and fears:

"What's wrong, Joey?" I asked.
He signed, "Animals - not breathing - dead?"
"Well, they used to be alive, but they died and were stuffed so we can see them in a museum."
"Who killed them?" he sobbed.
"I don't know. Maybe they died because they were very, very old. Hey look, there's a zebra. Pretty cool huh?" I signed.
Soon most of the kids were crying or asking to find a policeman so they could report the crime and find the killer."

Readers who anticipate a sobering, morose story of tragedy and trauma will find, midway through Once There Was a Child, an unexpected result: hope and humor join in to reinforce understanding.

As Kwarta moves through these disparate young lives, many insights about teaching and learning, creative problem-solving on the fly, and adapting to unusual circumstances come to life to both entertain and educate readers.

At the end of the day, Kwarta has made a difference not only in young lives, but by publishing an engrossing account of working with youth who hold every bit as much potential as any of their able-bodied peers.

Libraries looking for personal, lively accounts of teaching special needs children that embraces the realities of the job with an unusual combination of humor and enlightenment will find Once There Was a Child a fine addition to collections that have seen popular patron attention from works by Torey Haden and others whose teaching efforts are nothing short of extraordinary.

The Pulse
Owen Garratt
Runding Pelham Publishing
9781777781033, $16.99

The Pulse is disaster fiction at its best, and opens with the author's caution that if violence, cursing, and death are disturbing to readers, they should look elsewhere. Then, again - what disaster novel doesn't incorporate some or all of these elements?

The second cautionary note is that medical procedures performed "on the fly" by characters are not to be imitated. Owen Garratt's special brand of humor is evident from these introductory notes: "This is not a "How to" book. The author sweated himself to a husk to make it realistic, but that doesn't mean you'd have the same results if you tried to pull this stuff off. You're not Jack Broderick."

And, with these opening notes, the reader enters a world that opens with the first-person narrator's experience of a plane crash which is anything but normal, also presented with a humorous overtone of ironic inspection.

Jack has just survived the plane crash. But the opening salvo of adversity has just begun, because the power is out and so are the human traits of tolerance and civility.

As Jack navigates an extraordinary world made unfamiliar in the blink of an eye, readers follow him through a strange new world as infected by wry wit as it is new survival challenges.

Many miles from his family and facing a world afire, Jack faces changes in his own heart and relationships as he navigates unfamiliar territory and struggles to survive many new situations: "She wasn't flirtatious or coquettish. Maybe a little coquettish, as in shy, but not erotic or cheap. No teasing or tantalizing. It came from a place of nurturing, of taking care of someone. It was thoughtful. It was appreciative. It was kind. And it had a vibe like a Japanese tea ceremony."

Garratt's ability to wind ironic humor into his end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario sets The Pulse apart from other disaster novels. Its special brand of apocalypse comes with intriguing side notes as Jack contemplates walking across the ravaged nation to return home to his family, facing assailants and possible new connections in the process.

The result is far more realistic than most genre reads because its attention to adversity pairs nicely with moments of comic and personal relief in which Jack employs his various strengths to not just survive, but move forward.

It matters not that his family is estranged and separated. His motivation to find them against all odds becomes one of the driving forces of a strange new life that is just getting started here, in Book One of the series.

Libraries seeing patron interest in apocalyptic books will find The Pulse of particular interest, with its juxtaposition of survival and reflections on the cost of that effort:

"The only thing worse than questions with no answers is the times when there are answers. The cost of the answer is, most often, unbearable. And because it is unbearable, it is unheeded."

Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade
Kimberly Behre Kenna
Fitzroy Books
9781646033133, $9.95 Paper/$8.45 ebook

Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade is a story recommended for grades 4-7, and tells of a girl who becomes involved in trying to save a beloved shoreline salt marsh refuge, which is dying. Her determination to change its future leads her to not only confront bullies and her stuttering problem, but to better understand nature and human relationships.

Even though Artemis is more than fed up with the latter, she comes to realize that human influences on natural habitats are something she has the ability to change, even at her young age.

As Artemis and a group of friends (including deceased ecologists) rise to the occasion, more controversy is created as they uncover the likely perp involved in the marsh's demise, only to realize that his connections to her mother make him formidable in a personal way.

It's unusual to find a middle-grade read that deftly navigates both peer relationships and the politics of adult interactions, but Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade addresses both worlds as it evolves a mystery's clues and the ramifications of a discovery that could save one facet of Artemis's life, but rock her world in too many other ways.

The dilemma is well-done and will appeal to young readers, while the lively ecological and social threads that run through the mystery offer many thought-provoking moments. The total impact of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade is a strong story that moves from mystery to bigger-picture thinking about intentions, power struggles, disability, and ability.

Libraries looking for a vivid adventure story that holds opportunities for broader class and peer discussion will find Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade an appealing acquisition.

Island Eight
M.Z. Medenciy
Atmosphere Press
9781639885343, $24.99

Island Eight is a sci-fi story of a tyrannical king, a woman who works as an entertainer seeking peace in her world, and circumstances which threaten to duplicate the cataclysmic choices that nearly ended the world long before Sophia's time.

As Book 1 of the Ataraxia series, Island Eight both sets the stage for the war to come and introduces a series of characters that arrived at an uncertain peace after the legacy of murder and death introduced in the story's prologue.

Sophia and her husband Gabriel are entertainers working in the largely peaceful small town of Salinas when their lives change. The town is a bastion of positive invitation in the world, which attracts a large creative group of residents: "Salinas was very welcoming, they didn't expect its members to believe a singular belief, and didn't force its people to live a certain way. All they asked of you was to contribute to the town and not cause harm to one another. People would come from all corners to be enthralled by the sights, sounds, and sensations of Salinas."

The King and his castle goons are also attracted to Salinas, tapping it for increasingly regular entertainment for their pleasure, even as they are up to no good.

Sophia is no fool, but she has chosen to maintain peace in her life over the coming adversity: "...she knew staying off the King's radar was the only way to ensure happiness. At least she could fool herself into believing things were okay. They say ignorance is bliss and Sophia was perfectly content living like that to achieve her quiet life."

Eventually, though, the struggle lands on one's doorstep. In this case, Sophia is forced to forego her happiness and contentment when the winds of war land on her doorstep to whisk her into the center of conflict, taking her far from home and everything she loves about her life.

M.Z. Medenciy creates a realistic and compelling character in Sophia, portraying both the social and political whirlwinds that take her away from everything familiar and following how her latent talents for entertaining and perseverance translate to a powerful ability to weather these changes to assume a position of power in the world.

This portrait of a young woman who steps up in unprecedented ways encourages intriguing discussions of choice and opportunity, the violations of women, and what evolves when the very different worlds of fantastic creatures and human ambition collide.

Sophia's character powers the story, but Gabriel and others exhibit equally forceful traits that draw readers into the simmering hearts and brewing action of a world gone frighteningly awry.

The action is nicely paced between emotional and physical confrontations and realizations about underlying truths and motivations on the parts of all the characters, who find themselves immersed in both a life-changing struggle and a battle for freedom.

The result is a vivid fantasy story that works well on psychological and action-packed levels. Libraries will find it an appealing addition to fantasy collections strong in world-changing prospects and events that reach into young women's lives to change their motivations and perspectives about the future and their place in it: "We are creating a new path; we are going to fight for the Green and the survival of life here in a way no one has in the past."

Ghost Hunter: The Hollow Men
Peter J. White
Independently Published
9798847577519, $14.03 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Ghost Hunter: The Hollow Men blends a novel of suspense with a mystery and occult overlay that will attract a wider audience than these genres usually invite. Its presentation of ex-special forces soldier Max Sinclair (whose latest charge involves seeking justice for ghosts) creates a gripping account that moves through Max's visions of the dead, perceptions of righteousness, and quest for redemption - both for his ghostly visitors and himself.

Max's entry into a bar after a motorcycle ride opens the story with a touch of something different as he surveys the scene and realizes that something odd stands out: "What the hell is it with dead women and red? Do women attracted to danger and bad men like red? Did their men dress them before they killed them?"

Max doesn't just see spooks. He gives the creeps to those around him by his ability to acknowledge what others do not, introducing possibilities others don't want to see.

As his investigations and search for truth turn up horrible contemporary disasters and immerse him in a quest to set free the dead who have returned, readers come to realize that Max's motivation is more than quelling uninvited visions.

He needs to also quash the accompanying evil that threatens to absorb his own heart and mind.

Ghost Hunter: The Hollow Men is the first novel in a projected series about the visionary vigilante, opening with a bang of solid action and intrigue that moves far from formula writing and into arenas of the unexpected.

The characters are nicely done. Max is a completely compelling protagonist whose concerns and strengths are constantly tested by forces both human and supernatural, beyond his control, and the story's tension is nicely paced and developed.

The result will prove of special appeal to occult fiction readers who normally don't choose mysteries, as well as mystery readers who have been appreciating the budding new genre of paranormal mystery writing.

Peter J. White and his Ghost Hunter: The Hollow Men should be at the top of that list and profiled on library book recommendation lists as a standout.

What's Not Lost
Valerie Taylor
Aspetuck Publishing
9798986599502, $16.95 Print/$9.95 ebook

What's Not Lost is a novel that adds to Valerie Taylor's "What's Not' series with a focus on romance and women's lives.

Here, the first-person cat Topher sets the scene with a reflection on mother Kassie O'Callaghan, his adoption, and the life they live together.

Kassie is a widow, newly engaged, yet still searching for life's meaning. Her world is seemingly coming together with her engagement, expanding career moves, and a solidifying home life when she discovers that her fiance's ex-girlfriend is pregnant.

All her plans and her newfound stability in the world fall from her shoulders and Kassie makes the only logical choice: to run away from her fiance and Boston for a new life in Paris, where a job beckons.

Even though Paris is known as the city of love, Kassie doesn't expect to find additional connections and romance in that town. But the lure of wine, a sexy Greek man, and the process of recovering from the past while cultivating a newfound independence leads her into matters of the heart that she had never fully contemplated before.

As she and Topher embark on self-imposed challenges and find they are unable to truly give up on past possibilities even as they are influenced by the lure of a new future, readers come along for a wild ride. It careens through not just romance, but the obstacles posed by Lexi and Sarah, two women who are both her nemesis and impetus for change, and the ultimate redefinition of happiness itself.

It's important to note that What's Not Lost is not just a novel about love. It's a story of growth, acceptance, and evolution that embraces the idea of moving towards revised visions of life as well as moving away from past reactions and perceptions.

In the end, the act of defining what has not been lost proves just as important as realizing what has vanished.

Libraries looking for contemporary women's fiction that's as centered on growth as it is on love's changing currents will find What's Not Lost an inviting, thought-provoking read. It should ideally receive attention from women's book club readers, who will find plenty of entertainment value alongside numerous topics of debate.

To Venus and Back, One Man's Quest to Rediscover Love
Turner Grant
Stones River LLC
9798218004248, $29.95 Hardcover/$17.95 Paper/$9.99 ebook

To Venus and Back, One Man's Quest to Rediscover Love is a memoir that reveals the different nuances of dating in one's 50s. After twenty years of marriage and raising children, Turner Grant's wife died suddenly, leaving him a widower adrift in a sea of challenging new dating possibilities that came with his revised status and new ways of searching for connections decades after his marriage.

As he becomes involved in the online dating milieu of Washington, D.C., Grant finds himself encountering a range of women who exhibit unusual (and often crazy) traits and tendencies. This belays the notion that online dating is filled with opportunity, providing the cautionary note that it is also rife with insanity and oddness.

As Grant navigates this strange new world, he describes his encounters with a tongue-in-cheek, wry wit that will lead his readers to laugh even as he educates them about the potentials and pitfalls of online interactions in middle age.

Re-envisioning his life after his wife's death came with both a personal price tag and the benefit of this book, which explores online dating from the (relatively rare) male's view of the dating scene.

In this, To Venus and Back represents a study in unique approaches to life as well as distinctive experiences that will allow men and women further insights into the psychological and social conundrums facing middle-aged people who want to find romance.

This three-year odyssey represents meetings with over fifty women who reside "on Venus" (the author bows to the classic book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in both his title and references), profiling over half of them with stories flavored with the sense of a remarkable and very different milieu from those married men experience.

Perhaps surprisingly (to those unfamiliar with this world), the very act of entering online dating requires a form of self-examination which Grant found both inviting and challenging: "Every ounce of my heart and soul had been about being the husband to my wife, even now, a year after her death. But the encounter foreshadowed more discomfort the following year when I dared to fill out an online form for a dating feature in The Washington Post. I had to answer questions about who and what I was from a dating perspective and those were incredibly difficult questions to answer. Who was I?"

Candid self-examination is one of the strong points in this memoir as events unfold: "Had my newly altered filters of life in the aftermath of my wife's death become too fine to a fault? Could I not enjoy and appreciate people, life, and regular stuff anymore? Worse still, was I somehow broken from my experience? Or perhaps I was now some sort of I-know-life-like-you-all-don't kind of snob. It was a soul-searching exercise that went on for the rest of my time on Venus. I was fully back in life, but it seemed like I was still set apart too."

His probes of vulnerability, fear, sexting, and different types of relationships with women results in a survey that is inviting, revealing, and starkly candid: "You know the feeling you get sometimes? You want something so-o-o much that you throw everything you have into it? Then either gradually or suddenly, you realize it's never going to happen? Disappointment and failure wash over you, and you become so disillusioned when you finally figure out that what you were doing - what you thought was the right thing - was a path to nowhere or worse? Okay. Good. Now you know how I felt about women and dating after Ava."

Here is a man unafraid of exposure and willing to not just learn from experiences, but closely examine (in public) their successes, failures, and life lessons. Readers interested in the special milieu of mid-life dating in modern times need to consult To Venus and Back not just for its intriguing (and sometimes ribald) explorations of the dating scene, but for its intriguing inspections of what makes men and women different, and how to navigate the stormy waters of relationships.

Libraries looking for thought-provoking and engrossing memoirs that represent honest self-inspection and enlightening relationship insights will find To Venus and Back a delightful, compelling journey through heart and soul.

It's Okay Not to Know
Brenda Do
Peanut Butter Publishing
9781598493221, $19.95

Picture book readers and read-aloud parents who choose It's Okay Not to Know for its inviting title will find that Brenda Do and her illustrator C.S. Fritz have crafted a formula for better self-acceptance and the importance of making mistakes in life.

That's right: the loveable little monster that is the focus of this story does everything wrong, from spilt milk and missed ball catches to not knowing the answers to everything.

The story begins with a wordless series of fun illustrations about several mishaps, then moves into admonitions read-aloud adults will find particularly inviting for sparking conversations in the very young: "When you don't know something... Or you make a mistake It's easy to feel down. But not knowing and having uh-oh's are good... When you turn things around."

As the appealing little character learns that "Not knowing gives you a chance to learn something new," young listeners and readers receive a golden opportunity to explore the positive aspects of seemingly-apparent failures in their own efforts and lives.

Adults who choose It's Okay Not to Know will find in it an outstanding opportunity for dialogue and growth.

Longevity: The Awakening
Caleb Smith
Independently Published
9798634979960, $14.99 Paper/$2.99 ebook

Longevity: The Awakening opens in Scotland in 1286 A.D., introducing Alastair Ramsden to young adult readers. Alastair has survived being an orphan and coming of age during the Scottish War of Independence. Part of his survival skills stem from an unusual oak tree that grants him the power to cross over into the 4th-dimensional elemental kingdom of Akasha.

Now on the cusp of teenage years, Alastair faces an ongoing journey between two worlds as he grasps the key to both adulthood and his own special talents.

Young adults who choose Longevity: The Awakening will find the juxtaposition of fantasy and history to be compellingly presented, cemented by a young protagonist whose will to survive allows him to grow into his powers and realize the special options affecting not just his future, but the fate of mankind.

Some scenes introduce angst and violent overtones as Alastair struggles with past lessons and future choices: "Donnan witnessed his son's reaction towards the task and grew more actuated to speed up the process. It wasn't easy for a man to break a boy from his soft habits."

Alastair relives these pivotal points of his past with the help of spirit guide David, reviewing the influences and outcome of his family and life events: "With harsh lessons relearned like that of his first kill, it astonished him to watch his growth and development from a boy to a preteen adolescent."

The juxtaposition of past and present lessons brings enlightenment and understanding to young adults who choose Longevity: The Awakening for its fantasy adventure component, only to realize that its underlying lessons are as much about growth as they are about survival and escape.

Caleb Smith's strong attention to atmosphere and character development gives Longevity: The Awakening a powerful sense of place, time, and extraordinary events. Both Alastair and his followers contemplate the choices and consequences that befall them in life, directing the evolving adult persona that will eventually make life-altering decisions.

Elementary-level libraries looking for fantasy histories that offer the possibility of bigger-picture thinking about psychological growth and overcoming impossible odds will find Longevity: The Awakening lends not just to leisure choice and entertainment, but to teen book club discussion groups.

No Plaid Suits: How Not to Have a Boring, Normal Life
Amrita Rose
Atmosphere Press
9781639885886, $16.99 Paper

Self-help readers interested in inspirational accounts of growth and leading a vivid life will find No Plaid Suits: How Not to Have a Boring, Normal Life a lesson in possibility that embraces the thought and process of living one's best life.

Its combination of joyful reflection and admonitions for honing out-of-the-box creative thinking and action represents a refreshing breeze of originality as Amrita Rose encourages readers to walk a more holistic pathway towards realizing their true selves no matter what the reaction to their choices and appearances.

As chapters review the processes of becoming independent and self-directed, the directions will appeal to all levels of reader; but especially young adults establishing themselves in the world with many 'firsts'. These range from opening a bank account to understanding the difference between a career versus a job, and choosing healthy eating choices.

If No Plaid Suits were to be given as a high school graduation gift, it could not find a timelier or better home. Those on the cusp of adulthood who seek or require guidance on the process of avoiding common pitfalls and growing into their best selves and lives will receive a combination of practical advice and psychological growth-oriented insights on how best to navigate life.

This essay collection on developing personal resilience and life perspective may stem from Amrita Rose's own experiences, but it ultimately imparts a wide range of life lessons that will save new adults from re-inventing the wheel, allowing them to move forward more quickly into their own lives.

Ideally, No Plaid Suits will also reach adults who feel stuck or who look for refresher courses on life purpose. While this audience may skip the introductions on how to venture into adulthood, there remains plenty of food for thought on how to best lead and develop an unstoppable course in one's life.

Libraries looking for self-help books that go beyond giving advice to encourage readers to step into their individual needs and talents will find No Plaid Suits lends to book club discussion as well as individual enlightenment; especially for new adults on the cusp of leaving the nest.

Yesterday's Over
Becky Flade
Tirgearr Publishing
B0BFXJJ67C, $1.49 ebook

Yesterday's Over is the third book in the romantic suspense Philly Heat series. It explores the evolving passion and intrigue surrounding two very different individuals: Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Trudy Beasley and Forensic anthropologist Benjamin Roberts, who are drawn together when bones are unearthed under a row house after an explosion.

Their related jobs are linked by disparate approaches to problem solving. Trudy relies on gut instinct as much as her investigative and legal savvy, while Ben views the puzzle quite differently.

It feels unlikely that these two will wind up in love as well as professionally entwined, but opposites sometimes attract, especially when cemented by a growing dilemma that tests both their personal attraction to one another and their professional mettles.

The story opens with the aftermath of the explosion. Trudy is at the helm in a morgue, determined to employ her skills to unearth answers from smoky remains: "She couldn't bring back the homes they lost, the lives destroyed, the memories buried under cindered rubble, but this she could do and would without complaint."

Her job is to find impossible answers. In fact, death is her job (as is stated in the opening lines of her story). Her task is also to maintain professional distance. But Ben's entry into the case and his inquiries place Trudy in a hard position both personally and professionally as events unfold to not just embrace them both, but threaten their perceptions and relationship.

Becky Flade's ability to craft a story that reflects romance and intrigue alike demonstrates a prowess at depicting both. Strong, compelling characters demonstrate their abilities and their vulnerabilities as death and adversity marks their passage through past and present conflicts.

Her dialogues are particularly astute, contrasting the emotions and interactions between these main characters with often-passionate encounters that reflect their individuality as much as their evolving connections:

"I didn't mean it when I said thank you for the new sofa. I can choose and buy my furniture. I've been doing those things for myself my whole adult life before meeting you. I don't want to be coddled. I'm a woman. A grown-ass woman."

"I see that. Believe me."

"Everybody keeps checking in on me. Like you, being polite, using soft tones like I'm a skittish kitten hiding in a wheel well. Alonzo, Buzz, Kylee, Lexi, Mike, even Sadie and Ellie. No one wants to tell me what's going on with the investigation. I'm the one who said from the beginning this was a big deal. You would've been completely content studying your bones, writing a report, and calling it a day. Hey, can't upset the hysterical female. I'm not hysterical. I'm pissed. And I feel bad for your damn cat." She wiped the tears from her face. "I'm not crying because I'm upset. I'm crying because I'm furious."

Flade utilizes just the right blend of tension and emotional connection to give her characters authentic, strong, realistic responses to their pleasures as well as their challenges.

The result is a suspenseful romantic story that operates on more than one level. Yesterday's Over will especially delight readers who look for stories of already-powerful women who evolve not because of male attraction, but in conjunction with what life throws at them.

Libraries seeking stories of romance and intrigue will find Yesterday's Over stands nicely apart from the series with its Philly-steeped atmosphere and portrait of investigators who must solve the puzzles of yesterday in order to move ahead into their futures, both as individuals and professionals, and with one another.

I Sang That: A Memoir from Hollywood
Sally Stevens
Atmosphere Press
9781639885510, $18.99

I Sang That: A Memoir from Hollywood isn't just another starlet's exploration of the industry, but a music-oriented probe of some sixty years of Hollywood film scores, television music, sound recordings, commercials, and concerts.

Sally Stevens was a vocalist from the 1960s onward, working with such famous personalities as Nat King Cole, Burt Bacharach, and others. In reviewing her early industry experiences as a teen, she mentions how she entered into a world that supported her dreams and vocal efforts: "...somehow along the way I stumbled into working successfully in the music business as a singer, vocal contractor, and lyricist for film and TV scoring, sound recordings, concerts, and commercials - with and for some of the best people in the business - for the next sixty years."

From auditions and tours to industry changes over the years, anyone interested in the back-stage history of film production and the evolving Hollywood milieu will find this memoir especially inviting, with its historical review of transition points that affected participants and audiences alike:

"Today, several things have happened that have resulted in dramatic changes in our industry. First, technology --- which has allowed for voice-over commercials and singer tracks to be done from home studios to instrumental tracks sent from a music house or a producer. Those can be done as auditions or as finals - but there is no person or office involved to send along a contract or confirm what the rate should be, or even specify that it must be on a union contract. For some reason, advertisers seem to have become terribly intimidated by the idea of dealing with the union. So they offer "buyouts" - sometimes at figures which exceed the cost they would incur if they did do the spot on a union contract. It is a somewhat complicated pay structure, because the fees depend a great deal on what the airplay ends up being, and sometimes that is not known at the time the spot is recorded. Maybe there needs to be a simpler system worked out. And with new media --what streams currently on internet, etc. - it's almost like the wild west out there."

These kinds of insider observations are invaluable, and part of what makes I Sang That so unique. The broad time frame of decades spent in this changing world translates to important insights into the workings and evolution of Hollywood as a whole. This will prove especially compelling to readers seeking a broader perspective than most memoirs and analyses can offer.

The result is a powerful survey of the vast changes that affected Stevens and fellow artists in Hollywood, detailing these transitions through a music-centric focus that follows the changing sounds of the industry.

Libraries seeking additions to music history collections which are thought-provokingly revealing will find I Sang That a lively, informative introspection peppered with black and white photos throughout.

Republic Under Siege: Threat from Within
Michael J. Brooks
Independently Published
9781737929345, $9.99 ebook

The second book in the sci-fi series Wars of the New Humanity combines elements of thriller, social inspection, and sci-fi to produce a riveting, refreshingly original story. It tells of humanity posed on the brink of war in a battle between an Eden-like society and a dystopian world of government workers who live in poverty and servitude.

Republic Under Siege: Threat from Within considers the specter of a civil war between these already-divided worlds as seen through the experiences of nineteen-year-old Akane Sugimori, an "immigrant" between two worlds of which she is a part.

There are the gunfights and battles one expects from a book about siege, but it's important to note that the main conflict takes place not during war, but in its simmering aftermath.

Here, rebellion, oppression, and new opportunities assume a different guise as Akane considers her unprecedented opportunity to throw off the yoke of oppression and realize her dreams of living a vastly revised life.

However, adversity isn't always easy to overcome. The immigrant brings with her life experiences, perspectives, and influences that hold the ability to change her future through past experience. And so Akane encounters much prejudice because of her immigrant status, many new obstacles that stem from conflicts within as well as leftovers of struggles in society around her, and becomes involved in a search for a killer that leads her to question her own background and goals.

From a grisly vetting process into the activist group RISE to new friendships, lights against the darkness, and a host of characters who each contribute to Akane's growth process, Michael J. Brooks crafts a fine story of struggle. The tale comes from the perspectives of realistic young adult characters who engage with each other and internally to envision and realize new outcomes from adversity and social inequality.

Rage and hate play as central a role in the story as budding romances and character growth, creating a humanistic examination narrated from different perspectives as immigrants, haves, and have-nots clash.

Illustrator Ann's drawings of Akane brings her to life as Brooks creates a story packed with moment-by-moment reactions to pain, surprising twists and turns, and journeys towards healing and revised destinies.

Libraries seeking solid sci-fi replete with social and psychological inspections that move from the aftermath of world-changing war into the motives and experiences of young people who would forge new lives and worlds will find the social inspections in Republic Under Siege: Threat from Within compelling. It will attract a wide age range, from young adult to adult readers.

Ideally, book clubs will also consider Republic Under Siege: Threat from Within for its many enlightening moments about the kernels of social change as individuals experience healing, transformation, loss, and novel opportunities.

The Dove is Dead
John Uttley
Independently Published
9798847657624, $10.38 Paper/$3.99 ebook

The Dove is Dead tackles a late-in-life crisis experienced by two men, Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton, who are in their seventies and on the cusp of the greatest change in their lives. These contrast with the reflections of younger Amy, who also is on the cusp of very different realizations.

Readers who choose this concluding book in The Unholy Trinity, which presents the social history of the working and lower middle class in Britain, might think themselves at a disadvantage for not reading the book's predecessors. But one of the pleasures in this title is that one can enter it without prior knowledge and still receive a rich foray into the lives and shifting perspectives of three generations of a close family.

The story opens from the perspective of a college girl Amy Shackleton: "You can be woke and still be sensible," I'd say. "It's all about being alive to the wrongs of the past, which isn't everything in history." And then I'd add as a joke, "But that includes everything that's happened in the West since the industrial revolution started." No, nobody ever laughed. I've never wanted to rebel against my upbringing in a big way though. It had been good. More than anything, I'd hate to be seen as a poor little rich girl, when I know that what I should feel is both privileged and grateful."

This contemporary observation dovetails nicely with the prior novels, presenting a recap that easily educates newcomers with a quick outline of characters and history. It opens the story of an family that experiences turbulence, love, and changing social conditions that test their values and perspectives.

As scenes evolve in movie-like staccato play, readers receive thought-provoking insights into family relationships and ideals that teeter on the cusp of social and psychological evolution: "...this was the time of the Black Lives Matter campaign, which I strongly felt that the whole of Britain should take to heart. It was one of the things I disagreed with Dad on, who saw it as just one initiative among many that had taken place during his life."

Although British politics are part of the discussions that evolve between adults and the next generation, there is no requirement that readers be familiar with or understand the nuances or history of any of these events. The smooth reflections incorporate these facets as needed to create a thoroughly engaging, understandable milieu.

Readers who enjoy stories of generational attitudes, social change, and how relationships are tested and shift under the quicksand of political and social struggle will particularly appreciate John Uttley's attention to creating dialogues that clarify and change hearts and minds: "In the outside world, there was a terrible murder of a young woman walking home in London. I was so angry about it, telling Dad that all men were rapists at heart. I was surprised that he didn't totally disagree. "I don't think you can ever change all men for good, however much you educate them. We try to make it better, but the devil will always be in the mix." That wasn't an acceptable answer to me."

Through solidly-constructed, believable protagonists are tempered by the first-person opinions and observations of Amy, readers gain insights into both the later years of thinking processes that are tempered by time and experience and the ideals and illusions of youth.

As faith, community, life, and death touch Amy's world, readers are drawn to the interactions between individuals who embrace different facets of change in disparate manners, growing to appreciate their loved ones all the more for the impermanence of life itself: "I looked at Mum and Dad and realised how much they meant to me. They wouldn't be with me forever."

The result may be a fitting end for prior readers of The Unholy Trinity, but will prove an exceptional beginning for new readers dropped into this pursuit of meaning and purpose from life, politics, relationships, and growing older.

Libraries interested in fiction that embraces a powerful sense of place, faith, and family will find The Dove is Dead a thought-provoking contrast between generations as British society shifts. Its insights about truth, identity, hope, and family legacy will linger in the mind long after the story's conclusion.

Kyle Bradford Jones
Black Rose Writing
9781685130909, $17.95 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Hospital!: A Medical Satire of Unhealthy Proportions opens with a pointed chapter title ("Dr. Camus is a Jerk") that displays satirical and metaphorical strength from its opening sentence: "When Dr. Camus powered down the hallway of The Peloton Forward Crescendo Care Amicus Health Priority Catalyst Wellness Code Blue Memorial Hospital of Her Motherly Excellence (slogan: "We are a hospital"), the tail of his rumpled white doctor's coat trailed behind him like the cape of an angry nineteenth-century magician."

With one vivid scene, Kyle Bradford Jones displays a prowess at capturing both the ironies of long-winded medical center titles that attempt to include metadata for Internet search engines to find and the persona of a doctor who may be a jerk - but is possibly a magical one.

The scorn and superiority he emits is succinctly described not just by his countenance, but by probes of an attitude which is typical of too many doctors: "Camus didn't just want you to know how much he despised you. It had to be joined with the absolute certainty that he was better than you in every way, even though he was a man of few genuine talents."

The insights into the political, social, and psychological structure of the medical community come to light throughout this book. It's a satire of medical humor sure to attract anyone who has either worked in or interacted with medical personnel.

Jones adopts a delightful tone as he reviews a host of medical conundrums, adding his own voice as 'observer' to these matters to spice the expose: "The problem is that the hospital simply can't afford typical intensive anger management therapy for you," Rosencrantz the CEO said as he put his custom-made Sutor Mantellassi-shoed feet on the mammoth, imported-mahogany desk that consumed less than one-sixteenth of his office. [Narrator's aside: In case you don't understand what the previous sentence says about this character, it means that he wore very expensive clothes, had a large, exquisite desk, and had an enormous office. I mean, come on, do I have to spell out everything? Really? Do you know how hard it is to be a narrator?!]"

From the esteemed doctor's downfall and reappearance as a new man to a psychiatric patient's escape and the escapades which follow an attempted hypnotism by the Amazing Ralph to change undesirable behaviors, Jones creates a romp through a world both believable and extraordinarily ironic.

Readers looking for solid examples of contemporary satire, as well as those more than lightly experienced with the hospital system and the doctors who operate on inflated egos, fantasy, and self-important perceptions, will find Hospital!: A Medical Satire of Unhealthy Proportions offers non-stop laughter alongside thought-provoking inspections.

Libraries looking for modern satirical novels that take an extra step into entertainment value will find Hospital!: A Medical Satire of Unhealthy Proportions a unique and fun choice.

The Apparition
Tricia Stafford with Annie Stafford
Atmosphere Press
9781639886012, $17.99

The Apparition: A Mother-Daughter Reckoning with Madness and a Brief Study on Hearing Voices chronicles a mental health journey undertaken by the mother/daughter authors of this book when Tricia's then-seven-year-old daughter began suffering bouts of crippling anxiety that mirrored her mother's struggles with the condition.

Annie's struggles with OCD and depression and her mother's concurrent rising anxiety were further challenged when, at age twelve, Annie began hearing voices. Readers receive an intriguing story of mental illnesses and family interactions that skirted the edge of madness.

Readers who anticipate the usual progression of mental illness and the struggle to find resolutions to problems will be surprised at the turn the story takes, making the label of 'mental illness' questionable.

The writers become involved in the Hearing Voices Movement that goes beyond conventional psychiatric thinking and labels. This requires a revamp of the entire diagnosis and prognosis progression as the writers use their experiences to explore this movement and its potential for healing and growth.

The prologue sets the stage for what this story will and won't embrace:

"There are no government conspiracy ramblings, no messianic babblings to family and strangers, no sudden decampments in the dead of night or extended flights of psychosis, but there are other departures from the benchmarks of sanity. This is, instead, a rather hushed tale of a mother and daughter's private agonies. In fact, I never imagined a day I would speak of these things, never wanted to burden my children with memories of their mother's terrible anguish or flaunt the severity of my daughter's own trials, but today I elect a different course."

This cautions that the contents of The Apparition will prove something out of the ordinary for even the most avid of mental health memoir followers.

Mother and daughter employ descriptions and insights not to be found in other mental health memoirs: "Her ability to throw herself into performance art was a joyfully outgoing way to distract herself from doom and gloom, but her powerful anxiety eventually won out, dousing that glorious youthful effervescence. Anxiety thwarted most of Annie's ambitions."

Most intriguing of all (which sets this memoir apart from most other psychological explorations) is the exploration and details about the Hearing Voices Movement and those therapists and individuals who harbor a different perspective about mental distress and growth:

"Some voice hearers experience psychosis as part of what is called a psychospiritual crisis or "spiritual emergency," which can be prompted by a wide variety of physical or emotional causes. Psychotherapist Christina Grof and her husband and psychiatrist Stanilov Grof coined the term spiritual emergency to convey both the sudden appearance of the crisis and the emerging opportunity to ascend to a higher level of spiritual awareness and psychological health. According to the Grofs, many of the conditions diagnosed as psychosis are not "manifestations of an unknown pathological process" but the "result of a spontaneous movement in the psyche that engages deep dynamics of the unconscious and has healing and transformative potential."

The result is a powerful growth-oriented testimony not just to the challenges of mental distress and diversions, but the possibilities that lie within them for not just resolution, but evolution.

Readers who would gain a different perspective on the problems, solutions, and ultimate revelations of survival and life will find The Apparition a powerful reckoning which goes far beyond the usual mental health story to venture into uncommon territory.

Libraries will find The Apparition a satisfying adjunct to the usual mental health memoir or family story, while book clubs interested in stories of mental health will find it holds much fodder for discussion.

Bollywood P.I.: California Dreaming
Priya Khajuria
Joyful Life Mastery
9781990669132, $16.99 Paper/$4.99 ebook

Mystery readers who look for stories that embrace mysteries, misfits, and Indian-American culture will find Bollywood P.I.: California Dreaming an enlightening, fun foray into a health clinic worker's life.

Jita Patel is a clinic worker by day, a potential bride that her mother works to make a suitable match for, and a wanna-be P.I. whose first case drops into her lap with a cousin's disappearance, landing her a missing persons case replete with emotional baggage and close connections.

As she is joined by a cast of odd fellow misfits who have reason to pursue the truth themselves, Jita finds herself involved in much more than a missing relative as she unearths a strange crime operation that undercuts the peace and purposes of a California lifestyle.

Jita is not your usual woman looking for love in right and wrong places. She's a smart, proactive, determined personality who seeks the truth - even if it is disguised under layers of adversity and criminal activity; and even if it threatens her own concepts of the future.

Solid action tempered by psychological depth and a fun, sassy nature that swings full circle to embrace readers and perps alike make Bollywood P.I.: California Dreaming a compelling story, but what really stands out is the blend of humor, inspiration, and explorations of Indian culture. These elements are thoroughly steeped in and reflected by a heroine so absorbing that even readers with little prior knowledge of Indian culture will be motivated to learn more.

Themes of racism, social expectation both in her family and the wider community at large, and dreams tempered by danger emerge, while the action-packed story lures from its opening lines: "I leapt backwards and fell to the ground, rolling down Vinod's driveway. The car backed into the road and headed towards me with a screech, the sun flashing ominously off the windshield."

Priya Khajuria juggles all these seemingly-disparate themes with an attention to detail and fun that creates a compelling story as Jita confronts not just danger, but romance, presenting unusual reactions to both:

"So, what do you think about that drink?" he asked.
This is what I thought about that drink:
Naughty Jita: Woohoo! It's about time! Let's go, chop chop!
Nice Jita: I'm not ready.
Naughty Jita: Why not? He's yummy and there's an attraction.
Nice Jita: Slow down, I don't know him at all.
Naughty Jita: Asti de Tabarnac! At this rate, you'll be buried with your chastity pants on."

Bollywood P.I.: California Dreaming's spicy, proactive female character is thoroughly engaging and likeable. Libraries looking for P.I. stories that stand out from the crowd with their vivid characters, action-packed scenes, and juxtaposition of adventure and cultural revelations will find Bollywood P.I.: California Dreaming outstanding, as will the book clubs that choose it over others as they discuss Indian culture, women's choices, and mystery and romance problem-solving.

Aren & Elise
Ettenig Sayam
Writer's Branding
9781639455416, $23.99 Hardcover/$13.99 Paperback

Aren & Elise retells the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah using quite different contemporary, older figures. It revolves around single, fifty-year-old New England teacher Elise Douchet and widowed sixty-two-year-old engineer Aren Karajian, who meet under unexpected circumstances to evolve an equally startling relationship in their later years.

Relatively few novels address the subject of romance and relationship-building outside of youth, but Ettenig Sayam crafts a thought-provoking story of the kinds of questions that arise over later-life commitment and relationships.

As readers follow Aren and Elise's journey and the anticipations and concepts that are rooted not in the naivete of youth, but the presumptions and experiences of older age, they will find many revelations come into play as the two contemplate a surprising twist to their lives.

One of the most compelling aspects of this story lies in its ability to grasp the thought-processes of the mature mind as it considers new opportunities: "I'm not trying to poison you against him. It's just that you have high expectations of people, and I just want to warn you that not everyone can live up to your ideals. It doesn't mean they're bad or that they're trying to harm you. Just open your heart and be ready to forgive - if this guy deserves it."

These two adults already have forged relationships, experienced love, and then moved on into life as singles. Their friendships, family, and influences are much more studied and aged than those of typical younger lovers, and thus their reactions are much more seasoned, influenced as much by experience as they are by spontaneous reactions.

As the evolving couple faces another unprecedented twist that should theoretically not be possible later in life, readers receive a foray into maturity, new realizations, and decisions that belay the wisdom of years and move into realm of spiritual enlightenment.

Ettenig Sayam embraces all these growth elements with a fine attention to exploring the prospects of growing old together as a couple faces many late-in-life transition points.

Libraries and readers seeking novels replete in discovery and growth will find a lovely portrait of both in Aren & Elise, a study in love and life lessons that arrive come at any age.

The Dragon and the Unicorn: The Magic of Friendship
Charly Froh
Independently Published
9783910542181, $11.99 pbk / $5.99 Kindle

Charly Froh's picture book story The Dragon and the Unicorn: The Magic of Friendship receives lovely, colorful illustrations by Zuzana Svobodova as it explores the land of the Emerald Kingdom, which is inhabited by magical unicorns and fiery dragons. The two live in separate, very different environments: the dragons in Cloud City and the unicorns in Sparkle Land.

Little Dan the dragon is powerful, intelligent, and caring. He has everything he needs from life. Or, does he?

His counterpart, smart little unicorn Fran, also enjoys her life and seemingly needs nothing more.

When a blustery blizzard strikes the Emerald Kingdom, Dan and Fran are taken away from their familiar worlds to encounter not only each other, but a very different milieu.

Parents who choose this picture book story for the very young will find the compelling illustrations and lessons about appreciating very different people impart important insights about diversity, inclusiveness, and friendship between seemingly disparate entities.

The bright, alluring drawings reinforce the tale and add magic to the adventure, which attracts on many different levels.

Libraries looking for picture book stories that hold both adventure and opportunities for broader discussions will find The Dragon and the Unicorn: The Magic of Friendship an alluring, original acquisition.

A Portion of Malice
Lloyd Jeffries
Buckminster Publishing
9798985526905, $2.99 ebook

Book 1 of the new Ages of Malice series, A Portion of Malice, gives thinking thriller readers a run for their money and a discourse on possibilities as it surveys a dark mystery, a secret society, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Emery Merrick, who is just about to commit suicide when he is drawn into a situation that injects magic into his world.

Think a Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) novel, but with a foray into suspense that creates the back story of "a simple man mixed up in things about which he should never know."

Emery's journey into apocalypse, redemption, and beyond brings readers into a tightly constructed story packed with satisfying twists and turns with an attention to detail and discovery that turns religion on end (even though it isn't a religious novel per se) and revamps history itself.

While Emery's introduction sets the stage for the novel's multifaceted approach, the opening scene is set in Jerusalem at the time of Christ, when events between Cain and Christ create a scenario of anguish, redemption, and visions of a bloodthirsty god that exacts a terrible price for salvation.

The portion of malice which is the subject of this story and the underlying foundation of the series begins here, evolving into a first-person journey beginning in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where the first-person protagonist confronts "the memories of the one guy in recorded history whose sins are so vast they can't be forgiven."

As contemplations of Gods, vampires, and insanity cross the narrator's mind, readers are drawn into a scenario spiced by events of the past and dark portents of the future.

Is humanity on its way out, and can one man change its destructive trajectory?

Lloyd Jeffries creates a special blend of political and paranormal thriller which will delight even seasoned suspense readers with its unexpected twists and turns, which appear throughout the story as surprising, haunting potentials.

His ability to firmly cement past and present events with future danger, his attention to crafting realistic characters and dilemmas which hold world-changing possibilities beyond their individual concerns and lives, and his facility for injecting spiritual contemplation throughout ("I think about the implications of Cain as God, of Abel, of predestination, of omniscience, and of all Cain has revealed.") results in a story that grabs attention and doesn't let go.

It's difficult to sustain a uniform sense of tension and delightful surprise with so many elements intersecting, but Jeffries dances through these disparate special interests and lives like a ballet dancer, juxtaposing logical thoughts with impossible scenarios.

The result is a thought-provoking adventure that offers a foray into supernatural territory and pits humanity against apocalyptic history and forces that would destroy it.

Thriller and paranormal fiction readers looking for action-packed scenes that are surprisingly thought-provoking in their outcomes will find A Portion of Malice simply outstanding.

Libraries who choose it for their thriller collections will want to recommend it not just to the usual thriller audience, but to book club discussion groups interested in powerful fictional journeys into philosophical, spiritual, and political territory.

Unknown Waters
Cynthia Bordelon
Independently Published
9780578289724, $7.99 Paper; $3.99 ebook

Unknown Waters: Sara Full of Wonder gives young readers ages 7-9 a compelling adventure that follows Sara and her family on a vacation on the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean Sea. The children have never seen the ocean, so this represents a special thrill and a venture into the unknown.

Appealing black and white illustrations by Mariya Prytula accompany a compelling profile of a special place which is "better than TV," populated by wondrous creatures.

Sara suffers from anxiety and harbors an inherent fear of many things - including the water. So, a beach vacation isn't exactly her idea of a good time. Not if she has to venture beyond the beach and into unknown (and likely dangerous) waters.

Sara realizes that the fish surrounding her are "poetry in motion," and as she tackles both an environmental education and the challenges it introduces to her perspective and choices, young readers receive a story that ideally will not just earn a place on library shelves, but will become the subject of peer and interactive discussions with adults, too.

A glossary of terms, coloring pages at the back of the book, and the message of Sara's growing interest in ocean issues and ecology creates a vibrant story juxtaposing wonder with life lessons.

"If you look at life as an adventure you are open to new things. Sometimes doing something hard can be so wonderful. We just have to take the first step and see where it takes us."

Sara is taking these first steps in Unknown Waters, bringing elementary-grade readers along for a journey which embraces growth and environmental awareness.

The Celeste Experiment
Omar Imady
Villa Magna Publishing, LLC
9781940178592, $9.99 ebook

When Michael Sargeant's wife Celeste is diagnosed with terminal cancer, they embark on a world-wide healing journey to beat the odds. The Celeste Experiment chronicles both endings and new beginnings and opens with a literary reference to the art of documenting this process:

"Who," he responds contemptuously, "would be in the least interested in reading words written down by me?" A white heterosexual male living in one of the decaying urban voids of the third millennium.

A woman with a vendetta and the history of oppression weighting her decisions, a man with everything and nothing left to lose, and an experiment that poses ethical dilemmas as much as it promises redemption are only a few of the themes contributing to the strength of The Celeste Experiment, which delves into spiritual, psychological, and historical "juxtapositions of splendour and decay."

Readers who look for magical realism tempered by literary allusion and devices will find a powerful tale of fierce, undying love in this story. Omar Imady captures not just present-day passions but historic approaches to life, repression, and opportunity as Michael forges ahead with his mission and involves Hamida Begum in a human experiment that holds as much promise as it does danger.

The Celeste Experiment opens as a love story, evolving into a suspense piece and, finally, into an examination of how the pursuit of love and life can drive a good man to make bad decisions.

The disparities between the opulence of Paris and Michael's world and Hamida's encounters with poverty are well-done and wrenching: " was not the contrast between the glaring wealth of the city they'd travelled through and her home, but between the skyline and the streets."

The social, psychological, political, and ethical conundrums woven into The Celeste Experiment drives a story as laced with thought-provoking passages of time and intention as it is with literary reflection and metaphorical examination.

Imady's novel is not a light journey. It's a heartfelt inspection of spiritual enlightenment, love, and signals of revelation and intention that introduce Michael and Hamida to new possibilities both within their disparate lives and outside of them.

Readers and libraries seeking reflective literary works that delve into matters of love connection and spiritual exploration will find The Celeste Experiment a powerfully-rendered saga in which various characters participate in a storm of discovery that sweeps through the story to change everything.

The Celeste Experiment's hard-hitting plot and the intersection of Michael and Hamida's lives will linger in the mind long after the reading.

Just City
Olga Tymofiyeva
Independently Published
9798350701784, $10.00

Just City is a novella that teens, new adults, and adults can all enjoy. 21-year-old Nathan dreams of creating a successful start-up company; but to do this, he needs money.

The lure of such draws him into a scientific experiment involving a virtual reality game in which he can literally see the world through another person's eyes and experiences. It all feels like easy money until Nathan discovers the downside to the game, and the reality of its impact.

As Nathan navigates both his dream of pitching a successful idea to New Entrepreneur Incubator, the most prestigious incubator of start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the nightmare of the cost of making money to do so, readers will find his world all too familiar and frightening.

For a young man, both his goals and ideals are lofty: "I imagine myself moving my body by pulling invisible strings to accomplish things, driven by my willpower. I can do anything I want if only I put my mind to it. I reflect on my school successes and how my life has been a solid game so far and will be even better soon. I feel the power. I imagine being recognized at parties as one of the "top 10 entrepreneurs under the age of 25" and feel an adrenaline rush."

The adrenaline rush he anticipates from being a quick and early success is mitigated by that he experiences from becoming immersed in technology that is clearly over his head. And in it.

Olga Tymofiyeva tackles many intriguing, powerful social, philosophical, and psychological issues through the eyes and experiences of young Nathan.

Between family belief systems and his determination to earn his own money to seed his dream to the values that have driven and formed his young life which are duly tested in Just City, readers of all ages receive an inspection which is more thought-provoking than most: "The joy of seeing someone in need being helped was profound. I wished all defective, lonely toys could be found, helped, and cared for. I thought I would have done the same as that girl. My biggest inner wish was to help those who were lonely. Somewhere along the way, that desire was suppressed by the thought that not everyone deserves help. But the memories of the joy from reading that book always stayed with me."

This special brand of higher-level thinking is atypical in novels directed towards this age group, but seeing the world through Nathan's eyes and ideals creates a compelling story whose draw lies not in technological challenges, but matters of the heart and soul.

Readers who choose Just City and libraries that decide to stock it will find the story replete in situations which can spark many different questions and debates among book clubs and reading groups, from the nature of reality, love, and experience to the intersection between science and belief which is challenged by Nathan's venture into unfamiliar territory.

Conversations with his wise grandmother are particularly enlightening and represent inter-generational insights and dialogues that encourage young readers to think about their own relationships with adults and the adult world around them:

"Grandma, I used to have a set of principles but then... I changed my mind. Is it a sign of weakness?" I ask.

"Nathan, just as in science, changing your mind if your knowledge is updated is not a bad thing, but a very good, very important thing. This is what being grown up means to me."

Libraries that choose Just City for patrons of all ages should also place it on their recommendation lists for book clubs interested in debates about many facets of choosing and pursuing adult dreams.

"Is the point to say that even though we choose our actions all the time, the 'chooser' hasn't chosen themselves?"

The point is that Just City's compelling exploration is not just suitable for a broad audience of thinkers young and adult, but is very highly recommended as a spark point of debate and higher-level thinking.

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan's Literary Services

Gary Roen's Bookshelf

As The Wicked Watch
Tamron Hall
William Morrow
c/o Harper Collins
9780063037045, $16.99 pbk/ $16.49 Kindle

Tamron Hall continues to excel at whatever she is working on. "As The Wicked Watch" expands her range with an exciting suspenseful first novel in a new series of thrillers. Jordan Manning is propelling her way up the ladder of success as an anchor in her new city of Chicago. Overcoming other odds as a black woman she is determined to reach her long-time goal as a respected journalist. Manning has a terrific opportunity, as she establishes a relationship with police departments that are handling a series of crimes that could be tied in together. Jordan could gain national attention if it all falls together the way she hopes. She cultivates associations with sources that will also be of benefit to law enforcement. "As The Wicked Watch" is a behind the scenes journalism tale that is by a very talented new voice in the genre. Fans of Hall should love her new endeavor

Dave Bara
Baen Publishing Enterprises
9781982192228, $9.99 pbk $6.99 Kindle

"Trinity" reads like a story from an author from the Golden Age of Science Fiction that was character driven narrative. Jared Clement is a down and out ship commander after his society has lost the war with an alien civilization. As "Trinity" opens a drunkard who has no plan other than where he gets his next drink. Miraculously an offer is presented by someone from his past that has the potential to change his life forever. He must choose to stay dormant or plow his way out to a possible better life. Great novels have numerous conflicts throughout the work and "Trinity" is filled with many that propel it along to the end. "Trinity" is a sure-fire gem.

The Next Time I Die
Jason Starr
Hardcase Crime
c/o Titan Publishing Group
97817890989515, $14.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

"The Next Time I Die" is a multi-layered genre driven story that is fun reading for any time of the year Steven Blitz is an attorney with a big murder case he has put aside everything in his life. His wife frustrated with him announces she is divorcing him for a woman as she demands him to leave the residence. He makes a call to his brother then leaves. On the way he observes a man and woman at a mini mart arguing. Blitz becomes a good Samaritan to try to cool the participants down. During his confrontation with the boyfriend Blitz is stabbed, to later wake up in a hospital bed. He now encounters a loving wife and no stab wounds. This is only the beginning of a masterfully told tale. "The Next Time I Die" races along with twists and turns that hold interest to the very end.

Dragon's Eye Who's Watching You?
Gregor Pratt
Bowker Identifier Service
St Arnands Press
9798986919300, $24.95 HC/ $6.99 Kindle

There are a lot of good things about "Dragon's Eye Who's Watching You?" Starting with the enticing cover, next a title reminiscent of a music lyric, a man and woman kidnapped for political reasons by men from China. Finally, the characters are well etched as the story unfolds. That said I had two problems with the narrative. "Dragon's Eye Who's Watching You? is the second of a series about husband-and-wife Jack and Maddy Gamble fresh from the events of "Ebola Island" My first problem is the author gives slim details of how they saved the world from a major crisis. Second, there are too many instances of the same word numerous times in the same paragraph. Here is one example. Author Pratt is describing the sea. "The sea was not mean or evil, although it could be. The sea was not kind or loving; it merely was... You had to accept whatever the sea offered" I have never understood why writers do not utilize the resource of the Thesaurus to smooth out their prose. "Dragon's Eye" should have held my interest. Due to its glaring flaw, I just shut it down.

The Collectors
Philip Pullman
Illustrated by Tom Duxbury
Alfred A Knopf
c/o Penguin Random House Children's Books
970593378342, $14.99 HC/ $8.99 Kindle

"The Collectors" though short is a brilliantly told ghost story that races along to the last page. Two art collectors come together to study two items in a night. Philip Pullman has told a well-defined character study of men caught up in the art world that is a captivating roller coaster conflict filled story. "The Collectors" is a rarity of crisp prose for anyone who is looking for a fast-paced chilling tale

L. Ron Hubbard Writers Of The Future Volume 38
Edited by David Farland
Galaxy Press
9781981619867635, $22.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

The gang buster of science fiction short story collections continues to excel with the newest installment the 38th Volume. Many compilations have continued to come out like Years Best Science Fiction but Writers Of the Future has always been different as it has always celebrated new talented authors who have gone on to bigger and better things. This edition has another whole new crop of writers and artists under the same roof for all to enjoy. Extra nonfiction tips by established novelist round out the fare that includes stories by Hubbard himself. "Writers of the Future" continues to dominate the field of science fiction fantasy with bragging rights that it has contributed more to the genre than any other source.

Eternally Yours
Edited by Patrice Caldwell
c/o Penguin Random House
9780593206874, $19.99 HC / $10.99 Kindle

"Eternally Yours" has everything you could ever want in a collection of vampires, angels, and demons' lore. A different type of meeting takes place in a graveyard late at night, A female finds out there is more to her life than she ever knew. 15 unique tales grace the pages of "Eternally Yours" is a smattering of talented authors amassed by a master editor to entice several different genres of readers for any occasion.

Night Frights The Squirrels Have Gone Nuts
Joe McGee
Illustrated by Ted Skaffa
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781534480988, $17.99 HC / $6.99 Kindle

Squirrels are out of control in the YA novel "Night Frights" Dillion Ford is up in his tree house in the back yard, when he throws a tennis ball, not intending to hit what he does. This action prompts a retaliation by an animal that will involve the whole town, until Dillion settles with the head honcho. The chaos he caused is a twisty turning ride until the end where a satisfying conclusion is realized. Night Frights" is a delightful fun excursion of a what if novel that is a laugh out loud enchantment.

Gary Roen
Senior Reviewer

Helen Dumont's Bookshelf

Coming Back to Life
Rebeccah Silence, MS
Health Communications, Inc.
3201 S.W. 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442-8190
9780757324468, $16.95, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Coming Back to Life: A Roadmap to Healing from Pain to Create the Life You Want" by Rebeccah Silence, the messages is that mindset work and inspiration alone are not enough to help people heal. Millions of Americans are self-medicating, suffering from mental health diagnoses, and are not getting the support that they need to function and lead healthy lives.

Rebeccah Silence (a certified world-class emotional healing coach) knows this pain. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and cancer while pregnant, she beat the odds. In "Coming Back to Life", she has created a roadmap that offers real tools, strategies, and support that will allow readers to get to the root of their pain patterns while also giving them hope, encouragement, and access to the light at the end of the dark tunnel that they may be stuck in or living in. Rebeccah's promise as presented in "Coming Back to LIfe" is that healing is, indeed, possible and it is your right to come back to life!

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Coming Back to Life: A Roadmap to Healing from Pain to Create the Life You Want" will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in Motivational Self-Help/Self-Esteem issues arising from mental stress and physical illness. While highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Health/Medicine collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Coming Back to Life" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Rebeccah Silence ( is a speaker, coach, and international media personality. She's impacted hundreds of thousands of listeners through her radio programs and appearances. It wasn't until she was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant that she walked the very roadmap she would soon create for others. It was out of this experience that she created the Healing Is Possible movement that helps others heal from their own traumas. As a certified world-class Emotional Healing Coach, Rebeccah is uniquely qualified to help others achieve their breakthroughs to wellness and transformation.

Color Capital of the World
John W. Kropf
The University of Akron Press
30 Amberwood Parkway, Ashland, OH 44805
9781629222271, $25.00, PB, 146pp

Synopsis: "Color Capital of the World: Growing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon Company" by John W. Kropf presents the history of the color crayon. Following the Civil War, three entrepreneurial families took their innovative ideas for school chalk from the kitchen stove and transformed them into the American Crayon Company. "Color Capital of the World" tells this amazing story through the eyes of one of the founding family's descendants, tracing the cycle of build, boom, and bust. Readers will come away feeling a greater appreciation of the human story behind the crayon and the Ohio town that produced more crayons and paints than anywhere in the world.

Critique: Inherently fascinating, impressively informative, enhanced with a section of color plates, exceptionally well written, organized and presented -- and certain to be of immense interest to anyone with childhood memories of drawing with color crayons, "Color Capital of the World: Growing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon Company" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Color Capital of the World: Growing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon Company" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: John Kropf is the author of "Unknown Sands: Journeys Around the World's Most Isolated Country". His writing has also appeared in appeared The Baltimore Sun, Florida Sun-Sentinel, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.

Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and other lies)
Elisa Bernick
Indiana University Press
9780253064066, $60.00, HC, 246pp

Synopsis: Elisa Bernick grew up "different" (i.e., Jewish) in the white, Christian suburb of New Hope, Minnesota during the 1960s and early 1970s. At the center of her world was her mother, Arlene, who was a foul-mouthed, red-headed, suburban Samson who ultimately shook the walls of their family until it collapsed. As Elisa states it: "We weren't religious per se. The most frequent mention of God in our house was my mother yelling 'Goddammit!'"

Poignant and provocative, with the publication of "Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and other lies)", Elisa peers through the broader lens of Minnesota's recent history to reveal an intergenerational journey through trauma that unraveled the Bernick family and many others.

Deftly interweaving reporting, archival material, memoir, jokes, scrapbook fragments, personal commentary, and one very special Waikiki Meatballs recipe, Bernick explores how the invisible baggage of place and memory, Minnesota's uniquely antisemitic history, and the cultural shifts of feminism and changing marital expectations contributed to her family's eventual implosion.

"Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and other lies)" is a personal exploration of erasure, immigrants, and exiles that examines the ways departures from places, families and memory can have far-reaching effects.

Critique: A fascinating and compulsive page turner of a read from cover to cover, "Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and other lies)" by Elisa Bernick will have a special appeal to readers with an interest in contemporary Jewish life in a broader (and competing) Christian dominated popular culture. While also available for personal reading lists in both a paperback edition (9780253064073, $22.00) and a digital book format (Kindle, $13.19), "Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and other lies)" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and academic library American Biography and Jewish Memoir collections.

Editorial Note: Elisa Bernick ( is a writer and journalist in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the author of The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide to Living Abroad With Your Family.

Helen Dumont

John Taylor's Bookshelf

The Leak: Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory
Robert P. Crease, author
Peter D. Bond, author
The MIT Press
9780262047180,$29.95, HC, 344pp

Synopsis: In 1997, scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory found a small leak of radioactive water near their research reactor. Brookhaven was (and is) a world-class, Nobel Prize - winning lab, and its reactor was the cornerstone of US materials science and one of the world's finest research facilities. The leak, harmless to health, came from a storage pool rather than the reactor. But its discovery triggered a media and political firestorm that resulted in the reactor's shutdown, and even attempts to close the entire laboratory.
A quarter century later, the episode reveals the dynamics of today's controversies in which fears and the dismissal of science disrupt serious discussion and research of vital issues such as vaccines, climate change, and toxic chemicals.

"The Leak: Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory" is a true story has all the elements of a fictional thriller, complete with vivid characters and dramatic twists and turns. Key players include congressmen and scientists; journalists and university presidents; actors, supermodels, and anti-nuclear activists, all interacting and teaming up in surprising ways.

The authors Robert Crease and Peter Bond (each with insider knowledge of and access to confidential documents and the key players) reveal how a fact of no health significance could be portrayed as a Chernobyl-like disaster. This compelling expose reveals the gaps between scientists, politicians, media, and the public that have only gotten more dangerous since 1997.
Of special note is that one the authors, Peter Bond, is a retired physicist who worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for 43 years in a wide variety of roles, including interim laboratory director during much of the period covered by "The Leak".

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a two page Glossary of Acronyms, a four page listing of Acknowledgments, ten pages of Notes, and an eight page Index, "The Leak: Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory" by the team of Professor Robert P. Crease and physicist Peter D. Bond is a fascinating, thought-provoking, and relevant study given the continuing ill informed attacks on science and the resultant resistence to the use of science in determining public policy. While strongly recommended as a useful addition to community and academic library History & Philosophy of Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Leak: Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $17.99).

Editorial Note #1: Robert P. Crease ( is Professor in and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, where he has taught for more than three decades. He is the author of The Great Equations, The Prism and the Pendulum, and other books. A contributor of op-eds, articles, and reviews to publications including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, he writes a monthly column for Physics World.
Editorial Note #2: Peter Bond ( is a retired physicist who worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for 43 years in a wide variety of roles, including interim laboratory director during much of the period covered by this book.

The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire
Joseph Sassoon
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
9780593316597, $35.00, HC, 432pp

Synopsis: The Sassoons were one of the richest families in the world for two hundred years, from the 19th century to the 20th, they were known as 'the Rothschilds of the East.'

Mesopotamian in origin, and for more than forty years the chief treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad and Basra, they were forced to flee to Bushir on the Persian Gulf; David Sassoon and sons starting over with nothing, and beginning to trade in India in cotton and opium.

The Sassoons soon were building textile mills and factories, and setting up branches in shipping in China, and expanding beyond, to Japan, and further west, to Paris and London. They became members of British parliament; were knighted; and owned and edited Britain's leading newspapers, including The Sunday Times and The Observer.

And in 1887, the exalted dynasty of Sassoon joined forces with the banking empire of Rothschild and were soon joined by marriage, fusing together two of the biggest Jewish commerce and banking families in the world.

Against the monumental canvas of two centuries of the Ottoman Empire and the changing face of the Far East, across Europe and Great Britain during the time of its farthest reach, with the publication of "The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire", Professor Joseph Sassoon gives us a riveting generational saga of the making of this magnificent family dynasty.

Critique: Rescuing from obscurity a fascinating and informative history of a significant mercantile family, "The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire" is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of 'A Note on Names and Currencies, a Family Tree, fifty-eight pages of Notes, a twenty page Bibliography, and a nineteen page Index. "The Sassoons" will have a special appeal to readers with an interest in Chinese History, 18th & 19th Century Economic History & European Family Biographies. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Sassoons" is also available in a digital book format ($14.99). Librarians should also note that there is a large print paperback edition of "The Sassoons" (Random House Large Print, 9780593679029, $35.73, 720pp).

Editorial Note: Joseph Sassoon is Professor of History and Politics at Georgetown University. He is also a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony's College, Oxford and a Trustee of the Bodleian Library. His previous books include the prize-winning Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party, The Iraqi Refugees and The Anatomy of Authoritarianism in the Arab Republics.

John Taylor

Mary Cowper's Bookshelf

The Leaping Hare Wellness Almanac
Leaping Hare Staff
Kaluca Spatacean, illustrator
Leaping Hare Press
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9780711279872, $28.99, HC, 352pp

Synopsis: A stunning wellness almanac that will lift your heart, mind, body and soul, with the publication of "The Leaping Hare Wellness Almanac: Your Year-Long Guide To Creating Positive Spiritual Habits", readers can learn how to embrace mindfulness, self-love and holistic health.

Readers can pick out a particular month and then rest their mind's eye on the pages ahead, discovering seasonal affirmations, rituals, reflections, and practical insights for creative mindfulness, nature connection, and inner understanding thereby creating daily spiritual habits.

A lovingly crafted almanac, each spread shares a mindful insight for inner understanding, so the readers can embrace the seasons, be empowered by rituals, and create positive spiritual habits all year long. The year-long structure means that activities are tailored for the natural seasonal rhythms which guide us through winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Critique: Nicely illustrated with the artwork of Kaluca Spatacean throughout, "The Leaping Hare Wellness Almanac: Your Year-Long Guide To Creating Positive Spiritual Habits" is an extraordinary and informative combination of instructional guide and 'how-to' manual that will have a very special appeal and value for anyone with an interest in Meditation and the subject of Transformative Personal Self-Help. While very highly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections, it should be noted that "The Leaping Hare Wellness Almanac: Your Year-Long Guide To Creating Positive Spiritual Habits" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.99).

Editorial Note #1: Leaping Hare Press creates beautiful books to inspire and empower readers to translate ethical and spiritual values into practical, meaningful life choices. From planting a colorful wildflower seedbed in a concrete jungle, to mindfully walking along a busy sidewalk, our books present creative, simple steps to help us engage with each other and the natural world. Penned by heart-led and expert authors, our conscious living titles embrace community spirit and explore ecological principles in a positive way -- delivering that feel-good factor too.

Editorial Note #2: Raluca Maria Spataean aka @madebyralu is a Romanian illustrator who is inspired by the balancing elements of wellbeing and the natural world. In 2013 she decided to follow her intuition and creative instincts to travel the world - living in Italy, Spain, Romania, Ireland and England - and experience living life with freedom and joy. In 2020 and throughout the global pandemic, she put pen to paper and discovered the joy of digital illustration which she started to share with the world on Instagram, and soon found a dedicated community of followers soothed by her calming, positive artworks and writings.

Navigating the Messy Middle
Ann Douglas
Douglas & McIntyre
c/o Harbour Publishing
9781771623438, $24.95, PB, 272pp

Synopsis: Roughly 68 million North American women currently grapple with the challenges of midlife, faced with a culture that tells them their "best-before date" has long passed. With the publication of "Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women", author Ann Douglas pushes back against this toxic narrative, providing Gen X women with evidence-based strategies for thriving at midlife.

Deeply validating and encouraging, in "Navigating the Messy Middle", Douglas interviewed well over one hundred women of different backgrounds and identities, sharing their diverse conversations about the complex and intertwined issues that women must grapple with at midlife: from family responsibilities to career pivots, health concerns to building community. Readers will find "Navigating the Messy Middle" offers practical, evidence-based strategies for thriving at midlife, coupled with compelling first-person stories.

Offering purpose and meaning in a life stage that can otherwise feel out of control, Douglas also pushes back against the message that middle-aged women are no longer relevant and needed, highlighting the far-reaching economic, political and social impacts of these messages and providing a refreshing counter-narrative that maps out a path forward for women at midlife.

Both a midlife love letter and a lament, "Navigating the Messy Middle" celebrates the beauty and rages at the many injustices of this life stage, and provides readers with the tools to chart their own course.

Critique: As thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is inspired and inspiring, "Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women" must be considered essential reading for all women of any age - - but most especially those who feel estranged from the youth culture dominance in our contemporary society. "Navigating the Messy Middle" is very highly recommended for personal, community, and academic library Women's Studies collections and reading lists.

Editorial Note: Ann Douglas ( is a Canadian parenting author and a frequent contributor to CBC Radio. She is also the creator of the Mother of All Books series.

Mary Cowper

Micah Andrew's Bookshelf

In the Service of the Emperor
NS "Tank" Nash
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (US distribution)
9781399090070, $34.95, HC, 344pp

Synopsis: The expansion of the Japanese Empire between 1931 until its defeat in 1945 is one of the most extraordinary yet shocking episodes in recorded human history. Extraordinary in that a relatively non-industrialized island nation was prepared to go to war, concurrently, with China, the most populous country, Great Britain with its world-wide empire, and the USA, the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth. Shocking, as those 'in the service of the Emperor' practiced persistent and unrestrained brutality as they conquered and occupied swathes of South East Asia. But, as "In the Service of the Emperor: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1931-1945", the superbly researched work by NS Nash reveals, there is no denying their fighting and logistical expertise.

Nash examines the political, economic and strategic effects of the rapid Japanese expansion and explores the cult of deity that surrounded the Emperor. The contribution of the Allied forces and their leadership is given due attention.

When retribution duly came, it was focused on the military leadership responsible for unspeakable atrocities on their military and civilian victims. The physical perpetrators of those atrocities remaining largely unpunished, because Japan, today, has still not acknowledged its wartime guilt.

"In the Service of the Emperor: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1931-1945" is an authoritative, balanced and highly readable account of a chapter of world history that must never be forgotten.

Critique: A work of exhaustive and detailed research, "In the Service of the Emperor: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1931-1945" is informative enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of Maps, a Glossary, a seventeen page Bibliography, and an eight page Index. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "In the Service of the Emperor: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1931-1945" is highly recommended for both community and academic library 20th Century Japanese History and World War II History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, military history buffs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "In the Service of the Emperor: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1931-1945" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: NA 'Tank' Nash CBE ( enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in 1957 and served until conscripted for National Service in 1960; he was a member of the Army Catering Corps for thirty years, rising to the rank of Brigadier. He resigned his commission in 1991. For thirty-three years, from 1973, he wrote humor under the pen name 'Sustainer' and his work was published internationally in a variety of military journals. His books for Pen and Sword include K Boat Catastrophe, 'Strafer' Gott - Desert General, Chitral Charlie - The Rise and Fall of Major General Charles Townshend and Valour in the Trenches.

Worldmaking in the Long Great War
Jonathan Wyrtzen
Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023-7015
9780231186285, $120.00, HC, 336pp

Synopsis: It is widely believed that the political problems of the Middle East date back to the era of World War I, when European colonial powers unilaterally imposed artificial borders on the post-Ottoman world in postwar agreements.

With the publication of "Worldmaking in the Long Great War: How Local and Colonial Struggles Shaped the Modern Middle East", Professor Jonathan Wyrtzen offers a new account of how the Great War unmade and then remade the political order of the region. Ranging from Morocco to Iran and spanning the eve of the Great War into the 1930s, Professor Wyrtzen demonstrates that the modern Middle East was shaped through complex and violent power struggles among local and international actors.

Professor Wyrtzen also shows how the cataclysm of the war opened new possibilities for both European and local actors to reimagine post-Ottoman futures. After the 1914-1918 phase of the war, violent conflicts between competing political visions continued across the region. In these extended struggles, the greater Middle East was reforged. Professor Wyrtzen emphasizes the intersections of local and colonial projects and the entwined processes through which states were made, identities transformed, and boundaries drawn.

The vast scope of "Worldmaking in the Long Great War: How Local and Colonial Struggles Shaped the Modern Middle East) encompasses successful state-building projects such as the Turkish Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as short-lived political units - including the Rif Republic in Morocco, the Sanusi state in eastern Libya, a Greater Syria, and attempted Kurdish states -- that nonetheless left traces on the map of the region.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, "Worldmaking in the Long Great War: How Local and Colonial Struggles Shaped the Modern Middle East" retells the origin story of the modern Middle East.

Critique: A masterfully written and impressively informative work of meticulous scholarship, "Worldmaking in the Long Great War: How Local and Colonial Struggles Shaped the Modern Middle East" is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a fifteen page Bibliography, twenty-eight pages of Notes, and a thirteen page Index. While also available for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject, "Worldmaking in the Long Great War: How Local and Colonial Struggles Shaped the Modern Middle East" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library 20th Century Middle East History & Politics collections and supplemental curriculum studies syllabus.

Editorial Note: Jonathan Wyrtzen ( is an Associate Professor of Sociology, History, and International Affairs at Yale University. He is also the author of "Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity" (2015).

Micah Andrew

Michael Dunford's Bookshelf

Hitler's Tyranny: A History in Ten Chapters
Ralf Georg Reuth, author
Peter Lewis, translator
Haus Publishing
c/o The University of Chicago Press (dist.)
9781913368623, $29.95, HC, 256pp

Synopsis: The tyranny of Adolph Hitler's tyranny is still difficult to understand today. With the publication of "Hitler's Tyranny: A History in Ten Chapters", author Ralf Georg Reuth examines ten aspects of this catastrophe. Among other things, he asks: Was anti-Semitism more pronounced in Germany than elsewhere? Was Versailles really responsible for Hitler's rise? Why did the Germans follow a racial fanatic like him? How did his war differ from all others before it? The disturbing answers to these basic questions provide an overall picture that shows Hitler was not the consequence of the depths of German history, but the result of chance, deception, and seduction.

This thought-provoking new study takes aim at several of the norms of Hitler scholarship from the past forty years. Reuth interrogates and challenges a range of orthodox views on such topics as how mainstream politicians facilitated Hitler's rise to power, the Fuhrer's infamous pact with Stalin, and the complicity of ordinary Germans in his genocidal tyranny.

Eschewing a conventional chronological approach in favor of a forensic analysis of Hitler's mainsprings of action both as chancellor and military commander, Reuth portrays Hitler as the apotheosis of what he argues is a specifically German strain of militarism and imperialism, shifting the focus firmly back to the mindset and modus operandi of Hitler himself.

The portrait that emerges is one of a murderous fantasist and political opportunist driven by an all-embracing ideology of racial superiority. Reuth's account courts controversy on a number of points and offers a fascinating counterpoint to much recent scholarship.

Critique: A seminal study of the life and character of one of the 20th Century's most infamous world leaders, and ably translated into English for an American readership by Peter Lewis, "Hitler's Tyranny: A History in Ten Chapters" by Ralf Georg Reuth is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a twenty page Bibliography, thirty-one pages of Notes, and a six page Index. Exhaustively researched, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Hitler's Tyranny: A History in Ten Chapters" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library World War II History and Biography collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Hitler's Tyranny: A History in Ten Chapters" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.49).

Editorial Note #1: Ralf Georg Reuth ( is a German journalist and historian. He has written major biographies of Hitler, Goebbels, and Rommel, along with several books on German history, including Rommel: The End of a Legend. 

Editorial Note #2: Peter Lewis is a freelance translator and author. His recent translations include Asfa-Wossen Asserate's King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia; Johannes Fried's Charlemagne: A Biography; Dierk Walter's Colonial Violence; and Gunnar Decker's Hesse: The Wanderer and His Shadow.

Rise of the Brao
Ian G. Baird
University of Wisconsin Press
728 State Street, Suite 443, Madison, WI 53706-1418
9780299326104, $79.95, HC, 392pp

Synopsis: In the early 1970s, the Khmer Rouge had become suspicious of communist Vietnam and began to persecute Cambodian ethnic groups who had ties to that country, including the Brao Amba in the northeast. Many fled north as political refugees, and some joined the Vietnamese effort to depose the Khmer Rouge a few years later.

The subsequent ten-year occupation is remembered by many Cambodians as a time of further oppression, but with the publication of "Rise of the Brao: Ethnic Minorities in Northeastern Cambodia during Vietnamese Occupation", author Ian G. Baird reveals an unexpected dimension of this troubled past. Trusted by the Vietnamese, the Brao were installed in positions of great authority in the new government only to gradually lose their influence when Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia.

Based on detailed research and interviews, Baird documents this golden age of the Brao, including the voices of those who are too frequently omitted from official records. "Rise of the Brao" challenges scholars to look beyond the prevailing historical narratives to consider the nuanced perspectives of peripheral or marginal regions.

Critique: A seminal contribution to personal, professional, community, and academic library Southeast Asian Political History collections, "Rise of the Brao: Ethnic Minorities in Northeastern Cambodia during Vietnamese Occupation" is informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an eighteen page listing of References, twenty-eight pages of Notes, and a nineteen page Index. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Rise of the Brao" is also available in a paperback edition (9780299326142, $26.95).

Editorial Note: Ian G. Baird ( is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He is also the author of Dipterocarpus Wood Resin Tenure, Management and Trade: Practices of the Brao in Northeast Cambodia and the co-author of People, Livelihoods, and Development in the Xekong River Basin, Laos.

Michael Dunford

Paul Vogel's Bookshelf

The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer's to Solve a Murder
Wayne Hoffman
Heliotrope Books LLC
Blackstone Audiobooks
9781942762898, $30.00, HC, 304pp

Synopsis: A compelling question for Wayne Hoffman (a New York City-based journalist and novelist): Who was behind the brutal murder of my great-grandmother? The crime wasn't just a family legend. It had made headlines across Canada in 1913 -- but her killer had never been found.

For "The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer's to Solve a Murder", Hoffman meticulously researched this century-old tragedy, while facing another in the form of his mother's decline from Alzheimer's.

Weaving back and forth between past and present, Hoffman invokes in dramatic detail the life and death of his immigrant great-grandmother in Winnipeg, and his mother's downward spiral. In the process, he discovers an extended family that has been scattered across thousands of miles for a hundred years.

"The End of Her" is riveting account of Hoffman's dual efforts to care for his aging mother and crack a century-old unsolved murder in which Hoffman makes the details of his dogged research vivid -- and his conclusions about the murder are convincing. Meanwhile, he movingly recounts his mother's increasing memory loss and overall decline.

Critique: Deftly combining elements of True Crime with family history and personal memoir, "The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer's to Solve a Murder" is one of those stories that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The End of Her" is also available in a paperback edition (9781942762904, $18.00), in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.76), and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9798200961788, $31.95, CD).

The Illustrated Catalog of Rifles and Shotguns
David Miller
Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781510756557, $24.99, PB, 256pp

Synopsis: A "rifled" firearm is one in which the projectile is made to spin as it travels up the bore. The term "rifle," however, was originally applied to muskets to differentiate them from the earlier smoothbore weapons and is used today to designate the infantryman's personal weapon, fired from the shoulder or the hip, or, in some modern weapons, from a bipod. The rifle has also been used by sportsmen to kill larger game and was also used as a working tool by cowboys and trappers during the period of Western Expansion.

It progressed from being a muzzle-loader to a breechloading, bolt-operated weapon, then to a semi-automatic weapon, and finally to a lightweight "assault rifle." The emphasis throughout these developments has been in increasing the rate of fire, reducing the weight and making the weapons more accurate, simpler to fire, more reliable, and easier to maintain.

The shotgun is a smoothbore weapon originally developed as a hunting device for killing fast moving, flying or running prey. Loaded with shot (many small projectiles) the chances of hitting a moving target was greatly enhanced. Like the rifle, the shotgun has undergone similar progression from muzzle-loader to breechloader, bolt action, and finally semi-automatic mode. The weapon has also seen military use in trench warfare and special operations as well as riot suppression by the police.

With the publication of "The Illustrated Catalog of Rifles and Shotguns", gun expert and historian David Miller shows the reader over 500 longarms of all types form the early flintlocks of the revolutionary period, the percussion cap rifles and repeaters of the Civil War, the famous rifles and shotguns of the Wild West, the standard infantry rifles of two World Wars, to the present day with Assault Rifles, and combat shotguns, together with state-of-the-art sporting rifles and shotguns. Each entry has a color photo along with a description and a technical specification. It is arranged in alphabetical order within five historical periods: Historic, Civil War, The Frontier, Two World Wars, and Modern, plus a separate comprehensive Shotgun section.

Critique: Comprised of six informative chapters (Historic Rifles; The Civil War; Taming the Frontier; Two World Wars; Modern Riffles; Shotguns), "The Illustrated Catalog of Rifles and Shotguns" is a essential and comprehensive reference source for all dedicated firearms dealers, collectors, and museum curators. It will also serve as an ideal reference for historians and novelists. While unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library collections, it should be noted that "The Illustrated Catalog of Rifles and Shotguns" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: David Miller ( is a former officer in the British armed forces, who served in England, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Singapore. He subsequently worked as a freelance author and for three years as a journalist for Jane's Information Group. He worked on the staff of the authoritative Defense Review, served as Editor of the two-volume Jane's Major Warships, and has written more than fifty other works relating to guns and warfare.

Paul T. Vogel

S.A. Gorden's Bookshelf

The Magdalene Deception (The Magdalene Chronicles Book 1)
Gary McAvoy
Literati Editions
B088JN41PH, $2.99 Kindle, 280 pages

The Magdalene Deception is a contemporary thriller with a historical mystery backstory. The details, both contemporary and historical, are the key to the story. The character development, although detailed, feel a little thin. The story is well worth reading but it is book 1 in a series. Although the book is standalone, too many threads in the tale are left unfinished at the end.

Jesuit priest Michael Dominic is assigned to the Vatican's legendary Secret Archives. He is new to the Vatican and is learning to navigate between the various political ambitions of the priests and Cardinals stationed there. He stumbles across a document that hints at the existence of unpublished writings of Mary Magdalene. The political implications, both within the Catholic Church and the world of the writings, immediately make him a target. His research into the document brings him into contact with investigative reporter Hana Sinclair. They both have to pull together their friends and try to find the Magdalene writings before the forces inside and outside the Vatican can take them.

The Magdalene Deception is a good thriller/mystery with an enjoyable link to history. The story feels unfinished and the character development of Michael and Hana is also left hanging. For those who enjoy this genre, the book is worth reading but be prepared for the urge to finish the series to fulfill the promise of the story.

Never Run (A May Moore Suspense Thriller Book 1)
Blake Pierce
Privately Published
B09XWZBVBP, $0.00 Kindle, 167 pages

Never Run is a solid police procedural. The story has been streamlined to give the narration a pace that doesn't let up. The characters are well enough developed and likeable. Never Run is a great, standalone, introduction to a series that is sure to pull in readers.

May Moore has just been promoted to deputy sheriff. She heads for her family home hoping for a nice celebration meal. Instead her parents gloat about a news article featuring May's FBI profiler sister. May is called to a murder scene. A young girl has been killed in an unusual way and her body has been left floating in the local lake. May starts the investigation but shortly another body is found and the Sheriff decides to bring in the FBI. Her sister is leading the FBI investigation and May is removed from the case but she refuses to leave the case alone.

Never Run is a fun easy to read fictional police procedural. Anyone interested in detective genres will like the tale. It is also an easy recommendation for readers who have not tried the detective genre before. It is a fast light read to enjoy over the weekend.

S.A. Gorden
Senior Reviewer

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

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